A growl started in Cato’s throat, but he silenced it quickly, remembering the need for stealth. The Big-Ugly hadn’t heard him, luckily, and continued its walk toward the place where they’d taken Leader. At least it was where his nose had said they’d taken him.
Cato had been ready to charge in. Ready to tear the throat of anything that stood in his way regardless of how ugly, but his nose said there were too many, and his nose wasn’t something he readily ignored. Not anymore anyway. He was far too old for such behavior now.
He didn’t feel old. With the exception of his leg and his ribs, he felt as strong as ever, but there was a strangeness that he couldn’t explain. Like he was far older than he was.
The Big-Ugly disappeared into the shadows under the hill that was not a hill. It smelled strongly of the musk which meant hurt leg and ribs. Under the musk there was the subtle, yet welcoming scent of Leader. It meant friendship, safety, belonging.
Leader had walked through the same low opening that the Big-Ugly had walked through. Or maybe not. Maybe he had been carried or dragged. Maybe Leader wasn’t alive at all.
The thought nearly made Cato whimper out loud.
He had to know.
Cato stalked forward, trying to keep to the shadows cast by this place’s strange sun. The smell of the Big-Uglies was everywhere, essentially making him blind. He felt like he was surrounded by the things and his head jerked this way and that with every small sound of the forest. He finally made it to the opening in the hill. The cave that was not a cave.
Sound drifted to his ears from inside. It was a scary sound that made Cato take a half step back.
The sound made Cato think of many, many Big-Uglies yelling and hitting. He took another half step back and to his shame, a small whimper escaped him. A rustle of wet leaves off to his left brought his head around and a Big-Ugly came into view.
The thing’s body language and even its ugly facial features projected surprise and it was enough to give Cato a moment of courage.
He lowered his head and growled menacingly, but only for an instant. Cato lunged half a second later and let out a bark that was probably his best yet. He expected the Big-Ugly to shy back, maybe even stumble. Throw up an arm to protect its face. It stepped forward instead and brought an arm forward to hit Cato. He twisted and was able to feel the satisfying gush of flesh as his teeth tore into the Big-Ugly’s arm.
Again the thing impressed Cato by not flinching or jerking his arm. The thing brought his arm in close and grabbed the back of Cato’s neck with a giant hand, but Cato refused to relax his jaw. He jerked his body back and forth, doing his best to savage the arm as much as possible before the Big-Ugly could do what Cato expected.
Any second now the thing would kill him somehow with the massive strength Cato could feel in the thing’s grip. He felt the already searing pain in his neck grow worse as the Big-Ugly pinched his fingers together. Slowly, the pain grew and throbbed in time with his heartbeat that he could now feel thundering in his head. His vision began to dim and vaguely, he felt his jaws relax.