The heron could see Godl straining mightily, the chain a taut, heavy wire between the blocky head and the post on the other end. The lanky bird ruffled his feathers anxiously, rocking on his spindly legs.
The jaguar growled deeply. The muscles writhed like snakes wrapped in luxurious spotted silk. The fur stood out except where it was matted in a grotesque crimson mask, blood thick upon the head and neck of Godl. The leather collar was soaked and slick. Under the strain of Godl’s frantic tugging it was beginning to slip ever so slowly over his head.
Godl coughed heavily as the collar worked its way across his throat. Just as it started to stick again, his ears registered the unmistakable sound of the Keeper’s truck grinding through the forest. He was coming back. Godl redoubled his efforts, throwing up clods of earth as the obsidian daggers of his claws dug into the cold dirt. He did not want to be caught yet again.
The heron spread his wings, and watched through green-gold eyes.
With the suddenness of a flock of birds flushed from the underbrush by hunting dogs, the collar slid over Godl’s jaws with a wet popping sound. The collar shot across the clearing to land against the thick steel post buried in the ground. Freed from the restraint, Godl tumbled backwards and slid a ways down the low hill leading down to the lake. Coming to a stop in a tangle of thistles and blueberry bushes, the thick beast lay still, panting to catch his breath.
Up by the clearing, the metallic roar of the Keeper’s truck grew louder, reverberating out over the lake. It would not be long before the Keeper would realize his prize captive had escaped. Godl staggered to his paws, wobbling slowly but gaining speed as he headed down slope towards the mineral blue coldness of the lake. There was some good cover there, and Godl instinctively turned to it. He began a slow, liquid run, all the while the stony tang of the mountain air filling his lungs with purpose. His feline brain began shaking off the caked mud of captivity, nostrils dilating and claws flexing. It was an alien soil under his paws, but free. Free.
In the clearing, the air was suddenly silent as the Keeper cut the engine. Silence for a few heartbeats, then a loud fusillade of curses when he finally registered the empty collar. The heron saw the Keeper rush back to his truck, frantically pulling mysterious objects from the cab. He slung one across his back, and the oily glint of polished gunmetal flashed dully in the wan sunlight. The Keeper followed the paw prints and crushed stems down to the shore, loping swiftly but with purpose.
The heron had seen enough, and he lofted himself quietly into the air, circling behind the Keeper to head up along the shore, silent and unseen.