There is a spear in her hands, and she watches as they take the hunter away.
Not the hunter. There are clearly many of them, more than just the three she had witnessed down at the pyramid - a whole ship full of others like him, made for combat and glory. Made for harnessing all the power concentrated in their muscles, at the core of the luminescent blood in their veins, and coming out victors of whichever battles they chose to take on.
But they are not him.
“Wait,” she blurts out, and her mind can’t help but bring forth the memory of the last time she’d said it, fearful and trembling and so, so sure she would die. “Wait!”
The big one pauses, at least, cape flaring as he turns to her.
Great, she thinks. How am I supposed to talk to him, anyway? Because down there, with him, it had been different - instinctual. Natural. Communication born from two beings whose way of thinking was the similar regardless of other differences; who were willing to try and understand. This is different.
“Will he live?” she asks, and gestures to the group of four taking her companion away, nearly lost to the too-bright light. “I want to-- I need to know.”
The leader rattles something and shakes his dreads. It’s less of a no, more of a I don’t understand, and Lex has to grit her teeth in frustration because it had been so much simpler before. The hand gripping her gifted spear shakes as she gestures again to the prone body, back to the scar on her cheek. Friend. Hunted together. Back to the body, then to her chest, where she mimics taking a deep breath.
Hah. Breath. Lex hopes they will give her an answer fast, be it positive or negative, or she won’t last much longer out here.
She remembers, faintly, herself instructing the team not to breath too deep, not to exert themselves too much: too much humidity on their lungs, and they’ll freeze. Too much sweat on their bodies, and they’ll freeze.
None of them had the chance to make much of that advice, and she bites back an hysterical little laugh. Not now, Lex. Not now.
She slams her fist back against her heart, back to her prone companion. “Will. He. Live?”
The big hunter steps aside, hand splayed to show her to step forth.
It’s not her best plan. It’s definitely not her best plan. Not her best course of action in any kind of way, but when she glances back she can’t even glimpse the Piper Maru or the equipment that’s supposed to take the team all the way back to the ship, if any of it had survived the explosion at all, not to mention the serpent queen’s rampage. But her hunting partner has given her one last gift, at least, one last boon to carry with her like the spear and the shield - with this mark on her skin, his kind probably won’t hurt her.
“Yeah, okay,” Lex mutters, trying not to think too much about it. Her hands are clenching the spear a little too tight, a little too rough, but she takes a step, and then another, and another, and before she knows it she’s halfway across the ramp. It retreats behind her when they’ve finished climbing it, and it’s at this point that she realizes the leader is at her side.
He growls something at her.
“Still have no idea what you mean, big guy.” She hesitates, head turning to try and catch a glimpse of her partner. “Where-- Where should I go?”
Lex contains the urge to growl at him herself. She gestures back to her cheek and makes a show of looking around. “My friend? Where is he?”
“Where should I go,” her own voice plays back at her at her side. There is another hunter there, mask held loosely near his head, and the statement repeats again from within it before he makes a beckoning gesture.
Well. She thinks it’s a ‘he’.
“I’m supposed to go with you, then?” she asks, and taking a step in the direction they’re gesturing towards seems to be the right choice. The leader also steps in place at her other side, cape and tresses billowing out behind him; neither of the hunters bother to shorten their stride even though she’s clearly too exhausted to keep up with them. Her ribs ache dearly, as do her limbs - if her hunter friend is alive, she certainly won’t envy his own aches after being speared through more than once.
If he’s alive.
She speeds up her pace.
There’s only one way to find out.
He looks... small.
He’s not, of course. Lex remembers him, tall and wide and larger than life, towering over her in a way that first had made her fear for her life, and later on reassured her that maybe, just maybe, they could make it. There are very few people in her life that she had trusted her back to wholeheartedly, and somehow this-- this alien, this hunter, this predator had slid himself neatly into that number, even after having threatened her life.
But he’s unmoving and washed out as he lays on some sort of platform, a scan going over his body in the same shade of blue as the planet in the distance, and she never thought such a creature could look fragile but he is.
She very determinedly tries to ignore Earth growing smaller in the window.
“How is he?” she asks, voice low. This does not have the same feel as a hospital, white and bare and smelling strongly of antiseptic, but it’s not better.
It feels like a funerary chamber.
There are several hunters moving around her partner’s body, at least. It gives her some hope; perhaps not all is lost. One hisses something to another, receiving a rattle in reply, and the leader at her side nudges the air in the body’s direction before making a movement with his hands near his chest.
Her eyes widen.
He has one of those things in there.
“You can take it out, right?” It comes a bit higher-pitched than expected, but she isn’t paying attention to how her voice sounds as much as she is to getting her meaning across. These guys-- These guys have weapons, tools beyond anything on earth, near-perfect camouflage that renders them invisible to sight. Surely, surely they can still do something about it. She turns to the one with the mask still grasped in his hand. “You can get it out of him, right?”
He stares blankly back at her.
Another pair of hunters enter the room, moving efficiently and quickly towards her companion’s body; the others make way for them. Lex doesn’t have much time to wonder what the things they’re carrying are before they begin carving his chest open.
Under the evaluating gazes of the remaining hunters, she forces herself to watch. She needs to know.
She needs to see.
If there is even the smallest, most impossible chance that he isn’t dead-- that they can take that thing out, and patch him back up--
It’s a grotesque sight.
She’d known the hunter’s blood was a green, chunky, luminescent thing. She’d known it, from the wounds she’d witnessed them taking, decorating the ground and the walls and the tails of the serpents in the pyramid, but it’s a different thing to see it like this. It’s not really chunky until it’s exposed to the air for more than a few moments - likely meant to help them recover more quickly from their wounds before blood loss weakened them further, but it doesn’t seem to be helping the hunter-doctors do their job as they search her partner’s chest cavity for the serpent spawn.
Lex doesn’t realize how much she’d been worrying at the insides of her mouth until she tastes blood.
It’s still alive, when they find it; ready to burst. An off-white, much smaller version of the serpents - covered in the green of her partner, shrieking for the life it might or might not have taken yet. The head is snapped cleanly to the side mid-shriek.
At least that.
Her hand is tight around the leader’s arm, nails digging in. “Can you still save him?”
If he understands her question, her meaning, he does not reply.
It’s a slow process, to put her companion back together. The scent of something not quite like burning flesh - more acrid, more sweet; the chunks of blood cleaned away where they’ve carved into him before they melt and mend his insides back together. If it had been a human, Lex has no doubts they’d be dead by now.
They leave her be, in the end. Standing vigil over him, unable to tell if he lives or not, unable to answer her questions.
There is only Lex, her companion’s body, and the silence in the room as they move further away from Earth.
She’s taken to calling him Scar, in her mind.
It’s a stupid thing, she knows. It’s most certainly not his name, and he’s certainly not the only one around this ship with a scar - hell, even she has gained one by his own hands - but she has nothing else to call him by.
How is she supposed to mourn someone without a name? How is she supposed to pray that he still lives?
She’s tried to check it half a dozen times. Laid her hands on his neck, on his wrist, tried to feel for breath rushing in and out, for a foreign sort of heartbeat beneath the thickness of his skin. If it weren’t for the wounds all across his chest, half of them dealt by his own kind in their attempt to take the other creature out, she’d have rested her head against it and tried to listen for any sign of life.
None of it had worked.
They’ve given her a place to sit at his side, though it’s painfully clear that it’s not a usual thing in this room. But Lex is thankful - as thankful as she can manage to be - that they’d left them alone, for now.
She needs to take the time to grieve, even if just a little.
Sebastian. Miller. Weyland. Rosseau. So many lost in so little time, and her hands clench and unclench around her gifted spear as tears blur Scar’s chest from sight. Not even a full day gone by, and over two dozen dead. She can’t even remember the names of them all.
It’s hard to say how much time passes, like this.
It takes Lex some time to realize how warm the ship is, considering how hard her body shakes in the first few hours. Grief. Shock. Early stages of hypothermia, from the too-long time spent in the open Bouvetøya cold. But after a while she’s forced to shed layers or sweat enough to make her clothes clingy and wet, and she doesn’t want to risk it if the hunters decide she’s spent long enough with them already. Their species look slightly reptilian - if she had to base herself on a Earth-based species for comparison - and she has to wonder if they have the same needs when it comes to humidity and heat.
A touch to the cold, clammy skin of her companion does not help her conjecture or her mental state, so she’s quick to snatch it back.
Still. Lex knows herself well enough, and knows she must keep herself occupied until there’s some kind of other development for the better or for the worse, or she’ll get lost too deep in her mind; she takes to studying Scar.
He’s definitely not pretty.
Not by human standards, certainly. But he’s well-built, and deceptively agile for his size; most of his armour and weapons remain equipped even after the medical attention, but even those can’t account for all his bulk. The dreadlock-like tendrils on his head don’t feel like hair when she dares touch them, either, but the texture is curious enough - she runs them contemplatively across her fingers, twisting them gently as she tries to figure out how they’re attached to his skin and what they’re made of, and it works well to keep her mind off things until she realizes she’s nearly petting him. Lex pulls her hands back.
Hands. Thick fingers, topped with claws, and the divide between the rougher, darker skin at the back and the lighter, softer one at the front is clear from the scale-like look of it, though she doesn’t dare touch him again to confirm. Not when his skin is as cold as a--
Not thinking about it. Come on, Lex.
His face is a curious thing. The rest of his body is fairly humanoid, enough that they cold perhaps pass for one in the distance, but the face is fully alien with those mandibles as a different set from the rest of his mouth. It doesn’t look at all useful for-- for eating, or hunting, or anything of the sort, though it certainly had looked impressive enough when letting out a war cry - and whatever it was Scar had meant when roaring in her face.
He hadn’t looked mad. Hadn’t been about to kill her, either, the way he had with the serpent queen. He’d roared in her face and then marked her like he had done with himself after killing that first serpent, and likely saved her life from his own kin in the process. Though Lex is willing to bet he hadn’t foreseen this outcome, either.
“This,” she decides to the empty room, “is a mess.”
Understatement of the year.
They take her to another room.
Lex is not too willing to go, at first. But they scan Scar’s body with another of those instruments, and the nod they give her does not look like they’re emitting any kind of death sentence - though, truth be told, their faces aren’t all that easy for her to interpret just yet - and she’s tired enough that she can barely keep her eyes open, so she goes.
It’s not an empty room.
She’s alone, yes. But this isn’t an impersonal kind of room, the kind anyone would give to a guest; there’s signs of activity and life everywhere. Hunting trophies on display, skulls and fangs and chitin exoskeletons and bone remains; weapons of all kinds, some whole, some torn apart with the pieces scattered as if the owner were trying to fix them or reassemble them in some other way; all kinds of curious tools she can’t make hands or tails of; pieces of armour left lying over several surfaces like discarded clothing after a long day out.
In the corner, there is a curious structure not entirely unlike a hammock - though far sturdier and more complex than any hammocks Lex had ever seen in her life - covered in several sheets of different materials, from reptilian hides to furs in colours foreign to Earth animals. She assumes it’s supposed to function as some kind of bed. But--
The room is alien in everything from architecture to the objects inhabiting it, but the way it’s kept - tidy yet messy, as if the person who had occupied it liked having their things neat but were too restless to keep it that way for long - is familiar in a heart-aching kind of way.
This is someone else’s room. Someone who isn’t her.
“Wait,” she says to the hunter who escorted her here. “Whose room is this?”
Her escort doesn’t seem to understand the question, but he gestures towards her and then to the room. The message is quite clear, even if it’s not the answer she’s seeking. She nods.
Is she supposed to wait for someone here? Or is this where she’s meant to sleep? Perhaps it had been the room of one of the dead predators that had died back in the pyramid, given to her since she had obtained the status they had not.
Perhaps it’s Scar’s.
No. Dwelling on that matter is not going to help, so Lex decides to explore instead. There are two other doors inside the room, and she peeks cautiously inside each one before deciding that they won’t be leading her into a room full of potential enemies and gathers the courage to open them further.
One seems to be used for some kind of storage, as an extension to the weaponry clutter and hunting trophies in the first. There are large expansions of clear glass cases with all manner of things behind them, though most of them remain empty, and if she were less exhausted maybe she’d find it in herself to be more impressed by it.
Instead, her eyes catch her reflection.
She looks a fright. That’s a given. Her hair is frizzed out in every direction, matted in places with substances she doesn’t care to think about, and the scar on her cheek is nothing compared to the look in her eyes, sunken in exhaustion and loss and yet-- Determined. Hard. Cold.
Lex has always prided herself in being tougher than the environments she threw her heart and her work into, but this... These are not her eyes. These eyes do not belong to her, not the way she remembers herself from before the pyramid.
Another thing not to think about.
The other room, blessedly, seems to function a bit like a bathroom once she’s poked and prodded at most of the things in it. She’s been trying not to think about her full bladder since she’s come on board - a only half-successful undertaking, aided by the bone-deep tiredness and aches settling over her body that would really rather not have her moving around the way she is - but at least it seems like she’s averted having to explain human bodily functions to any of the unsympathetic hunters for now. Some kind of goop fills the large pod that Lex supposes must function as a shower-slash-bath and she’s not quite brave enough to try that yet, but after prodding the multitude of objects on the sink-like thing a running strand of water comes out.
She just about buries her face beneath it, scrubbing at every bit of skin she can reach and drinking large mouthfuls without a care to propriety. The last time she’s savoured water like this had been back in the Lho La icefalls; the water of the mountain had been fresh, lip-numbing cold; a reward to herself for conquering yet another peak.
It doesn’t feel like it was less than a week ago.
Lex doesn’t trust either the hunters or the hammock thing enough to sleep in it just yet. No one has come in meanwhile, so she’s likely expected to spend the night here - night being wholly relative, as they are hardly on a planet anymore - but for all her exhaustion her nerves are still flaring, so she gathers a few of the reptilian hide sheets and huddles against a corner, spear in hand and an eye on the door.
If they come for her? If they turn their backs on their truce, the roots of it cut with Scar’s life?
Lex will be ready.
She sleeps in fits and spurts.
Her whole body aches, worse than that time when her equipment had broken and she’d rolled off a small cliff, worse than when a sudden storm had hit mid-climb and smacked her time and time again against rock and gravel before she managed to get a good hold again, but Lex is used to it. Her whole life has been centred around pushing against the pain, becoming stronger, going where few human beings had dared to go before her.
This isn’t exactly a change in habit.
She’s tense and ready by the time they come fetch her again, spear clutched at her side. It’s the one weapon Lex has here; she’s not stupid enough to think an entire society that’s just fine with using humans as breeding cattle for those serpents will think nicely of one wandering around their ship. Even if they know about the results of the ritual. Even if she’s been marked as their own.
They take her back to Scar after she does her best to ask about him: hunt, partner, where? Shakes her spear, fist against her heart and brushing against her cheek, a lost hand to the corridors outside of the door hissing shut behind them. That seems to be understood well enough, or perhaps they were meaning to take her there all along: the result is the same, either way.
Lex occupies her chair from the day before, one she nearly has to climb to be able to sit on, and they bring her a tray. Food, the hunter mimics, bringing it to their mouth and then putting it back. They point to her chest, and then to a blue syringe-looking tube, and then to Scar.
Food, for you. This, for him.
A small relief. There is little point to injecting anything on a dead man, if Scar had not survived the night.
Still, she’s wary as she watches the hunter-doctor place it against her partner’s neck; doubly as much when it hisses upon injection and Scar’s whole body jolts in place. She pushes aside the dubious food in the tray for the sake of jumping in front of the hunter-doctor and spreading her arms wide.
“What is that thing for?” Lex asks, and she’s far too glad that her voice does not tremble. “Is he going to be alright?”
What will you do with me if he’s not? is another question at the tip of her tongue, but this one she does not dare ask. She gestures back and forth to Scar, to the syringe, utterly frustrated with her ability to communicate with these beings that likely see her so below them.
The hunter points to the food, then back to her. You, eat.
She blinks back frustrated tears. “That is not what I asked.”
You, the hunter gestures again, more slowly. Eat. Scar. Lex sucks at her bottom lip, eyes flying between all the indicated things.
“You mean,” she begins, hesitating. “That’s like food? To him?” Scar could hardly be expected to feed himself in that kind of state, so it would make sense if they had an alien equivalent to intravenous feeding. But it doesn’t help much with letting her know how they’re treating his wounds, if at all.
The hunter chitters something at her before stalking off without a proper answer.
Well, that’s just great. She can’t even be surprised anymore at this point, after the first few times. Lex hops back on the chair with a pained grunt and examines the ‘food’ she’s been gifted with; none of it is familiar to her. Somehow, after a life spent climbing the most dangerous peaks known to man and taking down those monstrous things and escaping an underground pyramid, she hadn’t thought it would be food poisoning to do her in.
She sighs, toasting her partner with something that could perhaps, maybe, in another planet, pass for some kind of fruit. “In for a penny, in for a pound?”
Lex thinks a few days might have passed.
She’s certainly been led back and forth enough for it, though the number of meals and the amount of time she thinks she’s slept don’t quite match up. But it’s a good thing, in part - she’s more alert, less concerned about her pained ribs and limbs, starting to figure out the layout of the parts of the ship she’s been led through and how things function. They don’t want her out there just yet, she’s guessing: too much trouble for her worth, when there is no way to reliably communicate their intentions.
There is the matter of their culture, too.
It’s hard enough to figure out their facial expressions with that extra set of mandibles, but cultural differences don’t help. She studies the hunters as much as she can get away with, especially when they try to keep her from being in contact with too many of them: they shake each other’s shoulder in greeting among equals, bare their throats in respect to their betters and lower their heads in defiance, issue challenges when stared at for too long, use growls both in warning and in amusement. Lex can’t tell apart half the sounds they make.
Not for the first time, she finds herself wishing for the simple, instinctive communication with Scar in the pyramid; little more than a look traded before they were moving together, the perfect team found in an unlikely place. But.
Scar still hasn’t awakened.
She shouldn’t really be surprised, given the extent of his injuries. When his head had fallen back, eyes sliding shut and body going limp amidst the snow, she had thought him dead for certain. If he had been human, there would have been little chance of survival, but Scar is a hunter. Seen as a god thousands of years ago, able to use technology that humans can barely even dream about.
But as far as she’s seen, too little of it has been used in his recovery.
It’s-- It’s frustrating, that’s what it is. She’s been holding back all the rage, all the desperation and sorrow born in the pyramid for both their sakes - because, surely, if she lets them out while they’re watching, they’ll get rid of her, and then who will stand at his side while he lingers so close to death? Another life lost indirectly to her hands in this forsaken expedition - but they won’t even help. Won’t do much more than inject the little blue syringe whenever she has a meal, and leave him be on that engraved slab all the time in between, and she’s starting to wonder if perhaps they’re not just keeping his corpse long enough to fulfil one of those rituals they seem to be so fond of.
And she still has no answers.
Her chance comes when the leader comes to the window room, where there is an endless amount of stars shining down on Scar’s prone form, and no planets in sight. Lex is getting better at telling the hunters apart, if only through small things like the shape of their heads or the decorations on their armour, and dazed as she had been that first, eternal night, the cape around his shoulders is a dead giveaway of his identity.
She doesn’t dare raise her head more than normal even though he towers above her, all too aware of the social repercussions of it after watching them for this long. But the leader chitters kindly, mandibles as closed as they can get, and Lex dares cast a member of his species a hopeful look for the first time since Scar.
He clicks something at her.
She deflates. “I don’t understand.”
He points to her side. Lex turns, not expecting to see anything other than Scar, but there is a difference now that she is looking for it.
“You,” she swallows. “You got his mask back.”
The leader chitters once more, picking the mask in his large hands and connecting one of the cables wrapped around his wrist to it. In the air, some sort of feed splutters into view, tridimensional and in a very small range of colour; she’s fascinated despite herself.
Into view come hundreds of eggs, live and twitching with life forms inside. Then, her profile in thermal vision, voice warbled in the feed as she says something about--
“The bomb!” Lex exclaims, happy that there’s finally something she knows how to discuss. She makes the same gesture Scar had done back then, fingers curled and then exploding outward; she can’t quite contain her smile as she does so.
The leader clicks his mandibles together, pleased, and repeats the motion.
She wonders when her standards for quality conversation lowered this much.
Lex gestures to Scar, back to herself, and makes the bomb gesture towards the eggs paused in the feed. Me, him, blew them up. Back to herself, back to Scar, then she mimics slitting her throat before placing her hands on top of her head in a lacking imitation of the Queen’s crowned head, and slams her fist to her heart - me, him, killed Queen. Partners. Then, to Scar, and sets her fingers in a walking motion on air before pointing back to him and making a quizzical gesture. Will he recover? When will he wake?
She desperately, desperately hopes the message gets through.
The leader stares back, but recognition lits in his eyes, at least. He goes to gesture something once or twice but stops, frustrated. His mandibles click together in annoyance. “Nan-ku,” he says, a large difference from his species’ usual sounds, but his expression lets her know all too well he doesn’t expect her to understand this sound, either.
Lex is strangely gratified she’s not the only one having difficulty getting things across.
He gives their species’ equivalent of a sigh before waving off her question for now, and nudges her forward gently. It’s not the same way she’s seen hunters push each other’s shoulders in challenge, at least, so she moves with him, settling at his side as they leave the room with one last glance to Scar.
The leader takes her through a different route than she’s used to, going through doors she hasn’t adventured to explore on her own. More than a few hunters stop in their tracks to watch them go by, throats bared to the leader but eyes following her movement as she takes larger steps to compensate their differences in height. Her hand moves to the spear at her side, assuring herself that it’s still there.
There are few places she’d like less to be unarmed in than this one.
It’s largely fortunate that no one stops them on their way, though Lex is fairly sure that there are more than a few individuals who would have liked to. Still, they manage to slide past the last door with little problem - in no small part due to the leader, who Lex has quickly come to realize is rather big even for his kind.
There is another hunter in the room, and his eyes widen at the sight of her. His head whips back to the leader, back to her, and he’s chittering out something quizzically in a way even she can tell he means what is she doing here?
The leader clicks his tusks amusedly, and replies. Lex can’t understand any of these vocalizations, so she stealthily moves a bit further away from the biggest hunter, taking in the sights of this new room.
It’s a workshop. One that deals in armour and electronics, if she’s not mistaken. It’s set up not unlike the room she’s been given, with pieces of equipment strewn over every surface available, but it has no bed in it - instead, there are masks and dials everywhere, in various stages of assembly, others in rows for display. There is a clear difference between both kinds of masks in the room: the most damaged ones have all been marked with acidic blood, much like Scar’s.
“What are we here for?” she turns to ask, only to find both hunters looking back at her. “Is this about Scar’s mask? The feed you showed me?”
Staying silent is not in her nature, though she’s all too aware they can’t understand her and can’t reply beyond simple gestures. The leader chitters a reply, and motions for her to come forward.
This gesture she knows well enough.
They’re making her a mask.
Like Scar’s. Like the other guard she’d seen on the first day. Like the ones on display on the workshop’s wall. Like, she has begun to suspect, all the other hunters have.
It would be reassuring if it weren’t also so nerve-wrecking.
They’re not getting rid of her.
She’s oddly dazed all the way back to Scar’s resting place, eyes still recovering from the lights as they scanned her face’s shape into a tridimensional model, several versions of masks flickering over the digital surface too quickly for her to keep up. But the meaning had been clear enough, and when the leader and the creator had said their goodbyes, Lex still hadn’t known what to make of it.
They’re making her a mask. A mask.
Does it come with armour? With responsibilities? Is she meant to go back down and face another one of those pyramids even though she has already passed their coming-of-age ritual, if only to mark the mask in the same way as her face? How is she meant to do anything if they can’t even figure out how to talk to her?
She might feel a little-- giddy? Which is... not, presumably, what Lex should be feeling at the thought of facing those things again, but adrenaline is bubbling beneath her skin, making her bare her teeth and take longer, more assured steps despite herself.
She knows this feeling. She knows this feeling. She’s scared, terrified, but it also sends her blood pumping in a way that’s not unpleasant at all, and her palms are sweating but she can only think about how to face this, how she can take her past experience and make it better, make herself stronger, more capable of doing it again and again until she’s the best on her field.
She knows this.
It’s the same as the first time she’d reached the top of the worst climbing wall in the gym, sweaty and grinning even as her stomach looped when she looked below. It’s the same as the first peak she conquered, her father proud at her side even as her hands shook with the vestige of nerves; of when she had had her very first drink at 14400 feet and the air had tasted as crisp as the champagne; of when her name had been added to those few who had climbed the Everest without oxygen. Youngest woman ever. Her record still hadn’t been broken.
But. She needs to be ready, prepared. Train herself, hone her instincts and her muscles so they won’t fail her when she needs them the most. Learn the weapons of these hunters, their language, their tactics; learn their hunt, and master it with her own hands. Lex has already begun the process when she took Scar’s spear to defend herself - survival instinct at its finest, honed with years of experience and fight rather than flight - but she will need help to do it.
Only, when she reaches the ceremonial slab, Scar’s body is gone.
There is one, long, measured moment when she doesn’t realize it. When her eyes track past the place out of habit, expecting nothing different, and then snap back to it. But her sight hasn’t mislead her even after she blinks away the leftovers of the scanning lights, and she’s back to tracking every corner of the room like she had done back at the pyramid - but no.
Scar is not here.
She’s whirling back to the leader with a pained roar, teeth showing as she gestures with all the things she knows he knows. “Where is he? ”
He doesn’t get the chance to answer before she repeats the question, voice loud as she signs everything to him. The room, the slab, her cheek. Her, the slab, fist beating desperately against her heart. Her, the slab, throat sliced, Queen, fist against heart so roughly that it hurts. Where is he? My partner? The one who helped me kill the Queen? Where is he?
But he has no answer.
Lex knows this. Knows that he had been with her as they went to the workshop, but if he had given some order to take Scar away, if he had known something--
The route to her room is engraved into her memory by now, and she stalks her way there with her teeth bared, head low in a warning to all who would have stopped her, questioned her lack of escort. Her hand grips the spear tight, nearly opening it all the way in a way that would show she is not to be messed with in this moment, and for a moment her mind flashes back to the pyramid. To Scar, and hunting down the corridors together with the spear and shield he had made for her, side to side and ready to take down everything in their path.
The thought of it hurts, now.
Has she read it wrong? Has he been dead all along, and she had been all the more foolish to let herself be taken by an alien race, with a foreign language and foreign customs with no ally in sight? She would only have herself to blame, in that case, but anything had seemed better at that time than to lose the one who had fought at her side so fiercely, to go back to cold and uncertainty and a slow, freezing death if she didn’t find undamaged equipment in time.
But they could have at least told her, and the thought is enough to make hot tears push at her eyelids before she blinks them back. Her hand fumbles with the door handle, making the latch unlock with a hiss before it automatically slides open, but--
On the other side of the door, gaze fixed on the mask on his hand, is Scar.
There is one long moment when they can do little else but stare.
It’s Scar, she’s sure of it, and yet she finds her eyes tracking his face, his wounds, the bits of armour no one bothered to remove. He’s lost some colour in the days spent prone, unmoving, but he’s as big and as powerful as she remembers him being in the pyramid. His head is tilted to the side, dreadlocks swaying with the motion - a movement so familiar even though they knew each other for so little time, and Lex hadn’t even realized she had missed it - and he lets out a hiss of shock despite himself.
She can’t help but remember another moment not unlike this one: after the explosion, the cold air biting at her skin as she waited for him to remove his mask, as they stared at each other for second, back then. He had roared in her face right after - and to be perfectly honest, Lex still hasn’t figured out what that was, even after studying the other hunters for a while - but he had marked her as an equal, back then.
She steadies herself, and then reaches for his shoulder and shakes it.
His mandibles slacken a bit.
“I’m Lex,” she says, and closes a fist against her heart, thumping it once to make her meaning clear. “Lex. Figured it was time we introduced ourselves. Hope you don’t mind I called you Scar.”
To her, he remains Scar.
True to their strange bond, he had understood her purpose right away, and offered his own name in return without a pause - a series of clicks and chirps she had done her best to replicate with her limited vocal equipment, before he had started laughing at her and repeated the word Scar in his own voice, fist against his chest.
She wonders if he feels as giddy as her, filled with nervous energy she doesn’t quite know how to put a lid on - he’s alive, alive, alive, and Lex still isn’t sure how to react to this because she had started giving up hope but he’s here and alive, even if now all her doubts as to whether he wants her here start to surface from where she’s shoved them down. Her hands fiddle with her broken watch once she replaces the spear at her side, and then go back to bring up the spear to show him because if anyone can explain to her anything about this place it’s him.
In return, he points to a corner of the room where another spear and a serpent shield are resting, and back to his mask. She stares down in disbelief at the serpent’s skull when he hands them over to her, the metallic teeth gazing menacingly back.
It’s hard to believe she killed this thing on her own.
She raises her head back to Scar, gestures to the shield. “They went and got them back?”
Scar shows her his mask. If this had been days ago - if it had been on that first night, or even the first few after that - she might not have realized it. But now she’s seen the hunters, limited as their interactions with her have been, and she’s seen the workshop and the feed recorded on Scar’s mask; their masks are important. Their masks are personal things, cherished and long-living, and when they’re broken they’re fixed rather than thrown away. They keep record of battles and kills, and are marked with the first blood they draw as an adult.
These masks represent their owner’s lives, and so they had searched for Scar’s. The spear and the shield, as much as the hunters seemed to treasure trophies, had likely just been a pleasant bonus.
“I’m glad you have it back,” she gestures with a movement towards the mask. But that’s not quite what she means, what she wants to say, and though he might not understand her-- her hands gesture towards him anyway. You. Me. Fist thumping against her heart. Partners. “I’m glad you’re alive.”
He gestures towards himself, towards her. Fist against his heart, and a chirp. Partners.
Then, you. Here?
Lex nods, points to the mark on her cheek, then back at him, to his wounds. “I needed to know if you would live.”
Scar growls lightly, amused, and shakes his head in a motion that sends his dreadlocks flying. Strong, he gestures, mentioning himself, and then taps his finger against the side of his head before motioning between the two of them. Clever. We hunted Queen. Us, above.
“We weren’t supposed to hunt the Queen?” Lex had wondered about it on the days spent doing nothing after the battle, but the other hunters hadn’t said anything about it. “Then why was she loose? Why didn’t they do anything?”
Scar clicks his tusks together amusedly. Us, clever, he signs. Partners. Above. Hunt, kill, ours.
“They could have helped,” she insists, but Scar is shaking his head vigorously.
Hunt, kill, ours, he gestures again. No outside. No them.
They were right there, she wants to insist, and you nearly died because they didn’t step in. If the Queen wasn’t supposed to be loose then just the two of them against her was madness. They had barely made it out alive, and if it hadn’t been for the chains-- Lex has no illusions about their odds, remarkable as though her companion might be. But she has a feeling she’d be offending him if she tried to say as much, even though it’s logical - none of his other companions had even made it against one of the small serpents, much less their Queen.
“So like an honor code,” she concludes, and tries not to think of the results had they failed. An explosion like the pyramid’s on the surface would have been devastating. She tries to pose it as a question, but stumbles on how.
Me, no, you, kill? Us, no, them, kill? Them, no, our kill?
Scar chitters in agreement, and turns to put the weaponry back in place.
“Are there more rules?” she moves to steady her shield against the wall, her arm brushing against his. It still feels a bit cold, but no longer clammy, and the ever-present heat of the ship makes it feel pleasant. “To your honor code?”
Her companion chitters back. Me eat, me talk, he points. Lex come?
“Yeah,” Lex says, and a smile finds its way to her lips, unbidden. “I’m coming.”
No kill small ones.
No kill ones without weapons.
No kill ones with small ones.
No take other’s hunt.
Same weapons good, better weapons bad.
Lex files away all these bits of information to remember later, though Scar had implied there were others, more complex rules that would take more than simple gestures to explain. But they’ve fallen in pace beside each other without a thought, an echo from the pyramid, and unlike with the others it’s easy to talk to him - to look at the motion of his hands, the tilt of his head, and guess at all that which can’t be said with the language they have in common.
Too easy, in fact. They both fall silent as they walk to what she assumes will be some sort of mess hall, though she hasn’t had the chance to visit it yet. There had been no escort outside their door - and isn’t that another thing she has to wonder at? It’s fairly obvious the room had been Scar’s, is Scar’s, so where is she supposed to stay from now on? Had she been given his room under her title as partners, for their assisted kill of the Queen?
Lex hasn’t even figured out if the hunters have concepts like privacy or gender, outside of the ability to have children. She doesn’t think she’s seen any female hunters in any of the times she ventured outside of Scar’s room, but for all she knows they might not be any different from male ones outside of giving birth, or laying eggs, or whichever other method their species might employ in order to reproduce. This if they are even limited to anything resembling a gender binary - they are aliens, for heaven’s sake - and to tell the truth Lex hasn’t even figured out why she isn’t freaking out about all this--
Scar clacks his mandibles in amusement when he sees the other hunters staring at them, quickly gesturing out to Lex the words they, no, see, and then, “Ooman.”
He gestures at his scar, then hers, and clicks out his laughter again.
It’s easy to know what he means. The ones staring are mostly unmarked, their faces bare as they gape at her; never seen a human indeed. She imagines a marked human is an even rarer sight, especially if the Antarctic pyramid is the only one still functional on Earth - even if there had been a human marked on the last hunt, it would have been over a hundred years ago.
Somehow - through no intention of her own - she’s managed to climb to a higher rank than those who were born and trained for it.
Still. It makes her wonder. Why did you mark me?
It’s hard to find the gestures for it, so she thinks it through while Scar guides her through the process of getting food from the contraptions awaiting them, half of the items still making her stomach roll with dread and possibly indigestion. She waits until they’re seated - not away from prying eyes, not yet, but she doubts they’ll be anywhere outside his bedroom - and then tries to ask. You, she signals, and does it again when he isn’t looking the first time. Mark, me. She twists her face into something quizzical, trusting that he’ll interpret it correctly. Why?
He tilts his head to the side, understanding the question even if not what she means by it. You hunt.
Others hunt too. She pauses, rolling an alien fruit between her hands as she thinks on how to elaborate her question further. It’s a purple thing, ridged with a labyrinthine texture, and tough enough that she still hasn’t figured out how she’s supposed to eat it. Ooman. He knows that word. “I’m human. Not of your kind.”
“Yautja,” he clicks, gesturing with his head towards himself and the others behind them. She takes it to mean that’s what they call themselves. Strong, us, he signals. Some of us, clever. Not all. You, clever. You, hunt. You, me, hunt same. More or less.
She’s not sure whether she should humour him or not; when he clicks amusedly at her conflicted expression, she twists it into a grimace. “Right.”
He does the hunter equivalent of a shrug. Us, kill Queen. Not all. Partners. Strong, together.
At least that’s one thing she can rely on.
She shakes his shoulder, tosses him the fruit. “Got that right.”
Scar catches it perfectly.
He trains her.
It’s not that Lex can’t defend herself. It’s not even that she doesn’t know how to fight in some way; she’s taken more than a few fighting classes on the seasons when she’s not taking anyone on the ice. But she’s not Yautja, born and bred for battle, and the other name they have for humans expresses that perfectly well: pyode amedha, soft flesh, soft meat.
It’s a good arrangement, the two of them, especially bunking together on the same room as they are. Scar is recovering from his wounds, building back the little muscle he’s lost when unconscious for those eternally long days; he, too, is not eager to show his weakness in front of others, especially after taking down a Queen. His style is suited to her, too - less upfront and relying on sheer mass and muscle, more focused on instincts and agility. It goes doubly as well for her, seeing as she’s smaller than him, used to paying attention and using the environment to her advantage.
They do it everyday, whenever they can spare a chance, each moment a precious opportunity to get stronger, better. In that aspect, too, they’re similar enough - like-minded in that they want to be among the best of the best, find all the unexplored pathways to get there. She takes to the challenging nature of Yautja culture like a fish to water, learning it through Scar and the few other hunters she gradually meets as she’s assimilated into their fold, one step at a time. Killing a Queen is more unusual than she ever thought; left only for those with a thousand kills to their name, to the most experienced hunters amongst their kind, and to be hunted in groups only. But. She had done it. Scar and her, wounded and exhausted, and yet they have a Queen’s kill to their name.
It earns her respect.
It’s enough that she’s not too bothered by Yautja of the same rank or younger, even those she can tell would rather not have a pyode amedha around, marked or otherwise. Lex stops wondering at Scar’s amusement after she learns as much - it’s a bit of smugness she figures he has earned on his own right, and she as well. Not all can kill Queens, he had said on that first day.
It hadn’t been a lie.
She receives her mask and armour not long after.
They’re adapted differently from the others she’s seen - with a much smaller, differently-shaped muzzle, flatter where on others it’s supposed to fit their mandibles, and she assumes the mask comes with different settings than the ones for the original species they were meant for. But it’s her mask, made for her, and the discovery that there was still a bit of functional blood on the finger that Scar had kept as a trophy had made her ecstatic enough to feel like she could take an entire Queen on her own.
It makes her feel restless, though. That there’s her armour, her mask right there, waiting for her, waiting to be used, and yet-- She’s stuck in place, in this ship, training and sleeping and eating and waiting.
Lex misses climbing, more than anything. Misses the rush of each conquered peak, of the strength of her picks against rock and ice; makes her wonder how often they’re given leave to go off and hunt and explore outside the ship.
Scar understands her, at least, in feeling even if the specifics evade him. Thrill of hunt, he tells her, chittering softly as she parries, strikes, parries, strikes against him. She’s learned to look forward to these moments: the close brush of their bodies, the similarity of their minds as they read the other’s movements perfectly, as they move back and forth on a dance of their own. This is battle in its most perfect form, but a battle is not a hunt; they both know that. Hunters need the hunt.
And so, when the chance comes, they hunt.
This is a world with more than one sun, the sky painted pink with a never-ending sunset. Lex had never thought she’d witness such a sight, plant her feet straight on such foreign soil, and yet.
Scar tilts his head to watch her as she breathes through her mask, the air clean. There aren’t mountains here, not quite, but there are cliffs surrounding an acidic river below, and plenty of ruins where their prey can hide.
Plenty of time until hunt, he clicks, standing sentinel at her side. He knows this. He knows her.
“That, there is,” she says. Her eyes look at little else but Scar, the sky, all the new peaks to conquer in this world. “Care to take a look at the territory with me?”
He laughs. Yes. Partners.
Lex feels the thrill pumping in her blood, and smiles.