Every September after the harvest, the people of Ria’te host a ten day celebration honoring Ba’ele. Or, as the village elders put it: bribing him. Sacrifices were made daily, grain, daughters,sons, and on the last day of the festival:a Wachule.
Since time before time the Wachule had preyed upon the Ria’te and devoured their souls, making the beast extra delicious for Ba’ele the Hunter. They were massive beasts, so said the few who had slain them. You see, Wachule had the ability to become invisible, particularly in the daylight hours, making them hard to hunt and dangerous.
A hunting party was selected from the young and untested warriors to prove their loyalty to Ria’te. Those who refused were sacrificed and those who participated were worshipped as gods.
Mashteo was drawn this year and choosen to sit in the Wetae shack, a great honor she was told. But all she could think about was the smell of the sweet meats and the lighting ceremony she was missing. For the entirety of the 9th evening she was to sit in the darkened birchwood and stare at the ceremony.
For only in the blackest hours could the Wachule be seen. After the lights were put out and the vendors shuffled to bed, the rest of the hunting party took to horseback and hunted blind.
Mashteo made the sign of Ele, begging for protection of her lovers and friends. She eased the watch slate open and poked the gun barrel out. She saw nothing, blinking hard to force her eyes to focus. Breathing became loud snorts, and the smallest trick of light from a citizen’s lantern was blinding, yet she Mashteo pushed on.
Her knees crackled in the straw, throbbing until she brought one up, then another.
And then, as she fought her cramping legs, she heard thundering hooves, screaming horses.
“Ya ya!” The lead called to Mashteo. She cocked her gun.
“Ooahe!” Mashteo stared in disbelief as her mind began to reel.
“AYAA! Teo now!”
She wanted to curl into a ball. The spineless creature she beheld was herself and all of her flaws and mistakes were on full display.
Oh she had some good parts, if only she could focus on them as the vision before her kept shifting: a glaring display of all her thoughts and fears.
She squeezed the trigger, the kickback dislocated her shoulder. Mashteo stared at the hut ceiling, stars dancing across it.
“WOOOEEEE!” The hunting party began to woop and Mashteo sat up, as the dawnlight punched her in the eyes.
There in the center of the village lay the Wachule she had killed. She stumbled out of the hut to join the sacrifice:
They drank of the Wachule’s blood, and sent up a battle cry to be answered by Ba’ele.
He sent a silver shower from the heavens, anointing the warriors as his chosen ones.
Mashteo did not wince when they cut her hand for the Hero’s sacrifice, just smiled as they crowned her and the others with laurel leaves and barley.