We Will Run

by Sienna Hardy

Trees, frosted over with glistening ice crystals, glitter like fallen stars spun with silver silk as I stalk silently through the winter shrouded forest. My paws sink into the powder-soft snow as I hunt for my breakfast. I try to get away from the snow leopard encampment as much as possible. I am always volunteering my time for hunting parties and material collecting groups that will be away from camp for days at a time. 

I like being on my own, away from the camp, my parents, and the commander who issues all the hunting parties and any other groups being sent out. I think my parents are catching on though. They’re starting to get me to attend more battle training sessions and to train more young snow leopard cubs while, unbeknownst to me, my brother, Arctic, is being sent on these missions instead. I hardly see him anymore, but I guess this is what it was like for him when I was always away. Plus, I am too busy to think about it anyway.

A flicker of white up ahead alerts me that there is another snow leopard about, looking for food as well. I turn my back and ignore whoever it is and continue looking for the glassy lake I discovered yesterday. It’s hard to see the lake when everything refracts and reflects in this expansive forest. The trees seem too thin, and more light filters through as a clearing emerges before me. 

I don’t realise that it has begun to snow until I enter the clearing and snowflakes brush my whiskers. I twitch my tail in annoyance. Great. Fresh snowfall means any mice or voles that were out, sniffing around earlier, will be hiding now. 

I shake these thoughts away and pad quietly towards the lake, growling softly. Maybe I can catch a fish or two and take them back under the trees to eat, I think hungrily, as I watch the silver shapes writhe under the thin layer of ice covering the large, glittering lake. 

I make my choice. I unsheathe my serrated claws and smash my paw down on the ice. Cracks shoot out from where I strike the frozen lake. I strike again, going through to the frigid water beneath this time. I skewer two fish on one claw and yank them out of the water, shaking freezing droplets off my numb paw. The fish flail their silvery tails feebly before I toss them into the air and snap them up with a flick of my snow-dusted tail. 

I glance around the clearing as the snow begins to fall thicker and faster. I should get back, before the encampment is buried in snow flurries.

I turn to leave the clearing, just as there’s a snarl from behind me and something slams me to the ground. I growl, lash out with my back legs, and claw blindly at my attacker.

“Wait! Frostfell! It’s me!” 

My attacker jumps off, seeming to recognise me, and I leap back onto all fours, growling softly. This snow leopard is a dustier white than most other snow leopards, who are usually a crisp sharp white like my brother, my parents and me. One ear has a pattern of black dots, and the end of his tail looks like it has been dipped in ink or the blackest of winter night skies. 

“Oh, hey Iceclaw.” 

I sit down and study him closely as he swipes away snowflakes that keep settling on his nose. He has a scattering of little black dots across his muzzle that look like freckles and he is one of the kindest snow leopards in the pack. 

Leopards are usually solitary creatures, but the number of snow leopards got so low that we all had to form one big tribe, basically. The only snow leopards who are thriving alone are the ones in captivity, and we will never see those ones again.

“I came to find you,” Iceclaw exclaims. 

Now, this is not unusual. Iceclaw often comes to find me, either on my parents’ orders or just to hang out with me. But this time, he has a grim expression and his words are filled with grief. “Your mother requires you in her den, immediately.”