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Trial By Fire

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He had been concerned at first that his decision to let the human accompany him would be disastrous; the current situation dictated that first and foremost he keep himself alive long enough to return to the planet surface and put an end to this Hunt, which meant he could not afford to bother himself with the matter of the human's survival. His concern served to be misplaced as more than once his small, strange comrade held its own against the kainde amedha, effectively surprising him. Granted, it lacked the strength and skill of the yautja, but its diminutive form allowed it a certain agility, and it possessed an iron determination that became more and more evident the longer he was in its company.

After its first victory—a struggle that he had been almost certain it was going to lose—he had attempted to tell it in his own language that it had done a good job. "Nain-desintje-de," he told it, and though the words were muffled by the mask they were still audible. The human had simply stared at him uncomprehendingly before babbling something brief in its own language. He had hit the animal loop on his wrist to record its words, and a moment later they echoed back, distorted and mechanical sounding: "Thanks, I think."

The human had shaken its head, its strange mouth curving upwards. He decided that it understood the basics of what he had been trying to say; later, once they were free of the temple confines and safely on the surface, perhaps a better understanding could be reached. They had continued on then, pausing only long enough for him to collect trophies from what had been his fourth kill. Unfortunately they were still far from the exit, and the kainde amedha were strewn throughout the labyrinthine passages of the temple in greater number than he had anticipated. Their next encounter was almost their last, and when the battle clamour had died both he and the human stood with bleeding wounds. His were not bad enough to be of consequence, and so he had watched half curious, half amused as the human frantically shed its outer layer of clothing covered in the acid lifeblood of the kainde amedha. When it was free of the swiftly dissolving fabric, it had rattled off what he could only assume to be obscenities, and he'd made sure to record them for future use. The human had stomped over to retrieve its weapon—his own spear—from where it lay, and it was then he noticed something both fascinating and disconcerting.

It was in a fact a she.

Human and yautja physiology, while different, was not incomparable. The human's upper chest swelled slightly with what was obviously a pair of milk glands, and the discovery prompted him to elicit an intrigued trill. Apparently the females of this planet shared other similarities with those of his own home world—a fierce, spirited nature. Of course, this human could be an exception … but there would be time enough to ponder that later, and so it was with an encouraging growl that he led the way again. He navigated the shifting temple with ease, able to discern by way of his arm device the direction they should be heading. The closer they got to the exit, the more light of heart he began to feel, for he was a Blooded now, and the only out of the five that had come to this place to survive, nonetheless. But leaving was not so easy as arriving, and so it was they ran amok of the kainde amedha twice more. The first time, he saved the human's life by pulling the black creature off of her and pinioning it on the dual blades of his ki'cti-pa before hurling its lifeless body into a wall. The human had accepted his hand, and as he pulled her to her feet she uttered one of the same words he had heard her say before.

Fascinated, he attempted to repeat it back to her. "Th'annn'kss?" he said, and after staring at him startled for a moment the human let loose a burst of sound that he realized was her version of laughter. After it died away, he noted her mouth still curved upwards, and he felt a sense of accomplishment knowing that while his attempt to communicate via her own language had fallen rather short, she had in some sense known what he was attempting to do.

The next time they encountered the kainde amedha it was the human that saved his life, driving the barbed head of her weapon through the skull of one creature that had leapt onto his back while he battled with another before him. Her bravery was nothing short of astounding—to think that such a small, insubstantial creature had come this far without dying, and had in fact saved his life! It was, he decided then, an honor to fight alongside her, and attempted to convey that by giving her the greeting of respect. He stepped carefully across the steaming pile made by the two kainde amedha carcasses, reached down, gripped the human's shoulder, and shook it. She hesitated only for a moment before reaching up as best she could to return the gesture. So incongruous was the image—she barely came to reach his upper torso at full height—that he trilled his amusement as he stepped back, and after a moment her lips pulled up and away, baring her teeth, and she echoed his laughter with her own.

They began to move again, with a newfound sense of urgency as he indicated as best he could through hand signals that they were almost free of the pyramid. He began to pick up the pace the closer they came, glancing back repeatedly to ascertain she was keeping pace with him. The archway to the entrance loomed before them; he felt a sense of relief and pride, for they had made it—

-the pyramid began to shift, and a stone slab slid swiftly down from the roof to seal off the archway. The human cried out something in frustration.

"C'jit!" he spat, echoing her sentiments. Further examination of their new surroundings revealed no exits; he growled his irritation but shifted to his attention to his companion who had taken advantage of their situation to sit against the wall and check her wounds. He watched as she peeled a blood caked sleeve away from the claw slices on her arm, hissing with the effort; how strange the color of her blood, he mused, when compared with his own. He made his way over to her and crouched; as she looked inquiringly at him he reached out with one finger to carefully probe the long vertical slash on her forearm. She remained motionless, letting him assess it, and when he'd finished his inspection he decided to make use of the time remaining until the temple shifted again to try again to communicate.

He pointed to the crimson liquid staining her arm and then gestured to his own blood, a vivid, luminescent green decorating the left side of his torso and said, "Thwei."

Her face contorted into an expression he was beginning to recognize as confusion. He indicated their respective life fluids once more and repeated himself. Abruptly the lines of her face smoothed, and she haltingly repeated what he had said, "Thhway?"

He chittered his pleasure; the accent was terrible but it was close enough. She took the initiative next, indicating herself with one thumb and saying one word. It took him a moment to realize she was trying to tell him her name, he tried to repeat it but it was difficult to produce the right sounds. After several attempts he growled in frustration and simply activated his animal loop. "Lex," it said with the human's voice, and she gave him again that odd curving of the lips that indicated her amusement. She reached up and touched his mask, indicating the Blooded mark he had engraved there himself not long ago. The word she said next was easier for him to attempt than her own. "Sk'aa-r," he repeated back, and she nodded. He debated trying to teach her his true name, but decided against it. She had given him a name and he rather liked the way it sounded, liked the fact that she obviously respected him enough to title him.

When the temple shifted again they were ready; the stone slab rose into the ceiling again and their way was made clear. He trilled low in his throat to urge the human to move swiftly, for as they approached the tunnel that led to the surface ch'hkt-a began to grow within him, an unnerving sense of something being wrong, though he had no idea what more could in fact go wrong. They encountered two more of the kainde amedha before reaching the stairs that were the exit to the pyramid, each killing one, and after the commotion had died his eyes went from the human to her kill and then back again. A sudden inspiration struck him, and bending he ripped a finger free from the corpse still impaled by her spear. He approached her, explaining in his own tongue about the Blooding, but her eyes widened and focused on the digit he held tipped with acidic liquid and she backed away. Recognizing and comprehending her apprehension, he halted and gesture to the mark on his mask, and then her cheek. Finally she relented, turning her face to the side. As he carefully etched the mark into her skin, he took note of how she remained motionless in the wake of the pain, of how she did not wince, and felt a momentary burst of pride. This human was a worthy of the Hunt, of that he was certain, and he was honoured to fight at her side.

When he'd marked her as Blooded, he let the finger fall and rumbled his satisfaction. The human retrieved the spear, but before they began moving again he removed his wrist device and input the proper code to activate its incendiary mode. He explained through hand gestures what it was; the human nodded and watched as he turned and hurled it back into the depths of the pyramid. He grabbed her arm as he swept past her with an urgent growl, hauling her with him as he raced down the steps. They reached the grotto without incident; he watched as she approached the human sled but reared back as her fingers encountered the thick, gelatinous saliva coating the keypad. Immediately his attention was drawn up the length of the massive tunnel; he detected movement with all of the visionary modes of his mask's visor …

The human barked his name, the name she had given him, and as she leapt for the suddenly moving sled he did too, hitting it full length. As it picked up speed the human fumbled to hold onto the bar above them both; he wrapped one arm about her midsection to keep her from flying off. The speed of their ascent was disorienting, and quite suddenly they were airborne, exploding into the frigid air of the surface—

-their landing was violent; the human was jolted from his grasp and he hit the hard ground on his side, grunting as he felt something in the area of his ribs crack. He turned the impact into a roll and came swiftly to his feet, searching the area both for the kainde amedha he had seen racing up the tunnel and for the human. He found her not far off, staggering to her feet and clutching her head with one hand and her spear with the other. He reached her side just as the ground beneath them began to tremble alarmingly, grabbing her arm again and pulling her with him. She ran falteringly for the first few steps but then regained her balance, and sensing she could keep up on her own he let her go. The explosion wrought by his bomb was causing all around them to collapse, and it was imperative they make stable ground. And so they ran, he in the lead and she not far behind, for all they were worth, trying to stay upright in the wake of the strong tremors. When he saw the earth before them heave up and then sink he whirled, caught the human, and used her momentum to throw her across the growing void. He leapt an instant later, barely clearing the chasm, and he landed hard on his injured side. With a hiss he got carefully to his feet; beside him, the human did the same.

Starting at their feet and stretching out into the dark there was now nothing but a massive, gaping crater. Even knowing what his bomb was capable of, he was slightly awed by its destructive capacity. The human echoed what he felt, her voice sounding faint. He turned to her then, both amazed she'd survived and proud she had. He would show her proper respect, he decided, and reached up to remove the pressure hoses from the side of his mask. She watched him silently, expressionlessly, and when his face was revealed to her in its true form he flared his tusks and roared, trying to startle her. She didn't move, and trilling his approval he ducked his head before placing again one hand on her shoulder and shaking it. She returned his gesture without hesitation, and before he stepped away he lightly patted the mark on her cheek with his other hand.

She babbled something to him; the way she bared her teeth made him instinctively guess that she'd said something triumphant. He bowed his head again and was about to agree when a sudden thunder rocked the world around them; he whirled as she did to see a nightmare claw its way up from the depths of the crater—the mother of all kainde amedha …

What happened next was merely instinct. He attacked as the human did, both of them knowing that to hesitate was to die. His shuriken sliced the queen open in several places before the long black tail hurtled towards him and struck, throwing him through the air to land in a tumble some fifteen feet away. He tried to get up as quickly as he could, knowing the queen was swifter and deadlier than her offspring; her sudden scream of pain as he turned alerted him to the human's efforts. She had jabbed her weapon through the queen's neck, and now as the queen swatted at the spear the human was running frantically away, trying to distract the beast to give him time. He felt a warm rush of appreciation for the human, and decided that if he was to die that he would do so proudly at the side of such a brave being. And as the queen gave chase, gaining rapidly on the human, he raced to retrieve the spear where it had fallen. He found human and queen by some old and bizarre contraption; the human had ducked under wooden supports and the queen was trying to force her head between them to get her prey. He ran headlong towards them, breathing deep the air that was no longer filtered by his mask and leapt—

-twisted about lithely mid-flight, driving the weapon directly through the queen's skull. He landed in an easy crouch, facing his enemy; the queen staggered about, screaming, torrents of her blood rushing forth to fall steaming to the ground. Movement caught his eye; the human had grabbed hold of the chain still attached to the queen's comb and was trying without much success to fasten it to the human contraption that was now balanced unevenly over dark, ice dotted water. He ran to help, picking up the chain and wrenching on it with all his strength; the human shouted out then in triumph as the contraption teetered and then tumbled into the water, dragging the queen with it. He leapt backwards, reaching for the human to pull her out of the way, but too late he saw the queen's tail rushing towards them as she struggled to escape the chain's pull. He ducked, hissing a warning, but the human saw the danger too late; the tail hit her full force and sent her hurtling through the air.

He watched as the queen gave a final, defiant scream before plunging into the water before approaching quickly the human where she lay some several feet away. She was motionless; fearing her dead he knelt and pulled her onto its back. With some relief he realized she was breathing, and so he carefully picked her up with both arms and carried her towards the buildings still left standing. He knew that the human ship, the one they used to manoeuvre through water, was still in the area, and he knew that eventually they would come looking for survivors. His own ship was in the upper atmosphere, awaiting his signal to return and retrieve him. He set the human down carefully, regarding her with an odd mixture of fondness and pride. She had fought as fiercely and as dedicatedly as any of his kind, and the thought that his time Hunting with her had drawn to an end was sobering. Abruptly, he made a decision. He would wait here with her until more humans came, ensuring she was safe, before sending the signal to his own kind.

She deserved that much, at least.

Satisfied with his decision, he eased down beside the human, trilling softly. He did not like the cold, but he could tolerate it for a while. He would not leave the human, the best Hunting partner he had ever had, until he knew she would be returned safely to her own kind. Honor, after all, dictated nothing else.