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A thousand whispers seeped from a hundred Chiefs. They were anxious - of course they were. Their lives had been in complete turmoil since the exodus, only just beginning to settle down as more and more of the Mec was excavated and repurposed. Now, this. An emergency summoning of the Council by War, Blood, and Rain.
Tioteche swept his gaze across the spacious amphitheater, marveling again at it's sheer size; whoever had built this Mec must have been quite powerful to require a Council gathering area so immense. He stood atop a center stage alongside the other High Chiefs, Kaiao and Sipowae. Stretched out and up around them were ascending benches where the Chiefs sat, their muttered cacophony drowned out all other noise that may have reached the stage. He turned to face the two other High Chiefs. Kaiao shifted from foot to foot, eyes dark beneath her headdress. Sipowae stood stoic, arms crossed and staring intently. The Warchief was a head taller than Tioteche and easily twice as broad.
The two locked eyes for a moment. "Get on with it." Sipowae mouthed, his words lost in the din.
Tioteche nodded before turning back towards the assembled Chiefs. "Enough Prattle!" He shouted, voice cracking like a thunderhead over a field of swaying wheat.
An abrupt silence fell over the amphitheater, the Chiefs snapping to eye the Bloodchief uneasily. It was to be expected, they werent accustomed to being spoken to in such a manner, though they swallowed their retorts upon seeing Tioteche. He had their respect, each of the High Chiefs did, though Tioteche especially - They had all chosen to flee with him from the heretical Tliaetliomoch, afterall. He gestured to the Warchief, his bonewhite wampum sleeve tinkling with the movement.
Sipowae stepped to the edge of the stage. "Xaliti! Present it!" He bellowed towards a nearby archway. A woman, tall and muscular, stepped out of the darkness eagerly. She wore a brilliantly colored vest and kilt adorned with wampum and pearls, held together by a wide belt of bronze medallions. She looked every bit the conqueror returning victorious from foreign lands - that was, of course, intentional. Every act, gesture, and presentation within sight of the Council was a politic. She was reminding them what they could have had. Xaliti had lost the election to Warchief by a handful of votes and she needed the gathered Chiefs to consider if they'd made a mistake. The display intrigued Tioteche, truly. He couldnt help but smile at the Warrior. Xaliti was nothing line the girl that had fled east. The Exodus was her cocoon, and she had emerged as something altogether more impressive.
It was at that moment that he caught sight of Kaiao eyeing him sidelong. She was not pleased. His smile faded. Years from now Tioteche would remember this moment, this was when the stone started down the mountain. The shift from then into now. The point when his life - all their lives - irrevocably changed. . . But noone, save eachother, witnessed the look shared between them. All eyes were on Xaliti as she hauled her prize into amphitheater on a leash of hempen rope.
At first inspection, Tioteche figured the man to be Sogad. He was pale, overweight, and his face furred like a beast. But it quickly became apparent that he was something else entirely. His beard was unkempt and graying. His clothes, though filthy, were unlike anything he had seen before. The captive tried to stand tall and regard the Council before Xaliti gave the leash a savage yank and sent him sprawling back to the floor. Brave, despite his age and circumstance.
Tioteche stepped down from the stage and approached the captive, Kaiao and Sipowae followed close behind him. "What is this, Xaliti?" He asked.
Xaliti stood rigidly at attention, her eyes shifting from Tioteche to Sipowae, clearly unsure of who she should be addressing. "We followed the raiders south, to Twi'la'moch. There they were led east into lands of the Kireca Tribe. Except Kireca hold the lands no longer, a new Moch has established itself there. A Moch from across the sea." The gathered Chiefs erupted into frenzied whispering at that, rising in volume until Tioteche raised a hand to silence them. This news was unexpected and needed to be considered thoroughly - but not here. Not among the Council. Not until he knew what they needed the hear, or not hear.
Tioteche grasped the young warrior's shoulder and put on a smile as he swept his free hand wide across the Council. "Praise to the Conquerer, Xaliti of the first crop! Our enemies undone by her prowess!" He cried, the assembled chiefs standing to applaud and cheer alongside him. He leaned close to Xaliti, using the congratulatory anthem to hide his words. "Meet us three at eventide, after your celebrations." She nodded in understanding as Tioteche stepped through the other two High Chiefs and ascended the stage once again. He motioned once more for the Council to quiet. "Xaliti. Parade your prize through the streets. Show the people their enemy, but more importantly, show them your Victory."
Another cheer ripped through the amphitheater as Xaliti saluted the High Chiefs and dragged the foreigner away. Tioteche met his gaze as he shambled behind her. One of them wore a face of contempt, the other one of fear. Years later, Tioteche couldn't recall which was his.