The End All Men Meet
Previous Story - https://forums.candarion.com/topic/701/battles-of-a-different-kind
As the monolithic stone disc was rolled out of the way and the tunnel beyond revealed, Tioteche couldn't help but be gripped by anticipation. It was like this every time; Excavations proceeded across Kaiaomec every day, uncovering the forgotten secrets of this ancient city. He didn't often visit the Excavations anymore, not after the first few weeks after arriving. Eventually one tiled Avenue looked like any other. But this time it was different, something unusual had been found - unusual enough that even Kaiao and Sipowae had accompanied him to see.
What had at first glance appeared to be a hill overgrown with vegetation had now been realized to be a Mound. It's sacred foundations were riddled with the roots of trees and pockmarked with animal dens, yet he had ordered it cleared and cleaned regardless. It was there at the base of the Mound that they found this door and the tunneled complex that expanded beyond it. And it was within that complex that a stranger had been found.
The tunnel stank of wet earth, calcified stone, and death. Tioteche was sure if it weren't for the occasional breeze drifting up from the darkness ahead, the stench would be nearly unbearable. He walked with hands clasped behind him, wampum vest tinkling with each step. Beside and behind him walked Kaiao and Sipowae. All of them were silent. The High Chiefs, their Warrior Caste Retinue, and the Artisan that led them by torchlight through the complex - all of them knew they walked somewhere holy. Somewhere that held the weight of importance, forgotten though it may be.
Kaiao had had another Vision showing her this Mound weeks before, like the ones that had led the Exodus to the city ruins. Hungry, scared, nowhere to turn - They had trusted her. Their Sleepless Dreamer. And Tioteche had harnessed them and delivered them. It was why the Moch was named after her, a rare example of Ganche breaking tradition. Still, Tioteche had his doubts about the Visions. He believed Twae’koa was more a philosophy to follow rather than an actual being, though he knew he was in the minority. But if not Twae’koa, then what were these Visions?
The moments stretched onward as they were led deep into the Mound. Tioteche remained in quiet contemplation until they came to a massive chamber with a vaulted ceiling reaching up into the darkness. Tioteche couldn't see the other side of the room past the torchlight, though he did note that the flame fluttered fitfully as the breeze was stronger here in this chamber. At the center of the bowl-shaped chamber floor stood what remained of a smaller mound. It's shape was distorted by years of erosion, leaving what was left of it's tiled top scattered down the sides. Half sunken at its peak was an Olma whose face had long since worn away. But none of those could compare to what arrested Tioteche's attention as they approached.
There, leaning against the side of the mound, was a skeleton. It's clothes had long since rotted away, along with most of its flesh. Though it was bedecked nearly head to toe in gold and silver jewelry - some of its teeth had even been replaced with ruby gemstones, delicately cut to fit in place.
Sipowae grunted, crossing his arms. "What is this? Some Ancient Chief buried here?" He asked.
Kaiao knelt down to brush the grime away from a necklace of interlaced gold medallions. "No." She paused, inspecting the designs imprinted in the metal. "These are not Ganche. He is a Sun Son perhaps?" She said, turning to look up at Tioteche.
The Bloodchief crouched beside Kaiao and pulled one of the skeleton's hands up from the dirt, it still clutched the remains of a glass bottle. "Not a Sun Son. Further north, this one is Forgotten. Our land is a prison, their's is a death sentence. Senitwaa'iti, the Land that Water Forgot - Sogadar."
Kaiao looked up, eyes narrowed at Tioteche. "How would a Forgotten end up in a buried city within a Mound, both of which were hidden from us until my Visions revealed-".
"And how can you be certain it is a Forgotten?" Interrupted Sipowae.
Tioteche brushed away more loose dirt and grave-grime from the Skeleton, then looked up towards the shadowed ceiling. "I have one answer for each of you." He finally replied after a long moment. "There is an opening in this ceiling. A chimney, can you feel the breeze?" He looked at each of them as they nodded. Tioteche beckoned for a torch to be brought closer, near the skeleton's feet - revealing cracked shins and broken ankles. "See here? He suffered a great fall. It seems this man somehow slipped through the chimney and fell here. But, this could be anyone. What makes him Forgotten?" Tio smiled as he raised the bottle, pulling it from the Skeleton's hand then sniffed the opening. "This man fell and broke himself. He did not search for a way out, no. Instead, he crawled somewhere comfortable, drank his firewater, and died."
The group shared a silent moment of meditation that was broken by Kaiao. “What now? Is this something we can use?” She asked.
Tioteche stood, brushing his hands off on his deerskin kilt. “Yes, I think so. This Forgotten is clearly important, no commoner would drench themselves in jewels like this. This may be the relative of some Saka.”
Sipowae let loose a chuckle dripping with scorn. “Why? What do we care about some foreigner’s body?”
“Because,” said Tio. “With a little care, Foreigners can become Friends.” Tioteche paced, his legs desperate to keep up with quickening thoughts. “We must return this body to its people. Sogadar has a new Saka. A boy. Impressionable and eccentric - So I’ve heard. He owes nothing to my Father or Saskitchemoch. This is our perfect excuse to seek an audience.”
Kaiao frowned as she rested a hand gently on his shoulder. “Still chasing the Saltway, Tioteche? We’re surrounded by enemies every way the wind blows. The trade won’t help us.”
“It will. I was there when it started in Saskitchemec. The city changed almost overnight, it swelled in power like a stormwall. And trade brings allies. . . The only problem is, who to deliver our message? The way north is uncharted. The Sun Sons are no friend of ours, and the Forgotten even less so. It would be almost certain death. Like an unending-” Tioteche stopped abruptly when he witnessed Kaiao sharpen, going rigid like a cougar about to pounce. In that moment he knew he’d made a mistake. She knew it, and so did Sipowae. Tio sighed deeply and met their eager gazes, eyes glinting in the torchlight. There was only one person each of them would want to send away to certain death. The only one he didn’t.