Shadow and Ghost
Chapter 4: The Hunting Game
The morning sun gave no warmth as Bhu’ja pulled her hood over her head. She fingered the trigger of the net launcher, as she silently stalked through the forest towards the Berserker’s camp. Bhu’ja questioned Set’rath’s sanity for the thousandth time for coming up with this plan; she then questioned hers for the thousandth and one time for going along with it. The thundering cascade of the nearby waterfall echoed through the forest and she felt jumpy not being able to hear small noises. Set’rath had told it would be ok, that the Berserkers seemed to favor cleaning during this hour and would not be expecting her to walk right on up. The smell of rotting flesh and charred wood began to permeate the air. Here goes nothing. Cautiously Bhu’ja stepped from the dense forest into a clearing of stumps and meat racks. Two surprised and very large Berserkers stared back at her, uncloaked as they skinned a strange four-legged creature the color of river rock. “Hi Boys!” Bhu’ja laughed as she shot the net launcher at the larger of the two and spun on her heel, ignoring the pain in her thigh she bolted back through the trees towards the falls.
Two distinct roars from behind her told her the net had tangled its mark and the other was in hot pursuit. Set’rath, you better be right about this! She thought to him as she ran as fast as she could over the soft terrain. Vaulting over a downed tree Bhu’ja risked a glance behind her and the faint heat outline of the Berserker was gaining ground. She saw him raise his fist. Oh shit! She had just enough time to lay her head back as a blade sliced through the air above her to lodge into a tree trunk in front of her. “Careful you could have hit me with that.” Bhu’ja yelled behind her, taunting her pursuer as she continued to run.
Bhu’ja skid to a stop at the edge of the cliff overlooking the waterfall and spun facing the Berserker who stopped just as abruptly. He exited the tree line, cloaked and flashing his visor occasionally trying to play mind games on her. She glared up at his nine-foot stature and caught a view of Set’rath in the tree he had told her he would be waiting in. Smiling behind her hood, she stretched her arms out wide as if she was inviting a hug. “Cetanu calls you home today.” As the Berserker lunged forward, Bhu’ja threw herself backwards, off the cliff in a graceful dive to the pool below. I hope this was flashy enough for you, because I don’t dance. She silently thought to Set’rath. The frustrated roar of the Berserker became muffled as the surface of the water enveloped her. Swimming under the surface, Bhu’ja, made her way to the rocky out cropping Set’rath had pointed out to her earlier in the morning.
The Berserker rushed towards the edge to look over into the pool trying to get a lock on where his quarry had escaped. As he scanned the pool, Set’rath snagged him around the throat with the noose he’d taken from the Hound Keeper and yanked hard, pulling the Berserker off his feet. The Berserker gave a gurgled roar as he extended his wrist blade and swiped at the noose wire cutting through it. With a grunt he landed heavily on his feet, his shift suit failing as he spun to face Set’rath who jumped from the tree.
Pulling the remaining wire piece from around his neck the Berserker roared at Set’rath who postured with his palms out, the berserker was the first to swipe his blade at Set’rath, who dodged gracefully out of reach, extending his own wrist blades to parry the next down strike from the Berserker in a shower of sparks. Set’rath growled, antagonizing the Berserker into an on slot of strikes. Set’rath danced, and dodged the strikes, sometimes by merely a breath.
The Berserker was relentless in his attacks and steadily growing more careless. Set’rath clicked with excitement as the Berserker finally made a fatal mistake. The Berserker lunged forward stabbing his blade towards Set’rath’s ribs. Set’rath leaped into the air and using a large tree to kick off from he gained height over his larger opponent, swiping his blades across the Berserker’s exposed throat. Landing in a graceful roll, Set’rath spun and watched the decapitated body slump and fall to the ground.
As Set’rath stood, he felt a sting along one of his ribs, touching the area and bringing his hand up he saw his own blood. At least the bastard came through… A sickening laughter matriculated from the forest. Set’rath scanned quickly around and spotted the last of the Berserkers stepping casually from behind the tree his now dead brother slumped next to.
The big Berserker uncloaked and postured at Set’rath. “It would appear my brothers failed to verify your experience.”
Set’rath fought against the blurriness attacking his eyesight. “It would appear that way.” The Berserker circled Set’rath, just waiting, observing him. The moment Set’rath prayed he had gambled correctly on was fast consuming him, as his eyesight disappeared his strength began to fail his body. Slumping to the ground, with the Berserker’s laughter the last thing he heard before unconsciousness won over.
From the rock out cropping at the edge of the pool, Bhu’ja watched silently letting the scene play out. She fought against her own instincts to jump into the battle, knowing the Berserkers cheat and use chemicals on their blades and claws to gain advantage over their opponents. She absently rubbed over the wounds on her thigh. Set’rath had said he was counting on it, but watching him take the hit, made he hold her breathe. Seeing the Berserker she thought of as the Brawler step from behind the tree the dead one now slumped in front of almost made her blow her cover and Set’rath’s plans. Luckily, the Brawler never used projectiles, opting to kill with his bare hands instead. From her observations, she also knew he was the most sadistic, he was the one of the three who liked to de-skull prey while it still lived.
Bhu’ja watched with her heart in her throat as the Brawler grabbed Set’rath by his dreads and began dragging him back to his camp. When they were out of sight, she climbed from the outcropping and swam back across the pool to climb back up the ledge. The deceased body of the Berserker still lay where Set’rath had felled it. The bright neon blood spread like a carpet under him. Bhu’ja raided the body looking for extra weapons and frowning at the dead body’s lack of arsenal. “Sure you just had to run after me without anything I can use.” She whispered to the body. Shoving the body to its back Bhu’ja saw a hand sized pouch hanging from his belt just over his hip. Jackpot.
Taking the Shurikens, she tied the pouch to her belt and set off after Set’rath and the Berserker’s hunting camp. The Brawler had made no effort to hide his tracks back to his camp, and judging by the drag marks left by Set’rath’s body, the Brawler made no effort to lift him more than he had to. Be alive asshole…If we misjudged… Bhu’ja checked her worry and reminded herself she had to stay focused for the next step in Set’rath’s plans.
Carefully approaching the camp, Bhu’ja took to the trees, observing from the high ground. Set’rath had expected a trap and warned her to be thorough in her recon before entering the camp. They needed the Brawler to enter their trap and not the other way around. Scanning the camp there was only one faint heat signature that caught her attention. Set’rath. Cautiously climbing down from the tree, she picked her way through the camp towards the altar. Stepping around the spire and its grizzly offerings, she saw Set’rath strung up and lashed to the tall spire. His weapons and limited armor had been removed, including his bio-mask. Seeing his face for the first time, Bhu’ja caught her breathe, his black features where enhanced with a dark cream mottling and to Bhu’ja the contrast was striking. He had an odd scar made up of three lines that looked like a wave and two spikes on the crest of his forehead marking his Blooded status.
Mentally shaking herself back to focus, Bhu’ja whispered to him. “Snap out of it.” Reaching up as high as she could and touching him gently on the chest. “Set’rath, wake up.” A low groan rumbled through him and he slowly awakened, for the first time she saw his yellow-green eyes. He stared at her and as his vision cleared, something in the depth of his expression made her take pause, clearing her throat. “I found these.” She held up the pouch. “Can you use them?” He clicked his upper mandibles softly and nodded. “Good, now let’s get you down from there.”
Bhu’ja climbed up the back of the altar over the grizzly offerings and shoved the pouch into his hand as she set to work with the Hound Keeper’s dagger to loosen or break the chains that bound Set’rath to the spire. A snapping twig was the only warning Bhu’ja had before the Brawler’s hand grabbed her shoulder and threw her to the ground in front of Set’rath, who still hung suspended from the spire. Rolling unsteadily to her feet Bhu’ja hissed at the Brawler who just shook his dreads and postured at her.
“Come now, bastard of Kwei-kv’var-de, you don’t have a chance to survive a fight with me.”
Set’rath roared and the Brawler began to laugh. His voice amused. “Oh now this just got interesting.” Pulling his mask off and tossing it aside, he narrowed his eyes and continued his taunt. “Kwei-kv’var-de was a fool. I knew you where more than his pet and it was I who made him pay for his treachery.”
“You…?” Bhu’ja glared at him and did a quick scan for anything she could use as a weapon. The Hound Keeper’s knife was on the ground beneath Set’rath. Seeing her eyes divert away from him the Brawler lunged forward, forcing Bhu’ja to dodge his punch frantically by spinning to the side. He swung again and as she jumped back to avoid his massive fist she bumped into one of the many skinning racks that littered the camp. He launched a kick towards her, and Bhu’ja dropped to her belly, shoving herself under the rack avoiding contact the kick.
The rack exploded above her, grabbing a thighbone from a large creature, from a pile of bones next to the butcher table as she scrambled back to her feet. The Brawler laughed at her vain attempt to avoid his hits. Narrowing his eyes at her, Bhu’ja knew it was now or never and swung the bone at him as he charged again, catching him in the chin. He stumbled back a step then with an outraged roar launched himself at her as she dove for the knife. The Brawler landed against the altar under Set’rath’s feet in a shower of bloody offerings. Set’rath roared and with the soft metallic shwink of a Shuriken opening, cut through the bonds at his wrist when the Shuriken’s long blades extended.
The Brawler stood and turned to Set’rath, splaying his mandibles in surprise as Set’rath roared and sunk the array of blades into the Brawler’s sternum. The Brawler roared and extended his wrist blades, reaching back to swipe full force at him. Bhu’ja kneeled and punched the Brawler in the back of the knee sliding the blade of the Hound Keeper’s knife through the tendons of his calves. The Brawler fell to the ground, flailing his wrist blade at Bhu’ja who had to jump quickly out of reach. The Brawler’s pained laughter began to echo through the campsite.
“You haven’t won. Kwei-kv’var-de was a traitor.” He began violently coughing up blood. “You think I will be the last to come for you?”
“My father was an honorable man.” Bhu’ja picked up the dropped pouch and pulled the other Shuriken from inside to place it in Set’rath’s free hand. “You would be wise to remember that when you knock on Cetanu’s door.”
Set’rath opened the Shuriken and from his suspended confines flung it out towards the Brawler. The spinning blades sank into the ground severing the Brawler’s head from his shoulders. Bhu’ja stood over the dead Brawler and casually pulled the Shurikens from his body. Turning she handed one up to Set’rath who promptly cut himself down, and landed lithely next to her. Growling at the body of the Brawler, he kneeled pulling the gauntlets from his wrists. Taking a few moments to look over the writing on the control displays, Set’rath initiated the ship’s cloaking to deactivate and the engines to start.
Bhu’ja found Set’rath’s bio-mask and handed it to him; Set’rath took it and promptly clicked it into place. Folding the Shurikens back into their pouch, he tied them to his belt then turned his head towards Bhu’ja and nodded towards the ship. “Ready?”
“Let’s get the hell out of here.” She agreed feeling uncertain if she was heading again towards a meeting with Cetanu. The ship was only a few yards away from the camp and as they walked up the personnel ramp, Bhu’ja pulled her hood off and smiled at Set’rath. “Your plans always work this well?”
“Mostly.” He left her gaping at his back as he turned to locate the bridge; he had reports to prepare and a rendezvous to coordinate.
Bhu’ja turned back to the doors as they closed and watched as the planet disappeared from her view. The dying words of the Brawler echoed through her mind. ‘You think I will be the last to come for you?’