Stormfeather Ch. 14byTaLtos6©
**Note to readers: This chapter occurs at the same time as some others and it moves around, since some parts of it are the recollections of one character over a period of about 6 months. To make it easier to understand, let's just say that at the beginning of it, Stormfeather hasn't arrived at the farm for the first time yet, and by the end of it, he and Amy have married and left for Santa Fe. So for pretty much all of the story to that point, this chapter has been going on as well.
There. Clear as mud, no? O_o
He was tense and restless, his muscles feeling cramped and uncomfortable in his hiding spot here in the thicket of grasses and bushes. He lay on his front looking at the seamed wall of the mountain. Something was very wrong here. He knew that this was the right place. This was where she'd told him to meet her. Tomorrow would be the right day. She'd told him that it would be.
And so he'd come. Days early, he'd come because he needed her.
At first, he'd stared and looked around, thinking that he must have gotten it wrong somehow, but he'd had the time now to go for miles in either direction, looking for the place. Nothing matched the description that he'd been given but this. The scents here matched those in his memory. So he'd stayed, hunkered down in this spot, looking out through the vegetation.
It had been three days and nights now with one more to go.
During that time, he'd watched as the men came to examine the seam in the rock. They didn't belong here and they knew it. They were from the other world that she'd spoken to him of, stuck here now by the seam which closed off the tunnel that they'd used to come here. They shared looks of bafflement between them as they tried to force the newly-closed passageway open again. He'd hunted them when they'd come here before sometimes, but this time, the same puzzling wall that caused him his trouble caused the end of their lives.
They'd set out watchers and the mages tried to open the wall. He snorted quietly as he remembered what he'd seen. A lot of yelling words of command, followed by stinking smoke and flashes of light. Every time, it had been the same. Nothing changed.
They'd gone away finally, bewildered and perplexed at something which refused to obey their little minds, leaving seven of the watchers in case something happened or someone came through. He was at least a little thankful for that.
Well he had to eat, after all.
He'd waited until long after nightfall and then he'd come for them. He'd approached from behind most times. One swipe of his foreleg, his long and sharp claws extending out of their sheaths for just one instant in time, connecting in the right place and the neck was broken – if the head didn't come right off, and he'd move on to the next.
It became a little humorous from his side of it after a time. As they came to realize that their numbers were dwindling - that fewer of them answered when they were called - they'd grown nervous and frightened. It caused them to call to each other more often as they gathered together out of their fear.
He'd left them alone then. He wanted the brightest of them to come to the realization that none of them would live to see the dawn. It always happened this way, since there was always at least one bright light in the bunch. The fear in that one could paralyze them all.
As they worried and chattered to each other, they made enough noise to allow him to drag the bodies of the slain off before he came back for the rest. He'd had no trouble finding them again. He didn't even have to use his nose. They made enough noise to frighten off all of the other wildlife anywhere near them in the dark. It made this even easier.
He felt it as they sent out the thoughts which could immobilize the will of complex minds such as those of the dog-creatures. It was what they'd developed and it worked almost all of the time.
But he didn't have a mind like that. His thought processes were of another order and quite different.
Ah well. he thought.
Even frightened to death, they couldn't stay awake for too long. As soon as the adrenaline faded, so did they. Soon enough, at least one of them would doze. It was all the opening that he needed to get really close. Close enough to smell their fear.
By this time, there had been three left. Three fools who had liked to lord it over the dog-creatures of their world. But that was there.
And this was here, he thought; a different world. A different place.
Here, many of the same creatures lived.
Along with a few more types, such as himself; bigger, wilder, more powerfully built.
He waited in the bushes and stared calmly at the one who was drifting off there on his feet, leaning back against the backs of the others. He watched as the eyes closed - and opened wide in fearful realization that he'd drifted off.
And closed again.
The cycle repeated itself a few more times until he saw the sign that he'd been waiting for. The fingers on the spear grew lax in the man's grip. Just as the spear was about to fall over where it had been held with one end against the ground, he sprang.
The poor fool had opened his eyes then, trying to fight for wakefulness, but it was too late. He rode the three of them down in a heap, crushing one of them in an instant. It only took him seconds to stop their racket. Then he began to drag them off toward the others. The last of them wasn't dead yet and moaned as he was dragged.
It didn't matter. He wouldn't last long.
That was the one that he began to eat first, tearing chunks from the twitching leg muscles, listening to the cries of pain and fear. Why did these things have to make so much noise? Even a buffalo might have put up a fight, but they died fairly quietly.
On these creatures, he liked to eat the legs before anything else. More meat for less work. Quicker gratification for his hunger. He moved from one to the next and took that meat first before coming back to start another round on the softer things.
At over nine hundred and fifty pounds, he had to think about quick return for the effort and time invested.
What was left when he was sated was a gathering of bloody pulp heaps, but he didn't care. He didn't hunt at night all that often, since his eyes weren't particularly well-suited for it. But hunting these things was easy. You just had to gather a bunch for a good meal unless you didn't mind trying to pick their bones clean. He didn't like it, but he'd been there before too.
Besides, the night-time was cooler and there were no flies around to get in his eyes or up his nose as he ate. When he'd eaten his fill, he drifted back to his hiding spot and settled into it to continue his vigil for her.
The next day, the men came back, calling out to the dead ones.
It was a little while before they'd noticed the blood trails there in the grass. By then, the collection of smaller predators and scavengers indicated the location of the carnage pretty well. He didn't know it, but they were trying to determine the nature of the beast which had killed off the watchers. Considering that a dozen hyenas, one or two assorted wild dog-packs, and about thirty vultures were working over the kills then, there was nothing much to be gained by looking.
One of the mages was singled out to watch this time as they went on in their desperate search for the way back. The man stood still there in the clearing before him, looking around and trying to probe with his mind, seeking the dog-creatures they blamed for this.
He felt the probing, but kept his mind as still as the earth. Let him probe all that he wanted. What was lying here waiting wasn't what he sought for.
Finally, he'd watched the mage come right to him – right straight in his direction, but he held himself stone-still, not even tensing his muscles. He couldn't believe what he was looking at, seeing that the man wasn't looking through the pattern of the vegetation. He didn't think that he was hidden all that well. A good look by anyone would likely reveal the slitted cat's eyes looking back. Here in the dark of the bushes, his eyes were wide slits. Out in the bright sunlight, they narrowed down to round openings. It was why his kind hunted mostly in daylight.
This fool was about to urinate right in his face.
It was a bit much to sit still for and so before the mage's stream had even begun, his wailing scream did. Bowled over onto his back, he shrieked piteously for the few seconds that he had anything to shriek with. The others were well over a hundred yards off by then and had a long run back through the grasses to try to save their comrade.
He looked around quickly and saw what he wanted. Rolling the softly wheezing man onto his side, the beast sank his long teeth in deeply and trotted off quickly and a little awkwardly. When he had everything set, he watched the scene before him.
They searched rather quickly – too quickly to see the one fresh blood trail that had been left there for them among all of the older dried ones. They backed away and left hurriedly, looking around at all of the bushes as though they expected their own deaths to fly at them from there at any moment.
If he had the capability, he would have laughed. Why didn't these idiots ever look up?
After a long enough look to be certain that they were leaving, he looked at the man there on the tree bough with him. The young mage regarded him with the knowledge that he had only seconds left to live and now watched passively as his end came to him.
The predator leaned his face close to sniff and lick a bit of the blood from the young face, dragging his rough tongue over the barely fuzzy cheek. He wondered about it for a moment. The only ones who might possibly have enough power to even cause him to feel a little distracted were the older ones who had survived long enough to have developed the ability for it. But then, by that point, they'd lived long enough to be able to order the young ones into situations such as this, being cowards themselves.
He didn't care. He thought it was a stroke of good fortune.
The young ones tasted better.
He wouldn't have bothered with all of this, since he was still full from his hunt the night before, but the young one had forced this, being too shy in the middle of nowhere to urinate out in the open. He regarded the face in front of him, noting that he was fading fast.
So he fixed his eyes on the eyes before him and lowered his head as he opened his jaws wide. The man's face remained a little impassive and from a third person's perspective, it might have looked a little sexual.
But it wasn't.
It was only business and the man closed his eyes as his manhood was ripped free to be snapped up and swallowed as though it was nothing. The eyes opened again and the last breath gurgled out of him as the long teeth sank into his belly to begin savoring the softer tissues.
The men might have missed what would have been rather obvious signs as they'd searched for him, but there was no mistaking what was going on now as the earth at the base of the old tree was covered with the blood which poured down. But there was no one there to witness it.
He gave a thought to eating the legs of this one, but didn't bother. Maybe later, he thought. He jumped down and ambled over to a place on a bit of a rise. After a good and careful look around, he sat and cleaned himself before slipping almost silently back into his watching place.
He thought about her.
It was unnatural, their relationship. They were two different kinds. At first glance, she'd looked exactly the same as these fools that he'd just hunted, only one of the smaller type. He'd almost killed her the first time that they'd met because of it, because the signals which his senses brought to his brain said 'food' to him. It was an almost automatic thing, but she was far brighter than that and saw her own peril in time.
As he waited, crouched to spring, he'd watched her come a little closer and then stop as she watched him carefully. He couldn't figure out what she was being careful about, other than maybe she was smart enough to know that she'd be dead if she tried to run now. That would be too much for a sight-hunter to watch. What he saw was a female, and not a particularly large one. He was a little disappointed. He didn't really see enough there on her to make it worth his while to kill her.
She changed her shape – right there in front of him – and became one of the wolf-creatures before his eyes. She spoke to him softly and even he could hear her praise of him in it. She'd gathered her considerable courage and to his consternation and absolute amazement, she'd done something that he'd never have guessed in his life, something which none of her kind had ever done knowingly.
She'd approached him.
If he'd been sitting, she'd have had to look up at him. She was only about an inch or so taller than he was when she stood on two feet and he stood on four, but her body was much smaller than his, overall, and it didn't seem to dawn on her that he could end her life with a single motion. He'd stood there quite still, completely astounded, as she'd walked up and looked straight into his eyes and he saw no fear there at all. He saw something else which bewildered him a little.
She'd slowly reached for his head – huge in comparative size to her own and she'd stroked him, making soft cooing sounds the whole time. He didn't know her speech, but he knew that the sounds that she made were from her heart. It came to him in an instant that this wasn't an accidental meeting, beyond the time and the place of it.
No, she'd sought him out. He knew that after a bit of thought. He'd known that something was tracking him, but had given it no thought, since he was pretty much at the top of the food chain. Scavengers were always tracking him, looking for an easy meal.
But her kind were not scavengers. They were predators, just like him, only smaller.
She'd been tracking him for days, leaving the trail only when she'd needed to eat. After a hasty kill, she was back on the job, hunting him, but for what?
She'd opened a sack that she'd carried on her shoulder, and reaching in, she produced some morsels for him; antelope hearts and other things which she'd seen him eat and savor as she'd tracked him. She placed two on the ground, and he leaned down to sniff before he lay down and stretched himself out beside where she stood.
What did he have to fear from her anyway? He could move on from her treats to eating her in a heartbeat. He just hated eating the dog-creatures unless he was starving. Even then, they were too hard to kill easily, so it usually wasn't worth his effort.
He began to eat what she'd brought him slowly while she put a lot of thought into weighing her odds of success or even survival. They seemed to change to her by the second, since his kind was well-known to be unpredictable.
The next time that he paid her any attention, he saw that she sat on the ground beside him, offering him another, holding it very carefully at one end to him. He'd leaned for it slowly, and when she'd seen his mouth opening, she'd lowered the gift and brought it up again before he'd noticed to place it carefully for him just behind his lower teeth on his rough tongue.
She spoke to him all the while, sometimes laughing a little with obvious pleasure. He watched as she'd pull out another offering, lick it carefully and take a little bite of it herself before offering him the biggest piece. As he ate, she pet him and cooed to him, scratching his ears or softly stroking his cheek. There were moments where her life hung in the balance, he'd thought. If it hadn't been that she'd seemed to know just where to scratch, ...
He was astounded at her lunacy as his eyes regarded her body. He supposed that as these dog-things went, she must be an attractive one. Even he liked her form – and he wasn't anything even close to what she was. Her fur wasn't like his, but he liked it anyway and it did smell pleasant. She didn't have enough teats, but he didn't care.
She sat with him and fed him, taking a little for herself every time, until what she had was all gone. He wondered what she'd do now. If he'd been really hungry, she'd already be dead. But she'd been watching him carefully. She could have made her insane introduction at many other times, but she'd chosen this one time because she knew that he wasn't particularly hungry.
He decided to give her a pass and allow her to live as he rose to his feet but she stayed right near to him as he walked to the small river there to drink, chattering softly all the way. She'd made a show of drinking with him as though something like this happened every day here. In actual fact, it had never happened before at all. No other creature, other than the largest mammoths, would ever risk having their heads down if he was in sight and close by. He wondered if she was suicidal.
The next thing that she did was every bit as reckless as the last, he thought. He'd been just about to lick his paws and clean himself after his meal when she'd reached around his face to pull it to her own. This was almost too much, but he'd allowed it in order to see what she would do next. He was almost expecting a new wonder from her by this time, and she didn't disappoint him in the least.
She brought her own face close to his – still whimpering and cooing softly – and she began to lick his cheek. It took him several seconds to realize her purpose.
She was cleaning him.
When she was satisfied, she moved herself to get to his other cheek and she began it again. He grew to enjoy her efforts and held himself still for her. When she was done, she leaned in and began to lick his lips very softly.
He was shocked. Who would want to clean death-dealing jaws like his? Not even females of his own kind behaved like this. It was a long time before he responded in any way, but he did eventually, since she did this in a way that he'd never felt before. He thought that she'd stop, but she didn't. She sighed deeply and held onto his head, going on for a long time.
And then she'd hugged him, throwing her arms around his neck and nuzzling her face against his as she made her soft chittering sounds. He could even see that her eyes were closed for a moment as she did this.
In spite of his earlier wonder at her quite obvious madness, and after puzzling over what there might be that was wrong with her for this behavior, he now gave in and began to purr in his deep and loud way as he laid himself down again. She laid down and stayed as close to him as she thought that he would allow, rubbing her face against his now and then, chittering happily.
Just then, a careless young hyena nosed out of the nearest bush. Almost before he could register it, she was on the poor thing, though she did allow him to leave with his life. She came back to him and stretched out beside him, leaning against him now and quite obviously proud of herself.
They stayed like this until the sun went down. He dozed while she kept watch. But he'd only been dozing, not sleeping. And he'd only been dozing now and then. Mostly, he'd been lying down with his head up and his eyes almost, but not quite closed.
Being what he was, he never gave a thought to his intelligence. He never thought about it. He'd lived this long, so if it had occurred to him to wonder about it he'd have had an answer for himself. He'd never claim that he was the smartest of his kind, but, ...
He hadn't gotten this far along in his life by being stupid.
He was wondering what it was that the crazy female was going to do now.
He saw it as she sat near to him, watching what was going on around them. She'd look up into the branches of the tree that they were under, and then she'd glance at him for a moment, but never for very long. She'd look away across the grasslands at something, and after a minute or two, she'd look at him again. Things like this can make a male like he was nervous. He wondered if he ought to run her off so that she'd leave him alone. What was she doing here with him anyway?