Disclaimer: This fanfiction story was written by me to entertain fans of the genre and other interested readers. The concept of The World of Darkness, ed., however, belong to White Wolf. I do not make any money by publishing these stories, I am just writing for fun.
The Huntress lay quietly in the grass, observing the soldiers in their blue fatigues. The dense undergrowth made it easy to hide her presence. Clumps of papyrus, bamboo and peach trees were scattered across the valley. However, the Simba chose to keep a reasonable distance. The soldiers might be able to sense her if she came too close. The special abilities some of them had, posed a greater threat than the heavy weaponry they carried along. The army humvee they used for transport was parked near the entrance of an orchard, together with some other vehicles. A grove of palm trees offered the soldiers the necessary shade and a pond served as a means to wash and refill Water tanks.
One of the soldiers, a dark woman with long brown hair and a slender build, stood at the edge of the pond. She casually took off her clothes, folded them, and made a neat pile, placing a heavy pistol on top. Then she entered the pond. At first she hesitated, but eventually she plunged into the water, screaming of joy. A second woman, an exceptionally tall caucasian with an athletic build, stood guard at the far bank. She was well armed, holding an automatic rifle, while carrying a rocket launcher across her shoulder. The Huntress was close enough to overhear their conversation.
"OH MY GOD! The water feels so wonderful. Why don't you put your weapon away and join me, Charlene?"
"I could use a good scrubbing, Carlotta. I've been sweating like an ox in that darn humvee." the tall woman on the bank answered, while adjusting her dark sunglasses. "But I will wait for you to finish first. I will not have the men catch us butt naked and off guard without our weapons at hand. One of us needs to keep them in check, or they might get out of line." She glanced across her shoulder toward the vehicles, where the other soldiers stood.
"Well, you know we don't have much time left. If we have to head out before you enter the water it's your loss! Spivey won't let anything happen to us, especially now he has a visitor. And if anything does happen, you know I will take care off it," the woman in the water continued. She turned toward the bank where her belongings lay. Suddenly the gun rose into the air. For a moment it hovered about a meter above the pile of clothes. Then it gradually descended until it lay still in its former spot.
The Huntress observed the small demonstration with caution. This woman called Carlotta could move things with her mind! She was one of the Bane infested humans the Pentex corporation used for soldiers. She had to make sure not to be spotted. The sun was already setting. It would be dark within the hour. The dusk might give her an opportunity to move closer to the vehicles without getting noticed... NO! She had not decided yet. She had not chosen a side, and would not take any major risks until she had.
The Huntress was alone. The Endless Storm, her former Pride, had abandoned her years ago. It had taken some time to get used to travelling all by herself. There were moments when she missed her Simba and lion pack mates, despite of what they had done to her. She dreamt about them frequently. Some dreams were pleasant, but most were horrible nightmares, where she relived the moment when they left her to die in the desert. That betrayal by ones so close to her had radically changed her view on life. She somehow had managed to escape death by dehydration, and her physical wounds had healed long ago. However, she had developed a gloominess that had almost consumed her will to live. After the demise of the members of her former Pride, that feeling of depression had gradually lessened, but she had serious doubts about trusting anyone ever again.
For a while now she had watched the Ahadi form, and observed the different factions in it. The Ahadi's defeat of the Endless Storm and their allies had caught her by surprise. She could hardly believe that the Bastet, Garou, Ajaba and Mokole had managed to set aside their differences and work together to reach a common goal. At a crucial moment she had jumped into the fray to claim justice. It had not brought her the personal satisfaction she had been looking for... The gloom had not disappeared with Black Tooth's death.
His death had neither meant a permanent change to the balance of power in the region. New rifts had appeared between the Ahadi factions. The Power vacuum had fuelled old rivalries. The Amadu'o Simba had chosen a new king, Thunder's Sovereign, who tried to reclaim their rightful spot as leaders of all the Fera in Africa. The Garou and Bubasti had returned their focus on hunting the vampires that had cursed them ages ago. The Bageera and Swara showed distrust, and distanced themselves from the Simba once more. The few Ajaba were divided in two camps. And the Mokole returned to the swamps, isolating themselves from the alliance.
The Huntress had observed the Wyrm too, and witnessed its raw power. Firstly, there was Pentex, a wicked global corporation that polluted the lands of Africa, stole its resources and send warped soldiers to hunt down its wildlife and Fera. Secondly, there were the vampires of the Walid Set, who had spread their influence across Egypt for ages. After Black Tooth's death they had been forced to withdraw to the dense cities and their hidden temples deep in the desert. However, recently they had become more active. They seemed to prepare for something important.
But there was something else... Creatures she had never seen before the fall of Healing Dawn. By coincidence she had been witness to the violent raid on the caern two days ago. The creatures that had breached the bawn's defences and slain the Garou inhabitants, could not have been Simba. They had many similarities with her kind, though. Some of them even looked like Werelions. Others were much smaller, like mountain cats. Many had distorted features or awkward coloured pelts. However, the level of violence the creatures had used against the inhabitants of the caern, was utterly despicable. The only other time she had witnessed such carnage, had been during Black Tooth's slaughter of the Ajaba at the Hyena King's Court. It had been the very moment she had refused to follow his orders...an action she had paid dearly for. She felt sick, and tried to force those memories out of her mind. No true Simba, not even the violent Amadu'o, would commit such a senseless slaughter ever again. Not unless they had fallen to the Wyrm.
After the raid the pride of Simba-like creatures had disappeared into the night, heading north. The team of Pentex soldiers, however, headed in an easterly direction. She initially wanted to follow the first group, curious as she was about the dark Simba, but eventually she decided to follow the soldiers. By carrying corpses of dead Simba to the battlefield, they played a rather sinister part in the operation. She was appalled by it, and the thought of interfering and putting a stop to their nasty practice, had crossed her mind several times. After a journey through the desert that had lasted nearly two days, the humvee and the truck had stopped in this valley, near the city of Cairo. About an hour ago a car and some motorcycles had arrived. It was obvious that the latter had come to meet the soldiers.
Suddenly the woman in the pond froze. She turned and stared in the Huntress' direction. The Simba held her breath, and pressed her body flat against the soil. Had she somehow been spotted? The woman at the far bank noticed her teammate's sudden vigilance. She lifted her machine gun and started circling the pond slowly, while searching the undergrowth for a possible threat. If they did discover her, she was in a predicament. She would be forced to attack. There was no more than six meters between her and the woman in the pond. She could easily jump this Carlotta and take her out, before the woman could do her damage. But that would mean giving the tall woman with the gun a clear shot. And once she landed in the water, it would take her even longer to reach the far bank and her second opponent. Moreover, the other soldiers would respond quickly if any shots were to be fired.
The Huntress tensed as something large was forcefully lifted into the air from the undergrowth less than two meters to her right. She glanced up at a crocodile, as it was held in mid air some meters above her by what seemed like invisible ropes.
"Well, look at that! I knew that something was wrong with this pond when I first entered. Look at the size of that monster," Carlotta uttered. The naked woman in the pool seemed to gain confidence while containing the reptile with her mind, and a cold grin formed on her face. She turned out to be a lot stronger than the Simba had initially estimated.
"Nice catch, girl! Now let me handle it. Just keep her still for me." Charlene took a shooting stance, aimed her automatic rifle, and fired three short bursts. The Huntress covered her eyes with a paw in a reflex as the animal's blood rained down in small drops, covering papyrus leaves as well as her fur. A moment later the remains of the dead crocodile were dropped right beside her. Its head and torso were filled with bullet holes. "I bet you that was at least seven points, " the tall woman yelled.
"Are you crazy? You kill that tiny croc with some bursts of your rifle, and you start bragging about seven points? No more than five, Charlene!"
The undergrowth not far from the tall woman stirred and a second crocodile was lifted into the air. Charlene obviously had not spotted the reptile before, and jumped sideways into the pond in reflex. She cursed when she realised her pants were soaked. She slowly waded toward her teammate, keeping her gun aimed at her levitating prey. Another burst followed, and the dead animal was dropped on the bank like a sack of potatoes.
Meanwhile a third crocodile slid into the water of the pond, making its way toward the two women. Both Carlotta and Charlene screamed with pleasure and a moment later the beast was lifted into the air, like its kin before him. Charlene hung her rifle across her shoulder, grabbed her rocket launcher, and aimed it at the reptile, while bragging some more about points...
The Huntress used the moment to escape the violent scene. She rose and stealthily trotted away through the brush. Her feline form blended well with the leaves, twigs and bamboo stems. Soon she was well away from the rabid soldiers. However, the protective undergrowth seemed to lead her toward the vehicles. She glanced to her left, where she saw a big patch of open terrain. Nothing there to hide behind. To her right another soldier rushed past her toward the pond. No safe retreat there either. She had no choice but to approach the vehicles. Maybe she could pass them without being noticed and escape through the orchard, ahead?
When the Simba reached the far edge of the undergrowth, she halted for a moment to observed her surroundings. In front of her a concrete road passed through the valley from East to West. On this side of the road the humvee was parked, while on the opposite side a large truck stood in the shadow of some palm trees. A bit further to the east a black Range Rover stood to the right side of the road. Two Off-Road motorcycles were parked behind it. A small group of soldiers stood next to the Range Rover, talking. It was getting dark, and she could hardly see them from this distance. The Huntress did not spot anyone near the humvee or the truck. She would probably be able to cross the road and enter the orchard unnoticed. There was certainly no way back.
The Huntress finally left the protective brush and trotted toward the orchard. When she was halfway, she noticed movement at the entrance. A soldier was leaning against an iron fence, while smoking a cigarette. In his right hand he held a machine gun. He was not facing her at the moment, but the odds that he would turn and spot her before she reached him, were significant. Should she take him down despite the risk of being shot and injured? She glanced at the group of soldiers near the Range Rover. They seemed to be moving her way now, but it was hard to tell in this darkness. The Simba did not waste another moment, and rushed toward the truck. When she arrived at the vehicle's rear, she noticed the lid was fastened, barring her entry. She quickly changed into her human form, untied the lid's cords with her hands, and climbed inside. From within she refastened the lid. The soldiers would not suspect a Simba to take refuge in their truck. She hoped they would not decide to check its cargo, but if they did...she would not go down without a fight!
Shari gazed at the lone creature running toward their position. The hot rays of the desert sun shone on the Ajaba's muzzle, and he yearned for some water. "What do you make of it, Ironjaw?", he asked, while he let his tongue stick out of his mouth, panting.
"It looks much like a Simba, but something tells me that it is not. Its scent is different, ...tainted!", his fellow Ajaba answered him with a hoarse voice. Shari's nose had not served him well since he had suffered a severe injury during a skirmish with a cornered Simba two months ago. He had managed to kill the Werelion, and his body had recovered, except for his snout which seemed permanently effected. But he trusted Ironjaw's sense of smell on stakeouts like this one. She had been right on previous occasions.
Moreover, there was something odd about a Simba running this far into the desert all by itself. Werelions always ran with their Pride. If you spotted one, others would certainly be lurking about, ready to jump you. However, the area here consisted of low sanddunes and shallow valleys in between. There was no real vegetation to speak of, which meant no useful cover to hide behind. He and his packmate had chosen the highest dune overlooking a route that was regularly used by travellers crossing this part of the desert. The turret of a rusty tank, probably destroyed and left behind during WWII, was their only cover.
"Could this be an ambush in any way?", he asked his packmate. He needed to be sure, and he had come to value Ironjaw's opinion. The two of them had joined forces out of mere necessity. The Ajaba had been brought to the brink of extinction during the battle at the Hyena King's court, years ago. The few survivors had scattered across the lands and were still being hunted down by the Simba. Shari carried great resentment toward the Bastet for their atrocity. He swore to take revenge on all Werecats, but had come to realized he could not accomplish such a grand task all by himself. Ironjaw shared his resentment, and they had agreed to work together. She had her own views on how to accomplish their goals, but he knew he could trust her judgement.
"I seriously doubt that! We would have spotted any other Bastet in the immediate vicinity by now. And they would be upwind, so I would have caught their scent, like I caught this one's."
Shari nodded thoughtfully. "Let us take him out than," he barked, and rose from their hidingplace on the sanddune. He stepped on top of the steel turret, and started a chuckle that became louder and louder. Eventually it turned into the mad laughter only an Ajaba could produce. Laughter of the Soul was a powerful gift that caused fear in the hearts of any opponent, however brave. The creature halted and froze for a moment. Then it glanced around in confusion, until it finally spotted him. Shari had the urge to attack immediatelly, but he managed to control himself. It would be foolish to just storm this creature, without backup. If it wasn't a Simba but a servant of the Wyrm, it could be something very nasty. He remembered his previous encounters with hideous things in these lands. Things that could have crawled straight out of a nightmare. He touched his snout with his paw, to remind himself not to underestimate his opponent...ever again.
He noticed Ironjaw was gone. His fellow Ajaba had used the moment to rush down the other side of the sanddune, out of the creatures line of sight. She would circle their enemy's position, and attack it from behind. The woman preferred to fight in her human form during expeditions like these. She was very skilled with the assegai and a dagger she carried with her. Shari would rather use his claws and fangs to kill, than a piece of cold metal. He was easily the most powerful Ajaba left alive in this part of the continent. However, he realized there were still some Bastet that could match him in raw physical strenght. That was why he had chosen to team up with Ironjaw. She did complement him well for the task that lay ahead.
Suddenly the creature released a powerful roar that appeared to bolster up its courage. When it tried to continue its path past Shari, the Ajaba decided it was time to engage his enemy. He jumped off of the turret and ran down the slope of the sanddune to cut it off. It gave him an opportunity to study the creature from upclose. Whatever it was, it must have been Simba once... Lion manes flowed prominently along its giant head and shoulders. Its torso was large, made up of powerful muscles and solid bones. Moreover, its roar resembled the roars Shari had heard during his previous encounters with Werelions. A sound very different from other Bastet.
But there were distinctions too. Odd ones. The creature's pelt and manes were a dark red colour, that made Shari think of freshly spilled blood. No Simba would want to be seen with such a stained pelt. Its profile was also slightly disfigured, similar to the distorted form of a Metis. The beast's eyes were an unusual green, like emeralds, and its tongue was thin and awkwardly long, with a forked tip like that of a snake. The tongue hung down from its beak, pushing out between two sharp fangs in its lower jaw. The creature was darn ugly for a Werelion.
The red Simba seemed intend on protecting a cotton travelbag that hung across its shoulder. It kept one paw on the top flap as if to make sure it was still shut. That meant something valuable must be inside.
Shari rushed forward and struck his opponent with a powerful claw attack. The red Simba managed to evade the attack by quickly turning away. It was obvious now that it tried to avoid combat, but he would not let it escape. The Ajaba launched forward with his beak. His fangs closed around the leather shoulderstrap of the travelbag and cut straight through. The bag dropped in the hot sand. Shari stopped and eyed it with interest. That caused the creature to turn in alarm. It released another roar, full of terror and desperation, and finally it rushed at him. Shari brazed himself for a bloody fight with his enemy. But just before the red Simba reached him, it froze...and fell forward in the sand like a heavy log...dead. The shaft of an assegai stuck out from its upper back, the blade buried deep in its torso.
"I aimed for the upper spine to paralyze it, but I think I impaled its heart too. It went down without a sound. Are you alright?", he heard Ironjaw shout at him. His packmate walked over to the corpse to examine it. When she was sure the creature was dead, she took out her dagger, cut off a strand of its redish manes, and put her trophy away in a little plastic canister. Then she pulled her assegai free and started cleaning off the blood with an old cloth.
"Yes, I am fine. That wasn't much of a fight anyway. You killed it just when it started to show some resistence. Oh, well," Shari answered her. He turned his attention to the bag. He changed into his human form, crouched, and pulled the cotton object toward him. Then he opened it quriously. The first thing he found was a steel drink bottle. It was filled to the brim with water. He took it out and drank his fill, pouring the remainder across his face. What he discovered next made him frown.
"Diamonds! The bag is full of them. Leather sacks with tiny ones, and one sack with large ones. They must be worth a fortune together!" he exclaimed.
Ironjaw joined him and examined their find. She shook her head while stroking a hand through her brisky hair. "I'm confused. What would a lone Simba like our red friend here do with a fortune like this in the middle of a desert? He must be a courier of some sort."
"But a courier for whom? For his Pride? Or maybe he is working for a Wyrm faction? You said he was tainted..."
"There is only one way to find out. He was heading north, right? What is north of this desert?"
"Well, two days north of here is Healing dawn caern. It is managed by a Garou sept. I never went there, because we had our hands full with the Bastet south of here, and I didn't wanna involve the Garou."
"I guess there needs to be a first time for everything. We have been hiding in this desert for months now, sniping off an occasional Bastet that passes through. What did we accomplish apart from a few kills and a collection of empty water bottles? How can we ever change things if we stay here?"
"So you want us to go north and search for the courier's employer? How does that help our goal?"
"Well, for starters we could travel to Healing dawn. There we make contact with the Garou, and find out what we can. If we stay here the trail might grow cold, or the Simba's employer will come here in full force to look for his treasure and dig the two of us out eventually. What use are diamonds in the middle of the desert? We could put them to good use in a village or city though. We could use them to win Ajaba, Garou and other shapeshifters for our cause.
Shari nodded while he put the sacks savely back in the bag. His packmate was right. There was no reason to stay here anymore. The diamonds offered them a chance to really change things for the Ajaba in these lands. It was time to move on and take his... well, their battle to the next level. Moments later he followed Ironjaw north, pulling the corpse of the red Simba along behind him.
The Huntress stood in the back of the moving truck, supporting herself with one hand, while holding a large flashlight in the other. She was busy examining the cargo. The heavy, wooden crates had been piled up three layers high, the piles forming a short but solid wall. Each crate had a company logo branded on the side boards. The name King Breweries and Distilleries was prominently present, next to Nastrum Enterprises. The Simba had heard or read those names before, but she didn't recall where exactly. In her human form she could just reach the lid of the top crates and peek inside. The first one was filled with four large devices. They looked like oddly shaped vacuum cleaners to her. However, she suspected these to have a different purpose. They radiated a foul smell that she would recognize anywhere. Wyrm taint! The Huntress quickly closed the lid and went on to inspect the next pile. The upper crate turned out to be filled with firearms. She recognized pistols, handguns, but also larger weapons. The top crate of the third pile revealed food. Cans of beans, instant coffee, plastic vessels of water, packets of vitamin bars and bottles of liquor. These soldiers carried enough supplies with them to be able to survive for months in a hostile environment. That's when she realized that the vehicle was slowing down.
The Simba instantly dropped the lid and glanced around her, searching the cargo area with her flashlight for the best place to hide. The crates she had opened were filled to the brim, and there were no other large objects in the truck. She switched off the light and placed it on the floor where she had found it. Then she changed into her feline form and lay down behind the wall of crates. Here she would not be visible from the entrance at the vehicle's rear. But if a soldier decided to take a peek inside, she would eventually be forced to confront him.
The Huntress rubbed a paw across her muzzle in frustration. She was fed up with her lonely journey through the lands of Africa. Anywhere she went, she was confronted with some form of deep misery or grave injustice. Somehow she had felt responsible, as if it was up to her to act in order to change things. But every time her head had filled with doubts and selfpity, which caused her to flee the scene and leave creatures behind to suffer and die. Why was it so hard for her to choose a side in this conflict? It was as if she was cursed by her former affiliation with Black Tooth. She remembered his final words to her. He had said that she, like him, had become part of the Wyrm. Maybe he had been right all along?
The Simba felt how the truck came to a full stop. She could hear voices outside. Some of those voices she recognized as those of the soldiers she had been spying on earlier that day. They were issuing commands and shouting threats. She heard someone untying the cords of the canvas truck cover from the outside. A moment later it was pushed aside and artificial light filled the cargo area. That light obviously came from the headlights of other vehicles nearby. Then something was lifted into the back of the truck and shoved further inside. She heard a man's voice. "The drugs from the tranquilizer dart have deprived you of your strenght, Ajaba." The soldier kept silent for a short moment. He seemed busy with something. Was he tying someone up? "You won't be able to walk, let alone shapeshift. You can talk, but any real effort to shout or crawl away could cause you to lose consciousness. So be a good girl and stay put until I come and get you later. Do we have a deal, or do I need to rough you up a bit first?"
The Huntress frowned. So one of the soldiers had brought a prisoner? A Werehyena? If that prisoner was important enough to be kept alive, she must be very valuable to these violent people. The Simba waited until the man had closed the canvas cover. Darkness filled the cargo area once more. She could hear the soldier whistling outside the truck as he made his way to the driver's cabin. Only when she heard him open the cabin door, she dared approach the prisoner. Not that she was scared. Just careful. The Huntress glanced around the corner of the pile of crates. On the floor near the canvas lay a dark figure. She trotted toward the flashlight in her feline form, and changed back into her human form to pick it up and switch it on. When the Simba pointed the light at the prisoner, she frowned. In front of her lay a young, dark woman with long braided hair. She was pretty, but clearly drugged. She had trouble keeping her eyes open and could hardly lift her head up. A rope, fastened to the woman's left leg, tied her to a metal ring on the corner beam. There was initial surprise in the prisoner's eyes the moment she noticed the Huntress' presence. At that moment shots were fired outside. One bullet scraped the canvas, causing the Werelion to change into her Crinos form by instinct.
"You are...a Simba," the young woman stuttered.
"And you are an Ajaba," the Huntress replied, remembering the soldiers words. She observed the woman's response and expected fear and animosity, but was surprised by the woman's calm response.
"My name is Kisasi."
"My name is the Huntress. You should...hate me! I am responsible for the death of many of your kin." The words had come out before she had been able to think them through. However, they were closer to the truth than anything else she could have said. Gloom took hold of her once more. She braced herself for an outburst of anger, but the young Ajaba surprised her again. Kisasi only studied her.
"Come here, Huntress. Let me have a closer look at you."
The Simba hesitated for a moment. Was it safe to approach the Ajaba just like that? She knew first hand that Werehyenas, especially the female ones, could be formidable opponents. But this one was drugged and tied up. Moreover, she seemed utterly calm. Her doubts were dissipated and she walked toward Kisasi to finally crouch in front of her. She felt the truck shake for a moment and could hear the engine roll. The vehicle started moving again and seemed to make a wide turn.
"I can feel there is much goodness in you, Huntress. You are clearly a proud and strong Simba in nature," Kisasi whispered, while she showed a kind smile that was partly distorted by her drowsy eyes falling shut. The Ajaba managed to recover, staying erect despite the drugs in her blood, and her face showed concern. "However, I also see a deep sadness in your eyes. You seem to carry a weight on your shoulders that is eating away your soul slowly but surely."
"I...have done some things in the past. Things I am not proud of and that have haunted me ever since," the Simba managed to say, before she choked on her words. Her head hurt from the painful memories that filled her mind. The slaughter of so many Ajaba at the Hyena King's Court, the Endless Storm abandoning her in the desert, her final fight with Black Tooth, the Gloom remaining after his death, burning villages and caerns, crocodiles shot dead by trigger-happy soldiers, senseless violence...
"The weight you carry is heavier than Mount Kilimanjaro. You cannot carry a Mountain all by yourself, Simba. You must let it go. Let me help you. I forgive your past crimes here and now! In return I will ask you to join my cause. I am on my way to an important meeting in Cairo. Will you accompany me to the capital?
The Huntress frowned as she realized the Gloom was gone. The painful memories were still there, but not as prominent as before. It was as if they had been forced back to retake their regular positions in the brilliant puzzle that was her mind. She felt stronger than ever before. The cause the Ajaba had offered her, had freed her. "Yes, Kisasi, I will join your cause!"
The Ajaba forced another smile and clearly had trouble staying conscious. "I have one request, Huntress. Two of my friends are fighting those soldiers outside in an attempt to save me. Please help them escape capture and death." The next moment Kisasi collapsed. The truck had finished the turn and slowly increased its speed.
The Huntress did not waste any more time. She shifted back in her human form and untied the rope from the Ajaba's leg. Then she crouched next to Kisasi, grabbing the young woman by the arms and lifting her on her back. The Simba rose and stumbled toward the rear entrance, where she untied the lid's cords again. Carefully she lowered Kisasi across the edge until she hung less than a meter above the road. Then the Huntress let go. The Ajaba dropped on the road and was quickly swallowed by the darkness. The Huntress quickly changed into her feline form and jumped out of the truck herself. Once she stood on the road, she glanced after the truck. The backlights faded into the night.