Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
Tinoka, Leader of the students on this Hunt, extended his wrist blades on one wrist and hefted his staff in the other hand, and roared a challenge to any and all of the Hard Meat that would care to listen and try to fight him. Already he had blooded himself; hours had passed since the starting of the Hunt, and he had been one of the first to kill one of the drones before any of his peers. He was proud of himself; he was now able to go up into clan lore and onto the next stage. The next challenge was to Hunt the oomans, but that would be another Hunt altogether. Right now, the rest of his clan needed to finish this Hunt. The students had no reason to interfere with the oomans for the time being and their settlement; the Hunt would continue inside the pyramid, and it would stay inside the pyramid.
The floor beneath Tinoka suddenly shifted, and he jumped aside to let it finish. A new path was suddenly made to go down into the floor, and thus to another chamber. Tinoka followed the trail, bringing up a small map on his wrist control of the Pyramid. He zoomed in and found his own location; he could see one other student on the level above him, though who it was he could not tell. The path would indeed lead into a chamber, this one bigger than the Sacrificial Chamber where the bugs had been born. Tinoka emerged into the room, ready for anything.
He had a sudden thought, and one that would not let go. Whatever had happened to Larnu'da, Oc'tr and Lar'miba? They had been missing since the starting of the Hunt, and as Leader of his peers, it was his responsibility to find them. If they were dead, hopefully they took the path of the warrior's death. To go down fighting the Hard Meat even though it might be your last battle. Tinoka decided he would look for them after the Hunt was over.
Suddenly there was movement out of the corner of the lens of the mask. One of the drones decided to attack. Its tail whipped the air, claws extended to grab and tear. Slime dripped from its jaws, splattering Tinoka, and it let out a shriek that lusted for blood.
Tinoka was ready for this. He waved his spear at the oncoming drone and went at it. The two collided with each other, but the weight of the bug was more than the student Leader's. The drone landed on him, taking hold of his shoulders. If he had not had his armor on him, Tinoka knew that the claws would have drawn blood. The bug, leaning down to his face now, hissed at him. Tinoka had managed to still hold his spear when the Hard Meat tackled him, and he thrust it hard into the side of the Hard Meat. The bug screamed in surprise and grabbed the shaft, which gave Tinoka the opportunity to get one of his shoulders free. Without wasting a second, the Leader of the students punched the bug right across the side of the head, sending it spinning away from him and onto the floor. Then Tinoka got up and extended his wrist blades, ready for the final cut.
He stepped forward and felt something wrap around and tug at his left boot. He looked down to see the drone's tail wrapped around his foot. It pulled. Tinoka lost his balance and fell over onto his back. The alien came at him, having gotten up when it had wrapped its tail around him. Again it charged.
Tinoka waited until the last minute. Just until it was directly over him, he rolled to the side and cut off the drone's feet. The bug fell to the ground, its thwei leaking out of its legs now, eating away at the stone floor of the Pyramid. Crippled but determined in its drive to live, the Hard Meat crawled forward on its hands, refusing to give up.
Tinoka got back up and grabbed his spear, which the Alien had yanked out and had been discarded during the fight. He used it now to drive the tipped point into the bug's abdomen again and twisted, making the wound bigger and deeper, and hitting vital organs. The prey squirmed and screeched under the spear, twitched once, then lay still.
Tinoka took the Ceremonial Blade he had sheathed on his thigh and cut the drone's head off, letting the tendons and fluids drip out of it until they eventually ebbed and stopped. But just to make sure, the Yautja took out a fluid in a kit that each student had, and poured it on the blood that was in the neck wound. It fizzled and bubbled, and when Tinoka felt that the blood was no longer a threat to the armor, he took a rod out of a sack on his belt and stuck it into the severed neck of the drone. Then, as if reaching back for an arrow, he secured it to the backpack he carried, with the one other drone skull that had already been placed. The drone's head fit neatly into the pack; the most that one could fit was seven Hard Meat skulls. Pleasure and bloodlust filled him, and he looked around for more of the Hard Meat. There were none.
Again the Pyramid started to change, and he brought up his wrist-map. This new path would take him back to the surface; a path that went up after about twenty yards of continuing through the current room he was in. He would stay on the surface to round up the other students, and then they would go on looking for their three missing peers. That was first priority.
He went up the stairs and turned the corner, nearly colliding with Nidvin. Tinoka realized that he was the one the map had picked out when he was trying to find his location.
"Have you found any of the others?" he asked, hope flaring in his system.
"I have not, but if I do, what should I tell them?"
"Tell them to meet on the surface at the entrance of the Hunting Grounds. We need to find Oc'tr, Larnu'da, and Lar'miba. They have not reported since I sent them off to find Lar’miba at the starting of the Hunt."
"I did see them," replied Nidvin. "The two of them, Oc'tr and Larnu'da, said that they would start looking around the jungle, and if they found him that they would bring him back and lay him to rest here at the burial site, should they find him dead."
Of course, Tinoka now feared that there might be two more students missing on this Hunt. And that was not good; either they were still searching or were killed. He hoped they weren't dead. Either way, it presented trouble.
"I will meet you at the surface; I will be there, waiting."
Nid'vin nodded and went in search of the other students to round them up.
Tinoka continued up the passage and came to be assaulted by daylight. It was about mid-day he guessed; the sun of this world had almost passed over directly. Other structures in the distance popped up out of the growth of the jungle, sunlight reflecting off the hand-crafted slopes of all three. If one was to stand at the top of the Pyramid--any one, really, one could see the whole lay of the land, and in the far-off distance the other two pyramids. Tinoka knew that there were other students of other clans Hunting the Hard Meat in an effort for their rightful place in the world. He would not have any confrontation with them; his own clan was on their own with the Hunt. All Hunts were to be kept segregated from other clans, and not interfere with another’s. To do so would be death or banishment, and dishonor upon the clan itself. Should one encounter another student, rules were to simply acknowledge the other, to show that you saw and respect the other, then put on your cloaking field and go about your Hunt, as if you never saw them.
Tinoka waited for the other students, bidding his time patiently. He saw the ooman village off in the distance; from here it looked small and insignificant, but he knew that the oomans were great warriors. Just like his race had once been, the oomans were primitive now but would grow in numbers and be tactically challenging in the years to come. True, they were a slow species to be evolving, but Tinoka's race would watch them with interest in a hundred years from now, or a thousand years. Now was not the time to Hunt the oomans, but he hoped to one day. He knew the oomans held potential; previous Hunts had held stories about how they circled around bigger prey to bring it down, that they used their own environment to blend in and surprise the prey, much like Tinoka and his own people. If the oomans were anything like the yautja in coming years as they evolved (and they would, he was sure of that), they would be good prey to hunt, indeed.
He zoomed in on the village, bringing it in to closer view with the lens of the mask. The Pyramid was built high enough that he could gaze down upon the entire ooman dwelling. There were so many of the creatures; it seemed that every time his race came back for another Hunt, there were always more of the oomans to help bring about the Hard Meat. The oomans were a great opportunity for the Hard Meat to increase its numbers; that was how the ritual of Blooding would begin, with the impregnation of selected oomans in the Chamber—
Then it clicked. The Hard Meat could increase its numbers; it was only a matter of time. By all Hunting ritual rights the Hunt was to be kept inside the Pyramid. However many sacrifices there were, there were to be that many drones.
But what had become of the other three students? He was sure they had met their end by now, and they were on the Path to the gods. But surely one drone could not have taken three yautja by itself…
Tinoka crouched on the stone steps and continued watching. He saw that the human prey were all gathered around something in a big group; there was one ooman talking to them, and then another ooman started talking in a furious way. The audio sensors in the mask could not pick up any sound due to distance, but the actions of the arguing oomans were clear. Then one of the oomans started walking away from the group, a sack slung over its back and a weapon in its hands. It was leaving, that much could be said. But for what purpose?
Perhaps he would find out.