Chapter I

She could smell the oncoming approach first, felines and most carnivorous mammals have a very distinctive smell. Every animal in the jungle has a definitive scent, reptiles though are hardest to detect since their essence is camouflaged with the jungle’s and can’t be tracked until directly on you.
Jane Weaver crouched over her freshly killed gazelle preparing to use two pieces of rope to tie its front legs and back legs together in order to bring it home. The sun was strong out in the dry grasslands, in the open land there was no protection from the intense heat and pretty soon a famished scavenger would smell death in the air and come scouting for the source. Blood and death always attracted predators and despite her best efforts that appeared to be exactly what transpired.
Now she found herself paces away from her rifle, eye to eye with a very hungry female lion, positioned strategically on an overlooking boulder, switching its starving gaze from the gazelle to Jane.
Her father would have been greatly disappointed in her if he could see her now, it was a mistake leaving her gun out of reach. He always taught her to treat one’s surrounding with respect and leaving your rifle out of grasp was a profane act that would result in death.
The lioness took a few steps forward, Jane instantly placed her hand on the hilt of the knife resting in her belt, she rose into a partial crouching position so her body was huddled over the dead gazelle to establish dominance and letting the opposing predator know that she would not be intimidated.The hungry female stepped off the edge of the boulder onto the dry dirt, moving within a few steps from striking distance.
Jane watched as the lioness prepared to take another step forward, she straightened her legs fully standing, simultaneously removing her knife with its blade facing to the ground for a better defensive strike. She then stepped across the gazelle placing her right leg over the dead animal in a wide stance to fully cover her kill.
 Jane could see the realization in the beast’s eyes, the lioness knew this would not be an easy loot, it understood that she would have to battle for the gazelle and would not leave unscathed or even alive.
The women never broke eye contact, Jane began to perspire even more than she already was, feeling the weight of the intense heat bearing down on her undeterred by the protection of her brown wide brimmed hat. Despite the heat Jane was prepared to outlast the resolve of the predator and secretly hoped that the famished female did not have the energy for a battle.
The lioness let out a soft moan of disappointment, sniffed the air and moved into a dried brush at its left disappearing into the thicket of dried grass. Jane remained in position for an extra long moment with knife in hand to make sure there wasn’t an ambush waiting for an attack.
 She knelt down to tie up the kill, first its front legs then its back two, Jane Weaver then stepped to her  backpack placed next to her gun and took out a canteen gulping down two mouth fulls of water. She replaced the canteen put the backpack on, picked up her rifle and surveyed the area. Jane walked over and grabbed the rope tying the rear legs of the gazelle together and began dragging her kill through the dry plane.
She moved promptly doing her best not to make extensive noise, keeping both eyes out for every bush and high grass that may be hiding any oncoming scavengers.
Her eyes and ears keeping track of her surrounding as she came to the end of the flat rocky dehydrated grassland and approached the boundary of thick densely covered forest.
She stopped at the edge of the forest and smelt the air at the jungle opening, searching for any irregularities, then turned and looked to scan over the open range she just covered.
 Straightening her back she released the grip she had  on the rope of the tied gazelle in order to check her rifle, after a moment of resting her arm she grabbed the rope and stepped forward into the dark rich flora, confidently navigating through the masked path she followed many times before.
Her home was deep into the thicket of jungle near a large rocky hill, well hidden from anyone attempting to follow.
At first appearance it would look like a group of boulders mixed in with some bushes and an elephant graveyard piled on, but a closer examination (for anyone that dreaded to at their own peril) it would reveal the opening to a domicile of a skilled huntress.
She used large bones from a dead elephant to extend out a cave entrance into a half tent. The inside of the tent used large elephant ribs set into the ground as reinforcement of the the walls,a thick leather canvass covered the braces and various types of elephant bones piled for the walls on the outside cemented into place with clay.
The tent had an opening protected with a dried leather flap, and a hole in the center roof directly above a large hole dug into the ground for a fire pit that was filled with thick pieces of wood, metal bars were laid across holding two medium sized metal pots full of water.
The caves entrance was directly opposite that of the tent, it was a large hole into the rock about the size of a short man. The cavern was deeper than it was wide, a majority of the floor was carpeted with patches of various animal pelts, natural rock shelves on the sides were decorated with clay pots, tribal sculptures of various figures and two small unlit lamps.
In the right rear corner of the cavern was a bed made of stitched hides of leopard, cheetah and lion, packed with an assortment of dried grass and leaves, there was a large tiger’s fur for a blanket.
On the floor extending from her bed to the wall  was a thick skin of a snake with different types of hunting and filleting knives displayed out on it. Next to the assortment of knives was a medium sized rifle, a large elephant gun, bags of gun powder and bullets as well as two hand revolvers.
Over her bed on two parallel rock ledges were  two feline skulls in decent condition and one very large crocodile skull in excellent condition.
 Jane walked up to the opening of the bone tent and let go of the gazelle. She dropped her pack in the bone tent and lit the fire under the pots, then took her rifle into her cave and lit both of the lamps on the rock ledge. Removing her hat and jacket she threw them into the left corner of the cave and moved to the end of her bedroom placing her rifle next to the others. Jane then took out her hunting knife and placed it among the other knives, grabbed a fillet knife and a large serrated edged blade, put them in her belt along with one of the handguns and turned to leave.
With  revolver and  two knives in her belt, donning just a hemp shirt-she grabbed  two metal buckets from inside the bone tent and brought them outside next to the gazelle. Jane walked with buckets in hand a couple minutes distance into the forest towards a clearing around a large tree, in the clearing were three wild dogs fighting over a large bone and sniffing the surrounding area. Standing at the edge of the clearing she quietly placed the buckets on the ground, removed her handgun and fired two close shots into the dirt directly near the dogs. The sound of the blasts echoed the forest and the dogs yipped and howled into the black jungle. She purposely shot close enough to scare them in order to deter them returning any time soon, but by all accounts did not want to hurt them A wounded dog would be ripped apart by its own kind with in minutes and that would have been a vicious act with out any desired purpose, except for pure cruelty.
Jane brought the buckets next to the tree and walked back to the bone tent retrieving the gazelle. A large rope leading up over a high branch of the center tree hung down connected to a hook that sat in the dirt , the other end of the rope lead into a winch that was nailed into the tree’s base.
Jane brought the gazelle to the hook and put it under the rope tying the rear legs of the animal, she went over to the winch and cranked its lever raising the gazelle. When the beast’s head was a little more than a small child’s height off the ground she clicked the hold to keep it into place.
 Jane removed the serrated knife from her belt and slid the edge across the gazelle’s neck spilling blood all over the jungle floor, she continued to cut off the beast’s fur and placed the pieces into one of the buckets, she would later boil and make these into thick leather for patch work on her clothing.
 She set to work removing the organs and muscle putting them into the other bucket. As she removed each part Jane mentally separated them into the good parts she would sell at the market or traveling caravans and the lower quality cuts that she would keep for herself. She would cook and salt some making nice meals for the next two days. Jane didn’t care for gazelle meat or mammal meat for that matter, her father raised her on reptile believing that it made you stronger and was a custom afforded to the old tribes of the deep rivers.
“The snakes and crocodiles have been here long before we ever emerged from Africa’s womb. They will be here long after she decides to kill us off. We must utilize them for our own strength, but respect the meat for it is sacred. It is all a part of the codex.” said Haggard Weaver
There was a codex with the hunters who called Africa their home, the Europeans and Western travelers could never understand nor appreciate this and their ignorance is why Mother Africa sometimes took them as examples. Greed created an imbalance and had the ability to tip Mother Africa resulting in retribution that could be felt all over the continent.She had seen this retribution many times on chartered trips her father took her on, some of her fondest memories were when her father brought her on these expeditions.
Tribal leaders would seek help with problematic beasts arising from this imbalance, they would haunt the land and it was said throughout many villages that only the infamous Haggard Weaver could bring back the balance when all other means proved insufficient.
Her father never liked to talk about these tales spoken about him, and used to shrug them off when other hunters would refer to him as “The Balance”, but Jane understood that the trust and respect given to him by the people of the land was due to his understanding and practice of the codex as well as his desire and love for Africa as a living breathing entity.
When she was very little her father taught her how to properly regard the codex as well as respect the balance, teaching her the tribal customs and various dialects of friendly villages,as well as which tribes were to be feared and avoided.
One of her earliest adventures and memories was travelling down a large river in a long boat, holding her first rifle. Haggard facing her with his massive elephant gun resting in his lap and three other men in the river boat along with them: two at the ends of the boat rowing and a shaman sitting in between her and her father, chanting to ward off any water demons that may interfere with their task.
Haggard Weaver was explaining to her why they were on the river, that before she was born one of the European Empires moved in the region along the river and mutilated an entire village. They disposed of the bodies by throwing them into the water before establishing their fated colony, a male crocodile began feeding off the corpses and without any rivals grew to an immense size. For a decade he menaced the shores of the area forcing the Empire to abandon their colony and flee from the river. Another tribe further down stream lost many villagers especially small children, greatly affecting their population. The leaders attempted to sacrifice many animals to appease the river gods but many children and fishermen continued to be killed or go missing. The shaman spoke to the tribal council and recommend to seek help from Haggard.
The fear in Jane’s eyes was obvious, she gripped her gun tighter pulling it higher up on her chest almost to her neck. The shaman had his back to her father both men facing in her direction, she looked at her father who was occupied with intense focus scanning the river. The shaman reached over and smeared a smooth stroke of blue paint across one of her cheeks creating a circular shape.
 “Fear not little one, for you are the daughter of Weaver. As long as you stand on breast of Africa she will not allow harm to come to you.”
Jane never forgot that, the words burst confidence in her, something her father always preached but never fully explained how to achieve.
In the boat there and then she realized confidence was not something to be taken but rather aroused from inside, it came from the inner soul knowing that you have control and are the one to take fate in your own hands.
They did not find Aca: The Great Snake (as known by the villagers) after a month the people decided that he must have been eaten by the river, the flight of the European man as well as presence of Haggard brought back the balance.
Her father was less sure and promised them that if Aca did return he would come back. Weeks later the entire tribe was attacked and killed off by rivals hired and armed by another invading Empire. After the colony established and built their means of production Aca returned and fed off  the river’s edge again. Jane and Haggard heard this when bartering with a caravan traveling through the western region they were exploring.
“Are we to return to help?” asked Jane.
“It is the way of the Mother, she always has a plan and understanding it was not with in  our reach. We were not meant to interfere with Aca and must respect Africa’s decision and not get in the way.” he replied. After a time the tales of Aca and the Empire began to subside,Jane and Haggard kept their distance from that region of the river.
After she was finished with removing the major portions of meat, all that remained were the legs connected to the spine, ribs and the head with horns. She clicked the winch releasing the remains to crash to the ground, Jane walked over to the carcass grabbed one of the horns and with one quick chop of her knife cut the skull free from the neck. She thought about cleaning it and bringing it with her to one of the colonies or river cities to trade, it wouldn’t be worth much but if she found a novice traveler she would be able to negotiate an inflated price for it. The traveler could bring it back to their country of origin  as a present to one of their children or office decor, telling an inflated tale of courage and danger.
As Jane pondered she heard some movement in the darkness behind the jungle and instantly smelt the wild dogs pacing back and forth, admiring her freshly cut pieces of meat and yearning for the the cleaved remains at her feet.
She threw the head into the darkness and saw the shadows of their bodies running at it instantly followed by the aggressive snarls and howls for the battle over the gazelle’s head. Jane grabbed both buckets and headed back to her home leaving behind the remains of the body for the dogs to fight over, if they were smart they would subside their temperament and share the head and the carcass before a larger predator came through to steal it from them.
When she returned to the bone tent both pots of water were boiling, Jane  placed the pieces of skin one at a time into one of the pots. She unwrapped a large piece of leather, going through the bucket of meat and organs she separated what she would keep for herself and what she would bring to the market the next day. Jane grabbed a small bag of salt from one of the corners of the tent and sprinkled palm sized amounts over all the pieces making sure not to over salt but just enough to preserve the juices to last the night and her long trek into the market the following day.
Jane removed a piece of cloth from her pocket and prepared to clean the knives of the blood and pieces of flesh that caked all over them, she would dip the knife in the boiling water, remove it and  wipe it off immediately with the piece of cloth.
 She grabbed a piece of meat she had set aside for herself and cooked it over the fire with a large stick. Pulling of chunks of charred flesh still dripping with inner juice and blood she thought about how much she disliked mammal meat, it reminded her of cannibalistic tribes that fed of the flesh of war captives. She reflected on the remains of the gazelle being ripped apart by a pack of vicious wild dogs, the similarity of the cannibals savagely feeding off burnt flesh of those they defeated in battle in order to consume their strength.
She considered adventure seekers from the outer Empires stepping on the continent, if only they were fully aware of the horrors and deadly challenges that lay to face them in the unknown. Many hunters of her caliber profited handsomely by taking these seekers on group excursions into parts of the jungle to hunt the famed exotic beasts of the dark continent. Most of the time the smarter ones would take the European and even American adventurers into regions they were familiar with that posed no threat. They would coax animals into the open to set up decent shots for the paying explorers and many times these rich men would bag themselves a sick lion or injured giraffe for their cigar room or office back in the “civilized” land.
The greedier hunters though were fully aware of what lay in the vast dark regions of Africa and  would take parties into the uncharted regions, promising gems and riches as well as dangerous beasts that no man has ever seen. Many times these unknowing groups never returned or those who did would go straight onto a boat at port retreating back to their native land never speaking of Africa again. The talk was always the same: stories of old gods taking them as sacrifices for the trespassing violations, attempting to pillage the forbidden treasurer’s of Africa, some mad with fear would claim they saw the forest come alive and and ravaged their party.
Her hunter brethren would wave off these stories as African Tales but Jane Weaver knew better, she has seen the old gods and what they could do, one of these  jungle demons had taken her father, leaving a haunting impression on her for the remainder of her life.
When she was physically considered a women- even though life in the jungle had matured her mind way beyond that compared to girls of similar age on further continents-Haggard began dispensing her charters and contracts to venture on her own or lead expeditions that he would accompany.
They were approached by a British military man in a city off the Nile, the Commander was looking for a regiment of soldiers who went missing from their base and possibly dead. He explained to her father that a few of his men heard a story of a mine in the French West African region that possibly had an endless supply of diamonds and  purchased a map from a know reprobate opium dealer to the location.  The Commander had a replica of the  map on a piece of paper that he “coerced” from the dealer and handed it to her father telling him that he had heard the stories of the infamous Haggard Weaver, from the central African plane all the way the way to the Queen’s territories and needed his assistance in retrieving the absent without leave soldiers
Haggard studied the map and handed it to Jane, she looked it over then folded it up and put it into her pocket. The Commander looked at Jane then looked at her father who explained that he would make no promises, but reassured the Commander that they would be in contact in a month’s time with the status of his soldiers
 The Commander attempted to give her father payment but Haggard refused and said payment would be accepted if there was anything was to be found or reported back .When they left the bar and were on the way back to meet up with their caravan for the journey home Haggard could obviously read Jane’s thoughts.
“These are the type of men you do not want to be in debt to.” he said.
 Her father did not trust the European or American colonists, he believed that their word was a symbol of intended deception, a quick sale to get what they wanted and later choose if they would honor an agreement, if and when it suited their purpose or benefited their pockets. What Haggard Weaver disliked the most was the misogynistic structure of their social policies, he believed their treatment of women was comparable to the animals they kept as ornamental household amenities which was a display of their insecure inferiority. Even the so called “savage” societies in the tribal planes showed respect to their women members and some even worshiped them as deities, the reason that Africa was called “Mother” because it can create life. He liked to believe that he raised Jane in the exact same way as if she were a boy, teaching her the survival skill necessary for when the day comes that he would no longer be with her.
As soon as she began to blossom into womanhood it was obvious that the courtesies which were afforded her father by other men were not always presumed onto her, she often attracted unwanted attention from the males in the cities who were not familiar with the hard worn women of the jungle.
The previous night at the same bar a cargo trader in between ports attempted to grab her when Jane was waiting to be served drinks for her father and a English man in a suit discussing possibility of work for exchange of goods.
Jane facing the bar and her back to the man in rapid response unsheathed her hunting blade and without the man aware moved it blade side up between his legs making one long quick slice. The only indication of any altercation was when the man dropped to his knees screaming with blood dripping down his pants covering his leg, the bar keep put her three drinks on the bar, she dropped two pieces of silver on the counter.
“For the mess.” she said to the bartender, before grabbing the drinks and heading back to the table.
The businessman was speechless, few whispers and inaudible comments were exchanged, but other than that conversations continued uninterrupted. The injured assailant was picked up off the ground and brought outside, no one addressed Jane about the interaction and Haggard never once flinched or showed concern. Haggard on his own had stature and of course his daughter was recognized as well, for those familiar with the two it was obvious that the man had it coming to him by giving unwanted attention to Jane Weaver.
After a week of traveling south with the caravan they parted ways and traded for supplies, the two had an extra day and half back to their home, Jane and Haggard spent a full day at their camp preparing for the search and discussing the best possible route to intercept the group which already had a few weeks head start. Both were fully aware that the possibility of the soldiers being alive was little and the necessity to press for time was not of importance but if perchance they were it was better to help the ignorant group from the wrath of the land.
After a full three days journey into the the thick jungle they picked up the tracks of obviously inexperienced travelers wearing military style boots, the heavy steps and broken path left behind showed they had no previous knowledge of the area or that there was any attempt to cover their course.  Following the tracks for half a day Jane realized that they were stopping every few meters or so, their was a pattern and probably meant they were lost and most likely conferring direction on the map.
“They are are making it too easy to track.” Jane said in a hushed tone, she was cautious for the fact that if they had such an easy time following the group of men then less friendly individuals would have an easy time too .The number of prints told them there were 6 men, as Haggard and Jane followed them around large hills and crevices in the ground it was obvious they were seriously off-course and could not be too far.
“They keep retracing their steps and second guessing the direction they are going.” Jane said, she was kneeling in the dirt looking at the crisscrossed prints and scrutinizing the smell in the air for any hit of proximity.
“We could come upon their bones within a day or two.” Haggard answered.
She understood his reasoning, there was a tribe ruled by a class of matriarchs over a small rise of mountains from where the map was directing them, these women were known to consume the flesh of men after acts of  procreation in ritualistic fashion. It was uncommon for the tribe to move this far but a group of men making large amounts of noise and blindly following a hopeless trail had the potential to attract attention.
Jane at first thought that the soldiers were sold a foolish map, a desperate opium dealer’s idea to lead them off into a dangerous region hoping that they would never return. The city areas were riddled with opium dens and havens for illicit behavior that altered the mind, desperation did not prevent a man from sending another to their doom for even the smallest of prices
The noise of falling water directed them to inspect, they stepped into a clearing  coming upon a waterfall with a large pool at the base. There must have been a deep cavern behind the fall due to the current flowing behind the falls, there also was no outlet for the pool either and remained a constant size regardless of the immense amount of water flowing into it.
In the pool there were three bodies floating on their stomachs, the heads had been removed at the neck and their military attire was similar to that of the Commander’s when they met near the Nile.
The bodies must have been there for a few days by evidence from the little amount of blood in the pool and the bloated condition from soaking in the water, Jane also could see that some of the creatures living in the water gradually fed on the open hole of the neck and chunks of flesh missing from the water logged hands.
A large rock came assailing down at them from over the falls, landing directly behind them. Unable to see who threw it from where they stood Jane and Haggard instantly ducked, raised their guns and dispersed into the forest at opposite sides.
 Jane hooked right of the falls and Haggard moved to the left, both understanding  course of action was to get toward the top of the falls in order to discover their attacker.
The situation was curious and was full of mystery; if the soldiers were attacked by the tribe of women and sought shelter at the top of the falls then why would they throw a rock if armed? If the women of the tribe discovered the group, why would the huntresses only take the heads and waste the rest of the meat from the bodies as is their custom.
Moving up the hill with the falls to her left, the sound of the forest was drowned out by the loud crashing of water into the pool below, the remainder of her senses were on heightened alert awaiting any movement for a change in her surroundings. Halfway towards the top the hill got steeper and it took careful time to proceed with stealth, Jane positioned her gun pointing to the top for any aggression that may come from high. Her real concern was for Haggard, Jane felt a rush of anxiety and the urgent need to ignore what he taught her when moving towards danger and proceed as quickly as she could satisfy the need for reassurance that he was alright.
 For the first time in her life thoughts circulated that he was in danger, but she refused to let her guard down. Jane attempted to increase the stride of her steps without making novice mistakes, if her father was in danger then it would be foolish to give up her position and allow whoever lurked at the top of the falls to get the best of her.
Jane reached the river bend at the top of the hill flowing into the falls, her father was on the opposite side of the bulging river, fighting off what looked like four grey chimpanzees. The beasts were no bigger than an adolescent child, they had grey torsos and white stripes of hair on their backs. She could see even from her distance that their faces were disfigured, teeth were broken in fractured shards, faces plagued with large grey boils that protruded all over over their head disfiguring their appearance.
She knew that she was seeing the legendary Ufiti, the Ghost Apes that hunt men and protect sacred mines of long dead masters and the old gods.
 Ghost Ape or not Jane was going to test if they could bleed. As her father stabbed one in the side, it howled off of him landing on the ground, she shot the beast directly in the head as it prepared for another leaping attack.
 The top of its skull blew off into pieces and the grey hair on its shoulders stained red, the corpse of the Ufiti collapsed to the ground but the echoing reverberation from her gun did nothing to deter the others from their quest to lay siege on her father.
Jane moved knee deep into the water for a closer shot and fired off two more rounds, hitting one directly in the chest and another in head. The one she hit in the chest fell on its stomach and attempted to get back up but instantly fell face down into the dirt, a pool of blood formed from underneath it. She began to reload her rifle calling out to her father to come across the river when the one remaining Ufiti slammed it’s arms on the ground and let out an uncanny roar, it was a sound she never heard an ape make and froze her for an instant in astonishment.
 Haggard Weaver attempted to run over to the edge of the forest where his rifle lay, a large hairy hand grabbed it, picked it up and tossed it over the waterfall. A large Ufiti taller than Haggard stepped out of the dark jungle towards him. Its face was full of the grotesque boils, it did not appear to have eyes just large black empty sockets sunk into the irregularly raised flesh. Haggard  was stunned in position holding his knife in front of him dripping with blood, the remaining Ufiti fell to its knees and in a humbling manor extended its arms to the ground lowering its head facing down as if it were praying. The great monster swiped an open palmed assault into her father’s head, Haggard fell to the ground on his back with a large gaping wound bleeding out from the crown of his skull.
Jane rapidly tried to finish reloading but was too caught in the unrealistic nature of the situation, before she entered the next round of bullets the beast stood over her father’s unconscious body and smashed its massive fist directly through his rib cage crushing his heart in the cavity of his chest. Blood exploded all over the arm of the Ufiti, the monster raised its clenched fist out of her father’s lifeless body holding the remaining pieces of Haggard’s heart and licked the fist of bloody meat. The Ufiti turned it’s head and look directly at Jane and she released a loud roar of anger, lifted her rifle and fired two shots dead on target, but nothing hit. The leaves of the forest behind the monster tore apart from the blast of her bullets, they appeared to have moved directly through their intended target. The monster turned its head and retreated back into the forest with the other Ufiti rising and following behind, disappearing into the dark.
Jane ran across the river-its deepest part rising to her waist-reaching the other end she stood over her father’s corpse with her gun raised staring directly into the black forest scanning for the remnants of the wraith she just witnessed. The forest lay quiet and she stood there silently protecting his body like a stone sentinel, after a while a creeping hyena entered from the shadows, leaving the forest it stepped towards Jane raised its nose smelling the air and ran back from whence it came.
That night Haggard Weaver’s body was cremated according to a local custom of the tribe he favored the most, they performed a ritualistic chant of the dead and painted him with  symbols used for the transition of the merging with the land.
Jane sat away from the pyre, alone crying on a stone watching his body burn, her tears silently rolled down her face mutely cursing the old gods and their vile children.
The top religious shaman stepped away from the encircling chanters and walked towards her, bending down he offered her his pipe, she took a drag from holding the smoke to sooth her emotions and calm her mind.
“He is with Mistress Earth now little one,” he said to her, “weep for his absence, but do not weep for his soul for he is one now with the energy of the land.”
 She did not say anything in reply and just released the smoked never moving her eyes off the fire.
“Remember that you are Jane Weaver, you are important to Mistress Earth. The mother of Africa, holding us all on her back needs you.”
She took another drag of the pipe then handed it back to him, tears still rolling down her face.
“The mother  would never let any harm come to you, your fate is a part of her soil.” He let her be and walked back over to the fire, Jane watched as he took a pull from his pipe and blew the smoke into the burning face of Haggard Weaver, repeating a sacred chant
She felt very much alone and on her own now, she was still young in age and felt a surge of fear but instantly tried to push it back and ignore it, the dark continent felt much darker to her then it ever had.
As the night proceeded and the ritual finished, her father’s body was reduced to ash. Tribal elders and warriors emerged from beyond the shadows around the smoldering embers, these were not the members of the local tribe but travelers from great distances who came to pay respect. Each elder and warrior alike came over to the ash and chanted a single prayer bending down and grabbing a handful of grey powdery remains smearing it across their chests over their hearts. After each did this they would step back and allow other members to take their turn until their was a larger group surrounding the spent fire illuminated by the outer fixed torches. They began to chant together a single phrase, Jane saw that they were no longer staring at the spent pyre but at her, all together chanting: “Mistress Earth.”

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