Once she had a name, it was not important anymore.
A name is a social thing, something that requires others for it to have meaning. Friends and family use a name as a label for the one they know and/or love.
She was alone. A woman leaving her childbearing years behind along with the attractiveness that had never had a use. But that was when she had had a name, and people to call her by it.
Her people had reckoned time by the moon, its cycle served to mark the passage of time for the common folk. To her people The Mountain had been the highest place in the world, the home of the Gods, both good and bad. She had climbed it once before, a lifetime ago. Now she tightened the animal fur around her as protection against the cold as she ascended The Mountain for a second time.
She thought as she climbed through the foothills, thought of a time before she was what she was. When she had had a name.
And people to call her by it.
The air was weaker up here, making even her take deeper breaths. She stopped to rest on a rock, adjusting the fur to keep out the biting wind. The view from up her was amazing; you could see the whole world laid out below. If she tried she could picture where her village had been. It was gone now, mud and grass and twigs washed away in the rains years ago.
She sensed the little God's before she saw them. As they stepped out into the open she nodded at them.
"Why are you here?" The tallest of the little God's asked, clutching his spear and wearing its other face.
"I am going to the top." She waved to the snowy peek.
"We know who you are." It snarled.
"Then you know that I am old. I am going to the top of the world to die."
"You slew my father."
She knew it was getting ready to attack.
"And my brothers and my sisters...why are you here? This is our place!"
"This is my place also." She gripped her wooden spear with gnarled fingers until her knuckles went white, "You know that. I have come here to die."
"You are going to die..." sneered the leader, waving his minion's forward, "I'll taste your blood."
She didn't move until they were close, then she hit the first between the ribs, driving her spear point home into its heart and watching it crumble to dust. She spun the shaft of her weapon to deflect the other's thrust, spinning and kicking it backward onto the rocky ground. She killed it a heartbeat later, and side stepped the spear thrust of the leader. She caught his weapon in her hands and jerking it away.
Reversing her spear, she drove the butt into the little Gods sternum, hearing bones crack as it fell over with a hiss.
She bent over it, gripping it by the back of its neck and settling her spear point against its back.
"I am an older God then you." She hissed, "And I still see the sun. Never forget that."
Dragging the little God to its feet, she looked around. There were more of them, she could smell them.
"I am going to the top, and you will come with me. If your children value you life they won't stop us."
"Why should I help you?" he sneered.
"Because if you do I'll let you live. I'm dying, so why do you still fear me? Soon I'll be dust like your men. You will help me....or die." She glanced at the others beginning to show themselves, more then she could handle.
"Stay back!" the little God held up his hand, "Stay back and let us pass."
They looked at one another, and for a moment she thought they were going to rush her anyway. Discipline held and they backed off, yellow eyes reflecting the moonlight and sharp white fangs glistening.
"We go now." She kept a grip on her captive as they began their ascent.
"Really- why have you come here?" The little God was getting restless now that dawn was approaching. If she thought she could reach the top before dark she would have let him burn up in the sun. Instead she found a shallow cave and pushed him into it while she considered her answer.
"This is where it all began: me, you, all of us. Why do you think your kind are drawn back here? It calls your blood, and now it calls mine." She sat where the first rays of the sun would warm her aching frame, looking at the Little God with sudden curiosity.
"How long have you been a little-God?"
"I am the oldest here, Ten Seasons!" he puffed out his chest in pride. He had been a handsome man before he changed, solid muscles rippling under ebony skin. A big man- perhaps a good husband and father.
"Who made you?"
"Long Spear himself!" Another source of pride for the little-God.
"I remember him."
"Talk about him then."
The little God shrugged, "Why not? We have to sit here all day."
"I turned him to dust."
"He was a great warrior."
"He was a beast." She snapped, glaring, "And when I killed him my blood sang."
If this one of ten seasons was the oldest a few more years and she could have eradicated them...but her body was betraying her. The source of her strength was burning her up more rapidly then a normal person.
"Your old...nearly thirty seasons...why do you choose to die?" his eyes were suddenly alive with temptation.
"I could let you live forever. You are older then I- you would rule here. You would lead us to greatness...the whole world would be our- yours."
"I don't want the world." She sighed, all she wanted and had ever wanted, was a name and people to call her by it. People who would pour blood for her spirit after she was gone, and leave a little salt for her at the entrance of the hut.
She thought of her family.
Her family were happy people. They were the children of the Rain-God, though they met the rest of their Big-Family only at special times. The Children of the Long-tooth did not harm them, though if they came across Children of the River there could be violence.
Life was good- the world was large with plenty of game, and roots and berries. The Long Tooth was the only real animal threat, and they preferred the meat of twisted horns to men. Her youngest sister had been killed by a snake, and her eldest brother crushed while dispatching an injured Curved horn but she still had her father, grandmother, mother, a brother called Sky for his unique blue eyes, and a younger sister. Life was good as they roamed around and around the mountain that held up the sky.
She was around fourteen seasons old when she saw her first little-God.
They had strayed to close to the mountain that season, trouble with the Children of the River, who had injured her fathers' leg, had forced them towards it. The game was still good, and she and her elder brother had been away from the temporary hut for a day checking the snares. It had gotten dark before they could get home, so they had built a fire and settled down for the night. Her brother was singing the song of how their family had started, reciting the names of the first family, and their children, and their exploits, and then their children...the history that would one day keep her name alive when her body was dust and her shade a guardian.
It was suddenly that they felt the change, animals racing past them in terror. They were alarmed, looking around for a Fast-Fire but seeing none.
"Look!" he had pointed into the night. Men were chasing the animals, and in the distance she saw a line of other men, waiting.
"Hunters...if they are Children of the River..." her voice caught in her throat.
The men were shouting and pointing to the fire now, their hunt forgotten as they moved towards it.
"No Spears!" She hissed to him when they were closer.
He swore, fumbling for the bag around his neck. "Little God's!"
They were close now, moving faster then people could ever hope to. Eight of them surrounded the fire, but could not approach past the hastily drawn circle of salt and dried herbs that she and her brother had laid.
"Can we join you?" The little-God was ugly, with heavy brow ridges over his eyes and a strange light skin. Her grandmother had said that these were the oldest of the Little-Gods, and the most dangerous. Luckily the rest looked like normal men, though pale ones.
"Go away!" her brother had shouted, brandishing his spear from inside the circle.
"Your rude...." The little God glanced at the edge of the ring, "we only want to be friendly."
Her brother laughed, "I know what you are and you can't come in here unless we let you."
The little-Gods snarled, their faces changing as they grew lumps and long teeth.
"Let us in or it'll be worse for you!" it hissed, "We've already lost our hunt...now let us in!"
"Come sister..." her brother sat, ignoring the little-God's and continuing his family song. The little-Gods hung around the edge of the circle, threatening and promising and pleading to be allowed in. As dawn came the leader, the old one, hissed one last threat.
"I'll remember you both...you will pay for this!" then he and his men ran in the direction of the mountain.
When they were gone she hissed nervously. "Where are they going?"
"Back to the mountain, they can't live out here- the sun burns them up. They live in caves up there, Father told me their mother lives there and they all have to obey her."
He looked at the sky, "When it's light we'll head back."
"What does their mother look like?"
He shrugged, "Who knows? The little-God's are only dangerous if they catch you without a herb bag. Grandmother said so."
She had nodded, Grandmother was at least forty seasons old, and knew everything there was to know.
The sun had set hours ago.
They were almost at the summit. Her throat was raw and her lips cracked from the chill wind. The ache in her bones had been troubling her since she came here; she suspected it was the cold. The air was getting worse the higher they went, and she was wheezing slightly. The little-God didn't need to breath, and skipped along as active as ever.
"You are strong, but you are also old. You should think again on my offer."
"I did not want your existence before, and I want no part of it now."
"They say you saw the Mother...is it true?"
"I killed the mother."
He hissed, and his eyes widened. The little-gods bred fast but she had killed so many that their family songs were half forgotten. To them the mother was a story now, like the Big-Gods that no one ever saw. She smiled thinly. She had broken part of their name, just as they had broken hers.
Their story on returning to the hut caused great concern among her family, and they gathered around the hearth to discuss what should be done.
Mother had wanted to move away from the mountain as fast as possible but fathers leg was still bad and the Children of the River were jealous of their hunting grounds. They were more than a nights run from the mountain, father said, so they were safe. The littleöGod's could not live in the sun.
"Even if they come, " he smiled weakly, "they can't enter the hut unless we let them."
Two days later the little-Gods came.
"This is the place..." she paused, looking out across the moonlit savannah. They had reached the place. The place where it all changed.
Her captive was looking at the cave mouth nervously; in the stories they told about the Mother it must have become mythic place.
There were five of them, laughing as they stood around the hut, taunting her family.
"Come out! We're not going to hurt you..." The leader with the strange face and skin laughed as her father shouted insults.
"We'll have to smoke you out then!" he waved to one of his followers who unpacked a fire-bow and set to work building a small fire. She had watched from the entrance to the hut feeling sick....knowing what they intended.
They were poor firemakers- having no need and a strong fear of it they had gotten out of practice. She watched them fumbling and swearing, but eventually they had a small blaze going.
"Time to eat and make it home..." the ugly one was looking at the sky, smiling.
The fire caught the grass thatch almost immediately, leaving her family no choice but to bolt. Her father tried to fight, but he was quickly disarmed, while the little-God's rounded up her family herded them together.
"Something special..." the leader looked at her and her brother, "for that night."
She screamed as her throat was savagely bitten open, feeling him slurping her blood. Suddenly he pulled back, licking his lips clean he bit his hand and forced it into her mouth. She gagged on the flow of his blood but he held her nose closed, forcing her to swallow a couple of mouthfuls. Through her fading vision she could see that the others were doing the same to the rest of her family.
"Stake them out." He sneered, as her family were tied to pegs driven into the rock hard soil. Kneeling beside her and her brother, he checked their bonds, grinning.
"I remember your family song, here's the last part of it. When the sun comes up you will all burn....but I want you two to see It." he nodded to one of the others who threw an untanned hide over each of them.
"The hide won't protect you for long; just long enough to hear them burn." His voice was muffled by the stinking skin, "We go now."
And then she was alone in the dark, feeling something twitching inside her, like a worm as it moved through her belly, up through her chest and spread out to her arms...The feeling was nauseating, it was alive and becoming part of her. Her family were calling weakly to each other.
Then the sun rose and the screaming started.
"The mother lived here...I didn't believe it."
"You forget your family-songs quickly." She sensed that it wanted to enter the cave so she waved her spear, "Don't try to run. I can hit you, even like this, before you get three steps. I fought your kind when they were older then the world. You wouldn't even be allowed to lick the blood from their feet, whelp."
He bristled, so proud this one. His kind was immeasurably weaker now then they had ever been, and he still thought he was lord of creation.
"My people won't attack until I say." He waved into the darkness, "But if I fall they will be upon you. And there are many of them...you want to die though."
"We'll enter after the moon rises. I want to look at the world." She turned, taking in the view. She expected him to make a bolt for it. Instead he grunted in frustrated agreement. She was the last link to his kin's past, she smiled at the irony.
She felt the thing take over her body and eat into her mind. She could feel it, pushing at her and turning her into a beast. It was eating her essence and changing her body. Then the sun's rays hit the hide and she screamed, feeling the once friendly and familiar warmth as blazing fire. She struggled, exposing her hand and yanking it back under too late to stop it blistering. She could smell the smoke.
Her brother called to her then, the sound more animal then human. She could hear him pulling up the stakes that held him to the ground, screaming as he burnt but she dared not look. Then she felt something descend over her.
He had thrown the second hide, the one protecting him, over her. He was screaming something incomprehensible but she was trapped in the dark and unable to reach out and help him. The second hide kept her covered, saving her from the sun.
She lay there, unable to move and praying for night.
A little later she heard the soft sounds of feet, and the strange clicking tongue of Grass-people. She could here them moving around her but she could not move without exposing herself to the sun.
She could smell them, and was appalled by the urges their scent sent pounding through her. She knew then that she had been truly changed... changed into a terrible monster.
The Grass-people were older then her people, and rarely seen. They were a lighter, yellowish colour, with different facial features and lots of magic. They could make themselves invisible, and move twice as fast as her people over the land. Their arrows were magic, and one scratch would paralyze a Curved Horn.
They were talking excitedly, clicking their tongues as they spoke. Some sort of argument seamed to be going on. She could feel them hammering pegs into the ground around her, and then something happening...binding her to this spot. She was still helpless under the skins.
The cave was still lit by the pool of black burning water she remembered. Nothing had really changed, bones of men and animals were scattered in large heaps. The pile of skins where the mother had slept was rotted and stinking. The strange pictures on the walls were untouched by time.
Her captive had never been in here, and he inhaled sharply in awe. She glanced at the pictures again: strange beasts, monsters, and God's... The mother might have known what they were but she was a pile of bones on her rotten hide bed.
He fell to his knees in front of the bones, while she looked at the strangely shaped skull.
"She'll hardly reward your devotion." She stepped forward past him, seizing the small bone disk that had been tied around the mothers' throat, ignored his hiss and feeling the smooth worn disk pressing into her palm.
"What is that?"
"What I came for." She faced him suddenly, spear pressed up against his chest. He had attacked, but not fast enough.
"You said you came to die."
"Oh, I have." She walked him back wards, nearer the pool of fire, "I'm getting too old, you little-Gods breed faster then flowers in the rain. I can't possibly kill you all."
"Then why are you here?" He was uncertain for the first time, it was good to see his pride shaken a little.
"Sit down, fool. I'll tell you the story of how I became what I am....I need to wait until the moon's high..." she gripped the disk, "and you won't be telling anyone anything."
The Grass-people had her bound inside their little fence, though she should have been able to step over the pegs she found it somehow impossible. They just sat around her, looking on as she hissed and threatened and growled for their blood. Eventually the one they were waiting for arrived.
He spoke her to her without words...his dead eyes staring through her from behind the Long-tooth mask he wore. He told her that the Grass people were sick of her people taking their hunting grounds, driving them into the least hospitable areas, taking what had been theirs for themselves. He told her that the Little-God's were beasts, who hunted his people as they hunted animals.
You, he said, will be our weapon.
She had hissed, snarling like a beast. But even now, with the thing inside her, she remembered her brother and how he had saved her. She remembered how the ugly Little-god had ended her family song. She agreed to be what he wanted.
"The magician worked for three days to change me." She finished her story, "I couldn't ever become what I had been, something inside me was gone. He took what your kind put in me and mixed it with the part of me that was left."
"He made you a Killer."
She shrugged, "I am still a person, but I have your kin's blood. After I killed the mother I thought you would all fade and be gone. But I was wrong. You still endure."
"We shall always endure!"
"I need more time. This body grows old." She glanced at the cave mouth; the moon was almost at its highest point.
"And the talisman you stole?"
She just smiled, shaking her head, "Your kind will be gone soon. You cannot get far from the mountain without the sun catching you. One more lifetime is all I need, a fresh, young body...one more life and you will all be gone. Then I can rest. This, " she held up the disk, "will give me that."
"One more question."
"It will be your last." She pushed the point of her pear into his chest, "ask it."
"We know you as the Slayer, what was your first name?"
She frowned, thinking for a moment. Then she told him, asking his.
"I Rule, here I am called Master!"
She was surprised by his speed this time; he was suddenly gripping the spear, pushing it away. Snarling she kicked him away but he used the chance to brake for the entrance to the cave, running away into the night. She weighed up the odds of catching him and then shrugged.
The moon was almost in place so she put the dusk in her mouth and felt in her pouch for the sharp flint she would need. The Grass people had told her that if she died here, in this way, she could have more life. She suspected that they were tricking her...they hated her as much as they did anyone who was not one of them.
Still, what did she have to loose?
Her red blood squirted further then she thought it would, covering one of the strange paintings with her life. She felt her life ebb away, and could not say she'd be sorry if this were really the end.
The Master gathered his followers that night. He knew the Slayer was dead, but he also knew that the accursed woman would be back in some way. Dead was not dead for her.
He outlined his plan, silencing dissent with a look. They would leave the Mountain, find a new home.
The power of the sun had always trapped his kind within half a night's run of the safety of the Mountains caves. Thanks to the Slayer he knew now how to beat this, telling them to gather skins.
He swore that he would spread his kind across the face of the world, until they were everywhere. He would rule this world or destroy it.
Girl was perhaps fifteen seasons, sleeping peacefully and dreaming of the husband she would have, happy fat children, and grandchildren. Girl didn't feel the presence as it slipped into her hut, smoothly moving over to her pallet and letting itself loose its form, slipping in through her open mouth. The presence did not feel any remorse for its actions as it seized hold of her spirit and began to chain it, forcing the shrieking shade to join with it and become one.
The girl's eyes snapped open as she thrashed, struggling to breathe. She looked around the familiar hut, suddenly confused. The moment passed and she smiled to herself.
She knew exactly who she was.
She was the second.