Left alone, the saber-toothed cub, Dusky, curled in an underground den. His empty stomach pinched and pained him. Scents filtered down into the hollow, luring him with promises of delectable meats, but he still remembered his mother’s command growl to stay-put before she’d crawled from the sandy burrow to hunt.

She’d gone when the sky was light, air was warm, when birds of the day were raucous, and his mother’s favorite prey like horse and camel spread out while grazing the plains.  Now, dark had come. Dusky had gnawed all the bones to splinters and chewed leftover hides till the savor was gone. A long time for the cub not to eat.

Dusky mewled and twitched his nose toward air wafting from above. His muscles rippled with excitement. His tail jerked. His mouth salivated as he caught the scent of blood. Mother had returned.

The saber-toothed tigress dropped the dead, dire wolf pup from her jaws. The healthy male cub, the survivor of two she had birthed, wriggled up the den’s mouth to leap on the bloody prey. Hunger averted another day, he would live.

He ripped the pelt with claw and fang and gnawed on fresh meat with a strange flavor. Though not as juicy as his mother usually brought, the flesh filled his stomach and made him sleepy. He cracked a bone with his strong jaws and lapped at the marrow as he flopped to his side, finally satisfied.

A growl outside the den made the cub shrink. Guarding his meal, Dusky clenched his jaws on the broken bone.

His dam’s ears lay flat. The hair rippled on her back. She snarled with rage, answering the threat, and swatted Dusky, knocking him deeper into the burrow. Startled, the cub dropped the bone, spit, and rolled. The mother spun and faced the dire wolf bitch who had tracked her pup’s scent a mile from her lair.

The tigress sprang. The cub’s view of the battle was a tangle of fangs, limbs, and fur. Fury filled Dusky’s feral, pounding heart. A roar gurgled in his throat, yearning for release. He snapped a wolf leg in his jaws. Though thrashed back and forth in the fight, he hung on, fiercely defending his mother. The wolf’s live blood flowed hot and tasted sweet, waking the little cub’s inborn lust for the kill.

The dire wolf fell dead with its belly ripped open, mother cat’s general mode of cull. Dusky gave the leg one last, furious shake. The tigress clamped her jaws on a shoulder to drag the carcass from the burrow’s mouth, where it was blocking the passage and filled the den with its canine stench. The cub streaked forward and pounced on the body, savaging the torn gut while growling in his throat, imagining the mighty hunt again in his head.

Outside the den, the tigress stretched on the sandy ground and licked a bleeding wound as she watched Dusky maul his first kill. The little cub paused, raised his head to the moon and kitten-roared, terrorizing the creatures of night with an ominous menace. Someday, Dusky would hunt on his own. Beware!