She and her parents were less than twenty feet from the entrance when the ground began vibrating slightly beneath her feet. It was an unbroken disruption that led Camile to wonder if it was a sign of an approaching earthquake. As the pattern of sensation changed, she realized the subtle tremors weren’t continuous, but were broken by strengthening syncopated thumps from which the vibration rippled. It was the type of rhythm only a powerful animal could beat into the earth. As she turned to her parents something caught her attention.
From the corner of her eye she saw something white pouring out from one of the mountain’s hidden crevices at ground level. Her peripheral vision was still adjusting, but she could tell it was just a few dozen feet from where she was standing. Now hearing the pulse of the quaking ground—or perhaps her heart—Camile’s mounting curiosity pulled her full attention towards the rapidly approaching whiteness. Through the deafening roar, she could barely hear her parents shouting for her to back away.
It was too late.
Camile found herself engulfed in a heavy avalanche. The cottony softness against her front seemed to mock the rough impact her back made with the ground. Gasping, she received puffs of fur filtered air, all the while still blinded and oppressed by the heavy whiteness. Then came the sensation of wet sandpaper across the entire right side of her face.
“What’s happening?” was her muffled cry.
Just as quickly as it had happened, she felt the weight being lifted from her body. Gazing upward, she saw two crystal blue orbs embedded into a large mass of fur. Carefully rising to her feet, she took in the image of the most beautiful tiger she’d ever seen. Its gleaming white fur had faint gray stripes, barely noticeable upon first glance. Mildly disgusted with the cooling saliva on her face, she wiped it away with her sleeve. Ensuring their daughter was uninjured, Camile’s parents apologized and went on to explain that the tiger, Excelsior, had been her childhood companion.
“You might not remember it now since you were only four at the time, but you’re the reason he’s still alive today,” her mother said before explaining that years ago, during a safari, Camile had spotted Excelsior—then, just a cub—who had gotten separated from his mother. He had been on the brink of death at the time of his discovery.
“After nursing him back to health, we tried to release him into the wild,” Zephyr added, his fair cheeks dimpled faintly as he smiled, “but he grew attached to the girl who saved his life. The poor guy was devastated when you left. There wasn’t any time for you to say goodbye to him.”
“But Akalina was still here, wasn’t she? It’s not like he could tell the difference. He probably didn’t even notice I was gone.” Camile cautiously eyed the tiger.
“Don’t be so sure about that. How do you think you got that scar on your side?” Zephyr briefly dropped his gaze. Tightening his lips, he met her eyes anew. “You said, yourself, that you didn’t have it until you reintegrated with Akalina. You see, Excelsior was forced to attack her one day.”
“Why?” Camile gingerly backed away from the tiger while unconsciously touching her right oblique.
“Years ago, she tried to do something unspeakable, something that would have jeopardized your future and the future of both worlds.”