Hi All, Thanks for the taking the time and effort. All comments are appreciated! Everyone stared as we rode into camp. Hands froze mid-movement as if danger approached; conversations died on the breeze between lip and ear; eyes followed our measured progress. Ka’Lexonur, my Ma’Aanar and one of the most esteemed Balancers, nodded to those he passed. I kept my eyes straight ahead. After two turnings of solid travel north, through the grassy plains of the Middle Western region of Se’Leia, our two mounts snorted and stamped, anxious to be relieved of their cargo now that the goal had been reached. We continued up the road, towards the northern end of the makeshift camp the first contingent of Balancers had set up four turnings ago. Light crystals illuminated the tents bordering the road. Campfires and sleeping rolls dotted the matted terrain behind them. The last crescent of a blood orange sun splashed the encampment as it sank below the horizon. Ka’ motioned to an open area – a small hollow under a broad-leafed holibok tree. The trees peppered this landscape like bent old men with rumpled, grayed-out hair. We dismounted. The man who’d been pacing after us stepped forward, and offered to see to our mounts. His loose-fitting, half-sleeve shirt, breeches and hunting bow confirmed he was a villager - a grazer most likely given his four fingered hand. I declined his offer, wanting to see to the animals’ care myself. He gazed at the two hilts protruding above my shoulders and half bowed as he stepped back. As Ka’ and I removed our gear, the villager seized each bag and bundle until his arms were festooned like a harvest swain after the final reaping. I managed to secure my light crystal, hairbrush, and the location of a grazing area before he hustled down into the depression, Ka’ trailing after him. “Na’Thaalya,” Ka’, called over his shoulder, “Don’t be too long.” The grassy clearing was northeast, less than a tract from camp. A few ulcanoes from the two contingents remained. Our mounts joined them and began grazing. I dawdled over their care, using my hairbrush to curry out their matted fur. I was stalling the inevitable. Leaning against their warm, solid flanks, I thanked them for their help, tucked the hairbrush in my belt, and left to rejoin Ka’. He stood within a small group of Balancers on the road outside one of the dining tents. Even though I’d seen my fellow tyros and trainers six turnings ago, they looked different to me. The second sword on the other newly designated Balancers was obvious. The darting glances and uneasy movements were less visible, but far more telling, in the final dregs of sunlight. I put my crystal away and trudged over to where Ka’ conversed with Su’ Shalith. Currently in his male form, he was another Ma’Aanar, and like Ka’, a member of the Council. Bo’Lel, Su’s former student, was noticeably absent. Could he be too ashamed to face us? That isn’t like him. He’d be the first to examine it. And we would have loved unsheathing it beneath his nose. How disappointing. We were looking forward to seeing him again. Even under these circumstances. Or because of them. Su’ studied the two hilts that jutted above my back. His tongue flicked out and his nostrils flared. He looked down the row of tents before addressing me. “We’re convening a meeting in five breath cycles to decide how we will proceed.” There was an uncomfortable silence. “You’d prefer to decide my fate without me?” “Yes.” “You have every right to be there,” Ka’ said, stepping closer to me. “There’s something you need to know.” “I will abide by any decision made,” I said to the group. Turning to Su’ I said, “I am here to serve.” Whatever they were expecting, that wasn’t it. “Your message said that their point of entry is through a pit of some kind and you have an invaders’ corpse. I’d like to see these things,” I said, clasping my hands behind my back. “Bre’ will take you,” Su’ said, motioning to the shadows beyond the tent. The same villager who’d offered to see to our ulcanoes stepped forward. “You are a man of many uses, it seems. Lead on.” Bre’ smiled lopsidedly, pointed in a vague northwesterly direction, and headed off.