Chapter 31

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Teshin reached for the satchel's pocket, drew out joint – a fat one, Leith noted – and lit it with a match, and they smoked it together.

Voss wasn't Leithan's favorite klar, but right now, it felt right.

It helped with the stressful, lurking thoughts. With each inhale, those thoughts got pushed further away from the shield he'd crafted around his mind, around this moment in time and space.

Leithan let his reality shrink to Chena Ini, to the shimmering, steamy surface of the water, the large, pale stones on which they sat, the trees surrounding them like beautiful green guardians, the alternating heat and shade of sun and clouds above, and, of course, Teshin. Amber eyes slightly dilated now, content smile on his lips, hair slowly drying, coiling and waving unevenly as it did.

When Leithan glanced at the tiny stream lazily trickling in from the east, then looked up at Ashira, looming over them, the mountain seemed larger and taller than it had before, almost menacing.

He turned, glancing at Tesh. "Do you ever worry that the volcano will erupt again?"

Teshin's smirk was teasing when he answered, "If we stay true to the Zei Yelta, then Ashira will remain benevolent, and will not burn us alive in its terrible fury."

Leithan splashed water at him, and Teshin laughed. Then, Leithan laughed, too, for some time. He nearly forgot what they were laughing about.

"Seriously, though," Leithan said when he'd found the train of thought again. "Do you believe in that stuff? The spirits. Becoming one of them when you die. All that."

Teshin shrugged. "I don't know. Becoming one of the spirits when you die sounds really boring, to be honest."

That made Leithan laugh. "It does, doesn't it? Just like, wandering around, in a sort of, half-assed vengefulness . . . I don't know."

Teshin laughed too, and for a moment he couldn't stop. He seemed to be thinking about something funny, or maybe remembering something.

Leithan swam a little, focusing on the sound of Teshin's laughter, the glide of water across his skin, the heat of the sun on his hair.

His world seemed, for a moment, to deconstruct, to become fractals, every part of it isolated, lonely, almost—

"When I was a kid, I did this prank." Teshin's voice, breaking through the moment, seemed to make things snap together again.

Leithan swam back over to him and rested his arms, crossed, on a nearby stone. Warm water tickled up his shoulders, and dark brown hair undulated beside him like ribbons.

"There was this old man in our clan," Teshin said, laughter in his eyes. "He was completely crazy, he'd totally lost it. He really thought the spirits were coming for him, any day now. He was terrified about it. So one night, with Xef and a couple other kids, we dressed up in these big cloaks, hoods, even blankets – anything we could find."

Teshin tilted his head back, looked at the sky. "His hut was isolated from the rest of the clan. So late at night, I started bashing his window like mad. The others did it too – hammering on his door, his walls. And through the window's cracks I said things like, 'We've come for you!' Or, 'I know what you did!' Nonsense like that."

Leithan smiled, listening.

"And," Tesh said, "he actually believed it. We could hear him babbling to himself and freaking out inside, and at some point he stepped outside – maybe he wanted to escape – and so me and the others, we ran around him in these lunatic circles with our cloaks and blankets floating about. Doing these stupid, mad noises, low in our throats, or as low as you can when you're a child."

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