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Against All Instinct

Against All Instinct

Book excerpt

He knew himself as Konta. It was a name he had since the day he could start remembering, a name he had chosen for himself. It was impossible to know what name others had given to him; expressing such an abstract concept as a name to his fellow clansmen was a luxury he and his people couldn't afford. The very idea of a spoken word was unfathomable, as making noise was akin to calling out to every creature within earshot.

So, it was only in the silent comfort of his mind that he was Konta, and that was good enough for him. He gave names to his kinfolk in a similar fashion, not knowing or caring how they referred to themselves.

There was never a reason for him to consider why his clan only communicated with body signals. As he strode through the grasslands amidst his people, following the subtle signs of the chief he had come to know as Murg, the only thing that was on his mind was the coming year.

Winter had begun to thaw, ushering in the prosperous time of Spring – the time when the most docile of prey would begin to emerge from their long hibernation and find food as the vicious beasts that inhabited Winter retreated to colder climates. His people were no different: With the migration of such monsters as the Razorback Mammoth and Snow Gremlins who detested the growing warmth, Spring was a time when they could stock up on food in preparation for the coming Summer, when food was less plentiful and dangers more abundant.

A chilled wind whipped through the grassland, which was even now still tinted with a mild frost. Konta was protected from the cold bite thanks to his fur, pulled from an Obsidian Panther he had killed a couple of years before. It was his most prized possession, a sign of his capability as a strong, young hunter, and like every member of his tribe who bore the pelt of a beast, he protected it as he would protect his child. Without it, his status in the tribe would be scarce higher than the suckling babes who were carried in the folds of their parents' pelts. Without it, he could not be trusted by the others to be taken on hunting raids for the more dangerous but rewarding creatures that would come in the following months.

Many hours of travel passed before Murg held up his hand and stabbed his walking stick into the ground. The tribe had reached a place he deemed suitable to set up camp – a small grove that had enough foliage to conceal them at a distance, but not so much as to hide any potential predators. Night had already begun to push away what warmth was granted by day's influence, but the party did not waste time fearing the encroaching cold as they hastily unfolded their tents from the backs of the young men who had yet to prove their worth in a hunt. The sturdy poles forged from Everlasting Redwood drove into the ground in a single thrust, their light weight but nearly impervious strength creating a strong foundation for the covers that would ward away the chill tonight. The covers, made of the massive leaves of the Weeping Willow and caulked with the waterproof sap of the same tree, would hold tight against anything less than thunderstorms and squalls.

As the men hurried to erect the tepees, the women were busy preparing the camp with a variety of necessary amenities. They still had some musk from the Desert Squunck they had killed the previous year. When deployed lightly in a wide circle around the camp, the overwhelming odor created a sort of invisible barrier that was all but impassable by any dangerous creature with a strong sense of smell. While one group hurried to form a perimeter, another was setting up the communal fire pit, which would be used to keep the entire tribe warm during the long, cold night in addition to helping cook all their food. One woman had already cut a square of turf away for the firepit and set it aside: this would be replaced when the tribe moved on, to hide evidence that they had been there. A couple of other tribe members had procured some jagged stones to dig the actual pit out and made haste to finish the pit as the light of day quickly faded. Several more still were sticking more Everlasting Redwood poles into the ground around the pit, upon which they would hang a tarp made from the skin of the Sponge Whale: a creature with skin that could absorb almost any non-solid material and detoxify it, which made it perfect for preventing smoke from escaping the campfire area and alerting predators.

Normally during this process of setting up camp, which Konta knew as the Settling, the hunters of the tribe would be busy trying to track prey for tonight's meal. However, the approach of Spring brought with it a different situation. There was no safer time of year than right now, in the first couple days of Spring. Because of this, the tribe used this brief respite between seasons to throw a festival of sorts in honor of the new year and to strengthen their bonds against the coming hardships. It was the one time of the year when Konta's tribe could laugh and smile and forget, for however precious little time, their daily struggle for survival.

* * *

The fire crackled merrily as the tribe gathered around it, each family bringing something else to share with the tribe during this Time of Settling. One of the tribeswomen, whom Konta knew as Klika, had brought a sweet stew made from some preserved Fruit Bats they had harvested the year prior. Her small boy Klikin occasionally tried to sneak a taste before feeding time, only to be reprimanded by his father, the hunter Konta knew as Klik, much to the amusement of the rest of the tribe.

Across the way, Konta spotted Faygo, a fellow hunter whom he had grown up with. Konta watched as Faygo sat amongst the young women of the tribe, showing off a long, sleeve-like bracelet that he had just been given by Chief Murg while they tousled his shoulder-length blonde hair. Konta felt a little resentment at this – the Chief's bracelet was a sign of favor from Murg that only a choice few hunters were given. Most of the hunters that had the bracelet were much older than Konta and Faygo, both of whom had yet to see twenty Winters pass, yet the chief had seen fit to bestow his blessing on only the latter.

All thoughts of the bracelet left his mind as a soft touch alighted on his shoulder. He turned to see the smiling face of his young wife, whom he had only paired with in the past season. Her bushy brown hair grew so thick and untamed that it tumbled recklessly down her shoulders and past her knees, almost skimming the ground, but there was no mistaking the strong yet delicate body that hid beneath. Konta's face broke into an embarrassing smirk, his happiness and pride impossible to hide – he had finally earned what every man of the tribe coveted, a mate. In his mind, she was Kontala, the second half of his personal clan, and Konta could hardly bear waiting for his first pup to be born.

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