Chapter 44

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On Tuesday morning, Leithan took a shower. Then, towel at his hips, he stood in front of his open closet and looked at his clothes for a long time.

He felt silly. But he couldn't help it, he wanted to look nice.

Outside, rain drummed against his window. Typical.

Leithan eventually made his choice.

Black pants with useless – but fun – straps, buckles and zips all over the place, and a pale gray shirt that Shaylan said set off his eyes. The shirt had long sleeves, metallic studs at the hems, and the top section of the back was made to seem like it had been torn open, both frayed sides connected by thin gray strips through which you could see the skin. Leithan thought the effect was neat and besides, sometimes it was good to take fashion risks.

He stepped in his boots, slung his satchel across his shoulder, picked up his black umbrella, and made his way out.

In the lecture hall, Peyton Rosethorn stood on the stage, speaking to maybe twenty people. Early morning slots weren't great.

Leithan gave her a little wave and smile from across the room, which Peyton returned before resuming her lecture.

Once outside, Leithan went around the temple, cut across Silent Park and walked a few minutes along Midtown Street, the Observatory Tower looming above him as he approached it.

It felt different wearing this shirt without any hair to cover the back. Feeling the cool air's touch through the strips of fabric was actually rather pleasant.

Teshin stood punctually at the street corner, by the Observatory Tower's side wall, studying the stone blocks like they were mesmerizing.

Or, maybe Teshin was surveying the men and women stepping in the building, with their fancy long coats and briefcases, closed umbrellas in hand, exchanging polite smiles with the uniformed door attendant.

Either way, when he turned and saw Leithan appearing beside him, his eyes brightened.

Clad in the same simple, slim black outfit Leithan had bought for him two days ago, Teshin had ditched the glasses and hat, and his hair was completely soaked . . . much like the rest of him.

"Let me introduce you to another wonderful Rengleam invention," Leithan said as he stepped closer, so that Teshin stood under the large black umbrella too.

Teshin said, "I saw many people with those things and I was envious."

"Well," Leithan replied, amused, "envy no more."

"Can I hold it?" Teshin requested.

"Be my guest."

Teshin's left hand briefly touched Leithan's fingers when he grasped the umbrella's metallic rod.

They started walking, Leithan leading the way toward Central Plaza. As promised, Teshin steadily held the umbrella between them, protecting them both from the rain. It was easy enough, they were about the same height. Leithan was maybe one inch taller, if that.

"What have you been up to?" Leithan asked him.

The switch to Yoxai felt very natural. Then again, so did hanging out with Teshin, for some reason. Like they'd known each other for months, not days.

"Nothing riveting," Teshin said, like he didn't want to talk about it. "You?" Cheerfully, he added, "Your hair's all short now."

"It is," Leithan confirmed, amused.

"No more braids for you," Teshin teased.

"Not for a while, anyway," Leithan said.

Across Central Plaza, a glossy carriage was being pulled by two pure white horses. Oneria Slyfox, Rami's grandmother, most likely sat inside that carriage. All of West Side knew that the old councilwoman, in a shocking display of wasteful spending – at least if you asked Leithan – liked to purchase only the whitest possible breeds. She had them brought to New Rimar by ship.

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