King stood with his paws planted, claws tearing the sand, tail curved, and spine arched. Another meer faced him, green gaze hesitant and fur on end. “King,” he called as the wind raged around them, “we don’t have to do this!”
“You stole her from me, Pride!” King raged, baring his teeth. “I want my mate back!”
Dark clouds seethed overhead and closer to them lightning flashed. Pride had to wait for the thunder to fade before responding. “She was never your mate, King, and she isn’t mine either. I’m just trying to get home.”
King’s blue eyes glowed with anger, shining through the thick shadows gathering on his pelt. Pride’s gaze darted, his paws flexing with desperation. “I don’t want to fight you.” Pride admonished.
King bunched his muscles the scream, For Queen, rising in his head. He sprang but Pride anticipated the move and ducked from his outstretched paws. He landed with skill and twisted to face Pride once more only to find that the cowardly Scavenger male had turned. The back of Pride’s head bobbed as he fled. King barreled after him.
He was hot on Pride’s tail when the enemy meer dove into a dense clump of grass. King’s gaze followed the black of his tail tip as he plunged in after him-
A cording, dark shape undulating from the course stocks halted King in his tracks. The long, lithe body glided towards him, barely disturbing the dim grass. King squinted, heart hammering, as he tried to identify the creature. He held still and waited for it to pass, then continued in the deepening shadows. He had only taken one step with his claws skimmed shadowy scales.
King jumped back but it was too late. The lengthy cobra whipped its fear-inspiring hood in King’s direction. He stared into its beady eyes, frozen. A shout echoed from what seemed like a long distance. “King, run!”
The cobra’s jaws parted, and a hiss escaped, grinding in King’s ears. He blinked, willing himself to turn around, to sprint as far and as fast as possible but then the hiss sputtered and died. King watched with fascination as the snake’s jaws unhinged even wider. Why hasn’t it struck? He wondered vaguely, his fury forgotten.
Then just as rain broke above him, trouncing his pelt and soaking him in heartbeats, an ark of venom, pure and clear, squirted into King’s wide eyes.
Pain split his skull as he dropped to the ground, his paws giving out. He wiped at his eyes, water dripping into the melting lids and incensing the pain further. Clawing frantically at his face, King fell-
King woke with a jolt. He was alone in a quiet corner of the heartchamber. As the familiar scents of the Zeros and dank sand smacked his flaring nostrils his heart eased. He laid his snout back on his paws and blinked. The action no longer caused him pain, but the injury would never heal. No matter how long he rested, what he ate, or how he cleaned them he would never see anything again.
King was blind, and it was Pride’s fault. King vowed that if he ever discovered where Queen and her new mate were holed up, there would be a rematch. For a moment King’s sightless, cloudy gaze danced, but then he shoved the notion away. He doubted he’d get his revenge now, not in his condition.
Dust dribbled from the ceiling and the jovial barks of playing youngsters floated through the burrow entrance not far from his position. He covered his nose in his paws, thankful to be in the darkness of the burrow. At least underground he was on equal footing with his groupmates. In fact, he could probably find his way around the maze of chambers and passages better than they could since he was used to relying on his nose and whiskers to guide him everywhere.
He pictured Queen’s kind face and deep brown eyes. He’d never see her again, but if he could just find her…talk to her…
King rubbed his ear where that little terror Victory had clamped her sharp pup-teeth on it. He felt bad for Glade, how was she supposed to keep her pups under control with surly Slate lurking over her shoulder? Slate had changed since Queen and Lily departed the Zeros to begin their own gang, probably far from this chunk of the desert. King could sympathize with the dominant female. Not only had he lost the meer he was supposed to rule the Zeros with, that he cared about more than anything else, but he had lost his sight as well.
A sudden shifting near him made his whiskers bristle. He sat up, sniffing. The strong scent that hung about the still air was familiar and King slouched, the tension draining from his muscles. “Misery.”
The big male, Glade’s mate, padded to his side and laid down so that their fur brushed. King’s throat ached as he faced the spot where the other meer rested. He had forgotten how soothing companionship felt. In the moons since the encounter with the spitting cobra, his family members had kept their distance, whether that was because Slate ordered it for his failing to control Queen or because they sensed his repulsive weakness, King didn’t know.
“How are you feeling today?” Misery asked, his tone casual and gruff, as if he were speaking to any other meer. King’s heart lifted. “You’ve missed the morning chores.”
“I’ve overslept, is all.” King responded, his words emphasized by a huge yawn.
Misery just chuckled and combed his teeth through the fur of King’s neck, removing the annoying ticks. King sighed, this time with contentment. In a matter of moments, he had gone from the future dominant male of the Zeros to a crippled burden. If life could change that fast, then maybe there was still hope for him left. Some members of the family still cared for him, so maybe Queen did too.
We’ll meet again, someday. He vowed silently as he relaxed into Misery’s grooming, his tumultuous storm of emotions settling. Someday.