It had taken Scratch-Ear only ten minutes to make contact with the Gapachu, which meant they had been watching him long before he woke.
The Gapachu were said to be patient as the trees and used the branches as natural walkways. While their prey moved through the grass and bushes a Gapachu hunter would take to the trees, eliminating their prey in the safety of the foliage.
Scratch-Ear and Maverick were being hunted, and though it was the statue thing that would receive the most attention, the Gapachu would not overlook Scratch-Ear’s involvement.
Knowing there was no escape, Scratch-Ear sat down on a soft piece of grass, while being careful to stay downwind of the Maverick thing.
He waited for a representative of the of his proud neighbours to introduce himself, but he only lasted about a minute before his patience tumbled. “Scratch-Ear means no harm, or disrespect, or to tread on Gapachu land.”
There was nothing, no words, no presence, but Scratch-Ear had been taught the signs and warnings. Somebody was above him.
“Scratch-Ear is lost and hungry. Scratch-Ear does not wish to make war by hunting on Gapachu land.” Scratch-Ear said.
There was no sound, not a whisper or broken branch when the individual that had been stalking him had landed onto the soft underbrush. “This Scratch-Ear speaks as though he faces a superior. Such a strange thing from a Cali spy.”
Scratch-Ear turned his head, perhaps a little too quickly to be wise.
It was a female, her black coat reflected the light beautifully, her muscles were dense and strong, and her eyes were like spears that threatened any that crossed her.
She was beautiful in her savagery. But there was something odd about the Gapachu, she wore the decorations of a warrior. Normally the red feathery Mohawk was given to only the most powerful male soldiers.
The young hunter tried to hide his fear, fear meant guilt, and guilt in this situation was a death sentence. “Scratch-Ear is no Cali, Scratch-Ear is Damu-Sarmi.”
The Gapachu leaned in closer, “You lie.” she moved in a predatory fashion, her claws ready to draw blood.
Anger boiled in the junior hunter but he had managed to swallow it back. “Scratch-Ear does not lie. Scratch-Ear is Damu-Sarmi. Scratch-Ear warn Damu-Sarmi of Cali. Elder-Sister, Black-Paw, Free-Fang are taken by Cali.”
The female’s ears twitched but her eyes remained focused on this intruder.
A howl came from the direction of where Scratch-Ear had woken up.
The young hunter had never heard this animal before but he knew what it was. Scratch-Ear stepped away from the sound of the trees breaking in the distance, somewhere close by an omtwy was hungry.
The Gapachu warrior did not seem impressed by the noise. “The grey thing Scratch-Ear laid with. When the omtwy has finished chewing its bones, it will feast on lying Cali.”
Scratch-Ear had no friendship with Maverick, the statue’s death meant that Sydney had no way of tracking Scratch-Ear and forcing him to return the stolen objects. “Maverick is no friend of Scratch-Ear. Scratch-Ear only wants to warn tribe.”
“So will we.” A flick of a tail and the signal was sent.
A dart punctured the kitten’s skin that caused Scratch-Ear to howl in surprise. By instinct he ran, the muscles in his legs tiered quickly as the venom circulated.
As he ran into a sluggish stupor Scratch-Ear thought he heard a tree crashing to the ground.
It was the second day in a row that Scratch-Ear had slipped into unconsciousness. He growled as the drug wore off.
The cowards didn’t have the nerve to face him before they knocked him out, did they think of him nothing but prey?
There was something in the air that caught the Scratch-Ear’s attention, at the corner of his cell there was a bowl of water and a portion of meat.
Scratch-Ear had no idea how hungry or thirsty he was until his tired eyes gazed upon the small offering, but there was a problem. The young hunter’s body was weak and drained of all energy as if a large mosquito had drunk his blood out with spiteful slowness.
Dehydrated and malnourished Scratch-Ear dragged his small body to the only nourishment he had seen for the last three days.
The water burned his lip and throat with its cooling touch, and he fought back the motion to cough up the fluid which he desperately needed. He attempted to drink again, this time making small sips.
The water gone and settling, Scratch-Ear took in deep breaths and pondered about how long it would be until he died.
An hour passed and Scratch-Ear attempted the vermin meat. It was raw, half rotted with flies nesting on the surface, but it was all that was available.
Taking in a deep breath and stopping himself from thinking twice, Scratch-Ear ate the meat while not daring to savour the taste. It was foul but he managed to hold the meal down.
Then, it came time to rest again.
An uncertain amount of time passed before conciseness returned and Scratch-Ear was able to examine his surroundings.
The cage he was currently suspended in was made of thick bamboo with the only sign of an entrance appearing to be a small hatch above.
As if a James Bond movie villain had brought in the union death trap expert, the whole construct was positioned above a pit of spears that contained several ominous skeletons.
With their mocking and fanged grins the skeletons smiled up at the Damu-Sarmi kit as if welcoming him to join the club.
If the guards thought for a moment that escape was possible it would only be a matter of cutting the bindings of the cage and ending the troublemaker’s life.
Scratch-Ear was not the only prisoner of the Gapachu as other cages with a prisoner or two in each were positioned so that it was difficult to conspire.
Most of the other prisoners were Damu-Sarmi like Scratch-Ear but more mature and malnourished.
If Maverick was around he might give the little kitten a bit more respect then treating him as a whining alley cat.
It would seem that the Damu-Sarmi were not tabbies looking for a slipper to defecate in but broad shouldered and awesome looking blue grey bob cats that looked as if they could kick a wolverine through a pair of goal posts.
The kitten was about to whisper to his fellow prisoners but stopped himself, there was something in their eyes that he did not like. It was as if these men had been starved and brutality beaten, their backs sporting the scars of whips.
Below, standing ever dutiful over the prisoners was a Gapachu guard, his ears open and eyes staring up at his collection of prisoners.
“Let Scratch-Ear out.” The kitten commanded.
The guard smacked the Damu-Sarmi’s cage with his spear. “Quiet, Cali slave.”
Slave? Was this to be Scratch-Ear’s fate? To be chained and forced to work till he was eventually slain? How did he get to be here so far from home?
He thought back to the invisible window, the moment when everything went wrong.