“Wake up Nala,” Simba whispered.
“Hmm?” said Nala, lifting her head.
“Come on.” He gestured his head towards the exit of the cave. “Time to get up. Let’s go.”
Nala yawned and then hurried to her feet as she realized that Simba was already halfway towards the cave exit.
“It can’t be almost dawn?” she asked observing her own tiredness, the blackness outside and the conked-out lionesses scattered around the cave.
“Then why are we up…” she yawned “… so… early?”
Simba stopped and turned towards her as the couple exited the cave. Even in the dark, Nala could tell he was smiling. “Because…” began Simba “… we’re going to see Bwana Zungumza.”
Nala’s eyes grew wide. “Bwana Zungumza? Th-the real Bwana Zungumza?”
“Mm-hmm,” replied Simba, nodding.
“Oh goodness,” replied Nala, looking down at the ground.
“What?” asked Simba, chuckling.
“I – I’ve never met a Bwana before.”
“You’re forgetting something,” replied Simba, as coolly as ever.
“That theoretically, I’m ranked higher than him?” she asked, looking back up at her mate.
“That’s right. Nice choice of words, by the way.”
Nala looked at him, seriously: “I’m gonna bow.”
“Oh yeah – I am too. If not out of respect, gratefulness.”
Nala kept on nodding in agreement through Simba’s piece up until he said ‘gratefulness.’
Nala looked at him completely bewildered. “Grate-ful-ness?”
Simba held his smile. “Where do you think it’s gonna be held?”
Nala’s lower jaw dropped. “You’re kidding?” she asked in barely a whisper.
Simba shook his head ‘no,’ still smiling.
“Simba…” began Nala as she stuttered, “…I…I can’t do this!”
“Why not? I thought you loved the Siku Choka?”
“I adore the Siku Choka, Simba. Mom’s taken me to watch it every, single year that I can remember.” She then sighed. “I just…” she shrugged “…don’t think I’m up to it.” She looked at Simba and then went on: “I’m gonna have to do all those speeches in front of all those lions, it’s gonna require a ton of organization, time, the hunting party needs me…”
“Nala…Nala…” said Simba reassuringly, placing his paw on her shoulder and looking her in the eye, “…breathe.”
Nala did so. “I’m sorry Simba. You know I’m not normally like this.”
“I know,” replied Simba calmly. “You only get to live once, Nala. Would you feel happy dying knowing you hadn’t done this?”
Nala shook her head ‘no.’
“Then it’s settled,” said Simba. He licked her on the cheek and Nala delivered a weak smile. “Come on,” he said, turning back in the direction of the savannah, “let’s not keep Bwana Zungumza wai…argh!”
“No – N – N – No – Nala!” Simba shouted while laughing, and trying to stop his mate from washing his face all over, even from his pinned down position. Nala stopped, beaming down at him.
“Hmm…” said Simba, thinking, “…I think I preferred the first way you told me.”
“The licking? Ha!” she said, throwing her head back. “That wasn’t a thank you…I just felt like doing that.”
“Why the sudden change of mind?”
“Bwana Zungumza,” addressed the male cheetah, walking into the cave, “we have sixteen competitors, correct?”
“Correct,” replied the tawny, old lion, checking the tally he’d made on the rock wall.
“How many herds are we going to have to rally into the Pridelands?”
“I’m hoping none, but that is on the top of the list of things I want to find out today. When should their king and queen be here?”
“Soon. They left before dawn.”
Zungumza sighed. “Alright, wanna kill time?”
The cheetah sat. “Okay. What are your plans?”
“Let’s go through the names of the sixteen competitors once again. We’ll need to have them memorized by Siku Choka.”
“I know, I know. Well there’s Uku.”
“I still can’t believe that. She’s sixteen! She hasn’t been in anything like this for years!”
“She was great back in the day. I’m willing to bet that she’s still got it in her.”
“I dunno Bwana; it will be interesting seeing her up against Guvu. He’s won the last two in a row.”
“Hey, providing it’s not Wamariri…well…”
The cheetah rolled his eyes while letting out a sigh. “Nobody likes Wamariri.”
“And why should they? She’s been in the Siku Choka for the last four years and five lionesses and one lion have already died because of her antics out there,” explained Zungumza, anger picking up in his voice as he went along.
“I know Bwana. And there’s nothing we can do about it?”
The lion looked down at the floor. “I’m afraid not.”
“Hmm,” replied the cheetah, disappointed. He made eye contact with Zungumza again. “Do we have a nyimbas?”
Zungumza lifted his head back up and nodded.
Zungumza patted hard on the floor with his foot as he tried to remember it. “Come on…I should know this.”
Meanwhile, however, the cheetah had turned his head back towards the exit of the cave. He thought he could hear a couple of creatures approaching.
“Give me a minute Bwana,” he said, “this might be them,” and with that he walked out.
Bwana Zungumza stopped thinking and instead decided to get to his feet; ready in expectation for the king and queen of the Pridelands to walk in. He looked up the rocky pathway which rolled upwards up until the point it became a dirt path outside his cave, and then there was the backdrop of the blue sky behind it. A male and a female lion’s face though soon began to obstruct that view.
Bwana Zungumza began to position himself so that it would make it easy for him to bow once the couple had approached him… but the king and queen had already thought ahead. One pace before the recommended pacing distance for bowing of four paces was reached, they both stooped to the ground, which resulted in Bwana Zungumza letting out a fairly amused smile.
“Thank you,” he said as the king and queen picked themselves back up, “that’s not the first time I’ve had a couple do that for me.”
“Bwana Zungumza,” began Nala, in a voice that was a lot quicker and shakier than what was normal for her, “you do not know how much this means this to me. I have been to every, single Siku Choka for as long as I can remember and it is an utter privilege for us to be able to do this. Thank you.”
Bwana Zungumza smiled and then shifted his focus back in Simba’s direction.
“Try and top that,” he said challengingly, which made Simba grin as he watched his mate look down nervously at the ground.
Simba stuck his paw out. “How about this: I’m Simba, king of the Pridelands.” Bwana Zungumza shook his paw.
“And I’m Nala, queen of the Pridelands,” she said, holding out her paw. Bwana Zungumza picked her paw up at kissed it gently with his lips, which sent a shudder running down Nala’s spine. She retrieved her paw once he’d let go, still looking on in disbelief at the events that were occurring.
The cheetah made his way back inside from the cave exit that was behind Simba and Nala.
“Ah,” began Bwana Zungumza, signaling behind the king and queen who both turned around, “this is Kanafa; he’s second in command to me. Great help, great help.”
“Thank you Bwana,” said the cheetah, as he made his way around Nala to sit down next to Zungumza. Nala watched him as he walked on by her, and Simba could tell that this was making her more disconnected than he had ever seen her before.
Kanafa took his spot, and then Bwana Zungumza decided to get down to business.
“Okay, first things first,” he began, “Simba, do you know approximately how many herds there are within your lands?”
“Eh… let’s see…” said Simba as he went into a bunch of mathematical mumbles that only he and Nala could hear.
While he was calculating, Nala turned back towards the two organizers. “How many competitors are there this year?”
“Sixteen,” replied Kanafa.
Nala gasped. “Did Uku decide to return?” she asked excitedly.
“Yes,” replied Kanafa again.
“Oh my goodness,” began Nala, “it’s all shaping up this year, isn’t it? Bwana, this is your tenth year as an organizer, this is the twenty-fifth running, Guvu is trying to be the first to go for three in a row, and now Uku is coming back… and it’s all going to be taking place in the Pridelands!”
“Nala,” addressed Simba calmly.
“Oh…” said Nala, turning and blushing, “… sorry Simba.”
Simba smiled and then turned his attention back towards the two organizers. “At any given time, I believe we have thirty proper-sized herds,” he answered.
“Sounds good,” replied Bwana Zungumza. “Anyway, so the Siku Choka should be beginning in six days. Before then we’re going to need to spread the word, rally the herds, and prepare a track. You’re going to have to give some members of your pride roles, ‘cos you better bet we’re gonna need them and eh… we should be good from there. Are you both fine with this?”
“Yes,” Simba replied, “now rallying the herds, that’s one of the last things we do, correct?”
“Yes,” replied Bwana Zungumza, “however, you’re going to need to think of how you’re going to do it. Also, be sure that your pride doesn’t go on a hunting frenzy before the Siku Choka, just to be safe.”
“Sounds good,” said Simba, wrapping up the conversation. “Ready Nala?” he asked.
Nala gave a quick nod; deciding that this time it was better to keep her mouth closed.
“Alright,” said Bwana Zungumza, “guess we’ll see each other again in six days. Keep sending me messages from that little bird of yours, I’ll just want to be sure that things are still flowing smoothly.”
Simba nodded. “Will do.” He turned to his mate. “Come on Nala, let’s go.”
Scrabbling at the dirt, the gopher was soon able to claw through the final few crumbs to where he was in the position of being able to see the dimly lit red and purple sky in the background behind the hornbill of which had called for him.
“Zazu sire,” he addressed, saluting.
Zazu returned the salute. “Good evening gopher. Just checking in to ensure that Winda had got the word.”
“Yes indeed sire, she has.”
“What would you like me to do now, sire?”
“Go rest. I do not have any more information on what we should do at this point and time, but I have no idea how hectic it could get tomorrow.”
“Yes sir, thank you,” said the gopher, before popping one final, unreturned salute before ducking back into his hole and scurrying off.
Zazu stood, thinking to himself on what to do next with his wings crossed. He looked down at the floor below him. Something wasn’t right. The stones were moving up and down and making clattery noises. He could hear a low rumble now, approaching him from behind. He turned around and his eyes grew wide as he watched a herd of zebra galloping, now within a few feet of him. Zazu ducked and covered his head with his wings, and soon he was engulfed in dust as the thunderous sound of hooves tromped around him.
The sounds and the rumbling soon began to die, and Zazu was finally able to peek one of his eyes above his wing, as he watched the herd run off into the distance. They had gone.
“Hmph,” said Zazu, crossing his wings back over, “nobody should be hunting this late, especially this close to the Siku Choka. Now I wonder if I should inform Simba. Well, I’m going to see Bwana Zungumza anyways,” he finished off, stretching his wings out, “maybe I could ask him,” he said as he flew off.
Nala stood on the ledge of Pride Rock, surveying the lands. She was looking for any signs of a silhouette’s movement. But when dealing with Rafiki, one could never be sure when, how, and where he would approach from. For that one reason, she’d been sure to take a step back from the very ledge as she tried to soak in all that had taken place within the time between when she woke up and now. She had already pinched herself several times this day to ensure that she wasn’t dreaming. She couldn’t believe it! Never, in her wildest dreams, could have she ever imagined being that close to Bwana Zungumza and Kanafa the cheetah. They were legends. But what’s more, she was soon bound to be introduced to Guvu and even Uku. She had only ever met the two-time champion Juni in the past, and that was when she was with her mother and she was just a cub. Needless to say, Nala had a hard time remembering it.
Nala rattled her brains trying to remember if Juni still raced, but she didn’t think that she did. Still, Uku was coming back; there was no reason Juni couldn’t too.
“Nala,” called Rafiki from behind her. Nala jumped a slight bit, and then turned around already knowing it was Rafiki behind her, while she congratulated herself on taking a step back from the precipice.
“Hi Rafiki,” she called, as she walked up to him. “Well, what’s the news?”
“Should be wet in five days, sunny for de Siku Choka.”
Nala sighed out of relief. “Perfect,” and then she went back into her fantastical planning trance: “Okay, so here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna try and keep that tiny waterhole next to the eastern border as clean as possible. When the rains come, we’re going to send Timon and Pumbaa down to the jungle towards the south of us, and they’ll collect as much rainberries as possible. We can even send a couple more down with them. We’ll place the rainberries in the eastern waterhole and they should all soften up in the water, and then we’ll be able to serve them to the spectators during the event. We’ll have a couple of creatures take turns in fetching the rainberries from the waterhole, to the track, during the event and then they should stay fresh throughout. Sound good?”
“Nala, I’m sure you know soft rain…”
“Yes, they do make you drunk, but the Siku Choka only comes once a year. I’m sure that the spectators will be reasonable; I’ve seen soft rainberries at this event before.”
“Alright well, thank you Rafiki. I guess I’ll let you get on now.”
“Okay, been a pleasure Nala,” said Rafiki, beginning to walk away with his stick, “see you tomorrow.”
“See you,” replied Nala, still smiling as she watched him walk off.
“So Shairi and Winda have been informed?” Kanafa asked Zazu as they sat outside Bwana Zungumza’s cave.
“Okay, so that makes eleven of the sixteen who should now know all of the details. Um…I think you might want to inform Juni, she lives in the first pride down from yours if you fly southeast and um… Rakusa is the King of that pride, so you’ll need to inform him too.”
Zazu saluted and said: “Will do, sire,” but as he turned around and opened his wings to fly off, he remembered something. “Oh…” he said, turning back to face Kanafa, “… one slight problem. Someone must have charged a herd of zebra earlier in our lands, is that allowed?”
“It wasn’t the hunting party?” asked Kanafa, wearing a frown.
Kanafa then raised his eyebrows as he worked it out. “Oh… oh… no, it’s okay Zazu. Don’t worry about it.”
Now it was Zazu’s turn to feel confused. “Why not?”
“It was just the nyimbas.”
“Ooh – a grub!” exclaimed Pumbaa, looking down at a purple insect on the brown, dirt path. He slurped it up. Looking back down at the floor in front of him however, he also found another bug: red this time.
“Ooh – a grub!” exclaimed Pumbaa, making his way over to slurp the red beetle up. He then looked back in front of him and gasped.
“Ooh – a grub!” he exclaimed, as he made his way over to a blue one, who had been basking himself on the ground in the heat of the African sun.
“Ooh – a grub!” This time, a green one.
“Ooh – a grub!” Yellow.
“Ooh – a grub!” Orange.
Slowly but surely, Pumbaa was being lured into a trap as he followed the path of grubs, slurping them all up as he went along, until soon he was covered over by a shadow as he unknowingly entered the back den of Pride Rock.
Finally, Pumbaa took a deep inhale as he looked on, glorified at having seen so many bugs in one big pile in front of him.
He sprung over to it and started slurping them all up. Sometimes one at a time, sometimes more.
“They’re nice, aren’t they Pumbaa?” asked Timon, approaching him from the side and then putting his arm out, as he used it to lean on the side of Pumbaa.
“Mm – hmm!” replied Pumbaa, slurping up a nice, tasty, light pink worm.
“Pumbaa, haven’t you realized something odd?” asked Timon.
“Uh…” thought Pumbaa, looking up at the ceiling. He looked back down at his friend with the answer, “that all these bugs have been slimy, not crunchy?”
“Hmm…” said Timon “… close. Try a little harder.”
Pumbaa looked around the back den. Everywhere, there were other meerkats picking out bugs from the cracks in the walls and the floor of the back den; this room had been deserted for quite a while.
Pumbaa gasped, and then looked back down at his friend in shock. “Timon! We’re forbidden to eat the bugs from the back den!”
“Not anymore!” replied Timon, enthusiastically.
“Well… why not?” asked Pumbaa, bewildered.
“Nala gave the whole colony permission to eat in this back den… at she let me invite you into it as well!”
“Why would she do something like that?”
“Isn’t it beautiful?” asked Nala. She sniffed.
Simba looked down the hill in front of him. Between the hill they were standing on; the hill opposite them, across in the distance; the hill on the left and the hill on the right, all of which were slowly rolling and no higher than the tips of the trees that were on the flat ground around them, there was now a dug out oval. Twenty lions standing head to tail could easily fill the width of the track, and it was overall a mile and a half in length. It was designed like a ditch, banked upwards at the sides so that none of the prey would think about running out of the track, into the infield or into the spectators. There was also a strip of dirt that had been created halfway down one of the straight-aways just off into the infield, and a smaller one just across from it on the outside. The straights were perfectly straight, and the two turns were complete, wide, 180’s, banked to the outside a little extra to stop the prey from running out.
“And the meerkats did all this,” said Simba, stunned, already having been told the full story by Nala.
Nala sighed. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” she said.
“You know it’s supposed to rain tonight?” asked Simba. They still had three days until the Siku Choka.
“Really?” asked Nala, turning to face him. Her face lit up. “That’s great! We can send Timon and Pumbaa down to grab some rainberries. I’m sure they should know what they look like; they’ve lived in a jungle before.”
“So have I and I never…”
“However, we can’t do the paw print ceremony just yet; we can only do that when the last rains come.”
“Nala, can you slow down a little bit. You’ve lost me.”
“Okay, look,” said Nala, slowing down, “rainberries are berries that grow just after a downpour. They are about the size of plums and they are either yellow or orange. We want them to be yellow, they are the soft rainberries. They are translucent and you can see the black pips in them, which are about the size of a small grape. However, we’ll want some of the orange rainberries as well, they’re the hard rainberries. We’re going to soak them in the eastern waterhole and by the time of the Siku Choka they should be soft.”
“Okay, that sounds good, but you need to tell Timon and Pumbaa that, not me,” said Simba, chuckling as he finished.
Nala gasped. “You can go down with them!”
“Go on Simba, it’ll give you something to do.”
“Nala. I’m still king, don’t forget that.”
“And I’m queen. I’ll stay up all night if I have to.”
Simba sighed. “Alright, you obviously seem like you know what you’re doing.”
“Perfect,” replied Nala, “anyways,” she began, going on one of her fantastical trances again, “the paw print ceremony is when every competitor comes just after the last rains before the Siku Choka, and they place their paws in that strip of mud in the infield over there, while the mud is wet of course, and in the strip of mud there opposite it on the outside. On the day of the Siku Choka, the competitors arrive and they place their paw in their paw print on that outside strip, and then we let them cross onto the track or into the infield so that they can size the prey up. The prey not on the track will also be in the infield. Nobody else is allowed within the oval though. With the strip on the inside though, there will be some creatures who will be keeping tally of how much points each competitor has. We put them in the infield because it’s less dangerous. Is that enough information for now?” she asked, looking back and smiling at a thoroughly overwhelmed Simba.
“Uh… yeah… maybe a little too much to be honest.”
Nala smiled. “Don’t worry; it’ll all make sense eventually.”
It was really raining. It was really dark. As a result, the only way in which Kanafa the cheetah could tell that Zazu was approaching, was by listening to the sound of his wings moving against the air. Once Zazu had less than a hundred droplets of rain separating him from the cheetah however, it became clear enough for them to see each other through eyesight. Zazu bowed down as soon as he had landed.
“Good evening sire,” he said, as he returned to his normal posture, minus the fact that he was covering himself with one of his wings to keep himself from getting wet.
“Good evening,” said Kanafa. “I hear these shouldn’t be the last rains?”
“That is correct, sire. Although mind me asking: why do you ask?”
“Bwana Zungumza and I will have to be at the track for when the final rains come. We will need to ensure that only the competitors place their paws on the strips during the paw print ceremony.”
“Ah yes, the paw print ceremony. I’ve been informed of that. Mind me asking, why so early? Why not at the time of the actual event?”
“Well besides the fact that it’s not going to rain at the actual event,” began Kanafa, which made Zazu’s self-esteem drop a bit as he realized that that hadn’t been a good question, “trust me, you don’t want us to be dealing with all this stuff at the time when the Siku Choka is about to begin. By doing it this way, we can have any trustworthy lion just stand at the entrance to the track and check each competitors paw print. I’m sure Bwana Zungumza will have more important things to occupy him on the actual day of the event. Anyways,” he said, making Zazu pick himself back up a bit, “were you able to get in contact with King Maneno today?”
“Yes sire, and as a result, I am pleased to announce that all sixteen competitors have been informed,” said Zazu, smiling.
“That’s wonderful news,” replied Kanafa, smiling too. “Okay, with two days left I guess that all you’ve gotta do is get stuff set up and find jobs for everyone. How’s that been going?”
“We have a party sent out tonight to collect some rainberries; we also have an organized system set up for them to carry them from the waterhole to the track. The track is complete and we’re just going to need some lions to agree to be the guards on the actual day. I believe you said that you had someone who was going to be keeping score?” Zazu asked.
Kanafa nodded. “Yes, we have our own professional team for that.”
“Excellent. We have a timekeeper as well, and we have been able to get most of the hunting party to agree to rally the herds on the morning of the Siku Choka. I think that should take care of pretty much everything.”
“It should,” replied Kanafa.
“Well,” said Zazu, shaking the water off of his wings to lighten them for flight, “I guess I’ll see you in two days.”
“Sounds good,” replied Kanafa as Zazu bowed. “Have a safe flight,” he finished off, as Zazu took to the rainy night sky.
“Simba?” asked Nala, watching her mate take place next to her in their sleeping spot. “Where have you been?”
“Collecting rainberries, like you told us to,” he replied, laying his head down to rest.
Nala glared. “You were playing, weren’t you?”
“How?” asked Simba.
“Soft rainberries. You squirt them and they fire a seed out,” said Nala in a lighter tone.
“Yes they do,” replied Simba with his eyes shut still.
Nala smiled. “Thank you Simba. You’ve all been working very hard for this.”
“Mm,” replied Simba wheezy. Nala licked him on the cheek, and then watched as he let loose a smile.
Nala laid her head back down to rest, smiling like him. All was going to plan.
Nala turned her head over, opening her eyes so that she could see her mate. “Yes, Simba?”
“Why aren’t you out there with the hunting party?”
Nala frowned. “I didn’t know they’d been sent out. I thought I saw them all in here,” she said, referring to their cave.
“Oh,” replied Simba. “Well… I guess it could have been a number of things,” he said.
“For making that zebra herd charge.”
Nala looked on in bewilderment. Simba lifted his eyelids and then chuckled lightly at her expression.
“Don’t worry about it Nala, go back to sleep.”
Simba closed his eyelids. Nala hesitated, but then decided it was best too.
“We’ll have to do a recount tomorrow,” she whispered.
“Okay,” Simba replied. “Sweet dreams.”
Nala sighed. “You too.”
Everything was a blur. She was beginning to feel claustrophobic, surrounded. The young lioness made her way through the elder lionesses mobile legs, growing up to the heavens around her like large trees. It was daylight up there, but down where she was it was all dark. The shade was completely covering her. She finally made her way onto a small patch of grass where, for a moment, the legs had stopped moving.
“Mom!” she called, but there came no immediate answer.
Several seconds later, however: “Nala!”
The young lioness moved her head over to the left and let out a giant grin. Waving her paw from the other side of just a few more sets of lioness legs was her mother.
Sarafina was trying to peak her head under all the other lionesses while she kept her daughter in sight. Nala was quickly making ground, springing over all of the lionesses paws until she finally made it to her beloved mother, and she could hug her leg. Sarafina crouched down and placed her paw around her daughter.
“Mom… I thought I’d lost you,” said Nala, staring up at her lovingly with her wide, green eyes.
“Aw…” replied Sarafina, looking back at her, “… I would never lose you Nala. Look Nala, look I’ve found here. This is Juni. She won the Siku Choka last year.”
Nala looked up at the towering lioness that was looking down at her from above her. Nala thought she kind of looked like her mother’s friend, Sarabi, only this lioness looked a bit younger, and she had green eyes.
“But mom…” asked Nala, confused, “… I thought this was the Siku Choka, today?”
“There’s one every year, sweetie.”
This just made Nala frown even more. “I don’t get it.”
The two lionesses above her just chuckled.
“Never mind,” said Sarafina. “Nala, aren’t you going to say ‘hi’ to Juni?”
“Hi Juni,” Nala said, quickly looking at and then retracting her glance from this new, unfamiliar face.
Juni crouched down. “Hi Nala,” she said, “you going to be cheering for me today?”
Nala finally got the idea. “Wait… you’re in the Siku Choka?”
“Mm hmm,” replied Juni, “my, you’re certainly smart, aren’t you?”
Nala took a step back, not really wanting to get too friendly with this lioness of whom she hadn’t met before.
Juni raised herself back up. “Well Sarafina, it was lovely speaking to you. I best be getting to the track now,” she said.
Nala watched the scene run itself as the new lioness and her mother bade each other goodbye, and then finally Juni made her way off into the distance, and Nala made a few steps forward until she was back standing with her mom.
“Nala,” began Sarafina, still watching as Juni walked off, “I’m going to tell you something, and I’ll want you to remind me that I said this in the future,” she said, looking back down at her daughter.
“Okay,” Nala replied, not really sure what was in store.
“You are about to get walloped by a giant rainberry seed.”
Now Nala was completely confused.
“Hahaha!” began Timon, as he fell to the floor laughing.
Nala lifted her head up off of her bed and looked around. Just a few paces away from her, Pumbaa was chucking a yellow, seedless rainberry into his mouth whilst Timon was just cracking up on the floor.
“Ah…” he said, getting up, “… sorry Nala, we just wanted to mess with your mind.”
“Hmph,” Nala said, as she laid her head back down to sleep. She peeked as Timon and Pumbaa wandered off though, both still laughing, until she finally lowered her eyelid back down, saw the humor in it, and smiled.
“Nants ingonyama bagithi, baba!”
“Argh! What was that for, Rafiki?”
“Dis is your wake up call!”
All throughout the cave, deafened pride members were trying to relax and get that ringing out of their ears. The cave was full now of stretching, yawning, and whining and wheezing as they all tried to make their way through the displeasure of having being woken up so early.
That was all of course, except for…
“Today is the Siku Choka!” shouted Nala, standing up alert on all four paws. She then began prancing around while chanting: “Today is the Siku Choka! Today is the Siku Choka! Oh Simba, isn’t this great?”
Simba yawned and then laid his head back down. “Sure is,” he said smiling, “just, give me a couple more minutes.”
“Simba,” said Nala, walking up to her mate, still smiling, “I didn’t tell Rafiki to wake us up at the crack of dawn, I told him to wake us up when the first wave of lions were arriving.”
Simba opened his eyes. “Oh…” he said. He got up. “Well, I guess that changed everything,” he added, before letting out a stretch and a yawn.
“Come on, Simba – we need to get down to the track!” exclaimed Nala, as happy as a cub about to go on vacation.
“I know, I know,” said Simba, beginning to move off, stretching his hind legs as he did so, “just don’t keep asking me ‘are we there yet?’ while we’re on our way.”
Nala chuckled. “Don’t worry Simba, I won’t.”
Zazu hovered over the first wave, looking for a male lion, of which might have a chance of being the king. He was hovering because it was still early morning, and whereas the temperature was great for any creature to just stay still, it was rather chilly to be flying. Flying was best left for in the heat of the day, when the wind would be a relief from the sun’s rays.
Finally, Zazu was able to find a male lion right below him, and so he took off in a dive until he was level with his shoulder.
“Good morning, sire,” said Zazu, landing on the ground as the lion stopped moving.
“Good morning,” he replied.
“Is this whole wave your pride?” asked Zazu, signaling to the mass of lionesses that were either walking on by them, or had stopped to see what was taking place.
“Why, yes it is,” replied the lion. “I’m King Machi from the Savannahland Pride.”
“Ah yes,” said Zazu, “the Savannahland Pride, I’ve heard of that before. Now, do you any competitors from the Savannahland Pride?”
“We do,” replied Machi, “but she’s still at home, sleeping. We left one of her friends with her too, so she’ll be there to wake her up when it’s time to go.”
“Okay, and which competitor is this?” asked Zazu.
“Anzi, it’s her first time,” replied Machi.
“Ah, well, good luck to her. Anyways, the track is just over there to the left, you can sit on any one of the four hills and we should be bringing soft rainberries to and from the track throughout the day. Until then, treat this land like it was your own, you are entitled to most of the rights and privileges of it as any of our pride members are…” Zazu didn’t like that line “… but apart from that, just remember that King Simba is your king.”
“Sounds good,” replied Machi. “Alright, you heard him,” he said, raising his voice so that every member of his pride could hear him, “let’s go sit up on that hill over there,” he finished off.
Zazu watched them as they all turned and headed off into the direction of where Machi had just pointed. Then, he turned back and noticed that a second wave was approaching from just over the horizon. He took off and got ready to deal with them too.
Rafiki plopped his stick into the soft muddy spot. He jogged it back and forth, trying to ensure that it was in a solid position for the rest of this day and half of the next.
“That looks good,” said Bwana Zungumza.
“Yes, dat should hold it,” agreed Rafiki, slowly letting go of it and letting it stand on its own.
“So how does dis work?” he asked.
“Right, well it’s quite simple really. You said that around midday, from this spot, there should be no shadows, correct?”
“Dat is true.”
“Well we’re going to want you to signal to us when there is no shadow from this stick today, and then we’ll start the Siku Choka. Around midday tomorrow, there should be no shadow then too. Thus, we end the race when there is no shadow, and then that ensures that the whole competition lasts for exactly a day.”
“Ah,” said Rafiki, “lucky it shouldn’t be cloudy tomorrow den.”
“True, but even if it was, we have a system set up for that too.”
“You’ve been doing dis for a while, haven’t you?” asked Rafiki.
“Ten years,” replied Bwana Zungumza.
The two were standing just beyond two of the hills that surrounded the track. The ground was flat in between them, and thus it would be easy for Bwana Zungumza to see Rafiki’s signal to start the event.
“Well,” said Zungumza, “as you can see, the shadow is long now so we can leave it for a while. Come on, let’s get down to the track.”
Kanafa the cheetah led a group of seventeen across the track and into the infield. The group consisted of cheetahs just like him, a few lionesses, a couple of mandrills, two leopards, four of the meerkats from the meerkat colony, and of course, a very curious and excited Nala.
“Alright,” said Kanafa, as he stood a couple of paces back from the inside strip of paw prints, “each of you, choose a paw print,” he commanded, now sitting down. Nala watched as the creatures each took a seat behind one of the paw prints. She regretted the fact that she had been tired last night, she’d missed a great opportunity to get to meet all of the competitors, but then again, at least she’d volunteered to be one of the ones guarding the entrance to the track before the event: she’d get to meet all of them then.
“Okay,” said Kanafa as the last creature settled down into his spot, “here’s how it works. Each competitor will come up to you later and place their paw in their paw print in front of you. You will need to remember his or her face, because for the next day you will be tallying all of their points. You won’t be able to sleep; we don’t have enough of you to be able to take shifts so I hope you all got a good sleep last night. That being said, if your competitor falls out and is unable to continue, then you may do whatever you want: join the crowd, sleep in infield, it’s up to you. Now the points work this way. Each time your competitor crosses that line, that means they completed a lap,” Kanafa was signaling to a line on the straight part of the track, right in front of them, which had been marked where someone had dragged their finger across the track, “when that happens, you give them a point. I trust you all know how to do tallies by now?” he asked. The sixteen scorekeepers nodded. “Excellent. Now, you’re going to have to keep an eye on your competitor the whole lap because if they bring a prey down, you give them ten points. Any questions, ask me or Bwana Zungumza. For example, if two lionesses jump at a piece of prey at the same time and it comes down, and neither of you know who was the one who actually brought it down, come up to me or Bwana Zungumza and we’ll tell you what the official declaration is. We’ll have volunteers scattered all around the track to tell us what they see, and they’re going to be who our decisions go off of. Is that clear, everyone?” he asked. The sixteen creatures nodded, while Nala was just standing back grinning, amazed by all the organization that went into one of these events.
“Alright,” said Kanafa, getting up, “I recommend you all get some sleep now. You’ll need it. And enjoy! You’ve got front row seats, and you should all be quite safe here. I know quite a few animals who would give anything to be in your position,” he finished off. Nala raised her paw. Kanafa saw her and chuckled. “Oh no, now you Nala,” he said, walking over to her, “now I know you’ll love this job,” he said, leading her back across the track.
“Rakusa!” exclaimed Zazu, flying down to greet him. He was okay flying now, it was finally starting to warm up a bit. “Sire,” he said as he landed, “you are the first competitor to have arrived.” He bowed to show his appreciation towards this lion who was soon going to be risking life and limb.
“Thank you,” replied Rakusa, responding to his bow, “I’m afraid Juni is not here yet though, she wants to just sleep in a little longer.”
“Oh, I am sure,” replied Zazu. “How many has she been in?”
“She’s been in the last six,” said Rakusa, “we’re all very proud of her. She won her second and third times out.”
“So I’ve heard,” replied Zazu. “How many have you been in?”
“This is my second. I did it two years ago and decided that I’ll do it again today.”
“What about last year?”
“Tough times,” replied Rakusa, not really wanting to go into detail.
“Oh,” replied Zazu, deciding also that this was a good place to end the conversation, “okay, well, the track is just over there, to your left, between those two hills. You should know where to go from there,” he ended.
“Thank you,” said Rakusa, “bye…?”
“Zazu. Have fun, you’re doing a good job,” said Rakusa before walking off with the rest of his pride. Zazu was quite chuffed. It wasn’t often that anyone congratulated him on his good works. He spread out his wings and then took off again, with newfound confidence.
“I tell ya Pumbaa, this stinks,” said Timon, sitting down on a rock next to the small waterhole, bored out of his skull.
“Too true,” replied Pumbaa, also just lying down on the ground. There were no bugs around; just a ton of rainberries soaking in the waterhole.
“What are you guys doing?”
The question slightly startled the two, who snapped their necks to the left to see who had just questioned them. It was Kanafa the cheetah walking up.
“I thought we didn’t have to start bringing the rainberries until…” Timon began, but he was interrupted.
“No, you don’t, but not all the audience members like their rainberries with seeds in them.” He smiled, and then turned back around and began to walk off. “I’ll come back when it’s time for you to start bringing them,” he finished off.
Timon and Pumbaa watched him go off. They were also trying to make sense of what he had just said.
There was more than just one wave of lions entering the Pridelands now. There were many waves, and they were more than just lions. Ostriches, cheetahs, leopards, and even some rhinos were making their way towards the track for the Siku Choka. The sun was really high now, and so was Zazu. He had to fly high so that he could signal out the lions from the other animals better than what he could from the ground. He couldn’t spot any lions though right now, apart from those who were Pridelanders who were out in the distance trying to rally some herds towards the infield. Within all the masses though, Zazu could make out a solitary, dark lioness making her way towards the track. Since there were no other prides approaching, Zazu decided it was best to go down and see what this lioness wanted.
“Good morning, Madam,” he said, landing and bowing down right in front of her.
The brown-backed, dark yellow-bellied lioness looked down at him in disgust. “Hello,” she said, before walking on, obviously wanting to mind her own business.
Zazu was disgusted with her too. Who was she to think that she could just pass on by him like that? She had no sense of respect! He spread his wings out and fluttered on until he was flying right next to her face. “Excuse me Madam,” he asked, trying to contain his anger whilst his wings brushed against her bent and twisted whiskers, “I need to know if you’re a competitor? Are you with a pride?” he asked, trying to keep up with her.
“Yes to your first question; no to your second,” she answered, “my pride does not appreciate the job I do,” she added.
“Ah, well I’m sorry to hear that,” replied Zazu, though he realistically didn’t feel any sympathy for her. “What is your name?” he asked.
Zazu gulped. He’d heard of this lioness. He knew she spelt nothing but trouble. “Well Wamariri, I trust you know where you’re going…” he said, before he flew back up, without another word.
Wamariri just continued to walk on, as if nothing had ever happened.
Pumbaa grunted as he maneuvered himself behind a tree. He held three soft rainberries in his left paw as he leaned against the bark. He peaked his head around to the right, where the rainberry-filled waterhole was now visible to him. However, Timon: wasn’t.
“Hi Pumbaa.” He suddenly heard the high-pitched welcoming come from right in front of him. Pumbaa swung his head back around. There he was, with five rainberries ready to launch.
Timon threw them all down on the ground, and then got his arm and slammed it down on the five rainberries, sending their seeds all towards the cowering warthog by the tree. Pumbaa ducked, and they all missed him. He and Timon both watched as the five seeds flew by the tree and off into the distance. Pumbaa turned back, with a smug look on his face.
“AAaarrgghh!!” screamed Timon, as he hurried his way around the outside of Pumbaa in a giant circle. The first seed missed him by a step. The second by a hair. But Pumbaa took his time whilst setting up his third shot, and just as Timon was about to become safe from running back the other side of the tree, Pumbaa fired. Timon was hit square-on on the thighs, was sent sailing up through the air, and then landed down with a magnificent splash in the shallow waterhole.
Timon spat out some water, as Pumbaa approached him, grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Alright, alright, you won,” admitted Timon in defeat. “Throw the rainberries in here,” he said, and Pumbaa chucked the seedless, yellow fruits into the water.
Timon hurried to get out from the surrounding, slimy, yellow balls.
“Yuck,” Timon said, as he got out, “I feel all slimy. This is going to take ages to get rid of!”
“You should have thought about that before you decided to lose,” said Pumbaa.
Timon glared at him.
“Sorry,” said Pumbaa, looking back down at the ground.
“Hey guys,” called Kanafa from several paces away, “you might want to start bringing those now. It’s getting busy down there.”
Indeed, it was starting to get rather hot. If it wasn’t for the sliminess, Timon would have found himself feeling quite refreshed.
“Yes, sire,” he replied, saluting. Kanafa turned around and began to walk back to the track.
“Alright Pumbaa, you grab a handful of the seedless ones, I’ll grab a handful of the ones with seeds in them.”
“But Timon, I don’t have hands – I only have these hooves,” replied Pumbaa, concerned.
“Pumbaa,” said Timon, sighing, “remember how you got the rainberries here in the first place?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” replied Pumbaa, feeling slightly stupid. He walked up to a small shrub next to the waterhole and pulled out one of Rafiki’s smaller tortoise shells.
“Now you and I are going to fill this tortoise shell up with these soft rainberries. If I only put the ones with seeds in and you only put seedless ones in, we should end up with an equal amount,” explained Timon.
“Oh… I see,” replied Pumbaa.
“Now come on,” said Timon, picking up some rainberries and then placing all but one of them in the tortoise shell.
Pumbaa bent down to grab some seedless ones.
“OW!” he yelled.
Timon fell to ground in a fit of laughter. “Hahaha, ah – Pumbaa! You didn’t expect that, did you?” he asked, getting back up.
“Hmph,” Pumbaa replied, before picking one up with a seed in it and aiming and shooting at Timon. Timon moved to the side.
“Alright, let’s end this here,” he said as he watched the rainberry seed fly off. “Come on Pumbaa, we’ve got a job to do.”
It was starting to get really busy around the track now. Antelope, zebra, and even a couple of buffalo had already been brought to the infield. Nala and another lioness, a Siku Choka volunteer who had been appointed by Bwana Zungumza, were watching on with curiosity as they filled the infield with the prey. A couple of competitors had already gone into the infield: none of which Nala knew however.
“Why are they only bringing antelope, zebra, and buffalo?” wondered the other lioness aloud. She had not been to a Siku Choka before.
“Because,” replied Nala, “there can only be three preys on the track at the same time, so they try to keep it fair. At the start, there’s just one. Then once a certain amount of time has passed without a catch, they let out a second one. When a certain amount of time passes without one of the two prey out being caught and killed, they let out a third, and then it doesn’t go any higher or lower than that from then on.”
“So when one is caught, they let another out?”
“How will they know when it’s time to let out a second or a third?”
“We have a timekeeper. There’s a certain distance that, when the shadow of his stick travels without a catch, that’s when they’ll know to let an extra out.”
“So they’ve all got it pretty well worked out then?”
“Oh yeah,” replied Nala, “isn’t it fascinating?” she asked, looking the other lioness in the eye.
The other lioness didn’t really feel that that was the best word to describe it, but she just nodded anyways.
“Excuse me?” came a male’s voice from behind them.
The two lionesses turned around. Nala gasped.
“Guvu?” she asked.
“Yes Ma’am,” the lion replied.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed Nala. “Guvu, I am a huge fan. It would be a wonder if you could win today. Just think, your third consecutive victory taking place right here in the Pridelands…!”
“Nala,” said the other lioness calmly.
Nala looked down. Guvu had his paw place in his paw print. Nala looked up. He was smiling.
Nala rolled her eyes. “Go on,” she said, signaling him to go on by, “and good luck.”
“Thank you,” replied Guvu, “always nice to meet a fan.”
Nala blushed as she watched the lion walk on by. She almost felt as if he dwarfed her. He wasn’t a giant, but he was well built: rigid. His colors were much the same as Simba’s, although he was a bit darker, but not by much. Before Nala could spend anymore time admiring him though, a fairly familiar voice came from behind her.
“Nala,” it said.
Nala and the other lioness turned around.
“Oh, hi Mom,” she said.
“Hi,” replied Sarafina, “see you got yourself involved pretty well.”
Nala smiled. “Yeah, don’t worry though; I’ll be with you guys to watch the actual event.”
“Mm,” replied Sarafina. She sighed. “Nala, do you remember what I said the day we met Juni?”
Nala tried to reflect on it, but she couldn’t remember. She shook her head ‘no.’
Sarafina sighed again. “I do. I promised myself, that if ever the Siku Choka came to the Pridelands, I would be in it.”
“Oh,” replied Nala. Her mother looked painfully upset. She was looking down at the ground with her eyes half closed, not smiling. “Well, you know Mom, everyone breaks promises sometimes. Maybe it will come here next year?” she asked.
The lioness next to Nala watched the scene unfold, thoroughly confused. “Isn’t there a nyimbas in this field today?” she asked. “You know, a lioness from the Pridelands, where the competition is being held?”
Nala looked at her. “Not that I’ve heard,” she replied.
“Yes there is,” said Sarafina, still looking down at the ground, saddened. Although, there was a hint of a lighter tone in her voice…“Nala,” she addressed.
“Yes Mom?” asked Nala, butterflies starting to build in her stomach. She realized: something was happening…
Sarafina smiled. “I don’t break promises.” She slammed her paw down into her paw print. She met her daughter’s gaze. Sarafina was beaming. Nala was shocked. “Let me through Nala.”
“Shh, shh, shh,” whispered Simba to his mate, running his paw along her back. Nala was off-duty, lying on the ground just behind one of the hills, sobbing.
“I’m so sorry Simba,” she managed to get out; “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe how blind I was!”
“Aw, now come on Nala. Your mom’s happy; she’s been practicing very hard the last few days. She probably wouldn’t have had time to deal with anything else, anyways.”
“But this week was meant to be all about her!” exclaimed Nala. “I feel so bad for not having noticed this…I never even talked to her. I was so caught up in preparing for this event that I never, ever got to talk to her.”
“Well you did a fine job getting everything set up,” replied Simba, “I’m sure she’s proud of you for that.”
Nala shook her head. “What if something happens to her?” she asked, looking up at her mate seriously.
Simba’s comforting smile fell. “Is the Siku Choka really that dangerous?” he asked.
“YES!” replied Nala, taken aback that he could have even thought otherwise. “Simba, two out of the five competitors that enter never make it out alive, and usually the ones that do are the experienced ones. Mom’s a rookie!”
Simba could finally see what his mate was going through. “Well, look, Nala, she’ll be okay,” he said, trying to reassure her. “She’s a great huntress and I’m sure she’s more than prepared. But I can tell you one thing with certainty Nala,” he said, with a more serious shade of tone, “you’re less use to her out here sobbing than what you would be if you were in that crowd, cheering.”
Nala got the gist of what he was saying, and sniffed.
“Come on Nala, get up. They’re about to do the competitor introductions,” stated Simba. Nala knew he was right. She brushed off the last few tears with her arm, and then stood back up on her feet, making sure to nuzzle her mate once she had done so. “Let’s go,” said Simba.
“Excuse me sir,” said Timon, walking up to a standing Rhino next to the hillside, “would you care for some rainberries? Seedless or not?”
The rhino glared at him and then snorted at him through his nostrils.
Timon laughed lightly, while slowly taking a step back with the tortoise shell full of rainberries in his hand. “Or… maybe not,” he said nervously, “have a good day, sir.”
The rhino took a step forward, and then said, in a very angry voice: “I’m a woman.”
“Oh,” said Timon, “well then,” he said, holding the tortoise shell back in front of him. “Would Madam care for some rainberries?” he asked, faking a huge smile.
The rhino snorted at him again, which made Timon scream and run off, letting a couple of the rainberries fall off the sides of the tortoise shell as he did so.
“Does it work properly?” asked Kanafa the cheetah, looking down at the huge leaf that had been wrapped up to form the shape of a loudspeaker.
“Should do,” replied Bwana Zungumza. “If not, I’m sure we’ve got some spare time to fix up a new one.”
That sounded good enough for Kanafa. He reached down to pick it up.
The couple was standing in the infield, just to the side of the sixteen scorekeepers who were all waking up. Standing behind them were the sixteen lions and lionesses, all lined up in alphabetical order; ready to be introduced. Most of the infield however, was filled with antelope, zebra, and buffalo. All of which were spaced quite far away from the competitors. They did have a one and half mile perimeter to contain them all.
Each of the four hills surrounding the track were now crowded with lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, ostriches, meerkats, warthogs, and jackals. Between each hill in the corners stood the hippos, elephants, and giraffes that had come out to watch. The common prey, of which would be chased during the event, typically did not show up to watch the event, which to most was understandable.
“How is everybody feeling today?” asked Kanafa, as his voice boomed through the loudspeaker and echoed off of the atmosphere around them. The crowd cheered and Bwana Zungumza gave him the thumbs up.
“Alright, I know you’re all tired: probably travelled some distance to get here. Good news for you that this event starts in the day, most of the action will take place at night, now that’s when you’ve really got to be awake,” he advised. He had found himself in quite a comfortable position now: holding the loudspeaker with one of his paw while he used the other three to support him while sitting down. “Alright, well are you all ready to meet our competitors?” he asked. Once again, another loud cheer erupted from the crowd. “Well then… here… we go!”
Nala had returned to her normal self now. Once again, she had become quite excited about the event. She knew this meant a lot to her mom, and she was going to do her best to root her on for it. The fact of the matter was, of course, Nala knew that she wasn’t even going to have to try to be excited. Sitting next to her was Simba, while the rest of the pride sat a little ways behind them. In fact, Simba and Nala were sitting quite far forward; they knew that they still had different jobs to do before the event actually started.
“Here are your sixteen contestants for the twenty-fifth running of the Siku Choka!” bellowed Kanafa. Simba, Nala, the rest of the pride, and the rest of the entire audience, were all cheering. “From the Savannahland Pride, competing in her first Siku Choka – give it up for Anzi!” Out of good sportsmanship, most of the crowd cheered. A rookie walking into an event like this had to be very brave, and the crowd let her know that they respected that fact: none more than the Savannahland Pride did of course.
Anzi, herself, paraded out from the infield, walked a little ways down the front stretch while gesturing to and acknowledging some of her closest friends and family, and then returned to the back of the line in the infield: just like the other fifteen would.
“And now, king of the Majani Pride, competing in his second consecutive Siku Choka – let’s give it up folks for Bahati!” Most of the crowd just applauded for this lion; although his Pride from the backstretch was letting out quite a reception.
“All the way from the Serengeti Border Pride, competing in her third overall Siku Choka – ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Ema!” Most of the crowd had got tired of cheering by now, but they all still let out a welcoming round of applause. Not a lot of her pride had made the trip, but there was still some hollering going on from the hill far over on the right.
“From the Grasslands Pride, competing in only his third Siku Choka but with back-to-back two consecutive victories…” the crowd was already beginning to cheer, “…your reigning Siku Choka champion: ladies and gentlemen: Guvu!” Simba and Nala both sat up, clapping and cheering as the famed lion made his way across the dirt track. They were not the only ones. Guvu was getting by far, the best reception yet.
It took a while for all the cheers to die down, but Kanafa didn’t wait, he went to the fifth one as if nothing different had happened.
“From the Majibuluu Pride, competing in her seventh consecutive Siku Choka…” Nala got onto all fours, ready to holler, “…and two-time champion of the Siku Choka, let’s hear it for Juni!” Nala did as Kanafa commanded, as did the rest of the Majibuluu pride, just to the right of Nala. Simba watched on in amusement, glad that his mate was back to normal.
“Here from the Majani Pride, competing in his first Siku Choka, let’s give it up folks, for Lenny!” Almost all of the creatures let out a respectful round of applause for this lion…who actually looked kinda weak. Still, who were they to pass judgment? The Majani Pride on the backstretch let him hear them.
“King of the Kimaland Pride and competing in his second overall Siku Choka, let’s hear it for Maneno!” The crowd had tired itself out by now, but the Kimaland Pride was clearly heard by most of the audience as they cheered on their king from halfway down the front stretch.
“Also from the Kimaland Pride, competing in her third overall Siku Choka and winner of the twenty-second running, give it up for Nakshi!” Quite a few audience members cheered this time: obviously ones who had witnessed and admired her previous victory.
“King of the Majibuluu Pride, competing in his second overall Siku Choka, let’s hear it, folks, for Rakusa!” Simba and Nala just applauded, but then were both completely taken aback with what they heard next. They turned around.
“Go Rakusa! Go Rakusa!” chanted Zazu, moving his wings in horizontal cycles. “Oh, Rakusa’s the best, we can forget all the rest…” he began singing.
“Zazu,” chuckled Nala, “my mom’s in this event.”
“I know that Madam,” replied Zazu, “its fair for us to have our personal favorites though, is it not?”
Nala laughed, happy to see Zazu in such a great mood, as her and Simba returned their focus towards the track.
“As a matter of fact…” began Simba.
“From right here in the Pridelands Pride, competing in her first Siku Choka, let’s hear it for your nyimbas ladies and gentlemen: Sarafina!” Nala, Simba, and the rest of the Pridelanders burst out into applause; they all got to their feet. Sarafina turned her head to look up the field, and blushed. She hadn’t been put off that nobody had cared to know about her secret during the past several days, but it was great for her to finally be recognized and appreciated for it. But this was what she had always wanted to do, even if there had been no one there to root her on. The fact that she had her pride, as well as a member of her family out there too, all to root her on, just made it even better.
“From the Lionrock Pride, competing in her fourth consecutive Siku Choka, give it up for Shairi!” There were quite a few cheers spread throughout the audience. Obviously this lioness had picked up quite a following over the past four years.
“All the way from the Mimpaka Pride, she’s made quite a journey ladies and gentlemen for her first ever Siku Choka, let’s hear it for Tumaini!” She got quite the reception as well. Though hardly any of her pride was there, anyone who had travelled that far for her first ever time was worthy of a warm welcome.
However, that was nothing compared to what the next, darker-toned lioness was going to receive.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you may have not seen her in a while but I’m sure you should all remember her…”
“Oh goodness, Simba,” whispered Nala, “this is her!” The two leaned up to get a better look.
“…from the Sumbigi Pride, sixteen years old but still as good as ever, this is her eighth appearance in the Siku Choka…” Kanafa had to speak ever louder to rise above the cheers, “…and she has won this event four times, the most ever…please, give a huge welcome to Uku!” The crowd was way ahead of him. Even over in the Majibuluu Pride, those that were left could probably have heard the cheers coming from the oval: although they were bouncing off and echoing off of the hills a lot, which probably was exaggerating the noise. Still, Uku was getting, by far, the biggest welcome yet.
Now normally, one would feel sorry for the next competitor to be introduced after a welcome like that for the previous one, but not in this case…
“From the Kusini Pride,” said Kanafa, trying to give her a fair welcome, with just as much enthusiasm as the others had received, “competing in her fifth consecutive Siku Choka, please put your paws together, for Wamariri.” The crowd did, even though they’d much rather have booed her, they had to show some form of respect. Wamariri didn’t acknowledge any of the audience members; she just kept her eyes fixed on the ground.
Kanafa continued, in a much lighter tone now: “From the Lionrock Pride, competing in her second consecutive Siku Choka, give it up for Winda!” The crowd all returned to applauding normally now. Some of them felt bad for Wamariri, but then they needn’t look back further than the last time they had came to watch a Siku Choka to remember why they weren’t applauding her. Winda was getting a fair amount too. Shairi was popular, and Winda was her younger sister. The fans were sharing the love.
“And last, but definitely not least, from the Mimto Pride, competing in her first Siku Choka, let’s hear it one more time folks, for Zoea!” The crowd let out quite a mighty applause, not only for this rookie, but for all sixteen competitors as a whole. “And that,” continued Kanafa, “concludes the competitor introductions for this twenty-fifth running of the Siku Choka!” The crowd just cheered even more.
Kanafa set the loudspeaker down, and then felt a hammering pat on the back come from behind him.
“Good job my friend,” said Bwana Zungumza.
Kanafa turned around to face him. “I think I’ve lost my voice,” he wheezed.
Zungumza laughed. “You’ll be fine,” he said.
Timon and Pumbaa were taking a break, just enjoying lying down on the hill on the north of the track. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so it was real easy for them to just soak in the sun.
“Hey Timon,” said Pumbaa.
“I’ve been wondering, what are these sticks for? They are scattered all over the place.”
Timon opened an eye and looked down at the stick that was next to Pumbaa. He then looked around the rest of the hill, where the other animals were lying down or sitting, talking or just soaking in the sun. Virtually, next to every single group, there was a stick. And they were all there on purpose. There weren’t a lot of trees close by so they hadn’t just broke off, and they were all rather thick, long, and heavy, so there was obviously a reason of which they were there for.
“Perhaps you’re supposed to prod the other audience members with it. You know, if they’re sitting in your sunlight or not.”
Pumbaa turned to look at the audience member sitting next to him. She was an ostrich. Pumbaa decided to prod her with the stick, just to see what effect it might have.
Not a good one.
The ostrich opened her sharp beak and screamed right in Pumbaa’s face. Timon snatched the stick from him and dragged Pumbaa away from her by the back of his neck.
“Heh, heh, heh, good ostrich,” said Timon, faking a grin as he gave her a friendly wave, leaving the ostrich thoroughly disgruntled.
“Maybe that’s not what it’s for,” said Timon, as he let go of his friend. He’d dragged the tortoise shell over with them. Timon handed the stick back to Pumbaa, and then lay back down on the hill.
“Well… what’s it for then?” asked Pumbaa.
“I don’t know,” replied Timon, “pick it up,” he said, returning to sunbathing.
Pumbaa did so, and seconds later, Zazu swooped down and landed next to them.
“Good morning gents,” he said, bowing.
“Hey Zazu, what is this stick for?” asked Pumbaa, pointing at it.
“Ah, well Pumbaa, when you hold that stick up, one of us birds will come and fly over to you. What we’re allowed to do, is we’re allowed to go into the infield to get a look at each competitors points. Therefore, what you do, is you tell us what you want to know, regarding how many points everyone has, we’ll fly into the infield and then come back and tell you.”
“Oh,” replied Pumbaa, “well… then… eh… how many points does Sarafina have right now?”
“Oh. Well who’s leading?”
Zazu sighed. “Pumbaa, we haven’t even started yet.”
“Go on Zazu,” said Timon, “you don’t have to stay around for us. I’m sure you’ve got other stuff to do,” he finished off, waving his hand in a ‘shoo, shoo!’ motion.
“Wait Timon,” said Pumbaa, “there’s one thing I still don’t get…” he turned back to face Zazu “… how do you know you’re getting the correct scores? Can you tell everyone’s paw print?”
“Ah, not exactly Pumbaa,” replied Zazu. Timon groaned and stuffed his ears with his fingers, trying to just get back to relaxing. “Here’s how it works. All the paw prints are lined up in alphabetical order, so we go down to whose paw print we think it is, and then the scorekeeper for each paw print tells us whose paw print it is, just so that we can make sure that we’re correct, and then we report back to you.”
“Oh. Well… eh… I guess that makes sense.”
“Excellent,” replied Zazu, flickering his wings together, “well, I guess you two best be getting on with fetching some more rainberries. If you go now, you won’t miss the start of the event.”
Timon groaned, while Pumbaa just got straight to his feet and stood up. “Come on buddy, let’s go.” Zazu flew off, and Timon took the opportunity to mutter something under his breath, before standing back up to his feet, grabbing the empty tortoise shell that had been lying behind them, and then jumping on Pumbaa’s back with the tortoise shell in hand, before they left.
“… in the twenty-five years of this competition, only fourteen lions have been skillful, talented, and lucky enough to call themselves Siku Choka champions,” announced Simba through the loudspeaker, his mate standing next to him, “… four of those lions are standing here in the infield with me, and with them they share nine overall wins. But then there are also twelve lions and lionesses here today, who have never won. Five of which, have never competed in the Siku Choka before, and we wish the best to all of them. It is quite an honor to be hosting the twenty-fifth running of this event, and I am really glad that you could all make it out here to watch… or compete. Now I know some of you must be getting quite tired, so I’m going to hand it over to your queen of the Pridelands, my mate: Nala.”
Simba handed the loudspeaker to her.
“Good morning, everyone,” said Nala, testing her voice and the effects the loudspeaker had on it. “Well, if you’re anything like me, you just want to get to the start and get this thing underway with,” she said. The crowd cheered in agreement. Nala smiled. “I’m sure you’ve all worked out by now that we have rainberries being brought to and from the track, those sticks next to you are to wave our scorekeeper reporters down, and just know that we do reserve the right to have you removed from the crowd, or from the Pridelands, for whatever reason during this event,” she said seriously. “I am quite certain however, that that should not pose a problem. Anyway,” she said, turning her head to face a certain figure between two of the hills, “our timekeeper is giving me a signal that I should put this thing down…” the crowd cheered “… so the best to all our competitors, and thank you all for being here,” she said, finishing off and putting the loudspeaker down.
The couple looked over at Bwana Zungumza, who was smiling but was also signaling frantically that the couple might want to make their way back over to the hill, quickly. The two got the idea, and so they both slowly jogged back over the track, amid the cheers coming from the crowd as Anzi began to lead the string of competitors out onto the track.
When Simba and Nala were able to have returned to their seats, all sixteen lions and lionesses were lining themselves up, side-by-side on the starting line. They weren’t in alphabetical order anymore, they just lined up where they preferred. The more confident ones were lined up on the inside, with the intention of charging down the first prey and getting an early lead with the ten points that went with it. On the outside were the rookies, or the ones that simply preferred to get off to a slow start, so that they could conserve their energy for later.
“Hi, I’m Lenny,” said the weak-looking lion, “mind if I start here?” he asked, standing right next to Wamariri.
“I wouldn’t mind a little bit more space,” replied the lioness, trying to keep her disgust held back.
“Sure,” replied the lion. He took a step to the right. “Is that good enough?” he asked her.
Lenny, still smiling and as oblivious as ever, turned his head around to the right. “Hi there,” he said to the lioness on the right of him.
“Hello,” she replied. She already looked ragged and worn out, but she was crouched down low, as determined as ever.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Oh… you’re the one who came all the way down from the Mimpaka pride, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Tumaini simply, not really wanting to get into conversation.
Lenny turned his head back and forth, observing that both the lionesses next to him were crouched down low to the ground.
“So are you both planning on running too, are you? So am I!” He looked up in front of him. “Ooh, look at that – an antelope?” He stuck his tongue out. “I don’t really like antelope. Still, I guess I should take it down, shouldn’t I? I mean: that’s the objective. What do they do with the carcasses once they’re taken down? Do they feed them to the crowd? You know, that sounds like a good idea but really, when you think about it…”
“SHUT UP!!” commanded both Wamariri and Tumaini.
Lenny finally lost his smile. “Well really,” he said, “all I wanted to do was talk, but if you’re both going to be like that…”
Tumaini sighed. She really was a nice lioness, but still, she’d travelled all this way, she wanted to make it worth it. “Lenny, right?” she asked, turning back to face him.
“Look, the event is about to start. Mind if we talk about this later instead?”
“Okay,” he replied. Finally, Lenny crouched down and zipped his mouth.
Wamariri wouldn’t have actually minded thanking Tumaini, but then again, the Siku Choka was about to begin, and then, she would be her enemy.
“I see your mom’s starting near the outside,” said Simba.
“Yes,” replied Nala, “she was always explaining to me when I was a cub, how that was the clever thing to do. However, look where all the previous winners are starting.”
Simba looked across the twenty-head-to-tail-lion-wide track, and observed that Nakshi, Uku, Guvu, and Juni were all either to the inside, or towards the middle.
“Well they have different styles,” replied Simba, “you can’t expect your mom to be at their level straight away. But hey, it’s a whole day; she might be able to give them a run tomorrow.”
“You’re reading my mind,” replied Nala.
The couple was both sitting down, anxious to watch the event start. They couldn’t help but glance at Rafiki, standing next to his stick, again and again every two to three seconds. It was only a matter of time now.
“Nala! Rafiki’s giving the thumbs up,” exclaimed Simba. He wasn’t the only one to have noticed. First it was just a few cheers, then half the crowd was cheering, then, the whole audience was all sent standing to their feet, cheering.
In the infield, Kanafa picked up the loudspeaker.
“Competitors…” he began, the cheers picked up ever louder, “… ready…” he was really having to speak up now, “… set…” still growing ever louder, “and the twenty-fifth, ever, running of the Siku Choka is… GO!!!” he shouted. The crowd erupted, and the field moved off.
The hill next to the first set of turns was the place to be. One second, there was an antelope passing in front of them all, the next, a crowd of seven lions and lionesses did.
Wamariri led them, then Tumaini and Ema were right on her hind legs, but most of the cheering from the crowd, was being dedicated to the lioness fourth in line: Uku.
The antelope had chosen to run the turn as tight as possible, and it helped him pull away from the crowd of a little bit. However, as the track straightened up again, Wamariri really put on the sprint, but Tumaini was right behind her. Wamariri knew she didn’t have enough space to be able to bring the antelope down, without getting hurt herself, so she did the best thing she could think of: she lunged at the antelope, tackled it, tried to regain her balance, and then ran on.
Tumaini and Ema tried to slow themselves down. The antelope was wounded, yet it was still on all fours. It was going haywire! From the right side of them, however, Uku had decided to pace herself, and now she put on the sprint and pounced. Tumaini and Ema were able to dodge the two as they crashed down onto the dirt, but Uku was the one who had got the main prize: the antelope, and, the ten points that went with it.
Uku’s tackle had made the crowd forget about how angry they were at Wamariri’s antics. Uku, herself, in fact smiled. Normally she liked to play the start of these things conservative, but that catch had just been for show. All she had wanted to prove, was that she did still have it in her. The crowd showed their approval.
Meanwhile, Wamariri was trying to make the best of a good opportunity. When she had tackled the antelope, she had been able to run on by, while the rest of the competitors had been forced to slow down because of the antelope’s resulting, wild, behavior.
Wamariri continued running. Not only so that she could get to the line quicker and pick up a point, but also, she would then be able to close in on the second antelope, which had just been released along the front stretch, quicker.
Just now making her way through the first turn, Sarafina looked behind her. “Look at that,” she said, looking over her shoulder. Zoea and Anzi looked over their shoulders too. “The second antelope, it’s right behind us.” All of the three knew why, it was impossible to have not heard the crowd’s cheer at the time of Uku’s first kill.
“You know,” said Zoea, “if we just stopped for a little while, he’d actually pass us. We’d be the first ones behind him.”
“True,” replied Sarafina, “but still, it’s not going to be worth it. The ground’s still damp, the sun’s still high, terrible hunting conditions,” she said, finishing off as she turned her head back to face the track in front of her. She kept on walking.
“When do you think it will be best to start hunting?” asked Anzi, the youngest and most nervous of the three.
“I’d wait until we have three pieces of prey out here, Anzi. By that time, chances are that it will be cooler, the track will be harder, some of the lionesses would have drifted off to sleep and you’ll be less likely to get an injury. If we went after that antelope right now, there’d be about five others trying to charge it down. You’re just asking to get hurt, there.”
Zoea looked at Sarafina. “You know a lot about this, don’t you?”
Sarafina smiled. “Yes, I’ve been to watch quite a few. I was at Uku’s last two victories, can’t really remember the first of those that well though.”
“Was her last win, her last Siku Choka?” Zoea asked.
“No, she was in the one the year after that, but she didn’t win it.”
“Oh,” replied Zoea simply.
“Hey look,” said Sarafina, “there’s a lion lying down already.”
Anzi was confused. “Why’s he doing that?”
“More than likely, he charged at the first antelope to see if he could get an early lead, but now that Uku caught that, he’s just decided to rest instead.”
“Well… it was worth a shot,” Zoea replied.
The lion who had fallen asleep towards the outside, along the backstretch, was Bahati. Indeed, he had done exactly as Sarafina had said, but the lionesses had been in a separate league from him. The reason that he had fallen asleep specifically along the backstretch was because that was where his pride had settled themselves in the audience. As soon as they thought it was best that he got up, they would be able to hoot and holler, and then he would be able to hear them, and thus he would be able to get up.
It was a commonly used strategy.
Meanwhile, along the front stretch, Wamariri was coming to complete her first lap, which would log her one point. She had slowed down now though. Not too far in front of her was the antelope. He was just walking casually for now, but Wamariri knew that she had to just follow him. The other two options had severe flaws: if she caught him, the third antelope would be released from behind her, and the competitors were forbidden from walking around the track backwards; however, if she ran around him and went on to log another lap, she would be leaving this antelope as bait for another competitor. Right now, it was best for her to just play it conservative.
Zazu flew down once again, and landed next to Pumbaa, who had moments ago been holding up the stick.
“Hello Pumbaa,” he said landing.
“Hi,” replied Pumbaa, placing the stick down next to where he was sitting. “How many points does Sarafina have now?”
Zazu sighed. “Pumbaa, she still has zero.”
“Oh… well… eh… who’s leading?”
“How many points does she have?”
Zazu glared at Pumbaa, annoyed. “Pumbaa, you have no idea how the points system works, do you?”
“What’s the points system?” he asked, seriously.
“The competitors get one point for completing a lap, ten points for bringing down prey.”
“Oh,” replied Pumbaa. “Okay, well do you mind staying here? Timon’s handing out rainberries so I’m on my own.”
Zazu sighed and plopped down on the ground, next to him. “Yes, I suppose I can. Where’s Rakusa?” he asked himself, scanning the track. The lion hadn’t made much progress. He wasn’t too far in front of Sarafina and her group. They were all making their way down the backstretch, past the sleeping Bahati.
“It must be very hard to sleep in the day,” said Pumbaa, looking where Zazu was.
“Yes,” replied Zazu, “he’s probably not sleeping actually, just resting. Very bad strategy in my opinion. But then what do I know? This is the first time I’ve been to see one of these.”
“Uku’s doing the same,” added Pumbaa, looking down at the second turn, to the left side of them.
“Well she can afford to do that,” replied Zazu, “she’s leading. She’s very experienced too, you know. She’s probably had a lot of practice, trying to fall into a deep sleep during the day.”
“Hey look!” exclaimed Pumbaa, pointing at a lion running down the front stretch, “he’s going after that piece of prey!”
Indeed, Lenny was. A trail of lionesses had caught up and had now been following Wamariri. However, Lenny hadn’t known of, and probably wouldn’t have been able to understand, their strategy, so instead: he was just running.
The crowd all began to get to their feet and cheer, as the queue of lionesses realized what was happening from behind them. They all began to run again, most of them now: side-by-side.
There were five in all: Wamariri, Lenny, Tumaini, Nakshi, and Ema.
Nakshi had timed it well. She had been one of the first ones to recognize the threat that Lenny had posed, and so she had been one of the first to decide where she had wanted to run: the outside. It wasn’t working for her at first, but as the group approached the first turn, she was able to run straight more so than what the other lion and lionesses could, and as a result, she was able to get a really good run through and off of the turn compared to the rest.
As the track began to straighten out again, Nakshi was able to pull out in front, and though Wamariri made up some ground on her through her physical agility, Nakshi was able to bring the antelope down first, while the rest were sent scattering around them.
The Kimaland Pride let out a cheer from beside Simba and Nala. The couple smiled. Providing it was anyone but Wamariri, they were glad to see the others happy.
“When’s your mom going to get a move on?” Simba asked.
Nala shrugged, but she kept her smile. Sarafina, Zoea, and Anzi were just making it into the second turn on their far left.
“Now those guys have a good pace going,” said Simba, signaling to Guvu, Maneno, and Juni, who were all lined up in a train, trotting over the starting line right in front of them. “See, they’re conserving their energy and they’ve already all got a point.”
“Simba, there’s one thing you must learn: this is not a race. Look at my mom, she’s about to go a lap down… that means nothing. This race lasts an entire day, and you’re not going to win because of a lap. Maybe ten laps, but not one.”
“Okay…” Simba said.
Nala chuckled and licked him. “Trust me Simba, you’ll love this. It’s great.”
Pumbaa watched as another antelope made its way out onto the track. Shairi was the closest behind it, but even so: she was still in the second turn, and had no intention of taking down this new piece of prey.
“Hey Zazu,” addressed Pumbaa.
“What do they do with the carcasses?”
“They’ve got volunteers to help drag them out of the track. For today, those carcasses are free for the audience members’ takings. However, the ones brought down tomorrow, which should still be fresh at the end of the race; they are stored off to the side, and then the winner gets to decide who he or she wants to have feast from them.”
“Don’t we lose a lot of herds, this way?” asked Pumbaa.
“The Siku Choka only goes to Prides who have an excessive amount of herds,” replied Zazu.
“Oh,” replied Pumbaa. “Hey Zazu,” he said again.
Once Guvu, Maneno, and Juni had all trotted their way around the track and completed a second lap, Guvu pulled off to the outside: and fell to sleep. Maneno and Juni had planned to follow his lead. However, instead of sleeping like he was, they just decided to make their way over to the far outside of the track, and just walk their way around.
Wamariri, Lenny, Tumaini, Nakshi, and Ema had also been and completed two laps. They had all decided to walk as soon as the second antelope was brought down, and as a result, Maneno and Juni had actually passed on by them.
Instead of walking on the outside of the track, however, Lenny had taken to the inside of the track, and had actually been able to pass the rest in the turns, just by walking. A couple others were about to follow his lead as they realized that nobody else seemed intent on going and hunting the antelope down, but before they could do so: Lenny took off.
Because he was not heavily built, Lenny was actually very fast for a male lion. Most of the other competitors just glanced over their shoulders as they heard him coming, but then decided to just keep on walking. The track wasn’t bone dry. In fact, there were more clumps of dirt flying off of Lenny’s paws than what there was dust. He was still quite far behind the antelope, and so the antelope hadn’t actually taken off yet, though a few of the audience members had got to their feet again to see if Lenny would be successful.
“Hey look Sarafina,” said Anzi, looking behind them as the group of three walked through the second, long turn, “someone’s decided to go after that antelope.”
Sarafina looked behind her at Lenny. “Oh yes, so he has,” she replied, not really expressing any particular emotion.
Zoea smiled. “This would be a good time to run, wouldn’t it?” she asked.
“I’m not,” replied Sarafina, “but if you want to, go ahead. Quickly! Before he catches up.”
Zoea took off, but it was almost, too late. She was only just about a full body length in front of Lenny; who actually caught up with her a bit through the rest of the turn: he was more used to the track by now.
The crowd got to their feet and started hollering as Zoea and Lenny raced their way down the front stretch, behind the antelope that had now started running.
They ran by Rakusa, Winda, and Shairi, who displayed no intention of wasting their energy this early on.
At this rate, the two sprinting lions were going to catch the antelope right as they reached the first turn.
Zoea could hear Lenny from behind her. He was just peeking down her inside, so she knew that she had two choices: get the antelope before the turn, or cut Lenny off when they entered it.
She wasn’t able to do the first in time, so she did the second.
The results were not good.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed Nala, “she doesn’t have that much room!”
The crowds’ cheers soon died down into an eerie silence as Lenny caught the back of Zoea’s back leg. Zoea lost her balance and tumbled over onto the ground, rolled over and over, repeatedly slamming her head then body into the mud, until she came to a motionless rest on the outside banking in the middle of the first turn.
Lenny had stopped running. He hadn’t meant to hit her. He had had no idea that she was going to try and cut him off.
The lion walked over to the outside.
Sarafina and Anzi hadn’t seen the whole thing in detail, but they saw enough. They both continued to walk along the outside, knowing that there was nothing immediate that either of them could do, and knowing that it was best for them in the long run. In fact, instinct was telling them to walk, more so than anything else.
“Oh my goodness,” said Sarafina quietly.
“Was it that bad?” asked Anzi, worried.
“I’ve seen worse,” replied Sarafina, “but yes, that was pretty bad.”
“Shall we run down there?” asked Anzi, seriously.
Sarafina bit her lip, and then after a moment’s thought, shook her head ‘no.’
“But Sarafina!” protested Anzi, “she could be seriously hurt… or worse.”
Sarafina kept shaking her head. “The ground’s soft,” she replied, although that reply didn’t even satisfy her.
Anzi looked over at the opposite turn. She was extremely worried. Zoea hadn’t got back up yet, and Lenny was still leaning over her: like he had been, ever since her tumble.
“I’m going over there,” said Anzi, and she trotted off.
Sarafina sighed. She’d seen so many similar accidents in the past in this event, which had been fatal, and she knew that she could never do anything about them. She had promised to herself at the start of the event, that until the sun started to set, she: WOULD NOT RUN; and she didn’t break promises. But this was different. Her friend’s life could be in danger, and she could help save her. But Zoea wasn’t a friend; she was a competitor. No… no… that was Wamariri’s way of thinking. Did Sarafina really want to be compared to Wamariri?
That was the only motive she needed. Sarafina took off into a trot.
Nala gasped. “Look Simba, she’s opened her eyes,” she said, signaling over to where Zoea lay.
“She’s talking,” added Simba.
Nala sighed out of relief.
Simba heard her. “Be careful Nala,” he said.
“I know,” she replied. For all they knew, Zoea could have been telling Lenny her will.
The king and queen were temporarily distracted as they heard and watched Anzi trot on by in front of them.
An instant later, they began to hear cheers from down towards the turn on the right of them. They shifted their attention back towards Zoea and smiled. She was getting up.
Before Nala could give out her round of applause however, she knew that there was something else she needed to do. She turned her head back towards the left.
“Mom!” she called, watching as her mother continued trotting down the straight. Sarafina looked up at her. “Don’t worry, Zoea’s okay.”
“Oh, I know,” replied Sarafina, just loud enough so that her daughter could hear her. Sarafina crossed the line and then slowed down. “I just wanted to get my second lap logged.”
No sooner had Sarafina said this, when she suddenly decided to stop right in front of where the Pridelanders were standing and sitting in the audience. She lied down and rested her head down on her paws. Hopefully, for her, she would soon be drifting off to sleep.
Rafiki, meanwhile, had been watching the whole incident take place from his spot between the first two hills.
He wasn’t in one of his best moods.
He had the knowledge, and he had the tools, to have possibly heeled Zoea better than what any of the other Siku Choka volunteers could have, had she been severely injured. However, he couldn’t have done anything about it, because, at least until there were three pieces of prey out on the track, he could not leave his stick.
He looked back at the stick and the shadow that had been beginning to form next to it. He had drawn a line the first and second times that one of the antelope had been caught. Those lines resembled how long the shadow from the stick had been when each of them had come down.
While he rested his head on one of his hands, he moved his other hand over towards the shadow, and lied two of his middle fingers down next to each other, next to the line where the second antelope had been caught.
The shadow covered over both widths of his fingers.
He returned his hand.
Just as he had thought. Every single time since the Siku Choka started, the shadow had done nothing but cover his two fingers. Wait… no. The last time they didn’t, anyway. Or the time before that.
Rafiki looked back down at the shadow. Suddenly, it came to him. Every time before now, the shadow had not covered his two fingers. He placed them back down. Now: it did!
Rafiki got to his feet and stretched his two hands straight up into the air. To a human, it would have looked like someone had just scored a field goal in an American Football game.
In the infield, Bwana Zungumza saw him.
In the middle of the front stretch, a zebra was now released: onto the track.
Lenny turned his head around as he heard Anzi approaching. Zoea had already collapsed back down on the ground. She had closed her eyes.
“How is she?” asked Anzi, still a little concerned.
“She’s fine!” replied Lenny enthusiastically, “I tell you, we were going into that turn and I thought ‘there’s no way she’s going to cut me off,’ in fact, I never even considered that she might cut me off. But then I thought, ‘well should I back off?’ because tripping her up was the last thing I wanted to do of course. I don’t like injuring lions; I’ve never hurt one in my life. Anyways, I kept running and then we got into the turn and I tripped her! I didn’t want to trip her, tripping her of course was one of the last things I wanted to do, but you know that, I said that earlier…”
“Lenny,” whispered Zoea weakly from below them, “can you keep quiet please? I really need to get to sleep.”
Anzi looked back over to where Sarafina had fallen to sleep on the front stretch. She disapproved of her reaction towards the whole situation, but figured she best not tell Zoea about it, she had much more issues right now. Anzi crouched down on the ground, so she could look at Zoea eye-to-eye.
“Zoea, are you okay?” she asked.
Zoea tried to smile. “I’ve got a really bad headache, and I think I may have twisted my ankle, but other than that, yes, I think I’m okay,” she finished off, closing her eyes.
Anzi got back up to her feet, realizing that Zoea was best left alone for a little while.
“Come on,” she said to Lenny. They began to head off again.
The two walked over to the inside. That’s where everybody was walking now. Providing nothing was being hunted, the inside of the track was the shortest way around.
“I thought you were going to go to sleep too,” said Lenny.
Anzi shook her head. “I’m not that good at sleeping in the day, honestly,” she replied.
“Nor am I,” admitted Lenny. “Hey, you see that lion over there, though?” he asked, signaling towards Bahati who had fallen to sleep along the backstretch before he had even completed a lap. “That’s my brother.”
“Oh,” replied Anzi. “Is one of you two the king?” she asked.
“Oh. That never makes you… you know… jealous?”
“Not really. I don’t think I’d really want to be king. Bahati never has that much time to play.”
Anzi looked back over towards the other side of the track.
Lenny did too. “I wonder why they let the zebra out second?” he asked.
“Well the antelope may be faster, but the zebra’s harder to bring down. They probably do it that way for the fans. More fans will be interested if they see everyone charging after an antelope at the start.”
“Hey look,” said Lenny, “that lioness is standing off to the side; she’s waiting for that antelope.”
Indeed, just before the second long turn there was a lioness, sitting down, towards the outside of the track. The antelope was making his way down the backstretch, calmly.
“I think that’s Wamariri,” said Anzi, squinting her eyes.
“Should we go after it too?” Lenny asked.
Anzi shook her head. “Rest for a minute… what’s your name again?”
“Lenny. Yeah, let’s let her bring this one down, and then maybe she’ll become satisfied and go off to sleep. Then they’ll let a third piece of prey out and it will be less dangerous to hunt!” she exclaimed.
Indeed, around the track, five of the competitors had already drifted off to sleep.
“This is going to be a long day,” said Lenny.
Pumbaa walked over to find his meerkat friend lying down on his back, asleep just next to the waterhole.
“Eh… Timon…” said Pumbaa, tapping him on the shoulder.
Timon drearily opened his eyes.
“Hi Pumbaa…” he said, very slowly and slurry.
“Were you just eating rainberries?” Pumbaa asked.
“I only had one!” protested Timon, as he thrust his hand up into the air with one finger outstretched, which then made him lose balance and turn over.
“Timon, I think it’s best if I do this delivery on my own.”
Timon tried to say something, but it all came out as muffled mumbles as he was essentially speaking into the ground.
Pumbaa looked over at the completely filled tortoise shell. He walked right up to it; rattling his brains to try and figure out how to get it on and balance it on his back without Timon’s assistance.
He picked the side up with his teeth, lowered it to the ground, and then attempted to fling it over his head, which would in turn cause it to do a complete, full, somersault before landing on his back.
Instead, the tortoise shell stalled in mid-air, upside-down, and all of the rainberries tipped out and splattered onto his head.
Pumbaa found it quite uncomfortable trying to think of a plan B while he had a tortoise shell on top of his head and rainberry juice running down his face, though it did taste quite nice when they rolled into his mouth.
Obviously, he was going to need to find another way.
“That’s my pride, over there.” King Maneno signaled towards a group of lions sitting halfway down the front stretch.
“Oh, how lovely,” replied Juni.
The lion and the lioness were just beginning to make their way down the front stretch.
“They’re not sitting too far from my pride, actually,” she replied. “Rakusa’s our king.”
“I remember Rakusa,” replied Maneno, “I got to talk to him a lot, just like this, in the Siku Choka a couple of years ago.”
“Yeah, I tried to get him to do it again last year, but he was too tied up in other things. At least I got him to do it this year though, huh?”
“Hmm,” Maneno replied. “So, hope you don’t mind me asking. You’re the second most experienced competitor here, why are you not sleeping?”
“I try to get a lot of sleep before the event,” replied Juni. “It’s also good to try and get ahead. Look, we’re coming to complete our third lap now.”
“How far do you plan on going?”
“I’ll just walk until they put out a third piece of prey. Then I’ll hunt, and as soon as I get one: bang, I’ll go to sleep.”
Maneno looked at her. “I don’t think ‘bang’ was the best word choice there.”
“Oh well. You get the idea.”
Just then, an antelope rushed by right on the outside of them. Juni, who had been standing on the outside of Maneno, felt it brush her pelt, but Maneno was the one who it had taken by surprise the most.
A second later, and Wamariri ran by the outside of Juni, also causing a patch of her fur to blow over.
The fans along the front stretch had got to their feet, just to see what would happen. The pair crossed the line with Wamariri gaining, gaining, gaining, but then out of Wamariri’s peripheral vision, she saw something that made the whole crowd erupt.
“Oh!” exclaimed Simba.
Nala jumped up and clapped.
Wamariri jumped over to the left to avoid the clash.
Guvu, who had been sleeping for the past few minutes, had had the appearance of still being asleep. However, he had in fact, set up his own ambush. When he had felt that the antelope had been just the right distance from him, he had leapt up from his spot and sprung over to take the antelope down. Wamariri had been forced to take evasive action to avoid the two as Guvu clamped his jaw down on the antelope’s neck, but she decided to continue on running. Not too far in front of her: was the zebra.
The zebra hadn’t had enough time to realize that Wamariri was closing in from behind him, and so he was easy prey for the lioness.
Wamariri jumped up onto the zebra’s back, with all the intention of bringing him down, and no intention of letting him live.
The crowd gasped as the zebra picked up its pace and began to stumble towards the outside of the track. In fact, the two were heading right in the direction of the sleeping Zoea.
The zebra didn’t want anything to do with two lionesses, and so he tried to stop before he ran into her, but then that made Wamariri lean ever farther forward on top of the zebra, which caused him to collapse down on top of the sleeping lioness below.
With a whole lioness on top of the zebra as well, the crash crushed Zoea’s body.
Wamariri found herself now sitting on top of two, dead, animals.
Pumbaa’s knees were digging into his underbelly as he crouched down, trying to keep his back underwater.
He was becoming very disoriented as he tried to remember all the stuff he should and should not do; while trying to hold his breath. He could see the dark shadow from where the upside-down tortoise shell was bobbing on the surface. He tried to wade his way towards it, and then finally, when he checked over his shoulder and saw that his back was lined up right underneath the tortoise shell, he stood up.
“Well done Pumbaa,” came a voice from behind him as Pumbaa spat out the water that he had just inhaled.
Pumbaa looked up to see Timon now riding on his back, holding the tortoise shell in his hands like nothing had ever happened.
Pumbaa felt the slimy water run down them and became a little angry.
He bucked Timon off of his back, sideways, and with Timon went the tortoise shell. The rainberries fell back into the water.
Timon resurfaced and spat out the water that had ended up in his mouth, now.
“Okay Pumbaa, I got the message,” he said, giving Pumbaa the thumbs up while he tried to wipe the slimy water off of him. “Hey,” he said, looking up, “what’s Zazu doing flying up there?”
Pumbaa walked over to the tree just next to the waterhole, picked up a stick, and held it up.
Zazu flew down.
“How many points does…?”
“Two,” answered Zazu as he landed. He had a solemn expression on his face, of which anyone but Timon or Pumbaa would have instantly been able to tell.
“Wow, you’re… !”
“Thank you.” Zazu sighed and rested his wings on the back of Timon and Pumbaa’s backs. “Guys, do yourselves a favor and enter the track from the hills along the backstretch.”
“Why?” asked Pumbaa; finally realizing that something was wrong.
Zazu took a deep breath before saying: “Zoea has died.”
“Oh,” said Pumbaa, “isn’t she one of the…”
Timon elbowed him which made Pumbaa shut up.
“I’m going to the Mimto Pride,” continued Zazu, “I have to inform Zoea’s father of her death.”
“What about her mother?” asked Pumbaa. Timon elbowed him, but Pumbaa had already asked it.
“Her mother was killed in the Siku Choka, four years ago,” replied Zazu. “That’s why her father didn’t come to watch, he doesn’t like being reminded of it,” he sighed once more, and then brought his wings back, preparing to take off. “Wish me luck,” he said, before he flew off.
“Hey Nala,” addressed Simba as the couple made their way back to their seats. They had just been to see Bwana Zungumza, Kanafa, Rafiki, and the others who had negotiated and took action on what to do about Zoea and her family.
“Yes Simba,” replied Nala, looking down at the ground as they walked.
“I just thought of something. Should the competitors really be falling asleep in the turns? Wouldn’t it be safer if they fell asleep on the straights?”
Nala shook her head slowly, ‘no.’ “In the turns, the prey usually stays to the inside so it’s usually safe for the competitors to fall asleep on the outside. On the straights: who knows where the prey could go? However, seldom does an incident like that anyways, so no one really ever thinks about it. The only stupid thing to do would be to sleep on the inside of the turns. No one could have ever seen Zoea’s incident happening. I don’t think she could move that far after her first accident anyways.”
Simba nodded. The two continued on in silence.
Since they’d left the track: Guvu and Tumaini had both brought down a zebra, Wamariri and Tumaini had fallen asleep, and Tumaini, Maneno, Juni, Nakshi and Ema had all completed another lap. Guvu had also lied his head down, although nobody knew for sure if he was asleep or not.
More time soon passed. Simba and Nala had returned to their seats, and everyone on the track awake: was just walking. Nala lied her head down. The audience members needed their rest too, and now was the best time. The rush at the start had passed, but soon it would be night, and then things would really pick up.
Meanwhile, on the track, Anzi and Lenny had broken up and gone off in two separate directions. Anzi was standing over the spot where Zoea had last been. She knew she couldn’t fret over this. Supposedly, many lions died in the Siku Choka. She could even wind up being one of them. For that particular reason, she didn’t want to stay in that spot for too long.
That aside, truth was that Anzi had actually been standing in that same spot for quite a while. She turned her head around as she heard another competitor walking up to her from behind her.
“Hi,” said Anzi, “I was just paying my respects to Zoea. What’s your name? Mine’s…”
The lioness held her paw out, which stopped Anzi from talking.
“I don’t want to know,” said the lioness, gently. “Is this your first time in the Siku Choka?” she asked.
“Yes,” Anzi replied.
“Have you ever been to see one of these before?”
“I saw the one last year.”
“And what inspired you to be in it this year?” she asked, tilting her head.
Anzi tried to think back. “Well the finish was really exciting, I remember that. I dunno. I just remember telling myself after the event again and again that I really wanted to do this. I love hunting.”
“It does get better as it goes along,” admitted the lioness, referring to the Siku Choka.
The lioness looked up the hill and saw a couple of her pride members. They were snoozing. At least they wouldn’t call out her name in front of this other lioness, she thought.
“You’re upset about your friend?” she asked, looking back down at Anzi. Anzi looked down at the ground. She didn’t reply. The lioness sighed. “Come on, walk with me.”
Anzi did as she was told, and the two made their way back down to the inside.
“I know what you’re going to tell me,” said Anzi.
“What would that be?”
“That death is a part of this sport, and that I should get over it.”
“No one gets over it,” the lioness replied.
“Has there ever been a Siku Choka where no one has died?” asked Anzi.
“I believe there was one once, but there were only about six competitors that entered. It was one of the earlier years.”
“Do you think there’s a chance Zoea might be the only one who dies?”
The lioness shook her head ‘no.’ Anzi had glanced up in time to see this. “I’m afraid not,” the lioness said.
Anzi sighed. “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to cope with all this. I’ve already made friends with Lenny, Sarafina, and you. Imagine if one of you gets killed, I don’t know how I’d cope with myself knowing that the only thing I should do is move on.”
“You need to sleep,” said the lioness. “Come on; let’s make our way back over here.” The two walked back over to the outside of the track. They were just approaching the backstretch.
“I can’t sleep that well in the day,” replied Anzi.
“Don’t worry. I’ll help.” The lioness wasn’t looking at Anzi any more, just their destination. At this rate, this mournful lioness was going to make friends with every competitor on the track. This saddened the other lioness. She could read this character like a book; she knew that she would never be able to last.
“Lie down,” said the lioness. Anzi did as she said. The other lioness sighed. “You know what? Let’s forget about that not-telling-name stuff, my name is Ema.”
“Okay Anzi,” said Ema, “just lie down for now. I want to talk about something positive, that will get your mind off your friend.”
“Okay,” replied Anzi, resting her head on the ground and closing her eyes.
“Well…” began Ema “… do you have a boyfriend?”
“I have a crush.”
“Oh really? What’s his name?”
Anzi blushed. “Do I have to?”
“Go on. I won’t tell.”
“Herik? That’s strange. I think I may have met him once before.”
Anzi lifted her head up. She didn’t believe her. “When? How?”
“I’m a psychologist. A lot of animals come to see me.” This was true. However, Ema had never actually met Herik.
“Oh,” replied Anzi, “I didn’t know Herik had any issues.”
“He mentioned you.”
“Really? What did he say?”
Ema smiled. “What do you think he said?”
“Ema!” exclaimed Anzi, anxious. “Come on; tell me!”
“He said he liked you,” said Ema, smiling.
“Really?” asked Anzi, delighted.
Anzi frowned. “Wait… how do I know you’re just not pulling my leg?”
Ema chuckled. “Come on Anzi, lay your head back down.” Anzi did so. She was suspicious, but still smiling nonetheless. “Right, here’s how we get you to sleep Anzi. Count down in your head from 300, three at a time. Go on… 300… 297… 294. Keep going, if you get lost, don’t worry. Just keep going. Can you hear my voice Anzi? Uh… don’t nod. Just listen to the sound of my voice. Keep on counting, keep on counting, just listen to the sound of my voice, keep on counting…” Slowly but surely, Ema was hypnotizing Anzi. “… you’re growing sleepy Anzi, keep on counting, that’s right, just listen to the sound of my voice, keep on counting…”
Wamariri grunted. She had done really well at being able to drift off to sleep, and now someone had just disrupted her. She looked up, disgruntled, to see who had just tapped her on the shoulder and awoken her from her slumber.
“Hi,” said Lenny enthusiastically, waving his paw. “So… I kinda think we got off to a bad start this morning. I don’t think you ever told me your name. Mine’s Lenny, but I told you that, didn’t I?”
Wamariri, for the past few seconds, had been shaking in fury. Now, she finally got her opportunity to jump up and snap at him.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING!? I’M TRYING TO SLEEP HERE!!” she roared.
Lenny took a step back.
“Um… okay. Can you at least tell me your name?” he asked.
“Why do you care? Go on, go away!” she hollered, pushing him away with her arm.
Wamariri turned around and lied back down on the ground with her forearms crossed.
I’m never going to get back to sleep now.
“When would be a good time to…?”
“NEVER!” she shouted.
Lenny grinned. “Haha! I was going to say, ‘when would be a good time to leave you alone?’ – and you said ‘never’ – that means I get to stay h…” but he got cut off as Wamariri jumped to her feet and roared straight into his face, blowing his flimsy mane backwards. “Heh heh,” Lenny replied nervously, “on second thought…” he said, as he began to sidestep his way off the scene. Once he was out of striking distance from the lioness, he ran.
Ema jumped backwards, slightly frightened at the lioness’s reaction.
“Um… I was just wondering… sometime later today… could you do something for me?” she asked.
“What?” asked Wamariri again, though not as snappy this time.
“See that lioness over there?” she asked, gesturing towards the spot where Anzi was lying down on the ground. “She’s in a deep sleep… she’s not getting back up…” Ema turned back to face Wamariri, with a serious expression on her face, “… I need you to see to it.”
“Bahati,” addressed Lenny, tapping his older brother on the shoulder, “Bahati, wake up!” he whispered.
Bahati lifted his head. “Hmm?” he asked, looking up at his brother.
“The pride told me to wake you up,” he said. The two looked up the hill so see the Majani Pride staring down at them, cheering them on as they did so.
“Did they let the buffalo out?” Bahati asked his brother.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Bahati got up, yawned, and stretched. “Alright. T’is time to get busy brother. Let’s go.”
“Nala!” yelled Simba. He had to speak up so she could hear him over the crowd’s cheers. “Wake up Nala!” he yelled.
Nala opened her eyes. Her mate was standing up, as was everyone else: she realized that something must have been going on.
Nala stood up alert.
An antelope had just rushed on by them, and now passing in front of them, was a group of determined competitors on the antelope’s tail.
There were five of them in all: Bahati, Lenny, Maneno, Juni, and Nakshi.
The crowd was all cheering them on as they ran into the turn. Simba, Nala, and the rest of the Pridelanders joined in with them.
“What do we do while everyone’s watching the action?” asked Timon, with an uneaten rainberry in his paw.
“I guess we just watch,” replied Pumbaa, shrugging.
“Should we pick someone to cheer for?”
“Is Sarafina in that pack?”
Pumbaa began to think as they watched them through the long turn, gaining ever closer on the antelope.
They were beginning to catch up on the buffalo now too.
“I know…” said Timon, pointing out the first male lion in line. The lionesses had a bit of an advantage over them. However, before Timon could go on, the group got too crowded together, which actually made the lion fall over and then get trampled on by the lion behind him. The first lion just rolled over. The second lion smashed down onto the ground with a thud, which ended up breaking his neck.
The crowd let out an “ooohhh…” before they returned their attention to the three that were still charging, and they began cheering again.
“… not that one,” finished up Timon.
“Hey bud, are you okay?” asked the first lion who had fallen, shaking the body of the other one with his paw.
The lion didn’t respond.
Bahati looked up at a concerned pride in the grandstands. “Hey, can someone bring help down here?” he called out. The pride looked like they were taking action, and so Bahati took that as his signal to go.
The pack had raced on by the buffalo. If it had been any lion but his brother, Bahati knew, then that lion would have probably given up against the two lionesses and gone for the buffalo. Unfortunately, Bahati knew that his brother wasn’t really that smart.
Bahati left the scene of the accident in pursuit of the buffalo, leaving the dead King Maneno behind.
Nakshi had observed that her king had gone, but she didn’t think much of it. It was common for a competitor to trip over and get back up again. Besides, she was trying to get this antelope down before Juni did.
They ran into the second long turn, now approaching the on-track zebra as well. Both Juni and Nakshi were running on the antelope’s hindquarters, and they were both determined to bring it down.
Finally, Nakshi took a shot at it, and Juni gave her room, knowing that she’d lost that battle: but not the war. The zebra was only a few paces ahead.
The crowd’s cheers echoed all around the hills as Nakshi brought the antelope down to the ground, and then seconds later once again when the zebra came down in Juni’s claws. Then suddenly, seconds later, a few cheers rose up from the other side of the track, where Bahati had just struggled but yet successfully brought down the buffalo.
Lenny was left to just run on by them, with nothing.
A flock of birds began to crowd the infield area where the scorekeepers were trying to keep track of the events that had just taken place.
A lot of sticks were being held up in the crowd, as a lot of the audience members had drifted off to sleep in the early going, only to have just woken up now when the hunting was beginning to pick up. The sun wasn’t near its setting point, but it wasn’t up high any more either. Soon, the air would start to cool down.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” shouted Bwana Zungumza, capturing everyone’s attention in the infield as he tried to clear up all the commotion. All the birds and the scorekeepers quieted down. “Okay Kanafa, what do we have?” he asked.
“It looks like Nakshi is leading with twenty-six; Guvu is still in second with twenty-two.”
“What about Bahati?”
“What about Lenny?”
“What about Wamariri?”
“Quiet!” yelled Bwana Zungumza, capturing all their attention again.
“Okay,” said Kanafa, “I think that’s Juni in third with sixteen…”
“Guys!” called one of the leopards from off to the side of them. “I think we’ve got one down for good,” he said. He pointed towards the turn where Maneno had fallen.
“Right,” said Bwana Zungumza, “I’ll take care of that. Kanafa, you help these guys sort out the scores. I’ll be back soon.”
“Should we wake your mom up?”
“No. Not yet. Let’s let her rest first. We’ll wake her when it’s closer to nighttime.”
“Alright,” replied Simba, then something caught his attention in the infield. He glanced towards the end of the track, where Maneno still lay.
“Uh oh,” he said. Nala turned to look at her mate. “I think Bwana wants us.”
Nala looked over at Bwana Zungumza too. He was waving at them from inside the infield, gesturing for them to go over towards the turn. Nala then saw Maneno too. She gulped. “Yup. I guess we should go.”
Lenny came running back down the front stretch, knowing that eventually he should wind up catching one of these things. Rakusa and Winda heard the crowd cheering as he did so, and the pair made their way over towards the outside of the turn…waiting.
“I don’t really know if I should do this,” said Winda. “Shairi told me to wait until night.”
“If you don’t want to, don’t bother,” replied Rakusa, not taking his sights away from the prey.
“Oh, I want to,” replied Winda, but as she said that, something to her right caught her attention. The Kimaland Pride was close to the track’s edge, watching as a couple of volunteers helped drag Maneno’s body out of the track. She gulped. “On second thought…”
The prey began to run. The antelope pulled away from the zebra which pulled away from the buffalo. Since the previous three kills had occurred simultaneously, the three pieces of prey had all been grouped together.
Not anymore, as the crowd cheered. Lenny crossed the line, logging his seventh lap and point, before he began to home in on the buffalo. Although the buffalo was closest to Lenny though, the antelope was the one that was closest to Rakusa.
Rakusa began to pick up the pace as the antelope charged into the turn. Winda remained in her spot; she didn’t want to be in the middle of the turn while all this action was going on. Coming out of the long turn, Bahati was waiting off to the side for his piece of the hunt as well.
The buffalo wasn’t much of a match on speed for Lenny, but as he caught up to his hind legs and pounced up onto him, he now found himself on a similar ride as to what Wamariri had been on earlier.
The buffalo scampered his way through the turn, and as he tried to buck him off, Lenny knew he wouldn’t be able to hold on, and so he climbed on top of him instead: and just rode him.
Lenny kept trying to bite down on the buffalo’s neck, but to no avail. He looked up in front of him and his eyes grew wide. There was Anzi! She was sleeping off to the side, and the buffalo was heading right for her!
Unlike the zebra earlier however, the buffalo had not noticed this other lioness. He was too caught up in trying to get Lenny off of him, that he was completely oblivious to what danger lurked ahead.
Lenny saw it.
The buffalo tripped over the sleeping lioness, and though the rest of his hooves missed her, it still gave her a pretty big jolt, and it knocked him off balance.
Lenny was just along for the ride as he grabbed onto the buffalo’s neck, as the beast tried to continue on but was slowly stumbling towards the ground.
Finally, the buffalo crashed down into the dirt, sending a ton of dust in the air.
As soon as the shock was over, Lenny jumped off of the buffalo, not wanting to risk being on a ride like that again. But to his surprise, the buffalo didn’t get up. Was it dead?
A huge cheer and applause halfway down the backstretch, from his home pride, the Majani Pride, answered him. Lenny grinned.
Anzi walked up from behind him. “I think you should avoid buffalo from now on,” she said.
“Anzi? You’re awake?” he asked, turning around to face her.
“Yeah. I only saw the end of it though. Man… that was a deep sleep. I should thank Ema.”
“I heard she was a hypnotist.”
“Really?” asked Anzi, amazed. “You think she…? Nah, she couldn’t have done. How could’ve I woken up?”
Lenny closed in on her, and said in a whisper: “I also heard, she is a very poor hypnotist.”
“Oh,” replied Anzi. “So… did anything happen while I was asleep?”
“I think that lion over there died,” Lenny said.
Anzi looked over to try and see if she could recognize who it was, but she couldn’t. “Hmm… that’s strange,” she said.
“It doesn’t affect me any.”
“That that lion died?”
“Should it? I mean, you don’t know him.”
Anzi sighed. “I’m gonna feel guilty now,” she said, turning back to face her friend.
“Come on, hunting will get your mind off things. Look, there’s an antelope over there…”
The crowd cheered as Rakusa brought the antelope down to the ground.
“… Oh. Well there’s a zebra…”
The crowd let out another cheer as Bahati brought the zebra down to the ground.
“… Oh. Well, my brother caught something!” he exclaimed.
Anzi laughed. “Come on, let’s walk.”
Now it was another group approaching the front stretch. A group full of names: Juni, Nakshi, Wamariri, and Ema. Four of the most determined competitors were now slowly beginning to stalk the prey. A few members of the crowd were beginning to get anxious. They knew that these four competitors meant business, and therefore it was best to keep quiet for them, until one of them finally decided to make their move…
“We’re awfully sorry about your loss,” said Nala.
Maneno’s mate sniffed. She kept on looking down at him; nothing retracting her gaze.
Simba and Nala couldn’t think of much else to say. At least he’d already had a son, and he was in his adolescent years. He’d do fine. Still, it was a mourning moment for the whole Kimaland Pride.
Simba elbowed Nala. She looked at him. Simba gestured his head back towards their seats. There was no formality involved; they just felt it was respectful to come down when one of the competitors was killed, so they were free to leave whenever they thought it was best.
They began to walk back, but didn’t get very far before they were intersected by Timon and Pumbaa.
“Guys,” Timon addressed, dragging his feet, “this is really starting to get tiring. Can we take a break?”
“It’ll get cooler soon,” replied Nala, “they won’t want as many then. Tell you what, get one more batch then you can come and sit with us on the hill over there. We’ll let you have a long break then.”
Timon sighed. “Aye, aye Captain,” he said, saluting her back. He jumped back on top of Pumbaa with the tortoise shell, who then trundled off.
“You know, we should really send someone to help them,” said Simba.
Nala looked at him. “Well do you want to go?” she asked.
Simba opened his mouth to reply, but then diverted his attention to where the sound of hooves pounding the ground and audience members cheering now surrounded them. The four lionesses were making their move.
Wamariri was the closest to the buffalo’s hind legs, but she wasn’t going after him: that would be too much of a struggle. Nakshi and Ema were hanging on a bit farther back, but Juni was really far back. She then remembered her pre-race plans. She groaned as she slowed to a halt, annoyed at herself for having forgotten. After she’d brought one down, she had told herself, then she would rest. Oh well, at least she had gotten another lap completed. She walked over to the side to lie down. But wait a minute… her pride was on the front stretch. Juni groaned again. She had to do another whole lap to get back to them. What was wrong with her? She couldn’t be getting too old for this, surely. Experience was a virtue. Being too old? What a silly idea! Still, she wanted to keep kicking herself all the way down the backstretch as she moved off again. Not that one lap would make a difference, but could it?
Meanwhile, down the backstretch, Wamariri succeeded in bringing the zebra down to the ground. The buffalo and the two lionesses still in pursuit made their way around her as they entered the second long turn. A scorekeeper tallied another ten down for Wamariri.
Ema was proving herself to be able to outrun Nakshi. As her reward for it, she continued on past the buffalo and tried to home in on the antelope. Nakshi knew what that meant for her, and reluctantly went to try and tackle the buffalo.
Her efforts were proving fruitless as hunter and hunted tried to make it through the turn. She kept trying to make her move, knowing that there were only certain positions that would work, but each time that she did so, the opportunity closed. She growled and began to back off. This buffalo wasn’t going to be hers… yet.
Ema, meanwhile, was receiving a wave of support as she and the antelope made their way out onto the front stretch… which the antelope never saw.
The crowd let out a cheer as Ema brought it down.
Nakshi remained on the buffalo’s heels until they exited the turn, which is when she realized something that made her relieved. They had just let out another antelope. Nakshi charged on by the buffalo, but then tried to slow down so that the antelope didn’t hear her approaching. The crowd tried to keep their cheers low out of respect for her, just as they would have for most of the competitors.
However, the phenomena of having a quiet crowd didn’t last too long. Nakshi noticed this as she silently tried to stalk the antelope, and so she glanced over her shoulder to see what was happening.
As she did so, Uku ran right on by her, tackled the antelope, brought it down, and the crowd – erupted.
Nakshi groaned, but then forgot about it and made her way on by her until she could see the zebra: not too far down the track.
She smirked and then began to stalk him instead, but the eruption from the crowd had awoken the competitors who had been sleeping on the front stretch. When thy all checked over their shoulders to see what was happening, the first thing they saw was now a seemingly nonchalant zebra.
Their faces grew.
Sarafina, Shairi, Tumaini, and Guvu all tried to act as if they were still resting, which would not have worked had Nakshi not been so intense on stalking this particular zebra.
Sarafina was the first one that Nakshi passed, and therefore, she was the first one who could get up.
“Look Simba,” whispered Nala, pointing down at the track excited. “Mom’s going after it.”
A few distant cheers were heard on the opposite end of the track, where the audience felt that they were far away enough that it was safe enough for them to cheer.
However, Nakshi still took action: she wasn’t going to let this one get away from her.
Sarafina realized this and sprinted off away as well.
Guvu took another one of his dives across the track, but missed. Nakshi was able to run around him. She and Sarafina were now in hot pursuit of the zebra.
The Pridelanders had all got to their feet to watch Sarafina in action. She was a couple of paces behind Nakshi, but Nakshi was beginning to tire out. Already having gained twenty-eight points, she was a firm believer of: get ahead early, and then you’ll be able to pace yourself from there.
Unfortunately for Nakshi, her pace now was very slow, and through the long turn, Sarafina was able to run on the outside of her and actually overtake her as the two made their way onto the backstretch.
The Pridelanders all applauded, but they also continued to hold their breath: she hadn’t got the real prize yet.
It didn’t take her too long though. In a straight line, Sarafina was finally able to gain a lot of speed. The track was much dryer, just as she wanted it, and as the result: the zebra was now much closer to her. Halfway down the backstretch, she finally swung her arm out and caught the zebra on the side. She grasped onto it with her jaw, and then was successfully able to bring it down with a crash onto the ground.
The Pridelanders in the audience went wild. So wild, in fact, that Sarafina could actually hear them as she clamped her teeth down onto the zebra’s neck, all the way over on the backstretch. She smiled. This was totally worth it.
Back in the first turn, Shairi had also just captured her first prey of the event. The Lionrock Pride gave her their sounds of approval as well, as did her other fans of which she had picked up over the past three years.
Many members of the audience were now starting to wake up. The action was starting to pick up, and, very soon, the sun would be slowly but surely, be beginning to set.
Nakshi waddled her way over to the outside of the track.
Lenny and Anzi watched her in amusement.
“You look exhausted,” said Lenny.
Nakshi acknowledged his statement with a feeble: “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your king,” said Anzi.
Nakshi looked at her, confused. Suddenly, she remembered what had happened. One second, he had been running in their pack, then the next, he had disappeared.
“Oh yeah…” she said, then she realized, “…oh…wait…what happened?”
Anzi and Lenny exchanged glances: neither of them had expected this. Neither of them wanted to do this. Thankfully for them, neither of them had to. Nakshi worked it out.
“Maneno…is he…is he dead?”
Anzi and Lenny exchanged glances again.
“It was Maneno who died, right?” he asked quietly.
Nakshi heard him. She frantically gave one quick glance around the entire track. She couldn’t see him. It was true. The king of her pride had died.
“But…Maneno…wh – h – he was so nice!” Tears swelled up in her eyes. “I can’t believe he’s gone!”
Anzi bit her lip, before taking a step up to her.
“You know…Zoea was my friend. I was distraught…but…you’ve just gotta move on,” she said as calming as possible.
Nakshi sniffed. “It’s great that you mean well. But nobody ‘moves on.’ Not even the best when their friends die. They just do what they gotta do, but they never let their friend’s image leave their mind.”
This response silenced both Anzi and Lenny.
“Well…” said Lenny, breaking the silence, “…I guess you don’t have to move on. I mean…you are leading, aren’t you?”
“Lenny!” exclaimed Anzi angrily, but then she turned back to see Nakshi chuckling.
She sniffed. “Yeah, I guess that’s the bright side to it,” she replied, “come on, let’s move on.”
“I thought you were tired?” said Anzi.
“I am, but my pride’s on the front stretch. Come on, let’s go.”
Pumbaa raised the stick up. The silhouette of a bird coming down swooped over them. The savannah was starting to lose its light.
“Zazu!” exclaimed Pumbaa, “you’re back!”
Simba and Nala were sitting off just to the side of them. They turned their heads as Zazu landed, and then decided to walk over to him.
“Hi Zazu,” said Simba quietly, “how did it go?”
Zazu sighed. “Well, it wasn’t too bad. Her father was busy so I didn’t speak to him directly.” Zazu began brushing his wing with the other. “I feel that it was my responsibility to tell him myself, but the others refused.” He sighed again. “Oh well, it stopped me from doing the hard part. I guess that they’ll know how to bring it to him best, they know him better than I do.”
“Hmm,” was Simba’s only reply.
A short silence followed, broken by Timon who was sitting the other side of Pumbaa, clicking his fingers.
“Excuse me Zazu. We’re the ones with the stick.”
Zazu turned around. “And what would you like to know?” he asked, rather snappily.
“Who’s leading?” asked Pumbaa, “and where’s Sarafina?”
“Let me check,” replied Zazu, preparing to fly off.
“You don’t know?” asked Timon.
“No… I’ve been gone half the day.”
Timon lied back down as Zazu took off. Simba and Nala returned back to their seats.
Nakshi was leading, and Sarafina was twelfth with twelve points. Those stats didn’t last for long though. Ema completed a lap and then brought down an antelope, Uku then, to the crowd’s approval, brought down a zebra, Wamariri brought one down two and Guvu was able to successfully utilize his ambush strategy once again, Nakshi and Juni fell asleep in front of their prides on the front stretch, and Rakusa was able to bring one down. Now, Bahati was beginning to size up a zebra, unaware that Sarafina behind him was doing the exact same thing. The crowd’s attention, however, was focused across to the other side of the track where Rakusa had just made a run at the antelope, and Wamariri joined him as the prey ran on by.
“Woo hoo!” Zazu cheered.
“Shh, Zazu!” whispered Nala. She and Simba had been intense on watching Sarafina, and remaining as silent as possible while she had been approaching Bahati from behind.
Simba looked around and listened. It wasn’t just Zazu; everyone was cheering.
“What just happened Zazu?” asked Simba.
“Rakusa just knocked Wamariri over, and now he’s about to bring that antelope down! I knew he was a good fellow. First time I saw him he came up to me and said…”
“Zazu, could you please…” began Nala, but she was then cut off as everyone on the hills began cheering again. Rakusa’s move had paid off. He’d brought the antelope down.
Meanwhile, Sarafina heard the cheers echoing around the hills also. Bahati checked over his shoulder just to ensure that the cheer wasn’t because someone was beginning to make a run on him. Well… not yet it hadn’t been. Sarafina and Bahati met each other’s gazes, and then with the lioness only a couple of paces behind the lion, they both took off in a sprint.
Not too far in front of the pair was a buffalo, but neither of them really wanted to go to all that extra effort that was required to kill one of those things. They were both after the zebra.
On the other side of the track, Rakusa had gotten up from his kill, and he could now see Wamariri running towards him from where she had fallen. Rakusa checked towards the right. Every animal on the track in front of him was a lion. It obviously wasn’t ten points that Wamariri was after.
Sarafina and Bahati were both right on the zebra’s heels as they entered the backstretch, but neither could bring him down yet. Doing so would mean the zebra tumbling and then tangling with the other lion, and although they were both competitors, neither wanted to harm the other one. Not this early anyways.
The buffalo had began running, fearing that he himself was going to become the prey, but the two lions ignored him and ran straight on by, still right on the tail of the zebra.
“Excuse me,” yelled the lioness angrily, “would you mind explaining to me what the hell just happened?”
“I knocked you over so that I could get the ten points instead of you. It’s a competitive sport, Wamariri.”
Wamariri growled and then cuffed Rakusa across the face. The crowd reacted with an “Ooo!” followed by a couple of lions shouting out hateful remarks, directed at Wamariri.
“You would have done the same,” replied Rakusa, lifting his head back up as if nothing had happened.
Wamariri went to cuff him again but Rakusa was able to grab her arm and slam it down on the ground. Wamariri lifted her other arm out and stuck out her claws, causing Rakusa to rise to his hind feet with his claws ready for the fight as well.
The crowd began to cheer.
The zebra shrieked as it saw that it was now approaching two other lions. Those two being Rakusa and Wamariri. He began to slow down, prepared to run backwards. Though he had been blocking Sarafina’s line of sight, Bahati had had a clear view of what was about to happen, and so he had jumped up onto the zebra’s back, knowing that with the zebra having slowed down, it would be easier for him to bring it down to the ground.
Unfortunately for Sarafina, having not realized what was going on, she had kept up her speed and was now just in front of the zebra. Bahati landed on its back and the striped animal began to come down. Sarafina took a quick glance back and gasped. It was about to fall right on her! But she’d run too far, the fight between Wamariri and Rakusa was right in front of her, and now she was essentially trapped. The zebra slammed down onto the lioness’s back and then pushed her, along with the zebra and Bahati, right into the fight, knocking both Rakusa and Wamariri off their feet.
The crowd cheered. The Pridelanders gasped.
Wamariri and Rakusa quickly got back to their feet. Rakusa had proven himself to be stronger and a better fighter than what Wamariri had thought, so she gave one last snarl to him before turning around and continuing on her way. Rakusa would follow, but first he needed to give her a little space. He looked back over towards where Bahati, Sarafina, and the dead zebra were.
“You okay?” asked Bahati, peeking under the zebra.
“I’m alive aren’t I?” responded Sarafina. She looked as if she was in pain though. “Could you please get this thing off me?” she asked.
Bahati did so.
“I’m surprised you didn’t go for the buffalo,” he said, “you look strong enough.”
“If I wanted to play this game that safe I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place. Is the zebra off?”
“Yeah. Can you get up?”
Rakusa turned back around. There was a fair amount of space between him and Wamariri now, and Bahati seemed to have the situation with Sarafina under control. He began to walk on again.
“Ooh, careful!” exclaimed Bahati.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sarafina.
“I thought… well, no, no, it’s fine.”
“Is my leg broke?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I was lucky I was still moving when the zebra fell. If I’d stopped then I’d have had the same fate as what happened to Zoea.”
“Doesn’t that scare you any?”
Sarafina looked over towards the crowd, where she knew Nala would be sitting. “If I didn’t have a daughter it wouldn’t.”
Bahati chuckled. “I know how you feel. I’m the king of my pride.”
Sarafina smiled. “Let’s give this walking thing a try then, hmm?” she asked.
The pair of lions began to walk off. Sarafina slowly at first.
“I’d ask for your name,” Bahati said, “but I learnt last year that that wasn’t such a good idea.”
Sarafina shook her head. “I wish I wasn’t so sociable. I know virtually all of the competitors’ names but I know I shouldn’t. I don’t like watching someone I know get killed. But that’s what I signed up for, and I’m just going to have to put my mourning off until after the event.”
“Exactly,” responded Bahati. “Is your leg holding up okay?”
“It’s not broke,” replied Sarafina. “But it needs to rest. My pride’s on the front stretch, I’ll fall asleep there.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Bahati yawned. “Well fellow competitor, I’d love to stay and chat but I’ve got to get busy and win this thing.”
Sarafina chuckled. “How many points you got?” she asked.
“Thirty-two now I believe. And you?”
“Ah, of course,” replied Bahati. “It was your bad luck lap, no wonder you got yourself injured.”
Sarafina acknowledged his remark. “Should’ve brought something extra down last lap. I would’ve gone straight to twenty-two. Then think, if I’d had gotten that zebra, I’d be beating you by eleven points right now.”
“But that’s not the way it happened, so with my four healthy legs, I think I’m going to run away now.”
“I’d wish you bad luck, but you did get me unstuck from that zebra.”
“Okay, well time for me to go now.” He began to run off. “Bad luck to you too!”
Now that the Pridelanders had calmed down, Simba knew that he could get back to questioning Nala about the event.
“So Nala,” he asked, “what’s the highest amount of points ever scored in one of these events?”
Nala pondered it for a minute.
“You know… I don’t actually know. I know what the lowest winning score was, Guvu pulled it off last year.”
“How many?” asked Simba.
“One hundred and eighty-one.”
“And the leader only has about thirty or forty right now?”
“Yeah. I think when Rakusa got that antelope down he took the lead, but I don’t know what his score is.”
“Thirty-six,” said Zazu. “I keep up-to-date on his score.”
“And my mom’s I should hope,” joked Nala.
“No, now that’s what you’re here for, Madam,” replied Zazu.
“So there’s still a long way to go then,” said Simba.
“Well not really,” replied Nala. “You see, when it gets down to the final hour or two, or even three, the hunting and killing picks up a lot. That’s also when the most fatalities happen though.”
Their conversation was suddenly interrupted as the group became distracted by Timon. He had just begun to burst out in laughter, with Pumbaa sitting next to him not as amused.
“You know, it’s not really that funny Timon,” said Pumbaa.
“Are you kidding? What a loser! Even I could be doing better than her, and I’m a meerkat!”
“Are you guys making fun of Winda?” asked Nala, slightly disgusted.
“She only has six points!” exclaimed Timon. “That’s just as good as that dead guy!”
“Well perhaps she’s just conserving her energy,” protested Nala.
“I doubt it, Queenie. She seemed really disappointed when she looked over at her score compared to all the others a minute ago.”
“Well Anzi only has five,” said Nala, trying to end the conversation there.
It wasn’t really the right thing to say though. Timon was able to stifle his laughter for a moment, but then he fell back into an even greater fit of laughter.
“And that’s fourteen,” she suddenly heard a familiar voice call out from below.
The pride turned back down to face Sarafina. They all greeted her with a smile on their face.
“You okay there, Sarafina?” asked Simba.
“Well I got the bad luck lap out of the way,” replied Sarafina, lying herself down. “I really wanted to get some good hunting done, but I suppose that with my leg like this, I should at least give it some rest.”
None of the Pridelanders protested.
“When do you want us to wake you up?” asked Nala.
Sarafina thought about it for a second. “When the leader’s at fifty-two,” she replied.
Nala shook her head. “We’ll be waking you up before you fall asleep.”
“I know,” replied Sarafina. “But we both know Nala, the Siku Choka is far from being anything easy.” Sarafina gave one last smile, and then laid her head down, hoping to quickly drift off to sleep.
“Mom!” whispered Nala. It was difficult to try and call down the hill to wake her mom up, and yet be quiet enough to ensure she didn’t startle the prey that was just walking on by Sarafina. “Mom!” she called again, “Wake up!”
Sarafina’s ear twitched. She thought she’d heard her name being called. She lifted her eyelid a little and then realized where she was. Within a second she had already clambered back onto her feet, knowing there wasn’t any time to waste.
Unfortunately, her hastiness at getting up had startled the zebra walking by next to her, and it and the antelope were sent off into a run.
“Your brother’s nice,” said Anzi, now walking next to Bahati. “He doesn’t seem like the kind who’d participate in something like this though.”
“That’s what I thought too,” replied Bahati. “Lenny though, he likes to hunt. As soon as he’d heard I signed up for it again he thought he’d come and give it a try.”
“Well he’s doing well,” said Anzi. She looked back over at the front stretch. The antelope, buffalo, and zebra were all running down it. “Everyone keeps catching stuff. If we just sat on the front stretch for the rest of the night we’d be leading. That’s where they let all the prey out.”
“I think that’s what Guvu’s been doing,” said Bahati, “but he’s not leading.”
“Oh. Well… um, who is?”
“Fifty-seven,” muttered Nala, watching with the rest of the Pridelanders as Sarafina had given up on the zebra and was now sitting and waiting for the antelope. The crowd cheered as Tumaini instead brought the zebra down. She was using Guvu’s ambush strategy too. “Fifty-seven,” said Nala again, “why would Mom wait for it to go that high?”
“Well four pieces of prey and she’ll have fifty-three,” replied Simba.
“But that’s going to take a while,” said Nala. “I guess I’d be okay if it wasn’t Wamariri leading.”
“Hmm,” was Simba’s response. The two remained quiet for a while as they waited for the buffalo to get closer to Sarafina. “Hey Nala, um… I don’t know if you’ve already thought about this, but please don’t go entering yourself in this next year. I don’t want to risk losing you this early in our life.”
Nala chuckled. “Don’t worry Simba, I won’t. Maybe one day, but no, not next year, that’s for sure. Why, you think that I think that I could be doing better than my mom?”
“You are criticizing her a bit, yeah.”
“That doesn’t mean I’d do any better. Mom is a lot better with the logical and physical side of things when it comes to stuff like this than I am. I think she’s also a lot more patient.”
“Patience is a virtue,” acknowledged Simba, “and when you don’t have it you end up like one of the lions sleeping here,” he said, looking at all of the ones asleep on the front stretch.
“Surely Wamariri needs to sleep soon,” said Nala. “She’s brought down five animals and completed seven laps, that’s quite a lot.”
“No one’s completed ten laps yet, have they?” asked Simba.
“Nope,” Nala replied. “We’re getting close though.”
Finally the buffalo made its way alongside Sarafina, and she jumped out from the side and tried to tackle the creature down. The Pridelanders encouraged her with cheers, and then at last, after about half a minute of wrestling with it, Sarafina was able to bring the animal to the ground. Ten points.
“And now they let a buffalo out in front of us,” sighed Shairi. She was walking alongside her sister, Winda, as the two entered the front stretch. “That’s a shame,” Shairi added.
“Why?” asked Winda.
“Well before that buffalo was there, we could have just run on by and brought the zebra down. But now if we want to take the easy ten points, by getting the zebra, we’d have to run on by the buffalo first. The buffalo will then give out a warning shriek, and the zebra will take off into a run.”
Winda smiled. “But there’s two of us,” she said.
Shairi smiled too. “So you want to just have both of us run, and one of us get the buffalo and then have the other charge down the zebra?”
“It’s the advantage of having two pieces of prey right there. One for me and one for you.”
“Okay, well which one do you want?”
Winda gave her elder and more experienced sister the ‘What do you think?’ look.
Shairi sighed. “You want me to tackle the buffalo, don’t you?” she asked.
“I’ll make it up to you,” said Winda, “and that’s a promise.”
“Alright,” replied Shairi, “let’s go.”
Sarafina looked up in front of her. Guvu and Tumaini were lying down right next to each other, waiting for the next piece of prey to come on by. Sarafina glanced over her shoulder to see how close the next piece of prey was. Quite far away actually, though it was on the front stretch. Sarafina decided to take a moment and sit down, just to see what would happen.
Shairi and Winda chose that exact same moment to begin their run. The crowd began to cheer. Sarafina smiled. If one of them failed, she was sure that Tumaini and Guvu would remain in their places. She’d then be able to charge the prey that was left through the first couple of corners.
Winda had gotten lucky. The crowd’s cheer had drowned out the sound of her running from the zebra. Smells and scents didn’t mean a lot at the Siku Choka, because the area was surrounded with various smells and scents from the crowd watching all the way down to the organizers in the infield. As a result, by the time the zebra realized that Winda was closing in from behind it, it was too late for him to run. It turned out to be an easy ten points for Winda.
Shairi wasn’t having as much luck. She’d been able to get on the buffalo’s back okay, but the first time that she had tried to bite her jaw down and kill the buffalo, it had turned out to be a failure. She tried again, but the buffalo was already beginning to attempt to throw her off. The buffalo seemed to be having much more success as he worked towards his goal than what Shairi was having at working towards hers. Still, Shairi wasn’t about to give up.
Winda could hear the buffalo’s hooves approaching, and so she backed away from the zebra, watching as her sister tried to hang on and bring the buffalo down. The buffalo was running all over the place, and it was a good thing that Winda had backed off because when the buffalo threw himself sideways, his rear legs clipped the zebra’s carcass, and he was virtually forced into a buck which was so sudden and violent, that it threw Shairi off and an extra five to ten feet into the air.
Winda gasped, and then closed her eyes as her sister crunched back down onto the ground on her back. Winda ran over to her sister instantly.
“Shairi!” she screamed. “Sister, sister, are you okay?” she asked as she approached her side.
It only took Sarafina a couple of seconds to disable and kill the buffalo a little bit farther down the straight. It had already become wounded and weak. Nobody cheered when she did so. It was obvious that Shairi was not going to get up from that one. Even the animals in the crowd who could not see in the night had been able to hear the severity of the thud that had echoed around the hills when Shairi had landed. The only one who figured that she might have been okay was Winda. She would soon find out that she was wrong.
A few minutes of weeping followed for Winda, but when some boos were thrown out from along the backstretch, from where Wamariri had just caught an antelope, Winda snapped out of it. She got up and took a step back from her deceased sister.
“I shouldn’t have made you go after that buffalo, Shairi,” she said. She sniffed. “I would have got off him as soon as he started to put up a fight,” she added. She thought back to her first piece of prey that she’d brought down a little while ago. Her sister had helped her with that. Until then she was the laughing stock of the whole Siku Choka, but then with that kill she had actually been beating her sister. She sniffed again. “I had a higher score than you! It was selfish of me to go after the zebra,” she said. She looked back down at her dead sister. “I promised I’d make it up to you,” she said. “You helped me get twenty points, sis, and so now I’m going to make them worth it. I’m going to win this thing, and when they all huddle around me and ask me questions about it later, I’m going to owe it all to you. You deserve it, sis.”
Those were Winda’s final words to her sister. Now, she had to make good on her promise. She began to walk again.
“My, things have certainly changed a lot, haven’t they?” asked Sarafina nervously.
Uku looked back at her. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Sarafina took note of how her face was fairly wrinkled, but even so, she could still see the facial features that had made this lioness stand out from the crowd in her golden days when her reputation had been the highest.
“I—I… well, it’s nothing,” stammered Sarafina. “It’s just, I was there the last time you won a Siku Choka. I never thought I’d actually get to speak to you.”
Uku gave a grin. It almost looked like a forced smile, but Sarafina knew that at her age, Uku had to put her facial muscles to a lot of effort to be able to smile. She reminded Sarafina of her grandmother when she did this.
“I remember that day,” said Uku. The two continued to walk alongside each other down the backstretch. “Were you competing then or were you in the crowd?”
“Oh, I was in the crowd,” replied Sarafina. “I wasn’t old enough to compete back then.”
“I hope I didn’t inspire you to do this,” said Uku. “The Siku Choka is a one way ticket to death. It is synonymous with hell.”
Sarafina laughed. “I’ve seen the last eight Siku Chokas, Uku. I think I had enough time to make a reasonable decision.”
“You’re probably right,” Uku replied. “Having fun?” she asked.
“When I get closer to the leader I will be,” Sarafina replied.
“Well we’re getting close to her now,” Uku said. “Look, she’s lying just over there, sleeping.”
Sarafina looked farther down the backstretch. Sure enough, Wamariri had collapsed onto the ground. The crowd sitting on the hill next to her was trying to make as much noise as possible so that she wouldn’t fall asleep. Sarafina smirked.
“How many points do you have?” asked Uku.
“Thirty-four now,” Sarafina replied.
“Not too bad,” said Uku. “I don’t think we’re halfway yet. Kind of hard to tell at night. Can’t judge the time by the sun.”
Sarafina looked up at the sky. Many stars were out but she didn’t know how to read them. The sun had long since set. It was as dark as what it was going to get. In the audience, many of those who couldn’t see too well at night had drifted off to sleep. Sarafina yawned.
“Not tired now, are we?” asked Uku.
Sarafina shook her head. “Just waking up,” she replied. “Glad the ground’s hard,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back on the front stretch.”
Uku smiled. “Yes, that is where all the action is, isn’t it?”
Tumaini and Guvu’s strategy sounded too good to be true. They both sat or lied down at the end of the front stretch, and then whenever a piece of prey went by them they would go after it. They would score ten points and wait for the next piece of prey, which was also let out on the front stretch. That animal would then make it to the end of the straight where one of Tumaini or Guvu brought that animal down. The only way that the strategy would not work was if one of the animals was able to make their way on by them without being brought down, or if there was another lion between the point where the prey was released and the point where Tumaini and Guvu sat. The plan had its advantages in that it stopped anyone else waiting on the backstretch from scoring and that it meant these two lions could get a bunch of points without losing their energy, but the plan also had its disadvantages.
An antelope and a zebra had just been brought down by the pair, and now they both sat to the side as the buffalo walked on by. However, Anzi and Bahati were now at the heels of the new antelope and zebra that had been put on the track, and while Anzi was able to bring hers down easily, Bahati mistimed his attack and thus decided to run on by his prey. He kept running. It was a strategy that had not been used since the start of the event. By running, Bahati could log a bunch of digit points, which could become crucial late in the event. Guvu and Tumaini may have had a lot of points, but Guvu had 62 while Tumaini had 54. The last digits of their scores were very low.
Not only that, but if Bahati kept running like this, when he gave up on that tactic, he would likely be able to time it to where he was the only awake lion on the backstretch, and then he could bring the buffalo down that Guvu and Tumaini had let on by.
Guvu had been the first to work this all out. He began to walk. Tumaini soon followed. But she began to run.
“Nala,” said Simba.
“Yes?” asked Nala.
“Question,” said Simba.
“Answer,” replied Nala.
“Okay, why if you and your mom respect Juni so much, has she become one of the ones sleeping here on the front stretch? She must be in last now.”
Nala grinned. “You wait Simba, Mom and I know Juni. When she wakes up, she wakes up. She won’t fall back to sleep for the rest of the event.”
“But then again,” said Simba, “she’s been in the last six Siku Chokas, correct?”
“And she’s lost the last three.”
Nala glared at her mate, but Simba could tell that she was still being friendly.
“And just who do you want to see win if my mom doesn’t, then?” asked Nala.
“Say Rakusa!” whispered Zazu from beside them.
“Eh… you’ve gotta face facts,” commented Timon, “Wamariri’s going to win it.”
“I’ve always felt bad for Tumaini,” stated Pumbaa as he put his input in. “She travelled all the way down here and none of her pride is here to see her. Wouldn’t it be a story for her when she gets back to her pride and says that she won it?”
Nala looked back at Simba.
“Well?” she asked.
“Nakshi,” said Simba.
Nala frowned. “Why?” she asked.
“Well her king died,” said Simba, “so I feel bad for her, but also she won it a couple of years ago, so I guess cheering for her might not turn out to be in vain.”
Nala accepted that answer, and was about to return to watching the event, if Simba hadn’t had just added something to his first explanation:
“And also, she’s attractive.”
Nala shot a look at him. Simba was smiling; he’d been expecting that reaction.
“But not as much as you,” he added.
Nala let out a humph and then returned to watching the event, but not too much later she replied back:
“Well I guess I can’t blame you. Honestly, after Mom or Juni, I wouldn’t mind seeing Guvu win it.”
Nala looked back at Simba to see his reaction. Simba was smirking.
“Actually,” said Simba, “my second favorite is Uku after all I’ve heard about her. Nakshi’s okay but I wouldn’t go on a date with her. I just wanted to hear you admit your admiration for Guvu.”
Nala growled, but it was all in good spirit.
Finally, she could now return to watching the event.
Rafiki was the easy culprit for Timon and Pumbaa. Who else did those two know that would wake them up by whacking them both on the head with a stick?
“So would you mind explaining why you had to wake us up?” asked Timon as he continued to rub the sore part on the top of his head.
“Well, we’ve been running low on de rainberries,” said Rafiki.
“But everyone’s asleep!” exclaimed Timon. “This is boring, everyone’s just running or walking! No one’s brought down anything for ages, what’s with these guys? Nobody wants to watch this, they’d rather get some shut-eye time.”
“And the water’s cold,” added Pumbaa, “who wants to eat cold stuff at night?”
“I’m just asking you nicely,” said Rafiki calmly.
“By whacking us on the heads with a stick?” asked Timon sarcastically, still not over his anger from his ‘wakeup call.’
“Eh…guys…” Nala began. She was able to get their attention and then she gestured over towards the track.
Bahati, who had been running, was closing up on a group of three lionesses: Anzi, Sarafina, and Uku. An antelope and a buffalo were walking in front of the group. Once the three lionesses realized the opportunity that they would be leaving Bahati if they were not to do anything about it, all three of them took off into a sprint. Not too far from behind Bahati, Tumaini was running too. All five lions were after the antelope and, mainly, the zebra. Sarafina and Anzi, being the fastest runners with the best head start, got to the zebra first. They both set up for the pounce and the kill as they crossed the finish line and both logged another point, but the extra ten went to Anzi as she beat Sarafina to the zebra, and Sarafina was left to stumble around the creature’s legs as it fell. She lost her momentum and the other three lions ran on by her in pursuit of the antelope. Sarafina muttered something under her breath and made her way back over to the outside, soon to be joined by a rather proud and extremely excited Anzi. Meanwhile, Tumaini led Uku and Bahati into the turn as she was the first one onto the antelope’s legs. She made her attack, and made it successful. Ten points for Tumaini as she brought the antelope down to the ground, and Uku and Bahati trotted on empty-handed.
“Stupid lions woke Rakusa up,” commented Zazu. The crowd had been cheering during the five-lion charge, and now it was apparent that Rakusa was stirring, though for now he remained laying down on the front stretch.
“Everyone’s going to be up in a minute,” Nala reassured him. “Night time, the best time to hunt. You can see a lot better than your prey, the air is cool, and the ground is hard.”
Simba yawned. “Also the best time to sleep too.”
“Exactly,” replied Nala. “But these conditions last into the early morning. Hunt as much as you can at night, then try to use the darkness to your advantage just before the sun rises, then you can sleep up until there’s just a couple of hours left, then you take a look at your score, and then you run and kill as much as possible in order to win.”
“And what happens if it rains?” asked Simba.
Nala smiled. “If it rains, this, this hill right here, is the best place to be. You do not want to be a competitor in the rain, but you want to be up here. It is great to watch but none of the lions will want to hunt. The problem is, it’s the best time to do it because we have so much more traction compared to our preys’ hooves, but the mud and the slickness will wear – you – out, and you can’t really go to sleep once you’ve hunted enough because the ground is so uncomfortable, so then you just end up with a bunch of mad, tired lions walking around being forced to hunt.”
“Now that sounds more like hunting,” was Simba’s response.
Nala frowned. “What, ‘a bunch of mad, tired lions walking around being forced to hunt,’ that sounds more like hunting?”
“No,” replied Simba, “that sounds more like life.”
“Anyways,” interrupted Rafiki. “If de action going to pick up, de lions going to want rainberries.”
“And you know this for a fact?” asked Timon. He turned around. “Hey! Lions!” he yelled, gaining the attention of all the Pridelanders and several lions from other prides sitting on the front stretch. “Raise your paw if you would want some rainberries!” he shouted. All their paws went up. Timon’s jaw dropped, and he placed his hand to his head. “Oi, oi, oi,” he groaned.
“Come on little buddy,” addressed Pumbaa, getting up and placing the empty tortoise shell on his back.
“Why did I agree to this?” asked Timon, as he jumped up onto Pumbaa’s back and grabbed a hold of the tortoise shell.
“Because the alternate choice was a scorekeeper,” replied Nala, “and we figured you wouldn’t like that.”
“Well I don’t like this either.”
“Well it’s too late now.”
“Is there anything even in this for me?” asked Timon.
“Yup,” replied Simba, breaking up the argument. “See, if it rains Timon,” he began, walking up to him and Pumbaa and taking hold of the tortoise shell, “you can use this as a hat,” he ended, turning the tortoise shell over and placing it on top of Timon’s head. Problem: it was a little too big for Timon, or it looked it at the least. Nala chuckled.
Timon sighed from beneath the tortoise shell. “Come on Pumbaa, let’s get out of here.”
The warthog immediately obeyed and, much less reluctantly than Timon, took off into a trot.
Nala was still chuckling when Simba made his way back over to her.
“Something tells me you don’t like him,” said Simba.
“Something tells me he don’t like me.”
“Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”
“My point exactly.”
“We don’t like words, do we?”
“Words require energy. Energy require not being awake all night.”
Nala smiled. “Aw,” she replied, “my big, strong lion getting tired?”
“Nala, not in front of the pride.”
Nala chuckled again and licked his cheek. “The morning will be here soon. That will be the best time to sleep,” she reassured him.
“I’ll be okay once it rains,” he replied.
“It’s not supposed to rain.”
“You don’t want it to rain.”
“Because although rain would make this event exciting, it means you’d be forcing yourself to stay outside and watch, even though up above water will be coming down from the sky, and thus, you’ll essentially be forcing yourself to get wet and cold.”
“True,” replied Nala, “but you’ll be wet and cold too, so I don’t see why you should want it to rain.”
“Because it doesn’t bother me as much.”
Nala shook her head. “Still,” she added, “it’s not supposed to rain.”
“It’s not supposed to rain.”
“You need to get better at arguments.”
Sarafina glanced over, slightly caught off guard by the sudden outburst. As she’d been walking on the outside of the track, Tumaini had been running by on the inside, but now she seemed to be much slower and extremely angry.
“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!” Tumaini yelled as she clenched her eyes tight because of the pain.
“Need help?” asked Sarafina.
Tumaini sighed. “I’m fine,” she said.
“Then could you clear up your language, please?”
Tumaini glared at her. “I just pulled a muscle while running at night in the Siku Choka. Don’t you think I have a right to be upset?”
“I do, that’s why I was only asking politely.”
“Well…” Tumaini began, but she couldn’t think of a good counterargument. She sighed. “Yeah…yeah…you’re right,” she finished. She began limping her way to the outside of the track to join Sarafina. “Sorry you had to listen to that. Gods I’m in a lot of pain.”
“Well I’m sorry to hear that,” replied Sarafina, in a kinder tone than before.
“I was about to start hunting too,” added Tumaini, still mad about her injury.
“What’s your score?” asked Sarafina.
Since Timon and Pumbaa had left, five pieces of prey had been brought down, so with the points beginning to tally up now, it was a no-brainer to Sarafina why Tumaini was upset.
“Come on,” said Sarafina, “let’s move.” The two began walking, though slowly at first. “You’ve got a bunch of points already, at least that’s a safety cushion.”
“I’m not leading though.”
Sarafina smiled. “You’ve set your expectations rather high, haven’t you?”
“Course I have. I may be a rookie, Sarafina, but I would not have travelled all the way down here to compete unless I thought I could win it.”
“It’s a real shame you had to travel that far. None of your pride came with you?”
“Some. A couple of my friends mainly.”
“Well that’s good,” replied Sarafina. She looked back up in front of her to see if they were coming up on anything. Every step they took however, she would repeatedly hear a groan coming out from Tumaini as she applied pressure to her bad leg. “It’ll be okay again soon,” said Sarafina, in an attempt to reassure the other lioness.
“I know,” replied Tumaini, although her voice seemed a lot higher-pitched and crackly than before. Sarafina looked over her and was surprised to find that Tumaini was actually trying extremely hard to hold back tears. “I don’t know what you’re thinking Sarafina,” she said, “but please don’t try to reassure me or weaken me. I’m your competitor. I’m just really tired, I’m just really in pain, and I’m just really mad. Just ignore me,” she ended, her voice trembling. She sniffed. Obviously Tumaini knew that Sarafina could tell she was on the brink of cracking. Sarafina began to feel uncomfortable. She really didn’t know what to think.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked.
Tumaini sniffed. “Do whatever the hell you feel like doing.”
Sarafina thought about it for a second, and then smiled. She wanted to do this, and maybe it would even cheer Tumaini up.
“I’ve seen lions get killed, some dreams get grilled, and corpses stinking up the place.”
Tumaini gave her a weird look.
“Never heard it?” asked Sarafina. Tumaini’s failure to change her expression was enough of an answer for Sarafina.
“I’ve had mud stuck in my fur, and injuries I can’t cure, and I’ve broke down when I got second place.
“And although I come here year to year, and all the time I see lions shed a tear,
“There still remains one thing that just ain’t clear, and that’s why the hell does the crowd always cheer?”
Tumaini chuckled. “Yup. That sounds like the Siku Choka alright.”
Sarafina shook her head. “I can’t believe you’ve never heard it. There’s a chorus too but you don’t want to hear me sing.”
“It’s better than seeing you go on and score more points than me.”
“I think there are other lions rather than me to worry about right now.”
Sarafina sighed. “Like Wamariri.”
Tumaini was slightly puzzled at Sarafina’s response, in particular the sighing part. “You don’t like her?” she asked.
“Uh…no one does.”
“Cos at the end of every Siku Choka she always pushes the line. She will go out of the way and put someone else in certain danger of losing their life in order for her to score points.”
“Certain danger, Tumaini. She essentially murders them, and then gets away with it because there is and there cannot be any rule against the stuff that she does. Have you never been to a Siku Choka?”
“No I have not. I’ve just heard stories.”
Sarafina nodded in acknowledgment and then gave a slight sign of a smirk. Tumaini caught onto it.
“What?” she asked.
“It’s fine now.”
“And no I’m not going to thank you,” added Tumaini.
Sarafina smiled. “I didn’t expect you to.”
Tumaini looked behind her to make sure no one else was around to hear what she was about to say. No one was. “Please don’t think bad things of me, Sarafina,” she began. “I just really want this bad, and I know that making friends with the competitors is one of the last things I’m supposed to do.”
“Completely understandable,” replied Sarafina. Then, she took off into a run.
Now Tumaini realized something wasn’t quite right here. She’d lost her focus while she’d been talking. She was focused on talking to Sarafina. It seemed unnatural for her right now to return to the competition. But, hadn’t she just been arguing the complete opposite? Her leg felt okay, and so she began to run too.
“The seedless ones are on this side of the shell, the ones with the seeds are on this side,” said Timon fairly loudly so that all of the hungry or thirsty lions stood around him and Pumbaa. Zazu flew down next to them.
“Pumbaa,” he addressed, “Guvu is leading with 84 points, Sarafina is in ninth with 36 points.”
He then turned around to face another curious lion who had asked him for a score a minute ago. “Ma’am, Tumaini is in second with 68.”
He then turned around to face another. “Sir, the top five are Guvu, Tumaini, Wamariri, and Anzi and Winda are tied for fourth.”
He then turned around to face another. “Ma’am…”
“Aw,” commented Nala, looking back at them. “I feel bad for all of them. Pumbaa wanted to know a score so he held the stick up when all the lions were crowded around for rainberries, and so all those lions asked him for scores too.”
Suddenly, a loud echo of a cheer was beginning to form around the hills surrounding the Siku Choka. When Simba and Nala looked back, they could instantly see why. Uku, Wamariri, Bahati, Guvu, Sarafina, and Tumaini were all in pursuit of a buffalo. For the five who missed it, a zebra and an antelope were on the front stretch, not too far in front of where the pack was now. The crowd of lions around Timon and Pumbaa broke up to watch the chase. These were among some of the most entertaining moments of the event.
Uku was able to make the first pounce onto the buffalo and then she grabbed a tight hold on it, hoping that eventually it would come down. Instead however, Wamariri took advantage of the slowing of the buffalo and jumped onto the back of its neck, and then she delivered the fatal bite and the buffalo collapsed onto the ground, taking Uku with it. Both the lions were okay, but now they couldn’t chase after the two pieces of prey on the front stretch, and only Wamariri had been able to get the ten points for this buffalo. Of course, since it had been brought down, the pack of four lions that remained now had a new buffalo released onto the front stretch that they could chase as well. Realizing an added potential opportunity for another set of ten points, both Uku and Wamariri got up and began running again.
That’s Guvu and Bahati in front of me…alright; Guvu’s been running for a while now so I should be faster than him. The same goes for Tumaini behind me. I don’t know how good Bahati is. Now I really don’t want to go after this new buffalo…
Don’t think Sarafina, girl; just run.
…okay, okay, thanks for your input, brain. Nobody asked for it. And I am running. Could I run faster? Let’s try.
Huh, I guess I could run faster. Alright, let’s get this zebra. We’re closing in on Bahati and Guvu…leave room between yourself and the buffalo…you don’t want to startle it. Oh! Guvu got the buffalo. Just me and you now Bahati and…and…I hear footsteps behind me. Tumaini’s closing in on me. Damn it. Come on girl, let’s just get this zebra, just get this zebra. Come on, you’re right on Bahati’s hind legs now…you’re faster than him. Just get this zebra…get this zebra…we’re alongside him…and Tumaini’s alongside us too now…that’s great. But the zebra’s on the inside and Tumaini’s on the outside, she’s got farther to go. Are we close enough now? No…a little more…a little more…now? No. Now? Not yet…we’re in front of Bahati though. Tumaini’s going after the antelope! That’s great. Alright…now? Yup.
Sarafina made the pounce and was able to shift her weight onto the front of the zebra enough to make it stumble and enough so that she could deliver the final, fatal bite. Bahati, Tumaini, Wamariri, and Uku all ran on by her. She didn’t care. Ten points for Sarafina. She looked up to see who else would get the ten points for the antelope. Well…Tumaini’s leg must have been better now. Ten points went to her too.
“Now this is more like it,” Simba commented, as now five lions were running around the track and two were waiting to ambush some prey.
“Told you,” replied Nala.
Zazu flew down next to them. “Your answer is Juni, Timon,” he said simply.
“Lowest amount of points?” asked Nala.
“Correct,” replied Zazu.
Nala shook her head. “You just wait, Timon. You just wait.”
“Ooh, look at that!” exclaimed Zazu excitedly. “Rakusa is the closest to the prey!”
Indeed he was. Unfortunately for Rakusa however, the buffalo let out a cry when it realized he was closing in. This startled the zebra and the antelope which were walking in front of the buffalo, and they both broke out into a run. However, Rakusa ran on by the buffalo, still believing that the antelope or the zebra would be easier pickings. He was right. The trouble with an antelope was catching it, not killing it, but since it had broken out into its run very late compared to the others, catching it turned out to be no problem to Rakusa, and killing it turned out to be easier done than said. Ten points for Rakusa.
“Woo!” exclaimed Zazu, as Rakusa’s pride also cheered from behind where the Pridelanders were sitting.
“I can’t believe I want Guvu to miss something,” Nala said to her mate. Simba chuckled. The zebra and buffalo were still running, and the first lion waiting in ambush on the outside was Guvu. If he missed them, the second was Sarafina.
Nala’s prayers went mostly unanswered. Guvu brought down the zebra. Now, Sarafina was left with the buffalo.
“Don’t do it, Mom. Don’t do it,” Nala cautioned, but only she and her mate could hear. Meanwhile, the crowd let out another cheer as Winda brought down the newly released antelope before it had even had a chance to get on the track. “And…she’s not going to listen…” ended Nala, as Sarafina began to run out and after the buffalo.
She’d made a good, early run and was able to quickly get on the buffalo’s back…but that was the easy part. Sarafina now had to try and bite down on the neck of the buffalo and kill it without finding herself being bucked off. It worked best if it was done quickly. Unfortunately, it did not seem to be going that way. The buffalo began to buck.
“Get off it, Mom. Get off it,” commented Nala, a little more anxious now. This time the two were thinking alike. Sarafina jumped off and let the buffalo go. Nala let out a sigh of relief.
Everyone’s attention now returned to the front stretch where Winda brought down a zebra. A lot of lions cheered.
“There sure were a lot of Shairi fans here today,” Simba commented.
“I’m not surprised,” replied Nala. “She finished third last year I think. Second the year before that. I’m sure she taught her sister a few tricks.”
Suddenly a load of laughter and cheers and applause emerged from turn towards the right of where the Pridelanders sat. Simba, Nala, and a lot of other lions curiously looked on in an attempt to find out why the sudden outburst had occurred. So far, they’d been unsuccessful. That was until Simba asked: “Is that a buffalo on the ground?”
Sure enough, though it had been a while since Sarafina had been riding on the buffalo’s back in an attempt to bring it down, she had obviously bitten through something crucial because the buffalo had barely made it two hundred yards before he had now collapsed onto the ground and died.
Nala smiled. Simba did too.
“Does that count?” he asked.
“Yup,” replied Nala merrily.
Nala held up a stick and a random bird from above flew down next to her.
“What is it you would like to know?” asked the bird as it landed.
“How many points behind the leader is Sarafina?” Nala asked.
“Ah, I just answered a similar question to another lion,” said the bird, “didn’t she just score five seconds ago?”
“Literally,” answered Nala.
“Very well…I believe that puts her 52 points behind our current leader Guvu, and she’s now in fifth place.”
Wamariri brought a zebra down. The crowd groaned. Anzi was about to bring an antelope down, but Winda ambushed it. Some former Shairi fans cheered. On the hills, some animals and prides were moving onto the hill next to the front stretch, since that was where this was all now occurring. Nala was being proven right: it was night, and the action was picking up. Nakshi and Juni were the only ones left asleep…on the front stretch. The Serengeti Border pride cheered and a lot of jaws dropped when Ema suddenly came running out of nowhere and brought the newly released antelope and zebra down. Twenty points.
Six lions were now waiting in ambush on the front stretch. However, most of them were just letting the buffalo that was on the track, pass. A new antelope and zebra had just been released, and both of them were worth waiting for. And if you missed? Well then when one of them was caught, a new one would be released. It seemed that for this moment in time, five new lions had caught onto Guvu’s strategy.
So where was the other lion that had helped give birth to this strategy? She, Tumaini, was with Bahati, Lenny, and Uku, and they were all now running out of the final turn. The antelope and zebra were but two hundred yards in front of them.
The six lions in ambush gulped and got ready; the crowd got to their feet; Sarafina meanwhile was on the backstretch, running and trying her best to catch up to the action.
The antelope was the first piece of prey to creep on by Ema, who remained still, trying not to startle the creature. She slowly began to follow it, hoping she could get to it before the pack of four came charging after it. If she couldn’t, then the zebra was not too far behind her. So far, everything was going well, until suddenly some of the crowd began to cheer as Rakusa tackled the buffalo down further on down the straight. The cheer startled the antelope and zebra, and they both began to run.
Ema, Wamariri, Anzi, and Winda were now all after the antelope, and Rakusa had set himself back up in position to ambush it.
“He shouldn’t do that,” cautioned Nala from the stands.
“Why not?” asked Zazu apprehensively.
“Ambushing won’t work if you have that many lions already charging it. You risk a higher chance of being hit. I’m sure he knows that though. He’s done this before.”
To put it quite simply: Nala was wrong. Rakusa went after the antelope just as Winda had set herself up for the pounce and the kill. Anzi and Ema realized potential conflict and thus ran around the antelope, but Wamariri remained in pursuit. Rakusa was able to attack the antelope from the side and bring it down dead onto the ground right in front of Winda. Winda tried to slow down to prevent herself from tripping over the deceased animal, but she did a better job of slowing down than Wamariri did, who thus ended up running into her and knocking them both down to the ground. A livid Wamariri looked up in time to see Rakusa and his eyes widen. Rakusa began running again, and Wamariri looked behind her.
Now, Bahati, Lenny, Uku, and Tumaini were all charging after the zebra, and yet right in front of them an antelope, Winda, and Wamariri were all lying on the ground. The zebra tripped over the antelope carcass and stumbled, allowing Bahati to jump and land on its back before delivering the fatal bite to the neck. Now there were five animals on the ground…and Uku, Lenny, and Tumaini were all still running. Uku caught the antelope too and slammed down onto the ground on her side. Lenny didn’t know what to do and so he decided to just keep running and let fate determine what happened…and thus he ended up just running over Wamariri, while Tumaini suffered a similar fate to Uku as she tripped over Winda. All in all, Bahati and Rakusa had both picked up ten points, and though Winda, Wamariri, Bahati, and Lenny all got back up onto their feet and began running or walking off again, two of the biggest names in the competition were left lying on the ground and seemingly heavily injured: Uku and Tumaini.
Simba sighed. “Well,” he began, catching Nala’s attention, “at least your mom wasn’t in that.”
On the inside of the track, Kanafa the cheetah was running over to where alongside where Uku and Tumaini were still lying down on the ground. “You guys okay?” he called out when he got there.
“I am,” came the response from Uku as she grabbed a hold of one of her forelegs with her other one, obviously in a lot of pain. “I think I’ve dislocated or fractured my shoulder though, I don’t think it’s broke. I’ll sleep on it.”
“Alright, well you’ll need to get yourself to the outside of the track. What about Tumaini, is she okay?”
“I dunno,” replied Uku facing Kanafa, “I really don’t want to roll over with my shoulder like this.”
Kanafa looked down the track to see if anyone was coming. No one was. He had time. He ran out and ran up to Tumaini. He looked around her head. A small trickle of blood was visible on the floor next to it. Kanafa was worried that if he lifted her head up it would be even worse. He looked on further down the lioness’s body and saw that her chest was still rising up and down with her breaths. Well, at least she was alive.
“Tumaini, can you hear me?” he asked.
“Touch me…and you die,” came the response.
Kanafa breathed a sigh of relief. “You need to get to the outside of the track if you think you can still compete. You’re bleeding by the way.”
“I know, and I know,” replied Tumaini.
“You’re being very pleasant about this,” he added sarcastically.
“Believe it or not, I am,” came Tumaini’s third short reply.
“Well, I’ll let you be,” the cheetah finished off, and then he ran off the track before Sarafina came flying down the front stretch.
“I guess she’s okay,” said Nala from the hillside as they saw Kanafa walk away.
“Well,” began Zazu, “I’m sure Rakusa didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“Oh, certainly not,” reassured Nala. “These things just happen. It’s a dangerous event.”
“Will everyone else be able to run by those two still lying there?” asked Simba.
Nala shrugged. “Hopefully,” she answered.
The Pridelanders looked back over to the left. A buffalo led an antelope which led a zebra, and behind them, catching up with the prey, was Sarafina.
“Well…” began Simba, before Nala pressed her paw hard to his mouth.
“Don’t say anything, Simba,” she cautioned, worried about her mom getting injured. Of course Sarafina knew to look out for the two lions on the track. But did the prey know that? Would they be so frightened for their lives that they would run and trip over one of the two lionesses lying on the ground, which could catch Sarafina off-guard and make her trip, potentially putting her in danger of breaking her neck just like Maneno had earlier? They would find out very soon.
The prey now knew Sarafina was behind them. The buffalo began running and made it by the two lying lionesses. So did the antelope. However, the zebra was slightly more spooked, and unfortunately he was the one that Sarafina had chosen to chase.
“He’s heading for…” began Simba again, but now Nala shoved her paw even harder over his mouth.
Suddenly, just as the zebra was about to have to run over Tumaini, the supposedly “injured” lioness got up and whirled around, grabbing hold of the flank of the zebra and throwing it down on the ground next to her. She then jumped forwards and bit down hard on its neck, killing the creature.
While the Pridelanders all had their jaws dropped, the rest of the audience were giving their loudest cheers and greatest round of applause that they had since Uku had been the one to bring the first piece of prey down.
“That…that…” began Nala, thinking of something to call Tumaini.
Simba began laughing. “You know what, Pumbaa? I think I’m a Tumaini fan now too,” he said to his warthog friend sitting next to him.
Meanwhile, Sarafina had stopped running and was looking down at Tumaini in disbelief. Tumaini looked up at her, beaming.
“Thanks for cheering me up, Sarafina,” she said. She got up and looked down at the carcass, then back up at her fellow competitor. “Sorry about that,” she added, still in the same merry manner however, even though blood was still rolling down one side of her face.
Sarafina finally shook her head and was able to break out of her disbelief. She smiled. “You know,” she began, “I needed to be redeterminated. Thanks for that.”
Tumaini, knowing Sarafina was just trying to make it seem like something had came out of this in her favor as well, shook her head too. “That’s not a word, Sarafina. That’s not even a word.”
It doesn’t have to be a word. Anyone should know what it means. Re-determined-ated. Re- means again, determined means to want something really bad, and –ated is some kind of adjective or whatever you call them. It means that now, more than ever, I’m determined to get points again.
Then why are you just walking around the circuit instead of bringing another piece of prey down?
I just ran a whole lap or two, brain! If you could feel physical pain, you’d know.
Can you still run?
So do it.
You’re redeterminated though, right?
No, I am, I am.
Alright! I will.
Not yet. We didn’t agree on that.
You are redeterminated, not will be redeterminated.
Alright, alright, you win. I’ll run now.
“Why’s your mom running?”
Nala sighed. “I don’t know.”
“She could just wait and ambush. Everybody else is walking onto the backstretch.”
“I know, I know. She probably thinks she has to run to make up for the ten points she just lost out on.”
“But wouldn’t it be easier to just wait and ambush and get ten points that way?”
“That’s what I would do. She probably thinks she’s redeterminated or something.”
Simba frowned. “She’s what?” he asked.
Nala shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s Mom. She comes up with words sometimes.”
Simba shook his head. “You know her too well.”
Nala looked back over at the track. “Time for a change of subject, I think,” she stated as a reply.
Simba looked around too for something else to talk about. It wasn’t too hard. “Doesn’t Nakshi look cute when she’s asleep?” he asked. He looked over at Nala to see her reaction. Nala was holding back any signs of a facial expression, as she continued to look off in the distance at the far end of the track where her mom ran.
“On second thought,” said Nala, “yes, my mom and I are very close.”
Meanwhile, Uku was still lying injured on the ground halfway down the front stretch. She knew she was losing precious time. She tried to move her leg again. It hurt. She looked back down the front stretch to see if anyone was coming. Three pieces of prey were right now just walking on by her, and Ema and Anzi were beginning to approach them as they ran. Uku groaned. She needed to move, now. She clenched her eyes tight and tried to push up with her forelegs. No good. She collapsed back down onto the ground. She was in too much pain for that. She got one of her back legs and ejected her claws, running them down the side of her other back leg. It didn’t hurt a lot, but she knew that if she tried to focus on that pain instead, she might at the least be able to get up. She tried to push herself up again and this time made it to her feet, before attempting to take her first step which quickly resulted in her falling back down on the ground.
“Oooohh,” the crowd reacted appropriately.
Uku tried scratching her back leg again, a little harder this time, and then pushed herself up again. She focused on getting herself balanced on her three good legs this time before she tried taking a step, and after several seconds of heavy concentration she finally found herself in position to stand up. She looked back down the front stretch. Ema was still coming, but Anzi had politely backed off, realizing the potential problems that could result from too many of them running by Uku. Behind Anzi however, Wamariri came flying down the straight. Knowing that Ema and Wamariri were two competitors who were not going to stop, Uku began trying to make her way over to the outside of the track on her three good legs. Some of the crowd was cheering, which Uku didn’t mind. The last thing she wanted to do right now was lie back down and rest, because that would mean she’d have to get back up again. No, for now, she’d be okay just walking along the outside, and if the crowd felt like cheering her on for doing that, then let them cheer.
Ema and Wamariri now had clear track in which they could charge down the prey in front of them. Anzi, meanwhile, decided to sit down and wait in ambush for the next piece of prey that was released once Ema or Wamariri had brought down something. Ema ran on by the buffalo and got the zebra down without much of a struggle, while Wamariri charged the antelope only to give up when it simply seemed too fast for her. Guvu used his exceptional strength to his advantage as he was able to ambush the buffalo and bring it down to the ground, dead.
Nala held up a stick. Another random bird came flying down to land next to her.
“Hello Ma’am, feel free to ask anything, we’ve all been exceptionally busy, I’m sure I can answer your question off the cuff.”
“How many points does Guvu have?” she asked.
“Hmm,” replied the bird, “considering he just took down that antelope I believe that gives him one hundred and thirty-five.”
Nala muttered something under her breath. “Okay, thank you,” she said back. The bird flew off. “We need to tell the Majibuluu pride to wake Juni up.”
“Why?” asked Simba.
“She’s over a hundred points down.”
“I thought you said…”
“Yes, but I don’t think anyone expected Guvu would be doing this well. He’s really got his strategy working for him. He’s the only one who’s daring enough to go after the buffalos.”
“Isn’t Nakshi over a hundred points down too?”
Nala waved her paw. “I don’t care about her as much. Go tell the Kimaland pride if you feel it’s essential.”
“Well shouldn’t they be keeping score of their own pride members? I mean, we all know how well Sarafina’s doing.”
“Really?” asked Nala.
“Yeah. She has fifty-eight points, making her…forty-two plus thirty-five…seventy-seven points behind Guvu.”
“And what place is she in?” asked Nala.
Simba remained silent.
“Exactly,” replied Nala. “It’s best to just make sure the other prides know what they’re doing if we want to be friendly.”
“Aren’t we meant to be competing against them?”
“We’re meant to be sportsmen. Give everyone a fair chance and may the best lion win, that’s sportsmanship.”
“If you insist. So you don’t mind if I tell the Kimaland pride?”
“Not one bit. Wait a sec though, Mom’s on the front stretch. Let’s see how well she does, first…”
Simba, Nala, and the rest of the Pridelanders all looked over and cheered Sarafina on as she came sprinting down the front stretch, catching up on the buffalo and zebra in front of her. The buffalo let out its warning call and both it and the zebra broke into a run. Sarafina was going to have to go for the buffalo. At the same time, Anzi began running at the zebra, but then to everybody’s surprise, Juni also dashed over the track and reached the zebra first, bringing it down the ground and killing it.
Somewhere in the hills where some lions were cheering, Simba looked over towards his mate to see her grinning from ear to ear.
“I’d say she’s right on cue,” Nala commented.
Simba looked back over towards the track. Sarafina had been able to dig her paws into the back of the buffalo, but other than that things weren’t going to plan. In other words, the buffalo was virtually dragging Sarafina along in the dirt behind it. Obviously she had mistimed her attack. Sarafina let the buffalo go, believing that she’d have a more realistic chance at catching the newly released zebra. Juni got up from the zebra she had just killed and then charged over the buffalo. Energy was a fascinating thing. However, Juni would have to try and bring the buffalo down before they approached Tumaini and Guvu, who were both waiting in ambush for it.
Juni was not able to succeed in her short-term mission, and now Tumaini had sprung out and was after the buffalo too. Juni decided to jump prematurely in order to beat Tumaini too it, but now she was being dragged along behind the buffalo almost exactly the same way in which Sarafina had been. However, by doing this she was able to slow the buffalo down, which unfortunately for her made Tumaini’s mission much easier, as she was able to jump up right on the back of the buffalo and deliver the fatal bite to the neck. The buffalo collapsed down onto the ground and Tumaini scored another set of ten points.
Meanwhile, in front of the Prideland, Majibuluu, and Kimaland prides on the hillside, Nakshi had virtually just copied Juni’s surprise attack from two minutes earlier, and now Sarafina was denied of another zebra as Nakshi began to collect points again.
At the same time on the backstretch, Bahati had been waiting for the antelope that Wamariri had proven to have been unable to catch. It didn’t seem so hard for Bahati though. Ten points went to him.
“All of them are now up,” noted Simba.
“Yup,” replied Nala.
“Ooh, look at that!” exclaimed Zazu. “Rakusa’s began running. He’s going to be the first to this new prey on the front stretch.”
“You got a lot of lions waiting in ambush,” Rafiki added.
A lot of the nearby Pridelanders turned around to look at him.
“Where’d you come from?” asked Simba.
“Can I not sit down and watch?” asked the Pridelanders’ ancient shaman.
“Do you have a favorite, Rafiki?” asked Nala.
“Sarafina, of course,” replied Rafiki.
“No, second to Sarafina?” asked Nala more specifically.
“Hmm…” thought the mandrill, “somet’ing tells me Winda will do well. She be a rookie but she also is in fourth place and feels she must win to make it up to her lost sister, but I would like to see Uku win in all honesty. I was alive when she was born, and so she seems young to me.”
Simba and Nala tried not to laugh, and so they just turned back to watch the action taking place in the event.
“You’re right though,” said Simba to Rafiki, “there are a lot of lions waiting in ambush.”
“Five, to be exact,” added Nala.
“And look who’s first in line…”
Sarafina was first of the lions set up waiting in ambush. Nakshi was the second, Anzi was the third, Guvu was the fourth and Tumaini was the fifth.
“I think Tumaini’s pushing it a bit. Maybe even Guvu is. They’d be better off going on and completing another lap,” suggested Simba.
“You’re right with Tumaini but I think Guvu should be okay,” replied Nala, “he’s the only one daring enough to go after the buffalo right now.”
The two stopped talking in time to watch as the buffalo made its way on by Sarafina. Sarafina remained in her position. The zebra wasn’t too far behind. The buffalo continued and began to walk on by Nakshi. Unlike Sarafina however, Nakshi began to move.
It wasn’t too long though until Sarafina moved off and began to hunt down the zebra too.
“Of cause Nakshi’s been asleep the whole time,” added Simba as an afterthought, “so she doesn’t know how much trouble the buffalo have been causing the others.”
“I’m amazed at the progress you’ve made in understanding this event,” replied Nala, “but for now, let’s just focus on Mom please.”
Nakshi’s sleep had given her enough energy to bring the buffalo down easily and quickly enough, but since the zebra was a faster animal, Sarafina was finding herself having to chase it on by the others that were waiting in ambush. Anzi ran out and began to try and bring it down too.
Unfortunately for Anzi, she was beginning to tire out a little, and Sarafina was able to get out in front of her and bring the zebra down. Anzi wandered back over towards the outside of the track to wait in ambush for the next piece of prey. Sarafina followed her.
“Hello again,” she said.
“Hi,” replied Anzi, smiling.
“Haven’t spoken to you since the beginning of the event.”
“No you have not.”
Sarafina sat down. “Doing okay?” she asked in a more concerned tone.
“Fifty-one points,” replied Anzi smiling. “And you?”
“Sixty-nine, now with that zebra.”
“So if I’d have got it, I’d actually be beating you.”
“Ah, but you didn’t,” Sarafina pointed out, back to her fun self.
“True, true,” replied Anzi.
Sarafina put her concerned, more serious tone back on. “So…Zoea…Maneno…Shairi…you’re okay with all that now?”
Anzi shrugged. “I try not to think about it. Ema put me in a deep sleep and when I woke up Maneno was dead. Didn’t affect me any.”
“What do you mean, ‘Ema put you in a deep sleep?’”
“She’s a hypnotist.”
“Really?” asked Sarafina, her eyes growing wide.
“It’s not a bad thing,” replied Anzi.
“Well…no…” replied Sarafina, “…but I’ve just never really liked Ema.”
Sarafina shook her head. “I don’t know. I just wouldn’t trust her.”
“Well…” began Anzi before yawning, “…I’m probably going to need to see her one more time. I am getting kinda tired again. I figure if I sleep into the early morning, then I can complete the rest of the event in one stint.”
“I don’t think you’re alone on that,” replied Sarafina smiling.
“Well Nakshi and Juni just got up.”
“Yeah…but that still doesn’t make you alone. I’m staying up.”
“Oh, I’m not going to run much. I want to log a lot of points though. I wouldn’t have entered this if I felt I couldn’t win, but I know I’m going to have to push myself if I really want to win it.”
“Should I stay up too?”
Sarafina chuckled. “I’m sorry, Anzi. I can’t answer that. Only you can.” Sarafina looked back down the straight. An antelope was slowly making its way towards them. “Anzi,” began Sarafina, once again in her more serious and concerned tone.
“You never thought I didn’t care about Zoea, did you?”
Anzi looked down at the ground and admitted: “Yeah, a little bit, I did.”
Sarafina shook her head. “I did care about her.”
“I just didn’t know what to do.”
“Sarafina, it’s okay, it really is. She was as much my friend as she was yours and we just had different reactions to it, that’s all. I don’t think any less of you now than I did before it happened.”
Sarafina smiled. “Thanks for that. I just wanted to make sure. See, the thing is…I actually think more of you now than I did at the start of the event. See, at the beginning I really didn’t think you wouldn’t be able to cope with this.”
Anzi smiled back. “I think a lot of lions thought that.”
“But now,” Sarafina continued, “now there’s an antelope right behind us.”
This didn’t catch Anzi off-guard any. She knew. They both knew. They both knew exactly where it was. It was behind them. It was still behind them. It was still behind them. But now, it was alongside them. Not taking their eyes off each other for any instant beforehand, they now both knew that the antelope was right in position for them to take off and try to kill it. At the same time, they both took off to try and do exactly that.
Nakshi joined them. As they ran further on down the straight and into the turn, Tumaini joined them too. However, Sarafina and Anzi still led, and Sarafina was faster. Nakshi had a lot of energy right now though, and she was beginning to catch up with the two lionesses in front of her. Tumaini had essentially given up, but had concluded that it was probably best to run around another lap until she was back on the front stretch. Nakshi ran by Anzi and then began to catch up with Sarafina, who seemingly couldn’t get any closer to the antelope that was running for its life. All four of them knew that even if the antelope was uncatchable, they’d still have to run in order to get back to the front stretch where new prey would be being released and where they could log another point for another lap. However, the antelope wasn’t uncatchable, and Nakshi was able to prove that when the turn ended and the track straightened out again. Sarafina, Anzi, and Tumaini had no choice now but to run on by while Nakshi got another ten added to her tally.
Bahati and Rakusa, meanwhile, had been scoring points on the front stretch, and they were soon followed by Guvu, Juni, Wamariri, Ema, and Winda. Then, with three new fresh pieces of prey let out onto the front stretch, Sarafina led Anzi and Tumaini as they came running out of the second long turn, but Winda, Juni, Wamariri, and Ema were all waiting in ambush, while Guvu, Bahati, and Rakusa had gone on to run around the track and log another digit point.
“She should get something here,” said Simba.
“Ooh, I hope so,” replied Nala.
Lenny began running from behind Tumaini as well, just to see if anything good would come of it. Given that he only had thirty points and still had a lot of his energy left, things were looking promising. He was running extraordinarily fast.
“Um…Nala…” addressed Simba, tapping his mate on her shoulder.
“What?” asked the lioness, who turned around just to see that Simba was pointing at something else on the front stretch. Ema had just brought down a buffalo. A new one was about to be released right in front of the string of running lions that Sarafina led.
Nala checked back over and saw that indeed a new buffalo had been released onto the track, and now that was the first piece of prey in front of Sarafina. With three lions lined up in ambush already for the antelope and zebra, it looked like the buffalo was now Sarafina’s only choice.
As the four lions of Sarafina, Lenny, Anzi, and Tumaini closed in on the buffalo, Anzi and Tumaini backed off, realizing that this buffalo had Sarafina’s name written all over it…something that Lenny must have failed to realize.
Sarafina felt a boost of confidence as she heard that there weren’t as many footsteps behind her anymore, and so she took her time and tried to set herself up for the perfect attack on this buffalo. She took too long. She was right on the creature’s rear hooves when suddenly Lenny jumped up and managed to get onto the buffalo’s back before Sarafina could. Unfortunately, as inexperienced as Lenny was, he landed on the buffalo crooked, and the buffalo was in a good position to try and buck him off. With Sarafina still right behind its rear hooves, the buffalo kicked its back legs up and slammed one of its hooves into the bottom of Sarafina’s head. The lioness was sent into an airborne back flip, while Lenny continued to try and ride the buffalo down the rest of the straight.
Sarafina landed on the ground directly onto her back, and then, knocked out, her limp body was sent rolling for about another ten yards as inertia carried her farther down the straight.
For once in his life, probably the first time ever, Simba did not want to look at his mate. Yet he knew he had to. Who else would comfort her? Thus, he closed his eyes, and put his arm around her. He suddenly felt a whole body fall into his side, and knew it could have only meant that Nala was in desperate need for comfort. Before seconds had passed he began to feel his mane getting a little damp from Nala’s eyes. Simba began to rub his arm up and down her back.
“It’ll be okay,” he said, “she’ll be okay.”
“If you ask me, I’d like to see Sarafina get back up,” whispered Timon to Pumbaa.
“I think we all do, Timon,” replied Pumbaa.
“See, when Sarafina was up, Simba and Queeny here were providing us with a running commentary. Now, I don’t know what’s going on!”
“Well…someone caught a zebra.”
“Exactly. And who are those two lions chasing that antelope?”
“That looks like Juni and Winda, Timon.”
“Well that’s great – who the heck are they?”
“Juni was the lioness Sarafina always supported, and Winda is the one who saw her sister die.”
The crowd around them cheered. Timon and Pumbaa looked over towards the right, where the antelope had just been brought down.
“Who got it?” asked Timon.
“My thoughts exactly.”
Wamariri ran across to the inside of the track.
“Kanafa!” she called.
The cheetah heard his name being called and made his way over to the side of the track.
“Can you move that lioness to the outside of the track? She’s in the way.”
“She’s knocked out, Wamariri. She’s not dead so we can’t remove her from the track, so all we can do right now is try and wake her up so she can move herself. There is no rule that allows us to move an unconscious competitor.”
Wamariri frowned. “Are you sure she’s not dead?”
“She has a pulse.”
Wamariri growled and turned back around so she could back in position to ambush.
Simba slowly slunk away from his mate as he let her body quietly fall to the ground.
“Hey guys,” he whispered, as he moved over towards Timon and Pumbaa.
“Hi Simba,” replied Pumbaa. He looked over Simba’s shoulder. “So, Nala fell asleep?”
“Yeah. Poor thing. Cried herself to sleep on my shoulder.” He sighed. “It’s okay though. Sarafina’s just knocked out. I’ll wake her when she gets up, it will make her happy.”
“Isn’t Sarafina going to fall behind?” asked Pumbaa.
“I’m afraid so, but hopefully when she gets up she’ll be awake as ever. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
“What’s the hold up?” asked Bwana Zungumza.
“The antelope’s too afraid to go out. You need to tell Tumaini to move further down the straight.”
The lion looked over towards the track, where the competitors had slowly but surely been edging ever nearer to the track entrance in order to be the first to ambush any new prey.
Kanafa was walking back from his conversation with Wamariri when he realized what was going on. He was just across the track from Tumaini, so he knew that he was in the best position to communicate with her.
“He’s not going to come out until you move, you know.”
Kanafa’s message caught the attention of both Tumaini and Anzi. Anzi, who had been sitting practically next to the other lioness, began to move on down the track.
“Tumaini, you too. You’ll still be the first in ambush.”
Tumaini wasn’t going to move though. If this antelope wouldn’t walk on by her now, it sure as heck wasn’t going to walk on by her when it got out on the track. It would just stay stationary until one of the runners came out of the final turn and killed it. In which case, she needed to stay as close to the entrance as possible so that she could get an earlier run on the antelope when it did enter the track.
“Tumaini, are you listening?” asked Kanafa.
“All this chitter-chatter ain’t gonna make that antelope come out any quicker. I’d just send out another one if I were you.”
“Can no do, ma’am. Rules are rules.”
“Well then I’m just going to stay here until the runners come along,” Tumaini replied.
Kanafa sighed, but turned around and let the situation be.
She’ll just be losing time and points. She’ll see.
Wamariri ran her tongue over her blood-stained jaw as she walked back to the outside of the track after her most recent kill: a zebra. She now took position on the outside practically right next to Ema, another competitor who had also chosen to wait in ambush.
“Looks like that’s the last prey we’ll be getting for a while,” commented Ema.
“Tumaini is glued to the entrance over there. The antelope is refusing to come out, and now so is the new zebra.”
Wamariri looked over towards the track entrance for the prey and saw that Ema was indeed right.
“Why is she doing that?”
“Why do you think?”
“She’s being an idiot.”
“She’s not even leading!”
“No one’s going to score points if she stays there all day.”
Ema smiled. “Well…she’s not.” Thinking about her own words, Ema took off into a run.
Simba sighed. “Not again.”
“What?” asked Timon and Pumbaa in unison.
“Lenny’s going after another buffalo. He’s going to end up killing himself if he keeps doing that.”
The three looked over as, indeed, Lenny began to chase the buffalo on track as soon as it had passed his ambush point. It wasn’t too hard to catch up with it, but once he jumped up and began to ride the creature’s back…well, that’s when the trouble usually started occurring. It was no different this time. Lenny was not on the buffalo securely and thus the prey bucked and kicked, hoping and eventually succeeding in throwing Lenny off. Lenny closed his eyes as he braced for impact when he hit the ground, and luckily he came down on his side and was at no risk for fatal injury. But not all injuries are fatal. The lion soon found his shoulder in severe pain and he jumped back up onto his three working legs with his eyes still shut tight.
“AAaarrgghh!!” he yelled, limping towards the outside of the track. “It hurts so much!”
Unknowingly to Lenny, as he moved with his eyes closed, he limped over right into the path that Ema had chosen to run. Ema was able to stop herself before hitting him, but she wasn’t very happy about it.
“Excuse me,” she said, in a tone letting Lenny know how she felt.
Apparently Lenny had an inability to recognize that tone.
“Ema! Ema! You’re a hypnotist, aren’t you? Can you put me to sleep, please? It hurts.”
“I’m trying to…”
“I’ll make it up to you, please,” pleaded Lenny. His eyes were opening now, and getting watery from the pain.
Ema growled. “No! I’m sorry, I do not have the time to stand around and hypnotize someone right now. The pain will go with time. I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.”
And with that, Ema maneuvered around Lenny and ran on.
“Well this should be exciting,” commented Timon, as he watched Nakshi, Guvu, and Rakusa make their way out of the final turn.
“If they’d put a piece of prey out on the track it would be,” replied Simba. “They’re trying to get that antelope and zebra to move but Tumaini is just sitting too close.”
“She moved!” commented Pumbaa.
“She moved?” asked Simba, checking back over to see if Pumbaa was correct.
At the last moment Tumaini had began to move off, and now the antelope and zebra were more scared about the fact that the three lions of Nakshi, Guvu, and Rakusa were charging their way out of the turn, than the fact that Tumaini was a slight bit in front of them. Thus, the two pieces of prey moved their way out onto the track.
“Ooh dear,” commented Zazu, sitting not far off from the group, “I do hope none of them run over Sarafina.”
Simba’s face fell grim. He’d forgotten about that. Nala’s mother’s body was still lying motionless in the dead center of the front stretch.
Well there wasn’t much anybody could do about it right now.
Tumaini ran on by Sarafina easily, as did the antelope and the zebra. Nakshi was elegant enough to incorporate a jump into her run and she easily made her way over Sarafina’s body, and Rakusa just was able to make his way on by. Guvu, however, was not so lucky. He tried to jump over her, but one of his rear legs caught her body, making the champion stumble and making Sarafina’s body roll over.
Simba gasped and covered his mouth.
“Oh, that wasn’t that bad!” said Timon.
“No,” admitted Simba, “but look at her face.”
“Oooh…” was his reply.
The side of Sarafina’s face that had been pressed down on the ground ever since her accident had now been upturned and was quite the unpleasant site. It was the side that Simba was glad Nala had never seen. Blood and dirt coated her entire cheek, scratches and bruises surrounded her eye, and a trickle of blood has been pouring out of her nose too.
Guvu, meanwhile, got up from his trip easily enough, but he had lost the chase. He decided to walk back over to the side and wait in ambush for whatever came next. Before he arrived at the side though, a loud coughing sound came from behind him. He checked back over his shoulder and saw that it was coming from the same lioness that he had just tripped over. He decided to stop and wait to make sure she was okay. It was the sportsmanlike thing to do.
“You okay?” he asked, once the lioness’s coughing had subsided a little.
A loud cheer suddenly erupted from the crowd, but Guvu checked over his shoulder and realized that it was because Tumaini had caught an antelope and Rakusa had caught a zebra.
“Ha ha!” exclaimed Zazu happily. “Rakusa beat Wamariri to it!”
Simba smiled. “Good for you, Zazu,” he said as a reply.
“And Sarafina’s up!” exclaimed Pumbaa.
“She’s…what?” asked Simba in disbelief, checking back over to where the sputtering lioness now slowly rose to her feet.
“Woohoo!” Simba cheered. “She’s back in it.”
Simba’s cheer woke Nala up, and the lioness lifted her eyelids open. Realizing where she was, the queen was soon back on her feet. It only took her a couple of seconds of scanning the track to catch what she had been looking for. “Oh, Mom!” she exclaimed happily, feeling a huge knot in her chest being loosened up immediately. “She’s alright, thank heaven!”
“You’re alright?” asked Guvu to Sarafina as she stumbled towards the outside of the track.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Fantastic,” replied the lion sarcastically. “Seriously though, you were lucky you weren’t ran over. What happened?”
“I have no idea,” replied Sarafina sighing. “I’m in the Siku Choka…I’m on the front stretch…it’s night…and I feel terrible, that’s all I really know right now…and need to know I guess.”
“You’re going about this well.”
Sarafina shook her head. “I’ve seen too many Siku Chokas. I know that whatever happened, I’m probably very lucky.”
“Hmm,” was Guvu’s reply. “What’s your score?”
“No idea. What’s yours?”
“One hundred and forty-five. They’re still keeping score on the inside there if you wanted to check yours now.”
Not knowing how long she had been asleep, Sarafina considered that it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if she was to check up on what her score was. She made her way over to the inside of the track.
“What’s your name, ma’am?” asked one of the scorekeepers.
“Sarafina…let’s see here…your current score is sixty-nine.”
Sarafina ran that number through her head a few times before replying: “Oh darn.”
“Why don’t you like talking to me?” asked Lenny inquisitively.
Wamariri continued to stare off into the distance, without even considering answering.
“You know…cos…cos I understand that maybe you’re not the talking type…but you’re just not being very nice about it.”
“Lenny,” came a commanding voice.
Lenny turned his head around. It was Tumaini who had called him.
“I’m sure what Wamariri is trying to say is that we’re competitors, and we’re all focusing on killing that next piece of prey right now, and that she doesn’t want to talk to you in case she accidently kills you later on.”
“You didn’t really seem too fond of talking to me earlier, either.”
“That’s because I feel the same way Wamariri does.”
“But at least you’re being nice about it.”
“That’s not a complement. I don’t want to hear you say anything else from now on, either.”
Lenny blinked. He shrugged. “Alright. But if you’re begging me to call someone over to help you later, then I’m going to remember what you just said, and there’ll be no help for you.”
“Fine,” replied Tumaini.
Lenny shook his head and smiled. These guys were insane.
Ema brought down a buffalo and Bahati a zebra. Sarafina tried to forget about the pain running through her head, and she scored an easy ten points just by ambushing an antelope.
The Pridelanders cheered.
“She got back in it quick,” commented Simba. He soon noticed, however, that a lot of the spectators’ attentions had been drawn to the left hand side of the track.
“They’ve let out three pieces of prey at the same time, and there’s seven lions waiting in ambush,” Nala explained.
“I miss it when there would be huge packs of lions charging prey down.”
“Well…you’ve got two lions coming out of the final turn.”
“Who’s that leading them?”
“I was just wondering that.”
“It’s not…it’s not…”
“I think it is,” sung Nala happily.
“I thought she was injured.”
“Guess the walk done her some good.”
“I guess so.”
Suddenly the rest of the spectators got to their feet and began cheering. Seemingly, they’d just noticed who the leader of the run was as well: Uku.
A flock of birds then distracted all of the Pridelanders’ attentions as they landed around Timon and Pumbaa.
“What’s going on?” asked Simba.
“I don’t know,” replied Nala.
The pair decided, without words, that it was worth walking over and finding out though.
“Guvu leads with 145 points,” said a hornbill.
“Wamariri second with 131,” said another.
“Oh my gods,” commented Nala, placing a paw over her head and trying hard not to laugh.
“Tumaini third with 111.”
“Ema fourth with 101.”
“There’s a tie for fifth…Bahati and Rakusa on 100.”
“Seventh is Winda with 91.”
“Sarafina is eighth with 80.”
“Nakshi is ninth with 60.”
“Anzi is tenth with 52.”
“Juni has 48 points in eleventh.”
“Uku has 47…twelfth.”
“And thirteenth and last is Lenny with 41.”
With all the hornbills now having done their reports, the all took back off into the air and flew off.
“What was the purpose of that?” asked Nala.
“We wanted to know the scores,” replied Timon.
“That’s a lot of work for the scorekeepers, though.”
“Hey, it’s only the first time we’ve done it. We won’t do it again until the end.”
“Speaking of work,” added Simba, “do you guys want to go and get more rainberries?”
“No,” replied Timon.
“What part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?” asked Timon to Pumbaa as they carried a tortoise shell full of rainberries back to the track.
Being the first waiting in ambush, everyone assumed that Guvu was going to go after the first piece of prey that came along: the buffalo. They were correct. As he struggled to bring it down, the zebra and antelope cautiously made their way around the battle as Bahati waited second in ambush, and then there was Sarafina, Rakusa, Tumaini, Wamariri, and Lenny, also all waiting.
Bahati went after the zebra, but mistimed it and the zebra began to run away. Tumaini, Wamariri, and Lenny decided to join in the chase.
Sarafina, thus, was offered another easy ten points by ambushing another antelope.
Uku and Winda had now finally made their way onto the backstretch. Although Uku looked fine, she was still in quite a bit of pain, and thus she wasn’t running as fast as she would normally be able to.
Thus, Winda was closing.
Meanwhile, the zebra had taken off into the turn. Either he was fast, or the four lions after him were worn out, because the zebra was pulling away from them. Tumaini and Bahati backed off, but continued to run so that they could get back to the front stretch as quick as possible. Wamariri and Lenny were now left running after the zebra.
“Is Guvu going to ambush that buffalo just before Uku and Winda go after that antelope?” asked Simba concerned. “Seems a bit dangerous to run across the track like that.”
“Ehhh…he should be okay…” came Nala’s reply.
As expected, Guvu ran across the circuit and tried to bring the buffalo down, but for once the buffalo was actually able to shake him off and continue to run.
This caught everyone off guard a little. None more so than Rakusa and Uku. Rakusa was the next waiting in ambush, and Uku had known that she wasn’t fast enough to catch the antelope…but now this was a new opportunity for her.
Timon and Pumbaa passed over the top of the hill and caught sight of the track.
“What’s going on, Pumbaa?” Timon asked from his back.
“Eh…it looks like Wamariri and Lenny are after the zebra, Sarafina and Winda are after the antelope, and Rakusa, Guvu, and Uku are after the buffalo.”
“I guess it would do no harm seeing if Sarafina catches that antelope, then.”
“Hey,” suddenly came a deep voice from beside the two.
“Are you two going to serve us some of those rainberries or not?” asked the deep voice, that Timon and Pumbaa had now identified as belonging to a hippo.
“Yeah…sure…how many do you want?” asked Timon.
“I have friends and family to feed, I’ll take them all,” replied the hippo, and with that he took the tortoise shell away from them in between his teeth.
Timon and Pumbaa watched as he wandered away.
“He wasn’t meant to take the whole shell,” commented Pumbaa.
“You tell him,” was Timon’s reply.
“She has it.”
“Your mom. That antelope’s hers.”
“I thought so too…but she’s not that good at running. The longer they run, the more that antelope has Winda’s name on it.”
“And Rakusa for the buffalo?”
“What about the zebra? Wamariri and Lenny have backed off.”
Nala checked over the track and caught site of where the zebra and its pursuers were. She smiled. “Yeah…but Tumaini conserved her energy.”
Indeed, the zebra was now beginning to slow down because he heard the paws right behind him fall further back…but then Tumaini came sprinting around the other two lions and was able to bring the zebra down before he even knew she was there.
Sarafina watched as the ten points she was after became Winda’s, and Rakusa was also successful in bringing down the buffalo, leaving Guvu and Uku to run on by.
Timon and Pumbaa finally made it back up to where the Pridelanders were sitting.
“We had the tortoise shell taken from us,” explained Pumbaa, “Timon and I believe that means the rainberries are no longer our responsibility.”
“Woo ha ha! Did you see that?” Timon shouted. “A whole pack of lions just ran out of the final turn, thinking they’d get something – and there’s nothing there! Sucks for them,” he continued, jumping down off of Pumbaa’s back and taking a seat on the ground, “oh boy, do I love this game. I think I’ll just sit here and watch for the rest of the night.”
“But—” began Nala, but Simba held her back.
“Don’t worry Nala,” he whispered to her, “if anyone needs more rainberries they know who to go to. Timon and Pumbaa will soon work out if this is a good decision or not.”
Anzi, Ema, Nakshi, and Juni all watched as the buffalo walked on by them. None of them wanted to go for it: a new antelope and zebra had just been released.
As the new prey began to walk on by, Anzi and Ema moved away from their positions and after the zebra, leaving Nakshi and Juni to go after the much faster antelope.
“Want to stop running, bro?”
Lenny heard the voice from behind him and he slowed up his pace as he turned around to look at who had called him.
Lenny now slowed up his pace even more, and both lions ended up walking over to the outside of the track where they stopped and sat down.
“I figured we might as well stop here. There’s no prey on the front stretch right now. How have you been, brother?”
“Okay. Some of these competitors really aren’t nice though.”
“Wamariri and Ema?”
“And Tumaini. Well…I guess she’s okay.”
Bahati shook his head. “Don’t know her. What’s your score?”
Bahati groaned. “Might want to start getting yourself some points there, little brother.”
“Why, how much do you have?”
“One hundred and one…and I’m not leading.”
“Oh. I eh…I see what you mean.”
“All that energy you used running around this place ten times could have easily been used to bring down at least one antelope.”
“Digit points are important though.”
“They are…” admitted Bahati. He couldn’t really think of much to add onto that. “Come on now, follow me. I’ll help you out for a bit. We’ll just pretend this is like an old game.”
Lenny chuckled. “Isn’t it though?”
Juni ran across the line.
49 – she told herself subconsciously. She and Nakshi were both after the antelope…whose advantage was speed: something that Juni had lost over the years, and that Nakshi still had. As a result, Nakshi got the edge and brought the antelope down. Off in the distance, the Kimaland pride cheered.
Juni groaned as she slowed down and decided to wait in ambush on the outside of the track.
“Good morning Juni,” said Rakusa as she made her way over.
Juni shook her head. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“Points, Rakusa. 49.” She took a deep breath. “I just don’t have the energy.”
“Well that kind of self-talk isn’t going to help you. I mean…you have been asleep most of the time…that won’t score you points.”
Juni sighed. “Maybe I should just stay here and ambush.”
“I just thought about giving it a try. Honestly, I’ve been running a lot today.”
“How many points has that gotten you?”
Rakusa smiled and turned away, not really wanting to answer. “You wouldn’t want to know.”
“Come on now, Rakusa.”
“Juni, I’m your king.”
“Please? If you don’t tell me, I’ll just think it’s higher than it actually is.”
“Good,” replied Rakusa, “maybe that’ll make you more determined to score points.”
“You’re a bit too young to be in the handicapped lane,” came a voice from behind Sarafina. Sarafina checked over her shoulder, and her heart skipped a beat when she realized it was Uku. It still just seemed unnatural for her to be communicating with a lioness that she considered this legendary.
“Yeah…I…uh…I got in an accident. Have no idea what happened. I’ve only succeeded in ambushing antelopes since.”
“That’s the way to go. I think I’ve gone and fractured my shoulder or something. I shouldn’t even be walking, but…given the circumstances…” and she ended there. Sarafina got the idea. “So what are your plans now?” Uku asked her.
“Well walk this lap, and I’ll see what’s on the front stretch when I get back there. I really don’t want to sleep anymore, although I think it would do my headache some good.”
Uku yawned. “Should be daylight again soon.”
Sarafina frowned. “Really?”
“Yes Ma’am. Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Sarafina chuckled. “Time also flies when you’re in the Siku Choka.”
“Seriously though, I guess it’s time to get going.”
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea,” agreed Uku. “Especially for those of us who have healthy shoulders.”
“Go on Sarafina, exercise will do you some good.”
Sarafina frowned. “How did you know my name?”
“Does it matter?”
“I’d like to know.”
“But it doesn’t matter.”
“I guess not.”
“Go on, Sarafina. Run.”
Any advice from a four-time champion must have been good advice. Sarafina began to move off again.
“Your mom’s running.”
Nala looked over at the backstretch. Seeing Simba was right, she replied: “I hope she doesn’t push herself too much, she’s actually doing really well.”
Wamariri was the only one running on the front stretch. She had a buffalo and an antelope both there for her, with no other lion around to challenge her. It was entirely her choice…and she chose the buffalo. She easily had the speed to outpace it, but strength was something that was beginning to get away from her as she ran and competed further into the night. As a result, she was able to grip the buffalo’s rear flanks with her claws and get a grip with her mouth on its back, but that was about it. Now, she was just being dragged along behind the creature. Fortunately for her, she was on it pretty securely, and slowly but surely the buffalo was being dragged to the ground. All it meant for Wamariri, was she was along for a very rough, fast, and long ride. When she finally brought it to the ground, nipped its neck, and scored ten points, her back legs were all scraped up and bleeding from the ride she had just been on. It wasn’t a pain she could ignore. Cursing under her breath, she made her way to the outside of the track to rest.
Out of the final turn, Tumaini was now beginning to make a run on the newly released buffalo. Bahati and Lenny were just beginning to walk down the front stretch when they heard the lioness approaching them from behind.
“It’s now or never,” said Lenny.
“Never,” replied Bahati. “From what I’ve heard and seen, you’ve been having trouble with the buffalos, bro. We need to just try ambushing some zebra and antelope. Let her have this one.”
At the other end of the track, Nakshi was able to run across the track and bring down a zebra for ten points, resulting in a new zebra being released just in time for Tumaini to go after it instead of the buffalo.
“Wamariri’s gone to sleep,” observed Simba, rather surprised.
Those around him looked towards the brown lioness lying down on the front stretch.
“I think you’re right,” replied Nala, smiling.
“She could still win though,” commented Timon.
“Most definitely, but I’m still sure she didn’t plan on this,” replied Nala.
“That 181 you said Guvu won with last year is going to be obliterated this year, I think,” said Simba.
“He’s almost tied that score already.”
“Yeah…he’s going to need to sleep again eventually though.”
“I don’t know, Nala. Got to remember, he’s young.”
“Aha. You were young once, Simba. I don’t think you’ve slept as much since.”
Nala’s statement was met with no immediate reply.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” asked Nala. “It’s a complement.”
“Sure…” replied Simba.
“Uh oh,” said Pumbaa.
“What?” asked the others.
“Juni just tried to ambush that antelope…and she missed.”
The rest of the Pridelanders looked over towards the turn on their right side. When Juni had missed, a couple other lions had taken advantage, and now Juni, Rakusa, and Nakshi were all after the antelope.
“Wouldn’t you think Juni and Rakusa had an agreement set up?” asked Simba.
“I don’t think it matters,” replied Nala. “It’s Nakshi’s. But if she can’t…” but then Nala was suddenly cut off as the rest of the spectators stood up on their feet and let out ‘Ooh!’s and cheers. It wasn’t too hard for the Pridelanders to work out why: a giant cloud of dust had just swept over them.
Each of them closed their eyes and began coughing. When the dust settled and they opened their eyes back up, each Pridelander looked back down at the track to try and work out what had just happened.
A dead zebra carcass lied on the outside of the track with a trail of blood lying on the ground behind it. It was evident that the carcass was lying on top of one of the competitors. Two other lionesses were lying injured in the middle of the track, but seemingly okay. From behind the scene of the accident, a new zebra was let out onto the circuit, but was almost immediately brought down by Sarafina.
“Whoo!” exclaimed Timon. “Did you see that guys? Sarafina just…”
“That’s great Timon, but would you please keep it down for a sec?” asked Nala ‘politely.’
“But…but…Sarafina…Nala…she’s your mother…and those lions are okay and…”
“SHH!” shouted the others in unison.
“What happened?” asked Sarafina as she walked up to the first of the injured lionesses. “Tumaini?”
“My stupid mistake,” confessed the lioness. “I tried to ambush a zebra…I thought it was alone…but that other lioness was chasing it…I hesitated and they both tripped over me…I don’t know what else happened.”
Sarafina looked over Tumaini and saw the other lioness on the ground, and also the zebra carcass lying on top of one of the competitors. She decided to run up to the lone lioness first.
“You okay?” she asked.
The lioness on the ground was crying, but nodded her head.
Sarafina looked down at her, concerned. Suddenly however, she heard the sound of hooves coming from behind her. Another newly released zebra was now being chased by Lenny. Sarafina ducked and lied down next to the injured lioness as the two creatures ran over above them. The lioness whimpered.
“Oh gods, I’m so scared…” she said.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright. Look…I…I’ll help you to the outside, okay? I’ll get you out the way of all of this until you get better.”
“That’d be great.”
“What legs can you move?”
“I don’t want to move.”
“Well I can’t drag you.”
“I…I…” the lioness sighed “…alright…I’ll try. It’s just…my sister went earlier…and I was on that zebra…and he fell…and…and…” she continued, her voice getting higher with each word.
“Your sister? Oh! Oh…you’re…” Sarafina looked away. This was not where she wanted to be. “You’re Winda.”
“Well…come on…let me help you up. We’ll get you to the side.”
“Your mom has a big heart, Nala.”
Nala smiled. “It runs in the family, I’d like to think.”
“Heh, not from the Nala I know,” Simba replied.
Nala smiled and shook her head. “I hate to make you sleep outside Simba. It makes our bed so cold.”
Back on the backstretch, Nakshi was still struggling to keep up with the antelope. Enough so, that she actually gave up and let Uku ambush it. The crowd seemed to approve of that.
Back on the front stretch, one of the track workers removed the dead zebra carcass off of Wamariri. The lioness was not very impressed about the whole situation. The crowd seemed to approve of that.
Lenny was able to bring down the zebra he was after, and Guvu scored another ten by ambushing a buffalo. Guvu then broke out into a run though, as there were now too many lions between him and where the new pieces of prey were being released.
Ema began chasing the new zebra as soon as it was released, and, thanks to a mistimed attack by Sarafina as she tried to ambush it, Ema brought the zebra down. Anzi got an antelope and Bahati was able to score ten points by bringing a buffalo down.
A newly released buffalo now joined the circuit, just as Nakshi, Juni, and Rakusa came running out of the final turn.
“Nakshi’s,” said Simba.
“Juni’s,” replied Nala.
“Rakusa’s,” commented Zazu.
Nakshi was the closest to the buffalo, and the first to jump on its back. As she pulled the creature down, Juni jumped up over her and nipped the creature’s neck. The buffalo wailed but continued to try and run, until Rakusa came running up from the side and wrapped his arms around the side of the buffalo, finally bringing it down to the ground.
“Um…okay…” said Timon. He chuckled. “That’s something you don’t see often.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Pumbaa. “Who gets the points?”
Nala suddenly felt uneasy as a lot of the Pridelanders turned to look at her.
“Come on Nala,” said Simba, smirking as he knew he was putting her under a lot of pressure, “you know most about this. Who gets the points?”
“Well…um…by definition, the one who ‘brings the prey to the ground’ gets the points, but usually that means they killed them…and in this case, the buffalo was only dead because of Juni.”
“So it’s not Nakshi’s?”
“Sounds like it’s Juni’s to me,” said Pumbaa.
“It’s the infield volunteers’ decision though,” replied Nala.
None of the three competitors could help but smile, at least a little. They’d brought this thing down to the ground as a team…not that they were meant to, of course, but it proved to each of them how good of a hunter each of them was.
“Excuse me, sir,” called Rakusa to a leopard in the infield. “Who are you giving the points to?”
“Either you or Juni, sir,” replied the leopard. “I’ll let you know when I do.”
“Alright!” exclaimed Rakusa, holding his paw up for Juni. She gave him a high five. “Ten points to the Majibuluu pride!”
Nakshi smiled as she watched them, but then saddened and turned away so that the others wouldn’t know.
Rakusa saw though, and his face fell. “Geez, I didn’t want to upset her.”
Nakshi heard him. Not wanting to make him feel guilty, she turned around and replied: “Oh…no, no, no, it’s not you at all. I…you have every right to cheer. You did a good job.” Her ears then fell flat again though. “It’s just I…” she said, but then stopped. She shook her head. “Never mind. Well done, both of you,” she added with a faint smile, before turning back around again.
“Points go to Juni!” a voice suddenly exclaimed from the infield behind her. The Majibuluu pride, and many others, cheered.
Nakshi sighed. Why couldn’t that be me…and Maneno? she asked herself. We would have done the same thing.
“That antelope’s gone,” observed Simba, as Anzi began slowing down after trying in vain to chase the antelope down. They’d now made it out onto the backstretch. “And the only other lion on the backstretch is Uku. She might as well try and ambush it.”
“Well there’s that,” replied Nala, “but there’s also a pack of lions chasing a zebra down in the first turn. Mom’s in it! And if she can’t get the zebra, maybe she can get the antelope.”
To get the zebra, however, Sarafina was going to have to be able to outrun the brothers of Bahati and Lenny. Usually she’d be able to, but with all of her injuries slowing her down, and with Lenny’s light weight allowing him to run exceptionally fast for a male lion, Lenny was able to pull out in front and bring the zebra down. Sarafina was going to have to go for the antelope.
“Wasn’t that antelope just able to outrun Anzi though? Surely your mom won’t be able to keep up with it either.”
“Yes,” admitted Nala, “but if Mom or Bahati is quiet enough on their feet…maybe they can catch the antelope off-guard.”
As soon as she finished talking, Nala’s attention became focused on a sudden event that took place right in front of her very eyes, and seemed to slow down in time. Guvu had been running down the front stretch, and then, in a single bound, he was able to jump up onto the back of a buffalo right in front of where Nala was sitting. Almost immediately, the buffalo stumbled, and Nala continued to watch as the young, muscular lion used all his force to bring the strong animal down onto the ground where the crash sent out a cloud of dust and chunks of dirt all flying into the air.
By the time the spectacle was over, Nala’s lower jaw had completely fallen.
“That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” she whispered to herself.
“Hmm?” asked Simba, not quite sure what she had just said.
Nala snapped out of it.
“Oh…um…I said…‘that buffalo must sure wish he was still grazing in a green,’” replied Nala, smiling innocently.
Simba frowned. “Are you sure that’s what you said?”
“Positive,” replied Nala.
Simba shrugged. “Okay.”
Nala looked back over at the backstretch to see where her mom was, before any further questions could be asked. Simba suddenly mumbled to himself.
“What did you say, hun?” asked Nala.
“Oh…um…‘that Nakshi must sure wish that she…’ you know, do you just want me to stop there?”
“I think I get the point.”
“No more Guvu fantasies.”
“Hi Anzi!” called Lenny as he ran up towards the walking lioness.
“Lenny!” called Anzi back.
“Goodness!” exclaimed Lenny. “You look awful…” he said, looking at the amount of bags that had formed under Anzi’s eyes.
“I haven’t slept yet.”
“Nor have I. I tried to get Ema to hypnotize me earlier, because I was injured.”
“And she didn’t?”
“Oh well. I guess she was in a hurry. Where’d you hurt yourself?”
“Shoulder,” replied Lenny, “it still hurts, but nowhere near as much as what it did earlier. I still think I’d have difficulty trying to sleep right now.”
“Hey Lenny!” called a voice from the stands. Lenny looked up into the sea of faces and was quickly able to pick out the lioness who had just called him. “Want to sleep here for a moment? We’ll wake you.”
Anzi smiled. “Right, that’s your pride, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” replied Lenny to Anzi. “Do you want to sleep here too? I’ll wake you.”
“I thought you said you’d have difficulty falling asleep right now.”
Lenny shrugged. “I’ll manage,” he replied. “I guess it’s better to try while it’s still dark.”
“Then I’m all for it,” replied Anzi smiling. And with that, she lied down on the ground.
“Yeah…just wake us when it gets light, I guess,” replied Lenny to the lioness in the stands.
“Okay!” shouted the lioness back.
Lenny slowly set himself down on the ground, being careful not to hurt his shoulder any more than it already was. Once he finally got into a comfortable position, he looked over at Anzi. The young lioness was already fast asleep. Lenny smiled and closed his eyes too, hoping to soon join her in dreamland.
Nakshi ran out and attacked a zebra, wounding it but not killing it, but it only gave chase for a short while before Nakshi was able to get back up onto its back and kill it.
Sarafina continued to try and stalk the antelope on the backstretch, but he knew she was there, and if Sarafina were to begin running…it would be over. The antelope simply possessed the speed right now that Sarafina, nor Bahati, could match. As a result, Uku was able to wait in ambush and successfully bring the antelope down when it got to her.
“Everyone is falling asleep,” Simba observed, as Rakusa became the latest lion to lie down and close his eyes.
“Join them,” replied Nala.
“You think it will be that boring?”
“For you maybe. I’m excited.”
“Well Mom and Juni have already gotten plenty of sleep. And now with the competition all falling asleep, they should hopefully have much more opportunities to score points.”
“Who else is awake?” asked Simba.
Nala scanned the course. “Bahati…Uku, but she’s injured…Guvu…Mom…Juni…and Nakshi.”
Simba yawned. “I suppose I could stay up a bit longer.”
“Feel free to sleep whenever. I’m not going to stop you.”
“I know…but I honestly think this could be interesting.”
To prove to Simba, the rest of the Pridelanders, and just about everyone else still awake in the audience, at how good she was at this time of day, Juni ambushed and successfully brought down a buffalo.
“Ten points to Juni gives her seventy,” said one of the scorekeepers to a hornbill, who then flew off to give his report to a curious spectator.
He landed at Nala’s feet.
“Juni has seventy, the leader Guvu has one hundred and eighty-six.”
Nala groaned. “Thank you,” she replied. She then leant onto Simba’s side. The lion king looked down at his mate.
“She’s gotta get to work.”
“Yup,” replied Nala, looking up at her mate.
“Do you have to lean on me like that?”
“It’s getting cold.”
“It is,” replied Simba.
“Your mane is warm,” Nala added, continuing her explanation of why she was leaning on him.
“How does this temperature affect the competitors?” asked Simba.
“Heh, doesn’t matter. It’s the best time to hunt. Hard ground, and you can see better than your prey can. You’ve just got to do it.”
“Hmm,” Simba replied. He looked back at the track and then let a wide smile cross his face. “Guvu’s gone to sleep.”
“He has!?” asked Nala. She moved her head off of Simba’s mane and looked down in front of them. “YES!” she exclaimed as she saw him.
“Don’t wake him!” replied Simba in a whisper.
“Oops,” replied Nala timidly, placing a paw over her mouth. She checked to make sure that Guvu hadn’t stirred. He hadn’t. “You’re right. Sorry,” she said to Simba.
“I thought you wanted him to win.”
“After Mom or Juni. This makes it so much easier for both of them, now.”
Most of the spectators knew that Guvu was currently leading with a score of 186. Juni caught a zebra. She now had 80 points. Nakshi ambushed an antelope, and now had 102 points. Bahati ambushed a zebra and now had 122 points. Sarafina completed a lap and was able to wrestle a buffalo to the ground, giving her 112 points.
Bahati attempted to give chase after the newly released antelope, but he mistimed it and the antelope ran off…and was brought down seconds later by Sarafina, who had been waiting in ambush for it. Sarafina now had 122 points. Bahati was able to ambush a zebra successfully though, and as he crossed the line he now had 123 points.
This was catch-up time for the competitors that were still awake. Every competitor asleep, except for Anzi and Lenny, already had more than 100 points. They’d already done their hard work, and now they were resting. The lions that were now hunting were done with resting, and were going to take it to the end. As Nala and others knew, given the improved conditions, this was a much better strategy, but with a big disadvantage: the end. The end of the Siku Choka was where a lot of points would need to be scored in not a lot of time, and if these competitors that were still awake were planning on going all the way to the end, then they needed to make sure that they still had enough energy to go for the win in the final minutes of the Siku Choka. For now though, they each all had the energy, they just all needed one thing: points.
Rafiki peered over the heads of the lions that were still awake. At the front of the crowd he could recognize a few Pridelanders. He headed in their direction. He tried to be quiet, like the rest, when he got there. Even when Sarafina ambushed and brought down an antelope, the lions from the Pridelands that were still awake only let out some minor cheers, letting the other sleep.
The mandrill continued to be as quiet as possible as he finally found who he was looking for. They were both sleeping too, with the meerkat rising up and down on the warthog’s chest with each breath the warthog took. Rafiki poked the meerkat gently with his finger, to see if it would wake him up. It didn’t. He then held his stick up and rattled it gently, seeing if the noise from the shells knocking into each other would wake them. It didn’t.
“Timon…Pumbaa…” he called quietly.
They still didn’t wake up.
Rafiki sighed. He then brought his stick back over the top of his head…but before he could bring it back down, he felt it being pulled back from someone behind him. He checked over his shoulder to see who it was. It was Simba. The male lion shook his head ‘no,’ as if to tell Rafiki: “that hurt me when you did it to me, and I am a 500 pound lion. I would not recommend doing it to my friends who are at least four times smaller than me.”
Rafiki placed his stick on the ground, and then took a step back, signaling for Simba to go on by and wake them up his way.
The lion acknowledged the gesture, and then walked on by Rafiki and up to his friends. Out of curiosity, and the fact that there wasn’t anything happening on the circuit, Nala and the other Pridelanders moved themselves around so they could watch how Simba was going to wake them.
The lion took in a deep breath, and then roared.
Timon was too focused on hanging onto Pumbaa’s ears for dear life as Simba’s roar sent out gale-force winds in their direction, to even begin wondering whether he was awake or not. When it was over though, it turned out that Timon, Pumbaa, and all the Pridelanders and other spectators around them had now all, indeed, woken up.
“What kind of a wake-up call was that!?” asked Timon angrily.
“I dunno,” replied Simba nonchalantly, “but it was a wake-up call. He’s all yours, Rafiki.” And with that, Simba left and wandered back over to his mate, who was wearing an expression much like that of everyone else around: angry and slightly confused.
“You had to draw attention to yourself like that?” she asked. “We’re running this thing here, we don’t need to be creating a scene.”
“What thing?” Simba asked back.
“The Siku Choka.”
“The Siku Choka? Oh, you mean that event where most of the competitors are sleeping.”
“Uh…yeah. Exactly. And I bet you just went and disturbed…disturbed all…all of…them…”
Nala smiled and shook her head. “That’s cheating.”
“Then why are you smiling?”
“Wh-what if they get up, now?” Nala asked, trying to be serious…and failing.
“Ah, so now the competitive part means more to you than the morale part? You should be concerned about me giving your mom an unfair advantage, Nala, not whether it’s actually an advantage or not.”
Nala ran his statement through her head a few times. Once she finally figured out what he was trying to say, she stretched her front legs forwards and slumped down on the ground. “I’m just going to lie down here, now…and if anyone comes up to us with complaints, you’re in it on your own, okay?”
“Whatever you say, dearest.”
Meanwhile, Rafiki had finally got an awake Timon and Pumbaa, as he had desired.
“Alright, here’s what I want you to do,” said Timon, before Rafiki could even get a word in, “I want you to say what you want to say, without using the word…” Timon shuddered, “…rainberries.”
Rafiki placed his head on his hand for a few seconds, thinking. Finally he shook his head.
“I am afraid dat is impossible,” was his reply.
“It better not be,” snapped Timon back.
“Well…” said Rafiki, still thinking, “…I haven’t said dat word yet…but here,” he added, placing the empty tortoise shell, which he had gotten back from the hippo, down in front of Timon and Pumbaa.
“Everyone’s asleep!” shouted Timon, still trying to find a way out of this chore, whereas Pumbaa had already given up and gotten back up onto his feet.
“Come on, little buddy,” said Pumbaa, “since they’re all asleep, it means we won’t miss anything.”
“Nobody is going to want dat many more in the morning,” added Rafiki, “this could be your last batch for a while.”
Timon sighed. “Alright then, but if you’re wrong…” he finished off, pointing a finger at Rafiki’s face. He then turned around and jumped up onto Pumbaa’s back.
“Ready buddy?” asked Pumbaa.
“Yeah….sure…” replied Timon. “You’re probably right, we’re not going to miss much. Some points will be scored, but they’re all asleep. It’s not like anyone will win yet…or lose yet…you know…die.”
“Exactly,” replied Pumbaa back, as the two headed off into the night.
Simba and Nala heard them as they left. Simba turned around and waved them goodbye, whereas Nala ran Timon’s final words through her head. She shuddered. Timon had no idea how unpredictable this event was.
Nakshi brought a buffalo down, resulting in a new one being released in front of Juni. Juni ran up behind it, but before she got there the buffalo let out a warning shriek, signaling the zebra and antelope further on down the straight to run for their lives.
Bahati and Sarafina both went running after the zebra.
Charging it down into the first turn, Sarafina kept wincing in pain as each time her paws slammed down onto the ground another shock would be sent through her body and up to the head, which just continued to make her headache worse. She knew this was a golden opportunity though. This zebra was fast, and Sarafina knew that Bahati wasn’t. She tried to take her focus away from the pain, and rather on just the ten points that this zebra was worth. Bahati was in good health though, and as a result the two lions entered the first turn neck-and-neck, neither of them closer to the zebra than the other.
From the hillside on the front stretch, the Pridelanders couldn’t help but cheer Sarafina on.
The Majibuluu pride also let out a cheer as Juni brought a buffalo down to the ground on the front stretch.
Sarafina, meanwhile, was still trying as hard as she possibly could to not focus on the pain.
Endurance, Sarafina, endurance. You’ve got it. Sing a fast-paced song.
Just run, Bahati, just run. Faster you run, greater chance you get the zebra and faster you get back on the front stretch.
They were still neck-and-neck as they ran out onto the backstretch, which was a much needed confidence booster for Sarafina. She had had the outside line in the last turn, and thus if Bahati could have matched the speed of her then, he would have been pulling away. But they were still neck-and-neck, which meant she was slightly faster than him, so finally she put on a burst of speed and began to edge out Bahati. Bahati picked up his pace too, and tried to keep up with Sarafina. It wasn’t working, but Bahati was determined to keep on running. If Sarafina stumbled, then the zebra would be his. The zebra, however, had the greatest endurance of all, and slowly but surely he was pulling away from Sarafina. Both lions, however, continued to keep on running.
“Get ready to let another antelope out,” commanded Kanafa to one of the infield workers, “Juni’s about to get one, here.”
Bwana Zungumza looked back over at the front stretch. “Uku’s in position to ambush it.”
“She could have got the buffalo and she didn’t. I think she’s hurt. I hate to say it.”
“Well we’ll know after this one. This is a weak antelope you’re about to release. If Uku doesn’t ambush it, then maybe she is badly injured…more so than we thought.”
Sarafina and Bahati’s race wasn’t getting any better. Sarafina had a good lead now on Bahati…but the zebra had a much better lead over both of them. They came running down the final part of the backstretch, both fairly worn out, but knowing that more prey would be waiting for them on the front stretch.
Meanwhile, Juni got the antelope, and a new one was released.
“Why’s Uku not going for the new antelope?” Simba asked, as he watched the newly released creature calmly walk on by the standing lioness.
Nala shrugged. “I don’t know,” was her answer.
Nakshi brought down the antelope. A new one was released right in front of the running zebra, which was still trying to, and succeeding in, outpacing the lions that were after it. As the antelope walked out onto the track, the zebra slowed down to avoid running into it, and also out of a false sense of security. Sarafina wasted no time. In a second, she was on the zebra’s back and soon had it brought down to the ground. A huge round of applause erupted from the audience, and Sarafina may have mistakenly thought for a second that it was for her…but then she looked up and saw that at the same time, Uku had indeed decided to ambush the new antelope and she had brought it down next to Sarafina.
“Shoulder fixed?” asked Sarafina happily.
Uku shook her head ‘no.’ “I’m done, Sarafina. I don’t have it in me anymore.”
“Oh, now, come on. We’ve still got a ton of time left. Just get some rest and you’ll be fine. I mean, look what you just did!”
“Used a basic hunting strategy in order to bring down a piece of prey that a young lioness could easily catch on her first hunt?”
“Come walk with me, Sarafina,” said Uku gently, carefully getting herself back up onto her feet.
Bahati ran on by them and brought the newly released zebra down. The new antelope was sent off into a run. Sarafina watched it all, wondering whether this conversation with Uku was really worth the points she would be missing out on.
“That’s a shame, isn’t it?” Uku asked her.
“What’s that?” asked Sarafina.
“Bahati – ten extra points – puts you back down to third.”
Sarafina’s mind froze. “I was in second?” she asked in disbelief.
“Tied with Wamariri, you’ve completed more of this lap than her though. Just Guvu and Bahati left for you, now.”
Sarafina laughed. “How do you know all this?” she asked as the two lionesses began to walk on.
“I’m a Siku Choka fan, Sarafina. I’ve came to watch every event since I stopped competing in them. You get good at keeping track of points after a while.”
“Even when you’re competing yourself, though?”
“Well I don’t know everyone’s score.”
“Why would you want to keep track of mine?”
“Cos I think you can win it.”
Sarafina felt her heart skip a beat. That was a big statement for a four-time champion to make. She normally would have laughed it off if she hadn’t earlier acknowledged the fact that the reason she was here was to win, and so instead she just asked: “Why’s that?”
“You remind me of Shairi when she first started,” was Uku’s reply. “True, she never won, and unfortunately she’s dead now, but…” suddenly, Uku was sent into a fit of coughs.
“Uku, are you okay?” asked Sarafina concerned, patting her on the back to try and help her out.
Uku nodded and eventually her coughs receded. “Yeah…” she replied. “It’s this age thing, you know? Here’s it plain and simple, Sarafina. Shairi wouldn’t have won today, she won’t run on a broken leg. But she had guts. She never thought about what she was going to kill or how to kill it, she just went out there to score points. I see the same potential in you…and I can see you running on a broken leg as well. Nakshi and Wamariri would too…you’ve got to look out for them. Obviously Guvu’s a threat too…”
“She’ll run on four broken legs. I’ve never seen that done before…I really don’t know how that’ll work out.”
“All the others could potentially be threats, but it’s hard to tell right now. Then there’s…”
“Hang on, hang on. Why are you telling me all this?”
“You’re the one who started this conversation.”
“Yeah…but haven’t other lions talked to you today?”
Uku shook her head ‘no.’
“Wh…but…you’re Uku!” Sarafina exclaimed, lost for words.
Uku smiled. “I’m glad someone knows that. I don’t mind, either way. I’m a Siku Choka fan, Sarafina. I just love being here, whether I have someone to talk to or not.”
Sarafina shook her head. “There are fifteen lions here today who have no idea what they’re passing up.”
“I disagree, Sarafina,” was Uku’s reply. She made a right turn and began to walk to the outside of the track. “There were sixteen lions here today who were exceptionally intelligent. They worked out that hunting was what they loved, and that life is nothing if you don’t live it to the fullest. Okay, help someone when you can, make a difference for a child, that’s all great. But why does everyone do that? So that those lions they helped can be free, so that those lions can choose what they want to do, and these lions chose to live their lives to the fullest. Whether you talk to me or not means nothing. What matters is that you competed in the Siku Choka…” she continued as she lied down, “…and you had the time of your life doing it. If winning is necessary for you to enjoy your time here, then go win. I’m sure you can, Sarafina.” Uku lied her head down and closed her eyes. “There is no greater feeling than winning the Siku Choka. You’ll have your family beside you, a feast in front of you, but you won’t be able to see any of it through your tears blurring your vision. Take it from me, I’ve done it from four times, I’ve never forgotten it. But none of that would be possible without this. Enjoy it while it lasts, Sarafina. In a few months all the grass will have grown back and herds of herbivores will be grazing peacefully over this funny shaped hill in positions that would have got them killed today. There is nothing that makes me happier than knowing I’m in the Siku Choka, whether I’m winning by fifty points or down by a hundred and with a fractured shoulder and a bad cough.” To confirm her statement, she gave out a nasty cough again. Sarafina just watched her, and hung on to every word. “I’m going to rest, like you said Sarafina. Forget you spoke to Uku. You’re a Siku Choka competitor. Go score some points, and don’t bother taking time to take it in. It’ll happen for you.”
“This is good,” stated Nala.
“What’s that?” asked Simba.
“Juni and Mom are the first two in ambush. Nakshi just brought down a buffalo so they have him and a zebra heading their way.” Nala looked over towards the turn far over on their right side. “And I think they’ll have an antelope soon, too.”
Bahati came sprinting through the turn, trying to bring the antelope down before he was alongside Nakshi, who was waiting in the middle of the turn in ambush. It was all or nothing now, and so he took a jump at the creature, but it wasn’t enough. Bahati stumbled, but was able to keep himself on his paws, while Nakshi stretched her front legs forwards and grabbed a hold of the antelope, and then was taken down to the ground with it. The Kimaland pride cheered on the front stretch, as Nakshi collected ten more points.
“Good job,” congratulated Bahati, as he stood over Nakshi and the antelope.
“Thanks,” replied the lioness, “mind helping me up?” she asked, holding a paw out. Bahati took it and pulled her up to her feet. “I saw you go for him.”
“I was trying to beat you.”
Nakshi smirked. “They all do,” she joked, “and it never happens.”
“Ah, I see. You’re the queen of the Siku Choka – won every one of them, have you?”
“Well…I won one…” confessed Nakshi.
Bahati raised his eyebrow. “Really? How does it feel?”
“Magnificent,” replied Nakshi dreamily. “Brought me back here, didn’t it?”
Bahati shrugged as if to say ‘I guess so.’ He began to walk off, Nakshi followed, but checked over her shoulder first.
“What?” asked Bahati.
“Lioness missed the zebra. She’s chasing after it. But we could ambu…ah…nope, she got it.”
“Hey, I think I know that lioness.”
“She’s the nyimbas.”
“She’s really nice.”
“A lot of competitors are.”
“It’s really hard to tell yourself to not get to know them.”
Nakshi rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.”
“The hard part to that is that my brother is in it. I have no choice on that. I’d hate anything to happen to him. One of the reasons I signed up for this event this year was to help him out.”
“You shouldn’t do that,” snapped Nakshi back, in a much more aggressive tone than what she had been speaking in.
Bahati frowned. “Why not?”
“Well what if anything happened to you? He’d feel so guilty. Trust me, I know.”
“How do you know?”
Nakshi bit her lip. “Do I really have to answer that?”
“Oh…well…I guess if you don’t want to…”
“No…no…it’s fine.” She sighed. “The first year I signed up for this event without telling anyone. The night before I let them know. Mom and Dad disapproved, they still do, but…” she stopped, not wanting to even bring him up.
“You don’t have to go on…”
“…but Maneno didn’t,” she said hastily, getting that part out of the way. “I won that year, and Mom and Dad congratulated me, but Maneno was the only one who knew how much it really meant to me. He was so nice. Mom and Dad hadn’t changed by the time next year rolled around, and so Maneno said he wanted to give it a try, and he’d come with me. I know though…I just know that he only did it to support me. Cos guess what? Last year, I didn’t sign up for it, and he didn’t either! And this year, I did, and he did, and he’s dead and it’s…”
“…not your fault,” stated Bahati firmly, trying to calm Nakshi down, since her speech had been getting faster and higher-pitched with every word. “Sure, I came to help my brother too, but you think I’m not here to win it? You think that Maneno wasn’t? I have one hundred and forty-four points. You don’t get that by watching your brother.”
“I have one hundred and forty-three.”
“And think…if you put your friend behind you, just for now, you could be in front of me.”
Nakshi stopped walking. Bahati did too. Nakshi was looking down at the ground.
“…where he died, I know. I was running in that pack,” ended Bahati. “It’s not your fault. Maneno’s sitting up in heaven now, and I’m sure the last thing on his mind right now is blaming you, I’m sure he’d much rather see you win.”
Well, Bahati couldn’t do much more than that. He needed to score points to try and win the Siku Choka himself. This fact had been making him anxious for every second that he’d been talking with this lioness. He began to walk away from her, and he planned on running when he was far away enough from her so as to not distract her. If she couldn’t move on, then that was good news for him. He was only beating this lioness by one point, and thus she could otherwise be a threat for the win if she really did get a move on.
He had not made it too far, however, when suddenly he heard a set of running footsteps coming up from behind him. He turned around to see who it was.
“Going for one forty four!” shouted the lioness, merrily, as she sprinted past him.
Bahati blinked. “That was a quick recovery.” Knowing that the game was back on, he began to sprint away too.
Simba’s felt something in his chest fall. “Oh no,” he said.
Nala looked at him. “What?” she asked.
“Bwana Zungumza wants us to come down.”
Nala frowned. She could see the lion in the infield too. He was waving a paw at them in an attempt to get their attention. “But…nobody’s died. Why else would he…?”
“Nala…” addressed Simba, interrupting his mate, “…look.”
Simba gestured towards the right. Nala turned her head and looked down towards the track. Her jaw dropped. What must have been about half of the all the spectators from the hill on the front stretch were making their way down to the side of the track.
“What’s going on?” Nala asked.
Simba shrugged. “There’s only one way to find out.”
The two lions joined the flood of others down to the side of the front stretch.
Sarafina watched as the buffalo made its way ever closer to her. The buffalo knew she was there, but he didn’t know the rules: that Sarafina could only run forwards on the track, and thus, just like the rest of the prey had been, once he had gotten close enough to this lioness without having her showing any intention of going after him, he began to calmly make his way on by. That was Sarafina’s cue to go.
The buffalo stopped in his tracks as he heard a sound coming from his right side. He turned his head sideways and saw the lioness now coming after him. He let out a cry and then began to move, but Sarafina was already up on his back with her teeth in his neck before he had even moved a step.
Sarafina realized that, since her energy had been lacking, she hadn’t been able to get as far up on the buffalo’s neck as what she had been able to do before, and thus the creature could now continue to stand, move, and, worst of all, buck.
Sarafina removed her jaw from its neck and dug her claws harder into the buffalo’s sides. This is what made a Siku Choka competitor: those that didn’t jump off when they realized they were in danger, those that would fight until the creature was down or until it was just not worth it. As the buffalo began to run, which Sarafina silently thanked the gods it did since it meant it wasn’t bucking, the lioness reached her front legs farther up the buffalo’s sides and began to pull herself forwards, so she could farther up the creature’s neck on her next bite. The buffalo realized what she was getting at now, and so he stopped. Sarafina’s eyes grew as she knew what he was about to do. She only had one chance. She opened her jaws and thrust her head forwards, grabbing a bite of the buffalo just before it decided to buck her off. Sarafina flew over the top of its head, her teeth departing from the buffalo’s neck, and then tried the best she could to brace for the landing. It hit her hard when it came, but that wasn’t the worst of her problems. Sarafina opened her eyes as soon as the impact was over, just to see what had happened to the buffalo. She gasped. She’d killed it! One problem…it was still standing. The buffalo’s front legs finally gave way and Sarafina was able to get up to her feet and scurry away, just milliseconds before the creature crashed down onto the ground where she had been lying.
“Ten points to me,” Sarafina said to herself pleased. “Phew, bet that gave the guys a scare,” she added, looking back up into the hills where the Pridelanders were sitting. Or…had been sitting. “What on Earth?”
“Wondering where all the spectators went, Ma’am?” asked one of the track workers, a wild dog, walking by her in the infield.
“Yeah…” replied Sarafina, “…could you tell me?”
Simba and Nala had front row seats to look at the newly deceased lioness.
“She looks as if she could just be asleep,” said Simba quietly.
“Mm,” replied Nala…which was the most she had spoken the entire time that they had been down there. She was truly at a loss for words. Most of the lions around them were, as they all stood quietly around the dead, sixteen year old lioness.
“Excuse me,” whispered a lioness from behind Simba. The lion took a step to the side to let her by, turning his head backwards at the same time to make sure that he was actually out of her way.
“Sorry,” he replied.
“S’okay. You’re King Simba, aren’t you?”
“Oh…feel free to stay there then. I’m just her daughter. I’ll stand behind.”
Simba and Nala exchanged glances. Did she find this insignificant?
“Ma’am, if you want to stand in front of us, you have every right to,” said Nala, joining in the conversation.
“Nonsense,” replied the lioness. She chuckled. “I guess you’re surprised I’m taking this light-heartedly, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Simba.
The dead lioness’s daughter chuckled again. “Mom was just as much a part of all you guys as she was of me. I know that sounds ridiculous, I know that sounds heartless, but it really isn’t. I knew Mom, I loved her, and it really is sad to see her go…” she added, looking at her mother’s lifeless body, “…but she only lived for one thing…”
The lioness stopped there. Simba and Nala exchanged glances again. They both shrugged.
“Hunting?” asked Simba.
The lioness laughed. “I knew you would say that. No…now that would be heartless…of me…of her…no, she lived for this. The Siku Choka. If she lived for hunting…well…I’m not hunting, I’m her daughter. But living for the Siku Choka…boy, you get all your friends and family and fans involved in supporting you through that. She loved it. Cos she loved me, and she loved hunting, and she just loved having a good time, and that’s why I’m not upset, because she was old and I guess she was just having so much fun…she just wore herself out.”
“Has anyone ever died in their sleep at the Siku Choka before?” whispered Simba to Nala.
Nala shook her head ‘no.’ “I guess it is the best way to go,” she confessed.
Uku’s daughter smiled as she looked back down at her mother again. “I know I’ve made her happy by coming here…but also she’s just happy cos…she was here.”
In an effort to catch up with the rest of the competition, Juni was beginning to try and ambush prey before they ever got to her, thus then she could set herself up for whatever came up next. Figuring that an antelope was not a dangerous creature, she decided to take full advantage of this strategy on one that was making its way towards her. If anything went wrong…it was just an antelope, and thus she would most likely emerge uninjured.
The antelope was walking along rather cautiously, as it continuingly swung its head from its left side where all the track workers were just wandering around, to the right side where all the spectators were all walking up or down the hills…depending on whether they had already seen the deceased Uku or not. He had no idea who it would be who would go after him…or even if anyone would…but then he swung his head back to the left, but it was something in front of him that caught his eye: a lioness. The antelope stopped. Juni realized that it wasn’t going any further right now, and so she decided to just keep on walking until she was on the inside of the track. Hopefully the antelope would just assume she was just passing on by, and then he would begin to walk on by the outside of her. Indeed, that is what happened. Once he was alongside, Juni turned around and began to run after him…before he could get away. Unfortunately, since Juni was now on the inside of the antelope, the antelope was running towards the outside of the track…towards the sleeping Ema.
Realizing that he was about to run into another lioness, the antelope made a sharp turn to the left and began to run into the corner. Juni was unable to copy the sharpness of the antelope’s turn though, and blindly she ran into Ema and tripped over her, waking the other lioness from her sleep.
Ema shook her head and looked around, to see if an accident had just happened. She could see Juni lying on the ground and an antelope running off, but she found it a bit strange that that was it. Juni got up, and thus Ema followed her lead.
“Was it you who just ran into me?” asked Ema, rather irritated.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Juni replied. “I was trying a new strategy.”
“Well I’ll be the first one to say that that one didn’t work.”
“I would agree. Think you can get back to sleep?”
Before Ema could answer, however, the skies above them began to blue up. Both lionesses looked towards the East: the sun was beginning to rise.
Ema yawned. “Nope, guess I should at least begin walking.” She turned back towards Juni. “Watch where you’re going next time though, okay Juni?”
“Sure Ema,” replied the other lioness. Ema began to walk off, but Juni began to run. If Juni did, after seven consecutive years, decide to retire next year, Ema was one character she was definitely not going to miss.
“Everyone doing alright?” asked Kanafa, as he came to check up on the scorekeepers.
“Yes,” replied a hippo that had volunteered to help out all of the, formerly sixteen, now just twelve, scorekeepers. “Meerkat, did you get that ten points for Nakshi?” he asked, as the lioness in mention had just brought a buffalo down on the front stretch.
“Yeah…” replied the meerkat, “…one hundred and forty-three, plus ten, and she just completed a lap, plus eleven, is one hundred and sixty-four?”
“No, you just add eleven, not ten and then eleven…” said a lioness from beside him.
“Ah, yes, so one fifty four?”
“Like I said,” said the hippo again, to Kanafa, “we all know what we’re doing.” He turned his attention back towards two of the sleeping cheetahs. “Hey, someone wake those two up. Lenny and Anzi just got up.”
Kanafa looked over at the backstretch where he could indeed see the lion and lioness walking and talking together down the straight. “It’s to the end now,” he commented. “Good luck guys, we’re all counting on you. Points are what these final hours are all about.”
“That’s so upsetting,” said Nala, as Simba and the other Pridelanders around her had just finished explaining what had happened with Uku to Timon and Pumbaa, who had just returned from their latest, and final, trek to fetch rainberries.
“I don’t think she would’ve wanted to have gone any other way,” replied Simba. He looked over towards the turn on the far right. “Your mom just got that antelope,” he said, trying to cheer Nala up.
“I thought she would,” replied Nala, rather emotionlessly.
“Ooh…look at this!” exclaimed Simba, still trying. “Bahati charging the zebra…Ema ambushing, who’ll get it?”
“Bahati, I should hope,” replied Nala, watching.
“And…you were right!” exclaimed Simba, as Ema got to the zebra first, grabbed it’s rear flank and made it stumble, but was quickly denied of ten points as Bahati jumped up onto the creature’s back and brought it down to the ground.
Nala finally smiled now. “I really think Bahati’s a threat to win,” she said.
“Isn’t Ema too?”
“Hmm…maybe. I really don’t want her too.”
“Is she as bad as Wamariri?”
Nala laughed. “No…nobody is as bad as Wamariri. Honestly, I think in real life that Ema would be a nice girl to know. It’s just that her competitive side really gets to her when the heat gets up. She’s too much of a sore loser.”
“Well isn’t that a good thing?” asked Simba. “I mean…if you’re going to win the Siku Choka…I should imagine you would have to be competitive.”
Nala sighed. “True. I’m not saying she’s a bad lion though, Simba. I’m just saying that I just don’t like her.”
Before anything more could be said, Zazu came flying down from above them.
“Been reporting scores, Zazu?” asked Simba.
“Yes sire, just doing my best to help out. Also helps me out, I’m much more on top of everyone’s scores. And before you all ask, Guvu leads with 186, and I am delighted to say that Sarafina is closing in with 173.”
Nala looked over towards the far right turn, where her mom had taken to walking in order to complete another lap.
“I just hope she doesn’t get hurt too bad,” said Nala, “I mean, if she was okay I would expect her to be walking faster than that.”
“Maybe she’s just relaxing,” replied Simba. “Getting her breath back,” he added reassuringly, placing his paw on hers.
Nala upturned her paw and the two interlocked toes and held onto each other tightly. “Let’s hope so,” replied Nala.
“Worst case scenario, Madam…she loses,” chimed in Zazu. “Juni has 112, Rakusa has 111, and Nakshi has 154, they’re all our personal favorites, right? Backup plans?”
Nala glanced at Simba.
“Well Nakshi’s a…I guess I’m a…Tumaini?” asked Simba.
“Tumaini is good!” Pumbaa interjected. “I think a win for her would mean more to her than anybody else.”
“I disagree,” replied Rafiki.
“Who was your favorite again, Rafiki?” asked Simba.
“Uku, which is why I need a new second-best. I go with Winda! A win for her would mean more to her dan anyone else.”
Simba took what everyone had just said to heart, and then said: “I think I’ll stick with Tumaini.”
Nala chuckled. “Simba, I really don’t care if you like Nakshi. She’s good, she plays well, and her king’s death really seems to have gotten to her. If you want to be a Nakshi fan, then b…”
“I’m a Nakshi fan.”
“Then you might not want to look to your right,” said Timon, joining in the conversation.
The pride looked to the right and gasped. Nakshi had gone for another buffalo, but apparently had made a mistake on the landing. The good news was that she had all of her claws clenched in tightly into the skin of the buffalo…the bad news was that she was hanging on for dear life, as she hung onto the side of the buffalo. Her prey had now taken off into a run, and when she looked left…she saw sky, when she looked right…she saw ground.
This is bad, this is very, very bad thought Nakshi to herself.
Simba and Nala both tightened their grip where they held each other’s paws.
Dropping off and just accepting the fact that she was going to hit the ground hard was the best thing that Nakshi could do for herself…but even if someone was next to her to tell her that, it was still not an easy thing to do. For now, Nakshi had no idea what to do except for to hang on tight and pray for a miracle. Further on down the straight, it came.
Ema ran across the track and was able to jump up over Nakshi and onto the back of the buffalo. Her body weight was enough for the buffalo to stumble, but Nakshi’s presence meant that she was unable to find a comfortable position on the creature’s back, and thus she wasn’t able to reach its neck and kill it.
“This is as slow as I can get him to go, jump off now!” shouted Ema, back down at Nakshi.
Nakshi looked up at Ema and then back down at the ground. She could tell that they were moving along much slower than before. Without too much hesitation, Nakshi retracted her claws and slammed down onto the ground. Ema had been using her as a foothold, and thus when Nakshi fell, she did too. The buffalo ran off into the turn.
A lot of cheering could be heard from the front stretch as Nakshi and Ema now both lied on the ground, which had thankfully softened up a bit thanks to the coolness of the night.
“You alright?” asked Ema, as she had gotten up and now made her way over to Nakshi.
“Ema…” said a rather stunned Nakshi, looking up at her from the ground, “…th—thank you…so much…” she stuttered. “I really thought I was on my own.”
Ema shook her head. “Don’t mention it,” she replied, “please.”
“Sure thing,” replied Nakshi. “I owe you one, though.”
Ema shrugged. “It was nothing,” she replied. She walked away.
“I guess we cheered a little too much,” said Simba. “Wamariri’s getting up.”
“And Winda,” added Nala.
“And Rakusa!” exclaimed Zazu.
“No more sleep now, I take it?” asked Timon, as the sun climbed ever further up into the sky.
Nala shook her head. “No more now,” she confirmed.
“Just Tumaini and Guvu left asleep,” Simba summed up.
“Tumaini’s a bit behind,” commented Zazu, “she should really get up.”
“She doesn’t have her pride here to wake her,” Pumbaa added as a response.
“I’m sure it won’t be too bad,” said Nala, “there’ll still be time.”
A cheer from the hill on the far left of the track emerged.
“The Savannahland Pride,” said Simba. “They must be cheering Anzi on…she and Lenny have just begun running.”
“Now those two are far behind in points,” said Zazu.
Timon chuckled. “No surprise there.”
“Is that Juni behind them?” asked Nala.
“I think so,” replied Simba. “She’s probably not as energetic as them right now though.”
Nala groaned. “I’m afraid you’re right.”
Rakusa brought a zebra down and ten points to go with it. Wamariri ran on by him and began to chase off after an antelope. Ema was still after the buffalo that she had saved Nakshi from. Nakshi, meanwhile, was waiting in ambush for the antelope that Wamariri was after.
Winda ambushed and brought down a zebra, and as a result Anzi slowed down as she, Lenny and Juni ran out onto the front stretch. Lenny ran on by the track entrance for the prey without realizing that a new zebra was being released, and thus Anzi was able to bring it down as she beat Juni to it. That meant though that another zebra was now released, but Anzi was still checking that the other one was dead and Juni was still not close enough, thus the new zebra was able to break off safely into a run.
Nakshi was able to beat Wamariri to the antelope, and thus added ten points to her score. The newly released antelope walked out onto the track and, thanks to the sun making its way up ever higher helping the antelope’s visual ability, he caught sight of Anzi getting back up…and ran off.
Ema was still charging after the buffalo that she had ridden on before. As they made their way out onto the backstretch, Ema was now finally close enough in order to take a shot at it. She jumped up onto the creature’s back and grabbed hold of its sides. She now realized why Nakshi had been struggling. This buffalo was rather tubby for its size. It was difficult for Ema to properly secure herself on its back. She slipped backwards and groaned. She wouldn’t be getting ten points from this one. She let one of her paws fall out from the creature’s sides, but was surprised to find that she wasn’t slipping back as much anymore.
She looked downwards…and gulped. She now knew why. The creature was slowing…and in fact it was now stopping. He was about to buck. Ema had already let go of the creature though, it was too late to take advantage of this scenario…she just needed to escape! That was the last thing she would ever tell herself. Now virtually standing on the ground, the next thing she saw was a black hoof aiming for her face…and then, just blackness.
Sarafina gulped. She saw the whole thing. Until now, she couldn’t remember what had knocked her out earlier, but now she did. She too, had been hit right in the face by a bucking animal. It had knocked her out so much that she couldn’t remember her score, what time of day it was, how she had ended up on the floor, and even a couple of the competitors names had been erased from her mind. Ema would be lucky if her injuries weren’t any worse. Sarafina ran up to her.
“Ema, Ema, are you okay?” she asked, trying to wake her up by shaking her. The lioness didn’t stir. Sarafina lifted her paw and placed it on her neck. As every second passed without a pulse, Sarafina just got whiter and whiter.
“What’s the verdict, Ma’am?” asked a cheetah from the infield.
Sarafina knew she had to respond, but she couldn’t help but hesitate before muttering the words: “She’s dead.”
The sound of someone running suddenly came up from behind Sarafina. The lioness turned around, and saw Wamariri slowing down as she arrived at the scene.
“So is she dead?” Wamariri asked.
Sarafina nodded sadly.
“That’s a shame,” replied Wamariri, “she was one of the decent ones.”
“That’s not much of a complement coming from you,” replied Sarafina without thinking.
Wamariri glared at her. “Well I’ll wish you a good day too,” she replied, before walking back on by them.
“Ema,” came a new voice from behind Sarafina. She turned back around to see what it was.
“Nakshi?” asked Sarafina. She’d never been able to talk to the winner of the twenty-second running of the Siku Choka, a victory that Sarafina had watched and admired, before, but common sense told Sarafina that that was the last thing on Nakshi’s mind right now.
“Is she dead?” asked Nakshi, as she too put her paw on Ema’s neck.
“I’m afraid so,” replied Sarafina.
Nakshi shook her head. “She saved my life.”
Sarafina hesitated before saying what she really wanted to say. She really shouldn’t say it. This was not the right place and time. She really shouldn’t…ah, to heck with it: “She took a few, too.”
Nakshi looked up at her, frowning. Sarafina couldn’t tell whether Nakshi’s frown was out of confusion or disapproval…but she was pretty sure it was disapproval.
“I mean…I’ve watched the last several Siku Chokas, including both that Ema was in, and it just seemed to me that she played it really risky sometimes. Not to mention those times when she hypnotized the depressed competitors so that they would fall asleep long enough that they would always get hit by someone getting caught in a hunting accident, which I believe even happened to Anzi today. Fortunately, she’s still alive.”
Nakshi frowned even more. “Are you a conspiracy theorist?” she asked.
“Not exactly,” replied Sarafina, “I guess I really never knew Ema much as a lioness though, just a competitor. If she saved your life then she saved your life, I can’t deny that.”
Nakshi sighed and got back up to her feet. “Come to think of it, I do agree with you that she played it risky a couple of times. I didn’t know about the whole hypnotizing thing though.”
The lionesses’ conversation was interrupted just then, however, as Rakusa, Lenny, and Anzi were all charging down a zebra into the turn where Sarafina and Nakshi stood. As the pack of lions got ever closer, so did the roaring cheer from the spectators.
Nakshi smiled. “Come on, we’re missing out,” she said, leading Sarafina over towards the outside of the track.
“Wow, there’s action going on everywhere, all of a sudden,” said Simba, as Bahati brought an antelope down right in front of them. He looked over at the far side of the track. “Should someone tell Wamariri that neither Nakshi nor Ema were able to bring down that buffalo?” he asked Nala.
Nala looked in Wamariri’s direction too. “I’m not in a hurry to do it,” was her reply.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news…” began Zazu, “…but it looks like Bwana Zungumza wants you to see him.”
Simba and Nala both snapped their attention to the infield. Neither of them smiled. They knew what this meant.
“Ema,” they both said together.
What is it that makes that male lion run so fast?
Rakusa could not work it out. Not only was Lenny outrunning him, but he was also outrunning Anzi! The pack had not even made it out onto the backstretch when Lenny was able to bring the zebra down to the ground, dead.
The Majani pride was going crazy on the backstretch. Almost instantaneously they had seen both of the competitors from their pride score ten points.
“And Bahati’s lined up in ambush for another antelope!” exclaimed one of the Majani lionesses to another.
Bahati ran out of his ambush in an attempt to bring the antelope down, but he made too much noise. The antelope began to run. Figuring she would be faster than the male lion, Juni left her ambushing post too, and so did Winda.
Winda’s decision to run meant that the race didn’t even last up until the first turn. Ten points went to her.
“Is that Sarafina?” asked Timon, peering over the track.
“Where, Timon?” asked Pumbaa back.
“In that pack over there. A whole bunch of lions are running together.”
“Eh…yeah…I think so. I think that’s her behind Nakshi and Anzi, and Rakusa and Lenny are behind her, but Lenny doesn’t have a thick mane but yet he has strong muscles, so he should start catching the rest up.”
Timon, Zazu, and Rafiki all stared at Pumbaa, dumbfounded.
“How do you know all this?” asked Timon.
“How can you see all this?” asked Zazu.
“How do you remember all dis?” asked Rafiki.
Pumbaa shrugged. “It was just a guess.”
“Sure is one large pack, then,” said Zazu, looking back over at the backstretch. “But they’re all good lions. It will be intriguing when they come out onto the front stretch. How is Wamariri doing with that buffalo?”
Out of the second turn and onto the front stretch came a buffalo with Wamariri behind it. The buffalo had now been running for a whole lap after first being chased by Nakshi, and then Ema, and now this new lioness, he was beginning to tire out. Thus, Wamariri was easily able to get up behind him, launch herself on top of him, and then attempt to grab onto his sides. Unlike Ema, Wamariri had been able to tell that this buffalo was rather wide, and thus she was prepared for what was in store. That did not, however, mean she wouldn’t slip back. She did, and the buffalo let out a cry in pain as Wamariri’s claws scraped down the creature’s sides. Not wanting to upset the buffalo any further and risk being bucked off, Wamariri realized that this buffalo was just not worth it. She neatly slid off of its back end and let the creature run off into the distance, for someone else to challenge.
Bahati groaned as he watched Winda run across the track from her ambushing point, and take down a zebra. By being further on down the front stretch than what Winda was, Winda was always going to be able to get to the prey before he was. The rules of the game said he couldn’t go backwards around the track, so until Winda went by him, there was nothing he could do to stop her from scoring points.
Juni was sitting practically next to Bahati, also waiting in ambush.
“Who is that?” she asked, in response to Bahati’s groan.
“Winda. I think she’s doing well.”
“You mean in points?”
It was now Juni’s turn to groan. “She’s got all the prey coming down the front stretch to her. No one’s between them and her.”
Bahati sighed. “Guess we’ve just got to hope she misses.”
Bahati’s hopes were quickly realized. An antelope was the next piece of prey to make its way by Winda, and he proved to be fast enough to run by the lioness before she could even get close to him. Bahati took advantage and brought it on down from his ambushing point. The newly released zebra, meanwhile, had never even made it down to Winda, as Wamariri had been able to hunt it down and kill it before then.
Wamariri soon realized that the next zebra would not be as easy, however, as Anzi, Nakshi, Sarafina, Lenny and Rakusa were all coming running out of the final turn. The new antelope refused to walk out onto the track as the lions ran on by. Rakusa, noticing this, dropped out of the pack and decided to hide on the side of the track, so that the antelope would now feel a false sense of security once the other four had ran on by. It worked, and Rakusa was able to get ten points with the antelope.
Wamariri joined the pack of four and made it five. They were all after a very unfortunate zebra. Meanwhile, the buffalo on track was making its way by Winda.
Winda was very reluctant to go after this buffalo, especially as it was a buffalo that had killed her sister earlier. However, points didn’t come to the Siku Choka competitors through nothing. Winda had promised her sister that she would make her death up to her, that she would win the Siku Choka so that everyone knew how great of a sister, competitor and tutor Shairi had been. All she needed to do was remember her sister’s advice, and this buffalo should come down without any problems. Winda began to follow the buffalo.
“Wha—?” Timon, and the others, were caught off guard as a gopher riding on top of a hippo had just walked over to where the Pridelanders were sitting.
“Oh, no, no, no, this just won’t do at all,” said the gopher, jumping down off of the hippo and forcing Timon’s mouth open with his hands. “Young meerkat, you’ve got a lot of years left ahead of you,” he continued, letting go of Timon’s jaw, “but it is my guess that, like all creatures, you love to eat!”
“I sure do!” replied Timon, now excited about what this gopher had to offer.
“Ooh! Ooh! I do too!” chimed in Pumbaa.
“Now I am sure that if you love to eat, you would hate to spend the rest of your life knowing that all you could eat…was soup…” added the gopher dreadfully, holding out a smelly bowl of red-colored bug stew as he did so.
“Eww—!” replied Timon and Pumbaa together, both taking a step back from the gopher.
“But never fear!” exclaimed the gopher, “for I’ve got a solution! You see meerkat…and you too, chubby fella…if you two continue to consume creatures as you do now without any protection, you will soon find yourselves without any teeth! And…no teeth means…all soup!” he exclaimed, holding out the bowl of soup again.
Timon and Pumbaa screamed.
“But…if you start using Grand Gopher’s…Grand Gopher is me, by the way…if you start using Grand Gopher’s Glorious Tooth Floss, you will have the protection necessary to keep your teeth for the rest of your lives, and you will never have to drink…THE SOUP!” he bellowed, thrusting the bowl back in Timon and Pumbaa’s faces again.
Timon and Pumbaa screamed again, but then Timon quickly recovered and held his paw out in front of him, replying: “We’ll take twenty!”
The gopher held his paw out to shake Timon’s, but before the gopher and meerkat could grasp each other’s paws, Zazu flew down in between them and pushed them away from each other.
“I’m sorry to break up this meeting, kind sir, but I believe that King Simba requested that no sales representatives were to be working at this event.”
“This product is endorsed by the Majibuluu pride and Rakusa.”
“SOLD!” exclaimed Zazu, shaking the gopher’s paw with his wing. “How much do we owe you?”
Anzi and Wamariri had now managed to get a bit of a lead on the rest of the lions in the pack that they were running with. Anzi was the closest to the zebra though, and, knowing that she needed to make her move soon so that the zebra would be hers and not Wamariri’s, she jumped up on the creature’s back.
Anzi wasn’t on as securely as she would have liked, but she knew that the odds were in her favor. She was weighing the zebra down and she could easily reach its neck with her jaw. She went for the bite, but before she could do it she suddenly found herself knocked to the side and off of the zebra. It was an uncomfortable ride as she fell to the ground and rolled through the mud, but not a deadly one. She lifted her head to see if she could find out what had happened. Next to her stood Sarafina.
“What was all that about?” asked Anzi.
“Wamariri pushed you off,” replied Sarafina.
“One small, quick shove. She was on the zebra with you. If you’d both been riding it, you could have still had all the points to yourself. When that happens, it becomes a shoving match.”
“So that’s why everyone hates Wamariri?”
Sarafina laughed. “No…no. You saw the Siku Choka last year, didn’t you?”
“And don’t you remember the final hours? Everyone pushes everyone off! If you’re on the back of a creature with someone else and you’re worried they might beat you to the points, just reach out and shove them off!”
“I don’t remember that. I just thought that when the second lion jumped on, it jogged the first one off.”
“Well, that happens sometimes too. Come on, get up, let’s walk.”
Anzi did so.
“It’s true though,” Sarafina continued, “you can’t just shove anyone off at any time. If there’s a pack of lions still running behind you or a buffalo or something like that behind you, then you’ve got to realize that shoving the other lion off may cause someone to get hurt. Also, antelope and zebra become small when you get on the backs of them, so you can shove anyone off, but if it’s a buffalo you’ve got to realize that shoving your opponent off is going to cause them to have a hard fall. Also, try not to shove off anyone if they’re too badly injured, it’s just not humane.”
“And that’s why everyone hates Wamariri?” asked Anzi.
Sarafina nodded sadly. “Wamariri breaks all those rules. They’re unwritten rules though. The Siku Choka was designed to be dangerous. If you feel like killing everyone else is what you have to do to win, then you can to that…to an extent. You’re not allowed to kill them yourself. You know…I can’t just say, Anzi, I don’t like you, and bite your neck and kill you. That’s murder. I can, however, say Anzi, I don’t like you, and then shove you off a buffalo or kill a buffalo next to you so that it will fall on you when you’re asleep. You can get away with that. It sucks. Nobody does it…except Wamariri.”
Anzi grimaced. “What if that’s not the case?” she asked. “What if…one of the new ones does it too?”
Sarafina paused and thought about it, before replying: “Well…I won’t.”
“Oh dear, she’s waking up.”
“What should we tell her?”
“I don’t know! What do you think we should tell her?”
“Don’t tell her anything! Stand in front of her so she can’t see anything!”
“What’s going on?”
“Oh…um…hi Queen Nyimbo.”
“Shatik…why are standing right in front of me?”
“You know, that is an excellent question. And I have a great answer. See, you fell asleep, and when you fell asleep, Nakshi was almost killed on a buffalo, then Ema was killed by that buffalo, then Wamariri had to give up on that buffalo, and now…”
“Where’s my daughter?”
“See…I was just about to get to that…but you interrupted me…and…”
“Shatik…where – is – my – Winda?”
“Winda’s on the buffalo!” exclaimed an excited lioness from elsewhere on the hill.
Nyimbo’s eyes grew wide and she shoved Shatik aside. “No Winda!” she shouted.
“You know, you should probably be quiet and let her concentrate,” said Shatik rather hurriedly.
“No! I’ve already lost one of my daughters, I’m not losing the other. Winda! Winda!”
Fortunately for Winda, she was too busy focusing on how the heck she was actually supposed to kill this buffalo to have actually heard her mother calling. This buffalo was fat…there was no simpler way to explain it. Winda had already ruled out the possibility of giving up on this creature though, and since she had gotten this far, she had every intent of continuing on and trying to kill this creature. She looked down at the creature’s back and found herself disgusted at what she saw. Scratches ran through the buffalo’s skin and patches of dried blood were scattered across his back. Winda now knew that she wasn’t the first who had tried to take this buffalo down. Apparently, everyone else had failed, and thus the simple method of reaching for the buffalo’s neck in order to kill it seemed to rule itself out of Winda’s mind. Instead, the lioness lifted one of her back legs up and ejected her claws, and then she shoved her leg back downwards and dug her claws into the buffalo as her leg slid down the side of his. The buffalo now found it too painful to run on that leg, and he stumbled. Winda hadn’t prepared herself properly, and she now found herself hanging over the edge of the buffalo as her front paws were still on its back, but her back legs hovered above the ground, as she found herself pressed to the buffalo’s right side. Now, the buffalo had stopped running, and he turned his head to the right, noticing that Winda was dangling off the side of him. Now that she had the chance, Winda swung herself back up onto the buffalo’s back, and then she pulled herself forwards and delivered the fatal bite. The buffalo that had killed Ema collapsed to the ground, and was no more.
“What are you guys doing?” asked Simba, as he and Nala returned to their pride. Nala looked just as perplexed as Simba was.
“Flossing!” replied Zazu. “It’s Grand Gopher’s Glorious Tooth Floss…endorsed by Rakusa and the Majibuluu pride, so I guess that means Juni too.”
“But Zazu…you don’t have any teeth,” commented Nala.
Zazu stopped moving the thin, hard weed around his beak and then he looked at Nala. “Oh yeah…I guess I forgot…”
“But we do!” exclaimed Timon, still flossing. “Teeth, teeth, so you can eat! If you floss, you’ll get a tasty treat!” he sang.
“What did you trade the floss for?” asked Simba, not really sure if he wanted to know the answer or not.
“You know that small thicket on the west side of the Pridelands?” began Pumbaa.
“Yeah…” replied Simba, dreading what Pumbaa would say next.
“We gave them access to that thicket.”
Simba let out a huge sigh of relief. “Good, so it’s still ours?”
“You can trust us, your majesty,” replied Zazu.
“I’m beginning to doubt that.”
“I must say, sir, that you are back much earlier than anticipated.”
“Yeah…Nala didn’t want to hang around too long.”
“Hey, hey…don’t place all the blame on me. You didn’t want to either.”
“You’re the one who never really liked Ema.”
“Nor did you.”
“Only because you told me not to.”
“But you’re…” but then Nala was cut off, as a cheer erupted from the stands and the group all turned around to see what had happened.
“That lion’s got a buffalo down,” said Timon. “Is it Guvu?” he asked.
“Yup,” replied Nala, not too delighted about the fact.
Simba sighed. “You know how you said Guvu was going for three in a row?”
“Yeah,” replied Nala. “And I was excited about it.”
Nala nodded. “That was before I knew about Mom.”
The Pridelanders couldn’t help but look at where Guvu had brought the buffalo down. 196. That was how many points Guvu now had. Bahati was second…twenty points behind, and the rest even further back. None of the Pridelanders could see a way in which Guvu was going to lose, so they all just stood there in silence. Despite their ‘personal favorites,’ what they were all really there for was to see Sarafina win…and it had all been looking so promising. Nobody, however, had expected that Guvu would have gotten up from his sleep this quickly. The group just looked on in silence, but, rather slowly and quietly at first, around them a chant was forming.
“What are they saying?” asked Timon.
“It sounds like…Phooey,” replied Pumbaa.
“I thought it sounded like ‘too many,’ you know, Guvu having ‘too many’ points,” said Zazu.
Simba and Nala smiled. Too many? Toomany? Tumaini? The one lioness still asleep? She didn’t have a pride here to wake her, and to give her a helping hand, the entire audience was chanting her name, trying to wake the lioness up. The other Pridelanders soon worked it out too, and now everyone was chanting her name.
Lying on the dirt, the lioness perked her ears up and opened her eyes. Someone was calling her name. She looked around. Everyone was calling her name. She couldn’t help but smile a little bit. She got up onto her feet to a loud round of applause. Every competitor was now up and awake. All of them would stay that way until the competition came to a close, or until they came to a close. Tumaini began to move off. The whole sun could be seen now, and in a few hours Rafiki would leave. When there was no shadow from the stick, he would give the signal to Bwana Zungumza, who would roar loudly three times. When his third roar ended, the scores would be final, and the winner of the Twenty-fifth running of the Siku Choka would be crowned.
If you were an antelope concerned by the fact that there were four lions running after you, then you’d better hope that you were in a bad dream. That was not the case for this one particular antelope that had ended up on the track at the Siku Choka. Lenny, Sarafina, Anzi, and Wamariri were all right on his hind legs. Anzi was closest…but she wasn’t ready to make her move just yet. Sarafina was wearing out, and thus she was hanging back a bit too. In fact, it was Lenny who was able to get up onto the antelope first, as he jumped up onto its left side. Wamariri quickly followed, jumping up onto the antelope’s right side.
“You again?” said Lenny. “You really don’t like me, do you? I could have had this antelope to myself.”
Wamariri rolled her eyes. Less chitter-chatter and more biting and killing was what she needed to do. Before she could reach the antelope’s neck, however, she found herself destabilized, and, losing her balance, she fell off the side of the antelope.
“Anzi?” addressed Lenny, surprised to see that the friend he had made earlier had now taken the place of the enemy he had made earlier.
Anzi smiled. “It’s a shoving match,” she said, proud with how she had just been able to handle Wamariri. To emphasize that point though, she then lifted her paw up over the antelope and gave Lenny a shove.
Lenny almost fell off, but he didn’t. He then looked back up at Anzi. “Oh, I get it!” he exclaimed, and then he prepared to give Anzi a shove back, but the lioness blocked him with her paw. Their game though was quickly interrupted, as Sarafina took advantage of the fact that two lions on top of one antelope equaled a very slow moving and easy-to-bring-down, antelope, and thus she jumped onto the back of the antelope, in between the other two lions, and killed the creature herself. The three lions all fell to the ground with the antelope.
Sarafina shook her head and looked over at Anzi, smiling. “Nice job with Wamariri, but shoving Lenny was unnecessary, you should have just killed him.”
Lenny couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Kill me?”
“No, no, no, the antelope,” replied Sarafina hurriedly, as she realized her mistake. She laughed. “Sorry, I guess I should…be more clear next time.” She yawned as she stood back up. “Thanks for the points though.”
Anzi watched Sarafina as she walked on. “I think she’s tired.”
“Aren’t we all?” replied Lenny.
Guvu ambushed an antelope. Tumaini brought a zebra down and Rakusa got the buffalo. Three new pieces of prey were let out onto the track, and Guvu was the first in ambush.
“Would this be a good time to go to sleep?” asked Simba.
“No. Why?” responded Nala.
“Guvu’s going to win it.”
Nala shook her head. “Shut up,” she said. Both of the lions smiled, knowing that Nala was just trying to deny the fact that things were looking really good for Guvu right now.
“And the next lion in ambush is Rakusa,” said Sarafina out loud.
Tumaini turned and looked at her. Sarafina looked back. “Are you talking to me?” Tumaini asked.
“Yeah,” replied Sarafina cheerfully. “Who else?”
“I—I don’t mean to be rude…but why?”
“Cos I like you, Tumaini…even if you did take ten points from me earlier by waiting in ambush by pretending to be injured, even after I helped you forget about your injured leg.”
“Sarafina…look…girl…I like you too, but right now, we’re in something called The Siku Choka, and I’m not really supposed to be your friend right now. I’m trying to win this thing.”
Sarafina laughed. “Good luck with that.”
Tumaini glared at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Guvu’s going to win it,” Sarafina replied.
Tumaini shook her head. “Beliefs like that are self-fulfilling. Give up if you want, Sarafina. It will just make it easier for me.”
“Oh, Tumaini – I am not giving up.”
“What are you doing then?”
“I’m asking you for a request.”
“And that is?”
“Do you want to team up?”
Tumaini frowned. “How do you mean?”
“Right now, Tumaini, it looks as if Guvu’s got this. If the rest of us all just work individually and compete with each other for the same three pieces of prey, Guvu’s going to have an easy victory. But, if we begin to work together, perhaps we can have enough of a presence on the track that we can stop Guvu from scoring points.”
Tumaini was considering every one of Sarafina’s words. “I’m listening,” she replied. “Why do you want to work with me, though?”
“Well we can add others in as we go along, but I figure that you’re a good one to start with…I trust you.”
“That’s not very smart.”
“Oh well, I’m sure it’s worth a shot. You in?” Sarafina asked, holding out her paw for Tumaini to shake.
“Sure…” replied Tumaini, holding out her paw and shaking Sarafina’s. Tumaini was a lot more reluctant to look into Sarafina’s eyes than what Sarafina was hers. They both dropped their paws. “So…where do we begin?”
Rakusa got the antelope down. Zazu cheered. “That gives him one hundred and fifty-two points now.”
“How much does Guvu have?” asked Simba.
“Two hundred and seventeen.”
A new antelope was released out onto the track, and Winda led Nakshi as the two lionesses came out of the final turn and went after it.
“Winda is slightly ahead of Nakshi in points, I do believe,” said Zazu.
“I can’t believe she’s doing that well,” replied Nala. “Shairi must have been a better teacher than I thought.”
“Why’s Nakshi slowing down?” asked Simba. The rest of the Pridelanders looked down on the track at the lioness, all wondering the same thing. Their question was answered, however, as a cheer suddenly erupted from the crowd.
Timon groaned. “Guvu got another buffalo.”
“So Nakshi’s waiting for the new one!” exclaimed Simba.
“I believe you’re right,” replied Nala.
Sure enough, no sooner after the new buffalo stepped out on the track, he found his life cut short by the jaws of Nakshi. Ten points went to her.
Further on down the straight, Rakusa began to chase after the zebra on track. Wamariri joined in the chase, but Rakusa had already made his way up onto the zebra’s back. This slowed the zebra down, and Wamariri was able to run alongside. Instead of shoving Rakusa off the zebra though, she shoved the zebra sideways, making him lose his footing and trip. Rakusa was on for an uncomfortable ride as the zebra stumbled and fell down to the ground, but the worst part for Rakusa was that the zebra was still alive. That was soon changed however, as Wamariri moved her jaw towards its neck and killed it. Ten points went to Wamariri. Further back on the front stretch, Winda got an antelope down, and ten points went to her.
“I think it would be best if we moved,” said Sarafina.
“Funnily enough, I agree with you,” replied Tumaini. “There’s still three lions waiting in ambush before us, and right now we have three more lions making their way around the track, and so at this rate we’re never going to get any prey.”
“I believe you’re right,” replied Sarafina.
Tumaini gave her a serious look. “Are you sure this will work?” she asked, still rather doubtful about Sarafina’s plans.
“I’m pretty certain. If we both promise to stick to the plan, I think we might have a chance.”
From just a few yards away from the pair, Juni’s ears perked up. If we both promise to stick to the plan, I think we might have a chance…what plan? She looked over at the other two competitors and smiled. She may have been getting old alright, but faces were something she definitely could always remember. Maybe her old ‘biggest fan’ would let her in on this plan?
“Do you think it would help if we invited someone else?” asked Tumaini.
“I’ll help,” replied Juni, in a voice loud enough for them both to hear.
Tumaini and Sarafina turned around to see who it was that had just responded to them.
“Who’s that?” asked Tumaini.
Sarafina smiled. “Juni. I’ve always been her biggest fan.”
“Then why didn’t you invite her in the first place?”
“I guess I was…nervous?”
Tumaini smiled. “Come on, let her in on the plan. It’ll work out best for all three of us.”
“I really want to know what they’re discussing,” said Nala.
“I’m sure we’ll find out later. Hey, look! Rakusa’s walking over to them too. He’s Juni’s king. Maybe they’re all teaming up for some reason.”
Nala’s eyes widened. “Teaming up – Simba, you’re right! That’s it! I bet they’re going to do the ol’ tic-tac-toe strategy.”
Simba couldn’t help but look at Nala, perplexed. Neither could any of the other Pridelanders around her. Nala had expected such a reaction.
“I’m assuming you guys want me to explain the tic-tac-toe strategy?”
“Well basically, all four of them will run around the track until they are back on the front stretch, and then they will all be the first to line up in ambush. When one of them runs after a piece of prey, the other three will still be waiting in ambush. The lion that ran will move back out to the outside of the track and hope he’s still one of the first lions in ambush, or he’ll run around the track and join the group of lions again. Of course, each time they bring something down, a new one is released, and so they pretty much get control of all of the points for as long as each of the team members sits on the front stretch. If they really want to work as a team, they will make sure that nobody else gets in their way and they will not go running off away from the group unless they’ve gone to complete another lap. It seems a lot like what everyone else has been doing anyways, but the difference is that they are much more aware of the location of the other competitors and their teammates. The more they can get in their team, the better it will work for them.”
Simba shook his head. “I’m not following you.”
Nala sighed. “Well I tried my best. Hopefully it will make sense when they begin doing it.”
“Why did Nakshi just let all three pieces of prey walk on by her?” asked Pumbaa, who had been watching the action on the track for most of the time that Simba and Nala had been talking.
“Because…” replied Nala, but then she was cut off as Nakshi took off, and the crowd began to cheer.
“Oh – wow!” exclaimed Simba, but even as loud as he shouted Nala had trouble hearing him. Everyone was cheering. Screw teamwork. When Nakshi had begun running, all three pieces of prey had begun to run. They ran by Guvu, who, for the first time in a long time, gave chase. They ran by Winda, who joined in too. They ran by Tumaini, Sarafina, Rakusa, Juni, Wamariri, Anzi, Lenny, and Bahati. Every single competitor left in the Siku Choka was in chase of these three pieces of prey, which were all fast. It was this fact alone that led for this being able to happen: none of these pieces of prey seemed catchable. A roar echoed around the four hills that surrounded the Siku Choka, and the ground began to rumble. It was by no means a dead heat between each of the competitors, but there was no clear cut winner either. Nakshi had been running out in front, but Winda had gotten out in front of her when she had joined in the chase. However, Winda was after the antelope, while Nakshi was after the buffalo. Lenny was after the buffalo too, and he began to edge out Nakshi as the pack had now made its way out onto the backstretch.
“Lenny! No!” came a voice from beside the lion. Lenny turned his head sideways to see his brother, Bahati, shaking his head.
“Right!” shouted Lenny back as he remembered. “No buffalos, got it!” and then he returned his attention to what was in front of him…and he went after the zebra.
Nakshi was beginning to tire out, and she began to slow up. Bahati, Guvu, and Anzi were able to get by her and they were now closest to the buffalo’s hind legs.
“Guvu hasn’t ran all day!” shouted Nala so that Simba could hear her. “He’s got a lot of speed in him still!”
Simba nodded as a response.
Before Guvu, or any of the others, could get the buffalo though, Winda brought down the antelope.
This led to a parting of the pack as everyone had to either dodge left or right to avoid tripping over the fallen Winda and antelope. Unfortunately for Guvu, he was not able to avoid them, and he tripped over and fell onto the ground.
Unlike the rest of the crowd who let out an ‘ooh!” the Pridelanders couldn’t help but cheer even harder than what they had been before. Guvu would not be getting any more points this run!
“You alright?” asked Winda, getting up and checking on Guvu.
The male lion nodded and sat up. “Yeah,” he replied, winded nonetheless.
Further on down the straight, the chase still continued.
Anzi had now run on by the buffalo, and she and Lenny were right on the zebra’s back legs. Rakusa, like Nakshi, had begun to drop back, and now it was Bahati and Wamariri who had the strongest scent of buffalo filling their nostrils.
Timon laughed. “Look at that! An antelope all alone on the front stretch! I haven’t seen that in a while.”
Anzi got onto the zebra’s back and began to bring it down to the ground. Lenny backed off and looked behind him to see if he could still get the buffalo. He knew that his brother had said ‘no,’ but what else could he go for right now?
The buffalo ran on by Lenny, and he was surprised to see that his brother was on the creature’s back…as was Wamariri.
Go on brother, get it! thought Lenny. That lioness won’t shove you off. I know. Anzi told me that Sarafina told her that two of the most important rules to shoving other competitors off were that you do not do it when a pack of lions behind you, and you do not do it to a lion on a buffalo, and you, my brother, have a pack of lions behind you and you’re on a buffalo, and so Wamariri will not shove you…
Lenny gasped. “She just shoved my brother off!” Finally, after three-quarters of the Siku Choka had already been completed, something in Lenny’s head finally clicked. It wasn’t just that this lioness wasn’t nice…she was evil! As Nakshi and Rakusa tripped over the fallen Bahati and rolled over until they came to a rest in the dirt, Wamariri was still continuing on the buffalo as if nothing had happened, and nobody could do anything about it.
Nobody…except for Lenny. He hadn’t stopped running either. He was still on the buffalo’s hind legs. He was angry. This lioness didn’t deserve this buffalo…this buffalo belonged to his brother, but Bahati wouldn’t be getting it now. He was still on the mud several hundred yards away. And so the closest substitute that Lenny could find for his brother, was himself. Lenny put on an extra sprint and got within pouncing distance for taking down the buffalo. Wamariri was still riding the creature, and slowing it down. Lenny jumped up on its back, but before he went for the bite, he shoved Wamariri off the edge of the buffalo.
It didn’t work.
Wamariri snarled as she regained her footing and gave a much harder shove back at Lenny. The male lion fell off of the buffalo’s back, but he was able to stay onto its side. He tried to pull himself back up, which would have been painful for the buffalo…if he hadn’t already had to deal with the fact that another lion, Wamariri, was currently biting down on his neck. Lenny knew he wouldn’t win another shoving match, and so, he pulled his back around onto the top of the buffalo and made it a kicking match. It only took one hard shot with his rear legs this time to successfully destabilize Wamariri and make her fall off of the buffalo.
Wamariri rolled over several times in the mud before coming to rest. Livid, she lifted her head up, only to see that Lenny had gotten the buffalo down onto the ground another fifty yards or so away. To add insult to injury, three new pieces of prey had just been released on the front stretch and as Juni, Sarafina, Tumaini, and Anzi ran on by her, Wamariri knew that none of them would be hers.
“Hey, you’re okay, aren’t you?” asked Rakusa, shaking Bahati by the shoulder.
Bahati nodded his head, but groaned as he did so. Movement was painful for him right now.
“Wamariri shoved you off the buffalo,” said Nakshi, as she stood next to Rakusa. “Don’t worry though, she didn’t get it.”
“It was that other lion you were talking to. He got it.”
Bahati forgot about the pain for a moment. “Lenny?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think that was his name,” said Nakshi. “I spoke to him earlier. He was the one who told me that Maneno…had…eh…gone.”
Bahati opened an eye. “Oh, sorry Nakshi, didn’t realize it was you.”
Nakshi smiled. “I’ve got 176.”
Bahati smiled too. “So have I.”
Nakshi held out a paw. “Come on, you helped me up earlier.”
Bahati reached out for it and let Nakshi pull him up.
“So we’re all good?” asked Rakusa.
“Guess so,” replied Nakshi. “And just in time. If we all run now we can beat Guvu and Winda. We can work as a team.”
Rakusa checked back over his shoulder. Winda and Guvu were still behind them, from when Winda had caught the antelope and Guvu had tripped over her. “Sorry guys,” replied Rakusa, “I’ve already got a team,” and with that he ran off.
Bahati turned back to face Nakshi. “I’ll work with you.”
Nakshi smiled again. “I’m glad. Ready to get going? We can still beat Guvu.”
“Yeah. Come on. Let’s go!” and with that he and Nakshi took off.
“Sarafina!” addressed Tumaini as they ran side-by-side. “Should we go after the new prey, or should we wait in ambush?”
“Can we wait in ambush?” asked Juni, who was also running with them. “Rakusa’s not with us.”
Tumaini groaned. “I told you four was too much,” she whispered to Sarafina.
“No, no, it’s fine,” whispered Sarafina back. “Yeah, we’ll stop on the front stretch,” she said back to Juni.
Just as she said that, Anzi ran by on the outside of the three lionesses, and began to charge down the new prey on the front stretch.
“She can’t run too fast,” said Sarafina. “The buffalo is the first piece of prey, and she won’t go after that. She’ll just start another charge around the track.”
Tumaini smiled. “She’s less of a threat to us, then.”
“Why are you waiting for me?” asked Wamariri, as she continued to walk on through the corner, but found Lenny waiting for her. “Don’t you get it? I don’t like you. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Well I want to talk to you,” replied Lenny.
“I don’t care!” shouted Wamariri back. “I’m not talking to you. The sky is blue, the grass is green, what other things do you want to learn today, you idiot?”
“No, I wanted to talk about my brother.”
“Well la di da…it ain’t happening,” replied Wamariri, as she began to walk around the side of Lenny.
Lenny blocked her. “Fine…then just apologize.”
“No! What am I even apologizing for?”
“Pushing my brother off of that buffalo!”
“Eh…excuse me…I think you just pushed me off of that buffalo.”
“Only cos you did it to my brother.”
“Well then there’s your payback. Now excuse me,” she said, as she tried to move around Lenny again.
Lenny blocked her again. “Apologize!”
Wamariri snarled. “I don’t have to apologize,” she whispered, “I’m not going to,” she continued, “and you can’t make me,” she finished off, and with that she finally jumped back around to the other side of Lenny, and was able to continue on her way.
“Why is Guvu staying on the backstretch?” asked Simba, as Guvu stopped running and sat down on the outside of the track.
“Because he’s too smart for his own good,” replied Nala.
Simba chuckled. “How so?”
“Watch,” replied Nala.
Anzi didn’t want to go after the buffalo, but somehow she needed to get by the buffalo and up to the back of the zebra. To do that, she needed to get by the buffalo without startling him. She slowed down and began walking on the outside of the track.
In the audience, everyone was being quiet to help Anzi out. The lioness tried to be as light on her feet as possible. If she could just get by the buffalo, then she could begin charging after the zebra. Naturally, every piece of prey on the track was on edge anyways. It was impossible to not realize that a hundred thousand animals were surrounding you on the hills.
The nervous buffalo glanced left. All of the track workers were standing far back, so as to not startle the prey themselves: that would just be unfair to the competitors. He then glanced back right…and caught sight of Anzi.
They both froze and stopped walking. The buffalo was waiting for Anzi to make her move. Anzi was waiting for the buffalo to not make a move.
Slowly, Anzi put a leg forwards and began to move on by the buffalo. The buffalo followed her with his unblinking eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, Anzi had finally made two paces away from the buffalo, and she began to move on again casually. So did the buffalo.
A huge sigh of relief came out from the Savannahland pride.
“If she can do that with the zebra, she can bring him down before he runs,” said King Machi to the rest of the pride.
“Anzi’s really fast though,” replied one of the lioness’s best friends, “that’s her biggest advantage. I’m sure that even if she did startle the zebra, she could bring it down.”
When Lenny had waited in the turn for Wamariri, Bahati and Nakshi had been able to catch up with him and tell him their plans. They were going to work as a team, but instead of the tic-tac-toe strategy, they were going to use the box and bundle strategy.
Basically, all three of them would go after the same piece of prey and jump on it together so that it would easily come down. If the prey was too fast, one of them would run out in front of it and “box” it in between the three of them. Since the “boxer” was obviously not going to be the one getting the points, they would take turns in being the boxer for their team.
Tumaini, Sarafina, and Juni finally made their way into their ambushing posts on the front stretch. Sarafina looked back over her shoulder.
Nala lifted her leg up and held out two claws, dragging them downwards in the air and then horizontally, as if drawing a tic-tac-toe grid.
Sarafina smiled and held her paw up, delivering the same gesture back to Nala.
“Siku Choka code?” asked Simba.
“Yeah, kinda,” replied Nala.
“I still don’t get Guvu’s strategy.”
Nala sighed. “All the lions are coming from behind on these pieces of prey. If they can’t catch them, Guvu’s in the first ambushing position…on the backstretch.”
“Oohhh…” replied Simba. “Why didn’t you just tell me that to begin with?”
“Because I was certain that somewhere under that thick mane that there was a big brain that could work it out for himself.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Can I ask you another question?”
“Why are all the birds flying off?”
Nala looked up. A whole flock of birds had just taken off from the infield and were flapping over the Pridelanders.
“That’s a good question,” replied Nala. She checked down next to her and found a stick. She picked it up and held it up in the air. A hornbill flew down next to her. “What’s going on?” asked Nala.
“All the lions in the other prides are just waking up, and so we are all going to the other prides to give them a report on what has taken place so far.”
“Oh,” replied Nala, “well…um…just out of curiosity, would you mind?”
“No problem ma’am.” The hornbill cleared his throat. “Guvu is currently leading the twenty-fifth running of the Siku Choka, which will end in just a few more hours. Sixteen lions started but only eleven are left alive. Zoea, Maneno, Shairi, Ema, and even the famed Uku are all now deceased. Uku was leading at the beginning, then Nakshi led, then Wamariri, and now Guvu’s been leading since yesterday. Winda is in second trying to make up for her sister’s death. Sarafina is the nyimbas, running in third. Bahati and Nakshi, the winner of the twenty-second Siku Choka, are tied for fourth, and then Wamariri is sixth. It is then Rakusa, then Tumaini, and over a hundred points down are Juni, Lenny, and Anzi.”
“Okay, thanks,” replied Nala, smiling as the hornbill finished and then flew off.
“Juni’s over a hundred points down?” asked Simba.
Nala groaned as a response.
Wamariri came running down the front stretch and was able to bring the buffalo down to the ground. Anzi quietly approached the zebra from behind and got ten points by bringing the striped animal down.
“Our only hope is the antelope!” shouted Nakshi to Bahati as they ran. “I think he’s too fast!”
“No he’s not!” exclaimed Bahati back. “Lenny, go get your ten points!”
Lenny put on an extra sprint and was able to catch up with the antelope rather quickly. His mane was thin and so he was light, but, though weak for a male lion, he had slightly stronger muscles than the average lioness, and thus a lot of power without a lot of weight meant he was the fastest competitor on the track. There was no need for the box and bundle strategy when he could get the antelope himself. Lenny scored ten points.
“Dinnertime,” said Tumaini to the others, smiling as she left her ambushing point. She swiftly made her way across the track and she was on the buffalo before he knew she was there. The buffalo put up a fight though, and by the time Tumaini had got the buffalo down to the ground, she had made her way on by Winda, who would now be able to ambush any prey before Tumaini could. If Tumaini was going to be a part of this team plan, she needed to run back around another lap. She did so.
Now the zebra made its way up to Sarafina and the team.
“My turn,” said Sarafina, as she left her ambushing post. Zebra was, without a doubt, the easiest prey to take down, and thus Sarafina scored a quick and easy ten points, and then moved her way back over to the outside of the track, with Winda further on down the front stretch from her.
“Ah, I see,” said Simba, “if they all work as a team, Winda won’t be able to ambush anything.”
“Exactly,” replied Nala.
“And imagine if that was Guvu.”
“It is Guvu,” said Nala, smiling. “Mom, Juni, Tumaini and Rakusa have control of the entire track. Nobody else can score points right now.”
Simba looked back over at the far end of the track. “I guess Guvu’s caught onto it,” he said. “He’s leaving his ambushing spot.”
Bahati and Nakshi caught up with Lenny. Lenny got up and they all looked backwards. Their faces fell. There were at least six lions waiting in ambush before any more of the prey could reach them.
“Well…that didn’t work too well,” admitted Bahati.
Nakshi looked at him. “What do we do now?”
Juni ambushed the antelope and moved back in line. Rakusa ambushed the zebra and moved back in line. Sarafina decided to let the buffalo pass, as did Winda. The buffalo became Wamariri’s.
“Sarafina,” addressed Juni.
“That antelope looks fast. You might not want to go after him…you’ll just end up running around another lap like Tumaini is now.”
“But the zebra’s Guvu’s,” replied Sarafina. Just as she finished saying that, Guvu finished his charge down the front stretch, and he managed to get onto the back of the zebra and pick up ten points as he brought it down, dead. “They’ll start releasing new prey soon. This strategy won’t work forever, you know that Juni. Each time we ambush a piece of prey we end up having to chase it a bit, and that just moves us farther away from the track entrance. Look at Guvu now, he’s going to line up in ambush in front of us.”
“We’d better go around and complete another lap then,” replied Juni.
“But Guvu can only go after one piece of prey and then we’ll most likely be back in control again,” replied Sarafina.
“Let’s stay here for now. It’s working well so far.”
Sarafina obeyed Juni and decided not to go after the antelope. Once the antelope had walked on by the team however, its life was cut short by the jaws of Winda.
A cheer from the hill on the far right side of the Pridelanders emerged.
“What’s all that about?” wondered Simba allowed.
“Probably the Lionrock pride happy that Winda just scored points,” replied Timon. “It was a rarity at the beginning of this event.”
“But it’s not a rarity anymore,” replied Nala with a frown on her face. “Rafiki,” she addressed, looking around for the mandrill. “Where did he go?”
“Who knows?” asked Simba.
“I’m right here,” came a reply from above Simba’s head, as Rafiki moved his head down into Simba’s eyesight.
“You were on my back the whole time?” asked Simba.
“I didn’t see him,” replied Nala.
“What is it dat you want?” asked Rafiki, now jumping down off of Simba’s back.
“Any reason why the Lionrock pride would be so excited?” asked Nala. “You’re following Winda, aren’t you?”
Rafiki cackled. “Of course I am! I picked de best!”
“She’s leading?” asked Simba.
“Not yet,” replied Rafiki, “but she just broke de two hundred point barrier. Guvu is de only other lion who’s done dat.”
“Oohhh…” replied Simba and Nala.
“She’s closing in on Guvu then,” commented Pumbaa.
Simba groaned as he looked back down at the track. “Maybe not,” he replied, as Guvu ambushed the newly released buffalo and brought it down for ten points. “The success rate of these competitors is incredible.”
“Well ultimately it becomes a lot easier than hunting. Because we bank the circuit on both sides the prey feel as if they’re locked in, and there’s the fact that all of our scents and sounds means that it’s a lot harder for the prey to work out where the competitors are. And there’s the fact that these are sixteen of the best hunters on the planet,” explained Nala.
Simba looked back over at the left side of the track, where Lenny, Bahati, Nakshi and Tumaini were now all making their way through the final turn. “What are those guys playing at? I know Tumaini is running back around to join the team, but I don’t get the strategy of the other three.”
Nala shrugged. “You’re not the only one,” she replied.
Sarafina ambushed the zebra and lined back up behind Rakusa.
“Juni, if you go after that antelope, we’re all going to have to complete another lap,” said Rakusa to the lioness.
“I know,” replied Juni, “but there’s a pack of three lions just coming out of the final turn. They can line up in ambush before us now. I think we should all run.”
Rakusa turned to face Sarafina. “Are you okay with that?” he asked her.
“Sure,” replied Sarafina. “It makes sense to me. I don’t think Tumaini will be too happy though.”
“Bahati!” called Nakshi, as they ran with each other out of the final turn. “Do you know what I mean when I say tic-tac-toe?”
With all the unpredictability of the Siku Choka, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to anyone when Juni missed the antelope. Another chase began.
Juni, Rakusa, and Sarafina all began to run together. Guvu decided to wait in ambush for the rest of the prey. Winda joined in the chase. The young lioness’s speed and energy couldn’t be matched by the other three, and thus Winda brought the antelope down.
“Keep running!” shouted Sarafina to the others.
“Remember, don’t go for the prey!” commanded Nakshi to the two brothers next to her. “Just pull over to the side and wait in ambush. It will be worth it in the long run.”
Tumaini came running out of the final turn. Now she needed to make a decision. She had three choices.
The first would be unpopular with the rest of the competition: line up in ambush in front of Lenny, Bahati, and Nakshi, who had all already taken their places, which would mean that, once again, she would scare the prey from walking out onto the track. The downside would be that, in the long run, the rest of the competitors may become hostile towards her.
The second was probably the one that would create the least resistance towards her, but it was the one that Tumaini disliked the most, and that was to line up in ambush behind Lenny, Bahati, and Nakshi. Once they had all gone running after their first piece of prey, Tumaini would be the first in ambush again.
The third would be unpopular with the rest of her team, and that was to just screw the teamwork and go ahead and run after the prey that was on the front stretch.
Tumaini groaned. Plan two was the best.
“Why aren’t you going after the antelope, Nakshi?” asked Bahati.
“I won’t be able to bring him down in time, it will just screw our whole strategy.”
“But we just let all three pieces of prey walk right on by!”
“That’s cos we weren’t here in time. Look, when they get caught we’ll have control over the whole track. But…” but then Nakshi was cut off as Tumaini ran up and took her place next to Lenny.
Tumaini smiled and looked over at Nakshi. “No, you can keep talking, I really want to know your strategy,” she said, smirking.
“She’s just one lioness, Nakshi,” said Bahati, “as soon as she runs for something, we’ll have control.”
Nakshi didn’t reply. Tumaini wasn’t going to run for anything, and Nakshi knew it. She was just going to wait in her spot until the rest of her team came running back around, and then Tumaini’s team would have control over the track, and not Nakshi’s.
“Lenny,” addressed Tumaini, “you kept trying to talk to me earlier. Well I’m not busy now, is there something you’d like to talk about?”
“Heh, Lenny’s not going to fall for tha…”
“How long did it take you to get here from the Mimpaka pride?” asked Lenny.
“I left six days ago. Well…seven now. A couple of prides let me spend the night in their lands. All I had to do was tell them that I was in the Siku Choka and they couldn’t get enough of me.”
“Lenny, we really need to be focusing on…” Nakshi began, but then was cut off as Lenny asked another question.
“So how much of your pride came with you?”
“Two of my childhood friends, my aunt, and three members of my pride who are all distant cousins, but one of them is a big Siku Choka fan and two of them tagged along with her. My parents couldn’t come because they’re King and Queen.”
“Lenny,” addressed Bahati, tapping his brother on the back.
“So do you have any intentions on becoming a queen in the future?”
Tumaini laughed. “No. Actually, I wouldn’t mind doing this Siku Choka thing again one day. I wouldn’t mind getting married, but I think I’ll wait for one of my sisters to do that first, and then I won’t have to be queen.”
“LENNY!” shouted both Nakshi and Bahati.
“Yeah?” asked Lenny, turning back around.
“Come on brother, we’ve got to focus. Tumaini’s your competitor right now.”
“So are you.”
“But we’re working with you,” said Bahati, signaling to himself and Nakshi.
Lenny gasped as a sudden idea came to him. “Tumaini, do you want to work with us?”
Tumaini’s ears fell. She had to answer. She had another decision to make. If she said ‘no,’ then Lenny would retain his focus on the event. If she said ‘yes,’ then she would essentially be sucking Sarafina, Juni, and Rakusa into a seven-lion team. But Nakshi and Bahati were just as big as threats to Tumaini as what Guvu was. If she let their team get too big, she’d lose control. And what if she said ‘no,’ anyways? Her team still had an advantage.
“No,” Tumaini replied.
Guvu ambushed a buffalo. A new one was released.
“If Nakshi was smart,” said Simba, “she wouldn’t go after this buffalo…just yet.”
Nala frowned. “Explain,” she said.
“Well their strategy isn’t going to work anyways, but now they have all three pieces of prey in front of them. If Nakshi runs up on the buffalo and causes it to charge, another chase around the track will begin, and then all the other competitors will end up running out of the final turn and they can line up in front of your mom and the others.”
Nala’s eyes grew wide. “Good grief, you’re right.”
“Yay! Do I get a golden star?”
“No, you get a be quiet stamp, cos I actually want my mom to win and if Nakshi does what you said, that is seriously going to compromise…oh…darn…”
Nakshi, Bahati, and Lenny had all taken off into a run. The crowd all got up onto their feet as the chase began. Before it could though, Guvu took the zebra out of the chase by ambushing it.
Wamariri was in position to do the same thing with the antelope. The lioness ran across the track as the antelope ran on down the straight. The antelope saw her though, and he ran towards the inside of the track as he tried to get away from Wamariri. The inside of the track, however, was where Guvu was lying down on the ground after having just brought the zebra down. The antelope never saw him. As the antelope lifted his front legs up in another stride, he gave Guvu a hard whack into the side of the head. The two-time champion simply slumped onto his side, while the antelope stumbled and was brought down by Wamariri.
When the incident occurred, Kanafa had been making his way on by the spot where Guvu had taken the zebra down. Nakshi, Bahati, and Lenny all went running on by in pursuit of the buffalo, and then the track was clear. Kanafa ran out to Guvu.
“Guvu, can you hear me Guvu?” asked Kanafa.
No reply came.
Kanafa looked down at his chest. It was rising up and down. The good news for Guvu was that he was alive. The bad news for Guvu was that he was knocked out, and until he woke back up, the competition could close in on him.
“Nala,” called Simba, “have you ever heard of the word ‘schadenfreude?’”
Once again, Tumaini was faced with a difficult decision. Right now, Guvu was no longer a threat, and thus there was no need for teamwork. An antelope and a zebra had just been released, and she was the only one lined up in ambush. She could potentially get twenty more points here, and not have to worry about her teammates because they were now who she was competing against. But what if she needed them again later on?
Tumaini pushed that thought to the side. She would cross that bridge when she came to it. Tumaini left her ambushing post, and brought down the newly released zebra. The antelope tried to run on by her, but the lioness then quickly ran back across to the other side of the track and got him down too.
Anzi and Winda had joined Lenny, Bahati, and Nakshi in pursuit of the buffalo.
“I’ll box!” said Lenny to his brother as they ran, and then he ran around the side of the buffalo and began to slow it down.
The other four lions were now right in position to attack.
Winda was hesitant to, seeing as how her sister had died after her ride on a buffalo earlier. Thus, Anzi moved her way in front of the lioness and got up on the buffalo’s back.
“Go on, it’s yours,” said Bahati to Nakshi, as the male lion doubted whether he was skilled enough to get the buffalo down while another lioness was on its back. Nakshi joined Anzi on the buffalo. By the time she got up there though, it was already too late. Anzi had clasped her jaw down on the buffalo’s neck, and slowly but surely the creature began to stumble his way on down to the ground. Ten points went to Anzi.
“Round two,” said Tumaini to herself happily, as three new pieces of prey made their way out onto the track. Nobody else was around her. If she timed it all well, she could get another thirty points right here.
Nakshi got back up onto her feet.
“Nice job,” she said to Anzi.
“Thanks,” replied Anzi.
Nakshi looked in front of her. Bahati and Lenny had continued to run.
Guess I should catch up with them, Nakshi thought. I’m really getting tired of running though. The lioness checked over her shoulder. Her jaw could’ve dropped. She forced it not to, however, as she didn’t want Anzi to realize what she had just realized.
Anzi didn’t. She went running off to complete another lap.
Nakshi made her way to the outside of the track.
Guvu’s down and only two other lions are in ambush! Three pieces of prey on the front stretch…I’m bound to get points here!
Tumaini chuckled. Nakshi, you’re not going to get points here. Nor are you, Wamariri, she added, referring to the next lioness in ambush.
Tumaini turned her head back to the left. A zebra was cautiously approaching her. Not too far behind it was an antelope. A buffalo brought up the back.
Tumaini crouched down. “It’s showtime,” she whispered to herself.
“You don’t seriously think that she’s going to…” began Simba, but then he got to see his question answered for him.
Tumaini ran across the track once the zebra had caught up to her. She quickly brought it down to the ground…but that was the easy ten points.
She perked her ears up and heard the sound of hooves running by on her right side. She whirled around to the side and reached out her front legs. She was able to get a hold of the antelope’s flank, but he escaped. However, he was injured. Not being able to run as well on three legs as opposed to four, Tumaini sensed another easy ten points if she just gave chase. She did, and it paid off.
Breathing hard, the lioness got up from her latest kill. She tried to soften her breathing and drown out the sound of the crowd cheering. The buffalo was behind her somewhere, and she just needed to know where. Faintly, she was beginning to hear the sound of another set of hooves, cautiously trying to make their way by the lioness on the far left hand side of the track.
Tumaini grinned. She slowly turned her head leftwards until she met the buffalo’s gaze. The buffalo stopped dead in its tracks…and gulped. Knowing it was worthless, the creature didn’t even flinch as the lioness ran back across the track and bit down on his neck. Both of the mammals collapsed down to the ground as an echoing roar bounced off the hills surrounding the Siku Choka. Thirty points in one go was quite a feat.
Tumaini checked over her shoulder. Far behind her on the front stretch, three new pieces of prey had been released. They weren’t worth waiting for though. Juni, Sarafina and Rakusa were already all making their way out of the final turn.
“Your welcome, team,” said Tumaini.
“Rakusa, you’re stronger than us. You go after the buffalo,” said Juni over her left shoulder. “Sarafina, you go after the zebra,” she then said over her right shoulder. She then looked dead in front of her. “I’ll take the antelope.”
The Pridelanders were all standing up as they watched Sarafina run down the front stretch with the others.
“Which one do you think she’s going to go after?” asked Simba.
“I have no idea,” replied Nala, “I hope they didn’t tell her to go after the zebra. I think Wamariri will ambush that.”
Indeed, Wamariri was able to ambush and bring the zebra down before Sarafina got anywhere near. Without thinking twice, Sarafina slowed to a halt and made her way towards the outside of the track: right in front of the Pridelanders.
“You’re not staying with the team?” asked Nala, rather surprised.
“No need to!” replied Sarafina merrily, “Guvu’s down!”
Nala rolled her eyes. “He won’t be that way forever.”
“I know,” replied Sarafina. “See though, now all ten of us are a team. The more prey we get down, the more we all close in on Guvu. And so I’ll do my part by staying here on the front stretch and waiting in ambush.”
Further on down the straight, Rakusa was not having much success with bringing the buffalo down and Juni was having trouble just catching the zebra. However, nobody was waiting in ambush, so Juni knew that this was the perfect opportunity for her. She kept running.
“Hey, Bahati, do you think we should…?” but then Lenny stopped, as he realized his brother wasn’t anywhere near him. He brought himself to a halt.
“Ow!” exclaimed Winda, as she ran into the back of the lion and tripped over.
“Oops…sorry…guess I didn’t see you there.”
The lioness groaned as she got back up onto her feet.
“Are you okay?” asked Lenny. “I didn’t mean to hurt you…honest.”
Winda groaned again before replying. “Yeah…yeah…I’ll make do…just…run to the outside or something before you whoa up next time, okay?”
“Got it,” replied Lenny, and with that Winda ran off.
“I wouldn’t advise standing right on the inside of the track, brother,” said Bahati, as he trotted up towards Lenny.
“Neither did she.”
“Then I guess you should either go towards the outside of the track or get going. Personally I would recommend the second option.”
“But that’s what everyone’s doing,” Lenny pointed out, “that’s why I stopped. Look, brother, everyone’s running. If anybody misses then there’s no one to wait in ambush. Well I’m going to be the first.”
“But you’re like…a mile away from where the prey gets let out.”
“I know,” replied Lenny smiling, “but I’m still the first.”
The Pridelanders watched and Zazu gasped as Rakusa got tossed off of a buffalo…but then began walking away normally as if nothing has happened.
Sarafina walked back towards the outside of the track after ambushing a zebra.
“This is zebraific,” commented Nala to Simba.
Simba frowned. “You seem rather redeterminated.”
“As long as that buffalo and antelope can’t be caught, Mom gets to ambush zebras, and zebras only, until something else comes along. That’s good because zebras are, pretty much, the easiest prey to catch.”
Simba nodded in acknowledgement. “That does sound rather zebraific. How many points does she have now, Zazu?”
“Eh…I believe she has 216, sire.”
“And Guvu has 268, correct?”
Simba raised his eyebrows. “She could still have this then.”
Suddenly, Nala rolled one of the sticks that was used to flag the birds down over towards Simba.
“What’s this for?” asked Simba.
“It’s a stick, it’s made of wood,” replied Nala.
“Really? I thought it was made of rock.”
“You just said my mom might win.”
Simba sighed and knocked on the stick a few times.
“Thank you,” replied Nala, taking the stick back in her paw and smiling.
“Paranoid,” muttered Simba under his breath.
Winda, Bahati and Anzi all came running out onto the front stretch.
They all grumbled.
Only one piece of prey was on the front stretch: a zebra. It was close enough for Sarafina to ambush now that it wasn’t worth going after, but at least these three could guard the track entrance. Or mainly, Winda could.
However, Sarafina brought the zebra down before the three lions could get to the track entrance, and the new zebra was released. Winda went for it, but the zebra was already galloping away. Winda and Anzi gave chase, but Bahati gave up. He ran across towards the side of the track and looked over towards where he had left his brother. Even though Lenny was quite far away, Bahati could tell that he was smiling.
“This isn’t that zebraific anymore,” commented Simba, as Winda and Anzi ran on the hind legs of the zebra. “Is your mom still going to ambush it?” he asked Nala.
“I think she’s stupid enough to, yes,” replied Nala.
“What are you doing over here?” asked Nakshi, as she made her way towards where Lenny sat on the outside of the track.
“I’m waiting in ambush,” replied Lenny.
Nakshi shook her head. How stupid was this guy?
“Lenny. If you ran about another two hundred yards, you’d be right at the track entrance. A piece of prey would have to run about one and a half miles without being brought down right now for you to get it.” Nakshi looked down the track, a bit further off into the distance. “What’s your brother doing?”
“Why?” she asked, trying not to laugh.
“Because there’s a bunch of prey on the backstretch.”
Nakshi frowned but then checked over her shoulder…then her eyes grew wide. An antelope was just making its way out onto the backstretch, still being chased by Juni. Behind them a buffalo was walking peacefully.
“See, if Juni just stopped running for one second she could wait and bring that buffalo down,” said Lenny.
Nakshi turned her head back towards Lenny.
Lenny looked down at the ground, and then back up at Nakshi. “Uh…your jaw’s hanging, by the way. Just thought I’d let you know.”
“Lenny…” began Nakshi in a whisper, “you’re brilliant!”
“Well I wouldn’t call it that,” replied Lenny.
“No, seriously. Here,” said Nakshi, walking around the lion. “I’ll let you be the first in ambush still. You deserve it.”
Lenny shrugged. “Either way, you’ll get ten points and so will I…hopefully.”
“Yeah…but you get the antelope,” replied Nakshi.
Winda and Anzi were nearing the end of their chase with the zebra. Anzi could see that Sarafina was waiting in ambush for it, so she put on an extra burst of speed to make sure that she got it in time. Sarafina ran out of her ambushing spot in an attempt to take the zebra down, but it was too late. Anzi had already got it. Winda and Sarafina both made their way towards the outside of the track.
The new zebra was released onto the circuit, so Bahati gave up on waiting for the antelope and the buffalo and instead he went and charged the zebra down. Ten points for Bahati. He couldn’t get up for the new zebra in time though, and so that one ran by him and made its way on down the front stretch, where Sarafina, Anzi, Winda and Wamariri lied in wait for it.
Lenny and Nakshi were still waiting for the antelope.
Simba checked over to see how his mate was feeling about all of this. “You look a little uneasy,” he said.
“These guys are wasting way too much time,” replied Nala, “they should be getting pieces of prey down like that,” Nala emphasized, holding her paw up and snapping two of her toes together every second. Click – click – click – click. “Instead, it’s more just like…” click, “and then there’s too long a gap before anything else happens. They’re never going to beat Guvu at this rate.”
“Well everything’s in a bad position right now. Maybe, in five minutes, they’ll be able to pick it up a bit.”
“They’d better,” replied Nala. “Crowning a three-time champion here in the Pridelands just doesn’t have the same appeal now as it did this time yesterday.”
As Juni made her way on down the backstretch, she could now see Lenny and Nakshi lying in ambush. Knowing what it meant for her chances of getting the antelope, she put on an extra sprint, but it wasn’t enough. Lenny timed it perfectly and brought down the antelope.
Meanwhile, Tumaini had been pacing herself slowly as she approached the entrance to the track, just in case such an event had occurred. Now that it had, a new antelope was released, and Tumaini gave chase.
Rakusa, after his earlier failed attack on the buffalo, was only just making his way out onto the backstretch. He had been walking for the past couple of minutes, saving his energy to see if he could have another go at the buffalo. Seeing that Nakshi, and now Juni, were waiting in ambush at the far end of the track, he began to give chase.
The front stretch was where the real action was about to take place though, as Sarafina, Winda, Anzi and Wamariri were all ready for the zebra to begin making its way on by. Sarafina was the first in line. When the moment was right, she darted out across the track and caught a hold of the zebra’s back leg. The zebra swung around and almost threw Sarafina off. Seeing an opportunity, Anzi ran across the track to join in with all the commotion. She jumped up onto the top of the zebra’s back and delivered the fatal bite, just as Sarafina was beginning to regain control. The zebra crashed to the ground and Anzi got the points.
Anzi and Sarafina hurried back onto their feet though, as now a new piece of prey was coming their way. The antelope was being chased down by Tumaini and Bahati. Bahati had less injuries and more energy than Tumaini, but he also had a heavy mane weighing him down. Thus, both lions were virtually even with each other on speed, and the antelope was slightly faster than both of them.
Fortunately for them, Sarafina and Anzi had not gotten back across to the outside of the track in time, and the antelope slowed up before he got any closer to them. Tumaini saw this first, and it was she who was quick enough to realize the opportunity, gain a bit of speed and bring the antelope down. Ten points went to Tumaini.
“It bugs me when there’s just a piece of prey standing there with nobody around it,” said Timon, “shouldn’t there be more action? I mean, the prey is the heart of the whole thing, right?”
“I never thought I’d say this, Timon, but I agree with you,” said Nala. “It looks like Lenny is making his way around though, and we have six lions lined up in ambush, so hopefully it should soon get exciting.”
“Juni’s leaving her post,” commented Simba, watching as Juni walked away from Nakshi. “I guess she thinks Rakusa will get the buffalo down before it gets to them.”
Nala laughed. “Don’t you just love it?”
“What’s that?” asked Simba.
“Nakshi’s still standing there. What could be a brilliant strategy could turn out to be nothing. And most of the time, you use strategy just to get a mere ten points…but then the next second you could end up having someone like Tumaini who scores fifty points at once purely through luck. I just love the unpredictability.”
“Well…you could argue that she made her own luck.”
“True,” replied Nala, “don’t get me wrong, you still have to be good to win. Anyways, let’s see who’s right. Obviously Nakshi wants Rakusa to miss the buffalo.”
“Not going to happen, I’m afraid,” said Zazu, holding a piece of Grand Gopher’s Glorious Tooth Floss in his claws.
“Nakshi, one Siku Choka victory. Rakusa, zero,” retorted Simba.
Suddenly a bunch of cheering surrounded them as Rakusa jumped up onto the back of the buffalo and killed it.
Zazu grinned. “Rakusa, ten Siku Choka points. Nakshi, zero.”
The Majibuluu pride was beside itself. Unintentional teamwork. When Rakusa had killed the buffalo, a new one had been released onto the track…right in front of Juni. The lioness had wasted no time in bringing it down.
Meanwhile, Lenny had charged down the antelope and the zebra on the front stretch. The preys were sent off into a run, and the six lions waiting in ambush got ready to pounce.
Winda was first in line. The antelope was closer to her, and so that is the one that she went after. It turned out to be an easy ten points, leaving Lenny just the zebra.
Lenny jumped up onto the creature’s back…and was soon joined by Sarafina. Before Sarafina could even think about killing the zebra though, Anzi jumped up onto the zebra and took Sarafina’s place, resulting in the nyimbas falling back down onto the floor. Anzi remembered Sarafina’s words and didn’t worry about Lenny. This time, in respect to the zebra, and not Lenny, she ‘just killed him.’ Ten points went to Anzi.
“Drat!” Nala exclaimed, annoyed.
“Hey, it’s not all that bad,” replied Simba, “your mom has a lot of points. Anzi doesn’t.”
“No, not that,” said Nala, “it’s Juni.”
“Juni? What about her?”
“She tried to ambush the buffalo and failed, and now she just did the same with the antelope. If she misses this new zebra she might as well just give chase.”
Simba frowned. “Well if not, she’ll still be the first one lined up in ambush.”
“Yeah,” replied Nala, “but that’s no good if she can’t catch anything.”
Fortunately for Juni, she was able to get the zebra. Before she could get up and give chase on the rest though, Nakshi went running on by her. The antelope and buffalo heard her coming and were sent off into a run.
The buffalo led the pack of three. Winda was the first in ambush…but she still didn’t like trying to bring down buffalos. She let it by, and instead went after the antelope. Nakshi had half expected this, and so she wasted no time in going after the buffalo instead and running up on his back heels. She pounced. Once she was up on the buffalo’s back though, she was surprised to see that this piece had already been taken. Bahati had been the second lion waiting in ambush, and he had just beaten Nakshi to the buffalo’s neck. As all three came crashing down, ten points went to Bahati.
“And that gives me 198,” he said, looking up from the kill. “Which means you probably have that amount too.”
Nakshi shook her head ‘no.’ “178,” she replied smiling. “Congratulations, though. If I’d caught it, we’d be tied.”
Bahati chuckled. “Good thing we’re not working as a team anymore, then.”
Winda had caught the antelope. Thus, three new pieces of prey had just been released.
Simba watched on from the crowd perplexed.
“Nala…why is Juni standing out in the middle of the circuit?”
“I think…I don’t know but I think…she’s trying to hold the prey up so that Rakusa can come and join in.”
Simba looked on farther down the track. Indeed, Rakusa was the one lion not on the front stretch. But, right now, he was about to run onto it.
“Couldn’t Juni just do what Tumaini did earlier, you know, get all three, and then let Rakusa help her with the three new, new pieces?”
Nala laughed. “Simba, what Tumaini did earlier is not common. Juni knows she probably couldn’t do it if her life depended on it.”
Juni could not hold them all off forever though. Eventually, the zebra made a run for it. Juni whirled around and held her paws out, hoping to grab a hold of it and take it down to the ground. She failed. The zebra ran off but became easy prey for Winda farther on down the straight.
The antelope tried to follow the zebra’s lead and run by Juni. Juni heard him coming this time, though, and the antelope saw blackness before it ever saw freedom.
Overall though, Juni’s strategy was a success, since before the buffalo could even try and run by her, it was killed and taken to the ground by Juni’s king, Rakusa.
Three new pieces of prey were released, and Rakusa, Juni and Winda were still the first three in ambush.
“We’ve got to try and keep the prey away from Winda,” whispered Juni to Rakusa. “She has a lot of points.”
“Ten four,” replied Rakusa. He crouched down, ready for the new prey. “Good luck,” he whispered back to Juni.
The zebra knew Juni and Rakusa were there, and he was prepared to make a run for it. Rakusa slowly began to move out, knowing that their window of opportunity was very limited. The zebra saw him, and took off into a sprint. Rakusa ran out and tried to attack him, but the zebra escaped. Juni ran out too. They did not want Winda to have this zebra. Juni used her experience to visualize where the zebra was going to move next, and she went in for the attack.
Juni brought the zebra down to the ground.
Rakusa smiled as he saw this, but then his ears perked up. He could hear hooves…but they were too far away! Juni and Rakusa could only watch helplessly as the antelope went running on by them. Thankfully for them, they still had control over the buffalo and the next zebra.
“In fact,” murmured Lenny to himself, “they have control over the whole track.” He quickly glanced to the right to see if Anzi had picked up on what he had said. She hadn’t. But…then again…that could probably be a good thing.
Anzi caught sight of Lenny staring at her. She had heard him mumble something, but she didn’t think he had been talking to her. Oh well, apparently she was wrong.
“I’m sorry, did you ask me something?” she asked him.
Lenny continued to stare, but then realized that that probably wasn’t a smart idea. He snapped out of it. “Oh…eh…no.”
Anzi frowned. “Where are you going?”
“N—nowhere,” replied Lenny.
“Yes you are. You just walked right by me.”
Lenny stopped. Indeed, he had just began walking right on by Anzi.
“I—I’m going counter-clockwise,” stated Lenny.
Anzi smiled. “That’s good. You’d get disqualified if you went the other way.”
Lenny smiled too, and then continued on his way.
Anzi thought she knew what this lion was up to, but she stayed put. Eventually the prey would break for it…then her time would come.
Juni elbowed Rakusa. Rakusa acknowledged her. Juni nodded her head towards the buffalo and then pointed towards Rakusa.
“Yours,” she whispered.
The buffalo began to make its way on by them. When Rakusa thought the moment was right, he gave chase. He had struck a bit late though. The buffalo was already charging on down the front stretch. Rakusa could not let Winda get another ten points though. She had just taken down the antelope that he and Juni has missed earlier, thus increasing her already-high score. This buffalo had to be Rakusa’s.
Meanwhile, Juni had gone for the zebra. The lioness had gotten a good sleep last night, and now it was paying off. Her accuracy was as good as ever, and so was the taste of ten more points. The lioness hurried back over to the outside of the track. A new antelope and zebra were on their way.
“Where are you going, brother?” asked Bahati.
“For a walk,” Lenny replied. “We’re really not in a good spot all the way down here. You’re welcome to come too if you want. And Nakshi, we can work as a team again.”
Bahati turned towards Nakshi. Nakshi, however, continued to look farther down the track, where Juni and Rakusa were tallying up their points.
“Nakshi,” addressed Bahati, “do you think it’s a good idea?”
Nakshi shrugged. “It’s not a bad one.”
“But you’re not coming?” asked Lenny.
Nakshi shook her head ‘no.’ “I’ll stay here. You can go, Bahati.”
Bahati thought about it for a moment, but then replied. “Honestly, I don’t really want to. I’d like to stay here and get some tips from the champ.”
Nakshi blushed. “Honestly Bahati,” she replied smiling, “you’ll upset your wife if you hang around me much longer.”
Bahati chuckled as a response, but Lenny just out right laughed.
“Nakshi,” said Bahati, “I’m not married.”
Nakshi’s attention was finally taken away from Rakusa and Juni. Instead, she found herself growing wide-eyed and slightly red as she turned towards Bahati. “Really? Oh…I just thought…you know, because you’re king…you would be…you know. I’m sorry, anyways…I just…assumed.”
“Its fine,” replied Bahati. “Kind of funny honestly.”
Nakshi found herself growing ever redder, and thus decided to turn her head back the other way to watch Juni and Rakusa. “Still…” she added, trying to change the subject back, “…if you think your brother’s more right than I am, well…I’m not going to stop you.”
Bahati nodded and turned back to face Lenny.
“So…” said Lenny, “…you coming?”
A cheer suddenly came from the front stretch as Rakusa caught the buffalo and brought it down to the ground. The prey had not made the break yet.
“Yeah,” replied Bahati, “let’s go.”
“Uh oh,” said Simba, “what have we done wrong?”
Nala frowned. “What do you mean?” she asked. Simba did not have to reply though. Before he caught, Nala had herself caught sight of Kanafa the cheetah, walking across the track and making his way up the hill, presumably to meet them.
Simba and Nala got to their feet.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked Simba.
“Oh…nothing,” Kanafa reassured them. “I was actually here to meet Rafiki. Where is he?”
“Probably on my back,” replied Simba.
“Or Timon’s,” added Nala. “He could probably pull that off.”
“Well when you see him, could you give him a message from me?” asked the cheetah.
Simba and Nala tried to hide their smiles. There, lying on Kanafa’s back as he talked, was Rafiki. Rafiki held a finger up to his mouth, letting Simba and Nala know that he wanted them to remain silent. The King and Queen of the Pridelands sat back down.
“Sure thing,” they replied in unison, both giving a wink to Rafiki when Kanafa was not looking.
“Well yesterday, we drew a line next to Rafiki’s stick when there were two hours until the event. We did the same when there was one hour left, and then, of course, when it began there was no shadow. What I need him to do is hold one arm up when the shadow passes the point at which…” Kanafa continued to talk, but all his words were passing straight through the minds of Simba and Nala, both of which continued to nod as if they were paying attention to what he was saying…which they weren’t. “…so, when Bwana roars once, there will be two hours left. When Bwana roars twice, there will be one hour left. When Bwana roars three times, it will be over. Got it?”
Simba and Nala continued to nod mindlessly.
Simba finally snapped out of it and smiled. “I’m sure Rafiki’s already on it,” said the lion.
Kanafa looked over towards the dip between the two hills. Between them stood Rafiki’s stick, and next to that stood Rafiki.
Kanafa gave a sigh of relief. “Fantastic. Alright, well I’ll be off now. Oh and…uh…pleased to say that it seems your mother’s doing quite well, Nala.”
Nala groaned. “She hasn’t done much in a while, honestly. She’s just been waiting there in ambush. At least Juni’s catching up though. I like her too.”
Kanafa smiled. “Eh…don’t give up. Your mom’s time will come.”
Time was running out. Juni was franticly trying to figure out her best strategy. If she went for the antelope, Rakusa could easily get the zebra. Chances were, however, that she would miss the antelope. If she went for the zebra, she would not get the antelope and it was unlikely Rakusa would either. However, Winda was no longer third in ambush. Tumaini was.
Juni did not know whether Tumaini was a threat or not, but to Juni that did not really matter that much. She was going for the antelope.
That she did, and it was a failure. The antelope ran on by her and the zebra followed in its tracks. Juni wanted to groan, but she knew she had no time to waste. She needed to set herself up for the buffalo.
For Rakusa, it was an easy decision: zebra.
He let the antelope run on by. Tumaini ran out from her post and took it down to the ground immediately. Rakusa soon followed her with the zebra.
“Something tells me that buffalo are not Juni’s specialty,” predicted Simba.
“You’re right,” replied Nala, just as Zazu came flying down to her feet.
“Juni has 175 points. Guvu still leads with 268. Sarafina has 226 and Rakusa has 195.”
“I don’t recall Nala ever asking for Rakusa’s score, Zazu,” commented Simba.
“She didn’t,” Zazu replied. “But, now that we’ve brought the subject up, what do you think his chances of winning are, Nala?”
“Hmm…” Nala replied, “…I believe that the odds of one of the Majibuluu pride members winning today, lie somewhere within the numbers negative one, and one.”
Pumbaa began to calculate some numbers, using his hooves to help him.
Timon sighed. “She means zero, Pumbaa. Queenie’s given up on them.”
“But they’re both the first in ambush!” exclaimed Zazu. “Surely that gives them a chance?”
Nala nodded in agreement. “Possibly,” she replied.
Juni went for the buffalo. The creature took off. Knowing she needed points, Juni gave chase. Fortunately, this buffalo was not that fast. Juni caught up with him and launched up onto his back. Once she had got a firm grip on him, it was a relatively easy ten points.
The Majibuluu pride cheered. So did Simba.
“What’s the matter, Nal’?” he asked, seeing his mate not too thrilled about Juni’s kill. “Did she do something wrong?”
“She used up too much track,” Nala replied.
Simba looked back at the circuit. “You mean she ran too far?” he asked. Nala nodded as a response. “What’s the problem with that?”
“The prey. They just walk unless they’re being chased. It’ll take them forever to walk all their way down to Juni. Bahati and Lenny will probably beat them there. Not only that, but now a ton of time will pass before anything is brought down. Guvu won’t be knocked out forever.”
Simba sighed and sat back down. “Well,” he said, “how do you kill time?”
“I’ve seen lions get killed, some dreams get grilled, and corpses stinking up the place.
“I’ve had mud stuck in my fur, and injuries I can’t cure, and I’ve broke down when I got second place.
“And although I come here year to year, and all the time I see lions shed a tear,
“There still remains one thing that just ain’t clear, and that’s why the hell does the crowd always cheer?
“It’s the Siku Choka, and if it don’t croak ya, there’s not anything that will.
“So may that violence be gory, and that victory glory, but as you set yourself up for the kill.
“You’ve got to understand that it ain’t easy, and if you take one down and survive…
“…you’d better thank your lucky stars that you’re still alive, to take another dive…into the Siku Choka.”
Sarafina stopped singing. She couldn’t help but notice that Wamariri was giving her a weird look.
“Never heard it?” Sarafina asked her.
“And I don’t want to again,” replied the lioness.
“Ah,” Sarafina replied. “Got it,” she added, winking.
Wamariri shook her head. She’s a strange one, she thought.
“Oh…” began Simba, thinking of a four-letter word that Nala would not find offensive.
Nala sighed. “What is it?” she asked.
Simba pointed. Nala’s eyes followed, and then grew wide.
“Oh no,” she murmured.
Guvu was getting up.
“This couldn’t get worse, could it?” asked Simba.
Suddenly, a loud roar bounced off of the hills surrounding the Siku Choka. That roar, everyone knew, belonged to Bwana Zungumza.
“Two hours,” said Simba.
Nala’s mouth went dry. “Well…there’s one good thing about this.”
“What’s that?” asked Simba back.
“We don’t have to go down to the grieving families anymore.”
Simba frowned. “Why’s that?”
“Well…usually in the final two hours…there’s too many…um…incidents…that if we went down for every one, we’d never get a break.”
“T—that doesn’t sound good at all,” commented Simba.
“I know,” replied Nala, “but at least we get to stay here. Which should be good. It is about to get very…very, for lack of a better word, exciting.”
“Down in front, misses,” snapped Timon rather rudely. Fortunately for him, the ostrich didn’t hear.
“Hey Pumbaa, give me that stick.”
“But Timon – you said; do not prod ostriches with stick.”
“Pah! Would I say a thing like that? Although I guess it would be a good idea if I didn’t prod the ostrich with a stick.”
“Wow! I like your thinking Timon!”
“But how do I get to see the action?”
“Why don’t you stand on my head?”
“Nah, that would never work. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t I stand on your head?”
“Geez! You’re full of great ideas Timon.”
Nala couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. “Um…Pumbaa…you do realize that those were actually your i…”
“Shh,” whispered Simba, grabbing his mate’s arm and pulling her back around. “Just let them go with it.”
Timon jumped up on Pumbaa’s head. “Alright, so, let’s see what we have here,” he said, scanning the track for activity. “Hmm…absolutely nothing going on. Just like the last five minutes.”
“Bahati and Lenny are running out of the final turn, Timon,” said Pumbaa. “Rakusa, Juni and the rest are waiting in ambush. Nobody knows who will get the prey.”
“Right you are, Pumbaa,” replied Timon. “Ooh…and they’re closing in,” he added, watching the brothers.
“Who’s that running behind them?”
“It looks like that foreigner.”
“Yeah…you know, the one who lives far away.”
“Oh. You mean Tumaini.”
“Yeah, that girl. I guess she chose to run too.”
Sarafina got knocked from the right side.
“Ow!” she yelped. “Hey, hey, you can’t move backwards. You can get disqualified for that.”
“Sorry,” whispered Winda back. She pointed in the direction of Wamariri. “She’s doing it too.”
Sarafina looked over at Wamariri. Indeed, the lioness was slowly inching her way back down the front stretch. Not enough so that one of the officials could see, but enough that she could get a better head start on the prey when it came to her.
Sarafina shook her head and smiled back at Winda.
“You don’t want to compare yourself to Wamariri.”
“My sister said she always did it too,” Winda added. “And I competed in this last year, and I did it.”
“Well if I did it, I’d get caught,” replied Sarafina. “So you’re going to have to find a way around me if you want to go back any further than me.”
“That’s okay,” replied Winda, “I’ll stay here.”
Sarafina smiled, but then looked on by Winda. Beside her, Anzi and Nakshi were creeping down, just the same.
“They’re here…” commented Simba eerily.
Nala shuddered. “Okay, I’m not going to lie, that was kind of creepy.”
The fact was though, they were here. Bahati and Lenny were now close enough to the prey to startle them into a run.
Juni was the first in ambush. As much as she didn’t like going after the antelope, she knew she had to do it. She took a shot…but missed. Juni stopped running and perked her ears up.
Perhaps I could still get the zebra.
Unfortunately, the zebra was already alongside her. In fact, it had had to take a jump to the right to stop itself from running into her. In all of the confusion, Lenny saw an opportunity and went for it. The zebra was his.
Lenny’s brother, Bahati, meanwhile, was following the buffalo as it ran across to the outside of the track to avoid all of the commotion. Bahati jumped up and clung onto the buffalo around its neck, trying to bring it down. The buffalo stumbled and fell down on the side of the track, making a couple of the spectators take a jump back.
Further on down the straight, the antelope had also been brought down.
“Tumaini is either very, very lucky, or very, very talented,” commented Simba.
The rest of the pride turned their heads and watched with Simba as the new zebra, buffalo, and then antelope all nervously made their way out onto the track, while Tumaini lied in wait for all three of them.
“Lenny? What are you doing over there? Get over here – now!” shouted Bahati.
“Why?” asked Lenny back.
Bahati sighed but then checked back down the track. The prey wasn’t on its way yet. He had time.
Bahati made his way across the track towards his brother and then they carried on the conversation in a set of whispers.
“What makes you think your chance of catching prey is any better here than what it is on the outside of the track?”
“The prey all think we’re all on the outside. They won’t expect me to be on the inside here.”
“It’s daytime now Lenny! They’ll see you!”
“Well it’s worth a shot. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“The worst that can happen is they’ll run towards the outside of the track and hurt the other competitors – or even the spectators!”
“The track is banked on the very edge though, so the spectators are fine.”
“And the other competitors? We don’t want to hurt anyone here, Lenny.”
Lenny smiled. “They are just as entitled to move across to this side of the track too. If there were nobody on the outside, it wouldn’t be dangerous. They have time to work it out.”
Indeed, they did. Or at least, some of them.
First it was Wamariri.
Oh great, thought Sarafina, no way of talking her out of endangering us.
But then Sarafina got Lenny’s argument too, and she moved across to the inside. So did Anzi and so did Nakshi.
When the prey was on its way, they would have only one safe route: the middle of the track. The problem? Five lions would be coming from their left, and four would be coming from their right.
Before that though, the prey had another concern.
Tumaini crouched down, trying to make herself as invisible as possible in the dirt and mud.
The first in line was a zebra.
For an experienced and well-trained huntress like Tumaini, that would make an easy ten points.
The zebra began to move on by her. Tumaini charged. The zebra fell. Although the zebra’s stumble made it an extra easy ten points for the lioness, it caused a huge problem. If she had been given the opportunity to have chased the zebra, the antelope and buffalo would have slowed down, believing that Tumaini wasn’t interested in them. Instead, no chase had occurred, and the zebra and buffalo were close enough to Tumaini to feel threatened by her presence.
They both ran on by her.
Tumaini stayed put. Knowing that soon more prey would be on its way out of the infield.
Lenny and Bahati were the first two lions lying in wait on the inside of the track. On the outside, it was Juni.
First up: an antelope.
“Go for it, Lenny,” commented Bahati. “I’ll get the buffalo.”
Lenny ran, and was met with no competition. On the outside of the track, Juni had dismissed the idea of going for the antelope. She would simply be giving up too much energy by chasing it.
But as Lenny ran, the antelope ran faster.
A chase began.
Guvu was the next lion lined up on the outside while Wamariri lied in wait on the inside.
Guvu stayed put. Wamariri didn’t.
The lioness tried to attack the antelope from the front. She grabbed his front legs and tried to pull him down to the ground. Lenny saw the back of the antelope fly up into the air in front of him. He couldn’t go through it. He could go under it. He had to go over it.
Lenny went for the jump over the antelope’s back. The antelope caught him in mid-air and pulled him hard down onto the ground. Unfortunately for Lenny, the ground was beginning to harden up now that the day sun was making its way up higher, and thus the impact gave him a splitting headache. Fortunately, that was the worst it gave him.
The antelope tried to get back up, but Wamariri had it before it could run off.
Ten points to Wamariri.
Meanwhile, things were going…well…zebraific for Tumaini. She had caught the newly released zebra after only a small chase, and now another one was on the way.
“Ow…ow…ooh…ow…!” whined Lenny, as he rolled around the floor holding his head.
Sarafina looked around at the other competitors. None of them were in a hurry to help Lenny out. Honestly, neither was she. But a lion rolling around in the middle of the track during the Siku Choka wasn’t exactly working to her advantage either.
She sighed, and then reluctantly made her way over to the lion.
“Hey…um…L-Larry is it?”
“Yes, sorry. My mistake. Lenny. Um…are you okay?”
Lenny shook his head ‘no.’
“Oh…well, I’m sorry to hear that,” replied Sarafina, as gently as ever. “You know though, you’d be much better off if you got out of the center of the track.”
“But then my head would hurt…” retorted Lenny.
Sarafina frowned. “More than it does now?” she asked.
“Rolling on the ground,” began Lenny, as he rolled over to demonstrate, “makes the pain go away.”
“Oh,” replied Sarafina. Then she closed in on him. “Do you know what doesn’t make the pain go away?” she asked.
“An angry lioness?”
“Close. A charging buffalo.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” replied Lenny. He thought about it for a second, and then realized what Sarafina was getting at. “Wait, is there one?”
“There’s about to be.”
“I guess I should get to the outside of the track, then.”
Sarafina smiled. “Sounds like a good idea.”
Sarafina whirled around and took her place on the outside of the track. When she got there, she turned back around and crouched down low, just in case the buffalo came her way. She glanced over to see if Lenny was moving.
Indeed, he was. Rolling like a pencil, side-over-side, to the outside of the track.
Juni and Bahati began chasing the buffalo.
“Uh oh,” commented Simba. “Guvu’s waiting in ambush.”
Juni spotted this too. Guvu was on the outside of the track, and Juni was on the outside of Bahati. Juni wanted this buffalo, but she couldn’t let Guvu get it. Thus, she ran out from behind the buffalo and up along its right side. She was essentially blocking Guvu from getting to the buffalo. Guvu knew what she was doing, and thus he didn’t even give chase. He wouldn’t be getting any points from this one. Virtually unchallenged, Bahati took the buffalo down.
King Machi and the rest of the Savannahland were beginning to get nervous. Anzi only had 138 points currently, and she was the last in ambush. She could not run though. It would cost her too much time and energy. However, the young lioness was running out of options.
At the same time, some of the Kimaland pride were beginning to filter their way out of the stands.
“Hey…hey! Where are you guys going?”
“You can’t go home now! There’s not even two hours left.” She laughed. “Come on guys, you can’t be serious?”
“Serious, Jesse?” asked one of the other lionesses. “We’ve got a whole monarchy to restructure. That’s serious. This is just a game.”
Jesse sighed. “Come on, guys. Nakshi needs our support. More so now than ever. You know how much this means to her.”
Another lioness grimaced. “Yeah, we sure do Jesse. More than it does her family.”
“Come on now – don’t say that! You know she’s not like that. She never forced Maneno into this.”
The other lioness took a step towards Jesse, before stating flatly: “I wasn’t even talking about Maneno.” She then turned away, leaving Jesse on the hill on her own.
Still, Jesse couldn’t leave, and neither could the rest of them. Nakshi needed them. She would need them to cry on when the event ended. Jesse knew she wouldn’t be able to handle her friend’s emotions all on her own. She needed help too.
“Jesse,” snapped the lioness in question back, having been expecting such a call, “come on. It’s for the best. Nakshi’s not going to want us all staring at her after the event. She’d feel too guilty.”
“But what if she wins?”
Fay shook her head. “Jesse…she’s not going to win. See for yourself. She’s the next to last lion in ambush. She only has 178 points. She’s fallen behind. It’s over. Now come on home.”
Fay whirled back around and went to catch up with the rest of the Kimaland pride. Before doing so however, she checked back over her shoulder to see if Jesse was following.
She wasn’t. Instead, Jesse had turned back around, and was sitting down, ready to watch the final hours of the Siku Choka on her own.
Tumaini let the antelope make its way on by. A zebra was behind it. It was worth the wait.
However, as Tumaini began to make her move, the zebra was saved by a distress call given by the buffalo that was just making his way out onto the track. The zebra took no chances. He was sent off into a run. Tumaini didn’t even bother to give chase. She would have whatever entered the track next.
“How many points does your mom have again, Nala?”
“So that’s…four pieces of prey and two laps.”
“Or…five pieces of prey.”
“It’s very frustrating how there are only two pieces of prey, yet ten lions lined up in ambush for them. They must all know that their chances of being the one to get ten points are minimal.”
Nala was able to force a smile. “That’s what makes it great though. Strategy. Luck. Not all Siku Chokas are carried out on tracks this big. I like how big this track is though – it makes you have to think before you go and run a lap.”
“Hmm…” was Simba’s reply. He then moved in closer to Nala and asked: “So…what are your mother’s chances of winning, really? Right now?”
Nala bit her lip and then looked at her mate. She then looked back down at the track. Then back at her mate. She then released her lip and opened her mouth, but took a moment, before replying very cautiously: “I think it depends on whether she gets one of these…or not.”
After what seemed like an eternity of the prey reluctantly making their way towards the lions, the lions sneakily creeping their way inches back down the track, and the audience holding their breath in order to give all of the competitors clear heads, the prey had now finally arrived.
Guvu let the antelope pass. Speed was not his strong point.
Instead, he was gunning for the zebra. As the stripy herbivore began to crawl its way on by him, Guvu lunged out. At the same time, Juni did too. If Juni’s goal had been to capture the zebra, then she had gone prematurely. She had just lost out on a major ten points. But, just as before, the zebra had never been Juni’s goal. She just wanted to make sure that Guvu didn’t get it.
The audience’s attention was now torn between Tumaini, who had decided to go for the buffalo that had been making his way calmly on down the front stretch, and two chases that had just formed. The first was with Sarafina and Wamariri on the antelope. The second was Bahati and Winda after the zebra.
“Be careful Mom,” whispered Nala.
“My bets on Winda for the antelope,” said Timon, throwing a beetle down on its back between himself and Pumbaa. “Speed’s her strong point. What about you big fella?”
“Eh…I guess I have to pick Bahati,” replied Pumbaa, putting a worm down next to the beetle, “but I don’t know…”
Suddenly, a loud cheer echoed off the hills as Tumaini was able to kill the buffalo and bring it down to the ground. But the other two battles were still on…
Anzi needed points. Thus, even though Sarafina and Wamariri were hot on the heels of the antelope, she needed to join in the chase.
All that time that Sarafina had seemingly wasted watching Siku Chokas from the hilltop were now beginning to pay off. She knew what Wamariri wanted her to do. Wamariri wanted Sarafina to attack. When that happened, Sarafina knew, the antelope would slow down enough that Wamariri would be able to take it for her own. Thus, Sarafina intended on waiting for Wamariri to attack, and then she would be able to use her own strategy against her.
Wamariri snarled. She knew what Sarafina was up to.
Suddenly, Anzi came running on by both of them and got up onto the buffalo’s back. Sarafina, not wanting to hurt the inexperienced competitor, hang back. Wamariri did not. Instead, she ran up beside the antelope, which was now being dragged slowly to the ground, and aimed for its neck. Anzi saw what Wamariri was aiming for, and then she did the unthinkable. She let the antelope go.