Night: Torment

 

In my solitude you haunt me

With reveries of days gone by

In my solitude you taunt me

With memories that never die

I sit in my chair

Filled with despair

There’s no one could be so sad

With gloom ev’rywhere

I sit and I stare . . .

 

            How many of you have ever talked to yourself? Come on, be honest. Hey, what about you two, in the back? That’s better. Now how many of you have actually heard yourself answer? I thought so. Well, for a while, I heard myself answer. And it didn’t surprise me at all. I loved my father. I still do.

            You wouldn’t believe how much faster my father and I developed and honed my skill with him helping me this way. We were running like a cheetah compared with the tortoise’s rate we had before. The difference was that before it was completely hit-and-miss. Now, Daddy seemed to know everything intuitively. Granted, we still went slowly, but we made steady progress. It became less and less difficult to look into minds to see what they were thinking. Later it became insanely easy, just a tap of the paw to find out what a person was thinking about, and just hold it there for a little while longer if I wanted to look for something. But that was way down the road.

            You might be wondering where I found all this time to practice. It’s simple: I did it when they were asleep. Sometimes I even did it when I was asleep, but that was different. That was Daddy doing that. But I would make my rounds at night if I happened to be awake, going around from lioness to lioness, poking my nose into their thoughts, just picking a different and random one each night.

            I received a huge shock one night. I found I could see. The prince had just come back. No one knew where he had been. Except maybe the king, but he wasn’t going to say anything. I wouldn’t have either if I were him. He probably thought everyone would think he was crazy. But I didn’t know that then, and I did want to know what had happened. I could either choose the prince or the king. Daddy wanted me to choose the prince. And we always obeyed Daddy.

            So I tried twice. The first time it didn’t work. In the first place, I couldn’t find the prince. Then Daddy reminded me how he had always been on top of Pride Rock before. I managed to escape from Taos and his group and went up there. It was difficult. I’d never been there, so I had no idea what it was like. The most I could do was just listen for the prince. I found his breathing and just walked toward it. He was lying on his back and I just walked onto his stomach. I’d rarely ever seen him, so I still had very little idea of who he was. I did my best to fix his body in my mind as I sat down on my chest. Then Fujo spoke. “Yes?” I didn’t answer, but just continued trying to observe him. “I thought you were blind.”

            “I’m not blind,” I protested. “I just can’t see.”

            “Uh, right.” I turned around on his chest and tried to look into his mind as Daddy instructed me. I found he had left because “Taraju” had told him to. I had no idea who that was. “So, whatcha doing up here?” he asked.

            “Daddy told me you were up here.” I watched as he tried to understand who Daddy was as I still looked through his head. I still kept coming back with the thought of a lioness.

            “Daddy?” Fujo interrupted.

            “Yes. He said he’d show me how to see. He already showed me how to listen.”

            Don’t look there, Daddy said. This is getting you nowhere.

            “You could hear just fine when you came here.”

            “I mean listen differently.” Look at what he’s thinking. Try to see as he sees.

            “Okay, you’ve lost me now.”

            I sighed, listening to Daddy’s comforting words about his ignorance. “It’s okay, he said you wouldn’t understand.”

            I looked intently into what he was thinking, and was somewhat repulsed by the sudden surge of anger. Fujo thought, Dad’s the one who doesn’t understand things. He’s the one who shuts himself off from the world if he doesn’t know what something is. “Maybe he can’t help it,” I volunteered.

            “Oh, he can help it. He’s just a stuck-up, overcautious, jerk who refuses to see anything if it goes against what he says.”

            “But doesn’t that mean he can’t help it?”

            “No.”

            This guy is as much of an idiot as when I was alive, Daddy said.

            “Daddy said he doesn’t like you.”

            Thank you very much for spreading that around came from both Daddy’s mind and his. “He’d rather have my brother. He probably performed to ‘expected standards.’”

            “I don’t understand.” I tried to search for something to help me comprehend all the weird things Fujo was throwing at me. I decided that maybe Daddy was right when he said that I shouldn’t talk to people when I was picking their brains. It made for a very confusing conversation.

            “I don’t expect you to,” Fujo said, then thought, You’re only a cub.

            This infuriated me beyond belief. I snapped out of his mind and whirled around. “Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

            “Did I say that out loud?” I treated him to the Pofu Death Glare. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Now would you nicely lift your leg? That still hurts there.”

            I got off him angrily. Daddy was right about him. I walked back down to the den, only to receive a dressing-down from Mother about how I shouldn’t wander off.

 

 

 

            I woke up that night with the need to go. I didn’t have to ask for Mother’s help anymore. I could just go down the stairs, heed nature’s call, then walk right back up. She was very pleased when I could stop waking her up. I walked back into the den when Daddy ordered me Try again. I walked over to Fujo and jumped up onto him. I loved the softness of his mane. It reminded me of having Daddy around again. It may have been nicer to have him with me always, but it lacked a few touches here and there.

            I buried myself into his mane as I did the same for his mind. I heard Daddy coaching me. Look inside him. See as he sees. Immerse yourself completely in his mind. I tried to do that. It was a lot easier for him to say it that for me to do it. I might have stared into his head for hours. I picked up parts of his routine, his walks, his likes, his dislikes, his little scab on the underside of his left hind paw that irritated him to no end. I picked up abstract thoughts of his dreams swirling in his head. Every bit of it was about food. Then I received the biggest shock of my life.

            One still picture of his dream.

            It was almost so much that I fell out. I would have fallen off him if I hadn’t tangled myself so much into his mane. That picture sent me reeling. It was full of carcasses raining out of the sky, and I had a mouth big enough to swallow one whole. I lied there, looking at it, drinking in the colors, the sights. Then I suddenly felt an overwhelming desire for more. I plunged myself into his mind again, and stopped abruptly when I heard Daddy’s cautioning voice. Not again. That’s enough for tonight.

            But Daddy

            No buts. Come on, you need your rest. Go to sleep.

            Yes, Daddy. I closed my eyes and nuzzled further into Fujo’s mane. I had my first dream that night. Granted, it was just one picture for the entire night, but it was still a dream.

 

 

 

            Morning came. No matter how much you scream or beg or plead, it just walks right into the den as if it owns the place, whether you like it or not. Same for Afternoon and Night. Jerks. And along with morning came Fujo’s consciousness. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of this. I am not a morning lion, despite the fact that, to this day, I still take walks at the crack of dawn around the Pridelands. But that doesn’t mean I’m awake. I am not awake until I have plunged my head very, very deep into the water hole. And I rarely ever do that for one reason. It is a myth that lions do not like water. We are not remotely afraid of the stuff. It’s just perfect on hot days. In fact, the only ones you’ll ever hear complain about it are the lions, never the lionesses. And we only complain about it for one reason: Do you have any idea how long it takes these stupid manes to dry? Especially mine.

            But that day I didn’t have a mane. Fujo had the mane. And I was stuck in it. So you can imagine my mild surprise when my sleep-drugged brain registered Oh, look, the earth is moving. Then I was rudely snapped awake by falling out of his mane and hitting the ground with a grunt. Hard. Fujo seemed as surprised as I was. “What were you doing in my mane?” he asked.

            “It’s nice. And fluffy. And I like it.” The last part was almost entirely bit off by a yawn. “It’s a lot more comfy than Mom.”

            “That’s nice. Now bugger back into the den before she misses you.” He started to walk away.

            “Can’t I go with you?”

            “I’m not going anywhere.”

            “But you’re walking away,” I protested. He stopped dead in his tracks.

            “How do you even know I’m going anywhere?”

            “You do this every day. You told me.” Not exactly true, but it was to me.

            “When?”

            “Last night.”

            “Sure?”

            “Yes.”

            Fujo sighed. “Alright. You can come.”

            “Can I ride?” I asked eagerly.

            No.”

            “Aww . . .”

            “Now come on,” he said irritably. He walked down the stairs. I would have walked down those stairs, too, if I had been awake. But no, the stairs couldn’t be nice for once. I bounced down every last one, and landed on the ground at their feet, moaning. “You know, maybe it would be safer if you did ride.”

            “Okay.” I shakily got to my feet, completely disoriented again. “Where are you?”

            Fujo groaned and walked over to me. He crouched and said, “Up.” I scrambled up into his mane after a few seconds of trying to find a foothold. I felt Fujo’s pain as I found one and used it. “Gods, what are you trying to do, rip it out?” I secured myself in his mane and stayed quiet, looking into his mind again as he started walking. Daddy gave me instructions again, and I found myself trying to do the best I could to obey them. It was remarkably easy. Fujo’s mind was blissfully clear. I started getting separate, disjointed pictures.

            Ask him what it’s like, Daddy said. “What’s it like?”

            “Well, there’s the sun coming up over the horizon, and you can hear some of the birds who are already up. There’s a herd of gazelle on the right that are getting up . . .” I found myself fixated in awe as moving images flooded into my mind along with an appreciation for all of its beauty. I could have sat on his back all day, just staring at the kingdom. Then the picture spluttered and died. “. . . oh, that must have hurt.”

            “What? Don’t stop now!” I wanted those pictures back.

            “There’s a lion that looks like . . . it’s like he’s got a broken leg and walking on it.”

            “How can you break a leg?” I asked, puzzled. Having no picture to back it up only made it more confusing.

            “A lot of ways. Look, do you think you can find your way back?”

            I doubted it. I had been so wrapped up in his images that I didn’t notice anything. “Uh, mayb­—”

            “Good enough. Now get off. End of the line.”

            “Huh?”

            “Off. Now.” I jumped off uncertainly, almost killing myself with the landing. “Good, now get back and tell the ki—no, the queen that she needs to get out here right away. Even better, tell Aunt ’Tani. GO!” I went as fast as I could. “Hey, it’s the other way!” I skidded to a stop and turned around. I ran full speed towards Pride Rock, Daddy urging me on when I felt myself getting tired. I ran up the steps perfectly after crashing into them head first, then ran into the den, breathing like I was about to die. I staggered over to the king and queen.

            “Sire,” I managed to get out. I took a few more breaths.

            “What is it?” the king asked.

            “Fujo . . . wants Aunt ’Tani . . . and the queen . . .” I collapsed to the ground, still out of breath.

            “Vitani, come on,” the king said, running out of the den. I heard him being followed by Vitani.

            “Hey, he wanted me!” protested the queen.

            “Pofu what’s going on?” It was Mother.

            “Fujo . . . lion . . .” I took a few more breaths, finally getting my heart slowed down.

            “Pofu, what are you talking about?”

            “Fujo wanted me to get Aunt ’Tani to see a lion.”

            “Your majesty?”

            “I know less about it than you,” said the queen.

            “Well you shouldn’t be running off like that,” Mother said to me.

            “But Mom, I was with Fujo!”

            “Well, there’s no reason for you to be bugging him this early in the morning.”

            The queen laughed. “Don’t worry. He takes these walks every morning.”

            “Are you really sure it’s not a problem, your majesty?”

            “Yes, there’s no problem. And I’ve told you, stop being so formal. I’m Kiara, not ‘your majesty.’”

            “Yes, your maj—yes, Kiara.”

            “That’s better. Now, how about helping me with the breakfast?”

            “Of course.”

            “But Mom,” I protested, “I’m hungry now.”

            “You can wait a little while. Now stay in the den until I get back.”

            “Yes, Mom.”

            The queen laughed again. “They’re so cute when they’re that age.” She and Mother walked away, and they and several other lionesses left the den. Soon it was pretty well cleared out. I lied back down on the floor.

            “Hey Pofu. What’s up?” It was Taos.

            “I’m so hungry.”

            “Yeah, me too.”

            “I could eat a buffalo.”

            “Yeah . . . or a nice, big wildebeest . . . and finish it off with a zebra . . .”

            “Stop it! You’ll only make it worse.”

            “And then,” he said, obviously enjoying himself, “a nice fat warthog.”

            “Stop—” I stopped in mid-sentence, my nose meeting a wonderful aroma. I began to sniff. I got to my feet, following the scent.

            “Uh, Pofu? What are you doing?”

            “I smell meat.”

            “You always smell meat here.”

            “No it’s . . . it’s just over here . . . oh, yes!

            “Whoa . . .”

            I could smell a nice big strip of meat, just lying in the back of the den, with no one around to love it.

            “It looks lonely, doesn’t it?” Taos asked.

            “Yeah, let’s be its friends.”

            “I doubt there was ever a weirder set of friends.”

            I agreed. I would have said something, but my mouth was too full.

 

 

 

            I generally had a great time with Taos. He easily is the best friend I have ever (and probably will ever) had. That almost changed that day. Fujo went to sleep, and stayed that way until dinner. He was generally good for some fun with the cubs. Just not when he was snoring. So Taos and I got the group together and decided we’d have some fun. Unfortunately, when we decided that, we didn’t know what fun we were going to have. So we spent about half the day lying around, occasionally wrestling, Taos sometimes coming out on top, sometimes me, and then the girls whenever we felt like letting them win. I may have been younger than them, but I was bigger. And I just kept on growing, and growing, and growing . . . Fujo joked later that they thought we’d have to get a bigger den if I didn’t stop. I didn’t. The den stayed.

            But as for right now, not later, we were bored. Then Fina had an idea. “Ooh!” she squealed. “I know just what to do!” She was met by a chorus of “What?” “Well, how about we try to walk?”

            Taos groaned. “We know how to walk, Fina.”

            “Yeah, but on your hind legs?”

            We thought about that for a second. No, we definitely didn’t know how to do that. “So,” Bayana asked, “how do we do it?”

            “It’s easy. All we have to do is push against each other.”

            A round of “Huh?”

            “Here, I’ll show you. You get up on your hind legs like this, and you push against the other one’s paws.”

            “Oh, I think I see,” said Haja. “Here, do it again.” I sensed both of them rising, then I heard a pair of “Oof!”’s and heard them fall to the ground. Taos and Bayana laughed wildly.

            “Yeah, that’s showin’ us how it’s done!” said Taos. “Here, Pofu, you and me try.”

            “I still don’t really get it,” I said. I was no longer ashamed of saying that kind of things around them. They understood.

            “Look, just get up on your hind legs,” said Taos. I reared up. “Good! Now, I’ll do it with you. Try to find me and push against me. Okay, on three. One, two, three!”

            We both reared up. My paws flailed wildly, and finally hit something solid and something squishy, turning out to be Taos’s chest and face. A moment later I felt one of his paws on one of my forelegs and the other on my chest. “Oh, yeah, that’s really good, guys,” said Bayana.

            “We’re up, aren’t we?” said Taos, his voice muffled. My paw was stuck on top of his nose. “Okay, we’re going to do this real slow, Pofu. When I tell you, move the left paw, and I’ll move—”

            “Your left or mine?” I interrupted.

            He thought about it a moment. “Mine. Your right. I’ll move my left. Now, try to make them meet when I say to.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, go.” I removed my paw from his chest, and he removed his from my leg. “Alright, just a little bit more to the left—my left, your right. Okay, that’s too far.” I could feel my hind legs shaking. We weren’t meant to stand on them like this, I thought bitterly. I wanted to get this over with. From Taos’s groans, he did, too. I did what seemed like the best idea at the time. I went into Taos’s mind to get a picture of my paw. It’d go faster that way. I reached in—

            —and fell to the ground after a few seconds, stunned by the sudden revulsion that I received. I heard the girls screaming. Taos gave a yell and ran, followed by the girls shrieking their heads off. “Hey, wait, come back!” I yelled. “What happened?” They kept running. “Come back!” It was no use. “Please,” I said softly. “Come back.” They kept running, their screams fading into the distance. I sighed and hung my head. What happened?

            You scared them, said Daddy.

            I didn’t mean to.

            But you did.

            I choked back a sob and slowly made my way back to Pride Rock. Mother was there when I arrived. “Pofu, what happened? Where’s Taos and the others?”

            “They don’t like me anymore,” I said. I pressed myself against her stomach. She wrapped a foreleg around me.

            “Oh, that’s not true,” she said softly.

            “They hate me.”

            “Now that’s definitely not true. Why would they hate you?”

            “I scared them.”

            Mother drew in a gasp. After a moment’s hesitation she said, “No, you couldn’t have. You’re not the kind of cub that goes around scaring others.”

            I stopped talking after that. She refused to see the truth, there was no way I could make her see it. I just stopped trying. I stayed in the den that day, waiting for them until they came back. When they did I got up and ran over to them, only to have them scatter, running to their mothers. I almost started crying. The only reason I didn’t was I was too proud. Instead I hung my head and shuffled over to Mother. She had to leave soon, though, to help with the hunting. I lied in a little spot of the den, alone, eyes closed, feigning sleep. I almost was asleep. I didn’t feel like going through someone’s mind. Even that wouldn’t cheer me up. Thankfully, the act worked, and no one asked any questions. I just didn’t think I could take it if someone pointed my solitude out to me. Later the hunters came back. Mother had thought of me and gotten a little carcass for me and Taos. That really hurt. I had heard all of them talking as soon as I was “asleep,” all of it about me. Even to Taos I was a “freak” now. At first I hoped it was reluctantly on his part, but it happened too often to be that. So I ate by myself when Mother brought it. I couldn’t finish it, of course, not by myself. The entire meal they ate together, talking in quiet, hushed whispers that even I couldn’t hear. Every time I turned my head to hear them better they stopped talking.

            I lied down when I felt I could finish no more and gave a huge yawn. They were still talking. After a while I couldn’t take it. I got up and went down to the tanning rock. No one was there right now. Everyone was up in the den, eating. As soon as I got down there it all burst forth. A tear slid down my face, then another, and another. My shoulders began heaving, and pretty soon I was sobbing uncontrollably. Daddy told me That’s it. Let it all out. I did. I had never felt so alone. I just couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t even notice the lioness already down there. “Pofu?” Tumai asked.

            “Go away!” I said.

            “What?”

            “You don’t like me either, so just go away!”

            “Pofu, that’s crazy. Why wouldn’t I like you?”

            “Go away!”

            She came over to me and wrapped a foreleg around me. I tore away angrily, but not before I felt her compassion and concern for me. It was too much. I pressed myself to her stomach, and she paced her leg around me again. She began to slowly rock back and forth, saying things like “It’s okay.” I don’t know how long we were there. Then a new voice came. “What are you doing with my son?” Mother asked. She gasped, and then said quietly, “What’s wrong?”

            Tumai said quietly, “I don’t know.”

            “Pofu?”

            “They hate me.”

            Mother sighed. “Pofu, they don’t hate you. Why would they?”

            “I scared them.”

            There was a period of silence. Mother took over for Tumai as other lionesses came down. It was reassuring to feel her love. It had never been quite as strong as Daddy’s. But the sheer size of it still amazes me to this day. Then Tumai spoke up. “If it’s any help, Pofu, I like you.”

            “And Fujo,” said Mother.

            “Yeah, and Kovu, and Kiara, and Vitani . . .” The list went on, Mother supplementing it occasionally. It did make me feel a little better. “Who really cares about what those stuck-up cubs think anyway?” Tumai finished.

            I care.

            But I still felt better. Tumai excused herself to go back up to the den. I stayed down there with Mother and the other lionesses. I actually began to feel okay as I heard Mother and the other lionesses talking. I just lied there by her side and immersed myself in her thoughts. Slowly I got back to normal.

            Almost.

            Still, I was better than I had been. Good enough to actually complain about going to bed. Mother finally promised me I could sleep with Fujo again tonight. Appeased, I walked back up to the den with her. Fujo was lying in the corner. Taos and his friends were in another corner. I ignored them. I looked back to Mother. “Are you sure it’s okay?” I asked. She simply nudged me towards Fujo. I walked over to him. “Do you mind if I sleep with you again tonight?”

            “Huh?” he said. “No, not at all. Hop on up.” I did so, with a little help from him. “Sweet dreams.” I snuggled into his mane that was so like Daddy’s as well as his thoughts. They were on Tumai. She never thought much of me anyway.

            “No, she likes you,” I managed sleepily before I finally drifted off.

 

 

 

            I woke up the next morning by hitting the ground. Fujo was standing over me. “Are we going for a walk again?” I asked eagerly.

            I’m going for a walk again,” he said. “Are you really sure you should be going?”

            “Why?”

            “Well, from what I heard, your mother was very worried about you yesterday.”

            “She didn’t even know I was gone until I came back for Sire.”

            Fujo paused. “Alright, fine, you can come.”

            “Yes!” I jumped towards him, hitting my head on his side while the rest went under him, resulting with me landing flat on my back.

            “I didn’t tell you to get on yet.” There was a note of laughter in his voice. He stooped down. “Alright, try again.”

            I made it, without any help. I secured myself in his mane, then asked, “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay here?”

            “Huh? Yeah, you’re fine.” I happily delved into his thoughts, not even needing Daddy’s help this time. It was just as beautiful today as it was yesterday. There was just one little problem. I had to see through Fujo’s eyes. Today he didn’t feel like looking up at the scenery much. Mostly all I saw was the ground as he stared down at it, thinking hard. One recurring thought was about Taraju, whoever that was.

            I asked him, “Who’s Taraju?”

            “Huh? Oh, he was my brother. He was the guy who was with you in the Outlands.”

            I felt a chill run through me. The lion he was talking about with such warmth in his voice was the Beast. I decided to set him straight. “He was a bad lion.”

            “No, Taraju wasn’t a bad lion. He changed. Now, the guy who he was before he changed was bad, what’s his name . . .”

            I looked into his mind. “Akasare?” I finally came up with.

            “Yeah, that sounds right. He was bad. Taraju was sorry for what he did to you.”

            “He wanted me dead,” I said firmly. “I wasn’t supposed to happen.”

            “What?”

            “I wasn’t planned. And whatever wasn’t planned, he didn’t want. He didn’t like me.”

            “I don’t even think he knew you existed.”

            “Then why did Mommy and Daddy always have to hide me? I didn’t like hiding.”

            He didn’t have an answer for that. Sadly, my entire plan had backfired. Instead of him looking up at the scenery at all now, he stared firmly at the ground, immersed in thought. His thoughts didn’t leave the Beast for the entire walk. It was almost enough to make me wonder if maybe there was something about the Beast I didn’t know. I stayed on his back until we came back up to the den. I hopped off and suddenly realized almost everyone was gone. Where were they? Mother called, “Pofu!” I scampered over to her.

            “Where is everyone?”

            “Out hunting. We Outlanders decided to show them how to really hunt.”

            “Why aren’t you with them?”

            “I wanted to wait for you, silly.”

            “Oh.” The rest of the day passed by uneventfully. The day wouldn’t even be worth mentioning except for three things. Fujo left right after breakfast. The second was so earth-shattering that I didn’t believe it right then. It slowly grew over time, solidifying in my mind, starting with Fujo’s thoughts of Taraju’s goodness.

            Even Daddy could be wrong.

            The third thing seems hardly worth mentioning, but it seemed important to the Pridelanders, so I’ll say it anyway. Some famous lioness died during that night. Nela or something. I’d never even looked into her mind, let alone talked to her. Of all the things, it’s a little scary that that’s what I missed most about her.

 

 

 

            Kiara woke up late. She always enjoyed sleeping in on the days that she didn’t have to hunt. Besides, she was the queen. Everyone kept quiet when the queen wanted to sleep. She yawned and looked around the den. There were hunting lessons for the pride again today. There was no doubt that they all needed more practice. Especially her. Out of all of the hunters, only she and Shani had managed to get hurt so badly they actually needed to sit out, herself just through accident, Shani through arrogance. There Shani was, lying on her side, a scowl plainly visible on her face. It hadn’t been a good idea for either of them to walk back to the den. Shani was just too uppity to allow herself to be carried, and the queen couldn’t very well be carried if her subjects refused the same treatment. So both of their injuries had only been exaggerated, expanding the one day rest to a possible three or maybe even four days.

            Kiara looked further around the den. It was empty except for her, Shani, Nala, Majadi, Edaha, and the Outlander Nyota and her cub. Pofu, that was it. Even all the other cubs had gone to watch the hunt. She stood up shakily, her injured leg almost giving way. “You shouldn’t be walking, your highness,” said Edaha.

            “It’s not too far,” Kiara protested. “Besides, how could a little exercise hurt?”

            “Ask Rafiki. But still, I wouldn’t be walking on it. That was a pretty nasty blow.”

            “I’ll be careful.” Kiara limped over to her mother. She was still asleep. And I thought I was the only late riser. “Mom?” Kiara whispered gently into Nala’s ear. Nala didn’t stir. “Come on, wake up.” Kiara poked her mother. She still didn’t move. “Mom!” Kiara groaned, and pushed her mother. Nala rolled over onto her back, not moving. Kiara drew in a gasp. “Mom? Mom? Mom!” Nala still didn’t move. Kiara frantically began to nudge her, trying to rouse her mother. “No—wake up! Wake up NOW!” The other lionesses had come over, Pofu staying behind.

            “I—I can’t believe it,” said Majadi quietly. “She’s—”

            “No!” Kiara said. “Don’t say it! She isn’t! She just can’t be!” Tears began to stream down her face. “She can’t be!”

            The other lionesses were crying, too, all but Nyota. To her, Nala had just been a kind old lioness in the back of the den. But to the others . . . they all shared Kiara’s feeling. She couldn’t be gone. She just couldn’t. Not Nala. She couldn’t just leave them like that. Nala had saved them. All of them. She couldn’t just be gone now. It just wasn’t fair.

            The hunters returned in high spirits. Those spirits crashed to the ground as soon as they came into the den and saw Nala’s body laid out in the center of the den. The very sight of it was enough to start some of them crying. Others had their emotions well up in them slowly. Even the cubs wept. Nala had always loved them. She’d always had a story when you were bored, or a joke when you were unhappy, and she had never ever been strict. She had loved them, and they loved her back, dearly.

            The hunt was wasted that day. No one ate. It was a day of mourning.

 

 

 

            Tumai woke early the next day. There was an empty void in her heart now, one that had kept her tossing and turning all night. No one had slept easily that night. She got up at last and walked outside, the cool air dispelling all drowsiness. It was almost still dark, the sun barely beginning to creep up on the edge of the earth. She gave a sigh and walked down Pride Rock’s ramp. She didn’t have any plan in mind, and her feet steered her towards the nearest water hole. She wondered how Kovu and Fujo would take it when they got back.

            She heard a rustle in the grass. She stiffened. It was unlikely that there was anything out there actually desperate enough to kill her, but Fujo did say something about there being another lion in the Pridelands. Granted, he was supposed to be out of them, but rogues rarely listened to royal decrees. Then a little voice piped up, “Tumai?”

            Tumai relaxed. “Is that you Pofu?”

            “Yeah.”

            “What are you doing up so early?”

            “I was thirsty.” Pofu stepped into view. “What are you doing?”

            “I was—” Tumai hesitated. She didn’t actually know what she was doing. “I guess I’m just going on a walk.”

            “Can I come?”

            Tumai hesitated again. It was bad enough that the Pridelanders were feeling terrible, she didn’t want to worry Nyota, too. She felt something and looked down to see Pofu entwining himself between her forelegs, his tail wrapped several times around her right one. “Don’t worry about Mom,” he said. “I’m usually with Fujo, remember?”

            “Well . . .”

            “Please?”

            “Alright, but it’s your fault if she’s mad.”

            “Can I ride?” Pofu asked, disentangling himself.

            “Ride?”

            “On your back.”

            Tumai looked at him incredulously. “Pofu, what do you think I am, a lion?”

            “Aren’t you?”

            “No, I’m a lioness. I mean, do you have any idea how big you are? You’re even bigger than Taos.”

            “So?” said Pofu bitterly. “What does Taos matter?”

            “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, he was the biggest cub, and you’re even bigger than him now.”

            “But why does that matter?”

            “I—I’m just not sure I can carry you.”

            “Well . . . alright then. I’ll just go back up to the den.” Pofu began to shuffle of, feeling truly miserable. Not even Tumai wanted to be with him.

            “Wait! I didn’t say I couldn’t try.”

            Pofu turned back to her, a smile on his face. “Really?”

            Tumai crouched down. “Really. Now, come on.” She wasn’t going to let Mvushi down like that. Pofu scrambled up her side, his claws digging gently into her side, looking for a purchase. He slid back down, then jumped instead, landing on her back. He righted himself, draping his tail down her slim side as he put his forelegs on opposite sides of her neck. She got to her feet, finding the job much easier than she thought it would be. She thought she wouldn’t be able to get off the ground. Pofu was roughly a quarter of her size, and only a few months old. But just because it was easier didn’t mean it was easy. She nearly collapsed to the ground with the effort of raising him. Her muscles just weren’t used to it. But she made it.

            “See?” said Pofu when she got up. “You can do it.”

            “Alright, I can,” she conceded with a smile. “Where do you wanna go?”

            “I dunno. Just wherever Fujo goes.”

            “That’s the entire kingdom,” she said disbelievingly.

            “We’ve got time. The sun’s barely up.”

            “Huh? How’d you know?”

            “Uh . . . good time sense.”

            “Must be pretty good. You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”

            “Yep.”

            Tumai started walking, finding it much easier than standing up. Still, she wasn’t sure she could make it around the whole kingdom. “You’ll be fine,” Pofu said.

            “Hopefully,” Tumai muttered. She didn’t enjoy the idea of collapsing a mile away from Pride Rock. She was silent for several minutes, her thoughts involuntarily shifting back to Nala. She had always been almost a legend to her, somewhat larger than life. And now she was gone. First Taraju, then Mvushi, and now Nala. All in the space of a few of weeks. What is going on with the world?

            “I—I’m sorry about what happened to Nela.”

            “It’s Nala,” Tumai corrected.

            “What did happen to her?”

            Tumai almost laughed. “You mean you’re sorry for something you don’t know about?”

            “Yes. I just want you to explain it to me.”

            Tumai didn’t know how to explain death to a cub. Besides, she reasoned, who am I to expose a cub to it?

            “You wouldn’t be exposing me. I think it’s the same thing that happened to Daddy, I’m just not sure.”

            It is, you poor thing. I just don’t know how to tell you about death.

            “Oh, so it’s called death? I didn’t know what that was before. I didn’t have anything to place it with. Huh. Death.”

            Tumai stopped with a sudden fear. “Get off,” she breathed. “Get off right now.”

            “Huh?”

            Please!” Pofu jumped off, Tumai feeling a load lifted from her. “Pofu,” she said gently, “Did I say any of that out loud?”

            Pofu stared at the ground, silent.

            “Pofu?”

            “Do I have to answer?” he asked timidly.

            “Well . . . no, I suppose not. But I’d like it.”

            Pofu remained silent.

            “Please?”

            “No,” he said, barely audible. “You thought it.”

            Tumai took a step back, her mind reeling. Oh gods, what is he?

            Pofu began to cry. “You don’t like me now either, do you?” Tumai stared down at the cub in a mixture of shock and pity. “Daddy says you don’t like me.”

            “Of—of course I like you, Pofu,” she said gently. “I’m just not sure—”

            “No you don’t,” said Pofu, crying harder. “You don’t like me. Taos doesn’t like me. Fujo doesn’t like me. Mommy doesn’t like me. You all hate me.”

            Tumai wanted to say something to comfort him, but Pofu scared her. She didn’t know what to do. “Don’t be silly. We like you.” She could almost see Pofu now as a crying cub, not a strange and frightening thing. It wouldn’t last long. “But why didn’t you tell us?”

            “Mommy said not to. And Daddy agreed. They knew I’d scare you. You wouldn’t like us then. I scare the pride, too.”

            “Who? The Outlanders?”

            “Yes,” he said, the tears slowing somewhat.

            “What—what can you do?”

            “I can see into your head. That’s how Haja thinks of it, anyway. I don’t know how I do it. I thought everyone could do it, until Daddy said he couldn’t, and when Mommy screamed when she found out. I can see what they think. Sometimes I can even see pictures. Actually seeing . . . Daddy taught me to do that.” Pofu suddenly looked up from the ground. For eyes that couldn’t see, they certainly could portray emotions. “Please don’t tell anyone,” he said desperately. He walked over and pressed himself against Tumai’s leg. “Please.” She drew her leg back, wanting to keep her thoughts private. Pofu started to cry again. “See? You don’t like me.”

            “No. I’m just . . .”

            “Scared.” Tumai stared at the cub, the tears stopping as he spoke that last word. “You’re—you’re scared of me?”

            “Well—yes.”

            “Why?”

            “You can do a pretty scary thing. Maybe that’s why Taos and the others are scared of you.”

            “But I never let them know,” he protested. “I never let anyone know.”

            Tumai stared at him. “Can you see what I’m thinking? Now?”

            “I have to touch you. And only if I want to. I used to not have a choice. It just—happened.”

            “Here, show me.”

            “Huh?”

            “Show me. Pick something only I’d know.”

            “Like what?”

            “Well, if I told you, that wouldn’t really be fair, would it?”

            “Okay.” Pofu took a hesitant step forward. “Um . . . could you lie down?”

            “What?”

            “It’s—it’s just easier that way.”

            Tumai lied down. Pofu walked the rest of the distance to her head. He placed a paw on her muzzle, and stared into space that was conveniently right where her head was. His eyebrows seemed to crease a bit. Then Tumai drew in a gasp.

            Pofu’s eyes changed color.

            It was gradual, but almost instantaneous. His irises shifted from obscurity to obvious blue, a mirror image of Tumai’s, then began to dance wildly, an ever-shifting mass of brown. Oh, gods, Tumai thought. Pofu drew back his paw suddenly, his irises instantly changing back to their normal, colorless state. “What?” he asked.

            “Your eyes. They changed.”

            “Huh?”

            “They just . . . never mind. Go on.”

            Pofu replaced his paw, his eyes swirling once again. Tumai stared at them, captivated. Pofu finally removed his paw. “You stayed with—Taraju that night. You never went home.”

            Tumai’s head instantly flashed back to the memory. She and Taraju had decided to watch the sunset when they were cubs—and never went home after it. Tumai laughed. “Mom was so angry. She had no idea where we were.”

            “I’m sorry I took so long.”

            “What?”

            “Daddy doesn’t like it when I take too long.”

            “Who’s—Daddy?”

            Pofu struggled for a word. He placed his paw on her face again, removing it much faster this time. “Mvushi.”

            Tumai stared at him, stunned. “Pofu,” she said gently, “Mvushi’s dead.”

            “I know. But he still talks to me.”

            Tumai stared at the cub. She got an idea. “Pofu, would you mind if you told one more animal?”

            “No!” he said immediately. “I shouldn’t have told you!”

            “Don’t worry, he won’t tell anyone else.” Pofu considered it. “I think he can help you.”

            “Help me? How?”

            “I don’t know. Just—in whatever way you need help.”

            Pofu considered it. “Okay,” he said finally. “Daddy says it’s alright.”

            “You want to ride again?”

            “Yeah!” He scrambled over to her side, then jumped on her back. Tumai heaved herself from the ground with a groan. She began making her way towards Pride Rock again. She’d gone so far she’d almost been in the Outlands. She had no idea she’d gone so far. After a few minutes of silent contemplation Pofu’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “It’s so pretty.”

            “Huh?”

            “The grass, and the animals, and the acacias. All of it.” He paused. “Do you want me to stay out?”

            “No, of course not. But what are you doing?”

            “I can see what you see.”

            “Wow . . .” Tumai tried to imagine what that was like. A thought suddenly struck her. “This is why you like going with Fujo, isn’t it?”

            “Yes.” Tumai didn’t ask any more questions after that. Instead, she tried to look around the landscape, enjoying all of it. She hadn’t looked at, really looked at it, in so long that she’d forgotten how beautiful it really was. She finally stopped at a gigantic tree that stood alone. “I thought we were going to Pride Rock,” Pofu said.

            “Didn’t you bother to look?”

            “No,” Pofu admitted sheepishly. “It was too pretty.”

            Tumai almost laughed. “Um, would you mind—” Pofu jumped off. “Thanks.” She turned her head up to the top of the tree. “Rafiki!”

            A yell answered her. “Can’t you even wait until a decent time in de blessed morning?” A mandrill’s head appeared in the leaves. “Oh, it’s you, Tumai. Sorry. Dis leopard keeps bringing her cub to me, insisting I make him king.” He shook his head. “So what is it?”

            “Well, I’ve got this cub with me . . .”

            “Ai!”

            Tumai laughed. “No, it’s a different one.” She looked around. “Pofu?” she called. Pofu’s head appeared around the side of the tree. “Stop wandering and come here?”

            “Okay,” he agreed. He walked over.

            “I want you to look at him, Rafiki.”

            “Alright,” Rafiki groaned. “Bring him up.” His head disappeared back into the tree.

            “Are you crazy?” Tumai called. “There’s no way I can get up there!”

            The head reappeared. “Okay, you jump here, and den here.”

            “And how am I supposed to get back down?”

            “De same way.” The head disappeared again.

            “But what about Pofu? He’s blind.”

            The entire body came to the ground. “I’ll take him.” He lifted up Pofu and was in the tree again almost immediately. It wasn’t so easy for Tumai. She fell twice before making it up the tree the way Rafiki had advised. She barely made it the last time.

            “There is no way I’m ever doing that again,” she muttered.

            “Now, what is it about dis cub you want Rafiki to see?”

            Pofu idly listened to their conversation as he walked around the tree. It was strange to him. The tree seemed to have its own life at times, and at others it was just an ordinary tree. There were strange objects around the entire tree. Pofu went from one to the next, examining all of them. “He can look into minds,” said Tumai.

            “Eh? What do you mean by dat?”

            “He can see thoughts. He can know what you’re thinking.” Tumai turned to look at Pofu’s search.

            “You’re sure of dis?”

            Pofu found a long, wooden rod. He began to look around it, trying to make it out. “I’m positive.”

            Pofu poked the rod hesitantly. Suddenly it was gone, and the next second he felt a sharp pain in his head. “Don’t touch de stick. And how do you know?”

            Pofu continued his search. “He showed me.”

            “What do you mean, showed you?”

            Pofu found several containers of strange-smelling something. “He told me something only I would know. Or at least, something he wouldn’t know.”

            Pofu sniffed the containers hesitantly. “Don’t sniff dat!” It was too late. Pofu inhaled some of the powder Rafiki used as paint, and sneezed, sending the containers everywhere with his recoil. “Do you have any idea how long it takes to make dat?” Rafiki groaned.

            “Sorry,” said Pofu.

            “Come here, cub,” said Rafiki. “Before you destroy de whole tree.” Pofu came over obediently, sat down. “Now, can you see into minds?”

            “Yes.”

            “Look into mine.”

            “Tumai?” Pofu asked hesitantly.

            “It’s okay, Pofu.”

            Pofu hesitantly extended one paw, touched Rafiki’s leg. He held it there for a moment, then drew it back as if he’d been burned. “No!” he said.

            “What is de problem?”

            “I can’t. There’s too much. It hurts.”

            “Ah.” Rafiki turned to Tumai. “Well? What do you want me to do?”

            “Well, I don’t know,” she said. “Help him, I suppose.”

            “Wit what? He’s perfectly fine.”

            “He’s not normal.”

            “So? What do you want me to do? Take away his gift? I’m not even sure I can. Besides, what harm can it do?”

            “He thinks his dead father still talks to him.”

            “He may be doing dat.”

            “Isn’t there anything you can do? Like, maybe his sight?”

            “No.”

            Tumai sighed. “Alright,” she said. “Thanks anyway. Come on, Pofu.”

            “Do you know when de king will return?”

            “We have no idea.” Tumai jumped down, stumbling, and fell on her back. “Ohh,” she groaned.

            Rafiki came down with Pofu. “Now dat I can fix.”

            Tumai slowly turned over. “I’m fine. Come on, Pofu.” Pofu jumped on her back. Tumai got to her feet and began heading for Pride Rock.

            “And tell the king I need to see him,” Rafiki called after them.

            Tumai had back cramps for a week after that.

 

 

 

            The next couple of days don’t really stand out. I hung around with Mother and Tumai mostly. Tumai absolutely refused to take me on any more walks; she had enough souvenirs from the last one. Bayana, Fina, and little Haja continued to be jerks to me, not speaking to me at all, completely denying my existence. Taos was different. I didn’t notice it then, but now that I look back on it, those couple of days he was beginning to thaw out. A couple of times he actually spoke to me during those two days. I barely saw him though, and I just shuffled him in with the other three. Like I said, I spent most of my time with Mother and Tumai, who seemed to be developing this wonderful bond. Maybe it had something to do with both of them losing a close friend recently, I don’t know. I don’t care enough to really look at it, so I’ll just let it be.

            Two days after Tumai took me to see that monkey the king finally came home, along with Fujo and a “visitor.” I say this sarcastically because visitors generally do not get the run of the kingdom and end up staying for life. Things might have turned out much, much differently if she hadn’t stayed, for me and Fujo. I mark this as the day that my torture began. Of course, I didn’t see that happening at all that day. I was just lying down with Mom and Tumai, playing with Tumai’s tail. Have you ever tried to catch one of those things? I mean really try. You should sometime. It is fun. Anyway, I’m lying on my back with her tail swishing over my stomach, and I’m listening absentmindedly to what they’re saying. Then one thing penetrates: “Oh, look, there’s Kovu.”

            I jumped onto my feet and shouted “Where?!” Tumai just laughed and turned me in the right direction. I started running full speed for Fujo. When I could hear their voices I yelled out “Fujo!!” I tackled him to the ground, lying on his chest. “Where have you been?!”

            Fujo laughed. I noticed a different someone next to him. His next remark was to that someone. “What can I say? Hero worship.”

            I began jumping impatiently on his stomach, accenting each of my words with a bounce. “Where—have—you—been?”

            “Okay, cut it out,” said Fujo. “Geez, you’ve gotten heavy.” I stopped bouncing, and instead turned my attention to the lioness standing and staring at me like she’d never seen an overenthusiastic cub before. Tumai had explained to me about my eyes changing whenever I wanted to look into someone’s head, so I didn’t dare do that except with them closed or in private company, i.e., Mother and Tumai. And they still didn’t know that the other knew about my gift.

            “Who’s she?” I asked. I was very proud of myself, I could easily tell lions from lionesses now. This was proof.

            “She’s no one,” said Fujo.

            “Fujo!” she rebuked. And wham, there was her voice stuck in my head for good. I was very proud. So was Daddy.

            “Alright, alright, she’s Afriti.”

            “Fujo!” This time the comment was accompanied by a blow to Fujo’s head.

            “Ow! Cut it out!”

            “Tell the poor cub the truth, already.”

            “Alright, she’s Taabu.”

            “Oh,” I said. I went back to my bouncing. “Where—have—you—been?”

            “Hey, what have I said about that still hurting there?” I stopped bouncing as Tumai walked up. “Just away. No place important.”

            “Sire?” Tumai said quietly.

            Kovu turned to her. “What is it, Tumai?”

            “There’s . . . there’s something you need to see in the den. I know it’s going to be a shock.”

            “Lead the way.” Kovu walked off with Tumai.

            “So what’s your name, little guy?” Taabu asked me.

            “I’m Pofu.”

            “Oh,” she said quietly. She had finally discovered why my eyes were the way they were. I just ignored her discomfort.

            “Hey, Fujo, can we go on another walk? Please?”

            “I don’t know. Isn’t it a little late to—”

            “But it’s been so boring without you taking me anywhere. Tumai won’t do it. Please?

            Taabu laughed. “Indulge the poor cub, Fujo.”

            “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say. How would you like to walk around the kingdom with that ball of fluff weighing you down?”

            “Hey!” I protested.

            “I think he’s kinda cute,” said Taabu.

            “Yeah!” I said. I jumped off Fujo and wrapped myself around Taabu’s forelegs. I didn’t even need to look into her mind to see that it was horribly fractured. I paused for a second, nearly looking into her mind, before Daddy warned me off it. Later, he said.

            “Alright, alright,” conceded Fujo, getting to his feet. “I’ll take you on a walk tomorrow, but not any before that.”

            “Promise?”

            “Yeah, I promise. Now don’t you think we need to get to the den with Dad?”

            “Oh . . . yeah.” I’d completely forgotten about what Kovu had gone to see. I wasn’t too eager to go back to the den.

            There was no walk the next day.

 

 

 

            Kovu wept openly. He’d learned a long time ago it wasn’t something to be held in, especially not at occasions like these. Nala’s body lay in the center of the den. He’d spent the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep, overcome by sorrow at the news of the death. Once again every lioness was weeping, the old wounds reopened. Taabu hung her head in dignified silence, though not a tear was shed. Next to her Fujo’s body heaved, his neck hung low and his face unseen. Tumai sat next to him, staring at Nala, tears dripping down her muzzle slowly. Though they grieved silently, there were those who didn’t. Some had their heads buried in the shoulders of their friends, their friend’s forelegs around them as they wept also. Next to Kovu Kiara sobbed, her body shaking and her eyes closed, staring at the ground. She buried her head in his mane. He placed a leg around her. Kovu knew that it was time for him to speak, but didn’t want to. He had already spoken at too many funerals like this. One was more than enough for ten lifetimes.

            Kovu lowered his leg off of Kiara and stepped forward. “Nala,” he began, “had a gift. She trusted you. Completely. She was willing to give anyone a chance. Even myself . . . when no one else believed I was worthy to come here . . . she stayed by me. That trust has meant so much to me over the years.” A tear slid down Kovu’s face as he remembered all of the things Nala had done for him, all of the ways she had persuaded Simba even after he did lift the exile. “That trust is one thing that many of us remember her for, but that is not all. When I was just a cub . . . when many of us had barely been born, she did a great and noble thing.” Kovu felt a quaver enter his voice as he stared with utter respect at the heroic lioness on the floor. “She journeyed, on her own, to save us all. And she did. Half-starved as she was, completely without hope, she saved us. She found our salvation. She became our savior herself.”

            Kovu fell silent. He couldn’t help but feel that he had failed miserably. Nala had done so much for them, for all of them. He felt as though he had barely scratched the surface of what needed to be said. He simply didn’t have the words. He wished another lioness would speak up, that they would say what was needed, but no one stepped forward. “Sire.” Kovu slowly turned to see Nadhari standing in the mouth of the den. “I am truly sorry for the interruption, but I would just like you to know that we are ready.”

            “Ready?”

            “Yes, sire.” Nadhari paused. “Maybe it would be clearer if you came with me.” Kovu followed him to the tip of Pride Rock. He stared at the lands below.

            Below him, spread in front of Pride Rock, was every animal in the Pridelands, their heads bowed in mourning. “We—we wish to pay our respects, sire,” said Nadhari. “She saved us. All of us. We just want to give some of that back.”

            “How did you come up with this?” asked Kovu incredulously. “There must be every animal in the Pridelands here.”

            “We are all here of our own accord, sire. . . . We would have come for Simba as well, but we didn’t know. We did know for Nala. Every one of us is here because we choose to be. And all of us are here for Nala. She risked her life for all of ours. The least we could do is give her this small tribute.”

            Kovu was touched. He was sure that Nala was, too. He turned to Nadhari. “Of course. Whatever you think would be appropriate.”

            “Thank you, sire.” The cheetah walked slowly into the den. He stopped next to Nala’s body, and gave her cheek a single stroke with his paw. He laid down next to her, grabbed her leg with his mouth, and rolled so that Nala was on his back. Kovu walked around Nadhari, solemnly fixing Nala’s body so that she laid perfectly across Nadhari’s back. Nadhari slowly walked out of the den and down the ramp, the pride following him. Nadhari slowly walked through all of the animals, his head hung low. The animals followed him, the lions in front of everyone else. It was an extremely slow procession, taking over an hour.

            But everyone knew it was worth it.

            Nadhari finally stopped and gently laid Nala down where Kovu had placed Simba years before. He took his place among the rest of the animals. There was utter silence as each animal stared at Nala. Slowly they all went away, leaving the lions to mourn by themselves.

 

 

 

            When we were finally getting back to Pride Rock after the ceremony, one of the greatest things that have ever happened to me occurred. During the long walk back Taos actually came over to me. He approached me hesitantly. “Hey, Pofu.”

            “What do you want?” I asked rudely.

            “Nothing,” he said. He continued to walk next to me, though. He finally spoke up again. “I—I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

            “Why should you be sorry?” I asked bitterly. He didn’t notice my tone.

            “Thanks,” he said, relief in his voice. “That makes it a lot eas—”

            “You only left me out to dry like some stinking carcass. Treated me like filth and I still don’t know why.” (That last part was a lie, but I wasn’t about to let him know.) “And here’s me, thinking you were my friend. Some friend.” I strode ahead angrily.

            “Pofu,” he said, catching up to me, “I’m sorry. I really am. I didn’t think. I was just—surprised. I want to make it up to you, really.”

            I honestly was touched by his sincerity. But I still had plenty of mad left to use up. “Yeah, right. Like I’m supposed to believe that.”

            “Pofu, I’m being honest.”

            “Sure.”

            “Alright, I’m down, you’ve kicked me, now will you kindly let me up? I really do want to have you back. I’m sorry for the way I’ve been. Honest.”

            I was about to open my mouth for another hate-filled remark when Daddy interrupted. Pofu, look at him.

            I’m blind.

            You know what I mean. The poor cub is trying to be nice to you. He truly is sorry. Shouldn’t you at least give him a second chance? Remember, he had no reason to even come near you, and he did. He’s helped you so many times. Shouldn’t you give something back, just this once? Isn’t that how I raised you?

            I felt Taos next to me. He truly was miserable, not only because he’d lost Nela—Nala. He was afraid he’d lose me, too. He’d actually tried to talk to me before this, but I’d just shunted him away. I’d been as stupid as he’d been. “Taos, I’m sorry. I—I guess I’ve been a jerk, too.”

            “Yeah, but you had a reason.” He smiled. “Alright, you’re sorry, I’m sorry. Does this mean we can go back to being friends?”

            “Yeah.” I smiled. I wasn’t alone anymore.

            “Hey. I’ll race you back,” he said enthusiastically.

            “What’s the fun in that?” I asked. “I’d hate to ruin our friendship again just because I beat you so bad.”

            “Yeah, right!” He ran off, myself right behind him. I imagine we got some pretty odd looks from the lionesses. I actually head Tumai saying, probably to my mother, “No, let him go.” Of course, the two of us reached Pride Rock before anyone else. He rushed into the cave just ahead of me. “Oh, yeah!” he shouted. “Can’t touch this!”

            “Oh, yeah?” I asked, jumping on top of him. We rolled around the den, myself coming out on top three times out of four. I was bigger than him, now. But it was still fun, for both of us. I could probably beat him today at anything, given my physical prowess. But we don’t compete anymore. In fact, this is probably one of the last memories I have of him that I’m sure is untarnished.

 

 

 

            The next day, Fujo made good on his promise to take me for a walk. This day is completely not worth mentioning, save for the fact that this is the day I looked into Taabu’s mind. But I feel you want to know a little more of the background of how Taabu’s queen, so I might as well tell you all of this. We got back exceptionally late from the walk, due to all of the animals wanting to give Fujo their deepest sympathies, and to tell him that Nela was such a good lioness, and plenty of other things that can be expected to be said after a funeral. I embedded myself in Fujo’s mind, closed my eyes, and for all the world appeared to be asleep. I knew that my eyes gave me away, so I just closed them as I stared with Fujo’s eyes. This was the day that I learned what every type of animal in the kingdom looked like. We got back to the den late, and Fujo went up there first. Everyone else was on the rock, eating, but we’d heard voices. Angry voices. We decided to go look.

            “Why should I care what you think? You’re just some lioness!”

            “You know, why don’t you just go back where you came from? You’re not even wanted here!”

            “You know what? Maybe I will! Maybe, but you know what, I think I’ll just stay here just to spite your furry, high-and-mighty ass.”

            “Yeah, you go ahead and do that, you see how long you’re wanted here!”

            “You want to start something?”

            “I wouldn’t mind!”

            Fujo finally came into the den. I could feel his surprise. I’d already know it was Tumai and Taabu, but I wasn’t about to let him know. I wanted to see where this was going. “What are you two doing?” Fujo asked.

            “She just walks up to me and smacks me!” exploded Taabu.

            “What?!”

            “Oh, you had it coming,” said Tumai viciously. “I’m in the den, and she just comes walking into my den. My den. I was in the den first. And she has this look on her face that just says I need to be smacked. So I go over there and do it for her!”

            “Tumai, are you feeling okay?”

            “No, I am not feeling okay, and you wouldn’t be either if you heard the things she’s said about Nala. ‘No lioness could be worth that much’ my ass!”

            “Um, Taabu, could you just excuse us for a minute?” Taabu marched past Tumai her head held high, her tail accidentally hitting Tumai in the face as she walked out of the den. I almost fell off Fujo as he moved into Tumai’s path to keep her from killing Taabu.

            “Who does that filthy little dirt-bag think she is?”

            “Tumai, try to understand where she’s coming from. She’s coming from an entirely different perspective than you, on nearly everything.”

            “Oh, so it’s okay to laugh at someone after their funeral?”

            “Yes.”

            “Oh, so you’ve got the bug now, too.” She turned her back to Fujo.

            “I don’t mean it like you think I do. It’s good to laugh. It helps to laugh. You laugh to take away the pain.”

            “Who died and made you Aiheu?”

            “Tumai, she just doesn’t understand what Nala meant to all of us.”

            “That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be sensitive!”

            “I agree. But Taabu . . .” I felt something in him usually described as love. “She’s going to take some time to get used to things. Just try to get along with her. Please.”

            “I thought the wench wasn’t staying.”

            “I hope she changes her mind.”

            “You disgust me, Fujo.” Tumai walked past us, deliberately bumping into Fujo before she left the den, going the opposite way of Taabu. Fujo sighed.

            “That could have gone better, don’t you think?” I asked. Fujo jumped when he heard my voice.

            “You’ve been up there the whole time, haven’t you?”

            “Yup.”

            Fujo sighed. “Just don’t tell anyone about this, okay?”

            “Tell anyone anything about what?”

            “That’s right. Now go down and get some food. I need to think.”

            I jumped off. “Okay. But it’s warm, don’t strain any delicate parts.” I ran down to the rock before he could respond, and buried my head in the warm meat next to Mother. Tumai and Taabu got along surprisingly well after that. At first it was just civilized talking, then they both began to thaw. When Taabu went back to her kingdom with Fujo a week later, Tumai actually broke down crying when she was gone, ashamed at how horribly she’d treated Taabu. Of course, she pretended like she never even knew Taabu was gone when she came back. I can look into their minds all I want, but I can still not pretend to understand some of the things females do. Nothing else noteworthy happened this day. The girls refused to play with Taos now, but that was a gain if anything.

            It really began that night. Like I said, I made my rounds from lion to lion, picking through their head while they slept. Daddy wanted to do Taabu, I wanted to look inside the king’s head. He compromised, letting me go first. I walked over to Kovu, sat on his chest, looked into his mind—

            And immediately received a paw in the face. My body hurled to the ground in a dirty, red-orange place, pain shooting through it. The lions whose dreams I looked in on may not have been able to feel pain, but I was more than capable. Kovu’s—or rather my—head looked up to see two lions smiling as they advanced on me, one with a black mane, one with a red one. I was exhausted, but I leapt at the black one anyway. His clawed paw hit me in midair, knocking my tiny body back to the ground. I slowly got to my feet, utterly spent and with pain covering my entire body. “Al—alright,” I said, breathing heavily. “I’m gonna kick your butt first.” I raised my paw towards the black lion. “And then you’re next,” I said, moving it to the red one. Darkness crept in at the corners of my vision, and my paw fell in front of my eyes, followed by my head.

            I heard the red lion speak faintly, as if far away. “Nice shot, Sicwele.”

            “It was too easy.”

            The darkness finally enclosed my entire vision. Then little dots of white light filled the darkness, and I felt a wonderful feeling completely at odds with that of the last dream. I turned my head to see the queen next to me, her lovely amber eyes meeting mine. I nuzzled her gently. “You have no idea how happy I am,” I said. “To be able to stay here now.”

            She smiled. “I think I do.”

            I felt a wonderful warmth inside me. I licked her gently. “I missed you so much when I was gone.”

            “Oh, Kovu.”

            Oh, yuck! I got out of his mind fast. Grownups were so disgusting!

            Now Taabu, said Daddy. I obediently walked over to her sleeping form next to Fujo. I couldn’t sit on her, she was on her side. Instead I lied down next to her, placing my body next to hers. I made the connection, and was overcome by sorrow. It throbbed constantly, slowly ebbing away. I only know this by measuring the pain then with that now. It’s much, much less now. But that night, it seemed to be all there was. Pain and an infinitesimal spark of triumph. She dreamed no dreams that night; she had a wonderful, easy sleep, free of her usual nightmares.

            I reveled in her pain. It amused me. I’m sorry, but there is no other word. Fascinated may have been closer to how I felt that night, but over time that’s how I came to feel: it amused me. I had never felt so much of it. I wallowed in it, went up to my neck in it, and plunged my head under, never wanting to come up. It was wonderful to have her feel despair, pain, misery, hopelessness. The connection suddenly broke and I was aware of my paw no longer on her. She was twitching on the floor of the den, and moaning. I received a sick thrill of pleasure from it. Then I was suddenly ashamed of it, knowing it was wrong. I went back to mother (Fujo absolutely refused to have me on his neck anymore, he said the cramps were unbearable) and curled up to her. I was stopped by a simple inhibition that night. It didn’t take long to break it.

 

 

 

            The next morning I was quiet. I almost said nothing, didn’t even go with Fujo on his walk. He actually came over and asked me if I wanted to go. I just grunted and he left. I was too busy thinking about last night. I went to Taabu, expecting to see her sleeping, instead, only finding her spot empty. Fujo had taken her to show her the kingdom. I went back to Mother and lied down next to her, remembering the feelings I had felt last night while Taabu relived her pain-filled past. I had gotten little glimpses and flashes of the memories, but I’d ignored them. I was too interested in feeling her pain, exploiting it, strengthening it. Fortunately, as soon as I left, it went back to normal. I’d hate to imagine how she, or any of the other lions in the den, would be today if it didn’t.

            But that feeling . . . it was ecstasy. My mind didn’t stop thinking about it at all. I still think about it. Sometimes I’m even tempted to do it again, to fill some poor lioness’s dreams with every dark memory and corrupted dream that she has ever had. I explored every aspect of “wrong,” from the small to the gargantuan, though I doubt anything I found measured up to the torture I forced them to live through as they slept. As I said, my mind stayed on it, even after that first night. I ate breakfast slowly, Mother asking me if I was alright. Even when I went with Taos to play I barely noticed the fun he was having. I was quiet that whole day. I almost didn’t even notice Taos berating that over-officious hornbill. It’s just walking by, muttering. I was close enough to hear it, but I can hear much, much better than any other animal in this kingdom. It was saying, “. . . always around here, trying to act as if he’s important.” Taos’s ears perked up at this point, he heard the hornbill, too. “Who does he think he is, acting as if he’s doing my job.”

            “Whatcha sayin’, Zazu?” asked Taos.

            Zazu stopped. “Nothing of your business, I’m sure. Only that riffraff cheetah reporting to the king now. He actually thinks he’s important. I mean, would you believe that an upstart spotted zebra like him could actually be considered to report facts? Ridiculous!” Taos began laughing. “And how the king could possibly expect results from someone that low to the ground—I don’t see what’s quite so funny!”

            “Get it through your head, bird-brain! You’ve been replaced!

            “What? Do you really think so?”

            “Course, ya stupid bird. Go on, just ask Nadhari!”

            “Oh, my . . . Oh, dear . . .” Zazu flew off, Taos still laughing. I’ve heard Zazu died of a heart attack when he heard the news. The only problem with that is he was still around at the time he was “dead.”

            Taos finally settled down from laughing. He’d finally noticed I hadn’t been. “You okay Pofu?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. “Just thinking.” And I was. I kept thinking about that wonderful, god-awful torture I put Taabu through. Slowly Daddy began to encourage me. Each night from that night on one or more poor souls dreamed dark, dark dreams, with as much of my body on top of theirs as I could put without crushing them when I grew bigger, feeling their bodes twitch in horror and reveling in their pain and despair.

 

 

 

            Everything that I have told you is continuous, just one day after the next. If I told you all of that you’d be stuck with a lot of boring details and a story much, much longer than you’d ever care to read. So all I’ll do is show you what I think is pivotal, either in my life or someone else’s. But the main thing is so that you don’t get too bored. I have total recall; I could recite for you every word of every conversation I’ve been in since I’ve developed the talent. I have to have it. It’s the only way I could come close to seeing.

            I grew. And I mean grew. I am the biggest lion I think you’ll ever see. I developed control over my body, but that didn’t give me my size, that’s purely inherited. The same for my gigantic, black mane, too. Everything about me is big. Heck, lionesses can walk underneath me, only touching my chest a little, and that’s the bigger ones there.

            Like I said, I developed some control over my body as well, probably a result of my gift. If you ever want to feel a heart stop beating, I’m here. The cubs never get tired of that. But besides little tricks like that, the big thing is my muscles. Complete control. Like I said, everything about me is big. Including them. They’re massive. Daddy—or rather, Father, as I began to call him—told me to do so. They’re one of the few things about this whole mess that I don’t mind. But they had one—scary, I guess you’d call it—side effect.

            Haja felt for me.

            I don’t mean the little one, I mean the big one. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it was the little one. Like I said, I’m big, I’m muscular, and I have this wonderful black mane. A lot like her former mate. Too much like her former mate. I can think of two things in the world that would disturb you the most: getting a good look inside my mind, and having a lioness that’s old enough to be your grandmother—maybe even great-grandmother—making a pass at you. Disturbing nightmares ahoy.

            Needless to say I never took her up on her multiple passes ever in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was extremely turned off by her. It was just that I was extremely turned off by her. That and the fact that I hate her. I still do. She never accepted me as a cub, and I would still be shunned by her if it weren’t for my resemblance to a dead guy. Still, I refuse to mate with anyone, no matter if they’re my age or (shudder) not. My blindness ends here. And if it happened to be hereditary, I would actually kill the poor cub who inherited my “gift.” The poor cub would end up like me, never having a cubhood, all because he learned responsibility, and love, and hate, and vengeance, and lies, and mistrust all too soon. All of my innocence was stripped away. No one should have to live through what I’ve gone through. No one.

 

 

 

            Like I said, I’m not going to bore you with all of the little details. I grew up, the main person I fed off of being Taabu. The others had plenty of horrible memories, but Taabu, she had more than plenty. Her complete life before she came here was a living nightmare. Watching her sisters die, seeing her mother beaten, herself being raped. She was a complete wreck. Fujo was probably the best medicine she could have ever had. He slowly pieced her broken life back together, gave it some meaning. How he did it I’ll never understand, just as I don’t understand Taabu. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I walked up to Fujo one day, and we began to discuss Taabu, myself nudging the conversation ever closer to her. I finally asked him, “Fujo, I just don’t understand her. Do you?”

            He laughed. “Of course not.”

            “But you like her, don’t you?”

            “Ye-es. How’d you know?”

            “It’s not that hard to tell. I mean, I can tell she likes you, too. Even if she says otherwise.”

            Fujo laughed. “You see a lot for a blind guy, don’t you?”

            More than you know, said Father. “Yeah,” I said, “ I guess. But what I don’t see is why you still keep going back to her. I mean, she very nearly treats you like dirt. She hurts you, she doesn’t say nice things about you at all—”

            “That’s just her way. Besides, she’s just talk. All of it. She’ll never throw more than just shadows at you.”

            “Yeah, but how can you tolerate that? I couldn’t.” It was true. I’d been developing a rather wide arrogant streak.

            Fujo chuckled. “Yeah, isn’t that the way. Pofu, she’s more of a lioness than anyone I know. She actually bothers to stand up to me. No one does that, ’cept Tumai. But that’s different, more just teasing. But Taabu, she just walks right up to me and says no. It’s a lot nicer than just the roundabout no’s that I get from the others.”

            I’d smiled at that. Something I’d been doing less and less often. “You mean you’d be happier if when I was tired of you talking I just said ‘Fujo, kindly shut your ugly face?’”

            “No, it’s not like that. She doesn’t abuse it. It’s just, she doesn’t ever do it if it’s something big. Just the little things. And you know,” he added thoughtfully, “it’s generally just on the stuff that I don’t even want to do in the first place.”

            “Considerate, isn’t she?”

            “Yeah. I mean, the way she smiles at you can pierce that ego of yours faster than anything, and double for her eyes. She can say more with those than most lionesses could with their mouths. But she just takes care of herself. It’s just . . . she’s odd. You’ll never, ever get her to give in. She just changes her mind. That’s all she’ll say if you ever ask her.”

            “Still you’ve gotten a lot more cuts and stuff since she’s come here.”

            Fujo laughed. “Yeah, I noticed that. But you can blame it all on yourself. I’ve earned every one of those in some way or another. They’re just little ones, though. I mean—well, I don’t know what I mean. I can kid myself all I want, but I can’t understand her at all. It’s all I can do to describe her. She hides like a cub at times, and then she’s right there, out in the open defying everyone. Just being around her will bring out the best and the worst you can be. There are times she acts like a jerk, but you can tell she doesn’t mean anything by it.” He laughed again. “I’d think you’d be able to relate to her more in that respect.”

            “Huh?”

            “You haven’t exactly been Mr. Sunshine lately, have you?”

            I hadn’t been. As the memories and dreams I sought out became darker and darker, so did I. I rarely laughed, I barely even smiled. I’d become irritable. I suppose it could even be said I’d become addicted to despair. I’d wanted it, wherever I was. It felt good to make others feel pain. I’m still not sure why. But slowly, lionesses began to think of reasons to stay away from me. I’d brought despair to whomever I was with. Even if I wasn’t looking into their mind, I wasn’t, as Fujo put it, “Mr. Sunshine.” Father didn’t help improve my attitude at all. He began to push it even further away from the light. He didn’t have much goading to do, either. I loved having others feel despair, loneliness, hate, bitterness.

            But just because I was becoming steadily more depressing didn’t mean others had. Taos was still just as much of a friend to me as before. I don’t know what I’d have done without him. I probably would have gone downhill even faster. But he was always there, wearing a happy face and trying to cheer me up. He didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t want to be cheered up. But he did his best, anyway. One incident sticks out in particular. He woke me up in the middle of the night. It wasn’t actually the middle. It was more the early night. By the middle I was usually on top of some poor, shaking lioness. I couldn’t put any more than my front paws and head on them at this point. Any more and they’d wake up, gasping for air as my body slowly crushed them. Like I said, I am big. Like I also said, Taos woke me up. He said, “Hey, Pofu, come on, I’ve got a surprise for you.” I followed him outside silently, avoiding the mostly asleep lionesses.

            We walked up to the back of Pride Rock. Taos “Shh!”d me and crouched down. I followed suit, for all the good it did my rather large body. He was still an adolescent at this point. I was, too, but I was as large as an adult.  We slowly crawled up the hill, voices wafting down to us. “You know, I’ve never really looked at them,” said Taabu’s voice. “I mean, I’ve watched the sunset plenty of times, but the stars . . . they’ve just been there.”

            “I know what you mean. But aren’t they great?” Fujo.

            “Yeah . . . But what are they?”

            “Kings, of course,” said Fujo with absolute certainty.
            “Kings? What do you mean?”

            “When a king dies, he receives a star in the heavens. Like those four right there, for example.”

            “Which four?”

            “Those right there. . . . See? Making a cross?”

            “Oh. Those.”

            “Yeah. Well, those are four great kings. If they hadn’t worked together, they wouldn’t have brought peace to the lands. They’re the ones who created the first kingdoms. That’s why they’re all together, in that cross.”

            “Wow. I never knew that. . . . But are all kings up there?”

            “Yep.”

            “Even Sibu?”

            There was a pause. “I don’t think so. I think you actually have to be decent to be up there.”

            Taabu laughed. “And how would you know? Aren’t you alive?” She dropped her voice. “Or are you?”

            Fujo laughed. “I’m solid, aren’t I? I’m warm, aren’t I?”

            Taabu nuzzled against him. “Yes, you are. Wonderfully warm. Especially on a cold night like this.”

            “Yeah. I don’t know what it’s like back where you’re from, but it gets pretty cold this time of year over here. You should see them in the den. They’re probably all huddled together.”

            “Mm. I bet.”

            “Hey, I thought you didn’t like me?”

            “Well, maybe I’m just beginning to get used to you.”

            “Whoa . . . I thought nice lionesses weren’t supposed to do things like this.”

            Taabu purred. “Who said anything about my being nice?”

            The smell of pheromones finally made they’re way all the way down to us. I had no idea why Taos had wanted me to be here for this. I could have told him weeks ago there was something between Fujo and Taabu. In fact, I’d even forgotten he was there, he’d been so quiet. He came rushing back into my universe as he suddenly yelled out, “Fujo, you’re a young lion, don’t do it!”

            Taabu screamed when she heard that. Not really a scream, more a little shriek. Taos had scared the hell out of all three of us. Fujo, of course, got his voice back first. “What are you even doing here?!” he demanded.

            “Hey, what are you mad at me for? I just did you a favor!” Taos laughed.

            Fujo swung at him. He ducked, Fujo’s paw getting what was the beginnings of Taos’s mane. Taos ran down the hill laughing, Fujo right behind him. Taabu was still breathing pretty heavily. Just a little more scare and Taos might have actually given her a heart attack. Me, I just shook my head and went back down to the den. Taos and Fujo had woken the entire den up with their antics, so no one was too happy with them. Probably the funniest part was Fujo’s attempt to come up with an excuse for why he was mad at Taos. He couldn’t very well say what he’d been doing. He finally settled with “He tripped me.” I lied down as every lion in the den berated Fujo. No one seemed to care about Taos, and no one noticed Taabu sneaking in. I was asleep before it was all over.

            I hadn’t found any of it funny. No humor at all. I can see how it would have been funny. Taos had just tried to cheer me up. To make me laugh. He never succeeded. I feel so bad for him. Especially now. Especially for what I did to him. I treated him like dirt, nearly killed him, and he did nothing but try to help me.

 

 

 

            Like I said, my thoughts grew darker and darker. I began to want to live out the visions I saw, to make them relive the pain. I began to deliver taunting little reminders. No one wanted to be near me, not even Tumai. Mother was even reluctant to be close to me. She stayed close to me, and I made her all the more miserable for it. Especially Taos. He stayed closer to me than anyone. He was always miserable around me. But I couldn’t stop. I know this isn’t an excuse. I should have tried. Most of the time I was reasonably harmless. I sat and I stared, my thoughts brooding over various things. I rarely ever spoke, just lying there, staring, Taos next to me, undoubtedly thoroughly miserable. But it got worse. The taunting little reminders escalated. I remember actually scratching a cub to make him cry. I am disgusted with what I did.

            In what little defense I can offer, I didn’t act entirely of my own accord. Father was there, pushing me, encouraging me. I suppose I became a megalomaniac in some ways. Heck, in a lot of ways. I looked down upon the lions that I tortured. Fujo stopped going on his walks with me. He’d still let me come after I was big enough to walk (or too big to ride, take your pick), and still let me even after I made those some of the most miserable times of his life, reliving his worst experiences. But he absolutely, pointblank refused when I began to insult him. I was shunned by the lions, and in return I did my best to make their lives even more of a hell than it had been. It’s hard to say where exactly I started. I would mark it either from Taabu’s arrival, or the first time I looked into her mind. But it’s very easy to see where I stopped. Right at my peak.

            I woke up one night, Father urging me to go outside. I inhaled the cool night air deep into my lungs. I knew I could do it. I could rule here. I was strong, monstrously so, and I knew I could carry the kingdom. Father kept urging me on in these thoughts, these wonderful, hungry, power-driven thoughts. Kill them, he said. Kill them, make them obey you. You can hold them in your paw. You can have the entire kingdom on its knees, bowing to you. Overwhelm them, kill them, enslave them. They were meant to serve you.

            Yes. I can do this. I was meant to do this. Kovu stumbles and falls, Fujo will only be worse. But I—I will rule as a king should. I will rule with power.

            Yes, my son. You will—he broke off abruptly as I heard approaching pawsteps. It was Taos. Well, look who it is. What a wonderful place to start.

            Yes, Father, I thought with wonderful viciousness.

            “Pofu?” said Taos.

            “Yes?”

            “Whatcha doing up?”

            “I couldn’t sleep. Yourself?”

            “I—I heard you wake up.” Taos paused. “Pofu, I’m worried.”

            “Why?”

            “I’m worried about you.”

            I was surprised. “What about?”

            “You’re . . . different. You’ve changed.”

            More than you know. “I’m just the same guy I’ve always been.”

            “No, you’re not. You’re so distant now. You barely ever talk to anyone, even me. I mean, I’m your best friend, right?” I didn’t answer. “Right?”

            “Yes.”

            “Is there something wrong you want to talk about?”

            “Yes. Yes, there is.” Oh, there is, there is, there is. I stood up and began to walk towards the edge of Pride Rock. “I’m coming to one of the biggest decisions in my life.”

            “Is that what you’re worried about?” he asked, following me.

            “Not at all. I know what I’m doing.” I sat down on the edge, feeling the cool breeze. He sat next to me. “You know, this used to be used for executions.”

            “What?”

            “Pride Rock. The convicted would be forced off the tip.” I smiled. “Imagine if you just fell off right now, all the way down there.”

            Taos shuddered. “What a way to go.”

            Kill him! said Father. My smile grew wider. “You tell me.”

            He turned to face me. “Huh?” I whipped a set of claws across his face, knocking him to the ground. With a vicious grin I hit him again, making him roll. He caught himself on the edge of Pride Rock, just barely, his claws scratching the stone. I sank my claws into his paws and heard him cry out in pain. “Pofu,” he asked desperately, “what are you thinking?”

            I let out a low laugh. “I told you Taos,” I whispered. “I know what I’m doing.” I can just imagine his eyes widening in fear as he gasped. Yes! said Father. Yes!! I felt into his mind, wanting to feel his despair right before he died. I immersed myself in his mind, feeling waves of despair.

            For me.

            Suddenly everything was turned upside-down for me. I suddenly saw what I was doing. I saw through his eyes, unconcerned for his own wellbeing, only worried for me. No, Pofu, please don’t, he thought. Don’t be this way. I don’t want to see you this way. His feelings for me shocked me completely. He wasn’t even worried about the swirling blue eyes he saw, only about the mind behind them. The madness I’d been inflicting on the pride finally broke through to me. “Taos,” I said.

            “Pofu—unh! Pofu, don’t do this!”

            I tugged as hard as I could, trying to get him up the rock, hearing his feet scrabbling uselessly for a foothold. “Help!” I yelled. “Somebody help!” Then I heard Father, angrier than I had ever felt him before.

            You dare disobey me? he thundered. I felt myself grow weak. Taos began to slip back down as my claws retracted.

            No . . . Don’t let him die . . . Just hold on . . .

            You are going to wish you had never done this.

            I felt my grip on Taos mind slip, then shatter completely. I slowly sank to the ground, trying to hold on to him. Unconsciousness came.

 

 

 

            Fujo suddenly woke to the cry of “Help!” He looked around, hearing, “Somebody help!” A massive dark form that could only have been Pofu was on the edge of Pride Rock. He ran to him, the rest of the den also awake, but uncertain of where the cry was. He saw Pofu slump to the ground just as he reached him, and then to his horror, Taos slipping off the edge of Pride Rock. He sank his claws into Taos’s paws and heaved. He heard Taos yell in pain as Fujo’s claws tore into his paws. Fujo let go of the paws, immediately sinking into Taos’s legs. Slowly Taos was brought up safely. Breathing heavily, Fujo asked, “What just happened?”

            Taos’s words were interrupted by his breathing. “It—Pofu . . . he did this.”

            Fujo stared at Pofu’s still form incredulously. “What is happening to this kingdom?”

 

 

 

            Please help me. He won’t leave me alone. I can’t escape him, he won’t leave me alone. He won’t let me rest. He fills my mind with horrible pain, with horrible feelings. There is no way out for me. But maybe you can find something. The pain won’t stop. I feel like he’s killing me. Please help me. Just a claw across my neck, or paw placed in my heart. Sweet relief is all I want. Just help me. Anybody. Somebody.

            Anybody.