“I have to admit, Fenru,” Aka said. “When you said it was a ‘baptism by fire’…” Aka looked out at the brilliant light flickering over the audience. “I didn’t think it would be quite so literal.”
Fenru looked over, their brow furrowed. “Whatever else would I have meant?” On the platform at the front of the crowd, the bonfire was being stoked ever-higher for the coming rites. A train of servants bearing seasoned wood trailed around to the back of the temple.
“It’s just, where I’m from, it… you know what, nevermind.” Aku shook their head. “How your people have survived this long I will never understand.” It had been a major step forward when their cities had agreed to a cultural exchange. Throughout their history, they had been in one of two states: war, or steadfastly ignoring each other. This peaceful mingling was a new concept.
Fenru straightened up to glare down at Aku from their towering height. “We survive because we are strong. This rite proves our strength. Something I would, indeed, not expect your people to understand.”
A very new concept, Aku thought. They held their hands up in placation. “I mean no offense. It is obvious to us you are a strong people. I look forward to seeing this rite. We have nothing like it in Meilopa.”
Fenru’s face smoothed as quickly as it had furrowed, his teeth showing in their smile. “Indeed you have not. Our youth will amaze you in this year’s trial. It is a promising group this year. We expect fully half to survive.”
Aku broke into a fit of coughing, clearly caused by the smoke drifting their way.