Archive for the ‘First Age’ Category

The fires that Sen had created were put out quickly. The flames were relatively weak and nobody was hurt, but Sen couldn’t sleep for a nights afterward. She kept away from even the cooking fire, unable to even look at it.

Some comforted her, some asked her about her dreams, but it was Han who had asked, “Make fire again?” The question confused Sen, but in the sleepless haze she agreed. The next few hours she stared at a bit of dry wood to summon the fire, but it didn’t come. Until she fell asleep, and saw the fire in the distance. Again she called up on the fire to warm her in the dream and it came easier this time. Shouts woke her up and she saw the bit of wood was ablaze. Han was holding her by her shoulders and telling her what a good job she had done.

The rest of the season she spent focusing. At first, she could only really make the fire when she was sleepy and thinking about her dreams. She started with a piece of wood she was touching, but eventually she could set fire to something across the cave, but it was tiring. As she practiced, however, it was easier and easier to summon the fire.

But every time she called up the fire, she remembered the death of her parents and everyone she had loved. Even Nif’s tender concern couldn’t ease the pain. It was like ripping the scab off a wound that you couldn’t allow to heal. Yet, she couldn’t stop. Any time she stopped summoning the fire, Han would come along and ask her, or even beg her, to continue to work on it. He showed so much pride and love when she summoned the fire. It became a great honor for her to relight the fire at the mouth of the cave every night.

One day, Han was getting the hunters ready for a trip. As they were packing supplies, Han approached Sen.

“Sen, you come, too.”


“Hunters need fire. You help.”

Sen frowned, but gathered up supplies. Han had been very nice to her lately, so perhaps this his way of showing appreciation.

They set off and took the path away from the sea. They kept a fast pace, but Sen was able to keep up easily enough. Night fell and Han asked Sen to set the fire. The hunters all laughed and clapped when she did it. Gao told her that it took a long time with kindling and flint to start the fire. They ate some dried rations and settled in for the night.

The next morning was overcast but dry. Han set off at a fast pace. Some of the hunters seemed confused and worried. They talked to Han in low tones, but Han responded by laughing and smiling.

“We go where we used to hunt. No problems,” he would always say. The other hunters cast looks at each other, but followed on.

That night the mood was a lot quieter. Han asked Sen to create the fire, and she did so. Gao still laughed when she did it, but Gar, Bo, and Jor were quiet. They ate quickly and went to sleep under the open stars.

The third day was still overcast. Rain threatened, but didn’t appear all day. The clouds broke around noon for a little while, but they closed up and hid the sun from the hunters. They were still traveling fast when Han gave a shout. Sen looked in the distance and saw some dark figures on the horizon. Han broke into a run, and the other hunters reluctantly followed. Bo looked at Sen, frowned, then continued to run.

Sen saw it was other humans as they approached. The hunters in the other group were dragging a sledge full of hunted animals behind them, but left it where it was when they noticed Han’s group approach. One of the hunters hunched under a cloak. She could smell something strange about him, even from a distance… he smelled of death.

Han slowed down and started walking as they got close to the other group. The other group started laughing and yelling, shouting nonsense at the hunters. Sen looked over and saw that Han had a wicked grin on his face.

The other kept laughing as the hunters came close. The strangers brandished their spears, knocking them together and swinging them slowly at the group. When they got close enough, the leader of the other group threw up his hand and stepped aside. The stranger in a cloak stepped forward and looked up. He threw open his cloak, and Sen was knocked back by the scent of death.

“Fire, Sen! Do fire now!” Han yelled. Sen’s eyes watered, but Han’s voice cut through and she obeyed. She thought of her father who fell quietly behind her. She thought of her mother who gave her final strength to tell Sen to keep moving. She thought about the life-giving fire, and summoned it to do her bidding.

Then voices around her started screaming.

Sen wiped her eyes and saw the cloaked stranger engulfed in flames. He dropped a blackened lump at his feet and fell backwards. The fire jumped to the enemy leader with tremendous force. His skin bubbled and peeled, exposing his flesh and finally his bone. He fell over with a silent scream contorting his melted face. Fire had caught on the sledge, burning the flesh of the animals and adding to the scene. The enemy hunters dropped their weapons and simply ran as fast as they could away from the fire.

Chaos ensued. Gao and Jor started running away from the scene, back the way the group had come. Gar stood there, watching with unblinking eyes. Bo buried her face in her hands, not wanting to see the horror in front of her.

Han’s reaction was the worst. He fell to his knees and let out a horrible wail. Tears streamed down his face as he faced the gruesome scene. The weight of his decision bore down on him, and he felt crushed.

Fatigue washed over Sen and she fell over, exhausted. Her eyes were fixed on the two charred lumps of what used to be humans. Tears flooded her vision and washed away the world as she wept.

The physical wounds would heal in time, but Heena felt pain that plagued her soul. She was able to keep moving, but she rarely looked at anyone besides Prin and hadn’t spoken a word since the fight.

The tribe dragged the sledges with the wrapped bodies of the fallen tribe at a slow pace. Prin had babbled directions to the nearest sacred space and Tama got the tribe to move toward that destination. They did their sacred duty with or without Heena leading them.

It was the fifth night when they stopped to make camp that Heena went wild. She shrieked and ran toward the sledge calling her sister’s name. “Dees! Dees! I won’t leave you!” she screamed, fingers tearing at the ceremonial wrappings on the bodies. It took Tama, Duni, and Wod to pull her back and hold her down, so great was the frenzy that overtook her. When she realized the futility of her struggle, she went limp and simply started sobbing. The sight of it shocked Tama and Duni, not accustomed to seeing their leader break down. Wod laid down next to her, holding her close to him and making quiet, comforting noises. After a moment the others away drifted away to find wood for a fire.

Night fell and Heena finally found sleep. She clung to Wod as newborn Laen clung to his mother.

The morning sun came, but Heena seemed more withdrawn than before. She refused to move until Tama came along and helped her, having to treat her like a child. She helped Heena wash and get into fresh clothes. When the tribe was ready, Tama made sure Heena moved along with the group. Low whispers were shared between the tribe, wondering if Heena could recover from the tragedy.

At the end of the tenth day, they had found the sacred space. Prin had found her resolve and taken the lead, directing the group the last little way without hesitation or error. The tribe was glad to finally be able to put the disfigured bodies properly to rest. Heena still sat passive, not participating in the ritual, so Tama lead it to the best of her ability. Her words were clumsy and awkward, but she knew the important part was bringing the bodies to the sacred space.

After the grim work was done, the tribe collapsed, exhausted. The trip and the rites had taken a toll on them. Some started to set up camp lacking any other plan, planning to just rest for a little while.

The finality of putting her old tribe mates into the ground sank in, and she just felt tired beyond understanding. She wandered away from the bustle of the camp absentmindedly, wanting quiet not not quite wanting to be alone with her thoughts.

Prin still felt like an outsider. The tribe had taken her in after finding her, but she felt alone and adrift. She had focused on putting her old tribe to rest, but now that was over, what would she do?

She saw Heena sitting on a log, her dim eyes staring off into the distance at nothing. Prin sat down next to Heena without a word, staring off into the distance. Finally, Prin broke down and started crying, the frustration, alienation, and pain hitting her all at once. She doubled over, tears streaming from her eyes onto the ground.

Heena seemed to come to her senses and looked over at the weeping figure next to her. Perhaps it was motherly instinct, or a mutual understanding of two people in deep pain, but she reached out and held Prin close. Heena cried as well, expressing her wailing grief. Some of the tribe checked on them to make sure they were okay, but mostly left them to their grief. Time passed as the two sat huddled together, hugging each other close and sharing their mutual loss. They spent that night in deep slumber after the catharsis.

The next morning Heena was up and about as the sun rose over the horizon. Tama went over and gave her a strong hug, welcoming her back. When everyone was up, Heena called for attention.

“Thank you, my friends. You cared for me when I did not, and you kept me going when I could not go on. I cherish you.” Heena smiled for the first time in a long time.

“Let us also welcome Prin into our tribe. She has also suffered great loss but has shown strength in leading us to the sacred spot. Truly the spirit of Bralla lives on in her.”

The group came together and embraced. They fixed a meal and ate together, things almost feeling like normal.

But, in the night, the disfigured face of her sister shambled in Heena’s dreams. She talked to Prin, who shared the same dark dreams, and they formed a bond that lasted for the rest of their lives.

It was the third day with the strange animals. The small one kept making contented noises, seeming to grow bolder as he interacted with the smaller animals. One of the wolf-like ones, colored white, had started to make noises like the group. He couldn’t quite communicate fully, but they all had very basic conversations. The old one learned more about them, about their leader and their young ones. The concept of “young ones” was hard for the group to understand; could they make their own young ones?

The animals were also curious about the group. At a rocky outcrop, one of the animals had used her claws to carve out part of a figure that looked like the hard one. The group made the pleased noise as they looked at it, and the animals seemed to enjoy the company of the rocky ones.

Instead of seeking the quiet of a cave, the group had been sleeping in the open with their new friends. There was a vein of rock that was exposed to the open air, which gave them some comfort. But the night in the open brought unfamiliar sounds.

A new noise cut through the air that night, a loud piercing sound, that made all the animals sit up alert. The bigger animals grabbed the smaller ones and put them on the small table of rock, then formed a tight circle around them. The leader was making loud noises and searching around as one of his partners stood guard over the little ones.

There was a crashing through the brush as a small cat figure emerged into the open, chased by two small green creatures making the screaming noise. Their sharp claws swiping to try to catch the young one finally caught him on the side, sending him tumbling with a yell. The leader looked in the direction of the yell and dropped to all fours, running to his little one, but could not make it in time.

The hard one moved faster than anyone anticipated. He swung his harm and connected hard against the side of one of the green beasts, sending it sprawling. It made gasping noises and red fluid flowed out of its side. The other green monster ran into the hard one and bounced back, but made an even louder screaming noise. It dove toward the fallen green beast and bit at it, tearing chunks of meat from the fallen. Suddenly a small pack of the green ones leaped out of the bushes and descended on the fallen one. In short order, there were only broken bones and a splash of red where the body had been. The green mob turned their focus to the group.

The fast one and the hungry one had joined the hard one, forming a wall between the green monsters and the animal friends. The leader had grabbed his little one, leaking red fluid on his side as the green monsters had, and put him with the rest. The leader took his place in the group, facing the monsters and preparing for an attack. But, the group had decided to protect their friends and stood close, blocking the direct approach. The whole group were standing together by now, even the timid small one. They made an aggressive sound together, which made the green ones hesitate slightly before one launched an attack. Where one went, the rest followed.

The group swung their arms, crashing down upon the heads of the green monsters. More of them poured out of the underbrush, but the wall formed by the group held firm against the incoming tide. Any that got through were met by the small one who could still deal significant damage against the soft flesh of the green ones. But, the wave of monsters kept coming. Some would throw themselves at their fallen kin, devouring them in large chunks, while others would throw themselves against the group. The green ones could see the animals in a group behind the rocky wall and charged to try to get to the prize.

It happened so suddenly that nobody could react. A particularly large green one hit the old one while he was fighting and pushed him aside. Through the temporary breach that large one and five others rushed through before the old one regained his balance and closed the gap. The small one moved to block them, but they proved too much for him. The smaller creatures tackled him and knocked him over. They set upon him, digging their claws deep into his stone and pulling at his arms. The large one lumbered up and raised its foot, stomping hard on the small one. The force drove the small one into the ground with a crunch as splinters of rock flew everywhere. The large green monster pulled his foot back and howled in pain, but only a bunch of broken rock remained where the small one had fallen.

A cry came from the animals as the leader and a few others ran forward. Their claws dug into the flesh of the large green one, and it was brought low with repeated blows. The smaller ones were too quick, and dodged past the attackers to run toward the group. Murder was in their eyes as they ran forward, claws slashing the air and teeth biting the air in anticipation of more flesh. Just as the pack of green ones almost reached the group, a cry of surprise came from the small animals in the middle.

Leaping out from the group was the small one! He had used the carved rock of the outcropping to form a new body. It was more refined than his old body, taking on some of the form of the partially carved figure. But the rest of the group immediately recognized him. He swung his new arms in the air and brought them down hard on the green monsters. He crushed their bones and knocked them aside. He moved back toward the wall, catching any of the green ones that had broken through. Eventually, as suddenly as it started, the green ones started to run away off into the gloom of the darkening night. Their mad screams fading into the night.

The animals stood at the ready for quite a while longer as the group gathered together to examine the young one. The group went to the nearby water source to wash off the red fluid that had covered them. They went back and saw the animals starting to wind down and try to get some sleep. The large white one came forward and made the appreciation noise. The group returned the noise and spread out. They were energized by the fight, and would spend the night on the watch for the green monsters, but they did not return that night.

The group stayed with the animals for a little longer, but the green ones didn’t bother them anymore. Eventually the group decided that they would move on, leaving their animal friends for a while. But, the friendship between the animals and the group endured for a long time afterward.

It was snowing, again, in her dream. The wind was blowing and her furs were stiff with ice. She was shivering cold.

“Cold, ma, cold!” she cried. Her mother looked down and said something, but she still couldn’t quite hear what it was over the howl of the wind. Strong hands held her from behind and pressed her on despite her protests. She moved forward, as she had to, but she couldn’t feel anything.

In the distance, she saw the glimmer again. The fire seemed so far away as it flickered. No! she thought. Warmth and safety would not escape her this time.

She stopped and concentrated on the point in the distance. She focused on the small flicker of light and wouldn’t let it die this time.

The group of people stopped and turned toward her. Their faces were shrouded in shadow and the smell of death was about them. They could not avoid their fate, but she did not want to go through the old motions and repeat the old pains. This time she wanted it to be different. “Fire,” she said as she changed direction toward the glimmer she had seen. She kept her eyes on the bright spot in the distance.

Something changed as she went off the path she had traveled so many nights before. The wind was changed direction, blowing against her, challenging her and hindering her movement. It stung her face, tearing at her exposed skin. She had never felt it this bad, but she had made up her mind and pressed on toward he spark.

The gale finally blew her off her feet. Snow caked her face and slipped into her furs that had fallen open. The cold penetrated into her body, chilling her to her core. She struggled to keep her eyes open and on the flame as the wind whipped around her. She slowly got to her knees, concentrating on the fire she wanted so badly.

“Come, Sen,” her mother finally said, bending down near her. “We walk other way.”

Sen looked at her mother. She could hear her voice clearly despite the fierce wind, when the voice had always been lost before. “Come with,” her mother repeated as she held out her hand. Sen slowly reached out to the little comfort she knew in the cold night, almost turning her head away from the fire.

“No!” Sen screamed as she got to her feet, keeping her eye on the fire. The wind renewed its fight against her, and she fought her way toward the bright spark she had seen in the distance. It glowed a little brighter as she struggled towards it.

The other people spoke to her, discouraging her from going toward the fire. “It not there,” one said. “A trap!” another cried. “We cannot reach it.”

The wind finally stopped. Sen wiped her eyes and blinked for a moment.

“Too late, fire is gone,” her mother finally said.

Sen blinked her eyes clear and saw that the life-giving warmth was gone. She was in the middle of the frozen wastes, abandoned to the fate of the others.

“NO!” she cried one final time. The hope had drained out of her, she collapsed on the snowy ground and started to sob, wet tears falling into the snow. The smell of death started to close in on her as the cold seemed to reach into her soul.

“Fire,” she whispered. It was all she wanted, all she could think about. She imagined the fire in her mind, the life-giving essence of heat and light helping her survive. The fire in her mind became brighter and brighter, filling her with light and giving her a small amount of warmth. She heard the roar of the fire, smelled the ash, tasted the smoke, and felt the warmth on her face. The light flickered just beyond her half-frozen eyelashes. She wiped the melting tears away from her eyes and saw the fire roaring in front of her.

Slowly, the shades around her started to fade. One by one, they joined life-giving flame. The man was the first one, then his mate holding their dead child. Next came her father, then the old man, then the other young girl, then the others. Sen’s mother looked at her and smiled as she joined flame. The flames circled Sen and warmed her. She felt the heat through her frozen furs, felt it spreading through her limbs and warming her very soul.

Sen finally understood the sacrifices they had made. She was special, that they were giving their lives to give her the chance to understand her destiny. The warmth filled her mind and she understood what the dream meant.

She opened her eyes and sat up in her sleeping furs. The whole cave was ablaze with fire, burning everywhere.

Sen screamed.

The short rock creature threw Help aside as easily as one could toss a small rodent. Leader and Growl rushed to his side to protect him from a repeat attack, but the rocky creature just stood there. Four other rock creatures appeared out from the forest to stand by the first one.

“Good?” Leader asked, not taking his eyes off the group of creatures.

Help just grunted in response, getting to his feet but obviously in pain.

Leader was truly afraid for his pack. Help was easily pushed aside and wounded, and that wasn’t even the largest of the creatures before them. If they attacked, would it be anything but a slaughter? He didn’t worry about himself, but for his mates and his cubs. Without him, they could survive with the pack. Without them, he…he didn’t want to think about it.

On top of it all, he was tired. They had traveled for many days away from the spot where the Old One had left. Leader didn’t want the bad luck to linger around them, and a long trip took their mind off the loss of the Old One. Many still mourned, including Leader, but the daily activities of keeping the cubs moving kept them in the present instead of lingering on the past. Yet, the trip had taken its toll on the pack.

Had the bad luck followed them? What manner of creature looks like rock but moves like like a creature? What did they want, and why did they come straight toward the clearing?

Leader’s noticed a noise in the bush the three of them had been hiding. A small head popped out and made a small roar. Leader glanced down and saw his own Big Cub. Why did he follow them?

Suddenly, the smallest rock creature moved away from the other group and directly toward Big Cub. The creature was making a low, slow noise of rock scraping against rock. It stretched its arms out, reaching out for the cub.

Leader’s protective instinct kicked in and he jumped between the rock creature and his cub. He turned in mid-air toward the rock beast and brandished his claws with a warning growl. After the attack by the green ones, he was taking no chances with anyone or anything getting too close to his cubs. The smaller rock creature backed off then ran toward its group. The largest rock creature moved forward in what might have been a protective gesture.

Growl and Help moved into place behind Leader. He could feel Help’s unsteadiness and fear contrasted with Growl’s cool determination. Leader tried to take strength from Growl’s stance, but his heart was racing with fear for the pack. Puffing himself up, Leader hoped that he could scare off the rocky creatures as he had when the small one went toward his cub. He stepped forward with a roar, swiping at the large rock one and connecting his claws against unyielding stone; his only reward was pain as the claws bounced against the rock creature. Giving an involuntary yowl of pain, Leader stepped back to his other two members while holding one paw in the other.

The two groups sat and watched each other for most of the day. The rocks collapsed into what looked like piles, while the three crouched low or sat with their legs ready to spring. It was late when the hunters arrived back to the clearing, carrying chunks of fresh meat from the day’s kill. The smell of food caught the attention of the three after the long day’s standoff.

“Hungry,” Help said quietly, not wanting to show cowardice.

“Yes,” Leader said. “Rocks not leaving.”

Growl exhaled loudly. “Let’s get food.”

The three moved backward as a group, keeping the creatures in sight as they went to eat with the rest of the pack. Once near the rest of the pack they sat down, still keeping the rocky creatures in sight, and ate with everyone else.

One of the rocky creatures then made an unusual chattering noise. It started to move toward the group while making another strange noise. Leader’s mate stood up and growled at the approaching figure, wary of the group that had hurt her mate. The creature in front made the chattering noise again while pointing toward the meat.

“Rocks eat meat?” Growl said, amused. Help ripped off a small bit of the meat and threw it at the rock creature. It picked up the meat and put it near its head. No obvious mouth opened, but the meat eventually disappeared and the creature made a chirping noise. Other pack members nearby watched the rocky creatures.

“That good?” Scar asked. Help just shrugged and cut off more meat to throw toward the rocky creatures. The rest of the creatures picked up meat and ate it as well.

While they were eating, Help stands up. “Trying something,” he says, then mimics the chattering sound the rock creatures made earlier by biting his teeth together. He then points to the meat with a paw.

The rocky creatures stopped what they were doing and looked toward Help. He looked at the rest of the pack, then repeated the noise. One of the rocky creatures made a chirping sound then the whole group made a lot of noise.

“What is that?” Leader asked, looking at Help.

“I think it’s their word for food,” Help said.

“How do you know?”

“Same way I learned to say ‘food’ after meeting the pack.”

“Huh,” Leader said. “Maybe they not so bad.”

As the light faded, the pack gathered together to sleep for the night. The rocky creatures collapsed into their individual piles near the bush, a little ways away from the pack. Overwhelming curiosity drew some of the cubs and pups near, despite warnings barked by parents. Big Cub lead the way to the smallest rock creature. After sniffing at it, he then curled up next to it and promptly fell asleep. A careful rocky arm reached out and stroked the little one gently before making a quiet noise.

Not so bad after all, Leader thought to himself as sleep overtook him.

The group had been on the move for a long time. The fast one had lead them for a while with the small one trying to find a good site for a cave, but the old one always wanted to keep moving. He often made the warning sound when they stopped even though no danger was apparent to the others.

At last, they came to a large forest. The trees loomed overhead, the last leaves of the season clinging to the almost bare branches. The small one backed away as the others entered the forest. He made the negative sound, then made an unusual sound.

The old one moved over and put his hand gently on the small one. He made the comforting sound, and pointed to the forest. The small one slowly moved forward, staying within the protective aura of the old one. The hard one followed behind the two, lending his solid presence to the small one’s courage. The small one stepped within the line of the trees and after a few moments moved slowly forward.

Already the ground was covered with dull leaves fallen from the trees. The hungry one scooped up a handful of leaves and munched on them. Every once in a while a hand went down and grabbed a few more to eat. The small one timidly picked up a leaf and tried it. He dropped it after eating only half of it.

The fast one made the warning noise, catching everyone’s attention. The group stopped and fell silent, watching the fast one for any information. The fast one pointed at a clump of bushes in a clearing ahead and motioned for the rest to say there as he moved into the clearing. He crept forward, careful to make hardly any noise.

A flash of white came from the bushes and crashed into the fast one, knocking him to the ground. Over him towered an animal that looked different than any the group had seen before. It like one of the wolves they had seen, but it was much larger with longer, thicker legs. The fast one threw the attacker back with one arm and stood up. Two other animals came from behind the bush to stand next to the white one on the ground. The rest of the group rushed forward to stand next to the fast one, watching the opposing group carefully.

Suddenly, a small cat head popped out from behind the brush. It made a noise at the group then looked at them. The small one broke ranks and moved toward the small cat, making the comforting noise. One of the other large cats jumped forward, landing between the small one and the bush. It brandished its claws as the small one made the warning noise and moved away quickly. The animals advanced on the group, moving behind the hard one who blocked the path.

The cat animal that threatened the small one made a fierce noise at the hard one. It stepped forward and swipes at the hard one, connecting claws to hard stone. The animal gave a shout and moved back behind the others, holding its claws tenderly. The two groups stared at each other for a long time, neither moving. The group simply sat down and watched the animals as the sun travels down toward the horizon.

In the gloom, two other animals came into the clearing carrying large chunks of meat. The three animals looked away for a moment, then make soft noises to one another. They backed away as a group to join the others while casting sideways glances at the group. The group watched as many other animals come out of hiding and into the clearing, including many small ones, all tearing into the meat and eating.

The hungry one made the hungry noise, much to the amusement of the rest of the group. The hungry one gave the beckoning noise and moved ever closer to the meat.

One of the cat animals made a fierce noise and stares down the hungry one, who stopped where he was. He pointed at the meat, making the hungry noise again. The animals looked at him and made noises at each other, then looked back at the hungry one. Finally, one of them tore off a chunk of meat and threw it on the ground near the hungry one. Scooping it up, the hungry one nibbled on the chunk of meat. He made the positive noise and consumed it entirely.

The animals continued to throw more chunks of the meat at the group, and all of them tried a bit. Even the timid small one found the meat to be very pleasing. But, the whole group stopped eating when they hear something they never would have expected: one of the large animals making the hungry noise!

The group stared at the large white one, the same that tackled the fast one earlier in the day. The white one looked at the other animals, then made the sound again while pointing at the meat. The old one made the positive noise, and all agreed.

The day’s light faded and fatigue overcame all. The fast one made the tired noise, and none of the group objected. They decided to sit down into resting positions near the brush in the clearing, preparing to sleep for the night. A few curious small ones went over and made happy noises near the group. The small one was surprised when one of the small cat ones flopped down next to him and curled up into a small, furry ball. Reaching out a careful hand to stroke it, the small one made the pleased noise quietly to himself.

Heena set a brutal pace for the group. Wod had to convince her to stop because Prin couldn’t take it anymore; the girl had broken down crying as they neared the location she described. The battle happened several nights ago, but Heena felt an urgency to find her sister. The sun was already low in the sky and she knew they had to be close.

Walking over to Prin, Heena put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “I am sorry, Prin,” she said, trying muster patience and understanding for for the girl. “I wish to find my sister and make sure she is okay.”

Prin swallowed hard and nodded. Heena stroked her tangled hair and pulled her into a caring embrace. “I need you to find her.”

Wiping her eyes, Prin stood up and nodded. “I am scared,” she said, sniffling. “But, I will go on.”

Heena nodded and went to collect her pack. “We run again!” she yelled, prompting her tribe to pick up their gear and start moving.

Prin moved slowly to the front, taking deep breaths to steady herself. She looked around, taking in her mental map, and then pointed in a direction. Heena nodded then started the run as Prin had pointed, the young girl following close after.

Heena slowed down from her run when she recognized the precise location Prin described. She moved to the side as others came along and stopped nearby. The group dropped their packs and caught their breath.

“Here?” Tama asked, looking around. Prin nodded.

“I found blood,” Wod called out, crouching near the ground near a bush. Heena rushed over and saw the traces of dried blood on the vegetation.

Prin shook as she fought her tears unsuccessfully. “Oh, Bralla,” she cried, falling to the ground as the strength left her. Sobs racked her body. Heena dropped down beside her and lifted Prin’s head to her chest, making made quiet, comforting sounds.

“No bodies?” Tama whispered in Heena’s ear from behind.

Heena shook her head, but then said, “Dees must have taken them to a sacred place.”

Tama stood and walked off to talk with the others. Heena just held Prin close, letting the grief wash over her. “Sorry,” she whispered. “So, so sorry.”

They sat next to the bush for a long time as the sun moved down to the horizon. Heena heard the rest of the tribe setting up camp some distance away from the bloody site, but she didn’t move until Prin finally sat upright and wiped her eyes.

“Hungry?” Heena asked. Prin nodded, so the two stood up and went to the fire to get some food.

The meal was simple and quiet. Something wasn’t right for Heena. Even as the others went to sleep, she got up to walk around.

“Cannot sleep?” Wod asked as she walked near where he was keeping watch.

Heena looked at the moon and nodded. “I wish Ree were here,” she said quietly. “She would be able to comfort Prin better.”

Wod gave a quiet laugh. “I think you give good comfort.”

Heena shrugged. “Maybe.”

“The girl is scared,” Wod said, the mirth leaving his voice. “After what she saw….”

Heena nodded and shivered. “Let us go nearer the fire,” she said as she got up. The fire warned her body, but the growing sense of unease was not dispelled by the heat or light.

They sat in silence for a good part of the watch. Near the time of the deepest night, Wod went to get Skiro and wake him up for his watch.

After the old man had gone to relieve himself, he came near the fire to warm up and wake up. He saw Heena sitting there and grunted a curt greeting. Heena just nodded.

Wod was just about ready to go to sleep when he heard something. “There!” he whispered, pointing beyond the fire. He took a spear and went around the fire to the other side. Skiro grabbed his spear and went the other way, while Heena moved back carefully.

She heard the footsteps clearer now, most likely the sound that Wod had heard. The moonlight showed a figure moving in the night, heading toward the camp. Heena squinted and moved away from the fire, trying to get a better look at the figure. Hope welled up in her as she saw what seemed to be a familiar figure.

“Dees,” Heena gasped, tears coming to her eyes. She jumped up and started to move toward her sister. But, then, something in her mind screamed in fear.

The figure had finally come within the range of the firelight. It was Heena’s sister, but it was not Dees anymore. The face was frozen in a mad expression, her face a pale mask of flesh that once belonged to Dees. The thing faced Heena, blank eyes not focusing on her, but the figure still shambling toward her.

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” Heena cried. Not Dees!

Then the creature opened its mouth and screamed. It screamed for an eternity, leeching away all hope. Darkness swallowed Heena, blocking out the light of the fire and the moon. She felt as if she were falling in endless space. The darkness surrounded her, suffocated her, squeezed the life from her.

Heena caught her breath as she saw Skiro standing where the thing that had been her sister was. His spear had pierced through the thing’s body, and the stench of rotting and death filled the area. Heena doubled over and retched the contents of her stomach to the ground.

Wod gave a shout as other figures appeared in the night. The rest of the tribe was rapidly waking up and leaping to action. The two men barked orders as the others grabbed spears. In the distance, she recognized the forms of others from her sister’s tribe: Erdt, Natik, even Bralla shambled in the darkness toward the camp.

“No, no, no,” Heena sobbed, the acid taste still in her mouth. She fell to the ground in mindless fear as shouts and screams came from all directions.

The green beast jumped, claws stretched in front of it. The spear wasn’t swung around in time, and claws found their target in unprotected flesh. One hand dug into the shoulder while the other reached up and gashed the throat. Blood sprayed across the dry grass and she fell over, limp and lifeless. A few of the green ones swarmed to the body, biting and clawing at it.

Dees lost the last of her self-control; seeing Shae fall to the beasts was too much. Not even her consort Natik’s death had touched her so deeply. But Shae, her sister in all but blood, fell to the ground and was savaged by the frenzied green swarm. Her vision darkened as grim reality set in. The jeering green beasts were all around her and she became a spirit of death.

Dropping her spear, Dees took up two stout clubbing sticks and ran toward the body. Swinging with reckless abandon, she caved the skulls of two of the green ones. Another jumped back out of range, then leaped at Dees in a vicious attack. She easily side-stepped the attack and then brought one of the clubs crashing down on the creature’s skull. It fell to the ground and twitched a few times before finally expiring.

The body was still there, blood still weakly gushing out of the gaping wound in the neck. A blank eye stared upward at nothing; the other burst in it socket, pierced by a claw scratching at the face. She would have been overcome with grief it the battle rage hadn’t taken control of her. A scream of another green one charging drew here attention away from Shae’s body.

She spun around and flung out her leg in a savage kick, catching the green one in the face and throwing it to the side. It landed rough, but gained its feet quickly and jumped at her almost instantly, only to catch a club on its shoulder and crumple to the ground. Dees stepped forward and crushed its neck under her foot.

Looking up, she saw two other green ones near by; their bloody mouths showing that they had been gnawing on the fallen. Her eyes narrowed and with a shrill battle cry she charged toward them. One fell as she beat it against the side of its head, but the other dodged out of the way and ran off. She gave chase, her long legs allowing her to outrun her small green prey. Raising her club over her head, she swung hard and brought it crashing down on the back of its skull, dead before it even reached the ground. The body tumbled a few times then landed in an ungraceful heap.

She looked to the left to find other prey as another green one crashed into her from the right. It pinned her arm against her body, claws digging into her ribs. She swung wildly with the other club, but the awkward angle made it difficult to hit the beast. It grasped tightly, digging claws deeper as she fell over on top of the creature. She jammed her shoulder into the creature, crushing it beneath her as it dug its claws in one last time before going limp.

Dees stood up and looked back to where she had last seen the others, but nobody was there. She started to run back, but a pain in her side slowed her down. Panic built up as she didn’t see any of the rest of her tribe near the area she had left them.

Behind a bush, she finally found what was left of her tribe. Erdt was slumped on the ground, a pool of blood around him in addition to a pile of green corpses. She heard Prin sobbing and followed the sound to the other side of the bush, where the young one was bent over. The body of Bralla with dark stains over her clothes finally brought Dees to her knees. The battle frenzy had worn off, and the horrible truth finally sunk in.

Dees tried to speak, but couldn’t get enough air. She felt as if she were drowning in the middle of land. Dropping one of the clubs, she grabbed Prin’s clothes and yanked to get her attention.

A tear-stained face met her gaze. “Dead, they’re dead,” Prin wailed. “Oh, why?”

“Prin,” Dees said, finally finding her voice. “Go to the Slow Fishers. Find my sister.”

Prin blinked, then muttered, “Heena?”

Dees nodded. “Go!”

“The bodies! We must go to a sacred place!”

Dees shook her head and coughed. Pain shot through her side and she heard an unnerving crackling noise from inside her chest. “No, go. I’ll do it.”

Prin just looked at her, then looked down and turned pale. “Dees, you’re….”

A scream announced the arrival of a new group of green ones, cutting Prin off. “Go!” Dees said with all the force she could muster. Prin stood, grabbed a spear, and started to run as fast as she could.

Dees leaned over Bralla’s body and whispered a word for the dead. “I will see you soon, wise one.”

Grabbing her club, she struggled to her feet and faced the direction the scream had come. Let them come, she thought. Let them come and meet their doom with me.

The hunters had returned to the cave and Jor was resting to mend his ankle. The group’s mood had been subdued, and Jor had said nothing about the rocky creatures he had encountered.

Gar came in from watch in the morning. He set his spear against the cave wall and walked toward his mate. Lena was already sitting up and playing with their son Tal. At two months old he was growing quickly. Mother put the baby to her breast and fed him his own breakfast as Gar went to get something for his family to eat. He came back shortly with wooden plank piled with steaming mash.

“Gris, food,” Gar called to his father. When he did not stir from his sleeping place, Gar went over to nudge him awake. He turned his father toward him and was shocked by the old man’s ashen, sunken face. Getting up quickly, he went to get one of the wise women.

It was young Vel that he found first and beckoned over toward his father. “Gris sick,” Gar said, his flat voice betraying no emotion. Vel left the food she had gotten for old Nef and went with Gar.

Lena had a worried look on her face as they returned. She glanced over at Gris and then at the two approaching. “Gris good?” she asked.

Gar said nothing and Vel went over to lay her hands on him. She felt his skin and looked at Gar with troubled eyes.

“Gris good?” Lena repeated, looking at Gar then at Lena.

“No,” Vel said quietly, looking at the floor. After a moment, she got up and went back toward the fire.

Gar went back to his father and carefully touched his clammy skin. Gris moaned softly, his eyes flashing open for a moment, focusing on nothing, before closing again.

Five days passed as the cave took on an eerie quiet. Gris had not moved from his spot. He ate nothing and only took a bit of water that was poured into his mouth. Gar was silent through this time, as he usually was, and did his work although he got very little sleep. He spent his nights awake, watching his father.

It was the evening of the fifth day when Gar noticed the ragged breathing had stopped. He looked at the old man and stared for several moments while his mind finally grasped what had happened. He grasped the old man’s cooling hand and sat quietly a while, wishing his father peace.

Gar got up to head outside. He saw Sen sitting a short distance away from his father’s body, hugging her arms to herself and sobbing softly. Gar stopped and looked at her as she looked up at him. “I smell it,” Sen said. “I smell him gone. So sorry, so sorry,” she said between sobs. Gar looked away from the girl and went toward the fire where everyone had gathered.

Lena turned away from the crowd of women still admiring little Tal and saw Gar approach; one look and she knew exactly what happened. Tears welled up in her eyes as the women asked her what was wrong.

Gar went to the chieftain Zun and said simply, “Gris gone.” The tribe fell silent. Zun, the chieftain, reached out and squeezed Gar’s arm.

“Was good man,” Zun said, quietly. Murmurs from all around echoed the sentiment in their own words.

Gar went to his fellow hunter Han. “Help me send him?” Gar asked.

“Yes, friend,” Han said and followed Gar into the cave.

They walked past Sen still sitting by herself. She had started humming something, staring at the body wrapped in the furs. Gar paid her no notice, but Han looked at her as they walked by.

Wrapping the old man in his sleeping furs, they lifted him off the floor and carried him out of the cave. They walked past the fire slowly as people lined up to watch the procession. Some murmured farewells and touched the wrapped body as it went past. Han stopped and grabbed a burning brand from the bonfire, holding it high in a free hand to light their way in the dimming light. They took the old man down the narrow path toward the beach a fair distance away from the cave.

Gar sat with the body while Han went to collect some of the driftwood on the beach. They piled the dried wood and then placed the fur-wrapped body on top. Han gave the brand to Gar who set it on top. The fire caught quickly, spreading over the old furs. They watched the fire flare up, burning as brightly old man had lived. The two sat there in silence for many hours as the flames continued to burn, keeping watch over the old man’s pyre. In the morning, the rising tide would take the ashes to sea.

In the distance, Lena saw the fire flare up and burn. She held her son close to her.

“New life and old life,” Nif said, standing next to her. “Old ones leave, but more new ones come.”

Tears came to Lena’s eyes and she wept. She cried the tears she knew that Gar would not.

The group of them had stayed in a nearby cave for several days after following the big ones to the special place. The rock near the river was similar to what they had found by the sea and digging out the cave was easy for the group. They spent the days soaking up the life-giving energy in the area.

It was late in the day when it came crawling out of the water, differently than the others they had seen. It made a loud noise which they had not heard before The big loud one then moved away from the water to the cave across the sand.

The group was trapped in the cave, and old one made the warning noise as the broken one approached. The group quickly ducked down into hiding position. Together, they felt fear rising as the broken one crawled into the cave. They had never seen one of the fleshy ones so close before! He looked at his lower appendage, touching it carefully and making a sudden noise. The broken one then looked around for a while, before lying flat seeming to rest.

The fast one overcame his fear first, feeling restless as always. He moved slowly toward the mouth of the cave, seeing if the broken one would stir. He moved along the wall, careful not to touch the broken one, and then slipped outside. The rest remained where they were, watching the newcomer for any reaction. After a while they started to move toward each other. The small one made the warning noise, and the hungry one agreed.

They all froze when the broken one started moving and making strange noises. The group dropped into their hiding postures, fearing that the stranger would see them. Sitting up and looking around quickly, he seemed to be searching for something. He might have noticed them! They worried about the fast one, who had gone outside but not returned yet. What if he returned while the broken one was awake and moving around? The broken one then moved out of the cave and into the evening’s sunlight.

The fast one saw the strange one come out of the cave and decided to huddle down into a hiding position. The broken one went to the river to take some water and do something completely inexplicable. After finding some plants and putting them into his head, the broken one then stood tall against a nearby rock and looked at something in the distance.

Picking himself up and moving slowly, the fast one showed amazing restraint and crept toward the broken one. The broken one stopped moving and glanced over toward the fast one. Again, the fast one huddled into a hiding position and waited for the broken one to ignore him.

But, he didn’t. The broken one moved quickly away from the fast one and bumped into a pile of ordinary rocks. He then pushed off and landed in a heap on the sandy area near the water. The broken one made a loud noise as his lower appendage hit the ground.

Taking a risk, the fast one started moving cautiously toward the broken one. The broken one turned on his side to face the fast one’s approach, and had his arms up in the air, reaching toward the fast one. The fast one was confused about what the broken one was trying to communicate, so he moved slowly forward and made the soothing sound. From the cave behind the broken one, the hungry one was repeating the soothing sound. The fast one then got within range of the figure on the ground and waited.

The broken one reached out a hand to touch the fast one. Calming his fear, he let the broken one touch him, feel the delicate warmth of flesh against his rough exterior. The fast one reached out his arm to touch the end of the broken one’s arm and notice the gentle hand at the end. The fast one considered his crude fingers for a moment, looking at the differences.

Leaving the cave, the small one took in the sight of the two near the broken one. He made the warning sound, but they were watching the newcomer too closely to notice. After a while, even the small one became entranced with the stranger as well and watched him interact with the fast one.

The hungry one went to the cave and grabbed one of the pieces of wood it had been eating earlier in the day. The hungry one dropped the bit of wood near the broken one as an offering. The broken one picked it up, looked it over, then put it down. The small one also went back into the cave to gather some of the mushrooms he had been eating earlier in the day, and took them over to the broken one. Once again he picked them up and then put the mushrooms in his head. He made quiet noises and seemed to relax a bit.

The fast one made the appreciative noise, and the others joined in. The hard one made the warning noise, then the negative noise. All agreed that the broken one was no threat to the group so far. The hungry one even reached out an arm to try to touch the broken one, but drew back at the last moment.

The fast one then made the beckoning sound and they all gathered around the fast one holding up an arm. After a few moments, he formed the end of his arm into something resembling the hand of the broken one. The hungry one made an appreciative sound as the rest examined it closely.

The small one then made the quieting noise. They all listened and heard something in the distance making a repeated sound. It was another of the broken one’s type! The hard one made the warning noise and the small one made the agreement noise. Only the fast one kept his attention on the broken one, who seemed to be listening for the sound as well. The hard one was already moving away, making the beckoning noise to lead the others away. The old one, who didn’t care get too close to the broken one, got up from his hiding place and followed the hard one as he went along the water’s edge. The others decided to follow, leaving their cave and the broken one behind.

The last of the sun’s light faded away, leaving only the moon to light their way. They decided to stop for the night, huddling between some stones to get some rest. The fast one didn’t feel much like sleeping, he used his new hand to pick up small rocks and plants in the area.

In the morning, the group got together. The fast one held up his hand and showed off the second hand he had made in the night. Making the appreciation noise, he showed the others how he could pick up small things easily and manipulate them.

The old one made the positive noise and held out his arms. He shaped the crude ends into hands just as the fast one had done. Then the others concentrated on their arms and did the same thing. They spent the rest of the day testing the use of their new hands.