Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 11

K’oughser was struggling. That much was obvious to any who had seen him these last few days. He’d moped until Eld’pol’s body was removed, dumped unceremoniously to become food for the smaller predators. Then he’d retreated into himself, not speaking or moving from the depths of the shadows where once a smaller, lighter coated lyk’osk’in could have been found. Even Ny’theri, taunting him, was unable to get a reaction. He didn’t care. Maybe he’d be better off going sl’rod’or. He wasn’t wanted by Tia’hin…his mother seemed to hate him.

The one lyk’osk’in he thought understood him…well she was dead and rotting so near to the others that her stench was an offence to their noses…and still he lost weight. Such a heavy boned species needed to eat a lot, but he’d not done that. The only time he’d moved in the last three days had been to get up and walk to the river, drinking until his aching, complaining stomach was full and then returning. He hated feeling so…alone. Lyko weren’t meant to be alone, and he could see throughout the kh’in’sha that it wasn’t so. With jaded and faded eyes, he watched as a new, tentative l’er’oma made herself known to V’leror.

Om’ia was one of the plainest lyk’osk’in that even lived in the kh’in’sha and his mother’s shadow. She was a dull grey, her coat not even shining. The only thing she had going for her was the fact that she wasn’t skinny- if anything she looked like a lyko. She was bulkier than most the lyko’a, but her eyes had almost the same kindness that Eld’pol had kept within hers. Every emotion was revealed within those blue-gold depths, but there was nothing that anyone could do to tell her otherwise.

The ceremony in which she was accepted in Eld’pol’s place was painful for K’oughser. He curled in a tighter ball, almost pleading inside for his fur to absorb what was left of Eld’pol’s and Tia’hin’s scents. They were faint now. His own scent, stronger since he was male, had taken over the place and he soon disgusted himself anew when the howls lifted. Raucous as they were, they called to something within him that he couldn’t deny, and he let out a faint, croaking howl himself.

Every eye snapped to him as he stood, legs trembling with weakness before he fixed eyes blazing with hatred upon his mother and stumbled away. He didn’t need to eat, just to drink…at least, first of all. He was tired, every time he’d closed his eyes all he had seen was Eld’pol dying in front of him…but that wasn’t the worst. The nightmares were. The times when she accused him of not being there to protect him, her only true friend in the kh’in’sha…there was nothing to keep her there bar him. Faint quivers ran down his spine at the thought.

He didn’t know why her death had hurt him so badly. She wasn’t responsible for his upbringing as much as some of the others. His head shook from side to side as he buried his muzzle in the water. It was cool and soothing to his dry throat, clearing his mind a little from the fog the nightmares had left him with. He didn’t want to be near the kh’in’sha now- there was only one way to make sure he wouldn’t be. He curled himself up in the bushes, hiding beneath them and relying on the shade to keep him hidden…and just in time as V’leror and his mother stepped past his hiding place.

“Do you think he knows?” V’leror’s voice was the first one to catch his attention. That fact wasn’t too clear, since only his ears perked up.

“No. He’s too caught up over Eld’pol. He actually thinks she cared for him.” Her cruel laughter sent a chill through his spine and almost allowed a growl to rumble in his throat until he realised that he needed to listen to the rest of what they said.

“She wasn’t the best of l’er’oma’s. At least Om’ia is easier to control. She won’t get in the way like that stupid lyko’a did. Your fight was perfect. The kh’in’sha believe that she challenged you.” He sounded…almost envious of the ath’er’in, despite the fact that her son was hiding in the bushes, listening to the conversation which could only be described as murderous.

“And you don’t care? She was your mate…or meant to be. I didn’t think you’d actually let me kill her…but I guess, knowing what she did, it was only a matter of time?” His head tilted to the side. Maybe he’d finally find out what it was that Eld’pol had meant…there had to be something. Some hint as to what they were saying…

“Of course not. She hadn’t been my mate since K’lyedan died. You know I was with her only because that’s how l’er’oma’s work best…right?” There was something in his voice that K’oughser hadn’t expected to hear. There was affection and almost like pleading…but his lip still curled in reaction.

“I know. Now come on, the den is around here…and tell the kh’in’sha to keep an eye out for K’oughser. I don’t want him ruining our plans like Tia’hin almost did. At least she’s gone now. I hope she gets torn into lum’ar’ine stripes.” Her thoughtless words seemed to spark something in V’leror that wasn’t all mushy and light; his growl was low and rippling before she paused, almost passed K’oughser now. He pulled back as she spoke, slow and careful as he tried to avoid reminding her that he’d always hidden near the water. “I’m sorry, my lyko. I didn’t mean to remind you…”

As they passed him entirely, he relaxed, his eyes narrowing slightly. Maybe there was something he could do…but to do it, he needed to be strong. From the amusement he had heard in her voice, the way he had reacted to everything was exactly what she was hoping for and that meant he needed to do the opposite. Once they were entirely out of view, their voices not even a whisper, he slipped from the bush.

There’d be food left. There was always food when a lyk’osk’in gained a normal position in the kh’in’sha. He was right when he stepped forward on somewhat shaky legs, his tail curling over his back as he forced himself in towards the nearest buck, antlers branching out on either side of its head. Without even hesitating, he ripped at the meat, gulping it down to churn with his water-lined stomach. He was voracious, snapping to either side and fighting the others off his food while making sure he demolished as much of it as he was able to.

He could hear the mutters about his temper to either side of him, but only when he felt fully glutted on the meat did he back off. A grin scrawled across his maw, hidden when he dropped his head. He had shown them all that even when he’d lost his best friend and the mentor he rarely spoke to but always admired; he wasn’t entirely down and out. His head nodded faintly before he yawned and stretched, shaking himself out before sprawling in the sun to let himself warm up.

Maybe when he put on some of the weight he’d lost, he’d go looking for Tia’hin and apologise. He could see now, after watching Eld’pol die, that he’d been wrong. She was in the right. Humans did deserve to die. They had no place in this kind of world. It was far too savage, and he could see their deaths as nothing more than a mercy killing. Who had decided they could take over this land, after all? And why should the lyk’osk’in, able to survive in the harsh world and thrive. A human couldn’t fight a lyk’osk’in. They’d all seen what happened…the human became nothing more than a faintly gristly snack.

The cold thought had him smile- and he could feel the others giving him a wide berth. He didn’t care. Tia’hin was the only one that he cared for, after all. The thought of her soothed him into relaxing, and napping in the warmth of the sun. His thoughts were no longer filled with Eld’pol or murderous ideas…instead he wondered what it was that Tia’hin was doing.

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