Shadow and Ghost
Chapter 12: The Hunt Begins
“For the last time, take your Combi-staff, you have earned the right to fight with it.” Thar’n-thwei glared at his niece when she shook her head again.
“Uncle, I am only taking the weapons I am comfortable using and I still have not gotten the hang of that thing. I promise I will practice heavily with it when I get back, but until then, can’t you just wish me luck or something?” Bhu’ja was exasperated at telling the Elder no, but just like Set’rath he was worried and was trying his best to make sure she was prepared.
With a sigh of resignation, or even irritation, he nodded conceding to her decision to not take the staff. Turning his attention to Set’rath. “Say your final words and go stand with the other teachers while I address the hunt sisters before launch.”
Set’rath nodded and leaned in towards Bhu’ja. “Hunt with honor.” His words where the standard teacher send off but the subtle purring clicks he vocalized for her ear only was no mistake him telling her, ‘I love you.’
Bhu’ja winked at him before sliding her bio mask into place and connected the hoses. Set’rath nodded approvingly and turned without ceremony to leave the launch deck and watch in the balcony with the other teachers. As he exited, D’lex-dekna and Yey’thwei entered the launch bay. As the doors slid shut behind him, he faintly heard Yey’thwei comment to D’lex-dekna. “Now that is a male…” The rest of her words died as the doors closed. Set’rath took the lift to the observation balcony and was greeted by the irritating site of Kha’cti-pa dressed in her ceremonial robes for her daughter’s launch.
“Set’rath, good to see you again.” She purred. He nodded dismissively and took a stance next to the railing that gave him a clear view of Bhu’ja as she strapped herself into her launch pod. Kha’cti-pa, obviously irritated by his dismissal, growled and stepped into his shoulder looking down at him. “Your insolence will only be tolerated for so long. When my daughter returns you will have no choice but to fulfill your duty as a male.” With a haughty flip of her robes, she stormed off to the far end of the observation deck.
Set’rath let out the breath he had been holding and risked a glare at her back before returning his attention back to Bhu’ja. She had finished strapping in, her focus now entirely on Elder Thar’n-thwei as he laid out the instructions for the hunt. Set’rath nostalgically listened to the Elder’s words. “…I cannot stress enough to watch your timers. The walls will shift every ten minutes forcing the hunt deeper into the bowels of the pyramid. There are ten hard meats without queen currently seeded in River Ghosts. They have been placed into the hatching chamber and should be hatching as I speak to you now. They will be full grown advisories upon your arrival.” The Elder made eye contact with each of the hunt sisters to stress his next point. “Each hard meat must be killed before the pyramid will unlock.” He then turned on his heal and walked over to a table against the wall and opened a chest. He picked up the five objects inside. “When the first shoulder canon has been pulled from the weapons chamber the hunt begins.” Turning back to the hunters, he approached each one of the open pods handing one of the objects to each hunt sister. “Your trophy cleaning kits, we expect honorable hunts and blooded warriors to return.”
Bhu’ja attached the trophy kit to her belt and crossed her arms over her chest as the doors slid closed and locked tightly into place in front of her. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic. She thought as the cushioning gel filled in around her, leaving no empty space and halting all movement during descent and landing. Set’rath had explained the landing would kill the hunters without the gel to absorb the shock, but as it continued to fill in around the face of her mask, she admitted this experience could make her last thought a lie.
Redirecting her thoughts as she waited for the launch of her pod she glanced up in the top right corner of her visor where the pyramid timer was set, currently reading 00:00. Glancing to the left was a tiny square that she knew none of the other hunters would have and only Set’rath and her Uncle knew of its existence in hers. The tiny square currently was a picture of the closed pod doors and the translucent gel currently thickening around her.
The camera was the only thing they could do to protect her honor should their plans fail and the traitor survive. Taking a deep breath, she steadied her nerves when the launch siren blared through the bay, it was only slightly audible in the pod, but it was enough for Bhu’ja to reflexively hold her breath as her pod was jettisoned to the surface of the planet.
As the pod hurtled through the atmosphere of the planet she had no sensation of falling, the interior of the pod was eerily still. A mild vibration and the landing monitor where the only things to indicate her pod had impacted the surface of the planet. The doors pealed open and the gel rapidly disintegrated when the oxygen rich air hit it. As she stepped out of her pod, the cool air hit her exposed skin, opening her wrist computer Bhu’ja quickly calibrated the temperature on her suit and set it to automatically adjust to keep her body temperature regulated and comfortable. Pulling up her image display of her location Bhu’ja located her hunt sisters and the entrance to the pyramid. Activating her cloaking mechanism, she set off at an easy run.
The pyramid was large and reminiscent of Earth’s Aztec culture long forgotten and even longer dead. The ceremonial pillars at the top of a steep steps where intricately carved as stylized Kainde Amedhas, their eyeless faces staring at the approaching hunters. As the hunt sisters reached the entrance they uncloaked. As the highest scoring hunter, Yey’thwei took point pulling up her map and entering the pyramid with her hunt sisters fanned out behind her as they headed towards the weapons room.
Screams echoed through the halls as the young, but fully mature Kainde Amedhas called for their queen. Bhu’ja could tell by their frantic bark like calls they were growing increasingly hostile with each other as a pecking order was established. The group of hunt sisters picked up to a jog and followed Yey’thwei into a strange room that had walls resembling a Rubik’s Cube. In the center of the room stood an Ark carved in explicit details of battle around its sides, on the top where two statues, one of Paya and the other of Cetanu.
Dto’Luar-ke tossed her red tipped dreads in irritation. “So how do we open it?”
Bhu’ja watched silently as her hunt sisters began fondling the Ark looking for the key. Set’rath had explained that the Ark was their first test. They needed the shoulder canons inside for safety so the hunt would only begin once they had opened it and pulled the first canon. When she had asked how to open it, he had just shrugged and said she would have to figure it out.
While her hunt sister studied the carvings, Bhu’ja took a closer look at the statues. She noticed the smooth surface of the top and the textured surface of the base. “Clever.”
“You have something to add?” Thei-Kiloun snarled.
Bhu’ja flashed her visor at her irritable hunt sister before placing her hands on top of both the statues, pulling Cetanu towards her and pressing Paya away, the Ark hissed and began to spread apart exposing its contents to the awaiting hunters.
The hunters stared at Bhu’ja, but it was D’lex-dekna who asked the question. “How did you, a ooman figure it out?”
“First I am only half human and it is a riddle. ‘Who do you embrace and who do you follow?’” She rolled her shoulders back. “You must first accept death before going to war.” She then set a hand on one of the canons. “We have accepted that death is here? Are we ready to go to war?”
The hunt sisters roared and placed their hands on a canon. With a nod from everyone, they all pulled at the same time. The pyramid began to groan in protest as walls shifted. Their prey screamed loud as their prison opened up and no longer held them. The hunters cloaked and took off down the newly opened corridor. They entered an alter room, where giant carvings along the wall depicted Yautjas locked in combat with Kainde Amedhas.
Bhu’ja noticed her timer no longer read 00:00 but was now counting down from 10:00 and they had less than three minutes until the walls shifted again. A faint clawing caught her attention and as she listened intently, there was no mistaking one of their quarries was in the adjoining room. She motioned to
Yey’thwei who had the right of first kill since they were still grouped together.
Yey’thwei nodded and as she pulled her Combi-staff she uncloaked and waited the last few seconds for the walls to shift. A ‘Y’ shaped wall began to rise from the center cutting off the hunters from each other. A Kainde Amedha leapt through a new opening and launched itself at Yey’thwei who gracefully spun away from its slashing claws and second mouth of snapping fangs. The rising center wall now blocked the scene from Bhu’ja but the death scream the creature let out as the wall completed its accent to the ceiling announced Yey’thwei as victor. The hunt sisters let out an answering roar of praise that echoed through the chamber. Bhu’ja looked around and as a door opened to a new corridor she saw one of her hunt sisters had been trapped with her in this part of the ‘Y’.
Dto’Luar-ke uncloaked. “It would seem the gods have a sense of humor today.”
“So it would seem.” Bhu’ja answered as she uncloaked. “It is unwise for us to stand here.”
“Then let us move.” She gestured for Bhu’ja to lead the way. “I am eager for my trophies.”
They jogged down the open corridor. The slimy secretions of a Kainde Amedha or two dripped over the walls and pooled on the floor making a soggy squish sound with each of their steps. As their timer hit 00:00 they paused waiting for the walls to move, but to their surprise, the ceiling began to lower forcing them to run hunched.
The last few feet the ceiling forced them to a crawl. Bhu’ja tumbled from the opening and leapt to her feet grabbing her hunt sister’s hands and using her feet against the wall to help leverage their combined weight, she help pull Dto’Luar-ke from the collapsing corridor. They landed in a tight room, the floor heavy with a dense fog. As the hunters surveyed their new location they stood back to back, when they noticed that along the ceiling open shafts gaped wide.
Bhu’ja adjusted her visor and saw the trail from their prey leading up from the floor to one of the openings. As she continued to scan an outline of a five domed, eyeless heads appeared in the shadows of each of the openings. Slowly she pulled the Shurikens from their sheaths and purred to her hunt sister. “Ready to dance?”