READ ME FIRST! Prelude: At last, the long awaited sequel to "Hunter" has begun! I must warn all of you fans who know more about Predators than I do that I'm just making my own conclusions about rituals and what not since I've never read the AvP books. And YES I do know that supposedly female Predators are bigger than the males…I'll only accept part of that and make them taller, tougher, and more aggressive…but not beefier. So there!
Ok…now that I'm done with that nonsense…
This story takes place right after the Earth Hunt in which Hunter was killed and much sooner than "A Hunter's Return". Garv has asked Little Fighter to be his mate and she accepted his request. Now she must face yet again a new life as the clan head's mate.
The Predator home world……
I held close to Garv once the ship landed. As tradition and custom demanded the warriors left behind as well as the elders would be there to 'greet' us; the returning hunters. Funny how Fate works. Many years ago I faced a similar scene when Hunter first brought me into a new life and now Garv led me into yet another. My heart still ached over Hunter's death. It just didn't seem real or possible. He was more than just a leader to me…he was my father-figure and the one who saved my life as a small girl. Now he only lived on as only an honored memory of a once great clan head.
Though Hunter's death seared a brand of grief into my heart, I couldn't help but feel relief that Garv now held his position. By killing my long time enemy Algar and receiving no initial challenge for his new-found rank Garv now unofficially lead the clan. First, however, he had to present himself to the elders for their acceptance and make his leadership known to the clan. No doubt Algar wouldn't be the only challenger of his status and I feared for my new mate's safety. Would he triumph over other opponents or would I lose him just as I had lost Hunter? If so my future in the clan could be uncertain. Honestly I had no desire to live if Garv was killed for I would have no one else.
That didn't seem real or possible either; being Garv's mate. For so long we'd been close friends but I never fathomed his feelings ran so deeply for me and that he'd been pining for me for all those years as well. Never had anyone wanted me in that way. I was undesirable, alien, and an Ooman with little to no status and not much honor under my belt. Then right after we left Earth, he vocalized his yearning for me to be his mate. At the revelation I simply couldn't suppose why he wanted me, especially since he had so many other Predator females to choose from. Completely naïve, I didn't even know what it took to be a Predator mate or even how to please him.
Not only had I gained a mate but I also earned a friendship out of this latest hunt. Fire Blood; the clan's giant warrior; had inadvertently become one of my warrior friends. Our friendship was no where near as close as Garv and mine, but it remained an unlikely friendship none-the-less. Not long after we left Earth Garv decided to appoint the huge Predator as his second-in-command; a much honored position. Not every leader took a second-in-command because trust came only once in a great while for fellow warriors. Hunter had no second for he trusted no other. Garv on the other hand held great trust in Fire Blood since they'd grown up and hunted together.
Fire Blood was only too happy to accept the position. I think the only reason he accepted was because as second-in-command he would get all the perks of the leader but he wouldn't have as much responsibility. It was the females. Fire Blood, more than any other Predator male I knew, had great lusting fervor for ALL females and an egotistical view of his sexual prowess. Now that he held a high ranking position he would be even more desirable to the females…if they would have him. Garv claimed that Fire Blood did have reason to boast because he was a highly desired mate due to his size, strength, and virility. He just let it go to his head. Of course…Fire Blood couldn't attain the position unless Garv was accepted by the elders.
The ship's ramp lowered with a groaning hiss and we, the hunters, descended it. As I anticipated rows of masked warriors awaited us, tapping their spears synchronously on the platform. Garv led the way, all decked out in mask and armament. For an instant my eyes misted as he strode forward, head held high because he reminded me so much of Hunter. He even walked like him now. I trailed behind him, head lowered slightly and Fire Blood and the others behind me.
At the end of the lines of warriors stood three elders. I recognized the one Elder as the one who'd swiped my legs out from under me when I was but a child. Mistakenly I had insulted him by turning my back on him and he promptly 'corrected' me. Never again did I turn my back on a warrior or elder. But he wasn't in front. A different elder stood before him and another elder. My eyes widened slightly when I realized the one out in front was a female Predator!
Though she wore a sharp edged mask encrusted with jewels that covered her face, I could tell she was female. There were tell-tale differences between the sexes. In general the females were taller than the males, but usually not as broad in the chest. Not all the females were taller than males though, some were of even or lesser height to some. This high-ranking female stood probably over 8'5 but her body was well defined with muscle.
Females, though not as broad, were constructed even tougher than the males. Beneath their flesh they had a hard bone plate that shielded their entire torso area. I suppose it was a feature that protected them during fights or mating rituals, but I couldn't be certain. In addition, Predator females had thicker, tougher constructed flesh, which made them nearly impossible to wound unless a sharp blade was utilized. This female had highly beautiful and exotic teal speckles flecked over her skin that accented her light creamy undertones.
I noted the females also had breast-like growths on their chests yet they lacked nipples and did not possess milk glands as human females did. I never knew quite what that secondary-sex characteristic served, but in any case the Predator females had them. Also the females' claws tended to be longer and sharper and their dreadlocks were thinner than the males'. More notably they dressed different than the males…more like I did. This female wore a fur lined cloak of leather about her shoulders and wore a gorgeous black armored bikini with metal chained G-strings and inner fur lining.
The female elder held a very beautifully decorated spear that looked like its handles were constructed out of bone and studded with gems and alien designs; a rather remarkable weapon by any standard. Harshly she hissed and rapped the ornate weapon on the platform which caused all the warriors to face her and hold their spears at attention. I could feel an overwhelming awe for her commanding presence. Though I'd lived with the Predators for most of my life I'd never known a female Predator personally or even knew that they held such high rank. Perhaps that in itself was why…I was of such low rank I'd never had an opportunity to be around the high ranking females. I'd have to ask Garv about the particulars.
As we drew near the magnificent female Garv unsheathed his wrist blades and crossed them before his chest before dropping down on one knee with his head bowed before the female. I and the other hunters mimicked the show of respect. In seconds every warrior on the platform was knelt. I stole a slight glance at her. She stood impassively surveying her faithful warriors as questions buzzed about my brain. What was her name? What did she look like? What was she like? What was she thinking about?
She tapped her spear once and said in a raspy voice, "Stand young warrior and present."
Garv rose slowly, keeping his head bowed slightly in respect, "High Eldress, I am Garv, son of honored Ber'kna'che. "
He didn't call her by a name. I suppose he wasn't permitted to say her name. Her glassy mask eyes surveyed the hunting party a moment. She was looking for Hunter no doubt.
"Garv, where is our clan leader Hunter?" she asked pronouncing Hunter's name in full Predator speech. In all my life I never could say his true name because of its guttural pronunciation, but I could recognize it when it was spoken.
"Esteemed Eldress, our leader Hunter fell with honor on the Ooman planet at the hands of our prey. I Garv have fought for the right to lead the clan." He replied rapping his chest.
A slow chatter came from her. I might have been mistaken but the sound came across as sad or regretful. "He will always be honored." She raised one of her long clawed hands and shouted, "Our esteemed clan leader Hunter has fallen with honor!"
I nearly jumped out of my skin when every warrior suddenly leaped to their feet and raised their spears over their heads, shrieking eerily into the sky and roaring as one. Immediately I joined in, raising my own spear to honor Hunter in the Death Cry. When the noise finally died down the ranks stood at attention once more.
The Eldress raised her voice again, "Garv, son of the honored Ber'kna'che, has fought for the right to lead the clan. Does anyone challenge him?"
Holding my breath I attempted to prepare myself for the inevitable challenges. Initially no one made a move or spoke. I surmise they knew of Garv's fighting prowess and deemed him worthy of leadership. But all at once a large warrior shouldered his way through the ranks, wearing dark, spiked shoulder armor and carrying a spear adorned with skulls and teeth chains. He was bigger than Garv but not by a huge margin and his mask bore three deep claw-like gouges across its forehead plate giving him a sinister, battle-worn appearance. His darker skinned body was splotched with black markings and his dreadlocks were about shoulder length.
He spoke in a raking, gravely voice, "I, Creit, challenge him!"
The High Eldress nodded, "Then begin the battle."
Garv slowly moved toward his challenger as the warriors drummed their spears rhythmically on the metal platform in a deafening tattoo. My heart skipped a beat as the opponents circled one another, hissing and growling challenge. Abruptly Creit reached for his back and unsheathed a jagged silver sword at least four feet long and spun it fancily in his one hand. Garv shrieked and charged him, periscoping his spear in the same fluid spinning attack. Metal contacted metal as his spear was parried by the blade. Slashing and roaring the Predators fought, making my nerves nearly snap with anxiety.
"Please don't die…please win Garv." I thought with fervor.
Neon green blood spattered the metal grate from both fighters as blades opened their flesh. At last Garv hit his opponent's sword off balance and with a blindening swipe of his wrist blades he lopped Creit's fighting hand off! He shrieked in pain clenching his squirting stub to his chest but unsheathed his own wrist blades in a last ditch attempt to fight off Garv's deathblow. Roaring with a battle lust Garv kicked upward, knocking Creit's wrist blades out of the way and forcefully drove his spear straight through his sternum! Creit sagged. His spinal cord was severed and his body went inoperative like a string-less puppet. Dropping his opponent's limp form Garv strode over to where Creit's severed hand lay, still clenching his sword. He lifted the blade and stood with it poised over Creit's head. With a thunderous shrieking roar the warriors urged him to deliver the fatal blow. Garv paused and looked to the Eldress. She tapped her spear in acknowledgement. Spinning his opponent's sword in a high fancy arc Garv slammed the blade straight through Creit's head making his body stiffen and convulse with death. In one fluid motion and a spray of luminous blood, the sword exited and Garv held it over his head in a victory shriek!
My blood stirred at his triumph. So gruesome…but that is how order was maintained within the clan. The unworthy died and the honored lived on.
The Eldress strode over to Garv very slowly and the warriors fell silent. She turned her ornate mask and said, "You are the victor Garv. From this day until you are defeated by another or death seizes your body you are the leader of this clan. Lead as your ancestors have: with honor and fortitude."
Raising her gorgeous spear the female leader extended the weapon's barbed end toward Garv, which made me stiffen with fear. However, she lightly ran the point across Garv's chest leaving a thin stylized gash. "I Blood you as leader of this clan."
Garv viewed the slit and bowed deeply, "High Eldress."
"Do you appoint a second?" she asked directly.
He nodded and pointed to Fire Blood who squared his broad shoulders and rapped a beefy arm across his chest. "Fire Blood is to be my honored second in command."
The Eldress turned on the warrior who stood about the same height as her and hissed. "You are certain?"
Fire Blood shifted behind me and I could swear he bristled at her question, but his Celtic mask hid his expression. With an assured nod Garv confirmed his choice. Her sharp snort conveyed an annoyance or disgust. What did she have against Fire Blood? I side stepped out of her way with my head very low as she approached the giant warrior.
"Then so be it." She said slitting a cut similar to Garv's across Fire Blood's pectoral muscle. "I Blood you as the honored second in command."
Near the end of her cut Fire Blood rattled deeply with an unusual tone about his voice, "You honor me…Renata."
Her mask jerked sharply and without warning she jabbed the sharp spear point deep into Fire Blood's shoulder! Abruptly she withdrew the tip when the huge warrior snarled in pain and roughly bashed his head with the side of her spear. Fire Blood's long dreadlocks whipped around as he took the blow with a turn of his face.
I gasped slightly. Had he said her name? Renata? It was a beautiful name. The sound of it in Predator speech resembled a warbling purr that hissed in ending. From her violent reaction to the uttering of it, I guessed no one was permitted to say it.
Renata hissed, growling deeply after her blow and said venomously, "YOU, least of all, are NOT permitted to address me as such! Though you may now be second in command…DO NOT cross me…EVER! Do it again and I shall kill you where you stand!"
Slowly Fire Blood bowed his head, "As you wish High Eldress."
Renata turned and all at once inclined her mask in my direction. Immediately I averted my wondered eyes to avoid eye contact. Fire Blood received a minor punishment for addressing her and he was of high rank. I, of lowest rank, could do little but breathe shallowly in her presence. Any move of impudence could spell my death.
Her magnificent cape rustled lightly about her ankles as she took a step toward me. The ornate spear tip, dripping with Fire Blood and Garv's blood, touched the place beneath my chin. That was a signal for me to stand up…but not to look up. I did so slowly.
When I stood Renata asked, "And what of this Ooman? She belonged to Hunter did she not?"
Apparently she was asking Garv so he spoke up, "Yes High Eldress. This is Little Fighter. She belonged to Hunter."
"What do you decree to do with her?" Renata asked from above me.
"I claim her as my mate." Garv stated with conviction.
Renata stiffened at the word 'mate' and hushed murmurs stirred in the crowd. She kept the tip under my chin and turned to Garv, "You are serious? You choose an Ooman female to be your mate?"
He nodded. The Eldress rattled, "Why her?"
Garv replied, "I choose Little Fighter because she has the spirit and heart of our kind. She has everything I've ever wanted in a mate."
A touched smile curved my lips at his words. Even before the High Eldress he defended his love for me. I desperately wanted to speak and much to my shock Renata lifted my head to face her.
"What are you?" she asked directly.
For an instant I was speechless. What did she mean: 'What was I?' Every eye was on me, waiting for an answer. I swallowed and gave her the only answer that filled my mind.
"I…am… Little Fighter and I am…Predator." I responded hollowly.
Suddenly without a sound Renata swung her spear from my chin and knocked my legs out from under me! I grunted but managed to prevent the fall from hurting too much. How familiar this was…
"What ARE you?" she demanded again.
A test…this was a test of my conviction. I stood very slowly with my head lowered, "I am Little Fighter and I am Predator."
This time instead of hitting my legs, the Eldress back handed me across the face! I flew back but managed to stay on my feet. Tears wetted my eyes but didn't fall. I touched my flaming, afflicted cheek and felt hot sticky blood. Her sharp claws had raked a slit across my cheek. Not deep enough to scar but deep enough to bleed.
"WHAT are you?" she hissed.
A hot coal of anger burned in my stomach. The heated anger enflamed my chest and finally ignited the boldness that earned me my name. Lifting my head I squared my shoulders at the Eldress and said loudly, "I am Little Fighter and I…am Predator!"
Renata strode over to me in two steps. I didn't move until she kicked me solidly in the stomach sending me flying back out of control. I tumbled over the harsh metal grate in between the line of warriors until I came to a stop on my stomach. Fresh burning abrasions and cuts from the metal stung my arms, side, and legs. My breaths came in choking gasps and uncontrolled spittle dripped from my opened mouth. Though my ribs were healed from my fight with Algar, this fresh kick reminded me quickly of the sharp agonizing pain. I stared blankly between the grates at the jungle-like terrain so far below as I tried to recover.
"WHAT… ARE YOU?" Renata's harsh voice repeated.
Barely able to breathe, I forced myself to my feet. Shaking, I stood upon the platform with pain attacking my body everywhere. I lifted my head, stared directly at Renata and shouted, "I… Gasp! …am Little Fighter… and I…AM…PREDATOR!"
Renata stood there for a moment and finally said, "Hunter named her aptly."
Chest burning I stood there wanting to scream. Turning to Garv the Eldress said, "I cannot say I approve your choice. Undeniably she is bold and spirited as we are, but she still is none-the-less an Ooman. How can this clan trust her knowing what she is? To be the clan leader's mate holds high esteem and I am not certain she is worthy of the respect so deemed by the position. However…if she IS your choice…you may do as you please."
"High Eldress…" I rasped falling to my knees in respect. The moment I spoke I knew I was putting myself into jeopardy. No one had spoken to me so I wasn't permitted to speak. But I HAD to say what my heart so desperately wanted to scream. "I…wish to swear an oath to you and this clan."
Renata stared at me for a moment. "Words mean little to me."
Very slowly I drew one of my hip daggers and without even pausing I slit a cut into my hand. The feeling of blade invading flesh struck an unsettling chord in my mind. But I ignored its squeamishness. I lifted my cut hand, letting all see my crimson blood ooze over my palm and down the length of my arm in glistening trails.
"I will not give you merely words. I give you my blood! You see me as human...and that may be what I was born as. But I Little Fighter am a Predator in heart and soul and I swear upon the blood that feeds my heart and enflames my soul that I will NOT bring dishonor to you, this clan, or my mate. I swear upon my blood that I will do everything within my power to bring righteous honor to you and this clan and…my mate. And the day I break this blood oath I shall take my own life before you all to avenge my transgression. This I swear to you." I uttered in the strong fervent words of my essence.
Renata paused and tapped her spear once, "A strong oath. It does not change my feelings…but I will hold you to your blood oath. Let us hope…you can live up to it."
My heart rose up ever so slightly but the heavy burden of my thoughts kept it from soaring.