The cat lay flat inside the cleft, sleepily glancing out toward the scene before him, from time to time. He could not remember ever feeling so relaxed, the great ball of fish flesh resting inside his stomach, while his tribe worked at doing interesting stuff outside. The river gurgled, its usual overwhelming background sound muffled by the great rocks over and around the cat. A breeze blowing past only reached Hasti in tendrils of wafting air, occasionally visible when bits and pieces of falling leaves were part of its ever-changing mix.

The image of the humans atop the canyon wall drifted across the very top of the cat’s consciousness, and would not go away. The humans would be coming to his territory, just as the others had. It was what humans did. They violated territorial imperatives with impunity as if they were totally unaware of obvious and fresh scent-markings, and unaware that a very effective, large and hunting predator already occupied the area.

Hasti slept deeply again, eyes fully closed. When he awoke it was nearly dark. The fire emitted a red glow, barely visible between the small cleft opening and the river. The cat did not sigh, although he felt the need to do so. Instead, he slowly inched forward until he was out of the cleft, fully exposed to the elements and view of anything or anyone nearby. But he experienced no fear. The pride was out and around him. He felt their presence and that feeling was one of unaccountable warmth. He vaguely, but pleasingly, remembered his mother’s physical warmth, although the feeling of having a pride was distinctly different. He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts.