All connected.

The lecture hall had limestone floors and walls with rows of golden marble columns on either side, matching the long golden carpet of the central aisle. The wooden benches on either side could accommodate at least two hundred people, though there were only something like forty people at the moment. The benches' upholstery was a lush violet, which was the exact same shade as the decorative beaded curtains that hung at intervals on the sides of the room, partially hiding alcoves where you could go and sit on stone benches, and contemplate paintings of Veya that probably didn't even look like her.

I'm in a mood. I hate klar comedowns. I should just never take klar again.

It was actually really charming, if you were in the right sort of mood. It was, in fact, an atrium, letting in plenty of natural light from myriad east-facing windows and the skylight. Up on the left, the second, third and fourth floor had overlooking galleries, and from all of those, climbing orchids thrived, selected for their white, yellow and purple blossoms. He remembered hanging out with the gardener as a novice, when he'd had to help with the watering and pruning. It had been by far his favorite novice chore.

The truth was, Leithan loved this place. Loved being on that stage, too.

And I may never get to do it again.

Plus, if they kicked him out of the temple, he had nowhere to go.

Well, he could go to the Salvation Temple on the East Side, Priestess Maureen would take him back in a heartbeat, and he'd help out in any way he could. But he'd have no salary, he'd be just another mouth to feed.

Rilien Grayhound chose this moment to grace the lecture hall with his presence. Showing up at the temple once in a while was good for one's reputation. He came to sit on the bench next to Leithan, bringing him out of his rather anguished solitude.

"Hey, Leith."

"Hi," Leithan said, gave his friend a sidelong look. "So, have you bribed enough members of the priesthood, then? You'll get your seat on the council again?"

Rilien smirked.

He was one of those people with permanent laugh lines, with always a smile in the eyes. His were a very dark brown and narrow in shape, with eyebrows that were too nicely drawn to be entirely natural, Leithan suspected. He had an easygoing, no-bullshit attitude, a handsome smile, with a style that recalled that of Ikar's – hair trimmed so short you could see his scalp, expertly maintained facial hair. He wasn't wearing some slim, elegant suit though. Ril liked comfy clothes. He also liked jewelry, he was always sporting a bunch of suitably masculine trinkets – chains, necklaces, bracelets, rings.

"I don't bribe people, my father does it for me," Rilien said. His tone was teasing, though Leithan knew the statement to be true.

And Rilien probably knew – in fact, Leith was sure he knew – that Leithan was coerced into voting for someone in exchange for the privilege of being a chosen. Rilien was nowhere near as naive as Shay about these things.

But they'd never talked about it.

Which was fine with Leithan.

"Yeah. Your dad bribes priests, so they'll save some of their votes for his sons," Leithan said. "So that he doesn't need to give you guys any of his money. All you and your brothers have to do, is show up at that round table, feign interest for a bit, and voila, the people's taxes pay for your big salaries."

"The table's actually oval," Rilien corrected, making Leithan chuckle.

"I hate our system, Ril." Leith propped his booted foot on the back of the bench before him.

"No shit. You've only told me a million times," he said, but he had his eyes on the stage – maybe he was actually listening to Ikar's lecture.

So Leithan listened, too.

It seemed Ikar was discussing Book Four of Veya's Teachings – Musings.

"Veya's task was not an easy one," Ikar lectured. "She, herself, writes, in Chapter Two," Ikar said and, getting himself ready to start quoting, he buried his nose in the open book on the lectern. Leithan rolled his eyes.

The guy couldn't even be bothered to learn his Veya quotes by heart.

Plus, he hadn't even given them the title of the chapter. Unprofessional.

"On the Road," Leithan told Rilien, leaning in. "That's not that hard of a title to remember."

Rilien ignored him – he was used to it.

On the stage, Ikar read, "'My King wanted me to help people, all across the country, with the transition away from the stifling Book of Seelai and toward a healthier spirituality. Easier said than done.'" Ikar smiled at his crowd, looking up from the page. "I do love it when she gets witty like that." He got a few polite laughs.

"What the fuck?" Leithan said to Rilien. "Does he know the definition of the word witty? That's not even one of the best quotes from that chapter. I could give you at least five that are better."

"Leith," Rilien said, losing his smile now. "Please don't."

"I mean," Leithan said, "for instance, when she goes to White Coast and sees the snowy plains for the first time: 'I was sure of one thing. There was more to this life, to this world, than I could possibly comprehend the way my mind was now. That realization induced in me a mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy because there was so much more, sorrow because I wasn't sure I'd ever get to find out what that more was.'"

Rilien didn't react.

"Wouldn't you say that's better?" Leithan asked.

"Can you please chill? Are you high?"

There was judgment on his tone. Rilien didn't like klar, didn't like when his friends took it either.

But it was more than that.

Rilien and Leithan had dated for a couple of months, a little over two years ago. It was just after the four of them became friends. Rilien had actually been his first boyfriend. Short story, it hadn't worked out. And soon after the break up, Leithan had started dating Nix Kalira, and either Rilien had never really got over it, or he just really didn't like Nix – and he disliked the stuff Nix dealt about as much as he did the dealer.

Leithan said, "I'm not, but there might be some remnants of . . ."

On the stage, Ikar Blueknight cleared his throat, loud. His hands were calmly on the lectern's sides, and he was staring all the way to the last bench with a forced polite smile.

"My fellow chosen Leithan Blackfeather, and Councilman Rilien Grayhound, can I help you gentlemen with anything? Do you have a question about my lecture?"

Sudden silence in the room.

In the front seats, Ikar's small audience turned and stared, gossipy-style. They were mostly old ladies with fancy hats on, which amused Leithan a lot.

Leithan cleared his throat too, and abruptly got up.

"I don't. Um, your lecture is . . . riveting, but I was just telling my friend that I'm not feeling very well and I think I need some fresh air."

Ikar gave a gracious nod. "I'm sorry to hear that, Leithan. Perhaps you should go outside."

"Perhaps I should." Then, in a much lower voice,"Ril? Come with me, please? I need to talk to you. It's important, I promise."

Son of No CityWhere stories live. Discover now