The Visit

by

Pat Foley

Chapter 7

The lematya's tale

The darkening sky brought R'Darth out of her den early. She stretched, fore and aft, tilting her huge head up to appreciatively take in the scents of the late afternoon. After her long nap, hunger gaped her belly, but didn't cause her much concern. Since she had come to it, this ground had provided good hunting, the best of her considerable experience. A beast as large as herself needed game-rich grounds. And she had cubs in her belly to provide for as well. She had traveled far in search of a territory more suitable to her needs. She had won this one in a series of bloody battles from the previous long term resident. That one had known every nook and cranny of the foothills and had fought hard to keep them before being forced to relocate further up the mountain. R'Darth knew well the trials of relocating to a poorer area.

A rumble of thunder rocked the airwaves, a promise of a storm to come. Responding to this elemental challenge, R'Darth roared back. The hint of ozone in the air rejuvenated her after her long day's sleep and sharpened her hunger as well, kindling an overwhelming desire for prey. Thinking of it she flexed her claws, rolling her shoulders, every muscle rippling. She kneaded her huge paws on the ground in impatience, waiting for the wind to bring what she sought. Thunder rolled out across the hills again and she roared back and scored the rock face in her fury, leaving long gashes in the stone. Then on the freshening wind, as she searched for any hint of game she caught an unwelcome scent that froze her every muscle.

It was man, the scent of man.

She growled deep in her throat.

The scent of man was more than unwelcome, it was the scent of the enemy to her. Twice she'd come too close to the denizens of men, and twice in her encounters with them, she'd lost. Not only had she fallen to their weapons, but she'd lost her hard won lucrative territories, waking up far from the lands she'd striven in battle to win from her rivals. And to add to the stress of relocating, they'd been poorer territories too. The more remote lands were less desirable, not as much water, not as much game. So she had made her way back. These rich foothills suited her, except for this pervasive scent of man.

She been following the tracks of one particular man since she'd first come across them. But that one had been long gone by the time she had picked up his trail and followed it down the mountain to his lair. She'd sniffed along his booted passage, tested the strength of his lair's defenses and reluctantly retreated. She'd come back down the mountain, once, twice, searching for him outside of his walled and charged lair, eager to revenge her past defeats. But that one wisely never stirred when the sun dipped and true predators hunted. Never had she picked up his fresh scent, only the signs of his previous passage. But now, here he was. She leaned into the wind, her nostrils flared, ears pricked, saliva dripping in anticipation, and caught the scent again, full on her sharpened senses. And sat back on her powerful haunches in disappointment.

No. It was not quite the same scent. Not exactly. She opened her jaws wide, tasting as well as smelling the scent. No. There was a difference in the blood. But a similarity as well. A pack member then, if not pack leader. She leaned forward again. Yes, pack member, and young as well. A cub, perhaps easy prey. She would have preferred to take out the leader, but cubs grew to become alphas as well. She would take this man-cub before it grew. And with any luck, her hunt would bring out the alpha, and she'd have them both, her revenge complete. Then, when the time came to birth her own cubs, this territory would be theirs alone.

She extended and retracted her claws again, once, twice, reflexively, readying herself for battle. And then head high, following the air scent, she loped down the mountain after the wayward man-cub. Above, the thunder crashed, and the wind whipped her tawny fur, blowing her scent away from her, and the man-cub's to her. The wind was with her. A good omen. And good hunting to her.