Such a difficult chapter to write... but I did it without a huge delay, so yay.
Royal blueKitsune: Oh yes, the screech is mandatory. Scar and Lex's tender moments have been scarce here in the later chapters, and I feel a strong urge to finally write a oneshot just for them, but I guess I should wait 'til I actually finish this thing.
Galaron: Thank you, let's hope she'll fare well. x)
blackangel150: Well, to be fair, Stealth didn't give them much of a choice. xP And yes, soon it's Lex's opportunity to shine.
First Dragon: Hello and sorry for disturbing your sleeping habits. x) I'm happy, though, that you liked the chapter. Thank you, as always. There are quite a lot of things happening in this one, so hopefully you'll like this chapter too. I had to rewrite parts of this so many times my head hurts now. xP
equipagan: Yes, they did! :D I was so happy writing that scene. And no, liking Stealth seems to be a guilty pleasure around here, mine too. x)
KTCameleon: Thank you and don't worry, I'm working as fast as I can with the final chapters.
19871992: Thanks! You'll have to wait and see, mwahahahaa!
whitebengal14: Whoa, I hope you're alright after such an intense reading pace. x) Thank you! You found this just at the right time, since right now I'm bent on finishing this as quickly as I can.
The pale light of the full moon turned the vast, freely growing and decaying forest into an obstacle course of dark silhouettes and shadows. There were no man-made paths, and the widely branching evergreen blocked the view on all sides. Not a sound disturbed the night that should've been teeming with nocturnal animals in their instinctual activities.
Apparently they too had noticed the foreign creature roaming the woods and recognized it to be all bad news.
The sweat that had formed on Lex's forehead during their earlier struggle had cooled instantly in the chilly night air, but her careful run through the uneven and treacherous terrain kept her muscles warm. She was used to moving in the wild, though not usually without proper equipment or injured like that. There had of course been unexpected and challenging circumstances before too, but nothing quite like hunting an acid-bleeding alien with a simple spear and a large caliber handgun borrowed from Vincent.
Lex had retracted her spear for easier mobility and kept squeezing her fingers around the light metal shaft as if her life depended on it, ready to raise it at the first sign of a strangely moving shadow. Her heart was beating way too fast in her ears and every dry branch that snapped beneath her feet made it give a startled jump. She needed every bit of her experience and willpower to keep herself calm enough to stay clearheaded.
Needless to say, Lex hadn't quite shared the enthusiasm Scar had displayed towards their awaiting hunts. She had understood that it was necessary to stop both xenomorphs quickly. She had even understood why she had to do her part without anyone's help. Scar's seriousness and tightly clenched fists as he had relayed his conversation with the older hunter to her, had made it clear Scar had been more than a little worried of what might happen to Lex should she remain near Wolf. She had gotten the impression that had she not agreed to hunt the xenomorph alone, Wolf would've most likely broken his role as an observer and straight up gotten rid of her.
What Lex hadn't quite understood, though, was just how getting killed by a xenomorph was better than getting killed by the elite warrior.
It had been difficult to accept letting Scar fight the queen alone in his injured state. The image from Antarctica had come to her mind again, uninvited. The sight of the queen's tail splattering green blood as it pierced Scar and tossed him to the ground like a seven and a half foot rag doll. Still, despite the slowly bleeding gashes all over the reptilian-like, yellowish skin and the hint of pain around the deep-set eyes that the stubborn hunter had clearly been trying to hide, Scar had assured her he was perfectly fine and able to fight.
Lex hadn't debated what she had known couldn't be changed. They had quickly searched for the gun Vincent had lost and no longer needed, Lex intentionally ignoring the nearby remains of the deranged man, whose madness had brought forth his own demise.
With the borrowed gun tucked securely under her belt and feeling unpleasantly out of place, Lex had stepped in front of Scar once again, this time to say goodbye.
She hadn't been able to banish the feeling of finality the moment had awoken in her.
Meeting the steady gaze of the yellowish-green eyes, Lex had seen affection as well as determined excitement reflected from them. She had felt an almost irresistible need to caution him and make him promise to return safely, which would've been a very human thing to do. And not at all suitable for the devoted hunter.
She had suppressed her feelings and wished Scar a good hunt instead, reaching up to run her hand gently down the long dreadlocks on the side of his head. The tall warrior had leaned into her touch, emitting a soft trilling sound, so close to a cat's purring Lex had had to smile. Scar had in return brushed his own sharp-clawed fingers in an already familiar way across the warrior's mark on Lex's face and offered his own wishes.
Strength and honor.
After the proudly spoken words there had been nothing more to say. Their feelings for each other had been made clear. Lex had still felt a gnawing fear of losing that connection too soon, but she had refrained from expressing it. They both needed their focus elsewhere.
She had left reluctantly, expecting Wolf to follow right away and quickly realizing he wouldn't. The experienced hunter would stalk her from the shadows as he would judge her worth. At least until he would come to a decision. A disconcerting thought Lex had pushed aside right away.
Other than that, things had gotten relatively simple. There were no more betrayals, no more twisted games or other surprise factors. Only the hunt and two possible outcomes.
She would kill the xenomorph or be killed herself.
Scar let his eyes follow Lex's small, warm-colored form longingly until it disappeared behind the trees. Then he methodically and with practiced ease began shutting his mind from all distractions to focus on continuing his own hunt. He was looking forward to be able to collect the queen's skull this time.
Still feeling irritation from Wolf's hostility towards his chosen mate, Scar turned to leave without another word.
For a moment Scar considered ignoring the brief demand, but found his irritation losing to their longtime bond as master and pupil. He stopped, facing the elite hunter expectantly.
"Take these", Wolf walked up to him, holding something in his hand.
Scar took the offered items, realizing quickly what they were, and tried to hand them back with a displeased frown. "I don't want your help."
Wolf refused to take the small devices back, pushing Scar's hand away snarling. "You chose to trust the humans and they betrayed you and interfered with your hunt. Despite your clear lack of judgment, I am evening the odds to give you a fair chance against the queen."
"Even if it's against the rules of the hunt?"
Wolf's yellow eyes narrowed. "I wouldn't talk about following the rules with your current plans, young one."
Scar hesitated, looking at the palm of his hand. A throwing mine and a laser mine. Neither of them were wearing their bio-masks, so there would be no record of their rule-bending. No witnesses. And all of his own weapons were practically gone, lost elsewhere or ruined by xenomorph blood. He was in dire need of a weapon unless he planned on finishing the queen barehanded, which would've been a feat even few of the most long-lived and skilled warriors would've been able to accomplish.
Still, now that the choice of discontinuing the hunt had been taken away, Scar didn't like the thought of accepting aid, even as small as this one. He felt it diminishing both of their honor as well as puzzling him. Personal feelings were always supposed to come second to the rules and honor of the warrior. There was no denying he hadn't been following that rule anymore after having found Lex again, but there shouldn't have been any reason for Wolf to risk his reputation and status. And yet he was doing it, and Scar knew it was for his sake.
Scar's joy of having gained Lex's affection couldn't stop the slight twinge of guilt that came from knowing he was intentionally letting down the venerable hunter who had once claimed to see potential in the adolescent pup Scar had been at the time and had sacrificed much of his time to train him.
"I understand", he finally complied with a more collected manner, putting the mines away for later use and lowering his head as a sign of admitting his folly. "I will use this gift to fight an honorable battle."
When Scar looked back up, the cold edge in the elite hunter's eyes had been placated. Wolf raised his hand to grasp Scar's shoulder, squeezing it lightly, before turning to leave for his own mission.
"Don't let the queen reach human dwellings. And don't underestimate its cunning."
With the final words of advice, Wolf took his bio-mask and pressed it to his face, connecting it to the tubes that provided him with more pleasant breathing air and the means to better track both humans and xenomorphs. With a few clicks of his wrist device, he activated his cloak and was gone, set off on his way to catch up to Lex. Scar now had no choice, but to trust that the older warrior would judge her fairly.
Knowing he had wasted too much time already, Scar shook his head to rid himself of the thoughts the distracting scene had conjured up, and took off running to catch his magnificently dangerous prey.
Wolf felt he had seen too many centuries to understand the younger generation's way of thinking anymore. Or maybe it was just this one stubborn fool. Choosing a measly human as his mate. It was unheard of.
The seasoned warrior picked up speed, passing through the dark forest gracefully and with a minimum of sound, like a shadow of looming death. Except that this time he wasn't supposed to kill his target.
Not right away at least.
Wolf used one of his bio-mask's various functions to amplify even the smallest of sounds and almost immediately picked up the human woman's light footsteps. He caught up to her with no effort, stopping and clinging with his claws to a sturdy tree trunk to start observing her.
She was agile and balanced in her moves, Wolf could tell right away, though she moved slowly on the ground only. He also noticed the occasional winces and quick touches to her side, which had apparently been injured by the other human that had attacked her.
She should've been killed then, Wolf thought grimly as he leaped for a tall and almost bare tree that had sprouted its branches high up near the top. Things would've gone back to being simple and his favorite pupil would've still had some other future than ending up as an honorless bad blood, hunted by his own kind. He should've killed the human woman himself as soon as he had learned the truth to keep the young fool from the miserable fate he couldn't even fathom yet. There were worse things to come than simply losing his honor, if he chose to walk his current path to the end.
And there was nothing Wolf could do about it now that he had given his word to wait and see whether the human would prove to be a warrior. And if she succeeded...
Wolf let his claws dig deeper into the thick and scaly bark to stifle the compelling want to see them close around the woman's fragile head. No... he wouldn't tarnish his honor in front of his pupil. The woman would be allowed to complete at least this one hunt.
But should she show even the slightest bit of cowardice or prove to be otherwise unsuitable as a warrior, he would take great pleasure in gutting her himself.
Not a single stray thought diverted Scar from his hunt anymore as he sped forward, following the clear trail left by the queen's destructive passage. He took no interest in the small heat signatures that revealed the diversity of the forest's wildlife.
He needed to move fast, and as he was moving, he needed to think of a strategy. The absence of proper weaponry was a problem, but what worried Scar more, was the once again intensifying pain that burned in his veins and throbbed in his head. It seemed physical exertion made it worse. If he had another seizure in the middle of a fight, it would no doubt be his last this time. He would have to dispose of the queen fast.
The ground sloped downwards and from his high vantage point in the trees, Scar got a good look at a fast flowing body of water coming up ahead of him. For a moment he was worried he might lose the trail there, but as he got closer, a telling sight of stomped plant life continued from the other side of what looked like a deep river.
The queen was clearly bent on losing any pursuers, not caring about anything else, but getting out of the cramped forest where its size left it at a disadvantage. It meant Scar needed to move even faster.
A quick estimate of the distance between the abruptly dropping river banks told Scar that he might be able to use the trees to leap over the water. He went for it without hesitation, not having the time to slow down if he hoped to catch up to his prey. As the faint wind blowing above the river cooled the numerous injuries that had mostly stopped bleeding on their own, he wondered whether his spear might've still been lodged in the queen's carapace. He hadn't seen it on the way, so it was possible.
A sudden splashing sound from below caught Scar's attention. He barely had time to glimpse the explosion of rising water and the huge, quickly approaching form of cold colors that blended into the river, and then the queen collided with him, taking both of them down into the swirling depths.
Well, there was a deathtrap if ever she had seen one.
Chest heaving laboredly as she gathered her breath after the strenuous, but uneventful run, Lex eyed the steeply rising rock face and the deep, shadowy ravine that vanished somewhere inside it. The moon had climbed high enough in the sky to peek over most of the trees and created an unnerving, dream-like world of black and grey that was perfect for hiding a xenomorph.
The rock face might've been climbable. And as safe as jumping into a sharktank with both arms cut open.
Forcing herself to take deep, slow breaths, Lex considered her situation. The odds were against her in every way and, on top of that, she was afraid that if she took too long, the xenomorph would return to the queen and make things harder for Scar.
Physically she was no match to the stronger, faster and tougher creature, she could hardly see anything and she was injured. Though, so was it, Lex remembered Annie's shot that had pierced its leg. Whether it was affecting the xenomorph or not, her best hope would be to somehow restrict its movements and shoot at it from outside its reach.
Lex inspected her surroundings more carefully, practically feeling the yellow, predatory eyes on her, even if she couldn't see Wolf. The hair standing on end at the back of her neck knew he was there. Looking again at the narrow, uninviting ravine, Lex was sure she could've used it if only she could've seen something.
Further to the side, the rock face continued vertically, impossible to climb in the current conditions. Up on the cliff had once stood a mighty birch with long, crooked branches, cut down by a storm or simply having yielded to old age. Now it was hanging almost upside down over the edge with its roots sticking out of the ground, kept from falling by another tree below.
Lex lowered her eyes, making her decision. There was no time to keep looking. The xenomorph might ambush Scar while he was preoccupied by his own fight with the queen. Lex needed to do her own part, before Scar would have to pay for her hesitation. The bottom of the cliff would have to do.
Lex extended her spear and took cover near the rock face, behind another fallen tree and its roots that had formed a wide, earthy wall. Bringing her thumb and index finger to her mouth and stifling the feeling of growing dread that was threatening to overwhelm her, Lex let out a long, shrill whistle into the silent night.
Trying to figure out what the human woman was thinking, was like trying to figure out what was going on in the head of a year old pup. She had been moving with a purpose, until she had reached a tall rock formation. After that she had stopped moving and seemed to have become hesitant.
It took Wolf a moment to remember humans didn't see like they did with their bio-masks. He couldn't imagine their way of sight, but he knew it was limited to a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and poor for hunting. The human probably couldn't see well enough to function properly. Still, it was a bad excuse. A warrior was supposed to be adept in using all of their senses, not rely on just one.
Wolf adjusted his position on the branch he was squatting on, as it seemed they weren't going to move any time soon. It really was mind-numbing to have to watch the measly creature's feeble attempt at a hunt. He was wasting his time, when he should've been witnessing a much more glorious hunt.
Turning his head absentmindedly to the side, Wolf watched the small, furry creature's huddled in their nest a couple of trees away from his, the rapid drum of their tiny hearts clear evidence of the terror that had frozen them in place. He humored himself with the thought of leaving, not interested in watching the woman meander in the woods all night. If the xenomorph didn't come for her, she probably wouldn't even find it.
A sharp swish of metal drew Wolf's attention back to the ground where the woman had just extended her spear. He scanned the area quickly, but found nothing that might've been a threat. He had lived long enough, though, to have learned the hard way not to underestimate the local wildlife of a strange planet. Small or otherwise harmless appearance didn't always mean a creature would pose no threat and the woman knew this planet better than he did. Wolf continued to watch as she moved around warily, crouching next to a fallen tree.
Then a sharp, high-pitched sound pierced the silence. Wolf stared at the woman in confusion, wondering what kind of signal she was sending out. She did it two more times.
Wolf's confusion turned to amusement as he realized the woman wasn't trying to find and ambush the xenomorph, which would've been a doomed effort any way she would've tried, but challenging it directly to a battle. He gave her some credit for that at least.
Using the sound-amplifier again, Wolf surveyed further into the forest, until he found what he was looking for. Faintly thumping steps from a heavy creature that was traversing fast towards them.
Now to see whether the supposed 'warrior' would even survive the first attack.
The horrendously cold water was one of the worst things Scar had experienced on the planet so far, feeling like a paralyzing punch to the gut before enveloping him with tiny prickling and burning sensations. The long claws puncturing new holes into his torso and pressing him against the river's rocky bottom weren't much better. The swirling water distorted his vision, and everything around him was the same, cold temperature, making it hard to distinguish what was what.
Scar struggled under the crushing weight, unable to relieve the pressure on him enough to break away. The large head loomed over him, deliberating whether to strike or not. It wasn't necessary, seeing he would run out of air eventually and the queen could simply and safely wait for that to happen. Scar knew he had been a fool to advance so carelessly when Wolf had specifically warned him not to underestimate the queen. Now he was rightfully paying for his mistake.
He just needed to make sure the one act of foolishness wouldn't come with the cost of his life.
Unleashing some of the drug induced rage he had managed to keep in control, the musclebound hunter grabbed the queen by its jaws as it moved close enough to strike, prying its mouth open and revealing rows of long, spiky teeth, each capable of piercing his arm with ease. The inner mouth shot out to try and bite him, as Scar had expected, and his hand flashed from the jaw and clasped around the protruding appendage, gripping and pulling hard.
The queen started visibly and tried to thrash its captured head from side to side, before lifting its claws and kicking at Scar to push itself away from him. Scar lost his grip, feeling the air leave his lungs with a pained grunt as the flesh in his legs and abdomen tore where the sharp talons made contact.
He was free to move in the murky stream, but low on air, and the queen was already charging back towards him. Fighting against the drag of the water, Scar pushed himself to a crouch and leaped to the side, barely dodging the swiftly moving giant that dove past him.
The queen had chosen the perfect place for an ambush, having no trouble flying across the water, even with only minimal help from its damaged tail. Trying to swim straight up to the surface would've left Scar dangerously vulnerable, and he wasn't that desperate for air just yet. Besides, he had caught a glimpse of something that interested him more. When the next fluent swoop came, Scar confirmed his finding and made another evasive maneuver, slipping just past the large head crest and the uncommonly burly shoulders that were remnants of the predalien queen's host. This time he used the split second he had before the queen would've passed him completely and reached to grab the spear he had seen still lodged at the base of the long tail.
The strong current generated by the huge creature's passing threw Scar off balance and, for a brief moment, he thought he had lost the opportunity when his fingers didn't meet the light, but durable metal. Then they closed around the chain following behind the spear and Scar was wrenched into motion.
Staying upright and in control of his body's movements was a burdensome task in the velocity they were traveling with. Scar managed to push his feet down and dug his heels quickly to the river bottom, plowing dirt and smooth rocks as they went, trying to find anything solid that would hinder them even momentarily. The lack of air was beginning to burn in his lungs. It was only a matter of time until his strength would start to wane, and whether it was the cold or the drug that made his head throb with violent stabs, it was clear this was a fight Scar couldn't drag on much longer.
A large shape approached them fast from the dark emptiness, and Scar had only a fraction of time to prepare as he was headed straight towards it. Lifting his feet and bracing for the impact, Scar smashed against a slab of rock bigger than himself, nearly falling over it as the queen continued pulling. His grip held barely, stopping the floundering creature, and with the muscles in his arms bulging from the considerable strain, Scar looked to his feet for anything he could use.
The heavy slab gave in with a sudden jerk and Scar staggered. The queen stopped pulling, realizing it was stuck. Scar dropped down form the slab and kicked hard at a smaller stone behind it that was keeping it from falling over, simultaneously tying a quick and bulky knot to the chain. Unobstructed, the large rock went down slowly and Scar crouched down to slip the chain under it, leaving the knot outside to anchor the chain in place.
The queen had already turned back to attack him again and Scar kicked himself away quickly, picking and arming one of the mines Wolf had given him and letting it drop from his hand. The small, explosive weapon floated down slowly towards the bottom as the queen approached. Scar didn't bother trying to dodge anymore. He needed to get to the surface as fast as he could, before the detonation. He sensed the large figure gaining on him as he treaded the water with powerful strokes to get up.
Scar didn't see the queen's movements jerk to a halt as the chain held under the heavy rock slab. His arm thrust out of the water, grasping for the river bank to pull himself up without delay. Even the planet's oddly thin and odorless air felt welcome as Scar opened his mouth to draw breath.
Before he could do anything else, he felt the long, clawed fingers closing around his leg and whirled his head around to see that the deeply embedded spear had finally lost to the corroding blood and exertion, and broken away. The inescapable grip dragged him down from the river bank and back to the lightless, blurry depths.
As they descended, the mine reached the bottom, activating with an inaudible beep. The instantly expanding gases pushed the water outwards explosively. The pressure wave was impossible to evade, and Scar felt the force of it as it passed through him, plunging him into darkness.