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The devil you know

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He blinks and wipes the crusting thwei out of his eyes, making way for a fresh wave of it to pour over from the reopened wound on his head.

His forehead is pulsating in time with his hearts. 
He had allowed fury to cloud his judgement and had been swiftly disarmed by the former Elder Physician turned abomination.

No matter, he has been trained to fight through pain and injury. And plain vision is not as useful against the kainde amedha as his other senses anyway. 
Yaut'ja see the serpents as more of a moving reflection of ambient heat against the backdrop than anything else. They are the worthiest of prey and possess perfect camouflage as well as intelligence and an undeniable instinct to survive and propagate by any means necessary.

His helmet would have been useful in helping him spot it, and protect his head from damage, but he has no such luxuries now. 
His own damn fault for not equipping his armor…
What he wouldn't give for a sivk'va-tai now.

The young baiun, size denoting it was barely in its adolescent phase from what he remembers of his extensive research, is still cold enough from storage that he can see it and feel it sufficiently to fight. He is doubly lucky it is inexperienced and half starved as well.

With his ki'cti-pa back in his possession, he weaves in and out of the serpent's reach, slashing at it's muscles and tendons to bring it down.


He takes out his frustration on it at failing to end the abomination. 
She had underestimated him when wielding a spear. All his life, Hul'gkan had fought against larger and stronger opponents. He had mastered the ki'cti-pa first and had become proficient even in the most difficult stances early on. The chakt-ra came second. Keeping prey and opponents at a distance or slipping under their guard was essential for him and his swiftness and martial skills could be eventually overpowered as the abomination had painfully reminded him.
The combi-stick was not as flashy as the other hand-held weapons or the dah'kte, but it served him best.

He'd executed the perfect Hiju stance and almost disembloweled the madwoman. She had dodged just fast enough for the blade at the tip of his weapon to scrape against her chest in stead of pierce her abdomen.
While her reflexes had dulled with an obvious lack of practice, she was still far stronger and more experienced at hand-to-hand combat than he, and had at first disarmed him as though he were a foolish Unblood - he had certainly acted like one. 
Had she not kicked him right back at his weapon after he'd made a grab for her precious vial, he might not have been able to hold her off long enough to land in this current mess.


He snarls at the serpent as it tries to take a bite out of him and slides under it, touching some of the caustic blood on the way. The acid is not as strong when cooled, a small mercy.
He pushes his battered and tired body into executing a running jump, right over the baiun's head then he roars his victory as he runs it through with his spear.
Immediately, he realizes his crooning is premature. The strike isn't as strong as he had meant, he is more tired than he realizes and the baiun's hide and chitinous armor must be stronger than a drone's. 
The weapon should have come out the other side but it only remains lodged in the creature's body.
He curses and jumps off awkwardly, unable to collapse his weapon in time just as the serpent clumsily reaches up to grab him as it screeches. His ki'cti-pa remains lodged in its back, the length sticking out suggesting that he'd just barely missed the heart. 
 
Now he needs to outmaneuver it again and his legs are refusing to move as swiftly as he commands them.

Yaut'ja can survive a great deal of damage and still be effective killers, but all the bloodloss and wounds he had accrued from multiple opponents today are catching up to him. He needs to end this fast in order to still be able to battle the abomination. 
He cannot let it live. His honor and pride demand it.

Hul'gkan dodges and weaves between the baiun's claws. It is sloppier, more desperate as acid gushes out of every wound and barely able to hold itself up.
It knows death is near.

Vay'n'ritja's sudden scream of agony draws his attention away for just a fraction of a second and the next thing he feels is the wall crushing into his front.
He groans in protest at the new pain, something inside him had cracked.
He doesn't even have a chance to push away from the cold slab of rock, expecting more punishment from the baiun even in his half-dazed state, when a grid of molten agony digs into his back and pins him to the smooth stone.

The pain is excrutiating and his roar joins with the abomination's hiss across from him. His head is turned, tresses sizzling under the superheated metal wires of the t'gou u'linja net that has him pinned to the wall. 

To be caught like prey… he roars his fury this time, reflexively pushing against the net and making it dig painfully into his shoulder.
He stops before it penetrates too deeply. The net is useful for any big game as they always struggle against it, triggering the automated spiked points where the wires converge to draw them tighter in order to subdue.

Hul'gkan flattens himself against the wall, wincing at the piece of one of his severed tresses sliding off right at the corner of his sight.
The spikes have drilled halfway through the thick, durable stone and he reaches for the one nearest to his right hand, careful not to push against the wires, and starts tugging it out while keeping an eye on his surroundings. His other hand is trapped between his chest and the wall at an angle that makes it impossible to slide out without potentially severing his right deltoid at the shoulder.


 A vindictive laugh works its way up his throat at the sight of the abomination struggling under the young serpent queen. 
The hard-meat is dazed and weakened, slumped over its creator's form and bleeding copious amounts of deadly thwei everywhere, unable to lift itself now that it is horizontal. 
He'd cut at the tough tendons of its hind legs and now they had finally snapped completely under the strain of running and pushing itself up.

Je-st'sha're is cursing up a storm from underneath it, pushing  and kicking at it as the serpent whines like a wounded hound.

<<Get off me, you stupid animal!>> she howls as yet more acid blood pours over her, sizzling through her thick hide. It must be warm enough by now to be effective.

Another amused rumble escapes him. It sounds weak and he hates the whine of hurt at the end but he can't help it.
<<You get… what you deserve… abomination...>> he spits out haltingly, keeping the muscles of his legs tense lest he slip in his own blood and shave his hide off. His legs spasm but he manages to remain upright, finally dislodging one of the spikes and sliding his hand up to the next one.

Je-st'sha're howls, long and agonized. The acid must be eating away at something important.
She redoubles her efforts, the pain lending her an unexpected surge of strength as she strains her legs and pushes at the serpent's chest.

The hard meat has regained enough of its senses to prop itself up on its four arms, but slips - he'd almost cut off a spindly, six-fingered hand, and falls back heavily over the abomination with a weak screech. 
Perhaps he had penetrated the heart after all, although obviously not enough to kill it.

The Elder Physician grunts but just barely keeps the serpent balanced on her forearms and knees. If she escapes before Hul'gkan can remove the net trapping him, all will be lost.

He shuffles and pulls on the spike with more force, cutting himself deeper. Nothing else matters now, he must ignore the pain and free himself. He will soon have to fight.

Another spike is freed and then another that hadn't buried itself deep enough into the stone. A couple more and he might be able to slip his arm out.

More howls and hisses are coming from both the abomination and the serpent. 
The young queen has finally managed to raise itself on two still functioning elbows and coos in confusion and pain at the abomination. Je-st'sha're has enough room to slip out and she furiously pushes under the serpent in an undignified wiggle.

Hul'gkan's blood covered paws slip over a spike in his haste to pull it out and he swears, trying again.
He growls under his breath as the Elder cussed at him.

<<I should never have stopped your bearer from culling you at birth, you miserable, failed excuse for a… >> she trails off in another string of curses as the baiun's thin arms give out again.

Her words give him momentary pause in his careful struggle to get free. What was she talking about?

No, he must not allow her to distract him.

<<You arrogant little whelp, all you had to do was take your pet and go, but now I'll have to end both of you.>> she mutters while heaving against the serpent.
<<When I get out of here  - >> she grunts as her back slides in acid << - I will mount your Trophy's head on my wall, but not before I feed you your own entra - Aaah!>>

Hul'gkan had been focusing on gripping a particularly stubborn spike with his claws and hadn't seen little Fire Eyes leaping off a table and onto the baiun's back, driving his ki'cti-pa the rest of the way through its heart and into the abomination underneath.
The ooman's own grunt of effort is swallowed up by the serpent's last wail and the Elder's scream.

The baiun falls back down, pinning the abomination beneath it again. Her head and a shoulder are the only parts of her poking out and she chokes on her own hot blood, screaming and coughing.
The tip of the combistick must have pierced through her stomach. That or the fresh wave of acid was eating her alive.

<<You - !>> Je-st'sha're screeches and tries to shift up. <<You dare, tarei'hsa - AAAAGH!>> she screams again as little Fire Eyes leans on the spear, embedding it further.

She hacks out more blood, convulsing ineffectively, and huffs up incredulously at the ooman.

<<You would kill one with child?! Have you no honor!?>> the Elder pleads between wracking coughs.

Hul'gkan stares at the scene with one eye, gaping in surprise, his claws slack against the spike he'd been working at.

Little Fire Eyes' chest is heaving in exertion as she gingerly kneels, mindful of the acid, and stares down at the abomination. He is too awed to yell at her to finish it.

<<Fuck… your… honor...>> she spits back and twists the ki'cti-pa all the way through, leaning her whole body into the motion.

----------

The agonized screams and curses last for minutes or hours. Allison is too numb to tell. 
Her head is throbbing, her eye and cheek are so swollen it feels like the skin is close to bursting. 
The spear cut her hands where she had first gripped it awkwardly and her abdomen still feels wrong.

She had been hiding like a coward while Hulk struggled for his life, listening as the two hunters taunted each other from where they were both trapped and crying like a little kid at every inhuman screech.
 
The need to check on her surroundings made her pop her head out from under the measly cover, her one good eye wide in fright.

A strange sort of clarity had settled over her when she'd seen the nasty bitch starting to free herself and heard Hulk's strangled wheezing. 
She'd never thought he could sound so weak before.

There had been a choice. Either hide in her little corner under the table and let the big woman get up, hope to be spared after she finished off Hulk or… take a risk.

Snake-lady had hurt her in ways Allison wasn't entierly certain she understood yet and had never treated her as anything more than a lab-rat.
Hulk may have hunted, humiliated and betrayed her, but he'd taught her things too, talked to her, made jokes and even tried to make her feel better sometimes in that ass-backwards way of his… He'd shown her the jungle.

In the end, it hadn't really been much of a choice. The big woman had chosen for her.

The decision had been made long before this anyway, when they'd set foot on this god-forsaken planet. Better the devil you know, after all.

Now she stood beside the dead beasts, trying not to gag at the smell of acid-burned flesh and ichor that came from the carcasses.

Hulk's hiss of frustration snapped her out of her trance and she picked her way across the room, careful not to touch any of the yellow blood and hopping over the long black tail curled to the monster's side.

She gasped at the sight of his ruined back and shoulder, her injured palm going up to her mouth in horror.
He looked like he'd been grilled alive, the shiny metal wires embedded deeply into his back. Multiple severed black dreads had fallen to his feet, decorations and all.
 
Even hurt beyond comprehention, he was still struggling to free himself, growling as he pulled at the ends of the net pinning him to the wall.

Allison darted back at the dead creatures and cautiosly approached them to pull the big knife out of Snake-lady's exposed shoulder, hissing as her fingertips touched tiny drops of the acid blood sprayed over the handle.
It came out after some finagling with an ooze of fluorescent green. Neither of the bodies moved or showed any signs of life.

She hurried back to Hulk, recoiling when he rattled at her in warning. 
He was rather exposed like this. Vulnerable even. All she had to do was approach from his immobile side and…

Allison shook the thought away, squeezing her good eye shut to banish the mental image.

She held out her arms in a placating gesture, pointing with the huge knife at the wall where the gray metal spikes were drilled in, using both hands to hold the blade up.

A luminous green eye examines her before he nods minutely. 
He'd already freed up his right arm enough that he had enough swinging space to kill her with a quick swipe if he felt squirrely about her intentions at any point.

She worked at the spikes around his legs while he continued poking out the ones around his head. Two of the spikes had embedded into the meat of his left thigh and calf, making the net loose from the lower back down. She left those alone for now, scraping off the rest, willing her hands to stop shaking lest she touch the wires and make it all worse.

It took a few minutes but together they'd removed enough of the spikes that he could step out, gingerly lifting the net out of his abused flesh and skin to leave it hanging, glowing green, on the wall.

The spikes piercing his leg were unceremoniously yanked out last with a low snarl.

She backed away from him as he straightened and took a couple of shaky steps away from the net, using the wall for support. 
How much could these things bleed before they passed out? Snake-lady's blood and other things had mixed with the yellow acid, making it impossible to tell which was which and  Allison hadn't checked on the sister yet.

Hulk stared at her with those vivid green eyes, expression unreadable, then inhaled deeply and took a few unsteady steps away from the wall on his own before stumbling, teetering on his bad leg.
On reflex, she dropped the knife and went to take hold of his least injured left side, helping support his wounded leg.

Goddamn, but he was heavy
She grunted in effort as her knees bent under the strain.

It was under his stolid, beady stare that she realized she'd never willingly been this close to him before. Every other interaction between them that involved touching had been initiated by him, either to teach, discipline or carry her like a sack of grain and there were also the hits during their training fights.
Well, no, not all of them, there was that one time she'd hidden behind him but that didn't count.

She gulped under his scrutiny. Her right arm had gone around his back to help support him, careful of the cuts, while her other was clutching his wrist as his big, muscled arm was slung over her shoulder. His skin was crusty with blood and the texture was unlike anything she'd ever touched before, a little pebbly with a waxy shine to it that was neither reptilian or scaly like a snake, nor slimy like a salamander's. It was overall a little rougher and thicker than hers, taunt over the muscles.

He was tense, obviously uncomfortable, his body a solid, warm wall next to her. She almost slithered away, afraid those deadly black claws would sink into her in anger at her audacity, but the rockhard muscles over her shoulders shifted as he took a step forward, forcing her to follow.

He was steering them towards the two monstruous bodies piled over each other to stare at them for a beat, before chuffing and passing them in order to reach Snake-sister's form laid out close to the platform Allison had been hiding under.

Hulk kneeled next to her, taking a scaly wrist in his free hand and chuckled after a short pause.

----------

A blooded ooman?
His Trophy at that.

He'd seen it with his own eyes and yet still had trouble believing it.

One of the healers who lived nearby had been summoned to look him and Vay'n'ritja over. He'd declared her continuous survival nothing short but a gift from Paya herself.

The fallout of the battle had left Hul'gkan drained and sluggish. He could hardly move a muscle without wincing in pain. This was by far the worst beating he had ever taken in his entire life.
He'd still dragged himself over to Vay'n'ritja's still open rooms to retrieve his gear personally once they'd been freed of the locked room of horrors.

Little Fire Eyes had remained stuck to his side or close enough during the entire time while they waited for help after using the abominations gauntlet computer to call for aid.
That had taken an inordinate amount of effort to dig out, he'd had to retrieve his ki'cti-pa from the dead serpent to then use it over a broken piece of machinery as leverage to push the baiun corpse off enough for Fire Eyes to pull the madwoman's arm out. 
She couldn't get the computer off so he'd just hacked the forearm off at the elbow, making the little ooman shriek and fall on her rump, scrambling away from the appendage as though it were a live snake.

Laughing had hurt.

Deactivating the biohazard lock had proven impossible. The madwoman had taken the key to it with her in death. 
A veritable hoard of eta had been set about removing a piece of the wall to let them out.
Fire Eyes had stared at the unworthy, broken bodies of the eta with mute horror as they shuffled out once their work was done.

The healer had first rushed Vay'n'ritja out to be sent to better equipped facilities and then returned for him.

He'd been fortunate none of the wounds were too serious. Some wires had dug into his shoulder, partially severing the muscle, which would need more attention but the rest would scar over.
His cracked ribs would take a little longer but he'd have full functionality back soon enough.

The scars though, would be horrendous and unworthy. He had been trapped like prey
Humiliated. 
Disfigured.
Defeated.
By the abomination.

He hadn't even terminated the serpent and abomination himself. Fire Eyes had. Saving his life in the process.
Certainly, she would never had been able to take them in a straight fight, but she had killed them both when he had been effectively useless and clearly out of the fight.

Still, he could not fault her. She had acted correctly when it was needed and hadn't broken the rules of engagement. Otherwise, had he still been able to do battle, he would have had to kill her himself for interfering with his hunt.

The Elders and Arbitrators that had been called to inspect the scene had been doubtful of his claims at first, although none had outright denied his words and risk provoking him into a challenge. Fighting a deeply wounded opponent was dishonorable.

He was confident the Elder Physician was paranoid enough to keep surveillance even on her most secret and shameful experiments. He hoped it was so since it would provide all the evidence needed.

Hul'gkan limped out of the cursed room once the healer was done with his preliminary treatment and finished administering replacement fluids, nodding along at the firm indications on how to continue treating his shoulder so the muscle would heal correctly.

He wished for a stiff drink or ten to dull the pain but knew he would later need plenty of food and a lot of water in stead to replenish his energy and stimulate thwei regeneration. 
He was tired enough to actually look forward to the next few cycles of rest in order to heal properly. 
Normally, he despised idling.

He trilled for Fire Eyes to follow him before catching himself. Treating her as a pet now would be another stain on his honor. While it could be argued that the kill hadn't been solely hers, and thus not equivalent to passing a chiva, she had still saved his life and most importantly - spared him a dishonorable death. 
Hul'gkan knew he owed her much more respect. She had elevated herself well above a Trophy. How far up was still unclear.

The ooman followed anyway, he had insisted she receive treatment for her wounds before himself, to ensure the healer was thorough. 
He growled at the memory of her diagnostic. His failures extended to not protecting his former Trophy in addition to his capture and defeat. 

The abomination had broken her vow and Fire Eyes had suffered for his oversight, greed and arrogance.

His temporary dwelling was close by, he had taken the small residence for the duration of his stay here. A permanent, larger dwelling had been assigned to him in another settlement that belonged to his clan but he'd wished to be close to the Science building for the mating season since all the women worth pursuing which had an active interest in him were gathered there anyway.

Ironically, he'd gotten everything he'd ever wanted. 
Succeeded in his chiva and gained honor in addition to simply surviving, earned his own ship and solitary living space on the planet, mated some of the strongest and most intelligent women around and even had pups on the way.
Somehow, it was all hollow.

Walking away from the Sciences building with his head held high and trying to control his limp so that it was less noticeable as other warriors stared and muttered amongst each other made him itch for a fight.

Fire Eyes followed by his elbow on his left side, eyes held low as he had taught her, gaze darting up to him every few heartbeats as though expecting him to collapse again. 

He wanted to be angry at her. 
For taking his kills although they hadn't been his. 
For her submissive attitude and ignorance that she was no longer a mere Trophy.
For looking so hurt and dejected and yet still showing concern for him.
For saving his worthless hide.

But he couldn't.

They reached his small abode, hidden between an outcropping of small trees and he impatiently waved over the access code. The moment he was inside, his limp came back fully and he caught himself on the lobby wall. 

That damned abomination had robbed him of all his hard-won honor.
He punched the rough hewn stone he was leaning against, cracking it with the force of his fury and splitting open his knuckles. 

His roar was long and rough and less satisfying than he had wanted it to be.

Hul'gkan stumbled to the nearest rest surface, a high-backed leather couch, and slumped on it on his front tiredly. The bed would have probably been better but he'd only made it this far on willpower alone. 
He couldn't move another step even if he wanted to.

Blinking slowly at the square heat of day coming through the front entrance, he saw the little ooman's slight form hesitating just at the threshold. Her face had recovered more of its natural roundness in stead of that horrible swelling from before.

<<Come inside, ooman.>> he grunted as his vision blurred. He'd lost enough blood that the healing gel was starting to make him drowsy.

A stray concern that she might kill him in his sleep passed through his mind but was quickly discarded. She would not have helped release him if she'd wanted him dead. Fire Eyes could have easily used the ki'cti-pa or knife to stab him through, weakened and trapped as he was.

Another shame to add to his growing pile of dishonorable deeds, not only had he been indirectly saved by a primitive, but also spared when she'd had the power and opportunity to end him. 
He briefly pondered how primitives, oomans included, were capable of enduring captivity as aseigan and pets. He'd always found the trait demeaning, a weakness and a clear indication that they deserved the fate, earning honor only through serving their betters.

Having been temporarily restrained himself, he found the concept despicable. How did they not fight back?

<<Me human name not.>> she grumbled, interrupting his scattered thoughts.

To think, this is what it took to finally get her to speak to him again.
Hul'gkan rumbled out a fading laugh, clutching his side. He had many bruises and hairline fractures from the numerous impacts he'd endured everywhere on his body.

Even surly, he found the sound of her voice pleasant and reassuring. 
Why had he thought it obnoxiously high pitched before? He was too tired to remember.

<<Well done, little Fire Eyes...>> he trailed off as the unrelenting waves of unconsciousness the magnitude of which only the deep sleep of healing could bring overtook all his senses.