Surrounded by the mutilated bodies of young women—side by side with corpses who had been put to rest forcefully—stood two figures, ready to end one another.
One was a young woman who was indistinguishable from the others who laid dead all around her—except that she was still alive. She had her people’s bronze skin stained with the blood of her battle companions. All that blood had been spilt while they were fighting together to defend the longko, the community’s leader, from a certain death at the hands of unspeakable horrors.
The last of these horrors still standing was the other figure on the battlefield that had formed among the lof’s ruka. There it was, in front of the young woman, and had a shape that was vaguely reminiscent of human anatomy. However, it was clearly that it could no longer be counted among the living. The layer that covered whatever it was made of on the inside had the sickening paleness of death.
From where she stood the young warrior-woman could distinguish the millions of corpses’ fingernails that formed the monstrosity’s physical form. The essence that animated it could be guessed, on the other hand, by the blood-red brilliance that emanated from its pupils. It was a witranalwe, a “Raised Dead” that had been summoned from the Miñche Mapu, the Land Below, to serve a kalku.
The youngster was exhausted like never before in her short life, but stood upright by sheer force of will. She had trouble breathing, and gasped noticeably, and had no longer any weapons to face the last horror still standing. Thus, it examined her surroundings frantically, looking for something with which to defend the longko that now laid unconscious behind her.
The witranalwe didn’t have any weapons either, but it needed none. Its elongated fingers with sharp endings were able to tear flesh with ease, while its rotten and yellow teeth were able to crush bones without major difficulties. The horror stood motionless, contemplating the young woman in front of it, awaiting the least sign of weakness or distraction to take advantage of.
In that instant the youngster distinguished, amidst the chaos of bodies and corpses, an almost intact stone knife that one of her battle companions still clung to. She immediately looked back at the horror, and she seemed to notice that the creature had followed her eyes and that, even now, was capable of guessing what she was about to do.
Without thinking about it, she ran towards the knife, praying that the monstrosity followed her and didn’t attack the longko instead. She couldn’t look back, but she heard loud and quick footsteps coming behind her. She allowed herself a little smile; her decision, at least for now, had been the right one.
She had just grabbed the knife when she felt like a giant rock had hit her on the side. The knife escaped her grasp at the same time all air escaped her lungs. She couldn’t restore her breath when she felt the witranalwe’s fetid smell filling her nostrils, followed by an immovable weight that immobilized her and sharp claws that were moving quickly towards her exposed neck.
“But ñuke: I also want to help.”
It was autumn’s end and the only family members still in the ruka were the young woman and her mother. The rest of the family were busy performing one of the many important labors that had to be fulfilled before winter arrived.
Her oldest sister and her father were with the weychafe, who had marched towards a neighboring lof to recover the food supplies they had stolen from them. One of her oldest brother with her aunt had traveled deep into the wilderness in search of prey they could hunt, salt, and share with the rest of the community. Her uncle and one of her cousins were gathering the latest fruits from the lof’s nearby grove, while her other older brother and her grandmother went fishing to the river that bent around the community.
“Your time will come, daughter,” said the mother while she stirred the stew she was cooking on a blackened pot put over the hot stones of the hearth. “But for now you have to pay attention to your training, so that when the day comes,” she added and then tasted the ladle’s contents, “you can be a great warrior-woman like your sister.”
“I know, but I want to help now,” the youngster said with an unconscious pout on her face.
She didn’t notice it, but her mother smiled when she saw her daughter’s gesture. Her baby girl looked so big and strong—the years on the Kollellaullin had borne their fruit— and yet, deep inside, she was still that: a baby girl. Her baby girl.
“You could help now by bringing the bowls, for example,” said her mother with a smile.
The youngster went to the ruka’s corner and brought back two clay bowls and two wooden spoons.
“You know what I mean,” she said once her mother had received the utensils. She crossed her arms in protest.
“I know, daughter. But you know that traditions dictate that—“
“—’No descendant can honor their ancestors until they have come of age’,” quoted the young woman. Her mother filled one of the bowls with stew and passed it on to her. “I know what the traditions say, but don’t you think they are a little bit… old-fashioned?”
The woman poured herself some stew and sat beside her daughter, laughing.
“Traditions cannot become old-fashioned, daughter: that’s why they are traditions. Things have always been this way,” she added, filling her spoon with stew, blowing over it to cool it a bit, and then putting it in her mouth. “And they always will be.”
“I don’t agree,” said the young woman, sticking her spoon on the bowl.
“Your hour will come, daughter,” her mother said looking straight into her eyes. “And, when it does, you will live a life that makes our ancestors proud a thousand-and-one times.
“And when will that hour come?” asked the young woman in a whisper, staring at the stew on her bowl.
I wish that it doesn’t come too soon, her mother thought, but she didn’t say anything.
The mother’s wish didn’t come true.
“Iñche kay che!”
Her people’s battle cry, shouted by the longko’s loud and worn out voice, woke her up.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the young girl got up from her bed and crossed the family’s ruka with quick and silent movements. She stopped by the hearth and picked her great-grandfather’s spear from the wall, a family heirloom that hadn’t been used in generations.
“Where are you going, daughter?” whispered her mother.
“To defend the longko,” answered the young woman and walked towards the entrance.
“Are you mad?!” her mother cried as silently as she could.
“She’s fighting. On her own,” added the daughter. “What would you have me do?”
“I don’t know—maybe—maybe the weychafe will return soon.”
“Not soon enough,” sentenced the young woman. “I love you, ñuke,” she added and left the family home. She ran quickly and decisively towards the longko’s ruka.
“I love you too, my daughter!” the mother screamed as she reached the home’s threshold.
The last thing she saw was her daughter’s slender figure moving at all speed and without making any sound, like a puma in the middle of a hunt.
That was how she reached the place where the battle was being fought.
Many other young women had heeded the longko’s summonings. They were all classmates at the Kollellaullin and, although they were years away from completing their training, they faced the horror of the witranalwe as if they already were weychafe allied with the ngen.
The sharp claws of the last monster standing were about to reach her neck. The young warrior-woman wasn’t worried about her own death, but knew that if the longko died—of if they did something worse to her—the whole community would suffer. The longko was the community’s representative before the Ñuke Mapu, the Mother Land. If the longko suffered, the Land suffered and, as result, the people inhabiting that Land would also suffer.
Her life was of little importance in the great scheme of things, but the longko’s life was invaluable.
The young woman drew a deep breath and, as soon as she felt the air filling up her lungs, she exhaled explosively. At the same time she turned her body with as much strength as she could muster. The sudden movement was enough to destabilize the witranalwe and to make its claws miss their mark, burying deep into the earth.
Immediately the young woman kicked the horror, throwing it off. She looked for the knife she had just had in her hands. The designs were on her side, as she found out that the blade had stuck in a corpse only a couple of feet from her. The warrior-woman ran and picked up the knife, turning around with a smile on her face, ready to end with the last of the Raised Dead.
The smile died a sudden death on her lips.
The horror was running towards the longko that was barely moving on the floor. The witranalwe was too fast and had the head start. She couldn’t catch it and, even if she could, she didn’t have the necessary strength to deviate it from its deadly trajectory. Before she could fight it the longko would be dead under the monstrosity’s sharp claws. Unless—
She didn’t think it through and just ran through a side shortcut with all the strength she had left. She had the longko in sight when she felt that her strength faded and that she didn’t have any left. Without any hope of succeeding in her mission, she prayed that her aim was true.
As she did that, the witranalwe’s sharp claws descended directly over the longko’s chest at an inhuman speed. They dug deep into the flesh, coming out the other side of the body.
The thing was that they didn’t come out of the longko’s body, but out of the young woman’s.
Confused by what had happened, the witranalwe pulled out its claws with a splash of young blood that tainted its pale skin. The horror moved a little and tried to kill the longko once again but the young woman, alive beyond any probability, was able to interpose her dying body in its way once more. Frustrated, the creature pulled out its claws and tried to end the longko’s life one more time. With her last breath, the young woman was able to protect the community’s leader from a certain death for the third and final time.
The witranalwe pulled out the claws filled with the young woman’s blood and moved the corpse out of its way to deliver the killing blow to the longko. As soon as she moved the corpse aside, however, the longko ran it through from side to side with the stone knife the young woman had brought along with her. The horror’s eyes shone with a desperate glow, and it opened its eyes to end the work by devouring the leader’s flesh. The woman stabbed it two times in quick succession—one on each of its eyes—before it could accomplish its task. Thus she ended its cursed existence and sent the wekufe that inhabited its physical form back to the Miñche Mapu.
After that, the longko fainted.
Three full moon cycles had passed during which the whole lof dedicated to hold a vigil over the young women who had given up their lives to defend the longko. At the end of the wake—as it was customary—the time came to return the bodies back to the Mother Land, who would welcome them in Her bosom.
“These young women gave their lives to same mine,” said the longko, addressing the whole community gathered there. “They fought as the bravest weychafe, even though they were still many moons away from completing their training.
“Our traditions dictate that they were too young to make their ancestors proud. I say those traditions are wrong and that these young women’s lives—and deaths—are worthy of song!
“All of their bravery and sacrifice are undeniable, but the acts of the last one to fall etched in my memory indelibly. For she interposed her own body between the horror and mine. And not once or twice, but thrice she did so. Until her last breath she used her own body and life to preserve my own.” As the longko said this, a tear ran down her cheek.
“Her mother tells me her name was Kona, and I say that she was worthy of the name. Because she was young and brave, and because she went against the traditions when those traditions failed her.
“But I say that those traditions will fail neither her—nor anybody else—no longer! Because, from now on, the young women of each lineage that so desire will serve me (and the longko that come after me) as our personal bodyguard. Thus they will be able to make their ancestors proud with their lives regardless of their age!
“And in honor of the last one standing, the one who sacrificed herself with the greatest heart and soul, each and every one of them that chooses this way will adopt her name.
“And together they will be known as the pukona,” sentenced the longko.
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