Shadow and Ghost
Chapter 2: Cetanu’s Name
Set’rath crossed the riverbed heading back towards the site of the ambush on the humans. The smell of blood was stale in the air and the hound’s tracks were easy to follow as their claws had torn up the ground in their haste to get back to their master. Coming up to where the Hound Keeper had been hiding while watching the humans, the ground was less disturbed as the hounds calmed down and then walked calmly away with him.
Their trail cut deep into the forest, switch backing a few times before entering a hunting camp that appeared to be deserted. He cautiously ducked under a branch and a sticky web attached itself to his chest and shoulder, he wiped it away without a second thought. The scent of rotten flesh was heavy in the air and as he cautiously entered the fireless camp, the sharp point of an altar could be seen. Remembering what Bhu’ja had told him about them stringing up one of the Unblooded youths he made his way towards the large carved stone. He could see a chain wrapped around the backside and as he approached, he could see there was indeed a body of a younger Yautja tethered up.
The youth, stripped of all weapons and armor, had been alive when tied up from the evidence of bruising on his skin from the chains. Skulls at the base of the altar where piled up to the boy’s ankles, his throat had been slit and allowed to bleed out over the grizzly offering piled under him. Set’rath felt an uncontrollable build up of rage as he cut the youth’s body down and laid his body in its position for final rest. There was no time to bury him but at least he could rest untortured.
After reciting a final prayer for the youth, Set’rath roared an enraged promise to the Berserkers. He was coming for them and they would pay. His roar was deep and strong and when he ended his challenge, the echoing roars of the Berserkers taunted him. He charged forward towards their position, knowing he should proceed with caution, but incapable of it. He wanted to see their blood run just like they had watched the youth bleed out.
As he charged forward, he stepped into a trip line. A net caught him around the ankles and sent him sprawling to his chest. He roared in rage, extending his wrist blades, and began to hack at the net tangling his ankles. Bhu’ja landed in front of him dropping from the trees. “Set’rath! Stop! Calm your mind. They set you up.” Her voice was silky and her eyes began to lull him into a sense of peace. Shaking his head, he still felt rage and struck out at her; she dodged his blades reflexively and continued to speak to him. “Easy. They want you angry and reckless. Calm your mind. Let me help you.”
Bhu’ja had rushed to find him when she heard his challenge roar. She knew the Berserkers had set the same trap for him as they did the previous Yautja youth. He was listening to her voice and his violent lash outs where slowing as he regained control over his emotions. “Come on Set’rath. Put your blades away and I will get you out of the net.” He nodded his understanding, but his blades where slow to retract. “Come on handsome, put them away.” She crooned to him. His blades slid back into their sheath and she quickly went to work untangling the slashed net from his ankles.
Dropping the scrap netting into a heap, she placed a hand on his forearm and urged him gently to follow her back to the river. His large hand curled around her forearm, his claw pressing against her but he did not squeeze to her relief. He was fighting the toxins affecting his system. Good you’re strong. She thought as she carefully led him to the river. The sun was finally cresting the horizon’s edge and she did not want him in a rage during nightfall, when one of the Berserkers would come looking for him.
Standing near the edge of the riverbed she slowly knelt next to a sliver of water cutting through the rock. “I need you to kneel, Set’rath. I have to wash the poison off your skin.” He was reluctant and began to shake with the effort of his internal fight to keep his mind from reacting violently. “Come on. Follow me.” She knelt and he mimicked her painstakingly slow. As his knees touched the soil Bhu’ja went to let go of his arm, but his claws began to dig in. “Ok. I won’t let go.” Reaching the best she could with one hand into the water and cupped her hand bringing the cool liquid up to his exposed skin of his neck and shoulder.
Reaching down again she brought more water up and let it poor over his collarbone dripping it over his chest. Flattening her hand against his pectoral muscle, she felt him shiver under her touch. “Easy. Come on back to me.” Rubbing the water into his skin, re-dipping her hand into the water as needed for more. She brought her wet hand up against his lower mandible barely exposed under his mask and stroked him gently. His shaking was finally slowing. “There now, easy. How are you feeling now?” He didn’t respond except to tilt his head slightly as she continued to rub the water against his skin. “Set’rath?” She began to drop her hand and as she let it slide to his chest, she felt his steady heart beat under her finders. Glaring at him she dropped her hand and pulled her other out of his grip. “Just how long where you planning on letting me rub on you?” She glared when his shoulders bobbed and his clicking laughter began to increase in pitch, “Lord you are an ass.” She teased without much venom. “Joking at a time like this, Really?”
Set’rath rolled his shoulders and his laughter slowed, regarding her for a moment he asked. “How did you know?”
“About the trap or how to help you?”
“I was unlucky enough to stumble into a forgotten one. It doesn’t affect me the way it did you and I was able to wash the sticky residue off.” She shrugged. “I figured it was worth the risk getting you to the river to see if it would help you too.”
Set’rath tilted his head at her. “You helped without knowing it would work?”
She nodded. “I had to try.” Turning from him, she watched the sun creep the last few degrees to disappear below the horizon.
“I could have killed you.” His voice rumbled softly.
With a haunted expression, she gave him a tight-lipped smile. “You’re worth the risk.” She walked over to a large bolder and sat down. A breeze kicked up and blew a thin strand of hair from her braid to tease her cheek.
Set’rath caught himself staring at her and checked himself. He moved to stand when the breeze carried her scent to him. He inhaled deeply, there was something very different about hers and he could not place it. To say that it was agitating him was an understatement. “What are you?” He grated.
She froze and eyed him. “What do you think I am?” She asked playing coy.
Tilting his head briefly, then nodded slightly as if answering his own question before speaking. “Confusing.”
Bhu’ja relaxed and Set’rath waited patiently for her to speak. When she did not, he growled low and decided he needed to think, clear his head from the events that had happened. Shifting his suit on he melted into the background and went for a walk.
Bhu’ja watched him leave. He may have shifted, but what he didn’t know was she could see faint heat signatures. His form was strong and each of his muscles flexed in a mesmerizing rhythm as she watched him disappear down the riverbed. Sighing. Father I know you wanted me to find a strong Yautja, but really? Him? This was not the time or place to be thinking like that and she mentally shook herself to stay alert. She felt like laughing at the “stay alert” part of that thought. She operated lately on very little sleep and she was starting to feel fatigued. This hunt would be her last one way or the other. She prayed desperately to Cetanu that she had the strength to make it happen.
Jumping down from her perch on the boulder, she decided to make her way back up to the crashed ship for her rifle. Cursing herself for forgetting it in the first place when Set’rath had roared she’d rushed to stop him and left the weapon where she had propped it during their earlier conversation.
As she reached to pull her hood back over her head, she heard a faint sound that made her pause. It sounded like metal against rock. Oh Fuck. Pulling her side arm from its holster and flipped the safety off, keeping it near her thigh just in case it was Set’rath coming back. She did not want to pull a gun on him if he had any residual effects from the resin web the Berserkers had planted.
“Pet of Kwei-kv’var-de, you know it was only a matter of time before I found you. Did you believe the worthless Yautja would protect you?” The oily voice of the Hound Keeper oozed through the air and Bhu’ja cursed her luck again. She had not been planning to confront the bastard in the dark.
“Took you long enough to find me honor-less one.” She retorted to the darkness. She spotted his faint outline from across the riverbed. She did not however see his hounds or the other two Berserkers.
The Hound Keeper Laughed, a sound that reminded Bhu’ja of rocks in a tin can echoed through the darkness. “Honor? Don’t make me laugh pathetic ooman. My altar is the fullest and you will be the next edition strapped to it. My brothers can fight over the Yautja but you…” He stepped closer and Bhu’ja pretended not to see him creep. “Will be mine.”
“I don’t think so.” She spat back bringing up her gun and began firing at him. He was faster than she suspected and he dodged the rounds getting hit with three of the nine rounds she had fired at him. Cursing herself for letting him goad her like that, she vaulted up the silty riverbank to gain the higher ground.
“I will have your red blood to paint my altar.” He snarled. “You will die slow.”
“Fuck you!” She did not want to fight hand to hand with the brute but he closed the distance fast flashing his visor shield to taunt her. She fired the last five rounds at him, hitting him twice.
With a roar, he lunged the last few feet knocking the weapon from her hands. Bhu’ja surprised him by boxing the exposed sides of his neck as he tried to bear hug her. He roared in pain as she ducked and rolled out of his reach.
As he uncloaked he spoke. “You can see me. I will have you now for sure.” His voice was a little more than a growl.
“Keep dreaming asshole.” Despite herself she snarled at him and when he pulled up in surprise to her fangs, she used his hesitation to her advantage and launched a double kick into his lower abdominals with both her boots contacting just above his groin buckling him over with a pissed off roar. He swiped a hand at her as she fell to her back, hindering her from getting back up quickly. The Hound Keeper’s claws sliced through her pant leg sinking into her outer thigh.
When she screamed in anger, he laughed amused. Raising his hand to admire her blood he abruptly stopped laughing when he saw the pale green liquid moistening his claws. “Now isn’t this interesting. Hybrid. So Kwei-kv’var-de fathered an abomination after all.”
Shit that hurt! Bhu’ja felt her body betraying as she stumbled to her feet, the wound began to throb and her vision was blurring. Oh fuck me, the resin…and it is in my blood this time.
The Hound Keeper circled her toying with her now. “I did not believe the rumors until now.” His voice grated with a sinister innuendo. “You will make a fine edition to my altar. My brothers won’t even have your color of blood.” The wind shifted and blew her scent towards him. Bhu’ja knew that change in his stance and the roll of his shoulders. “Perhaps I won’t be so fast in killing you. I wasn’t due to mate this turn, but who would care about an abomination like you, when in the end your blood will run?”
Fuck! Her sight was almost gone and as she struggled to keep him in the small window she could see through, he just as quickly stepped from it. She side stepped to face him again and stepped her foot into a soft sinkhole in the riverbed. The Hound Keeper took advantage and launched his bulk at her hitting his chest against her chin knocking her to her back. Bhu’ja could not stop the surprised cry that tore from her lips. His grating laughter echoed in her ears.
She landed hard bouncing the back of her head against the riverbed. The Hound Keeper landed on top of her, she felt her lungs compress under his bulk and she fought to breathe. His laugh rumbled against her and she cursed him. He sat up straddling her between his knees, she continued to struggle until he open handed slapped her across the cheek letting his claws swipe across her cheek injecting more resin. Bhu’ja went limp.
——Bhu’ja watched as her world went dark. An inky blackness settled in around her, she knew she should be afraid and was confused as to why she wasn’t. Nothing was visible except a soft red aura. Walking towards it felt like going home. “Stop!” A deep voice boomed.
“Who are you?” She called out as she obeyed.
The red aura shifted and shimmered growing in size until it enveloped everything but the inky black floor Bhu’ja stood on. Feeling a vibration rumble up through her feet, she looked down to see ripples like those over a pool after a stone has been thrown in. They where subtle at first but as the vibrations intensified so did the size of the ripples.
A blacker than black figure arose from the inky depths to stand towering over her. The black figure was a Yautja like none she had ever seen; even the Berserkers would cower in this male’s presence. His red eyes regarded her. When he spoke, she felt her soul pulled towards him. “For someone who shares my name, Cetanu’nan-de, I was not expecting to have you knock just yet.”
“Cetanu.” She spoke his name in awe. “It wasn’t by choice.”
“Then go back and live up to my name. Send me those who would seek to send you before I call.” He reached forward shoving her shoulder in challenge. His roar echoed in her ears as the blackness surrounded her again.——
The Hound Keeper purred and began to explore the curves of her body, when a loud roar ripped through the night pulling his attention from her. Set’rath appeared on the opposite side of the bank and roared again. The Hound Keeper stood up, leaving Bhu’ja where she lay.
Set’rath stood as tall as the Hound Keeper’s shoulder and was about as wide. The Hound Keeper growled his irritation at being interrupted. “You will be allowed to live long enough to watch what I have planned for the Hybrid, since you seem so fond of it.”
“You will pay for your crimes.” They circled each other sizing each other up.
“All you pups say the same thing. Pathetic. I am a god here; just who do you think will make me pay?” He laughed.
“Me.” Set’rath flicked his wrist blades out. In answer so did the Hound Keeper, he rushed at Set’rath. Sparks flew as their blades clashed. Set’rath spun and parried out from under the bigger male slicing his blades along his back. The Hound Keeper hissed and wildly swung back missing Set’rath’s chest by a hair’s breathe.
Bhu’ja heard a roar and her heart began to race, Set’rath he came back. She opened her eyes and for a moment thought Cetanu had yet to send her back. Blinking away her blurry vision, as the faint heat signatures began to form around her. Her left eye would not clear and she could feel her blood sticking to her neck from the wounds on her cheek. It throbbed and coupled with the pain in her thigh she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out with pain. The poison weakened her body and it was a struggle to move. She circled her hand around the hilt of a knife, What? Looking down at her hand, she held the Hound Keeper’s blade. The memory came back, before he had slapped her, she had unsheathed it and was preparing to re-sheath it into his neck when he knocked her out. Bastard.
Looking towards the sound of the fighting to see Set’rath circle the Hound Keeper who slashed wildly at him, Set’rath knelt to his knees and spun under the attack sinking his blades into the back of the Hound Keeper’s leg slicing through the tendons. The Hound Keeper roared and let out a loud trill. Growling yips answered and the three remaining hounds burst forward from the opposite side of the riverbed. They charged at Set’rath who turned his attention to the hounds and in a tornado of slashing blades and dodging teeth cut the hounds down. Leaving them bleeding and twitching on the ground he spun to face the Hound Keeper again.
The Hound Keeper was holding a hand held cannon and was now aiming it at Set’rath, Seeing Set’rath hesitate he began to laugh sadistically. Bhu’ja knew at that close range Set’rath would not survive the hit. Ignoring the pain in her body and her protesting eyesight, she pulled herself to her feet. Using the Hound Keeper’s laughter to camouflage her wounded steps she stalked up to his shoulder, holding his own knife up she spoke. “Hey Asshole.” He turned, and found his laughter abruptly cut off as his knife sunk into his forehead. “Remember my name, Cetanu’nan-de and Cetanu is calling for you.” She kicked him with her uninjured leg in his chest and watched him fall to his back unceremoniously.
A wave of dizziness hit her, and her eyesight disappeared. She felt herself fall into a set of strong arms and reassuring purring clicks echoed around her as the blackness settled once more upon her.