After a long period of waiting, the action started to pick up on track again as Bilauri ambushed the zebra on the frontstretch. It was a successful hunt and the Ngorongoro lioness lined her way back up behind Shairi and Lenny. A buffalo was up next. Lenny looked unsettled.
"Mind going after this one, Shairi?" he asked.
"Sure, no problem," the Lionrock lioness replied.
"Thanks. You know, it's just that my brother always told me that buffalo were a bit big for me…and whenever I try to take one down I usually fail so he's probably right, you know?"
Shairi nodded as a response, acknowledging that she understood. She set herself up to pounce.
"I mean I always like taking advice from my bigger brother, you know. I mean, he's from the same family as me so he has the same values, yet he has more experience than me so he knows what the right thing to do is, you know? Just like your sister probably…"
"Lenny, hush!" whispered Bilauri angrily, standing to the right side of him. "Can't you see she's trying to hunt?"
"Oh…right…sorry," Lenny stated apologetically. "Hope I didn't distract you Sha—" a lioness took off from her ambushing post and began chasing the buffalo down. "—iri."
The Lionrock lioness wasted no time in making her attack, knowing that she needed to get the buffalo down before she passed Eboni in ambush. However, she hadn't positioned herself on the buffalo's back as well as she needed to, and thus she was still struggling for grip as the buffalo stumbled on by Eboni.
Eboni refused the chase and remained set in her ambushing post, allowing Shairi to take the ten points, but the last laugh would be for her. Shairi was now behind Eboni in ambush.
"Rats!" exclaimed Bilauri.
"Really? Where?" asked Lenny, looking down at his feet.
"No…it's a…never mind. Geez, this stinks! Our team is broke and we're far away from the prey release point! We're never going to win at this rate!"
"Then we need to get back to the prey release point," Lenny stated.
Bilauri sighed. "It would appear that that's our only hope," she confessed. She looked back on down the straight. The zebra was the next piece of prey on its way, with the buffalo close behind it and the antelope also coming around after completing an uneventful lap around the track.
"We've got to start a chase," Bilauri stated.
"Right, and get the three pieces of prey down for ourselves!" Lenny exclaimed, following Bilauri's plan.
"Mm…not quite," Bilauri replied. "See…yes, we've got to get them down…but we've got to wait until we're back at the prey-release point to make our move…that way we'll be back there when the new prey is released."
Simba and Nala came running out of the final corner, finishing up their laps around the track.
"Fantastic!" Simba exclaimed, panting as he and his mate came to a halt, opposite the prey-release point. "We're the only ones in ambush! All the points will soon be ours!"
Nala nodded in agreement, crouching down to the ground as she tried to catch her breath back.
"Here they go," noted Simba, watching Bilauri and Lenny move out in a chase for all three pieces of prey. "You want me to get the first piece?" Simba asked, knowing that a new piece of prey would be released as soon as the others took one down. "You look exhausted."
Nala was about to reply with an affirmative answer, but was stopped as something caught her eye.
Bilauri was right on the hind heels of the zebra, yet was making no attempt to try and attack it.
Nala's eyes widened.
"Th—they're leaving them up!" she stammered. "They're not going to bring them down yet, Simba, they're going to try and wait for them all to get here first, that way they can score points when the new prey is released too!"
Simba cocked an eyebrow. He didn't quite agree with Nala.
"I'm sure that may be the strategy for some of them, Nal'," he replied, "but surely it can't be the strategy for all of them?"
Out of the six competitors in the chase, Eboni had the most energy and, consequently, the most speed. Yet, like Bilauri and Lenny, she was hanging back, knowing that if a new piece of prey was released, Nala would easily take it down, and she was competing with Nala for the lead.
Shairi's lightweight was also giving her a speedy advantage. Unlike the others, she was making good use of this fact, as she ran the zebra down and closed in for the attack. After all, Simba was her teammate, so it would be in her team's favor if she let him have control of the track for a while.
"Shairi, no!" exclaimed Shemshi, running up alongside his friend. "He's not your teammate anymore, he passed you up for Nala! Wait until we get to the frontstretch before you take it down!"
Shairi hadn't communicated a lot with Shemshi during the event but, in all the years she'd known him, he'd never lied to her. Shairi backed off and joined the rest of the competitors in just pacing themselves behind the prey.
The sixth competitor, Elvis, was also quite far behind in points now, and so was in full support of the idea of waiting until the frontstretch to make his move.
"Well…" said Simba, "…this sucks."
Nala shook her head in disappointment. "The only bright side I can see is that we'll have more energy than them. But I don't know how much that's going to help."
"You'll have more energy than Eboni," Simba pointed out. "Really, that's all you've got to worry about. The rest of us are a bit farther behind."
"If I let my guard down for two seconds that could all change," Nala replied. "Shemshi and Eboni have energy and Elvis has ruthlessness. I'm not safe. None of us are."
"What about me?" asked Simba, curious as to how his mate thought he stacked up in this.
Nala chuckled. "Why, you've got the greatest asset of all," she replied.
The antelope led the zebra led the buffalo coming through turn three, followed by a hungry crowd of six competitive lions. What everyone wanted to know was who was going to make their move first?
The answer soon came as the field came out of turn four. Shairi, who was still a bit skeptical of Shemshi's claim, made her move. Shemshi and Elvis followed, then Eboni, Bilauri and Lenny.
Knowing speed was her strong point, Shairi ran all the way up towards the antelope before putting on an extra sprint and aiming at its neck. However, the Lionrock lioness had lost a lot of energy during the chase, and fell short as she pounced for the creature. Shairi fell onto the ground and got plastered with clumps of mud as the rest of the field stormed on by, chasing the three pieces of prey.
Eboni, who was the only other competitor with the pace to match that of the antelope, had already homed in on the buffalo, leaving the antelope as an easy pick for Simba or Nala.
However, she was not the only lion that had gone for the buffalo: Elvis and Shemshi were already hogging its tail.
Knowing what Elvis was capable off, Shemshi backed off as soon as he saw Elvis make his move. The Dixieland lion brought the buffalo down dead for ten points, making the first kill of the chase.
Meanwhile, Bilauri was leading Lenny in the chase for the zebra. As the track straightened out, the Ngorongoro lioness put on an extra sprint and was able to take the zebra down for ten points.
A new zebra and buffalo were released onto the circuit right as the antelope was running on by the prey-release point.
Simba and Nala went for the antelope, but Lenny, Shemshi and Eboni were now with them.
Knowing her mate was behind her in points, Nala backed off and let Simba take the antelope down. She checked over her shoulder to see if the zebra or buffalo were available, but Lenny has already taken down the zebra and Shemshi had just killed the buffalo.
They had little time to waste though. The rest of the competitors were already coming on down the straight.
"Alright Pumbaa, let's think before we place our bets this time…Juveda and Tonka didn't do us much good," commented Timon, standing with his buddy next to a set of fifteen paw prints again.
"Well," said Pumbaa, "it would be nice if someone would tell us who these paw prints belonged to."
Timon sighed. "Pumbaa, Pumbaa, Pumbaa. No one needs to tell us. We already know!"
"You do?" Pumbaa asked back, enthusiastically. "Well I think you should pick then."
"Alrighty, sounds good to me!" Timon replied. "I pick this one!" he exclaimed, pointing at a paw print in the ground.
Zazu, who had been standing opposite the duo, placed his face in his wings.
"Timon," he replied, sighing, "that paw print belongs to Linda. She quit right at the start of the game."
"I knew that," the meerkat retorted. "I was just testing."
"Look, just put the bugs on Eboni's print," Zazu told him. "Either Eboni or Nala is going to win. If Eboni wins, you win a lot of bugs. If she doesn't, then that mean Nala won!"
"Or we can just place them on Elvis's print!" Pumbaa thought. "He's the only one we don't like. So it's a win-win if we place the bugs on his print."
"Ah, that's good thinking there!" Zazu commemorated.
"No, no, no," Timon replied. "I liked the bird's idea. Let's place all these bugs on Eboni's print. After all…"
The trio turned around as they heard the crowd's exclamation. As they looked down on the circuit, they saw a massive dust cloud and clumps of mud being flown into the air as a coffee-colored lioness crashed down onto the ground.
"Is that Eboni?" exclaimed Pumbaa.
"Oh dear," said Zazu, patting his wings together nervously, "there've been far too many injuries in this game. I'll fly down to Sarafina and ask her what happened."
As he'd promised, the blue hornbill took off into the air and flew down to where an alert Sarafina and Tumaini were standing on the hill, watching the game unfold.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Eboni fell off while trying to take the antelope down and got hit in the head by the zebra," Tumaini replied. "I think she's unconscious."
"Did anyone push her off?"
"No," Sarafina replied. "It was an honest mistake. Eboni just messed up. I think she's just knocked out. If so, that's great! That'll give Nala a chance to pull away. But…I hope that's all it is…"
The crowd watched anxiously as the track workers ran out from the sidelines and up to the motionless lioness.
A muffled silence broke across the four rolling hills as all of the spectators watched the workers intently, wondering what they were going to do with the lioness.
A couple of minutes passed this way without any hunts breaking out on the circuit. Then…the track workers got up.
Hastily, they turned around, and made their ways out towards the infield, leaving Eboni on the track.
The quiet murmurs that had been being passed through the grandstands now picked up in excitement. Zazu looked up at Sarafina. She was beaming. Tumaini looked over at her fellow rival too. They knew what this meant.
"Your daughter's got a good chance now, Sarafina," Tumaini stated. "When she lines up in ambush here again…you should probably go down and give her a little pep talk. Just make sure she doesn't get injured, and she'll do fine."
Meanwhile, Timon and Pumbaa had been watching the whole spectacle unfold from the top of the hill.
"Well thank goodness she's still in!" Pumbaa exclaimed.
"Yeah, but she could still beat Simba's friend," Timon noted. "I say we bet these bugs on her still. She may still yet win."
"Eh…I don't think so Timon. She seems to be quite still. Let's place them on Elvis!"
"I say Eboni, and so it's Eboni!" Pumbaa exclaimed.
Timon shrugged. "Alright, whatever suits your fancy," he replied.
"Great!" Pumbaa exclaimed back, pushing the bugs into Eboni's paw print. "Hey…wait a minute!"
Elvis and Lenny were now the first two lions lined up in ambush as a new set of prey wandered on by them.
"Well…eh…what say we, uh, box and bundle these three pieces to our own?" Elvis suggested to his teammate.
"Will that work?" Lenny asked back.
"As far as Ah can see there's only one way we're gonna find out," replied the Dixieland lion.
Lenny smiled back. "Sounds good to me!" he exclaimed.
Shairi was the third lion lined up in ambush. She watched as Lenny and Elvis ran out, with Elvis guarding the right flank and Lenny running up from behind. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity of three pieces of prey, Shairi broke ranks and began to hunt them down. She soon gave up the chase, however, as she began to catch on to what they were doing. They were using teamwork. Or…at least…that's what Shairi would have called it if she had thought any better of Elvis. She knew that it was unlikely that this lion was up to any good, and so she gave in the chase and returned to an ambushing post, letting Elvis and Lenny have their fun for now.
The two 'teammates' continued to run on by the other competitors as the rest remained set in their ambushing posts. Shairi, meanwhile, continued to trot on down the sidelines until she had caught up with her own teammate.
"So what's your plans now then?" Shairi asked Simba. "I think the whole zebra thing is still working well if you ask me."
Simba sighed. "Shairi…look, it's been great working with you and all…but…I'm not your teammate anymore. I'm working with Nala now."
Shairi shrugged her shoulders. "I kind of figured that was the case," she confessed. "I was just testing."
"So what's their strategy?" Simba asked, looking back over at Elvis and Lenny.
"What do you mean what's their strategy?" Shairi sneered. "It's all Elvis's plan. Watch, he's going to give Lenny a shove and take all thirty points for himself."
"And…we're going to stand by and let that happen?" Simba asked back.
"Why not? It's not like Elvis has a lot of points. He's not going to win."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Simba cautioned, refocusing his attention on the two teammates. "He'll win if he's the only one that finishes."
"Then go for him," Shairi suggested. "If that's what you feel you need to do."
"I think it may be," Simba confessed. Before he took off after them, however, he knew there was something he needed to say. He turned back around to face his former teammate.
"Hey Shairi, thanks for all your help today. Now, I'm going to play as hard as I can during these final ninety minutes…and I'm going to do everything I can in order to beat you. But…if I fail, and you do win, I would be honored to be the first lion to shake your paw."
Shairi smiled back. "I look forward to it," she replied.
Nala watched as Elvis and Lenny ran on by, but then was furious as she watched her mate follow on behind them.
"What on Earth? Way to go, Simba. So much for protecting your ambushing post."
Simba knew that this was not the ideal call for him to make, but he just didn't trust Elvis with this. Lenny could be in severe danger…
The duo had ran up to the front of the chase and were setting up an attack on the antelope.
"Lenny, you're faster," Elvis noted. "You run in front of the antelope and box him in, then I'll-ah attack him from behind."
Lenny nodded in acknowledgement, and then ran off to put the plan into action.
Meanwhile, Simba was still chasing them down from behind.
Lenny boxed the antelope back and Elvis made his attack. He timed it beautifully and brought the antelope down to the ground for ten points, while the zebra and buffalo ran on by.
Wasting as little time as possible, Elvis was quickly back up onto his feet and rejoined Lenny in chasing the zebra down.
The only one that's really dangerous is the buffalo, thought Simba. I should just go for that now.
Lenny and Elvis were beginning to home in on the zebra, but Lenny was starting to have second thoughts.
"Elvis…shouldn't you go for the buffalo? I can get this one down on my own but not the buffalo. If you go for the buffalo, we'll both get ten points."
Elvis acted as if he hadn't heard Lenny's idea. He put on an extra sprint and charged down the zebra.
Realizing that he was out of luck as far as the zebra was concerned, Lenny began to slow up and waited for the buffalo to go on by.
It never came, however, it had already been taken down by Simba.
Elvis had also scored with the zebra, meaning that three new pieces of prey had just been released.
The antelope was the first piece of prey to make its way on by Nala. The Prideland Queen let it pass, knowing that better opportunities awaited her.
Bilauri was next in line, and was 50 points out of the lead. Therefore, the decision was already made for her. She had to go for the antelope. Shairi joined her in the chase while Shemshi remained in his ambushing post.
Shairi had a better lead that Bilauri but the Ngorongoro lioness had a better pace.
Shairi watched as the rookie lioness passed on by her, dwindling the Lionrock veteran's chances of winning a Siku Choka.
Not today you don't.
Shairi found an extra pocket of energy within herself, and picked up the pace. She passed Bilauri back on by and quickly made her attack on the antelope. It was a success! The Lionrock lioness moved back ahead of Bilauri in points.
Meanwhile, Nala had now made her move for the zebra, with Shemshi joining her in pursuit. Shemshi still had some extra energy stored within him thanks to his long nap earlier, and thus was able to put on an extra sprint and take the zebra down, denying Nala of ten points.
Nala grunted as she wandered over to the sidelines, disappointed in herself for losing the hunt and putting so much space in between her and the prey-release point.
"Thought this was meant to be fun?" Simba reminded his mate as she sat down next to him on the outside of the track.
"The chases are fun," Nala confessed, "the friends you make are fun," she added, "it's just the friends and chases that you lose that are disappointing."
As if on cue, a group of track workers made their ways out from the sideline and up towards Eboni. This caught many of the competitors off-guard. Nothing had happened to the lioness since her accident; what could possibly be wrong now?
"Oh…" Simba murmured, watching the action, "Kanafa's with them."
Indeed, the elder cheetah that was running the whole event had made his way out onto the track and gone up to Eboni.
"Guess he's going up for a second opinion?" Simba asked, looking back at his mate.
Nala, however, didn't reply. Her eyes were affixed on the action. She wasn't even blinking, and Simba couldn't blame her. As much as they both wished that she would be okay, there was the sickening, but yet very real, truth that if Eboni was removed from the event, Nala's odds of winning would be increased immensely.
While they were waiting, a blue hornbill flew down from the sky above and landed at their paws.
"Zazu!" Simba exclaimed, surprised to see his majordomo on the circuit. "Are you allowed out here?"
"I am if I am reporting an injury to the track workers," Zazu replied. "Are you injured?"
"Very good. Well…" Zazu commented, smiling slyly a little bit, "…since I'm down here anyways, I might as well report that if Eboni is removed, Shemshi is your biggest threat in second, but if he ends up helping Shairi too much he could be hurting himself. That's what Tumaini says anyways."
"Alright Zazu," Simba replied quietly, biting his lip and glancing around nervously, "I'm pretty sure you're not meant to be telling us all this…you should probably get back to the pride."
"Oh, absolutely sir!" Zazu agreed. "But, you know, I care very well about the well-being of the Pridelands' royal subjects. If I see either of you two limping, I'll be down to check on you," the hornbill explained, winking at the Prideland king.
"Check on us?"
"Yeah…you know…make sure you're okay…maybe talk about a couple…other…things…"
"ZAZU!" snapped Nala, finally breaking out of her trance, "that's cheating!"
"You're asking us to fake our injuries so you can fly down on the circuit and give us Tumaini's strategy…that's cheating."
"Look, if either of us win this Siku Choka, we're going to want to say we earned it…having you hand out free advice to us during the game on track isn't exactly in the rule book."
"Well it isn't exactly isn't either."
"Oh for heaven's sake!"
"Hey, Nala, I think Zazu actually had a good plan here," Simba confessed, interrupting his mate. "I mean, who's to say the other prides aren't doing the same thing?"
"You see other birds flying down from the sky telling competitors' strategies?"
"No…" confessed Simba, "…but…I do see a lioness lying down on the ground, which may or may not actually be injured, and may just be faking her injury to lull you into a false sense of a secure lead. I see…a lioness whose sister retired from the game and is now able to provide her with updates and strategic tips, and I see a lion that's injured a bunch of other competitors in order to get rid of competition. In comparison, is what Zazu's doing really that much worse?"
Nala took a step towards Simba and took a hold of his face in her paw.
"Listen," she snapped, bearing her teeth, "I'm – not – cheating. Gottit?"
"Good," Nala replied, letting go of her mate's muzzle. "Zazu, go back and tell the others to stay out of our business. Simba and I have a game to play."
Simba laughed as a response. "Ah, that's what you say every night, Nal'."
Nala shook her head in disbelief at her mate, while Zazu took off and flew back up onto the hill.
As he did so, the crowd began to let out a round of applause. Kanafa and his crew had returned to the infield, leaving Eboni out on the circuit. The crowd's applause grew even more though as another lion paced her way across the circuit.
Even Simba and Nala couldn't help but smile: it was Juveda.