Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
Dawn broke out above the valley the next morning; the sound of local birds and other such wildlife made their presence known in the rays of the morning sun. Spider monkeys raced over branches of tall trees to start finding food. Birds flew out from their nests to search for worms or small grub.
A mist had settled over the village as Kel Moka emerged out of his hut, one of the many early risers in the morning. Others would follow, but the Chieftain was always one of the few to start out early in the mornings.
Kel Moka thought of what Kontu had tried to tell him, and his simply dismissing the warrior’s ranting and raving. Eventually, as the night wore on, Kel Moka’s curiosity finally got the best of him. Was there a chance Kontu could be right? Sleep found him late in the night, after many tosses and turns. Maybe he should send out a scouting party, just to be on the safe side, despite what Kontu had said about them already being dead. But they were not dead, the scouting party; to meet death you first had to be in battle or at the sacrificing as one of the Chosen Ones.
The tale of the Serpent battling the gods had many small off-shoots of what might happen; whether these side stories were made up from long ago or really happened, the Chieftain could not say. They were never written down; only passed on via memory. But one thing that all of his people did know: the tale of the Serpent had was one main thread that everyone had been told as a child, and it was this story that everyone would tell their children before they went to bed to make them behave.
When the gods came to demand a sacrifice, that was when the Serpent would always appear. Never before, and never after. It was never questioned why, but simply was. Where the Serpent appeared, it was never said or known. But when the gods came, they would expect a sacrifice in order to purge the land of the Serpent. This was the only way to save everything, everything living. To not offer a sacrifice was in disobedience of the gods, and it was said that they would leave if one was not offered, taking off in their large, sleek dwelling that they always traveled and came in, thus leaving the local tribes to deal with the Serpent on their own.
In Kel Moka’s lifetime, a sacrifice had always been offered and assured, for fear that the gods and the Serpent would bring to his people untold pain and death.
On that thought there was a pang of sadness and mourning as Kel Moka suddenly thought of his one and only daughter, and of Kontu’s outrage of her not being there at her father’s side in the ceremony and celebration. Kontu had the right to be outraged and cry at her departing this plain, but he did not have to go on about the Serpent being more powerful than anything before. Kel Moka had dismissed the man’s accusations of being appalled and shocked at seeing the Serpent and one of the gods fighting, for fear of a panic erupting and questions starting to be asked. Kontu was just in awe-struck at the power of the mighty gods, was all. Kel Moka was also in amazement, as he, too, had been called to the Pyramid for the preparation for the Sacrifice. Never before except in ritual drawings or paintings had he seen a god stand before him, and he took all the time that was needed to prepare rightly for the ritual.
Kel Moka grabbed his walking stick that, on the top of it, held together multiple strands of hair, and attached to the hair were three skulls. One was a fox, which stood for strength and cunning; another was a spider monkey, for speed and agility; and the third skull was a rabbit, that stood for stealth. When being hunted, a rabbit was always quiet, especially on its feet as it ran.
With the three skulls combined, no Hunt would go unspoiled. Before each outing, the Chieftain would bless the hunters or gatherers by passing the walking stick over their heads and bodies and letting them pass under it as they went by him. Then there followed a sacrificing of a bird to ensure a successful Hunt, which the warriors were anointed on their foreheads with the bird’s blood.
Within a short amount of time, Kel Moka had gathered four of the village’s best warriors to search out the underground cave that Kontu had spoken of. The four warriors were blessed and went on their way, promising to bring back word of the Serpent’s whereabouts and, if possible, the creature's head.
Stepping out of his small hut, Kontu looked towards the sky and saw that it was going to be another long and hot day, the sun already on its way up.
He had gone and prepared some things that night, and most of the items were already completed. He knew that the Serpent was going to come through the village in the night; it was just a matter of when. Stories told about the Serpent attacking and killing in the night, and the warrior hunter wanted no part of it. Kontu was surprised when he awoke in the morning to see that the creature had not came already despite his escape. He knew that the creature would come into the village; it was written in the stories and legends that were told all around the village each generation. Kontu, seeing as now the stories were true and not simply bedtime horror tales to keep children from misbehaving, was not about to take that chance of possibly waking up to the face of the Serpent in his dying moments. He was going to go away from everything and everyone; if he survived out in the jungle until the gods could kill the Serpent, he just might come back alive, while others would be slain. If no one chose to believe him, then it was their death beds he would find them on.
He hefted the spear and small deerskin sack he had slung over his shoulder and again felt the weight. Besides the spear, in the sack Kontu had packed up food and the necessary supplements to live among the jungle and its creatures. He reflected on his feelings the previous night and again found that whatever was coming to his people would not be good, unlike what the legends had told. Kontu had been up early as usual, and had seen the Chieftain send out four people to scout the Serpent’s whereabouts. Kontu had predicted this, even though he had thought it unwise. To be so arrogant and uncaring at what Kontu said to him, as Kel Moka seemed to think was simply nonsense and that he was just coming out of a state of terror, was to throw away your life and every other villager’s that you cared about. The scouting party were going to their deaths, if not already were dead. There would be no word coming back from them. Kontu was the only one that had been lucky enough on both accounts to escape with his life.
He could see that his people were not going to do anything under Kel Moka’s leadership, that much was clear. He had tried to convince a few of the others while the festivities were at hand, but they were having too much of a good time to heed his word, let alone listen. Most of them were already far into their drink or smoke, and after some attempts Kontu gave up. He decided to strike out on his own the next morning to see what he could find out and do to protect his fellow people.
And for Luta, as well. She deserved that much, at least.
He winced as a small pang of sorrow and regret hit him. It was better to acknowledge it now than later, but now wasn’t the time. He mentally tucked the pain away back into his heart.
Coming back to his present state, he looked and saw a small gathering of people over near Kel Moka’s hut. Several tribesmen were bunched up against the entry, but as the hunter got closer, Kontu realized that Kel Moka was speaking about something. Standing just on the outskirts of the crowd, he listened over the noise and chatter of everyone else.
“I have sent four scouts out to look for the Serpent’s whereabouts,” he was saying. “They will be back with their findings and tell all of us so that we may be wary of the creature.”
A perfect cue, Kontu thought. He stepped forward, and raised his voice. “They won’t be coming back,” he said.
All heads and bodies turned towards the back of the group to look at the young hunter standing there with a sack and spear in hand.
“And who are you to speak of such nonsense?” someone challenged from the crowd.
“Because I have seen the creature for myself,” he announced, and planted his spear straight into the ground next to him for emphasis. “I urge you to hear my voice. The Serpent is here upon us, and the gods shall claim it theirs, as always has been told long ago. But I tell you this, my people, that the Serpent has changed; it is not like in the stories told. I have seen it for myself. While you all were celebrating last night, I came back from the Serpent’s very lair.” He stopped, seeing a murmur rustle through the crowd. “I am lucky to be alive; the gods have spared me, though I know not why.” His gaze shifted from the crowd to Kel Moka. “However, they will not spare your four scouts you have sent.”
Kel Moka stared at him; who was Kontu to issue such a challenge to the Chieftain? Both men looked at one another for a second longer, then the Chief looked away, a flash of anger hastily crossing his face. Then it was gone. “Our gods have protected us for ages; why would they decide to disgrace us so now?” he asked.
“Because of your blinding leadership, Chieftain,” Kontu offered. The crowd suddenly grew silent at that remark. Never had anyone challenged the head of the village like that, so bold and openly. Nor so at such a crucial time as when the gods came. “Events that you or Gontru, the medicine man, have not foreseen will be your downfall. I myself do not know of these events, but such is true when one of the gods can actually be defeated, which I have seen!” This last part he delivered with a wave of his spear.
Everyone gasped at hearing this, and suddenly started uttering words of worship to the gods for their sins. Kel Moka raised his hands and they all quieted down.
“If the gods cannot stop this terrible evil, and you know what all the stories and legends hold, then we are all dead,” Kontu continued. “The Serpent shall run through our village and huts in the middle of the night and kidnap and kill us all. You all know what I speak of; it is only a matter of time. The Serpent is very well on its way here; it may already be here! If you do not do something fast, O Great Leader,” --that last part was said with some mockery and scorn-- “Then surely this village, this tribe, will fall before the Serpent!”
Kel Moka shook his head, waving his hand slightly. “I have absolute faith in the gods and their duties, young one. You should, too. To speak of such nonsense and trying to cause fear and panic around here is to break down this whole community and everything we have worked so hard for, for so many generations!”
Kontu looked at his leader and realized that it was hopeless to try and reach him; Kontu was just wasting his time and there were things to be done and paths to walk.
“Well,” he said, “you may not heed my warning, but the Serpent is coming. And when it does, then all of you had wished you had listened to me. No one here is safe; the gods may have their duties to protect us, but it will be at an extent that no one can guarantee their own safety. I, on the other hand, must leave this place and try to prevent what I can. Any of you may choose to come; any fellow company would be a grace.” He stood there for a moment, suddenly unsure of himself if he really wanted to do this, despite what he just said.
“Any of you may go along,” the Chieftain said, “but know this: To leave here without waiting for the fulfillment of the gods’ prophecy will lead to banishment forever from the village and the tribe. And you will be branded a coward for not staying with the village, should the Serpent be revealed.”
Kontu knew this would happen; it was only a matter of who wanted to follow along. Perhaps he could try to convince any one person on his way out. He never really had any friends during his growing years, so he highly doubted it. But at the remark of being called a coward, he whirled on his once-future father-in-law. “You think you’re all-knowing and righteous simply because the gods are here? I should think not. What was it you once told me when I was younger? Arrogance is the height of bad manners.” He pointed a finger at Kel Moka, an inch away from touching his well-muscled chest. “I would much rather be branded a coward and live to fight another day against the Serpent, than be under your leadership. You have changed, and not for the better. Ever since your daughter--my Luta--had given her life to prevent the Serpent’s existence, you have taken on a dark cloak about you. I can’t explain it.”
People looked to one another in a puzzled way, as if looking to each other to make up one another’s decisions. Minutes passed, and Kontu drew in a deep breath. Even though he was not above the rest of the people in terms of social status (regardless of his late wife-to-be), Kontu had to be heard and believed. He was the only one who made it out alive from the Serpent's deadly grasp; that had to count for something for being heard. He spoke among them. “I leave it up to you, beloved people. Luta and eight others sacrificed themselves in order for the Serpent to be stopped; if the Serpent cannot be killed by the gods, then that means that their sacrifices were in vain. What can we possibly do against such a being? Instead of being in the path of the lion, we must flee into the jungle and wait it out. Sometimes to save your honor there requires a course of retreat.”
There could have been a moment for anyone to step forward and declare their own self-banishment from the tribe, but that moment passed. No one spoke. He glanced up at the sky, just above the horizon of the trees, and saw the tip of the Pyramid looming above everything. The thought of Luta, his once-future bride, tore him to pieces inside, and his hatred for Kel Moka and the ways of the gods and the Serpent all converged together, making something in him; it started eating up that hate as fuel for it. It fed off his energies and his sudden vow of vengeance. He would kill the Serpent and get vengeance on the gods as well, for choosing to sacrifice his Luta.
Kel Moka was another matter altogether--he did not see the fall ahead of him. He was blind to the gods' ways, believing that the prophets could kill this deadly creature within a matter of one moonrise. Now it would take much more than that.
Kontu swallowed. “Very well, then. I see you have made your choice.”
“As you have yours,” Kel Moka said, his steely eyes staring right back into Kontu’s, branding him an outsider already.
Without another look back, Kontu set off, not really having any hope that anybody was brave enough to follow. Only he knew the truth about the gods; that the Serpent was too powerful to be stopped. Retreat was the only appropriate move, the only option; Kontu had been a warrior long enough to know when to draw back from a fight he could not win.
He had expected no one to follow him, of course; they were blinded by Kel Moka's dim vision. Kontu knew that they would follow him to their deaths; he was a well-respected leader, but lately Kontu sensed a sort of arrogance about him, as if he were leading them to a cliff that would eventually drop with no end in sight, a sightless waterfall into a cold, dark abyss.
Kontu was now alone.