Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 12

Tia’hin stood braced in a tree. Mud caked her legs up to her shoulders and even her muzzle was muddied. Itsy’ia was sprawled as though asleep in a patch of sunshine, her legs stretched out as she stretched before relaxing. Below Tia’hin, Rap lay hidden in a bush, his entire body tense with anticipation. They could all hear the crashing made by the lyko, bolting toward the den…but what he didn’t know was going to be his downfall. Tia’hin curled her lip as she spotted him, an unusually dark lyko.

Her ears were perked forward as he landed heavily on the ground, Itsy’ia startling up as though awakened and then glaring at him. Their voices carried clearly, Sak’kar having no reason to keep his voice down.

“So, where is this ath’er’in? And kh’in’sha? Hmm? All I can smell is freshly dug earth.” His voice was so arrogant as to make Tia’hin bristle.

“Come too close, and you’ll feel my teeth. I’ve had it with you, Sak’kar. You aren’t any good. You are sl’rod’or. Not wanted by a kh’in’sha.” His entire bearing seemed to change suddenly. His lips curled back in a rage and he snarled at her.

“What did you call me?” His voice had gone low, almost too quiet to be heard. Itsy’ia merely curled her lip and backed up, circling carefully around towards the den.

“Sl’rod’or. That’s all you are. All you are willing to be because you think you can be ath’er’in when you aren’t even I’ee’di. No kh’in’sha would take you in, would they? They’re not silly enough to; you are a waste…ridiculous.”

He didn’t even bother to reply to her. His lips curled back and he roared his rage. Powerful hind-legs tensed and coiled before releasing. He launched himself at the female, watched by Tia’hin and Rap…and they launched their own silent attack from behind. As the dog threw his weight at the dog, Tia’hin roared at him. Between the twin shocks, he stumbled, collapsing into the deep pit they’d spent the last three days digging out and hiding. Not deep enough to harm him, it was still too deep and not wide enough for him to leap out of easily.

Itsy’ia cringed, trembling to Tia’hin’s side and the white female, liberally coated in mud as she was groomed her.

“Easy, my l’er’oma. Let him calm down, down there. We shall see if he changes his mind about being part of our kh’in’sha. I should think he will…if he has any kind of sense…” She stepped loose of the lyko’a, stepping almost to the edge of the hole and peering down into it…to be met by eyes filled with hatred. She grinned faintly, curling her lips into what could be considered a smile.

“Enjoy your time there, Sak’kar. When you are calm and worn…that is when we shall talk. We don’t want you to be sl’rod’or forever, after all. That’s not the sort of thing a fine lyko like you needs!” Without listening to his snarls and threats, she turned tail on him, slinking to Rap and Itsy’ia.

“Let us hunt dinner and feed our…guest. That lyko would enjoy food and it may go some way to sating this wrong he believes we’ve offered him. After all, we can’t have our…guest hating us like that…can we?” Her words were accepted by the pair, their tails wagging in time before they all disappeared into the trees.

When they slipped back through, blood seemed to have sprayed across their bodies as though warring with the mud for quantity. Itsy’ia and Tia’hin were dragging enormous haunches of meat, barely able to pull them with even their immense jaw power. Rap had a smaller piece, trotting proudly along with it clutched between single rows of slightly serrated molars. Their tails all wagged in time, though not exactly the same way- not all left to right, or right to left.

Sak’kar was still growling and muttering within his little prison, though he soon fell upon the haunch Rap dropped down to him. It was just enough to shut his voice up, while Itsy’ia and Tia’hin fed themselves on the biggest haunch. They were starved, and Itsy’ia of them all needed to gain vital weight. Already, just a few days with decent meals and rest were doing their job to make her coat look neater. It wasn’t as patchy now, much prettier and she had gained vital weight. No longer looking like a walking skeleton, she ate with fresh gusto.

Tia’hin was proud of her for clawing back from death so quickly. Her tail wagged back and forth as she watched her, Rap soon trotting to her side to clean her maw from the blood sprinkled up it. The fact that the pair of them were such a mismatched pair only made her amusement greater. Just to see a dog and lyk’osk’in sharing prey easily, not a fight between them. It gave her hope for her plan, made her tail stir faintly before she stretched and wandered towards Sak’kar. Her head tilted to the side as she watched him, his coat almost as black as the shadows he was engulfed in.

“Talk to me, Sak’kar. Tell me why you went sl’rod’or.” Now he’d been fed, it seemed that his temped had been soothed as he peered up at her with eyes of startling gold.

“I was born into a kh’in’sha far from here- up in the mountains where the lum’ar’ine roam in greater numbers. Because of those, we were smaller, nowhere near as big as we needed to be. The cats massed, got rid of us. In the rush to leave, I lost my kh’in’sha. When I called for them, they didn’t answer. When I hunted for them, their scents weren’t there. I couldn’t find them, no matter what I did.”

His head dropped and her fur prickled faintly as his voice dropped.

“Nowhere wants a lyko…not one that looks like me. They like the ones that hide in the branches and attack swiftly. I’m like you are. A misfit, wrong and out of place, now you answer me this. What made you dig a hole to catch me?” His voice came out commanding and she arched an eyebrow in question before growling faintly.

“Humans do it to kill us. I just knew you’d struggle, being bigger than us lyko’a to be able to get out. You weren’t harmed, so you are safe there, aren’t you?”

“When can I go free? Since I’m not hurt at all.” Her head tilted to the side, and she huffed her laughter out between slightly stiff black lips.

“Well, when you make your mind up about your actions, that’ll tell me when you can come out. I’m not gonna let you free for you to attack us again. I’m not an ath’er’in for no reason, and you know I’m not, don’t you? You can sense my power, right?”

He shook his head at her, frowning faintly before wrinkling his muzzle and sitting down.

“Yes. I can. You are ath’er’in. I don’t want to hurt you though. I want to have Itsy’ia. I’ve wanted her from the moment I saw her. She’s gorgeous. Wonderful, the perfect lyko’a to be forever at my side.” His words sent foreboding firing through her veins and she frowned, snarling down at him. Almost about to bound down there, only the thought of being trapped held her up top, where she was safe.

“No, Sak’kar. She’s mine. My l’er’oma. Not yours, or anything to do with yours unless you decide to join the kh’in’sha and wipe out the humans. They are the real threat to us. Not the lum’ar’ine or the others of our kind. No lyk’osk’in will be sl’rod’or if they join me in forcing the humans out.”

She was sounding him out slowly, her voice cautious before her tail wagged and she backed away to leave him to his thoughts. As one, the trip above ground disappeared into the den to sleep the evening away, stretched out comfortably with Rap resting his head on Itsy’ia’s hip and his tail curled over Tia’hin’s leg. He didn’t sleep, exactly. Every sound kept him awake, which was why he was the first to see the black grasping claws and nose protruding from the hole the lyko shouldn’t have been able to have escape from.

As his mouth widened to yelp out the warning, the lyko gave a massive heave of his shoulders and tugged himself free from the hole, landing with a snarl.

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