Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 13

K’oughser was quiet as he watched the kh’in’sha. They were moving warily- a state that wasn’t normal for them and he found that he didn’t like it. Om’ia was walking around as though on crushed bone with pierced pads, her every step taken as though agony rippled up her body. He was in a tree watching them, unseen and hopefully unscented. He knew they were missing him now. He’d vanished into the tree canopy as soon as he knew he would retch his food onto the ground and remained there. This was his home as well as the ground and he needed to be as at home up here as Tia’hin was if he wanted any hope of following her.

As that thought rolled through his mind, his ears perked and he leaned forward…maybe he could follow his mother. He leaped from tree to tree, taking the easiest jumps to minimise risk of exposure. His nose flared constantly as he kept an ear out for the sounds of her. He wanted to know what it was she did with all the time she was away from them. A kh’in’sha was meant to be around their ath’er’in all the time, but they weren’t that lucky.

She was often away, down that mysterious path that led behind her den…and that was where he headed now. He used his head as he’d been taught, going out wide then swinging around to come in close- before falling back with a muffled curse. V’leror was asleep in the only tree where he needed to jump, and the only way around was to go to the ground…and once there, the others would spot him.

He narrowed his eyes before taking off upwards, climbing a few branches higher and then perching there, watching to see when the l’er’oma moved. And he was lucky, more than lucky. Om’ia wandered up, her soft voice waking V’leror. In a muffled woof, his voice rang out and with his mind scrambled by sleep; he leaped down and followed her off. In an instant, K’oughser darted off, taking past that branch while barely letting his own paws settle there. He didn’t want to leave a scent, and nothing would more than the sweat that poured from his paw-pads.

When he was past that branch he slowed again. It wouldn’t do to be reckless and be caught, even he knew that. His every leap now was considered carefully…but it became dizzying the further he went. He got turned about, twisted around and it confused him even further, making his head shake before he descended to the bottommost boughs of the trees. The dizziness eased faintly, but he had become turned about and it befuddled him.

His forehead creased before he turned back, but every time he went to jump his own scent was in front of him, confusing him about the route he had taken. He sneezed briefly before dropping heavily to the ground, groaning as vertigo rolled over him, clenching him. He was held in its grip so tightly that his stomach lurched as though he were falling from a tree, and though he knew that ground cradled his forcibly relaxed body, he was heaving.

Choking up the remains of his meal burned in his throat, choking him so much that the silver moon became two, and then three in his vision. He heard the sound of paws that must have been daintier than his own hitting the ground delicately before a delicately spotted paw with almost threateningly curved claws appeared before his tear-dashed vision. He snorted and shook; trembling as he tried to lift his head only to groan as dizziness again assailed him.

“Easy little lyko. You are in safe paws, the guardian of this place will see to it. Just sleep. Sleep the moon away and when you awaken you shall be safe and back with your kin, where you belong. Sleep…” The voice trailed in his mind, floating as the moon did, becoming two from three then returning to the single peeping eye in the tree, the clearing around him empty of the being he knew he’d imagined.

Sleep took him over then, kidnapping him into a world where the men walked on all fours and the animals ruled- a world where numbers were dictated by food and territory. No wars needed to be thought, because all were equal. The lyk’osk’in lived peacefully, even amongst themselves and the lum’ar’ine kept to the treetops, worshipping the moon in strange rituals he was certain involved killing the odd human. Being a dream, of course, it all made sense to K’oughser.

Humans had damaged the earth before, and it wasn’t until recently that nature had fully taken back what was rightfully hers to give to her wild children. Why should animals rule the earth? Without their minds and the stolen tools from the world around them, humans would have been nothing more than the lowliest of prey- left for the pups to learn on while the adults went after the real kills.

As soon as he woke, standing with a start and swaying, the dream faded entirely and K’oughser was left with a wagging tail as he sought to remember what he’d been doing before. He frowned, narrowly pulled to the thought of running through the trees as he once had with Tia’hin…then nothing at all.

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