Rysthin Dor'Vool paced the briefing room. He was a well-built liontaur, entirely black save for his piercing blue eyes, and the snow-white mane that grew from his head down the humanoid portion of his back. He had also been a well-respected hunter, both privately, and in service to the Radinri Military. Still, he was getting older. Some of the younger scouts were vying to take his place, and he sensed that his being assigned to Earth was an effort to get him out of the way. That, compounded with the fact that he hadn't gotten to hunt since leaving the Homeworld over a month ago, and the fact that his superior officer was late for the briefing, brought great unease to the normally cool-headed hunter.
"Rysthin Dor'Vool!" came a voice from behind him. He turned sharply.
"Armak Kilyea," he said formally, bowing low.
"Oh, stop being so old-fashioned," Kilyea laughed. She was a gold-colored tigresstaur, with subtle blue stripes. "You don't have to bow to me just because I'm an Armak now."
"Well," Dor'Vool muttered, "I'm not one to dispense with traditions, and after all, you're not just an Armak, you've been given governorship, I hear."
"Stop. I'm barely an Armak, and you know it. There's no real honor in being assigned to this mudball of a planet, after all...no offense."
"None taken," answered Dor'Vool, bitterly. "But if you don't mind, It's been too long since I've hunted, so I'd like to get my assignment and leave."
"Well," Kilyea stiffened, "if you're going to be that way, fine." She tapped the control console in the center of the room, and the large viewscreen lit up with a map of the region. "As you've probably guessed, we're in the ruins of what used to be one of the largest Human cities. Obviously, most of the inhabitants were wiped out when our campaign began, but there have been pockets of resistance forming in the wreckage, and we need to flush them out. Unfortunately, we can't just level the city; most of the buildings can be converted for our purposes after this is over with, and besides, the Humans have gone underground. They have a subterranean transport system. Obviously the trains are no longer running, but they can walk through the tunnels undetected, even by our best scanners. Your job will be to seek out and destroy whatever Humans you can find. They're disgustingly social creatures, always traveling in badly-organized herds, so you should be able to track all but the smartest of them with ease."
"Hunting down Humans," Dor'Vool spat, "I'd rather shoot Aanj'ei in a barrel."
"Now, now...Humans can make for more interesting prey than I think you realize. They have weapons--"
"They have bullet-guns. I'd hardly call those weapons."
"They've killed five of our hunters already."
"And we've killed billions of theirs. Kilyea, you know the proverb: If a hunter is stalking a tar rat and trips, it is not a credit to the tar rat but a discredit to the hunter. Foolish hunters can die going after even the weakest prey, that doesn't make the prey any stronger."
"So what? They're weak. That's all that matters."
"Well," Kilyea went on, "if you're really all that disparate for a challenge, you're being given Watches as part of your pay. They've already been loaded onto your ship."
(Watches is the human term for the device, but since Radinri is often difficult to translate exactly, the word will have to suffice. The Watches Kilyea spoke of were small, spider-like devices, so named because they connect to their victim at the wrist. Their purpose is to transform weak, predictable prey (like humans) into stronger, more interesting animals, to give bored hunters an extra challenge. The transformation is exquisitely painful, much to the amusement of the Radinri.)
"Careful, though," continued Kilyea, "the planet is under strict quarantine, so you can only transform the Humans into other animals native to Earth."
"Fine," Dor'Vool sighed.
"Cheer up, Dor'Vool. The other Rysthins might not realize it, but someday this planet will be a paradise. We'll have bred the stronger animals to repopulate the planet, so the younger hunters will have a place to hone their skills. Not all of them can learn on the Qa'Araq Moons like you and I did."
At that moment, a servant burst in and knelt before the tigresstaur. He was a cat-taur, like all Radinri, but its upper half was decidedly that of a Human. It was a Convert, a Radinri who had formerly been a member of another species. Dor'Vool eyed it suspiciously.
"Armak Kilyea," the servant said, careful not to meet Kilyea's eyes, "I bear a message from the Colonial Council." The servant then handed Kilyea a data cube, which she pushed into the control console as she waved the servant away. Kilyea did not display the message on the room's large screen, but instead read it off the console, where Dor'Vool couldn't see it.
"Strange," she said at last, "they say they want prisoners. I'm to instruct the hunters to spare the most intelligent, resourceful humans, and bring them...here." As she said this, she shifted the onscreen map to a chain of islands in the middle of the planet's larger ocean."
"Converts?" Dor'Vool asked.
"The message doesn't say. I'd assume not, though. We've got conversion tanks on most of our larger ships, so I don't see the point in concentrating all the conversions into one location, especially an inconveniently located island chain. Ah, well," she said, hitting the console and banishing the map. "You can see, becoming an Armak isn't all it's cracked up to be. They still don't tell me anything."
Dor'Vool, for the first time since leaving the Homeworld, laughed.
"Now, before I forget...again," Kilyea chuckled, "I should introduce you to your partner."
"Hello," said a voice. Dor'Vool spun around. Standing not six feet from him was a much younger hunter. He was a liontaur, like Dor'Vool, but instead of the conservative black white and blue coloring Dor'Vool had chosen, this young hunter was gaudily colored in a red and blue flame pattern, with bright green eyes and a golden mane.
"Rysthin Dor'Vool," interjected Kilyea, "This is Rysthin Guer'Re"
"I...I didn't see you there," sputtered Dor'Vool, "--brother," he hastened to add. Dor'Vool and Guer'Re were not related, but it was Radinri custom to address members off the same caste as siblings. Dor'Vool had almost called Kilyea "sister," a serious faux pas, although she wouldn't have minded.
"A true hunter is only seen just before the kill, brother," Guer'Re laughed.
"Ah," answered Dor'Vool, you've read the Diaries, then, have you?"
"The Hunters' Diaries," pressed Dor'Vool.
"Oh...I'm not especially religious...sorry," said Guer'Re.
"I'm not either. I just thought you'd read them, because that line is from the Book of the Firstborn: "I lie now, in the darkness. But to my prey I am the darkness, for a true hunter is only seen just before the kill."
"Well, then, Rysthin," interrupted Kilyea, "Shall I escort you to your ship? There's a cruiser waiting for you outside, if you'll just follow me."
Written by Zodiac on 04 July 2008