Victory crept from boulder to boulder, the midday sun sweltering on her golden and dun mottled coat. The stripes along her back were shadowy and prominent as she trailed a tawny figure through the desert scrub. This part of Zeros territory was sparse and dry, the sand a burgundy red, and dotted with pale boulders and dead shrubs. Despite the sizzling heat Victory felt that the air was charged with a heavy tension, she half-expected a storm to roll in at any moment.
The wind rattled the parched branches of a bristling shrub near her, and Victory dropped to a crouch. The large, armored insect that she carried in her mouth squirmed. The spikey hairs on its barbed tail tickled her inner jaw and she struggled not to sneeze. The shape in the slight depression of the gully below glanced up. Victory froze and after a moment the meer continued, swiping the sand here and there. Victory was quick to follow.
She waited until the meer halted to dig, completely out in the open, and with no sentries in sight, Victory slipped into the gully and circled behind her. She took quiet sure steps, ambition fueling her. The rest of the Zeros were far behind, weathering the high sun heat in the shade of a towering matopi tree. It was just the two of them.
She paused behind the digging female meer and shook the scorpion. She held it by the tail, stinger protruding from the side of her mouth. By the time she dropped it the creature was stunned, its bulbous tail flat in the sand behind it.
Victory trapsed around it and moved to face the meer, making her shuffling steps loud and apparent. The meer’s head snapped up and whirled her pointy face towards Victory, hackles raised. Her amber gaze widened as Victory sat in front of her and her fur smoothed. “Victory.” She sighed. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“Sorry, Glade.” Victory dipped her head to her mother and peeked at the hole she had been digging. “Any luck?”
Glade shook her head, expression forlorn. “No. This dry season is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Hopefully, the rains will come soon.”
“We could try foraging on Scavengers ground.” Victory suggested, referring to their neighboring enemy family.
“No.” Glade dismissed with a flick of her whiskers. “Stealing isn’t the answer, it will just cause unnecessary bloodshed.”
Victory’s orange eyes blazed as she suddenly stood, bushing her coarse fur so that she looked even larger than her mother. “That’s why you shouldn’t be the leader of the Zeros.”
Glade chuckled, as if it were a joke, as if she were a joke. “You know I only became dominant female because Slate would have wanted me to, she said as much before she died. And who should lead in my place? You?”
“Yes!” Victory hissed and she paced nearer.
Glade scowled, expression confused, as she took a reflexive step back. Her hind paw landed on the scorpion’s barb. Instantly the creature revived from its daze and arched its tail, sending its stinger even deeper into Glade’s paw pad. Glade yelped and spun, swinging her hindleg. Finally, the creature’s tail came clean off its body and the injured insect skittered away. Glade fell on her rump, staring at the tail hanging from her paw.
With a snarl Glade lunged at her outstretched hindleg and ripped the stinger, tail and all, from her skin. Barking with a fresh wave of pain she tossed the scorpion tail into the hole she’d made. Then she glared at Victory’s satisfied face.
“Did you like my gift, Mother?” Victory spat. “I have to say, the plan worked better than I thought. You now have two doses of black scorpion venom in you. Of course, it might not have killed you, but with the size of that barb…it probably will. And if it doesn’t, they will.” She said with a glance up at the carrion eating vultures which had already begun to circle.
“You… my daughter… what have you done?” Glade gasped, hurt and shock softening the sharp angles of her snout. Though Victory was surprised to see a flicker of recognition in her pointy features, as if a part of her had expected bad behavior from her daughter. It made Victory all the happier with her decision. A mother who loved her pup would never suspect anything like that, right?
“I’ve only taken what is mine.” Victory stated. “Just as I tried to do with Slate, but I should have anticipated you’d rise in her place.”
“Y-you, y-you…” Glade’s voice shook, and she teetered, then collapsed on her side. Her jaws went slack, as if she couldn’t control them, and she panted. Her hind paw was swollen to twice its size and turning an ugly mauve.
“Yes, Glade.” Victory murmured with a dark delight as she loomed over her mother. “I killed Slate.” She lowered her muzzle, her warm breath puffing in Glade’s ear. “Isn’t that why you named me Victory? I always win.” Then she pulled back and glowered. “Enjoy the Starlands, Mother. Say hello to Slate for me.”
Victory padded the way Glade had come, her tail high, and snout lifted proudly. As her movement receded and Glade’s diminished, her betrayed stare glazing over, the vultures descended. Victory did not look back.
This was her dawn as dominant female of the Zeros, and she had a family to lead.