Chapter 72

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Furtive glances out the window and door crack revealed about a dozen spear-holding Yoxai orbiting Nix's hut.

So Leithan decided to wait until dark to make his escape. Hopefully, between now and then, as they concluded that he wasn't trying anything, they'd get bored and their patrolling would get lax.

To pass the time, Leithan raided Nix's kitchen cabinets and shelves, before realizing he wasn't even hungry. He found a bottle of fermented fruit alcohol, tasted it, found it too sweet. He drank some anyway.

Then, Leithan located the dresser where Nix kept his collection of Rengleam weapons, in the two biggest bottom drawers. He swept up one of the swords – the one that seemed the best quality. He hefted it, made a few lazy strokes and figures across the hot late afternoon air.

It had a long straight blade, double-edged. Upon closer examination, though, the steel hadn't been well cared for. Not properly oiled or sharpened. The tip felt too blunt under Leithan's finger. This sword wasn't appropriately balanced either, the blade too heavy for the hilt.

The craftsmanship didn't come close to that of the sword Saul had bought him three years ago when he'd realized Leithan was truly serious about their training.

I wish I had it right now.

Still, at least Nix's cheap sword helped pass the time.

When he got tired of going through drills and figures – and also after an unfortunate dent in the side of Nix's table – Leithan sent the sword clanging back in its drawer.

He helped himself to some water at the cask. Found a jar of pistachios – ate most of them. Then, as dimness progressively chased daylight outside, Leithan lit up both shaded lanterns.

And the whole time, his thoughts were a hopeless, churning mess. Nothing really connected or registered. There was just this underlying anxiety, lurking, festering. Sometimes, the anxious thoughts overwhelmed him so much he had to gasp for air, convinced he might suffocate.

It was one such moment that spurred Leithan to slam open the door. He needed more fresh air than the window could provide.

Expectedly, Beilin stood right there with her spear, resting it beside her like a walking stick. A faint wind fluttered her pale brown hair.

She shot him a glare. "What do you think you're doing?"

Not answering, Leithan cast a glance about. The celebration was in its early stages. Casks of fruit alcohol were being rolled over to the center, close to where the fire would later blaze. The sky was gray and heavy with a rain that had yet to fall. Damp forest air wafted inside Nix's hut.

Koral, Steba and a few others were setting up the tam-tams. Seated on a boulder, an old woman was sketching priyon on the side of a teenage girl's face. And behind all of this, Leithan saw a bed of logs and branches, held together by vines. Leith had seen one of those once before, when he was ten. For Kovishi's ceremony. The bed was hastily assembled, he knew, made to burn easy.

"Is that for Mikai?" Leithan asked, his voice tight.

I didn't even know her.

Even so, for some reason, it stirred a deep grief within. Maybe because of Tesh. Because Leithan knew just how devastated he would be, not only by her death, but that he couldn't be here for her Death in Fire. That he couldn't even properly say goodbye.

That's if he ever wakes up.

Leithan felt a pang like a knife going through his chest.

Can't think like that. Not yet.

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