Chapter 104

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Leithan and Koral found him sitting under the acacia.

In the shade, hidden from the late day sun. Only one sliver of its light reached Teshin, illuminating the side of his face, making some strands of his hair shine like fire.

He looked a bit gaunt and, as Leithan approached, he thought that he'd never seen Teshin so clearly exhausted before. Depressed, too. Teshin hadn't noticed them yet, and stared into the empty air before him like all the answers had gone and left him alone.

But a surprised smile brightened his face when he finally saw the two of them, coming closer under the acacia's shade.

Everything was quiet, no sound came from the treehouse above. Just the birds and bugs surrounding them with their steady melodies. And behind them, the distant chatter of the clan preparing some dinner. The wind held the scent of meat roasting over fire.

"You have no idea," Teshin said, "how good it is to see you."

His voice had a rough edge. Either he'd cried earlier, or he just hadn't been talking much the past couple of days. Possibly both.

Koral had told Leithan everything on the way.

She'd explained about Xefen's addiction and the withdrawal, and Teshin doing this on his own. Koral had wanted to stay with them, but apparently Xefen wouldn't budge on the fact that he didn't want her to see him like this. So, defeated, she had gone home with Etrikis.

As for Leithan, he'd waited, and waited.

I'll be back.

Yeah, right. What a cryptic, useless message.

After two restless days, Leithan had got too worried and left with his backpack to look for Teshin. He'd stopped by Raven – or near it, anyway, not wanting to risk bumping into Nix or Kresh. Leithan had been lucky, finding Koral instead.

And after about a day's trek, here they were now.

Leithan dropped to the ground next to Teshin, sitting on a root that was almost big enough to be a log. Teshin turned to look at him, and he seemed so weary and spent. Almost like Tesh had been the one to go through some infernal withdrawal.

Though Leith supposed, in a way, that was the case.

With a sigh that held the weight of the world in it, Teshin pressed himself closer, eagerly greeting him with a hug. And Tesh held him with surprising vigor too, for the state he seemed to be in.

"It's good to see you too," Leithan told him.

When they pulled away, Koral stepped closer, glancing up at the treehouse.

"How is he?" she asked, apprehensive.

Teshin frowned – taking some time to gather his thoughts, maybe – before he answered.

"I think the worst is over, now. He was finally able to sleep a bit, earlier," Teshin said. "Though he tossed and turned like mad and I really thought the treehouse would come crashing down on my head." He gave a weak, lopsided smile. "Anyway, still, he's not doing so well," Teshin admitted.

"You need a break," Koral said firmly, hand resting on the leather strap of her satchel. "Let me take over."

"What about all that fuss he made, and not wanting you to see him in this state?" Teshin asked.

"Well," Koral said, "he's just gonna have to suck it up, won't he?"

Teshin, clearly finding no more words to argue, rose to his feet with Leithan, and they stepped aside to grant her access to the ladder.

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