Erybet scowled. He kept his voice low. “People change, Imdiko, especially men who have been through war. Just because we’re not quite how you remember us—”
Here we go again. Conyod couldn’t keep the furious hurt out of his voice. “You’re nothing like the men I clanned with. I’m not stupid, you know. I understand war changes people, but this is beyond that. If you’d just give me a hint as to what happened, maybe I could find something to grasp, some common ground where I could meet you.”
Erybet stopped and swung around so quickly that Conyod would have run into him if Sletran’s arm hadn’t shot out to stop him in time. Before Conyod could catch his eyes, the Nobek looked away, his gaze darting away as if ashamed.
Conyod couldn’t remember the last time Sletran had looked him in the eyes.
They were just in front of Conyod’s office, and Sletran yanked him towards it. “In here. If you two have to fight about this again, at least do it in private.”
The three went in. The door shut, leaving Conyod alone with his clanmates. Erybet loomed over him, his lips pressed tightly together. Conyod returned the glare, not giving an inch. Sometimes he thought he hated his Dramok. If Erybet would give just the tiniest bit, Sletran might open up and tell Conyod why he’d hacked his once waist-length hair off. Why he shouted “No! No!” in his sleep, his voice breaking in horror and despair. Why he sometimes disappeared for hours at a time and wouldn’t tell them where he’d gone, re-appearing with bruises and scratches all over his body.
Sletran was self-destructing. And until Erybet let him speak, Conyod could only stand by and watch his hero fall apart.
Yes, sometimes he really did hate Erybet. Like right this moment.
“Damn it, it kills me when you look at me like that,” the Dramok said, his shoulders drooping. “Don’t you know I’d tell you everything if I could? I’ve never kept secrets from you before. But we’re sworn to do so now by the Imperial Commander himself.”
The defeated look Erybet wore made Conyod’s anger waver. He knew Erybet was hurting too. That perhaps the Dramok himself was lost in an emotional storm no less destructive than Sletran’s. But seeing the frozen blankness on Sletran’s face that didn’t quite hide the torment in his eyes made Conyod feel mean.
Damn it, Erybet was their Dramok. He was supposed to lead his clan, to put their welfare ahead of all else. His voice cold, Conyod told him, “I don’t know anything anymore except my clan is falling apart, and you’re letting it happen.”
Raw anger sparked anew in Erybet’s expression. Sletran picked up on it immediately and pushed Conyod back a little, angling his body so that he was between the Dramok and Imdiko. Protective as always. It was the one thing about Sletran that hadn’t changed.
That made Conyod’s vision swim, and he blinked hard. Damn it, he wanted his Nobek back. And his Dramok too, for that matter, as mad as Erybet made him. So he didn’t hate his leader after all. If he did, it wouldn’t hurt so much.