M'hali tensed and lifted her large, tufted ears only slightly, lest even this small movement gave away her concealed position. Situated in a low crouch, her slender limbs resembled the tangle of slider's dance that grew in a chaotic profusion at the base of the small rise she now occupied. The almost inaudible noise that had first alerted her to the presence of the trespasser repeated a small distance further windward on the rise, yet no movement was revealed in the fading light of the lingering daystar. Back fur bristling, M'hali knew she would have to make her move soon. With a stealth honed by seasons of hunting the twilight, M'hali slowly slid backwards out of the thick vines, careful to tuck her long, silky tail against her back. Each paw was placed with utmost precision, avoiding the dried leaves and twigs that littered the hard ground. Once her head was clear she paused to listen, raising her glistening snout to the deepening sky. A miasma of newborn stars reflected in her spring green eyes, causing a faint glow in response. She could detect the brine on the lakes and the tang of the marshes just beyond, indicating that the soft winds were still blowing windward of her quarry. Good, she thought. The signs show a favorable pattern and this hunt is blessed. With no warning, a shadowy shape darted over a rise to the side of M'hali, just a few strides away from her original vantage point. Had she still been concealed in the brambles, she would have had a better view of the area where the shape disappeared, however going back into the tangled brush was a kit's mistake and she was several seasons beyond that. No. A wise hunter anticipated the prey's path and this prey knew it was now being hunted. It would not go rainward where the brush created a natural barrier to anything larger than a mud rat. It had come from the direction of sunrising and could not continue through the small gully without making more noise than an enraged bulltock in the season of rutting. Therefore, windward was again the favored direction. Yet, M'hali hesitated. A wise hunter also knew to never let down one's guard... A hiss of breath, as if the prey had caught M'hali's scent in the air, sent a shiver down her tail. The blighted bug-eater was just on the other side of the brambles! The daystar's last rays were of no help in the ravine. The vines twisted and turned so that the very shadows got caught within. Closing her eyes against the golden dusk, she opened her nostrils to the caress of the breeze trying to pick up even the slightest of musk-sign. Faint snuffling noises nearby indicated that the prey was doing the same. Without lifting her eyelids, M'hali flattened her twitching ears against her head and started slinking forward tentatively, brushing soundlessly by the tall grasses and slinking around small bushes with the grace of water running over age-smoothed stones. Fine tendrils of her tawny banded fur lifted with the wind, masking the movements of her limber body in perfect symmetry of motion with the waving grass. Even the most observant eyes would have trouble discerning M'hali's form as she progressed windward alongside the thicket. M'hali was silently singing the Song of the First Hunt, the most potent and beautiful of songs. She was the music and voice. The percussion of her steady heartbeat led the rhythms of her breath and blood, both keeping an ancient cadence known only to the hunter. Her mind closed in, focusing to a pinpoint of star-bright heat at the center of her head. no thoughts invaded the vortex of instinct that drove her inexorably forward. No thoughts outside of the building need to capture... and kill. What you have just read is a rough snippet from one of my stories-in-progress on my library shelf, titled M'hali: The Lost Clan. I've had the line drawing of the main character up in my gallery for quite a while now and I thought it was a good time to update her portrait. In it you finally get to see M'hali's lovely fur colors and markings, including her plaited silky, auburn tresses. Notice her blond streak? I thought it quite fashionable. You may also notice that she has vibrant green eyes. That's a rarity among the clans where light amber is the prevalent eye color. Her jewelry is made from natural materials like bone, wood and some rare stones. Metal is not generally a part of M'hali's culture, but a lucky few have found bits of it around and items made from this precious material are highly prized. Other elements in the portrait I'd like to mention are those visible in the background. One of those is the red moon, which is usually seen as a bad omen, but M'hali was born during the 16 year eclipse of the other two moons by the Red Sister, as it's called, and there are whispers on the wind that speak of signs of a great fate in store for this young hunter. To the left of M'hali are the great plains, with a peek of one of the few sluggish rivers that meander around the arid grasses like giant snakes without heads or tails. To the right you see a lustrous hint of what becomes a driving force in M'hali's life; a place where trees grow taller than imagination and ancient voices echo in the green twilight of it's mysterious depths...Note on terms: M'hali is pronounced, muh-HALL-ee. Windward=north, rainward=south and sunrising=east. Slider's dance is a hardy bramble-type bush. A mudrat is a small rodent-like animal. A bulltock is a large antelope-type mammal. Update: Stephen "Werepenguin" Cauley has done a fantastic action pic of M'hali. Thank you, Stephen! You rock!