Chapter 32

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Nix didn't like Etrikis's hut.

The interior was an awful, disorganized mess of clothing, accessories, cooking material and food leftovers. There were mirrors everywhere, most of which Etrikis hadn't bothered to hang. He also had this weird obsession with walking sticks. Whenever Etrikis found a long, solid branch in the forest, and judged it would make for a good walking stick, he brought it back home.

Except, Etrikis didn't even use a walking stick, and even if he did, who needs twenty of those?

In one corner, Nix saw a full outfit, pants, shirt and cloak, hanging from a hook, entirely blue, done with darkis dye, no doubt. Nix had never seen Etrikis actually wear it, and hoped he never would.

Nix sat at the roughly-hewn round table with Koral, Steba and Kresh by his side. His three fellow apprentices appeared as tired and hungover as Nix felt.

Last night's party had been epic. The four of them had indulged in one too many drinks of fermented litchi, and a combination of just about every klar.

Steba had even indulged in some amrin – Nix had caught him popping the dried yellow fruit at some point, when the night had still been young. His reserved personality had transformed, and he'd danced with every girl in the clan, even Koral.

Witnessing Steba's moody expression now, and the dark circles under his reddened eyes, he was clearly paying the price today.

Etrikis remained standing, as he often did, pacing the cluttered room. Windows were bolted, candles and incense were lit everywhere, and as a result the air was hot and pungent.

"I need some water," Koral said, voice barely above a whisper.

She trailed to the other side of the room, around the counter, and to the rainwater casks.

"Pray tell, what's this emergency meeting about, aki?" Kresh asked Nix, and despite its meaning, that last word didn't sound friendly at all.

"You might want to sit down for this," Nix said.

Koral came back with her water and took her seat beside him, but Etrikis shook his head.

"I'm fine standing, thank you, Nix."

"All right," Nix said with a heavy sigh, his arms on the table. He wondered how best to say this.

"Out with it, already," Steba protested, massaging his head. Koral shared some water with him, and he sipped it gratefully.

Nix said, "Xefen isn't who he says he is. He's an imposter."

They all looked either annoyed or disbelieving, as he'd expected. The shaman's face was a mask of denial and offended dignity. Koral was the only one with a frown that betrayed her doubts. Her big green eyes met Nix's, but she said nothing, for now.

Kresh, however, was never one for silence or patience. "Did your Rengleam boyfriend tell you this?" he jeered with a smirk.

Nix was used to Kresh's bullshit, and immune by now – at least most of the time.

"I have proof," Nix said. "I followed him, earlier today."

Etrikis angrily prowled closer to the table, but he still didn't sit.

"Why would you do such a thing?" the shaman hissed. "What if Xefen saw you?"

"I was careful," Nix protested. "Don't worry. I stayed at a safe distance. I'm the best tracker in the clan, remember?"

Kresh made a show of rolling his eyes, but he didn't speak up. Pranv Kalira himself had made that claim about his son, and you just didn't refute the clan leader.

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