A/N: For any who have read the novel AVP:Prey, it would be fairly obvious that this story was largely inspired by it; this story will vary greatly from the novel in the chapters to come. For those wondering about the significance of Yman's name—I made it up, though perhaps somewhere it has meaning.
As well, the Arbitrator's yautja name, Ro'Thoka, is to be pronounced "Row Thoke-ah"
There had been three of them chosen to hunt down and eradicate the renegades of the Clan, each chosen on the merit of their valor, their bravery, their prowess proven in thousands of battles past. Arbitrators were Elders—that was simply the way, but the Arbitrators were also warriors of great renown, those whom great tales were frequently told of. As they passed into the twilight of their years their lust for glory, for the Hunt, began to fade. Countless prey they had slaughtered, innumerable trophies had been collected, and the Hunt itself became to them something repetitive, tedious and no longer possessing the thrill it once had.
Some Elders, when this occurred, sought out new, different and deadlier prey while some merely accepted that they had lived their lives to the fullest they could and settled in to experience the rest of the years they had left in contemplation and study. Others, still seeking the thrill and not ready to accept that their prime had passed and knowing that what they sought could not be found among other species, became the Arbitrators. As such they maintained order among the Clans, ensured that criminal and dishonorable acts of any kind were swiftly dealt with, the instigators executed without mercy. While these criminals—referred to commonly as the Badbloods—were at most times a rarity, when they did appear they often wreaked complete havoc wherever they went, often slaying their own kind in the process.
It had been many, many years since this particular Clan had experienced such a dilemma. And now it wasn't merely a matter of one Badblood—there were twelve, eleven Unblooded led by one Blooded. The young among the yautja were always headstrong, always arrogant and full to bursting with pride at their own infallibility; those attributes either dictated the failure of an individual or their triumph, and the Blooding Hunt was more often than not a humbling experience to some degree. It was not unusual for Unblooded to despise their Leaders, or even challenge them. What was unusual was the mass rebellion that had occurred on board a Hunting vessel known as the Ct-lith some several days earlier. The Leader—who was also the teacher—along with three of the Blooded under his direct command had been slaughtered by the Unblooded students and a disgruntled, ill-tempered Blooded known as Ut'thi that had served under the Leader for many years. The uprising had been brought on by a challenge against the Leader by several students; their challenge was encouraged by Ut'thi, whose desire to become Leader in his own right and his long festering hatred of the current Leader had finally come to a head.
After the Leader had won, the infuriated losers had incited their peers to frenzy. The Leader and the Blooded still loyal to him had put up a fierce struggle, and at the end, out of the forty-strong Unblooded, only eleven remained. The Clan had been notified of this transgression by one of the Blooded loyal to the Leader that had managed to send out an emergency transmission before he was slaughtered by Ut'thi. The Ct-lith, bound for a planet devoid of human presence, had then been commandeered by its new crew to head for a better, more promising hunting ground, a planet that boasted a human population as well as that of the kainde amedha. The black creatures, the Blooding prey, had existed on this particular planet long before the humans had arrived, their nest located deep within a complex, labyrinthine mass of caverns beneath the mountains. They had remained unaware of the planet's new colony and inhabitants, able to breed and survive off of subterranean creatures until the humans, drilling for something, had unwittingly penetrated the kainde amedha nest. Given abrupt access to the surface, to the humans and their livestock herds, the kainde amedha had moved swiftly. The humans had then begun sending out desperate transmissions for help—transmissions picked up by the Ct-lith.
Such a Hunting ground proved irresistible to the Badbloods—and especially to their new Leader, Ut'thi—but they were not the only ones to know of the human population's plight. The Clan mothership had also received the transmission, had received it in fact before the rebellion on the Ct-lith, and so it was that the three Arbitrators had been swiftly dispatched to deal with the renegades. They arrived mere hours after the Badbloods. Their small transport was easily enough brought down from orbit and landed some several kilometers from the cluster of human buildings. Those they were in pursuit of had clearly felt no need to mask their arrival, and it was not hard to find the Ct-lith. They had not bothered with discretion—the hulking vessel was clearly visible just outside the boundaries of the human outpost. It was apparent Ut'thi hadn't cared whether their coming had been noticed or not; by the time he and his followers had arrived the outpost was already teeming with the kainde amedha. And so it was the three chosen to seek out and eliminate the dishonorable found themselves disembarking onto a planet roiling with chaos.
They traversed the distance from their vessel to the human colony quickly, easily. On their path they found many dead husks of creatures used by the kainde amedha to breed, and more than one of the bodies was human. The closer they got to the outpost, the more signs they found of their wayward brethren—bugs and humans alike bearing the marks of yautja burners, heads taken for trophies. This was not the way—only Blooded were permitted to Hunt human, and only those of a certain status at that. As the three finally found themselves on the outskirts of the colony they halted a moment to prepare. As a whole, they did not fear the kainde amedha, for the black insects had long ago ceased to hold the promise of a glorious kill that they once had. Their prey this day were fellow yautja, and their prey wielded much the same weaponry as they did. Caution would be needed, and then there were the humans to consider, who also had considerable arsenals of their own. If it all possible the humans were to be spared, but the three knew that by now any yautja would be looked upon by the humans as an enemy.
The three began to confer shortly with each other, dropping their cloaks as they did so as a scan of the area revealed nothing in the immediate vicinity. To the untrained eye they were simply yautja; to those who knew better their appearances screamed the fact that they were not only Blooded, but of an honored class: Arbitrators. The eldest of the three was Ek'udri, and he was also the shortest, wearing the mesh and minimal armor so that a greater expanse of his scarred body was displayed. His mask was traditional, covering the entirety of his face and was decorated with the symbols both of the Clan and of his Arbitrator status. His tresses, worn short, were all very white, a testament to his age. The second eldest was Nithinde, who still wore the armor he had donned the day he'd been Blooded, a yautja broader than most his brethren, aged body still in prime physical condition. His long tresses were more grey than true white and confined to a topknot, and he wore a fighting mask that left his lower tusks bare. Ro'thoka was the last and youngest of the three, standing taller than either of his companions and clad in the armor he had made himself long ago when first he'd been Honoured. His mask, like Ek'udri's, was stylized with the mark of the Clan as well as that of his arbiter status, and his tresses, worn long and loose, were mostly black save for a few colored white or grey.
Each of the Arbitrators was heavily armed, and their choice in weaponry widely varied. Ek'udri and Nithinde both carried burners on their shoulders while Ro'thoka carried no burner whatsoever. They all had the dual blades of their respective ki'cti-pa to rely on as well. Ro'thoka more so than the other two preferred close combat to ranged and so it was that his arsenal was more suited to hand to hand battle than that of his companions—he carried both his spear and a glaive customized to his specifications and preference in their compact versions on his back, a shuriken attached securely to his belt, and a fighting blade strapped against the calf of his right leg. Nithinde, along with the burner, chose to fight with mauls, and the two massive blades rode along his forearms; he too carried a spear and shuriken. Ek'udri bore a spear and a hand burner, a fighting blade riding against his thigh.
It was Nithinde that broke the silence first, words quiet against the soft roar of the fires. He uttered but four words in their native yautja, exposed lower tusks moving slightly with the movement, "Do we go together?"
Ek'udri grunted, held up one hand palm outwards and waving it to the side. It was a negative gesture, meaning he didn't like Nithinde's suggestion. Ek'udri very rarely spoke and chose to communicate most of the time solely through hand gestures. He then indicated himself and pointed one direction and his meaning was clear—they should separate. Ro'thoka vocalized his agreement, Nithinde doing the same a moment later. As Ek'udri activated his cloak and headed in the direction he had chosen, Ro'thoka switched through his vision modes as he looked out into the colony, observing and noting what it was he saw. Beside him Nithinde flexed his arms, swinging outward with his mauls in a practiced movement meant to limber his muscles. "Good Hunting," he said to Ro'thoka before activating his own cloak.
Ro'thoka inclined his head, raising one fist; the stealthed form of Nithinde returned the gesture before striding off. Ro'thoka did not watch as his comrade disappeared, instead beginning to walk in the only direction left. His fingers tapped at the small console worn on his left forearm, and between one step and another he was lost from view. Long, determined strides carried him into the perimeters of the human colony, which was by now merely husks and shells of buildings burnt or rent to pieces; he kept a vigilant eye out for both the kainde amedha and the renegades he had come for. The Badbloods were led by a veteran Blooded, and while Ut'thi was most certainly an idiot he was not unwise and he would know that the Clan would send their Arbitrators. And so it was Ro'thoka proceeded with discretion, taking time to study his surroundings and all the advantages they could offer to an enemy. Caution was something all warriors should practice, for after all, he had not survived this long on merit of his bravery alone.
He found the first of the renegades bent over the corpse of a human, and even from a distance he could tell that the Badblood was also one of the Unblooded ; it wore mismatched armor over a wiry frame not yet filled with the muscle of maturity. As Ro'thoka approached with a careful, silent tread he realized the dead human was in fact only a child. As the renegade ripped the head free of the body and held it high in triumph Ro'thoka made his move, sliding swiftly in behind the other yautja while extending the blades of his ki'cti-pa. The noise of the weapons extending themselves alerted the young one to his presence and it whirled around to face him with an angry cry. It froze as Ro'thoka's cloak faded, leaving him open to plain view, and Ro'thoka knew then that it recognized him for what he was—an executioner.
The Badblood backed a step, lifting its newest trophy as though to justify what it had done while garbling a denial. Ro'thoka did not hesitate; he surged forwards and the renegade, dropping the human head, moved clumsily to meet his charge. Ro'thoka feinted low, caught the Badblood by the arm as it blundered past and wrenched upwards, executing a throw. As the young one struck the ground face first the Arbitrator bent and gripped its tresses, pulling its head back hard to ensure the last thing it ever saw was his mask, the visage of the justice of the Clan. The blades of his ki'cti-pa cleaved easily through flesh and bone, and as the body of the Badblood toppled forwards to lie in a heap Ro'thoka held the severed head aloft by its tresses. He let it fall a moment later with a sound of disgust. There was no honor to be found here among these traitors, these that would take lives indiscriminately without respecting the ethics, the codes that were in place to ensure the that every Hunt was a pure and perfect one.
He did not spare the dead yautja another glance, instead moving to stand over the body of the human child. He had Hunted humans once, long ago, but the skulls he had taken were of human males, those that had taken up arms against others of their race; it was for that reason he had found them to be suitable prey. Clan code dictated that any creature that was defenseless or not yet mature was not to be Hunted. It would be dishonorable to slaughter one incapable of protecting itself. Humans were intelligent creatures, to be respected in their own right, thus the rules about Hunting them. Only proven warriors, Blooded of renown, were given permission, and even then they had to adhere to the code. Anger kindled within Ro'thoka as he looked down upon the headless body of the human child. Had circumstances been different this young one could have grown up to be a strong warrior in its own right, but had been denied that chance and had instead been killed in a most dishonorable fashion.
Ro'thoka began to move again after a moment, retracting his wrist blades and letting once again the blanket of his stealth flow over him. He was now within the colony proper, walking a street littered with wreckage and corpses. He continuously switched modes of vision, searching for the traitor yautja in their cloaked forms, looking for kainde amedha in opportune points of ambush. When the world suddenly trembled around him he came to a stop, scanning the landscape for the cause. A great pillar of flame rose to his right, scattering debris with it—one of the human buildings had no doubt exploded. Almost as quickly as it had happened it was over, and Ro'thoka continued on, undeterred.
It was not long after that before he found another of the Badbloods, this one standing uncloaked in the open. At its feet lay the familiar black body of the kainde amedha, and even as Ro'thoka watched the renegade hefted the long, curving head it had severed from the body and roared with triumph. The Arbitrator felt his anger flare—such impudence these young ones had, thinking they had every right to Hunt as they did with absolutely no regard to the code of the Clan and utter indifference to how dishonorable their actions were. He closed in on the Badblood, ready to render the judgement it so deserved—
The Badblood turned its head suddenly, looking at something to its left. Ro'thoka, still a decent distance away, halted in his tracks in order to ascertain what it was that had so caught the renegade's attention. And then he saw it over the shoulder of the Badblood—a human, standing alone in the midst of the flaming debris still falling from the aftermath of the explosion. The expression on its small face was one Ro'thoka was familiar with; he had seen it often during his time Hunting the humans. The Badblood dropped the kainde amedha head, recent triumph already forgotten. The burner on its shoulder began to move, swiveling to hone in on the newest target, but the human was already moving, diving to the side and narrowly escaping the burner blast before quickly getting to its feet and running past a building not yet aflame. The renegade gave an undulating cry that it seemed to think was fearsome before giving pursuit, and as it raced after the human Ro'thoka immediately followed.
Around the corner of the building he caught sight of the human again; it stumbled and fell and the Badblood's cannon fired once more; the shot missed but the force of the resulting small explosion threw the human ahead. It gained its feet and scrambled around another building and the young yautja in pursuit picked up speed, unaware of the Arbitrator ghosting it silently. Ro'thoka meant to save the human if he could. It was, he had noticed, female and apparently incapable of defending itself, but he had to bridge the distance between himself and the Badblood first. As he made an effort to close in, however, the human reappeared, sprawled low on the ground and aiming her own burner at the Badblood. She fired three times, the sound of her weapon almost as loud as that of the yautja burners, but every shot missed. The renegade, realizing now that perhaps its prey wasn't as weak as it had originally thought, increased its pace. The human fired again, and this time her shots were true; the young yautja staggered, howling as blood spattered forth from the wounds now decorating its thigh. The human quickly scrambled up and away, and the Badblood, now undoubtedly furious, continued pursuit with a heavy limp.
Ro'thoka was now almost close enough to kill. As the renegade hobbled after the human he debated for only an instant. The human had proven herself capable of defense as well as surprise, and by thus wounding the one Hunting her had indicated that she was in fact some kind of warrior. While the yautja was a Badblood it was still worthy prey; Ro'thoka then decided to let the human gain honor by finishing the renegade off herself. He followed the renegade despite his decision; should the human falter he would finish the job himself. Curiosity was also a driving force behind his plan of action, for when he had Hunted humans the only warriors he had encountered had been the males of the species. The short time he had spent among them had revealed the unlike the yautja, human females were smaller and weaker than their male counterparts, hence his current intrigue. He had heard stories of human female warriors from others that had Hunted humans, of course, but now he had the opportunity to observe one while at the same time ensuring the traitor to his Clan was appropriately dealt with.
He ran at a steady, easy pace behind the wounded renegade. The human was far ahead of them but visible rounding a corner. Ro'thoka heard the pained growls and curses of the Badblood and felt nothing but disgust. A true warrior would not have underestimated its prey as this one clearly had and would not give voice to its discomfort, either. As he and the Badblood took another corner the human was suddenly visible standing at the door to a building, fumbling with what appeared to be the door lock mechanism. She caught sight of the wounded yautja, doubled her efforts and was rewarded. She disappeared within the building, the door sliding shut behind her, and Ro'thoka found himself slightly disappointed. If the human thought that hiding within the building would protect her, she was about to be rudely informed otherwise.
The Badblood came to a halt in front of the door, studied it for a moment, and then struck it squarely with its fist. It continued this for several moments until it became clear that the metal was reinforced. It then took a step back, snarling as it put its weight on its wounded leg; the laser sights of its burner centered in on the door and a moment later the thunder of the cannon firing rocked the night. Ro'thoka, still a short distance behind the renegade, began to move closer, removing his spear from where it rode at his back in preparation to kill. He had almost gained the door when more thunder exploded into the night. He watched through the haze left behind by the cannon fire as the body of the renegade jerked repeatedly, as the vividness of the yautja's blood flowed forth from a multitude of holes in its abdomen, as finally it toppled over and gave a hiss of disbelief before succumbing to its injuries. The haze had cleared enough then for Ro'thoka to see the human crouched in the back of the small building, a new and larger weapon cradled in a two handed grasp. He also saw similar weapons lining the walls and understood—it was an arsenal storehouse. The human had come here in order to better arm herself, knowing her other weapon was insufficient to fulfill the task of killing her Hunter.
Ro'thoka watched as the human came to her feet and began to don armor before swiftly gathering more weapons. As he'd originally suspected, this female was a warrior. She handled the weapons with familiarity, a sign she'd used them many times before. When she was finished and came to kneel beside the body of the renegade she had slain, Ro'thoka wondered if she would take then a trophy in the manner the yautja themselves did. Instead she touched the dead Badblood's skin with one finger, a curious gesture, before discovering and taking the ceremonial knife that rode against the dead yautja's lower leg. She rose and tucked it in her belt, and Ro'thoka bobbed his head in approval—the weapons of dead adversaries were also worthwhile trophies. The human then stepped free of the building, taking a moment to carefully scout the area. Ro'thoka remained still as her eyes swept over the spot where he stood, knowing that movement on his behalf and at this close of range may give his position away, even with the cloak activated. When the human began to move again, breaking into an easy run, Ro'thoka did not follow. She had proven herself capable of defending herself and had in fact done a great honor to the Clan by slaying the Badblood; he did not think she would so easily be defeated. Instead Ro'thoka turned and began to head in another direction, switching through vision modes as he did so.
There were still more traitors to find and deal with.
He found Ek'udri soon after, the elder Arbitrator in the process of gutting another young Badblood. The white tressed yautja looked up as Ro'thoka approached, able to see him through his cloak, and held up three fingers in an indication of the number he had killed thus far. Ro'thoka gave an answering trill and held up two of his own fingers, before asking, "Ut'thi?"
Ek'udri raised a hand, waved it and growled, the gesture meaning that he had not yet seen the Blooded traitor. Ro'thoka continued past Ek'udri as the elder ripped the blades of his ki'cti-pa free of the dead yautja's corpse, leaving him to do as he wished. Some Arbitrators still collected trophies from their kills, further proof of the justice they had served. Ro'thoka did not feel these Badbloods were worth the effort, for they were foolish, stupid, and poor warriors. Should he be the one to kill Ut'thi, however … the skull of the renegade Blooded would make a nice addition to the many others he had accumulated over the course of his life.
He navigated onwards through the colony that was now for the most part completely destroyed. Since arriving he had been able to hear the cries of the kainde amedha coming from all areas, and when suddenly he was able to see movement in the corner of his vision he was not surprised to see the spindly, hunched form of the black creature rushing at him. He dropped into a fighting crouch and waited; when the teeth of the kainde amedha's inner jaws were yawning open before him he moved, catching the creature by its neck and lower leg and hefting it, spinning as he did so to toss it aside. As it struck the ground, shrieking, he reached behind and took firm hold of his spear, bringing it before him and extending it. The kainde amedha leapt for him, slicing out with claws. He spun aside but felt a familiar sharp pain as talons grazed his arm.
The wound did not disrupt his focus. The kainde amedha whipped around unsteadily, unbalanced by Ro'thoka's swift evasion, and rearing up the Arbitrator drove the length of his spear directly through the black creature's skull. The kainde amedha shuddered once before falling still, and Ro'thoka ripped his weapon free of the corpse easily before shaking it free of the acidic blood. As he retracted its length and fastened it again to his back he listened and looked carefully for any more kainde amedha drawn forth by the cry of their brethren. After a long moment of this the Arbitrator began to move, stepping carefully over the pool of steaming lifeblood before venturing forth again. He did not bother to reactivate his cloak; it had died during the battle with the kainde amedha but he did not think he needed it any longer. By now the Badbloods knew he and his fellow Arbitrators had arrived.
He hadn't gone far before he heard another sound, close, and it was that of human voices. Almost unthinking he tapped the animal loop on his arm so that the strange words would be recorded. The voices were loud, agitated; he began to move again, hoping to locate the humans. More sound came to him then, close and loud, and it was the rapid-fire roar of a human weapon. He broke into a hard run, using his vision modes to scan for more attacks while relying on his keen hearing to guide him. He swept past fires and gutted buildings, rounding one corner and then another in quick succession when he came upon the scene of action. Two Unblooded renegades there were, and two humans—an unknown human crumpled on the ground before one renegade, and the warrior he recognized from before hoisted into the air by the grip of the other Badblood. As he quickly approached the human warrior took the blade from her belt—the trophy she had taken—and drove it through the neck of the renegade holding her, dropping heavily as it released her and stumbled back. The other Badblood, having seen what she had done, turned from its helpless prey and ran towards her. She leapt for her large burner but fell short, and the renegade delivered a hard kick, sending her flying into the building wall. Ro'thoka was running even as the Badblood drew his own ceremonial blade, even as he raised the weapon to strike and the human warrior fell back in a futile attempt to avoid the blow—
Spear in hand, Ro'thoka lunged, the weapon telescoping to its full length even as he delivered the strike. He drove the weapon through the back of the renegade, the spearhead piercing flesh not covered by armor with ease. The renegade cried out, turning, and as it did so Ro'thoka extended the dual blades of his ki'cti-pa and lashed out in a repeat arc, delivering the final killing blow. The Badblood slumped, dead instantly, and then Ro'thoka was the only yautja standing.
The human warrior was staring at him, expecting, he knew, an attack. Instead he flexed the muscles of his forearm, causing the ki'cti-pa blades to retract. He tilted his head, taking a moment to study the warrior. This close he could see she was almost the same height as most human males he had encountered, but compared to the yautja she was still very small. She was hunched over in a crouch, a fighter's stance, prepared to burst into action should he make any aggressive movements. Though her burner was lying unhelpfully some several feet away, he knew she was still armed. After a moment of deliberation he turned and strode to the corpse of the yautja she had killed with the knife. Showing his back to her was a deliberate gesture and he did not think she would attack him thus. She had seen him slaughter the Badblood, after all, and he had given her no reason to fear him. He knelt and pulled the blade free from the renegade's neck, noting as he did so that the human warrior's blow had been decidedly fatal. When he turned back he saw that the other human was now conscious and had moved into a kneeling position beside the warrior; this other human was also female, and switching swiftly through his vision modes he realized this new human was with child.
The warrior reached around and procured another burner from where it rode against her back, loading it as he began to approach. He did not falter, and as he neared the warrior stood, positioning herself in front of the other female. It was a brave gesture—she was acting as a shield, protecting her pregnant comrade. He trilled his approval as he halted before her, but the warrior merely watched him with obvious apprehension. The other human said something in their strange language, the words lilted with fear discernible even to him. Moving slowly, Ro'thoka held out the knife he had retrieved to the warrior, hilt first. She was utterly still, watching him but making no effort to take back the weapon. Ro'thoka retracted his hand after a moment and tapped at the animal loop on his arm, hoping that hearing their own words repeated back to them the humans would understand that he meant them no harm.
They visibly started as the loop replayed their own voices back into the open air, and conferred briefly amongst themselves. This time when Ro'thoka held out the knife the warrior stepped up to take it before falling back hastily. He trilled again, a sound meant to be pacifying, and the animal loop repeated another phrase they had so recently used. He pointed at each of the humans with a separate finger before thumbing himself on the chest and then curling his hand into a fist. He was miming that he would take the humans with him through the colony. He understood that they would be reluctant but if they were wise they would see that by accompanying him they would stand a better chance at survival. It was commendable that the warrior hoped to protect the other human with child, but on her own he did not think it would be possible. New life was sacred, be it that of yautja or human, and the Clan code dictated that all such life be respected and protected when necessary. By aiding in keeping the humans alive, Ro'thoka hoped to rectify in part the great dishonor done here by the renegades of his Clan. He waited as the humans debated with each other, their voices hushed and urgent. It seemed the warrior won the argument; the pregnant human moved off to retrieve her small burner while the warrior quickly cleaned her trophy blade before recovering her large burner. When both the humans stood with apparent unease before him he indicated the direction they would be going with a closed fist. The warrior nodded her head, a sign that she comprehended, and with a sound of approval Ro'thoka began to walk.
Behind him the humans exchanged more words quietly; he tapped the animal loop to ensure they were recorded. He found the warrior to be somewhat impressive despite her diminutive size, for she had slain two of the Badbloods on her own, which in turn brought her considerable honor despite the fact that she was not yautja. Should she survive to the end, he would explain to Ek'udri and Nithinde what she had done and would see that she be appropriately recognized.
Ahead of them rose the warbling cry of the kainde amedha. Ro'thoka brought his spear up to bear, glancing back at his new companions. He hoped to keep them alive, but nothing was certain. First and foremost he must bring justice to the renegades that roamed this place and he would bring the humans with him so that they would understand that those slaughtering their kin were not yautja—they were something less, something to be dealt with swiftly, unmercifully as befitting such traitors. The warrior, watching him carefully, loaded her weapon and held it ready before her. He rumbled, pleased. Though she didn't fully understand what was about to happen, she was prepared for anything much as any true warrior would be.