A night hunt under the moonlight. But hunting alone means breaking the rules. And breaking the rules has its price.
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"You go through life wondering what is all about but at the end of the day it's all about family"
I should not venture alone so far from the others. I know it very well. Some time has passed since I made this rule along with many others. I always advise this to the young ones, yet I am breaking it.
I saw that common warthog and I couldn't resist the urge. I need to prove to myself that I still have it in me. I don't expect to feed my hunger by hunting this puny animal. I'm not even hungry. It's my ego that I need to be feed. My pride, which is not fading away with age, is leaving deep marks on my body and mind.
I know I'm getting weaker and slower. And so do the others. But they still follow my lead out of loyalty and the trust that they have in my wisdom. They are all confident that I will always make the right decisions, the right compromises, that will assure the survival of our family. We are aware that our strength lays in our numbers and in our bond. We live and die for each other. We are a family.
But only the best of us can hunt successfully alone. I used to be good at it. It's been a while since I've done it. It's getting harder with every season. I am old and tired. It's exhausting and most of the times it's just not worth it. We always hunt in large numbers. "Work smart, not hard", that's what I always tell them. Use ambushes. Bring those stupid but powerful beasts where you want them. Get them tired. Focus on the weak ones, the young or the old ones. Then strike without hesitation. All at once. Together as one.
We're not meant to survive alone for long. We're just not strong enough. But together as a family, we're unbeatable. Together we can hunt down the mightiest beasts. Our superiority lays in our intelligence and numbers. Living together as one, and not our force is what's placing us on top of the food chain. We rule these plains. We're above all the other creatures. Small or large. Fast or slow. It makes no difference when it comes to our superior intelligence and hunting tactics. Therefore, no matter the era, we will always rule these lands. For ages to come, we will dominate it all. Nothing will ever overthrow our reign.
Yet now I am alone. Something deep inside tells me I should not wander far from home, where there is safety among my own kind. Here in the depth of the night, under the beauty of the full moon, lies the unknown and everything that can be hidden within. At home, we have guards awake day and night working in shifts. They keep everyone safe. But still, I got carried away by my pride and greed.
The warthog is faster than me but it's a silly and predictable animal. It didn't see me yet. Wind is blowing from the front. Such a stupid creature this warthog is. Going further against the wind, unable to feel any predator as long as the wind blows in its face. If the wind was blowing from behind, my scent would be carried away by the wind in his direction and it would smell me. It would feel my presence and would run away. But odds are in my favor.
I keep going slowly, closing the gap between us. Just a bit more and the warthog will be in the reach of my deadly strike. The feeble animal will only sense the danger when it's already too late. Fear will freeze its nerves and paralyze its muscles. A swift blow and nothing more. I'll return home with a bit more food for my family. I might be prideful but everything I do is for them. I am old, and I am fully aware that the future holds nothing for me anymore. I don't even expect to lead the family much longer. I only hope they won't cast me away when I lose the leadership.
Age brings weakness. Weakness brings a burden for all. The future belongs to the young ones. Just like it belonged to me in my good old days. This is how things work. This is how they have always worked. It's our way. Cruel way, perhaps, but it's one of the compromises we make for our survival. But as long as I can still hunt, I will still have a place within our family. The day I can't hunt, I won't matter anymore. I'll just be a burden for everyone else. I will be cast away and forgotten.
As my thoughts are wandering, I get distracted for a bit too long. I step forward through the tall grass and bushes trying to keep a low profile. Yet the warthog flinches. I freeze. I'm even holding my breath to avoid making even the slightest noise.
The fanged hog is motionless. Its eyes are sparkling. Its ears are focused, but not in my direction. The wind stops blowing. The atmosphere stands still. It's just a matter of time until the warthog will feel my presence.
Suddenly, it runs away. I lose its trail in the deep bushes ahead. I didn't move. I didn't even breathe. I am perfectly lying in wait, hiding in the shadows of the night. I don't understand how I failed. I've done everything right. Then, it hits me. I am not alone. Something else is in the tall grass, lured by the same easy prey. Yet the other hunter was clumsier and scared the warthog away.
I expect to see a young one from the family. I rise to see which youngster broke my rules. Punishment must be severe. I am Alpha! I make the rules. I can break them as I please. But not them! Without the rules, our family would collapse. They need to go by the book, otherwise, we're doomed.
My thoughts freeze as I stand up. There is nobody from my kind around me. Only hyenas. I stay still as they growl around me. I can't imagine I got myself into this situation. I broke one of my own basic rules and I am to pay the ultimate price for my arrogance. So stupid!
Hyenas are the most despicable creatures of all. Lowest of the low. I've seen plenty of times how they hunt. They come from all direction and distract their prey from one side as they bite from behind. They don't even strike to kill. They don't attack like other animals: swift and deadly.
No honor, no elegance, no mercy. They cripple and exhaust their prey until it's an easy kill. When their victim can't stand on its feet anymore, when it bleeds out and can't run or fight anymore, they just start to eat the prey alive. Aware of their weakness they rarely attack head-on. Cowardly and vicious beasts.
I've always thought about how my end would come. I always hoped it would be peaceful, surrounded by my loved ones. With the young ones around me as I fall asleep, only to wake up in the afterlife among my ancestors. There we would hunt together in the eternal fields, forever. Yet fate surprises us all. My end will be here, butchered by these horrible beasts... To hell with it all.
I look around. I know I won't be able to run. They are already squeezing the circle around me. I am trapped. I see those hideous mouth drooling through their fangs, growling at me. There is no escape for me. Not this time. There are simply too many of them. I'll just hold my ground.
I know that this will be the end of me. There is no such thing as heroic death as the young ones imagine. Only emptiness. In my case just my own pride that clouded my judgment. So stupid of myself to venture alone so far from my kind. But I won't cry. No... I won't beg. Not even to my ancestors who are surely watching me, amused by my foolish mistake. I won't run giving them the pleasure of killing me from behind. I'll give them the fight of their lives. I'll kill as many of them I can. I'm not going alone into the afterlife. I'll take with me as many as I can.
Their circle gets smaller around me. As they growl, they show their horrible and oversized fangs. Hunger drives these beasts mad. A younger one is getting closer. I jump swift straight forward and strike. The hyena's blood splashes my face as I give the fatal blow into its neck. Its aggressive growl is changing into the dying scream of a puppy as the last breath leaves its warm body, as it falls to the ground.
Despair and fear. That's how it sounded as I turned the living creature into a fresh corpse. My face is all covered in hyena's warm blood as I stare at the others. I lick with my tongue some dripping drops of the blood that is dripping down on my face, over my open mouth. The remaining ones are making a step back as I stare at them. They're afraid but their hunger is stronger than their fear. They won't give up. I know they won't stop until I am long dead and gone.
I feel the warm approach of a body behind me. As I killed the young inexperienced one another one sneaks in my behind. Before I get to turn around and chase the cowardly creature away, the beast bites my leg from high up, close to my hip. Flesh is hanging out of me unnaturally, as my own blood splashes out from my deep wound. I feel my warm blood over my skin. There is no pain. Not yet. The wound is deep. I knew this is how it will end. As I feel my own blood down my legs I know this is just the beginning of my end.
Another one gets close to me. But my feet are heavier now. My strike is slow. Not weaker. Just slower. As the beast evades my deadly blow, it runs among others. They all approach me more and more growling. Their aggressive barks are driving me mad. Only a few steps are separating me from them in all directions around me. The circle is getting more and more tight with each step they make. My death is near as those hunger driven mindless beasts are now getting closer.
Cowardly dreadful beasts! They don't hurry. And why would they? None of them is brave to attack me head on. They are afraid of me and they know time is on their side. I am bleeding out. Each moment is making me weaker. Each moment is making me an easier prey. If I would have just followed my own damn rules...
Another one strikes me from my left. I step on a side and turn fast in the direction of the attack. I still have enough life left in my veins. This one will come with me as well in the eternal plains. I almost smile deep down inside myself when I see another mindless creature underestimating my strength and will. A swift strike is all it takes. Another victim of my rage. Straight in the neck, just like the first one. Its blood flows abundantly from its throat as I release the dying animal. The hyena makes a few steps and collapses to the ground. Blood is pouring still from its sliced neck. I smile to myself satisfied with my kill. My entire face is now all covered in the blood of my victims.
Terrified, they all make a few steps back. I am no longer frustrated. Seeing and tasting their blood fuels my rage and blinds my judgment. I have no hopes that I am getting out of this alive. I am at peace with this. Even the mindless creatures know it well. The only question that lays ahead is how many will I be able to kill until they deliver the fatal wound that will incapacitate me so they can devour me alive. Maybe one? Perhaps two.
Oh, my ancestors... Give me the strength to take two more before I find my end here tonight. It's all I asked for you now in my weakest moment, right before I go. Two more kills... Nothing else. Afterward, I'll be ready to join you all and roam the eternal plains of afterlife together. Just two more of these despicable low creatures and I'll join the spirit world where all my ancestors are waiting for me.
The burning pain paralyzes my leg now. I can no longer lift it from the ground. The pain is getting unbearable. I try to shift my weight on the other side to ease the pain from my bleeding wound. The creatures are feeling my pain just as they are smelling my warm blood dripping slowly out of my body. The smell of my blood is driving them insane.
Another one is getting closer. I doubt that I'll have the strength to kill again, just as before. Yet not just this one is moving closer. As I look left and right I see clearly they are all approaching me at the same time. They are not so naive to make the same mistake for the third time I guess. I get weaker with each heartbeat, and they seem to get more cautious.
I guess I am not worthy enough as my prayers to my ancestors are being ignored. It doesn't matter. I won't beg to hyenas and I won't beg to the spirits of my ancestors either. I will meet my end standing high and fighting the starving beasts for as long as there is any life left in my veins.
A war cry scream breaks through the night just like the light of the full moon is breaking through the darkness. The hyenas froze. Their heads are turning into the direction of the scream. Another war cry follows. And another one. The entire night is flooded with the screams of my kind. My family is ranging forward towards me. Perhaps there is still hope for me. Maybe this is not the moment that is to be my last. I see now why my ancestors didn't listen to my prayers. A different fate awaits me.
I have never been so happy to see my family members as I am now. The hyenas are frightened. Between their hunger and their survival instinct, the second one is stronger. Just as I am not a match to them, they are no match for all of us. My entire family is charging as one through the plain, in perfect harmony like a huge living organism.
I see them rushing forward towards us. The fierce growl of the hyenas has changed into desperate cries. Now is their turn to be afraid. Now the cowardly beasts are running for their lives. The mighty predators are now prey, as I, alongside with my family members are reclaiming our rightful place on the top of the food chain.
The others are running further chasing the hyenas away from our lands. The further they will run, the better will be for all of us. We're better without those pests in our lands, devouring our prey. We don't need them as competition on our next hunt. All my family members are running forward, pushing the hyenas deeper into the night. My ancestors have granted my last wish it seems. A couple screams are betraying the desperation of some hyenas as they meet their demise, butchered by my family members that came to rescue me. I am so proud of them.
By my side, two of my sons are now inspecting the fresh corpses of the beasts that I managed to kill earlier by myself. They seem to be impressed with my kills. Yet they remain silent. But the lack of words is saying a lot. I broke the rules and they know it. The shame of my ignorance makes the silence almost unbearable. All the rest of our kind are chasing the hyenas away, further and further deeper into the darkness of the night.
Silent and ashamed, with my head down I can barely walk back home accompanied by my sons. We all keep quiet. We don't exchange any words. With each step I take, I am bleeding just more and more. Pain is excruciating but the shame is unbearable. I don't even think I am able to say anything anymore. I am getting cold and tired as I am losing too much blood. The last steps I barely take with my eyes closed as the pain and shame are way too much to bear.
I never expected to live this long. So many seasons I have seen as the leader of my numerous family. I try to step further alongside my two young sons. I am so proud of them. I love them so very much. But who am I fooling? They aren't young anymore. They are grownups for a long time by now. It's me who is just old. Old, stubborn and stupid. And tonight, I am to pay the price for it. I know I won't be seeing another sunrise ever again. I can barely walk along sides the others.
My injured back paw is hanging uselessly from my weak body. I can't even feel it anymore. I am just humping on my other three paws. I feel dizzy and very cold. I am losing way too much blood.
I am grateful the ancestors gifted me enough strength to crawl back to our den. I lay on a side, breathing deeply. I am too tired and I feel so cold, despite the warm night. It's such a strange feeling to smell your own warm blood as it's drifting away from the body soaked deep in my fur. I am bleeding out. My sons know it well as they sit close by my side.
I guess my ancestors granted my wish eventually. I find it somehow ironically. I am to pass away as I always hoped I will. The spirits of our ancestors are always kind and merciful. They fulfill my wishes once again, just that they always add some twisted details that I never get to think about. I am with my family, I truly am. Not all of them but still I find myself surrounded by family. I am to fall asleep for the last time. But I am in tremendous pain and I am surrounded only by two of my kind. The rest of the pack is out there, protecting our territory, our hunting ground.
I gather my strength and try to rise up one more time. I feel so weak and dizzy now. I only manage to rise on my front paws. My backside feels numb and so very cold now. At least I feel less pain as the cold embraces my body. I growl to the beauty of the full moon once more. My two sons start growl alongside with me. Soon the entire plain is erupting in the growls of dozens of lions scattered in the vast fields under the pale light of the full moon. We own it. All of it. My family rules undisputed over the vast plain under the moonlight. I am so proud of my family, my beloved lion pack.
I lay down as the two others are laying on my sides trying in vain to keep me warm with their own bodies. Yet it feels so cold... so very cold.