My last fic, Last To Ancient First, included a lot of background detail, and I thought a commentary might be interesting and/or useful for some people. Also, astute readers may have noticed my fic contained a certain degree of tweaking the old classic "Well-meaning nice middle class white person goes to a Third World country and assumes she knows better than the locals" trope, and I have a couple of comments on that too. :-)
But if you haven't already read it, I strongly urge going over to read brutti_ma_buoni 's "Misidentified Antelope Remix" of my fic, telling the story from Buffy's perspective. Not only was it very flattering, of course, but also fascinating to see how well (or otherwise) I'd managed to convey Buffy's thoughts and reactions despite the fact that my story filtered them through Hiywan's unreliable-narrator perceptions. Of course, there were some cases where our interpretations differed - the issue of whether Buffy had considered beforehand the idea that the First Slayer might not speak English, for example. But that's not criticism; in some cases I like b-m-b's verson better than my own...
So, on with the commentary!
Title: Last to Ancient First
Characters: Buffy, Hiywan
> Quite a lot of my Hiywan fics contain descriptions of the graphic slaughter of cute furry animals. Or not-so-cute animals like hyenas or Cape buffalo. The RSPCA (or PETA) must hate me.
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".
> Yeah, those guys who popped up in 'End of Days' to tell Buffy they've been watching the Watchers since the dawn of time.
The prophecy had been clear enough, at least as far as these things go: they needed to ask the First Slayer for help.
> I'm sad to say that this is purely a maguffin; I have no idea why Buffy needed the First Slayer, I just needed a reason for her to be timetravelling, That's why I wrote this as a separate introduction in italics; it's purely scene-setting. For the record, I saw this as taking place either late in S7 (after 'Get It Done') or in S8, but the timing isn't really important.
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.
> Yeah, right. :-) For the record, I chose 6,000 BC (8,000 years ago) because it's the time when the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) was just starting to give way to the Neolithic (New Stone Age). Agriculture was about to be invented, and with it the new paradigm of taming nature and forcing it to serve human desires was about to replace the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of accepting whatever bounty the earth chose to offer. That, of course, provides the thematic backdrop for the Shadowmen imposing their will over the Guardians and stealing their magic to make the slayer line. (But that, as River Song would say, is "spoilers!" for the rest of Hiywan's Story.)
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...
> 3 / 8000 is 0.000375. Very roughly, Hiywan's Story Book One ends with her being around 13 or 14; this story is a couple of years later so she's 15 or 16; and I'm assuming she was made into the First Slayer at 18 or 19. Of course, ages mean something different when you're part of a society where people usually marry at 14 and have a better than 50% chance of being dead before they reach 25.
Last to Ancient First
> That's from the enjoining spell the Scoobies cast in 'Primeval'; obviously it refers to Buffy (the "last guardian of the Hellmouth") going to see the First Slayer.
The grass was dry, and tickled my nose as I lay on my belly watching the herd.
> I originally conceived of Hiywan as living in Olduvai Gorge, where the first human remains ever were found. Later on, I revised it that she lived about 8,000 years ago, at the cusp between the hunter-gatherer age and the dawn of agriculture and civilisation. Even so, I kept her location in the same place; the Great Rift Valley on the border between modern-day Tanzania and Kenya.
> The highlands of Kenya get about as much rain per year as London does. However, instead of being evenly spread all through the year, it's concentrated into a rainy season of about three months where it rains about two to three times as much as it ever does in England, then a long hot summer with virtually no rain at all, followed by a brief "Short Rainy Season" and a dampish winter. This fic is set near the end of summer. As far as temperature goes, it never gets colder than the hottest summer day in Southern California, and the height of summer is about 5°C hotter than that.
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.
> These are Generic Antelopes; I'm afraid I didn't research a specific species for her to hunt. Hiywan herself would be fully famiiar with all the different types, of course. Also, I decided to use "antelopes" as the plural rather than "antelope", just to avoid confusion.
Fedaku always used to tell me that patience was the hunter's greatest skill -
> Fedaku appeared in 'Hiywan's Story' as the older hunter who first taught Hiywan how to skin and butcher her prey.
usually after I managed to hit the target from forty paces with my spear, and was all proud and looking for praise.
> How far can you throw a spear? The world record javelin throw for women is around 65 metres, so I assumed 2/3 of that would be reasonable for a trained hunter like Hiywan. You can always fudge things by juggling the conversion rate between metres and "paces". :-)
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.
> I use portals a lot in my stories, because I write a lot of crossovers and they're an easy (yet canonically justified) plot device. It's rare for me to write about them from the perspective of an outside witness, though. This, of course, is Buffy appearing from the future.
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.
> Hiywan's personality is something I've tried to build up and keep consistent throughout, and I feel like I know her pretty well by now. She's brave, hot-tempered, impulsive and a little rash, but also very intelligent, self-knowing and insightful about herself in an artless kind of way, and takes her responsibilities seriously. She has a streak of insecurity that mostly manifests in not wanting to stand out and be different -- a doomed endeavour, all things considered. If you've read the first fic I ever wrote about her - 'Of Man's First Disobedience' - you'll know that it's her impulsiveness and belief that she knows best which will ultimately lead to her being captured by the Shadowmen and turned into the First Slayer.
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.
> Hiywan thinks Buffy must be a demon, hence the 'it' pronoun. Buffy is surprised by the sight of a woman with a spear appearing from nowhere (Hiywan was hiding in the long grass from the antelopes, remember?) and advancing towards her, and is saying something on the lines of "Hey, I'm friendly. Please don't spear me."
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.
> There's that self-deprecating self-knowledge. Hiywan knows that her impulsiveness and temper could have got her killed, though in the heat of the moment she didn't care about that. Also, her last words "So that worked out nicely then" were a deliberate echo of Spike's words to Buffy, to help show their similarities in character.
I was on my own, and there was no time for the Great Possession. So that worked out nicely then.
> The 'Great Possession' has been hinted at in my earlier stories, but I've not described it yet in detail. It's the most powerful magic the Guardians possess, which enables them to protect the clans from demons - and it's the magic which the Shadowmen will steal and adapt to their own purposes.
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.
> Buffy here is basically asking where she is and if Hiywan can help her.
"Sorry, I don't understand you. Don't you speak human language?"
> Hiywan has never met -- and at this stage in her life doesn't even suspect the existence of -- any human beings who don't speak the same language as her. She knows that animals don't speak Human, though, and assumes (because she's clever and good at making connections) that demons wouldn't either.
It said something else, then rolled its eyes and sighed in exasperation, throwing its hands up in the air.
> Buffy just realised that Hiywan can't understand her, and is expressing frustration at the fact. To be honest, every other crossover I've done was either between English-speaking people anyway, or I just handwaved the language issue. I thought it would be fun, and make a change, to play it up here and show how much of a barrier it would actually be.
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.
> And now Buffy has realised she should have anticipated this problem. My thought process is this: every time Buffy has encountered the First Slayer before, they spoke to each other in English. When she went back in time to see the Shadowmen, they spoke English too. So she just assumed, without really thinking it through, that there'd be no problem with language. If you suspect I'm also making a point here about the cultural expectations and privilege of English-speaking people travelling abroad, you may well be right. ;-) (At least Buffy didn't attempt to Speak. Loudly. And. Slowly. to get Hiywan to understand her...)
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--
> So far, Buffy hasn't recognised Hiywan. There's the age difference, for starters. Nor is Hiywan wearing scary white facepaint here. Most importantly, Hiywan just giggled, which really isn't something the First Slayer would do. However, her body language, where she tilts her head to look at Buffy, is something the First Slayer definitely did in 'Restless' - and in fact this whole scene, with Buffy standing still as Hiywan walks around her in a circle, is taken straight from that episode. Buffy is now starting to suspect that this girl Dawn's age might actually be the First Slayer after all - just younger than expected.
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,
> Buffy's wearing jeans and a red t-shirt, of course. One thing I always try to be careful about when writing from Hiywan's perspective is that the metaphors and comparisons I use should be things she'd be familiar with. It's surprising how easy it is to use an expression like "cold as ice" or "hard as iron", only then to realise that Hiywan wouldn't have a clue what either of those things were.
and a face that was pale like bone smeared over with blood, like a freshly-flayed skull.
> Case in point. Hiywan's never seen a Caucasian person before, or even conceived of their existence. What would she compare Buffy's skin colour to? Naturally I went for something gruesome, especially since Hiywan already thinks Buffy's a demon.
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.
> And again. Humans have dark brown eyes, obviously. Only demons would have eyes of another colour.
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.
> I've always imagined Hiywan's "wrap" as a stereotypical Cave Person outfit made of roughly-cured fur, wrapped around her body from shoulder to thigh leaving the arms free and secured by leather thongs. The strips of white cloth the First Slayer wears are beyond the technology of her clan; they were obviously given to her by the Shadowmen or otherwise acquired later.
That might explain the bizarre colours too, though I had no idea what animal might have yielded such furs.
> The concept of dye hasn't been invented yet either by her people (though in other parts of the world it has). If Buffy is wearing a red garment, she must have killed and skinned a bright red animal of some sort...
Fascinated, I pulled at the red upper-body covering, revealing a flash of pale skin beneath it, the same colour as her face,
> As I pictured it, she's pulling up the hem of Buffy's t-shirt to reveal her stomach. So far Buffy has put up with the examination so as not to frighten Hiywan away, but she decides this is going a bit far.
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.
> I imagine Hiywan's clan as being fairly touchy-feely and physical; it's not that they don't have boundaries, but they're drawn in a different place to those of modern Western society. More on this later.
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.
> Buffy's a little exasperated by being stared at like some exotic freakshow, and wants to get back to business and work out what's going on (and whether Hiywan actually is the First Slayer or not.)
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.
> Poor Buffy. Nobody ever takes her name seriously. :-)
But then she pointed to herself again, saying a different word, then pointed at me while repeating it in a questioning tone.
> "Slayer", of course.
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.
> I was actually going to have her show Buffy her clan tattoo, then remembered that in an early chapter of 'Hiywan's Story' I'd established that only the men of the clan had that tattoo! (Because they are adopted into the clan, rather than being born into it as women are.) So I made her gesture instead, and moved the bit about showing a tattoo to later.
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.
> Or that there are five Slayers in this time period...
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."
> That would be Grandmother Heran, clan elder and senior Guardian of the Five Trees Clan, as readers of 'Hiywan's Story' will know.
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.
> They're out on the savannah, but I'm assuming that while it looks like a flat plain to a casual glance, in fact there are dips and folds in the ground that can hide, well, an entire herd of antelope until you're right next to them.
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.
> The idea here being that (a) getting too close to the entire herd is dangerous; they might stampede, or the buck might charge with his horns (b) the more antelope there are together, the bigger the chance one of them will spot her sneaking up on them. So it's safer to wait for a straggler.
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'.
> Venison, or free-range porridge without salt. Yummy. Of course, Hiywan isn't actually the only hunter in the clan so she's perhaps guilty of over-dramatising things here. She's a teenager, after all. ;-)
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.
> Either Buffy misinterprets that as "stay low" rather than "stay there", or she just doesn't care and is going to come along anyway. Knowing Buffy I suspect the latter.
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.
> Hiywan's a professional; she does this to survive, every day.
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.
> Buffy's out of her element, but she is a Slayer. It has its advantages.
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.
> Buffy isn't particularly squeamish, but cute fluffy deer don't really figure on her list of "things that should be killed" - and she's used to buying meat from the butcher's shop or the supermarket, not slaughtering it herself. Of course, she's not half as distressed as Willow would be in this situation...
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.
> Hiywan has been learning to hunt since she was nine or ten years old - but she's also what Buffy would term a Potential, as are all the Guardians, and that does give certain physical benefits and aptitudes.
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.
> Yes, that's deliberate, to show Hiywan pleased and proud that she hit the target and totally unconcerned at the animal's pain. When you've had to watch members of your own family die of starvation during bad years, it gives you a different set of priorities.
She wasn't dead yet, of course - a single thrown spear was rarely enough to kill so large an animal except by fluke.
> Cave paintings of hunting scenes often show the animals running along with several spears or arrows projecting from their bodies.
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.
> A larger group of hunters might spread out and use burning torches to make the animals run in circles until they fall, or hit them with multiple spears, or dig a pit for them to fall into. Hiywan, on her own, has to run after the wounded deer.
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;
> Partly because she's running too fast, partly because Hiywan knows how dangerous the sun can be.
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.
> Slayers run at 40 mph. :-) She's appalled that Hiywan failed to kill the antelope cleanly, and has decided it's up to her to do the job properly.
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.
> Buffy really isn't used to the heat.
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.
> Buffy's furious and disgusted at the idea of wounding a deer and leaving it to slowly bleed out; to her, it seems cruel and barbaric.
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.
> Simply throwing the spear at a target could damage it; Buffy wrenching it out without any care and then dropping it can't have done it much good either.
If the flint had been cracked or damaged, I'd have to try to repair it, and that wasn't always possible.
> Flint spearheads are made by hammering the flint to chip away flakes of stone, to create a sharp edge. If the flint breaks, the only solution is to hammer a new edge -- obviously making the blade smaller. It might end up too small to be used as a spearhead at all, though it could still be useful as a knife or scraper.
> Hiywan's people are semi-nomadic, and have to carry all their worldly possessions on their backs. They can't carry around lots of spare flints with them -- although they could leave small caches of them near to frequent campsites -- so if a flint becomes unusable, they have to wait until their wanderings next bring them to a place where flint can be dug up, or they meet another clan that has some to trade. That might take many months.
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.
> Buffy just realised how hard it must be to kill a large deer when all you have is a piece of rock tied to a stick, and that Hiywan isn't doing this for fun, but to survive. She's embarrassed at her own insensitivity and regretting her earlier anger.
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.
>Serkalem the Always-Living is the Earth Goddess and source of all life. Notice that until this point Hiywan has been referring to the antelope consistently as "she". Once she's let the deer's spirit depart, however, the lifeless body becomes "it".
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.
> Hiywan's people believe that semen has powerful magical properties of life-giving. It works to make human women fertile, so why wouldn't it also work on the Earth itself? Mutual masturbation -- the 'Circle' part -- also emphasises the teamwork and absolute trust that has to exist between all members of the hunting party. This, needless to say, is a secret ritual that the hunters never talk about, especially not to the women.
> As for the Guardians, similarly to shamanic figures from many animist cultures they are considered something of a third sex, neither male nor female but ritually partaking of both essences. So Hiywan was both permitted and expected to participate in the rite (and, characteristically, she was indignant at the thought of being excluded from anything) -- but working out exactly how caused quite a bit of confusion and embarrassment until everything was sorted out. And yes, I'm sure there's a PWP fic to be written there somewhere. :-)
> Another example of watching my metaphors. At first I called the ritual the Wheel of Life, until I remembered that Hiywan's people haven't invented the wheel yet...
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.
> Buffy would, of course, completely freak out if she knew what Hiywan was thinking right now.
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.
> If Buffy weren't a Slayer she'd probably be collapsing from heatstroke right about now. She's not acclimatised to the heat, she's been exerting herself under the hot sun, and she forgot the sun cream.
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.
> Buffy's desperate to get into some shade, but then realises she's left Hiywan to struggle with the antelope.
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 put this in as another example to show that Hiywan knows exactly what she's doing here, while Buffy is a fish out of water. (And probably feeling very much like that literally, right now.) I did think about having a stream or pool of water here instead, but then remembered I've already established this as the peak of the dry season. Any open water is likely to be claimed by all sorts of animals.
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.
> Hiywan has just uncovered her breasts, but she doesn't even mention that fact -- you have to infer it from context and Buffy's reaction -- because she's really not thinking about sex right now at all. Buffy is assuming that Hiywan is propositioning her, and has just freaked out. (Ironically, of course, Hiywan has already rejected the idea of asking Buffy to participate in a little Circle of Life ritual between the two of them as being too much of an imposition...)
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.
> Hiywan's people do have a nudity taboo: they would consider it impolite and rather rude for an adult to wander around in public with no clothes on. However, they're all family, they live in close quarters to each other, and so naturally they've seen each other naked plenty of times. In other words, it's not really a big deal to them if there's a good reason for the nudity.
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.
> As part of the initiation ritual into the Guardians, a cross is cut into their skin over the heart and grit rubbed into the wound to leave a raised scar. (This is, of course, agonisingly painful; enduring it is part of the test.) I imagine the whole thing to be quite small, each arm of the cross no more than a couple of centimetres.)
She shook her head, holding out her hands as if to ward me off.
> Buffy's not about to take her own top off. Especially not if it would mean Hiywan decides to carve a matching cross into her chest...
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?
> Qusari "the Destroyer" is a powerful spirit - a True Demon, to use Buffyverse terminology - who is the patron of the Guardians. They can temporarily summon It to possess them, similar to the way a loa possesses a worshipper in voudoun/voodoo. When a Guardian bears Qusari within her, she acquires superstrength, superhumanly fast reflexes, miraculous healing powers, an almost prescient danger-sense... stop me if you've heard this before. :-) She's not, however, as powerful as an actual Slayer; and she tends to become savage and bestial and incoherent while possessed, barely clinging to humanity and reason. In fact, trial and (fatal) error established long ago that men who are possessed by Qusari lose all their humanity, completely, and go on a killing rampage that doesn't distinguish friend from foe. That's why there are no male Guardians.
When she continued to look confused, I sighed and simplified my language, as if speaking to a child or a savage.
> Too unsubtle?
"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.
> For 'wrap' read 't-shirt'. Buffy thinks it's a long shot, but is wondering if the cross symbol has anything to do with Slayers.
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.
> Tsehay the Burning Warrior is the Sun God. His symbol burns vampires just as his physical presence in the sky does. A cross, or a bent-armed cross (that is, a swastika) is symbolic of the sun in many cultures across the world. My assumption is that the arms of the cross represent rays of light. And for the record, the original symbol of Christianity was the fish: they adopted the cross instead a century or two after the death of Jesus. In my canon, they did so at the encouragement of the Watchers' Council...
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.
> Again, Hiywan doesn't know what silver is so she looks for a comparison in nature.
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.
> I think part of Buffy's reaction is that what Hiywan just did was really cute to watch - and remember that she's only about as old as Buffy's little sister right now, but much less annoying. There's also the Slayer bonding - and the sheer joy of finally making a breakthrough in communication.
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.
> Yes, that's the notorious rude gesture scene from 'Hush' played in reverse. Though given her culture's much more relaxed attitude to sexuality, I doubt Hiywan would be nearly as embarrassed as Buffy was if she realised the other significance of the gesture.
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.
> Buffy is confused because Hiywan clearly isn't a Slayer - she can barely lift the deer carcase - but seems to know all about vampires and crosses and stakes. So what is she? The other names doubtless include "Watchers" and "Shadowmen".
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."
> It was more likely "I wish Giles was here", actually.
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."
> As I imagine it, Grandmother Heran doesn't really have enough magical talent to do anything like that - and she certainly doesn't speak 21st century English. However, the Guardians do have a method of communicating magically between themselves over long distances (the classic 'enchanted pool of water' thing), and she'd eventually be able to contact someone who could summon a translation spirit for them.
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.
> Can you guess which out of the following list is the thing that got Buffy so horribly embarrassed? ;-)
There was nothing abnormal going on, just a typical afternoon. A few people dozing next to the shelters,
> Hunter-gatherer clans generally have two modes of existence. If food is scarce, they die of starvation (or at least the children, old folk and sick do). If food is plentiful, they can get by with just a few hours' work per day, and spend the rest of the time at leisure.
three or four of the children playing a stalking game under the watchful eyes of a parent,
> That's "a parent" not "their parent": child-raising, like most other things in the clan, is more or less communal. The game they're playing is one children still play today: one of them turns his back, the others try to creep up behind him and touch him, but must freeze in place whenever he turns around - if they move, they have to go back to the start. Compare this to what Hiywan did when she was hunting the deer...
Esyete and Sebel having loud and enthusiastic sex (as per usual),
> If you remember from 'Hiywan's Story', Esyete is Hiywan's cousin, and she met Sebel just before their coming-of-age ceremony. Hiywan teamed up with her friend Haymanot to put the fear of Gods into Sebel so he would treat Esyete right. They got married about a year later, and are still in the honeymoon stage at the time of this story.
> Just as with nudity, having sex in front of everybody where they can't help but see you, or might even have to step over you to get where they need to go, is considered rude and inconsiderate. But going off to the other side of a hut, or lying down in the long grass, is perfectly normal... In fact, people would worry if you went off somewhere completely private, because there are vampires and demons and lions and hyenas roaming just outside the boundaries of the camp, and letting your guard down with no-one else around isn't safe.
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....
> As if!
Hope that was interesting. Feel free to ask questions!