Heya't woke her the next morning with a soft knock on her door. Sh’ra opened it to find him accompanied by another man, the sky behind them colored with the barest tinge of gray. Heya’t introduced the man as Le’un.
“My apologies, Sh’ra, but I have other matters I need to take care of today. Le’un will guide you to your training this morning.” He gave a slight bow and retreated toward the lift.
“Get dressed. Quickly or we will be late,” said Le’un, grabbing control of the conversation.
Sh’ra had to look down at herself to realize she was still wearing the dress from yesterday. She glanced around the room, wondering where she could find something to change into. She tried the large chest at the foot of her bed and found a fresh set of pants, a shirt and underclothes folded neatly inside. She began removing her dress, then realized Le’un still stood in the entryway.
“Do you mind?” She asked. He returned a blank stare.
“I do not. Please get dressed or we will be late.” He replied, not moving from the door.
What was this? She turned away, seeking something to hide behind, but there was nothing that would cover her from view.
“Can you at least turn around?”
“You expel me from your dwelling? You do me great dishonor. If this shames you, you have more to learn than I thought. I will oblige your foolish ways, but know that if you do this to another you will bring yourself great shame. More shame than whatever it is you are hiding under there.”
He whirled and stepped out, shutting the door with a loud crack. She stared at the wooden planks of the door for a moment, trying to parse his meaning. Quickly, she removed the dress and donned the fresh clothing, the stone still wrapped tightly to her chest. She would need to find a place to hide it. Shame at displaying her body would protect her for only so long. After pulling on a set of leather boots by the door, she rushed out. Le’un stood outside, facing outward, hands clasped behind his back.
“May I see you now?”
“Yes… of course.”
“Good. Then let us be about our business. Hopefully, we will make it in time for the ceremony.”
They stepped onto the lift. Le’un grasped the lever and pressed it forward. Sh’ra reached for the railing as the platform dropped.
“Yes, you are being formally inducted as an initiate.” Le’un said over the rushing air as they fell.
“Initiate? I thought… Didn’t I already completed the trials?” Sh’ra squeezed out, her stomach filling her throat from the rapid descent.
“Those? Better to call them prerequisites than trials. Few fail those. And you were luckier than most. Four others leapt this week. You will join them in training for the next month, and then you will undergo the Ji’re’i’to - the final trial. If you complete the Ji’re’i’to, you will enter into a five year apprenticeship under a master of your choosing.”
“Five years?!” Sh’ra exclaimed. “I don’t have time for that.”
“What do you not have time for Sh’ra of house K’vel?”
Reeling from the revelation of the apprenticeship, she missed for a moment what he had called her.
“What?” She said, turning on him. Le’un brought the lift to a stop, the ground still a hundred of feet below.
“Did you think we would not know? That we would not figure out why you had come here?” He pressed a finger to the center of her chest, just above where the stone was secured. Did he feel it?
“I… I don’t understand” She tried to back away but the lift gave her no room to run. She glanced around, seeking an avenue of escape.
“Do you think we are so unaware of the world that when a teenage girl shows up on our borders disguised as a Water clan soldier, seeking entry into our clan, we do not know who she is?”
“Then… why did you still let me in?”
“It… it is our way. We refuse entry to no one, though I tried to get them to make an exception for you.”
“Because… because I am a murderer?”
“That? Don’t be ridiculous. You think we care about Stone law? We are all murderers to them.” He pulled his finger back, releasing the pressure from her sternum.
“Then why?” Sh’ra asked, resisting the urge to rub the pain from her chest.
“Because I know why you are here! I know what you have come to reclaim.”
Sh’ra tried to think of what what he might be talking about, but her mind could find no path to an answer. She stood, staring at him, unsure how to respond. He continued without any need of a response.
“You seek the stone. But you will not have! However long you stay here, however well you act the part, the stone will never be yours.”
She hid the surprise that fought to bloom across her face. Slowly, the pieces came together. He thought she was after the stone, the one that boy had taken from her. What was his name?
“My son gave it to me on his return. I did not understand what it was at first, but now I know. And you coming here has reconfirmed it.”
“I did not come here for the stone.”
As soon as she said it, she knew they were the wrong words. It would be better for him to think that than to discover the truth.
“Do not lie to me girl!” Le’un punched his finger into her chest again, the force of it nearly throwing her over the side of the lift. “For centuries we have waited for this chance, the chance to take back what was stolen from us. And you will not get it in the way! I should throw you from this lift right now and save us from the destruction you would bring!”
Sh'ra glanced sideways at the rock far below. Her breath caught in her throat at the height. The surge of terror revealed something to her. She met Le’un’s eyes, calmness washing over her.
"But you will not."
"And why is that?" He gritted.
"Your traditions forbid it, just as they forbid you from preventing me from undergoing the trials. You see me as a danger and believe you must kill me, but you will not. If you were going to, you already would have. Instead, you trap me on this lift and seek to frighten me, but you will do nothing to harm me.”
Pity for him spread through her. He was one who was trapped, unable to do what he believed needed to be done. He was held captive to the traditions of his people. This was why the goddess had sent her here. Despite the danger, she was kept safe because these people would rather die than violate their own traditions.
Deflated, Le’un turned away from her, releasing the brake on the lift. They descended once more. Below the bruise forming on her skin, a tension in Sh'ra's chest released. When they finally touched down on solid earth once more, it had dwindled to barely a whisper.
"The training grounds are that way," said Le’un pointing toward the east. "You can make your own way."