Chapter Eighteen: A Successful Hunt
Manzi jumped, jolting herself awake. She was surprised to see Noah on Shani's back. "Noah, what are you doing?" she asked groggily.
"This is it, Manzi," Shani said. The zebra gestured over his left shoulder. "I saw Garoe and Kenobi going west, toward the forest."
Noah nodded. "If we want to stop him, we need to go now."
Manzi didn't need to be told twice. She leapt onto Shani's back. "We'd better hurry."
"Shouldn't we tell Antonio or Naomi or Dafini?"
"Shani!" Manzi scolded. "There's no time. Go!"
Shani nodded and quietly trotted west without another protest.
* * *
Kenobi held his breath as he cut through the edge of the forest. The rustling ferns made him nervous. He jumped when Garoe spoke.
"I do not like this." Garoe's silver amulet glowed brighter than ever. He looked over his shoulder in the direction he'd come.
Kenobi thought quickly. "Aw, don't be a guinea fowl! Come on!"
Garoe turned back to Kenobi, his expression stern. "I am not going in there. I am going home!"
"No, you can't!" Kenobi growled. "You're seeing this through with me."
Garoe, still standing just outside the forest, narrowed his visible eye. His brown flop of mane fell further forward on his face, darkening the shadow cast by his glowing amulet. "No, I am not." A loud, low rumble came from behind the cub.
Kenobi took his eyes off Garoe's and slowly looked up. His jaw dropped when he saw the huge, white lion-like creature behind Garoe. It's long fangs dripped with saliva as it narrowed it's dark green eyes and growled again.
Garoe bolted, running past Kenobi into the forest.
"Wait for me!" Kenobi shouted, trying to run after the mud-colored cub. But Garoe was gone. All Kenobi could do was stay ahead of the hulking beast that chased him.
* * *
"What the heck was that thing?" Shani asked, ears pricked forward.
Manzi could feel Shani's tense neck and back muscles, but she was too shocked to answer. Besides, she didn't know what that was either. She nearly jumped when she felt Noah shudder behind her.
"If that's who I think it is, Kenobi and Garoe are goners."
Manzi swatted the cheetah cub with her golden tail tuft. "Noah, don't say that!"
Noah rubbed his nose. "But Manzi… that's Murali's Saber bodyguard Katan. If he catches them…" Noah paused when Kenobi's call for help rang out of the trees.
"I guess it's safe to say they need to run a little longer," Shani said. "We'd better honor 'his highness's' request."
"Shani," Manzi said. "drop us off at the edge of the forest. Noah and I need to go in alone."
"Oh?" Shani stopped at the edge of the tree line and looked at her. "Why?"
Manzi heard Kenobi calling again. "Shani!" she urged.
"Give me one good reason," Shani insisted.
Noah spoke up. "You can't climb trees."
Shani shrugged as he let the cubs off. "Good enough. I'll go for help. Good luck, you two."
* * *
Dodging stumps, ferns, and low branches, Kenobi felt as if his legs were going to give out. Suddenly, he tripped on a root. Tumbling head over heels into a fern, Kenobi only laid still for a second. The creature was on him in a heartbeat. Kenobi dodged its huge fangs just in time before he ran deeper into the forest. He stole a glance to check the beast's distance. Then he looked where he was going. "Waah!" he yelled. He tried to skid to a stop on his hindquarters but ran headfirst into a scruffy, gray cub. They tumbled into a heap.
"Ow…" Kenobi heard the other cub groan.
Kenobi slowly got to his feet. He saw the gray cub do the same. He looked at Kenobi with soft, turquoise eyes. "Where did you come from?" he asked, in an accent similar to Garoe's.
Kenobi was about to answer when two clawed feet stomped in front of him. Two sickle-like, black claws rose off the ground. Kenobi followed the striped legs to a lean, erect body and a slender neck. The triangular head titled down as the body did. Two, piercing yellow eyes stared at Kenobi, and then looked past him.
"Katan…" Saka growled.
The white, blue and green striped beast rumbled in his throat. "Saka."
Then Saka looked back to Kenobi. "So you did two-time us. You learned our location and told Katan!"
"No!" Kenobi shook his head violently. "You don't understand! Katan chased me! He tried to kill me!"
"Of course he did," Saka said, his voice threatening. "Dead creatures can't take any credit. He wants it all for himself. But because you turned me and Qymaen in, I should kill you here, myself."
"I found the cub, first, Hammerhead!" Katan roared.
"Well, you failed to finish him!" Saka challenged before another voice interrupted the bickering.
"No one's finishing anything until I see the merchandise."
Kenobi and his new prison-mate, the gray cub, turned in time to see Qymaen step out of the foliage. Kenobi shuddered. He'd forgotten what it was like to look at the lion's blood war paint on the mask. Then a sleek, green-eyed caracal came out behind the masked cheetah.
"This black-banged shrimp was the one you were waiting for?" The caracal sniffed and flicked her short tail.
Kenobi snorted and lifted his chin, making his tuft of mane lift away from his eyes.
"Yes," Qymaen hissed. His amber gaze looked through the skull-mask into Kenobi's green eyes. "Where is he-the cub you promised to bring to me?"
"Nowhere," Saka interrupted before Kenobi could open his mouth. "He two-timed us and gave us away to Murali's hit-beast Katan."
"I didn't!" Kenobi insisted, glaring at Saka's cold, yellow eyes. "I had Garoe with me but Katan scared him off!"
Saka liked his brown, scaly lips. "Likely story." He opened his jaws.
"Hold on, Saka."
Saka's mouth snapped shut.
"Who's that?" Qymaen indicated the scruffy gray cub by Saka's feet.
Kenobi watched as the cub stepped away from Saka to stand in front of Qymaen. "You know who I am, Qymaen the Serpent," the cub said. "I am Peter, son of Norina, who you killed in cold blood for the sake of taking me as prisoner for Murali."
Qymaen laughed as Saka explained how Peter came into his clutches. "Good work, Saka," Qymaen praised. Then he turned to Katan. "You can go tell Murali that we have one of Ethro's sons."
Katan snarled. "I'm not goin' anywhere. Murali wanted both of them. Alive."
Qymaen glared back at Kenobi. He raised an eyebrow.
"I don't know where he is!" Kenobi nearly shouted. "How many times do I have to tell you?"
Qymaen growled and narrowed his eyes. His ivory claws snapped to full extension. He brought up a paw.
Kenobi cringed and closed his eyes. He heard Peter gasp.
Qymaen paused and turned toward the voice. Garoe stepped out of the bushes. He wore a glowing silver amulet.
Peter's eyes widened. Kenobi looked from him to Garoe. "So, you two are brothers?"
Peter looked at Kenobi, still surprised. "I guess so."