He reaches the gate and draws back into the woods . . .
There he sits, listening to the forest talk. Night comes and it is dark under the trees. Soon he hears the Gatherers laugh as they begin returning for the evening.
Looking away from the village he stares at his calloused palms and watches how his fingers bend. The small finger he grabs and straightens where it was broken. It makes a crunching sound as it moves. He removes the grasses from his back and knots them over the stone head and sinews of the staff, same as he did the night before.
Taking out the firestones he ignites the tinder in his hand and with that the dried knot at the end of the staff. He then enters the village and tosses the flaming tinder onto the thatched roof of the Leader’s hut and walks down the row of poles with the staff burning before him. He removes the obsidian spear from his back. The darkened village glows under his light, and the poles drop long shadows on the ground that rotate as he moves by them like the sun in the day.
The Gatherers march up the steep trail and into the village by the promontory. Those in the lead stop when they are cast by his light. Not one of them moves. It is as though they are plants with blinking eyes. Then Marnea shouts, and Meckle pushes through the still Gatherers and out into the village between poles by the platform. Other Warriors run up behind him in a wave that stops as he does.
The Leader’s hut now hisses in flames, and Meckle looks from that to the flaming staff and recognizes Pyramie for the first time, holding it in one hand while his other extends out slicing downward.
At that Meckle focuses in on the point of the spear as it throbs toward him. For a brief instant he moves to duck but the obsidian buries itself into his skull and he slumps to the dirt before the other Warriors – twitching. The Warriors and Hunters remain where they are, with looks of confusion, anger, and fear, while Pyramie holds out the flaming staff. The club hangs over his back with another spear. He wears his own animal skins that were forbidden to the Gatherers.
Beside him the Leader and the Mother run out of their burning hut together, frightened. Stumbling, they stop when they see him with the fire in the darkness. The Leader turns to reenter but the inferno drives him back.
Not a single Warrior moves until one lobs a spear from afar. It buries into the ground. Retrieving it, Pyramie stops to assay its weight, then flings it across the village in a low arc where it lands in the mouth of the man who threw it, protruding from the back of his neck, splashing gore and bone on the ground. He then pulls the wood spear from off his shoulders and darts a Hunter across the row who was aiming another in his direction. Other Warriors fall back to the forest edge now, their spears remaining up, but the use of them seems no longer known to them.
Some of the Gatherers edge closer to Pyramie; focusing on the flame he carries on the staff. A few Warriors cautiously follow them entranced by the flame as well, along with the Leader. However, the Mother is not. Instead, she gapes at the head with its eyes wrapped in animal skin dangling from the twist at his waist.
“Ashirah!” she begins crying, and thrusts her hand to her mouth as she rends her animal covering exposing the tattoo that spirals around her breasts in a star cluster. The Gatherers hear her and begin to mutter, “Ashirah, Ashirah,” as they point to the head with its open mouth and squeeze closer.
“Why mother, would you enslave us when you are our brethren?” He asks. The Gatherers all are behind him.
“You are from the dirt and I am from the stars, Gatherer child.”
“But you will bleed like we do.”
She seems appalled that he would say such things to her and cries out, “Kill him! Kill him, now!” None of the Warriors heed her words. They watch. Some look to Meckle, who lies lifeless on the ground, the spear erect from his maw. Others look to the Leader who does nothing.
Pyramie then strides to the Mother and plunges the flaming staff so it stands glowing in the ground before her. She whimpers. He cuts the gray hair at his waist with the blade and holds the head out before him like the object itself casts light and cuts darkness.
“You should have this,” he says. “She is only a woman, too.” And he pushes the head with its ragged neck into the Mother’s upright chest. As she recoils, she tosses it away from herself into the dirt, flinching and screaming, disgusted in anger and revulsion.
In that moment, the Leader reaches out to grab Pyramie. “You are a Gatherer,” he shouts. He steps forward to stop him.
“I am no one, and you can’t kill me!” Pyramie barks and gouges the Leader’s gut with the blade backhanded. The Leader struggles to keep himself from falling. He gurgles black blood between his fingers and empties himself onto the ground in a pile, and dies, screaming at the flaming staff, as he pitches into his mud at the feet of the Gatherers who have enveloped them now.
When she sees this, the Mother herself begins talking in words that Pyramie has never heard. The Gatherers are close around them now and those Warriors with them have dropped their spears to the ground. Some are on their knees.
Pyramie turns away from her as the Gatherers push in, muffling her cries of, “you can’t touch me,” until her sounds are inaudible, entombed in the warm groping flesh of Gatherers standing in their bare feet in the blood of the Leader.
Pyramie takes the staff back up and retrieves Ashirah’s head from the ground where the Mother let her fall. She is smeared and he brushes her face clean. The skin blindfold still covers her eyes, and he holds her outstretched by the hair together in the same hand as the flaming staff. With the club in the other he drives deeper into the village.
Holding her up like this he walks to the witchdoctor’s hut, where the Followers pour out from the opening. Near the fence he begins clubbing them down, until another spear lands beside him in the dirt, and yet another strikes a Follower coming through the door of the hut.
Pyramie then turns to the Warriors. “I am No One. You cannot kill me,” he shouts to those at the village edge who have not joined the Gatherers over the Mother.
Another spear passes close to his head and lands in the chest of an already-dead Follower.
“You can’t kill me! I am the terror!” He shakes Ashirah’s head by its blood-matted silver hair. “I have taken Ashirah on the high place! I have killed the others! The Mother and the Leader fall at my feet! I am the terror! I am No One! I have learned the fire and you cannot kill me!” The Gatherers are listening, along with some Warriors and Hunters and the Elders.
One of the Warriors shouts back, and No One pitches his club underhand. It travels the length of a fallen tree and mangles that Warrior’s face, smashing bone and tooth, splaying open lips, knocking him moaning into the dirt. The others fade away from him.
He turns again to the witchdoctor’s hut. Ashirah’s head dangles from the long gray hair between his bloody fingers. The skin that was wrapped there he pulls away. In the flicker from the fire her eyes sparkle.
He enters the hut. Red embers glow in the center. The witchdoctor begins to shower sparks at him. He thrusts forth her head with the staff. Dahtah’s painted face glows in the light and he screams when he sees it and sinks back into his bramble throne punctuated by tiny skulls. He drops the flints to the cobbled floor. The virgins are with him, and he holds the boys and girls together close to him writhing like fish.
“My fire,” Pyramie shouts, brandishing the torch. But Dahtah’s sparks have ignited some pots in the corner: one emanates a green smoke; another shoots flames like yellow lightning from the ground.
The roof now erupts. Pyramie looks to the children who cling to the witchdoctor in their nakedness like he is their mother’s milk. Pyramie pries some of them away and forces them out the door. But the smoke inside falls thick and heavy from the roof in yellowish wafts that obscure the room. Pyramie must retreat over the sound of shrieking children as some of them attempt to return through the flap that he forces back into the village. Then the roof collapses with green and yellow smoke and blue flames.
When he turns to shield himself from the waft of heat and flying embers, Kakoaw hobbles toward him on his mangled leg using a gnarled branch for support and holding something in his outstretched hands. He holds a flower made from twisted leaves. Pyramie accepts this gift from the bowing cripple and charges to the altar.
The Astarte follow him as he crosses the village still holding the head outstretched before him with the staff. The preferred woman carries the Mother’s peacock feathers beside him like they are her purpose. Marnea begs from her knees as he passes.
Casting light onto the rostrum and altar, he stands on the platform edge looking down. There he finds blackness and drops the flaming staff. It illuminates the tall rock where the bones lie. There the painted canines look up from a body, their foamy jowls caked in gore. He holds the head up in the light of the burning village and gazes into her eyes. The afterglow is gone and he dangles her off the promontory and drops her down to the canines.
The fires tamp down. Only the glow of embers remains. The people sleep together strewn on the platform and altar in the low red light of the murmuring cinders. Pyramie sits with his legs dangled over the promontory cliff watching the savannah as the great coal lifts itself from earth’s crust at the end of the world.