Online:Keshu: The Rites of Maturity, Part 1
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I remember our rites of maturity as though we took them yesterday. Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, earned her sobriquet completing these tests—and she began to build her reputation and solidify her relationship with the companions at this time as well. All of the companions excelled in the tests: Keshu, Vos-Huruk, Tee-Wan, Xocin, and even me (at least until the final test). Yes, we accomplished great things, but much of the credit has to go to our instructor and mentor, the raj-deelith, Drameencin.
The elder teacher was ancient. Supposedly, he was old when our egg-parents hatched from the communal nest. But age didn't seem to slow Drameencin. More like a fine mold or a fermented ooze, he just got better with every passing season. By the time we became his students, he was at the top of his craft and we were poised to become his masterpieces. He followed the usual methods of instructing young Saxhleel, making sure we conformed to the needs and requirements of the community and teaching us advanced techniques for hunting, tracking, and crafting. But he took us beyond the source of the river to also enhance our peculiar talents. We weren't just interchangeable eggs in a basket to Drameencin. We were individuals, and Keshu especially thrived under his tutelage.
The Saxhleel rites of maturity consist of tests of skill and bravery conducted over the course of multiple days. Some of the tests are set, used by every Saxhleel community throughout the greater marsh. Others change, depending on location, time of season, or the specific tastes of a community's raj-nassa (the elder leaders). Our rites included three difficult tests. How Keshu performed at these tests showed what kind of person she was blossoming into.
The first of these tests was "The Trial of the Lost Centipede." We were each directed to reach into a barrel and pull forth a single marsh centipede. If you've never seen a marsh centipede, they are excellent specimens of great size and nasty temperament. The average marsh centipede is as long as the span of your outstretched fingers and as thick as your wrist. The centipede selected is decorated with a distinctive mark to identify it. Then they are given to runners who race into the wilderness and release them. Our test was to track our specific marsh centipede, capture it, and return it to the raj-nassa alive and well. Now, tracking a specific centipede through an overgrown marsh is no simple task. It takes skill, patience, and even a bit of luck.
Xocin recovered his centipede first, but in doing so he disturbed a haj mota. In order to elude the creature, he was forced to wade into a deadly patch of quicksand. Keshu, who happened to be passing by at the time, distracted the haj mota and sent it scrambling in the opposite direction. Then she circled back and rescued Xocin from the sucking embrace of the pool of mud and sand.
By the time Keshu tracked down her centipede, it had gotten itself into a terrible situation. A trio of hostile nagas was hunting the plump, many-legged creature, hoping to make a meal out of it. To complete this part of the maturity rites, Keshu could not allow that to happen. Without hesitation, she slipped into the dark water and swam toward the trio, submerged and hidden from view as she made her approach. Vos-Huruk, who was returning to the village after collecting her own centipede, happened upon the scene and watched as the event played out. She reported what happened and now I am writing it down for posterity's sake.
As the naga hunters circled and closed in on their prey, Keshu silently rose from the dark water like a black fin on the prowl, a vicious dagger in each hand and a look of determination in her eyes. She dispatched the first two nagas with quick slashes of her blades, advancing toward the third before her initial kills had barely sunk below the surface of the marsh. By the time the last naga realized that death was fast-approaching, it was too late to defend himself. He fell without providing even a token resistance to the single-minded Keshu. She scooped up her centipede and followed Vos-Huruk back to the raj-nassa.