Chapter 47

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When he was ten years old, after that awful, cursed, hellish night, after his father was shot to death and his mother sent to jail where she didn't get the care she needed, Leithan was dumped in the boys' dormitory, at the Salvation Temple, for a lack of a better place to put him.

The funniest thing was, before that, he'd been alone with his parents, and Valira's two old, loyal servants at the Eagle-Eye mansion. And he remembered how he used to wish for friends his own age. Whilst his parents patiently explained to him, time and time again, that it wasn't possible right now, that people wouldn't understand, that things were complicated. That when he was older, Leithan would understand.

Well, it had all come crashing down much sooner than Val and Kovishi had expected, and at ten years old, he had understood one thing.

He had been an ungrateful moron.

The other boys in the dorms hid his clothes. Beat him up. Spat on him. Tore at his hair. Made fun of him. Called him names. Insulted him. He heard the word faggot for the first time. They also peed in his bed.

That was the first night.

Yeah, after that, he'd regretted ever whining to his parents about craving the company of kids his own age. Fuck that.

Leithan had, however, made one ally at the Salvation Temple. Priestess Maureen Cunningcat.

She ran the place, and she was on his side. Which, it turned out, made the kids bully him more. But, well, you can't have everything.

Priestess Maureen had taken Leithan under her wing. She'd gone with him to the Black Fortress so he could visit his mother there for the first time, so he wouldn't have to go on his own.

She'd helped Leithan get into a school on the West Side, where things were more structured and disciplined and there wasn't as much violence and bullying. Still, even there, Leithan was the strange half-Yoxai kid, and for many years, Maureen remained his only friend.

When Leithan was twelve, Maureen assisted him with writing his application to the Elder Priest so he could become a novice at the Golden Temple. She was as surprised as Leithan when he actually got accepted.

Frista and Leithan sat in Maureen's study now, eight years later.

She hadn't changed.

Maureen's golden brown skin seemed to glow healthily in spite of the years and wrinkles. Her forehead was high and wide, but her rich brown hair, streaked here and there in silver, curled wildly around her face to offset and soften it. She had dark eyes that sparkled with as much intelligence as her last name suggested, an aquiline nose, and lips painted in a deep violet shade Leithan had never seen her without.

She sat behind a cluttered desk in her small study, her wooden chair creaking as she shifted in it, thick white shawl wrapped about her shoulders. The bookshelves were in disarray, dust gathered in the corners, and there was a metallic bucket on the floor, water dripping steadily from the ceiling.

Frista and Leithan were seated on two small wooden stools on the other side of her desk, facing the priestess. Introductions were made – though Maureen, much like Leithan, already knew who Frista was from her New Ri Press articles – but before they could get to the heart of why they were here, two big cats stormed into the study, chasing and clawing at one another. Frista made a little gasp in surprise, but Leithan wasn't too shocked.

Much like horses, these domesticated cats weren't native to Asheth. Instead, Rengleam people had them brought over by ship because they liked cats, and because they were stupid. Like Shay's parents, who had offered their daughter a cat for her previous birthday.

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