Heena closed her eyes, took a calming breath, and strained her senses. She could almost feel the nearby sacred place, but something hindered her. She could feel her tribe around her, quietlysetting down their burdens, knowing that this could take a while. Saska stood nearby, copying Heena’s actions and straining her own senses.

In the distance, barely audible, the vicious scream of one of the green ones was cut off suddenly. Realizing the problem, Heena let out her breath, opened her eyes, and said, “Our kin, the Green Hunters tribe, is near.”

Her tribe shouldered their loads again and made ready to move in easy motions. The meet of the tribes wasn’t for a while yet, but when two tribes were so close to each other it was proper to greet each other. Even if the other tribe were the crude Green Hunters, those that use their weapons to kill instead of for hunting food.

Ree looked concerned as she laid her hand on Heena’s shoulder. “We don’t have to go.”

Heena looked down at Ree’s large belly. “Can you not make it?” she asked with concern. The pregnancy had lasted since the summer season, but she had not complained yet.

“I can,” Ree said defensively. “But I know you don’t like them.”

“They do not respect the work. Our sacred ground.”

Ree nodded. “So don’t go.”

“No, we must. They know we are near and will not easily forgive the insult.”

At her sign, the tribe started running in the direction Heena indicated. More violent screams filled the air as they got closer and closer. Outside a narrow cave they saw the Green Hunters tribe and a pile of the small green bodies of their victims. Heena frowned and almost spat a curse when she saw one of the sacred cairns had been knocked over.

“Hail!” Duni shouted in her role as leader of the hunt. “The Sanctifiers meet you.”

Only one of the five hunters turned to notice. The others stared at the cave holding spears with shiny stone spearheads and heavy clubs at the ready for any of the green ones that dared get too close to the opening. Illis backed two steps away from the cave and the rest shifted position to block any way out of the cave.

Illis planted her spear in the ground and started unwrapping the blood-stained, supple leather that served as padded armor. Taking some water, she hastily washed blood off her skin that had soaked through.

“Hail, kin. The hunt is good, see?” She showed a savage grin.

“You disrupted the sacred site,” Heena said, dropping formality.

“I didn’t notice,” Illis said, a smirk replacing the grin from her face.

“The cairn,” she pointed to the rocks, “the sign we agreed on.”

“It was the green skins,” Illis shrugged. “They came here first and we followed.”

“Their blood fouls the area. You shed the blood.”

A sudden scream pierced the air as a small green blur rushed from the cave. The hunters moved as one deadly force: a step here, a dodge there, a brilliant spear thrust then the sudden end of the scream. The green one convulsed on the end of spear then fell limp.

“Spoiled, spoiled, the sacred place is spoiled,” Saska moaned from the back of the group.

“Ha! The young one should learn to hunt, not pile rocks,” Illis said as she looked back at Saska with barely contained scorn.

“She recognizes sacred places better than I,” Heena said with a hint of anger in her voice. “She has a talent.”

Illis shrugged and looked back at her own tribe. They were putting away their weapons and unwrapping their padded armor as well. Some remembered the courtesy of quickly washing before meeting with their kin. Only Sana stayed back, taking ears from the corpses as trophies for their accomplishments.

“I see the useless tribe is here,” Tanham said as he approached the group with a mocking grin on his face.

Illis’ hand struck his face with a blow that made Heena wince. “Respect, Tanham.”

“Yes, leader,” Tanham mumbled through his clenched teeth. He bowed low before Heena and backed away. He turned quickly and moved away, hands checking his face.

“Sorry, my kin. I do not approve of speaking insults to other tribes.” Illis frowned and glanced off to the side.

Duni broke the awkward silence, “Any news, Illis? Have you been as far as the sea yet?”

“Yes. Saw a tribe of cave dwellers, the hairy ones, over toward the sea. Saw them hunting.”

Heena’s attention was focused on that. “Did they fight with you?”

“No, they hunted the animals and left.”

“Oh. Can we reach the sea and not see them?”

“Not sure. Probably.” Illis shrugged. “You do like the sea.”

“It is calming,” Heena said. “You should join us.”

Illis sighed. “No, we cannot stray. Other green skins are on the move. What news from you?”

“We saw some of the walking animals the other night. They were huddled together in the darkness as we traveled.”

“They do not fight us,” Illis said. “They do not pose a harm like the green ones.”

“They seemed… scared….” Heena started. “They are not like other animals.”

“Things change, Heena. But, now we must go. Good travels, kin,” Illis said as she started to gather her gear together.

“You, too,” Heena said without much warmth. She motioned to her tribe and they continued their trek toward the sea.

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