Daybreak: Tabula Rasa

 

I know that the night must end

And that the sun will rise

Oh, the sun, the sun will rise

The son, the son will rise!

 

            The nightmare began the next day. Those who say they’re in a living hell most likely have no idea what it’s like. I doubt I can really convey the entire horrible situation to you, but I’ll try. I think I mentioned Father was angry. Angry doesn’t really do it justice. Compared to how he was, anger was more like mild dislike. He might not have been as angry as I remember, but no one else remembers it. My fear may have done something to exaggerate it. I was horribly, horribly frightened. I had disobeyed my father. I had never done this, ever. He was so, so angry. I was afraid he would kill me. I’m not being stupid when I say this. I had finally seen the madness I had descended into, and he was in even further than I had been. I knew he could control me. He’d almost let Taos die. If it weren’t for Fujo, Taos would be dead. I knew he could do horrible, horrible things to me.

            But he was nice. He gave me a chance to prepare, starting with the small things first.

            That night was the last night that I had the luxury of having a dreamless night. As soon as I woke up the next morning I was aware of his anger. It came crashing down on me in waves. What do you mean by this?! he roared.

            Father, I’m sorry. Please, don’t be angry with me.

            You disobeyed me!

            Father, please, don’t be angry. I didn’t want to make you angry like this. I didn’t think.

            There was a small pause before he answered. Are you truly sorry for what you did?

            Yes, Father.

            Show me.

            In any way. How?

            Kill Taos.

            I was shocked, completely rooted to the spot with fear. Father, please, anything but that.

            You said anything, you will do anything. You will obey me.

            Father, please reconsider. Not this. Please.

            Obey me! Pain shot through my body. I let out an involuntary cry. My body shook with the intensity of it, then stopped as it faded away. Obey me.

            I began to cry. Me, three-quarters full-grown, and crying. I didn’t know what was worse: losing my best friend or my father’s respect. The choice is obvious, but it wasn’t to me. I wanted to please my father. I knew he loved me. I wanted to earn that love. Yes, Father, I said miserably. I stood up and walked into the den. They were eating breakfast. I lied down, Father allowing me this pleasure. A carcass was dropped in front of me. It was Tumai.

            “Pofu, are you okay?” she asked gently.

            “I’m fine.”

            “Are you sure? Taos and Fujo said you just collapsed outside.”

            “I’m fine.”

            “Well, alright . . . I’ll just leave you to eat.” She turned away, then turned back. “Are you sure you’re—”

            “I am FINE!” I roared. She took three steps back as the entire den went silent. I felt horrible. I’d been treating them like this for far too long. “I’m fine,” I said quietly. I let my head drop and began eating. Slowly the noise level went back to normal. I finished my carcass and pushed it to the side and laid my head down. Taos came over.

            “Pofu, you okay?” he asked in the same tone Tumai had used. I felt my claws slide out involuntarily.

            KILL HIM NOW!

            I stood up and felt my body drag back a shaking foreleg. “Pofu,” Taos said uncertainly.

            KILL HIM! DO IT! DO IT NOW!

            “Pofu, what are you doing?”

            NOW!

            Father, no!

            Pain shot through my body. I collapsed to the ground. I slowly stood up again, despite the pain, and began to walk away from Taos, to the back of the den which was now unoccupied. I collapsed there, the pain overwhelming me.

            You will be punished. It was not a threat. It was a fact. I began to weep openly. And I still hadn’t even approached the worst part.

 

 

 

            There were three days before I slept again, so it all balances out pretty nicely. I stayed in the back of the den, only eating if they brought food to me. Taos stayed away. I can’t blame him. From what I got from others’ minds later, he was actually with my mother and Tumai. He was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Those three days I spent in constant pain, Father trying to—persuade me to make the kingdom—no, no, the world realize who its true master was. Taos finally got fed up with Mother and Tumai’s I don’t know’s and finally decided to come over to me on the third day. I was still fighting my father. I knew it was wrong. The only thing I believed I could do was try to make him see as I did. It was futile. I should have seen that from the beginning. But I didn’t. I spent three days begging him, subserviently, to change his mind.

            As I said, Taos came over to me. I was so preoccupied with my father that I didn’t even notice him until he spoke. “Pofu?”

            My ears perked up, the only sign that I heard him. “Go away, Taos.”

            You can redeem yourself. Kill him now, and all will be forgiven, my son.

            “No. I won’t go away. Not until you tell me what’s wrong.”

            “Nothing is wrong.”

            “Don’t kid me. You’ve been doing nothing but lying here, you barely eat, you never sleep, and the way you shake . . . it’s like you’re in pain, constantly.”

            “Go away. I don’t want to hurt you.”

            “You can’t hurt me. Can’t touch this.”

            “Go away. Or else.”

            That’s right. That’s good. Or else you will kill him. You will crush him, you will drive every last bit of life from his body, you will

            Shut up.

            What did you say to me? I am sure you did not defy me. But, as I said, kill him and all will be

            “I said SHUT UP!”

            “I didn’t say anything.”

            I suddenly stood up and swung at Taos. I did it, not my father. I intended to miss him, to make him leave before I did something even worse under my father’s pitiless urging. I didn’t. Maybe I underestimated my reach, or his will to stay. Either way, I hit him cleanly across the face, undoubtedly making a deep gash. He was knocked to the ground, literally skidding on the ground from the force of my blow. He screamed. I had swung as hard as I could. A little lower, and I undoubtedly would have taken his throat from his neck. But I didn’t, and instead he was on the floor of the den, yelling in pain. I felt horrible. I wanted to say I was sorry, but I knew I couldn’t. It would only make him want to stay closer to me, to comfort me. If I lost control, he would be the first to die. I had to distance myself from him. From everyone. I said, without a trace of compassion, “Leave.” It was the most painful word I’ve ever had to speak.

            Yes, that’s it. You know he’s going nowhere. Go to him, kill him, rip his flesh from his bones. You know you enjoyed that bit. Indulge yourself. Make him feel pain.

            No. I refuse to yield to you any longer.

            My father gave a cruel, heartless laugh. Do you really think you can just say no to me? He applied pain, causing me to fall to the ground. Oh, no. Respect your elders.

            NO!

            No? Well, let’s see how you really feel after this.

            My mind slowly slipped away from the world.

 

 

 

            I want to point out to you that in a mind, anything is possible. You can compose stories, dream of faraway places, visit friends long gone. You can do anything, especially if you are aware of your mind. I was. And my father trapped me in mine.

            Like I said, anything. Even giving sight to the blind.

            I stared at my father, his face a cruel one, showing no trace of pity or compassion. He loomed over me, myself just a cub. And for a background—I doubt you would find a crazier thing. I imagine it’s what the world would have looked like when I first fell down the stairs. Up was down, and down was off somewhere doing its own thing. No sense of depth. No sense of which way was up, save for the fact that both me and my father were oriented the same way. The ground was solid, but it seemed to go on for miles below me. And all of it, simply black and white, in stripes and dots and patterns in no logical way at all.

            I believe I mentioned my father standing over me.

            I cowered. His face was a frown, his jaws bared and his claws extended, begging for blood. Then, suddenly, his face softened. “Pofu,” he said in the gentle, fatherly way that I always remembered, “please, listen to what I’m telling you. I only want to help you. I just want to make you the best lion you can be. Taos is only in your way. As is Fujo, and Kovu, and Tumai, and all the others. They want to keep you down. You can only trust me.”

            He almost sounded reasonable in that tone of voice.

            “Daddy?” I said quietly. “Do you really mean that?”

            “Yes, my son.”

            “You’re a liar!”

            The soft, gentle look completely disappeared from his face in an instant. “What did you say?”

            “It’s not true! Taos is my friend! They’re all my friends! They don’t want to hurt me!”

            “They will use you. You are nothing to them.”

            “They love me! And I thought you did, too!”

            “Pofu,” he said, hovering between ultimate anger and that warm, gentle face, “I do love you. I’m trying to help you.” He pulled me close to him as he used to do, his claws digging into my fur, almost pricking into my flesh. “Believe me.”

            I might have been just a little cub compared to him. I might have been scared silly at the thought of what he would do to me. But I wasn’t about to let him hurt Taos. I jumped away, feeling his claws scratch me as I did. “No!” I yelled, ignoring the pain. “I refuse to believe it!”

            “Well,” he said, his face despicable, “let’s see what it takes to convince you.”

            Suddenly I was no longer there. I was on a cliff, watching someone who couldn’t possibly be my mother yet I knew was fall off that cliff. I yelled, “Mother!” I turned away, not wanting to see her hit the bottom. It made no difference. I still felt that horrible thud reverberate into my ears. I began to cry. I heard horrible, horrible laughter. I turned to see a red-maned lion laughing, his eyes filled with amusement.

            “Why Taabu, look what you’ve done.” He laughed again. “You’ve gone and gotten your mother killed. It’s such a pity she lost her footing.” He shook his head as if he was actually sorry. “And she had such a long life ahead of her, too.”

            “You—you monster! You killed her, you beast!” I leapt at him and immediately was thrown back to the ground by his paw, his claws tearing into my face.

            “And that was just a taster!” I looked up to him, watching him slowly advance on me. “You have no idea what I have in store for you. You will sorely regret ever having done that to my father.” I got to my feet, backing away from him in fear, waves of it flowing over me. “I’ll tear the flesh from your living body, I’ll make you bleed until you are dry, I’ll tear out your insides and feed them to you.” I stumbled, him still advancing towards me. “I’ll make you wish you were never alive.” He smiled a vicious, bloodthirsty smile. “Have you ever wondered what keeps your fur on? What keeps your insides in? You won’t ever have to wonder again.” I began to back away from him as quickly as I could, still on my back. “But you know, Taabu, how much I have admired you for your—other qualities. So don’t worry.” He lowered his voice to a whisper as he walked over my body, his chest over mine, his eyes staring into mine. “I’ll make sure I’ll thoroughly enjoy them.”

            I whipped a paw across his face, flipped over, and ran as fast as I could away from him, wild with fear that he’d come after me, that he’d make good on every last one of his promises. He laughed, his voice fading into the distance behind me. “Don’t worry. You’ll come crawling back like the worm you are, screaming for your mother.” I kept running, his derisive laughs in my ears. I finally stopped when I could no longer hear him. And I cried. I missed my mother. Horribly. And I couldn’t even go back to her body for comfort. I couldn’t go back ever.

            I felt my wet tears sliding down my face as Father came back into view along with the rest of my mind. “How did you like that?” he asked, his smile identical to the lion’s.

            “Why are you doing this? Why?

            “I don’t have to do this to you. All you have to do is listen. Isn’t it better to have this inflicted on others than yourself?”

            “NO! No one should have to go through this. No one!

            The smile slid off his face. “Alright then. Let’s see how long it takes to break you.”

 

 

 

            Tumai looked sadly at Pofu, his eyes closed, his head motionless on the floor. He refused to wake up. The only sign that he was even alive came from his slow, steady breathing. Next to her lied Nyota, her face near her son’s. She refused to leave him, Tumai her only companion. He remembered how she had been the first one to come, the first to find Taos on the ground, bleeding profusely. Tumai had been right after her, only leaving to get Rafiki, and then never leaving. Even Taos left. He’d only stayed the hour it had taken him to stop bleeding. Now the only ones who even were around Pofu were Tumai and Nyota. Even Rafiki didn’t know how to wake him up. “I don’t know how to fix it,” the mandrill had said. “Anything I’d do would only make dis worse. I don’t even understand him.” He’d gone back to his tree, leaving only Tumai and Nyota, and the occasional visitor.

            Nyota was cradling her son’s massive head with one paw, an extremely difficult task. “I’ve been a horrible mother, Tumai.” A tear slid down her face.

            “Huh? Don’t be silly, Nyota.”

            “I have been. I’ve spent barely any time with him at all. I never spent the same amount of time Mvushi used to. And—and it just hasn’t been the same . . . since he’s gone . . .” Another tear.

            “You did your best, I’m sure.”

            Nyota turned to Tumai, her eyes brimming with tears. “That’s just it. I don’t think I did. I’ve always let him run off with his friends, just saying to myself, ‘I’ll be with him when he comes back.’ And even when he did, I did almost nothing. And he was all alone . . . only Taos was there, and I told myself I should be with him. But I didn’t want to. What kind of a mother does that, Tumai, rejects her son because she—she doesn’t want—want to be—” She couldn’t go on any further. Tumai held up a leg, and Nyota dashed under it, grateful.

            “Nyota, it’s not your fault. Pofu know you love him. I’m sure he does.”

            “But what if he doesn’t come out of this? What if I never get to see him again, and all he ever remembers me for is how I’ve treated him?”

            “He’ll be fine. He just—he just has issues, sometimes.” Tumai didn’t know how Pofu’s gift would have caused this. But she hoped.

            “What do you mean, issues?”

            “Nothing.” Tumai looked away from Nyota’s face. She’d promised Mvushi she wouldn’t tell. She wouldn’t.

            “Tumai, tell me. Please.”

            “I can’t. I promised.”

            “Please.”

            Tumai looked back at Nyota’s desperate face. She was Pofu’s mother, for Aiheu’s sake. “Your son—” Tumai didn’t know how to say it easily. “Your son can look into minds. He can see thoughts.”

            Nyota pulled away from Tumai sharply, her face horrified. “How—how do you know this?” she whispered.

            “He told me.”

            “He—he told you?”

            “Yes. But he told me not to—”

            “Tell anyone. Yes. That’s what Mvushi said, too.”

            It was Tumai’s turn to be surprised. “You knew? And you never told me? Told any of us?

            “We had our reasons.”

            Tumai was grateful the den was empty. She was embarrassed by her callousness. “I’m sorry. I should have realized—”

            “No, it’s alright.” Nyota sat back down. “You have no idea what this means to me. I can finally share this with someone. I’ve been carrying it alone so long.”

            Tumai gave a little laugh. “I know the feeling.” She sighed. “I told myself I wouldn’t stop being with him, that I’d bite my lip till it bleeds if I have to. But I did. And look where we are now.”

            They sat in silence, staring at Pofu’s motionless body, not even a dream twitch running through it. “What do you think is happening to him?” Nyota asked quietly.

            “I don’t know. But he’ll be fine. I know it.”

 

 

 

            I watched with pride as my mother ran along side the column that migration made, having seen her done it flawlessly twice already. She jumped on a wildebeest, its neck in her jaws. Then it all went horribly wrong as the wildebeest bucked, sending her into the middle of the herd. “Mom!” I yelled. I was worried, but not too worried. I knew she would be up soon, emerging from the herd with a few scrapes. She was the best hunter in the pride. Everyone recognized that fact. The seconds passed by. I yelled again, fear coming over me. “MOM!”

            “Shani, quiet,” said Kiara next to me, her voice unconcerned. “Your mother doesn’t need any distraction while she’s hunting.” She was looking around the column, her eyes flicking from lioness to lioness, watching them take down what was the last of the column, certainly not watching the cubs she was supposed to. In a few minutes the herds would be gone, new ones migrating in a couple of days from now.

            “Kiara,” I protested, “I’m worried about her!”

            “Why?”

            “She’s in there!

            What?!” Her eyes immediately flickered to the herd. Then, suddenly, for a brief, glorious moment, I saw my mother rise above the herd, her face scarred and her legs bleeding. Then she disappeared under the seething mass again. Kiara gasped. “Anaka!”

            MOM!” I ran towards the column and certain death, Kiara barely catching me.

            “Shani, no!”

            “I want to see Mom! I have to know she’s okay!” I struggled desperately against Kiara’s leg, barely being held back. I had to see my mother, I had to see her. I knew she was fine, but what if—

            I struggled free from Kiara as the last of the herds disappeared. I ran into the dust in the direction I had last seen my mother. “MOM!” I yelled. I ran from side to side, searching desperately, my sight blinded by the dust. “MOM!” I suddenly stumbled, falling to the ground as I tripped. I slowly picked myself up. The dust was beginning to settle, my vision becoming clearer. “MOM!” I tripped again over something again. I looked back to see what I had fallen over.

            It was a leg.

            “No . . . No . . . MOM!” It was another leg, a—a wildebeest leg, an antelope leg. Yes. Some antelope had a paw instead of a hoof, some kind of freak accident at birth. Of course. I continued running. “MOM!” I saw what I had been dreading.

            My mother’s head lay on the ground, her skull beaten in by numerous hooves, her face completely disfigured. “MOM!” I screamed. I ran to the head. “Mom, no, no, no, no, NO!” I began to weep bitterly. I looked back across the trampled ground, seeing the leg I had stumbled over, and another, and another, and her body, beaten and mangled, nothing more than a red smear on the ground, the remains of the last leg still attached, barely. “MOMMY!” I screamed. “MOMMY!”

            My father materialized before me, his face angry. I had long since dropped to the ground, writhing in agony. I just wanted it to stop. But I couldn’t let it. If I did, then he would win. If he won, Taos died. I looked back up at him, my eyes streaming floods. “I hate you so much,” I said viciously.

            He smiled at that. “Good. Use that hate.” I felt pain shoot through my body again. “Are you ready to stop?”

            “No,” I whispered defiantly.

            He was still smiling. “Alright then. Another, happy memory.” He disappeared.

            I hated these. All they served to do was to give me a brief sense of euphoria, making the crashing drop all the more painful. But there was nothing I could do. My mind was not my own. And it was happy. I had food, piles upon piles upon piles of food, and an appetite that could not, would not be stopped. I knew this was no memory, it was only a dream. A wonderful, pleasant dream, as opposed to the real and unreal nightmares I had been forced to endure. It finally stopped, after I had gone through my two hundredth (or was it three hundredth?) carcass. Oh, that wonderful happy ecstasy. Tears streamed down my face, knowing what I would have to endure now. I did not want to go back to it. But I had to. For everyone’s sake.

            I stared at my father’s paws. “Wouldn’t you like to continue that? That happiness, that joy?”

            “Yes,” I muttered weakly.

            “Then just give me your word. I am your father, I am only trying to help you. Believe me, I find this just as repulsive as you. I don’t want to see you go through this. You know what to do to make it stop.”

            “No,” I muttered weakly. “You’re a liar.”

            He roared in anger. “What will it take?” he hissed, walking away from me. He turned back and hit me across the floor in frustration. “Alright. Something you might be able to identify with.”

            I sat on the edge of Pride Rock, my heart chilled as the wind blew. I thought about my family, how I could never go near them, could never touch them for fear of hurting them. That chaos, that cheetah bloodbath, it had been wonderful. Exactly as Zira had taught me to take it. I wanted more of that, I craved it. The ripping of my claws through their necks, the feeling of their muscle between my teeth. I looked at it in love and in hate. Because of this I had to estrange myself from those I loved. From my darling mate, from the one son I had left. I couldn’t afford to just slip and let myself indulge in violence.

            I sat on the edge of Pride Rock and watched saw the land grow dark as the sun went down.

            My father appeared before me again. That horrible, horrible sense of loss . . . I sadly looked up to my father. “Are we willing yet? Compliant? I know you how you must hurt.”

            I wanted it to stop. I wanted it all to stop. “No,” I whispered fiercely.

            “Very well then.”

            Another happy memory. One of my memories. One I cherished and loved, a sweet call to what had passed. I lied with my father, my eyes closed as I snuggled happily against him, feeling his love wash over me, warming me. He loved me. He truly loved me. I knew; I could feel no lies in his pure heart. And I loved him, too. Then, suddenly, the image shattered, breaking into my nightmare. I wept as I saw my father’s paws before my eyes. This had hurt me more than any horrible memory ever could. I wanted my father’s love back, his wonderful adoration. I looked slowly up to the beast’s face, wanting his praise. His sadistic grin showed no love at all, only delight in my pain.

            I suddenly wondered, Is it possible?

            He said, “You can have that back, Pofu. Just do as I say.”

            Horrible clarity began to dawn on me. I reached out to my father’s paw, grasping it for assurance. “But don’t you love me?” I dragged myself to his leg. He pulled me the rest of the way.

            “Of course I do, my son.”

            He lied.

            I could tell that immediately. I should have realized it a long time ago. I stared into his mind, a filthy, seething mass of lies, of hate, of pain, of despair, of something that most definitely was not my father. I looked up at him in horror. There was no room in those cruel eyes for love. They were choked with hate. I backed away what little I could. “You’re not my father.”

            “Of course I am. Don’t speak nonsense.”

            “You’re not my father. My father is kind, and good.” I drew strength from the clarity. “My father loves me!

            “Of course I love you. I am your father.”

            “You lie!” I drew myself up to my full height, my real height, not just the cub I had been. I looked down at the beast that had brutalized me, his face full of bestial rage. “My father is dead. He died, long ago. You are nothing more than some horrible mirage.”

            His smiling face grew ugly as I uttered those words. “Well, you just had to go and ruin it all, didn’t you? And you were so happy, having me guide you.” He laughed. “No matter. You still will obey me!

            I felt a momentary jolt of pain before I threw it off entirely. He drew his head back with a hiss. “Get out,” I said.

            “Do you really think you can get rid of me? Of your conscience?

            “You are no conscience of mine. Leave.”

            He bared his claws. “No,” he said firmly. “You will bow to me.”

            “I said GET OUT!” I ran at him a rammed my paw against his face, ripping cleanly through it. A chunk was gone, simply gone where my paw had gone through him. He snarled at me with what was left of his face. I whipped my claws through his body repeatedly, slowly causing him to disappear, him unable to fight back. I finally erased what was left of him from my mind. The inside of my mind began to fade away. Comfortable, blind darkness surrounded me. I was finally free.

 

 

 

            Tumai sighed. “The wedding is over . . . The feast has been thrown . . . The food has been eaten . . .” She threw a dirty look at Fujo. “All of it.”

            “A happy, happy day indeed.” He was lying on his back, his gut so expanded that it almost was as high in the air as his chest.

            Taabu smiled and licked Fujo’s face. “Yes, it is.” She smiled as she nuzzled up next to him. “I wonder what my sisters will say.”

            Fujo looked up suddenly. “We’re going back there?”

            “Of course. I can’t have my own wedding and not tell them. Besides, they’ll want to welcome you in.”

            “Like Taraja did?”

            “Aw, he was just playing.”

            “He put that—stuff—on my meat. I was sick like a dog all night.”

            “Sick?” asked Tumai. “I didn’t hear about this.”

            “You wouldn’t have wanted to. Projectile vomiting is not a pretty thing. If that’s him having fun last time, I’d hate to imagine him this time.” Fujo laid his head back down with a groan. “Besides, my schedule just wouldn’t allow it.”

            “Like you have a routine,” teased Tumai.

            “I do. Sunrise, get up and walk around the kingdom. See if there’s anything wrong. If there is, run like hell. After that, breakfast. And then I have my early morning nap. Then mid-morning snack. Then my late morning nap. Lunch, and make myself unbearable to Tumai. Then, pretend to pay attention to Dad as he lectures me on this Square of Life thing.”

            “Circle.”

            “I knew that. Then, dinner, if you lionesses actually get off your lazy butts and decide to do something early for once.”

            Our butts are lazy?”

            “Then after that I watch the sunset. See, full schedule.” Taabu looked at him with sad little cub eyes. “Don’t look at me like that.” The eyes became sadder. “Fine. . . . I could move dinner up a little earlier, and that’d still leave time at night for staring at the ceiling and slowly slipping into insanity through trying to count all the cracks in it . . . But what would I say to them?”

            Taabu smiled. “‘I am so undeserving of this, and please don’t kill me for just taking her like this.’”

            “Yeah, in your dreams.”

            Taabu laughed and licked Fujo. “Alright. We’ll leave tomorrow.”

            “Bright and early. If we’re actually up then. I get the feeling I’m going to be staying up a lot later now.”

            Taabu nuzzled him seductively, placing one foreleg across his chest as she did so. She gave him a passionate lick. “Much, much later.”

            Tumai made a face. “You two disgust—Pofu! You’re awake.”

            Fujo and Taabu turned to look at Pofu. “Well, hello there. ’Bout time you got up. Been asleep for over three days.”

            “I can see into your minds,” said Pofu. “I can look inside them, and see your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your dreams. I can see whatever you have ever imagined. And your darkest thoughts have dominated me since I was a cub. But now I have thrown them off. I am now free.”

            The three lions stared at him, stunned. “Is this some new way of saying good morning that I missed the memo on?” asked Fujo.

            “He’s telling the truth,” said Tumai.

            Taabu and Fujo looked at her. “You’ve known about this?” Taabu asked.

            “I knew he could look into minds. But that’s it. Not the second part.” Tumai turned to Pofu. “Is that why you’ve been so bitter?”

            “Yes,” said Pofu. “And I am deeply sorry for it.” He smiled. “Where’s Taos? I want to tell him I’m sorry.” Tumai’s smile fell off her face. “Well? Where is he?”

            “Pofu . . . I’m so sorry. Taos is gone.”

            “‘Gone’? What do you mean, ‘gone’?”

            “Here.” Tumai stepped forward. Pofu put his paw to the side of her face, the entire conversation he saw in her head taking only a few seconds in real time. He was Tumai, sitting with Fujo, staring at Taos, a partially healed gash on the side of his face. Pofu knew exactly where it had come from.

            “You’re really leaving?” Tumai asked.

            “Yeah. I mean, I can’t really go anywhere here. Nothing to do.”

            Tumai laughed. “I know what you mean.”

            “Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” said Fujo defensively.

            “Hey, look, it’s a nice place and everything. It’s just, you know. A little short on action.”

            “It’s just fine here.”

            Tumai laughed. “To you, maybe. One animal’s meat is another one’s poison.”

            “One lion’s ceiling is another one’s den.”

            “A fool’s paradise is a shaman’s hell.”

            “Um . . . don’t run with a broken bone?”

            Taos laughed. “And, of course, the whole place is going down the works as soon as he’s king.”

            “Hey! Is that how you talk to your big brother?”

            “Joking, Fujo.” Taos sighed and looked out across the Pridelands, looking almost heroic with the sun outlining his body.

            “What about Pofu?” Tumai asked.

            Taos’s figure hung his head. “I—I don’t want to leave him like this. But I don’t know what he’d do. . . . He just isn’t Pofu any more.”

            “I know what you mean.”

            There was a pause. Fujo finally spoke up again. “Take care of yourself.”

            Taos turned around with a smile on his face. “Don’t worry about me. Can’t touch this.” He turned and began to walk down the ramp of Pride Rock.

            “Good luck!” called Tumai.

            “Don’t need it,” he called back. “I was born lucky!”

            The memory faded away, leaving Pofu in his usual darkness. But it wasn’t usual. He felt nothing, heard nothing, smelled nothing. “Taos,” he said. He lurched to the side clumsily, barely catching himself from falling.

            “Pofu—” said Tumai.

            Taos!” Pofu took another step, missing the edge of Pride Rock and falling down the steps. He slowly got to his feet and began to run away. “Taos!” he yelled. “Taos, come back!” He crashed headfirst into a tree. He sank to the ground, sobbing. “Taos, Taos, Taos . . .”

 

 

 

            Taos is gone. I have no idea where he went, I have no idea if he’ll ever come back. I hope he does. I want to tell him how truly sorry I am. I may have apologized to the pride, but that isn’t enough. I want him to know how sorry I am for all the pain I caused him, physically and mentally. But if he doesn’t come back . . . Well, I can only hope he finds someplace where he does feel he belongs.

            As for the rest of the pride, peace has finally come. There is happiness. Taabu is pregnant, the general thought being About time. She’ll give birth to a boy and a girl. I know, I’ve felt their little, innocent minds. I owe it to the pride to do something for them. I owe it to these little cubs, to Kovu, to Fujo, to whatever they decide to name the new prince. I will serve these lands as I ought to. But most of all, I will never forget my father. An old king once said, “and to lose him, when he had barely begun to live.” It’s true for my father. He had far too much to live for. So I will do what I think he would have wanted. I pledge my allegiance to this pride, and the new prince.

            And I just hope Fujo doesn’t screw up.