A brief prequel-sequel to “Tanabi’s Return”
By Jessica Beebe (alias: Akril)
The sun was slowly pouring its red lifeblood over the darkening African savannah. Two feline forms walked in its light, silhouetted against the dying red orb. They were slowly walking away from a gargantuan, jutting rock that was flanked by a solid, more rectangular stone. They were lionesses, alone and unafraid of any danger. One was young, perhaps entering her third year, with a golden coat that matched the grasses by high noon. Her eyes were the color of the setting sun, with an accent of fire and dust. The other was a near opposite. Her unkempt coat was like that of a shadow, a shadow of dark mahogany cast on a smooth stone. Her underbelly was much lighter, but did little to draw one’s eyes from the rest of her. Her eyes were similar to the midpoint of a flame, and unearthly in appearance. They had seen more than a normal female of her species would see in a lifetime, much more than she cared to talk about to anyone, even if they asked.
These two contrasting shades of the African spectrum were as different as anything could be, yet they were linked together by a shocking and somewhat tragic series of events, along with many other individuals, some living, some gone.
“Monah?” asked the golden one.
“What?” replied the dark one.
“Why did you take my brother? Why?”
“I told you. I wanted a son. A child. One to call my own.”
“But why didn’t you find a mate and have your own cubs? You could have had as many as you wanted.”
“Kiara, do you think any male would bond with someone like me?” the old lioness asked, her eyes flaring. “I tried it many times, and I never so much as felt life within me. I wasn’t meant to bear cubs. I have nothing left to live for.”
“And yet you go on living, Monah?”
During her early childhood, Kiara often felt as if there was something missing from her life. She had her parents, her “uncles,” Timon and Pumbaa, yet there still seemed to be something that once was with her, but now was lost. Then came the day when she met the outlander. The one who called himself Kovu. There was something about him that reminded Kiara of something from her long forgotten past, something that once was part of her.
Then her father came, and the strange lioness, Zira. She was beautiful, in a strange, inexplicable way. But Kiara couldn’t dwell on this for long, since she was promptly taken away by her father, who stopped briefly to lecture her and teach her his lessons of life. “Even those who are gone stay with us as we go on,” he said. If this was true, why did this empty patch in her heart seem to be gone for good?
As the sun was going down, she walked into the main cavern near the end of the edge of Pride Rock. When she had gone as far into it as she could, she lay down against the rock wall, blending in with the round rocks and pebbles. Then she suddenly became aware of her parents talking from around a large bend of stone. She pricked her ears but still could only hear snatches of conversation:
“I told you you should have gone with her…”
“Nala, I never thought she would go so far as to…”
“You want to see her disappear…just like…”
“No, please understand…the Outsiders must have done it to avenge Scar…”
“But Simba, they deny it! He was her brother! Her only…”
“Nala, listen to me! We can’t change what has already been done…we have to deal with what is now…”
“My Tanabi…he was so small…too young to just…vanish like…”
“It won’t happen again, it won’t…”
As the voices floated past her ears, Kiara’s memories came slowly ebbing back to her, and fear filled her mind. When she was young…very young, eyes hardly open, spots still showing…She slept against two bodies at night. One was her mother, of course, but the other…who was the other? She couldn’t remember…was it one just like her? Small and round with gentle red eyes…no…he was like her but he had more hair on his head and dark rings around his ears…not her sister…her brother. Her twin brother. They played together and licked the sweet white nectar that flowed from the tiny, hard lumps in their mother’s belly. He was her brother.
One day she was awakened by loud noises from the outside…huge animals, pawing the earth and calling to the skies…Then an odd, lank creature approached her and her brother. She winced in discontent. Then the creature reached out its hands…not paws…hands…and picked up her brother and lifted him to its chest. Kiara remembered crying for him, and his little face looking back at her as the creature carried him away. Then her mother arose, as did her father. They also began walking away, towards the outside. Were they leaving her behind? No…another lioness lay down next to her and licked her until she calmed down.
Kiara could not tell what happened to her brother outside, but only a few minutes passed before he was beside her again, nuzzling her fur. There was something red on his forehead, but Kiara did not remember what it really was. Her parents returned to the cave, and everything was peaceful again.
Then there was that night…Kiara was sleeping against the two bodies…her brother and her mother…she felt hot breath on her face…it was probably just her father, coming back from the outside…but this breath smelled different…like from another animal, almost. Several moments passed, and Kiara was almost sound asleep again when she suddenly realized she was only lying against one body. There was a cold, empty spot next to her. She opened her eyes and could barely see her brother. He seemed to be floating the air…being held up by something…but behind him was only darkness…darkness that breathed…as if it were alive. Unable to comprehend what she had just seen, Kiara closed her eyes and slipped into the web of sleep…only it felt as if a great tear had just been wrought.
All she could remember the next day were tears…tears and anger and an empty space beside her. It seemed to last days…so many days…And the rest of the pride…the lionesses who looked after her when she was alone…suddenly there seemed to be fewer of them…they couldn’t have died…what happened…? And her mother’s eyes…a deep aqua color with a hint of violet…hadn’t they been green before…before…it happened? Something was wrong.
Then there was another day when the sounds of many animals came from outside, but this time her brother wasn’t there for the lank creature to take…instead, her mother looked at her…looked at her with those sad, sad eyes…and lifted her up by the back of the neck and carried her out into the blinding sun, all the way to the end of the rock. There the creature anointed her forehead with something red and liquid. Then the hands lifted her above everything, above her parents, above the animals, above the clouds, it seemed. And there was a face that looked at her from the clouds…though full-grown and filling the sky, he looked almost like her brother…her brother who no longer was.
Yet she could not forget her brother’s face hanging before her, suspended in the air, with that darkness – that unnamable blackness that surrounded him…then took him from her…
“You never had any friends at all, did you?”
“You never told me.”
“I did that as well. But nobody cares to listen to someone who befriended Zira.”
“Zira? How could you love her, Monah?”
The dark lioness exhaled slowly and deeply, averting her eyes from the younger, golden face.
“We were friends ever since we were cubs,” she explained. “She loved me as a friend because I was – different. I loved her for the same reason. I never strayed far from her side.”
“But Scar – what did Scar think of you?” asked Kiara.
“Even before they became mates, Scar detested me.”
“I told you. Because I am different.”
It had flown by perfectly. The young cub was ignited with a burning curiosity which he could not ignore. Scar smiled to himself and drew his nephew close to his side and asked him with a false purr of affection to never visit the forbidden land south of the Pridelands, the land where death awaited the young prince.
Simba agreed, and releasing his grip on him, Scar released the cub and urged him to run off and have fun, quietly reminding him of the secret he knew his nephew would not keep. Just as the small, golden cub was about to go around the bend of rock that cut off Scar’s view of him, he nodded slightly and bounded off, undoubtedly towards the main center of the pride, the place where lionesses rested and conversed, the place where his young friend Nala would surely be.
Smirking with satisfaction, Scar turned away from the bend of rock and was preparing to go around to the other side of the jutting precipice when he suddenly met the cold gaze of another lion. A female, much darker than he was, even in moonlight, her eyes a blazing yellow with pale, orange irises, narrowed to small slits with her lips tightly pressed. It was her.
“Scar, you fool, how could you do that! You know Simba is only a cub! What are you trying to do, Duke of Pride Rock?”
“That is nothing for you to be concerned with, Monah! How long were you there? Why aren’t you with the others?”
The lioness snorted and raised her chin primly. “I do not hunt during the day. I use the night as my cover. Besides, no one ever notices Monah, and if they did, they would move away without thinking twice. And I was there long enough to realize you are not on their side. They do not trust you, Scar.”
“And I do not trust you, you dark thing! So you’re working as a spy for the lionesses now, eh? Going to tell everyone about my little plans, right?”
The lioness blinked slowly and held his gaze unerringly. “They do not trust me either. They would never believe anything I said, even if it was the truth. I am not on their side.”
“Well, you certainly aren’t on mine either! So whose…”
The icy glow in Monah’s eyes made Scar stop his sentence.
“I am on no one’s side,” Monah said indifferently. “I trust no one, and no one trusts me. I stay to the shadows, where others fear to go. I hear things others dread hearing. I stay where I am, in the center. Everything can be seen from there.”
“You are an ignorant old minx! Now stand aside!”
Monah growled, her lips rolling back to reveal her dagger-like teeth. Scar followed suit, the two snarling and hissing at each other, their ears pinned back, fur bristled. Finally, Scar took a swipe at Monah’s face. He caught her on the cheek, but she did not scream. Instead, she silently stepped aside, near the edge of the cliff, as if daring him to push her off. Scar coldly ignored her and walked off, down the narrow rock path to the leeward side of Pride Rock.
”You will never succeed,” Monah yelled after him. “Fighting against what should be is one you’ll never win. You were born this way, and will die this way. And I know no one who will mourn you!”
Scar spun around with a fierce growl, ready to turn and fight this impudent female to the death for what she had said, but Monah had disappeared, to an unknown place where no one would think to look for her. Still growling, Scar turned and continued to descend the path that led to ground level.
If what Monah said could become true, if Simba’s death started rumors that linked him to it, he could not let it happen. He would find the hyenas and give them guided instructions to make it appear that the cub simply vanished, leaving no trace at all. Of course, what if the cub somehow survived…?
“You don’t seem very upset about not being trusted by anyone in these lands, Monah.”
“It keeps me alert to anything suspicious. I’ve never had time for love, or any friendships, save two.”
“I know you were friends with Zira, but what was the other one?”
“Your brother, Kiara.”
Again, Kiara’s mind traversed to the painful memories from her youth, of being alone and feeling incomplete, even when Kovu became her mate, she felt like a piece was missing from her life. Then she brought him back…
“How could my brother love you? He’s too smart to trust you entirely! Why you?”
“I’d sooner ask why you love that Kovu than answer that.”
“Why I love Kovu? Why…”
“He was using you as a shortcut to the throne!” growled Monah. “What Zira planted in him can’t be ripped out so easily! Can’t you see that?”
“He saved my life, Monah.”
“He saved you because that was part of the plan! I don’t know what he could see in you, a lioness who can’t even bring down an antelope.”
“Monah…” Kiara gasped. “How can you say that?”
“He set himself up for all he suffered! Why my poor friend Zira trusted him I’ll never know.”
“And running back to the kingdom he never won the trust of in the first place! Then turning his tail and running the other way! Such cowardice I am grateful I never witnessed. The male I would love would stay and allow himself to be killed by his enemies…for love, not trying to save his own worthless skin.”
Kiara was trembling with anger. “If my brother didn’t love you so much as a friend, you would have been killed long ago!”
“If your brother didn’t love me, I would not be standing here, talking to you, Kiara.”
“Why? Even now you’ve outlived my parents, and you’re much older than them. Why, Monah?”
Monah’s throat rumbled but her face was calm as she still looked off into the blinding sun. “You know your brother is more than the common lion. Some have even called him a half-god, one raised on the milk of Minshasa and carried to this earth with the blessings of Mano.
“But when I took him away as my own, he did not grow to adulthood without me or his true mother sheltering him. He accepted my milk as something a being of his level found good, and he stayed by my side every night, even as a full-maned lion. I think that when someone sleeps by the side of a god…and lets him drink the milk from your own, mortal body…I think some of his immortality rubs off on that someone.”
“And if you hadn’t stolen my brother, the whole pride could have shared this precious gift.”
“There are many things I could’ve done,” Monah replied. “But I guess I never did. It’s too late now.”
The walls and floor of the chasm were shaking as the floods of wildebeest surged through the long, dry canyon. The King of the Pride Lands, his avian majordomo and his dark brother were standing on a ledge, trying to locate the young cub they knew was somewhere in the raging herd. Mufasa’s eyes were anxiously scanning the sea of horns and thick-skinned pelts, as were the eyes of Scar, his brother, only his tension was feigned. Deep within, he knew the cub, Simba, was doomed.
The majordomo, Zazu frantically pointed out the young prince’s location, hanging from a dead tree barely above the hoards of wildebeest. Mufasa charged into the thundering torrent, dodging the sharp hooves left and right, as Scar continued to watch with false terror. He knew his plan was working. Little stood in his way now.
After putting the fluttering hornbill out of commission with one swat of his paw, Scar quickly bounded up the narrow path that led down the gorge, keeping a close eye on the churning chasm. It was difficult for him to see in the thick dust that was thrown into the air by the hooves of the thousands of beasts.
If only he had known that he was being watched as well. A thin, dark figure, perched on a ledge on the opposite side of the gorge, had watched the herd moving down and the cub flee in its wake, and now she watched the rust-colored lion moving along the chasm’s edge, watching with the knowledge that he would not see her. She had a tendency to always be overlooked, no matter what the situation.
She watched the large golden lion place the cub on a ledge and try to climb up himself – but it was too late. He was suddenly caught on the horns of an incoming wildebeest and carried down the gorge. From where she stood, she didn’t need to move, but the dark male on the other side ran back along the side he was on, trying to locate the male who had just slipped into the flood of hooves and vanished.
For a moment, it seemed like he had perished, but in the next moment, a roar shook the gorge and the male leapt through the air and pinned himself against the cliff with his claws. The lioness watched with shallow breaths as the great golden lion struggled up the cliff to where the other waited with a strange aloofness…or was it disappointment?
The black-maned male on the ledge seemed to grab the other, meaning to pull him up. Then he put his head close to the head of his counterpart…and let go. The lioness gasped in terror as the great lion fell so many feet down, down into the mass of hooves and then…she could not bear to look again. It was too awful. There was a scream of terror, possibly from the cub…the poor thing, she thought. What now?
But what had happened in that instant before? The dark male had drawn the other close to him, that was for sure, but there was something about the way he did it…some kind of ferocity that a rescuer just wouldn’t – couldn’t – muster. And in that moment he was holding his counterpart close…the golden lion’s body had grown limp…and it couldn’t have been fatigue that did him in, nor was it the mistake of the other….Something had happened between the two…something that couldn’t have been an accident…But what…
For the next half hour, there was nothing but the dying down of the herds and the dust. The body of the former King of Pride Rock lay beneath the same dead tree that the cub, Simba, was clinging to. The cub itself was crying out for help, slowly moving down the chasm, only to find his father’s body still and dead, yet still warm. The lioness looked more closely. The cub was lying beside his father, but now Scar was moving up behind him. The lioness growled. Mano knows what that beast will do to him, she thought. He’d kill if it was for an extra piece of meat!
But Scar didn’t kill him. He merely drew him close to his side, talking to him in a voice she couldn’t make out. Then Simba drew away and began walking down the gorge. Why is he going, the lioness thought. What happened? What did that Scar tell him? He wasn’t going down the gorge, the only way to level ground from where he was…he was going in the opposite direction…towards the boundaries, and then…then what? Curse you, Scar, what did you tell him?!?
Then she saw the three hyenas behind Scar and it all clicked together in her mind. Her eyes flicked from the fleeing cub to the hyenas, who were walking stiffly, their muscles taut and their heads down. Get out of there, you poor little cub, while you still can…
But it was too late. The hyenas had lunged, their eyes fixed on the grief-stricken cub. Unable to see any more of this evil, Monah took one last look at the predators and their soon-to-be prey, then turned, unnoticed, and walked away from the gorge.
Too late now…
“You didn’t even think of sharing your stolen gift with your friend Zira,” said Kiara. “Some best friend you are.”
“Yes,” said Monah nonchalantly. She could not put into words how cruel and selfish she’d been, but even comprehending the thought that she had betrayed Zira was far beyond her. It was painfully true but still…
She teetered on the verge of telling Kiara about how she had played with Zira day by day as a cub, how she’d struggled to learn how to hunt and received life-saving tips on night-hunting from Zira, how they had purred together over little Nuka, how Zira had told Nuka to call her “Aunty Monah,” the long days sleeping together under the acacia trees and exchanging yesterday’s stories, and how she had comforted Zira during the painful hours after Scar had been killed…
But this was too much. Too much. Monah turned her head away, too proud to tell of her awful past, let alone tell it to such a young lioness. But Zira had truly been her friend…
Monah watched from the shadows, as she always did, watching with uncertainty and irritation. Scar was circling Sarabi, every now and then barking some snide remark about her hunting parties and how they weren’t sticking to their duties. This was silly, Monah thought, because there is much more to be caught at night, and she had told other lionesses about this…but they had only arched their eyebrows and turned away coldly.
Suddenly Scar struck Sarabi and she went sprawling across the rock, where she lay still after coming to a stop. Monah jumped to her feet in anger. Even though Sarabi was a good friend of Zira’s but Monah was no friend of Sarabi’s, Monah tried to respect the gentle, elderly lioness. Yet it was hard to respect someone when you got no respect in return.
There was a flash of lightning and a dull roar of a male lion. It wasn’t Scar…then who could it be? Scar himself was staring at a high cliff and backing towards a rock wall. Monah glanced at the ledge and saw a golden male with a reddish mane leap down a huge pile of rocks and scree. At first she thought Scar’s whispers of “Mufasa” could be true…but how could she see this ghost as well as Scar, if it truly was his brother, back from the dead?
No…it wasn’t Mufasa…the face was younger, the eyes were larger and redder than Mufasa’s…If it wasn’t Mufasa, then…no, it couldn’t be…she had seen him get killed…or did she…she never actually saw the cub die, so…maybe….
“Simba,” came Sarabi’s hoarse voice through the stale air. “You’re alive?”
Monah jerked her head up in shock. The tiny wisp of a cub she’d seen fleeing for his life down the gorge so many years ago was this crimson-crowned, handsome adult male? From the limited periods she had actually seen Simba up close, it was hard to tell…but Monah caught a glimpse of one of the deep brown eyes as the lion nodded in reply to his mother’s words. “Yes. It’s me. I’ve come home.”
“Simba…” drawled the all-too familiar voice of Scar. Monah turned her head to look at the now greatly relived scrawny lion approaching Simba, parallel with the sheer wall of the jutting pinnacle of Pride Rock. “I’m a little surprised to see you…alive.”
Scar’s eyes flicked upwards in a gesture no one else saw, Monah followed his glance just in time to see a small covey of hyenas scurry away. She snorted in recognition of his devious henchmen, who had failed to do his bidding. It was almost humorous…but not now, not with what was at stake.
Now Simba approached Scar, his posture was angry and defensive, with eyes that seemed almost identical to his father’s, growling at Scar to step down. Here Scar pointed upwards at the hoards of hyenas standing on the cliffs overhead. “You see them? They think I’m the King.”
Monah let a short spurt of air flap from between her closed lips in a sarcastic manner and rolled her eyes. Yeah right, she thought. As if those goons are going to treat him as a monarch after he’s let them starve like rats for the past few months.
“Well, we don’t,” said a young lioness. “Simba is the rightful king.”
Monah looked closely at the young lioness. It was Sarafina’s child…Nala, as Monah recalled…or was it Shanni…it was too hard to tell, from a distance, they all looked the same…but Monah wasn’t the same. That was why they avoided her.
Again, Simba turned on Scar. This time, Scar began hinting towards Mufasa’s death, but for some reason, he was putting the blame on Simba. What, Monah thought angrily. A tiny cub like that kill his father…? He’s crazy. He’ll never get away with a crazy claim like that…
But now Scar was circling Simba, too far away for Monah to hear. She silently moved along the rock wall, keeping to the shadows, a skill she had probably been born with, straining to remain within the womb, scared to come out into the light. Now Scar was talking…saying…
“…Now’s your chance to tell them…”
Tell them what?
”…Tell him who is responsible for Mufasa’s death!”
Monah’s heart leapt, then resettled in a jabbing, hard rhythm. She was the only one there…she could say what she had seen, how the golden male was so close to the golden male, then something happened between them…something happened…she had seen it…she could say what really happened…
But no…it wasn’t like her to step out and change things like that. She was indifferent, always remaining in the shadows, never interfering with what went on. Even if she was right…no one would believe her. Not even her shadow, which she always saw so little of in the other shadows of the night. She couldn’t say it…
Monah relaxed and drew back into a sitting position as Simba stepped forward.
“I am,” he said.
“What,” said Monah again. Her lips moves but no sound left them. Her eyes grew wide as Sarabi, now recovered from her cuff, walked over and asked Simba if he was being truthful. The tension was mounting in the air. Suddenly a layer dissolved before Monah’s eyes. She suddenly became aware of the hoards of hyenas trickling down from the upper ledges and congregating in the shadows, and consequently, beside her. She also saw Zira near the edge of the group of lionesses. She had never seen this side of her mate before and she was growing uneasy, beginning to edge backwards, away from the pride.
“You see!” snapped the sharp voice of Scar, cutting through the silence. “He admits it! Murderer!”
“Murderer?! You fool!” Monah would have wanted to scream, but her instincts told her to run. Her muscles tautened and she sprang away, unnoticed in the shadows, Zira by her side, though it was impossible to tell in the suffocating blackness. Scar’s rattling, angry shouts of accusation flying over their heads as they ran.
Now Monah could see her friend Zira keeping pace beside her as they fled down the steep slope of Pride Rock. She mouthed a silent “Look out!” to Monah, who turned her head in the direction Zira was looking and swerved just in time to dodge a thick pile of dry scrub as a shaft of lightning hit it and hungry flames began to consume the dry wood. Monah slowed to a walk, a pain gnawing into her side. Zira did the same, walking beside her. Monah was about to say something when their raspy breaths for air grew quiet, when suddenly Zira pointed upwards, towards the peak of Pride Rock.
Simba was hanging from the peak, Scar standing over him. Suddenly Scar lunged at Simba, his claws digging into Simba’s forearms. Monah winced slightly, while Zira mouthed silently, confused at her soul mate’s sudden ferocity. Monah squinted through the growing flames of the fire at Scar’s face. He was wearing a look of triumph, but Simba’s was a look of mortal terror. Suddenly, it connected: the closeness between the two. The sudden lunge. The hanging body. The claws digging into the golden one…Scar leaned over Simba and whispered into his ear just what Monah was thinking, it was so thick she felt she could have said it aloud:
I killed Mufasa.
Monah prepared herself for the sudden release, the scream of agony, the echoing thud…she closed her eyes, where they rested beneath wildly twitching lids. The scream came, but it wasn’t resounding. It was coming from the same spot. Simba hadn’t fallen…Monah opened her eyes just in time to see Simba leap into the air and pin his uncle to the stone floor. “Murderer!” he roared.
There was a sudden gasp from Monah’s right. She turned to see Zira trembling with fear, mouth open, making faint, incomprehensible gasps. Simba was talking to Scar with the same intimidation he had been feeling moments before. Monah knew too well what he was saying, especially when he placed a paw against his uncle’s throat. The hyenas were bristling…the lionesses around Simba were growing tense…
“I killed Mufasa.”
Monah nearly snarled with triumph as Nala, then the rest of the lionesses leapt at Scar, who slipped away and barked a quick order to the hyenas, who lunged back at the lionesses. Zira was near tears for fear of her partner and looked ready to lunge forward and find him, but Monah stepped on Zira’s forepaw firmly and refused to budge. Zira looked, first down at her foot, then slowly up and into Monah’s eyes.
“Don’t leave me alone. Please.”
Zira’s eyes narrowed as she looked back at the battle, barely visible through the blankets of flames, then into Monah’s eyes again.
“We were always friends, weren’t we?”
Zira made a guttural, growling sigh in her throat as she fixed her eyes on the battle scene again.
“Yes,” she replied gruffly. “We were always friends.”
The silence following her words was filled with yelps of pain from the hyenas and roars from the lionesses as the flames’ chorus rose from a dull growl to a snapping cacophony of noise and heat. Hyenas were leaping off the peak of Pride Rock, running for their lives. None of them came near to where Monah and Zira were standing, though.
“Mother?” came a small, questioning voice behind them. Monah and her companion turned to see Zira’s tiny cub Nuka perched atop a smoldering rock, looking petrified with fear. “Mommy? Auntie Monah? What’s going on? Where’s Dad?”
“He’s…” Zira choked in mid-sentence, too frightened to tell her son the truth.
“There he is!” cried Monah in a sudden burst of lightning. For a split second, Zira glimpsed the slim body of her mate on a winding path, near the front side of the flank of the jutting boulder. Her muscles grew taught, but uncertainty still shone through her eyes.
“Where does that path lead?” she asked Monah, too caught up in the terror of the moment to know.
“It leads to the top of the rock,” began Monah, but her words were cut off by yet another terrified gasp from Zira. Simba was pursuing Scar up the path, and there seemed to be no way back. She took off, sprinting through the sharp branches with the agility of a cheetah, headed for the backside of Pride Rock. Monah turned to Nuka, who was still looking perplexed, and whispered:
“Wait here, Nuka. No matter what happens, stay here.”
Without waiting for his answer, Monah turned and ran towards the rear of the huge rock, keeping her eyes on the top of it, trying to locate Scar or Simba. After a few minutes, she found Zira, several yards from the huge stone base, standing still, her eyes fixed to the top of Pride Rock.
Monah looked where she was looking and shuddered madly. Scar and Simba were fighting, barely visible through the growing flames. Occasionally, their roars of pain could be heard, and occasionally, one would gain the upper hand. Suddenly one of the lions sprawled across the top of the rock and stopped at the very edge. Zira gasped, then relaxed a little when she saw it wasn’t Scar – but where was he? Her question was answered in a second as the other lion leapt through the flames in an attempt to finish the one that was down. Monah closed her eyes again. Don’t do it, she screamed inside her mind. Turn back. Don’t It’s too late…
It was too late. The lion that was down had flipped the other, sending him flying over the edge of Pride Rock. His body hit several rocks before it came to a rest at the back of the rock, several yards from where the lionesses were standing. Zira tried to run to him, but Monah blocked her path with her paw. Something wasn’t right. A pungent smell was in the air.
Zira tried to say that her mate was dead, but the words wouldn’t come. Then the lion lying on the ground with his back to the rock stirred, and Zira breathed a sigh of relief, but only for a moment. Monah looked at the brush around Scar, which had suddenly become alive. Several hyenas peered out of the red-hot brambles, their eyes fixed on him. Scar said something as he rose to his feet that Monah and Zira couldn’t hear, then one of the hyenas said something in reply and his eyes grew wide with fear.
“I have to go to him,” hissed Zira as the hyenas suddenly began to close in on her mate.
“No,” said Monah, the fear in her voice audible. “They’ll kill both of you…”
But Zira wasn’t going to listen to her companion this time. She leapt over the leg that blocked her way and sped through the burning grasses and shrubs, desperate to get to her mate before the hyenas.
But it was too late. One of the hyenas had sprung through the air and clamped his jaws around Scar’s throat. He was down and the hyenas were still attacking. Zira paid no heed to the swarming numbers of the hyenas around her, she still fought her way through them, eyes narrowed and claws out, while Monah watched in terror. She nearly screamed when a hyena jumped up and tore a chunk out of Zira’s right ear. Zira roared in pain and shook the beast off, not caring what happened to her. Her claws were taking slices out of the fierce animals left and right, and several had already fallen, dead as the grass before the fire. The beasts began to scatter as she charged through them, and many began to run for their lives.
Still swatting at the numerous creatures, Zira roared, in a voice Monah had never thought could come from her: “Leave! Go find another place to spread your filth! All of you! Never come back or I’ll murder you all!”
The few hyenas that were still within earshot ran off in odd directions and were gone within seconds. Dark clouds were now looming in the skies and thunder was rumbling loudly, accompanied by spurts of lightning. Monah felt a faint drizzle of rain on her scorched back as Zira limped over to where Scar lay, barely breathing. Monah slowly came forwards as Zira clasped his paws in hers and said something only the two of them could hear. Then the great, black-crowned head fell limply to one side, eyes shut, mouth hanging open.
Zira’s brilliant eyes were glazed with tears. Her jaw quivered as she looked from Monah, who was cautiously approaching through the pouring rain, to her mate’s still face.
“Said to name my next son as his heir,” she said, the strain not to start crying visible on her face. “Said to name him in his honor…”
“Zira…you aren’t with child, are you?” Monah asked.
Zira touched her side gently with a trembling paw. “I don’t know…” she began, but then a thunderous roar sounded from the front of Pride Rock. Monah recognized the sound that had, minutes ago, been completely foreign to her. Simba had taken his place.
An echo of lionesses roared in return, followed by another from the new king, the king that had killed another to become what he was. Zira looked towards the gathering clouds and screamed in grief and rage, a shrieking wail of loss, pain and agony, then buried her head in Scar’s rust-colored side, sobbing madly, her torn ear clotted with blood, mussing the already sad, ripped body of Scar.
Monah tried to place a paw on Zira’s back to comfort her, but she simply swatted her paw away. Monah drew closer and looked at Scar with a removed, yet saddened gaze.
“You really did love him, didn’t you?” Monah said quietly. Zira ignored her words, but seemed to suddenly grow calmer in her grief.
The rain continued to come down and thunder began roaring, like a resounding encore of the lions’ roars preceding it. Zira soon stopped her crying and sat before her mate’s body with tiny, painful sobs, with the unmatched look of a lost lover that no other look could compare or be compared to. Monah drew close to her and put her head under her friend’s.
“I’ll still love you, Zira,” she whispered.
Zira continued her series of small, frightened gasps, resting her head on Monah’s as the rain fell about them. The blood from her ear muddied Monah’s fur, which was ashen with the spent cinders of the flames as the rain ran in rivulets down her shoulders and chest, down into the unforgiving ground. There were no more noises except the sound of their breath and the beating of their hearts, side by side.
“Mama? Aunty Monah? What’s happening? What’s wrong?”
The two lionesses turned and both saw Nuka sitting a stone’s throw from where they sat, his pale tan coat singed from the fire, his eyes wide with confusion and fear.
“Don’t worry, Nuka,” said Monah quietly. “It’ll be all right. Don’t worry, little one.”
Kiara was silent as they continued walking, too smart to say anything more that would surely contribute to their growing enmity. Dusk was starting to set in, the sun was nearly out of sight, and clouds obscured the fading red rays, leaving the steel blue sky and the few tiny pinpricks of light. The Great Kings of the Past were opening their eyes to look down at the two figures that still walked their lands, one dark, one light. One old, one young.
“You told Tanabi about the stars?”
“Of course. You know what I mean, though? The Great Kings of the Past, right?”
“Yes. Of course.” The old one breathed deeply and looked towards the skies.
“You seem to know everything. I guess everyone knows a lot more than they get credit for, it seems.”
“I told that to Tanabi the same night I told him about the Great Kings,” Monah purred, a sudden uplifted tone in her voice. “He asked me how great one had to be to become a Great King when they died, and I told him…” Here she paused and gazed at the stars again.
“I told him that “great” could be as great as you believed yourself to be, with the input of any others that were close to you.” She closed her eyes, savoring the stillness of the night for a time until she seemed to have overindulged herself. “I’m sure Zira thought Scar was a Great King.”
“You would know,” said Kiara, not daring to start arguing with Monah again. “You have knowledge of things that other members of this pride wouldn’t think of.”
“I like to think of it that way,” Monah said, “But then I can’t say you didn’t gain some of your own with your wise father?”
Unsure of whether this was sarcasm or not, Kiara replied: “Well…Now that you mention it I did…”
“I don’t really know…I just…I don’t know…somehow I knew I had a brother. I never asked my parents, but somehow I just knew. I guess it was just some silly coincidence.”
“A coincidence that seems more than that, Kiara.”
“Yeah…I guess so…”
The spitting flames of fire were growing closer, and the air was growing denser and darker with smoke. Kiara’s already aching lungs began spasmodically gasping for air as she ran along the border of the fire, trying to find a way out. But there seemed to be no end to this wall of angry, red heat. The sound of snapping grasses and animals running through the flames, branches crackling beneath their hooves was deafening.
It was not until she came to a stop that Kiara realized her vision was fading. The smoke outside was starting to move in. If she didn’t find a way out of this inferno, her life would be over, either by suffocation, burned to death or killed by an incoming animal…she didn’t want to think about what was going to happen, since all she could think of was finding a way out.
Kiara lowered her head and heaved in and out as much fresh air that she could. Her muscles were stinging with pain from the heat and her exertions. There had to be a way out…
Then she saw it: A tall, towering rock, surrounded by flames on all but one side, which was quickly growing obscured. Without thinking, Kiara leapt through the air and dug her claws into the stone’s gritty edge. It proved to be harder than she had anticipated. Kiara scrambled with both front and back claws desperately trying to find a good grip. The fire was eating at her flanks, and the smell of burning hair flooded her olfactory organ. Her vision flickered like a lightning bolt, and for a moment she felt like just letting go and allowing her body to be consumed by the flames, but she remembered what her father had said earlier that morning: “Be careful.”
And then he had promised not to interfere with her hunting. As if he meant it. Then her discovering Timon and Pumbaa hiding in the grass after the antelope had stampeded. She was determined to prove that she could take care of herself. She was no longer a cub, she could handle a crisis like this just fine.
With this in mind, Kiara gathered her strength and sprung into the air, landing on the stop of the large, flat rock, sprawling across the hard surface before coming to a rest, her strength nearly drained.
For several moments, she lay there, unable to tell if her eyes were open or shut because of the blackness. Her mind swam back into her past, back to the awful day she had heard her parents talking about her brother…and how now she couldn’t even remember his name…he was probably dead…that darkness that she remembered, hovering behind him that night so long ago, when she was still an infant, asleep by her mother’s side…and that cub she had met that time in the Outlands, and how he reminded her of…him…
A low growling caused her eyes to travel upwards…and meet the eyes of a strange, dark lion standing over her. A cold fear oozed through her body. The strange, piercing eyes…the great mane…and the darkness…both behind and part of the lion…it had to be the darkness that took her brother from her side and left that coldness and loneliness…and the lion…it had to be…him.
So the darkness had returned to take her as well…There was no other explanation for what was happening. Go ahead, then, Kiara screamed inside her mind. Take me like you took my brother. Take me to where he is now. Go on…do it to me…end my life. Don’t let me suffer any more…
Her last thoughts frizzled into incoherency as her vision faded and died. Kiara close her eyes, letting her head fall back on the smoldering rock floor, and knew no more.
“Do you think Zira still loved you even after you betrayed her trust and abandoned her?”
“I’m certain she did. We swore we would remain friends until death.”
“How would you know? After all that my father accused Zira of, when she was only being blamed for something that wasn’t her fault…”
“You love that Kovu, don’t you?” asked Monah coldly. “And I don’t ask you about why you do. Treat others as you would like to be treated, Kiara.”
“Sorry. I would just like to know why you loved her.”
“I’m sure you would…” began the ancient lioness quietly, but her voice tapered off as they reached the apex of the huge, grassy hill they were climbing together. There was something that cut through the serenity of the plains like a flaw in a crystal. Literally, it was a gaping chasm, bored into the earth over ages of drying and flooding rivers. There was only a glimmer of water that neither of the lionesses could see until they were at the very edge.
Monah shuddered. All her life she had looked down upon this river and never felt anything out of the ordinary, but now something inside her turned and stabbed her heart like a sharp stone. A brief flash of a swirling sky, a swiftly fading cliff edge and a deafening rush of water flickered before her eyes, then vanished. And Monah then knew what this chasm really was.
“This…this was where Zira…the river…You…”
“Yes,” said Kiara, looking at a small ledge, far below where they stood. “I tried to save her but she just…she let go…”
Even though she hadn’t been there, Monah could see the fragile body falling down, into the churning river…just like Mufasa’s body had fallen into the flood of wildebeests so many years ago, only this time it was Zira…Zira, her only friend, falling endlessly down…breaking like a twig in the hard blue water and sinking beneath the waves…and Kiara trying to help…
“Zira! Zira, give me your paw…” Kiara begged, her arm stretched over the edge of the crumbling ledge she was perched upon. Zira tenaciously gripped the sheer wall of rock a few feet below Kiara, and it was almost too obvious that she couldn’t reach Kiara even if she wanted to be saved…
But it was out of the question. The lionesses that had once pitied her and supported her and stood by her side through the hardest times had turned against her, just like it was a cub game! Her own son double-crossing her…now her daughter…dear little Vitani, if only she had known Monah…
No…not her…Nuka had known her too well…he cried when she and the other lionesses vanished, along with the king’s only son and heir. That was why she loathed him. Loathed him until he died trying to prove himself…sad, yet painfully ironic that Monah’s vision of a true hero was one that gave his life in an attempt to prove himself to another…now that it had actually happened, it was too much. Monah had left Zira alone and without an alibi, and Simba blamed her for his son’s death…little did he know that his son wasn’t dead, but was only under the care of another…another that now even Zira couldn’t love as a friend…
Zira snarled and swiped at Kiara’s paw. She withdrew it quickly, then her eyes grew concerned again as Zira slid down several feet and slapped her paw, with its exposed black claws, against the cliff, struggling to regain her grip. But why? There seemed nothing better to live for. It had all happened, one by one: first her mate, then her companion, then her son, her pride…her only daughter…and now this weak, frivolous lioness cub wearing an adult body extends a paw and asks that she go on living?
Zira trembled with rage, her body slipping several more feet. Again, Kiara extended her paw.
“I’ll help you.”
Zira knew that voice. It was the voice she had heard coming from Monah when Scar was killed. “I’ll still love you, Zira.” Love? That was years before all this happened, before when she had reasons to go on living. She had a young cub that was now dead. Two cubs inside her that had now turned on her. And her friend? Her friend had placed the crime of murder on her and vanished without a thought…Or was it entirely without thought?
Now that Zira thought about it, Monah had never intended to frame her friend. She would have said so. She was always honest with Zira. It was her love of Scar that had made Simba accuse her. Monah didn’t like Scar. She wouldn’t think of Zira’s love for him, and that was the truth. If she had known Simba’s deep grudge against anything related to his uncle, maybe things would have been different. But it’s too late now…
Zira glanced down at the raging river and the ragged branches carried down it, some being pulled under the currents, some struggling to remain above them. Her grip weakened and her breath grew rapid and desperate.
Monah had never announced that she would ever stop loving Zira. Her words on the last day they met: “I’ll always love you.” If her words were true…Zira would never find out…she was about to die, her life’s wishes crushed…but if there is life after death…if the dead can look upon the living and speak to them…
Zira slowly rolled her eyes up and glared at Kiara and her waving paw, remembering what she had said mere seconds ago in her time, ages ago in Zira’s mind.
“No,” Zira said in a growling whisper, shaping the word delicately with her lips. Kiara’s eyes grew wide. Yes, Zira thought. Her lost mate was among them, and when she died, then she would be with him too…Ahieu, if Monah is still alive, maybe I can…At least I can die still faithful to my Scar…and then, Mano’s mane, I will be with him again! Yes, Ahieu, yes…at last…
“Never,” she said, a mad grin broadening on her face as she calmly retracted her claws and fell through the quiet layers of sky, a cry of triumph echoing through the gorge until she hit the water. Her body was swept beneath the waves, and her life ended in an instant.
At the same time, miles upon miles from the assumed borders of the Pridelands, Tanabi, Simba’s only son, Kiara’s brother and the true heir of the Pridelands awoke with a terrified gasp.
The great, red-maned, now fully grown lion had been kicking and trembling in his sleep for several minutes beforehand, awakening the older, darker lioness who slept beside him, as she had done for as far as he could remember. Dawn was nearing, but the stars still were straining their eyes to look at the world below. Monah shook her head irritably and was about to awaken Tanabi when he suddenly let out a rattling gasp and began murmuring incoherently.
Monah was still bent on rousing him, but his utters made her pause in wonder. She put her ear close to his mouth and listened intently.
“No…no…she’s too far down…gonna fall…need help…needs help, she ‘s going to…no…no, no, she’s falling…no! Nooo!”
The hazel eyes snapped open and Monah sprung backwards in surprise as the great head shot up, the eyes wide, mouth gaping under the weight of his breath. Tanabi appeared lost in thought for a moment, then he blinked his eyes and looked through the tousled strands of his mane at his equally frightened stepmother.
“Tanabi, son, what was it?” asked Monah, walking back to his side and lying down beside him. “Was it a dream?”
“I don’t know…” said Tanabi, his breath still coming in quick, deep lapses. “It was so real…I saw…it had to be my sister…”
“Yes, Kiara…and there was this dull-colored female…beautiful body but hard face…like someone whose life has been ignored from beginning to end…A brown stripe from the forehead down…I never saw where…”
“My…my friend Zira. I told you about her, didn’t I?”
“Yes…Zira! She was hanging from this cliff face, and my sister…well, she was trying to save her…”
“How did this predicament happen, Tani?”
“I don’t know…I just saw her hanging…Kiara trying to help but she’s too far from her to help…and then the one that’s hanging – Zira, I think – she just…lets go…and falls down and down until…”
A tearful gasp from Monah caused him to stop. Monah knew these dreams. There was rarely a month when Tanabi didn’t awaken, prompted or not, with a dream fresh in his mind, the details vivid, the sequence of events short but not without meaning. That night he had awakened with visions of fires burning the plains, the next day, how there had been an acrid smell coming from the direction Monah had always associated with the place she had retreated from, Tanabi in her mouth. There had been a fire there, and Tanabi’s dreams were real enough for her to believe. And now his description of Zira’s death…this was too much. Monah began crying without any noise. Tanabi’s expression grew piteous as he looked into his stepmother’s face.
“Monah? What’s wrong?”
“Back to sleep,” said Monah quietly, turning her face away. “We’ll talk tomorrow.” Unable to bring himself to asking any more questions, Tanabi lowered his head and spread his body out on the soft grasses beneath. He was asleep within the hour.
Monah, however, couldn’t sleep. The dawn was breaking, a rose-colored light touched the mountains to the east, and spread across the land, warming whatever it touched. Monah still gazed at the fading stars, the only sound besides her own breathing Tanabi’s slow, steady breath.
She was starting to feel the exhaustion one has when circumstances keep him or her up all through the night, and was about to fall asleep again when a gentle, female voice spoke her name:
She glanced around in puzzlement. There was no definite origin to the voice, it seemed to come almost from the sky…
Again. It seemed to be coming from the top of the hill she was looking at, the one that was the only piece of land the sun had yet to caress…
“It’s me, Monah.”
The mist of the rising sun danced around the hill, perhaps fleeing the approaching light. But then it shaped itself into a shape…a figure, translucent as a flower petal, standing on the peak of the hill, looking down at her. The eyes were a soft red, the nose sharp, yet almost elegantly curved to fit the form of her delicately formed face, he smiling, broad mouth and muscular jaw. A long stripe began at the center of the forehead and ran its way down, tapering to a point near the middle of her back. The familiar notch in the right ear was gone, but even without it, it was obvious who was standing before her.
The ghostly figure bowed slightly, the white, creamy paws drumming once or twice before she looked at Monah again.
“I came to see if you are still who you said you were when we parted,” said the ethereal, motherly voice that Monah remembered from the days before Scar’s death, before the terrible notch bit into Zira’s ear and turned her cold with hate.
“Do you still love me, Monah?”
“I…I do. I told you that I would…”
“Then I still love you, Monah. Here. There is someone I want you to see again.”
Another plume of mist formed itself into a similar shape, slim of body and face, but this one had a mane, a deep, dark mane that flowed back, over his shoulders and away from his head with a noble grace. His green eyes were no longer filled with hate, as Monah had always remembered them, but kindness. There was also something missing from them…something visible…yes…the scar. The ugly scar that had slashed across his left eye was no longer there. They were both back to the way they were, both as they were before unfairness and unjust had made its mark on their lives, when innocence was still prominent and hope was strong.
“I’m sorry for all that I said to you, Monah,” said Scar, as Zira gazed into his eyes lovingly. “I know you can’t forgive me. Perhaps when you join us…”
“Oh yes,” said Zira, “There is one more whom I would like you to meet again, Monah. Just one last time.”
A scraggly cloud of mist molded itself into the form of a young lion, still scruffy from the awkwardness of adolescence. But his eyes still had that cub-like innocence about them, eyes that hadn’t seen his father’s corpse and his mother crying beside it.
“Nuka!” cried Monah, crying with happiness at seeing the little cub as a full-grown lion, in spite of his scruffy appearance. But then the truth hit her. “You’re…you’re…what happened to you?”
“It’s a long story,” explained Zira. “We can’t tell you. But those who are still alive in your world can. I also came to tell you this: It’s time. Take your son back. Tell them the truth about what happened. Tell my children. Tell his sister, and especially his true parents.”
“But…it will takes months,” said Monah, tears streaming down her face. “Even if we can find the way back to the Pridelands…he could kill me before…”
“They won’t,” reassured Zira. “I promise you that. Well…good-bye, Monah.”
“Good…-bye…” Monah whispered as the three figures faded away into the air. The light of the rising sun had turned the hill that Zira had first appeared on blood-red, blithely unaware of the ironic symbolism it was creating. Monah was still crying when Tanabi awoke.
“Monah, you’re crying. Tell me what’s the matter?”
“I’ll tell,” said Monah calmly, turning her head to look at him. “I’ll tell everything. But first, there’s something big I’ve decided we have to do today…”
Monah shook her head as if she were awakening from a bad dream and looked at Kiara sullenly. Kiara decided not to say anything more. For several endless minutes, Monah gazed down at the tiny thread of water. Once her muscles tensed and Kiara was afraid she was about to jump…Wait…She? Kiara? Afraid of Monah dying? Only a few moments ago she was wishing her rival dead and forgotten forever, even by her brother, Tanabi, who had lived with Monah for nearly his whole life. But something inside Kiara told her not to let Monah kill herself. She placed a paw gently on Monah’s foot and looked sympathetically at the dark brown face. Monah looked from Kiara’s eyes to the foot on her paw and back to Kiara’s eyes again. Then she smiled, and understood that she was truly part of the family now.
“Aunty Monah?” squeaked a small voice from behind them.
Kiara and Monah turned around and saw a tiny, golden yellow cub standing on a knoll behind them, staring at them with curiosity. Her eyes were as blue as a full river, the tip of her tail was a crimson red, and a familiar, dark stripe ran from her forehead and down her back, where it tapered off at a point between her shoulders. It was Nani. Tanabi’s daughter, mothered by Vitani, already young Kizazi’s betrothed.
“Aunty Monah? Aunty Kiara? Dad’s been asking for you. You’d better come home.”
Monah looked at the clear aquamarine eyes and the dark stripe between the cub’s eyes and looked like she was going to cry, but instead she solemnly nodded and turned around so she was facing the little lioness.
“Yes,” she agreed. “Let’s go home.”