He knew I would have to act. Normally I would shrug him off, giving him some lame excuse. But as his and Ntchwaidumela's reports of Pride Rock worsened, I However, with Zalima very pregnant and cubs eminent, I had my doubtscould I allow my cubs to be . I knew I had to do something about him, bottom line. How born into a world with such an evil lion?
"Does he still think I'm dead?" I asked, turning to the young lion. Dukat nodded slowly. I thought of where everyone was at the moment. A little while earlier, Ntchwaidumela had informed me that Zalima was going for a walk to stretch her legs. Nalia was tending to cubs and making sure that all the visitors stayed calm. I sighed, looking up to the sky through the canopy. "Kings protect me..." I whispered, before giving Dukat a nod. He couldn't hide a grin, and nodded, heading out. I turned and followed, unsure of what to expect but sure of one thing; I had to win.
Kumalo was sitting inside the main cavern of Pride Rock in silent fury. His pride had not come at the time he had predicted, and Naiko was suddenly dragging his paws on assuming command of Pride Rock. To make matters more frustrating, he had taken control of a seemingly dead pride. There were next to no lionesses there, and the lands were becoming more and more deserted each day. Just when his frustration level was getting unbearable, in came the one young lion he did not want to see. Dukat grinned at Kumalo, he enjoyed getting under his fur and rankling the lion. His visit was unscheduled, and unwanted.
"Leave my kingdom at once chew-toy or else I will be forced to remove you!" Kumalo snarled at Dukat. Dukat grinned at him, sticking out his tongue in insult.
"Your mother has fleas and your dad likes to eat 'em!" Dukat laughed before running out of the cave. Without another word, Kumalo roared and took off after Dukat. Tearing him up would have been a nice relaxation.
I saw Dukat scramble out of the cavern and come down to where the small crowd had gathered. News of my death had spread far and wide and all the pridelands were surprised when they saw me. Somewhat of a procession had gathered as I made my way from the Kopje Valley to the front of Pride Rock. Naturally, there were those who wished I stayed dead, but the number of animals who were happy to hear of my health and my mission made up for that in triplicate. I sat, with my tail curled about my paws, keeping an eye on the entrance to the main cavern. Kumalo appeared, racing down after Dukat and halting at the base when he saw the group.
"What is this?!" he roared, unsure of what was happening. Rising slowly, I stood and faced Kumalo, the amber in my eyes glinting like golden spheres directly into his heart. Catching sight of me, Kumalo's dark green gaze grew to what seemed double it's normal size with surprise. "No..." he growled, "This cannot be!" I stepped out of the crowd, towards Kumalo slowly.
"Yes," I growled deeply, "It can." The lion did not back down, nor did he show signs of fear.
"I thought you were dead Ruler Siombe," he spoke in an acidic tone, "however it would appear that you are stronger than Saratex estimated." I growled, beginning to circle him.
"I have come to challenge you Kumalo." I spoke lowly, "For Pride Rock and its lands, to avenge Chaka and Ignwe's death, and for trying to murder me." Kumalo lowered his head a little, his mouth raising to a snarl.
"I should have dealt with you myself lion." he growled, circling along with me slowly. "Now I will make sure that you do not interfere, personally."
I hardly had time to lower my eyelids when he rushed at me, quicker than I had anticipated. During our first encounter, I not only had the element of surprise, but a closer space to work with. In the open, he was much faster and had apparently learned from the prior experience. I turned rapidly, roaring loudly as his claws found purchase in my mane, tearing into it. As Kumalo recovered from his initial attack I whacked his foreleg out from under him, in an attempt to send him rolling to the ground. He fell with a surprised grunt, and while flailing his paws, opened a gash in my muzzle. It stung like crazy, and I reared back, trying to get my bearings. He was upon me so suddenly I didn't even know if I had knocked him down. I felt teeth suddenly bearing into my back, trying to tear to my spine. I bellowed in pain, dropping to the ground away from the teeth and kicking Kumalo in the chest. He fell back for a moment, then pounced on me before I could rise, sinking his teeth into my shoulder. The pain was intense, and I felt a panic that the smaller lion was defeating me. With a mighty kick I pushed him over me, sending him rolling.
Even as I reflect on the fight, I cannot remember the details as it happened. There was much roaring, biting and cuffing as Kumalo and I were locked in a battle to the death. After flipping him over my head, I sustained minimal injuries from then on, inflicting heavy damage on him. A solid pop to the head sent him reeling, and he fell to the earth in a heap. Standing over him, I looked down at the unmoving lion. Leaning down, I pushed through his now very torn mane to his throat where I took a firm hold. Raising my head ever so slightly, I could make out through hazed vision the large number of animals observing my actions. I cannot forget out the varied looks of the crowd, both approving and disapproving. I looked to the sky for a moment, in silent respect for what I was about to do. Then, in a swift and powerful motion, I turned my head to the side, roaring as I felt the bone crack in my mouth. Kumalo's eyes popped open, his last motion before lying still.
I staggered away from the fallen lion, still too high on adrenaline to feel the true nature of my wounds. Dukat rushed over, along with Amathambo to assist me. While the two worked on me, I caught a glimpse of an exiting lion near the back of the crowd. Naiko had a look of supreme disappointment on his face, the type he was wont to hiding. While the gathered crowd congregated to gawk at either me or the now dead lion, Naiko and I exchanged looks. Glancing at my hardened, bloodstained face, he smiled his classic smile of deference that made my vision go red. He gave me a subtle nod of congratulations, and silently exited without other notice.
Shortly after, deliberations began for Pride Rock. I was about to claim it as my own, when suddenly Sera, one of the new lionesses of my pride, burst through the crowd and whispered to me that Zalima was missing. Without further words I rose, racing out despite the warnings of Amathambo and Dukat. I knew Zalima was pregnant and expecting cubs at any time. Her absence made me very concerned, especially since her family had a history of miscarriage.
I raced through the Grassy Plateau, through the forbidden New Pride Valley, down a Jungle Path and into a secret path. I pushed through Hidden brush and into the entrance to the Narikola Valley, the now adolescent Taltari's lands. The area was rough, but I ran on through an overgrown plain, past a clear waterfall, and to the back of a plateau, suddenly seeing Taltari pacing.
"Taltari!" I called out as I rushed in worriedly. Taltari looked up, surprised to see me.
"What?" he asked. Suddenly catching view of my injuries, his eyes widened, "What happened to you?"
"It doesn't matter right now Tal. Have you seen Zalima? She's missing and pregnant and alone and and..." I said, starting to get hyper. Taltari tried to slow me down.
"Slow down Siombe!" he purred in a calming tone. "I saw her earlier this morning, afternoon actually." I stopped babbling for a moment,
"Which way did she go?" Taltari looked about, thinking.
"Hmm, I'll show you." he said following the river to the plains. I raced after him to a beautiful plain. Taltari sniffed around, looking a bit distressed. "Ack, she went down that path I think." he turned to me, "That's unexplored and dangerous terrain." he said looking up. Night was falling, and looking out into the dark, unknown lands, I could not help but to frown,
"It'll be explored when I'm done with it." I said, starting forward. Taltari nodded.
"We'd better go find her." he said as we stepped onto a Hidden Path. Pushing through brush we got to some Flat grounds. The wide open area looked daunting, and I called out.
"Zalima!!" I cried, hoping she would answer. Hearing nothing, I got worried. Taltari hmmed, looking around.
"She is probably just out of earshot." he said.
"We have to find her!" I spoke seriously, moving on. It was dark now, but that didn't stop us, we passed into some Parched Grasslands, where there was even more open space. However I noticed a large volcano that rose up ominously before us. I tried again,
"Zalima!!" I cried, running in. In the distance, a soft roar broke the silence. I looked around worriedly as Taltari arrived. "That was her!" I exclaimed, looking about at the volcano. "Where is she? You go west, I'll go east.." I said, ordering quickly. I raced around the volcano slope, looking for anything that could possibly be where she was. I was tired from the fight and calling her name, but I could not stop. Too much was at stake. When I saw Taltari come around the corner I frowned.
"I didn't see anything." he called to me.
"I might have missed something come with me.." I said, guessing that in my rush I might have passed over importantly. Taltari nodded and came along. Reaching the northern slope, we both looked around. Suddenly, I spied something. "A cave! look up there!" Taltari glanced up and nodded. A roar rumbled out of the cavern. It sent me mad with worry. "Zalima!!" I cried, starting to scramble towards the cave. I raced in quickly, to see Zalima panting heavily, out of roars.
"Zalima! love! There you are I was so worried!" Taltari entered, and sat down a distance away. Shortly after I came in, Ntchwaidumela arrived. I nodded to him, then looked to Zalima again "Is it time? I mean are you starting I mean what is happening?!" Zalima tightened up, growling in agony. Taltari softly whispered to me,
"Um, I think its time Siombe." I blinked and stepping back and pacing worriedly. I was obviously unconcerned of my wounds, lending Ntch to wonder how bad I was hurt. Zalima panted at me,
"Siombe..." But I was running on adrenaline, guessing that I would feel it in the morning. A shadow came over the cavern and Sera came into the dark cave from the outside, out of breath. I looked at Zalima moving from side to side, not knowing what to do. Zalima saw the other lioness and looked a bit more relieved. Taltari stood as door guard, making sure no one got too close. Suddenly Zalima tightened up her muscles and growled loudly through clenched teeth. Sera ran to Zalima's side and watched her a moment before looking to the others.
"How long has she been in labor?" she asked. I looked over at Zalima, still pacing worriedly
"I don't know..I don't know.." I said quickly, lying down and sitting up again, "So much is happening I can't handle this all.." Zalima panted and spoke through her winces,
"I... I... couldn't...." She growled again "I... too much pain..." Taltari came over and sat by me while I winced and continued to look on nervously. Sera sat down behind her and stroked her head.
"It's going to be okay.. just remember to breathe. Deep breaths." Zalima dug her claws into the rock beneath her paws. I watched Zalima, feeling a bit faint myself. Zalima clenched up after taking a deep breath. She grunted and pushed, trying to get a cub through the birth canal. I winced with Zalima and tensed strongly. Sera nodded and stroked her head gently.
"That's it, when you're ready, go ahead and do it." Zalima then stood up on her hind legs, leaned on bent front legs and tensed all her muscles. As she pushed, I could see a small, round object appear at her opening. Then in a moment that I shall never forget, Msmangu popped out. I blinked and suddenly Msmangu mewled. Zakali, Pride Rock's majordomo, arrived. Zalima relaxed a little and looked at her son. Sera put a paw to her back. "There you go.." I awwwed softly and padded over slowly to Msmangu as Zalima began cleaning him off. Zakali alighted softly, blinking at the sight. It was a wonderful moment and through all the pain I smiled widely
"I'm a father.." I whispered softly to the loud mewls of my son. Zalima licked the wetness from the cub and smiled before another wave of pain overtook her. Zakali fluttered to a halt and landed, shedding a tear. It was a beautiful moment, and I moved in to slide Msmangu out of the way slowly so he would not get hurt. Zalima winced and tightened again. She roared out her pain and returned to her previous position. I purred to Msmangu and continued cleaning him looking up at Zalima proudly. Sera stood aside and watched, allowing it all to happen but standing nearby for support.
Unfortunately, amongst the five successful births Zalima also had two stillborn cubs. There was a sad moment for a while, one which Zalima and I mourned together. The lioness went to sleep shortly after, unable to stay awake after all the work of birth. I looked at Zalima and how she was sleeping with her cubs cuddled close beside her. Suddenly feeling a bit of pain, I asked him to find Amathambo. The action of the night had left my wounds uncared for, and dangerously exposed. Taltari acquiesced, and went to get the panther who was not too far off.
As Taltari left, my attention turned to a slowly brightening corner of the cavern, one I had not noticed before. I glanced at my new family, making sure they were safe before rising to check out what I thought could be a new danger. Stepping carefully around the corner, my mouth dropped in silent amazement. There was life in this volcano, a whole lot of it! I could see lush grass, trees, and even in the distance a sparkling lake.
I glanced upward, through a massive blue hole in the top of the volcano, brightness streamed in. It was warm, and radiantly pleasant to feel, even with my injured body. Squinting, I could just make out the edge of my old friend, beginning to poke its way into the circle of blue. I smiled up at it as it threw shadows across the lands. The silhouettes danced with joy , flickering, stretching, shrinking and eventually fading away. I observed this phenomenon with my face softening. A dark chapter had just ended. I could feel something beneficent, vibrant, and good...