Chirudhai felt restless. Lying on the rock in the sun had been less peaceful than usual. There was an itch somewhere under her tail, but licking there didn’t help. As the sun sank in the west, she left her rock. She’d eaten the night before, but hunting suited her mood better than caving up. The grass-eaters would be going for water soon. A stout branch she hadn’t used recently crossed over one trail to the pool where the stream widened. She went through the forest to the tree rather than use the trail. She climbed the tree and lay on the branch back from the trail. All she had to do was wait.
Waiting was harder than usual, though. She kept herself under control with only her tail twitching, but that was difficult. Soon, she was rewarded. A small herd of nilgai came down the trail. After the first passed under the branch, ‘Dhai raced along the branch. A fat doe was pushing its calf to hurry it out of danger. A female yearling tried to get past them, was blocked, and reversed course to run back. She hadn’t turned quickly enough. ‘Dhai dropped onto the young doe’s back, grabbed on with all her claws, and bit into the back of the neck. The doe was already starting to run when ‘Dhai landed. She got several lengths ahead before she collapsed. ‘Dhai tore out her throat to be sure. The other nilgai galloped away from her, with the calf bawling at the top of his voice.
‘Dhai licked at the blood in the neck until it stopped spurting out. Then, she dragged the nilgai into the forest away from the trail. The game would avoid that trail for a while, anyway; there was no reason to leave more scent to frighten them for longer. She tore the hide off a section of haunch and licked up the meat. One haunch satisfied her appetite. She’d save the rest for later.
Even with a haunch gone, the nilgai weighed more than ‘Dhai did. It took real effort to carry it up a tree and stash it in the crook where the trunk split into two branches. Although her stomach was full and she’d had all that exercise, ‘Dhai still felt restless; and nothing she could do would relieve the itch. She padded into the forest towards the stream. She needed some water after her meal. After that, she would keep moving and find something else to distract her from the itch.
She saw a dark shape padding silently upwind towards her. It walked as quietly as she did, not noisily like hoofed game. It was, however, black as the night -- unlike any animal she had ever seen. She turned to defend her catch.
“I am Chirudhai,” she said, “and that is my meat.”
“I did not come for your meat, ‘Dhai,” he answered -- she could tell now that she was facing a male. “I came for you.” She faced the stranger while backing slowly towards the tree. He was larger than she, but many of her kills had been still larger. As he grew near, she could smell that he had a similar scent to hers, except male. When he came close and pushed forward his head to sniff at her, she swung a paw at him.
He ducked back, but seemed to be laughing at her. She charged forward, and he avoided her. His swat, when it came, was with his claws withdrawn. They circled; she feinted; he feinted; she attacked for real. Instead of dodging her, he caught her off-guard. He pressed her shoulders and forelegs to the ground. She expected him to do her serious injury with his teeth.