Sacrificial Pyramid Interior
Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
Three of the students, Baar, Vidik, and Nonchede, opened the sacred box by entering the correct moon cycle of this planet. With a loud hiss and a vent of mist, the box with sacred writings etched on the front of it opened up, and through the mist rose the burners. There were three of the shoulder cannons, each a different size, and the weapons themselves were deadly. They could burn any ooman or Hard Meat in a second; one shot directly would take out a drone, while one or two shots would kill an ooman, depending on how crafty the ugly creature was in its dodging.
Baar took the middle one out first--the second largest--and when the last of the three burners was pulled from its place the interior of the chest closed up, spiked poles coming up, the lid slamming down. This triggered the start of the Hunt; the start would be in the chamber above them as the oomans awaited their ill-fated deaths. The chest would open back up upon completion of the Hunt, and the burners would then be put back for use for the next Hunting season.
The masks that the students wore came with an auto-aim for the shoulder burners; you had to earn the right to have the guns, just as you had to earn the right to have one of the shift suits. In this case, the mask was indeed necessary in preparation for the Hard Meat battles to come. The drones would be a challenge for the young students, and only after a successful Hunt would the Leader return. Depending on how many oomans were infected up in the chamber above, that was how many of the Hard Meat they would need to kill. To go back home and leave one alive was criminal. The alien queen, imprisoned down at the very depths of the pyramid’s basement, would stay and go back into stasis, being frozen near death in a sleepless dream. Her temperature would be at an all time low, but she would not die.
The Predator race would not let her, just as they would not let her be free to wander around the structure as she pleased. The Hunters that had worked so hard long ago before the pyramids were built to get the queen mother where she was now would not go in vain. She was shackled by restraints that could resist the hottest fires and the strongest acids that were known. The Yautja were adamant about making sure the queen mother was secured properly, or else they would have to travel to a seeded world teeming with Hard Meat, the objective of that Hunt to take an alien mother alive, as a prisoner, and the process would start all over again...
Baar put on the plasmacaster, connecting the auto targeting system and other parts to his helmet. He whirled the burner around, looking left and right, testing out the reflexes of the cannon. Wherever he looked, the gun looked that way as well. Nonchede shouldered his, hooking it up easily. Numerous demonstrations back on the ship had been done to show them how to do it. The three of them had been chosen out of the others because they were the ones that had shown the most promise, as the Leader had said. Whether there was contempt or jealousy from the other students towards them, Baar could care less. He would not disappoint their Leader, and he would be Blooded when this Hunt was finished, this Rite of Passage.
It was the same with the shift suits as well. You had to earn the right to wear one. Camouflage was only for prey that shot back, such as the oomans. With the oomans encountered on this world, their technology was growing, but not at the rate that the Yautja had expected. They were slow and sluggish in building their homes, but were quick and crafty when cornered. Still, it was best to be wary of your quarry. The oomans were getting smarter, better . . . more intelligent. With every encounter, the oomans seemed to be growing in numbers as well as intellectually and tactically. Before the oomans had arrived, and before Baar’s time, tales and stories of this planet whirled around large beasts that had roamed around. Some were as large as a Hard Meat queen, and some were small but very dangerous. It was much warmer and the environment was much more dangerous back then, but that did not mean that dangers did not still lurk around the oomans. Baar himself had never Hunted the oomans, but he planned to some day. Right now his prowess was on the line, and his right of passage was come with Hunting the Hard Meat.
He turned to Vidik. “Are you ready?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
Vidik nodded. “Let the Hard Meat come. We only need to wait for a while longer, and when the time comes, I will be the first to kill one before you two!”
“Not if I find one first,” came Nonchede, swiveling around his cannon. He let out a bloodthirsty roar, one that echoed all throughout the pyramid. The other two, unable to resist the bloodlust of the coming Hunt, raised their heads and tossed their braided hair, and let go a scream of their own to their gods.
Inside the Sacrificial Chamber, Luta stared at the group of human skulls hanging kitty-corner nearest her, as if trying to will them to blink or come back to life. The spines were still attached and dangled freely in the air. They stood stalk-still, never wavering and would never touch the ground. It was a trophy collection she was looking at. Cobwebs stretched over them, unifying them as one collection. Underneath them, scattered about the room, were the skeletons of some odd spider-looking creature, their legs folded up underneath them as if to hide or protect something, their tails curled up or lazily flopped to the side, forever frozen.
Luta had seen other collections of human skulls on the walls opposite, but she hadn’t had time to take it all in before laying down on the stone-cold sacrificial slab, face-up. At the end of each slab was a circular hole. What it was for, Luta didn’t know. The nine slabs were circled around a stone etching of the Serpent in the floor that the builders of the Pyramid had made. The walls had intricate etchings and pictures, showing the gods fighting and defeating the Serpent. One such picture had the Serpent’s head on a spear, its body at the feet of the Pyramid stairs as the god screamed its triumph to the odd craft it came in. Along the way to the Sacrificial Chamber there had been massive statues of the gods in standing and kneeling positions, built by her fellow tribesmen long ago, dedicated to the gods in thanks for their protection.
She tried to look at her fellow brave tribesmen from where she lay. She had grown up with most of them and had loved them all deeply like family. She was glad that her father had let her go; she saw it in his eyes that he did not want to. She knew he felt shattered in what he had to do as his duty to the gods, as Chieftain. The gods had decreed, long before her time or even her father’s time, that whoever won in a tournament was the rightful one for the sacrificing. There were nine of them in the tournament that made it, and she silently wished her fellow tribesmen and women a long and prosperous afterlife.
The Sacrificial Tournament, as it came to be known, was done only when the gods came. Armed with only spear and knife, twelve contestants were set out to hunt and kill the most deadly of game in the jungle: a wild female boar. Males were known to be temperamental, but it was the females that were deemed the most dangerous because of their sheer will to not just kill but maim, skewer, and tear any enemy near its territory--especially if there were young nearby, which the female would then be extremely protective. The first nine hunters to hunt and kill a female boar were deemed fit to be for the sacrificing. Hunting and killing one of the most dangerous game animals deserved the highest place for glory and honor, and Luta and the other eight had been that.
To meet the gods in the afterlife was what every man and woman in the village longed for. They were all afraid of death, to be sure. But when it came to be your time, you wanted to be sure you led a good life, to have lived every fulfilling moment, and have done your duty to the gods. To not have done everything you could have and not try to please the gods was to be disgraced and banished from the afterlife into a place between this one and where the gods ruled. In this case, it was no exception.
When someone died and the Great Serpent had not yet risen, the whole village would get together and attend the ceremony. Herbs and possessions as well as plates of food were put next to the body of the dead one, so the spirit could eat and rest on its journey to the gods. The body would then be burned and buried the next day. The village would dance around a great fire and sing songs and tell stories about that person. The men and women that the dead one had left behind would cut themselves with a piece of obsidian on their arm to show their mourning. However many cuts they had signified how many family members had passed, whether infants or adults.
Luta knew there would be no burning of her body when she went to the afterlife, as with the other eight of her people. Instead, remembrance would be attributed by the whole village in celebration of the gods’ coming to destroy the Serpent, to restore peace and the Balance. That was the way of things.
The entrance by which Luta and the others had entered had been sealed shut following everyone’s placement, as well as other entrances that led off to different passageways from the room into the pyramid. The massive slabs were too heavy to move; Dekti, one of the Nine, had panicked when it happened, the sound of grating stone on stone sliding and slamming into place, and gotten up from where he lay and beat on the nearest door. He screamed, cried, and shouted defiance to the gods. Luta inwardly shook her head, sympathizing with the terrified warrior, but in no way did she dare to join him. Because he had abandoned where he was supposed to lay, his soul would now forever be banished between both the mortal life and the afterlife, eternally roaming and finding no peace.
Only by reminding Dekti of his place and the reason of his sacrifice did he find some shred of serenity and resigned himself to laying back down on the slab, completing the circle once more.
The Chamber itself was cold and musty. The faint hint of death lingered here; she could practically taste it. Her throat was dry.
At her feet, Luta saw something rise up slowly, and she saw every detail with her eyes. The slime. The fleshy, dark texture of the ovoid. Its slight pulsing. The sucking sounds as the top of the Serpent egg splayed outward like leaves on a flower.
Strands of slime dripped down to hit her bare feet. It was warm. She knew what it was; there was the showing and telling of it depicted on the pyramid stone walls as the Nine had followed her father and the god into the Chamber.
Fear jerked at her body but she crossed her arms over her chest and willed herself to stay. If she didn’t, the Serpent would not be destroyed, and her people would be in danger forever. The gods would not even accept her into the afterlife. She did not want to end up like Dekti.
The only shred of light piercing into the room was from a small hole in the ceiling above, which only enhanced the ghostly shadows on the ground around the Chamber. Luta could make out the stone carving of the Serpent on the stone floor, and there was enough light to make out the person next to her. She took a quick glance at Nethelak to her left and saw his eyes filled with terror at the spidery appendages extending out of the opened flap on his egg, like long fingers. Even though she was not bound by anything, Luta stayed right where she was on the slab, and closed her eyes. She soon felt cold, hard fingers wrap around her legs, like the strong grip of her father on her arm when she was little. Then her waist, continuing upward over her breasts. Then she felt the pressure change and climb up to her face. A death vise-like grip.
She took one last desperate attempt to avoid being smothered and looked at Nethelak or any others of her fellow tribe members. She felt something coil around her neck tightly, and realized it was the creature’s tail. She saw a fleshy tube extend out of the great Serpent. It probed her softly, touching her here, there. It was cold. Never in her life had Luta been so terrified of the Serpent, for it was only told in stories to make kids behave and be mindful towards their parents and elders before going to sleep. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she would one day be here in the Great Sacrificial Chamber, doing as others had done in the past, to abate the Serpent of its horrible and deadly sting and save her people from damnation. Her heart sped up, her pulse raced sky-high. Her breathing quickened, chest heaving from fright and the unknown. Suddenly the pressure on her throat constricted, and she couldn’t breathe!
The last two things she thought about before blackness took her was that the Serpent took many forms, and wondered if Kontu had came back from his hunt yet.