© 2003 by Wotan

MIRAGE - © 2003 by Wotan

The hot African day slowly moved towards late afternoon, its light taking on a strange feeling of length that told one that evening was indeed approaching. And the light's feeling of length wasn't just the way that the shadows were slowly drawing out as the day progressed. Rather, it was as if the dying day's brightness were somehow growing longer in and of itself, if such a thing could be put into words. Unfortunately, the coming night could promise no relief from the day's heat. Instead, whatever sleep might come for those who move by day would be restless and unsatisfying.

The only movement of air came from the Harmattan winds, which passed across the land without slowing, or stopping; stealing whatever moisture they came across, and carrying it to places unknown. All that these ill winds seemed to bring with them was a kind of slow, and growing restlessness of mind and spirit, which only worsened with the darkness. Animals that might spend more pleasant days engaged in the celebrations of life through hunting, mating, or play instead only expended the minimum energy and effort required for their basic survival. Much of their time was spent searching for whatever relief from the heat they could find.

In the realms of the tall creatures, who moved on two legs, an almost palpable sense of fear was growing. A fear that seemed borne on these winds each year. Slowly, every bush, every tree, and even every rock began to look like an enemy. A person not used to these lands, and not tied to them through many generations would feel as if Nature herself had decided to eradicate the human parasites from her flesh. To those who were of this land, it was known that eventually these winds would end, and the fear and restlessness would leave with them. However, even the most stalwart, and the eldest still felt the fear. Though there seemed to be no rational reason for it, it was nevertheless there. In a people that had lived in these lands for many millennia, there were certain instincts, and undercurrents of knowledge that existed, and which had served them well. Instinctual knowledge that no amount of rationality or logic could ever touch. On this deep, primitive level of awareness, the human is no different than the baboon that senses the predator is close by and is watching in his patient and calculating manner.

One of the two-legged creatures suffering through these hellish winds was named Mirian Abacha. Mirian was soon to pass her twentieth year, and in her village, most young women were considered of marriageable age when they reached their fifteenth year. The most desirable among them might be married earlier, especially if the prospective husband were from a rich family, and was willing to eschew the traditional dowry. Indeed, amongst Mirian's people, a girl was not considered to be fully a woman until she had married, and given birth to her first child.

For a young girl to not have a husband, and be a mother by the time she reached her eighteenth year reflected quite badly on her family, as even the ugliest girls could generally find a husband eventually. A woman who did not marry was an outcast, and considered extremely undesirable.

A woman who chose not to marry was simply unthinkable in Mirian's village.

That Mirian had reached her twentieth year without a husband not only distressed her family to no end, but perhaps also gave the tacit suggestion to the entire community that there might be something seriously wrong with her; perhaps, like most other unmarried, and hence, shamed women in the community, she would eventually disappear into the bush, never to be heard from again. However, such matters of social position and acceptability had never mattered much to Mirian. Indeed, most everyday, mundane concerns never bothered her all that much. Her thoughts had always been focused on deeper things than the average person of the village. Chief among these concerns was her aching desire to get out of the village.

She had only ever voiced these ideas to her family once, at around the age of eleven. Her father had been filled with rage that she could even suggest the idea that she, a girl might be able to succeed outside of her community.

"No," her father had said angrily, "Your proper place is right here in this village raising children. This is your duty as a woman!"

Nevertheless, a year later, Mirian had begun to travel to the next village several days a week to attend a missionary school, where she eventually learned to read and write. And as loud, threatening, and as full of bluster as her parents were about this, and as many times as they punished her for disobeying, in the end they were pretty much powerless to prevent Mirian from going. They had even gone so far as to try and keep her imprisoned in their hut for several days, only to have her run off back to the missionary school the very moment she was able to get out of her parents' home, and she did not return to her parents' village again for over a week, until one of the friars at the school had convinced Mirian that she was still to honour her parents. Soon after her return, Mirian had left her parents' hut for good, and had built one for herself at the opposite end of the village, where she concentrated mostly on her studies, travelling back and forth between her village and the missionary school, and would also occasionally teach things she had learned to other village children that showed interest. The brightest among them would sometimes come to the school with Mirian. Soon, she was the only fully literate person in her entire community. She hoped that she might eventually go to the capital city and perhaps find a decent job.

Though Mirian had never discussed this idea with her parents, they had feared that she would do just that. When Mirian was sixteen, one morning her Father had announced to her that she was soon to be married to a boy, whom they had chosen for her. Mirian tried to protest, but her father shouted at her, "You have humiliated this family to the entire village! I will no longer allow this!" He had struck her then, and stormed out of her hut.

All Mirian had for the next few hours were the kind of bitter tears that have no witness. Soon she fell into an exhausted sleep, and she had the special dream again.

Mirian had one secret in particular that she kept deeper than any other, which represented a desire, a longing that she had never fully understood, or had any means to clearly explain to anyone, had she desired to do so. It stemmed from an incident that occurred when she was three years old. She had few clear memories left of what had happened then, let alone any sort of idea of whether what she did remember was completely fantasy, or might have some basis in reality. What understanding she still had was quite fuzzy, and made little sense to her. It was a strange collage of colours, textures, smells and sound, but not great deal of logical sense or coherent thought strung these vignettes together. The only thing she knew for sure, or at least believed that she knew was that these strange memories gave rise to the dream.

She had dim recollections of the deep indigo of late evening, of a strange, heavily musky odour, and a low rumbling. She also had an idea that she had seen a flash of yellow, black and white, and of reaching out to feel a warm softness that was almost immediately gone. She may have bitterly cried at some strange ache of loss that she lacked the words to explain.

The full truth of what had happened on that day, however, was no longer known to any living being. And other than Mirian herself, only her Mother had even the vaguest idea of what had happened.

Seventeen years before, some nearby villages had been terrorised for several months by a marauding leopard, which had first begun by taking livestock from outside the circles of huts, but soon became much bolder, and began to venture right around the homes themselves. The cat soon found the local dogs much easier prey than even the cows and goats had been. Amongst the people, there was an unspoken terror of what the leopard's next prey was likely to be, that made mothers begin to keep their children inside at night, and to not let them out of their sight during the day.

After the seventh or eighth dog was devoured, one hardy soul took it upon himself to stay up all night, watching for the leopard with his gun: an ancient blunderbuss that looked as if it couldn't possibly ever fire. Nevertheless, around 2:00 AM, the entire village was rudely awakened by the incredible, thunderous explosion that signaled the end of the cattle and dog killer's career. Or at least the villagers had reason to believe so, as the livestock disappearances ceased almost immediately. The people cautiously creeping out of their huts soon joined the triumphant hunter as he stood over his vanquished prey. For all intents and purposes, it appeared to be dead, but it wasn't. Not quite yet.

The cat was a young male, who was in rather poor condition, mangy and rack-thin. The proof of his maleness underneath his tail seemed to almost angrily defy his hopeless condition. As the cat's short and miserable existence slowly fled his flesh, the leopard's eyes began to glaze over, reflecting the joyous villagers dancing around his body. He could see them as his last thoughts disintegrated, but the fear and rage he might have felt, as well as the monstrous pain that had slammed into his chest moments before dissolved into a sense of peace that in its turn dissolved into nothingness. The dancing people also slowly faded from his dimming vision, but he saw several strange things before the very end.

A young female human emerged from the crowd of villagers surrounding his dying form. They seemed unable to sense her presence, and she passed right through them, as insubstantial as the mirages he had seen shimmering over the sun-baked veldt in happier days. She bent over the leopard, and reached out her front paw to him. As ethereal as she looked, he felt her touch on his fur quite well. As she touched him, he had an impression of warmth, and for some unfathomable reason, also an impression of love.

She dissolved before his eyes and became a mere cub, reaching out towards him once again, and saying something in her squeaky, human cub voice. Before she could touch him again however, her cub form disappeared, and he had two final rapid-fire visions. The first was of the female again as an adult, with another, strange male leopard lying supine at her side... Lying as a tom leopard would rest next to a female he had joined for her time of mating. And his dying brain told him that somehow, he was that strange leopard. But not yet. There was still at least one other life to be lived.

At the very last, he had an almost instantaneous flash of a scene that he knew very well. A pair of leopards were mating right before his glassy eyes, melting in and out of the dancing humans. The mating male made his penetration thrust, and let forth a gurgling snarl as his orgasm hit. The dying leopard realised that he was neither of these mating cats, and yet, somehow, he was. As the mating male bit down on the female's neck in his explosive ecstasy, the dying male had an odd sensation of being shot forwards into a place of warmth and safety. And whatever ties he still had to his dying body were finally severed, and he knew peace at last.

In a different place, but at the same time, a three year old girl lay in her bed as evening gave way to night. The girl looked at something only she seemed able to see. Her pudgy little hand reached out, looking like a little, brown starfish. The hand seemed to grasp at something for a moment, and she said, "Kitty!". But, then her happy expression fell away like the mask of a stone idol, and she began to cry as if her heart would break, and nothing might ever mend it again.

Her mother came running at Mirian's cries, and the first thing she noticed was the heavy, musky odour in Mirian's room. Her mother felt real fear at this strange, feral smell, and held Mirian close, trying to comfort her, and at the same time reassure herself that there was no danger. However, only sleep would bring little Mirian any relief. And for the first time, sleep also brought the special dream.

One hundred days later, a female leopard cub opened her eyes... Eyes that somehow seemed much older than they really were.

As Mirian got older, the dream became more and more lucid, and the details began to make more sense. Some of what she experienced undoubtedly came to her from many of the old children's books she had read at the missionary schoolñtales of white kings and queens of mediæval Europe, combined with ancient stories of Egypt, and other African tales that she had been told over the years. She always saw herself as a beautiful, ebony queen, bedecked in fine jewels and robes that made her neck and jutting chin look like proud Nefertiti of old. What other humans would never understand, however, was how Mirian pictured her husband in this dream. She never viewed her fair king as a pharaoh in all his splendour... She never even saw him as human for that matter. Rather, he always appeared to her as a large, virile male leopard.

Though the dream would make little sense to another person, it developed at such a young age in Mirian, that the ideas, which it represented never had struck her as intrinsically wrong. When she was still very young, and before she had learned not to talk to her parents about it, her mother especially had dismissed the vision as just some strange part of childhood that Mirian would outgrow. Neither of her parents was ever aware that not only did the dream never fade, but she continued to have it several times a month, and it just became clearer and more detailed with time.

In her younger years, she was mostly left upon waking from the dream with highly-charged feelings of longing, and a sense of beauty that made her ache. However, around the time that the monthly flow of her budding womanhood first began, a much deeper element began to emerge. She would still feel the familiar longing of her childhood when she awoke, but she also began to notice a deep, sweet ache in her belly, and sometimes she would be moist and sticky between her legs when she woke up.

The first time that this had happened, she had had a momentary fear that the wetness was blood, and she reached her hand downwards to her secret places. The touch of her fingers on her still sensitive areas caused pleasure like tiny lightning bolts to shoot through her. And Mirian realised that she was truly entering womanhood.

She caressed herself, enjoying the delicious sensations slowly building at her touch, and she found herself thinking about the leopard of her dreams again, and especially of his maleness. Her fingers continued their busy work, and a moment later, she had to stifle a sobbing moan.

In her waking hours, she had begun to realise long ago that for reasons she would likely never fully understand, she thought of male leopards the same way that other girls of her age would think of cute boys. As for why this might be, and why she might seem to know every last detail of an animal that she had only ever seen in the flesh in daylight hours from a long distance across the open veldt, she had no real idea.

But the male in her dreams... By now, she knew every single whisker spot on his snout, the depths of his chilling, green eyes, and every nuance of the colour and texture of his spotted fur of blazing yellow, and how it blended to beautiful, spotted white velvet on his belly. She even knew every single black rosette on his entire body. She had imagined the moist, pink leather of his nose against her skin, and felt his rasping tongue against her face and her hands... Felt and smelled his hot breath against her face, still scented with the meat of his most recent kill... And as she reached young womanhood, she also began to pay attention to the parts dangling under his tail, how his testicles were a deep, golden yellow, darker than the rest of his fur, making them prominently stand out. Underneath them was his white sheath, with its black centre, where Mirian had once or twice seen his pink, pointed member begin to poke outwards.

Mirian knew that somehow, somewhere, this cat was her mate, though she might never actually see him in her lifetime. Her husband would never be some local boy that her father would try and force her to marry. Better to be an old spinster who spent her time teaching what she knew to the local children, and taking comfort in the dreams that no one else would ever understand. None but the mate of her dreams would ever touch her as man with woman.

Nevertheless, she still ended up meeting the boy her father had chosen for her. She had little choice, as her father literally shoved him into Mirian's hut, and then stood in front of the door, as if to block his way out. Mirian was very angry at first, but soon had to admit to herself that this was not the boy's fault, and she should at least be gracious to him. To give him proper credit, he was quite obviously nervous, and seemed to honestly want to attempt conversation with Mirian. She offered him some tea, and talked to him a little bit. She found that he was nice enough, and she couldn't think badly of him; indeed, she thought that he would make a very good husband for some woman, and she told him as much. But that woman would not be her. Mirian had no real idea of what else to say to this boy, except to tell him that she had long ago decided on the husband of her dreams, and if she could not have him, she would have no other. The boy appeared to take this very well, and also seemed smart enough to quickly realise that Mirian had absolutely no interest in him. He eventually went back to the front door of Mirian's hut, and spoke to her father once again. The boy was smiling pleasantly when he told Mirian's father the news that that he really didn't want to hear, and shortly after the boy finally left, Mirian's father stormed into the room, and looked down at her, his eyes blazing with anger and hurt.

"I have no daughter any longer!" He shouted, "she is dead!" Her Father then spit upon the floor at her feet, and stormed out of Mirian's hut.

None of this is real, Mirian's subconscious tried to tell her. You know that it's not. What you see in the dream is what is real... Or what could be real if you allow yourself to believe it. This time, Mirian chose to ignore those thoughts that she had heard so many times before, and she was quite surprised how much what her father said had hurt her. Even after years of hearing his anger, and insults. She felt a sadness too large to contain, and soon she did the only thing she could think of. As the day began to move towards evening, she left the safety of the circle of huts, and began to walk outwards into the open veldt. After a while, she found a large, rock, and sat upon it, just staring across the grasslands only broken by the occasional, flat-topped shingayi tree, each one of them looking like an inverted cone. The setting sun lit the veldt in a blazing, beautiful orange that made Mirian's tears sparkle like rubies.

As the sunset finally began to fade, Mirian continued to sit and watch as one by one, the stars started to shine forth in the clear night sky. Some time later, a herd of impala appeared, and slowly moved across her vision, Mirian still sitting perfectly still. They contentedly settled into grazing, but then Mirian saw the herd buck's head shoot upwards, and his ears perk as a pride of lions began to roar a long ways off. At this signal, every impala in the heard looked around themselves nervously, swivelling their heads, and flicking their ears. After a moment or two, the buck seemed to decide that the lions were too far away to cause any problems, and he returned to his grazing, the entire herd soon following his lead.

The impala contentedly cropped grass for a short while longer, until the sawing roar of a leopard sounded, a little nearer than the lions had been. Without a trace of hesitation, the entire herd bolted at this sound, crashing and pronking through the long grass. Still, Mirian continued to sit on the rock, her sadness slowly replaced by a feeling of peace and oneness with her surroundings. Soon she lay down upon the rock, and closed her eyes. As she drifted off to sleep, she heard the leopard sawing again, a little closer, and she drifted back into the old, comforting dream where Mirian was once again a queen, waiting for her furry, spotted prince.

As she slept, a female leopard approached the rock where Mirian lay, stealthily, and in almost complete silence. The cat nervously sniffed the air as she moved closer, her whiskers jutting forwards, and her wet, pink nose wrinkling in the breeze. She eventually put her front paws up on the rock, and nosed at the head fur of the sleeping two-legged creature, causing it to stir very slightly in its sleep. The leopardess jumped back a little at this, but soon moved forward again, when she saw that the human was still sleeping. The leopardess was nearing the end of her life, thirteen years old, and unlikely to ever bear another litter. She was tired, thin, and very hungry, as she was starting to become too sore and stiff to bring down anything but the smallest prey anymore. She knew that sooner or later, the hyaenas or some other predator would bring her down. Yet there was a quiet dignity about the cat as she drank in the scent of the female human, and as desperately hungry as she was, the leopardess couldn't think of eating this vulnerable female. Instead, the smell of this creature caused some strange feeling of recognition to wash over her, and the leopardess had a bizarre vision of a female human cub reaching out to her with its chubby little front paw. After a moment or two, the leopardess suddenly knew that her time had come at last. She sniffed at Mirian's hair one last time, and raised her head upwards, looking at the stars. At that moment, the eyes of the leopardess showed an age and wisdom far greater than her own. And it wasn't fear or sadness that she felt. For some strange reason, the leopardess felt a growing sense excitement and expectation as she slunk off into the bush towards her destiny.

About fifteen minutes later, Mirian was snapped awake by the sudden snarls of a lioness making a kill, followed by a gurgling, wailing cry that chilled her to the bone... The cry of a leopard losing a fight for its life. Mirian sat shivering for the rest of the night, until the orange light of dawn grew in the east. As the older children of her community were leading the cows out to pasture for the day, she walked back into the village, eventually collapsing into her own bed, still exhausted.

Mirian spent the next two years continuing to travel to the neighbouring village's missionary school, now trying to learn enough, so she could properly teach the children of her own community to read and write for themselves. Whenever she would walk the roads through the forest and veldt, she would always consciously, and unconsciously look for even the slightest glimpse of a leopard, but she never actually saw one. The closest she ever came was seeing the odd pack of wild dogs, or the occasional herd of antelope. Other times, she would sing as she walked, to keep her mind occupied.

The Harmattan winds of Mirian's twentieth year arrived, and she began to find that even the trips to the school, which she usually looked forward to, suddenly began to seem like too much of a chore. Sometimes doubts would creep in that perhaps her father had been right all along, and that she was wasting her entire life on a foolish dream; that she should marry before it was too late.

And as logical as these thoughts might be on the surface, Mirian's heart still told her differently. Somewhere deep down, she still believed in her dream, even though it seemed to make less and less logical sense to her every day. Soon enough however, things would finally make sense to her...

The leaves of the trees rattled lightly in this breeze that brought no relief. High up in one particular tree, the blazing sun threw moving, dappled shadows through the green canopy. Any human passing, even those walking directly underneath the tree wouldn't have seen the leopard. Even so, the unseeing human would still feel a primal and unexplainable fear, and would breathe a sigh of relief when the tree was long behind them.

The leopard was a large male, and he lay serenely draped over a thick branch, but his eyes of emerald green were ever alert and watching. Though for what, none could say. Especially since the partially-eaten, flyblown remains of a recent kill still hung over the branches of another tree not too far off, just enough away that he wouldn't have the odour of the rotting meat assailing his senses, but could still keep an eye on his larder. This cache of meat had not yet reached the state of putrescence where the leopard would no longer eat from it, and would instead knock it from the tree, and allow the scavengers to have their way with it. No, it was something else that he waited for. If you had been lucky enough to see him in his hiding place, and then looked away, you would have been hard-pressed to find him again. Somehow, his spotted form was almost completely lost in the dapples of sunlight and shade amongst the leaves.

The merest hint of an interesting scent suddenly caught his attention, and instantly his head raised up from the branch, his whiskers swivelled forwards, and his nostrils gently flared, trying to catch as much of the smell as they could. He soon recognised the odour as coming from one of the tall, upright-walking creatures.

Perhaps an understanding was slowly dawning within the cat's mind. And even though his thought shapes did not fit the patterns that the upright-walking creatures would consider ëspeech', his mind had a language as valid as any other, based on images, subtleties of scents, and vocalisations. The creature giving off the scent was approaching the tree where the leopard lay, and its smell was soon strong enough within his nostrils to allow him to discern the subtle undertones of a female that was ovulating. Due to species differences, it did not elicit the instantaneous attention and reaction within him that the secretions and urine markings of a leopardess in her time of ústrus would have. However, it had been many months since he had last been able to satisfy his urge to mate, as the one female who shared his territory, and who had borne two litters of his cubs had disappeared. This male was in his prime, currently four years old, having won this territory, and successfully mated for the first time only two years before.

Thus, it may have been his frustrated urges that now drove his sudden fascination with the scent of this human female, or it may have been something else. Perhaps, somewhere deep in his consciousness, the leopard recognised something very familiar about the scent of this particular human female.

As she moved closer to where he lay, the male stiffened, and raised himself up still further from his branch, his nose making a quiet snuffling now as he drank in the exotic scent, exploring its every nuance and unspoken message as only animals highly motivated by smells can. And still she approached closer. Soon he was also able to get a good look at her.

She was tall, even for females of her species, and what the leopard could see of her natural hide was a very dark brown. The rest of her body was wrapped in the sort of loose-fitting, voluminous artificial pelt that these strange creatures always seemed to have about themselves. The hairlessness of these skins, how they were more brightly coloured than the gaudiest and loudest bird trying to attract a mate to his nest, and how they hung more loose and wrinkled than the hide of elephants had always seemed strange to him.

The upright-walking creatures also appeared to have no ability, or even a desire to camouflage themselves in any way, to control their scents, or to even be quiet. The leopard had only ever seen behaviours such as these in other species that felt very little fear, or need of fear: species, which tended to have great defenses of some sort, whether it be flight and speed in the case of the colourful, loud, and gaudy birds, or the sheer size and strength of the elephant.

This however, was not what concerned the leopard right at the moment. What concerned him, and what was now claiming all of his attention was her smell. Presently, she passed right in front of the tree, where he was lay, and her smell completely filled his consciousness. The scent of her heat. And soon, this scent seemed to him to have almost no difference from a female leopard at her time of mating, such was the desire it had begun to awaken within him. Nevertheless, even though his mating drive had begun to take over his thoughts, he still displayed most of the caution towards these creatures that his mother had taught to him when he was still a cub.

The woman sped up a little as she passed the tree, and the rhythmic noises she was making as she walked faltered for a moment. On some deep level, she obviously felt his presence.

The leopard waited until the woman had passed, and was some distance off, before he moved. He stood up on the branch, quickly stretching, and digging his claws into the bark. He then almost noiselessly dropped to the ground. His spotted form melted through the long grass, and he was almost invisible as he followed the female, slowly getting closer and closer to her.

Mirian walked towards the next village this particular morning, quietly singing to try and ignore the effect of the Harmattan winds, which made what was usually a rather pleasant ten kilometre journey through the veldt, and occasional small forest seem to last an eternity. Usually the singing helped with this. Today however, Mirian began to feel very odd not too long after she left her home village early that morning. The trail between the two villages was very old, and well-worn by centuries of human and livestock traffic, but this early in the morning, there was almost never anyone on it. Mirian had been about ten minutes out of her home village when she started to notice that on some deep level, something didn't feel quite right about her surroundings. There was no real way she could describe what it was, but when she passed a small clump of trees about a third of the way along in her journey, she suddenly had a very strong feeling that she was being watched. She momentarily stopped singing, and looked around herself, but as far as she could see in every direction there was nothing visible but the trail, the long grass, the trees, and a few birds flitting here and there. The only sound she could hear were the chirps and titters of these same birds, and the ever-present winds whistling, and rushing through the grass and the leaves.

She tried to tell herself that it was only the Harmattan winds and the heat beginning to get to her, and Mirian continued on her way, forcing herself to sing again. But still, the feeling of being watched persisted. She supposed that she should feel fear at this, but Mirian didn't. What she actually felt was a strange restlessness she couldn't understand. She walked for a little while longer, and something suddenly made her stop, and sit upon the ground off the side of the trail.

Here, the veldt made its way right up to the edge of the forest, and as Mirian looked back the way she had come, for the briefest instant, she saw something move in the long grass. And she instantly knew what it was. And still she didn't feel fear. Instead, what Mirian felt was a huge surge of emotion within her, a need to properly see this cat, whatever the dangers might be.

The leopard seemed to understand that Miriam meant it no harm, and cautiously, it raised its head above the grass, allowing Mirian to properly see it for the first time. Had any doubts still remained within her, as soon as Mirian saw the leopard's face, she found that she recognised every single detail. Her eyes filled with tears, blurring the features of the leopard, and she felt like a little girl all over again. Her hand reached forward in the longing she had felt across all these years, and she whispered 'Kitty...' in a ragged, and teary voice. And instead of touching thin air, and profound loss, after a moment, Mirian's hand felt soft, velvety fur underneath it, and this time it didn't disappear.

The leopard had followed the female human for quite some time, not only driven by his now aching need, but as he got closer to her, a strange, and profound curiosity as well. For his entire life, he had feared and avoided these creatures. Why then should it be that this one seemed so familiar, and fascinated him so? Why should he also have almost nonsensical ideas that he had somehow seen this female through different eyes, and even seen her as a cub? Such things were not possible. However, after a while, the female finally seemed to sense his presence, and she stopped, and sat down. She turned her head, and looked directly at him.

In any other case, the leopard would have bolted. Indeed, his body wanted to run, but as soon as he got his first, deep look at the woman's eyes, the cat was powerless to run away. An instant realisation hit him that not only was this female more than familiar to him, she was not precisely human either. And it really didn't matter right now how the leopard knew her, or even what the woman might be if she were not a human. The only thing that mattered right now was that he knew he had found his true mate.

The female's eyes sparkled and watered, and she stretched out her front paw to him. And as she did this, the leopard saw her not as an adult, but as a tiny cub. One that had been reaching out to him for lifetimes beyond count, aching in need and loss... And in the midst of this, the leopard felt his own need, more profound and causing a sweeter agony than any mating urge he'd ever experienced. And now, fate had finally decreed that the need in both of them, a need, which transcended body, space and time should finally be fulfilled.

When she reached her paw out to him, the leopard could think of nothing except standing up and moving towards her. He reached the female, and felt her paw against his fur, caressing him in ways more electrifying than any female had ever done. He rumbled in pleasure and fulfillment, rubbing against her, and allowing her... hands... to explore his whiskers, his ears, along his sides, and finally, he shivered with desire and need as her hands slipped underneath his tail, and found his waiting maleness, his sheath heavy and moist with his want. He gave a gurgling moan as the pointed tip of his penis poked out of his sheath, and rubbed against the bare skin of her hand. And for some reason he couldn't fathom, the leopard found that he understood that that particular sound, 'hand', signified a human's front paw. He opened his mouth, and tried to make the sound, and it came out as '...'and'. The cat looked up at the female, and he suddenly had the sound that signified what she thought of herself as... Her name.

"Hmm... iryan..", the leopard intoned in a voice halfway between a moan and a soft snarl, the best approximation that his vocal apparatus would allow. And when she spoke back to him, the leopard understood what she was saying almost perfectly.

"My true mate..." Mirian sighed, filled with a joyous ache she could barely contain. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and the leopard did his best to return her embrace in kind, wrapping his front paws around her upper back, and gently licking at her neck. Mirian buried her face in his fur, taking in his intoxicating, musky scent. Her hand reached back underneath his tail, and the leopard's aching, straining arousal filled her palm with warm wetness. The cat gave a moaning snarl at her soft touch.

"Hmm... ate with you...", he said.

Mirian broke off the embrace for a moment to look into the leopard's eyes.

"My prince," she said, "My prince of cats... My mate. We need a better place than this." And he understood every word. Somewhat reluctantly, and with his need still aching throughout his entire being, the cat moved away from Mirian, and began to lead her to a place he knew well. Mirian followed his spotted form as it seemed to melt through the grass. They walked for quite a ways, to the point where Mirian realised that she would likely never be able to find the trail again, much less her village should she ever want to. But close on the heels of this realisation came an understanding that she really didn't care about things like that anymore. She had come to a place where time, and human concerns seemed like nothing but nonsense now. And as the leopard continued to lead her to the place he had chosen, she didn't even have to look closely at him to understand that every single detail of his body, down to every whisker, and every spot had been burned on Mirian's mind throughout her entire life. She knew ahead of time every single place he would stop to lift his tail and spray against a rock, tree, or bush to renew his claim on this territory, every object he would sniff, and cheekrub; and as they finally approached the place, just outside the edge of a small forest, Mirian understood that this was where he had last mated before the female leopard, mother of all nine of his cubs, had disappeared.

The leopard stopped, and looked around at Mirian, as if he had sensed her thoughts.

"I will not leave you," she said. And she ran her fingers through his fur again, feeling her own need beginning to grow.

"Mirage," she whispered, "That is what you think of yourself as... And what you have always been to me... But you are real. So real." Mirage didn't even need to answer her.

Mirian slowly removed her clothing, finally exposing her bare, ebony skin to the midday sun, and the blowing winds. Mirage rubbed his body against her legs, both he and Mirian shuddering at the sensation of his velvety, spotted fur against her bare skin... And both could now smell the desire of the other. Mirian couldn't understand why her senses suddenly seemed so acute, and nor did she care. All that concerned her was what her nose now told her... And it told her that Mirage felt a need and a desire for her every bit as profound as her own. And she realised then that he had lived more than one life with that need unfulfilled.

She eventually lay in the soft grass, and Mirage moved closer. Mirian felt his cold, moist nose between her shoulder blades, and then the sandpapery rasp of his tongue as he licked upwards towards her neck. She moaned, and he moved around to her other side, this time sticking his nose into her face. Mirian's arms reached out, and embraced the leopard again, and he gave a soft rumble of pleasure. She felt his warm, meat-scented breath against her face, and his rough tongue darted into her mouth, making her shiver.

Mirage moved his attentions down a little lower, gently licking at Mirian's straining, and hard nipples, causing her to give a sobbing sigh. Every whisker, every hair, every rough part of Mirage's tongue seemed to send tiny bolts of electricity throughout Mirian's body, and a growing, warm wetness spread between her legs. The smell was finally too much for Mirage, and his instincts began to totally take hold of him. He moved his head further down her belly until it was right between Mirian's strong, brown legs, and as he did so, his maleness was fully revealed to Mirian, right in front of her face. She reached out with her right hand, gently cupping, and stroking Mirage's fuzzy, yellow testes, feeling their warm weight in her hand. Her thumb touched the moist, black tip of his sheath, and Mirage responded with a rumble of pleasure. His penis majestically stole out of his sheath, the prepuce rolling back from the pointed, smooth glans until it stood out to its full length, about the size of a pinky finger, throbbing, and straining.

Mirian jumped a little, in spite of herself, as she felt Mirage's cold, wet nose touch her moist pussy, and cried out as his tongue sent flashes of pleasure as intense as tendrils of flame throughout her body.

"Ooooh!" she groaned, "Careful... Your tongue is a little too rough." Mirage only responded with another rumble, and his penis lurched against her hand, spraying her with watery pre-ejaculate. Mirian moved her head forwards, closer to his genitals, the heavily musky scent of Mirage's savage need completely filling her. She licked at the smooth, pointed tip of his penis, and then slid its entire length between her lips. Mirian was instantly rewarded by the sweet agony of Mirage running his tongue across her aching slit once again, and the salty taste of his pre-ejaculate spraying into her mouth. Mirage began to gently hunch his hips, poking his penis around in her mouth several times. Mirian could feel Mirage's testes seem to tense up under her hand, and then Mirage suddenly shoved his hips forward, pushing his penis as far into her mouth as it could go. He raised his head from between Mirian's legs, and gave vent to a loud, gurgling roar. Mirage's penis danced, and pulsed within Mirian's mouth, and Mirage's hot, milky seed splashed against the back of her throat. After a moment or two, he violently twisted away from Mirian, snarling. Mirian just lay there, still tasting his essence in her mouth, and watched as Mirage licked himself back into place, a short distance away, his penis slowly retreating back into its furry sheath.

She didn't know that bliss such as this was possible, and she continued to lay there for a while longer, in the heat of the sun, contentedly watching her prince rest for a while. For Mirian's own deep need was still unsatisfied. But very soon, Mirage again stood up, and moved close to her. This time, Mirian rolled onto her belly, slightly elevating her rear end. Mirage knew exactly what to do, although he found it a little difficult at first to properly straddle Mirian, as her body was at least twice as wide as that of a leopardess. This forced Mirage to splay his legs outwards to a degree that was almost uncomfortable as he hunched up his hips, and began to poke forwards, his straining penis searching for its target.

Mirian sighed as she felt Mirage cover her, his warm, powerful weight straddled over her back. Soon, she felt the tip of his penis touch her lower back, and begin to gently poke at her as it slithered its way towards its goal. This sensation, combined with the lustful rumbles that Mirage was making above her almost drove Mirian mad, and she tried to raise her back end a little more, trying to make it easier for her prince. For a second, she felt an incredibly sharp pain in her lower back, as if she had strained something there quite badly, but it was soon swept away in her growing need, as Mirage's penis finally slid between her buttocks, and tapped its way a little lower.

A moment later, Mirian felt her pleasure begin to rise to its peak like a tidal wave as the tip of Mirage's penis slipped between the lips of her vulva. Mirage's snarling rumbles grew more urgent above her, and he poked himself in a little further, pulled back for a split second, and now that he sensed that he had reached his proper target, he suddenly slammed himself into her with surprising force, almost knocking Mirian forward. Mirian let forth a sobbing scream as what felt like an explosion of light, colour, and sound rocketed through her. She gritted her teeth, and dug her nails in the dirt until they were filthy, and her fingertips bleeding. The force of her orgasm served to mask other sudden, sharp pains all over her body. Time seemed to slow down as she and Mirage were truly, spiritually joined, and he marked her with his seed. It felt as if there was a column of warm, healing light throughout her, originating where Mirage's maleness lay buried within her. She could feel his full, heavy testicles pressed against her buttocks, and his sheath bunched up against the lips of her vulva, as his penis danced, and pulsed. Suddenly, Mirage's teeth clamped down on her upper back, bringing instantaneous, monstrous pain, and instead of killing Mirian's climax, the pain seemed to meld with the extreme pleasure, making it feel as if her head might explode. Mirian shrieked even louder, and twisted away from underneath Mirage, feeling his teeth tearing out of her skin, and barely caring about that. She could also feel the last few drops of his milky, watery semen patter against her buttocks as his penis was wrenched out of her vagina. Mirian landed face-first in the dirt a short distance away, and lay utterly spent. As her orgasm died away, the pain suddenly hit her, and it felt as if her entire back were on fire. She could feel blood oozing from many places, but she didn't care about that too much, as the sheer overload of sensations caused her to pass out a moment later.

Mirage's back legs were straining as he claimed his female, and properly mated with her. When he finally found his mark, and slammed his way in, he felt a climax more intense than any he had ever experienced with a leopardess, and powerless to stop himself, Mirage roared so loudly that his throat was raw, and he bit down on Mirian's back in his ecstasy, bringing blood. She screamed underneath him, twisted out of his grasp, and leapt a short distance away. Mirage's climax finally died away, and he looked over to where Mirian lay, now unconscious. Seeing all of the places where blood was now oozing from her back, Mirage felt something he had never experienced before... Something called 'guilt'.

He laid next to Mirian, and gently licked the blood from her back. As she felt his rough tongue on her skin once again, Mirian finally stirred, turned her head, and looked up at Mirage with bleary eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said. It took Mirian a moment to also realise that Mirage's words had sounded as clear as if another human had spoken them to her. It took her another moment to realise that her body felt very strange all over. She may have blamed this on her arousal, which was even now creeping back, but then she noticed several things. The first was that her vision seemed to have changed. Some colours seemed to have become brighter, and others to have become dimmer. There was also a sharpness to things that she could not remember ever having seen before.

Mirian felt a strange itch on the back of her right hand, and looked at it in wonder... Looked at it to see that several strange hairs had sprouted... A few of them were golden yellow, and others were jet black. She could also smell things better than she ever had before in her life, and she noticed then that her own smell had changed... She smelled much less... human. Mirian's scent had gained some of the subtle, musky undertones of a leopardess in ústrus. And these scents were slowly becoming stronger.

Soon however, Mirian's still aching need swept all of these thoughts away, until there was nothing left but the two of them, and the bond of life that they shared. And as the day's light began to fail, they lay against each other resting for a while, not quite tired enough yet that their deep need had been met. And even Mirian's thoughts had begun to change. She found herself suddenly thinking of motherhood.

Here and there a night-cricket could be heard to hesitantly try out its song, warming up its own tiny instrument that was part of a giant insect orchestra tuning up for the night's concert. The coming darkness bore witness to a sight as old as time, and as vital as the pulse of Africa itself. Where the veldt approached the edge of the forest, a pair of mated leopards lay together, utterly spent. The scent given off by the female told the male, and anyone who was nearby, and who had the proper nose to discern it that her heat was soon to end, and that the time of their consorting must also soon come to an end. But not just yet, as these two cats showed the comfort and ease in each other's company of long-term mates who are quite fond of one another.

The female's scent also told of the new life growing within her belly.