Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Caelsri stalks about the clearing, swearing softly, reading the signs. Her wolf pack has been chased off by her latest finds. Thinking of which, where are those ice-brained bucketheads, anyway?
The change of attention saves her life.
She ducks as a slavering warlupe lunges for her head, it’s two companions charging from the side. Crouching hard, she unwinds and launches herself between them.
“Stinky, ungrateful, half-thawed…!”
She slashes her dagger along the gut of the nearest. Drag from that angles her rightward and drops her sooner than anticipated: the tips of her ears get sprayed in drool as the jaws of the first attacker snap shut where her head would have been.
Backflipping out of the way, she braces herself. Things are about to get-
Something flashes past her and tears into the nearest warlupe.
Funny how – for all that his chassis is a cat skeleton – Skreetas always reminds her of a snake when he’s fighting. It’s the straight line striking. No curves. No evasion. All focussed aggression while relying on the ancient alloys of his hide to baffle any retaliation.
The warlupe not engaged in disentangling it’s back legs from its entrails wheels about and charges – for two steps. Graal slams down from the cliff above, using the warlupe as a soft landing. It explodes, covering everything for a dozen strides in gore.
“They really do smell worse on the inside.”
Graal rolls off the impromptu cadaver rug, stands up and shakes himself before she can do anything. Something wet, warm and trailing wires bounces off her head.
“Whatever that was, I don’t want to know.”
“Urff.”
She slaps the angular, long-fanged head away.
“No, I’m not happy about it. You could have just torn its head off.”
“Noffun.”
“Fun? I’ve lost my wolves and the three oldest bio-enhanced I’ve ever thawed. Five moons to bring them back. Five moons! What am I going to do for numbers now? You’re good but you’re unique. Likewise Skreetas. If I could get another one of either of you, I could claim pack right.”
There’s a yelp and a gristly ‘crunch’.
All three of them spin to see the back half of a warlupe hanging from the fangs of a sizeable reptile. The eviscerated warlupe had chewed its guts off and leapt to attack. The lizard had simply lunged from cover to catch airborne prey.
Worn golden armour is bonded to its already impressive scales. Bright eyes regard them with more than brute curiosity. It spits the half-carcass out.
“Thorry. Y’rr kill?”
Caelsri waves her hand: “Enough to share. I thought Dahans gone for good?”
“M’exile.”
Another stray predator, and a smart one at that. With a smile, she looks toward Graal. He nods. Beyond him, Skreetas settles, lifting his claws so he can scour them using the heat ray mounted in his tail. No objections, then.
“We need reliable fighters to make a pack.” She gestures to the bodies: “These turned on me.”
The half-carcass disappears in two gulps and minimal chewing.
“Join?”
Graal ambles over to the Dahan. They sniff each other. Graal pushes the other half-carcass over. Caelsri joins them as the reptile finishes eating that warlupe and starts eyeing up the other recognisable carcass.
“You have a name?”
“Eth’l.”
“I’m Caelsri. Wolf-thing is Graal. Cat-thing is Skreetas.”
“We?”
“Are Sturmgeirr. We roam, we collect, we defend if called. The horizon is our home.”
“And food?”
She chuckles: “Yes, you can eat the other carcass. After that, we’re off hunting for treasure, and more walking relics.”
Skreetas squalls in outrage.
Graal barks a laugh.

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