The Two Leaders of the Mahi Tahi
The Mahi-Tahi have two leaders who divide and share the direction of their people. The first is the War-Chief who maintains the title despite the default lack of a state of warfare. The War-Chief’s counterpart is the pinnacle of the worship of MoeMare, the High Priest.
The High Priest is chosen, according to belief, by MoeMare himself. The undeniable symbol of his office is a burning fire within that is granted by the slumbering god. From a young age the Priest will show signs of his future. When he can fully manifest his gift in the form of breathing the holy fire, he assumes his role in full. Often this happens concurrently with the passing of the previous High Priest. In rare circumstances however, the High Priest could fall out of favor with MoeMare, and have his breath taken from him. In such instances the young replacement finds his development divinely accelerated. His first divine task is to dispose of his predecessor.
The Chieftan is selected by a grand contest called the Wakataetae. When a War-Chief vacates their position, either due to death, or they step down due to sickness, age, or other reasons a missive is distributed throughout the Mahi-Tahi with the greatest haste. Any citizen of the scaled peoples is welcome to enter the contest, but they must be warned it is rigorous and not without peril. A period of one month is given for mourning and celebrating the previous War-Chief. During this time hopefuls arrive to Kotahitanga in great numbers.
The first ordeal that hopefuls undergo is a labyrinth that is enclosed in the bottom of the large ziggurat in the city center. Teams are created of 5 individuals at random from the applicant pool and they are released into the winding twisting pathways. Traps, tricks, and more await groups that enter the hallowed halls, and not all teams emerge with every member who entered. Speaking to the specifics of what is hidden within is strictly forbidden. Applicants rarely do, as it would give their competitors an advantage they lacked, but rumors do persist. And if all the rumors are to be given equal weight, the labyrinth is able to change from event to event. Teams are judged by how quickly they navigate the labyrinth, and how many survive doing so.
Once the last teams have passed into, and hopefully out of, the labyrinth, the second stage of the Wakataetae is underway. A martial tournament is held within the second tier of the ziggurat. Combatants face off one on one in a ring with any weapons of their choice, including spells if the entrant is capable. Clan elders and other figures of importance or renown make up the spectator crowd in addition to other applicants. Combat is not to the death by default, but until one of the combatants resigns or is rendered unable to proceed. If both fighters are equally determined and wont back down, the expected result is that only one will be leaving alive.
The eight best competitors advance to the third tier of the ziggurat. Here there is combat of a very different kind. Each of the victors faces each of the others one by one in battles of wits, intelligence, and cunning. A complicated game is created to simulate a scenario ranging from a theoretical military offensive, to political unrest in outlying cities, to natural disaster response. The previous War-Chief advisors act as referees in these scenarios but will not offer any advice. The four who outsmart their opponents most decisively and impressively advance.
The fourth and final trial of the Wakataetae is a somber ritual. The High Priest meets all four of the potentials atop the apex of the ziggurat at dusk, one standing proudly at each of the four border steps. They are congratulated on what they have accomplished, and reminded that what come next, only one of them will survive. While in theory one of them could forfeit at this point, it is unheard of for one to come this close and give up at the last stage. The High Priest ignites with his holy breath a towering fire visible to most of the town that burns through the night. Each of the applicants strides proudly forward into the inferno. At dawn, as the fires begin to go out, a lone figure emerges, forged by the fires. This is the new War-Chief.