The base of this story is the TLK movies. These are © to the Walt Disney Company.
All characters not found in the movies are my creation and protected under copyright.
This story will be split up in parts, this is the first, and the rest will be finished when they’re written.
(That will be when I have the time)
I would greatly appreciate comments on my work. email@example.com
If you wish to use characters from my stories, or base own stories upon some event in the stories, please ask me for permission first.
This story continues from TLK III “The Legacy of Zira” and TLK IV “The Seeds of Goodness” you have to read them as well to fully understand this story…
This story continues where TLK 4 left off. It wouldn’t feel right just to leave the story just like that. This story follows the fate of Xiamu and Anasti, who were expelled from the Pridelands when the reign of Kubaki fell.
All parts of this story will run parallel along each other and they will coincide in the final part.
Special thanks to Michael “Azima” Heap for hunting down and correcting spelling and grammatical errors in this story.
Previously encountered characters:
Anasti: Former member of Kubakis pride. (Ah-nah-stih)
Azouka: Sister of Marhiza. (Ah-zou-kah)
Chitzikobe: Swamp-demon cheetress. (Khit-tsai-koh-beh)
Ciha: A member of the Death Pride. (See-ha)
Conhaba: Second son of Timba and Watabi, brother of Rasawah. (Cohn-hah-bah)
Madun: The Cheetah goddess. (Mah-dhun)
Maha: A member of the Death Pride. (Maa-ha)
Marhiza: The leader of the Death Pride. (Mar-his-ah)
Mazih’fu: Marhizas daughter. (Mah-tsih-foo)
N’dina: Daughter of Xiamu and Timba. (Ehn- -dih-nah)
Raeza: A member of the Death Pride, Adoptive mother of N’dina. (Rah-eh-sah)
Xiamu: Former member of the Jaw pride, Exiled. (Ksi-ah-moo)
Old characters in the dream sequence:
Inkhobi: Black cheetah shaman of the Cheetah lands. (Ink-ho-bih)
Costiah: A wandering lion that carries no real name. (Cos-taih-ah)
Gandu: Xiamu and Kubakis daughter. (Gah-hn-duh)
Kanji: Chitzikobes long dead son. (Can-yih)
Mneneth: Anasti and Kubakis son. (M-neh-ne-th)
Tatzena: Chitzikobes long dead daughter. (That-see-nah)
Teeka: A Deathlander Lioness. (Tea-kah)
C.1 Leopon and Leopard
C.2 The Bitter Lioness
C.3 N’dinas Fate
C.6 N’dinas Raising
C.7 The Swamp
C.8 Questions not to be asked
C.9 Insis Life (Dream Sequence)
C.10 Insis Corruption (Dream Sequence)
C.11 Death of Innocence (Dream Sequence)
C.12 Divine Guilt
C.14 Beyond the Swamp
C.15 Loose Ends
C.16 Shadow Heritage
Language of the Cheetahs.
The cheetahs in this story use their own language. It is basically English with some words replaced with Cheetah words. This language is extended with each new part of the story. This one contains the words from previous editions as well as the new words from this part.
Yoah / Yobaduz = hi/hello
Mizhk / naklat = goodbye
Zhiech = thanks
Kobto = little/small
Ninibi / ikaba / bathar = see you later
Nam = my
Nim = one
Aka = two
Zik = three
Tieh = five
Rehm = six
Mira = tail
Raka = poor
Buko = stupid/idiot
Azna = father/dad
Faha = mother/mom
Ban = yes (not pronounced like the English word ban, the A sound is longer)
Cot = no (pronounced like “caught”)
Bitikibi = love/lover/mate (bi-tai-ki-bi)
Zibihi = lion (see-bih-hih)
Kekaba = cheetah (keh-kah-bah)
Hafuh = leopard (hah-foh)
Tekahn = human/terran (the-can)
Kerkath = Cheetah arch-demon. (Ker-ka-thh)
Harkath = Leopard arch-demon. (Haar-ka-thh)
Ententa = spotted (ent-ten-tah)
Rasaw = filthy / unclean (Rasawah means Filthy One [Rah-sa-wah])
Uzuk = evil / twisted (Uzukah means Evil One [Uts-uk-ah])
Miak = pure / clean (Miakah means Pure or Blessed One [Miah-ah])
Costi = nameless / unknown / stranger (Costiah means Nameless One [Cos-taih-ah])
Nuraz = weird / strange (Nurazah means Strange One [Nuh-rah-sah])
(Is no longer commonly used)
Wej= You (in the meaning of many) [uey]
Kiic= I’ve (from Ki and Sic) [ki-ick]
Koic= you’ve (from Kou and Sic) [ko-ick]
Tyic= they’ve/She have/ He have (Multiple meanings. From Tye and Sic)
Sic= Have/had (only used as extension on other words, such as Ki, Kou and Tye) [Sek]
Kou= You/Your [Pronounced like Cou in Cough]
Tye= he/she (they make no difference between male and female). [Tie]
Sei= They [See-ii]
Ki = I
Akh = am ==(used only when introducing themselves)
Kiah = I’m
Words that demons and fiends often use. They have no exact meaning other than to give emphasis to certain words.
Tzeh= Used to show dissatisfaction.
In the dream sequence, the cheetahs makes more use of Ki, Kiah and Ki Akh than the present day cheetahs does. Ancient words such as Kou and Tye are also used there. Other shortened words, such as I’ll, you’ll etc only has the prefix changed. IE Ki’ll and Kou’ll.
A lioness and a leopardess stat silent in awe as they gazed upon a crescent-shaped crystal that stood in the middle of the cave they were in. The lioness sighed sadly as the sight of the beautiful crescent brought op painful memories inside her. The leopardess turned her gaze from the crystal and to the lioness…
Leopardess: Xiamu, are you thinking about your past again?
Xiamu: (sighs) yes Anasti… I can’t help it…
Anasti: I know it might sound cruel to you, but you must let go of it and look forward towards the future.
Xiamu: Future? (Sighs) What future do I have? Soon I’ll give birth to some wicked crossbreed that Kubaki gave me…
Anasti: So do I, except for that mine won’t be a crossbreed. And you must remember, Xiamu, that it’s not the blood that shapes the cubs… it’s the way they’re brought up.
Xiamu: (snorts) that’s easy for you to say… you’ll still have pure leopard cubs while I’ll get ugly, disgusting crossbreed filth…
Anasti: Who cares if they’re spotted, striped or whatever? They are your cubs as well! Its up to you to shape them, and you can spite Kubaki by raising them to be good and decent!
Xiamu: (snorts again) you’re right, Anasti… you’re so right…
Anasti: glad you understood…
They stood and watched each other for a few seconds until Anasti decided to change the topic of their discussion.
Anasti: So… what else does this place have to offer?
Xiamu: quite much Anasti, come and I’ll show you some of the dens….
Xiamu was eager to get out from the cave with the crescent and Anasti followed her out.
Leopon and Leopard
Both the lioness and the leopardess got settled rather quickly at their new home. There were large herds of prey in the vicinity and they had a good supply of fresh water. But as the weeks passed, their pregnancies became more and more visible. And soon after that, none of them were in the condition to hunt.
Xiamu had slowly grown bitter as her pregnancy developed. She rarely opened her mouth for other purposes than to eat or spit out some cynical remark about life. Despite Anasti’s multiple attempts to cheer her up, the lioness did not change for the better.
After a day or so, they could both feel that birth was imminent. They both lay inside their den and waited. Xiamu had gone through it all before and was somewhat calm, but Anasti was very nervous about it.
Anasti: (speaking to herself) how much can it hurt…
Xiamu: (sighs) the worst pain isn’t the birth… its what comes out…
Anasti: (stares sourly at Xiamu) Xiamu… I…
Xiamu: don’t worry… it’ll be over before you notice it…
Anasti moved her gaze away from the lioness and glared at one of the walls of the den. Suddenly her eyes closed. A ray of pain had shot up through her spine from her hind parts. She knew that it was her cub that was on its way out into the world. Xiamu had seen it as well and had surprisingly moved over so she could help. With quite some effort Anasti managed to give birth to one single, squirming leopard cub. Aided by Xiamu, the infant was cleaned from goo and lifted over to Anasti’s belly where it could feed.
Anasti was a bit surprised to get help, but she was too tired to say thanks. She looked at Xiamu and gave her a tired smile. Xiamu looked back for a second before she went back to where she had laid earlier, flopped on her side and sighed. She silently waited for the birth of her own cubs to be over with. She idly listened to the suckling sounds from Anasti’s little cub as it nursed the leopardess. A few minutes passed before Xiamu felt that it was her time to give birth. Without much effort she too gave birth to one single, squirming… and heavily spotted cub. Her facial expression was like the one of a statue at the sight of her cub. She stared at it, as it tried to free itself from the stuff that had accompanied it when it was born.
With a sigh she helped it out and dried it with her tongue. She had absolutely no emotions for the little thing but she was too tired to do anything about it. She placed it at her belly and allowed it to nurse.
She stared at the wall of the cave, wishing to be somewhere else and in another time. Anasti had rested enough to speak again and she watched Xiamu curiously.
Anasti: Xi, are you all right?
Xiamu: (loud sigh)
Anasti: well… perhaps I should wait a bit to ask.
The leopardess watched her own child as it gently kneaded her belly while nursing her.
She began to think about a story she had heard once, an ancient legend among leopards.
Anasti: (mumbles to herself)… Gandu and Mneneth, the powerful and the empathic… their heritage was evil, they were raised to good…
Xiamu lazily lifted her head and glared at Anasti, who continued to speak to herself…
Xiamu: (somewhat uninterested) what’s that Anasti?
Anasti: oh, it’s an ancient legend… the myth of Gandu and Mneneth.
She silenced as she had pronounced the two names again. She had an idea of what to name her own cub. She checked its gender and saw that it was a male. She then looked over to Xiamu.
Anasti: Xi, what’s the gender of your cub?
Xiamu sighed and looked… it was a female.
Xiamu: the little worm is a female…
Anasti: okay… say, have you thought of any name for her?
Xiamu: name… what use should she have for a name?
Anasti: cut that out Xiamu, of course she must have a name
Xiamu: go ahead… name the creep…
Anasti: then her name is Gandu, and my son will be Mneneth.
Xiamu: (sighs and returns to staring at the wall) oh… great…
Anasti ignored that and proceeded to nuzzle her little Mneneth, who now lay purring against her belly.
Little Gandu also lay purring at her mother’s side, but she received no attention at all.
The Bitter Lioness
The birth of Gandu had only made Xiamu even more bitter and cynical than before. She simply couldn’t let go of the loss of her love and her other daughter, N’dina.
A month passed and the two cubs grew. They were surprisingly intelligent and they had already learnt a few words, which they repeated constantly. Xiamu and Anasti shared the care of the two cubs so that one would look after them while the other was out hunting. But for Xiamu, the hunt was merely an excuse for her to be alone for a while.
This day, Xiamu was out hunting while Anasti had troubles with keeping an eye on the two cubs. The three of them were out in the sunshine and played games, or rather, Anasti laid on the ground while the two cubs tumbled around on her. Suddenly Gandu stopped playing and looked curiously at Anasti:
Gandu: auntie Ani?
Anasti: yes, Gandu dear?
Gandu: why is mommy no fun?
The leopardess thought for something to say when Mneneth pounced on her head and began to chew on her ear. Anasti couldn’t help but giggling at her son.
Gandu: when me do that to mommy, she only sigh and tell me to play with Mne. (Sighs) She not love me like you love Mne…
Anasti returned her full attention to the leopon cub…
Anasti: Gandu dear, your mom loves you dearly. She… well… shows her affection in another way than I do…
Anasti: She… well…
Anasti couldn’t just throw a lie straight into Gandu’s face, but she couldn’t tell the truth either.
Gandu: (gives a questioning gaze) well…?
Anasti: she does it when you’re asleep.
Anasti: uh… yes. She’s afraid of showing it in front of us… its… well… a lion thing.
The cub seemed to accept that as a truth and began to chase her own tail. Mneneth leaped down upon her from Anasti’s head. Anasti watched as they began to wrestle in front of her. But she wondered if she couldn’t have come up with anything better to tell Gandu…
A couple of minutes later Xiamu returned… empty handed. Gandu was the first to notice her and quickly scuttled over to greet her mother. The leopon cub rubbed her head against Xiamus legs… and Xiamu actually offered a faint smile in return.
Gandu: (shouts back to Anasti) Mommy’s back!
The leopardess and her cub trotted over to them. Anasti noticed that Xiamu hadn’t brought anything.
Anasti: no luck today Xi?
Xiamu: (shakes head) none at all…
Anasti: well, you look exhausted. Take a break and watch the furballs while I go test my luck.
Anasti nuzzled her son and ruffled his fur with her paw.
Anasti: (to Mneneth) be nice to Aunt Xi now…
Mneneth: sure mommy!
The leopard cub rubbed his head against Anasti’s muzzle and then watched her walk away to hunt. Mneneth then padded over to Xiamu and rubbed his head against her legs to greet her as well.
Xiamu only sighed and dragged herself over to the shadows a tree offered, followed closely by the two cubs. She flopped down in the shades and didn’t pay any further attention. Gandu skipped over to her mothers face and licked her nose.
Gandu: me love you!
Xiamu only gave her an empty gaze…
Gandu: mommy, me really love you!
Xiamu: … (sighs)
Gandu: don’t you love me?
Gandu stood silent for a short moment, and then she sent a gaze to Mneneth, who was busy chasing a grasshopper. The leopon cub then looked back at her mother.
Gandu: you don’t love me like aunt Ani loves Mne. You never play with me or tell any stories. You just lay and sigh at me…
Xiamu: … (sigh)
Gandu: (with a tearful voice) Aunt Ani always plays with me… she loves me more than you do!
Xiamu: (snaps) That’s enough!
Gandu went dead silent and looked at her mother with frightened eyes. The little cub then walked over to Xiamu’s belly and curled up at her side, with her back towards the lioness. The little cub sobbed silently…
A thought suddenly flashed through Xiamu’s mind… She just couldn’t be that cruel to Gandu…
Xiamu: Gandu… I… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to yell at you.
Gandu: (sobs loudly and doesn’t answer)
Xiamu: I… I do want to play a game with you, I really do.
Gandu: (looks up at Xiamu, with tears rolling down her cheeks) really?
Xiamu: yes Gandu… any game you like
Gandu’s face slowly transformed into one gigantic cubby smile.
A few moments later, the leopon cub was busy playing games with her half-brother Mneneth and her mother.
When Anasti finally returned with a gazelle, she dropped her jaw and her kill in surprise when she saw Xiamu play with the cubs. She stood speechless for a few moments, blinking repeatedly. But when she had overcome the initial shock of seeing a happy Xiamu, she watched them with delight.
Indeed, she hadn’t seen Xiamu that happy… ever.
And a few moments later Xiamu noticed the leopardess.
Xiamu: look, dinner’s here!
The lioness playfully bounced towards the leopardess with a wide grin on her face.
Anasti: (giggles) nice you see you happy, Xi.
Xiamu: well… it’s quite difficult to be a sourpuss among those cute fur balls.
Anasti: (smiles) glad you realized… (Pauses) now look what I’ve brought for you, one gazelle ready to eat.
Xiamu: well, we shouldn’t disappoint it by not eating it, right?
The two large cats smiled at each other for a few seconds, then they began to rip the gazelle apart.
The three Deathlanders that had aided in removing Kubaki from the Pridelands had decided to head back home shortly after Xiamu’s banishment. One of the three had brought an orange pelted lioness cub with her as loot. The two others didn’t bother to talk to the first lioness during their trip home.
When they finally crossed the boundaries of their homelands they immediately sought up the black lioness Azouka, whom they found rather quickly gazing at them from the top of a rock.
Azouka: Hey girls, back so soon, eh?
Maha: Well, it was almost too easy…
Azouka: (snickers) Guess why we sent the three of you.
Ciha: Very funny Azouka… (Pauses) I guess Marhiza is anxious to see us.
Azouka: you can bet your sorry tails that she is! She’s almost been preparing herself since you left.
Azouka had noticed that the third lioness was carrying on something orange and fuzzy but hadn’t bothered to ask until now.
Azouka: Ey Raeza, what’s that you’re carrying?
She leapt down from the rock and came closer until she saw that it was a frightened cub.
Azouka: say, who did you kill to get that cub?
Raeza only grinned back. Azouka knew since long ago that it was no idea to even have a proper conversation with Raeza.
Maha: (rolls her eyes) Don’t bother Azouka… you know how she is…
Azouka: yeah… (Pauses) Anyway. Where’s Timba?
Ciha and Maha looked at each other with facial expressions that betrayed them. Only Raeza stayed calm… carrying an insane face that was quite typical for her.
Ciha: I… I’m afraid he won’t come…
Azouka: (hisses) how dare he? Marhiza will not be…
Maha: (interrupts Azouka) Azouka… he’s dead…
Azouka: (gasps) dead?
Maha: (nods) there was nothing we could have done.
Azouka: (glances at Raeza for a moment) now how the heck are we going to tell Marhiza?
Ciha: I don’t know
Maha: how about we go tell her right away and get it over with…
Azouka: I guess that would be the least painful option… … ah well, just stay here and I’ll go get her… You better come up with a good explanation.
Both Maha and Ciha swallowed and nodded while Raeza was busy keeping N’dina from falling from her mouth. Azouka sighed silently and padded off.
Ciha and Maha watched as the black lioness slipped away into the tall grass, and when she couldn’t be seen any longer, they turned their attention to Raeza and her attempts to keep the cub in her mouth.
Ciha: (to Raeza) you know… you can’t carry her forever
Maha: why don’t you let her down for a while?
Raeza shook her head as an answer. The two other lionesses shrugged simultaneously…
Maha: (whispers to Ciha) well… we can’t let her have that cub, she’ll kill it
Ciha: (whispers back) yeah… but how will we make her part with it?
Maha: (whispers) I think we should let Marhiza deal with her…
Ciha: (whispers) yeah…
They all sat silent until Azouka returned a few moments later, accompanied by Marhiza. The red lioness seemed to be very angry, telling from her facial expression.
Marhiza: So… the only thing you three miserable creeps got out from your little trip is a darn little cub?
Ciha: I’m afraid so…
Marhiza: and Timba is dead… Can’t you do ANYTHING right at all?
Ciha and Maha looked down at the ground while Raeza sat totally indifferent…
Marhiza: feh… Raeza… hand that cub over to me…
Raeza looked offended and shook her head.
Marhiza: (raises her voice) Raeza! Give that cub to me…
Ciha shoved her elbow into Raeza’s side so she dropped N’dina to the ground. And before Raeza could react, Ciha shoved the cub over to Marhiza. The cub lay on its back and watched Marhiza with fear written in her face.
Marhiza: (studies N’dina) a lioness… orange fur… and even grayish eyes… I wonder…
(Snorts) no… Keep it Raeza…
(Turns to Ciha) and you two will be placed in training again…
Maha: (sighs) yes Marhiza…
The red lioness turned away from them and stomped away… Azouka watched Raeza as she picked N’dina up again. Ciha and Maha were both silent and padded off in another direction…
Azouka: you know, I think it would be for the best if you handed that cub over to someone who knows how to handle it.
Raeza put N’dina down on the ground and pinned her between her front paw and her belly.
Raeza: No! I found it… its mine! It belongs to me!
Azouka: A cub isn’t a thing you own, Raeza…
Raeza: She belongs to me! I am her mother!
Azouka: (rolls her eyes) do you have any idea of how to take care of her?
Raeza: Of course I do! I’m her mother
Azouka: yeah right… I’ll give you one week to prove it. If you fail, I’ll take the cub from you. Understood?
Raeza: (nods reluctantly)
Azouka: by the way… what’s her name?
Raeza: (thinks for a while)… Kitch!
Azouka: Kitch? That doesn’t sound like a name
Raeza: it’s her name!
N’dina wriggled to get free from Raeza’s grip when she heard her “new” name.
N’dina: no… (Struggles) my name is N’dina!
Raeza knocked on N’dina’s head with her other paw.
Raeza: your name is Kitch.
Azouka: hey, be gentle with her, Raeza
Raeza: I AM gentle!
Azouka: (sighs) just face it Raeza, you are not fit to be a mother. Now give that cub to me or I’ll take her from you.
Raeza instantly shoved N’dina behind her and took a defensive pose, snarling at Azouka.
Azouka: don’t be silly Raeza… its for her best…
Raeza: She’ll be fine with me!!!
The partly insane lioness stopped growling, turned around and picked N’dina up and then walked away.
Azouka stood and wondered if she should beat the crap out of Raeza or give her one more chance…
Roughly a month later Anasti sat and watched the crystal crescent with Gandu and Mneneth. All three of them sat silently in awe as the sunbeams that entered the cave from a hole in the ceiling were reflected inside the crystal and spread the light all over the cave.
Gandu: wow… it’s so beautiful…
Anasti: it sure is… it is a pity that Xiamu decided to go hunting…
Gandu: I hope she’ll be able to see this some day…
Anasti nodded to Gandu and continued to watch the glimmering crystal.
A few minutes later, the glow faded away and the cave went dusky again. Mneneth and Gandu pounced on Anasti, who only giggled and let them play with her…
… Not so far away from the rock formation that contained the crystal crescent, the lioness Xiamu sat and gazed longingly towards the west…
Xiamu: (whispers) my dear beloved Timba… please forgive me…
She had to blink the tears away that had formed in her eyes…
Xiamu: (sniffs and wipes her eyes with a paw) … I hope you treat N’dina as your own… because she is your daughter. Please be kind to her… and tell her about her mother…
She wiped her tears away with her paw and gave out a loud sob.
Xiamu: (sniffs and continues to whisper) if we someday meet… then please accept Gandu. She’s nothing like Kubaki. (Sobs loudly) I really hope we meet again, my love… you are the only one I ever truly loved… and the only one I’ll ever love…
She sat silent in a few minutes, blinking her tears away now and then…
Xiamu: (whispers) will tomorrow be the day you’ll come for me, Timba? Will I wake up to see your face smiling to me?
With a heartbroken sigh she turned towards her home… still without anything to feed on.
When she arrived back at the crescent rock her daughter greeted her. The leopon cub rubbed her cheeks against her legs repeatedly.
Gandu: (excited) what did you bring, mommy?
Xiamu: (sighs) nothing, I’m afraid…
Gandu: aw… does that mean that Aunt Ani will go hunting?
Xiamu: yes Gandu…
Gandu: (pauses) well… Ani said that you knew stuff about our home…
Xiamu: sorry… I know nothing more about this place than she does.
Gandu: aw, come on. Ani tells us lots of exciting stories and you haven’t told any story at all…
Xiamu: (snaps and cuffs Gandu) Shut up! I’m not Anasti!
The leopon cub fell silent. Her lower lip quivered slightly as she looked at her mother with large, frightened eyes. Xiamu immediately regretted what she had done…
Xiamu: (calmer voice) Gandu dear… I… I’m sorry
Gandu: (sniffles) n…no you’re not… y…you hate me…
Xiamu: Please, I didn’t mean it Gandu. I didn’t mean to yell at you
Gandu: (screams at the top of her voice) You lie!!!
The leopon cub turned from her mother and scuttled quickly back towards the rock formation, slid into a small crevice and vanished in a very small cavity that only a cub could enter. Xiamu tried to follow, but she couldn’t even get close to the hole into which Gandu had vanished. The lioness stood, unable to do anything and heard the desperate sobs of her daughter.
Only a few moments later, Anasti came running, closely followed by Mneneth.
Anasti: Xi… what happened? Who yelled?
Xiamu: (looks down into the ground) I…
Anasti: what? What did you do, Xi?
Xiamu: (stutters slightly) I… Gandu… (Points at the hole) in there…
Anasti went as close to the hole as she could. She could clearly hear Gandu sob from in there.
Anasti: Gandu… are you ok?
Gandu: (sobs from within the cavity) g…go away!
Anasti: (speaks with a calm voice) Gandu… what happened?
Gandu: (tear broken voice) I hate her…
Xiamu gasped silently as she heard her daughter’s words. Gandu had always called her “mom” before and something in the leopon’s voice sent a chill down her spine. Anasti turned to Xiamu and sent her an accusing gaze when she heard Gandu…
Anasti: What did she do?
Gandu: (sobs) she’s rarely nice to me…she rarely speaks to me… she doesn’t love me.
Anasti: Gandu, how can you say so? She loves you more than you know
Gandu: No she doesn’t! Why does she cuff me without any reason if she loves me? Why does she always snap at me when I ask something? She’s Evil!
Anasti: I know you are upset Gandu, but can’t you come out so we can talk this through?
Gandu: Xiamu will only cuff me more… that’s her only pleasure… to cuff and yell at me. It doesn’t matter what I do.
Anasti: what if I send her away? Will you come out then? You’ll only have to talk to me and you can go right back in there when you don’t want to talk more.
Anasti turned to Xiamu, who understood what the leopardess intended to say. She looked quite guilt-burdened as she padded away from there. Anasti mentioned for Mneneth to go keep Xiamu company, which the leopard cub understood. The leopardess waited a minute before she spoke again…
Anasti: she’s gone now Gandu… its safe to come out.
At first, nothing happened, but after a few seconds Gandu’s head appeared in the entrance to the cavity. The leopon cautiously looked around, searching for any sign of her mother. When she had made sure that Xiamu wasn’t anywhere near, she came out completely. Her own tears striped her face and she looked generally sad and upset as she came closer to Anasti.
Gandu: (sobs) she’s so mean to me all the time (sobs) she doesn’t care what happens to me (sobs)
You love me more than she does, Ani…
Anasti: (strokes Gandu’s back) that is not true Gandu… Xiamu loves you way more than I do…
Gandu: (sobs) then why did she hit me? I didn’t do anything wrong.
Anasti: I’m sure you didn’t, Gandu… at least not on purpose. I will go and have a very serious conversation with her now… you must be prepared to give her one last chance, Gandu.
Gandu: no way! She’ll just cuff me again… and again… and again!!!
Anasti: no she won’t. Because if she does, then I’ll simply take you away from her and you’ll never have to see her again. I will go tell her off, and when she comes back you must be able to forgive her… just one last time. Do you think you can do that?
Gandu: (long silence) … yes…
Anasti: good… I will return soon.
She nuzzled the still sobbing cub before she left to talk with Xiamu. Gandu quickly retreated back into the cavity, where she would be out of reach for everyone but Mneneth. Anasti found Xiamu sitting with Mneneth near the entrance to the cave with the crystal crescent. She went directly over to them.
Anasti: Mne, I want you to go keep your sister company.
Mneneth: sure mommy.
The leopard cub trotted away and left the two adults alone. Anasti stared accusingly at Xiamu.
Anasti: Xiamu, when are you going to let go of the past?
You can’t help N’dina anymore. You have mourned your loss for too long and neglected Gandu.
Xiamu: … (silence)
Anasti: Now go talk to her… she might not listen at first, but she will… eventually.
(Makes her voice more serious) and if I ever find her crying again because of you… then you won’t see any of us ever again… understood?
Xiamu swallowed and nodded. She knew that Anasti was serious this time. She slowly returned to where Gandu was hiding. She had no idea of what to say. She sat down as close to the crevice as possible and sat silent for a few moments.
Xiamu: Mne? Are you in there?
The leopard cub emerged from the hole and padded over to her…
Mneneth: Not anymore.
Xiamu: Mne, could you be a darling and go back to your mother?
Xiamu: thanks Mne.
She watched Anasti’s son as he padded away towards his mother. She didn’t say anything until she was sure that she was alone with Gandu.
Xiamu: Gandu… are you all right?
Gandu: go away…
Xiamu: I’m very sorry for being mean to you…
Gandu: No you aren’t! You are evil!
Xiamu: I don’t hate you Gandu, I love you much more than you’ll ever know… please let me prove it to you…
Xiamu: I can catch you something nice… no… I’ll catch your absolute favorite prey… just for you.
Gandu: … you’re just lying. Aunt Ani will catch it for you.
Xiamu: No she won’t. Please believe me, you can even ask Mneneth later if you wish.
Xiamu: should I send Mneneth to keep you company while I’m away?
Xiamu took her daughters silence as a yes and went off to Anasti. After a brief summary of Xiamus plan, Anasti let her son go over to Gandu and keep her company. The leopard cub strolled back over to Gandu’s hiding place while Xiamu went out to hunt, this time determined to not return until she had caught a zebra for her daughter.
Much later Xiamu returned after several attempts to bring something down. She had finally succeeded with catching a zebra foal that she dragged all the way to Gandu’s hiding place. She let it down on the ground and hoped that her daughter would believe her. She saw Mneneth sit right outside the crevice and gaze at her for a while. She felt uncomfortable with his gaze because it sent a chill down her spine. She watched him for a few seconds before he rose up and padded back to his own mother. Xiamu returned her attention to the hole in which her daughter was hiding.
Xiamu: I kept my promise. I brought a zebra foal… just for you.
A short moment later, Gandu’s face became visible in the entrance to the hole. She gazed surprised at the dead foal in front of Xiamu.
Gandu: f…for me?
Xiamu: yes Gandu… its all yours.
Gandu: (changes attitude) no… I’m not hungry.
She quickly retreated back into the darkness of the hole and vanished from Xiamu’s sight.
Xiamu: should I have Mneneth to bring a piece of it in to you?
Gandu: (sounds unsure) I… don’t know.
Xiamu tore a small piece of meat from the foal and placed it as close to the entrance of the hole as she possibly could. She then backed away and watched. At first, nothing happened… but then, a few moments later, a paw was extended from the darkness and shoved the meat back into the darkness.
Xiamu could hear that her daughter was eating.
Xiamu: do you want some more?
Gandu: yes please…
Xiamu repeated the procedure with placing the meat in front of the hole, and just like before, Gandu shoved it into her cave with a paw and then ate the meat.
Xiamu: say… are you interested in hearing a story while eating?
Gandu: no (munch) not interested.
Xiamu: well… I’ll just tell it anyway… perhaps I’ll get over it sooner…
She took a deep breath before continuing…
Xiamu: if you have any questions, feel free to interrupt me, ok?
Xiamu: good. (Pause) This story is mostly about me…
Gandu: (continued silence)
Xiamu: (continues) A couple of years ago, before Anasti and I had met each other, I lived far to the southwest of here with three other lionesses. The four of us were the very last remnants of the Jawpride. We lived quite normal lives there, hunting, resting, and doing nothing and it all changed one night when we were out hunting. When we returned to our resting place, we found some (to us) foreign lions there.
She went silent for a moment, trying to recall as many details as possible…
Xiamu: (continues) Guess if my friends and I were quite upset when we found them. Those foreigners were two lionesses like me, and one lion. And, after a short discussion, we allowed them to stay with us. They told us how their own home had been overrun by evil… just like the Jawlands…
She paused again, this time both to recall memories and figure out how to tell it.
I don’t know how it happened but the lion, whose name was Timba Aka-Mira, made
all of us move here. I think you can imagine how astonished we were when we saw
the crystal crescent… (Sighs) we got settled here rather quickly and some time
passed… (Sighs again) Now comes a part that it hurts to even think of… but I
will tell it…
A few weeks after we had moved in here… I… (Sighs) fell in love with Timba…
Once again she paused to figure out how to tell the part that followed…
Xiamu: (continues) you see, the poor guy had lost both his beloved wife and his children… (Sighs) but that didn’t keep me from seducing him. I knew it was utterly wrong of me… but I couldn’t help myself. (Pauses) … and the next morning, I paid dearly for my misdoings…
That morning must’ve been one of the worst I ever experienced. I woke up believing that Timba loved me… but no… he cuffed me hard when I nuzzled him…
She went silent, shaking her head. She hadn’t noticed that Gandu had begun to listen until the leopon urged her to continue.
Gandu: please don’t stop…
Xiamu: I won’t… Gandu. (Continues) I was very shocked and ran away from him, but I didn’t get far before I collided with Aihatu, one of the lionesses from Timba’s former pride. She knew exactly what I had done… and she exiled me for it…
Gandu: (confused) exiled? What does that mean?
Xiamu: it means that I was no longer allowed to stay here. They would have killed or hurt me severely if they ever saw me again.
Xiamu: (continues) well… I was totally crushed when I left. My heart was nothing but a shadow of what it had been and my will to live was almost gone too. I don’t know why, but I went north… towards the great Swamp. I didn’t care if I drowned in there… I didn’t care at all. All I wanted was to die… and that fast. I waded straight out into the cold water. I had gotten far out into the swamp when the thought struck me that I maybe would find someplace better to die. You see the swamp smells terribly awful. I tried to get out from the swamp again, but I was lost. All I managed to do was to get even more lost than before.
She paused again, this time just to take a few breaths before continuing.
Xiamu: (continues) that was where I heard the most heart piercing sad sound I ever heard… but the creature that had produced it was the most horrible thing I ever seen… (Silences)
Gandu: what? What was that creature?
Xiamu: some sort of feline… it was spotted… but not like you or Mneneth or Anasti. It had lots of black dots on a filthy tan-orangeish fur and it had a black stripe from the inner corner of its eyes to the corners of its mouth. And the scary parts of it… its eyes… It had pitch black eyes with glowing red dots within them… and if that wasn’t enough… its hind part was like fog. It seemed to dissolve into the greenish fog that concealed the swamp.
Xiamu: that was Chitzikobe… she presented herself as a fallen goddess. Despite her appearance… she didn’t seem any evil at all… just depressed… (Pauses) and to tell the truth, I feel sorry for her. I have occasionally thought of visiting her but the swamp is treacherous. Just one step at the wrong place and you’d be dead for sure.
Gandu: but how did you get out?
Xiamu: I’m not sure… It was so unreal that I couldn’t fully comprehend it.
Gandu: please tell.
Xiamu: ok… I… left Chitzikobe to find my way out. Even if she had told me that there were no way out… and that she was a prisoner of the swamp, I was determined to get out from there. After a while I suddenly saw a large glowing orb appear in front of me. It startled me at first, and I was even more scared when it took the shape of a creature that was quite like Chitzikobe, save for the eyes and the dissolving hind part. This creature had calm, normal eyes and it stood on the water surface... It told me to follow, and its voice mesmerized me to follow it… and then I suddenly stood outside the swamp at its western edge. I have no idea what happened… but I had come out from the swamp somehow.
Xiamu suddenly fell silent as she felt how something snuggled up to her leg. When she looked down, she saw that it was Gandu.
Gandu: please continue
Xiamu: of course… I was totally covered in a stinking mud that tasted so awful that I just couldn’t lick it off. So stupid as I were, I headed towards the west because I saw no point in going south or east. I thought that I’d find a waterhole that I could wash the mud off in. but no… I didn’t find any waterhole at all. I almost fell unconscious the following night… and when I woke up, the mud had dried so much that it had turned into a hard shell around my body. I couldn’t move at all. (Sighs) I met your father for the first time just an hour later.
Gandu: My father?
Xiamu: yes, your father… his name was Kubaki… and he freed me from my mud prison… on the condition that I joined his pride… I gladly accepted his offer. He showed me to his pride but they all seemed so cold and indifferent at first… so I told your father about it and he spoke with his pride… and since that, it seemed like they all turned from indifferent… dead to living creatures.
She made a short pause so she could gather her thoughts and memories.
Xiamu: (continues) Anasti was in his pride as well… and Kubaki fooled me to think that they were all normal… but none of them acted from their own free will. They were all puppets under his control.
Gandu: (gasps) even Anasti?
Xiamu: (nods) even Anasti was under his control. Everything there was a charade to lure me into a false sense of security. (Sighs) I didn’t suspect anything… not before I had given birth to your bigger sister, N’dina. And just like that… the illusion was dispelled and Kubaki revealed his true identity. I tried to flee but his will was stronger than mine…
Xiamu: yes Gandu… you have… or rather had a bigger sister…
Gandu: what happened to her?
Xiamu: I’ll come to that part soon… please be a little patient…
Xiamu: where was I? Oh… yes… Kubaki took complete control over my mind and I became just as mindless as the rest of the pride. I was aware of everything that happened, but Kubaki changed my mind so I liked everything that happened. I could just watch as Kubaki used Anasti and me… (Sighs) He also used me to fill N’dina’s head with lies… and I gladly did it too…
The lioness fell silent again. Gandu could see how tears formed in her mothers’ eyes. The leopon cub rubbed her head on Xiamu’s leg and purred softly. Xiamu watched her daughter and smiled slightly. She wiped the tears from her eyes and nuzzled Gandu.
Xiamu: please excuse me if I’m sentimental…
Gandu: its ok, mother…
Xiamu: thanks honey… (Takes a deep breath) I watched N’dina grow up… and I contributed to corrupting her mind. (Sighs) it was all so confusing… One day Timba and my former friends came to the lands… They succeeded in killing Kubaki and freeing everyone that was under his control… including Anasti and me… We were inside a large cave at that moment and my first own thoughts was to grab N’dina and get the hell out of there… but right when I found her… the lioness that had exiled me from here entered the cave. She was furious to see me there… she… she didn’t allow me to explain either. She banished me again, with the threat that she would personally kill me if she ever saw me again. She didn’t even let me get N’dina… (Sob) That was the last time I saw her… huddled up behind a large rock… Her eyes were full of fear and I couldn’t comfort her… (Sobs) I failed her when she needed me (sobs) I’m such a (sob) bad mother… (Sob)
Gandu saw that it tore her mother apart when she told about her past. The leopon cub rubbed her head against Xiamu’s leg again. Xiamu watched her daughter again… in complete silence. Then she embraced her child and nuzzled her…
Xiamu: (sobs) it would be better for you if Anasti were your mother… I just cause you pain… I’m not worthy to be a mother…
Gandu: Mommy… I love you… (Pause) please continue…
Xiamu: (sobs) all right (sob) I ran as fast as I possibly could. I thought that if I ran fast enough, I would leave the pain behind me forever. I ran without stopping to rest… and when I had almost gotten halfway here… Anasti caught up with me. She asked me if we could travel together… I was too sad at the start… but she convinced me. We traveled together and soon we came here. This was the only place I knew that we could live in so we got settled here… and then you and Mneneth was born… and you know the rest…
Gandu: oh… (Long pause) what was N’dina like?
Xiamu: much like you actually… (Smiles) she was a real brat (winks) just kidding. She was curious but quite shy. But she and Rai were… … (Goes silent)
Gandu: Rai? Who’s Rai?
Xiamu: funny… I don’t remember… (Goes silent for a few seconds) no… Now I remember… Rai was Kubaki’s son with Thaneta.
Gandu: (still confused) what happened to him?
Xiamu: (sighs) I’m afraid that he was killed after I was exiled for the second time.
Gandu: … why can’t everyone just be nice to each other?
Xiamu: that’s a good question Gandu. If we all had been friends, then you and Mne would be able to play with N’dina and Rai…
Gandu: yeah… well… shouldn’t we go back to Ani and Mne now?
Xiamu: sure… (Notices the foal she caught earlier) oh… this is still yours…
Gandu: lets share it with the others…
Xiamu: you’re a kind child, Gandu…
Gandu picked up the tip of the zebra foals tail in her mouth while Xiamu lifted it up by its neck. Together they carried the foal away…
At the same time, far away in the Deathlands, Raeza sat alone with N’dina. The poor cub shivered in fear under the gaze of the insane lioness. Raeza was obviously not content with the cubs’ behavior.
Raeza: now… for the last time… who am I?
N’dina: (shivering voice) Raeza…
Raeza: That is my name… what more?
N’dina: (shivering voice) nothing more…
Raeza raised her paw and cuffed the cub to the ground…
Raeza: I… am your MOTHER, Kitch! You’ll call me mom, mommy or mother!
N’dina: (intimidated) b…but… Xiamu is…
Raeza growled fiercely at her and cuffed her again.
Raeza: (very angry) There has never been any Xiamu, and there will never be one either.
N’dina: (terrified) but… she’s…
Raeza bared her teeth and cuffed her again.
Raeza: (Yells in anger) I AM YOUR MOTHER!!
Raeza: (calms down a bit) I won’t cuff you if you call me mom
Raeza: go on, say it… or else I’ll have to cuff you again.
N’dina: (whimpers) …m…mom…
Raeza: now that wasn’t so hard, was it?
N’dina: (whimpers and shakes her head)
Raeza: and stop that miserable whimpering!
N’dina did her best to choke her whimpering, but she could not conceal it too well.
N’dina: (whimpers slightly) can we go home now?
Raeza: that depends on where home is, Kitch.
N’dina: (whimpers) the p… I mean Deathlands…
Raeza: good girl, Kitch. We’ll go home now.
The insane lioness picked the still whimpering cub up by the scruff of her neck and carried her to one of the prides resting places. But instead of going to the nearest one, she carried N’dina to the most far-off den. It was a long trip and when they finally arrived, the poor cub was totally exhausted. The den was just a very large badger-hole that had its entrance widened so a lioness could enter it. And above the entrance, the gray-eyed daughter of Marhiza sat and grinned at them.
Mazih’fu: why hello Raeza. I see that you brought the newest addition to our pride with you. Could I check her out?
Raeza: (drops N’dina and looks very offended) you can’t have her, she’s mine!
Mazih’fu: don’t worry Raeza, I won’t harm your precious… or take her away from you either. I just want to welcome her to the pride and learn her scent.
Raeza glared at Mazih’fu without giving any answer…
Mazih’fu: (sighs) its customary to greet new pride members, Raeza.
Mazih’fu: so I’m going to greet that cub of yours…
Raeza: (snaps) NO! She’s mine!
Mazih’fu: look… I’m just going to say hello to her… not kidnap her.
Raeza snorted and picked the helpless cub up again. She simply walked past Mazih’fu, ignoring her presence completely, and descended down into the den. The gray-eyed lioness remained at her position for a little while before she entered the den. She lay down near the entrance and waited until her eyes had gotten used to the lack of light inside the den, and when they did she saw a very amusing sight.
She managed to suppress a laugh when she saw Raeza having her own wicked ideas about how a cub should sleep. But after a few minutes of shoving the cub around from one position to another she finally solved it by lying on her side and pressing N’dina against her chest with her forepaw. Raeza sent a distrusting gaze at Mazih’fu before she closed her eyes to rest. N’dina lay dead still, afraid of doing any unsuspected move. Mazih’fu watched her for a while, waiting for something to happen.
N’dina waited until she was sure that Raeza was asleep before she began to wriggle herself out of Raeza’s grip. The gray-eyed lioness continued to watch as N’dina managed to slip out of her so-called stepmothers grip. The cub saw too that the large lioness paw gently slid down on the ground.
She drew a sigh of relief as she turned away from the insane lioness. She froze immediately as her gaze met Mazih’fu’s. But to her surprise Mazih’fu smiled at her, something she hadn’t seen from any member of the pride before, and the lioness also patted on the ground next to her with a paw. The cub hesitated for a few seconds before she trotted over to Mazih’fu.
Mazih’fu: she ain’t the best mother you could wish for, eh?
N’dina: (stutters slightly) n…no Miss…
Mazih’fu: oh… We haven’t been properly introduced yet. I’m Mazih’fu… or just Mazzie for short. And you have nothing to fear from me… I’m not like Raeza…
Mazih’fu: … and I thank every god in existence for that. (Pause) So, I never caught your name, kid.
N’dina: eh… N’d… no… its Kitch
Mazih’fu: Kitch? Come on, that can’t be your real name. It sounds like one of Raezas insane ramblings. I want to know your real name, not some crap Raeza made up.
N’dina: (stutters something)
Mazih’fu: its okay, I won’t tell on you.
N’dina: it’s… N’dina…
Mazih’fu: N’dina… definitely better than Kitch…
N’dina: (nods her head)
Mazih’fu: well… I guess you’d better be at her (mentions at Raeza) side when she wakes up. Who knows what that insane lioness might do if you weren’t lying exactly like you did when she fell asleep.
N’dina: I guess you’re right Mazzie…
Mazih’fu: well… sleep well… and see you tomorrow, N’dina.
N’dina: (nods) good night Mazzie.
Roughly a month later in the Crescent lands, Gandu and her half brother Mneneth sat outside an entrance to one of the many caves that could be found in the large rock formation. It was just before daybreak and only the light before sunrise lit the lands.
Mneneth: (hesitant) are you really sure about this, sis?
Gandu: (nods her head) yep
Mneneth: but didn’t aunt Xi say that it was dangerous?
Gandu: she did, but don’t you think she exaggerated it a bit just to keep us away from there?
Gandu: and besides… didn’t she say that she were miraculously saved? I bet we’d be saved too if we went into trouble…
Mneneth: … or we’d be DEAD!
Gandu: (hushes at him) shh, moron. Don’t wake them up.
Mneneth: to me it sounds like wandering straight into our own graves
Gandu: Don’t be such a chicken, Mne.
Mneneth: Hey! You take that back! I’m twice as bold as you are
Gandu: (grins) then stop your whining
Mneneth: All right… lets go then!
Gandu grinned at her half brother again as they both rose to their paws and began to walk towards the north.
After some hours Mneneth began to complain about his empty stomach and aching paws. But Gandu, who simply continued onwards towards the swamp, ignored his whining. After yet an hour of walking, and complaining by Mneneth, they finally found the swamp. It was located within a large depression in the ground that made it impossible to see from distance, just like their home. The two cubs stared in awe at the fog-covered swamp that stretched out towards the horizon in front of them.
Mneneth: whoa! This looks creepy…
Gandu: yeah… and sinister… and somehow… I like it.
Mneneth: strange… I like it too…
Gandu: then what are we waiting for? Lets go have a closer look.
Mneneth: yeah… but wait… shouldn’t we go back when we can’t see out of the swamp anymore?
Gandu: … that was a clever idea… for coming from you.
Mneneth: hey! Watch your mouth or I’ll make you drink from that swamp!
Gandu: Catch me if you can!
Gandu grinned as she bounced down towards the edge of the swamp, closely followed by Mneneth. Without stopping, Gandu continued out into the water, which only reached up to her ankles, and further out into the greenish fog. Forgetting completely about keeping track of the edge of the swamp the two cubs waded further out into the swamp. Mneneth pursued his sister by skipping from one tuft of grass to another. But he could not keep up with her. Suddenly Gandu landed on dry land again, confused by that, she forgot to evade Mneneth who pounced on her back and made her fall onto the ground. She looked up and saw her brother’s victorious grin above her. She batted at him, and got up on her paws again. They were already too far out into the swamp to see out, but they wasted no thoughts of that. They continued on the newly found dry land until they reached more swamp-water. She continued out on the other side of the land. Mneneth followed her, not too happy to leave dry land again. They hadn’t noticed how the environment had changed; the water seemed filthier and outright disgusting. It had a sinister green tint and it was full of rotting plants… and it smelled awful too. The stench had hit them so suddenly that they both almost threw up.
Mneneth: YUCK! What IS that smell?
Gandu: urg… I think I’m going to be sick…
Mneneth: me too… let's go back now
Mneneth turned around but stopped in his move with a loud gasp. He couldn’t see out from the swamp anymore.
Mneneth: G… Gandu… I… Can’t see out…
Gandu: (stutters and whispers) Mne… shut up… look
Mneneth turned around again and saw a dark shape move around in the greenish mist that lingered over the stinking water. When he looked closer, he saw two red dots glimmer on the head of the shape. Suddenly the creature came closer and it revealed its true shape. The front half of its body was a cheetah… while its hind part dissolved into smoke that blended with the green fog. It had a very tawny spotted fur, which was partly covered in filth from the swamp. The spots on its body were placed in spiral-patterns. Its eyes were two black orbs with small red dots for pupils… Both Mneneth and Gandu huddled together and hid in what cover the tufts of grass they stood on could offer, in hope that it would overlook them… but it didn’t… it had seen them.
Mneneth: (whispers frightened) come on Gandu… lets get out of here…
Gandu did not reply. She was as petrified as the creature moved towards them. Gandu sent a quick gaze at the face of the creature… He had expected an evil face… but instead the creature had a surprised expression on its face. He remembered what he had heard Xiamu tell about the creature that inhabited the swamp…
Mneneth: (stutters) C…Chitzikobe?
The creatures face shone up as it heard its name…
Chitzikobe: (surprised hollow voice) KANJI! TATZENA!!!!! You… You have returned to me!!!!
Mneneth: (confused) uh?
Before he could react he found himself in the embrace of the swamp demon Chitzikobe along with his sister.
Chitzikobe: (hugs them tightly, still with a hollow voice) have no fear honey, everything will be fine now…
The swamp demon hugged them both into her filthy and wet chest fur and carried them both across a large span of filthy and green swamp water. It came clear to Mneneth that Chitzikobe was the source of the awful and nauseating stench. He held his breath as much as he could to avoid inhaling the smell.
A little while later they reached a large, flat boulder that poked up from the swamp. It had a large, dead thorn bush at one end and it was partly covered by dead grass on the rest. Chitzikobe gently put them both down on the grass and watched them happily. She smiled to them, making her half-rotted teeth and gums visible. Gandu was still as if petrified but Mneneth tried to back away. Chitzikobe just flew over him and settled next to him.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) you must be starving, my children.
Suddenly most of her hind part, except for her hind legs and tail, formed from the smoke. She lay down and presented her belly to the cubs. Mneneth tried to back away from her, but she extended one of her forepaws and pushed him towards her. She then pressed his face into her filth and mud covered belly. He tried futilely to push away but she was way stronger than him. Soon she had managed to get one of her teats into his mouth. He still tried desperately to get away, but to no avail. Suddenly an extremely sticky and awful tasting fluid appeared in his mouth. He tried not to swallow any of it but he couldn’t spit it out either. Chitzikobe thought that his attempts to push away with his front paws were to knead her belly to get more “milk” from her.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) that’s a good boy, Kanji. Drink as much as you want…
Gandu stared at how her brother began to choke on the liquid from Chitzikobe. She immediately awoke from her petrified state.
Gandu: Let him go! He can’t breathe!
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) Tatzena… come, there’s milk for you too…
Gandu: No! I don’t want any! Let my brother go!
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) be patient my dear, Kanji can’t play on an empty stomach.
To Gandu’s relief, she let go of Mneneth. The leopard cub immediately propelled backwards and landed on his back. He spat out a blackish substance from his mouth that covered most of his face. Gandu was quick to be at his side.
Gandu: Mne… are you all right?
Mneneth: (spits and coughs, taking deep breaths) yech… that was… awful
Chitzikobe rose up and moved over to them and settled next to them so they were between her front legs and under her head.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) Always eager to play Tatzena. You know, you should let Kanji rest a little now and then.
Gandu looked up at the once living creature, which was smiling at her. The sight of the rotten teeth and gums she saw disgusted her, but it became way worse when a worm broke through the flesh above a tooth and wriggled its way out of the swamp demon. Gandu quickly turned away and almost threw up on Mneneth.
Chitzikobe: (hugs both cubs again and speaks with her hollow voice) you have no idea how much I’ve missed you two. (A tear falls from her eye) Oh thank you Madun for granting me this blessing (kisses both cubs on their heads) I am eternally grateful for your mercy Madun.
You must have begun to forgive me…
The touch of her lips was cold and devoid of life and her tears was like ice when they fell on the cubs. The former cheetress creature began to purr as she nuzzled the two cubs while she gently rocked them from side to side.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) rest now, my darlings. I’ll watch over you…
She began to groom Gandu, but her tongue was covered in slime that stuck to the leopons fur. Gandu held her breath so she wouldn’t be more nauseated by Chitzikobe’s death-stench breath and closed her eyes to block out the sight of Chitzikobe’s mouth. The swamp demon couldn’t see any faults in what she did. Her eyes were so completely blinded by happiness that she didn’t see what she did to the cubs. She almost soaked Gandu’s fur with the slime from her tongue before she let the cubs down between her forelegs again. She then laid her head in a protecting way over them.
Neither of the cubs dared to breathe a word. The humidity and the stench emitting from Chitzikobe was almost unbearable for them. They waited a long while until they heard how the rasping sounds of the former cheetress’ breath became more and more rhythmic. It was clear that Chitzikobe had fallen asleep. Mneneth wriggled himself out from the “shelter” underneath Chitzikobe’s head and waited until Gandu had crawled out as well. Mneneth immediately gave his half sister an accusing gaze.
Mneneth: (whispers) this was a really bad idea, Gandu.
Gandu: (whispers) I know, you don’t have to rub it in. We must find a way out from this mess.
Mneneth: (whispers) it won’t be easy. Not while that… (Mentions at Chitzikobe) err… thing thinks we are her children. She almost killed me.
Gandu: (whispers) I know… but she’s the only one here that knows this place… (Suddenly gets an idea) Maybe we could trick her into showing us around… I remember that mom told me that Chitzikobe is trapped in here. She ought to know the boundaries of her realm. And if we could get close enough to the borders… we might be able to slip back out again.
Mneneth: (whispers) but if we fail, then she’ll surely be the cause of our deaths…
Gandu: (whispers) but then we tried, right?
Mneneth: (whispers) yes… that’s true… (Pauses) I’d rather die trying instead of dieing here.
Both of them went dead silent as Chitzikobe began to twitch and speak in her sleep…
Chitzikobe: (mumbles with a hollow voice) no… (Twitch) Kanji… Tatzena… please wake up… (Twitch) please Madun… I surrender to your mercy… if you bring them back… (Twitch) I beg you… they are innocent…(sob)
Mneneth: (watches and whispers) what’s with her?
Gandu: (whispers) I think she’s dreaming… shh, listen…
Chitzikobe: (continues to mumble with a hollow voice) I beg you… please forgive me… I’ll do anything (twitch) please… look at me… I beg you… don’t leave me alone (twitch) no… (Yells) NOOOO!!!!
Suddenly her eyes sprung up and she woke up with a loud gasp. But when she saw the two cubs she let out a sigh of relief.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) oh thank Madun that you’re still here… (Moves over to them and embraces them both) I’m so happy that you’re here with me. It can’t take long before Madun comes to release me from this torment…
Mneneth: (looks confused) eh?
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) oh… I should’ve told you. You mustn’t believe in me anymore. I’m no goddess, I never were one and I’ll never be one either. I just want to be the one I was so long ago. I just want you two to have a peaceful and good life… (Pauses) Madun is the goddess we all believe in. Its to her we owe our lives and this world and our faith.
She let go of her embrace of the cubs, who both sat down on the ground and looked bewildered at each other.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) Let us pray to Madun… (Bows her head) Oh great Madun, protector of the innocent and young. I give my eternal gratitude for bringing my children back to me.
She rose her head watched the two cubs for a while. She then shrugged and gave them both another hug.
When she let go, Gandu broke the silence…
Gandu. Eh… Chitzikobe… I wondered if you could… like show us around here?
Chitzikobe: (smiles in her own disgusting way and speaks with a hollow voice) of course I can, Tatzena… but there’s not much to see here… it’s mostly a swamp with a few large boulders here and there and only two places you can actually be on. This is one of them…
Mneneth: (understands Gandu’s intention) uh… we’d like to see that other piece of land.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) and so you shall, my children…
The swamp cheetress creature rose up and her hind part dissolved into smoke again. The cubs realized that she was going to carry them again but they did not make any objections. The former cheetress picked them up and held them against her chest with one of her forepaws. She carried them across another vast expanse of swamp water. It took almost as long to reach the destination as it had taken to get to the first piece of land. And Chitzikobe talked all the way about how much she had missed them. The two cubs blocked her hollow voice out, as they had grown tired of it. They were both a bit happy when Chitzikobe finally let them down on the other piece of land. This was a large rock, just like the other. Large patches of dead grass covered it.
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) behold, my children… the other landmass in my realm.
Gandu: uhm… mom… where exactly does your realm end?
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) it ends not far from here (points in some direction) Actually just a few meters that way. It is separated from the circle of stone that marks the edge of my swamp.
Gandu: is it deep?
Chitzikobe: no, not at all Tatzena. It is very shallow… but there are some very deep holes hidden under the surface of the water.
Mneneth looked carefully in the direction Chitzikobe had pointed out… and she had told the truth. He could see another piece of land just a few meters out into the greenish mist. He looked at Gandu, who gave him a wink of his eye. He knew that they should run as fast as he could as soon as the opportunity showed itself. But they had to distract Chitzikobe first.
Mneneth: uhm… Mom?
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) yes Kanji-dear?
Mneneth: could we play here?
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) of course you can.
Mneneth: say… could you stand over there (points in the direction from which they had come) and look out into the water?
Chitzikobe: (hollow voice) of course dear. (Moves over to the far side of the large rock) Which game did you have in mind?
Mneneth: (winks to Gandu) we’ll play… Run from You!
Chitzikobe was puzzled for a few seconds and the cubs seized the opportunity and ran as fast as they could out towards the not so distant border of Chitzikobe’s prison. They did not care about having to go straight through the filthy and thick water to get there. It was shallow and didn’t slow them down much. Gandu was slightly faster than her brother and was in the lead. They heard Chitzikobe yelp behind them… and suddenly Gandu’s paws failed to find anything to step on and she quickly submerged under the water surface. Mneneth saw a sudden glimpse of light reach his eyes from somewhere beyond the stone border. The source of the light approached rapidly. Chitzikobe gave out another yelp and charged towards Gandu. But the orb of light reached Gandu first and snatched her up from the water and carried her away… one second later Chitzikobe splashed down into the water and sent both water and mud flying in every direction. Mneneth had stopped because of the sudden disappearance of his sister and stared astonished and frightened at the light that had carried his sister away. The orb had let Gandu down right outside the border and it then came towards him. He felt compelled to run towards it…
Chitzikobe: (Yelling desperately) KANJI!!!!
She had seen it as well and had sprung up from the water and hurried towards Mneneth. This time she was first and she picked him up and flew away from there as fast as she only could. She carried him towards the other piece of land and the trip that had previously taken several minutes now took about one and a half. The swamp passed by at a tremendous speed underneath them. When they reached the other large rock in the swamp, Chitzikobe hid Mneneth under the thorn-bush and touched his cheek with her paw.
Chitzikobe: (visibly afraid, hollow voice) I won’t let you down this time Kanji. Don’t be afraid… I’ll protect you. I won’t fail you, my love…
She kissed him on his forehead and pushed him as far in under the bush as possible. Then she placed herself in front of the bush. From inside, Mneneth could see how the orb of light approached them. Chitzikobe was between him and the light… and she was trembling visibly.
Chitzikobe: (quivering hollow voice) M…Madun… I… I won’t allow you to take Kanji away from me again.
The light landed close to Chitzikobe and reshaped into a floating and glowing cheetress. Mneneth stared at the scene that took place before him.
Chitzikobe: (quivering hollow voice) You’ll ha…have to kill me this time…
The cheetah goddess watched her with an extremely cold gaze while Chitzikobe continued.
Chitzikobe: (quivering hollow voice) w…why d…d…do you… t…take your b…blessing back? What d…did I d…do wrong?
Madun: (Chilling voice) I never sent you any blessing, Chitzikobe.
Chitzikobe: (quivering hollow voice) b…but… you returned t…them to me…
Madun: (chilling voice) your children are long dead. That cub is not your son. Hand him over to me… now…
Chitzikobe took a defensive stance between Mneneth and Madun.
Chitzikobe: (quivering hollow voice) n…no… y…you won’t take him away from me.
Madun gave her another icing glare and raised her left front paw towards the swamp demon creature. A ray of light shoot out from the paw and hit Chitzikobe in the chest and threw her back through the thorn-bush and into the water on the other side. Madun wasted no time and went over to Mneneth’s hiding place.
Madun: (soft voice) it’s all right now Mneneth… I’ll bring you out from this swamp now.
Mneneth was as mesmerized by her soft voice and quickly crawled out from the bush. Madun stroked him gently on his head and then picked him up in her mouth and carried him away to the place where she had left Gandu. After having crossed the swamp again, Mneneth was put down next to Gandu. Madun watched the two very dirty cubs for a few seconds before speaking…
Madun: (soft voice) hello young ones… I am the cheetah goddess Madun.
Gandu: (astonished) you… a god? Oy… Gee… I mean… a Real god?
Mneneth: (pokes Gandu with his elbow) of course she’s a real god… have you ever heard of unreal gods?
Madun: (soft voice) calm down now… (Turns to Gandu) yes, I am a real goddess
Mneneth sent a gaze into Chitzikobe’s prison and a question appeared inside his head…
Mneneth: uh… who was Chitzikobe anyway?
Madun: (soft voice) you need not to bother about her… she’s just a mistake, nothing else.
Mneneth: a mistake?
Madun: (sighs) … she was once one of my believers… but she turned away from the light… She came to wield great powers… and she used them to suit her own needs… She is the greatest of my mistakes… and I’ve paid dearly to correct it…
Gandu: excuse me for interrupting you… but why did you seal her off instead of killing her?
The goddess’ gaze met with Gandu’s. The leopon couldn’t bear to meet her gaze… but even when she turned her gaze away, she felt how Madun’s gaze glared into her mind. She knew she had said something very stupid.
Gandu: never mind…
Mneneth sent another gaze into the swamp. And he fell backwards as Chitzikobe suddenly appeared out form the mist. She came in a flying charge towards him. His eyes widened as the creature came closer. But when she reached the border of the swamp she came to an abrupt stop as if she had flown straight into an invisible wall along the inner edge of the rock he stood on. Mneneth saw the anguish in her face as she pushed herself against the invisible wall to reach him. She slowly sunk down towards the swamp surface. It pained him to see the pure desperation and dejection that was in her dark eyes. He couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. He turned away from the sight and saw that Madun and Gandu were looking at the former cheetress too.
Madun: you have nothing to fear from her, children. You are outside her confinement. Just ignore her and she’ll go away…
Mneneth turned back to Chitzikobe who had began to sink into the water while trying to reach out for him through the invisible wall that separated her from them. After a few attempts she gave up. With her paws resting against the invisible wall she slowly sank down into the water until only her head, neck and legs was above the filthy water. Her eyes was misty and large tears rolled down her cheeks and down into the water. Mneneth turned away form her and covered his eyes with his mud and slime-covered paws to block the image of Chitzikobe out from his mind.
Madun: I believe that you two have seen enough of this swamp now. I will bring you back to your home now…
The Cheetah goddess picked the two cubs up and then she began to hover. She then flew away with them. Mneneth caught one last glimpse of Chitzikobe as the former cheetress hammered her paws against the invisible wall. He knew she was screaming in agony. He knew that she had believed that he and Gandu was her long perished children Kanji and Tatzena… He closed his eyes and felt a tingle in his stomach as Madun flew faster…
Questions not to be asked
After a few minutes Madun finally landed with the cubs not far from the crescent rock. It was far beyond sunset and the darkness seemed to try to overwhelm the light that came from the cheetah goddess.
Madun didn’t pay any attention to the darkness. She gently let the cubs down on the ground and watched them in their joy to finally step on firm land. Then she cleared her throat to get their attention…
Madun: I must have you both to vow that you’ll never return to that swamp.
Gandu: of course… I’ll never set my paw there again, I swear.
Madun: (nods) thank you Gandu (turns to Mneneth) and now it’s your turn, Mneneth.
Madun: go on… I won’t let you go before you make that promise.
Mneneth: … can I ask something first?
Madun: of course you can, Mneneth.
Mneneth: You sealed Chitzikobe inside that swamp… and I guess you had a perfectly good reason of doing so… but… how long has she been there? She seemed to have gone insane…
Madun: … I wish not to speak about her now, Mneneth.
Mneneth: In that case, I won’t promise anything.
Both Gandu and Madun looked surprised at Mneneth’s last sentence. Madun had certainly not expected that answer, and especially not from a little cub that she just had saved from certain death. Gandu couldn’t believe that Mneneth dared to say anything like that up in the face of a goddess.
Gandu: Mne… are you crazy? She can kill you…
Mneneth: no… she won’t (looks at Madun) you killed Kanji and Tatzena, didn’t you?
Gandu gasped. She thought that Mneneth had totally lost his mind. She looked up at Madun… and saw how the facial expression of the goddess darkened considerably.
Gandu: Mne! Please just make that vow so we can go home.
Mneneth: (shakes his head) She won’t harm us, sis. All I want to know is the reason why Chitzikobe deserved to be locked away for all time.
Gandu became even more frightened. She didn’t know if she should fear most from the goddess… or from her own half-brother. But before she could say anything Madun took hold around the leopard cub’s neck with her paw and lifted him up to her face. Her entire entity now sent out a red-tinted light. Her face was as if cut in stone and her gaze burned straight into his eyes. But even if he could, he wouldn’t have torn his eyes from her gaze.
Madun: (deep and cold voice) You are indeed a brave cub, Mneneth. You dare to say no to a goddess… (Short, eerie pause) You wish to know about Chitzikobe? Then I will show you the Truth!
An intense flash of light that blinded Gandu came out from Madun. It engulfed both her and Mneneth and when it faded away, both the goddess and the leopard cub were gone. Gandu sat totally still. Her eyes hadn’t fully adjusted to the darkness yet but she knew that Madun was no longer present.
Gandu: (stutters into the darkness) M… Mne… Mneneth? Mneneth! Where are you???
She jumped over to the location where Madun and Mneneth had vanished.
Gandu: (horrified) MNENETH!!!
She sat down and stared with empty eyes at the spot where her half-brother had been just a few seconds ago.
Gandu’s yell had awakened both her mother and Anasti. Xiamu had recognized her daughters voice and was quick up on her paws and out to search for her daughter. After just a few minutes she found Gandu sitting and staring out into nothing.
Xiamu: GANDU!!! Oh my god! You’re back!
The lioness hurried over to the leopon cub and embraced her tightly. Anasti arrived a few seconds later with a hopeful expression on her face. But the hope quickly turned into desperation, as her son wasn’t there…
Anasti: Mneneth? Are you here, Mneneth?
The leopardess came over to Gandu and Xiamu.
Anasti: (To Gandu) Where’s Mneneth??? Where is he?
Gandu: (stutters) S…she took him…
Xiamu had begun to lick the mud that covered Gandu’s pelt, but as soon as she tasted the mud on her tongue, her face wrinkled up into disgust. She recognized that taste all to well… She completely ignored Anasti because all her attention was fixed upon her daughter.
Xiamu: Gandu… have you been to the swamp?
Gandu: (flattens ears) yes…
Xiamu: oh no… Why? Why did you go there?
The lioness shook her head and now she noticed Anasti, who looked totally destroyed.
Xiamu: Gandu… where is Mneneth?
Gandu: she took him…
Xiamu: oh no… (Turns to Anasti) Anasti… we’ll have to go to the swamp to save Mneneth…
Gandu: no… it wasn’t Chitzikobe….
Xiamu: (looks confused) then whom?
Gandu: it was Madun.
Anasti: (cuts in) Madun? (Growls) I’ll rip this Madun to pieces if Mne is harmed.
Xiamu: Be careful what you say Anasti. Madun is a goddess.
Anasti: (swallows her growl) a… g… goddess?
Xiamu: (turns to Gandu) Why did she take Mneneth?
Gandu: I… think he said something stupid…
Xiamu gave her daughter a questioning gaze… not really sure what to say, or think…
Mneneth found himself floating freely in an environment totally foreign to him. His surroundings were like a bright and misty emptiness. He sensed something floating next to him and when he turned his head he saw Madun in the shape of a bright glowing orb.
Madun: (powerful voice) You wished to know the truth, Mneneth. I shall give it to you.
Something in her voice seemed foreboding in a sinister way. Mneneth gulped and nodded as an answer.
Madun: (continues) The one you know as Chitzikobe was once one of my followers. Her true name was Insi. She was born over thousand years ago in a land far from your home.
Mneneth could see how the white emptiness seemed to take shape at the words of the goddess. It transformed into vast savannah with not too high grass. Right in front of him a little place without grass took shape, and in the middle of the grassless patch laid a cheetress nursing her cub. The strange thing about the fluffy cub was that those spots that were visible through its fur were arranged in spiral patterns. It was the distinctive pattern that made Mneneth recognize the cub. It was Chitzikobe, or Insi as her real name had been. He was no longer floating freely; instead he stood on firm ground. He could feel the grass on his sides as the wind blew through it. It felt just like the grass at his home. His curiosity made him go closer to the two cheetahs and to his surprise; the cheetress didn’t notice him at all. He went all the way up to her and watched them for a while.
Mneneth: excuse me Miss…
The cheetress still didn’t notice him at all; her eyes were fixed on her nursing and purring daughter. Mneneth was confused because he wasn’t noticed. Suddenly he felt Madun’s presence next to him again.
Madun: they cannot hear you Mneneth. We are invisible and inaudible to them. You can touch them, but they will not notice anything.
Mneneth looked at the cheetress for a second before he extended his paw and touched her black nose. She didn’t even turn her eyes from her child. Mneneth was convinced now.
Madun: Her name was Athi’ngwa… and the cub at her side was Insi.
Mneneth nodded and backed away a few steps and watched as the cub stopped nursing and curled up to her mothers’ side looking up at her face.
Athi’ngwa: (speaks softly to Insi) listen Insi… can kou say Madun?
Insi: (blinks with her eyes) mavun?
Athi’ngwa: (smiles) kou almost got it Insi, please try again.
Insi: Mavun luv kuu, faha.
Athi’ngwa: (licks Insi on her head) Tye loves kou too, kobto nim.
Somehow Mneneth understood the strange words that the cheetahs said, but he had no time to ponder on why. The scenery around him, including the two cheetahs, faded away and soon he was floating in the empty white space again. Madun was still hovering next to him.
Madun: As I said, Mneneth… this was over a thousand years ago. Athi’ngwa had moved to the lands far to the west of your home, called the Cheetah lands because there lived so many cheetahs there. She took residence in the eastern fringes of the Cheetah lands, where she gave birth to Insi and a twin sister that came to my side only a few days after her birth. My people, the cheetahs, do have prejudices towards symmetrical spot patterns. That is mostly because of an ancient legend that has been passed down through the generations.
The goddess made a short pause so Mneneth could comprehend everything she said.
Madun: (continues) Little Insi grew up totally unaware of these prejudices. But her mother knew that her spiral-spot-pattern would cause serious problems for her daughter later on. Insi’s first encounter with the prejudices was when she met one of the neighbours…
While Madun had been telling about Insi and Athi’ngwa, the void that surrounded them had turned into the same savannah as before. Mneneth saw Athi’ngwa rest in the shades of a tree while Insi was busy chasing her own tail around in circles. Insi had grown since the previous time he saw her. He guessed that she was about his age even if she was considerably smaller and weaker than him.
The leopard cub walked closer to the cheetress cub and watched her play for a while. The spirals that her spots formed were fully visible now. She had two spirals in her face, each with its center at her eyes and six spirals on the rest of her body. His attention was drawn from Insi when he heard a sigh in his ear.
Madun: (sighs) In just a few minutes, the neighbouring cheetress Nurazah appears. She was seen as an outcast by other cheetahs, mostly because she socialized with leopards and lions. (Pause) there she comes…
Mneneth looked around and he was once again surprised. He could see the sleek cat through the grass. He let out a gasp when his eyes fell on Nurazah’s face. It was full of scars from both claws and teeth… and so was the rest of her, especially her neck was a mess of tufts of fur and scars. And if that wasn’t enough, her left ear was partially missing, her tail bent in an unnatural angle right before the tip of it and she was limping slightly. Mneneth sent a quick gaze to Insi, who was still totally unaware of Nurazah’s presence. The cheetress cub was too busy with trying to pin her own evasive tail. The scarred cheetress managed to come very close to Insi before she made her presence known. Insi suddenly found herself in front of a, to her unknown, cheetress with a hint of scorn visible in her face.
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) oh my… what an ugly little thing Kiic stumbled across…
Insi remained silent and motionless, but her eyes betrayed that she was dead terrified.
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) Yesh… and they ask why Ki go with hafuhs and zibihis… Just look at kou! Not even the worms would touch kou… well, Ki must admit that it is a quite good defense… it repulses anything. (Snorts) Where’s kou faha, Anikhah? Oh… tye maybe abandoned kou because kou are so darn ugly… Ki don’t blame tye.
Insi sent a nervous gaze towards her mother, that to her relief still laid in the shades. Nurazah saw it too…
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) oh, tye’s over there? Indeed… it surprises me that tye hasn’t bitten kou head off yet…
Mneneth felt angry. He wanted to smack Nurazah’s face until she begged for forgiveness. But he knew that he could in no way interfere with the course of events that he monitored. He silently continued to watch…
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) oh be quiet, kou kobto Rasaw… or else Ki might save kou faha the trouble of getting rid of kou.
Insi quickly scuttled over to hide behind her mother, calling out for her to wake up while poking her with her small paws.
Insi: Faha! Faha wake up!
Athi’ngwa opened her eyes and immediately felt the scent of the stranger. She rose up to her paws and glared at Nurazah.
Athi’ngwa: who are kou and what the heck are kou doing in my territory?
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) Ki akh Nurazah. Ki live in a neighboring territory and Ki just noticed that someone lived here. Ki simply came by to see who the owner might be.
Athi’ngwa: very well Nurazah, Kiah Athi’ngwa and this (mentions at Insi) is my daughter Insi.
Nurazah: (somewhat chilly hoarse voice) Pleased to meet wej. Well, Ki think Ki’ll head back home now. We can talk more later on. Mizhk Athi’ngwa.
The scarred cheetress limped away in the same direction she had originally come from. Insi looked up at her mother…
Insi: Faha… tye’s mean…
Athi’ngwa: don’t worry Insi… tye was just a crazy old Kekaba (nuzzles Insi) Tye can’t harm kou
The image of Athi’ngwa nuzzling her daughter froze as if someone had stopped time. Mneneth could still move, and he looked at the glowing orb that was the cheetah goddess…
Madun: (sigh) Unfortunately Athi’ngwa was wrong. Nurazah made more damage to them than they could’ve imagined. Before the end of the following day, the rumor of the cub with spiral-patterned spots had spread widely and it didn’t take long before another cheetah came to see Insi with her own eyes and scorn the poor child. Athi’ngwa were extremely upset when she found out. She yelled at the cheetress to get the hell out of her territory. But before that day was over, Athi’ngwa had chased three other trespassers away.
Mneneth looked at Athi’ngwa and Insi again. The scenery around them had changed while he had listened to Madun. It had turned from day to late night and Athi’ngwa was in the exact same position as before, but now she was nuzzling a crying Insi. The scene unfroze and Mneneth watched.
Insi: (sobs) w…why are wej so mean to me, faha? What (sob) have Ki done?
Athi’ngwa: Ki don’t know Insi, but Ki’ll make them stop. Ki will beat the lights out of the next one who approaches kou.
Insi: (sobs) really?
Athi’ngwa: (nods) ban kobto nim. No one will make kou sad without paying dearly for it…
Suddenly Mneneth felt something else that was close to him. He knew that it wasn’t Madun because this entity was on his other side. He turned his head and the only thing he saw was a lot of black fur with yellow spots. He was a bit startled at first, but when he backed off he saw that it was a black cheetah cub with yellow spots and tear lines. The black cub was just slightly larger than Insi. When Mneneth saw the eyes of the cub, he let out a gasp of surprise. The black cheetah cub had totally blue, faintly glimmering eyes. The only normal about its eyes was the black pupils that were aimed at Athi’ngwa and Insi.
The black cheetah cub paid no attention to Mneneth, because he couldn’t see him. Instead the cheetah slowly padded towards Athi’ngwa and Insi. Mneneth walked almost alongside it. The cub stopped two meters away from Athi’ngwa and Insi and Mneneth did the same.
Black cheetah: (calm voice) Excuse me Miss. Kou must be Athi’ngwa…
The calm voice sounded oddly wise and friendly, but the sudden appearance made Athi’ngwa cover Insi with her paws and glared at where she thought the voice came from.
Athi’ngwa: (cold voice) what if Ki akh? Have kou come to ridicule my daughter?
Black Cheetah: (calm voice) Dear Madun, Cot! Ki wouldn’t do that.
Athi’ngwa finally saw the black cheetah cub and gave it a suspicious gaze.
Black Cheetah: Allow me to introduce myself. Kiah Inkhobi, a shaman appointed by Madun herself.
Ki heard that wej had moved in here, so Ki decided to come visit and welcome wej.
Athi’ngwa: (surprised) kou? A shaman? Why, kou are just a strange-looking cub.
Inkhobi: perhaps Ki akh, but the powers that Madun grants me are far beyond mortal levels. Ki can show kou if kou doubt my words.
Athi’ngwa: (slightly amused) Ki believe kou Inkhobi… Why don’t kou go back to kou faha now, it’s in the middle of the night and cubs like kou shouldn’t be out alone…
Inkhobi gave her an empty gaze with his blue eyes. Mneneth understood that she had touched a very sensitive topic.
Inkhobi: She is no longer among us…
Athi’ngwa: Ki akh sorry, Ki didn’t know…
Inkhobi: it's okay…
Athi’ngwa patted on the ground in front of her with her paw.
Athi’ngwa: please come closer, Inkhobi…
The black cheetah cub padded over to the cheetress but stopped right outside the area she could reach.
Inkhobi: Ki appreciate kou friendliness…
Athi’ngwa: kou are quite welcome to stay here with Insi and me if kou like.
Inkhobi: (nods) thanks for the offer, Athi’ngwa, but Ki must decline. Ki already have a home. Ki can go home now, know that kou are a kind soul.
Athi’ngwa: well… see kou, Ki guess…
Inkhobi: (nods) we’re likely to meet again. Bathar Athi’ngwa, may Madun watch over wej.
Inkhobi nodded and smiled to Insi as well before he turned away and vanished into the night. Insi kept watching him for as long as her eyes could distinguish him in the darkness.
Insi: faha… Ki like tye
Athi’ngwa: Ki like tye too, Insi.
Once again the scene faded back to the white empty space. Mneneth immediately sent a curious gaze to Madun…
Mneneth: … who was that Inkhobi?
Madun: Inkhobi is one of my paw-picked shamans. He still lives and works in the Cheetah lands.
Mneneth: he seems to be very nice
Madun: indeed he is… That’s one of the reasons that I chose him… but at the time you just saw, he was living with the elder cheetress healer Otakei. He had heard the rumors and he knew that other cheetahs were disturbing Insi and Athi’ngwa. He solved that by spreading a rumor that anyone who bothered Insi would face his anger. It was very effective because the intrusions into Athi’ngwa’s territory decreased to none at all.
Madun made a short pause so that Mneneth could take in everything she told him.
Madun: (continues) Inkhobi came to visit Insi quite regularly and some times he even took time to play with her. Well… Time passed and both Insi and Inkhobi grew older. During the following months, the old cheetress Otakei deceased. And that put an end to Inkhobi’s visits. He had to take over the position as shaman and healer after Otakei. Even if he wanted to, he had no time over to visit Insi…
She suddenly sighed and went silent. An embarrassing silence followed. Mneneth looked at the glowing orb that was the cheetah goddess. He couldn’t see any visible emotions on it but he guessed that she was figuring out a way to continue. But when she didn’t continue in a long time, he began to wonder…
Mneneth: (worried) is everything all right?
Madun: I’m fine… nothing is wrong…
Madun: I just thought that I’ve could have prevented the course of things altogether. All I had to do was to have ordered Inkhobi to visit Insi.
Mneneth: (looks into the glowing orb) you can’t alter time, can you?
Madun: no I can’t… I should keep to the topic instead of letting my mind wander.
Insi grew up and she began to think more and more about love and such, just like young cheetresses at her age should. Athi’ngwa knew that it would be very difficult for her daughter to find anyone to love and be loved by. But she couldn’t bear to tell Insi and break her happiness. (Pauses) you see, the cheetahs that live in these lands have a special maturity ritual that all males must attend to after they reach ten months of age. (Pauses) Basically it goes like this. The shaman gives the young male a blessing, and then the male goes to talk to some females… The females will then scatter in different directions and the male must choose one of them. And when he catches up with one, they’ll be mates…
Mneneth: (confused) sounds weird…
Madun: maybe it does sound weird to you, but it is an effective way to ensure the future for my species. It prevents inbreeding, something that often happens to species that are few in numbers…
Mneneth: (not really understanding) oh… okay…
The void around them had once again changed without Mneneth noticing it. A savannah that was bathing in the light of the dawning sun was all around him. Not far away five cheetresses sat, chatting idly among themselves. About ten meters away from them a massive termite mound poked up from the ground. The time was halted and Mneneth had time to look around while Madun floated next to his head in the shape of a glowing orb.
Madun: Insi went to such a ritual, Athi’ngwa had explained it all to her and the poor girl departed, full of hope… (Sighs) well, you’ll see with your own eyes what happened…
Mneneth turned his attention to the five cheetresses and soon after, they unfroze and he could hear them babble…
Cheetress1: so Girls… who do wej think will be the first nim to leave?
Cheetress2: Ki don’t know… but unless any more arrive here, none of us will have to leave here… alone.
Cheetress3: Really? Are there really tieh kekabas here for the ritual?
Cheetress2: even better. There’s rehm of them
Cheetress1: oo, even nim for reserve (grins foolishly)
The two remaining cheetresses who weren’t participating in the discussion spotted someone in the distance.
Cheetress4: (speaks out) look there, seems like the reserve will have someone too.
Mneneth couldn’t see who the approaching cheetress was, but he guessed that it was Insi. And he was right. When the five cheetresses saw Insi they all went dead silent. Insi walked straight towards them, sat down and looked quite nervous but full of anticipation.
Insi: (smiles) Yoah Kekabas
None of the other answered her; they all stared wide-eyed at her… or rather, at her spot-pattern.
Insi: (sounds a bit unsure) Kiah Insi.
All except one of the cheetress blinked…
Cheetress3: seems like we’ll still have nim in reserve
Cheetress2: (stops staring at Insi) yeah… kou sic right… Insi’Anikhah will probably scare tye away when tye sees Anikhah.
Insi gasped silently and looked somewhat confused but she tried to approach them again…
Insi: it’s just Insi
Cheetress5: (mocks Insi) its just Anikhah
Cheetress3: (snickers) what’s tye doing here anyway? Tye can’t seriously hope for anyone to follow tye home…
Cheetress2: (fills in) except for the fleas…
Cheetress4: (snickers too) Wait Ki got it now… (Turns to Insi) Ki think kou sic at the wrong place… the ravine is not here…
Insi: Ki wasn’t going to the ravine. Ki came here to…
Cheetress2: … let us make fun of kou while we’re waiting?
Cheetress1: Hush! Our first candidate is heading this way.
All cheetresses, including Insi, turned their heads towards two male cheetahs that came towards them from the large termite mound. Mneneth had walked closer to Insi and he could see on her how her blood rushed through her veins as she saw them. The youngest of the males went all the way over to them while the older one stayed a bit behind. The young males chin was covered with something that Mneneth couldn’t identify.
Cheetah: Yobaduz Kekabas, Ki’akh Khobo.
He looked at each one of the cheetresses, who willingly introduced themselves when his eyes fell upon them. But he didn’t as much as glance at Insi, but she introduced herself anyway…
Insi: kiah Ins…
But she was ignored by all of them and her words were drowned by the older cheetahs voice.
Cheetah: well then Khobo. Ki wish kou luck.
Cheetress3: tye’ll definitely need it
A second later all the six cheetresses ran off in different directions leaving the young male baffled for a few seconds before he began to pursue one of the females… and it wasn’t Insi.
She was the first one to return, panting from the run and a bit disappointed. She sent a quick gaze to the older cheetah and saw him scowl at her. It was dead silent until the other four cheetresses returned. The male then left them; content that his son had passed the trial.
Cheetress2: ah… hard luck girls… we weren’t chosen this time…
Cheetress3: don’t worry; we’ll all have our time soon.
Cheetress5: well… Ki pity that guy who’ll have to face Anikhah…
Insi turned her back at them and closed her eyes. Mneneth sat close to her and he really wished that he could help her… He could see how Insi struggled to hide her emotions. He really wanted that he could’ve been there to beat the other cheetresses up for saying such things.
A little while later, another pair of male cheetahs appeared… and just like the previous time, Insi was completely ignored. While the other cheetresses enjoyed the attention of the male, Insi tried to somehow catch his attention. But to no avail, she was like air to him. She wasn’t there. She was also completely left behind when it came to the running part.
Three other males came and went away in the same manner. Insi had given up on wasting her energy on running, as she knew she wouldn’t be picked. She waited a long time alone before she saw the last male of the day go towards the large termite mound. She seemed a bit joyful even when she had been rejected five times. She knew that this time, there was no one else to choose.
Insi: (speaks to herself) now it just has to be my turn. This nim just has to be mine…
Suddenly Mneneth found himself at the outside of an entrance to the mound. He saw two cheetahs, a younger one and a little older one.
Cheetah1: Azna… Kiah so nervous…
Cheetah2: Lote… Ki was nervous too…
He went silent as a black cheetah with yellow spots and glimmering blue eyes appeared in the entrance.
Cheetah2: Yoah Inkhobi!
Inkhobi: Yoah Zerizeh, kou must excuse me for a little while. Ki have to attend to something very acute…
Zerizeh: but of course Inkhobi. We’ll wait here.
Inkhobi: Zhiech, bathar!
Inkhobi departed and Lote looked at his father…
Lote: what should we do while waiting?
Zerizeh: well, we could go have a look at the kekaba-chicks…
Lote: (looks embarrassed)
Zerizeh: come on Lote, it won’t harm kou to have a look at them
Lote: all right then, azna…
They had both seen Insi in the distance and now they walked towards her. Mneneth walked a bit ahead of them so that he wouldn’t miss anything. When Insi noticed the two cheetahs, she straightened up and put on a charming smile.
Lote: Yoah Ke… eh (goes dead silent and stares at Insi)
Insi: Yoah Kekaba, kiah Insi (smiles even more) are kou ready?
Lote sent a hesitating gaze back to his father, who shook his head.
Lote: (whispers to Zerizeh) azna… this has to be a joke… tye can’t be the only one here. Tye makes me sick…
Zerizeh: (whispers back, glancing at Insi) Ki understand kou… Lets go home and wait for the next ritual…
Insi hadn’t heard what they whispered about. Mneneth guessed that she thought that Lote just was a bit shy. She smiled more and went over to him.
Insi: don’t worry; Ki’ll be nice to kou (winks to him)
Lote: (scowls back at her) In kou dreams Anikhah!
Both Lote and Zerizeh turned their backs at her and walked away. Insi stared after them, silenced by shock and with a very dejected face.
Insi: (whimpers) b…but… cot… come back… k…kou can’t go…
Her words were of no use. The two males blocked her voice out and went further away from her. Mneneth felt how he became angry. He wanted to teach Lote some manners. He was just about to walk after him when the glowing orb appeared in front of him.
Madun: it is of no use, Mneneth. There’s nothing you can do.
Mneneth sat down again and watched the heartbroken and dejected Insi. The poor girl had begun to sob silently. Only after a few seconds Mneneth had to tear his eyes from her. He couldn’t bear to see her sadness any more. He let his gaze sweep over the horizon, and suddenly his eyes fell on a black figure that moved in his direction. He knew that it was Inkhobi.
Inkhobi: (speaks out) Is there anyone here?
Insi closed her eyes and held her breath. But she couldn’t stop sobbing. Inkhobi heard her and came closer. Mneneth heard a very loud gasp when he saw her…
Inkhobi: (surprised) Insi?
Insi opened her eyes and looked at him. Even if her eyes were so full of tears she recognized him.
Insi: (sobs) Inky? Is… is that kou?
Inkhobi hurried over to her side and lowered his head to hers.
Inkhobi: Insi, what has happened?
He nudged her cheek with his nose to reassure her. Mneneth saw that Inkhobi’s presence was enough to comfort Insi.
Insi: (sobs) Inky… akh…akh Ki… disgusting?
Inkhobi: cot kou are not, Insi… kou are a beautiful creature…
Insi: (sobs) t…then why a…akh Ki here (sob) and… all alone? W…why did t…sei call me Anikhah?
Inkhobi: come Insi… Ki think kou’d better have a good nights sleep now. Kiah sure kou’ll feel better tomorrow
Insi: (sobs) b…but… Ki… Kiah so f…far from home…
Inkhobi: don’t worry Insi; kou can sleep in my den if kou wish
Insi: (sobs) really?
Inkhobi: (nods) yes Insi… come along now… Kiah sure kou’ll feel a lot better tomorrow.
He helped her up and smiled to her while looking into her eyes. For a short while they looked at each other.
Inkhobi: ehm… (Clears his throat) It’s this way Insi…
He led her back to his den inside the termite mound. She had stopped sobbing and walked silently at his side. Mneneth followed them. Inkhobi entered the mound first, and then followed Insi, after her Mneneth entered too. Both he and Insi dropped their jaws. A light that didn’t seem to have any source dimly lit the den. The walls were covered by bundles of different weeds and dried herbs that hung in neat bundles and various other multi colored things.
Inkhobi: (turns to Insi) make yourself as home… but please be careful with what kou touch… (Smiles) we wouldn’t have kou turn into a giraffe, would we?
Insi: (half-smiles) certainly not.
She yawned widely and her eyelids grew heavier. She yawned again and laid herself on the ground and made herself comfortable. Inkhobi did likewise after he had browsed through some stuff that lay in a pile near a wall. They looked at each other for a while. The light in the den dimmed out, leaving them in a comfortable darkness…
Insi: why did kou stop coming to visit me? Was it because of my appearance?
Inkhobi: (sighs) Ki had to assume the role of being shaman and healer here. It’s a full-time job, kou see. Ki barely have any spare time at all…
Insi: oh… couldn’t Ki have come over to kou then?
Inkhobi: Ki actually thought of that, Insi… but Ki realized that Ki’d probably have too much work on my shoulders. Almost all of my spare time is used to rest…
Insi: (sighs) Ki see…
A silence fell inside the den for a few seconds…
Inkhobi: kou know… kou remind me faintly of my sister… Dixie…
Insi: Ki didn’t know kou had a sister… is tye a shaman too?
Inkhobi: (sighs sadly)
Insi: oh… tye’s dead… Kiah sorry…
Inkhobi: yes… in a way tye’s forever gone… Tye is a demon…
Insi: A demon? But… How? Why?
Inkhobi: Ki can’t explain how… neither do Ki know why…
Insi: (is silent for a second) … when kou said that Ki reminded of tye… did kou mean that Kiah a demon?
Inkhobi: cot, Ki meant before tye became an uzuk harkath…
Insi: oh… Ki see… (Is silent) good night Inky… sleep well…
Inkhobi: Ki wish kou the same, Insi…
The darkness turned into the familiar white emptiness again and Mneneth turned his attention to Madun again, ready to hear what she would tell him.
Madun: The following morning Inkhobi walked Insi home. That was the only time he ever ignored his duty as shaman. (Pause) he had feelings for her that he couldn’t understand nor comprehend… and he didn’t dare to show them either… (Pause) He and Insi talked almost all the way home until they at last reached Athi’ngwas territory…
And once again the white void around them had changed. The scene was a familiar place, Insis home territory in the light of a late afternoon. Mneneth saw Insi and Inkhobi walk alongside each other towards Athi’ngwa who was located in the shadows under a tree, resting her eyes a bit. Mneneth walked a little ahead of Insi, still with Madun hovering at his side.
Insi: (calls out) Faha! Faha, Kiah home!
Athi’ngwas eyes popped up and her head rose up. When the old cheetress saw Inkhobi and Insi, a warm smile spread across her face.
Athi’ngwa: Yoah Insi… and Inkhobi! (Rises to her paws) Ki knew wej aka were made for each other.
Insi: uhm… faha… Inky isn’t…
Athi’ngwa: (goes on) Ki’d love to see Nurazah’s face now. That prophet of woe always went on about that kou’d never find anyone
Insi: Faha, please… we’re not…
Athi’ngwa: (goes on) Kou are very welcome into our family Inkhobi. It warms my heart that wej aka were destined for each other…
Insi: (shouts) FAHA!!
Athi’ngwa: (snaps out of it) wha?
Insi: Inky and Ki aren’t married… Ki wasn’t chosen at all. Inky just kept me company home because he was heading this way as well.
Athi’ngwas ears fell back in shame and her face turned from happy to disappointed.
Athi’ngwa: (sighs) oh… sorry… Ki just thought… never mind…
Insi: aw, it was an innocent mistake faha, nothing to worry about…
Athi’ngwa: oh well… nice to meet kou again Inkhobi…
Inkhobi: indeed it is, Athi’ngwa. But even if Ki’d love to stay longer Ki have to go. Ki akh expected elsewhere…
Athi’ngwa: please come visit some day.
Inkhobi smiled and nodded to them both…
Inkhobi: Ki will… Bathar kekabas
Insi: Mizhk Inkhobi…
The black cheetah nodded to them again before he walked away from them. Suddenly the scene froze and Mneneth just waited for Madun to tell what he could not see with his own eyes…
Madun: Insi immediately prepared herself for the next ceremony, and her mother did everything in her might to support her. But when the day finally came for Insi to depart came… disaster struck into Insi’s life…
The scene was the same, but instead of late afternoon, it was now early morning. Mneneth found him sitting quite close to Insi. The cheetress was sitting on her haunches, yawning widely in the first sunbeams of the day, and her tail twitched nervously. Mneneth was a bit worried that she’d whack him with her tail, but he was never touched by it. Insi looked around as if she expected someone to arrive.
Insi: (speaks to herself) Where’s faha? Tye should’ve been here now… (Looks around a bit more) Tye can’t be far away… Ki’d better look for tye…
She rose to her paws and looked around once again. Suddenly her eyes fixed on something that Mneneth couldn’t see, because all the grass that was in the way. Suddenly he felt how his paws lifted from the ground. Madun had lifted him off the ground so he could see over the grass. Now he saw what Insi had seen. A herd of gazelles dashed through the grass as if some predator was on their heels. He guessed that the grazers were running from Athi’ngwa.
Insi dashed off in the direction of where the gazelles seemed to have come from. Mneneth didn’t really know how to follow her, but he hadn’t needed to worry about it. Madun moved him through the air, past Insi and far ahead of her. Mneneth gave out a loud gasp when he saw the scene that Madun brought him to. A few seconds later Insi arrived… and she too let out a loud gasp…
On a blood-soaked patch of grass, Athi’ngwa laid on her side, covering her side with a bloodstained paw.
Insi hurried towards her mother…
Insi: Faha!! Faha!!!
Athi’ngwa slowly opened her eyes and looked at her daughter with dimmed eyes…
Athi’ngwa: (coughs) nim of the bucks… charged at me…
Insi: Faha… Ki’ll get help…
Athi’ngwa: (coughs) there’s cot time Insi… Ki akh done for…
Insi: (tear-broken voice) don’t talk like that faha… Ki’ll get Inkhobi… tye’ll save kou
Athi’ngwa: (coughs) Insi… kou’ll never find tye in time… please stay…
Insi gave her mother a lick on her cheek before she ran off, despite of her mothers’ objections. She headed towards the neighboring territory that belonged to Nurazah. Mneneth flew through the air and followed Insi from above. He could see Nurazah stand at the border, looking for something. Madun put him down on the ground near Nurazah. The scarred cheetress locked her gaze at Insi who came towards her.
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) Hey, where kou think kou sic headed, Anikhah?
Insi: (out of breath) Nurazah… kou must help me!
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) with what? Finding kou a mate?
Insi: (catches her breath again) no… Ki must find Inkhobi…
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) why do kou seek kou here?
Insi: Faha is badly hurt… Ki must find tye…
Nurazah: (very hoarse voice) Tye is not here, kou know well that he lives far away from here. Do kou faha a favor and go back to tye. Then stay with tye until tye has passed on. Let tye depart with the knowledge that kou love tye… understood, Insi?
Mneneth hadn’t really expected those words from Nurazah. Neither had he expected to call Insi by her name instead of Anikhah. Insi didn’t know what to reply, but the gaze Nurazah gave her told her that she should go back. She turned on her heels and sprinted back towards her mother. Mneneth lifted from the ground again and was flown back to the place Athi’ngwa laid. When he landed close to her, he saw that she was still breathing. Insi arrived a few moments later and ran all the way up to her mother.
Insi: faha… Ki…
Athi’ngwa: (coughs) Insi… there’s nothing kou could’ve done…
Insi: (tears falls from her eyes) cot faha… Ki failed kou…
Athi’ngwa: kou never failed me, kobto nim… none could’ve prevented what happened. (Coughs) Madun decided that my time had come to an end… (Coughs) Insi… Ki always loved kou… (Heavy coughs and then silence)
Insi: (sobs) faha? Faha… please (sob) don’t leave me…
The wounded cheetress only gazed at Insi with empty eyes. She wasn’t breathing any more and her head had fallen back to the ground. Mneneth turned away, large tears rolled down his cheeks from his eyes. He could hear Insi cry and howl in sadness behind him and it stung in his heart that he was unable to help her…
Mneneth wished that he had never asked about Chitzikobe’s past. The image of Insi whimpering over her dead mother had burnt itself into his mind. Even though the place had faded away he still thought that he could hear Insi’s helpless howls of sorrow. Madun still hovered next to him but it took a while before she spoke again…
Madun: After that day, Insi alienated herself from everyone else. She was like a ghost nowhere to be found. To avoid contact with anyone she slept well hidden during the day and became nocturnal. And since no one ever saw anything of her it was believed that she had abandoned her territory. (Short silence) And several weeks later a new cheetah family moved in there.
A new scene had appeared while Madun had spoken, it was the familiar grassy and sunlit savannah that took shape. Mneneth could see three cheetahs sitting next to a tree; it was a male, female and a nine-month-old male…
Madun: The cheetahs you see was the ones that took residence in Insi’s territory. They, like everyone else, believed it to be abandoned. And because Insi was asleep at that time of the day, she had no knowledge of their presence.
Mneneth turned his attention to the three foreign cheetahs that had began to move around and talk among each other.
Male Cheetah: This is just perfect Izanuma… A place of our own, and no bloody zibihis to drive us away
Izanuma: (giggles) We should praise Madun that this place had cot owner, Fuhar.
The younger cheetah mumbled something Mneneth couldn’t possibly hear. But Izanuma walked over to him and nuzzled him.
Izanuma: aw, come on kobto nim, kou don’t have to fear any zibihi or hafuh here.
The younger cheetah mumbled something else that still was totally impossible for Mneneth to hear.
Izanuma: oh yeah… kou sic right. We should go hunting now. (Looks at Fuhar and then back to her son) Say Beze, why don’t kou have a look around here, kou know, to get familiar to this place…
Beze: ban faha…
Izanuma nuzzled Beze one more time before she went off to hunt with Fuhar, leaving Beze behind…
Suddenly it turned from light day to night without any moonlight. All three cheetahs appeared sleeping on the ground. Mneneth had no trouble seeing them, even if there came no light from above. He went closer to the sleeping cheetahs but stopped immediately because he had detected some movement in the corner of his vision, and when he turned his head, he saw Insi. Even in the compact darkness he could see how she had changed. Her eyes were darker and her overall features were gloomier than before. Her fur was rugged and tawny. It was also full of twigs and leaves and other things… she looked miserable.
Insi came closer to the sleeping cheetahs, moving without making any sound at all. She watched Beze curiously. She then snuck even closer and sniffed at his ear, with the result that his ear twitched. She froze in her move, afraid that she had awoken him… but to hers and Mneneth’s relief, the cheetah just rolled over on his other side in his sleep. Insi kept watching him; she seemed to scan his features from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Meanwhile Mneneth had come closer to her, and saw more clearly what a miserable condition Insi was in. But still… there were a spark of life present in her darkened eyes.
The cheetress carefully took a sniff on Beze’s shoulder and she stood still with a dreaming expression on her face. Mneneth had noticed something else that had changed about Insi. Her scent was not present. Mneneth was close enough to her that he should have felt her scent, but it wasn’t there. Insi continued her examination of Beze, totally unaware of Mneneth. The sparks of life in her eyes grew rapidly to burning fires. She traced Beze’s cheekbone, buried her nose in his neck fur and licked on his cheek. She looked strangely happy and content. Without thinking about it, she let out a loud happy sigh. She quickly realized her mistake, but she had awakened Beze. She was quick to escape out into the compact darkness of the night. The only thing Beze felt was that something moved away from him.
Beze: (quite drowsy) hey… wait! Stop!
Insi had already disappeared so she couldn’t hear him, but his parents woke up with startled expressions on their faces.
Izanuma: Beze? What is it?
Beze: Ki… Ki don’t know… something was here…
He got up on his paws and began to examine the place that Insi had been on. He found absolutely nothing…
Beze: strange… cot scent… there should’ve been a scent…
Izanuma: is it possible that kou just had a dream?
Beze: cot… it wasn’t a dream. Something let out a sigh right in my ear… (Feels on his cheek with a paw) erg… it licked me too… It can’t have been just a dream.
Izanuma: (yawns) Go back to sleep Beze…
The young cheetah shrugged and went back to his spot, flopped down and fell asleep again. Then, once again the entire place froze for all except Mneneth and Madun.
Madun: As you saw, Insi had changed. She had lost her scent because she figured out how to directly control it. She learnt how to move silently and without leaving any trace at all. It made her able to vanish without any trace at all.
Madun moved over so she hovered in front of Mneneth rather than beside him.
Madun: She had fallen impulsively in love with Beze. He was the first male that she had got to have a closer look at. She had been able to touch him and feel his fur with her muzzle and paws. Just a few nights later she returned. She felt a strong urge to be with Beze. But just like the previous time she let out that content sigh that broke the tranquility. Beze managed to catch a glimpse of her but he thought she was some kind of ghost that haunted the land.
Mneneth imagined what it would have looked like inside his mind while Madun spoke.
Madun: Insi repeatedly visited Beze in the night, and she was careful to choose nights when the moon was either gone or covered by clouds. But at some point she always revealed her presence. Beze and his parents began to strongly believe that their home was haunted by something. A rumor spread across the lands of a ghost cheetress in Athi’ngwas old territory.
When the rumor reached Inkhobi’s ear it had been altered. Insi had become a headless cheetress with lots of slimy tentacles and that she cried each night when the moon was gone. She also sought out young males and infested their dreams. Inkhobi knew that most of it had been added along the way, but he was afraid that the rumor about a ghost was true… he feared that the ghost was none other than Insi.
The goddess went silent for a few moments before she continued.
Madun: Inkhobi was quick to pay the cheetah family a visit, but unfortunately it was during a night with full moon. He listened to Beze’s story about what the ghost did to him. Inkhobi believed that it was Insi that had perished and that she was the ghost that haunted Beze. He told Beze to let Insi touch him… in order to allow her a faster passage to the afterlife. Beze agreed on doing so. When the next night without moonlight came, he stayed awake.
And as he expected, Insi came to him. He could only roughly distinguish her shape from the darkness. He was a bit afraid, but since Inkhobi had told him that Insi had been a kind spirit, he calmed down. He allowed her to touch him and even to nuzzle and lick on him. When she absently let out the sigh that usually betrayed her, he pretended that he hadn’t heard it. She stayed with him until a few hours before the light returned. He couldn’t help feeling sorry for her…
An awkward silence followed and Mneneth wasn’t sure if Madun really wished to tell him about Insi. He looked at the glowing, silent orb and waited for her to continue. Absolutely nothing happened until Mneneth spoke.
Mneneth: Madun… is something wrong?
Madun: no, everything is fine… I was just… ah, never mind, I should get on with Insi’s life.
She cleared her throat, even if Mneneth saw no need for her to do so, but he was silent and waited to hear what she knew.
Madun: Insi’s happy meetings with Beze would come to an end. A month after she had first seen him he reached ten months of age. As you know, that is the age when male cheetahs in the Cheetah lands must attend to the maturing ritual. Beze knew it because his father had told him all there was to know about it…
The scene changed at her words to the usual savannah that Beze’s home consisted of. Beze was walking around, obviously quite busy thinking about the ritual. Mneneth watched the sleek feline as it plowed through the grass. He seemed unaware of that he was heading towards the boundaries of his home. The only thing that really caught Mneneth’s eye was an unusual pile of rocks that seemed to not really belong there. The rocks were not the usual gray or sand-colored ones that littered the savannah. These rocks had a reddish color and they were riddled with cracks and crevices. Madun seemed to read his thoughts, because just as he wondered about the rocks, she began to speak about them
Madun: those rocks you see were thrown there from a volcano eruption about one thousand and fifty years ago… that was also the place that Insi used to rest in.
The pile of rocks stood quite close to the borders of the territory, and Beze was walking towards them. He reached the stones and leapt up on one of the smaller ones to get an overview of the plains. He grew tired of standing so he simply flopped down on his side and let out a loud sigh. Mneneth had come closer to Beze, because he guessed that something worth knowing would happen soon. And quite right, a few moments later Beze caught an unfamiliar scent in the air. He rose up and tried to locate the origin of the scent. It didn’t take him long. Because the owner of the scent made herself known. It was a cheetress from a neighboring territory, and she stood at the ground next to the rock Beze sat on.
Cheetress: Yoah kekaba.
Beze: uh… Yobaduz kekaba… who are kou?
Cheetress: (giggles) Kiah Shazira, Ki live here.
Beze: oh really? Uh… Ki mean… Ki akh Beze
Shazira: pleased to meet kou Beze. Ki see koic taken my favorite spot for looking for prey.
Beze: Ki have… oh… Kiah sorry.
Shazira: nah, its ok Beze… just move over a bit so there’s room for me too.
Beze moved aside a bit and Shazira leapt up and sat down, watching him with curious eyes.
Shazira: say… where did kou come from?
Beze: well… Ki live here…
Shazira: oh… kou must be nim of the kekabas that took Insi’Anikhah’s territory. Is it true that tye spirit haunts there?
Beze: (looks down) ban, it’s true. Ki akh the nim tye’s most frequently haunted.
Shazira: (looks quite interested) isn’t that scary? Ki mean… tye’s a ghost and all.
Beze: cot… she haven’t scared me yet… the only thing she seems to do is to… well… she acts like Ki was tye mate or something… tye nuzzles me, licks (on) me and Ki don’t know what.
Shazira: tye does what? Kou really allow tye spirit to touch kou?
Beze: ban… Kiic spoken to Inkhobi about it and tye said that Ki should allow Anikhah to touch me. Tye spirit might release itself from whatever holds it here.
Shazira: … isn’t it a bit creepy that an undead thinks kou sic its mate?
Beze: of course it is… Ki wish tye could just vanish, but Ki think it is wisest to follow Inkhobi’s advice.
The two young cheetahs looked at each other for a while. None of them spoke a word. Meanwhile Mneneth had climbed up on a higher located rock surface so he had a better view. Suddenly he heard a murring sound behind him. He jerked around and saw something fuzzy lie hidden in the shades of a well-hidden crevice of the rock pile. Since Beze and Shazira weren’t doing anything of interest, he decided to look what resided in the crevice. He guessed that it had to be Insi. And he was right. It was Insi that lay there, sleeping peacefully. Mneneth watched her; her chest rose and sunk in a regular rhythm.
Mneneth could now see her in somewhat full daylight. Her fur was tawny and not looked after properly. Her fur had turned into spikes of hair at some points and it looked dirty and a bit greasy. A loud exclamation was heard from outside. Alerted by the sudden noise, Insi woke up and rose quickly. She seemed to forget that she had squeezed herself into a crevice and she bumped her head against the stone above her. She managed to keep from expressing the pain. She then heard Beze’s voice and curious about what he was doing so close to her, she snuck up to the edge of the outcropping rock. Mneneth walked next to her head until both of them could see down on Beze and Shazira… Insi watched silently…
Shazira: it’s true Beze… Ki do want to have kou as my mate.
Beze: but how? The ritual… we can’t just choose whom we’ll be together with.
Shazira: wrong Beze… Kiic figured out a way.
Beze: kou have? Please tell
Shazira: here’s my plan… Ki’ll rub a strong smelling weed against my paw pads right before it gets to that chasing part. All kou have to do is to follow the trail of scent Ki’ll leave for kou.
Beze: but how will Ki know the right scent?
Shazira pointed at some grass-like plants that grew in the shades of the large pile of boulders.
Shazira: kou see those? Go have a sniff at them and kou’ll know the scent kou shall follow.
Beze nodded and jumped down to the ground and landed among the weeds. At first, he didn’t seem to notice any specific scent about them, but when he accidentally stepped on one and broke its stalk; a strong scent stung his nose. He knew the scent now and he returned to Shazira on the boulder.
Shazira: quite difficult to miss, eh?
Beze: ban… Ki’d be quite a fool if Ki mistook that scent.
Shazira: (smiles at him) well… tomorrow it is Beze. Kou’d better go home and get some food and rest… because kou won’t get much time to eat or rest tomorrow, Ki assure kou that.
Beze: (nods) well… Ki look forward to see kou Shazira…
Shazira: the same, Beze.
The two cheetahs walked separate ways; Beze back to his home and Shazira vanished towards her own territory. Insi lay still, watching the two cheetahs until they had vanished from her sight. Mneneth looked into her eyes… and saw a glow that hadn’t been there before. But he didn’t have time to determine what it was because Insi leapt down from the outcropping that concealed her hiding place and down onto the boulder Beze and Shazira had sat on. Mneneth stood and hesitated for a few seconds, because it was a long fall down to the boulder. He then steeled himself and jumped down and landed right next to Insi. The rock surface had caught his fall so softly that he didn’t even notice that he landed on it.
Insi leapt down on the ground and glared at all the weeds that Shazira had spoken about. A wicked grin spread across her face as she plucked one of the grass-like stalks. Mneneth really wished to know what was going on inside her mind. Insi began to rip up the weeds with roots and all. It did not take her long to remove any trace of the strong smelling plants. She then took a bunch of plants up in her mouth and carried them up into her resting place, vanished for a few seconds and then returned to pick up another load of the weeds. She repeated the same procedure until she had removed all the weeds and hidden them in her resting place. When she was done, she looked maliciously content with her work. Mneneth could only wonder what plans she had forged inside her mind.
The scene froze and faded away. Mneneth knew what was coming so he turned his full attention to Madun.
Madun: Insi had planned to use Shazira’s weeds in order to get Beze for herself. She had hidden the plants well up in her resting place so Shazira wouldn’t be able to find them without searching for a long time.
The next day, Insi watched as Beze and his father departed for Inkhobi’s lair. She followed them at a safe distance so they wouldn’t notice her. She had brought a few of the scented weeds to use on her paws so that Beze would think she was Shazira. When they arrived to Inkhobi’s home, Insi went and joined the other cheetresses that sat waiting there…
The white emptiness took the shape of the surrounding lands around Inkhobi’s lair. Two cheetresses sat beside Insi, both staring wide-eyed at her. Insi smirked at them…
Insi: what’s with kou? Never seen a cheetress before?
Cheetress: k… koic that… ghost?
Insi: (grins) yes Ki akh… Kiic come to
haunt wej aka… BOO!
She pretended to jump towards them, but she never left the ground with her hind paws. The effect was enough. The two other cheetresses gasped and backed off a bit.
Insi: ah be silent with kou. There comes my Kekaba.
The two others turned
their attention towards the two approaching cheetahs. It was Beze and Fuhar.
Insi quickly rubbed the strong scented plants against her paw pads.
Beze approached them, carrying some mud-like substance on his chin and a few painted black lines on his face. He looked quite tensed up, but when he felt the quite obvious scent that was on Insi’s feet, he relaxed.
Beze: Yoah Kekabas, Kiah Beze…
Cheetress: Ki akh Zisini!
Cheetress2: Kiah Dkine.
Insi: Kiah Shazira.
The sound of Shazira’s name being said made Beze relax even more. He hadn’t memorized Shazira’s spot pattern, but the scent of the weeds was all the proof he needed.
The three cheetresses darted away in one direction each. Mneneth saw how Beze took up the chase of Insi, because she wore the scent that made him think that she was Shazira.
Suddenly Mneneth was teleported to another place nearby. He saw Insi run towards him, with Beze right behind her. With a kind pounce and a tackle, the chase was over. Insi looked up at Beze, who stood as stunned when he saw her face.
Beze: (shocked) Kou!!?
Insi: Hush nam Bitikibi, it was the will of Madun that we would be together…
Beze: But… kou sic a?? Koic dead!!
Insi rose up and dotted her nose against his.
Insi: Akh Ki? Does the dead radiate warmth?
Beze: cot… but…
Insi: kou can relax now… we’re together now… that’s all that matters.
Beze: COT!!! It wasn’t supposed to be like this… it wasn’t supposed to be Kou!!!
Insi nuzzled him gently and at the same time she licked off some off the dark matter that covered Beze’s chin. But his reaction was to back away from her…
Beze: kou are a ghost! Kou sic haunting me! This must be a dream… kou can’t be here…
Insi: If Ki akh a dream, then what are kou? Kou sic a dream too… My dream. Madun chose us to be mates.
Beze began to be somewhat desperate with the situation. He sat down and stared bewildered at Insi, trying to figure out what was going on. Insi sat down next to him and brushed her head against his shoulder.
Mneneth thought that he had seen her happy before, but this was far happier than he had ever imagined possible. The darkness in Insi’s features was almost gone. She radiated so much life and warmth that Mneneth wondered if she could’ve awakened the dead if she wanted to.
But suddenly the spell of tranquility was broken… Shazira came charging towards them and called out his name even if she was out of breath.
Shazira: Beze!! My beloved… Ki found kou!!
Insi’s face curled up in a snarl as soon as she saw Shazira. She leapt forwards and stood between Shazira and Beze, looking very threatening.
Insi: Forget it, kekaba… Beze is mine. Tye chose me!
She turned around and kissed Beze on his nose, which only made his face frown in disgust.
Shazira: Whoever kou are… get out of my way. Beze’s love belongs to me, cot nim else.
Insi: (shakes her head) But Ki akh the mate tye chose. Tye love is mine and my love belongs to Tye!
Shazira answered with a
hiss and slapped Insi across her face. Enraged, Insi struck back, but as soon
as her paw touched Shazira, Beze attacked her from behind. She did not stand a
chance against both Beze and Shazira.
Mneneth quickly covered his eyes because he couldn’t stand to see what they did to her. He could hear the sounds of anguish and anger and skin torn apart. He didn’t want to hear it but he couldn’t block the sounds out from his ears. After what seemed like forever, the sounds stopped and he heard the sound of paws padding away. Soon even those sounds were gone and only a faint, hoarse breathing noise was heard. Mneneth opened his eyes again and saw Insi lie motionless on the ground with her back at him. Her fur had large patches that had been colored crimson by her own blood. There were visible wounds all over her.
Mneneth slowly walked towards her. He thought he could hear her whisper and as he came closer, he could hear it clearer. She was praying to Madun with the last strength she had in her body…
Madun: (faint whisper) great Madun… help me… please Ki beg Kou. Don’t let it end here… please save me… let me know how it is to truly live… Ki… (Cough) Ki…
Her voice faded away. She was still breathing, but she was now too weak to produce any voice. Mneneth watched her helpless being and felt powerless at the sight. A few moments of silence passed. Then, with a saddened sigh, Insi closed her eyes hard. Her lips moved, but no sound came, and when her eyes opened again, they had changed considerably. Her eyes were now had a black color and her pupils were like burning red dots. She rose up to her paws again, seemingly unaffected by all her wounds. She wore an extremely evil grin printed on her face. And her features were now more darkened than ever before. She looked truly intimidating.
It was a horrible transformation that had taken place in her. The innocent Insi had been turned into the fierce Chitzikobe…
The scene paused and Madun spoke once again…
Madun: this is where Insi became Chitzikobe. She used her very last breath to make a vow to destroy me, and through doing so, her soul was turned into a vile demonic goddess…
As you can see, her new powers healed her wounds and gave her renewed strength. Driven by her hate, she became invincible to any mortal being.
She fell silent for a few seconds before she spoke again
Madun: I have given you the knowledge you sought, Mneneth and…
Mneneth: You didn’t tell me why she ended up in that swamp!
Madun: Have you not seen pain enough? Do you want to know exactly why she is imprisoned? The knowledge is enough to haunt you for the rest of your LIFE!
Mneneth: I don’t care! I must know!
Madun: (foreboding voice) So be it, Mneneth. You asked for this yourself…
Mneneth didn’t know what had gotten into him. He would normally not have the courage to say the things he just said…
Death of Innocence
A new scene manifested itself before Mneneth. A savannah lit only by the moon lay before his eyes.
He saw Beze and Shazira engaged in a very close nuzzle. They radiated pure happiness out into the darkness. He watched them for a while, while wondering what was going to happen next. His question was answered a mere second later.
The creature that once had been Insi moved silently past him and towards the two loving cheetahs. Mneneth hadn’t heard her approach and he gasped in shock when he saw her. The wounds she had received earlier were gone. And she showed no sign of ever being so badly wounded as she had. Mneneth ran ahead of Chitzikobe towards Beze and Shazira and climbed up on a rock to get a better overview.
Chitzikobe walked normally towards the two other cheetahs… but without making the slightest sound. She was almost behind Beze before she made her presence known by breathing in his neck. Startled, the cheetah jerked around and saw Chitzikobe. He gave out a frightened yelp as his eyes met with Chitzikobe’s evil eyes, but it was cut off because she punched him in his chest so he fell on his back and landed on Shazira.
Chitzikobe: well, well, well… who have we here, hm?
Neither Beze nor Shazira could produce any other sound than an unintelligible stuttering.
Chitzikobe: (mocked surprise) What? Aren’t wej happy to see me?
Beze: (stutters heavily) i...it can’t b...b...be… k…kou c…can’t
Chitzikobe: (imitates Beze) Ki c…c…can’t b...b...be what?
Beze: (stutters heavily) k...kou… k…kou
Chitzikobe: what about me, huh? What is it kou try to say, petty kekaba? That Ki can’t be alive, is it that what kou’re trying to say?
Beze: (stutters and quivers in fear) b…ban...
Chitzikobe shook her head in a nonchalant way and turned her gaze to Shazira:
She grabbed the cheetress’ muzzle with her paw and jerked it upwards, causing Shazira to yelp in pain.
Chitzikobe: Ki’ll teach kou to keep kou paws off my property…
Chitzikobe slashed Shazira’s face with a quick movement by her paw. Shazira yelped in pain again.
Chitzikobe: (evil voice) Ki hope kou enjoy it as much as Ki did!
Mneneth couldn’t bear to see what the creature did to Shazira, but he couldn’t close his eyes or turn away. He sat as frozen in his position and had to watch all that happened.
Chitzikobe took a step backwards and watched what she had managed to accomplish. With a devilish efficiency she had skinned her opponent alive and she looked proud of it.
Chitzikobe: How did kou like that, Shazira? Feel the wonderful pain? Isn’t it a great sensation, the feeling of kou skin lying next to kou?
The cheetress moved her mouth, but only a pain-stung and pitiful whimpering came out.
Chitzikobe: well, Ki’ll be more merciful to kou than wej were to me. Bow to me, and Ki shall relieve kou pain!
Mneneth watched as Shazira slowly lowered her head in something that could remind of a bow. He let his attention wander to Beze, who seemed to be preparing an attack. But the same moment as he leapt, Chitzikobe spun around and smacked him right in his face, causing him to lose balance and fall on his side next to Chitzikobe.
Chitzikobe: (returns her gaze to Shazira) now that’s a good kobto girl, Shazira. (Puts on a toothy grin) and now Ki’ll end kou pain…
Beze: (coughs) d…don’t kill tye…
Chitzikobe: Who said anything about killing?
The cheetah-like creature waved her left paw in an octagonal pattern in the air. Shazira instantly regained her skin, and her fur grew out again. Both Mneneth and Beze stared shocked at what just happened.
Shazira resumed her bowing pose in front of Chitzikobe.
Shazira: (totally different voice) Ki Zhiech Chitzikobe.
Beze: (gets up again) Shazira? K… kou sic all right again.
He seemed to forget everything about Chitzikobe’s presence and leapt over to his beloved. But to both his and Mneneth’s surprise, the cheetress slammed her head into Beze’s, knocking him to the ground.
Beze watched his mate with a face of total confusion.
Beze: Nam Bitikibi… why?
Chitzikobe moved swiftly over to Beze and Shazira moved away.
Chitzikobe: tye life belongs to me now… and so does kou, Beze.
Beze: (afraid) Cot… Madun will save us. Madun will scorch kou, Kerkath!
Chitzikobe: Kerkath… cot, kou do not know how wrong kou are, Beze. Ki akh beyond that! Ki akh the new kekaba goddess! Ki akh Chitzikobe! All shall bow to me! Even kou, Beze! Bow to me!
Beze was scared out of his mind. He dared not to move a muscle because he feared what the creature might to do him.
Chitzikobe: Ki akh waiting, Beze… Bow down to me.
Mneneth could sense the fear that radiated from Beze. It was so intense that he could almost touch it with his paws if he wanted to. The cheetah cautiously flipped over on his belly, never taking his gaze from Chitzikobe, and rose up. With a move that seemed like his forelegs collapsed under him, he bowed before Chitzikobe.
Chitzikobe: now that’s an obedient subject, Beze.
Beze: (quivering voice) please don’t hurt me…
Chitzikobe: (smirks) hurt kou? Not at all, (grins sinisterly) Ki won’t hurt kou now. Instead, Ki will give kou a taste of the heavens! Roll over on kou back!
Beze obeyed her command, lay down and rolled over on his back. Mneneth wondered if Chitzikobe did that just to humiliate him. But before he could see what She intended, the scene froze and then faded away.
Mneneth: No, don’t fade it away. What did Chitzi do to him??
Madun: (chilly voice) Be silent…
Mneneth shut his mouth immediately. Something in Madun’s voice overwhelmed his own mind and made him shut up.
Madun: You will be able to figure that out on your own, Mneneth. Now I shall infuse my remaining memories about ALL of Chitzikobe’s doings into your head. Remember that you asked for this Mneneth. There’s no way for you to back out now. Stand still.
Mneneth stood frozen as a statue, immobile but fully aware of what happened. The glowing orb that represented Madun floated before his face. A sudden flash of light pierced into his eyes. He felt how memories, he had not experienced himself, settled into his mind. Pain, sorrow, hopelessness, agony, loneliness occupied most of it. He felt a sting in the back of his head and in his chest. Inside his head, he saw everything Chitzikobe had done during her reign. He saw how she rose to power and how she fell again. He saw a confrontation between Madun and Chitzikobe, through Madun’s eyes. He saw how two cheetah cubs at roughly his own size huddled up against each other in a den he recognized as one of the dens at the Crescent rock formation. He saw a flash of pain and then he saw the smoldering and charred remains of the two cubs he had seen. With a gasp he returned to the semi-reality he had been in before the intense experience of the memories. He saw Madun, in the form of a large cheetress, tower before him.
Madun: I shall send you back now, Mneneth. You are now the only mortal that KNOWS. You now carry a share of my GUILT. You will never FORGET, Mneneth.
The emphasis Madun laid on certain words pressed Mneneth backwards, and when she spoke his name the second time his vision blurred out to darkness…
Mneneth felt how something wet and cold came through his fur and onto his skin. The sound of heavy raindrops falling on the ground filled into his ears. He opened his eyes but closed them immediately because two raindrops had hit straight into them. Lightning flashed and the place temporarily lit up, a few seconds later the thunder boomed.
He opened his eyes again, and he saw the entrance to a large cave. He remembered it. It was his home, the Crescent rock. But another memory reminded him of intense pain and agony. He shook his head and the memory seemed to fade away again.
With a great deal of effort he rose to his paws. His body was aching as if he had been lying on the ground for too long. He stood on wobbly paws as if he had never used them before. Even if it puzzled him, he gave it no further thought because he was cold and wet, and he hoped that he would find his mother in the dens.
As soon as he got used to his paws again, he sprinted into the den and stumbled across something in the darkness. The thing moaned and then fell silent again. Mneneth got up again and watched the object. It smelled like Gandu, but it was larger, twice the size Gandu should’ve been. Mneneth looked deeper into the den, and to his rejoice he saw the sleeping form of his mother. He forgot everything about the thing he had tripped on and darted towards Anasti. He pounced on her, tearing her from her sleep in utter terror.
Mneneth: FAHA! FAHA!!!
Anasti looked utterly afraid and blinked several times. Mneneth gave her no time to figure out what just happened before he stroked his cheek against her leg.
Mneneth: Faha… its me… Mneneth!
Anasti: Mne? It… (Sniffs at the air) MNE!!!
She wrapped her paws around his shoulders and embraced him.
Anasti: Mne!!! Its really you! I… I thought you were… How is it possible? Where have you been all this time? Are you hurt?
Mneneth: Cot, Faha. Kiah just fine. But, what do kou mean “all this time”? Kiic only been gone for a few hours.
Anasti: Hours? Mne, you vanished weeks ago. We lost hope to ever see you (sobs) again. I… I thought you were… dead.
Mneneth: weeks? But… that’s impossible! It was just a few hours! Ki don’t understand…
Anasti: Mneneth… I think you should rest now. It’s the middle of the night. You can tell me more tomorrow.
Mneneth: But Ki still don’t understand… (Yawns)
Almost as if Anasti had commanded him, he suddenly felt very tired. His eyelids grew heavy as if he hadn’t slept for a smaller eternity. He wobbled over to his mother’s side and flopped on the ground. Almost instantly, he fell asleep.
Mneneth had a troubled sleep. Images of Insi and her corruption appeared and faded away in his mind. And after those memories had replayed themselves infinitely in his mind, he woke up. He saw his mother, Xiamu and someone that looked exactly like Gandu, save that this person was larger.
Xiamu: (smiles) good morning Mneneth.
Mneneth: (yawns) morning Xiamu
Anasti: slept well?
Mneneth: Ki guess…
Anasti: are you hungry? We can get you almost anything you like.
Mneneth: cot, ki don’t think Ki akh hungry. But zhiech anyway…
Anasti: uhm… Mneneth. I don’t really understand what you’re saying.
Mneneth gave his mother a puzzled look.
Mneneth: what do kou mean?
Anasti: you use words I don’t know the meaning of… like “kou”
Mneneth: Ki said kou?
Anasti: now you used “ki”, what does those words mean?
Mneneth fell silent. Had he been influenced by seeing all the cheetahs and hearing their language?
Mneneth: Ki… Ki don’t know… its like Ki always used those words…
The Gandu-like leopon stepped over towards Mneneth.
Leopon: well, I think Ki means I.
Mneneth: Ban! That’s what it means… but why couldn’t Ki know that?
Leopon: Mneneth… what did Madun do to you?
Her question planted a doubt in Mneneth’s mind. What was he supposed to do with all the knowledge Madun had given him? Was he to tell everyone, or shut up about it? He had no idea…
Mneneth: Ki don’t know…
Anasti: where did she take you?
Mneneth: Ki guess… to the lands of the Kekabas.
Xiamu: Kekaba… I’ve heard that word before. But I can’t remember where from…
What is a “kekaba” like?
Mneneth: A kekaba is ententa like a hafuh, but much slimmer with thinner legs.
Xiamu: I don’t get a word of it Mneneth…
Mneneth: Ki sorry… Ki can’t help it…
Xiamu: its ok, Mne…
The leopon that looked like Gandu eyed Mneneth suspiciously.
Leopon: well, what did you do over there? I mean you’ve been gone for weeks.
Mneneth: Ki… watched… Ban, that’s what Ki did… watched.
Leopon: watched… what did you watch?
Mneneth: err… the past.
Leopon: (not entirely convinced) oh…
Mneneth: who are kou?
Leopon: Come on Mne… don’t you recognize me?
Mneneth: can’t say Ki do.
Leopon: (sighs) it's me, Gandu (waves a paw in front of Mneneth’s face) does that ring a bell somewhere?
Mneneth: Gandu? But… kou were… kou’re too large to be…
Gandu: don’t you think I’d grow without you? You have grown too Mneneth.
Mneneth was confused. To him, he had only been gone a few hours, but to them he’d been gone for several weeks. He looked at himself, and then down at the ground. The distance from his eyes and down had increased. Xiamu whispered something to Anasti, who nodded as reply.
Anasti: (to Xiamu) you’re right…
Xiamu: (to Mne and Gandu) well, I guess Xi and I should head out to hunt. I don’t think you two would have any problems with that.
Gandu: certainly not.
Xiamu: (To Gandu) keep an eye on Mneneth, ok?
Anasti nuzzled Mneneth before she and Xiamu left the den. Mneneth was even more confused now. There had always been one of the adults at home when the other was out hunting. He looked at Gandu and found that she was glaring back at him.
Gandu: ok Mne… tell me what Madun did to you.
Mneneth: ki akh not sure…
Gandu: come on Mne. I’m dying of curiosity.
Mneneth: (sighs) ban then, Ki’ll tell kou.
Gandu: Ki’ll? What does that mean?
Mneneth: Ki (points at him self) will tell (points at her) kou!
Gandu: oh… I think I get it.
Mneneth gave his half-sister description of the things Madun had shown him. He didn’t leave out any of the significant details. Gandu seemed to devour his words as he spoke them…
Mneneth: and then… Madun sent ki back here.
Gandu: is that all? And you’ve been gone for so long…
Mneneth: Ki told kou… to Ki, it’s only been a few hours…
Gandu: oh yeah, you said that… (Short pause) so you carry some of Madun’s guilt???
Mneneth: (looks into the ground) ban… it’s like Kiic always known… Ki can’t explain it properly to kou…
Gandu watched him for a few moments in silence. Then she took up a pose that Mneneth knew too well. Before he had reacted, she had pounced on him and tipped him off his paws.
Gandu: (grins) lets not bury you in that stuff now… lets play!
He began to wrestle with her, and he was surprised that she was a great deal stronger than him. It didn’t take long before he was the one pinned to the ground by his grinning sister.
Gandu: (grins) Seems like I got ya this time, brother.
Mneneth: erf… get off me!
Gandu only giggled and jumped off him. Mneneth got up and brushed off the dust from his fur.
Gandu playfully jumped sideways around him, looking ready to pounce at any second. Mneneth made a surprise attack on her and soon they were tumbling around on the floor trying to wrestle the other down. Unfortunately for Mneneth, Gandu was still stronger than him and he soon found himself pinned by her again.
Gandu: (grins) Oh dear brother, you’re too easy.
Mneneth struggled himself out of her grip and brushed himself off again. Suddenly a memory stirred in the back of his head. He walked over to one of the walls of the den and watched it for a while. Gandu followed him and looked at the wall for a few seconds, trying to puzzle out what was so interesting about it.
Mneneth laid his paw on the smooth surface of the stone… and it vanished. A part of the wall simply vanished from existence as he touched it. Gandu stood in awe and terrified shock, unable to understand what just happened.
Gandu: h…how did you do that???
Mneneth: (looks at his paw) Ki… Ki don’t know… Lets see what’s inside.
Gandu: I… I’m not sure if that’s a good idea…
Mneneth: Well, Ki’ll go in and see what’s in there…
The leopard went through the newly shaped hole in the wall. It led to a short tunnel that widened up into a den of the same size as the one he’d been in just a few seconds ago. Light came in to that den through a hole in the ceiling. Gandu was quick to follow him and she too came to the other den.
Suddenly both of them gave out a gasp. Beyond the pillar of light that was in the middle of the place, someone stood. It did not move or anything, but there was something sitting there. Mneneth suddenly remembered something he’d never known before, but it felt like he’d always known it.
Mneneth: (whispers) Beze… raka kekaba…
Gandu: c’mon… lets leave… this is just too weird. Lets leave, Mne…
Mneneth: Cot, Gandu…
Mneneth walked towards the creature he’d identified as Beze… but when he had passed the pillar of light, he saw that it wasn’t a living creature. It was a statue of a cheetah that resembled of Beze in detail and its face was frozen in a defensive snarl. Mneneth suddenly remembered what had happened to Beze… The scene flashed inside his head… He saw everything trough the eyes of Madun. He saw how Beze tried to protect two cubs from the goddess’ anger. But the resistance he had put up with had been in vain, Madun had turned him into stone and then slain the two cubs he had tried to protect from her anger.
Mneneth: (touches the statue with his paw, whispering) raka Beze… that’s what happened to tye…
Gandu stood nervously at the end of the tunnel and called back to him.
Gandu: Mne… come on… Please…
Mneneth: (calls back) It’s just a statue… Nothing to fear… it’s just a stone.
Gandu: A stone?
Mneneth: Come see.
Gandu hesitated for a moment before she cautiously approached the statue. She was amazed when she saw it. The detail was near perfect, save from a few cracks and places where it had withered slightly. It was the petrified remains of Beze, the cheetah that Chitzikobe had chosen as her mate. The face of the statue displayed immense torment in its frozen snarl.
Mneneth: Ki can’t believe tye did this to Beze…
Gandu: who did what to whom, Mneneth? I don’t understand you
Mneneth: (mentions at the statue) This was Beze. Tye was one of Chitzikobe’s believers. Madun did this to tye…
Gandu: oh… (Looks at the statue and shudders) poor him… (Realizes something) how do you know?
Mneneth: Ki have memories of Madun inside… Ki know what tye did when Chitzikobe fell… (Shakes his head) It feels like Ki did this… (Looks down into the ground) Ki carry guilt.
Gandu: you told me that Madun gave you some of her memories… but I don’t understand why you should feel guilty for that.
Mneneth: Kou don’t understand… The memories… it is as if Ki did all this…
Gandu: Why did she do that to you?
Mneneth: (sighs) Ki asked for it…buko me asked for it…
Mneneth turned away from the statue and walked back through the tunnel to the other den. Gandu followed right behind him. When both were in the first den, Mneneth touched the wall with the tunnel entrance. Suddenly the wall reappeared again and gave no clue to that there was indeed a tunnel hidden behind it.
The two of them sat
silent and waited for their mothers to return.
Another few months passed by. Mneneth managed to speak somewhat normally again and catch up with all that he had missed while he had been “gone”, but no matter how hard he tried, Gandu were always ahead of him. She was a great deal stronger and larger than him but when it came to wits, they were equals. Gandu liked to vex her brother with the fact that she could always wrestle him down, but she was cautious not to go too far.
Another noticeable change was that a dim glow had appeared deep inside Gandu and Mneneth’s eyes. It worried their mothers as they quickly guessed what that glow was. It was the nature of their father that had been passed down to their children. Xiamu was afraid that her child would become like Kubaki while Anasti was more confident in that their upbringing would keep them from turning evil.
Gandu and Mneneth were out to practice their hunting skills without the supervision of their mothers. Xiamu was still concerned about the glow in her Gandu’s eyes and she spoke with Anasti about it in the den they had used as a home for many months now…
Xiamu: I… I don’t know what to do, Ani… that glow… it grows stronger for every day.
Anasti: Don’t worry Xi… it’ll all be all right with them. I don’t think there’s any chance that they’ll end up like Kubaki, not with the upbringing we gave them. I think they’ll be just fine.
Xiamu: I wish I could think that way, Ani… but it’s just such a gnawing feeling I have.
Anasti: Xi, we did our best to raise them. Their fates will soon no longer be in our paws.
Xiamu: (sighs) I know… you told me about what you leopards do to your children when they mature. It does sound cruel… but you leopards aren’t like lions. You’re more solitary creatures than my kind.
Anasti: I’m glad you understand, Xi. I think it’s the best for them to wander the lands, so they don’t stay here forever. And I doubt they would separate for quite some while. They’re quite attached to each other.
Xiamu: (nods) and Gandu is pretty strong too. I guess I should have more faith in her. She can handle herself.
Anasti: so can Mneneth.
The sound of eight paws and something dragged on the ground was heard. And then Gandu and Mneneth appeared, both dragging a zebra foal with them.
Gandu: (lets go of the foal) Look mom, we did it!
Mneneth: (lets go too and the foal drops to the ground) It took us a while, but we caught it.
Anasti and Xiamu were not late to congratulate them on their successful hunt.
Even though they knew what this meant. There was nothing more they could teach them.
Xiamu: (Happy voice) I’m proud of you two…
Anasti: You’ve proven that you can hunt several times now. I guess Xi and I were good at knocking some sense into your heads.
Mneneth: (grins) yeah, faha. Ki think your teachings helped us a great deal.
Gandu: (looks at Xiamu) You’ve helped us much too mom, without your lessons in how to coordinate a hunt, I bet we’d be less successful.
Xiamu: thanks honey, I’m glad I could help you two.
Anasti: So am I… (Looks at the foal) I remember how Xi and I had to get food for you two… seems like the roles have changed.
Gandu: (grins) I guess that’s supposed to be that way.
Xiamu: (nods) yes Gandu… but lets not talk too much shall we?
Mneneth: cot, we didn’t catch that zebra just to look at it.
With nothing more said, they began to eat from the foal.
Later on, near sunset, Mneneth sat with Xiamu and watched how the light that came in through the cave entrance was split up in the Crystal crescent. The patterns of light that hit the walls were an astonishing sight. But Xiamu was not too happy. She knew that soon she would see neither Gandu nor Mneneth for a long time, if ever again.
It was difficult for her to tell Mneneth, but she knew she had to…
Mneneth: (turns to her) ban aunt Xi?
Xiamu: there’s something I must tell you…
Mneneth: Kiah listening.
Xiamu: Anasti and I have… I mean… you and Gandu must… (Shakes her head) I must tell you…
Mneneth: (looks a bit confused) ban?
Xiamu: (sighs) you have no idea how hard this is to tell you… but… You’re adult now Mne. Anasti told me what that means. I’m afraid that… you and Gandu must… leave.
Mneneth: (very confused) Leave? Why?
Xiamu: you can’t stick with us forever. You must build your own lives.
Xiamu laid her left forepaw on Mneneth’s right shoulder and looked straight into his eyes. She did shudder a bit when her gaze met his, but she didn’t show it.
Xiamu: I’m afraid it’s the only way, Mne. I really hate to do it but it’s for your own good.
Mneneth: Ki… (Looks at Xiamu) That’s why you taught us how to survive.
Xiamu: it was the least we could do, wasn’t it Mne? We wanted you to be prepared.
Mneneth: Ki understand…
A quite long silence fell between them. Mneneth continued to look straight into Xiamu’s eyes. He really understood that his mother and Xiamu just wanted his best.
Mneneth: Ki guess it will be time for goodbyes then…
Xiamu: (nods) Yes… Anasti wanted me to say her goodbyes to you. She couldn’t stand doing it herself… just like I wouldn’t be able to send Gandu away…
She embraced Mneneth in a tight hug and he hugged her back. Mneneth didn’t want to leave, this was the life he’d always known.
Xiamu: you take good care of yourself and Gandu. I know you’re able to, don’t make us disappointed…
Mneneth: Ki won’t, aunt Xiamu… Ki won’t…
Xiamu let go of her embrace and bit her lip not to start crying. Mneneth saw the pain in Xiamu’s face and he knew that Anasti would be even sadder than that.
Mneneth: please take care of Anasti too, Xiamu. Ki won’t disappoint you two.
Xiamu: I will… now go, Mneneth… Go to the northern border of this territory and wait for Gandu there…
With no further word spoken, Mneneth turned away from the lioness and towards the exit of the cave. It had to be the most difficult steps for him to take, but he managed not to stop. When he had come out in the open, he turned north and ran as fast as his paws possibly could carry him. He felt how some unknown force tried to pull him back, but his will was stronger and he continued. Soon he found Gandu sit waiting for him. Her face had dark lines running down from her eyes but it was resolute.
Gandu: Lets leave… now…
Mneneth nodded, and both were still for a few seconds before they, painfully, began to increase the distance between them and their now former home.
Beyond the Swamp
The young leopon and leopard made there way north. They soon reached the southern edge of the swamp they almost got killed in when they were cubs. A green fog covered the swamp and they could only see a few meters into it. Somewhere in there, they knew that Chitzikobe wailed and mourned her loneliness. Mneneth gazed into the fog with a sad gaze.
Mneneth: raka Insi… Ki wish we could go in there and speak to her…
Gandu: No way Mne. We’re not going in there. Not under any circumstances!
Gandu: (fixed her gaze on him) No, Mneneth. We’re going around the swamp. I’m not going to break the vow I gave that goddess.
Mneneth: (sighs) ban… we’ll go around then…
Mneneth sent another sad gaze into the greenness of the swamp. Gandu trotted away along the swamp edge in its eastern direction. Mneneth was quick to follow her.
After what seemed like a lesser eternity, they finally got around Chitzikobe’s swamp. The journey had taken several hours and they were both tired of walking and hungry. They hadn’t seen anything edible near the swamp and they could guess why. After a short stop to rest, they decided to head north.
When they had gotten outside visual range of the great swamp, they noticed a drastic change of the surroundings. It was no longer eerie and foreboding, but quite normal. But they cared little about the surroundings. They had spotted a herd of gazelle grazing on the savannah. They did not need to decide what to do.
With a well-coordinated attack, they managed to separate one gazelle from the others. Mneneth drove it further and further from its relatives until Gandu could pounce on it from behind. A swift bite in the neck ended the hunt. Both of the felines grinned victoriously for a few moments before enjoying the taste of their prey.
They had without knowing it, crossed the invisible border to the Deathlands. But their presence had not passed undetected. The black lioness Azouka and two other Deathlander lionesses had surrounded them while they were eating. Azouka watched the leopon and the leopard for a while before she decided what to do…
Azouka: Hey you two!
Mneneth and Gandu both turned simultaneously towards Azouka, almost choking on the meat they were chewing on. When the two other lionesses emerged, they took defensive stances and bared their teeth.
Gandu: This is our kill. You’ll have none of it!
Azouka: We’re not interested in your petty kill. (Eyes the remains of the gazelle) You already ate most of it.
Gandu: If it’s a fight you want then you’re most welcome to try.
Azouka: why so violent? Perhaps I just wanted a little chat with the two of you.
Gandu: yeah right…
Azouka nodded to her two pridesisters, who then backed off a little and sat down. Azouka herself walked closer to Gandu, not seeming threatening at all.
Azouka: Trust me, if it was a fight I wanted, I wouldn’t have bothered to alert you of our presence.
Gandu: Then what is it you want?
Azouka: (watches the silent Mneneth) well, nothing you can give me… but your friend over there might have the qualities.
Gandu: whatever that is, you won’t get it.
Azouka: I think he could be the judge of that. (Turns directly to Mneneth) What would you say, dear leopard?
Mneneth: (somewhat unsure of Azouka’s intentions) Ki… Cot!
Azouka: (smiles to him) Cheetah speech! It has been ages since I heard someone speak in that cute language. (Goes closer to him) Say… what is your name, “hafuh”?
Gandu: His name is none of your business!
Azouka: tsk, tsk, tsk. Around here it’s polite to tell your name when asked. (Pauses) but since you two obviously aren’t from around here, I’ll make an exception and introduce myself first. I am Azouka, and my two friends here are Ciha and Teeka.
A short silence occurred while Gandu watched the three lionesses. Azouka sat down and continued to look at Mneneth in a way that bothered Gandu very much.
Azouka: (Speaks to Mneneth) so, “hafuh” what’s your name?
Mneneth: uh… Mne…
He stopped himself from saying his full name. Azouka looked content enough with that answer. She sent a gaze towards Gandu and then she nodded to her pridesisters.
Azouka: Right. Come on girls! Let’s show them up to Marhiza.
The lionesses rose to their paws and closed in on the leopard and the leopon. Gandu bared her teeth and made herself look as menacing as possible. Mneneth was calmer this time and nudged his half sisters shoulder. Amazingly that calmed her down as well and made no further resistance.
The three lionesses led them further into the Deathlands. Mneneth began to wonder why it was called the Deathlands because it seemed just as alive as the rest of the savannah. His thoughts where soon shattered when they were brought before a red lioness. Her eyes were red, but in a natural way, not like a demon. She also had a black stripe that ran from the tip of her nose, up over her forehead and continued behind her head. The lioness gazed at them for a few seconds before she turned to Azouka.
Marhiza: Azouka… why do you bring those two leopards here? What’s special about them?
Azouka whispered something to Marhiza that made the red lioness’ face curl into a malicious grin.
Marhiza: (grins) oh really? You’re one sly devil, aren’t you? (Turns to Mneneth) ok Leopard. We’ll let you two go unhurt, on one condition.
Gandu: and that is?
Marhiza: (still looking at Mneneth) oh, nothing other than your friend should accompany Azouka for a few hours.
Mneneth: nothing else???
Marhiza: (grins to him) yes, nothing else than that.
Mneneth: that can’t be too difficult.
Gandu was suspicious about the offering. It was too good to be true.
Gandu: just wait a minute… what will Azouka do to him?
Marhiza: just keep him company. She’s a very lonely lioness.
Gandu: if she hurts him, I’ll hurt her twice as much.
Azouka: oh don’t worry about that, I’ll be nice to him…
Gandu: you’ll better be…
She had no choice but to trust the black lioness, even if she had her suspicions. She gave a nod to Mneneth. Azouka walked over to Mneneth and motioned for him to follow her.
Gandu watched as they walked away somewhere. She didn’t like it at all. Marhiza began to talk to her again.
Marhiza: and for you… stay out of trouble. There’s water over by those (points) trees over there and you may hunt freely here. But when your… friend returns, you’ll both leave immediately. Is that understood?
Gandu: yeah… I understand.
Marhiza: good. Oh yeah, for your own safety, keep away from Raeza. She’s a bit too messed up in the head. You’ll recognize her by her psychotic face.
Gandu nodded and then the red lioness padded away. The two other lionesses that had accompanied her here also disappeared. Suddenly Gandu found herself to be alone, all alone in a foreign land…
Mneneth followed Azouka away from the others. He had no idea of what she had in mind for him. She led him all the way to a small den inside a hill. He entered the den after her and saw that it was indeed small. It barely had place for both of them to stand up.
Azouka: please come closer, Mne… I won’t bite you now.
Mneneth hesitated a little but complied. He sat down close to her and she did the same. As he looked into her eyes he saw pain and loneliness. She smiled to him, or rather, she grinned in a kind way.
Azouka: well… here we are now, just you and I, “hafuh”.
Mneneth: uhm… ban zibihi.
Azouka: I wonder… where did you learn to speak Cheetah?
Mneneth: ki… eh was taught it by a kekaba.
Azouka: I see. I learnt some from a lion who had been raised by cheetahs. The way he spoke was cute, but you have an even cuter accent.
Mneneth: uh zhiech, Azouka.
Azouka: (smiles to him) well… you want to talk more? Anything you want to know?
Mneneth: Ban, Ki wonder why this is called the Deathlands. It doesn’t seem dead at all.
Azouka: heh, you see, that name is very old. This place deserved that name when Marhiza and I came here. But, as you can see, we fixed it!
Mneneth: (nods) you surely did.
Suddenly Azouka leaned onto him. He wasn’t sure of what she wanted to do. She seemed too friendly for his liking, but strangely, he also liked it.
Azouka: you have no idea how lonely it can be here. Rarely any male company at all, and those that do stray in here… they just avoid me. (Sighs) just because they think I’m a panthress…
Mneneth had absolutely no clue of what he should do or say. His mother had prepared him to hunt and fight and all that stuff. But not anything like this. His analysis of the situation was that Azouka needed comfort. He knew a little about how to console someone so he laid his head over hers, and to his surprise she nuzzled him gently under his chin. Before he knew it, they were kissing each other passionately…
Gandu sat alone and looked at her reflection in the waterhole Marhiza had pointed out. The eyes of the reflection glowed evilly back at her. She wondered if the one she saw in the reflection really was her. It looked too evil. The eyes amazed her; they seemed to hide something foreboding and sinister but also something powerful, something with great authority. She was disrupted in the middle of her thoughts when she noticed the reflection of her mother beside hers. She gasped and looked up and saw a lioness that reminded very much about Xiamu, the only real difference was the orange fur and the intensely gray eyes.
Gandu: (exclaims) Mom?!
The lioness looked up at her with an empty stare. Gandu realized that it wasn’t her mother after all when she looked directly into the eyes of the lioness.
Gandu: I… sorry, I thought you were someone else.
The lioness continued to look at her with the same dead gaze as before. Gandu remembered that Marhiza had warned her about a lioness called Raeza. She wondered if the lioness before was that person.
Gandu: say… are you Raeza?
The lioness shook her head slowly. Gandu noticed that the lioness shuddered slightly, as if in fear of something. She wondered what could’ve happened to her.
Gandu: well… who are you then?
The lioness looked at her with a different gaze.
Lioness: (shivering voice) Kitch…
Gandu: Kitch? Oh… well, I am Gandu.
Gandu wasn’t sure if Kitch was the name of the lioness. The way she had said it sounded like it was just a nonsense word rather than a name. She watched the lioness, studying her looks. The similarity with Xiamu was stunning. This lioness just looked a lot younger, perhaps only a year older than herself.
Gandu: so… is this a nice place to live?
Lioness: (looks at her with a questioning gaze)
Gandu: Do you like to live here?
Lioness: (shakes her head)
Gandu: not? It seems nice enough to me. What is it you don’t like?
Lioness: (looks frightened and whispers) Raeza…
Gandu: Raeza? Hm… Marhiza warned me about Raeza…
Lioness: (hushes at her and points behind Gandu)
Gandu turned around and gasped as she saw a very close view of an angry lioness’ face. She backed a bit to properly see. The lioness had a dark-tan pelt and the only variations were her muzzle that was slightly lighter, and patches of pale gray fur around her eyes. Gandu knew by the insane look at the lioness’ face that it had to be Raeza.
Raeza: (paranoid) What are you doing to my daughter???
Gandu: calm down, we were just talking.
Raeza: (paranoid) You fill her head with LIES???
Gandu: No, I just asked her a bit about the Deathlands, nothing else.
Raeza glared at Gandu with an acid gaze. Gandu found Raeza’s behavior most annoying.
Gandu: Look, I wasn’t going to kidnap her or anything.
Raeza: SHUT UP! This is your fault Kitch!
Raeza walked past Gandu and hit the other lioness across her face.
Raeza: (yells at the other lioness) You are NOT to talk to strangers!
Lioness: (whimpers like a cub) sorry mom…
Raeza: We must leave now, before that gray-eyed Mazih’fu finds us.
Raeza began to walk away but the other lioness hesitated while looking at Gandu with a wondering gaze. Raeza turned around and yelled at the lioness.
Raeza: Kitch, NOW!
The lioness suddenly got a desperate look on her face. She looked at Gandu, then at Raeza, then back at Gandu again. Her lower lip quivered visibly while looking at Gandu, as if she had recognized her somehow. Suddenly she leapt in behind Gandu.
Lioness: (whimpering voice) mom. Make her go away…
Gandu looked utterly confused by the situation. Raeza turned around and came walking towards Gandu with a gaze that made her intentions obvious. She wanted to kill Gandu. The leopon was quick to realize and took a defensive stance between the other lioness and Raeza. The crazed lioness leapt at Gandu, who nimbly dodged out of harms way. Raeza gave out a loud growl as she prepared for another attack. The leopon saw an opportunity present itself and leapt first. Taken by surprise, Raeza got knocked off her feet and fell on her side. She tried to get up again, when suddenly a third lioness appeared and pinned Raeza to the ground. The lioness had a golden-gray fur and… exactly the same gray eyes as the lioness that reminded of Xiamu.
Mazih’fu: Now I finally found you, Raeza! You’ve evaded me long enough!
Raeza: (Growls) You’ll never get Kitch, you gray-eyed MONSTER!
Mazih’fu: I already have… Raeza.
She placed her left front paw at Raeza’s throat with the claws displayed.
Mazih’fu: What’ll it be? Raeza. Death or banishment?
Raeza: (Growls) You’ll NEVER…
Mazih’fu: Shut up. Answer my question. Do you want to be banished or killed?
Raeza: (growls loudly)
Mazih’fu: (increases the pressure on her throat)
Raeza: (chokes) e… I… DIE before you get my KITCH!
Mazih’fu: Very well… Death it is then.
Gandu watched as Mazih’fu knocked Raeza unconscious. She was surprised that Raeza wasn’t killed. She looked questioning at Mazih’fu, who first now seemed to notice her presence.
Mazih’fu: oh, you must be the leopardess mom talked about. I’m Mazih’fu.
Gandu: why didn’t you kill her?
Mazih’fu: (looks at Raeza) nah, it would be a waste of time to kill her. She’s just a bit messed up in her head.
Gandu: (sarcastic) A bit?
Mazih’fu: ok… her head is extremely messed up. Anyway, we’d better go somewhere else before she wakes up.
She nodded to the lioness that hid behind Gandu.
Mazih’fu: you too N’dina. You don’t have to put up with her tyranny anymore.
Gandu stood still as if hit by the lightning. The name that Mazih’fu just said made a memory of something Xiamu told her to light up in her mind. It was Xiamu’s lost daughter N’dina, her half-sister.
Mazih’fu noticed that something was happening inside Gandu’s head and looked at her.
Mazih’fu: what. Have you just seen a five-eyed tail-biter or what?
Gandu: no… just that name. You called her N’dina.
Mazih’fu: look, we can talk about that later. Right now we’ll have to move.
Gandu went silent. The lioness was right. She nodded to Mazih’fu and then followed her when she and N’dina walked away. None of them said a word before they came to a halt near a smaller ravine that cut through the landscape. Mazih’fu stopped and looked down over the edge.
Mazih’fu: well, not coming any further this way. That’s for sure.
She turned to Gandu and suddenly got a puzzled face. She sent a quick gaze to N’dina and then to Gandu. Her puzzled face turned to confused.
Mazih’fu: what the…
Gandu: what is it?
Mazih’fu: (to N’dina) N’dina, stand next to the leopardess…
N’dina complied and went to stand next to Gandu. Mazih’fu’s mouth fell open and her face had confusion written all-over it.
Gandu: (a bit worried) What is it?
Mazih’fu: by all holy… It’s impossible. Who are you, Leopard? You said you knew N’dina before. Explain what you meant.
Gandu: well, first, I am Gandu. And N’dina was the name of my half-sister that I never met. My mother, Xiamu spoke of her.
The mentioning of Xiamu seemed to kick life into N’dina. Her face shone up like a torch. She turned towards Gandu and wrapped her forelegs around her in a tight embrace.
N’dina: Mother!!! Xiamu!!!
Gandu stared at N’dina with a gaze of surprise. She tried to push the lioness away.
Gandu: All right, cut that out. I never knew you other from what mother told me. I’m not Xiamu.
Gandu: no, I am your sister, N’dina. I’m your sister, not your mother.
N’dina: (puzzled) sister?
Gandu: yes, I’m your younger sister.
Mazih’fu watched them with amazement. N’dina let go of Gandu and backed off slightly. Her face suddenly carried a hint of life that it had been lacking before.
N’dina: Where is mom?
Gandu: I know where she is.
N’dina: (anxious) tell me!
Mazih’fu: (cuts in) no, don’t tell her.
Both N’dina and Gandu looked at Mazih’fu.
Mazih’fu: N’dina, you cannot leave the Deathlands. No member of this pride can.
N’dina: (looks tear-eyed) but… but…
Mazih’fu: I’m sorry N’dina. Such are the rules
N’dina: (sobs) but Mazzie… my mom…
Gandu stared at Mazzie with her now intensely glowing yellow eyes.
Gandu: What harm could it do? Just let her meet her mother. You could always go with her.
Mazih’fu: (suddenly changes her mind) when you say it… I could go with her.
N’dina: (shines up) Really? Will I see mom again?
Mazih’fu: yes… I changed my mind, leopard; tell me how to reach the place where she lives.
Gandu: It’s straight to the south and on the other side of the great swamp.
Mazih’fu: the swamp? But that’s impassable…
Gandu: if you go through it, yes, but not if you walk around it. It’s just a day’s travel to get around.
Mazih’fu: okay… I know I’m going to get a darn lot of trouble for this, but I’ll do it. That would keep N’dina outside Raeza’s clutches.
Gandu: and… you’ll know the place mother lives when you see it. It’s a huge pile of rocks, its difficult to see from a distance though…
Mazih’fu: I think I’ll be able to find it…
Gandu: I think you’d better go now before… Raeza wakes up.
Mazih’fu studies Gandu’s face and Gandu watched the lioness. They nodded to each other at the exact same time. They had not need of saying anything further. N’dina looked at her newly found half-sister and Mazih’fu, who had the same gray eyes as she had. Her mind puzzled out that her half-sister was about to leave them, or the other way around. But the fact that she would see her mother again washed that feeling away. She bounced over to Gandu, gave her a hug in a very cubby fashion.
Gandu: urr… right… I guess I should say farewell to you now, sister.
N’dina: why can’t you come with us?
Mazih’fu: yeah, why can’t you? It would be a lot easier to find there.
Gandu: it’s… complicated… Mne and I can’t… it would be all silly if we returned now…
Mazih’fu: Mne? Oh… mother told about the other leopard, he’s your mate, right?
Gandu: uh… mate? What do you mean?
Mazih’fu: (raises an eyebrow) don’t tell me you don’t know what that means…
Gandu: can’t say I do…
N’dina: (whines) I wanna go now.
Mazih’fu: (shrugs) oh well… whatever he is to you, I bet Azouka is having fun with him now.
Gandu: what do you mean? Is she hurting him?
Mazih’fu: not precisely… I actually bet my tail on that she’s giving him a very good time; perhaps he’ll even want to stay here when she lets go of him.
Gandu: (totally confused) I don’t understand
Mazih’fu: well, I guess you’ll understand some day…
N’dina: (whines) Mazzie… lets go before mean Raeza finds us.
Mazih’fu: right, I guess we have to go now. (Nods to Gandu) In case we never meet again, it was nice talking to you.
N’dina: Bye sis
Gandu: uh… yes… bye… sis…
Mazih’fu and N’dina walked away, heading south. The leopon watched after them for as long as she could. She couldn’t really figure out if she had somehow changed Mazih’fu’s mind or if the lioness had done that herself. She pondered on it for a while before she walked away back towards the place she had last seen Mneneth.
The leopon sniffed at the ground. She could identify the scent of her half-brother. It stood out among all the other scents and she could follow it even in the darkest night. She wanted Mneneth to return because she didn’t feel too comfortable with being alone. And the fact that she had finally met with her older half-sister and sent her back to her mother made her feel both happy and worried. She wanted to go back with her, only to see the happy face of her mother, but she couldn’t just leave Mneneth in the Deathlands.
She waited anxiously for an hour for Mneneth to return. Her ears caught a sound in the background and she silently turned to face the direction the sound had come from. She heard giggling… she heard Mneneth. A few moments later the leopard came walking alongside Azouka, giggling like a silly cub. The two of them noticed Gandu, who glared sourly at them.
Azouka: (giggles) oh look, Mne… she’s waiting for you
Mneneth: (giggles and nuzzles Azouka) Ki hope she hasn’t been too bored.
Azouka: (smiles) well… compared to us, she must’ve been bored
Mneneth: (giggles) ban Azouka
Gandu: (just glares at them)
Mneneth: Yoah Gandu (giggles)
Gandu: Mne… what did she do to you?
Mneneth: (giggles) you wouldn’t believe me if ki told you
Azouka: (nuzzles him) she doesn’t have to know, nam hafuh…
Gandu continued to glare sourly at them. She couldn’t comprehend the term “love” as she had never encountered it, at least not in that way.
Gandu: (snorts) Come Mne, we’re leaving now.
Mneneth: (giggles) why leave? We’ll be just as happy here (nuzzles Azouka) won’t we?
Azouka: (nuzzles back) definitely
Gandu: Mne, we’re not staying here. Come on now.
Her eyes had begun to glow with an intense yellow light. She stared at Mneneth, making the leopard visibly unnerved by her gaze.
Mneneth: Cot Gandu… you can leave if you want to, Ki’ll stay here.
Gandu: (snarls) No you’re not, you’re coming with me.
Mneneth: Give me one good reason.
The glow in Gandu’s eyes intensified even more as her gaze locked with Mneneth’s.
Gandu: I’ll give you a reason. You’re not thinking straight. That Marhiza gave you the condition to either be with Azouka for a while… or die. (Turns to Azouka) Isn’t it so?
Mneneth: (shakes his head) I know what you are, Gandu… you are just jealous.
Suddenly Mneneth yelped in pain as Gandu’s gaze somehow made it feel like his brain was on fire. The leopon kept her gaze locked with his, knowing that it severely hurt him.
Gandu: don’t make me hurt you more, Mne.
Azouka bared her teeth at Gandu, but the leopon only turned her head and locked gazes with the lioness. A mere second later, Azouka was yelping in pain too. Mneneth began to recover as the pain inside his head vanished.
Gandu: how will it be, Mne?
Mneneth: Ki… Stop it Gandu… Ki… (Looks at Azouka) Ki’ll go with you… just don’t hurt her more.
The leopon blinked and fixed her gaze on Mneneth again, this time without hurting him.
Gandu: (smirks) good… We’ll head northwest, that ought to keep us from the Pridelands.
She glared quickly at Azouka, who were still moaning in pain. With a silent snort she began to walk away, closely followed by Mneneth.
A slight trace of pain still lingered inside Mneneth’s head. He had no idea what Gandu had done, but somehow it was familiar to him. He was afraid of her, afraid of the powers she had suddenly acquired. He didn’t dare to think about Azouka, out of fear that she’d read his thoughts.
They both walked silently towards the northwest portion of the horizon. The sun set as they finally crossed the borders and left the Deathlands behind them. Gandu continued onwards and showed no signs of wanting to take a break. Mneneth followed her without any objection. Gandu suddenly stopped and Mneneth almost bumped into her. She looked around with her glowing eyes. Mneneth somehow sensed the same as Gandu. Someone or something was approaching them. A couple of rustles in the grass ahead of them gave out the location of the unknown creatures. Gandu snuck towards the location where the sound had come from and Mneneth quietly followed her.
Suddenly a very loud chirp was heard. It wasn’t like any bird they had ever heard.
Male voice: Costiah, we have company!
Costiah: (unengaged voice) where?
Gandu knew her cover had been blown, so she chose to reveal herself.
Gandu: Right here…
Male voice: Show yourself!
Gandu motioned for Mneneth to follow her as she walked towards the sources of the two voices. They came to a small clearing in the high grass and in the middle of it stood a cheetah, and next to him, a lion laid and looked like he had nothing to live for. The lion had a small tuft of black long hair that was supposed to be a mane, and his right cheek had several parallel scars. The cheetah was the only one to pay them any attention.
Cheetah: so… two hafuhs, eh? Just head on, we won’t stay long.
Gandu: right… we won’t stay long either… Come Mne, we’ll leave those two to their own business.
Mneneth: wait Gandu… (Watches the lion for a few seconds, then looks at the cheetah) you called him Costiah, didn’t you?
Cheetah: that is correct, hafuh.
Mneneth: is there any reason that you call him the Nameless?
Cheetah: quite simple, he IS nameless. I don’t know why you’re asking.
Mneneth: just curious, kekaba… just curious.
The cheetah looked at Mneneth with a pair of very gray eyes. The lion still paid them no attention at all.
Cheetah: you use words of my language, hafuh…
Mneneth: ban, kekaba. Ki does know your language quite well.
Gandu snorted silently and gazed at the lion instead of her brother and the cheetah. The lion turned around and glared apathetically at her with his gray eyes. Gandu was a bit surprised at the color, because it was exactly the same gray shade that N’dina and Mazih’fu’s eyes had. She turned her gaze to the cheetah, who was busy talking about the cheetah language with Mneneth. The cheetah also had the gray eyes. Gandu blinked and then looked back to the lion.
Gandu: hey… Costiah… wasn’t it?
Costiah: (looks at her and sighs) yes…
Gandu: uhm… never mind…
Costiah sighed again and turned away from her. She sensed a great grief coming from the lion, a grief that seemed to be impossible to overcome. Gandu shook her head slightly and went over to Mneneth, who now were talking with the cheetah about the goddess Madun. She listened to their discussion until they had finished. She gave Mneneth a prod in his side.
Gandu: right, we’ll move on now Mne.
Mneneth: Ki agree… (Turns to the Cheetah again) It was nice talking to you, Conhaba.
Conhaba: well, I was surprised that a hafuh knew so much about our ancestral lore.
Mneneth: well then… Mizhk then, Kekaba
Conhaba: Mizhk, hafuh.
Mneneth nodded to Gandu and they continued towards the northwest, leaving Conhaba and Costiah behind. Gandu wasn’t really able to get over the exact similarity between the eyes of those two and the eyes of Mazih’fu and N’dina. Their eyes were exact copies of one another; they had the same gray color.
What also bothered her mind was that she had been able to inflict severe pain on both Mneneth and Azouka by just staring at them. Something had awakened inside her and she was aware of it. She was afraid of those powers she had discovered and she did not dare to think of what powers still waited to reveal themselves to her. The questions troubled her mind… and she was afraid… afraid of herself.
The end of Part One
I started writing this part the 15:th August 2002 and it was finished the 9:th October 2003.
The corrections was finished the 27:th November 2003.
The second part of this story is under writing right now. Will be available when finished.