Torn Loyalties

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Chapter 7

“I was born to a kh’in’sha not far from here. We weren’t a large one, my mother and father kept our numbers down. The humans…they built that village in the middle of our hunting grounds. We were unable to hunt properly before they found us. We were running, not be the chaser. We weren’t large enough to force them off. I was the only one to survive their traps.” Her voice was soft as she remembered, her head dipping lower before she sighed.

“I didn’t know how to hunt alone, so I’ve survived on nothing more than the carcasses abandoned by the lum’ar’ine…and those from anything I could fight off. That is how I am so slender, my ath’er’in. I shall soon grow in strength, again. Under your tutelage, of course, I couldn’t begin to know how to hunt for myself.” That she could tell it all so easily made Tia’hin nod. Lyk’osk’in had to deal with any manner of early deaths. It wasn’t often that the ath’er’in these days made it past their tenth autumn, with the humans slaughtering them.

“Well done, Itsy’ia. To survive until now, you are strong inside. The makings of a fine l’er’oma. And you, Rap?”

She kept her sentences and question short, her eyes fixing on Rap’s brown eyes while he looked back steadily.

“Of course, Tia’hin! I hid in the den, not wanting to be out in the open in case I was caught when my master…my former, master, came here. He was with his kin and they talked about the deaths you wrought upon the dogs that were with me. You impressed them with your violence, I’m sure. They were hunting me, but even though he called and whistled to me, I didn’t go. They believe you to have killed me.”

His head turned away for a moment, tilting towards freshly scraped earth and she frowned. “They saw a moon-cat. It shouldn’t be out in the light, it shouldn’t! They…they killed it…let it die and watched it. They laughed as the knife killed it and it died entirely…and then walked away. They didn’t even use its fur as most humans do. I pulled the knife out, cut my lips and gums up…but I buried it. I wouldn’t let it lay there and stink up your den. I just wish I knew why it was out in the day. They can’t see in the day, can they?”

His brown eyes seemed to appeal to her and her head dropped a little as she shook her head.

“No Rap, they shouldn’t. We are brought up to know that the lum’ar’ine hide in the day-time as their eyes can’t cope with the sun. It blinds them, so they never leave their slumber before nightfall.” It worried her a little; the thought of the cat dying like that, for no reason. It was…well. There was no point to it, was there? She snorted a second before turning to Rap, sniffing intently at his lips before adding her own gentle licks to the wounds there.

She smiled faintly before nudging them both with an arched eyebrow.

“Can you both promise to behave? I don’t want you both fighting whenever I go because Itsy’ia, you could kill Rap easily. I took on three of his kind and won…and when you are fed properly, you’ll be larger than I am. Treat him as a younger sibling. You know as I do just how they act; they are annoying at times and don’t know enough…but we protect them because they are ours. Do you hear me?”

With such a reasonable voice confronting them, they nodded their heads in turn, even though Rap hadn’t had a thing asked of him.

“Rap, you need to stay where Itsy’ia can protect you. That means you stay in the den or the clearing. When she’s gone, don’t leave the den. The lum’ar’ine will be scouting for their lost kin, and you will find yourself carved with their hatred. That’s not something anyone wants to happen.” He shook his head before turning to Itsy’ia, turning on his back and submitting to the slender female.

Her eyes were startled as she peered down at him, before she shrugged. Clutching his throat gently, she made sure that he at least understood she could have hurt him before letting go of the dog. His tongue, when he was on his feet, flicked across her cheek and made her flinch. He snorted, then shook himself off and stretched himself out with a faint grin to peer at Tia’hin.

“So, mighty leader…what do we do now?” His tilted head made her smile faintly before she pushed past them both and snatched a rabbit that was left. She made short work of devouring it, her stomach clenching in protest as she forced the food down. She needed energy to heal, and the only way she’d heal was if she ate.

“Well considering my injuries, I’m sure you’ll understand if we don’t go running through the woods like fools. Rap, you can’t get into the trees and there aren’t enough of us to keep you safe.” She kept her voice strict, though she did smile faintly as she stretched. “Yet. One day, there may be enough of us that you’ll be safe with us all…either that or we will teach you how to climb the trees. You’ll learn or fall behind. The lyk’osk’in life may seem fun, but it’s not. We need to reclaim this turf as soon as there are more of us…Rap, you’ll be the main reason for them accepting us.”

She sensed his questioning look and grinned faintly, her tail wagging lightly before her bulk stretched lazily out over the ground.

“They’ll not want to join us when they see you; any that are accepting of you are the kind we can work with. We need a force that can wipe out the humans. That may seem severe; there isn’t any way to excuse it. They’ve killed too many of us and our numbers can’t cope. That wall of death…Rap, can you imagine seeing your kin all pinned to a wall. Dead and festering, their scents still noticeable? Humans are cruel to think we don’t think. We don’t feel. You should know by now that we do. Just as you do.”

Her words didn’t seem to touch much inside him, but he shook his head before sighing softly.

“I can see what you mean. You do seem to feel more than most; I don’t pretend to understand why or how…just as I don’t understand why the humans have to kill every animal they come across. That’s inhumane…and there’s an oxymoron.” The dog snickered softly to himself, the sound full of sarcasm before he shook his head and flopped to the ground with a soft yip.

Itsy’ia shook her head slightly before joining the pair on the ground; her nose buried in her paws before she lifted her head proudly, her eyes direct as she focused on Tia’hin.

“I’m up for killing the humans. They slaughtered my entire kh’in’sha. How can they do that? Even we only take the weak and the elderly…and with this much land, the deer are numerous enough. We wouldn’t wipe a whole herd out just because we moved into their territory, would we? That’s now what we are meant to do. We are part of nature; we survived when the humans almost didn’t.”

Her voice was musing as she recalled the long memories they possessed, stories passed down from lyko’a to lyko’a. Tia’hin listened with a tilted head, Rap with a rapt face as his tail stilled.

“I remember that it was told that the winter was so cold at one point, those with thin coats died. It lasted so long that those unable to climb froze to death. We only survived to become the beasts we are now because of our coats, an extra layer trapping heat in. We can climb trees and hunt from them. That makes us more successful. That’s something only the lum’ar’ine are able to do. They are successful, though now as much.”

She sighed, her amber eyes soon dipping to the ground before she pressed her paw over her nose. She hated the memories of that time. When she was at home with her parents, safe within the kh’in’sha she’d stay with until she herself had young…but that had been torn from her. She retched at the thought, but the instant she stood, so did Tia’hin. Her eyes and the considerable force of will that she wielded held her in place as she snarled.

“Do not be sick. You will not waste the hunting we did. You will keep that food down and you will grow strong. Do you understand me?”

Her question left no room for doubt, so Itsy’ia nodded her head and flopped back down carefully. Tia’hin lowered herself down carefully before lifting her head to the sky and sighing softly.

“I need to go now. Keep an eye out for the humans. Don’t confront them. Don’t fight the lum’ar’ine. You can hunt around here, but that’s it. If any lyk’osk’in wander through…only confront them if they linger. Neither of you can take one on at the moment. Whether side by side or not, you aren’t strong enough.” She kept her voice strict, making them both aware of the fact that these weren’t ideas, but commands. She waited until they nodded before turning with a whimper and lunging into the nearest trees.

Once again, when she was up there she ran as though wings were attached to her body and she didn’t fear the ground, so many metres below her that a fall could break her spine. She just let her body take over. Her mind wasn’t shut off, but preoccupied with other things. Important things, that kept her busy until she leaped from the trees to land almost silently between two trees near the river. She dunked her entire body into the cool water, staying there until she was certain scents would be wiped from her coat.

As soon as she stepped out, her head dipped and she drank thirstily. Her tongue curled the water into her stomach, letting it join with the rabbit she’d eaten while she was able to. She just hoped Ny’theri didn’t take her earlier rebellion as a hit against her now. With all the roaming and stress she was under, she was exhausted. She wanted nothing better than to curl up in her small shadowed spot and sleep again, ignored by the kh’in’sha until she was called upon to hunt. She shook her head before yawning. Maybe a nap here would put her in a better mood before she returned to that place…a place where she’d love nothing than to leave with her old kh’in’sha and never return.

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