The big cat carefully and silently backed up into the cleft and then, using its extraordinary strength and sinuously maneuverable body, eased up out of the rocks and moved slowly toward where the humans from further up the valley had descended down into his territory. He didn’t have to look back to know he was unobserved. The interest of the boy and the warrior were taken with staring at the retreating figures further up the river bank.

The cat lay, its paws deliberately and carefully set out before him, giving the appearance that he was at rest. But he was anything but resting. His eyes remained intently focused on the one figure, the same figure that had preceded the other humans in traveling down the valley. That human stood with a spear balanced in each hand at his side, the shafts of the spears parallel to the ground. The cat waited, instinctively knowing that the human had moved far enough upriver so that he would not be visible to those below near where the fire burned, where the cat hoped to enjoy another meal of cooked fish. The cat did not lick its lips at the thought, although the urge was there. He was in full hunting alert mode, with his attention frozen on the still figure. It took less than a slow languid eye blink on the part of the cat for the figure to be joined by two more, carrying two spears apiece, like the first human. The cat would not have blinked at all if he’d been truly on the hunt, but the humans posed little threat to him, were too large to be easy prey, and were too strangely dangerous to be encountered as territorial violating predators.

The three humans bent down together and went into hunting crouches. They moved slightly into the forest, as they eased back toward where the cat’s small pride was still gathered. The cat watched intently, again disturbed by the fact that his brain had applied pride status to creatures that were nothing close to being cats. The three human warriors were hunting the remaining members of the cat’s pride.