Chapter Six: Trouble
Shani found Manzi doing what she did best: beating the boys at their own games. He smiled. She hadn’t changed a bit since they’d met; except for the fact that Manzi had sworn off eating zebra for dinner.
Out of the corner of his left eye, Shani saw Taiche, Mifi, and… Garoe, he remembered, walking off toward the distant ridge. That was the border of the Savanna pride’s territory. “What the dirt clod are they up to?” he asked himself aloud. “With Taiche involved, it has to be mischief. With Mifi, it has to be about food. Why is Garoe with them?”
“Why is Garoe with who?”
Shani started at Manzi’s voice before he realized who it was. He lowered his head behind Manzi so he could level with her line of vision. “Taiche’s got something planned, I think. Mifi and Garoe are with him.”
Manzi saw the three cubs. She didn’t know is she should go investigate, leave them alone, or report to the lionesses.
“Do ya wanna check it out?” Manzi and Shani asked each other at the same time.
Shani shook his mane. “Okay, you know we need to call off the friendship when that happens.”
Manzi laughed and climbed on Shani’s back. “Sorry, Shani. Not gonna happen, but I’ll take it as a ‘yes’, anyway.”
Shani started walking toward the ridge, following Taiche and the other cubs. “That’s what I was thinkin’.”
“Just keep your distance.”
Manzi and Shani followed the cubs to the ridge. There, they watched them from behind a tree. The cubs seemed to be looking for something in a pile of rocks. “What do you think they’re looking for?” Manzi asked, leaning up toward Shani’s swiveling ears.
Shani had a suspicion. He opened his nostrils as wide as possible and inhaled. He had to stop himself from snorting away the terrible scent of fermenting flesh. Eyes watering, he turned to Manzi. “I think I know.”
“Where is it, Taiche?” Mifi asked, attempting to push aside some of the rocks, but he wasn’t strong enough. “I can smell it.”
Taiche dug through the rocks without a problem. His green eyes lit up. “Found it!” he called triumphantly.
Mifi bounded over. His eyes lit up too when he saw the meat.
Garoe’s eyes, however, shifted back and forth. “Do you realize what this is?” he asked, his voice starting to shake.
“Yeah!” Mifi’s mouth was full. “Only the best meat ever!”
Taiche licked his lips.
Garoe looked at the meat and backed up a step, still looking around nervously. “Um, I really think we should go.” His silver amulet’s swirling black symbol started to glow white-hot.
Taiche turned to him. “Don’t be a guinea foul! No one knows we’re here.”
Garoe shook his head violently, mane flopping but never, leaving his right eye. “You do not understand.”
“What are you talking about?”
A splat caused Taiche to turn around. He didn’t smell rain but a droplet of thick liquid had stained one of the rocks behind him. He, Mifi, and Garoe looked up. They followed two, three-clawed feet up a slim, muscular body, to a slender neck and long jaws.
The creature’s yellow eyes stood out against his black and white markings. His black and white markings stood out against his red-brown scales. He didn’t look happy.
The three cubs were frozen in shock.
The reptile whipped his long, striped tail and slid down the rock pile on his heels. “Vipi ni ninyi tenda changu chakula?”
Taiche and Mifi looked at each other in confusion and then looked back at the creature.
“Hakuna matata. Nyinyi tuta fanya kazi aali badala.” The creature licked his thin, scaly lips.
Mifi nudged Garoe. “What did he say?”
Garoe was shaking, but he narrowed his visible eye at the creature. He whispered, “He is angry. He wants to eat us.”
Mifi’s face went blank. He turned to Taiche. All the cubs started to back away as the creature stalked forward. Mifi asked, “What do we do?”
“RUN!” Manzi’s voice shouted.
Taiche picked Mifi up by the scruff of his neck, turned on his haunches, and bolted, Garoe at his side.
Shani leapt between them and the creature. The reptile bellowed an unearthly roar, revealing teeth sharper than a lion’s fangs. Shani instinctively turned around and threw both hind hooves in the air, connecting with the creature’s lower jaw.
As it screamed, Shani ran. “Now what, genius?” he asked without looking at Manzi.
There was no answer.
Shani slid to a stop and glanced over his shoulder. Manzi wasn’t there! Shani squealed in alarm and ran back toward the creature. He saw Manzi dodging the its snapping jaws. When the creature saw Shani, it ran off in pursuit of the other cubs.
Manzi leapt onto Shani’s back as he turned around to run to the other cubs.
“Are you okay?” Shani asked.
“Don’t worry about me. Where are they?”
“Somewhere up ahead. What is that thing?”
“Whatever it is, it’s almost as fast as a cheetah!”
Shani balked as an orange blur ran past him in pursuit of the cubs and the large reptile. “Speaking of which…”
Taiche panted. “Is he still back there?” he asked through his clenched teeth.
Mifi caught glimpses behind them as he swung in his half brother’s jaws. “Better,” he groaned. “Now there’s two back there!”
“Two standing crocs?”
“No! There’s a skull-faced cheetah with him!”
“What does that mean?”
“Run faster!” Mifi shouted frantically.
Taiche wanted to but his leg muscles burned, and it felt as if his neck was about to snap, if his teeth didn’t first. Why do you have to be so heavy, Mifi?
Just then, Shani raced up beside them. Manzi leaned over as far as she dared. “Toss him to me!”
Taiche used his momentum to swing Mifi to Manzi.
Shani slowed down just in time, allowing Manzi to intercept the plump, little cub in her jaws. She caught him by his tail and nearly slipped off.
“Ouch!” Shani winced as Manzi used her claws to brace herself.
“Sorry,” Manzi managed to say over her full mouth.
“Help!” Mifi cried. He dangled dangerously close to Shani’s legs.
“Split up!” Taiche said.
“No!” Garoe insisted. “Turn right, now!”
All cut hard to the right.
Mifi saw their pursuers from his upside-down position. “It’s not working!”
“Tight circle!” Garoe shouted.
“But we’ll go straight into them!”
Shani lowered his head, pulled a tight circle and charged. The cheetah and the reptile were taken by surprise and forced to retreat.
“Turn around!” Mifi shouted. He covered his blue eyes with his paws.
“Agreed.” Shani spun on his haunch and continued toward the pride.
“Help!” Mifi shouted repeatedly. He had a big voice for being the littlest. He peeked between his paws to see the cheetah and the “standing croc” closing in. Mifi saw the reptile signal with one of his clawed hands. He and the cheetah split up and put on bursts of speed, circling around to the front of the fleeing group from opposite directions.
“Stop!” Mifi screamed, knowing they would run into them.
“Charge!” Shani lowered his head, saw the oncoming collision and said, just barely audible. “No! New plan!”
“I like it!”
Manzi braced herself as Shani plowed through the reptile. The cheetah leapt out of the way.