Tarog crouched in the brush, watching the great beasts moving slowly across the plain. Reaching out with their trunks, they picked tender leaves off the stunted trees and gathered what grass they could from the ground, then brought the meager food up to their gaping mouths. They were heading for better feeding in the trees at the base of the foothills in the direction where the sun rises.
Raga Tubat flashed a hand signal and all six men moved forward, their flint-tipped spears ready, pulling closer to their chests the leafy branches they were dragging behind them. Tarog kept one eye on his chief, the other at the edge of the herd, where the calf he had targeted had strayed.
Suddenly, Raga Tubat jumped up from his hiding place. The others jumping too. At their chief's command, all six men brandished the leafy branches they had been dragging, shaking them at the herd, while shouting as loudly as they could.
It took a few seconds for the mammoths to recognize the danger. But soon, with a loud bellow, the lead bull turned and began loping away from the men, running at an amazing speed for such a large animal. The hunters cheered and shook their branches even more vigorously at seeing the rest of the herd following in a panicky stampede toward the marsh where they hoped the animals would be slowed and exhausted in the thick mud.
The men followed the stampeding herd, staying back but close enough to observe if an animal fell to be trampled by its brothers or became ensnared in the mud and grasses. Tarog followed his calf waiting for it to reach the marsh where he was sure they could take it. It was now even further separated from the rest of the herd. It would be Tarog's first mammoth. He wanted that kill.
Suddenly, "Run" Raga Tubat shouted to the men at seeing the stampeding herd turn away from the marsh, moving at full gallop in the direction of the hunters. Something had panicked the mammoths sending them toward the hunters. From the side, where he had been following the calf, Tarog saw a pride of cave lions speeding out of the long grass surrounding the marsh. The lions pounced on Tarog's calf. With a quick shake of it's head the half-grown giant managed to toss them off.
Now the calf resumed its panicky run, and it was heading directly for Tarog. The hunter could hear the pounding of its feet as it came nearer and nearer. Feeling the beast's breath on his neck, Tarog turned. What he hoped would be his prey was nearly upon him. He threw himself to the side and rolled on the rough grass in a desperate attempt to escape those pounding feet.
He nearly made it, but when one great mammoth foot smashed into his right leg, he shrieked, then fainted with the pain flowing through his body. He awoke seconds later, finding the stampeding herd had passed. Raising his head, he cried out, "Father Sky, will you not take me now?"
It seemed Father Sky was not yet ready to take Tarog for he was still breathing, though his leg was shattered and bleeding. He looked around, seeing no sign of the other hunters. Across the plain, was the calf, down now and providing a meal for two of the cave lions. To his right, and farther away, a young adult mammoth was the meal of the other three cave lions.
Hoping the lions were busy with the mammoths, Tarog undertook to slide his broken body across the grass toward the rivulet that flowed into the marsh. Slowly, laboriously, he moved forward, toward the high grass, away from the lions.
Then he was at the stream, pushing his face in, rolling his whole fevered body in, letting the cold water wash the blood and broken flesh from his shattered leg. What now? Can I live like this? With this leg I can never be the hunter I wished to be. No, I'll stay here and let Father Sky take me.
He lay in the cold water for a while, but again Father Sky did not take Tarog. He pulled himself out of the stream and after laboriously managing to crawl onto the bank, he looked again at the lions feasting on their kill. Nowhere did he see any of the other hunters. They have gone to Father Sky. Only I am left to carry the tale back to our people, if Father Sky does not take me too.
Ahead, the long grass continued along the course of the stream. Lowering his body to the ground, he began half crawling, half sliding, distancing himself as much as he could from the feasting lions. It was exhausting work. Often Tarog needed to lower his head to the ground to breathe deeply and rest his back and shoulders.
It was on the third such rest period that Tarog found the black rock. He dropped his head to the ground and it hit the hard surface with a thud. Tarog studied it. It was like nothing he had ever seen. As he brushed away the leaves and dirt covering it, he saw the shape was strange, an affront to the nature the young hunter knew.
The rock was large, about as big as a man with arms spread. It's unnatural shape was marked by four strange pointed features equally spaced around it. The sides of the rock joined the four points and were straight, straighter than a hair, straighter than anything Tarog had ever seen.
He waited there longer than he should, studying the rock. He ran his fingertip along the straight sides, around and around. Again, he lowered his face to press his ear to its surface, but heard nothing, he licked it, and tasted nothing but dust. He tried to grip one edge, to pull it up, out of the dirt, but the strange rock didn't move. He knew it wouldn't.
He examined the rock once more before he pulled himself onto it until his whole damaged body was on top. Then...
Tarog stepped into the grass. He turned and looked back for a moment at the huge, black column slowly sinking into the earth. He tried to recall what happened inside.
He remembered a strange sound playing in his ears, high pitched, not unpleasant, but with slight variations in the pitch. And there was the fine, white mist that surrounded him. And then he was here, standing in the tall grass, watching the black stone column descending again into the earth.
But he wasn't the same now, the black rock had changed him. His body was whole and strong, stronger than before, stronger than any man of his tribe, somehow he knew that. No longer did he possess the body of a young man barely out of boyhood, a man of only sixteen summers. Now he possessed the body of a great hunter, of the greatest hunter.
Across the plain, he could see the lions, still feasting. He knew their habits. They were gorged now and soon would doze for a while before carrying meat back to their mate and their cubs.
He turned to see the rock again buried in the earth, all except its top surface, low and flat, hidden among the grasses. He stared at the strange shape for a moment, thinking. Once more he stepped onto it. He made sure his entire body was inside the confines of the rock's perimeter, but nothing happened. Whatever the purpose of the rock was, it had been accomplished.
Tarog had no weapon except the small, flint knife in his loincloth. He had dropped his spear while running from the stampeding mammoths. Keeping his eye on the lions, he walked through the grass and forded the stream. He found his spear on the plain, the shaft broken, but the spearhead intact. Holding the broken weapon across his chest, he moved slowly, carefully, looking for his companions.
He found one, his brother Sarok, his body trampled into the ground by the feet of many mammoths. He looked for Sarok's weapons, but could not find them. Skirting the edge of the plain, Tarog found the remains of the other hunters, their bodies mangled, all gone to Father Sky. Most of their weapons were broken, but he kept the flint spearheads, storing them in the pouch Raga Tubat had carried. He found an unbroken spear, apparently dropped or cast aside by one of the fleeing hunters.
Tarog shook his head. Five men, our best hunters, all with Father Sky and no meat for the tribe. I, Tarog, must now be as strong as five hunters. I will bring the tribe meat.
With his one whole spear in his hands, he moved toward the lions sleeping beside the dead mammoth calf. The tawny beasts looked up as the man approached. One flicked its tail, the other tried to warn him away with a growl.
All his life, Tarog had been taught to fear cave lions. But surprisingly, he felt no fear, only anger and the lust to kill. With a shout, he brandished his spear and moved closer, threatening the lions, seeking to drive them from the mammoth calf that could feed his whole tribe for a week.
The lions sat up, watching the foolish human who thought he could drive them from their kill. One lashed out at the man with its sharp claws Tarog moved quicker than the lion to slice at its paw with the point of his spear. The lion squealed in pain and backed away.
Tarog shouted again, thrusting his spear at the remaining lion. The lion moved from its sitting position to stand on its feet. It snarled once before leaping. Tarog's spear was pointed out, and as the lion leapt the sharp point was forced into the lion. With the spear in its chest, crying, growling, the beast swiped its claws at its attacker, bloodying Tarog's chest and shoulders.
Unaware of the wounds he was receiving, with his own broken spear in his left hand Tarog thrust it into the lion's eye, pushing deeper until the sharp point penetrated the beast's brain and it fell dead at his feet.
"Aii! I have killed a cave lion," Tarog shouted in triumph to the world and Father Sky.
.... There is more of this story ...