Chapter Four

Chapter Four

While the winds and rains of storms past had long since died away, the drums of life continued to move on. There would be more storms that lay ahead but for now the sun shone and the day would move on like it should do. When the new storms started to well up and the skies darkened again, the people of the World could only prepare for what they could prepare for and nothing more.

Past the slopping plains of the wild meadows to the west of the Realm lay cliffs that do not drop into the blue ocean but rather into ruins, graveyards, and a sparsely populated village just beyond the drop. Very few outsiders dared to step within a few miles of these cliffs, those that did dared not look down onto the land below their feet for very long. They often paid for a curious glance down below with their lives.

There would be no tales of what lay below other then a slingshot's spiked bullet to the head of the now dead person's forehead before they even knew they had been struck. The bodies of these dead folk were either thrown into the ocean or left rotting where they were, to serve as a reminder that the people living in the valley did not want to be disturbed. Here the Ca'eil dwelled and they did not take kindly to an outsiders curious but terrified gaze.

Down below the cliffs sat the small village of the Ca'eil, scattered across the northern part of the valley. There were about twenty to twenty-five houses strung together, made of mud and bamboo stalks; these homes were large enough to house up to five Ca'eil comfortably only housed three in each at the most. Only one of these houses was unoccupied, the mud walls half crumbled away and the bamboo roof caved in; no one in the village had bothered to repair it for future use, not when it was uncertain that there would be any one to occupy it in the future. Not when the Ca'eil were uncertain about their own.

Fifteen miles to the south sat the ruins of the ancient civilization of Ca'eil, empty save for the rotting structures of old. These mud, marble, and reed creations had once stood half as high as the surrounding cliffs and that had been numerous as the Ca'eil once had been. Now there was only a quarter of these buildings left and they would soon go the way the old generations of Ca'eil had gone, slowly fading away into nothing. Desegregation of this once proud structures, two centuries worth of years and thievery reduced the remaining to almost pure rubble. Now all that was left was a faint echo of what once was.

Between these ruins and the current dwellings sat for large fields of crops, each planted two weeks before with a few sprouts now pushing out from under the soil. Tall, metallic spears jutted up from each end of these fields, large blue fish scales balanced on the painted tip of these spears and a cord hanging loosely down from the middle of each scale. The scales and spears served two purposes: to water and mark where the fields of wheat, corn, pumpkins, and grapes and as a weapon and shield in the rare case an outsider came into the valley. The spears were devoid of any humanoid blood in the years since the last battle nearly a century before and most likely would not see any more except for the blood of ravens during harvest season.

A single stairwell to the north of the Ca'eil homes stood straight against the tall cliffs, carved into the cliff itself many centuries prior and were well kept by the few brick-layers. These stairs were the safest way out of the valley and were used whenever a death occurred in the commoner ranks; the bodies were disposed according to their deeds in life and what their age was at the time of death. What happened to the bodies after they were dumped the Ca'eil didn't care; the commoners, much like the nobles, were now in the hands of their ancestors.

Just a half of a mile away from the bottom of the stairwell sat the entrance to a cave half hidden from view by large ferns and a blueberry bush. Inside a large tunnel jutted into the cliffs and separated into three rooms, one for each of the three Ca'eil deities. Each room consisted of sparse objects made for each of the deities, a fire pit, and offerings made to honor each deity. Very few Ca'eil did not come into these caves and even fewer did not leave an offering for any of the three; although food was hard to come by during some seasons, offerings were still made.

Two forms walked down the narrow stairs, distanced apart only by a long bamboo and wood platform caked with dried blood. Both had waist-length back, course hair that was tied in knots to their boney shoulders; there were feathers at each knot, giving their hair a slightly more wispy look. Their arms and legs were long and muscular, supporting a lean, thin, nearly bone-like build, their skin, at a distance, looked like tiny scales but at a closer look was smooth and pale despite years in the sun. Their eyes, sunken in and alert, kept darting up to the cliffs like they had expected something was behind them.

Their necks were short and stub-like, like most Ca'eil's were, this was one of the defining features that made the Ca'eil stand apart from humans. It was as though they hadnoneck at all, but their heads were just closer to their shoulders then most of the other species in the World. There were exceptions to this, the nobles had the trait where they had a normal, almost human-like neck but were thinner and more delicate.

The other Ca'eil within the compound did not take notice the two who returned from the desert, knowing that a commoner fisher man had died during the storm and was placed into the wild desert where vultures and sandworms would take the body safely away from prying eyes. They did this to keep the other humanoids from taking the bodies, the desert had very little in the ways of civilizations outside the few, small nomadic desert tribes.

The two Ca'eil - after returning the bamboo plank back to the caves and muttering several prayers to their gods - parted ways at the cave's entrance without another word to each other. Both would do their daily preparations for their crops and battle, to ensure that they remain in seclusion in their valley. The food supply was not low, far from the warning levels it had been years before, so the Ca'eil could spare warriors and commoners to prepare for the threats on the other sides of the cliffs.

While they had no direct reason to scale the cliffs before the summer months had even begun, the preparations would see to an earlier scouting if need be. The less threats they saw with their own hallow, sunken eyes, the farther away from the valley they needed to move. The Realm was the farthest any Ca'eil was willing to go, not for fear of accidental interaction from other races but because there was little need to start battles so early in the year.

Not all Ca'eil were preparing for battles not yet fought or food in the fields, few had little else to do on a day that had not seen gracious weather like this day. One such Ca'eil stood just above where the noble graveyard sat, watching three male Ca'eil drag a large scaled fish from the ocean opening of the valley. She was one of few who appeared to be more human than Ca'eil, her body slimmer and less boney then her Ca'eil kin, her limbs less muscular and neck long; there was a thin, black scar along where her vocal cords were.

She stood with a frown on her thin lips, leaning on a long yew quarterstaff while tugging angrily at the purple robes she wore before tugging at the thin braids of her hair. Her light red eyes stared coolly at the three fishermen, a stare that told them more then what words could not say. Two of the fishermen paid her no attention, dragging the fish along without a step missed or a step slowed. The third, however, slowed down to almost a stop and a glare returned.

"Are you going to be at the food house, Fai'li, or does someone have to drag you there today?" The fisherman asked sourly, not waiting for an answer as he walked quickly to the others. Fai'li turned her upper body to the retreating backs, putting tow fingers on the black band and purple diamond that was tattooed on her forehead. She watched the fishermen for a moment more, moving her hand down to her scarred neck before turning back towards the graves in front of her.

The graves that she watched meant nothing to her, the nobles buried in the ground a reminder of what she was not. If she had been of any other position would her fate be any different then it was? Outwardly she moved her hands and arms into silent curses, meant not only for the graves in front of her but also for the ocean as well. Inwardly, however, she wished for the time to join the other Ca'eil in the afterlife where she would have a voice to speak with again.

[Hello, Bai'jia,] Fai'li gestured with her hands as she moved her quarterstaff against one of the headstones and turned around. While she had no voice to speak with, her hearing and her hands were as good as anything. The young Ca'eil whom she knew as Bai'jia was not surprised to have been heard as he walked the last several steps to Fai'li.

Bai'jia, short for a Ca'eil his age and had almost the same body shape as the one in front of him, stood in front of her with a sigh. His deep purple eyes, pupil's slit like cats, flickered past the woman and towards the ocean, the fires of his youth flashing in his eyes. He stood a foot and a half shorter then Fai'li, who was taller then most Ca'eil as Bai'jia was shorter, with purple hair to his shoulders. The left side of his head had been waxed off in lines from front to back, showing his station as a noble and as the official translator for Fai'li, a station that, despite his young age, had little demands on him.

Fai'li knew that look on the young noble's face, one that she had seen dozens of times before whenever the two of them stood this close to the ocean. If there were not hidden eyes watching him from the shadows then he would have grabbed Fai'li by the arm and taken her past the gates barring water-fairing people from entering by the shores, then along the edges of the ocean and beyond. But eyeswerewatching a young noble and the shaman of the Ca'eil and would watch them until they were further away from the ocean.

"Ko'uri wants you to bless the fish that was just brought in," he said with a half smile. Fai'li looked over his head and sighed; she could not see the food house where meats were left to dry and was glad the ever present eyes could not hear them.

[I will do no such thing, not onthatfish,] she replied with a glare in the direction the fishermen went in. [I do not like those three, even if theyarenobles.]

"You'll just have to ignore them, they don't like anyone. Not even me, and I'm two stations above them." Bai'jia smiled broadly, smug in his statement. If Fai'li could, she would have felt sadness in those same words; there would be nothing left for the Ca'eil child once the shaman was gone from the living. Even if he understood her gestures more then the others, he served no other purpose other then to tend to the harvest a the end of the summer months. Such was the life of a noble, unable to see the glories of battle, unable to pick up a weapon for defense.

[Being my voice means nothing to most of who live here, even to the Gods.] Fai'li smiled faintly. [Ko'uri could still kill you for what you just said.]

"The chief would notdarestrike a noble, one of the children found out the hard way." Bai'jia shuddered, knowing full well what would happen if there were any strikes to a Ca'eil noble. The descendents of their Gods, children that were unable to see the words of battle themselves. Even striking one to remind a noble of words that did not need to be spoken earned the death of a commoner. "The Gods wouldn't allow it."

[Then I'll pray to Zaeton and Miry for forgiveness tonight if my hands should stray.] Fai'li picked up her quarter staff, turned around, and began to walk towards the village. She still had no intentions of blessing whatever fish had been brought in from the ocean, hardly caring if it went to waste. Their Gods would not care if one fish was not blessed for consumption this day, food was only blessed to appease the nobles that wanted their ancestors old words to be remembered.

Bai'jia turned quickly, a panicked look on his face. "You wouldn't do anything would you Fai'li? FAI'LI!"

Fai'li herself made throaty sounds, turning around to walk backwards so that she could face the young one. I'm slated to die anyways so killing me now would save the trouble later, was her response as the noble caught up with her.

"You still won't take my offer will you?" He asked as Fai'li turned around. "We Ca'eil can't swim very well and even Ko'uri knows you can't speak without me."

[He got along just fine before you surprised him with being able to understand my gestures fully.] She looked down at her hands, the only way she could speak to the rest of the World. The words she spoke with them consisted of what she remembered as a child; gestures meaning birds and horses from old Ca'eil stories. The rest she had converted from the Ca'eil spoken language and Bai'jia had added some of the human's main spoken language into the gestures she used. [You surprisedmewith it, languages and gestures are your gift child. Running away will ruin any training you have left. Come, lets go back to the village now.]

"The open sea would be better then here." He looked disapprovingly at the village looming ahead of him as he followed her at her side. "Why don't you want to leave? Neither one of us has a chance to do much more, you'll be relieved of your station when the new shaman is done with the training. I can't fight or go into battle because I'm a noble. I'm not about to become a farmer for the rest of my life."

Fai'li stopped suddenly, Bai'jia took a few more steps before back tracking to face her. [Ca'eil, even those who have managed to leave this valley alive, will not be seeing the World for long. That's how it is, a lone Ca'eil can not draw strength from nothing.]

They stood facing each other, the noble and the shaman, each staring right back at the other. They both knew that they couldn't leave on their own, and both were restricted by their own position within the structure of the Ca'eil. Unable to do more then they were allowed to do was common musings, not only by them but by others within. Their own kin may have some troubles as well but they also knew nothing outside blood and death, the long line of destruction falling behind them. That was the way of the Ca'eil, a way that, one day, would see to the end of them if nothing changed.

[The rest of the World sees the Ca'eil for what we are: blood thirsty, battle loving savages. We could get away with passing as humans for a while, as we are of the few that aren't born with short necks, but eventually they will know.] Fai'li then gestured between the two of them. [Even if some of us leave with the intentions of never singing to Miry or Zaethon again, or taking up a spear or sling shot for war, the World still sees us as Ca'eil. It's in our blood.]

"Isn't there a place in the World where no one knows what Ca'eil are?" Bai'jia asked, taking a glance behind him to the ocean. Fai'li smiled a genuine smile at the innocent question asked, one she had always much younger then this one ask but never heard it repeated from the same child.

[Probably overseas to the west but that is unknown lands to us, as no Ca'eil has returned alive from a sea-going vessel with humans. No pirate would take a Ca'eil that far without a dagger to the heart.] She purposely left that statement open-ended, for both pirate and Ca'eil would've stabbed each other before a ship even left port. [When my last days are here I'll let you know then. Until my last moments I am content on staying where I can't see the ugly humans.]

Bai'jia watched her with a frown as she moved forwards, soon he walked right behind her without another word. They walked in silence, his movements a bit unsteady as Fai'li's own slowed as they neared the blessing and storage house where fishermen kept their daily catches. Fai'li grasped her staff a little bit harder then she normally did and her moved into narrow slits; now she could not just walk by the house without notice and she had a hunch that this was the work of the fishermen.

Leaning against the wall near the entrance of the storage house was a single male Ca'eil that stood just a few inches taller then the shaman did and he had the stunted neck known to the Ca'eil race. His yellow eyes, sparkled with several speaks of white, stared coldly at the shaman as though he was daring her to walk on by without entering. His long nailed fingers tapped on his black and silver scaled armor, his long black hair tied in three different length braids. He wore the green and blueD'vailnecklace, a cherry blossom flower in the middle of a triangle, around the upper left arm; it was supposed to be around his neck instead.

It was the symbol of a Ca'eil chief, the one who was supposed to lead the Ca'eil into high glory.D'vailmeant 'power to the leader' in the Ca'eil language, it was only supposed to be worn during battles outside the valley. Why he was wearing it they didn't know, there had been no battles that day nor had Fai'li blessed it yet. It was a bad sign if it was worn any other time, even worse if it wasn't around his neck; that was more of a sign of disrespect then a bad omen.

He smiled widely at the approaching pair, his pointed teeth bared fully; Fai'li would've snarled at him if she had the physical ability to do more then a choking, frog-like grunt. She didn't even find him that attractive by Ca'eil standards, how anyone could she couldn't understand. Perhaps her method of death would be to fight this one, that would be her dying wish even though she would be heavily drugged if she did. It wasn't a common practice for a Ca'eil shaman to fight another one before their death, yet it was not a rare request. It was also still not a common thing for a shaman to chose her own death either, but she would have the poisonous drug that would kill her while she did battle anyways. Perhaps that would satisfy her in the life beyond this one.

"Morning Ko'uri," Bai'jia said, Fai'li ignoring him completely as she entered the but quietly. Both Ko'uri and Bai'jia stayed outside as no one was allowed inside while the shaman was there, 'blessing' the meal. This also gave Fai'li the chance to gesture to Ko'uri secretly with cursed meant for war prey; Miry would forgive her yet again for these curses, she probably would be laughing at them if she had a physical form in the World.

"She doesn't like me, does she?" Ko'uri asked, moving a hand along his armor. There was no need to wear it during times of non-battle but since the scaled and metal armor had just been finished before the sun had risen, he had worn it just to show it off. Bai'jia thought it made him look like a fool but he dared not say anything out loud, noble or not.

"What makes you thinkthat?" He asked, praying that Fai'li would come out soon and end her prayers early. He didn't feel comfortable standing this close to the Ca'eil chief.

"Just by looking at her." Ko'uri smile didn't waver. "It's a shame she has the role of the shaman to play, she'd make a fine mate."

"Shame," Bai'jia mumbled back. Ko'uri either missed the noble's sarcasm, or ignored it; either way he looked down at the younger Ca'eil with those cold, distant, yellow eyes. It wasn't hard to do, he was nearly two feet taller then Bai'jia, only a few inches taller then Fai'li, their height was like their places in the Ca'eil culture.

Although Ko'uri was the head chief of the Ca'eil and had the last say in almost all decisions made, he still was consideredbeneaththe young one in front of him. Bai'jia knew this, all nobles did, yet he still had to bow his head for orders; Ko'uri's eyes were telling him to leave. He stayed anyways, mainly for the shaman's sake and because Ko'uri hadn't given an actual verbal command to do anything else but stand there.

"Why are you here, Ko'uri?" He asked, then gestured to the surrounding area. "Aren't there other duties you have?"

"As do you." The chief's eyes flickered elsewhere for a few seconds. While he was chief and his word was final, he could not answer Bai'jia's questions. It was a complicated system, one that only a few outsiders could fully understand. "There was some talk that Fai'li wasn't going to bless another catch of fish again. I'm here to make sure she does."

"That was a one-time thing," Bai'jia pointed out.As far as you know it was,he added to himself, trying not to smile. "Has she stayed true toherduties since?"

Ko'uri chose not to answer that question, standing up straight as Fai'li exited the hut. Her and Ko'uri's eyes met and locked onto each others, if their eyes could battle they would've been evenly matched. She purposely kept her eyes void of the hatred she had for Ko'uri, while Ko'uri's eyes held a twinge of lust in his eyes. Bai'jia tugged on the shaman's robe to tell her it was time to go, had Ko'uri not spoken before they could wander back to the shaman's place by the graves.

"You blessed the fish anyways," Ko'uri stated coldly as the two turned to stare at him. "Why?"

[I wouldn't have if you weren't standing here already,] Fai'li gestured, looking down at the noble beside her to translate her gestures into words.

"'I had a change of mind plus I did not wish to repeat what happened before'," Bai'jia wrongfully translated, earning him a glare from Fai'li. Ko'uri, hopefully, didn't remember some of the simple gestures used by the shaman.

"I'm glad that you did, Fai'li. The fish would've gone to waste if you hadn't." He smiled scornfully at the pair. "You wouldn't have let that happen again, now would you?"

Fai'li's laughter was like a choking toad's croaking: course, scratchy, and didn't properly convey the type of innocence she wanted. [Sure I wouldn't have, I haven't done it in two weeks now. I'd let everyone starve if they knew.]

"'No I wouldn't, it would've been a terrible waste of food."And like you would know how little she's done in blessings recently,Bai'jia silently said to himself, still ignoring the steady glare from Fai'li.

"It's a pity we have to kill you, you are one of the better shaman's despite a few unraveling moments." He suddenly seem very interested in his armor. "While the one to replace you isn't ready yet, it could be any day that we decide to put that one in your spot. I suggest if you have a parting wish that you make it soon, I would hate to see you not get a wish."

[I'm sure that you don't really think that, Ko'uri.] Fai'li's gesturing were a little off, as she leaned on her quarterstaff for support. Even though she had been doing blessings like this for years, it still took a decent amount of energy to call upon their gods for a blessing. [Not that I care, I'll welcome my death when it comes.]

"'Thank you, Ko'uri. I don't wish to die but I'll welcome it anyways. '"That was the closest Bai'jia came to translating that didn't earn a glare. Ko'uri laughed at the words regardless.

"Spoken like a true Ca'eil." He pushed his thin lips together in a faint shadow of a smile. "If the gods hadn't put the two of you into your positions I would have you both was warriors."

[Just so you could have us killed on the battlefield to make it appear like we died heroically.] She bared her teeth in a vain attempt to smile. [I wouldn't be surprised you'd do it now.]

"'Thank you. Your words mean a lot to us.'" Bai'jia bowed his head as Ko'uri laughed again. Clamping a hand down on the noble's shoulder and casting a quick look towards Fai'li, he walked in the direction of the chief housing. Fai'li gurgled in an attempt to make a hissing sound, Bai'jia turning around to make sure she was okay. "Fai'li you were lucky Ko'uri wasn't paying attention to you that much."

[He barely understood me before, why should I be worried now?] She smiled lightly as she began to wander away from the food house. [If I didn't need your skills I would have killed you regardless of your noble status.]

Bai'jia stared at her, laughing nervously in the direction Ko'uri was going. He didn't even look back at the two, he didn't even seem to take notice that he was being watched. Bai'jia walked backwards several steps before turning around and walking in step with Fai'li.

"I was only trying not to get you killed faster then you already are slated to." He glanced up at her set face. "Ko'uri would have it done faster then you could blink, he doesn't need a reason to kill you."

[He would get away with it, too.] She did not smile, did not meet the noble's gaze. She stopped when she was sure that Ko'uri was not able to see her wild gesturing nor hear Bai'jia's words. [And you whipped before the other leaders could do anything about it. Funny thing is, Ko'uri doesn't care as long as he can get away with it. You should know this by now.]

"The only good thing about being a noble is thatno onecan physically or mentally harm us." Bai'jia put emphasis on 'no one' to prove his point, yet even he was beginning to find that hard to believe. Fai'li smiled at his fading innocence, perhaps one day he would see the rest of the World for what it truly was.

[Should I pray that it would never happen to you in this lifetime?] Turning halfway around she looked in the direction they had come then in the direction of the cold ocean. [Bai'jia, don't get any more comfortable ideas that a noble's life will always be as it is now. You may find yourself out in the fields of battle before my body is thrown into the desert. Hope that it doesn't happen to you.]

The shaman nodded her head as a final few words to him, then began to walk back to where the noble graves were by herself. It saddened her to think that her young friend would not be buried there while Ko'uri was still chief, nor would he be tolerated as a noble for much longer. There were changes in the air, she could feel them coming, and Fai'li knew she would see some of those changes before she died. If her final wish was granted then maybe she could take Ko'uri with her into the realms beyond the living. That was her wish, one that may not even be granted as long as this chief was still in power.

Bai'jia watched as Fai'li walked way, unsure if he wanted to follow her to the graves or not. He cared for her as a friend, something few Ca'eil would ever admit, and he knew her time was almost up. The life of a shaman sometimes depended solely on the reigning chief no matter how well they performed the role of shaman itself. That much he had learned through patches of noble talking.Ko'uri wouldn't have her around for much longer, even if half of the Ca'eil wanted changes to happen, he thought bitterly as he turned around and begun to walk back to his home.It's his changes that would take hold, not everyone else's.

He didn't know how right his thoughts were.


Ko'uri's vision was blurred, he could barely see a few feet in front of him as he stalked further away from the shaman and the young noble. A few heads bowed down to him when he went past many of the Ca'eil, but as soon as his back was turned they glared at him as he left them. A few bonfires were beginning to be set up by the Ca'eil noble children, bonfires that Ko'uri himself had no understanding of and would not bother to ask what they were doing - they, too, glared up at him as he stalked past. Even if he had seen those glares he wouldn't have cared - if he had the choice he would wipe the entire civilization away and start elsewhere.

It would start with Fai'li. He was telling the truth when he said that she was in an unfortunate position: she being the shaman, she wasn't capable of bearing children and even when she was still in training she wasn't allowed to. If she had been in any other position then Ko'uri would've taken advantage of the situation and had heir's produced by her. Not until she did would he have killed her, disposed her body like Fai'li never existed. The only thing he looked forwards to was her eventual death and that prompted a rare smile from him that he didn't have to bare his full teeth for.

A few roaming Ca'eil children ran past him, causing him to suddenly stop walking. He glared at them as they ran away, not even bothering to see who they ran into. His glared at their backs didn't even slow them down; he fingered the talisman and growled before he continued on. His compound was further away from the rest of the Ca'eil, to keep him separate from everyone else. It was a statue for him then anything else, he didn't need to worry about anyone bothering him more then they already did.

"Ko'uri," a firm voice stopped him from heading direct to the western end of the valley where few Ca'eil lived. He stopped and hesitated in turning around, sighing irritably as he waited for the Ca'eil behind the voice to appear by his side. An aged Ca'eil came to the chief's left side, also looking in the western direction but had his body turned towards Ko'uri.

He stood slightly taller then Ko'uri, almost to Fai'li's height, but he had been much taller in his youth then he was now. The curve in his spine he stood with had been caused by the breaking of his shoulders at the height of his warrior years, permanently scarring him from ever returning; it was a shame, even with this old injury Ko'uri saw how valuable he was as a warrior. This was the only scar known and had grown worse with time, at least he was able to trainsomeone. A single, long, golden top knot was the only hair he had on his head, one of the few symbols he had as a trainer of shamen-to-be. Another was being the only one among the Ca'eil allowed to wear human-made clothing.

Of which he wore at the moment while now facing Ko'uri fully; the cotton fibers of his black shirt and pants scratched at his aged skin. The frown he had outwardly didn't reflect his uncomfortable nature of this clothing, he could very easily against his skin and the material being human-made. He was waiting for Ko'uri to acknowledge him by sight or sound, so that he could speak further; he didn't have to, but he much rather have the leader wait then be rushed. It was a private satisfaction seeing Ko'uri sigh irritably again then look in the direction of the elder Ca'eil with a scowl.

"What is it, Xitay?" He growled. "Shouldn't you be training Fai'li's replacement?"

"Ishouldbut there's a minor setback." Xitay waited for a moment to let Ko'uri's glare become more passive before he continued. "We need to replace the shaman-in-training or push back certain aspects of the training."

"Setback? There shouldn't be any problems or setbacks, there were too many with Fai'li's training," Ko'uri snapped. Xitay winced, knowing full well how the current shaman's training had gone; it was part of the reason why she could not physically speak. "Whatever problems or setbacks there are,take care of it yourself. It can't bethatbad."

"She's pregnant." Xitay waited for that small piece of information to sink in before he said anything else. Had this bit of information been at any other time during the shaman-in-training's training, he would not have mentioned it at all to the chief. There had been two other cases of female shamen-in-training becoming pregnant before their reproductive organs had been taken out but no one had known the difference, but it was too close for his comfort this time.

"What did you say?" Ko'uri took several steps towards Xitay. The words sunk in alright; Ko'uri felt his heart begin to race and his eyes narrowed. "I don't think I heard you right. Did you say the next shaman is pregnant?"

"Yes, I did." Xitay matched his leader's stare evenly and did not flinch at the bared teeth. Ko'uri knew he wouldn't be able to intimidate this one, he would have to settle in doing something else entirely to startle the older Ca'eil. "Everything will need to be postponed for a while, she can't very well -"

"Why didn't you catch thissooner?" He was beginning to see the world spin around him, after it stopped he had no control over his actions. When it stopped not evenheknew what would happen. "Get everything else done that needs to be done, there will be no delay."

"No." Xitay bared his own teeth in a much wider smile. "Normally I would do as you order in this situation, however I am not. I've already prepared a way out of this, very few will ever know."

There was a dark haze that suddenly replaced the spinning of Ko'uri's vision. He was a bit calmer as he considered the problem in front of him and if Xitay was telling him the truth or not. Had this happened years earlier when the shaman-in-training hadn't nearly completed her training he would've had her killed and made it look like it had been an accident of her training. As shaman, any male or female Ca'eil were forbidden to reproduce and there were ways to make them sterile during their training. If there were offspring then those children would be guaranteed to take their respected parent's place as next in line. That would break the tradition of choosing a shaman at random, instead of having a single line - a single family - be considered for the position.

If no one knew but himself and Xitay, if he could silence any other voices, then no one would be any the wiser. He did not wish to go down the path he had intended Xitay to take, not with the Ca'eil as few as it was, and there were few traditions he was willing to keep. He did not dare upset anyone in the valley, especially Xitay; the elder Ca'eil may have been a warrior many decades ago but he was the one who trained the shamen. That gave him more of a higher position closer to the nobles then it did a leader.

His vision cleared from the haze and Ko'uri felt in control; the off center smile he bared made Xitay more uncomfortable then he already was. It was of no matter what Xitay planned on doing, as leader Ko'uri had more power then the shaman trainer did despite the position he held and could override all plans if need be. Xitay's life depended on if he would conform to the new ideas; first, however, Ko'uri would allow him to believe his plans were still valid - whatever they were. Ko'uri had no need to ask, he'd know in due time.

"Xitay, I put trust in your ways." Ko'uri put a hand to his forehead then proceeded to put the same hand on Xitay's forehead. That told Xitay that he had full reign over the situation and he could not be bothered about it. He did the same to Ko'uri, accepting the responsibility; however he had little trouble not believing that Ko'uri would not turn this around. The less the Ca'eil leader knew, the easier the transition would go.

There were no other words or actions between the two, Xitay bowing his head and walking away in the direction of the training grounds. He knew he would be watched for a while until this was all over yet he would keep himself - and the shaman-in-training - out of Ko'uri's vision. There were so many things the leader didn't know about that gave Xitay little to worry about.

Ko'uri hissed at the retreating Xitay. There was too much the aged Ca'eil had left out that Ko'uri now could not take back what had just been done. It was too unfortunate that there were witnesses to their conversation, yet he had ways around traditions and words. If Xitay believed he could hide things from his leader in this confining valley, he was wrong. Ko'uri would know and would not hesitate to act, tradition or not.

He smiled inwardly as he, too, continued on his way. How things would change.

The End

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