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The devil you know

Chapter Text

It was an unusually warm early September afternoon. The heat of summer still lingered in the air and on her skin as Allison carefully pulled herself up the narrow ledge. 
There was a Cedar Waxwing family living in the trees not too far away from the main hiking trail.

She huffed quietly and crawled on the forest floor as stealthily as she could, sweat beading at her temple.
Little flyway hairs had escaped the tight bun under her cap and stuck to her flushed skin, tickling the sides of her face.

She didn't worry about getting lost. She'd been exploring the forest for a long time - every other weekend for a couple of years now, when the weather was warm, Allison would drive the forty-odd minutes it took up to Mt. Seymour road to go hiking in the neighbouring area.
She'd strayed further North than usual this time, between Mt Elsay and Bishop near a small waterfall. Having the Friday off from her stuffy desk-job had really made a difference to her wandering time.

She'd always been the outdoors-y type and enjoyed the burn after serious physical activity.
If she didn't get to hike, she'd go play tennis or handball in a nearby court or do her more strenuous yoga poses at home (after thorough stretching of course).
Just like her doodles, it was more of a hobby than anything, but it helped her after a long day or week being stuck behind a desk.
 And she'd always been a bit of a loner.

The forest was still her favorite.
She looked forward to nightfall most, with a clear forecast she could fall asleep admiring the stars in solitude.

The little birds tweeted and chirped above her as she settled on a wide fallen treetrunk, laying her thick, puffy jacket down as a cushion and slipping her small sketchbook free from the backpack's outermost pocket.
The jacket might have been too much for daytime, but once night fell she would need it. It wasn't cold enough that she would need a fire, so she'd taken it along - as bulky as it was.

The evening light was perfect. She began sketching the waxwings as they puffed and groomed themselves before sleep. She wasn't a particularly good artist, she'd be the first to admit that - but repetition and a passion for watching fat little birds go on with their day had helped round up her skills - at least when it came to feathered subjects.

Bird-watching had been her mom's hobby. Their mother-daughter camping trips during summer were where she'd developed her love for hiking. 
After her mother's untimely death, Allison always kept a little notebook full of doodles.
Her mom had always laughed at Allie's silly sketches and  encouraged her to do more.

She was smudging a mistake over as shading with her pinkie when a sudden, strong gust of wind immediately followed by an earth tremor shook the trees and a yell startled her, making all the birds fly away.
Allison swore, she was in the middle of drawing one of them mid-yawn - their beaks looked deceptively small when shut but were comically large compared to their heads in reality

A donkey-like guffaw echoed from above, several other voices joining in, making a racket.

Damned tourists.

She'd been so focused on the birds she hadn't noticed the group of men that had trudged up several feet above her level on an even patch of rock. They must have come up the other side of the small incline, or through the ravine west of her. The sound of falling water and rustling leaves had been enough to muffle their steps.

She glanced over her shoulder. One of them had to have slipped and caused the others to laugh. She could see several figured helping a wobbly shape up.

So they were drunk too... Awesome.

Allison got up and dusted herself off, more out of frustration than a need to get clean. She shivered as the wind blew, yanking on the jacket. 

She'd have to find another place to spend the night, not in the mood to share space with a bunch of inhebrieted assholes.

"Helloooooo!" a masculine voice shouted from above. 
"Hey guuyyzz, I though you said -hic- no girls allowed!??" he continued, slurring.

"I'm just on my way." Allison said, raising her voice high enough to be heard. 

"Howdy, ma'am! We didn't know there was anyone else 'round here. Hope we didn't interrupt nothin'." another man with a thick southern american accent said as he neared the edge. It was getting darker by the minute, but Allison could see the glint of a rifle's nuzzle peeking up next to his shoulder.

Hunters then. A little early in the season, too close to the hiking trails to be any good at it.

Allison frowned.
"You out hunting?" 

"Yes ma'am, takin' out my boys to show 'em the ropes. A man should know how to procure his own meal, yeah?" the older man smiled.
The younger ones, his sons apparently, crowded around to stare at her. The drunkest and youngest one laid out on his belly, chin propped up on his hands and other two young men were flanking their father.

"Say, why don't you join us for dinner? We'll get the fire started," he kicked at the younger one, who scrambled up and disappeared -  presumable to start the fire " - put on some fresh meat to cook… have a drink?" he shook a half-empty bottle of vodka at her (probably not the first judging by the glassy-eyed stares). It was the dirt-cheap, better used for cleaning mildew kind.

Allison resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Something about the guy didn't sit right with her. He was too friendly.

"I appreciate the offer but I've got people waiting for me." she lied. She'd go to one of the nearby official campsites, or cross to the other side of the trail. 
Hell there were rumors the military had a base further up North, even they were a better alternative. 
Last month, she'd talked to some of the rangers she was friendly with who complaining about armed men in camo scaring the wildlife and putting up fences where they had no business being.

"Aw, don't be that way. They can come join us too. There's enough meat for everybody!" the man said and helped the oldest son heft up two gutted, skinned and partially cut hindquarters. One large, one smaller. Deer.

They'd killed a fawn and doe. 

It wasn't illegal, as long as you had a permit, but it was usually in bad taste to kill female deer, especially when they were breeding and so early in the season.

"You got a doe permit?" Allie blurted out and immediately regretted it at the man's sharp squint.

"You some kinda' ranger?" the oldest son asked, tone absolutely devoid of his father's chipper disposition.

She froze while the three men gave her dirty looks, illuminated slowly by the growing fire behind them. She could now see they were all armed.

"I'll just be on my way." Allison repeated, trying to sound uncaring as she turned and shuffled down the incline.

"Now wait just a diddly darn minute!" the older man shoved the carcasses back at his sons and slid over the ledge, expertly navigating the thorny ground even in the fading light.

"I don't want any trouble." Allie turned to face him, bracing a hand against the tree next to her to keep from slipping back.

The man took another step towards her, opening his mouth to say something else only to be interrupted by the most uearthly screech Allie had ever heard in her life. 
It was so strange and wrong, she could feel the hair at the nape of her neck stand on end.

The men looked as disturbed as her. 

They were all still while they listened, trying to hear where the awful sound was coming from, but the forest wasn't helping and whatever had made the horrible noise must have been moving too.

There was some distant rattling and another weird scheechy wail.

The wail trailed off and Allie could see everyone's shoulders lower in relief with hers once it stopped.

The group looked around, alert.
Some primal part of them recognizing the danger, for no one dared move or utter a word.
 
For a while nothing happened, Allie's heart thumped less and less loudly in her ears with every moment of silence.

The group of humans waited for another few minutes, heads swivelling every now and then to listen for strange noises.

Allie almost believed it was all over when a low hiss had them all hunching again.

The older man unslung his rifle from his back and checked the ammo then pulled the safety, muzzle carrefully pointed down but ready.
His sons copied his movements almost at the same time.

"Sammy, Cole, stick with Junior and keep watch. I did not like the sound of that one bit…" the older man said.
"Listen here missy, I think you're better off sticking around just in case. Name's Jeremiah by the by."

"A-Allison." she replied automatically.
"What the hell was that?"

"Ain't no deer, that's for sure." Sammy or Cole said. She assumed Junior was the teenager hiding behind his older brothers.

"A coyote?" Junior asked.

"You ever heard a fucking coyote hiss like that?" 

"Language, Samuel." Jeremiah snapped.

Sammuel, the broadest of the bunch, only grunted back his regret but Jeremiah was already walking away to the side, laying low by the fallen treetrunk she'd used as a bench just a few hours ago.

Allie took the opportunity to zip up her jacket and make sure the laces of her hiking boots were tied up properly, then she adjusted her backpack, thankful she'd packed light.

If she had to make a run for it, she could abandon it. Her small wallet, carkeys with a compass keychain, her PLB, a foldable pocketknife, her phone and a small flask of water were always on her person.

The wallet and keys were clipped safely to her belt and stuffed in her large pants pockets and the locator was hanging around her neck.
 
The pack had sunscreen, a map of the area, an extra set of underwear, socks and a shirt, a large thermos filled with tea, enough snacks to keep her going for two more days (if she rationed) - all carefully wrapped, a tiny first-aid kit and matches. 
The impermeable tarp rolled and pinned on top completed her gear. She'd taken it more as a precaution, the weather forecast was clear this weekend.

And of course, a few toiletries and a roll of toilet paper.
Never forget the toilet paper.

The pack also held her sketchbook and she remembered putting her library card in there too, she was supposed to pick up Gemma on the way back tomorrow.

Her neighbour and friend worked that weekend. If anything happened - Gemma was the only one who knew her whereabouts... although… Allie had never mentioned straying so far from her usual hikes.

She regretted not taking her moms old flaregun. She might have been able to use it as a distraction at the very least.

Jeremiah was silent where he lay low.
Allie took the chance to shift away, trying not to rustle any of the fallen leaves. 
A twig broke under her boot and Jeremiah eyed her like she was stupid.

"Listen-" he started.

There was another low hiss and a rustle in the distance and Allie's head whipped around to stare into the forest. The sound had come from their other side. As if whatever it was had circled them.

The fire threw strange shadows over the younger men. The crackle and pop of the logs and the distant spray of the waterfall were the only sounds except for their combined panicked breathing.

Strange. Even at night the forest carried the sounds of its inhabitants. Something had spooked all the animals away.

Jeremiah noisily got up and turned to face the faded hissing as Junior climbed down. Jeremiah grumbled at his youngest but patted him on the shoulder in an unexpected show of paternal care.

"You two stay up there and keep watch, ya hear? I'll go take a look. Junior, you stick with the lady." Jeremiah ordered. The other two brought their rifles up but Junior made to grab at his father.

"Pa, are you sure you should go in alone? Maybe we should stick together, call for help..." the boy pleaded.
Up close Allie could see how young he really was, couldn't have been more than sixteen.

Jeremiah shook his head. "No cell reception out here." he said, not even bothering to check his phone. It was true though, Allie had wanted to send Gemma a picture of a pretty flower in the morning but there was no signal.

"I could send an SOS…" Allie said while fumbling for her PLB.

Jeremiah, who had walked up to her while she fished for the little device stuffed down the front of her shirt, snatched it out of her hands, pulling on the string and her along with it.

"Hey!" Allison shouted, trying to take it back.
Jeremiah's other hand flashed silver and the taunt cord was cut away from her. Then he pushed her away by the shoulder and she fell on her ass, probably bruising it.
"What the hell!? Give it back!"

"Lets not get hasty now. No need to stir up a fuss for some strange sounds. Promise I'll give this back in the mornin' hon. When we're far away." he cooed at her.

"Pa, I don't think…" 

"Shut it. We already got enough warnings. You wanna get me arrested?" Jeremiah snapped at Junior while inspecting the device in the weak, flickering firelight.

"Plus, it don't even work. Look. Dead as a doornail." he turned the display towards her as she pushed herself back up.
Allie's mouth hung dumbly open as she saw for herself.

"Impossible! It's good for at least five years and I only had it for two. I never had to use it before and it was fine this morning!" Allie made another grab for the locator. Jeremiah let her take it, making a dismissive shooing motion with his hand.


"You city folk and your expensive toys. Think you're better than us, huh?"

"What does that have to do with anything? Are we just gonna sit here and wait for Bigfoot to eat us?" Allie screeched. 
She stuffed the PLB into her pocket and checked her phone. 
It was dead too.
Shit.

Jeremiah cackled and his sons tentatively joined in. 
"Bigfoot, she says! Ha! How bout it boys? Think killing it will make us famous?" 

Allie mouthed some choice swears while Jeremiah continued ahead, rifle at the ready. Junior sidled up to her, surreptitiously checking his own phone while his old man wasn't paying attention. His wouldn't turn on no matter how long he pressed the on/off button, just like hers.

The other two young men stood back to back, keeping a careful eye on the forest on both sides.

"We need to get out of here." she whispered at Junior.
The boy shook his head and unslung his own rifle. She could see a pistol holster hanging at his belt. How many weapons did these guys even have?
"No ma'am, we got a good spot here and enough ammo to kill three bears twice over." he muttered back, sounding as though he was trying to convince himself more than her.

"Oy, the heck do you reckon this is?" Jeremiah yelled from where he was crouching at a thick tree's roots.

Allison picked her way across to him, Junior close enough on her heels that he bumped into her when she stopped.

Jeremiah was poking a stick into something goopy. Strings of clear, sticky fluid stretching out as he pulled it up.

"Is that… snot?" Allison asked.

"Awful lot of it too." Jeremiah pointed around where more goop had pooled.
He poked the leaves with his stick more and grumbled. "Did any y'all throw burning coal out here?" he turned to eye his other two sons dubiously, who shook their heads in unison.

There was a soft plink and a hissing noise. Something yellow-green had landed on Junior's shoulder where he was crouching by his father.
Not one second later he was howling in pain, struggling to take his thick leather jacket off.
"Getitoffgetitoff!!" he wailed as he threw the garment away.

Jeremiah was struggling with him, yelling at him to sit still while the boy sobbed.

Allie backed away and her pack hit another tree behind her. 
Something wet dripped on her cap.
She reflexively reached up to touch it and sighed in relief when she saw that it was just the clear snot. 

Then she made the mistake of looking up.

Allison's scream caught in her throat.
Her mind whirled with denial at the enormity of the thing.

Way up in the canopy, a dark, skeletal shiny shape hung from the branches. She could see the light from the fire dance over its slimy looking skin.

It was slim, but long.
The head was a weird banana shape and there were tubes coming out of its back.
It had no eyes.

The tail was wrapped tightly around a branch while what looked like hands and feet were braced against other branches on spindly limbs.

There was something goopy and clear hanging from what could only be the mouth and there were two long yellow-green slashes and a couple if punctures marring its side over where ribs on a human would be.

It took her a second to take everything in and the only thing her stupid brain could come up with in response was 'That's not Bigfoot.' (Or Yeti, or the Abominable Snowman... or hell - even Mothman)

Her mouth started moving on its own to voice the very thought but all that came out was a wheezy "That-"

She hadn't noticed the other two had stopped struggling, staring up just as another drop of yellow fell from its side.

Allie scrambled away before the blood (for what else could it be?) hit the ground and hissed as it ate the leaves. (Was that acid? How did it bleed acid?!)
 
At the same time the creature screeched and dropped, partially landing on Jeremiah and slashing at her backpack as she tried to run. 
The older man screamed in pain as his son called for his father and the other two shouted at him to get out of their shots.

Allison hit the clasp over her chest and slipped free of the straps, leaving the creature to shred the pack to pieces and throw the contents about like confetti.

She stumbled over a root and crawled on all fours, dropping her phone in the process.
 
The black thing screeched again as shots rang out and Allison dived to the side behind a thick trunk, afraid of getting nailed by accident.

She covered her ears when the inhuman screams were joined by very human ones that sounded a lot like Jeremiah had gotten the same treatment her pack had.

Allison felt the bitter taste of bile come up her throat and swallowed back what remained of her lunch. Getting sick now was a fast way to die.

The gunshots stopped and she steeled herself to take a peek.

Jeremiah had stopped screaming and lay in a heap by the roots. The creature was keeping Junior between it and his brothers while they were hurriedly reloading.
Junior's arms trembled as he pointed his empty rifle at it and fruitlessly pulled the trigger.
The gun clicked repeatedly, he was out of ammo.

The monster crouched. Allison's hands crept over the uneven ground and before she knew what she was doing, she'd thrown a fist-sized rock at the things back.
It hit it at the top of its banana head and Allie saw it pause then slowly turn towards her.

She was frozen on the spot as the creature leaped back towards her and whipped its tail at Junior in the process, making him gurgle a scream.
It didn't get far. Sammy and Cole had reloaded and shot it in the back.
Yellow sprayed out of it as it screeched again and darted to the side, zig-zagging over the forest floor then effortlessly climbing a sturdy tree before Allie had time to will her feet to move.

The young men kept firing at it as it went up, missing most of the shots.

The monster disappeared in the dark canopy as if by magic.
Cole and Sammy were reloading their rifles again, keeping their eyes trained above them for any movement.

Allie crawled over to where Junior had been knocked back. 
He was still breathing. Barely.

There was a gaping slash opening the flesh of his belly up from his left hipbone all the way to his right pectoral. Allie tried to focus on his face and not the entrails slipping out.
He was babbling something but it was too quiet for her to hear.

Feeling like scum, she reached for his belt and slowly unclipped the pistol from its holster, taking the safety off. It was heavier than it looked.

Before she could retreat, his hand shot out and grabbed her free one. He weakly spat out blood and whimpered "Please…"

Allie couldn't understand the rest of his words and the sudden screaming caught her attention, making her wrench her hand away from the dying boy.

The monster had come back, creeping low on the ground and taking Cole's feet out from under him. 
Sammy shot at it, screaming, while it slashed his brother's throat only to leap on him next as his rifle clicked empty.

Allie watched in horror as the creature pinned the man down and opened its mouth full of crystaline teeth only for a long tongue full of more teeth to come out and puncture his forehead like it was butter.
She didn't even have presence of mind to bring up the pistol. Just stood there and watched like an idiot.

The dark thing huffed. Its body was riddled with yellow wounds, but it was by no means down.

It crawled toward her and Allie's body finally caught up. She sprung into a a dead run, sidestepping two reedy trees growing closely together in a 'V' shape and dropping the gun as her shoulder hit one. She could hear the thing come after her on all fours.

It was faster than her.

Allison kept running anyway, grabbing onto a tree to swing herself out of the way just as the thing made a jump for her. She swore she could feel the wind from its claws whistle by her head as she turned herself around.

It fell in a heap and Allie twisted out of the way of a clumsy strike from its tail, the tip catching on her puffy jacket and ripping into it with ease.
It could have gutted her like it did Junior…

The creature hissed.
Allie didn't know if these thing could even get tired,  but it looked like it was struggling to breathe.
She was pretty winded herself.

It gathered its limbs under it and Allie could tell by now it was preparing to leap.

She turned and dove between the twin trunks that had grown together, tripping over something that clatterd in front of her and falling face-first to eat some dirt. 
She turned around, she could hear Junior wheezing a few feet away.

The tubes on the monster's back were too wide to fit through the small gap, though its shoulders were narrow enough.

It huffed tiredly again, and pushed the thin treetrunks away with its spindly hands. They bent and cracked and the thing crawled towards her.

Allie scrambled on all fours. 

Her hand fell onto something cold and metallic.

She brought the gun up, aiming at its head and emptied the clip.

The pistol clicked repeatedly in her shaky hand.

The creature hissed and advanced once more, she'd pissed it off more than anything.

There were a few measly yellow scratches on its head.
The bullets had merely grazed the dark skin.

Allie whimpered and closed her eyes.

There was a soft snickt and the hiss of acid blood hitting the forest floor again. That sound would stay with her forever.

Allie opened her eyes just as the monster's head slid from its neck falling to her right, while the body slid to her left with a muted, heavy thump.

She backed away from the spreading pool of acid and her eyes caught a flickering right next to the elongated head.

Allison's gaze slowly trailed up the strange armored shins that were materializing before her eyes.

She caught a glimpse of metal sheeted skirt like a gladiator's (and were those fishnets?) a muscled torso and another monster head clipped on a thick metal belt before her eyes fixed on the giant menacing mask with a high, domed forehead and the long dark spikes that might have been hair if a follicle were size of both her thumbs put together.

The man (was it a man?) was huge. 
Broad and tall. 
Close to seven feet with biceps the size of her thighs, sculped abdomen and chest covered in that strange skimpy mesh slashed with six fresh looking scars cutting most of his front open diagonally and puckered little circles running along his exposed arm and thigh. 
His skin looked strange too. 

The man clicked and she almost jumped out of her skin.

Her overworked brain wouldn't quit - no man, no human anyway, sounded like that.

Chapter Text

Hul'gkan had almost lost the trail.

The whole trial had been a mess from start to finish.

The blasted oomans who'd survived the serpent attack had attempted to capture him and he'd been forced to deal with them before finishing his chiva.

He and his hunt brothers had been sent on this backwater planet the oomans called home to resolve their meddling with ancient ritual grounds. 

Elder Iktaha'rg, his former teacher, one of the Wardens of this planet and the observer of this chiva, had suggested he and three other Youngbloods prove themselves and solve a potential outbreak of serpents.

The foolish oomans had found remnants of the ancient pyramid under these mountains and had fallen victim to the last surviving serpent eggs inside it. 
Elder Iktaha'rg had been keeping an eye on their findings and had called for the chiva just before the serpents had a chance to reach z'skvy-de.

He and his hunt brothers (if he could even call them that after their many mistakes) were selected and immediately sent from the Jag'd'dja atoll they were stationed at. The short journey from the clan mothership had been spent in meditation by him and excited training by the others.

They were all dead now. The chiva was good at weeding out the weak that way.
If only he'd been allowed to go with Thei'dteinou several spans ago as he was supposed to… he wouldn't have had to deal with these selfish idiots failing.

 He couldn't get ahead of himself just yet, though. He had to stay smart. Find the last kainde amedha and end it. Earn not one, but two th'syra for his collection. 

Two of his allied hunters had killed a serpent each - one ended up killed by his prey, the other stabbed by a third serpent that had been cleverly hiding above them in the poorly constructed ooman ventilation system. 
The third hunter had simply been gutted by their escaped prey, only managing to score its side.

Hul'gkan did not regret their deaths. The fools had left him behind to deal with his own prey in adition to a group of armed oomans. He had succeeded against even bigger odds, despite the others underestimating him for his smaller stature. He was content.

Hul'gkan had been forced to remotely activate one of his dead comrades gauntlets, which had triggered the others, to clean up the mess left behind and bury any evidence of yaut'ja presence quickly.
The resulting energy wave should have been enough to knock out and corrupt any other primitive storage technology, in case anyone had escaped the underground facility.

The explosion had also flushed out his remaining prey. 
He had chased and fought it again before more of the pauk-de apes came to muck things up again, shooting at him and the serpent, attempting to capture them both. As if they had even a fraction of a chance.

The kiande amedha had slipped his grasp while he was distracted, but not before he had scored a deep wound in its side. 
Unlike his dead hunt-brother, he had stabbed it almost fully through rather than just scratch it. Its screech had been delightful.

Dealing with the oomans had taken more time than he had expected and he hadn't even had time to pause and take a trophy or two (he was allowed, Elder had said, as long as the oomans striked first and fought passably well).

Hul'gkan had lingered only long enough to seal his most dire wounds, the gouges on his chest from the hardmeat and some punctures from the ooman weapons, then immediately resumed tracking.
He would have to take care of his precious armor later. Perhaps if he brought her kiande amedha teeth he could persuade his bearer to upgrade it for him.

This serpent must have been smarter than the others, for it had managed to hide traces of its passing enough so that Hul'gkan had been compelled to backtrack twice.

It was fortunate the Black Hunter had seen fit to throw him a boon in the form of gunshots echoing distantly in the forest.
The kiande amedha must have decided to hunt for itself and regain strength - and its pyode prey was fighting back.

The Youngblood raced through the thick dto, leaping from tree to tree to make up the distance faster, cycling through vision modes untill he saw the bloom of fire and scented the coppery tang of ooman blood in the air.

He descended, bypassing the dead oomans and approaching silently from the side while the last survivor uselessly wasted its projectile weapon on the serpents tough forehead.
He sliced the head clean off with a decisive strike, aggrieved that he could not claim the kill fully. 
The oomans had done considerable damage to his quarry before they had been picked off.

Perhaps he would harvest some if the other bones, the tail maybe, and some of the burning thwei for his Blooding. Definitely the teeth and claws.

The last ooman stared up at him dumbly, its strange helmet obscuring most of its features with the wide, curved brim. He did not bother scanning it, it was obviously unarmed since it hadn't used anything else to defend itself from the serpent.

Hul'gkan heard the pitiful whimpers of one of the soft things behind him. He turned from the trembling ooman and crouched over another survivor.
It seemed young and in obvious pain. 
It had fought well enough, he supposed. Lasted longer than his weakest hunt bothers from the looks of it, but had no way to end itself.

Hul'gkan had won his chiva, he would receive the marking when the Elder came to judge his deeds. He could afford a small gesture to ease the suffering of another.
The pup was done for either way. Not even yaut'ja medicine could save it now.
Hul'gkan shook his blades free of any remaining serpent blood and sunk them in the pups head. Its death was instant. Painless.

<<H'chack.>> he said. 

There was another soft sound behind him. The remaining ooman's breath left it all at once with a pathetic little whine of distress.

<<What do you say, Elder?>> he then asked, tone carefully neutral.

The large shape of Elder Iktaha'rg shifted in his peripheral and de-cloaked.
He would not admit to noticing the old hunter so late and swore to himself to be more mindful in the future. 
No doubt this was the Elder's intention all along, but he would not give his old mentor the satisfaction of knowing just how much he'd had Hul'gkan fooled. 

<<A small honor you have given, Youngblood.>> the Elder said. <<May it be repayed onto you on your last hunt, if it turns sour.>>

<<None shall take my life but myself, Elder. >> he boasted. He was certain of it too, when his dhi'ki-de was near, he would make damn sure to send himself to Cetanu's door - as fitting of a true sain'ja.
<<And I am a Youngblood no longer.>> he corrected, gesturing at the serpent head strapped to his utility belt and turning towards the larger warrior to show off. 
He hadn't had a chance to properly clean it yet and had used a special mesh and sealant gel to be certain none of the acid dripped on him.
<<Will you honor me with the marking of our clan, Elder?>>

Iktaha'rg clicked in amusement as he bent to slowly cut a digit off the serpent, careful not to spill any of the toxic thwei on his own skin.
Hul'gkan tilted his head curiously.

<<All in due time.>> the Elder hummed at the back of his throat, barely suppressing more laughter.

<<Have I offended or failed in some way?>> Hul'gkan asked impatiently. He knew too well of the old warrior's bad habit of teasing. 
He'd been on the receiving end of these so called jokes plenty of times before and had grown tolerant of his former teacher's strange moods. 

<<No.>> Iktaha'rg clicked again while examining the serpent digit as though it were an object of great interest. Hul'gkan's gaze still drew to the bony finger, despite knowing it was exactly what the other yaut'ja wanted. 
Sometimes it was better to simply wait for the old man to have his fun. 
The chiva was won. Not even Iktaha'rg's paltry jokes could stall his right to officially join the clan as a sain'ja forever. 

Hul'gkan had been denied a chiva multiple times before, the latest instance a direct result of his teacher's meddling. 
For a long time he had been resentful. He should have known the sly Elder had wanted to test him more than the others and had waited for an opportunity to allow his best student to prove himself beyond all doubt.

Now he had won a particularly difficult challenge, defeating not only the kiande amedha, but trained and armed oomans - a notoriously clever prey, whereas his unworthy hunt brothers had died, their names lost to obscurity beneath ruins.

And he'd hidden all the discovered proof of yaut'ja presence on this planet in the process - practically by himself. A more than worthy mission even for a Blooded warrior.

<<Then why…>> he started forcefully once his deliberation was done. He was more than worthy according to the code of honor.

<<Won't you finish your kv'var first?>> the Elder asked with another series of clicks, a rumbling chuckle humming deep in his wide chest.

The young warrior remained confused for another second before his tresses whipped about his shoulders as he turned to look at the last surviving ooman.

It was gone.

Hul'gkan roared his frustration, knowing the soft-meat would hear him - wanting it to fear him for the slight.
He could not allow any witnesses to walk away. It was forbidden.

He managed not to shout or swear at Iktaha'rg in anger. It would not end well for him. 

The ooman would regret delaying his Blooding.

----------

Allison had been gaping at the strange new creature as it regarded the dead monster.


Her eyes remained glued to it when it turned and walked over to Junior. 
She could only watch as it killed him, bile rising in her throat at the sickening crunch of bone as the thing jerked its blade in the poor boy's forehead.

At least it was quick.

It was then that another shape flickered into being. 
Allison felt her stomach drop somewhere in the vicinity of her ass - this one was even bigger and fiercer looking than the first one. With graying spikes coming out of his shoulders, elbows and along his arms and legs in addition to the long ones growing from his head - he made for an imposing figure.
This one had a multitude of elaborate decorations on his tubular hair that shined and twinkled in the low light whereas the first one had none.

There was something wrong with their feet too, but it was too dark to really tell.

Was this some weird monster-hunting party? Did Big Dad bring his kid out for some fun? Was the black thing some kind of game?

Her head hurt.
And her ass and knees and scraped palms. She wished she was back home in bed or cuddling Pumpkin at the window seat with a nice book, or taking a long hot bubble-bath with a  glass of wine or bothering Gemma with more nerdy shit. Anywhere but here.

Allison shook her head as the idea took root.
The things weren't even looking at her. She'd been ignored this whole time and they were busy chittering and growling at each other now. 

The stars and moon provided enough light for her to see by.
She was painfully aware of her surroundings as she took her first tentative step back. Then another one, and another - bolder. 
She turned on her toes on a bit of soft ground, focusing on the forest floor to avoid crunching leaves or stepping on twigs.
Her heart was beating so loudly in her ears she was half afraid they could hear it too.

Allie scuttled over the cold ground, not looking back. 
She got further and further away from the strange creatures, sliding down inclines while holding onto thick clumps of bushes, hurrying as much as she dared towards the sounds of rushing water.

Maybe she could lose them by crossing the river - then, if she went downstream enough, she'd probably find other people.
Once she found people, maybe they'd just leave her alone.
The instinct to find a large group and get lost in the herd was beating against her bones like the drums of an ancient song.

The prospect of bringing two huge, dangerous not-man things into a camp of innocents wasn't as important to her in the moment as surviving. 
Somewhere at the back of her mind she knew it was selfish. Maybe even cruel.
It didn't matter.
All she cared about now was herself.

The sudden angry souding roar had her kicking up dirt in her haste to run. 
She hadn't sprinted this hard since the handball regionals in highschool and terror was a hell of a motivator to go even faster.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

So stupid of her to think she could get away so easily.

She sobbed as she clipped a tree, no longer careful where she stepped and fell down an incline, tucking herself into a ball at the last moment.

She kept going for what felt like forever. Hitting rocks that dug into her sides and back painfully, getting scratched and bruised to hell.

She finally snagged a thorny bush that helped her slow down enough that she could stop.

She was dizzy. Everything hurt.

She lay there, face to the ground as she caught her breath.  
Tested her fingers and toes. 
Flexed the muscles of her arms and legs to check that nothing was broken.
 
She turned on her back, heaving a deep sigh that only hurt a little. 
She'd cracked a rib falling like that when she was young. It had hurt a lot worse. She'd been lucky this time.

There were tears stinging the corners of her eyes and a scream was working its way up her throat. This was all so fucked up, it barely felt real.

She choked back another sob. She needed to be silent.

Allison groaned as she slowly got up on shaky legs and hung onto the rough bark of a nearby tree, trying to calm her breathing  - counting the seconds on the inhale and exhaling a little bit longer. She did so for the span of a few breaths until she was reasonably certain she wouldn't burst into hysteria, then looked behind her. 

She'd left a trail of disturbed earth and broken branches even she could follow and she'd never hunted a day in her life.
She was sure they could find her - everything about these things screamed top of the food-chain, best-of-the-best hunters. They could probably cover more ground running since they were so much taller and looked like the fucking Hulk with spikes and pewter masks.

Allison tried to think through the haze of fear, trying to come up with something, anything, that would buy her more time.
Her hand went up to scratch at her scalp - her hair was half-loose and tickling the back of her neck.


She took of her sweaty cap off, damp, dirty hair falling around her shoulders - then had an idea.

Allie felt around for a rock to wrap the cap around in and with all her might threw it in the opposite direction she was headed for. Then she tromped around, leaving broken branches and footprints that pointed in several directions.

Once that was done, she picked her way along the forest floor again, stepping on rocks and fallen treetrunks wherever she could, trying not to leave fresh footprints or break any thin branches to give her away.

When she was far enough, she broke out running again, the sound of water like a beacon.

----------

Hul'gkan grumbled under his face-plate as he tracked the blasted ape.
He should have netted it when he'd had the chance.

It had looked so useless and dumb, frozen to the spot in fear. So unworthy of notice he hadn't even bothered to keep it in his sightlines - assuming such a weak, clumsy creature would surely draw attention to itself if it moved.
The other oomans he'd killed hadn't been nearly as stealthy and had simply come out shooting the moment they were close.

He examined his surroundings for clues. He'd found a general direction and quietly padded after the minute tracks left behind. The little thing had been clever enough not to leave too many, but its caution wasn't perfect - it was clearly inexperienced.

He could sense Iktaha'rg lurking close, sometimes spotting the telltale glimmer of his cloaked form in the canopy. The Elder was enjoying his conundrum and as such had decided to follow the hunt rather than wait for the young warrior to finish.

Hul'gkan finally found the spot his roar had caught the little ape unaware, dirt and leaves left upturned as it had run for its life only to fall and roll downhill.

He followed the tracks. Sliding on his heels to where the primitive had crushed the most vegetation when it had invariably stopped falling.

Iktaha'rg landed near him, revealing himself and gesturing at Hul'gkan to continue his search while the Elder answered a call.
Strange to be disturbed during a chiva. Must have been important.

Hul'gkan clicked his glee at the mess of tracks. He wasn't far now.
He could tell the ooman had attempted to confuse him. It wouldn't work, there was the distinct smell of fear-sweat permeating the air.
He followed it only to find the useless damp textile helmet, discarded.

The young hunter tried to find more tracks, crouching low to the ground in an attempt to scent out a path if visual cues were missing. He cycled through the vision modes on his helmet but except for the mess behind him, he could find no other signs of the ooman's passing.
He almost wanted to send for his old hound, but then the hunt would be unfair. No honor would be gained with such an advantage.


Hul'gkan growled at his own failure. How could it simply disappear… he couldn't even pinpoint any sounds of movement due to the constant thrum of rushing water nearby...

He stood up straight and broke out into a run. 
How could he be so foolish as to fall for such an easy trick!
 
He cursed as he passed by a surprised Iktaha'rg, who sidestepped out of the way of the younger ones stampede while still conversing inside of his ornate helmet.
Hul'gkan's strong legs and feet tore at the ground, no longer concerned with keeping his presence hidden.
If the ooman crossed the river, he may lose it for good. 

A yaut'ja running at full speed was faster than some ooman vehicles, even with the trees as obstacles - and Hul'gkan was especially quick. All his life so far had been spent in training. In fighting oponents bigger and stronger than him.
He'd had to compensate for his stature with wit and swiftness. 

He knew he was being considered for the role of hult'ah on several clan-ships, provided he passed his chiva.
He would not let a failed kv'var stain his hard-earned reputation.
Hul'gkan growled low in his throat at the very thought. 

The rush of water was close to deafening. He understood the primitives intent, but its time had run out. Cleverness could only get one so far.

He saw movement ahead of him, his visor set to pick up color contrast and movement. He saw the ooman's stained yellow garment stand out, flashing between trees as it ran (pitifully slow).
He pivoted with a grunt, using a tree to swing left and scratching the bark off with his claws, and followed the soft thing to a small clearing where the dirt gave way to sediment and rocks. The roar of the waterfall was barely covering the sounds of his prey's labored breathing.

Hul'gkan slowed as he stepped away from the cover of trees.
The ooman had miscalculated. There was nowhere to cross the river and it stood, trembling and afraid, on a rocky ledge just above where the water broke and fell in a steady torrent.

It was a perfect warm target surrounded by cool mist.
He clicked in amusement. It had been a worthy enough hunt. Its skull would join his other, lesser trophies together with the serpent's head. He might even earn the regard of a female or two - although siring a pup probably wasn't within his prospects (or anyone else's) any time soon.

<<Sy'ua-de.>> he ordered.

The primitive stood frozen in fear again. Watching him with those big prey eyes, uncomprehending.

He'd forgotten these things didn't speak right.

He took a step forward.

The ape took another smaller step back and looked behind it.

Hul'gkan didn't want it accidentally falling and bashing its fragile head open. He initiated the language pack on his wristguard and spoke his command again.

----------

"Surrender." a robotic voice said. It had the same deep quality as the big thing did when it had growled at her, but no inflection. Strange to think it had been speaking to her in its own language.

Allison shook her head in denial, pebbles falling into nothing behind her as she shifted on her feet.
She had hoped to go further upriver, try and cross there but she'd heard thundering footsteps behind her and had simply run as fast as she could away from the sounds of pursuit.

Her legs and lungs were burning with fatigue whereas the giant beast wasn't even winded.
 This was all so unfair! When the hell did her peaceful hike turn into a bad horror movie?!

 The thing took another step towards her, the wide eyes of the mask flashing green. Then another step when it saw her stay still.

Allison swallowed thickly at the blades sliding out of its metallic gauntlet.

She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it would kill her when it got close enough to reach her. The sort of instinctive certainty that made her next action feel less crazy.

If she was going to die, she might as well choose it.
A bitter little part of her wanted to do it out of spite too.

Allie took a deep breath, turned, and jumped.

----------

Hul'gkan readied his blades. The little primitive had offered good sport. It deserved a swift and painless death. He would take the head and let the body be claimed by the wilderness.

He did not expect it to look so calm. 
Some of the warriors he'd ended before the serpent escaped him had even attempted to beg for their lives.
In a way, it was admirable that this one would face its death in such a dignified manner. It seemed oomans were as surprising and varied as the rumors had claimed.

His regard faded when he saw it turn its back to him.

Such disrespect! he thought, offended. 

And then it leapt off the ledge.

Hul'gkan blinked in surprise behind his helmet.
Heard the annoying clicking laugh behind him and rushed to the rocky ledge.

The cold mist and water had covered any trace.

The laughter grew deeper which only spurred him on.
He would not let it escape him. Not now! Not when it had been in his grasp!

Hul'gkan roared in frustration and followed his prey, taking momentary satisfaction in his teacher's disbelieving growl.

Chapter Text

Allison hit the water like a stone. She'd rolled up into a tight ball as she fell through the cold vapors, clenching her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut.

The fall was surprisingly short but the impact still stunned her, arms and legs splaying out as she flailed in the water.
The current was so strong it pulled her under while she struggled. She couldn't tell which way was up, couldn't see, couldn't breathe and dared not open her mouth. 
Some air escaped through her nose as she tried to push out the water.

Miraculously, she didn't clip any big rocks or hit the bottom.

She let herself be carried by the current untill it abated enough that she could let herself float topside.

Barely twenty seconds after going in (although it had felt like much longer), her head finally broke the surface - lungs burning, gasping for air and coughing as water splashed in her face making her swallow most of it.

She flailed some more, trying to make it to the left-side bank, hoping she'd lost the big creatures behind on the other side.

Allison dragged herself up the muddy bank, using a stray piece of splintered wood to dig in and pull herself out. She tore a nail on the rocks but the pain hardly registered.
Her teeth were chattering, she was so cold there was barely any blood oozing out from her tiny wound.

She knew she needed to get out of her sopping wet clothes, she'd lost her jacket somewhere along the way too.
That was probably a good thing since it would only have dragged her down.
The downside was that her PLB had been lost with it. There was no chance of checking if it was working again to call for help. Her phone was long gone too. And her little flask of water.

She was so tired and cold her eyes were closing as she lay in the mud. 
But she knew if she slept it would be for the last time.

So she crawled on her front out of the mud and onto the sandy bank like some primordial fish using her hands and knees, collapsing facedown into smooth pebbles to cough up more water and empty her stomach.

She heaved untill she tasted bile and the violent cramps in her belly finally subsided.

Allison took another deep breath and got her knees under her, pushing herself up and standing on jelly legs.

She peeled off her shirt and the cami as she wobbled up the bank, away from the river and into the forest once more.
She was caked in mud from head to toe with or without clothes.

Her eyes had adjusted enough to the darkness that the moon's weak light and the spattering of stars was enough to help her spot a hollowed out old treetrunk.

She took off the rest off her clothes and wrung them out then hung them on some branches and left her boots out on a rock.


She kept the clip with her wallet and keys with her. The last pieces of her belongings that had survived the ordeal only because they were tied to her thick cargo pants by a little metal chain and secured in one of the larger pockets.
If she made it through the night and got home they deserved a good review online, she thought idly. Strong material. Trusty pockets. Something like that.

She had enough energy to gather some dry leaves and moss to toss in the hollow trunk, then crawled in and balled herself up to conserve warmth. She hadn't taken off her wet underwear - some part of her refusing to turn completely feral.

She was exhausted. If that creep found her she'd be a sitting duck but walking was impossible in her current state.

As soon as she closed her eyes she was out. 

----------

When morning came, Allison was snoring.
A persistent fly kept trying to land on her face and she finally roused after slapping herself silly.
She squinted in the light and saw little birds chirping and drinking from a shallow pool of water just ahead of her.

Cedar Waxwings.

Allie snorted. She knew it wasn't their fault, but she'd never be able to look at this particular species of birds without associating them with the worst night of her life.

She was going to take a nice long break from hiking, camping and being in nature in general for a good long while. If she felt the need for fresh air she'd go to the goddamn dog park.
No way in hell was she risking anything like this clusterfuck ever again.

She groggily got up and out of her tiny hollow, leaves and moss stuck in her disgustingly dirty and stinky hair. There was even a bigish leaf in her underwear. Ick.

How she wished for her clean change of clothes. 
Although, on second thought they were probably shredded to little pieces.

She shuddered and picked up her now dry old clothes. They were crusty with mud and she shook them out before pulling them on, wincing at every bruise and scrape.
Her boots were still a little moist but she wouldn't risk walking through the forest without them.

Finger-combing her hair proved more of a hassle than  she had expected, so she just tied up the clump with her dirty band and clipped her wallet and keys safely on belt-loop again.

She was very thirsty but had no clean water available. Her stomach rumbled ominously at the memory of all the gross dark water she'd vomited last night.

She was still tired too, although the solid three or four hours of sleep had done her good, the uncomfortable position she'd been laying in left her with a crick in her neck and a sore everything.

Allison lightly slapped her cheeks to focus. She wouldn't die of dehydration yet, she wasn't cold and nodding off anymore. All she had to do was keep going downstream and get to one of the big campsites. She thought she recognized a couple of rock formations on this side of the river, hopefully someone would give her a ride back to Mt. Seymour where she'd parked her car.
 
It would take her the better part of the day and she couldn't start calling for help, she was sure those things were still out there. 

In fact, it was best she got moving in case they were searching along the river.

----------

Hul'gkan snapped another search command at his hound.

After shamefully fishing himself out of the turbulent river he had attempted to find signs of his prey but the water had swallowed it completely.

Iktaha'rg had lost his mirth once the young warrior had resurfaced and accepted Hul'gkan's request that the old hunting hound be brought down.
The Elder clearly thought the ooman gone, but Hul'gkan was unconvinced. It had proven itself adept enough at surviving. 

He could feel it in his bones - his prey had gotten away -for now.

The hound, and later his armor, had been gifted to him by his bearer - an awu'asa s'he'ei of great mastery. Hul'gkan had never felt any shame in receiving the advantages of being his bearer's last-born.
The honored wei-ghe'h had been unable to conceive since him, a matter which grieved many yaut'ja women with increasing frequency in recent spans.

The hound grumbled in submission and set about sniffing the ground again. Its sense of smell was ten times stronger than that of a yaut'ja - who were the perfect hunters, attuned to every sense. 
It would find his prey, if it sniffed out enough clues to point him in the right direction.

Hul'gkan followed his pet uphill, there was nothing it could glean from the river, or the crash site, so he was having it retrace the primitive's steps to the beginning.

Iktaha'rg had disposed of the butchered ooman bodies and the unharvested parts of the hard-meat already but had left everything else untouched. The Elder watched, his stance pensive, as the hound pointed out every one of his prey's belongings to his master.
Hul'gkan dutifully gathered everything up and set about analyzing them once the hound had stopped searching and settled at his feet.

<<You truly believe your prey alive then?>> Iktaha'rg asked, rubbing at the skin of his throat under his collar where an old scar sometimes itched.
Hul'gkan had heard various re-tellings of that scar's history from third parties several times. None matched.

<<I can feel it, Elder.>> he answered respectfully without looking up from his task. He had already dismissed the textile garments as useless to him.

 Iktaha'rg rumbled deep in his chest, tapping a sharp claw on his muscular thigh.

<<Why do you ask?>> Hul'gkan found himself querying as he examined the foul-scented food-stuffs he'd unwrapped.
Pah! These primitives ate garbage!

<<There has been… a request.>> Iktaha'rg said. Something in the Elder's tone made Hul'gkan look up, interest piqued.
<<The Clan Leader relayed a message - a healthy, living female specimen, preferably strong and intelligent is required for testing.>>

Hul'gkan frowned under his helmet. What did that have to do with his prey?

As if reading his thoughts Iktaha'rg clicked a short laugh and shook his big head.
<<Don't you think your prey, provided she survived intact enough, would be a good specimen?>> he asked as Hul'gkan straightened.

Hul'gkan had not even thought of it as a 'her' untill now. The clothing had been too concealing to tell and he'd never bothered to scan her - another mistake he would not repeat.
 All the females he'd known were clever. Even if this particular one was only a pe-ghwie, it had a knack for escaping.

If deemed unworthy he could still use it to sharpen his hunting skills. Perhaps he could make use of it even after the tests were done - he would ask she survive the process... 

Yes, he would have to analyze the task further, make his own demands clear. 
Most hunters didn't bother mincing words - to their own detriment.
Hul'gkan had learned the power of misspoken words and unclear agreements from his clever bearer.

Bringing a requested prize back to the Homeworld after winning his chiva and a tricky kv'var would greatly increase his honor too.
It would be a pity not to mount another worthy skull on his wall but perhaps she would prove deserving of the sacrifice.

The young hunter hummed in consideration.

<<Tell me, Youngblood.>> Iktaha'rg teased again, making Hul'gkan growl and inciting his hound to raise its big bony head at the perceived danger.
<<What do you do when you cannot find where your prey has run off to?>>

Hul'gkan pushed more of the ooman's belongings aside, its communication device might have been useful, had it not been crushed and half melted beyond recovery by the acid thwei of the serpent, and picked up the tiny flat and heatless plastic square he'd been eyeing before the Elder interrupted his search. He cycled vision modes untill he could see the writing and the minute face inscribed on it.
He knew oomans were creatures of habit.

<<I find their hunting grounds and their lair.>> he said as the language pack automatically translated the dark scribbles to his eyeplate interface.

----------

Music blasted from her car's speakers as Allison drove home. She'd never been this happy to be alive before. It was true that near-death experiences changed ones outlook on life. 
In her case, she was now more convinced than ever that hunting was the most atrocious sport and was considering becoming a vegetarian.
She'd lucked out and found a rangers cabin around 4pm, the nice woman had given her water and some dry biscuits to munch on while she took Allie to her parking spot.

Explaining what had happened to her had felt a little wrong. Allison had told most of the truth - the part about falling in the river, being carried downstream and losing all her stuff, then sleeping in a hollowed out log - but had carefully avoided any mention of everything else.

She couldn't exactly tell the well-meaning ranger about the monsters in the forest. Allie barely believed herself.

She felt most guilty about Jeremiah and his sons. 
Sure, they might have been assholes and poachers but no one deserved to die like that. 

She had tried not to think too hard on anything before the river. She hadn't wanted to start bawling like a little kid in front of a stranger.

She wondered if she could even get therapy for this.

Allison passed the bridge and entered Vancouver through McGill street, she'd be late picking up Gemma but only by half an hour. 
Her phone would have been buzzing with messages if she'd still had it.

Passing by all the familiar places felt a little surreal, like she was dreaming. Like none of this was hers anymore.
It was all so… normal.

After her ordeal, normal was strange.

Allie parked in front of her favorite little library. It was where she'd met Gemma for the first time three years ago.
Neither of them had known they lived barely five feet across from each other in twin flats. 
It was later in that first week when Pumpkin, the old alley cat who Allison had befriended, jumped across the emergency escape stairs to Gemma's window sill as she was coming home from work.

The two women had become fast friends, co-parenting the fat old cat and sharing their evenings.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Gemma shrilled next to the passenger side just as Allison was unhooking her safety belt.
"Holy fucking shit, are you ok?!"

Gemma opened the door and got in, bombarding Allie with "You look like you got mauled by a bear! Did you get mauled by a bear? Why are you so crusty? Your poor hair!" before she had a chance to open her mouth.

For someone even more introverted and quiet than Allie herself, Gemma could be quite the chatterbox when she wanted to.

Allison grabbed her friend's hands as they were reaching for the bird's nest on her head.

"I'm okay, I just took a bad fall. Hey, can I use your phone?"

"Sure..."

Allison tapped in her team leader's number, Mark was a good man, he would understand her need for another day off and maybe even let her work from home on Tuesday. As a single dad he often had to take time off from work to take care of his young daughter. He'd handle Larry, the asshole manager, for her too if she asked.

Once she was done, she gave Gemma her phone back and drove them both home.

Not unexpectedly, Gemma followed her upstairs. 

As soon as the door closed behind them, her friend grabbed her shoulder to turn her around.

"Let me take a look at you. Jesus, you look like shit."

"Thanks."

"I'll draw up a bath, go… throw those clothes in the trash. You hungry?" Gemma asked as she flitted about Allison's small apartment, turning on the hot water to fill up her bathtub then  crossing to her small kitchen to look in her fridge. 

"Ravenous. But I think I need something light. Kind of barfed up all my insides last night." Allison said, feeling dizzy both with relief and hunger.

"Soup it is then."

She left Gemma to her task, tiredly peeling her crusty clothes off again and dumping them on the floor. She'd handle it later.

She paused to look at herself in the bathroom mirror. She really did look as though she'd been mauled by a bear.
There were scratches all over the hands and forearms. Her torso and back were basically a giant bruise.
Her legs hadn't escaped without their own share of scrapes and bruises either and her knees looked raw.

After disinfecting the flesh left over from her broken nail, she eased herself into the half-full bathtub, wincing with every inch of battered skin.
The soak was delicious, warming her up to the bones and loosening all the dirt on her. By the time she was done the water was brown. 
She'd washed her hair too, teasing out the clumps and even cutting off some of the unsalvageable parts. It'd look a little funky but she had thick hair like her mom, she'd cover it up.

Gemma helped her bandage the worst of the scrapes and apply a cooling gel to her back, hissing and tutting at her battered body like a mother hen. 

The soup was the best part of her evening. She had to pace herself even though all she wanted to do was gulp every drop down in one go. 

Gemma was uncharacteristically subdued, only talking about her day and all the mundane annoyances at work, her failed date from yesterday and pining over the new receptionist from the hotel across the street. Her name was Amber and she had 'the most beautiful smile'.
Gemma had always been a romantic.

How odd to think her friend had been going through all these normal, safe things while Allison had been running for her life.

"-ey. Earth to Allie!" Gemma snapped her fingers in front her face and Allison's eyes refocused.
"I've been trying to get you for a while. You were miles away…"

"I'm sorry." Allison ducked her head. "I was spacing out."

Gemma gathered up the blanket they were both cuddled under and grabbed her hands, careful of her bandaged finger and so, so gentle - as though expecting her to break.
"Honey… you still haven't said anything about what happened... And no more 'I fell' bullshit. I know you, you're too careful to let that happen."

"I-" something caught in her throat and Allie's face crumpled. She couldn't…

"It's t-true what I said about… falling but… there's more."
She swallowed thickly and looked into her friend's wide eyes.
"Y-esterday evening I was… I went off-course - up North. There were these men and…" her voice broke remembering their mangled bodies.

 "I-I'm sorry, I just… I can't t-talk about it r-right now."

The tears in Gemma's eyes spilled over and Allison found herself pulled into a tight hug. Her ribs protested but she  clung on like her life depended on it.

"I'm sorry, you don't have to talk about it. I'm just worried about you. I hate seeing you hurt."
Gemma's shoulders trembled as Allie pulled herself closer at her friend's gentle "Come here."

Allison's grip on her emotions finally slipped, safe in her friend's embrace she cried herself hoarse. 
It was ugly and loud and full of snot, but Gemma held onto her through it all, quietly shushing her and petting her still-damp and messy hair.
"Shhh-shhh it's okay, I've got you." she would say while gently rocking them both back and forth.

She cried and cried untill there were no more tears, both of them ended up with puffy eyelids and red noses. 
They laughed at each others supid faces and cleaned themselves up.

Gemma offered to stay the night but Allison knew her friend had an early morning so she insisted Gemma go back to her place and rest. 
Pumpkin had appeared, either drawn in by the racket or the smell of their left-overs and sat on his tail by the kitchen window. Maybe he'd keep her company tonight if she gave him some of his favorite salmon snacks.

Allison drew the fluffy feline in and wished Gemma goodnight. Then fed the old tomcat while petting his soft orange fur.

She tried watching the news, Pumpkin purring in her lap, to see if there was any mention of Jeremiah and his sons, but all that was reported was a car accident a little further up the map from where she'd almost died. 
An old couple and their son-in-law had skidded off the road due to an unexpected rockslide. 
She wondered if it had anything to do with that earthquake just before everything went to hell.

It was midnight by the time she was done puttering around the house and the cat ran ahead to her bed, coiling up like a little cinnamon roll before she even got under the covers.

----------

There was darkness and fire.

A hiss.

The slither of something wet.

The coppery scent of blood mixed with something wrong.

Little needle teeth shining in the firelight like crystals.

A big black maw opening wider and wider and wider as she screeched and ran.

The snapping of jaws at her heels.

The distinct sound of a body hitting the earth and the smell of chemical burns.

Clicking and growls. So close

A big domed helmet emerging from the night, shining with reflected starlight rushed her. Double blades speeding right at -

Allison woke choking back a scream. She had to be silent so they wouldn't hear. 

Her heart beat so fast she could hear nothing else as she clutched her pillow to her chest and bit into it. A broken little sob managed to escape anyway.

She was flushed with sweat, her feet tangled in the sheets, her body trembling like a leaf in the wind.
The cat was gone. Allison always left a window cracked open in case he wanted out, trusting the rusty bars at her windows and the general poor state of the old building she lived in to deter most thieves. 

Pumpking never liked being closed in, she and Gemma had both tried to make him and indoors cat but he always found some way to escape.
In the end they'd compromised and gotten him fixed, allowing him to come and go in their tiny apartments as he pleased. 

The nightstand radio read 1:37 AM. She tossed and turned, trying to fall back asleep but it was no use.
Giving up, Allison got out of bed and pulled on the first pair of clean jeans and shirt she found, shoved on her beaten old sneakers and headed for the stairs.

Thechnically it wasn't allowed, Mrs. Wan (the landlady) would be angry if she found out anyone went up to her secret garden, but sometimes Allie would go up to the roof and stare at the night sky. 
There wasn't much stargazing to be had, the light pollution didn't allow for much - it was why she went hiking whenever she could. 
She'd always loved nature, especially at night. Seeing the stars paint the sky when it was clear was the best show she'd ever seen.

Now the very thought of even driving past a forest had her trembling. She could never enjoy that particular view again.

Allison used her shoulder to push the creaky old roof door open and stepped out into the chilly night air, shivering at the drop in temperature.

She wished she had a cigarette or a joint. Maybe she'd go buy some in the morning, potentially help settle her nerves. She hadn't had a smoke since Uni. 

The Vancouver night was relatively peaceful in this part of town, her flat was on the less dangerous side of Downtown. Sometimes the gangs strayed but nothing had happened nearby since she'd moved. She'd heard about messengers or dealers sometimes using rooftops to get around but that might have just been an urban myth.

Allie leaned back against one of the vents and took a deep breath, staring up. Her heart had already calmed considerably and the panic was subsiding.
She tried doing her breathing exercises again, closing her eyes for a moment to count.

The click behind her made her snap them open again and freeze.
She held her breath, the skin of her scalp tightened as the muscles there instinctively tensed - her ears pulling back a fraction.

Three more successive clicks had her scrambling, turning to face the sound.

The thing from last night materialized into being, clicking and growling something at her again.

Allison swallowed, her breathing becoming fast and shallow. A scream worked itself up her throat but her mouth was too dry to peel her tongue from the roof of her mouth.

The thing pressed something on his metal gauntlet and Gemma's voice came out, shushing her gently like she'd done a few hours ago.

Had he been watching her this whole time?!
Allie's eyes just about bugged out of her head, hackles raising.

"Y-you leave her out of this!" she stuttered, trying to sound imposing and ending on a whimper.

"Calm." the robotic voice said.

Allison cursed her idiocy. Of course she'd been followed and she'd led them straight to her home, put her friends and neighbours in danger.

"No. Hurt." Gemma's cut off words came next.

Allison's fear warred with her anger and she shuffled on her feet, caught between facing off against the threat to someone she loved and saving herself.

There was no way to beat this thing. One backhand from that meaty, clawed hand and she'd go flying. 
Her only other option was to run.

Her eyes darted left and right. Desperate for a way out.

Mrs. Wan, contrary to building regulations and her own damn 'rules', was growing potted little tomato plants on the roof. She'd left them out on account of the good weather.

The pots were too big for Allison to lift and use as a weapon, though. 
The tomatoes looked ripe, hanging heavy on the thin stems.

The flat Gemma lived in was close, she could probably make the jump, run down the fire escape and… she didn't have anyhing more than that. Run like hell and try to hide. She had to try.
 
Allison took a deep breath.
The thing cocked his spiky head at her, she saw his muscled thighs tense and his right foot slide back a fraction. 
The jig was up.

She rushed towards the other flat, snagging the biggest, plumpest tomato and dragging the whole slim plant down as she passed it, and with a move she hadn't used since playing handball in highschool, twisted on her toes to throw it right at the thing's head.

She saw the fruit sail through the air as if time had slowed, it was right on track to the 'eyes' of the helmet - but her pursuer ducked, spikes flowing, and Mrs. Wan's prized red tomato splatted in mid-air.

She didn't have time to ponder the miss and hit, her spin finishing as she readied herself to jump.

She barely stepped on the ledge before a strong, large and rough hand caught her right wrist and yanked back so hard she heard her shoulder pop.

Allison struggled, panic defeating pain, and kicked her legs as she was passed from one hand to the other while turned around as though she weighed nothing.

She screamed and, using her free hand, grabbed onto one of the long dark spikes coming out of the things head, pulling with all her might while it grunted in pain.
It grabbed her other hand and forcefully raised it so she was hanging by both wrists from his scaly paw.

She tried kicking with both legs but it bent at the waist just as her sneaker scraped his crotch. Then he grabbed her right ankle and held her out like playdough.
Allison swore at him and tried to wiggle free. His arm-span was longer than her body stretched out, he could probably snap her in two if he wanted.

It clicked and hummed at her. It sounded a lot like laughing.

"Let me go, you bastard!" she screamed and spat in his face, right between the flashing green plates for eyes.

That stopped him laughing but a deeper one started behind him.

Allison stared up just as the bigger thing was wiping at the metal mask's chin. There was red juice all over it, his neck and chest.
He towered over her captor by at least a head.

The giant reached beneath his spiky graying hair and something hissed as the mask moved away from his face. The clicking hum that she could only interpret as laughing  became clearer.

The most disgusting mantis-crab face came out from under it. With bright, burning golden eyes deepset and beady under a heavy bowed and spiky brow and a big domed forehead. There was a wicked burn scar waxing the flesh on his right side in little jagged waves - it was the ugliest thing she had ever seen.

It was too much.

The chase, the terror, the lack of proper sleep and food. 
And now this.

Everything was just too much.

Allison's eyes rolled to the back of her head, her awareness turning black.

Chapter Text

Hul'gkan almost dropped the wiggly primitive when it had gone completely lax.

After the nasty pop he'd heard from her shoulder, he'd tried to be careful gripping her fragile wrists. They were so thin and weak, he could feel all the delicate little bones grinding together even while pressing lightly.

He'd been tempted to crush them anyway when she had spat in his visor.

He hadn't been entirely convinced she was truly worthy of bringing back to the Homeworld until now.
Iktaha'rg had sent him the mission parameters while they waited for the oomans to finish their ridiculous wailing.
If not for the Elder's urge towards caution, he might have just busted in and taken his prey while it was alone in the tub of tainted water. He could easily have blasted the flimsy wall in, knocked her out and left before any of the other primitives knew what was happening.
In the end he'd huffed his annoyance but decided he might as well use to opportunity to practice his patience and plan how to handle the request to his advantage.

The little female had shown some potential by attempting to derail him and run. Even her useless struggle while caught proved an affinity towards identifying weak spots.
His tress still hurt from where she'd almost yanked it out in a surprising show of fury-driven strength and while a kick in the crotch wouldn't have debilitated him like a human male, it would have still hurt.
He remembered getting hit there (mostly accidentally)  while sparring when he was still a pup. Even with the protection of the codpiece he'd almost doubled over in pain. His revenge had been swift and decisive afterwards, of course.

Iktaha'rg chittered in confused amusement at the ooman now hanging limply in the young warrior's hands.
He'd have to treat that shoulder and maybe the wrists and ankle he'd squeezed to keep hold of her, nothing was dislocated but he knew that ooman flesh reacted badly and would swell. 
He'd fix all the other superficial damage too, not wanting to bring an unworthy subject in. 
The weak medicine she had applied to herself was barely useful and the sharp smell of it irritated the olfactory organ on the roof of his mouth even through the helmet.

Iktaha'rg licked some of the fruit juice off his finger and snorted, obviously displeased.
The Elder gestured at him to follow so he threw the ooman over a shoulder, cloaking them both and obeyed.

They would be taking one of the Elder's personal vessels on the return, neither wishing to risk a prey primitive on a full clanship that was still sending excitable, bold Youngbloods on their chiva to various locations on this dirtball or to other game planets in neighbouring galaxies.
He would protect his prize with his life, of course, but the risk was unnecessary and he was looking forward to not sharing space with so many others for a change.
Perhaps he would strike out on his own for a while before joining the large hunting parties as a scout, he would surely be given his own ship after all his successes.

They walked to the mostly abandoned docking area (which stank horribly) where the Elder's ship had already been called and hovered noiseless and cloaked above the dirty water.

He would be glad to be done with this place. 
The oomans tended to spoil the land everywhere they expanded. The primitives had not learned how to preserve their own home and exploited it like parasites. He knew it had not always been so, but oomans were so shortlived they had either forgotten or decided not to care.

As soon as he was aboard, he set the ooman down next to the hound's closed cage, ordering it to guard his catch without harming her (just in case it got hungry) and turned to the Elder.

<<Elder, I demand my rights as Blooded be acknowledged.>> he asked formally, thumping his fist over his chest twice for both his hearts and bowing his head a fraction - as befitting one of his current status. He would no longer bow at the waist towards anyone except perhaps the members of the Council, Clan Leaders and Matriarchs and the Ancients.

----------

Allison had been swimming in and out of consciousness for some time. She'd caught swaying glimpses of the flat grey pavement and smelt the fishy garbage odor of the docks. Something hard and metallic was digging into her side uncomfortably, but it was so far away it hardly seemed to matter.

When she was starting to come around, the pavement changed to something darker then to fog. 
She closed her eyes and relaxed her body as she was grabbed around the waist, and unceremoniously deposited into the low fog.
Her head and shoulders were still well above the strange vapors and while the air felt strange, stuffy and hot, she didn't feel sick or lightheaded so whatever it was probably wouldn't immediately hurt her.

Her captor growled next to her head, but she had her eyes closed and it didn't sound like he was talking to her so she kept playing possum.

When she felt him leave and heard him rumble from further away she cracked an eye open.

She tried to keep still while taking in everything around her, she was in a big room with dark walls and dim red lights. There  were strange cables and arches and things that looked like crates.

She felt dread creep up her arms and she supresed a full-body shudder. The ramp they'd ascended on was silently closing, stealing away her view of the docks.

Where the hell was she?

The things that had caught her were still growling at each other as her eyes frantically searched for some sort of escape route, her mind refusing to accept the truth.

The big one, still unmasked and ugly (although less shocking now) took something slimy and dark from a belt-pocket, then stabbed it with a long, pointy knife. The smaller one kept his helmeted head bowed while the huge guy drew something on it.

Then the (relatively) littler one reached under his own domed head-gear and took it off with a hiss.

His face was similar in structure as the big one's, except he had no scars and it looked just barely less gross.
The four mandible-tusks on his face were smaller and closer together, his deep-set eyes a little wider compared to the rest of his face and the irises were colored a striking, vivid green.
Where the big one had a multitude of little spikes around the brows and along the edges of his large egg-shaped head, the smaller one looked more… clean-shaven? 

Kind of like if a pug got on third base with a horshoe crab and the result was mutated with praying mantis and maybe crocodile genes.

Allison almost gagged when the big one drew the same symbol on her captors right upper pectoral. It left a green stain behind that oozed a little. 

Huh, fluorescent green blood, go figure.

There was a slight lurch in the pit of her stomach, so gentle she might not have felt it had she not been so high-strung. Had they moved?

She felt a warm, moist and kind of stinky gust of wind at the back of her head, fluttering loose strands of hair in her face and making her turn to check for a vent. Maybe it was big enough to crawl through.

She came face to face with an even uglier thing. A sort of frog-eyed, spiky, reptilian dog.
It growled at her.
She screeched bloody murder and promptly fainted again.

----------

Both warriors had their weapons ready at the primitive's shrill sound of distress.
Hul'gkan saw her warm shape beneath the air cleanser and his hound patiently watching him with its head cocked to the side as though the ooman confused it. 
He could relate.

He grabbed her by the uninjured left ankle and dragged her after him further into the ship, past the kehrite, galley and the Elder's quarters and into the medbay. He picked her up by the hem of her useless pants and plopped her onto the elevated, flat surface of the utilitarian medical bed. It dwarfed her considerably. 

The biological reports indicated she'd be mostly fine breathing their air, it wasn't ideal for her and some shortness of breath was expected untill she adapted, but said nothing of the misted cleanser so he wouldn't risk it. She was his responsibility now after all.

He used the medical scanner on her to tag all the damage he had to fix.
She would need a thorough cleaning before any treatment first.

Hul'gkan grabbed the healing gel and a spare netting array loop and slung her over his shoulder again snorting at her weak groans that indicated she was waking again. 

What a strange defense mechanism oomans had. To become unconscious meant certain death to him. He couldn't imagine what evolutionary twists had led them down such a foolish trigger.

He could feel the ape tense where they touched as he entered the sparse clensing room so before she had the chance to start struggling again he set her down, keeping a firm hand on her shoulder to keep her still and standing.

She was favoring her right leg, not putting much weight on her bruised ankle and staring at him, stinking of fear.

----------

Allison tried to keep her balance on just one foot, the sting of different small pains all over her body assaulting her already fried nerves with constant little pings of discomfort.

The big guy let go of her shoulder and fiddled with his gauntlet again.
"Dis-robe." the robotized voice said.

Allie stared at him, a thousand thoughts passing through her head at once, none of them nice.

"Dis-robe." it repeated as the thing took a menacing step closer to her, crowding her in the tight space. As if he'd do it himself is she woudn't.

"W-why?" she squeaked, dreading the answer but needing to know.

He blinked and grumbled then pointed to the far wall.
She frowned and looked between him and the indicated space, still confused.

He huffed and said something growly, sidestepping her to press a big scaly paw on a previously invisible glass-looking panel that was inset in the dark metal wall.
A section of the floor lifted and morphed into a bowl shape which started filling with steaming water.

Her curiosity overrode the fear for a moment and she approached the strange tub. It wasn't quite water - thicker and tinged blue. 
She dipped a finger in the rapidly rising fluid and immediately snatched it back with a hiss.

"Do you want to fucking cook me?!" she half-shouted, a mad giggle working its way up her throat.
Was all this bullshit just to snack on boiled human?!

The thing scrunched his ugly crab face at her and swiped his hand down the panel. The not-water in the tub gradually stopped steaming.

She gave it another try when he grunted at her again. Still hot but not scalding.

Now that her terror had abated, she could see this was a washroom of some sort. There was another bowl-shaped protrusion that looked a lot like a toilet and opposite that was a semi-circle with a spout coming out of the wall above it. They were all super-sized and there was no mirror.

Her captor grunted something that sounded a lot like "pacteh human" and something else she didn't catch.

----------

<<Ell-osde' s'ke'i-te.>> he ordered again, frustrated at her easily distracted mind and inability to understand him. He'd have to teach her simple commands, for his own sake but especially because no one on the Homeworld would tolerate her ignorance and the dishonor would fall on him.
The language pack repeated the command in a way she understood, the slithery ooman trade tongue that he disliked and could never spell out properly taunting him with its lack of substance. 
He'd attempted to learn some simple phrases when the call for his chiva was given but the words just didn't sound right coming from his mouth. 
He didn't like doing things by half-measure. He would not demean himself by speaking it.

She blinked big prey eyes at him and crossed her spindly arms over her chest.

"Fine, but you need to leave."

He straightened. The audacity of this ape! As if he'd let her out of his sight after all the bother she'd put him through.

He was done coaxing. 
She was no eta or aseigan, her status as a living Trophy or Offering was unclear until he decided, but was definitely not honorable enough to be his equal.
It was time to teach the primitive her place.

Hul'gkan struck lighting-fast, gabbing the ooman by the scruff of her neck and pushing her down with barely enough force to nudge an adult yaut'ja.
Her soft body bounced on the floor and he savored the surprised groan of pain, then put his foot on her back, careful to press only hard enough to immobilize and not crack any ribs - those would take too long to heal and training needed to start as soon as possible.

She struggled and he increased the pressure minutely, making her gasp for breath.
<<Ki'dte!>> he shouted.
"Obey." his translator continued.

The ooman spluttered and heaved. He heard it plead for its life and agree to his demands between shallow breaths.
He pressed one last time, like his teacher had so many spans ago when Hul'gkan had started training and in his youthful ignorange refused to learn, to make the lesson sink in.

The primitive stayed on the floor for a few more breaths, possibly trying to compose itself then dragged herself up carefully and, shrinking as far away from him as possible, started taking off her textile garments.

He crossed his arms and waited then turned his head midway as it bared itself, the thing was disgustingly soft, fragile skin riddled with warmer bruises and cuts. 
He would admit the slight build might have been passably elegant with more muscle but right now it was pathetic.

She was sniffling and he scented saltwater but refused to acknowledge anything, staring to the side and trusting his peripheral vision to alert him is she tried anything tricky again.

He was relieved when she started washing herself. 
Hul'gkan was accustomed to cleaning his hound but this was different somehow. She was not quite an animal, definitely not yaut'ja and he didn't feel like touching her flimsy skin unless he had to. 
She likely thought the same way about him, judging by her full-body cringe when he turned to check her progress.

He looked down at her in the cleanser fluid and gestured at her head - she dutifully dunked and cleaned her strange, impossibly thin tresses.

Once she seemed clean enough, he activated the drain and filter then the drier, remembering to put the blast and temperature on low.
She still shrieked in distress hopping on her good foot and making him repress another laugh. 
Oomans might be disobedient and rude, but they provided ample entertainment with their stupidity.

He growled at her when she reached for the textile clothes. They still stank of the sharp ooman medicine.
She obeyed the warning immediately, placing a protective hand over her bushy crotch and ample mammaries.

Pah! Oomans and their modesty!

Hul'gkan offered the healing gel container (already opened) and nodded when she proceeded to apply it all over her abrasions and bruises.
Then he took the netting loops and gestured for her to hold a hand out.
He hummed in approval when she held a slim wrist out.
Good thing the loops automatically adjusted to the wearer's body structure. Everyone from pups to the largest of females could wear these.

He snapped the loops on her wrists and ankles and growled in warning when she tried to dart away from the hand reaching her neck, then activated the netting, ignoring the renewed shriek.
He gave her a quick once-over. It would do. 
He'd have to find proper footwear later.

----------

The big guy made a 'come hither' motion with his hand and she was quick to follow him out, still sore from when he'd stepped on her. 
That had been a lesson she wasn't going to forget any time soon. She'd temporarily lost her healthy fear of these things in her exhausted state. That had been his way of telling her the proverbial kid gloves were off.

She snagged her sneakers on the way, hoping  that he was no longer paying attention to her now that his back was turned. 
The floor was even and warm but it felt weird walking barefoot through the fog.
She'd gotten a better glimpse of his feet in the bathroom (when she'd been stepped on). They looked weird, clad in metal sandals and had scaly skin with one toe on the side  like some huge raptor dinosaur.
Their skin wasn't too far off from what she imagined dinosaur hide to be like either.

The whole ordeal had been scary and humiliating. At least he'd averted his eyes when she was naked and washing.
Had it been some sort of concession on his part? 

Judging by the derisive snort when she'd come out in her birthday suit, wet and trembling, her worse(r) case scenario wasn't likely to happen. Which was such a relief - never in her life had she been more happy to be found completely unattractive.

She thought she'd be walking around naked (the big things were scantily clad, even when wearing their armor) but she was grateful for the strange cuffs now.

She didn't particularly like the skintight mesh, it left absolutely nothing to the imagination, but it covered all the important bits with a denser weave and kept her surprisingly cool. The air on the ship was hotter and more humid than she was used to. Almost like a sauna. Nothing overwhelming but uncomfortable enough she was perspiring even while sitting still - and it wasn't just the cold sweats from the fear.

Allison followed the big guy to a spare room with one huge bed in the middle. There were metal cabinets and weird machines lining the walls. It looked like an operating room.

He wouldn't bother dressing her if he was gonna dissect her, would he?

She had no choice but to awkwardly hop on the tall bed and try her best not to wince at the injections made to her swollen shoulder and ankle, wrists and one at her base of her neck. 
He'd been unexpectedly gentle parting the wet hair from her back and neck with those sharp black claws, barely touching her skin.

She couldn't tell where he'd even gotten the strange needle-gun he'd injected her with from, it had looked like a cabinet had slid open and then noiselessly closed back like the tub had.

She lay flat on her back as some doohickey scanned her with a soft green light, it was almost soothing. 
The surface of the bed was hard but not uncomfortable and there was a cool feeling spreading from where she'd been needled outwards to the rest of her body.

A desperate little voice at the back of her head screamed that she was still not safe, the heavy feeling in her arms and legs too sudden to be natural, that she couldn't just fall asleep - but it was quickly dampened as her mind fuzzed out.

Her eyelids drooped and she hid a yawn behind her hand, earning herself a grumpy growl at the movement.
Her last thought was a groggy 'fuck you' she may or may not have let slip before her eyes blinked closed one last time.

----------

The morning - or, what felt like morning for her, she had no idea what time it was or how much she'd slept - found her waking up rested and refreshed. 
The room she was in was the same, barren except for the bed and strange devices, and she woke up curled on her right side with her arm pillowing her head.

There was no trace of the big guys anywhere, which was a huge relief. The thought of them watching her sleep like they'd watched her back in her home made her feel icky.

She wondered what Gemma was doing. 
She would have probably found out that Allison was missing by now.  

Allie couldn't help but imagine what would have happened had she remained in bed. Would they have broken into her home to abduct her?

What if she'd let Gemma stay the night?
Would they have taken them both?

An ugly little part of her wanted that. Someone to commiserate with. Someone familiar she could trust.
Someone... human.

An even more wretched little fragment of her wondered if she'd have been spared this fate as long as they got one of them.

She shook the thought away.

She missed her friend more than ever - a sort of hollow, foreboding ache just below her throat, but she didn't want to ever see Gemma again, too afraid of bringing death or worse to her doorstep.
 
In the end, Allie was glad the creatures hadn't seemed interested in her friend. She wouldn't wish this fate on her worst enemy - not that she'd had one, until now.

Her sneakers were still under the bed where she'd tossed them, hidden by the fog. She pulled them on and marveled at how well she felt. Her bruises and scrapes were almost entirely gone, her wrists, ankle, shoulder and back no longer ached. 
She felt better than ever!

And she was hungry. A little thirsty too.

Her stomach felt stuck to her spine. Her lips dry and chapped.
Her last meal bad been a measly bowl of chicken soup - light on the chicken, heavy on the broth.

She didn't think there was anything to eat in this room, not that she'd be able to find it if there was, whatever trick the big guy had used to open the panels and cabinets had been hidden by his bulk.

She tried looking around anyway, trying to find seams in the walls and cabinets but all she saw were strange, perfectly even inscriptions in the black metal that looked a lot like squigglier cuneiform.

She reached the arch they'd entered through and it opened for her with a quiet woosh.
She breathed a sigh of relief, glad she wasn't imprisoned in the operating room.

Allison stuck her head out and peered to either side of the corridor. She skirted to the bathroom, which also opened automatically, hoping to splash some water on her face.
The faucet on the wall gushed a steady stream of water when she put her hands under it. 

She debated drinking it. It didn't feel weird like the bath water. It smelled fresh.
She took a sip and found it tasted fine so she sated her thirst.

She was glad she didn't need the toilet. That thing was very tall and she didn't know how or if it flushed.

Patting around on the wall revealed it worked by suction then closed itself up - probably to sanitize?
Either way, she was glad she'd figured it out. The technology here was strange and seamlesly integrated.

Done with the bathroom, she poked her head out and proceeded up the dark hallway to the furthest door. 
It opened for her.

She froze.

Before her, beyond the wide transparent glass in front of the giant throne dominating the room, was naked, impossibly dark space.

Allison was finally forced to face the truth she had been dreading this whole time. 
The suspicion had manifested in her head from the first time she'd seen the thin, black creature with acid for blood and when her captor had appeared in front of her as if dispelling a curtain of heat over a baking road in summer, brandishing strange weapons and armor. 

Neither of those beings could have come from Earth. They were simply too different, too... alien.

Her mind whirled with a thousand thoughts, but three facts took shape most solidly;

One - humans were most definitely not alone in the galaxy.

Two - she was on a space-ship. 

And three - she'd been abducted by huge, scary aliens.

Chapter Text

Hul'gkan found the primitive in the cockpit.

Fortunately, she had not meddled with anything. Although he doubted she knew how to even activate the interface,  accidents did happen.

He'd been keeping an eye on her using the hidden gkinmara installed in the med-bay for observation. 
He hadn't expected the medicine to affect her so strongly, he was certain he'd calculated the dosage correctly. Perhaps the mild sedatives contained in the serum were too much for the primitive ooman body.
She had slept for an abnormal amount of time - even for her kind, who needed around 30% of their day-night cycle to rest fully - a weakness often exploited by yaut'ja who earned the rights to hunt the best warriors oomans had to offer.

Once awake, the inquisitive little ape had attempted to find Iktaha'rg's cashes of medical supplies, perhaps searching for a sedative or poison? 
He would not put it past such a weak creature to resort to underhanded means of revenge. He would have to monitor her at all times. 

He allowed her time to stare out into the cold, featureless kjuhte. The sight of such a lack of anything sometimes affected even Unblooded on their first kv'var away from their home planet. It took discipline to accustom one's mind to the great void, and the ooman was unlikely to have been taught even the most basic forms in her short life.

She had stood, petrified, in front of the observation window for quite some time, then proceeded further into the cockpit (thankfully sidestepping the Elder's seat) and kneeled before the endless black, small hands splaying spindly fingers on the window, heedless of his presence behind her.

Her spacial awareness wasn't usually this lacking. While weak and untrained, her raw instinct for danger was good enough to rival a reckless Unblooded's.
Her shock must have been greater than he knew.

Hul'gkan clicked to get her attention but the primitive was either transfixed or ignoring him.
That would not do.

<<Ooman.>> he called.

She startled and rose to face him, her slight frame a slash of heat against the nothing while she widened her stance as though preparing to flee.
Or fight. 
Interesting.

The stink of fear still permeated the air around her, he'd have to drill that out of her as much as possible too, it only served to incite a chase from lesser yaut'ja.

"My name is Allison." she stated, voice unwavering. Good.

He inclined his head in acknowledgment and said his own in return while thumping his chest to make the association clear.

"Hool-kahn." she tried, and failed, to sound with her fleshy mouth.

He grunted in dismissal, names were irrelevant, and gestured for her to follow him only to stop in his tracks at the loud growl emitting from the primitive.
He almost took offense but saw her clutching a hand at her stomach when he glanced back.

Ah, oomans had rapid metabolisms.

----------

Hulk (as she'd chosen to call him privately, she couldn't pronounce his name properly) led the way to another room that looked a little homier than the rest. It had a giant rounded couch in front of a simple metal table and what looked like another sink next to a huge black vertical rectangle dominating the far wall and high lighter-colored horizontal metal surface, that reached her elbows, with grooves in it.
Like on the rest of the ship, the walls were decorated with alien writing.
She wondered if she'd ever find out what they meant.

Allie stood in the center of the room, hunger pangs making her dizzy while she tried to quiet her rumbling stomach, feeling oddly embarrassed. 
It was still better than the pit of despair she'd been spiraling through barely a minute ago.

She could see the big rectangle was a refrigeration unit of some kind when Hulk opened an invisible latch to fold the front open.

He took a big slab of purple meat(?) out and piled a slightly concave plate he'd magicked from somewhere on the wall full of other items. 
He put the plate on the table and went over to the groovy table (for the blood, of course) to cut the meat and strip it from the bone with precise, forceful jerks of his wrist. She hoped he'd remembered to clean those arm-blades beforehand.

She tentatively approached the table and climbed onto the furthest edge of the hard couch.
The stuff on the plates looked kind of like fruits and vegetables with a few root-like things thrown in. She recognized a carrot and grabbed it, hoping he'd let her use a knife to clean the skin off but saw no ustensils anywhere.
It seemed clean though, she might be able to eat it like that anyway.

Hulk returned with the plate of meat and took a seat on the other side of the couch, pushing his offering further towards her with the tips of two clawed fingers.

She made a face at the raw meat and he snuffed at her like a bored dinosaur, reaching for something at his waist, hidden by the table's edge, and coming up with a small metal square. 
He placed it next to the meat and, with deliberate slowness, pressed on a tiny button underneath.

The square unraveled open and up like a funky camera aperture and a small flame spouted from the centre. 

"Nifty." Allie said.

<<S'em-te.>> Hulk said. 
"Eat." the robotic voice on his wrist echoed.

Allie gulped and summoned all her courage, hoping this wouldn't earn her another meeting with the floor. Hulk had made it abundantly clear he wasn't a requests kind of guy.
"C-can I use a knife or some-?" 
She squeezed the carrot in her hand hard enough to break it at the low 'Krrr' coming from his throat.

 "Please?" she croaked, hoping to appease him.

Without breaking eye contact, he reached for his waist again and slid out a pointy, slightly curved knife that looked small in his hands but was medium for her, sliding it towards her slowly.

Allie didn't know wether she should grab it or not. He looked angry - or well, angrier
Was this a test? Would he cut off her hand if she picked up a weapon? Was he daring her?
She wasn't even hungry anymore. Maybe if she backed off real slow he'd let her leave.

<<S'em-te!>> he ordered again.

Allie hurried to oblige, almost cutting herself in her haste.
He watched her as she cleaned her squashed carrot and ate it while using the knife to try and roast a small piece of meat.
She ended up charring it a little and let it cool while she tried some of the alien greens (even though most were decidedly not green).

His unwavering, beady-eyed stare was a little distracting, but hunger won out in the end.

She tried the meat last, it was surprisingly good even unseasoned. A little gamey though. She hoped it hadn't used to be anything sentient.

Allie put the knife down in front of her when she was done, pushing it back towards him hilt-first.

"Thank you." she said as he picked it up after a bit more staring.

----------

The ooman had barely touched the food by the time she was  done. He'd only brought out about half a normal portion and she'd eaten less than half of that. 
Clearly, their foodstores would not suffer from the new addition.

He'd made certain she swallowed everything and monitored what pieces she favored. He knew enough about ooman diets not to poison her but for training to be effective he might use food as a reward system.
It had worked on his hound after all.

He waited for a few more beats after she handed back his skinning knife to be certain then showed her how to pack the containers and store them.
She watched, curiosity drawing her closer to him as he demonstrated how to use the galley.

The air around her still had a tinge of fear, but it was considerably more subdued. It seemed the rumors about oomans being strongly adaptable to shock were true.

He was pleased, his offering was more likely to be accepted and, if the call had went out to multiple Elders, he'd also be among the first one to bring in a specimen too - no one else could have caught one so fast and already be on their way. 
He looked forward to reaping the benefits of his catch.

But first, he would need to educate the primitive. 

He lead the way to the kehrite, nodding his head in salute at Iktaha'rg who was practicing his forms.
Hul'gkan had trained while the primitive slept, he could not neglect his own training and caring for the ooman was taking up an inordinate amount of time.

The little ape stopped in the doorway, blocking it from closing, seemingly reluctant to enter an enclosure with two sain'ja.
Not a bad instinct, but cumbersome for him now.

----------

"Come here." Gemma's soft voice called at her smoothly.
Her head snapped at Hulk, anger heating her face like a furnace.

"Stop that." she mumbled, making him growl first in surprise, mouth-parts fidgeting, then 'krrr' another warning.

The bigger, older looking alien was keeping perfectly still in a strange position reminding her of her own yoga exercises. His burnt gold eyes were open, appraising her and Hulk with a glint of interest and possibly amusement.

He was also wearing a loincloth.

Only a loincloth. (and that weird black dense coil on the neck they always wore)

That was a lot of alien on display.

He reminded her a little of a childhood neighbour's grandparent. An old veteran who was unreasonably fit for his age and liked to workout topless. He too had enjoyed messing with the younger people, as she assumed Hulk was.
Could Hulk be a teenager? 
It would explain his crummy attitude.

Gramps (her new inner nickname for the Bigger Guy) rose from his stance slowly, methodically. Thick, corded muscles shifted, tensed and relaxed in turn as he stretched.

How did these things have the bodies of dinosaur-Adonis and the faces of puked up pug-mantis-crabs?!

Her mouth went a little dry as Gramps straightened, dominating the room with his tall, bulky frame.
He could probably kill her with the flick of a finger...

Allie shifted on the balls of her feet, feeling the strange sort of soft, almost like it was padded, floor roll under them - getting ready for… something.

Hulk krrr'd again and came toward her with purposefully heavy steps. She squared her shoulders and faced him with a hateful glare, she knew now there was no point in running from him.

Gramps clicked and babbled something to Hulk as he stopped in front of her and measured her up and down.

She had no choice but to let him grab her by the arm and bodily drag her to where he wanted her. His grip was strong but not bruising and she didn't resist, it would have been a waste of energy.

He stood in front of her again, tall and imposing with his beefy arms crossed.
Jesus, his bicep was bigger than her head…

He hum-clicked something and the robotic voice said "Sit."

She looked around her feet and behind her for a chair then sat on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chest before he got angry again. This room had no fog obscuring the soft wood-like planks that were fitted together neatly. If not for the dim light it would almost look like a dojo.

Another command and the translation. "Stand."
She stood, frowning up at Hulk.

He just said another curt word, immediately translated by his gauntlet: "Stay" - then pivoted on his heel and walked away to the other side of the room. Gramps stood watching, leaning on the far wall opposite the entrance, completing a triangle between the three of them.

Hulk clicked and nodded, throwing her something small and round.
She caught it on instinct - one of the fruits she'd enjoyed earlier?

The aliens chattered to each other while Allie's head started to pound.
Indignation, humiliation and most of all - a burning anger surged through all of her body sending heated flashes to her face. Her vision focused on the ugly bastard and her hand tightened around the fruit.

Her brain wasn't in charge anymore, her arm moved all by itself, reached back, back - and slung the fist-sized fruit like a baseball, as hard as she could.

"I'M NOT A DOG!" she shouted, panting for breath.
Hulk, who hadn't been paying attention, turned his head towards her at her sudden noise and the fruit hit him square in the not-nose, breaking apart on impact with a wet splash.

Her momentary satisfaction at having landed the shot dissipated with her anger the second he growled at her in what she'd come to recognize as his "I'll end you." tone. He had sounded similar during the bathroom incident, only now it was lower and there was an audible vicious rattle behind it.
 
Where she'd been hot with anger moments ago, Allie trembled at the spike of cold fear freezing her to the spot.

--------

The smell of her fear made the blood rushing to his head sing with the promise of violence. 
He wiped at his eyes and made for the ape with vicious intent.

He was abruptly stopped, just over an armspan away from the trembling little thing, by Iktaha'rg's vice-like grip on his shoulder.

Hul'gkan knew he could break the hold, or slacken it, if only for a second. It would be enough to take the primitive's head off. One clean swipe of his claws. That was it.

Iktaha'rg rattled in warning and jerked Hul'gkan's shoulder back, breaking him out of his anger-fueled bloodlust. 
Killing her now would be unwise - so roared his frustration in her face.

Hul'gkan wiped at his mouth again, the sticky pulp and juices of the naxa were everywhere.

He'd have to come up with appropriate punishment. 
Later.
When he didn't feel like breaking the arm she'd thrown with.

Just when he thought he was starting to make progress… 

How dare she humiliate him so!

He growled at her one last time, shaking Iktaha'rg off and scratching himself on the Elder's claws in the process, then left to wash his face.

----------

Allison's knees felt like jelly but she remained standing by some miracle - her legs were probably locked down.

She'd closed her eyes when Hulk had roared at her, flinging her hair back and sending bits of spittle out with the force of it.

Idly, she thought it strange that his breath smelled of nothing. Just warm air and moisture.

She slowly opened her eyes when she heard the door hiss open and saw Hulk leave.

A strangled breath of relief left her all at once and she slid down to sit on her ass.
When had she even gotten her back to the wall? It must have been the 'miracle' that kept her standing.

Gramps put his hands on his hips and huffed at her, shaking his big head - long, graying dreads sliding over his wide shoulders and making the metallic and bone decorations clink together almost musically.

"Good. Aim." he hummed deep in his throat in almost perfect English.

Allie blinked up at him in surprise.
They could speak this whole time?!

She felt some of the previous anger surge back. Why hadn't they just told her what they wanted in a way she understood? Why use Gemma's voice and the robot?
Why all this fuckery?!

Why her!?

Fucking assholes!

She'd never hated anyone in her entire life, but the ugly feeling coiling around her lungs and throat couldn't be anything else.

<<Ze-rei'dekna.>> he rumbled and clicked in now familiar amusement. 
She hated him a little more for it. 
Not as much as Hulk though. Gramps had yet to even touch her, but he had stood behind and let the other jerk do whatever he wanted to her until now.
She couldn't find it in her to be truly grateful to him but she supposed he would take offense if she didn't show some sort acknowledgement for saving her life.

"Thanks." she gritted out while trying to stand. Her knees were still a little weak and she slid back down.
Her hands shook and her heart was hammering all the way up her skull and into her eyeballs.

He nodded his great spiky egg-head and turned from her, still clicking, then left her alone in the dark dojo.

She hoped Hulk wouldn't be coming back anytime soon. She was too afraid to leave now.

----------

She must have remained in the room for hours... maybe a whole day? 
Time was a finicky thing without any way to track it and her body and mind had gone through too much for her to rely on her own circadian rhythm.

She'd spent most of that unknowable amount of time doing breathing exercises and willing herself to stop shaking.

She knew, somewhere deep down, that she had been experiencing shock.
She'd been breathing hard, clammy with sweat and feeling cold despite the muggy air.
She couldn't stand, too dizzy to do more than struggle feebly.

Eventually she'd just curled up and started rocking herself back and forth to let it pass. Paced her breaths when she felt confident enough her panting had died down a little.

In a way, it was surprising she hadn't cracked before now.

By the time she could see straight and wobble upright again she felt exhausted, as if she'd run a marathon with no finish line.

She was thankful she hadn't vomited, something told her that she'd get stepped on, or worse, if she got sick all over the alien's pristine dojo.

Her muscles ached and she'd get random spasms all over her body. She felt twitchy, paranoid and scared of her own shadow in the low light.

One thought calmed her though, if either of the aliens really wanted her dead - she would be dead. Whatever her purpose here, she was needed alive and mostly whole.

Allison rolled her shoulders, attempting to work some of the shivers off.

She needed a goddam break and a nap. 
But she was too high-strung.

Allison took a few more deep breaths and tried to distract herself by checking out the wooded room. It was barren. 

Just a large, empty wooden box.


She suspected there were hidden compartments but short of patting all the walls and hoping something popped out there was no way of telling where.

Allie cracked her neck from side to side, back and forth, then rolled her head to get the kinks out.

She remembered Gramps was doing his own thing before Hulk dragged her in here.

Shrugging, she continued to do her normal warm-ups. Hoping that stretching her muscles, back, chest and spine would make her feel better.

The familiar cadence of her stretches took over most of her frayed focus.
She closed her eyes and tried to forget where she was but her ears were still finely attuned to any noise and she startled even when her own shoes squeaked on the weird floor.

She took the sneakers off. The wood was pleasantly cool under her bare feet.

Her mind stopped racing along with her body, finally working together to reach a state of focused calm. 

She was slowly working herself up to her goal, keeping her hips squared, engaging her core, aligning her spine and curling her left leg inward and under her then finally bending back and pulling her right leg up by the ankle.

She kept the position, breathing slow and deep, for a few breaths.

The door whished open, ruining her focus as she tumbled sideways to avoid bruising or breaking her back.

Hulk barged in with wisps of fog trailing him like a demon out of hell.

He clicked at her while she was trying to pick herself up, back sore. She'd hit her chin falling too, almost bit her tongue off.

She could see the glint of malicious glee in his bottle-green eyes.

Vengeful bastard.

"Come." he commanded in his own deep voice. The word sounded stilted and slow, like he was struggling to speak it. Then he repeated the word in his own language, a curt, alien bark.

She shoved her feet back in her sneakers and trotted after his broad back.

She wondered what fresh bullshit he had in store for her next.

----------

After cleaning the fruit off and meditating his bloodlust away - which took more time than he'd expected, the primitive had riled him up more than it should have, he used to pride himself on his patience and self-control; much better developed than any other Youngblood and even many Blooded warriors he'd known - Hul'gkan had decided to check up on the little ape.

Not in the mood to hunt her down throughout the ship, he made for the closest station, the cockpit, to check the recordings.
He would not disrespect the Elder's ship by hooking up his own gauntlet computer to the controls. He was already taking advantage of Iktaha'rg's good graces by getting a lift, both pets in tow, to the Homeworld.

Iktaha'rg, now clad in his usual armor, was in his seat in the cockpit, analyzing their course and checking for any new communications. 

It was fortunate they had some time, this was one of the Elder's smaller scout ships and could not bend space like the flagship he served on (left behind orbiting Earth with the second in command in charge of monitoring the ruins and sending out hunters.) 
Hul'gkan had some time to train his catch. Make certain she would not embarras him. Maybe show her some survival tricks to prepare her for his future practice hunts, if she cooperated.

Peering over Iktaha'rg's shoulder, he noticed the Elder also had a live feed from the kehrite drawn up.

The little ape had stayed behind and, amazingly, had started utilizing the space for her own calisthenics. Although he couldn't imagine any fighting stances required such exagerated bending of ones body.

Oomans were very… flexible.
No yaut'ja he knew of, even ones slighter than himself, could maintain or even reach such a stance. Their much better developed muscles would stand in the way.

The Elder said nothing as Hul'gkan turned and went to retrieve the soft female.

He took only a small amount of pleasure in surprising her and chuffed at her flailing.
A stance so easily broken was not worth the effort.

She scampered after him. The strange footwear she'd somehow salvaged squeaking on the smooth metal flooring.
He really had to get her proper boots and teach her to walk less noisily. The sound was irritating.

He led her to the cargo hold. It was time to familiarize his hound with his new pet. The two would have to get along enough not to kill each other. 

The hound would never disobey the order to guard, but if the little ooman proved as difficult with it as she had been with Hul'gkan himself… he would not be surprised if it snapped a piece off.
The beast was valuable to him during more difficult hunts. He would not want to be forced to kill it because the ooman had a higher standing and had taunted it to violence.

Hul'gkan kneeled by the kennel and offered his hand up for inspection.
The hounds did not have the best heat-sight and couldn't detect very far, their noses were their advantage.

The hound obediently snuffed at his master and waited to be let out.

The little ape had remained behind, unwilling to approach the big animal, but oddly no longer stinking of fear.

She peered curiously as Hul'gkan took his hound out by the thick chain. He almost wanted to wiggle it around a little, pretend to drop it and see what she did.

The hound snuffed towards the ooman, curious of the new creature in return. Hul'gkan had never hunted oomans until his chiva, and that had been a happy accident.
His hound would not immediately think of her as prey and the ooman seemed to sense this.
Even though she had been frightened by it before and she still showed signs of anxiousness, stiff back, tense muscles - ready to bolt, she did not shrink away. 
Perhaps smart enough to understand Hul'gkan's intent this time.

"Good puppy." she cooed tentatively at the hound.

Hul'gkan gave the hound more slack and it advanced.
She kneeled as he had and offered her thin hand out.

At least she knew not to run from his beast and had enough sense for mimicry.

The hound pulled a little more on the chain and Hul'gkan yanked it back. It should know better than that when not on a hunt.

"Aww, don't choke him... He's just curious."

He chittered in amusement and let the hound closer. Ready to hold it back if it gave even the impression of snapping.

The ooman made strange cooing and not-quite-clicking noises with her lips by puckering them.
Strangely, the hound seemed to respond positively. Perhaps mistaking the clicks for Hul'gkan's approval noises.

He let the beast sniff her open palm but not touch it.

"You aren't so bad, are you boy?" she continued in that soft, low tone, making the hound cock its head to the side in confusion. It did not seem to know how to respond to anything that wasn't an order, prey or a threat.

Hul'gkan chuffed, the hound would turn on her the moment he commanded it. Still, cooperation would benefit him.

"You're not gonna tell him to eat me now, are you?" she asked.
For a moment he thought she was still talking to the hound. He was surprised she could infer so much from his tone and mannerisms alone.

"Will he bite me if I touch him?"

How bold.

Intrigued, Hul'gkan ordered the hound to sit and stay with a series of clicks. It was trained to remain unmoving, be it for minutes or a day. Hunting often involved waiting for long periods of time for prey to show up.

The beast immediately obeyed, sitting on its haunches first, then laying down on its belly.

The ooman cooed again, seemingly impressed and, at Hul'gkan's nod, slowly reached out to touch the hound's head.

It remained unmoving as the ooman lightly stroked it's big spiked head, closing its eyes in pleasure when she scratched behind its jaw with her blunt little nails.

Hul'gkan had never seen the hound wiggle its behind and short stubby tail like that since its early youth.
How strange and unbecoming. 

He barked an order for it to return to its cage and the hound grunted but followed.
The ooman pursed her fat fleshy lips in what he could only assume was disappointment by the whine she let out.

He had to be more careful with this ooman, she might ruin his hound by spoiling it with unearned attention.

 

 


 

 

A/N

I got a request for character bios so here goes. Writing it here since it doesn't fit in the End Notes.

(These can change as the fic progresses)

 

Allison Cho

- Height: 5'9"
- Age: 26 (Earth) years old
- Marital status: not married, no romantic significant other.
- Current occupation: Big, scary alien's pet (not happy about it)
- Former occupation: Junior Quality Assurance Engineer at a small software firm that outsources to various clients (good gig, well paying but at the cost of too much sitting around and it could get boring and repetitive)
- Appearance&Family: of Chinese descent like her mother - family immigrated to Canada four generations ago. Caucasian father who divorced her mom when Allie was around 4. 
She inherited traits from both but looks more like her mom.
Shoulder-length dark hair, dark eyes, slight build (ectomorph), tanned skin, slight epicanthal fold, square jaw.
- Important relationships:
• Her mother who she looked up to and whose death affected her deeply.
• Gemma - Platonic life partner, cat co-parent.
• Mark - Nicest person she knows, work friend, babysat for his daughter.
• Father - Some resentment for leaving during her teenage years but never got to know him so she didn't miss him too much.
• Larry - Manager. Asshole.
• Hulk/Hul'gkan - Currently hates and fears him.
• Gramps/Iktaha'rg - Healthy dose of fear and respect (for now).
• The preda-hound - Scared her shitless at first, now in the beginning stages of "PUPPY!!".
- Hobbies: Hiking, yoga, drawing, singing (badly), dancing in her underwear at home, reading.

Hul'gkan

- Height: 6'10"
- Age: approx 200 (Earth) years old
- Marital status: not mated, his kind doesn't marry (mating pairs are rare, Yaut'ja females pick and choose their males, only the worthy reproduce)
- Current occupation: Booded sain'ja
- Former occupation: Youngblood, went on many 'lesser' hunts to prove himself worthy of a chiva. Former student of Iktaha'rg
- Appearance&Family: son of the honorable Nrachackt'ra, armor smith, who told him his father was a brave warrior who died with honor on a dangerous hunt before Hul'gkan was born.
Green-gray skin with mottled charcoal speckles. Color lightens on his face, belly, palms, the soles of his feet and the insides of his thighs.
Has very vivid green eyes like his mother.
Earned six diagonal scars from a xenomorph on his chest during his chiva and several bullet-wound scars on his thighs.
Smaller than most of his kind. Still very well muscled. Mesomorph. Relies more on agility than strength though he's by no means weak.
- Important relationships:
• Nrachackt'ra - Bearer. Greatly admires and is grateful to her.
• Iktaha'rg - Teacher. Holds great respect for him but is also growing tired of being treated like a pup. Not fond of the old man's jokes (since they're mostly at his expense).
•Thei'dteinou - childhood playmate, adolescent training partner, Quatza-Rij hunt brother. Hul'gkan is jealous that his friend passed his chiva earlier than him.
• The Preda-hound - Gift from his bearer. He'll never admit he cares about it.
• The ooman/the little ape - Annoying. Disobedient. Slow. Worthy Living Trophy. 

Iktaha'rg

- Height: 7'5"
- Age: approx 550-600 (Earth) years old
- Marital status: not mated, his kind doesn't marry (mating pairs are rare, Yaut'ja females pick and choose their males, only the worthy reproduce) Had a thing for Nrachackt'ra a long time ago.
- Current occupation: Elder sain'ja. One of the Wardens of Earth overseeing most of Canada.
- Former occupation: Teacher, Hunter, father of 83 of which 64 are still alive.
- Appearance&Family: Son of a Council member and a famed serpent hunter.
Brown, earthy skin with creamy stripes on his legs and arms. Light brown face, belly and palms. Has many scars all over his body and a very distinctive burn mark on the right side of his face that trails down to his neck. Spiky. Graying tresses. Yellow-golden eyes.
Big man - endomorph. Tank.
-Important relationships:
• Hul'gkan - Favorite student. Thought him a weak runt at first, not worth training but took him on as a favor for the pup's bearer. Quickly discovered his potential and became invested in his wellbeing after witnessing his determination and his constant struggle to succeed. Found him honorable and clever even in his young age. Was harshest with him to prepare him.
• Nrachackt'ra - Friend and someone he greatly admires for her craftsmanship and ferocity.
• Thei'dteinou - Wishes he was a little smarter. Good student overall. 
•  Ze-rei'dekna - Indifferent towards her at first/only wanted to use her for Hul'gkan's benefit. Not impressed by the tomato but liked her defiance. Tries not to treat her as a pup. Fails.

Chapter Text

 

Being trained like a dog wasn't so bad when Hulk wasn't actively treating her like one. Apparently the fruit incident had taught him a valuable lesson too.

Though she had no way to tell, it had felt as though weeks had passed since her abduction.

Her time was mostly spent learning difficult words and obeying Hulk's commands.

Nothing had changed the monotony up except for having her blood taken this 'morning' after the aliens had a galactic phonecall with someone else.

At first she had been reluctant to do more that what was asked of her and unwilling to have anything more to do with her captor than what he needed from her in order to finally leave her alone.
With time her attitude had changed. The lack of human interaction, of sun and light and green things was getting to her. 
She would ask Hulk inane questions and even talk to the frog-dog, who she'd started calling Spike, just to hear someone speak (that wasn't guttural alien words). 

She had come to know the big men a little better simply because they were the only other living things present with her in this floating tin can prison.

She'd never been particularly social, enjoying solitude and time away from the big crowd of humanity that she used to live in, but these guys made loners like herself look downright desperate for company.

Hulk tended to tolerate her at best, he had no real interest in talking to her outside of whatever the fuck he was teaching her and making sure she got three square meals a day, enough sleep and didn't stop breathing.
 
Gramps generally stayed out of their way, sometimes the two aliens talked but their conversations were usually short and tended to end in Gramps chittering at Hulk and her captor walking away in a huff.
These aliens were shaping up to be the tall, dark and ugly silent types. 

Something told her the big old guy was the alpha around here, even the frog-dog lowered his big spiky head when Gramps was around. She'd quickly taken note and made certain to never be alone with the giant.

Oddly enough, Gramps seemed more curious than disdainful towards her.
The big guy tended to always be present whenever Hulk taught her new things, like he was eager for something to happen.
He seemed dissappointed when she'd end up doing whatever Hulk wanted without complaint (mostly for fear of getting smushed) and the shorter asshole was always smug about it.

Today, Hulk was teaching her general greetings and signs of respect and subservience in his culture. Alien diplomacy was complicated and, he claimed, vital for her survival. Not her favorite subject, for sure, but it gave her something to think about and do and someone to talk to so she mostly went along with it.

Not like she had much of a choice.

Spike, the frog-dog was a more pleasant companion than either of the aliens.
At least he was always happy to see her, especially if she sneaked him treats and gave him scratches.

They were in the 'kehrite' (their word for the dojo) practicing old commands she already knew and getting growled at for not being able to speak the strange alien language. 
Which was unfair since she was missing certain gross but key mouthparts.

Hulk repeated the difficult words for the tenth time. He was getting impatient with her.

<<Gkaun-yte. Yin'tekai-de. Sain'ja>> he enunciated slowly then clicked with a long-suffering  sigh.

Asshole. she thought. 
As if he were the victim here.

"Gukawoon-yeeteh yen'techai-des say-yah?" she tried mimicking the click of those creepy spider-tusks with a click of her tongue.

He grunted, wether it was approval or not was unknown. He perpetually seemed a little pissed with her. Apparently she wasn't learning as fast as he wanted.

She wondered what he was preparing her for. Was she going to meet their president or something?
Jokes about 'take me to your leader', 'we come in peace' or the Vulcan salute popped into her head and she repressed a chuckle.

What if she threw away all his careful training and just said something in Elvish to them? She still remembered some words from when she was a teen and had read the books after her mother introduced her to the movies.
Would they kill her? More importantly, would they kill Hulk?

Her idle thoughts were abruptly ended by Hulk smacking her upside the head with a loud slapping sound.

"Ow!" she whined and rubbed at her scalp.

He'd been doing that more and more recently. She hadn't done anything to really piss him off (like throwing fruit in his face) but sometimes she dared to play dumb or mix up words in a halfway believable way, or her mind would wander over why she needed to know certain things.
She even got away with it… very rarely.

Sure, alien language and customs were interesting, but Allie had very few things left to her. 
Namely, her shoes and her unfaltering, irredeemable spite.

She'd always been stubborn, sometimes had trouble in school with certain subjects simply because the teacher was a shitheel and had made a quick enemy of her manager at work because she'd refused to play by his crappy rules.

Gemma had said she had unresolved anger issues.
Maybe she'd had a point...

Allie had already figured out they wanted her alive and mostly unharmed, and she had a feeling they knew she knew too, or at least suspected.
Testing the boundaries of her scary alien captors patience was probably a bad idea, then again, what else did she have?

It was likely why Gramps enjoyed sticking around for her lessons so much, now that she thought about it. 
Old man sure liked drama. 

Did aliens not have the equivalent of television?
Or -snerk- space operas?

Hulk growled and she saw another smack coming but ducked fast enough that it barely glanced her.

She gave him a dirty look. This hitting her like she was a disobedient animal thing was getting tiresome.

Gramps trilled from where he was watching them while moving in very slow, deliberate flows (again in his undies, although she was used to it now, it had been distracting for a short while - that was when the smacks had started weeks ago). 
Hulk narrowed his beady green eyes at her and shifted on the balls of his feet.

Then he struck at her again, faster this time.
Allie leaned back out of the way, his sharp claw barely missing her throat.

"What the fu-" she didn't have time to finish the curse, his other fist coming up from her right. She instinctively put her hands up to block and got thrown back by the force of his blow, landing hard on her ass.

Holy balls her arms ached something fierce! She should have just taken the smack upside the head.

Allie had no more time to lament her pains, Hulk was advancing on her, stomping on the soft wood and raising his foot up like he wanted to step on her again.

She squeaked and rolled out of the way, his foot falling heavily on the spot she'd just vacated. She could swear she saw dust spring up, but that might have just been her overactive imagination spurred by the dim light. The ship was somehow always immaculate.

"Why-"

<<Gkaun-yte.>> he said again in his deep, booming voice, and tried to smash both fists over her. She scrabbled out of the way, just barely.

"Wait-" She finally got her feet under her and got up.
This wasn't right. Wasn't she supposed to be unharmed? 
She mentally cursed herself for her misunderstanding and assumptions.

<<Yin'tekai-de.>> he swung at her with the back of his hand.
It was all she could do jump out of the way. 

"Ahh!" the tips of his fingers scratched at her shoulder and it hurt.

<<Sain'ja!>> Hulk turned and bullrushed her. 
She was too close. 
Too small.

Too slow.

He grabbed her and smacked her to the wall hard enough her teeth rattled.

She choked as he held her up by the neck, scratching at the thick skin of his wrist as her legs scrambled wildly in the air.

Allison swallowed the copper coating her mouth. She must have bitten her tongue or the insides of her cheeks. It was a little hard to get it all down with his big scaly hand chocking her.

Her vision swam into focus, Hulk's sharp mouth too close to her face.
He hissed a half-remembered command.

She was supposed to speak. Speak about what?

He growled, hateful green stare boring into her like like jade on fire.

She repeated his words between gasps, he'd relented his grip on her throat just enough to allow it, some of her bloody spittle flew out with the harsher sounds.

He let her go suddenly and she crumpled to the floor, using the wall to steady herself.

Hulk rattled something  nasty sounding at her, or maybe it was praise - she couldn't tell, all their words, especially the new ones, sounded like a curse - and turned his back on her.

She coughed feebly and sucked on her teeth. The salty taste came from her right cheek, she'd clenched her teeth over a bit of the thin, delicate skin there.

Gramps had ended his workout and chattered at Hulk who huffed and shook his head, making his long tubular hair slap around his wide shoulders. 
She had noticed that over time he'd added a few small metal and bone decorations to himself. Nothing like Gramps though.
Were those some sort of status indicators?

She stopped pondering when they both turned their beady, luminous eyes to her.

Allie squared up and waited. If Hulk planned on slamming her around again, she needed to brace herself.

Gramps chittered his deep, humming laugh and vigurosly shook Hulk's shoulder, saying something else.
She caught a couple of words she'd learned, something about 'fight' or 'fighter', 'training' and that strange word Gramps had called her when she'd almost had her face bitten off by Hulk after throwing him a fastball.

The rest was gibberish and she feared they planned on clobbering her for her disobedience. 

Hulk took in another deep breath, growling half-heartedly and Gramps said more. The word 'hunt' was in there and she was getting ready to bolt.

<<Ooman.>> Hulk started making her she jump a little.

He went to the center of the dojo, Gramps in tow. The older alien barked something to the room at large and the dim red lights glowed brighter, enabling her to see better.
After so long in perpetual dusk her eyes had adjusted enough that this felt almost like a muddy sort of daylight.

She squinted but remained where she was. What were they playing at?

<<Watch. Learn.>> Hulk said in his harsh tongue as both he and Gramps assumed fighting stances.

Gramps moved his right fist in what looked like a jab in the same deliberate slowness of his practice moves and Hulk blocked it at the same speed.

Then Gramps swung his left fist in an exaggerated arc while moving his hips and changing his stance with the motion, all the while Hulk demonstrating how to step out of the way.

They continued miming a fight, repeating the same two moves a couple of more times, faster and faster, taking turns being on the defense and offense.

She tried not to wince at the sound of flesh being hit. What were these things made of? They didn't even flinch.

Allison watched, a little taken aback. This didn't seem like the kinds of stuff she was supposed to be learning. It sounded more like a spur of the moment thing.

The aliens straightened and Hulk bid her closer with his hand.

"Uh…"

Hulk frowned at her and she reluctantly obeyed, not keen on pissing him off again.

Gramps stepped away and crossed his large arms, watching her.

She swallowed as she took his place in front of Hulk and tried to imitate his posture when he clicked at her.

Gramps surprised her by tapping on her foot with his own scaly appendage to widen her stance. 
He circled them and continued tapping on her, correcting the height at which she kept her arms, the way her shoulders were placed and canting her hips more.
The latter adjustment almost had her running. She hadn't really been touched (outside of smacks and petting Spike) since getting abducted and she did not like having her waist or hips touched by strangers, let alone big, dangerous aliens.

It wasn't quite a boxer's stance, she had to keep her center of gravity lower, her knees bent more, legs spread wider making her muscles tense uncomfortably to keep it up.

Finally, Gramps nodded his approval and barked another word she didn't know.

Hulk made no move, looking down at her expectantly.
Was she supposed to hit him?
It seemed like a one-way ticket to getting knocked the fuck out.

Hulk lowered his arms a fraction and broke eye contact, chittering and growling at Gramps while jutting his chin out at her in derision.

Fucker was laughing at her again. Probably dissing her.

He wanted a fight?! Fine!

She jabbed up and sucker punched him square in his ugly chin, making his head jerk a little and probably bruising her knuckles.

The aliens stared at her. Hulk in slack-mandibled surprise and Gramps in what she assumed was pure, unadulterated glee or a constipation grimace. Probably the former.

She remembered there was a second part to this and swung her left in an arc, moving the rest of her body into it like she'd seen.

Hulk blocked her with a different move, catching her smaller fist in his hand and growling the word for 'stop'.

She gulped, her impulsivity was going to get her killed. She always made the wrong choices; straying off the path, challenging armed men and repeatedly pissing off the scary fucking aliens!
What was wrong with her?!

She mumbled a weak "S-sorry." and tried to tug her fist free. He let it go with another growl.

Gramps was probably repressing the mother of all guffaws for which she silently thanked the stars. Hulk never liked being laughed at even though he tolerated it from the big man. She feared he might take it out on her.

----------

Hul'gkan worked his jaw and tusks. Her fists were small and while the hit hadn't been particularly strong, the reduced surface area where it had landed on was sensitive enough to sting. 

He was loathe to admit Iktaha'rg was right but perhaps Hul'gkan had underestimated her again.

It had been his own fault for not paying attention - again, the practice match had not ended, she had been within her rights to still hit him. A rookie mistake on his part.

Iktaha'rg would hold this over him for the next hundred spans.

 He readjusted his stance, vowing to never misjudge any opponent, weakling or not, like that for however many fights he'd be afforded in this life and the next. 

<<Begin!>> Iktaha'rg ordered, tone deceptively neutral.

Hul'gkan did not wait for her to go first this time, jabbing at her while broadcasting his intent like he would with a pup.
The ooman tried to block, almost getting it right, and hissed in pain as he hit her already bruised forearms.
He did not relent, following up with a swipe intended for her ribs. 
She dodged, just fast enough that he only touched her side.

The ooman grunted in pain anyway and tried to back away. 

He pressed the attack, since she did not seem as focused on fighting back, repeating the same two moves as the ooman flailed about, mostly trying to dodge him.

She incorporated other moves, sloppy, undisciplined and purely instinctual, into her continual retreat. He should punish her for disobeying the lesson parameters, but he wanted to see what else she could do when pressed.

There was some raw talent there and her body may have been slight but it was not as weak as he had first thought. 

Perhaps she would make an even better training tool if he showed her how to fight back along with wilderness survival lessons.

He hadn't even gotten started increasing his pace when the human fell after blocking another light blow, panting and sweating in exhaustion, calling for the match to stop. 
At least she had used the correct word this time, butchered as it was. She sounded worse than a toddler learning how to talk.

Hmm, endurance training was needed first. She wouldn't last a day on a proper hunt otherwise. 

<<Not completely useless…>> Hul'gkan grudgingly agreed with the Elder.

Iktaha'rg said nothing, departing the kehrite without a backwards glance.

Hul'gkan called the ooman to follow him to the medical bay. There was nothing to be done about her thin, soft skin. He would just have to heal her for every little scrape.

She was still catching her breath as she noisily trotted after him, the mesh working to cool down her surface temperature even during the fight was set up with her ideal ranges but did not account for ooman self-regulating capabilities. He would have to tweak it later. 

It would explain why oomans needed to eat and sleep so often. The little ape might eat less than a sixth of what an average yaut'ja ate in a sitting but she needed to replenish her energy at least three times during her day cycle while his kind only fed once every couple of cycles.

The end result was still less sustenance than he needed in a week but proportionately more for her size during the same amount of time. Ooman metabolism was not optimized to make use of everything they ate.

He could already hear her stomach rumbling. Physical activity would account for a larger caloric intake too.
Iktaha'rg called her Fire Eyes but Hul'gkan found that Fire Stomach was the more appropriate designation.

She winced though her treatment, sullenly looking everywhere but at him while perched, stubbly legs dangling back and forth like an impatient pup, on the bay's bed.

She was only a little less put off when he led her to the galley and motioned for her to prepare her own meal under his watchful gaze. 
He never let her handle knives or fire without him present. While not of the most intelligent species, she had already proven herself to be tricky and spiteful in nature.
He would not risk her setting the ship aflame, or damaging equipment. Iktaha'rg would have his hide for it.

She did not chatter at him as she usually did either, chosing in stead to quietly cook her meal and eat it.

It was a welcomed yet uncharacteristic silence. 
The small thing even conversed with the hound. Telling it endless tales of impossible feats and actions from quaint ooman entertainment media. 
She even sang to it.

He would sometimes listen just to get a handle on her language. It was always better to learn by immersion than rely solely on the language pack (although it did help with some of the less common words and expressions).

With him she would generally ask a myriad of questions about everything her fickle mind could come up with. 
His lack of answers had never deterred her from coming up with her own. Most of them wildly inaccurate and sometimes amusing to contemplate if only to understand what mental hoops she'd gone through to get to them.

By now she should have annoyed him into continuing their language lessons. She tended to stop asking stupid things when he spoke and he took advantage of her attention to steer her chaotic mind to something useful.

The ooman took her time searing some meat, letting the pieces cool while she cleaned and prepared the plant matter.
She was completely ignoring him, refusing to even look towards his general direction.

It mattered not to him. As long as she was healthy and advanced her knowledge at a steady pace. They were nearing the Homeworld and he did not want her to embarrass him with her ignorance. 
Iktaha'rg had received a call from the Elder Physician, who had made the initial request for a specimen, barely a cycle ago.
The Honored Je-st'sha're, a great huntress and learned woman, had requested more bloodwork be done after the initial batch of results they had sent was analyzed. She had sounded pleased with her findings and was eager for an update.

Hul'gkan could feel his excitement mounting. To win the favor a female Elder would mean the consideration of others as well.

He calmed himself, he had yet to present his prize - no sense in getting ahead of himself, and watched the ooman eat morosely. 
Such slow cumbersome creatures, how did they reign over everything else on their planet?

She fed even less than usual and got up to clean and put away the knife and fire-pit.

<<No.>> he ordered, stopping her in her tracks. <<Finish.>>
She should know these words well enough by now.

"I'm not hungry." she murmured.
He rattled a warning. She was supposed to use the yaut'ja language when spoken to, he'd already been lenient in the kehrite when she had slipped back to her own tongue.

<<No. Huungrr.>> she grunted out awkwardly.

<<Not hungry.>> he corrected, letting her repeat in her halting way.

She made to sidestep him but Hul'gkan put his arm out to block her, making her flinch back then square up and point the skinning knife at him.

He chuffed at her. She had likely misinterpreted his intention. Were it anyone else, he would have pummeled them into the ground. He'd taken on bigger and tougher opponents who had challenged or merely insulted him plenty of times.
The knife wasn't even long enough to reach any of his vital organs, and he doubted she had the strength, or knew how to even stab it all the way through his hide and sever any tendons.

He put his other hand out in the most common ooman placating gesture, palm out and slowly patting the air.

<<No challenge.>> he said, attempting to be soothing and accidentally rumbled like he would for an angry wei-ghe'h.
He stopped as soon as he realized his mistake, hiding the anger at himself for such a humiliating slip.

She relaxed her shoulders and lowered the knife, tilting her head in confusion. 
He pretended nothing was amiss and took the offered knife back, which she had presented to him hilt-first.

<<Why… battle…?>> she asked, slurring the words like she'd had too much cn'tlip.

He outright laughed this time, the spreading heat of her indignation provoking another bout. This close, he could see why Iktaha'rg had chosen the moniker.

<<The more skills you develop now, the more useful you will be to me in the future.>> he said, crossing his arms at her renewed confusion.
How difficult was it to learn the most common yaut'ja dialect? He'd already picked up more of that accursed English just by hearing her talk (and she did usually talk - incessantly).

<<Defeat me. Learn.>> he continued, shrugging his shoulder as he'd seen her do. 

Her big eyes narrowed and heat took to her fleshy cheeks again. 

Hul'gkan put away the fire-pit and left the little ape to her own  company just as she opened her mouth to speak, unwilling to be questioned or talked at any more. 

He'd never anticipated oomans could be so… chatty. He hadn't known anyone, not even pups when they were young and playful as he was during his infancy, to make so much noise. 
It was amusing at times… but only to a point.

----------

The ugly bastard left her alone again, showing her his back (she'd learned this was a form of disrespect for them by now) as he left the galley.

Defeat him? She couldn't even dodge him, let alone land a solid hit, even if he was distracted! 
Her knuckles still smarted, even after he'd given her that wonderful healing gel to put on all her new scrapes and bruises.

She couldn't understand the purpose of whatever the fuck that had been in the dojo. Why teach her any fight moves at all if he could just swat her away like a fly?
He was bigger, stronger, probably smarter (if only because of that big egghead of his) and better trained than she'd ever hope to be. 

Her defeating him was the equivalent of a mouse beating a goddamn mountain lion. 
Impossible.

Not for the first time, Allie wondered what cosmic injustice she had committed to deserve this cruel and unusual punishment.

Were they gonna use her like some sort of circus monkey?
She'd heard them talking about the ooman to another growly voice in the cockpit when she was supposed to be sleeping in 'her room' last night (she figured they let her use the medbay only because they had no need for it).
Why learn tricks unless someone else wanted her to do them?

She'd ducked back into her room after the conversation ended with solemn barks of respect and then Hulk had come right to her and taken her blood with a scary looking syringe-gun-thing to then feed it into some machines he had activated with a wave of his gauntlet.

She whacked the table in frustration with her fist, instantly regretting the act and the pulsing pain.

Spike was probably already salivating by now, she'd go offer him the morsels of meat she'd saved.

The only being who liked her company was a goddamn alien dog, and even he had to be bribed with food.

Chapter Text

 

She knew it was D-Day when Hulk ordered her to get cleaned up before training even started.

The last couple of months had been miserable. Hulk had been keeping her on an intense learning and workout schedule.

She'd wake up, do her business in the bathroom, wash her face and rinse her mouth and mentally prepare for what came next. 
The lack of toothpaste and toothbrush had been a concern at first, but whatever purification system took care of the ship water also gave it some kind of cleaning qualities since her breath was always fresh after drinking it. 
(Did 'being an alien's pet' include a dental plan?)

After breakfast, the same boring food everyday, was the time for learning. Hulk would try to cram as many new words and behaviors into her head as he could. Sometimes he would include hand gestures but only for very simple actionable commands.
The smacks were frequent though she had learned to dodge better. 
Blocking the light blows was a big no-no. If he considered her deserving of punishment, she didn't get to outright stop it - which she'd learned the hard way, of course.

After lunch she had a bit of time to herself in order to digest and relax a bit. That time was important, she usually got to spend it with Spike (bless his ugly broad toad face, he was the only one who didn't judge her and never snapped at her, who she could talk to freely) down in the cargo-hold and  prepare her body for the next challenge. Her yoga stretches had now become more useful than ever.

She didn't always get to finish everything she'd set out to do by the time Hulk came down to fetch her for training, babbling about her never being on time or something like it. How he knew the exact moment she was supposed to start was still a mystery.

Then came the pain.

Hulk was worse than every middle and high-school coach she'd ever had put together. 

He had her doing laps around the ship and the dojo, hounding her to go faster while she huffed and puffed and he didn't even break a sweat (could he sweat?).

Then came the crunches and the pushups and a hundred other things she either had no name for or had forgotten about that had her feeling like a wet ragdoll by the time he was done torturing her.

After another short break during which her soul had the chance to catch up to her body came the fights. 

Even tired and spent, he'd have her repeating the same few moves every day, starting slow and getting faster untill he was satisfied with her form.
Gramps sometimes jumped in to give her pointers too, especially if Hulk was testing her so called 'martial' skills by basically chasing her around the dojo and sometimes slamming her to the walls, the floor and one memorable time - the ceiling. 

All the while, Hulk would be talking to her in that horrible rough language, reminding her of the things she'd learned and practically beating his lessons into her exhausted brain and body. She figured he was being gentle about it but she didn't feel particularly coddled.

By the time dinner came she would be too tired to care about eating the same food again, wolf down some medium-done meat and raw fruit and vegetables then push herself to stay awake long enough to clean up (thankfully in private now) and do some muscle relaxant stretches.

She'd made the mistake of going to bed without those only a few times at the beggining of her new ordeal. It was a chore and a half to trudge through but it was better than the aches when she woke (she still ached of course but she knew it could be worse).


This morning had been different. Hulk had been more impatient than usual with her. Decked out in his shiny, skimpy armor, he'd barged in and woken her up early then barked at her to eat fast and wash up. 

He even took away her shoes! 

She hadn't understood his intent at first and ended up not so accidentally kicking him in the head when he reached down to remove them himself - which earned her an aggressive 'krr' and a pointed, clearly spoken order that she hurriedly obeyed.

He'd eventually left her in the bathroom with a grumbled order to wash, muttering something about the human being dumber than the hound. 

With no choice but to obey, she saw to her hygene, taking a quick bath and pulling her damp, slightly tangled hair (finger combing could only do so much) back in the best approximation of a French braid she could manage without a mirror or a brush then put on the metal loops to engage the mesh back on, wishing for her old, worn cotton tracksuit instead.

She was glad her hair had mostly chilled out. There had been a disgustingly greasy phase before her scalp got used to the lack of shampoo and conditioner. 
Whatever was in the water tended to clean up most of the oil but she'd found it also dryed her hair too much - which resulted in another greasy outbreak. It was a little rough on the skin too.
Gently finger-combing her hair from the base down while her fingers were wet with the blueish soup was enough to clean it up. She then used normal water to rinse out.

Barefoot and afraid, she had slowly walked up to the cockpit. 
Looking out into the void of space was terrifying and calming at the same time now, and she hadn't managed to get more than occasional glimpses during breaks lately.

Gramps was sitting in his throne and she only hesitated for a moment before he chuffed and beckoned her in with a lazy wave of his huge, scaly hand. She'd gotten more used to him, and no longer feared being alone in the same space together.
He was still as huge and imposing as always but Gramps had actually made more of an effort to be liked than Hulk. Reigning the younger one in whenever he got too rough or impatient and sometimes even giving praise in her own language if she ever performed better than usual.

The vista outside of the ship was magnificent.

She'd seen pictures of Earth transmitted by drones on Mars and the Moon or sent by astronauts from their stations and the last transmissions from the space exploration missions that had left some months before she'd been abducted but… nothing compared to seeing a planet from the outside with her own eyes. 

She got closer to the transparent glass, she still hadn't learned what it was called, and watched in awe as they slowly passed by another planet, half-lit by the two orange suns behind the small rock they were going towards.

They must have been moving quite fast.
 
Allie had always loved the night sky and she'd had a Space-Phase as a child but she barely remembered anything she'd learned about it.
She knew the constellations and how to travel following the stars but who knew if they were even in the same galaxy.

The brown rock ahead of them was currently the size of both her fists put together and was surrounded by a messy, diffuse ring. 
She wondered what their stars looked like at night. 
Would she get to live that long? For all she knew, Hulk had been tenderizing her for a big ole' stew.

With a pang of grief, she realized that even if she lived through the day she'd never see her night sky again. Ever.

The mottled brown planet was getting gradually bigger, her nerves fraying a little more with every inch the ship got closer.

It was so big… was it bigger than Earth? Would she be able to walk on it or get crushed by a stronger gravitational pull?
Would the two suns blister the skin off her flesh?
Maybe the aliens were primarily nocturnal…

She watched the planet as it grew, dominating the entire visual range of the small ship.

A beep interrupted her trance and she turned to see Gramps answering a call, a faintly projected, red-tinged hologram appearing before him and another masculine voice growled difficult words. 
She'd gotten better at understanding the language, but this was fast-paced and not aimed at teaching. 
She got the gist of it though, this was some sort of alien flight control check. 

Hulk had also joined them, standing behind his better with one hand braced on the top of his throne. She got the distinct impression he'd been watching her but now seemed intent on listening to the hologram's garbled speech.

The first conversation ended quickly and another started immediately after.

Allie got closer to the strange projection. She could feel that the air was warmer the closer she got to it.
What did they see? she wondered.

This voice had a different quality. Smoother, with an almost purring undertone to it.
The two big aliens were reacting differently to it too. 
Hulk stood ramrod straight and puffed up his chest while Gramps shifted in his throne to stand a bit more upright compared to his bored slouch from earlier.

They bowed their heads and pumped their right fists over their sternums twice in a sign of respect when it was over. 
She'd understood more this time, it had sounded like a formal greeting and invitation.

The ship rumbled and she was instructed to take one of the two seats hugging the wall on either side of the entrance behind Gramps' throne. Not keen on getting thrown around like a pinball during reentry, she jogged to the nearest one and sunk in the soft gel-like padding, her feet no longer touching the floor.
Hulk took the other, laughing at how ridiculous she no doubt looked in the oversized seat.

Dark elastic belts snaked out and secured them all then the ship rumbled and she stared, open-mouthed, as they entered the atmosphere.
For a short while everything was red then incandescent white making her close her eyes and shield her face. Once the turbulence evened out she opened her eyes to see the heat had cleared as they passed through creamy clouds.

A great jungle spanned the equator in an even ribbon of dense foliage. She was surprised it was so green.

There were active volcanoes spitting up smoke between the poles and the equator, with deep canyons of red rock cracking the soil in irregular patterns.

As the ship brought them closer to the jungle, she saw great pyramids cresting the treetops. Sharp, golden light reflected off the tops.

They landed on the outskirts of the jungle, on a step pyramid that reminded her of old Aztec or Mayan constructs she'd learned about while growing up, only this one was impossibly bigger and infinitely more complex.

There were other ships coming and going in a flurry of activity too. She watched a giant mothership pass them by, feeling like a shrimp swimming next to a blue whale.

The pyramid itself had a myriad of moving parts, most of them floating. A long, wide corridor closer to ground level led into the jungle and tall tower-like constructs which emitted a strong light upwards pierced through thin clouds.

She was certain this was merely one spaceport on the planet. And it was huge. Incomprehensively so.

Gramps landed them on one of the smaller platforms, the ship setting down with barely a tremor.

Hulk was excited, bouncing on the balls of his feet, almost like a little kid.
He was usually so solemn and quiet when he wasn't badgering her to learn something new, the difference in temperament was more alien than the creature himself.

Gramps quieted him down with a friendly shake of the shoulder and a some rumbled words she didn't catch (probably 'Don't blow this.' or something).

Her captor nodded and turned to her, bidding her forward.
Before she knew what he was doing, he'd clipped some sort of leash on her neck and tied it off at his belt. On the opposite side hung the gleaming white oblong skull he'd taken from another one of the black things, the kainde amedha, similar that to the monster that had almost killed her.

"What the hell?!"

<<Quiet.>> he rumbled dangerously.

"Is this really necessary?" 

Hulk only krr'd at her, as usual.

<<Why... trap?>> she grumbled out, using the closest word she knew that reflected her current situation.

He started forward and dragged her along. She gave up struggling after a few useless tugs and stayed close, giving the leash some slack.
<<For your own safety.>> he said, finally.

<<Danger?>>

He harrumphed like she was a moron. 
She'd been told at one point that she was considered 'Worthy Prey' so she could only infer that her presence might incite other Hunters.

Many of her lessons had been focused on the correct way to act in this alien society; avoid eye contact, no baring teeth, don't show fear, never turn your back on anyone since she was barely above a 'servant', and never speak unless directly addressed.

She gulped while trying to stretch out the leash around her neck. It was a strange, less flexible suede like material. 
They were nearing the cargo hold. Frog-dog whined from his cage and Hulk quieted him with a high whistling sound.

Allison squared her shoulders and stared ahead, repeating the rules to herself as the bay door opened, bright light spilling in and tall, creeping silhouettes throwing long shadows at even intervals.

----------

Hul'gkan proudly stepped down the ramp. His awu'asa was cleaned, oiled and shined, his scars were worthy and his gleaming chiva trophy, proof of his success, was strapped to his belt.

There was a small crowd waiting for them in a semi-circle beyond the landing pad, most were curious onlookers, drawn by the presence of more than one female. He recognized one of his surviving hunt brothers from his lesser hunts before the chiva. 
Thei'dteinou, the big oaf who he had hunted the Quatza-Rij with all those spans ago was waving from behind the crowd, dwarfing everyone else.

He trilled in pleasure at his bearer, silently staring at him from the edge of the gathering with her shoulders pulled back in pride. He hadn't expected her to be present. Last he'd heard, she was away on a hunt for materials.

The most important greeters though, were the Elder Physician and her entourage. All female except for the four honor-guards flanking them, setting them apart from the crowd. Not that the females really needed guards, they were only there as a demonstration, to accentuate the Elder Physician's standing. 
The pecking order among mixed clans often needed such shows of strength and while females rarely battled each other for better standing like the males often did, they still liked boasting.

Both he and Iktaha'rg bowed their heads and thumped their chests in respect.

<<Congratulations on your successful chiva. I hear you were the only one to come out alive.>> the Elder Physician Je-st'sha're greeted. 
Her eyes danced over Iktaha'rg and Hul'gkan in turn, then fixed on the little ooman beside him.

<<My thanks, Honored Elder.>> he puffed up and tensed his muscles, unable to resist showing off with so many females present.
Yaut'ja capable of producing offspring were rare, less than a quarter of the entire population, and wielded most of the political power. To have so many here, for him, was a novelty. And an opportunity.

<<Is this my specimen?>> she purred and boldly approached him, setting a long, elegantly clawed hand on his shoulder, one finger trailing up to touch at his tresses slowly.

The ooman made no noise and obediently remained by his side, taking care not to meet anyone's eyes just as he'd instructed. Her heart beat was abnormally high, but that was to be expected when surrounded by so many warriors.

<<My Living Trophy.>> he rumbled back, trying not to let himself be distracted by the Elder's light caress. He had to pick his words carefully. He did not wish to gift the ooman, only lend it. The request permitted it.
A Living Trophy meant he wished to keep the little ape.
And above that, it meant he would have regular access to it which would in turn put him in contact with the rest of the females who would be using his possession.

Je-st'sha're tilted her head, a clear prompt to continue that also showed off her noble profile as she towered over him.

<<I offer her body for your use as requested and respectfully ask it be returned to me whole at the end of the season.>> he rattled off the speech he'd prepared, his voice stuttering with a rough purr when the Elder Physician gripped one of his tresses between two warm digits.

The Elder shifted her stance, looking between he and his trophy with a low growl. She was displeased, but he was within his rights and hadn't overstepped.
He felt the prick of her claws puncturing the tress they had been holding, then rub the hot thwei on the sensitive hide there. A provocation and a proposition rolled in one.

His blood boiled at the prospect of mating such a woman.

<<Are you certain?>> she asked, still with that low, seductive purr that clouded his higher faculties. <<Have you such a need of it that a gift to the Sciences is beyond consideration?>> 

Hul'gkan felt Iktaha'rg's eyes on him.
He squeezed his fists tight enough to scratch his palm with his claws, the small flashing pain taking his attention off the spicy h'dui'se she was stealthily releasing.

He fought not to give into his own dai-shui, that would be humiliating. All eyes were on him.

He would not fall to such manipulation, even if it cost him her consideration, there was a bigger prize in waiting and Hul'gkan was used to waiting and earning everything worthwhile in his life.

<<She is Worthy Prey. I plan on making her worthier, for my own hunts and others.>> he gritted out, tamping down on all his instincts.

<<A learning tool? Not unheard of…>> she hummed deep in her throat. <<Following Honored Iktaha'rg's footsteps, or hoping to surpass him?>> she turned her attention to his right, releasing his tress with one last caress.
<<What do you say, Honored Warden of N'ithya?>> she asked Iktaha'rg.

The old hunter rumbled his pleasure at being addressed and Hul'gkan resisted the urge to snarl. His pride was salved that the Elder Physician chose not to touch his former teacher as she had touched him

<<Little Fire Eyes has… potential.>> he answered after some deliberation. <<She has proven to be sly in her initial escape and has the spirit of a fighter.>> 

<<It escaped you?>> Je-st'sha're asked with renewed interest, fixing the ooman with her heated stare again.
The leash tensed minutely, but the ooman did not attempt to flee.

<<Used a waterfall to shake me off.>> Hul'gkan answered, still feeling the sting of his initial failure. It had yet to prove fortuitous.

<<Fascinating.>> she purred. <<What else did it do?>>

<<She learns fairly quickly, be it teachings of the mind or the body…>> he grumbled and added <<for an ooman…>> as an afterthought.

<<And this fighter spirit?>>

Hul'gkan and Iktaha'rg shared an amused glance above the little ape's head.

<<She has a propensity towards striking when the target of her ire is distracted.>> Hul'gkan answered diplomatically.

<<And very good aim.>> Iktaha'rg added with an amused chitter.

Hul'gkan hoped the old man wouldn't tell that particular story, Iktaha'rg had been hit by a fruit too after all… although she had been aiming for the younger hunter.

<<Fascinating…>> Je-st'sha're repeated.
The Elder brought up her gauntlet computer and scrolled through some of the results they had sent. It was obviously only for show but it gave her and the audience a pause in which to consider.
<<The initial bloodowork shows promise. It seems adequate for our needs.>> she concluded.
<<I accept your offer.>> Je-st'sha're said and Hul'gkan felt the relief all the way to his toes and the tips of his tresses.

<<Join me at the Sciences building, I believe a tour of our facilities are in order since you will be… visiting.>> she offered, just as he had aimed.
<<My team and I will be waiting for you and the subject on our transport. You may follow us at your leisure. I can see your chiva brought you much esteem.>> she waved towards the rest of the crowd. 

He wasn't certain how sincere that was, more than half these yaut'ja were here for her.
<<Do not linger overmuch.>> she added in a low tone and left with her assistants and honor guard procession trailing behind and around her in a neat formation.

One of the females who had been eyeing him up the whole time gave him a lingering backwards stare over her shoulder. She shared features with the Elder Physician, must have been related somehow.

Iktaha'rg shook his shoulder in congratulations and left him to speak to a group of Elites. Former students, most likely.

Hul'gkan's eyes were still glued to the group in front of him that drew everyone's attention as it descended the wide stairway.

He heard the ooman yip just before a violent shake rattled the brains in his skull.

<<Moving up in the world, Short Staff?>> Thei'dteinou asked.

<<Watch it.>> Hul'gkan growled, squeezing the offending wrist untill the big oaf retreated with a small sound of pain.

<<Glad to see you Blooded, Hunt Brother.>> he added more respectfully.

Thei'dteinou and he had trained together in their early infancy and were sent along with another peer (who neither of them spoke of now) on their first real hunt. 
A rite of passage for adolescent hunters where they had earned their ceremonial masks - provided they reach the appropriate experience, and the right to continue onto their chivas.
Thei'dteinou had received the call for his chiva much earlier than Hul'gkan, although they were of the same age and almost the same skill - it had been a blow for Hul'gkan to be overlooked in favor of his Hunt Brother even though the smaller male had won a higher percentage of their friendly matches together and even accumulated more lesser trophies than most of his peers had. All because the Council thought him weaker due to his size, or perhaps expected him to continue growing...
For a while, his resentment had soiled the friendship.

<<And I, you, mei'hswei.>> Hul'gkan answered fondly.

<<I will leave you to your bearer before she kicks me out of the way. Seek me out later. We're due for a hunt! And a drink!>> his friend shook him one last time and scampered off. He'd always had a healthy respect for the Honorable Nrachackt'ra, Hul'gkan's bearer.

The young hunter turned to greet his mother last as she graced him with a quick embrace and then held him out at arms length by both shoulders to look him over.

Her favor towards a male offspring was unusual in their culture.
Generally, bearers only took care of their pups untill they were fit to be sent on their first proper hunt. They would train and educate their offspring in the same manner regardless of gender untill they were old enough to be taught of the multiple paths available to them. 
The children who could bear pups were later given additional tutelage. 

Nrachackt'ra had held a lingering attachment to Hul'gkan who was her last-born.
As of the last fifty or so spans, the natality rate of his kind had been dwindling. Seeing young pups wasn't that rare yet but was increasingly becoming akin to a good luck charm.

His bearer would sometimes show up after his more difficult hunts, proud of his victories and had fulfilled his request for the splendid awu-asa he was equipped with at no cost to him. 
He owed her a great deal, and made a point to present her with rare and valuable raw materials whenever he downed a creature whose parts she could use in her craft.

<<Impressive scar.>> She traced the six claw marks left by the kainde amedha across his chest. <<I trust the awu-asa served?>>

<<The best I could ask for.>> he bowed his head in respect.

<<You come bearing more trophies than anyone expected...>> her eyes slid to the little ape, now peering curiously at the two of them. Her anxiousness seemed to have abated, likely recognizing the resemblance between mother and son and concluding she wasn't as much of a threat.
Not completely inaccurate, if misguided. His bearer could skin an ooman before they took their last breath.

<<You always did like overachieving.>> she mused with a teasing chitter.

He merely growled in reply, earning himself more laughter.

She quieted after a few heartbeats and bent closer to him.

<<Watch yourself around the Elder Physician. She is cunning and cruel. I know not why you have tangled yourself up in her schemes, but be wary.>> she warned solemnly, tone hushed so only he could hear.

Hul'gkan nodded, taken aback. What did his bearer know of that he didn't?

<<You should go, do not make her wait.>>

He put out a halting hand and his bearer paused as he pulled out the teeth and claws he had saved for her.

<<A gift, for the armor and your wisdom.>> he offered formally.

Nrachackt'ra stared at the small leather pouch in his hand for a beat before opening it to peer inside. 

<<More than one th'syra?>> she asked as she pocketed the gift.

<<Only the skull I took was a true defeat. This one was… aided.>> he said with a sideways glance at the wide-eyed ooman.

His bearer reached out with a sharp claw to tilt the little thing's face up, forcing their gazes to meet. 
Hul'gkan held his breath for a second as the ooman fiercely stared back at his bearer then averted her eyes at the last possible moment, narrowly avoiding a direct challenge.

<<Fascinating…>> his mother mused.

Chapter Text

 

Allison's knees went a little gummy as she descended the wide ramp, using Hulk's bulk to hide.

They had an audience waiting for them.

It took seeing the huge rattle-snake patterned one coming towards them like it owned the place for the fact that she was on an another planet surrounded by Big Honking Aliens to really sink in.

She kept her eyes neutrally ahead, avoiding eye contact even though the huge thing was staring right at her.
It was so BIG, bigger than Gramps even!

There was something slightly different about this one and the group behind it. Still big and muscular but the chest covering was a tad bumpy and the waist was a little narrower while the hips were wider.
Could this be one of their women?
Or their version of amazons?

These things had huge women...

She noticed the small group of females behind snake-lady were taller than most of the other men too (except the giant fiddly one way in the back).

Hulk was the shortest of the aliens present. 
Was he the manlet equivalent of his species? She almost grinned at the thought.

Snake-lady purred and rattled at Hulk. It all sounded so different than how Gramps and him talked. Almost… flirty...

Gross.

Allie didn't like the way Snake-lady looked at her, like she was a tasty morsel after weeks of starvation.

And she definitely did not like how weird Hulk was acting. Practically falling over himself while Snake-lady barely touched him.

Wait.

Was she some sort of… aprhodisiac? 
Was that why he'd had her trained…

Oh God, was she going to die by alien snoo-snoo?!
Or would they grind her bones to dust?

She tried to back away, almost forgetting the leash but catching herself before she made a scene. 
Drawing attention to herself seemed like a bad idea. 
Snake-lady was the only one really looking at her anyway, although Hulk was getting attention from everyone and was absolutely basking in it.

Allison could understand enough of the conversation to figure she was important to the big woman, especially after Gramps praised her like she was a fine pony on a show.

Were they selling her? 
Hulk had told her she wasn't a slave or a servant, would that change if someone else took her?

She couldn't believe herself but she hoped he wouldn't. At least with Hulk, she'd learned what to expect from him. Going through all that again with another alien of unknown temperament that had nothing to gain by keeping her alive was a frightening prospect.

Snake-lady seemed a little miffed at her captor but her answer was positive and pleased Hulk.
Allison sighed in relief when the strange new alien finally backed away with her possé. That had been intense.

The big wall of muscle in the back was now steadily advancing towards her, his beady red eyes intent on Hulk.

She couldn't help the squeak of surprise when he got too close for comfort and shook Hulk like a toy.

She'd never expected the irritable ass to have a friend, even among his own kind. Apparently violence was a way for these things to show affection too. They'd called each other 'brother' although they were visually as far removed from each other as she was from a professional body-builder.

Last came another one of the big women, who was dark green and speckled gray like Hulk. They also shared the same luminous green eye color. 
The open affection between them was startling. She'd never taken Hulk for a hugger.

After exchanging a few words and a small leather pouch, the new female turned her attention towards Allison, making the small human tense at the cold touch of wicked claws under her chin.
Allie had no choice but to look up, watching the jade of the alien's eyes dance in the full daylight. There was a mix of anger and fear swirling in her gut and she belatedly remembered to break eye-contact, thankfully fast enough that those claws didn't shave her face clean off.

She'd have to ask Hulk what that word both his relative and Snake-lady had said meant. Provided she got to talk to him any time soon.

Being treated like an accessory was getting really old, really fast.

----------

The spaceport looked even bigger on the inside than on the outside. Tall arching ceilings with elegantly sculpted support pillars and wide walkways so smooth she could probably  slide on them if she still had her sneakers.

It wasn't particularly pleasant to walk on, but at least she wouldn't get injured.

Her presence attracted some attention as she trotted behind Hulk and Gramps, careful to keep her eyes forward and firmly at chest (or lower) level.

Growled conversations stopped as the three of them passed.

There were so many of them... all big and imposing yet different from each other with wide arrays of varying skin colors and patterns. 

She felt like a mouse in a cattery, all it took was one hungry cat and she'd be no more...
She sped up and hung closer to the her captors, practically walking on their heels. 

She had to watch her footing so she didn't accidentally step on them, the last thing she wanted was to be pushed away for being clingy. 
The leash felt more and more like a line with a her as the bait on the hook.

She almost got elbowed in the face by Gramps when he stopped in front of a metallic pod-thing. Snake-lady was waiting inside.

Hulk pulled her away just in time by the neck, making her choke.

Gramps gave Hulk another hearty shake by the shoulder, wishing him well and inviting him over to spar when he had time, then his burnt gold eyes turned to her and he patted her head like a dog.
She ducked under his arm and glared at him, earning an amused chuff.

<<Serve well, Fire Eyes. You might yet live to see a hunt.>> he said and stepped away, letting Hulk pull her in the waiting pod with an unamused chuff.

She wondered if she'd ever see the old alien again. She'd almost become… fond of him. 
Or maybe just familiar and afaid of the unknown.

The door slid closed and Allison tried to ignore the giants staring at her from the side, she could see them all reflected in the pod's curving gray window. In stead of cowering like she wanted to, she chose to admire the alien architecture as they left the huge spaceport and slid along magnetic rails down the wide strip of road leading into the jungle she'd seen while landing.

The trees were gargantuan, hiding other, smaller pyramids, tucked between them. 
They travelled along forking parallel highways, seemingly going straight through the jungle to the other side. She could barely feel the movement.

How could beings so advanced be so barbaric?

The reflected figures gradually lost interest in her and she sensed Hulk relaxing next to her. His anxiousness had been putting her on edge too, whatever spooked him automatically meant bad news to her.

The ride was over too soon and the pod slowed and came to rest in another port so seamlessly she only felt a slight tug forward just before it stopped.

Snake-lady motioned them out together and Hulk fell into step next to her. 
Allie kept up behind them, this time letting as much distance between her and the big woman as she could, which put her uncomfortably close to the silent, masked guards.
Each of the four warriors wore the same kind of shiny, ceremonial armor and brandished really long spears with wicked, barbed tips.
One of them noticed her peeping and his head bent towards her. She saw the yellow flash of his eyes fixing her with an angry look and heard a low growl of warning.

She turned her eyes forward in submission.

They were led down another smooth road, this one looked more like tightly packed dirt than the stone the buildings were made of. They passed square buildings and other pyramid shaped dwellings along the way.

The city cut a neat line into the jungle, just like the magnetic road they'd come through.

The two suns beat down on her head and back harshly. Her dairk hair heated up her scalp and she was already covered in a thin sheen of sweat. 
The air here was similar to what she'd breathed on the ship, heavy and a little muggy, except she could smell the greenery, the dust in the air, the rich soil and humidity from the jungle. 
Now that she could see her own skin more clearly, she realized how pale it had become. Her healthy bronze was gone. She hoped they'd let her out into the sunlight, wherever they were taking her.

Hulk did not attempt to speak to Snake-lady and she seemed indifferent to his presence as she led the way.
Allie took the chance to surreptitiously examine the other women of the group from under her eyelashes, turning her head a fraction.
They looked younger and weren't as tall as the big woman. 
Perhaps these aliens grew in height with age? 
It didn't explain the wall of muscle, Hulk's 'brother', from earlier, so - probably not.

One of them in particular, the second in command from the way the others treated her, had similar rattle-snake patterns with the leader but her coloration was more faded and paler on her belly, palms and the insides of her thighs.
She had been the one eyeing Hulk like he was a piece of meat when they'd landed.
Now she was looking at Allie with unmistakeable hunger in her eyes. 

Hulk pulled her closer to him, possibly sensing the same intent, as they entered another giant construct.

She tried counting her steps and marking all the turns and stairs they took in her head but lost track by the time they reached an elevator of sorts - a raising platform - which took them to the upper part of the pyramid.

Snake-lady was talking now, showing Hulk various rooms and areas of the upper floor. The place was filled with all sorts of complicated looking machines, it reminded her of the medbay on the ship but on a much bigger scale.

She gulped, throat suddenly dry. This was it. She was either getting probed or dissected. Or both. 

Hulk turned to her while Snake-lady was still growling difficult words and something about kch-s'ke'i - which she knew went along the lines of 'cleansing' or 'purifying' - and undid the strap at her neck, wrapping up the leather string around his hand.

Allison felt the warm presence of another behind her and froze, looking up at Hulk with pleading eyes.

<<Me… here… leave?>> she managed. Their language was made even more difficult to grasp because of the word order.

She knew she'd made a mistake speaking out of turn, but she was afraid and desperate and expecting to die soon anyway.

The alien behind her chittered in amused interest, it was the second in command, Snake-sister.

<<You've taught it our language?>> she asked. Her voice was a little higher pitched compared to Snake-lady, friendlier even.

----------

<<She knows some things.>> Hul'gkan nodded. 
<<Still a rude primitive.>> he muttered under his breath while stowing the leather strap away. He had told her, repeatedly, not to speak out of turn. Stupid ooman.

Vay'n'ritja, a younger cousin who shared the same thirst for knowledge and an Ancient grandmother with the Elder Physician, was also an attractive woman. A hunter in her own right with more trophies that Hul'gkan, even though her status was already high enough she did not require them.

<<Impressive learning capacity, an aggressive attitude when provoked, adaptive thinking and an independent streak.>>
she hummed and fiddled with her wrist computer.
<<You've brought us the ideal specimen.>> she purred.

Hul'gkan puffed up his chest at the praise, ignoring the little stab of guilt at the ape's pitiful, insistent staring.

<<I am honored to serve.>> he replied.

<<Why do you really wish to keep it?>> she looked at him with interest.

This again? He repressed the angry growl at being interrogated, unwilling to shatter his chances with a female despite already stating his intentions clearly.

<<It is as I have already said.>>

<<I have heard of this tactic before… but what if our experiments change it?>>

Hul'gkan stepped in front of his property, he did not like unspoken threats to himself or his belongings.

<<Speak plainly.>>

Vay'n'ritja chittered at him and he grit his tusks.

<<Do you know why we wanted an ooman female from their homeworld and not one of the aseigan or one from the game-planets?>> she asked as she lightly placed a paw on his shoulder.

Hul'gkan narrowed his eyes up at the female, waiting for her to continue.
He could not see the ooman, but felt her small, cold fingertips touch his back.

Vay'n'ritja snorted at his lack of response, tapping her claws on his pauldron.

<<Genetic diversity. >> she stated, her eyes darting behind him. <<It may very well be the key to saving our->>

<<Cousin.>> Je-st'sha're interrupted. <<Won't you prepare our subject?>>

<<If I may be permitted, what will you do to my Trophy?>> he asked, taking care not to sound petulant or angry.

<<You may not. For the duration of our procedure, it is ours to do with as we please.>> the Elder said.

<<As long as she remains whole.>> Hul'gkan reminded.

<<Of course. It may even be improved.>> Vay'n'ritja boasted.

<<What ->> 

<<Enough. You have delivered the subject, you may visit it and check on its wellbeing every full day and full night.>> the Elder commanded. 

Hul'gkan nodded curtly, the Elder was fully within her rights to kick him out, but that didn't mean he liked it.

He stepped away from Vay'n'ritja, mindful not to show his back and put a hand on the ooman's shoulder, jerking her back and forth a little to sow some courage.

<<Behave. They will not harm you. Remember your lessons and practice. I will come back in…>> he paused to calculate the time in a way she understood. <<… around ten of your sleep cycles.>>

Little Fire Eyes was subdued in her acknowledgement but he could see the anger in her. She did not like this arrangement.

Her feelings were irrelevant, he would get her back and take her flighty mind off this whole process with rigurous training. He looked forward to setting her loose in one of the safer reserves and seeing if she could provide an even better challenge than last time, once the females were done of course.

He hoped she wouldn't slack off too much and lose what little stamina and crumbs of skill he'd taught her so far, but he could rectify it even if she did.

He left the laboratory with a final rattle, the ooman would be fine, he had his new ship to claim, his trophies waiting to be set and a night of celebrating with his old Hunt Brother ahead of him. 
He might even have time for a hunt or two before he returned.

----------

Hulk left her with one last incline of his head that went mostly ignored.

The guards had remained outside and the women surrounded her, clicking up a storm as they talked to each other, too fast for her to keep up with.

Snake-sister chirped to get her attention and motioned for her to come. Allison had no choice but to obey, solemnly following the big alien to whatever fate awaited her.

She was made to lay on a high bed with her right arm held out, palm up.
The alien woman took one of those syringe guns again except that the needle on this thing was way bigger than anything Hulk had ever used. She tried to get away but the big alien just held her by the elbow as she uselessly jiggled her shoulder.

Then it did something weird.
It… purred.

Allison didn't know if tigers could purr but this was the sound she would associate with it, low and growly, pleasant and unexpectedly soothing. It resonated in her head, made her heartbeat slow and the fear fade.

The alien was holding the device up, trying to put her at ease, petting up and down her arm slowly.

Snake-sister pointed a claw at the fleshy part of her upper arm right where her contraceptive implant was.
The syringe gun got near enough to spray something numbing on her skin, then Snake-sister gently cut a vertical line into the epidermis and used the device to quickly suction the implant out.
A small application of the healing gel had the scratch already starting to heal.

Allison laid her head back on the bed with a heavy thump, stomach roiling at the implication.
More blood was taken from the inside of her elbow and then she was left alone.

----------

Allie's initial fears turned out to be unfounded.

For what felt like the first four days (although the suns never set completely and the amount of time there was light out was far longer than the dark), all they did was take her blood and leave her mostly alone.
The next few 'days' she got one shot after each breakfast in the muscles of her thighs from Snake-lady herself.

She got three square meals a day and was allowed to wander the laboratory and the room she slept and ate in but was forbidden from entering other restricted rooms - which was most of them.

The day and night cycles of this planet were strange.
It was never fully night, more like a dark dusk with maybe an hour of actual night. There was no moon visible but she could see the ring of asteroids she'd spotted from space arching over the planet like the biggest rainbow. 
She was glad she wasn't stuck inside and had access to the big balconies lining the pyramid. She could see the city and the jungle, watch the aliens go about their day - it looked almost normal from so high up.

Sometimes she'd see other forms darting about at the edges of the streets. She'd thought those might have been their children at first glance but saw that they were shaped differently from the aliens who took her. And they acted far too meek to be anything like them too.
With mounting dread she'd realized that some of them were human while many others were of completely different species.

Her earlier wish for company in this miserable existence felt even more selfish and cruel. 
She wondered how many alien species were out there. Were they all victims of the hunter race?


 Midday was impossible for her to bear, she'd gotten a sunburn just from being exposed for a few minutes, the air danced with heat and she could barely breathe it when she was outside. She usually chose to spend that time indoors, where there was some form of climate control, and work on her calisthenics.
She figured Hulk would be displeased if she lagged behind too much and while the alien women hadn't done anything too weird to her, she didn't entirely trust they wouldn't start. 
She knew she didn't stand a chance to fight them off, but it made her feel a little safer so she kept at it.

At least Hulk had always been honest about what he wanted from her. These women weren't interested in teaching her any new words of their complicated language and generally ignored her while doing their tests.

Allie had tried to get some answers but the reactions had varied from outright dismissal to angry hisses. 
She'd stopped being nosy after almost getting her hand crushed because she'd dared to peek at the red glowing readings on one of their portable scanning devices.

Hulk came to see her around the time he'd promised he would, which was also during the hottest day she'd endured, but he was more preoccupied with puffing up for the female aliens than he was with her wellbeing.

And to think she'd actually been happy to see him! 

She must be suffering from some form of Stockholm's Syndrome. She'd gotten too used to him and Gramps.

If she weren't a captive, watching weird alien courting rituals might actually have been entertaining - mostly because the woman was entirely unresponsive to him and the big, wicked looking skull he'd brought.

She snorted at the sight and made to leave the large laboratory, her sleeping quarters were at the end of the hall leading out of the main lab. 
There were two exits, one that led directly to her room through a backdoor and the large sliding doors that connected to the main hall and some of the places she wasn't allowed in.
The heat was making her lethargic, she could use a nap.

She couldn't go for the exit she usually passed through since Hulk was busy leaning on the arched frame, showing off his goods to one of the 'nurses' who kept an eye on Allison when the Snake sisters were too busy doing whatever it was they did in the forbidden rooms. 

Allie fancied them having lavish tea-parties she was never to be invited to, sipping fragrant hot water from teeny tiny cups, eating bite-sized finger-foods by stabbing them with their claws and damn - that made her crave scones and cookies and little cucumber and cheese sandwiches. The food here was just as boring as on the ship.

She avoided the would-be couple and made for the main exit, breezing past the guards posted there. They never bothered her when Snake-lady had her moved.


A scaly paw stopped her suddenly and she hissed in pain at the prick of claws on her shoulder. She was pulled back and the black claws embedded further into her skin, ruby-red droplets of blood already welling out.

<<Where do you think you're going, soft-meat?>> the guard nearest to her growled. 
She was turned roughly and her eyes met the flash of baleful yellow under the decorated face-plate. There was something frighteningly familiar about them. The same hue as the guard who had threatened her in the beginning.

She whimpered when he cruelly pressed on her wound again.

She didn't even have time to say anything when there was a sudden loud roar and the hand gripping her painfully was wrenched away. Hulk had tackled the guard and was viciously beating him with his bare hands.

Allison backed away untill she hit a wall, trying to avoid getting caught up in the melee. 
She'd never seen anything so brutal.

She had always known that these aliens were violent. Not just from when she'd been caught but Hulk and Gramps had sparred in front of her as a sort of training aid too although it had been slow and calculated compared to this.

She'd never seen them actually fight.

Fluorescent green blood flew from the guard as Hulk slashed him with his claws, snarling like an animal.

She tried looking around for help but all the other aliens were just watching. The 'nurse' actually seemed to be enjoying it.

"St-stop." she whispered as tears welled up in her eyes.
If Hulk didn't stop, he was going to kill the guard. What would happen to her is he went to alien prison?

The commotion must have drawn Snake-lady back from her secret tea-party and she barked a loud order to stop.

Hulk got one last punch in but jumped off the guard, who was now bleeding profusely, unable to raise himself off the polished marble-like floor.

<<Why do you attack my guard, runt?!>> Snake-lady hissed, her muscles tightly coiled, ready to spring into action. If the big woman killed Hulk, Allison was sure she'd be next.

<<Your guard should know better than to damage my Trophy!>> snarled Hulk.

The guard was straining to get up on his knees, reaching for the spear Hulk had knocked away to prop himself up. He made a high-pitched sound that made her teeth ache.

Snake-lady's head snapped to her and she... scented the air?
Her eyes darkened in anger as they zeroed in on her wound and Allison was about to appologise when the alien spoke again.
<<I will not have Ic'jit in my presence. Continue.>>

It was all Hulk needed as he pounced on the wounded guard who tried to defend himself with his spear only for Hulk to skillfully dodge and weave between his hits, rip it out of his hands and stab him through the face with it.

<<Not even worth taking the skull.>> he huffed as Snake-lady made Allie stand.

Her shoulder stung, blood pooling in the dip of her clavicle and running down her front and arm. She tried to press on the would to stem the bleeding but only managed to hurt herself.

Hulk growled at her noises of pain, throwing the spear away and gingerly stepping over the dead body like it was trash he didn't want to touch.
Allie instinctively backed away from him, half-hiding behind Snake-lady.

<<Calm yourself, hunter. We will see to her wounds.>> she said with a low purr that instantly calmed her and Hulk both.

<<How can I know my property will be safe with you?>> Hulk asked and Allie bristled. She was not property dammit.

Snake-lady growled in aggression and Allison suddenly didn't want to be anywhere near her.
<<Watch yourself, youngling.>> 

<<It was fortunate I was here now. I believe it would be… prudent for me to check her status more often.>>

<<How bold.>> Snake-sister piped in, ushering Allison back in the lab towards the operating bed. <<I believe he deserves another visiting day, don't you, cousin?>> she purred as she applied the healing gel on Allison's shoulder. The relief sent a shudder through her whole body.

<<Very well.>> Snake-lady muttered. <<Now begone, you have lingered here enough.>>

Hulk stood straight and nodded his head, puffing up his chest at Snake-sister and the nurse who were throwing him very appreciative looks.

If she weren't so blissed out on the sedatives from the gel entering her bloodstream, Allison might have been offended at being used as an excuse for flirting yet again.

Chapter Text

 

Life went on at a fairly steady pace after the incident with the guard.

The alien women would continue giving her the mystery shots every day, she'd do her workouts and eat the boring food while trying to keep herself from going stir-crazy.
She almost missed the time on the ship. 
She definitely missed Spike.

For a few weeks, she actually felt she was getting stronger. She didn't get tired as fast and she could lift her own body-weight with ease.
She had so much more energy!
In fact, she'd never felt better, it was like the stuff they were giving her was making her stronger and healthier. Like all her senses were alight - food tasted better, the jungle sang in the distance and the world was awash in color and scent.

Not everything was great though. Without the implant in her arm (which she'd spent quite a bit of money on too), her normal cycle came back with a vengeance.

There was one embarasing day when Hulk had shown up for his flirting opportunities, which were apparently going far better for him now that he'd killed a man in three seconds flat, during the most painful day of her period.

He'd been concerned and kept asking why his 'trophy' was 'wounded' and 'left untreated'.
Whatever the nurse had said made him scrunch up his ugly crab-face like he'd smelled something nasty and finally got him to vacate her room.

She was pretty sure she saw him leaving with the nurse and she cursed him for bringing her here anew. She hoped the woman would break the bastard in half.

Of course, she didn't get her wish. The ass only got more popular after that.

Another few months passed (by Earth standards if her body was back on track) and things began to be less ideal.

Snake-lady had been giving her more and more shots that made her sleepy and weak. Whatever the alien was trying to achieve wasn't going as fast as she wanted it to and she was trying to make up for lost time by increasing the frequency of the shots.

Often, Allie could hear hissed arguments break out between the aliens. Most of it must have been scientific jargon and since her language lessons had been neglected, she only understood fragments about 'pushing the human too far' and 'not enough time for this season' and of course, Snake-lady's vehement insistence that they continue.

Allison gradually started losing her appetite and couldn't keep much down anyway, she slept badly and often had hot and cold flashes wracking her body.
Whatever they were giving her wasn't agreeing with her, especially in such a large dosage.

She would ask the big woman to stop whenever she came by, which was often now, but her pleas were ignored. Her weak attempts at getting away were easily stopped, and even if she weren't so weak, she wouldn't have stood a chance against the alien's sheer mass.

Her thighs and arms were riddled with little puncture scars that never got to heal right because the same space kept getting stabbed over and over.
Even Snake-sister tried to intervene on her behalf once and almost got beaten to death. There were no more complaints from anyone after that.

Allison didn't know when Hulk would get her the hell out of there like he'd said he would but she was convinced she'd die if the shots didn't stop soon.

So, she started planning for an escape. She might very well get killed for it, but anything was better than slowly wasting away, tortured like this. 

The guards had been dismissed completely from this level after the incident so she didn't have to worry about anyone but the nurses and the Snake-sisters. 

After so long living here, she'd come to recognize the day-night cycle on this planet. Hulk was only permitted to check up on her once during the longest and hottest of days, a second time during the longest night and a third visiting day was random although he tended to prefer coming in during Snake-sister's monitoring shifts, which were generally closer to the full day than the night.

She didn't want to risk him catching onto her scheming so she waited for the longer night when the weather was cooler anyway and she wouldn't be cooked alive by the intense heat. 
She'd wait for Hulk to appear and distract one of the more haughty nurses who had yet to fall to his charms. 
He would ignore Allison completely for the bigger challenge of winning over the stubborn female.

Allie had been learning about her prison ever since she'd been brought here; the nurses had a very fixed schedule once she figured out how time worked on this planet.
Snake-lady had been hovering as of late but Allison was banking on the increasingly lenghtening secret tea-parties to provide her with an opportunity.
The aliens generally left her alone when she was sleeping and she'd slowly been changing her resting time so it would eventually coincide with the few hours of complete darkness.

She went to bed when dusk was darkening, just before Hulk showed up.
The nurse would sometimes train in one of the dojos - because no part of this society existed without martial training, apparently - while Allie slept.

She could see his dark green-gray form through the frosted doors as she yawned and stretched on her bed.

He only spared her a cursory glance and predictably went in search of the nurse who had left for the kehrite just as the elevator's platform descended again.

Hopefully all three of them would get lucky tonight.

Allison waited for the sounds of violence to start. The females here enjoyed fighting as much as the males of the species. From what she'd gathered, it was a sort of foreplay to them.

As soon as she was reasonably certain they wouldn't hear her rustling about (or wouldn't care that she was awake), Allison threw back the thin pelt that had been covering her.
She was already wearing the usual netting and the soft leather sandals one of the nurses had given her. They would help her keep quiet.

The balcony in the lab was bigger, her room only had a small arched window she could peer out of and a sealed balcony she'd left transparent to have some ilumination from the rapidly fading dusk and, soon, the stars.
She had admired the night sky here every chance she got.
These aliens had no need for electric lights throughout the city so the light pollution was minimal.
She suspected they saw in the heat spectrum from the way their technology worked and how they could always find their way in complete and utter darkness.

While stargazing, she had identified several stars that seemed to point in the same direction consistently. She'd have to observe them for the whole solar cycle to know for sure but it would serve her well enough for now… provided she managed to get out of the pyramid.
Plus, she didn't have that long.

Allison pulled the pelt over her shoulders, it might prove useful if she got out, and secured the small leather pouch of water, with a few fruit tied to it, to her waist.

The fight was well underway by now, the brutal snarls and heavy thumps of fists landing on muscled flesh echoed down the hall as she cautiously made her way towards the main lab.

The doors opened for her automatically and she sighed in relief at the sight of the open balcony.

This step pyramid wasn't too steep or tall, she had a chance of sliding her way down to freedom if she went from ledge to ledge. 
One mistake though… 

Allison took a deep breath. She could do it. She had to do it.

After checking everything was secure one last time, she crawled up the stone balustrade and slowly inched her way towards the tall steps.

----------

Hul'gkan finally knew what it meant to be alive.

He'd thought the thrill of the hunt was the supreme pleasure but he had not experienced mating fights until now.

Letting the little ape live and bringing her in to the Elder Physician had been the best decision he'd ever made.

True, it had taken an impromptu, and fortunate, show of strength when that idiotic guard had wounded his Trophy to really win the females over but the reward had been more than worth the small scuffle and left-over minute scar.

He'd heard one of the females he'd breeded already had his pup on the way. The news had all the other females in the research group even more willing to entertain his attention.

He had yet to reach his ultimate prize, Vay'n'ritja, who had been teasing and provoking him in turn for as long as he'd been in contact with her, was more and more absent recently.
 
He suspected it had something to do with the growing conflict between the two cousins. Likely a struggle for leadership. 
The Desert clan they hailed from was secretive and closed off from the rest of the planet but provided some of the best learned women around, who were also exceedingly territorial and strong-willed. 

Vay'n'ritja had been just about to accept his challenge before whatever conflict had arisen between the Desert clan women had taken her attention away.

The Elder Physician herself was too far above his station for him to dare even make an offer… then again she had touched him...

He focused on his opponent. His blood was alight, he could scent the arousal on his current match as clear as a torch on a frigid winter night.

She would have him tonight, he could tell by now when the females were more inclined towards taking the fight somewhere more… private.
Not just by their alluring scent, which was distracting and only by his indominable will and discipline did he remain focused, but the wild way they would fight - they were fiercer, angrier. Impatient.

And it cost them. 

He had won most of the challenges so far, both in challenge fights and during the mating dance. They were always surprised by his determination and his unwillingness to let himself be distracted.

The female struck fast at his face, scratching at his tresses as they swung back when he dodged. He savored the sting.
This one was younger than him by a few spans, not as experienced and very eager.
She snarled and tackled him to the floor, attempting to use her superior weight and strength to pin him down.

He let her believe she had the upper hand as they grappled and just as she was about to put him in a submission hold, already purring her victory, he struck out and broke her hold then leveled his hips, pushing on powerful legs to throw her off and reverse their positions.

The female growled in anger and arousal, looking at him with heated eyes. Her h'dui'se was thick on the air and his palate, almost overwhelmingly so, but he could not claim victory yet, she hadn't called for the match to end and females often used such underhanded methods to trick skillful males and gain the upper hand at the last moment.

He flipped her on her front and kneeled on her back, pinning both her arms at her sides and taking away any leverage she might have tried to use.
She struggled for a bit, attempting to throw him off but Hul'gkan held on, using his claws just enough to prick the skin and remind her that she had been defeated.

She finally relented, a little displeased at losing but the underlying purr of pleasure underneath the thrum of her anger revealed it was only for show.

Hul'gkan got off her, letting his hand draw down her back and hips purposefully for longer than strictly necessary.

The female rose too, still panting in exersion, and looked down at him, all haughty superiority and barely constrained lust. He purred back, only a little smug, and waited. 
It would be rude to make demands. 
His interest had been made clear, it would be up to her wether she wanted to take the match further where they would fight again for who dominated during copulation.

<<Perhaps a rematch would be in order…>> she hummed and sidestepped him to leave the kehrite but stopped just shy of the exit.
<<...tomorrow.>> she purred. 

Hul'gkan stopped, he had been trailing after her, expecting to be led to her rooms as the others had done. 
So this one liked to toy with her males. See if they had the patience to wait her out.

<<Today or tomorrow, the result will be the same.>> he puffed up for her and brushed past, earning a warning growl. 
<<Be it your challenge… or another.>> he said as he wiped the thwei off his shoulder. She'd really dug her claws in while they'd wrestled.

The female growled again, frustrated. She was too proud to admit defeat even now.
No matter, she would seek him out next time.

<<Be in my rooms by the first sun or I will have your spine.>> she rumbled. 
He left the threat unacknowledged. He could already tell it was going to be a vicious fight.
First sun would rise soon. He had time to plan his approach - the female was surely reviewing their fight as well, searching for weaknesses to exploit in his fighting style.

Hul'gkan left the irritable female behind and turned his back to her at the appropriate distance in order to still be respectful.

He should check on his little Trophy while he had the chance, he would be too busy to mind her come first sun.
He'd noticed she had seemed weak recently, but the Elder Physician had assured him it was only a side-effect of the serum they were using on her and there would be no lasting damage.

He had intended to check on her properly for a while now but kept getting… sidetracked… and more time than he had expected had passed. 

Not long and the mating season would soon be over and it would be time for him to collect his prize and start educating her anew.

He'd already come up with a training regimen tailored to her. The biological scans he'd done for the Elder Physician had also helped him figure out the right kind of nutrition for her. 

He would take her to one of the tamer game planets where young pups could be trained on their first hunts - he'd found out oomans needed daily sunlight and proximity to plant matter to stay healthy, she might even appreciate a medium closer to her own home-planet as well. 
The suns here were a little too strong for her flimsy skin. She'd suffered minor burns just by being outside.

There were plenty of information packets on how to provide for human aseigan which had proven very useful in his research for the training plan. He'd always disliked careless owners who didn't bother keeping their pets' needs in mind but expected flawless service in return. 
His hound was a perfect example of a properly trained pet.
Thei'dteinou's teasing that he was far too invested in the little ooman's wellbeing was ridiculous. He'd only brought some reading material with him on but a few hunts.


He made his way back to her room, the walls there weren't thermo-isolated like the rest of the private living spaces so the ooman could be monitored more easily without physically being there and possibly disturbing her rest.

He clicked in confusion, the small lump of heat that had been huddled on the too-large bed was missing. She wasn't using the bathing chamber either.

He entered the room, he only had clearance to be present here, the kehrite and the main laboratory. The private rooms he had visited this season had been by invitation only and the rest of the space was forbidden to him.

Her fear scent spiced the air. A little different than how he remembered but still clear. She had been here very recently.

A strange feeling of apprehension rippled up his spine and all thoughts of the mating dance soon to come fled his thoughts.
What was she up to?

Hul'gkan chittered the command he had taught her for coming to him, in case she was hiding somewhere.

Nothing happened.

He put his mask on, he usually wore his armor even when walking through the small research village, he'd been getting more challenges from other blooded warriors recently - a testament to his skill and success with the females. He generally kept his mask off but tied to his belt, one never knew when it was needed.

He put it on, waiting for the filters to turn on then cycled through the vision modes, scanning the room and nearby areas. 
There were fast-fading small footprints down the hall, he must have just missed her.

He followed the prints to the main lab, they were leading straight to the open balcony where a larger smudge showed traces of other body parts touching the balustrade…

She wouldn't have…

Surely she couldn't be this foolish?

She did.

Hul'gkan swore and carefully poked his head out in the open air, tresses fluttering slightly in the warm wind. If the damn ape was where he thought she'd be, he didn't want to spook her and make her loose her footing.

He watched, anger rising to a steady simmer as his Trophy hung off a steep ledge almost three levels down. She let herself drop and landed with an audible 'oof' on the next one.

In other circumstances, he might have been impressed.
Right now he wanted to kick her in her stupid little squishy face.

No, he had to stay calm. If the Elder Physician caught on to this, she might have both their spines by first sun.

He needed to act fast.

Hul'gkan grumbled to himself and left the main laboratory, pretending nothing was amiss as he took the platform down.

He would catch up to her. He just hoped she wouldn't slip and snap her fragile neck by the time he got there.

----------

Allison huffed and wiped the cooling sweat off her brow. Getting down this damn pyramid was more tiring than she had expected. She already had a stitch in her side, her hands were dusty and scraped and her arms felt like wet noodles. Her legs, the ankles and knees in particular, weren't doing much better.

She wasn't even a third of the way down, if she sprained anything before reaching the ground, all this effort would have been for nothing.

She took a sip from her water-pouch, carefully tying it back up at her waist, then shook her arms and legs out to limber up.

She grunted and huffed her way down another ledge then fell on her ass, probably bruising her tailbone, on the next one.

Just a little more. she thought to herself, examining her nails. She'd cut them to the quick yesterday so she wouldn't get distracted by tearing one now. 
Those alien clippers had been huge.

Allie crouched and got a solid hold on the strange stone, the edges weren't sharp enough to cut her hands but they weren't exactly pleasant either. She wondered how old the massive stone slabs were. Probably older than the entirety of human civilization.

She slowly crawled over the edge, making sure she had a good hold before letting herself hang down. She'd rapidly lost muscle-mass this last month and had to be careful not to tire herself out too fast. 

She was just about to ease off, belly flat against the stone, when she caught a flash of something right next to her out of the corner of her eye.

A click inches from her ear had her releasing her hold too soon and she yelped as she instinctively pushed off.

Shit! She was going to fall on her back!

A large, rough and warm hand caught her by the forearm mid-fall. Her feet were still almost four feet above the lower ledge, swinging a little.

She turned her eyes up, squinting at… nothing.

It looked like she was suspended in the air, but she could feel the hand holding her. There was a strange distortion where she expected the arm gripping hers to be too.

The air shimmered and sparked and Hulk appeared as he had back in the forest where this all started. He hung off the ledge by one hand, his clawed feet digging into the vertical part of the step.

He'd climbed up after her and she hadn't heard a thing.
Wasn't he supposed to be taking a trip to bonetown?! 
How quick was a quickie with these things? They looked like they'd have more stamina than this.
She almost felt sorry for the nurse.

He had that same severe looking pewter mask on as when he'd hunted her and she heard the muffled 'krr' of annoyance through it.

Fuck.

She'd been made.

Allison continued to stare up at him, uncertain of what he'd do next.
The eyes of the mask flashed green just before he pushed off, swinging her up over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes while they were still in the air.

Her shriek was cut off when he landed on the next ledge down, driving his shoulder into her stomach and knocking the air out of her.

He kept jumping, jostling her none too gently untill they were down, then walked to a more hidden break between buildings, bumping her along the whole way. 

He'd made the descent in a scant few seconds, and she'd struggled for most of the short night. It was just so fucking unfair…

Allison was dizzy and regretted that sip of water by the time she was set down. He let her fall on her ass with a mocking chitter. 
If she barfed on his boots, would he kill her?

She coughed feebly a couple of times but managed to keep everything down. 
Hulk crouched in front of her, cocking his head to the side in what she now recognized as curiosity or interest.

She didn't dare utter a word, she had a feeling he wouldn't like drawing any attention to them.

She was still half sprawled on the hard-packed dirt when he motioned for her to sit up, growling impatiently as she took longer than he found acceptable.
He remained squatting in front of her, keeping a firm hold of her wrist to stop her from backing away too much.

Allison felt awkward with him basically staring at her crotch. 
She was just about to ask what the fuck was wrong with him when his other hand came up and gently ran the back of his foreclaw over the puncture scars on her right upper thigh through the square in the mesh.

She flinched back on instinct but didn't get far. His hold on her wrist had tightened. She couldn't see his face but he seemed… angry. He rumbled deep in his throat, as though he was trying to be soothing but it unnerved her more than anything.

He turned his attention to her left thigh with the same irritated scrutiny, then rose and bent to look at the scars on her arms.

She sighed in relief when he let go of her wrist, trying to rub some feeling back into it, all the while Hulk was analyzing her up and down like he didn't like what he was seeing.

<<Who.>> he grumbled. She'd forgotten how much deeper his voice was. It sent a slither of fear down her spine. He was angry.

She rembered herself and averted her eyes.

"I-I… I'm s-sorry." she eeked out but that only made him huff a snarl behind his mask.

She flinched again at the sound of the tubes from his mask disengaging, mouth going dry at the clearly seething rumble.

<<Who.>> he asked again, maskless now, while pointing at the scars on her arm and then at her whole body.

What the hell was that supposed to mean? Didn't he know what he'd given her away for?

She felt her fear turning to anger. How dare he do this to her and not even know what it was about? 

"The hell do you want from me!?" she yelled out, finally meeting his brilliant green gaze head on.
"You left me here, with them." she pointed up at the pyramid they had come from.
"This -" she gestured at herself "- is your fault." and poked an accusing finger in the hard pectoral muscle.

She didn't back off at his angry clicking, she was so tired of everything. Sore and nauseated, all she wanted was to go home.
But she couldn't do that so she settled on being absolutely fucking furious with the bastard who'd caused her all this grief.

She instantly regretted her attitude when he took a menacing step forward and her anger was yet again replaced by fear.

Her knees clacked together but she stood her ground. She'd learned that backing up just provoked these things, made them want to pursue.

Hulk rumbled again at her, more subdued this time. 

She couldn't believe she'd actually succeeded in staring him down. His face was as ugly as ever but the curve of that deep brow and the tightness around his eyes made him look almost regretful.
She'd never thought him capable of anything more than angry frowns and smug superiority, and now he was worrying those sharp tusks and lowering his eyes like a kicked puppy.

She did back away when he raised a hand towards her but he grabbed her anyway and slowly shook her shoulder.

He was so proud and cocksure - all of his kind were, it was a way of life for them. The only submission she'd seen from these aliens was towards clearly stronger or older individuals, and even that was contested and grudgingly given if the superior wasn't high enough on the honor scale to warrant more respect than average.

It was strange seeing him like this.
She realized this was probably the closest thing to an apology she'd get.

Allison swallowed dryly and nodded. He let her go and stepped back, giving her space.

The first sun was rising behind him, painting the alien sky in hues of green, yellow and purple like a giant bruise.
She was so tired.

Chapter Text

 

Hul'gkan debated what to do next.
The little ooman was rightfully angry with him as she silently stared at the sky behind him.

Never in his entire life had he neglected any of his tools in such a way.
He'd always taken care of his armor and weapons like his life depended on them because it did.
He'd cared for his hound for many spans, perfecting its natural instincts, feeding, excercising and cleaning it. In return he had a loyal animal who obeyed all his commands.

 But he had failed to keep his Trophy safe. She had already become useful to him by providing him access to females and he had completely ignored her wellbeing for it.
All his planning for future hunts was meaningless if she perished before he even got her back.

Oomans had a certain degree of intelligence and independence and her stubborn refusal to be treated as a pet, despite being trained like one, had tricked his perception of her. He'd never owned another primitive before either, so the experience was new enough that he'd allowed himself to be lax.
 
He hadn't expected her to be brought this low so easily, she had always been such a headstrong little thing. He should have known better than to allow others unchecked access to her.
She was even thinner and weaker than when he'd first hunted her, there had been barely any weight on his shoulder when he'd carried her down.
And now that she was in front of him - something about her scent was certainly different.

He should have been more careful. He'd had plenty of chances to verify her state, before it had gotten so bad that she'd risk her life escaping the Science building, but had ultimately let himself be distracted by his other goals.

Hul'gkan gave little Fire Eyes another once-over. She was still ignoring him, this time in favor of drinking from her small water pouch.
She was wearing a shaggy pelt over her shoulders like a cape, and even had some food with her.
Was she planning on running for the dto? 

He doubted she had the survival skills to make it through the experience. 
Still, he had found her in a similar environment on her home-planet, perhaps he was underestimating her determination to live yet again.

He clicked in amusement at the memory of her jumping off a cliff to get away from him in the waterfall - she was the risk taking kind. This wasn't so different, she was just as brash and reckless as ever.

Mind cleared, he called for her to follow and led the way down smaller, less trafficked streets. She hesitated for only a few moments before trotting after him.

He really did need to teach her how to walk without making so much noise. He knew she was capable of stealth when pressed, she wouldn't have escaped him that first time if she wasn't. He just needed to coax it out.

It was a good thing he'd caught her when he did, if she'd managed to run into the dto on her own, she would have surely been eaten by something already.
It would have been a waste.

----------

Hulk trilled at her to follow and she almost spat her water at him before remembering his patience had a (very short) limit and she wasn't likely to get any more leniency from him than this.

Plus, getting caught out in the open by other nasty aliens didn't sound like a better alternative. Wherever they were going now, at least it wasn't back at the pyramid.

She kept silent even as they entered the jungle. He was a few feet in front of her at all times but his pace was sedate and he would pause every now and then to look back at her.

Allison tamped down at the excitement bubbling up in her, wondering if she was the first human to hike in the alien jungle. 
Probably not. she swallowed back as she remembered the furtive people scurrying along the road edges. Although she might be the first one to not get killed for it.

Hulk's low growl interrupted her musings. She'd lagged a little too much behind.

She was still angry at the big bastard but didn't know enough about this place to let herself get distracted or strike out on her own.

Still, it was… wonderful. 
The gargantuan trees towered above everything, lending the jungle a strange mysterious light even with the first sun fully risen by now.
There were other weird plants growing wherever the light penetrated, with exotic vines, leaves and flowers everywhere. 
She heard more and more alien whoops and whistles coming from the canopy as they left the city further behind.

The fresh air and freedom was already doing her good, she'd been cooped up in that lab for far too long.

Something big honk-growled deeper into the mess of trees and she flinched. There were probably all sorts of dangerous predators out here, a planet that housed people like Hulk couldn't not have something nasty for them to hunt when they got bored. 
Was it really safe for her to go traipsing around?

She'd planned on staying on the outskirts of the city to avoid the wildlife but hadn't really thought her escape out. 
Now that she was here, she realized how woefully inadequate she was. 

"Why… why did you bring me here?" she whispered hoarsely.

Hulk only trilled at her to follow again, ignoring her question.

<<Here. Why. Me?>> she tried once more in his rough language.

<<Why am I here.>> he rumbled, making her smile.
She couldn't believe she'd actually missed his lessons. He never ignored her attempts to speak in his tongue. Even though she knew it was for his own unknown gain that he taught her, she still appreciated the conversation break. 
She'd been so lonely, especially when all the other aliens were around, they never payed her much mind unless it was for tests or shots.
Compared to the others of his kind, Hulk was downright chatty.

<<Learn.>> he continued, gesturing at their surroundings. <<Dto dangerous for ooman.>>

Of course. 
He was showing her how much of an idiot she'd been for running.

"Yeah, I figured I was doomed when we got here… I uh… didn't plan this far ahead." she added sheepishly.

Hulk chuffed in that 'why am I not surprised, you dumb human' way of his and shook his head. 
She noticed he'd added a few more small decorative bones to his hair-tubes that clinked together softly. 
The savage chique look was all the rage with these guys.

He gestured for her to come closer with a wave of his hand and she tentatively obliged. 
<<Listen.>> he said when she was within an armspan of him. 
These hunter aliens had a wide personal bubble that was generally respected everywhere. If two of them ever got closer than this it was either because shit was about to go down or they were really, really friendly with each other - which she wished she hadn't witnessed as often as she had.

Allison looked up at his crabby face in confusion as he closed his eyes and tilted his head forward.
She decide that being caught staring would be bad so she imitated his stance, trying to listen as he had instructed.

The sounds of the jungle enveloped her, louder now than before. She didn't understand what exactly she was listening for but tried to identify each sound in turn.
There were the same whooping calls echoing in the treetops as when they had entered the jungle. 
High chirps and deep, wheezy, bullfrog-like croaks.
Something like an insect buzzing nearby.

There were smaller, more intimate sounds, like her breathing and hearbeat thumping up into her ears. 
Hulk made no sounds at all and she tried to quiet herself too. 

A familiar calm settled over her, like when she would sometimes doze in the afternoon sun back home, in her forest.

<<What do you hear?>> Hulk asked, his voice low and hushed like he knew not to startle her out of her trance. It still sent an unexpected shiver down her spine.

"I don't… know what they're called." she answered.

He made his usual angry 'krr' sound that was more welcome for its familiarity than frightening.
<<Stay quiet.>> he rumbled in displeasure from somewhere to her right.
<<Find water.>> his voice sounded distant.
<<Survive.>> it echoed from above.

Allison snapped her eyes open and looked around, she was alone.
She almost yelled after him in fright but held herself back. He'd told her to be quiet.

Her breathing sounded panicked to her own ears. She couldn't believe it. He'd left her here! Alone!

Was this some strange punishment for trying to escape? His way of showing her how useless she was?
She already knew that, there was no need to leave her stranded in an alien jungle!

She tried following her own footsteps back the way they came but lost track of them after barely a few minutes.

She was close to hyperventilating. Sweat pouring off her in the wet heat and so scared she winced at every little rustle.

He couldn't have just left her out here. It didn't make sense. 
He was probably invisible somewhere nearby, laughing at her stupidity.
She tried looking for him, searching for any odd distortion in the air but the light here was shifting with the slight wind and everything was too irregularly shaped for her to notice any breaks in patterns.

Allie hugged herself and did her trusty old breathing exercises, consciously making herself relax and calm down.

He'd told her to be quiet and find water. 
This was probably some fucked up test or punishment for her disobedience. He wouldn't let anything eat her.
Probably.

She resolved that the fastest way to get out of here was to do as he'd commanded.

----------

Allison had tried searching for water for what felt like the better part of an hour. 

She'd been rationing the little pouch of water she'd brought with her but in this heat it was almost down to a third of what she'd started out with. 
She was tempted to eat the fruit but didn't know how much longer Hulk would leave her out here and she wasn't hungry so she opted to save it for later.

She knew nothing of this place, she had no map, no compass, nothing. She couldn't even scale a tree to get a good look from a higher vantage point.
How the hell was she supposed to navigate?

She'd been careful to leave clear tracks back to where Hulk had left her as she branched out in search of a water source.

Allison went back to where she'd been abandoned again and sat on a nearby rock. 
She had to think.
He'd left her here for a reason. It was probably a shitty one but he'd wanted her to learn something.

She got up and stood in the same place as before. 
He had wanted her to listen so she she would listen. Maybe she'd missed something the first time.

It took her a while to bring her anxiety down enough that her own pumping heart wouldn't distract her but she eventually reached that same state of hazy calm as before.

She took to singling out each different type of sound and letting them fade to the background of her awareness one by one untill - 
There!

A quiet trickle.

She gasped in relief! 
She'd heard the subtle sussurring of running water, now she just had to head in that general direction and find it.

Allie took another sip from her water pouch and set off, trying not to make too much noise lest she draw the attention of the bigger animals living here.
She was certain the creek she'd heard attracted other beings to it and she wasn't entirely sure Hulk would step in if she pissed off whatever big game this jungle had.

----------

Finally, the ooman was using her underdeveloped brain.
Hul'gkan had the patience of a true hunter and had waited out prey for weeks at times, but even he was getting tired of her blundering.
And they didn't have the time to waste, he was certain her absence had already been noted by now. He would have to take her back soon.

He leapt from tree to tree, following his Trophy down to the creek.
He'd picked a place just far enough away that her duller senses could still pick up the sounds. It was a skill that would become useful later. 
He planned on giving her a head start to explore the area she would be dropped in and ready herself for being hunted.

Hul'gkan rumbled to himself in impatience. He still had so much to teach her and so little time. Her natural lifespan only allowed for so much before she would become too old for him to use.
He hadn't thought of what he'd do with her once she became too feeble to perform as a training tool or got close to her expiration date. Perhaps she would serve as an aseigan, tending to his dwelling while he went off on hunts?
How unfortunate oomans lived so little.

No matter, it was too early to plan for that now, she still had to survive her first real hunt after he was done teaching her the basics of survival. This was barely the beginning.

He kept his senses attuned to the dto, she had instinctively started hiding her movements now that she was alone, as he'd expected, but she'd made enough noise up to this point to draw attention.

Hul'gkan moved when the ooman did, pausing and keeping perfectly still whenever she stopped and her gaze would brush over his position.
She knew he was nearby and at one point he'd felt almost certain she'd spotted him as her eyes narrowed, meeting his own but she wasn't looking at him - the trees were thinning behind him and a small flock of k'yipsas was visible.

They were almost there.

She followed the flapping of wings and let out a strange sound when she was within visual range of the flowing water.
His translator interpreted that as sounds of joy. Laughter.

He'd never heard her laugh before. 

The sound was unexpectedly pleasant.

Little Fire Eyes checked her surroundings extensively before approaching the bank. Good, she was still cautious.

Watering holes were an ideal place to stake out prey. Most big game needed to drink at one point or another. Sometimes a hunt would consist mainly of watching a freshwater river or lake for the prey to show up, then follow in its tracks.
It wasn't recommended to make the kill here though. The scent of blood would deter other animals from approaching.

The creek was clean enough to drink from and he clicked in amusement at the ooman as she cautiously approached the water and kneeled on the bank of smoothly rounded pebbles to first poke a twig in the flow, then a finger, then cupped her palms and brought the captured water up to her face for a long sniff and a quick taste.

He doubted she had the finely attuned senses to really tell the difference between pure and contaminated water but he wouldn't fault her for being careful.

In stead of drinking, she splashed the cool liquid on her face then continued drenching herself untill there was not a patch of skin or hair that was dry.
Her core temperature, which had been heightened even in the shade of the dto, lowered to more normal ranges for her kind.

Hul'gkan jumped to another tree, clicking to himself in anticipation, he'd make time for another short lesson before they had to return.

----------

A fist-sized beetle-thing was flexing its iridescent carapace on a nearby frond, catching her eye. 
She hadn't seen any animals that weren't dead on this planet yet - fresh meat was often brought to where she was kept, but the carcasses were cleaned and cut by the time she saw them, even insects avoided the hunters and their cities.

She'd spotted things flying over the jungle from her room but they had been too far away to really make out and the ones flocking close to the stream had dispersed when they'd sensed her.

The short walk in the jungle hadn't revealed any other critters either. They were probably smart enough (or scared enough) to hide from Hulk's ilk.

The beetle-thing opened its carapace and took flight, crossing the river while bobbing up and down like a bumblebee.
She watched it trundle on, wondering what other strange creatures this planet housed.
Suddenly, some sort of elongated animal that looked like a cross between an iguana and a really ugly fish suddenly thrust its body out of the water and caught the beetle in its pointy mouth.

Holy hell, how deep was the water?! She hadn't even seen a shadow move in it.

A low series of clicks alerted her that she was no longer alone. 
Hulk, that ugly bastard, must have returned. Probably enjoyed seeing her get spooked by a damn lizard.

She pretended she hadn't heard and continued splashing water over herself, moving deliberately slow and keeping one hand always in the water, waiting for him to make his move and closing her eyes to listen.

She didn't have to wait long for the slight crunch behind her.
Allison rolled to the side and splashed back with her arms, hitting the creep right in the midsection.
The strange effect of the cloaking technology on his armor sparked as his massive body recoiled.

His big body shuddered like a giant, angry, wet cat. He hadn't expected her to cacth him and she'd always suspected his kind didn't like the cold much.

Allison stepped into the flow, calf deep, and kicked more water with her legs, feeling a petty sort of satisfaction at the small revenge.

The cloak sparked some more as he dodged with varying degrees of success and eventually sputtered out, revealing Hulk with most of his lower half absolutely drenched.

"Serves you right for abandoning me in the middle of the fucking jungle!" she crooned with a last splash that he deftly side-stepped.

"Uh-oh…"
He did not look particularly happy, in fact, he was doing that low growly thing at her that told her she'd fucked up something beyond his tolerance level.
Usually, this would be followed by a smack upside the head or maybe getting her legs swept up from under her to fall on her ass, but she was far enough away that neither option was immediately available to him.

"Now h-hold on a minute..." of course she just had to go and ruin the scary alien's toys.

Allison instinctively leaned forward, lowering her center of gravity and holding an arm out in front of her.

She didn't get to finish her plea, Hulk jumped her, scattering pebbles behind him with the force of his leap.
Allie scampered to the side but he caught her by the arm and she kicked out reflexively, catching Hulk in the knee and sending them both tumbling into the shallow stream.

The cold must have stunned him enough that his grip on her arm loosened and she slipped free, splashing water everywhere in her mad dash away from the pissed off alien.
Unforunately, Hulk recovered too soon and grabbed her by the ankle, making her lose her footing and fall face-first into the water again.

She hoped it was good enough to drink because she'd just swallowed half of it.

Her head was still underwater and she didn't hear his clicking laugh in time, striking out with her other foot and hitting him square in a finger-like tusk.

That made him yowl in pain and jerk up, holding the squiggly human upside-down by the ankle.

Allison gasped and shrieked as he spun her and threw her towards the other bank. 

She sailed in the air, ass over teakettle only to have her fall suddenly stopped by something that squaked under her.

<<C'jit.>> she heard him swear as she groaned.

Allison knelt on the ground, sliding off something warm and a little… fluffy?
Her head had stopped spinning enough that she could make out a lump of something brown under her.

The thing squaked again and groggily got to its feet.
It looked like some sort of fluffy dinosaur-insect, with big eyes, an elongated neck and four red mandibles like a praying mantis, about as big as a large dog with an extra set of legs, sporting a pattern of cream and brown fluff that reminded her of a sparrow.

"Awww, you're kinda cute." she cooed at the thing, her hand automatically going out to touch it.

The sparrow-mantis reared back and let out the loudest, most high-pitched screech she had ever heard, revealing an unexpectedly large maw lined by three rows of very sharp teeth.

Fortunately, that was the exact moment Hulk kicked it away, cutting off the ear-splitting scream with a huff and snatching Allison up like a sack of grain.

She struggled on his shoulder for only a moment before another, louder and deeper screech answered the first one and Allie froze over Hulk's shoulder like a frightened mouse.

The trees were swaying, raining exotic leaves over the sparrow-mantis as one and then two thick legs covered by overlapping plates of chitin came into view.

She followed the strange insectoid body up but didn't get a chance to see anything past its segmented torso because Hulk had jumped up into a tree and drove all the air out of her with his massive shoulder when he landed on a branch.

She bit her tongue and tasted blood, gritting her teeth against the relentless jostling and holding onto his armor for dear life as he ran like his ass was on fire.

Whatever the hell that thing was had Hulk sprinting out of the forest like a madman. Clearly, it was bad news.

----------

Hul'gkan carried his Trophy to safety, not wasting any time in taking her back to the research laboratory by letting her walk.

He hadn't liked running from a challenge but the creature was too dangerous to take on by himself, unprepared and without all of his weapons and armor, let alone while worrying about a soft little ooman underfoot.

She grunted and whined with each bump, cussing him out in her own tongue with increasingly complicated idioms and improbable series of actions.

He did not care much for the verbal assault, never had. But it did nothing to cause harm and he already knew how foul of a mouth she could have when in pain or even mildly inconvenienced.
He'd heard worse when she had stubbed her smallest toe more than a season ago on Iktahar'g's vessel during transit.

Hul'gkan had bigger things to worry about at the moment.

Like the quietly fuming Elder Physician waiting for him.

He deposited the ooman on solid ground next to him and performed the formal salute.
He had been thinking on how to approach the situation while following little Fire Eyes through the dto but the impromptu wrestle in the creek and the strategic retreat from the unexpected prey had derailed his planning.

<<What is the meaning of this?!>> Je-st'sha're demanded, her claws already curled at her sides.

Hul'gkan put a hand on the little ape's shoulder to quiet her down. It wouldn't do for her to attempt another escape now.

<<Greetings, Honored Elder. I am uncertain what you mean. I was just bringing my Trophy back from a lesson.>> he replied, carefully neutral.

<<You -!>> the Elder's eyes flashed hot with anger. He could see her reign it back in with considerable effort.
<<Who authorized you to remove it from the facility? The ooman is vital to our research.>>

Hul'gkan rumbled in thought, pressing down with more reassurance on the ooman's shoulder. She was understandably spooked by the Elder's anger.

<<If she is so vital, then why is she in such a poor state of health? I remember the agreement was that she would be returned to me intact.>> he gestured at the ooman with his other hand.

<<You fret over nothing. Is your catch so fragile that it cannot be sustained? Perhaps we should reconsider and take another one. I hear more hunters have returned with prizes recently.>> the Elder taunted. 
Her cousin, who had joined the group mid-argument limped forward as if to stop the Elder's harsh words but it was too late. She had already thrown out the challenge.

<<Perhaps you should. She is obviously wasted here.>> Hul'gkan growled at the insult, his anger making him dare call out her bluff. The Elder was overstepping her bounds now.
He knew it was a mistake to make an enemy of a female Elder, it was a danger not only for his reputation but his very life - still, he could not stand to be openly insulted like this.
Plus, he'd heard the rumors; two of the oomans brought recently were already deceased upon arrival, one had died in the cryogenic transport she'd been put in that hadn't been properly calibrated for her biometrics, the other had lost her life in transit, likely due to the hunter's short temper, while a third had taken her own life by leaping off the the spaceport edge not two cycles ago - her owner had mistakenly assumed her obedient behavior on the way meant no restraint was necessary. There were likely more that had lived but he doubted any had been as worthy as his own.

<<And lose all our hard work? Respectfully, that cannot be allowed, Elder!>> Vay'n'ritja intervened.
She looked more battered than before. She had very obviously lost whatever power struggles had occured here.

Elder Je-st'sha're loudly growled her displeasure.
<<The subject is late for its treatment.>> she stated, completely ignoring her own threat.

<<Next time you wish to take it out on a walk ->> she poked him in the chest with a sharp claw, breaking the hide to draw thwei. <<- you clear it with me first.>>
The Elder turned on her heel abruptly, almost slapping him with her tresses as she walked away.

Hul'gkan crossed his arms over his chest, this had gone considerably less violent than he had expected.
His Trophy must have truly been important to make the Elder swallow her pride.

<<Hulj-bpe!>> Vay'n'ritja hissed and grabbed his bicep forcefully, dislodging him from the ooman.
<<Have you gone mad?! Why would you defy her so?>> she ranted on, attempting to give him a firm shake. <<And why are you both wet?>>

Hul'gkan growled a warning and jerked his arm back. She released him with another angry hiss.

<<What have you been doing to my Trophy?>> he asked lowly in stead, meeting her fury heated gaze with his own.

The female grumbled something profane, tusks weaving back and forth in agitation.

<<Not here. Not now.>> she muttered as she leaned over him.
<<I must take her back.>>

<<When?>> he rumbled, stepping in front of his prize before Vay'n'ritja could guide her away.

<<I will call on you. I swear it. But you must go now.>>

Hul'gkan let slip another angry growl but allowed the female to take hold of his ooman.

"No!" the little ape yelled. "Don't leave me here again!" she turned big, wet pleading eyes up at him while struggling to get free of the female's grasp.

The soothing purr came out before he even realized it and he marveled at how quickly it calmed her.
He hadn't expected this to work on members of other species.

<<They will not harm you.>> he reassured. 

"… that's what you said last time…" she whispered dejectedly.

<<It won't be much longer now, the season is almost over.>> he continued to placate in the gentlest tone he could muster.
He'd only ever spoken this way when he had been Unblooded and assisted with Elder Iktaha'rg's youngest pups in training. 

He shouldn't have even bothered with the platitudes and just ordered her to obey, but something stopped him. Some part of him… pitied her.

He watched Vay'n'ritja, who was making soothing noises herself, drag his reluctant little ooman away.

Hul'gkan turned his head, he'd learned to read the ape's expression too well and did not like the discomfort her desperate, accussing look evoked in him.

Chapter Text

 

The next few weeks were dominated by an uneasy sort of calm.

Snake-lady and her cronies were no longer needling her three times a day and had reverted to the every-day shot.
The improvement had been almost immediate. Her energy levels rose up back to normal, she could eat without throwing everything back up and sleeping was no longer a chore.

Allison would have been almost happy, or at least resigned to her fate, except there was something wrong with the aliens.

Snake-lady had dismissed all of the 'nurses' and kept having loud arguments with her sister.

Two days after the little spat with Hulk, she saw another girl being brought in through the semi-transparent frosted glass doors of the big lab. The other woman was limping and cowered behind the hunter tugging her along. Allison had raised her hand in greeting, hoping to see or maybe get to speak to another human being again, but the girl was taken into one of the restricted rooms.
Allison had yet to see her come out.

Soon after, it seemed like the very building had become different. It felt… wrong. Haunted.
There were moments, especially during the times she rested and the laboratory was quiet, that she could hear strange wails echoing through the small, circular vents.

The weather was changing too. The nights became a little longer every cycle and there was a constant low fog in the air. 
Torrential rains were starting to become more and more common and the water that came down in large, dense drops was hot and looked close to boiling. The thick fog that resulted made everything street-level impossible to discern.

Witnessing changing weather patterns on an alien world would have been enchanting if she weren't fearing for her life every second.

Snake-lady was becoming more and more irate with each passing day and while Allison could sense it wasn't aimed directly at her, specifically, it was always in relation to a test that didn't yield the kind of result she'd wanted.

Hulk showed up even more often than before but wasn't allowed to bring her outside or even spend time alone with her anymore.
She was still angry at him and refused to engage in conversation whenever he attempted it wether he was firm, cajoling or doing that tiger/alligator purr thing to convince her to speak to him.
He would ask questions about her health and wellbeing and get huffy when she'd cross her arms and stare through him moodily.

At least he never got to 'discipline' her with a smack upside the back of her head anymore. Snake-lady didn't like him touching her after the last time Allison had reacted badly to it. Said something about 'stressing her test subject unnecessarily' and hissed at him whenever he got too close.

She knew it was irrational, Hulk had no loyalty to her as a person, only an interest in keeping his investment alive for whatever else he'd have her do once the big women were done with her (which she found only slightly reassuring, she wasn't convinced he could ensure her survival anymore), but she still felt betrayed. 
Him covering Allie's failed escape, which she could only conclude was done to avoid 'dishonor' and possibly punishement to them both had rendered the act self-serving, any benefit to her was incidental.

And, ultimately, some part of her had trusted him.
Had trusted his words enough that she'd actually been hurt when he'd handed her over to the women again.

She was angry at herself too, for being stupid enough to actually believe in him. 
Hulk had only ever minded his own plans, she was simply a cog in his machinations. 

He didn't even see her as a person for fuck's sake!
Probably didn't view it as a betrayal either.

She was just a human to him, which she'd found meant little to nothing in this society, valuable as a resource but not deserving of respect and dignity like his kind.
It was a trait he shared with all the other hunter aliens.

Allison's self-imposed vow of silence was wearing on her psyche. She didn't even talk to herself anymore, too tired of the sound of her own voice.
As a result, her imagination became wild and uncontrolable
She would dream of random moments of her life before and during capture. 
Her mother was a prominent feature in most of them and brought back new waves of grief over her passing.
Her highschool sweetheart sometimes showed up, crying like she had on the day of their breakup and her University boyfriend told her he still missed her.
Gemma was always just out of reach, looking sad and worried while holding Pumpkin at her window sill, completely ignorant of Allison's presence as she begged for her friend's help.
The unknown woman would sometimes appear in nightmares, a pale form with no face chasing her down, demanding to know why her and not Allison.
The worst still were the ones with the black creature hunting her again, only this time Hulk didn't happen to come to her rescue and she would be torn apart, piece by piece, just like poor Jeremiah and his sons.

The ones where she drowned in the river were the most peaceful. Sometimes she thought that might have been the better option.

She would often wake up with tears in her eyes, streaming into her messy hair.

Her behaviour hadn't gone unnoticed by her captors.
While Snake-lady was content that Allie still ate and slept regularly and didn't complain about being injected anymore, it was Snake-sister who would sometimes bring her small puzzles to solve or try to engage her in conversation.

Allison didn't understand the change in attitute and at first had been suspicious of the odd offerings.
She was given pretty metallic, stone or (ugh) bone contraptions that reminded her of Rubik's cubes by the way they were solved except they were built like intricate and ornate jewelry boxes with secret compartments she had to unlock. They were also faintly warm to the touch.

Perhaps they were children's toys. 
The image of these things ever being young and vulnerable was difficult to conjure.

She'd ignored the first puzzle that had been left on the high table in her room, thinking it was another ploy from Hulk to get her to talk. 
It was only after Snake-sister took her blood the next evening and pretended to fail at unravelling the chunky box while the tests ran that Allison figured out it was from her.

Snake-sister had rattled in frustration and put the strange gray and blue puzzle down after a while. Allison didn't buy the act for one second.
Still, Snake-sister had succeeded in drawing out her curiosity. Staring out at the turbulent skies, torrential rains and buffeting winds became stale after a while.

Solving the thing had taken her the better part of the day but Allison was nothing if not perseverant… and incredibly bored.

She was fiddling with a finely carved, yellow and white bone puzzle-box when Hulk came in for one of his visits. She found it was a little too soon after the last one but figured he knew better than her. 
Not like anyone around here ever bothered informing her of anything.

He'd chilled out with the constant courtship recently and had stopped bringing in trophy skulls to woo the women. 
The season must have been coming to an end.
She was looking forward to leaving this place but wasn't particularly eager to resume living under Hulk's unique brand of bullshit.

She fought the urge to turn her back, the satisfaction of making her dislike of him absolutely clear would be only temporary.

Hulk grumbled at her at first but then sat on one of the big chairs and watched her play with the toy.
His beady-eyed stare was unnerving and made her accidentally trigger a wrong slot, prompting the puzzle freeze up and undo most of her hard work.

Allison groaned in frustration and dropped the toy in her lap. Hulk chuffed and laughed at her in derision.

She almost wanted to chuck the thing at his head. Almost.
Giving him any sort of attention or acknowledgement would mean she'd lose their little game of wills and she wasn't prepared to give up yet. She knew he'd take her away soon and ignoring him would become next to impossible.
The bastard was probably already planning on how to get back at her.

Hulk got up in one fluid motion and faced the entryway, Snake-sister was coming over.

Strange. Allison thought.
It was unusual for the boss alien to be absent whenever Hulk was around. Especially after the argument when he'd dumped her back here. She supposed the older alien was too busy now and since all the other nurses had been discharged, there was no one else but her younger relative left... even though the two had had multiple (violent) arguments over time.

<<You are too early.>> Snake-sister hisses at the smaller male, shoulders set and arms ready at her sides like she wants to throttle him.

<<I have waited for answers long enough.>> Hulk rattles back.

Snake-sister eyes him from top to bottom and up again while crossing her arms and leaning back on a leg.
<<Then let me show you.>> she purrs and Allie rolls her eyes. Guess the season wasn't over quite yet.

Hulk looks doubtful for only a few moments before responding to her advances and following her out.

Allison groans in disgust and picks up the puzzle again. Might as well start over.

----------

Time passes in relative peace before her game is disrupted again by Snake-lady making an appearance.

The big alien is quiet and impatient as she motions Allison to go to the main laboratory room.
There is a long pause as Allie obediently hops on the examination bed and holds her arm out while Snake-lady studies the human with a creepy sort of intensity that has the hair on her arms stand on end and skin pebble in goose-bumps.

She lets the hand flop down on her thighs when the big woman removes a stubby container with something rattling inside, circles her and tells her to be still. There's a prick of pain at the back of her neck and Allison feels something small slip under her skin.
The whole thing is over in a second and she barely has time to flinch before the familiar scent of the healing gel stings her nose.

<<Lay down.>> Snake-lady orders then retrieves some instruments from one of the metal cabinets.

Allison does as she is told, despite the unease pooling in her sternum. Laying down like this often meant she was to undergo more invasive tests or full-body scans. She'd already had an extensive check-up like it not too long ago.

She turns her head from the tray of instruments to watch the storm as Snake-lady meticulously sanitizes herself with some strange alien spray that smells like a stronger, astringent version of the healing gel.

She resists the urge to scratch at the already fading stab of pain at the base of her neck. Sometimes she'd have to stay with stuff shoved into the veins of her wrists or the iniside of her elbows for days. Removing or touching whatever Snake-lady put in her would only make the alien woman angry.
This must be something like it.

Her stomach tenses and she almost jumps off the medical bed when the cold spray is liberally applied to her belly.

"What are you doing?" her voice comes out so hoarse and broken from unuse, she almost doesn't recognize it.

<<Be still.>> the woman snaps, grabbing her flailing arm and forcefully aligning it to her body.

Allison settles down, afraid of angering the volatile alien further. Her mood had become more and more sullen and irate recently.

Snake-lady applies another cool gel to her abdomen and activates the overhead scanner, tinting the room green with its intense light.

Something was wrong. She could feel it. It had never happened like this before.

Allisone tries to squirm away but the alien grabs her with those mighty paws, puncturing her skin with her sharp claws and settling her back down on the bed.
Fear takes over and Allison begins struggling in earnest, managing to send the tray of instruments flying with a stray kick.

The alien growls and punches her in the side of her face before she can scream.
Allison sees stars, her vision swimming in and out of focus as the adrenaline already surging in her veins fights off what would have normally been a knockout.

She breathes through her nose and swallows back blood as she is manhandled, limp and weak, into position.
She's still blinking away the dizziness and registers that the pitiful mewls and whimpers were coming from her.

There's a low mechanical whirr and dark bands wrap around her wrists, upper arms, legs and torso, pinning her to the bed.
She tries to free herself, only managing to wiggle her body and bump the back of her head on the hard bed.

Snake-lady rattles angrily and turns on the overhead scanner. The device buzzes softly while Allison keeps struggling, fighting off the wave of exhaustion that beckons at her to just close her eyes, let it happen and hope a punch to the face was the worst of it.

The sight of the long and unusually thick needle gun brings back some of her fight. She's panting heavily from pain and fear. Whatever the stuff smeared on her belly was had numbed the area all the way to the muscles too. She can feel the eerily relaxing heat of it spread over her abdomen, making it harder to breathe and almost impossible to struggle.

Allison inhales through her nose, it sounds more like a snort because of all the mucus from crying and laying on her back. 
As soon as she gets a good lungful of air, she tenses whatever muscles were still responding and tries to scream, but is stopped by the heavy, rough paw clamping over her mouth and jaw painfully.

Then the big needle goes in.
She couldn't even howl in distress. There was a strange sensation deep inside of her, and the pain on the surface was dulled but still present although she couldn't even twitch at it.

The vial at the end fills with crimson then the alien woman removes the offending object, taking her large paw off Allie's mouth to change the vial and needle for fresh ones.
Allison tries to scream again but all that comes out after half-suffocating is a miserable whine and a weak sob.

Snake-lady didn't even bother muffling her again when she repeated the process on the other side. She then pockets the vials and turns off the restraints.

Allison immediately curls on her side in the fetal position, breathing heavily through her mouth, the entire right side of her face burns and her eye was already swollen shut.
Her abdomen is numb yet she could sense a deep ache inside of her.
"What… did you… do?"

The big woman pauses mid-step, thick gray tendrils shifting over her shoulders as she peers downward. 

<<My duty.>> she rattles and turns away, leaving Allison alone on the medical bed. 
Two thin trails of blood had left lines like red tear-tracks going sideways on her belly.

----------

Their heavy breaths are hot in the air together with the musky scent of their coupling and the smell of freshly spilled thwei. 
He smears the blood dribbling over his heaving chest, the wounds were already starting to close, they would make fetching scars to go with the rest on his arms and sides.

Hul'gkan sighs in satisfaction as he watches Vay'n'ritja rise from the large bed and open the sealed balcony to let some fresh air in.
 
He was a about to offer help in treating her own wounds before she kicks him out when the sound of something smashing and a very faint, very ooman wail threads in through the damp air.

Vay'n'ritja turns to meet his eyes but Hul'gkan was already moving, rushing out the door in just his loincloth and sandals, grabbing his ki'cti-pa on the way. 
They had both disarmed and disrobed before the mating dance, her awu-asa placed on a stand, his neatly stacked next to the entryway. He hadn't even had a chance to strap his gauntlet computer back on, too concerned with the unusual sound to waste time with it.

Vay'n'ritja silently follows him out, her longer strides bringing her close behind him as he turns the corner and peers into the main laboratory room.

He runs at the sight of little Fire Eyes crumpled on the floor, she had knocked over some delicate equipment that lay shattered beside her and there was a tray and surgical apparatus scattered all over the floor around her as though there had been a scuffle.
He takes to one knee beside her as she struggles to pick herself up, there was something wrong with how she was moving and her face… it was hot with blood and swelling grotesquely.

Hul'gkan rattles in aggression at Vay'n'ritja who had strayed too close. The woman does not challenge him as would have been her right, but still hovers nearby, clicking in concern and inquiry.

He grabs a hold of the ooman's arm and pulls her up but she can hardly keep her balance alone and slumps sideways, crashing into him.

<<Who would dare...>> he growls, anger simmering just beneath his skin.

The female chitters a denial and shakes her head, hurrying out of the main room and darting down the wide hall to open one of the doors forbidden to him.

He follows, dragging his Trophy along, who was mewling like a struck pup and clutching her abdomen.
Hul'gkan steps in right after Vay'n'ritja, forcefully holding the airlock from sliding shut over him and the ooman with his arm and shoulder.

<<Cousin!>> the female yells, angrily stomping up to the Elder Physician who was tinkering with some medical machinery.
<<What were you thinking?! This isn't what I agreed to!>> she hisses.

Je-st'sha're ignores the smaller female and, with practiced efficiency, removes one of the vials from the machine then extractes the fluid and injects herself in the belly with it.

Hul'gkan lets his angry growl reverberate into the room.
Little Fire Eyes had recovered enough to retreat behind another large medical machine. Good, if the Elder attacks him, or worse - he challenges her, it would be better for the little thing to be out of the way.

He squares his shoulders but does not engage his weapon. It dawns on him that everything that had happened today was simply a distraction. 

Vay'n'ritja had fought well but he'd suppressed her far sooner than he had expected... she'd only slammed him against the wall a couple of times, barely even made him dizzy. He'd gotten concussions and worse from other mating dances.
She was an active Hunter with more experience than him, his victory had been a lie.

He did not like the feeling of being used.

But that isn't the biggest slight he's suffered today.

<<You broke our agreement, Elder>> he grits out.

The Elder continues ignoring them and opens an interface at one of the technical consoles before a reinforced, heatproof enclosure.

<<Have you forgotten your honor? And sullied mine with it?!>> Vay'n'ritja demands loudly.

Non-plussed, Je-st'sha're presses a button and the airlock behind him clicks to announce a bio-hazard lock.
She waves over another section of the controls and a muffled yet instantly recognizable screech breaks the argument, making the little spines on his shoulders and back bristle in anticipation of a fight.

The Elder takes advantage of her cousin's momentary inattention and buries a blade in her chest with one hand, while the other extracts another vial of cool fluid that had popped out through the enclosure's sample output. 
The younger of the Desert clan gasps weakly in surprise and backs away only a few steps before falling to the smooth floor with a solid thump.

----------

Allison had barely regained some feeling in her muscles, crawling behind a large machine, when all hell broke loose.

Both she and Hulk had frozen at the creepy screech coming from the opaque, glass-like separator where that nasty bitch was. 
Then she stabbed her sister in the chest and Hulk sprang into action.

Something banged on the glass on the other side while the two aliens fought, hissing together with them as though sensing the fight. 

It sounded… familiar. 
She recognized it from her nightmares.

Allie retreated further behind the machine and looked around on the other side. Blood was slowly seeping out of Snake-sisters chest but there was still an almost imperceptible movement to it. She was still breathing. Barely.

Animalistic howls and rattles echoed in the room with deafening power. She chanced a glance and saw Hulk, sans spear, getting his face repeatedly smashed into the glass wall, aggravating the trapped creature inside even more.

Allison swallowed and hid again. Her heart was beating out of her chest and she was breathing like a wounded hare. Her face burned and the muscles in her abdomen felt gelatinous.

If Hulk got killed, would she be next?

She looks to Snake-sister again and winces at the sound of Hulk getting thrown into a bunch of alien equipment on the other side of the room.

She has to do something

She crawls on all fours over to Snake-sister. The alien was unconscious, but she was definitely breathing. 
The wound in her chest is still bleeding and Allie knows enough about first aid not to pull the wicked knife out.
She shakes the alien's massive shoulder and pulls on a few of her dreads. All she gets for her trouble is a twitching tusk and a faint growl.

The fight rages on, Hulk had gotten up from where he'd been thrown and was wisely keeping Snake-lady at a distance by using his extended spear, which he must have recovered when Allison wasn't looking.
Fluorescent green blood cuts along both of their bodies, showing wounds that would normally be fatal or at least debilitating for humans in bright splotches that gave off an eery light as they fought.
Hulk had the worst of it.

Allison grabs Snake-sister by an arm and slowly drags her under the slightly raised platform behind her, grunting in effort the entire two feet.

Snake-lady howls in pain and jumps away from Hulk, getting uncomfortably close to where Allie was. She huddles further under the platform and keeps quiet, hoping to avoid detection.

Hulk had wounded Snake-lady across her wide chest. There was a deep gash cutting over from her left clavicle, diving between her small breasts, revealing the shine of bone underneath, down to just above her stomach. He'd either been aiming to disembowel her or hadn't landed a hit on her face.

The smaller man wasn't in any better shape though. His forehead was bleeding profusely from where it had cracked the opaque glass, dripping thick blood down his face, neck and chest.
There were many other cuts all over but that one bled the worst.

His green eyes were alert and focused though. Clearly still in the fight.

<<I should have had you castrated from the start, you little runt!>> the big woman taunted, stabbing herself in the abdomen with a vial of strange, brackish substance then hitting the console beside her with her fist still gripping the spent container, howling in both pain and victory.
<<My children alone will rule the galaxy!>> she croons as mechanisms start shifting inside and beyond the enclosure.


The doors to the glass room release with a puff of fog, sliding open and letting in a foreboding chill that has Allison shivering.

A dreadful hiss sounds from inside.

Allison covers her mouth to keep from screaming as the shiny black creature from the forest stumbles out. A kainde amedha.

No, this one was different. About twice as big and with a dramatic flare to its elongated head that looked like a crown. Stood up, it's much taller than the big woman, even while stooping.

Snake-lady chitters and hums, laughing at Hulk. 

The black thing is still groggy, wobbling on its stick-thin legs. It breathes in the air and chirps towards Snake-lady almost sweetly then turns it's big domed head right at Hulk to hiss like a giant, angry snake.

<<U'darahje!>> Hulk rattles back accusingly at the big woman, pointing his spear at the new foe.

It leaps.

Hulk roars and meets it halfway, springing over equipment, scattered from the previous fight, much faster and more nimbly than the gangly creature is capable of in it's cold-drunken state.

Still, its size more than makes up for its lacking reflexes. It catches Hulk with a swipe of its tail and sends him flying into the sealed door with a painful sounding bang that dents the metal.
He recovers just in time to scramble out of the way of the creature's slashing tail, gleaming sharp and shaped like a giant asymmetrical arrowhead at the tip.

Hulk dives for the spindly hind legs and slashes at it's joints then stabs at the slightly meatier part of its hind quarters. The monster screeches in pain and fury, each swipe back getting faster and more stable as it shakes off the cold.

Allison winces at Hulk's angry growls every time some of them glance him, scratching deep gouges into his already wounded body.

There is acid pouring from the bug's cuts, eating at the floor, but whatever material the sturdy stone-like slabs are made of proves to be resistant. The yellow blood pools and splashes around the creature, barely leaving pockmarks and forcing Hulk to dance and weave around them and the dangerous claws, tail and mouths.

Hulk maneuvers and jumps all over the place, giving the thing a good run-around in the available space. 
Allison can hear him breathing hard, his movements becoming more labored. 
He's tiring.

He parries a mighty blow and ducks under a vicious bite, continuing the move and sliding between the creature's legs then rolling to get his feet under him.
The move made him touch some of the acid blood but he only grunts in pain and continues his forward motion, sprinting for the wall, jumping off a table full of vials and causing it to fall, shattering the samples behind him then running up the wall a good ten feet while twirling his spear and pushing off of it just at the right moment to sail over the creature, which had been in the middle of turning, and land on it's back with a vicious snarl.

Hulk drives the spear into the monster's back, almost impaling it straight through as it screeches in pain then quickly jumps off before it catches him with its sharp claws.

Allison covers her ears at the noise, flattening herself against the wall. Snake-sister twitches before her and opens her beady orange-yellow eyes.
She reaches above and tries to pull herself up by grabbing around the surface they are hidden under. Allison tries to draw her back but one clumsy shove from the alien has her thrown back against the wall.
Snake-sister manages to get herself up into a sitting position and brings something down in the hand she used to pull herself on.

It's the same kind of injection that bitch used when Hulk had barged in with Allison in tow.
 
The alien injects it into her belly as well, position strangely reminiscent to where Allison had been stabbed back in the laboratory. She grabs another one and repeats the process on the other side. Her breathing is shallow and more blood pours out of her wound but she crouches with a groan and finally rises to her feet.

Hulk had been dodging the monster while Allison was distracted with the willful not-dead woman and Snake-lady had been watching the fight. 

The big woman isn't looking so smug anymore though, now that Hulk is actually winning, all he has to do is get on the ugly bug's back again and finish the job. He's lagging though, breathing hard and practically throwing himself away from the monster's angry swipes.
 Snake-lady tracks him with her eyes, she was readying something tubular and dark hanging at her hip. A sort of gun?

Snake-sister pulls the knife out of her chest with an agonized, inhuman scream that distracts Hulk into getting back-handed across the room by the kainde amedha and draws the big woman's attention.

Several things happen at once; the black thing screeches in fury and scrambles up towards them as Snake-sister hurls the knife at her betrayer and the latter pulls on the trigger of the strange gun, launching a wide net at Hulk and pinning him face-first to the wall he was just peeling himself off of.

The knife embeds into Snake-lady's shoulder with a deep, meaty thud as Snake-sister falls back, fresh spurts of blood erupting from her chest.

The serpent's momentum and wounded, uncoordinated limbs make it crash into the last alien standing and the both of them go down in a mess of tangles limbs, pained and angry hisses and splattering acid blood.

Chapter Text

 

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.

Chapter Text

The big bastard had been fast asleep for days.

It took Allison a few hours to relax enough not to jump at every wheezy snort coming out of Hulk's ugly crab-face.
The alien had just passed out cold.

At first she'd been afraid he was dead, but the steady rise and fall of his ruined back confirmed that he was breathing.
His wounds were still horrific, even with the super-gel already working at closing the gashes up. He looked like he'd been grilled alive.

She'd spent the first day tiptoeing around, exploring what she assumed would be her world from now on. 
It was a fairly large place, the big room they were in seemed like some sort of very barren recreational area. 
She recognized a simple kitchen the next door over from where she drank water and prepared some food for herself, she was ravenous. 
Then she found a huge bedroom opposite the entrance that she quickly ducked out of. There as a wall full of skulls displayed like trophies. No way was she messing with anything in there. 
She hadn't been allowed in what she'd believed to be the two aliens' bedrooms back on the ship either. No reason to go exploring the morbid alien skulls now.

The bathroom was also enormous, bigger than her whole apartment back home.
It had a pool larger than her bedroom. The water looked to be perpetually flowing, falling from a wide, rectangular opening near the ceiling and bubbling hot on the surface, the steam making everything hazy and the air humid.

It took her a while to work up the guts to use it, but she figured she needed to clean herself of all the crusty green blood and grime still on her. 
The doctor alien who'd treated her under Hulk's determined jade stare had done a pretty good job tending to her wounds but he'd been very obviously disgusted at having to touch her. 
A good soak would probably relax her muscles too.

Plus, Hulk never had a problem with her using the facilities when they were on the ship, now that he was passed out he wouldn't even know it, and she hadn't had a real bath since then either. 
The room she'd been kept in back at the pyramid only had a high pressure shower thing that blasted her from all sides and made her feel like one of those wrinkly dogs her grandma used to have.

The pool was deep enough that she could drown in if she wasn't careful but there was a more shallow area where she could sit or kneel and the water would only come up to her chin or neck. For people like Hulk it probably only went up to chest level.

She'd spent hours just floating around in hot water or standing under the mini-waterfall to feel the pressure on her scalp, (thankfully, it had temperature and concentration controls like on the ship) listening to her own sluggish pulse beating in her eardrums and trying not to think about anything at all.
It had worked… for a little while. 

Her mind never had been particularly orderly.

No tears came though.
In fact, she could barely feel anything at all. The memories of the fight, of what she'd done, brought nothing but a faraway, dull sort of disdain.

Wether it was for herself or everything else was unclear. Perhaps it was both.

The peace and quiet did her more bad than good. The nightmares came back from the first time she allowed herself to sleep, curled up in a nook - scenes of her abduction, imprisonment and experiments mixing together with the image of those disgusting, skeletal black bugs haunting her every step.
What was worse now though, was that in stead of Allison herself being the victim, it was everyone she ever cared about suffering as she had. She could only watch them get torn apart or waste away or be beaten to death by angry hunters for small acts of disobedience. 
Once they were all gone, it was her turn again - which was almost a relief.
At least the faceless woman was silent. Whatever her fate, Allison was certain she was long gone.

Still, her nightmares were the only times she truly felt. When she woke up, her heart would be racing and there was moisture in her hair or trailing down her temples. 

Waking only brought the dullness back and she couldn't even bring herself to do her usual workout routine, still sore from her ordeal and uncomfortable in her own skin. She'd tried once, but the physical exertion, the smell of her own sweat and certain motions and stances brought back unpleasant memories.

She could clearly recall the strange give of meat under her hands, the jarring twist and burst of pushing between ribs and piercing through rough chitin and the sudden, softer - almost smooth - slip into another body underneath.

She wished she could sleep as much as Hulk. 

Her own body though, still demanded food and water and eventually she would seek the pool to relax enough to fall asleep again. 
She'd choked herself awake once after nodding off with her head resting on the rounded stone edge. 

Days passed and Hulk still slept like the dead. She'd check every now and then if he was still breathing.
He didn't move much except for shifting his face from one side to the other.

Allison could now study him at her leisure. The horrific new wounds were healing much faster than any scrapes she'd ever had. They would be mere scars soon.
Initially, she would avoid looking at him head-on unless he was slapping her around in his weird version of training or insisted on her watching the play-fights with Gramps and in recent months he'd been mostly absent after he'd loaned her out or she'd been purposefully ignoring him (brief outing in the jungle notwithstanding).

With nothing else to do, she would spend hours watching the big alien rest and sometimes fidget in his sleep. His snores were surprisingly subdued for someone so big who didn't even have a nose and except for a few grunts whenever he moved he didn't make much noise. 
The presence of another being, even if it was just Hulk, was oddly reassuring. 

She was stuck in this house untill he woke up.
Not that she'd tried very hard to find a way out. Most of the time she had trouble working up the will to eat. 
The front door had closed and locked automatically once she'd fully stepped inside and what looked like tinted windows (they were similar to the 'glass' wall in the cockpit of the ship) didn't look like they could be opened.

Plus, last time she'd tried to escape she'd almost gotten eaten by a giant alien animal - which was also the big bastard's fault… in part. 
Freedom no longer held such strong appeal. Especially since this dwelling was so close to the jungle.

----------

Allison was resting on her back on the cool floor, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling when Hulk stirred.
He grunted something into the rough, fuzzy leather of his huge couch and pushed off on his elbow with a hiss.

They blinked at each other for a good minute before his massive body rumbled and moved, his motions uncharacteristically stunted and awkward compared to the predatory grace she was used to seeing on him.

She returned to studying the miniscule fissures in the rock above her, starting the count over while listening to Hulk mumble and clatter stuff around in the kitchen.

First he drank several cups of water - or, small buckets really, big aliens needed big cups, then she heard him tear into some of the frozen meat in the refrigeration unit, crunching the ligaments and small bones of whatever unfortunate creature had been killed to fill his pantry with those pointy inner teeth and swallowing whole.

She'd seen Gramps and him eat on several ocassions. Not the most graceful act to witness.

Things got a little fuzzy as she dozed once Hulk left for the bathroom for an indeterminate amount of time.

 

She was unceremoniously woken up by a scaly foot nudging  her shoulder.
Allison groaned and cursed hoarsely while rubbing her eyes, she'd been sleeping so well - no nightmares at all.

"What…" she grumbled, sitting up on the cool floor and squinting up at him. 
Normally, the sight of him standing like that above her would have her scurrying away to avoid getting squished but presently she couldn't care less. 

<<Don't sleep on the floor.>> he growled back, looking down at her like she was something icky he'd just stepped in.

"Not like I have anywhere else to sleep…" she grumped while slowly pushing her tired carcass into standing, wobbling a little when the room spun around her.

Hulk gave her a queer look and crossed his beefy arms.

<<What is wrong with you?>> he queried attempting to bend over to look at her but stopping with a barely-there flinch when he pulled at his obviously still tender scars.

She craned her neck to get a good look at his pinched, ugly features, a little unconfortable that he was crowding into her personal space.

"I'm just peachy." she muttered and slid back a fraction.

A quizzical tilt of his head was all the prompting her gave to continue.

"It means I'm fine." she huffed.


<<It is dishonorable to lie, little ooman.>> Hulk chastised after a short moment of deliberation.


Allison could feel the vein popping at her temple as her blood pressure sky-rocketed.

"My name isn't human! How many fucking times do I have to tell you?! You overgrown, crab-faced... geko!!!" she floundered on the last part, unable to find a suitable moniker - 'crocodile' sounded too badass.

She was panting by the end of her rathfull yell, even more dizzy with the force of her emotion and the rush of blood to her head.

Hulk clicked and for a heartbeat she thought he might smack her again but then he burst out into his stupid 'hrr hrr' laugh, holding an arm over his middle and throwing his head back in glee. 

She really wanted to punch him for it, but his amusement was infectious and soon enough she was giggling along with him, more out of sheer relief and desperation than real mirth. 
She couldn't remembered the last time she'd laughed like this, there were tears in her eyes.

Hulk's dumb cackles subsided when Allison started heaving and crying in earnest, a puzzled clicking noise replacing his laughter when she didn't stop.

----------

Hul'gkan reached out to grab a hold of little Fire Eyes and shake some sense back into her but she ducked out of the way faster than he'd anticipated and all he pawed was thin air.

The strange display continued as she ran for the bathing chamber, making odd, strangled sounds that echoed off the water and walls, creating a distressing cacophony that he couldn't interpret properly.

Was she choking? On what?

She'd been making those oddly endearing sounds of ooman joy barely a few moments ago. 
Was the little thing broken? 
What had she been doing in the time he'd been regenerating? 

He needed to check his gauntlet computer.
She'd obviously discovered how to take care of herself during that time, even if she looked more hollowed out than ever. The whole dwelling, except for his sleeping chambers, held traces of her modified scent.

He was too surprised and confused to follow at first, listening as the primitive was attempting to control her hyperventilated breathing and trying to piece together what might have caused such an extreme reaction.

The surveillance apparatus installed would unravel the mystery. He slid the gauntlet on and it started powering up as it sensed his heat signature, he was about to open the interface but paused with his claw hovering above the keys at the sudden and suspicious lack of noise.

Hul'gkan trilled to gain her attention, waiting in silence. 
When nothing but a faded splash replied, he went for the bathing chamber as fast as his still healing leg allowed, making the distance in a half-stumbled leap over the couch.

The ooman was nowhere to be seen.

The sound of air bubbling to the surface of the pool drew his gaze and he dove in without a second thought, grabbing the little ape by the nape of her neck and raising her, spluttering and gasping, out of the water. Fortunately, she was at the shallow end and he'd bumped into her. 
She'd changed the temperature setting to suit her needs and he couldn't see her properly in the warm water.

He threw her back on solid ground and leveled himself up, wincing at some of the reopened gashes. He'd have to treat those again, but for now he had other things to concern himself with.

<<Foolish primitive!>> he growled as the skinny ape rose on her elbows. <<Why die now, when the path to honor is opened to you?!>> he demanded with a snarl of disbelief. He was surprised by the powerfully unpleasant, oily feeling pooling in his chest at the thought of little Fire Eyes perishing.

With a start, he realized that what she had lost might be too much to bear. 
That wretched abomination had wiped out any chance of Fire Eyes bearing offspring. He'd never considered the prospect of multiplying his pets - which was a moot point anyway, now that she was no longer a trophy.
He remembered the u'darahje's taunt during the fight. 

To think he'd been in danger of being Culled and by extension possibly be denied the right to reproduce before his Chiva sent a shudder down his spine. 
Castration wasn't unheard of but not often practiced in his Clan and many others. If pups were too flawed, which was rare to begin with, they would be Culled early on. Generally, those who escaped the Culling would be deemed too weak anyway later in life and operated upon, although it wasn't a rule.
While not often enforced, the view that those who undermined expectations severely should be denied even accidental participation in the gene pool was widespread.

He needed to have a very serious conversation with his bearer sometime in the near future.

Fire eyes was still crouching in a pathetic heap on the slick floor. The thin tendrils of her tresses - hair, oomans called it, stuck to her face, neck and trailed limply down her back and arms.

He wanted to grab her and shake some sense into her, but found himself unusually hesitant, his own honor demanded he treat her with more respect now. And approaching her in rage would only exacerbate the matter.

"I…" she spluttered some more "... wasn't…" 

Hul'gkan waited impatiently as she took deep breaths and looked up at him with resolute, if drenched, hatred. The sight of it was a good deal better than the empty husk from before.

"Goddamn, it got up my nose." she snorted and cussed inarticulately while sniffling disgustingly. Why oomans had developed the protruding olfactory organ that way must have been an evolutionary mistake. It wasn't even that sensitive. 

He squatted in front of her, gathering his tusks close to his face to stop from hissing in pain at the uncomfortable stretch of still scarring flesh.

<<Why.>> he clicked.

Fire Eyes sat back on her rump, only slipping a little, and met his stare. Her big prey eyes were flushed with blood, her face suffused in angry splotches on her cheeks, nose and fleshy lips, hot even compared to the rest of her body that had been submerged in what was hot water for her. 

She chuffed is sour amusement and shook her little head. 
"I just… needed to get my breathing under control."

His head tilted in query, unsure how the act of almost drowning helped.

"If I'm underwater, I can't cry. It forces me to hold my breath." she explained.

Hul'gkan had read of the ooman lacrimal glands and how various emotions were expressed through shedding saltwater from their eyes. 

<<Why?>> he clicked again, softer this time.

Fire Eyes blinked at him in dumbfounded confusion. He wasn't certain if both her eyelids were moving at the same time. They were swollen unpleasantly.

<<You oomans have no discipline, for the mind or the body. If you require to grieve, it is better to do so now than let it fester.>> he shook his head, heedless of the way it brought forth his mangled tresses. 

She brought her pointy knees up and hugged them in front of her, still staring at him although he knew it was not in challenge. He wondered if all oomans were so bold or if Fire Eyes was just an outlier.

" … what if I can't stop..." she whispered and broke eye contact.

He did not know how to respond. 

Grief was not something that was often expressed in his culture. Death and injury were simply a part of life.
If warriors perished with honor on a hunt then they were celebrated, they would serve at the halls of Cetanu for the rest of existence. If they died dishonorably then they deserved no more consideration. 
The loss of pups before gestation completed was sometimes a matter of great sorrow, especially in recent spans, but it was generally believed that if the young one was too weak to survive in the womb, it would certainly be too weak to survive life outside of it.
There were accidents, of course, when young lives were lost too early or atrocities were committed by Ic'jit clans that either deserved special funerary rights or harsh and decisive retribution be delivered, respectively.

Personal loss was also similarly treated. Unblods were taught from early on how to manage their thoughts and feelings. The mind was the strongest weapon a sain'ja had, the body was an immediate second followed by weapons and armor. Training in the mental scape, or the spiritual realm as the Ancients called it, through meditation was arguably more important than martial skill.

Those who neglected the mental and spiritual side of their training often fell into mindless rages and broke the Code of Honor. Most Ic'jit were hotheaded as youths, arrogant beyond their actual skill and prone to unnecessarily violent outbursts.

Hul'gkan himself had fought against his own rage on a daily basis. As an Unblood, his stature had a attracted plenty of derision. 
His bearer had warned him to always reign himself in and wait to beat his opponents in jehdin-jehdin. 
His high success rate had eventually earned him some modicum of respect, although a few bitter opponents still cheated during supposedly fair combat and ganged up on him in the barracks after fights. His natural agility had saved his hide plenty of times.

Still, he'd never fallen into wei mo'wei-te. 
He'd heard of strong, honorable warriors who'd just given up at one point. Renounced all they were. Taken their own lives outside of a hunt and denied themselves a worthy afterlife.
The concept was foreign to him, but he would not discount the effects of despair on a struggling psyche.

Uncertain, he reached out and placed a hand on the little ooman's bony shoulder. Comfort was also rarely expressed in his culture, but he had read that her kind required touch for a healthy existence. He would offer it, his debt required some form of payment and something in his own spirit urged him on as well.

The light touch had Fire Eyes flinch momentarily, there was saltwater streaming down her cooling, puffy cheeks when she lifted her head. She seemed as surprised as he was.
His hand dwarfed her shoulder considerably, the smooth skin under his palm wet and colder than normal.

Fire Eyes snorted through her nose like the hound did when it was prancing and eager to play in its youth.
"Who would have thought I'd be getting mental health advice from an alien…" she wobbled her head from side to side, mouth curving up at one corner.

His own tusks twitched in amusement. Did she not realize that here she was the alien?
Oomans were such a conceited race.

The mood turned sour again as her face regained its somber flatness, eyes downcast, fleshy lips thinning as the hairy brows scrunched in a frown.

"She… took something from me." 

Hul'gkan let a heavy breath out with his growl as he rose and aided Fire Eyes upright. This was not a conversation he was looking forward to.

<<I have… failed to protect you.>> it was not an easy thing for him to admit.

"The guy who looked us over…" she continued as though he hadn't spoken. "He said something about…"
<<M'di lou'dte kalei-de.>> she parroted almost perfectly. It seemed she had learned much even without a teacher.
He should have known she was clever enough to work things out on her own.

<<I... am sorry.>> the words left his mouth before he really thought them through.
<<Your paths are reduced in this aspect, but grow in others.>> he hurried to offer, the uncomfortable itch of guilt pricking just under his throat.
<<Do not let this undo you.>> Hul'gkan said, squeezing where he was still touching her, an unwelcome, desperate edge creeping in the undertones of his mournful hum. <<Your life still has - >>

"I told you, I wasn't trying to -" she interrupted and wrenched away from him, swearing once again.

He remained silent, allowing her to form her own thoughts.

"I don't even want kids. But that's not the point!" her voice rose in intensity as his fists curled at his sides. 
"What are you even apologizing for? Unless its for fucking abducting me then I don't want it!" her yell rang off the smooth walls.
"You hunt me down like an animal, take me away from my own home, fucking step on me when you don't like something - then you abandon me with Doctor Death and you're sorry for what she did?!" Fire Eyes continued to rant as she paced back and forth in front of him.

Hul'gkan had to willfully swallow down his bellow of rage. The debt he owed her was shrinking in importance with every second of restraint he imposed on himself. 

"What the hell is wrong with you people, anyway!? Do you even realize how fucked up you all are?"

He had to stay calm. He couldn't let himself be goaded by her tempestuous moods.

"You think you can just-"

<<Ki'dte!>> the command escaped him anyway and he relished in the acrid scent of fear and her inadvertent, instinctual retreat.

<<You were Prey and then a Trophy, now you are neither. Consider yourself fortunate I do not take your challenge!>>

The fire returned to her eyes as fury fueled her brittle body, small fists balling up, stance squaring. If she'd had tresses, the ones on her shoulders would have bristled in aggresion.

"Fuck you!" she spat back.

Hul'gkan responded by letting loose the roar he'd been stifling. To think he was comforting the ungrateful little wretch but a few breaths ago!

<<Ell-osde jehdin dtai'k-de!>> she screamed back the official challenge, baring her teeth. This grimace was very clearly aggressive, nothing pleasant or happy about it.

Normally, Hul'gkan wouldn't have let himself be goaded by an unworthy or unskilled opponent, plenty of Unbloods still pestered him thinking he was younger or weaker. He couldn't very well beat them all, he didn't have that much free time - although he did put the particularly persistent ones in their place.
There was little honor in taking challenges from those who weren't yet Blooded.

Yet, so encompassing was his rage at her that all his reservations shattered and his patience vanished like thin smoke in the wind. 
How dare she scorn him so?! He would not be judged by something that looked like Prey!

He leapt at the little ooman, bellowing his acceptance of her challenge as a mighty roar.

Despite her aparent weakness, Fire Eyes slipped from under his grasp with unexpected deftness, sliding along the wet floor on sure legs while his own injured one slipped, making him skid forward and overstep thus allowing Fire Eyes to get behind him and deliver a swift, if somewhat lacking in strength, kick to his back.

She laughed at his indignant grunt which only fueled his mounting fury.

Hul'gkan caught himself on the damp wall and pushed off, attempting to tackle the slippery little ape.
She was a flame in the warm air, ablaze with her own anger.

Fire Eyes ducked and weaved under his swipe just as he had taught her more than a season ago. His mind was clear enough for a sliver of pride to slither in under the rage.

She side-stepped him again and kicked at the knee of his injured leg. 
It buckled under him so he dropped and swept her legs from under her.

He'd pressed her back enough with his swift recovery the she fell right into the pool with a huge splash despite her small form.
Hul'gkan plunged in after her, his thwei now freely flowing from the reopened wounds, stinging his back.
This time he wouldn't worry about throwing her into anything dangerous. He just had to be careful not to break her spine on the wall like when he was teaching her to spar.

He looked around for telltale signs of her resurfacing, mangled tresses slapping wetly against his shoulders and neck, throwing diluted droplets of blood around him in warm arcs.

Concern replaced his floundering rage when not even a bubble broke the surface.

Hul'gkan dove under, nictating membrane slipping over his eyes in preparation as he searched for the girl.

The temperature of the water made it impossible for him to discern any anomalies and nothing moved except for his own arms.
The unfamiliar stirrings of panic tickled at the base of his skull. 
His mind argued that had she drowned, he would have surely seen signs of air leaving her body.
But what if, in his cooling rage, he'd missed it?
Could she be laying on the stone floor right now, lifeless and weighed down with the water that had choked her?

He should have never let himself be taunted into fighting. All his talk of a disciplined mind and he'd still acted like a riled pup. Only Fire Eyes had the unique talent of getting under his hide.

Hul'gkan resurfaced and waded through to the other side, standing on his toes at the deepest end of the pool.
He pushed himself towards the stone edge to pull himself out and attempt to search for her again from above or, if nothing else, drain the water, but just as he gripped the smoothed edge, something grabbed his leg from below. He lost his grip and went crashing down, displacing even more water with his bigger body.

His nasty cuss was drowned out by water gushing down his throat so he clicked his mouth closed and pushed his tongue against his inner teeth to keep more from coming in.

By the time he got his footing again, the little ooman was already out of the water, throwing various bottles with oils and cleansing products at his head.

One hit him in the eye, just under the cauterized scar on his forehead. 

Resolving to beat her at her own game, he dived under the surface, keeping close to the bottom and making the distance to where she was with quick, powerful strokes.

He erupted from the pool right in front of little Fire Eyes and leapt to the edge, careful to keep his footing this time.
She shrieked and kicked out at him but he was ready for her and caught her by the slim ankle.

Undeterred, she pushed on the captured limb, launching herself up, and hit him with the heel of her other foot right in the neck.

Good thing he was still wearing his guard, otherwise he might have choked.
The hit still hurt though and he growled, releasing her foot in favor of grabbing her around the waist with both hands.

Fire Eyes let loose a snarl of her own and clawed at his face while her legs scrambled uselessly in the air.
He slammed her down just hard enough to hurt like he had done when she'd first defied him on Iktaha'rg's ship although in stead of getting stunned, she rolled away just before his foot came down to pin her.

She scampered up and Hul'gkan lunged after her, catching her around the shoulders from the back this time. Her little hands pushed at his forearms and she bit into the meat near the inside of his elbow, actually drawing thwei with her deceptively blunt teeth.
He yowled and his temporarily crippled leg trembled under him and gave out when he tried to shift his weight, allowing Fire Eyes the perfect opportunity to push back into him and bend her torso forward, her lowered center of gravity affording her the necessary advantage to flip him over with a mighty heave.

He went crashing on his back, the wet slap of stone on his scars and the utter surprise at getting taken down momentarily stunning him into inaction as Fire Eyes brought her foot down hard on his chest, actually managing to drive the air out of him.

He blinked up at her as she panted above him, his warmer thwei trailing down the corners of her mouth and chin, her eyes two molten spots boring down on him like Paya herself.

Hul'gkan regained enough of his faculties to grab her around the calf and pull, tripping her up before she had the chance to deliver another hit.
Fire Eyes fell and he curled himself up, a spike of excitement at another victorious dance shooting down his body, quickly moving over her to pin her down with one hand to her chest while the other reared up, fisted.

Chapter Text

 

This is it. she thought as Hulk's massive form loomed above her, his shadow enveloping her completely.
There was an odd sense of regret that had it happened sooner - had she let it happen - she might have been spared all the suffering after she took that plunge in the waterfall.

Hulk's fist reared back, back - high over her like a hammer waiting to fall. 
Adrenaline-fueled, her brain focused on each detail making the motion seem slowed down to a snail's pace.

In her hyperaware state, she could see all the little scale-like segments over his knuckles and fingers stand out, darker in pigmentation than the skin under them and slightly translucent in the warm light of evening. 
Figures his kind had the equivalent of brass knuckles already built in. 

She closed her eyes as the fist started it's downward swing, waiting for the inevitable.
At least she'd gone down fighting, that spiteful little part of her said. 
At least she hadn't begged. 
At least it would be over fast.

But I don't want to die!

The fist connected to the stone near her right ear with a loud crack. Might have even sent a few shards flying.

She squinted one eye open while the other remained closed, peeking up at Hulk's heaving form above her.
The petty satisfaction she took from actually winding him was minute compared to the elation of survival.

Her other eye opened and she waited with bated breath as Hulk's jade gaze bore down on her. 
Even now, she refused to look away. If he'd wanted her dead, she would be. Meekness would achieve nothing.

Hulk harrumphed at her and wheezed out his stupid, deep laugh, bending down over her even more on the fist firmly planted next to her face but not applying any more pressure on her chest with the large hand splayed just under her neck. He could easily crush her sternum or choke her out if he wanted to.

Her breath went out all at once and she gulped, uncaring of the alien blood in her mouth as those wicked tusks clicked above her, way too close for comfort. 
She'd brought her legs up during the fight to push at him but now one hung limply - thigh over his hip with the sole of her foot flat on his muscular calf, the other curled up with her knee poking into his ribs.
Her arms were similarly useless, one braced beside her body, hand almost touching his knee while the other had somehow ended up above her head.

His skin was fever-hot and slick where they touched, both of them still wet from flailing about in the pool.

The position was uncomfortably intimate with him basically kneeling and bending over her between her legs. It provoked an undesired surge of heat to travel up from behind her navel all the way to her cheeks.

<<Worthy fight.>> he rumbled, twitching his mandibles in what she'd come to recognize as a hunter alien smile.
<<Never do that again.>> he admonished next. <<Others will not miss.>>

Then he babbled something more but she only caught bits and pieces of it. Something about waiting for 'blood' or 'blooding' and winning a trophy of some kind.
She had no plans to ever challenge him like that again anyway, she'd come close enough to death to realize she really, really didn't want to die, no matter how fucked up she felt.

Finally, he backed off her and grunted himself upright, using the hand that had been pinning her down to push himself up on his bent knee.

She skittered back on her hands to give herself more space and spat faintly green saliva to the side.

Allison watched as Hulk limped to the pool to fiddle with the settings panel and wash his reopened wounds, furiously wiping at her mouth while he grumbled and splashed blueish water over his shoulder. 
The taste of his blood was bitter and salty, though thankfully it didn't smell too much. She was already close to gagging.

"Why did you let me live?" she asked in morbid curiosity.

She repeated the question in his tongue when he only harrumphed at her again.

<<Respect. Debt. Worthy.>> he listed at last.

He'd mentioned 'worthy' before, she assumed it meant the weird fuck had enjoyed the fight. The respect was new but it couldn't hurt, she'd have to ask about it later.
One aspect though, caught her attention.

<<Debt?>> 

Hulk grunted as he climbed out of the pool, his wounds still bled but not as strongly, she noticed the water was sluicing off him in vaguely gelatinous, thin globs.

<<Sei-i...>> he sounded hesitant as he passed her to wave open a cabinet and proceed to apply the healing gel on his wounds, hissing as he struggled to reach behind him.

After a few undignified grunts, he gave up trying to be delicate and just dumped the whole canister over his shoulder, letting the gel slide down and catching some of the excess at the small of his back to dab at the punctures in his calf and thigh.

Allison used the pause to think. Could she possibly utilize this to her advantage?

<<What meaning debt?>> she asked cautiously while poking at the slashes in the thermal mesh. Hulk must have really been holding back, she was barely scratched but the mesh was hanging off in pieces.

<<It means I owe you a favor, stupid ooman.>> he grumped as he turned away from her to exit the huge bathroom.

She followed him out with an indignant scoff.

<<What happen respect? Name 'stupid human' not!>> 

He jerked to a sudden stop and turned to face her, dreads swinging wildly. Allie barely had time to avoid bumping into him.

She frowned at his angry growl. Refusing to back down. She'd milk this opportunity as much as she could.

"Allison." she said and looked at him expectantly, hands planted on her hips.
Hulk clicked and looked away, mouthing something that sounded suspiciously obscene.
<<Say.>> she demanded.

Living jade looked down at her as he stilled.
<<...Ahh-lee-zzzhnn…>> he grumbled finally. It barely sounded like her name, but it was a start.

"'Allie' is fine too." she allowed, softening a little now that he was actually trying. If his language was so difficult for her to learn, hers must be just as hard for him to spell out. He didn't exactly have the right facial features.
She wondered how Gramps managed so well, maybe he'd had more experience. Hulk was recognizably young compared to others she had seen.

<<Ah-lee.>> he nodded, sounding surer of himself, voice carrying a deep purry undertone. It was a little weird hearing him say her name like that. Maybe she shouldn't have insisted on it so much.
<<Fire Eyes.>> he added.

"That's what Gramps called me. Why do you use it?"

<<Grr-ahks?>>

"Uh, the funny guy. Older. From the ship."

<<Iktaha'rg.>> he provided.

"Right." 

Hulk didn't deign to answer her previous question so they just continued staring at each other in awkward silence. Him completely still, studying her in that unnecessarily intense way of his and Allison wringing her hands together, trying to think of something else to say to break the silence.

"Hey, so… what happened to Spike?" she brightened, realizing she really missed the great slobbery beast. 
"The dog." she clarified at Hulk's quizzical head tilt.

He clicked and gestured for her to follow, turning towards the kitchen and opening what appeared to be a back door with a wave of his hand.

The dusky light of perpetual evening lit the surroundings in amber as Allison stepped out into the jungle, careful to stay close to Hulk and follow him on the narrow trail of beaten down, hard-packed dirt.

She hid behind him at the sound of four-legged galloping heading right towards them, poking her head out at his elbow to watch the creature skid through the underbrush.

----------

Little Ah-lee was as cautious as ever, positioning herself out of the path of possible danger behind him.
The area was protected from the jungle by a domed force-field and was safe even for the youngest of pups to play in but he refrained from mentioning it, enjoying her immediate change of mood towards him at the mere hint of outside threat.

How could a being that would challenge him so brazenly become so easily frightened in so little time? She was truly a mystery.
Still, her proximity brought a repeat of the unexplained wave of satisfaction from earlier, when he'd been leaning over her after the match. He'd thought it only a natural reaction to achieving victory at first.

The hound had heard his clicks of summons and rushed towards him from whatever nest it had made for itself while resting in the kennel. 
Hul'gkan had taken it out on a few hunts together with Thei'dteinou before the whole mess with Fire Eyes. It had earned some rest and the automated feeding station attached to the house had kept it well-fed while Hul'gkan had been away.

The hound slipped on a wet patch of ground in its eagerness to rejoin its master, whining subvocally once it was within sight.

Ah-lee shrieked in joy and called out to the hound who was prancing from side to side, just as delighted as her but still waiting for permission to approach.

Hul'gkan chittered a sit and stay command as little Fire Eyes darted right up to his hound and started vigurosly petting it. Unable to resist the extra attention, the hound flopped on its back to present her with its belly in an unflattering show of submission.

It should not be recognizing her as an authority figure and Hul'gkan should have admonished it for the error, but Ah-lee's obvious enjoyment of the act made him pause.
It would hurt no one to let her have this moment. 

It was… pleasant… to see her so happy. Especially after the strange display of grief. He found her moroseness utterly displeasing.

Hul'gkan had never thought it possible for the little thing to actually mange to pin him down, even if only temporarily.
Despite his weakened state, he was more than a match for Unbloods, let alone oomans. 
Ah-lee had proven to be unexpectedly strong - stronger than she used to be, however frail-looking. 
Whatever had been done to her had truly changed her.

He prayed Vay'n'ritja had made it through. He needed answers. Not just for himself, but his Debt demanded he treat the matter immediately now that he was mostly healed 
He hadn't liked admitting his failings to Fire Eyes, but he would have to own up to it eventually. 
Definitely hadn't liked the spark of shrewdness in her eyes at the prospect of his owing her either.

When it came to sniffing out weakness, little Ah-lee was like a hound with a bone. She'd dig at it untill she got whatever her devious little mind decided it wanted.

Hul'gkan shook his head to dispel the negative thoughts. It was her right, he would have to honor her wishes as long as they were within his power.

He approached the pair, his hound deciding to toady up to his true master now, still wiggling its behind embarasingly.
In stead of the correct reprimand, Hul'gkan's hand reached down of its own accord and rubbed at the hound's bulbous head to the absolute delight of both his pet and former Trophy.

"Awww, you do love him." Fire Eyes crooned, mouth stretched in that toothy ooman smile. How strange that her kind could mean so many different things by showing teeth.
"Who's a good boy? You are! Yes you are! Such a good boy..." she continued mouthing nonsense at the hound.
Predictably, it wiggled in the dirt like a worm, seeking as much attention as possible - causing Fire Eyes to erupt in even more laughter, this time without the threat of tears just under the surface.

While he was pleased her spirits had improved, he did not understand how the hound could shift her perspective so completely.

An irritating itch sparked deep in his chest.
How could she look at a mere animal with such fondness and genuine mirth, yet only show its master absolute disdain? 

He'd even defeteat her fairly and let her live despite her arrogance (and not only because of his Debt, which should really be considered payed in part by the act of sparing her).

Deciding this was enough spoiling for one day, he got up and whistled for the hound to retreat.
It rose to its feet with a whine and a quick shake and finally ran back into its small stretch of jungle.

"Now why did you do that…" Fire Eyes pouted at knee-height, crossing her arms at the loss of adoring hound.

<<You will drive all the discipline out of my pet if I let you.>> he rumbled.

"Oh don't preach to me about 'discipline', who's the guy who got riled up into a hissy fit like five minutes ago?" 

Hypocrisy was not a trait he liked seeing, least of all in himself.

He kept her in his peripherals as she rose and dusted the dirt off her knees.

"Now what was this about you owing me one?" she asked after insistently challenging him with direct eye contact he refused to acknowledge.

<<H'chak.>> he growled, finally meeting her gaze.

<<For sparing me a dishonorable death and showing mercy, I must pay you back. The choice is between killing you and then myself or offering you a reward that is within my power to give.>> he recited the simplified rule in a way she would understand.
<<I assumed you would choose the latter.>> he leered.

There was a hint of acrid fear-sweat in the air but considerably less than he'd come to expect from her. Fire Eyes really had changed.

"If you'd killed me just now… would you have been uh, honor bound to kill yourself too?" she asked, perceptive as always.

<<Sei-i.>> 

The little thing huffed at him and muttered various curses.  

"So this is good for you too, huh. Of course, when isn't it?"

Hul'gkan willfully leashed the spike of renewed anger. It wouldn't be honorable for him to issue a challenge.

"Fine. I know how you can pay me back." she said, crossing her spindly arms and mirroring his posture, although hers was hardly as intimidating.

<<Name you price, oom… Ah-lee.>> he corrected himself just in time.

Fire Eyes still squinted at him as though he'd slighted her.
"Take me back home and let me go unharmed." 

Hul'gkan rumbled a laugh and spat back a short <<H'ko.>>.

"You said…"

<<It is not within my power to give.>> his tresses shifted as his head shook from side to side in denial.

"Then what fucking good are you?!" Fire Eyes demanded and stomped past him towards the open doorway.

The shock of her audacity wore off once she was a few steps ahead of him and he roared.
Ah-lee turned to face him, rearing up for another fight.

<<Insolent little - >>
His accusation was interrupted by the loud, incessant beeping of his computer gauntlet. It was a priority alert that would have routed to his mask had he been wearing it on a hunt, otherwise it was set to attract attention when he was awake.

Fuming, he accepted the call and rumbled an impatient <<What.>> before the caller's projection appeared.

Iktaha'rg mottled face showed even more damaged on the imprecise, harsh heat-mapping of the projection. He was uncharacteristically anxious, grinding his tusks together.

<<Finally, I have been attempting to contact you since first sun.>> 
Hul'gkan bristled in anticipation, he had never heard his teacher sound so worried.
<<I don't know when, but a team of Arbitrators will be dispatched to collect you and your Trophy - >>

<<She is no lon - >>

<<Listen, Youngblood. Time is not on your side. You must ready yourself. Do not let your temper get the better of you, be calm and follow their instruct - >>

Iktaha'rg clicked his mouth shut as a loud bang sounded at Hul'gkan's front door. He gave his former student one last long look before cutting off the connection.
Fire Eyes had drifted closer to him as she too had listened to Iktaha'rg's harried speech and closer still when the loud noise spooked her.

Her seeking his protection again after just insulting him would have been amusing under normal circumstances, perhaps even gratifying. Right now it only served to heighten his instinctual reaction towards the invasion of his territory. A need to protect unlike any before rose to the forefront of his senses.

Hul'gkan growled and marched to his entrance, Ah-lee following close on his heels despite her obvious fright.

The bang sounded again, angrier this time.

Hul'gkan took a deep breath.

<<Stay back. Say nothing.>> he instructed and pushed Fire Eyes behind him.

Blessedly obedient or possibly just aware of the danger, she nodded and did as he commanded, hiding further away behind one of the dwellings' structural pillars.

Hul'gkan input the unlock sequence and waved it over, the biometric scanner on the outside showed four yaut'ja on the other side. He calmed his breathing and faced the larger men.

The Arbitrator was the first to step in, without Hul'gkan's permission or even the customary greeting, followed by three of his acolytes.

<<Young... Hunter, you are summoned before the Council of Ancients. Follow.>> the Arbitrator ordered, the angry thrum in his chest betraying his dislike of being relegated to fetching duties.
Normally, Arbitrators were sent out offworld, to correct mistakes, hunt Badbloods or bring justice upon corrupt Clans. They answered only to the Council of Ancients but had little jurisdiction on Prime... unless there was an Ic'jit on the run...

The Matriarchs or Clan Leaders and the Elders were mostly independent and responsible of enforcing the laws locally, along with the Honor Code itself, in every Clan separately. Not that there was much to do, usually the weak or dishonorable weeded themselves out, either perishing or becoming Ic'jit while on hunts.

Each Clan had its own understanding of the rules, but they were similar enough that the yaut'ja living on the planet could coexist. 
His kind had not known civil war for aeons. A blessing both for their species as a whole and the entire settled Universe.

There were plenty tales of old, legends now, that depicted just how devastating even mere skirmishes between different Clans could be for several Galaxies, still lifeless husks to this day. 
Entire civilizations demolished, planets turned to dust, billions of prey species gone extinct and whole Clans that lived on in ancient teachings only if they had acted honorably or struck from all public records if corrupt.
It was the reason the Code had been implemented and it had yet to fail them.

Hul'gkan allowed himself one last look behind him, but Fire Eyes had melted into the background. 
He hoped she would stay safely in the house until his return.
He hoped he would return.

Not many encountered an Arbitrator on business and lived to tell the tale. 
Moreover, those who had dealings with the Council were either very important and influential individuals, or criminals of such noticeable dishonor that deserved special judgement.

It did not bode well for him that he was called before the governing body by one of its enforcers.

Still, Hul'gkan was confident in one thing if nothing else.
He had acted honorably

He would trust that his following of the Code would see him through whatever dire business had Iktaha'rg so concerned.

----------

The flight to the Pyramid of Judgement was slow and silent.

The Council of the Ancients resided in the oldest structure still standing on the planet.

Innumerable spans ago, when Prime's orbit and axis were different, there used to be settlements all over its surface.
A few billion spans before the first recorded skirmish between the three major Clans at the time, the planet's core started cooling.
Historians believe that it eventually led to rapid technological advancement in order to break free from the trappings of gravity and a singular habitable planet.
The yaut'ja took to the great nothingness and found other viable systems, many still populated with more secular Clans even now.

Prime would later be moved closer to its two suns and have its axis modified so that the new orbit would be stable.
The shift made it a hostile place, where only the truly skilled resided around the ecuator. Fights over teritory were as common as the volcanoes erupting all over the old continents once the core heated up again.

It would eventullay settle down into it's current state, but few traces of their old civilization remained outside of the equatorial ring of life and the few scattered and crumbling pyramids of old.

The Desert Clan the abomination and Vay'n'ritja came from resided in one such ruin. An old spaceport, repaired and cared for by its inhabitants, even though it was halfway buried beneath sand.

The Ancients resided in the oldest intact pyramid at the new North pole of Prime. Some believed that the orientation was specifically chosen so the Pyramid of Judgement would survive. 
It was also the place where most of the knowledge of the past was protected. 
The Ancients were its keepers, having earned the honor by leading an exemplary life and surviving their last hunt as well as defeating other candidates in fierce competition.
With age, experience and honor beyond what most yaut'ja could ever dream of came the power and responsibility to govern most of the Clans and provide guidance to their leaders and keep the old traditions alive.

There were lost Clans that rejected their sovereignty. But those were few and tended to mind their own planets or migrant fleets. No real threat to the large conglomerate of Clans who had sworn allegiance to the Council.

The ship flew high up over the roiling magma rivers of the Wastes, midway through the mesosphere to spare the fuselage from potentially being damaged by the rapidly varying temperatures and heavy air composites below.

The smoke was forecast to clear in several more million spans.


Hul'gkan sat in the same formation as when he'd been led to the private spaceport of the enforcers. One acolyte was always behind him, two at his sides and the Arbitrator in front, in the pilot seat.

The fact that he was neither locked up in one of the sleeping chambers, frozen in a cryo-pod and/or beaten to a pulp meant he was not suspect of any great wrongdoing.

Yet he was still watched from all sides and closely guarded.

He did not like the feeling of mistrust in the air and struggled to keep himself silent and patient before such doubt and insult, just as Iktaha'rg had instructed.

While the old man could be trusted to always pull pranks whenever the opportunity presented itself, he did not make light of such serious matters. 
Hul'gkan cursed himself for the long slumber, however vital and rejuvenating it had been. He had missed whatever information Iktaha'rg had been attempting to impart on him.

He should never have allowed himself to become so preoccupied with the girl. 
There was no way for him to send for anyone to check on her while under constant surveillance either. 

He needed to stay focused. Concern for the ooman had been plagueing his thoughts since he'd locked the gate to his temporary dwelling behind him. She was not the one being brought in front of the Council.

Hul'gkan stared stoically ahead, doing his best to banish all distractions from his mind and center himself. He could not meditate while surrounded by possible foes, but he could channel his anxiety, sharpen his wit in preparation for what was ahead.

He did not like facing a challenge completely blind. But the matter was out of his hands.

The vessel vibrated as it descended. Hul'gkan remained seated, his flight bindings disengaging last, until the Arbitrator and his acolytes rose and he was instructed to follow.

The usual formation was disrupted only by walking single file down the circular hall of the ship to the aft airlock.
Outside, the air was cool and smelled faintly of ash.

Two other yaut'ja waited for them beyond the landing pad, dressed in elaborate armor and masks with ornately carved staves and short daggers hilted at their sides.

No one was allowed to bring weapons into the Ancient Pyramid, not even the Council members, except for Cetanu's Honor Guard who wore the ceremonial awu-asa, plain staff and decorated daggers that hadn't changed in design for millennia. 

The Honor Guard was made up of a variety of devout young Elites selected from the various Allied Clans. The terms of selection were secret but generally thought to be the responsibility of the respective Clan's Matriarch or Leader.

Hul'gkan had only ever heard second-hand whispers of Council meetings that involved common sain'ja that weren't brought in for judgement, usually those were accomplished warriors whose actions benefitted the race in some way, not newly Blooded like himself.


Hul'gkan was kept behind by an acolyte's hand over his chest while the Arbitrator advanced far enough to meet the more senior member of the Guard and not be heard exchanging heated low growls with the shorter man. 

The acolytes were tense in front and beside him, incensed at their Arbitrator being silenced by the Honor Guard Leader.

He clicked his tusks but said nothing as the procession split off, the acolytes were ordered to remain with the ship, much to their chagrin, and he followed as the two Guards escorted both him and the Arbitrator down a long hallway leading into the pyramid, then took several turns he kept careful count of, climbed a grand set of stairs and was pushed forward in front of a high, arched stone doorway.

Chapter Text

 

Allison absentmidendly scratched behind Spike's jaw while staring out into the little piece of jungle they were both stuck in.

After Hulk had been taken away, she'd kept herself hidden until reasonably certain no one would come back for her.

Eventually she'd gotten bored waiting and ventured out the still open backdoor seeking the frog-dog and to explore her surroundings.
Spike was more than happy to keep her company while she petted him.

She'd worried at the little strips of dried skin on her lower lip, only forcing herself to stop after tasting blood.

Spike whined beneath her hand and wiggled closer. Her anxiety was putting him on edge too.

She'd already mapped out her new cage. 
The dog had a hidey-hole he'd showed her and had walked a path around the back yard's perimeter - an egg-shaped dome that shimmered faintly and spread out in ripples where she touched it.
It went far up into the canopy and, from what she could see after scraping around with a flat piece of stone, it also dug into the ground.

At least it would keep her safe from any wild animals.

Her stomach rumbled again, louder this time, quieting Spike's whines as the hound tilted his big head sideways.
He squiggled out and almost tipped her over, yapping his maw wetly over her muffled curse and shaking himself like a giant, scaly dog.

"Ugh, you got spit all over me." she groaned and wiped her hands on her thighs, only smearing the slobber in the dirt left over from her exploratory pursuits.
She used to care more about getting grungy back home. Now the feeling of dirt on her skin was almost pleasant. Definitely better than the sterile air at the pyramid or the recycled stuff on the ship, no matter how clean or safe it was.

Spike made his guttural barking noise and ran towards the house then back at her, obviously wanting her to follow.

"Fine, let's do it your way." she huffed and went after the endlessly energetic alien hound.

Spike led her to a metallic contraption off the side of the house, near the back door. She was pretty sure the small kitchen was on the other side.

The thing beeped and she could hear faint mechanical whirring behind it. Then a shoot opened an a large, pale hunk of meat dropped, still thawing.
Spike turned to look at her, almost expectantly. 

"Aww, thanks bud, but I can get my own. Not a big fan of raw meat, you know."

The hound watched her head back in and she soon heard him crunching away at his meal while she rummaged for fruits. 
Most of the fresh stuff was gone. There were some things that looked a lot like really big and wrinklier walnuts that she could eat, but there was no fire pit for her to cook any meat.

Looking at her little patch of jungle gave her an idea. There would certainly be dried sticks somewhere out there and she was fairly certain she could start a fire without matches, a lighter or Hulk's nifty tools. Her short stint as a Girl Guide hadn't covered this part but she'd seen it done a couple of times.

She'd make her old troop leader proud.

----------

Thei'dteinou led a good, worthy life. 
He may not have been the smartest, or most skilled fighter of his generation, but he was honorable and fair. A good hunter with plenty of Trophies and even a couple of pups to his name.

No student of Elder Iktaha'rg was ever mediocre.
He may not have been the Elder's first honored student, or even the second or third, but he had learned all he needed to know to pass his chiva and many hunts and challenges after it.
His sheer size was also an advantage in fights and mating dances as well.

He'd had a fairly bad start in life, with his bearer killed while he was still young in a gruesome hunting accident and his education mainly coming from his older relatives with children of their own.

Elder Iktaha'rg's acceptance into his select training programme had been a rare stroke of luck.

It was where he had met and befriended Hul'gkan and several other Unbloods.

Except for the incident during the Quatza-Rij hunt and the unfortunate delay of Hul'gkan's chiva, which had put a strain on both young men, the two were the closest thing each other had to a brother.

Thei'dteinou only had two much older sisters and a many older brothers. None had been part of his life except for his eldest sister who had taken responsibility for him for a short while after his bearer had perished. As soon as he was old enough to train with a master, she had returned her full attention to her own children. He was grateful to her, but held no lasting attachments.
As far as he knew, Hul'gkan kept contact with no other relatives except for his own bearer.

He could still remember the day the two had met. In what Thei'dteinou would later come to find was usual fashion for Hul'gkan, the smaller boy had been in the middle of an unbalanced fight with two other Unbloods, and holding his own respectably well.
Thei'dteinou had watched in surprise at first and only intervened when a third had joined the fray, striking Hul'gkan stealthily from behind, not even revealing himself beforehand.

Not evening the odds would have been dishonorable.

Hul'gkan had cussed him out for 'restricting' his fight but the two had become fast friends and training partners afterwards.

Thei'dteinou would do just about anything for his hunt-brother and he knew the sentiment was mutual. 
He would have liked to have gone on their chiva together, as he'd expected, but the Elders in charge of organizing trials had decided against it.
He still owed his brother for the Quatza-Rij, although his mei'hswei had been adamant about there being no debt among true brothers.

Hul'gkan wasn't the type to make contact first. Be it hunts or a night out drinking or even when something was bothering him like when Thei'dteinou had seen him last. 
It was generally up to the the larger man to forward an invitation.

Receiving a message from his mei'shwei, text only and misspelled in places as though sent in a hurry, after days of no replies to Thei'dteinou's past summons, had come as a surprise. 
He'd sounded harried, going so far as to plead for a favor.
While his friend was normally quiet, he was never timid. 

So, it was with some trepidation and pride that Thei'dteinou made his way towards his brother's temporary dwelling. The access code had been sent along with the message.

The place was quiet when he went in. No trace of the little ooman he was supposed to retrieve and stow away somewhere safe or the old hound he knew was kept here.

He stopped at the entrance and trilled in summons to the ooman. 
It wasn't that odd when nothing responded, while he was certain Hul'gkan had taught his pet well beyond basic commands, it was likely the ooman was trained to avoid other yaut'ja. It might very well interpret his presence here as an intrusion.

Thei'dteinou scented the air in hopes of scent leading him to the ooman - there was a faint trace of it, although it felt strange, together with the hound's subtle musk and... was that smoke?

Alarmed, the young sain'ja ran into the dwelling, following the scent of smoke into the kennel at the back of the house.

No wonder Hul'gkan was so anxious about his pet, he'd always griped about being unable to leave it unsupervised on the journey home, the damned thing had started a fire in an enclosed space!

----------

The mouthwatering scent or roasted meat already had her stomach growling.
She'd finally managed to get a fire started in the small pit she'd dug and surrounded with stones on a clear bit of ground near the backdoor.

She couldn't wait to sink her teeth into the weird pale slab of meat. It didn't even need to be well done, she was so hungry she'd eat it rare, it already smelled delicious.

Just as she was blowing on a juicy piece, she heard heavy footsteps stomping down the stone floor in the kitchen.
Strange, Hulk didn't usually walk so heavily.

She turned her head just in time to see a giant lumbering, rusty hued form clamber through the narrow doorway.
That was definitely not Hulk.

A scream left her and she dropped her food, bolting for the small patch of jungle as she heard Spike's guttural barks reacting to her noise of distress and rushing at the large figure.

She hoped the hound wouldn't be hurt buying her time to hide and muttered a quick sorry at the sound of muffled alien curses and frog-dog's yelp.

Allison jumped over fallen trees and large stones, hurrying to Spike's hidden bolthole while trying not to leave too many tracks, hoping the hound's stronger scent would throw whoever hunted her off her trail, at least for a little while.
Maybe she'd be able to wait it out until Hulk returned, her chances of outmaneuvering the giant in a fight by herself were slim to none. She hadn't even been able to defeat a seriously wounded one and held no illusions about getting stomped by other hunter aliens. 

A frustrated roar bellowed behind her and she almost ate mud, managing to turn her fall into a roll at the last moment and getting covered head-to-toe in muck in the process.

He was close, she had to hurry!

----------

He slammed the agitated hound down, reluctant to harm it but forced to defend himself, cussing up a storm to scare some sense back into the desperate animal.

<<Easy, loyal one. You know me.>> he rumbled, hoping to appease the beast. He did not wish to slay his brother's hound while retrieving the other pet. It was a worthy hunter itself.

The hound growled but stopped struggling once it had a recognized his scent and voice, whining lowly in submission.

<<At ease.>> he ordered as Hul'gkan often did when ending a hunt. 
He'd come prepared and chained the hound to a nearby, sturdy trunk so it wouldn't interfere.

Huffing in relief, he looked around for the ooman, half-expecting an attack from it as well. Hul'gkan had boasted he would teach it how to hunt and fight to make it into the best training tool. 
He doubted it could seriously injure him just yet but knowing Hul'gkan, it had probably learned some nasty tricks at least.

When nothing came at him and his mask only showed fading footprints leading further into the kennel, Thei'dteinou roared hoping to spook it into reacting and started chasing after the tracks.

He would not be embarrassed in front of his brother by some ooman pet.

----------

Allison trembled where she was rolled up, as deep as Spike's hole in the ground allowed her to go, trying to keep still and quiet as she shivered.
The mud was cold on her and little roots poked her shoulder and back.

Spike's nest was dug under and gigantic old tree between its massive roots and was about five feet deep.
She'd covered the entrance by pulling on some fern-like leaves that grew near it, careful not to break them, hoping it would be enough to hide her.

Poor Spike. she thought, sniffling and wincing at the loud sound. She hoped he hadn't been killed by the giant red thing.

A memory nagged at the back of her mind, something about the figure was familiar. She was too scared and cautious to go get a second look though.

A thump shook the earth above her head and she squeezed her eyes shut, keeping as quiet as a mouse. Had he jumped in the old tree?

The roots shifted and the earth above her vibrated as though someone really big was scaling the tree, eventually fading away to nothing but the beating of her own frenzied heartbeat pumping in her eardrums.

It was at that moment that her stomach decided to complain the lack of food - very loudly, even echoing in the cone-shaped hole.

"Fuck." Allison whispered and clutched both arms over her abdomen. Not now!

She waited with bated breath, willing her body to stop making unnecessary noises.

After a few minutes of silence, she sighed in relief, hunkering down flat on her belly on the cool dirt. If her stomach decided to rumble again, the earth might muffle it more the second time. She'd just have to deal with the cold. She hadn't  expected such a dramatic difference of temperature. Her mesh was mostly ripped up from the fight with Hulk too, damn him.

She heard Spike's mournful howls in the distance. What if he was hurt? 

No, she would not be captured again! 
It pained her to leave him, but she had to stay hidden.
To wait.

To hope rescue would come and be capable of defeating a way bigger foe.

As she stretched her arms out to get in a more comfortable position, a large hand darted in and grabbed her by the forearm, pulling her out so suddenly she barely registered the  drag of roots and little stones tearing the skin of her chest, abdomen and the front of her thighs.

Allison was lifted high in the air, dangling by an arm in front of a massive pewter mask, distinctly unlike Hulk's.
The red guy started to rumble a laugh at her, only to cough when she planted both feet firmly in his sternum.


The rusty hunter's arm lowered as he bent over from her kick. Allison pulled as soon as she was back on solid ground but his hold was iron. She'd swear she could feel her bones creaking under his punishing grip.

Hulk had never grabbed her so hard.

She screamed and clawed at his scaly hand, pain making her kneel in the dirt.

<<Cease!>> the beast demanded in a deep gravelly voice. <<I was sent by your n'yaka-de.>> 

"What..." she managed to squeak, refusing to give into the sobs bubbling up her throat.

The big hunter only growled.

<<L-let go.>> she grit her teeth and growled back, frowning up into his severe mask. 

The hunter's head snaked back in surprise, his grip slackened but didn't release.

<<If you run, I will chase you down again.>> he warned. <<And I will not be so careful a second time...>>

She nodded and his big hand finally peeled away, mud and all, off her aching flesh. There was a ugly indentation of his palm where he'd gripped her, skin already starting to bruise.

Allison cradled her arm to her chest, tentatively rotating her wrist and holding back the whine of pain. It didn't seem broken at least.

<<Come, we must go.>> he huffed. He was so big. Almost as tall as Snake-lady and wider across the shoulders and chest.

Suddenly, she remembered where she'd seen him. 
Landing on this cursed planed seemed so long ago. But she was sure, even though she couldn't see his face and those beady red eyes of his - this was the one Hulk had called 'brother'.

<<You are...>> she struggled to remember if she'd ever hear his name.

<<Thei'dteinou. And you are Hul'gkan's little Fire Eyes.>> he said with and amused rumble. 
<<You are even more troublesome than he claims.>> Big Red muttered while scratching at his chin beneath the mask.

<<Hulk where?>> 

It took Big Red only a moment to figure out her nickname for his brother and he shook his head, crossing his ridiculously buff arms over his equally ridiculously buff chest.

<<I do not know. He has asked me to retrieve you. Now come, we must go.>> he ordered with finality and made to grab Allison by the other arm.

She slipped away and put her palms up when he growled in warning.

<<Walk can me.>> 

Big Red snuffed but led the way back to the house, checking over his shoulder every now and then to be certain she followed, obviously distrustful.

She was relieved to see the hound was alive and unharmed once they exited the small patch of jungle, sitting with his big head on his front paws and whining once she got close.

"Wait, what about Spike?" she asked and pointed at the frog-dog.

Big Red tilted his head at her and all three beings paused as he considered.
<<I was only sent for you.>>

"You can't just leave him tied to a tree... " she tried to reason.

There was another pause as Big Red considered once more.

"I promise I'll behave if you take him with us."

After a beat he rumbled that dopey clicking laugh she associated with full-on chuckles. <<You will come either way. But Hul'gkan may have need of his hound as well...>>

She wondered why he kept answering her with delays, he didn't have any problems talking to her when she growled, clicked and hissed.

Big Red thumped his way across from her, put out her fire with a few kicks of sand, ruining her dinner as well, and untied Spike from the tree.
 
She'd sacrifice her food for Spike any day, she still felt guilty about abandoning him like that.

Her curiosity and the fact that she was reasonably assured Hulk's bro wouldn't kill her, prompted her to voice her thoughts. 

"I hope you don't mind me asking, but..." Allie gulped hoping this wouldn't offend the giant wall of killer alien. "why does it take you so long to answer?"

This time she counted the seconds untill his surprise registered in his body language, head tracking back to stare at her through his eye-plates.

<<Our bio-masks are designed to translate most prey species common tongues. The relay can take a short amount of time. Are you not fitted with a translator unit?>> 

"Wait, slow down. A what? Are you telling me I had to learn this growly shit that makes my throat hurt for nothing?!"

His delayed chittery chuckle only pissed her off more as they headed for the back door, Spike brushing up against her knee.

----------

The ooman was endlessly amusing. 
Thei'dteinou could not understand why Hul'gkan complained of her incessant chattering so much. 
The primitive was surprisingly intelligent and could even speak the trade dialect, although she tended to sound drunk and slurred her words most of the time.

If he hadn't spotted the bent ferns over her hiding place, he might have never found the devious little thing. There was nowhere to run to in the kennel and he'd correctly assumed she was smart enough to be hiding somewhere. The mud and hound musk had hidden her heat signature and scent perfectly.

He'd thought she had climbed the tree at first and had almost left the place to try and find more evidence of her passing but the hound's yowling and an almost impercebtible growl nearby had given him an idea.

With how ferociously it had protected the ooman and how they were obviously spending time in each other's company peacefully, it was clear Hul'gkan's two pets had bonded. 

The little thing was also stronger that he'd ever give her credit too, she'd kicked the breath out of him.

Even her pouting was funny, muttering about the mud flaking off her while he led her to his abode to wait for his brother. He wasn't looking forward to letting her muck up his bathing chambers though.

Thei'dteinou was waiting for the ooman to be done cleansing  while re-reading Hul'gkan's message, becoming more and more convinced something was amiss with his brother. 

Rumors of foul play had spread around about the Sciences building and the mangled bodies retrieved from it.
With all his brother's boasting, Thei'dteinou had heard a little about the goings on there. Mostly of all the mating dances he had won, but some information about strange experiments and hints of Hul'gkan's dislike towards the now deceased Elder Physician still slipped through his brother's careful façade of imposed secrecy. He'd never been a good liar and preferred silence to dishonesty.

There were also worrying descriptions of Hul'gkan's sorry state when exiting the pyramid.

Nothing was clear which made the topic interesting - and even warriors liked to gossip, especially when it involved the carcass of a hardmeat and the death of a highly respected Elder. 
His friend's involvement had sent tongues wagging as well, but if Hul'gkan had walked away on his own two feet as the rumors claimed, he was certain nothing too distressing had happened.

<<Ooman.>> he called upon hearing the bathing chamber's door shift open. <<Tell me what happened in the Sciences building.>> he demanded while deliberating wether to contact his hunt-brother or not.

"Why does everyone keep calling me 'human'? You're not even saying it right, by the way." came the little thing's frustrated whine.

<<This is not a time for games, Fire Eyes.>> he chided, once the mask relayed her words, in the same tone he used to chastise unruly pups whenever they would spectate at his challenges and pick fights with each other.

She grumbled something else but obediently sat in the woven chair in front of him, fidgeting in discomfort until he growled his impatience.

"How long have you known Hulk?" she asked.

<<Several times longer than you have lived. Stop stalling, ooman.>>

With the full-spectrum vision mode of his mask, he could see her little face screw up, the skin over the bony part of the protruding olfactory organ wrinkling in distaste. 
He began to understand why Hul'gkan both cursed and treasured his Trophy now. It wasn't as amusing to be around when it refused to cooperate, and he couldn't very well discipline someone else's pet, no matter how headstrong it was.

"And you are... siblings?"

The word she used translated as 'blood-kin' although he knew what she referred to.
Deciding the fastest way to get answers was to humor the little primitive, he nodded and said: <<Brothers, linked not by blood but by the hunt.>>

<<You may speak freely, your n'yaka-de sent me to get you. No harm will come to you under my protection.>>

"What's a nikky-deh? Do you mean Hulk?" she clicked the word awkwardly. Ooman capacity for mimicry was advanced but their tongue wasn't the easiest to master for soft-meats.

Thei'dteinou clicked as he considered how to explain the concept of ownership, honor scales and the caste system to a pe-ghwie. 
He did not own any servants, pets or slaves himself, not wanting to bother with their upkeep despite the possible benefits of having the more menial tasks taken care of by someone else. Servants, who were already trained, were rarely afforded to newly blooded like himself, eta disgusted him on principle and he did not have the endless patience for training a hound, let alone a more sapient creature.
And going by how troublesome this one was, he doubted he ever would. 

<<Hul'gkan, by rights, has hunted and trained you. You answer only to him in obedience and must show respect to those above him.>>

The Trophy frowned even worse than before, bristling and tensing in her seat. He switched vision modes to better asses the response and finally understood the moniker.

"No one owns me." Fire Eyes hissed back, voice smooth with vitriol.

Taken aback by the unexpected show of aggression, Thei'dteinou only clicked in confusion.

<<Respect. Debt. Worthy.>> she chattered like a drunken pup, face heating up like a furnace.

Thei'dteinou grind his tusks behind his mask. Could the little thing truly have earned his brother's Honor Dept? How would it know of the Code otherwise? 

It was a harrowing thought. 
Something must have gone very, very wrong.


<<Tell me.>> he commanded once more and leaned forward.