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Burdened Shoulders

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The news come with the return of the Selzari survivors.

If it weren't for the absence of their Heiress and the body of their Chief, along with the rest of their dead, Zenmendlar wouldn't have believed them.

The survivors regaled the ones who stayed or returned home of how Vossnell had cut down the council, her predecessor, and her own father.

After all she had done to fight against the enemy... the words of comfort and her bright, vicious way of caring for and guarding their people from all manner of threat...

She had betrayed them without a tear shed?

He couldn't believe them.

He knew Vossnell.

He knew her better than anyone still living.

Zenmendlar had been the one she had confided in, had been the one she had told about her ambitions and insecurities and her fears and...

And she would never do this of her volition.

She burned with too much love to not cry while committing such a heinous act.

She loved her people too much to even think of doing such a thing to them, to her friends.

But somehow, it happened. She had turned on them, and the speculation is that she joined the enemy in his march.

Zenmendlar had to believe they were wrong.

The village had always been wary of her for her pale hide, never before seen since a few hundred years after the Split. And they feared the unknown. They feared the unknown despite the fact their tribe lived in dense jungles where unknowns lurked in every bit of dense undergrowth.

Xecaligen had been the most talented and revered healer in Selzari history, rumored to rival Zecalli the Kind's abilities, and he had seen how quickly they had turned on him when he had engaged in a dark deal to ensure their Heiress' life.

He had seen how they had called for her death, remembered being a terrified child, clinging to his mother's skirt. He remembered wondering why they wanted to do away with the month old whelp when his parents had told him that children were treasured among their breed.

He remembered how moved he had been when Zebdagren had shed all his chiefly finery and fought tooth and nail for the life of his daughter.

The battle had lasted the entire day, but Zebdagren - clearly exhausted and hurting, dealing with the freshly severed connection with his Bondmate – never gave up. His eyes burned with a fire that Ceomrance would have envied, and he beat every Selzari that challenged him for his daughter's life, suffering many injuries, littered with scars that glittered like the sea at sunset.

He turned away from those who wished to help him heal, snarling at them and disappear to care for his daughter and lick his wounds on his own using methods Xecaligen had mentioned to him in passing.

He watched her grow, her fiery eyes sharp and watching everyone. She never caught those who looked at her, but he watched her focus on those who muttered about her father and he's seen her face tighten with anger.

He saw her look of determination before her Rite, and had seen her weary pride when she came back the very next day.

She had the entire tribe eating out of her hand that night with her tales of battle, and her father glowed with pride, and he saw her share a smile with Zebdagren.

He watched her bustle intensely throughout the day as she worked towards her Masteries or learned how to rule, often finding her dead asleep in whatever patch of shade she had found.

Then she claimed the title of Champion.

No.

He simply couldn't believe that the dam he had watched grow up - constantly striving for prestige and respect to make up for the sadness in her father's very being – had turned on them so thoroughly.

But he had to make a choice. A choice the whole village unanimous presented him with.

Would he step up in to the vacuum left by Vossnell's... absence and Zebdagren's death? Would he claim himself as chief?

He sat contemplating his life, watching his twins sleep, despairing over the cold that washed over him, his innate magic missing the frequencies of his Bondmate and his friend.

Zenmendlar sighed heavily, covering his eyes with a hand.

If he didn't, who would?

'It'll just be until Vossnell gets back and sorts everything out. There's no way she did what they said she did...' He thought fleetingly.

So with a final sigh, and a ruffle of his twins' manes, he stepped out, and accepted the burden of leadership.

Just until Vossnell gets back.