The two lionesses crouched in the tall grass at the base of one of the few trees nearby, looking across the savannah at their quarry.
“They are very large,” Asha whispered, looking doubtfully at her companion.
“So are elephants, and they are still prey animals,” Kinaya whispered back. “Surely you have seen giraffes before.”
“I have not, and neither have you,” Asha grumbled. “No one in the pride has except from a far distance, and Grandmother said to stay away. She said that is what other prides have said. Their necks are as long as we are tall!”
“Grandmother is old and superstitious, and we have seen very few other prides in years. Our numbers are growing smaller.” She waved a hand. “And they have long necks so they can pull leaves from trees.” She crouched lower as the two giraffe women came closer. They had chosen their hiding spot to be upwind, so their presumed-doomed prey could not smell them. “When we run toward them they will both flee, but we easily take down one, and the whole pride shall eat for days.”
Asha nodded doubtfully again, but steeled herself.
Kinaya motioned with her fingers, subtly. Wait. Wait. Wait. Now!
With a roar, both lionesses sprang from behind the grass and sprinted toward the giraffes, teeth and claws bared. Both the herbivores jumped in shock. Given their huge size, the ground shook when they landed again.
“Lions!” one cried.
“I haven’t seen lions in forever,” the other one gasped. They both backed away.
The two lionesses circled the closest one, the one who’d just spoken. “They surely mean to eat us,” the first one said. “Whatever shall we do?”
Asha skewed her ears. Something was…wrong about their tone. They sounded less frightened than mocking. “Kinaya…” she growled under breath.
“I have an idea,” the one they were circling called back. She was in a defensive crouch, her alarmingly long arms out to her sides, trying to block the lionesses before they leapt. “Why don’t we eat them first?”
“An excellent plan,” the other giraffe said with a disturbingly delighted giggle.
Abruptly the first one’s long neck curled down, her mouth opening widely and coming straight at Asha. The lioness moved without thinking, rolling backward.
“Hey!” Kinaya snarled. “That’s not even funny!” She leapt toward the giraffe’s head just as the giantess turned toward her. “I’ll claw out your erk—”
Incredibly, the giraffe woman had caught the lioness in mid-leap with both hands. Her grip looked painful but frighteningly casual. Kinaya’s face rested on the giraffe’s lips, but for only a moment. Then her face rested between them, her whole head being pulled in between the blunt teeth. She writhed, threatening to break free, claws flailing wildly.
Asha scrambled back. “Giraffes are—herbivores—”
The one holding Kinaya swallowed, very audibly, and abruptly her neck bulged. Just a little, perhaps, but the outline of Kinaya’s panicked face showed very clearly. Her arms were now pinned to her side as her shoulders entered the giant mouth.
The giraffe woman sat down, and kept swallowing as the lioness—her prey—started to scream. Muffledly. Asha stared, open-mouthed, until she realized the other giraffe had started to move as well. She screamed and sprinted back toward the tree, not stopping until she’d climbed far up it.
When she looked down, only her friend’s tail and legs were sticking out of the giraffe’s mouth, and the giantess’s head was tilted back. The lioness’s form clearly showed in the long, elegant neck. Squirming. Sliding down.
She stared dumbly as the legs disappeared over the next few seconds, and then finally the tailtip. The giraffe licked her lips.
“You can’t….” she whispered to herself.
“Oh, she did, and now it’s my turn,” a voice said below her. Abruptly two huge hands fell down to either side of the branch she’d perched on. The second giraffe’s face came into view just below her footpaws.
“No!” Asha shrieked, trying to scramble away again, but there was nowhere higher to go on the tree that would support her weight. “You can’t!”
“Now, now.” The giraffe woman looked up with bright black eyes. “You are a predator, and what kind of mercy would you show begging prey?”
“None,” she wailed, tears starting to roll down her cheeks. “But I am not prey! You just said that! We are predators! Lions are the top predators!”
“Lions were the top predators as long as we kept eating plants,” the giantess said, almost kindly. “When we chose not to, who became the top predator?”
The lioness stared down, crying harder.
“I do expect an answer,” the giraffe said, and opened her mouth. Her tongue curled around both of Asha’s footpaws at once and pulled them inside. Her mouth was hot and wet and a little sticky, and when she swallowed, her throat compressed Asha’s legs enough to hurt.
Asha began yowling and trying to kick, then started beating against the giraffe’s face, claws out. She got in one good hit before the giant hands came up and squeezed her arms to her sides. That long, prehensile tongue curled out again, pinning them to her hips for a moment. Asha thought she might be able to pull them free for another second or two, before they were pulled between the lips, too.
The lioness could feel her hips at the back of the giraffe’s throat. She wriggled with all her strength, but all she could do was rock from side to side. She couldn’t free her legs or even her arms now; she could just feel the heat around her, feel the saliva soaking into her fur. She became aware of the other giraffe woman standing nearby now—one hand on her belly, perhaps feeling Kinaya’s remaining struggles.
She looked between both giraffes. They both looked expectant, particularly the one about to eat her.
Finally, her ears folded back. “You are,” she said miserably. “You are top predator.”
The giraffe looked satisfied, and swallowed. Asha slid down with barely enough time to scream before her muzzle passed by the giraffe’s lips, and then the tight compression of the huge throat became her entire world for a few moments. “Good girl,” she barely heard the giraffe say.
Then her entire world became the giraffe’s first stomach, even tighter, more acidic, and churning. The last of the giraffe’s multiple stomachs was powerful enough to break down heavy, dense wood, and more than powerful enough to do the same to a soft little lioness. Fortunately, she wouldn’t be alive to experience that. Unfortunately, she would be alive for much longer than she wanted.
“I have not had lion in a long time,” the first giraffe said. “That was good.”
“Do you think the rest of their pride is nearby?”
“I think they are that way, just a few miles.” She pointed.
“Do you think there will be enough for the rest of our tribe?”
“We can hope.”