Chapter 1: First Encounter

Shadow and Ghost

Chapter 1: First Encounter

Set’rath knelt high on a branch in the trees, his shift suit working flawlessly as he melted into his surroundings. Silent and deadly he watch the sky as parachutes opened and panicked humans struggled to understand what was happening to them as they plummeted to the ground. He understood their confusion and waking up in free fall was not a feeling he cared to repeat anytime soon. He almost felt sorry for them, they just like him, where prey in a dishonorable hunt.

He was not pleased with the idea of being prey, but had not questioned the Elders when they selected him as one of the youngest Arbitrators to turn the hunt around on these Bad Bloods. The Elders told him that a number of Unblooded Hunters had gone missing from their home world and the only lead was a witness to one of the abductions. So they set him up to look like an Unblooded Hunter, his youth working for him. The Bad Bloods took the bait and now here he was.

He growled in irritation. He still could not recall anything after they had taken him by illegal teleportation; he could not recall what happened aboard the ship. Whoever the Bad Bloods were, they had pauked with him and his equipment taking his net launcher and disc. Disguised as he was, he had not been allowed a shoulder cannon or Shuriken and he wore a unmarked bio-mask. Clearly, they want me at a disadvantage, but, what they do not know will be used to my advantage. Set’rath guessed they had to have gassed him, even if he was Unblooded he never would have let them take his weapons voluntarily and he did not remember anything from aboard their ship.

A group of confused male humans cautiously walked under his hiding place pulling his attention from the skies and his internal monologue. They where wild eyed as they swung their firearms side to side attempting to aim at everything, but not really aiming at anything. He shook his head knowing all too well that their weapons would run out of projectiles, and then they would be forced to face the hunters of this planet on the hunter’s terms. He continued to watch them cut a noisy path through the underbrush as he silently hoped the noise would draw out his quarry.

A quiet sound drew his attention from the group of humans. Watching heat signatures through his visor he tried to get a lock on what made the noise. He ran through several vision settings before spotting a female human. She wore some sort of strange camouflaged body suit with a hood pulled up over her head, with only her eyes visible. Her clothing must be thermal, as her heat signature seemed to be faint and hard to spot. Interesting. She stalked behind the men watching or waiting he didn’t know, but she seemed overly cautious even for her current situation and that peaked his curiosity enough to observe her actions. The interlocking branches of the tree canopy making his movement easy to stay above her as she followed the group. She stopped occasionally looking up in the trees, looking for something but giving no indication that she saw him.

She was hanging back from the males and when Set’rath heard a loud trill and the growling barks of hounds, he saw her quickly scale the tree he currently stood in and hunkered down on the branch opposite him. She took aim with her weapon towards the males focusing through a scope on top of the weapon. Set’rath watched with interest wondering what her intentions where. A pack of horned beasts rushed under the tree and charged the group of men, their back spikes vibrating with anticipation.

The men began to fire off their weapons. The first hound fell in a bloody heap as the rounds of a mini gun ripped through it. The woman fired a round taking out a hound coming up from the men’s flank, her shot ripping through its temple and exploding the far side of its skull. She reloaded.

One of the men in a tan suit brandishing pearl handled handguns took out another hound but at the expense of his ammo store. He threw the empty handguns at an approaching hound. The woman fired again, hitting the hound at the base of the skull. The exit wound exploding the throat onto the man in the suit. Set’rath watched the female sniper, curious how she had suspected the ambush on the males.

A soldier of sorts heavily armed took out another hound firing head on at it and turning to another when the one dropped twitching and bleeding at his feet. The remaining hounds hung back when their pack mates began to fall ignoring the rounds that occasionally hit them from where they circled the group. One of the men in an orange jump suit holding a make shift knife began to panic and yelled towards the others. “What the fuck are they man? What the fuck are they?” He began to run and another in the group yelled after him to stop. “Fuck you man I ain’t dying this way.” Was the orange jump suit’s response as he took off. The hounds charged after him with excited yips.

The man was not fast enough to out run the pursuing hounds and they gained on him quickly. The lead runner leapt onto the man’s back, its claws sank into his flesh, his panicked scream echoed as he fought in a futile attempt to get free from the beast as it lacerated through his flesh. The group where firing their weapons again but he had disappeared from sight and their wild shots failed to hit the hound on top of him.

Set’rath’s looked over at the female sniper when she cursed quietly. The hound was blocked and she could not get a clear shot on the creature. “Forgive me.” She whispered and pulled the trigger. The round contacted the man’s cheek and tore through the top of his skull. “You may have been a piece of shit, but you will not be a trophy today.”  The hound looked at the lifeless man, snorted in disappointment, and trotted off when another trill echoed through the forest. The other hounds looked towards the sound, snarled towards the remaining humans then bolted away into the forest. “Show yourself honor-less one.” The woman whispered focusing through her scope directing Set’rath’s attention along her line of sight following the retreating hounds.

He watched the hounds disappear through the underbrush to disappear near a faint heat signature that resembled another Yautja hidden amongst the trees. The woman next to him began to move pulling his attention back to her as she shouldered her weapon. She continued to speak quietly but this time she turned to look at him. “I know you are there Vor’mekta. You are obviously not with them,” She tossed her chin in the direction the hounds had run. “Since you haven’t killed me yet.”  Through his vision filters Set’rath could tell her eyes where piercingly green and focused, even cloaked as he was she looked up to his face. Her scent was strange and not like a “normal” human, she was unafraid, and the bitterness of hatred when she watched the hounds bolt to their master rolled off her in waves. “Be careful.” She continued. “They are hunting you too. Make no mistake they are not your allies. They do not fight fare and they are larger than you.” She eyed him from head to toe. “You don’t carry yourself like the others. I prey to your gods that you are a Blooded warrior as the last two…” She glared into the distance her eyes glittered with unshed tears and her hatred flaring. “Where not.”

She climbed down unconcerned if he followed. As her feet touched the forest floor, she looked up at him. “Safe hunting.” Then bolted away from him and the dead hounds, but instead of heading towards the group of men she ran in the opposite direction. He stared after her confused. He did not like to be confused, plus he wanted to know what information she held about this situation and what did she know about the Unblooded youths, and how much larger could these bad bloods be compared to him? He was not a small male and for the little female ooman to so casually discount his size was concerning. Deciding the Bad Bloods could wait for the night he jumped from the tree and pursued the female sniper towards the river. She covered ground faster than he expected she could and by the time he caught up to her she was crossing the partially dried up riverbed. He remained cloaked as he followed, but he had the distinct feeling this woman already knew he “stalked” her.

Set’rath followed her into a clearing, were the tail end of a small hunting ship stuck out the side of the rocky wall. The female began her skilled climb up the wall towards a hole in the side of the ship’s tail. Set’rath followed from a distance, unsure if she was worth this extra trouble, but the fact she had no fear near him, she spoke Yautja, and that she had information he wanted kept him pursuing her up into the ship. Adjusting his vision he followed the faint heat impression left by her foot prints and followed them down the main corridor and along a side access hall into a room with no door.

The woman had placed her weapon down and stood a few feet away from it. When he entered the doorway, she was standing, facing him with her hands at her shoulders showing him her palms. “Come in Vor’mekta, you have questions.” He rushed her and clenched his vise like grip around her throat uncloaking as he pressed her back against the wall. She still wore her hood so only her eyes, those impossibly green eyes, where visible and they where un-intimidated by his display. He growled and squeezed slightly, soliciting a glare from her as she swallowed against his palm. “If you are done posturing, I’ll tell you all I know.” She stared into his eye shield unblinking. He kept his hold for a few seconds before letting her go, backing off a few steps.

He growled and gestured for her to talk. She glared at him. “You have no manners. Sit, we have much to discuss.” She sat down and he noted that she made the choice on purpose to be away from her weapon. He clicked impatiently to her and took a seat across from her; this time giving her some space as even sitting, he dwarfed the demolished room.

“First formalities.” She said as she pulled back her hood exposing her face to him. He noticed she wore her black hair in a single braid woven tight to her scalp from forehead to tip. She looked to have tattoos (he never understood that ooman custom, scars earned during a hunt where better) down the back and sides of her neck that disappeared below her clothes. She continued to speak and Set’rath noticed her high cheek bones and the care she took care not to show him her teeth. “What may I call you?” she asked.

She seemed to know a little Yautja and he wondered if she would know his name. “Set’rath.” He rumbled low. She studied him a moment, before nodding her head respectfully. “Fitting name for you.”

Despite himself he grinned behind his mask. His mask? He wondered briefly if he should remove it as she had with her hood, then shook himself. “Name?”

Her features tightened with a private pain. “Bhu’ja.”

He studied her again. How did an ooman have a Yautja name? He clicked at her in confusion.

She swallowed and as fast as the pain showed itself it was gone. “If we survive and you wish to know it I will tell you my true name. For now I don’t exist and that is just the way of it.”

Her added explanation only served to confuse him more, but his curiosity could wait for now. “Talk.”

“First you need to know that there are three, I call them Berserkers, they are larger than you.” She glared when started to growl. “You are large for a Yautja male, but the Berserkers are not Yautja…at least not like any I have met. These monsters have no honor.”

Set’rath could hear the anger in her voice as she spoke about the dishonorable hunters. She was genuinely upset that the Yautja codes where being violated. He clicked at her and she continued. “They capture prey and bring it here to this planet, parachuting it in instead of landing.” He growled at the memory of waking up in free fall and Bhu’ja nodded. “You and I were lucky, not all the chutes open.”

He felt sick and the bubblings of hatred for these Berserkers. “Continue.”

She nodded. “They bring in the top predators of any given planet. They value quantity not quality. They hunt with those spiked hounds we saw earlier, to tire out their quarry and give them a chance to evaluate it. Then they employ scare tactics fucking with the prey’s mind. Once the prey is worn down and for all intents and purposes, out of its mind they strike a dying blow from the back while cloaked, and let the creature bleed out…it not always a fast kill.”

Set’rath growled and he made to get up when Bhu’ja stopped him. “Wait, there is more.”

More? He looked at her and she continued. “They do all of that to anger their favorite prey…” She paused and her voice sounded tired. “You.”

He roared reflexively and Bhu’ja sat there letting him compose himself. When he finally hissed and clicked at her impatient for her to continue explaining, she spoke. “I have been here through two hunts so far, this one is number three.” She sighed. “At first I tried to group together all I found, but men don’t listen.” Her voice was intensifying in irritation. “The group I was brought here with died within two days. I managed to wound the hound keeper, but not enough to kill him. While tending my wounds I heard the roar of a Yautja. He sounded young…Too young. I made it to the camp in time to see the youth beheaded while forced to his knees by the bigger of the three.”

Her anger was dripping from every word she spoke and Set’rath was trembling with the need for revenge. Bhu’ja took a deep breath and continued still. “The second youth I tried to find. But they had moved camps and it took me too long to find them again…” She trailed off and he could hear it in her voice that she held herself responsible for their loss. “I found the youth strapped to an alter with bloody skulls piled up to his feet. He had bled out and there was nothing I could do.”

Set’rath stood and turned to leave pausing briefly at the door when she spoke quietly. “One more thing.” He glanced back. “Before trying to get to one of their ships to get off this planet all three must fall or they’ll remotely self destruct the ship. Last hunting cycle a human got to the ship…he never made it off the planet…those assholes still have two cloaked near their camp.” He nodded and stepped from the room leaving Bhu’ja behind him. Cloaking before exiting the ship he headed towards his quarry knowing now there where only three and they thought him inexperienced, a deception he planned to use to his advantage.

***~***

Bhu’ja took a deep breath after Set’rath left, the black and cream mottled Yautja was certainly a presence to reckon with. Feeling confident she had done all she could to warn him, she set her mind to planning. If he was a Blooded Hunter then the Berserkers should find him a difficult catch and anything she could do ensure his victory was fair game where those honor-less assholes where concerned.

She counted her ammo and reloaded her rifle. Shit! Twenty nine. Need to make them count. She had a side arm, but she doubted the 9mm rounds would do more than just piss them off, but she checked the rounds anyways. Worst case scenario I can destroy my own skull…just try to trophy this bitch. She leaned back against the wall sighing. She already knew she was more than likely dead, but if she could avenge her father before it happened she at least could live up to her name and make him proud before joining him in the afterlife. Running her tongue along the top row of her teeth hovering over her elongated canines. Would Set’rath want my head as a trophy too, if he knew?

NEXT CHAPTER—->

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