Having written an essay, numerous drabbles and various bits of commentary recently about the First Slayer, I've realised she's going to continue to haunt me unless I exorcise her spirit by writing a full-length fiction about her. So this is the first chapter.
Unlike the previous longer fic I wrote - Intrusion - which was pretty much complete before I ever posted a chapter, this one is a genuine work in progress. I know how it's going to end, and roughly what will happen en route, but most of it's still to write. Those of you who prefer to wait until works are finished before reading them, be warned. Those who have no problem with WiPs, welcome! Comment and feedback will be treasured as always, even if it's critical (how else do you learn?).
The story rating is probably 15: nothing explicit (at least so far) but some fairly dark elements. Characters, pairings: well, the story is set about 10,000 years in the past, so it's safe to say that it's pretty much non-canon. :) This chapter is 2,308 words.
ETA - I've created a chapter listing, list of characters and background information for this fic.
I am dead. My mortal body decayed to dust and ash more years ago than I can count. But the death of the body is not the true death; they teach us that the soul is imperishable. They are wrong. My soul has died not once but a thousand times; each lifetime leaving its mark, like the trace of limestone in a drop of water that over aeons can fill a cave with stone teeth. The fangs of time tore my own memories from me: my self, my identity, even my name was lost. I became Death, living only in the bodies of my daughters, my sisters, my fellow-victims. Sharing their lives; sharing their deaths as they became my own. We were chained to service, pinned down by the weight of the world on our backs, Death forced to serve Life. Or was it the other way around?
Then the chain was broken. In my own short life in this world I had no children of my own, not like my cousin Esyete, and now I can remember the envy I felt for her; but no mother now could be prouder of her daughters. Warriors of the people, guardians of humanity, giving their lives to protect this world; each of them a hero, but none greater than the last of them. Shining golden, she dared to fight even me – or rather against the empty shadow of myself that was all that remained after a hundred hundred deaths tore my soul to tattered cloth in the wind. And at the end she found the way to liberate us all, break the chain that bound us over so many lifetimes. We were freed to share our gifts with our sisters at last. And when our lives were returned to us, I discovered, all unknowing, her greatest gift to me was myself. My soul, my memories, my life; all were returned to me; and I even remembered my name.
I am Hiywan, and this is my story.
I was born in the Five Trees clan, which dwelt in the great Valley that cut through the Wide World. The men of our clan bore its mark on their right shoulderblade, five vertical lines scored into their living flesh as part of their manhood and adoption rites. I can remember as a child being jealous of this tattoo – after all, was I not a daughter of the Five Trees too? So I persuaded my cousin Esyete to paint the mark on my back with the white mud that lies along the lake shore. Of course, my parents were furious when they saw it, and Mother gave me a thorough thrashing – Esyete got off with a milder punishment, because even then the adults knew I would have been the ringleader in any trouble.
But afterwards, as I sat crying and whimpering at the edge of the camp, Grandmother Heran came to me and put a comforting arm around my shoulders, whispering that I need not envy the men’s secrets. That when I was old enough, there was a far greater secret she could show me, if I proved worthy. One known to the women of the clan alone. When I asked her what it was, she just chuckled and asked me if I knew the meaning of the word ‘secret’. But then she added something strange, that I remembered for a long time: “Not all the women of the clan are strong enough to bear the mark, Hiywan. Your mother wasn’t. But you – you are the strongest I have ever seen. I fear your destiny will take you far from here, and there is much darkness in it; but also much to be proud of. Let the men have their brands of courage and their search for glory. You will do us a far greater service.” Then she just smiled at my torrent of new questions, and gave me a little shake and told me to come back to the fire and eat my supper.
Of course back then the Valley was my entire existence, and I never dreamed of leaving it. I thought the Wide World was just a nighttime story; a place where gods and spirits stalked the great empty plains, and sent their familiar demons into the Valley to torment the people of the Five Trees. Certainly the demons were real enough. When I was six, three men of the clan were torn apart by a great fanged beast that entered our territory, and all the grown-ups were frightened and panicking. But then Grandmother Heran did something – we children were never told exactly what, but that monster never came back. Its friends did, though.
I had a little sister called Biftu; we played together, and whatever I did, she tried to do better than me. Some evenings we’d stay outside the camp, daring each other to wait as the sun slipped down behind the walls of the Valley and darkness spread across the land, before we ran giggling and breathless back to the safety of the shelter. Our parents would be angry then, with a note of fear behind their anger and their punishments, but we were children and didn’t understand the danger.
Then one night Biftu crept out of the shelter by herself, because she wanted to do something I’d never done.
We found her sleeping furs empty the next morning, and cold. I wasn’t worried at first, just jealous of what she’d done and wishing I’d thought of it first. But as the day wore on and she didn’t come back, I started to get frightened. Mother seemed more angry than I’d ever seen her before; she was shouting and screaming at my father, but there were tears in her eyes as she did. He in turn seemed unnaturally quiet, but he gripped the haft of his spear so hard that it broke in two. Then without saying another word he stalked away, and borrowed another spear from his brother; and together with some of the other warriors they marched out of the camp, grim and silent, with spears and axes in their hands.
They didn’t come back until late, and this time the fear I felt as the sun set was cold terror instead of excited anticipation. But they did return, all of them safe, and I sneaked close so I could hear what they reported to our chieftain Belaye. I didn’t understand much of it, but they talked about ‘nightwalkers’, and said they found the holes they’d dug to last out the day; and one bit I understood only too well. They’d found the amulet Biftu always wore around her neck; but the cord was broken, and soaked through with blood. My sister’s blood.
And so later that night my mother took me on her lap and gripped me tightly, and told me through her tears that Biftu wasn’t coming back. The next day we held the funeral rites for her, even though there was no body to burn. But Grandmother stayed up all night making a clay doll, and Mother tied the amulet around its neck, and kissed it on its cold lips and called it her daughter; and then the men of the clan lifted it onto the pyre and Belaye lit it, calling on Tiruneh the Great Spirit to take and guard the soul of the beloved daughter of the Five Trees.
But Mother was wrong. Biftu did come back.
It was three nights later. I was lying in my furs, pretending to sleep, but I knew if I closed my eyes only nightmares would follow. And I heard someone whispering my name. Someone outside the shelter.
I crept to the door, careful not to wake the adults of the clan as they lay huddled and asleep on the floor. Twitching aside the corner of the deerskin that covered the doorway, I peeped out. A full moon hovered high in the velvet sky, turning all the land to bleached white and deep shadow. Then one of the shadows moved, and I saw my sister standing out under the moonlight. She was smiling at me.
“Hello, Hiywan. Come and play with me!”
“Biftu? But you’re… they said you weren’t coming back.”
She giggled. “Silly! Of course I came back for you. I’ve been having lots of fun. Come on!” She beckoned urgently.
“I - I don’t think I should. Mother will be angry. You should come and talk to her. She’s been crying a lot.”
She hesitated. “I think I have to stay outside. They said… But if you want me to come in, I will. Can I come into the shelter with you, Hiywan?”
That puzzled me. “Biftu, you live here. You don’t need me to invite you in.”
“But I’m from another clan now. I’m a visiting princess from the Nightwalker clan. I’m bringing presents. So you have to do it properly. Go on – tell me I can come in!”
I smiled. We’d often played this sort of game. “But I can’t. If you’re a princess, then only Belaye can offer you our clan’s hospitality. It wouldn’t be right for me to do it.”
To my surprise, a flash of real anger seemed to flicker across her face; then it was gone, and my sister was grinning back at me. “So pretend! If I can be a princess, you can be our chieftain. Ask me in!”
“Oh, all right! Princess Biftu, in the name of the Five Trees Clan I – “ As I spoke my sister edged forward, and the moonlight shone full on her face. Something in her expression caused my throat to close around the words I was about to speak. It was a hungry look; the look I’d seen in the faces of a pride of lions waiting for their prey’s struggles to cease. It frightened me; it repelled me.
I shook my head in denial. “Sorry. I don’t want to play this game any more.”
She stamped her foot in rage. “You meanie! You never let me have any fun! Why won’t you ask me in?”
“Biftu, what happened to you the other night? Who are the nightwalkers? What did they do to you?”
“I’ll show you if you like. Come on, it’ll be fun!” The happy smile had returned to her face. “I’ll take you to them. They’ll like you, I know!”
I hesitated. Something was seriously wrong here, I knew; but this was my sister. My baby sister, who’d just been off having adventures that I didn’t know about, doing things I’d never done. I was jealous. I was the elder: I was supposed to be the one to lead, while she ran laughing behind me trying to keep up. I wanted so badly to go with her, see what she’d found out.
“Well, all right. As long as it’s not far; I have to be back before everyone wakes up.” And with those words, I pushed aside the curtain and stepped out into the night air.
I know what you’re thinking. An elementary mistake, and one that I was lucky to survive. You modern Slayers learn about vampires practically at your mother’s breast, and you would never do anything so stupid. But my clan knew little of the monsters that roamed the darkness, and what we did was mingled with superstition and lies. Perhaps Grandmother Heran knew more, but she kept her secrets close and only taught them to her chosen ones. But luckily for me Biftu was young too, and ignorant. Or perhaps just hungry, having not yet fed on a human since she clawed her way out of the dirt.
Before both my feet were over the threshold, my sister sprang at me, her face like an animal’s, her fangs bared to tear out my throat. The impact of her body drove me back inside the shelter, landing on my backside with a thump that shocked the air out of me. But Biftu recoiled from the entrance as if she’d run into a cliff face. Her eyes burned yellow with baffled rage and she snarled with fury as she launched herself at me once more; but the mysterious barrier held. She was somehow unable to enter the shelter, and I curled my legs up to my chest and stared at her in mingled shock, fear, disgust and pity.
Then her face seemed to change, and instead of the inhuman monster she’d become my sister looked back at me once again. She was crying.
“Please, Hiywan. I’m so hungry. Please come out. Please!”
I shook my head, unable to speak. Numb.
“Please! They’re cruel to me, and I want you to be with me again. I don’t want to be alone. Please, Hiywan!”
Tears spilled down my cheeks, the first I’d cried since my sister left the shelter all those days earlier, but I still couldn’t speak. Nor could I take my eyes away from her.
“Hiywan! You’re my sister. Don’t leave me. Please!”
I just sat there, unable to move, unable to speak, as the thing that had been my sister begged, pleaded and sobbed; then growled and threatened and beat against the barrier that kept her out, then broke down to whimpers and entreaties once more. All though the night, as my family slept around me and the moon climbed the sky then set again, I kept vigil. Then, as the eastern sky turned pale and colour seeped back into the grey landscape, Biftu moaned with fear and ran off into the sheltering darkness once more, looking back at me over her shoulder as she ran. She didn’t come back.
I’d like to say I never saw her again, but I did. That was many years later, and it’s a part of my story for another time.
Go to chapter two.
Most of the names of Hiywan’s people are taken from Ge’ez, an ancient language of Ethiopia and Somalia. According to local tradition, this was the oldest written language in the world, although it is now extinct except where preserved in the liturgy of the Ethiopian Church. Where I was unable to find suitable Ge’ez names, I took them from other, more modern languages from the region.
‘Hiywan’ means ‘source of life’, and was the name given to the first woman in the Ge’ez version of the Creation story. Esyete is another Ge'ez name, but I couldn't find its meaning. 'Heran' means 'heroine', and 'Belaye' means 'man in charge'. As for Hiywan's sister Biftu, her name means 'Dawn'. :)