Savanna ChronicleS

What the River Holds

By Babyfirewolf

Note: If you haven’t read my other stories, especially The Coming of Meersha, you should probably, because then you won’t end up getting this one. This story takes place sometime during The Coming of Meersha after Zarazu falls into the river. I’d also like to say that I haven’t actually finished it but I don’t know if I’m ever going to, so here’s a good chunk of the story for now, and if you have feedback or would like me to finish up the story, then go ahead and email me and I might be able to do so in the near future. Other than that, the stories and characters in them were created by me and aren’t allowed to be used without my permission, except of course, The Lion King and all their original characters that belong to Disney. I’m too lazy to list off the Disney characters or my own (there’s a few of mine written below) other than that, go ahead and read if you’re interested. Oh, sorry if there are random, obscured notes and spelling errors or anything - I’m sending this in a hurry so yeah.

See past end of story for list of Lion Terms

Part I:

Pride by the River

Nula Noo-luh

Daylu Day-loo

Zarazu Zar-aw-zoo

Meersha Meer-shuh

Ruku Roo-koo

Kinu Kee-noo

Kayna Kay-nuh

Isha Ee-shuh

Bayli Bay-lee

Hitha Hi-thuh

Kinaka Kin-aw-kuh

Kibahi Ki-baw-hee

Hika Heek-uh

Tzika Tz-ee-kuh

Kila Kee-luh

Tumba Toom-buh

 

I

Dreams by the Shine-River Territory

"Where are you?!"

"Here! I'm right here!"

"No! He's the murderer! He's an evil lion! Over here! ...

"He's the evil lion!"

The water was roaring just as strongly as ever. His claws were almost breaking as they attempted to hold his body up. Soon enough, they let go. Up his eyes traveled, and stared right into hers...His loving mate. The mate that had no regret as she gazed down - down as he fell. And then, he was swept away in a sea of black...and there was nothing...

Water rushed over the giant white and black creature. It didn't move. Still, Nula continued to stare at it with wide, fearful, curious eyes of innocent blue. Cautiously, looking around for a moment, the cub toddled over, batting a small paw at the huge, dead animal. Suddenly, a groan filled the air, and the drenched lump began to move. Gasping, the red-brown cub yelled, "Daylu!"

The giant continued to move as the cub took a couple steps back, head slightly tilted. Suddenly, another cub came running over, along with a lioness.

"Whoa!" the other cub cried, stopping next to Nula. "What is it?" he asked, very interested.

"Stay away from it!" the lioness hissed at the little ones.

She stepped forward, sniffing the air, and then lowered her head to scent the body.

"A lion. He's not dead." she stated, almost emotionless. She turned to look over her shoulder at the little males, saying, "Go back to the pride."

"But-!" Nula's brother started.

"Now!"

The two scrambled away from the river, and disappeared over a dip in the land. The lioness called Daylu looked back, frowning while the stranger was struggling to move. Only a couple more moments went by as the black and white lion moaned and groaned, and finally turned and lifted his head, only an inch or so off the earth, opening his blue eyes and gazing straight up at Daylu. Daylu just stood there, every muscle in her body tense, her fur rising on end, claws extended. But she did not move. Nor did she look away. The male was still now, and silent, still gazing at her while the cold water blanketed his body. A dribble of blood stuck to the corner of his mouth. From what Daylu could see, he was breathing deeply. He did not seem like a threat, though as strange as he was. She had never seen him here before, and she highly doubted that he had meant to end up there, on the side of the river, near her territory. Still, the two were looking at each other, caught silently in a stage of mere curiosity and interest. Finally, still stiff, Daylu asked, "Who are you?"

Silence.

"Do you not have a name?" she urged.

The male suddenly coughed up some water from the lungs, then choked, "Zarazu..." and from there, he lie back down, blackness overtaking his vision once more.

~~~

"I asked him his name, and he said Zarazu. But that's the only thing I could get out of him before he fell unconscious again." a distant, echoing voice was saying. "He does not seem like a threat, though. I think he must've gotten swept by the river, so who knows where he lives or how far?"

"Not a threat?" a voice snapped. "This is the strangest thing that has happened here in the Shine-River pride. And you know, strange things are never good."

Zarazu moved. He was still on the side of the river, but someone must've dragged him up a bit. Though he was away from the water, he was shivering in a blanket of mud.

"He's waking!" the second voice snarled.

Suddenly, Zarazu forced his eyes open once more. It was night. Around him stood lions. Immediately his drying fur began to bristle.

"Meersha!" he cried before he could help himself.

"Meersha?" asked an older, female voice. "Who in the world is Meersha?"

Suddenly, the lioness from before, stepped forward. "Zarazu?"

Zarazu blinked, as he tried to push himself off the wet ground.

"Zarazu. I am Daylu of the Shine-River pride. What pride do you originate from?"

Carefully, he sat up, blinking. "Where am I?" he asked, ignoring her question.

"The Shine-River's territory." a male growled.

Zarazu looked up, seeing a lion, a few years younger than he, standing near Daylu. Near those two were six other lionesses, two of whom looked elderly, and one the most elderly of them all.

"Where do you come from?" Daylu repeated once more.

Zarazu glanced at the now-calmer river, almost longingly, before looking back. "I...I don't know." he muttered. It was true. Whoever those eyes belonged to, and those voices, he hadn't a clue anymore. Were they someone he knew? And why was he called Zarazu? How did he remember that?

"Well, now that you're awake, I expect you'll be leaving." the male persisted, his brown eyes sharp, his tan coat glittering in the moonlight as his dark brown mane waved in the light breeze.

"Quiet, Ruku." growled one of the older lionesses. "Have manners."

"No. Leave." hissed Ruku. "You've stayed here long enough."

"He is not a threat, my young pride-son." the most elderly looking females exclaimed.

"Every male is a threat." hissed Ruku.

"Fortunately, you're not in charge, Ruku," Daylu suddenly blurted out.

Zarazu just sat there, stiff as a tee as he waited for them to notice him once more. He could see that Ruku was hurt, and angered. The brown lion had turned away, glaring at the ground for a moment, and then jerked his head back to Daylu. "And you are?" he challenged. "I want this male gone!"

"Silence, young one!" another of the elderly lionesses - yet younger than the other one - growled. "Leave your cousin be!"

Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Ruku sat down. "All right. Whatever. You decide what goes on then, Daylu." he hissed.

All eyes were on Daylu now, including Zarazu, though she did not flinch. She looked around with her yellow, gleaming eyes, tan fur covering her slim body, before she looked back at Zarazu, straightening up. "Zarazu, you have washed up here on the Shine-River's territory. Though some of us are not so keen to showing manners," she glared at Ruku for a moment, who returned it. "I wish only for you to know us as a humble pride."

Zarazu blinked, then glanced at the river one last time, heart beating somewhat faster than normal. When he looked back, he replied with, "I really don't know where I come from. I haven't a clue." Each word stung him like embers, and he couldn't help but flinch. "But for some reason, maybe it's better that I ended up here than staying where I was before."

"Well then, please," Daylu said, glancing at Ruku once more, with a smug expression. "Stay here as long as you need."

"WHAT?!" Ruku roared. "This is a stranger! And a rogue!"

"I am not a rogue." Zarazu suddenly said, standing up and looking much more impressive than Ruku did, as he stood taller with much more muscle. "Know me as Zarazu, not as a rogue. Know me as a friend - not as an enemy."

"You don't even seem to know yourself!" snarled Ruku.

"I just know that I am not an enemy." Zarazu stated, strongly. This was one thing he was sure of.

Daylu grinned, then looked over at the elderly lionesses. The oldest looking nodded.

"Zarazu," Daylu said, looking back at him. "You're welcome to stay near our borders."

With that, the elders turned away, and padded out of sight. The young ones followed obediently, and even Ruku - giving one last glare to both Daylu and Zarazu - trailed behind. Daylu and Zarazu watched the spot where the others had been, before looking back at each other.

"You really don't know where you came from?" Daylu suddenly asked.

"Aren't you going to follow your pride?" Zarazu asked, frowning slightly.

"I'm staying by the borders, so that I can find out more about you - is that so bad?" she then challenged.

This lioness's expression caused Zarazu's fur to stand up, just barely. Why was it that she was so interested? Why was it that she was allowing him to stay by her territory? And why was it that she had the authority to do so? Still, she was allowing him to stay here without any hostile feelings. The least he could do was answer her...no matter how much pain it gave him to do so.

"Like I said," Zarazu growled. "I don't know. Miles up the river, I expect."

"How’d you end up here?"

"I..." and he trailed off, looking at his giant forepaws, before gazing up once more. "I don't know. I must've fell in this river or something..."

"Are you not going home?"

Zarazu shifted uncomfortably. He did not like all these questions.

"Look," he finally said. "I don't know where I came form, so I basically don't have a home anymore - not that I ever really did. I don't know anything anymore. ...Where I was born, who was my pride, if I had cubs, or anything." he paused, cringing. "...If I even had loved ones at all...But I know nothing, now. So I guess your leader is right about me being a rogue."

"Nonsense. You just don't remember. And leader?" Daylu asked. "Oh, you mean Ruku?"

Zarazu nodded, but the lioness only laughed, causing him to cock his head.

"Ruku is less of a leader than a blade of grass. He is nothing more than my mother's sibling's cub - and he will always be nothing but. If he were to be leader, there'd be inbreeding."

"But then why is it that he stays here with you all?"

Daylu sighed, sitting down and curling her tail around herself, painfully reminding Zarazu of someone he thought he once knew. But who? Someone he once knew...maybe... "A while ago, my mother's sister set out from her birth-pride - this pride. She ended up mating with a rogue, and had Ruku. When she came back, my grandfather was very upset. You see, the male she mated with, did not even have a pride. Mother doubted he was even fully grown. Anyway, the rogue left shortly after Ruku was born, so my aunt had come back here, looking for help and support, as she knew very well that she would not be able to take care of the furball. Grandfather saw this, and because he felt betrayed of what she had done, he banished her. But, since Ruku was but a full moon old, he decided to show some pity - he allowed Ruku to stay."

"Without his mother?"

Daylu nodded gravely. "Ruku's mother agreed, and left the pride once more, leaving them with her son."

"Then why is Ruku still here?" Zarazu found himself relief in this curiosity, which took away from his stress.

"Once Ruku started his mane, he was chased out by Grandpa. But, he came back when he was fully grown, and chased Grandfather off. Now, Ruku is the male of the pride, which does not suit us well at all. You see, if we were to mate, then that would mean inbreeding. I myself, being born here, have more authority than he does - the elders make it so. Ruku knows this, but he still insists on being leader."

"But why?"

Daylu shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe he knows he can't get any other pride - after all, Grandpa was quite old by the time he chased him off. I doubt Grandpa's even living by now."

"What about those cubs then?" Zarazu quickly asked.

"Oh," Daylu said, glancing over her shoulder. "Yeah...Those were my younger brothers, Nula and Kinu. Our mother died shortly after they were born."

"I'm sorry," Zarazu whispered, instantly regretting the question.

"It's alright." Daylu replied quickly. "I guess when Mother's spirit passed on, she gave me her milk, and I nursed them and they've basically been mine ever since. And they are the reason the pride would not see it fit it you were to come passed our borders - Nula and Kinu are the hope for the future."

Glancing thoughtfully at the dip behind Daylu, Zarazu questioned wearily, "Hope for the future?"

"They aren't meant to be leaders of this pride, just like Ruku is not - he knows that. But he insists in staying here, and in doing so, he will not spread on the genes of the Shine-River pride, which also prevents us lionesses from doing that as well. But at least with my brothers, they will go and travel the lands, seeking out their own prides and carrying on our genes."

By now, Zarazu was frowning. Sighing, he picked himself up from the mud, shook off as much as he could, and curled up under a near umbrella tree.

"What are you going to do now?"

Zarazu blinked. Daylu had asked that, and yet he did not answer. After all, he hadn't a clue what was to be done after all this. Now he was here, in a strange pride's territory, listening to their life's story. It seemed like everywhere he turned there were problems - not just for him, but for everyone. Whatever it was that was making him hurt so bad right then, he did not want to know it. Perhaps it was better that he try not remember where he came from.

Suddenly he stood up, roaring as he slashed out at the earth.

"You know, I told the others you weren't a threat. But they're obviously not going to believe me if you're going to act like that."

Zarazu looked up. He had forgotten Daylu was still there.

"Sorry," he grumbled, before plopping back down, not looking at the lioness.

There was a moment of uneasy silence, before Daylu said, "Well, I have to get back now. The pride will be wondering where I am, especially Ruku."

"Why would he care?" Zarazu snarled, more to himself than anything.

"Oh, he doesn't like the lionesses anywhere near males, even if we're all related to him."

"Dumb lion," Zarazu snorted. "He has a lot to learn." And I myself, do, he thought bitterly.

Another minute, and then Daylu was gone.

~~~

The look of her eyes. The look of someone who did not care. Maybe not the expression a hater would give, but at least someone with no regret. No longing or sorrow. And then she disappeared...

"Kinu! Nula! Come back here!"

Zarazu opened his eyes and jerked his head, only to blink down at a couple of cowering cubs. They just stood there, seemingly frozen in action, as if they were about to bat at him before he had awoken. Then, Daylu came padding hurriedly over. It was day.

"I told you to stay with the pride," she hissed.

The two cubs scrambled under her.

"But we just wanted to see the new lion," the one called Nula said.

"Yeah. After all, Nula did find him first." the red-furred Kinu was saying.

Daylu scowled and nipped at them both. Zarazu sat up, frowning at this all.

"I won't hurt them, you know," Zarazu exclaimed, and they all looked up at him.

Daylu blinked, blushing somewhat. "I know. It's Ruku, though. And the elders are protective, too."

"Wow! How are you those weird colors?" Kinu asked, jumping out from under Daylu now.

Zarazu shook his head, a small, forced grin on his face. "The Gods made me so, little one."

"Kinu!" snarled Daylu. "You and Nula go back to the pride! Now!"

"But I found 'im!" challenged Nula, stepping over to his brother.

"You did?" Zarazu asked, raising an unseen brow, before even Daylu could reply.

"Uh huh." Nula said proudly, sticking out his little chest of dark brown. "When I was playing over here, I found you laying here."

"Well good for you." By now, Zarazu was actually grinning for real. It was not a forced expression, like once before. These two tiny little lions actually gave him encouragement, and something dimly close to joy, for they reminded him of other cubs. Cubs he did not know, and yet he was sure he knew some cubs out in the world...somewhere. And suddenly, he frowned once more, looking over to the river, with such longing, he felt he could jump in right then. Perhaps, if he followed this river, he could find his family again? But did he have a family?

Zarazu roared out, just wanting to know.

"Zarazu!" Daylu growled, the cubs cowering under her again, trembling as they looked up at him. "You've got to stop this! Why do you keep roaring? If you don't stop-"

"What's all this noise?!" someone suddenly snarled, and everyone looked up to see Ruku, standing on the upper part of the dip, glaring at them. "Why are you all here? Cubs, go back to the pride! Daylu, you know better."

"Don't treat me as if I myself, were a cub, Ruku," Daylu warned dangerously, fur standing on end.

"You're part of my pride!" Ruku roared.

"And I'm still more of a leader than you!" Daylu roared back.

The tension caused Zarazu to stand again, fur bristling, claws unsheathing, teeth becoming somewhat exposed as he swished his tail in irritation. He was in so much agony, he could just lash out at this scrawny piece of meat.

Daylu and Ruku were arguing, lashing out at each other. The cubs were continuing to hide under her, and Zarazu was just there, existing, but not living. Suddenly, he could not take it, and yelled, "Enough with this!"

Zarazu took off, down the river, away from the fighting. He sprinted away, leaving them as quickly as he could - their roars, their scents. It was horrible. There was no point in staying there. Within minutes, Zarazu could hear his own heart racing. He was splashing through the water and the mud, but did not care. It was all just so sudden - what had happened, where he ended up. He thought his name was Zarazu - a strange word. But where did it come from? Why was that all he remembered? Why did he have dreams about a lioness and a lion, yelling out. And the eyes of that lioness...they caused him so much agony...

"Zarazu!" someone yelled in the distance. He kept running. "Zarazu, wait!" Still, he could not stop. He could not just sit there. He had to run and not stop...and then...

"WAIT!"

Smack!

Zarazu hit the ground hard. It was like being smacked in the face with reality. The black and white lion lie there, blood dripping off his cracked lip. It didn't matter anymore. He didn't even bother to lift his head.

"I'm sorry," someone quickly said. "I didn't mean...Warthog's flesh, you're bleeding again. Hey? Are you even listening? Zarazu? I know you're awake! Your eyes are open!"

Zarazu slowly looked up, mud covering his face and paws once again. Daylu stood there, panting, also covered in earth. She had jumped in front of him, and they had collided, but she was already up.

"Hey," she said, now more gently. "Are you OK?"

"No." he lowly growled. "I don't even know where I come from. How am I alright?"

With that, he jumped up, and shook the mud and water off him once more.

"Rogue Zarazu," Daylu cooed. "Why don't you just stay near our borders? Then-"

"Then what?" Zarazu snapped. "Then just be yelled at by your waste-of-fur leader, Ruki or whatever?"

"Well, I was gonna say," Daylu growled, just as fiercely as ever. "You may not know where you came from, but nevertheless, you are a lion. Perhaps you could find your place here, with the Shine-River pride."

Zarazu blinked at this. Find his place? With this new pride he had never met before? The lion slowly turned his head to the left, where the lush, gushing river flowed freely beside them. Suddenly, before he could help himself, he asked, "Why are you called the Shine-River pride?"

Slightly taken aback, Daylu replied with, "Well, if you wait until mid-sun, they you will see why. But if you leave, then you won't know." With that, she grinned.

Taking a deep breath, Zarazu said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I mean, I know I must've been born from someone, far away. I must've had someone there for me...wouldn't I have?"

Daylu sighed, shaking her head. "Listen, Zarazu. You are probably nothing but a rogue - you even said so yourself. And even though you don't know for sure, it is most likely true that the Spirits of the Past gave you the life of the average lion."

"What are you saying?" Zarazu growled.

"I'm saying," Daylu went on, taking a step forward, her fur coming up once more. "that I myself, can tell you of the life you once had. You were born one sun, long ago, from a lioness who lived far away in a humble pride. She taught you well, and when the time came, your father and/or leader chased you off. You learned to live out life on your own, perhaps with another rogue, maybe even a brother of yours. Then, you found another pride, chased or killed their leader, and took it over. From there, something happened - perhaps you were also chased off from another, younger rogue."

Zarazu listened to this, bitterly as he frowned, attempting not to roar again. What Daylu was describing was in fact, the normal life of a lion. But what Zarazu saw in his dreams, did not seem the normal life of a lion. He was sure his life was different - not normal. And yet, he could not say for sure.

"I could be wrong," Daylu then said thoughtfully, making him jump. "I mean, I could be. After all, look at you - you're in your prime and zenith, and if a rogue did come to chase you off, you seem strong enough, and still somewhat youthful to win. Most lions don't end up losing their leadership until they're near being an elder. You're about middle-aged. Perhaps on your third season of litter-giving? Whatever the reason, you have lost your leadership, rogue Zarazu. But now, you can get it back! All you have to do-"

"No!" Zarazu cried. "All you want me for is to use me, so that I can chase your cousin off!"

"And in doing so, you gain leadership once more!" Daylu roared back, not the least bit frightened. "That is what most lions would want! Are you crazy?"

"I am not what most lions are!"

"Then what are you?!"

Again, there was silence. Zarazu was panting, and Daylu was staring straight into his eyes. He couldn't help but turn away at this act of dominance. He did not want to be standing here, near this strange lioness. He wanted to know who he was.

"Fine." Daylu growled, padding gracefully past him. "But," she added, not bothering to look over her shoulder. "Just remember, there is a pride who needs that leadership..."

II

Past and Future

"I don't know." Daylu gravely exclaimed, shaking her head. "I asked him. But he's keen to keep to himself."

"Only the Great Kings and Queens of the Past can decide his path." an elderly lioness replied.

Daylu sat there, in the territory. She was with two of the elderly lionesses. The oldest was lying in a den somewhere. The younger lionesses were bathing in the sunlight, watching over Nula and Kinu, who romped around playfully. Ruku was somewhere, most likely near the borders, remarking them and sniffing for any other rogues.

"Is he still by the river?" one of the younger lionesses questioned, slightly giggling, her tail tip twitching as she lie not too far from them.

"Why would you want to know, Isha?" Daylu challenged, glaring at her pride-sister.

"Oh, no reason." the one called Isha laughed.

"You know why, Daylu," laughed the other young lioness.

"Quiet, Bayli, Isha." ordered the elderly lioness who had spoken to Daylu. "Go back to the cubs."

"They're right over there," yawned Bayli, bored like.

"Which is where you should be." snarled another elder. "Both of you."

Giggling, the young lionesses both got up, padding closer to the playful Kinu and Nula, who by then, were having a round of play-wrestling.

"Why do they have to be like that?" Daylu growled, irritated as she watched them walk away.

"They're in their first litter-giving season." one of the elders replied, watching as well. "They're just anxious, what with a new male around."

"Well they should stop. I wasn't like that when I entered my first season." Daylu said, licking a forepaw. "And I'm not like that now."

"You should know better." scolded the same elder. "They're young, and with this Zarazu around...after all, the only other male here is Ruku, and they know there is shame and consequences with inbreeding."

"But does Ruku know that?" Daylu said, sarcastically as she once more, rolled her yellow eyes.

"Daylu," the older lioness said, warningly.

"I know, Kayna." Daylu yawned.

"Well then, is that Zarazu lion going to even try?" the elder lioness beside Kayna asked.

"I already asked him, and he said no, Hitha." growled Daylu.

"It would be nice if my daughters could give us some cubs." Hitha pointed out, thoughtfully. Hitha was mother of both Isha and Bayli, who were probably going to be her last cubs. "Even you, Daylu."

"Enough!" Kayna grunted. "Daylu is already putting more than what she's worth to this pride, Hitha."

"I was just saying," Hitha grudgingly replied.

Snarling, Kayna nipped her, and Hitha batted back, before getting up and slumping away to lie alone in some near shade. The more dominant lioness looked back to Daylu, who seemed just as bored as ever.

"You don't think the rogue will fight Ruku?" Kayna then seriously asked.

"I've tried to convince him. Maybe he will one sun, but right now, I think he's just trying to figure things out." Daylu explained, gazing at nothing in particular. "If he does, he will surely beat Ruku - Ruku's too stupid, young and naive."

"He's as old as you," chuckled Kayna.

"Well, then that really says something about him."

"Daylu!" Nula cried, scampering over with Kinu. "Can we go to the river again?"

Daylu couldn't help but exposing her teeth for a moment, before replying with, "Ask Grandmother."

The cubs groaned, and sadly turned away. They knew exactly what "ask Grandmother" meant. No. Grandmother was the most elderly of the pride, usually hiding in a den, or far off, like she was today. She was mother of both Hitha and Kayna, and Daylu's and her brothers' mother, as well as Ruku's mother's. She was at least ten springs of age, and had seen several of Shine-River pride's lions come and go, be born and die. The pride-mother was not meant to be bothered.

"Why so bitter, this sun, young Daylu?" Kayna asked, grooming herself as the cubs went back to Isha and Bayli.

"Not bitter. Just tired. And annoyed at Zarazu." grunted Daylu.

Kayna chuckled.

"What?" Daylu snapped, ear twitching as a fly buzzed near.

"You speak as if this Zarazu is your friend." the elder chuckled.

"Friend? He is just a stranger I'm interested in. That's all." She paused, before spitting out, "And it's not because I'm in my litter-giving season, either!"

Suddenly, a loud, but worn roar sounded. Daylu's ears folded back, and her tail curled under her like a naughty cub as she fell silent. Kayna's head had lifted, her ears flat against her skull. A few yards off lie Hitha, amused as her tail slowly swished in the grass. The cubs and young lionesses had all frozen for a few moments, but when there was not another growl, the pride slowly came back to life once more.

"I forgot she was sleeping," Daylu cheekily replied at Kayna's scolding, yet bemused expression.

"Mother is always sleeping these suns." Kayna said, tone mixed with warning and amusement. "She will be in the river in the stars, soon enough."

The younger lioness just shook her head, before glancing at the dip a couple hundred feet off. Over that dip would be the river that Zarazu was hopefully still at. Daylu shifted uncomfortably, debating on whether or not she should go check on him.

"You are anxious, Daylu. Why?" Kayna then asked, slightly grinning.

Daylu looked back to her aunt, scowling. "I just wanted to know if he was still there, that's all."

"Well why don't you do so instead of lying here?"

Daylu scowled again, flushing.

"Just a suggestion, young one." Kayna chuckled.

"Stop calling me that!"

"Hush, you're about to wake our pride-mother again." Kayna then growled warningly, expression now serious.

Rolling her eyes, Daylu got up and marched away, but not to the dip near the river. She could feel Kayna's eyes on her, and she did not want her to think she was going to go back to the strange black and white male. What did the elders think, anyway? That Daylu was as arrogant as Isha and Bayli? But as her aunt had just said earlier, Daylu had proved more than what she was worth to this pride. She had taken over the authority and responsibility in leading it, and in doing so stopped her useless cousin from ruining its future even further. She had even taken in her mother's cubs as her own. Now Kayna was treating her as if she was some kind of half-cub! Or a lioness in her first season! It was ridiculous!

But Daylu knew why. Now that a male lion in his prime was near, there could be a chance for Ruku to be chased off. And perhaps the lionesses could breed after Kinu and Nula entered their rogue-eras. Now that Zarazu was here...it was Daylu's job to try and persuade him...

"What's wrong this time?" someone suddenly asked, making her jump.

"Ruku!" Daylu snarled.

"Was that you yelling? You even made the pride-mother angry." laughed Ruku. "Where are you going anyway?"

"None of your business." hissed Daylu.

"Well, you better stay away from that stranger." Ruku warned.

"Don't tell me what to do." Daylu hotly replied.

Ruku wrinkled his nose in disgust, taking a careful step back. "I was just suggesting."

"Well everyone's just suggesting this sun!"

Daylu slashed out a paw before padding hurriedly away. Why had she just done that? Why was she so moody today? And yet...

The brown lioness blinked. She had made her way back to the river without even realizing it. Sighing, she sat down, gazing into the cool, gushing water. Not too far away a giraffe was spreading its forelegs so as to drink up the water below it. Daylu paid it only a quick glance, before lying down on the muddy bank, glaring at nothing.

"Daylu?"

Again, she jumped, and jerked her head to see Zarazu padding slowly and carefully over.

"Go away!" she hissed.

Zarazu cocked his head for a moment or two, surprised at this action, before he began to turn around. Stupid! Daylu thought. Why am I so stupid? I'm scaring off any hope for the Shine-River pride!

"Wait!" she hurriedly called out, sitting up.

Zarazu halted, looking back over his shoulder. "Yeah?" he asked, somewhat grudgingly.

"Sorry," she said, padding over to him. "I'm just stressed out is all."

"You're stressed out?" scoffed Zarazu.

"Right...sorry..." Daylu replied, lowering her head slightly. "I'd forgotten.."

"I was here?" and Zarazu lifted a brow.

"No, no, it's not that! I knew you were here...which is why I'm stressed out." Her voice became softer now.

"What are you talking about?" Zarazu snapped. "If you want me to go, just ask me! I'd be more than willing-"

"No! I don't want you to go either!"

"Well, it seems like your leader does. And your pride has cubs anyway, so..."

Daylu chuckled uneasily, before saying, "Like I said, they're mine pretty much. I wouldn't mind if you were near them."

"Then why did you order me to stay near the borders?"

"Oh well, the rest of the pride, you know."

Zarazu blinked, then growled, "So I'm right then. Your pride doesn't want me here." And with that, he turned away.

"Wait, wait! You can't leave!" Daylu leapt in front of him.

"And why not?" the male challenged.

"Look, Zarazu...I'm not exactly sure who you are, and you probably aren't either. But all I know is that our pride needs you." By now, Daylu sounded pleading.

"What? Why?"

"Well, here's the hard truth and I’m gonna say it again : you might not ever remember where you came from. But, you're still strong and in your prime...maybe you could find your place...here…? And I mean, after you chased Ruku away, you could continue to stay?"

There was silence. The two gazed at each other reproaching. Suddenly, the male roared out, "I wake up here at this strange place with a pride I don't even know, and now you want me to stay here?!"

Daylu frowned. She hadn't expected this reaction from him. After all, most males would take up this God-given opportunity in a heart beat. But was he actually turning it away…again?

"I...I thought you would've liked that idea..." Daylu whispered, somewhat hurt.

"Well I don't!" growled Zarazu. "Why can't you find another rogue to chase off Ruku?"

"Shh! Not so loud. He's probably near." Daylu snarled, looking around for any sign of her cousin.

"Fine. I'm going." And with that, Zarazu turned back around, and began to trot away.

Daylu stood, glued to her spot as she watched, mouth slightly agape. He had actually turned it away! Gulping, Daylu began up the dip beside the river. Everyone would be disappointed once they found out she had let the rogue go...and yet, Zarazu was right. The Shine-River pride was capable enough to have another rogue take them over...But if they did, then what would happen to Kinu and Nula?

~~~

Zarazu sat there. He was up the river some ways by now. He couldn't help but glancing at it as the sun blanketed it in a glimmering red. He couldn't help but sit down and gaze at this for some time. He couldn’t help but notice why the Shine-River pride was called just that.

What had he done? He had woke up right on the borders of a pride that was willing to take him as their leader, and he had said no. He had said no!

"Stupid!" he snarled at himself, slashing at the water. "Zebra!"

A couple birds took to flight at this abrupt change in nature. He was at the state that he should have his own pride, and yet he didn't! Now that he could've...

"I know why," a cracked voice then cooed.

Zarazu gasped, looking over his shoulder to see a skinny, ancient lioness standing a few yards away. She just stood there, gazing at him with warn eyes of gold, her ribs popping out, left ear torn off, whiskers and fur astray. This lioness had obviously seen many suns and moons in her life.

"I've seen you before." Zarazu stated, before he could help himself.

Indeed he had. This was the oldest lioness he had seen when he first opened his eyes on the Shine-River's bank. The lioness dipped her head slightly in reply.

"You know why what?" he then asked.

"I know why you said no. Do you?"

Zarazu blinked. Was this lioness senile?

"What are you talking about?" he snapped, trying to calm himself down.

"How many lions are given this chance? Can you tell me?" the lioness asked, taking a step closer. "I saw you and my grandcub down there. She asked you to be leader, and you say no...And I know why."

Zarazu frowned, padding a couple steps closer, then stopped. But he stayed silent.

"As I recall," the pride-mother continued. "You don't remember where you came from. I'm guessing you must've hit a rock or something, coming down that river. But whatever the case, you don't know your past. And that's why you said no."

The male's fur was standing as he growled, "Who are you?"

"I am called Kinaka, pride-mother of the Shine-River pride." she stated proudly. "I have seen much of my pride live and die for the last decade. My family has always been strong. But of course, as my grandcub Ruku has returned from his rogue-era, and chased off my mate, there is barely hope for our pride. Now that you have washed up here at this time, I can say that it is my total belief that the Great Kings and Queens of the Past have made you end up here for this very reason."

"Enough with your senile ideas, lioness!" snarled Zarazu. "My path and life have nothing to do with you or your pride! I know I have my own life out there, somewhere!"

"Yes, here." Kinaka insisted.

"You're wrong." he stated firmly. "Maybe I don't remember, but I know I belong somewhere else, with someone else."

"And what are chances you will ever see them again?"

This stopped Zarazu so suddenly, he felt as if all the air was forced out of him. He stood there in silence, eyes wide, heart racing now. The cries of a lioness were in the distance, at least in his head.

"My dreams." he whispered.

"When a male first becomes a half-cub and goes into his rogue-era, and dreams of his birth-pride and his mother, will he ever see them again? When a lioness gives birth to a litter of stillborns and dreams about them, will she ever see them alive? Never."

Zarazu slashed at the muddy bank in rage, before looking back up at this elder. "Why does your pride want me so bad? There are plenty of other rogues out there!"

"Like I said," Kinaka replied, sitting down and gazing carefully at him. "I think you are here because the Spirits of the Past make it so." She paused thoughtfully, then added, "Do not make a mistake like this, young one."

"Mistake?" he tilted his head, curious and angry both at the same time.

"Well, you are given the opportunity of a life time - you are offered something that the lion himself strives for - the very reason he lives. And yet you turn it away because you are letting these dreams hold you down. Don't let the past take away your future." With that, the elder got up, turned around, and padded away.

Zarazu just stood there. He didn't know what to think of this. Could he really be leader of a pride? But who was the lioness always in his dreams? His stomach lurched, and he suddenly had a large lump in his throat. Something about that lioness made him want to mourn, to hunt, to bite down on a zebra's neck and break it. Anger. Hurt. Longing. All of those could describe what he thought about this mysterious lioness in his dreams. The one he was staring at as he fell. The yellow one, with those hazel eyes that held no regret as she looked down upon him.

"Meersha." He had said it before he could help himself. It was the word he had called out when he had first woke up on the bank. But what did it mean? Was it a name? If only he could remember!

"Enough of this!" he growled to himself, and plopped back down, his stomach and head hurting.

III

Ruku's Downfall

T he elders lie in the grass, watching as Daylu had slowly came back over from the river. She sighed, shaking her head at both of them, before walking off somewhere to be alone. She had failed. The elders just looked at each other, frowning.

"I don't think it's working out," Hitha gloomily said.

"Well, she tried at least." Kayna sighed. "Just don't say anything about it. Especially to the girls. They'll just make it worse."

Hitha nodded in agreement, glancing at Isha and Bayli, who were both lying out in the sun, grooming themselves. Just as Bayli rolled over to lick at her chest, she accidentally bumped into Isha, who snarled and jumped up, lashing out at her with a paw.

Kayna sighed again, saying, "They're just anxious."

"Don't give up hope." someone then said.

Kayna and Hitha jumped, looking to see the pride-mother standing over them.

"Give it time." Kinaka said, before stepping over them and making her way to a den.

The elders grinned at each other.

~~~

Kinu and Nula were rolling around, nipping at each other. Kinu was clearly the more aggressive of the two. His blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight as he slashed at his brother with a brown forepaw. Nula was an ever darker, slightly redder color. He was gentler and more submissive, but was always up for a game of play-wrestle. Suddenly, the two were rolling down a slight incline, easily blending in with the yellow, long grass. As they got to the bottom, Kinu had jumped up.

"Hey," he laughed. "Let's go see that Zarooz guy!"

Nula blinked at the idea as he sat up with a slight grin. "If we get in trouble...?"

"I'm blaming it on you." Kinu finished, leaping over his brother. "Now let's go!"

The two were now romping through the grasslands, still laughing and batting at each other. Since Isha and Bayli were both so young, it was easy enough to escape from them. After all, they were almost always grooming, sleeping, sunbathing, or giggling about the new lion. And though they cared for the cubs, they felt no real maternal feelings towards them, which explained why they were in their seasons before Kinu and Nula had even entered adolescence.

"Hey, you zebra rump!" Kinu snarled, batting at the faster Nula. "Wait up for me!"

Suddenly, the two were at the river, but there was no Zarazu.

"Hmm," Kinu thought aloud. "Where would he be?"

"I dunno." Nula replied.

"Well you found him once! Find him again!"

Nula huffed, sticking his tongue out, before he began to sniff at the air. He grinned, spotting Zarazu's large pawprints. They had been made recently.

"You know," Nula pointed out as they followed Zarazu's trail. "You should try tracking something yourself for once. You're never gonna be able to survive your rogue-era if you don't."

"Oh, that's not gonna come in forever." Kinu replied, rolling his eyes. "And if I ever need to track something, I'll just get you to do it!" he added, laughing.

"Oh, need your brother to do all the work, huh?"

"Well, if he doesn't then I'll just..." Kinu nipped at Nula's pelt once, before they both looked up, gasping as they saw the stranger. He was a few yards off, lapping up some water at the river's edge. "Shh," Kinu whispered. "Let's go..."

The two began to crawl over on their bellies, getting themselves dirtier even than before. Within a couple minutes, the two close enough to Zarazu, that he began to feel them. Zarazu had stopped drinking, and slowly lifted his head, ear perked. His fur was once more on end. His teeth were slightly exposed from under his dark lips...

Then the giant roared out, leaping over to where the cubs were. Kinu and Nula both cried out in surprise, rolling back in the mud. At first, Zarazu had been keen on attacking whoever was there, incase it was either that old lioness, or that Ruku guy. But, as he stared down at the two shivering furballs, he couldn't help but grin...something that he hadn't done ever since he had woken up on the bank.

"Aren't you Daylu's brothers?" Zarazu questioned, raising his brow and tilting his head.

"Yeah," huffed Kinu, jumping up and puffing out his chest. "We are. What's it to you?"

"Well, you came over here, didn't you?"

Kinu blinked, not having any response. Zarazu couldn't help but chuckle, another thing he never remembered ever doing.

"What are you doing out here, young ones?" he then asked.

"We wanted to see you." Nula purred, sitting up, muddy as ever. "We wanted to see if you were still here."

"Yeah, were you leaving?" Kinu questioned.

Zarazu frowned. "Well, I was..."

"Don't go!" Nula yipped. "Stay here!"

"Yeah, stay here and teach us to be leaders or something!" Kinu pleaded.

"Yeah, everyone knows Kinu needs lessons on that." Nula laughed.

Again, Zarazu was laughing in reply to the cubs. He hadn't known he could be enjoying something for once.

"And he needs lessons on everything," Nula added, just for the laugh.

"Hey, shut up!" Kinu growled, then leapt on his brother, nipping at him.

"Hey!" growled Nula as they rolled about in the mud, getting dangerously close to the water.

"Hey, hey!" Zarazu laughed, pawing at them lightly. "You're about to go into the water. Move back up here a bit."

"OK!" the two chanted as they scrambled off each other, over to Zarazu.

"You cubs are just here to see me, huh? Well, unfortunately for you, I'm not that interesting." the adult exclaimed, still smiling.

"Daylu said you don't even remember where you come from. That's interesting to me." Kinu laughed.

Nula growled as Zarazu frowned slightly.

"Shut up," Nula whispered at his brother.

"No. It's OK. Daylu's right. I don't have any idea where I come from, though I would love to find out." Zarazu added, glancing at the river again.

"But don't go!" shouted Kinu. "We want you to stay!"

Zarazu sighed, looking back to the cubs again. "It's OK, little one. I don't think I would ever find what I'm looking for anyway. There's no point in leaving."

Suddenly, Kinaka's words started to play in his head: "Don't let the past, take away your future." Zarazu blinked. "I...I'm not leaving, little ones."

"Yay!" they both cried.

"But, does Daylu know you’re down here?"

Suddenly the cubs expressions changed. They frowned up at him innocently. Again, the lion chuckled.

"Don't worry, I'm sure I ran off when I was a cub." he exclaimed. "But you should go back to your pride now, before they wonder where you are."

"OK." Nula said quickly, before Kinu could reply. "But will you walk us back?"

"Sorry but, I don't think your pride would appreciate that."

"Ah well." Kinu sighed. "But we'll see you again?"

"Perhaps." Zarazu replied, thoughtfully.

"OK. Bye." Nula mewed, padding away.

"Yeah, bye!" Kinu cried, running after his brother.

Zarazu sat there, watching them, still grinning. But when they were out of sight, he sighed, and laid down again. He could not keep his mind off that strange lioness. Who was she? Did she mean anything to him? Of course she did! That's why he kept dreaming about her! Still...Kinaka's words were of both wisdom and truth. If he would never see her again, then what was the point on ruining his future for her? Zarazu flinched. How could he think of this? And then, the fact that he was angry...angry for some unknown reason... no regret...

"Ah!" someone cried.

Zarazu lifted his head, looking around, eyes wide. There was another cry, and leapt up, snarling as he ran the way that the cubs had gone.

~~~

Ruku had been waiting. He had smelt the cubs. After Kinu and Nula had left, Ruku had decided to go after them, and bring them back. After all, it was his duty to do so. And then, a thought occurred; they weren't his cubs. Why should he have to protect them? Ruku had snarled, thinking about this. There was no point in wasting his breath and energy on them. Yet, as he was about to turn away, hoping that the little ones would be gobbled up by another predator, another thought came into his mind. Because there was another male - a male that Daylu and the pride allowed to stay! - was near, then he could just blame him! He could kill the cubs, and blame that stranger! And in that way, he could also get that male chased off! Yes!

At this idea, Ruku grinned. This is it, he thought. This is the time. This is what I have to do. Then it will get that stupid male away from my pride!

With that, Ruku was running. He had been running to find those little cubs' trails, and when he did, he had grinned. Yes! They were mixed with the stranger's trail! It was perfect. When he killed them, the pride would think that the stranger had done it!

Just as the cubs were coming back from the river bank, Ruku was hiding. He hiding in the grass, watching their every move. They were playfully romping around, probably going back to the pride. He grinned. Then, Ruku leapt. The cubs gasped, stopping quickly in their tracks.

"Oh, bad little cubs." he chuckled. "You're not supposed to be out here, all alone. Or were you with that stranger? Still, aren't you supposed to be with Isha and Bayli? Tsk, tsk, tsk."

Nula trembled beside Kinu, who huffed up the pride leader.

"What should I do with you naughty cubs?" Ruku asked, almost as if to himself, though it obvious he was enjoying this. "Should I take you back and tell Daylu? Perhaps our pride-mother? Or maybe..."

Ruku grinned, showing his teeth. The cubs took a few steps back, causing him to laugh. And then...

The lion leapt! He had got Kinu, and was digging his teeth into his small little body.

"Ah!" Kinu cried out in pain.

Ruku continued to slowly bite down on the little one. After all, this was fun - fun hearing the cub cry out, fun feeling the cub struggle. The pride was not too far away, so they would hear him, but by then, Ruku would be gone, and the only lion around to blame would be Zarazu...

The brown lion was on the ground, snarling and lashing out!

"You!" he roared, as Zarazu bit down on him. "Get off me!"

Zarazu stood up, much larger than Ruku.

"Don't ever touch these cubs again!" Zarazu panted, standing over the trembling Nula, and the bleeding Kinu. "If I ever see you do such a thing-"

"Zarazu!"

He looked up, seeing Daylu standing there, along with the two elders.

"What are you doing?" she gasped, looking wide-eyed and frightened at Kinu. "What have you done?"

"Nothing!" spat the black and white lion. "Except saving your cubs from this - this monster!"

Ruku was standing there, muzzle covered in Kinu's blood. The rest of the pride were wrinkling their noses, fur bristling.

"I tried to stop him!" Ruku snarled at them all. "But he jumped on the poor thing before I could do anything!"

"That's a lie!" Nula yelled. "I saw him jump on Kinu!"

By then, Kinu was lying on his side in the grass and mud, breathing deeply as several of his wounds bled.

"Kinu!" Daylu cried, rushing over to her mother's cub and nuzzling him.

Zarazu had stepped back, watching them, wondering what was going to happen. The younger lionesses both gasped, as Hitha snarled, and Kayna took a step forward. As she was about to say something, Kinaka suddenly showed up. Kayna stepped back to the others, watching fearfully.

"Ruku Shine-River." the pride-mother breathed, after surveying the scene. "You are claimed to have attacked on of the pride's cubs. Is this true?"

There was silence. Silence in which all the pride watched, breathing hard. Kinu was still bleeding, and Daylu was glaring up at her cousin, trying not to lash out. Zarazu just stood there, not knowing what to do. Nula was whimpering, and eventually Kayna had picked him up, stepping back a few paces before stopping again. Ruku looked from lioness to cub, then to Zarazu.

"I don't care!" he then roared. "Yes, I attacked him! The little fur balls are not mine - they should be killed!" The pride gasped, before the male added, "Or at least chased off." He paused, then turned to Zarazu. "You! You waste of even rotting zebra flesh! You don't deserve to step paw upon my land! You should be dead!"

The lionesses all gasped. Zarazu blinked, standing there in shock.

"Ruku, my grandson!" Kinaka then cried out, before anyone could even react. "When you became leader, you allowed these cubs to live here. Now that you try to bring them to their deaths, you are nothing to us."

"That's not true!" Ruku yelled back, almost grinning. "I'm leader here you old giraffe droppings!"

"Ruku Shine-River, you are banished from our pride!" stated the pride-mother.

"NO!" Ruku roared. "I make that descision! And I stay! Pride-mother you may be, but I am the leader!"

Kinaka stood there, expression calm and strong. Zarazu blinked, looking from Kinaka to Ruku. Finally, Kinaka did something that surprised everyone, even Daylu: she nodded. Isha gasped, and Daylu snarled.

"You are right." Kinaka said. "If you are a leader, then do what you wish."

With that, Kinaka's eyes traveled up to Zarazu's for a split second, before Ruku laughed.

"I know! You old, senile lioness." he chuckled. The others were snarling, but he ignored them. "You may stay, but these little ones are to either go, or be taken up to the river in the stars." He looked to Daylu. "Daylu, my daughter of my mother's sister...go on, choose. Choose their fate."

Daylu snarled, standing over the cubs still. "I will never let you hurt them!"

"Well then, that just means they are to leave."

"Daylu," Nula mewed, batting up at his elder sister. "What's gonna happen to us?"

"You are to leave!" Ruku hissed, before Daylu could reply.

"They aren't just going to be thrust into this world at this age either, Ruku." Daylu whispered, all eyes on her and her cousin. "I won't let you..."

"It is my duty as leader, to take these cubs away then." Ruku growled, padding closer. "Daylu, you have defied my rules too many times!"

"Don't you touch her!" Zarazu suddenly shouted.

He could feel everyone watching him now, but he didn't care. He was padding carefully over to Daylu and the cubs, teeth exposed.

"Oh, is that it?!" Ruku yelled. "Don't tell me what to do in my own pride, rogue!"

For a moment, Zarazu was entranced. He did not know what to do. He could leave right now, and not have anymore trouble on his shoulders. But then what would happen to Daylu, Nula, Kinu and the rest of the Shine-River pride?

"Leave now, stranger!" Ruku continued, staring Zarazu in his eyes.

Zarazu blinked, looking from the pride, back to Ruku. What was he to do? He couldn't...

"No!" Zarazu then roared back. "I will not leave! Not when you're about to harm these cubs-"

"These cubs are useless, just like you." Ruku growled. "Now leave, before I-"

"Before you what?" Zarazu challenged. "You can do nothing!"

It was true. Ruku was much more scrawny than Zarazu. It was easy to see who would win. Ruku and the pride knew this, as Ruku was now frantically snarling.

"But," the brown lion went on, taking a step back from the intimidating Zarazu. "what will you do? You cannot possibly fight me, for if you lose, you will have nothing. If you win..." At this he paused, and grinned, knowing exactly what Zarazu was thinking. "If you win, then this pride will have no leader..."

Silence.

Zarazu stared at the shivering Nula, the bleeding Kinu, the angry Daylu, the frightened elders, the calm pride-mother...and then, the image of that lioness came into his head...

"AH!" Ruku screamed, as Zarazu pounced him.

The two were now brawling, rolling around, kicking up earth as they snapped and lashed at each other. If this lioness in Zarazu's dream really meant something to him, and he to her, then it would mean so much more to protect this pride. It would mean that that non-regretting - caring lioness, would want Zarazu to do this!

It didn't take long for Ruku to run off, roaring out at nothing as Zarazu chased him, hot on his heals. The black and white lion snapped and nipped at the brown one, before Ruku was gone, far off in the distance. "If you ever come back here, I will kill you!" he roared into the night.

Zarazu came padding back, slightly limping, blood at his muzzle. He could not help feeling that he had done the right thing...and that Kinaka knew exactly what he was thinking. But, as he looked up for her, she was already gone.

IV

The New Leader

T he night bore in. It took over the golden sea of sky and replaced it with an ocean of black, blue, and scattered stars. A few hyenas could be heard in the distance, cackling away as they devoured a rotting carcass. There were a few cries from bats, grunts from a leapard, and the crickets were sweeping the whole scene away as they gathered in the long grass, chirping away. One of the largest creatures of all, was lying atop a small incline. There, Zarazu was drifting into a fitful sleep. His black and white body twitched and he gave out an occasional growl or moan.

He was falling. Falling away, down towards the river. Someone was screaming something about a murderer.

"Zarazu!"

Zarazu jumped, opening his eyes, only to see Daylu standing over him, a look of concern on her face.

"You were having a bad dream." she replied to his confusion.

"Oh." he mumbled, before sitting up, shaking a couple twigs and pieces of grass off him.

"Well, I just came to say thank you...a lot."

"For what?" he asked, staring into the distance.

Daylu wrinkled her nose. "You know exactly what." she snapped, somewhat irritated. "You finally chased off Ruku for us."

Zarazu shrugged, replying with, "Anyone could've."

"And anyone would've tried to kill Kinu and Nula." She paused thoughtfully, then went on. "Which is why I came to talk to you...You are going to let them stay, right? I mean, just until their manes start to show?"

"Of course." Zarazu quickly answered. "Why wouldn't I? They've been through hard enough."

"Well then, I want to ask you why."

"Why what?"

"Why did you let them stay?" the lioness growled impatiently.

Zarazu grunted, fur just barely bristling. Why was Daylu always hastling him? Snarling, he got up, starting to pad away.

"Wait!" Daylu cried, jumping beside him. "I'm sorry if I seem like a jerk. It's just...it's just weird that a rogue would allow the former leader's cubs to stay."

"Well, they're really not Ruku's cubs, so there you go." Zarazu said, a little coldly.

"Yes but, they are another rogue's cubs." Daylu responded, almost guiltily.

Zarazu blinked as he stopped. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, my aunt wasn't the only one who mated with a rogue. My mother did, too, which is how I, Kinu and Nula were brought into this world."

The male turned around, now looking somewhat interested. "How come your grandfather never chased off your mother then? Like he did with his other daughter."

"Because..." Daylu sat down, pawing the ground. "I...I mean...my mother had told me it was because her sister had left multiple times to mate with a rogue. My mother only did it to bring cubs into this world and expand the Shine-River pride without inbreeding. But her sister had left just too many times, always having cubs and then leaving them to come back here. When she came back here, she always asked for forgiveness, and to come back. Grandfather allowed her to every time, until he was told by other denizens of the grasslands about her and what she did."

Zarazu tilted his head slightly. "But I don't get it. Why would someone do that?"

"I don't know but, please don't think less of our pride, Zarazu." Daylu suddenly pleaded, looking at him straight in the eyes.

He snarled, batting a giant paw at her and taking a step back. "Why must you always do that, Daylu?"

"What?"

"Look me in the eyes! I'm not comfortable with it, and it's the Law of the Land not to do so unless you have a reason!" by now, Zarazu was snarling, fur on end. It was hard to tell what Daylu was thinking then. One thing for sure, was that she had been pleading for Zarazu not to think any less of them, and yet Daylu now seemed just as entertained as a cub pouncing after a beetle.

"I guess I really don't have a reason," she smirked. "Except that I like to see what people's reactions are. I mean, if they don't want to look at me in the eye, it just proves how submissive they are."

"Status is all you want, lioness?" snarled Zarazu, looking up at her, now in the eyes as well. "Do you challenge everything you come about that has eyes?"

"Oh, my mother always told me there was nothing I couldn't stare down. Even her!" Daylu chuckled. "At first she'd try to teach me manners, but I kept doing it. Eventually she let me go on, and I even became dominant over her after I became an adult. Everyone always told me I'd be the next pride-mother."

"Well, you're really heading down the path to get your tail pulled off, Daylu." snorted Zarazu. "I don't care if you're the next pride-mother or not, just stop looking at me like that!"

Daylu blinked, somewhat taken aback. She quickly recovered, then grinned. "Stop looking at you like what? Like this?" She continued to stare right in his eyes.

"Well that's one thing we're going to be working on." Zarazu grunted.

"What?"

"What your mother couldn't teach you - manners."

"Well it does come in handy. Look at Ruku! I had just as much authority over the pride as he did."

"He's not the leader now, so you can stop!"

"Oh!" Daylu laughed. She was clearly enjoying herself now. "So you are the leader?"

"We already went through with that!" Zarazu was surprised at how much fun the lioness seemed t be having, even as he stared at her back, occasionally showing his teeth.

"OK then. My work here is done." and with that, she turned around.

Zarazu stood there, thunderstuck. What had just happened?

"Wait!" he growled, outraged. "All you came here for was to make me mad?"

Daylu stopped, and slowly turned around, grin still on her sharp face. "The rest of the pride wasn't sure if you were going to take up your rightful place here, even after you chased Ruku away. I told them you had, but they didn't believe me. So I went up here to check it out, and it seems I can now let the pride rest in peace, knowing they are in good paws."

"Huh? They all want me to be leader?" Zarazu whispered.

"Of course! Haven't you been listening to what's been happening to us?!" Now Daylu's short temper was rising once more, and her grin was swept off her face.

"Well it's just..."

"It's just what?!" snarled Daylu. She leapt in front of him, gazing into his blue eyes as they sparkled in the night. "Just what, Zarazu?"

"I don't know if I can be a leader." By now, Zarazu had sat back down, staring at the ground, avoiding Daylu's eyes.

"Well you're going to have to be!" the lioness hissed. "Because if you don't, Ruku will come back! He's even stalking the borders!"

Zarazu's head shot up again, fur rising on end once more, his ears perked as he growled at nothing, staring into the distance. Just come, he thought. Just come and I'll rip your throat out this time. I won't just chase you away... Suddenly, he blinked. This was such a strange feeling of being protective, that it almost made him want to fall back down. It was so different...and yet he was sure he had felt it sometime in his life before, even if he could not remember.

"Zarazu?" Daylu whispered, now more gently.

Blinking, Zarazu looked back at her with slight interest. It was strange how moody this lioness was.

"I'm just thinking."

"About what?" she then hissed. "If you go-"

"I know." Zarazu cut in. "I know - Ruku will come back and kill the cubs."

"He may even try to mate with my younger cousins." Daylu was now hissing.

Zarazu looked at her abruptly. "What? How could he do that?"

"He's Ruku." Daylu snarled. "He wants to be top lion."

"He wants to ruin your pride!" Zarazu was now yelling, looking around, as if Ruku was lurking somewhere near.

"Yes well..." Daylu trailed off, glaring at nothing now. "That's him."

Silence. Neither of the lions spoke. They weren't even looking at each other by now. Finally, Daylu said:

"Why don't you know if you can be leader?" Her voice was now smooth, gentle, and somewhat pleading again.

Zarazu sighed, shaking his head as he looked up at the stars now, trying to calm himself. "It's just..I haven't ever been leader before - I mean, not that I can remember or anything. But I don't know if I should...what if I mess things up even worse? Or what if there are others out there, needing me? The ones I can't remember? What if I am a leader somewhere?"

"Zarazu," Daylu weakly whispered. "We need you."

The lion stopped suddenly, and looked over to Daylu. He couldn't understand it. If there were others, how come he didn't remember them? Did they not remember him? And how come every time he tried to remember, he not only felt a longing for them, but hurt, and anger.

"Do you even want to be our leader?" Daylu said quietly.

Zarazu looked to her again. She was still staring back, but her eyes were also of longing and hurt, and he couldn't help but feel pity for her and the Shine-River pride. Was it really true that the Spirits of the Past brought him here for this very reason? Was it true that perhaps, this pride needed him more than whoever he had left behind? After all, he couldn't even remember...

"I don't know." he replied, truthfully. "Every time I think about being your leader, it makes my stomach hurt. But," and he looked up to the distance again, now glaring, voice stronger. "Every time I think about Ruku, and what he's done, and tried to do, and what he might do...I feel like I could kill everything just to keep your pride safe." He snarled.

Daylu smiled, emotions mixed. "You are feeling the need to protect us then?"

Zarazu nodded, looking back at her.

"Then, that is what a true leader should be feeling." she whispered.

At first, Zarazu was hurt - hurt at the feeling that the things and people he had been so hard trying to remember, were just not coming back. But when he looked down at Daylu, he couldn't describe the excitement and feelings he had towards her and the others. It was just heartless to turn away from their pride...

"OK." he said, strongly but weak at the same time. "I'll be your leader."

Daylu smiled. The two were suddenly nuzzling in the night.

V

Kinaka's Warning

It was morning. By then, news had gotten around to the pride that Zarazu had finally excepted himself as their leader. Everyone was excited, though it was hard to tell who was the most out of them all.

"Oh, it's so wonderful!" Hitha had exclaimed, lying in the shade that day as she watched Zarazu, sitting far off, chatting with the cubs. "A new leader! That means new cubs!"

Kayna rolled her eyes, shaking her head, before smiling, and replying, "A new leader means Ruku can go off, and maybe find his own pride. And now we will also have a future."

Hitha scowled, then snarled, "That Ruku! I can't believe he'd have tried to kill the little ones!"

"I can." Kayna said, seriously.

"What?!" Hitha gasped.

"Well, he's a male. He wants only his own genes. Which is why it's better that he's left. I only hope he can figure things out for himself, instead of trying to ruin our future, as well as his own."

"Hmm...I wonder why Zarazu allowed Daylu's brother's to stay anyway." Hitha thought aloud.

Kinu and Nula had been excited to learn that they had a lion to look up to, and teach them what it was like to have a mane, and take care of a pride, and what it was like in his rogue-era.

"Well, to tell you truth, I really don't remember my rogue-era either, cubs." chuckled Zarazu, gazing fondly down at the two.

"Ah, c'mon. You have t' remember something!" Kinu pleaded.

"Nope. Nothing. All though, I can imagine it was probably very hard." he replied, thoughtfully.

"Well, I'm gonna be the best rogue and leader, some sun," Kinu bloated, proudly.

"You don't even know how to track anything!" Nula laughed.

Before Zarazu knew it, the two were wrestling again. He smiled, watching them, before his ears twitched at the sound of giggles. As he looked up, he felt his stomach churn. Just a few yards off were the youngest of the pride's lionesses, both in their first seasons. Zarazu tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but when he couldn't, he finally got up and padded away to chew on some grass alone. It was all just so strange, and yet wonderful at the same time. It was also heartbreaking, knowing he could have another pride, miles away, just waiting for him. Finally, he jumped as a twig cracked. Snarling, he turned around. It was almost disappointing to see Kinaka there instead of Ruku...or perhaps, Daylu...

"What are you doing here?" Zarazu asked, raising a brow.

"This territory has been mine even before your mother was born, cub." snapped the pride-mother.

For a moment Zarazu pondered, thinking that Daylu and the pride were right - Daylu could be the next pride-mother, what with their matching short tempers and all.

"Sorry," he muttered. "It's just, I thought you were usually sleeping in a den somewhere."

"I usually am." the pride-mother replied, smirking, before sitting down and raising a forepaw to lick at it a bit. "But does it matter if I wanted to talk to the new leader?"

Zarazu frowned. Even she was calling him the leader now. But was it something to be frowning about?

"No. I guess not." Zarazu simply said, also sitting down.

"Well then, I just came to say, I am glad you are here, for you are the future of our pride."

By now, that saying was getting kind of boring. Zarazu couldn't even help but roll his eyes at that.

"You have about just as much manners as my granddaughter." Kinaka said, amused.

Zarazu chuckled; he knew she was talking about Daylu.

"Well then, Zarazu, leader of the Shine-River pride," Kinaka went on. "I also wanted to warn you."

The lion blinked. "Warn me? Oh! About Ruku at the borders? Daylu already told me."

"Indeed she has," Kinaka said. "But, you still must be careful."

"Huh?"

"Ruku is younger than you, Zarazu. He might not have as much experience, but he is still youthful."

"Some experience." Zarazu grunted sarcastically. "I don't even remember what it was that gives me experience."

"Well, just be glad you still have your instinct." Kinaka replied, disdainfully.

"Is that all you wanted to tell me?"

"No...Now that the pride will soon have your cubs, Ruku will be watching the borders, sun and moon. He will pick up every chance he has to try and kill them."

"Well then it's a good thing the pride doesn't have cubs from me yet." Zarazu stiffly growled.

"Oh, they don't now, but they will come soon. After all, Daylu is with cub."

Zarazu's heart stopped. Had he heard her clearly? He shook his head.

"What are you talking about?" he snapped.

"You know exactly what I am talking about." Kinaka whispered, voice smooth. "You have already mated with Daylu, and will most likely continue, or at least with my other granddaughters."

How did she know? And how did she know Daylu was already pregnant?

"I can smell what she has in her, even if she does not yet recognize them." Kinaka said, as if she had read his mind. "Nor do the others. But don't deny it. The litter will soon be recognizable to them all...including you. And I am also warning you at the fact that it was a stupid mistake: Kinu and Nula are still cubs...I'll admit, they will soon be near half-cub time by the time your cubs are born, but it was still stupid...you should have waited...remember that for your next litter-season."

The lion just stood there, not exactly knowing what to say.

"Zarazu!" someone yelled. "Come here!"

Zarazu jerked his head, watching as Daylu came sprinting over. As he looked back, Kinaka was already stalking away, into the long grass.

"Zarazu," Daylu laughed, panting. "We-"

"You shouldn't be running so much, Daylu." Zarazu suddenly blurted out with concern, before he could help himself.

Daylu blinked. "I haven't even run that much, Zarazu. Just from the tree."

"Oh. Well, you should still rest some." he quickly went on.

Daylu tilted her head, then grinned. "You are strange, Zarazu. But it doesn't matter. I like strange." she laughed, making him frown. "Anyway, what's been going on with you?"

"What? Since last night?" Zarazu asked, raising a brow, but grinning ever so slightly.

"You know, Isha and Bayli are getting a little more anxious," Daylu then said, more quietly. "They really want your cubs, Zarazu."

That's when he straightened up, frowning once more.

"What?" Daylu asked, also frowning.

"Daylu, your grandmother knows." he said quietly, glancing around for any wandering ears.

"What do you mean? And stop just calling her my grandmother - call her the pride-mother." the lioness huffed.

"Well, the pride-mother knows what happened last night."

Daylu blinked. "So? We did nothing wrong."

Zarazu sighed. "I know but...the pride-mother thinks we should've waited. And for good reason."

"What? Oh...Ruku? Yes well...I don't know, I was just so excited that you were here now, and even though Kinu and Nula are cubs, they have long since been weaned...I couldn't help being in season." she said, regretfully.

"So, I don't think it's best to do this anymore." Zarazu went on, despite Daylu's scowls. "With your cousins or with you. I think we should wait till Kinu and Nula have gone and Ruku's disappeared."

"The pride-mother's gotten to you." Daylu hissed. "She makes sense but...what will happen if I have a litter and Isha and Bayli do not?"

"Less cubs to worry about being killed by Ruku or another rogue then." Zarazu snapped back.

Daylu shook her head, glaring. "Don't let Ruku take away your breeding rights and the rights of a leader, Zarazu! If you're really scared of him, then deal with it!"

Zarazu snarled, and turned to run off. How could Daylu be like that? Even her own grandmother and pride-mother thought it best to wait, and here she is, taking her anger out on me! Zarazu thought, angrily. After a few minutes of sprinting, the lion came down to a gentle walk, growling at nothing. In the shade of an acacia, he plopped down, and began to groom himself, fur still on end.

"Stupid lioness," he growled to nothing in particular.

Within a few minutes, the giant had rested his head, and fell asleep.

"Can I give you a name?"

"Sure."

"Hmm..."

The lioness was studying him.

"You look like...a Hadra? No. More like, Gwalu. Nah..." She then sighed and shook her head, closing her eyes, when finally, the perfect name came to mind. She opened her purple eyes and smiled. "Zarazu!"

He tilted his head. "Zarazu?"

She nodded.

"All right...but on one condition," he said.

She frowned, hoping that he would not be the same as the other two.

"I will be Zarazu and call you Meersha, if you call me Zarazu."

"Well of course! That's why I named you that!" she giggled in relief.

"So, deal?"

"Yeah. Deal."

Zarazu suddenly awoke, breathing rather rougher than normal. It was already dark.

"Meersha...?" he whispered.

Then he perked, looking around. Something had rustled in the bushes. Oh no. I never checked the borders this sun, he thought, before jumping up, looking at the near thicket. Perhaps it was just another creature - a rodent maybe. And then, just as Zarazu's fur began to flatten again, a light breeze came, and he could scent another lion. Snarling fiercely, he leapt, only to land on someone else.

"Way to treat one of your own lionesses!" the one under him hissed.

Blinking down at Isha, Zarazu slowly got off.

"I'm sorry." he quickly stated. "I didn't recognize your scent."

"Well maybe you should get to know my scent...and the scent of my sister’s." she huffed, getting up and licking a forepaw.

"Hmm..." he thought aloud, gazing out at the distance. "You didn't happen to see Ruku at all today, or scent him at all?"

"No I did not. But is that what you were doing all this sun? Waiting for him to come back?"

This lioness was also very snappy. Was the Shine-River pride filled with all just short tempered lionesses? He pondered on a moment what his offspring would be like when they were born - as aggressive as all the others? He shuddered for a moment, before peering back at the young Isha.

"So. I was right?" she said, smirking now.

Suddenly, Zarazu's nose twitched, and he blinked curiously at her, heart speeding up. She was obviously in her cub-giving season right now, which caused Zarazu only to take a few steps back and reply, "You should be back with the pride right now, Isha."

"Ha! Is that all you have to say? It was in fact the pride that sent me out here to fetch you. Anyway, now that we're both out here alone..." She trailed off, eyeing him carefully.

"We should get back to the pride." he quickly finished for her, though he was sure that was not the answer she was looking for.

Isha frowned, then growled. "Why have you been ignoring me and Bayli, but spending all your time with Daylu? Are we not good enough for you?" she challenged, claws exposing.

"No! It's not that!" he growled, irritated at her moody ways and the way of the rest of the pride. "It's just-!"

Zarazu stopped so abruptly, it made Isha tilt her head. He was sniffing the air, frozen on the spot.

"It's just what?" she went on, glowering.

"No. Hush."

"Hush?" snarled Isha, outraged. "First you ignore me, and then you tell me to hush?!"

"Quiet!" he roared back. "Can't you smell it?"

"What are you talking about?!"

"Me." a voice then said.

Both lioness and lion looked up, gasping to see Ruku standing there.

"That was quick." Zarazu growled, stepping forward. "I thought you'd have waited a bit to gain your strength."

"Gain my strength? Or wait till her cubs are born." Ruku suggested, making Isha gasp again, looking up at Zarazu unbelievingly.

"So it is true!" she cried. "Bayli and I only thought, but-"

Zarazu tried to keep his temper on Ruku. He did not want to lash out at his own pride member, especially one so young and naive, plus being a new leader...Still, he was sick of them always jumping to conclusions and yelling at him.

"It is." Ruku simply said, casually. "I watched you two from afar...You...you zebra flesh with my cousin."

"Oh, and I suppose you'd have wanted to cause inbreeding, huh?" Zarazu replied.

"Never. Just wanted a little authority over her is all." Ruku chuckled.

"Well, this is my pride now, so leave, Ruku. And if you ever come back, I will kill you."

"What? Send me to the river in the stars?" the slimmer, younger lion laughed. "Do you really think you could do such a thing?"

"Why? Don't you?" Zarazu challenged, still padding forward.

"No...not until I've actually done something."

Zarazu stopped. "Done something?"

"Done something bad enough that you would actually kill me."

"Oh, don't worry, I will!"

"Oh yeah? And is that why you killed Daylu's brother? Oh wait, you didn't." he laughed. "You might not know yourself, but I do. You couldn't kill me."

"I as the current leader, have the right. And now, you are going to either leave, or die." Zarazu was now whispering, trying to contain himself for just a few moments longer.

"Do not worry, Zarazu, new leader of the Shine-River pride. I will leave, and you will not have to kill me this moon. But, I will be back. Once your cubs are born, I will be back there for them."

Before Zarazu knew it, he was chasing after Ruku, snapping at him and roaring out in anger. But, Ruku being younger and thinner, easily outran him. Though Zarazu continued to chase the rogue for quite some time, before coming back. Isha had already gone. Sighing, he followed her scent back, feeling somewhat guilty at his attitude and the fact that he had not actually got to know her or Bayli or even mated with them.

"Zarazu." someone said.

Daylu and the rest of the pride were lying together, under an umbrella tree near the river and the incline. Nula and Kinu were both nuzzled up at their sister's side, Isha and Bayli lie together beside their mother and aunt. However, Kinaka was nowhere to be seen again.

"Hello." he awkwardly said, before lying down across from them.

Hitha looked warily at him, while Bayli and Isha glared. Daylu sighed, looking stressed, glancing once at the sleeping cubs. Kayna was the only calm looking one out of the bunch.

"Hello, Zarazu." Kayna said. "Nice moon?"

"I suppose..." Zarazu replied, not really staring at anything as he laid his head on his forepaws.

"We were ready for a hunt, before my daughter informed us of Ruku's sudden show up." Hitha said.

Zarazu nodded. "I don't think he'll come back any time soon..."

"I sure hope not."

Zarazu shifted uncomfortably - he could feel the eyes of the pride on him. Growling to himself, he got up and padded away again. He seemed just as moody as the lionesses themselves. Not too long after he left, he heard someone following him, and quickly spun around.

"Daylu." he said, somewhat relieved.

"Yes." she replied. "Zarazu, is something wrong?"

"Maybe just that the whole pride probably knows what we did...and Isha and Bayli are no doubt offended...I'm guessing the elders are, too...?"

Daylu sighed. "Yes, my cousins are upset. And Hitha is a bit disappointed, but we were having a discussion about it-"

"Oh great, the whole pride's talking about it now." he growled sarcastically.

"It's not that...it's just, well...because there was so much conflict about the whole matter...Well, Kayna agrees with the pride-mother, and she says that if that's what you and her say, then it's what's going to happen."

"And you?"

"Me?"

"Do you still care?"

Daylu shifted, then whispered, "I did at first...I mean, you were such a relief for us...but I know it's the right thing. Waiting, I mean. I just hope I’m not with cub right now."

Zarazu looked at the ground, guiltily.

"I...I think you are, Daylu..." he whispered.

"What? What do you mean?"

"Kinaka knew exactly what happened and...and she thinks you are with cub right now."

There was a moment of tense silence.

"Well...as long as you're around to defend us from Ruku," Daylu went on, carefully. "I suppose it's not so bad...I mean if she's right...I'm kind of excited. I've never really been with cub before, what with Ruku and my grandfather being the only leaders I've known."

Zarazu gravely nodded. "You know, your grandmother wasn't the only one who knows."

"What do you mean? I know the pride does, after Isha blabbed it around, but..."

"No. Ruku...Ruku knows."

"He knows?" Daylu asked, voice now weak.

"Yes...and he says he's going to come back when they're born...and kill them..."

More silence.

"But I won't let him!" Zarazu quickly said. "I would never - could never let him!"

"I know." Daylu said, looking fondly and almost proudly at him. "I just don't want...and Kinu and Nula...I can't believe Ruku could do that!"

Zarazu sighed, shook his head, and nuzzled her deeply, purring.

"I won't let him." he purred once more.

 

VI

The Ransom

Though most the pride was fairly disappointed at Zarazu's decision to wait to breed with lionesses, everyone began to calm down once Isha and Bayli were out of their seasons. Zarazu was grateful for the gradual relaxation that they finally came to. And despite the almost weekly dreams of a strange lioness and falling, he was actually enjoying himself. His time as leader normally meant marking the borders, looking out for Ruku and other rogues, teaching Kinu and Nula, but other than that, he thought his was life was pretty relaxed as well. If he was not doing anything important, he would sunbathe with the lionesses, play with the cubs, have a nice meal of gazelle or zebra after a successful hunt was made. In fact, the only one still moody was Daylu, who - if possible - began to get even more moody and snappy. Her patience ran out quickly with everyone, even the elders, who would react in snapping back at her. Several times after Daylu was swatted at by her aunts, she would let out her anger on the cubs, and she rarely ever played with them. If they came near, she would also swat or nip at the little ones. Only a few times did she ever try to be calm with them, which really didn't last long. Once, during a cold and fretful night, she even attempted to soothe her brothers by telling them a story about the supposed river in the stars - where lions went after death. But after Kinu interrupted her once with a sneeze, she snarled, bit at his ear, and got up to pad away. It was obvious Daylu was pregnant and, as the tiny males grew larger every day, so did she - at least her stomach, which within the coming months, began to bulge and swell. This did not make her any nicer, though - she was usually furious at everyone and everything, and had stopped joining the hunting party. This meant more time to scold Kinu and Nula, even if they weren't doing anything wrong. Eventually, they tried their best to avoid Daylu at all times, staying close to Zarazu when he wasn't marking the borders, or even sneaking into the pride-mother's den to hide when Daylu came around.

"Why is she being like that?" Nula asked one night to Zarazu and Kinu. "She wasn't this mean before!"

"Dunno." Kinu just shrugged grumpily. He also didn't get why his sister was acting so strange and cruel these days, and had reacted in also being angry for some time.

Zarazu was lying with them, the rest of the pride a few yards off. He couldn't help but chuckle a the two.

"It's alright." he assured them. "I wouldn't expect less from her - she is with cub. Don't you smell her hormones? Or notice her large stomach?"

"I thought she was getting fat." mumbled Kinu, lying his head on his crossed forepaws, glowering.

"Don't be like that." Zarazu growled warningly. "She can't help it."

"I just wish she'd stop being so mean." Nula groaned.

"It'll be OK." Zarazu purred, licking them both atop their heads.

"I just wish she'd leave." snarled Kinu.

Soon enough, Kinu got his wish: Daylu had left a couple full moons later, living alone near the borders, despite the pride's constant warnings about Ruku.

"She's made her cub-birthing den at the borders in the northeast, where part of the river curves off." explained Zarazu one day to the pride.

"How many times have you seen her there?" Kinaka growled.

Zarazu shifted in his spot guiltily.

"Just a couple times - just to make sure she's OK." he replied. Though it was somewhat of a lie: Zarazu had checked out the place several times, looking this way and that for Ruku. He knew he shouldn't have gone, as Daylu was supposed to be alone, but he just couldn't help being paranoid.

"Well, at least it will be a relief that she's gone for a bit." Bayli said. Isha snorted. Both were also fed up at Daylu's temper.

As Zarazu turned around to head to the river - not at all towards Daylu's birth-giving grounds - Kinu blinked, then got up to follow. Nula quickly trailed behind his brother. Both cubs had gotten larger now - they were a little more than a third the size of the lionesses by now, and Kinu's eyes had changed to gleaming brown, while Nula's to a sparkling green.

"Did she leave because of me?" Kinu asked as they all sat on the bank.

"What? Of course not." Zarazu said, lying down to groom the cub and listen to the sounds of the gurgling river.

"I thought maybe 'cause I said I wanted her to go..." Kinu said, somewhat regretfully.

Zarazu shook his head. "It's not because of you, little one. She just...She has to...even if Ruku is still out there."

He could feel Nula shiver on his other side at the name of their former leader.

"It's alright." he purred, now licking at Nula. "He's not going to harm you, or Daylu, or anyone."

Another couple full moons went by, and yet still more after that. No one really saw Daylu, unless Zarazu snuck over there to make sure she was OK. Other than that, her absence was - as Bayli had pointed out - relieving. The pride was even less snappy to each other. And though Zarazu was glad as well, he wouldn't have admitted that he actually missed her.

Zarazu was sitting atop a hill those few months later, gazing longingly at the birthing-grounds Daylu had picked, near the curve of the red, shining river. He knew she was in the den, a couple hundred feet away. The last time he had seen her was about a week ago when she had come out to get a drink of water. By then, she looked about ready to pop, Zarazu thought to himself. She has to have given birth by now. But Daylu did not show herself, even in her birthing-grounds for another couple days. And another couple days he waited, until finally, almost as if against his will, Zarazu forced himself to pad down there. It was night, and he was scenting the cold air. It was hard to tell if there were cubs or not. I wonder how many there are, he thought excitedly as he carefully walked forward, now just a few yards off from the den.

Crunch.

Zarazu cursed in his mind. He was sure Daylu had heard him step on the twig, and yet there was silence for several minutes. And then...

"I know you're there, Zarazu."

He stood stalk still, gazing wonderingly at the den. Should he proceed? Or go back and not say a word? After all, it was the Law of the Lion that the father does not see his cubs until the lioness is ready to allow him.

"I just wanted to make sure everything's alright." he whispered uncertainly.

There was another moment of silence, in which he was sure she was deep in thought and debate. Finally, she replied with, "Three."

"Three?" Zarazu quickly asked, heart beating faster now. He took a step forward without even meaning to. "Three what? Cubs?" He continued forward, squinting at the den.

"Yes. Three cubs." Daylu's voice came from the darkness.

Zarazu's heart leapt, and by then, he didn't even notice he was trotting towards the den now.

"Zarazu-stay-back!" Daylu suddenly snarled all at once, causing the lion to halt in his tracks, eyes wide. By now, she was at the entrance of the den where he could see her. She was lying there, no cubs visible. And even though her fangs were showing, her fur was on end and her claws were exposed, she looked strange. Not frightening, but more so mature, protective, and even calm in a way. Her instincts were telling her to do this, and Zarazu, as grave as he was to see her like that, understood full heartedly. He looked at her in the eyes - just once - and nodded warily. Daylu lie there for a moment, still in attack position, before she slid back into the darkness. Zarazu slowly turned around, and padded away, back to the middle of the territory.

~~~

He padded along quietly, back to where the pride normally met up when sleeping during the moon hours. Everyone was gone, probably feasting on the succeeded hunt of the night. They could be miles away. Sighing, Zarazu plopped down in the long grass of gold. It swayed, tickling his nose and body. A cricket nearby caused his ear to twitch as he gazed at nothing. It would take another couple full moons before Daylu was ready to come back. But at least she wouldn't be coming back alone. Again, Zarazu's heart began to speed up at the thought. And three of them! How proud he was, even though Ruku was still around. And then, that's when he lifted his head abruptly. Ruku! He had totally forgotten, even if Ruku was the very reason Zarazu had gone to see Daylu all those times.

"You went back there, I see." an ancient voice cooed.

Zarazu jerked, looking over to see Kinaka standing over him.

"How'd you know?" he asked.

"You know me - I'm never around the pride, and even when it comes to eating, I come even after the cubs - I devour with the vultures, so I would not be away by now...Tell me, Zarazu, how many times have you gone now? Five? Ten? More?"

The black and white lion just gazed curiously up at the old lioness. How did she know these things?

"So tell me," Kinaka went on seriously, sitting down now as Zarazu sat up. "What has my grandaughter brought into the world? A cub? A litter? Lionesses or lions?"

Zarazu shook his head. "I'm not exactly sure."

"Oh, I just thought Daylu would've showed you, as ignorant as she is." Kinaka chuckled.

Scoffing, Zarazu said, "No she did not."

"Surely you tried to find out, though? As ignorant as you are?"

He snarled at her amused expression.

"If you're looking for answers, I don't have them." Zarazu spat.

Kinaka inhaled deeply. "Yes, I suppose only Daylu and the Great Spirits of the Past would know - and only do they have the right to know before she brings them out."

"Well, I can tell you she had three." he replied.

"Three?" The pride-mother grinned. "Three living, healthy cubs?"

Zarauz's ears drooped slightly. "Actually, she only told me about how many there are."

"Well then, good for her." Kinaka's grin grew broader. "I knew, even though she has never actually passed on her own genes until now, that my granddaughter would've had some instinct to protect them."

Zarazu snorted, looking away. As irritating as the pride-mother was, he couldn't help but feel almost as amused as her.

Suddenly, both looked up, only to see Isha sprinting over.

"Zarazu!" she panted, just as her sister caught up.

"What's wrong?" Zarazu asked, frowning.

"It's Ruku! We saw him near the borders...in the northeast!"

He looked up, snarling, just as Kayna arrived, with Hitha and the cubs behind her. Both looked grave and warn.

"It's true." Kayna growled, looking out at the distance. "He's here somewhere...Have Daylu's cubs been born yet? And if they have, then it's no doubt that he would know by now."

"Of course, why ever else would my grandson come back?" Kinaka replied, smoothly.

All were looking towards the northeast now.

"I have to go. I have to make sure she's OK." Zarazu breathed, before taking off. "Watch the cubs!" he called over his shoulder, before disappearing.

~~~

"This is boring." complained Nula, rolling over in the stuffed den. He and Kinu had been sent to the nearest den, Isha and Bayli close by to watch over them. This was the same area made into the nursery when they were younger.

The elders were also near, though they paid no mind to anyone else but each other and the pride-mother. The younger elders were chatting gravely, while Kinaka sat, stiff as she gazed out into the night, emotionless though calm.

"Yeah I know." Kinu replied, sticking his head out of the den and looking around, smallish nose twitching. "This is lame. We're old enough to take care of ourselves."

As he said this, the elders then moved away. Bayli and Isha were both sleeping lightly next to each other.

"Great." Kinu said with a grin. "Perfect time to go. C'mon." and he leapt out, creeping slowly into the grass.

Nula popped his out of the den as well, looking around with a frown, before sneaking after his brother. As he caught up, he hissed, "Kinu, we can't do this! Ruku's out there somewhere."

"Oh, who cares? Supposedly he's out on the other side of the territory, and Zarazu's taking care of it. We're find. And if we run into him, we can take care of ourselves." Kinu said, no worry on his voice as he leapt up and ran out into the grasslands. "Freedom!" he cried out, laughing, before rolling around in the grass and mud. "I love it!"

Nula grinned, watching his brother make a fool of himself. It was always fun hanging out with him - Kinu always knew how to have fun.

~~~

Zarazu panted as he made his way through the grasslands. The images of dead cubs and a bloody, sobbing Daylu kept entering his mind, though, which only made his paws move faster.

"Don't think about it!" he snarled at himself. "Just don't think about it."

When about a half hour of traveling past, Zarazu was standing atop the knoll that looked over Daylu's birthing-grounds. Zarazu inwardly gulped, looking down, sniffing the air. The den was quiet, and had absolutley no movement. Finally, making up his mind, he shot down there.

"Daylu!" he cried out. When he stopped at the entrance of the den, no one moved. "Daylu, are you in there? I'm sorry I came back but, I had to! Daylu?

Zarazu stuck his nose in ever so slightly, still sniffing for his mate. Her scent lingered a bit, before she suddenly pushed him back, crawling out of the den. It was almost shocking seeing Daylu in such a warn state. Her body was weak, exhausted, and she looked somewhat skinnier than before. It was no doubt from the labour and birth she had to overcome from the last couple of days.

"Daylu!" he choked in relief. "I'm so sorry - but do you smell him?"

Daylu raised a brow - her emotion was hard to read.

"Ruku?" she whispered. "Of course - what kind of mother would I be if I could not smell the own scent of my cub's predator?"

With that, Zarazu couldn't help a slight grin, which was abruptly taken away by the sudden change of breeze. The two jerked their heads to look toward the north. They could see nothing but the moon illuminating the savannah all around them, but of course, the aroma on the wind...it was unmistakable. Snarling, Daylu dashed into the entrance of the den again. Still, the two stayed quiet for some time. And then..the scent was gone.

"That's strange." Zarazu whispered, more to himself. "He's gone..."

Zarazu blinked at the sound of Daylu, shifting her position within the dark cave. He looked around awkwardly, then, just as he was about to pad back up to the top of the knoll to have a better view of the area, he heard a grunt. He quickly looked behind him, only seeing Daylu's yellow, gleaming eyes glowing in the dark. Again, there was that strange look in Daylu, that Zarazu recognized as only pure instinct. Had she been like that when Kinu and Nula were young, defensless, and had no mother? He was sure of it. Yet, as he was about to turn around again, Daylu's warn, whispering voice came out to him: "Zarazu, leader of my pride, father of my cubs, come see, if only for a moment, the cubs we brought into this world."

Quickly overcoming shock and curiosity, Zarazu crawled in with her, sniffing around. Daylu pulled back deeper into the den, allowing him to have more room, and also exposing two tiny bodies. At first, Zarazu was in a state of joy and excitement, when suddenly, the smell hit his nostrils, and it made him want to vomit. The two bodies of cubs - both male - were lying there - but they had no life. No life in them at all.

"Daylu," Zarazu choked, looking up at her with wary eyes. "What happened to them?"

"One was a stillborn." Daylu replied as well, but with a stronger tone - she no doubt, had time to get over the realization of what had happened. "He was the first, and I knew right away. The other two came out alive, but within a couple hours, stopped moving. I tried my best to get him to move - I licked him, nosed him, and even let him stay at my stomach to nurse if needbe for another few hours, but nothing happened. Finally I accepted that he as well, went to the river in the stars."

Zarazu frowned. How could he give his pride these pour, dead creatures? Without meaning to, and almost afraid to ask, Zarazu replied fearfully, "And what of the third cub?"

Daylu shifted again, and once more, was exposing another tiny body. Zarazu leaned closer. Alive. The lion exhailed deeply. Alive. It was alive! As he sniffed again, he found out that it was not only male, but his own son - his own genes. He would know this scent for the rest of his life. Zarazu smiled. He could not help but feel that he had to protect this new life with his own. Zarazu could also feel Daylu's tension, but couldn't help and lean in even closer to nudge the small, blind lion, it made something of a squeak, and tried its best to nuzzle into Daylu's fur, looking for a nipple to suckle for security. Another minute went by as Zarazu lied there, proudly. But after that time was up, he could feel Daylu's maternal instincts rising up again. Understanding fully, the lion crawled out, trying to avoid a nasty situation.

He said nothing as he climbed the knoll, and lie down there, waiting and watching. The night was quiet, and the scent of Ruku was gone. Still he stayed, just in case.

The images of the dead cubs and living one filled his mind. Emotions swarmed around in his head, but there was still one question that remaind: why did Daylu allow him to do such a thing? Well, whatever the reason, he decided it best to stay here for a while...

A red cub. Not his genes, and yet he knew he had to protect it and love it. And then, more cubs. Four more. All his genes, squirming around in a den at the side of a yellow lioness.

He awoke. Blinking, he lifted his head to see that it was dawn. That's strange, he thought. Am I just dreaming, or remembering things? Lions and cubs I know? Were they mine? And if they were, why was I given such a privilege as to see them shortly after their birth as well? And Daylu's cubs? And who was that red cub? For a moment, Zarazu pondered on the idea that the red cub was just a younger version of Nula. But it couldn't have been...who were all the other cubs? And that lioness? Wasn't her name Meersha, or something like that?

Zarazu growled, trying his best to shake off the images. Even if those were true, a voice hissed at him inside his head. that must've been a long time ago. This is now, and right now, you have a cub and pride that needs your protection.

He snarled, pawing at the dirt. Why was life so confusing?! The lion gave a glance to the silent den, sniffing the air. No Ruku. No scent of death. After another minute or so, the lion heaved himself off the ground, not bothering to shake off the dirt or twigs, padding back to the pride.

~~~

It didn't take him long to get back, nor did it take him long to start worrying once more. The lionesses looked like they were about to go crazy. Kayna was standing there, frowning, Hitha was nuzzling deep into her sister's fur, and he couldn't tell if she was grieving or not. Bayli was looking around nervously, along with Isha. Kinaka was sitting there, tail tip twitching, no emotion on her face.

Zarazu began to run.

"What's happened?" he asked as he met up with them.

"Oh, Zarazu! Thank the Spirits of the Past!" breathed Hitha.

"Kinu and Nula have gone missing!" Bayli cried out, coming closer.

"They've been gone since last night." Hitha finished for her. "We all spread out and looked for them, but their trail gets lost just a couple miles off in the wetlands. I think something's happened to them."

"If only they'd stay in the den like I told them to!" snarled Isha angrily.

"You two should've been watching them!" Kayna then snarled back. "How do you ever expect to have your own cubs if you can't keep them from getting lost?!"

Isha's ears quickly drooped and her tail curled slightly under her. She and Bayli both fell silent, looking sheepish and guilty.

"Well, there's no time to blame anyone." Zarazu quickly said. "You said they were gone since lastnight? Where were they last that you know of?"

"In the den in the nursery." Kayna answered, before anyone else could. "We sent them there when we found out Ruku was near."

"Ruku!" Zarazu suddenly roared out.

"You don't think - he couldn't have...?" Hitha exclaimed shakily.

"If he harms a fur on their body..." Zarazu started, but trailed off as he glared into the distance. "Come." he growled to the lionesses. "We must either search for them, or for Ruku."

"Come, I'll show you where their trail ends." Isha then said, scrambling up. It seemed as if she'd do anything to redeem herself.

~~~

Indeed the scent was lost within a mile or so of the nursery. Zarazu was following the frantic Isha as they both splashed around. All the pride was looking once more. But, as Zarazu scented the air, he thought he heard the sound of someone groaning.

"Wait, stop." Zarazu quickly ordered.

Everyone did so, standing still. Zarazu's nose continued to twitch, his ears perked and eyes scanning the swamps. Suddenly, the groaned happened again, and a wet lump nearby began to move.

"Nula!" Bayli cried out, romping over to help the cub up. "Nula, are you OK?"

The Shine-River pride surrounded Nula's drenched body. Zarazu's heart beat in shock as he watched his adopted son try to stand up. Actually, other than a few scratched and bruises, the young male looked farily healthy.

"What happened to you?" Isha breathed.

"Give him some room." hissed Kayna, before she began to groom one of Nula's small but opened wounds.

Nula's green eyes looked dazed, but as long as he could stand up...

"Nula, you've got to tell me where you brother is and what happened." Zarazu seriously explained. "Do you even know?" He gazed down at the cub, who now looked fearfully up at him. "Don't worry, you won't get in trouble. Just tell us. This is important."

Trembling in cold, Nula replied, stuttering, "I-I told him we shouldn't. I really did! But he wanted to anyway and..."

"And what?" Isha impatiently urged on. Kayna nipped at her and silenced herself.

"And...Well, we thought Ruku was faraway, on the other side of the territory but...but he wasn't. I mean, at first he wasn't around us but then we were here, and I thought I heard something or smelt something. Kinu didn't care at all. I told him to be quiet, but Kinu didn't listen!"

"Where is Kinu?" Zarazu asked quickly.

"I-I don't know! When I told him to be quiet, he began to roll around and cry out jokingly, but then this lion came - I didn't see him, but I knew it was Ruku because of his smell. He started to bite and bite at me, and drag me around! Kinu tried to fight him off but he went for him, so I tried to help Kinu! Ruku threw me off and that's all I remember."

Zarazu frowned, noticing the large lump on his son's head, and a couple bulging rocks nearby.

"So you have no idea?" Kayna asked, worriedly.

Nula shook his head.

Still frowning, Zarazu looked up. He did not know what to do anymore. Ruku had already struck - chances were Kinu was dead. And though no one knew for sure, he couldn't help but feel that he failed the pride. The lion sat down in the water as the lionesses chatted away, naming off things they could do to help, places they could go that perhaps Ruku or Kinu were. He did not hear them, though. He just sat there, watching nothing. He did not notice the rising cliff off in the distance, and the small gorge below it. Suddenly, something moved up atop the cliff. Zarazu blinked, and then focused as he squinted. Was it a lion? There was only one way to find out.

The Shine-River pride leapt up, romping through the marshes. At first, the rest of the pride stood there in shock, but quickly followed, even Nula. Pretty soon, they were back on dry land, under the cliff. Zarazu had stopped running, but was now walking as he gazed up there, still trying to figure it out.

"Zarazu, what is it?" Kayna asked, watching his eyes, and then following his gaze. She gasped.

"Kinu!" Hitha cried.

It was definitely Kinu, but it was not only him. He was squatting there, trembling, as a large figure rose up behind him.

"Ruku." Zarazu whispered, glaring.

"Oh no." whispered Hitha, taking a step back behind Kayna, who was also narrowing her eyes at the lion above. "Ruku, what have you done this time?" she called.

"Oh, don't worry, I haven't done anything." Ruku replied, at least thirty yards up. "I'm just hanging out here with my dear baby cousin. Is that so bad?"

"Don't you dare touch him, Ruku!" Zarazu roared out before he could help himself.

"Like I said, don't worry! It's not this one I want." he replied, his voice echoing down the gorge as he lifted a large paw to bat at the cub.

Bayli, as arrogant as she was, stepped forward and yelled out, "Kinu, are you OK?"

Kinu just lie there, trembling uncontrollably, fur bristling, not saying anything, his brown eyes wide in shock. He could not think about anything right then.

"Ah, he's alright." Ruku laughed. "Just a little scared, that's all. But what's there to be scared of? I don't want to hurt my cousin." and he gave a rough lick to the cub's head, causing his fur to bend the other way. Kinu was still in a state of shock and did not move.

"DON'T TOUCH HIM!" Zarazu roared at the top of his lungs. "DON'T EVEN LICK HIM! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!"

Nula whimpered like a small cub, nuzzling under Isha who for once, was standing protectively over him, glaring up at Ruku with the rest of the lionesses.

"Oh, I don't want to hurt him at all, Zarazu! But...if I have to..." Ruku trailed off, smirking.

Before Zarazu could respond, Kinaka stepped forward, her cracking yet calm voice calling out with, "What is it that you want, Ruku, ex-lion of the Shine-River pride?"

"Are you that dull, lioness?" laughed Ruku. "You know exactly what I want." And with that, he turned to stare Zarazu, straight in the eyes. "It is not my own genes that I want to harm." he said, no speaking directly to Zarazu. "Now I could care less if this fur ball lives or dies, but, I can't stand to think what a pride you'll be with his genes flowing through you."

"This is not your pride anymore, Ruku!" snarled Zarazu. "You have no right-!"

"On the contrary, I have more right than you right now." interrupted Ruku. "After all, who has the cub at the cliff right now? So...if you would so kindly go and deliver your cub to me, I would let this little one go."

Bayli, Isha and Hitha all gasped. Kayna stood there, looking almost as strong as her mother right then, though her face - unlike Kinaka's - showed worry.

"You pick; it's either him or your cubs, Zarazu." Ruku growled, his voice now serious.

There was silence. Zarazu stood there, watching the quivering small Kinu, and the larger Ruku. He could tear this monster's limbs apart! If only he had dealt with him before, and had not just chased him off, but killed him! All the rage and anger he felt for this lion was now at its zenith. But what was he supposed to do? If he refused, or tried to climb up there, then Ruku would surely push Kinu off, or perhaps snap his neck. On the other hand, if Zarazu agreed, then that would mean not only would he be giving up his and Daylu's only living cub, but Ruku could still kill Kinu!

I swear to the Great Kings and Queens of the Past, he thought bitterly. that when this is all over, you will be dead, and sent to the underground to rot away!

"I know you have but one cub, Zarazu." Ruku said. "I saw only one within the den when I was watching." Despite Zarazu's roar of anger, Ruku continued. "I saw but one that she was nursing, just last moon, before you came. And that one cub is the one I want. So pick. Your cub or this cub?" He snapped playfully at Kinu's tightened scruff, who still did not respond to anything.

Zarazu stood there, muscles tense, claws digging into the ground.

"How will I know that you won't just push Kinu off the edge when I give you the cub?" Zarazu finally asked, Bayli gasping in reply.

"I told you: I care less now if the two fur balls are running around, at least they did not come from your zebra flesh." Ruku answered.

Another minute of silence, and then...

"I will get you your cub." Zarazu stated.

Kayna, Hitha, Isha, Bayli and Nula all gasped. Kinaka just stood there, silently.

Ruku grinned. "I didn't know you would do such a thing. Then again, you are a strange lion." He paused, thoughtfully. "Tell me, Zarazu, do you not care that you will be giving up your own offspring? Does not the pride care, or perhaps, your precious Daylu? Does she not care? How will you break it to her? Will she even allow you to?" He then laughed. "I just love imagining you two fighting till the death - I just hope that you win, so that the Spirits of the Past don't have to make me go and kill my cousin as well." Zarazu shook in rage, ignoring the pride's reaction of more gasps and crying and snarling. Suddenly, Ruku's voice became serious again. "Now go - deliver me the cub of my cousin's, and set half way along up this cliff. Go now, before my patience runs out."

The black and white lion gave one last glare to Ruku, another glance to the shocked Kinu, and then turned his back. He stopped dead in his tracks at the expressions of his pride. All looked wide and fearful, especially the shaking Nula. Not only that, but they looked betrayed.

"What else am I supposed to do?" he asked, but as he looked up, he could see that the pride-mother was...was it possible? Grinning at him? Did she know about his plan?

~~~

More gasps filled the air as Zarazu showed up, a little more than an hour later, carrying a dark gray cub in his mouth. There it dangled, its eyes shut. Nula backed up further under Isha, causing her to stand, who looked wide eyed at the little creature. Kayna looked warily from Zarazu to the cub to Ruku. Hitha and Bayli just stood there, jaws agape. Again, it was only Kinaka who looked at all, not frightened...if anything, she looked amused. Zarazu scoffed at her confidence, thinking, it's not over yet, you senile lioness.

It seemed like it took hours just to walk over to the cliff's side, find a steep trail, and start to climb it. Several times he felt as if he would slip, but it didn't happen.

"That's high enough!" Ruku then called, leaning over the edge, sniffing curiously.

Zarazu gulped, hoping he wouldn't notice anything strange. But, as he set down the newborn, he yelled back up at him, "Give us Kinu!"

"He can find a way down himself!" growled Ruku, leaving the cub at the edge of the cliff as he began to climb down after Zarazu had also made it back down on solid ground. He turned around, watching, his fur drenched and muddy from having to climb through the marshes two more times.

"I hope Daylu didn't put up too much of a hustle." laughed Ruku while he climbed down. A couple times he slipped, but caught his balance just in time. "What'd you do? Brawl? Hold her down? Perhaps even snap her neck?"

Zarazu glowered in his spot, but stayed silent, along with the others.

"No. Too violent for you, I suppose." Ruku went on.

When he got even closer to the newborn, that's when Zarazu turned, and trotted over under Kinu.

"Kinu!" he yelled up, ignoring Ruku. "Kinu! Listen to me! You have to get down now!"

Kinu continued in his state of shock.

Growling in frustration, Zarazu yelled again, "Kinu! Are you listening? Get down from there... NOW!"

The last word seemed to shake Kinu from his state, and his slightly glazed eyes looked down at Zarazu, who nodded.

"It's OK." he cooed loudly. "There's a trail over here..."

But he was looking doubtful. There, he stood where a few trees were on their sides, almost hanging dangerously from their spots. Still, if Ruku found out...then he would surely go back up to kill Kinu.

"Get down here, Kinu!" Zarazu pleaded. The trail was much too steep and dangerous for a lion of his size to climb up, but Kinu was still a cub, and slimmer. Perhaps he could make it...

Kinu inched over to the trail, and stopped again, looking wide eyed at it, everyone else watching.

"Don't worry! You can make it!" Zarazu encouraged.

"He'll fall! He'll fall and good riddens to him!" laughed Ruku as he, too, was climbing down, closer to the tiny body.

Zarazu craned his neck to get a better view of Kinu, who was still cowering there.

"Your leader has given his own cub for you, Kinu!" Bayli suddenly cried out. "Now come down!"

Zarazu snarled at Bayli's ignorance. She was just making things worse by yelling that. If Zarazu wasn't so worried about Kinu, he would've lashed out at the young lioness.

"It is alright, my cub!" the lion went on.

Kinu put a small paw down, swiping at nothing, trying to find a ledge. He did. Carefully, slowly, the cub began to climb down, and Zarazu felt a wave of relief wash over him. He had finally got Kinu moving.

Then, the sound of a roar, and rocks sliding. Everyone watched as Ruku was digging his claws into the sliding cliff's side, the cub dangling at his mouth. He had ignorantly pounced on the cub, forgetting about his position. Luckily for him, he caught on to a jutting rock, and climbed up. There, he began to swing the cub around by its neck, blood starting to spill from it.

"No!" Hitha cried in fear, nuzzling into Kayna's fur again, sobbing. "How could he?! How could he?!"

Zarazu wasn't exactly sure who she was talking about - him, or Ruku, but nevertheless, his attention was back on Kinu.

"Keep moving, Kinu!" he said to the cub, who was also watching the scene in sheer terror. "Just ignore him!"

Nodding, Kinu started to climb down again. It took a while longer, but the brown cub had finally gained some confidence, when he suddenly slipped. He cried out as he tumbled down the steep ledge, rocks and dirt flying with him, too. Ruku was watching this with mild interest. It seemed the whole time he was just tearing at the cub's body, biting over and over at it, more so playing with it than anything.

"Kinu!" someone cried before Zarazu could do so, and Nula had zipped out under him and past him, over to where Kinu now lie, coughing and sputtering.

Zarazu followed, along with the lionesses. As he stopped at the cub, he nosed him and sniffed him, making sure he was alright.

"It's OK." he assured the younger lionesses. "He didn't fall that far."

Kinu carefully and warily pushed himself up, covered in dirt and dust. Isha and Bayli immediately began to lick him, and Nula did as well, occasionally pawing playfully at his brother.

Zarazu looked up, glowering at Ruku, whose attention was back to his cub once more. He snarled, running forward. Ruku looked down, smiling.

"You will always know me," he called. "As the one who ruined your genes - killed your cub!"

Zarazu began to climb up, and Ruku sat up as well, still watching with a grin.

"If you try to kill me, then we will both fall." he laughed.

The leader said nothing as he continued to climb. All he wanted to do was dig his teeth into Ruku throat. Kill him and leave him for the vulchers. At this point, he didn't even care if he died in the process. But, as he came only five or so feet away from Ruku, someone yelled, "Zarazu!"

Zarazu blinked. Then, choosing to ignore it, he was about to take a step closer, when the same person yelled out his name. He craned his neck finally, looking down to see everyone watching him. But it was Kinaka, whose eyes were now, for once, showing worry. It was she who had called out for him.

"Don't kill yourself doing this, Zarazu!" she yelled.

The Shine-River pride was now whispering amongst themselves frantically, looking from Zarazu to Kinaka to Ruku. This was strange behavior for the pride-mother. Even Ruku was looking slightly surprised. It was true, though. It would be stupid to do, after he went through all of this. He could not kill himself now. Not after he had succeeded. Finally, as he was about to climb back down, Ruku snarled.

"Get back up here, you waste of fur!" he spat. "I thought you were going to kill me! I killed your cub! I did!"

Still, Zarazu was climbing down, trying his best to ignore the lion. And then, something hit his head...and stay there. It was something wet, and torn. The color red filled one of Zarazu's eyes as the blood dripped off the limp body of the cub. Snarling, Zarazu was about to turn, but ended up falling down. He, like Kinu, was tumbling down, rocks sliding everywhere. But none of the pride came near him as he stopped below. He could only heave himself up, the dead cub lying somewhere near. He did not care if the pride was frightened of him right now, or felt betrayed at his actions. What he had done was right, and they just didn't know it.

The lion nosed the rubble, searching for his newborn, when all of sudden, something landed by him. Ruku. Snarling, Zarazu turned, but not in time. Ruku had sunk his teeth into Zarazu's back. He rolled over, attempting to free himself from the jaws of this monster. The brawl was so abrupt, no one knew what was happening...

It ended as fast as it had begun. Zarazu was much bigger, and more experienced than Ruku, and so had found the perfect place; his teeth buried themselves deep into his throat. Ruku began to choke on his own blood, lying there, twitching. Zarazu stood up, blood all over him now, debating on whether or not he should begin devouring the body. But then he thought it best that Ruku could be left for the scavengers, he tried his best to shake that off, along with all the dirt. Again, he nosed around for the newborn.

"I..." choked Ruku quietly.

Tilting his head, Zarazu looked down at him.

"...killed..." Ruku went on. "cub...you..."

Zarazu growled, knowing exactly what Ruku's last words were. "If you had only smelt the cub before you had 'killed' it." Zarazu said loudly, for the whole pride to hear. "If you had, you would've noticed IT WAS A STILLBORN!"

With that, Zarazu clamped his jaws of Ruku's head and snapped his neck clearly.

He lifted his head, looking at the pride, their eyes now knowing. Kayna even nodded in response, though she looked somewhat shaky.

"I would never allow my cub, or anyone in my pride to die." he told them all, looking warn. He padded carefully over to Isha and Bayli. The anger he had earlier for Bayli was completely lost, and he almost felt pity for her and the others - after all, what had they felt when they saw him coming back, his newborn dangling from his mouth? He shivered at the thought, but nuzzled them both, as well as the trembling Nula and Kinu. "Take the cubs to the territory." he told Isha and Bayli. "Go back as well." he told Kayna and Hitha. All obeyed. It was only Kinaka, who stood there, studying Zarazu for a moment. He was also trying to read her mind, but just couldn't get anything out of her. Shaking his head, he turned his back on her, nosing the rubble once more. When finally he found the cub's mangled body, he carefully lifted it up, and turned back around. But Kinaka was still standing there. There was silence.

"I knew what you were doing from the moment you agreed to Ruku's idea." Kinaka finally said. "And I didn't have to sneak into Daylu's birthing-grounds to know there was a stillborn: I already knew you wouldn't have agreed, if there wasn't a...catch to it.." She smiled, and Zarazu did his best to smile as well, with the body in his mouth. "You're not as stupid as I thought." she chuckled over her shoulder, before following her pride.

~~~

Daylu had been lying there, tense as she allowed her little one to suckle. Her ears were perked and her fur was threatening to stand on end as she gazed out into the day, listening to her little one's occasionally squeaks and cries. But there had been no Ruku since the night before. And then...Daylu snarled, scenting a lion...But it was just Zarazu. She forced herself to be calm. Zarazu, she thought, irritated. You've come again? Can you not wait? But the sound outside was of her mate running, not walking or sneaking along. Was something wrong? Was Ruku back? Or a different rogue? But then why could she not scent them either? Just Zarazu?

"Daylu!" Zarazu's voice had come. He had popped his head in. Before Daylu could even react, Zarazu was going on about a story. It seemed absurd and yet...and yet, Daylu had believed it. And she would do anything for her brother, who was also her son. If Kinu was in trouble...

But Daylu had snarled at the idea of giving her new cub up.

"You don't have to!" Zarazu had quickly said. "At least not the living one...He doesn't know about them..." They had both looked over where the stillborns were lying, unmoving.

But that was a couple hours ago, and now Daylu was waiting...waiting for Zarazu to come back with good news. She lie there, looking around, jumping at every sound. Finally, she could smell Zarazu again. Her heart was still racing though, even as he cautiously peered inside. He set down the mangled body of their dead cub, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust, pity, and anger all at the same time.

"I have brought him back." Zarazu stated.

"Kinu?" Daylu asked.

"No. Our cub... Do what you wish with it."

Daylu's ears folded back as she looked at the pour thing. You couldn't even tell it was a lion anymore.

"What'd he do to him?" Daylu snarled.

"It's alright. Kinu's OK." Zarazu assured.

The two looked up at each other. Daylu smiled in relief, but before she knew it, she was tense again.

"What are you doing to do with the dead cubs?" Zarazu questioned, despite the feeling of her tension.

"In the river…that way their souls will go to the river in the stars." Daylu answered, fur bristling.

Zarazu nodded, then said, "I'll go."

And he did. He did not come back again. Not since Ruku was killed. It was a huge relief for everyone, and Zarazu had not a reason to worry about Daylu or the cub being alone anymore.

VII

Their Rogue-Era

Days and days would pass. Soon they turned into months, and on the second of the full moons, Daylu finally appeared on a sunny day. She was but a figure in the distance at first, and it was Hitha who pointed her out. She and Kayna lifted their heads, watching. Even the pride-mother came out from her den, sitting down beside her daughters as Daylu drew closer. And as she did so, they noticed a smaller figure trailing behind her. The elders smiled at each other and, as Zarazu saw this - after having filled his stomach up on last night's hunt - he trotted over.

"What are you...?" he began, then fell silent as he watched his mate coming...along with his cub.

"Let her come to you." a voice behind him said. Kinaka. "Let her come to you." she repeated in a whisper, not taking her ancient eyes off the pair in the distance.

The four lions eagerly waited, and finally, Daylu was back. She looked healthier than the last time Zarazu had seen her, and had fat and muscle on her now. Though perhaps she could be fattened up even more, and she looked a little tired out. But nevertheless, Daylu's expression was a happy, proud one. Because under her, stood the trembling, new cub of a couple months.

"My pride," she purred. "I've finally come back."

"That you have." Kinaka replied, smiling.

"Only one?" Hitha asked, almost disappointedly.

The elders hissed and she quieted herself. And yet, Daylu did not seem the least offended - which was quite strange, for if that had happened a few months ago, she'd have lashed out at everyone.

"And who have you brought back with you?" asked Kayna, ignoring Hitha's remark.

"This is my son, Kibahi." Daylu explained, stepping aside to expose the little furball.

The lionesses held their gasps in. Not that the cub was ugly, but he was strange. His baby blue eyes blinked up at them all, and his body was a raven black. The tuff atop his head was white, along with his underbelly and both forepaws. If anything, he looked like his father, except that the way their fur was placed was opposite. Zarazu could tell that when this little one was older, he would have a mane as white as the clouds - totally opposite of his night-like mane. Still, the cub also held the sharp eyes and muzzle of his mother.

By then, all the lionesses were gathering the new member's scent, and as Zarazu sniffed at him, he recognized it from that time a couple full moons ago - the one he would never forget. He smiled proudly down at his son.

"Kibahi Shine-River." he whispered, more to himself than anyone. "My cub."

The cub said nothing, but tried his best to hide from everyone, nuzzling into his mother's forepaw.

"Kibahi," Daylu chided, but she continued to smile. "Don't act like that - this is your pride."

"Well, I knew my bloodline would go on." Kinaka remarked, smirking down at the little one. "I thought I'd be in the river in the stars before I'd get to see my grandcub's cub." She paused thoughtfully, then chuckled and said, "My work is done. I shall be sunbathing in my usual spot if anyone needs me." With that she left.

Daylu chatted softly for another couple minutes with the elders, then licked her cub once and looked back up, now frowning. "Where are Isha and Bayli? And the cubs?"

Kayna chuckled. "You should see your brothers - they are not so much cubs anymore."

Hitha sighed, nodding warily. "I kind of miss them when they were that age." she replied, looking down at the silent Kibahi. "Still, at least we have him - and we'll have more."

"More?" asked Daylu curiously. She looked to her mate and leader. "Zarazu...?"

Zarazu shifted almost awkwardly, before replying, "Well, after I dealt with Ruku...and another full moon went by, Isha and Bayli kind of went back into their cub-giving seasons..."

Daylu scowled. "Let me guess - they are now with cub?" Zarazu nodded. "They wouldn't be at their birth-giving grounds yet, though...?"

"I think they went early because of the cubs." Zarazu said as the elders went to sunbathe as well. "Your brothers, I mean."

"Why? What's wrong with them?" asked Daylu, frowning again.

Zarazu shook his head. "It's not really them - it's just, they're starting their manes, and I think that’s making Isha and Bayli nervous now. Hormones, I expect, from living so close with two adolescent males while they're with cub."

Daylu nodded. "Do you know where their grounds are at that they picked?"

"I checked on both once or twice - Isha's far in the north, past the borders, which kind of scares me at times. There have been no signs of other males around, though; I think it's OK. As for Bayli, she has made hers past the river in the southwest...You lionesses sure like to split up at times, don't you?" he added, grinning. "But they still join us on meal feasting occasionally."

Thinking deeply, the lioness nodded, ignoring the cub that was now nibbling at her right forepaw. "Well then, what of my brothers?"

Zarazu's grin fell a little. "They both spend their times usually by the borders - normally in the west, past the marshes...and that cliff." he growled. "But anyway, they come around a lot, too, especially for meals."

"Lazy males." scoffed Daylu, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. "I suppose since they're near the borders a lot, you at least get to spend time with them?"

"More so than the rest of the pride." he laughed.

"What do you guys usually do when you're with them?"

"You know them - they keep asking me to describe to them what my rogue-era was like when I was young - I keep telling them I don't remember, but that obviously doesn't get through their thick skulls." The two shared a quick laugh, before he added thoughtfully, "They're actually quite excited to be leaving."

"Yes, well..." Daylu said. "That last few times I saw them as cubs, I was...how do I say this?" She paused. "Rude?"

"A jerk, how about?" laughed Zarazu.

Daylu smirked, and batted a paw at him. "Oh, shut up, you hyena! I couldn't help it..." She sighed again. "I guess I should go make amends with them before they leave."

"Yes, you should, and soon. They both have tuffs on their heads now - and not like that." Zarazu added, glancing at his birth son’s bangs.

"Daylu!" someone suddenly yelled. "Daylu! Hey, you lioness! What do you have there?"

It was Kinu. He and Nula were sprinting towards them. Both had deeper voices than Daylu had remembered, and they were much larger than before - almost as big as her! They stopped in front of her, panting. Zarazu scowled as the tiny cub hid behind his mother.

"What do you have?" Kinu asked, laughing. "A tiny Zarazu?" His adoptive father scowled again and, before Daylu could reply, Kinu flipped the start of his blonde mane out of his eyes saying, "Ya like?"

Daylu chuckled. She forgot how fun her brother-cub could be.

"Oh yeah," Nula replied, sarcastically through his dark brown bangs of a mane. "All the lionesses are just gonna love that tiny rat atop your head."

The adults couldn't help but laugh at this while Kinu huffed, batting a paw at his brother.

"My brothers," Daylu finally said, stepping up to nuzzle each one. "I've missed you so much."

"Right," Kinu sarcastically said, rolling his eyes. "What with the way you said goodbye to us last time we saw you? Batting us around like we were a couple of fur balls?"

"Well, you were fur balls...and you still are." Daylu laughed back. "But anyway, I've come to say...I'm sorry."

There was silence, as the young ones grinned at their elder sister. But finally, the lioness pushed the little Kibahi forward with the forepaw he was suckling on. "This is my son, Kibahi Shine-River."

"What? That thing?" Kinu went on. "And that came from you and Zarazu?"

"Just change the color of her son, and he could be your mane, Kinu." Nula commented.

Kinu snarled, raking at his brother's face.

"Stop." growled Zarazu, seriously, fur starting to bristle. "Not around the cub."

"Oh right," Kinu huffed. "Why don't you guys take Nula and this Kibahi cub with you to nurse and I'll get back t' ya."

"Shut up." replied Nula grudgingly.

The two were ready to pounce, when Zarazu stepped in their way.

"Don't you dare do it, you two!" hissed Daylu, standing over her son.

Zarazu nodded, looking from adolescent to adolescent. "You two aren't cubs anymore - if you're going to wrestle, it'll be real brawling."

"How do you know?" challenged Kinu. "We always practice-wrestle."

The leader growled, "Lately it's all been turning out to start as practice or play, but usually ends up in real brawls."

"And I always win." Kinu stated proudly.

Zarazu snarled, nipping at the younger male. The half-cub fell silent, ears low, face glaring at the ground now. Zarazu then looked over to Daylu, who was staring back at the situation, almost with pity. Finally, the lioness took her cub by the scruff and padded away.

~~~

Two more full moons went by, and the pride saw less and less of Isha and Bayli, who were both growing larger. Not only did they see less of the lionesses, but they saw less of Kinu and Nula as well. Daylu had moved her son to the territory where the rest of the pride spent most of their time. She allowed him to come out on walks with her, or watched him play as she sunbathed. Zarazu and the elders also helped with the little one when they could. Kibahi's new den was that in the area of Kinu and Nula's old nursery. Eventually, he could walk and talk better, and was growing each day.

One day, when Kinu and Nula had come back from a week's absence, their manes beginning to line their necks, the Shine-River pride was bathing in the sun together. Little Kibahi was out, pouncing around, being as cute and irritating as a cub ever was.

"Mama!" he squealed. "Mama, I caught a fly!"

"That's nice, honey." Daylu replied, dreamily, her eyes half open, her tail swishing slowly in the grass. It was clear she wasn't even listening

The cub was pawing at the suffering little thing curiously, tilting his head as he sat beside his mother in the long grass. Hitha and Kayna were both lying near them, sleeping. Zarazu came trotting back, a small dead creature hanging out of his mouth. A couple hours ago, when he had traveled back to the pride's last carcass, it was already eaten by the scavengers. He quickly caught something for himself, and came back to lie down beside his son and pride, licking the body and ripping it a bit.

"Whoa! What's that, Daddy?" Kibahi cried, squirming around to get a better look at the mangled animal.

"'Ust a mee." Zarazu replied, through a full mouth, still tearing at it.

As curious as Kibahi was in the creature, his instincts took in as he sniffed at it. He was always used to his mother's milk at the time, and had never really seen meat, let alone ate it. The cub began to nip at it a couple times, getting blood on his chops, but before he knew it, his father had gobbled up the rest. Kibahi sat there, making loud slapping noises as he tried to get the blood of his muzzle. Eventually, after Zarazu was done with himself, he began to groom his son's face before Daylu would get angry.

"Hey, guys!" someone called.

Kinu and Nula came back for the first time in a week, Nula's mouth filled with another dead body, similar to the one Zarazu had had.

"We thought we'd bring real food back for the cub." Kinu said, proudly.

Nula dropped it, saying, "We wanted to be the first ones to let him eat meat."

Hitha sat up, amused, and Kayna just frowned at them. Daylu growled lowly as her son batted at the dead animal, like he had done just a couple minutes before.

"Kibahi, get away from that." hissed Daylu, grabbing her son by the scruff and pulling him back.

"But I want some, Mama!" mewed the cub.

"You're too young, right now. If you're hungry, why don't you suckle?" Daylu replied, rolling over on her side to offer the cub milk.

Kibahi - as well as Kinu - both did not look satisfied.

"Ah, c'mon. We hunted this thing down just for him!" Kinu pleaded.

Zarazu stood up. "As nice as it was, you're not his mother, and you can't tell him when he's ready for meat. I'd advise eating that yourself before the scavengers come." the leader explained.

Kinu scoffed, and Nula just sighed.

"Fine." growled the brown half-cub. "I'll have it."

He lowered his muzzle to the ground, but was caught off guard as Nula pushed him out of the way.

"No way!" his brother growled. "I tracked it down and caught it!"

"So? I'm bigger than you so I get it."

"That's not fair!" Nula persisted.

"Stop acting like cubs." scolded Kayna from a few yards off. "For the sake of our pride's sanity."

"But it's mine!" Nula went on.

Suddenly, as Nula wrapped his jaws around it, Kinu was on him. The two were growling out, lashing at each other in a brawl, kicking up dirt. Daylu snarled, getting some in her face as she sat up. There was a squeal, though, and Zarazu then roared out.

"STOP!" he ordered.

The two halted at his roar, panting now, covered in dirt and even some blood. But it was little Kibahi who was now blanketed most in the kicked up earth. His right ear was torn and he was crying out in pain and a dribble of blood trickled from it. Daylu leaned down, sniffing around for any other injuries, and then began licking her cub, giving her brothers a cold stare once or twice.

"That is it." Zarazu then said, making them all look up. "You two are always getting in fights - look what you have done to your younger brother!"

Kinu snorted, and replied, "He's not our brother, 'cause Daylu's not our mother."

Zarazu growled and bit at Kinu once, pushing him on the ground. The half-cub scrambled up, taking a few steps back, taken aback as he stared reproaching at his adoptive father.

"She's as good as. And you have harmed the smallest and youngest member in our pride." growled Zarazu.

"It was an accident." Nula pointed out, sheepishly, gazing down at the ground.

"Be that as it may, it still happened - and that fight was not an accident. You two are not so small anymore."

He looked towards Daylu, and their eyes met. There was a silent understanding between the two lions, and finally, Daylu gave a quick nod. Zarazu looked back down to the two half-cubs.

"Kinu and Nula Shine-River." he started. "You are my sons, and will forever be remembered as our loving cubs. But now that you have your manes, and more cubs are being brought into the pride, you must find your path out there." He nodded into the distance. "I am letting you two go. You are now in your rogue-eras."

The brothers looked at Zarazu, jaws agape.

"You can say goodbye to the rest of the pride, and then I can take you out to the borders." the leader offered.

For a moment, Kinu was frowning. He had always thought that this time would never come. But, his frown suddenly grew to a smile. The time of the rogue-era always did seem the most appealing to him. Nula had straightened up now. He did not look as sad as he did serious and important right then.

By now, Kinaka was padding over.

"What is this I'm hearing?" she asked. "Are my grandcubs to leave the pride?"

"That is right." Zarazu answered.

"Oh, I haven't seen a male enter his rogue-era since your dear uncle Hika." she chuckled. "You should be proud."

The old lioness then did something neither of the half-cubs could remember her doing to them - she nuzzled and licked each one.

"Farewell, cubs of my daughter. This will be no doubt, the last time we shall see each other. If you ever do come back to this pride - which I dare say, I hope is not the case - I will probably be in the river in the stars by then." Kinaka nodded to each one of them, before turning back around casually, as if nothing had happened, and disappearing over an incline. Both half-cubs were speechless.

"Goodbye, my nephews." Kayna said gently, nuzzling both of them.

"Goodbye, Kayna." Nula then said

"Yeah, see ya, Aunty." Kinu replied, recovering quickly from the shock of this abrupt situation.

"Oh, I can't believe it!" Hitha cried, getting up and nuzzling them as well. "They grow up so fast!"

"Goodbye." they both chanted to the lioness.

Finally, the two turned to Daylu, who had always been there for them, like a mother - despite recent events. She stood up, purring as she licked their heads.

"They always told me you two'd be the future of our pride." Daylu wearily said, forcing a weak smile. "Whoever said that must've been insane."

They quickly laughed.

"But, I hope you find your place in life, my brothers and sons."

Again, she licked them each once more. They licked back, bidding a silent goodbye to perhaps, the most important lioness in their young lives.

"Later, little guy." Kinu said quickly to Kibahi.

"Yeah, sorry 'bout the meat and the ear." Nula said.

"It's OK." Kibahi replied, after having been silent during this whole thing - it was all so new and confusing. Did this kind of thing happen all the time?

"Come on." Zarazu said to his adopted sons. "I'll lead you guys out."

~~~

A couple hours later, the trio were at the borders in the far west. Zarazu was the first to stop.

"I wish I could say we'd see each other again." he said, heavily. "But I don't think that's true..."

Kinu and Nula looked at each other, then up at the lion.

"It's OK. We can take care of ourselves." Kinu then said.

"Yeah." Nula went on. "Well, I can anyway." he added with a laugh.

Zarazu nodded, smiling weakly.

"Tell Isha and Bayli we said goodbye." Kinu said, trying his best to ignore his brother's comment.

"I will do so, my sons."

Zarazu nuzzled each one, before he slowly turned around, and they separated. He stopped only after a couple minutes, looking over his shoulder for a moment. He grinned as he watched the two traveling into the savannah slowly, before they both took of at a run together. It was obvious they would remain rogues together, and probably take over a pride in the future with each other's teamwork. This just made him feel better as he started back to the pride, knowing he'd done something right for once in his life.

Part II:

Rogues

IIX

The Thought of Growing Up

The memories flowed through him just like the river. They usually happened when he was sleeping, and this time, it was a whole bunch of them, tangled in his weary mind.

At first, there was a white lioness, as strange as could be. Her muzzle and features were sharp, and she had paws almost as big as him. There were only lionesses and cubs...

Then he was scrambling through a den, trying to find half-cub males. He was lucky: he had gotten through and bit at one of their legs, when suddenly, they were sliding down a hill, and straight for a hippo!...

Zarazu was standing there, now older, his mane beginning to grow. He was beside two others of his age, all looking curiously at the larger group of half-cub males, who were eyeing the females. Suddenly, a lioness roared out, and so many were swarming around them, along with that white lioness...

Now he was sitting atop a rock, staring into the distance, even older, yet not an adult yet. He could not let his innocent blue eyes fall upon her...but they did. If only for a split second, they fell onto the stranger; a scared looking female, perhaps a few months older than he...

A red cub was mewing out to him to help him, and before he knew it, he was trying to rescue it from a water buffalo...

He and Meersha were mourning for the cub later on...

Those boulders were back, and so was he, atop them. Again, he let his view slide down to the now-older looking Meersha. But besides age, something was different about her...

A crowd of male lions were attacking...

Meersha was falling!...No...she was pushed!...

Years later...he had found her, and now they were at a strange place, far away. There was a young female lioness, and his own mate had just delivered cubs...He was allowed to see his first litter, right after they were born!…

Two old lions had come and taken their cubs...

Meersha was standing atop the pillar...She had saved another stranger! She had saved him, and left Zarazu to fall! Fall down, down towards the river-!

"Aha!" someone cried.

Zarazu jumped. It was dawn. He was by the river, breathing deeply, and drenched in a cold sweat. Trying his best to act natural, he craned his neck to look at the cub.

"Kibahi." he said, forcing a weak grin. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I heard something and I came t' check it. It was you, Dad. You were groaning and twitching, and kicking all around. It even sounded like you were trying to roar!" Kibahi explained.

Zarazu just stared at his son's now crystal eyes of blue - somewhat like his own, but darker. The cub had grown much in the last three or four months - a little smaller than when he had first seen Kinu and Nula here on this very bank, after he was swept away from an unknown place...

"Doesn't your mother care you're by the river?" Zarazu asked, trying to change the subject.

"Why are you all wet, Dad? Did you go swimming?" Kibahi replied, ignoring his father's question.

Zarazu frowned. "No I didn't. Now, where is Daylu?"

Kibahi sighed, lying atop his father's mane. "I don't wanna go back there, Dad."

The lion raised a brow. "Oh? And why is that? Have you done something to get yourself in trouble...again?"

"No!" growled the cub defensively. "I didn't do anything! It's just those annoying cubs!"

"What? Your sisters?"

"They're not even my full sisters!" huffed his son. "They’re Mom's cousins cubs!"

The adult moved his head, causing the little one to fall off and into the mud.

"Oh great. Now Daylu's going to get mad." said Zarazu. "Guess I have to give you a bath."

"No!" Kibahi cried out, rolling over to kick his muddy paws up in his father's face, playfully.

"I can always toss you in the river then." Zarazu suggested with a grin.

"OK!" squealed Kibahi, excitedly.

Zarazu frowned, then chuckled again. "You're a strange one, Kibahi. I don't know any lion or cub that would want to be tossed into a river."

"Beats getting licked at all sun." muttered the young one, sitting up.

"Hey! Kibahi!"

Gasping, the black and white cub hid behind his black and white sire.

"Hide me, Dad!" he pleaded.

Smiling, Zarazu watched as his other, smaller cubs of assorted golden and brown colors came scampering over. There were six females, four of whom belonged to Bayli, and two were daughters of Isha. They were each but a couple months old, still nursing, which surprised Zarazu that they were all the way over here.

"Now, where are your mothers, little ones?" he asked, sitting up and exposing his elder son, who scowled in response.

"Kibahi!" they all cried in high pitched voices, running over and pouncing on them.

"Ohhh." groaned Kibahi, then snarled up at Zarazu, "Thanks a lot, Dad!"

His father couldn't help but laugh at this.

"Kibahi! Kibahi!" they all chanted together, now running under Zarazu and pouncing on the older cub, nipping at his ears and pulling at his tail.

"Play!" squealed a light gold female.

"Yeah, Kibahi!" a dark brown with blonde bangs falling into her face urged on. "Play!"

"Play! Play! Play!" they continued, trying to tear the cub apart as they nipped, batted, and pounced on him.

Kibahi - who was now lying in the ground - looked up at his father with pleading eyes, and mouthed something, that seemed a lot like, "Help me!"

"Come on, little ones." Zarazu said, after he finished his laugh. He cleared his throat, straightened up, and attempted to be firm. "You must stop this now. What would your pride think?" He paused, then looked toward the incline that led to the main territory, frowning.

"Cubs, wait!" a voice cried.

Bayli came running over the incline, panting. "Oh, there are you!" she said, relieved. "You little ones need to go back to the nursery now."

Thankfully, they all leapt off Kibahi, groaning and complaining in mews, before following the lioness. Bayli quickly stopped, and looked over her shoulder, only to grunt. "Kibahi." she said. "You as well. Don't forget, I'm in charge for you, too."

"Where's my mom?" Kibahi asked, sitting up, covered in even more mud than before.

"She and the pride are out hunting. Now come on back to the nursery; if you want to suckle, you can as well."

Kibahi scoffed at the offer; he was young enough to still nurse if he pleased, but it was almost humiliating to him. After all, his mother was now bringing him back chunks of meat from the hunts.

"No thanks." he huffed.

"Well then, come along, little one."

"Yay!" his half-sisters all screamed at once.

Kibahi grumbled, batting a pebble with a paw. Zarazu then sat up, feeling pity for his son.

"It's alright, Bayli." he said. "I was just about to...take Kibahi around to show him the lands."

As the six cubs groaned again, Kibahi looked hopefully up at his dad.

"Hmm," thought Bayli aloud. "OK then. I'll tell Daylu if she gets back before you."

"Yes!" whispered Kibahi, as if he had just accomplished something.

When the lioness led the younger cubs over the incline and disappeared, Zarazu looked thoughtfully down at his son. "I guess I'll give you a bath and we'll get started then."

"Really?!" cried the cub suddenly. "You're really gonna show me the territory?"

"I said I would, and I don't like to lie." Zarazu replied, smirking, before snatching his cub by the scruff and padding over to a drier area. There, he began to lick at the dirty ball of black and white fur.

"Daaaad!" Kibahi then moaned. "Would you stop?"

"If you want to see the lands, then you can't attract any predators, and you will with that stench." Zarazu explained through the grooming. "It's dangerous out there, Kibahi, even in our own territory."

Within an hour, the two were padding along in the grasslands, Zarazu pointing out several different denizens of the land and places to go, while his son ran around, laughing and rolling, pouncing on bugs and rocks, sneaking along in the grass.

"And that's an acacia right there," Zarazu was explaining. "Oh, and there's that creek - it comes out from the river. Do you even know why your pride has that name, Kibahi?...Kibahi? Are you even listening?!"

Kibahi was indeed in his own world as he lashed out at a beetle atop a rock.

"Darn!" he growled. "Missed it! Oh? What were you saying, Dad? Something about a hippo?"

Zarazu growled, and shook his head. "This is why I haven't taken you out yet - you're too young. You won't even listen to half the things I say."

"That's not true!" huffed the cub, before nipping at his own rump, trying to bite at a flee. "You 'er saying 'oming 'bout...'bout 'irds or 'oming." he said, his mouth filled with his own fur and skin.

The adult sighed, and rolled his eyes, but couldn't help laughing. "You're paying more attention to your tail than you are your own father!"

"'Ot true!" he replied, still muffled as he fell over. He lie there on his back, forepaws folded over his chest. Zarazu look down, raising a brow and frowning. Kibahi just smiled cheekily, giving a little giggle. "Ha, sorry, Dad."

There was a scream. Zarazu looked up as his son scrambled to his paws.

"Wait." the adult said. "Hush."

He scented the air carefully. Another cry. But it wasn't just any cry...It was from a different animal...prey...

"Get down!" his father snarled, throwing himself on the ground and pushing his son under a near log.

Suddenly, as if thunder had hit the ground over and over, hooves pounded over them. The gazelles were snorting and leaping all over, blinding Kibahi's sight. A single gazelle was left behind, and he was last to leap over the two lions. But it wasn't all; three lionesses pounced over the log as well, their legs carrying them faster than Kibahi had ever seen a lion run. He jumped up, crying out in amazement, "Whoa!"

His father sat up behind him, and the herd was already down the hill, still being chased by the lionesses - Isha, Kayna and Hitha.

"Cool!" Kibahi squealed, running to the edge of the hill to get a better look.

Zarazu stood up behind him, watching with interest as well. The hunt continued, until they were at the other side of a small valley. There, a lioness in the distance had leapt out, ambushing the lone gazelle. Its herd left it quickly, and the ambushing lioness had now leapt atop it, digging her laws into it and using her weight to pull it down.

"Is that Mom?!" the little cub asked in more shock.

"Mhm." answered Zarazu with a nod.

Soon enough, the rest of the hunting party helped Daylu to bring down the poor, crying animal. Eventually, it died, and the lionesses began feasting.

"Oh, cool! Let's go, Dad!" and Kibahi was off, running down the hill.

"Kibahi! Kibahi, wait!" yelled his father, running after him. They were still too far away for Kibahi to be safe. Eventually, they were close enough to allow Zarazu to relax, and finally gain speed for himself. His instincts took in, and he was snarling as he ran toward the carcass. As they arrived, he gently pushed away a couple of the lionesses, and started to dine.

"Dad! Wait!" Kibahi cried.

Daylu looked up from the carcass, hearing her cub's cries. She licked her bloody lips once, scanned the land to make sure there were no other near predators, then went back to her meal. At first, Kibahi had tilted his head at this. All it looked like to him was that his mother only glanced up at him, and that his father totally ignored him, both digging into the meal. Frowning, Kibahi continued forward, until he was at the carcass as well. But he quickly forgot about his hurt feelings as he stared at the meat, curiously. Licking his lips a bit, he tried to push his way in, but one of the elders pushed him out of the way. Huffing up at her, the cub tried over where his father and mother were feasting, but they paid no mind to him. He pushed his muzzle through between them, trying to nip at the meat. They allowed him to for a couple minutes, before Zarazu suddenly pushed him over, taking his place.

"Dad!" he squealed, picking himself off the ground, but Zarazu and the others continued to ignore him. He huffed again, and batted at his mother's legs. She just continued on tearing at the large animal, saying nothing. Kibahi growled, then scampered over to the other side, where Isha and Hitha were, and bit at their legs, but they had no reaction as well. He snarled, and pushed himself under Hitha, who hissed at him and pushed him out of her way.

The cub was confused as he sat down, watching them all devour the bloody carcass. How could they be his loving parents and pride one day, and then forget totally about him? Even push him out of the way just to eat?! Yet, it didn't take but a few more minutes, before they were done, their tummies budging in satisfaction. Hitha, Kayna and Isha began back toward the pride. Zarazu gave a loud yawn, watching the vultures above, eyeing the food. There were a couple cackles, and some hyenas were coming forward. Kibahi whined, his stomach now growling. Daylu licked her lips once more, gazing at her son thoughtfully now, and then tore off a piece of the stringy meat. She began to stalk off, following her pride-sisters, the meat hanging from her muzzle.

"Come." he heard a voice order. It was his father. Feeling slightly betrayed at what his family had done, he followed, padding quickly under his father, glancing a couple times at the scavengers.

Back at the main territory, the lionesses were grooming themselves in the sun. Bayli was looking around curiously, nose twitching. Being as young as she was, she got up, ignoring the cubs that had, a second ago, been suckling from her, and were now crying for more milk. She just padded off, in the direction of the pride had come from. Isha lie down beside her cubs and the cubs of her sister, being their replacement for milk, and they soon settled down again, making tiny squeaks and sucking noises as she groomed her paws and chest.

Zarazu sat down, panting in the heat as he watched them all. It didn't take long for Kinaka to climb out of her den, trotting after Bayli. Soon enough, the hunt's food would be gone from the scavengers, so they had to hurry. The leader just gave a loud yawn, and lie down, closing his eyes. Kibahi was watching them all. Were they still ignoring him? Then, there was a grunt, and he looked over to see his mother, lying atop the incline that separated them from the river. Beside her was that chunk of meat. He hurriedly scampered up to her, and dug in, once more forgetting about how his pride had treated him. He was too hungry to have noticed.

After the cub had finished, he looked up at his mother curiously, tilting his head. She was grooming herself in the baking sun.

"Mom." he said. "Why did you not let me eat before?"

"What are you talking about?" Daylu asked, her eyes still closed as she licked at her paw. "I came back here with meat for you, didn't I?"

"Yeah but, you and Dad and everyone else just ignored me when we were at the rest of the meat!" he huffed.

The lioness looked up from her paw, almost curiously.

"We cannot help it if we need the food, Kibahi." she growled, warningly. "There are other animals out there who will take it from us if we do not hurry, so we cannot wait for little cubs to pick at it. Our instincts tell us to eat it as fast as we can - just like you were doing with the meat I brought back for you."

Kibahi blinked. He was covered in blood now, and the piece his mother had brought him was already devoured, sitting there in his tiny stomach.

"You have them, too, my son." Daylu went on, now concentrating on grooming her cub. "That is why you ate like you have not eaten in full moons. I needed to fill myself up to keep healthy. But I also brought you back some - like I always do. Just here, where it is safe. That is why we paid you no mind."

Kibahi's ears lowered as Daylu licked the blood from his snout. If he had known they were all going to ignore him - and even admit it! - then he might not have come.

"But I suppose," she said between licks. "You would've found out soon enough."

"What?" he squeaked, head cocked once more.

"In another full moon or so, you're going to be following us on the hunts, so that you can observe and learn for yourself."

"I thought lionesses were supposed to hunt," he replied, closing his eyes and lying down on the ground. The grooming was a relief after all this - now he was having attention paid to him!

"Not in your rogue-era, my little one." she said, grinning, as if it was no big deal. "Life is all about learning to survive and taking care of yourself. And when you come with us, you will watch the way we hunt. You will try for yourself even, one sun."

Kibahi's ears folded back and he wrinkled his nose. He did not like this idea. Suddenly, before he could help himself, he was nuzzling his face into Daylu's side, looking for a spot to nurse, despite his earlier protests to the very idea of suckling. Daylu snarled as she sat up.

"Now that you have finally seen us on a hunt, there will be less suckling for you." she hissed. "And since you just ate that meat, you have no need to do so right now."

"But Mama!" cried the cub.

Daylu snarled in frustration, her short temper coming back. She nipped once at his scruff, and padded back over to where Isha and the younger cubs lie, now sleeping. Kibahi whined, meowing out for his mother, who just snorted, and turned her head the other way. The cub lowered his head as he got up, padding toward the sleeping Zarazu. There, he nuzzled into his father's mane. The idea of growing up, joining hunts, and having a rogue-era, was not a very fun idea.

"You are strange." Zarazu said then, making Kibahi jump. "You don't like the offer of nursing, but when your mother begins to wean you, you grow angry and scared... And the last males we sent out had always fancied the thought of being on their own...What about you, my son?"

Kibahi meowed in response, like a tiny cub. Zarazu chuckled, and licked him.

"Don't worry; it won't be for a while." was all he could say to comfort the little one.

~~~

"No!" someone had cried.

Kibahi awoke suddenly. He rolled over in the den, away from his mother's warm, soothing fur. He looked outside, into the dark night. No one was out there, except Zarazu, who lie out in the grass, twitching and growling in his sleep.

"No!" his father mumbled. "Don't...!"

Kibahi tilted his head, then looked up at Daylu, wondering if he should try to wake her. Then, snorting, he crawled out. He wasn't too keen to obey his dame after her acts of the day before. Pushing his white bangs out of his face, he crawled out on his tummy, stopping abruptly ever so often, every time his father twitched. After a minute or so of studying the large beast, the little one nipped at the lion's nose. Zarazu snarled, lifting his head and opening his eyes.

"Dad?" Kibahi asked. "Why do you keep doing that?"

"Huh? Doing what?" Zarazu quickly - perhaps too quickly - replied, a drip of sweat falling down in front of his left eye.

"Having bad dreams!" the cub urged.

Zarazu cleared his throat.

"It's nothing." he said, then went on with, "Aren't you supposed to be in den?"

"You always ask if I'm supposed to be in den, or with Mom or the pride every time I wake you up from a bad dream!" huffed Kibahi. "What are you always dreaming about?"

The lion rolled onto his side, blinking down fondly at his son.

"Things you, nor I, will ever understand." he replied truthfully, frowning now.

Kibahi frowned as well, before nuzzling into his father's fur. "I don't wanna leave, Dad!" he cried. "Why do I have to go?!"

"Go? Go where?"

"Away!"

"What are you talking about? You don't have to go away."

"Yeah I do." growled Kibahi. "I have to when I get my mane! That's what Mom says all the time! Sometimes it seems like she wants me to go!"

Zarazu shook his head, licking his son's head in pity. "It's for the Circle of Life, my son. If you were to stay here, then your instincts would take control of you, and you would cause inbreeding."

"No I wouldn't! I promise!" Kibahi went on. "I won't ever! I mean it, Daddy!"

The lion just sighed. "Not now, of course...But one sun...But you don't understand...One sun you will."

Kibahi's crystal blue eyes filled with tears, and he hissed, batting at Zarazu. "Don't make me go!"

There was a moment, in which Zarazu's heart went out to the little one. He couldn't imagine it would've been this hard for the little one...still...

"Well, think about this way," Zarazu then said, forcing a fake grin. "When you leave, then you won't have to deal with your sisters."

Kibahi's mouth twitched, but he went back to frowning. "Just let me stay!"

Again, there was silence. Zarazu didn't know how to break it to the cub...Was this going to be a son he had to actually chase away? He had hoped Kibahi would've been as easy as Kinu and Nula - not to raise, as the pair was as hard as a rock to do so - but at least to put them into their rogue-eras. After a minute or so, the giant creature licked the little one once more, and then lie his head down to the night, gently trying to comfort and quiet the cub.

 

IX

His Decision

The morning took over. Daylu blinked, sniffing around. Her son was not near. A sudden fear hit her hard, and she looked outside the den, but was quickly rushed with relief when she saw the cub nuzzled up beside his father. She sighed once, and crawled out, maternal instincts taking over now. Feeling regretful for her ways towards her cub, she padded over, and awoke the little one, licking at his small body and head a few times. Zarazu opened his eyes, and stood up, nuzzling his mate. The family sat there, upon the incline for some while, the sun rising up, giving them a blanket of warmth and light. Chances were that the carcass was picked clean. So, trying to make up for her snappish ways towards her son yesterday, Daylu lie over on her side, offering him to nurse. Kibahi stared at his mother's stomach for some time, reproaching.

"It's alright, my son." Daylu said, smiling. "You will probably not be able to eat for a while now, so fill up."

The cub crawled forward, suckling. It didn't take long for the sleepy other cubs to toddle over, and join Kibahi. Had it not been for the other cubs, Daylu would be weaning her son completely, but her maternal instincts were still strong, and she continued to produce milk for them all.

Zarazu smiled down at them all. His ear twitched once, and he looked over his shoulder, still smiling, but it quickly disappeared. A few hundred feet off, was unmistakably, a male lion. He snarled, causing all the lionesses to jump and the cubs to look up. He was now sprinting away from them, down to the rogue.

"Who are you?!" he cried, stopping a few yards from the lion, staring him straight in the eyes.

The rogue was a dark brown, his mane even darker. His yellow-green eyes pierced into Zarazu's own, his fangs exposing themselves. Zarazu did not need to be told twice, and was off after the younger one. They rolled once, and Zarazu snapped at the male's pelt, quickly sending him on his way. Still, the Shine-River pride leader chased him, far off, and didn't quit till he was at the borders, watching as the rogue ran off into the distance. That was easy enough, Zarazu thought, smirking proudly. It was his first rogue he had ever chased off - or at least, his first that he remembered, besides Ruku.

A while later, he was back at the nursery, where Daylu continued to allow the smaller cubs to suckle. Kibahi, however, was licking a forepaw, milk dribbling from the fur on his chin. He looked up when he saw his father, eyes wide in curiosity.

"Who was that, Dad?" he asked.

"A rogue." growled the leader.

Hitha and Kayna exchanged grave looks. Daylu growled in her spot, fur bristling as she curled her body around the little ones protectively. Isha and Bayli did not know how to react, but both looked as wary as the elders.

"Don't worry. He's faraway now." Zarazu stated.

"I wouldn't be too sure." someone said.

Kinaka was limping over slowly. Zarazu scowled; she always seemed to turn up during the most important events, otherwise ignoring the pride.

"What do you mean, pride-mother?" he snapped.

"That rogue was how old? A couple years? He is no doubt, much younger than you, my leader." Kinaka chuckled. "There's a big chance that he will be back, and you will have to fight him again."

"And I will!" snarled the lion. "I won't let anything happen to any of you."

"And what happens if he keeps coming back?"

"Then I will send him to the river in the stars!" he replied, turning his back on her.

The elders exchanged grave looks, Kayna shaking her head in pity. Zarazu snorted, knowing exactly what they were doing. For now, he just wanted to rest up a bit, before he was to go out and patrol the borders.

~~~

"Dad?" asked a curious little Kibahi.

"Hmm?" replied Zarazu, not looking at his son.

He was facing away, toward the east, where he had last seen Kinu and Nula a few months before. The lion pondered for a moment, wondering what his adoptive sons were up to at the time. I hope they're alive, he thought, gloomily.

"What are you doing, Dad?"

"Just sitting here."

They were at the incline once more, the nursery behind them a bit, the main pride on their right, and the river on their left. The cub sat down beside his giant father, gazing in his direction.

"What did that rogue want?" the little one suddenly asked.

Zarazu looked down, pitiful at this offspring.

"The pride." he stated. "But he's not getting it."

"What would happen..." Kibahi began, cautiously. "...What would happen if he did get it."

"He won't!" the lion roared, making the cub jump. But Zarazu continued to look away, into the distance of the lands, past the river.

"Yeah but," Kibahi started again, his voice high and feeble by now. "If he did...Just if, Dad."

There was a moment of silence, in which Kibahi crouched down low, expecting his father to react in the same way as before. But he didn't. Zarazu just sat there, still as ever. Finally, he turned his head to look down at the little one once more, a grave look on his face.

"He would take over the pride..." Zarazu exclaimed, voice now emotionless. "He would chase me away or kill me...And he would kill you and your sisters..."

Kibahi sat there, trembling a bit at the thought.

"But why?" he cried suddenly, peering up through his white tuff. "Why would he do that?"

The lion licked his dry lips a bit, then turned to look away again, in the same spot. "It is how life goes on, my cub."

~~~

Months and months went on. In that time, Zarazu was haunted by the visions of that yellow lioness named Meersha. He still couldn't put the pieces together, though. The lion went on, raising the cubs, marking the borders, watching out for the rogue. Only one other time did he have to deal with the younger male. And though it didn't take long to chase him off again, Zarazu knew the youngster was getting better - gaining experience with each mistake. Zarazu knew this, and even the pride-mother did. But he wasn't about to lose. He just couldn't stand the thought of his son and daughters being killed. Still...It seemed at times that it wouldn't be so bad to leave and try to figure out his life. After all, if he once did have a pride, they could be just miles away, and he didn't even know it!

Finally, one cold night, as Daylu was about to climb into a near den to cuddle up with her son, she heard a grunt: Zarazu. Blinking in surprise, the tan lioness padded over. They began to whisper to each other, unaware that there was someone else who could hear every word they said...

When Kibahi had noticed that his mother was not beside him, he cocked his head, and popped out of the den quickly. After all, this was the time in which he spent the most with his mother now a days - sleeping in the den when the moon rose. As he spotted his parents in the distance, he gasped, and lowered himself to the ground. Gulping once, and in pure curiosity, the seven-month old lion began to crawl forward. His ears were perked as he strained to hear clearly.

"Daylu, I can't." he heard his father say desperately. "I-I just...I can't."

"But why can't you?" Daylu seemed to be urging him on. "You can! You just don't want to!"

"It's not that!" Zarazu hissed back. "I love it here, and I love the pride! For the Spirits' sake, I even have cubs! But these memories-"

"Dreams, you mean." snapped the lioness.

"Yes, dreams..." growled the lion. "They fill my mind almost every moon. And I can't help but think they're real."

"Nonsense." Kibahi's mother spat. "Nothing but tales for a cub, Zarazu!"

It seemed at first his father was about to lash out, but Zarazu contained himself, despite his fur bristling. Finally, he heaved a great sigh.

"I've made up my mind." he then stated, firmly. "When Kibahi enters his rogue-era, and the girls are older, I shall leave."

Daylu just scowled, batted once at her mate, and started to stalk back. Kibahi gasped, looking around desperately. He didn't expect his mother to come back so soon. Quickly, he rolled over, and crawled back into the den. But, to his surprise, his mother did not come back that night. Instead, as he glanced out, watching his father pad away, he noticed that Daylu lie under an umbrella tree with the elders.

~~~

It was the next day. The sun baked everything in sight as the pride devoured their kill. Kibahi was trying his best to snap at what little bits he could, but was easily pushed away by his parents and the rest of his pride. He snarled, but was quickly batted at by Hitha, and he fell silent. The cub, frustrated, padded a couple yards away, only to plop down beside his sisters. The other cubs were either chatting with each other, waiting patiently, while a couple others watched the feast hungrily.

"Do we ever get to eat?" complained one of Bayli's daughters.

Kibahi just sighed. The rest of the cubs had recently been weaned, and were now taken out to the hunts, watching and waiting eagerly. A few times they even tried to dig in, but it didn't work. They were just as easily - if not more - shoved away. By now, Kibahi was used to this - he had been doing it for nearly two full moons. This was the first time his sisters even dared to follow the adults out.

It didn't take long for the pride to finish. They all lie out, grooming themselves in the sun, waiting for their little ones to fill their tummies with what was left. Quickly, Kibahi scrambled over, knocking his sisters out of the way and biting down at the dead zebra. It was easy enough to get a bigger share than the others, and for once, he felt bigger, more adult, and even more important. He also couldn't help but think that sometimes being older had its advantages.

Soon enough, stomach bulging in satisfaction, Kibahi turned around, licking at his own lips. He laid down beside his mother, beginning to groom himself in the scorching heat. Daylu joined in, licking at her son's body. He didn't mind the attention; after last night, he wasn't sure Daylu would ever give him any again. He closed his eyes partly, enjoying the bath, before the adults all sat up, starting back to the main territory, the cubs trailing behind. Frowning, Kibahi forced himself up. But, as he watched them all go, he turned to see that Zarazu was headed in a different direction; no doubt to the borders.

"Dad!" he cried out suddenly. "Hey, Dad! Wait!"

He quickly ran over to the other male, who stopped in his tracks, looking over his shoulder at his son.

"Yes, Kibahi?"

"Well, I've been thinkin'." started the young one, as he stood beside the giant. "When am I gonna leave again?"

Zarazu blinked. Kibahi had been weaned a while ago, he was not paid as much attention to by his mother or the pride as before, and he was at least a third the size of the lionesses. But he still did not have his mane, and no doubt would not have it for a while. Therefore, he was still a cub.

"Why do you ask?"

"'Cause I..." he paused, pondering for a moment, then went on. "Because I heard you and Mom talking last moon."

The lion peered curiously at his son. Indeed Kibahi was a strange one.

"You heard what I said?" Zarazu asked, toneless.

Kibahi nodded gravely, getting ready for a swat on the nose or a nip at the ears.

"Well then, I guess you know that I will be leaving shortly after you start your mane." he said, simply as that.

"Huh?" the cub replied, thunderstruck. He quickly shook it off, and said, "But why are you leaving, Dad?"

The lion just shook his head, frowning. "I'm not too sure but...I know I will be putting my life to its worth."

"Well I was just thinking..." Kibahi went on. "Could...could I maybe come with you when that time comes?"

"Come...with me?" Zarazu asked, not at all expecting his son to ask such a thing. "Why would you want to do that?"

"Because..." Kibahi growled, irritated. "I don't want to be alone!"

Again, Zarazu felt pity towards his son. He frowned, and licked the cub's head, before saying, "It won't be a for a while, Kibahi."

"But can I?!" Kibahi's voice grew frantic. If he couldn't travel with his father, he wasn't sure what he was to do. He couldn't stand the thought of being alone out there.

There was silence, in which his father seemed to be deep in thought, before he said, "Why do you fear your rogue-era, son? It's something that happens to us males, all the time-"

"But that's not fair!" hissed Kibahi. "I don't want to leave!"

Growling in frustration, Zarazu said, "Have we not told you about the very lion who tried to kill you? Your mother's cousin, Ruku?"

"Yes! I know! You told me - you and Mom and everyone else has! But I wouldn't be like that! I just don't want to be alone!" he growled. What did his father not get about it?

"When the last cubs, Kinu and Nula were sent out on their rogue-eras, they were excited, not-"

"I don't care! I don't even remember them! And besides, they still had each other! You even said so! And you!" he then snarled, batting at his father. "You don't even remember your rogue-era!"

"Oh, and that's a good thing? Me not remembering my life, is it?" hissed the adult.

Kibahi glared up at his father, who narrowed his eyes down at his son. For a moment, the two stood there, just glowering at each other. He must have got his stubbornness from his mother, thought Zarazu.

"Remember what I told you?" the Shine-River leader finally said, nipping at his son's scruff. "By looking me in the eyes, you're challenging me - you yourself know that - everyone does! So don't challenge me, my son - you are but a cub, and I will easily win."

Then, Kibahi looked away after the nip. He was silent for a minute, before burying his face deep into his father's pelt. He didn't want him to see the tears filling his eyes now…

Zarazu frowned. He hadn't meant to make his cub cry.

"I would never actually hurt you, Kibahi." he cooed, licking at the little one now.

"It's not that..." Kibahi replied, muffled, trying to sound as if he hadn't been sobbing, but his voice was weak and cracking. "I just don't want to be alone, Dad..."

The two stood there in silence for a long while.

"All right..." Zarazu's strong, soothing voice came. "All right."

"Huh?" the little lion asked, moving his face from the lion's fur, and looking up at the leader, eyes blurred in tears.

"I said all right...You can come with me..."

"Really?!" squealed the little one.

"But it won't be for a while," warned Zarazu. "And by then, who knows? You might not want to come with me."

"Yes I will! I promise!" Kibahi went on, excitedly, a load of burden coming off his little chest. "Yes! Yes I will want to come with you!"

X

Kibahi the Half-Cub

Full moons and full moons later, little Kibahi had grown. He was presented with a nice white start of a mane. It lined the beginning of his neck, and even though it would've been much more attractive to lionesses had he had a dark mane, like his father's, he still had Zarazu's buff build - a good sign of a strong lion. Zarazu himself had been able to keep the young rogue away for that whole time, until finally, he disappeared, just like that. Kibahi's sisters were not yet half-cubs at the time Kibahi was forced to leave to the borders.

"You are probably the last male I will see, going on his rogue-era for the first time." Kinaka's shaking voice said. She lie there in the sun, too weak to get up. But her eye's met her great-grandson's for a moment, and she nodded. "Be proud, young one. And follow your path." With that, she closed her eyes, and fell into a quick sleep.

Kibahi licked his great-grandmother's head once, then turned to look at the other elders. Hitha and Kayna nuzzled him each, and Isha and Bayli did the same.

"Kibahi, we don't want you to go!" one of his half-sisters cried out.

"Yeah, you should stay here with us!" another one shouted.

"Hush." Kayna scolded.

"Kibahi must leave: it is the Law of the Lion." Bayli explained to her daughters.

It had all happened so fast - first, his mother continued to gradually ignore him. He would constantly find himself with his father at the borders. But now, the lionesses had all decided that Kibahi was ready to leave. He himself did not know how to comprehend it; the only thing he was looking forward to, was traveling with his father.

"Kibahi Shine-River, my son." Daylu purred, nuzzling her son's face. "You have grown fast. I can still remember the moon I gave birth to you... I only wish the best for you."

It was a strange moment - Daylu had rarely ever nuzzled him, or even bothered to speak to him during the last full moon, during of which his mane began to grow and show itself. For a while, it was as if his mane growing was a bad thing to his mother. And, for a moment, he debated on whether or not he should ignore his dame, and give her the cold shoulder. Don't, a voice inside him said. You probably won't ever see her again. Sighing, the half-cub nuzzled his mother back, who gave him one last lick, before Kibahi looked to his father.

Zarazu nodded. "Come." he ordered.

The two began to walk off some ways, but stopped when they were only about a half a mile or so away from the pride.

"Do you remember what you said, Dad?" Kibahi suddenly asked.

"Of course I do. And that is why I have stopped here." Zarazu answered. "Last time I did this, I ended up walking my adoptive sons to the borders, for I knew I would never see them again, and I wanted to give them a proper farewell. As for you...Well, I still plan on leaving when your sisters are in adolescence. For now, you can make your way to the edges of the territory, and stay there until I come for you."

"How long will it be, Dad?" Kibahi asked, with a deeper voice than he had when he was a full cub.

Zarazu looked up to the sky. "Give it at least five more full moons."

Kibahi frowned. Five? That was so long! And would he even come? But finally, Kibahi nodded, and the two nuzzled, before he took off. He did not look over his shoulder once, for he knew their reunion would come soon.

~~~

The following months were of immense difficulty. Kibahi was left alone for once in his life - no mother, no father, no pride at all to wake up to in the morning. Instead, after bitter and cold nights of solid isolation, the young lion would awake to a lonely sunrise. Not only that, but it took only a few days for hunger to gnaw so hard at his belly, he thought once it would be better just to become a cub again, suckling shamefully at his dame’s tits. Still, nothing compared to the uneasy feeling of solitude, and each sun it, too, would gnaw at him. The stories told to him when he was younger, about being in one’s rogue-time seemed once exciting - even fun - but now that he was actually experiencing it, Kibahi would’ve given his left paw to go back to cubhood, and his right not to admit it.

Of course, the signs of this once cub were leaving him gradually. He grew - maybe skinnier to where even his ribs showed - but nevertheless, he grew. His white mane itself began to flow over his shoulder blades, and even though this new experience was quite painful, he did feel a kind of pride every time he felt the breeze ruffle this growing mane.

A whole full moon passed by, of lonely suns during which Kibahi would take place as a scavenger, finding whatever he could to chew on and perhaps quench his hunger, if only for a little while. It was finally after this first month went, when Kibahi lie motionless in the grass. The night was cool, and there were only a couple gray clouds floating soundly above him as the stars twinkled. His blue eyes he inherited from his father lie at his front paws. The lion licked his lips a couple times, before he finally forced himself up. Kibahi’s throat was dry, and he needed to fix that. Silently padding through the lonesome plain, Kibahi made it to a small water hole, where he began to satisfy his thirst.

Suddenly, a grunt sounded. Kibahi’s head jerked up as his ears perked and his eyes scanned the surrounding area. Another grunt, and a slight breeze told him where to look. Only about a hundred yards away stood a lone adult lion. Kibahi’s heart leapt and before he could help himself, he took off in that direction.

“Father!” he cried, bounding through the savannah grass, a smile spreading on his face for the first time in what seemed an eternity. “Father! Father!”

Then, something happened; the stranger turned to Kibahi, making the youngster halt in his tracks. This was a rogue. This was not Zarazu. This was not his father. An abrupt lump fell to his stomach, and he felt as if he had been bit. How stupid was he not to first scent this stranger? But humiliation, the feeling of stupidity, and regret suddenly went away, and were replaced by a new feeling all together: fear. All his life Kibahi had been told by his parents and the pride about rogues - they were the ones to kill cubs and former leaders - they were the ones to beat up other younger threats, such as himself - they were dangerous.

Kibahi stood in shock at this realization. He felt the lion’s eyes on him, and knew he was being scented in the still air. They were now just a hundred feet apart, and any moment this stranger could easily attack, bringing poor Kibahi down with both experience and skill. Kibahi didn’t stand a chance.

Another moment passed in which the two just stood there, silently. Finally, Kibahi’s ears flattened against his skull, and he forced himself to take a few steps back, before quickly turning around and bounding off the way he had come. Five minutes later, he stood panting at the place he had been sleeping earlier. He snarled inwardly at his ignorant action. Zebra! he thought. I’m such an idiot! Still, he felt himself lucky enough not to have been attacked and maybe even killed by this other lone male.

XI

The Lone Stranger

Thoughts about the Shine-River pride filled Kibahi’s head. Thoughts about his mother and father, thoughts about the pride-mother, thoughts about his younger sisters as well as his aunts. Were they OK? What were they doing? Did they miss him? How big were his sisters now? Did Daylu even care to give him any thought? Did his father speak of him or what they were about to do in the near future to the pride? Were there any threatening rogues about? And that was another thought that crossed his mind frequently: the rogue. It was obvious that the stranger was no threat to Kibahi’s birth-pride - after all, the Shine-River territory was miles away. But still, who was this character? Why was he alone? Was he too young or too old? Would he attack Kibahi the first chance he got? Of course that question was answered the first night Kibahi had encountered him. Still, was this stranger dangerous at all?

Kibahi had spent most of his time sleeping beside an ancient baobab, as lonely as he in this vast savannah. He had seen only a few other creatures beside himself - a type of primate had stayed nearby for sometime, howling its cries to the world, before leaving, a few birds had flown by time and time again, crickets and other insects were crawling nonstop, there was even some kind of rodent that had burrowed close by, only to be snatched up by something (sadly not by Kibahi) during one of Kibahi’s absences, and a couple giraffes had even kicked Kibahi away from his place for a day to nibble at what was left of the baobab’s greens. Finding there was barely anything left to this dying thing, they eventually moved on, of course not after knocking a couple eggshells down from the tree’s distant heights to which Kibahi could only dream of reaching. After the giraffes had left, Kibahi had nosed the shells curiously, noting that they were probably older than even his birth-pride’s pride-mother.

Sighing, Kibahi lifted his large head from the shells, watching as the giraffes walked off into the distance. His heart ached so much for companionship, he felt for a moment, like trying something daring - perhaps following those giraffes to see where they went and maybe. …No. It was stupid. Almost as stupid as going after that stranger and yelling, “Father!” without giving it a second thought. A lion was not meant to be alone, but a lion definitely was not meant to follow giraffes either. So, a more practical idea entered his head; what about this stranger? Could he possibly find out more without being ripped to shreds? After all, the rogue had taken refuge not too far from Kibahi’s own sleeping spot. A half a mile away or so was a slight incline, and that’s where this rogue lived…

During the next couple of months, Kibahi lived by his baobab, most of the time silent, watching and waiting for his sire to come. Still, there were times when he sensed another presences, and had the nerve to look up and see the rogue padding around, just an ant in the distance. This gave him something to do - something to take his mind off his family. During these full moons, he was able to discover that this lion was probably around his father’s age, perhaps older. He was a pretty gold, with a slightly darker mane. A few scars decorated his buff yet worn body. And, to Kibahi’s relief, he was not as horrible as he was told rogues were - once or twice they caught each other’s eye in the distance, but that was all. The rogue would end it in a moment, swinging his head back to continue what he was doing, whether that was walking or grooming or even sunbathing. He was not much of a killer, and probably not a threat…But Kibahi knew better than to try and make friends with a lone adult lion. If he strayed any closer than those hundred yards…who knew what would happen?

It was during one particularly hot afternoon, that Kibahi was in for a shock. The young lion groomed himself, trying his best to ignore the hunger in his stomach. It growled, but he continued to lick at his forepaw, when suddenly, a cry sounded. He looked up from his paw. Another cry, and he leapt, only to catch an eye-opening view. A herd of gazelle were bounding away! But not only that - the rogue was after them! Kibahi could do nothing as he stood frozen, watching this with his jaw agape. The stranger was gaining! In a few moments, a gazelle was caught! Kibahi glanced at the disappearing herd. How had he not noticed any signs of the approaching prey? Still, one carcass was down there, even if it was being devoured by the rogue.

Kibahi took off in the direction, his heart beating wildly - almost as wildly as the night he had first seen this stranger, thinking it was his own father. His legs were carrying him to the meat, closer and closer. He quickly forced himself to stop, just another hundred feet away from the dead creature, and the stranger, who had now lifted his bloody muzzle from the body. The rogue surveyed young Kibahi for a moment. What did this mean? He was giving Kibahi no other gesture of what he meant! It was so frustrating, and he was so hungry! And the scent of fresh meat had met Kibahi’s nostrils…Suddenly, the half-cub was off again, running even closer to the kill and the adult.

A roar sounded, and before Kibahi knew what was happening, he had hit the ground with immense pain. Agony filled his body and a blackness overtook his vision for a split second. He staggered up, and instinctively, yet blindly ran. Ran away from this coldhearted creature.

Back at the baobab, Kibahi was lying down, trying to understand what had just happened. His head hurt, he knew that, and his stomach was still growling. This stranger was not an enemy…but he was not a friend. Kibahi cringed at the wound on the side of his head where he had been bit. It was swollen just a bit, but wouldn’t do too much damage, other than the pain.

~~~

It had been at least four months since Kibahi had left the pride. He was now standing, watching as a herd of zebras was making its way passed his “territory.” It was the only other herd that had come across this land since the gazelles. But the rogue was still there, and Kibahi had still not hunted anything of his own accord except for a few smaller animals like rodents. He needed to fulfill the instinct and the driving sensation that left him crazy. He did not want to be a scavenger anymore. He wanted to prove himself to the world, and most of all, to this stranger.

“I can do it,” Kibahi said aloud, used to speaking only to himself. “If he can, I can. Now it’s my turn to show him.”

He began to sneak over carefully, and silently, using the skills he learned from his mother. Kibahi had never really learned to hunt from his father, but he knew it was essential for a time like this; after all, even that rogue had hunted - and successfully - something rare, even for a whole pride. Kibahi’s hopes grew as he continued closer, watching as the zebras munched on the grass. Closer and closer he came, when suddenly, he felt it: the presences of another lion. The rogue! The rogue was at it again! But no! He couldn’t let this happen! I won’t, he snarled in his mind, before arrogantly leaping up. The herd jumped, and took off, and he took off with them. Kibahi glanced eagerly over to see if the rogue was watching - and he was. Smirking, the half-cub continued after the prey. He knew it had been the wrong timing to let these creatures know he was here. It was much too early, but he just couldn’t have let this stranger take the glory again. Kibahi would show himself to this lone lion, proving that he was no half-cub anymore, even if the mane didn’t show it.

Kibahi’s eyes scanned, and quickly found the zebra he had picked out much earlier: an old stallion with a limp. He raced forward, separating this one from its herd. Again, he ignorantly glanced over his shoulder, grinning as he saw the rogue watching. The stranger was sitting up, ears perked, watching with both a mixture of curiosity and disappointment.

“Ha!” cried Kibahi, leaping as he did so. “It’s mine now!”

He was gaining on the poor animal. Closer and closer…And then, he leapt! His claws dug themselves into the animal’s sensitive hide, making it scream as he did so. It began to buck, and suddenly, he was thrown off. Kibahi landed smack on the ground. Groaning, he tried to see through blackened vision. That’s when he noticed that not only had he missed his chance for a real meal, but that the whole chase had backfired. The zebra was rearing up and crying out, kicking the air threateningly. Kibahi attempted to stagger up, just as the creature barely missed his jaw.

“Ah!” he cried out, trying to dodge the stomping, kicking zebra.

Oh, how he regretted this hunt now! Out of all the stupid things he had done so far on his own, this was the stupidest! He had always been told to beware when hunting, for the prey can always turn on you. Daylu had told him a story once, about how a crocodile had gobbled everything in his path. One sun, when it was trying to eat a fish, the fish turned around, and ate him. A strange but ironic outcome for the tale. A more realistic story to prove this point was one where a few of his great aunts had been hunting an old antelope, only to be turned on by it - it bucked and kicked at them, and ended up throwing one of them off into a rock, where she died instantly. The antelope had injured two others, and took off, never to be seen again. Until then, Kibahi never really took these stories seriously.

Now he was stuck in his rogue-time, a time of solitude and what seemed an ever-changing body of adolescence, now trying to fend himself off from this beastly animal. Why hadn’t he taken these stories and lectures into consideration? But now he could do nothing. Now he was a goner.

Kibahi panted as he tried his best to get up from the painful throw. Then, a hoof came…and he hit the ground again, this time in too much pain to gather his wits or even see right. Again, his vision was blackened and blurry. He groaned, feeling the animal thunder off. But even so, his heart was continuing to race. He lie there, almost motionless as night began to set in. The evening lit up just enough so that out of his darkening eyesight he could just make out another lion coming closer. Perhaps the rogue, ready to take his anger and revenge out on Kibahi, for losing him the meal. It didn’t matter, though. Kibahi lie in too much agony to care. He could see no more…

XII

The Show

A groan escaped his mouth. Kibahi could barely open a swollen eye, only to make out another lion above him.

“You really took it out there,” commented the lion, who licked at his wounds.

The half-cub flinched at the rough tongue rubbing against his open side where the last kick had got him. Suddenly, he could see this lion.

“Dad?” Kibahi quietly asked.

“Who’d ya think?” Zarazu gently replied with a grin, before looking back to his son’s wounds in concern.

“I thought you were that rogue.” Kibahi went on with a slightly strained voice. Again, he flinched, but stayed quiet at the pain. Even though it was night, and he was wounded the worst he had ever been, he felt a sense of warmth and security with his sire there. Not only another lion, but his own father! And then, just as quickly as this warmth had come, it went. It was overlapped by humiliation and regret. His stupid actions led him to this…And his father had seen it! His father had seen how arrogant he was! How much of a cub he still was! It would’ve been bad with the rogue there, but as great as it was to have someone from his family back, he wished for just a moment, it could’ve only been that rogue to see his downfall…if only it could’ve been the stranger instead of his own father.

“That loner?” Zarazu’s deep, warming voice came. “He’s a bit away from here. Think he was disappointed at the loss of his meal.”

Kibahi’s ears lowered, just as he had lifted his head. His throat tightened at the thought of what the “hunt” must’ve looked like to Zarazu and the rogue.

“So, tried hunting did you, son?” the adult continued, with a slight chuckle.

Kibahi nodded, but said nothing. Zarazu quickly noticed the embarrassment in his son.

“It’s alright,” the lion purred, now gently. “We all make mistakes.”

“I’ve been waiting so long to see you, Father, and yet, for once I wish you were the rogue.” he admitted, gazing at his forepaws.

“No matter, Kibahi. It happens to the best of us - and you are still learning.” Zarazu assured, and yet Kibahi felt no assurance by this.

“I wanted to show you that I wasn’t still learning, Dad. I wanted to show you that I’m not a cub.”

There was silence, before Zarazu replied with, “That’s nonsense, Kibahi. We are always learning. All of us - the young and the old. And I know you are not a cub.”

More silence, before the feeling of gratefulness had kicked back into Kibahi again. He finally grinned, and felt warm once more. He had done something stupid, but his father had come! And made him feel better, even if it was not physical.

“I thought you weren’t coming till next full moon, Dad.” Kibahi said, enjoying the company as he nuzzled into Zarazu’s fur.

Zarazu continued to clean his son’s injuries as he replied, “Been counting? Anyway, I had to. A pair of young rogues had been watching us for some time. All I needed was for your sisters to grow into adolescence, and then I could leave. I did not want to have to fight the youngsters - why should I when there was no reason to? Anyway, the pride-mother died just before the rogues came.”

Kibahi frowned, a sense of hope lost.

“She is up in the stars now, Kibahi, and flowing in the sky river.” Zarazu responded to his son’s sense of grief. “She wanted to be, and now she is free.

“I ended up talking to your mother about what I was planning,” he quickly added to change the subject.

“Really?” Kibahi asked, trying to ignore the cringe. “What’d she say?”

“She thought it was ridiculous - she thought I should defend our pride like a real lion.”

“She would say that,” scoffed Kibahi, though he grinned. “What’d you tell her?”

“I told her I needed to do this for myself - plus I made a promise. I told her about our plan, and though she was upset about this little change in life, she made me promise her something.”

“Yeah? What was that?” Kibahi asked in pure curiosity.

“To take care of you when I found you.”

Kibahi gulped, not exactly knowing what to say or think. A mixture of emotions swirled in his chest at the thought of Daylu saying that.

“She really does love you,” Zarazu said, before going on. “Anyway, I was able to stall the rogues for sometime, and finally your sisters reached their half-cub time. Just in their beginning, I bid farewell to your mother and the pride, and took off, leaving the rogues to their new life. They were young, sharp and strong - I knew I was leaving the Shine-River pride in good paws.”

Kibahi nodded, but stayed silent.

“Look, Kibahi,” Zarazu purred, still licking at the wounds. “I have to figure this thing out - these dreams and perhaps, memories. If you come with me, then you come with me. You have to be able to stand the worst. Can you do that?”

Silence.

Finally, Kibahi turned and said, “Dad,” he paused for effect, then said, “Look at me.”

The two gazed at each other, Kibahi at his strong father, and Zarazu at his young, ignorant son with a swollen eye and a gash on his side. The two could not help but grin. Zarazu nodded.

“Alright then,” he exclaimed. “We’ll start out soon, I suppose. But this time, let me do the hunting.”

“Hey!” snapped Kibahi defensively, but still grinning. “I can hunt - that just wasn’t my best show.”

“Right, well, you keep practicing on your shows, and roll over so I can get a better lick at this wound.”

Kibahi obeyed through another flinch.

“It will be a couple suns and moons of healing, but when you’re ready, we can go.” Zarazu explained, licking out the dirt. “For now, let’s get some sleep.”

Kibahi closed his eyes for the night, purring as he nuzzled into Zarazu’s warm coat. The pain of isolation, was finally killed.

 

XIII

The River

Father and son were now reunited. For the next three days, the two stayed together, Zarazu often scavenging for their meals, and Kibahi resting to heal his fresh wounds. The stranger was occasionally seen, but soon enough, took his leave. By the third night, Zarazu had made up his mind.

“Even the rogue has left, son.” Zarazu stated, while grooming himself after feasting on a tasty prairie dog. He lie there, licking at his right forepaw, both eyes on it as he spoke. “I think we as well, shall take our leave.”

“Where would we go?” Kibahi questioned in deep thought, lying beside his father. He gazed into the distance - now that his right eye had come back down to almost normal size, he could see much better.

“I don’t know,” the adult hastily replied, before adding with consideration, “Up the river, I suppose. After all, that is where I came from.”

There was silence, before the half-cub asked, “Do you really not remember, Dad?”

Zarazu stopped grooming, and they both studied each other. “A long time ago - or so it feels like - I awoke on the side of the river. It was also at the Shine-River pride’s borders. I have no recollection of what had happened to me before I ended up there. Of course, I do have frequent dreams - perhaps even visions - of a strange lioness. I do not know who she is, or what she is to me - other than someone very important. For if she was not, then why do I keep dreaming, or remembering about her?”

Kibahi’s ear twitched, and he swished his tail in the grass a bit. He turned briefly to nose his injured - though greatly healing - side, before looking up again. “Why did you make a life with us then?” he finally asked.

The elder lion blinked at his son’s bravery to ask such a question. “Well,” began Zarazu, voice cracking for a second. “I hadn’t a clue where I had come from - neither did your mother or the rest of the Shine-River pride. And it was only in everyone’s best interest if I had stayed - what with your mother’s cousin trying to control the pride.”

Kibahi nodded understandingly. It was the last thing he did before he drifted to sleep.

~~~

The two awoke early the next morning. When they discovered the river from which Zarazu had come, the duo began to follow it upward, toward the east. They walked among its muddy banks, sloshing along, stopping occasionally for a drink of water or a time to rest. Four suns and four moons they spent, traveling, and stopping midday to sleep for hours on end, like most lions did. Of course, there was more to it than just that. The two split hunts equal ways - one would go out and scavenge, while the other either sunbathed or napped in the moonlight.

On the fifth day, Kibahi had been resting, while his father brought back a chunk of rotting flesh.

“Oh,” groaned the half-cub, rolling over onto his side.

“That’s all I could get out of it,” Zarazu explained, after dropping the lump. “Dunno what it is - impala, I suppose. Sad thing is, the bugs and vultures got to it before I could.”

“I’m sick of this,” Kibahi snarled, glaring at the chunk as he basked in the sun. “Why do we have to be like hyenas, Father? Can’t we go hunt for real?”

Zarazu studied his son for a moment with a frown, before replying, “Do you want your left eye and side to be swollen this time?”

“I saw that rogue do it!” Kibahi argued. “Why can’t we?”

“Whether or not you saw that rogue take down his own prey, doesn’t mean we will. That’s a hard thing to do - even with a pride.”

The younger one snorted, looking away. Zarazu left another gap of silence, before rolling his eyes and saying in irritation, “If you don’t want what we have, then I’ll take it.”

Kibahi’s pride forced him to keep looking away, which eventually caused him to be hungry for the rest of the day. Zarazu had scarfed down the meat in no less than a couple minutes, and then they were off again.

~~~

Kibahi snarled, slashing at the ground. It was so frustrating to have to travel for hours and hours, when a real lion should be sleeping and sunbathing, not giving a care in the world. It was the sixth day, and now it was his turn to search for anything edible and capable to fill their stomachs.

The half-cub glared over his shoulder, to where over an incline led to a river, and where his father lie. Suddenly, a wave of regret washed over him, and he frowned. Why was he being so moody about this? Traveling with his father was ten times better than being on his own in his rogue-era! How ungrateful was he? Kibahi snarled again, only at himself this time.

I’ll find food, he thought bitterly. I will. Though it was not only the fact that his father was involved - Kibahi had not eaten for over twenty-four hours. He needed energy.

“Take her!” a voice shouted in the distance.

Kibahi blinked, looking up from his spot in the golden the savannah. His dry nose twitched as he scented the air. The young lion’s ears perked in the scorching heat, but he could not allow himself to stay mobile like this. He had for a while now, and every second was gaining.

The adolescent glanced around curiously, as if seeing if there was anyone else near. After making sure his solitude was absolute, the youngster began forward, up another part of the incline.

“A fine female for breeding,” another voice declared loudly.

Kibahi’s curiosity took the best of him, and before he knew it, he was standing atop the small knoll, looking down to where two males and a female of his own age stood. The lions each stood on separate sides of the lioness.

“It’s alright,” one of the males snarled to the other. “Our rogue-time is finally over.”

Both were glaring at each other over the female, who stood stalk-still between them both, fur bristling. No doubt a wave of tension filled the seemingly-calm atmosphere of the savanna. Kibahi could only watch, ears perked, head tilted slightly from these strangers. It had been long since he had seen others of his kind - apart from his father and the recent rogue - let alone, peers.

“Come, Tzika. Let’s make a pride.” the same male growled, eagerly.

The one called Tzika, stood there, gazing intently at the other two through his darkened mane. As the other male advanced on the female, Tzika continued to stay in one spot. Finally, almost resentfully, Tzika moved toward the female as well. The lioness swung her head over to stare Tzika in the eyes, giving a loud hiss, before looking back to the first male, repeating the action, her body lowered to the ground.

How could these rogues attempt such a thing? Had their mothers not taught them - surely their own instinct would - that trying to mate with a lioness who was not in her season, was just as bad as killing another animal for no reason?

Before Kibahi could help himself, he yelled, “Stop!”

All three strangers looked up, eyes wide in surprise.

“A rogue!” snapped the first male. “Be gone!”

Kibahi gave a fierce snarl, and replied with, “What are you lions doing?”

Apparently he had done the wrong thing, though, acting as the hero. A second later, Tzika and the other male were climbing the very incline his paws stood upon. Gulping, Kibahi took a step back, but tried his best to keep tense and strong. At least, as the female took off, he felt as if his own action had been worth while…somehow.

“No!” roared the other male, looking over his shoulder as he watched the sheela bound off into the distance. He looked back at Kibahi, teeth exposed, yellow eyes gleaming through his golden mane. “You fool!”

“H-how?” Kibahi stuttered, inwardly scolding himself for sounding weak so abruptly. He backed up even more. Suddenly he cleared his throat, asking, “What fool am I for stopping, for stopping rogues such as yourself from trying to produce with a lioness who is not even in her season?”

Tzika said nothing, only following his companion, who turned his neck slightly to the side, making a small cracking noise. He continued toward Kibahi still, replying with, “Only a fool would so such a thing.”

“Exactly!” shot Kibahi’s voice, and before he knew what was happening, the rogue was atop him, digging his teeth into the side of his neck.

Kibahi’s cry filled the air, and right as he lashed out with a forepaw, the massive body of the larger rogue was off him in an instant. He blinked, gasping for breath, and rolled over, only to see Tzika, standing stalk still, just as the female had a few moments ago. His eyes were wide, and Kibahi’s followed Tzika’s gaze, only to discover that his friend was buried under Zarazu.

Zarazu was keeping himself atop the youngster, teeth at Tzika’s friend’s throat. The male tried his best to lash out, but both size and experienced overpowered the rogue. Finally, the rogue caused himself to calm down, gasping for breath. This is when Zarazu lifted his head from the throat, glaring down at the rogue.

“Rogue,” Zarazu’s deep voice came. “Who do you think you are? First, trying to mate with a lioness who is not in season, and then attacking my son for stopping such a crime of the Lion’s Law?”

Tzika continued to stay still, his jaw agape, and Kibahi leapt up, watching in both interest and pride for his father. The rogue struggled once, and Zarazu smacked a giant paw at his face, causing him to see only blackness for a moment or so. Dizzied, the rogue’s unfocussed eyes rolled back.

“Learn from this experience,” Zarazu advised, his voice growling. He glared at Tzika then, saying, “Neither of you will have prides if you deceive the Law of the Lion.” He paused, before backing up off the rogue.

At first, it seemed as if the rogue had not noticed Zarazu’s departure, but after another moment, his eyes focused, and he leapt up faster than a hunting several, and turned around, bounding off into the distance. Tzika glanced at his running friend, then back at Zarazu, then took off as well.

“What the…?” Kibahi muttered to himself, watching the two take off. He padded slowly over to his father. “Dad,” he began, astonished. “What just happened?”

Zarazu turned slowly to look at his son, expression not readable. “Some rogue-times are so hard, they are unbearable. It is a cruel and confusing time in life for a male, and it causes a rogue to do things such as try and mate for no reason, destroy another creature’s life when he is not hungry, mark a piece of land he is not content on keeping.”

There was silence.

Kibahi lowered his head in shame. Though he had never attempted such actions, he still wondered what would’ve happened if his father had not come for him…would things be different? Would he be such a rogue, consumed in such loneliness he would do anything for a friend, a mate, or a pride?

“Father,” he whispered, head still down. “If you were not here, what-”

“You have been raised by the strongest of prides, and not only that,” Zarazu interrupted. “But you yourself are strong - I have no doubt in my mind you would not have done such a thing. Believe in yourself, Kibahi, and you will get through life just fine.”

With that, Zarazu turned, and headed back to the river. Kibahi just stood there, watching his father go, a feeling of dignity and assurance rushing over his young body.

~~~

The two lions continued on their way, but with nothing more than what they had started out with. They stayed near the river, traveling upward, going on with their ways. Yet more often than not, Kibahi’s mind was traveling as well. His thoughts about the uncertain future caused him to shiver, and eventually began to take their toll on his actions. The young lion rarely succeeded in scavenging for food, unlike Zarazu, who had easily found something, at least half the time. Not only did Kibahi notice this about himself, but so did Zarazu, who said nothing. It was easy enough for an adolescent’s mind to wander, especially for a male in his rogue-time. Still…

Kibahi lie beside the river, sighing. He watched it churning and moving, his forepaws crossed under his chin. His growing mane of pure white fell over his innocent blue eyes, causing him to blink. Zarazu was gone, scavenging. This was OK, though - more time to daydream. He thought deeply about his short life so far - his birth-pride and his sisters - had Daylu given birth to new cubs yet? Did his sisters look up to the new leaders with respect? Did those leaders in fact, treat the Shine-River pride with love and care? Why was Kibahi gone, anyway? Would Zarazu ever discover his past? And what of the female the other sun? Was she OK?

Suddenly, Kibahi lifted his head, thinking, the Kings and Queens of the Past must be reading my mind, for as he had questioned about the last thought, a breeze ruffled his fur, and the scent of the same female came. It teased his nose, and he wondered deeply if he should follow it. Glancing from side to side, the youngster pushed himself off the ground, nose still twitching. It would probably better if he didn’t…but still. Was it not OK if he was to check on her? At least to make sure she was alright?

Taking a deep breath, the lion began to follow the trail, padding up the river even more. Through the long grass he went, and no more than thirty or so yards away, did he stop. About a quarter of a mile or so off, he spotted the same female from before. Her gold pelt glittered in the sun, and her skinny body stood there on the bank. As she took a step forward, Kibahi couldn’t help but think this stranger, as weak as she appeared, was actually pretty. A faint new feeling stirred in his mind, and suddenly, he got the urge to go over and introduce himself. After all, what was a lioness - especially a half-cub like her - doing by herself, without a pride?

Straightening himself up, Kibahi padded forward. He did not care to make himself quiet, and if anything, wanted his presence to be known, so as not to shock her. Indeed, as he cracked a twig in half, the lioness jerked her head, glaring at him. In no less than a second, she took off, up the river more. Kibahi halted with a frown.

“Just as well,” someone said, and Kibahi noticed his father gazing at him from a few feet away, a dead rodent at his paws. “She is a loner, and is probably scarred from her last experience with other male lions.” He paused, picked up the dead rodent, and trotted toward his son, adding with a muffled voice, “Besides, it’s better to not have females in this time of life.” He dropped the rodent at Kibahi’s own paws, who just looked at him with a frown. “Traveling, ’n all,” Zarazu answered. “Enjoy.”

The adult turned around, heading toward the bank for a quick drink. Kibahi looked down at the small meal, sniffed it for a moment, then, with hunger gnawing at his stomach, easily scarffed it up. He then turned to follow his sire, lapping the water noisily. By the time his snack was devoured and his thirst satisfied, Zarazu was already sunbathing once more.

Kibahi sighed, glancing at his napping father. Soon enough it would be time to move on again. And yet, he still couldn’t push away the feeling of loss in the pit of his stomach.

Suddenly, the grass rustled. Instinctively, Kibahi raised his head and perked his ears, sniffing once more. Before he knew it, the one called Tzika had climbed out from a nearby shrub.

You!” snarled Kibahi, arching his back slightly, fur raising on end. “Be gone!”

Not too far off, Zarazu had heard the commotion and leapt up, running toward the half-cubs.

“No, wait!” cried Tzika abruptly, almost cowering as the larger, older male came near. “I haven’t come to fight!”

Zarazu stopped halted alongside his son, looking at Tzika in mere curiosity.

“What have you come here for then, half-cub?” Zarazu’s deep voice rumbled, causing Tzika to shiver in fear, crouching in a pure submissive state.

“T-to warn you,” stuttered Tzika.

“Warn us?”

“Yes.. Kila is headed here with friends.”

“Kila?” whispered Kibahi, more to himself.

“The other rogue - the male who tried mating with my pride-sister.”

Zarazu was silent as Kibahi snarled in surprise and disgust, “She was your pride-sister?! And you tried mating with her, too?!”

“No! No it’s not like that!” Tzika cried, desperately now. “Tumba and I come from a pride that was destroyed by Kila’s birth-pride. She and I become separated, and before I knew it, I was making friends with rogues left and right.”

“Tumba being the female?” Zarazu asked urgently.

“Yes.” nodded Tzika shamefully.

“Well now that we’ve straightened who is who, never mind your ignorant actions. What of that warning?”

“It’s Kila - he’s told some rogues about what you two did, and now he’s rounded them up to come after you, and then go back after my pride-sister.”

Zarazu was silent, unreadable as he gazed off into the distant. Finally, he looked back down at the quivering adolescent. “If what you say is true, young one, it will not matter - I shall fight them off just like before.”

“No! You can’t!”

Before anyone of them knew what had happened, Tzika was pinned the ground, looking up with horrified eyes into the fangs of Zarazu.

“Dad!” cried Kibahi in fright of this action.

“And why not? Do you call me weak, you miserable cub?”

“I-it’s not like that.” Tzika stuttered once more, expression of shock on his face. “But even if I stayed to help you two, we would all die. They outnumber us more than double!”

Zarazu hushed up again, thinking once more, gazing not at Tzika, but right through him. Was it true? Could he really believe this half-cub who tried to attack his own son not too many suns ago?

“I heard Kila call you by your name - Tzika, is it?” Zarazu finally snarled, startling both his son and the rogue, but Tzika nodded. “How can we trust you? Why is it that you have come to warn of us, betraying your own companions?”

“Kila is fierce, and Tumba is my pride-sister,” Tzika urgently hissed. “If I had to choose either one of them I’d choose my pride-sister.”

“Then what about before, when you and Kila tried to get her?!” Kibahi blurted out.

“Because I was scared!” Tzika cried. “I am very sorry for what I almost tried to do - but Kila would’ve made things worse for the both of us! But even then, I doubt I would’ve attempted to actually mate with her!”

More silence. The only sounds were of a lonely breeze, the rustling of grass, a choir of insects, and Tzika’s fierce breathing. Finally, Zarazu stepped off the smaller male.

“Where are Kila and his rogues?” he asked.

Tzika scrambled up, heart beating so fast he was sure either of the other two could hear.

“Less than a mile in the plains to the south.” he exclaimed quickly.

Zarazu lifted his head, eyeing the Serengeti, fur bristling. His tail swished once, before turning back around, snarling, “If what you tell us is a lie-”

“It is not!” Tzika went on. “And I even know a place across the river where they cannot reach us! It’s current is too strong, but I know a path that is much gentler, that Kila and his crew will never discover.”

Kibahi blinked, looking from his father to his peer, and then glancing fearfully out to the south as well. Was it true? Could a pack of rogues be headed this way to kill them?

“I mean it,” Zarazu’s voice shot again, but now it was more of a whisper as he stared Tzika in the eyes, moving his giant head next to his so that their faces were but an inch away. “If you lie half-cub, or if you are leading my son and I into a trap, I shall make you feel like you were back in your mother’s stomach.”

Tzika was trembling, and Kibahi did not know what to think of this all. He actually couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy - after all, his father was huge, and knew how to fight. Then again, Tzika could easily be lying as well.

“It is the truth,” Tzika replied, also whispering.

Zarazu growled once, fangs exposing again, causing the younger lion to look away in submission once more. Finally, Zarazu swung his head to look at the river.

“Tzika, you are going to lead my son and I across the river - but you are going first.”

“But, Father!” gasped Kibahi. “We are just going to run from them? Like prey?!”

Zarazu heaved a grave sigh, before gazing contently at Kibahi. “Son, sometimes things happen like this.”

“But you’re a fighter, Dad! You could beat a whole herd of water buffalo!” Kibahi went on, never having heard his father back down from a component.

Though touched deeply from his son’s comment, Zarazu just shook his head. “It is the same as scavenging over hunting. Sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted. And sometimes we must take our turn and run.”

“But, Dad! We could at least try! I’ll help you!” Kibahi desperately shouted, his white bangs falling into his face. An unnerving feeling settled over him at the thought that for once, his father was running. Before, letting the rogue take over his pride, was much different - if anything, Zarazu was handing the pride down instead of giving up, the same way a mother lioness passed on the ability to give cubs to her own cubs. But this…

“To stay and fight, is very unwise. To run would be much smarter.” Zarazu exclaimed.

“Your father’s right,” Tzika started with sympathy, but Kibahi cut in with a snarl, and the stranger fell silent. He did not need pity from a rogue who almost tried defying the Law of the Land.

Zarazu shook his head once more, but all three looked up at the sound of distant roars. Snorting, the large lion turned to Tzika once more.

“Go on, rogue. Show us that you are not lying. Go first to cross the river and show us your safety.

Tzika nodded, then turned to scramble over the muddy bank into the rough waters. Zarazu and Kibahi watched as it pushed him slightly downriver, but within moments, Tzika had found a gentler side of the current, and he was kicking himself across.

Kibahi watched, almost astounded but still angry with his father.

“Kibahi, move. We must leave…now!” Zarazu roared, and in a split second all three lions were crossing the river.

Water filled Kibahi’s nostrils, and a wave washed over his body - but it was more of a wave of humiliation. If anyone could just see him now…

Another roar sounded, and Kibahi glanced over his shoulder, his father just a few feet behind him, also kicking, desperately trying to stay afloat and move to the other side of land. No rogues but-

“Tumba!” Kibahi tried gasping, but instead, ended up inhaling a gulp of water. He sputtered and coughed, the name washed right out of him.

Zarazu paid no attention, for his instincts were kicking in. He kicked right past his own son - after all, he himself raised the youngster, and both he and Daylu were able to pass on fine, dominant genes that made him stronger than many. He knew his son would be fine, if he just kept swimming.

But Kibahi was stuck in a war of primitive instincts, and raging emotions. For there, on the bank he had just left, was Tumba. Yards away she stood, watching the three males cross, her expression nothing but curious. She did not know there was a pride of males, ready to attack and, she would be one of their main goals after the attack .The wind was not in Tumba’s favor.

Kibahi was coughing up water, his paws and legs flailing aimlessly around below him in the cold waters. He did not know which way to go - ahead, where safety would be, as well as his father, or back around, where danger lurked, but an innocent lioness awaited a horrific life. Then, the same shocked feeling came over him about his father fleeing, and he snarled. If Zarazu was going to give up and run, fine, but Kibahi was not going to leave that lioness behind.

Finally, Kibahi had turned all the way around, and was kicking back to shore, where any moment now the lions were to come. Still, Tumba…

Zarau had made it. He pushed himself up on the muddy bank, water drenching his fur. He quickly shook it off, panting, and looking around. But the only lion he could find was Tzika. He turned back around, and gasped at what he saw.

“Kibahi!” Zarazu yelled, watching his son swim back to the other bank. “Are you mad, Kibahi?! Klibahi!”

Tzika watched in surprise, and felt almost hurt - had Kibahi truly not believed him, and just turned around? But Zarazu was the one throwing a fit - he was roaring and growling, slapping at the ground and the water, calling over and over for his son. But it was too late - Kibahi was already on land.

“He went for that damned lioness!” Zarazu suddenly realized out loud.

“Tumba?” Tzika asked himself, watching, a glimmer of hope in his heart. She was alive! But then terror hit him hard, just as it had Zarazu - Kila and the others were over there, too!

“Kibahi!” Zarazu tried once more, but finally, he gave up, and jumped back into the river once more.

Tzika watched, head raised, heart still beating. Could Zarazu possibly get back to help his pride-sister? It was very lucky Zarazu had jumped back into the same current, otherwise he would not have been able to help not even himself.

Kibahi had pushed himself off onto the land once more, panting. But the lioness was already taking off.

“Tumba!” Kibahi forced himself to shout, despite the fact that he had not yet caught his breath. He was grateful that he did not have to run after her himself, for the lioness had stopped at her name. She halted in her tracks, just yards away, head cocked.

The male cried again, “Tumba! Come back!” and he trotted after her, forcing himself not to run. If he did, it would surely cause her to sprint off, only to run into the pride of males she was trying to avoid.

“I-it’s me!” stammered Kibahi some more. “My father saved you some suns ago! Do you not remember? Do you not trust me?”

Tumba stayed stalk still, scenting the air. Finally, she turned fully around, and did not run anymore. Kibahi sighed inwardly, in relief. He finally caught up to her.

“How do you know my name?” Tumba hissed.

“No time for that now - there’s a pride of rogues led by that Kila.” Kibahi explained as quickly as he could.

“Kila!” hissed the female in the utmost hatred.

“Yes, and they’re coming this way! Right now!”

There was silence.

“How can I trust you?” Tumba finally growled.

Kibahi pushed away the irritation, replying with, “I stopped them! I told them to stop! Remember? But now they are coming and we must cross the river!”

Tumba looked over behind Kibahi shoulder, where the river’s current churned and flowed powerfully.

“How? It is much too strong.” she stated, despite the fact that she had just been watching them pass before.

“My father and your pride-brother already passed it, didn’t you see us?” Kibahi answered, not taking his eyes off her face. “There’s a gentle current, we just need to find it. Just follow me, OK?”

More silence, but Kibahi was growing anxious now.

Suddenly, a roar sounded, and the two jerked their heads to see Kila himself, standing yards away, atop a small incline. He watched them, teeth exposed, with rogues on either side of him.

“So, I see you two have met each other again?” Kila snickered, but he was watching them with as much hate on his face as Tumba had for him. “I suppose it’s a good thing you two are together now - at least he has someone to say goodbye to.” Kila continued, nodding to Kibahi.

Kibahi stood there, body stiff, hackles raised. He did not know how to fight - he did not he would have to so soon, and against so many. Several of these rogues were older and bigger than him, too, and were covered in scars - no doubt they had fought, and probably each other.

Kila was leading them forward, but before anyone could do anything, Zarazu had leapt out of nowhere, roaring much louder than Kila or his companions had, causing all to halt.

“Dad!” cried Kibahi, both in surprise and reassurance.

It was much more of an impressive entrance than the rogues had made, and several of these rogues were in fact not much more than cubs or half-cubs, so it was obvious that the group felt easily threatened and lost their courage, if only for a moment.

“Ah, look, the little cub’s daddy is here,” sneered Kila, which quickly encouraged his group once more, and they were all heading forward again.

Zarazu studied the group of rogues for a moment, and knew that Tzika had stuck to his word - there were too many. But as he looked over to his son, he knew that Kibahi was blinded, and did not see this fact. The young male was just watching his father in shock, hope, and pride. Still, even with his son and the lioness helping, most likely, all three would be torn to shreds. So Zarazu had to think fast. What was he to do? He watched as the group of eight of so rogues was advancing on them, and even Kibahi was facing the group, ready to fight. Zarazu’s heart churned in pride and love at his own son, and he finally knew…

“Kibahi!” Zarazu yelled.

Kibahi stopped growling at the nearest of the rogues, and looked obediently over to his father. Again, Zarazu was fighting his emotions and instincts both.

“Run, Kibahi! Go across the river!” the adult cried.

Kibahi’s paws were planted. Was his father serious? Just leave him like that so he and Tumba could get away safely? But what about his father? Did he not deserve a chance to live? And then it hit him - this was Kibahi’s fault. If Kibahi hadn’t the one to go back for this lioness, then maybe Tumba would’ve been able to make it, and he and his father would still be side by side on the other part of the river, safe and sound. Still, Zarazu was a tough lion, and Kibahi could not help thinking that if his father was telling him to leave, then perhaps Zarazu knew he could beat the rogue pride alone.

Hope was pounding at his body now, as he heard Zarazu yell again, only more urgently, “Run! Kiabhi! Swim!”

Kibahi turned to Tumba, gave her a quick nod, and turned back around, running east to find the same current Tzika had showed them before. It was hidden in the stronger currents, but Kibahi knew it was there and, glancing behind his shoulder to make sure Tumba was hot on his tail, he dove into the water. He and the lioness were once more, kicking in the water. Still, he could hear the other rogues behind him. Kibahi was sure at least half were following them, and if that was true, then that would probably give his father a chance…

Zarazu watched as his son swam across once more, Tumba beside him. Behind them both were only three rogues, and there for five rogues still remained, including Kila. Kila was watching Zarazu in fascination and ammusment. It was so satisfying now that the tables were turned, and Zarazu could see that look of satisfaction in Kila’s eyes. But the two said nothing to each other, and in an instant, the five rogues had jumped Zarazu, who roared out, slapping and biting at them all.

The two youngsters quickly lost their followers, in the river. They had turned back to fight with the rest of the pride, and now, as Kibahi climbed out onto the mud, panting again, he turned to watch.

“Dad!” he cried out in horror, not even noticing Tumba nor Tzika who were near him. “DAD!” Kiabhi went on, watching as the rogues gainged up on his father. It was probably the most impressive thing Kibahi had ever and would ever, see his father do, for Zarazu was fighting off eight rogues all at once. They tore at him, ripped at his flesh, bit at his mane, pulled his tail, and tried their best to get to his throat and stomach. But Zarazu, even as a single lion, was putting up the strongest fight a lion could. He protected himself instinctively, tossing rogues off him into each other, rolling a male over as he leapt atop him. But still, how long would this last?

Finally, Kibahi made up his mind, and was back in the river once more.

“No!” one of the lions behind him screamed, though he did not know if it was the coward Tzika, or the young lioness Tumba. Nor did he care. He just needed to get to his father. After all, he was the reason Zarazu had gone back the second time.

But Kibahi had jumped in, before he knew what he was even doing. The young lion had leapt into the wrong part of the river, on the gentle current’s right side, which caused him to be swept away, down river once more. It pushed him under, and Kibahi tried his best to keep his head out above the surface. He swallowed much, and felt himself kicking at the murky bottom. But soon enough, he could not even feel the riverbed itself. Again, Kibahi was fighting emotion and instinct, for he needed to keep himself afloat to keep from drowing, but at the same time, he needed to push himself up river, against the raging currents to save his father. But by now, all Kibahi could see were his paws, sweeping back and forth clumsley in the water. He did not know what was happening at the river filled his lungs, and before he knew what hit him, Kibahi’s head slammed against a giant rock, and he saw nothing but black…

XIV

A Death

The look of her eyes. The look of someone who did not care. Maybe not the expression a hater would give, but at least someone with no regret. No longing or sorrow. And then she disappeared...

Kibahi awoke with a gasp. He panted. Cold sweat and water drenched his body, and mud caked his fur. His beautiful white mane was covered in it. The young lion looked around into the night. Bright stars above lightened this night, but at the same time, he could not feel that something terrible had happened. But at the same time, those eyes he saw in his dream…Who did they belong to? Whose face was that?

Finally, Kibahi tried his best to force himself up onto his paws.

“Ah!” he snarled, noticing that his left forepaw was injured, but not too badly. Just sprained a bit, and perhaps a few suns’ worth of limping, but that was about it. And other than a few other minor bruises about, Kibahi seemed fine, except for the huge lump atop the back of his head where he had his the rock. “Oh,” he groaned in pain, looking around with head spins. After standing for a few minutes, he was finally able to limp over through the mud, to the edge of the river. There, he lapped up the water noisily, but suddenly, he gasped.

“Dad!” he cried, lifting his head.

That’s what was gnawing at the back of his mind! Not the lioness in his dream - but his own father! Zarazu!

“Father!” he called again, looking around, heart pounding quick against his chest. He limped through the mud, over into the dry grass, blue eyes scanning the surrounding area. But no one seemed to be around. Just the grass, the mud, the river, a few scattered trees, some singing insects, and that was it - or so it seemed.

“Kibahi?” a small voice whispered.

Kibahi jumped, and turned to find who had spoken. Tumba.

“That is your name, right? Tzika said he heard your father call you-”

“Where’s my dad?” Kibahi cut her off.

The tan, golden lioness stood there, hazel eyes studying him with concern. She was frowning.

“Tumba…?” Kibahi whispered, limping very close to her, staring her in those innocent eyes.

Tumba tore her head away, with an expression of what seemed immense pain. “Your father…” she whispered, not opening her eyes or lifting her head from her side. “Your father…Kibahi, there were…just too many of them…”

Kibahi stood there in shock silence once more, his growing, caked mane lying against his muddied pelt. He tried to swallow, but could not. He tried to inhale, but his lips would not open. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. Kibahi was standing there, gazing at nothing - nothing at all. His heart was racing, and he said and did nothing, until-

“Kibahi?” someone else questioned.

The adolescent male turned to see Tzika, not too far off. Now that they were out of the river, and danger’s path, it was easy to see this lion, who stood in the moonlight. He had a dark mane of almost black, and his pelt looked almost like his sister’s - gold-tan - yet darker, and had a more brown tint to it. Tzika’s snout was long, and his body, though had muscle, was quite slim. But right then, Kibahi did not care what Tzika looked like. He did not care that Tumba was standing right there as he leapt through the air, knocking Tzika straight down on his back.

Tzika cried out, trying his best to get Kibahi off him, but Kibahi was biting, scratching, smacking, snarling. He would rip this half-cub’s throat out if it was the last thing he did! He did not care anymore! After all, it was Tzika’s companion and stupid acts that got them where they were now.

“Kibahi!” screamed Tumba, watching in horror. “Kibahi, no!”

But Kibahi could not hear her. He was focused on the prey beneath him.

“You worthless zebra scum! I’ll kill you!” he was snarling as he bit down at the lion. “You’re a coward and nothing else! You couldn’t have helped my father! Or even your own pride-sister!”

Suddenly, someone raked Kibahi’s face. Kibahi cried out, closing his eyes, and before he could gather his wits, he was pushed away, falling back into the mud.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” someone ordered with a roar: Tumba. Her shadow stood over Kibahi in the moonlight, and Tzika was cowering behind his sister in shock.

Kibahi was surprised that even Tumba had taken Tzika’s side and tried to protect what was not worth protecting. He stood up, panting, but still snarling as well.

“Why are you doing this, lioness?!” Kibahi yelled back. “He tried to go against you and the Law of the Lion! And you’re protecting him?!”

“But he didn’t go against it, and he was sorry. And he left Kila for good!” Tumba replied, fur on end and teeth exposed, ready to attack if need be.

“Wh-what?” Kibahi panted.

“That’s right - he had left Kila - they would’ve killed him if they knew he had run off!”

“And they should’ve!” Kibahi went on, taking a step forward, but Tumba stepped into his path again.

“The important thing is he came back to warn you and your father - he is not to be blamed! It is Kila and his rogues! Not my pride-brother!”

Kibahi stood there, enraged, glaring down at the little creature that did not deserve to live. “And some pride-brother he is,” Kibahi sarcastically remarked.

With that, Kibahi was running. He ignored the pain in his paw, and pushed himself away from the river that now held memories of his dear father. His father, who did not deserve to die. His father, who had come back to find Kibahi during his rogue-era. His father, who was on a search to find out who he really was and where he had come from.

Kibahi let out a loud sob, before he could help himself. He lie down atop a rotting log, looking down into a near puddle, that showed only the glittering stars above. The young lion looked up, watching as a shooting star went by, teaser filling his blue eyes he had inherited from Zarazu. But that was just it - Kibahi had gone on this quest, promising his father he would help him discover where he had come from. Suddenly, after a tear trickling down into the water, Kibahi got up, limping slowly back to the bank once more, though farther up river, away from the other two. He gazed longingly at its rushing currents.

“Kibahi?” Tumba’s gentle voice from before purred.

The male’s left ear twitched, but he did not look over to her. Instead, his eyes still rested on the river.

Tumba continued with, “Kibahi, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, and I know it hurts.”

“You know nothing!” he spat suddenly, turning back to her. “You know nothing of this hurt, lioness!”

For a moment, Tumba stood there in shock at this outburst, before she hissed loudly at this ignorant rogue.

“I know it just as well as anyone!” she screamed, also causing Kibahi himself to gasp inwardly at her own explosion. “My birth-pride was destroyed by Kila’s birth-pride! All of them! My parents, my sisters, my cousins - everyone!”

Another minute or so of silence. By now, Kibahi’s ears and tail were lowered in shame. Frowning, he limped over to Tumba, and whispered, “I’m sorry. I forgot…”

Tears glistened in Tumba’s hazel eyes, though her fur was still raised, and she batted a paw at Kibahi’s face in frustration. Finally, she gave a deep sigh, forcing herself to calm.

“The only lions left were Tzika and I - we had just barely started adolescence, so as he went to the borders, I followed to say goodbye. That is how we were able to escape from the attack - a head start.” Tumba was explaining, before she could even help herself.

Kibahi slightly cocked his head. If he himself had not been in such a state of agony from his father’s loss, he would’ve probably wanted her to go on, and would’ve asked about the reason behind Kila’s birth-pride’s attack. But no. Instead, he turned sadly away, only to gaze longingly at the river once more.

Tumba blinked, noticing that yearning in his expression. “Kibahi, what is it? Why do you keep looking at the river? Is it because your father died at its banks?”

Silently, Kibahi shook his head, still staring at the water. Tumba slowly moved forward, so that her face was in his view. “Tell me.” she uttered, almost pleadingly.

Kibahi looked up to the stars right then. “My father is now in the river in the stars,” he whispered in reply, still not looking at this lioness. “I hope he is happy, but…” And he looked back down at the river.

“But what?” Tumba urged, gently.

Then, Kibahi closed his eyes, inhaled and exhaled deeply through his nose, before opening his eyes once more, now focusing on Tumba.

“I won’t let my father’s death rule me, nor will I dwell on it. Instead I will live in respect for his life. I know what I am going to do.” He paused for a moment, only now just noticing that he was trembling. “I am going to follow this river that took his life, and try to find where he came from. I won’t stop until I’ve found out for him…It’s what his goal in life was…”

“Are you sure that was his goal? To follow a river to the past?” Tumba uncertainly asked.

Kibahi glanced at the river another time, before looking back to this stranger. “It is the only thing I know now, Tumba.”

“Well then,” Tumba purred softly. “I shall help you.”

Kibahi blinked in surprise - in no way was he expecting that. “Come with me?”

“You heard me. I will help you on your father’s quest.” Tumba’s voice rang with confidence and pride now. “After all, I have nothing as well, and nowhere to go.”

The two smiled at each other for a moment, before Kibahi frowned again, asking, “What about Tzika?”

Tumba shrugged. “Tzika will be fine for now, I’m sure of it.”

“Alright,” Kibahi replied, heart stirring. Again, he smiled. He now had a friend out here on the lonely plains and grasslands. Just wait, Father, he thought to himself. I will find what you were looking for…

 

 

 

Lion Terms

Here is a list of words that are probably seen frequently in my most recent stories. They are either real words, words that I have made up, and a couple are even words you might have heard in Disney's The Lion King.

*Season/Litter-Giving Season/Cub-Giving Season

The time in which a lioness is in heat is known as her "season." It can also be known as her "litter-giving season" or "cub-giving season." This term is usually confused with "birth-giving season," in which the cubs of a pride or female are born. The reason why it is known as litter-giving or cub-giving season, is because she is ready to have cubs given to her, though not yet ready to give birth. When talking about a lioness's season, the term is normally put into a sentence as if the season belongs to her. It is said as her, not just the litter-giving season. Sometimes it is also known as "she is in season." Both the litter-giving season and the birth-giving season are not during any specific season or time, but usually happen once a year or so. If for some reason the pride should not produce (i.e there is a drought) then they will most likely not mate, and the lionesses' litter-giving seasons are delayed.

example sentence: "She is in her litter-giving season."

*Birth-Giving Season

The time in which a lioness gives birth is called the/her "birth-giving season." Usually in a pride, all females share the same birth-giving season, since most cubs are born within the same time of each other. This is also a reason why most lionesses in the pride will have the same "litter-giving seasons." This term is usually confused with "litter-season," which is known by how many times a male has given a pride seasons of litters. Birth-giving season is also frequently confused with "litter-giving season," which is the time in which a lioness is in heat. Both the litter-giving season and the birth-giving season are not during any specific season or time, but usually happen once a year or so.

example sentence: "The pride is now in the birth-giving season."

*Litter-Season

The term "litter-season" is a time in which the females give birth. This term can easily be confused with "birth-giving season," which are basically at the same time, but have a slight difference. A litter-season is actually how many times a male has mated with the pride (not individually) but how many years he is leader and how many times during each year he has mated with the females. An example of this is: a male is leader of a pride for about three years, and each year he has given the lionesses cubs. This means he has had three litter-seasons with the pride, or has given three litter-seasons to the pride.

example sentence: "That male has given them four litter-seasons."

*Cub-Birthing Den

The "cub-birthing den" is sometimes confused with the birthing den, though they are different. A lioness's cub-giving den is the den where she gives birth to her cubs.

*Birthing Den

A "birthing den" is simply the place where a lion was born.

*Birth-Giving Grounds/Birthing-Grounds

The "birth-giving grounds" or "birthing-grounds" are the part of area where a lioness will have as temporary territory to give birth to her cubs alone. Normally a lioness's birth-giving grounds are either at her pride's territory borders, or outside the territory.

*Pride-Mother/Pride-Father

Usually a pride has what is known as a "pride-mother" or "pride-father." The oldest lioness of the pride is normally someone looked up to by the others. Lots of times she is the shaman, and usually born within that same pride. She is the lioness who has seen the most leaders come and go, and cubs be born and grow up to have their own cubs - she has seen male cubs be turned into half-cub rogues and chased away, she has seen several live and die. When the pride-mother is still young enough to breed, she is almost always the dominant mate to the leader of the pride. There is rarely ever a pride-father, but when there is, he is usually the oldest male, and for some reason has been able to stay with the pride. Sometimes a pride will call their leader their pride-father, though they are not always the same thing.

example sentence: "The pride-mother is sleeping right now." or "Our pride-mother is sleeping right now."

*Pride-Sister/Pride-Brother

When someone is called "pride-sister" or "pride-brother" it does not nessacarily mean that they are their brother or sister. Though it can mean they are siblings, it does not always mean they have the same parent or parents. A lioness or lion is called a pride-sister/brother when they are simply in the same pride. Of course, lots of the time when this term is used, many of the lions usually do have at least the same father. Lots of times a pride-sister/brother can be the same as a half-sister/brother.

example sentence: "You are my pride-sister."

*Half-Sister/Half-Brother

When using the term "half-sister" or "half-brother," a lion is describing his/her sibling who has at only one parent who is the same. Normally a half-sister or half-brother has the same father, since the same male breeds with the pride for about a third of his life. Though sometimes a half-sister or half-brother can have the same mother but different fathers. This usually happens after a recent former-leader is chased away, and the lionesses mate with the new leader, while their elder cubs are still within the same pride.

example sentence: "Because we have the same father, she's my half-sister."

*Litter-Sister/Litter-Brother

When you read this term, try not to get confused with little brother or sister. This term is used when a lion is describing a sibling born in the exact same litter as them, making them not only full siblings (having the same mother and father) but also being born during the same exact birth-giving season.

example setence: "That rogue is my litter-brother."

*Pride-Leader/Leader

The term known as "leader" or "pride-leader/pride leader" are terms known for the actual leader of the pride. Usually the leader is a male, the age ranging from young adult to experienced adult (3-8 years). After a male is done with adolescence, the usual thing for him is to attempt to be leader of another pride by chasing down and/or killing the former leader. After that, he will usually kill the former leader's cubs, so that his own genes can be past on. This way, the same pride can also continue to produce cubs without inbreeding. The new male can be leader, giving cubs to the females about once a year, for around 4 to 8 years, depending on how dominant, experienced, strong and healthy he is, before being chased away and/or killed by another, younger rogue. During the male's time as leader, he will probably have several other males attempting to take over his pride. Eventually, another rogue will triumph, and the circle happens again. Sometimes when a male takes over, he takes over with another male or males. The more dominant is the actual leader - the other male or males are just co-leaders.

example sentence: "He used to be our pride-leader."

*Co-Leader

The "co-leader" is usually another male lion or lions in a pride. He/them are also leaders, but are less dominant than the actual leader.

example sentence: "He is the co-leader."

*Former Leader

This term is used when describing that last leader of a pride.

example sentence: "My father is the former-leader of our pride."

*Rogue

A "rogue" is a lone lion or lioness without a pride. Though it is possible for a lioness to be a rogue (normally for reasons such as finding a stronger pride, being chased off before adolescence, or having her birth-pride killed off for whatever reason), most rogues are young and/or adolescent males. When a male cub enters adolescence, and his mane begins to show, he is either chased off by either his father, or a new pride-leader so as to prevent inbreeding and any threat to the present leader. Normally his father will not end up killing him, but if there is a new leader or leaders, then he or them will try to kill any cubs, males, and even female cubs before adolescence, as they are of no use to him and the males can offer threat, and they are the genes of the old leader. If the adolescent male is lucky enough to escape, he, too, becomes a rogue. During his rogue-era, he will usually travel far from his birth-pride, and will live either a solitary life, or become allied with another rogue or rogues to ensure his survival. When he is fully grown, he and/or his fellow rogues will find another pride, and will attempt to chase off or kill the leader. If he/they succeed, then he/they will normally kill the former leader's cubs, and become the new leader or leaders to the pride.

example sentence: "I remember being a rogue - it was hard."

*Cub/Full-Cub

This term is used to describe a young lion before adolescence. It can also be used to describe someone who is immature or just young.

example sentence: "She has lots of cubs." or "Don't act like a full-cub!"

*Half-Cub/Cub-Lion

The term "half-cub" is simply used to describe any lion in the age of adolescence. Adolescence usually starts at about 12 to 18 months, and lasts for a couple years before the half-cub is fully grown. It can also be used to describe someone who is immature or may be just young. A half-cub can also be called a cub-lion.

example sentence: "She is but a mere half-cub."

*Pride

A "pride" is basically a family of lions. It is like saying "a herd of horses" or "a pod of whales." A pride of lions is normally full of just lionesses and cubs. The lionesses are generally mothers, daughters, sisters, half-sisters, cousins, aunts, etc. Though some of the cubs may be male, the only adult males in a pride are usually the leader or leaders. The amount of members in a pride varies, and can be as low as two (if considered) to as high as twenty or more.

example sentence: "This is my pride."

*Birth-Pride

"Birth-pride" is a term used when a lion is describing the pride that he or she is born in. Most males will never stay their whole lives in their birth-pride, while females usually live up their lives in their birth-pride. Only for certain reasons will a lioness move or be moved from her birth-pride.

example sentence: "That pride over there is my birth-pride."

*Shaman

A "shaman" is usually an older lioness (sometimes lion) who gives the rest of the pride advice. Sometimes she can have strange "powers," normally used for good and healing others. She is someone the pride looks up to, and who tells the pride about myths, legends, and stories, sometimes real and sometimes about herself and the experiences she has had in her generally long life. Most of the time the shaman is born in a pride and stays there her whole life, like most lionesses. She is the lioness who has seen the most leaders come and go, and cubs be born and grow up to have their own cubs - she has seen male cubs be turned into half-cub rogues and chased away, she has seen several live and die. Normally, she is has a pretty long life. She is very similar to the pride-mother, and is usually both the shaman and pride-mother.

example: "That lioness is our shaman, as well as our pride-mother."

*Lion/Lioness

The wild cat of Africa, and the only cat actually social, and one of the few who can roar. A lioness is a female lion, though just saying lion can either mean a male lion, or a female lion. As in, lioness is always female, while lion can mean either or.

example sentence: "This story is about lions."

*Cubhood

"Cubhood" is the same as childhood. It merely describes the time of a lion when he or she has not yet entered adolescence.

example sentence: "Do you remember what cubhood was like?"

*Half-cub-time

"Half-cub-time" is basically the same as childhood, puberty, adolescence, or just being a teenager. It is the time a lion is in before he or she goes into full adulthood.

example sentence: "Half-cub-time was harder than cubhood."

*Rogue-Era

"Rogue-era" is used when talking about the time in a male's life when he is alone, usually just after beginning adolescence and he is kicked out of the pride. A normal time for how long a lion's rogue-era lasts is normally about from the time they start adolescence, to usually a few months after beginning full adulthood. Though sometimes a male will start his rogue-era before adolescence for certain reasons (i.e. a rogue has chased the cub's father away before the cub was a half-cub, so without his father for protection, and if he survives the new leader's attack, then he will start his rogue-era earlier) and other reasons might happen for a male to continue his rogue-era even after he's been fully grown for quite a while (i.e. he hasn't found a pride yet). But a male's rogue-era ends once he's found a pride and taken it over for himself.

example sentence: "My son will soon start his rogue-era."

*Retirement Place

A "retirement place" is basically a place where a male lion goes after he has been chased off by a rogue or rogues after being leader of a pride, and is lucky enough to have survived. If this happens, then he must find his own place to retire, usually alone. If he is near another pride, that pride and/or its leader(s) can and probably will chase him or try to kill him as well, especially if they have cubs or the females are in their litter-giving or birth-giving seasons. The only time he will not be alone, is if he has a former co-leader(s) with him. Sometimes, though rarely, he will try to find another pride instead of going straight to a retirement place.

example sentence: "I am moving off to my retirement place."

*Law of the Land

"Law of the Land" is a term used to describe any major and/or obvious, unwritten rules. Lions normally use this term, though some other animals will also use it. It can also be known as "Law of the Lion" or "Law of the Savannah" depending on what animal uses it and where.

example sentence: "The father does not name the cub; it is the Law of the Land."

*Birth Name

From birth, a lion is normally named by his/her mother. That name is kind of like a first name, and the name they are most commonly called by. It is their birth name.

example sentence: "My birth name is Eku."

*Pride Name

A "pride name" is basically like a lastname. It is a special name that they all know, depending on their birth-pride and present pride. For example, if a lion is born in a pride called the "Red-Rock pride," and he was given the birth name "Eku," then his full name would be "Eku Red-Rock." Since lionesses normally stay with their birth-pride throughout their whole lives, they usually have the same pride names for their whole lives, too. If they move, and when a male has found his new pride, they will mix their own original pride names with the new pride's title. For example, if "Eku Red-Rock" moved from his birth-pride and eventually found a new pride which was called the "Midnight-Light pride," then his pride name would be changed to the first word of his birth-pride (since it's first, as in the first pride he's been in) and the second word of the newest pride is put after, so that he would be "Eku Red-Light."

example sentence: "My new pride name is Eku Red-Light."

*"The Great Circle of Life/The Circle of Life"

The terms "The Great Circle of Life" or "The Circle of Life" were originally created by Disney. I've used them a couple times in my stories. They are usually used to describe life, its changes, and how everything repeats again to keep life going.

example sentence: "It's all part of the Great Circle of Life."

*Spirits of the Past/Great Kings and Queens of the Past/Leaders of the Past, etc.

These terms are used when a lion is speaking about spirits. Normally, they are used to describe anyone who has died, or the rulers from long ago. This term was slightly changed from the term "Kings of the Past" also creatred by Disney and seen in the original Lion King. A lion may also use these terms as if saying the word "God" or the "Gods."

example sentence: "Oh, thank the Spirits of the Past!" or "Only the Kings and Queens of the Past know."

*Sun/Midsun

This is a term used to describe one day to humans, or even just the daytime. Sometimes it will be used to describe a certain part of the day, like when the sun is high they call it "midsun."

example sentence: "He is only five suns old." or "Meet me there at midsun."

*Moon

"Moon" is simply a word describing one night to humans, or just the nightime.

example sentence: "It's already been one moon?"

*Full Moon

The term "full moon" is describing what is one month to a human, since there is usually one full moon every month or so.

example sentence: "Oh, it's been at least six full moons since I've seen you!"

*Spring/Winter/Fall/Summer/Wet Season

When a lion says a certain season - usually spring or wet season - they are normally talking about how long it has been. One spring equals one year.

example sentence: "Has it really been a spring?"