Chapter Twenty-Six: Rescue
"Kenobi!" Manzi ran to him. "Get on Shani!" she told Garoe over her shoulder. Behind her, she heard Shani grunt when Garoe landed on his back. Manzi grabbed Kenobi's ear with her teeth and tugged.
Manzi let go. "Bad idea," she said.
"Darn right!" Kenobi agreed. "My shoulder's caught, not my ear!"
"Stupid boulder!" Saka roared behind them. Then he mumbled something in Swahili. Manzi could also hear him trying to move something heavy.
I don't have much time,Manzi thought. She pounded her front paws on the outside of the gap. More dirt gave way, and so did a rock. "Try! This!" she said between slams.
Kenobi wriggled. His shoulders came free. "I'm out!"
A roar came from inside. Saka's head shot out of the gap just behind Kenobi's tail. Manzi screamed and Kenobi yelped. Saka snapped his long jaws at them, drool flying out of his mouth.
Manzi swatted him across the nose with her claws.
Saka bellowed and thrust his head further out the hole, knocking Manzi and Kenobi off the ledge.
Manzi instinctively flipped over to land on her feet. She landed on Shani's back – in front of Garoe and Kenobi.
"Nice catch!" Noah said.
Kenobi landed on Shani's rump. He started to slide off and used his claws to try to stop his fall.
"Ouch!" Shani winced. "Not again…"
Kenobi fell in the dirt, raising a cloud of dust. Peter helped him to his feet.
"Are you all right?" the scruffy, gray cub asked.
Kenobi got to his feet and nodded.
"We have a problem," Shani said. "I can't carry all of you. There's not enough room."
Noah jumped off the zebra's back. "I'll go on foot."
"Me too." Manzi started to get off, but Kenobi stopped her.
"Stay with Garoe," he said. "Let's go!"
"Hang on!" Shani bolted as Saka roared behind them.
Saka pulled his long neck back out of the gap he'd made between the ribcage and the boulder. He shook himself and ran to the main cave. "Qymaen!" he called. "Qymaen, they're getting away!" But the only creature he met was Murali.
"What?" the black liger shouted.
Saka was surprised, but he didn't stop. "Where's Qymaen? The cubs are escaping!"
Murali ran out of the cave, easily overtaking Saka. He stopped at the edge of the outcropping and let Saka go down the trail first. What caught his eye was the small cloud of dust on the horizon. Murali roared after the fleeing masked cheetah. "You will pay for this, Qymaen the Serpent!" Then, gathering his muscles, Murali leapt off the ledge.
"Look!" Manzi shouted. "It's Antonio!"
"And with half the pride, it looks like," Shani added.
"We are in trou-ble," Noah said.
"Hold up!" Manzi said.
"Are you crazy?" Kenobi shouted.
"Who knows who's chasing us?!" Noah said.
Shani slid to a halt. Noah, Kenobi, and Peter trotted to his side as Manzi slid off Shani's back.
"Kenobi, get on with Garoe. You're the ones Murali wants."
"Don't argue, Kenobi. Just do it!"
"I'll carry you as far as I can away from here," Shani said as Kenobi got on his back. Then he looked at Manzi. "After they're hidden, I'm coming back for you."
Manzi nodded. "Go now. We'll be meeting up with the pride."
Shani nodded before he turned around. "I'm coming back for you," he promised again.
"We'll be here," Manzi said.
Shani looked back and smiled at her. "You'd better be." Then he bolted.
Manzi watched them go, wishing she was with them.
"Good luck!" Noah called after them.
Manzi, Noah, and Peter all started at the deep rumble. Manzi slowly turned around and looked up. She met Antonio's powerful, angry, blue-green glare. She swallowed. Then she lowered her ears and smiled. "Hello, Uncle Antonio."
The strong, golden lion's hard expression didn't change as he turned to Noah – who put on his "I'm not innocent, but please don't kill me" forced grin – and then to Peter, who simply stood with a straight face and blinked once. Antonio sighed deeply. His ruffled, copper-colored mane fell toward his eyes. "What are you doing?"
Manzi let out a relieved sigh when Peter answered. "Kenobi and my brother are freed, sir."
"Where are they?"
"They're with Shani," Manzi said. Stealing a glance past Antonio's shoulder, she saw her mother smiling at her.
Antonio shook his head, his curly mane rustling in time. "That was foolish of you three, but I'm glad you were successful."
"Thanks!" Noah said, a little too quickly.
Antonio started to say something else. Suddenly, he looked up. "Get behind me!" he roared.
Manzi, Peter, and Noah scampered behind Antonio and toward the lionesses. Only Noah looked back.
Murali's black form came charging out of the dust cloud.
Saka wasn't far behind.