josephine_marrs: Merlin peeking around an ivy-covered something. (pic#6262690)
[personal profile] josephine_marrs
Preview/summary:The weight of it bowed his head downward and shoved his muzzle into the water. The river seemed to rear up around him, and then he was engulfed.
Content notes:Non-con, naturalistic animal violence, RIP baby wildebeest; no other standard notes apply.



      The river rolled across the plain like a fat brown snake, its banks filled to the brim with earth-tinted water. When the rains three days ago had first flushed into the gorges and gullies that made up the river’s ancestral path, the water had roared and clawed at the earth as it galloped past. But now, having had time to settle, it flowed at a slow, lazy pace, gently lapping at the banks as it passed by. The grasses that days ago had been brittle and dry were already showing tender green shoots, and colorful flowers. The birds had been the first to take advantage of this newly-fertile spell, chasing the insects that were flushed out of their dry burrows by the same flooding that bathed the roots of the grasses. But it was only a matter of time until the larger animals were able to follow suit. Now, at various points along the river, herds of zebra, wildebeest, and antelope gathered to both drink and eat their fill, while family units of giraffes and elephants ventured through the bawling, bleating throngs to drink and bathe themselves.
      And, at the edges of it all, the predators lurked, always the last to reap the benefits of the rains.

      Atop one hillock, a trio of hyenas crouched, their noses snuffling at the wind.
      “That one, right there,” Shenzi said, wide ears swiveling forward as if to further indicate the wildebeest calf near the edge of the herd.
      “Finally! I coulda told you that,” Banzai growled, jumping to his feet and beginning to trot down toward the milling bunch of herbivores.
      “I was waiting for them to get into position…will you wait a minute?” Shenzi intercepted him and shoved a shoulder into him with enough force to make him stagger sideways. “You just go running in there, and you’ll ruin everything. Stick to the plan.”
      Banzai stopped in mid-retaliatory-lunge. “There’s a plan?”
      “Yes,” Shenzi said, between clenched teeth. “Ed will run in at one side, and drive most of them off the other way. I’ll run in and herd the calf out of the ones that are left. You n’ me will drive it into the river, and then you chase it in there and finish it off.”
      “I get t’ kill it? Nice.” Banzai clacked his fangs together in a wide grin.
      “Figured you’d like that,” Shenzi muttered. “Alright, let’s get to it. Ed, get down there.” Ed nodded vigorously and moved down toward the herd at a quick trot.
      “I swear I hear somethin’ rattlin’ around in his noggin when he does that,” Banzi mumbled, as he and Shenzi followed.

      The plan worked like a charm. Ed loped into the midst of the wildebeest, snapping and snarling, and the dumb beasts snorted and whirled and galloped away. The dozen or so that were left soon found themselves trapped between the hyenas and the river. Shenzi darted nimbly among them, her hardest task being to make sure that the bawling calf got separated from its mother. A few well-placed snaps at the mother’s hocks convinced her to abandon her offspring and run for freedom, taking the remnant with her.
      Banzai ran just behind the calf, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. He could smell the sickness emanating from the squalling creature, a signal of terminal weakness as sure as the pink-tinged mucus running from its nose. The scent of its disease made him drool with anticipation.
      He felt cool water swirling around his legs; the calf's frantic bounds splashed droplets onto him as he closed the distance between them. Now was the time to strike! With a triumphant snarl, he lunged forward, teeth wrapping around its stifle and tearing deep. All sound left the calf, and its head dropped hard into the water, the rest of its body following.
      That was easy, Banzai thought. He licked down the savory trace of blood, and advanced up the downed calf’s body. The water was up to his chest now; his powerful neck and shoulders surged above the red-brown surface of the river.
      Then, the calf began to twist. Its left foreleg popped stiffly out of the water, still shuddering in its death throes, as its neck torqued the other way with a wet tearing sound. In mid-lunge, Banzai saw why the body of the wildebeest was suddenly doing these contortions: a crocodile had grabbed hold of the calf’s head and dragged it under, and now was dragging the body further into its watery home.
      Banzai yelped and jerked backward. The calf’s back legs spasmed in a kick and somehow managed to scissor themselves around his neck. The weight of it bowed his head downward and shoved his muzzle into the water. The river seemed to rear up around him, and then he was engulfed.
      Although the calf’s legs were wrapped around him, they actually did not present much of a danger of squeezing the breath out of him. That was because he had already taken care of that detail himself. As the water closed over his head, he promptly gave a panicked yelp, and realized that he was snorting water. It stung as it shot up his nose and down his throat. He could feel the bulk of the calf’s body against him as he squirmed and struggled, its body emanating a warmth that was especially tangible in the cool, dark water. Its spindly limbs bumped stiffly against his throat and tangled with his own pistoning forelegs as he tried frantically to orient himself. And all the while there was the bubbly thrashing of the crocodile just inches away from him; every time it jerked its head back and forth, he was jerked along with it, down, down, downward. His back legs pummeled against soft calf belly and swished through empty water and then thumped against the hard, log-like surface of the crocodile itself…
      He kicked frantically then, expecting at any moment to feel a searing pain in his leg and the final disemboweling tug. But it never came. A hoof grazed his cheek as he thrashed, and then he realized that the calf’s legs weren’t around his neck anymore. He was free, and paddling hard, though he realized that he had no idea if he was heading toward the surface or the bottom. He tasted blood in his mouth, and felt the hot metallic sting spreading from his nose to the back and his throat, and into his chest. He could feel his throat closing up, and wondered if this was how it felt to have a predator’s jaws clamped around your windpipe. He was lost in darkness; there was no light, no air, no ground, only his own helpless weightlessness, limbs churning uselessly. He really didn’t see the point of this, anymore. Shenzi had always said that he had the attention span of a fly. He didn’t see why she minded so much. This wasn’t so bad. Even the burning in his chest…it was throbbing now, and he couldn’t feel his toes. It was nice, in a strange way. Peaceful.
      His jaws parted, and bubbles drew his gaze upward through the murk. Huh, I had some air left after all, he thought, and with a drowsy sort of curiosity, he paddled, following the glimmering bubbles as they rose.
     His head broke above the water, and the peaceful silence dissolved into a cacophony of sound. Birds screeched and wheeled overhead, and on shore there was the rumble of hooves and the excited calls and grunts of the herds as they sorted themselves out. Banzai paddled weakly in place, and blinked the water from his eyes. Oh, he was tired. Even now, after he’d had his first snuffling breath of air, he just wanted to still himself and sink…
      Another crocodile – or perhaps it was the same one as before, greedy for more meat to stash away in the murk – surfaced in front of him. The water frothed white as it jerked its head above the water, and for a moment, all Banzai could see was the sparkling spatter, and slick brown scales. But that was enough, because it reminded him of what it felt like to be afraid. With fear, came the desire to live again, and he lunged away from the beast, swimming frantically for the shore. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something torn and sodden bob to the surface with a gurgling sound. The calf that he had sought to kill ended up saving his life; with a hiss, the crocodile snatched the body in its jaws and disappeared beneath the water, twisting and spiraling. Neither of the forms surfaced, after that.

      Banzai staggered through the mud, dragging himself along with his forelegs. Just as the water had stung as it had coursed down his throat, so now did the air, filling his lungs with a feeling like fire every time he breathed. But it felt sort of good, at the same time, as if he were bruised all along the inside of his chest.
      Shenzi shook her head at him, her expression bearing not a shred of sympathy. “You know what I said to myself before we even started this? ‘Shenzi, is this plan foolproof?’ Oh yeah, it’s foolproof. It’s so simple that not even Banzai can ruin it, not even if he tries, not even if he ruins everything else because he’s the world’s stupidest—“
      “Guh! Gur ha gur geh heh gi!!” Ed yelped sharply and pointed to the outlines of lions trotting toward them.
      “Great. Just great. Back to scraps. Thanks a bunch, Banzai.” She gave a last snarl, and broke into a rolling gallop toward the dark smear on the northern horizon.
      Banzai heaved, and emptied his aching belly of river water. It trickled down the hill toward the approaching lions, as he turned tail and ran with the others toward the elephant graveyard.
 
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