Vikali - Vikali, Epsi, Utamu
What if Mzohari was angry with her? The King appeared to still be sleeping soundly, and Kiini still seemed to be out cold. Is the cub alright? Yes, yes, he must be. He's breathing, at least. Vikali tries to console herself and calm her nervous thoughts. Ever since Kucha flew off somewhere, she couldn't remember where or why, she had been sitting in the grass, a small distance away from Mzohari's son, watching the young cub carefully.
Oh, where was this girl? Epsi had been flying for what must of been at least five days, but so far had not found the cub he had been sent for. He gives his wings a few quick beats, his wings swept back as he glides gracefully through the air. The swallow glances down briefly, expecting to see the usual blank expanse of grasslands with a few antelope roaming them, but is shocked to spot not one, not two, but four lions! He is so surprised that he nearly flies straight into a tree and twitters loudly as he swerves sharply out of the way.
If she is honest with Mzohari, she may get his disapproval, but at least he'd be pleased that she admitted what they'd done... right? A loud twittering coming from her left shakes Vikali from her thoughts. She jerks her head around to see what's causing the racket and spots the swallow gliding not-so-gracefully away from a tree. Heh, looked like he just avoided it.
A little shaken from his near-collision, Epsi reflects that he shouldn't let his concentration drop like that. Doing so could end up getting him injured, or worse, eaten. His eyes sweep across the assembled lions and realises that all of them seem to be dozing... apart from one, who appears to be watching him. The bird scrutinizes Vikali carefully. He had wanted to speak to an adult, but still, this cub may be of help. Swooping low over the grass, Epsi alights on a rock near the small lioness, near enough to talk without shouting but far away enough to fly if she thought about pouncing him.
Odd, the bird is coming nearer... Oh well, an easy meal was on it's way. Vikali crouches low against the earth, preparing to pounce Epsi as he flies low over the grass, but suddenly remembers Kucha's advice of not attacking birds. She drops out her 'attack' pose and stands up instead, watching with interest as the swallow as he lands on the rock.
"Good afternoon!" Epsi cheerfully calls out to Vikali, shifting slightly as he makes himself more comfortable. It'd been a while since he'd had a good break. "I don't suppose you could tell me where I am, exactly?" he asks politely, cocking his head to one side.
Moving closer towards Epsi so she doesn't have to talk so loud that she risks waking any of the other lions, Vikali replies with a faint smile, "Hello there. And yes, I can." The cub stops and sits down when she's just a couple of metres from the swallow; she doesn't want him to think she was going to catch him. "This is one of the western borders of the Kopje Valley. Why, are you lost?"
Epsi shakes his head briefly, "No, no, rather the opposite. I'm trying to find someone." He looks about himself a few times, trying to get an idea of where things were in his head. Sounds like this place had a Pride... "If you could direct me to the King here, I would much appreciate it." he adds with a friendly smile.
Vikali looks behind her to the fast asleep King in question, Mzohari's great mane shifting slightly in time with his breathing. Glancing back at Epsi, she points over towards Mzohari with a paw and says, "He's over there, but I don't think he's gonna be waking up anytime soon." She looks back at the bird, noticing with interest the glossy shine to his feathers, and suggests, "Is it something I could help with, perhaps?"
Epsi ruffles his wing feathers in irritation and a frown. Uhodari didn't spend all day snoozing, unlike half of the Kings the swallow had met, he was always out doing important things. "I don't know... but no harm in finding out." he concludes with a wink. Well, if this was her Pride, there was always a chance she might know. "Has your Pride come across any cubs recently?" The bird thinks for a second, then elaborates, "Well, the other way around really. I'm trying to locate one that disappeared from my Pride, or rather, from the Pride that sent me."
The cub giggles at this new bird's wink, and then turns her head to listen with rapt attention. "What d'you me-?" Vikali asks curiously, before stopping mid-sentence as the swallow explains himself. Her ears prick up with interest, eyebrows raising in growing hope and surprise. Could he be talking about...? Deciding to find out more before she gets too excited, she asks hurriedly, "What Pride are you from? When did she disappear?"
Now it's Epsi's turn to raise his eyebrows. This young one seems rather excited about the whole thing he reflects inwardly to himself. "The Kupotea; a small Pride far south from here-" he says, before pausing and asking suspiciously, "How did you know the cub was a she? Have you come across her?"
Vikali's tail begins to beat furiously about behind her, a smile of joy breaking out on her face. "It's me!" she exclaims in her excitement, causing Epsi to flinch back in surprise and then to give her a rather blank look. When she realises he doesn't know what she means, she adds, "Vikali!"
Erk! So noisy these cubs... what was she on about? When Vikali explains herself, the swallow almost does a double take. "Vikali?" he says curiously, then more enthusiastically, "Vikali! Yes, it must be you!" He should of seen it from the off, really. Light tan fur, green eyes, and she is about the right age- no, is the age that fits the description! Epsi laughs at his blindness to the obvious, then flutters to a spot nearer the young lioness and exclaims, "Oh, your mother will be thrilled!"
Vikali's heart rises so high that she half-thinks it may actually fly out of her throat, before it sinks back slightly as she remembers. She had given up hope of finding her Pride and family, and mere days later someone has found her. Trying to not let this upset at herself show, she asks eagerly, "How is everyone? How is mom? And dad?" It's as Vikali asks these questions that she realises with a pang of guilt that she can't remember how either of her parents look like; she can only vaguely remember their names.
Epsi's joy is soon smothered by the lioness' questions; this wouldn't be good. His voice becomes gentle as a sympathetic look appears on his face. "I... err..." He sighs. "It's... a long story. I'll tell you on the way, we shouldn't dawdle."
The small lioness' hear sinks, the smile sliding off her muzzle and being replaced by a worried look. "On our way? Are they alright?" Vikali asks quickly, "Tell me they're alright-" she starts, before remembering that she doesn't know the swallow's name, so stops half sentence, looking worriedly at the bird.
The swallow turns his head to one side, not being able to bring himself to look at Vikali. "Your... your father was killed. Your mother has been injured in an accident, and we need to get back to her as soon as possible. She's alive, but in no state to hunt. If I remember correctly, she is a few suns flight from here south." He lowers his head slightly more, then adds softly, "And my name's Epsi."
Vikali's eyes widen at the sound of her father's death, shock etched on every inch of her leonine face. She had barely known him, and she won't have the chance to now, ever... Feeling tears rushing to her eyes, her only thought now are of rejoining her mother. She must see her before... "Please, lead the way Epsi." she urges the swallow.
Raising his head up alertly, Epsi replies, "Yes, yes, of course. Immediately." He won't fly as fast as it took him to get here, considering the cub's size and that she will obviously be slower than him, so the bird settles for gliding just ahead of Vikali at a reasonable pace. Utamu will so happy that he had found her daughter! Presuming, of course, the cub's mother hadn't been attacked... the swallow shudders briefly at the thought.
Vikali immediately dashes off after Epsi, following him closely at a brisk trot, almost a half-run, so concerned for her mother that she doesn't look back. After several minutes of this, it occurs to her that she had promised Tangaza that she would never go away again like how she had after Kadesh attacked her... Tears well up in her eyes again, as thoughts of Tanga enter her head, of how it affected him when she had left before... No, she tells herself. He will understand. This is different... this is family.
After several days of travel, Vikali's fears were starting to get the better of her, that her mother had wandered off or had been attacked. It had been a fairly un-eventful journey, with little food and little time to relax, or even sleep. But she had found out quite a bit of what had happened, though, from Epsi.
It wasn't long after the lionesses had returned from the hunt that they realised that Vikali wasn't there, and proceeded to search the Kupotea's lands. By a stroke of misfortune, they had started with the waterhole to the southwest, and by the time they got to checking the northern boundaries, the cub had disappeared.
Her mother, who according to Epsi, is called Utamu, and has short taupe fur quite similar to Vikali's. Her father was a young male called Kubwa, who bore peach-coloured fur, a short brown mane, and light blue eyes. According to the swallow, when the cub had disappeared, they spent almost every waking moment trying to find her, barely sleeping.
One night, Utamu's mate didn't return to the grove of trees where the Pride slept. She waited patiently until the morning when, wracked with worry for Kubwa, she went out searching for him, accompanied by Epsi as a scout and one of her closest friends. After almost an entire day's searching where he said he was going to be checking, Utamu spied what looked like her mate sleeping on the ground.
She broke out into a sprint, accompanied at by the fast Epsi, until she approached her love's body. Kubwa was lying on the ground with his face to one side, numerous vicious-looking scratch marks covering his face and neck. He wasn't breathing. From the state his body was in, and after the bird had asked around if anyone saw what happened, it was discovered that a rogue lion had happened across Kubwa while he was searching and attacked him for no apparent reason, catching the other by surprise.
Heartbroken, having lost both her mate and daughter, the latter literally, Utamu eventually returned to the Kupotea and informed the King and what family she had left of her plans, then set off northwards, determined to find Vikali, not wanting to believe her only daughter dead. She was accompanied by her faithful friend and companion, Epsi.
There were few problems on Utamu's search, bar one or two incidents involving a few jackals and an ill-tempered snake. She spent far too little time hunting, and lost rather a lot of weight by the time she had made it to where she is now.
According to Epsi, one day at dusk, Utamu had taken it upon herself to do a bit of hunting, having not eaten in a while. She had spotted a small herd of Impala, and was stalking across a hilltop towards the ungulates when it happened. She was so intent on her targets that, while she was moving stealthily beside the edge, she accidentally placed one of her paws on a smooth pebble and slipped over and off the edge.
Utamu had rolled hard down the small, rocky slope and was only stopped when she had collided back first with a tree at the bottom. The swallow said she was lucky: if the tree had been any higher, the injuries would have been much graver. As it was, however, she had greatly damaged her back, to the extent where walking caused her pain, and consequentially, she can't hunt.
Knowing that she can't survive much longer without hunting, and that she won't be able to continue her search, Utamu had sent Epsi looking for the lioness' daughter, hoping that the speedy bird would be able to locate her. And he certainly did, the swallow had said, Vikali noted with a touch of pride in his voice, in a matter of days.
Vikali glanced at the swallow perched on her shoulder, wondering how such a small bird could possibly have flown so fast and far away from Utamu. Epsi had said he had been travelling a few suns - they had been travelling for six, and now was the start of the seventh. Already, the sun was starting to rise to the cub's right, the sky a warm reddish hue. Flickering her gaze towards the bird on her shoulder, she gently noses him awake, and asks as she had done every morning of their journey, "How much further do we have to go?"
Epsi almost loses his perch on the lioness when she noses him, starting, as he is jolted from his dreams. "Wuh?" the swallow asks blearily, before waking himself up a little better with a yawn and ruffle of his feathers. He replies apologetically, "Oh my, I'm so sorry Vikali, I must of dozed off." It's understandable, considering the fact that they hadn't had much sleep during their trip. Epsi takes off from the cub's shoulders, his wings gently brushing against her head, and rises up into the air, surveying the land.
The young lioness shrugs and mumbles something about it being fine to the swallow, but inwardly envies how Epsi is able to drift off that easily. All Vikali could think of on the journey was her mother, injured, without any help, and waiting for assistance, so much so that the cub barely managed to get to sleep, kept up for hours by her thoughts. As the swallow starts assessing the land, Vikali calls up, "What do you see, Epsi? Are we near?"
Epsi frowns slightly. It's hard to make things out properly in this light. Although... that hill looks familiar, with the acacia tree surrounded by rocks at the top. And that figure lying on the rocks... is it? Squinting minutely at the figure, the swallow answers his own question. Looking down at his young charge, he replies excitedly, "I can see her, Vikali! Head for that small rise over there!" before soaring over towards the lioness on the rocks, twittering cheerfully to himself.
All thoughts of sleep drop from Vikali's mind at the bird's news, looking from Epsi over towards the rise he mentioned as her ears perk up with excitement. They had found her, after all that walking! The cub shakes off the shackles of her tiredness as she begins to sprint towards the rise, reaching the slope sooner than she expected, continuing on at the same pace as she heads towards the acacia tree on top.
Another night with little sleep. She had been having a fantastic dream about her and her beloved mate, walking the lands of the Kupotea together... Utamu sighs deeply. The lioness had been awoken from her dream by her back. All she needs to do is move it in the wrong position and it started hurting. The way she is lying now, however, meant that she is free from back pains and can keep an eye out over the nearby lands. Although the view, while magnificent, starts to lose it's 'oomph' after more than a dozen days of watching it.
Utamu tilts her head to one side, away from the sun, and is surprised to see a familiar shape flying in the sky towards her. And, looking down, she could see what appeared to be a cub running through the grass... The lioness raises her head up higher, looking eagerly at the new arrivals. It must be them! Ignoring the protests from her back, the lioness stands up and leaps down from the rocks, trotting as fast as she can towards the cub.
As Vikali runs up the slope, she watches with a rising heart as the lioness on the rocks jumps down and makes her way towards the cub. The juvenile exclaims, "Mum!" loudly as she reaches Utamu, the young cub eagerly rubbing herself against one of her mother's forelegs, purring deeply. She had found her mother, at long last!
Utamu face breaks out into a smile as the cub reaches her, answering the cub with a heartfelt, "Oh, Vikali!" The lioness leans her head down to rub her muzzle against her daughter's neck, tears of joy leaking gently from her eyes. "Oh Vikali, I've missed you so much... I've not stopped worrying about you since the day you ran off from the Pride."
Epsi flutters to a halt mid-air, watching with a tender smile on his face his dear friend re-unites with her daughter. They'll probably be want to be left alone, he thinks to himself. Ah well, he could use some more sleep as it is. The swallow swoops down towards the acacia and lands neatly on one of it's branches, before settling himself into a comfortable position and closing his eyes.
Vikali finishes circling Utamu and looks up at her mother's face with slightly bloodshot eyes. It had been so long since she had seen her. "Mum... I... I didn't mean to leave the Pride, really." the cub explains with more than a touch of sadness in her voice, "I was just following you and the other lionesses hunting... I only wanted to do a bit of exploring, but then you all ran off after something, and then I couldn't find you or the way back..."
The words tumble in a rush from Vikali's mouth, having waited so long to explain herself to Utamu, trailing off as she feels tears well up in her eyes. Speaking softly, she mumbles a small, "I'm sorry." before burying her head in her mother's leg, sobbing gently.
Utamu gazes down at Vikali as she speaks, listening with a mixture of curiosity and wanting to let her daughter get it off her chest. When the cub apologizes and tries to hide her face in the elder lioness' leg, Utamu wraps her other foreleg gently around Vikali's body, holding the juvenile tight against her. Leaning her muzzle down to the juvenile, she soothingly whispers, "It's alright, dear... please don't cry."
Vikali stays with her mother for several days, spending almost every waking moment with her, often accompanied by Epsi the swallow, who has grown on the cub since she first met him. The two females spend a fair amount of their time discussing things, including life in the Kupotea, Utamu and Kubwa, and whether Vikali found any male lions she liked yet.
However, the cub frequently goes out on hunting for the two of them; due to Utamu's back injury, the older female is unable to hunt for herself. Although Vikali's trips are always successful, the gains are small: several field mice between the two lionesses. After observing the results of Vikali's hunting, Epsi realises that the two felines won't be sustained for long on such meals, especially the elder. If Utamu has realised this too, she keeps the information to herself.
"And for the last time mother, no, I don't think I've met Tangaza's parents, or know who they are." Vikali replies to her mother on what must be the fourth evening, with a grin on her muzzle. "Although I do know he's the King's nephew, or something like that."
"Oh? Really? Does he have a mane yet? What sort of food does he like?" Utamu asks curiously, her tail swaying about on the rock where the two of them are sitting. "Is he well-mannered?"
Honestly, Utamu is almost as bad as her. Giddy and excitable as a cub... although Vikali at least had an excuse for that. Giggling at her mother, the cub inhales deeply and replies, "He doesn't have a mane yet mom, he's too young, I'm not sure what food he likes although I've a sneaky feeling it's pretty much anything he can get his paws on, and sometimes." She pants slightly when she finishes, trying to regain her breath.
Utamu smirks at her daughter's breathlessness and stretches one of her forelegs over to ruffle the top of Vikali's head with a paw. "Silly." she taunts the cub, then gently chastises, "You should take your time with your wor-" before stopping mid-sentence with a grimace. Pain had just shot up her back, causing the lioness to arch her neck.
Vikali giggles and half-heartedly bats away her mother's paw when her head is ruffled, her tail flicking about as it always does when she's in a playful mood. At her mother's grimace, however, the smile drops from the cub's face and is replaced by a look of worry. "Mum!" she cries out in worry, getting up and padding up closer to Utamu. "Mum, are you okay?"
The honest answer would be 'no'. Utamu's back pains had been getting worse over the past few days, and her stomach isn't much better, due to her lack of food. Although she would never tell Vikali, she doubts her chances of living for much longer. Wincing slightly, the lioness lowers her head to the cub and replies in a strained voice, "No... I'm not, Vikali. My back's getting to me again, and my stomach's not helping things."
Vikali leans her head up to gently nuzzle her mother, purring softly in an attempt to comfort the elder. "I'm sorry about your back mom... but I may be able to help with your stomach, if you like. I just hope the diet of mice isn't getting too boring. I could always see if Epsi would mind getting you some insects, if you would prefer..." The cub glances up at the bird in question, who's currently fast asleep and perched on the nearby acacia tree.
Utamu returns her daughter's nuzzle lovingly with a purr, before moving her head back so she can listen to Vikali some better. At the offer of Epsi's hunting skills, the elder hurriedly says, "No!" then in a slightly calmer voice with a soft smile, "No, don't bother Epsi with it... I'm not big on insects at the moment. But if you want to go hunting dear, please feel free too. And no, I'm not getting too tired of mice." she adds with wink. Utamu leans close to the cub and gives her a tender lick on the forehead, messing Vikali's fur up.
Smiling brightly, Vikali gives an enthusiastic, "Sure! I'll make sure to try and get you some extra big ones mom!" as she gazes happily up at her mother. When Utamu leans down, the cub gives the elder's chin a friendly lick, before trotting off down the side of the hill and starting to scout for tonight's meal for the two of them.
Utamu watches her daughter as she makes her way out into the grasslands with a gentle smile. It had been worth the journey and trials to see her again... well worth it. She glances up briefly at the dozing swallow. And it couldn't have been done without Epsi. He had been her friend since she was but a cub... The lioness returns her gaze to the plains where Vikali's hunting and then over at the setting sun. A sudden, immense feeling of tiredness falls over Utamu, as though she had been sprinting all day. It was time for a nap... yes, she's just in the mood for a good sleep... She looks over to her daughter once more, who appear to be having a bit of luck with the mice, then gently lowers her head onto her paws and closes her eyes.
A few hours later, when night has truly descended onto the land, Vikali makes her way back to the rise where she met Utamu, several field mice dangling by their tails from her mouth. She's quite happy with herself: she had managed to get a good haul, and a couple of the rodents she acquired are much fatter than normal. Making her way up the small hill, she notices her mother lying out on one of the larger rocks, eyes closed. Ah, she must have decided to forgo dinner and go to bed early.
Reaching the pile of stones, Vikali clambers up onto one beside her mother's and deposits the dead mice next to Utamu's muzzle. A snack for when she wakes up. The cub climbs back down to the grass, reasoning that it would be safer for her to be here if the elder lioness moves about during the night. She had been woken up by Utamu's tossing and turning before. Smiling up at her mother for a few seconds, Vikali then curls up into a tight ball and falls asleep.
It is not until halfway through morning the next day when Vikali wakes up with a start. She had been having another nightmare about Kadesh. The cub raises her head and glances about herself, before stretching out on the ground with a large yawn. Odd... she normally didn't sleep this far into the day. Shrugging, Vikali stands up and turns around to face her mother. Still asleep? Honestly, she is usually up at the crack of dawn.
"Mum, time to get up!" Vikali calls, scrabbling across various rocks until she stands on one beside her mother's head. Frowning slightly, the cub continues to try and wake Utamu with loud calls of, "Muum! Mum!" She must be sleeping heavier than a warthog. Vikali places her forepaws on the elder lioness' chest and gives her a little shake. Slightly worried, she asks timidly, "Mum?" It isn't like her mother to take no notice of her.
Hrm? What was that? Sounds like Vikali... Epsi stirs, awoken by the cub's continuing calls, and leans over the branch to see why she's making all that noise. Tilting his head to one side, he sees Vikali trying to wake her mother, with no success. The swallow stops and thinks with a frown on his face. Utamu never slept in, and was a very light sleeper. Then why isn't she responding to Vika- Understanding hits Epsi like a small warthog. A tear leaks from one of the swallow's eyes. Oh, poor Vikali...
Not having noticed that Epsi is awake, all her attention fixed on her silent mother, Vikali really starts to worry. She gives Utamu a harder push in the chest, determined that her mother is just really sleepy. "Mum?" she repeats hopefully, before moving over to near Utamu's head and giving her neck a gentle nose. "Come on mom, get up." Her mother would never ignore her like this, especially when she's clearly this worried...
A thought creeps into Vikali's mind. Over the past few days, Utamu seemed to be in more pain and her movements gradually became more subdued... And then the cub realises that her mother isn't breathing. Vikali stumbles backwards off the rock, landing hard on her behind but not feeling the pain. No... she couldn't be... "Mum!" she cries out loudly as tears begin to run down her cheeks.
Epsi swoops down out of the acacia, landing neatly on one of the rocks below, quite near to Vikali. He opens his beak, then pauses, trying to work out when would be the best time. "Vikali..." he begins, trailing off as he flutters over to the cub, his claws barely making a sound against the stone.
Vikali starts when Epsi lands beside her, blinking away tears, looking at the bird for a few seconds but not seeing, before back at her mother. She struggles up onto all fours, then runs over to the larger lioness and tugs at one of Utamu's forelegs futilely, trying to get her up. But one can't bring the dead back to life. After a few desperate tugs, Vikali lets go of her mother's leg and moves back to look at Utamu's face. Sniffing, she mumbles out an almost inaudible, "Mum..." before lowering her head, eyes closed.
The swallow hesitates when he startles Vikali, but says nothing and lowers his gaze when the cub rushes over to her mother. Epsi partially knows how the cub must feel: Utamu had been his best friend, they had known each other since when he was a mere chick and she was a baby cub. But it must be so much worse for Vikali. He sighs, then flaps his wings a couple of times to bring him alongside the mourning cub. After a few seconds of gazing at his departed friend, Epsi wraps a wing around the nearest of the cub's forelegs, not being tall enough to reach her shoulders. "I... I'm sorry, Vikali."
Vikali slumps low to the ground, leaning near to the swallow beside her. Her face screwed up with sadness, she says with a sigh, "It's all my fault, Epsi. If I hadn't ran off when I was a cub, mom wouldn't be..." she trails off, unable to finish her sentence.
Epsi shakes his head, squeezing Vikali's foreleg with his entwined wing. "Don't blame yourself, Vikali. You didn't mean to leave the Kupotea, you've told me that." he says in a comforting tone, barely holding back his own tears. He lightly pecks the cub's paw to get her to look at him, then says softly, "It's not your fault. And I'm sure Utamu wouldn't want you to be blaming yourself."
The cub listens to Epsi's reassuring words, but thinks about the day she snuck off from the Pride to go exploring. Vikali's thoughts are sharply interrupted by the swallow's peck, causing her to look around at her friend in curiosity. After hearing what Epsi has to say, she mutely nods her head, before turning back to look at the lioness who she knew for such a short amount of time. After a few moments, Vikali moves closer to Utamu, and upon reaching her, gently rubs her small muzzle against her mother's, eyes closed as she cries softly.
Eventually, evening arrives. Vikali looks upon her mother one last time, her gaze lingering upon the lioness for several long moments, before eventually turning and starting down the hill. Lying next to Utama's head are the mice that her daughter had caught the night before. Epsi had tried to persuade Vikali to eat them, they had a long journey ahead of them after all, but she declined. They were going to stay there, as a sign for the love she had for her mother.
Seeing how he had developed a liking for Vikali and that he had nowhere else to go, Epsi had asked to join the cub in Kopje Valley. Touched, she had agreed, and now the swallow is perched once again on his friend's shoulder as Vikali makes her way down the hill, guiding her back home. Behind them, on top of the rise, the last dying rays of the sun shine warmly upon the body of Utamu, her fur warm in the light, before fading with the coming of the night.