It would begin soon. Ursula couldn't wait. The desire for blood thrummed in her muscles, a murderous need that burned away the edge of reason.
The Blood Eagle prisoners stood stoically on the other side of the dropship bay, their scarlet and silver armors gleaming under the harsh lights. One was a confident young man of impressive physique, the other an older woman with a scarred face who met Ursula's gaze with an appraising one of her own. It was she who would be the real challenge, not the stripling.
"Don't do this, Ursa-it's a fool's game," her husband Kalamon murmured over the commlink. "For the love of Wolf, call it off."
By the Great Bitch, didn't he understand? "Kal, this isn't the damned Firetruce, so shut up! Or I'll have you down on Ymir teaching newbloods how to dig ice trenches!"
"You are the Law, Ur-Warlord," he answered stiffly. She heard the hurt and anger in his voice, but it didn't matter. The butchers had tortured her only son to death! Her son! The only thing they hadn't defiled with their knives was his face, but even that had frozen in lines of agony. She saw it every time she closed her eyes. Her boy. Carved up like a kraalbeest. There were no tears left now, only rage.
She stepped forward and addressed her two opponents. They wore light peltast armors without helmets, as did she. The only weapons were long knives and the armors themselves. Ursula clenched and unclenched her fist, felt the soft click of the armor's microservos that augmented her strength. She was ready. Her pulse thundered.
"Hear me, scrof! I am Ursula DiVaragas, warnom 'Slasher,' Ur-Warlord of the Starwolf, Leader of the Ten Thousand Knives of the Great Muster! Your kin killed my son! I claim blood-right to your lives, and the lives of all your tribe!" She threw her hands wide. "You know the terms: to the death! You win, you get freedom and passage home. I win... your carcasses go into space with the garbage."
The young butcher shifted uncomfortably. The scarred woman spat. "You expect us to believe your promises, yapper?" she said.
"You get a better chance than you gave my son!" Ursula snapped, the rage roaring up in her like a black wave. "Begin," came Kal's voice over the intercom, flat with disapproval. All three combatants blurred into motion. Ursula went for the woman first. The boy was barely past newblood, not a serious threat; he'd try to distract Ursula while the real killer moved in. She triggered her jets and hurled herself across the open bay.
The boy tried to body-block her, but he was clumsy. She twisted aside in mid-air and drove her forearm down to deflect his hurtling body with a clang, sparks flashing where the armors touched. She landed in a crouch, the boy off somewhere behind and to the right, the butcher woman coming down in a jet-assisted spin kick aimed at Ursula's unprotected head.
Bracing herself, Ursula crossed both arms in a high block to trap the other's leg, but the woman pulled the kick at the last moment, instead twisting to plant that foot on the deck and lash out in a low back kicking sweep with the other. Fast as she was, Ursula was faster, driven by sheer rage. She dove over the Blood Eagle's shoulder and slashed the woman's face open from nose to cheek to jaw, the knife tip trailing crimson in its wake. Ursula jerked her head aside and felt a razor pain in her ear, followed by something wet on her neck. The Blood Eagle grunted and leaped back, one hand covering her bloody face. Ursula heard herself laugh, shrill and tight.
A shush of jets warned her the boy was jetting back, again too recklessly. Ursula feinted forward toward the woman, then dodged to the side and buried her blade backhanded in the boy's throat, the blow's force aggravated by his own momentum and driving the parasteel into his chest past the hilt. She didn't have time to savor his death. The Blood Eagle woman counterattacked, and Ursula had to retreat without her weapon. She circled and parried with her arms, waiting for the face wound to take its toll on her enemy.
It wasn't easy. The butcher woman was good enough to give Ursula a few near brushes with death. In the end, though, the butcher simply couldn't breathe well enough with all the blood clogging her nose and throat. Within a few minutes, she faltered and left herself open.
"God curse all yappers," she managed to blurt before Ursula broke her neck with a lunging palm strike to the face.
Ursula took a few deep breaths as the rage ebbed. She felt no sense of victory. The hold smelled of recycled air and blood. She looked at the bodies and was surprised to feel tears streaming down her face. Tears! She'd thought she was done with weeping. It wouldn't bring Laram back, but maybe.... She choked out a sob. Great Wolf...!
Maybe if she killed enough of these bloody-handed, murderous scrof... maybe every last hunchin' one....
Maybe then she'd be able to cry enough for her son.
She pulled herself together. She was the leader of the Starwolf Muster and could not show weakness. "Kal," she said in a husky voice, "space this trash, will you?" She wiped her face on her arm and headed for the freshers, blood dripping from her hands.
It was a beginning.