The Tigers of Talighati by Dave Ryan Haaiski

The Tigers of Talighati: A Dangerous Game of Survival by Dave Ryan Haaiski

Early morning the next day, Yug is awakened by a faint noise emanating from the pond and wonders if it’s the animal he has been hoping for.
“Please let it be a small deer,” he prays to the food gods and proceeds stealthily, peeking every so often to spot the source of the sound.
Then, circling halfway around, he emerges from the bushes, and is at first shocked, then captivated by a beautiful young tigress relaxing in the pond. The startled tigress gives out a loud roar, snapping Yug back to reality and forcing him to give out a half-hearted roar in return.

“Who’s there with you, Queen Neema?” asks one of the dholes, who has just arrived at the edge of the overhang.

Yug freezes in fear thinking his days are numbered, as he is about to be exposed.
The tigress, who is not visible to the dhole, looks in his direction and hesitates, then turns back and looks intensely into Yug’s eyes and shouts, “No one. It’s just me. I was startled by what I thought was a croc in the pond, but it was just a thorny branch brushing past me.”

“But there were two roars in quick succession, something you hear when two tigers are about to fight.”

“Oh, I think the other roar was just my echo bouncing off the wall. It has happened earlier too; but it’s quite unpredictable, for it doesn’t happen always. Perhaps the conditions were right today.”

“Should we come to investigate, just to be safe?”

“No need. Everything’s fine here. I wish to relax in the pond a little longer.”

“Ok. Call us if you need anything.”

As soon as the dhole is gone, Neema turns to Yug and whispers, “Who are you? What are you doing here? If you plan to attack me, you will be killed by The Tyrant’s twelve dholes up there, put in charge to guard me. I don’t know why I didn’t expose you, but I will give you one chance to convince me it wasn’t a mistake. Now speak!”

Yug whispers back, “I am Yug, originally from the 5th territory and currently on the run from The Tyrant. I am not here to attack you, but will fight to death if attacked. My starvation brought me to this pond, hoping you were a deer. Please don’t expose me to the dholes; I am only days away from escaping to the mountains.”

Taking pity, Neema replies, “Oh, you are the ruler’s son! That vile Scoundrel came here a few weeks ago and gave the dholes strict instructions to keep an eye out for you.”

“What about you? Are you here by choice?”

“No, I am The Tyrant’s captive. He intends to make me his queen, but I hope that day never comes. Just a few days before The Tyrant captured this territory, I had accepted the erstwhile ruler’s proposal to be his mate. Unfortunately, The Tyrant killed him, and I could do nothing to save him, but if I help you escape, I will think I have redeemed myself to some extent. Plus, it will be a pleasure to work against The Tyrant.”

“Thank you so much. I thought I was going to die, but you have turned out to be my savior.”

“Thank me later, for we are not out of the woods yet. These dholes are extremely dangerous and terribly ruthless. Let me think how I can draw them away so you can escape.”

“Oh, there’s no need for that; I will leave when they are fast asleep tonight.”

“No, it’s not as easy as you think, for the only way out is going up that slope, and ever since Scoundrel’s visit, the dholes have made it impenetrable by occupying it at all times. They even take turns keeping vigil at night and will know when you try to leave.”

“But, then, how will I get past them?”

“I think I know how! But it will work only during the day, so get ready to run as fast as you can upon my signal.”

“But I can’t run fast and take precautions at the same time. I will end up leaving pugmarks everywhere.”

“Yes, but what choice do you have? You will be caught anyway if you don’t get out of here soon, for the mud has started wearing off your body. I can already detect a faint smell, and these are hounds.”

“What if I reapply the mud right now? It is barely a few meters away.”

“No, you run the risk of being seen. The only way out for you is for me to draw them away. As soon as they are gone, run!”

“What if I reapply the mud after they are gone?”

“No, you cannot afford to waste a single moment, for they can turn around at the slightest suspicion.”

“But, then, even where there are no pugmarks on certain stretches of the arc, they can still track me using my scent.”

“Yes, that is unavoidable. The good thing is that you are only days away from reaching the mountains, so the fact that they can track you is not that worrisome. Instead, focus on maximizing your chances by covering as much distance as possible. Rest only if you have to. Stay hidden from the sky. Once you are far enough, find something to mask your scent with. In the meantime, I will do my best to stall them for as long as possible.”

“Okay. So what is your plan?”

“In a short while, I am going to cry out, saying I was attacked by a tiger. That should be enough to send them running in the direction I point them to. You know what to do then. Hopefully, they won’t return till evening, giving you plenty of time to get as far away as possible.”

“That sounds good.”

“Oh, and one more thing. You need to scratch my forelimb and my body and make it look convincing.”

“No! No way! That’s not possible. I can never forgive myself if I hurt you.”

“Trust me, this is the only way. Do not worry; the scratches will go away. Now do it!”
And thus, with great reluctance, Yug scratches her with his sharp claws and awaits her next move.

She then leaves the pond area immediately, and upon reaching the inclined pathway, she screams, “Tiger! Tiger! A tiger just attacked me.”
The dholes rush down the slope and notice her injuries.

“Where is he?” asks the leader.

“He went further down the slope,” replies Neema. “Hurry!”

“Do not worry; we’ll catch him,” says the leader. “In the meantime, do not try to escape. You know we’ll track you down, and The Tyrant will kill you.”

“I am not going anywhere; you need to trust me by now,” replies Neema. “Now please hurry before he disappears forever!”

However, to her dismay, the pack leader picks only six dholes to go with him, leaving the other five in charge of her.

“Take Queen Neema to the overhang area; she’ll be safer up there,” he instructs them.
“Oh, no, this isn’t good,” worries Neema as she moves towards the overhang. “My plan works only if all of them are gone. What now?”

Yug, too, is confused, but he stays put, knowing he cannot escape. “Has the plan failed?” he wonders as he watches the search team leave.

Many minutes go by. Neema realizes she needs to do something quickly, for every minute lost increases Yug’s chances of getting discovered.
All of a sudden, she gets up and begins speeding down the slope, shouting, “I see him. I see him. He’s down there.”

The dholes are slow to react, not knowing whether to follow her or stay put.
Realizing their mistake, one of the dholes shouts, “Come on, you fools! We can’t lose sight of her.”

Seeing her plan work, Neema increases her speed and draws them farther and farther away.
Meanwhile, Yug moves stealthily towards the slope and peeks to see Neema and the dholes disappear from view.

“This is it!” he says. “It’s now or never.”
And with this, he takes off at top speed, leaving a trail of dust behind him.
When the dholes finally catch up with Neema, they find her sitting under a tree, panting furiously.
One of them asks, “Where is the tiger? Why did you not wait for us?”

Neema replies, “There was no time. What I thought was a tiger turned out to be a leopard, and it’s gone now. I just so badly wanted it to be that tiger, for I would have torn him to pieces…with your help, of course. I am sorry I messed up.”

Convinced by her act, the dholes decide to park themselves near her for the time being.
A few minutes later, one of the dholes asks, “Don’t we need to go back up the slope and station ourselves there?”

“No, silly,” says another. “We can be anywhere along this path. The area past the slope is more convenient, so we prefer staying there. For the time being, though, let’s just stay here and catch our breaths.”

Download The Tigers of Talighati while it’s free on Amazon 6/7 – 6/9.

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