Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 4

“Here Rap. Come on, lad! Come here!” The sharp cries of his master woke the dog from his slumber. The shrill whistle that followed made his ears fold back against his head and a whimper spill from his ears. Despite what he’d said, he didn’t want to go back, not really. A quiver ran across his spine as the insistent cries carried on, coming to a head almost above him. He stayed still and quiet, one ear perked as he listened to the humans talking.

“He must have died as well. That beast didn’t leave much of the others, did it? He’d be nothing more than a mouthful for them.” He didn’t recognise the voice speaking, but the one that followed made his ears perk and the quiver that roamed his body even more intense.

“Unless it ate him, bones and fur…there’s nothing to show that he’s dead. He was about to become my best dog, with Babbit dead. You know that Chase will never be the same again and Jaffe…well she was better off dead. So old, all it did was save me feeding her again.”

That such a small price was placed upon their heads made Rap cringe close to the ground, suddenly grateful for the fact that he’d retired into the safety of Tia’hin’s den. He watched from the small exit, clearly unnoticed by the humans. Their feet appeared in his vision, and he drew back. He didn’t want them to be dragged back there again. It would have killed him.

One of the moon-cats darted across the clearing and he flinched once again when a blade pinned it to the ground, shrieking and spitting with the fury of any cat. The humans laughed at it, spinning endlessly as it fought to get off. The scent of blood grew stronger as the claws tore furrows through the dirt until their feet tore the life from the battered cat.

He was disgusted when they left it, not even taking the body for skinning- as Rap knew they were meant to. It made his hackles lift slowly before he growled and shook his head. A moon-cat was a struggle for any creature to kill, but the humans didn’t seem to care and that…bothered him. They were gentle beasts until faced, but to see one in the light? That was rather disturbing. They were a creature better suited to being in the dark; Rap had heard them complain about not being able to see in the light whenever the humans had hunted and brought him along for ‘experience’.

He shook his head at the thought of that first death. He’d never forgotten the way the moon-cat’s silvery eyes had stared at him as though he were to blame for the way that it died. He’d cowered away, cringing back from the sight then but now…now he had a job to do. His paws dug through the dirt, widening a natural dip in the land until it was large enough for the dusty cat.

Pulling the blade from the ground was hard. His teeth slipped and he slashed his lips and gums before managing to get it free. The wounds stung, of course, but he was pleased to be able to rest the body out of sight. His teeth clung lightly on the scruff of the cat when he did move it, eventually putting it in the most relaxed position he could before burying it.

When the cat was entirely gone from view, he nodded and relaxed with a faint sigh. There was one less sight for him to worry about. With a single twitch of his tail, he turned and vanished back into the den, keeping out of sight and safe. His stomach might have complained quietly, but he didn’t. He wanted to be here when Tia’hin returned. He had a lot to ask of her. He wanted to learn more about the lyk’osk’in, about what Tia’hin meant by him being kept here. Safety was important to them both; he’d noticed that from the second she’d dragged him on the run towards this place.

Curled in the den, he had the thought of Tia’hin lingering in his mind. Was she safe? She was injured, after all. She’d taken off into the trees in a way that almost startled him. Knowing she’d come from there on the attack had meant nothing to him, though he tilted his head. Maybe I could learn to climb trees like that. It’d help me keep away from going back to the master. If he left Babbit and Jaffe die and wasn’t bothered…well what kind of creature was he really? I’d not treat a rabbit that way, let alone someone that had stayed in my pack for so long.

He quivered briefly at that memory. Who knew what would have happened to him, if the master had gotten hold on him once again. He didn’t want to live a life of subservience followed by being led to slaughter. It didn’t bother him in the slightest that now he was wild, he would probably die a young, painful death. That wasn’t something he wanted to keep in his mind; not now that he was roaming free and under the guidance and protection of a beast that his old master had feared so much that he’d killed each one that he’d happened across.

They were easy to track, or so he’d heard. It was the claws that made them dangerous which left clear marks on common routes taken. Those, alongside the scars from many crossings made by the beasts that were a large party of their number made them easy to catch. He whined softly. Loneliness was making itself known; he felt a frisson of it along his veins whenever he stopped thinking. There had to be something he could tell Tia’hin to help keep her pack alive…though he was certain that they’d call it something different to that.

As soon as he was left alone to his thoughts entirely, the tiredness taking him over and he dropped his head to the ground. Dust billowed underneath him and he sneezed a few times. He was still tired, still drained from the headlong rush here and the horror of watching his former master murder a creature of the world he now found himself part of. He found himself unable to close his eyes for long; his paws twitching viciously against the ground.

He saw the cat each time, accusation clear upon the eyes that weren’t able to see in direct light, but could see all too easily the guilt on his heart. He sighed soon, unable to cope with the strain of being guilty before he was standing on weary, quivering paws. He wandered out the den and sat under the trees, head tilting to the side as he inhaled. Tia’hin’s scent was strongest here, but still faint. Fainter still were the scents of the others that had once roamed here. That was a time he couldn’t imagine; there was nothing to make him imagine such a thing…that was a life he didn’t understand.

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