It's Not The Destination

It's Not The Destination

Postby Azdgari » June 9th, 2011, 5:55 am

It's the journey.



Chapter One: I'd Like To Climb A Tree



“Ow! Kopa, get off me!” Izze screamed at the nut-brown lion who had just tackled her into the dirt.

Kopa grinned. “Say uncle,” he dared her, his tail twitching. Izze responded by slapping Kopa in the muzzle with a forepaw and then shoving him off of her with her hind legs. Kopa landed in a heap a few feet away.

Izze smirked. “Uncle,” she said in mock-terror. “I told you not to try to play rough while I’m grooming.” She was vexed by her coat dirt-filled coat, but the satisfaction at having trounced Kopa outweighed her anger. Easily.

“Yeah, yeah, get at me.” Kopa replied to nobody in particular, getting back onto his feet.

Izze picked up on it. “Oh, get at you? I’ll call around and see if there are any mice around, that should be a fair fight,” she taunted.

Kopa shot a glare in her direction. “Shut up,” he snapped, and was about to mount another attack when Azdgari intervened.

“Oh, cut it out,” Azdgari said. “Don’t yell at each other, it’s been a long day and this is just making it longer.” He had been with the pair long enough to know that Izze wasn’t going to back down, and that Kopa was just going to get more and more frustrated.

Azdgari’s words hung in the gloom. It had been a long day. The traveling-group-gone-family had spent the better part of the day tracking a herd of zebra only to find themselves beaten out by a pack of cheetahs who were less than inclined to share. For their day’s efforts the group were rewarded with a dinner consisting of two measly rabbits Kopa had caught. It's no surprise they were bickering at each other.

Azdgari flopped down onto the grass with a phump, and heard two similar phumps as Kopa and Izze did likewise. Their campsite, at least, hadn’t been a disaster. A small glade in the stomach of a field of tall grass perhaps ten feet by ten feet provided both comfort and relative safety. Even feels a little cozy, Azdgari thought. …it would be cozier if Kopa and Izze stopped trying to dismember each other, he mused, but kept that thought to himself.

“Man, the next time I see a cheetah I’ll give it something to run about,” Kopa said bitterly. He clawed at the air as if tearing a cheetah to pieces.

Izze shifted in the grass. “We need to find food.”

Kopa’s swiping paws swung to his stomach, just below his chest tuft. “Yeah, we do. We’ll have to hunt tomorrow, first thing.”

“We should probably keep this as our meeting point,” asserted Azdgari. “Good central location. I figure we can each strike out when we wake up, then meet back here at midday, hopefully with our kills.”

Kopa yawned. “Biggest kill gets a back scratch!” Izze rolled her eyes, although nobody saw it in the dark. Kopa always caught the biggest kill, and he loved his back scratches.

“Aright, guys, what do we want from tomorrow?” Azdgari asked, initiating their evening ritual. It was a simple question, but Az felt like it kept them focused and also made them think a little bit, something that wanderers had a tendency to overlook.

“Food… my backscratch…” Kopa smiled. “And to start making our way East again,” he finished, growing somber. Kopa had been separated from his family at a young age. He didn’t like talking about it; he'd only mentioned it when pressed by Az and Izze and barely even then. Ever since either of them had met him he’d been on an inexorable quest Eastward to find his long lost pride. How he knew they were to the East or how he intended to find them (‘Eastward’ isn’t exactly a precise location) neither Az nor Izze knew. But they both joined him for the journey and they grudgingly accepted he must have some idea what he was doing.

Izze met Kopa when both of them were very young, shortly after Kopa’s separation. Izze was an orphan whose parents were killed in a stampede. They became fast friends, bonding over their situations and their similarly headstrong attitudes. They butted heads frequently, but over the course of their time together they became like brother and sister, albeit bickering ones.

The scraggly pair ran into Az for the first time when he saved them from a particularly ill-tempered wildebeest (Kopa had pissed it off by kicking a rock at it after Izze had told him, “Do it. You won’t.”). Since then Az had traveled with them partly because he felt uncomfortable leaving the two alone after seeing the trouble they got into and partly because he really had nothing better to do. Azdgari evolved into the older brother of the group, mediating their fights for the most part and keeping the group from getting in over their heads too many times in one day.

Now, after six months together, Kopa and Izze had grown out of adolescence into young adults, and Azdgari was nearing adulthood.

“…and to slap a cheetah,” Kopa finished, drawing a wave of laughter from the group.

Izze went next. “Food would be nice. I want to find a meerkat, I’ve heard they’re really funny.”

Azdgari chuckled. “Good luck with your meerkat. Food and another good campsite…” He fought the almost irresistible urge to say ‘without so much wrestling’. “And a good tree to climb.”

“A tree?” Izze questioned.

“A tree,” Azdgari replied. Izze shrugged, closing her eyes. One by one, the lions drifted off to sleep. Kopa fell asleep last, dreaming of chasing terrified cheetahs across a wide savannah.






Chapter Two: All's Well That Ends With A Full Stomach

Izze


I was dragged from a perfectly cheerful dream involving a Meerkat by the name of Timon by the warm rays of the morning sun. “First one up, as always,” I murmured softly. Azdgari lay slumbering quietly close to where the fire would have been. I watched him for a moment, hypnotized by the gentle rhythm of his chest. So peaceful.

Kopa was strewn across a patch of grass to her left, snoring like a congested rhino. And… Kopa. Koooopa, Kopa, Kopa.

Shaking my head with just a hint of sisterly affection, I started to make my way out of our campsite. Which way? North sounds good. Or maybe East? West? South is always a solid option. Let’s go south. Just because I can’t read the scents on the wind like Azdgari and Kopa doesn’t mean I can’t hunt. We’ll see who lands the big one! With that thought, I forged a path out of our glade and into the outside world.


Azdgari


I slowly lifted my eyelids, the sun’s rays shooing me from the nights’ sleep. With a cavernous yawn I pulled myself up to my feet. Rolling my neck in its socket, I noticed without surprise that Izze was already gone. I didn’t need to look over to know Kopa was still asleep; his wildebeest-stampede snoring was probably scaring the local wildlife at this point.

Let’s see what the day holds, I said to myself bracingly as I stretched my forelegs. I sniffed at the air, sifting through the different scents for a trace of prey. Nothing. I waited for another moment. …There. Gliding subtly through the air was the musk of a lone zebra, probably separated from his pack. Sorry buddy, your luck is about to get even worse. With a huff, Azdgari set off into the grass to track his prey.


Kopa

Go away Mr. Sun, I groaned to myself. Come back in an hour.

Okay, thirty minutes?

Just five minutes? Please?


With a grumble, I reluctantly peeled my eyelids back to be rewarded with a blinding smile from the ever-chipper Mr. Sun. At least that made one of us.

I’m not a morning person, in case you couldn’t tell.

As soon as my eyes adjusted, I tossed a lazy glance about the campsite and found it quite empty. I stretched, arching my back and digging my claws into the dirt. Late start, no problem, I smiled. How late are we talking? I squinted up at the sun, trying to make out its position.

Oh, sh**!


Izze


I knew I should’ve gone west, I complained to myself. No point sugarcoating it: after two hours of meandering on a general eastward bearing, I was absolutely no closer to, and quite possibly farther from, any prey that might have been in the area. I now found myself on the crown of an earthy knoll overlooking rolling green fields. With the sun caressing my back it was actually tempting to flop over and take a nap. Has it become apparent yet I’m a master hunter?

Well, this is why I travel with companions, I thought to myself. Time to admit it: hunting just isn’t and never has been my strong point. It’s a miracle I survived long enough to meet Kopa and Azdgari and get them to hunt for me. I pull my weight in other ways. And I can still slam Kopa in a fight.

Heaving a sigh, I turned back to commence my return journey. I had complete faith that I would be welcomed back by a well known sight: Kopa, seated on his haunches wearing that goofy, smug grin, flanked by the carcass of an absurdly large and tasty looking kill.


Azdgari


Tall grass faded to plains that transformed into a forest as I pursued the Zebra’s scent. Yeah, I’m sorry, but you are going to taste really, really good, I couldn’t help but think to myself as I bounded along. Twenty-four-plus hours without a meal has a way of sucking the charity out of me. I felt my adrenaline glands start pumping in anticipation as the scent grew stronger. I was closing in.

You’re going down, Kopa. I should admit that wasn’t just about hunger. For some reason and I can’t figure it out, Kopa’s a better hunter than me. It denies reason. I have strength, speed, age, situational awareness… and yet he always brings back a kill without fail. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. Let’s be honest, I’m basically taking care of him and Izze. I should be the one bringing home the bacon.

I rattled my head, shaking the extraneous thoughts out for the time being. I was almost on top of the scent. I could see a clearing up ahead through the trees where the scent was coagulating. With a renewed vigor in my veins I sprinted out into the sunlight to claim my kill only to be stopped dead in my tracks.

You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me.



XXXXXX



The sun was just centering itself in the sky as Izze strolled back into the campsite. She saw two things, neither of which she had anticipated: the campsite was short one Kopa and a very, very angry looking Azdgari was hunched over with a diminutive dead mongoose at his feet. “I do not want to talk about it,” he spat, flaring his nostrils and gritting his teeth.

Izze glanced at the ground, then at the sky, then to her right. “Well, this is awkward,” she balked, pursing her lips. Where is Kopa? There is no way we are missing another meal, she asserted to herself.

Both the lions’ ears and noses perked up at a familiar scent and sound. Surely enough, Kopa plus one emerged from the surrounding sea of green. His plus one was a hefty and, surely enough, rather palatable looking Ostrich he lugged with him, dragging it by its neck with his jaws. Setting it down in front of his companions, he settled onto his haunches and a triumphant smile made its way across his muzzle. Izze couldn’t help but laugh. Azdgari’s whiskers twitched; he was bemused and a bit irked, but Kopa’s smile was infectious. And all was well that ended with a full stomach for the group.

The group chowed down heartily. Between bites, they exchanged tidbits from their respective days. “Well, it’s not like we had sky high expectations for you anyway, Izze,” Kopa teased.

“Yeah, watch your mouth, tough guy,” Izze bantered back. “I’ll take you any day, and then we’ll see who’s got expectations. Speaking of which,” Izze turned to Azdgari, hoping his bad mood had been ameliorated by the food, asked, “What exactly happened to you?”

Azdgari spat out a bone in disgust. “You won’t believe it if I told you.”

“What was it? More cheetahs?” Kopa joked. Azdgari’s dark look was all the response he needed. Izze exercised a remarkable amount of restraint in containing her laughter. Kopa was not so disciplined, a single guffaw escaping his mouth before Izze punched him in the stomach, muting him.

Azdgari rolled his eyes. “Whatever, it’s over now. Yeah, I ran into more Cheetahs. Stalked a Zebra for almost a mile only to find a pack of them making the kill,” Azdgari recounted bitterly.

Kopa, feeling a bit sheepish after cracking up Azdgari’s misfortune, gestured to the mongoose with a paw and a questioning expression. “Consolation prize,” Azdgari answered shortly. Kopa had work hard to squelch another peal of laughter, choosing instead to fill his mouth with another bite of Ostrich.

Bellies bulging, the humble pack retired to the ground in contentment. “What now?” Izze inquired.

Kopa’s grin was wider than a ripe banana.

“Now’s when you give me my back scratch.”





Chapter Three: I Found This Cozy Little Camp...


Though night had fallen and sleep had claimed the gang, the campsite was far from silent. The constant cacophony of bugs blanketed the camp. The hoots of owls peering at the darkness and the stirring of restless snakes wafted through the night. A gentle breeze whispered along, shaking the grass this way and that before softly brushing through the coats of the dreaming lions. And then there was Kopa’s snoring, which defies description.

An unusually boisterous rumble shook Azdgari back into consciousness. C’mon. I swear I will stuff his damn nose with the two ends of a Cobra if he wakes me up one more time. Needless to say, Azdgari was not the friendliest lion during the small hours of the night. Half asleep, he cast a look around the camp, performing a dazed body count. One… Two… Three… all here. Satisfied, he collapsed back on the ground, surrendering the warm and welcome embrace of sleep. His mind, quite a few steps behind his body, then processed what he had seen.

He jerked back up. One, two, three? He squinted through the darkness. Kopa he could find without looking. There was Izze, sound asleep a few feet beside Kopa. About ten feet away from Kopa, and unfamiliar animal, roughly lion sized, was dozing. Azdgari’s sleepiness was swept from his limbs, replaced by adrenaline. Silently, he stalked closer to the intruder. When he was only a few feet away, he pounced, landing his dead weight on the outsider’s chest to trap him and slamming a paw on the outsider’s windpipe. “Who are you?” He growled.

The racket awoke Izze, who quickly shook Kopa awake. “Huhza? Whoza what is when?” Kopa mumbled groggily before realizing the gang had an unwelcome guest. The two younger lions gathered close to the captured intruder, although not too close.

“Answer me! Who are you? What are you doing here? Why did you sneak into our camp?” Azdgari demanded. Upon close observation, the creature in question was a leopard. The leopard only stared back at Azdgari, bewilderment creeping into his eyes.

Izze got it first. “Uh, Az?” She started, “It’s kind of hard to talk when you’re being choked.” Azdgari looked down at his paw, then lifted it lamely. Coughing, the leopard glanced over at Izze in thanks.

“Sorry if I scared you,” the leopard apologized. “I was just looking for a place to knock out when I heard this noise… it sounded like trees falling,” he told them pleasantly. Kopa briefly examined the ground. “And then I followed the noise and found this cozy little camp and figured I’d share it with you guys. I’m Swahil. What are you all’s names?”

Azdgari stared. Kopa blinked rapidly. Izze was the first to respond. “I’m Izze,” she said.

“Izze,” Swahil repeated with a lazy smile. “Nice to meetcha.”

Azdgari and Kopa were baffled. Here was a fellow predator who’d never met them. He waltzes into their camp and decides to sleep ten feet away from them, breaking every rogue rule in the book. When caught, he acts like there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on. Seperately, Kopa and Azdgari were coming to the same conclusion: Swahil was nuts.

Izze appeared to be the only one taking their visitor at face value. With an irritated glance at her stony silent brothers, Izze continued, “That’s Kopa, and that’s Az… Azdgari.”

Swahil nodded at both of them. ”Kopa, good to meet you. Azdgari, glad to meet you.” He paused momentarily, then asked, “Um, would it be okay if I asked you to maybe get off? I’m starting to lose feeling in my legs.”

With a start, Azdgari realized he was still on top of Swahil. “Oh. Yeah, sorry,” he apologized, climbing off. A truly awkward silence settled over the group, although Swahil seemed unaffected by it, peering around cheerily and observing his surroundings.

Finally, Swahil yawned. “Well… I don’t know about you guys, but I’m beat. Let’s continue this thing in the morning.” With that, he lied down, curled himself up and instantly fell asleep.

For the second time in so many minutes, the gang was bewildered. “Is it safe to go back to sleep?” Kopa asked, eyeing the slumbering leopard.

“I’m pretty sure he’s not a threat,” Azdgari replied. Am I sure he has his head screwed on right? Not so much. “Looks like he’s out cold.”

Izze returned to the ground. “Good plan.” Kopa nodded, collapsing. Shaking his head at the oddness of the night, Azdgari laid down and closed his eyes.


******


What a weird dream, Izze thought to herself as she woke up, stretching her mouth in a cavernous yawn. Licking her chops, she squinted through the early morning sun at her sleeping brothers. It took her a few seconds. …One of these is not my brother, she thought to herself as smartly as anyone who woke up thirty seconds ago could. So… that wasn’t a dream, her laggy mind concluded brilliantly. She raised a paw, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Lowering it, she stared intently at the newcomer.

He slept peacefully, a feat of constitution given Kopa’s nighttime breathing patterns. He was curled up into a ball, his tail wrapped around him as if holding him together. He was dug in slightly, Izze noticed. Just enough so that he was angled slightly into the earth. As weird as it sounded, as an early riser Izze spent a lot of time watching her brothers sleep. He’s got the same slow, rhythmic breathing as Az, Izze mused. They’re both such tranquil sleepers. Oh! He’s waking up!

Swahil’s eyes fluttered open. With a yawn, he unfurled himself from his sleeping position. He lifted his head to the sky thoughtfully. “What a beautiful morning, don’t you think?” he remarked without looking over at Izze.

Izze was surprised at the leopard’s perception. He didn’t even glance in my direction, how did he know I was up? Spending a second to actually look around, she had to agree. The morning sun swam in indigo skies, its light painting the distant crowns of acacias a brilliant shade of golden maroon. Puffy, thick clouds lined the horizon below the sun as if brushstrokes by some master of design. “Yeah,” she responded a minute later.

“Yeah?” Azdgari replied, sending Izze a quizzical look. She appeared to the just-awoken Az to be talking to no one.

Izze looked over at Az. “Yeah,” she repeated, amused.

“Yeah? Yeah what?” Kopa questioned groggily, last to rise. Per usual.

“Just yeah,” Azdgari answered.

Swahil smiled. “Glad we all agree!” It earned him a confused expression from Azdgari and Kopa and a giggle from Izze. “So what’s the plan?”

“Plan?” Kopa repeated. “I don’t know if we’re both going to be following the same plan.” Letting him sleep with us for a night is one thing. But I’m not sure if we need to be picking up strays, especially crazy ones.

Azdgari shared Kopa’s outlook, though he took a mediatory approach. “We should eat,” he said firmly, defusing the situation for the moment. He turned to Swahil. “Can you hunt?”

Swahil grinned. “Like no other!” He responded.

“Great!” Kopa replied. “Go hunt for all of us then,” he said snidely.

“Oh, I don’t think you guys would want that, unless you guys have a taste for berries and roots and the sort,” Swahil responded, smiling. “I’m a vegetarian,” he explained. For the second time in so many hours, the leopard nearly heard the sound of his companions’ jaws hitting the ground.





Leonine Time Travel

“Oh yeah, I hope you have a taste for berries!”

“Mmm, yeah, I’m a weirdo, I sure am.”

“Oooh, who wants to go make grass sculptures and then shove them up our—“


Izze hip checked Kopa, knocking the wind out of him. “Quit it,” she admonished. Kopa had been spewing a steady stream of mockery in Swahil’s general direction since the morning. Swahil was either fantastic at pretending he couldn’t hear or had somehow developed selective deafness. It would hardly be a surprise at this point; the Leopard seemed to be on a mission to prove he had more idiosyncrasies than spots. For whatever reason, though, Izze took a liking to him. He’s odd, she thought. I like odd.

And I bet I could kick his pacifistic butt.


She probably could. Swahil was not an impressive physical specimen. His sedentary, herbivorous lifestyle didn’t cultivate the long bands of sinewy muscle that rippled under the lions’ coats. Instead he was lanky, with little to separate his bones from his dusty khaki coat and mottled brown spots. She wondered about his speed; Leopards were legendary for their swiftness, but it seemed as if Swahil was more likely to saunter towards a dangerous situation than to bolt away from one.

He was up ahead with Azdgari, while Izze and Kopa hung ten feet or so behind. Up front, Swahil was explaining to a (to his credit) only mildly bewildered Azdgari the rationale behind vegetarianism. “You see, friend,” he continued, “All beings are connected through the great flow of energy. To crush the life from another creature, unnecessarily, that interrupts the flow.” He smiled in a ‘How could one possibly disagree?’ sort of way. “I’m more than capable of thriving on the bounty that grows in the Savannah.”

Azdgari glanced at Swahil’s wiry frame. Not sure that’s what I call thriving, he thought.

All the talk about the morality of hunting was just serving to remind Azdgari that they needed food before sundown. And the clearing that they had ambled into would serve them well as a home base. “Hey, you guys,” he called back to Kopa and Izze, who kept ‘accidentally’ cutting one another off and then apologizing wildly. “Time to hunt?”

“Gruuuuuub,” Kopa replied hungrily before walking into Izze’s flank for the thousandth time.

Izze whipped her head around in horror. “Oh, no! I can’t believe it, I just didn’t even see you there, Kopa! I’m so sorry!”

“You know what’s gonna be fantastic, Izze? When you scratch my back later.”

“So!” Azdgari said loudly. “We’ll split off and meet back at…” Azdgari trailed off as he saw Swahil’s snout digging into the ground. “Err…” Azdgari said, shaking it off. “We’ll meet back here at uh,” he stopped again, distracted by Swahil, who was now digging into the ground with a sort of lethargic enthusiasm.

“Yep, we’ll meet back at dusk. Be sure to watch—Swahil, man, what are you doing?” he exclaimed. Swahil had begun shouting into the hole that he’d dug. Kopa wasn’t sure whether to laugh or run. Izze just stared. Az inched towards him as if getting too close might cause him to combust.

Azdgari jumped back as Swahil jerked head up from the hole. “Hey, you won’t believe where we are!” he said with a grin. A skinny, tawny head peeked up from the hole.

Swahil!” the meerkat yelled delightedly, leaping out of the hole to embrace the Leopard.

The rest of the gang collectively tilted their heads almost a complete ninety degrees and gawked.


********

“Don’t even think about it,” Izze hissed.

Kopa’s expression dropped, cowed, and he promptly stopped fantasizing about meerkat buffet.

The question is, Azdgari wondered, is this more or less unpredictable than anything else that’s happened to us in the last twenty four hours, or twenty four days, or however long they’d been together? The lions found themselves surrounded by a clearing brimming with perhaps forty meerkats, disappearing one second and reappearing the next through a matrix of holes that snaked through the clearing. They were jittery things, and at first had kept a wide birth from the dangerous predators. But when they realized the trio was traveling with Swahil, they quickly warmed up the them and proceeded to pepper them with ludicrous questions about life aboveground.

“What’s swimming like?” “Are elephants real?” “Can lions can travel through time? Can you verify that?”

Kopa had responded that he’d rather they pepper a nice meal than pepper him with questions. He was, for once, speechless when they responded by producing a shockingly diverse platter of bugs and grubs which, although initially anathema to Kopa, proved to be both delicious and filling. With a full stomach, Kopa was happy to volley with the meerkats, and had quickly parlayed his way into a back scratch which, he assured them, was the key to leonine time travel.

Izze didn’t touch the grubs until Azdgari pointed out that she may literally starve otherwise. She didn’t warm up to them as much as her friends.

Azdgari was sitting on his haunches next to a reclined Swahil and the head of the colony, a tall, burly (if you can say that about a meerkat?) individual by the name of Randyl. He guffawed and threw a hand around the leopard, or as close as to around the leopard as he could get. “And by the time we came back, this guy was just sleeping! Can you believe that?” He threw his head back in laughter. “It was then we knew we weren’t gonna have to worry about him. And honestly, his knowledge of herbs and spices changed our culinary scene for good. It’s livin’ large out here!” he proclaimed, punctuating his sentence by popping a ripe grub into his mouth.

Swahil laughed benignly, putting a paw around Randyl and hugging him into his neck. “Yeah, you guys aren’t so bad,” he teased.

Azdgari should’ve felt awkward around the two old friends, but the cocktail of disbelief and odd fondness that he was beginning to associate with all things Swahil was too powerful. The meerkats continued to mingle until the sun slinked away, when they bid farewell heartily to Swahil and not ungenuinely to the trio. And then, suddenly, they were alone once again.





The Tall Grass

They don't need to see this, Az thought with a shudder.

The lion's carcass was badly managed. A massive tear had rent it from front to back shoulder, exposing what was left of its insides after the carrion birds had preyed on it. Lions are predators, and live a harsh life. Hunting and killing was part of their nature. But seeing one of their own so gruesomely mauled was unnerving. Not to mention that lions didn't have predators of their own. Seeing a dead lion meant conflict with another animal that sat on top of the food chain. That meant danger.

The sun was drifting towards an early evening angle in the sky, and the light was softening over the grasslands. The air was uncommonly cool and comfortable; by all measures the day was beautiful. Az looked down at the corpse glumly. To survive as a rogue, a lion needs sharp edges. But those edges had been dulled a little more every day since meeting Kopa and Izze. Every day the group travelled together fostered a little more empathy, and as it was Az found himself worrying about his two adopted siblings. They were hardened to a degree by life out in the wild, no doubt. The two, particularly Kopa, had impressive muscle mass and size for their age. But they were still only adolescents, as Kopa's meager mane betrayed.

"What do you see out there?" Kopa called. Az shook himself out of his reverie and turned to walk back through the tall grass to the rock where his companions were resting. Izze sat back on the rock, sunning herself. Kopa was sitting on his haunches, tapping a claw against the rock restlessly.

Azdgari shuffled over and flopped down lazily in between them. "I think I made out a clearing a little more to the east." Izze's ears perked up at that, and she opened her eyes and glanced over at Kopa. "Might not be a bad place to spend the evening."

Kopa straightened up, nodding fervently. "Yeah, let's head that way," he replied, hopping down from the rock.

"Hohohoho, c'mon," Izze, drawled. "Kopa, it's real nice right here. Just gimme five," she said, stretching herself across the warm stone before rolling onto her side and closing her eyes. Az shot a look at Kopa, wondering if he would fight for it.

Kopa made a dissatisfied face, but sank back down onto his haunches. "Fine, five minutes," he replied grumpily.

"Now you guys are speaking' my language!" Swahil breezed, drifting in through the tall grass and leaning on the stone. "Slowin' down never hurt anyleopard." Izze giggled despite her attempt to doze. Swahil had been with the group for two weeks now, during which Izze had grown fond of him. The two were generally the first up in the morning, and Az often awoke to the sound of Swahil retelling one of his many unusual-if not bizarre-life experiences.

Me? I can't say I mind having him around, seeing as he pulls his own weight. Kopa, though...


Kopa


It's like an itch, really. An itch that I can't pinpoint or explain, but that's always buzzing in the back of my mind. A voice that just pushes me to be in constant motion, always moving towards the East. I mean, is that really so hard to understand? That makes sense, doesn't it? I want to go home. I want to see my family and get my life back.

That's not to say that I don't feel anything for these guys, for Izze and Az. That's crazy. I love them. They've become my siblings, absolutely, and I'll jump a cliff for them any day of the week. But to go home, to piece together exactly what happened and meet my parents again? That's been me, my whole purpose, for so long that it's just... ingrained. What else am I supposed to do? Just rove around forever?

No. I know what I want.

"C'mon, let's get go going," I said, jumping down from the rock. "If you stay with this rock any longer I think you're gonna marry it and make little rock-babies with it, Izze." Constant motion. Like I said.

Izze stretched, yawned, and popped up. "Nah. This rock's not my type," she purred. She slunk down onto the ground, rolling back her shoulders and giving me a playful cuff. "Lead the way, Kop." With Azdgari and Swahil in toe, we strode forward and were enveloped by a field of tall grass. Yeah, Swahil was still with us. Don't get me started.

The tall grass made me a little bit edgy. It's always made me feel, I don't know, vulnerable. You can't see what's going on around you. Sure, you can hear the shuffling if something's running towards you, but a good predator can easily slink through without making much noise. It happened to when I was real small. Luckily it was just a leopard who happened to bump into me, and decided to leave the cowering cub alone. That's some real charity, right? That was back when I was on my own. Which was really a pretty short amount of time, but... still pretty formative I guess. Obviously.

That's one of my earlier memories. I don't remember much from my family. Just sort of jumbled images. I've got this impression of my father; he's huge and strong, but gentle too. He's colored like me, but his mane's redder than mine. I wish I remembered my mother.

I recall an incredibly sharp pain in my head, and... cold. Wet. Scrambling, clawing my way onto driftwood. Then a lot of black, and then I was on a beach. I didn't know where I was, didn't know what I was doing, only that I wanted to be as far away from the water as I could. I walked aimlessly for a long time. That bit's fuzzy. Eventually I guess I came out of shock, realized just how lost I was. And then began my time as a rogue. The tall grass incident wasn't long after that. I still hadn't made up my mind to pursue one of the last, sharpest images in my mind: the sun rising behind a massive monolith. The memory that gave me the bearings I'm still chasing today, the East.

A fly landed on my snout, snapping me back to the present. Then I heard the tall grass rustling in the distance.


Az


"Everybody stop," I said in a voice that I hoped they knew to obey.

Izze smirked at me. "Somebody's jumpy. Yeah, there's a field mouse or something out here rustling the grass. What, are you afraid it's gonna be a pack of cheetahs again?"

I didn't respond, instead listening for the rustling that had disappeared as suddenly as it came.

Surprisingly, Kopa replied quietly, "I actually heard it too."

Izze looked like her eyes were going to pop out of her head. "What, you're going soft too, Kopa? I'm gonna have a field day over here."

I didn't laugh, or even grin at her joke. I was thinking about the corpse I'd seen earlier and about the chance I'd rather not take by ignoring this. "Not now, Izze," I replied, gritting my teeth and shooting her a look. Her eyes widened in surprise, and she shut her mouth, confusion with a trace of concern creeping across her face.

This was less than ideal. I sniffed at the air fervently, but all I could get was pollen. Then I heard the rustling, closer this time. "We're going to get out into the open, and we're going to do it now." I declared.

Unfortunately, that idea sounded better than it really was. I had no idea which way led out of this sea of green. Worse, the sun was teetering on the horizon, ready to give way to the night. The last thing I wanted was to try to make camp with the knowledge in the back of my head that some psycho rogue was prowling around, devising ways to creatively and spectacularly murder us.

Thankfully, if either Kopa or Izze (or Swahil, I guess) saw the gaping flaw in my plan of action, they kept their mouths mercifully shut and followed at my tail as I hustled straight ahead, blindly hoping that we would reach a clearing. Behind us, I heard the rustling getting louder and closer. We broke into a dead sprint. If the others weren't worried before, my desperate sprint definitely did the job. For a long few minutes, all I heard was the cacophony of labored breathing, paws thumping on the ground, and that infernal rustling.

Finally we exploded out of the field into flatlands, a few trees dimly illuminated in the twilight. My momentum carrier me a good ten yards or so into the clearing before I stopped myself and spun quickly to see what was on our tail.


Izze


He burst out of the wall of grass and didn't break his pace one bit, hurtling towards Az and ramming into him at full speed before any of us could react. The two went tumbling, claws and jaws tearing at each other trying to get an advantage. Az was able land a glancing blow into his attackers' midriff, knocking the breath from his lungs and giving Az a chance to free himself. The intruder stood up and snarled, and we all got the first good look at him.

Gods, he's a monster. This was by far the biggest lion I'd ever seen. I think we could've fit all of us inside him and still had room left over. His teeth along were practically bigger than my head, and his claws looked like they could rend me in two in one swipe. He might've been dark brown, but in the twilight he looked jet black save for his yellow eyes. A few bits of blood were dripping from where Az had caught him, but the cuts clearly didn't even graze the bulging muscles beneath his coat.

My eyes fell to Az and my breath caught in my throat. I hadn't even seen it happen but there was a nasty gash on his right front shoulder. He was heavily favoring that same leg, which I couldn't figure out until I look down and saw that his left foot had been badly crushed by the weight of the black lion. They'd barely fought for five seconds and Az was already beaten.

My claws were out and my adrenaline was pumping. One glance at Kopa and I knew he was on the same page. We fought against each other a lot. Now, it was time for us to see how to we worked as a team.

Not super well, turns out.

First, I sprinted towards him without even trying to coordinate with Kopa. I was five yards away, then two, then I was on top of him... and then I was skidding on the ground. I came to a stop and was just able to make out the fuzzy image of Kopa being similarly slapped out of the air like a gnat. Okay. He's as fast as he is strong, I thought, still dazed. I picked myself up and took a second to steady myself before I remembered how badly wounded Az was, and saw the bastard stalking towards him. "Kopa!" I yelled.

"Guh... what," he mumbled, swaying to his feet.

I crossed the distance between us with a few bounds and grabbed his head in between mine, forcing his eyes into mine. "That was stupid. We're smart. I'm going to straight, you're going to go around, I'm going to go high, you're going to go low, and we're going to do it now." He scrunched up his face for a second in pain, then exhaled and narrowed his eyes.

"Let's kick this guy's ass," he snarled, sprinting to the rogue's flank at about a ten foot radius. Once he was directly across from me he cornered without slowing down and sprinted straight for the enemy. I waited just long enough to match up with Kopa then bolted, claws outstretched and looking for blood.

The rogue hit me again, hard, straight down this time. I saw stars, and black spots were playing at the corner of my vision. But I heard him release a bellow of pain, and his left leg buckled as Kopa crushed his shin between his jaws. The rogue lashed out with its good leg, aiming a vicious kick but at Kopa, but Kopa was too fast, darting away to a safe distance. The rogue roared again and his eyes locked on me, who was nowhere near a safe distance. I tried feebly to crawl away but I saw him raise an claw to finish me off. He swung... but never followed through. Az made it just in time, intercepting the deadly blow by body slamming the rogue in the shoulder, driving it out of the socket with a sickly pop. Az, disoriented and already handicapped, crumpled from the impact, but before the rogue could react Kopa was already rending his other arm with his claws. The rogue savagely screamed and flailed, on his side now, snapping at Kopa. In that moment, I saw the chance, as Kopa pinned one arm and the other danged lamely.

I slipped underneath past shoulders and neatly slotted a claw in between his ribs and into his heart. The rogue's flailing stopped abruptly as he exhaled slowly. And died.





XXXXXXXXXX





Everyone just breathed for a minute or two. Then, Swahil emerged from where he'd been cowering and, shockingly enough, took complete control of the situation.

"C'mon, easy," Swahil crooned to Az, lending a shoulder to help Az limp away from the rogue's body. Probably better not to do this inches away from the creature that caused it all. He looked at Izze, his gaze clinical, noting her empty eyes and quivering frame. "Kopa, bring Izze," he said with authority. Kopa hesitated, but was too exhausted to argue. He helped Izze over to where Swahil had eased Az down onto his side. "Lay her next to me," Swahil requested.

The leopard examined the laceration on Az's shoulder. Long and deep. Looks like it missed any major arteries. "Kopa, I need you," he said without looking up. "Please go look for a ekkaroot flower." There was a pause. "...a plant with a long stem, three leaves and a purple blossom," he added patiently. Kopa turned and fanned out, his head hanging from his shoulders, trying to keep his eyes open long enough to find whatever he was supposed to be looking for.

Right. Swahil shifted his attention to the more serious matter, the crushed foot. "Easy," Swahil said, gingerly flattening out the paw to examine it, drawing a cry of pain from his patient. No good. The weight of the rogue had badly bruised the muscles. Whether or not the bones of the paw themselves were broken was difficult to tell, although they didn't look particularly out of alignment. In any event, those would take care of themselves over time. It's the ankle I'm worried about. Azdgari's ankle was hyperextended almost forty five degrees forward past where it should have been. "I'm really sorry, friend," Swahil apologized.

"For wh--" Az was cut off by a bony crunch as Swahil jammed the ankle back into place. Azdgari didn't finish his sentence, instead choosing to pass out from the pain. Hard to blame him, Swahil thought, turning his attention back to the long cut. Kopa appeared next to him, a purple-tipped plant between his jaws.
"Thanks, Kopa," Swahil responded, taking the flower and grinding it between his paws into a fine powder. Can't let that get infected. "Natural disinfectant," he said by way of explanation, feathering the powder onto the open wound. Azdgari stirred, but didn't wake.

Swahil heard Kopa shift next to him "Is he gonna be alright? And what about Izze?"

Swahil finished his work before replying. "Izze is just bruised and rattled. Az will need time," Swahil said, finally stepping back from Azdgari and sitting back onto his haunches. He glanced at Kopa and offered a smile, his suddenly ultra-serious demeanor beginning to evaporate. "We're out of the woods for now, my man. Get some sleep, you look a little rough."

Kopa was almost too tired to roll his eyes before collapsing.







*****

Very loosely based off my RP with the lovely Arbarano. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it going for a ways and see where it goes! Critique is wonderful, it's been a long time since I've written and any tips to help get me back in the saddle would be great. Thanks!
Last edited by Azdgari on July 14th, 2017, 6:04 am, edited 20 times in total.
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby TheLionQueen » June 9th, 2011, 6:42 am

I like it. "And to slap a cheetah." haha :lol:
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Arbarano » June 9th, 2011, 6:52 pm

Aww, thanks for mentioning me, Az :)

Anyway, onto the review, and...there are a couple of things bugging me, and among them is something that Scranton raised on fanfic.net: Why would the lions need fire? And how would they be able to use stones to create fire? And why can't they see in the dark, given that lions are supposed to have decent vision at night?

I feel like I'm nit-picking, because I did enjoy the story so far, but these just feel a bit glaring to me. Are Kopa & Friends meant to be anthropomorphic? Because then it would sort of make sense, and I suppose even on its own the fire being more cosy is logical if a little odd, but otherwise they just seem a little out of place.

Aside from that, though, great start. Even though were only around a thousand words in, the characterisation and relationships between the characters are already strong and the dialogue flows very well. I particularly like the final scene between Az and Izze. I don't know, it just seems very in-joke-y (if that makes sense). The light bickering being halted by the big brother figure was a nice touch, too.

I can't stress enough how good it is to see another story out of you, Az. I'll make sure to follow this one to the end. (Another good thing; I can't already tell where this is going to end up :D)
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Azdgari » June 9th, 2011, 7:16 pm

Thanks for the critique Arbarano! I mentioned it to Scranton as well, but I figured they would want a fire both to light their campsite and to keep bugs away with the smoke. They smack stones together to produce sparks to light the fire. And as for the night vision... well, I didn't know lions have good night vision. Maybe it was a very dark night? x3

Thank you both very much for the reviews!
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Zoketi » June 11th, 2011, 6:14 am

I think this story has a superb start. It started to capture my at first because it had no real introduction, it just dove straight in. I really like that, mine fanfic is very organized and explanitory.
And yes, I also wondered about the fire. I think it adds a interesting touch, being something unusual. Unfortuantely it seems lions can't get it going very well...xD I would imagine it as being hard for a lion to get a fire going. Still cool. (or should I say 'hot'!)
The explanation in the middle is helpful and interesting, but it seems a tad bit distracting from the main story. I still liked it though.
I also like how you made them talk, and still mentioned the surroundings and what the lions were doing. I always have trouble with this, especially fitting in the setting while characters speak.
Oh and one edit: 'meerkat' is spelled with a 'k'. ;)
I think the idea of Kopa meeting up with other lions is intriguing, and almost canon. I mean, during his travels(according to the theory that he lives, which I believe) it makes sense that he at least meets other big cats. And companions make the whole thing interesting.
Great start, can't wait to see more.
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Azdgari » June 11th, 2011, 6:20 am

Thanks a lot, Zoketi! I'll fix that meerkat typo right now. Thanks also for the critique about the middle part. I'll be sure to keep it in mind in the future. Always great to hear people are interested in what I'm writing! ^^
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Azdgari » June 13th, 2011, 6:19 am

Updated! Let me know if the perspectives worked okay or were just weird. Thanks for reading!
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Zoketi » June 13th, 2011, 3:25 pm

Yay more! I think it was good, I like how you divided it for different perpectives. 8D
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Arbarano » June 15th, 2011, 11:16 am

Well, I for one liked these perspectives. It can seem a little skittish, but in the right hands it can move the story along at a much better pace, and give a better insight into the minds of the characters. You really get a sense of that here. Izze's self-depracation, Az's intellectual side, and Kopa's...adolescent mind, shall we say. You really pulled off the subtle and not-quite-so-subtle differences betweent he characters very well, Az :)

(As a side point, Azdgari's irritation with Kopa seems very relatable to me: it's like Stuart Baggs in the last series of the Apprentice. He's right, more often than not, but he never puts any effort into being right. An an ideal world, Kopa would get a comeuppance of some kind, or at least being to irritate his companions even more...I may have just spoiled an upcoming chapter, there)

Anyway, the non-perspective part of the chapter also kept up that high standard, with the right balance of humour and justified anger at losing a kill to those pesky cheetahs. I wonder if we will actually run into those later on in the story? The group dynamic is excellent, as is the dialogue and word-usage in this chapter. It just makes everything so much fun to read, particularly Kopa's last few lines ;)

However, there are two things that aren't so good. One is quite minor, and it's the way the dialogue is spaced in the last section. I'm sure you know that a new paragraph should start evey time there is a new speaker.

The other is the emu. Seriously...an emu?! In Africa? An ostrich, perhaps, but emu?
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Re: It's Not The Destination

Postby Azdgari » June 15th, 2011, 2:25 pm

Hahahahaha, oh man, talk about absentmindedness. You sure keep me honest, Arbarano, and thank you for that! Yeah, I googled Savannah animals and went down the list and I just picked Emu because it was the right size, I wasn't thinking at all. You're right, ostrich is definitely better. I'll clean up those last few paragraphs, too. Thanks for the critique! Nothing better than some legitimate constructive crit. ^^
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