Home of Sword and Soul
I wrote the following story as a high school graduation present for Danni Hawkins (CaptainHawkins/Sociopathics on DeviantArt). All of the story's named characters are her creation, so in a sense this could be considered fanfiction. When I showed it to her, she said she really liked it. I hope you enjoy it too!
The Final Test
Mirembe's final test was today.
She was the first in her troop to wake up. Mid-morning sunlight flowed through the hut's entrance, yet for some reason her teammates still snored as if it were midnight. Mirembe wasn't going to wait for them when their biggest challenge was coming so soon.
She gently nudged Dasua's shoulder. Her friend didn't budge. Mirembe pushed her back and forth more forcefully.
Finally Dasua punched her. "Please let me sleep in peace," she groaned.
"I'm surprised you aren't up even earlier than me," Mirembe said. "You know what today is, don't you?"
"Which is why we want to delay it as much as possible," Saya, another teammate, said.
Mirembe grumbled. "Why would you want to delay it? Isn't it the moment we've waited for the past ten years?"
"Sure, it sounded exciting when it was far into the future. But now that it’s almost now, it seems, well, a lot more intimidating. You do know what our test will be, don’t you?”
“Well then, I suppose I’ll have to undergo it all by myself. I would get to keep more of the glory for myself anyway. Have a good sleep!”
Mirembe grabbed her spear and stormed out of the hut, muttering curses under her breath. An ancient banyan tree loomed in the center of her village, with red tendrils hanging from its boughs. Middle-aged Arai waited by the banyan’s grooved trunk.
“Where are your teammates?” she asked.
“‘Delaying’ their final test,” Mirembe said. “I tried waking them up. Could I go by myself instead?”
Arai rubbed her forehead and sighed. “Have you forgotten all that we have taught you the past ten years? Huntresses must always work together as if they were sisters. This is even truer when their prey is Mbogo.”
“I understand, Elder Arai, but couldn’t you wake my troop up instead? They won’t listen to me.”
“If your teammates do not respect you enough to awaken on your command, you need to reevaluate your leadership, Mirembe. Nonetheless, since this is such a critical day for you, I’ll help you this once.”
Mirembe led Arai to her hut. Arai clapped her hands, instantly summoning the other girls with their weapons outside.
“I am very disappointed in you, young women,” Arai said. “This is the turning point of your lives, the point where you will graduate from girls to proper huntresses, and yet you retain childlike indolence. Mbogo will almost certainly crush you lot to pulps.”
“No, he won’t!” Dasua said. She pounded a fist against her palm. “We shall bring home meat for the whole village.”
“Then prove me wrong now. Mbogo was last sighted to the north, not too far from Blackstone Falls. Remember, as we have told you countless times by now, you must all work as a team. Failure to cooperate with one another will almost certainly kill you. Understand?”
Mirembe and her troop all nodded.
Perspiration flowed down Mirembe’s face. Trees stretched as high as two hundred feet all around her and the other huntresses, with vines and epiphytic plants draping the gnarled branches. Undergrowth dripping with dew engulfed the women as they stole through it. Birds squawked, frogs croaked, and insects chirped in an endless chorus.
A thunderous moan drowned out that chorus and echoed through the forest. Mirembe’s skin crawled.
“That was Mbogo,” Saya whispered. She was trembling. “Where do you think he could be?”
A second moan sounded. This one was dimmer than the last.
“Wherever he is, he’s moving away from us,” Mirembe said. A putrid stench entered her nose.
“Is that dung?” Dasua said. She pointed to a mottled dark green and white ball as big as a fist that lay on the jungle floor.
Mirembe grimaced as she tapped the dung. “It’s still warm and soft. He left here a short while ago.”
A trail of round depressions as wide as dinner plates meandered from the dung. Trampled vegetation edged this trail. Mirembe signaled her troop to follow her with her arm.
Saya was still shaking. “Why do we have to hunt Mbogo for our final test? Why not something a little, uh, more manageable? This tradition is suicidal.”
Dasua brandished a fist in front of Saya. “Stop whining or the scavengers shall feast on your corpse tonight!”
Mirembe groaned. “Both of you stop it! Remember what Elder Arai said: we must work together. I will not tolerate either whining or fighting within this troop. Now silence and follow me!”
As the huntresses traveled down the trail, the rustling of leaves and snapping of twigs grew louder. The moaning repeated. The pungent odor of a large animal’s flatulence rose over the normal jungle mustiness. Mirembe’s heart drummed at a faster beat.
Mbogo browsed from a patch of broad-leafed plants with his hooked beak. Four columns supported his pebbly body, with the hind ones standing ten feet up to the hips. His head was longer than a man was tall, including the round and bony frill that projected from the back. Three horns, two long ones from Mbogo’s brows and a stubby one from the snout, glinted in the sunlight. The ground vibrated with each of his steps.
“Have fun attacking that monster, ladies!” Saya said. “It was nice knowing you!” She turned away from the rest of the troop.
Dasua grabbed Saya by the shoulder. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Away from certain death, of course.”
“It will be certain death if you girls don’t shut up, all right!” Mirembe said.
“Why do you have to be so mean, Mirembe?” Saya asked.
“I’m not being mean, but you are being a coward! I swear to the gods, this is the second time you’ve sparked trouble within this troop. Do it one more time and---”
Mbogo jerked his head up from his meal and scanned around, rumbling.
“Now look at what you’ve done,” Mirembe continued. “He practically knows we’re here!”
“Is that my fault though?” Saya said. “He did react to your line, after all.”
Dasua punched her cheek. “You know what Mirembe meant, you dishonest little twerp!”
Saya lunged back at Dasua, but the latter sidestepped out of the way. “Don’t you dare hit me like that, you big brute,” Saya said.
“I will if you would simply silence for once,” Dasua said.
“Both of you silence!” Mirembe said.
An inhuman cry that was half roar and half bellow pierced her eardrums. Mbogo pounded the ground with his front feet and brandished his head.
“I guess we should attack now,” Dasua said.
“Too late to plan anything now,” Mirembe said. “We have no choice but to do what Saya wants: run!”
The huntresses darted away. Mbogo stormed after them through the brush, thrashing his head about. One woman screamed after the monster knocked her into a tree trunk.
“Kasinda!” Mirembe cried. She twirled around to recollect her fallen companion, but Mbogo thrust after her. With another shake of his skull, he sent her flying up into the air. Mirembe seized an overhanging vine and swung back towards her troop.
Another woman screamed. Mbogo’s nose horn had punctured her abdominals. A third huntress fell underneath his feet and was ground into a mess.
Mbogo swung his head upward and roared. Kasinda, whose scalp was smeared with scarlet, had stabbed his thigh. A swipe of the reptile’s tail broke her shins. Now only Mirembe, Dasua, and Saya remained.
“Climb this tree now!” Mirembe said. Her friends followed her as she scrambled up the vine-clad trunk. Mbogo smashed the side of his skull against the tree, but it quivered only slight and the women clung on. After a few more rams, he turned around and trotted off, groaning.
“You see, attacking that beast was madness,” Saya said. “We need to tell the Elders to cancel that tradition once and for all.”
“It wouldn’t have seemed so mad had you not raised a fuss about it,” Dasua said. “Now half our troop has joined our ancestors! Are you proud of that?”
“You know, we all bear some responsibility for this,” Mirembe said. “We all failed our test. Now all we can do is come home.”
Mirembe’s eyes leaked. This could have been the highlight of their lives, but now they would suffer from shame among their people. And they had no one to blame but themselves.”
The sun sank behind the huts by the time the three women returned to their village with heads hung low. Arai waited by the banyan with a frown.
“Why have you come without any meat?” she said. “And where is half of your party?”
Mirembe sighed. “We have failed our test. We could not work together and so lost three of our teammates to Mbogo’s wrath. They live among the ancestors now.”
Arai’s face darkened. “It took you children one tragedy to learn what should have been instilled into you over the past ten years. You are a disgrace to your generation, and you shall never call yourselves huntresses! Now hand me those spears and go home.”
“Elder Arai, if there is one way we could avoid a life of shame, what would it be?”
Arai hesitated. She smiled. “Well, if you really are so eager for redemption, then you three could attempt what six could not. If anything, three against Mbogo would require even stronger teamwork. You can keep your spears and pass your test if you hunt him tomorrow.”
Mirembe tightly embraced Arai. “Why, Elder, we would earn even greater glory than the huntresses before us with that opportunity. Thank you so much.”
“You sure that’s such a wise idea?” Saya said.
“Do you want redemption, or do you want to be known forever as the woman who got her teammates killed?” Mirembe said. “This is our chance to pass our test like no huntresses in our people’s memories!”
A deep roar reverberated from the forest beyond the village. Squawking birds swarmed out of the canopy. The roar was not Mbogo’s.
Mirembe’s spine chilled.
The huntresses woke up immediately after sunrise the next day. This time, Mirembe didn’t have to wait on anyone, not even Saya.
The jungle understory was still black at that early hour, with only a few narrow spears of sunlight penetrating the canopy. Nonetheless, Mirembe remembered the direction her troop had traveled the day before and followed it.
The same roar she had heard the past evening returned louder than before. Again, it was clearly not Mbogo’s call.
“Ngatun,” Mirembe whispered.
Saya said nothing, but she trembled even more than she had after hearing Mbogo’s moan. Even Dasua shook a little as well.
Another animal called, but this was closer to Mbogo’s familiar cry. The only difference was that this one was shriller than his typical moan.
“It sounds like Mbogo’s in pain, or dying,” Dasua said.
“Ngatun must have slain him,” Mirembe said. Ngatun, as the most powerful of the jungle’s wild predators, was the only one who dared hunt fully grown Mbogo.
“We failed our redemption before we even had the chance,” Dasua said. “Unless we could somehow steal Ngatun’s leftovers and claim them as our own…”
“Why cheat when we can bring home Ngatun himself?” Saya said.
“Wait, you of all women think we should hunt Ngatun instead? Have you lost your mind?”
“Not at all,” Mirembe said. “Our prey doesn’t have to be Mbogo. Any large and dangerous animal could serve his place. In truth, Ngatun would be an even more glorious kill; he does rule the jungle, after all. Now all we need is a strategy for hunting him.”
“We could lure him into a trap,” Dasua said. “Maybe quicksand could work.”
“Do we know if there’s quicksand nearby though?”
“I’ve got it: we attack him from a direction he won’t expect,” Saya said. “For instance, Ngatun does all his hunting on the jungle floor; he isn’t used to attacks from above.”
“So you’re saying we should ambush him from overhanging boughs,” Mirembe said. She grinned. “Good thinking, Saya. We shall jump onto his head and drive our spears through his skull before he knows what struck him.”
“First we need to know where he is,” Dasua said. “And he appears to be going this way.” She pointed to a trail of three-pronged footprints that were even wider than Mbogo’s from the previous day.
The huntresses ascended a tree and starting leaping across branches and swinging on vines, both in the same direction as Ngatun’s trail.
The odor of Mbogo’s freshly killed carcass stank to the heavens. Ngatun tore off huge hunks of his flesh and bone and crunched them with spiky jaws before gulping them down. With bristly feathers covering his upper side, Ngatun resembled a giant bird, but his wings were tiny stumps with two claws sticking out of each. They contrasted with a muscular pair of legs twice as tall as a man. A tapering tail counterbalanced the rest of Ngatun’s body.
The huntresses watched him from a branch hanging over his tail.
“You ready for the attack?” Mirembe asked.
“First we need to get his head directly under the bough,” Saya said. “That way we can jump on it and kill him quickly.”
“Or we could simply jump onto his tail and climb up to his head,” Dasua said.
“No, he’d throw us off with one shake of his body before we got close. Now let me lure him towards us.”
Saya whistled. Ngatun raised his muzzle from his kill, snorted, and returned to eating.
“Over here, Ngatun!” Saya cried out.
The monster withdrew from his meal and sniffed the air above him. Saya tore off a vine and hurled it onto his hip. Ngatun growled, lumbered towards the tree which supported the women, and reared up to inspect their bough.
“Now we attack!” Saya said.
She jumped off the branch and landed on the beast’s snout. Ngatun roared and thrashed his head about, throwing Saya off. She crashed against another tree and slid to the ground.
“It’s my turn to leap now!” Dasua said. By the time she did so, Ngatun had already turned around to lunge at Saya with his jaws, so Dasua instead had to grab onto his tail. Saya stabbed the predator’s mouth with her spear. He recoiled with another roar, sending Dasua off his tail to the jungle floor.
Mirembe pounced onto Ngatun’s back and pierced it. He reared back and forth, but she held onto his feathers. Dasua thrust her weapon at the beast’s breast. He slapped it away with a wing. Ngatun then shook his body side to side until he got Mirembe off.
Dasua raced to get her spear back. Ngatun dropped his head in her way. Dasua tried to jump over it, but he captured her in his mouth.
Saya struck the tendon under the monster’s ankle. Ngatun spat Dasua out, spun around, and charged at Saya. She escaped his chomp and then stabbed his eye. Ngatun let out a shriller roar than before and brandished his bleeding head. While pain still drove the beast mad, Mirembe chucked her spear into his breast. Ngatun stomped, knocking her off her feet, and batted her away with his tail.
Dasua thrust her weapon below Ngatun’s other ankle. This time she pressed it deeper than Saya had earlier before drawing it out. The monster raised his injured foot and toppled onto his flank with his loudest roar. Bones snapped and the ground quaked. Only his head still moved, bobbling randomly. Mirembe drove her spear into the back of Ngatun’s skull. It dropped. He was dead.
All of Mirembe’s muscles burned. She wiped blood off one of her scrapings.
“We killed Ngatun,” Saya said. “Three of us brought him down.”
“We brought him down together, too,” Dasua said. She yanked one of Ngatun’s teeth out of his mouth. “We worked as a team.”
Mirembe nodded. She unsheathed a butcher’s knife and carved off a square of meat from Ngatun’s side. “Let’s see if this counts for Elder Arai.”
Arai waited again for the three huntresses by their village’s banyan tree, but she greeted them with wide eyes and a beam rather than a frown.
“I cannot believe it, you bring meat home!” she said. “Have you three finally killed Mbogo?”
“No, Ngatun did,” Mirembe said. “So we killed Ngatun instead. Will that be enough for you?”
“More than enough. Congratulations to you three, for you have passed your training’s final test. I henceforth proclaim you huntresses.”
Mirembe, Dasua, and Saya raised their spears, clinked them together, and hooted with triumph.