Shira lifted her head and glared into the eyes of the two big male sabres blocking the path into the cave. "I'm coming through." She warned in a cool, steely voice. The male on the left, Marco, snarled deep in his throat and tensed as if he were thinking about pouncing on her, and the other, Fynn, extended his claws. Shira flicked one ear disdainfully as she stalked by them. The males growled after her, but did not make a move to hinder her.
She was one of the smallest of the great Western Pride of sabre-toothed tigers, and set apart by her silver fur. The Westerners were suspicious of her unusual colour, but her grandfather, Kane, was one of the highest-ranked elders of the Pride and they could not risk his anger in casting her from the group.
Shira was met by her father, Ligan. She didn't take after him physically - he was massive, she was small in stature, his fur was the normal sandy shade of a sabre to her silvers and whites. But she did share his sudden ferocity. Ligan was a renowned warrior of the Pride and he had passed on every skill he kenw to his only daughter. He was torn - he loved her, his only daughter, but she was different, and he could never publicly display how much she meant to him. Shira knew this; glimpsed occasionally the warm heart of the father who taught her to fight and hunt and drove her until she had not a breath left in her. It was how he showed his love so only she knew. She knew him better than he knew her; he had always kept himself as a distance. Still, sometimes Shira saw him looking at her in a way he never looked at her three brothers. Whatever his regrets were, he had never voiced them.
"Father." She bowed her head as was proper of a lower ranked member to a senior warrior. With a sigh, Ligan inclined his head in return. "Go quickly, my daughter. My father's nights are numbered." He warned, the tingle of sorrow through steel just audible to her knowing ear.
As a cub, when her siblings and others her age had teased her and picked on her because of her fur, Shira had been taken under wing by Kane, her father's father. The old tiger had travelled far, seen much, and was not bound by the Western Pride's strict hierarchy and rules of what was proper. Kane was her closest friend within the Pride, and Shira could hardly accept that her canny old grandfather would soon be gone.
She had come to say goodbye.
"Shira." Rasped the voice cracked with age, and she drew forward to press her small muzzle against his larger, battle-scarred one. "Grandfather." she whispered, sitting at his side. He was on a raised platform of branches, covered with ferns for comfort. She had collected those herself. "Time is short, little one." He murmured, his now-milky eyes, once so sharp, focusing on her blue ones. Those blue eyes, yet another thing setting her apart from her amber-eyed Pridemates.
"Don't say that Grandfather." Begged Shira, but he twitched his whiskers impatiently. "Don't tell me what to say." He grunted, a spark of his old spirit flaring up. "Young upstart." He grumbled, and she smiled at him through tearing eyes. "My apologies, Grandfather. Will you grace me with your wisdom?"
He chuckled, knowing her too well to understand when she was teasing him. But then his face grew serious. "Just once more, my girl. You must not stay with the Western Pride once I am gone. I will no longer be able to protect you. Your father has many long missions ahead, scouting and hunting. You must travel a great distance and find safety where you least expect it. Your mother would not want you to stay in a place with so little happiness." Kane spoke with finality. He had always approved of the tigress his son had taken as a mate, and had shared Ligan's sorrow when she was killed by a pack of wolves when hunting, shortly after her litter of five had been born. Despite Shira's strange fur colour, he saw a lot of her mother in her.
"You want me to leave?" Questioned Shira. Coughing, Kane rumbled in annoyance. "You heard me girl, and there's no time to waste asking questions to which you already know the answers. Leave tonight." He ordered, cuffing her gently over the ear.
"But... how can I leave you?" Shira murmured, feeling a great, overwhelming sense of loss for the old tiger she loved. He reached forward and nuzzled her gently. "I will not survive this night, my girl. It was always your destiny to tread the path of no other sabre you've ever known. Go now!"
Shira spoke briefly to her father, waiting further along the cave entrnce tunnel. From the exhasted set to his shoulders she knew how long he had been awake, keeping vigil over his dying father. "Thankyou, Father." She said softly, and he grunted, flicking an ear but not looking up.
She paused. Had he been listening? Did he know she planned to leave, that this was their final meeting?" He remained motionlessly sitting in the same spot. Shira turned away, flicking her short tail once in regret.
Goodbye, father, she thought as she exited the cave, right before a whirlwind of paws, fangs and claws bowled into her.
Dropping and rolling with her attacker's weight, she blocked his first two blows then swung her paw up to meet his third, smacking his head with his own paw. She kicked him swiftly in the gut to unbalance him then slipped deftly from his grip. She swung to face Fynn while Marco lay groaning on the ground, her teeth bared in warning. "If you even think about it, I'll have your ear off before you can blink." she warned, claws outstretched and pointing threateningly at the male sabre. Fynn gulped, then lowered his posture submissively to the tigress's ferocity.
Shira cuffed Marco scornfully on the ear as she passed him. "Nice try, Brother."