The Soul of a Warrior

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He never scolded his children. Hvma said he was too easy on them and deep down Rlei suspected it was because, despite the societal norms, he never felt like they were truly his. Hvma produced them with Zhemr. Rlei could be the head of the family, but he wasn't the real mother or even father.

His musing were abruptly cut short as the tent flap opened and Zhemr strode in. Rlei scowled. He wanted to think that he accepted the man as a part of his family. It wasn't hard since the two usually ignored each other, connected only by Hvma and her children, but the truth was that the man's presence was a constant reminder of Rlei's shortcomings.

But it got even worse as Zhemr spoke to him: "I think you should go see; a messenger from Bigmouth Clan is in the village."

Rlei looked at Hvma, who suddenly seemed very serious. The Vrzwah and Bigmouths lived in the same area, but their lifestyles were so different, they could do so without getting in each other's ways. The Bigmouths were hunters, while the Vrzwah farmed and kept vvurs. Now though, when the Vrzwah were at the end of a war, every change could spell danger.

With shaky fingers, Rlei attached his weapons: twin trvuxam—crescent blades—to fight the Xzsim and a straight blade for the outworlders—then walked out, followed by Hvma and Zshill. Their tent was near the plaza at the center of the village, now filled with men and women. Rlei had to use his elbows to get through to the edge of the small opening, occupied only by the Bigmouth messenger.

Bigmouths wasn't a very accurate name—mouths were far from being the only big parts of them. Large heads, made even bigger by manes, resting on massive necks, eyes like lanterns, hands the size of loaves, even their tails were as thick as maces. Still, the mouths were the first things most humans saw when they looked at them, so the name prevailed. The one who came here was tall, taller than any man, with a body covered in short, sandy brown fur and barely visible stripes. The dark red mane on the back and on sides of the face suggested he was male. He was naked, which meant he'd been on his hunt when something prompted him to deviate and rush into their village.

The Bigmouth noticed Rlei, took one look at his armor and hair and nodded his head in respect.

"Blood of Xurzshmah," he greeted.

"Blood of Xurzshmah," repeated Rlei. Only when he reached the front, did he spot the small figure kneeling at the Bigmouth's feet: a human man with his hands tied behind his back. Half of his face was torn off, so it took Rlei a moment to realize that his hair was not only bloodied, but actually dark and that his skin almost white, so different to Xzsim yellow. "Who is it?"

"There will be no peace talks," Rlei heard from the side and turned to glance at Hzrimr. Two cycles older than Rlei, he was the second warrior in the tribe. He used to be first and still couldn't accept the change—especially after the challenge came from someone who wasn't even a real man.

Rlei returned his gaze to the Bigmouth.

"Who is he?" he repeated.

The Bigmouth grabbed the captive's head and turned it, presenting Rlei with the undamaged side. The man had a small, slanted eye, now so wide with fear it almost seemed normal, and matted hair covering the lower part of his face.

"Tarvithi," hissed Bigmouth. "I found him on the Barvai land."

Rlei felt a cold chill running down his spine. For half a cycle, Tarvissi had been scouring Xzsin Nyeotl, looking for a passage to Dahls, killing had been blocked with magic because of their own greed and stupidity. And although most Xzsim didn't appreciate the outworlders passing through their lands—especially ones as destructive as the Tarvissi—there were still those willing to trade, selling red xziacu berries, necessary to enter Xzsin Nyeotl and blue vergzk required for exiting.

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