— by Ted R. Blasingame
Although the morning sunlight was barely more than a glow on the eastern horizon, there was more than enough illumination for the predator's eyes to track its prey. Dew coated the spearmint-scented wheat-grass through which it stalked, and although the moisture shimmered in the dawn, there was not enough to obscure the creature’s keen vision.
Soundless paws moved ever forward and the creature passed through the tall amber grasses in ghostly silence. Unsuspecting prey was ahead, upwind in the gentle morning breeze. The prey had wandered away from others of its kind, providing its stalker with an ideal opportunity for a kill.
The unfamiliar life form ahead had been enticing the predator to sample its flesh for days, and after a week of patient observation the hunters were on the move. Four more predators were scattered, hidden within the tall grasses of the field, ready to chase down the animal. It was larger than any of them individually, but in numbers they were confident they could overpower the strange prey.
The predator's tawny hide blended in well with the wheat-grasses bleached in the summer sun, and the male drew nearer to its quarry. Ropy muscles coiled in tension, begging for release, but it remained patient until the perfect opportunity presented itself. Unblinking in the rising sun, its gaze remained fixed upon the animal.
The prey wandered closer, oblivious to its danger. There was a faint, unusual scent on the air that it did not recognize as a threat, but still it mused upon its strangeness. Curious, it raised its head and studied its surroundings with heightened intensity.
Then within the tall, double stalks of the amber grass it noticed a pair of large golden eyes staring back at it with lethal intent. It was the color of those orbs that instilled a primal fear within the prey's mind, for there were no eyes throughout the lands that bore any hue but shades of grey to black. These were alien and the unknown conveyed danger.
The prey let out a sudden bugle of alarm and then bolted away. Under other circumstances it might have stood its ground and confronted its stalker directly, but the unfamiliar scent and intense gaze of strange alien eyes reminded it that it was too far from the safety of its companions.
Coiled-spring tension in the predator's body released in a powerful lunge, and with a shrill scream from its throat, outstretched claws quickly sought purchase in its victim. For its size, however, the prey was swift and the razor-sharp weapons just missed their mark.
The other predators rushed out from their hidden places on the prairie, joining the chase to bring down the potential meal, each emitting a shriek, howl or roar of its own. The beast bugled again as it tore off through the field, desperate for the safety of its herd.
The hunt was on!
The tawny predator, at that moment closer than any of his companions, propelled himself after his prey, and just when it seemed he was about to reach his quarry the larger animal cut swiftly to the right to avoid his clutches.
For all his grace and power, the cougar stumbled over his feet trying to turn quickly enough to follow and rolled nose over tail twice among the grasses. His disparate companions raced past him after the target and the mountain lion jumped up to launch himself back into the chase.
Although the large, buffalo-sized native animal was best described looking only remotely kin to a shaggy, long-haired African warthog, the ugly porker was extremely quick and agile due to hypermobile knee joints that had a wider range of motion in both directions, and it knew its terrain. Following on its toed hooves was a mismatched collection of predator types in a pack so disorganized that the genetically altered bears, felines, foxes and wolves from another world were constantly getting in one another's way in the chase that was intended to bring in potential food for them all.
The male wolf of the group kept trying to direct where the other furmen should go, but only two or three of them paid him any attention. As a result, the hunt was more-or-less a free-for-all.
As a hybrid creation of man and feline, one Fur had the speed of a cheetah, but like his cheetah cousins, he could only maintain it for short bursts, and even though he was able to get up alongside the big pig, he had neither the power nor ability to bring it down on his own. Gathering up his remaining strength as he ran, the spotted cat prepared to leap up onto the alien animal's back in an effort to slow it down.
The large hog instinctively chose that moment to change course and when the cheetah leapt for it, he wound up tackling the African lion on the prey's opposite rear flank instead. The furmen tumbled to the ground amidst the pig's dust and both were nearly run over by a trio of bears that were gaining on the prey.
Of the predators chasing it, the hog feared its ursine pursuers the most, primarily due to their sizes. Nearly as large as itself and almost as fast, the three combined might have a chance of bringing it down. The creature edged out away from them only a little, but if it was unable to get away soon, it wouldn't last much longer.
It cut again to the side, rotating almost a ninety degree angle on one three-toed hoof, barely outstripping the black bear that had just taken a swipe at its rear flank with a large, clawed paw. Its sudden turn, however, put it directly in front of another bear with cinnamon brown fur and the ursine hunter ran headlong into its beefy shoulder.
The pig stumbled, almost falling to its knees, but it recovered swiftly and propelled itself away from the bear before its powerful jaws could bite down upon a leg. This brief mishap gave some of the smaller pursuers just seconds, but they swarmed toward it in anticipation. Two smaller orange and black creatures flanked it one on each side while another as white as winter snow jumped for the hog's back. Its weight was slight, but the sharp-toothed jaws stung the back of the prey's neck.
The huge pig swung its twin pair of double tusks back and forth at the other foxes trying to harry it from both sides, and even tried to buck the white one from its back. It connected with the red fox on its right and the smaller vulpine predator rolled away in the grass.
Almost as soon as that one was gone, a large grey wolf took its place, running alongside looking for the perfect moment to jump in at the pig's throat. The hog was panting and wheezing as it zigzagged through the gauntlet of alien attackers, but its great strength was not yet played out.
The big pig was young and strong, and although its current assailants were much larger than what it had experienced in the past, this was not the first time it had fought and outrun something that intended to eat it, especially out here on the plains.
Something registered simultaneously in its hearing and olfactory senses and it changed course, driving straight through the tall grass to a specific destination. The predators charged after it, single-mindedly pursuing the potential meal, and only one member of the furmen suddenly surmised the hog's intentions.
The grey wolf yelled out a command for the others to stop, but the adrenaline was too strong and the thirst for blood was hot.
The pig put on a sudden burst of speed as it drew nearer to sanctuary and it outdistanced its attackers for just a moment, but it was enough. More of its kind was standing in a row in the tall grass, side by side in a massive wall of hair and muscle with only a slim opening between two of the largest creatures, both of which were nearly the size of small elephants. It charged into the midst of its herd and disappeared just as the furmen rushed through the grass and saw the new danger.
The predators scattered at the last minute, the bears barely able to stop their headlong plunge into the foremost hogs standing their ground. None of the native pigs made a move against them except to close the gap between their ranks. One of them bugled loudly at the large tawny feline that got too close and stumbled to the ground at its feet.
The cougar looked up with wide golden eyes, his heart in his throat and his chest heaving. The giant hog's snout was only inches from his face; it inhaled deeply, taking in his scent, and then snorted it back out at him in a strong blast of air. The pig stared down at him with fathomless black eyes and appeared to study him, but when it did nothing more, the feline Fur swallowed hard and backed away quickly, eyes wary upon the potentially-lethal pair of double tusks. Packed together in solidarity, the hog had nothing to fear from such a mismatched pack of predators that would break off an attack so easily.
One by one, the predators disappeared through the tall grass, no longer a threat. Satisfied that the strange creatures were moving away and not doubling back, the largest of the huge pigs gave a final snort after a long moment and then turned its herd to go.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.