Chapter 5

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Silence exploded into chaos. Everyone started talking at once. Among others, Etrikis urged people not to believe what Leithan had said, "It's nothing but an enemy's ploy! He attempts to sow doubts in our hearts!"

Steba and Koral approached the Rengleam group, somewhat timidly. Meanwhile, Xefen was speaking with Pranv Kalira, Leithan saw from the corner of his eye. The mysterious woman with the red hair, however, was nowhere to be seen.

"Someone should go with you, so you don't get lost in the forest," Koral said, mostly addressing Shay.

Shay hooked her arm with Leithan's. "I'm not leaving without you," she said firmly.

Leithan felt a burst of affection for her, but he freed his arm. "I love you, Shay, but you have to go. I'll be fine, I promise. I'm not scared of this guy. Are you kidding me? He's . . . I don't know. He's weird, but he's not dangerous. I can tell."

"How?" Shay protested. "How can you tell? And even if that's true," Shay said, crossing her arms under her corseted breasts. "What about Kresh? Who's gonna protect you from that – that creep, when we're gone?"

"She does have a point," Rami said. His arms were crossed too, but more from the cold than for attitude, it seemed. "I'm worried about you, Leith. You don't look so good."

Leithan felt the sincere concern oozing from his friend's words. Damn that lux, was it ever gonna kindly fade and leave him alone? There was such a thing as too much perceptiveness and empathy. He was never doing lux again, anyway, after tonight. Fuck that.

"I'm fine," Leithan insisted.

Just, you know, sleep-deprived, dehydrated, and my boyfriend of two years betrayed my trust in the worst possible way. Your average Friday night.

The wind rose, making Leithan shiver.

He glanced at the sky, above the canopy. The clouds had stretched apart to free the moon and an array of stars. The bright crimson glow sweeping upon endless leaves was a sight for sore eyes. Leithan loved the stars, but the moon stole the show as it bathed the nightly foliage in its red light.

Funny how he lived on this amazing tropical island, yet he never left town to venture into the forest or up the mountain.

Leithan snapped out of it when Koral asked Shay and the others if they were ready. Apparently, Koral felt guilty enough that she was willing to endure the long walk back to New Rimar, and then back again to her clan's compound.

He supposed it was the least she could do, considering.

Koral was already taking out voss joint and matches from her pocket. Smoking this herb would help her see their path through the darkness. Voss had that special elusive side effect on a select few, shaman's apprentices included.

After Shay asked him one last time if he was going to be okay, and Leith reassured her, the group started to walk, wary and shivering.

"Hey Koral, take care of them?" Leithan said.

She gave a tiny smile over her shoulder, "I will." And she picked up the pace, catching up with the group.

Steba grasped Leithan's shoulder then, quite awkwardly so.

"What?" Leithan asked, frowning

"I'm sorry," Steba said, like the words were painful.

Yeah, yeah, he really was sorry, Leithan could see it in his green-brown eyes and tight square jaw, the lux made sure of that.

"I know," Leithan said with more patience than he had. "Could you take your hand off me now?"

Steba's hand darted away from his shoulder like he'd been burned. "Sorry."

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