A Forest Cat, Chapter one: The Call of the Hunt, part 2
The vaguely humanoid creature growled menacingly at the defenceless figure of the little girl; its bestial features were dominated by two large fangs protruding from either side of its mouth that really looked more like a muzzle. Its over-large dark eyes watched the girl with obvious hunger and it stretched out one of its claw-like hands in eager anticipation, even though the distance between it and its prey was still several metres. The girl sat crouched on the ground, her arms around her knees in an effort to become so small that she would disappear. Her eyes, wide with fear, watched the creature approach without being able to pull away from its horrible frame. She could not run; she could not make the effort to defend herself, even if she had known how. Mesmerised by the creature’s stare, she could not escape this inevitable deadly encounter. In passive acceptance she faced the possibility of her own death by this frightening monster. The creature took another step towards its prey, certain of its success in catching this small, but appetising little meal.
We come for your aid, little sister.
The thought seemed to have formed out of nowhere into her mind, dim through the numbing fear that had paralysed her. Apart from vague surprise, it could not rouse her and she watched on silently as the creature came within her reach at its next step. It led out a satisfied growl and reached out towards the girl’s throat, ready to squeeze it.
The cat’s reaction was faster than the man’s; before he had his arrow nocked to his bow, the cat sprinted to close the distance and leapt. The creature led out a scream in hurt surprise and transferred its attention to the attacking cat. It got its clawed hands around the animal’s throat but the forest cat had already sunk its teeth into the creature’s exposed neck. In a last, terrifying howl that sent a shiver down the man’s spine as he watched in fascination, the creature made a last effort to dislodge the cat, its claws tearing through the animal’s fur. Then they fell powerless to the ground after the cat found the creature’s jugular vein and dark red blood spat out, draining the creature’s life force rapidly.
With the blood still dripping from its muzzle, the cat came back to inspect the girl. Too frightened to react to this new threat, the girl merely blinked once at the cat, eyes still wide and waited for the cat to attack. But instead of leaping at her throat, the cat graciously sat down and began to lick its wounds, watching the girl occasionally with fading interest.
“Are you hurt, little one?” The man had moved closer to the girl and the cat, approaching carefully. The girl’s eyes darted towards the man and then back to the cat in dumb incomprehension. As the man squatted down on his heels beside the cat, the animal’s head turned towards him but again it made no move to attack. Instead, there seemed to be some silent communication between them before the man slowly reached out a hand towards the cat’s injured shoulder. Despite her fear, the girl followed his movement with detached interest, wondering vaguely why the cat did not appear to be hostile, either to her or to the stranger. Throwing his bow beside him on the ground, the man reached for his backpack with slow, deliberate movements and pulled out a worn leather pouch. He rummaged through the pouch and produced a small pot, removing its lid carefully. Holding the pot up for the cat’s inspection, he gathered his thoughts. This will help your wound to heal quickly and cleanly, brother. Will you allow me to apply it?
The cat looked thoughtful, glaring at the pot in obvious distrust. With its head held a little to the side, it regarded the man once more before coming to a decision. I will allow it.
With infinite slow movements, the man rubbed a little from the contents of the pot on the animal’s open wounds, already licked clean by the cat itself. Involuntarily the cat’s muscles twitched but it did not move as the man applied the ointment. Trying to condone for the injury the cat sustained, the man sent out his next thought. I am in your debt, brother. Your skill in tracking far outreaches mine. After flashing a sour smile he added. As does your skill in killing.
If the cat could have smiled, it would have done so. It was nothing, brother. You still have a lot to learn but as for your debt: if I survive the injury, I consider your debt repaid. If not… The cat glanced momentarily at the creature that lay lifeless on the ground; its limps sprawled in a pool of drying blood. …the death of a fanged-one is payment enough, even in exchange for my own life. The animal looked with marked distaste at the dead creature. When the man had finished the treatment of the cat’s injuries, the animal reverted its attention back to the crouching girl, who still sat curled into a frightened little ball. This cub has very bad survival skills. Are you sure she is worth our effort?
The man also looked at the girl, pity mingled with uncertainty before replying: There are few of us left, brother. Every individual deserves the effort we make. The cat seemed less certain but was too polite to mention it. Giving the girl one last considering look, it got up and stretched its paws. Without wasting another moment, the cat sent a last farewell: My task is done, brother. If fear your task is just beginning. Perhaps we’ll meet again. The man gave a slight nod, phrasing the appropriate response in his head.
Go where the hunt leads you, brother. Farewell. Without another pause, the cat turned and, ignoring the dead creature, slid back into the forest.