Written for the Review Game's September WCC. Prompt: "For many are called, but few are chosen." -- Matthew 22:14. MS Word counted the story at 1,915 words.
Fran was struggling with her harness when she noticed them. The Maasai Elders, watching silently from the top of the hill. She noticed beside them a pair of Warriors, their distinctive long braids and ceremonial shields at the ready. Like they were expecting trouble.
She shook it off and resumed tightening the straps, directly opposite her the massive form of Dr. Kitson doing the same. The two local guides were buzzing around in anticipation, they looked strange in their harnesses, which were somewhat covered by the folds of cloth of their tribal clothing.
On the other side of the camp she could see Dr. Mahto patiently explaining to two more of the Maasai how the helmet camera's worked. Off to one side lay the cave entrance, unassuming and yet quietly foreboding. Brad and George, the local guides – who insisted on being named after Messrs Pitt and Clooney, looked upon it with a certain reverence.
For the oral history of the Maasai spoke of the cave. They called it "The Sanctuary of Thunder." But an earthquake almost 150 years ago had caused it to shift and change, making it nigh-on impossible to access for the tribe. Fran was approached by Brad and George when she was doing research in the country – asking if the "White People" had the means to access the cave.
After months of filling in forms for funding, convincing the various professors to sign up – in an effort to land the study some credence in the anthropological society – and strange negotiations with the Maasai elders she was finally about to explore the fabled caverns.
Brad and George had told her the story of the Thunder Warrior, who had guided his people when they first migrated south, who had kept them safe in the caves during the Great Storm, and how he had fought off the native tribes single-handedly. He was credited with being the founder of the Maasai presence in Tanzania, and as such the elders were reluctant to allow White People to be the first to explore the Sanctuary – eventually submitting on the grounds that Brad and George would be the third and fourth people down.
The entrance to the cave was already set up, the Maasai had cleared it of boulders some thirty years ago but couldn't go any further as only twenty metres in there was a steep drop which seemed to curve and bend, beyond which was uncharted territory. Fran found herself standing at the edge of the drop, anticipation and excitement welling up inside of her. Jack, one of the worlds most experienced Cavers, would be going first to check the area below.
She watched as he clipped himself on to the various ropes and wires with the practiced ease of an expert at his craft. And then he was ready to go, he stepped over the edge and braced himself on the other side before sliding down.
Danger. Fear. Panic.
Nuru knew he couldn't afford to panic, he was a Warrior and had to protect his people. Always he had trained to hunt the wild beasts, to fight off the other tribes or the White Demons, but he knew not how to protect himself or anyone else when the skies themselves opened and struck the ground with fury.
Ame the Elder cast his eyes to the skies and muttered something, Nuru waited for Ame to find the answer and lead them to safety. The rest of the tribe was anxiously huddled together, collectively wishing they hadn't left the main group. But a scouting party was needed, and they had volunteered. Nuru was given the task of protecting his people, to prove himself as a Warrior.
The rain seemed to lash down with renewed ferocity as Ame turned his worn eyes toward Nuru.
"The mountain will protect us, but you may not join us." Ame had spoken, and Nuru was obligated to remain silent. "In the thunder you must prove yourself, danger stalks us and we must flee."
The people knew they must follow immediately, and when Ame motioned for them to follow him they were quickly on his tail. Leaving Nuru behind to prove himself.
Jack was standing beneath her, glow sticks scattered around his feet. But Fran was more concerned with the cave walls, her helmet camera sending a direct feed to the monitors outside.
"Twenty feet…" Jack called up to her.
The cave paintings. Migration of people. She noted the fearful look on the faces, the depiction of hundreds crossing the harsh terrain, the ground littered with skulls and various Big Cat's - symbolising the danger of the journey.
"Ten feet…" She finally looked down as Jack caught her, his practiced hands gliding over the various clips and ropes to get her unhooked.
"This is amazing," She said breathlessly, "A first hand pictographic account of the journey from Kenya to the South."
"Send down the next lot," Jack called, watching Fran's cable getting dragged up. "Just looks like a bunch of pictures to me…"
"No, no. It tells a story, see… over here is where it begins. These markings mean home and safety – but lack of food. See the drawing of twenty warriors around a single antelope?"
Nuru knew that Ame had seen something, and it meant that he now had to follow whatever plan had been laid out for him. The damp earth beneath his feet was comforting after weeks of walking, but now he had no direction. Heaving up his shield and spear he picked a course and began. The dark sky and heavy rain meant he could only see a few paces in any direction.
It wasn't long before he felt the eyes of a predator, awakened by the storm and seeking a meal. The elder warriors would've been able to tell him exactly what it was and where it was, but Nuru was overcome with panic. He felt trapped.
The sky erupted, and for a second the plain was lit up. A second was all Nuru needed to locate his tracker, a leopard. It seemed small, only a year or two old Nuru thought. But still easily capable of killing him. Unconsciously he found himself slowly stepping backwards.
His mind said fight. Prove yourself.
His heart said run. Survive.
Nuru followed his heart, turning and flying off in haste. He didn't know if the leopard was following. The sky and the ground roared again, but only the sky stopped. Nuru continued running, the roaring beneath his feet getting louder and louder. Out of the gloom he could make out shapes, and it finally dawned on him. A stampede.
He couldn't stop. Wouldn't stop. Needed to go faster, he dropped his shield. He dropped his spear. He pushed harder and harder to get out of the way of the stampede, finally reaching an outcrop of rocks and launching himself upon them, he scrabbled and clawed his way to the top. Desperate for safety.
Finally he turned, and saw the leopard panicking in the face of the stampede, it came pelting toward Nuru but didn't quite make it. Just as it tensed to lunge at him the buffalo drove by, one clipping the leopard and causing it to fly out of sight.
Nuru sat, the chill of the rain becoming more apparent as his energy wore off.
"The Thunder Warrior." Brad chanted excitedly. "The Thunder Warrior was here!"
He pointed to the picture, Fran focusing the camera on it. A young warrior, holding a shield and spear, the spear pinning down a leopard. In the foreground there could be seen a herd of buffalo. George traced his finger over the picture, as Jack helped the other off the cable.
"This is when the Thunder Warrior duelled with a leopard during a stampede, allowing the people time to find Sanctuary. The God's smiled on him that night, and they never stopped." Brad continued.
"The rain was so strong he couldn't even see, he used his nose and his ears to fight off the leopard."
"And look here! This is how he fought and destroyed the barbarians!" He pointed at the picture of a burning camp, and Fran eagerly recorded the images in glorious high definition.
The buffalo had gone, and Nuru hesitantly came down from the rock. Without his shield and his spear he had to be even more careful. He stalked up to the unmoving body of the leopard, keenly watching it and gripping his knife tightly. The rain beat down harshly but Nuru could see the large gash in the side of the beast.
He knelt down beside it to have a closer look when its eyes flew open and it roared with defiance, the leopard's paw flying out and scratching Nuru across the chest. He fell back with a scream of pain and looked down to see blood slowly leaking out. The leopard had expended its last amount of energy and now lay panting heavily.
Nuru still felt sympathy, and crawled over. In one quick slash the leopard was put out of its misery. But Nuru could still feel the pangs of blood loss, so he forced himself up and tightened his clothing around the wound before heading off in the direction he believed Ame and the others had gone.
He was in pain. And so tired.
When he stumbled into the camp of the native tribe he was near-delirious from blood loss, the people acted quickly. Applying herbal salves, and applying fresh cloth to his wound. Nuru was too tired to understand what he had done, where he was. He hadn't seen the leopard's family stalking him, waiting for him to fall.
He didn't realise he had led them under the cover of the storm straight to the encampment of these people.
Nuru lay, struggling for breath, contemplating the Gods will. Unaware of the fight breaking out around him, he didn't protest when his knife was taken by a young woman – desperate to survive, he didn't even notice a lone leopard stalk into the tent and leave again when it saw the lack of threat.
Nuru succumbed to the visions, rising from the mat he was laying on and staggering out. Right through the middle of the battle, uncaring as a man had his throat torn out right in front of him. In his eye he saw his people, gesturing him forward.
He pushed onwards, the pain in his chest gone. A smile alighting his face as he came to the edge of the cliff-face.
Ame's scout moved swiftly across the surrounding plains, stopping at the soaked carcass of the leopard. He noted the blade mark across its throat and the tracks of a herd of buffalo. The rain had lightened for the moment, but he knew by tomorrow the tracks would be gone. And the leopard would be stripped to the bone.
A few hours later he came upon the camp of the barbarians, there bodies mutilated by scavengers. In the dirt he found the bloodied knife of Nuru.
The scout returned to the cave with skins filled with water and the pelt of a leopard, "Where is Nuru?" Ame asked.
The scout recalled what he saw. Ame sat silently in contemplation. "Do you want me to look for him Ame?"
"No, he is celebrating with the God's now."
"So he proved himself?"
"Beyond what anyone could have expected. Come, son. You must eat. And we must recount the story of Nuru the Thunder Warrior to our people."