So, it's been, uh.., about 2, 3 years since an update? *coughs* I have no words.

Anyway, my writing style has changed tremendously, but for this chapter, I tried hard to keep it the same, as I really don't feel like re-writing the other chapters to match. Eh, not too fond of this - it's hard to write after 3 years of absence, but at the very least, it is an update. I've got some exciting other projects to start posting, but I've told myself no new stuff until everything else is finished. ^^ So here you go.


FIFTEEN

The village leader is an ancient man with a long, flowing beard and a shiny bald head. His body is incredibly frail, and he's leaning on two Grassland warriors just to stand up. However, there is a inner strength shining in his eyes, an inner power that speaks volumes of a great leader. He is as wise as he is old.

I bow respectfully, and the four Cliff warriors behind me do the same. Kaiba merely bows his head in the Safu way. I straighten myself, then meet the gaze of the old man steadily.

He's looking at me with those bright eyes of his; I feel him gauging me, my strengths, my weaknesses, my character. It's like my inner self is laid bare, and it makes me uneasy to have him see everything. Finally, he blinks, and seems to draw back.

"I. . .have never heard of the Cliff tribe," he slowly says. He waves a hand at the two warriors holding him up, and they carefully lower him back onto his sturdy chair. It's padded with several cushions.

"We are a new tribe," I respond quietly. Even without looking, I can tell that Aerto is watching me closely. Him and all of the other new Tokita Seni, as they all keep their respectful distance. "However, our roots lay in the tribe formerly known as the Goka."

The Grassland leader strokes his long beard. "Ah. . .I see," he breathes slowly, taking his time. His bright eyes flicker from me to the warriors behind me, and a long moment passes before he speaks again. "What brings a Safu and a new tribe to my village?"

And there's the question. I take a moment to think about the best way to answer before decided to just come out with it. "Raki, the Safu leader, seeks to conquer the entire land," I say, then pause as I realize how ridiculous that sounds.

Perhaps it would sound more legit if it came from a Safu. I gesture at Kaiba to continue.

He steps forward, his expression completely void of all emotion. "The Raki has become corrupt with greed," he says. "He has deceived many of the Safu people, and now leads them towards the destruction of fools. He must be stopped."

One of the grassland Seni stepped forward, looking like he was about to say something, but the Grassland chief only had to lift a hand to stop him. "The Safu are an honorable people," the old man calmly stated. "To speak so of their leader is a great crime."

"Their leader has done great evil to our prince," Hakla, one of the Cliff men, breaks in fiercely. "Is that not a greater crime?" His outburst surprises me, for I have never heard him speak until this moment. All eyes suddenly turn to him, and he shifts uneasily.

"That is forgotten, Hakla," I say softly. "And a thing of the past." I face the grassland chief squarely, beginning to find this nerve-wracking situation tedious. "I have friends among the Safu, and I only seek to spare their honor and their homes."

There is utter silence as the grassland chief breathes. His silence is unnerving, his gaze is wise and powerful. I remind myself that as leaders of our tribes, we are equal. So I wait.

Finally, he exhales slowly. "You wish to ask our aid in this matter."

I blink, failing to hide my surprise. "That. . .that was not my intention. I came to give a warning, and to ask the Tokita Seni here to return with me. However, if you would give aid, I would welcome it."

The old man breaks into chuckles, shocking me even further as I do not understand what there is to be amused about. "Such honesty," he smiles. "Your tribe will go far under your leadership, young one. Now go – I must discuss this with my advisors. If the Tokita Seni wish to help you, I will release them from their contract."

A little stunned, I manage a respectful bow. "Thank you." I turn and leave with no small amount of relief.

X X X

"Mind telling me what that was all about?" Aerto leaned against the training post, watching as Sai sat wearily on the ground. Behind the prince, a pair of sturdy-looking Cliff warriors stood guard, their eyes watchful. The other Tokita Seni had drawn about as well, curious as to what was going on.

Sai shifted uncomfortably, wondering where to start. He didn't like being the center of attention and wished that Kaymy was here to help him out. He rubbed his forehead wearily. "I'm a prince," he murmured, as if that answered everything.

"Hn," Aerto smirked. He wasn't going to let Sai off that easily; he enjoyed the sight of his old teammate squirming. "Of the Goka, Sai? I thought they didn't. . . ." Abruptly, Aerto's voice trailed off, suddenly realizing that something was wrong.

Sai shouldn't even know! About the Goka, the Gokaku – or anything having to do with that tribe. That night. . . .that horrible night that had nearly destroyed their team when they were still Juni - Sai had only survived with his mind intact by forgetting the whole thing. He wasn't supposed to remember anything about his former tribe.

Aerto leveled a hard stare at his friend, searching Sai's face for any sort of clue. Sai met his gaze steadily. For a long moment, neither said a thing. Then Aerto spoke slowly, somehow knowing the answer but needing to confirm it.

"You. . .regained your memory," he said.

Sai gave his head a little shake. "I never lost it that second time."

Aerto's expression darkened. "Then you lied."

Sai flinched, but he did not deny it. "Yes."

"Why? Why would you hide something so important?"

"Because," Sai exhaled softly. "It hurt, and I didn't want anyone to worry."

Aerto crossed his arms. "That doesn't change the fact that you should have told us!"

"It wasn't that simple!" Sai suddenly snapped, shocking Aerto with his sudden outburst. "It never was!"

A heavy silence filled the air, during which they stared at each other.

Eyes wide, Sai went still for a long moment before taking a deep breath to regain his calm. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "You're right – I should have told you. Maybe you could have helped, and maybe things wouldn't have gotten as bad as they did."

A uneasy feeling was starting to coil in Aerto's gut. "Sai. . .what happened?"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Raki sneered as he looked down from the second-story window. The Safu – his Safu were doing drills. Individually, they were powerful warriors, but as a unit, they lacked organization. He didn't think it mattered, as long as they obeyed him and destroyed whatever he told them to.

"This is a waste of time," he hissed, fingers tightening around the window sill.

"No," came a deep, quiet reply. There was a faint sound of movement; Raki glanced back to see a small, dark shape step forward out of the shadows. "What is an army without cohesion? If you would not fail before you begin, you must ensure –"

Raki whirled away from the window. "Enough! I don't need your useless advice! I will wait no longer – the Safu will march tomorrow for the Grasslands." Jaw set, eyes glittering cruelly, Raki swept from the darkened room.

The small, cloaked figure merely turned to watch him go. There was a faint sigh. "Foolish one," a baritone voice murmured. "You will fail because you do not listen." Then he chuckled gently.

It seemed that his brethren had won this game, after all.