Chapter 53

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"I got it right, then?" Leithan asked.

Teshin sighed. "Pretty much. It didn't happen right away. It was a progressive thing. People all across Asheth, in all the clan, they wanted more klar. The shaman and clan leader wouldn't change their old habits – maybe because their old habits had merit, much as your father told you."

"So people came to you," Leithan finished for him.

Teshin shrugged helplessly. "We'd used everything we had for the battle. We couldn't give them what they wanted. But they didn't believe us. At least, some of them didn't – enough of them to rile up the others. It happened maybe a season after the victory. Many warriors from the other clan got together and attacked Nekaida. They came to ransack our homes, they wanted . . . I suppose they wanted a common enemy. Someone to blame. Ironic, right?" Tesh gave a mirthless chuckle.

Leith reached out on a whim – the alcohol in his bloodstream, perhaps – and took Teshin's hand, squeezing it gently. Tesh had been wringing his hands, and Leithan just wanted to try and make him feel better, if he could. Teshin's skin felt cold.

Teshin looked surprised, but he didn't pull his hand back. Instead, he gave Leithan's hand a squeeze, too.

"I'm sorry this happened to you. It's insane, isn't it," Leithan said intently, "how the stories just conveniently forgot all about that part?"

The wind blew some wavy strands across Teshin's face, and Leithan could glimpse again his mangled ear.

"Ever since I woke up," Teshin said with a hesitant frown, "I've been thinking about this. About what must've happened after that dreadful fight. And I think that . . . they must've realized their mistake. I mean, sure, we had a little bit of klar, but not much – no more than your average shaman keeps in his hut. Their other mistake" – Teshin glanced down at their joined hands – "was that they'd just killed the only people who both knew how to prepare them, and were willing to share that knowledge. Of course, we weren't truly dead, thanks to Mikai, but that, they did not know."

Leithan took that in, slowly digesting all the information. Teshin was right. It made sense. What could those warriors have done, in the aftermath of that fight? In the seasons that followed? They must've felt . . . ashamed, maybe. They must've wanted to just forget it ever happened.

"You know," Teshin said with a small smile, "it's what Xefen would've wanted, I think. For the stories – for the legend to only remember how he brought the seven clan together as one. It was his dream."

For a moment, Leithan was silent, and there was only the night-chilled wind. Then, it slammed into him – an abrupt, aching realization – and he looked up at Teshin with wide eyes.

"That was your last memory, your clan being attacked." Leithan searched Teshin's gaze, and from the pain he saw there, he knew it to be true.

Outrage coiled, burning, inside Leithan, giving his voice strength. "Your sister, Etrikis, the apprentices, none of them worried about that, did they? They just woke you up without thinking, in front of everybody. I mean, they should've done it somewhere private, somewhere you'd feel safe, not so . . . so exposed and confused in a crowd of strangers." Leithan realized he was rambling, but couldn't stop himself, "Not to mention, having to pretend to be someone you're not, on top of everything? Spirits' fucking sakes Tesh, you must've felt so lost, and scared. I can't even—"

Teshin shifted closer, making him stop. Then, Teshin's hand came up the side of his face, much as he'd done the day before, after Leithan had walked him to the southern edge of town under the rain.

This time, Teshin's hand gently moved to the back of his neck, touching the short hair there. His expression was unreadable. Leithan's heart was pounding with increasing intensity.

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