The Lion King V: Jadi’s Rule
Chapter I: Jadi
A cheetah sat in front of the opening of the den of Pride Rock. As a species, cheetahs were very proud, noble creatures. They rarely showed any sign of fear. They did not tremble. This one was doing a wonderful job of being an exception.
Simo was had noted all of the changes occurring in the Pridelands. It was his job. There had been few changes, other than the kingdom being much richer in life than before. But with the lush grass came a price. The Pridelands now attracted visitors, all of the worst kind. Killers were accepted, filth allowed to mingle. The lionesses did nothing. They could do nothing. Simo’s father had tried to. As soon as he had heard what Jadi had done to Fujo, he’d attempted to do the same to Jadi. Simo would never forget the fear in his father’s face as he slowly had his life taken away from him by a seething black mass. All Simo could do was stare in horror as Nadhari died, screaming. Simo remembered how Jadi had laughed, then turned to him and said with a horrible smile, “It looks as if you’re the new advisor.”
Simo walked a thin line. Any step across it and he would meet the same end as his father, or worse. He’d seen what happened to those who Jadi didn’t favor. Those who displeased the king, be they good or evil, died almost instantly. Even his most reliable servants had died by Jadi’s paw, his most cruel minions, all because they had been unable to restrain themselves, and had affected the delicate balance Jadi had imposed on the kingdom. Jadi had no favorites. There were a few who pretended to be in the kings good graces, who pretended to have his ear. Usually their cockiness led them to an early grave. Jadi showed no mercy.
Simo remembered the first time the animals had come to Jadi. Under Fujo’s rule, it was almost a democracy. He let all animals have their say, even more than Kovu, Simba, or Mufasa had. But it stopped with Jadi. The representatives for the species had come up to him on the second day of his rule, allowing a customary day to grieve. They had come with their problems, their demands, their solutions that none of them could agree on. Jadi simply said, after listening to them for a few short moments, “Leave.”
The animals were stunned. One little zebra pointed out, “Fujo always let us do it this way.”
“Fujo is dead, as are his foolish notions of ruling. You will bow to me.”
“But that’s just not how it’s done,” protested a leopard.
“It is now.”
They had tried to protest further. Jadi had listened for roughly two seconds longer before killing the “impudent” zebra with a sudden flash of black matter going straight through him. All talking stopped. “You have ten seconds to leave.” He didn’t give them those ten seconds. In ten seconds, they were all dead, or well on the way to becoming so. Jadi didn’t let them leave. Jadi didn’t play fair. The entire experience only served to amuse him.
Simo felt he had a good reason to tremble.
The trembling ceased out of force as a black-maned figure walked out of the den. Simo bowed low as the king walked to the edge of Pride Rock and sat down. Simo waited for Jadi to signal him to begin. Jadi finally spoke. “What do you think of the kingdom, Simo?”
“It—it is magnificent,” said Simo. “I’ve never seen it so healthy, so full of life. You truly should be proud of it, sire.”
Jadi turned around with a smile. “Really? Is that all that you think?” Simo hesitated. “Come now, I’m asking for your opinion. Your honest opinion.”
Simo stared at the dangerous smile. “Sire, I don’t think you would like it.”
“I’m almost sure I won’t. Now tell me.” Jadi’s voice had become dangerously pleasant.
Simo paused. “I—You disgust me, Jadi. What I’ve seen you do is—horrible. You run an efficient kingdom, but there is no happiness. We are all very, very frightened. And the pain you cause us to endure . . . I loathe you entirely, sire.” If he hadn’t been in Jadi’s presence, Simo would have cringed with fear of the rebuke. But Jadi did not tolerate weakness.
Jadi’s smile remained. “This is how you truly feel?”
Simo hung his head. “Yes, sire.”
Jadi walked off of the tip of Pride Rock. “It’s good to know you can be honest.” The smile grew wider. “Just as I know you would love to kill me, how you would relish the opportunity.” Jadi paused.
Jadi laughed. “So long as your feelings don’t make you forget your place.” He walked past Simo to an obviously pregnant lioness that was completely, utterly black. It rubbed against Jadi in a way that made it seem it would rather do nothing else. Jadi gave it a kiss and then said, “Report.”
Simo watched as Jadi thoroughly gave his attention to the lioness. “The kingdom runs well, sire. Good amounts of everything, no animals warring. Just a few minor incidents I thought you’d like to handle personally. Tiifu over-hunted yesterday, far too many kills to eat. Janja says that he’d like to talk to you about an important matter concerning the herds; he and his son should be here soon. Maafa says the job you asked him to carry out has been handled. Other than that things are—fairly quiet, sire.”
Jadi nuzzled the lioness some more. “What do you think, Uchu?”
Uchu smiled. “I think he’s holding out on us.”
Jadi smiled. “Yes I know. What could it be?” He went back to Uchu.
Simo stared at the ground. “Sire . . . someone besides Janja would also like to speak with you . . . one of the cheetahs.”
“Her name is Tama, sire.”
Jadi looked at Simo, surprised. “Your mother?”
“Hmm. Interesting. What about?”
“It’s about—me, sire. She wouldn’t tell me any more.”
“Well. This day could be some fun, after all.” Jadi continued to stroke Uchu. It wasn’t as though the open affection bothered Simo. He had seen the pair indulge in sensuous displays of full pleasure, and still was forced to go on with his report. If anything bothered him, it was Uchu, who was desirable, even to him, a cheetah. Which was like saying Jadi had just a few small flaws. Uchu’s being a constant source of pheromones in the morning didn’t help him. The only thing that stopped Simo was the fact that advancing on Uchu was certain suicide. She would kill him without a second thought. That and the fact that she was just as bad as Jadi. Jadi nuzzled the lioness one last time and started down the ramp of Pride Rock.
“Sire!” Jadi stopped in mid-step.
“About my mother . . .”
Jadi turned to face Simo. “Choose your words carefully.”
“Sire . . . please be gentle. For me.”
Jadi smiled and continued on his way. Simo felt his hopes crash as he saw the jagged edges inside that smile. He watched Jadi go for a moment, then followed Uchu into the den. Lionesses lied all around it, some with cubs, others without. A gigantic lion lied in the back of the den, his size intimidating even though he was lying down. Simo stared around at all of he unhappy faces as he walked to two lionesses and sat down by them. He ignored the carcass at his feet as the pain slowly closed in on him. His body shook with sobs. His mother didn’t have a hope.
One Year Earlier
Fujo’s paws clutched at his throat as his lungs heaved in air. He collapsed to the ground, his eyes wild with fear. “Jadi,” he whispered. He put a paw to his throat. It seemed to be fine. He could breathe. He drew the paw away. No blood, no anything. What is going on? he thought. He looked up at the place he was in.
The place was entirely white. Fujo’s mind staggered as it tried to get some sense of proportion. Then it decided staggering wasn’t good enough and decided to reel instead. Then it decided reeling wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and went back to staggering. There was nothing he could judge distance against, and absolutely no concept of up or down. Then he saw a—thing standing a small distance away. “Well, come on,” it said. “We haven’t got all eternity, you know.”
Fujo began to walk towards it. The animal was frightening, but it didn’t even scare Fujo at all. Fujo idly wondered why. The animal had the face of a leopard, the mane of a lion, the body of a cheetah, and its hind legs and tail were black and orange. Its paws seemed to have characteristics of all four of the animals it was made of, one for each. Even more bizarrely, it had wings, gigantic wings erupting from its back. Fujo approached it, and sat down in front of it. “Name?” it asked.
A rectangular object that Fujo had never seen anything like appeared out of thin air. The animal opened the hard outside revealing softer, thinner white things on the inside. It began to flip through the white things almost until it had gone through the entire object. Then the animal finally muttered, “U’s.” It flipped a few more of the white objects over, Fujo noting wiggly lines on the white things, some in gold, some in black. The animal finally spoke up. “Sorry, we don’t have an Uhfujo listed.”
“No, no, it’s not Uhfujo. Just Fujo.”
“Oh.” The animal began turning the white things over in the opposite direction. “F’s. . . . Ah, here we are.” The animal pointed to a set of squiggly lines in gold. “Alright then. Proceed right through there.” A rectangular box appeared, showing a lush savannah. The animal smiled. “Welcome home.”
“Thanks.” Fujo walked through the rectangular box, emerging into a beautiful savannah. He heard a voice.
Fujo turned around, expecting to see a rectangle leading back into the white place. Instead, the rectangle was gone, a vast savannah taking its place. His mouth opened in disbelief, and tears began to stream down his face.
“Well, come here already.”
Fujo ran joyously to his welcoming committee. “Granddad!”
Simba laughed as his grandson tackled him. “Glad you remember.”
Fujo got off Simba and happily nuzzled Nala. “I’ve missed you both so much.”
“And you don’t seem to miss me at all, do you?” Fujo turned to see Kovu standing there with a smile.
Fujo stepped toward Kovu incredulously. “Dad?” Kovu smiled and nodded. “What—what are you even doing here?”
“I’m dead, Fujo. Isn’t that obvious?”
“But—but you’re not. You can’t be. You left.”
“I just disappeared, right?”
“Jadi killed me.”
“Oh, no . . . you, too?” Kovu nodded sadly. “I can’t believe it. . . . He was such a good cub.”
Kovu smiled. “One thing you learn up here, and fast, is not to dwell on your mistakes. Come on, son. Get happy. Things will turn out fine. They always do.”
“Yeah . . .” Fujo looked back at Simba and Nala, both of whom were smiling at him. A thought struck him. “Everyone’s up here?”
“Where’s Taraju?” Simba and Nala looked away. Fujo turned back to his father. “Well? Isn’t he here?”
Kovu sighed. “Yes. Yes, he is. But he’s—busy.”
“Can we go see him?”
A tear slid down Kovu’s face. “Maybe later.”
“I’ll take him,” said Simba. Another rectangle opened, revealing a small, enclosed space. “Come, Fujo.” Simba stepped through. Fujo turned back to Kovu.
“He’ll take you to Taraju.” Fujo gave his father one last look before stepping through. It was a small, dark place. Simba was conversing with another one of the animals that Fujo had seen before.
“That’s right. Him.” The animal disappeared, and another rectangle opened across the room, showing only darkness. A lion stepped through it into the room.
“Taraju?” Fujo asked tentatively. The lion smiled. “What are you doing here? In this place?”
Taraju walked towards Fujo, then stopped and sat down abruptly. “I’m being punished.”
“Why do you think? For what I did. I’m lucky to even be allowed visitors. You have no idea what I went through to see you when you were alive.”
Fujo walked toward him. “But you changed. You did your best to pay for—ow!” Fujo stopped as his head bumped into an unseen wall. “What was that?”
Taraju smiled. “You have to remember—I’m a dangerous killer. Who knows what horrible things I’d do to you if this wall wasn’t here?” He put his paw sadly on the wall.
“But you wouldn’t. I know you wouldn’t.”
Taraju’s smile turned sad. “Yes. You know it, I know it, they know it. This is just another way to punish me. I can’t touch the ones I love most. All I can do is watch . . . just watch like their faces are miles away . . .” He shed a tear.
Fujo placed his paw opposite Taraju’s, a perfect match. “I can’t believe this.”
Taraju’s face turned ugly. “If I ever see Aiheu, I’m going to kill him.”
“Taraju,” cautioned Simba.
“Damn it, it isn’t fair!” Taraju exploded. “I paid for what I did! I didn’t even think what I did was wrong! I didn’t know any better!” He stood up angrily. “Why should I have to suffer like this? Don’t you think I’ve suffered enough?!”
“Because you changed is the only reason you’re being allowed freedom.”
“I can’t take this anymore! I’ll be in there forever! He said so himself!”
“Just a few more decades,” said Simba. “Just a few more and you’ll be out.”
“You wouldn’t say it like that if you were in there! Every moment is an eternity of hell!”
“You just have to wait.”
Thin vines began to creep snakelike out of the rectangle of darkness. Taraju looked at them bitterly. “And here come my keepers.” One began to wrap itself around his hind leg. He shook it off with, “I can find my own way back!”
“Come, Fujo,” said Simba. “Another time. But now we have to go.” A rectangle opened to the savannah again. Simba stepped through it. Fujo followed him and stopped just before rectangle. He looked back at Taraju’s angry face sadly, then stepped through. After he left and the rectangle disappeared the anger disappeared from Taraju’s face to be replaced with fear and sadness. Weeping, he walked back into the darkness.
The horrible scream came again. Laughter followed. Simo ran to their sources to find Jadi over a cheetah, claws extended and paws stained with blood. The cheetah stared at Simo in desperation. “Simo,” she begged weakly, “help me.”
Jadi laughed. “No one can help you.” He hit the cheetah again, causing her to cry out in pain again.
“Sire!” said Simo.
Jadi turned from the cheetah to Simo, his face ugly. “What is it?” he asked irritably.
“Sire—she’s . . .”
“Out with it!”
“She’s in labor, sire.”
Jadi stared at Simo for a moment before running off for Pride Rock at full speed. Simo rushed to his mother. She looked up at him, her face pained. “Simo . . . I should have listened to you . . .”
Simo cradled her face in his paw, doing his best not to notice the cuts on her face and the excessive amounts of blood she lied in. “Don’t talk. You’ll be fine. Just don’t talk. Relax. Relax.” Tama let out a slow breath. “Don’t worry. You’ll be—you’ll be fine.” Simo began to cry as he stared at his mother’s glassy eyes. “You’ll—you’ll be just fine. Just . . . just . . .” Simo broke down, weeping. “Damn you, Jadi!!”
Jadi rushed up the stairs of Pride Rock. Anything foolish enough to be in his way on the way there had died. Horrible thought raced through his mind of Uchu’s screams and groans as she gave birth. And gods—two months premature on top of that. He ran into the den, stopping when he saw Uchu. There between her paws lied a small cub, newly born. But that was all the care Uchu gave to it. It simply lied there on the cold floor, shivering. Uchu stared down at the cub proudly. She looked up at Jadi. “He’s here.”
“I was so worried for him,” said Jadi. “After only two months . . . that’s not normal, is it?”
Uchu smiled. “I’m not normal.”
Jadi nuzzled her. “Yes, I know.” He stared down at the cub. It was a small, tan cub, slightly darker than the normal light cub. He had had a black swath of fur that began in his right hind leg’s thigh and arched over his back to completely cover his left foreleg in black. A small piece of it stretched out from his shoulder to run underneath his neck, ending in a sharp point.
“Nafsi,” said Uchu.
Jadi smiled. “A wonderful name.” The cub gave a more pronounced shiver. “Shouldn’t you keep him warm?”
“Yes, I suppose. I’d rather just stare at him, though.” Nevertheless, Uchu wrapped her paws around the cub and drew it close. She began licking it with her tongue. “He’s perfect. In every way.”
“I imagine all mothers feel that way.”
“I mean it. He truly is. Look over there.” She nodded towards a tiny cub, obviously dead. The cub’s body was mutilated; it even was missing a leg, just a stub taking its place. If it had lived, it would probably have lived a horrible, miserable life. “There’s what I had to get rid of for him.” Uchu spoke as if she was referring to a filthy carcass. She nuzzled her cub. “Absolutely perfect.” She looked up at Jadi with a smile. “He’ll make a wonderful heir.” She stood up, the cub giving a small whimper as it lost its source of warmth. “I want to show you something.”
Jadi looked at her, concerned. “Should you be walking?”
“I’m perfectly fine. Come with me.” She began to walk out of the den, Jadi following her. She stopped at the mouth of the den. “Oh, and take care of the prince,” she said to the den in general. She walked out, her head held high.
After she left a lioness approached Nafsi slowly. Her heart went out to the poor thing as it shivered on the floor of the den, no one even remotely close to it. She walked over to Nafsi and nuzzled him. Another lioness burst out, “Taabu! What do you think you’re doing? That’s his son!”
“We can’t just let him die, Tumai,” Taabu protested.
“I don’t see why not!”
“What do you think Jadi would do to you if he heard you speak that way? To all of us? Besides,” she said, turning her attention back to Nafsi, “I refuse to make the same mistakes my sisters did.” She picked up her grandson by the scruff of his neck and carried him back to her corner by Tumai. She cuddled and licked it, and slowly the cub’s shivering stopped.
“You’re a damned fool,” said Tumai.
“Maybe.” After a short time Nafsi fell asleep.
Jadi followed Uchu on a familiar route through the Pridelands. He followed her into a cave. The entire area around the cave was completely off limits to any animal without Jadi’s explicit permission, i.e., they were dead if they came near it. Jadi walked into the familiar cave, a pool of dark liquid in the center. It could have been called water, but water never, ever behaved like this did. There was a hole in the ceiling, but no light penetrated into the cave, from the ceiling or the entrance. Jadi smiled as he walked in, a wonderful feeling of strength gripping him. Uchu sat down with a smile, Jadi sat down next to her.
The form of a sitting lion suddenly grew out of the pool. An obvious aura of power surrounded him. The lion was strong, muscular, obviously quite powerful in that respect. His face was one that showed no pity at all. Not a hint of a hint of mercy appeared in his cold, black eyes. The eyes were barely distinguishable in color from the fur. The lion was completely black; the pool could only project that color. Only the variations in hue showed what would truly be dark and what would be light. For example, what was obviously quite black was an arching stripe that contrasted with the lion’s lighter fur.
Jadi stared at the lion in amazement. “This . . . is my son?”
Uchu’s smile grew wider. “Yes.” She watched as Jadi began to walk around the image of the lion, looking over it thoroughly, the lion never moving. “I told you I bore you the perfect cub. I didn’t lie. He will be strong, powerful . . . Oh, the power he’ll have. He will make what you do now seem like simple tricks, something to be sneered at. He will only be limited by his imagination . . .” Uchu stared at the figure in—awe? Pleasure?
“This is amazing,” whispered Jadi. “That simple cub will become—this?”
“Yes. All he needs is someone to mentor him, guide him . . .” She rubbed against Jadi as he came back around to her side. “Someone who can really show him what it means to be a king.” She licked Jadi. “King of everything.”
Jadi stared at her in disbelief. “The entire world?”
“All of it.” Uchu turned back to the lion. “All he needs is a little guidance . . .”
Jadi smiled. “I won’t have a problem with that.”
Uchu smiled and cradled the lion’s face in her paw. “Just a few more years . . .”
“Years?” said Jadi, surprised.
“Yes. He will grow slowly.” She turned back to Jadi, still smiling. “All the better for you.” She nuzzled him, and felt him do the same.
“What about the kingdom?” Uchu stared up at Jadi with adoring eyes. “I still need to take care of that. And raising Nafsi . . . How will I do it?”
Uchu rubbed against him, nipped his neck gently with her teeth. “All you have to do is ask.”
“Of course. I’ve told you time and again, and you still don’t believe me. The pool is yours to use. It can give you anything. Just ask.” She smiled and backed away from Jadi as he stepped toward the pool, the lion falling back into the pool.
Jadi stared at the familiar water. He placed a paw in it, feeling a familiar feeling of power and lust. He quelled the feelings momentarily as he thought. I need someone to help. Someone to help me rule. Someone who will know how to train Nafsi. Someone, he thought with a grin, like me. He opened his eyes and stared at the water. It was motionless. He turned back to Uchu. She smiled.
“Believe.” Jadi looked back at the water. There was still nothing. Then without warning, a paw shot up through the water and slammed down hard on the surface. Jadi stepped back in alarm. He felt Uchu’s soothing touch. “Don’t worry,” she said. Her eyes were closed in pleasure. Another paw followed. Then, slowly, a lion’s body emerged from the water. The lion stood still, taking in a deep breath. It finally opened its green eyes with a malevolent smile.
Jadi stared at the lion with its scar on his face. It looked like—but it couldn’t be. “Scar?” Jadi asked hesitantly.
The lion spoke. “Akasare.” He took in another breath, closing his eyes. “Freedom.”
Jadi looked back at Uchu, her smile knowing. “I think you’ll find him satisfactory.”
Jadi turned back to see the lion smiling. “You’re—Akasare?”
“I said that, didn’t I?” the lion said.
“Yes—but don’t you mean Taraju?”
Akasare laughed. “I hardly think so. I return as I should—without any of his pathetic limitations. I suppose I have you to thank for it.”
“Yes,” said Jadi, his astonishment fading away as he slowly looked the lion over. It was obvious that the lion in front of him knew what pity was, and compassion, and kindness. He shunned them all. Jadi’s face slowly twisted into a smile. “Yes. Yes, I think you’re exactly what I needed.”
“I have no doubt about that. I guarantee I’ll get your job done.” Akasare strode past Jadi and Uchu into the outside, staring at the lush savannah. He looked back to Jadi. “You’ve made improvements.”
“I’d like to think so.” Jadi stared at Akasare, unsure of what the lion would do next. Akasare set off towards the boundaries. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Akasare turned back to Jadi. “I’m not like her,” he said, nodding at Uchu. “I may have come from that pool, but I am not one of your playthings.” Jadi snarled at him. “Go ahead, do your worst. We’ll see how long you live.” He turned and continued towards the borders. Suddenly thick black cords sprang from the ground, wrapping around his legs. Akasare tried to move them, finding the cords only gripping tighter if he did. He laughed and looked over his shoulder at Jadi. “Alright, you’ve proved your point.” The cords loosened themselves around Akasare’s legs, allowing for some freedom of movement but not letting him move however he wished. “Sire, you misunderstood me. I am not to be treated like one of your pathetic little minions. I am the best you could possibly have. I will serve you, but I demand respect.”
“And why should I believe you?” asked Jadi skeptically. “You were just about to walk out of here.”
“Sire, you have done an amazing thing for me. I’m free from torture you couldn’t begin to imagine. I owe you, and I always pay my debts. I just want some time to look around. I’m sure you can understand that death tends to make you enjoy simple pleasures.”
The cords slowly slunk away from Akasare’s legs. “Make sure you come back,” warned Jadi. “Or I will find you.”
“Don’t worry about me, sire,” said Akasare with a smile. “I can take care of myself.” He continued on his way towards the borders.
“I don’t trust him,” said Jadi.
“Of course you don’t,” said Uchu. “How could you possibly expect someone you can trust to know how to teach your son?” Jadi was still unconvinced. “Believe me. Have I ever been wrong before?”
Jadi looked down at her with a smile. “Not about anything I regret.”
Akasare walked into the Outlands. The red-orange ground carried back memories of his cubhood. His simple beginnings, just scrounging for food, all the way to creating a land out of nothing. He stared down into the basin, small traces of brown mixing into the red-orange. He was disgusted. The entire place was a barren wasteland. Nothing grew. He walked down into it, his anger slowly rising. Three years of his life, three hard, thankless years, all down the drain, most likely in less than two months. He looked around, seeing little pieces of dead grass here and there, and even the occasional broken stump. He found a tree that was still standing, completely dead. Akasare swung his paw at it in anger, his claws breaking it in two. He would not waste this second chance. He would rebuild. But it would take time, time he couldn’t have right now. But in just a few years he wouldn’t have to worry. He would come back, and rebuild better than before. And he would have wonderful, amazing help on his side. He smiled.
“You are a jura.”
Jadi slowly circled around the lion. He hadn’t wanted to bring in another lion. He’d more than just a little reluctant. But Tiifu had proved he was worth it. He stayed away from the lionesses generally, stayed away from Pride Rock except when summoned and on very few personal occasions, and had generally behaved himself. But he’d pushed the line, constantly. This was just too far. Thus the reason he was literally shaking in fear. Jadi circled him, disgusted. He despised weakness.
“What are you?”
“A jura, sire,” answered Tiifu in a voice that shook to match his body.
“You have made me look like a jura as well. I don’t like that.”
“Why did you hunt yesterday?”
“I—I was hungry, sire.”
“Wouldn’t you say that twenty carcasses are generally ample?”
“I warned you, did I not? I told you not to overhunt, not to bully the subjects unless asked, not to be the arrogant ass you have been. In short, not to be a jura.”
“Then why did you do so?”
“I was hungry, sire.”
Jadi turned and whipped a paw across Tiifu’s face. “If I want lies, I’ll ask the lionesses.”
“I—I don’t have a reason, sire.”
“You’re right. You don’t.” Tiifu stared at his paws in horror as black—stuff slowly began to envelope them. “You have become nothing more than a reliability to the kingdom.”
“Sire,” said Tiifu desperately as he slowly began to sink into the black mass beneath him, “sire, please—please, just give me another chance.”
“You’ve had your chance. You’ve had plenty of chances. And you’ve thrown them all away.” Jadi turned from the struggling Tiifu to see Akasare sitting quietly by the ramp of Pride Rock and watching with a slightly amused face. Tiifu saw Akasare as well and cried out:
Jadi laughed. “Help you? Why should he help you? He’s your replacement.”
“No! No!! AHHH!” Tiifu’s head sank into the black mass. The darkness disappeared, simply fading away, leaving no sign that it, or Tiifu, had ever been there.
Jadi turned back to Akasare. “I hope you will at least be able to outperform him.”
“Yes, sire.” Akasare’s claws slid out naturally as he looked down the ramp. Jadi watched as Simo came into view. Simo’s face was defiant and filled with anger.
Jadi sat back down. “You’ve been gone all day. Explain yourself.”
“If you remember, sire,” said Simo bitterly, spitting out the last word, “my mother and all three of my little sisters were slaughtered today. I thought they should at least be given minimal honors.”
“This is no excuse.”
“You’re right. There is no excuse for your behavior. I’m leaving. I refuse to be your pathetic little slave anymore.” Simo headed back down the ramp, half-hoping Jadi would order him killed. At least he would see his parents again. He wasn’t all too surprised to find his legs bound by snakelike-cords that sprang from the ground. He was surprised to find them dragging him backwards. He struggled against them until he was brought face to face with Jadi.
“Is that what you think you can just do?” asked Jadi quietly. “Leave? You can’t. None of you can.” He reached a paw up to Simo’s face. “No one is going anywhere.” He dragged a claw across Simo’s face, tearing a cruel streak down one side. Simo tried to pull back, only to find he was leaning as far back as he could possibly go. He snapped at Jadi’s paw, almost catching it in his teeth. Jadi whipped the paw across Simo’s face. “We’ll have none of that.”
“Just kill me, you worthless filth,” snarled Simo.
Jadi laughed. “Kill you? Why would I kill you? No, I want to feel the pain; I want you to have to wallow in it.” He leaned close to Simo’s ear, his voice a whisper. “I want you to live, remembering how your mother begged for me to kill her and not the cubs, how she was forced to watch as I slowly, tenderly tore them apart, how they screamed in pain as I left them to die.” Simo thrashed furiously, trying to release himself from the cords. Jadi stepped back with a small laugh. “It seems I’ve touched a nerve.”
“I’ll kill you!” screamed Simo. “I’ll kill you, you heartless beast!”
“No, you won’t. You will go back to your home once I release you, and you will report to me in the morning, and wait here until I come back to punish you for your disobedience today. I’ll excuse your current temper on your—instability. I understand losing a parent can entirely change your life. I know.”
“And what makes you think I’ll do anything like that?” Simo demanded defiantly. “As soon as I’m free, I will kill you.”
“I’d love to see you try. Like father, like son.”
“Then I’ll leave. I won’t ever bow to your disgusting self again.”
Jadi smiled. “Yes. You’ll leave, and end up just like Haja.” Simo cringed, remembering how the elderly lioness had tried to escape, going further and further out of the boundaries, darkness slowly swallowing her up until she was wading in it, then swimming in it, until her head was finally sucked under. Jadi laughed at his obvious discomfort. “Of course, if you’re really are that intent on leaving, I suppose I should give you something to remember me by.” He walked into the den, reappearing with something in his mouth. He dropped it at Simo’s bound paws with an evil smile. “She was delicious.”
Simo stared at the tail on the ground, remembering how it had belonged to his littlest sister. Tears welled up in his eyes, pained with the knowledge that he’d never see her happy, smiling, carefree face again. He began to weep, and sank to the ground as the cords released him. Jadi left Simo to cry over the tail and went into the den, followed by Akasare. Jadi paused before entering, looking back at Akasare. “I assume I won’t have either of those problems with you?”
Akasare smiled. “I just want to know when I get to kill something again.” Jadi smiled and continued into the den. As soon as Akasare walked in the silence that fell when Jadi entered intensified. Kiara stared at him.
“I don’t believe it,” she said, her face openly showing the fact.
Several of the lionesses carried horrified faces. “Aka,” one of them breathed.
Tumai stared at Akasare in disbelief. “Is—is it you?” Akasare smiled. She ran to him. “Oh, Taraju!”
Akasare knocked her to the ground as she leapt to embrace him. Kiara gasped. “Taraju!”
Akasare turned to her, his face annoyed. “I am Akasare.”
Tumai looked up at him, tears forming in her eyes. “No,” she said. “No, you’re Taraju, you changed. Please, tell me you’re the same lion.”
Akasare shook her off his leg disgustedly. “I’m no different than I ever was. Now get away from me, you filth.”
Tumai stared at him in shock. “Taraju . . . you don’t mean that. Oh, Taraju, please.”
Akasare’s mouth curled back in a snarl. “Say that again and I’ll make sure you regret it.”
“He’s wonderful, isn’t he?” Uchu looked back down at her cub with pride. “He doesn’t even make a fuss.”
Jadi stared at the suckling cub, remembering the strong, merciless lion he would become. “Yes. Yes, he is.”
Pofu leapt up the side of Rafiki’s tree as he had learned to years ago. His visits to the mandrill had become more and more solemn and hopeless. This was easily the most hopeless of them all. Pofu didn’t want to lose the mandrill. But he knew what the mandrill would say to Jadi’s request.
Rafiki looked up from the ground. He was sitting, thinking of the happier days that had come and gone before Jadi came. But he looked up to see Pofu. He pitied the blind lion for his unseen sight. He had tried to help him hone it over the years, but to almost no success. His teachings were his gift to Pofu instead, the history of the Pridelands he had soaked up. But when Jadi came, it was no longer history they discussed, but memories. Rafiki knew that there would be no more conversations as he looked at Pofu’s face. “Hello, my friend.”
“Morning, Rafiki. How’s the health?”
“Oh, de back again. It just comes and goes.” Rafiki gave a chuckle. “Here I am, healer of de Pridelands, and I cannot fix my own backache.”
Pofu gave a sad smile. “But you’ve managed to help just about every animal in the Pridelands.”
“Yes, but what about you? Can’t you get sick just once for old Rafiki?” They both laughed, the laughter falling off after only a few moments. Rafiki sighed. “The king sent you, didn’t he?”
“Yes, Rafiki. Uchu’s given birth. And it’s a son.”
Rafiki buried his face in his hand. “I never thought dis day would come. I am worried, Pofu.”
“We all are.”
“Dis is one wound I cannot heal.”
Pofu looked away from Rafiki. He didn’t want the mandrill to see the tears on his face. “The king wants you to give the prince a presentation.”
Rafiki walked over to Pofu and put his arm around his mane. “I will go to him.”
“You know what he’ll do to you.”
“Yes. But I have lived a long life. I tink it would not make much difference now if I made de presentation or not. I cannot cure age.”
“It’d make a difference to me.”
“I know, old friend. I know.”
Rafiki climbed the ramp of Pride Rock, looking into the den. He had helped every lion in there, save two. One he had never seen before, the other had never wanted him. Jadi walked to the mandrill. “I assume Pofu told you what I desire.”
“He may have. But de mind, tings tend to slip from it when you are as old as me.”
Jadi swallowed the impudence. He still needed the mandrill. “I wish for you to present my son to the kingdom.”
“And dat I cannot do.”
“And why is that? You have presented numerous great royals to the kingdom. For some reason, my ancestors insisted on a foolish monkey, and you are the only one fit to do it.”
“I will not do it, sire.”
Jadi was slightly taken aback by the open defiance. “You refuse to obey your king?”
“Sire, de presentation is a ting of happiness. Your son would only tarnish de tradition. You bring no happiness, Jadi.”
“The kingdom does not need happiness. The kingdom needs to bow to me.”
“And you are wrong, sire. I am sorry for the cub, and I hope he grows into a king dat will make de Pridelands proud, but I will not present him for you.”
“Then you are of no use to me.” Jadi killed Rafiki then and there, ignoring the gasp from the den. Rafiki was simply swallowed up into a black mass, leaving no trace behind. Jadi turned back into the den, angry. It was the first, last, and only murder that did not bring him pleasure.
Fujo walked into the dark room. The animal—Fujo still had no name for them—stood up. “Yes?” it asked.
“I’m here to see Taraju.”
A rectangular object appeared in the air before the animal. The animal asked idly as it flipped through the white sheets of the object, “Whose permission you got?”
“Yeah. Have to arrange these visits, you know.” It stopped turning. “Here it is.” It looked up at Fujo. “Whose authority?”
“Uh, I didn’t know I needed any.”
“Of course you do. It’d be a madhouse if we didn’t have some kind of order. It isn’t like They’re stupid, you know.”
“I didn’t know I needed to ask Them.”
“You don’t have to ask Them, just someone with enough authority.”
“Can’t you just let him out?”
“Sorry, not without permission.”
“Please. He’s my brother. I just want to see him again.”
The animal looked back at his object. “Taraju, right?”
“Hmm . . . special case, huh?” the animal muttered. It raised its voice. “Sorry. Doesn’t say he can have visitors.”
“But I’ve seen him before!”
“Says not without permission. Were you with someone?”
“Yes, my granddad.”
“He’s probably one of those big-shots, then. Either that or he got permission. Sorry.”
“Please,” begged Fujo. “Please, can’t you let me see him?”
The animal licked its lips as its wings twitched. “Rules . . . are rules.”
“Please. Can’t you bend them, just this once?”
The animal sighed. “You mortals and your imperfections.” A rectangle opened, showing deep, dark depths. “Alright. Just a couple of minutes.”
“Thank you,” said Fujo, relieved. The animal disappeared and Taraju stepped through the doorway, his face utterly spent. Tears welled up in Fujo’s eyes. “Oh, Taraju . . .”
“Fujo,” he said weakly, “this is all a mistake. I’m not supposed to be in there.”
“No, you don’t. I’m Taraju.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I’m Taraju, not Akasare. He’s gone now. I’m good, I’m clean, I’m pure. I’m not supposed to be punished, he is.”
“What do you mean?”
“Akasare’s gone. He’s left me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Jadi did it. He brought Akasare back, but not me. I’m free. And I’m not supposed to be in here now. You have to do something. I can’t go back in there. I just can’t.” Taraju’s voice was hysterical.
“You’re not lying?”
“No, just have them look, have them check, and they’ll see. Just get me out of here.” Taraju pressed his paws against the barrier. “I can’t go back. Fujo, I’m going insane.”
Fujo stared at the terror etched on Taraju’s face. “I’ll try,” he promised.
Vines began to creep out of the darkness, unnoticed by Taraju. “Please,” he begged. “Hurry.” Vines began to slowly wrap themselves around his hind legs. He involuntarily dropped his forelegs to the ground as he looked down, and vines began to wrap around those, too. Taraju began to thrash wildly.
“Time to come back,” said a dark, haunting voice.
“No!” Taraju yelled. “No! I won’t go back! I won’t go back!” The voice only laughed. The vines tugged and he fell to the ground, the vines dragging him closer and closer to the darkness. “Fujo—please—help me!” He was dragged into the darkness, his anguished screams ringing in Fujo’s ears.
Pofu hovered next to Jadi. It was still, dark night outside, the den asleep. He didn’t know whether or not to risk it. For one year he had lived under Jadi, a guest in his den, his life completely made. He didn’t need to do anything; Jadi gave him everything he needed. Food and a den to sleep under. And a life to keep living. All of this at one cost: that he obey Jadi. They had all seen Jadi’s terrible powers, how he could kill an animal instantly, or incapacitate him and torture him to death from that point, if he wished. And that could very well happen to Pofu if he did this. His ability to look into minds wouldn’t grant him any protection from Jadi. They had all seen from Nadhari’s final act what attacking Jadi would bring about.
Jadi feared him, but only slightly. There was one time where Pofu had complete control over him, and that one time he had left Jadi with images that Pofu felt sure that he carried with him to this day. Horrible images of the inside of Pofu’s mind, of Pofu’s tortured conscience, of Pofu’s insane and terrifying dreams. Jadi was undoubtedly scarred for life, though the memories were undoubtedly deeply, deeply suppressed. But he feared Pofu; he would never let Pofu touch him again unless it was absolutely necessary. That fear worked for Pofu now, but it could also be the instrument of his death. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler and cleaner to kill the thing that you feared? All he had to do was push Jadi over that limit, and he would die. Instantly.
But Pofu still hoped that Jadi was there in that body somewhere, not just that monster that Uchu had created. He could try to bring that Jadi back, the good, kind one, and he could get rid of Uchu and raise his newborn son properly. For a whole year he had battled with the urge to look for the Jadi he used to know, debating on whether or not to take the risk of being caught by Jadi. And now he stood next to Jadi, staring down at him, wondering what he should do. It was the closest thing he could do. Jadi’s chest heaved up and down in a rhythmic sleep pattern, unaware of Pofu’s presence. Pofu bit his lip. He slowly, hesitatingly held out a paw, reaching it toward Jadi. He gently pressed it against Jadi’s side, and stepped into Jadi’s mind.
It was a place of turmoil. Almost every mind was as it went to sleep. There was no logical order, the mind simply wandered, dreaming. Pofu stepped out of the realm of dreams, into Jadi’s true mind. It had been so long since he had last stared into it. He was unfamiliar with it. But every mind stayed mostly the same, building on its basic framework. What he did know should be enough to navigate through it. Unless what Uchu had done to him had completely rearranged everything. Pofu prayed that it hadn’t.
He stared down a long corridor that ended abruptly, the entrance to Jadi’s memories. He would have to be extremely careful, he realized as he walked to the end of the corridor. He didn’t want to wake anything. The end lit up into bright, white light. Pofu stepped through it. It was as he expected. The mind became more and more tangled as it grew with experience unless one categorized, as he had. But Jadi hadn’t. Every mind was different in how it was designed, but almost every one had complete chaos. The entire place was a mess of bending physics, stairs going up—and stairs going down on the opposite side, even stairs going sideways. These were paths to every memory that Jadi had, every idea that he had ever created. Every single memory existing almost like an animal, with a consciousness and an ability to think on its own, to grow. But Pofu wasn’t looking for a memory or an idea. He was looking for a personality.
He began to walk the stairs, traveling further and further into the depths of memory. The stairs continued to shift as the mind brought new memories and ideas to the forefront of Jadi’s consciousness, the platforms that the stairs connected to moving, distorting, even disappearing, the stairs curving wildly to meet another platform, Pofu sometimes walking on top of them, sometimes defying gravity to walk upside-down, whichever way the stairs dictated. As Pofu went deeper, the stairs and platforms changed less and less, the older, deeper memories being touched much less than the newer, current ones. Millions of platforms were met, each one with a creature there inside a walled area, bars allowing him to look inside, usually at something dark and horrible. As he went deeper into Jadi’s mind the things became more lighthearted, slowly, and then with an abrupt and obvious change. Things were so much less dark. The creatures became less dark, almost normal, but still less evil than before.
He looked inside one cell just after the change to see not a creature there, but Jadi, a younger Jadi, a Jadi that had not yet reached adulthood. Pofu stopped by it, staring at it. Jadi stared back at him insolently. He was bitter, unrepentant of the things that he had said. But he wasn’t the monster he would turn into. This must have been Jadi just before Uchu had forced him into her ways of thinking—a moody, spite-filled youth, filled with Uchu’s ideas about what life should be, but not quite letting go of the ideals that his parents had filled him with when he was just a little cub. Pofu went on.
Pofu’s mood sank as he went deeper, seeing the creatures inside the cells become happier, more carefree. It was utterly depressing how far Jadi had gone. These were happy things, things that would have made animals laugh. It nearly brought Pofu to tears to find them here, discarded, left to rot in these cells, never to be brought up again. They were pleasant creatures, who would have made one laugh with joy if they hadn’t been so long without attention. The creatures looked up at him hopefully as he approached their cells, their heads looking out at him from behind the small window the bars made. They would smile, the smiles fading as he walked on, the creatures hanging their heads in despair, shedding tears with the knowledge that they would never be released to bring anyone enjoyment again. Pofu wanted to fling open the doors, to set them all free—but doing so would only send Jadi spiraling down into insanity.
Pofu stopped at another platform. A miserable cub looked up at him, its blood-red eyes filled with sorrow. It was tied to the floor, its legs having vines wrapped around them. Pofu looked at Jadi as he thought he’d only see him in his own memories: a cub, a pure, innocent little cub. Pofu went inside the cell, the cub staring at him. “Pofu?” asked Jadi. Pofu nodded. “You’re looking into my mind, aren’t you?”
Jadi lowered his head, staring at the floor. “It’s so dark here. It’s—bleak. I think that’s the word. I don’t know. It’s—hopeless. Like what I saw in your mind.”
“You must not think of that, Jadi,” said Pofu. “Anything but that.”
Jadi looked up at Pofu. “What did you want?”
“I—I wanted to bring you back. To make you innocent, to bring back the happy Jadi.”
“I haven’t been used in years,” Jadi said, shaking his head. “You probably have something like this in your head, a little cub that won’t ever be free. And you suppress it.”
“I don’t. This happens when there is a radical change. When something happens that changes the animal completely, almost in an instant. This most likely happened when you first discovered the pool. You said you drank some.”
“I did. It was one of the last things I did do. Then I was pushed aside.”
“But I am not like that. There was no radical change for me. There is only my conscience that is there, that I banned.”
“Yes. I met him. Don’t you remember?” One of the walls lit up, a hate-filled, angry lion standing over him, a cruel grin as he stared down at the viewer.
“Jadi, stop thinking of that.”
The image shut off. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been down here so long. I can only think of these horrible things, Pofu. Those things I saw in your mind.” Brief, quick images flashed across the walls. “It’s so lonely.”
“Jadi, please, think happy thoughts,” begged Pofu. “I’m going to try to set you free, to let you control the body again. Isn’t that happy?”
“I’m not sure I have any happy thoughts, Pofu,” Jadi whispered. “I’m so miserable.” More images flashed across the walls. A lioness with an insane grin on her face that went literally from ear to ear; a horrible, dark pool drowning the viewer; a cub dangling a lion off a cliff by his paws. Pofu watched the flashes with fear. If they were enough to wake up the real Jadi . . .
“Jadi, stop thinking of this,” pleaded Pofu. “Please.”
Jadi looked up at him. Pofu could see in his eyes how he wasn’t completely there, how the long years of solitude had begun to take their toll on the personality. “And cold,” Jadi quoted. He gave a small laugh, the laugh slightly betraying how unhinged he had become. “And cold, and dark, and no stars and cold and hurt oh hurt oh hurt.” He laughed, the madness clearly there. “Like nightmares! Nightmares with teeth! Nightmares with teeth, and claws and biting and scratching and tearing!” Jadi belted out an insane laugh, a horrible, crazed smile creeping across his face. Images continued to flicker across the walls, not stopping now. Jadi rocked back and forth, the laughter ringing. “Nightmares!” he screamed, barely managing to get the word out between the wild laughter. “Nightmares, Pofu! Nightmares! Complete and utter nightmares!!”
Pofu saw his mistake. This was useless. There was nothing left of the cub Jadi to salvage; all there was left was utter insanity. He exited out of the door, having it shut behind him. Jadi’s wild laughter still echoed out of the room, the laughter the only relief the poor, tortured cub had had for years of imprisonment with no hope of escape. The laughter rang out through the place Pofu was in. Platforms began to fly up past him, dragging up horrible memories, Jadi’s maniacal laughter never stopping for an instant. Pofu leapt onto one, using it to climb to the top much faster than he would have been able to by walking through all those stairs again. He turned as he heard a terrible roar behind him. He turned to see a monster out of his own consciousness inside the cell on the platform, a horrible, snarling beast with jagged teeth, begging to rip him to shreds, pounding on the door, trying to break it down. Pofu was unnerved by the creature. The place where he had started grew closer and closer, the white light leading out of the memory chamber drawing thankfully closer. Pofu leapt off the platform as soon as he was near enough. He hit the ground running, a platform ahead of him and a platform behind him, all of them going to Jadi’s dreams. He burst into Jadi’s unconscious and almost immediately leapt out of his mind.
Pofu breathed heavily. The experience had shaken him. He had to get back to where he was and act as if he had always been asleep. He removed his paw from Jadi. Jadi was twitching, moaning. Pofu began to back away, intending to escape unscathed. Jadi’s eyes snapped open as he thrashed upward, awaking. His breathing was panicked. Pofu froze. Jadi’s eyes landed on him. “You!” he hissed, quietly enough to not wake the den. Pofu was dragged forward by black matter, trying to escape. “What did you do to me?” demanded Jadi in a voice that was quiet, but filled with rage.
“Nothing,” said Pofu. “Nothing, I swear.”
“Look at your mother,” hissed Jadi. Pofu’s head snapped to where she slept, alarmed. Nyota was covered in darkness, completely swallowed up, gone in an instant. Pofu couldn’t suppress a gasp. His head snapped back to Jadi, wanting to kill him. “And if you ever,” hissed Jadi, “come anywhere near me again without my explicit permission, I will see to it that you suffer a horrible, painful death! Is this clear?!” Jadi didn’t wait for an answer. Pofu found himself being dragged back to his sleeping place. He looked at his legs, surprised to see them moving this way. He looked up at Jadi to see him storming from the den, shaking with rage and fear. Pofu lied down with a sigh. A tear slid from his face. He’d tried. Jadi really was gone.