Wildcat used his claws to roll the centipede in the sand, trying to rub off its awful secretions. The creature waved its many legs too slow and once he was sure that it was edible, he popped its head into his mouth. With a mighty crunch and a twist of his jaw he severed the delectable morsel from the rest of the insect, putting an end to its struggle. He closed his eyes to savor the rich flavor as he chewed the bits of shell and pulpy insides. He felt warm fur press against his flank and a familiar scent touched his muzzle. He swallowed and nudged the remains of the ebony armored insect to the side.
No words were needed. Shimmer gave his jaw a grateful nibble and then ripped a chunk off for herself. Wildcat leaned back to give his littersister more room and felt a sharp sting in his haunch. He yelped and swung his head around just in time to glimpse a huge wasp buzzing away. Leaving the centipede, Shimmer moved to nose his haunch as the sting swelled. “Ow!” Wildcat hissed and shuffled a few steps to the side.
Shimmer wasn’t swaying. “Let me see it.” She insisted with an unusual firmness. Scowling, Wildcat obeyed. He sat down and allowed her to sniff the wound, he even managed not to flinch when she touched the sore area by accident. “Oh, Wildcat. You’re bleeding. That must have been a huge wasp.”
Wildcat tried to twist around to get a closer look at the mound of fur. “I am?”
Shimmer nodded. She grabbed a crisp leaf off a nearby bush and brushed it over the sting with a gentle sweep of her jaw. Then she lifted her chin to show him the dark crimson smear wetting the green leaf. “Great!” Wildcat huffed. “Does anyone know how to cure a wasp sting?” He went to stand and winced as his muscles flexed underneath the wound. He let himself fall back. “I’ll be limping for days. This ruins my plan with Crow. We were going to go roving-”
He stopped when he noticed that his sister wasn’t listening. She had tensed at his side, her amber eyes wide and her fur on end. Wildcat furrowed his brow and followed her gaze. At first, he didn’t see anything unusual. Then the shrubs rattled, and a black tongue flicked in the air for a moment. A large reptilian head was thrust through the branches. It was at least three times the size of a meer and covered in mottled brown and gray scales that provided amazing camouflage, even in the wet season. It moved in a jerking fashion, as if it were stuck between slithering and walking. It was a monitor lizard, and it was on the hunt.
For a heartbeat Wildcat froze. He scanned the slope for Crow, his brother always knew what to do, but he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Wildcat couldn’t see any member of the Alphas family. I can’t sound an alarm call, Wildcat realized, it would draw it right to us. For now, it hadn’t seen them. Acting fast, Wildcat pushed Shimmer until she revived from her stupor. Together they huddled in the center of the leafy bush. They could no longer see the lizard, but Wildcat could hear the slap of its approaching footsteps.
Wildcat held his breath, a trepid fear crawling up his throat and sending his heart into wild rhythms. He felt Shimmer quivering against his flank and wished that he could say something to reassure her, but he didn’t dare speak. It was a wonder that the lizard hadn’t tracked them already. The steps halted and Wildcat found the silence that followed jarring. He leaned forward as far as he could to peek between the leaves. What he saw frosted his whiskers.
The lizard had paused a tail span from the bush they were hiding in. It let out hissing sighs as it inhaled, and Wildcat watched as it bent its neck down to sniff a fallen leaf. The leaf Shimmer had used to swipe the blood from his pelt. It must have been attracted by the blood-scent, Wildcat thought. Then he saw it. The dead centipede just a stride away, abandoned in the dust. If he could reach it…
With a lunge Wildcat grabbed the insect in his jaws. The monitor lizard swung its big head towards the noise as the bush rustled. Before it could step toward them, Wildcat tossed his head and flung the centipede high in the air. It landed across the dune, several strides from their hideout. The lizard followed the movement with its slitted gaze and took off after the projectile. Wildcat glanced at Shimmer, but she didn’t need any coaxing. The brother and sister took off at a sprint. They didn’t stop running until they were gasping for breath. They had no choice but to rest.
Wildcat didn’t even get a chance to catch his second wind before Shimmer flung her paws around him and pulled him into a tight hug. “You saved us!” She rubbed her cheek to his. Wildcat held her close and buried his snout in her shoulder. His mind was whirling. The wasp sting was long forgotten. He had saved not only himself, but Shimmer also, with no help from any other meer. He smiled to himself as pride tingled his fur.
It turned out that he wasn’t reliant on Crow after all.