Set’s Head

“Set!” exclaimed a grizzled old man and five pairs of eyes hid behind their cowls.

A figure stood tall against the deadly snow. Its long face was lit by yellow globes, gold as fire and merciless. It had their scent and caught their eyes and with three great bounds it was upon them.

Pateramon watched it happen from a blind in the rocks as slowly burning sulfur pots, made to look like six pairs of eyes cowering in the dark, did their hideous job. Set ate them up in one big bite and they exploded on its acid tinged tongue. Patermon watched the sky. A star launched itself into the dark day as he knew it would. Every time he killed a Set a star flew into the sky. That is how he knew that Set was a god and that he, Pateramon, was the enemy of the gods, and that the gods were enemies of men, and that is how it was and how it would always be.

With a grunt he said the danger was past. Set’s smoking head was found under the snow. It was a good sign. Now Pateramon had two heads and two pairs of fire eyes. Soon he would know how to hurt Set so badly that it would never come back again.

Set’s head was heavy and black. It had the smooth feel of the hard tip crowning the spear carried by his adopted son, Theosadartis. It was a crude metal, but it was the best that Pateramon could make in this cold, inhospitable place. With luck they would find the Ares grove and the three sacred rivers. Then he would make steel so hard it could pierce Set’s head, but he could still show them what he knew. Set was not alive; Set was something else.

Though it was a successful hunt there was no meat to eat and there was no blood to drink. There was no fat to burn nor brains to boil. But this hunt was more sacred than any other hunt. Set had killed most of them and would not stop until they were all dead, every single human being that walked the planet Earth.

Pateramon took his place. Theosadartis led the way, his spear sparkling in the dull light of day. If Set was out there it would see it and then he might get two heads. It was not more than Patermon dared to hope.

Theosadartis was a brilliant boy. Pateramon had seen him from a distance. He was strong, able and smart. He could grab a bird from out of the sky. When Pateramon told him to double the four rocks in his hand the boy gave him eight. When his parents weren’t looking he scooped the boy up and fled. He had what he sought, a son and apprentice, and he gave him the name Theosadartis, which means hope of the world. He loved the boy as much any parent loved any child.

In the twilight they made their camp. Six hunters dragged Set’s head into the circle as their families shrieked in awe. Every time Pateramon killed a Set there were a few weeks of freedom; a few days they could walk in the light and replenish their stores of meat. Always Theosadartis lead the victory hunt, but not tomorrow. Pateramon had not yet told him, but Theosadartis would never again hunt the bear. He had more important things to kill.

Theosadartis was not the only hunter in the family. His brother Phaethon, they were all brothers who were sons of Pateramon, was as capable. It would do no good for Phaethon to challenge Theosadartis. Even if he managed to best his older brother Phaethon was not the hope of the world. It was best to avoid the problem and set Theosadartis apart. He would make the boy sovereign over his family but the cost to Theosadartis would be the comforts of kinship. He would be lord of his dominion but he would be the last to partake in the fruits of victory. He would starve, if necessary, for others to eat, and by that he would show the world how to live, how to die and how to kill Set not once, but forever and always.

It was time to open Set’s head. All the rest would have to wait as they pulled out the many objects to be found in there. His daughters prized the colored strands they had found in the first head. They had made buckets that did not leak from the stuff, but the pails had grown old and the skin that covered the weave had broken making them useless for carrying water. Around their necks they wore amulets of Set. Some were round and others long and all were made of the same hard metal that tipped their brother’s spear.

Pateramon prized the oil that oozed from its neck and demanded that none be lost as they carried their kill through the snow. It burned very hot and by it he made many things, but he had only a little left. Now he had more.

The eyes belonged to him as well. He did not wear them nor by them divine a future. It was not their use. The eyes had seen and he would see how they saw, but not by smashing them and railing at the pieces. He would light a fire behind them and see what the rocks told him. The mind of Set could be seen in the firelight and he was sure it was so.

The eyes he already had revealed much in this way. He learned that what he saw on the rocks was bigger than what was inside the eye so he took it apart and found a curious stone, clear and curved exactly the same way on both sides so that it was thick in the middle and tapered to nothing at its edges. Pateramon found that he could light fires with it, see far with it, see close with it and it was his most useful tool, but he had dared not ruin the second eye just to have another. Now he would have two lenses and two eyes as well.

The head revealed more. He learned how to bend metal to do simple tasks. He made clips to hang meat that were better than hooks, and chains of linked metal rings, but most usefully he made hinges like the hinges that opened and closed Set’s eyes. He made them from many materials, including hide, and he put them on everything.

They had left the body. It took two strong men to lift Set’s head. There was no way they could lift or even drag its body, which was one and a half times as long as his sons were tall, and two times as long as his daughters if you counted the head. It was a problem that was not insurmountable but any solution was dangerous. He had decided that Theosadartis and one more of his son’s choosing should accompany Pateramon on a quest for the body of Set and perhaps Set’s master, the small fleshy creature he had seen just once.

By morning the head was completely dissassembled. The eyes, as large as both of his fists were large, were placed apart from the rest. Long strands of colored weave had been carefully extracted preserving enough material to make scores of baskets, and there were smaller weaves as well for which there was no known use.

Set’s tongue was hot. It had lain in the snow all night after being dragged through the ice yet it had lost no heat. No one could not touch it without searing pain because the white froth covering it could take the skin off of a hand. Pateramon had seen Set kill and it always started with it’s powdery, silky breath.

Set had murdered his family, from his aged mother to his newborn son. It had peeled the skin from his wife’s face. It had set his father aflame. Pateramon himself barely escaped but not by fleeing. He found a pile of rocks and threw salvo after salvo at the monster until he hit something important and Set stopped moving. Its eyes went dark and its roar was silent. He had killed his first Set and he would kill many more but it would never be enough. No matter how many Set’s he killed it was never enough.

Pateramon gathered to himself a new family. He found the best children he could and he took them against all wishes, even there own, because if he did not they might not live. He gave them life and that his why they called him father of men.

Pateramon was a desperate father but his children gave him hope. When he was a young man there were hundreds of families who knew of more families and he figured that at one time there were so many people one could not walk one day without seeing dozens of his fellows, but Set had killed them all and it did not stop.

He had to know why. If he knew why perhaps he could end the slaughter. Had his race offended the gods? It was beyond debate, but what gave the gods the right to murder his entire species? Men did not hunt the bear to extinction. That would be foolish but the gods were not foolish, were they? What had Pateramon done to earn their wrath? What had any of them done? It was not right, not fair and certainly not survivable so Pateramon did the only thing he could do. He made Set his prey and by that he saw Set had masters. Once he captured one of the fleshy creatures to which Set answered and it was frightened of him.

“You must die for worlds to live,” it croaked.

Pateramon’s answer was to kill the thing but he immediately wished he hadn’t.

Tradition, as young as it was, held that Theosadartis should lead a bear hunt on the second full day after the killing of a Set. As they had come in by night this gave them half a day less than normal to organize the foray and ample reason to change the particulars.

“On this day,” announced Pateramon when it could be delayed no longer, “Phaethon shall lead the hunt for the bear.”

The decree had the desired effect. Phaethon crowed and his brothers and sisters who loved him more, and there were many, made the sign of the Eagle.

“And on this day,” continued Pateramon, “Theosadartis shall accompany me on the hunt for Set’s master, the fleshy thing called Lapraxus.”

That too had the desired effect. Theosadartis’ face went from fallen to regal as he heard his brothers and sisters gasp with awe. Phaethon too was struck dumb but not by envy. There was very little chance that either of them would come back alive.

“Theosadartis,” said Pateramon at last, “Which of my sons shall accompany us?”

Theosadartis judged them. They were ten men and twelve women of hunting age.

“None shall go,” he answered, “because none will happily leave the hunt.”

By their faces Pateramon knew it was true.

“I choose my sister Persea,” he said at last and with a war whoop she agreed.

Pateramon had wanted to capture a Lapraxus since he had killed one in a rage. He knew it called itself Lapraxus and it called others of its race that as well. Perhaps Lapraaxus wasn’t a name. He only knew he needed to catch one to find out why they were killing every last person on the planet. So with appropriate caution he left Set’s broken head lying in the snow and set off to hunt Lapraxus.

– by Mikkel McDow