“On the Way”
Several hours after take off…
Once the ship had taken off we all went to our specified quarters. They were designed for only one being apiece and had just enough room for a sleeping area and places to arrange our weapons and armor. Small…but comfortable. Taking off my armaments and some of my unneeded weapons, I settled in. I just couldn’t believe it! Twenty years ago I was nothing more than a little girl tethered in Hunter’s trophy room on the ship and now…I was a participant on this most honored hunt! How far I had come from those early years. But I still didn’t have the recognition of equality that I so desperately vied for. Only surviving this hunt with a kainde amedha skull in my hand would bring that. That is…IF I survived…and for that matter…if I wasn’t killed off by some of the huntresses in my group.
I couldn’t believe that either. The same females who’d so maliciously beat me a year before, were the very females I’d be fighting with on the First Hunt. What cruel twist of fate had I been handed? Shudders of horrid remembrance quivered through my body. I hoped they’d just leave me alone. But with Garv on board, they probably wouldn’t try much of anything…I hoped. I wanted to save my fighting energy for the day ahead and not waste it on some meaningless conflict.
All at once my door hissed open and I smiled at Garv.
“Are you comfortable?”
I sighed, “Of course I am Garv! You don’t have to worry about me.”
He flicked his mandibles a bit; “Well…would you like to accompany me for a drink? Maybe something to eat?”
“Alright.” I consented putting my mask in its case.
So together, we traversed the corridors of the ship until we arrived at the galley. No one was present save for Jet’rikna who sat alone at a ‘table’. Garv clicked a greeting to her and she acknowledged him with a nod, which indicated we were invited to sit with her. Before we did Garv retrieved a drink from the slot where the stuff was stored and offered me some. I took some water and together we sat with Jet’rikna.
We sat in silence for a few moments until I turned to Garv, “So…how many days will we be?”
Garv’s mandibles flexed the air in thought, “I’d say two days. It doesn’t take long.”
I sighed, “Garv…is this the only planet with kainde amedha on it?”
Garv shook his head, “No…this is merely one of the hunting planets we’ve established long, long ago before my great grandsires were born. Our people have many different hunting planets and this one you will go to is one of our best. Why? Are you anxious?”
I nodded, “A little I suppose.”
“Do not let your anxiousness take hold of your thoughts. It can run you down…make you careless when you get down there.” Jet’rikna stated very seriously in her no nonsense voice.
“I will Honored Jet’rikna” I nodded, addressing her formally. Advice was to be respected, especially from a high-ranking female such as herself.
Again we were silent until Garv rattled with amusement, “I hope Fire Blood doesn’t kill half the Clan while I’m gone.”
I perked my head and Jet’rikna clicked a bit, “He’ll be fine.”
Before I could ask, Garv asked the question, “He have a bad night?”
Jet’rikna looked at him a second but narrowed her bright yellow eyes gently in remembrance, “My mate never likes it when I have to leave…nor when he can’t win my favor the night before I have to leave.”
Garv hissed, “Hmm…glad I’m not a Young Blood on the planet right now. Not being able to win your favor gets him rather…edgy.”
“Yes. He’s very temperamental when he doesn’t get what he wants. Sometimes he’s nothing but a great big offspring.” Jet’rikna ‘smiled’ with her thin mandibles.
I think it was the first time I’d seen her truly smile. Typically she remained so stolid that I doubted she ever ‘smiled’. I found myself smiling with her until hers faded away into her emotionless phase. After a few more moments she stood and left us alone.
Very slowly a wide smile curved my lips and Garv tipped his head curiously, “What?”
“Would you get…edgy…if you couldn’t win my favor?” I inquired sensuously.
His spiked brow lifted a bit, “I have yet to fail Little Fighter.”
“Well would you?”
He rattled a moment, “Yes…yes I would.”
Slowly I leaned over and nipped his bicep, “Hmm…I’d much rather keep you happy.”
An ornery gleam entered his yellowed eyes but then faded, “As much as I’d like to…I must allow you to keep a clear head. You MUST keep your mind very clear down there as I have told you.”
I nodded and after a few moments I asked, “Garv…what is your daughter’s name?”
Taken aback, my mate rattled sharply and flicked an upper mandible, “My daughter?”
“Yes. The female with your stripes. What is her name?” I inquired.
Garv sighed, “Ah…you mean Schr’all.”
“Yes…she was one of my later offspring. She was born several years after my First Hunt.” He explained with some hesitation.
That stinging in my guts flared up again…the sting of jealousy. Garv told me years ago he’d had other mates and offspring before me…but the reality of it was hard to stomach. I wanted to tell Garv about what his daughter had done to me, how she was responsible for my beating. But…it was neither dignified nor honorable to point the finger at another for past afflictions. If I wanted retribution, I’d have to settle it on my own. I didn’t want Garv involved or fighting my battles.
“Why do you ask?” he tipped his head.
I sighed lightly, “No reason. She just looked like you and…she doesn’t seem to like me much.”
Garv shook his head, “That doesn’t surprise me. Schr’all has always been hateful toward Oomans and she is very aggressive. She is very skilled in her fighting and she is very intelligent…but she’s also very stubborn and once she sets her mind on something, very little can change her notions.”
“Why does she hate…Oomans?” I asked, tasting the word I loathed.
My mate hissed, “I cannot say…most of us need no reason to hate. If she doesn’t like you…I’d stay out of her way. If I know Schr’all, her feelings toward you will not change.”
I nodded and kept my other thoughts to myself.
He rattled softly stroking a claw over my hand, “Little Fighter do not forget what we have all taught you. Once you kill your kainde amedha, take its skull like I showed you and get out of there as quickly as you can. Don’t try to stay any longer than you have to. Down there…THEY have the upper hand. We are the hunters but we can very quickly become the hunted. Stay the hunter and do JUST as we have taught you.”
“I will Garv.”
Leaning forward his voice lowered a bit, “When we arrive…you will receive your wrist bomb.”
My eyes widened. I wasn’t even allowed to TOUCH that device. “But…I’ve never trained with one before,” I protested.
“I know. You all will be given the triggering code and the deactivation code. You must remember it at all costs.” He sighed, “Little Fighter…do NOT use it.”
“What? Why do you ask this of me?” I inquired.
He rattled again, “The bomb is only to be used if the circumstances are dire. You must be willing to take your own life AND destroy the Hive. But I’m telling you NOT to do it.”
“Tell me why.” I demanded.
“There is talk…amongst the Clan…that YOU will panic down there and activate your weapon because you are Ooman. The High Eldress even contemplated NOT giving you one…but decided the honorable thing to do would be to give you one. If you activate your wrist bomb and die…the memory of you will not be Honorable.” He stated seriously.
My throat tightened with anger and I swatted my drink from the table. Eyes slit venomously I got up and stormed away shouting over my shoulder, “Then I DON’T want one! I will go down there WITHOUT one and I will DIE fighting!”
Garv made no move to follow me…he understood my anger and allowed me to control it alone.
Two days later upon landing…
I stood at the back of the line of huntresses, masked, armored, and bristling with weapons. Ever since the report was made that the ship was approaching the hunting planet my heart was ablaze with raw bloodlust and feelings of conquest. All I wanted was to go down there and kill the kainde amedha. My training raced across my brain over and over fighting to be heard through my beating heart. I feared…but I controlled it for now.
Garv stood behind us a ways with Jet’rikna but I didn’t look back at him. I had to keep my focus.
Then…the ship ramp lowered and a wind rushed through my bound hair. It was humid air…hot air…but not like the air of our planet. Marching in a single file line we descended to the planet’s surface. Behind my mask I could see the landscape in my own vision, but could switch to other spectrums if need be. The planet had qualities reminiscent of our home world except less densely vegetated and the sky was gray as opposed to our crimson one. It seemed far moister due to the heavy fog enveloping the vegetated terrain beyond. The fog was too thick to see the ‘trees’ effectively ahead of us but the barren rocky plain we stood on was clearly visible for a few yards. Moisture accumulated on my exposed flesh from the humid air but it wasn’t cold to me.
At once my mask activated a map in my side panel vision, guiding me in the direction of the kainde amedha Hive. According to my readings, the Hive lay somewhere beyond in the fog enveloped vegetation. A blinking triangle indicated my position and the symbol of our clan represented the ship. Good…that way I could find my way back after the hunt. Provided I made it out alive.
“So…think you’re too good to NEED a wrist bomb Ooman?” I heard Schr’all hiss contemptfully from across the way.
I glared from behind my mask and answered in a non-aggressive tone, “I did not think I deserved one.”
She hissed again, “Then you’d be right for once. Though in YOUR case…it wouldn’t matter. Death is all that awaits you…and I wish that upon you Ooman. When you perish…my Sire will be rid of the shame you bring upon him and his line.”
All I wanted to do was leap across the space between us and ram my wrist blades into her throat! But…I halted such thoughts. Concentrate. She’s just trying to make you lose focus. Jet’rikna’s stern voice reverberated in my skull, “Do not let anything break your focus down there…if you let something distract you then you WILL die.”
Barking sharply one of the huntresses in our group of five set off toward the Hive and we followed in a staggered spread out pattern. We all kept our respectable distance from one another. I made sure to keep Schr’all and the other female who’d beat me in plain sight. The last thing I needed was more shit from them.
When I’d first begun training I asked why I wouldn’t train with any of the other females I’d be hunting with. Garv explained either way it wouldn’t matter. Training was not set up to make friends. On a hunt, it was every warrior for his or herself. It was their own individual status, honor, and life they fought for and camaraderie was not essential. If friendship existed between warriors, then so be it, but training was training…nothing more.
Holding my spear with both hands I glanced around using my mask vision and my natural vision one after the other as I kept my eyes out for any sort of threat or movement. According to Garv, the vast majority of the kainde amedha remained in their Hive but a few sentries of their ilk were scouts, sent out to forage for food, offspring hosts, and possibly new territory. There was no guarantee the battle would begin in the Hive, so we had to be prepared for them. Thus far my mask only indicated the Hive location and the location of my hunting party…no kainde amedha.
As we drew closer to the forested area, the fog grew thicker, but now I could view the vegetation more clearly. The leaves and branches of every tree were not vibrantly colored at all; they were mostly drab gray and dull greenish gray. Long, silky tendrils of moss-like growth hung from the branches of every tree, giving them an eerie aura. Fog enshrouded the upper levels of the trees, which seemed to make us all nervous. Something could be up in those trees and we’d never see it until it was too late. My mask vision switched to a clearer spectrum, giving the trees a hollow outline but revealing no life forms or movement. Good thus far.
Wading through spongy soil, soaked with moisture and weaving our way through the dense foliage, our hunting party finally arrived at the Hive. My mask vision shifted again to my natural sight and a small awed gasp escaped me.
Before us loomed a massive cavern, gaping wide like some sinister mouth ready to consume us. Situated in the side of an uplift of earth, the diameter of it had to exceed fifteen feet. The outer rim and walls of the hole were lined with a seemingly translucent coating of what looked like living tissue. Knobby blackish blue ridges, which looked like the ribs or veins of some monstrous beast arched along the walls. It definitely resembled the inside of a living creature and chills raced down my body as I dreaded entering its dark recesses. Moisture from the hole glistened in sticky sheets across the surfaces of the cave-like entrance. Either we were entering the belly of a beast…or entering through the gates of Hell.
A lump rammed in my throat but I ignored it and took a tentative step toward the cave-like entrance. The huntresses moved forward and together we treaded over the sticky ‘veins’ that snaked out from the Hive mouth. We entered slowly, cautiously, listening for our enemy. Nothing but the hollow sounds of rushing wind greeted us. Along with the wind came a stench as well. I envied the Predator species in the fact that they didn’t have the sense of smell I did. True they could taste the air if the need arose but they didn’t have to. I couldn’t describe the smell…honestly if death had a stench this would be it. It was cold…musky…and faintly carried a decaying flesh scent with it. My nose wrinkled but I knew it would only get worse as we entered the Hive.
Darkness swallowed us up as we entered the slimy walled Hive. I looked down to see translucent mucus slopping and stringing from the bottoms of my sandals and feet. I grimaced in revulsion but ignored it. Garv told me of the moisture in a Hive…now our camouflage was useless until we found drier conditions.
None of us made a sound, only breathing and sometimes a clink of body armor but no one spoke or made any unnecessary sound. Every huntress looked in every direction, trying not to be caught off guard. Fire Blood told me sometimes the kainde amedha wouldn’t react to your invasion until you were in just far enough THEN they’d launch their assault. They COULD be watching us right now. My eyes darted upward and everywhere they could. The ceiling probably reached anywhere from 15-20 feet and there were gaping tunnel holes above and to our sides. We remained in the main tunnel but we knew the kainde amedha would appear from those other tunnels…surround us…and then the battle would begin.
My heart boomed in my ears and it felt like my stomach was trying to explode out of my nose but it was more anxious anticipation than fear at this point. I just wanted to see one…I just wanted to kill one. Waiting for their attack set my nerves ablaze. We treaded deeper into the dark Hive, weaving around bend after bend, our masks keeping careful record of our path so we could find our way out when the time came. Then…I heard it…we all heard it. The echoing, omnipresent hissing. Blood chilling hisses and shrieks bouncing off the walls and sounding from every tunnel. Then the clattering rustle of chitinous flesh and claws. They…were coming.