Run. Her legs pumped endlessly, propelling her forward across the lands: Step, step, hop, drag. Step, step, hop, drag.
Run. Her breath came hard, each inhale sending shards of lightning pain through her form, chest aching with the effort of simply breathing.
Run. Her head hung low, tongue lolling out of her mouth, curling between sharp teeth, nearly scraping the ground.
Run. She panted, her mouth dry, throat begging for even a single drop of water to quench her thirst, her stomach growling for something to fill the raging emptiness inside. But she didn’t stop. She couldn’t stop. To stop was to give in. To give in was to fall. To fall was to die.
Run. The sun beat down on her hard, attracted to her deep black pelt, like vultures to a fresh corpse.
Run. Her tail hung low, spending more time scraping across the ground than not, the tuft filled with brambles and small twigs and leaves. It took too much energy to hold it aloft in its usual graceful curve, energy she no longer possessed, and hadn’t for some time now.
Run. The world around her had blurred, to the point that shapes were now indistinguishable from each other, her vision reduced to one big mass of colors all jumbled and shoved together. It hardly mattered anymore though. Whenever she bumped into something, she simply began fumbling around in a clumsy attempt to avoid it, often bumping in to the same thing repeatedly until she either found a way around it, or got so turned around she ended up heading in another direction entirely. Left, or right, forward or backwards, it didn’t matter, as none of it was done consciously anymore, that same urge to keep moving no matter where she happened to be going, and no matter what she may encounter, driving her forward. To what end though, she did not know.
Run. Her path was no longer straight, the earth seeming to roll and tilt wildly beneath her paws, her body swaying and stumbling side to side, left and right, her legs trembling, scrambling to stay underneath her, to keep her upright even as gravity fought against her, fought to bring her down.
Run. Much like her tail, her fur was littered with sticks, leaves, mud and streaks of blood, her body covered in scratches, cuts and all manner of bruises. Everything ached, though it had all coalesced in to one giant pain, the individual causes hardly distinguishable from each other by now.
Run. The pads of her paws were shredded, cut through with rocks and thorns and bits of debris, leaving bloody paw prints in her wake, which she would never see, her entire being far too focused on continuously moving forward, no matter the cost.
Her mother’s words echoed through her mind, “An injured lioness is a dead lioness.” Though now those words had become less a conscious thought and more of an unending drive, pure instinct, a need. Keep moving or die. Keep moving…or be eaten.
Keep going. Don’t stop. CAN’T stop. It was the only thing keeping her moving, however, the next step she took was unexpectedly interrupted, not by anything getting in her way no, in fact it was the opposite. Her front right paw shuffled forward as it had been doing all this time: mindless, route, symmetrical to every other time…and found nothing…No ground was there to meet her paw, and her body did not know how to react to that. For a moment, she teetered precariously over open space, her paw searching for support, before the instinct to move forward, still urging her on, and the shifting of her weight sent her tumbling forward out in to nothingness, her limbs flailing. It wasn’t long, however, when her body hit the ground hard, a pained growl leaving her lips as she rolled, hitting the ground again, and again, and again, aggravating her wounds each time, even as she was vaguely aware of rolling downhill.
Each time she hit the ground, she growled in pain and distress, the blurred out world around her spinning past rapidly. If she had, had anything in her stomach to lose, it surely would’ve been rising up to greet the day once more.
Finally, her momentum came to a halt as she hit the ground harder than before, letting out a yowl of pain, ending in a drawn out groan. Her head felt as if it was stuffed with cotton, and her body ached beyond her ability to cope with. Even as she watched, her blurry vision began to darken, her tongue beginning to lick the air repeatedly, her panting breaths rocking her frame, every inch of her body crying out in distress.
She lifted her head weakly, vocalizing her distress with a keening whine, her legs twitching, that same instinct to move forwards still driving her body…to no avail however. Her body remained where she had fallen, energy waning fast, her legs kicking pathetically, even as her eyelids grew heavier and heavier, before finally…closing, her head dropping, and she was dead to the world.
Chapter 2: A Stranger In A Strange Land
Nope! I'm not dead! Here's more Kotaru for you to prove it. Enjoy! :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
H-heavy…why…is everything…so heavy?
The trip back to cognizance was slow, her body seemingly weighed down by an unknown force, and her mind feeling as if it had been dipped in tar, dragging all her thoughts down to the speed of sludge. However, she was aware of two things for sure: she was definitely “awake” again, and her body ached.
Each thought was slow to come and hard to form, like sap slowly dripping from a tree.
Wh-where….where…am I? Silently, she began trying to take inventory of her body, starting with tiny movements: a twitch of a paw here, the flicking of an ear there. First came the ears: Left, right, forward and back, then every which way on their own, plus flattening and raising. Everything seemed to check out there…on to the paws then. Left paw first…wiggle the toes: check. Extend the claws, retract the claws: check. Her right paw passed the same test, though there was some soreness in the pads still, even if it had dulled. Left hind paw…wiggle the toes, extend and retract the claws: check, check and check.
Right hind paw…right hind paw…hello? Confused, her brow crinkled, and she let out a huff through her nose, her tail twitching in irritation. At least she knew that worked now. Her paw however…it was not responding to her commands at all. In fact, if she concentrated, she couldn’t even feel its presence. Panicking slightly, she tested the rest of her body once more. Everything else was moving as it should, if slowly, her right hind leg twitching, if only barely, and she was getting the feeling that it’s encased in something…something heavy, and it’s pressing down on to her left leg. She was simply too out of it to notice before.
Attempting to move this weighted limb proved almost fruitless, as it took a herculean effort to even budge it a smidge, barely lifting it off her other leg before her energy gave out and she was forced to drop it back, her mouth opening in a pant. Pain was still surging through her body, the movement sending renewed ripples through her veins, and she groaned, tongue lapping at the air, the action only serving to remind her of her throat and mouth, both of which felt as dry as the Kalahari desert.
Panting, she took stock of the situation as best as she could, noticing a few things that had escaped her earlier, primarily that she was lying on her side, her left side to be exact, and she was lying on something soft, that crinkled when she moved. Curiously, she sniffed at it, tilting her nose down towards the ground with a small movement of her head.
It took an age for the thought to process, but she was fairly certain she was lying on a bed of soft…Leaves…and grasses? Confused, she twitched and wriggled for a moment, trying to figure out what exactly was happening. What…what’s…going on?
Curious, she tilted her nose in to the air, sniffing deeply, trying to get a sense of where she was. The scents that hit her nose were both familiar, yet strange. Lionesses…like herself…a lot of them. But she didn’t know them, couldn’t pick out any familiar individual scents amongst the mass, not that she expected to that is. The scent was heavy too, clogging the air, and laying over her olfactory nerves like a blanket, layer upon layer laying atop each other. There had been lionesses here for a long time, old scent mixing with new, creating a sort of timeline of this place…wherever it was.
This didn’t terribly concern her, other than giving her a sense of unease. Being in an unknown den, with the scent of unknown lionesses around oneself could do that after all. What did concern her was what she realized next. It happened when she took another inhale, tasting the scents on her tongue, processing the information her sensitive snout was sending to her.
There was something beneath the familiar scent of fellow lioness, something heavier, stronger, something that weighed on her tongue almost as if it had physical presence…Male. The unmistakable scent of male lions clung to everything here, pressing down on her from all sides. It was just as present as the female. The scent was just as layered as that of the lionesses. There had been many males here over the years…strong, virile, everything a male lion should be. Concentrating, she focused as best she could on the newer smells. How many…are here now, she wondered. How afraid should she be? One…she counted. No…two...A full…adult…and an adolescent…like me.
A surge of panic pulsed through her, as she began to comprehend her situation. She was injured, barely conscious and barely capable of the slightest movement, in an unknown den, with the smell of unknown lionesses surrounding her. And what’s worse, there were males here as well. It was a foolish thing to think that where there were females, there would be no males to accompany them, but she still couldn’t help but hope, that somewhere, somehow, there was a place…where she could be free of fear.
I have to…get out of here, she reasoned. Have to…run. Can’t stay…Can’t…let them kill me. She groaned once more, stretching out her body as best she could, wincing at the pain it caused her. I…can do this, she attempted to reassure herself. Just have to…open my eyes. This was a feat easier said then done, as each eyelid felt as if it was weighed down by a fully-grown elephant, an animal she had only ever heard described by the occasional wanderer to visit her pride, but never seen for herself. Frankly, she wasn’t even sure they actually existed, but they were supposed to be extremely large and heavy from what she had heard, so it seemed to fit.
Grunting, she made her first attempt, wiggling her eyelids back and forth, the lids resisting her efforts as if they were stuck together. After a few moments, she had to rest, panting a bit, disgusted at her weakness. Trying again after a brief rest, she got a bit further, managing to peel her eyes open just a sliver, the sudden light almost blinding her.
“Ahh,” she exclaimed quietly, her voice incredibly raspy, immediately closing her eyes once again, shaking her head. The third try was better. Slowly her eyes came open, as she practically forced them to stay that way, blinking against the light and pain, and slowly, ever so slowly, her vision cleared, the world coming in to focus around her, her eyes hanging, heavy lidded, but open.
What she saw wasn’t incredibly revealing. So far as she could tell, she was in a cave, the sun’s rays coming in through a roughly triangular opening in the rock, which she couldn’t really see through, the only thing she could being the blue of the sky due to the angle at which she was positioned to the entrance and the fact that she was laying down. Rock walls, rock ceiling, rock floor, and she was indeed lying on what seemed to be a bed of soft leaves and grasses.
Again, she sniffed the air, finding something that she hadn’t noticed before, an unfamiliar scent, musty, and old. It seemed to combine many different smells in to one: herbs and plants and seeds and all manner of things she couldn’t identify. It wasn’t threatening, but all the same she grew intrigued, wondering where such a smell could possibly be coming from, and what kind of creature could possibly be carrying it.
Her eyes searched every inch of the den she could see from her current position, not seeing anything. Huffing in annoyance, she closed her eyes for a moment, before opening them again. That was when she noticed something she hadn’t before. It was sitting in a corner, looking like a pile of discarded furs, with a stick poking out of it. The stick looked like it had fruit hanging off of it. The smell was coming from there. She sighed, blinking heavily, wondering why in the world a pride would keep something like that in their den, but the thought was only temporary, before her attention returned to her overall mission: getting up and out of there before something happened to her.
Steeling herself, she took a deep breath and prepared to try and force her way on to her feet. Giving it all she had to try and get her legs underneath her, her body trembled like a dry leaf in the wind with her efforts. She had only been struggling for a few seconds, however, before her energy deserted her, and she collapsed back on to the ground, panting from the exertion. She lay still for a while, simply trying to get her energy back, before taking another deep breath, and preparing to try again. However, as soon as she bunched her muscles to make another attempt, a voice from nowhere startled her so badly, she let out a raspy yowl of surprise, plopping back down in to her makeshift leaf bed.
“I wouldn’t do dat if I were you,” the mysterious voice spoke, accented, and sounding incredibly chipper. “You’ll only hurt yourself furder.”
Blinking confusedly, she looked around, trying to find whoever was talking to her, a difficult task when she could barely move her head. She did her best, lifting her head as far off the ground as she could and tilting it back and forth in search of the source.
“Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee,” the voice laughed almost sounding insane to her ears. “Over here.”
To her shock, the supposed pile of furs had begun to move of all things, uncurling in to a strange bipedal animal with a long face cracked in to an amused looking smile, and a big bushy head of white fur, stretching down and around its head to form a beard of the same color. Its face was just as colorful, its long nose, bright red and bulbous, while around the eyes, a dark blue, bordering on purple. Underneath that, a lighter blue was predominant, stretching down to where the nose flared out, and lips met chin. Four long canines greeted her, poking out from between the lips as the creature smiled.
One of its odd looking paws, (each one with strange, elongated toes, that reminded her of worms), was grasped around the stick she had seen earlier, using it for support as it made its way over towards her, the free paw also used for support as it shuffled. It had a tail too, short and crooked. It was one of the strangest things she had ever seen, not in the least because whatever it was seemed to be some sort of prey animal as far as she could tell, and what would a prey animal be doing in a lion den…and still alive? It was simply unheard of.
The…thing, shuffled its way over to her and squatted in front of her, observing her with that same gaping smile on its odd face, and she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous, even as she ran out of energy to hold her head up and let it drop back to the ground, breathing a bit hard as she looked up at the creature.
“Hello der,” it spoke, unnerving her with its constant smile and odd stench, and just how close it was getting. “And how are we feeling dis day? Hee, hee, hee.”
All she could do was stare, stare as the strange animal leant on its stick above her, squatting far too close for her comfort…not to mention, this close…the smell was even more overwhelming, and it made her gag and cough, burning her sensitive nose and raw throat. It didn’t help to do so with such a dry throat, and the burn was extremely uncomfortable, adding to the overall feeling of discomfort, permeating her body.
“Tch, tch, tch,” the strange creature clucked its tongue, clearly in disapproval.
The feeling’s…mutual, she couldn’t help but think to herself, flattening her ears in disgust as the thing reached out towards her, placing its odd paw on her head and stroking at the fur there. She bared her teeth at it the best she could, but the stick-wielding thing didn’t seem to notice, as it simply completely ignored her it seemed. It moved up and down her body, poking and prodding at her, drawing pained gasps and grunts in response, her claws coming out to scratch at her leaf bed now and then before retracting.
Soon enough, it was crouched in front of her once more, smiling widely, (and annoyingly) down at her. And as if that wasn’t enough, adding insult to injury, she could occasionally see, what was quite obviously, the head of a penis, sticking out from between the protective folds of skin and fur between its legs, emerging briefly to greet the outside world, before withdrawing back inside its fleshy lair as the creature moved. The thing was obviously a male. She sighed inwardly. Great…just…fucking…great. As if she didn’t have enough to deal with already, worrying about the males of her own species.
Her attempt at a growl was utterly pathetic as the creature reached out for her again, barely beginning, before dwindling in to raspy coughs and labored breaths. All it did was make the thing laugh at her. She huffed out her nose in annoyance, flicking her tail slightly, glad to feel the appendage respond to her commands perfectly, one of the few bits of her body that didn’t appear to be damaged.
“Calm,” the creature said, its seemingly endless smile widening in a way it clearly thought would be reassuring to her. It patted her on the head, making her blink in irritation each time it touched her. “You trust old Rafiki. He’ll see you well, hee hee.”
The thing… “Rafiki” apparently, withdrew its paw, and her muscles relaxed ever so slightly.
“Hmmm,” he hummed, observing her and rubbing his forepaw on his chin. “You are healing well. It won’t be too long before you’re up and moving, but you must be very tirsty.”
Unconsciously, she licked her dry lips, her tongue darting out in search of the water that wasn’t there.
The thing that called itself Rafiki chuckled. “Rafiki tought you would say dat.”
He turned, shuffling off quickly back towards his previous corner, surprising the injured lioness with his speed. He returned just as quickly, something clutched in one of his paws, that, when he got closer, seemed to be half of some sort of fruit or gourd.
Crouching in front of her, he reached out with the gourd fragment, presenting it to her.
For a moment, she simply stared at it, then looked up at the smiling prey animal, her eyes flicking back and forth between gourd and creature for several moments, before Rafiki gave her an encouraging motion, thrusting the gourd towards her once more. Suspicious, she sniffed at it, a strong, bitter odor assaulting her nose, making her sneeze, the sudden, jostling movement sending a ripple of pain through her body, and she groaned, lowering her head back to the leaves beneath her as she waited for the pain to pass, scrunching her eyes shut.
After what felt like an eternity, but in reality couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, she was able to open her eyes once more, panting with the exertion. The same view met her eyes: Rafiki holding the bitter smelling gourd out to her, and smiling that same, eternal smile.
“Drink,” he insisted. “It will help with de pain.”
Huffing out her nose in annoyance, she lifted her head as much as she could, opening her mouth, indicating her willingness to comply. After all, it wasn’t as if she had much of a choice in the matter. She was too weak to resist or to escape, had no idea where she was or where to go, or what kind of obstacles could be waiting for her outside this den. Besides…she really did want the pain to stop after all. And if he was trying to poison her…well there wasn’t much she could do about that now was there? Besides, if he wanted to kill her, she couldn’t imagine it would be too difficult right about now.
Understanding her difficulties, (or so she assumed) Rafiki reached one of his worm-toed paws underneath her chin, helping to turn her head to be more parallel with the ground, and helping to support her head as she drank.
It didn’t take long, just two quick gulps, and all the strange concoction, which tasted as bitter as it smelled, was down her throat before she could register the horrible taste and reject it. It left an awful aftertaste behind it however, making her gag and cough once more, the shudders not doing any favors for her injuries.
Chuckling, the odd creature nodded his head several times. “Ah yes, yes, it is a strong taste, but it helps. You trust old Rafiki. Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee!”
All she could do was stare up at him through watery eyes as he pointed one long toe at her. Though she did have to admit: whatever he had given her, as awful as it had tasted, it had cleared much of the previous fuzziness from her mind, and unless she was imagining things…was already working to dull the pain.
“Hee, hee,” Rafiki chuckled, drawing her attention, and she looked up at him managing to lift her head further than before. “De oders will want to know you’re awake. Rafiki will let dem know. De Queen in particular will want to meet you. She’s been very worried over you ever since we found you. We weren’t sure you would wake in de beginning.” He gestured to her widely with both forepaws. “But here you are! Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee!”
The young lioness blinked owlishly at him in confusion for a moment. What was he talking about? Queen? Others? Was he talking about the pride that lived here, in whose den she currently resided? They found her? Where? Why did they bring her here? How long had she been out? So many questions, yet her mind was still slow, and Rafiki didn’t seem to be in a mood to wait for her to process things yet.
In fact he was already moving, heading for the entrance, before turning his head and looking at her over his shoulder, still with that same wide, toothy grin on his face, before he spoke to her, “Oh. And Rafiki will ask dem to bring you some water-” Her stomach growled then, briefly and loudly, interrupting him and making him chuckle, his head bouncing, and his forepaws wrapped around his stick as if holding him up. “And perhaps someting to eat…don’t you tink?”
And with that he was gone, briefly casting her in shadow as he blocked the sun from the cave entrance, leaving her alone, confused, sore, thirsty, hungry, frightened…and utterly lost…A stranger in a strange land.
Right, so here we are with another chapter of this story. Sorry it took so long, but it took me a while to completely figure out how to get the entire scene I envisioned in my head, down on paper. But here it is either way! If you're confused about the misspelled words, that's me attempting to capture Rafiki's accent. Not sure how well it worked, so let me know if it works, or it's just annoying, or you're completely ambivalent about it. Either way, as always, Comments, Kudos and Bookmarks are all appreciated and encouraged! Enjoy!