The wyvern is bearing its fangs as it sniffs the air—no, as it sniffs me.
“Shhh, boy.” I try for a smile. “You can smell my blood, can’t you?”
It snakes toward me in a sort of half walk, half slither. Not that there’s much space for it. This beast is low to the ground, yes, but from snout to tail it takes up most of the chamber—and that’s without spreading its wings. Everyone but me is squashed against the wall.
Fuck, what am I doing? I breathe in deep, trying to keep my heart from pounding straight out of my chest. This monster is going to pounce any second now. I can imagine its fangs sinking into my throat, tearing me open . . . I close my eyes, part bracing for the attack and part—part I don’t know what.
The attack doesn’t come. And I can’t think of this as a monster. If I’m going to tame this thing, I have to see it the way Veshnic does.
“All right, boy. Shhh.” I open my eyes and hold out my hand to it. No, I haven’t forgotten its fangs, but I force myself to do it anyway. “Nice and gentle. That’s right. Look at you. You’re a beauty, aren’t you?”
That’s the plain truth. That sinuous, graceful body . . . what’s the word I want? Stunning. And the way its white scales are gleaming in the flickering lamp light—they look like burnished ivory. But it’s still a predator. I can’t let myself forget that.
Shoch faced this thing, fangs and all, back in the temple. Faced it and coaxed it to join with him. I admired his courage then, but I admire it tenfold now. Seeing it up close like this—if this wyvern does pounce, I don’t stand a chance. But maybe some of Shoch’s feelings for me have rubbed off on it.
It stops moving right as its snout reaches my hand, jaws poised to snap. Everyone in the room, I think, is holding their breath.
Nothing happens. Not at first. Then the wyvern opens its jaws and flicks out its tongue, as if it’s tasting the air around me.
I let myself breathe again. “Are you still sniffing at me? Yes, you know me. Keep calm, boy.”
It’s making a noise now. A sort of half-rumble, half trill. Fuck, is it purring or growling at me? Well, it’s still not attacking, so maybe that’s a strange purr. Not that lizards are known for their purring, but this ain’t exactly a lizard.
I crouch down, as slowly as I can, bringing us face to face. It peers at me, red eyes unblinking. Glowing too, from all the candlelight. Shoch’s eyes. Every time I’ve looked at Shoch, I’ve seen this wyvern too.
And then it nudges my hand with the top of its head. I smile a little—a real smile, this time—as my palm brushes against its short, spiked horns and then the smooth, leathery scales of its neck.
This creature abides in Veshnic. The same as me and the same as Shoch and the same as everyone else here. And there’s no difference to Veshnic between us and this beast. That seemed like a hard truth before, but not now. We’re all created by him and all connected through him; it’s as simple as that. Granted, that connection won’t do me any good if the wyvern attacks—but it still hasn’t done that.
I keep talking to it. I don’t even know what I’m saying right now—the words are pouring out of me on their own, half in my tongue and half in the old one. The wyvern must like what it hears, because it circles its long body around me, rubbing against me along the way. The scent of holy wood is so strong that I’m almost drunk on it.
But it doesn’t belong here. This creature was enticed here with human blood. And then Shoch bound it to him, trapping it so he could take control of it and use its magic. But that magic—it’s not ours to use.
“Shoch.” I straighten up and look over to him.
He’s staring at me, his eyes the same red as the wyvern’s. They’re still bound up with each other.
“Come here, Shoch.”
My brother and Jonac both let go of him. Shoch stumbles toward me. The wyvern is between us, still curled around me, but I don’t think Shoch is afraid of it. Not like the rest of us are.
“You need to let the wyvern go, pet.”
His eyes widen.
“Don’t worry.” I keep my voice gentle. “It won’t attack. The barrier is broken, remember? If you release it, it can go back . . . back to Kanthara.” Where the hell did that word come from? But it’s right. I know that’s the name of the place. Where the wyvern belongs, I mean.
Shoch drops his eyes. Hell, he drops to his knees on the other side of the beast.
“It’s all right, pet. I promise.” Somewhere in the back of my head, I know that’s an idiotic thing to say. I have no idea what this creature will do if Shoch permanently gives up control. But that doesn’t matter. The wyvern will die within a few years if they stay bound up, and its death throes will kill Shoch. They have to separate.
Shoch doesn’t look up, but he opens his mouth. No sound comes from him—no, it comes from behind him. From Jonac. That’s Shoch’s keening wail delivered through Jonac’s lungs.
The wyvern panics—it doesn’t understand what’s happening. Oh fuck, it’s spreading its wings. I put a hand on its neck, trying to keep it calm, but it’s rising up and there’s no place here for it to fly.
“Shhh. Stay down, boy.” I keep muttering to it in the Sages only know what language now, even as its body seems to swirl around me and its wings crash against the walls of the chamber. I can hear gasps and curses and swords sliding out of their sheathes—but through it all Shoch just kneels there, mouthing the words that Jonac is keening.
“Blades down!” I think they obey me—Gael, my father, my brother. But whether they do or don’t, I put my attention back on the wyvern. “It’s all right, boy. You can go home now.”
It’s still flailing, but it catches my eye. And then it’s snout is right in front of my face. Its breath is hot and smoky and I’m still drunk on the scent of holy wood . . . but I know what to do.
I put my hand on its forehead, between the horns. I’m a priest. I can bless this creature. “Veshnic guide you home, boy.”
The wings unfurl again, but they turn to smoke before they can smash into the walls. Not as if they’re disintegrating—no, they’re transforming. The whole wyvern is bright, steamy smoke now. I watch as it dissipates, knowing it will reform itself in Kanthara.
It’s over. I have one second to thank Veshnic before Shoch crawls to me and grabs my hand. And then my brother is next to him, on his knees and bringing my other hand to his lips. Which makes no sense, because he’s the prince, not me. Even Jonac is staring at me with something like awe in his eyes, but that’s . . . that’s all wrong.
I think maybe I’m hallucinating now. At the very least I’m swaying on my feet—I can’t keep my balance. And my father is yelling commands and there’s someone behind me and then there’s a dull thudding sound and a clobbering pain on the back of my head.
Shoch looks up. I’m falling toward him and he’s trying to catch me but the only thing that matters is that I can see his eyes.
They’re pale blue now.