Ends and Beginnings
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Tioteche ran his hand along the shattered mosaic as he circumvented the plaza. Pieces of ancient tesserae crumbled and fell away at his touch - like so many stones in a landslide of history. He stopped, turning to judge the trail of destruction he'd wrought on the long destroyed artwork, shaking his head and sighing a cloud of steam into the cold morning air. If he hadn't known he'd just done it, he couldn't have picked out this latest infraction on the wall. The entire Mec was like this, equal parts salvation and devastation. A half-buried ruin speckled in the nightfires of his people - Kaiaomec, he had named it. Home of the Kaiaomoch. Something had destroyed this place long ago. Buildings, boulevards, mounds, and mosaics - all sunken beneath soil and ash. Forgotten by everyone but the oldest of the local tribes. He moved to a nearby balcony and leaned on the crumbled railing, eyes drifting to the partially sunken Olma nearby; The chiefly visage of some forgotten ancestor of a dead people stared back at him.
"Here to watch the shadows weep?" A voice called out. A hoarse voice. Her voice. He turned and smiled in a way only she could make him. She stood midway across the plaza, her copper skin brilliant in the morning sun. She wore red feathers woven into her braids, and a matching wampum vest. She tugged the vest down idly at his gaze, clearly unused to the trappings of power. Tioteche found himself striding towards her, drawn to the woman like the sea to the moon. The pair met partway across the plaza in a tight embrace, each of their worlds of leadership and intrigue boiled down until only this single moment with eachother remained. Desperate as they were to forget it, reality inevitably crept back to the forefront. They had responsibilities to attend to, a Moch to lead, people to feed.
With a heavy sigh that spoke more words than he could ever say, Tioteche pulled away and eyeing her carefully. Her Caste Marks had almost healed, the geometric designs tattooed beneath her eyes matched his own now - Chief Caste. "Kaiao." He spoke her name for the first time in weeks, not allowing himself the luxury until he now at last he knew she was safely returned. "You're nine tides past when we expected you." He said quietly while leading her to the overgrown balcony.
Kaiao leaned against the Olma, keeping her gaze fixed on the workers tilling a field far below. "I was held up. The Sootfoot Confederacy had a great many questions regarding our new Moch in the east."
"And what did you tell them?" He asked.
"The truth. Mostly." She said with a quick wink.
Tioteche scoffed, his eyes never leaving her. Kaiao held his gaze for a moment before having to look away. "Saskitchemoch won't send the Sogad traders east. They won't betray your-" Kaiao stopped midsentence and winced. "They wont betray Tliaetliomoch." She finished quietly.
Tioteche didnt speak, didnt move. He knew what she'd almost said. They wont betray your Father. He had expected this result even as Kaiao left to treat with the distant Moch. "Saskitchemoch owes us nothing, we are but a few thousand. Drops to their sea. And if the crops dont rise in time for winter - we'll all be dead anyway." He threw a hand towards the workers in the fields below. "Especially with the Worker Caste being taken."
Kaiao winced again. She'd hoped that the matter would've been resolved by the time she'd returned. "Have you discovered where they're deserting to?"
Tioteche shook his head. "They arent deserting, they're being taken. This latest time the thieves left tracks, heading south around the mountains. Sipowae was. . . Insistent that we send a Warrior Crop to follow them.
She laughed hoarsely, the sound echoing through the silent plaza. "I'm sure he was also intent to lead the Crop himself." She said.
"He was. It was quite difficult to stop him without you here to help me temper the man."
"Who was chosen to lead it?"
"Xaliti. She is the most capable. She should be back by Morntide's end, provided there were no complications."
Kaiao fell silent, turning to grip the mossy stone railing, jaw slowly becoming increasingly clenched. "I see." She said at last, the words marking the beginning of a shared silence between them. Tioteche didnt know what to say, be didnt understand Kaiao's irrational dislike for the young Warrior - a Warrior who was nearly elected to serve as Warchief at that. He knew the cause of it, of course. It was plain to see if one knew how to look. She was jealous. Though he couldn't quite say why. Instead of speaking, he instead reached out and pulled Kaiao close to him, she smiled despite herself, a crack opening on her chapped lips. For a brief period, it seemed they'd recaptured the moment of their meeting this day - the sentiment was shattered however by a commotion down below.
Xaliti had arrived, leading a Crop of seventeen mounted Warriors. Most notably, however, was Xaliti's horse dragging along a stumbling captive. Not a Ganche, but one with skin pale as sand.