Dawn illuminated the bite out of the black mountain's peak. Only three hours previously, the sun had set into that gap, making it appear that the mountain was swallowing it. Half-Peak didn't have true midnight sun but it was far enough north to feel its effects. Soto stood with his lieutenant to greet the day. His mane was grizzled now, but his intelligent eyes didn't show his age. Neither did his bearing. "Today is my daughters' solo hunt." He said proudly. The first children of Half-Peak were born in the now defunct Glacier Pack's territory, but this morning they'd be baptized into the wild north. "Actually, I'm surprised that Arla isn't already up pestering us to start it. If timing were based on the kittens' eagerness, we would have had it last week."
"I'm glad that the litters are testing together." Diego replied; a few years younger than the pack leader, Diego was definitively still in his prime. "It will be easier to evaluate them when we can directly compare their kills."
"I hope that your blue-eyed whelps can catch something. And I certainly hope that they don't scare away all the prey with their coltish movements." Diego laughed, his kittens were too young for the solo hunt. Nearly half a year younger than Soto's eldest litter, they had broken tradition by electing to hunt early. The first generation of kittens at Half-Peak since Diego and Shetar were born, Sharr and Salina wanted to claim that cohort as well. They had attained their full growth although their eyes hadn't changed yet. Salina was actually larger than Sita, and had the build of a huntress. She appeared to be strong, but it was Soto's daughter Arla who was the favorite of the day.
"And I hope that Arla doesn't hope something that's larger than she can handle." Now it was Soto's turn to laugh softly. His proud daughter had a thirst to prove herself equal to any male. They had long said that Arla could rival the best born from either Half-Peak or Glacier Pass.
"That girl will lead her own pack someday." Soto declared.
"Speak of the devil," said Diego.
Arla padded lightly over the snow. Long and lean, she was a fine specimen of a young saber. A scar cut across her left eye, but instead of disfiguring her, it intensified her appearance and lent her an air of mystery. She took pride in it, because she acquired it in her first battle. She killed Glacier Pass' lieutenant when she was still a kitten. The young tigress paused to acknowledge her father and spared Diego a smile, exposing overlong fangs. She respected Soto as a man, a leader, a father, but she shared a closer bond with her uncle. Characteristically she was silent, but unusually she appeared completely calm. Normally, energy and tension radiated off of her, but today she was inscrutable. Instead of bothering them, she walked on. Upon finding a distant place, she dropped to the ground and settled in anticipation of the hunt.
Sharr was close on her heels and he was nearly bubbling with excitement. The tall male tried to mimic Arla in everything she did, so he passed by the men too. He sat separately from her, but with her. He was never far enough away that he couldn't study her. No one in the pack missed the reverent looks he shot her covertly, but no one mentioned them either. The adults tended to encourage the behavior; Sharr with his snowy white coat would make an acceptable mate for Soto's daughter.
Next awake was Salina. She grudgingly left her mother's side to plop between the other hopefuls, shaking off sleep all the while. Salina, as beautiful and spirited as her mother, embodied the feline away. Alternating constantly was her way. Sometimes she was the essence of vitality, other times melancholic, other times she was vindictive. Normally her bipolarity revolved around sleep. Within seconds of cracking one cerulean eye, she could be completely awake and raring to go. The opposite was true as well, moments after laying down she would transform from future predator to harmless kitten. Or so she wanted people to think.
Last awake, and running slightly to catch up, was Sita. She was gracile-delicate and fine-boned. She was a mother rather than a fighter. Sita had stayed up the night before with Melle's newest litter, trying to prevent the staggering kittens from wandering too far. Her eyes were green, but with a turquoise cast, the burden of being a runt. Today they were rimmed with black circles, but they were emphasized by her darker coat. Born beautiful, she was eternally doted on by Soto.
"They're nervous," observed Diego. "All awake and prepared before you called? Name me a liar if any of them slept for more than an hour." Soto did not deign to respond; he opened his mouth and roared to summon the rest of the pack.