She could smell the jungle, the deep musty scent of loam and decay beneath the canopy. The biosphere crackled in her veins just as clearly as it laced the skies overhead with constant, fiery lightning. The planet’s natural defenses burned underneath the skin of each Uraru. Choma blood. Fire in the flesh. Rowri ran out from the walls. She tugged her robes up to her thighs and ran, inhaling the forest, to the very edge of the temple grounds.
There a row of shed’s waited, each woven from the Choma grasses and topped with a thick roof of fronds. She ducked into the nearest one long enough to strip, folded her robe and set it on the narrow shelf and turned, bared and with her Uraru raging, to face the jungle.
Rowri breathed in the wild. The beast roared and leapt forward, and she fell into it, dropped and changed on the way down. Her paws landed outside the shed, claws exposed and tearing at the soil. She bounded once to the thick foliage, twice into the cover and down the long slope away from the Grand Temple. Her silver coat covered bunching muscles, mottled and melding with the shadows of thick growth. Her body twisted through spaces between trunks, brushed aside thinner branches and snapped those that failed to yield.
She ran, down and away, and the morning echoed with her roaring. Birds scattered like flags in all directions, crimson, canary and emerald green. They fled the silvery cat that slipped like feral mist deeper into the Choma biosphere. Smaller beasts hunkered below rotting logs or scooted deeper into long burrows. Eyes blinked at the Uraru’s passing. Small voices chattered in her wake.
Rowri smelled them, but her belly was full of ham and the freshest Choma fruits. Still, she roared to the darkness and enjoyed the scent of fear all around her. Still her long tail thrashed through the brush. She bounded down the ravine, leaped like a missile over the wide creek at its bottom and climbed the far side. Weaving through the trees and vines and where they parted enough to allow it, jumping up and over, the cat emerged at the top of the far outcropping ready to run and run and only stop when the beast’s urges had faded to contentment.
The land here leveled out, stretching to the far horizon in a ripple of green foliage. The wind brought flowers and water, mould and the metallic tang of blood. Rowri posed on a spike of rock and gazed out. She meant to bolt, to chase her beast’s urges wherever they might lead and only return to the shed and temple gates when the setting sun drove her home. She meant to, but her cat’s eyes narrowed at the smear of black in the distance.
It didn’t belong there, hanging in the sky. The dark band that rolled over the farthest trees should not have existed. As if in protest, the boulder shook. The forest rippled more definitively, like a wave, like some enormous invisible hand brushed across it. The ground quaked, and Rowri tumbled from the rock into the cushion of fat bushes.
Her legs threshed the air. Her spine twisted and she rolled to the side and staggered up onto all fours. The jungle danced. Her nerves tingled and the fur along her back lifted to attention. Deep in her throat a rumble vibrated, but outside of her, the ground howled more loudly. Earth danced into the air, leaves drifted down from high limbs, and above them, a dense smoke rolled over.
It blocked out the sun. It choked her breathing. The world went dark and thick and everywhere she looked, Rowri saw sparks outlined against black ash.