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.”

“Why?”

“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.


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