Only Sotak could build a fire that would please Mother Earth. After much work, the new fire was ignited. After the fire was burning, Sotak took the baby from Tid. “This baby belongs to Mother Earth. This baby must go to Mother Earth.” Sotak put the crying baby in a hole he had dug in the center of the hearth for the new fire and quickly put a thin layer of dirt over her. Then, using the embers he had started, he built the new ceremonial fire in the hearth above the spot where he had put the baby. “The spirit of the baby becomes fire. The fire is lucky for the clan. The fire must not die. This fire is the spirit of Tid’s daughter. This fire must travel to far places. This fire must come back to the cave. This fire is a Spirit Fire.”

As soon as the ceremony was complete, Tid ran from the fire. She fell on her knees at the base of a pine tree sobbing. Kec followed her and knelt beside her. They cried together. In spite of the blessings a Spirit Fire would bring to the clan, it was a sad time for Tid and Kec. …

As Earth’s Fireball began to sink in the west, Sotak moved the new Spirit Fire near the new fire pit and called the clan together. “This night Kec becomes shorec. Mother Earth calls Kec by a new name. Kec’s name must be Kectu. Kectu now belongs to the clan.”

Sotak removed Kectu’s deerskin covering and had her lie on her back near the fire. He spread her legs and with a sharp stone, made a horizontal incision below her pubic bone. He removed the body of her sister from the altar and rubbed the blood that flowed from Kectu on the charred body. He rubbed ashes from the Spirit Fire into Kectu’s wound. Holding up the bloodstained remains of Tid’s daughter, he shouted, “Kectu blesses the sacrifice of the clan. Kectu blesses the Spirit Fire.” Sotak handed Kectu a fiery brand from the Spirit Fire. “Kectu must put the Spirit Fire in the cave.”

Strong Branch slumped forward, and his head hit the floor. Time was no longer part of his universe. He could have been there for a heartbeat or forever. He did not know and no longer could care. He only knew that his spirit would leave his body—this time without the help of the vision medicine. This time he would never return. There would only be the peacefulness of blackness. He had failed as Shaman! …

Strong Branch sat huddled where the altar should be, pulling his knees to his chest. Every dark shadow held a demon waiting to strike him if he moved. The fear froze his body and mind. He tried to pray, but he could not form the thoughts. His heart was beating. His throat was constricted. His breathing came in uncontrolled pants. “Calm Sky, help me!” he whispered.

At the instant he called upon Calm Sky, he heard Calm Sky’s voice in his head. Find Wet Feather’s light bowl. Strong Branch sank deeper in fear. The bowl. The bowl. Strong Branch snapped his head up and ran to the shelf were the light bowls were placed. Something evil had purposefully taken Wet Feather’s light bowl to prevent Wet Feather’s fulfillment in the World of Spirits.

The grief was gone. The fear was gone. They had been replaced with a new power. Shaking in the anger of his calling, he looked up at the aurochs Wet Feather had been painting for Strong Branch. He gasped when he saw it. The grief began to well up again. Suddenly, he cried out, “You evil beast that would destroy this work!” He stood looking at the smeared and smudged painting. Then the anger filled his whole body.

He heard Muddy River’s voice as from a different world. “Strong Branch, shall we come in?”

“No! Not yet!” he bellowed back. In a few minutes, the shaking stopped, but the resolve to take the Ceremony Room back from this evil force and restore it to its glory became like a cold stone. He sat cross-legged in front of the aurochs. What is the story of this destruction? he asked himself.

Suddenly, he felt something in the room—something that did not belong. It seemed to come from behind him. He slowly turned around. He saw a dark shadow of something against the large stalagmite near the pool of water. Strong Branch looked around for a weapon. The shadow seemed to move in the flickering light of the torches. Strong Branch began to move toward the entrance to the Ceremony Room. Calm Sky’s voice came to him. Do not fear, Strong Branch. The evil is gone.

Strong Branch stopped and then walked carefully to the slumping hulk. He squatted before it and held the torch. He gasped and fell back when the torch illuminated it. The dark shadow was the body of a manlike creature. It was dead, and only the flickering of the light made it seem to move.

Strong Branch recovered and held the torch close. The body had begun to deteriorate slowly in the coolness of the cave, but the features of the face were still distinct. There was a heavy brow ridge above the eyes. The skull fell back from the brow ridge. The nose was wide and large. The mouth and nose seemed to protrude from the face. Although Strong Branch had never seen a Cave Dweller, he had talked to others who had. This was a Cave Dweller! A Cave Dweller had destroyed the Ceremony Room.

No one moved as they watched the Cave Dweller working on something very intently. Running Water unhooked his arrow thrower from his belt. White Cloud whispered to him, “No, don’t kill it. Let’s sneak closer so we can get a better look.”

“It will hear us and run,” Straight Arrow said.

“I want to get a close look,” Running Water said. “The only way to do that is to kill it.”

“No,” White Cloud said. “It’s not right to kill it just to look at it.”

“I think we should kill it and take its head back to the village. This will let everyone see exactly what one looks like. Strong Branch would have us kill it if he were here. The Cave Dwellers killed Wet Feather,” Running Water argued.

“No Running Water, we can’t kill it like that.”

“How else are we going to get a close look at it?” Straight Arrow asked.

“You two stay here. I will sneak closer and use my sling to knock it out.” White Cloud unleashed his sling and moved quietly into the water. The Cave Dweller was facing a little to the side so White Cloud could not see the face. He silently moved down the stream until he could see the profile of the face. The nose and the mouth stuck out from the face. Over the eyes, the bone stuck out like a shelf. The head went back almost straight from brow ridge. It had long, light brown hair that hung wet to the sides of its head. The head seemed to stick out far to the back. It was putting something red on its fingernails.

It was the ugliest thing he had ever seen. It had a body with hands and legs like the People, but it was so different. He looked back and saw Running Water loading his arrow thrower. White Cloud put a rock in his sling and threw it at the Cave Dweller. He did not aim it. All he wanted to do was scare the Cave Dweller away before Running Water killed it. He watched as the rock sailed across the shallow part of the river. It seemed to go in slow motion, arching directly toward the female.

Kectu was finally baby-mating with Lunto. There was a surreal floating quality, much different from when they had body-mated. This was something she had not expected. She wondered why Tid had not told her of this difference. As she felt her body respond to Lunto, she wondered if it was different for him also. She would ask him after. Right now she just let herself respond naturally to the feelings. As she felt herself lifted to the tension of accepting Lunto’s father fluid, her head began to hurt.

Suddenly, Kectu realized she was not baby-mating with Lunto! She was lying on her back, she could hear the river, and she could smell something strange. Somebody was baby-mating with her, but it was not Lunto! She opened her eyes, but everything was black. Whoever was on her was shuddering as he passed his father fluid to her. Something was on her face. She was confused. As her head began to clear, she pulled the thing from her face.

Above her was an ugly man! Something she had never seen before! His skin was dark brown, and his eyes were black. His mouth and nose seemed to be pushed in, and his head stuck up above his eyes like some kind of brown growth. In an instant, she knew this must be a Tall Face!

The top of the rock was windblown and barren. Thirty paces back the rock disappeared into the dirt of the foothills. There were bushes and brush he could use to start a fire. He was not going to let a cave lion get this bison. There was much more fuel here in the foothills than out on the plains. He would make a large fire and put green plants on it to make a big smoke. He knew Muddy River would have sent Hunters after him. He would have to defend his kill one day—maybe two. He was sure he could find enough fuel to do that. He had killed a large bull bison all by himself. He would defend it against the cave lion. No one could accuse him a being a coward.

Sky Runner was about halfway to the brush when he saw the cave lion charging from the corner of his eye! It had circled and come up from the side. Sky Runner turned and thrust his spear at the cat. He found himself lying on the ground, not knowing how he got there. When he tried to get up, he could not move. He looked at himself. His shirt was ripped to shreds and he could see his insides hanging from his stomach in several places! The cat was crouched about eight paces from him with Sky Runner’s spear hanging from his side. The cave lion was bleeding more than Sky Runner, but he got to his feet and started walking toward Sky Runner. Sky Runner could not move, and he had no weapon. He could smell the cave lion’s breath, and again he was prepared to die. His wound was too severe to repair. Come get your dinner great cat. Sky Runner’s spirit will become the spirit of the cave lion.

Suddenly, the cave lion ran away, dragging Sky Runner’s spear with a grating sound along the rocks, and leaving a trail of blood as he went. Sky Runner heard a strange noise, like nothing he had ever heard before. He turned his head to see two strange people making the noise and waving skins and sticks as they ran toward him. He saw the large ridge across their eyes and realized they were Cave Dwellers! Then everything went black.