The day was hot. The warm northerly winds blew in drying out the land and the trees. I lay in the cool of the shade beside the river. I had experienced many hot days since I left the White Wood but this was far by the worst. All of the moisture seemed to leave the air and my mouth was parched. I kept drinking water from the river but it didn't help quench the thirst.
I had sat on the hill looking down on the girl’s farm as the sun rose. The night had been cool and I had curled up beneath a large tree’s roots. During the midst of the night a odd feeling had woken me. I found the girl sitting on her houses porch, staring up at the moon. I had tried to speak to her for the past few days but I hadn’t been able to. The girl was constantly on the move or surround by her family. If she had yet to speak with her parents I didn't want to startle her family.
Her sitting alone on the porch in the middle of the night was the perfect opportunity. Having her tell me though that she still hadn’t spoken with her parents was frustrating. I could see in her eyes the fear that was holding her back. She was in denial about everything. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to force her to leave. She had to make the decision herself. Great Owl had told me himself.
I had a few more days to wait. If I left the Eastern Valley with no bond mate then I would be in trouble. That would be the end of my kind. We would be gone from the world. I had to convince her somehow. Showing the girl how important she was would be the key to saving my race.
I stood from my place in the shade and walked through the trees towards the girl’s home. Coming up with a plan to help the girl would take time but I needed to figure it out. Maybe if she saved someone’s life. She already had though. She had saved mine. Maybe I needed to remind her of that.
I stopped at the top of the hill and looked down. The girl stood beside her father. Both of them were drinking from a large cantina. A large truck was parked on beside the pen that held the cattle. It was what had caused the horrible stench early in the morning. When I had woken up the fresh air turned horrible and the smell seemed to stick to everything. My eyes had watered and my nose burned. These trucks were unnatural. Or whatever they ran on was.
The farmer said something to the driver of the truck. The driver nodded as the farmer closed the back door. Taria waved as the truck driver pulled out. Half of the cattle from the pen were loaded inside the truck. As the truck groaned the cattle made loud startled groans. They didn't want to be stuck inside the strange beast.
The trees behind me were quiet. Strangely quiet. They had been all day. When I had woken I assumed that the trucks stench had chased away the animals. I thought they went to find refuge from the smell. But with the noise the truck made, I expected the birds to fly run from its terrible groaning but there wasn't a single movement.
I looked into the trees behind me. The sunlight broke through the small gaps between the trees leaves lighting up the green grass. I couldn’t see anything. A gentle breeze blew through the trees. It rustled the leaves. A dirty smell hit my nose. I frowned. It wasn't animal. It smelt like human but was masked with something smelly. I put my body low to the ground and sniffed. I breathed in the scent and slowly crawled on my belly towards the smell.
The scent came from a gathering of trees just on the edge of the cliff. As I drew closer I heard a murmur. Someone was speaking. I slipped into a large bush and peaked through. On the other side, lying on their stomachs, were two men. One man with messy brown hair held a large weapon against his shoulder. He leant his head gently on the handle and looked through a tube. The other man had no hair on his head at all; it was completely smooth.
The man with brown hair lifted his head from the tube. “The truck has just left.”
“No guards?” said the one with no hair.
Brown hair looked back down the tube. “No.”
“I’ll tell the others.” No hair moved to stand, but brown hair grabbed his arm and held him in place.
“Wait,” he said.
“For what?” No hair looked at brown hair with an impatient glare.
“Don’t you find it strange that this truck is unguarded?” Brown hair looked at him. “Normally every truck is accompanied by at leave one vehicle. The capital rely too much of their meat suppliers. Without these farmers the capital would starve. They protect their meat, so where are the guards?”
No hair contemplated brown hair’s question, and said, “Maybe they didn’t have enough.”
Brown hair frowned. “Even then, they wouldn’t send a truck out alone.”
The man with no hair sighed heavily. “So what do we do?”
“Let’s question them.” Brown hair gestured towards Taria and her father.
“The farmer?” No hair looked startled.
No hair frowned. “You know what the boss said. We leave the farmers and their families alone. They have done nothing wrong.”
Brown hair sighed and looked back down the tube. “Nothing but supplying the capital.”
“They are making a living. Leave them be.” Brown hair huffed and slid away from the edge. He stood, and said, “Fine. Let’s go back.”
No hair nodded and followed. The two walked away.
I stayed in the bush not moving. Poachers. The two had probably been sent by their leader to look for vulnerable trucks that they could hijack. Having a large supply of meat would help their numbers and keep them feed. It would also cost the capital food.
When I was certain the poachers were gone I backed out of the bush and turned to go towards Taria’s farm. I would need to keep a close eye on her. As I turned around I came face to face with an older man. A large weapon pointed in my direction.
This man was no poacher. He was well dressed and had two hunting dogs beside him. He was as tan and worn as Taria’s father. This man was a farmer. Probably the man who owned the one next to Taria’s.
“Well, if it isn't my lucky day. I haven’t seen a panther since I was a kid.”
I growled at the man.
“No need to be feisty, boy.”
I growled again. I wasn't a boy. And if he got any closer he wouldn’t be considered one either.
“Hold still, and it will be over quickly.” The man lifted his weapon and his hand gripped it. He took a breath and moved his finger to the trigger. He released the breath and pulled at the trigger. I jumped to the left and avoided the weapon fire.
The man shouted in frustration and the two dogs barked and chased after me. I hit the hill leading down to Taria’s home and slid down the dry ground. Dust flew up behind me, hiding me from view. I hit the ground and the two dogs weren’t far behind.
I looked around by couldn’t see Taria. “Taria!” I called out hoping she would hear me. I ran towards the barn but the doors were closed. I ran over to the other building but that was also shut. I slid to a stop and turned to run to the house but I was blocked by the dogs.
The growled at me. Saliva dripped from their mouths. I could see it in their dark eyes that they wanted to tear into me.
“Taria!” I called out again. She had to be somewhere.
The door to the house flew open and Taria stumbled out. She looked confused. Taria spotted me and shock covered her face. “Kara,” she yelled out and ran towards me. The dogs turned and growled at her. She stopped in her spot and frowned. She brought her fingers to her lips and whistled. Two dogs ran out from the house and stopped beside her. Taria’s dogs growled at the others and she moved around the dogs towards me. “Are you okay?” she asked.
I nodded. “I think so.”
The other man appeared. His weapon in hand. “Taria,” he said. “Get away from that thing. She’s mine.”
“You won’t hurt her.” Taria stood in front of me, blocking me. She was protecting me with her life. Just like my bond mate was meant too.
“Taria, what is going on?” Taria’s father came outside. He had a frown on his face and a weapon on his own in his hand.
“Frank! Why are you pointing your gun at my daughter?”
“I’m not. I’m pointing it at the animal behind her.”
Taria’s father walked towards us and looked at the dogs. “Call your dogs off.”
The other man whistled and his dogs stopped growling and walked towards him.
Taria’s father did the same and his dogs looked at their owner. Taria’s father then looked at Taria and me. He frowned. “Care to explain, Taria.”
Taria looked at me. Fear exploded in her eyes. She was terrified.ns 126.96.36.199da2