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Jihu Warrenâ€™s chest warmed, his heart fluttering with something he didnâ€™t recognise at first as he listened intently to his grandfather Chung-Hee. Jihu had only met the man recently, and wished heâ€™d remained blissfully ignorant of his relativeâ€™s cruelty. Normally anything the older man said only served to drive another sharp spike of hopelessness into Jihu. However, this morning, from behind the locked door where he was being held, Jihu experienced that fluttery, unfamiliar feelingâ€”hope. Every word Chung-Hee spewed out in a vitriolic rant at Chul, Chung-Heeâ€™s son and Jihuâ€™s father, only served to increase that feeling. Jihu leaned his head against the wall he was chained to and listened to the voices increase in volume.
He was rather impressed. This was the first time heâ€™d ever heard the man who he had to call â€˜fatherâ€™ stand up to Chung-Hee. No one ever did thatâ€”or they hadnâ€™t, before Bae, a brother he knew of only in name, stood up to Chung-Hee and Chul both.
Since Chung-Hee was not only Jihu and Baeâ€™s grandfather, but the leader of Baeâ€™s lepeâ€”his clan of Amur leopard shiftersâ€”everyone tended to cower and kowtow to Chung-Hee, and Chul as well, seeing as how Chul was supposed to take over the lepe when Chun-Hee died. Jihu hadnâ€™t grown up in this lepe, had been a part of one under the command of Shin-Il in another state, but there had been gossip, and even without that, heâ€™d known how his own lepe had worked. This one was no different. It, too, was lead by a tyrant who cared nothing for his lepe members. Chung-Hee might even be worse than Shin-Il. Yes, he really was. After all, who had ordered the chains binding Jihu?
Personally, he didnâ€™t think the old bastard would ever die. But if he did, Jihu wouldnâ€™t mourn. No, heâ€™d rejoice, and heâ€™d do the same when Chul kicked the bucket, too.
Or so heâ€™d always thought, but now... Now, hearing Chul stand up to Chung-Hee, hearing him demand the cruel old bastard stop forcing the younger membersâ€”or prisoners, as was Jihuâ€™s caseâ€”to breed, well, Jihu almost felt fond of his father.
Almost. Pain slapped at Jihu, physical, mental and emotionalâ€”hell, he had all the bases covered. Heâ€™d been chained to the wall for weeks now, and while he could get up, had some leeway with the length of the chains, he had no freedom. Heâ€™d long since tossed any pride or shame, having to use what he was given to take care of his bodyâ€™s needs. The room was large, but bare. Jihu had been given nothing for comfort, no pillows or blankets, no clothes.
His ability to shift had been taken from him as well. Chung-Hee had seen to it, of course. Jihu received a shot daily, the contents of which were unknown to Jihu, but the results obvious.
As Jihu listened to Chul try to reason with Chung-Hee, he wondered if Chul knew he was chained up in here. What does it matter? Heâ€™s never been anything more than the man ordered to breed, and I am simply one of undoubtedly many results.
Jihu never thought of himself as Chulâ€™s child, his son, any more than he thought of himself as Shon-Hoâ€™s son. She had given birth to him, but in his lepe in Wyoming where Jihu was born and had lived up until being recently shippedâ€”unwillinglyâ€”to Colorado, the women who were in the breeding programme never raised their babies. He supposed they felt theyâ€™d done their part if they managed to get pregnant and carry the baby to term. A successful birth was a rare enough occurrence that fertile women were given whatever they wanted, except a choice in whether or not to breed.
Actually Jihu understood, he supposed, why the females didnâ€™t care to keep their babies. They likely were viewed as nothing more than the outcome of rape. All he had to do was think about his own current state, chained and imprisoned so he could be forced to impregnate whichever female Chung-Hee deemed appropriate. He felt violated and angry and full of hate.
Jihu couldnâ€™t imagine how the women felt, but in some cases it wouldnâ€™t surprise him if removing the newborn babies from their mothers might be the only way to ensure the infantsâ€™ survival. Jihu dreaded the time that was sure to come when he would be forced to choose between spilling his seed inside an unwilling female or refusing.
What would he do then? So far heâ€™d beenâ€”well, lucky was the wrong word for it, but in the one coupling forced on him, the woman had been not only willing, but skilled enough to make sure he released inside her. Since sheâ€™d taken and carried to full term, his spunk was apparently sought after. Jihu didnâ€™t want to think that this might be all his life was, an endless time as a prisoner forced to procreate. It might be some twisted idiotâ€™s idea of a fantasy come to life, but all it did for Jihu was make him want to die if he couldnâ€™t find another solution.
He didnâ€™t think he could even maintain an erection if he had to...do that again, and if he failed, Jihu didnâ€™t doubt Chung-Hee would follow through on his threats. That couldnâ€™t happen.
The argument outside the room he was kept in increased in volume. Jihuâ€™s heartbeat accelerated as Chul vehemently refused to allow Chung-Lee to go after Bae. Bae, the half-brother Jihu didnâ€™t know. Heâ€™d only heard rumours, and those rumours had apparently been true. Bae had left the lepe, had escaped the controlling Chung-Hee, and somehow, had made his and Jihuâ€™s father come to see the wrongness of forced breedings. Of rape.
Jihu couldnâ€™t quite apply that word to himself. After all, he was a man now and heâ€™d got an erectionâ€”although more through sheer determination and fear of what would happen should he fail. But heâ€™d gone along with it, hadnâ€™t fought. He hadnâ€™t thought he could fight, that time.
Then heâ€™d been ordered to do it again, and heâ€™d protested, and now here he was, unable to fight anymore because of what Chung-Hee had threatened to do. The chains and anti-shifting drug ensured Jihu couldnâ€™t escape and neutralise the threat made. Jihu knew he was trapped. Whether or not that meant he would surrender remained to be seen.
Chung-Heeâ€™s voice rose, the old man bellowing loudly for his guards. When Chul retaliated with a shout for his as wellâ€”Jihu hadnâ€™t even known Chul had guards, but then again, he didnâ€™t know the man at all, did he?â€”in short order the sounds of violence rang in the air.
Jihu pushed himself up until he was leaning on the wall. He could only walk a few feet, but he was pulled towards the door as if by an invisible wire. The chains stopped him, pulling at his ankles and wrists. Jihu leaned against them, sending spearing pain through his limbs. He cocked his head to the side and tried to discern who was winning. If he knew all the men out there fighting, or at least knew their voices, that would help.
But he didnâ€™t. This wasnâ€™t his lepe, really. His was just as bad, just as twisted, though.
A loud crash of a body hitting the door almost rattled the thing off its hinges. Jihuâ€™s breath hitched when it happened again, then again. Was someone trying to get in? He sniffed but his senses were all kinds of a mess, whether from the drugs given him or from the stench of the room he was in. With the limited movement he had, there was only so much Jihu could do to relieve his bodily functions. Heâ€™d been provided with buckets, emptied daily if he was lucky.
Another hard thud to the door and Jihu began to believe that yes, someone was trying to get in. It obviously wasnâ€™t Chung-Hee or his guards, they had keys, or at least a set of keys amongst them. Which meant...Chul? Does he even know I exist? I mean, me, Jihu, son of his breeding to Shon-Ho?
Jihu snorted at the ridiculousness of his thought. Honestly, how could he have such an ego? It was known throughout many lepes that Chul was a fertile breeder. Many, many offspring had been born from his seed finding a femaleâ€™s egg and bringing it to life. Chul would have no idea who Jihu was, like he almost certainly couldnâ€™t know all his other offspring. Yes, he had an ego that was certainly unjustified.
â€œAre you in there, Jihu?â€
The shouted question took him aback, because it came from Chul. Jihu actually stumbled back, and, weak and worn as he was, fell before he could find his balance. The wooden floor was a jarring surface to his backside, and he bit his tongue on impact, blood finding his taste buds and making him gag.
â€œJihu! Are youâ€”Ah!â€ Chulâ€™s shout broke off in a pained cry, and Jihu suddenly, fiercely, wanted his father, or whatever Chul could be termed, to acknowledge him, to know that yes, his son, one of many, many sons, was being held captive like the animal he could be. If he could ever shift again.
But to yell out, to answer, could mean death for them both. Jihu felt it in his bones. If Chul were trying to rescue him, was arguing and fighting against Chung-Hee, and Jihu answered, would that drive Chul to a frenzy? Would he kill Chung-Hee, or, more likely, would Chul die instead? Jihu knew he would then pay the price for having answered, and so he didnâ€™t. It wasnâ€™t just his life on the line now.