Chapter 4

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Leithan could see a woman fussing about by the stone slab and the person on it. Her hair shone red, but maybe that was just the glow of the fire playing tricks on his eyes. Leithan tried to see her better, craning his neck to follow her movements.

She seemed tall and athletic, and yet curvy, a fact made obvious by a diminutive tawny tunic. She stood with her back facing Leithan. Her hair really was red, he was sure now, and it fell in messy tangles and waves to the small of her back. Frayed and ragged at the tips like it hadn't been brushed or cut in way too long.

The woman went still, and she seemed to say something to the people near her – the shaman's four apprentices – Nix, Kresh, Koral and Steba – as well as Pranv Kalira and Jenali. The clan leader and his yaklizi had their hands clasped together, Leithan saw, and they shared a look of concern.

Leithan wasn't sure if it was the lux, or if it was obvious to anyone paying attention, but it was clear to him that Pranv and his yaklizi weren't as much into this ritual as everyone else seemed to be.

Etrikis stopped his mannerisms, his blue eyes widened madly, and he gazed beyond the fire along with everyone else. The whole clan held their breath as one.

Leithan's breath hitched too, despite his best efforts. The person on the bed was sitting up. But the fire and the woman were like two protective layers, preventing Leithan from seeing them properly.

By this point, he had to admit, he was pretty fucking curious.

The lux never lied, at least not so far, and from what Leithan saw on the shaman's face, the man actually believed this was the Xefen from the legend. Come back to life.

Now, in his last year of high school, Leithan had done a research project on Grencerka, the northernmost country in the world. They had some interesting lore up there. None of it was supposed to be real, just legends, but they had a story about vampires. Blood-drinking humanoid creatures who lived for a long time, far longer than normal humans.

"What if it's a vampire?" Leithan whispered in Shay's ear, half-joking. She'd read his paper, so she'd get it.

She whispered back, "Vampires aren't real, Leith."

Then, Etrikis' voice rose again, soft and poignant over the crackling of the fire and the hum of the forest.

"He's awake!" The shaman sounded like a man about to be reunited with a long lost lover. On the verge of tears.

If this was an act, then Etrikis should win the King's Theatre Award for best performance by a male actor.

Leithan's vampire-related unease wasn't soothed when the man who was supposedly Xefen made his slow dramatic way around the fire, seeming to emerge from flames and smoke . . . with blood staining his bottom lip and chin.

Could this night get any crazier?

Yeah, it could.

Because Xefen wasn't how Leithan had expected at all. He'd expected some tall, muscular, imposing man – kind of like Kresh, really.

But this guy looked . . . harmless.

He looked around Leithan's age, maybe nineteen or twenty. About Leithan's height too – one inch short of six feet – possibly shorter. Shoulders neither broad nor slight, just average. They'd clad him in typical Yoxai get-up, plus a red-dyed jacket. It wasn't as fancy as Etrikis' cloak, but Leithan supposed it did give him an air of authority. Sort of.

His curling hair was copper-brown, warm and bright as the flames dancing beside him. It spilled over his wide forehead, came down the side of his face. He was beautiful, Leithan decided, glancing at the lightly-freckled high cheekbones, straight nose, full lips, and his eyes – dilated as hell. Leithan couldn't even tell their color.

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