Disclaimer (applies to all chapters): I own nothing (save my characters).


A/N: I find the concept of the yautja class of Arbitrators to be fascinating, so I decided to write a fic about one. Please be warned that there will be extensive violence, gore and death in this story (as well as a possibility of an inter-species romance); if any of the aforementioned are something you don't care for you may not wish to read.

As well, the main character's name, Yman, is to be pronounced "Ee-man".

.I.

Yman Trull was in hell.

She stood in the midst of utter and complete chaos. Around her the outpost and fledgling colony of New Malta was burning, the flames bathing the early dusk in an ominous flickering glow. Bodies were strewn about the wide, unswerving street she stood on and she didn't have to look far to recognize the bloodied corpses of people she knew. But that wasn't the worst part—lying between the fallen humans were the other creatures, the bugs, consisting mostly of spindly black limbs and glossy chitin. Fewer were the other corpses, those of the giant humanoids, but their presence amidst the carnage drove home the severity of the situation.

The bugs had been encountered first. Heralding their appearance was the mysterious and rather gruesome deaths of the orwoc herds. Later some of the colonists had fallen ill and it was discovered then that a strange new creature, previously undocumented on this planet, used hosts, any hosts at all, to procreate. The bugs had grown rapidly in number, causing panic and chaos as more colonists fell victim to their incursions. Three days after the first orwoc deaths and twelve dead colonists later the humanoids had appeared, descending from above in a craft that dwarfed any mankind had created; these newcomers set about slaughtering without discretion both bugs and humans. They possessed highly sophisticated technology and were capable of cloaking themselves from view.

The fight for survival then became something greater, something far more desperate, for by the time the colonists had realized they were at war the majority of them were already dead.

Yman didn't think it would be long before she was dead, too. The Company had sent her to New Malta to act as enforcement should pirating ever arise, but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine having to handle anything even remotely like this. One of the colony's botanists, the doctor and three of the seven surveyors had barricaded themselves inside the small building on the northern outskirts that served as a makeshift lab for the geology group. Yman had been with them; they had fled the tiny medical clinic earlier that day when it had been breached by the bugs. She had left them mere minutes ago to try and find other survivors while making her way to the armory.

Though she currently had strong doubts as to whether additional firepower would aid in their survival or not, it had to be worth a try. She carried with her now a Steyr M1-A semiautomatic handgun; its 9 millimeter Parabellum rounds had more than enough stopping power when it came humans but it took several rounds to take down the bugs and even more for the hostile humanoids. Yman's assignment as security for the colony had afforded her moderate arms, but in case of emergency there were better and deadlier weaponry housed within the armory, which happened to be located on the far opposite side of town …

A smile, mirthless, flickered about Yman's lips. Talk about irony. Only several steps behind her was the lab and she was suddenly very tempted to turn around and run back to it, to lock herself in with the others. Without better armaments, however, such a move would be suicidal. Yman took a deep breath, brought the Steyr up to bear and inwardly steeled herself before breaking into a run. She wove a path around the bodies, attempting not to stumble over them while simultaneously trying to ignore the ravaged faces and sightless eyes of those she had known. An eerie silence had fallen over the outpost, broken only by the soft roar of the fires. The quiet was deceptive; Yman knew that both alien races were out there, waiting, stalking—

A breathy, abrasive shriek rose up on the air and instinctively Yman dropped into a defensive crouch. The bug came for her from the right, a blurred rush of limbs and too-white teeth and she had to clamp down on her first instinct to bolt headlong away. Instead she steadied her hands and aimed low. She unloaded five rounds into the thing before it crumpled into a widening pool of its own caustic blood, and she fired again into its fallen form for reassurance. When it had stopped twitching she rose, casting a swift, furtive glance around her to ascertain there weren't more. She only had one more clip left, and after that her only weapons would be her fists. It was an unpleasant thought, one that drove her to run again, this time with greater speed. The armory was still several hundred feet away, and though she prayed fervently she would encounter no further obstacles she knew better. Her luck had never been that good.

She'd just passed the halfway point when the world around her trembled; to the far left there was an explosion, a pillar of flame rising into the sky before falling swiftly away. She knew instantly what had happened: the shed housing the fuel cells, used for some of the colony's power supply, had been ignited by the fires. She continued running as smoldering debris rained down all around her, trying not to think about the fact that without the fuel cells, there was nothing to power the communications array. Movement in front of her caught her eye and brought her to a rough and abrupt halt. One of the alien humanoids stood over a dead bug, holding up the decapitated oblong head in triumph. As it threw back its head it released a roar that was clearly jubilant. Yman hesitated only for a moment, staring at the creature that dwarfed even the largest men she knew. She took one cautious step back and then another; some five feet behind her, she knew, was a path that served as a side street—

The humanoid's head abruptly swiveled towards her, and as she found herself face to face with the eerily implacable mask it wore she felt her heart jump into her throat. The humanoid made a distinctly hostile noise and dropped the head it held, the cannon on its shoulder moving in her direction; at the same time Yman saw a trio of red dots racing across the ground towards her. She dove frantically to the side as the night around her exploded in a brilliant flash of blue, feeling the extreme heat of the weapon blast even as she scrambled to her feet and raced past a storage shed not yet consumed by flames. She heard the cry of the humanoid close behind her and knew it was hunting her and that it would not relent, not until she was dead—unless she could kill it first, which would be nearly impossible with only the Steyr.

She ducked around a corner, taking it so swiftly she stumbled. The cannon fired again and struck the ground very near where she fell; the force of this explosion propelled her forwards and she skidded hard across the rough rocky ground. Biting down on the cry of pain crawling its way up her throat Yman heaved herself up, furiously blinking away the spots left behind by the humanoid's weapon fire. She cast a furtive glance behind her to see it was swiftly approaching before hurling herself ahead, her only thoughts now of living long enough to get to the armory.

She rounded another building and dropped to her knees, bringing the Steyr up in a white knuckled, two handed grasp. There was no way she could outrun the humanoid for it was much faster than she was—she had to slow it down. She could hear its heavy footsteps as it broke into a run, and sucking in a breath she threw herself flat on the ground so that she was able to see around the corner. She had no time to aim, instead pointing the Steyr in the direction of the approaching giant and pulling the trigger almost convulsively. Three shots missed, and in response to her attack the humanoid increased his speed. Yman fought down panic and fired again, and this time her bullets punctured the lower left thigh of the creature. Phosphorescent green blood spattered everywhere and the humanoid staggered, letting loose a raw howl of rage and pain. Yman threw herself back behind the building, watching as the ground where she had been laying exploded with the increasing familiar blue burst of the cannon. The creature was moving again, but this time its gait sounded off kilter and she knew with certain relief she had managed to slow it, if only a little.

She got to her feet and pelted out towards the main street again, weaving in and around buildings that burned. Repeatedly she would glance behind her, and as she had suspected the humanoid was only slowed, not crippled. She was gaining distance, however, and that small fact was heartening. She reached the street again, and recognized as she ran the large domed structure that served as a garage for the outpost's rovers; she forced herself to move faster, knowing she was close. She skirted several bug corpses lying close together, almost stumbling but catching herself before she fell headlong into a pool of their acidic blood.

The armory was suddenly in front of her, and she saw with relief that the small square building had not yet been touched by the fires. She skidded to a halt in front of the door and punched in her security code on the keypad. Her hands were shaking so badly she fumbled, and the keypad beeped a harsh denial at her. Swearing, breathing fast, she tried again, and this time when she was denied access she almost screamed in panicked frustration. She glanced to the street and found that the humanoid was now visible, and even though it moved with a marked limp it was covering ground more quickly than she thought it would. Yman entered her code again, taking care to do it carefully, and when the light on the keypad turned green she almost sobbed in relief.

The door to the armory slid open, and as she stepped quickly over the threshold she hit the panel on the inside that closed the door. As it shut again her breath left her in an audible sigh; while she had no doubts that the humanoid would breach the door eventually, she was for the moment safe. She turned after a moment, calling for lights, and as they flickered on she set about finding new and better armaments for herself and for the others she would be returning to. The walls to her right and left were mounted with a wide assortment of military and assault rifles and several enforcement issue shotguns, and on shelves laid into the other wall were different handguns, as well as a variety of incendiary devices. Body armor hung in several different sizes from an overhead rack, and ammunition was piled in boxes near the back, separated by different calibers. Yman took a moment to survey all that was before her, almost smiling grimly when she remembered that once upon a time she'd thought she'd never have reason to use any of this cache.

Early exploration of this planet, dubbed DP-X32, had revealed traces of precious metals within the large, sprawling mountain ranges. The Company had wasted no time in establishing an outpost on the planet to ascertain just what else it had to offer. When it was confirmed that DP-X32 did in fact boast rich veins of metals and ores the Company had taken the necessary steps to ensure that the commodities remained theirs and theirs alone. While pirating in this portion of space was not a frequent occurrence, there was always the chance, and so it was that Yman and three others were sent to New Malta to act as enforcement should something like that ever arise.

The Company, Yman thought now, was going to have a hard time dealing with this particular situation, providing anyone actually survived to tell about it. She was still alive, yes, but she had no idea what had happened to her fellow enforcers. She strongly suspected they were dead. A sudden pounding at the door snapped her back into reality; the humanoid had arrived. Yman's eyes raked over the rifles, and finally she reached up to take one down. She was familiar with the make—it was a HK-416, 5.56 caliber, 30 round capacity per magazine. With the rifle in hand she ran to the back and searched the ammunition crates until she found the one she wanted. The lid came off easily, and as she grabbed a cartridge and slid it home she realized the noise at the door had stopped. With the rifle loaded she dropped to a crouch, flicking off the safety and taking aim. The door was reinforced and apparently the humanoid couldn't break it down though merit of its own strength, which meant it was going to use whatever else it had in its arsenal …

She heard the thunder of its cannon firing and hunched over as the door exploded into so much debris. She could feel pieces land in the loose strands of her hair, could hear them clatter as they landed all around her. She unfurled herself and brought the rifle up to bear, aligning her eye to the sight. Through the haze left behind by the door's destruction a large silhouette was shaping itself, and Yman waited only until its outline was definite before she fired. She heard the humanoid squeal as bullets punched into its lower abdomen and could see its neon blood fly everywhere in the wake. She didn't release the trigger until the entire magazine was nearly spent; in the sudden, almost deafening silence she and the humanoid regarded each other. Finally the creature toppled over onto its back. It gave a single strangled hiss before falling completely still.

Yman didn't move for a long moment, remaining in her crouch with a cautious, trembling finger still on the trigger; finally she decided that it was dead. The fact that there was no longer a door separating her from the rest of the hostiles drove her to move swiftly. She removed from the crate several cartridges for the HK-416, reloading the rifle in the process before getting herself some armor. She chose a black CQB—close quarter battle—vest because it was load bearing, and she shucked it on over top her thin shirt quickly and swiftly did up the straps before shoving the ammunition into different pockets. She'd worn this type of armor before, and in addition to being resistant to multiple types of ammunition it was also somewhat fire retardant; the fact that it offered all this and still afforded a high amount of mobility made it a good choice.

Yman then moved to gather up more weapons. She took another HK-416 and swung the strap over her head and shoulder, affixing it securely to her back. From the shotguns she chose a Benelli-Nova tactical 12 gauge, strapping it across her back as well. She moved to the handguns and retrieved the Steyr, shoving it into the waistline of her pants at the small of her back before picking out two others from the armory stock, both of them semiautomatic Firestars; she shoved one into her pants at her hip and the other into a pocket large enough to hold it. Finally she moved to the shelving, selecting a M-79 grenade launcher; it was one of the smallest there, but capable of shooting the 40mm rounds much farther than she could throw them. She picked up five of the grenade rounds and placed them wherever she could before returning to the ammunition and obtaining what she needed for the shotgun and handguns. When finally she was done she could feel the weight of the equipment she'd chosen wearing down on her and knew it would hinder if she had another encounter with either of the alien hostiles, but being thus armed also made her feel considerably safer.

With one of the assault rifles in hand Yman moved to the door, stopping at the corpse of the hunter, her would-be predator. She dropped into a crouch, studying the body intently. She had been fairly certain that the humanoids that were currently wreaking havoc upon New Malta were male, and as she took in the large frame and excessive musculature of the one before her she knew she had been right. The creature wore stylized armor over its upper arms and lower legs, and attached to a thick belt-like apparatus was a metal codpiece. The exposed flesh of the humanoid was covered by a mesh covering; Yman reached out one finger to touch the skin. It was slightly pebbly, the texture almost like that of sandpaper. She retracted her hand and let her gaze wander up to the creature's head. The mask that covered its facial features was made of the same metal, she surmised, as its armor, and the expressionless visage was rather ominous. She could see nothing of its eyes beyond the dark band of the visor, and for a moment she was sorely tempted to remove the mask to see the true face of her almost-executioner. She resisted, instead taking note of the two small hoses connected to the upper right side of the mask that were in turn attached to a piece of equipment on the creature's back. Falling from the central ridge of its head that rose above the mask were thick appendages that were what she took to be hair. She touched one of them, finding it to be fleshy and not hollow, and then rubbed her thumb over one of the pieces of metal ringing the black tresses. Fascinating, to be this close to a new species, a new race … her eyes then moved to the vibrant green blood staining most of the humanoid's lower body and pooling slowly on the floor, and her lips came together in a thin line. Time enough for curiosity later.

As she rocked back on her heels she caught sight of a knife strapped to the humanoid's left calf. She grasped the hilt and unsheathed it with the slick sound of sharpened metal and held it up for inspection. It was a large blade, made of intricate, jagged edges, and as she hefted it she found that despite its unusual shape it was almost perfectly balanced. After only a moment of contemplation she tucked the knife in behind her belt before getting to her feet and stepping carefully over the corpse and out into the night once more. New Malta was encompassed by an orange glow from the fires, making everything seem slightly surreal. Yman remained still for a moment, listening; somewhere in the distance the shriek of a bug rose up, reminding her again that the humanoids were not her only problem. Cradling the rifle in preparation to fire should the need arise, Yman stepped back into the street, turning full circle to ascertain nothing was around. Satisfied, she steeled herself, tried to calm nerves that were still rioting from her close encounter with the hunter, and took a deep breath. On the exhale she began to move, breaking into an easy run because to go any faster while weighed down by the equipment she carried would quickly tire her out.

She hugged the side of the street this time as to try and remain as inconspicuous as possible. With every step she took she was prepared to be confronted by one alien or another, and so it was that when the distinct shape of the lab came into her line of vision she was both suitably surprised and relieved. Her relief was short-lived, for as she quickly climbed the short staircase she saw that the thin metal door was hanging crumpled by one hinge. Dread rose up within her, threatening to overwhelm, but she forced it down before steadying the rifle and stepping with great trepidation through the door.

It was as bad as she feared.

The doctor was sprawled in the direct vicinity of the entrance, her chest an open cavity that glistened wetly in the light cast by the fires raging outside. The botanist and two of the surveyors were hanging by their feet from the rafters by lengths of thick wire; they rotated about with slow momentum, and as the corpse of the botanist turned so that she could see the front of his body Yman made a horrified noise. From collarbone to groin the man had been sliced open; his ribs were broken or bent and as her eyes found the pile of moist, coiled viscera on the ground below him the world suddenly tilted violently around her.

She hit the ground hard on her knees, bending forwards as she began to vomit convulsively. When finally there was nothing left for her stomach to expel she staggered to her feet, wiping at her mouth with the back of one hand. Refusing to look upon the body of the botanist she glanced instead at the two surveyors. Their bodies seemed odd, misshapen, and it was another moment before she realized that they were bereft of their heads. Yman swallowed hard against another wave of nausea and swiftly turned and found herself face to face with her own reflection in the shards of a broken mirror still hanging to the wall. Her pale green eyes were wide, glazed, and where her face was not smudged by dirt it was pallid. Long strands of her chestnut hair had escaped the braid that fell to the middle of her back and now hung limply on either side of her face. Trying not to think about how utterly terrified her reflection looked she turned around and quickly exited the lab. Outside she stood at the top of the steps and gazed out upon the devastation and chaos. Sudden, hopeless tears flooded her eyes as the fact that she may very well be the only human left alive echoed through her mind with brutal, vivid clarity. Blinking hard, she began to take deep, calming breaths, knowing that to panic now was something she couldn't afford.

In the direction of the outpost headquarters an undulating cry rose on the air, a haunting reminder as to what awaited her out there in the fire-filled dark. After a moment of deliberation she unslung the extra assault rifle from her back and set it down before doing the same with both the Firestars, keeping her Steyr as her only sidearm. Choosing to keep only the small grenade launcher and the shotgun she felt considerably lighter, though she hated to leave the other weapons behind. The cry rang out again and this time was joined by another, and with grim resignation Yman walked down the steps and back out into the street. She contemplated her path only for a second; if any of the other colonists were still alive, she knew they would attempt to gather at the hangar. Within were housed several hover bikes and two land cruisers, methods of escape from this hell if they were still functional. The hangar wasn't far from where she stood now, and so she gripped the rifle tightly before breaking into a swift gait. She looped around the burning supply sheds, not wanting to remain on the street, and she strained her ears to hear anything other than the quick thudding of her footsteps and the crackle of the flames. She cut across the round fenced corral that acted as a holding pen for some of the native wildlife brought back to be studied; the wire fence looked as though it had been torn apart in some places. There was a rectangular building built directly next to the corral that had served as an observatory, and Yman came around it in a flat-out run; the hangar was at the most a hundred feet away, but as she came into sight of it she stopped dead in her tracks—

—running towards her was a human, a woman, and very close behind her was one of the hunters—

Yman recognized the woman immediately. Her name was Artesia Grant, and she was another of the outpost's botanists. She was also the wife of a surveyor—a surveyor whose body Yman had looked upon in horror not ten minutes ago—and she was three months pregnant. The humanoid was almost upon Artesia; he held in one arm a spear raised in preparation to strike.

Yman shouted, "DOWN!" and in the same breath brought the rifle up to bear. Artesia didn't hesitate, flinging herself to the ground. Yman clamped down hard on the trigger, widening her stance to absorb the recoil from her weapon. She fired off a short burst and watched as the humanoid faltered, as his luminescent blood poured forth from the holes she'd made in his lower torso. He threw back his head and howled before taking a step forward once more, and this time Yman didn't stop firing until the creature had fallen.

In the sudden stillness Yman and Artesia stared at each other, both wide-eyed and ashen faced. The pregnant woman was shorter than Yman and of delicate build, comely with her curly, shoulder-length red hair and sloe eyes. Yman shouldered the rifle finally and stepped forwards, extending a hand. Artesia took it with a murmured thanks. Once the pregnant woman was standing, she looked to the corpse before bringing her eyes back to her saviour. "Yman," she said, her voice wavering, "I didn't think anybody else was alive … I couldn't—I couldn't find anyone …"

"I don't know how many of us are left," Yman said heavily, flicking a cautious gaze around the perimeter of where they stood to ascertain that they were—for the moment, at least—safe.

Hearing the underlying tone in Yman's words, Artesia stared at her for a long, wordless moment. Yman struggled to find the words for what she had to say but they evaded her grasp. It didn't matter, because Artesia saw the truth then in her eyes.

"Did you—have you seen Vic?" she asked desperately, wildly, clasping her shaking hands tightly over the slight swell of her stomach.

"Artesia …" Yman paused, hating that she had to be the bearer of this news, hating that she had been unable to prevent it from happening. She shook her head slowly. "He's dead."

Yman had expected the pregnant woman to break down entirely, to collapse and cry. Instead Artesia took a step back, her eyes shining beneath an onslaught of tears. As moisture slipped down her cheeks she inhaled deeply and her lips compressed into a thin, taut line. When she spoke next her voice was hard and brittle. "There's no point in going to the hangar. Everything inside has been destroyed."

Yman was impressed with the woman's control. Though they had both been in New Malta since its founding, they hardly knew each other beyond casual greetings and inquiries. Artesia's husband Vic she had been slightly more familiar with; it struck her then that no matter how little she'd known about those that were now dead, their deaths still hurt.

Artesia was waiting for her to reply, and after a moment of thought she nodded. "We have to leave here," she said. "Any place of safety has been compromised."

"Go where?" Artesia asked bitterly, echoing the thoughts Yman herself had been thinking.

"Anywhere. Away." Yman pointed beyond the perimeters of the outpost, out into the distance where there was only the blackness of night. "If we can gain the forest, we could stand a chance."

Artesia's gaze moved to the corpse behind them. "They'll find us," she said softly.

"Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. We don't have a lot of options."

Artesia nodded her assent after a second of hesitation. Yman removed the Steyr from where it rode at the small of her back and handed it to Artesia. "It's a semiautomatic, 9 mil. You know how to use it?"

The pregnant woman ejected the magazine and checked the rounds with familiarity, silently answering Yman's question. "Vic made sure I knew how to protect myself," she replied quietly.

Yman nodded and dug through the pockets on her vest before handing two extra cartridges to the other woman. Artesia took them and slid them into the chest pockets of the indigo coveralls she wore; she was still dressed as she had been for work that morning. The swell of her stomach was at this stage in the pregnancy only slightly noticeable, but suddenly Yman found herself confronted with the fact that she was not only going to be trying to protect one life, but two. As if reading her thoughts, Artesia repeated with a hard, unhappy smile, "I can protect myself."

Yman hesitated but eventually nodded. "We need to get moving." She said tersely as the cry of a bug sharply rose and fell.

Artesia did not reply, but followed Yman as she walked quickly back past the corral. Forest bordered the outpost on two sides, grassy plains on the other two. Yman's hope was to reach the forest and use the huge native trees to their advantage. Reaching the forest, however, meant they would have to move through large expanses of open area with no cover to speak of. Yman set a steady pace, not as swift as she would have liked but she didn't want to overexert Artesia. They began to head west, skirting behind buildings. Yman knew that the likelihood of their traversing unnoticed was slim to none, and so it was she wasn't really surprised when behind her Artesia shouted out a warning.

Yman swung around, the rifle ready. Two of the predators had knifed in behind them; as Artesia threw herself to the side Yman pulled the trigger. She got off one short burst, but the rifle kicked low and the majority of the bullets she'd fired bit into the ground beside the foremost of the hunters; the others tore into his calf. So focused on eradicating the one was she that she failed to notice the trio of red dots—the laser sight of the second hunter's cannon—flickering across the ground towards her until it was almost too late. She leaped backwards as the cannon fired; this close the noise it made was deafening, and the blinding flash of blue left her blinded as the force of the blast threw her even farther. Hard, rocky ground met with her spine, eliciting a cry of pain. She fumbled around for the rifle, unable to see past the dots dancing in her vision. Artesia's voice rose and fell in alarm, but Yman couldn't make out what she said. Frantic, Yman got into a crouch, reaching behind her to grasp the shotgun—

—and then she was being hoisted effortlessly into the air, the hunter she had wounded having wrapped one massive clawed hand around her throat. She choked past the pressure he exerted, one hand scrabbling at his grasp. She heard the sound of a gun being fired and as her vision cleared all she could see was the fearsome masked visage of the humanoid that was slowly squeezing the life from her. Another gunshot rocked the air, and the hunter that held her turned his head slightly, attention momentarily diverted—

Yman fumbled with her free hand for the knife in her belt, her lungs beginning to burn from lack of oxygen. As her fingers closed over the grip she felt a fierce, savage sense of vindication, and as the humanoid turned his head back to her she thrust the blade through his neck with all the strength she had. The noise he made was ear-shattering and immediately he dropped her. She fell heavily to her hands and knees but scuttled backwards beyond his reach as he reeled away, hands on the knife embedded in his neck. The blood pouring forth from the wound left a garish, glowing path on the ground. The humanoid fell to one knee with a garbling hiss before slowly collapsing completely. Yman had no time for relief; the other hunter was coming for her and she couldn't, in the split second before she dove for the rifle lying some five feet away, locate Artesia. She landed short of her goal, surged forth on her stomach with one hand outstretched, reaching—

The humanoid kicked her hard, his foot connecting solidly with her midsection and the force of the blow had her airborne. She struck the side of a building and slumped instantly to the ground, unable to breathe for the pain in her abdomen. The hunter approached her slowly; her eyes rolled back as she struggled to draw breath and from the peripheral of her vision she saw Artesia lying motionless some feet away.

Yman tried to get up, failed, and tried again. And then the humanoid was before her, and in his hand he held a knife similar to the one she'd used on his comrade. He made a guttural sound, half hiss and half trill, and Yman finally managed to get to her knees as he loomed over her. He raised the knife, reached for her; she recoiled, cringing back against the building, knowing the action was useless. And suddenly she was being splattered with blood—vivid green blood that exploded forth from the chest of her attacker. She watched, stunned, as the creature reared back with a barbed spearhead protruding from his chest. As he turned to face his assailant Yman sucked in an astonished breath, for the humanoid's executioner was one of his own kind. The newcomer, taller and broader than the other, slashed lightning-swift at her assailant with a pair of wicked looking blades attached to a gauntlet. More blood arced through the air, raining down around her, splashing against her skin. The body toppled over, and then there was only one hunter left standing.

Yman stared with bated breath, waiting for the attack. The new hunter flexed his arm and the blades he had used to slaughter his brethren disappeared with the sound of sharpened metal, disappearing within the gauntlet. Head tilted to the side, he seemed to be studying her, and dazedly she returned the act. This hunter was, as she'd noted earlier, larger than the ones she had seen up close, seeming to be more mature in growth. He wore the same kind of armor as the others, though his set seemed more complete and was marked with strange symbols she could not decipher. Skulls—some large, some not—of creatures she did not recognize were strung on wire, riding across his chest from shoulder to hip, and other assorted bones hung from his belt. His mask was markedly different, being more stylized than that of the others with curving lines and sigils worked into the metal; two long slashes vertically bisected the right side. His tresses were longer than those of the other humanoids she had encountered until this point, and while a majority of his metal ringed "hair" was still black, occasional strands were grey or white. If the other hunters had seemed frightening, this one had Yman genuinely terrified.

After a moment of scrutiny he moved, turning his back to her and approaching the corpse of the one she'd killed with the knife. As he knelt by the body Yman came into a crouch and eased to the side until she was before Artesia. She placed one hand on the pregnant woman's neck, feeling for a pulse and was relieved when she found it strong and steady. Artesia stirred at Yman's touch, murmuring confusedly, but Yman laid a restraining hand on her back.

"Stay still," she whispered, eyes on the new hunter, but Artesia ignored her command, rolling slowly onto her knees. She took in the sight before her—the two dead humanoids and the new one—before making a sound of frightened inquiry.

"Hush!" Yman hissed; the hunter had risen again to his feet and was now watching them both. In his hand, she saw, he held the knife she'd used to kill the other predator. Swallowing thickly against a new onslaught of raw fear, she reached behind her and gripped the shotgun, bringing it around and pumping a shell into the chamber. Undeterred by this, the humanoid proceeded to approach.

"I don't have the gun!" Artesia said, panicked.

Yman didn't answer. Instead she rose to her feet and positioned herself between Artesia and the hunter, finger hovering over the trigger. The humanoid halted and trilled low in his throat; it wasn't a threatening sound, and it confused her.

"Shoot it!" Artesia urged from behind her.

The hunter extended one hand, holding out the knife towards her—hilt first.

Yman moved her eyes from the knife to the hunter's mask and then back again, effectively flummoxed. After a moment the hunter growled softly and retracted his hand, using two fingers to tap a device he wore on his other wrist. Words suddenly filled the air, recorded words that sounded tinny and distorted, but nonetheless Yman could recognize Artesia's voice repeating something she'd uttered earlier that night.

"… protect myself …"

"What is it doing?" Artesia asked shakily; she had risen to her feet and come to stand at Yman's side.

"I think," Yman replied unsteadily as the hunter again held the knife out hilt first, "he's trying to tell us he's not a threat."

Artesia made a sound that was disbelieving, half-laugh and half-sob. After a moment of hesitation Yman lowered the shotgun and—despite Artesia's hissed warning—stepped forwards to take the knife. The hunter let her take it without incident, and as she moved hastily back he cocked his head and rumbled deep in his chest. He tapped the device on his arm, and this time the words that rang out were Yman's own.

" …stand a chance …"

The hunter then gestured with two separated fingers to the human women before thumbing himself on the chest with the same hand and then curling that hand into a fist. He repeated the gesture several times and then pointed to his left, back into the heart of New Malta. As comprehension dawned on her, Yman said almost inaudibly, "He's telling us to come with him."

"You can't be serious," Artesia whispered.

"Think!" Yman snapped, swiveling to face the other woman. "Obviously he's not on the same side as the other ones. He saved our lives. If we travel with him we'll stand a better chance than we will on our own. His weapons are deadlier than ours. And besides, just look at him ..."

"But it wants to go back there!"

"Artesia, we aren't going to make it by ourselves." And every word of that sentence was, they both knew, the iron clad truth.

Artesia eyed the hunter and then shook her head. "I say we're dead either way, but I'll follow you."

As she moved off to retrieve her handgun, glancing cautiously at the new hunter all the while, Yman wiped the bright green blood from the knife, dragging the blade over the sandy ground until it was clean. She tucked it back into her belt securely and then hurried to retrieve the HK-416. Once it was again firmly in her grasp she looked to the hunter. He had retrieved his spear from the body of his brethren; with the flick of one thumb the weapon retracted in on itself until it was barely the length of his forearm. He looked in the direction of the women, and finding them ready he indicated again the direction he wanted to travel with a closed fist. Yman nodded, Artesia muttered something unintelligible, and with a grunt the hunter began to walk.

"We'll make it out of this," Yman said softly to her companion, hoping that the doubt she felt so strongly wasn't evident in her voice.

It was a long moment before Artesia replied. "I really hope so."