I'm not sure if this qualifies for Emmie's Who Are You? ficathon, because it doesn't involve a bodyswap or a genderswap or anything like that. It does, however, deal with questions of identity and the general idea of "having to walk a mile in someone else's shoes", which the ficathon was set up to address, and it did inspire me to write this story. So maybe.
Also, ever since I wrote Hiywan's Story I've wondered how Hiywan and Buffy would get on together, and what they'd make of each other. This fic, then, was written to describe their first meeting. Hope you enjoy it.
Title: Last to Ancient First
Characters: Buffy, Hiywan
Author's Note: for those who haven't read 'Hiywan's Story', Hiywan is the First Slayer before she became a Slayer, when she was just a normal girl. Well, fairly normal. In this fic she's in her mid-teens, already an adult by the reckoning of her people and a member of the secret magical society whose name, translated into modern English, would be "Guardians".
ETA: Now with Author's Commentary
The prophecy had been clear enough, at least as far as these things go: they needed to ask the First Slayer for help. Willow had carefully researched the spell that would send Buffy back in time 8,000 years to prehistoric Africa, and bring her back safely afterwards. Nothing would go wrong.
That was, as it turned out, very nearly true. Willow only made a tiny 0.0375% accuracy error in her calculations. You couldn't really blame her for Buffy arriving three years too early...
Last to Ancient First
The grass was dry, and tickled my nose as I lay on my belly watching the herd. There were twelve of them, the buck constantly sniffing the air as his does grazed, but I was safely downwind of them. Moving closer might be tricky, though; I didn't want to spook them, and annoyingly they were staying bunched together. So I waited.
Fedaku always used to tell me that patience was the hunter's greatest skill - usually after I managed to hit the target from forty paces with my spear, and was all proud and looking for praise. That was aggravating. But now I--
The heat haze over the hard-baked clay over to my left suddenly seemed to shimmer even more brightly, and then there was a - I don't know how to describe it. It seemed to suck itself in, then twist, then burst - and suddenly there was someone standing there. Out of nowhere.
The antelopes, of course, took one look and bolted, stampeding away in frantic tumbled flight. So much for all my waiting. Angry, I grasped my spear firmly and stood up to confront the intruder. Of course, it was probably a demon, or maybe a spirit of some sort, but right now I didn't really care. If the clan went hungry tonight it would be this stranger's fault -- not mine! -- and I wanted revenge. And besides, killing demons was my job now, and I was proud of being chosen for that duty.
So I stalked towards the creature, and it clearly saw me coming because it reacted with surprise -- a very human-seeming double-take -- and then dropped into a combat stance. It spoke to me then as well, though, its voice sounding cautious but also placatory. At the same time it held up both hands, palms open, facing me. The gesture seemed clear enough. I was still angry with it, but if it wasn't hostile then maybe we wouldn't have to fight this time...
...and besides, if it was a demon, it would probably have killed me. I was on my own, and there was no time for the Great Possession. So that worked out nicely then.
I straightened up, pointing the tip of my spear downwards towards the ground instead of holding it ready to throw. The creature seemed to understand, because it spoke again rather more calmly. It sounded like it was asking me a question. I shook my head.
"Sorry, I don't understand you. Don't you speak human language?"
It said something else, then rolled its eyes and sighed in exasperation, throwing its hands up in the air. The reaction was so perfectly normal-seeming - just exactly the same thing a person would have done in the same situation -- that I couldn't help giggling. The stranger gave me a surprised look, then chuckled itself and said something in a rueful tone of voice.
At that moment, I became convinced this was a human, not a demon. Or at least a person, despite its bizarre and frightening appearance out of nowhere.
I tilted my head to get a better look at it, staring in frank curiosity. The creature seemed a little startled, but endured my stare patiently. It said something else, in a questioning tone - but oddly muted, more as if it were talking to itself--
Not itself. Herself. I could no longer deny to myself that the voice was that of a woman, not a monster; and her body was definitely female in form, if clearly inhuman. Or was it? I peered more closely, walking in a circle around the stranger, and she turned her head to watch me but made no other move. It was the colours that confused me: dark blue like the evening sky below, red like a sunset above, and a face that was pale like bone smeared over with blood, like a freshly-flayed skull. I shuddered as I met her eyes - they were no natural colour, but rather green like the earth after the rains have come. But I sensed no evil in them.
I reached out to touch her - then gasped in surprise as I realised that what I thought was her pelt was in fact nothing more than clothing - just like my own wrap, but tailored to fit so closely to her body shape that it appeared more like loose skin. That might explain the bizarre colours too, though I had no idea what animal might have yielded such furs. Fascinated, I pulled at the red upper-body covering, revealing a flash of pale skin beneath it, the same colour as her face, before she swatted my hand away. The gesture wasn't hostile - in fact, it was pretty much exactly what I would have done myself if one of my clanmates got over-affectionate when I wasn't in the mood. So I backed off, raising both my hands and grinning to show there were no hard feelings.
She looked back at me, then rolled her eyes and muttered something. Then she asked me another question, the brows over her peculiar green eyes drawing together in a frown. I could only shrug, then ask questions of my own. "Who are you? Where do you come from?"
Of course she didn't understand me, no more than I did her; but her frown deepened. Then she pointed at her chest and said a word, repeating it, then pointed at me and raised her eyebrows questioningly. The meaning of this was obvious enough, so I told her my name, then pointed at her and repeated her name back to her to show I understood.
This pretty much confirmed in my mind that she was a demon; no human mother would ever name her child "Buffy". But at least she seemed like a friendly demon.
But then she pointed to herself again, saying a different word, then pointed at me while repeating it in a questioning tone. I shrugged, throwing up my hands; I didn't understand, and I wasn't about to start saying "yes" or "no" at random. So instead I told her I was from the Five Trees clan, holding up five fingers to illustrate my meaning. She looked around in alarm, and it struck me that maybe she thought I meant the number five, that I had four friends with me lurking in ambush in the long grass. I laughed and spoke reassuringly, hoping that she'd recognise at least the tone of my voice. She seemed to, because she smiled, then shrugged, then said something to me. It was so utterly obvious from her tone that she'd just asked "So what do we do now?" that I answered her question directly.
"I'm not sure, but maybe we ought to go see Grandmother. She's old and wise and knows a lot about demons; maybe she speaks your language."
To accompany my words, I pointed at her, then myself, then made a "walking" gesture with my fingers along my raised arm, then pointed in the direction of camp. She nodded her head, which I assumed meant "yes" to her people just as it did to mine, and made a moving gesture with her hands. "Lead the way", presumably.
We set off; but hadn't gone more than a couple of hundred paces when I froze - so suddenly that she bumped into me from behind and nearly sent me stumbling. Irritated, I put my spear-hand out in front of her to stop her and raised the other in a peremptory gesture for silence. She pushed my spear down, looking equally annoyed; but then saw what I was looking at and became still herself.
It was the herd of antelopes. They hadn't run too far after all, and had started grazing again... but this time, they'd become a little more scattered and one of the larger does was off by herself. Far enough that I could reach her without the alert buck spotting me and giving the alarm? Maybe.
For the moment, the stranger was forgotten. This was my duty; I was a hunter, and it was on my shoulders whether tonight the clan would eat meat, or crushed grass seeds soaked in water and similar 'delights'.
I gestured for her to lie down and stay where she was, and stretched out flat on my belly. She lay down beside me willingly enough, and looked at me enquiringly. I put my finger to my lips, then made another "stay there!" wave gesture.
Then I licked my finger and held it up, judging the wind. I needed to move over to my right before approaching closer. I eyed my route, searching for dips and folds in the ground that might offer cover. The long grass would hide me, but might also reveal my passage if it swayed as I crawled closer.
I moved, slowly and carefully, staying low and silent. Then with shock and anger I realised I wasn't alone; the stranger had followed me despite my telling her to stay put. I scowled at her - I couldn't raise my voice without risking alerting the herd - but then I realised something. I was an experienced hunter, but the woman beside me had moved with such silent grace that I wouldn't even have realised she'd come with me until I happened to look around and meet her gaze. So maybe her presence wasn't such a liability as I'd assumed.
Even so, I didn't want her distracting me. I made the "Stay!" gesture again, but this time brandished my spear as well and pointed it at the antelope. She seemed to understand, but for some reason she looked rather upset, like she wanted to argue with me. I thrust my spear in the direction of the doe once more, then pointed at it, pointed in the direction of camp, then mimed eating. She pulled a face - which seemed odd, maybe she didn't like the taste of venison? But then she bit her lip, nodded, and deliberately turned away to look in the other direction, twisting grass stalks between her fingers.
How peculiar. But I didn't have time to worry about my strange companion; I had to get closer to the doe before she decided to wander back to the shelter of the herd. So worming flat on my belly, the sun hot on my back, I inched closer.
I rose up slowly, and when the antelope raised her head to look around and sniff the air, I froze. For many, many heartbeats I crouched there, not daring to move, pain twingeing in my legs as I held the unnatural position. But then she put her head down again, and I was close enough to hear the sound as she pulled up vegetation and chewed. So I rose to my feet, and waited until my calves stopped cramping. I drew back the spear, my eyes running over my target's body, marking my spot. I took a breath, let it out slowly, then made my cast. My muscles flowed smoothly, with all the grace of long practice, and I put all the strength of my body behind the throw, just as I'd been taught. The spear flew straight and true, right to the target, and I grinned in pleasure and triumph as the antelope squealed in agony and convulsed, blood pouring down her side and staining the grass red.
She wasn't dead yet, of course - a single thrown spear was rarely enough to kill so large an animal except by fluke. At her cry of distress the entire herd stampeded, sharp-edged hooves pounding the ground like thunder, an excellent illustration of why getting too close to them was a bad idea for a hunter. The wounded doe ran after them; but the spear lodged in her side, the pain and blood loss all served to slow her down. I set off running myself, following in her footsteps. A mere human couldn't hope to overtake an antelope, of course, but eventually her strength would give out and she'd collapse, and then I'd come up and finish the job.
Assuming I didn't lose sight of her, of course; or some larger predator got to her before me and staked his claim. But such risks were ones we ran every day. Muttering a hasty prayer to the spirits of the chase, I set out at a steady jog under the scorching sun.
Then pounding footsteps came up behind me, and I turned my head to see a brilliant flash of colour as my companion sprinted past me. I started to call out, warning her that she'd never be able to keep up that pace; but my words died on my lips and my mouth stayed open in shock as, impossibly, she actually speeded up. She caught up with the fleeing deer. Nobody remotely human could have done such a thing, not without magic. As I watched in astonishment she reached out her hand, brushing the antelope's back; then another hand grasped her head and twisted, and the doe collapsed instantly to the ground, stone dead, her neck broken.
As I jogged up, my companion was bent double next to the body, her face no longer pale like bone but angry red, and her peculiar clothes were soaked through with sweat. But when she saw me her face darkened still further, and she shouted something at me, anger clear in her voice, pointing at the corpse of the doe. She grabbed my spear and pulled it out, brandishing it, pointing at it then at the antelope and shouting again. As she raised the spear I fell into a combat stance, my hand going to the pouch at my waist where I kept my dagger. For a moment I almost thought she really was going to throw it at me; but then instead she dropped it and turned away with an expression of disgust.
I didn't care about her feelings right then; I was more worried about my spear. I sprang forward to recover it, anxiously inspecting the point. If the flint had been cracked or damaged, I'd have to try to repair it, and that wasn't always possible. Thankfully, it appeared undamaged, although the leather thong that bound it to the shaft had worked a little loose. I tugged at it, trying to bring it tighter, but I wasn't strong enough. As I pulled, I heard the stranger mutter something, then she stepped forward to take another look at my spear.
Her finger reached out and touched the chipped stone of the point, running over it - I warned her as I would a child to be careful, because flint can be sharp. She gave an angry-sounding exclamation - but one that sounded like it was more directed at herself than at me - then reached up her hand to wipe away the sweat that still dripped freely down her face. Shen addressed me directly then, but her voice sounded much more placatory, even apologetic. She pointed to the thong, held out her hand. I gave her the spear, and she began pulling the thong to tighten it, just as I had; but her hands seemed far stronger than my own. I watched for a moment, then remembered my manners and said thank you. She clearly recognised the meaning if not the words, because she smiled briefly back at me.
While she was occupied, I turned my attention to the antelope. She was quite dead, so that was no longer a concern; my next duty was therefore to give thanks and send her spirit home to Mother Serkalem. I knelt and said the sacred words, marking the doe's forehead with my knife to allow her soul to leave her; as I did I became aware that my companion was watching me curiously, although she did not say anything to interrupt.
I wondered if we should perform the Circle of Life ritual as well, to give back to the earth what we had taken from it. The men always did when they went hunting as a group, and we'd worked out a way for me to participate despite being, you know, not a man; but it always seemed a bit silly and, well, presumptuous for me to do it when I was by myself. I didn't think the earth would mind too much if it was only me. I had a fellow-hunter here, though: but she was a woman too, and frankly I quailed at the thought of trying to explain to her without a common language what the ritual would involve. Since she showed no sign of initiating it herself, I decided to let things slide.
So then. Next step would be bringing our catch home. I looked at the body measuringly: it was big, right on the borderline of what I'd be able to lift. If need be, I would have to butcher it here and wrap the meat in its hide, but that was a waste; we could use the bones and sinews and everything else too. But there were two of us, so maybe we could take turns as one grew tired? Mind made up, I fumbled in my pouch for the woven grass cord I carried there and began tying the antelope's feet together to make it easier to carry.
As I did I looked up to see my companion still watching me, curious but also looking very uncomfortable still. I wondered if her skin was really supposed to be that colour? It seemed most impractical. I looked around, and saw a small copse of trees maybe two, three hundred paces away. I pointed them out to her, then crossed my arms above my head to symbolise "shelter". She nodded, almost frantically, clearly understanding my meaning, jumped up and began walking quickly in that direction. Behind her I struggled to lift the antelope onto my shoulders, almost collapsing with the weight, and called for her to wait. She looked round - her hand went to her mouth, and before I knew it she'd run back over to me and plucked the body clean off my back, as if it were weightless. She settled it over her own shoulder, said a word that I'm convinced was her language's equivalent of "Sorry!", and then set off for the trees at a run, clearly unburdened by a weight I could barely lift.
She was quite obviously not human.
Unless? An idea came to me as I followed in her wake, and found her stretched flat in the shade of one of the trees. It was a fruit tree, and while the berries weren't quite ripe there was enough moisture in them to quench our thirst. I picked a few, offered her some, then demonstrated what to do with them when she looked uncertain. Then meeting her eyes, I slowly and deliberately pulled open the neck of my wrap and pulled down the front. She looked startled, her eyes resembling those of a small animal running headfirst into a lion, and shook her head frantically. I gave her my best reassuring smile, then pointed to the scar over my heart that marked me as a Guardian. When she continued to avert her eyes I was a little put out - what was the matter with her? - and roughly called her by name and told her to look. Reluctantly she did so, her eyes widening a little as I traced the outline of the cross-shaped scar. Then I pointed at her own chest, making it a question.
She shook her head, holding out her hands as if to ward me off. I asked her outright if she were a Guardian too - because while she seemed far too coherent and normal-seeming to be bearing Qusari within her right now, how else to explain her strength? When she continued to look confused, I sighed and simplified my language, as if speaking to a child or a savage.
"Hiywan" - pointing to my own chest, "Guardian". Then pointing to her chest, "Buffy Guardian?" She blinked at me, repeated the word 'Guardian' - although mangling the pronunciation rather badly - then repeated her own word from earlier, pointing at herself. Then she seemed to have an idea, and reached inside her wrap. She was wearing something on a thin cord around her neck, the same way I wore my amulet; but as I looked I saw it was the symbol of Tsehay, the same one I bore cut into my flesh. Hers was made of some strange material, similar to bone but the colour of sunlight on water or the moon at night, but it was recognisably the same shape.
On an inspiration, I touched it - then put the knuckles of my two index fingers against my upper lip so the fingers resembled long canine teeth, and mimed biting someone, then touched the cross again and mimed being burned and in pain. My companion stared at me in shock, then an enormous grin spread across her face and she began nodding frantically. Then she reached up to the tree she was lying under, snapped off a branch with casual strength, and mimed stabbing someone repeatedly in the chest with it. I grinned back at her, nodded myself and repeated the gesture, although my hand was empty. She gave a rather embarrassed chuckle and offered me the stake, then looked confused and started throwing questions at me.
I didn't understand any of them, of course, although that word 'Slayer' kept on reoccurring, along with her mispronunciation of 'Guardian' and several other words I didn't follow that sounded like names. Impatiently, I waved her to silence and tried to explain things myself, telling her about Qusari and Guardians and the Great Summoning in a babbling rush of words that slowly petered out as it sank in that, of course, she had no idea what I was saying.
Frustrated, I lapsed into silence, and she sprawled there next to me, equally dissatisfied. She said something plaintively to the sky, and guessing the meaning I replied, "Yeah, I agree. I wish you spoke my language too." Then rising to my feet I gestured towards the camp. "Come on. Maybe Grandmother Heran will be able to understand you, or perhaps summon a spirit that can translate for us."
And so we made our way into camp. I was, I admit, a bit worried how the others would react to my companion's presence. Technically, Chieftain Belaye would have to challenge her and invite her in, but if she weren't human she was the Guardians' responsibility, not his - especially if she turned out to be some sort of Guardian herself. What I wasn't expecting was for my companion to somehow change her skin colour to a bright red and practically flee out of the camp the moment she arrived, standing with her back to everyone. I couldn't understand it.
There was nothing abnormal going on, just a typical afternoon. A few people dozing next to the shelters, three or four of the children playing a stalking game under the watchful eyes of a parent, Esyete and Sebel having loud and enthusiastic sex (as per usual), Fedaku chipping a new flint, some of the hunters laughing as they described and embellished their latest successes - the expected stuff. I really hoped Buffy's peculiar habits weren't going to cause any trouble while she was with us....