I’m not talking about the mature-woman-seeking-young-lovers kind of cougar, although they are a wild species as well (I'm winking even as I know you can't see me). I'm referring to the large cat also known as a mountain lion or puma among many other names. My upcoming novel, Ravages of Spirit is about a pride of cougar-shifters and, while working on it, I've done a lot of research about cougars.
I've always been fascinated by them. They are the largest wild cat in North America. Despite years of human hunting and encroachment into their space, cougars are still found throughout North and South America. They are formidable hunters, speedy for their size and extremely agile. Although not true apex predators, they do not possess any natural enemies other than man.
Here is a link to a website offering further information about cougars and below the photo is a little more information on Ravages of Spirit.
A Bit More About Ravages of Spirit
Cougars are solitary creatures but the cougar-shifters in Ravages of Spirit live in a pride. After all, shifters are already imaginary beings and I figure my conceived world can abide by my rules, LOL. Behaviour-wise my shifters share traits of both cougars and lions although they physically resemble cougars.
I wanted to portray a group of shifters that were more than a pride. I envisioned them as a family that would love, honour and protect one another. My shifters live in a commune that includes many families and has an elected alpha governing them. They are self-sufficient and interact with humans as little as possible. Pride life changes when one of their own, Finn, embarks on a mission of vengeance that could potentially endanger them all.
In the following teaser, pride alpha Gerrard and his son, Rick, discuss Finn’s rash behaviour. This text is unedited but I wanted to introduce you to characters other than those I’ve mentioned before, namely Finn and Tessa.
Gerrard looked up from the rabbit carcass he was skinning when the familiar scent of Rick wafted to him. Seconds later, Rick entered the shed that served as the pride’s abattoir. He then waited patiently while Gerrard wiped his bloodied hands and turned his full attention to him.
“I tracked him to the Tennessee border.”
Gerrard nodded at the confirmation of what he had known. He was glad Rick had returned and not pursued Finn any further. An already volatile situation would have escalated quickly had Rick encountered Finn.
“Are we going to go after him?” Rick asked, hope soaking his words.
Gerrard paused before answering. He feared Finn would get himself killed with how he had rushed off in a blind rage. However, Gerrard had the rest of the pride’s safety to consider as well. The role of alpha came with hard responsibilities and many tough decisions. Although he wanted Finn here, with the others where he belonged, he would not endanger any of the other shifters in the pride.
His steely grey eyes took in his son’s eager face. Rick was worried about Finn, undoubtedly, but Gerrard knew the majority of Rick’s fervour to join Finn was born of bloodlust. The same thirst for vengeance that consumed Finn burned brightly within Rick. While Gerrard worried for Finn’s safety, he was not eager to lose another child by indulging Rick’s desire. He sighed.
“If we do, it will be I who goes. With James. You will stay here to protect the others.”
He was not surprised when Rick’s eyes narrowed.
“No! You can’t deny me the opportunity to avenge Ellen!” Rick roared.
Gerrard stepped around the butcher block, removing the barrier between them. He stopped before Rick and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Rushing blindly into this will get you killed. Finn might already be dead. And with no way of knowing if those humans may return, the others need someone with your strength and skills to protect them.”
He hoped appealing to Rick’s vanity as a skilled fighter would placate him but watched as Rick angrily shook his head.
“There are enough here with the skills to protect the young. If you do not want to avenge her then you stay. I’ll go with James, we’ll find Finn and the three of us will put an end to those men. We’ll ensure they never harm our pride again!”
Rick’s chest heaved with the effort of containing himself. Gerrard worried that Rick was struggling with his ire once more, a constant war he painfully watched his son endure. He was proud of the control Rick did exercise, and had, since the event that had taken the life of Ellen and had almost claimed Finn as well. He was also proud of the loyalty Rick displayed toward Finn despite their rocky past. He understood Rick’s need for vengeance. He shared it, although not as overtly as Rick. His position demanded he display control and caution but his need to spill the blood of those men consumed him as well.
He should be the one to stay back, to protect the others and to provide them with leadership and guidance during their time of grief. However, he would not deny himself vengeance nor the satisfaction of sinking his claws and teeth into the murderous men who had robbed him of his daughter, Ellen. When his steady gaze met Rick’s wild eyes, he knew he could not deny Rick those same things. He nodded.
“We’ll leave tomorrow. You, James and I. We will find Finn and then kill the men.”
Rick’s rigid posture relaxed and he blinked slowly in relief.
“But,” Gerrard cautioned, “We will journey in human form.”
Rick’s eyes widened as he shook his head defiantly.
“We can’t! We can’t lose the time. It will take too long! It’ll be too hard to track Finn that way!”
Gerrard raised his brow and waited as Rick calmed himself.
“It is necessary and we’ll do it. We’ll drive to the border then continue on foot to follow Finn’s trail. We will do it as men to avoid detection. That is my decision and it’s final.”
With an exasperated grunt, Rick stomped out of the shed. Gerrard returned to skinning the rabbit. He understood Rick’s frustration. Following Finn’s trail in human form would be a difficult and slow process. Yet they could not risk detection. Three cougars moving in unison in an area not known for such large predators was risky, especially with James’ albinism. James had begged Gerrard to be included in the search for Finn even before Gerrard had decided to follow Finn. Although James was a poor choice, small for a shifter and not a skilled fighter, Gerrard had not been able to deny him the chance to assist his best friend Finn, just as he knew he could not now deny Rick. He also knew his decision to travel as humans was the correct one. Despite how every moment not spent tracking Finn ran the risk of losing his trail entirely, they could not risk detection. They had only survived for millennia by being cautious.
He slid the knife under the rabbit’s pelt then made small, quick cuts as he peeled the skin back. His expert movements were born of years of preparing carcasses and had become so routine that he could do so automatically, his physical body on task, while his mind wandered to preparations that must be made and all the instructions he needed to deliver to various beings the ensure the commune ran smoothly in his absence.
He also thought of Finn and hoped the shifter he considered a son was still alive. In spite of Finn disobeying his direct order to stay here until fully healed, until they could learn all they could about the hunters and formulate a plan to avenge Ellen, he longed to see him again. He was still angry Finn had snuck away and thereby jeopardized all the shifters here but he understood Finn’s reason for doing so. After all, Finn was motivated by much more than Ellen’s death.
Copyright 2016 C.A. Knoble