Chapter 10

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Contrary to what he'd believed, Leithan did wake up again.

And when he did, he lay on his back on a threadbare blanket beside a small fire. Its smoke spiraled up to a narrow opening in the rock above. The cave's ceiling was low; standing to the other side of the fire, Mikai could barely stand straight without the top of her head touching it.

Teshin sat beside Leithan with his long slim legs folded to the side, and he held Leithan's left hand in his. Teshin's other hand stroked gently down Leithan's hair like a doting older brother. It made Leithan feel instantly self-conscious. Especially since his jacket was open and his shirt had slid up his waist somewhere along the way, and he was ashamed of how skinny he'd let himself get lately, plus he knew there were bruises at his hips which hadn't had time to fade yet.

"Hey," Teshin said, smiling, and Leithan noticed his tooth again, the left canine in front of the others. "Welcome back."

Even though Teshin's hair was still wet from the rain, it was starting to curl and coil again.

Leithan wanted to ask how long he'd been out, but realized with an alarmed wince that his tongue was completely numb.

"It's normal," Teshin said, guessing what was going on. "Numb tongue, right? Unfortunate side effect. It should last about a week."

A week? No, no fucking way! He couldn't go a whole week without talking! He gave lectures for a living. It was his job, his life – the only thing he was any good at, and what about—

Teshin's mouth was twitching, his chest shook a bit, and soon the smile turned into a hearty laugh.

He's messing with me. Great.

Leithan propped himself up on his elbows, hoping his glare properly conveyed his anger.

"You should've seen your face! Aw, it only lasts fifty beats or so, aki. You'll be fine."

About a minute, then. The Yoxai didn't have hours or minutes, instead they had this weird, imprecise system based on heartbeats. Go figure.

Leithan glanced at Mikai again.

She hadn't moved. Her hair looked very bright in the fire's light, her green eyes gleamed with lethal promise. Her simple tunic made it all too easy for Leithan to see almost every developed muscle, and he noticed how her legs were even more impressive than her arms. Her thighs and calves showed how often she scoured the mountain.

Just like all Yoxai wore either their own, or their lover's shaipi, Mikai too had one. The cord was tan leather, the same color as her skin, making it look like the pendant hung on its own. Or rather, pendants – two twin fangs, quite small. Snake fangs.

Behind her was a natural alcove in the stone, furnished with rough, rudimentary weapons Leithan guessed she'd crafted herself over the years – two spears, three knives, one bow, five arrows, and a slingshot.

Leithan wondered who would win in a fight, Saul Silverleaf – his sparring mentor and member of the Golden Temple's guard, many times winner of the annual fencing and taikar tournaments at the New Rimar Arena – or Mikai.

Mikai.

Leithan decided she was the scariest person he'd ever met.

He sat up straight, surprised at how okay he felt. Teshin had already let go of his hair, now he let go his hand too. A tiny shiver ran through Leithan at the loss of warmth. Cross-legged with his hands in his lap, Leithan looked at the back of the right one. The swelling was gone.

Holy shit.

"It's very potent," Teshin said.

Yeah, I got that.

His tongue prickled and tingled, and he could detect a strange aftertaste, not unpleasant, kind of like cinnamon. He had to wait until enough feeling returned to his tongue to demand clarification.

"What's . . . very potent? What'd you give me?" His voice was rough and blurred around the edges.

Teshin snuck a glance toward his sister, over the fire. Leithan followed his gaze, saw Mikai shake her head once, firmly.

"It's . . . secret," Teshin said.

The kind of secret that, let me guess, your darling sis would kill me if I knew?

Leithan swallowed. "Can I at least know if there are . . . side effects?"

"None," Teshin said. "You're as good as new."

Yeah, I'm not so sure about that.

"Listen, aki," Teshin said, "why don't you stay here and rest for a bit? I need to go talk to my sister in private for a little while."

Leithan nodded, said nothing.

Teshin rose and followed Mikai to a vaulted passage in the rock, where they had to bend their heads to walk. Leithan craned his neck but soon couldn't see them anymore. He assumed the passage gave to a deeper chamber. He thought he heard a distant drip of water, coming from there.

Leithan looked at his watch. 3:30

That can't be right.

It wasn't. Upon closer examination, the big hand had stopped moving. With all that rain, the mechanism must've been damaged.

Leithan brooded. He liked this watch. It had an elegant burnished gold case and the dial was the color of old parchment, offsetting the simple black bracelet.

You know . . . I could just get out of here.

The thought struck him like cold water on his face. His spine straightened. Hear beat picking up, he tried to hear Mikai and Teshin. Nothing. Silence, except for the crackling of the small fire.

Sure, Teshin seemed like a swell guy and all but, his sister, now that was a whole other thing. For all he knew, she was currently trying to convince Tesh they should kill him because he knew too much, or some shit.

And if Mikai decided to murder him, Leithan didn't like Teshin's chances of stopping her.

Leithan looked up at the narrow opening and didn't detect any daylight. His watch might've been broken, but it was still night out. Dawn couldn't be that far off, though. Right?

He slowly unfolded his legs, got to his feet. His knees weren't shaky anymore. He felt fine.

Even so, what if he got lost, hurt, or both? What if he got bit by some asshole spider again?

Then, it slammed into him that he had his pockets full of klar.

The way he saw it, he could either run away, or risk getting speared by Mikai.

Already, Leithan's hand was reaching inside his jacket, closing in on the small leather pouches full of the stuff he needed.

You feel smart now, Teshin?

Smirking, Leithan swallowed a pill of crins, then chewed on a piece of shrix root, which tasted acidic and left a chalky texture in his mouth. A grimace replaced the smirk as he skulked backwards, around the corner – the wall where Mikai had assaulted him earlier. He kept wary eyes on the gloomy passage where the siblings had disappeared.

They probably have lots of stuff to talk about, right? Make up for lost time and all.

Still, as he turned and tiptoed to the entrance of the cave, he had this sneaking fear that Mikai would surely, somehow, detect the movement within her cave even from a distance. That she'd come, leaping, snarling and clawing—

But she didn't. Leithan hoisted himself onto the ledge, and slipped out, into the forest. 

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