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As the lion pulls down the old and sick and the cheetah takes the very young, this hunter may not choose only the unwhole. The other grandmothers beat the rhythm upon the drums again and wailed a high keening note. It was nothing to lose their eldest to summon the Eldest, nothing and everything. Those who could bear to watch did so and later said — in the deep of a moonless night, which was the only time any could be prevailed upon to speak of it — that the eldest and the Eldest appeared to speak for a moment, and then the Eldest leaned over and kissed the eldest on her wrinkled forehead and took her in her arms as a mother embraces her daughter.

The fire flared back into roaring sound, light, and heat and then just as abruptly snuffed out in a gust of wind. The grandmothers, after a long moment of total silence, drew close to the circle in which the fire had burned. In the center, pillowed on cold ashes, was a woman, almost a girl. Her hair was black and curled tightly against her skull.

Her eyes, when she opened them, were clear and brown. Her mouth, when she spoke, held all her teeth. She could not have been older than a new mother, perhaps sixteen or seventeen summers. Yet, when she spoke, it was with the oldest grandmother's voice, wisdom, and knowledge.

She embraced each of her sisters, for the grandmothers had seen each other through births, deaths, matings, and all the other terrors of life. She called each by name and bade them goodbye, for it is not proper for the hunter to speak to those it hunts.

She left them and was not seen again, not by waking folk or by those whose hearts still beat the next morning. Long after the grandmothers who summoned the Eldest had died, and their grandchildren had died, white and withered, the grandmothers of the tribe understood that this was the price. The people remained human. Any who were born and became strange, interested in pain and causing it, rarely made it to the age of mating. If, rarely, a girl or woman who was not unwhole was lost, it was said that she had become a hunter and would protect the people against the unwhole.

Every few generations, a hunter might come across a deep place in the earth, where night always stood, and the feeling of the cool, damp earth was that of crouched death. The wiser of the hunters would whisper a short prayer and back out carefully, never to return and never to mention it to another soul. Once — only once — was a hunter so foolish as to tell his friends and insist they come with them. Among them, they decided to rid themselves of a rival by tying him with thongs and leaving him in the cave, watching from a safe distance to be sure of the man's end.

When the grandmother, the hunter of the people, emerged and found a terrified man, wide eyed and gagged, she paused. A simple look into him proved that he was no monster, only a man frightened out of his wits. She held his mind in the palm of hers and broke the thongs which bound him. As he did, she moved in the manner of a large cat intent on prey.

The men hiding around the cave ran, but none made it more than the length of his own body. When the hapless man returned to his mate, he wept in relief and horror. He was alive, and three men were dead. The grandmother, the hunter of his people, had broken one's neck by twisting his head around, torn the throat out of the second with her claws, and the third, the hunter who had found her lair, she had bent his head back and held him like a lover, and then drank his blood like a thirsty man drinking water from a skin.

She was the third daughter of the man with the second largest herd, and her mother had died shortly after she was weaned. She was clear-eyed and intelligent, and spent much of her childhood caring for her sisters and brothers. As she grew closer to womanhood, she took notice of the younger son of the chief's mother. He was strong and clean-limbed, a good hunter, and a man who respected the prerogatives of the women in the village. She found, on the evening when the shepherds returned with their flocks for the spring slaughter, that he would distribute two or three tender kids to the old women and men and the children who had lost both parents to Grandmother Death.

Once, he brought her the skin of his finest goat, and gifted it to her. It was a skin of high quality, unmarred and covered in silky brown hair. It was a clear sign that he was interested in being her mate, when she was of an age to take one. Her grandmother took note and spoke to the chief's mother of the matter, and it was agreed upon that they would be good mates together and would raise healthy children. The tribe looked upon it as something that would come about when the time was right, as they looked forward to the rains and the sunrise.

And then, on a night when the moon would not show its face, the girl was called from her sleep by a song. She awoke to find the rest of her village deeply asleep. Even the boys who would stay awake almost until the morning, watching the herds and the huts, were slumped in sleep. The dogs that watched their village slept, and the dark sky was filled with music that made her chest ache with grief and hope.

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She rose and left her sleeping skins behind, pausing only to wrap shawl woven from the fleece of the sheep of the chieftain's herd around her shoulders. The music called her with a beat that made her ribs vibrate in time.


It shone from the direction of the river-that-runs-after-heavy-rains with a clarity that rivaled the morning sun's. She followed it, walking through the village, past the central fire, and beyond the wards tied to trees encircling the huts. She paused only once, to look at the sky and the arching, nebulous glow that stretched across the bowl that sheltered the world and her people.

It was a fairly long walk. She had to cross the empty bed of the river, leaving clear footprints in the mud of the middle channel. She saw the glowing eyes of predators, but they did not come any closer, and she continued to walk without fear. When she came through a knot of trees, she found a woman standing in a clearing, and beyond her were more women.

As she stepped closer, the other women formed a loose circle around her. She knew now what would happen, and found that her mind was clear and no worry or fear stood in it. The woman stood, as night did in the sky, clear and calm. Her hair, eyes, and teeth were untouched by age. We are the hunters, the protectors. We take from your people those who would do them harm.

Lilith's Daughters by phouka

We walk with the night, and we walk with death. There was a moment when the girl thought of her father, her sisters, her brothers, and most especially, the youth she wished to be mated to. You will keep them in health and watch the world change and grow, and in time, when the world is as far removed from this as a crone is from the infant she was born as, you will meet your end. The girl considered the woman before her and those around her. Each — tall and short, slender as a reed and solid as a stone, pretty and ugly — was beautiful as the night around them. Strength and grace radiated from each.

To be strong, to protect her people, to have sisters that would never age or die…. The woman before her held out her arms, as though welcoming a daughter home. The other women stepped closer, until the girl was surrounded. She stepped into the woman's embrace and accepted a kiss on the forehead. The music, which had fallen away, re-emerged, its beat rattling her bones. Her breath quickened.

As the woman held her close, the girl found her head tilting back, almost in sleep, exposing her throat. She felt the other women take her hands and hold them up so that her arms were extended to either side of her. The bites — at throat, wrists, and elbows — hurt, but it was a pain that did not matter.

As her mind swam and she began to arch in a strange ecstasy, she felt in her turn the minds of all those around her.

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They were sharp as a well-knapped blade, welcoming, and clear as settled water. They sang to her, and as her knees buckled under the weight of her body, they supported her. Death rose within and around her, like a low place filling with water. Hands held her, and the pain of the bites retreated.

Lilith's Lullabies

Her head filled with a buzzing grayness. Something was held to her mouth. She tasted blood. It was gone, and another took its place, and another, and another. Later, she would understand that each woman had opened a vein and returned some of what they'd taken to her, thus completing the bond.