Storm clouds! The folk of the caravan were overjoyed! They had been moving through the hostile desert for weeks, and this was the first they had seen of any sign of precipitation. The people actually cheered when the first drops of rain hit the desert sand. But soon the cheering turned to cries of confusion as the sand beneath their feet began to move...
Seven thousand years ago, a species of big cats were forced from their rainforest homes into the neighboring desert by an enormous forest fire. In the first year, most of the species perished; unused to the harsh sun and scarce food. But some of the species lingered on, and gave birth to the next generation.
Several generations of these panther-like cats onwards, some of the cats birthed showed signs of change: Their black fur became thicker and shaggier; protecting skin from the unrelenting sun and the hot, dry winds. Still, most of the generation died, but some of those with thicker fur lived on.
Seven hundred years later, the cats struggled onwards. Those born began to show the ability to go without water for months on end. Still, a fair amount of the large cats perished in the shifting sands, and the species limped through time.
It wasn't for another millenia that another pointed change occured to these species of panther; The forepaws of the big cats grew larger, and over time, they began to learn how to burrow beneath the sand to sleep, where it was cooler. Their eyes grew a second set of eyelids, capable of keeping the sand at bay.
Three thousand years ago, these cats began to gorge themselves on food and water, storing water in pockets within their bodies, then dug deep beneath the sands and slipped into a deep hibernation, shutting down much of their body functions. This slumber could last anywhere between eight months and up to four years, while the cats awaited the next rainstorm to bring a new abundance of food and water.
Now, in current times, these cats are known by the desert dwellers as Jakthra, meaning rainstalkers, and have become ideally adapted to the desert. Whenever a rare storm comes to the desert and the first drops of rain start falling, the Jakthra sense the change in moisture level, and are roused from their slumber. Burrowing up from their resting place, the cats shake off the excess sand in their shaggy fur, and seek the nearest source of food, whether it be lizards, camels, humans or otherwise. While the Jakthra don't specifically hunt in packs, they will most certainly combine attacks on a large group of animals, or on a particularly large creature. A large group of Jakthra (eight to a dozen) is capable of taking down most other desert dwelling creatures with little difficulty.
After the Jakthra have gorged themselves, they will then spend the next several weeks in the search for mates. Jakthra will spend the next four to five months after the last rainstorm passively roaming the desert as the females go through the stage of pregnancy. Litters of one to three cats are born in three months, and over the next couple months they will become two to three times their original size, and will learn to fend for themselves.
Finally, after their awakened cycle of activity is complete, the Jakthra - young and old - will bury themselves once more deep within the sands, to await the next rainstorm.
The Jakthra are a very large variety of 'big cats'. Their fur is either black or a mottled black and sandy colour, and it is very shaggy and loose, meaning with a good shake, most of the sand caught in it will be able to be shaken free. Their eyes are yellowed and highly reflective, enabling a high sense of sight at nighttime and in the middle of a heavy storm. The front half of their bodies are more muscular than the back half to aid in burrowing, and their fore-paws are larger than their hind-paws, giving a large surface to aid in rapid digging.
From head to the tip of their long, slender tails, the Jakthra can reach up to three meters in length.
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Inspired by the water-holding frog! http://www.answers.com/topic/water-holding-frog
I was interested in the thought of a large carnivore hibernating beneath the sands, to rear up at the most inopportune moment... Yellow eyes flashing hungrily at the sight of the fresh meat... Growl!
Imagine the sands shifting benath your feet to reveal a pack of starving monsters eager to feast on you. Not a pleasant experience, I imagine,and one that would probably make the natives see rain-falls as a mixed blessing. The more superstitious might even see these cats as some kind of super-natural evil that manipulates the rains to lead their prey into their snare.
'The gentle splatter of first-rain sounded on the empty sands, soothing the party. For another hundred meters, the group moved on, exaltedly raising their sunburned faces to the rain. The feeling of elation for the rain soon passed however, as the sound of sand shifting echoed, and all around them, the ground opened up. Four enigmatic figures arose from the desert around the group. Two of the four-legged creatures growled softly, and all four shook themselves violently; the remains of the sand caught in their coats bieng shaken off to reveal black, sleek fur, and their eyes opened, blinking several times to become accustomed to the light. In the sub-brightness of the storm, eight amber eyes peered at the party, and the Jakthra menacingly began circling them, those eyes hungry for fresh meat... This was trouble.'
It's nice sometimes, not writing up some pure evil force from beyond, or a powerful artefact which requires pages of description. Just a simple beast, which can serve as a fun encounter.
Yes, I can see such an encounter being fun, perhaps for the Jakthra :)
Interesting idea, good presentation. I was surprised by the lack of evil, sudden dramatic twists and the like that I have come to expect and enjoy from your posts. Still a solid submission.
Neat and believable. Good work!
'It's nice sometimes, not writing up some pure evil force from beyond, or a powerful artefact which requires pages of description. Just a simple beast, which can serve as a fun encounter.'
What SE said! :D
Another solid and useful critter! If the desert they lair in has a 'monsoon season' (much as Arizona does), they would be a regular seasonal hazard, planned for and dreaded by the folk of the desert.
'The time of the Desert Winds has come! Now you will join the other young men of the tribe in the Great Hunt of the Jakthra and prove that you are worthy to be called warriors... or die trying.'