I always hated waking up after a health check. The lingering effects of the tranquilliser left me a little disoriented, and waking up in an unfamiliar place certainly didn't help. The small cage prevented me from stretching out my body fully, so tiredness loitered in my limbs. The cold concrete beneath me had chilled my bones in my sleep, my joints sore and achy from the unforgiving surface, making me long for my sweet-smelling bed.
My mouth was also dry, awkward like it was stuffed with cotton and a bad taste lingered, like the time I'd gotten a piece of meat stuck in my teeth. Luckily Vet Marshal had noticed on his rounds. The way I'd been pawing at my mouth and almost constantly licking to try and get it out, it was one of the rare times I was actually eager for a health check. The taste of the rotten meat had been horrible, and Vet Marshal had explained to me whilst he removed it that it could have infected my gums and rotted my teeth.
I did so wish for my cage, although barren, at least it contained a fresh bowl of water. Juan knew I wouldn't drink from my bowl if the water had been sitting for too long so he always kept it fresh for me. I did appreciate that, which was why I was more tolerant of him than all the other keepers. It hadn't gone unnoticed apparently, as he'd been appointed my main keeper, all because I didn't growl at him when he put his arm in my cage to grab the water bowl so he could refresh it.
Humans could be such interesting creatures sometimes, for such a vocal species it was surprising they understood nonverbal communication, often incorrectly mind you but they actually relied on it quite a bit. I guess because they like to lie, the mouth tells high tails so truth must be found elsewhere.
I did the same, mostly. I relied on non-verbal queues, I wasn't really a human behaviour expert. Aside from today, I'd never shifted in a very long time, so speaking was out of the question, which left a language barrier between us. Sure I had a good grasp of human language, but as I'd said they can lie, so I watch them as well as listen.
The keepers here weren't exactly cat behaviour experts though, they didn't understand my guarding behaviour, mistaking it for aggression. I growled when they did something I didn't like, the movements of my ears and tail going completely unnoticed, even my puffed up fur and stance were ignored, those humans might as well be blind.
I snorted at my own thoughts, humans with all their smart inventions could be so stupid. They'd made me what I am, an experiment left locked in a cage because they couldn't understand it and they feared it. Why make a jaguar shifter anyway? The breeder I'd come from sold me to a pet auction house, why not a Lanista?
I certainly wasn't complaining, I didn't want to fight to the death with other large predator shifters for the entertainment of humans.
It could very well be my fate though. If I didn't get any bids at the auction a Lanista could approach the boss and ask him to buy me for his Ludus (training school), at a highly reduced price compared to being sold as a pet. But some money is better than none. The Lanista would then take me to his Ludus and would make me fight in his name at the Colosseum.
It was why I was willing to shift at the auction, despite my better judgement. I'd also promised Vet Marshal I would. There was also no guarantee a Lanista would be interested in me, if one would even be present, they didn't exactly have any need to be at a pet auction in the first place. Which meant I'd be put down to save money and create space for pet-shifters that would get sold.
I sighed despondently at that.
I was seventeen, still a child by human standards. I'd been at this auction house so long but I could possibly have many times that if I was lucky, if a human bid on me.
Some shifters longed for a master, no doubt hearing stories of spoiled pets living lavish lives under a human's control. Others just wanted something more than this... than what I had. Just to see the sun, feel the grass between our paws, have something that qualified as a life, a life worth living.
I barely remembered when bars didn't block my vision, I couldn't want something I didn't understand.
I did long for more though, there had to be more to life than this. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a cage, however long it ended up being.
I didn't know how to win over a human though, convince a nice one to buy me. I'd spent all my life scaring them away from me due to fear and desperation, I didn't know how to act any different.
I would shift though, the boss and Vet Marshal seemed to think it would up my chances of getting bid on, it was all I could think to do, that and behave.
I grumbled to myself at the thought.
I didn't like the boss, I didn't hate him, hate was a very strong word, but I strongly disliked him. He hadn't ripped me from my mother personally but he'd been instrumental in the situation, and for that, I couldn't possibly like him. He'd also brought me and stuck me in a cage for many years, who does that? Did he ever have any sort of plan for me or was I just an impulse buy? It wasn't like he had any redeeming features either, he was a shallow and vain man, my sparse cage was evidence enough, he was more than willing to cut corners to save money, as long as his 'stock' looked healthy on stage he didn't care.
I didn't want to be good for him, I didn't want to earn him money, but I wouldn't let my spite get me killed.
A familiar figure strode down the hallway, other keepers bustling around. It had gotten noticeably louder and busier since I'd woken, which meant the auction would be happening really soon.
I stood and I attempted to stretch, yawning and shaking myself of the lingering heaviness of the tranquilisers, smacking my lips to try and get rid of the dry feeling and bad taste, but to no avail.
Juan came to a stop in front of my cage, lowering to a squat so we were eye to eye, flashing me a nervous grin, his movements a little jerky, like he was receiving a small static shock every time he moved. It was obvious he was apprehensive, he was expected to somehow take me to the auction without being tranquilised, and I hadn't exactly been nice to anyone who'd gotten too close.
"How you feeling Luci?" he inquired.
I snorted out a breath and lashed my tail, thirsty, grouchy from the tranquiliser, achy from the cold floor and about as anxious as him for the auction, so not that great. I pawed at the floor in front of the cage door and stared into his dark brown eyes, hoping he'd understand that I wanted some water.
"Ah! I'll be back," he announced and quickly disappeared, returning a few moments after with a large metallic bowl. With practised ease, he opened the cage and slipped the bowl in, even in his nervous state he didn't fumble, so used to the cautious motion of giving me water. The cage door was quickly closed again and I leaned down and eagerly lapped at the cool water until my mouth was no longer dry and my thirst quenched.
I sat and waited patiently to see what he'd do, I was actually quite intrigued to see how he was going to handle this. He had it easier since I wasn't in my cage, I didn't want to stay in this cage, it was uncomfortable and cramped, as long as he didn't try and get in here with me I wouldn't growl at him or do something worse.
"Okay..." he breathed out heavily, stepping back with his hands on his hips, no doubt wondering the same. "I know you don't like restraint, or being handled, but if I'm going to make this as pleasant for the both of us as it can be then you're going to need to do what I tell you," he said in a firm tone but his voice cracked a little and he swallowed thickly.
I inclined my head to show I was listening and waited for his instructions. Being good would get me bid on right? Juan was also right, I didn't like being restrained, by equipment or hand, if we could do this without either I could manage.
He cleared his throat, appearing to steal himself before reaching forward and opening the cage door fully.
I cautiously stepped forward, having to duck so I wouldn't hit my head, looking up at Juan as I left the cage, his knuckles white from gripping the cage door, holding it between him like some sort of shield and I snorted quietly, like that would protect him if I was inclined to lash out.
In all the years he'd cared for me I'd never attacked him, growled a lot yes, and kept him scared enough so ensure he'd never be cocky enough to invade my space. He'd respected that, or valued his life, either way, he hadn't walked past that invisible line, so I had no reason to attack, maiming a keeper was the last resort for me, I'd learnt that lesson.
He shut it behind me and looked down at me cautiously. "Ok, stay at my side at all times, if I stop you stop, if I go you go, got it?" He asked and I nodded and with that, he started to walk.
I fell into step with him, my front paws a little behind his booted feet, my shoulder as close to his legs as I was comfortable with.
We walked down the long hallway, other keepers getting pet shifters out of their temporary cages. They stopped what they were doing when they saw us walk past. At their astonished looks Juan pulled his shoulders back, a smirk on his lips because he had me waking obediently by his side without any type of restraint. I just rolled my eyes at the looks and the swagger in Juan's step, he'd been petrified of me moments ago, it did amuse me how humans put up a front to impress others, they enjoyed showing off.
"That's blue-eyed Luci!" One of the keepers hissed to another.
"He's going to auction!?"
The same sort of chatter followed in our wake and shifters and keepers jumped out of our way at the sight of me, walking with cat-like grace, my movements as fluid like liquid. Being able to walk like this was a treat, even with all the stares and whispering, it was a nice change from walking in circles or pacing.
We turned right and headed down another long corridor, many keepers with shifters at their sides and the few smaller ones in their arms, lining up for the auction on the left side of the wall. Juan carried on though and a dog we walked past yelped in shock and fear, practically jumping into his keepers' arms.
We finally reached the end of the hallway, it turning abruptly and leading to another. There was a lot of noise at my back but right down the end of the next hallway even more sounded, all blending together into a dull roar.
The boss was there chatting with a few well-dressed humans just on the other side of the corner. He stopped talking when he saw us approaching. "I thought I'd never see the day." He grinned, rubbing his hands together and I slowed to a stop when Juan did, sitting down in front of the boss.
"That's Luci?!" One of the well-dressed women exclaimed in horror, hands going to her chest. "Didn't he maul Rico?"
"He came into his cage with a taser baton, that's asking for trouble." Juan declared and crossed his muscular arms.
I glanced up at him, my respect for him growing at his words. It seemed he understood more than I gave him credit for, and the fact he was defending me meant a lot.
"Yes but look at him now." The boss pointed out and they looked at me obediently sitting at Juan's feet, not even growling or restrained.
"How?" One of them wondered in disbelief.
"He knows what's at stake," Juan explained. That I did, I valued my life and had a promise to keep.
"The auction is about to start." The boss mentioned, looking down at his watch. "Juan, take him into room 2, I bet he's startled enough pets and keepers for today." He commanded and Juan nodded and headed down a corridor to the left which was filled with doors on both sides. He pushed open the first one on the right and I padded in.
It was quite small, a lone light hanging from the ceiling, the floor concrete like the rest of the place. There were no bars in sight and although a little stuffy the air was free from pungent smells, in fact…
A clean pile of straw was in one of the far corners, the only other addition a chair by the door. Juan closed the door and took the seat and I walked over to the pile of straw and sniffed it. Finding it was indeed clean I sat down on it with a sigh, breathing in the sweet scent and enjoying the soft cushioning, it might not be my bed but it was much more comfortable than the cold hard floor.
Juan pulled his phone out of his pocket and played some game and I rested my eyes and waited for my turn to go on the stage and be auctioned off if I was lucky, sold to a Lanista or put down if I wasn't.
A shifter is a sub-human species that has both a human and animal side that they can shift between at will.
Shifters come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in every part of human life.
Luci is a melanistic jaguar shifter.
He's spent most of his young life locked in a cage but finally, he has the chance to see the world without metal bars obstructing his view.
Luci wasn't very trusting of humans, he's been hurt by them before, torn from his mother as soon as he'd weaned off her milk, never to see her again.
He's sold at auction as a pet, which is very uncommon for a big cat shifter. They are known as being notoriously hard to train, and incredibly dangerous. Luci himself had been deemed 'untrainable' by those who had tried to tame him before.
Will his master be any different?
Will somebody finally be able to train the 'untrainable' blue-eyed Luci?