The Darkening Hunt
Kiam grabbed the lowest limb, swinging his body up onto it and then jumping for the next one. He paused, his body going utterly still as he listened. Hearing nothing didn't mean he was safe, but it was better than hearing the hunt on his tail. He crouched, gathered his breath and sprang up to the next branch. Moving through the trees was slower, but if it kept his scent off the ground, they'd be less likely to find him. Staying down wind would help too.
His head turned at a noise. Carefully creeping around the tree, he found a boy, probably his first year of the hunt, an arrow jutting from his leg. He was trying to break off the back, but each time he touched it, his body shook. Kiam was tempted to leave, to run, to push the boy back to the forest floor so he would be their victim this year. Fingers pressed against the mark on his neck, the circle with the Ti-ree's emblem that was burned into his flesh to mark him as sullied.
The branch didn't even creak when he jumped to it. The younger male looked up, then paled, bearing his teeth as he struggled to stand.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Kiam growled, staying perched on all fours. "I wanted to offer to help your leg."
"I...I don't need the help of...of...filth," he stuttered as he found his legs, favoring the one that was dripping blood.
"Stop moving," he growled, stepping back, "you'll drop blood to the ground and they'll know to look up here."
He obeyed, sitting back down, wrapping his hand around his leg, catching the blood that was there. "Ju--just don't touch me."
Kiam growled and bristled, "Fine." He was, after all, tainted, according to Hyri legend. He'd been sullied by the Ti-ree, marking him as impure, no longer allowed to return to his tribe, no longer allowed to worship at the temples. "You need to push the arrow through or it will do more damage. Break off the end, they drug the feathers as well as the tip."
The boy grabbed it, yelped and slapped his hands over his mouth, shaking his head. Kiam growled again.
"Hold the base, tightly, and I'll break it off. Keep your one hand over your mouth if you can't keep quiet."
He did as instructed, muffling his sounds with his hand. Kiam leapt forward, snapped off the back portion of the arrow and was about to move away when the boy's balance was compromised by a flail from the pain. Kiam caught his shoulders with his forearms, the arm guards and clothing keeping direct contact from happening. A shower would be enough to cleanse the boy.
Kiam stepped away, looking over him. The boy was tearing, breathing heavily through his nose, trying to get himself under control. He and Kiam froze at the same time. Ti-ree hounds. Kiam shifted to another branch and the boy hissed, "Please!" Looking back, tears were on his face, streaked and dirty from the hunt. He had one hand reaching out, awkwardly shifting around his injured leg. "Please, don't leave me."
Why shouldn't he? The boy was injured, he'd be a burden to his escape, and he already had one mark, a second could result in worse punishment, and death by the hands of his Hyri brothers. His fingers brushed the mark. "So I can be dragged down with you?"
"Please," the boy jumped awkwardly to Kiam's branch, reaching out and wincing as he braced himself against Kiam's leg then slowly standing until his hands touched the bare waist with a disgusted shudder. "Please."
The hounds called. A scent was caught. Growling, he grabbed the younger man and swung him onto his back. There was no time for hesitation. He began jumping from branch to branch, moving through the trees with his awkward parcel. The boy held on, even though he was biting back a gasp every time weight was put on his bad thigh. The hounds were distant enough that Kiam risked stopping, depositing him on a high branch against the trunk. "Stay here. I'll come back when I lose them."
He dropped down through the branches quickly, ignoring the scrapes as he went, aware of the blood soaked in his pants from the boy's wound. As he moved down he angled, jumping trees so the scent wouldn't track back to the hiding spot, then he hit the ground and ran. His legs were strong and used to this now. Two years ago he'd been caught, on his first time out, and he'd sworn it would never happen again. This was a risk he was foolish to make.
The hounds bayed, catching his grounded scent. He picked up the pace until he thought he was far enough, and then he went back to the trees. There was no way he was going to be stupid enough to stop now, he kept moving, listening as the hounds tracked. They were getting nearer. He backtracked, then darted off a different direction, hoping it would trick their noses.
The first arrow buzzed passed his ear with a curse. The second hit his thigh and the third grazed his side, enough to draw blood and leave the drugs in its wake. When the branches began fading from his vision he made his way down to toward the ground, knowing the fight was lost. He collapsed on the ground, not willing to release the sob in his chest. Darkness sank into his brain.
It was cold and he could barely walk. They only kept him for one day, but that was one day and night enough. He dragged his lame leg behind him several more feet before he collapsed at the base of a tree. He could still smell the boy in the air. They boy had returned to his camp sometime in the middle of the day while his savior was being raped. He growled, but it came out more of a sob. The new brand on the other side of his neck was swollen and irritated by his sweat.
He wasn't even sure why he'd tracked him. Perhaps he just wanted to stumble into the camp so he could be killed swiftly. Back on his feet, he was able to cover the last few lengths to the tent that was filled with his scent. He stumbled, his body slumping against the animal skin, which caved to his weight, then resisted and his body slid to the ground. A whimper escaped his throat then died. He felt like he was breathing in dirt.
"It's over here!" someone shouted. People were gathering with torches, but as soon as the light hit him, another voice shouted, "Don't touch him."
His nudity made it sorely obvious that he'd been the one to lose the hunt. Fingers digging into the soft soil, he struggled to get to his knees, but his body collapsed down again. "Please..."
There were gasps as the crowd saw the twin marks on his neck. "Riawe, get an ax, Jeyi, you get rope."
He wept. He didn't want to die crying, but he was in so much pain that it didn't matter. He would have died out in the cold of the woods, but at least now it would be swift. Trying to move was too much, he just did his best to breath without pain.
"No! Don't hurt him!" A soft voice shouted. Feet shuffled to let through an uneven step. Kiam bothered to open his eyes and saw the boy, his leg bandaged, limping as he walked determinedly.
"He's sullied Hiera, it's okay, get back to bed."
"No!" he shouted again, nearer, standing with his back to Kiam, between him and the crowd. "He saved my life, let him go."
"He sacrificed himself so that I would not be taken," Hiera shouted.
"He's probably grown to love the treatment of the Ti-ree, now come away from him."
"No," and the boy's voice dropped as his body did and he wrapped his arms around the injured man, making him shake in pain.
Growls and gasps surrounded them. "Hiera! No, what are you doing?"
"Don't touch him, he's infected too."
There was hissing and growling, a spat between some men and then quiet. "Hiera, you are no longer welcome here. Take that filth and get away from here. If we find you near here, we will kill you both."
Kiam's eyes were closed, so he couldn't see the other nodding, but he could feel hairs brushing his shoulder with the motion. When all the footsteps had gone, Hiera released his hold, easing away, fingers touching gingerly. Kiam hissed as he hit a particularly sore spot, eyes opening, gasping with the pain.
"C..can you stand?" he asked, worry on his orange tinted features.
"Perhaps, since the alternative is death," he struggled out, attempting to sit, feeling his insides squish unpleasantly. He grabbed the open wound on his side, blood oozing against his fingers. The boy slipped his arm under Kiam's shoulders, and they awkwardly stood, both favoring a leg. He didn't complain about the pain, just gasped in short breathes until they were both vertical and he had a chance to gasp in slightly longer ones.
"Are you okay?" a second hand reached out for his chest to steady him and then Hiera hissed, pulling away from the lump he'd brushed against. "I'll stop asking stupid questions. Can you walk?"
"About as well as you." But they did, each step leaning on one another's good leg until they reached the lake. Kiam had been so disoriented, he hadn't even realized where he was going. Hiera dropped him to the ground as easily as he could, but Kiam still winced, gripping his side and coughing something wet into his mouth. He rolled onto his side, letting whatever it was slide from his mouth. Blood, yes, it was blood. Bitter and metallic.
Hiera was inspecting his body in the moonlight, eyes squinting to see the difference between shadows and bruises, his face horrified, "Are they always so cruel?"
"They took special pleasure, since I was a repeat offender," he coughed again, hitching his voice. "You shouldn't have bothered protecting me, I'm going to die here anyway."
"Not if I can help it," the soft voice whispered in the dark. He was pulling off his shirt as he headed to the lake, soaking the material there and bringing it back. He wrapped it around Kiam's torso as much as he could, being smaller of frame. Pressing the wet cloth down until it stuck to his skin and blood, Hiera leaned down, resting his lips against Kiam's chest.
He gasped a moment before it happened. The life force of the surrounding grass fed up into him, drawn by the water in the shirt that covered him and began soaking into him. He screamed, because it hurt when ribs shoved back into place and the body stretched itself to do that which was beyond its capability. When he stopped screaming--he wasn't sure how long it was--Hiera was sitting beside him, eyes closed, breathing deeply. "You're a Hyrite?"
"Yes," was the soft answer, the eyes opening, glowing red with the energy he'd summoned. "You're still not completely healed, but it should be enough to hold you through the night. Your body is already exhausted from the effort, as is mine."
"Why would you dirty yourself like that?"
"By saving you?"
He nodded, because he could do so now without pain.
"Because you saved my life. You could have left me to take the punishment, but you risked a second mark to help me, a man you don't know. You took a second mark to save me the life of an outcast."
"And then you went and ruined it by getting yourself outcast."
"Would you rather I let you die?"
Kiam was not one to ask for death, or go gently to it. But death seemed to want him pretty badly. Perhaps it was a fight he shouldn't have started. What good had it done him? To sully a Hyrite by approximation, to be marked twice, to live through that. Again. He shuddered and Hiera's hand seemed exceptionally warm when it touched him.
"You will not waste the gift I've given you, will you?"
"No," he breathed, "though you wasted mine."
"Did I? Had the Ti-ree taken me, I would have been brutalized and murdered. Hyrites are not well liked among them and I am recognizably one. So I am an outcast? We will find a way."
"We?" he snorted.
The hand trembled and the confidence in the voice was gone, "Won't you take me with you?"
"Why should I?"
Hiera leaned down, his breath warm. He smelled of meat, reminding Kiam of a meal from long ago. "I can heal you when you're injured."
"I can cook and keep you company."
"I can warm you when you're cold."
He froze. What a temptation, to know pleasure without pain. His first and only experiences were with the Ti-ree, in between, no one would dare touch him. "You're a Hyrite, it would be wrong. I'm filthy."
"Are you?" and he really seemed to be asking. "I have already touched you, and my abilities are no weaker. I think it is the darkness of the experience that dirties the men who are taken by them. You do not have a darkness, I would feel it. If I had not seen your mark in the tree, I would not have known what you are. I do not care. You are my ally now, and I am yours. You would be an idiot to reject me."
"Well, I am not an idiot."