Chapter V: Nafsi
Nafsi was three years, six months, fourteen days. Or now, fifteen days, he thought, yawning and stretching. His age was automatic for him; every day he simply added another day, and subtracted another one from his third birthday. He would change on his fourth birthday; he would finally grow up. But today, he still had five months, sixteen days to go.
He looked outside to see his father waiting for him, Simo giving him the report of the kingdom. He walked outside, hearing Simo say, “. . . so they really can’t not overhunt, sire. If you want my opinion—”
“I didn’t ask for your opinion, Simo, I don’t want your opinion,” said Jadi. “Your opinions have already gotten you into quite a bit of trouble. I thought Uchu had taught you to keep you place. I would hate for you to have to join Maafa in hell.”
Simo swallowed, taken aback by the viciousness Jadi displayed. He wasn’t sure if Uchu would allow him to be killed or not. But she had told him to be submissive to Jadi. “Yes, sire,” he said loyally.
Jadi smiled. He looked down at his son. He didn’t say “Good morning” or “How nice to se you.” He simply said, “Come, Nafsi.” He walked away from Pride Rock, Nafsi following.
“Sire—” began Simo.
“Deal with it. I know you’d rather handle it yourself.”
“Yes, sire,” he said. He turned into the den to get Akasare to accompany him.
Jadi continued walking with his son by his side. Nafsi waited patiently for him to begin the lesson. Jadi stared at the ground, his brow furrowed. He finally seemed to make up his mind and asked, “Nafsi, do you remember what I’ve taught you?”
Jadi looked down, alarmed by the title suddenly bestowed upon him. Nafsi never referred to him as “Dad.” But Nafsi was simply looking at the ground as he always did. “How much?”
“Every word, Father.”
That was better. “Really?”
“Yes. Every single word.”
“Nafsi, what do you think of me as a king?”
Nafsi looked up at him. “Father?”
“By what I have taught you, what do you think of me?”
“You’re weak, Father. You say that a king should rule with a paw of stone, and should have a heart as cold as his paw when it comes to the kingdom. He should show his subjects no mercy; that they are only there for him to use, for his goals or his amusement. He should make all subjects know their duty to him, and if they waver they should be punished. You follow this, Father, but you make exceptions. The subjects fear you, but you still use Simo for reports, and more than once a day. If you followed what you teach, you would only need a report once a month; the subjects would never create problems, knowing your wrath. You are a weak king, Father.”
Jadi smiled. “It’s good that you know that. But do you know why I’m weak with the kingdom?”
“I think so. It’s because you’re weak, Father. You can’t do it.”
“That’s right. I can’t rule like that. I can make the subjects fear me for my amusement, but that’s all. I cannot stomach what I would have to do to follow what I teach. I allow unrest. I am weak.” Jadi looked down at his son with a smile. “You, however, are not. You will only want that when you grow up. You will crave their fear; you will only wish you could make them fear you more. Your power will be greater than I can imagine. I doubt even your mother knows the power you will have. I’ve seen you do some truly amazing things, son. Your power, your control . . . You will be a great king, Nafsi. You will rule like no other.” He looked down at his son, expecting to see at least the faintest glow from the praise. Nafsi kept walking as if Jadi had said nothing important. “But to be a king, you must use the power you’re given. You hold life and death over your subjects’ heads, Nafsi. Why?”
“Fear and respect.”
“Good. How do you do this?”
“However you like. Torture, blackmail, pain and . . . death.”
Jadi smiled. What a wonderful list. “Why do you hesitate?”
“I don’t understand killing, Father.”
Jadi was mildly surprised. “What do you mean?”
“It seems that the animal would be more—useful if you let them live. If you just maimed them, for example.”
“That may be. But wounds heal, son. You are forced to kill, so that your subjects will fear you even more. Some animals fear no pain. Every animal fears death. If you show them that death is the punishment, only a very, very few will ever cross you. Make it a horrible death, a long, slow, gruesome, painful death, and none will ever do it at all.”
“But Father, what about Simo? He’s the only cheetah left in the Pridelands. You killed his parents in front of him, killed his last sister in front of him, but he still defied you, until Mother changed him. You know he wants to would want to kill you if she hadn’t condition.”
“That is what it looks like, isn’t it? Simo hates me. Bitterly. But even without the conditioning, he would never, ever touch me. He is afraid. That fear overcomes his hate. That is the price you pay. You will have subjects that hate you. But you, son, you will overcome that. You will kill the ones who think little of you; you will make sure that all will love you.”
“But wouldn’t more killing only create more bitterness?”
“That is where their fear of you drives them back. Soon they will be afraid to feel anything but love for their king, overwhelming devotion. Instant death awaits anything else.”
“So you kill . . . to make them love you?”
Jadi smiled. “That is a way you could put it. But there are other reasons for killing, too.”
“Well, there is the obvious reason. Need. To kill or be killed, and all the variations that come with it. Us hunting animals for food. Forcing the cubs to fight over meat simply so they’ll have something in their stomach. A mother pushing her cubs out into the wild for the simple reason that she can’t catch enough food for both them and her. Two animals, killing each other over a prized object, or simply because they are forced to by someone else.”
Nafsi stared at the ground, thinking. “Didn’t you say there was more than one reason? Besides need?”
Jadi smiled. “There is one other that I can think of right now. Enjoyment. Pure bliss. Nafsi, killing is one of the most wonderful things in the world. Akasare knows this. He kills out of addiction. He feels wonderful lust for the hunt. He catches his prey and tears them apart, hungering for their blood. I kill for amusement. To see the horror on their faces. To smile as they fight back, desperately praying for escape. To watch them thrash wildly as they slowly, painfully die. It’s amusing. When I killed my father, I think I finally understood that. I could have let him die quickly, but I chose to watch him gag, to watch him thrash. It’s a wonderful thing, Nafsi.”
The walk was over. They ascended the ramp to Pride Rock. Uwivu was coming out of the den, and hurriedly got out of their path. “Is it really that good, Father?”
“It’s beyond words, Nafsi.” Jadi stopped and looked at Uwivu in a way she didn’t like at all. “So show me what you’ve learned today, Nafsi.”
Uwivu gasped as her head snapped down to Nafsi. She knew better that to plead with Jadi. But she was barely three, only a couple of months over. She had no right to die. Nafsi looked at her and then up to his father. “Father . . .”
“Kill her, Nafsi.”
Jadi smiled. “You can choose. Need or pleasure.”
Nafsi looked back at Uwivu. To her credit, she maintained a straight face; only her wild eyes showed her fear. He’ll do it. He’s been waiting for this. He’ll do it for how I’ve treated him. Nafsi stared at her, then looked back up at his father. “I can’t.”
“It’s simple. I’ve seen you use your power. Use them now. Break her neck. Cut open her heart. Drive through her stomach. Do it any way you please.”
“Dad . . . please. I can’t.”
Jadi’s eyes flashed angrily. “You refuse?”
“I don’t want to. She’s . . . she’s my friend.”
Jadi’s eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed in anger. “Friend.” He raised his paw to strike Uwivu.
“Dad, no!” Jadi looked down at his son in disgust. “Please.”
Jadi couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Akasare!” he roared.
Akasare walked out of the den. “Sire.”
“Take my son to the pool.”
“Yes, sire.” Akasare waited for Nafsi to walk obediently down the stairs first, then followed him. Uwivu watched them go, amazed. Nafsi was suddenly removed from her vision as Jadi’s paw whipped across her face. She fell to the ground, a gasp of pain escaping her. More noises escaped her as Jadi hit her again and again.
Nafsi was angry. He knew exactly what Jadi was during as soon as he heard Uwivu’s first scream. He wanted to go back and stop it. He kept walking. He didn’t know if his father would kill her or not. But if he did . . . well, Nafsi wasn’t sure what he’d do. He could see the spire that housed the pool looming in the distance, growing bigger and bigger. He looked up at Akasare by his side. “Why is my father angry at me?”
Akasare looked down at him. “You really don’t know?”
“Is it because I refused to hurt Uwivu?”
“So that’s what you did? Huh. Well, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. But it’s probably what set him off.”
“What’s an iceberg?”
“A huge floating piece of ice. Something I died on. Repeatedly.”
“How can water be solid?”
“When it gets really cold. Now do you want me to answer your question of not?”
“Why the tip of the iceberg?”
Akasare groaned. Any other cub he would have given a good smack, the kind that broke necks. But he was scared of Nafsi. “Forget it. He’s angry at you for a lot more than just that.”
“I prefer squishy.”
“You’re weak, prince. You should have killed her right there. You should have killed her a long time ago. The cubs should fear you. They don’t. And above all, you shouldn’t have called her your friend. I heard that much.”
“Nafsi, you weren’t born. You were created. You did come out of Uchu, but you probably spent well over four months in her, just being made.”
“I know. She said it took almost a year.”
“The point is, you are perfect. In theory. Your mother made every bit of you, especially your mind. You shouldn’t feel loneliness. You should want to beat those cubs into the ground instead.”
“I do want to. But it seems . . . heartless.” Akasare laughed. “What? What’s so funny?”
“Not really funny. More ironic.” He laughed again. “You, having a heart. What do you know about kindness? I really doubt you know the first thing.”
“I . . . I don’t.”
“Then why didn’t you kill Uwivu?”
“Because then I wouldn’t have her as a friend.” Nafsi paused. “Isn’t that kindness?”
“It’s selfishness, Prince. I doubt you have ever had an unselfish thought in your life. Do you know what your life will be like six months from now?”
“I . . . I have dreams. Visions. When I grow up, I’ll destroy the Pridelands. I’ll kill my parents. The pool will go into me, all of it. They’ll die without it. You’ll die as well. I’ll slaughter the den, Grandma first. I’ll burn the Great Tree. It’ll be the only thing left standing after I’m done.”
“But do you know what will happen then?”
“Bits and pieces.”
“You shouldn’t even exist, Prince. You’re part lion, part pool. It isn’t right. You have unimaginable power. You’ll conquer the world. You’ll live forever. It won’t be enjoyable. It’ll be a half-life, a weary life with no happiness, only pleasure from their suffering. At least, I wouldn’t like it. But you . . . you’ll thrive on it. But there’s one little problem. That’s how it’s supposed to go. You aren’t as you’re supposed to be. Ever dream about that?”
Nafsi looked at the ground, worried by the amount of Akasare’s knowledge. “Yes. I—I would have killed Uwivu by now. The first time she crossed me . . . I should have killed her. Frozen her completely, like stone. But clear.”
“Yes . . . ice.” Nafsi looked up at Akasare. “How do you know so much?”
“I’ve died. The gods know what you are. I found out when I was up there. Jadi brought me back. But I’m not too worried about you. Except about the dying again part. You’ll bring me back. I hope.” They walked into the cave. Nafsi looked at the pool nervously. It was the only thing that made him feel anything approaching fear. “Because it won’t matter, those little flaws of yours. When you grow, you will be so overwhelmed by hate and anger and lust that all else will be drowned, barely there if at all.” He looked down at Nafsi. “The hate will win out.”
“But what if it doesn’t?”
“Then this should fix it.” He hit Nafsi into the pool and walked out of the cave. “Some, at least.”
Nafsi hated being in the pool. His father encouraged it. It was the only time he spent with Nafsi other than when he taught him to be a king. The pool overwhelmed Nafsi, amplified his emotions. The older he became, the more effect the pool had on him. It felt to Nafsi as if it was tearing him apart, completely destroying who he was. The pool knew Nafsi was made wrong, even if his parents didn’t see it. It tried to repair Nafsi. Nafsi fought against it desperately. He wanted to remain him. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he did. It was only instinctual survival. But even though Nafsi escaped from the pool unchanged every time, there would always be those emotions. The pool seemed to change his loneliness into things it found more appealing. Nafsi felt them welling up in him now. The hatred. The anger. The urge to destroy those against him.
Nafsi emerged on the surface of the pool, his teeth bared in anger. He usually felt the emotions disappear fairly soon, almost as soon as he left the pool. They stayed. Nafsi left the den, angry. Furious at Akasare for pushing him in. Furious at Jadi for beating Uwivu. Furious at Uwivu for never, ever doing a single thing for him. Furious—no, no, enraged—at Taabu for her useless advice, for her stupidity, for taking advantage of his naïveté. All of the fury he had suppressed had swum to the surface. Nafsi let it stay. With any luck, some of it would cool off on the walk back. And in the meantime, he would hate the world with every step he took.
The day would have been uneventful if it hadn’t been for a wildebeest. Nafsi walked by it, ignoring it. He couldn’t ignore, however, the sarcastic remark of “Oh, look at the prince.” Nafsi looked up at it, his anger rising. “Going back to your daddy?”
“Una, be quiet,” reprimanded another wildebeest, a female.
“Why should I? We’ve suffered under his father long enough.” Una looked down at Nafsi and spit at him. Nafsi felt it strike his cheek. “You’re filth, that’s all you are.”
“Una,” begged the female. She turned to Nafsi. “Please, sire, ignore him. Please don’t hurt us.”
“Oh, shut up,” Una said. He hit Nafsi with a hoof. “He’s pathetic. And this is the prince. You’re a little freak. That’s all you are. And you expect me to bow to you.” Nafsi tried to ignore it, literally shaking with rage. He turned to Pride Rock. “Yeah, go back to Mommy with the story of how a little wildebeest hurt me so bad, and won’t you just kills me and say it’s all right? Pathetic! And they expect us to bow to you!”
Una gasped as Nafsi turned his head to him, Nafsi’s features that of utter rage. Una cried out in pain as a spike pierced his side, causing him to fall to the ground. But Nafsi wasn’t finished. There was an entire herd of wildebeest. The female next to Una had run back toward the herd. Fire suddenly leapt up her body. She screamed in pain. Nafsi ran toward the herd. He threw back a paw, the claws lengthened enormously by black matter. He swung it felling a dozen wildebeest. The herd stampeded. Nafsi held up a paw, several wildebeest being encased in ice, knocked over, and trampled to bits. More had fire consume their bodies. Black matter twisted, broke, impaled, strangled. The wildebeest didn’t fall one by one, they fell in masses. Lightning played from the sunny sky, slaughtering them. Their screams of pain filled the air, music to Nafsi’s ears, urging him on further and further. Finally, the last one fell. Nafsi’s chest heaved, not from effort, but from rage. It felt so good to unleash it upon them, to finally make someone pay for what he felt, for the indecencies done to him.
“Unh . . .” Nafsi turned around to see a wildebeest on the ground, his chest heaving, away from the others. Nafsi walked over to it. It was Una. He looked up at Nafsi, his eyes wild with fear. “Please,” he begged. “Please, I didn’t mean it, please don’t kill me. I’m begging you.” Nafsi’s mouth curled into a snarl. “No . . .” Nafsi raised back his paw. “No, please!” Una barely had time to look up into the sky to see the meteor form before it was hurled down to the earth.
Jadi was furious. “This isn’t supposed to happen! You said this wasn’t even possible!”
“It isn’t,” said Uchu. “He is—”
“He is not perfect! He is flawed! He’s sympathetic! He wants friends! That—is—not—perfect!”
“He shouldn’t be feeling those emotions.”
“But he is!”
Taabu smiled. She had never seen the two of them blow up at each other. The entire den was enjoying it. Even poor Uwivu, even through the pain of her beaten body, she was smiling. They all earnestly prayed that one would kill the other over this. “He doesn’t understand his emotions,” said Uchu patiently. “They’re the most unstable part of him. He goes to extremes. He can feel immense amounts of anger and hate. The only thing that keeps it back is a barrier. If it snaps, so will he. It’s what makes him so dangerous.”
“He doesn’t get angry! He doesn’t get anything! Not happy, not sad—”
“I wouldn’t yell at me like that,” said Uchu coldly. Jadi gasped as he was pinned to the ground by black matter. “You mustn’t forget your place.”
Jadi struggled against the matter, unable to move. “Let me up!” he snarled. The pressure increased and he let out a gasp of pain.
Uchu smiled. “And what have we learned?”
“I—I won’t yell at you.”
“Good.” The bonds vanished. “Because I will kill you.”
Jadi stood up, stunned by the cold in her voice. “Well, what’s wrong with Nafsi?” he asked. Politely.
“I don’t know. His mind should make him belligerent, resentful that he has to obey you. But it’s possible that he simply is learning from you, and will kill you as soon as he feels you’re no longer of any value. It’s possible that he simply doesn’t feel a need to kill. There are more efficient ways to break someone than losing their loved ones.”
“But he doesn’t do anything! He doesn’t react at all! If he—”
Jadi turned to see Akasare sting in the mouth of the den. “Where is my son?”
“I put him in the pool, as requested.”
“You left him there?!”
“Yes, sire. Put him in and came back . . . with a few side trips.”
“Bring him back! Now! I want to talk to him!”
“I said—” Jadi stopped, seeing a small burst of color above Akasare’s shoulder. He squinted to make it out. “What . . .” There were more flashes of blue and red. Jadi walked past Akasare. “What is that?”
“I don’t know, sire.”
Lighting rained from the sky, hitting where the flashes were earlier. “What in Aiheu’s unholy name . . .” Jadi and Akasare gasped as the rock fell from the sky, staring at the devastation in wonder for a second before they were thrown back by the shockwave. Very lioness in the den, lying down or standing, tumbled toward the back of the den. Jadi got up and looked back at what had happened. A gigantic crater stood in the Pridelands, the land around it charred black. Flames leapt along the outside, while the inside poured out smoke.
Jadi ran off Pride Rock toward the crater. He stopped at she reached the edge of the scorched ground around it, feeling his paws burn. They were lucky it had rained recently; the fire didn’t spread too far. The smoke moved oddly on the edge of the crater, and Jadi watched in amazement as his son walked out of it, trailing smoke from a body that had black wisps playing over it, healing the damage. Nafsi walked straight for his father, toward Pride Rock. “Nafsi . . .” Jadi whispered.
“Get out of the way,” said Nafsi. Jadi hurriedly moved, Nafsi walking past him. Jadi paused and looked back at the destruction he had created. Hundreds of animals would have died from this. Jadi followed his son home, smiling.
Two figures stood on a nearby scorched hill, unaffected by the heat. Auras shone around both of them, one aura far brighter than the subdued other. “I can’t believe this,” said Ilemi. He turned to look at Aiheu, the lion’s face grave. “He did all of this. As a cub.”
Aiheu sighed. “Yes.” He looked down at the retreating cub, followed by his father. “It is incredible.”
“How could this have possibly happened?”
“He has power. He always has. He never used it.” Aiheu shook his head. “He’ll only grow stronger after he grows up. And when he does . . .”
“It’s the end of the world?” Ilemi asked sarcastically.
“It very well may be.”
Simo walked into the den. It was a little over five months since Soul’s Crater had been created. The smoke had finally stopped three months ago. It was now cool enough to walk into. If anyone actually felt like walking into that pit. Countless animals had died in the blast. Simo had smiled when he saw the prince next, and commented on the excellent piece of work he had done. Nafsi had been silent. Simo had continued on his way. Nafsi had never taken praise well. He didn’t seem to even take it. Comments on the things that should have made him happiest only made him silent, almost moody.
Simo walked into the den. He should have waited outside. Jadi looked up as he entered, surprised to see Simo in the den this early in the morning. He wasn’t too shocked however, to remind Simo, “Simo, you mustn’t forget to bow when you enter.”
Simo bowed low. “Your pardon, sire.”
“Where were you yesterday?” demanded Jadi. “You never came to the den.”
“I took the day off.”
Black matter leapt up Simo as he gasped. “You’re feeling awfully brave today, Simo.”
“Sire?” said Simo. He tried to use as little breath as possible.
“I thought I made it quite clear to you that you have no freedom. You serve me unquestioningly.”
“Sire, I was exhausted—”
“That is no excuse!”
“The queen said I could go.”
The black matter disappeared. “What?” hissed Jadi.
“She—she said I could take the day off. That I shouldn’t work so hard when I was this tired. As a reward. Sire.”
The black matter reappeared, crushing in on Simo. “You obey me!” said Jadi furiously. “I am the king!”
“Sire . . .”
“She bows to me, as do you!”
“Sire, please . . .” choked Simo.
“You leave, and my son disappears this morning? You expect me to take that as a coincidence?” Jadi roared. “Where is my son? What did you do with him?”
“Sire, he’s with a lioness. I saw them. Together.” Simo prayed this would be good enough to save him.
“He WHAT?” Jadi turned to look at Akasare. “Bring him back. Now!”
“And the lioness, sire?” Akasare asked.
“Cut her down.”
Akasare smiled. “Yes, sire.”
To anyone it would have looked like a nearly full-grown lioness and her cub, taking a walk around the Pridelands through the early morning mist that blanketed the ground. But if anyone knew anything about the Pridelands, they would have realized that the lioness was most definitely not the cub’s mother. Uwivu had no idea what was going on. Nafsi had woken her up and asked her to follow him. She’d hesitated. “I can make it an order if it makes you feel better,” he’d said. So she’d followed him. The only thing that had happened was a bitter conversation.
“What did you bring me out here for?” she asked rudely.
“I just wanted to talk,” he said.
“We don’t have anything to talk about.”
She looked down at him as they walked on in silence. She used to not know why she always gave him such bitter words. The other lionesses had stopped talking badly about Nafsi after Soul’s Crater. She hadn’t. She realized she was lying to herself when she said she didn’t know why she treated him badly. It was because he represented everything she despised. He was the prince, son of the two most feared animals in the Pridelands. She hated the king and queen bitterly, and took it out on their son. But she had grown to hate herself. He didn’t deserve her treatment, but she treated him like filth. “Your parents want to kill you,” she told him.
“They want to start over, whatever that means.”
“They plan to make someone else, with none of my flaws.”
“Jadi’s so mad at you.”
“Because I haven’t done a single thing that he would have since Soul’s Crater.” Nafsi paused. “Who made up that name?”
“I don’t know.”
“My father is angry because I was born wrong.”
“Obviously, seeing how you’re the little freak you are.”
Nafsi smiled a little. “You hate me so much. I don’t know exactly why.” He paused. “My mother made me.”
“Congratulations. You understand the facts of life now.”
“No, she didn’t just give birth to me. I mean she made me. Created me. I’m supposed to be her image of perfect. I can’t feel happiness at all, Uwivu. Not too much sadness, either. But loneliness . . . I’m not supposed to feel it. But I do. It makes up for the sadness. It’s something that just—just won’t go away. I mean, I’ve got Grandma, but I want more. I don’t know if that’s natural or not. Maybe it’s because she’s too old. Maybe I want someone my age.” He looked up at her. “You think I’m trying to make you feel sorry for me, don’t you?”
“I could care less what you feel,” she said bitterly, her heart melting. “It only goes to show you’re an even bigger freak than I thought.” More than ever she just wanted to hug him and tell him she was sorry.
“I thought you’d say that. You hate me. And I think my parents hate me, too. They’re going to kill me, and make someone else. I don’t know if they’ll get it wrong again or not.”
“And I care why?”
“Well, I have dreams. They used to be right. But they’re wrong now. They show me what should have happened. You’re supposed to be dead. I killed you. And I’ll destroy the Pridelands.”
“Like I’m supposed to believe that.”
“It’s true. I’ll grow up in six days. On my fourth birthday. In just a few seconds, I’ll be a lion. I’ll still be able to restrain my emotions. But I won’t. I’ll kill each one of you in the den. Then I’ll destroy the Pridelands. I’ll make the entire Pridelands look like Soul’s Crater. Stars will rain from the sky, destroying everything. Except the Great Tree. I’ll burn it. The only thing left standing.”
“Oh, yes. You’ll get your revenge for all the little cubs that teased you, then you’ll turn on the mommy and daddy that never loved you, and then you’ll destroy the world that hates you so much.”
“Not really. The cubs were supposed to have stopped the teasing when I killed you as an example. And my parents . . . they’ll just die when I grow up. I’ll absorb the pool. They can’t live without it. I don’t think they know they’ll die.”
“And then you’ll destroy the world.”
“No. Rule it.” He paused. “If I had any sense at all, I’d take you with me. I’d make you the first of my private pride. But unlike the others, I’d make your life a living hell.”
Uwivu bit her lip. He’d be perfectly justified in inflicting some of the pain he’d felt from her. She knew she might even be responsible for Soul’s Crater. If she had helped him, been kind to him, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe none of those animals would have died. She knew what Taabu was trying to do. She wasn’t coddling her grandson; she was trying to keep Nafsi from turning into a horrible monster like Jadi. Uwivu had understood this for half her life, yet she still ridiculed him. “Yes, you would try to hurt me, wouldn’t you?” she said acidly. “You’re no better than your father.”
“It’s funny. I can be some much worse. It feels so good to make others pay. Soul’s Crater was a relief I needed. But I don’t understand. I knocked you down once, remember? With that pet I made for you. How you nearly broke a leg falling down the ramp. That hurt me more than anything. It’s because you’re my friend. And I don’t want to hurt you. I want to make you happy. Whatever that is.” Uwivu felt horrible. “I just don’t know what’s right. Mother says I don’t need friends, that they’re below me, and they’ll only hurt me. And they do. Grandma tells me to do exactly what I don’t want, and I listen because she’s my friend. But Mother says it’s good to take your feelings out on others, and it does fell good to be angry at someone, but Grandma says it’s bad, to not hurt others.”
“So you either listen to that black bitch or some old coot who—”
“Don’t you dare talk about Grandma that way.”
“I’ll speak how I want, your highlessness. I don’t obey Jadi, and I don’t obey you.” She noticed the spire that housed the pool for the first time. “And we shouldn’t even be here.”
“I thought you didn’t obey my father.”
“I . . .”
“You’re fine. You’re with me.” Nafsi steered toward the spire. “But you’re scared of my father. What’s fear like?”
“It’s hell. He could kill me any second for his pleasure. And you’ll kill me for the same reason. Oh, wait, you’re going to take me away and rape me repeatedly.”
“No. I told you, the dreams are wrong. I just wonder . . .” He looked into the spire, seeing the pool inside it. “Well, what’s right Uwivu? Really?” She didn’t answer. “Grandma might be. But my parents might be. I don’t know.” He sighed, walking toward the pool. “But if this works, my friends will be happy . . .”
Uwivu watched him walk into the spire, into the middle of the pool. He looked down at the pool, then turned around and grinned stupidly at Uwivu. Uwivu didn’t notice the pool climbing up his body, sinking into him, until it reached his torso. “Nafsi!” she cried in horror. She leapt toward him, only to have rocks suddenly tumble down, blocking the entrance. She pounded on them, doing no good. She stepped back, looking at the barricade helplessly. She should have stopped Nafsi. She heard a laugh and turned around.
Akasare’s form became visible through the morning mist. He wore a broad smile on his face. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
Uwivu watched in horror as his claws slid out and he licked his lips in eager apprehension. She began pounding on the rocks again. “Nafsi! Nafsi, let me in! Please, Nafsi!”
Akasare laughed as he continued forward. “I should have ended your impudence long ago.” He swung back a paw. Uwivu flinched. Akasare’s paw stopped as he grunted. His paw was lowered to the ground, shaking violently with the rest of his body. “No,” he said defiantly. “I won’t go back.” He seemed to flicker for an instant, then was gone, grass simply straightening up where he had been. Uwivu stared at where he had been in disbelief. A roar suddenly ripped through the morning air. Uwivu sprinted back to Pride Rock.
Simo lied on the floor of the den. He was fine. Jadi had released him. Uchu had told him to. Simo knew, despite all of Jadi’s words, who bowed to who. And his protector, his goddess, had saved him. Simo never stopped giving her thanks for the second chance that she gave him, and the opportunities to prove himself to her over and over. And she had rewarded him, more than once. He may not have had cheetahs to mate with, but she was more than willing to let him have substitutions from the den. She was his queen. He loved her, as every animal should: with fierce, unyielding devotion.
Taabu hung her head when she heard Jadi order Akasare after Nafsi. She knew it was Uwivu that had gone with him. They all knew who was missing, except for Jadi and Uchu, who never paid attention to names. They simply used the lionesses as toys, in different ways but with the same results: pleasure for them but pain for the lionesses. She looked toward Shani and Tumai. They began to talk, jarringly at first, trying to forget how quickly and suddenly Uwivu’s promising life would be cut short. Taabu finally dropped her eyes to the floor, weeping. “Taabu,” said Tumai, “it’ll be okay. Uwivu will be in a better place. She won’t have to suffer.”
“It’s not Uwivu. Jadi’s going to kill Nafsi. And there’s nothing I can do. Nothing at all.”
“Why should we care about the brat?” asked Shani. “We’ve the oldest lionesses in the pride since Aka killed his mother off. Worry about yourself, Taabu.”
“Don’t you have any feelings?” asked Taabu.
“He doesn’t,” muttered Tumai.
“Nafsi is going to die!” Taabu screamed. All heads turned toward her.
Uchu looked over at Taabu. “You care?” Taabu looked away. Uchu got up and walked to her. “You care.”
Taabu looked up at her. “Yes,” she said defiantly.
Uchu hit her, lifting her bodily from the ground and into the wall a few feet away. Taabu groaned with pain. “You didn’t give up, did you?” asked Uchu. “You kept talking to him, even after we warned you to stop.” Taabu didn’t answer. It felt like something had broken. Uchu shook her head. “The penalty is death.” She laughed. “Not that I need a rea—” She stopped in mid-sentence, her eyes widening in fear. She let out a roar of pain in unison with Jadi, both falling to the ground. They screamed, bodies writhing. Uchu began to melt away, a small puddle appearing on the floor of the den before disappearing completely. Jadi gave one final cry of anguish and stopped moving entirely, his body flopping to the side, dead. The den stared at them in amazement. Uchu had left no trace; only Jadi’s corpse remained.
Simo stared at the place where Uchu had disappeared. “No,” he whispered. She was gone. His queen was gone. He felt tears forming in his eyes. He looked up at Taabu in fury. “YOU KILLED HER!” he screamed. He leapt at Taabu. He never touched her. Lionesses leapt at him, tackling him to the ground. They bit into him, tearing at him, raking his sides, making him scream in pain. They wanted him to feel the pain for all the horrible ways that he had made them suffer, for how he had raped them, for how he had beaten them. They finally stepped back from his body, looking at the corpse that had had its legs and head detached in their rage. No one spoke.
Uwivu ran into the den minutes later. She stopped, staring at Jadi’s corpse in amazement, barely noting Simo’s. She asked the obvious question. “What happened?”
“They . . . they just died,” said a lioness. “Just . . . died.”
Uwivu stared at Jadi’s body, pieces slowly coming together in her head in dawning horror. And my parents . . . they’ll just die when I grow up. . . . They can’t live without it. Uwivu gasped and began to run back to the spire.
Akasare looked around the dark room with fear. He heard laughter, laughter that only brought forth memories of pain and anguish. He turned to see a heavenly creature sitting, its wings spread out on the sides of its mixed feline body, slightly curled. Akasare knew it well. It was a malaiki, one of hundreds, possibly thousands, in heaven. He—for Akasare knew it was a he, there was no other way for him to tell—said, “Well, if this isn’t straight ironic. I get put on duty now that my work with you’s done, and you show up again.” The malaiki laughed again. “Well, I know where I’ll be headed next.”
A rectangle appeared, and a lion stepped through, an aura shining around him. “Quiet, malaiki.”
“Hey, I have a name, sir.”
“Yessir.” The malaiki disappeared.
Akasare stared at the lion, his face disgusted, yet somewhat amused. He felt like he was looking into a mirror. “So they made you an Illuminati, did they, Taraju?”
Taraju looked at his counterpart, barely able to check his rage. “They call me Ilemi now.”
“Ooh, how special. New rank, new name. Bet you’ve been busy. I have.”
Ilemi snarled. “How could you even do those things?!” he yelled. “You killed dozens of animals, you murdered our own mother, you—” Taraju shook his head, unable to say it.
Akasare laughed. “That’s right. I raped Tumai. I raped your lover. I defiled her. You know how barren she was, but I still gave her cubs. And let me tell you, it was wonderful. So—”
“Enough!” thundered Taraju.
“How she screamed when I did it, how she begged me to stop, how she said how much she loved me before it. You should have seen it. Or . . . you did, didn’t you?” Akasare laughed. “And They didn’t let you touch me, did They? Oh, you must have enjoyed seeing me take her like—”
“SHUT UP!” roared Ilemi. He rushed at Akasare and hit him as hard as he could, sending him through a black rectangle to his punishment. Taraju hung his head as the rectangle closed.
Tumai . . .
Uwivu ran to the spire, stopping at the barricade. “Uwivu!” Uwivu turned to see her sister, Chungu, running up to her. “What is your problem?”
“Nafsi’s in there!”
“Since when have you cared about him?”
“Just please help me move these rocks. Please. We have to get him out.”
“Just leave him. He’s more use to us in there.”
Uwivu swung her paw at the rocks angrily. To her surprise, instead of holding p, the rocks crumbled apart. She looked into the cave. The dust settled enough for her to see into it. She drew in a gasp. “Nafsi!”
Nafsi lied on the ground, his breathing labored. He’d done it, He’d destroyed the pool. And he would die. But he would live just a few minutes longer. He had been weak enough to arrange that. The pool had nearly overwhelmed him; he had felt it rushing into him, attempting to force him to grow early. He’d fought desperately. And he’d won. But he prayed someone would find him now, that one of his friends would come to him to see what he had done for them. He felt pain in his body as he began to die.
The rocks in the entrance finally fell away without his power to hold them up. He saw Uwivu standing in the entrance. “Nafsi!” she gasped, and rushed to his side. “Nafsi . . . oh, please don’t die. Not now.” He saw her eyes tears up as the pain increased in his body.
He gave a small laugh. “I . . . knew you . . . liked me.”
“Nafsi . . . don’t go . . .”
He held up a small, shaking paw. “Friend . . .”
Uwivu held out a paw to talk his, his paw disappearing before she could take it, unraveling into black shards that flew a few inches up before disappearing completely. She watched in grief as the effect spread from his extremities to his torso, then finally to his head. Finally the last of him was gone. Uwivu stared at the spot where he had been, tears streaming down her face. “Nafsi,” she whispered. “Friend . . .”
Taabu lifted her head up from the ground as Uwivu walked into the den. “Nafsi?” she asked gently, afraid of the answer.
“He’s gone,” said Uwivu.
Taabu lowered her head to the ground, wincing in pain. Something had been broken by Uchu. But she was filled with a far greater pain. “Not Nafsi . . .” She sighed as a tear leaked down her face.
“Well, now what?” asked Tumai.
“What do you mean?” asked Uwivu.
“We’ll all end up with Nafsi soon. There aren’t any more males. No more cubs.”
“Pofu won’t do it. He’s chaste.”
Taabu shook her head. “Then this is it, isn’t it? The end for all of us.”
“Wait!” protested a cub. “What about the rest?”
Pofu turned back to the cub with a smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “The story isn’t over.”