Zoba felt battered and beaten. The scrapes and bruises on his body had not even begun to heal yet. He had had no sleep and nothing to eat for days. The reason; hyenas. Day and night, a clan of them had been pestering him. Every antelope he killed, they stole, and every tree he climbed at night, they swarmed. No roar was loud enough to scare them away and each swat of a clawed paw was met with two of them snapping at his shoulders. Retreat after retreat, Zoba could hardly bear it any longer. His mind was breaking under the lack of sleep and his body was crumbling under the stress. And here they were again.
The large lion had, by some miracle, taken down a gazelle. In his state of mind and lack of health, he was surprised he could catch anything at all. The incessant cackling was pushing him over the edge. He was getting tunnel vision so he closed his eyes. His breathing became sporadic as he placed a paw on the prey he had just claimed. The hyenas were closing in. "Kill them all or it'll never end." He whispered to himself. Zoba paused for a moment and opened his eyes. "Only if I have to." With that, he let out one more earth-shaking roar.
Kela was taking a drink from a small waterhole when she heard it. A loud, almost desperate sounding roar filled the air, startling her. "What on earth?" She asks herself, before rushing off to investigate. Someone could be hurt.
When she arrived to the scene, she snarled in annoyance. A heavily injured and obviously hungry lion was surrounded by a pack of despicable hyenas, trying to take his meal. Without hesitation, Kela leaps into action and attacks the closest hyena, easily killing it. The others, cowardly scavengers they are, ran off with their tails between their legs at the sight of the angry lioness. Spaying out the hyena's blood, she turns to the Lion with concern in her eyes. "Are you okay?"
Typical hyenas. One lion was worth their time to pester and steal from but as soon as there were two lions, they'd back off. He and his brother never got attacked by hyenas when they were together. Zoba was glad the hyenas were leaving. Maybe they'd finally leave them alone until he could get his strength back. But until then, it seemed he had a new friend.
"Are you okay?" The lioness asked. She reminded him of himself on better days.
Dazed, the muscular lion simply nodded. Breathing was difficult enough. Speaking just felt like it would take too much effort. Zoba took shallow breaths as he turned to the gazelle he had finally won with some help. His face bore a zombified expression as he began dragging his catch to a tree for some shade. As soon as he had eaten, he planned to catch up on several days worth of sleep.
Gazelle never tasted so good. Zoba was so hungry, he could probably eat the bark off the tree he laid under and it would nearly taste just as good.
"I'm Kela, by the way. You don't have to respond, since I can tell you have other priorities at the moment." Her name went through one ear and out the other. Even if he wasn't distracted by his first meal in days, he was so tired that her name probably wouldn't have stuck in his memory anyway. Somehow, he was still comforted knowing she didn't expect him to respond. Once he had had his fill, Zoba flopped over onto his side next to what remained of the gazelle. With a long inhale and an equally long exhale, the lion began breathing more slowly. He closed his eyes, and with his last bout of consciousness, he pushed the gazelle towards the lioness.
When the sun rose, Kela yawned and looked over at the still sleeping lion. She feels bad for him, honestly. Being so tired. She couldn't bring herself to eat his leftover, but now, they're pretty bad after going all night without being eaten.
Coming to a decision, she trots over to him and whispers in his ear. "I'm going to catch breakfast. Rest while you can." And with that, she makes her way off to hunt.
Zoba awoke to the sun shining down on his face. The shadow from the tree had moved which meant it was late morning. The sun was now in the east. Gradually, he opened his eyes. The gazelle was still there. With a grunt, he rolled onto his back and immediately noticed the vultures circling above. They had obviously seen the carcass. The only thing keeping them from landing was a big sleeping lion.
Zoba sighed, rolled onto his stomach and stood up. He looked back down at the gazelle and then suddenly remembered the lioness. Startled by the sudden memory that there was another of his kind around, he put his head on a swivel. Where had she gone? Zoba walked a ways, looking for her but still within viewing distance of the tree he fell asleep under.
After some thought and a little more looking around, Zoba decided the lioness would probably come back. But what was her name? Or did she even exist? Zoba had been so tired that the events in his dream and what happened the day before were blurred together in his mind. For all he knew, he could have dreamed her. It might explain why the gazelle seemed to be untouched after he was finished with it. The vultures were already gathered around it, which was quite alright with Zoba. It was past its usefulness to him.
It took a little while, but she managed to catch a young zebra with a good amount of meat on its bones. "This should suffice for the both of us." Kela smiled, proud of herself. Grabbing the carcass by the neck, she dragged it over to where she left the lion, only to be somewhat surprised by the fact that he was now awake.
Despite that, Kela walked over to him, dead zebra in her jaws, and dropped it in front of him. Then, she gave her happiest grin. "Good morning! I caught breakfast!"
Her voice came from behind him. As he turned to face her, he saw the "breakfast" she had brought. Had she just dragged an entire Zebra all the way over here? Not many lions, let alone lionesses could do that. Zoba shifted his gaze from the zebra to the lioness. Only now did he notice her size and build. She was noticeably muscular. The contrast between her dark fur and green eyes were another sight to behold.
"Wow. I'm impressed." He replied. "Before I get ahead of myself, thank you. For the help yesterday." He smiled faintly. He was still sore from all the bruises he had received over the last few days but at least he didn't feel like he was on the edge of death and/or madness anymore.
"You're welcome. I couldn't just leave you to those scavengers." She was very straightforward. Zoba would've done the same for a stranger and he understood that not everyone else would do the same. This lioness affirmed his gratitude as if to say 'Of course I helped you. It's what anyone would do.' He liked that attitude. The willingness to help others without question.
"I'm Kela. What's your name?"
"Zoba. It's nice to meet you." He said in his deep voice as he smiled warmly.
He knew she meant to share the zebra but he didn't feel very hungry after that gazelle from yesterday. Still, it was probably better that he get his strength up, so he joined her. The two of them were probably making the vultures very happy.
After she finished her portion, Kela yawned and strectched, the stood up straight again.
She took another good look at her newest 'companion', and noted he was quite larger than any other lion she had came across, yet he didn't seem the type to use his size for petty intimidation purposes. "What brings you here?" She asked after a moment. "Other than your less than desirable company of scavengers."
"What brings you here? Other than your less than desirable company of scavengers."
Zoba laughed and rolled his eyes. "Actually, I wasn't going anywhere in particular. I was just trying to get away from the hyenas. So those scavengers are really the only reason I'm here." He said as he glanced around and caught the eye of one of the vultures. "No offense." He added.
"What? For calling us scavengers?" The bird replied in the typical vulture accent. "Why? It's precisely what we are! Though you should probably leave now. Genan isn't going to be happy."
"Genan? Who is that?"
The Vulture raised a brow. "You mean to say that you've been attacked by Genans clan for several days now and you don't know who she is?"
"I've never met anyone by that name. Kela, do you know anything about this?" Zoba asked the lioness.
Kela nods and takes a quick scan of the landscape. "True. Hyenas aren't the type to actively hunt, let alone track a prey for miles. We have to figure out what's going on and why they were after you in particular."
Then she spots a flock of ostriches a little ways away. "I'll ask them about what's going on." She nods at them and walks off a bit before pausing, then glancing over her shoulder back at Zoba. "Roar if there's trouble. I'll do the same." With that, she continues on her way.
Zoba saw the ostriches Kela was motioning towards.
"Alright. I'll go ask someone else." He said as he turned around to walk in the opposite direction. Now who to ask? Birds would probably be best. They'd be most likely to know something considering their view of everything from the sky. As he walked into a patch of trees, Zoba kept an eye out for any possible feathered witnesses. It wasn't long before he found a flock of birds in an acacia tree.
"Hello!" The birds all ceased their chirping and turned to look at him. "Do any of you know anything about Genan?" As soon as he mentioned the name, the flock of birds flew away. Zoba stood still, watching the birds flee. Was the name Genan really that feared around here? So much so that even the mention of it scared others away? Zoba continued to look around as he doubled back. Using his sense of smell, hearing, and sight in conjunction, the lion luckily spotted a serval. Perfect! A serval should know something considering its superior hearing.
In the most pleasant, calm voice he could muster, Zoba asked the serval from a distance. "Excuse me. Sorry to bother you, but I keep hearing about someone named Genan and I-" Before he could finish, the serval darted away. Once again, it was like the name 'Genan' was the trigger word for every creature around.
Discouraged, Zoba looked down at his toes, trying to think of who else he could ask. As his eyes drifted forward along the ground, he saw a rodent skitter across his vision. At this point, Zoba was desperate for information. The lion followed the tiny tracks and quietly followed them a few feet where he came upon a field mouse cleaning its ears in a little clearing amongst the grass. Once again, in his quietest voice without whispering, Zoba spoke.
"'Scuse me." He cleared his throat. "I'm trying to find information about-" The mouse visibly flinched. Frustrated and knowing that the mouse was about to dart away, Zoba reached a paw out and pinned the mouse to the ground by its tail. He almost felt sorry for it. "I'm sorry, I just need to ask a few questions."
"No, no just let me go!" The mouse squeaked. He kept pulling himself away from Zoba, still trapped by his tail.
"I will. Just give me a minute of your time and I promise you'll be alright."
The mouse paused, thinking about his predicament. "Ok. But... there's predators around and I need to get to my burrow." Zoba raised a brow, thinking the statement 'there are predators around' ironic considering the one who spoke it was presently caught by him, a predator. The mouse seemed to notice the nonverbal message. "Right. Who's going to steal a mouse from a lion, right." The mouse chuckled nervously.
"You're safer now than you've ever been in your life." Zoba said, smiling as he stepped off of the mouse's tail, putting trust in him not to run. It didn't run, but instead, turned to face Zoba and step back. The mouse's gaze traveled further and further up Zobas tall frame. He was already considered large by other lions. To a mouse, he must have appeared to be an absolute titan.
The little rodent inhaled shakily. "Right... Right, um. Ok, then in that case, I guess I've got time."
Zoba lowered his head. "Thank you." He said assuringly. "Now, please don't run," Probably not one of the best things for a predator to say to an herbivore, but he continued. "I've been hearing about someone called Genan." The mouse twitched. He obviously wanted to run. "Do you know anything about her?" The mouse paused, obviously not wanting to say anything. Zoba gave him time to think.
The mouse approached Zoba, now standing between his paws. He looked back and in either direction. "I'll tell you everything." He now whispered. "Just don't let them get me!" Zoba didn't know what to say. His eyes were wide with surprise. This mouse felt safer being inches away from the mouth of the biggest lion it had ever seen than it did merely speaking about the leader of a hyena clan. "You said I was safe, right?" Zoba nodded and was met by a long pause. He had lowered himself down, his chin now nearly touching the dust on the ground and the mouse inched up to Zobas ear. He whispered in a shaken voice. "They kill us for sport... For fun. In the most terrible ways." Zoba's jaw dropped as he collected the mouses words.
"Yes." The mouse sobbed. "They feed on fear. If they found out that I was telling you these things, they'd kill me... And it would not be a pleasant death."
"How do you know all of this?" Zoba asked, visibly shaken, himself.
"They make us watch."
Zoba was sickened and angered. "Where are they now?"
"I don't know. They're constantly on the move but they're always around. They never leave their territory but there's no single place I know of where they reside."
Zoba stood up and looked around, then back down at the mouse. He didn't want to leave him alone, now knowing what it feared. "Where is your burrow? I'll walk with you. I'll make sure you're safe."
"It's not far. Follow me." He said as he waddled away.
Zoba followed. For such a little thing, it was quick. The lion held a slow trot to keep up. Shortly, they came upon a tree with a hole located between two of its roots at the base of the trunk. The mouse turned around and with a sigh of relief, he looked up at the towering lion.
"Thank you. My wife isn't going to believe I was escorted back home by a lion!" He said with a chuckle. "My name is Panya, by the way."
"Zoba." the lion smiled and bowed his head.
"Thank you, Zoba." He paused for a moment. "I assume you're going to do something about Genan then?"
"Yes. My friend and I will do what we can. This isn't the way things are supposed to be."
"You have a friend with you?"
"Yes. If you see a lioness around, it's probably her."
"Ohh, I see." The mouse winked.
"Oh she's not-" Zoba interjected but was cut short by Panya.
"Well it was a pleasure to meet you, Zoba. Good luck!" Said the mouse as he descended into his home.
After a while of fruitlessly asking around for information, Kela snarls to herself in annoyance and returned to Zoba's side.
"I hope you got better luck with finding information than I did. Just mentioning her name sent everyone I asked running like mad." She complains, then stops once she spots his grave expression, worry and anger prominent on his face.
Slowly, Zoba padded back to their initial meeting spot. Kela arrived at the same time.
"How bad is it?" She asked.
"It's" Zoba couldn't think of a word to describe it. 'Bad' didn't come close to the severity of the situation. "It's awful. I-" Zoba took a moment to gather his thoughts. "These hyenas. They don't just disregard the balance here. They blatantly oppose it. Like I suspected, they kill for sport. But what I found out is that their purpose is to instill fear in everyone. They torture their victims and threaten others with the same if they tell any outsiders. My guess is, the vultures don't plan on sticking around which is why they told us about Genan in the first place." He paused and turned away, looking upon the horizon. "They don't live in any one place. They travel around within their territory. They could be anywhere."
Zoba turned back to Kela. "What do you think we should do?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't sleep well if I left them. We have to help." Kela sighs.
"But how? We're only two lions, and we have no way of telling how many hyenas Genan has on her side at this point. We can't just attack with no plan or even a location. Plus, you're still injured!" She starts pacing back and forth. "They're obviously not the run of the mill type of hyenas. They're intelligent and meticulous. The only possible way we could stop them is by..." She stops pacing and turns towards Zoba.
"Is by overthrowing her and taking over these lands. That's the only way I think we could help them."
Zoba sat down, considering her words. What she was suggesting could potentially end with the two ruling their own teritorry. Zoba had never thought about that before. All his life, he had been a traveler and he was content with it. Owning territory was a big responsibility. He was getting ahead of himself. And either way, they still needed to do something regardless of the outcome.
"There are a lot of them. I was attacked by at least ten. I suspect there are more. The two of us can't possibly take them on alone. We need help."
The lion paced back and forth, thinking, searching his memory for anyone who could help. Panya, the mouse he met before, was certainly in support of their cause. Perhaps, if they could gain the trust of other residents, they might have a chance. The hard part would be getting past their fear and convincing them that their cause was worth fighting for. And if they were lucky... Zoba thought about his brother. With newfound purpose, Zoba strode back to the tree he slept under the night before. The vultures had gone already. It was just the two of them next to this solitary tree in the savannah. Surrounding the savannah were more trees, spaced apart enough to see through.
"We need to recruit the help of the locals here. This is their land and if we can convince them to fight for it, we can win." Turning to the tree, Zoba unsheathed his claws and drew them down the trunk, leaving four distinct marks. This is the mark of our territory. This savannah is ours. He paused, letting the moment take hold. There was a certain empowerment that came with claiming territory. "Our next step is to make friends." Zoba smiled. "And I think I know where to start."
Kela gave a small sigh and laid at the base of the tree. "I'm not much of a leader, Zoba. But I'll help in anyway I can. I'll trust you."
Then, she stands up and walks around to her companion and nudges his shoulder with her the top of her head. "For now, we need rest. Especially you. You're still injured, and I don't think the animals would be too keen on following an injured king."
"I'm not much of a leader, Zoba. But I'll help in anyway I can. I'll trust you."
"Hey. Neither am I." He said softly and reassuringly as she got up and approached him. "Who says we have to stick around after everything is done? We'll see what happens."
Her nudge was met with the same as she spoke to him again. "For now, we need rest. Especially you. You're still injured, and I don't think the animals would be too keen on following an injured king."
King. Now there's a word that Zoba wasn't used to being called. She was right though. He was still pretty weak. The sun would be setting soon. "You're right." He said with a sigh. "But in the meantime, we need to find a safe place to rest. We'd be easily spotted out here."
"A rock formation sounds perfect! Lead the way." Once again, Zoba was glad to have a companion right now. As she lead him to the rocks, he kept his head on a swivvel and his ears ready to detect any sign of hyena activity.
"Here it is. What do you think?"
The rock formation she had lead him to consisted of many large boulders. There were some spaces in between where one could hide and the trees surrounding it provided extra camoflauge.
"It's perfect!" Zoba said excitedly. The sun was just barely hidden behind the western horrizon and stars began to twinkle in the eastern as a cold wind blew in. With a bit of haste, Zoba climbed over a few boulders to find a good spot to lay himself down. Once he had found a spot, he lowered himself with a grunt. He was still sore but he was able to ignore the pain until now. Zoba sighed as he closed his eyes.
She hops on a flat boulder and lays across it, then rolls over to get a bit more comfortable, but to no avail. Glancing over at Zoba, she stands up and leaps gracefully from her boulder and onto his. Then, lays down and curls into his much larger form. "If I hear a single complaint, it will be ignored." Kela mutters loud enough for him to possibly hear, then closes her eyes.
"We should be carful." Zoba said looking at Kela as she stood up.
"Any idea where it's coming from?"
"I think so. I think it's coming from the tree I marked earlier. Looks like we have our first challenger." Zoba hopped down off the rock and into the grass and snuck through the bushes until he was on the edge of the savannah.
Sure enough, there were four hyenas by the tree. They had obviously seen the mark he made.
Kela had to refrain from charging to attack the hyenas when she sees them as she follows Zoba. "Stupid hyenas. Make me sick." She mutters under her breath.
"What do you lowlife scavengers want?" She asks, as soon as they we close enough to the hyenas.
One of the hyenas, whom was obviously in charge of the small group, scowl and levels the two lions with a warning look. "Listen up, lions." He spats. "You don't want to mess with Genan, so forget about this whole 'conquering our territory'." He laughs almost mockingly as he gestures to Zoba's claw marks. "You're out of league. Leave while you still have all for legs to help you."