[Written from the point of view of Hawk Girl ( [link]
It was nearing sunset, so I decided that it was time to make camp and find some food. I sent Artemis off to find some rodents to eat, while I resigned myself to another meal of dried meat strips and whatever nuts and berries I could find. However, while I was gathering wood for a fire, I spotted signs of game. There was a trail of small paw prints, their spacing indicating an animal with a somewhat bounding gait, and some broken and nibbled branches and stalks. Freshly cooked meat would taste oh so much better than the dried rations I had been living on for the last several days!
I followed the trail, moving as quietly and stealthily as I could. My father, if he had still been alive, would probably have told me that I was still too loud, that my quarry would hear me and flee before I even caught sight of it. He had been a large man, tall and craggy, yet had moved with a silent grace that betrayed his Indian ancestry.
Apparently I was quiet enough, for several minutes later I came across a small clearing, with my prey browsing absently near the opposite side. Its dappled pelt, big ears, and overly long hind legs identified it as a murin. I moved quietly until I was peering around the trunk of an oak. It was nibbling at a small tangle of blackberry bushes. The berries would go nicely with its cooked meat. I calmly took my aim.
Suddenly, the breeze shifted, momentarily coming from the south instead of the north. Neither direction put me upwind of the murin, so I was untroubled. The murin, however, seemed perturbed. It turned, its long ears twitching, its snout lifting to reveal its chisel-like front teeth. I paid its reaction no mind, except to be thankful that the murin had stepped a bit closer to me. I cocked my revolver, aiming for its head.
A cacophonous crack, painfully loud, shattered the air. I thought for an instant that my gun had fired by itself, but then I saw that the murin was still standing. In fact, it hadn't moved at all. Had the gun fired, but missed? Why didn't the murin flee in terror from the loud noise? Perplexed, I went to aim again, and found that I couldn't. My limbs were locked in place. I could not even move my head. What was happening?
I heard rustling and snapping noises to the south of the clearing, where there was a dense thicket of shrubs and small trees. The murin still did not move. It was apparently as frozen as I was. Its dark eyes bulged and its sides heaved with labored breaths, but it was otherwise quite still. I noticed that I was having trouble breathing myself; my chest did not want to expand or contract.
Branches swayed as something moved through the thicket. The murin's ear twitched. There was a snap as a particularly thick branch was broken in the underbrush, and a low, ragged sound, like a breath being drawn in. The sound filled me with fear. The murin's ear twitched again, and its entire body seemed to be quaking. Its sides were heaving even more powerfully than before.
The murin's ear twitched once again, twitched twice, and then its head turned. It was as if the spell was broken. It shook the stiffness out of its legs and bounded out of view. If I hadn't been so preoccupied with my own predicament--I was still perfectly frozen, my arms and legs clenched to tightly that they were beginning to hurt--I would have cursed at the loss of a delicious meal.
The trees and shrubs swayed again, and the thing that caused their movement finally stepped out into the open. Huge and dark, long and low, its legs short and stocky, its tail stiff and thick. A borhyeen! It drew in another hissing breath as its long rectangular snout sniffed at the air. It snorted, seemingly in irritation that its prey had escaped. It glanced around and sniffed the grass in front of it, as if it were unsure what to do next. Its head was at least as large as my torso. Still frozen, I preyed that it would not notice me.
My prayers went unanswered. The breeze shifted again, this time to the west, blowing my hair into my face and my scent into its nostrils. The effect on the creature was immediate. Its face flushed a shockingly vivid blue and it drew in another growl-breath. It turned in my direction, its snout dancing in front of it. It stood on its hind legs--it would have towered over even my father in such a posture--and boomed. The air around me, the space itself around me, seemed to shatter. My muscles clenched and I felt agony. My eyes watered and my ribcage became rigid. Unable to breathe, I panicked, and a tiny breath did enter me with a choked squeak. The borhyeens small, fleshy ears, also flushed bright blue, swiveled in my direction, and its small, bright eyes met mine.
It approached me slowly, cautiously, its huge ugly head bobbing up and down as it eyed me and sniffed. Borhyeens were the most feared and despised of all animals in this part of the world, and killed whenever possible. Even this far from any town or settlement, the creature surely knew to be distrustful of people, especially people with guns. I realized that my gun was still aimed, and that if it stepped in front of me I might be able to persuade the muscles in my forearms to pull on the bones of my trigger finger. If the bullet did not kill or injure it, perhaps the gunshot would be enough to scare it off.
The borhyeen took another small step towards me, sniffed my scent and eyed me again. The tightness in my chest lessened slightly, and as I breathed more easily I felt hope. The beast took another step, and another, and was squarely in front of me. It lifted up on its hind legs again, placing its heart directly in the path of my bullet. I could not believe my luck. I furiously told my muscles to work, commanded my finger to squeeze. I let out a tiny noise, a pathetic, strained squeak, and that was all. The borhyeen lowered again and took two more steps to my left, firmly out of my firing line. It drew in another hissing, growling breath, and I imagined a mocking tone in its voice.
It took two quick steps towards me, and an involuntary, wordless sound of fright and dismay exited my mouth. I could see the fleshy barbels hanging from its turquoise chin, see its purple tongue as it licked its lips. The myriad tiny whiskers on its snout wavered as its nostrils contracted and relaxed, as if it were taking the fullest pleasure of my scent before it went in for the kill. Like my mother savoring a glass of wine. Oh God! Oh Spirits! My mother and father were dead, and I would be killed by this meanest and ugliest of beasts before I could have my vengeance on the skull-faced warrior.
A fleeting shadow passed over the ground in front of me. The borhyeen glanced up, growl-breathed again, then turned again to me, unconcerned. A moment later, the shadow passed in front of me again, and I could see what was casting it. Artemis! She clutched a small furry lump in her talons and circled, waiting for me to call her so that she could perch on my shoulder and enjoy her kill. Oh, Artemis. Now you'll be an orphan, too. I tear rolled down my cheek and I involuntarily licked it off my lips. It was several seconds before I realized what I had done.
The borhyeen was still steadily approaching me. It was now only two of its body lengths away from me, and paused again to take in my scent. My arms would not obey me, would not turn the gun to fire the bullet that could so easily kill this monster. My tongue and lips would listen, though. When told them to cry out--to shout the Vocal command that all falconers knew--they obeyed.
"Krishimenyah!!" Go for the eyes!
Some words about this piece:
In case you didn't know, in past ages, there were some freaking awesome animals in South America. You had Glyptodonts, giant armadillo relatives. Ground sloths the size of elephants, sloths that swam in the sea. Rodents the size of bison. Predatory flightless birds taller than a man. Giant crocodiles and snakes. Things that looked like camels, elephants, hippos, rhinos, horses, and chalicotheres, but were in fact unrelated. And, of course, predatory marsupials (or near-marsupials) that resembled foxes, dogs, bears, hyenas, and even saber-toothed cats.
Once the land bridge between North and South America formed, almost all of these amazing animals died out. A few, like ground sloths, persisted for a while, but still died out thousands of years ago. All that's left of these groups of animals are some armadillos, sloths, and opossums.
I think that these South American animals are some of the coolest things since sliced bread, so, in my magical alternate Earth, I let them live. Phorusrhacids still prowl in the amazon basin, giant glyptodonts and astrapotheres still amble around the pampas, and predatory marsupials stalk prey from Argentina to Canada. The survival of all of these groups meant that there were many more potentially domesticable animals for the indigenous South Americans. I see litopterns carrying loads on their backs, being drawn by nomads across the Atacama Desert. I see people on the backs of pyrotheres, using them just as people in Southeast Asia use elephants. I see potential civilizations arising in South America that have no parallels in our world. It's a fascinating part of my alternate Earth that I'll have to explore further someday.
Anyway, now some words specifically about these creatures. The borhyeen, as the name might suggest, is a large Borhyaenid, while the thylakil is of course a species of Thylacosmilus. Magic exists as a natural phenomenon in this world, and some animals have evolved to use it. The borhyeen has a magical roar that causes its prey to freeze in place, which I tried to use to dramatic effect in my story. The thylakil has a magical power of its own, I imagine, but I haven't decided what it is yet, and in any case it unfortunately did not appear in my story. To make these creatures more strange and exotic, and frankly just to have fun, I gave them brightly colored faces with bird-like fleshy growths. The brightness of their faces apparently is connected to their emotional state; in the story, when the borhyeen noticed Hawk Girl, its face became bright blue.
These were a hell of a lot of fun to paint, particularly the mouth of the thylakil. I found a really good reference image of a Thylacosmilus skull in the exact right position. There are exactly no images on the entire internet of a Thylacosmilus from the front, or of its entire skeleton, so I just used the skeleton of a Borhyaena as my model. The coloration of the borhyeen isn't based on anything in particular, but the coloring of the thylakil is loosely based on a water opossum. I used opossum and Tasmanian devil references for the ears, noses, mouths, etc.
The murin is a Notostylops murinus ( [link]
) a South American mammal that superficially resembled a large rabbit.
The story takes place somewhere in the eastern half of the United States, in the first half of the nineteenth century. I'm not any surer than that yet as far as the setting goes.
Some more info on the ancient fauna of South America, just in case you don't know what the heck I'm talking about:
Ground sloths: [link]
Meridiungulates, a huge group of South American hoofed animals, all extinct: [link]
Pyrotheres, elephant-like animals: [link]
Astrapotheres, kind of like elephant-tapirs: [link]
Litopterns, kind of like camels with trunks: [link]
A South American rodent that weighed over a ton: [link]
Purussaurus, a giant caiman: [link]
Titanoboa, the largest snake known: [link]
Thylacosmilus, a saber-toothed marsupial: [link]
Tetrapod Zoology article on Borhyaenids and Thylacosmilids: [link]