This is the first part of the first fic in what I hope will become a mini-series about the First Slayer. Thanks to whiskyinmind for the beta!
Tales of the First: The Calling
Author: Sam Perlo-Freeman
Characters: Sineya (the First Slayer), various Shadow Men, various others.
Feedback: Always welcome
Disclaimer: Based on the characters and world created by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
She was seven years old when they first came, the Shadow Men. It was a day Sineya would never forget. It was a hot, bright late afternoon in the dry season, though past the heat of the day. She played with Alleya, her best friend, at the edge of the village, running through the dust, climbing the palm trees, lost in their own world. They saw the men coming from many miles away, as they sat in their palm. Men often came to the village; to trade, to tell stories, to seek wives. Occasionally men came with spears to steal cattle, and the men of the village would meet them and fight them, but there were not enough for this. Sometimes travellers would come from far off places, passing through, bringing news and stories from afar in return for food and a bed for the night. Some told frightening stories of ghosts and zombies, and the spirit-men, with their yellow eyes and vicious fangs, who walked at night and drained the blood and the souls from the living, making them their own.
They sat and watched as the men approached, wondering what these visitors would bring. Sineya hoped they came with stories, for she always loved hearing the tales of strange creatures and far-off lands. She would sit round the fire and listen agape. Sometimes the stories frightened her, and she would cry out, and bury herself in her mother’s gowns. But in truth she loved being frightened by the stories, and then feeling safe in her mother’s arms, as she reassured her that the far-off spirit-men would never trouble them.
She hoped they did not come seeking wives. Although she and Alleya were far too young to be married, she knew sometimes girls were promised to men long before. She did not want that to happen to her. She did not think she would like to be a wife.
But as the men approached, they could tell that these were not the regular sort of visitor. Alleya pointed out to her their bright clothing, and as they drew nearer still they could see the strangely-carved staffs of wood that they carried. Excitement mounted in the village, mixed it seemed with no little fear, and it was very clear to Sineya that these were most important visitors. The Witch Doctor soon came out of his hut to meet them, and as the men approached, he started to dance, and to cast bones and shells on the ground in front of him in welcome. Then the Chief of the village came out and joined him, flanked by many of the leading men, and an armed guard of six spearmen. But it was clear from their manner that they were not there in preparation for battle, but to give honour to the distinguished visitors. Many children gathered also to see who were these men that drew so much attention, and these stayed close despite the efforts of their parents to shoo them away.
Finally, as the men approached, four of them, tall, resplendent in orange robes, the Chief bowed low before them.
“You do us great honour, O Shadow men! You are welcome to our village. Our homes, our food, our water are yours. Say only what you need of us, and it shall be yours!”
The Shadow men did not speak in response, but one of them, evidently the leader, nodded. Then he looked around him, walked over to the Witch Doctor and looked him up and down, then wandered here and there tapping his staff upon the ground, before finally returning to his group and nodding approval. The villagers visibly relaxed at this, a collective sigh of relief. Finally the Shadow man spoke.
“The spirit of your village is true. Great blessings are upon you!”
There were smiles, and murmurings of approval at this. Then the shadow men strode off in the direction of the Chief’s hut, followed by the Chief himself, shouting urgently to his wives to prepare food and drink for their guests. Sineya and Alleya jumped down from their perch and joined some of the other children in the village in trying to follow and stand around outside the hut, but they were quickly sent packing by the Chief’s guards, and returned to their homes, feverishly debating with each other what might have brought men of such power and magic to their homes.
That night there was feasting, music and dancing; the harvest had been good that year, and the village’s storehouses were full, but even so this feast would strain their resources for many months if not years to come; for people had come from many of the neighbouring villages, eager to see the Shadow Men and perhaps partake of their blessing. Three cows and six goats had been slaughtered for the occasion – in normal times, they might slaughter a cow once a year, if it was a good year. But they were confident that the blessings the Shadow Men brought would mean good harvests for years to come.
Sineya thought nothing of such matters, but revelled in the rich, succulent food, marvelled at the dancing and the strange masks worn by the witch doctor and the other dancers, and she too danced with her friends to the sound of pipes and stringed instruments. But most of all she sat in awe and wonder at the strange shadow play put on by the mysterious visitors. Against the light of the bonfire, huge, strange, grotesque figures, monsters, demons, spirits, reared up seemingly out of nowhere, leaping, dancing, rushing upon the startled villagers as the Shadow Men conjured them. And then other images, of power swirling between and among the figures, and another, smaller figure emerging in the midst of them.
The figure of a girl.
And the girl danced amongst them, and the monsters circled round the girl, and cowered before her; and then the girl became a swirl of fury, spiralling out around the circle, grasping the monstrous figures around her, stabbing, choking, rending them, as their hideous faces were set in masks of horror and despair.
And then it was over, and the girl stood alone. And then her form became blurred and indistinct, and somehow sad, Sineya thought; and then she slowly faded from view, till all was left was a flicker of shadow against the flames, and then nothing.
A great cheer went up amongst the villagers at the conclusion of the Shadow Men’s conjuring, at this auspicious sign of the triumph of good against evil. And Sineya and Alleya cheered too, and whooped and danced and jumped up and down, but later Alleya said she felt sorry for the girl in the play, and Sineya agreed. But all the village were sure that the Shadow Men had favoured them with a singular blessing.
Sineya had strange dreams that night.
The Shadow Men stayed for several days, but after the great feast, they mostly kept to themselves, in the hut set aside for them, or occasionally pacing the edges of the village, performing some conjurings or divinations, though no-one dared ask them what they were doing, or sometimes they spoke with the witch doctor. And after a little while, most of the village started just going about their ordinary business again, as it became clear that they were not going to find out what the Shadow Men were about, or indeed get any sort of communication out of them. Sineya almost forgot they were there, and continued about her play and her household chores.
But one day, the fourth day of the strangers’ visit, there was a commotion at the door of Sineya’s hut, and when Sineya looked up to see what was happening, she saw her parents bowing low and sweeping the floor in front of the doorway to make way for whoever was to come in, and then to her great surprise, into the hut stepped first the witch doctor and the chief, and then the Shadow Men themselves. They were briefly conversing with each other, the Shadow Men interrogating the witch doctor, who was nodding vigorously, then speaking something to Sineya’s parents, but she could not make out what. Then finally the leader of the Shadow Men stepped forward towards Sineya, and pointed towards her.
“It is she.” he said gravely. “She is the Chosen One.”
Continued in Chapter 2