The Thrown Gauntlet "Must we listen to these constant excuses for failure...?"
"It is not for us to judge their experience."
"No. Their trials have already done that for them..."
It was the way of their kind. A rite of passage. The young venturing out into the very society from which their hosts had been taken. Humanity had often been plentiful and many were born from them. They were to find things of value, tribute and return it to be shared, so as to prove their worth.
But recent times had procured less in the way of success.
Nalia had come from one such creature, choosing to wear its guise as a statement of such. The meeting had been convened to discuss mankind and proving her heritage was a badge of honour in such circumstances; a reminder of knowing the subject matter.
And it was she who provided the leading voice of criticism now.
"These are not accidents of discovery. The apes are learning."
"Learning, you say? Learning what? Petty squabbles, inability to demonstrate superiority, a lack of cohesion - these crust-dwellers are nothing."
"And yet, is it not this nothingness which spreads with viral ingenuity? Quenching war, yes, but doing so through nuclear fire... I like that part. It carries weight."
The other creature's pleasure in the latter didn't have to be shown in a facial expression. Humanity might be seen as relatively weak, by their standards, but one didn't have to like a species in order to find things within it to respect.
The historical advent of atomic warfare was one of them. A rare moment when even they sat up and took notice of mankind's newest achievement. The demonic equivalent of taking a fresh look at something and wondering if their might be some merit to its, after all.
"Any disease festers in the absence of a cure," Nalia glowered, spitefully. She, for one, not willing to see humanity as more than a simple common resource. "And if what the youngest of our spawn now claim is true, we are not opposed through strength of arms. No, our ways are held at bay by mere word of mouth. They use machines like livestock and we are meant to fear this?"
"Our spawn are no weaker, Nalia... There is no dilution of our kind."
"Find better hosts!"
"It is not the bodies... And our essence is not at fault. Yet you have doubts?"
"I do - no action is taken! No course corrected! Whatever this schism's cause, we must act..."
Which spoke to the core of Nalia's methods. Her militant ways were in the best traditions of their kind. If there was a barrier, an obstacle to overcome, then she would favour breaking through it, not going around. Would simply take, when and where they could.
And while she viewed this news of younger generations being less able to complete their trials than in her day, as suspicious, Nalia still wanted it dealt with. This meeting was more a way to discuss how, not if.
"Hm, then there is your task. If you think it simple, give proof."
"You seek to test me?"
"No. You test yourself. And you test our patience by asking for sacrifice when you offer none."
"A lacking task, indeed..."
She had answered with disdain. To voluntarily send herself out on the same tasks of infiltration occupied by their young, Nalia saw as beneath her. She led raiding parties, at worst. Commandeered strikes into the territory of other subterranean races and took survivors in the harshest possible way. She carved their collective reputation in blood and chitin - and now was being suggested to undertake a whelp's calling?
"Then take as you please. Find things of worth. But gauge these beasts... Dwell amongst them. See what must be seen. Give the solution to the riddle faced by our young."
"A bloodless victory."
"Perhaps... Perhaps not. Maybe the survivor's path is what you need. A song of metal and flesh... If you can't hold true to what was done in youth, why should others follow your lead?"
"So, I am to be occupied with trivia... Very well. I will undertake the task which age prevents others from trying."
Even amongst the demonic, tribal politics was in play. Perhaps one amongst them hoped for her to fail. Wanted her exiled for failure or humbled in some fashion. One did not gain her status by being pleasant. But Nalia's last comment was barbed... She had accepted the challenge and was demonstrating it was being perceived, not submissively, but with a warrior's instinct of willingness to collect bounty from the surface-dwellers and prove her own views as correct.
A would-be position of weakness being shifted into one of control.
"I shall go," she imparted, nodding with a predatory glare. Stepping down from podium in readiness to leave. "I shall go and return in example for our young. You will find that time most educational, I am sure..."
It was a gamble. Risky. Nalia had ventured back into humanity's path only rarely since her own time of birthing and never for extended visitation. This, though... It was an opportunity. Success would mean almost as much popular support as the conquest of territory.