A figure darted among the rocks. Big in size yet almost camouflaged against the dark stone and white snow. Where two rocks grew apart, the blur leaped. Its fleeting image disappeared once again in a snow drift beyond. Below the split lay a seemingly endless rift into depths of the earth.
That very day, the beast left this daunting crevice for a certain reason. Silence fell, save for a light whistle of wind. One could see after following the large tracks of the beast that it placed it’s paws in a particular fashion. The stride was long and deep, as if it were running. Pawstep by pawstep, bound by bound, it brought itself farther and farther away from its den.
A faint aroma arose on the harsh snowy breeze. When it stopped, the magnificent creature could be clearly seen. It’s beautiful pelt of spots and furry features stood against the pure white landscape. The leopard’s ears twitched as it tasted the air. Among the smell was a slight rustling but whether or not to follow the scent or the noise was a tough decision.
Being hungry, it’s obvious to follow the tantalizing smell, but she remembered that sometimes there were some odd creatures who came and went.
Curiosity piqued the leopard and carried her paws to follow the unfamiliar sound. Through the faint crunching of snow underpaw, The leopard started hearing animal shouts as well. She padded with caution around the snow ridge. Peering over a bank, the leopard widened its eyes.
A very neat stack of wood shot up through snow like early spring grass. Wood with many different colors and features carved within. A slanted, orange-scaled overhang around the whole linear pile ascended way up to a sharp point. She screwed up her eyes against the bright winter sun to trace the outline of the structure.
The leopard noticed right away that there wasn’t just one, but many. Movement among snowy paths attracted her eyes. Whatever moved in this land was something she could eat. Her belly growled as furry creatures emerged from the stack she saw first.
But something was odd about the animals. With two dangling front legs, how were they balancing? The leopard watched as the figures used their front paws to touch each other and some objects around them.
These animals walked on two back paws and made noises to each other. The snow leopard noticed a smaller one of them left near a wood stack. It happened to wander around the wood pile in the same direction as the hidden cat. She trained her eyes on the young creature as it continued to walk closer. Steps uneven, the little one slowed and crouched in the frosty ground.
With a little coo, it reached out to the dirt to touch something. The leopard couldn’t help but start to slowly close the distance on the small Up-legged.
Paw over paw, she silently creeped through the snow until she got to the edge of the dirt the small creature was interested in.
It looked around after a few seconds as if it could tell it was being watched. The leopard decided she would not hide if the small creature saw her, but if it didn’t, she might just come a little closer….
The small Up-legged resumed what It was doing in the dirt as if nothing was wrong. The leopard pricked her ears to hear if any of the bigger ones were close, and felt they weren’t.
This small Up-legged had fur over its body, but had a pink face. Its front paws were covered in a type of fuzzy pelt. The leopard continued closer, her crouched figure became breached on dirt that wasn’t the color of her pelt.
She started wondering about other things when she detected its scent. How would it taste? The leopard stopped in her crouch to watch the Up-legged a little longer. She could catch it right here and take it back to her cave, but these creatures were not something she knew of. These ones lived together here, right in a snow valley completely open to blizzards.
She could tell these neat stacks of wood were not here naturally. Like beavers and dams, these Up-leggeds built these. Did they not find a den before the winter? Or were they protecting….
The leopard’s heart churned. A hot ambition covered her ears and nose.
In the darkness of a blizzard, long ago, two small lives purred against her chest. A fleeting memory crossed her mind. Unable to move forward, The leopard’s claws froze to the soil.
Second thoughts formed in her head. Hunger forgotten, the leopard quietly shifted back through the snow. When she was a fine distance away, she raced. Claws scraping up the white powder behind and the flurry blurred along with her spots.
Each massive lunge sent her over and into the snow. The stinging cold raked her eyes, It was almost as if she could shed tears.
Running along the path that avoided the prey-trail, she headed the way home. Rocks flew by as the familiar dip in the snow melted into view. The leopard did not slow and leaped off the edge, just as she did many times before. Each jump was muscle memory. The pale sun’s light on her pelt slowly faded as she got deeper in the ravine.
Once at the bottom, She plunged into her den.
The cavern was just as she left it. Her den had a little grass from when it was warm out, but the scoop is comfortably soft from the loose soil. This place is her home. It was here that she wanted to stay.
A blizzard blocked her cave the next three days and nights.
Regret pierced through her ears when the leopard reflected on what she should have done the day she encountered the Up-leggeds. She should not have ran back here, she should have hunted. One kill could have been brought here and she would have a meal each day she was snowed in.
She became panic-stricken as her hunger intensified and struggled against the snow blocking her exit. She’s lived in this home since she was a cub, but this amount of snow comes rarely. Why did it come twice in a row?
The leopard scrambled against the stone floor as some snow fell atop her.
It felt that half a day went by when she finally saw the light again. But, there was not too much of it. Dark cloud masses loomed on the horizon.
After crawling out of the cave through the deep drift she evaluated the sky once more. She must eat soon, she knew. These clouds were bad news, just like the other days she was snowed in, this next onslaught of snow would come down harder. The leopard leapt into the harsh world.
Every few moments she searched, she would glance at the clouds above; deep and ominous stretching across a greying landscape. The leopard could feel that she was wandering a little too far from her den, but there were no scents of prey.
Crossing mountainsides and straining her ears to be continuously alert to any noise or movement left her drained. A dullness in her gut weighed the snow leopard down. She should really head back and sleep but the leopard was not going to make the same mistake she made those days ago. However, the thought of resting in her cave became tempting.
During her grueling trek, she ran into the Up-legged’s structures. Unfortunately the stacks blocked her path. The shortest distance to her den cut through the Up-legged’s.
She looked down at the little moving bodies from a distance and her belly growled once more. The small individuals interacted, merged, then sometimes moved in groups. Puffs of cloud escaped from reddish stacks atop the dens, taller than the Up-leggeds.
She didn’t realize that her eyes and legs had locked onto a solitary Up-legged in a corner of the dens. When she did, she picked out the pattern of the pelt it wore. Her eyes slanted as the pelt this Up-legged wore was familiar.
It was a unique pattern she would never forget. Those dark spots and light blue-grey coloring… Graceful white accents….
While she was stunned, the Up-legged spotted her. With a shout, a few more started to run over. The leopard couldn’t help but watch them come closer, admiring the glints on the items they held. In the darkening icey land, The leopard gazed into their eyes. They were unusually cold, unlike a prey’s which get glazed with fear. These creatures…
A chill raced up her spine and she suddenly darted away from her spot in the snow. With a deep cry, the Up-Leggeds followed.
Those were the eyes of a predator.
Their shouts were like a cooing flock of owls. Increasingly alarming until the leopard couldn’t stand it anymore. Pushing hard against the snow, she pelted down the ravine. Harder and harder. Whenever they sounded close and wherever there was a path she would take it. The Up-leggeds wield a shiny stick that could pierce her ear fur on command and spew bouts of ash.
Since she had started running, encountered some traps planted by the Up-leggeds. Strings woven together hidden under the snow where she trod would suddenly rise into the sky. If she wasn’t careful, she could fall for their tricks.
This crevice path was long, and narrow. With each bound the leopard would scan the rock face for a route up, but there no possible clawholds.
The leopard’s heart burst into her throat and her pads started to numb. Desperately pumping muscles started to ache and burn. Her thick insulated coat was doing no good right now, heat piled atop her shoulders and pressed her head. She dropped her jowls to smell and take in big gulps of cool air. Did she outrun them?
The moment she looked over her shoulder, her speed fell, but she could see a distant glint that was unnatural in this ravine. Sheer cliffs limited her options and the endless path dragged against her fur like an opposing current. In her own confusion she had picked this dooming path.
When she slowed she couldn’t pick up her speed again. She realized her head was cloudy and light. Each pawstep grew heavy. A darkening sky light draped shadows across the bottom of the ravine, but maybe her mind made them a little darker.
If she had eaten something…. She could run more. The leopard knew there was a path out of this ravine, she had been there before. However, the distance was too great. If only those upwards creatures were slower… no, If only I had taken that prey.
She remembered the smaller Up-legged left unattended near the neat wood stack. Why hadn’t she taken it back then? The leopard’s vision darkened and her run abruptly turned to a heavy trot. Her paws were lost, and her lungs burned.
As she took a few more steps, her legs weakening. Something under the snow tripped her paw, it seems she had started dragging them. She warily looked back. Not for the Up-legged, but at her tracks. They were not neat and confined, Snow pressed up and crumbled to the sides, the ground visible where her paws dug into the snow.
She almost couldn’t see it. Through the whiteness of her breath and the wavering of her vision, she saw specks of brown. These specks of brown atop the black rock had form, light and bumpy.
Her heart beat louder and her eyes froze. With the sensation of creaking gears, one last attempt at running sent her weight through the air once again. She could only take a few steps. The leopard hadn’t noticed the caterwauling of the Up-leggeds close by, but had noticed what was planted under the snow.
The ground came closer, too quickly. The snow conformed around her and suddenly, she wasn’t falling but rising. At a height she could jump to, her body and snow around her jerked and she let out a hard yowl. Her legs twisted under her weight and her head was scrunched against the snow and string.
What a traitorous species.
When I became in need of food, I allowed myself to go hungry because you had young ones. Now, not only do I not have the strength to fight, but I have lost my will.
The Leopard could only think of curses as pain seared through her tail, crushed in the snow. As she hung there, some snow fell out of the woven string. Up-leggeds appeared from behind some nearby rocks with those gleaming sticks.
My mother… was killed by these ones. The leopard’s breathing eased into a stale sigh. One of the Up-leggeds came closer, carefully positioning the silver stick it held. It poked her in the ribs, igniting a sudden flurry of claws. The leopard struggled in the woven prison. She cried through her weakest breaths.
If only I could have ate! If only… but … I helped you right? Should you…
The leopard’s movement surprised the up-leggeds, sending some of them to the ground. A beautiful pelt of grey with black spots, worn by the Up-legged caught her gaze. They backed away from the snow leopard until she became somber. Her rasping breath evened out as she admired her mother’s pelt.
Up-leggeds hushed and gathered together among the rocks in a silence more ominous than the dark sky. They inched closer once more, resting a shiny stick over the leopard’s chest, and heart.
A crack echoed through the ravine.