Excerpt for The Beginnings by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




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Published by: Jan Magnus Svanström

Cover Design: JMS

Copyright 2017, JMS

1st Edition

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All characters or places appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter 1

Vig quickly sidestepped as the cave lion lunged its paw out, between them lay the reward, a reindeer brought down by a spear. The dead animal meant the difference between life and death for his clan, for the cave lion it probably meant the same, so both were fighting desperately. It was the first animal they had managed to catch since the night sky had been painted white and the gods had spoken with a terrific rumble. After that night the animal herds had disappeared, leaving the clan to starve.

The lion struck its paw out again and growled as Vig did another sidestep to avoid it, all the time keeping his distance. If one of those paws managed to scratch him it would be the end.

Askil moaned in pain behind him, he had not been quick enough as the big gash on his left leg showed. That first wound had taken him out of the struggle and possibly would take his life. He was still holding his spear in a defensive posture while his other hand was tightly clasped around his profusely bleeding leg. Vig had no idea how badly Askil was hurt, all had happened so fast and now he needed to focus to stay alive or he would join Dragul in the afterlife. Dragul had tried to save Askil but had been too slow on his feet, making him the first to die.

The lion struck out with its front left paw trying to catch Vig so he did the same sidestep he had done before, but this time his foot twisted on a loose rock that forced his ankle out in an angle it was not suppose to have. He screamed in pain and almost fell to the ground, but managed to keep standing more out of luck than anything else. Cold sweat now ran down Vigs forehead as he kept his teeth shut tight in an effort to combat the pain, but it still made him slow and that would kill him if he could not end this struggle soon.

Askil was now behind him, fighting the lion had brought Vig around in a full circle.

“Quick, give me your spear,” he hissed between his clamped down teeth.

Without hesitation Askil switched his grip, holding the spear now by its tip and the end floating in the air, ready for Vig to take it. He knew that if Vig died so would he, so it was not only a matter of obeying, it was the only way to stay alive.

The lion suddenly let out a roar that turned into a begging moan before it jumped. Vig crouched down and threw his spear without looking if it hit or not, instead he grabbed hold of Askils spear and ripped it out of his hand, cutting a deep gash in the process. Rolling to the left he pushed the end into the ground and only after that did he look up.

His first spear had hit the animal in the side but that had not slowed it down much, its momentum was to great for that. With open mouth and paws stretched out it jumped onto the spear, the tip burying deep in its flesh forcing the other end into the hard packed snow.

Vig again rolled away as quickly as he could towards Draguls body, behind him the sound of struggle and moaning continued. He did not know how badly he had injured the animal and he did not have time to check, he just needed to get that extra spear.

Without feeling the claws of the big cat ripping him to pieces he reached Dragul's body and picked up his spear, fighting the ankle pain with adrenaline he stood up. Now at least he had another weapon to use, some extra defence if needed.

He stood like this for a couple of seconds even though it felt like a lifetime, the adrenal gland speeding up and slowing down everything in a chaotic mismatch of impressions.

The cave lion was not dead, it did not even show any signs of being seriously hurt despite being impaled on a spear. The tip had been pushed deep into the flesh by its own weight and momentum, the same forces that had pushed the other end into the snow, nailing it down. Its head kept moving back and forward all the time moaning and growling, and chewing empty air.

“Why aren't you dead?” wondered Vig.

“Why in the name of the mother goddess aren't you dead?” he said out loud.

“Are you demon sent to punish us for something we have failed to do,” he finally screamed.

He looked down at the spear he was holding, if two spears could not kill this animal another one would probably not make any difference.

“Vig, we have to go, please,” Askil said in a weak voice, and he replied, “Yes, we have to go.”

Vig saw that the lion did not pose any immediate danger, so he went over to Askil and checked his wound. It was deep and still bleeding but maybe less so than before. He got out a string of leather and a small fur patch that he put over the wound and tied it tight around the leg. The black coagulated blood spread out around the bandage like a stew made of rubber. Vig had never seen blood behave like that before.

“Can you stand?”

Askil knew if he could not stand he would have to remain here, together with that demon cat, to die.

“I can stand,” he said, and managed to get up with some help from Vig.

Vig went to the reindeer and pulled out the spear, looking around he saw a rock sticking out of the ice that he dug out.

“We need to go now Vig,” Askil said again in his weak voice.

“We will, but if this beast gets loose we are dead!”

“We can not kill it, it is a demon, we can not kill it!” wailed Askil.

Vig did not answer, instead he walked around the lion that was still trying to twist its body off the spear in an attempt to get at him, but for now it was not able to. Looking how tenuous the end of the spear was embedded in the ice, it was only a matter of time before it would break free, of that Vig was certain.

With a big thrust he pushed another spear into the beast just above the hind legs, and kept pushing until the spear went through the body and hit the ice beneath, then using the stone he hammered it into the ice making sure to keep away from those flailing paws. He kept hammering until only about a foot of the spear stuck out of the animal that was now more securely pinned to the ice.

Vig then handed a spear to Askil, to use as a crotch, and at the same time he took a long hard look at him, “Start walking, I will catch up with you,” he finally said.

Askil hesitated a short moment and then took the spear and started limping back home slowly and staggering, leaving a faint black blood trail in his footsteps.

Vig watch him for a while and then went back to reindeer, always keeping an eye on the growling cat that had not stopped trying to get loose.

He pulled out a leather strap and used it to tie the animals hind legs together, as a finishing touch he cut off the head and gutted it.

Breaking open the skull with another stone he quickly feasted on the eyes and still warm brain, feeling his stomach filling up with much needed proteins and vitamins, saving what he did not have time to eat in a leather bag.

He looked at the diminishing figure of Askil hobbling into the distance thinking “He will never make it.”

He had not offered any food to his companion as that would have been wasted calories, he would surely die before they got back home.

Vig felt the weight of the animal and then cut off its front legs to make it lighter, it was a matter of getting something home rather than nothing at all.

His ankle was sore and swollen, making most movements awkward and painful even without the additional task of dragging the animal home.

From Draguls coat he cut several more strips that he tied tout around his ankle, giving it some stability and somewhat reduced the pain.

After all this was done he put away his flint knife, grabbed the leather straps and pulled them over his shoulders, winding the ends around his gloves and started dragging the animal. He followed the same direction Askil had taken, making sure the carcase got dragged over both set of footsteps to hide their trail from the beast in case it got loose. A slow snowfall had started, so soon all footsteps would be hidden in the same way the struggling shape of Askil had been, behind a gently falling drape of big white flakes.

As he walked, the eerie sounds from the pinned down beast followed him, fading only slowly as Vig put some distance from it, but it did not stop completely for a long time.

He kept looking over his shoulder, half expecting to see the beast rushing him with broken off spears sticking out of its body.

The fact that the beast was no longer visible made it worse, his mind started playing tricks with him, making Vig jump at shadows. A voice in his head, clear as if a person had been talking to him, started to blame Askil and Dragul, maybe they had wanted to kill him, yes that must have been it. They lured him to hunt the animal, they wanted to get rid of him.

Day turned to evening, and then to night, all the time the snow kept falling. That did not bother Vig, he knew his way, and the snow kept the cold from becoming to sever.

A life lived in this ice-age had taught him to always find his way home, so he continued in the right direction. He did not rest, ignoring the pain in his ankle he just kept going, getting energy from his fear of the beast.

Sometimes he though he could catch a faint moaning, but he did not know if that was just in his mind, or it was real, he could not be sure.

As the morning came, and the light turned from black to a greyish white, he came across Askil laying on the ground, half covered in snow but still alive. He looked up, his face having the same colour as the surroundings snow, a paleness that showed death was not far off. With a hoarse voice he whispered, “Vig, help,” but Vig would or could not help him, his wound had always been to sever for him to survive.

“I will come back for you, don't worry,” he said, patting the bundle in the snow, knowing full well that he would never come back this way. A quick death would have been better for Askil, but if the lion broke free he would be a good diversion, something to catch its attention, so the longer he lived the better.

“Hang in there Askil, may the mother goddess protect you until I am back,” he said as he took the spear out of the dying man’s hands. After thinking for a moment, he took out some of the brain he still had left, kept close to his the body to stop it from freezing, and put a small piece in Askils mouth.

“Chew on this, it will give you strength,” he said and then walked on, using the new spear as his own crutch.

He was not far away from home, and as the sun started to climb over the distant snow covered mountains and the snowfall diminished, he estimated to be only a couple of hours away from the cave.

Then he heard a distant sound, a sound he had hoped not to hear again, and this time it was not a question of being in his imagination or not. The moan sounded pretty far away, but that could change quickly if it caught his scent. If that happened it would surly catch him before he managed to get home, so Vig prayed that Askil had not died yet and that the beast would give him its full attention.

He strained even more under the load, the leather straps cut deeper into his shoulders and through the thick gloves. The sound kept following him but it did not seems to get closer, so he kept dragging the carcase without stopping, determined to reach the cave.

When the sun reached noon it had completely stopped snowing, making it possible to see the smoke rising up from the cave, hanging in the air like a thin veil guiding him home. He threw a quick glance behind him but could not see anything, so he stopped and listened intently. Only then could he make out the sound again, a faint moaning sliding over the snow towards him.

The cave lion must be out there, searching, but it had not found his trail yet, so if he just kept going he would make it. His chin was now resting on his chest as he did not have enough energy to keep his head up, or maybe he was afraid to look ahead and see how slow he was moving, so he kept his gaze fixed on the snow and his own moving feet. Vig tried to keep up the tempo but it was hard, he was so tired, so very tired.

When he felt like giving up he raised his head, closed his eyes and listened, hearing the moan gave him the fear and that adrenaline kick he needed to keep moving. The sun was warm and it should have been a nice change after the cold night, but the warmth made him sleepy, it was just another thing for him to fight against.

Two hours later he finally reached the path that went up to the cave, and he could relax, he was home, he had made it with the meat that would last them a week, if they were careful.

He shouted to get their attention, at first so weak that it was hardly audible, just a crackling sound, but he tried again and managed better. His voice travelled over the snow, up the path, passing the heavy furs that kept the cold out of the cave, reaching the ears of the clan.

Soon children, women and a very old man came out on the ledge, looking down at him. They went down the path to the blocking stone where they used long wooden poles to start wriggle it out of the way, as Vig dragged the dead animal up the path. The stone was heavy and they were weak, but finally they managed to get it moved out of the way.

Vig felt people taking the leather straps from his raw hands, dragging the animal the final distance into the cave. He was totally exhausted, so for a while he just stood there breathing until he forced his body up the path and to the cave entrance, waving a lazy hand behind him, showing that they should push the stone back into place.

The blocking stone would stop any animal from getting into the cave, even a demon beast like the cave lion, at least Vig thought so. His clan did not know about it, and they did not ask why he had returned alone, or even if the others were coming, they just did what he asked them to do as he was their leader.

Askils mother had kept looking at him, she had said nothing but she would, Vig knew she would, but for now she kept silent.

Askil had been slotted to be the new head of the tribe after him, giving her the very highest status, something fitting her ambition, but with him gone so was her future status and that would required questions, accusations and backstabbing, whatever it took, fuelled in no small part by her grief.

While the rest of the clan went back into the cave after the stone had been moved to block the path, Vig lingered on outside for a while, looking out over the plain. He thought he saw some dark spot moving against the snow, and maybe he could hear a moan carried by the wind, but he could not be sure. In the end he also hobbled inside, greeted by the welcoming smell of boiling meat and the warm fires.

People were happy, a stomach about to be filled lifted their spirits, but only up to a point, the meat was not much, and only one hunter had returned, the last hunter they had, so the happiness was still somewhat forced.

Finally sitting down, Vig unwrapped his ankle, making the pain came back with a vengeance as the blood flowed more freely, making him wince as he rubbed his ankle and foot.

Someone handed him a cup of broth, and without looking who it was he finished it in one big gulp, holding out the cup for a refill. He drank the second cup, and then handed it back to whomever had given it to him, sighing in content after drinking that high energy drink.

Bracing himself for a moment he then bit down on a leather strap, took a deep breath, put both hands around the swollen foot and twisted it hard to the left, the right, up and down. It was excruciatingly painful but he did not mind, he could take that agony and he actually smiled as his pain receptors fed his brain.

If the foot had been broken he would not have been able to twist it, and if that would have been the case he would die, or in the best case scenario limp for the rest of his life, a death sentence in itself. But he could move the foot, which meant that it wasn't broken, so he smiled through the agony.

He released the foot and leaned back, he wanted to sleep more than anything else but as the head of the clan he would be offered the first piece of meat, and not until he had started eating could the rest do the same. Some traditions could be pushed or even broken, but this was not one of them, it would be an affront to the mother goddess, and seeing what had happened lately they could not afford to antagonize her even more, so he waited and struggled to keep his eyes open.

Soon a clay bowl was handed to him with small pieces of meat that had just been cooked, more or less. He looked at each and everyone in the clan, the women and the young children, all of them waiting in anticipation for his first bite that would mean that they also could start eating.

Vig smiled, took a bite, chewed it slowly and carefully, putting the most serene appearance on his face that he could muster, and only after that he nodded, a nod that resulted in a clatter of bowls being lifted, people eating, chewing, swallowing.

No one had asked about Dragul and Askil, they knew Vig would tell them when he was ready, such was the way of the clan, the leader could not be questioned, only deposed.

Vig ate half of the food, then hobbled over to an old man sitting in a corner of the cave. He had been the previous leader and the main hunter before Vig, until he grew too old. Age turned him from a hunter into the clan's wise man.

He was chewing a bone with the few teeth he had left, the good food always went to the young ones. Vig handed him his bowl, not out of generosity, instead it was a way to keep his standing in the clan by showing mercy. The old man shook his head but Vig insisted so finally he took the food with a nod. Vig also nodded and then limped back to his place close to by the main fire, laid down on his soft furs, and fell asleep, dead tired.

Vig slept the rest of the day, through the night and on to the next morning, when he finally woke up to the great relief of the people around him. He was instantly given a bowl of stew that he finished quickly, eating with his left hand, sucking marrow from of all the small bones, drinking the juices, until every last piece of meat was consumed. Only then did he raise his head and looked at the people around him.

“Askil and Dragul are dead, killed by a cave lion,” he simply said.

The mother of Askil stood up and said “But I have seen him, he is walking this way, I have seen him on the plain and he is not far away.”

Vig looked at her for a long time, still shaking his head until finally he said “Show me,” and with that he followed her out of the cave. For a moment he felt a sting of bad conscious, he had after all left Askil to die, could he have survived?

He shook his head as he followed her out, thinking it could not possible be him. They got out on the ledge where the mother pointed in the direction he had come from, showing a small black point moving against the snow. It was still far in the distance, but there was no mistake, it was a person.

It did not seem to move towards them in any deliberate way, instead it walked on and off, got a bit closer, then stopped, and then start moving again in some other direction.

“This is not Askil,” Vig told the mother, who kept shaking her head, saying, “That is my son, I would recognise him anywhere!”

Vig stopped her from going out after him right away, leading her back into the cave, sat her down with a promise to tell her, and everyone else, what had happened.

He told them about the cave lion, how strange it had behaved, possessed by the mother goddess no doubt. How they had not been able to kill it, how Askil had been badly hurt, and later died when he was on his way back. Vig had found him frozen to the ground, cold, dead, without a doubt.

He explained how he was afraid that the lion demon would sooner or later escape, and it would come after them.

The mother still did not want to believe him, “You will see, Askil is coming home, I know it,” she said stubbornly, refusing to hear what he was saying.

Chapter 2

The mother had listen to Vig and then gone out on ledge while the rest of the clan remained inside. It was cold and freezing and that meant squandering the few precious calories their bodies had managed to store, and such squandering they could not afford, not knowing when they would get fresh meat again.

Vig stayed inside because he needed to think, and he needed advice, so with some effort he walked over to the wise man and sat down next to him.

“Almost all animals have disappeared and we have no hunters left,” he said as a matter of fact to the man who went by the name of Tirak.

His white hair and similarly coloured beard gave him away as the oldest man in the clan, as he was the only one who had managed to live long enough to acquire that colour.

Tirak kept stroking his scruffy looking beard as he listened to Vig, nodding, but without saying anything. He never did talk much, as life had thought him it was better to speak when you had something to say, and in all other cases stay silent.

“The mother goddess is very angry with us, she painted the night sky, made the earth shake and took away all the animals.”

Tirak nodded in agreement, but still said nothing, just looked down at the fur they were sitting on. It was the pelt of a cave lion, a big one, that Tirak had killed when he had been young and strong, a kill that made him the leader of the clan.

“There are still some animals left, but I can not hunt them alone, I need more hunters, but there are none.”

“The women can hunt,” said Tirak.

“It takes time to train them to hunt big game, time we do not have and even so the big animals are gone.”

“There are the ancient ones,” said the old man.

The ancient ones where a tribe that had always been here, they had existed forever, born out of mountains and ice they believed themselves.

Vig looked at him, then down at the fur, and finally he looked at Tirak again, “We are not the same, they are not like us.”

“They are not the same, but they can hunt, they trade fairly, so maybe not so different?”

Vig went silent again, thinking over what Tirak had just said. The ancient people were strong with a stocky build, short in language but rich in signs, and they could hunt, that he knew.

He had once seen them hunt down a mammoth in their slow but steady way, they just kept going after the beast until it was worn down. His own people were quicker, but they did not have the stamina of the ancient ones.

Vig had meet them several times to trade flint objects like knifes and spearheads for food and sturdy pots, and it had always been a fair trade. It had been a long time since they had meet them, so maybe it was time, and after all what other choice did they have.

Their stock of flint was not as large as it could have been if the traders had shown up, but this year they had not come, maybe the mother goddess had scared them away. Not that it mattered that much as they would have had very little to trade with as it were. What they had would have to be enough, it just had to be.

Vig would need someone to go with him as he could not go alone. Tradition dictated that they had to be two or the ancient ones would not meet them, but who could he take? The obvious choice would have been Tirak, but he was too old, would slow him down and he would also show weakness, and that would not do.

He did not have much time to think about it before he heard a shout from outside, it was the voice of Askils mother. Vig, and the rest of the tribe rushed out, flinging the hides away from the cave opening as they made their way onto the ledge.

There they could see Askils mother climbing over the stopping stone, showing more agility than her age should have allowed her.

“Stop”, shouted Vig, but it was too late, she was already over the stone running down the path.

Below her, on the plain, they could see a figure that was without a doubt Askil. He was standing still, looking confused, moaning, covered in snow that even seemed to cling to his face without melting. All of that must have escaped his mother or maybe she did not care, maybe she only saw her son coming home after she had been told he wouldn't.

They watch her run down, and as she did the motionless figure came to life, holding out his arms in a stiff and jerky kind of embrace that looked very unnatural.

“The mother goddess have possessed him,” someone said behind Vig, but he said nothing, kept his eyes fixed on what was happening down on the plain.

Askil embraced his mother, and for a moment it looked just like an embrace, nothing more. Then he tilted his head and kissed her, they had time to see a short struggle before a red fountain emerged from her neck and then the sound reached them, a short heartbreaking scream.

Askil, or what had been Askil, had almost bitten his mothers head clean off. The figure kept biting, showing them a horrific scene that made most of the people scream before they ran back into the cave, leaving only Vig and Tirak on the ledge.

“We are trapped,” whispered Vig, feeling a chill run up his spine as he kept watching the creature feast on what had been its mother. The thing, as it could no longer be called Askil, had begun eating the rest of the body in its stiff and cumbersome way that did not lack ferocity as pieces of flesh was ripped out in big chunks from the body.

They stood and watched without saying anything, they also saw that when the body cooled down and the heat that had melted the snow around it froze, the creature stopped eating. It stood up, looked slowly around, and then started wandering back and forth without any apparent goal.

“I don't think it will be able to climb the stepping stone, we should go inside and talk, I have questions,” said Tirak.

Vig nodded, but he did not put all his faith in the blocking stone.

“Jig come out here,” he said to a boy, no more than 11 years old, who had been looking out from under the hides.

“I have a task for you. Watch the blocking stone and let us know if the creature starts climbing it, do you understand?” Vig said impatiently to Jig.

“I...I understand,” the boy said with a vibrating voice.

“Well, go out then, and don't you take your eyes off that stone or I will rip them out.”

The boy shrugged away from Vig, but did as he was told and went out on the ledge without venturing to far from the entrance.

Vig went inside together with Tirak to talk, he needed to find some solution to their current problem.

They walked over to Tiraks place that was not so close to the fire, but it was conveniently placed away from the rest of the people so they could talk more freely.

Vig waited for Tiraks questions or advice after they had sat down. He was at a loss what to do, the weight felt like it was pressing him down into the bare rock. They were stuck in a cave guarded by a roaming thing that could not be killed, the food was running out and he couldn't see any way out.

“Why can't someone else do something,” he complained to himself while he waited for Tirak to start talking.

“Tell me about the cave lion and exactly how you fought it?” Tirak asked.

Vig explained what had happened, how the predator seemed to ignore any pain he inflicted, and how he finally had managed to nail it to the ice with two spears.

“And Askil was bitten or clawed?”

“He was clawed only I think. It all happened so fast and I was so focused on the fight that I did not have time to see what happened to him.”

“Hmm I see,” said the old man bending down his head, painting the air with his finger as he mumbled, “Yes that should work.”

“What are you thinking,” asked Vig.

“We can not kill it. If we escape it would follow us, so the only solution is to pin it down like you did with the lion, cover it with stones and then we can leave.”

“You mean we should fight it with spears and hope to pin it down? This is not a lion but a man, a much more dangerous creature than the cat ever was, no Tirak this will never work. I was lucky once, but with a damaged foot I would only make myself a victim of the mother goddess, be possessed like that creature outside.”

As Vig said it he thought, “What is he thinking that old fool? should I sacrifice myself, and for what? Without me they will all die!”

“I think we can make it safer, take some long strips of leather and turn them into nooses, like this,” he tied a noose and showed it to Vig.

“The possessed man is slow and stiff, he is not as agile as you might think. I watched him carefully, he was slow and only got dangerous when he managed to grab hold and bite. We can handle him, I am sure of it, and after all, what other choice do we have?” Tirak replied.

Vig did not want to think about it, it made him scared, something his trembling hands manifested in a very physical way. He did not want to fight that thing, he did not want to starve to death, he wanted to sacrifice someone else, and it frightened him that nobody else could do it.

Sounds from outside got Vig quickly on his feet and out of his mind torpor. His ankle started pumping pain to his brain, making him clench his teeth. Disregarding the pain as well as he could, he picked up a spear and hobbled to the cave entrance as the rest of the clan worriedly watched him.

Jig was looking and screaming in defiance at the stopping stone where the creature was trying to claw its way through the pure granite with its blood soaked hands. Its mouth biting into thin air and the clouded eyes staring at Jig and the cave.

It did not try to climb over the stone which a person could have done, even an injured one, instead it just tried to force its way through. Sometimes it bumped into the rock so hard that it bounced back several feet, but it always tried again, constantly moaning a begging kind of a sound.

“When did it come up the path?” Vig asked the boy.

“I watched it just standing there for a long time. Seeing it walk over the body of its mother angered me, so I threw a stone trying to hit its head and kill it,” Jig said in a proud voice.

“After I had thrown the stone it started walking up the path, so I threw more stones to kill it, but even when I hit its head it did not stop, it just kept coming.”

Vig could not help himself, he slapped the boy hard across his cheek, making him fall to the ground whimpering.

“That stupid little boy, why could he not just have done what he was told to do, just watch. How in the name of the mother goddess can we now pin it down? I should throw him to the monster and have one less mouth to feed,” were some of the thoughts that rush through his mind.

Some people had been looking out through the entrance, and they now watched him with something approaching despise. Vig took a couple of deep breaths, let his anger simmer down a bit, reached out, and dragged the boy up on his feet.

“You did something very bad Jig, now the monster knows where we are,” he said without being able to hide his anger completely, “But what is done is done, and I am sure you will do what your told from now on!”

The boy did not look up, just nodded as he held a hand over his face where Vig had struck him.

“Now sit behind the pelts, watch the creature but do not let it see you, and if you throw another rock the next thing that will be thrown at it will be you.”

Jig went behind the pelts and started watching as tears were falling down his cheeks.

“That stupid little boy will get me killed,” Vig thought, as inside he was still fuming with rage.

Something had snapped, Vig had always been good at hiding his selfishness but now a last barrier had been broken, snapped with an almost audible crack.

He wanted to break the boy in two, but looking around he realise that something like that would turn the whole clan against him, and he needed them, so he did nothing except going back inside, uncontrollably snapping his fingers as he did so.

Tirak never went out so Vig told him what happened, leaving out the way he had treated the boy. Tirak must have suspected something had happened as he gave him a queer look when he sat down.

“So now we know that the creature can not climb the stopping stone, maybe this can work to our advantage,” Tirak said half to himself.

“We could use some spears and push it over the edge, then quickly run down before it manages to get up and nail it to the ice. If it walks down the path we use the leather strips and drag it to the ground and do the same.”

Vig still unintentionally snapping his fingers shook his head at first, but the more he thought about it the more plausible it sounded. He had seen how stiff and stupid the creature was, it did not even try to climb the stone just banged its head against it, over and over again.

It would be dangerous, very dangerous especially for him, and he really did not want to fight another demon again. Who could he hand this task over to, his mind raced trying to find someone but drew a blank, it was a task only he could do.

“What then? We can not kill it, and we can not live here, even if we could stand being so close to it.”

“We must leave, as leave we would have to do anyway. We must go to the ancient ones, it is the only way!” exclaimed Tirak more forcefully than anything else he had said before.

Vig thought about it, tried to find some other alternative, something that would be easier for him, give him a greater chance to survive, no matter who else he had to sacrifice. They might be able to kill the creature, but would he manage to walk all the way to the ancient ones on his swollen ankle? Would the rest of the clan leave him behind if he couldn't keep up?

As his mind went over scenario after scenario his fingers snapped ever harder until finally he saw Tiraks inquisitive look, making him take notice of what he was doing. He mentally forced his hand to stop snapping but then it started to shake instead, so he sat on it, feeling the vibration oscillating up through his leg.

“Yes, you are right, it is the only way. I will tell people to start packing as we should leave while we still have some food left, and you should start making more leather nooses, I will cut some straps for you.”

Vig wanted to get away, he felt like Tiraks eyes kept staring at his hand, feeling like a boy getting caught doing something he shouldn't have done. So rather than stay and argue for an action that would put him out of harms way he just agreed to get away.

He told the clan to start packing all belongings they could carry especially any flint objects they had, and instructed some people to cut leather straps and bring them to Tirak. That done he went to Jig to see what was happening outside.

“He tried to walk through the stone a couple of more times, but now he is just standing there sniffing the air, like he does not know what to do,” said Jig.

Vig pushed the boy aside and peered out through the hanging pelts, but he could not see the creature at the stopping stone. He started listening intently and thought he could hear a faint moan just as the boy moved which drowned out the sound. His temperament instantly flamed up, and before he could stop himself he slapped the boy down to the ground, “Stupid boy, can't you do anything right.”

He did not need to turn around to know what people were thinking or what they would be whispering behind his back. He knew he should not be hard on the boy but he could not help it, he was just so rattled by everything that the smallest thing would set him off.

“The old rules do not apply any more, it's pure survival, everyone for himself,” the voice in his head kept repeating as he started to snap his fingers again.

After some time Vig got down on his knees and crawled out on the ledge. Seeing nothing he ventured closer to the stone itself, sweat dripping down his neck, his ankle hurting every time it touched the ground, especially when it made contact with the small pebbles embedded in the snow.

The stopping stone did not fit perfect against the side of the hill, but it made a good enough job of stopping bigger predators, so it served its purpose. Through the crack between the hill and the stone he saw the creature moving back and forward on the path, maybe 50 meters away, hitting the side of the hill, stumbling on rocks, but never falling over the other side.

“Go right, just go right...,” Vig said, like he could will it to the right, but what had been Askil did not get effected by Vigs wishes.

A sound of falling pebbles made Vig turn around. Jig had crept out, managed to dislodge some small rocks that loudly fell down the hillside. That did not only get Vigs attention but also the creature's, it turned around and started stumbling up the path again moaning loudly. Vig stood up, disregarding if the creature could see him or not and half stomped, half limped, to Jig, grabbed his neck and started dragging him towards the stone.

“I told you what I would do,” he screamed to the struggling boy.

Tirak, who had been watching the exchange, went out and grabbed Vigs arm, with more strength than expected, and said two words, “Let go.”

Those two words snapped him out of the rage, fear and panic that had made him lash out, and he released the boy.

“Get out of my sight or I will really throw you to the beast.”

Jig hurried to get up on his feet and ran into the cave, getting as far away as possible from the beast and the equally scary Vig.

Tirak and Vig stared at each other, the hand of the old man still holding Vigs arms in a firm grip.

“Will you get a hold of yourself,” the old wise man said.

“Let go off my arm,” replied Vig.

The old man looked at him for a second longer and then released his hand, gave him another long look before he went into the cave, leaving him alone on the ledge. Vig lowered his shaking hand to his side, where it stopped shaking as he started snapping his fingers instead.

He watched the creature walking into the stone which made his red hot anger cool down, getting replaced with a growing fear that also drove him back inside the cave.

People looked at him with doubt, or was it condescension mixed with some fear, but they kept quiet and continued packing.

Chapter 3

After they had packed and prepared meat for travelling, which did not taken long, they cooked some broth for nourishment and then waited.

Vig did little, mostly standing watching the creature who for a long time just kept walking into the stone. After several hours it just stopped and disappeared, presumably it had lost interest and walked out of view. Vig assumed it had gone down the path again, but how far down he did not know.

When it did not appear again he walked back to his place, sat down and waved for Jig to join him. An uncomfortable drone of murmured voice rose around the cave, but no one said anything out loud.

Jig was visibly hesitating to go, but he really had no choice. He was an orphan after his father had died during a hunt and his mother had coughed herself to death in a sickness they called the white death, which left him without any family protection within the clan, placing him at the bottom of the hierarchy. People would not like to see him mistreated but they would not sacrifice themselves to protect him, so he really had no choice but to go when he was summoned.

Vig did not smile as he sat down, but he did not show any undue anger either, no matter how irritated he was. He needed Jig to be the bait that would make it possible for them to escape. If he could have done anything he wanted, he would just have thrown the boy to the creature, let it feast on his flesh and then take it down, but that he could not do. The clan was a strong organism but it could be broken, and Vig needed them, so he had to restrain himself.

“Look at me boy,” he said, waiting for Jigs face to look up.

The boy lifted his head slowly, afraid to get Vig mad, which was a smart move on his part.

“Now listen here. You have done some very stupid things, things that could have gotten us all killed, and if you don't start acting like a man that is what will happen, we will all die, do you understand?”

The boy just looked at him.

“Now, we will have to try and defeat this creature...”

“You mean Askil?” Jig said in a low voice.

“Does that creature seem like Askil to you,” replied Vig angrily.

“No, I just meant...”

Vig shook his head, “Don't think, just listen and you might just survive. Maybe you will even show that you are a man instead of just a stupid boy. Can you do that, or should I just throw you to the creature and be done with you?”

Now the boy nodded, and then empathetically shook his head at the threat, “I will be a man.”

“Good,” said Vig, and patted the boys back awkwardly one time.

“You will have a special task when we take down this demon. You are quick on your feet, so I will give you the best spear we have and you will keep the demon occupied while we place leather straps around him like so,” showing the boy how the leather noose fitted over his finger, and how the noose closed when he pulled on the end.

He looked scared again. Jig was not very big, starvation had kept him small and skinny, so the task seemed very daunting to him.

“I...I can not hold it in place, it is to strong.”

“You either do this or I will feed you to the creature,” stated Vig, tired of reasoning with the boy, all the time snapping his fingers as he talked.

“I will do it,” Jig said quickly, afraid to simply be thrown to the demon, showing some false courage that did not translate into his still shaky and low voice.

“Good! Show me you are a real man and I will forgive what you have done. Do really good and I will bring you into my family.”

Vig did not know about the carrot and the stick, but nevertheless that was the principle he used, offering threats and rewards to make people do what he wanted them to do. Manipulation before that word had been invented.

The possibility to get higher in the clan was a real reward, and being associated with the leader was the quickest way to achieve that, so Jig felt a bit better. He was still scared, but the risk versus the great reward seemed to make him at least functional.

After Vig had dismissed the boy Tarik came over and sat down next to him, “You want Jig to fight?”

Vig looked at him and said, “He is the only one that can. He is too short, and fumbles too much to put the noose around the creature. With a spear he at least has a chance, giving us a chance in return.”

“I could do it,” said Tarik.

“Your to old, and we can not loose you. We will need your counsel when we talk with the ancient ones. No, Jig has to do it.”

He should feel regret over this boy sacrifice, he knew he should, but he didn't. People had looked up to him, seen him as their most merciful leader, but he had never done it for them, only for himself.

Vig fed everyone, even the old or hurt, not for their sake, but for the standing that gave him in the clan, and that standing made it possible for him to do almost whatever he wanted to do. So he rationalized why he needed to survive and why Jig needed to die. Inside he was scared, angry, frustrated, doubting himself, but most of all he wanted to live. All those emotions boiled into a person that seemed unstable and prone to sudden acts of violence, directed mostly at the boy, something the clan had started to pick up on.

Vig made everyone wait; he wanted the creature as far away as possible from the stone, and being scared he also wanted to postpone it all as long as he could. The moaning still kept coming into the cave, an unnerving sound that some of the people tried to escape by covering their ears.

As the afternoon passed and the moaning stopped, people started to get restless. The talking grew louder with some fragmented sentences about his inactivity, so he had to do something.

Vig finally crawled out of the cave and carefully made his way down to the stone, there peering out through the cracks. The creature had not moved far away, it stood just a bit down the path looking confused, slowly turning its head from side to side as it sniffed and chewed the air.

Looking around he found a small unevenly shaped pebble that he weighed in his hand as he kept watching the abomination.

After some moments of hesitation he made up his mind and threw the pebble in a high arch over the creatures head, making sure it would fall on the hillside with the hope that it would make as much noise as possible on its way down.

The rattle of stones and snow intermingled with some chipped off ice pieces got the creatures attention. It suddenly looked like a thing with an all consuming purpose, sniffing, turning its head quicker, letting out a moan and after just a few seconds it started walking down the path out of Vigs sight. The moaning faded as the creature walked away, putting some distance between it and the stone.

Vig remained on the gravelled covered snow to make sure the creature did not come back. When the cold started to creep through his cloths, making his body shiver ever so slightly, and it was still out of view, he lifted his head just a bit.

His hearth started pumping faster as the fear of being grabbed got more acute, but still he could not see it. So he lifted his upper body at bit more when something grabbed his jacket, and as he pulled harder something tugged harder at it, making him almost screamed right out.

It took a few seconds before Vig realised the arm had only got snagged. After some deep slow breaths he freed the arm and continued to raise his body until he could see the creature, it was about half way down the path standing still, having lost interest in the sound that was there no more.

He had unconsciously kept his breath when he saw it, but now he let it out as he lowered his body until he was again on the ground out of sight, and then he quickly crawled back to the cave.

Again sitting by the fire he waved for the people to gather closer to him, but showed with one finger that they should be quiet about it.

“The creature is down the path, but it is too late to do anything about it today. Tomorrow we will fight it, kill it if we can, pin it to the ground if we can not. When it is neutralised we will leave, all of us, and go to the ancient ones. Jig will distract it, I will put a noose around its head and pull it down to the ground, then you,” here he pointed to four women, “will bring spears, stone and more leather straps. The demon is attracted by sounds, so you all have to be quiet now and tomorrow,” he half whispered to them.

He made sure everyone understood their tasks, and made double sure that Jig understood his. When he was satisfied, he told them to get plenty of sleep as it would be a hard day tomorrow. Finally he asked for some meat, which he got from someone, he did not know who.

The sun was now so low that evening and night came quickly, and as it did they let the fire die down to not attract the demon's attention.

With no light in the cave, worrying for tomorrow, and nobody except Vig having had any real food in any quantity, they did not sleep much. People were thinking about what was coming tomorrow, with Jig in particular running through all the horrible things that could happen to him. He saw the creature biting into him, ripping out his flesh, Vig throwing him to the creature laughing madly as he himself screamed.

Tirak went over to Jig when there was still some amber coals giving a faint light, putting his hand on the young boys shoulder, “Don't worry it will be fine, and remember that we will be there also.”

The boy nodded, maybe the kid felt a little bit better, maybe he would do all right tomorrow.

“Just keep moving, the creature is slow and you are fast so you will do fine, and when you do Vig will look kinder on you,” he said, knowing that the boy was not fast and that Vig did not seem to look too kindly on anyone these days, least of all Jig, no matter what he would do.

Vig had assigned some of the younger children to keep a lookout, but as he also had his doubts about the coming day, sleep alluded him. During the night he kept looking out into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of it. The spasmodic low moans told him it was not far off, it was still out there looking for something to kill and consume.

Vigs logic knew it was better that way, as long it did not wandered off they could take care of it, but his spine felt cold and his hand shook violently every time he heard that primordial sound.

As the night passed and the sun started to climb over the mountains Vig did a final check, he could not see it but he could hear it moan, and that was good news in a bad way.

The whole clan was ready and waiting for him, no one had really gotten any sleep. He asked them to remain quiet and told Jig to come with him.

“Bring the spear and don't make a sound,” he whispered.

Jig nodded, grabbed the spear, topping over a clay bowl that luckily did not break. Vigs anger flared up again, he wanted to scream and hit him, but he kept his anger bottled up.

“Be more careful,” was the only thing he whispered, nothing more, but in his mind he saw himself ripping the boys head off.

At the opening he held his palm out, showing that Jig should wait there. He made sure the leather strips were sturdy and that the greased up nooses could slide easily, and only after that did he crawl out.

His ankle still hurt, but wrapping it up tightly managed the pain OK, and that also gave him some extra mobility. Slowly he crept forward, then paused and listened intently if the creature seemed to notice him or not, when it didn't he crept on.

At the stone he slowly got up on his knees and looked through the crack from which he could see the path going all the way down to the plain below. The creature was now moving around what had once been its mother. It did the same thing it had done before, walked a bit, stopped, sniffed, moaned, then walked again in something of a crazy concentric circle around the body.

Vig crawled back to Jig, “The creature is down on the plain, but it will come up the path as soon as it can sense us. You will stand by that outcrop, just beyond the stopping stone, and when it comes you will keep it there until I can put the noose around its head. I will lay on top of the outcrop, so don't let it get by you or you will die, understand!”

Jig looked at him while holding his spear so hard that his fingers turn pure white, and nodded.

“Now wait here while I make sure the others are ready.”

Vig went around to everyone in the cave and repeated what they should do, and when to do it, but most of all to come out as soon as they heard a commotion. Their task was simple, when the creature was down on the ground they would move the stopping stone and hand spears to Vig so he could pin it firmly to the ground.

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