Serpent Hive Interior
Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
Tinoka and the other yautja were winning the battle, that much was clear. But if there was anything worse than a queen mother on the loose, it was one that was wounded and angry.
She screamed her defiance at her death and charged the Leader. Dunache was prepared for it and bounded out of the way, letting her charge right past him and into the nearest patch of her precious brood. Eggs tipped over and splattered as the monstrosity burst through them. By now a dozen wounds were spilling acid all over the floor, seeping from her body. They had inflicted a dozen places on her where it should have slowed her down, but somehow it did not do a single thing.
Except make her more enraged.
She turned around, and as she did she whipped her tail forth. It caught Nonchede in the chest and sent him piling backwards into an egg. Sensing the presence of a live host, the egg opened its four petals slowly. Without further need for introduction, the Hard Meat larva leaped out onto the Hive floor. It whipped its tail in a frenzy, preparing for a second leap.
The young warrior brought up his hand and managed to catch the larva full force. His hand, mixed with the speed of the face-hugger, came and hit him in the chest. Blood oozed from out beneath the armored plating. He coughed, and Tinoka knew that time was short for the warrior.
Nonchede knew that he would not be beaten so easily. Still struggling with the creature, he somehow managed to stand up and throw the abomination away from him. It landed with a shriek and immediately started coming after him. The student shot it with his burner and it ceased to be something living; a large smoking burn spot was all that remained. All this happened within a span of a few seconds.
The queen suddenly charged forward again, this time straight into the way they had come. She had her head down, and was prepared to let forth the full fury of her hatred on the warriors.
Tinoka thought it wise to issue a retreat. There was no way they could win this.
He gave the command to fall back, even thought the Leader was present and could do the same. The two other students looked at Dunache, and he nodded. Tinoka was, after all, still in charge of the students on this Hunt. And the Hunt was still on, as far as he was concerned.
The surviving warriors backed up, Nonchede firing from his burner as much as he dared to, trying to conserve shots. Iliop and Tinoka flanked the Leader, weapons ready and poised. The spear that Dunache had flung at the queen had now been dislodged as she fought with it. She grabbed it with two of her limbs and somehow managed to pull it out of her all the way. She threw it behind her, never minding where it landed among her precious eggs. She screamed at them again.
Still keeping an eye on the towering mother, the warriors backed up towards the corner, trying to keep a clear pathway and make a hasty retreat. Nonchede, as wounded as he was with his breast plate seeping blood, seemed to still be able to go on, and fired another shot into the enemy’s hide. The damage was not superficial, but it was enough to stall her for a few seconds, to make her stumble a few steps back. That was all they needed.
The hunters turned and ran, around the bend and through the twists and turns of the Hive. What seemed like an eternity to them was only a few minutes as they ran for the daylight that was their only destination.
None of the bugs came to attack them.
They paused briefly outside the entrance, catching their breath. Then they heard a different cry issued from the Hard Meat mother. This one was the call that all hunters had been warned about: It was a high pitched squeal, not like all the other screams that she had let out. This one was to warn the Hive of intruders, and that she needed help. From all her children. She was calling to them, telling them to come home. Any drones out on patrol or seeking fresh food would come back in minutes to answer the call, and in droves.
Looking for other options, Dunache spotted an ooman trail leading away from them. “Does that trail lead to the Pyramid?” he asked Tinoka.
He nodded, still keeping an eye out for any Hard Meat. Tinoka knew the lay of the Hunting grounds now, for what it was worth, as well as Nonchede, who, Tinoka realized, was the only remaining student besides himself.
“Then let’s go,” the Leader commanded. “We need to get to shelter as fast as possible before the whole Hive comes down on us.”
Stranded they might be, but the warriors were no cowards. They would fight to the death. And most likely they would die this day, but not before taking out as many of the drones as possible, wherever possible.
They ran down the path, past a clearing, and into underbrush. Thick alien leaves slapped at their bodies; tree branches made them duck and twist as they ran. Throughout their strides they heard the continued cries of the queen’s children, and they were not far behind.
Tinoka suddenly had a flash of the oomans in his head, and hoped that his former allies would survive this day to tell the tale.
Kontu stopped for breath upon a hillside, realizing that he was panting and his body needed to rest for a moment before moving on. He took in his surroundings: Dense trees and leaves made for good shelter, but it did no good against something that could see in the dark. They had no weapon, either… and that was not good.
Mantrua was breathing easy where Kontu had set him down; his legs were spread out, the injured ankle having a bruise on it that was as big as a piece of fruit. It was swollen, which meant that Mantrua would be bedridden for some time before he got better.
Provided that they survived this nightmare, of course.
Kontu noticed something on his companion’s chest. “Hey, what is that?”
He motioned to a necklace made of bone, dangling from the warrior’s neck.
“Oh, this?” Mantrua said. “This was given to me by my elder grandparents when I became a hunter. It is meant to give me good luck and to have the gods watch over me.”
“Can it work for two?” Kontu asked.
A smile came into play across Mantrua’s features. “Of course it can. You’ve helped me thus far, haven’t you? My luck is now your luck as well, my fellow warrior.”
They heard a scream that was not of this world somewhere down below in the valley, where gods and Serpents battled to the death.
“Come, we should go.”
Mantrua nodded in agreement and held out a hand. Kontu gratefully helped him to his feet and together they ran as best as they could, away from everything they had and knew as a life.
“There it is!” Iliop cried out, stopping short of the entrance. The warriors behind him nearly crashed into him in their haste to get to a safe point from the pursuing Hard Meat.
“Then let’s not waste a moment standing here,” Nonchede said, and ran forward into the darkness of the Pyramid entrance. They took the stairs three at a time. There was no choice if they wanted to survive this day.
The three hunters stood outside as Nonchede scouted ahead. Tinoka glanced down the way they had come, down and down those stairs that the oomans had built long ago, built for themselves and the hunters’ purposes.
He was thinking they had made decent time, that they had managed to get ahead of the queen’s children, and did a double-take as he saw Nonchede suddenly being lifted in a violent spray of gore. He had some-thing poking through his chest, and as his body turned away from them he saw that it was a tail. Nonchede managed to make one strike with his wrist knives before claws lifted him up the rest of the way above the lip of the entrance, and he disappeared in a swarm of blackness beneath. Tinoka knew that he was no more; he had died at the hands of the Black Warrior by fighting, and there could be no greater honor than that.
A hiss leaked out into the still air from the Pyramid, one spidery claw reaching forward into the daylight. Then another appeared… and another. And another.
One after the other there came out the heads of the Hard Meat enemies. There must have been a dozen, from what Tinoka counted. Then he realized: they had been guarding the entrance all along, in case the warriors had decided to come back and try and hole up to fight back the bugs!
The queen had anticipated their move! How was that possible? She wouldn’t have known anything about where they were headed… could she? It didn’t matter; the entrance was now blocked off and of no further use to the Yautja survivors.
Dunache looked all around for other options. Going back down the stairs was not an option… back into the jungle and facing the enemy on solid ground wasn’t an option, either. To run the entire time would only be delaying the inevitable, and the hunters would only able to go on for so long before tiring. Even the fiercest hunter can only be taxed for so long before needing a reprieve. The bugs seemed impossible to wear down; they were death incarnate and would achieve victory for anything, at any and all costs. Even for a single egg.
“We climb then!” Dunache said. “To the top!”
Tinoka saw the Hard Meat in the entrance gathering in numbers, sleuth-ing their way toward them and taking their time. Who knew how many their numbers were now… Hundreds? Thousands? Whatever happened to get the creatures so high in numbers, the hunters were up to their necks in it now. And the smell was awful.
Tinoka fired the burner he had been given from one of the students at the collection of enemies and hit one, seeing its head explode in a spray of acid blood. The others around it screamed and tried to dodge or leap out of the way as he fired another shot. Again he scored a hit, and the bug’s abdomen shattered into a million pieces, the beam going through it and piercing the head of another Hard Meat directly behind it.
It seemed like four more replaced the three that were just killed; he knew that the remaining hunters could not win this battle.
Iliop was the first to reach the stairs that were to the left of the entrance, the ones that would take them to the top of the Pyramid. He bounded up the first three and then turned back… and his eyes went wide.
Tinoka saw this and turned himself. His own eyes went wide.
As far as the eye could see there was a sea of Hard Meat, darker than night itself. And they were climbing up after the hunters. There were thousands of them. Tens of thousands. Whatever part of the land the Hunt had originally started in, it was now by far out of reach for any possibility of containment. The Hunt would have to now be abandoned; this was survival of the fittest. And the hunters would lose.
Tinoka saw a large hulking shape in the sea of moving drones, at the bottom of the Pyramid looking up at them. It was the queen. She opened her mouth in an inaudible screech; the sounds of battle and hissing and drones screaming their death cries was too much to pick out the queen’s.
One of the bugs snaked its long body up from the entrance of the Pyramid and snuck up on Iliop. Sensing the movement via his helmet scanners, he turned and stabbed the creature straight through the middle. Then he gave it a powerful push on its chest and sent it tumbling back down into its brethren. Another one emerged immediately after the one and he sliced its head off in a single stroke. He looked to his Leader to move forward, but he was in his own battle with the skeletal creatures.
Tinoka fired his burner as much as he could and as fast as he could into the crowd of Hard Meat. One would explode and two more would take its place. The bugs bounded up the side of the Pyramid in twos and threes. But it was all the same to them: There were many, many more, and it was going to be an all-out fight just to take the hunters alive, if possible.
The three hunters fought harder than ever before; they fought with an eagerness that they felt down to the core of their bones, to their very being. This was what the Hunt was all about, whether you lived or died. And if you were to die, it was with honor, or else you would not be remembered. No stories would be told about you; there would be no songs to be sung.
Dunache ascended a few more steps before a tail snaked its way out of the tsunami of tails and teeth and claws. It pulled taught and the Leader almost lost his balance.
He turned around and quickly cut the tail with his spear, sending acid squirting all over the stone steps. It hissed and started eating where the blood made contact, boiling away anything that touched it. Dunache ignored the pain in his leg, the acid from the remaining part of the tail touching his skin. He shook it off and joined the others as fast as he could, cutting and shooting his way with each step upward.
Iliop was the first to make it to the top; immediately he was greeted with a hiss of the enemy. Without hesitation he extended his wrist knives and raked the serrated edge across the bug’s throat, instantly decapitating it in a single move. The body teetered there for a second and then fell, but by that time Iliop was already on his next kill, cutting away at that drone as well. One leaped up the rest of the way from ten feet below and met him, baring its teeth. The student aimed quickly and fired his wrist blades into the bug’s head, never giving it a second thought that he had just lost another weapon that he could possibly have made a difference with. The knives pierced the exoskeleton hide and drove deep into the bug’s head. Then he followed up in a coup de grace with his spear and finished it off, while at the same time cutting another Hard Meat with the rear of his staff. It was double bladed, so both ends could be used. He twisted and cut his way as much as he could muster. Still he knew that it was not enough. Even the other warriors were no match for these many bugs.
Dunache looked up and saw that he was only a few more feet from the top of the structure. He leaped up the last few steps and joined Iliop, cutting and slicing as well.
Tinoka shot every chance he had at the enemy, and his burner registered on his mask as overheating. Still he kept firing, despite the warning his HUD told him. He used his staff to render one of the bugs useless of one of its arms, then cut off one of its legs. It stumbled down the steps, disappearing into the tide.
Looking all around him for a split second, Dunache saw there were Hard Meat not coming from one side, but all four sides of the Pyramid. Each side had just as many enemies on it. And the bugs were gaining ground fast.
Dunache knew there was only one thing to do.
He flipped up his wrist control, and between attacks and slashes, he managed to activate the self-destruct program. There was no way that the hunters were going to survive this, and they knew it. The Hard Meat knew it as well.
The countdown could not be heard from all the screaming and fighting going on, but the hunters knew that it was only a matter of seconds now.
One of the bugs jumped off its brethren’s back. Iliop was too busy following up on his attacks to a different side of the structure to notice. The bug hissed and leaped up on his back, pushing him to the ground. The last thing Iliop felt was the pain in the back of his head as the bug drove its toothed rod into him, splattering green blood and bone and brain tissue. The mouth punched its way through his head and out the other side of the mask, then withdrew, leaving a gaping hole with fluid and brain tissue pouring out in globs. The creature howled its victory cry into the evening air, the sun glinting off its shiny exoskeleton body. The others around it joined in the feast, ripping and tearing apart the student, making sure that it would be no more of a threat to the hive.
Dunache saw what happened and he screamed out a defiance that could not be heard. Tinoka screamed with him, the Warrior’s Cry, The Kiss of Midnight, with arms held up to the sky, ready for the gods to take them. Then the world exploded in a brilliant flash of light.
Kontu and Mantrua had made good pace. As they progressed further and further up the valley’s hills, they could see the view from where they were.
And what they saw chilled them to their very core.
There were thousands--millions--of the black Serpents rushing up the sacred Pyramid. Even though they did not have any technology to help them get a closer view, Kontu could make out just enough that what they were climbing up after were the gods themselves. The two humans watched as the gods fought with all their might. One was taken down from behind they saw, and the other two remaining figures raised their arms to the sky. If they said anything or had a last moment wishing something, it was not heard.
Then the whole world turned a bright, hot white.