The two beasts that walked through the mountains had no names.
One was the creature known to men as a snow leopard: a large cat with thick, dappled silver fur and large pale eyes. Her velvet paws made no noise as they pressed the snow into light footprints, and her body spoke of grace and subtlety. The being had an expression of cold indifference tempered by gentle pity, as though she would love each and every thing in the world if only they could overcome their basic instincts. Perhaps here lay a hypocrisy, for she had been the one who had created those instincts.
Her companion was altogether different. A native of the range they walked through would recognise him as a Tibetan wolf—a small, sandy-coloured cousin of the Eurasian wolf to the west, with shorter legs, a more svelte muzzle, and a thick woolly coat. His kind were believed to be the ancestors of the modern dog, and indeed he did share many similarities with that species. He was as different from the snow leopard as night and day. Whereas she was reserved and enigmatic, he was jovial and kind-hearted, often walking with a smile, as he did so now. For what they were on their way to do was one of his favourite tasks.
They had no names, for there were no words existing in the world that could evoke their power and strength. They were not even two beings; they were aspects of the same essence, for, as the wolf had put it, "things get done much faster when there's two of you."
Leopard and wolf drew to a halt on the highest peak, their breath turning to clouds beneath their feet. The wolf turned his head to admire the view, but the leopard let out a growl of impatience and shouldered him onwards.
"You can see this sight whenever you wish," she hissed in exasperation.
"It's not the same," was the reply.
Ignoring the wolf, the leopard padded into the centre of the summit, scraping at the snow beneath her paws. The whistle of the wind became a howl, and plucked at her fur like a child begging for attention; she snarled at the sky and at once it weakened to a whimper. The leopard began to mould the white substance between her paws, delicately kneading it into a sculpture. The wolf asked quietly if she needed aid, and drew back when she ignored him.
Days passed. Snow danced across the mountain ranges, but not a single flake drifted onto the summit of the mountain; nothing would dare distract the snow leopard from her task. The wolf changed his shape into that of a dark eagle, and coasted the air currents, keeping one of his keen eyes on his spirit-sister, knowing that when she had finished she would call him, and she would be very grumpy indeed if he didn't get there quickly. When her imperious yowl filtered through the mountains' cold serenity, he glided up a thermal and took his wolf form again to join her on the summit.
"You should be more careful," she growled. "What if someone had seen you?"
"My dear, no creature flies so high in the Himalayas, and this is before the time when humans can see to the stars."
This did not placate the snow leopard, and she eyed him coldly before gesturing to her work with a flick of her tail. "There. It is done."
The wolf turned his head. It was a sculpture made of snow and ice, its frozen eyes staring blankly into the distance. He appraised it more closely, and found that it was the design of an animal that was similar to the snow leopard in design, only smaller, and with thinner paws. Its shoulders rippled with snowy muscle, and its thin tail—held high up into the air, like a wolf! He let out a bark of approval, and turned back to his companion.
"I thought I might leave that to you."
"That's very sweet," he replied.
The wolf lifted his muzzle into a joyful howl, his voice seeming to ripple into a stream of pure laughter, bright as the moon above their heads. Words began to rise from his song, forming a lilting rhyme.
Two eyes from the tiger, crafted keen
Three feathers from the night-owl, silent and sleek.
Body of a feline, strong and lean,
And speed of the wolf maketh ye complete.
One world, one life, one life, one world.
Now you have flesh—stand forth!
At this, the sculpture of the creature began to ripple and change, the snow and ice falling from its body like a chick breaking free of an egg. Soon fur—long, luscious fur, of a brown-grey colour spotted with shadows—began to sprout in place of the snow. The frozen eyes turned into a luminous green, claws and teeth curved and darkened, until the complete animal stood in front of the two beasts.
The wolf held his muzzle close to the new creature, sniffing his handiwork carefully, checking for flaws. Satisfied, he stepped away. The creature before them was physically perfect, but it had no life. No consciousness. It was simply a shell, just standing there on the highest point in the world.
This time, when the wolf raised his song, the snow leopard joined him, her darker strains twining with his purity to form a complex melody that both soothed and chilled.
The night is above us; the stars are bright,
Now lift your head high and see their light.
Upon this mountain, high above the world you shall walk,
Far from the mice and birds you will stalk.
The world where your soul lies is so cold and dark,
So here we must stand, to bring life to your heart.
Come, leave the loneliness
Come, shun the empty space
For where you are now has nothing and less.
So now walk into the night
Feel the chill of frozen height
Let life stir your blood
As the stars watch from high above
Where you will go, once your life is done.
And you'll laugh and play in the trees and the grass
Foster life of your own, and loneliness is sparse
Where the sun rises and falls and the moon changes shape,
So walk from the dark, little one, and escape.
And with the last lyrics fading into the sky, a light entered the creature's green eyes. Warmth blossomed down its thick pelt as it turned to face the Creators.
"Who am I?" was the first words that the first cat spoke.
"Your name is Mitternacht," replied the snow leopard. "Mitternacht, mate of Felidae, father of the cats."
The wolf stepped forwards and touched his nose to the proud creature's head. "You are a hunter and a warrior. Stay true to your nature, and respect that which you do not understand, and long will your descendants walk this earth."
"A warrior and a hunter," repeated Mitternacht, tasting the words. He lifted his head to the sky above them. "What are they?"
"Why, they are the stars, little one," said the snow leopard. "For in all things, there is light."