My whole body trembled from head to toe. Exhausted, I could barely keep myself from collapsing out of my crouched position. Adrenaline still coursed through my veins, but it slowly started to ebb as I came to grips with the fact that it was over.
That I'd won.
I couldn't look away from the warm blood coating my arms and staining my fingers, bright green against my tanned skin. My throat tightened as I wiped my palms on the coarse grass, but it did nothing to clean them.
The corpse nearby was a dark shadow in my peripheral vision, weighing on me as I tried to digest the events of my victory. The killing blow that had come by accident as he threw himself at me in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to die with some dignity.
Pooling the last of his strength to go out with a bang because of my underhanded tactics that left him drained and weak.
"Do what you must."
Those were Wolf's parting words as we were wrenched apart.
Everything ached: my limbs, my body, my heart. I'd grabbed victory from the claws of defeat but it tasted bitter on my tongue. Taking a breath, I lifted myself up off the ground and to my knees, my hands on my lap—still smeared with copious amounts of vibrantly-colored blood. Still, I refused to look at the body or the steadily growing pool beneath it. The flow had stemmed, somewhat, now that there was no heart to circulate.
Instead, my eyes fell to a crouched and cowering Creature on the other side of the corpse. He noticed me watching him and stopped his shaking long enough to stand up to his full height, his antennae sweeping up and down.
Creature crept over the body and leaned down to look at me through those strange, multi-faceted red-tinted eyes of his. I looked back and he canted his angular head to the side.
Indicating to the deep gouges in his exoskeleton, I asked, "Are you able to continue?"
Creature clicked, then lifted his long, mantis-like arms to peer at the various lacerations. While he appraised himself, I finally shifted my attention to the corpse lying prone, face down, scant feet away. I looked down at my bloody hands again and took a breath of sterile air through my mask, closing my eyes against the feeling of guilt welling inside.
You're a god damn cheat, Nichole, I berated myself.
Wolf's words chased that notion away again. "Do what you must."
Right. This wasn't a hunt. This was self-defense. I had to remember that their honor code didn't apply during situations like this. We were hunting and being hunted by bad-bloods. The rules weren't the same. As difficult as it was to ignore the past year or two of Wolf hounding the honor code into me, I was going to have to revert to my old ways.
Do whatever I needed to do to live.
Finally, Creature answered me. "Me good."
It took me another moment, but I stood up. Then, I turned to my companion and said, "Then let's go find Wolf."