“They gleefully threw him, head first and screaming, into the heart of the volcano,” Alec finished, his voice low and dramatic. He glanced across the small circle around the fire, fixing first Zain, then Terius, Jaera, and Lainan with a steady, ominous look. The shadows skittered, shook the lines of his face and his skin was flushed raw orange in the light. Lainan ran his knuckles down his jaw as if to rub away something uncomfortable. Terius gave a slow blink and beside him, Jaera tightened her arms around her knees. The coals popped in the silence, and they all looked carefully at nothing. A satisfied smile spread slowly across Alec’s mouth.
“Liar,” Zain said.
Alec groaned. “What?”
Lainan chuckled quietly and Terius gave another longer, slower blink.
Zain just stared back at him, mouth open in amused incredulity. “Liar,” he repeated.
“How the bleeding stars do you know that?” Alec demanded.
Alex thought that it wasn’t really his fault. And the others repeated their conviction that it was.
He had been very small when he first learned about liars, about the half-truths that they could tell and the way they could spread their words into unwary mouths, so that the lie was repeated with real honesty under the syllables. He had been less than ten years old when he stopped believing what he was told and stopped believing in truths that could be easily stated.
He had been only a little bigger when he was taught that liars could be right as well. The sharp twist in that had bitten him so much deeper, and from time to time, he remembered it in better detail than he would have liked.
“There is nothing out there in the dark,” he said. “Nothing worth being frightened over.” He stomped his heels to push his feet into all the proper corners of his hard leather boots, stood and smoothed down the front of his rough breeches, smiling. He slung his coat around his shoulders and didn’t bother with the top button, the fur collar brushing his ears. Thumbing the latch, he held the door open for a long minute before he stepped out and let it fall shut behind him.
And coming back inside, buttons done up tight, chin down into the fur, he said nothing.