Chapter One: Lú'ene Ğissu'ak - The Shadowmen 6000 - 3500 BC
For hundreds of thousands of years, the human race wandered the Earth in tiny, scattered bands of hunter-gatherers. They lived off whatever food they could scavenge - and then moved on or starved. But then, in the lands of the Fertile Crescent that arcs from modern-day Egypt through Syria to Iraq around eight or nine thousand years ago, something remarkable happened. People discovered that instead of gathering edible plants growing wild, you could plant their seeds and make them grow wherever you wanted them. Instead of hunting animals across the plains, you could pen them in a field, breed them to order and slaughter them whenever you needed meat. This was the Neolithic Revolution: the invention of agriculture. No longer would mankind be content to accept whatever Nature's bounty offered them; instead they reached out to take control of the Earth and shape it to suit their requirements.
The results were both good and bad. Agriculture offered security; instead of living hand-to-mouth, a farming society could plan for the future. Since they made their food come to them instead of going out in search of it, they could establish permanent settlements - build houses and temples, and start accumulating possessions beyond what they could carry with them. Extensive fields and crops and vast herds of sheep or cattle provided far more food than a hunter-gatherer clan could dream of - and that allowed the population to grow by orders of magnitude. Rather than family groups of no more than a few dozen individuals at most, Neolithic people could establish large settlements: villages and towns of hundreds, even thousands of inhabitants. This large population in turn led to specialisation. Instead of everybody having to hunt for food, now a society could support craftsmen and priests and merchants and artists - not to mention kings and tax-collectors and soldiers, which would be the downside of the new large and more complex society.
This trend reached its peak in the muddy plains of lower Mesopotamia, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The land here was richly fertile, but the climate was arid; too dry to grow crops. Until, that is, the inhabitants, who called themselves Unĝ Sanĝ Gígga - the black-headed people - discovered the secret of digging irrigation ditches, and turned the desert green. The task of organising public works on a massive scale boosted the development of laws and government and religion, and there in the land of Šumerû - Sumeria - the world's first civilisation took root.
Unfortunately, the concentration of tens of thousands of human beings all in one place proved an irresistible temptation to demons. The first cities such as Kish and Uruk offered them an all-you-can-eat buffet. Vampires, once the lowest and most despised form of demon, flourished in this new environment. They could take human form, mingle with the crowds undetected, and feed at their leisure.
It was to counter the threat of vampires that a group of powerful sorcerers came together, some time around 6,000 BC, in the small coastal city of Ur. These men - and they were all men - were mostly drawn from the priesthood of the many fiercely independent city-states of Sumeria, who had devoted their lives and wealth to the study of magic. While some of them dabbled in politics, most of them saw it as a distraction from the pursuit of true power... and they worked in secret, knowing that both ordinary people and kings alike would react in fear and hatred if the nature of their work was discovered. For that reason they called themselves the Lú'ene Ğissu'ak - the Men of the Shadows, or Shadowmen.
The Shadowmen were not evil - at least, no more than any typical group of humans might be. While they were certainly motivated by the typical desires for power, knowledge and luxury, most of them also genuinely wanted to help humanity, and defeat the growing threat posed by vampires to their cities. They were, however, quite ruthless: and they were a product of a society that saw the world as a thing to be mastered and moulded into shape to suit the wishes of those with power. In Sumeria, humanity ruled over nature, masters ruled over slaves, men ruled over women and kings and priests ruled over the common folk, and the Shadowmen had been brought up to see that as just and proper.
On this basis, the Shadowmen searched long and hard for magic that would be powerful enough to defeat the vampire scourge - or at least bring it under control. They sent out expeditions to other lands in search of new knowledge, reaching as far as Egypt, Anatolia and India. Here they met other sorcerers, and those willing to cooperate were inducted into their loose brotherhood and allowed to share its knowledge. During this period the Shadowmen discovered the art, now lost, of travelling magically from place to place instantaneously without crossing the intervening space. However, it was not until they travelled up the Nile and through the great swamps of the Sudd that they discovered the secret they had been searching for.
Little or nothing is mentioned in the archives of the Watchers' Council about the Guardians, and much of that is inaccurate. This widespread secret society of wisewomen and warriors had protected their tribes for far longer than the Shadowmen ever suspected - indeed, some stories from the Guardians' oral history clearly refer to the time of the last Ice Age. To the strangers from the north, however, they were merely a local cult of demon-worshippers. Their worship of the True Demon they called Qasafi, however, seemed to offer a promise of power. The Guardians knew a ritual to call down the power of Qasafi - one of the few remaining Old Ones still existing on Earth - to inhabit the body of a specially-prepared worshipper. She would become temporarily endowed with superhuman strength and speed in order to destroy the enemies of her tribe.
Somehow, the Shadowmen learned at least some of the details of this ritual - how is not stated in the records, although the capture and brutal interrogation of a Guardian to give up her secrets seems likely. They then experimented with it themselves, hoping to create an army of superpowered warriors. Unfortunately, they soon discovered that the touch of Qasafi turned men into frothing, insane killers who went on uncontrollable rampages slaughtering friend and foe alike. The Guardians alone seemed to know the secret of finding people able to withstand the possession and still retain their sanity - if only barely. Frustrated and baffled, the Shadowmen were reduced to kidnapping younger members of the Guardians to conduct their experiments with.
These worked after a fashion, but possession by Qasafi was still an uncertain, random and dangerous endeavour. At last, three of the most powerful and ambitious of the Shadowmen developed a plan that was stunning in its audacity. Instead of entreating Qasafi to fill the vessel of his mortal worshipper, they would chain the god, force him to obey their will, and entrap him permanently inside the body of a single human. She would be filled with all the power of a True Demon, an almost unstoppable force of destruction - but she would also be a mortal girl, and thus biddable and able to be dominated by both mundane and magical means.
After many years of preparation, the recruitment of countless assistants, and many unmentionable deals struck with other Powers for their aid, the three chief Shadowmen were ready to begin their ritual. It succeeded just according to plan, and the entire essence of Qasafi was caught inside a small wooden box. What the Shadowmen didn't know - and wouldn't have cared if they had - was that their action destroyed the main power of the Guardians and left them helpless to protect their people. With Qasafi imprisoned, he could no longer be summoned by a Guardian to possess her and grant her strength. While they searched desperately for an answer to explain their sudden impotence, the Shadowmen who were responsible took the box and then set out south to the lands of the Guardians, searching for a suitable candidate for the second half of their scheme.
Ironically, the candidate found them instead. A young Guardian named Hiywan of the Five Trees Clan saw the three Shadowmen passing through her tribe's lands carrying a mysterious box which they obviously valued very highly. Suspecting - quite correctly - that it contained some powerful magic that might help her people, Hiywan attempted to sneak into the Shadowmen's campsite and steal the box. Unfortunately, she failed and was caught: had she succeeded, the course of the next 80 centuries would have gone very differently. The Shadowmen first planned to kill her for her audacity - but then, recognising her skill and courage and determining that she was a Guardian and thus suitable for their purposes, they rewarded her with a far worse fate. They made her into the First Slayer.
As such, she became a weapon in the hands of the Shadowmen. They neither acknowledged nor used her real name, referring to her simply as Sineya, which meant, in their language, 'the First One'. She was set against their enemies all across the Fertile Crescent from Merimde to Eridu, and - thanks to the use of portal magic - even further afield. Vampires were her chief enemy; and the Shadowmen knew that quite apart from the ones she killed personally, the rumour and threat of her existence terrorised far more vampires into keeping a low profile and restricting their predations. However, she did not only kill demons; the Shadowmen were not above using her against their human enemies - including the remnants of the Guardians. It was from them that the First Slayer acquired Ma' - the Scythe - the mystical weapon she wielded in all her subsequent fights.
The First Slayer finally met her death half a world away from her birthplace, sent by magical means to slay the last True Demon that still walked the world. She succeeded in her task, but the death-throes of the demon god not only killed her, but ripped a hole in reality that would, many millennia later, become known as the Sunnydale Hellmouth. The Scythe was lost and buried, and with the death of the First Slayer's mortal body the spirit of Qasafi was set free - only to find himself dragged, metaphorically kicking and screaming, into the body of a new young woman who thus became the Second Slayer. The Shadowmen used divination magic to track down the Second Slayer and then broke her to their will and forced her to serve them.
This process was repeated five times, although the Second to Seventh Slayers proved to be neither as skilled nor as long-lived as the First. When the Seventh Slayer was killed - suffocated by a Fyarl demon - the Shadowmen were unable to track down her successor. For two and a half years they searched fruitlessly, until one of the candidates they had detected but passed over suddenly developed superpowers. The Shadowmen therefore named her the Ninth Slayer, concluding that some other woman - the notional and undiscovered Eighth Slayer - must have been Chosen, lived for a while, and then been killed, all without ever being detected by them. (Of course, they had no way of knowing whether there was indeed only one intervening Slayer or several.)
After this, the Shadowmen began a policy of searching for and identifying suitable candidates for Slayerhood in advance and keeping track of them, rather than waiting for one to be Called. They did not, however, at this stage make any attempt to train or control the lives of these Potentials. They still held out hope of discovering a way to create new ones themselves, or discover the ritual that would make a woman eligible to become a Slayer - but sadly for them, that secret died with the Guardians. At best, the Shadowmen could influence the process somewhat, to nudge Qasafi into inhabiting the body of their chosen candidate next; but the process was ill-understood and only marginally successful. (And in fact, it's possible that Qasafi was willfully frustrating their plans in resentment at his imprisonment.)
Next chapter:Šes'ene Ğissu'ak - Brotherhood of Shadows 3500 BC - 1761 BC