Caris was about to realize she lost any kind of control of the situation.
The scream had come from behind. The monkey troupe from earlier attacked from behind Ailli who had been tasked with carrying the shredded goat.
The monkeys had grown in numbers. Following their prize, the troupe had linked up with others as it crossed through neighboring monkey territories. Now confident and numbering almost a hundred with adults in front that were eerily making no noise. Ailli was swarmed and in her panic, she started swinging the carcass around forgetting to draw her blade.
Kassin had charged forward before Caris knew what to do and was now in the middle of the fur ball. Monkeys attacked the two biting, scratching, and tugging parts of the carcass from Ailli who was now just holding on.
Caris drew her blade and told Vellina to ready her bow. She knew a bow may not be the best idea but Vellina had arms too short for any good blade use and her tits got in the way. Caris used the strategy of slashing what she could while trying to keep on the outside of the mess, but then only two or three monkeys were enough to keep her back.
Vellina was also hampered since the only monkeys staying still were on the backs of Ailli or Kassin. The tall Huntress was bleeding from bites and scratches but still fighting against overwhelming numbers, two monkeys lay still at her feet. The majority of the monkeys around her were wounded and bleeding, but they kept attacking by running up or around her body. The monkeys knew how to attack larger animals and Kassin could not get the deep wounds needed to kill more. Ailli was laying face down in a tug of war with the monkeys.
Vellina was knocked down from behind by something that slammed her face onto large rocks putting her to sleep.
A shrill shriek froze the girls, and scattered the monkeys some of whom were clutching pieces of goat meat or tufts of human hair.
Caris and Kassin turned to the new threat with blades ready and wariness in there eyes. A well-camouflaged lizard standing three feet tall at the shoulder and at least twelve feet long was staring back at the two.
It didn't have any obvious teeth showing as it tasted the air with its tongue, and its eyes only held reptile’s intelligence. Its limbs were short and powerful. The toes ended in large curved claws. It carried its wide flat body well off the ground. The creature was an Oofi, a type of large overgrown lizard that has many variations from poisonous to fire spitting. This Oofi was a chameleon ambush hunter and scavenger. The women had never seen one, but only heard novelty stories of how they changed color.
The two girls advanced to within five paces, centuries of worth refined training styles had been drilled on both women throughout the 20 summer they had been living. Long before either chose the path of the Huntress, they were learning. They knew what their mothers before them learned so they could go all the way to a fulfilling death. Once they chose the Huntresses path thousands of year’s worth of weapons training was endlessly drilled into them. An Amazon may not always have an even chance against a male. Nevertheless, in battle the Huntress stands and fights alone, that is their style.
First, there was the change in breathing. Changing to a slow cycle of three second breathes in and out, with three-second holds in between. The Amazon may not breath like that the whole encounter but the breathe control reigns in panic and keeps a clear mind. They must control their breathing to control heart rate and any hasty actions fueled off adrenaline.
Second, they mentally they forced themselves to see the situation as another training match in a familiar courtyard they could almost visualize.
Third, they looked for the clear areas around and between themselves and the enemy. They moved placing themselves first in equal then improved terrain over the opponent.
Forth, they both brought their blades up not to a defensive pose but one for speed, this opponent was fast. Their toes pointed to the lizard and they leaned forward slightly. Caris favored a reverse grip. Kassin took a traditional hold of her blade.
Caris in her viciousness never bred the males they fought. Death was what her victims got unless they got away. That meant she did not care who killed. It was a secret that the band had learned to fight together unlike the earliest teachings, trainings, and traditions of individual accomplishments and honor. The practice of group fighting was shameful unless hunting or defending from animal. Nevertheless, it was something that was commonly agreed to quietly by Huntresses in weak bands.
Caris led, but was only half a step ahead of Kassin to her right. The five paces walking were only three at a dash.
The Oofi quickly turned right offering a side profile and despite how unfamiliar the creature was, they knew it was going whip its long tail. Kassin jumped correctly preempting the strike, Caris almost ran past the front of the creature her blade nearly missing the flank of the lizard as it spun away to the right. Kassin however, landed on the other side of its head and gave it deep cut down just behind the right shoulder and another for an upstroke deeply severing its neck and slicing through to the spine.
The Oofi's colors flickered across its scales and it collapsed in seizure. Kassin jumped back from the claws of the creature in its death throes.
Caris delivered her Coup-de-Grace stomping the mouth closed and stabbing the brainpan.
The other Huntresses were roused and readied. Vellina was just woozy, Ailli was in much worse shape, but still able to walk after some time. Kassin was also bitten and scratched but mostly along her arms. Kassin quickly moved to Ailli and after getting her standing started washing her free of dirt.
They were not far from their camp and could not waste time if they wanted to get back before sunset. After resting, Caris dressed and skinned the lizard wondering if the thing was poisonous. The most meat was in the tail and limbs but they carried it all even the hide, and the goat.
"How are they deciding where to go?” Marcos inquired. He was sitting at his usual place near the top of the hill taking furtive looks around from time to time. At his feet, were two small deep fire holes each only a little bigger than his fist. They connected underground and allowed him to hide the flame and add animal droppings for smokeless fuel. Several small rodents skewered on sticks roasted over the smokeless mini fire pit and were sizzling nicely. It was just now getting dark, though the sun hadn’t yet set.
Kaarthen sat an arms length away down slope. She felt like she was twice that distance from him. Her eyes were right inline with the cooking food. She was certain he did it on purpose.
"I don't think we decided anything, the leader told them to go northeast to make for the corridor.” Kaarthen responded, the smell of food was potent; in her weakened state, she could barley take her eyes from the crackling carcasses.
"They are just going to cross into the bordering areas of Astrokos, by a difficult and dangerous route, for no reason. Is this a sight seeing trip?” Marcos quipped.
"In Astrokos, Amazons are enemies of the Crown. The border areas are also dangerous because the Menthino border guards and our northern scout cavalry will be patrolling for Astrokine raiding parties, and bandits or slavers." Marcos said looking her body over appraisingly. She tried to remain still and act unaffected.
"Have you been through these areas?" He asked plainly looking at her crotch.
"Not this far east. I have hunted in the south and went east until the border." She said slowly closing her legs and twisting sideways.
"You hunted mud people that must have been satisfying." Marcos said openly sarcastic. "I'll tell you what your friends are trying to walk into then. When the Ort comes rushing out of the mountains heading east, the south shore is tall cliffs while the north side is fertile flat and flood prone. A few hundred miles later, that switches as the Ort makes an arc north gently then slowly turns south as it meets the river Moxle.” Marcos said tracing a hand across a shoulder then between her breasts.
"A single 4-mile gap is where both Astrokos and Menthino have beaches facing each other. The Ort widens and slows but has vicious hidden whirlpools between them.” He moved down to between her legs.
"Since the floods come every year sweeping miles inland. Both sides are only able to build permanent fortresses on the cliffs. They have to patrol the rest, build temporary watchtowers, travel checkpoints, and set up patrol camps in the floodplain.” He was half way standing over her as he dug his hands into her. His fingers flickered busily.
"Both countries hardened their armies with small pitched battles and raids nearly all year around except if the fast moving Ort does not freeze over." He said straightening before her and reaching for his pants. “That’s the state of things you girls are walking into.”
"Caris is...” Kaarthen started.
"Caris is the Huntress leader?” Marcos interrupted, latching onto the name. The information was enough of a distraction for him to forget sex for the moment.
He bent to look her in the face.
"She fills that role, yes.” Kaarthen quietly finished. Marcos could taste the lack of confidence.
"They don't seem very sisterly to you. Are you new to the group? You just delivered right?” Marcos watched her knowing this was private information despite how obvious the information was.
"Ah yes.... “The female almost looked embarrassed. Marcos knew that was a 'yes' to everything.
"Well, you must have had a son didn't you? You’re the most stressed new mother I've ever seen.” She dropped her head in embarrassment, knowing she was too late getting to an enclave to ensure a female had been the start of all this stress.
Her oddly pointed ears came out through her hair again. They were long and looked almost elfish. However, they were too wide, like a half-breed Marcos supposed.
"Does Caris know of your bloodline?” Her head shoot up, her gaze hardened.
"No that's not...” Her ears moved, dropping back slowly. Elves could move their ears like that he knew, but not all still had the ability.
"I see and what are you?” Marcos asked almost sure of the answer already.
"Um Drow actually...My mother was famous to my people as a sport huntress. The priestesses were quite surprised by my appearance since I used to be darker. They were glad of the Goddess' blessing of my strong feminine form.” She was almost haughty and obviously proud. Not exactly, what people want in their prisoners.
That news really was a surprise for Marcos. She was too curvy and big in the hips, thighs, shoulders, and breast for an elven relation. She was also pretty tall for a Drow hybrid.
On anyone but the grey haired Amazons, the breeding would be obvious. Marcos looked at her skin it was pale enough to be translucent which was normal. There were dark patches in the fleshy areas of her body and face, under her cheekbones, and eyelids, her chest under those gigantic breasts was unaccountably dark. Her body seemed almost tanned grey in areas too, but it was light and really only apparent to the eyes if looked at directly. If it were not for the tan, the contrasting colors would make her seem vampire-like in appearance.
Her mother must have been pretty tough to pull down a single drow with the Amazon fighting style. Any Drow male out and about would be an armored warrior. Despite the fact they submit to females in their culture, males do not do it easily. No doubt, this one had benefits from that coupling she was proud of. Her mother must have been a monster.
"Did your son have that appearance as well?” She did not try to answer, just letting her stomach growl.
Marcos was intentionally filling the hours with question time, avoiding her name as he did so. Every line of questioning was to gain new information and somehow go over something already covered.
"Something new, something old, something about you," He thought to himself.
The female was stressed, thus easier to control. The fact that her sisters obviously had a bad surprise and she could only wonder at their condition was disheartening and keeping her anxious. Marcos had also given her water knowing she needed more to be comfortable and digest food well. Despite her minds almost fatalist resigning of fate, her body was very hungry now. Since she unfortunately was allowed to sleep the whole day when he caught her. He kept her naked and therefore extremely alert to his actions. Her over-alertness was also used to stress her and burn her out.
Having her naked was a quite a thrill too. Her massive breasts seemed to always sway and jiggle, and her inverted nipples constantly dripped milk enticingly. The pillowy ass she sat on with her thick hard muscled cheeks also held his fascinated attention. He enjoyed her fidgeting from the uncomfortable grass and his blush-inducing gaze. He had wanted her to associate the questions with sex and being naked let her feel as if he was learning more and more about her. All this talking however was taking away from his milk time that he knew she enjoyed a lot.
"Come up here."
Kaarthen blushed and rolled to her feet, but her bones crackled in protest. Her bound hands did their best to swat and massage the debris off her ass. When she got close, Marcos grabbed her quickly bringing her to a seated position level to his own. He roughly rubbed and groped her breasts and body at the same time. Marcos almost hoped to see her resist his touch, but she stoically refused to fight back. He was almost disappointed as he turned and sat down in his seat across from her.
"Do you know where we are?” He started, turning away from her in his seated position.
"We are hiding near the top of a hill. You are watching and waiting for the rest of the band.” Kaarthen responded flatly, watching him turn back with an odd rectangular hexagon shaped curved plate with scattered green dried herbs. Marcos then reached over, fondled a breast, and started sucking a nipple out before milking it for a few squirts onto the plate. Grinning to himself and knowing she was watching, he the lifted a cooked meat stick and rolled it onto the plate, eliciting a sizzle as it cooled. An almost minty scent exploded as the herbs heated.
"Yes and since you have been so good I’ll let you decide what to do with them.” Marcos said, offering a first bite of the seasoned meat to her.
"What? What does that mean? Wait do not kill them...I mean...please?” Kaarthen said taken aback. She took a bite at the meat as soon as it was close enough.
"Is that all? They head for my nations lands where they will hunt the men of my army, of which I am apart. Nobody knows of the danger that only I can stop.” Marcos stated self importantly, adding, "It was my job if you remember to kill or drive off this group. Letting them wreak havoc in the borderland would only work if they went to the Astrokine side." He let that thought take root and offered her more meat.
"Well....” Kaarthen started after swallowing the delicious greasy morsel, but took another bite since the meat was still offered. Marcos watched her in interest.
His spirits soared when he saw four women crest the campsite. They didn't look like anything special. In fact, they looked just like people who just got through a good session of drama out in the wilds.
The light was fading since the sun had set. Watching them closely, they did not search or even look for their missing member. The two with lighter hair had brought from the bottom of the hill large pieces of wood. The shorter light haired one dragged a log like an ox with a plow. The other taller one directed the two twin darker Amazons to help. She did a lot of pointing for where to dump their Oofi meat. Among the meat, were a spine, hide, and attached head of the goat with one dangling forelimb. A dark haired twin who was bumbling along in some state of shock carried it in one hand.
Marcos knew by now only to expect four young amateurs. They looked pretty beat. The one dragging the log was his only interest.
The female next to him by this time was gagged again. Marcos had excellent eyesight even at night but he did not need it. The four had started to burn larger and larger tree limbs. Now they had a sky-illuminating blaze going.
It appeared they were real anxious or hungry. The cooking meat seemed to hypnotize them. One of them eventually found the helmet the female he caught used as a teapot. After showing the helmet to the others, a quick directed discussion started and ended when the obvious leader who Marco pegged for Caris, symbolically tossed the helmet away like so much trash. It was a coldly efficient thing to do since they did not have the energy, or a clue, or even a hope of getting her back from Marcos.
He turned to his captive watching her belatedly grieve the end of her identity as a Huntress. He knew she understood for a while now he was not going to release her. Clues, hints, and outright comments had been made about the rest of their journey together. Nevertheless, it was the only life she knew.
"It would be a pity for you to be alone.” He said, "So I tell you what, since you haven't a band to join, I’ll let you come with me. In capital Mavvus there are lots of things for you to do or you could stay with me and have lots of adventures."
Marcos said all this to get it out of the way. If she could not return to the band, and she denied outright coming with him, it would leave a confusing grey area of circumstances for him to control. He intentionally wasn't touching her at the moment, all to present the illusion of the choice.
"Could you just let us go to an enclave? I can't stay with you and my sisters perhaps do need to return."
"Well, no enclave outside Menthino would leave me alive. Besides, if you got to the capital you would have a chance of seeing your son.” Marcos delivered that crushing news with a casual offhand manner. The females steel grey eyes gleamed to a mirror shine at those words she looked happy for the first time. Her maternal energies bubbled to the surface and for a moment she was brighter then the fire.
"Then the rumors are true?” Kaarthen always heard some rumor that captured Amazons were turned over to the crown of Menthino by law. For some reason her people were kept out of the slave market in this way.
"What do the rumors say?” Marcos asked.
"When a slave for the crown, priestesses are not able to do the rites or spells to ensure the Amazon has a female baby. Without that, the unique Amazonian traits and appearance are manifested in the child at the whim of nature. If a male is born, they are raised in the kingdom as the Palace Guard or in the army. Other rumors I heard, said that Huntresses had fought grey-eyed eight-foot tall men. They were in head to toe black steel and bronze of Menthino's heavy assault infantry platemail. The stories said they fought like monsters."
She always wondered if the Huntresses won those fights, it would be too easy to submit shamefully. Her excitement was quite plain to Marcos as he considered the information she had. He noted she didn't mention female children, where these captive Amazons were kept, or when Menthino released them.
"Menthino will have or perhaps already has your child. As I understand, the boy children are raised in Mavvus until they join with the army" Marcos already knew the outcome of the conversation now, so he decided to shake it up.
"Have you decided the fate of your sisters?” He asked, his curiosity plainly showing.
His eyes were bothering her again, but she couldn't look at him long enough to know why. Had she ever had the terrible pleasure of meeting an immortal she would have understood.
"They should be able to return with honor even if I don't.” Kaarthen stated flatly.
Dogma incomprehensible to men or outsiders was drilled into Huntresses' heads. It demanded that the women who took hunts to make their honor return with honor, or not at all. Since no one could be forced to prove themselves in a hunt, failure is unacceptable. The point of the hunt was show the strength of the Goddess of death's children first. Secondly, it was to return with a strong child who will protect the priestesses of the future.
The Goddess demanded that the Amazon Huntress must be strong and not fail, or submit to those that are. A serious and ancient policy discussion that was unresolved thought that Huntresses should marry or serve those who defeat them, but few enclaves honored the radical novel idea.
The enclaves refuse to take in a weak or shamed Huntress and raise a child that may or may not be weak. They fear that in the future, that flaw which tends to grow with time might be the weakness, or one of the weaknesses, the kills all their children.
It was more common as most people think, many Huntresses do not return and not all of them are killed. Rarely does a group remain whole for the several hunts needed until everyone is pregnant. Few Huntresses retire, and usually quiet rumors about close encounters tell why.
Marcus had enough experience of Amazon combat to know they didn't use most weapons in honorable combat. No Huntress was allowed to use distance weapons for fighting except bolos. Most just got in close and used a foot and a half long single edged 'blade’. No Huntress wore armor except the leather mantles, helmets, the occasional shin guard, or forearm brace. Marcos knew all of the legendary Huntresses and Warrioress used longer weapons like spears, whips, and pole arms. Unsurprisingly they lived a lot longer than average.
The Sisterhood as everyone understood them, refused in its primacy throughout the world to adopt a soft outlook. They quickly unseated those who did turn the other cheek, or turned a blind eye as a matter of survival.
Their attitudes were also reflected in how they treated rival organizations and institutions. They had deposed entire royal families of many city-states. They had the patience for waiting generations for a slow or weak heir in many countries. It was not power they looked for, but continuity. They were not by their nature ignorant or blind to any threat. They were as an organization diffuse and worked in small-scattered groups. They had constant threat of attack by slavers to worry about.
Everything else in the courts throughout the land the Sisters attended was the politics of security. Ideas about feelings and politeness stopped at the word security. A true Sister understood 'Peace' only as the abstract and transient word it was.
"What decides...that?” Marcos did not like this all of a sudden. He had just watched her surface thoughts fall down a well for a moment and return going in a new direction.
"They will need men or proofs of honor. In the enclaves, Priestesses sing beautiful songs about the honor of their sister Huntresses. Without a proud return in honor, they are honor less sluts who can't prove they ran away, or submitted and spread themselves when they were unable to protect and provide for themselves.” Kaarthen spat the last part.
Marcos was surprised at her words.
Despite possessing a wealth of experience no man could claim to have, inner politics of enclaves were completely alien to him. In Menthino, a festival allowed in the enclave's temples was rare. Some stupid man always overstayed the welcome and is made to be a walking example for the rest of his life.
Marcos himself had snuck in on occasional assignments to purity temples inside the capital, usually ending in a fight against the succubae or vampires who were corrupting it. Those types were the most common to find, since a succubus is drawn to the focal point of men’s lusts. Dreams of naked women lounging, playing together, frolicking naked in the scented waters of an indoor river in a forbidden area to men, it spiked all kinds of instincts just thinking about it. Normally it is obvious when some disturbance happens. Parades and bake sales of sweet bread are held by scantily clad women wearing big smiles. Despite her fertility aspect, the Dark Mother's purity temples aren't usually confused with brothels.
Vampires usually attack the temple priestesses then pervert the religion to drink of women’s monthlies and direct people to send virgins whose blood is stronger. Marcos knew vampires were banned in the country for this and other things they did. He could only imagine what enclaves out in the wilds attract.
"They could have taken the hide of the Oofi but they would still need more.” Kaarthen continued.
Marcos thought about it, but could not see how to control those four safely, and get however many trophies needed to get them back to the enclave. However, maybe he did not need to.
"Your what, 25 summers right? You said you were the oldest here, but you weren't concerned who was in the lead. Can you challenge for leadership?" Marcos knew he was getting it wrong. These Huntresses were not wolves in a pack, but a flock of birds each with its own agenda but similar needs and destination.
"Only, if Caris were shamed somehow without magic, geas, or poison.” She stated between bites.
"Simple enough," Marcos replied. She looked at him questioningly but could not get an answer from those unsettling eyes.