As a little kid, black panthers were probably my favorite animals. Bagheera was all the reason I needed to fall in love watching 1967’s The Jungle Book. I can’t even remember how many t shirts, stuffed animals, and toys I had of black panthers.
Some things don’t change. I’m still as fascinated by animals at 27 years old as I was when I was 5, and I still think black panthers are some of the coolest creatures in their world. Their velvety, jet-black fur, lean, muscled bodies, those round faces, and especially those big, green eyes that are like pieces of jade.
Of course, I learned many years ago that there’s technically no animal called a “black panther” – it’s basically slang for leopards of Asia and Africa, and jaguars of the Americas who bear a dark skin pigment for their fur, resulting in their black coats.
When writing The Legend of Light, a young adult, high fantasy trilogy whose books are my first novels as an author, I saw an opportunity to include my love for these creatures into the story, and the world where it all takes place. In the fictional land of Tordale, there are legendary predators known as Plains Panthers. These rare, magnificent creatures roam the Plains of Oston—the sprawling grasslands in the heart of Tordale.
They are most renowned for having never been recorded to prey on a human, or any of Tordale’s intelligent races (and there are several). Instead, Plains Panthers have long been known to hunt wolves, wild boars, and other game that are troublesome—if not, dangerous—to those people who make their home on the Plains of Oston, particularly farmers. There are even stories of travelers crossing the countryside who were said to have had a Plains Panther quietly follow them during their trek, as if the majestic beasts were serving as a bodyguard for their travels.
These tales, along with the discerning nature to the Plains Panthers’ hunting habits, gave them a reputation as a protector of people in Tordale. They become so respected, that the Hokara royal family, rulers of Tordale, chose to include them in the symbol that would represent their family. The royal family’s emblem is perhaps the most prominent image throughout the world of Tordale in The Legend of Light; you can find it being worn by the main characters, Alamor, and Princess Raissa Hokara, in the artwork I’ve had produced for the series. The emblem portrays a Plains Panther sitting regally, surrounded by four diamonds, one star placed in each cardinal direction; the Plains Panther represents the Hokara royal family, while the stars represents that their sovereignty protects the kingdom of Tordale in all directions.
When describing the creature, I wanted the reader to visualize something that was believable–not monstrous–but still awe-inspiring. A Plains Panther would be bigger than any real-world jaguar or leopard. As a creature that is primarily a nocturnal hunter, the Plains Panthers’ black, grey-dappled fur allows it to seamlessly meld into the darkness that falls over the Plains of Oston at night, especially within the tall grass. When Winter strikes Tordale, Plains Panthers’ fur becomes glistening white, making one all-but invisible against the snow-covered ground.
A brief passage from the first book, Echoes of Light, can be found below, where it includes part of an encounter that Alamor and Raissa have with a Plains Panther. I hope you enjoy the passage, and I hope that you look forward to more of this encounter with the Plains Panther when Echoes of Light releases early next year. Keep checking back on the website and on The Legend of Light’s Facebook page for regular updates on the series and the world of Tordale.
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Alamor’s words trailed off as a loud rustle emerged from the tall grass just a few yards ahead of them. He and Raissa went silent. Even as the breeze died down, the rustling continued, and Alamor quickly noticed distinct movement among the stalks and shoots that seemed to creep in his and Raissa’s direction. Alamor leapt to his feet when a thick grunt emerged from the shadows a few moments later. He pulled free his sword and shield.
A section of grass parted, and a wild boar stepped out into the open. It was as big a hunting dog, its thick body shaped like a barrel. Its white tusks dripped with drool, gleaming in the darkness and revealing the vicious eyes that fixed on Alamor and Raissa. Its pudgy face was bent with a snarl as threatening grunts poured past its lips.
“Stay behind me, Raissa,” Alamor implored, moving in front of Raissa so that he stood between her and the boar, which continued to slowly approach them.
Without warning, the boar bellowed a guttural squeal and charged. Alamor was ready to put his blade to use, but he never even had to swing it. Before the boar came within three yards of him, Alamor saw a huge shape suddenly storm into his view and blindside the wild swine.
It happened so quickly that Alamor needed a moment to collect his senses and recognize that the boar was no longer charging at him. He looked off to the side where it and the other shape landed. The boar lay on the ground, completely limp, and now with a deep gash along its throat. Whatever had struck it did so with such speed and power that the boar never even had a chance to cry out before it was killed.
When Alamor then looked at what slew it, he almost didn’t believe his eyes. What stood next to the boar was an immense cat that was nearly as long as a horse. Its sleek, thickly-muscled body was wrapped in jet-black fur. In the bright moonlight, Alamor could see that its dark coat was dappled with faint, charcoal-grey spots. Its paws were bigger than any person’s hands that Alamor had ever seen. Each paw sported nails that seemed capable of cutting through a chainmail shirt. A long tail craned behind its hindquarters.
What captured Alamor’s attention the most, though, was the face that met his astonished gaze. Two big, jade eyes shone through the darkness and stared back at him. The cat’s expression was petrifying. It was calm and unmoving, like a stern glare that contained just as much intelligence as it did ferocity.
He heard Raissa try, but fail to stifle a gasp. She, too, must have realized that they looked upon a legendary predator.
“That’s a Plains Panther…” she whispered.