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Meeting the Shaman
An odd light fills the clearing, and slowly, a cluster of wings and eyes unfolds in the air. "A message for the Scroll and Sword Circle. Your former coworkers Aria Kirigasa and Seandoran Aulenfall have been lost, may they live a thousand years, in an unfortunate celestial lion incident."
Malic blinks at the Messenger. "A 'celestial lion incident'? What is *that* supposed to mean?"
"You have already been introduced to Chosen of Mars Arkadi. We request that he consider making his transfer to the Circle permanent. Chosen of Saturn Hollow Moth will be joining you shortly."
Malic opens his mouth to protest such an abrupt and unexplained change, but the messenger can't answer any questions. Looking at Gia and Osprey, he frowns. "I think we should check on this." Gia nods mutely, and Osprey looks grimmer than usual. The Infallible Messenger mentions the date of the funeral before it dissipates.
Arkadi blinks. "Incident? That's usually bureaucratic talk for 'they screwed up and had to be dealt with."
Gia shifts uneasily. "You know, if someone were to, say, trip over a testy Celestial Lion and get eaten as a result, or some other unlikely scenario...if I were to send the message, I'd say that they had an 'accident,' not an 'incident.'"
"If they tripped over a celestial lion, they're pretty piss-poor Exalts," Arkadi observes.
"I want to know what this incident was," says Malic. "Does anyone want to stay behind to monitor the situation? Or can we let the Red Cows deal with themselves for a few days?"
"Cover-ups aren't the things of beauty they used to be, I guess," replies Gia.
"Cover-ups? The damn bureaucracy couldn't cover up it sown ass if it ripped its trousers."
Osprey glowers. "While this is certainly a most distressing development, we must remember our purpose here. Let us not let the number of lost brethren rise to three." Osprey leans on his staff, turning to look back toward the Red Cow village.
"I just want to know what the hell happened..."
Forge whispers in Malic's ear that he can find out about this, if his master would like. "I can send Forge to discover what happened and fetch our Circlemate, if we must stay here."
Osprey nods. "Let brother Malic's familiar spirit make inquiries. Once he returns with information, we can decide how to act."
"This may be a distraction," cautions Gia, "to keep us from helping the fledgling Mars-to-be, after all."
Malic nods to Forge, sending the Furnace Rhino off to check on the nature of this 'incident' and to deliver a message to Hollow Cricket about their whereabouts and how to find them. Arkadi pinches the bridge of his nose, while Forge makes a show of materializing to gore a hole in space and trot off to Yu-Shan.
"I never thought I'd miss plain old murders, kidnappings, and burglaries."
Wind ruffles Osprey's dun-colored cloak. "This entire venture is plagued by ill omens. I feel we must act with speed and certainty if we are to regain control of matters."
"Isn't that always the case? Anyway, Forge is on the job. We should get back to work."
Osprey nods. "Before you arrived, I managed to make some inroads. This man Pheasant Bows respects me as one shaman to another. I may be able to prevail upon him to help us." He smiles slightly. "It may even be that these dire portents can be made to serve us. It should not be too hard to convince him that they are signs of the gods' displeasure, brought on by their recent actions against Phion's tribe."
"We still have to arrange for this kid to prove himself and Exalt correctly," Malic replies, looking uncomfortable.
Arkadi grunts. "Not to mention find out what short-circuited all this."
"We know [i]what[/i] happened. We must find out who did it."
Gia frowns at the mention of the dark astrological effects, as Osprey continues. "My thought was that I could either persuade Pheasant Bows to let Phion come with me, or that he should be made Pheasant's own apprentice." He smiles wryly. "After all, it is a truth that young Phion has been marked by the gods. Either way, he will be safer than he is now. And learning the ways of the spirits of the earth cannot be a bad start in teaching him his own place in Creation." Osprey casts his gaze across his comrades.
"I suppose it would be easy enough to engineer his exaltation if he was a shaman's apprentice," says Malic.
"And perhaps, through speaking with him, you may find it easier to discern what would best trigger his Exaltation."
"Then we are decided?"
Arkadi shrugs, "Guess so." Gia nods.
Malic looks impatient. "So. Where's that Pheasant guy?"
Osprey flicks his eyes toward Malic. "Let us return to the village, you and I, and find him."
Arkadi sighs and lights up. "I hate it when things get complicated."
"It would perhaps be easier for Arkadi and sister Gia to wait here while we are gone."
"Fine by me, can't speak the lingo."
"That's fine with me, brother Osprey. Be safe."
Osprey nods. "And you." He looks up at the darkening sky. "We shall try to return by nightfall. Come... apprentice Grouse." He turns and sweeps off, ahead of Malic's fuming.
At Pheasant Bows' Home
A few minutes later, Malic and Osprey arrive at Pheasant Bows' home. After several minutes' exchanging pleasantries and smoking, the elder shaman inquires, "Master Osprey, what can I do for you this evening?"
Osprey takes a draw from the peace pipe, and passes it back to the other shaman. "I wish to discuss the recent portents which have been plaguing the land."
Bows places the pipe in its stand carefully. "Go on..."
Moulting`Grouse looks dutiful and attendant-like. "My apprentice and I have spent the last several days investigating. We believe that these unsettling omens may be connected to the recent war against the Headless Ravens." Osprey settles himself, legs crossed, hands on knees. "My divinations suggest that a young man of the tribe which the Red Cows conquered has been marked by the gods."
Nesting Goose, one of the young shamanesses-in-training, offers Mounting Grouse a sweetmeat before placing the tray on the table and vanishing. Grouse takes the sweatmeat and gives the pretty young shamaness a smile.
Osprey gives his "apprentice" a stern look. "Remember your vows." He turns to Pheasant Bows.
"Marked in what way?" Pheasant Bows looks concerned. It's never good to get oneself involved in the business of the immortals."
"It is my feeling that this young man, the second son of a Red Cow chieftain, has been marked for greatness is some way." Osprey shakes his head. "I am unsure as to his exact destiny, but I believe that the recent war is working against it."
"Hm. What is this man's name? Perhaps we can read his destiny in the flames."
Osprey meets Pheasant Bows' eyes, his face serious. "I have seen his name written in the stars; it is Phion."
"He is not a shaman then."
Osprey inclines his head. "Not yet. As I said, I do not know his destiny. It may be that he has been chosen to be a chief, or a mighty brave, or a reader of omens. But I am confident of one thing, and that is that his ordained fate is not that of a prisoner or slave. Your tribe should treat him with respect; I advise that you keep him close to your bosom. If ill were to befall him, I have no doubt that a terrible doom would follow." Osprey makes an eloquent gesture. "But of course, I would not ask you to act without first making your own divinations."
Moulting`Grouse studies the Red Cow shaman, trying to get a good read on the man as Osprey talks him into turning a prisoner into a shaman. Despite the sacred herbs smouldering in the peace pipe and filling the room with their potent smoke, Osprey remains clear-eyed and alert.
The shaman looks at Osprey carefully. He doesn't appear to notice Malic's scrutiny. "If he is truly destined to walk with the gods, then you are right, we must be certain he is ready."
Osprey nods. "Of course, I do not suggest that you treat him as a long-lost son. His destiny is not yet manifest; you should treat him as you would any other apprentice. Perhaps even a bit more strenuously, to impress on him the importance of knowing his place in things."
"I will cast the signs when I have gathered the proper herbs. Until then, he will be transferred here...as my own specific prisoner."
Osprey nods. "Your wisdom is great, Pheasant Bows. I am confident that you will soon see the potential which lies within this young man."
"I would be happy to gather the herbs for you, Shaman," volunteers Moulting Grouse.
The shaman inclines his head to Grouse. "I could not ask you to do that...it is a large undertaking. If you'd like to assist me, however...I'm sure that Nesting Goose and her classmates would appreciate the lightened load."
Osprey looks at Malic. "If you wish, I would not be averse to you helping Shaman Pheasant. However, as you know, pressing business calls me away from this place. We could meet in the usual place, if you are determined."
Moulting`Grouse nods to Osprey. "I will meet you."
A faint smile softens Osprey's stern visage. "Perhaps this is for the best; this task may help teach you humility." He shares a conspiratorial look with the other shaman. He bows to the Red Cow shaman without standing up. "I thank you for your hospitality, Shaman Pheasant, and I hope to enjoy it again in the future. May the stars be with you."
The other shaman bows, returns the farewell, and turns to his books as Osprey departs.
Osprey rises smoothly to his feet and leaves the room, a cloud of peace-pipe smoke following him. He takes a deep breath of the clean evening air, cleansing his lungs. "Good luck, brother Malic," he murmurs.