It caught him off guard, the first time Da'dtou-di grew angry with him after he slipped once more from the Black Warrior's grip.
An inexcusable failure, for one with Dachande's experience in the Hunt, who had seen many fractious students grow to achieve Blooded Warrior status. He knew of the insolence of young warriors cooped up, made short-tempered and short-sighted by healing. And he knew, too, of the aggressive behavior of a female with a nest to protect.
But he had not smelled it: the oily, bitter scent of aggression that would have presaged a fight with another yautja. Da'dtuo-di was ooman, and he had not yet finished memorizing her much fainter scent profile. He would have to be more diligent in his attention to her in future.
Da'dtou-di prodded him hard in the chest with two fingers, where the ribs the Hard Meat had broken still ached most, then jabbed the air with them, yelling something in her nonsense language. He still did not understand enough of it to decipher her meeting, but he knew that she was not h'ulij-bpe; she always had reasons for her actions, as strange as they sometimes were to Dachande-- and he had done only one thing apart from the usual routine that day.
Since he had risen from the dhi'ki-de, the sleep near death, the ooman he had marked as his own had spent much time apart from the small shelter in which he lay. He had merely desired to see where she went-- and had discovered a larger band of oomans amid the sere landscape, perhaps a third of the number that would have filled the destroyed settlement. From the rocks where he watched, Dachande had seen Da'dtou-di argue with the one standing a poor attempt at guard, his burner not even aimed toward the likeliest avenues of attack.
The guard had not seen him; of that, Dachande was certain. But Da'dtou-di might have; she was very perceptive, for an ooman. He had no shiftsuit, now, and had seen no reason to cower from her line of sight as she departed the encampment to return to the place where she had left him.
He had not been surprised to discover that there were other survivors, and that she stayed apart from them; she was a warrior, Blooded now, and the others of her kind were not. What did interest him was that she had kept him apart from them as well, and returned to nest with him each night though he had healed enough to seek his own food. And her behavior upon her return: Dachande felt his thwei stir, an unexpected but not unwelcome sensation, as she bared her teeth at him again.
She might be smaller than a female of his kind, ugly with her pale smoothness and oddly formed mandibles, but she was intelligent; she moved well; and they had walked the Path together. And she acted as a proper female would, signaling her interest in breeding with such aggression. Perhaps she could give him no suckers to continue his line; and perhaps she did not know what she did. But his rod did not know that. The sap rose in him with interest, and his thwei sang with anticipation.
It would be some time yet before the Ne'dtesei was missed and other yautja came looking for Dachande's Hunting party. At least a long cycle. Perhaps enough time for his best student to learn to match him, even in this? Her size would be an issue; the reaction of the others when they arrived, another. Her presence at his side would stretch the rules of the Hunt to their limit. But she was Blooded, and tenacious, and by her own actions proclaimed him her choice.
He flared his own mandibles at her in acknowledgement, then pointed at the dirt before their shelter to direct her attention and crouched to sketch the outline of the ooman compound in the dust. If she had taken it upon herself to protect them until their own ships came for them, there were a few things about proper perimeter defenses she should know.
She had instincts, and native ability; once he filled in the remaining gaps in her knowledge of the Path, she would be truly formidable. And in the meantime, Da'dtou-di would learn the warrior's tongue... and he would learn more of her cues. Once he was certain he would not mistake the scent of her arousal, they would see just how compatible yautja and oomans could be.
He had long wanted nothing better than to test his mettle against the Soft Meat; he had not imagined that it would take this form, but he was not disappointed.
Songs would be sung of their Hunts together one day. Dachande was certain of it.