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Borderlands Books


Chapter 3


Leena felt less the jaguar men’s prisoner than their fallen prey. Remembering their long curved incisors, and the long tongues which unfurled to lick black lips between guttural grunts, it was not too hard to imagine them feasting on her remains.

She was bound hands and feet, and hoisted on a long pole carried on the shoulders of two of the creatures, one on each end. If she relaxed her back and neck, her head lolled back, seeing only the ground passing beneath. By tensing, and pulling herself up a fraction against the rough wood of the pole, she could see a bit from side to side, though the position was too much a strain to hold for long.

One of the creatures had retrieved her survival kit, and carried it in a mesh bag slung over its wide and muscled back. This creature walked directly in front of the foremost of Leena’s bearers, and from time to time she would catch a glimpse of the sunlight glinting off the polished metal of the case.

Any one of a number of items in the case would be sufficient, Leena knew. If she believed in any higher power besides the State, she might have prayed; as it was, she only hoped that the universe herself might be watching, and would be willing to lend a hand.

With the chrome-plated Makarov semi-automatic pistol, snugged in its nylon holster inside the kit, Leena might have held the creatures at bay long enough to make her escape, back at the banks of the river.

With the signal flare, she might have been able to call for some assistance, or else set fire to one of the creatures, for all the good it would have done her.

With the kit’s folding knife, she might now be able to cut her bonds and free herself, possibly even making into the forest’s wilds far enough and fast enough to elude her captors.

With the emergency rations, she might not be as damnably hungry as she now found herself. When her stomach had first growled, hours before, she’d thought for a moment it the call of the strange creatures.

But the survival kit was carried on the back of one of the monsters, and Leena saw no clear way to freedom.

They were taking her somewhere, that much was certain. If they intended to eat her, whether alive or cooked and prepared after her death, it appeared they didn’t plan to do so immediately. From time to time one of the jaguar men would growl a few syllables, curt orders to the others Leena assumed, but for the most part the group traveled in silence. They padded along the forest track single-file, making hardly a sound. With her eyes closed, Leena found she could scarcely hear even the breathing of the creatures at her head and feet. The jaguar men moved through the forest like ghosts.

Leena could not say with any certainty how long they’d been traveling. Her awkward position, hanging uncomfortably by bruised numb ankles and wrists from the pole, and the pounding of her pulse in her ears as the blood rushed up each time her head fall backwards, left her oblivious to the passage of time.

There was only Now: this moment, with the pain, and the anxiety, and the fear of her imminent and unknown death, surrounded by the silent figures of the strange cat-like creatures.

After an eternity of that moment, something happened, and the tenor of her pain changed key. Leena had been on the edge of consciousness, straddling the border between delirium and sleep. Something changed, and she struggled to clear her thoughts enough to understand what.

She had stopped moving, no longer gently rocking back and forth with each silent step of her bearers. The party had come to a halt.

“Tar’elmok,” she heard the creature in front say.

It was dark, the bare moonlight painting the forest in indistinct grays. Some hours had passed then, at least, if not more. Was it still the same day? How long ago had Leena first glimpsed this strange world of monsters? How long since she’d lifted off from Star City towards the heavens and glory?

“Alal’kasen’lak,” answered the creature behind, barely above a silent breath.

The creature in the lead, who carried Leena’s survival kit in the bag at its back, held up on hand, palm forward. Leena strained to see in the low light, and could just make out the glints of the retractable claws extending up and out from each fingertip.

“Tar’tamedt,” shouted the lead creature, and in an instant the configuration of the party shifted. The two creatures at Leena’s head and feet released their hold on the pole, jumping one to the left, the other to the right, letting their captured prey fall unceremoniously to the cold ground. Leena struck the ground spine first, the breath punched from her lungs in a painful sigh, and looked up dazzled to see the strange creatures circle around her.

Eight muscled backs of black and white spotted golden fur faced her, dimly seen in the gray light. The party’s full complement faced outward, hands raised defensively, some holding long staffs, some knives, but most with their hands empty, their only weapons their extended claws and bared fangs.

Leena could hear the jaguar men now. They were no longer silent ghosts slipping through the forest. There was a low rumbling noise, like distant thunder, climbing slightly in pitch and volume with each passing second, that sounded from somewhere deep inside the creatures’ chests. Their breathing was louder, too, sounding closer to panting.

Above these rising sounds, Leena heard the noise of some movement from the dark forests beyond the circle. Still bound hand and feet, still crippled by pain numbed limbs, she tried to lift up on one elbow to see further through the legs of her captors.

The sounds of movement from the trees increased, and were joined by similar noises from the opposite side of the circle. The creatures tensed, and began to roar.

Leena understood at last. Her captors, somehow, were afraid.

Just then a figure, white in the moon’s low light, burst from the trees and rushed towards the circle, metal glinting cruel and long in his hand.

The jaguar men were under attack.


The attack was swift, concentrated, and confusing. Leena, lying hands and feet bound on the unforgiving ground, perceived it only as a series of sounds and obscured images. Metal on metal, metal on flesh, flesh on flesh, and the quick ballet of shadows and shapes dancing fatally over her were all Leena managed to follow.

The pole from which she’d been suspend lay across her, pinned between her legs, pressing down into her stomach, and resting against one side of her helmet. Her hands were tied together, but only looped over the pole, so as she flinched away from the sounds of battle first on one side, then the other, she found herself inadvertently working her hands up and over the pole’s end.

The attacker, a blur of white and metal in the moonlight, was joined by another from the clearing’s far side, a hulking shadowy figure who plowed the leader of the jaguar men to the ground, snarling and bloodthirsty.

While the jaguar men’s leader and his shadowy foe thrashed across the rough forest floor, the other attacker moved like a shot from one end of the clearing to another, shouting and laughing by turns.

The first of the jaguar men to fall collapsed backwards over Leena, a gruesome rent opened across one side of his neck and down his chest, a black bubbling ribbon in the moon’s low light. Leena’s breath was knocked from her, the pole pressed harder against her chest, the helmet forced to one side, with her legs from the waist down trapped beneath the insensate hulk of her captor.

Leena struggled to free herself, working her shoulders and hips from side to side and reaching her hands back and over her head for any hold. Snaking her way out from under the jaguar man’s bulk, her hands slipped loose over the top of the pole without warning. Pausing for breath, the fierce struggles continuing all around her, Leena brought her bound hands down and against the fur and muscle of the jaguar man’s side and pushed for all she was worth.

The fallen form would not budge. Leena fell back, the jaguar man immobile, and took a deep breath. Gritting her teeth, her parched dry lips splitting from the effort, she pushed again, harder and longer, and slowly the jaguar man began to move. Angled slowly up on one arm, rolling up on his side and pressing into her knees, the senseless form lifted off her waist and stomach.

Leena paused in her exertions, unable to continue without rest. A glint of moonlight caught her eye, from below. Dazed from hunger, exhaustion, and the shock of her present circumstance, Leena looked with slow blinking eyes to the unconscious jaguar man’s back, and saw the mesh bag still hung over his shoulders. The mesh bag, and the metal glint of her survival kit within.

Her hands, bound and encased in their thick insulated gloves, lunged for the kit. Leena’s first thought was just to retrieve the kit, to take back that which had been taken from her. It was only as her hands brushed against the hard metal corners of the case, and brought to mind the contents and their uses, that she saw a more immediate purpose.

With gruesome luck, the strap holding the mesh bag in place had been almost completely severed by the blow which had felled the jaguar man, so it was a matter of relative ease to pull the bag away from its back, and the kit away from the bag. It remained, then, to open the kit.

A dark figure flashed before Leena’s eyes as one of the combatants leapt over her, whether jaguar man or attacker she couldn’t say. Leena ignored their threat, and concentrated on the kit.

She battered at the simple metal latch, her fingers useless in the thick fabric of the gloves. She dragged the kit up onto her chest, angling her head up within the helmet for a clearer view, trying for finesse. It was like threading a needle with a plumber’s wrench. The sturdy catches on either side of the case’s lid had both to be opened, but in opening one her exertions seemed always to shut the other.

The melee continued, and someone kicked Leena’s side, almost knocking the survival kit from her grasp. As she scrambled to maintain her hold on the kit, inspiration struck, and she turned the case on its end, leaving the two catches positioned one above the other. Holding the kit in place with one hand, she could angle the other up far enough to flip open the latch. Sliding her hands carefully down the case, she then repeated the procedure, and the lid flipped open with a snap.

There was a shout and an accompanying groan from somewhere to Leena’s right, but she ignored the sounds. Pushing the kit back onto its base and down onto her thighs, careful that the lid not close again, Leena pulled herself painfully into a sitting position, the deadweight of the jaguar man still laying across her knees. Breathless, she pawed with bound hands through the contents of the kit, finally closing her thick gloved hands on a piece of nylon wrapped chrome and steel.

She lifted it to her mouth, and unsnapped and pulled loose the nylon holster with her teeth. Then, carefully, she worked one gloved finger into the trigger guard, and thumbed off the safety.

Her wrists and ankles were still bound, her hands still encased in insulated leather and an unconscious monster pinning her to the ground. With the chrome-plated Makarov semi-automatic in her grip, though, Leena suddenly felt more in control of the situation.

Leena looked up, and her grip on the Makarov tightened.

A man stood over her, breathing heavy with exertion, naked to the waist and gored black with the blood of fallen jaguar men. In one hand he held a curved sword, in the other some kind of pistol.

Leena aimed the Makarov at his chest.

“Maht elmok,” he said smiling, and Leena pulled the trigger.

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