Chapter Four: Quarry
Peter woke with a start. His heart pounded in his ears until he realized where he was: sleeping next to Fina. Her striped belly rose and fell in time with her deep breathing. Peter snuggled closer against her. His nightmare; his memories haunted him, even though he was awake. Only twelve hours ago, he was living in his nightmare.
Peter didn’t remember his father. He lived alone with his mother; they had no pride. Peter’s mother was his only friend. Like him, she was the color of rain clouds. But unlike him, her eyes were gray. She was strong and beautiful, but troubled. Peter didn’t know why, until that fateful twilight hour…
Peter was exploring in a pile of smooth rocks. They looked as if they belonged on the bank of a river, but the question as to what they were doing on the border of the savanna and the desert, never crossed Peter’s mind. He was looking for a cricket. Its CHIRP, CHIRP teased him as he turned over rock after rock in his search. He forgot about the cricket when he discovered the clunking rocks were music to his sensitive ears. He liked the way the moved and vibrated under his paws.
Suddenly, a small rock rolled down from higher up the stack. Peter watched it for a moment before a small splat caught his attention. Two small drops of thick liquid had stained the brown rocks in front of him. Rain? Peter looked up. He gasped. The creature he saw standing on the rocks above him was unlike any he’d ever seen in his wanderings with his mother. He only regarded the creature’s appearance for a few seconds; the dull red-brown scales, the black and white markings on its back and over its eyes, and those gold, reptilian eyes that Peter had seen once before on a crocodile.
However, this creature was a far cry from being a crocodile. It stood upright, a stiff tail balancing its long, slender jaws. When the creature smiled, Peter saw the sharp, serrated teeth. The young cub wasn’t only confused by that. He was confused that this bipedal creature wore a grey belt full of silver pouches over his back, and something on his head that Peter had only seen on a human. He saw a hornbill’s feather stuck in the side of it as the creature tipped his headgear. “Jambo,” the creature greeted coldly in a strange language.
Peter didn’t have time to think twice; he turned and ran. He heard the creature’s heavy footfalls behind him. As he called for his mother, a masked cheetah leapt into Peter’s path, forcing him to stop.
“Going somewhere?” the cheetah hissed in a smooth, educated voice from behind his skull-mask.
Peter tried to run around him, but it was no use. He was trapped between the cheetah and the huge reptile.
The cheetah looked past Peter and said, “Well done, Saka.”
Peter turned in time to see Saka tip his hat again. “My pleasure,” he said. The vibration in his voice lingered after he spoke, like a lion’s roar coming from across the plain.
“What do you want? Let me go!” Peter pleaded. To his surprise, the cheetah laughed and stepped aside. Peter darted past but stopped in his tracks. He choked back tears when he saw his mother laying lifeless, in a puddle of blood.
The cheetah chuckled again. “Go where? It seems you have nowhere to go but with me and my… partner. That’s why we’re here.”
Peter looked defiantly at the clay-colored, black spotted cheetah. He promised his mother that if he ever found himself alone, he would stay safe. He wouldn’t let her down, not even in death. “I won’t let you take me. You killed her.”
“Yes,” the cheetah growled, stalking toward Peter. The small gray cub backed away from him. “If you wish to join her, I suggest you stick with that decision.”
Peter found himself pinned against a rock, staring though the eye sockets of the cheetah’s skull mask at his amber eyes.
“What are you going to do?” the cheetah asked, mockingly.
Peter didn’t know.
Suddenly, something knocked the cheetah away from Peter. Peter took advantage of the moment and ran.
“Go!” a young, masculine voice ordered from behind him. “I’ll hold them off!”
Peter didn’t look back. He ran until he reached the forest. Exhausted, he found refuge in a tall tree. He his himself in the thick foliage and kept still. Soon, he was asleep, his little claws dug into the bark for support.
Voices woke Peter. He knew who they were. He held his breath as he heard Saka and the cheetah pass underneath his perch.
“You had to let the little brat slip through your paws, didn't you, Qymaen?” Saka commented sarcastically.
Qymaen snorted. He sounded frustrated enough trying to find his target in the deep growth. He surely didn't need Saka's cocky wisecracks. “Shut up and sniff him out, Saka,” Qymaen growled. “His pelt is worth my life. We need to find him... and destroy him.”
“Isn't he more valuable alive?” Saka asked without looking at his partner.
“Maybe,” Qymaen said. “But we've already tried that. This time... he DIES! Besides... we have another chance to take another alive.”
Peter wondered what they were talking about. Why do they want me? he wondered. As soon as his seekers moved on, Peter leapt down from the tree and ran again, running until his body couldn’t take anymore.
That morning, after awakening in a bed of grass, Peter found a friend in Leia.
As he laid next to Fina, listening to her gentle breathing, he became more and more thankful that she’d chosen to adopt him as her own so, even if he was a lion. If it wasn’t for her, Peter knew he would probably be listening to the growls of Qymaen and his exotic assistant.