800 years ago
“The wind smells of death today.” The old man wrinkled his nose and tipped back his head, squinting as his keen eyes followed the canyon rim. “A stranger watches us.” The words of her grandfather sent a stab of fear through Kaya’s heart.
“You are old and imagine things.” Her grandmother scolded and stirred the pot of corn gruel with a flourish.
“Heed my words, old woman. Watch yourself today. There are strangers near the canyon.”
“No dog barks. No warrior on watch sees what you see. Your senses fail you.” She hurried around her cooking pot and scooped mush into bowls.
Kaya sat quietly, listening, swallowing her fear ahead of her breakfast. Shooting a wary glance to the towering canyon walls, at her grandmother’s nod, Kaya took pottery bowls and began to pass them, first to her grandfather then to her two older brothers.
Kaya looked down as she took another bowl from the weathered hands. Pretend as she might, the old woman hadn’t taken her husband’s warnings lightly either. Distracted by the conversation, her grandmother had stepped back from the coals of the fire with tiny wisps of smoke coming from her dry yucca sandal. As they exchanged a glance and the last of the breakfast bowls, Kaya saw the tired look in the old one’s eyes.
Kaya was young, just seventeen but she, too, felt the exhaustion of constant fear and worry. Even her two broad-shouldered brothers across the fire ate in silence. They knew that it was only a matter of time before their grandfather’s words became their own self-fulfilling prophecy.
Few villages remained, and in the end, no village would be spared. The truth was cold and brutal, but all knew it was their inevitable destiny.
Raven squatted on the canyon rim, watching the waking village below. The eyes of six warriors peered back at him from beneath full war paint, as they quietly dispersed themselves along the rocky ledge. He shook his head and raised his hand. Now was not the time to attack.
They would wait. If what he was searching for were here, he would know soon enough. If not, all would follow him, or be destroyed. Rolling back on his heels, he made himself more comfortable. A ripple of movement across the canyon rim told him the others followed suit.
The day was just beginning. The wait could be long. Timing was of the utmost importance when less than twenty warriors must do the work of a hundred.
As the moment of quiet overtook him, his thoughts wandered through the past months and their bloody reign of terror. The sickened feeling was fleeting. Like the emotions stirred by the smell of death and the sight of human blood on his hands, the remorse was short-lived. The more he killed, the more jaded he became to the horror and guilt that tried to remind him of who he used to be.