Kuri shook her head free of the cloud of droning insects. She kept running, one foot in front of the other in a stumbling trot. Despite incipient exhaustion, she concentrated on fighting awkwardly through grasping vines and dense undergrowth.
The game preserve extended for fifty miles in any direction, at least. Zero chance to reach its border before nightfall, and darkness would surely signal the end. Stealing hurried glances behind, she dreaded catching another glimpse of the terrifying orange and black streak that had set her headlong flight into motion.
Broad elephant ear leaves slapped at her arms, and sharp green leaf-blades chopped away at her bleeding legs. She was following a rough animal trail, with frequent patches of machete-dulling dense undergrowth. Retreating from foliage impassable to anything larger that a squirrel, she was forced to backtrack many times, wasting time and energy searching out an alternate route.
Thrashing from close by, something enormous was bulling its way through the creepers. Kuri covered her mouth, holding back the scream when broken sunbeams briefly illuminated something moving, something huge. Gradually, the thrashing diminished and the calls of jungle birds returned to the leady canopy overhead. Kuri drew a long and shuddery breath, closed her eyes, and changed direction.
Keep moving, keep moving. No matter how tired you are, you do not want to meet whatever’s out there.
It had to be enormous; judging by the volume it had made. In addition, it was considerably faster than Kuri. The coloring loudly screamed “tiger,” but did even tigers grow that big?
It announced its presence with a seismic growl, and Kuri froze. Back against a tree, she examined her pursuer.
Almost seven feet tall, close to four hundred pounds. Bipedal, it stood on two massive paws. Feline and furred, its striping was similar to a tiger. Barrel-chested and wasp-wasted, its ears looked all wrong, and its knees bent forward (rather than digitigrade, as typical in big cats).
One massive leaping bound and Kuri was pinned to the ground. Needle pointed claws pressed against her skin just over her eyebrows, drawing blood droplets.
“Are you playing with your food, Student of Mathematics?”
Another one, a foot taller and a quarter more massive, crouched in the shadow of the trees.
Cats playing with their food… We can blame Prada for that one.