Rabbit discovered his chance to prove Shine wrong several suns later. It was just after dawn and the small gang had been half-heartedly digging out burrow entrances and performing the other morning chores when Rabbit had burst in among them, shouting orders for them to follow. They all looked to Shine, who had a glazed expression, for permission. They hadn’t had a dominant male since Fiery died and some of them were old enough to remember when Rabbit had been Shine’s first choice as a mate. As Shine made no move to follow and Rabbit continued to emit chirping lead calls, they assumed that he had as much authority as anyone and trailed after him.
Rabbit’s lead calls carried far, and he saw with satisfaction that Shine was straggling along at the back of the group. He led them through a patch of brambles and wound a path through a wall of shrubs then trudged up a steep dune. By the time the Scavengers crested the top they were all panting and nervous about being out in the open. Some stood on their hindlegs and peered at the glowing golden and pink sky. Shine had recovered from her daze and trotted up to him. “I hope you didn’t bring us here just to bask, Rabbit.” She huffed.
He dipped his snout towards the valley below. “No,” he murmured, as if speaking louder would ruin the magic of the moment, “look.”
Shine frowned but shadowed his gaze, scanning the valley until her eyes found movement. Rabbit moved closer to her, so that their tan brindled pelts brushed, and watched. Covering the valley was a patch of dark, churned mud. Over the course of the dry season the mud had dried, forming a thick crust, but with the recent rains the crust was thinner. A cluster of mud-splashed gray shapes hovered at the edge of the mucky area.
They were elephants, often called giants due to them dwarfing the meer. All five of them crowded a deeper recess of mud, balancing on the brim, reaching strong trunks into the viscous substance. Thrashing in the darkness was a miniature giant, ears flapping and tree-trunk legs paddling. It let out a shrill, muffled cry. The mud held it fast, grabbing at its small trunk and climbing into its soft mouth. Shine gasped and turned to Rabbit when she realized what she was seeing. “Why have you brought us here? To watch the giant pup drown?”
The other meer stilled and stared at Rabbit, unsure. Rabbit wouldn’t look at them or Shine, instead he kept vigilant, wishing Shine would do the same. After a heartbeat she lowered her tail, voice sad. “We’re leaving.” She announced as she turned to go.
A trumpeting blast halted her, and she swung about to join Rabbit. Rabbit, heart in his throat and eyes swelling, saw a giant get a hold on the baby. It wrapped its mighty trunk around one sticky leg. Another twined its truck with the giant pup’s and yanked. A second grabbed for its torso as it began to move towards them. As one they lifted the baby from the mud’s greedy grip and pulled it from the sludge. It lay on drier ground, panting, slick with wet dirt, but alive. What Rabbit guessed was the mother lifted her great head, white tusks gleaming and outlined in the golden dawn, and bellowed a joyous wail. The other giants joined in the celebration, yelling, and stomping and nudging the little one.
Rabbit glanced at Shine, whose eyes were damp. “See.” He said softly. “The giant pup did not drown.”
A brisk breeze rippled Shine’s whiskers. “No.” She sounded choked. “It didn’t.”
Rabbit leaned into Shine and for a moment they were silent, then she cleared her throat. “Giants are more like us than I thought.”
“Yes.” Rabbit chuckled. “Despite being the size of mountains.”
His spirits rose even more as Shine laughed. “Thank you.” She said.
“Well, I always have been the funniest of the bunch.”
Shine shook her head, but her gaze was bright as she responded. “No. Thank you for never giving up hope, Rabbit. I should have listened to you.”
Rabbit pushed out his chest, happiness flooding him. “Hearing that almost makes up for you choosing Fiery over me.” His gaze grew serious again as he gazed at the meer he had once loved as a mate, now his closest friend. “I think that if the little giant didn’t drown then neither will the Scavengers.”
“I suppose,” Shine whispered, “that you’re right.”