Chapter 48

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Leithan wasn't sure at all the spirits had anything to do with it, but Teshin turned out to be right about the weather being beautiful for the day of their hike.

It was a few hours before noon when they began.

Teshin guided him away from Clan of the Raven's compound and along a gently sloping path that seemed to have been used many times before. There was even a narrow wooden bridge on which they could cross the Initri River.

As they reached the other side of the bridge, Leithan asked Teshin how the klar picking had gone, the previous day.

Teshin smiled as he walked, slapping a particularly large fern frond aside.

"It went well," Teshin said. "We were able to find many amrin fruits. I enjoyed spending time with Steba and Koral, too."

Teshin leapt up a sudden incline in the terrain. Following him, Leithan stepped on a fat protruding root, leaned his right hand against a mossy tree for balance, and propelled himself up. Leaves and twigs crunched under his boots as he caught up with Tesh.

"I like Koral," Teshin said. He adjusted his bag – small and snug against his back, with the leather strap slung from shoulder to opposite hip, across his chest.

Leithan carried a backpack too, with two shoulder straps, bigger, and heavy, but the carefully selected items inside it were worth the extra effort.

"Yeah?" Leithan asked, and soon after, wished he hadn't.

Teshin threw him a smile over his shoulder. "She's just so charming. She's incredibly beautiful, but she's also smart and funny. I like the way she thinks," Teshin added, looking ahead at the path now.

Which was good, because he couldn't witness Leithan's expression turning sulky.

"If I was Etrikis," Teshin said, still without glancing back, "I'd choose her as the next shaman. No matter that women aren't supposed to become shaman. It's a stupid rule anyway."

"I agree with you on that," Leithan said, hoping to swerve the conversation.

Carefully, Leithan stepped over a log that had some odd, spongy-looking fungi adorning it.

What Teshin said next didn't lift his mood.

"You know, it astonishes me that Koral has no yaklizi!"

While Teshin marveled at the fact that Koral was still single, Leithan, a few paces behind him, sighed to himself. He looked down at the narrow, foliage-lined path, where a small green lizard ducked and darted between his stomping boots.

Just because you always hang out with queer kids doesn't mean the rest of the world is gay too.

They trekked on in silence for a few moments.

Leithan's mood couldn't remain bitter very long, though. Teshin hadn't been kidding about knowing all the best spots. The path undulated, and sometimes they veered from it a little, Teshin as their guide.

He showed Leithan small, hidden dells, full of blossoms that tilted their faces up to the sun. Leithan recognized laceleaf and amaryllis, among so many more. The wind bore sweet scents as it gusted through trees to brush past their skin and hair.

In the rising heat, Teshin took off his shirt, tying it around his bag's strap. Except for the white horizontal scar across his stomach, his skin had a nice light-gold hue, and it would no doubt get slightly darker today if the sun persisted in shining so strongly. Jenali's priyon were still intact across Teshin's chest and arms – dark reddish-brown symbols, intricate lines and leaves, gleaming and brightening whenever the light bathed them.

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