Survival of the Fittest: A Blog Hop
Survival of the Fittest
Five tribes. One leader. A treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home
Survival of the Fittest
Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.
Title and author: Survival of the Fittest
Series: Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga
Genre: Prehistoric fiction
Cover by: Damonza
Available at:Kindle USKindle UKKindle CAKindle AU
Survival of the Fittest Q & A
Q & A with author Jacqui Murray
Q: What one characteristic would you say allowed Xhosa to survive in a world populated with Sabertooth Cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?
A: Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Lucy had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But we did. The biggest reason: Even then, Lucy was a problem solver. She faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Xhosa had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.
To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.
It’s worth noting that most paleoanthropologists think Homo erectus was fairly violent. His life was challenging and physical and he always met that world head on. Where early species of man might have survived by hiding or fleeing, Xhosa fought. And it worked. She was the longest living species ever (including our current species) of man.
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning
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Sample:Survival of the Fittest
Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.
She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.
Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.
Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.
But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.
With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.
“Why haven’t they left?”
She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…
The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.
From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.
When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.
“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.
The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.
Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm. “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”
The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.
When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”
Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.
While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader.
Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.
One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”
He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”
He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”
Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.
A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.
His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.
What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.
Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.
A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.
But she didn’t intend to die.
The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.
“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”
Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.
She was now a warrior.
When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.
The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.
“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another. All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.
As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”
“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.
Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”
Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.
He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”
Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.
But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.
“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”
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Born In A Treacherous Time Author Jacqui Murray
Born In A Treacherous Time Blog Hop
This is the Born In A Treacherous Time Blog Hop. For this portion of the hop Jacqui answered one question about her book and series.
Question: How is this a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub?
Answer: If you read To Hunt a Sub, you know there was an ancient female named Lucy who helped the heroine, Kali Delamagente, many times as she struggled with difficult decisions. That ancient female is Lucy. This is her story.
You can find the blog hop schedule here , just scroll to the bottom to learn the location of the next question and answer in the hop. It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. Happy exploring. Excerpt of Chapter One below.
Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.
Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.
“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.
A well-executed tale of early man.”
–Kirkus Reviews Click here for the entire review
An early reader’s review
“Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.
“I devoured the book in 2 sittings.” –Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild series. She is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.
You can find Jacqui on Twitter ~ Pinterest ~ Linkedin Websites: https://worddreams.wordpress.com ~ https://jacquimurray.net
Sample chapter: Born In A Treacherous Time
Lucy Leaves Her Homeland
The scene replayed in Lucy’s mind, an endless loop haunting her days and nights. The clear sun-soaked field, the dying Mammoth, the hunters waiting hungrily for its last breath before scavenging the meat, tendons, internal organs, fat, and anything else consumable—food that would nourish the Group for a long time.
But something went horribly wrong. Krp blamed Lucy and soon, so too did Feq.
Why did Ghael stand up? He had to know it would mean his death.
Lucy wanted to escape, go where no one knew what she’d done, but Feq would starve without her. He didn’t know how to hunt, couldn’t even tolerate the sight of blood. For him, she stayed, hunting, scavenging, and outwitting predators, exhausting herself in a hopeless effort to feed the remaining Group members. But one after another, they fell to Snarling-dog, Panther, Long-tooth Cat, Megantereon, and a litany of other predators. When the strangers arrived, Feq let them take her.
By this time, Lucy felt numb, as much from the death of her Group as the loss of Garv. Garv, her forever pairmate, was as much a part of her as the lush forests, Sun’s warmth, and Snarling-dog’s guidance. Now, with all the other deaths, she could leave his memory behind.
Forests gave way to bushlands. The prickly stalks scratched her skin right through the thick fur that layered her arms and legs. The glare of Sun, stark and white without the jungle to soften it, blinded her. One step forward became another and another, into a timeless void where nothing mattered but the swish of feet, the hot breeze on her face, and her own musty scent.
Neither male—not the one who called himself Raza nor the one called Baad—had spoken to her since leaving. They didn’t tell her their destination and she didn’t ask, not that she could decipher their intricate hand gestures and odd body movements. She studied them as they talked to each other, slowly piecing together what the twist of a hand and the twitch of a head meant. She would understand it all by the time they reached wherever they headed.
It was clear they expected her to follow. No one traveled this wild land alone but her reasons for joining them, submissively, had nothing to do with fear. Wherever the strangers took her would be better than where she’d been.
Lucy usually loved running through the mosaic of grass and forest that bled one into another. Today, instead of joy, she felt worry for her future and relief that her past was past. She effortlessly matched Raza’s tread, running in his steps at his pace. Baad did the same but not without a struggle. His sweat, an equal mix of old and stale from the long trip to find her and fresh from trying to keep up, blossomed into a ripe bouquet that wafted over her. She found comfort in knowing this strong, tough male traveled with her.
Vulture cawed overhead, eagerly anticipating a meal. From the size of his flock, the scavenge must be an adult Okapi or Giraffe. Even after the predator who claimed the kill—Lucy guessed it to be Megantereon or Snarling-dog—took what it needed, there would be plenty left. She often hunted with Vulture. It might find carrion first but she could drive it away by brandishing a branch and howling. While it circled overhead, awaiting a return to his meal, she grabbed what she wanted and escaped.
Feq must smell the blood but he had never been brave enough to chase Vulture away. He would wait until the raptor finished, as well as Snarling-dog and whoever else showed up at the banquet, and then take what remained which wouldn’t be enough to live on.
Sun descended toward the horizon as they entered a dense thicket. They stuck to a narrow lightly-used animal trail bordered by heavy-trunked trees. Cousin Chimp scuffled as he brachiated through the understory, no doubt upset by the intruders. Only once, when a brightly-colored snake slithered across her path, did Lucy hesitate. The vibrant colors always meant deadly venom and she didn’t carry the right herbs to counter the poison. Baad grumbled when her thud reverberated out of sync with Raza’s, and Cousin Chimp cried a warning.
Finally, they broke free of the shadows and flew through waist-high grass, past trees laden with fruit, and around the termite mound where Cousin Chimp would gorge on white grubs—if Cheetah wasn’t sleeping on top of it.
I haven’t been back here since that day…
She flicked her eyes to the spot where her life had changed. Everything looked so calm, painted in vibrant colors scented with a heady mix of grass, water, and carrion. A family of Hipparion raised their heads but found nothing menacing so turned back to their banquet of new buds.
As though nothing happened…
Lucy sprinted. Her vision blurred and her head throbbed as she raced flat out, desperate to outdistance the memories. Her legs churned, arms pumped, and her feet sprang off the hard earth. Each step propelled her farther away. Her breathing heaved in rhythm with her steps. The sack around her neck smacked comfortingly against her body. Her sweat left a potent scent trail any predator could follow but Lucy didn’t care.
Someone far behind shouted her call sign but she only slowed when the thump in her chest outstripped her ability to breathe. She fell forward, arms outstretched, and gasped the damp air into her tortured lungs. Steps thumped louder, approaching, but she kept her eyes closed. A hand yanked her head back, forcing her to look up.
Despite the strangeness of Raza’s language, this she did understand: Never do that again.
Feq followed until Lucy had reached the edge of her—Feq’s—territory. Here, he must let her go. Without Feq, the Group’s few children and remaining female would die. She threw a last look at her brother’s forlorn face, drawn and tired, shoulders slumped, eyes tight with resolution. Lucy dipped her head and turned from her beleaguered past.
Maybe the language difference made Raza ignore Lucy’s every question though she tried an endless variety of vocalizations, gestures, and grunts. Something made him jumpy, constantly, but Lucy sniffed nothing other than the fragrant scrub, a family of chimps, and the ever-present Fire Mountain. Nor did she see any shift in the distant shadows to signal danger.
Still, his edginess made her anxious.
What is he hiding? Why does he never relax?
She turned toward the horizon hoping whatever connected sky to earth held firm, preventing danger from escaping and finding her. Garv credited Spider’s web with that task, said if it could capture Fly, it could connect those forces. Why it didn’t always work, Garv couldn’t explain. Herds and dust, sometimes fire, leaked through, as did Sun at the end of every day. Lucy tried to reach that place from many different directions but it moved away faster than she could run.
Another truth Lucy knew: Only in Sun’s absence did the clouds crack and send bolts of fire to burn the ground and flash floods to storm through the canyons. Sun’s caring presence kept these at bay.
A grunt startled her back to the monotony of the grassland. At the rear of their column, Baad rubbed his wrists, already swollen to the thickness of his arm. When she dropped back to ask if she could help, his face hardened but not before she saw the anguish in the set of his mouth and the squint of his eyes. The elders of her Group suffered too from gnarled hands. A common root, found everywhere, dulled the ache.
Why bring a male as old and worn as Baad without that root?
Lucy guessed he had been handsome in his youth with his commanding size, densely-haired body, and brawny chest. Now, the hair hung gray and ragged and a white line as thick as Lucy’s finger cut his face from temple to ear. In his eyes smoldered lingering anger, maybe from the shattered tooth that peeked through his parted lips.
Was that why he didn’t try to rut with her? Or did he consider her pairmated to Raza?
“Baad,” she bleated, mimicking the call sign Raza used. “This will help your wrist,” and handed him a root bundle from her neck sack. “Crack it open and swallow the juice.”
Baad sniffed the bulb, bit it, and slurped up the liquid. His jaw relaxed and the tension drained from his face, completely gone by the time they passed the hillock that had been on the horizon when Lucy first gave him the root.
“How did you know this would work?” Baad motioned as he watched her face.
Why didn’t he know was a better question. Lucy observed animals as they cared for their injuries. If Gazelle had a scrape on her flank, she bumped against a tree that wept sap so why shouldn’t Lucy rub the thick mucus on her own cut to heal it? If swallowing certain leaves rid Cousin Chimp of the white worms, why wouldn’t it do the same for Lucy? Over time, she’d collected the roots, blades, stems, bark, flowers, and other plant parts she and her Group came to rely on when sick.
But she didn’t know enough of Baad’s words to explain this so she shrugged. “I just knew.”
Baad remained at her side as though he wanted to talk more.
Lucy took the opportunity. “Baad. Why did you and Raza come for me?”
He made her repeat the question as he watched her hands, body movements, and face, and then answered, “Sahn sent us.”
His movement for ‘sent’ was odd. One finger grazed the side of his palm and pointed toward his body—the backtrail, the opposite direction of the forward trail.
“Because of the deaths.”
Memories washed across his face like molten lava down the slopes of Fire Mountain. His hand motions shouted a rage she never associated with death. Predators killed to feed their families or protect their territory, as they must. Why did that anger Baad?
“Can you repeat that? The deaths?”
This time, the closest she could interpret was ‘deaths without reason’ which made no sense. Death was never without reason. Though he must have noticed she didn’t understand, he moved on to a portrayal of the world she would soon live within. His location descriptions were clear. In fact, her Group also labeled places by their surroundings and what happened there—stream-where-hunters-drink, mountains-that-burn-at-night, and mound-with-trees. Locations were meaningless without those identifications. Who could find them if not for their surroundings?
His next question surprised her.
“Why did you come?”
Bile welled in Lucy’s throat. She couldn’t tell him how she failed everyone in her Group or explain that she wanted a better life for the child she carried. Instead, she grunted and pretended she misunderstood.
That night, Lucy slept fitfully, curled under a shallow overhang without the usual protection of a bramble bush barrier or a tree nest. Every time she awoke, Raza and Baad were staring into the dark night, faces tight and anxious, muscles primed.
When Sun reappeared to begin its journey across the sky, the group set out, Lucy again between Raza and Baad. She shadowed the monotonous bounce of Raza’s head, comforted by the muted slap of her feet, the thump in her chest, and the stench of her own unwashed body. As they trotted ever onward, she became increasingly nervous. Though everything from the berries to the vegetation, animals, and baobab trees reminded her of home, this territory belonged to another group of Man-who-makes-tools. Before today, she would no sooner enter or cross it as they would hers. But Raza neither slowed nor changed direction so all she could do to respect this land-not-hers was to move through without picking a stalk of grass, eating a single berry, or swallowing any of the many grubs and insects available. Here and there, Lucy caught glimpses of the Group that called this territory theirs as they floated in the periphery of her sight. She smelled their anger and fear, heard them rustling as they watched her pass, reminding her she had no right to be here. Raza and Baad didn’t seem to care or notice. Did they not control territories where they lived?
Before she could ponder this any further, she snorted in a fragrance that made her gasp and turn. There on the crest of a berm across the savanna, outlined against the blue of the sky, stood a lone figure, hair puffed out by the hot breeze, gaze on her.
“Garv!” Lucy mouthed before she could stop herself. He’s dead. I saw it.
No arm waved and no voice howled the agony of separation.
“Raza!” Baad jerked his head toward the berm.
“Man-who-preys?” Raza asked with a rigid parallel gesture.
Lucy’s throat tightened at the hand movement for danger.
“Who is Man-who-preys?” Lucy labored with the call sign. “We don’t prey. We are prey.” Why did this confuse Raza?
Raza dropped back and motioned, “I refer to the one called Man-who-preys—upright like us but tall and skinny.” He described the creature’s footprints with the distinctive rounded top connected to the bottom by a narrow bridge. She knew every print of every animal in her homeland. These didn’t exist.
“No. I’ve never seen those prints.”
He paused and watched her face. “You’re sure Mammoth slaughtered your males? Could it have been this animal?”
“No. I was there. I would have seen this stranger.”
Raza dropped back to talk to Baad. She tried to hear their conversation but they must have used hand motions. Who was this Man-who-preys and why did Raza think they caused the death of her Group’s males? Worse, if they followed Raza from his homeland, did that bring trouble to Feq?
Lucy easily kept up with Raza, her hand tight around an obsidian scraper as sharp and sturdy as the one the males gripped. Her wrist cords bulged like the roots of an old baobab, familiar with and accustomed to heavy loads and strenuous work. Both males remained edgy and tense, often running beside each other and sharing urgent hand motions. After one such exchange, Raza diverted from the route they had been following since morning to one less trodden. It’s what Lucy would do if worried about being tracked by a predator or to avoid a group of Man-who-makes-tools. They maintained a quicker-than-normal pace well past the edge of her world. That suited her fine though she doubted that Man-who-preys could be more perilous than what preyed in her mind.