Corbran listened, unable to hear anything amiss. The night air roared in his ears, the light breeze ruffled the black fur of his shaggy coat. It also ruffled the leaves of the gum trees overhead, making individual sounds impossible to detect.
Hunting was lean of late; he had to rely on his other senses. No discernable tracks were to be found, but then the Nusalleans were a crafty people. Like the others, Corbran hungered, making his temper rise to insane proportions. The scent of eucalyptus wafted through the trees, but something else carried with it. Revelation shuddered through his mind, as if he’d been struck with a boulder; the Nusalleans were sacrificing to their dog god again.
Corbran veered suddenly, crashing through tall clusters of dry undergrowth, ignoring the abrasive effects of the stony ground against his pads. A rock swept up steeply from the crest of a small knoll where he saw a few of his brethren cautiously circling. It angered him that they would dare to do such a thing. He was the strongest, and therefore the leader of the pack. It was his right to be the first to make the kill.
Corbran ran, scrabbling up the rocky slope. The dogs backed away on the whole, but two did not do so quickly enough for his liking. He snapped his jaws around the hind leg of the grey dog nearest to him, sending it hobbling off, trailing a trickle of blood.
Corbran flattened his ears and snapped in different directions, growling menacingly, baring all his teeth. It was only when he was satisfied that the rest of the pack had retreated far enough that he returned to the thrashing man-pup on the rock.
He sniffed at it once. There were many things different about it. The man-pup was male. The fuzz on its head would grow to be jet-black, like his fur, but the eyes were different from the others. All the men of the man-pack had brown eyes; this one’s was jade-green, as wild as the bush-land that surrounded them.
There was so much that was unusual about the man-pup. He had never seen one alive before. Normally the men of the nearby man-pack would slay them first. Its limbs were properly formed. He nuzzled under it, turning it side on, to see that its spine was as it should be. The man-pup began to cry, clenching its tiny fists with frustration.
The musk of Corbran’s uncertainty made the snouts quiver on the rest of the pack.
Normally the man-pack only left their runts behind, just like the dog packs did. In the past, he only ever found crippled or blind man-pups on the rock, but this one was strong, determination burned in the green eyes, and all without defect.
Corbran curled his lip in disgust. Men, he thought. He never would have left a pup behind like this one. He would have given him a name to reflect his noble nature.
Corbran lowered his head and closed his jaws around the “pup,” lifting it from the rock without breaking the skin. Drool trickled from the corners of his mouth as he fought the overpowering urge to eat the man-pup and be done with it. His mind began to whisk him away, as he tried to imagine whatever great things this one would become.
He decided that the man-pup would be a king, a peace maker. No, greater than that; a redeemer.
He remembered a little brown runt, that his sister refused to feed, but he insisted that his own female did. She had a spare teat at the time. The pup became more savage than the rest, and died taking the eye from one of the much larger striped dogs. What was his name? It suddenly came to him; Tonunda.
Then Tonunda will be your name… my son, his thoughts added fondly; the name itself meaning, “little cyclone.”
Corbran began to walk briskly back for his lair in the rocks, knowing that his female would be there, nursing their current litter. If he could smile like men, he conjectured that he would have grinned broadly. If he remembered rightly, his female had a spare teat this time too, but then, she always seemed to.
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