Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
The sun had climbed up and gone over their heads as they walked, and now it was at the point where it would disappear over the Pyramids and be gone until the next morning. Darkness was on the verge of ascending, and the two of them had walked far and long. The Great Pyramid that was closest to the tribe was their destination, and they would reach it in the morning.
Kontu was tired, but he knew he should continue with every step. Antor, being younger than him, staggered a little bit every now and again, and the older warrior stopped to let him catch up. He lent assistance, but Antor shook his head and put up a hand. “I’m okay; if you can push on to save our people, then I can find it in myself to do so as well.”
They continued on for another hour, and then Kontu decided he had had enough, looking at his partner and seeing him stagger one last time. Kontu had to keep in mind that the warrior was not used to this much walking; Antor’s standing as a new warrior had not yet been very long.
“We will rest here,” Kontu said, coming to help the younger tribe member settle down on a spread of eucalyptus leaves. Kontu looked around, taking in their surroundings. If they were attacked during the night, it was best to see where to retreat and set up some kind of attack. Kontu decided he was hungry; with the amount of walking they did that day, it was surprising they even made it as far as they did. He looked over to his companion and saw that he was in no shape to hunt; already Antor was dozing lightly on the pile of leaves.
“Antor, rest here and I will be back with food.”
The younger warrior only mumbled his compliance.
Kontu set off, shaking off the waves of exhaustion that tried to overcome him.
Spear ready and with the intent to kill, the warrior set out to hunt.
Tinoka jogged along the rough soil, stepping and leaping over fallen vines and thick tree trunks the size of his waist. Indeed the jungle was vast in wildlife and teeming with the opportunity to Hunt, but the only hunting that would be done here would be the Hard Meat.
The other yautja, back in the Pyramid, had eventually came to where Tinoka waited patiently, and that had been over a few hours ago. He knew that there were three of his fellow peers still missing, and word would have reached his mandibles by now if they were alive. He felt it was safe to assume they had met their fate at the hand of the black warrior, and that they had died well and would be remembered in tales after this Hunt was completed. Once all the remaining students were found and together at Tinoka’s stand point, he told them of how word had not yet reached him of the other three, and that they had better search for the students and put off the hunting for now until they were found and accounted for. All the rest of the students were in agreement, and they set off from the Pyramid, going down the steps that the ooman tribal leader had ascended the day before. Now was the time to scout not only the Pyramid’s internal stone structure, but to scout the fertile jungle grounds outside it as well.
Tinoka did not have his cloaking field on, so if there was an ooman around these parts, which he doubted since they were all concentrated in the village nearby, he would simply blend in, ignoring it, and continue on his way. The students had to be found.
He was just about to leap over yet another fallen native tree when something black and insectile leaped at him from nowhere. He saw it in the mask’s lens and immediately extended his wrist knives, which slid out and made a slight shiiiink sound. The Hard Meat hit him hard with its weight and sent him sprawling over the ground, back the way he had come. The bug hissed and screamed in delight of finding prey and leaped forward, pressing its attack.
Tinoka, being caught off guard, was instantly on his feet and resolved to not be that unaware of his surroundings again. He had no time to waste with the bug; he was on a mission and the students had to be found--
The alien drone thought otherwise. It scrambled up a tree and onto one of the protruding branches and leaped at him, the movements being only an instant and then the creature was in the air, jumping in his direction, claws outstretched.
Tinoka ducked and the bug missed. Barely. If it had been any closer the drone would have caught him and driven its teeth-bared tongue into his skull as easily as his blades would its exoskeleton hide. The drone landed and turned around, teeth shining in the moonlit sky. Slime dripped off its elongated jaws and onto the matted jungle floor. It screeched and jumped at him again, but this time Tinoka was ready. He backhanded the creature with his bladed wrist and the enemy screamed, one of its limbs hacked off at the joint. Acid sprayed everywhere, and everything that was touched by it started to dissolve instantly.
The bug lashed at him with its tail and he jumped over it. But he did not count on it coming back and catching him in the legs. He tripped and was again on the ground, on his back this time. The alien gave him no chance whatsoever to recuperate as it jumped and landed on him, its three remaining limbs crashing down on him with full force and pinning him down. Tinoka knew that this was it, and that he would die here on this hunt at this moment—
There was a sudden burst of acid thwei from its head as something was jabbed into the back of its elongated skull. The bug screamed and reached back to grab whatever it was; Tinoka now had a chance—
He managed to get his bladed arm free and pushed the creature off him, kicking with full force and sending his foe fifteen feet into the air and crashing against the underbrush.
Distracted now, the bug could only scream in agony and try to get at whatever was jammed into the back of its skull. Its one remaining arm tried desperately, the other limb spraying acid in all directions in its throes. Tinoka came up quickly and clashed against the alien. The two of them impacted against the tree. With one chance, Tinoka came up with his blades and slit the bug’s throat through and through, causing the head to topple off in an instant. Acid flowed freely and the body sagged and dropped from where it stood, its life fluids pooling out onto the ground. But who—?
Tinoka looked behind him and picked out a lone ooman, standing by itself, watching the battle between the two creatures. It had a pale, ugly face, but it made no threatening moves. Tinoka glanced from the spear that was in the back of the drone’s head and back to the standing ooman. Clearly it had somehow found the right opportunity when the bug was distracted to impale the spear into its head and give him that chance to kill it.
The yautja had always minded their own affairs and kept the Hunt away from the oomans, so that the Hunt could concentrate only on the black warrior, except for when there was the sacrifice. The sacrifice was the only time when oomans were needed contact with, but this lone human out on its own way out here and at this time of night . . . Oomans did not see too well at night, Tinoka had been told, so the camouflage had been deemed necessary to avoid contact. But since this ooman had caught him off guard and had just saved his life, there was no sense in blending in and ignoring it.
Then the ooman did something that Tinoka did not expect.
He did not know what it was saying, but the motions were clear: It got down on its knees and started making the sign of the gods, and that it needed help. Help? From what? Tinoka tilted his head in the motion to continue and tell more.
Kontu went down to his knees and begged the god to help him, trying hard not to look at it in the eyes.
He had been hunting for Antor and himself when he heard the screech of the Serpent, and he knew then that he was not going to reach the gods and their pyramid to save his people. The Serpent would claim him as its own; death was the only alternative now—
He turned around and found that the sound had come from somewhere behind him, and that there was a fight going on. He rushed to the sound of battle; the Serpent would be there, but if he could somehow kill it and save his tribe, then maybe he and Antor would be accepted back into the village despite their banishment prior that day.
When he got there the fight was like no other.
The creature was on top of one of the gods, jaws beared and dripping hot saliva onto its mask. A whip-like, sickle tail lashed in the air behind it, as dark as night as the rest of the creature. One of its limbs was missing, with the demon’s blood oozing out of the wound. Anything the blood touched, sizzled and pitted and was immediately eaten away. Kontu could see that the warrior god was not going to live in the next few moments if he did not do something.
Rushing forward without his mind even beginning to comprehend what he was doing, Kontu raised his spear and jabbed it into the Serpent’s head, its tail flashing and flailing wildly. Somehow he managed to dodge it and stumble back, buying the god whatever time it needed to get both its feet up and kick the Serpent into the air and into the trunk of a thick tree. Kontu watched as his god took the initiative and rushed forward and slammed into its enemy, bringing up some kind of jagged blades on its arm and slicing the Serpent’s head off. Kontu watched for a few moments to see what would happen. Would the god kill him? Would it simply walk away without a word of thanks for so much as saving its life?
Kontu decided to make the first move: He knelt and bowed down, hoping the god would help him.
Tinoka stared at the tiny ooman, fascinated at its ability to speak the language of the yautja so clearly. There were tales of long ago when the first hunters that had found this planet came across the first ooman settlement, and taught them how to speak in the native tongue of the yautja. The oomans had learned and adapted quickly, and so a common language had been reached between the two species. Over periods of time the yautja taught the oomans how to build, at which the Pyramids were constructed to initialize the Hunting rituals for young hunters, like Tinoka himself. He had studied all this before coming here, to learn what he could about the planet that he would be hunting on, and what the rules of the Hunt were for hunt-ing the black warrior, and the oomans.
But to save a yautja’s life during battle by one of the soft meat as small as this one--that was unheard of. What to do when one of the prey ends up saving your life that you would one day Hunt? Tinoka had never heard of such a circumstance as this.
Clearly, though, the ooman had been taught at one time or another how to speak the way of the hunter, and that was good enough for now. Hopefully more communication would follow between the two. He stepped forward, trying his best to translate for himself.
The Serpent is deadlier and more powerful than we have been told. It will raid our village--something something; Tinoka could not make out the words--and kill all who sleep there. We must do something to defeat it. If not, then we are all doomed.
The leader nodded at this, and though for a second. The one Hard Meat that he had just fought and killed could not have possibly been the one to kill the other three students; any yautja experienced with a simple blade or burner could combat the alien species and win. The Hard Meat larvae that had escaped from the Pyramid must have transformed from a drone and into a queen and must have killed the three missing students. An alien queen mother, besides the one that sat chained and shackled at the bottom of the Pyramid’s deepest chamber, outside of the complex and feeding and breeding off the local jungle wildlife would soon become a problem. The bugs would then grow in numbers and be too large a collective to stop single-handedly. The hunters would need to regroup and come up with a plan.
There was more that the ooman wanted to tell.
I saw one of your people slain by the demon not two days ago; I survived to tell my people, but they did not believe me. I ask you for help, O Merciful God, and save my tribe. If not, then our sacrifices for you to kill the Serpent will be in vain and our dead ones’ spirits will not go to the afterworld. They will remain banished between there and this world, forever wandering it without a peaceful sleep.
Tinoka nodded to this; his people had taught this to the oomans as well, when they came, and he could relate to this. The spirit would wander forever if certain events were not fulfilled or started during a Hunt. He considered his options.
He motioned for the ooman to stand up. It did so, always keeping its gaze to the ground for some reason and never directly looking the hunter in the eyes. Tinoka signed for the ooman to follow him for the time being; if circumstances were as bad as the soft meat had told him, then it was best to keep a close eye on things for a while and see if anything the ooman said made any sense.
Tinoka started to head toward where the other students had gone off, when the ooman tapped him on the back. He turned around and paused, watching as the being pointed to another direction.
It wanted him to follow it for some reason. Tinoka did not know what for, but then this was their home, and the ooman knew it far better than the hunter did. A good Leader was always open for new information. Tinoka would follow his ally.
They went through the jungle, leaves and vines slapping at Kontu’s feet and body as they made good pace. The god easily outpaced him and twice the being had to stop to let him catch up.
Kontu quickly reflected back on what had just happened: He had lain out his story to the god and the god had granted him permission to be at his side. Never in tribal lore had this happened before! To save a god’s life was to have automatic entry into the afterlife, whether you were damned to roam in between or not. He had pleased the god in a manner that Kel Moka never could have, and surely this would mean that Kontu would be accepted back into the village, Kel Moka not withstanding.
Antor, on the other hand, might be another matter.
Just as the god was about to continue on its way, Kontu realized that he had to go back and get Antor. He quickly told of which way to go and the god had accepted that Kontu lead for a while. He knew where he had left his fellow warrior, and there was no time to waste.
When they got to the grounds of where Kontu had last seen Antor, he stopped suddenly, taking it all in with a single glance.
The tree and the pieces of bark that had been shattered from the main trunk; the leaves on the ground disturbed and in complete disarray; the blood that was on them, pooling and congealing together other leaves and soaking deep into the soil.
There were definite signs of conflict, and the outcome was obvious. Kontu shouted his rage to the night sky.
Tinoka followed the young ooman to the ground of where there had apparently been a struggle; looking around, the lens in the mask could still see heat signatures of where the body had been, but now there was nothing—only evidence of the struggle. Blood was present in the area, and the student put it together: They had came back for the ooman’s fellow partner, only to find that he had already been taken by the Hard Meat, probably used for incubation. The missing ooman’s death would be a painful one; to birth a drone, one could not and would not survive it. Tinoka hissed a warning to hurry up, even as his ally screamed into the night sky of this world.
The bugs could see better at nightfall and were more active; the yautja had come down to land in the night a few moons ago, to mask their presence as much as possible to the oomans in the village until the Sacrificial Ceremony could start. With time running out, he knew that the drones would scout the area and head for the soft meat’s settlement, and soon.