Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
Darkness. Powerful, silent. It wrapped all around his mind, foggy and black. Dense. It wanted to hug him, protect him, keep him from harm. It was a warm darkness, like a mother’s love for her child.
Something sharp and painful tugged at his consciousness, something… important, it seemed. But all he wanted to do was be in the darkness, to sleep; comfortable, warm, and silent…
With a sharp intake of breath Kontu awoke. His eyelids snapped open, and for a moment he thought he was temporarily blind. He shut his eyes again quick, his sight perceptions overloaded. Then he opened them again, this time cautiously… slowly. A sharp pounding exploded in his head, like someone driving an arrowhead into his brain. Then he remembered… and with that remembrance came realization.
He gazed upward, not knowing where he was for a moment. He found he was on the ground, on his back. He sat up, the pain in his head sharpening, making him almost black out a second time into unconsciousness. But he fought it and won. Barely. When the pain subsided somewhat to a manageable level, he looked around, taking in everything before him. His jaw dropped.
Where once the tall sacred Pyramid stood, there was nothing… absolutely nothing that was grand and mighty. Words could not explain the depths and range of emotions he was feeling. Everything was so… dead. Barren. Trees below the mountain he was on were charred and blackened; the ground itself nothing but a black mass. . . a crater. And where the Pyramid once was there were only boulders, rocks, and debris of all sizes. Nothing resembled the monotonous towering structure it once was. It had turned into nothing more than dust and debris.
As far as the eye could see there was only black and dust. The sun continued its descent over the horizon, glittering and splintering off fragments of dust particles in the air. The area’s width was so… so huge. Kontu thought he would never in his entire lifetime see anything as big as the Sacred Pyramid itself. Where he once walked on its stairs, where the gods had their sacrifices inside it so the Serpent could be defeated… He knew that none of that mattered now. The Pyramid was only a fraction of a size in comparison to how wide the desolated area was. And what caused it? He remembered feeling the sudden brightness and heat of a thousand suns… He did not know, and he would probably spend the rest of his life questioning that. He remembered fleeing from the Serpent and its deadly sting, the gods fighting, with their lives depending on it… and he looked back and saw a white fireball rushing towards him. For an instant he thought the sun had come alive. Extreme heat enveloped him. Then, nothing.
There was a moan beside him and he casually gazed down, still trying to come to terms with everything.
He had forgotten his fellow warrior in his shock and awe.
Kontu got down on his hands and knees and took his companion’s head in his arms. He put him in his lap, and held him. Mantrua moaned some more, a trickle of blood running lightly down one side of his mouth. Kontu saw that his ankle had indeed swelled in their traveling. It would be swollen for some time, too. But other than that, Kontu did not see any other wounds to be assessed for. He checked himself over, and saw nothing but a few minor scrapes and cuts that would heal in a week’s time, give or take. Then he thought of something.
He snapped his head up in a sharp movement, and the pain in his head reacted, making him see stars for a second. He gazed to where the rest of his--no, their--people were. Amidst the blackened soil there was nothing to see, except stumps where tall, magnificent trees once stood that gave his people shelter from the rainy seasons and the wind. Some of the trees still stood, but were consumed by fire and burned brightly in the coming evening.
Everything that had been… was no more.
Everything in the village itself was obliterated. Only blackness remained, just like the temple. Everything had ceased to exist in this one spot, this one frame in time. Everything except two hunters.
The last of their people.
Kontu looked back down and saw Mantrua gazing up at him, brown eyes piercing into his blue ones. Kontu could only shake his head.
Mantrua sat up, putting a hand to his head. He cringed. “My head hurts. The gods must have been really angry at us...” He surveyed the scene before him, and, like Kontu, was too shocked for words at the moment. His mouth gaped. “What….?”
Silence stretched for miles… years… eons. Not even the chirp of a simple bird. Nor even the cry of a monkey.
“The Serpents,” Kontu said. His voice had an eerie quality to it, bouncing off the deadness of the place. “The Serpents are dead.” Then he said what was he felt Mantrua needed. “We survived.” His voice echoed for what seemed like a long time through the valley from that one spot on the hill.
Still not able to grasp the idea, Mantrua shook his head in disbelief.
Kontu laid both hands on his shoulders, taking him in. “We’re alive. We made it.” Finally, after a long moment, Mantura nodded. He understood what could have become of them…. what already has become. But both of them didn’t know what was to come. And that would wait. For now, they had each other.
The sun slowly descended deeper into the horizon, and they both knew that it would be night soon. With that realization came another one: they did not have anything to fear now; the nightmare and the awful terrors that it brought was gone. The gods had won, just as was told in the stories, even if it was at the hands of sacrificing themselves. The gods knew, just as Kontu and Mantrua did, that there could be no other outcome. It was meant to be this way from the very beginning, ever since the sun came and passed on the very first day of existence. There was no fighting or changing the way of the gods; everything was set for a purpose. Within the Pyramid walls them-selves there had been tales set in stone about how the sun appeared at midnight, and the intensity of the heat. Kontu could feel the heat just from where he was sitting.
But they had made it. They had survived. Just the two of them.
Just the two of us.
Kontu sucked in a deep breath. “We’re it. We’re the last of our people.”
“We are. We are!” Mantrua sunk to his knees suddenly. He put his hands on the ground and started praying to the gods. It was quiet, soft, but every-thing was so silent that Kontu could hear every word. In his prayer the warrior was stricken with grief, angry at the gods and yet thankful that they had chosen to spare his life at the same time.
But he and Kontu were still the last of their people. Everyone they knew, had grown up with, had hunted with… had loved: all gone in an instant. The Serpents and the gods--how was it that everything had come to this moment, here and now? This emptiness that he felt all over himself?
And his beloved Luta…
But was it all for nothing? Did they all die for nothing?
No. The Serpents had been stopped. Every last one had been killed. The stories might have been true to an extent, but Kontu now knew the truth. He knew that the Serpent itself was Darkness. It was many, not just one beast that was depicted in the tales. And it was real.
But how would this tale go on? Who would tell it, now that he and Mantrua were the last two of their tribe? That there would be no children to tell it to; no songs to sing; no hope of remembrance--
“Look!” Mantrua pointed. “What’s that over there?”
Kontu turned to where the warrior pointed, and saw something else beyond belief.
People were coming their way. Not a whole lot of them, but some. He watched as the sun continued downward, shadows stretching forever. The small group looked all around themselves, disheveled and shocked, just as much as Kontu and Mantrua were. Still, they somehow kept walking.
Kontu inwardly thanked the gods above and said a silent prayer.
These were the survivors. These were his and Mantrua’s people.
The two of them met the first person they came to, one of the village females named Oricha. Kontu knew her: she had delivered him when he was born, and she was the caretaker of his first days of life. He bowed before her, placing his hands out so she may graze them. Mantrua did the same, as she had nursed him back to health when he had been dreadfully ill some years back.
She beckoned for them to rise.
“My children,” Oricha said, and the two of them stood, seeing that the rest of the group had caught up. They all were much younger than she was. “Do not bow to me,” she continued. “You have saved us all. It is you we should be bowing to.”
Before Kontu knew what was going on, the group had lowered to him, their heads all on the ground, hands extended in forgiveness.
“But, how did you…?”
She glanced up at him. “Know?” He beckoned for her to rise. “We didn’t; we made a decision that we obviously now know meant a much greater deal to you than to us, when you were trying to convince us to leave the village with you then.”
Kontu could only look at her. He gestured, eager to hear more.
She continued. “After you had left, a council had been called seeing what to do about the possibility of the Serpent coming upon us, if the stories were to be believed. Granted, the stories only said the village would be attacked, and obviously none of the others had taken heed to your warning. But some of us did listen to what you were saying. To most of us it did not make sense; however, some of us still remembered how young we were once. We took heed of your warning, and Kel Moka dismissed us as blasphemers.
“We headed in the same direction you did, for we thought you were already headed on a direct path to somewhere. Darkness descended, and on the first night our party was attacked. The Serpent came to visit us, and it took one of us. The next morning we headed in the same direction you had taken again.” Oricha waved to the people behind her. There were only thirty people among the group, give or take. Not much at all, comparing to how big the tribe and the village originally were.
“There were fifty of us. Now there’s only thirty four. If it were not for you, we would all surely have been dead at the hands of the Serpent. We are forever eternally grateful and owe you a debt we can never repay.” She turned to the group and raised her hands.
“All hail Chief Kontu! All hail Chief Kontu!”
The tribe voiced their affirmation to the sky, and to their new Chief. Oricha turned back to Kontu. “What shall be your first order, O Great One?”
Kontu looked on at the survivors of the tribe, not quite sure what to say or do. He was flabbergasted, and extremely flattered they would promote him to such ranking. He knew being the village Chieftain had been upon his sights at one point in his life, but that was only supposed to happen when he was to marry Luta. Traditional rites of marriage and bonding customs on part of the male were that if he was being married, then he automatically became the new Chieftain, no matter if the offspring of the former one was male or female, and the former one would step down. An old life that seemed a lifetime ago now. Never could he possibly have imagined he would have become Chieftain this way, much less all the events leading up to it.
He looked to Mantrua. “Well,” he said, raising his voice so all the others could hear him, “I think the first thing to do would be to settle down and find our home.”
“And where would this place be, Chief Kontu?” Mantrua asked, emphasizing the new title in his name.
The new Chief nodded in a north-westerly direction, where life and nature flourished beyond the tainted touch of the black soil. Unlike where they now stood, in a desolate black pit of a valley.
“Anywhere but here.”
As one the group headed in the appointed direction, evening drawing to a close as the sun was fully engulfed by the horizon and the land beyond. There was much to talk about and just as much to celebrate for, as well as grieve, both for loss and for life. There was to be much mourning ahead. There were songs to be sung, and stories to start anew.
They were heading home.
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