“Blood.” Raza pointed, just as Ahnda hooted from high above in the canopy. The boy’s instincts were good--as good as an adult’s. Without another thought, Raza dropped into a crouch, as did Vorak. What had the boy seen? Raza listened for danger, any sound that didn’t fit their surroundings. Should they flee? After a moment, Ahnda called again, using a combination of Cousin Chimp and Cat’s sounds, “Pachyderm. Dead. Alone.”
Raza moved forward, stooped over so he could hide beneath the foliage. Food! He’d heard the pachyderm’s painful desolate cry not long ago, the sound that could only be caused by a mortal wound. Then the blood. Pools of it, coating the leaves, puddling on the jungle path. What surprised Raza was that whoever killed the animal wasn’t now scavenging it.
Raza scooted forward, staying under cover of the dense brush, keeping downwind of what must be an enemy somewhere ahead. He moved cautiously, sniffing, listening, pausing often, searching for any noises that didn’t fit the habitat he knew like he knew his own body. His heart raced and his mouth watered. It was difficult not to rush. He hadn’t eaten today or yesterday, or the day before that. Not unusual, but it was time.
Mammoth—a rare treat. A quick glance overhead, but his ears hadn’t deceived him. No vultures yet. Good. He and Vorak and Ahnda would not have to dodge sharp beaks and tearing claws as they harvested what they could from the carcass.
Vorak barked, glared. Raza nodded and forced himself to slow down, listen, let Vorak take the lead as he guarded their rear. It would do the group no good to lose hunters. Ahead, Vorak stopped. He was motioning, crouched at the edge of a cliff Raza well knew. It edged a deep gully with a stream running through. They often stopped here for water on hunting trips.
By the time he reached Vorak, Ahnda had materialized at his side. The boy’s knuckles were white, muscles tense, but he was smiling. Raza peaked over the edge of the overlook. A baby mammoth lay on his side in a puddle, legs bent at unnatural angles, trunk reaching for his mother. She stood guard, trunk high, ears flapping, forelimb pawing the ground.
Ahnda started to scramble down the cliff, but Raza snatched him by his head hair and pointed. Snarling-dog crouched, eyes focused on the dying mammoth, saliva dripping from his toothy mouth. As the males watched, Snarling-dog darted forward, snapped at the calf, then retreated. He was testing. The cow chased him off with bawls and a swing of her mighty trunk, then picked up a trunkful of muddy water and hurled it with a splat onto her baby’s back.
“That way.” Raza pointed to a path downwind of Snarling-dog. Ahnda nodded and followed. As they got closer, Raza could see what had happened.
“Her herd tried to help her.” Raza pointed out a smooth gutter in the hillside where mammoth hooves had skidded beneath their enormous weight.
“Some stayed here as others moved to the far side,” Raza relayed the story with hand and body...