Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 9

Rap had sat for ages, just watching Itsy’ia as she wandered around the den and sniffed everything. His nose may have wrinkled in confusion, but he soon shrugged himself into a lounging position, not far from where he’d buried the moon-cat. He felt soothed here, as though he could feel the spirit of the moon-cat watching over him and keeping him safe. That thought had his tail wagging as his head drifted to his paws and he sank, not into sleep, but into a memory.

Babbit was trying to train him to follow a scent, but he just couldn’t do it. The dog was getting annoyed with him, his voice a harsher bark each time he had to correct Rap. His paw was even worse. He cuffed him around the head, knocking him to the ground with a yelp that had the humans running. He was cossetted by them, though he didn’t know why. Smaller than the others, he was no good for the pulling or carrying. No good for hunting, when only that was expecting of him. His mother…well her he’d forgotten, as did all pups when taken to their masters.

He sighed softly, remembering the joy Babbit had shown when he’d finally followed a true scent-trail back to its root. The big old dog had given him his most prized bone, unceremoniously, but Rap had treated it like food from the hand of his master. Babbit had been the best tracker among them, and that had been something he strived to teach the younger pups, each time he was near them.

He was shaken from recollecting his thoughts by a clawed paw, prodding at his shoulder and knocking him over. His yelp was ringing, but he soon stood up, lifting his head and tilting it at the female curiously.

“Tell me about yourself…Rap.” Her words, like Tia’hin’s were a command and he reacted with a wagging tail and a happy little grin.

“Well, my name is Rap. I’m a dog and I used to have a master who lived in that village. I’m almost two years old and apparently the way I look is pretty. My old master was going to use me as a tracker because I was no good as a hunter. I…I don’t like the sight of blood, between you and me.” He lowered his voice at that, keeping it secretive before his maw spread in another cheerful grin. “I was going to be used as a breeder as well. My master thought I’d make good puppies but I’d have a lot of mates.”

He could see the look on her face dawn with question, but he pressed his nose against her maw to silence her.

“Dogs don’t settle with one mate. We are often in short supply, so we males get passed around the villages. It means we never breed with someone we’re related to.” His words seemed to spark some sort of comprehension in her as she wagged her tail faintly and nodded. “I was a terrible tracker, at first. My master wasn’t happy with me. He…he did hit us, occasionally. But only when we upset him.”

Why he was pushed to reassure the lyk’osk’in, he didn’t know. He huffed through his nose before wrinkling his nose faintly.

“Not that being hit at all should happen. We’re not ready for this sort of thing ever…to try and face creatures such as yourselves. The humans…they have brains enough for themselves without using our strength.” HE growled softly, letting the thoughts roll through his mind and out his mouth as he pondered. “Why they need us for anything else other than beasts of burden, I don’t know. They used to use horses, but now…well only those that have power have horses still.”

“What are horses?” Itsy’ia broke in quickly, her voice as curious as her eyes were bright. Her head tipped to the side and her tail flicked left to right.

“Horses were…a bit like deer. Deer but larger, no antlers. They were tamed by the humans, too. That helped. Horses could be larger, too. That’s always an exciting thing to see. I’ve seen a horse in my time. It’s not as good as it could be…a horse kicking is…well, it hurts. They kick their feet out, and they break ribs. I wager they could even carry a beast like yourself when fully grown.”

She shivered in excitement at his words, tail wagging faintly before she lifted her head and snorted at him.

“I could take one. So could Tia’hin. Even when hurt, she could hunt a deer. You can see how strong she is.” She had what was clearly a case of hero worship going on, but Rag’s merely wagged his tail again and shifted his position.

“I’ve seen her fit. She took down two dogs and frightened third so she ran. Three hunters, which means they aren’t as easy-going as me. Babbit, one of those to die last…he was the best hunter you can imagine. He was fun. Believe me…when he wasn’t hunting, he was a lot of fun.”

The sigh that fell through his lips was wistful before he shook himself off. There had to be something better he could talk about…and with a bounce, he worked out what that was.

“And, I found out that we were once related to you. Dogs were once related to the lyk’osk’in. We…well we just call you the wolf-like beasts. I’m sorry…we didn’t know you had your own name for your own species. Just as the moon-cats…you call them the lum’ar’ine, don’t you?” His head tilted to the side as he squirmed in rather excited enthusiasm. A huff and thump of something hitting the ground had the pair twisting.

Rap found himself behind Itsy’ia in a sudden rush, the lyko’a snarling defensively as a grey smoky shape shifted through the trees towards them. They backed up together, disappearing down into the easily defended den while the shape prowled ever closer. Rap remained hidden, safe behind the lyk’osk’in lyko’a while she risked everything.

“Get away! My ath’er’in and kh’in’sha will return, beast!” Her voice snapped out, making him jump behind her hip before she settled against him, listening intently to the argument going on ahead of him.

“Kh’in’sha? None has stepped paw or whisker here in a long time, lyko’a. I smell humans and two of you. Something else which could be faintly familiar and lum’ar’ine. That’s it. Don’t lie to me. I won’t let you do that to me. Just…don’t lie. Don’t talk, either, if you can’t tell the truth to me.” Her laugh was underlined with a growl and a snap towards his muzzle, which Rap only heard because of the crash of teeth and the quick dance of his feet backwards.

“Fine, lyko’a. I’ll leave you be for now. Better hope your ath’er’in and the farce of a kh’in’sha return soon. Otherwise I’ll claim you for my own…I’m sure with some meat on your bones you’d learn your place and become a decent beast, hmmm?” His voice had Rap’s hackles lifting, but he didn’t dare add his own growl to the lyko’a. Her sound rumbled his body constantly until all sound and scent of the lyko was gone, and then she slipped out, turning so Rap couldn’t leave.

“Stay here, little dog. Talk to me, so I don’t chase him down…I won’t leave you unprotected. Tia’hin would have my throat for that, and I think we both know she would.” Her words made sense to the dog, and his tail wagged a little before he nuzzled himself against her neck affectionately.

“Tell me more about your world, Itsy’ia. I want to know more of the lyk’osk’in.” His ears pricked even higher, if such a thing were possible, before wagging faintly.

“Well…males of our species are lyko. Females are called lyko’as. We’re pretty easy to tell apart. Lyko’as are smaller. We’re generally lighter on our feet whereas the lyko are all brawn. Leaders, as you may know by now, are called ath’er’in.” Rap nodded, his head lifting for a second as though thinking before his lips spread in a grin.

“To us dogs, the leaders are the alphas. I can almost see the similarity…” There wasn’t much else for him to stay as Itsy’ia growled her amusement softly, before carrying on.

“L’er’oma are the second in command. There are normally two pairs of us, each pair consisting of one lyko and one lyko’a. And when the ath’er’in get too old to breed, they are allowed to. Next up, you have the I’an’in. They rule after the l’er’oma. There’s only ever one pair of those. They aren’t as dominant, they wouldn’t take control if the ath’er’in died or lost their position. The rest of the kh’in’sha are called collectively I’dra’is. That’s just their total name, though each are named individually.”

“Finally, we have the I’ee’di. They are both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. They are as far from being dominant as you would be in a kh’in’sha. They aren’t fighters, which is why they are a weakness, yet they can calm down an ath’er’in on a rampage. That male…Sak’kar…I knew him from my time alone. I never refer to him by name unless I have to. He…wanted me to be ath’er’in with him. I didn’t want to be with him. I’m not his kind of female; I can promise you and him that. However, Rap. I think you should have your own lyk’osk’in name. I think…Ir’shy works for you.” He stared at her in amusement before growling his laughter and shaking his head.

“I think leaving it for Tia’hin will be the best idea. She’s the ath’er’in, right?” His voice was musing before he growled in amusement, his head shaking faintly. “She’ll be here shortly, I imagine.”

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