They padded along in silence then, making their way deeper and deeper into the savannah. Occasionally Zim and Dib caught glimpses of other animals, but Simba and Nala seemed intent upon where they were going and never slackened their pace.
Zim noticed Simba staring at him, his feline eyes practically burning holes into him. Somewhat irritated, Zim ignored him and focused on the ground beneath his paws, but he could still feel the lion cub's searing gaze, and it was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable.
"What?!" Zim finally snarled, snapping his head up until his violet eyes locked with Simba's amber. Simba never answered him but instead leaned toward Dib. "Hey, why is your friend green?" He whispered, although Zim could hear him perfectly well. Dib shot Zim a smug look. "Yeah, Zim. Why are you green?" He asked with a grin.
"You know perfectly well." Zim almost answered out loud, but he wasn't about to let his ingenious cover be blown so easily. Not with Simba and Nala now looking at him curiously.
"I have a horrible skin condition." Zim used his typical excuse. Now Simba and Nala looked scared. "It's not contagious, is it?" Nala asked. "Yes. Yes it is. Very." Zim replied, meaning to scare them. It worked and both cubs promptly adjusted themselves until Zim found his self at the back of their little group. That's right. You should fear me. Zim thought, smiling nastily to his self.
Dib looked back over his shoulder, his glasses glinting in the bright sunlight. "It's incurable too. He'll probably die of it before too long." He said with a mock, sorrowful shake of his head. "That's awful!" Nala gasped, giving Zim a pitying look while Dib chuckled quietly. Zim bared his teeth at him. Pity. He hated pity.
Suddenly Simba stopped, holding up his tail proudly. "Here we are!" He announced. Before them was a large rock, almost like a small mountain jutting out of the grasslands. It was split down the middle as if it had been cut with a giant knife, one side pointing outward while the other stood strait and tall, pointing towards the heavens. With his enhanced eyesight, Zim could see an opening to a cave in the very crevice where the rock split and could only just make out brown and gold forms milling around the plateau. He flattened his ears against his skull; there were a lot more lions here than he had thought, just as that Rafiki-beast had said. And he could tell even from where he stood that they were much bigger than him.
It doesn't matter. I'm an Invader, and I'm not afraid of anything! Zim thought in an attempt to reassure his self. There was no telling what these creatures might decide to do to him after all.
"This is where we live. It's called Pride Rock." Simba said, still looking as proud as ever to introduce new comers to his impressive home. "It sure is big. I'm guessing you have a large family, then?" Dib asked, unable to see what Zim had glimpsed. Like Zim though he wasn't too keen on meeting a large pride of lions. He'd seen documentaries and knew that lion prides didn't take to trespassers on their territory very well. Simba and Nala seemed friendly enough, but they were only cubs.
"Oh yeah, our pride is probably the biggest one around." Nala said with a confirming nod. Simba bounded a little ways ahead and looked back over his shoulder at their little group. "Well, c'mon!" He said leading the way onward. Zim and Dib exchanged nervous glances before padding slowly after Simba.
Zim and Dib were both starting to feel out of breath and were panting as they climbed the steep, rocky slope up Pride Rock. Simba and Nala bounded up as if it was nothing, their paws having tread this place many times. Zim felt his fur starting to stand on end as more and more lions looked up from what they were doing to stare at them as they passed by. From what he could tell these were all female, but that didn't make them any less intimidating and Zim soon found his self rapidly looking from side to side, as if expecting an attack. The faces around him appeared to be merely curious, but there was no telling what might...
"Uff!" Zim was stopped in his tacks as he had been looking back over his shoulder and before he could look up to see what or who he had collided with a rough shove sent him back a few paces. "Hey!" Zim growled indignantly, baring his teeth and snapping his head up at whoever had shoved him, intending to give them what for; but his stinging words never left his tongue. Above him and now glaring at him with the same amount of contempt was another lion, and this lion was neither a cub nor a female.
"Mind where you're going." He growled at him, his green eyes narrowed to slits, the left was scarred.
"Uncle Scar!" Simba greeted the adult lion with enthusiasm. "These are my new friends!" He said, indicating Zim and Dib with a turn of his ears. Scar regarded them, looking less than amused. "Huh." He let out a breath. "Just stay out of my way." He said before sweeping past them and padding down the way they had just come.
"Geez, what's his problem?" Dib asked, looking back at the way Scar had gone. "Oh, Scar is just grumpy like that. But he's not so bad." Nala affirmed. Simba nodded. "Don't worry." He said to Zim who was flicking his tail angrily back and forth. "That just means he likes you." Simba said.
Zim said nothing in response but flexed his sharp claws in and out, leaving little dimples in the dirt. He felt a little embarrassed; he should have been watching where he was going. And that filthy lion shouldn't have even dared to disrespect an Irken Elite like that.
He looked over at Dib expecting some snarky remark from him, but Dib didn't seemed concerned with him and was instead contemplating the encounter with Scar based on what he knew about lion prides; Scar seemed scrawny and underfed, nothing like the leader of a pride should be, and he hadn't tried to eat them either. So if Scar wasn't the lead lion, who was?
"Simba, who are these cubs?" A soft deep voice broke Dib's train of thought. Now another lion had approached them and was now nuzzling Simba affectionately who bumped his head against her foreleg with a little purr in response. "Mom, this is Zim and Dib. They're lost and they can't find their prides. Can they stay here with us?" Simba said, looking up at his mother imploringly. She gave him a loving look back and then looked down at Zim and Dib in turn. "Where are your mothers?" She asked them. Zim and Dib exchanged anxious looks. "Well... we... uh...don't have any." Dib said. Honest enough.
"Oh, you poor things!" The lion exclaimed, looking sad. She then straightened up. "I am Sarabi, queen of this Pride. You may stay here for a while, but it will be the king's decision whether you can stay for good." She said.
Stay for good?! "We will not stay here!" Zim exclaimed loudly. "We-" Dib slapped his tail across Zim's mouth and gave him a stern look. "Be nice." He mouthed. Zim looked furious. "We don't want to stay very long, we're trying to get home, but it'd be nice to stay the night here instead of out in the open." Dib said, trying his best to come across as diplomatic and courteous. He didn't want to stay here any more than Zim did, but so far none of the lions had made any sign that they wanted to eat them, and come nightfall many other predators would be stirring and then they would wish they were in a safe place. Still, Dib was made a little anxious about the mention of a "king". Would this king be as eager to let strange cubs stay in his pride as his queen?
"Hey, mom, do you know where dad is?" Simba asked Sarabi, almost before Dib could finish his thought. Sarabi looked out across the savannah now stretching out below them. "He went down to the water hole to settle a dispute between some elephants and wildebeests. He should be back any time now." She said. She then made a sweeping gesture with her long tail. "Come and eat, we have plenty of prey."
Simba eyes lit up. "Great! I'm starved!" He said, bounding around a corner with Nala hard on his heels. Zim and Dib fallowed more slowly.
"Ehg!" Zim made a disgruntled sort of noise, his face contorting as the stench hit him. Flesh. Raw, bleeding flesh. A large stripy-horse lay dead before him, large parts of it were missing and it was still oozing blood, indicating that it had been killed not too long ago. To make matters worse Simba and Nala were now tearing into it, their muzzles becoming stained red as they chewed the meat happily, and a bit nosily. Zim felt as if he could be sick.
Simba stopped eating and looked up at them, swallowing and swiping his tongue around his mouth. "You can eat, ya know." He said before returning his attention to the meat.
Dib looked at what was left of the zebra with distaste. He didn't want to eat it, it was raw and looked nasty, but he couldn't deny that he was hungry, he couldn't even remember the last time he ate. The night he and Zim were changed he had had a dinner consisting of macaroni and cheese, but for all he knew that could have been days ago.
He stepped forward uncertainly, aware of Zim's hiss of disgust, and bent down over the meat. It didn't smell in any way good, it smelled like a dead animal that had been out in the sun all day, but something in Dib's lion body urged him to take a bite.
He chewed and swallowed. It wasn't bad, actually, and with a low feral growl Dib ripped off another chunk, letting the new feline instincts overcome his senses.
Zim watched wide-eyed with disgust, and watching only made his squeedily spooch churn sickeningly. He wasn't about to eat that!
"Aren't you hungry, dear? You look as if you haven't eaten in weeks." Sarabi said, making Zim jump a little when he realized that she had quietly padded up to stand over him. She was now looking at him with concern and Zim realized that he did look rather lean, bordering on scrawny with this new body, unlike Dib, Nala, and Simba who all looked healthy and well-fed. It didn't bother Zim in the least though. He wasn't concerned with his weight unless it interfered with his ability to function, and he didn't need to eat. His PAK would provide him with all the nutrients he required.
But these smelly fur-beasts didn't know that, and the way Sarabi was looking down at him Zim knew that it wouldn't be "normal" if he refused to eat and the last thing he needed was suspicions to be aroused.
With a shudder that shook him from nose to tail tip Zim took a few tentative steps forward until the carcass was just at his paws. He didn't want it. Didn't want to eat the stinking flesh, but with all eyes on him he bent his head down and tore off a tiny scrap, gave it a few quick chews, and swallowed it as fast as he could. Immediately he gagged and had to clamp his jaws shut to prevent his self from becoming sick and bringing up the meat. It didn't burn him like the processed meat back in the city did, but it still left his mouth and throat feeling a little scorched, and the taste made him want to scrub his tongue.
None the less Zim forced down another small piece, his entire body convulsing as he fought to keep it behind his teeth, but he had at least eaten a bit in front of the pride and that was nearly more than he could do.
Sitting back on his hunches and trying to spit without being noticed Zim spared a glance at Dib, who was now washing the blood off his paws and muzzle. At first this seemed completely normal in Zim's eyes, when he realized the absurdness of it. Dib was a human, not a lion, and had taken to the feral behavior much too quickly and easily for comfort. Perhaps this spell was more powerful than they had originally thought. If the lion instincts were already beginning to overpower Dib, who knew what that meant for Zim? So far he felt unaffected, but he was an Irken after all, and this was not his planet.
Zim felt the fur beginning to rise in alarm down his spine and he had to make an effort to calm down. He decided to try something; "Stupid, smelly, big-head!" He said, making a point to speak loudly, something he was incredibly good at. "My head's not big!" Dib said with the usual insulted tone. He stopped washing his paws and glared at Zim. This was encouraging, at least he sounded more like his self now.
"And I don't stink!" Dib continued. Zim showed his light pink teeth in a nasty grin. "Yes you do. You smell like dumb, stinky, Dib-stink." Zim replied. Dib looked about to come back with some stinging remark when a sudden exclamation of “dad!” interrupted them. Whirling quickly they saw Simba rushing up to greet another lion. This one had a very thick red mane, was very golden, and very, very big. He chuckled, a deep sound like thunder rolling through the clouds as he bumped his head against Simba's, a motion that both Dib and Zim had come to recognize as an affectionate gesture.
"Dad, come meet my new friends!" Simba said, his whiskers quivering with excitement. Zim's heart began to beat fast as this huge lion turned his dark amber gaze upon them. He was so big he could eat him in one bite! His paws where bigger than Zim's head!
Dib was no less intimidated as Zim was and found himself wishing he could vanish down into the rock they stood on. This lion was the leader of the pride. The "king" as they had called him. Zim may not know about African lions, but Dib knew that if this lion decided he didn't want strange cubs in his pride, especially male cubs who would pose a potential threat to his leadership, then he would kill them.
"What are your names, and what pride do you come from?" He asked in his deep and strangely melodic voice. Zim tried to stand a little taller and puffed out his chest, he wasn't about to show how afraid he really was to anyone. "I am Zim!" He tried to sound brave and commanding, but his voice only came out in a little squeak of "Zim".
Dib found Zim's reaction hugely funny, but as soon as the lion's intense gaze fell upon him his mood cooled. "I'm Dib." He said, a little subdued, but at least not as pathetic as Zim had sounded.
"Mufasa." Sarabi addressed her mate. "They say they are lost and have no pride." She said, sparing Zim and Dib from having to explain themselves beyond telling Mufasa their names. Mufasa's eyes softened and he regarded the out-of-place cubs with kindness. "You can stay here as long as you need. It would be cruel to send two lost cubs out on their own." He said, giving them a slow wink as if he had guessed their thoughts.
He then turned away from them as a bight-colored bird fluttered down to land upon his shoulder, something that both Zim and Dib found very odd and somewhat comical. "Good evening, sire." The bird addressed Mufasa. "Ah, Zazu. I was just about to go looking for you..." Mufasa's speech faded away as he padded away toward the mouth of the cave with Sarabi flanking him.
"Don't look as if you've eaten a bug, Mufasa just said you can stay, that's a good thing!" Nala said, giving Zim's shoulder a friendly nudge, her blue eyes sparkling with humor. When neither Zim nor Dib said nothing in response Nala lightly tapped each of them with her tail. "C'mon, I'll show you the best places to sleep." She said, leading the way to the cave.
Zim and Dib hadn't realized it, but the sun was quickly beginning to sink behind the far off hills, a few stars already beginning to appear faintly in the sky. Dib suddenly felt very tired. He had been on his feet all day and been startled into fight or flight mode more then once. His paws were staring to feel like they would collapse under him and he willingly fallowed Nala into the cave where she lay down next to her mother and indicated that they should curl up in the shallow dip beside her.
Zim, however, was not tired. He felt a little physically weary, but that would quickly pass. Irkens don't need to sleep and don't make a habit of it very often, their PAKs allowing them to function constantly at any time. And he didn't want to lay beside so many bodies. The very notion made his skin crawl, but begrudgingly he flopped his self down heavily on his side, scooching so that he wasn't touching Dib, Nala, or any other lion in the cave. Simba had curled up beside his parents at the back of the den.
As the last light of day faded away and the night slowly went on, one by one all the lions fell asleep, their deep, relaxed breathing and the occasional snore echoing around the stone walls of the cave. Zim looked at Dib with disdain as he lay softly snoring and twitching in his sleep, uttering the occasional unintelligible word. Zim couldn't believe that the human had been so willing to let his guard down with so many predators surrounding them. Was he really that stupid?
Well, I'm not stupid. And I'm not going to sleep! Zim thought mutinously. He might take the occasional power nap within his console room in his base, but there was no way he would ever be caught sleeping anywhere else, and especially not here.
It was growing stuffy in the cave though and Zim quietly stood up and picked his way carefully through the many sleeping bodies until he stood alone upon the flat cliff outside. It was much cooler out there, and the stars were a comforting sight. Stepping to the edge of the out thrust rock Zim lay down and let his front paws hang off the rock's end. He rested is head on his forelegs and glared out into the night. His mind began to race; he had to get back to his mission. Who knows what kind of trouble GIR was getting into, and the Tallest certainly would be wondering what had become of him. He regretted not reporting to them before this whole mess had started, they must really be worried about him.
Zim's rounded ears suddenly perked up as he caught sight of a slim, dark shape slip away from the base of Pride Rock. It was Scar, the rude lion who had insulted his dignity upon his arrival. The way he was walking, constantly looking back over his shoulder as if he thought he was being fallowed indicated that he didn't want anyone to see him leave.
Zim narrowed his eyes and flicked his tail back and forth. "Where are you going?" He muttered to his self, quickly and silently getting up to make his way stealthily down Pride Rock in pursuit of the shadowy shape of Scar as he disappeared into the night.