Interlude (3)

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 Many Kills tried to keep his glances surreptitious, but he had to turn his head at least a little to be able to take in his companion. Fortunately, she was watching the sparring match with such rapt attention that she didn't seem to notice.

It was a good match. Sunlight had overcome much to be one of their best fighters, though she was equally matched by her opponent. Rain Falling Softly was from a faraway tribe, and the white paint tipping her blue feathers flashed orange in the light from the torches, giving her a look of constant movement. Normally Many Kills would be entranced by such a clash, but even after so many days, he couldn't quell his curiosity about these 'humans,' especially the one sitting next to him.

Xandri. She watched the world around her like a hunter, soaking in details, but he didn't think she was hunting prey. No, she hunted knowledge, he was sure of that. There was something of the brood-kindred between him and her in the form of that insatiable curiosity. She always had questions. She wanted to know how his people lived, how his tribe came together, and, more than anything else, what the rest of his world was like. That last was something he, too, had longed to know since he was barely even a fledgling.

She leaned close to him then and asked, "The paint on her feathers. What does it mean? Is it like the chief's?"

So strange, to hear his language coming from her ill-suited mouth. Even she looked a bit startled, despite the many days she'd been speaking this way. It was a device in her throat, she'd explained, that allowed her to talk to him. Yet another curious thing from beyond his planet.

"No," Many Kills said. "Completes The Whole wears paint because he is our leader. Rain Falling Softly is from a different tribe, far away. Farther than we usually interact with. Painting their feathers is just their way. It is a problem, though. We wish her to join our tribe, but she is uncertain. She doesn't wish to give up her paint."

"Does she have to?"

"Of course! Paint is for the chief, no one else."

"Not where she's from, it isn't," Xandri pointed out. "Isn't there some sort of compromise you can make or something?"

Many Kills opened his beak to protest—and hesitated. The realization that he, who had always been the first to challenge tradition, was about to defend it, gave him pause. There were many things he would never wish to change about his people, but he'd been about to argue with her for no other reason than that she was an outsider. If he rejected her simply for being a stranger, would she leave? Would she stop showing him all those wonderful light pictures of creatures and people from other worlds? And how would he deal with worlds beyond his if he could not embrace a bit of strangeness?

"Compromise how?" he asked instead.

"I...well, a lot of that would be up to you. I don't know what would fit, what would—would be right for you. But maybe there's some way to at least let her keep some of it? It seems a shame to bring her all this way, and then make her give up everything she is."

Her voice had gone soft and wispy, a tone he recognized though he did not yet have a word for it. It fit around his language oddly, too quiet for the raucous syllables he was used to.

"I will discuss it with Completes The Whole," he said. "Perhaps there is a way. New blood is good for the tribe, after all." He tilted his head. "In a sense, is that not what you're trying to do here? Bring new blood into your tribe?"

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