[All chars in this story are (c) to me save Mufasa, Scar, Simba, or Kovu I. All comments are welcome and need to be sent here: eva_janus4@hotmail.com]

 

The Lion King IV - The Final Days

 

by Eva Janus (Karen Pietrylo)

 

 

PART ONE - Dark Are the Days

 

 

     Time has passed over the Pride Lands. Things change and history is written. The legacy of Scar has survived through the years, passed down by his offspring. Times were difficult for the king and he soon met his end. But his name lives on... His blessed daughter, Keilah, restored the bloodline into the royal family through her son, Shinda. The task had been done secretly, no one suspecting it. The only ones to have known of it are all perished, save one. Kovu II of the Pride Lands is successor to Scar and heir to the throne. It is noted that he has lead a happy life as king with his mate and has prospered greatly. The times are filled with light and joy for all... She paused and smiled to herself. Or so everyone would like to think. Brilliant bright blue orbs stared across the grasslands to Pride Rock in the morning sunrise. Tiny shapes at the bottom of the rock structure scurried about. Activity had begun for the pride. The lioness watching from afar turned to the lioness beside her. “So it seems all is right at Pride Rock... But don’t doubt me when I tell you that all is not well.” Her pelt was a light tan, almost white, and her forehead bore a small black marking.

     The other lioness glanced at the first. “And why do you say such things?”

     “If you had been watching this pride as long as I have, then you’d know that matters are getting out of paw.” She turned back to face the light-drenched rock protrusion. “Kovu hides his worries. In his heart, things are stirred and he is frightened by them. He dares not show it though... He knows better than that.”

     “What kind of things are stirred?”

     “Feelings of the future and what is to come.” She paused again, staring out as the pride continued moving about. “In time, you will see as I have...”

 

     His body trembled almost violently as he stared before him. His blue eyes were wide and filled with glistening tears. A sense of helplessness passed through him and turned to dread. Lying before him on the stone floor was the form of a lioness. She lay lifeless, blood staining the ground at her rear. Kovu closed his eyes quickly when he heard a soft small cry. The sound was something so beautiful, yet mournful. He opened his eyes again as Rafiki straightened. “How can this be, Rafiki?” he said, choking on the words. “I’m blind without her...”

     The mandrill knit his brow and turned to face the king. “Forgive me, sire. It is not you who are blind...” In his arms was nestled a tiny golden cub which mewed once again.

     Kovu lifted his head and stared, perplexed. “What? Are you saying...”

     “Your son is blind, m’lord.” Rafiki looked down sadly at the infant, gently stroking his head.

     “No...” But Kovu could already see the strange coloring about the cub’s eyes. All infants are born blind and remain that way for several weeks, yet this discoloration meant trouble. He knew it was true and the feeling tore his heart apart doubly. Tears streamed freely down his cheeks and he felt his strength leave him. Lowering his body to the ground, he lay beside his lifeless mate, burrying his face in her neck.

     “I’m terribly sorry, m’lord.” said Rafiki as he cradled the newborn prince. Sadness filled his heart as he watched his king weep into his companion’s corpse. Things were far from getting better. It seemed that bad luck was coming to the royal family. Mufasa had been murdered. Scar’s reign didn’t last. Simba was almost taken out by the Outsiders. Kovu I knew nothing about being a king for the longest time. Shinda disappeared before having the chance to rule. And now, Kovu II has lost his mate and has been given a blind son. Troublesome times were beginning... Who knew how long they would last? Glancing down again, he stroked the tiny infant’s head.

 

     Rain fell lightly from the heavens that dreadful afternoon. It seemed that the Pride Lands wept with Kovu over the death of his mate. All of the pride was assembled near the burial rock in a barren field. The place was dedicated to the deceased. Any time a member of the pride died, she was brought there and placed upon the stone. The king now stood before the sacred rock, staring at the body atop it. All behind him kept their heads lowered, some crying softly. Rain water dripped down his face, mixing with his tears as he began to speak. “Today is a day of mourning and sadness. A dear loved one has departed this world to live among the stars. She was a good lioness... my best friend and mate. Her memory will not be easily forgotten by any. May she live on with the great kings for eternity and be filled with only happiness and joy.” He paused as he choked on the last words. “...Peace be with you, my love.” he said, hushed. All kept their heads bowed as they took a moment of silence for their dead. The rain began to pour heavier from the darkening sky, soaking Kovu’s mane. Slowly, he lifted his head and took one more look upon his beloved’s body before turning away. “We must return.” he said quietly to his pride.

     Upon returning, Kovu walked directly to the back of the den where he normally slept. He flopped down onto the cold stone floor, his sides heaving with every breath he took. Tears continued streaming down his face as he stared at the dark wall before him. “Sire,” a voice sounded from behind. “May I do anything for you?”

     He answered without moving from his position. “Bring me my son.”

     In a few moments, the sound of mewing was heard and he sat up. A lioness came around in front of him and gingerly placed the tiny cub into Kovu’s arms. She then bowed slightly, a sad look on her face, and then returned from her original location. Kovu sighed softly and looked down at the form in his arms. The little golden cub squirmed some and rubbed his face with his tiny paws. A slight sense of delight momentarily passed through the king as he gazed down. This is my son... he thought to himself. The blind ruler of the Pride Lands. How is he ever to rule with such a disability? He slowly lowered his head and gave a gentle loving stroke of his tongue to the infant’s forehead. “My son...” he breathed. “What shall I call you?” As he stared at the cub, a memory returned to him. He saw his beloved smiling at him as they walked about the watering hole. He remembered the conversation and smiled some as he did. “Pallas.” his deep voice crooned. “It is a name your mother favored. I shall call you ‘Pallas’ for your mother’s sake.” With that, he licked the little cub once more.

 

      A year passed. The times had changed some within the Pride Lands. Once again, there was a time of a lone ruler. Just as Sandula had taken responsibility of her lands, so did Kovu II. There was little trouble ruling alone... The trouble was in raising his son, Pallas. All the lionesses of the pride aided in watching the young prince, yet one lioness was the biggest help. She was almost a mother to him. Her name was Ekundu and she had given birth to a daughter a few days before Pallas was conceived. She helped Kovu raise him and gave the little cub affection as his mother would have. His eyes had opened as they should, yet his sight never came to him. As Rafiki had said, Pallas was blind. Kovu took notice that in spite of this obstacle, his son seemed happy. Little Pallas didn’t seem upset or depressed about his lack of vision. If he did, he never shared it with anyone.

     Kovu even spoke with Rafiki about having Pallas trained to take advantage of his blindness. Rafiki agreed to help the young cub and in no time, he began his work with the prince. “What are we gonna do?” the little cub asked upon arrival at Rafiki’s tree.

     Kovu laughed gently. “You are going to work with Rafiki for awhile. He’s going to help you.”

     “Really? Will he help me be able to see?”

     “Sadly, no, my son.” Kovu tried to hide the sorrow in his voice. “But he will help you learn to be more confident in your movements because you cannot see.”

     “Oh...” Pallas kept near his father’s side as they walked on. In no time, they were beside the tree and Kovu called out to Rafiki.

     “Welcome, sires!” the old mandrill called down to them. “I was hoping the young prince would arrive soon.” He spoke as he climbed down the tree. “Did he have any troubles crossing the grasslands to get here?”

     “No, old friend. He follows my voice and keeps close to me.”

     Rafiki nodded and looked down at the little cub. Bright green eyes stared blankly ahead. “And how are you doing, my little Pallas?”

     Pallas smiled. “I’m doing alright, sir.”

     “Very well then!” and he turned to Kovu again. “M’lord, I will send for a lioness to bring him back once I am finished.” Then he bowed reverently.

     Kovu nodded and smiled. “Sounds good to me.” He turned to his son and nuzzled him gently. “Now you behave for Rafiki, alright? He’s going to help you.”

     “Yes, father.” the prince replied.

     “Good boy. Alright, I shall be off. If any trouble comes your way, send for me immediately.” With that, he turned and trotted off towards the borders to scan his lands.

     Rafiki looked back down at the little golden cub before him. “Come here, son.”

     Pallas hesitated, then took a step forward.

     “Come on, I’m just ahead.”

     The little cub took another step, obviously unsure of making a move. Rafiki took notice but waited until the prince was before him.

     “Very good, young one. You can stop right there.” He paused, studying the cub for a moment. “We are going to need to build up your confidence on walking blindly. You seem to know where to go, only... you’re hesitant about getting there.”

     Pallas listened carefully, trying to understand the mandrills words. He still wasn’t very familiar with some of them. “I’m what?”

     “Hesitant. It means that you’re nervous and unsure.” A slight grin popped in his face as he remembered a time when he dealt with cubs daily. Little Mufasa had been the same way when he talked to Rafiki so many years ago. “But don’t you worry, young prince! You and I are going to get you feeling sure in no time!”

     The little cub smiled big and stood ready.

    Rafiki came along beside the cub and rested a gentle hand on his back. “Now, Pallas, the first step in feeling confident about where you step is to listen. I know you already do that, but you need to do it more often and to a greater extent.”

     “Okay...”

     “For example, just listen for the wind. You can’t feel it blowing right now, but just listen... Tell me if you can hear it.” He closed his eyes and listened himself.

     Pallas obeyed and listened to the sounds around him. He couldn’t feel the wind as Rafiki had said, yet he couldn’t hear it either. Somewhat perplexed, he kept listening. He hoped he would hear it right away. Nothing. All his ears picked up was the sound of buzzing bugs and elephants trumpeting in the distance. “I don’t hear anything, Rafiki.”

     The mandrill chuckled. “I don’t expect you to hear it the first time, young one. But don’t give up! You have much to learn. Once you can hear everything around you, then you can be confident about where your paw lands before you.” He paused and leaned in closer to the little prince. “This type of training will also aid you in listening for an enemy... Being of the royal family, you must be able to protect yourself to some extent.”

     “Really? That’s cool!”

     Once again, Rafiki chuckled. “Oh, dear boy... You have much to learn...”

 

     Months passed by and during that time, young Pallas was learning. With Rafiki’s help, he became less hesitant in his walking. His acute ears picked up the smallest sounds and used them to his advantage. He learned to steady his paws while walking and take notice of the terrain he walked upon. The wise old mandrill had also taught the prince to use his sense of smell. Utilizing that sense, he was able to get the slightest hint of danger or find a trail marked along his way. Despite his disability, he was able to recognize various places in the Pride Lands. On his own, he could navigate to Rafiki’s tree, the watering hole, and other favorite places that he admired. He mostly went alone or with his father. Sadly, his blindness was a reason for his loneliness. The other cubs in the pride looked down on him most of the time, yet they kept their despise hidden. Pallas’ redemption was his royalty. His appearance never hindered him. He was quite a beautiful cub with a golden brown pelt, brilliant blue eyes, and a white spot across his nose. Criticism followed him nonetheless.

     The only true friends that he had in the pride were his father, Ekundu, and Aitong. All the others were courteous towards him, yet he could sense in their voices that they truly didn’t wish to respect him. Aitong was Ekundu’s little daughter. Though Ekundu was a most beautiful lioness, her daughter didn’t inherit the same traits. Unlike Ekundu’s creamy tan pelt and soft red eyes, Aitong bore a greyish-brown pelt that was a bit scraggly and her eyes glistened a dark brown. Rumors had been spread through the pride that they were cursed, and evil things were to come. The heir to the throne was blind, the disability seen as a weakness. Daughter of the most beautiful lioness in the pride was not so desirous to the eye. In fact, the others thought of Aitong’s coloration as a sign of evil. Kovu did his best to keep matters calm and disperse the beliefs of the others. The last thing he needed or wanted was for his pride to be at war with each other.

     Pallas was rejected sight, and so he did not understand the reasoning of the pride members. He and Aitong were best friends and had been since birth. They were almost as sister and brother for most of their earliest days. But as they grew older into larger cubs, they built upon their friendship. Often, Aitong would accompany the prince to the watering hole or out in the savannas to play. They mostly kept away from the other cubs who would sometimes mock them. One particular day, the two cubs decided to go exploring further into the Pride Lands. Aitong lead the way as Pallas kept close behind her, setting his training to good use.

     “Come on, Pallas!” Aitong called back to him in a teasing manner. “You’re starting to lag!”

     The young prince grinned as he ran. “Oh yeah? Check this out for lagging!” Then he leapt forward, tackling the young lioness to the ground. He laughed as he held her pinned to the ground. “Ha ha! Gotcha!”

     Aitong laughed as well and struggled to get up. “Aww shoot! I thought I could outrun you.”

     Pallas chuckled and moved off his friend, sitting down to rest. “Well you thought wrong, young lady.”

     “Don’t you worry, little prince,” she said, sitting up and brushing herself off. “I’ll get you back for it.” The two laughed again once more before they continued their walk. A short amount of time passed when Aitong stopped. “Pallas! There’s a bunch of caves over there!”

     “Caves? Oh, alright. Are caves cool?”

     “Yeah, they’re dark and they go all sorts of places.” She began walking again towards the rock structures.

     Pallas followed closely behind. He knew a lot of the vocabulary, yet he had great difficulty understanding what it was. Most of the time, he cold only see a great void of blackness surrounding him. But sometimes the slightest hint of light could be seen, turning the blackness to a grey. That usually happened when he moved about in the bright sunlight. The grey he had been encased in slowly turned to black again and his paws felt a different surface beneath them. The smell and sound of the surroundings changed as well. “Are we there?” he asked, hearing his voice echo a bit.

     “Uh huh,” Aitong replied as she looked about the cave entrance. “We’re here.” As her eyes glided over the stone walls, she noticed that there were small cracks in the ceiling for light to shine through. There was just enough light to show the way down the tunnel. She looked ahead and saw that the cave turned. A pause followed as she decided whether they should go or not.

     “Well, are we going?” Pallas asked impatiently, playfully nudging her hip.

     Aitong smiled and glanced back at him. His sightless eyes stared into hers, unaware of the contact they made. Sadly, no one in the pride saw what she did when she looked into those soft green orbs. Everyone else saw a blank stare, something dumb and pathetic. But not Aitong. When she looked into his eyes, she saw Pallas... her dear friend. His eyes were still full of emotion but no one else was willing to try and search for it. She just stared for a moment before answering. “Yeah, we are. Come on.” Then she turned back to the darkness ahead and began walking.

     Pallas smiled and followed her. In this cave, he could hear the almost silent padding of their pawsteps. “Where does this lead, Aitong?” The little prince could hear the echo his voice made again.

     “I don’t know. That’s why we’re exploring it, silly!” she giggled.

     “Oh, alright. What does it look like?”

     Aitong had been asked that very same question innumerable times. Pallas was always anxious to know what something looked like, even though he had no idea of what to picture. But he always seemed satisfied with her explanations. “Well... It’s very dark except for some light that comes through the top of the cave. It’s not a lot of light, but enough so I can see where we’re going.” She glanced at the cave ceiling once as she described it, then looked back ahead of her to where the cave turned. She turned with it and continued on. “Everything is black or grey.”

     “Kind of like what I see!”

     “Yes, it is.” She always felt that she was making him feel bad, yet he never showed a hint of discomfort. “This whole cave is made out of stone or rock, just like Pride Rock is.” She glanced around some more. “There’s no plants or grass in here though. Completely stone.”

     “That’s cool!” Pallas said, listening to the reverberations of their voices.

     After a minute passed, Aitong saw that there was a great den ahead of them. The cracks in the ceiling were still there and she was able to see how big the den was. It was about the same as the den in Pride Rock, only a bit larger. “Wow...” she said softly.

     “What is it, Aitong?” Pallas noted that his voice echoed more and the air smelt stale.

     “This is a den... a huge den.” She continued staring about the vast room. There was a small protrusion at the back of the den where the rock jutted up a bit. It was almost like an altar, she thought. She’d never seen one, but had heard of them from the elders in the pride. Slowly, she took a step forward. “Come on, I think I found something.” Then she began moving normally.

     The young prince was quick to follow. “What is it? What did you find?”

     Once they reached the small protrusion, they saw that some light fell from a crack to light it up. Aitong stared, noticing bits of dust or dirt covering the altar. “I’m not sure. I think it’s an altar.”

     “What’s an altar?”

     “A certain rock where you place something to offer as a sacrifice. I heard one of the elders speak of it.” Gingerly she approached the stone and carefully set a paw upon the rock. As she did, the dust quickly scattered, floating upwards, and disappeared into the light. Her eyes widened. How did that happen? she thought.

     “What was that noise, Aitong?” Pallas asked.

     “The dust on the altar suddenly blew away. I didn’t even touch it!” Her eyes looked over the rock and she was suddenly alarmed. From tiny cracks in the rock came something liquid and dark. She backed away a pace and stared.

     “What’s wrong? You’re breathing has changed.” said Pallas, growing fearful.

     Aitong only stared at the dark substance. More and more began leaking out and in the light she could see it clearly. It was a blackish red color... blood.

     “Aitong?” the young prince nudged her side.

     “Pallas, there’s blood coming out of the stone.” Her voice was hushed and small. “I don’t know where it came from...” As she spoke, the lights from the ceiling began to fade away. Her frightened eyes shot up and looked about her frantically. The walls. She saw dark red stains covering the walls.

     “Blood?”

     “Yes, and it’s on the walls too. But it wasn’t there before!” She felt her stomach twist into a knot and her legs quavered. The blood pouring out of the stone altar began streaming down the side and onto the floor. She quickly backed away before it could touch her paws. “We should get out of here...”

     “I agree.” and he began to back away as well.

     Just then, a scream was heard. It sounded as if it came from all around. Aitong froze and stared straight ahead as the lights continued dying out. She could feel her heart thumping deep within her chest. The bloodcurdling cry was heard again as others joined in. Howls, shrieks, roars. They all sounded about the den. For a moment, she thought she heard scuffling sounds, coming towards them from the dark corners of the cave.“Pallas, follow me!” She quickly sped off back the way they had come as the last light in the den faded to nothing. The sounds of her friend’s pursuit were close behind her. As she ran, she felt her paw splash into a puddle. “Ah!” she cried in surprise.

     “What is it?”

     “Nothing, just keep running!” She heard Pallas splash through the puddle too. A puddle wasn’t in her memory of first entering the cave. Perhaps she just walked right over it before. Whatever the case, she just wanted to get out of the cave. Her heart pounded still, her eyes searching for the exit. In no time, she saw it. The light from outside shone into the entrance and she darted straight through it. Panting was heard behind her and she slowed to a stop once they were a good distance away from the cave. Her eyes looked back at the cave with fear.

     “What happened back there?” Pallas asked, catching his breath.

     “I don’t know...” she panted as well. “The altar just started leaking blood and then the lights went away. There was blood all over the walls... It was like there was a fight in there recently.”

     “Was there anyone else in there with us?”

     “No, I don’t think so.”

     “Then what was that screaming?”

     “I don’t know... It just came from nowhere.”

     “Do you think anyone else knows about this?”

     “I don’t know, Pallas. Some may and may not.” She saw that nothing emerged from the cave entrance. Sighing aloud, she lowered her head. “What the...” She stood up, alarmed.

     “What is it?”

     Aitong looked down at her paws and saw that they were covered in blood. The crimson coloration continued up her front legs and all over her underbelly. “I’m... covered in blood!” Quickly glancing at Pallas, she saw that he also bore the red substance. “Oh no, so do you!”

     Pallas quickly lifted a paw to his face and he sniffed. “It doesn’t smell like blood though.”

     It was true. The blood had no scent whatsoever. Thinking back, she realized that the cave never smelt of blood either. “How weird... Come on, Pallas. We need to get washed off right away.” She turned and headed to the watering hole with her friend close behind.

 

     After a thorough wash, the two came out spotless. Aitong groomed her friend carefully, hoping to erase any and every trace of the blood. Once finished, they departed for Pride Rock. Along the way, they made an agreement. “If anyone asks, then tell them that we were playing near the elephant graveyard. They shouldn’t get angry because the hyenas haven’t lived there for years.”

     “Alright. Elephant graveyard. Got it.” Pallas was nervous. He didn’t like lying one bit, yet he feared that he would get in trouble. He had never once been in trouble and he didn’t wish to know what it was like. Thinking on what had happened, the two remained silent the rest of the way home.

     Upon arrival, some of the other cubs took this moment as one to get a snide comment in. “Oh look who it is! The two lovebirds have returned to disgrace our pride once more!” Laughter broke out among the cubs as they watched Aitong and Pallas walk by.

     Little Aitong glared at them as she walked by. “The only ones bringing disgrace to this pride are you.”

     The cubs all laughed once again as the two made their way up the side of Pride Rock. Once they reached the small den, they both lied down at the back. Aitong rested her head across Pallas’ neck. “Are you okay, Pallas?”

     “I don’t know...” His voice was quiet and not very animated. “I just don’t like it when those boneheads make fun of us. What did we ever do to them?”

     “I know...” Aitong sighed gently. “They’re too stuck on appearances. They’ll grow out of it one day.”

     Suddenly a dark shape entered the den. It was Kovu. “There you guys are! I’ve been wondering where you’ve been.” He sat down beside the two small cubs and smiled.

     “Oh, sorry about that.” said Aitong, smiling a little. “We were just playing out in the Pride Lands... near the elephant graveyard.”

     “Is that so?” Kovu chuckled. “Alright, I just wanted to check in. I get nervous about Pallas sometimes.”

     Pallas smiled and lifted his head as his father gave him a lick. “Thanks, Dad.”

     Kovu purred gently. “Now you two have fun. I’ll be back later.”

     Aitong watched Kovu exit the den and she laid her head back against Pallas. There was a pause. “Pallas?” Aitong’s voice was hushed and almost timid, Pallas thought. “What do you think happened back there?”

     The young prince took a pause as well. “I don’t know, Aitong. But it really creeped me out.”

     “Yeah...” she sighed softly again. Then, closing her eyes, she slowly drifted off to sleep. Pallas took notice as he heard her gentle steady breathing. He smiled slightly and closed his own eyes, dreaming of a world where his eyes saw everything...

     In the distance, sitting atop an overlooking hill, omniscient eyes watched. The blue reflected the bright sky. Sighing, the lioness shook her head slowly. “Dear cubs... what have you done?”

 

     “Nawiri!” called a feminine voice. “We have a major problem on our paws.” An almost white lioness strode across the soft grasses of the jungle. Plants brushed by her body as she made her way into a clearing where several other lionesses of the same coloration were gathered. Her dazzling blue eyes glanced at each member as she approached.

     “What is it, Mbashiri?” Nawiri inquired.

     Very gravely, the lioness replied. “Uumizi. It has been unleashed again.” Gasps were heard from all around. Soft mutters were heard among them.

     “How can this be?”

     “Some unfortunate beings stumbled across the ancient altar hidden within the deadly cave. I believe they have recalled the screaming voices and the blood.” She paused, looking down at the ground. “The Undani will no doubt be released in time. They will hunt down those who brought it life again and slaughter them... once again, continuing the cycle we fought so hard to break.”

     The lionesses remained silent after that. A sense of dread filled them as they remembered the olden days. “What are we to do, then?”

     Mbashiri lifted her head. “I must attend to this situation. Sisters, I need you all to continue your tasks at paw. If something is to happen to me, I place Nawiri in charge.”

     “How are going to stop this?”

     “I know not. But I trust in the great kings to watch over everything as they have done and always will do. Farewell, sisters. I’ll return as soon as I can!”

 

     As night fell over the Pride Lands, Kovu came into the den at Pride Rock along with the others. He glanced down and saw that Pallas and Aitong were still asleep. He thought it somewhat odd for cubs to be sleeping so long. All the others had been full of energy all day long. He brushed the thought away as he focused on sleeping. He was physically and mentally tired from the day’s events. As he lay down, Ekundu approached. “Oh, forgive me, sire,” she said when her eyes fell on her daughter. “I was only looking for Aitong.”

     Kovu smiled warmly. “Oh, it’s alright! No problem at all.”

     The lioness bowed once and returned to the others, lying down close to where the king slept. She preferred to be close to her daughter especially after the rumors had been spread abroad. Gently she closed her eyes and became encased in sleep.

     The two cubs cuddling together was a relaxing sight to Kovu. He reached down and gave both a loving lick of his tongue before resting his head on the stone floor. Within minutes, he was dreaming.

     As Pallas slept, he trembled. Within his mind, images flashed before him. Never before had he been able to picture such a thing. He saw blackness as he always had, then the image of a cave. The blackness returned, then he saw blood smeared over rock walls with engravings of claw marks. Blackness once again, then a young dark lioness was seen. She was dragged away into the darkness of the cave, her dark eyes wide with fright as a high pitched scream emitted from her mouth. Pallas! her voice shrieked. He saw blood pour out of the cave entrance, staining the pure grasses. Then darkness reigned once again. His body jerked and he shot up, breathing in short little gasps. His eyes stared around the cave even though he could not see a thing. What had just happened? he thought. He’d seen something! Never before had he seen anything with his eyes except black and grey. The thought frightened him more than it excited him.

     “Are you okay?” a familiar voice sounded below.

     The prince looked down towards her voice as he regained his composure. “Yeah, I’m fine, Aitong.” He lowered himself back down and rested his head in his paws. Warmth spread through him as he felt Aitong cuddle back against him. Almost immediately, he heard her breathing become deep and hushed as she was asleep once more. He was unable to sleep anymore. The pictures he’d just seen dwelt in his mind and frightened him. What could it mean? As he pondered the meaning of these images, he thought for a moment that he had heard padding outside the cave...

 

     All through the night, the visions in his dream remained in his mind. Pallas could not drive them away with thoughts of anything else. What could they possibly mean? The images seemed to recall memories of the elders telling stories to the cubs. There had always been ghost tales to frighten the young ones as tradition had it. Perhaps this was one of the stories come to life. He paused in his thoughts. His eyes had never before beheld anything except the black and grey void. How was he to be sure of reality to fiction? He had heard before that eyes are useful and a good aid, yet they can also be the downfall of one’s self. Eyesight was not always to be trusted. He’d heard of “mirages” and such fake images or hallucinations. But still the thought returned to him that he was able to see images that he’d never before been able to see. Could these images or visions be for real? How was he to know?

     Little Pallas groaned softly and rubbed his face against his paws. He felt a bit tired from being awake so long, yet he could not find the peace to fall asleep. A tiny yawn emitted from his maw as he rested his head on his paws. Maybe Aitong would know... For a moment he glanced to the side, his ears listening for his friend’s breathing. He felt her warm, soft body against his as her gentle breath blew against his fur. Aitong. He loved having her around. She was his eyes. She was the one that never gave up on him. She was his only true friend apart from Kovu. Finally, it seemed that his thoughts were distracted. Lingering on the thought of his dear friend, Pallas’ eyelids slowly began to lower over his sightless eyes. As long as he had Aitong, everything would be fine. She always watched out for him. Aitong. Slowly, his eyes shut fully and sleep descended upon his weary body and mind.

 

     Voices. The sound of voices gradually became audible. “... bother him! He’s sleeping!” It was a harsh whisper. It sounded nearby. Laughter. “Don’t worry! He won’t mind!” Touch. Someone was touching him. Groggily, Pallas opened his eyes and groaned softly. The laughter increased as he felt himself being pushed to sit up. He didn’t wish to get up. What was going on? “Aitong?” he called.

     Her voice was quickly recognized and she sounded irritated. “Pallas, I’m sorry. They wouldn’t leave you alone.”

     “Ah, shut up, Aitong!” came the voice of a male cub. It was probably Joram. He sounded close by, perhaps even the one nudging him.

     “Don’t tell me to shut up, Joram!” came Aitong’s voice, harsh and angry. “You have no right to disturb the young prince while he’s sleeping.”

     “What’re you gonna do about it, huh?” Joram’s tone was mocking.

     Pallas heard his friend growl deeply and he knew that she was livid. Suddenly, he heard shouts and felt bodies scrambling all about him. Hisses and growls came from everywhere and he could hear Aitong’s growling from nearby. She was probably fighting Joram and everyone else decided to join in. “Aitong!” he called out, anxiously. Without his sight, there was no way for him to fight amongst a large crowd. He felt so helpless listening, knowing that there was nothing he could do.

    Just then, he heard her voice cry out about all else. She was in pain! Quickly enraged, Pallas lowered his eyebrows and growled deeply. With sudden force, he lunged forward into the crowd of lion cubs. His ears were his strength and he was able to pinpoint exactly where Joram was. With claws extended, Pallas landed onto Joram’s back and tackled him to the stone floor of the den. The commotion of the fight died away as everyone stared at the blind prince atop Joram. Pallas growled again, his voice bitter. “You touch her again and I swear I’ll kill you.”

     Silence followed. Even Aitong stared in amazement, momentarily forgetting her wounds. The only sound was of Pallas’ heavy breathing and his movement off of Joram. He paused for a moment to sniff the air, then slowly strode over to Aitong. “Are you okay?” His voice was immediately soft and gentle; concerned. Joram stood up, shocked. He motioned for the others to leave with him.

     Aitong watched as the others left, then turned back to her friend. “I’m okay, Pallas.”

     Pallas leaned in and nuzzled her neck, moving up to find her face. His tongue slid out of my maw and began to stroke her cheek and muzzle in a friendly manner. As his tongue caressed her left cheek, he tasted blood. “No. You’re hurt.”

     “It’s nothing, really. Just a small scratch.” She lowered her head to look down at her side which bored a deeper cut.

     She couldn’t fool him. Pallas heard the change in her voice as she moved her head to observe her other injury. He promptly licked down her neck and shoulder to her side, once again tasting the blood. “I wouldn’t call that a small scratch.”

     Aitong sighed. “Alright, I am hurt. But please don’t worry; I’ll be fine.”

     Pallas licked her wound once more before pulling back and sitting upright. “You promise?”

     She looked into his staring eyes; the ones she admired so much and felt to comfortable around. “Yeah, I promise.”

     Pallas reached out and gave a quick lick to her muzzle. “Alright. What did they want anyway?”

     “They thought it would be funny to wake you from sleep. I tried to tell them that you were very tired and probably had trouble sleeping.”

     “Of course they never listen.”

     “Yeah.” She sighed. “I wish things were easier. It seems that the older days of the Pride Lands were simple. Everything now is so dark and almost depressing.”

     “I know what you mean.” He paused. “... Aitong? There’s something I need to ask you about.”

     She glanced at him and noticed that he appeared almost frightened. “Yes?”

     “Well, let’s talk in a more private place. It’s very important... and secret.”

     Aitong nodded. “Alright, come on.”

 

     Out in the Pride Lands, Aitong lead her friend to a small grove of forest and scrubs. At least there was some shade. Sitting down on her haunches, she turned to Pallas. “Alright, what’s on your mind.” She gave him a quick nuzzle under the chin to reassure him.

     Pallas was silent for a moment. He wasn’t sure where to begin. But after a moment, he finally spoke. “Aitong... Last night, I dreamt.”

     “You did?” She was surprised. Never before had he ever had a dream: a real, true dream.

     “Yes. It was very strange to me. I... I saw things. I saw a cave, Aitong. And a lioness screaming... I saw her blood coming out of the cave.”

     Her eyes widened as his words reached her ears. “But you’ve not been granted sight in your life... ever!”

     “I know, that’s what makes it strange.” He shifted some, uncomfortably. How could he explain it better? “I don’t know how I was able to see what I did, Aitong... But I know I saw it.” He paused, his eyes unknowingly looking into her own. “And it frightens me, Aitong.”

     She was silent a moment. What could they do? How was it even possible?

     “It should frighten you.” came a strange soft voice. Both cubs turned towards the source of the sound. Aitong beheld a lioness approaching. She was almost white, her eyes a bright blue tint; a shining of silver dangled from her left ear. As she strode up to them, Aitong noticed that her walk was slow and graceful. This lioness looked like what some called an “angel.” She certainly looked like pure beauty in the form of a lioness.

     “And who are you?” Aitong asked, trying not to sound too guarded.

     “I am a nabii, young one. I am called Mbashiri.” She now stood before both cubs. Pallas could not see her, but he could feel her presence nonetheless.

     “And why do you say that we should be frightened?”

     “Because I know what dreams possess this young prince.” Her gentle eyes looked down into Aitong’s, reassuring the young cub of her words.

     “There are different kind of dreams?” Pallas asked. He was completely unaware.

     “Certainly. Some are mere memories of earlier events in life. Some are what our minds create them to be. And others are not of our own mind, but of another’s.”

     Aitong thought about that for a moment. “You believe that Pallas’ dream is someone else’s?”

     Mbashiri nodded. “I do.”

     “What does it mean?”

     “I am limited in what I may tell you, young ones.” the nabii said. “Your dream, prince, is one of the Manabii. We have foreseen events that are to come and they can be implanted into another’s mind. It is never done intentionally, but it does happen. The kings control what is to happen and they do as they please. We are only here to carry out their will. Do you understand so far?”

     “Yes.” said Pallas, Aitong nodding.

     “Good. Now, these events do not always make sense to the ones who receive them in dreams; sometimes not even to the Manabii. Yet whatever is revealed to us, we must carry out to completion. It is the will of the great kings and should never be challenged.”

     “So, you’re saying that this dream is of something to come?” asked Aitong.

     Mbashiri nodded. “It appears that something terrible has happened and must be corrected within time. This event involves both of you, cubs.”

     Pallas and Aitong both dropped their jaw some. “What... what do you mean?” asked Pallas.

     “I think you know well what I mean, young prince.”

     Pallas knew she meant the cave and the blood, yet he was reluctant to admit it.

     Mbashiri’s voice grew louder and more powerful. “Let me tell to you a story. This story is real and took place many, many years ago. It was long before the great Ahadi.” She remained standing, looking out towards the savanna as she spoke. “There were evil ones about in these lands before they were known to be the Pride Lands. Those days were dark and dreary as they appear to be now. The prides scattered abroad were pagan and murderous. They believed a sacrifice to the great kings was necessary... With that belief, they became carried away and began to go to extreme lengths. Not only would they offer sacrifices to the kings, but blood offerings. Their sick, twisted minds even took the innocent blood of their own kind as murderous offerings. Many were tortured and died from these pagan beliefs and the great kings could tolerate it no longer. Without any mercy, they sent one from the stars to steal away all breath of the evildoers. Something that had been happening for years was put to a stop in a moment. The spirits of these pagan killers were sealed away in the dark confines of their lair... A place to remind them of the sins they had committed...”

     Pallas and Aitong, sat motionless, frightened the more by this story being told to them. They breathed softly, barely making a sound as they wait for her to continue. Deep in his heart, Pallas knew what this nabii meant. He was afraid of it too.

     Mbashiri continued, turning back to the cubs. Her dazzling blue eyes looked them over, becoming what seemed as sorrowful. “No one was to participate in such an act ever again. We, the Manabii, were sent from the skies to watch over the mortals as guides. We worked so hard to keep the spirits from ever being summoned again. Their tale had passed into legend, almost forgotten entirely...” She paused. “Now... it has been stirred up again. The spirits are free...”

     Alarmed, Aitong said, “Free? How can they be free?”

     Mbashiri looked solemnly at Aitong. “The touch of innocence has awakened them once more to their filthy works...”

     At once, Pallas knew what she meant. “No...” he murmured softly.

     “What does she mean, Pallas?” asked Aitong, catching the murmur.

     “It’s... it’s us, Aitong.” he replied. “We went into the cave and woke the spirits back into being.”

     “But how?” the young lioness was growing more anxious.

     Mbashiri repeated, “The touch of innocence...”

     It hit her. “Oh no...” Aitong stared at the ground, her memory flashing before her the scene of the dark cave with the bloodstained walls. Her paw had touched the altar, the dust of the ancient years lifting, preparing for the new years to come. “What have I done?”

     Pallas leaned over and nuzzled her shoulder to comfort her. He then turned to face Mbashiri, though his blinded eyes saw nothing but grey in the afternoon light. “Why are you telling us this?”

     “You must know what is to be expected in later times. You have time now to undo what you have done.” She gently lowered her head some, speaking softly to the cubs. “There is but one way to change the outcome of this event... The great kings know this, I know this, and it is up to you to find out what that is.” She paused, looking from one cub to the next. “You have time... The spirits must rebuild themselves a bodily form of their own to be able to take any action. Use your time wisely, young ones.” The she lifted her head back, seeming as if she was to depart.

     Aitong spoke. “Why can’t you just tell us how to change this?”

     The nabii looked down at her. “I’ve told you that I am limited in what I may reveal to you. I am a foreseer and am only here to be sure that fate plays out how it will. I cannot intervene on everything. I only provide you with what knowledge I can offer.” There was a pause. “It is up to you, both, to discover fate’s plan.” With that, she turned and began to slowly walk away. While doing so, she glanced back and called to them, “I’ll be around.” Then softly, “I’m always watching...”

 

     Afar off, the form of the nabii faded into the tall grasses covering the savanna. Left in silence, only the soft wind blowing, the two cubs sat. Their faces were a mixture of worry, sadness and shame, especially Aitong’s. As she thought over everything said by Mbashiri, tears began to swell in her eyes. A great feeling of guilt weighed heavily on her as she was the one to actually touch the altar. For the first time in her life, she felt as if the pride was right about her. If they were ever to discover what she had done, they’d certainly have her executed. Anxiety built up within her and she had to catch her breath, fighting back the urge to cry. Crying wouldn’t do her any good. She quickly shut her eyes and bowed her head, feeling utterly ashamed.

     It was Pallas who spoke first. “This is unbelievable.” he was speaking quietly. “We’re only cubs, Aitong... How could this have happened?”

     The young lioness cub lifted her head and quickly wiped away her tears with a paw. “I don’t know, Pallas.” she replied, hoping her voice hadn’t given away that she was about to cry.

     “Lions are going to die because of this...” his voice was almost a whisper.

     “Yeah, they could die--”

     “No, I mean they will die.”

     Aitong looked over to his face and saw the grave expression. He looked so serious, yet she could see in his eyes that he was frightful and saddened. “How do you know?”

     A single tear rolled down his cheek from his eye. “My dream, Aitong… There was a lioness being dragged into the cave... Blood came out from the cave opening like the way you describe rivers to me.”

     She looked more intently on his face. His dream was real! He’d compared flowing blood to a flowing river. He’d never seen either, yet they were the same.

     “Her scream... It made my fur stick up. It was a terrible sound.”

     Aitong stood up and nudged him gently. “Pallas, I’m sorry.” She paused, looking at his unmoving form. “If I’d only known... I’m so sorry to have brought you into this.”

     Pallas turned his head towards the sound of her voice and faced her. “It’s okay. I don’t blame you for anything, Aitong.” He stood up as well and brushed his body up against hers in a loving gesture. “We’ll figure this out together. But we can’t tell anyone else about it, okay?”

     She nodded. “Okay.” Sniffling, she wiped her eyes with a paw, then began to walk back towards Pride Rock. “Come on, Pallas.”