Okay, so Kairi's running late getting chapters back to me again. (And, admittedly, I'm running late getting chapters back to her, so...) -runs off to go finish reading over Parts 51, 52, and 53-

(And to make things worse, I had this all prepped, and then didn't post it for, like, a week. Kairi's been texting me nonstop this morning to wake me up, so here you go.)

This chapter... I actually had a lot of fun with this chapter. Mostly because Kairi and I got to make up liger names for all the God-Generals. 'Twas quite interesting. Definitely a new perspective on liger packs. (Which, for those of you coming over from Kairi's Ripples Trilogy, is slightly different. Okay. Very different.)

Warning: Due to this being from the POV of a liger, liger speech is 'normal', human speech is 'underlined', and flying monster speech is 'bold underlined'. Thoughts are italicized as usual.


It's good to know somebody cares
And yeah, she's gone, but I don't feel like talking
It might be just too much to bear
To hear somebody say, "It stops hurting"


Conflict of Interests
Chapter 10 – You Don't Know Her Like I Do
New Queen, New Sister

Princess-loves-the-pack is excited. It's not hard for him to figure this out—his princess smells strongly of it. He doesn't have the heart to warn her that something is amiss. Not yet. Not when this is the happiest he's seen her in almost a full turn of the seasons.

"Are we there yet?"

He growls at Red-fur-always-grouchy, but the two-legged just glances at him and ignores him.

"Hush, Golden," Princess orders softly, shortening his own name. "We're almost there. It should be... huh. When did that tree finally fall over?"

Golden-prince-protects-the-princess stops, sniffs, and then growls. "A cheagle burned through the roots," he says. "Other two-leggeds were here," he adds. This part, he's known for a while, and simply hasn't wanted to tell her.

Princess inhales quickly—what is it the two-leggeds call that action? Gasping?—and then turns and starts running as fast as her two short legs can carry her.

Red-fur-always-grouchy grumbles something Golden is fairly certain is indecent, but follows Princess regardless. So do the other three he's bothered to give names to, and all the two-leggeds in metal that seem to follow them around everywhere.

Three, because Loud-smelly-floating-thing isn't with them. 'Thank the All-Mother,' he thinks, bounding after Princess and offering to carry her. She's on his back almost faster than he can blink, and he's racing far, far ahead of the other two-leggeds.

Smaller pack members race alongside him. "What happened?!" Princess demands.

"Two-leggeds came with puffball-burned-our-home and a cat-split-tail-manipulates-fonons," one of them says. "Four two-leggeds."

"What did they do?"

"Them? They did nothing. Well, almost nothing. Queen-mother-of-many-but-still-fiercest-warrior caught one near her nest while the others attempted to negotiate us leaving."

"Did they hurt my little nestmates?!"

"No, Princess-loves-the-pack. She did not. The queen actually allowed her to enter the nest, and the female called one of the other two-leggeds over. I believe your mother named the girl well, for she smelled of earth and rain, and many of our packmates believe her to be a spirit-warrior."

Princess relaxes slightly. "What did mother call her?"

"Gentle-child-loves-life."

"And the other two-leggeds?"

"The male she called over, we call Red-fur-youngling-in-too-large-skin, for he truly is a youngling despite appearing to be your age. Your mother allowed him into the nest as well." The smaller packmate pauses. "There were two others. One was Green-fur-helped-the-princess."

"Ion was here?!"

Golden growls irritably. "Yes, though I can barely smell him past the other three. One of these scents carries far too much blood."

"That would be the other female. We did not give her a name, but she seemed to simply be wary for the other three two-leggeds," the packmate responds. Golden glances over him again, trying to remember this one's name... Nope, still not coming to him.

'Perhaps I need to rejoin the pack for a while... I can barely remember any of their names...' he considers. Then he shakes his head. 'No. I must remain with Princess-loves-the-pack.'

"But, wait... Something must have happened, if you're both so upset!" Princess realizes. The packmate growls angrily.

"A fifth two-legged. He entered the den and killed the queen despite Gentle-child-loves-life telling him not to. She gave your mother a two-legged name, that apparently meant much the same as her liger name, and then stood to defend the nest against Blood-scented-murdered-queen."

Princess sags slightly. "Oh no... Gentle-child... is she okay? If our information is right, I know who the murderer was... He could have killed her easily!"

"Gentle-child-loves-life still lives, Princess-loves-the-pack. Your mother's murderer defeated her, but took her with him when he left. Your nestmates are unharmed as well, thanks to Gentle-child."

Golden slowed as they neared the den, but entered easily, Princess ducking down over his back to avoid hitting her much more delicate head against the top of the entrance.

"She's been taken prisoner?" Princess asks in the two-leggeds' language. The packmate doesn't quite understand what that last word means, but Golden does.

"I would assume," he answers. "If she stood up against him, it is very likely he would not risk leaving her to gather allies and attack him again." He, too, knows who Blood-scented-murdered-queen must be, and it greatly pains him to know that his queen, his mother, his leader, is dead. Which reminds him of something else...

"Unfortunately... I believe these grave events require a change in your name... Queen-loves-the-pack."

Princess—no, she is the queen now, he knows there is no one who can contest her place as pack leader—whimpers. "No... Mother..."

Golden whines softly as they reach the cavern. His nestmates still sit, being kept warm by resting packmates. "I'm sorry..."

Princess—Queen, he has to correct himself—slips down off his back and walks over to the eggs.

"Are they alright?" she asks. The packmates who had been keeping them warm stand and move, allowing her to look over the five eggs herself. One egg has a small crack in it. Queen sits in the nest, carefully gathering the eggs to her and bending her head. The odd little cloth-thing she carries has been abandoned outside the nest.

Golden sits at the edge of the nest and bows his head as well, mourning for his fallen mother and queen. The rest of the pack is silent as well, so all of them hear the two-leggeds Queen has brought with her entering the cavern.

"Arietta?" Sunny-mane-hides-a-frosted-heart calls. Red-fur-always-grumpy isn't complaining as he looks around.

"I don't see the liger queen," he says softly.

Well, perhaps his name isn't entirely accurate, Golden admits. He has his moments where he isn't grumpy, though they are few and far between... like right now.

Low, confused growls echo around the cavern, and Golden barks out a sharp reprimand. The packmate who met them outside the cavern pads over to him.

"He looks like Red-fur-youngling-in-too-large-skin, exactly like him, but he is not the youngling," the packmate says. Queen turns to look at him.

"I see. Then I know who Red-fur-youngling is," she says, before looking around. She closes her eyes for a moment before she stands and steps out of the nest, looking around the cavern. Golden watches, waiting. She inhales deeply. "I am Princess-two-legs-loves-the-pack-defends-all-friends!" she yowls her full name as loudly as her vocal chords allow. "Who here would protest my right to lead this pack as Queen?!"

No member of the pack dared to move for a long while. Queen looked at every one of them at least once, but still no one argued. She stepped forward. "Then I ask instead—who will follow me?!"

The entire cavern erupted in roars, Queen's two-legged allies looking a bit startled by the sudden noise level.

Queen looks past the crowd of ligers, toward Red-fur-always-grumpy, who, true to name, is looking irritated again. "You do see the liger queen, Asch," she says. Frost, the only other female Queen associates with, looks a bit surprised.

"Arietta... But, you mother..."

"I'll kill the bastard that did this to her! But I've got to find my new sister first. I have to make sure she's okay," Queen replies. Golden stands and steps up next to her.

"I will help you, Queen-loves-the-pack. You know I always will."

Queen makes an expression of distaste and shakes her head. "I love the pack. I always will. But I would prefer to be known as Queen-defends-all-friends."

A yowl of agreement rings out from somewhere in the crowd, and Golden nods his head. "Yes... A fitting change." He nudges her arm. "What do we do now?"

Queen takes a deep breath, then lets out a loud yowl to get everyone's attention. She then starts giving out orders, designating groups to take care of her siblings, and hunt, and then starts figuring out which ligers are coming with them to attack the large two-legged machine. Once the groups have been decided, she picks up the previously-discarded cloth-thing and walks over to her two-legged allies. Golden pads along behind her easily.

"What was that all about?" Large-male-lost-his-cub-still-fiercely-protective asks.

Queen holds the limp thing in her front paws tightly. "You said... Jade the Necromancer was on the landship we're attacking? I think... he came here and killed Mommy. There was another girl here, that saved my siblings, and she tried to save Mommy... Mommy let her into the nest. Mommy trusted her. And my liger friends said the man who killed Mommy took her with him. I'll kill Jade for killing Mommy. But I have to find the other girl first!"

Red-fur-always-grumpy huffs. "Great. But are we ready to go yet? At this rate, we'll be flying all night to catch up."

Green-fur-frozen-and-sharp smirks. "We'll be flying all night anyway, Asch. Or did you not notice that the sun was already setting when we finally found this place?" he asks, not sounding at all pleasant. He then turns to Queen. "Did you have to run off like that? We wasted a good twenty minutes trying to find the entrance."

Golden snarls at him for his rudeness, but Queen puts her paw—actually, don't the two-leggeds call them hands?—up to silence him.

"Something was wrong, Sync. I had to investigate. It's not like we're that far behind schedule."

He snorts, but doesn't say anything more, simply turns and walks off. Frost sighs and follows after him, with Red-fur-always-grouchy following her. The only one who hesitates to leave is Large-male-fiercely-protective.

"Are you going to be okay?" he asks.

"Yes. Mommy wouldn't want me to mourn her for a long time, and I have to lead the pack now, anyway."

He nods, and follows after her other allies. She turns to look at Golden. "Are you ready?"

Golden nods as well. "Always."

Her mood improves slightly, and she walks out of the cavern after one last glance around. The packmate who told them of Gentle-child-loves-life follows as well. Golden wonders why for a few moments, then realizes that the smaller liger is describing the two-legged girl who tried to help their former queen and he listens.

"Dark red-purple-brown hair, and her eyes..." the packmate trails off here and pauses.

"What about her eyes?" Queen asks.

"One was a soft blue, the color of the midday sky. The other was golden, like the sunlight."

Queen looks a bit taken aback. "Really? That's unusual..."

"Should make her easy to spot, though," Golden notes. Queen nods.

"Yes." They emerge from the den, and Golden shakes himself before looking around. Dozens of ligers, twice as many... griffins, is that the two-legged word?... and about as many two-leggeds as ligers. And Ice-wings-easily-offended, whose name in his own language is near impossible for Golden to remember. Golden guesses that Ice-wings will be carrying him, as he can see the largest of the griffins hovering about near Queen, and he knows there's no way it could bear his weight for any amount of time.

Which is why Queen has only brought the smaller warrior ligers.

He notices as Queen hesitates, and then waves over a small griffin whose only real purpose is relaying messages among its comrades. In the screeching language the bird monsters use, Queen speaks to it.

"How fast can you fly to the icy mountains in the far north?" she asks.

"I can reach the frozen mountains and return before you reach your destination, Tongues-Speaker," he replies. Respectful, but not exactly the level of respect due to a queen. Still, these flying creatures are not of her pack, and follow her out of respect for her ability to speak their language.

"I need you to send for a second ice-wings-sky-lord, to come here and transport a point-flier of the grounded kind. I need another point-flier to rescue a trine-mate." Golden finds it a bit irritating that some monster languages have no words for the other species.

The griffin bows its head. "I shall endeavor to be as swift as possible." The flying monster then takes to the sky, flying away swiftly, and Queen turns to the little packmate who's been following them around.

"Go, tell Blue-mane-swims-in-the-lake to wait for the ice-wings-sky-lord," she orders. The packmate bows his head and takes off.

"Arietta!"

Queen nods sharply at the call from the other two-legged female and walks over to the large griffin nearby, climbing up on his back and taking in a deep breath.

"Get ready, and make sure not to squirm too much!" she yowls first in the liger language. "You know which griffins are for riding, get on," she adds for the other two-leggeds. "Steady, there! If you have a two-legs rider, get into the air as soon as they signal they're ready. If you're carrying a liger, be careful not to drop my flock!"

Liger yowls, two-legged cries, and griffin screeches all follow the orders as they're given out, and before long, the whole group is in the air, and Golden once again finds himself being carried by Ice-wings-easily-offended. It's the farthest thing he's found yet to being comfortable, but he does have to admit—if only grudgingly—that Ice-wings can fly faster than he can run, even when the flier is carrying him.

He does have one question though, as it makes little sense to him. "Ice-wings."

"What do you want, Gold-feather?" the ice-wings-sky-lord, called a hresvelgr in the two-legged language, replies in the common language of flying monsters. While most ligers don't understand a word of the flying language, and most fliers don't understand them... Well, he's been stuck with Ice-wings and Queen long enough now that the two of them understand all three languages well enough that Queen doesn't need to translate anymore.

"What was it that Queen said she needed to rescue? A..." Golden pauses, huffs, and makes a screeching sound that makes his throat hurt. Ice-wings grumbles.

"It's trine-mate, stupid," the flier corrects his terrible pronunciation. "A trine is a group of three fliers who work together. They are almost as close to each other as mates. For a flier, trines and mates are the only ones we allow close to us. For one like you... The equivalent in bond to a trine-mate would be a true nest-mate."

Golden goes very, very limp in Ice-wing's grip.

Queen only sees three ligers as being her true-nestmates. Himself, Blue-fur-swims-in-the-lake, and Princess-quiet-and-sweet-healer.

Sweet is safe on the eastern coast, he's dangling from a hresvelgr's claws, and Blue is waiting for the second hresvelgr.

Queen already sees this new two-legged as a true-nestmate?! Is it because Gentle-child-loves-life is another two-legged?

Or... Could it be because she stood up for Queen-mother-of-many-but-still-fiercest-warrior and that queen's eggs, even though she was a total stranger to the nest? Even though one of her own kind had identified the queen as a threat and had moved to terminate her? Even though Golden had a feeling their terrorizing of the puffballs was the entire reason the two-leggeds had come in the first place?

Despite everything, Gentle-child-loves-life had placed the pack—and its future—above all else.

Golden's determination to protect this new two-legged increases tenfold, and he barely notices the rest of the long, long trip. Queen's yowling makes him stir, and he looks around, managing to look behind him as well. He can see a swiftly-approaching blue dot, but he knows that Blue and the other hresvelgr are still a while out. He'll have to leave the protection of Queen-defends-all-friends to the smaller ligers for now.

If Queen sees Gentle-child as a true-nestmate, who is he to do otherwise?

"Get ready for the drop!" Queen calls. "And... Now!"

Ice-wings-easily-offended drops him unceremoniously—not that he was expecting otherwise—and he lands easily, drawing in fonons and discharging them quickly. Three blue-cloth-covered two-leggeds are hit, one dropping to the wooden surface beneath them. Golden wastes little time in killing the others before he races off.

"Golden-prince-protects-the-queen! Where are you going?!" a smaller liger asks. Golden snarls over his shoulder.

"To find Gentle-child-loves-life for Queen-defends-all-friends!"

No one argues with him after that, and he's left to race around the two-legged transportation machine, searching for her.

He does cross the very, very fresh scent of Blood-scented-murdered-queen, and he recognizes that of Red-fur-youngling-in-too-large-skin, but those two aren't the one he seeks.

He isn't sure how many blue-cloth-covered two-leggeds he kills, but he does know that he searches for a much longer time than he's comfortable with trying to find Gentle-child-loves-life. A packmate informs him at one point that Blue and the rest of the pack are to take over the search, and Queen wants him back with her.

Golden growls deep in his chest, but returns to his queen's side regardless. He can't sit still for long, and neither can she. Packmates report in repeatedly, without finding her.

Then, finally, a packmate finds her.

Then the machine goes dark, and Queen squeaks in fear. Golden roars his frustrations to the All-Mother before launching himself at the wall. His claws aren't quite as strong as the metal the two-legged machine is made of, but he is not about to stay here any longer!

"Bloody Howling!"

Queen's magic strikes the wall he's been attacking, and he discharges a large amount of fonons on the same place, successfully making a hole large enough for him to get through. He squeezes through, then waits for her to join him.

"We have to go that way!" she says, hopping on his back and pointing.

He races in that direction, trusting Blue to protect Gentle-child-loves-life now that they know where she is.

He reaches the exit to the machine and slams into a two-legged who hesitated on the... oh, what's the two-legged word? Stairs? Something like that...

"Arietta! Good timing!" Frost calls. Queen jumps down, gathering up fonons but not forming them into anything, while he hovers protectively.

Then the unexpected happens.

"HELP!"

Golden turns his head to look at the newcomer—flying down the... he's gonna stick with stairs... faster than should be safe—and spots wide, mismatched blue and gold eyes.

Behind her is Green-fur-frozen-and-sharp.

Fonons build in his chest before he even realizes what he's doing, and Sharp barely has enough time to dodge as Gentle-child-loves-life ducks behind him.

"Thanks..."