Gavros the feranthrol stared carefully from behind the bushes, careful not to make any sudden movements, lest he frighten the normelk. His comrades, also feranthrols, did the same, not daring to rustle any bushes. A herd of normelk, the feranthrols' main source of food, was grazing, trying to find any vegetation beneath the thick layer of snow. It was winter, and food was scarce on their planet, Feruendo. Their families need the fresh meat desperately, especially Gavros's. His mate, Kauna, was pregnant with his kits. They would be here any day she would need enough food to feed herself and their kits.
They had gotten the news what seemed like ages ago, and Gavros had been overjoyed with the news. "They're going to be beautiful and strong, just like you Kauna," he'd said, nuzzling his mate affectionately.
Months had passed since then, and now, he crouched silently in the cold snow waiting for a moment to attack. It was at least 30 degrees below a human's freezing point, but he didn't mind much. He was a feranthrol after all, a cat-like alien that has fur and shares the same features as an earth-cat, only feranthrols are the size of humans, can walk upright, and talk. In the wintertime, their pelts, which were almost exactly like earth-cats', helped withstand up to 50 degrees below on their planet. The feranthrols' home planet was Feruendo, a lush planet that thrived in the spring. The planet was covered with forests inhabited by several creatures foreign to humans, and the Feranthrols hunted them for their pelts, meat, and profit. As well as exotic creatures, the planet had pure spring water and hot springs, which they also profited from.
Gavros and his people were hunters, and they profited greatly from the furs they sold. If they took down this herd of normelk, there would be more than enough meat to last through the cold days ahead, and they would profit from the hides of the herd. Gavros flicked his bushy striped tail just slightly, and his pack of feranthrols burst from behind the frosted shrubs.
The normelk looked up in surprise and shock, and began to flee as the feranthrols fell upon them, taking them down in a flurry of claws and fangs. Gavros leapt onto the back of one the great beasts, sinking his black claws into the thick fur. The 6-eyed creature flicked its ears and let out a throaty howl of shock as it tried to throw its attacker. But Gavros wouldn't budge, and he bit down on the normelk's spine, cracking it between his teeth. The normelk's legs buckled and it fell to the ground. Gavros sniffed it, confirmed it was dead, and was about to hoist it onto his broad shoulders, when he heard a snort of rage from behind, and felt a giant head ram him into the snow.
Gavros picked himself up, dusted off the snow, and turned to face a giant normelk, the alpha male. It was a powerful, broad shouldered creature, a beast with a thick layer of brown fur and an even thicker layer of fat. Its horns, which were larger than the female normelks' nubby horns were pointed at the ends, and were perfect for goring Gavros to death. However, Gavros stood his ground as the snow fell on his light gray tabby fur. He knew he could take down this alpha male, for its brain was smaller than all 6 of its eyes combined.
Gavros readied himself as the normelk pawed the ground with its huge, cloven feet, lowered its head, and charged, snorting furiously. Gavros dodged out of the way and lunged for the normelk's hind leg, snarling. "Attack fellow feranthrols!" he yowled, just dodging the normelk as it kicked at Gavros with its hind leg.
His other comrades, a giant brown tabby feranthrol and a smaller ginger furred feranthrol, having brought down 5 other normelk, now jumped on the bellowing creature, hissing as they bore down with needle sharp fangs. The alpha normelk's snorts of rage quickly transformed into strangled cries of pain, and it began to thrash frantically, trying to free itself of its attackers and flee with the survivors of his herd. Its efforts were in vain, and in minutes the three feranthrols were hauling the giant body towards the others.
The ginger furred feranthrol gave a satisfied purr. "What a good catch Gavros! There's more than enough for our entire pounce! And we can profit from all the hides!" she said.
Gavros gave a small smile; he was pleased at the results of the hunt, but he was determined to stay calm and serious as possible to show he wasn't soft like a kit. "I agree Runai, and the fresh meat will be perfect for Kauna and the kits," he said thoughtfully.
"You're always talking about those kits, and they haven't even been born," the brown tabby purred, giving Gavros a toothy grin. "You'll make a good father, but don't dote over them all the time, that's the mother's job."
"Don't mind me, Tigros. I'm just excited, they'll be here any day now, and I want to make sure they don't hate me… I want to be the perfect parent for them," Gavros said, letting out a long sigh.
"You have nothing to worry about Gavros," Runai said smiling. "The kits will love you, just relax… I'm sure everything will be fine."
"That's right Gavros, you, your mate, and your kits will be just fine," Tigros said reassuringly, patting Gavros's back with his paw-like hand.
Gavros smiled. His friends were right, as usual. They'd put up with his worrying and solemnness since they were all kits, and they were now so close it seemed like they were from the same litter. Gavros knew that if his friends were enthusiastic about his kits, then there wasn't anything to worry about. Kauna would give birth to their litter, and they would raise and love them until they were fully grown and ready to take care of themselves. Maybe they would end up caring for him and Kauna when they were fully grown, but Gavros shook that thought away, it was stupid. He could take care of himself and Kauna, he had been doing that for years, and even after they were wed. Most of the time, she would get angry at him, saying she could take of herself, but Gavros refused to listen, and insisted on caring for her. Kauna had grown used to it now, and she practically welcomed Gavros's doting but caring nature.
As Gavros thought about all of these things, he sighed, smiled, and then nodded. Everything would be fine. His kits would be born soon, and they would be great. Luna, Gavros's other close friend, and her mate, Cato, would give him advice about taking care of his kits. After all, they were already taking care of kits of their own.
Gavros finally shook himself out his thoughts as he and his comrades broke through the brush and finally made it to their village. Several trees larger than earth sequoia trees towered above the threesome. Their trunks were a creamy white with tan stripes, and their dark multi-colored leaves shone brightly above them. Unlike earth-trees, the feranthrols' trees, which are called Pabarbre trees, had could virtually live in any environment and thrive. Their leaves never withered, and they were good for many uses. This is where the feranthrols lived.
They had built several tree houses on the sturdy branches to stay safe from the deadly creatures below, and had adapted to the high altitude, learning to jump from tree to tree, hunt birds, and live off the Pabarbre fruit. In time, they had built bridges from tree to tree, a medical center, and a training center for younger feranthrols so they could learn about survival. Now, it was as successful as any earth city.
Gavros effortlessly leapt several yards off the ground to grab the rung on one of the many rope ladders on the Mother Tree. His comrades followed him, each carrying 2 normelk with relative ease, while he carried 2 of his own. To a normal human, it would take at least 5 of them to lift a single normelk because of its astounding weight of 1 ton, but then again, feranthrols could carry something at least 100 times heavier than themselves, even a tyke could carry an entire car without breaking a sweat.
The trio easily scaled the several hundred yards to the main meat store. The smell of salted and preserved flesh met Gavros's nose, and he eagerly licked his fangs. Fresh meat would be perfect for the winter, when food was scarce and fruit and other vegetation was hard to find. It would give his entire village good strength, and if they kept their hunting spree up, the entire village would never go hungry. Gavros smiled at the thought as he finally reached the entrance of the main meat store. To his surprise, he didn't see many feranthrols there, and the ones he did see shot him looks of dismay and sorrow. Gavros was a bit disturbed when he saw the looks on his companions' faces, but he didn't think about it much. All he could really think about was getting home to Kauna.
"I'm going home to check on Kauna guys. Would you like to join me?" Gavros asked Runai and Tigros as he dropped the normelk carcasses on a pile of other recently killed prey. "She'd be happy to see you both."
"Of course we will Gavros," Runai purred. "She's our friend too."
As Tigros, Runai, and Gavros leapt from branch to branch, closing in on Kauna's home, more and more feranthrols passed them, all of them with looks of sorrow and disbelief on their faces, and Gavros became even more suspicious about his fellow villagers. He knew then that something was definitely not right. He sniffed the air carefully, and in the breeze he made out the scents of other feranthrols, their head doctor, newborn smell, and… blood. Fear ran down his spine, and he began to quicken his pace, moving as freely as the spirits that watched over him and his friends.
Tigros struggled to keep up, and Runai wasn't doing any better, and he couldn't help but let out a yowl of protest as Gavros pushed on. "What are you doing Gavros?" Tigros snarled. "We're in no hurry! Everything's fine; no one is in danger!!!"
"I smell blood, Tigros! We need to hurry! Someone might be hurt!" Gavros yowled in response. His friends soon smelled blood as well and let out yowls of alarm, and in minutes they were speeding towards the tree house almost as fast as Gavros.
In minutes, they had reached the tree house. The scent of blood and newborns was much stronger, and the trio was shocked to see a small group of feranthrols gathered around the entrance of Gavros's house, and Gavros had to push his way through the crowd to get to his door. The scent of blood drenched his house, and he was horrified to realize it was mingled with the scent of his mate.
Gavros yowled at the entrance of his home. "Kauna! Kauna, I'm home! Where are you?" he said fearfully, sniffing frantically to locate his mate.
To his surprise, the head doctor, a frail, dark gray she-cat, came out of the hallway leading to Gavros and Kauna's room with a grave look on her face; she was followed by Luna. "Gavros…" she began, but Gavros grabbed her by the shirt and slammed her against a wall.
"Where is my WIFE?!" Gavros snarled angrily, shaking the doctor furiously.
"Gavros please calm down!" Tigros yowled, grabbing Gavros's arms and tearing him away from the doctor. "What has happened Luna?"
"Kauna… she… she gave birth to the kits early… almost as soon as you guys left to go hunting…" Luna started, lowering her head so her blue tuft of hair hung over her eyes. "I had to hurry to find the doctor, and we arrived back just in time to help Kauna give birth to the kits… but something was wrong… there was blood… so much of it… we couldn't help her… she couldn't be saved…"
Gavros stopped struggling, his eyes full of shock and dismay, his jaws frozen, opened to make an angered roar, but nothing came. Finally he let out a hoarse whisper. "The kits… Are they okay?"
Luna looked at Gavros silently, her eyes stinging with tears as she replied. "All dead… except for one."
Runai and Tigros's ears perked up in surprise. "Where is it?" they asked in unison.
Luna motioned them to come into Kauna's room, and they followed without hesitation. The scene in the room horrified Gavros. His bed, once clean and perfect, was soaked in crimson blood. The blanket was torn, the pillows ruined, but what frightened Gavros the most was the lifeless body of a spotted black and white feranthrol in the bed. Her golden yellow eyes, once joyful, were now wide and blank. A small smile was frozen on her lips.
"K-Kauna? Kauna no… don't… please no… oh Sun and Moon gods NO!!!" Gavros roared, his voice mixed with sadness and anger, tears flooding his eyes. "NO!!! BRING HER BACK… D-DON'T TAKE HER!!! SPARE HER!!! TAKE ME… w-why??? Why her?"
Tigros patted Gavros on the back gently as his friend broke down and let out sobs like a lost kit. Runai gave him a comforting hug, and Luna picked something tiny up from the bed. Gavros detected the faint scents of Kauna and milk, and looked up to see a small white bundle of fur in Luna's arms. The kit had a small black tuft of fur on her head, and her eyes were opened just a crack, but Gavros could see the kit had the exact same color eyes as its mother.
"It's a she-kit," Runai whispered, reaching forward to touch the kit's paw. It mewled loudly and batted at Rauni's hand, which made her laugh softly. "She's got her mother's spirit Gavros!"
Gavros flinched at the word 'mother' and glared down at the pure white kit. Luna and Runai stared at him, half confused, and then offered the kit to him. "Don't you want to hold her?" Luna asked.
Gavros stared at her, then the kit, and suddenly, he bared his fangs. "No… I don't want that kit… If it wasn't for her, Kauna would be alive… It's all her fault!"
The other feranthrols' eyes widened in utter shock. Tigros finally spoke up. "It's no one's fault Gavros, it was just a misfortune. This is a time for grieving, but there is new life, and it came from you! You can't just turn your back on this kit… she hasn't done anything to deserve this," he said solemnly.
Gavros hissed at Tigros. "I can turn my back on this kit and I will. Take it away from me, and I swear to the Sun God that if I ever cross paths with it again I will slay it," he snarled in a blood chilling voice. "Now get out of my house, and take those other bags of filth with you!"
Runai carried the tiny bodies of the living kit's littermates as Tigros and Luna followed. The kit was squealing loudly in Luna's arms, as if she knew her father had disowned her. Now what? Runai knew they couldn't take the kit back to Gavros; he'd kill it on the spot. She couldn't take care of a young kit either, and she didn't even want to ask Tigros. She was beginning to lose faith, when Luna finally spoke up.
"I'm keeping her," she said simply, drawing her friends' attention. "No one wants an extra mouth to feed at this time of winter, but I know Cato and I can care for this little one."
Runai's eyes widened. "Are you sure Luna?"
"I'm certain Runai. Don't worry about me, I promise to raise her and love her as if she really was my own flesh and blood."
Tigros and Runai exchanged looks for a few heartbeats, and then nodded. "Okay Luna, but promise us you will take good care of her," Tigros said looking at the tiny white kit.
Luna nodded, her eyes sparkling with joy. "You don't have to worry my friends; she will make a great Feranthrol."
Runai gave a loud purr, smiling, and then a thought quickly raced through her head. "What's her name?" she asked.
Luna thought for a second, waiting for the right name, but suddenly, a breeze blew around her and the kit, and for a second she heard something faint. Luna smelled her friend Kauna, but the breeze was gone as quickly as it had come. However, it had told her a name.
"Chess," Luna replied, looking lovingly at the baby feranthrol. "I think Kauna would have liked the name… Chess."