Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 1

The voices of the Lyk’osk’in were silent in the air. The reason for that was covering the outside of a wooden fence, causing fear to become stuck in their hearts every time they received a sniff of the sour scent that were the pelts of their own rotting slowly away. The creatures were pinned to the fence, skinned of their bodies as a warning to not cross the humans cowering away in the safety of their dens- but even there, they were watched.

Glittering green and gold eyes watched the almost prey-like scurrying of the humans below, their heads tilting to follow a specific target. There was one human who stank of their kind and blood and it irritated them…but they were swift and silent as they leaped from tree to tree. For such an enormous built creature, the lupine creatures were oddly suited for the trees as well as the ground, evolution having built them into a creature that could withstand anything.

Almost simultaneous thumps sounded on the ground as the two young creatures landed within a step of each other. Their eyes were glittering as they hurried through the trees, bodies twining about before they found a familiar territory marker and were able to relax. This was their home, their territory and the one place they knew they’d be safe should everything do wrong.

“Quickly K’oughser. V’leror and your mother will be looking for us, and you know what will happen should she catch us here…we need to get deeper in the forest.”

A creamy coat bared her to the view of all that looked for her, and she knew it. She wasn’t able to blend in unless winter had come…and that was some time off. She shivered a second before K’oughser licked her cheek, nosing into her neck to try and calm her with his bulk.

“Easy now, no one we knew was on there. Did you not see the Lum’ar’ine pelts? They seem to be doing what they did before- killing us all off before we end up hurting them…before we win back this land they stole from us.”

His voice did much to calm her, shown by the way her triple coat settled upon her back and her tail wagged. She huffed a quiet thanks to him, meant for his ears only as she avoided looking into those green-gold eyes that saw too much with her. She shook herself off before gathering the immense muscles in her chest and catapulting herself back up and into the trees. There was safety there, for humans never looked up and many had died beneath the bulk of the Lyk’osk’in armies…lost their lives to tooth and jaw so strong that they’d risen swiftly from near extinction to being the most prolific creature here.

K’oughser swiftly followed his adopted sister-cum-best friend. Her tail lashed his face as she sought to reach the higher boughs of the trees…but they were foiled by the imperious snarl of his mother. He jumped and twisted, landing with a bang on his side but he was down. He shook his head as he watched the more graceful manner in which Tia’hin landed. Her paws were almost silent but she burrowed her head beneath her paws as she submitted to her Ath’er’in.

“Our apologies, Ny’theri. We were exploring the territory and-”

A paw thumped at the end of her nose, missing it by just more than a whisker was all that stopped her, but she went silent as though teeth had threatened to crush her skull.

“Do you think we were born yesterday, Tia’hin? You need to stop leading K’oughser astray. You are here only on our good will, and because we were allies with your parents. Otherwise your skin would likely be adorning the human habitation now. They’d want yours; for all that it is a horrible colour to us.” The insults rolled from her lips easily, her ears perched back as each layer of the thick coat prickled and she turned to the scarred face L’er’oma at her side. “She needs punishing, V’leror.”

He was silent for a moment. His paws were still and his eyes were almost far-seeing before he nodded and smiled faintly.

“Let her hunt with the others, Ath’er’in. She’ll learn not to take the young K’oughser from us then, won’t she? And he has to tell us where they keep disappearing to. I know it’s the trees, but that’s about all.” His grey and black coat blended in with the trees around them as they stood still and silent. Ny’theri smiled faintly and nodded her head before growling at Tia’hin.

“I agree…but I want you to hunt with the night group. You’ll face the Lum’ar’ine if you leave that patrol. They’ll chew you up and spit you out. Even V’leror wasn’t able to get the best of them at first. Their eyes make them stronger than us, remember that, you impudent pup!”

Her voice was filled with such hate that she cringed back, rolling onto her side and submitting with a whine. She didn’t argue the sentence, instead waiting until the three faded as one into the spaces between the trees. Her nose widened as she drew in the scents around her, and when she judged them to be utterly gone, she sat. Forlorn, her head dropped and Tia’hin whimpered. She didn’t exactly cry- she knew better than to let weakness of that sort spill over her. Instead she mourned her parents, killed by the humans when she was no more than a year old.

The fact that she needed them still hurt, but not as much as the memory of the pair leaving, the Kh’in’sha roaming behind her and leaving just herself and one lone Lyk’osk’in behind. When the Kh’in’sha returned, it was greatly diminished, missing more than half their number and with blood splattering the ground behind them. She remembered bolting to them, snarling out demands for her parents…but no one could meet her eyes, and it angered her.

About to set off in pursuit of the faint scent-trail remaining, the L’er’oma had staggered weakly to his feet to confront the panicking lyko’a, softening her frenzy with a gentle nose. Soft whines spilled into the air between them as he told them of the humans attack, how her parents had fought side by side as Ath’er’in should…only to be overwhelmed. The rest hadn’t stopped to protect them; running for their own cowardly lives and returning to now the only one they knew as leader- a pup too young to rule them.

It had been her decision, and that of the old L’er’oma to turn to their nearest allies- the Kh’in’sha which Ny’theri and her mate ruled with discipline. She’d welcomed them in, taken the others without an argument, but the light-coated lyko’a was ignored and forgotten in the rush. She’d sat and watched with saddened eyes while the others celebrated until knocked to the ground by a massive grey shape. She yelped but scrambled up, using her nose to assess the scent between them.

Lyko out-sized their female counterparts by some margin, and he was no different. She was slender but fast, and with a temper to match. She had driven him backwards, using him as a scapegoat for the grief that had her mourning. Even after he had been punished and torn by her, his laughing face and eyes remained at her side. When he stood to answer his mother’s call, he made sure she followed with him, keeping her at his back where he knew she’d be safest.

She shook herself now, reminding herself that her parents’ death and that of K’oughser’s father were long in the past. She needed to put those thoughts behind her, and remember that the only thing that mattered was the revenge she was going to get on the humans for tearing her world and life apart. She was a lyk’osk’in with a reason to kill, and kill she would.

As she let anger flow through her instead of pain and worry, she straightened up. Ny’theri may have wanted her to die, but she was determined that that would not happen. She’d not only survive the nights hunting, but she’d make sure she’d bring pride to the kh’in’sha that she now found herself a part of. Her body shook for a second as each layer of her coat bristled in anticipation. Maybe she’d finally be allowed to kill something tonight, and in this mood? She didn’t care if it was another lyk’osk’in, food or even a lum’ar’ine.

She took to the trees to head to the den, her route so familiar to her that she kept less than half her mind upon her movements. The rest she found to be on the spotted cats that were only seen by night. She’d heard the others say that they could be seen mainly by their eyes- glowing in the faint light. V’leror had stumbled upon a group one night, it was said, and had fallen afoul of the scything claws.

He’d escaped with his vision, but a savage scar had been left behind. He was touchy about it, hatred for the cats said to stalk his blood and colour his dreams with violence and blood. She almost itched to find one, but it was humans that she really hated. Her teeth bared as she leaped, forgetting as she did so that the branch she used to use had crashed under her weight just the night before. She fell towards the ground with a snarl, landing on a smaller, flimsier branch than she’d planned.

That she’d broken her fall shook the distraction from her, and she straightened herself up. A sigh rippled her sides before she shook her head. If she ever wanted to be a lyko’a, one that could be an ath’er’in, then she needed to focus. Now alert to her surroundings, she took to the higher branches, her slender, lighter weight helping her to keep control as she neared the den. She was ready for the final two leaps, something she enjoyed doing when she was showing off her greater skill.

She was higher than normal, that much was clear as she stared down at the gathered kh’in’sha. They were milling about, clearly waiting for something to happen. Tia’hin didn’t want to disappoint them, running straight down the tree to the next branch. From there she plummeted down, as sure-footed as any lum’ar’ine that could wander. Her claws gouged rents in the bark, slowing her as she reached the next branch with a barely heard thump.

From here, she couldn’t see if Ny’theri, V’leror or K’oughser were somewhere in the others, but she didn’t care. The bough she was on bent under her weight as she stepped out, full of confidence. Her voice lifted in a howl as she drew attention to her light coat and the way she was perched so precariously on the edge of disaster. The branch continued to bow under her weight as she stepped forwards before shifting her position and jumping.

Though many of her kin would have ignored her, she felt almost every pair of eyes on her as the ground whipped up towards her. She shifted position in the air, twisting with cat-like precision to land on her paws. She landed hard; not as she’d wanted, as one leg crumbled beneath her- however she’d survived.

Claws, then paws slammed into her shoulder, and she screamed in surprise. Her entire body trembled as she felt the weight on her, pinning her to her side as she tried to look past eyes made glassy from shock and pain to her attacker. The voice in her ear slowly her panic down, easing her into a more relaxed position as she growled softly.

“Are you stupid or just reckless? You aren’t allowed to kill yourself, you lyko’a fool! You are meant to be here, for as long as you can and until we can get our revenge on the humans. Mother wants to kick you out, and your idiotic actions are going to lead to that happening! Do you not want to know where she as Ath’er’in goes each full moon? You’ll never know unless you start to listen!”

She snorted softly as K’oughser harangued her, her ears flattening as he ground her face deeper into the dirt before turning away in disgust.

“Get up, go sleep. I’ll see if I can join you tonight, otherwise you’ll end up doing something stupid. I know what you are like, Tia’hin. Remember that, you are like a sister to me…or an impudent lyko’a pup that wants nothing more than to act the big lyk’osk’in but will run at the first sign of trouble. Set a good example if you ever wish to be an ounce of the ath’er’in your mother was.”

She growled at his words as she rolled cautiously to her paws, limping towards her normal group of lyko’a for a nap. She curled on the ground with them, her tail curved across one back-paw before she sighed and yawned. Being this courageous wasn’t easy when she was consumed with revenge, but it had to be done. She knew she’d not be able to rest properly until she could get her own back on the humans that had ripped her future, and the love of her parents, from her. There was something in her that pulled towards vengeance, and even as she slept, she let dreams of slaughtering humans roam her mind.

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