All characters in this story belong to Samuel Reiman and Kovukono, and are not to be used without the permission of the writers. E-mails may be sent to srreimanabroad@aol.com and conor0191@aol.com.

I Shouldn’t Love You

            “What are you looking at Tanzia?” Azimo asked her mate.
            “Those lions by that rock over there, there’s a den built into it that has been unoccupied for over three years and now someone’s decided to move into it.”
            “But I thought that place belonged to us now? It’s a part of our lands,”
            “Exactly. I thought I could trust Lingwa when he agreed on that truce, turns out I was wrong.”
            “How do you know it’s him?” Azimo asked, trying to make sure that Tanzia was not going to lose it again.
            “How can it not be him? Why would someone want to live there unless they were planning an attack? Haven’t you ever been to that den Azimo? It’s a dump!”
            “Oh, I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Azimo replied.

 

 

            “Jabari, this place is a dump!” Kifaa’s voice was barely recognizable as she wrinkled her nose to keep out the smell.
            “It is now, but if we just sort a few things out this place will be as clean as a hyena-gutted carcass.”
            Kifaa rolled her eyes at the imagery. “That will take forever! I thought we only had eight days left.”
            “We do. Come on, let’s get started.” Jabari walked over to the side of the den where a big branch had fallen off of a tree just outside the den, and had then came through the roof. He began slicing off some of the smaller branches off of it with his claw, knowing it would be lighter to carry out that way and that he could patch the roof up with some mud later.
            He looked back over at Kifaa who hadn’t moved. “Well aren’t you going to help?” She didn’t reply. “Come on, just think of your motivation. You came to me because you wanted to help me get back with Weusi right? This is the only way.” Still Kifaa remained rooted to the spot. Jabari stopped slicing and looked up at her. “That is why you came, right?”
            “Half of it is, yes.” She knew it would have to come out sooner or later.
            “Well what’s the other half?”
            Kifaa sighed. “Well, honestly, I just wanted Weusi to get better.” She bit her lip; she’d been holding it back for two long days. It had to come out now. “Your daughter was distraught about her.”
            “You mean after she left?” Kifaa nodded. “Well that’s a good goal to bear in mind; we can all fit in here perfectly once we’ve got this place sorted out. Trust me, Weusi loved this den, I complained that it was too big.”
            “Jabari . . . I don’t know how to tell you this, but . . . but . . .”
            “Well come on out with it then!”
            “Aushi’s gone Jabari, she’s dead!”
            Jabari stood for a while with his mouth slightly open as he stared at the weeping Kifaa in disbelief. “How did she die?” he asked in barely a whisper.
            “You don’t want to know,” said Kifaa through her tears.
            “How did she die, Kifaa?”
            Kifaa knew Jabari well enough now to know that if he asked the same question twice, he demanded a better answer. “Suicide,” she managed to get out before she burst into a pool of tears.
            Though Jabari was still in disbelief himself, he went over to Kifaa and put a paw around her. “You were right, you know, Kifaa.”
            She sniffed, “About what?”
            “I didn’t want to know.”
            Kifaa didn’t know why, but she let out a small laugh, then looked up into Jabari’s eyes. “You’re getting better Jabari, you really are.”

 

 

            Takasa stared down at his bride. Weusi lay still on her back on the floor of their den, still asleep. Takasa smiled. He wanted to make this work for the both of them. She had jumped at the idea of marriage so eagerly. All he had done was mention the idea as a passing joke, and the next day he had found himself before the shaman.

            He loved her, there was no doubt about that. Even when she had been with Jabari. He would have given anything to trade places with Jabari. Maybe Jabari had been right, maybe he had been up to something. He never thought he had, but maybe, just maybe, he’d been a little more polite to Weusi.

            Yet she was different now. There always seemed to be an urgency about her, a need to move with him. She denied it when he asked her about it. Maybe it was in his head. He just couldn’t shake the notion that she needed to keep him close, keep him near to her, just to keep herself happy.

            Or it could be that she just loves me. Takasa smiled.

            He kissed her gently on the cheek and nuzzled her. She sleepily opened her eyes and smiled up at him. She took a forepaw and wrapped it around the back of his head, bringing his head down close. She kissed him passionately. “Now,” she whispered quietly.

            “This early?”

            “I love you, Takasa.” She rolled over and kissed him again.

            “I love you, too.”

            “Come on,” she said. “I want you.”

            Takasa grinned. “How Jabari handled you, I’ll never know.”

            Takasa could see the flame in Weusi’s eyes falter for a moment. What he saw scared him. It was almost panic. It was gone in a moment. “Jabari’s gone.” She stood up and kissed him, putting a foreleg over his body. “I want it all gone. I want you, Takasa.”

            “Weusi—” He was cut off as she nuzzled him.

            “I want your cubs, Takasa. I just want to stay here with you.”

            “It’s a little early to think about cubs, isn’t—”

            “I’ll have your cubs, Takasa.” She smiled down at him, serene in her happiness. “Just me and you and some cubs. We can be perfect.”

            “Sounds like you’ve got it all planned out.”

            Once again, her eyes faltered. She kissed him enthusiastically, pressing her body as close as she could. Takasa gave in to her passion, giving her what she desired. She lay back after it was over, staring at the ceiling. She could feel an emptiness. She nuzzled Takasa.

            “It’ll be perfect again,” she whispered.

 

 

            “Tanzia, for Aiheu’s sake, don’t do this!” Tanzia was just about to walk out of their den to go and let the lions go. Tanzia stopped and looked back at his mate who was standing up and eager to stop him.

            “Why not Azimo?”

            “How do you even know that it is someone from Lingwa’s pride? If they were going to attack us they would’ve done it last night, or you would think they’d have done a better job at hiding themselves.”

            “Azimo, you can never be sure.”

            “Exactly, so why are you sending in half of the pride as an army to . . .”

            “When did I say I was sending them in as an army?”

            “Well you are sending in half of the pride. You said you only saw two yesterday.”

            “You can never be—”

            “I can never be sure, right, I know, got it. But you know, you said that to me last time when you thought there was a clan of hyenas roaming the place. You stopped us from hunting for four days to lead them into a trap, and we find out that it was just one hyena that was so weak he had been thrown out of his clan. My mom almost starved!”

            “Well what do you think I should do?” Tanzia almost shouted back at her.

            Taken aback, Azimo just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Send maybe, just like five of them out.”

            “They won’t be too happy about that . . .”

            Azimo sighed. “Tanzia,” she said in her best pleading voice that she could put on.

            Tanzia looked at his mate who looked straight back at him in the eyes. “Alright then, twenty.”

            “Five.”

            “Twenty-five?”

            “No, Tanzia, five.”

            “Fifteen.”

            “Five.”

            “Fourteen.”
            “Tanzia!”

            “Okay, ten.”

            “F . . .” Azimo stopped; she knew it was best not to get too deep into an argument with her mate. “Fine.”

            “Ten?”

            “Sure, go ahead, ten.”

            “Male or female?”

            “We don’t have ten males.”

            “But I have three brothers.”

            “Sure, send them out then.”

            Tanzia smiled and turned back around to go. “As you insist Azimo.” Tanzia walked off.

            “Gods, why did I ever marry him?”

 

 

            “Jabari, may I ask you something?” Kifaa asked as she pushed some loose dirt on the floor out into the open with her paw.

            “Go ahead.”

            “If in seven days Weusi and you are not back together, what are you going to do?”

            “Weusi and I will be back together in seven days, Kifaa.”

            “I thought you said that . . .”

            “Forget about what I said!” Jabari had stopped working and was glaring right at Kifaa, “We will be back together Kifaa, in seven days, Weusi and I.”

            Jabari started to get back to work. After a few seconds, Kifaa did also. Once she thought she’d given Jabari enough time to calm down, she asked him again.

            “But, you know, if not?”

            Jabari peeled off another clump off moss off from the wall. “Then I’m afraid you’ll have to lose your virginity.”

            Jabari was expecting a wild remark or shout or protest or something to come back from Kifaa, but none ever came.

            Instead, she just said quietly, “too late.”

            Jabari looked back at her bewildered. “What do you mean? I thought you’d . . .”

            “I was raped Jabari, okay? Leave it!” Jabari put the moss down and continued to look at her slightly shocked. “Why do you think Issa and I never liked males?”

            “You—your sister was raped too?”

            “No, that’s an even worse story. I don’t really want to talk about it right now.”

            Jabari looked down at the ground. He had never really thought that anything like that had ever had happened to her. She seemed like such a nonchalant character that was just trying to help him out, he’d never really thought that she may have had concerns of her own.

            Jabari put it in the back of his mind though and looked back up at the roof; they still had work to do. “Hey, Kifaa? Are you any good with spiders?”

            “Depends, why?”

            “I think I just disturbed a nest when I pulled this piece of moss off.”

            Kifaa walked over. He sure had disturbed a nest of now scattering spiders. They weren’t too big, although there were quite a lot of them.

            “Let them scatter. Come on Jabari, help me over in this corner.”

            Jabari followed her over. “What are you doing?”

            “Just sweeping the dust off the floor, I had a hard time last night trying to find somewhere good to sleep in here, figured this would help.”

            Jabari watched her for a few moments trying to see where she was sweeping it all to. He truly believed that there were bigger jobs to be done. But, there was a purpose to what she was doing; he had to give it that.

            “You know, I always wondered what it would be like if I’d ever meet the lion that I loved. It would be an experience, fill an empty hole you know. I guess it is something I’m missing in life . . .”

            “You’re really trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”

            Kifaa glared back at him and immediately Jabari wish he’d took it back. He’d gotten on so well with Kifaa and she’d helped him quite a lot, he didn’t want her to walk out on him too.

            “Sorry.”

            Kifaa sighed. “Get on then.”

            “What?”

            “Come on, Jabari, I want to see what it’s like.” She jumped over and pushed Jabari over until her was lying flat on the floor on his back with her standing on top of him. “Let’s do it!”

            “Kifaa, now really . . .” Jabari kept stammering, she was undoing everything that she’d taught him over the last few days and now Jabari wasn’t too sure that he should be going this way.

            Kifaa stepped off of Jabari and lay down on the ground next to him. “Come on Jabari, I’m desperate.”

            Jabari didn’t need any more persuading. He rolled over and slowly started to do what he thought and almost hoped that he would never get to do, but he was enjoying it. Well, he was for now anyway.

            “Is there anybody in there?”

            “Let me check.”

            Jabari stopped and opened his eyes, looking over at the entrance.

            “Jabari? Why’d you stop?” Kifaa looked over too and gasped.

            There they were; the three males and seven females that Tanzia had sent out. It was obvious to all of them what they had been doing, even to those who hadn’t been able to see them in the corner straight away, as Jabari was still on top of Kifaa.

            “Um . . . hi,” one of the lions at the front said, trying to break the awkward situation.

            Jabari just nodded back.

            “Um . . . you two wouldn’t happen to know a lion by the name of Lingwa would you?”

            Kifaa shook her head. Jabari replied, “No, no, never heard of him,” quietly.

            “Alright,” he finished. An awkward silence followed which was broken by the sound of two of the females giggling at the back.

            “Well, we best be off now,” the lion at the front said, “bye.”

            “Alright, bye,” Jabari replied in the same low voice.

            As soon as they were out of eyesight he got off of her.

            Kifaa remained on her spot on the ground. “That was so embarrassing,” she finally said.

            Jabari looked back down at her. “It was an experience though, wasn’t it?” Kifaa smiled a little. “It’s probably for the better that we didn’t . . . you know. Come on, let’s finish fixing this place up.”

 

 

            Weusi woke up. There she was, lying on the ground in the comfort of her and Takasa’s den. She couldn’t see Takasa at first but she wasn’t worried. It wasn’t the first time; he was probably out lapping up some water or maybe even hunting.

            The more she thought about it the more both ideas actually started to appeal to her. She got up in hopes of going outside and filling herself up. However, she hadn’t even broken out into the daylight yet when she saw Takasa standing just outside of their den, staring off into the distance.

            Weusi came up to the side and nuzzled her mate.

            “Morning, love,” Takasa said as he nuzzled her back.

            “Morning. What you doing up so early?”

            “I—I was just wondering whether we should move.”

            “Move?” Weusi asked surprised. “Why?”

            “Well, there’s a pride of lions that lives just over there, I’ve never really worried about them that much but now that I have you with me, you know, I don’t want to get both of us into trouble.”

            “Really? How big is their pride?”

            “Fairly big. If they wanted to attack us we wouldn’t stand a chance, and I’ve ticked them off a few times before when I’ve gone out hunting. It’s probably only just a matter of time.”

            “You’re starting to scare me now Takasa.”

            Takasa smiled. “So you’re with me on that we should move then?”

            “Definitely.”

            “Today?”

            “Sure.”

            “Wanna have a drink or something before we leave?”

            “Yeah. You’re sure you can’t sort things out with that lion?”

            “Doubt it.” Takasa got up and started to make his way towards the waterhole with Weusi. “Lingwa’s not the negotiating type.”

 

 

            “Nymphos?” repeated Tanzia.

            “Well who else would be—you know—right in the middle of the afternoon.”

            “Yes, totally shameless,” said Tanzia. “Now skipping over the sex which has been discussed for the past five minutes—what do you think they’re up to?”

            “Well, I don’t think they’re Lingwa’s,” said Usiku, Tanzia’s brother. “Least, I’ve never seen the male over here.”

            “Ooh,” said a lioness, “he could have taken one of Lingwa’s lionesses, and now they’re on a romantic honeymoon—”

            “Enough sex!” said Tanzia. He sighed. “Look, why don’t I just go over there myself?”

            “By yourself?” asked Azimo. “There’re two of them!”

            “Fine. Usiku, you’re with me. We’ll go tomorrow.”

 

 

            Jabari stared out of the den, looking at the moon. Almost a full one. He could never remember how to tell if it was waxing or waning, though. It was a few days shy, either way. He tried to close his eyes and sleep. Six days tomorrow morning. He turned over and stared at Kifaa. Without thinking, her got up and lied next to her.

            He wanted her, he knew that. She knew that. And that morning . . . if only there hadn’t been that interruption. He could smell her scent. He pressed his muzzle to her pelt, smelling her. It had been so long since he had been with a lioness.

            It was because of Weusi.

            Do you really think she loves you anymore? But look at her. She’s just as nice as Weusi.

            She’s not Weusi.

            She could be. She looks like her. She feels like her, with that smooth, velvety coat. And she’s so much better

            I’m still married.

            Technicality. You know you want her. And she wants you. Go on, what’s the harm? Yes, run your paw over her just like that. She’s yours . . .

            Jabari felt himself becoming more and more aroused as he gave attention to the lioness. He heard Kifaa purr and he let his actions become more aggressive. It didn’t take long to let himself work up to where they had suddenly left off. The lioness had been haunting his mind all day and now, finally, here he was.

            “Jabari?” Kifaa had woken up. “Jabari, what are you—Jabari, stop!”

            “Hang on a sec, Kifaa—”

            Kifaa squirmed out from underneath him and felt Jabari try to push her back down. She instinctively swiped out at him and heard his cry of pain as she caught his face with her claws. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” she yelled.

            All of Jabari’s resolve had suddenly vanished. “Kifaa, I—uh—look, I can explain—”

            “I thought you had changed, Jabari!” She turned and ran out of the den.

            Jabari ran to the entrance of the den. “Kifaa, wait!” It was no use. He’d never be able to catch her.

            What have I done?

            Well, at least you had a good time.

            I have got to stop listening to you.

 

 

            Weusi stared at Takasa, the lion snoring next to her. If he had a bad quality, that was it. At first it had been annoying, but by now it was almost soothing. She left him as she walked out of the den to relieve herself.

            When she was finished, she walked over to the water hole for a drink. As she lowered her head down to the water, she heard a strange sound. She froze, listening. It almost sounded like crying. She walked around the waterhole slowly, looking for its source and nearly stepped on it before she saw it. Weusi gasped. “Sis?”

            Kifaa gasped. “W-Weusi! What are you doing here?”

            “I live here now. Kifaa, what are you doing?”

            “I—Weusi, it’s awful, I got raped!” Kifaa blurted out, tears streaming down her face.

            “No,” whispered Weusi. She laid down next to Kifaa, putting a protective arm over her. “What happened?”

            “He just—I was asleep and he just—Kifaa, I trusted him!”

            “Who was it? Firiki?”

            “No, I haven’t seen Firiki in days. Weusi, I never wanted this to happen again!” Kifaa buried her head in Weusi’s shoulder, sobbing.

            “Who was it, Kifaa?”

            “It—it was Jabari.”

            Weusi froze. “Who?”

            “Weusi, I’m so sorry, it was Jabari, I didn’t mean to, I swear—”

            “It was who?!

            “Please don’t be mad at me, Weusi.”

            “I’m not mad at you,” said Weusi coldly. She pressed Kifaa tighter to her. “Shh. It’ll be okay. Just let your big sister take care of everything.”

 

 

            It was morning by the time Jabari was able to fall asleep. He had spent the night drenched in guilt. It seemed like only five minutes had passed before he was woken up by a set of claws embedding themselves in his chest. He roared out and instinctively and blindly swiped at the intruder, missing completely. “Kifaa?”

            “Jabari,” she said coldly.

            “Kifaa, please, you have to believe me, I’m so sorry, please, I swear it’ll never happen again. Please, I just want a second chance.”

            “You’re running up a pretty big list of second chances. First Weusi, then me—oh, and we can’t forget your father . . .”

            Jabari cringed. “I’m sorry. You have to believe me. I never meant to—”

            “You raped me, Jabari.”

            “Kifaa, I’m sorry. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Please, you have to believe me.”

            Kifaa idly pawed at the ground for a few seconds before looking back up at Jabari. “I’m willing to give you one—one—more chance, if only because there has to be one good thing underneath all of that shit.”

            “Thank you—oh gods, thank you, Kifaa—”

            “You’re sleeping outside.”

            “Whatever you say.”

            “Now.”

            Jabari obediently walked outside and lied down. Kifaa lied down inside, staring at Jabari, before she finally fell asleep. Jabari smiled and closed his eyes.

 

 

            “Who’s that that lives over there again?” asked Weusi.

            Takasa stretched and yawned. “Lingwa.”

            “What’s he like?”

            “Real asshole. That’s why we’re leaving, remember?”

            “You think we could stay here a little while longer?”

            “What? Why?”

            “Well, I was kind of getting used to it. Maybe we could work something out with him.”

            “Weusi, I told you, Lingwa doesn’t talk. If he gets annoyed, he’ll kill first and send flowers later.”

            “Just a few more days, Takasa. Will that really hurt that much?”

            “Weusi—”

            “A few more days.”

            Takasa smiled. “Fine.” He kissed his mate on the cheek. “Although I may need a little more—persuasion.”

            Weusi shot him a look that should have struck him dead.

            “Or . . . not.” Takasa sighed. “I love you, you know that?”

            “Yes,” said Weusi. She kissed him. “So we’ll stay here.”

 

 

            Weusi walked confidently into the den after the cheetah. It had taken a remarkably small amount of persuasion to convince the cheetah to give her an audience with the king. As Weusi looked around the den, she could see lionesses lying everywhere, most of them with varying colors of pelts. It meant two things: either this pride was naturally diverse, or most of them had come to the pride and had been “acquired.”

            From the docile looks of the lionesses, the second was most likely true.

            Weusi was led through the lionesses lying on the ground, all of them staring as she passed. There were a few cubs that she could see, but none of them had a trace of mane fur. It seemed the barbaric practice of running off males was still active.

            She was led into a somewhat private section of the den, the main part being unable to see what was happening inside. She found a large, well-built lion pleasing himself on a lioness, who appeared as if she wasn’t enjoying it quite as much as he was. “You have a visitor, sire,” said the cheetah.

            It wasn’t until the lion had finished that he turned to look at Weusi and the cheetah, smiling when he saw Weusi. He hit the lioness underneath him on the rump. “Out.” The lioness limped out of the den, the cheetah following her. Weusi was suddenly aware of just how alone she was.

            The lion licked his lips as he began to circle her. “So, what brings you here?”

            “I came to ask you for a favor.”

            The lion chuckled, his full black mane shaking as he did so. “My ‘favors’ come at a price.”

            “I’m willing to pay,” said Weusi. “Price isn’t an object.”

            “Mm . . . then why don’t we start?” asked the lion. He moved toward her.

            Weusi put a paw on his muzzle. “I need you to kill someone.”

            The lion’s eyes widened in surprise. He laughed out loud, the sound filling the den. “And what makes you think I’d be interested?”

            “I’ve heard rumors,” said Weusi, brushing up against him. It sickened her to use herself like this. If Takasa knew what she had come here to do—well, she didn’t know what would happen. “Lingwa the Warrior. The Savior. The Hunter.” Lingwa’s chest swelled. “You’ll love it.”

            “But why should I do it for you? You’re not even a member of my pride.”

            “But he’s a member of Tanzia’s. Think about it. A chance to strike back at your enemy.”

            “I have my reasons for not attacking,” said Lingwa guardedly. “As does Tanzia.”

            “Not anymore. Someone new just walked right in. A mercenary, asking for refuge from Tanzia. And what do you think Tanzia’ condition was for opening his home?”

            “He wouldn’t dare attack,” said Lingwa. “Not even with another male.”

            “He would with this one. I’m sure you know what rogues are like. But you’ve never met any as cruel as this one. Kill him, and you’ll never have to worry about him.”

            “And why would such a nice girl want someone dead?”

            “I have my reasons. And now you have yours. How about it?”

            Lingwa barely had to think about it. “I’ll do it,” he said, leaning down to kiss Weusi.

            Weusi pushed his muzzle away. “Do it first. Then you’ll get your reward.”

            “And if I decide to have it now?”

            Weusi laughed even though she was chilled to the bone by the look the lion gave her. “You’ll have it as soon as you’re finished. Besides, where would I run from the great Lingwa?” She turned and walked out of the den, head held high. It wasn’t until she stopped next to a waterhole that she found she was shaking in fear.

            What have I done?

 

 

            Tanzia and Usiku had arrived at the den where Jabari and Kifaa had been residing in early in the morning. Jabari had been awoken from outside the cave to not only find them there, but also that Kifaa had disappeared.

            Not that it bothered him any, he was still unsure about her and these two looked as if they meant business, and it was best for them he believed if he just rose up and took control of the situation.

            At the beginning Jabari could tell they were trying to force the impression upon him that they were trying to be friendly, yet he wasn’t sure that was the case. Quite frankly, he just wanted them to get to the point.

“So who’s that lioness you said lives here?” Usiku finally asked.

            “Oh, her name’s Kifaa. I’m not sure where she is right now but, well, it’s a long story.”

            “So she’s your mate?” Tanzia took over, standing by the side of his brother.

            “Well, not yet at least.”

            “So she’s your . . .”

            “Listen, it’s a long story, can you please just get to the point and tell me why you’re here?”

            “Certainly. Well, actually I was about to ask you the same question.”

            “Me? Why I’m here?”

“Yes.”

“Well, well I used to live here, a long time ago.”

            “So you don’t know Lingwa?”

            “No.”

            Tanzia and Usiku exchanged glances.

            “You do know you’re on our lands, don’t you?” Usiku asked.

            “My lands,” Tanzia interjected.

            “Oh really? No, I didn’t know that.” Now Jabari could see where they were getting to, and he began to get desperate. “Please though, you’ve gotta let me stay here . . .”

            “Why?”

            “It’s a long story. I . . . I can’t tell you all of it, but you’ve gotta let me stay here!”

            “No can do, I’m afraid. We . . .”

            “Hey, Tanzia,” Usiku whispered, “is that who I think it is?”

            Jabari looked over at them with the rest of the others. “That’s Kifaa.”

            “That’s Lingwa.”

            Jabari turned back and realized they had both fixed their gazes upon him.

            “You mean to say that Kifaa, the lioness that’s living with you, knows Lingwa?” Tanzia was speaking quietly, but Jabari knew that this could be bound to change.

            “Well, I guess she must, but I don’t. I swear, I don’t!” Jabari turned back to yell, “Kifaa!”

            Kifaa looked back, saw Jabari, and ran off.

            Lingwa was still standing there though. Jabari’s call had attracted his attention, and he had spotted Tanzia and Usiku.

            Lingwa started to approach them, Tanzia and Usiku started to growl and advance towards him likewise. Jabari took the opportunity to get out of the situation which could have only spelled trouble for him, and ran back into the cave.

            Lingwa had been quite far away from them, and Jabari knew he hadn’t got a hope of being able to hear what was going on from inside the cave.

            But he needed to know what his fate was going to be, yet he didn’t want to go back out as then they would see him again, and that would just further complicate things. Hopefully for him, in their obvious hatred of each other, the three lions outside would completely forget about him, and he would just have to wait out the storm for a little while in his cave.

            “Kifaa,” he asked as she walked in through the cave’s opening, “what was all that about?”

            “All what about?” she replied confused.

            “Over there . . . with Lingwa?”

            “Who’s Lingwa?”

            “Stop playing stupid with me Kifaa! Why were you talking to Lingwa? You’re going to get us killed!”

            “Jabari, I have no idea what you’re going on about!”

            “I saw you over there talking to that lion!”

            “Jabari, honestly, I haven’t . . .”

            “Hey, Jabari!”

            Tanzia and Usiku had appeared at the cave opening. They didn’t look too pleased, but they were better off than what they had been before.

            “Jabari, it’s okay, it wasn’t her who was talking to him, it was some other lioness, Weusi or something like that. See you around.” Tanzia left.

            “Huh, I guess he’s gonna let you stay here,” Usiku added before walking off.

            “Jabari. What did that last lion mean by that?”

            “What?”

            “Going to let us stay here. I thought . . .”

            “Kifaa, who cares about that? Didn’t you hear Tanzia? That was Weusi I saw!”

            “Yes Jabari, that’s great and all but really . . .”

            “Great? Great? Kifaa, that’s excellent! Weusi’s here, come on, we have to hurry up and find her! You should be happy too, this way you won’t have to . . .” Kifaa glared at him. “. . . right. Come on Kifaa, let’s go and find her. You can tell her how much I’ve changed and how nice I’ve been to you and . . .” Kifaa was happy for Jabari, no doubt about that, but slowly reality started to come back to her.

            “Um . . . Jabari. Eh . . . oh gods, I don’t know how to tell you this . . . um . . . you remember last night?”

            Jabari sighed. “Come on Kifaa, that was one time.”

            “True, but that’s not the point Jabari. When I ran off I found Weusi.” She gave him a serious look.

            “Oh? What did you tell her?”

            Kifaa was starting to feel really uneasy. “Well, I told her . . .” She took a breath. “Jabari, you must understand that I was really upset . . .”

            “What did you tell her Kifaa!?” Jabari demanded.

            Kifaa looked down at the ground. “That you raped me,” she said in her quietest voice.

            They both remained silent, Kifaa looking down at her paws, knowing that Jabari was looking right at her, running through all the different things he could do to either punish her or otherwise take his stress out on her. She had to do something.

            “Jabari, please . . .”

            “I don’t want to talk about it Kifaa.”

            She lifted her head back up. “Jabari . . .”

            “Kifaa!” Jabari ran out the entrance hiding his face from her.

            Kifaa watched him go out, and then lowered her head again facing the ground, watching as a teardrop splashed onto the rock floor below.

 

 

            “You know Takasa, I actually saw Lingwa yesterday.”

            “Not very nice is he, or didn’t you speak to him?”

            “Oh no, I spoke to him. He’s certainly not as nice as you, that’s for sure.”

            Takasa smiled. “Thanks, what did you talk to him about?”

            “Well . . . actually . . . I don’t really want to talk about it.”

            “Oh, come on Weusi, I’m your mate!”

            She smiled, “It hasn’t got anything to do with you, don’t worry.”

            “Well . . . I guess that’s a good thing in a way. Alright, suit yourself.”

            Weusi was happy with that answer, though she couldn’t help but think, if only I had told Lingwa, if only I had told him that that was Jabari, then and there, then I’d have nothing to fear.

 

 

            Weusi walked out to the waterhole, stretching her legs. She had acted perfectly normally around Takasa. He hadn’t even tried to press the issue of what she had talked to Lingwa about. So far as she knew, he had no idea what she had done yesterday.

            She leaned down to take a drink when she saw a rippling reflection in the water. She looked up to see Lingwa standing opposite her. She realized once again just how utterly alone she was with him. She tried to force some amount of steel into her voice as she said, “What do you want?”

            “I found Jabari yesterday.”

            Weusi swallowed. She hadn’t mentioned his name. “Is he . . .” She couldn’t bring herself to say it.

            “Not yet. He has three days to live. In three days, he’ll be dead.”

            “Good,” said Weusi. She began to lap up water, trying to act casual about it.

            “And how do I know that you’ll follow through on your end of the bargain?”

            “How do I know you’ll keep yours?” asked Weusi.

            Lingwa smirked. “But what’s stopping me from taking what I want?” he asked, walking toward her.

            “My mate can still hear me scream.”

            Lingwa laughed. “It will be done on the third day from now. Jabari, Tanzia, Azimo—they’ll all be gone.”

            “What?”

            Lingwa kissed her on the cheek, smiling as he heard her gasp. “You don’t need to worry about it,” he said, turning as she walked away. “Everybody burns the same.”

 

 

            Kifaa found Jabari sitting in front of the waterhole, idly playing with the water. She had waited for him to come home all night, yet nothing had happened. They only had five days left now. “Jabari?”

            “Go away, Kifaa,” he said coldly, not even looking up at her.

            “Jabari I—I’m sorry about what I said—”

            “That doesn’t change anything,” he said angrily.

            “I didn’t mean to tell her, Jabari, I swear! I was just so scared—”

            “Then why don’t you just leave me?!” he roared, turning around to face her. “Leave me, just like she did! I’m scum, you’ve proven that! And you’ve proven it to her again, too!”

            Jabari turned back and started playing with the water again, while Kifaa remained lost for words, yet standing ground.

            “Jabari . . . you’re not scum,” she waited for him to respond, “Jabari?”

            “Kifaa, I said go away,” making it obvious.

            Kifaa turned around, but she knew she couldn’t give up. “Just thought I’d let you know, the den’s just about finished.”

            “Good,” Jabari murmured back.

            “Do—do you want to come and see it?”

            “Kifaa,” Jabari said moving back to face her, obviously annoyed, “why don’t you just go back home, to where Issa and all your other sisters are. You’ve just made things worse for me, I don’t need you anymore, I don’t want you anymore; for Aiheu’s sake Kifaa just go!”

            “I’m not one of them anymore Jabari!” A few tears that she’d been holding back started to leak through. “My sisters all hated you, Issa especially, none of them loved you.”

            “Oh, and you do?”

            “Well . . . not like that. But Jabari, you’re doing so well, I’ve grown really . . . listen, Jabari, there’s bound to be a way, I never really knew why Weusi ever liked you but, well, now I do, and I’m sure if you can just . . .”

            “If Weusi saw me right now the first thing she’d do would be attack me, thanks to you Kifaa, I wouldn’t be able to get a single word out.”

            Kifaa paused, her eyes now glistening. “Is there—”

            “Yes, you could go away.”

            She sniffled. “Okay . . . I—I’ll be in the den. Will you come home tonight?”

            “I’ll think about it.”

            “Okay . . .” There was still hope. Kifaa left.

 

 

            There was Takasa.

            Such a wonderful lion. Weusi sat on the hill, watching him drink from a distance. He’s even better than Bagra, so much nicer, so much more handsome.

            But then suddenly she began to smell smoke. She glanced behind her, but couldn’t see it, yet the scent got ever stronger. She checked to the left, then the right, whirling around on the spot searching for its presence. Still, she could not find it. Then she looked back down to where Takasa had been and gasped.

            The fire had spread to the waterhole and engulfed Takasa in flames, she could now hear him screaming. His screams intensified quicker than she could run down the hill, but still, she knew, she needed to do everything possible to save him.

            “Takasa! Takasa!”

            Arriving at the waterhole, she too was now surrounded by flames, but faintly in the distance she could see his silhouette. It gave her renewed hope, she had to save him.

            “Takasa!”

            Finally breaking through, she saw him.

            “Jabari?”

            “Weusi! Help me!” he yelled as the flames spilled over him.

            Weusi just stood there pondering what to do, breathing deeply to try and keep herself alive.

            “Weusi! Weusi!”

            Then for some reason, his voice now was different.

            “Weusi!”

            She yelped and all of a sudden felt as if she was breathing naturally again.

            “Huh? What?”

            She lifted her eyes.

            “You were having a nightmare.”

            She looked in front of her, there was Takasa lying down next to her in their den.

            “Oh.” Weusi let out a sigh and then chuckled. “So none of it was real.”

            “Correct. Go back to sleep, dear.”

            Weusi licked him. “I love you Takasa.”

 

 

            “Lingwa, please, just call this whole thing off.” Weusi stood in his most private den once again. It took all of her resolve to come back here and beg like this.

            “No can do, I’m afraid Weusi. Besides, I thought you wanted Jabari dead.”

            “I do but you can’t do this, you can’t set the whole kingdom on fire!”

            “It’s not up to you how I kill him Weusi. I decide that, you just tell me who you want killed.”

            “Well now I don’t want him killed.”

            “But that was never part of the bargain.”

            Weusi paused, not liking the look in his eyes. “The bargain, but—” She looked around the den. Once again, they were alone. She turned back horrified. “Lingwa—”

            But before she could protest any further it was too late, Lingwa was already on top of her and thrusting himself into her.

            Weusi screamed but no one came in to help her; they had probably been instructed not to do so. Within seconds, it was all over.

            Weusi didn’t know what to do. She struggled to get out from under Lingwa’s hefty body and then ran out of the den away from him without looking back. Yet even through the sound of her tears she could hear him laughing from behind her.

 

 

            Jabari had not come back to the den that night. So instead of waiting for him in the morning, Kifaa had decided to go out hunting. She was hungry.

            Instead of looking around for prey however, all she could look at as she wandered along was the ground beneath her.

            What have I done? Oh, Aiheu, what have I done? Jabari was getting on so much better, Weusi would’ve loved him, they would be back together again and they would have both been happy. But now look, just four days left and I’ve gone and ruined it all. But I can’t give up, I got us all into this mess and now I need to get us out of it. But how? Oh how I wish I knew.

            Kifaa looked up just to check that she wasn’t going to run into anything and was suddenly taken aback. There was Weusi. She was quite a way off so she obviously hadn’t seen her yet, but nonetheless, Kifaa could tell that it was most definitely her.

            Kifaa sprang into action.

            “Weusi!” she shouted as she ran across the grass to reach her.

            Weusi had stopped at the sound of her name and looked over, realizing who it was.

            Kifaa arrived next to her smiling but it fell once she saw the sorrowful look on her sister’s face.

            “Weusi, what’s the matter?”

            “I—I don’t want to talk about it Kifaa.” She hung her head to the ground in shame, yet Kifaa had already seen the tear marks underneath her eyes.

            “Sis?”

            “I did something really terribly wrong.”

            “W—What did you do?”

            Weusi sniffed. “It doesn’t matter.” She lifted her head back up and started slowly walking again. “It will all be sorted in a few minutes.”

            “You’re not looking for Jabari are you?”

            “No, but now that you mention it . . .” she stopped walking, “Kifaa, you remember when you said he raped you?”

            With no plan of action set, Kifaa blurted it out, “Jabari never raped me Weusi.”

            “But—you said—you said he did,” Weusi said, taken aback.

            “I don’t recall.”

            “Kifaa!”

            “Weusi, I never said anything of the sort! Jabari never raped me, that’s absurd!”

            “But . . . I . . . you—” She was completely bewildered.

            “Anyway, the point Weusi?” Kifaa was struggling to not let something slip, and therefore had concluded that the best thing she could do was change the subject.

            “Kifaa, I recall you saying clearly, by the waterhole the other night, that you were—”

            “I wasn’t, now get to the point Weusi.”

            “—you said clearly, that you were raped by—”

            “For Aiheu’s sake Weusi, get to the freaking point!”

            “No Kifaa, I need to know, you said—”

            “He didn’t rape me Weusi, I offered myself to him!”

            “You—you—” Weusi fell aghast, “You offered yourself to him?”

            “Yes I did, ask him yourself, he’ll say so.”

            “You offered yourself to him?” Kifaa began to sense a hint of anger in Weusi’s voice, and now she wished she’d taken it back. “You filthy—”

            “Weu—”

            But she was cut off as Weusi stuck her across the face, claws erect, knocking Kifaa down onto the ground.

            Kifaa couldn’t see it but she knew she was bleeding. “Weusi please—”

            Yet once again Weusi struck at her with the back side of her paw hard in the face so it would make her feel pain. Kifaa started to cry.

            “Weusi, there’s something important I need to tell you!”

            “What!?” she shouted as she stuck at her again.

            “I will only tell you if you stop hitting me!” she cried.

            “Oh, like I’m going to fall for that.” She slashed her claws across Kifaa’s head again as she tried to get up. “All of you, you, Issa, and the lot, you always laughed behind my back at how dimwitted I was. Well not anymore!” She slammed her paw into her this time knocking her sister onto her back.

            “Weusi . . . Weusi . . . don’t you want to know what happened to your daughter?”

            “Aushi? What about her?” Weusi didn’t strike but she held her foreleg up, ready as she stared down at her sister, livid.

            “She’s dead Weusi, she committed suicide. Your own daughter committed suicide, because of you!”

            Weusi continued to hold her paw up, not flinching at all, yet continuing to breathe deeply.

            “Look at yourself Weusi! You abandoned your daughter and left her to die, you’ve abandoned your whole family, and now you’re standing above me, your sister, and you want to kill me! And Aiheu forbid what that ‘terrible thing’ is you said you did.” Weusi’s breaths began to relax, it was working. “Weusi,” said Kifaa as she got up, “I have always considered you my favorite sister. I know you probably think that I liked Issa more but I didn’t Weusi, she just shared my interests. You were always the kind, compassionate one, the innocent one, but now look what’s happened to you. You’re not the sister I remember.”

            Weusi brought her paw back down to the ground, staring into Kifaa’s eyes, taking in all that she had just said. “Kifaa—your—your face—”

            Kifaa smiled. “It doesn’t hurt. Not that much . . .” They both brought out their paws and hugged each other, before tumbling over onto the ground both through their weakness and laughter.

            Weusi chuckled and gave her sister a lick getting rid of the blood still oozing out on her face.

            “Thanks,” Kifaa said in response.

            “I—I’m really, really sorry about that.”

            “No Weusi, it’s me who should be sorry. I’m sorry about Aushi too.”

Weusi sighed. “When?”

            “The day you left. I’m so sorry.” Weusi remained silent. “Anyway, so, where were you going?”

            “Huh? Oh, I was going to see Tanzia.”

            “Really? Why?”

            “Sorry Kifaa, I—I can’t. Oh, Aiheu, I’ve gone and screwed up everything!”

            Kifaa let out a sigh. “You couldn’t have done worse than I have . . . and just four days left!”

            “Four days?”

            Kifaa suddenly remembered who she was talking to. “Oh—oh, it’s nothing. Eh . . . so Weusi . . . would you mind if I came with you to see Tanzia?”

            “Hmm? Why?”

            “Well, really I just . . . I’ve been away from home for a little while also and I—I’d like to talk to someone.”

            “Honestly, Kifaa, I’d prefer you’d stay out of this. You don’t want to know what I’ve done. Just promise me that you will come and see me tomorrow, it’s going to be rather important I think.”

            “O-okay.”

            “Why, were you going anywhere? Why are you out here anyway?”

            Kifaa remained silent. Weusi rolled her eyes towards her.

            “Kifaa?”

            “I—I’m not sure whether I should tell you.”

            “Well, don’t let me pressure you or anything,” Weusi said rolling back over. “If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine.”

            “I guess . . . I guess you could sum it up as I just had a falling out with Issa.”

            “Oh? Why, what happened?”

            “We’re just not alike anymore and, well, Issa has a tendency to be very opinionated.”

            “Really? You were always both really alike when I saw you two together, you never disagreed over anything.”

            Kifaa stopped, pondering how to phrase her next question.

            “Weusi?”

            “Yes?”

            “I—I’ve been wondering . . . you know, it’s just, I’ve never really considered it in the past but . . . what’s it like to have a mate?”

            “Oh, you know about Takasa?”

            “Takasa?”

            “Yeah . . . my new mate.”

            Kifaa had to use her best judgment for this one. “I—I have, yes.”

            Weusi smiled. “I didn’t know that. Oh, Takasa’s really nice, had I ever mentioned him to you before?”

            “Yes, but, Weusi, that doesn’t answer my question,” Kifaa said, though deep down there were a lot of other burning questions now inside her, most of which she knew only she herself could answer.

            “Well, it’s—it’s hard to explain really but . . . well, you want a mate, right?”

            “I—I’ve been considering it.”

            “Anyone in particular?”

            “No, not really.” This statement was mostly true. “Do you think I’d be happy with a mate? You know me well enough, I expect.”

            Weusi sighed. “I don’t know Kifaa, I don’t know you like that. I think you’re . . . nice though . . . you’re pretty, I mean, if you liked a male I’m sure he’s bound to like you back.”

            Kifaa smiled. “How much of that is true?”

            “Eh . . . about half.”

            “Weusi!” She shoved her sister over playfully and they both started to laugh. Kifaa continued laughing even as she got back up.

            “I’ll see you tomorrow then . . . good luck with Tanzia.”

            Weusi stopped laughing but continued to smile as Kifaa walked away.

            “Thanks.”

            Then Kifaa was gone.

            “Oh gods, please help me,” she groaned.

            Kifaa, realizing also that she was a good distance away from Weusi, took a swipe at the ground.

            “Damn it, I knew I should’ve told her! Oh . . . now what am I going to tell Jabari?”

 

 

            Weusi looked into the den uncertainly. It was empty save for a lion and a lioness, the two of them necking, obviously enjoying their time alone. “Um . . .” The two lions practically leapt apart from each other. “Are you—”

            “No, of course not!” said the lion with a kind of panicked laugh. “I mean, who would have sex in the middle of the afternoon?”

            “Tanzia,” said the lioness quietly.

            “Nymphos, right? And that’s definitely not—”

            “Tanzia!” said the lioness.

            “Oh, um . . . sorry . . . something I can help you with?”

            “You’re Tanzia, right? King of these lands?”

            “That’s me,” said the lion. “Something you need?”

            “I—I came to warn you. Lingwa’s going to attack your kingdom tomorrow.”

            Tanzia stood up angrily. “He what? That goddamn, ignorant, son of a—”

            “Tanzia, dear,” said the lioness.

            “What? Oh, I’m sorry. Look, thank you very much for the information,” said Tanzia, “but you can understand if there are a few things that I need to do right now . . .”

            “He’s going to burn down the kingdom,” said Weusi.

            Tanzia stared at her like she was crazy. “You’re joking.”

            “I wish I was. He said he was going to burn down the kingdom. He wants to get rid of you for once and for all.”

            “That’s insane! The fire would probably even spread to his kingdom, he should know that!”

            “I don’t think he thought it through that much.”

            Tanzia stared at the ground. “Shit.” He looked over at the lioness. “What? I can’t evacuate an entire kingdom in a day. What do you want me to do?”

            “I don’t know,” said the lioness. “This is—this is awful!”

            “Shit,” said Tanzia again. “Alright, I’m gonna go try to round up the lionesses—no, you do that, I’ll try to get word out through the kingdom.” He looked over at Weusi. “You’re sure about this?”

            Weusi nodded miserably. “I—I’m positive.” She had almost confessed that it was her fault.

            “Look,” said Tanzia, “I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve really got to get going. Um . . . look, come back later and I’ll find some way to repay you, okay? Just go back home—wherever it is.”

            “Alright,” said Weusi. Tanzia rushed out of the den, the lioness following him after she gave Weusi a quick “Thank you.” Weusi felt sick. She knew she had done the right thing, but the feeling that she’d never quite be able to live this down still remained. How many would die because of her?

 

 

            Kifaa walked into the den, her head hung low. She expected to see—she wanted to see—anything but Jabari sprawled out on the floor of the den. She swallowed nervously. She didn’t know what he would do. The memory of him beating Weusi when he was angry sprang into her head. It was irrational, she knew that. He didn’t seem like that type anymore.

            Thankfully, he was asleep. She would have until he woke up to decided just what to tell him. She lied down next to him, and found herself wanting to press herself to his side. Just as she was about to, she heard him mutter, “I came back.”

            She froze, her head snapping up to his. His eyes were closed. He opened one up and looked at her. “I—I see that.”

            “I may have overreacted a little bit,” said Jabari. “I know—I know it’s not your fault, what happened with Weusi. Probably mine more than anyone’s. I figured that out now.” He stroked the side of her face. “Sorry for running away.”

            “Jabari . . .”

            “Come here.” He placed a foreleg over her, scooting her torso closer. He kissed her gently on the cheek. “Sorry.”

            “Jabari, Weusi’s remarried.” The words were out before Kifaa could stop them.

            Kifaa could see Jabari’s eyes widen before he looked away from her. “I thought that might have happened.”

            “I just found out. Jabari—Jabari, I’m sorry, I never wanted—”

            “It’s okay.” Jabari smiled down at her. “I tried.” He moved his paw to the back of Kifaa’s head. “Besides, it’d be a shame to let this den go to waste . . .”

            A chill spread down Kifaa’s spine as she realized what he was saying. “Jabari—” She stopped as he nuzzled her gently. She didn’t understand this. She knew it was wrong, yet it felt so good. “Jabari, I shouldn’t feel like this . . .”

            “Feel like what?” Jabari kissed her neck.

            It wasn’t sexual arousal, it was something more. She simply wanted this male to hold her, to be with her, to call her his own. “Jabari, I shouldn’t . . .”

            He smiled at her, then nuzzled her again. “You look so much like her,” he whispered. She could feel her pelt grow slightly damp where his head was. He was shaking. “Oh, Weusi . . . Weusi . . .”

            Kifaa gripped him tightly. “It’ll be okay,” she promised impulsively. She kissed the top of his head. “It’ll all be okay.”

 

 

            Lingwa grinned maniacally. He was here. Finally here. He should have done this years ago. Why hadn’t he? What had stopped him? Fear of Tanzia’s retribution? Fear of the attack of other prides? Foolishness. After today he would be remembered once more. After today he would be feared. After today, everything would be changed.

            He turned to the lionesses behind him, each one carrying a flaming stick. “Let it burn.”

 

 

            Jabari felt Kifaa shaking him, rousing him from his sleep. “What is it?” he asked sleepily.

            “Jabari, its Tanzia.”

            “Tanzia who?” He looked up to see the king standing in front of him. “What do you want?”

            “You have to get out of here,” said Tanzia. “Lingwa’s setting the kingdom on fire.”

            “He’s doing what?” asked Jabari immediately awake.

            “He’s burning down the entire kingdom! You two have to leave now.”

            “I can help,” said Jabari. “Kifaa, just stay here. I’ll go with Tanzia.”

            “But—” she began to protest.

            “You’ll be safe here, the fire can’t get you inside the den. Just stay here.” He turned to Tanzia. “Let’s go.”

            “Are you sure—”

            “Yes, let’s go, come on!”

            The two lions ran off into the savannah, Kifaa watching as they raced off. Her head turned as she caught sight of something else: a pillar of smoke raising high into the sky.

 

 

            “Weusi! Weusi, where are you?” yelled out Takasa. He darted around the edge of the flames, looking for her. Ever since he had seen the smoke, he had feared the worst. Animals darted past him, running away; he seemed to be the only one that was going toward it.

            “Weusi!”

            The flames surged forward with the wind, propelling Takasa backwards as they licked at his pelt. He had to find Weusi, had to make sure she was alright. If she was in there, he’d never forgive himself. He took a few steps back and prepared to jump when suddenly two figures flew past him, rushing into the fire.

            He stared at where they had disappeared, flames instantly closing the gap. He shied away as the wind blew the flames forward once again, the fire taking still more of the kingdom. A lion burst out of the flames, carrying a cheetah on his back, her pup in her mouth. He laid them down gently, the cheetah stumbling to her feet. “Just get to a waterhole,” the lion instructed. The cheetah nodded and took her cub. The lion turned to Takasa. “Well? Are you just going to stand there?” The lion barreled back into the flames. Takasa braced himself and did the same.

            Weusi . . .

 

 

            Lingwa grinned, walking calmly through the flames. He could feel brushing against his pelt, trying to spread, the heat causing pain to shoot through his body, but he didn’t care. This was it, this was finally it. He caught sight of a lion running through the flames and ran after him. He pinned him to the ground. “Tanzia, you’re mine!”

            Tanzia yelped as he was pushed down into hot ash. He tried to push up, but Lingwa was simply too heavy. He was turned over roughly onto his back to see Lingwa staring down at him maniacally. Lingwa brought his head down hard on Tanzia’s, filling the lion’s head with blinding pain. Lingwa clubbed Tanzia across the face. Tanzia pushed against his stomach, Lingwa’s blow setting him off balance.

            Lingwa rolled off Tanzia, seeing Tanzia run off. He suddenly felt excruciating pain and looked down. The ashes he had rolled into had lit his mane on fire. He snarled as he tried to brush them off, and soon they began to die. He looked back up. Tanzia was getting away! He leapt after him, jumping up on a rock for a better view. He could see it: Tanzia walled in by flame, the fire steadily closing in. He laughed as the fire spread across his body. This was going well according to plan.

 

 

            Jabari ran through the flames. He’d managed to save a few, but there had to be more here. There was almost no warning before the fire had been started. He heard a cry for help and ran toward it. A tree crashed down in front of him; he simply rammed into it, the wood splintering. The fire was becoming almost impossible to traverse, the flames consuming all that they had previously missed.

            “Help!” Jabari spun toward the voice. He dodged through the flames, finding a lioness stumbling through the fire helplessly.

            “W-Weusi?”

            The lioness stopped, stunned. “What are you doing here?”

            “I’m getting animals out of here, now come on—”

            “Don’t touch me!” she shrieked. “Just—just don’t—”

            “Do you want to die here?” Jabari yelled over the roar of the flames.

            “I don’t want you!”

            “You hate me so much you’d rather die here than be saved by me?”

            “You ruined my life!” she screamed. “You killed our cubs!”

            “And I’m sorry!”

            “Sorry’s not enough! Sorry isn’t going to give me back what I lost!”

            “Then give me a second chance!”

            “You don’t deserve a second chance! I have a mate now, Jabari, a mate who loves me! A mate that actually cares about me! One that I can love back!”

            “Dammit, Weusi, I love you!”

            “Don’t lie to me! You just used me, we both know it!”

            “It was a mistake. I never should have done that. You deserved better than that. I want to give that to you now. I’ve—I’ve been waiting so long . . .”

            “It’s too little too late, Jabari,” she said coldly.

            “Weusi, I love you. And I’ll do anything to have you back,” he said. He lied down in front of her, begging. “Please, Weusi.”

            Weusi stared at him, the fire roaring around them. Here he was, before her. She could do whatever she wanted to him, even leave him to die. That was what she wanted after all, wasn’t it? That was what she had gone to Lingwa for, before it had spiraled so far out of control. And here he was, at her mercy.

            So why couldn’t she do it?

            “Weusi, please,” Jabari pleaded. “I love you.”

            “I can’t love you. I shouldn’t love you.”

            “You don’t have to be miserable. This is tearing us both apart, I know it. I can’t take away what I’ve done, but just give me a chance to fix it. Please.”

            Weusi looked down at him. “I—”

            She was interrupted by a creaking sound, both of them looking up at a nearby tree. Jabari tried to get to his paws, but it was too late; the tree came crashing down on him. It wasn’t a roar he let out, it was a whimper. He clawed at the ground in front of him, trying uselessly to pull himself out from underneath the smoldering tree.

            “Jabari!” Weusi tried to push it off, but it was no use. It was too heavy for her. “Jabari—Jabari, I’m so sorry . . .”

            Jabari gasped, his breathing labored. He finally stopped struggling, surrendering to his fate. “I’m sorry, too . . .” He reached for Weusi’s face; she knelt down, nuzzling his paw. “I love you.”

            Weusi looked up at him, her tears hissing as they hit the ash below. “I love you, too, Jabari. I always will.”

            He smiled weakly. “Not too bad for last words . . .”

 

 

            “Hey, I want to ride up front!” the first squirrel argued in his squeaky voice.

            “You rode up front last time!” protested his brother.

            “Let’s play rock, paper, scissors.”

            “Yeah!”

            “Best out of three?”

            “Okay!”

            “One, two, three!”

            “Ha! I drew paper, I win!”

            “No fair! You waited until after I drew rock!”

            “No I didn’t!”

            “Yes you did!”

            “No I didn’t!”

            “Yes you . . .”

            “Guys,” the squirrels jumped as the lion underneath them began to talk in a low, calm tone, “please.”

            “We’re sorry Mr. Lion,”

            “Yeah. We didn’t know you wanted us to be quiet.”

            “Why do you want us to be quiet Mr. Lion? Do your ears hurt?”

            “No, he’s probably thinking about something.”

            “No, he has an ear infection.”

            “Nah-uh, lions don’t get ear inf . . .”

            “Guys!”

            “Sorry,” they chorused back.

            “If you must know, I’m thinking about something.”

            “Yay! Alright!”

            “Shh! He wants us to be quiet.”

            “You’re just jealous.”

            “Guys!”

            “Sorry.”

            Alright, I think this is about all of them. The fire’s dying down now and the sun’s going to set soon, I won’t be able to see anyone. But where’s Weusi? Maybe she’s at the waterhole, that other lion may have found her. There are more assembly points than the waterhole though, she could be anywhere! Well if I can’t find her I’ll just go home, even if it isn’t still standing we could at least meet up there. She’s probably looking for me as well, that’s what she would do.

            “There you go,” he said, dropping the two squirrels off of his back.

            “Yay! Thank you Mr. Lion!”

            “Yeah, we’re very appreciative of what you did for us.”

            “That’s great,” he replied, in reality not actually listening to them. Instead he was surveying the waterhole for any signs of any lionesses.

            “Are you looking for someone Mr. Lion?” asked one of the squirrels.

            “As a matter of fact, I am.” He looked back down at them. “Have either of you seen a lioness around?”

            “Yeah!”

            “You have, where?”

            “Wait, you mean today?”

            “Of course he means today stupid!”

            “Don’t call me stupid, you were the one who thought he had an ear . . .”

            “Guys!!”

            The squirrels took a jump back.

            “She was in that rock,” the squirrel said, covering his eyes with one hand and pointing towards a rocky mound with a cave built into it with his other trembling hand, “please don’t get angry at us Mr. Lion!”

            “Yeah, we never meant to upset you—”

            “You’re a lot bigger than us—”

            “And you could eat us too—”

            “He probably wants us to shut up now.”

            “Argh! We’ve probably made him angrier!”

            “No, its fine,” Takasa replied, walking away. “Thank you.”

 

 

            Below where Kifaa stood the flames were still lapping up the cave’s edge. She stood under the cave’s entrance and surveyed the land for any sight of anyone she knew.

            There was Weusi.

            “Weusi!” she called. Her sister looked up at her from her somber walk and turned in the direction of the cave.

            “Weusi, what’s the matter?” she asked as her sister wandered into the den still with her head hung low.

            She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it Kifaa.” She lifted her head up slowly and looked around. “I used to live here.”

            “I know,” replied Kifaa. “Weusi . . .”

            “Kifaa,” she said turning her head in her direction, “please—just leave me be.”

            Kifaa nodded. “Okay.”

            Weusi collapsed onto the floor and rested her eyes. Kifaa hesitated but then walked up to her.

            “Weusi!” Takasa exclaimed from the entrance of the cave. “There you are!”

            Kifaa saw the corner of Weusi’s mouth twitch into a smile. “Hi Takasa.”

            “How are you?” he asked as he walked up and put a foreleg around her.

            “Been better,” she replied.

            Kifaa turned back around to the entrance of the cave and let them be. There were still so many unanswered questions.

            Where is Jabari?

            What were Lingwa’s intentions?

            Is Lingwa still alive?

            Should I tell Weusi that Jabari repaired this den out of love for her?

            What about Tanzia?

            Why is Weusi upset?

            “Kifaa,” she heard her sister call, forcing her to snap out of it, “what are you doing?”

            Kifaa shook her head. “I’m just—I’m just trying to take it all in.”

            “Of course,” replied Weusi.

            Takasa brought his head back down to start nuzzling her again. Weusi put her paw up to hold him off for a second.

            “Kifaa?” she asked.

            “Yes?”

            “Do you need to talk?”

            Kifaa looked into her eyes. “Please.”

            Weusi got up and licked Takasa. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

            “Sure,” he replied as Weusi walked off.

            Kifaa followed her out until they were outside of the cave and out of ear-shot from Takasa. The fire continued to die, the slow burn illuminating the horizon.

            “Kifaa, sis, what’s bothering you?”

            Kifaa sat in silence. “I don’t know what to tell you Weusi.”

            “Tell me anything. Heck, you’re my sister, tell me everything.”

            Kifaa looked at her. “You sure?” she asked seriously.

            Weusi nodded.

            “Well, when Aushi died . . . I was distraught. I was really upset Weusi and I thought that if I could cheer you up then all could be as good as it once was. I thought that I needed to get you and Jabari back together again, I thought that if that happened all would be repaired. I found Jabari but he didn’t buy it, but he told me I could have ten days, and that if the deed wasn’t done in ten days then he would take me for his own . . .”

            “What day is it now?” Weusi asked. Kifaa looked at her; she was staring up into the stars.

            “In the morning it will be day nine. Until then, Jabari thought that he’d show you how much he loved you by fixing up your old den. So we’ve been living with each other for the past several days and, oh Weusi, you would love him!”

            Weusi continued to stare off into space.

            “He has changed so much, I mean, we went through thick and thin, we had our confrontational moments but we’ve also grown to like each other too . . .”

            “Then why didn’t he settle for you?”

            Kifaa smiled. “He just couldn’t. He was always thinking of you.”

            Weusi’s expression didn’t change.

            “I only just found out the other day that you had a mate. That was a big blow for Jabari but he took it well. He’d given up a long while ago but, he just couldn’t bring himself to accept it,” Kifaa finished. “So that’s all about me, what’s happened to you?”

            Weusi stared into the stars for a few more seconds before bringing her head and thoughts back down to the ground. She looked around. The landscape all around her was either dark where the grass had burnt to dirt with layers of ash on top of it, or it was still glowing orange where the fires continued and where the hot embers still glowed. “I have a feeling this was my fault,” she said.

            Kifaa stared at her. “Why?” she asked quietly.

            Weusi sighed. “What does it matter?” she asked looking at Kifaa. “Jabari’s dead.”

            Kifaa stood aghast as Weusi turned around and walked back to the den.

            “Weusi!” she called.

            “What?” she snapped back.

            “Tell me,” Kifaa said trotting up to her, “did you tell Lingwa to do this?” she asked quietly.

            Weusi paused. “I told him to kill Jabari, but I never wanted this to happen,” she added quickly.

            “What’s ‘this’ Weusi?” she demanded. “As far as we know, Jabari’s the only one dead. There’s probably more but why do you care? You’re upset because you killed Jabari, aren’t you?”

            Weusi remained expressionless. “That’s got a lot to do with it.”

            “You loved him,” she added. Weusi didn’t respond. “And you still love him.”

            Weusi took a deep breath then looked back up at her sister. “I’m exhausted Kifaa, sorry.” She turned around. “I’m going to bed.”

            Kifaa held her ground in disbelief and anger.

            What has happened to you, Weusi?

            She didn’t understand it. Takasa was Takasa but Jabari was Weusi’s mate. Weusi loved Jabari, Jabari loved Weusi. Jabari wanted them to get back together again, and Weusi probably did too, she just didn’t want to admit it. But what did it matter now? Jabari was dead.

            For some reason, this is what was angering her the most. Not the fact that Weusi did it, not the fact that they couldn’t get together again, but that Jabari was dead.

            She needed to take her anger out, but who on? Weusi? That contradicted everything though; she was supposed to be helping Weusi, not attacking her.

            Lingwa.

            Kifaa spun around and darted off into the distance. Lingwa was going to have to pay.

 

 

            “Argh!” the squirrel shrieked. He looked down, or up. He wasn’t really sure at the time; the flames were getting closer. “Please don’t burn us Mr. Lion!”

            “Is there something you want from us, Mr. Lion?”

            “We can get you nuts!”

            “Or berries!”

            “Or . . . Argh! Please don’t do that Mr. Lion!”

            Lingwa just laughed. This was fun, tormenting the two squirrels; holding them both by their legs upside down over a tree stump that still burned.

            “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not going to just drop you into the fire, I like my food when it’s cooked slow.”

            “Oh no, Mr. Lion! Please don’t burn us!” the first squirrel said clutching his paws together.

            “Yeah, we don’t taste that nice anyway.”

            “That’s true!”

            “Don’t think I haven’t eaten squirrel before,” Lingwa replied calmly.

            “But I bet those squirrels were fat. Look how skinny we are!”

            “Yeah, and I’m even skinnier!”

            “No you’re not!”

            “Yes I am!”

            “No you’re . . .”

            “Lingwa!”

            The two squirrels stopped arguing and looked above the lion’s head. Lingwa had lost his smile, and above him they could see a lioness standing above him, staring down at them with her cold, fierce eyes.

            “Put the squirrels down,” she finished.

            Lingwa did as he was told, and dropped the two squirrels into the stump sending them into two balls of blazing and screaming fur.

            Kifaa pushed her ears back, trying to keep the sound of their screams out of her head. “Now, turn around . . .”

            “You dare command me what to do,” replied Lingwa, staring into the fire.

            “And why not?”

            Lingwa didn’t reply. Instead he just ejected a claw, and pointed upwards.

            Kifaa looked up. There, in a couple of intact trees above her, stood three bloodthirsty lionesses.

            Kifaa looked back down at him. “Aren’t you Lingwa? The almighty Lingwa? And you have to have assistance just to kill one helpless lioness, all on her own?”

            “Oh,” said Lingwa standing up, but not turning around, “so you want this to be a one-on-one now, do you?”

            “I would expect nothing less,” she replied.

            “I see.” Lingwa reached into the fire. “Well if that’s the case . . .”

            Kifaa watched as one of the blazing squirrels was tossed up through the air. It hit the underside of the branch where two of the lionesses were standing. The branch immediately caught alight and began to crack. Kifaa’s jaw dropped, she knew what was about to happen. The two lionesses fell through the fire and caught alight themselves; Kifaa didn’t have enough time to run. The next thing she knew, the two blazing lionesses landed on her back with an earth-shattering force. She stiffened the muscles in her legs though, and she was able to remain standing, barely. Lingwa threw the other squirrel up and the same happened to the last panic-stricken lioness. Kifaa tried to move but she was stuck. One of the lionesses was still lying on her hind legs. The last came down and hit her right behind her neck. Her front legs collapsed and she fell to the ground. Lingwa walked up to her.

            “You’re too easy.” He smiled. Kifaa closed her eyes and then felt a sudden thwack strike her across the cheek. She opened her eyes again, there was Lingwa preparing for the second blow. She closed them again, and then she blacked out.

 

 

            Takasa sighed, seeing Weusi in the corner of their den, lying there miserably. Nothing he seemed to do would cheer her up. He stared off into the savannah, now burnt and black. “It’s Jabari, isn’t it?” He turned around. “It was Jabari all along.”

            She blinked tears out of her eyes. “I never wanted this to happen. Takasa, I love you, really! It’s just . . .”

            “You just still love him.”

            “I don’t understand it. I mean, he was terrible to me! He beat me, he cheated on me—so why did I love him? And now he’s gone!” she cried, bursting into tears.

            Takasa nuzzled her. “Well, your sister’s safe, isn’t she?” He wrapped a foreleg around her. “Come on, let’s go visit her. Maybe she’ll cheer you up.”

 

 

            Kifaa groaned. It was the first thing she heard when she woke up. Her head ached all over, like it has caught fire on the inside. But she wasn’t at the stump any more, she knew that. She was lying down on rock, not mud, and her surroundings just didn’t feel the same. She didn’t want to open her eyes but she knew she had to. She strained against her aches to lift her head and eyelids to see where she was. Failure. She relaxed, waited a second, and then tried again. Still, no success. She repeated the process several more times but each time yielded her the same result.

            She gave up and rested back on the floor. She was still only just beginning to regain consciousness. Maybe if she left it a little while her next attempt would not be a failure.

            “Bit dark in here, isn’t it?” she heard echo around the room they were in.

            She perked her ears up. “J—Jabari, is that you?”

            “Yes, Kifaa.”

            “Where am I?”

            “You’re dead.”

            Kifaa felt her heart drop.

            “I’m dead?” she whispered back.

            “I’m afraid so.”

            “Then how come my head still aches?” she asked.

            Jabari paused. “Okay, that’s a good one.”

            Kifaa smiled. “I’m not dead, am I Jabari?”

            “Nope.”

            Kifaa laughed, but it hurt her head more and she stopped.

            Jabari heard her groan. “What’s the matter?”

            “I’m just . . . it’s just a headache, a really bad headache, that’s all.”

            Jabari placed his paw on her head and gently massaged it.

            “Does that help?”

            “A little. Can you see in here?”

            “It’s really dark, but I could make out your silhouette. So Lingwa caught you too, huh?”

            “Yes,” she murmured, thinking back to what happened. She didn’t want to get too angry though, that would just make her head hurt more. “So what happened to you?”

            “A tree fell on me, Weusi tried to save me,” Kifaa heard his voice lighten up as he said this last part. “It was too heavy for her though, but not for Lingwa I guess. He walked up to me after Weusi had left and struck me. Knocked me out. Next thing I knew, I was in here.”

            “Where is ‘here,’ do you know?” Kifaa asked.

            “Not exactly. I can only assume we’re in some sort of pit though, I’ve wandered from wall to wall feeling my way around for an exit, but I couldn’t find one, I guess they dropped us down here. We’re in Lingwa’s den I think, I heard them talking earlier.”

            “So how are we going to get out?” Kifaa asked frightened.

            “I don’t know,” Jabari replied, “but I’m just so glad you’re here Kifaa,” he added pulling himself closer to her.

            “Jabari . . .”

            “Don’t worry, I’m not going to. We’ve still got one day left I think, why give up when we’re this close?”

            “Because we’re at the bottom of a hole guarded by a mad serial killer, maybe?”

            “That’s a good one too, but what if we can get out?”

            “Then there’s Takasa.”

            “Oh, right, of course,” said Jabari, “Lingwa’s old ally.”

            Kifaa’s brain froze. “What?”

            Jabari laughed. “Isn’t it great? I heard Lingwa mention him when he was talking to someone else earlier . . .”

            “Jabari . . . I guess I should tell you something about Weusi . . .”

            “But apparently he only used to be his ally, then he betrayed him and now they’ve been enemies ever since.”

            “Well that changes everything,” replied Kifaa, knowing that perhaps it was best she didn’t tell him.

            “But I bet Weusi doesn’t know anything about it.”

            “Well even if she doesn’t, what makes you think they’d break up if you told her?” she asked doubtfully.

            Jabari shrugged. “It’s worth a shot. He lied to her, and Lingwa killed me. That’s what we’re going to go along with.”

            “Lingwa didn’t kill you, Jabari.”

            “No, but listen. She thinks he did. You’re going to escape here and you’re going to find a way to reveal Takasa’s past to Weusi. She’ll still think I’m dead and hopefully she’ll be so distraught that she’ll leave him.”

            “Jabari . . .” Kifaa protested, “Jabari . . . this is not a good idea! It won’t work. It’s unfair for Takasa, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Besides, what about when she finds out you’re alive?”

            “Ah, well that’s a good point there Kifaa, but I’ve already thought this through. I’m going to try and go up and find this exit. Once I’ve found it, I’m going to tell you where it is, and then I’m going to drop off. If I’m still conscious then you are going to club me one, and then I should be knocked out. You are going to try and escape without letting anyone inside this cave know, and then you are going to find Weusi and tell her about Takasa’s past. Once she’s left him, which hopefully she should, you will rally what’s left of Tanzia’s pride and come here to save me, ’cause I’m not going to know my way out. I will have forgotten everything and Weusi will find me so innocent that she’ll be willing to take me back.”

            Kifaa opened her jaw but no words came out straight away, she had to think of the best way to phrase her next statement. “Jabari . . . you know how many things could go wrong with that?”

            “Well do you have a better idea?” he asked sternly, though Kifaa knew he was just putting it on.

            Kifaa sighed. “No, I guess I don’t.”

            “Alright, then let’s begin.”

            “Wait . . . Jabari . . . no!”

            “Why not?”

            “I’ve only just woken up, I haven’t even opened my eyes yet!”

            “You did several times earlier, you just thought you hadn’t as it was so dark in here.”

            “Still . . . I have a headache,” she added feebly.

            “Pfft, so what? You could’ve been dead by now. Alright, I’m going.”

            Kifaa groaned but she knew he was right. They couldn’t stay here forever; they’d die of thirst or starvation.

            Reluctantly, she got up. It wasn’t until then that she had realized what condition she was in. Not only did her head ache, her whole body ached. Especially her legs and her back where the lionesses had landed. She opened her eyes. It hurt, but not as bad as earlier. She couldn’t see a thing, but she could hear Jabari scurrying up and around the rocky walls trying to find an exit. It couldn’t be too big; their echoes had been bouncing off the walls pretty quickly. But how tall was it? That could not be answered, although they had both been able to survive their falls.

            Kifaa slowly took a step forward. It hurt and she clenched her eyes, but none of her legs buckled. She knew she was lucky, she could get better.

            “Alright Kifaa!” Jabari called. “I think I’ve found it!”

            “What do you mean by ‘think’ Jabari? Are you sure?” she called up in a panicked voice.

            “Watch out below, and good luck! I’m depending on you. Three, two, one . . .”

            “Jabari!”

            She knew it was too late though, there was no stopping him. She heard a loud thud hit the ground about a second later. It echoed around the cave as she trotted up to his limp body.

            “Jabari?” she asked. No reply came. She had already become used to the light; she could see his silhouette lying there on the ground. Hopefully he was just knocked out, and nothing more. She made her way around his head with her paw. She didn’t feel any blood; that was a good sign.

            She didn’t have time to check though, this needed to be done. At least she hadn’t had to hit him.

            Kifaa walked up to the rocky wall. She could feel where it was still warm where Jabari had been. Her legs hurt and she wasn’t too sure that they’d be able to pull her all the way up, but if she waited too long the warmth would go, how would she know where the exit was then?

            She closed her eyes and gave a deep breath. It was time.

            She jumped. She sprung high up through the air until finally she slammed into the wall. She had only gotten up off the ground by about one body length, but it was enough. She reached her first paw out and grabbed a piece of the wall higher up. Through all her might she strained to just pull herself a few inches higher.

            It worked though, and fortunately for her, the higher she got, the rockier it was. She could now use some of them as ledges instead of just grabbing into a vertical, smooth piece of rock.

            Every now and then she took a breather when she felt safe, but she knew that she couldn’t take too long. Eventually, she lifted one of her paws out and gave a swipe, and there was nothing there. She gave a sigh of relief and then brought her back legs up until she could get most of her weight over the ledge.

            She stumbled onto the floor and collapsed. She’d done it. Now all she had to do was to get out of there.

            Shouldn’t be too hard, I’m sure I just saw daylight!

            She smiled and then opened her eyes. Her smile disappeared. She did indeed see daylight, it was reflecting off of the stalactites on the ceiling. She was in a dead end. She looked back over her shoulder. There the exit stood: the other side of the pit. But even worse was the fact that two of Lingwa’s lionesses were standing the other side of the pit before the exit. They were glaring at her, growling at her. She was trapped.

            One of the lionesses stepped closer to the edge of the pit, glaring at Kifaa. “Get back down—augh!” Kifaa gasped as Jabari suddenly appeared on the wall of the pit, just underneath the lioness. He had grabbed the lioness’s neck with a paw. He pulled down, using the momentum to pull himself up and the lioness down into the pit. The second lioness swiped at him, but Jabari shoved her into the pit as well.

            “Kifaa, come on, jump!” he called.

            She stepped back a little, then took what room she had to get a running jump over. “I thought you were knocked out!”

            “Nah, just a little bump,” he said, heading with her out of the cave. “Now let’s get out of here before—” He stopped dead.

            “Jabari, what—” She gasped. Lingwa stood in front of them, blocking the exit.

            “Now if you two would kindly turn around and walk right back in there,” he snarled, “maybe I’ll remember to feed you.”

            Jabari lunged at the lion, but Lingwa knocked him away and pinned him down easily. Even burnt and beaten, Jabari was no match for him. He looked up in terror as Lingwa advanced on him, teeth drawn back in a snarl.

            Jabari waited for the blow, but instead heard a pained roar. Lingwa whirled around, exposing that his tail had been completely torn off. He leapt up at Lingwa, hearing the lion roar as he sunk his claws into his hindlegs, and then suddenly fall silent. The lion slumped to the ground, revealing a lioness behind him, her maw stained with blood.

            Jabari gasped in surprise. “Weusi?”

            She remained silent. Jabari peaked behind her. He thought at first that he’d seen her mate, but then he was gone.

            “Who was . . . ?”

            “Jabari,” said Weusi, interrupting him, her voice low and flat, “come with me.”

            She turned around and began to walk off. Jabari scurried up onto his feet. He was in pain, but he didn’t care. This was it.

            Weusi had walked out and had already turned a corner. Jabari knew he had to hurry up. There wasn’t anyone to stop him. Lingwa was dead, the lionesses weren’t going to attack if they weren’t ordered to.

            He made it to the exit, but then he stopped. He’d almost forgotten something. He turned back around.

            There Kifaa stood, still right next to the pit.

Even though she stood far away from Jabari in the dark, he could read her face clearly. She was smiling. Jabari ran back over to her.

            “Kifaa . . .” he addressed as he approached her.

            “Yes Jabari?”

            Jabari closed in on her and gave her a lick on the cheek. Kifaa chuckled.

            “Thanks for everything,” Jabari said.

            “You’re welcome. Now get out of here!”

            Jabari laughed and sprinted out of Lingwa’s den. He couldn’t let Weusi get too far.

 

 

            Back near Jabari’s den, there was one ember which still glowed. Not for much longer though.

            Another tear slid off Azimo’s nose and landed on it, putting it out.

            Why?

            She knelt down onto the floor and buried her head into her paws. Tanzia was gone.

            “May I help you?”

            Startled, Azimo turned around to see another lion standing behind her.

            “Who are you?” she asked through her tear-stained eyes.

            “I’m Takasa. What’s the matter?”

            Azimo sniffed. “My mate died in this fire.”

            “Oh,” Takasa replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

            “I’m going to kill Lingwa,” she murmured under her breath.

            “He’s already dead.”

            Azimo looked back up at him. “Really?”

            “Yup. Saw it with my own eyes.”

            “You sure that he’s dead and not just . . . you know, not just . . .”

            “I’m sure.”

            “Certain?”

            Takasa sighed. “You want to see it for yourself?”

            “Please,” she replied.

 

 

            Jabari made his final few sprints, then he slowed to his walking place. He could see Weusi. She had stopped walking, she was just sitting down, next to a small waterhole.

            Jabari made it the rest of the way over to her.

            “Know where we are?” she asked.

            “Sure do,” he replied. “This is where we had our honeymoon.”

            Weusi nodded. She then closed her eyes and bent her head down slowly.

            Jabari sat down next to her.

            Weusi gently blew at the dirt on the ground. The dust blew away, and Jabari began to make out some kind of rut.

            Weusi placed her paw on the left side of it. It fit perfectly.

            Jabari smiled. He remembered well. He placed his paw down into the right side of the rut. His leg and paw rubbed against Weusi’s. They both fitted perfectly.

            He looked up from the floor into Weusi’s crystalline eyes.

            She was smiling.

            “You never got that breaking vow, did you Jabari?”

            “Never.”

            Weusi looked amused. “So, technically, that means we’re still married?”

            “I guess it does,” Jabari replied.

            “So, technically,” she added, “that means we can do whatever we want.”

            Jabari remained silent. He didn’t want to blow it by saying something stupid.

            “Like . . .” he finally prompted her, figuring he couldn’t go wrong there.

            “Well, like criticizing others, like living together, you know, that kind of stuff.”

            She looked back up into his eyes, wearing a straight sincere smile.

            Jabari was still smiling, but Weusi knew that he hoped there was more.

            “Ooh . . . come here!” she finally let out. She placed her two front paws behind his neck and then pulled him over on top of her onto the ground. She licked Jabari, who then returned the favor.

            For the rest of the night they would stay there, bonding, loving, becoming friends once again. They wouldn’t stop until the sun rose.

 

 

            “Here it is,” said Takasa.

            “Show me it,” Azimo demanded quietly, referring to Lingwa’s dead body.

            Takasa walked up to the entrance. He nodded his head towards the interior where it lay.

            Azimo wandered in and went up to the body. Nobody was standing around him, but he was dead alright. Azimo inspected him very closely; he even smelt dead. She flinched back away from the stench.

            She wanted to do something to his body. Strike it perhaps, or maybe even push it into the pit. She couldn’t though. She took another step back and turned around.

            Over at the end of the passage leading to his body, there were lionesses sleeping in Lingwa’s den, both on the left and right.

            Azimo wandered out to where Takasa still stood.

            “Well?” he asked.

            Azimo looked back over her shoulder, then turned her head back and looked into Takasa’s eyes, muttering two words: “Burn it.”

            “What?”

            “You heard me, burn it.”

            “But Azimo . . .”

            “Don’t argue with me, just burn it!”

            Azimo stormed off leaving Takasa standing in bewilderment next to Lingwa’s den.

            He knew what she wanted him to do, but he couldn’t do it. These lionesses hadn’t done anything wrong. They hadn’t attacked him or Weusi, they were only mean when they were being bossed around by Lingwa.

            They didn’t deserve it. He couldn’t do it, it would be wrong.

            He wouldn’t do it, but that part wasn’t his choice. Smoke was already starting to fill the sky behind the den.

 

 

            “Akhera! Come in here!”

            The young female cub reluctantly obeyed her mother’s order.

            “It’s way too late for you to be outside.”

            “I know Mom, but I’m so bored.”

            “Well then go to sleep.”

            Akhera muttered something under her breath as she made her way over to her corner.

            “What did you say?”

            “Nothing.”

            “Akhera . . .”

            “Weusi,” Jabari interjected, “leave her be.”

            Weusi gasped. “Oh my goodness Jabari, where did you get this?”

            “There’s a whole herd of buffalo over there. I learned a lot about hunting when I was a rogue.”

            Weusi smiled. “You remembered it was our anniversary, didn’t you?”

            “Oh . . . I mean . . . of course I did, honey.”

            She chuckled. “Come on Akhera, come and eat some of this.”

            “But Mommy, there won’t be any room for me.”

            “What are you talking about? This buffalo is big enough for all three of us to eat at the same time.”

            “Six.”

            “Six?”

            “We have visitors.”

            “Who?” asked Weusi, peering around Jabari’s shoulder to try and see them. She gasped. “Oh my goodness! Kifaa! Takasa! Oh, and . . . and who’s the little one?”

            “He’s Saliti.” Replied Kifaa, “and yours?”

            “This is Akhera. Oh, Kifaa, how are you? You still have your burns . . .”

            “They’re permanent. Thank Aiheu that Takasa came to save me.”

            Kifaa smiled at Takasa. “That was brave of you.”

            “Thank you.”

            “Now I’d better be quiet, before Jabari starts beating me.”

            “Alright.”

            “Just for that Weusi . . . that might earn you a . . .”

            “Then of course, we do have cubs.”

            Jabari shut up.

            “So . . .” Akhera raised her voice to try and get their attention, “how am I supposed to eat?”

            “There’ll be enough room. Here, you can start with the neck if you want.” She returned her attention to Kifaa and Takasa. “So where do you two live now?”

            “Just the other side of where Tanzia’s kingdom used to be,” Takasa replied.

            “Never been that far. Wow, I mean, Kifaa, Takasa, this is just amazing! I can’t believe I haven’t seen either of you in a whole year.”

            “Come to think of it,” Kifaa interjected, “Jabari, did you ever forget anything when you fell into the pit?”

            Weusi smirked. “Watch this. Jabari?”

            “Yes Weusi?”

            “Do you remember living here with Kifaa?”

            “Yes.”

            “Do you remember Tanzia?”

            “Yes.”

            “Azimo?”

            “Never met her.”

            “Oh . . . right. Lingwa?”

            “Yes.”

            “Issa?”

            “Isakino?”

            “Sure.”

            “Yes.”

            “Bagra?”

            “Yes.”

            Weusi smiled. “Ketisha?”

            Jabari turned towards the others. “She’s tried this on me a thousand times. I cannot remember who she was at all.”

            Kifaa smiled. She remembered. Weusi had told her. “Worked well then.”

            “Oh . . . wait a minute . . .” Jabari interrupted. “I think . . . was she the one . . .”

 

 

            Jabari woke up. He was facing the light blue sky. He could see his mate dangling her paws over the edge of the rock from where their den was above him.

            “What am I doing down here?” he asked.

            “Do you remember who Ketisha was?”

            “Uh, no . . .”

            “Then don’t worry about it.”