Friends Like These - 3
Previous Story - https://forums.candarion.com/topic/1128/friends-like-these-2
Huini lingered at the top of the tiled stone staircase for a few moments as Tioteche sauntered down. He couldn't follow. It wasn't his place to enter the main dais - and Huini didn't trust himself to navigate the steep staircase with a crutch and missing a leg.. Instead he circled around through a backchannel hallway clogged with servants and messengers running errands for attending Chiefs. He followed a series of wide stairs downwards, finally reaching the bottom floor where the dugout seating could be found. He circled around, passing archways leading to canopied rooms filled with the tittering followers of Kaiao and the hard eyed servants of Sipowae. He even passed Tio's cadre conversing quietly in their assigned dugout. No, he couldn't go with them. He needed quiet and concentration. Instead he went to a little-used Dugout that should afford him a wide view of the crowd. Just in case there was something to see.
He pushed aside the glittering beaded curtain hanging in the archway and shuffled inside the empty dugout crutch-first. It was shady and cool, canopied by striped canvas and dotted with padded wooden benches. The dugout sat about three feet or so lower than the stone dais and stage the High Chiefs sat upon. But there was nowhere closer to be during council meetings. Huini didn't sit, he didnt trust himself to get up fast enough should a situation require it. Instead he leaned forward on the front edge of the dugout, elbows resting on the stone stage. The Council Meeting seemed to be going well. Better than he had expected for the first meeting of Sipowae's return. Huini eyed him warily as the hulking warchief presented some new kind of Bolt-Thrower to Tioteche. Huini idly checked and rechecked that his bandolier of knives and tomahawk was still in place, despite the unlikely occasion of their use here. The device made Huini nervous. The Brymoch Warriors had used them to devastating effect during the exploratory raids Sipowae's War-Crop made into their territory. Even Kaiaomoch Warriors fell to them. What good was a lifetime of training in the Martial Arts of Twae'koa if a Farmer could kill you with one finger? The Brymoch hadn't escaped unscathed, and more than a few Bolt-Throwers had been retrieved and brought to Kaiaomoch's Artisans for study and reconstruction… This line of thinking always made the ghost of Huini's leg start twitching. It was a Bolt that had started him down this path he now walked.
"It seems honed minds think alike." A frigid voice said from behind Huini. A dread familiarity that sent an ice cold lance through his gut. He turned slowly to see Tehl standing in the archway. Her silken black hair was pulled back tight to reveal a face that would have been beautiful - if not for the multitudes of scars left behind from years of attempted scalpings. Huini found he couldn't move, thankfully, as he was torn between embracing or saluting the First Pathfinder. She studied him with glittering brown eyes - her gaze snapping from his clothes, to his crutch, to his missing leg, and finally resting on his new Chief Caste Marks tattooed beneath his left eye. She made the briefest gesture of salute, her fingers touching her own Warrior Caste Mark for a split second as she walked into the dugout. "Id heard that you'd done well for yourself after your… failure." Said Tehl. Huini winced at her choice of words. The end of his missing leg started throbbing, but he didnt reply. Instead he turned back to watching the High Chiefs. Huini remembered clearly what Tehl thought of his injury. He often recalled how she'd cast her vote that day in the Ghostwood - To kill him and leave him behind. Her allegiance to Sipowae had always came before him.
"Still. I figured you'd be Slave Caste by now." She scooted down the bench towards him. "Maybe Artisan if you were fortunate. But a Chiefling? Hmmm.." She purred. "I would ask whose pipe you smoked to get here, it the answer wasn't obvious." Said Tehl. Huini could hear the smirk in her tone. He shifted his weight from foot to crutch and back again.
Resolute as the Thunderhead.
Calm as Clear Water.
The Warrior-Turned-Chief thought, letting the decades of meditation training wash over him. "My station is none of your concern, Warrior." He said, his gaze not leaving the Chief Council.
A long pause of silence stretched between them. Huini wasn't ready for this encounter; He hadn't even known she was returning to the Mec. Tehl placed a hand gently on the small of his back. "Huini..." She said softly, her voice melting into that vulnerable, secret tone that had become so familiar over the months they'd spent together in the War-Crop. The same tone that reminded him that she wasn't just the killer she wanted everyone to think she was. Huini turned to look at Tehl suspiciously. The vulnerable tone disappeared with her next words: "You will not trust me." She said flatly. A statement. Huini let the moment linger, trying to discern the motives hidden in her frozen face. "I'd lay with The Great Boa before I trust another of Sipowae's war-bitches." Said Huini. He thought he saw the briefest flicker of emotion in her eyes before it was buried again. As if in answer, Tehl pulled a corn-paper bag from her satchel and unwrapped it. The crinkle of the bag tore through the silence, the smell of chiles and meat following the noise to fill the void. She looked up at Huini, smiling slightly - just enough to show her mouthful of filed teeth. "Sit with me Huini. If we can't be friends, then let's not be enemies." She said, patting the bench next to her.
Huini glanced back at the stage, eyeing Tioteche as he and Sipowae discussed something about the warfront while Kaiao looked on pensively. "They'll be fine. We're here as a formality, Huini." Said Tehl. Though he didn't particularly agree, Huini found himself drawn to the bench. Tehl smirked and rolled her eyes when Huini refused her offered hand to help him sit, instead lowering himself down slowly and purposefully leaning the crutch against the bench to separate him from her.
Tehl shook her corn-paper bag at Huini. He reached in, pulling out a few dog rinds: A smile spread across Huini's face after taking a small bite. "These are better than most." He said, noting the subtle waves of chile spice that enveloped his tongue. Tehl nodded, swallowing her own bite before answering: "Artisan."
"Artisan?" Huini Scoffed. "Street Cooks are not Artisans. And Artisans should not be Street Cooks." He finished, returning his last rind to the bag.
Tehl shrugged, taking another bite. "Who am I to sorry-soak about what some Artisan wants to call art? More chits to be had selling tastes of higher life to the Workers than there is in carving Olmas for Chiefs."
"Thats not the point. The Moch is stable only when each person understands their Role. The stream cannot find it's ocean home alone."
Tehl frowned at his tone, eyeing him sidelong. "Maybe."
Huini sighed. Knowing her dismissal was the end of this conversation. After all these months he'd almost forgotten how resolute she could be. "Maybe." He answered finally.
A silence grew between them, broken only by Tehl chewing dog rinds especially loud and passive aggressively digging through crinkling bag for more. Huini hadn't meant to speak that harshly, especially immediately after this fragile peace between them. He opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't find the words. Staring ahead, he studied the painted breastplate Sipowae wore. He recognized it, of course - it was one of the metal skins the Brymoch Warriors wore to battle. They were impenetrable, but Huini thought that their reliance on it made them weak.
"So." Said Tehl, snapping his attention back to the present. "Are you enjoying all of… this?" She asked, gesturing to the ongoing Council meeting.
Huini crossed his arms and leaned back against the bench. "I'm no Court-Creature. You know that."
"You are now." Said Tehl.
"I didn't have a choice."
"Stop pouting. You'd be dead, or enslaved - That was your choice. You chose to live. You could start your own tribe now if you wanted, Huini. You could go sit on that Council and govern." She said, jabbing a finger at the elaborately decorated theater of Chiefs. "I can name a dozen Warriors who would do anything to sit where you do, even if they were crippled."
Huini didn't say anything, he knew she was right. There were far worse places he could've ended up aside from in the personal cadre of their Moch Founder and Bloodchief. Tehl leaned over and shoved him gently with a laugh. "Douse it, Chiefling. Cheer up. Your life is clear skies and the smell of rain from here on out."
He smiled back at her, half sincerely even. "And not a Thunderbird to be heard." He said, reciting the customary response to her adage. He watched Tehl as her eyes flicked around the amphitheater taking in sights she'd probably never seen before. He answered a few general questions about the Council she posed until eventually her gaze stopped at Kaiao. "She's more beautiful than they say." Said Tehl, her voice harboring some strange emotion Huini couldn't place. He didnt respond. From a distance, especially with her face painted in that glittering sand, Kaiao was beautiful. But he had seen her those nights that she screamed herself bloody and tore at her face. Those long nights when visions plagued her. It took Huini a moment to register Tehl had continued speaking.
"But how much of that is from… well, you know." Tehl trailed off, eyeing him expectantly. Huini shrugged, shooting her a confused look. "What?" He asked. Tehl lowered her voice despite them being the only ones in the dugout. "Surely you've heard? The whole city is whispering. They say Kaiao is Harboring."
Huini nearly choked, sitting upright and coughing several times to catch his breath. The commotion drew depreciating glances from Kaiao and Sipowae, though Tioteche just continued talking to a Chief about requisitioning Slaves for the harvest. Huini hoped the Bloodchief hadn't heard at all. How could they have not heard about this, especially Tioteche? How did Tehl know after a few hours in the city? "She's Pregnant?" He whispered in shock. Tehl stifled a laugh with a grin and nodded noncommittally. "Thats what they say." Huini sat thinking it over while Tehl watched him carefully. He was about to ask another question when a series of Tiquini trills erupted from Sipowae.
"Bring who?" Asked Huini. But if Tehl answered at all, he didnt hear. All his attention was arrested by the man being led into the amphitheater. A Bryman, with fiery red hair and a lasso around his neck. Huini shot forward and used the lip of the Dugout to pull himself upright, all other thoughts washed away as he focused on this new threat.
Presence of Rain.
Eye of the Storm.
He intoned, letting the lifetime of meditation training take hold. Time seemed to slow around him, voices and sounds stretching as his senses sharpened to a hyper-focused edge. He wasn't watched the naked and bound Bryman, no, his eyes were to the crowd. He watched as they hissed and crossed fingers over their mouths. Distantly he was aware Tioteche had spoke the Traitor-God's tongue, but that wasn't important now. The Twae'koa Trained Warrior's eyes drank in details, flickering over the amphitheater. The crowd was agitated, there was movement everywhere. Huini could hear nothing aside from the blood pumping through his body.
There! - Midway up the bowled walls of the theater, a young Chief started standing, too quickly. Huini had already launched himself out of the dugout, tomahawk and knife in hand as the Chief above threw aside his long wampum cloak to reveal a hidden Bolt-Thrower. The man saw Huini as he raised the weapon, panic cracked across his young face. The would-be attacker froze for a moment, but that was all Huini needed. The Warrior calculated the distance between them and firing archs, not with mathematics, but with years of practiced intuition. Huini's tomahawk was already reared back to throw as he landed on his feet-
Huini thought lightning fast, his mind racing as his ingrained training betrayed him. He had forgotten his missing leg - what would have been an acceptable landing now had him tumbling sidelong, unbalanced. He pushed conscious thought to the recesses of his mind and let his training take over, readjusting the trajectory as he fell sideways. The Chief above raised his Bolt-Thrower, aiming down at the dais as those seated around him gaped at him in horror.
From a nearly horizontal position, Huini let fly his tomahawk, his body clenching like a coiled spring to put as much force behind throw as he could from his disadvantaged position. Two heartbeats rang in his ears as the tomahawk flew. He watched the Chief glance sidelong at him, eyes going wide when he realized what Huini had did. The Chief's gaze snapped back to the dais, concentrating on aiming - his arms shaking in fear. He pulled the Bolt-Thrower's trigger the same moment that Huini's tomahawk struck him with a resounding crack. The Warrior couldn't watch the Chief, his eyes followed the Bolt.
The missle streaked through the air like a lightning bolt, narrowly missing the Brymoch Captive's head by a handswidth. Instead it flew past them, into the dugout packed with Kaiao's screaming attendants. The bolt struck one man in the shoulder, penetrated cleanly through and buried itself in the throat of a painted woman. Her scream turned to gurgle as Huini's body finally reached the ground. He rolled sideways with his momentum, coming to a stop in a kneeling position, his body weight supported directly on the stump of his missing leg. The sounds of bone scraping across stone filled his ears. Pain poured up through Huini like an endless deluge, breaking him from his medative state. Sounds and Time flowed back to him along with the pain, threatening to drown him. He began to swoon and would've collapsed if not for the strong hands of the towering Sipowae pulling him to his feet and supporting him upright.
Huini fought off waves of nausea, trying his best to take in events around him. He saw the attacker's body lying midway up the steep steps, tomahawk buried in his chest and blood flowing down the stairs. He heard the roar of a cheering crowd, amplified hundred fold by the acoustics of the amphitheater. Sipowae raised his hand in the air. Tioteche called for a Medicine Man. Huini looked down and saw a trail of blood leading back to where he had landed - and the series of deep scrapes in the tiles where his femur had struck the stone. As the pain became more manageable Huini took stock of his surroundings. Sipowae still held Huini upright while Tioteche knelt down to tie off Huini's bleeding stump. He got the Bloodchief's attention as Sipowae ordered Warriors out of their Dugouts to ring the dais, bellowing about their uselessness in the face of adversaries. Huini looked down at Tioteche and whispered:
"How bad is it?"
"Not great. You've splintered the bone."
Huini winced and looked around again, realizing he'd been leaned against the stone table. Sipowae and Kaiao were exiting the amphitheater through a side door while the gathered Chiefs filed up the various staircases. Huini looked back at his dugout, but Tehl was nowhere to be seen. "My Chief, there's something you should know. You'll hear it soon, so it may as well come from me…"
Tehl watched as the crowd cheered for Huini, his hands raised by Sipowae. The sound of bone sliding across tiles made her teeth sting and dampened her smile - or so she told herself. In truth, there were a great many things dampening her smiles these days. Tehl rose from the bench, leaving Huini's crutch behind as she exited the dugout. Hoping to beat the rush of attendants using these lower level hallways, she worked her way through several beaded curtains and archways before reaching a vaulted exit chamber leading out to the grand promenade.
There she easily spotted Sipowae, standing a head taller than his followers. She made her way towards him through the crowds, but froze when she saw his companion. Kaiao stood with him, talking in hushed tones. She was recognizable only by her glittering orange face paint. Sipowae bowed his head to hear, nodding. The two High Chiefs shared a laugh like old friends. No, not quite like friends, Tehl noted Kaiao's hand lingering on Sipowae's arm as the Rainchief said goodbye, exiting off onto the promenade as Tehl arrived.
Sipowae turned and smiled wide at his Pathfinder. "Tehl." He said, leading her away from the gathered crowds and eager ears. "I couldn't see you during the Council… Did you manage to speak with one of Tioteche's cadre?" He asked, an eagerness glittering in his dark eyes. Tehl nodded, keeping her face blank, not wanting Sipowae to see the emotion roiling within her. "Huini. I told him what you ordered me to. He believed it, I think. Enough of it anyway."
Sipowae's smile widened even further than Tehl thought possible. "Amazing." He said, cupping Tehl's face in his surprisingly gentle hands. "The Bloodchief's personal Aide. You've done better than expected." He said, releasing her face as she took a step back. Tehl met his gaze, hoping her eyes wouldn't betray her stoic face. "Is it true? Is Kaiao Harboring?"
The Warchief grinned, spreading his hands wide. "If not already, she will be soon." He said with a wink.