Updated: Jul 25
They found the spear wedged in the earth, hot and steaming, and regarded it with lustful eyes.
Their leader’s name was Abrokun, meaning Wildcat, for he had the strength and hunting ability of those fierce beasts that terrorised their land. His eyes were sharp, skin tough as the strongest hides.
For years, they had not once thought to hunt those monstrous sword-toothed beasts that prowled through these recently discovered plains. But not long ago a great cold had swept over the vast wilderness, and soon they had been starving. Abrokun - barely a man at the time - had armed himself with a wooden spear and boldly stepped before a pack of the vicious creatures. The sword-tooths had pounced quickly enough, for they too needed food in this arduous time, and a battle commenced. When he had returned to his family, injured yet smiling, the pelt of one of the beasts was hanging proudly on his back, and its long sabres hung on a necklace on his chest. In a makeshift sack, he had dragged back a month’s-worth of food for them all, along with skins for their highest-ranking members.
Now he stood motionless before the spear as the other six turned their heads in his direction, longing for guidance. They had all seen how the weapon had plummeted in an azure blaze across the twilight sky, and their faces shared a fearful curiosity. Abrokun was compelled to act, either take the spear or reject it – but for the first time in his existence, he knew not how. Spears did not fall from the sky. Men made spears. This was either a gift from the ancestors or a trick from malicious spirits.
He reached down and lifted the weapon with his right palm, feeling the warmth from its descent to the earth. It was light, lighter even than the wooden weapons he had grown accustomed to using, and its surface was white and smooth. It almost felt as if it was humming, sending pleasant sensations up his arm and down to the ground.
He grunted and gestured, signalling to his people that they were to keep moving. Instinctively, he kept his spear close at all times from then on, but hardly thought about it until just a few weeks later.
It was sunrise, and after weeks of travel, they had found themselves in a sizeable cave amid a dense, wild forest. Finally, there would be food and warmth. For the rest of the day, the clan set off to complete the tasks their survival relied upon: the gathering of berries, collection of dry wood for the fire, the crafting of new weapons from branches and flint. By the time evening fell, the entire tribe (now just six, for one son had died of infection) was seated around the fire in a rare-known comfort, feasting themselves full of sweet berries as they lay by the radiant glow of the flames.
Abrokun could not sleep that evening. He felt deeply unsettled by the sounds outside the cave - snarling, hissing, growling. As the last flames of their fire dwindled, the chief sat up by the cave’s entrance with his spear on his lap, waiting and listening.
At last, he heard the growls grow louder and saw quick glints of eyes reflecting the moonlight from the darkness. The sword-tooths were coming.
He called for his tribe to awaken before turning back to the threat at the cave’s entrance. Something leapt from the darkness, pinning him to the ground as he dropped his spear. A fur-coated body pushed all its weight onto his ribs, and he could smell rancid breath through sabres that gnashed just inches from his face. For a second, he feared this beast’s hungry eyes would be the last things he would ever see.
Three other creatures followed their leader through the cave-mouth. At the thought of his family’s endangerment, Abrokun retracted the arm currently holding back the tiger, reached out for his spear, and plunged the spearhead into its throat.
The sword-tooth groaned, the flame in its eyes withering. To Abrokun’s amazement, the spear began to hum vigorously in his palm. In just moments he felt a newfound strength, and a sudden edge to all his senses. He could smell every drop of sweat, every speck of blood, each piece of meat flecked around the fireplace. He kicked the beast in the torso and felt its bones crack from the force as it dropped to the ground. Scattered around the cave, his family hugged the walls, some cowering while others held back the creatures with sticks and rocks. Abrokun ran to the other sword-tooths, no longer fearful for his life.
One was approaching his mother, son, and eldest daughter. He jumped onto the creature’s back, plunging the spearhead into the back of its head and leaving it there as he grasped the skull with his bare hands, snapping the neck with a quick turn.
This second beast saw this and, turning its attention away from Abrokun’s brother and eldest son, charged toward him. Abrokun grabbed the animal by the throat with his right palm and, with his left, pulled out the spear and forced the spearhead into its eye, killing it in an instant.
Dropping the body, he turned to the final wildcat. They ran at each other without hesitation and wrestled to the floor. The beast snarled and groaned, squirming ferociously as it tried to make the kill, but Abrokun now had his hands around its throat, squeezing causing it to choke. Finally, the thrashing slowed. He lifted the spear one last time and silenced the creature with a quick jab at its neck.
Abrokun collapsed to the ground, exhausted yet flowing with raw power. A ringing resounded in his ears and his vision became unclear. His heart began to beat twice as fast, and he buckled as his body tensed with agony. His head seared as if there were something in his skull trying to claw its way out, while his pupils dilated, letting so much light in that he could see the inside of the black cave as if it were the middle of the day.
The last thing he witnessed before he changed was the aghast expressions of his tribe – no longer scared for him but scared of him. He dropped the spear and let whatever it had filled him with take over his body.
When he awoke, he was lying naked in the snow, the taste of blood fresh in his mouth. A few moments before he had felt a comforting warmth, but now the icy temperatures were making him shiver. He rose to his feet and looked around. It was morning, and he appeared to be in a forest, though not one which he immediately recognised. The patch of snow in which he found himself was soaked with blood yet looking at his own body he saw no wounds.
He rose and spotted footprints leading to the place where he was now standing. Sure enough, they matched the size of his own feet. Clearly, in some dazed hysteria - perhaps something caused by the wrong kinds of berries - he had run away from his tribe unclothed in the dead of night following the attack of the sword-tooths.
He retraced his steps, shivering as he trudged bare feet through burning cold snow. If he was not careful, he would die in this forest, and his tribe would never find his body. At last, he reached a familiar clearing of trees approaching the cave and found some vague semblance of memories reforming in his brain. Something had happened here last night. After the fight with the sword-tooths. That spear had changed him in some way, making him feel unnatural and alienated.
As he carried on towards the cave, his memories of the night before slowly piecing themselves back together, Abrokun noticed something else unusual. The footprints he was tracing back were becoming smaller and rounder, as if his very foot had been shrunken before his exit from the cave. In addition to this, the toes of his bare footsteps now appeared to be tipped by some kind of claws. Perhaps a sword-tooth followed me out, he thought. But he was certain he’d killed them all. And deep within, he had an unsettling feeling that he knew exactly who had made those tracks.
He was just metres from the entrance now and could see his furs strewn about the floor - shredded and ripped, soaked in dried blood. There was a potent smell of decay in the air. Littered on the floor were the bodies of sword-tooths and humans alike. A beast had slaughtered his family.
He collapsed to his knees. For a moment, he couldn’t make a sound. Then, a pained sob. What monster could have done this? He’d killed every last beast in that fight, he was sure of it. What was it that made him leave? What was it that murdered his family?
The memory stirred. His cries ceased as images flooded back to him. Images of chaos and panic. He had used the spear, and it had changed him. It was not berries, nor adrenaline that had made him leave his cave. Berries and adrenaline could not change your footprints in the snow. He had used the spear from the sky on the sword-tooths, and he had paid the price. He had become one of them.
He stepped into the cave sullenly, too afraid and ashamed of the truth to even glance at his family. He wished he could be rid of at least the taste of their blood in his mouth, but it lingered there as a curse.
In all this bloodshed, there was still one thing that he could not find. The spear. The strange artifact that had caused all this had vanished. As well as this, he could only count five human bodies. His youngest son must have fled, wounded but alive. At least there was some hope for his family, even though his son would remember him as a monster for the rest of his life.
Bitterly aggrieved, the chieftain reached over to the nearest sword-tooth and opened up its mouth. It did not take too much strength to tug out one of the beasts teeth. It was the length of his forearm – off-white, tapering to a bloody point. It would do the job.
Abrokun closed his eyes and thought sorrowfully of the tribe he had loved, the family he had sworn to protect for the rest of eternity. He prayed they would not blame him for what he had done - for what the spear had made him into - and wished he would see them again in the ancestral lands.
Without flinching, he thrust the point of the sabre into his stomach and wheezed, collapsing to the ground as blood spilled in thick spurts from his body. If he died now, he would also kill the creature he had morphed into, and the world would be safe. Nobody would ever have to worry about the man who could transform into a sword-tooth again.
But Abrokun’s death was futile in stopping the threat that awaited. Although he believed himself to be the only user of the spear, the only one capable of transforming into what would one day be named a Smilodon, he failed to realise that the calamity had begun the moment that weapon had landed on his planet. His youngest son, miles away from that cave, still lived, wounded from the bite marks of his father – and he too was feeling a change. In his bloody wounds, thousands of cells were rapidly mutating, swimming through his bloodstream, altering his genetics in ways humanity wouldn’t be able to replicate for millennia. The boy had no idea that he would become a monster like his father, and would spread his abilities across countless countries for many generations.
As for the spear, it would have many users to come and would make far more beings than Abrokun’s new race. Its offspring would be undiscovered for lifetimes, hidden in plain sight among fables and legends written to make children scream in the middle of the night. The world would fear their existence, but few would believe they were ever there at all.
All that changed in the year twenty-twenty-two, when a feared werewolf began stealing an assortment of precious chemicals, and a man with wings was assigned to catch him.
And unfortunately for them, sword-tooths wouldn’t be the only monsters they’d have to deal with.
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Photograph by Chris Henry, obtained with Unsplash.