Zer0 was out in the Highlands, perched on the western edge of the cliff side, a small ways off the map where the Hyperion locators couldn't detect him. Salvador had won a rare Jakobs' sniper rifle at Moxxi's bar, and had given it to Zer0, saying that sniper rifles 'weren't his thing.' In return, Zer0 had given him half his winnings of eridium, which Salvador quickly spent on assault rifle ammunition storage deck upgrades.
He sat with his legs dangling over the edge of the cliff, sniper rifle poised at his shoulder, waiting for the opportune moment to fire. His prey: a pack of stalkers that were lounging about under the warm afternoon sun, some five hundred yards away. He focused the crosshairs, lining it up with a particularly large stalker. It seemed more on edged than the others, constantly looking about and sniffing at the air. Every now and then it would glance up at where Zer0 was situated, staring for a long while before going back to smelling the ground and everything around it.
The others lazily wandered about, one rolling onto its back and another jumping on it in a playful fashion. A smaller one crept along the shadow, following some unknown tiny prey.
"How foolish of you/ You could flee, save yourself, but…" He lined his vision with the center of its head just as the stalker looked up at him one last time. "Your life will end here."
In that moment, a gang of bandits rushed the small pack from inside a nearby cave, inadvertently causing Zer0 to loose aim of his target as it ran. "Ah, crap." Zer0 growled. He had been waiting for the perfect moment, and so had they. As the bandits hollered and waved their weapons, Zer0 watched through his scope, intrigued. The stalkers were fighting back, but were being pushed into a small circle. One of the bandits threw a shock grenade, destroying the stalkers' natural shields. They could no longer use their cloaking defense.
They hissed and roared and threw their spikes but it did no good. The bandits had their guns firing in rapid succession, knocking the stalkers' aim off kilter. As a few of his comrades fell, a marauder threw a grenade into the defenseless circle of stalkers, killing them. The three smaller ones were completely torn apart.
"Such a treat to watch/ A battle of dominance/ Man versus nature." Zer0 was surprised by their efficiency. When he fought the bandits, they seemed to fire wantonly, screaming obscenities as they did so. Here, they only seemed to call out to scare the stalkers, shock them into not moving.
Zer0 supposed that catching food was more important than killing some random person who wandered into camp, therefore required a more efficient approach.
As the smoke cleared, the bandits cheered at their victory. Zer0 scoffed, small victory. He watched as a few of the bandits began cutting up the stalkers and stuffing them into patched sacks. The ones that had been blown to bits were collected as well.
Zer0 decided that killing them would host no real enjoyment. They were relatively weak, and the only reason why they had defeated the stalkers was due to shear number. They finished up collecting the meat, and Zer0 was certain he'd seen one of them picking up bits and pieces of their fallen members by accident. Or maybe it wasn't an accident.
Zer0 grew tired of watching, the fight was over, and he still wanted to hunt something. But just as he was lowering his rifle, movement caught his eye. In one of the small caves decorated with stalker who-knows-what something seemed to move about. One of the bandits had also caught the movement, and advanced towards the cave. He leaned to view inside, and turned to call back to his fellow bandits.
He gestured towards the den, and went partly inside.
Just as his form was vanishing from view, the larger stalker, formerly presumed dead with the others, snapped into action and rushed him. It pounced onto the bandit's back and they fell deeper inside the cave. The other bandits heard the commotion and began firing into the inky darkness. When the man's screaming came to an end so did the shooting.
One of the others turned his head to regard another marauder, but was ambushed by the large stalker. Zer0 pressed his helmet against the scope; a small wave of excitement went through his body. His hands tensed further around his gun as he looked on.
The stalker bit down onto the bandit's neck and jerked its head back, tearing apart tendons and flesh. It bounded towards the second man, doing the same to him. The others shot at the creature with wild abandon, but the stalker seemed immune to the onslaught of metal piercing its body. The one and only nomad of the group screamed at the other bandits to retreat, waving his arm in a wide arc over to the hill to the southeast.
As the bandits ran, taking what meat they collected with them, the stalker huffed and gasped. It spread its legs wide and threw its head into the air, roaring after them. Blood oozed from its mouth and other parts of its body. Afterwards, it turned and limped back to the cave, only to collapse several feet away from its destination, a portion of dust blooming up from where it fell. Even then, the creature tried to force its body to continue on.
Zer0's curiosity got the better of him then. "What could it be there/ In that cave, so important/ That you give your life?" He stood on the cliff's edge for a moment before taking one step and falling straight down; he bent his knees and landed on the cracking dirt, his shield taking the brunt of the fall as he coolly stood and walked the relatively short distance to the blood-soaked area. Where thick, green grass had once been was now only small, blackened craters left by the grenade explosions.
The stalker was laying there, panting and gagging. It attempted to drag its body by its left front leg, apparently the rest of its limbs were now dead weight from the barrage of bullets they had received. It heard Zer0 coming, turning its head slowly to look at him. He hadn't stopped as it burst into a scramble to the cave, sinking into the darkness, leaving a trail of blood. Zer0 followed after it at a slow pace. The slowly setting sun cast heavy shadows around the cave, making it difficult to see inside.
He found it only a few seconds later, on the floor of the den, curled in on itself. It hissed weakly, blood trickling out of its mouth. Its body wound tighter as he advanced. Zer0 was only about two feet away when he stopped and crouched down to meet its eyelevel. "Enough protesting/ The battle is finished with/ And you may now rest."
As if understanding his words, the stalker's breathing became less persistent. Its head began to droop, and finally its body rid itself of tension and it died.
Zer0 looked the thing over one last time before standing up and checking out the cave. It was deeper than it looked from the outside, maybe about twenty feet in perimeter, but basically empty minus the stalker defecation and bones left by the pack's prey. He jabbed the bandit's corpse with his foot abjectly, half hoping it had dropped some loot. When it didn't, he felt disappointed that he wasted time in a wild-goose-chase. At least the fight was enjoyable to watch, he thought to himself. He turned to leave when a noise caught his attention.
He turned back to the stalker's body, waiting. The noise, a high-pitched whine, came from the dead animal. He walked towards it once more and noticed some movement just under the stalker's wing. Zer0 slipped his foot under its arm and flung it away, revealing several smaller bodies. He crouched and took a closer look.
"Infants," he questioned as he looked them over. So that's what the stalker was trying to defend, he mused. Upon further inspection, he noticed the small bodies each had a large boot print pressed into them, most likely left by the bandit.
Zer0 heard his ECHO communicator buzz to life as Axton's voice boomed from the small device. "Hey, buddy! Time to quick playin' hunter and move out. Lilith has a job for us and she wants you here in Sanctuary to go over the finer details."
Zer0 stood up and turned to exit the cave as Axton spoke. "A job from Lilith/ Could be very important/ My hunting can wait." He took out his pistol as he walked, examining it closely, thinking about either looting or buying a new one. Axton hummed in agreement, "alright, Axton over and out!" Zer0 cringed at his unnecessarily loud voice, and was grateful when the ECHO fell silent.
After exiting the cave and holstering his pistol, Zer0 stopped a moment to ponder his HUD map. He noticed that the Fast Travel station was only a few dozen paces further than the Catch-A-Ride, and wondered if taking time to construct a car was worth it.
As he thought, he glanced to his shield and health bar for a moment before doing a double take. His shield was slowly but surely decreasing, point by point. Zer0 looked to his HUD map once again, there were no enemies within the map's sites. He looked down to observe his body and see if he was taking elemental damage, he was not.
He looked down at his body, turning this way and that, and finally found what was causing it. There was a small creature latched onto his calf, chewing away at his armor. A large red exclamation point was displayed over Zer0's helmet as he balled his hands into fists. He swung his leg to and fro, trying to shake the thing off.
It held fast until Zer0 gave a final swing of his leg, and the unknown animal detached. It flew through the air like a mini projectile before skimming the ground and rolling to a stop. Zer0 now saw that it was one of the infant stalkers. Maybe it was smarter than its siblings and hid away from the bandit. The tiny stalker got to its feet, wobbling slightly, and shook its head, in danger of tumbling over again.
It began to cry, eyes closed and head back, apparently calling out for its mother. Zer0 looked on for a moment before remembering Axton's message. "Your mother is dead/ So too are your littermates/ Care for yourself now." And with that, Zer0 turned and walked towards his destination.
As he walked, he noticed his shield going down again. And again he looked down to see the small thing gnawing away at his suit. "Enough," Zer0 shouted and jerked his leg back and forth, once more knocking the thing off. He equipped his pistol and took aim, shooting once at where the stalker lay. In a flash, the baby dodged the bullet, jumping quickly to the left.
Zer0 stood, pistol still pointed at the same location, staring dumbly. He took aim once more and shot, and again the stalker dodged. He repeated the action again and again in rapid succession, harboring the same result. When his pistol cartridge ran empty Zer0 growled in frustration, continuously pulling the trigger and only hearing the fast clicking of the empty gun.
The tiny stalker only stared, its back legs splayed as it sat in an innocent fashion. It tilted its head in a curious manner. A tiny growl bubbled from its form before it gave a small yelp, as if trying to provoke Zer0 into shooting again. Zer0 threw the gun to the ground and swung at the stalker with his sword, but it ducked under his swing and bit down on his hand.
"Guh!" Zer0 exclaimed, waving his right hand in the air madly. His patience was completely gone, and his usual cool aura had completely melted away. He gripped the stalker's torso with his left hand and ripped it away. It squawked in protest and he threw it angrily to the ground. Then, rotating his body around it, punted the small creature as far as he could.
He quickly sheathed his sword put his right hand on his hip; then used his left to make an act of shielding the sun away from his eyes to watch the thing land a long distance away. Zer0 chuckled to himself and turned once more to walk a small ways to the Catch-A-Ride. Upon arriving, he noticed the screen was red, and not its usual teal.
Scooter's voice crackled to life on his ECHO. "Heh, aw man, were you tryin' to get a ride, man? Aw shoot sorry but, uh, the whole system is now what we call in the professional world: 'broke-ass dead.' This is on account that Clap-Trap was tryin' to get all close and personal-like with the mainframe."
Clap-Trap's image was displayed on Zer0's HUD. "Ignore that," was all he said before the image switched back to Scooter. "Anyway man, might be a long time 'til I get my sweet baby up and runnin' again. Sorry man."
Zer0 stood there for a moment before he heard a familiar tiny growl. His shoulders fell as he slowly turned his head to look back at what made the sound. The stalker sat with his pistol in its upper mouth. And when seeing that Zer0 had turned his head to look, its whole body seemed to wiggle with happiness. It dropped the pistol and, with its head, nudged it towards Zer0. He turned his head back to the ugly, red screen, and hit his helmet against it in frustration. Then again.
The stalker gave a happy squawk.