Fiction~~The Last Pure Human~~Ch. 20
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Chapter 20 - Hunting for Blobs and Dogs
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dusty rustle of disturbed sand from a stray Kyashin foot rattled
Kasan’s nerves. He was already too tense, what with the shadows now
crouching over possible tracks, the sharp scents blinding his nose, and
the nervous ears of his party flickering wildly in the corners of his
Young Rui jumped as leaves fluttered around them. His dart gun jabbed up defensively. Kasan would have sighed if the noise wouldn’t have been audible. At least Rui reacted appropriately to a possible threat, although Kasan would have felt better if the guard could calm his ears.
Kasan wasn’t even sure what was bothering Rui. The man was the youngest guard allowed on the hunt tonight, but he was supposed to be experienced at this; he shouldn’t be so tense. Living in the outlying villages, he would have been a part of their yearly efforts to relocate encroaching packs since before he was ripe.
He might have been more used to modern weapons, living outside the citadel, but he’d handled his blowgun competently enough in training. So when his ears waved like moth wings on his head, it was impossible to write it off as youthful nerves. Kasan’s own ears ached with the need to swivel just as wildly; it made every step through the garden a test of will.
He managed. After a minor eternity, they’d covered a quarter of the garden without finding any sign of a pack. Another nerve-wracking eon and Kasan’s small party had made it halfway with just as little to show for it. They were coming up on the spot where Max had first started screaming, however. And none of the other groups had called out a sighting, yet. Everyone’s eyes and ears quivered from moving constantly, the tension rising with the certainty that there would be a confrontation soon.
Rui was the one who discovered the tosa. Flipped over and already deflating, its fuchsia body had been gutted for the small organ inside. A clean slice marred the glistening surface, the only evidence that something had attacked the harmless herbivore. Kasan tried to scan the ground for tracks while keeping his eyes on the brush surrounding them: forgetting to keep an eye off the ground was a mistake he might not live to regret.
“This isn’t right.” Rui hunched his shoulders as his mumble drew everyone’s attention.
“What do you mean?” Kasan returned to scanning the brush and the trail as he waited for an answer. He couldn’t let down his guard until they’d found shokan. Even his speech was whispered so quietly he could hardly feel the breath leave his mouth.
Rui softened his voice before he answered. “It’s whole.”
Kasan felt as unenlightened as the others looked. Unlike Rui, he hadn’t lived near the animals. He hadn’t studied them more than he needed to hunt and tranq them. “And whole means...?”
“Well… That is… A pack leaves tosa alone unless it’s the birthing season. But they always tear it apart. You never see one left like this if a pack’s gotten to it.”
They were silent for a moment. Kasan quickly appraised the tracks on the ground, searching for variety. He couldn’t use the path of the tracks to help him: shokan were known for going over their own tracks dozens of times, to hide their numbers and make them more difficult to track.
More than once, Kasan had wondered if the animals had always been so cunning, or if the nanites from the saviors had added something more than the ability to survive the Kouloc.
After he’d looked over all the tracks in the vicinity, he could only come to one conclusion: it was one animal. The tracks were the same depth, same size – not fully grown - and if he was seeing it clearly in the growing dark, there was a ragged claw on one of the back feet. Just one shokan – but it was a young one. Davi and the others with him must have reached the same conclusion as he; one of them cursed softly.
“A rogue?” Rui’s question hovered reluctantly in the air.
No one answered. It might have been a pack member that had been separated, but with the half-sized track, it was much more likely that it was searching for a mate. Shokan always left their packs at the first signs of puberty, visiting other packs and choosing a mate just after they achieved full growth. But a rogue was always unpredictable, and usually vicious.
If a rogue had escaped the garden, the next day or so were going to get ugly. The efforts needed to find a single animal hiding in an entire city…
He’d rather inventory every storehouse in the citadel, first.
Moving past the dead animal, Kasan’s ears flickered nearly twice as fact as the others, trying to catch a sound that wasn’t the other cats combing the foliage to either side of them. His eyes brushed over the ground, noticing faint tracks leading onward, and he hoped they veered to the side soon. But by the time they all reached the far wall, the tracks stopped. There was nothing to be found by any of the teams who’d been searching.
Whatever had killed the tosa had escaped the garden.
One guard signaled to the guards on the wall the best he could in the dim light, while another ran back ahead of them to get to the summoning box and give them more detailed information. They’d need to clear all the gardens and the citadel walkways: everything would need searching now. The rest of them headed back to Zonta’s room with flattened ears, walking heavily. Kasan spoke with one of the older guards and arranged for his own garden to be searched immediately. Kasan had time to help with one more place before his heat hit; he was making sure Max had a safe place to go.
And he was making sure that a throwback’s senses would ensure that it was absolutely safe. His garden was a nightmare of hiding places for a partially grown shokan. They were going to need spotlights to search the tops of his trees while the men searched below. He might have to climb some of the trees to make sure nothing was missed.
Because the thought of making a mistake over this terrified him. A shokan, jumping down from the trees to take Max?
The man beside him cleared his throat and Kasan realized he’d stopped in the middle of a sentence. “Sorry. Ah, you’ll arrange for the next group to meet me in my rooms?”
“Of course, Prince Kasan. I’ll get a few more to help search your garden. It’s a bit…”
“Large. Yes, I know.” He’d never regretted it, before now.
Kasan heard the young Rui speaking to someone behind him. “I’ve never seen a shokan come this far into the citadel before.”
“Always a first time.” Ah, that was Davi.
“Hopefully the last,” Kasan whispered to no one.
He didn’t want to think of Max in danger like this; he’d had no time to teach his consort about their world yet! Max didn’t know what the alarm had been for, or even what to avoid or where to go for help. If Kasan hadn’t been there, even if Max had been given warning, he would have been killed.
Kasan couldn’t think that there was a lot he could have done differently, but he was shaking in his chest, realizing how dangerous it really was for his consort to do something as simple as visit the garden. He’d have to ensure someone was with him at all times, now, until the little one learned more.
They opened the door and found Zonta teaching Max again. The little one didn’t look like he was listening; he jumped up before the first guard’s foot was inside the room. The way Max’s body loosened when he saw Kasan was obvious, even without the relieved smile that followed.
Kasan smiled back as he made his way over. “I want to take him back to the room, Zonta.”
Zonta urged Max off the bed. Kasan found it difficult to move, absorbing Max with his eyes to reassure himself that his consort was still whole and undamaged. The other guards left them alone and Max was standing in front of him before he could overcome his paralysis. All Kasan managed was dropping to his knees in front of his consort. Closing his eyes, Kasan clung to Max’s waist, breathing in the scent of him as Max stood stiffly in his arms. A tentative hand stroked his ear after a moment and Kasan half-chuckled against Max’s stomach.
“I can’t believe he’s all right.”
Zonta heard his words despite their being muffled by Max’s body. “But he is.”
Kasan released Max, still kneeling by him, and looked into his eyes. They were so round; he looked like a perpetually surprised, open-faced child. The look was still too new not endear itself to him.
“Let’s go back to our room, Max,” he said softly, swallowing, and he held up the end of the leash to Max’s hand. Max took it with a tight grip, glancing at Zonta as though his brother might steal it before he had a chance to hang on. He started to flush as Kasan stayed on his knees.
Kasan couldn’t take his eyes off of him. His consort was so…perfect. Neither of them spoke, Max’s cheeks growing redder until Kasan finally hugged him one last time, kissing his belly softly as he wrapped his arms around him as gently as cupping a seed fluff in his hands.
“It’s nothing, little one. I’m…happy you’re all right.”
Zonta tried to fill the silence as Kasan kissed Max’s chest and stood. “I’ll think of some new words to-“
The door slapped to the side, and Aosh stormed in. He passed by Kasan and Max, his eyes giving them the briefest of once-overs before he went to Zonta. “Are you all right?!”
Zonta instantly switched gears. He smiled at his brother and waved his hand dismissively. “I’m fine.”
“The guards said there was a shokan-“
“We didn’t even see it.”
“You were outside?” Kasan could see Aosh’s ears flatten and he tried to loom over Zonta – it didn’t work very well when they were the same size. “What were you thinking? You could have been killed! You have to use your brain for more than books, Zonta! What if-“
“Aosh, I’m fine.” Zonta reached out and touched Aosh’s lips with the tip of his finger and Aosh stopped. “It’s not as though we went looking for trouble; I’m perfectly aware that hunting is not one of my skills. We happened to be outside when the alarm sounded.”
Aosh barely paused. “If there are shokan coming into the citadel now, you need a guard before you go outside. You can’t-“
Kasan turned to go, guiding Max as the man glanced back and forth between the twins. This was likely to take a while. Aosh never dealt well with thoughts of Zonta in serious danger; he’d likely have to vent for an hour or so.
Zonta’s placating voice followed them out the door. “Aosh, don’t work yourself into a panic. I’m uninjured. Besides-“ The door closed behind him and Kasan could almost forget the leash in Max’s hand as he shared a look with the guards at the door.
“Aosh playing the worry-bird?” The blond guard smiled down at Max as he spoke.
“He’s trying to persuade Zonta to have a personal bodyguard. At all times.”
The two men by the door shook their heads, smiling. “Don’t know why the boy even tries. Between the both of them, they’ve gotten into more trouble than the rest of you.”
Kasan nodded and gently pushed at Max’s back so they could leave. It wasn’t usually the way Service was done, but Max wouldn’t know how to get back to their rooms, otherwise.
“This way, Max.” Max held on to the leash and followed along, almost like an erotic pull toy, until Kasan took his other hand in his own and walked down hand in hand. Max’s face flushed again, but he didn’t draw his hand away. He seemed to need the comfort; he’d startle and clutch it tighter, his knuckles turning white, whenever someone said hello as they passed.
A tec nodded as he crossed the hallway, and the pressure over Max’s family returned full force. Max jumped again as another tec turned the corner and nearly bumped into them; it made the decision easy. With so much happening, and all of it upsetting to Max, he didn’t need to know about one more thing that was only going to upset him. Not when neither of them could do much about it.
The little thing was too emotional to put one more burden on his shoulders. When they knew more, or had the other humans in hand, then Kasan would tell Max about what was happening to them. He’d do everything he could to keep Max happy until then, just in case there was bad news.
A large contingent of men and women were already in Kasan’s room by the time they arrived. They stared at the cuts covering Kasan’s body, and a few of the younger ones glanced at Max’s nails as though trying to compare the size of the cuts with them. Always the newly mated ones who put a sexual context to everything.
Of which he was one of, he admitted.
As the grip on his hand grew nearly painful, Kasan rubbed a hand over Max’s head, ignoring how everyone watched the two of them. “There’s nothing here, little one. You’re safe.”
Max’s hand relaxed, and he let go of the leash entirely. He still grumbled. “Say garden safe, too.”
Kasan’s tail snapped to the side at the reminder. He had to protect his consort better than he had been. It was shameful that luck was the only thing that had kept Max alive.
And Max needed a lot more than luck to protect him, Kasan admitted, watching the little one trip on his own feet. Max didn’t seem extremely capable at times like this. Maybe it was the situation he was in that showed his clumsy side, but Kasan wasn’t certain that was the case. Max needed a lot of care to keep him safe. And happy.
Once they were done clearing his garden, Kasan thought they should have time to further their connection. It would be close to the heat again, but this time, he was hoping they could talk. What about, he didn’t know, but tonight had reminded him: every day was a gift. He was going to use as many of those gifts as they both had left to them, and he was going to do his damnedest to make sure he spent them all with Max.
Max was trying to relax on Kasan’s bed, but the more time that went by without Kasan returning, the less success he had.
He mumbled under his breath. “Wait on the bed, Max. Yeah, like that’s going to help anything?” Like it was easy letting himself get vulnerable on the silken altar of sex, anyway. And now? How could anyone freaking relax when Kasan and an angry horde of cats were hunting for pink jellies of doom? Especially when no one would listen to him. Max had tried to tell them that Androcles had already killed one, and everyone had verbally patted his head and assured him he was ‘safe’ and that they’d take care of it all. Jerks.
He knew he was safe! He didn’t need super cats telling him that all the time!
Well. Kinda. It was nice that Kasan seemed to care enough to reassure him – now that Max could understand what the hell he was saying. But he’d already seen Kasan kicking ass on his behalf; he expected it at this point. When that damned pink blob in Zonta’s garden had come after him again, he knew that his first thought had been to run for Kasan.
But right now, when Kasan was out there facing those things, Max was starting to worry. The horrid things had almost eaten Max twice now. It had to be some kind of spiky, blobby infestation, the way everyone had reacted. And now Kasan was out there with them and their spiky-blobbiness.
What if he got hurt?
Max’s body tightened up again and he go to his feet, pacing. It was so easy to think of Kasan as some unbreakable superhero sex fiend, but even he had run from the blob when Max had told him what it was. Max jerked to a halt, his hands fisting. He’d never seen Kasan look afraid before. He’d never so much as thought about the big honkin’ juggernaut having something that scared him as badly as the cats freaked Max out. Not that he was stupid – everybody was afraid of something, right? – but to actually see it…
He hadn’t realized how much he was already relying on Kasan to kick everything’s ass and keep it away from Max. The other cats, yeah, but alien monsters? God, he was a selfish, self-centered dork. What, was he expecting the cat to take care of him like a freaking little kid or something? Or a concubine. Harem…boy?
His cock thickened a little. No! This wasn’t…it wasn’t fair! He hadn’t asked for this. He hadn’t asked to come here, to be screwed up the ass, to be married, none of it! He hadn’t asked for some stunning, god-like man to touch him for a half-second and turn his brain to goo like this.
To go out and face pink blobs for him.
Max cursed and punched the wall, then cursed again and popped his screaming knuckles into his mouth. Darn it, what was he supposed to do, charge out and kill the evil jello, too?
He flushed and looked to the door again. What was taking them so damn long? They should be done by now, shouldn’t they? Unless something had gone wrong? What the hell could those neon lumps do that scared the cats so much?
Could they throw those nasty spikes? Some kind of projectile freakozoid? Absorb people like an alien amoeba? Shit, what if they had, like, acid for blood or something?
He’d seen that freaking movie; he didn’t need to live it! Max gnawed on his lip. Whatever freako powers the blobs had, if they were enough to scare Kasan, it could mean that Kasan could be…killed.
A chill spiked down his spine and his ass clenched so tightly it made his shoulders jump. He reached for the door and then punched it with his closed fist instead. He’d be no help at all. He didn’t know how to kill those damn things, and he didn’t even have a damned weapon to do it with, anyway!
Kasan and the others all had spears and dart guns and one even had what looked like a crossbow. But Max’s knowledge of martial arts had never involved fighting blobs. So what was he going to do, yell the thing to death? Unless he had some banshee blood, that wasn’t gonna do a lot of freakin’ good.
And besides, what if he went out and Kasan heard him, what if it screwed everything up? Max turned and stomped away from the door, chewing his lip so hard he thought he tasted blood. Kasan might be hurt if he tried to rescue Max and got caught by something. And Max was kind of shocked to realize that he knew Kasan would do it, too. He’d been so terrified for so long, but right now, he couldn’t imagine Kasan abandoning him. Not to something that would kill him.
The sex issues were still up in the air – sexy and scary and too much to deal with right now - but Kasan would never let him get hurt. Max believed that utterly.
And it scared him.
Max grabbed one of the pillows on the bed and flung it against the wall. This was pathetic! Max was totally useless right now. And he was a freaking coward, because no matter what he wanted, the thought that he had to wait here for Kasan, rather than enter the garden with the blobs, made his stomach soften into relieved jelly.
Except what if Kasan didn’t come back? His stomach curdled the jelly and froze solid again. Kasan didn’t deserve to be hurt just because he was protecting Max. And besides, Max didn’t want to lose his…shit, his husband. Kasan had to stay alive, and come back, and… and kiss Max’s stomach in that weird and really erotic way he’d just done. He had to. Max had only just gotten used to having a husband; he couldn’t lose one before he’d even figured it out!
They’d never even had a freaking honeymoon, dammit!
The door drew his eye again and he walked over to it. Maybe he could just open it? Peek out and see if he could hear Kasan? Both the pink things had been far away form the doors last time; they probably didn’t like coming close to the building. Maybe?
His hand was actually touching the door itself when there was a soft scratching from the other side.
“Holy crap!” Stumbling back, he fell onto his ass and didn’t even bother getting up. He’d almost opened the damn thing, and something was on the other side, just waiting for him to come out and get sucked into its jelly tentacles and impale him and-
Another soft scratch made him crab-walk back a few more feet. He should go for the guards that were still outside the door, shouldn’t he? They were huge and ass-clenching scary, but they had weapons; they could take care of this and then Kasan wouldn’t be in danger, right?
He turned to do just that and heard a whine and another soft scrabbling. The blobs hadn’t whined. They’d never made any noise at all, actually. So what-
The scratching started repeating, one scrape after the other in a high-powered scuffling, and it whined again. Just like a freaking dog.
“Androcles?” Max kept his voice low, and he wasn’t even certain why. It wasn’t like the blob or Androcles was going to answer.
There was a barely audible yip from outside the door and Max shoved it open so quickly it nearly bounced back onto itself. Androcles leapt inside. The dog was a little wild-eyed, panting hard and quivering. And if the dog was terrified, what the hell was chasing him?! Max slammed the door shut; Androcles whipped his tail out of the way just in time.
Max’s knees gave out and he knelt next to Androcles. The dog nuzzled his face with his cold nose
“Poor boy. What happened to you? Did those big cats scare you?”
Please let it be the cats and not something even worse than the blobs. God knew that mass of cats had scared Max jumpy. There’d been so many of them in their room Max thought he was going to be crushed until Kasan put him on the bed. And they all looked seriously unhappy. Even Kasan had looked furious when he’d come in with them from Zonta’s garden, the fur on his tail a little puffed, his ears lower and tense.
Not at all like he’d looked when he’d let Max put that medicine on his body. Max looked down at his hands; the skin still buzzed from where the medicine had touched it. The orange and sage smell of his own palms teased his nose every time he paused enough to pay attention. And the feel of it, flowing across a fantastic washboard stomach and bulging pecs-
Androcles licked him in the face and he turned his face away, gagging at its breath. He shoved his own hands over his nose to cover the smell.
“Androcles! Jeez, something crawl into your mouth and die? Your breath is rank!” Max pushed himself to his feet and realized Androcles’ head seemed even higher than it had before. “You had better not tell me that you’re going to grow to be their size, or I’m disowning you.”
With one last look at the door, listening vainly for the sound of Kasan returning, Max went back to stomping around the room. Androcles kept pace, following alongside and bumping against Max’s body as they neared the bed. Strands of silky fur stuck to his body where Kasan’s lotion had smeared over him at their last hug.
“Careful, boy.” Androcles bumped him again; Max stumbled against the bed and caught himself with his hip. “Watch it. You’re gonna knock me on my ass if you’re not careful – crap!” Androcles jumped up and planted his paws on Max’s shoulders, tumbling him to the bed. One leap and it landed on top of him.
“Androcles! Get off!” The big dog rested its front paws on his chest while he tried to shove it away. The damn thing weighed a freaking ton!
And then it started to sniff him all over.
“Androcles! What the heck are you doing?” The dog got nose-drool all over him: his bare chest, his face, his stomach. It was like Androcles was trying to memorize his body. He tried to shove the dog again when it scooted down and started nuzzling at his legs. And then-
“Don’t you dare go for the crotch, Androcles! Will you stop snorting me!”
Androcles nuzzled at him again, snuffling and burying his face in the loincloth, and Max thought he was going to have to start punching him in the head when the dog finally shifted off his legs and let him up. Max tried to give him a shove for good measure, but the dog was so massive now that he barely moved. With a grumpy sounding herrumph, Androcles settled himself on the floor, between Max and the exit to the garden.
Max was still eyeing him when Androcles jumped to his feet and growled at the door. Max leapt back onto the bed before his brain had time to think. Demons growled like that, deep and thundering. Not dogs. No freaking dog growled like that! It was a frightening reminder that as much as he might resemble a canine, Androcles was still an alien animal.
Max stayed very still. Androcles was just growling at the door, and he’d never hurt Max, right? He wasn’t growling at Max, it was only at the door and-
Androcles looked over at Max.
“N-Nice doggy. I’m not doing anything scary right now, right? Just-“ Max’s throat closed up in terror as the dog leapt at him, closing its mouth around his arm. He opened his mouth to scream. Androcles was going to eat his arm! He’d rip it off and swallow it whole!
He was going to be left with a bloody stump! He’d be dog food! Alien puppy chow! He was going to die! And Androcles had been his friend! Dammit why would he do this? Why would he attack him and bite him and…
…start pulling him across the floor by the arm, which oddly enough wasn’t hurting even the slightest bit.
Max’s heart rate dropped as he pulled back. There was no blood, no pain at all. What the-
He took stock of his arm as he stumbled across the room. Oh thank God, Androcles was mouthing him. Not biting, not picking the flesh from his bones, not eating him. Mouthing. Max dug in his heels and got a yank hard enough to have him stumbling after Androcles again as it backed up towards the slanted beam on the floor.
Dammit, what the heck was it doing?
Yes, thank God it wasn’t eating him, but what the heck was it doing?
“A-Androcles? What are you…” What the heck were you supposed to say to a giant dog that was supposed to be a friend but was now dragging you somewhere against your will like an evil Lassie? “L-let go, boy. I’m not a chew toy. Androcles, let go now. C’mon. Release. Stop. Cease. Bad dog. Nice dog?”
Androcles stared at him – he would swear the dog looked annoyed – and pulled at him again. Max was already most of the way across the floor to the log-beam-thing, and he wondered suddenly if the dog was going to try and drag him up as well as over.
Because that would hurt like hell!
And he was about to try poking the dog in the eye to stop it. Just a little poke, to get his attention. But the dog’s face turned at the last moment, and just before he growled Max heard faint voices coming from behind the door.
He was reacting this way because of the cats? Was he trying to protect Max, maybe? That was so…
“You aren’t an evil Lassie after all!” Max hugged him around his head with the one free arm, scrubbing at his muzzle and trying subtly to make Androcles release. The jaw was massive and heavy, the velvety fur covering it made it almost harder to try and get a grip. “Hey, now, I know they’re freaky big and as comforting as a football squad on a bender, but you don’t have to protect me from them. Honest.” As long as Kasan was around.
Max pulled at Androcles lips, his fingers scraping up against truly massive teeth. Kasan had to be around. Swallowing, Max tried to listen for his voice as he was dragged along again. Androcles had his back paws on the log and Max pulled onto his tiptoes when he finally heard it
“Kasan!” Oh God, he was okay! The blob hadn’t got him; Kasan was all right!
Androcles stopped, his head cocking and nearly sweeping Max off his feet as it kinked his arm. Kasan’s voice was clear for a moment, answering someone’s question, and Androcles stared at the door hard before he suddenly released Max’s arm.
Max promptly fell on his ass, rubbing at his arm with his hand. It ached oddly from being up at such an awkward angle. Androcles watched him, leaned down to lick his finger once, and then started climbing the wooden log up into his hidey-hole.
“Androcles, stay, boy.” The dog ignored him and continued climbing.
“Nothing ever listens to me here.” He watched Androcles climb and rubbed at his arm again, trying to get off the slobber. “Nothing is ever small here. Stupid giant planet.” With a sigh, he headed back to the bed. If he didn’t want to get trampled, he’d better get on higher ground.
And then he could wait for Kasan. Who was not yelling, or screaming, or anything else that would mean he’d been hurt more than the scratches from before. And he was coming back to the room. And Max was on the bed.
He stared down at his crotch as his cock decided to express its opinion on the whole thing.
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