Hunter, We are Hunted

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A Neanderthal hunter woman and a non-binary early modern human hunt each other across the desert, but will they find love or the tip of a spear? A prehistoric adventure and romance set in the upper paleolithic near the sea of Galilee 57,000 years ago.

Hunter, I am Hunted

By Ishtar W.

 

 

Our story takes place 57,000 years ago in the upper paleolithic Levant beside the extinct Lake Lisan, a salt lake connecting what is now called the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea in what is now Israel. In the year 55,000 BCE, the land was more humid and slightly cooler. Early modern humans (known in the story as the Tall Ones) coexisted, perhaps not always peacefully, with Neanderthal (known as the Strong Ones). Our story starts with one young early modern human, or “Tall One,” from what is now called the Ahmarian culture.

 

 

The desert shrub brushed against their left shoulder as Euki knelt beside a small waterhole a day's walk north of their people's cave. In their right hand, they grasped a somewhat round but partly flat rock of slightly redding color. Offhandedly, they wondered if it would make a good hand ax, though now wasn't the time nor had they the skill for such a tool. That was something their father could have done, but not something he would ever get a chance to do. He had died at the hands of a Strong One hunters the previous warm season. If they could slay a Strong One, an enemy of their people, it would solve many problems they faced due to their low status.

A splash of water brought the young scout's attention back to the task at hand. They could hear their target stepping from the cool fresh water, having just enjoyed a morning swim. He was a Strong One, the bane of their people. While they had seen his kind from a distance following Euki's people when they hunted, they had never seen one this close. Stories told of when the Tall Ones, Euki's people, and the Strong Ones, his people, had been allies. There had even been mating between them. Unfortunately, scarce resources and many bloody encounters had long since destroyed any such relationship. With a shallow breath, they peered around the brush to see a Strong One up close. As they looked, a small blue lizard scurried away, having been spooked.

The Strong One was a young man perhaps a little older than Euki, but not old enough to take a mate, at least among their people. His body was shorter and stockier than theirs. Yet, beneath his soft brown skin painted in red ochre, they could see powerful muscles flexing with each movement. His head was slightly larger and very powerfully built, giving him a very masculine look. Euki had long found both male and female physique of interest, though they tended to favor the female form. Still, the young man's robust features were undoubtedly easy on the eyes. Perhaps the most striking thing about him was how normal he looked. Sure, he was different, as all Strong Ones were, but he looked like a friendly person. The realization unnerved them for a moment. He was the enemy, and one less Strong One benefited everyone, right? They shook their head and focused on the task at hand.

They would only get one chance, and if they failed and he regained his footing, there was no chance Euki could defeat him. They knew they should be more frightened, but their people regularly hunted much larger prey. Euki had even followed several of the hunts as a scout, not a direct participant. That had been what their father had been doing when the Strong Ones had ambushed and killed his hunting party. Now things were reversed, and the element of surprise and raw cunning were their claws... their chance to prove themself. As they watched, the young man bent forward to retrieve his possessions and clothing, utterly unaware of the hunter lurking, not one length of a man behind him. Was this really what Euki wanted? Would death bring them new life among their people?

Almost frozen by anticipation, Euki shrugged their feelings aside and stood to make the kill. They stepped forward across the dusty ground, tensing their body as they lifted the stone. Suddenly, the young man turned, perhaps having smelled or heard the scout. Euki swung the rock, but the man's abrupt movement caused the rock to clip the side of his head rather than landing a fatal blow. Issuing a strange guttural sound, the man collapsed onto the ground and rolled partway into the water. For a moment, Euki stood with the rock in hand, unsure of what to do. Their well-crafted plans vanished in an instant as the enormity of the moment struck. The man was unconscious but did not seem significantly wounded. He would likely regain consciousness by midday, when the subtropical lands became hot and humid. but right now, he was entirely defenseless. His humanity was plain to see, a problem, for their conscience.

Trying to remain focused on the task of becoming a “blooded hunter” and their standing among their people, Euki fetched their hunting spear from behind a shrub and placed the sharp obsidian blade against the young man's neck. They prepared to lean forward and press all of their weight into the killing puncture, when the realization of what they were about to do began to tell. Before them was a young man who had done nothing more than been born a Strong One. They had wanted him to look more monstrous and less like them. His people had killed their father and several others. Killing him would satisfy this debt and give Euki the standing to reject the man who had tried to make them his mate. This was the reason they had left on their own in the first place – to become a blooded hunter. Glancing back at the man, they could see a living, breathing person who had personally done them no wrong. Worse, he reminded Euki of several members of their own people.

Try as they might, they couldn't make the young man into the monster he was not. Euki paused, unsure of what to do. They could become a hunter in time, but they would likely be all but forced to join with a man before then. Just this past cool season, their mother had tried to play matchmaker and set them up with Urka, a violent but influential man of their people. It had been the final push. Urka had already twice tried to encounter them alone. Each time, they had evaded his pursuits, but the vile gleam in his eye told Euki they would not be so lucky forever. If they killed this man, this enemy, the standing of that deed, and that of a successful act of becoming a blooded hunter would both intimidate Urka and gain Euki enough respect among the elders to openly reject him. But to make this happen, they would need to murder the young man at their feet. Why was this so difficult?

OOO

Ah'ah'na lay on her stomach on the hot sandy rock peering over the edge at the scene below. She had been keeping an eye on the younger man, probably a scout, as he roamed the edge of her people's territory over the last two days. She had meant to let him leave as long as he returned to his own lands, but the female Tall One, who had come out of nowhere, had bludgeoned him with a rock. Most peculiarly, the Tall One female now stood before the young man poised to kill him with her spear, and yet not doing so. Tall One's bodies were very similar to her own people, and she guessed the scout, judging by their light spear, was no more than one cycle of seasons younger than she. Like her own people, Tall One males and females hunted together but rarely hunted far from their own lands, let alone by themselves.

As she watched, the young scout lifted her hands in the air in apparent frustration and stalked off, having spared the young man's life, though seemingly perturbed by their choice. Ah'ah'na adjusted her knee-length dry grass skirt and considered if she would follow scout. The young scout was headed deeper into her people's lands, and the peculiarity of a solo Tall One female scout so far out was simply too much to ignore. The land was hot and humid, almost desert-like in some ways, and bordered a great salt lake. Still, she had access to water and could live off the land well enough to go a few more days before returning to her people. With that, Ah'ah'na, the hunter, picked up her heavy hunting spear and began to follow the scout. She was more interesting to Ah'ah'na than the man, anyway.

^V^

The sun had set, and the air had cooled as Euki leaned against the rock face feeling the warmth of their small fire. They had found a crevice in the rocks which provided three sides of protection, their fire guarding the fourth. They were by no means the largest creature hunting in the area, so ingenuity would need to make up for lack of claws or fangs. Luckily, the spirit Fire Mother had taught their people how to make fire when they had been made from the clay of the world, or so the story said. They removed a small artfully ground stone figurine of the spirit Fire Mother and a piece of dried boar meat from their small leather bag. Placing the crude stone figurine near the fire to recharge its spiritual powers, they sat back and nibbled the dried meat while staring at the sea of stars above. The cool wind felt intoxicating upon their bare skin, gently blowing the stress of the day from their mind.

Glancing at the Fire Mother spirit figurine, Euki considered its wildly exaggerated female form compared to their own lithe body. Fire Mother had wide hips, a large stomach, and huge breasts that hung nearly to her waist. Her body was that of a mother at the prime of her life and very well fed – the most ideal form of female beauty among their people. In truth, if Euki were fortunate enough to be so formed, they would have been the most sought after of mates. Unfortunately, their body was not terribly curvy, nor were they heavy enough to meet their people's beauty standards. Having a child might help some if they survived childbirth. Still, their body was simply how it wanted to be, and, short of eating two or three people's shares of food, they would never achieve their people's ideals. Perhaps that was partly why they were of avak gender, they supposed?

There were four genders known to their people. Masculine males were known as kankan, while the less common feminine males were called kanva. Feminine females were called ava, while the less common masculine females were called avak. Fire Mother was definitely ava, they decided. At the same time, Ochre Father, a spirit worshiped for hunting and male fertility, was typically considered kankan. Euki was avak, a slightly masculine female who took part in the hunts but could also bear children. Avak and kanva genders were both uncommon and considered the result of a union of the male and female energies in unexpected ways. While their status as an avak gained them some unique benefits, especially with the spirits, it was not enough to escape the grips of Urka. Euki knew only one way to escape that fate, and becoming a blooded hunter was that path. As they watched the firelight dancing across the figurine's body, they wondered why Fire Mother was never depicted as avak. Their thoughts continued down this path when a strange sound suddenly danced across their ears like a gentle wind. The sound of music.

Peering around the edge of their protected encampment, Euki could see the tiny pinpoint glow of a campfire quite a distance away, toward the Salt Lake. From that small point came the haunting sound of a beautiful bone flute. Both the Tall Ones and the Strong Ones made and used bone flute instruments, but something was comforting about hearing the sound dancing across the empty desert, regardless of the source. There was no way to tell if the encampment was friend or foe, but at the moment, it didn't matter. Few were brave or naïve enough to challenge one another at night, and so Euki would sleep under the sea of stars and the beautiful music. Turning their head to catch the early sun so they might awaken at first light, they let the music slowly put them to sleep. Perhaps in the morning, they would approach the camp and find a musician.

^V^

The day was young, but the humidity was already becoming a problem as Euki approached the musical campsite. The semi-barren land was a mix of a sub-tropical and Mediterranean landscape. However, humidity could make it almost unbearable in the warm season. The dew had caused much of the black ash paint, which crossed their body to run. In the heat of summer, the scout wore a leather cape with vulture feathers sewn on to block the sun and rain. A leather apron covered their front groin with small, beautiful shells sewn into a pattern. The leather hung from a waist cord halfway to their knees, though their back was otherwise bare. Perhaps their finest possession was a necklace of vulture talons. Euki's name meant vulture, a massive and beautiful bird powerful enough to scare even larger predators away. Their entire body had been painted in thick black bands using ash from the fire, which had to be reapplied quite often. Removing the cape and carrying it was a little more comfortable, though they would have to replace it when the sun was high and the humidity had dropped.

Stalking from behind a large boulder and significant shrubbery, Euki saw the ruminants of a fire and what looked like the discarded remains of a cooked rodent. The area around the fire appeared to have been rather jostled, perhaps indicating several people. Much like their own shelter the night before, three large boulders allowed only one entry into the small crevice. Having a chance to examine the rodent's remains for any remaining morsel was too tempting, as their dry meat supply was all but gone, and the flute player appeared to have already left. Crouching low with spear in hand, Euki approached one bare foot upon the warm sand after the next. The wind carried only the smell of the salt like to the West, but no hint of anything or anyone else.

As they stepped forward, their left foot suddenly plunged through the sand into a small hole, causing them to trip and fall forward. A moment later, Euki realized they had stepped into a small pit trap. A hole about the size of a head had been dug in the soft soil and a tiny lattice of thin shrubbery twigs had been laid across its top. Upon the lattice, the cooked rodent's furry flesh, fur side down, had been stretched and covered with dirt making it nearly invisible. At first, the trap didn't make sense as nobody sprung from the shadows to attack. However, as they glanced into the hole, it became clear the purpose. At the bottom was a small, thin piece of wood with a sharpened end laying harmlessly flat on its side. Had this been placed into the center of the trap and pointed up, Euki would have likely received a deep puncture wound in their foot, which probably would have resulted in death over the course of many agonizing days. The trap had been placed along with the sharpened but un-positioned spike as a message that anyone could understand – Go Away.

OOO

Ah'ah'na watched the Tall One scout as she lifted the spike, no doubt realizing what would have happened if it had been appropriately set. She had a suspicion that the mischievous scout might pay a visit to her campsite, though it had been nothing more than a guess. Ah'ah'na bore no ill will toward the young scout and hoped they would take the hint. It had occurred to them the night before that the overly quizzical nature of Tall Ones might be the reason the scout had strayed so far from their territory. It was even possible the scout was attempting to follow Ah'ah'na, though that made little sense as they had never met. Their people had fought before, though it was a group of Strong Ones to the south who had been the local Tall Ones' primary combatants in the area. Off in the distance, she saw a small sand cat stalking something too small to see. She smiled as she watched it pounce. It was nearly time to leave before the interesting, but troublesome scout recovered.

The huntress adjusted her dry grass skirt as she watched the confused scout. The soft brown-skinned woman with black stripes painted across her body wore a single leather piece from a waist cord and carried a leather cape with feathers. Her dark hair had been rolled into large twin buns, and feathers adorned her hair. Ah'ah'na couldn't help but watch her. While most of her people found Tall Ones a bit off-putting due to their strangely smaller heads and taller bodies, she had found them to be of great interest. It was one reason she found herself scouting her people's perimeter, typically the task of a younger male. Of course, this also kept her far from home and the constant pressure to find a man and have children. Her mother had tried many times to find a suitable man so that she might bear her grandchildren, though she had yet to find anything suitable about any man.

Taking a sip from her water bladder made from a boar's bladder sewn with sinew, Ah'ah'na lifted her heavy spear with a chuckle and headed towards the southeast and home. She wasn't in a rush to return to her people and her mother's obnoxious attempts to find a suitable partner, nor her sister with her four children. Still, there were limits to how far one ranged alone in the desert. She would have to hope the pretty Tall One scout found what she was searching for. Off in the distance, the sound of a second pounce announced that the sand cat had found what it searched for.

OOO

As the evening waned and the sun sat low on the horizon, Ah'ah'na approached the watering hole where she had first seen the Tall One scout attack the young man of her kind, though not of her people. Water was critical for survival, as was remembering the location of each source of it. Ironically, to the west, a vast lake of saltwater sat waiting for anyone foolish enough to sip it. As she approached the small freshwater pond, a little brown and black bird with a large feather head crest flew off at her presence. She had been initially cautious, but the man was nowhere to be seen, and his possessions were also gone. Tracks indicated that he had recovered his senses and headed northwest along the Salt Lake and away from her territory. That left the watering hole as the best place to make camp with home quite a distance. By the next night, she would be back among her people, she thought with some remorse.

She placed her large leather smock-like garment on the ground to lie upon leaving her grass skirt in place. The pieces of dried grass were frequently replaced as she found new ones, and the grasses growing around the waterhole would suffice in the morning. The now smeared red ochre she painted her chest, face, and legs with was in bad need of repainting. Around her neck, a pendant made of polished bone bearing the carving of an Ibex, a goat-like animal her mother had always felt a connection to, dangled, reminding Ah'ah'na of her. That, her heavy spear, bone flute, bone knife, water bladder, and her sinew net pouch made up her possessions. Placing them on the ground, she began to stretch. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed movement in a shrub not that far away, perhaps from a small animal. Her stomach hoped that was true.

Crouching and lifting her spear, she slowly approached the shrub, curious of what it could be. To her surprise, she could see feathers ever so slightly moving. Perhaps it was a bird, which would mean she had just found dinner and maybe some feathers for her hair. She was hungry and had finished the remainder of her dried meat that morning. A rumbling stomach overrode her better senses as she approached the bird, hoping to bring it into view without it seeing her in return. She frowned as a heavy hunting spear was not the proper weapon for a bird, but she could always club the creature with the hilt if need be. It would be a wonderful change from dried oryx meat or the frogs and rodents she usually caught.

^V^

Euki knelt out of breath behind a rock watching as the Strong One huntress approached the shrub. Finding the huntress had been difficult. She had likely been the one to set the trap and, in doing so, had earned Euki's ire. It had been a long jog to catch, pass, and end up in front of the huntress, but Euki was a good runner. They had tied a dozen long grass pieces end to end, making a string they could tug from a distance causing feathers bound to a shrub to slightly move, resembling a bird. They had taken the feathers from their own hair to make the “Euki bird.” In truth, the illusion of a bird wouldn't hold up to scrutiny when the huntress came closer and saw it in full. Still, they only needed to distract the Strong One huntress long enough for a stab. Man or woman, an enemy was an enemy and the foot trap helped ease their pang of guilt over the deed.

Much as their people attacked larger, more dangerous prey, they would simply impale huntress and then run away. The shorter, stockier woman would be too wounded to pursue and die after a short time from blood loss. Euki had not been present when their father's hunting party had been attacked and murdered. They had no idea if it had been a Strong One male or female who had taken their father's life. While their motivation was not really revenge, there was a feeling of inequity which needed to be balanced, or at least that was another excuse they had conjured to help minimize the guilt. It was something one did when a family member was killed that way. Typically, the kankan's of the people would perform this task, but there was no actual reason an avak couldn't do it. They continued to reassure themself.

In the back of their mind, Euki continued to worry over the morality of their choice. This was only the second Strong One they had encountered in person. Was the huntress's life really a fair trade to avoiding Urka? Surviving childbirth, bearing Urka's children, and enduring his abuse was nearly the same as death, in their opinion. Worse, they could do little to fend off Urka, but killing this person, an enemy of their people, could change all of that. Yet, she was still quite possibly innocent of any aggression toward their people . Frustrated, Euki watched the huntress hoping perhaps they would look evil up close. Their ability to rationalize their actions was slipping fast.

As they watched, Euki couldn't help but notice the Strong One's body. Their arms and legs were a little shorter, but their muscle definition was clearly visible. Huntress had waist-length black hair with a few braids tied in. They wore a simple dry grass skirt and a necklace that appeared to have a bone pendant in an almost a circular disk shape. Euki sat there watching the approaching huntress finding her very interesting to watch. There was something about the grace of her movement and the way she skillfully stalked the "bird" that Euki couldn't take their eyes off of. Each of her muscles moved in perfect harmony as the skilled predator of a woman approached the trap. The sudden memory of their father hunting a bird came to mind, banishing their intrigue. A moment later, Urka's most recent failed advance came to mind. Using that quick surge of anger, they forced back any doubt and acted.

Emerging from their hiding place and approaching as quietly as possible, Euki prepared to impale the Strong One huntress. As they approached, they could see the huntress realized the bird was a deception, but it was already too late. Euki dove forward, thrusting the spear at her lower abdomen, hoping to catch the much stronger huntress in the gut. Suddenly, the huntress rounded on the approaching Tall One scout and grabbed for the thrusting spear tip. Euki lurched forward with all of their might, but instead of a penetrating blow, the powerful huntress's hand stopped the spear and Euki's momentum. The tip of the spear punctured just at the rib cage of the stocky woman, but it barely entered the length of a fingernail.

Her own spear accidentally dropped in surprise, the huntress grasped Euki's spear by the head with both hands. Euki twisted and shoved, trying to force the spear tip in, but the Strong One huntress had an iron grip and at least as much strength as an adult male of their own people. For a moment, they stared at one another, almost unsure of what to do. Oddly, instead of fear or hate, the Strong One huntress returned Euki's gaze with one of what looked like genuine curiosity. As their battle of strength continued, the spear twisted a little in the wound causing the Strong One to utter a high-pitched nasally gasp of pain. The stocky huntress abruptly broke the head right off of the spear, pulling its tip from her rib cage and casting aside in a shocking feat of power. Indeed, she was strong. The wounded huntress again leveled her gaze of intrigue at the now shocked Euki. The wound had been superficial and would do nothing to stop her from utterly destroying the weaker Euki if she chose to. The huntress was simply breathtaking.

"Ah Ah Nah..." the huntress began to speak. Before the Strong One huntress could take advantage of her small victory or even finish her strange words, Euki dropped their broken spear handle and swung their fist, meaning to punch the larger opponent in the face, perhaps gaining them the time to run. As their fist approached, the stocky huntress surprisingly didn't move to avoid the punch. Instead, she simply absorbed the smaller hand's impact knowing full well how little effect it would have. Euki recoiled as pain shot through their hand. The Strong One's face was like stone, and their punch had nearly no effect. Moving fast, Euki ducked as the huntress swung her massive arms, trying to grasp the smaller Euki. Unfortunately for huntress, the act left her slightly off-balance. Euki sprung forward with their hands out, slamming into the larger huntress's chest and knocking her backward and into the watering hole with a splash.

Without even a second glance, Euki turned and ran for the low cliff-like embankment just below a small crevice in the rocky hills. Halfway to the embankment, they risked a glance expecting to see the huntress climbing from the water. Not only had the huntress already left the water, but they were also almost caught up with Euki sprinting faster than they could have imagined. They knew Strong Ones were good short distance runners, but this was genuinely terrifying. A loose stone projecting from the side of the soft dirt embankment face provided a leg up. Euki all but leapt, landing one foot on the rock and springing most of the way to the top of the embankment, dislodging the stone in the process. Rolling on top of the higher ground and coming to a crouch, they nearly squealed in terror as the mighty huntress hit the side of the cliff and began hoisting herself up without even losing breath. Her chest heaved, pulling nearly twice as much air per second into mighty lungs, which drove a body over 20% stronger than Euki's. And yet, she still had that same, haunting stare of curiosity.

Euki began running, hoping to get as far from the larger woman as possible. As they did, they could hear the huntress approaching from behind. Just as they heard sounds at their heals, adrenaline raced through their body, and they hit their maximum running speed. They closed their eyes and continued running, feeling the air blowing across their body, sweat carrying away the heat as it had evolved to do. They ran and ran, using the only defensive technique they had left, across the sand, dirt, and even rocks. It wasn't exactly something to be proud of, but at least they would live to feel the embarrassment another day.

The sun set, and they continued to run, though any slower pace eventually becoming a jog. While a Strong One could undoubtedly run faster for short distances and had phenomenally greater short-term endurance, Tall Ones could run and jog for much more extended periods at a time, something Euki had done since they were a child. As they ran, they could not keep the mighty huntress from their mind. She had been powerful, and yet there was something gentle and curious in her eyes. The look she had given Euki as their spear bit into her ribs had been so unexpected that they could not shake it from their mind, even now. She had been curious, if not excited. But of what? Of Euki? The huntress was so mysterious, and yet, captivating. Euki continued to run, though they were unsure if they were attempting to escape huntress or their wandering mind.

OOO

Ah'ah'na sat by the fire, examining the small wound at the bottom of her rib cage. It was minor and would probably heal just fine. Why the Tall One scout wanted her dead, she couldn't imagine, though she wished it were not so. She found the aggressive and persistent scout rather amusing, if not a bit intriguing. She seemed frightened, yet she persistently stalked and attacked Ah'ah'na, a larger foe. Her bird trap had been rather cunning, and her aggressive punch of last resort, coupled with the determination with which she had delivered it captivated the huntress. She wished there was a way to speak with the Tall One who hunted her, to learn more of her story. But also to be near her. She shook her head, unsure of her last thought.

However, confusing their thoughts of late had been, there was one way to find out for sure. Besides, it would delay her return to her people. She would need to confront the scout and perhaps convince her to speak. She would also need to be non-threatening and calm, a tricky move, but it might work. Using hand signals, their peoples had communicated many times before. She supposed it was risky, but the persistent scout had been forcing the issue, anyway. The morning would likely bring a repeat of the evening, by her estimation. She sat back under the stars, considering how best to lure the beautiful huntress. Had she just thought of her as beautiful? She was beginning to realize her motivation was more than just curiosity. Still, it was a natural feeling and not one to fight. Off in the distance, she heard the cry of some unknown bird.

^V^

They had run for quite a distance into the night before settling down to sleep. Such lengthy running caused their boobs and feet to become sore. Offhandedly and with a chuckle, they had wondered how much worse it would have been for the much larger Fire Mother. Besides soreness, running gave the mind time to think, if not explicitly encouraging such behavior. While they had fled the attacking Strong One huntress, they could not deny that they had instigated every single encounter. Euki wanted to elevate their status by killing an enemy, a Strong One. With such a position, they could avoid such a violent mate as the persistent Urka. Was killing a Strong One really so wrong? They had seen a cousin of theirs return with the body of a slain Strong One man just that last warm season. But every time the opportunity had come, they had either been prevented or simply couldn't do it. Why was it different from killing an animal? Deep down, Euki knew the answer, and it was becoming impossible to deny it.

The next morning, Euki approached the large watering hole just east of the vast Salt Lake, north of their people's land. They had decided that they would observe the mighty huntress and perhaps even engage with them if such could be had. Over the last few days, the more they considered it, they had begun to realize that the real motivation behind their actions was escaping the vile Urka. No matter how bad he was, Euki was having trouble justifying taking the life of their supposed enemy as a solution. How meeting this Strong One would improve their situation, they could not say, but having thought about her all night, they were now sure it was something they had to do. They knew the huntress wouldn't share their feelings, but at least they might find peace and go their separate ways. What Euki would next, they could not say.

Exactly where they had been the previous evening, Euki found the Strong One huntress's small campsite. Moreover, they could see the huntress swimming in the large watering hole. She was actually more graceful than Euki had first expected. They were not originally going to approach and only watch from a distance, at first. Still, the huntress's clothing, possessions, and even their heavy spear were laid out quite visibly beside their burned down fire, as was a water bladder and a small cooked animal waiting on a spit to be eaten. While it was entirely possible this was a trap, Euki could see the huntress swimming and checking the ground for pit traps, now that they expected them, wouldn't be that difficult. Their stomach grumbled, and running so far had not helped.

Euki cautiously approached the campsite with their obsidian biface blade with a leather-wrapped handle held tightly in one hand. Poking at the ground with their toes, they felt for any form of trap as they approached the food and water. Glancing once more, the huntress continued to swim, seemingly enjoying themselves too much to pay attention to their camp. It was damn odd, but their stomach pained as the smell of the food graced their nose. Euki knelt before the fire and grabbed the meat. They knew they shouldn't eat someone else's food, but they were apparently not as skilled with catching small animals as the Strong One huntress. In the past few days, they had only caught one little rabbit, and their dried meat rations had run out. Euki bit hungrily into the small rodent savoring the roasted meat with every bite. It was amazing how good even the most mundane food tasted when you were as hungry as they were.

They had been unable to fill their water skin at the watering hole, given the events of the previous evening, though they should have done so as they had set the "bird" trap. Still regretting that mistake, Euki lifted the huntress's water bladder and drank as they ate. The water was the first they had tasted since the evening and dearly needed. Before they knew it, they had consumed most of the water and food. Unfortunately, their brain had become so fixated upon the food and water that they lost track of time, and worse, what was going on around them.

OOO

Ah'ah'na stepped from the water and slowly approached the camp, trying her best not to be aggressive. All of her possessions, including her weapons, were at the camp. While this technically left her defenseless, she was confident that she was significantly stronger than her opponent. She hoped soaking wet and unarmed, the Tall One might be willing to try and communicate. As she stepped around, she held back a laugh at the wholly unaware and obviously hungry Tall One huntress gobbling the food and drink she had left as a gift. She stood there for a moment, not wanting to disturb her visitor until they had eaten their fill, as a satisfied person was much less likely to be aggressive than a hungry person, at least among her kind.

It wasn't until she realized that the visitor had abruptly slowed their eating and looked more measured that Ah'ah'na realized that she had made a mistake. The sun was behind her, and she had forgotten to take into account the way shadows cast. The visitor had just realized that Ah'ah'na was right behind her but had not entirely stopped eating, probably considering what sudden and aggressive move to make next. Ah'ah'na thought fast and decided she would kneel behind the visitor with her hands out, hoping that such a supplicant pose might calm tensions when the more aggressive scout turned to face their opponent. Unfortunately, the Strong One huntress's luck failed a second time as she stumbled on a rock while backing up to kneel.

Just as the visitor rounded ready for an attack, poor Ah'ah'na lurched forward, nearly falling upon her. The Tall One woman rolled aside, causing Ah'ah'na to partly land in the hot coals. She quickly rolled out of them only to find the Tall One scout swinging a rock at her head. Ironically, it looked like the same rock she had just tripped over. She threw her hands up, grabbing the wrist of the weaker huntress. As soon as the scout realized her hands were no longer capable of approaching Ah'ah'na head, she simply let the rock go, allowing gravity to do what her hands could not. Ah'ah'na twisted her head sideways, just missing the heavy stone. A moment later, the pair began to roll in the sand, with the weaker scout seemingly trying to harm Ah'ah'na enough to get away. At the same time, Ah'ah'na did her best to stop each attack.

Likely believing that she had been ambushed and attacked, the young scout wrapped both of her hands around Ah'ah'na's throat and began to squeeze. Ah'ah'na was about to tear the weaker woman's hands-free when suddenly they both heard a terrifying sound similar to a laugh. Both combatants paused their struggle staring at each other in silence and fear. The sound came again, but this time closer. Rolling off one another and looking in the direction of the sound, they both caught sight of the source. A large cave hyena standing almost to their chests' height was approaching with its head down in a menacing manner. Within moments, it had come within two arm's-lengths of the pair.

^V^

“Hunter, we are hunted,” Euki whispered to the huntress. Euki wasn't entirely sure if they had been ambushed or if the Strong One huntress was friend or foe. It had all happened so fast, and adrenaline had all but made an analysis of the situation initially impossible. But as they looked into each other's eyes, they both realized the danger of the cave hyena. Euki realized that if they stood and ran now, the hyena might very well attack the other woman leaving them to getaway. But if they did this, they would be leaving the huntress to a painful and horrific fate. Euki didn't know for sure if this person was friend or foe, but they wouldn't find out unless they both survived. Now was the moment of choice.

“Crevice!” they yelled, pointing at the crevice just above the embankment Euki had climbed when they made their escape the day before. While they shared no common language, Euki could tell the Strong One huntress understood the simple gesture. The hyena paused, ready to bite, but slowly menacing in the way hyenas did. That extra moment was all the stronger huntress needed. Grabbing a stone beside her with her left hand, she tossed it at the left side of the beasts face, then swung her mighty fist at the right side. As expected, the animal snapped at her left hand and the stone, giving just enough time for the right-hand to connect with its head in a savage blow.

The Strong One's mighty blow knocked the animal sideways, causing it to stumble, then shake its head in confusion from the impact. Before the animal could react, both scout and huntress were on their feet and dashing once more for the embankment, this time together. The Strong One reached the embankment a moment before Euki and hauled herself to the top just as she had so frighteningly fast the day before. Euki grabbed hold of the rock and began to climb when suddenly they heard the animal coming up quickly from behind. In that moment of fear, they lost their handhold and slipped backward just as the animal lurched into the air for a savage bite. The pair crashed into one another, causing Euki's head to slam hard against the hyena and then a rock. They open their eyes, seeing mostly blackness but hearing the beast as it reoriented. Terror raced through their body as they expected the savage bite to shred their organs and disembowel them alive, as hyenas did. The horror at the prospect of being eaten alive was so sudden and intense that Euki began to mercifully blackout.

OOO

Ah'ah'na leapt from the embankment above, slamming both feet into the back of the giant cave hyena, causing the animal to roll away. As she got up, she saw the hyena limping away, obviously wounded and yelping in pain. For a moment, she sat there, stunned at her own sudden action. She had seen the poor scout sprawled on the ground about to be mauled, and the act had just come over her. Quickly standing, her wits returned as the adrenaline wore off. Where there was a hyena, there could be more, and she couldn't be sure of how wounded it really was. Without a second thought, she grabbed the Tall One scout tossing her body over her shoulder. She began to climb the embankment using raw strength and her powerful lungs. Even though the scout was much lighter, she was still hauling nearly double her body weight up the side of the cliff and hoping nothing attacked while she was doing it. Oddly, she noted how warm the scout's body was.

^V^

Euki opened their eyes. Their body hurt from several sore places, but that didn't come close to the throbbing in their head. Touching the hurt spot, they could feel and knot and knew it would hurt for several days, at least. Looking down, they noticed that their stomach was as it should be, guts on the inside. Looking around, they realized they were probably in the crevice in the rock, more like a small cave, it seemed. It was barely wide enough for two people, though they heard the sound of water dripping from behind, probably coming from the same source as the water hole. As they set up, they realized that they had been washed clean, and their scrapes had been treated with water. Aside from bruises and a little swelling, they would be fine after a good night's rest.

As they set up, they realized that beside them lay the mighty huntress. It seems that the huntress had returned to the watering hole for her possessions, as they were now neatly piled near the mouth of the cave. Her grass skirt had pretty much been destroyed, but the rest of her possessions seemed in good order, as did Euki's. Looking over the huntress's naked form, they realized that they were in nearly the same position as they were with the young man two days before. With a sigh, Euki put their hand upon the hand of the one who had saved their life. They couldn't help but feel embarrassment at how they had acted and what they had almost done.

This was their enemy – the people who killed their people. She was different in every way. Her forehead was larger, and her entire physique was robust. Her body was thicker and stronger, but also shorter. Even her voice sounded different, much higher, and stranger. Yet, as Euki watched the woman's chest breathing in and out, they realized that they were so much similar than they were different. Tears began to flow as a lifetime of prejudice, and fear melted like snow in the sun. The reason they couldn't kill a Strong One was that they could see the humanity in them, a shared experience. Suddenly, they felt a hand touch their face, wiping tears away. Opening their eyes, they caught sight of the huntress gazing back at them with the same inquisitive look as before. It only made Euki cry even more.

"Now, what am I going to do? I can't kill any of you because you don't deserve it. And I don't even know..." But they let their words trail off, realizing the Strong One had no idea what they were saying. Euki wanted to tell them how they felt and that they couldn't stop thinking about the mighty Huntress. Still, the likelihood that they felt the same way was too small to even consider. Feelings between those of the same sex were natural, but it was not as common as it was between opposite sexes. They were too overwhelmed by guilt and dismay to handle rejection.

"Ah Ah Nah..." The higher-pitched sound caught Euki off guard. It was the huntress speaking, but what were they saying? It was the same words she had used the night before. The huntress tapped her chest once more and spoke the sounds again. It seemed like it might be her name. In truth, Euki wasn't sure it was a name, but the hand gestures and way the sounds were spoken made a name seem likely.

"E...u...k...e... Euki," they replied, slowly pronouncing each sound and tapping their chest. After a few repeats, it became clear to both that these were their names. It wasn't much, but they finally knew what to call one another. Tears continued to form in their eyes, and their face felt warm, with slight pressure. Their throat began a lump which threatened to cause Euki to burst into tears anew. In only a short time, their entire outlook had been altered. It was all too much to take in.

OOO

Ah'ah'na gazed at the beautiful scout named Euki. She still had no idea why the woman had attacked her, but the tears on her face told of some significant issue that had driven her to this point. While the Tall Ones seemed to become aggressive very quickly, her own people tended to think things through rather than yelling about them. In fact, her people didn't speak that much, perhaps the reason for their introspective nature. Though ironically, all she wanted to do was tell this Euki person that everything was okay. Sadly, her own amorous interests were not very common among the women, and for that matter, the majority of her people. But it was still considered impolite to hold back significant feelings, so she decided to take a chance.

Lifting her hand and seeing no alarm in Euki's sad eyes, Ah'ah'na gently caressed the side of her cheek, wiping away the last few tears. For a moment, Euki appeared stunned, but when she didn't wince or avoid the touch, Ah'ah'na placed her index finger against Euki's cheek and traced a line across it, down her neck and ending at her solar plexus. Brushing a tear was one thing, but her finger's path crossed the language barrier without anything lost in translation. Her eyes followed the finger until she was done, then she glanced up to meet Euki's stunned expression. The breathless statement had been direct but straightforward. For a moment, they stared at one another almost as if sizing up each other's intent. But just as she was about to back off apologetically, Euki reached forward and touched Ah'ah'na's cheek. Seeing no aversion, the scout traced her smaller, slender finger down the huntress's neck, across her collar bone, and down to her solar plexus. The conversation had been silent yet meaningful.

Before Ah'ah'na could react, Euki, the scout, bent forward on their knees and embraced her. She could feel the smaller Euki's body connecting with hers in several places, but also several hot tears falling upon her neck and running down her back. The connection was a complete abandon of any ill intent, a permanent ceasefire of hostility. After a short moment, the smaller Euki lifted herself onto Ah'ah'na's lap, pressing their bodies together in an overt act of intimacy.

O ^ o V o ^ O

Euki felt the strength as Ah'ah'na's arms returned their embrace. For a moment, their hands explore each other's backs as they felt the irresistible joy and intimacy that came with such contact. After a short time, Euki pulled away for a brief moment gazing back, most of their tears gone, though their eyes were slightly puffy. Ah'ah'na smiled at the sad, beautiful scout, using her fingers to wipe each final tear away. She was unsure what had driven such an outburst, but emotions were tricky, and it was best to let them play out. Looking down, Euki noticed that Ah'ah'na's chest had an imprint of black paint from their body. They smiled, indicating the smudge, but Ah'ah'na nodded their face back, causing Euki looked down and laugh as they realized they no wore red ocher that had smeared from what had remained on the Strong One's body. However, most had washed off in the water. Euki felt waves of elation and arousal they had never felt before, driving away the pain and filling them with drive and warmth. As the laughter faded, Euki bent forward again.

Ah'ah'na was confused and nearly turned away as the smaller Euki bent forward, moving their face toward the huntress. It was almost as if they wanted to bite, but the look on the scout's face was one of passion and gentle movement. Taking a risk, Ah'ah'na let them approach. Suddenly, their lips touched. It wasn't a perfect connection, but it felt... good? Intimate, arousing? Nothing in her experience had prepared her for this most unexpected act. Sure, mothers sometimes fed their children this way, but lovers? There wasn't even food. Before the startled huntress could act, the scout's lips touched hers once more. They were as gentle as a blade of grass, and yet, her body responded with waves of euphoria.

Euki lifted their head and gazed at the gentle huntress's stunned expression. Her mouth was still slightly open, and she had the look of a startled animal, yet she looked as though she wanted Euki to do the exotic act once more. In the back of their mind, they wondered if Strong People didn't kiss? Ignoring the thought, they bent forward and embraced the powerful but now blissfully confused huntress. A moment later, Euki grasped the top of Ah'ah'na's head as it buried into their chest, their hands probing joyfully as they savored the feel of the strong woman's body and the delicate embrace. They weren't sure where this would lead in the long term, but their bodies knew exactly what to do in the short term. There was no shame, no one to judge, and nothing but the joy of each other's company.

That night, they sat near the opening of the cave, looking out of the stars. Ah'ah'na had begun playing a beautiful song on her bone flute as Euki sat there trying to explain what had happened. They had shared a few words of mostly hand signals. As best as Euki could tell, Ah'ah'na had never fit in with her people in a traditional sense, though neither had they. It seemed that her people were not from the same group who had been fighting for territory with Euki's people. Moreover, if they understood the hand signals correctly, Ah'ah'na seemed to think that Euki might come to live among their people. But most profoundly, it appeared that Ah'ah'na wanted Euki to live specifically with her. The thought sent tingles of elation down their spine and into their toes, causing a slight giggle.

True, they had only just met, hardly knew each other, and had spent much of that time trying to kill each other, but many relationships among Euki's people formed just as quickly through exogamy, arrangement, and simple love at first sight. Life was short, and death was as plentiful as rain. It was the first time either of them had ever felt right, as though their interaction was pure. There wasn't any awkwardness or anxiety, just a perfect harmony that left them both feeling complete. For Ah'ah'na, their joining had been a sensual and emotionally fulfilling experience with the strange, nearly lethal, but passionate and beautiful Tall One. For Euki, it had been an emotional epiphany as much as a pure need to hold and be held by the mighty huntress. But most of all, it had simply felt right.

If they Euki, this would solve the problem of Urka, though it would also mean never returning to their people were their mother. It was something to think about, but, as they sat against the cave listening to the beautiful four cord bird bone flute, the correct choice began to feel more apparent. They had never felt this way before. If they gave up this chance at happiness, they might never find such joy again.

“Huntress, you are mine,” they whispered as the flute played a gentle tune.


Submitted: November 11, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Ishtar. All rights reserved.

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