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The Coming of Meersha
By Baby Fire Wolf
This is the tale of one lioness. Just one, who brought forth a greater part in the royal pride. An anecdote, taking place under King Ahadi's reign, but joined in the royal pride beneath the Kingdom ruled by Mufasa.
Part II: The Adolescent
Right, well so far I've been writing "Part III: The Adult" and editing and revising "Part II: The Adolescent" at the same time. Now I've decided to put up Part II just because. I know there are a lot of mistakes still in it and it still needs to be rewritten in many parts, you will see for yourself, since I haven't finished. When I get my computer working properly, though, I'll end up updating Part II because then I will be able to have Microsoft Word helping me out with spelling and whatnot. For now, you'll just have to read the partly edited Part II or wait for the updated version which probably won't be for awhile. This one's still good to me, though, so enjoy!
I The Cub
1. New Ones
2. Meersha's Name
5. Mud and Trouble
5. Benighted Water
6. Leader Stress
7. First Carcass
8. One Eyed-Freak
9. The Rogues' Revelation
II The Adolescent
11. Deformed Elephants
12. A Cheetah's Weakness
13. The Dawn of Adolescence
14. Cubs Once More
15. A Free Ride
16. Because of Study
17. An Old Face
18. A New Journey to Start
21. Two of the Drie-Leeu
22. The Deal
23. A Hunt
24. What was Left
25. Killing the Killer
III The Adult
26. A New Meersha
27. Only Two Now
28. The Ceremony
29. Unexpected Bloodshed
30. Her Dying Wish
32. By the River
33. Gatu's Quest
35. Heavy Sentiments
36. A Fight in the Rain
37. The New Pride
38. Cubs, Establishments and Travels
39. Same Blood
40. (Still being written)
Meersha (Daughter of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-sister of Kasha, Banjija, half-sister -younger- of Chusuka)
Kasha (Son of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-brother of Banjija and Kasha, half-brother -younger- of Chusuka)
Banjija (Son of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-brother of Kasha and Meersha, half-brother -younger- of Chusuka)
Kinara (Lioness of White-Feather Pride, mother of Meersha, Kasha, Banjija and Chusuka)
Ashuma (Leader of the White-Feather Pride)
Bayna (Lioness of White-Feather Pride, mother of Lusala and Pashi)
Lusala (Daughter of Bayna and Ashuma, sister of Pashi)
Pashi (Daughter of Bayna and Ashuma, sister of Lusala)
Chusuka (Lioness of White-Feather Pride, daughter of Kinara and Tambi, mother of Toga)
Toga (Son of Chusuka and Ashuma)
Dashu (Once leader of White-Feather Pride, father of Kinara)
Tambi (Once leader of White-Feather Pride, father of Chusuka)
Shashi (Lioness-shaman of White-Feather Pride)
Kuda (Lioness of White-Feather Pride)
Tanda (Lioness of White-Feather Pride)
Helalu (Lioness of White-Feather Pride)
Gatu (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Tokto (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Shap (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Daba (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Naynana (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Bondu (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Kiku (Lion cub in White-Feather Pride)
Chaska (Rouge lion)
My New Characters
Gali (Female hippo)
Unaro (Rouge lion)
Natira (Wild shaman, grandmother of Unaro)
Ahadgna (Leader of the Broken-Claw)
Yawnda (Lioness of the Broken-Claw)
Chioke (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna)
Kumba (Rogue lion)
Gonra (Lioness of the Broken-Claw)
Bahashi (Lioness of the Broken-Claw)
Ignu (Lioness of the Broken-Claw)
Uhawku (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, part of the Drie-Leeu)
Hawkna (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, part of the Drie-Leeu)
Kikaru, Zarazu (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, part of the Drie-Leeu)
Rombu (Son -adopted- of Meersha and Zarazu)
Izegbe (Meersha's Broken-Claw name)
The sun, the air, the atmophere itself seemed to grow thicker with heat each and every minute. Even the cubs' dreams were filled with a vervid sensation. The three of them would be found on a short plain, lying near each other with limbs sprawled out while they each twitched, as if trying to get out of a fake reality. It was when a bird with five eyes stared at Meersha did she finally let the dreams come. For, if she woke up, she knew something was going to make her upset. Something wasn't right in her real life and world. It - whatever it was - lie right outside of her dreams' reach, as well as her memory's. The cub hadn't a clue what it was that made her stay asleep and not wake up...yet. Then, her memory came back in a painful flash.
Meersha, Banjija and Gatu were hurrying away, off into an unknown world of the night, leaving the life they had always known, behind. Their family and friends and home weren't meant ever to be seen again by them.
Roars and the sounds of a lion brawl were mixted with chirping crickets as the cubs frantically scampered into the savannah, through the long, yellow grass. Their mother - at least Meersha and Banjija's - was back near the borders they had just left. She was fighting a lion called Chaska. She was saving their lives.
Meersha had looked up to the stars as she had run between her brother and Gatu, her now blue-green eyes beginning to water once more. Her mother had said that Kasha - her other brother - and her father Ashuma, as well as the other cubs were now up in the stars. But they looked as faraway as ever.
They ran for what seemed like hours, stopping every now and then to catch their breath and reflect on what had just happened. Finally, they had curled up on that open plain, too shocked and dazed to have remembered its exposure was dangerous. But, when sleep came, the day did, too, and they soon rolled from each other as the sun's warmth became too much to bear while mixed with body heat.
Ow, Meersha thought to herself in her sleep. Something had pulled at her skin and fur. But how could it hurt? It was just a dream, and Kinara had always told her she couldn't get hurt in dreams...Meersha laid down in the green grass. Green. She had seen it only once before in real life, and now she had miles of it in her dream, surrounding her. She rolled over, trying to enjoy herself and push the flashbacks away, when suddenly the same thing happened. "Ow," she said aloud in her dream that time. But as she looked around, nothing was there but the great blades of the grass. She huffed at nothing when it happened once more. "Ow! Stop!" she cried, for this time it had gotten her face, and a sharp pain raced through her nerves as she flinched.
"Wake up!" someone finally yelled, and Meersha did just that, instantly.
She sat up, and growled, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the light. Finally, her pupils, small, she looked around, seeing all the vulchers about them. They were pecking at the cubs. Meersha jumped up and gave a little roar, only to have the birds hop back and forth, but continuing to peck at her and her brother, who had been the one to wake her.
"They won't go away," Banjija desperately hissed.
"Gatu," Meersha said, dodging the sharp beak of one of the scavangers. She put her paw on his side and his right eye opened.
"M-meersha. W-where are we?" he asked.
Meersha shook her head. "I don't know," she answered.
"But we have t' get away from these creeps," Banjija then snarled, motioning to the vulchers. "Hurry and get up!"
The three cubs darted off to take cover in the long grass. The birds only followed in the air, soaring around above them.
"We're not dead!" Banjija called up to them.
Some had left, but two were still keeping an eye on the cubs, just waiting for either of them to drop down and rot.
"C'mon, let's get some shade," suggested Meersha.
They hurriedly scrambled under a near tree, atop a small hill and looked around, curiously.
"So this is what it's like outside of the territory," exclaimed Banjija, laying down and frowning. "I always thought it would be fun out here, on an adventure...but it's not."
"W-well at le-least we have ea-each o-other," Gatu meowed.
Banjija turned to glare at him. "We're hungry, thirsty, lost, getting pecked at by vulchers, alone without the pride, and that's all you have t' say? Oh, wait...you have my sister!"
Gatu tilted his head and Meersha hissed at her brother, batting at him. "That's not it, Banjija!"
"What about lastnight? Before the rogues came, I saw him jump on you!" Banjija replied, sitting up again.
"Yeah, he did, but if anything, he saved me!"
"He did?" Banjija asked at the same time Gatu said, "I did?"
Meersha nodded. "Remember, Banjija, that one time I wandered off when we were younger?" He nodded. "Well I was telling the truth about that water. It, like...swirled around and showed me a picture of the night."
"Yeah. And there was this creature in it, coming t' get me!"
"Now you're just acting like a cub," Banjija said, rolling his eyes and facing away.
"I told you you wouldn't believe me!" Meersha snapped.
"I believe you," Gatu said, quietly.
"Oh shut it," Banjija growled.
"No. It's true! It happened once, and Mom saved me. The second time Gatu did, right before that creature almost pounced me!"
Her brother turned to her. "So," he said. "Creature, eh? What kind of creature?"
Meersha shook her head and sighed. "I don't know...It was all black and so blended in with the night...I couldn't tell...but it's eyes were the color of blood..."
"Now it's a tale for a cub!" Banjija said, smirking.
"Ugh," Meersha grumbled, knowing she'd never convince her brother unless he saw it.
Then, the female looked up, seeing nothing but grasslands of gold, yellow, red and even a couple patches of green here and there. "We have to find something to eat," she stated at Gatu's growling stomach.
"H-how? We've ne-never hunted by our-ourselves before?" asked Gatu as they began down the hill.
Banjija shook his head, rolling his eyes. "So? I have!"
"You have?" the others both replied at the same time, voices blanketed in curiousity.
"Yeah," he answered proudly, snickering. "I'll have you know I caught a bird once."
Meersha giggled and Gatu couldn't help a small chuckle.
Banjija turned sharply to them. "It's harder than it seems! They have wings, ya know!"
"Hey! What are those?" Meersha suddenly asked.
The cubs all gasped, and they ran closer to what looked like a herd of small, deformed elephants without trunks. Gatu tilted his head as Meersha laid on her tummy and began to sneak up to them.
"We're not supposed to hunt elephants," hissed Banjija, whiched surprised both Meersha and Gatu at him for following what was once the rules.
"I'm not. I'm just gonna ask them for help," replied the cub as she stalked closer.
Banjija snarled and pounced on her. "We can't just ask someone for help! We don't have Mom or Dad or the pride...we're alone! On our own!"
Meersha pushed him off and ignorantly bound off, over to the creatures. Both the other cubs gasped again and quickly followed. Suddenly, one of the great animals swirved her head to them. She looked like a younger one due to her small structure.
"Hey," she said, making Meersha stop abruptly, which caused her brother and Gatu to run into her. A strange sound, like low grunting would emit from behind the creature's lips. "What are you doing here?"
"I, uh...was wondering if you could help us hunt...?" suggested Meersha, taking a couple steps back.
The animal made another laughing noise as she stepped forward towards the cubs. "Hunt? We don't hunt. Now get away! Mom and Dad are gonna be furious if they see lions are around."
"B-but we're just c-cubs!" Gatu cried.
"Is that so? Then where's your family? They're bound to be around here, and then you'll really get in trouble with Dad," she exclaimed.
Meersha shook her head sadly. "We haven't a family anymore."
"Really?" asked the animal, raising a brow.
"Yeah, they chased us off!" yelled Banjija. "They didn't want us so they threw us out like a couple of old carcasses!"
"That's not true!" Meersha hissed, batting at her brother's face. "Anyway," she said, turning to the weird "elephant". "We're really sorry for intruding like this, but we're also really hungry. Do you know how to hunt?"
"I don't hunt," she snorted. "None of us do...Sometimes if a carcass is lying around Dad might go try some of the meat out, but that's about it."
"Scavangers!" hissed Gatu, fearfully. "A-and big ones! Let's g-get out of here!"
He started to backup uneasily, before Banjija smacked him with a paw and said, "Elephants aren't scavangers, ya dork!"
The low laughing started up again, and Gatu gasped, leaping behind a rock.
"We're not elephants," the creature replied.
"You're not?" asked Banjija, frowning.
She shook her head. "We're hippos!"
"Hippos?" asked Meersha and her brother at the same time.
Just then, Gatu climbed out from behind the rock and crawled forward again. "M-my m-mother sa-said hippos were sw-swimming ani-animals," he mewed like a frightened cub, staring up at the she-hippo.
"Yeah, we do swim a lot," she adviced with a nod. "But not all the time. The vast migration has started,"
"M-mom never said hi-hippos mi-migrated."
"We don't." she stated. "But the wildebeest, antelopes and zebras do. We wanted to get out of their way so they don't trample us. See, they travel through our waters."
"Why let some prey push you out of your home? You're big and strong creatures, kill 'em!" Banjija suggested.
She made another laugh-like grunt. "Oh no! There's way too many of them. Thousands! Besides, I told you, we don't hunt."
Banjija finally sighed. "This is getting us no where."
"No wait," said Meersha, before looking up at the hippo again. "Um, Miss...hippo...?"
"My name is Gali," she chuckled.
"Right. Gali. Um," Meersha started. "D' you know where the antelope and the other migrating animals are going?"
"Dad says they travel to find better places to graze, each year. But I don't know where those places are. Why?"
"I was just thinking," and she turned to smirk at the other cubs, who tilted their heads in a confused responce. She sighed and shook her head. "If we follow them, then it's like following food!"
"Right!" Banjija said, happily as he pounced in front of his sister, now getting it. "Sis, you're a genius!"
"No, there's way too many. I don't think you cubs would be able to handle that. I mean, not even we can!"
"I mean when they settled down, though, in their new grazing lands." Meersha said.
"Well you could try. But who knows how long that would take?" exclaimed Gali.
"Yeah. We n-need food n-now," Gatu then aggreed.
Meersha nodded with another sigh. "All right...where are we gonna get it then?"
After a moment of careful thought, Gali said, "I could ask Dad to go to the water hole and grab you a carcass."
"No way! I'm not turning into a scavanger!" hissed Banjija with no further thought.
"OK." said Meersha to Gali. "You would do that for us?"
She nodded, before turning away and trotting to a large male hippo, blanketed in what seemed beads of blood.
"Meersha, I don't want to be a vulcher," complained Banjija.
"We're not. Remember what Mother said? Sometimes we have to take what nature gives us. Sometimes we have to be temporary scavangers."
"So we are." he stated.
Suddenly, there was the sound of thunder as the huge hippo came racing to the cubs. They screamed and turned to run, but the hippo was right on their tails as he snorted. He dipped his head and neck slightly to open his massive mouth, four feet wide with what seemed like long, razor-sharp tusks. Luckily, Meersha, Banjija and Gatu had gotten up a steep hill. The hippo stopped and snorted, trotting around the base of it as they watched fearfully atop the knoll. Ge made a deep grunt and snort, just as Gali had, only it seemed deeper, and the laughter seemed more like laughter than anything. Finally, he turned around and trotted back to his pod.
"What was that all about?" Banjija suddenly and franticly asked, and he couldn't help himself from shaking.
"Guess he d-doesn't want us around h-his family," Gatu said as they turned and began to walk away, tails, heads and ears.
"No one does." Meersha gravely muttered.
A Cheetah's Weakness
When dusk bore into the day, the cubs would be found near a large river, watching as a hundreds, if not, thousands of herd animals moved into the waters, passing angry crocks on their way. A few died in the scurry, being trample or trapped, and still others were killed by those overgrown reptiles. Banjija licked his lips as he stepped forward, eyes wide.
"No," growled Meersha, putting a paw on his chest. "Look at all of 'em. Gali was right. We'll never be able t' catch one."
Gatu couldn't help his stomach from growling and neither could Meersha stop herself from licking her chops as well, gazing intently at the prey.
"Those crocks get all the luck," compalin Banjija.
When night came, the migrating creatures that had not yet past the river quieted down, and so slept near the bank, as did Meersha and the other cubs, right near the waters.
Morning came, and the cubs were still by the river. But Meersha suddenly awoke, looking to see the face of a young hippo.
"Gali!" the lion cried, happily.
Gali dropped the zebra carcass, and suddenly the smell of flesh caused the eyes of Banjija to open, as well as wake up Gatu.
"Yum," Banjija said, licking his lips and staring at the dead animal. "Is that...?"
"Yeah. It's for you three." Gali answered.
They all jumped on the meat and began to dig in.
"Finally, we're first," laughed Banjija with a mouthfull of bloody guts.
"Not really. The crocks had killed this one. I just stole it," the hippo explained casually. "My dad didn't want lions around the pod. Sorry 'bout that yesterday. Anyway, this is the first and last time I'm doing this for you."
"What?!" Banjija cried.
"B-but-" Gatu started.
Gali shook her head. "Sorry, but tommorrow's sunrise, we're going back t' the river."
Meersha suddenly got up and padded forward to plead, "Please, Gali. Do you know anything about hunting?"
"No, but she's an expert on stealing," Banjija remarked with a smirk.
Gali made a laugh-like grunt, only to reply, "I'm not a theif! Besides, I was doing this for you so you better shut it."
The cub laughed before eating some more. Gali then turned to Meersha warily.
"Please, we'll starve," Meersha said.
"I think the best thing for you to do is become scavangers."
"F-forever?" asked Gatu, gravely.
Gali shook her head. "No. Just till you get a little bigger. Or join or make your own pod."
"Pride," corrected Meersha.
"Yeah. Whatever." and she grunted again. "Oh man. Dad's coming. Run!" Gali then cried.
The cubs gasped, looking up from the meat only to see the great hippo charging at them once more. They quickly turned back around and scrambled away. The male hippo stopped beside Gali and grunted loudly. It seemed to reach out everywhere, sounding like low laughing.
Later, Meersha, Banjija and Gatu were crawling through the grass, tumbling over each other, growling and giggling like little cubs. Each tried to stay low in the lightly swaying blades, as if hiding.
"So why are we doing this again?" asked Banjija.
"The cheetah successfully hunts alone," explained Meersha, lightly batting at her brother and friend playfully. "If we studdy it, then we can learn from it."
"I don't get why we don't just try hunting ourselves." Banjija sighed then. "Those rouges...there was just two of 'em and they looked healthy. Obviously they hunted. And other lone lions do, too."
"Yeah, but the-they were b-bigger than us," Gatu replied.
"They were." Meersha stated in agreement. "Now if we take what our mothers and the lionesses taught us, and study other cats and their hunting ways, when we get just a little bigger, then we'll be the best hunters! But for now, we have to be scavangers," she added at her brother's delightful __expression.
"I'm not being a scavanger," Banjija then huffed.
"Never stopped ya before," his sister said, smirking.
"H-hey you guys, what's th-that?" stuttered Gatu.
They all looked up to see a slender, spotted feline, walking gracefully through the savannah, just a few yards away. But, as its ears twitched and eyes wandered over to them, the three cubs popped back low into the grass. After another minute or so of waiting, the cheetah suddenly stalked down a hill. Meersha, Banjija and Gatu hurriedly scrambled after it, watching carefully. The cheetah crouched a bit lower, its eyes not blinking as they sat on a herd of gazelle. It inched ever so slightly closer and, before long, the cat suddenly pounced. A gazelle snorted and took off, and the rest of its family followed, but the feline was on their tails.
"Whoa," whispered all the cubs at the same time as they watched from the top of the hill.
Suddenly the gazelle the cheetah had had her eye on turned to the left. The predator hissed and turned right after it. Due to the daunting turn, though, she had lost speed and the distance increased between herself and her prey. But, as she came closer with each step, the animal abruptly took a sharp turn to the right, after its family again. Once more, the cat hissed and found herself trying to turn without falling to the side. Angrily, she lashed out as she came close enough, but yet another time the gazelle turned. The cheetah was soon left in the dirt. One more turn and the animal was after its herd again.
Meersha could tell that there was rage rushing through the cheetah's blood as she stalked over to a near water hole to take a quick drink.
"I thought you said they hunted succesfully," Banjija said.
"I guess not all the time...most of the time, though. I mean if it was never successful, how would she be living now? Hmm...I think it was those sharp turns,"
"What about 'em?"
"They prevented her from getting her meal. Both she and the gazelle knew it was her weakness."
"S-so everything h-has a we-weakness?" asked Gatu. "Even g-great hunters?"
"Gatu," said Meersha. "Do you remember when we were little cubs, waiting for our mothers to come back with with a carcass? Well even when we were hungry we didn't get one all the time."
"Yeah," exclaimed Banjija as they all got up and began to walk away. "And when we went hunting with them, not all the time they got their meal..."
"We just need to find out what weaknesses and strengths each hunter we come upon has." Meersha stated.
"Well we have t' be careful, otherwise we'll be the ones hunted," laughed Banjija.
The Dawn of Adolescence
A few days went by. The cubs grew used to scavanging, but it was hard. First they had to find a kill, which they obviously didn't always succeed in even that. And it really only counted if other various scavangers hadn't already gotten there first. Nevertheless, they managed to scrape up enough food to survive, even just a little longer.
It was on the fifth sunrise that they all became desperatly hungry, though. They laid beside a small water hole, sulking in the climbing sun. When Banjija's tummy rumbled, he groaned and sat up, thinking he couldn't take it anymore. And, despite their earlier search in the body of water they stayed near, he thought, maybe there were fish. They just hadn't found them yet. So, he reluctantly got up and staggered over to its edge to peer in. Suddenly, Banjija gasped. There, staring at him from the surface, was his own reflection. But it had changed - much. His eyes had now fully devolped from baby blue. The strange thing was that his right eye was a deep purple, while the left was a crimson. He tilted his head slightly, seeing the long whiskers come out from his broad snout. Banjija curiously lifted a giant paw to extend the claws and he grinned, seeing how much sharper and longer they looked, and it was there, when he made a pose to watch his reflection a bit more, did he gasp one more time. For, atop his larger head, were a few discolored strands of fur. They stuck out from the rest of his brown-gold coat. But no...they were not discolored. They were supposed to be like that. They were supposed to be a nice red. They were supposed to be longer than the rest of his fur.
"Meersha! Gatu!" he suddenly called. "Come quick!"
The two cubs had been resting in the grass when they heard Banjija call. They both jumped up and scrambled over to him.
"What?" asked Meersha.
"Look!" he said, and he dipped his head for them to see.
"Your mane's finally growing in! That's great!" cried his sister.
He looked back up and smirked proudly. "I'm an adult now!"
Gatu swished his black tail tuff back and forth, grinning at the teen lion.
"What about you, Gatu?" Meersha then asked, turning to him. "Let me see your head."
"M-me? Oh, no. I do-don't have a ma-mane yet." he replied, somewhat surprised and yet pleased.
"Ah, come on." Banjija said, rolling his eyes, before grabbing Gatu's head and forcing his face to the ground. "See? There it is!"
He let him back up and Gatu cocked his head, before looking down into the water and gasping.
"My-my mane!" he cried out.
There on his head, were little black strands as well, just beginning to grow.
Meersha sat between the two proud lions, giggling.
"What?" they both asked.
"You might have the start of your manes, but you still look like cubs to me," she answered in a meow.
"Well look who's talking, little miss meow." Banjija remarked with a snicker.
"What? It's not like I have a mane,"
"Yeah, bu-but you l-look older," Gatu then said.
She blinked, before looking at the water as well. Indeed she looked different. Her face, head and body shape had changed from that of a young cub, to that of a young lioness. Meersha was more slender, but still looked strong and had muscle. Her coat had changed slightly to look a bit pale, and all together, she thought she looked like a younger - more yellow-gold - Kinara. She smiled, seeing that her eyes had, too, changed from baby blue to a calm green-yellow.
"Well I have t' say, this is nice," she excailmed and giggled again.
Hunger bit at their stomachs, fleas chewed at their skin and fur, ribs showed themselves greatly, but the three seemed proud, and none of them could help their smiles. Before long, they began to romp around, laughing as they pounced each other, still acting as cubs but at the same time, trying to keep their dignity, and so it seemed as if the play was just a bit more than roughhousing. Not one of the lions wanted to be under the other, and even though Meersha had once been the best at wrestling, due to the males' thicker bodies, she usually found herself stuck beneath one or the other.
Just then, Banjija pounced Gatu, and they went rolling into the water. As Gatu pushed him off, he gasped again, staring into the water with his one purple eye to see the reflection of an unknown lion watching them. The two turned around, getting out of the water. Drenched, they watched as another teen rogue came over to them.
"Hey," he said. "I was watching you play,"
"W-who a-are y-y-you?" asked Gatu nervously.
"We weren't playing, we were wrestling," replied Banjija, glaring.
Meersha came over to them and asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm Unaro." he answered.
Unaro, even though he was a teen, was still bigger than the three, for his mane was a light redish patch atop his head and began to climb down around his chest and shoulders as well.
"I couldn't help but notice you cubs," he said, cheerfully.
"We're not cubs," hissed Banjija.
"Yeah," growled Gatu.
Both the males dipped their heads to show the start of their manes.
"Well isn't that nice." Unaro replied. "Look," he then said. "Could I interest any of you in fresh meat?"
Suddenly, the three perked. "Fresh meat?" asked Meersha, suspiciously.
"That's what I said."
"There's a pride not too far from here. They're called the Broken-Claw. I can lead you to them."
"What's the catch?" questioned Banjija.
"Look, ya want food or not?"
Gatu was licking his lips now. The three of them couldn't resist the temptation. Finally, they agreed, and so took off, trailing the unusual lion. They came to a hill, only to look down and see a few lionesses basking in the sun.
"That's them," he said.
"Where's their leader?" asked Banjija.
"They don't got one. Not a male one at least. That's why when I came along, and they saw my mane, they chased me off, even after I begged them for just a scrap of meat. See, they got cubs, and they're mighty protective of 'em."
Meersha asked, "How do they have cubs if they don't have a male?"
"I've heard that they're one of the only prides willing to take cubs in and adopt them."
"Why is that?" asked Banjija.
"'Cause they have no male to kill them." answered Meersha, keeping her eyes on the lionesses.
Suddenly the three of them wished they hadn't grown up so fast as all their tummies rumbled.
"They didn't want me around 'cause of my mane. But you're smaller than me. If you guys go, you could pull it off..."
"Look, we have manes!" hissed Meersha's brother.
Unaro shook his head. "They've just started to grow...we can take care of that."
"We can?" they all asked.
He nodded. "Yeah. Just follow me."
Both the males took a step forward, but Unaro shook his head. "One at a time please."
Gatu looked questioningly at Banjija, who suddenly pounced forward, smirking. "I'll go first." he said.
Unaro smirked, too, and led Banjija away to the south, over a hill and to a tree. Meersha watched nervously as she sat down by Gatu. Within a few moments, her brother and the rouge were out of sight. She sighed.
"'Kay, how are you gonna 'fix' this?" Banjija asked as they sat down by the tree in the shade.
"Easy," replied Unaro.
Suddenly, the larger lion grabbed the smaller one with his paws, and before Banjija knew what was happening, Unaro had bit down hard on his head and pulled back. Banjija yelped out, feeling a surge of pain rush through the top of his scalp. He struggled, but Unaro let him go and, as Banjija turned to look at him with slightly watery eyes, he glared as he saw tuffs of his fur - including the beginning of his mane - in the lion's mouth. Unaro spit it all out.
"Yuk, ya need t' take a bath, kid," he said, snickering.
Banjija rubbed his head with his own paw as if to make sure this was true. And yes, it was. His mane was gone, and he was left with his regular coat of fur. Suddenly he felt like a cub again, and even looked like one as he stared into a near puddle. Perhaps he looked like a cub, just about to begin adolescence, but he snarled and slapped the surface with his paw, before turning to Unaro, angrily.
"What did you do?!" he hissed.
"Don't worry. It'll grow back," Unaro said casually, licking a paw with extended claws.
Banjija took an awkward step back. Even though he had truely had a mane, he was still smaller than older adolescents and adults.
"Now, ya best be quiet 'bout this. Go back and get your little friend." Unaro said, still licking his paw.
"No." stated Banjija, a little nervously.
"Look. I know you don't like that other cub." Unaro then said, looking up over his claws. "He probably gets in your way all the time, don't he? And what about the little sheela? Bet he's leavin' ya in the dirt, alone. Bet he's always gettin' a peice her if ya know what I mean." Unaro then winked.
"Gatu? Meersha? Meersha's my sister! Why would I want her? Ew!"
"Ah, well, still. If I had a sister and a male around, I wouldn't let 'em near each other. Besides, I've seen how you look at Gatu. You have hate in your eyes."
"I - what? I don't hate Gatu. I mean, he's annoying but..."
Unaro shrugged. "Right. Whatever. I was just saying...I mean, seriously, do you really want that guy with your sister?"
"What d' ya mean?"
Suddenly Banjija remembered the night he had seen Gatu pounce Meersha. Sure, he had saved her, but what was he trying to do? What was he playing at?
"Look now," Unaro then said, pointing a paw down the hill.
Banjija quietly looked down, then gasped and snarled as he saw them nuzzling each other. He began to march towards them as Unaro said, "Remember, ya didn't feel a thing with this...'procedure'."
He knew what Unaro meant, and so smirked as he came closer to Gatu and Meersha.
"But, Gatu," Meersha had said when she saw her brother walk away with the unknown rouge, up the hill. "That lion...I don't wanna trust him. He's a rouge, how can I?"
"Meersha," Gatu had said gently. "We're rouges."
She had sighed and then nodded, looking at the ground. "I know but...I just can't help thinking about what those other rouges had done to us. To the other cubs. To my dad. To my brother..."
Gatu had whispered, "To my mother..."
Meersha had then looked up to him, a tear in her eye. When he had looked back with a small, weak smile, she suddenly said, "Oh, how can you be this strong?!"
"Me? Strong?" he had asked, with a quiet chuckle. "I'm nothing but! I have one eye!"
"Which proves how strong you are," she had exclaimed.
But he had gone on. "Listen to how I stutter!...Wait," He then had paused.
"Gatu! Your stuttering! It's...gone!" Meersha had cried happily.
"I can't believe it!" he had said.
"Neither can I!"
And that's when they both had began to nuzzle, greatfully.
They looked up then. "Hey love birds," said Banjija as he came closer. There was a glint in his eyes, but they hadn't noticed.
"Banjija!" Meersha said, happily as she looked up and then jumped up as well, headbutting her brother lightly and playfully. "Gatu's stuttering is gone!"
"Ah, isn't that nice," he purred in reply.
"Banjija, where's your mane?" Gatu then asked suddenly.
Meersha gasped and took a step back to look at him more carefully. Banjija smirked and took his paw to stroke his own head once.
"Gone." he answered. "If we want the meat, we have t' act like cubs...Now, Gatu. Go." he then nodded up the hill.
"How'd he do it?" asked Meersha curiously as Gatu began to nervously climb the hill.
But Banjija ignored her and turned to Gatu to yell, "I didn't feel a thing!"
When Gatu finally came to Unaro, he looked up. "How'd-?" he started to ask, when suddenly he found himself in the grasp of the older lion. Unaro was about to bite him as he did with Banjija, but Gatu struggled furiously, before sinking his teeth into Unaro's paw. "Ah!" Unaro cried in pain. He snarled and bit down on Gatu's back, drawing blood. Gatu roared out, a tone of agony in his voice. He suddenly stopped his wriggling, and Unaro moved the bite up to his head.
Down the hill, Meersha gasped. "Gatu!" she cried out, and was about to run up the knoll when her brother jumped in front of her.
"It's all right," he said quickly. "Gatu'll be fine."
"But didn't you just hear him?" asked the female, desperately.
"I think you're hearing things, sis," he said.
But Meersha pushed him out of the way and started to run.
Back at the tree, Unaro let the cub down. Gatu leapt up, snarling in pain and anger. His mane was gone now and he was left with nothing but the stinging sensation in his head and the oozing, red liquid blanketing and crusting his back. He abruptly lifted his head to glare at Unaro with his one eye.
"You!" he snarled.
Unaro shrugged and licked the same paw he had before. When Gatu pounced at him, Unaro took his giant paw and smacked the cub-lion, raking his face and leaving vertical scratches. Gatu again, cried in pain.
"I wouldn't mess with me if I were you, cub." Unaro growled lowly, getting up.
Gatu found himself shaking in anger and fright.
"Besides," Unaro then said, smirking once more. "Your little friend was the one who said you'd be OK with it."
"Yup. Whatever his name is said you'd be anxious to let me rip that little waste of fur of a mane right out of your empty head. He also said you wouldn't mind if I did two more things."
"One: this." Unaro then jumped the smaller lion and bit his tail, ripping out the tuff of black fur. Gatu cried out as Meersha came. She gasped.
"What are you doing?!" she screamed.
Unaro looked at her and spit out the tuff of fur, still snickering. Banjija finally came up from behind her, panting.
"I...tried..." he said, pausing in attempts to catch his breath. "to...stop...her..."
Meersha gasped again and Gatu glared at him.
"Banjija!" he growled, now stepping over to his peer.
Banjija blinked at Gatu, never having seen him like this before. Never this angry, or this...strong either. Even with the long, red scratches across his face, and the tail tuff ripped out, with the drips of blood coming from the tip of his bald tail made Banjija inwardly gulp.
Unaro suddenly began laughing, and all three cubs looked up to narrow their eyes at him.
"There was one more thing that Banjija said I got to do," he then exclaimed.
They all tilted his head as Banjija blinked with a, "Huh?"
With that, Unaro pounced Meersha. She cried out in surprise.
"I get this lil lioness," he smirked.
"What the hell?!" she snarled from under him.
But Unaro continued to lay on her, just to keep her trapped and away from the others.
"I never said you could have her!" Banjija defencively called.
Gatu began to stalk foward, the way he had seen his mother do before she had leapt on prey.
"Don't even think about it," Unaro warned, looking at Gatu now. "I was nice to you before...twice. The third time you won't be so lucky."
Gatu sat up then, frowning.
"Let my sister go!" Banjija said.
"Don't worry. I won't do anything to harm her...I promise." he said.
"What do you want then?" Gatu growled.
Unaro smirked, and Meersha's eyes widened in fright. He saw this and shook his head with a laugh. "Oh no, sheela! Not that! Ha, I can't believe you thought...Anyway," and he looked up at Banjija and Gatu. "If you don't want her harmed, then I need you two to get the meat."
Meersha was under the body of a half-adult lion, and so she could nothing but struggle...for now. Her brother and Gatu were both too small to take him on, even if there were two of them, due to their weak bodies because of malnutrition, and of course, inexperience. Finally, Gatu sighed.
"What do you want us to do?" he asked.
"I told you...go get the meat. Say you're lost cubs and ask if you can take some meat on the way back to your family. Bring it back up here to me, and you can have her back." he explained, sounding serious now.
"What do you want with her?" Banjija snarled, suddenly.
Gatu shook his head as he looked solemly at Banjija. "C'mon," he whispered.
Finally giving in, he nodded, and they both turned around.
"But if you hurt her...!" Gatu yelled over his shoulder, but did not finish.
When they were gone, over the hill once more, Unaro let Meersha go as he stepped sideways off her. She leapt up and turned around, careful not to turn her back to him as she snarled. "What the hell do you want with me?" she hissed.
"My, your language is getting a little...off, ain't it?" Unaro said, grinning as his tail swished in the grass.
"Tell me...it's not to make cubs?" she asked, fearfully, having not been as satisifed as Unaro had hoped from his last answer.
He shook his head, frowning now, which surprised her. "Make cubs with a cub? Disgusting," he growled.
She sighed in relief. "Then what is it?"
Unaro then stood up, shook off a few twigs and blades of grass, before walking around her slowly. "No...it's not to happen yet."
"What?" she asked, cocking her head to the side.
"We must wait for it. But the explanation can come now..." He then cleared his throat and went on. "My grandmother and I travel alone, without a pride. You see, after my mother died for some unknown reason, Natira, my grandmother, took care of me. But, she is a shaman. She is one who can do the strangest things. This is what scared the pride off, away from her and I."
"I don't see where this is going," Meersha said.
"You'll see...OK, so my grandmother and I were left alone. Soon, when I was old enough to travel, we decided to go from place to place. But Natira has gotten old, and cannot hunt. I can't hunt alone, and so I am forced to find food by scavanging for us, or getting our meals this way...tricking pre-adolescent or early adoelscent lions to beg all-lioness prides - like the Broken-Claw - to get me the food."
"I thought you said that Broken-Claw's one of the only prides who's willing to take cubs in...?"
"It is...or was. See, the main reason why prides don't take cubs in is 'cause the males always want to kill any cubs who aren't in their blood, right?"
Meersha sighed and looked at the ground with a grave face.
"I see you've experienced that," Unaro then said. "Anyway, Natira and I decided since this way - and scavanging - were the easiest ways to get food, so any pride we'd come to, we'd kill off the leader."
Meersha gasped, looking up. "That's terrible!"
"Natira can kill anyone if she wants. She just has to be in the right place at the right time...Anyway, she does that to every pride we pass. This way I can trick little ignorant cubs - like your brother and his friend - to get us the food. But we always must move on, for a new leader always comes, and Natira made a vow to kill only one leader for each pride we come to.
"The strange thing is, Broken-Claw is different. I don't know if it's ever had a leader, or ever will. That's why we're thinking about staying here, near the borders..."
Meersha tilted her head. "You're almost an adult. How come you stay with your grandmother? Shouldn't you have left by now?"
He shrugged. "It's not really her taking care of me...It's me taking care of her."
Meersha nodded. "But if she can kill anyone, why can't she use that to hunt?"
"Powers weaken her. That's the reason she only kills off one leader per pride. If she does it enough times in a row, though, she'll die.
"Now, to the point...You see, Natira has always had these crazy ideas about some lioness or lion, who can do something for her."
"Do something? What?"
"T' tell ya the truth, I'm not really sure. Anyway, almost every full moon, she has me get someone around your age and bring them to her. She's always said, 'That's not the one.' so I always have to take the lion back. It pisses me off!..." He paused, then grinned. "Sorry...So, t' go on...Natira thinks she's found the lioness...you."
"Me?" asked Meersha, surprised at this.
"I don't even know her!"
"She's a shaman! She can sence someone's presence up to a hundred yards! That's why she's so good at tracking...So now, tonight, I must bring you to her. If she thinks you're the one, then she'll tell you what to do."
Meersha had a horrified look on her face and Unaro laughed.
"Don't worry, I'm sure it's nothing that important...except that she's been looking for the lion about all her life...Also, I doubt it will be you. Like I said, she always says, 'That's not the one.' I assure you, it'll be the same thing with you."
But Meersha wasn't as sure about this. Her gut tightened somewhat as she gulped, and laid down in the grass, waiting for her companions to return.
Cubs Once More
The cub-lions were weakly climing down the knoll to the Broken-Claw Pride. They each said nothing and, even though they still couldn't get hunger out of their heads and stomachs, the thought of harm coming to Meersha seemed even more painful.
"First my brother, now my sister?" growled Banjija to himself.
Gatu frowned, but the continued closer to the stranger lionesses.
"Why, what do we have here?" a weird and what seemed a stretched out, ghost voice said.
The two jumped in fright as an unusual off-white lionesses popped up in front of them. Her eyes, her nose, her head and ears all seemed sharp. Everything about her was sharp and her body was slender, while her muzzle was, too, was sharp and long. The purple eyes seemed mysterious more than anything as she stared at the two teens.
"Um," said Banjija suddenly. "Er, uh..."
"Who are you?" asked the pale lion.
"I am Banjija. And this is, uh, Gatu."
"Tell me, why have you come to the territory of the Broken-Claw?"
"Er, um..." Banjija then said, having forgotten what the excuse was.
"We got lost!" Gatu abruptly blurted out.
Gatu nodded. "Our pride was moving to find a better territory, when we got lost..."
The lioness looked questioningly at both, with an awkward silence.
"Yeah!" Banjija exclaimed. "And we've been traveling for three suns and three moons, just trying to find them. We're so hungry, though. Is there any chance you could lend us some scraps for the travel?"
The two cub-lions sat there, ears slightly drooped and tails low, attempting to look as sad, lost and frightened as ever. In fact, they were covered in layers of fright and chance. Would this not work? Did she not believe them? If so, what would happen? What would she and the others do to them? What would Unaro do to Meersha?!
Banjija's heart raced now, and he could hear the rythem in his pointed ears. Gatu tried not to breathe as she stared with submission at the ground, not blinking. They could both feel the lioness's slender, slanted eyes on them, studying, watching, examining them. She was thinking. Trying to make up her mind.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour of just standing there and waiting for a dreadful fate, they heard her ghostly, calm voice say, "It is all right. Come. You can share some of the meat with our cubs."
She turned around, her long, slim tail curved at the end with a tuff of white as her huge paws padded on the golden ground, down the hill towards the other lionesses. Banjija and Gatu looked at each other with weak grins but sharp eyes. They followed, even trying to toddle in a way, making their walking clumsy like cubs.
When they neared the rest of the pride - seven lionesses - the cub-lions could tell that all the subjects to this family, looked exactly a like, besides color. Some were darker than others, or golder or reder, and so on, but they all seemed to resemble this white lioness who was leading the cubs. They all looked sharp, slim, fit, had huge paws, slanted and skinny eyes, long muzzles, a swirved tail near their tuffs. Could this have been a result of inbreeding? Or were they all just sisters? Questions zoomed into Gatu's mind at this. After all, where had they come from? They didn't have a male...it was strange...
"Sisters," said the ghost lioness. "We have company." The word "sisters" did not answer Gatu's questions, for many prides used that term when calling to the other lionesses.
They all looked up. A couple hissed. Others sniffed the air, trying to pick up their scents from a few yards off. Still, others seemed just curious.
"Mother," said a dark lioness. "What are you doing with those males?"
"Come now, Yanda. They are but cubs."
But Yawnda hissed. The "mother" looked at the lioness and hissed back, then said with a stern voice, "Do you not care for our sons?"
Yawnda shook her head. "It's not that. I love them very much. But these," she then said with disgust, glaring at Banjija and Gatu. "are not cubs."
"Do you see manes upon their heads, my sister?"
For a moment, Yawnda's narrowed eyes kept on the young ones, but finally she sighed and down, though her fur kept on end. "No...I do not..."
"There then. We have it. They are still cubs. Besides, look, this one's only got one eye. They need help."
"But I can smell it, Mother!" Yawnda then said, trying to win the argument. "I can smell the oder or an adult - at least adolescence."
The ghost lion shook her head. "Smell is very important indeed, my sister. But I can not see a mane on either of them...neither can you."
With that, she turned to look at a near den and smile. "Come, my little ones!"
Banjija and Gatu questioned for whom she was calling to, but suddenly, a bunch of little cubs came toddle/running out of the den. They scrambled over each other to stand in front of the lioness.
"Mama!" said one of the cubs. "Who are they?"
"Yeah," mewed another.
"And where's the food?" asked a third.
Suddenly, two lionesses came over, dragging a dead - though already aten out of - zebra. The cubs cheered and began to dig in, almost instently forgetting about Gatu and Banjija.
"There is plenty for you two to eat, too. Then you can take some on your travels," exclaimed the ghost lioness.
The two would've protested, but the sight and scent of freshly killed prey was too much to handle, and so the two thankfull dug in with the rest of the smaller crowd. They ate and ate until they grew full, and their tummies seemed to bulge.
"Who are you?" asked one of the tiny cubs, his mouth smeared in blood.
Banjija sat back, his eyes getting droopy as he ignored the cub with a yawn. Gatu did the same.
"You two look tired," the lioness then stated. "Come. You can sleep in the whelping den for the night. Tommorrow, you can have breakfast, then be on your way with some more meat."
Banjija looked up, about to protest, but she shook her head. "I insist."
With that, Banjija sat down, feeling strangly nervous and nodded. "Well, if you insist." Perhaps it was her purple, cutting eyes that seemed to make him feel awkward and small, but he and Gatu gave in.
The lioness led them and the little ones back to the small den after explaining how her name was Ahadgna, and how the pride called her "Mother" since she was the leader, though it did not mean she was ever their dam.
Because Banjija and Gatu were much bigger than the other cubs, they could barely fit as they squeezed into the enterence of the den. But the cubs felt warmer, and the leader lioness did not seem to care. She first licked the smaller cubs, then did the same to the two big ones, which surprised them. For once in a long while, Banjija and Gatu felt safe and loved. In fact, they hadn't felt like this since they had been with their mothers.
"I never thought this would happen...I mean I never thought I'd feel like this again," Banjija purred as his half-closed eyes stared up at the moon and the stars.
"Yeah," Gatu purred back, his one eye closed as his side slowly moved up and down.
"We could stay here forever..."
"Yeah, we just need Meersha..."
And they fell asleep.
"Faster, Mama! Hurry up!" some cub called in the distance.
The sound of shuffling and scrambling awoke Gatu. Then there was a soft roar, and he turned to look down at Banjija, who's eyes finally opened slowly as he yawned and stretched.
"What was that?" he asked.
Gatu shook his head, then gasped.
Banjija asked, "What?...Hey, where are the cubs?"
The whole den was empty but them. And, about fifty yards away, they could see that the lionesses were now racing towards the den. The cubs were behind, running as fast as they could. In the lead was Ahadgna. With her icy eyes she glared at the cub-lions, who seemd to inwardly shrink in fright.
"What's their problem?" Banjija said, sitting up.
"Banjija...!" Gatu was saying.
Banjija turned to look at Gatu and gasped.
"Your mane!" they both cried.
They suddenly took one step outside and saw their manes had started to grow again as they stared in shock and disbelief that it had began again so quickly. But, as they looked up to see the Broken-Claw Pride getting closer, they knew exactly why.
"They have manes, Mama!" said a little cub as they ran.
"Lions!" snarled Yawnda. "See, Mother? I told you!"
"Lions! Rouges!" roared Ahadgna.
"Those little rats, ratted on us!" growled Banjija. "What d' we do?"
Now the two were looking franticly around, as if trying to find the best place to escape. Above and behind them where the den was, was a steep hill, like the main one back at the White-Feather Pride. In front of them was a spread out plain where the Broken-Claw was. And far to the right - if they'd even manage to get there without getting caught - was the hill they had been on when Unaro first showed them this pride.
"Seriously, what are we gonna do? We'll be dead in a minute..." Banjija said, desperately.
Gatu finally looked behind him, then began to crawl into the den and said, "C'mon."
Banjija followed right behind him. The two crawled and edged their way deeper into the low den. When one part of the rock ceiling came so low, and Gatu was scrambling to get under it to get deeper in still, he exclaimed, "The cubs are the only ones who can fit in here."
Gatu finally managed to get to the other side of the hanging part of the ceiling, just as Banjija snarled out in surprise, for a giant paw had clawed at his back. Banjija struggled around on his back to wrap all his paws around it and claw and sink his teeth into the flesh. The lioness roared out in pain and instantly pulled her paw out, just as the cub-lion let go.
"Hurry!" Gatu growled lowly and quickly at Banjija.
Banjija started to crawl under, when another paw got his tail and started to pull. "Ahh!" he cried.
But Gatu did not let go after biting at Banjija's tightened scruff. He pulled, digging his claws into the den ground and finally, the two were on the same side. Banjija looked at his tail, where just a trickle of blood was.
The two turned around and crawled in even deeper, only to get to the back part of the den where the it rose up several feet, and this circular part of it was big enough for even one of the lionesses, if they could've gotten in from the enterence, though, which was impossible.
"Now what, genius?" hissed Banjija.
"We have to find a place up there," Gatu replied, pointing with a paw up to the now-high ceiling. "to climb out of."
There was but a tiny hole up near the roof of the den. Immidietely they climbed up the debris which led to the hole. Gatu began to scrape and claw at it as Banjija sat a foot lower than him. Suddenly, a small cub climbed out from under the tight wedge and was now beginning to climb up the debris. Banjija smirked and kicked him down when he came closer enough. But then, more cubs were coming into the large area of the back part of the den.
"Uh, Gatu," said Banjija, carefully but still staring at the little lions who were now climbing up the debris towards them.
"Not now. I'm almost done," Gatu growled in reply.
"But, Gatu...it's the invasion of the cubs!" cried Banjija, almost sarcasticly.
Gatu glanced down at them but said, "No worries."
Right then, he took his claw and pulled away one more rock, and a bunch of it came down, adding to the debris again. The two of them climbed out of the hole and were in sunlight once more. Even though they were now covered in dust, dirt and bits of rock, they did not shake as the looked down the back of the hill. Atop the knoll, came the faces of the lionesses.
"Come back here!" roared Yanda.
Just then, Gatu's paw lost its balance, and he fell, sliding down the back of the muddied hill, down to where there was a large water hole. Banjija laughed but when he felt the force of something hit him on his back, he too, was falling and sliding after Gatu.
"Ah!" Banjija growled as the thing on his back was a cub, who was now biting into his flesh.
Just a few second later, though, the cub-lions met the water. Right in front of them was a large part of a river, where other strings of water came out in different directions as smaller rivers. The laugh-like grunts of hippos sounded through the air, mixed with monster splashes. Banjija and Gatu climbed up on the edge of the water hole, watching, horrified, for they were right near a main pod of hippos. Some were even fighting, their gigantic jaws opened so that their six-inch tusks were exposed to hopefully find themself digging into the flesh of another hippo.
A Free Ride
Soon, as the two - as well as the tiny white male cub - turned around, Banjija and Gatu gasped again, seeing that Ahadgna and the rest of the pride was racing down the hill to them.
"You won't take my cub!" roared the ghost lioness.
"C'mon!" Gatu said.
The two plunged into the water, but the cub was still on Banjija's back. He snarled and attempted to shake in the water so that the cub would fall off, but it was to no avail.
A low laughing sounded, and they looked in front of them to see a young female hippo say, "Need a lift?"
"Gali!" cried Gatu in relief.
He and Banjija scrambled on her, and she immediately turned and swam, further into the water hole, away from the edge where the Broken-Claw Pride now sat, stranded as they roared and snarled. A few more moments later, and they were now taking off along the edge of the lake-like river.
"Sheesh, what have you two been getting in to?" asked Gali with another grunt. But Banjija seemed to busy with the smaller cub now.
"Listen you," he said, struggling to keep the biting little cat in his front paws. "You bite me and I'll bite you back." he warned.
Suddenly, the lion sunk his baby teeth into Banjija's flesh, causing Banjija to cry out in pain.
"You didn't bite me back," snickered the cub.
"I bet you were the one to turn us in," snarled Banjija, glaring.
The sound of Gali's low snorts came again, before she dipped her head somewhat into the air, and it went back under the water, half-way as her ears twitched.
"By biting, I mean harming," exclaimed Banjija with a smirk, then he looked out to near wrestling hippos. "You do that again, kid, and I'll just chuck ya out there with 'em. And trust me, you don't want that t' happen,"
The cub fell silent and Banjija laughed.
"Thanks a lot, Gali," Gatu said, sitting down, tail curling around him.
"Ugh, I hate water," Banjija then said, looking around with disgust.
"Gali, what about your father?" asked Gatu abruptly, not-so-long-ago memories flashing back.
"It's all right. He's fighting with one of the challengers." she answered, glancing at the middle of the water hole where two large hippos - including her father - had their mouths open, endevouring to get their tusks under the other hippo's chin as the splashed ruthlessly around, grunting loudly.
"Challenger?" asked Banjija with curiousity.
"Yeah. Like the fourth one this week...'Kay, deepish water. Hold on." she then warned.
With that, she dipped her head under all the way, and her body followed. The water flowed smoothly over her back, just a couple inches so that the cats' paws and tails became wet. Banjija quickly dropped the cub to latch his claws into Gali's back, so as not to fall off. As he grit his teeth hard, his eyes wide as they cast over the water that was now running on and around him, Gatu couldn't help but chuckle at his fright.
"Ow, not so hard!" snorted Gali, her head coming up for a second to spit that remark out before it went back under while she continued to tred carefully on the bottom of the water hole.
"S-sorry," muttered Banjija
Gatu then turned to him. "Ban...her family - Gali's I mean - they are ruled over by a leader."
"Well, that leader has to fight of challengers that want to take over the family and rule it. The leader must fight them back to stay 'the king'. But one sun, that leader will be too old to carry it on, and will eventually be defeated. Then there will be a new leader that will give new life to the family, extending it and making more and new kin."
"Your point?" Banjija was now much calmer it seemed.
The little cub was trying to stay on the hippo as it looked around, smirking and attempting to look tough and strong, but both cub-lions, as well as Gali could sence his fright.
"I mean," Gatu went on. "We're the same. We're all one."
"Not everyone has it that way, though. Some live alone. With others, it's totally different."
"Yeah but, Meersha was right; we should learn from other animals - study 'em, ya know."
"She meant hunting animals. So that we could hunt." snorted Banjija.
Gatu sighed, glancing at the fighting hippos once more. Gali's father had won, and was now chasing away the younger challenger, snorting and grunting as he did so. Soon, the two were trotting quickly on land, faraway, from the cub-lions, though. But there was another challenger, and so the leader was still too preoccupied to notice the rough lions.
Finally they came to the other side of the water hole, and Gali was about to le them off when suddenly, an ear-splitting roar cracked the mixture of brawl and splashes in the air. Ahadgna and her pride had made it to the other side as well, rounding about the edge of the waters. They soon came near the edge where Gali and the lions were.
"Give me back my cub, you rats!" she snarled. "Give me my little Chioke! I'll rip your throats out! I'll make you wish you weren't even born!"
"Well, she's real nice," Gali sarcasitcly said to the lions atop her back as she dipped her head out from the surface.
"Yeah," growled Banjija lowly as he crouched on her back.
"What'd you do?"
"Have...manes...?" Gatu suggested.
"Mama says males are ignorant lions who only seek to possess other families and kill young cubs who aren't their own. Mama says that each male cub will grow up to be a killer and murderer. But she also says my brothers and I are lucky to live with her and be taught by her and the other lionesses so they can teach us what's right. Then we can grow up in that pride and won't have to be killed by a lion."
Banjija laughed. "Is that what this is all about? Kid, listen to yourself!"
"Mama also says I can stay in that pride 'cause I will give more cubs to them one sun."
"That's disgusting." Gatu remarked. "Even if you're adopted. You still call her Mama."
"News flash," said Banjija to Chioke. "What happens if you have sons and they grow up? If you don't chase 'em away, then they'll eventually chase you away."
"But Mama says-"
"Who cares what she says? You can't stop it. It's life. It's part of the Circle of Life."
Something about Banjija's explanation caused Gatu to flinch inwardly, as he heard the words pour from the teen's mouth.
"Give me my cub!" Ahadgna suddenly roared to them, causing the lions to jump with a start.
"Here! Take 'im! We don't want the little fur ball anyway, ya crazy freaks!" roared Banjija back as he tossed Chioke onto the land from the hippo.
The lionesses immediately circled their young one, hissing at the lions. But Gali was backing up now, and within a couple more moments, she turned all the way around, and was heading away.
"I'll find a better place t' let you guys off at. Not in the main water hole."
"Main?" asked Gatu.
"Yeah. This is the main one."
"What about the one where you had gotten us that carcass?"
"That's a couple miles southwest from here." she answered before her head went back under the surface.
"Stupid jerks," growled Banjija as he sat backwards on Gali's back, glaring at the now-faraway lionesses. "Jerks!"
"Don't make them hate us anymore, Banjija." adviced Gatu. "What if they did catch us?"
A few minutes later, Gali turned right, and was now heading down a small river in the south.
"It's been a sun and a moon and those cubs still haven't come back," growled Unaro heavily.
"Something must've happened," whined Meersha, worried. "We have to go check on them!"
"Ah, good riddens." said Unaro then, swiping his paw in the air.
The day Banjija and Gatu had left - which was just yesterday - Meersha had stayed with Unaro near the tree. She hadn't a clue what he would've done if she tried to run away. In her mind, the best thing to do was to have stay with this rouge and get this "thing" over with with his grandmother. Then, after her brother and Gatu gave them the meat, they could leave. But, she grew increasingly worried as the hours snaked by and there was no return of the cub-lions. What had happened to them? "They'll show up in the mornin'" Unaro had said. "A lot of times they're invited for the night." His comment had calmed her a bit, and she was able to curl up and find a fitful and awkard sleep, where all she dreamt about was being back with her mother in the small den away from the pride, so that she and her brothers were together with Kinara, left in her saftey. Though Meersha had drifted in and out of sleep, and awoke from the lightest sound or movent, as did Unaro. He had kept a wary eye on her, and had been the one on the look out for the younger males to come back.
Finally, when morning came, Unaro led her to a river. Meersha had thought that her brother and Gatu would not know where they are, but all the rouge did was shrug and explain how they would find them by scent. The cold, bone-aching water soothed her a bit.
They were now on a hill near a small river.
Meersha suddenly gasped and cried out in relief and surprise, "Banjija! Gatu! You guys!"
She ran down the hill, and Unaro was close behind. "Gali?" she then asked.
"Do you know any other hippos?" snorted Gali as her head came slightly out of the water.
"Yeah, what happened?" growled Unaro, darkly as the hippo gave a grunt. "Where's the meat?"
"Long story," said Gatu.
"That's not an excuse. We had a deal."
He suddenly stepped forward, but Gali pushed her hooves into the ground under the water, pushing herself backwards a few yards with the two still on her.
"There came back two cubs with no meat. Now they'll have to be the replacement." Unaro said, before pouncing near the edge.
He stopped abruptly as Gali suddenly opened her huge mouth, showing her tusks as she made a laughing grunt. Unaro took a step back, still glaring as Gali fell back down slightly, allowing Gatu and Banjija to stare back at the older rouge.
"Fine." he then said. "I can't get you, but I still got the sheela. Remember what the deal was? No meat, and she gets harmed. There is no meat, so she does get harmed."
With that, he grasped Meersha, holding her tight with this front paws, his claws extended as they began to stroke her fur. She shivered at the sensation of those sharp claws rubbing against her skin, knowing they could peirce her any time.
"Let her go!" snarled Banjija.
Just then, Unaro raised one of his paws so that the claws came up to Meersha's throat.
"I want meat." demanded Unaro. "You give me yourself, so we have some fresh meat, and I might let her go."
"Might?" growled Gatu, stunned at the lion's orders.
"Don't!" hissed Meersha as Banjija got ready to pounce on the land in front of Unaro. "It's a trap! Don't worry about me, he still needs me!" she explained, remembering how she had not yet Natira.
"Needs you?" they both asked.
With those words, Unaro snarled and pushed Meersha aside. She tumbled over in the dirt a bit, but quickly leapt back up, fur bristling as she snarled at him. But he was too busy, narrowing his eyes at her brother and friend. Seeing her oppurtinity, Meersha suddenly took a jump, only to land by the males on the hippo, who snorted and quickly pushed back again. Unaro roared out, somewhat astonished, but shook it off and began to make his way into the water. Once more, Gali threatened, and he backed off again. She turned, and the hippo was once again swimming back to the main water hole.
"What's with you cubs and other lions?" she said as she swam away from the rouge, her grunts as well as the other hippos' sounding out everywhere.
"God, lions everywhere are gonna hate us," said Banjija, gravely. "I mean, every lion we have met so far does."
"Why? What happened?" asked Meersha
The two quickly explained as they continued to ride on Gali.
"Gali, where we going now?" Gatu suddenly asked.
The hippo was trying her best to push herself up a small but forceful river, against its currant. She snorted and grunted.
"If I take you up a river, land animals like those lions might not expect I did, so they would probably be looking for you somewhere down the river and water hole." she explained, with yet another laugh-like grunt.
"So what happened with you while we were gone?" asked Banjija.
Meersha told her side of the story. They tilted their heads in awe.
"You might be able to...do 'something' for an unknown lioness?" asked Gatu.
Meersha shrugged. "I guess...But it doesn't matter now. We're away from them, just like you are with that crazy Broken-Claw Pride."
Banjija nodded and Gatu sighed, watching the savannah to the north pass. Soon, Gali came to a stop.
"This is the farthest I can go," she snorted.
The three lions leapt off of her and turned to face the hippo to thank her.
"Thanks, Gali. Don't know what we would've done without ya," said Banjija.
"Yeah, thank you." Gatu replied.
"A bunch!" cried out Meersha.
Gali grunted in responce before turning around to let the river almost carry her down the currant, back to the main water hole.
"Hope you guys find a pride!" she called.
Because of Study
For a long while, the three of them went around, continuing to scavange. But never did they give up in their studdies with other predators and their hunts. Every sun, the cub-lions would watch another lion, or a leapard, perhaps even a crockadile hunt and kill. Meersha was the one who placed the information into her head and mind and kept it there, remembering every move the killer took. Every breath it inhaled and exhalded. Every step it or they made, as well as when, where and why, not to mention how. Their moves she recalled, hours after the hunt, playing the whole thing in her mind over and over.
Banjija and Gatu had gazed intently at the hunts, too, but Meersha was the one to deeply explain in detail, what had really happened and why. Whether or not the predator got the prey, she still told them why it or they had missed or caught it. The boys looked up to her for this, and always listened. If one was caught falling asleep, swatting at a fly, or even yawning, Meersha would hiss and sometimes bat at them. "This is very important," she would say. "If you ever want fresh food, then you have to listen." Neither complained about how they had not even tried their own hunt yet, perhaps it was because inside, they were too scared or nervous. After all, there were a few times when they had witnessed an anxious lioness get kicked in the jaw by a wildebeast. Or a nervous dhole end up chased and then killed by a buffulo. The cub-lions knew what was to come. They were to expect the unexpected. Any prey they would ever chase, could easily mean death...for the predator.
At some points, Meersha seemed to know too much. If her brother or friend asked any question, she would easily and quickly answer. Sometimes she'd even snap at them, exclaiming how they should already know the answer, even when it was not even close to being obvious.
One sun, about a full moon later, the cub-lions were much bigger than they had been during early adolescence. The males' manes were now longer, and came down over their chests. Each even had a mohawk going down between their shoulders and stopping somewhat after meeting the back. They were now almost as big as a fully grown lion, and any sign of cub was gone. Meersha became even more slender. Perhaps it was due to scavanging for half of the short life she had lived so far. But still, she too, was much bigger than before. In fact, she looked like a full grown lioness all together. Her coat was a beautiful sleek yellow/gold, and she still looked like a - now adult - female Simba, of course without a mane and she was obviously shaped like the lioness. At the same time she looked like an adult - maybe somewhat smaller if one were to look carefully - her face continued to show youth.
That sun, though, was when the three of them were sneaking about in the savannah, and they seemed to be very excited. Gatu always twitched and, once in a while, he couldn't help one of his old stutters again. Banjija was never seen sitting still as he pounced around on anything that moved, mostly flies and insects. Meersha could hear her heart beat in her head, just racing as andrenaline flowed through her veins. For it was today, that they were to try their fist hunt.
Meersha had finally given the go, saying she thought they were ready - as much as the males hated it, they seemed to let Meersha lead the group. Most of the time Banjija would just roll his eyes and say she is the leader, only when it came to hunting, since she was a lioness. But they all knew how much she had in her head, from all the studying.
Much of that day and lastnight, they had been stalking a lone antelope that had somehow wandered away from its herd. It was just a young one, but anything could go wrong. When they had finally spotted it, about a mile away, Meersha began to desperately explain what to do before they took off.
She explained to them, hurriedly, "Keep your bodies down and don't let it see you. When we get about a tree's length away, we must seperate. I'll stay behind, Banjija, you go to the left, and Gatu to the right. I'll start the chase, and lead 'im into the amubsh. Once it's time, Gatu will jump up first and that will leave the prey to turn to the left, and that's when Banjija will go out. Then we'll have it in our claws. Oh and, if it's too fast, don't let it make sharp turns so stay on all sides of it. And if that's not enough, extract your claws like the cheetah."
They nodded in agreement, and moments later, the trio split up after stalking closer to the antelope. Suddenly, it lifted its head and cried out, before taking off as it spotted Meersha. She ran after it quickly, but kept her distance as well. Soon, Gatu leapt from a near bush, and the animal reared up, only to turn to the left. For about a minute or so, the two chased it, careful to stay behind and to the sides of their prey.
Banjija was just a few yards away, licking his lips as his ears twitched. His discolored eyes sat on the hunted and he did not blink. Finally, it was close enough. Finally. After just a couple minutes, that seemed so much like hours to him, he was able to jump! He was the one to block it. He was the one to feed the prey to the predators. But, as suddenly as it came, as he kept his stomach low and his claws extracted, their was an abrupt shuffle beind him and, to his shock, someone else leapt out! It pounced on the antelope that cried once more. The small creature easily dug its claws and teeth into its throat, though, and he kept himself on the body, until it finally fell.
Meersha and Gatu stopped and watched in disbelief as the serval got their food.
"I knew we should've hunted earlier!" snarled Banjija as he jumped up. "I knew another predator would get it!"
"But it's ours." growled Meersha lowly, as she walked over to the small wild cat. "We were hunting it first."
"I don't see you digging into it," said the serval as it lifted its head from the bloody, ripped open animal.
"Then allow us." Gatu said as he walked over to the meal.
The serval hissed and jumped on the carcass. "I killed it!"
"We were hunting it! We've been stalking it for suns!" exclaimed Meersha.
"Then you should've got it first," he replied, licking his lips before taking another bite. "But you didn't. I did."
"Look, cat." snarled Banjija strongly. "You're gonna give us our lunch back."
"I am?" he asked. "And why is that?"
Banjija suddenly leapt on the carcass and began to walk slowly, carefully forward, causing the serval to hiss again, but also causing him to back up from the dead animal. As Banjija continued to push the cat further from the meal, the young lion exclaimed, "One, there's more of us. Two, we're bigger than you. Three, we saw it first! And five, if you don't, then we'll have dessert!"
With that, the cat turned around and ran off. Banjija smirked, watching it for a few more moments, pride stirring in him. Then something else did: the pain of hunger. For a moment, it had gone, replaced by shock and anger. But now it presented itself once more, and he turned back to the open antelope.
"So, we gonna eat?" he asked, still smirking.
They said nothing, and without hesitation, the three of them dug in into the carcass. For once, it was fresh meat! They might not have killed it, but they had stalked it, found it, chased it, cornered it to its early death, and now it was theirs! Now it was time to feel proud! They knew how to hunt. Knew how to take care of themselves. If a rouge lion came now, they could easily deal with him. If a herd was nearby and they felt hungry, they knew they'd be able to catch a meal. They were once coerced out into the world as little cubs, but were now almost adults, capable of almost anything. Even if they were to seperate, with all the knowledge from studying others, they would still be able to thrive in this strange reality. They would survive.
An Old Face
Moons - full moons - past quickly. The teen lions continued to thrive and grow. Meersha suddenly seemed to gain weight, as did the other two. Before, they were all skinny. In fact, nothing more than skin and bone and fur. But now, they had fat and muscle. Banjija and Gatu had well built bodies, while Meersha was now the normal size of a lioness.
She was laying down one moon, licking her paw. Just about an hour ago, the small group had caught a zebra, and were now full. Before long, Meersha looked up to the great moon, her tail swishing around in the swaying blades of the night breeze. Her eyes soon traveled to the stars, and she yawned.
Down the small rise of land she was on, a few yards away, Gatu and Banjija were ending a playful wrestling game. Laughing loudly, the two young lions trotted over to Meersha.
"Nice work, Gatu!" laughed Banjija as he batted a giant paw at him. "But you're gonna need more practice if-"
"If what?" snarled Gatu, still laughing, though as he lowered himself to the ground. Then he pounced Banjija and stayed atop his side. "If I wanna keep you like this?"
Banjija immiditely kicked the other lion off and they sat down by Meersha, with a few pants.
"Woo, Meersha! Ya should've seen it," Banjija exclaimed, catching his breath. "It was almost non-stop!"
"That sounds wrong," giggled his sister.
Banjija made a face and replied, "Not like that!"
And Gatu laughed as he cried, "Sick!"
"Hey, d' ya guys really think we're like a pride now?" Gatu then commented, standing up. His mane fell slightly. Now the part that was like a mohawk once, had many strands coming down to the joints connecting his legs to his body.
Banjija shook his head with a grin. "No! Prides need a leader, and the leaders make cubs with the lionesses. Now 'cause Meersha's my sis, I can't be the leader. And you obviously can't be the leader," he joked.
"Take that back!" Gatu said with a grin. "You're just asking for another fight!"
"C'mon, ya guys," groaned Meersha as she rolled over on her side. "Please. Let's just go t' sleep."
The lions chuckled and Banjija nodded as he laid down saying, "She's right. We don't wanna tire ourselves out before another hunt."
"What'd ya mean? You do practically nothing in the hunt," laughed Gatu.
"Enough." demanded Meersha.
"Fine. But Gatu, we're settlin' this in the morning."
"I'm lookin' forward t' it," Gatu snickered.
"There's enough meat left on that zebra if you're still hungry in the morning. Remember? We only hunt when we need to." Meersha warned as she closed her eyes.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," muttered her brother as he laid his head down on his front paws.
Soon, the three were asleep.
Meersha awoke. She looked around, before getting up and swallowing. Her throat was dry.
"Crap," the teen lioness uttered.
She stalked over behind the tree, and continued to walk down a little trail in the savannah where the grass had been flattened. Just a few yards away, she stopped at the edge of a pond, and dipped her head to lick the at the surface. After her thirst was satisfied, she straighened up with another yawn. But, abruptly she gasped, looking down again to see that the water was churning.
"No." she mumbled.
Meersha took a step back, but her eyes were latched to the changing surface. Before long, the reflection of the moon and the stars in the night sky, had changed to a picture of a new landscape. No. She had seen it before. It was not new. The misty savannah was in the water now and, after just one moment, another thing came. A creature. A black one. Its eyes, crimson blood as it began to stalk around. Meersha squinted, trying to make out what it was. But it was still too dark. It walked on four legs, though. Yet it still seemed different as it moved. After a year of studying other predators - and she could tell this was a predator - watching how they moved and reacted, she could not tell what this was. It seemed something from out of the world she knew. With each careful step it took, the body seemed to move, like a slithering snake...but with legs.
Like before, when the creature saw her, it glared, and moved closer. The fur on the back of her neck began to bristle as she suddenly showed exposed her teeth in challenge at the water. With that, the creature hissed and before she knew what had happened, there was a loud splash, and her back met the ground as she stared up at the angry face of an unknown enemy. The eyes narrowed on her, the ears black folded back to camoflauge with the rest its pitch head and body. She could feel the tips of its claws slowly beginning to dig into her flesh. Its breath felt warm as it came out on her skin, making the rest of her fur prickle as the stentch of a rotting body came with it. And, before Meersha could even struggle, the claw suddenly dug into her flesh and she cried out in agony. The cry out be heard from miles away in the open savannah.
"Meersha!" Gatu gasped as he looked around and jumped up, seeing that she was gone.
"What the hell...?" asked Banjija.
They looked up at the sound of another cry.
"C'mon!" Gatu snarled, and they both ran into the trail, following Meersha's scent.
The second scream had come from the sight of sparkling fangs that suddenly came from behind curled lips. As it arched its neck, Meersha tried to back away, but the claws had her trapped.
Then, before she looked up again, the creature was off of her. A splash sounded and she gasped, gathering her wits to see it fall back in. But she wasn't alone. Quivering, Meersha slowly got up.
"Meersha!" Gatu cried.
"Get away from her!" snarled Banjija.
The two ran over and leapt in front of her, roaring out at the stranger. Meersha blinked. This stranger...he, or she, or whoever had jumped the creature! Had saved her! For the third time she was saved from that horrible nightmare that came from the water.
"No!" Meersha cried, jumping up and between the males. "He - or she, saved me!" she exclaimed.
"Huh?" they both asked.
Now the six eyes were on Meersha's savior once more. It was a lioness. And a young one at that. In fact, she seemed as old as Meersha, Banjija and Gatu themselves. There was silence as they studied her, eyes crawling about her dark body and face. Who was she? Something stirred in Meersha's mind, for this lioness seemed familiar.
Finally, a quiet, nervous voice came from the stranger. "...Meersha?" she asked.
Meersha blinked, and took a step forward, nose twitching and ears perked. She then gasped, having put it into place. "Lusala!" she cried. She jumped forward and nuzzled the frightened lioness, not that she wasn't shaken up herself at that incident that just occured. "What happened? Why are you here?" she asked, taking a step back to examine her long-lost friend again. But Lusala seemed like nothing but skin and bone. She was smaller than Meersha, and much skinnier. Even skinnier than Meersha herself had been before they had their first hunt. They could see her ribcage, in the dark!
Lusala gave a shaky sigh and slowly sat down, for it seemed as if she would collapse if she stay standing. Her ears were tattered and ripped, and there were a few balding parts in her coat where chunks of fur had been lost. She was blanketed with serval scratches, scars and even a few bruises.
"What happened to you, Lusala?" asked Meersha, now more gently.
"Sheesh," exclaimed Banjija, circling the lioness with curiousity. "Run into a ryhino or something?"
"I...I didn't even know you all were alive!" she cried out suddenly. "Meersha! And Banjija!" Then she looked to Gatu with her brown eyes. "K-Kasha? Is that you? You've changed..."
Meersha shook her head gravely. "Kasha...died."
"Don't seem so surprised," exclaimed Banjija, sitting down. "That's Gatu."
Gatu nodded. "Yeah..." he said, somewhat hurt that he could not be recognized.
"We didn't even know you were alive." stated Banjija then.
"Mother said all the other cubs became stars," Meersha replied, almost sadly, but there was a tone of relief in her voice.
"Yes...I thought they had, too...My sister did..."
Meersha gasped. "Pashi? Oh, I'm so sorry,"
Lusala nodded, looking at the ground as she replied, "I'm sorry about Kasha..."
There was an awkward silence, before Gatu said, "C'mon now. Let's get back."
"We have a tree," explained Banjija, nodding his head to where the tree sat on the rise of the land. "Just over there. And there's fresh zebra meat, too, if you're interested."
Lusala got up, licking her lips. "Meat?"
"Yeah. And ya don't have t' act like a cub t' get some!" laughed Banjija.
"Uh, nothing." he said at his sister's cold gaze.
Minutes later, they were back at their grove. Banjija and Gatu laid by the trunk of it, while Meersha kept Lusala company, a few yards away by the carcass. She ate hungrily, ripping at the meat. Meersha had tried a couple times to ask her questions about her life, but Lusala was too busy, chomping and ripping at the bloody guts. So she waited patiently. When Lusala finished, she looked at her friend questioningly.
"So what's happened?" she asked.
Lusala sighed and said, "Please, tell me what you've been up to lately." She began to lick her paws. "Thank you for the meat...if I could just rest."
Meersha nodded with a smile. "Of course..."
So she told what had happened to her, her brother and Gatu, ever since Kinara had helped them escape, all the way to this night.
"A creature? In the water?" Lusala asked.
Meersha nodded. "Yeah...but let's not talk about this right now." For now, she planned to push everything of that creature out of her mind. Maybe then she would never have to fear water... "So, what's happened to you?"
"Well, after my sister was killed, I fled southwest with Naynana. We were lucky enough to escape..." and that's when she gasped. "Meersha!"
"Naynana survived? What about the other-"
"Meersha! Your shoulderblades!" cried Lusala.
Meersha blinked and turned her head sideways to see and feel warm, crimson liquid oozing from the base joints of her legs and her body, near her shoulders. She got up and instinctively began licking the wounds.
"It must've come from that...thing." excalimed the yellow-gold lioness as she continued to clean the blood off.
"Does it hurt?" asked Lusala before she got up and started licking her other shoulder blade.
Meersha flinched at Lusala's rough tongue but shook her head. "No. It's fine." Then she sighed. "It's great t' have another lioness around here. Being around only males...uck."
They both giggled like cubs as Banjija and Gatu came over.
"What's so funny?" asked Banjija with a frown.
But Gatu gasped. "Meersha!" he instantly said and quickly stepped over to help them lick the blood off.
Meersha groaned in pain, and laid down. Her brother soon joined, and she was surrounded by her friends and brother.
"Meersha, seriously. What was that thing?" questioned Gatu.
Banjija rolled his eyes. "Oh. Now you're believing it, too, eh?"
"No, Banjija. There really was something. I saw it." exclaimed Lusala, which made Meersha grin and finally having someone on her side. "It was big and black, and it looked like it was going to attack her, so I jumped at it."
"But you were so weak," Gatu replied. "Why would you do that?"
"It didn't matter if I died. I had no friends or family left...not until I found you. Besides, I saw a lioness who needed help..."
Meersha's grin grew into a broad smile, but it didn't last long. She whimpered once, laying her head down on her paws, her eyelids becoming heavy as she sighed. Blackness began to fill her vision as she heard the distant voices of the lions who were just right by her, still licking. Her head began to spin and it felt as if a great force was coercing her to the ground. Before the lioness could do anything, everything went black.
"Meersha?" a worried voice said. "Meersha? Are you OK?"
"Huh?" uttered the lioness.
She opened her eyes to see Lusala's face just a few inches from hers. Meersha weakly sat up and turned her head to look at her wounds, which were now giant scabs.
"What happened? she asked.
"It's OK. You lost too much blood I think. But we helped clean you up. You're not bleeding anymore." the other lioness answered.
Meersha nodded, and looked around. It was morning and they were near the tree, but there was Banjija, nor Gatu.
"Where are the boys?" she questioned.
Lusala said, "I think they said something about a compition in hunting."
Meersha rolled her eyes and growled, "I told them we had enough zebra meat...Besides, I never knew males would be so interested in hunting."
"So, Meersh. What was that thing?"
"I don't know," Meersha replied. "But whatever it was, I never wanna see it again."
Lusala nodded and they both stood, beginning to walk to the northeast.
"It's great to finally have fresh meat, fresh water, a place to stay and sleep peacfully. And most of all to be around family again." commented Lusala in relief.
"Well, like I said, it's great t' have another lioness around here," remarked Meersha with a chuckle.
Then Lusala asked hopefully, with a tone of embarassment in her voice, "Would you mind...teaching me to hunt?"
Meersha blinked, then laughed, "Of course! I'll tell ya all I know." There was a sign of relief in Lusala's sigh, but Meersha went on. "But first...I told ya what happened t' us. Now, what about you? And where's Naynana?"
She sighed and looked at the ground, then looked back up at Meersha. "OK. Like I said," she explained as they walked into the savannah. "Naynana and I had managed to escape to the southwest. There was an old lioness named...uh...actually I'm sad to say I have forgotten. But it was so long ago it seemed...after all of this..."
"It's OK." reasured Meersha. "Go on."
Lusala smiled weakly and nodded. "So, she took care of us for a few suns. But, she said she had to find someone, so she hunted as much as she could, and left us with full moons' worth of meat! It would've been great if the next sun, after she left, hyenas hadn't gotten it all." Meersha gasped and Lusala shook her head. "Don't worry. Naynana and I both got away before anything happend t' us."
"Why was that lioness alone, anyway?" Meersha then questioned.
"I'm not really sure...she was old...seanile?" the dark gold lioness suggested, and they both laughed. "But seriously, we were greatful for her...Things went downhill again, though...Naynana and I wandered where ever. We were cold at night, too hot in the day. We were always hungry, and most of the time thirsty. If we found a water hole, it was always filled with hippos or other animals around the edges like antelope or predators. We scavanaged what we could, but mostly the vulchers and hyenas got what was left from a kill by other hunters. Before long, we met up with Daba."
"Daba lived, too?" Meersha squealed in delight.
"Yeah...the thing is...well, I'll get to that part..."
Meersha's _expression quickly saddned.
"The three of us traveled for awhile, continuing to scavange. The thing is, we had scrambled upon a nesting area for ostriches. We didn't know it until one of them started to chase us and...killed Daba." Meersha gasped, but before she could say anything, her friend went on. "So Naynana and I grew into adolescents, and that's when we found Toga."
"Yes. He had grown much, too. There was another rough teen lion with him. His name was Kumba. Toga told us how they met out in the wild 'cause Kumba had also been chased away from his family by rogues when he was younger. Naynana and I didn't like it much, though, since Toga and Kumba kept talking about how they would take over a pride themeselves. We kept saying how it was wrong, but they also said how it wasn't fair those rogues got to do it to them, so that means they get t' do it t' a pride."
Meersha rolled her eyes with a smirk. "Guys...they're always like that. I think Banjija's thinkin' the same thing sometimes."
"What about Gatu?"
She shrugged. "Gatu's...different. I don't know..."
"Well, anyway, we all got together as like a small 'pride' in a way. We traveled for a bit, and were about to try hunting, when we found the territory borders of another pride. Toga and Kumba saw this as their chance, and wanted to go in and take over, but Naynana and I had our doubts. We were arguing about it, when suddenly not one, not two, not even three, but four huge lions came charging at us!"
"Yeah. They were the leaders of that pride, and still youthful and strong...They ended up hurting me and Kumba, but not half as bad as Naynana...they had gotten her leg."
"What?!" Meersha blurted out.
"...One pounced Nayana and they all began to bite her, rake her..." Lusala whispered, looking down and walking very slowly now.
Meerhsa could tell the memories were too hard and so she said, "You don't have to talk about it."
Lusala looked up and shook her head, her brown eyes now somewhat watery. "No. It's OK...Those...'leaders' got Naynana. They were about to kill her, and would've gotten away with more than her left foreleg, if Toga hadn't gotten in the way! Toga tried to fight them off and Kumba and I came back to help, too, but there were too much on him then! They killed him!"
"No!" cried Meersha.
"They did." uttered Lusala.
"What's goin' on here?" a muffled voice said.
It was Banjija. He held a hare in his mouth as he stood in front of them now, just as Gatu joined him, standing by the lion with some kind of rodent in his mouth.
"And with one eye," remarked Gatu proudly, with a full mouth.
Banjija rolled his eyes, but when Meersha looked at Lusala, Lusala nodded, and Meersha looked at her brother and half-brother.
"We have bad news." she stated. "Toga's dead."
There was silence, followed by Banjija spitting the hare out and replying, "We already knew that. I mean Mother said-"
"Mom was wrong," snapped Meersha, now sitting down.
Quickly, Lusala told them what she had told Meersha. There was another time for silent grieving, before Gatu then quiered, after spitting out his own dead animal, "Where's Naynana and that Kumba guy?"
"Kumba helped take Naynana away from the lions who had started to feast on Toga's body," Lusala weakly exclaimed. "I - almost in shock - had tried to get those lions away from him. Even though he was dead, I still felt as if I had to save him...I ended up being chased by the leaders, far to the east. For suns I wandered alone, and though I was already a bag of bones, I still grew worse. One night, I had thought I smelt some familiar scents lingering in the air, and so I followed it. I didn't know if my nose was playing tricks on me.
"Many times my nose, ears and eyes had done that to me; when I thought I had seen my mother, my sister, or anyone else in the family. Those tricks grew worse when I was seperated from Naynana and Kumba, though that was my fault. A few times I thought I had even seen them. But every time I thought someone was near, it ended up being a rock, a tree, a hill, a small water hole, or even just nothing.
"I was so desperate. That night I was taking the chance for another broken heart. When I followed the trail, I saw a lioness being attacked by something big and dark. I was weak, and thought, if I could save her myself, I would, because I knew I was going to die anyway. That's when I jumped it. Except, instead of it turning to attack me, it fell into the water, and just...disappeared...
"Then I found out, it was Meersha. And that you two were alive...and that it wasn't a trick!"
Lusala stood up and smiled, which shocked everyone. She turned to Meersha and asked, "So, the sun is new. Ya gonna teach me how t' hunt or what?"
Meersha couldn't help a smile break into her _expression as she stood and nodded. Suddenly the mood seemed much brighter as Banjija strutted over to Lusala.
"Hey, Lusala," he said. "My sister's great at hunting, we all know that. But if ya wanna learn from da Mast'a," Banjija was now smirking and placing a paw on his chest.
Everyone laughed and Meersha replied, "Females only! You two already caught your breakfast. Besides, I've been around guys too long."
With that, Meersha took off, and Lusala followed. It only took a few minutes for Lusala to quickly slow down, though.
"You all right?" asked Meersha, slowing down on purpose to trot by her friend.
Panting, she nodded. "Yeah...I'm fine I just..."
Lusala stopped as the tried to catch her breath. Meersha frowned.
"I forgot, you're weak." Meersha said.
"I mean, look at ya. You're skin, bone and wounded! Listen, I'll hunt. Then we can eat and we'll end up sunbathing for the rest of the day. Once you get well, and fatter," Meersha then laughed. "once you're the normal size a lioness should be, then I'll teach ya t' hunt. For today, just watch."
With no objections, Meersha led the weaker lioness to a hill so that she could over see the grasslands. Luckily, Meersha quickly caught a wildebeast and Lusala joined her for the morning meal. After hunger was satisfied, the two went back to the tree and laid in the shade, ever so often moving upon a flat rock to bask. As this went on, the two drifting in and out of sleep, Meersha explained to Lusala about hunting. About every technique she learned and now knew, from every animal she ever studdied. She answered Lusala's questions about how to do what and why and where. Lusala never got bored as she listened carefully. She had never hunted before, and was greatful for the couple of fresh meals she had recently had, that day and lastnight. So the yearning to learn on her own had caught up. After all, what if she was alone? What if something happened to make her be without friends or family again? She'd have to learn to take care of herself, and even just Meersha's words could mean the line between life and death.
Lusala began to admire Meersha and her knowledge, as well as her skills in the physical hunt itself. Not to mention tracking and stalking.
"Sometimes it'll take suns to find just a hint of scent," explained Meersha. "And even after that, the tracking could last suns more. And, if that's not enough, just keep in mind, you won't always get the meal, for a number of reasons. Sometimes you have to go back to scavanging."
"It's hard to imgaine you doing that, Meersh." replied Lusala, tail swishing around as she laid in the shade on her stomach.
Meersha chuckled, pleased as her own tail swept across the flat rock that she was basking on. "Thanks, I think."
"No, seriously. You're great at hunting! And to do it on your own? Or with just two lions? You're like a pride in one lioness!"
Meersha laughed again. But she couldn't get that thought out of her head. She was great at hunting after all, even if she didn't want to admit it. The boys themselves saw her better than them even!
"Don't worry, Lusala," she then said. "You've had a crappy life ever since we were driven from our family. But now we can live how we were supposed to: hunting and sunbathing and sleeping! Being nothing but happy, lazy lionesses!"
They both laughed.
A New Journey to Start
Lusala stayed with the group. Before long, she, too, was hunting, after having watched Meersha and the boys take on the prey. She grew faster, weller, even plumper, and also became the normal size of a lioness. There were still a few scars around her body, and her ears were still tattered, but other than that, she was just fine, and grew to be almost as great of a hunter as Meersha herself.
The suns continued to grow better. There was a rutine for each one: wake up, eat anything left from lastnight or hunt or scavange, then sunbath till night, in which another opportunity to hunt presented itself to them if they were in the mood and needed the meat. And, thankfully, since the incident, there was no more black creature coming from the water.
Lusala grew used to this lifestyle, and enjoyed it greatly. It was Meersha who, after many months of this, became almost...bored, in a way. She sighed and frowned, and each time there was a hunt, she joined less and less. Was this all life had to offer? First, her dad was pushed from her when he was killed. Then her mother was pushed from her when she and the cubs were forced from the pride. All that was left was to find out how to survive on their own, which they had done. And they even took care of a peer, nursed her back to health, and let her join. Meersha wanted something more in her life. Something that could mean danger, or it could be dangerous in the journey to find what she desired. But Meersha wanted the danger. Perhaps she desired a mate. And cubs? No. That was too far off into the future. It was unusual for an adolescent lioness to have or even want cubs. And male adolescents were usually still out by themselves or with other rogues, trying to live and survive before they actually found another pride to take over. As for Meersha herself, the thought did not even come into her mind. Only a mate. Which was also unusual for an adolescent to really want or have or have a go at, since mates usually meant cubs.
"No." Meersha suddenly told herself one day. She was sitting in the shade of the tree while the others were out hunting.
"No what?" someone asked. It was Lusala who had walked out from behind the tree.
"I thought you were hunting...?"
"I was going to, but I wanted to talk to you. You seem restless these suns, Meersh." and she sat down by the lioness, who sat up. "So...no...?"
Meersha sighed and shook her head. "I said no because...I can't have a mate. If I have a mate, then there's always a chance he will end up with the same fate as my father: dead. Or chased away."
"Meersha, where did this mate stuff start comin' in?"
"I just...I mean...I," and she sighed again. "I don't know why I'm thinking about a mate. Mother said she did not became a mate until she was fully grown...We look fully grown, but there are still signs of adolescence. Maybe the reason why I want one so early is because I find this life, well...boring, I guess I should put it."
"Boring?!" blurted Lusala, astounded now. "But, this is what we want. I mean, this is what every predator - no, every animal, every living thing wants...a thriving life! To survive! That's what we're doing, what we've been doing. What you three helped me to do."
"I know," Meersha said with yet another sigh as she faced away.
Lusala snuck in front of Meersha and said, more gently, "Meersha..." but she could not find the right words to convince her friend and so she sat down again. "This is it, Meersha. This is our destination. We've found it. To live healthy. Now all we need t' do is keep it up until we die."
Meersha shook her head. "Yes, to live healthy. But you are also forgetting, to live happily."
"I don't see why you aren't happy but..." Lusala finally said. "If a mate is what you want..."
Abruptly, Meersha leapt up and cried out, "I want what makes me happy! I want what makes me feel scared, not knowing if I am to be dead the next sun! I want adrenaline again! Maybe in some ways it was good to wander around before this life, to find this life...but mine is not yet completed...I guess...I guess I need that adrenaline back. You know, that journey."
"Journey?" Lusala tilted her head.
"The journey to get here. Where we're at and the positions we're in. It was a journey we took to get here - wandering around, scavanging and learning to hunt, trying not to die or get eaten. Now...now I want another journey."
Lusala blinked. She then sighed and nodded, which not only gave Meersha joy that she understood, but a surprised sensation.
"You want a journey, huh?" her friend then exclaimed. "A journey to find...this again?"
"And then some." added Meersha. "I want this and more. I don't want to sound greedy, but it's not exactly the destination itself I'm looking forward to. It's getting there."
Lusala smiled and nuzzled her half sister. "Are you to leave today?"
"I...I don't know." Meersha then said, dumbstruck. She had been talking about leaving, but didn't exactly put it into mind...Was she really to leave what she had thrived for? What she had made up?
Seeing the _expression in her face, and hearing the tone of excitment and pull back at the same time, Lusala reassured her with, "Don't worry. You taught yourself. You taught the boys. You taught me."
"To hunt. Isn't that all you really need to know to survive on your own?"
"I don't know...but I'm gonna find out!" cried Meersha.
She jumped up, just as Banjija and Gatu came over, trotting happily along.
"There's a whole mother buffulo we caught! She had a baby in her stomach!" exclaimed Banjija, proudly.
Meersha would've scolded them, but she turned to the males and said, "Guess what? I'm leaving."
"What?!" they both responded in half yells, half roars.
"This isn't true...?" Gatu cried, crestfallen.
"Yup. I'm going. Tell 'em, Lusala." Meersha giggled, anxiously.
Lusala nodded calmly, a grin on her face. "It's true. She's going to find her place in life."
Gatu suddenly walked over to Meersha to stare into her eyes with his own one. "Meersha...your place is here..." he whispered, gravely.
Banjija snarled and pushed Gatu out of the way. "Meersha! Don't act so stupid!"
"I'm not stupid." she stated, cooly then. "I'm just looking for more in life."
"What could you want more than life itself?" Banjija snapped back. "We're happy and healthy here."
"You are." and Meersha's mixted emotions went to that of a cub when she replied. Then she sighed, shook her head and said, "Look. You, Gatu and Lusala stay here. Live happily and healthy as you are. You know all that you have to t' live. But I think I need more."
"You know more than all of us!" roared Gatu, desperately. "And you're the best at hunting..."
"Good. I'll need the skills when I'm alone."
"No! I'm coming with-" Gatu began, but Meersha growled, breaking off his voice as she said, "No. I must do this alone. I have to find out more like...like...about what that creature was in the water, and just...lots of stuff."
"Stuff?" coughed her brother.
She nodded. "Yeah. Look, I can't explain it. Just leave me to go...Don't worry, it's not like I'm dying. And I'll come back some sun."
"But-" Gatu went on.
"And that's why you need to stay here," Meersha exclaimed, turning to him. "So I can find you again...Or, for some reason, if you're not here, I'll track ya all down, even if you went your own ways by then."
With that, she nuzzled and licked them all, biding a goodbye. "This is hard. Harder than words can explain." she purred. "But I have to go now...Goodbye..."
The yellow lioness turned, and took off running to the north. Banjija, Gatu and Lusala watched, all the way, until she disapeared from sight, across the savannah plain.
Just a couple miles away, she was still running, when she heard someone call her name in the distance.
"Huh?" she asked herself, turning her head to see Gatu running after her.
When he caught up, he tried to say something, but couldn't catch his breath. Finally, panting, he exclaimed, "Meersha...we need...you..."
"No. You don't need me. You know everything you have to...for now..."
"For now?" and he cocked his head to the side.
"Yes. For now. But look at yourself, Gatu! You're a male lion! And a rogue at that!"
"But we're a pride," he pleaded.
She shook her head. "Prides have cubs to keep them going. We are not one."
"Then...we can have cubs." Gatu suddenly blurted, before he could stop himself.
Meersha raised a brow. "Gatu...we can't."
"Why not?" and he took a step forward.
She snarled and hissed, which caused him to backup somewhat.
"Sorry," she muttered. "Reflexes...Anyway, we can't have cubs."
"We're not mates."
"We could be."
"Gatu! Listen to yourself!" Meersha yelled. "We're siblings! We have the same dad!"
"...He's dead now..."
"It doesn't matter! We still have the same blood," and then she became more gentle and warm. "Don't worry, Gatu. The thing is, you're a male rogue. And some sun, when you're ready, when your blood is pumping and your heart is racing...when your mane is full grown, when you are...when the time comes that you're ready, you'll find a pride."
"No!" he suddenly yelled.
But Meersha went on, still calmly. "Get to the old leader or leaders..."
"No! I won't!" Gatu cried, jumping back, then to the left, thinking he would go crazy at her words.
"And challenge them..." she continued.
"I will not! I won't!" he then snarled as he closed his eye and arched his back so that his face was to the ground and his front paws were wrapped over his head.
"You're acting like a cub," snapped Meersha.
He jerked his head up then, gazing at her. "Meersha, this is what happened to me!" he growled. Gatu didn't say what "this" was, but Meersha knew he was talking about his left eye - the one that had been ripped out by Ashuma. "Those rogues made our father crazy! And this is what happened! Because of those rogues. Because they wanted to take over...and they did!"
Meersha shook her head slowly, staring at nothing. Then, quietly she said, "Gatu..."
"And with that, they killed him! Killed the other cubs! And would've killed us, if we had not been chased from our home and family!" and then he stated, paning now as he narrowed his eye at her. "I won't."
She looked up warily. "I'm sorry, Gatu. I didn't mean...I didn't mean to offend you or bring back bad memories."
Meersha expected him to roar and continue to be enraged, but he shook his head and sat down to reply, "It's...OK..."
"But, Gatu. We cannot be mates. You must understand that."
Gravely, he nodded, blushing somewhat. Meersha then giggled and licked his face, which brought relief for the two of them, as the tension fell.
"We'll always be friends, though, right?" he asked.
"Of course!" she replied.
The two lions looked at one another, and silently bid each other farewell. With that, the lioness and lion each turned away at the same time, and left.
Meersha moved gracefully through the golden savannah, only to stop a few times for rest and ocassionaly a drink at a water hole - though she didn't stay long near any water. That whole day it seemed as if she could find no prey.
"What's with this place?" she asked herself, trotting around and sniffing the ground a few times as her ears twitched.
This part of the land seemed remotely empty. Though there were signs of a zebra herd. It did not help as it had been there more than a full moon ago that they were present.
When night kicked in, the lioness grew wary. Her droopy eyes spotted an empty cave not too far off and, if that wasn't enough, she could smell some kind of aroma drifting throughout the place. Instantly she licked her lips as her ears perked and her eyes narrowed. Meat. Fresh meat. She quickly bounded to the cave where the smell got thicker and there, Meersha spotted a bloody chunk of some kind of animal. It did not matter what kind it was or where it came from, but why was it here? There was another smell mixed with the meal, but she couldn't quite put her paw on it. The scent of whoever put it there was much too covered in the strange odors. And, before long, the lioness could not take it anymore, and leapt on the meat to hungrily dig in.
Many times she had gone without food, but she had grown so used to having it every sun now.
When she was done, she looked around, scanning the cave and the land outside of it for anyone. But there was nothing. As her fur prickled, she felt as if someone was near. Watching her every move. Soon, exhaustion kicked in, and once more, Meersha was trapped in what her body wanted.
"If they wanna complain, let 'em," she muttered, as she curled up.
Soon the lion drifted into a deep sleep...
Only a couple hours later, Meersha was still sound asleep. But something was lurking in the grasslands, right outside the cave. Shuffling and hurried whispers filled the night air.
"Did you give her the herbs?" a female voice questioned.
"Yes. I put them all over the cave and meat." was the reply. "She should be sleeping for all this moon and tomorrow's sun!"
"You idiot!" snarled someone else. "How are we supposed to get her now without falling asleep?"
There was a silence, in which the second voice seemed to be reflecting on her job.
"We'll just hold our breaths. Hurry! Mother's waiting!" exclaimed the first.
With that, three lionesses came into the cave and began to push Meersha out. When the fresh night air surrounded them once more, they opened their mouths and gasped for breath. After another moment, a lioness went on each side of her and pushed themselves under her body and held her up. The third climbed under and stood so that she was holding up her middle. The trio, with the sleeping Meersha, began to trot into the light of the moon.
Meersha awoke. Her vision was blurry at first, but she easily shook it off as she weakly sat up. Eyes crawling around, she gasped, as this was not the cave she had fallen asleep in. Instead, the lioness was now in a piece of the land that sunk only about a foot that reminded her of the nursery back when she was a cub. But around it were many rocks, circling the sunken land. Four lionesses stood, their backs to her, each at a different part of the circle that she was in.
"W-where am I?" she stammered, now standing.
The lioness who stood, facing the west, suddenly looked behind her at Meersha and gave a dark grin. The rest ignored her. But the lioness turned back around, and did not say anything.
"Where am I and who are you?" Meersha questioned, walking slowly over to the lioness who had just looked at her.
Meersha blinked at the silence, before she took another step. That's when she felt a cringe through her flesh as her head was slammed to the hard ground. She cried out in pain as her face was left with vertical, bloody cuts. Her eyes began to water as she flinched. She staggered up, just in time to see the lioness turn back around. Meersha hissed furiously as she leapt forward. Again, the lioness turned around to attack. Meersha found herself on the ground once more, with new wounds. She got up and shook.
"OK. So you don't like me..." Meersha began, but the lioness was silent.
Meersha lowly growled, but gave up, now stalking over to the lioness facing the north. Many times she attempted to talk to her, as well as the other two, but she was left empty pawed. The guards didn't even seem to move, unless she tried to walk passed either of them. That's when they corrected her endvouring escapes by slamming their bodies into hers and raking claws across her skin - mostly her face. But Meersha didn't need it much. After just three more tries - one to each, the one towards the south, one facing the east, and the other to the west - she quit.
Finally, her talking ceased, and Meersha soon found herself, laying down again in the middle. As she sighed and looked around, the sun began to fall. How long had she been asleep before?
"Ah," someone suddenly said.
Meersha aburptly lifted her head to stare at a lioness who had stepped passed the guards and into the sunken land. She stopped in front of Meersha.
"It's good to see the princess is awake," she mused.
Meersha hissed and crouched, ready to pounce if needbe. But the lioness just gave a terrifying chuckle. Meersha looked strong, though, as she straightened up again.
"I wouldn't even try that if I were you," the lioness mused. "Gonra, Bahashi, Ignu, Yawnda," she called, and instently the four guarding lionesses turned around to face the two lions in the middle. They sat at her motion.
"So. You're the leader." stated Meersha, more to herself than anyone.
The lioness nodded, flashing her teeth as she smiled. "You guessed right, princess," she snickered.
Meersha raised a brow.
The lioness she was talking to was white. Her face and muzzle were sharp, along with other features, and her body was slender while near the end of her tail was gracefully but slightly curved, then there were her gigantic paws that did not seem to match the rest of her at all. In fact, as Meersha glanced at the others, she could tell they looked almost the same, save for a few differences in their appearence.
"Allow me to introdue myself." the white one said as she sat, and Meersha did, too, glaring. "I am called Ahadgna." She paused. "...And I know you."
Meersha blinked. "Who am I?"
Ahadgna nodded before circling Meersha slowly. "You were with the males."
"Yes. The males who took my cub from me. The ones who stole our meat that wasn't rightfully theirs," she explained, still circling Meersha. "The ones who-"
Meersha gasped. "Banjija? Gatu? You mean...?"
Ahadga stopped suddenly in front of Meersha and snarled, "So you are with them!" and that's when the lionesses around them began to roar out, claws extended as the swept them through the air, almost threateningly.
"I-" started Meersha, surprised.
"You have their scent all over you!" inturrpted the white one. "You poor darling."
"I don't know what you were doing with them, or what they were doing with you, but it's all over now. Now, you can be with us, and we'll teach you."
"What? Teach me what?" Meersha asked.
"Teach you how to live without them. And don't worry, when the time comes, you'll lead us to them and they can get what they deserved for trying to take over our pride and kill the cubs." Ahadgna said, almost warmly as she smiled.
"What are you talking about?"
But the leader shook her head.
"Sisters! Let's take her to the plain,"
The lionesses began to push and prod at Meersha.
"What are you doing?!" Meersha snarled. But she could not help but be forced along, right behind Ahadgna herself. "Let me go!" she roared.
They ignored her, and before long, she was being pushed into the savannah, where many more lionesses awaited. They gave toothy grins as they spotted the frightened Meersha.
"I won't tell you where they are, so you're wasting your time!" she exclaimed.
Gatu woke up, aburptly as he panted. He looked around.
"You've been asleep for awhile. Have a good nap?" asked Lusala, gently as she sat by him. They were at the tree.
He got up and blurted, "Where's Meersha?" before he could help himself.
"Gatu," Lusala said, taken back somewhat. "She's been gone for three suns now. Remember?"
He nodded and sat up, still breathing hard.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
Again, he nodded, just as Banjija came trotting over. Both of their manes - though still growing - were getting fuller and longer each day. So far, Banjija's was a beautiful, sleek redish gold, while Gatu's was a raven black.
"Whoa, what have you two been doin'?" he asked with a raised brow as he stood by them.
Lusala batted at him. "Banjija!"
"All right, all right. I'm just kidding." he laughed.
"I...I don't know why but...it feels...wrong," Gatu whispered.
"What are you talking about?" Banjija replied.
Lusala looked at him and asked gently, "Gatu...what is it?"
"It's Meersha," Gatu then said more loudly, looking up. "I think she's in trouble."
"What? How so?" Banjija quickly questioned.
"I...I don't know."
"Where are you getting this from, Gatu?" the lioness said.
"I don't know that either. It's just, I have a gut feeling."
She shook her head. "Gatu. I know you miss her. But she'll come back."
"It's not that!" he snarled.
Lusala sighed and walked over to Banjija, then looked at Gatu again.
"Sorry," he muttered.
"Look, if you really feel something's wrong," Lusala exclaimed. "Well I mean, she's three suns away from here..."
"He's just missing her is all," said Banjija quietly as they turned around to walk slowly away. "Let's just let 'im have some time to 'imself."
"Yeah," she agreed.
Gatu sighed and shook his head, thinking, They're probably right. I'm just freakin' out for no reason. Meersha's fine...
"But Mother, she's not a cub. She's almost an adult," Yawnda was saying, not too far from the circle of rocks Meersha had been before.
Now Meersha was being watched over by a few lionesses some yards away.
"She is young," assured Ahadgna as she sat on a rock, staring strongly down at her so-called daughter. "We can still get her. We can still teach her the right ways of life."
"She's almost an adult!" argued the lioness more, her fur bristling.
"Enough!" snarled the Broken-Claw leader. Then she became calmer and explained with much dominance, "You will hush. You will not question my ways anymore. You will go on with this. You will listen to me. You will be loyal."
Yawnda's fur came down smooth again as she glared, holding the gaze for several seconds, as did her "mother." But finally, Yawnda let it down with a sigh, and dipped her head in a bow.
"As you wish, Mother..." Yawnda growled, looking up again. "But if I may say-"
"You may not say, Yawnda! Look, do you see a mane on her?"
"She might be close to being an adult, but she is not a male, and she is still young. We can get her. We will get her. She will know the right ways of life..."
"I don't know what you want or what you're planning, but I'm not going along with it. You're wasting your time!" snarled Meersha as Ahadgna walked over, Yawnda trailing behind. "If you don't let me go I'll-" she started to threaten, but the white lioness cut her off.
"Or you'll what?" Ahadgna challenged. "Fight? Look around you - there's thirty well raised, well experienced lionesses against one adolescent - you." and that's when she give a wicked smile. "Or were you planning on getting your friends here? I'd like to know how...and besides, even if they came, you know what we'd do to them."
"What'd they do to you?" Meersha whispered coldly, staring into Ahadgna's peircing eyes as she took a step forward so that they were face to face.
"I told you...They stumbled upon our lands, and acted as if they were cubs so that they could get to us. They took our cubs' meat. They took our cub. They had manes." she exclaimed, seeming to grow angry now.
"So?" growled Meersha, somewhat surprised.
All the lionesses were watching now. It was the whole Broken-Claw pride, that was obviously much bigger than when Gatu and Banjija had visited them several full moons before. Now that the female cubs were older, they looked almost adult, though they were still younger than Meersha herself. They were also taught and raised to fight, which beat the odds - if possible - even more. The question was, where were the male cubs?
"You know very well yourself about how males are." Ahadgna lowly growled.
"What do you mean?" and Meersha slightly tilted her head.
"You know what I mean. Every lioness here does...except the ones we raised ourselves...Males. Lions. They take over your pride and family and either kill you or kill your cubs. All of them are." At her words, Meersha would've broken down, if she had not already built up her strength, spirit and courage, living out in the world and learning to survive without a pride or the rest of the family. She had grown strong. Very strong. But the sharp lion went on with, "All except..."
Ahadgna smiled again, and Meersha was so stunned at the expression that she took a step back.
"Come. Follow me. It's time to meet the only true males in this world."
She turned, and Meersha quickly followed. Behind her, the rest of the pride padded after them.
"What makes them true?" Meersha managed to question as the continued to walk in the moonlight.
The savannah was greatly lit by that moon and its stars that so littered the dark, vast sky above. Crisp was the atmosphere, as the wind strongly pushed each blade to lightly slant to the north. Crickets chirped, filling the night with their gentle songs.
"Because they were raised by us." stated Ahadgna, not looking back at the adolescent female. "We taught them the right ways of life. They know better than to take over any pride..."
Soon, they stopped, right near three unusual stones that rose up at least five feet into the air, where the moon seemed to stay right behind them. The circular rocks were long and vertical, much like solid cylinders.
"There," whispered Ahadgna as she slowly sat down, cold eyes staring at the rocks.
Meersha sat behind her, as did the rest of the pride.
"What are you talking about?" she began. "There's no-"
Just then, three lions leapt out from nowhere, causing Meersha to jump in surprise. She watched as one jumped up on a rock, then pounced to the other, and after that to the last one. The other two followed, and soon, each lion was sitting upon one of the rocks. They seemed to glisten in the moonlight - at least their eyes, which seemed sharp and were all the same color: blue. Ahadgna turned to Meersha with a grin.
"Blue. The color of the true lion." she exclaimed, before standing up. "Half-cub, I would like to introduce to you, the true lions! The Drie-Leeu!...Our sons!"
Suddenly Meersha couldn't take it anymore and leapt up, snarling, "Look! I don't care who they are! Or who you are! I want out of here!"
Ahadgna shook her head and said, "I am sorry, half-cub, but this cannot be done."
"My name is Meersha."
"We will deal with your name later..."
"What do you want me for?!" she cried.
Besides the crickets and the lonely breeze, everyone was quiet as they watched, listened and waited.
Ahadgna replied, "You have the scent of those murderous males over you. You seem to know them..." She waited for Meersha to say something, but she continued the silence as she glared. "We must help you. Whether you liked them or not, you are going to be taught the way we taught our cubs, who are now as old as you. You will refer to them," she nodded to the other lionesses, "as sisters. I will be called Mother. And the Drie-Leeu are your brothers...for now."
Suddenly a lioness jumped from the pride and pleaded, "Mother, you can't!"
Ahadgna seemed to ignore her. "For when the time comes," she went on. "We will bring you back here: to the Rock Claws. That is when you see them like this again, and you will pick one, to not be your brother, but to be your mate, so that you can continue the Broken-Claw pride. You will have cubs of your own, while adopting others who have been chased off by non-true male lions. But, that won't be till you're old enough. For now, they are your brothers..." and that's when she turned to the lioness who had pleaded. "Yawnda, I will appoint you to show your new sister around when the sun rises."
Yawnda nodded and bowed, despite the protest she had just blurted out a few moments ago.
"The rest of you," Ahadgna said, turning to the pride, who scattered off in their own directions. "My sons...off with you. Don't bother your new sister until she's been showed the lands tomorrow."
Just then, the males leapt from their posts and wandered off into the night.
"Half-cub, you will learn to obey me. Remember, I am your mother after all-"
"I told you what my name is!" Meersha yelled. "And I'm not a part of your pride! Mine is...the Tree pride." she quickly lied, thinking up a name to suit her and her brothers and half-sister for their studdies in other hunters.
"Well if you are a part of a pride, why were you gone?" challenged her "Mother."
"I...I...I don't know...I was being stupid I guess..." Meersha sighed, now feeling the dawn of regret lapping over her. Why had she left? To find something? A journey? How stupid she felt now, for she had everything she ever needed back with Banjija, Gatu and Lusala. Now she was far off, by herself, captured, and none of them knew nor would guess that she was or where she was.
Yawnda raised her brow, seeming to study Meersha now.
"Half-cub...do you like when lions take over prides and kill or chase away the young, while doing the same to the rightful leader?" Ahadgna suddenly challenged.
Meersha blinked in surprise. "I - well...no...but-"
"This is what the Broken-Claw is against. We take cubs that have been chased or were lucky enough to escape. We adopt them. Raise them. We teach them the ways a true lion should follow, just as the true lioness herself has. One who does nothing about an attacking rogue is not a true lioness."
"But when the older leader is too old..."
"It doesn't matter," Ahadgna said. "The rogues are still murderers. The only lions we trust now are our sons and your brothers - the Drie-Leeu."
"If you ever had a mate, wouldn't you want the mate to stay with you? Not be a murderer? And not to be murdered?"
"If you stay with us and let us teach you our ways, you can have a mate like that...The ones we raised...the true lions..." Ahadgna bribed.
It's not that Ahadgna or the Broken-Claw were giving Meersha a choice - they'd make her stay with them anyway and force teach her - but this way seemed much easier.
Meersha blinked, and suddenly all the rage blocked her mind from anything but the pictures of her father and brother being murdered. This had been the anger that had built up in her over the many full moons since the incident.
"I...You're right..." she suddenly said, not believing her own words. Ahadgna grinned wickedly as Meesha said, "I'll stay."
"Wake up," spat Yawnda.
"Huh?" Meersha moaned as she opened her eyes slowly.
She had slept in a near cave the whole night with Yawnda guarding the enterence. Now the sun lightered parts of the den floor. Meersha was led outside into the hot savannah. There were pawprints and scents all over from the Broken-Claw, but Meersha could see no lioness, except one who quickly disappeared over a rise in the land.
"This wasn't the place my brothers came to when they were younger," Meersha exlcaimed, looking around as she scented the air, her nose and whiskers twitching.
"Yeah," Yawnda replied, not looking back. "After that little...incident with your 'brothers', Mother decided to move the pride far to the east, which we did. When someone smelt the unworthy males - your brothers - we became on full alert. In fact, we thought you were one of them from a distance, then one of our sisters exclaimed how you were a female who she saw in the company of the males, a while back. So we gave you some sleeping herbs and took you back here, in our new territory...Actually it's not so new. We've been here for a few full moons now."
"You drugged me?!" cried Meersha.
"How else would we get you? Anyway, now we call these lands the Broken-Claw Empire. It's more than two hundred acres around...and don't think you can escape. We've trained our cubs to be guards so if you try to pass the borders...we'll know...and they'll attack."
"You trained them to do that?"
Yawnda shrugged. "Trained...raised...Half the time, half of the female cubs - now adolescents - are guards at the borders of the empire."
"Where's the other half?" Meersha questioned, right as they stopped near a large group of lionesses.
Two lionesses - bigger, older ones - were talking. They seemed to be teaching the younger lions.
"When the one half isn't guarding, they're being taught by the best fighters in our pride." Yawnda explained.
Yawnda grinned as she looked over her shoulder. "Can you guess?"
Meersha gasped. "What would you need them to fight for?"
Again, the yellow lioness shrugged as they continued on their way, walking through the grass.
"Mostly for untrue, unworthy males...See, we have a group go out once every full moon to find a male lion - adult, or with a mane - and kill it, even if he's a leader."
"What?! You can't do that!"
"We can and we do." growled Yawnda, annoyed. "And there's nothing you can do about it...Anyway, they're mostly getting ready for when the time comes."
"Time for what?"
"...When the trackers in our pride, find your brothers..."
Meersha suddenly leapt in front of Yawnda with a snarl. "You hate males, I know! I get it! But you can't go stalking, fighting and killing everyone you find!"
"Why not? Every adult lion we find has taken over a pride."
"Not my brothers! Besides, you're going against what you hate: murder. You hate them because they murder the cubs and the old leader, or chases them away!"
"Everyone we've met has either taken over a pride, or will take over a pride."
"They won't!" Meersha challenged...She recalled when she last saw Gatu, hearing and seeing his distress and rebellion...as for Banjija, Meersha was not sure what he was planning for the future...
"They tried to when they first got their manes," Yawnda stated.
"No they didn't!"
For one solid minute, Yawnda and Meersha glared. Each lioness held the gaze as their coats bristled, yet the two knew it was almost impossible to kill or try to kill the other, given the cirumstances they were under. After all, there was a whole pride that could kill Meersha if they wanted to, and Yawnda was under Ahadgna's commands.
Finally, Yawnda smirked and said, "Look darlin', I don't make the rules." She walked in front of Meersha again. "So, let's forget about this."
"But this is why I'm here, right?" Meersha replied. "To you lead you to my brothers?"
"Mother seems to think so,"
"Ha! Well, shows ya how much you know. I would never do such a thing. I would never betray them."
"Hunny," Yawnda snickered. "By joining this pride, you already did."
But Meersha returned the _expression. I won't do such a thing. Under no influence, teaching, raising, bribing, threatening, or even torture would I do such a thing, the young lioness told herself.
"C'mon now, half-cub, we don't have much time," exclaimed Yawnda.
"My name is Meersha. Not half-cub, not princess, not darlin', got it?"
"OK, Meersha. But don't get used to it."
"We're heading to Mother, who's just across the river, over the revine in the north. She's there to give you your new name. Your Broken-Claw name."
Meersha snarled, "Meersha is my name! My own father gave it to me! Do you know how special that is?!"
The cackles of Yawnda filled the air before she said, "A name given by a male? Yeah, that's real special! Mother and sisters'll be thrilled t' hear that!"
"Why do you call Ahadgna Mother, and the others your sisters?"
"We are supposed to."
"Yeah but, wouldn't Ahadgna call you daughter then, instead of sister."
"No...We see it as we are under her, while she is equal to us."
"But that doesn't make sence!" Meersha blurted.
"You will learn, young one..."
"But I don't want to!" Yawnda raised a brow. "I mean," Meersha went on, desperately. "I agree with you and the Broken-Claw on some things, but not everything! Not murder! Not the thing that you use to gain power, which is the exact thing you're against! I don't believe in that! Or changing other's names! Or-"
"It doesn't matter what you believe in! You're here now, with us...You can do nothing now! Nothing."
Meersha heaved a sigh. A sigh filled and littered, blanketed and layered with the most regret she had felt in her life. First, by leaving the only family she had left, and then by joining murderers - not only that, but murderers who wanted to kill her own brother and half-brother! And then she thought...maybe, by joining their enemies, she could keep the Broken-Claw from them. She could save them! Meersha didn't know how or when, but when the time did come...
For awhile, Yawnda and Meersha walked through the lands, Yawnda pointing out places and things, but only Meersha put them out of her mind as she reflected on her own decisions, sighing ocasionally. Then they came to the vertical, huge rocks that the "true males" had been on lastnight.
"You will not come here at all. If you do, you will be punished. Understand?" Yawnda exclaimed.
"We were just here lastnight, though." pointed out Meersha.
"Yes, one of the only times you'll be here. See, you come here only twice. Once to be introduced to the only true males - which you have done - and the second time is when you come to pick which one is your mate."
Meersha liked the idea of at least having a mate who didn't plan on killing cubs and other males or chasing them away. She just hoped her heart would truely call out to one of them...
"When will that happen?" she then asked.
"Not till you're older." said Yawnda as she got up and stretched. "Now come along, half-cub. We don't have much time and Mother wanted us at her relem when the sun was high. Well it's high now and we're not there yet."
They began to walk further to the north again.
Meersha sighed. She figured if she wasn't going to be called by her name, she'd take Yawnda's advice and start getting used to it now.
Soon, they past the river and climbed over the revien on a fallen log. When they came to the top of a hill, they spotted Ahadgna, grooming herself atop another hill that came up from the one they stood on. In the leader was on was a cave that had formed in it.
"Now you're here?" the white lioness growled, not looking up from the paw she was licking as she laid on her side.
"Yes well, this half-cub seems to be dragging her paws like a full cub," Yawnda replied.
"I was following you the whole time!" Meersha cried, defensively.
"Girls, my sisters...stop fighting. You're both acting like cubs. There was no excuse for your lateness. Now, if we can get on with the naming..."
Meersha was suddenly shoved forward by Yawnda, so that she stood right by the cave, and was looking up to the white lioness who was lying, not even a foot above her.
"When I give the name," Ahadgna said, now looking up at Yawnda. "You will immedietly tell the rest of the pride, got it?"
Yawnda nodded solemly.
"Right then," she said, looking down at Meersha with a smirk.
"If you don't mind...I'd like my old name." Meersha replied.
"Silence!" Ahadgna snarled abruptly. "You will be called sister, or you will be called your new name. But that's it! Understand?"
Meersha sat, and forced herself to nod, not looking at Ahadgna.
"Look at me." the leader growled, though.
The adolescent lifted her head to stare into the cold gaze of the lioness above her.
"Living here won't be hard if you follow our rules, which you will do. Understand?"
Meersha heaved an inward sigh and added with a choke, "Mother..."
"That's right..." she whispered, now calm.
Meersha could feel Yawnda's eyes on her. She knew she was enjoying this very much so. In fact, Yawnda was styfling a giggle and hiding a grin. Annoyance and anger burnt into Meersha's skin, but she stayed still and listened.
"Hmm...what should your name be?" pondered Ahadgna carefully. After a few moments of careful thought she said, "Your name is...Izegbe. Yes, that is it! Because now that I think about it, you are the one we have been waiting for! You are the savior of the Broken-Claw! After all, you came to us with the scent of the ones we must kill. And you are the one to give birth with one of our males - true males. And to adopt others. You will be the one to bring on the Broken-Claw's message." and with that, Ahadgna smiled widely, which made Meersha shift uncomfortably.
Suddenly, her eyes darted behind Meersha, to Yawnda, who suddenly dipped her head in a small, quick bow and took off.
"Yes, my cub. Come here. I will lead you to your teachings...Your raising will begin soon..."
"I was already raised," growled Meersha lowly.
"You will be taught the right ways now." Ahadgna growled back. "Now come. Follow me. They're waiting."
Two of the Drie-Leeu
That day, Meersha had been led to a place where four hills were surrounding a part of the land. She was forced to sit inside that bowl of a land with four other, older lionesses. They taught her for about an hour, telling how they despised lions, all in different ways. But it was the same thing. When Meersha was let out, she felt so relieved...at first. For when the adolescent was walking over the bowl of knolls, onto flat land once more, she was disgusted to have to be paired up with Yawnda again.
"Mother's orders, sister Izegbe," Yawnda exclaimed.
Meersha shook her head but said nothing except, "What do you have to do with me now?"
"Follow me." and she took Meersha up through a slanting piece of land, that ended in a platue, which steeply dropped like a cliff. There, they could oversee the lands of the Broken-Claw.
"So?" asked Meersha.
"You are very foolish, half-cub."
"I thought you said you'd stop calling me that," she grumbled.
Yawnda shrugged. "Anyway," she went on. "I didn't get to show you all of our lands. From here, I can point out much of what we missed. Now, over there," and Yawnda nodded towards a hilly part of the empire in the distance, where Meersha could just make out specks of lionesses who laid abou lazily. "Is where most of the pride goes after work."
"Learning, teaching, hunting, fighting, and more."
"Enough!" the older lioness hissed. "I only have a few more things to show you and I want to get this over with as quickly as possible...Now, over there is the largest water hole we have, though there are a few other smaller ones, as well as a river and some streams - you can see those yourself. Over there is..."
Meersha sighed and sat down, looking at her paws with a frown and half-closed eyes as the sun began to fall.
"Oh, and if you'd follow me onto the ledge beneath the higher cliff," Yawnda was saying.
With nothing in reply, Meersha got up and slumped behind Yawnda, when suddenly, something fell in front of them: a lion.
"Uhawku," snarled Yawnda. "I'm trying-"
"To bore her to death?" finished Uhawku.
Meersha grinned as the young lion stepped closer to them. His pelt was a glistening brown-gold in the sun, while his crimson mane came down in a mohawk to his shoulders, but covered his chest completely. The tuff on his tail, as well as the ones on the back of his joints of his forelegs matched the coat itself, though. He was only a few months younger than Banjija and Gatu, Meersha guessed.
"Why, hello there, princess," Uhawku said, staring at Meersha with his blue, gleaming eyes. "How have we been so far? Bored, I take it?" and he chuckled. "Yawnda can sometimes be like that."
"Hush, Uhawku!" Yawnda growled.
"Oh right, sorry. I meant all the time."
Meersha's grin grew to a smile as Uhawku padded over to her. His head was round, and though the lion's body was still growing, it seemed like it was taking the shape of Kovu's torso, yet smaller.
"Look, Yawnda," Uhawku said, tossing back his still-growing mane and glancing at the older lioness. "I can take her from here if you'd like. I can take her off your paws."
"Mother said..." Yawnda started, but trailed off with a blink, then she, too, was grinning. "Right, well. You know these lands, too, Uhawku. Go show her around...Oh and, try not to make a fool out of yourself too much." she added.
"Once the sun shines on you," he snickered as she walked down the slant. "C'mon," the young lion then said, looking at Meersha. "Let's head south."
Meersha walked slowly beside Uhawku.
"So, you like it here?" he asked, curiously.
"It's OK. Be honest. I won't tell, not that they'd care how you feel anyway."
"All right." she said. "To tell you the truth, I don't like it. I mean, I agree with the Broken-Claw on some terms, but changing people's names? Killing males?!"
"Taking cubs," Uhawku joined in.
Meersha gasped. "What?!"
"Yeah. Once every full moon, the pride splits. Half will go out to find males t' kill, while the other half goes out t' find cubs that have been chased off, escaped, or are still with their families."
"That's horrible!" she cried.
Uhawku just shrugged, though.
"Don't you care?" Meersha questioned then.
"Yes but...Well you have to see, this is the way I was born and taught. And raised as well. The only males I turst are my brothers, Hawkna and Kikaru."
"Let me guess, part of the Drie-Leeu." Meersha said, rolling her eyes and shaking her head.
"Yeah, but let's not talk about that now..."
"So...what do you want to talk about then?"
"Let's talk about your brother and that other male," he suggested.
"What? What about them?" she snapped, now alert.
"Whoa, nothing. I mean, don't take it that way, Izegbe. It's just, I'd like to know something about them before the pride-"
"What?!" Meersha suddenly snarled, causing Uhawku to jump. "Before they get me to tell them where they are? Before you kill them?!"
"Er, well, eventually-" he began but she roared out and started to run.
For a few minutes she ran, until she came to a small water hole. There she sat and stared down at the water coldly, fur bristling. What did you do? she asked herself, and suddenly slapped the water with a paw. You left your family for murderers, that's what! For a moment, she thought about the picture of the dark savannah that had appeared in the water three times in her life, and about the creature. And in that moment of pondering, Meersha wished the creature had gotten her.
Suddenly, as the ripples cleared up and the surface was smooth again, there was the face of another male lion, right by hers. She quickly jerked her head around to see a lion, standing right behind her. His body was slim like that of Taka's. His face was lean, and the snout almost came out in a rectangle. His fur was colored the same as light grain, while his mane was brown - darker than Uhawku's coat. The mane grew just as Uhawku's as well - in a mohawk, not fully done.
"What do you want?" she growled in a crouching posistion.
"Slow down, my rosebud," he replied, slowly and carefully.
Meersha blinked and stood straight. "What did you call me?"
"I am sorry, sister Izegbe. It is just, your fur, your tail, your body, your paws, your face and your beautiful eyes catch mine and seem to never let my gaze go."
With another blink of surprise, Meersha shook her head and began to walk, saying over her shoulder, "My name is Meersha."
"Meersha. Right. Forgive me, frolicking angel."
"What the hell are you talking about?" the lioness yelled, turning around aburptly, making the lion stop so fast he almost ran into her.
His blue eyes grew, but then his mouth curved into a smile. "Forgive me again. Come. Let us start over again. I am Hawkna, part of the Drie-Leeu, one of the only true lions in the world, a piece in the Broken-Claw, a brother of yours now, and hopefully a mate of yours later." With his slender words, he picked up one of Meersha's paws in his own and licked it.
"Right," Meersha said, yanking her paw away and shaking it a bit. "Just call me Meersha. Not Izegbe. Not half-cub. Not princess. Not sister. Not mate. Not darling...Actually, not rosebud or frolicking angel either."
She figured the females of the Broken-Claw would call her all of those but Meersha, but if the males wanted her, then they would have to call her Meersha. There was a chance with them at least.
"Meersha, my beautiful lioness. I am very pleased to meet you. Now do me a favor," he added.
She cocked her head a bit. "What?"
"Come. I will show you."
With that, the young lion led her a few yards away near a rotting stump. There, a carcass rested. Yet it was too bloody and ripped up for Meersha to tell what it once was. Lifting a brow, she sniffed it, then looked up at Hawkna again, who swore and glared at the ravaged dead animal.
"Damn those vulchers!" he snarled.
Meersha shook her head. "Well, thanks anyway. But I'm not hungry...I think I'll just go take a walk."
But he followed. "Allow me to show you around."
"Uh, that's OK." Meersha replied, looking away.
"Why? Was that brother of a fur ball Uhawku bothering you?" She looked back at him and he continued. "Ah, it is. Forgive him. My brother does not know any better. But please, let me show you how I am."
There was a deafening silence as they walked, when she finally asked, "Are you at all like him?"
He shook his head. "Not at all, my love! And if you pick me," and he began to rub his head against hers, purring loudly. "I'll be happy to you show you how much different I can be than other males."
"What?" she asked, eyes wide now.
"You know what I mean."
He licked her face. Growling, Meersha took a paw and swiped it at his face, leaving marks. The lion jumped back in pain as she took off. For some while more, she sprinted through the grass, only to stop at the edge of another cliff. There, the lioness sat, panting and breathing hard, before finally, she broke down, and sobbing filled the air.
"You didn't get her either?" someone snickered. "Ha! I knew it!"
Suddenly, Meersha looked up, her eyes watery. But instead, they fell down the cliff, to where Uhawku stood, just as his brother, Hawkna, came running up.
"I was gonna look for her, when I caught your scent. Were you spying?" Hawkna asked, catching his breath.
Ten feet above them, Meersha laid low, still watching and listening.
Uhawku chuckled and replied, "What happened to your voice?"
"What do you mean?"
"Before, you were talking all sweet and romantic," Uhawkna exclaimed, fluttering his eye lashes, before bursting out laughing.
"Well you're the one who pissed her off in the first place. I had the trouble of trying to build her back up," the teen lion growled, narrowing his eyes.
"Looks like neither of us is gonna get her, or those delisious batch of antelope babies."
Hawkna shook his head. "Speaking about meat, you took part of that zebra I got her, didn't you?"
With that, Uhawknu grinned, almost the same way Meersha had seen Ahadgna do before. "Tell me, brother, was it really a zebra?" A moment of silence, and the brown lion shook his round head. "Tut, tut, tut. Hasn't Mother taught you the consequences of lying?"
"What about stealing?"
"Ha! Stealing? You were the one who took from the bet! Remember, you only get those babies if you get the girl."
Meersha gasped to herself, "A bet?"
"And you only get them if you win." his brother challenged.
Uhawknu lifted his paw to lick it as he closed his eyes and replied, casually, "You're the one who stole it first."
After a while, Hawkna started to lick his pelt.
"Too bad we didn't ask Kikaru to join in on this bet." Uhakwu finally said.
"Yeah but, he's always by himself. I doubt he'd win anyway," Hawkna replied.
Suddenly, as rage boiled in her stomach, Meersha let out a deafening roar that cracked any near silence as she leapt up. She spat down at the lions who were now staring back up at her with wide eyes, "Lions! You freaks! A bet? What the hell is wrong with you?!"
Meersha took off for a third time, now running as fast as she could, heart pounding in her ears.
Meersha ran and ran. A few time she was smacked and snarled at by guarding lionesses if she accidently stepped over the borders of the Broken-Claw Empire. But she did nothing in her defence, not caring. Soon, as her paws carried her, she became tired, and yet still restless. Night came and, panting, the young lioness found a water hole in the southwest. It didn't even seem that the guarding lionesses were near, and so, she sat down on the water's edge, glaring at herself as she had done earlier that day. Yet, as the moonlight came down across the smooth surface of the lake, Meersha couldn't help looking up, and seeing a lion, not too far off in the distance. He was pale - pale like the moon. For some distant reason, the lioness got up, and walked over. He seemed too busy, staring down at the reflection of the moon to notice her. It looked as if he was trying to concentrate - that there was something he needed to see and find, but that he couldn't. Nevertheless, his eyes did not move from the silky liquid which his view easily past through.
Quietly, Meersha said, "Hi."
The lion started and looked up at her, almost in shock for a moment. "What? Oh! Er, um, h-hi, um...Izegbe! S-sorry!" he stammered, trying to find the right words as his blue and white eyes laid on her.
Meersha smiled. "Just call me Meersha."
Becoming calm, the lion nodded and replied, "Meersha...that's a nice name."
"Thank you. My father named me."
"You...you remember your father?"
"Yeah. Don't you?"
He shook his head, his black mane swaying as he did so. "No...All I remember is walking through the savannah as cub. Then Mother found me and gave me a name."
"Mother? You mean, Ahadgna?"
"Didn't you have a name before?" she questioned further.
"No. I mean, yeah, probably. But I don't remember it. Well actually, I remember the lionesses called me something. But my real name came when my mane began to first show itself. So Mother Ahadgna gave me my real name."
"So...what is your 'real' name?" Meersha purred warmly.
"Kikaru. Er, that's what she says."
Meersha nodded. "That's cool...Kind of sad, though."
"What? Why? Mother named me, and that's not sad."
"It's sad that you don't remember your real name."
"Well...Mother says this is my real name now."
"But your mother...your real mother must've named you something before...You don't remember?"
"I don't even remember her. Doesn't matter, though. She is my real mother now."
"That's what she tells you...Look, can I give you a name?"
"Can I give you a name?" she repeated.
He blinked, taken aback. "Sure." he finally answered with a grin.
"Hmm," she thought aloud.
Meersha studdied him. His _expression was gentle, but with strong compassion. His body had muscle. The mane, tail tuff, as well as the tuffs on the back of his front leg joints were all night black, like Gatu's, while his coat was white. Like Ahadgna's. The shape of his body was Mufasa's, and the face looked like a pale Simba. She could easily compare him to all whom she knew, and even ones she did not.
"You look like...a Hadra? No. More like, Gwalu. Nah..." Meersha sighed and shook her head, closing her eyes, when finally, the perfect name came to mind. She opened her purple eyes and smiled. "Zarazu!"
Kikaru tilted his head. "Zarazu?"
"All right...but on one condition," he said.
Meersha frowned, hoping that he would not be the same as the other two.
"I will be Zarazu and call you Meersha, if you call me Zarazu."
"Well of course! That's why I named you that!" she giggled in relief.
Zarazu then warned, "We must call each other those in private, though. We'll get punished if we don't."
The two put their paws together, as if shaking. They grinned at each other and stood, starting to walk by the water's edge.
"It's beautiful in this place of the Broken-Claw's lands," Meersha exclaimed, staring at the water.
"You know, you're a lot different than your brothers."
"We're not really brothers...Anyway, they're jerks,"
"I know." she said, rolling her eyes.
"That we're not really brothers, or that they're jerks?"
He shrugged. "Well, they're not that bad. Just get t' know 'em a bit."
"They put a bet on me." growled Meersha.
Kikaru - or Zarazu - gasped. "They what?!" he snarled, and she nodded. "I'll...talk to them...when I can."
"How come I've never seen you around?" she then asked.
Again, the teen lion shrugged. "I usually like to stay here..."
"I can see why."
"I mean, the Broken-Claw...they're my family, but at the same time...I don't agree on some things." he said, shaking his head gravely. "Things have happened anyway..."
"There were many more males here in this pride - cubs I mean. Anyway, when we all got our manes, we were given our special Broken-Claw names, and put through many tests. One night, the pride found the males talking about females. Luckily, Hawkna, Uhawku and I were out, trying to find mice and other small game."
"That was here? I mean in these lands?"
"Yeah...Anyway, we had left because the others were talking about the females...you know...We knew any male would get in trouble, talking about females like that, so we were smart...Yet, when we came back...only the bodies of the cubs were left..."
Meersha gasped. "They killed them?!"
"Yes...Mother and the sisters told us how it was bad and how those cubs would've been full adults soon, and soon try to take over the Broken-Claw as well as other prides, despite their teachings from Ahadgna and the other lionesses."
For awhile, they walked slowly, not talking, just listening to the night breeze and the distant crickets as the long blades of the savannah tickled their legs, and the bone-chilling water surounded their paws every time they dared to step in. But, far off, there was a dark lioness, who glared at them. She couldn't help but let a snarl escape from behind her lips as she turned around and began to stalk off, near the middle of the Broken-Claw Empire where Ahadgna would be found atop her specia hill.
"Mother," growled Yawnda. "It's not working."
"What? What's not working? And what's so important that you have to wake me?" grumbled Ahadgna from inside the cave.
"It hasn't been long at all, my sister. Give it time. Then she'll be just like one of us."
"But she and Kikaru! They're secretly calling each other by their cub names!" excalimed Yawnda.
Ahadgna peaked out of one eye. "Cub names? What is Kikaru's cub name anyway?"
"Well, when we found him out on our search many full moons ago, he said he didn't remember. And when we brought him back, he was still a small cub, not worthy of his Broken-Claw name yet. So the other cubs started calling him Chioke, and it caught on. Don't you remember?"
The white leader nodded as she got up, stretched and yawned. "Right. OK. So what else?"
"They made a deal and Izegbe - the precious," she added with a smirk. "named Kikaru herself."
"What?!" snarled the ghostly lioness, so loud that a few animals nearby looked up from their sleep, including other lions.
"Yeah. I forgot the name - couldn't really hear that great anyway. But my point is, it's not working."
Ahadgna nodded and became calm again. "Right. We'll have a meeting tonight."
"What will you say?" Yawnda questioned, curiously.
"I will say what you did. And I will order everyone - including you - to do everything in our power to...No, wait," she considered. "OK, Yawnda, I need you to do something," and she ignored Yawnda's rolling eyes. "Tomorrow, you will take our young Izegbe on a 'hunt.' Got it?"
She nodded. "Make her see what males do."
"She already knows; it happened to her."
"Yes, but make her remember. Take her to a pride where the old leader and cubs are the victims. And then, hopefully, the anger and rage will get Izegbe in her place, and..."
Yawnda nodded and a wicked smile crossed her sharp face.
That night, Meersha and Zarazu had slept sidebyside upon a flat rock near the northwestern borders. It was in the morning, that a lioness had come to them, swishing her tail just a bit as she grinned.
"Time to wake up, half-cub." she said.
"Huh?" Meersha muttered with a yawn as she opened her eyes and stretched. "What do you want, Yawnda?"
"C'mon, we have important buisness to embark on." Yawnda exclaimed, turning around.
Kikaru asked as he got up with a yawn as well, "Where are you going?"
"Across the southern borders, now hurry up, Izegbe. It'll take us forever, and once we've done our job in the Outlands, you still have your lessons."
"Wait," growled the male. "You're going outside the territory? Why?"
"Mother's orders." growled the older lioness, now facing him. "And I thank you for not sticking your nose into our buisness." and then she smirked. "If you know what's good for you, you'll go with your brothers to your lessons."
"Yeah, yeah, calm down, sister." he said casually, stretching. "I haven't even had breakfast yet."
"Then maybe you should wake up earlier." Yawnda suggested iritably.
"The sun has just risen!" he called as he stalked off. "Bye my sisters! Good luck!"
Meersha sighed, not having had a proper goodbye from him. "Wait, it has just risen," she suddenly noticed. "By the time we're done...doing whatever out there-"
"You'll be in time for your lessons," Yawnda finished flatly.
"But, when those are done, then the sun will be gone!"
Yawnda shrugged in responce. "Not my problem. Now hurry up."
And the dark lioness began to run. Meersha quickly caught up.
"So, what are we doing anyway?" asked Meersha as they stepped over the invisible borders of the Broken-Claw Empire.
"We're going...on a special hunt." Yawnda replied, almost cheekily as she smiled.
"Oh! A hunt? I haven't been on one of those for the longest time!" the naiev adolescent exclaimed, delightedly as she extended her claws for a moment. "I'll show 'em what I got."
Yawnda stopped and turned to Meersha, her smile growing. "I'm sure you will, Izegbe..."
And she turned back around. For several minutes they padded through the savannah, scenting the air ocassionally. The atmosphere seemed drier than usually, and soon Meersha began to pant.
"OK, how much further?" she finally asked after an hour or so.
But Yawnda haulted in her tracks atop a large hill. Meersha stopped, too, and blinked, looking down and gasping as she saw other lions.
"Lions! I mean, a pride...How come we didn't scent their territory's borders?" Meersha questioned with surprise.
"The pride has actually been moving...A rogue his been stalking them."
Meersha muttered, "Oh crap."
Then her eyes fell upon little fur balls in the distance.
"Cubs!" she exclaimed. "They have cubs! If the rogue-"
"I know." growled Yawnda, not taking her eyes of the lions. "Now, shh...This is why we hate males..."
For a few minutes, they continued to spy, when suddenly, a lone, young lion came stalking over to the pride. Meersha pondered as she took her eyes from them, and she took a deep breath. Suddenly, a roar broke into the savannah air, causing her to jerk her head back to the scene, where the two lions began to quarrel.
"No!" she gasped.
Yawnda shook her head.
The lionesses in the pride watched, horrified, trying to keep the cubs away. It didn't last long, and soon, the old leader was running off.
"What's he doing?!" snarled Meersha.
"He's too old, so he is being a coward, leaving his lionesses and cubs." Yawnda whispered coldly.
The new rogue roared so loudly, that a flock of birds resting in a tree nearby, fluttered off, leaving stray feathers to gently drop to the ground. And then, he began to move forward, towards the vulnurable pride.
"No! They have cubs!" Meersha cried, but not loud enough for any from the pride to hear.
"This is exactly what males do."
"But the father-!"
"The father had done the same exact thing, Izegbe, when he became the new leader; he chased the father off and killed the cubs...just like this one is going to do to his...just like every lion does...except ours..."
Meersha shook her head in a jerky motion, before leaping back. "I can't watch this!" she choked, memories flashing back.
"But you have to, Izegbe."
"Why must I watch murder?!" she snarled, glaring at Yawnda through teary eyes. "I've already gone through this. Why must I watch it refold in front of my very eyes once more?"
"So that you will understand and learn! So that you will see things our way! The right way!" Yawnda hissed as her fur bristled.
"No! I can't!" Meersha growled again, but suddenly, she was forced to the ground, and dragged upwards. There, right on top of the hill once more, someone grabbed her scruff and held her head above the ground. Another bit her ears to keep her in place. As she lie there, on her stomach, too shocked to struggle, she could only watch, and reflect on her own past.
There, in the grass, was one dead body. A cub. The lion had already gotten one. Now, he was padding towards the others, who huddled under their mothers fearfully. Meersha gasped for breath, tears streaking her yellow coat as she pawed the ground and extended her claws into the dirt. She was a cub again, back with the White-Feather pride. Her mother was hurrying her, Gatu and Banjija away from their father's dead body.
"No," she snarled, snapping back to the present.
But now two more carcasses were added. The lion wasn't finished. He roared out again and pounced a cub, and there, Meersha watched the murder. He quickly dug his teeth into its neck, and there was the sound of a snap. The baby was dead.
Every ounce of energy Meersha had left, was being drained by the physical struggle to get free, as well as the emotional one. Just push the thoughts out of your head, she told herself. She endevoured to keep to the present, but every so often, a picture of her mother fighting Chasak came into her mind, or of her brother dying. Finally, Meersha snarled and managed to roll over and kick whoever had her trapped off of her. She leapt up and yelled, "No! Stop!" to the pride below.
Just as the rogue finished killing another cub, he and the others looked up. He roared and quickly took off up the hill, which left the lionesses to gather any cubs left and find a place for them to hide.
"You idiot!" Yawnda yelled and smacked Meersha across the face. "Now c'mon!"
Yawnda turned, as did Meersha, and they took off, back to the north. It was OK, though. As Meersha watched the other lionesses from the Broken-Claw flee in front of her - the ones who had some how followed without any notice and forced her to watch the bloodshed - Meersha exhailed, watching her breath disapear quickly into the dawn. Her legs carried her and her heart raced, yet she did not care. As long as she could get away from the murder, as long as she could escape her past...
"Turn!" someone then called.
Meersha was abruptly knocked over into the grass as the lionesses had turned around and were now moving back to the pride.
"Get up!" Yawnda hissed in her ear and bit her pelt.
Meersha obeyed and watched, crestfallen as the four lionesses from the Broken-Claw had leapt on the new leader. They coerced him onto the ground, and even with all his struggle, they managed to keep him there. Yawnda turned to Meersha and nodded, and the adolescent carefully, slowly, silently, padded up over to the male. She glared, watching him expose his teeth to the females in challenge.
"Now...you know what to do...Izegbe," Yawnda whispered. "Go...kill him."
Meersha gasped and jerked her head to look at her. Yet neither said anything. As she looked back at the lion, she couldn't help but pity fill her heart, as well as shock. Shaking her head and taking awkward steps back, despite the rage that she still held for this male, she turned and fled.
"No!" Yawnda snarled.
It was all the lionesses could take, and the lion had freed himself from their grip. Yet they were faster, and followed Meersha into the distance. A roar could be heard as they sprinted, though. It filled their ears and minds as it cracked the evening.
"She didn't kill him?" Ahadgna asked with her silky voice.
Yawnda shook her head. "No..."
"I was afraid of this, but as long as we have the cub...You do have the cub, right?"
"Of course, Mother." Yawnda replied quickly.
"Good. I knew I could count on you."
Yawnda smiled proudly, though she hadn't actually been the one who had gotten it.
"Now, when you give her the cub, make sure she gets attached." Ahadgna exclaimed.
"How long should we wait?"
"Give it thirty suns and thirty moons. She gets attached too easily...That will change. It will all change for her..."
Yawnda nodded. "And on the thirty first moon..." she said, extending her claws and chuckling to herself.
Ahadgna just sat there in the grass, staring up at the night sky calmly.
What was Left
"It was awful," sobbed Meersha as she nuzzled her teary face into Zarazu's pale coat.
"It's all right," assured Zarazu as he put a large paw around her, purring and nuzzling her. "It's OK. It's over now."
"They were just cubs!" she cried.
"Shh, you won't have to see that again,"
"They forced me to, Zarazu!" Meersha snarled in anger then, looking up at him.
He gasped and replied in shock, "They what?!"
"Yes. They forced me to watch murder!"
He shook his head solemly, closing his eyes in shame at his family as she buried her face into his mane again. They were back where they had slept by each other in the southwest, on the flat rock, next to the glittering water hole where the Broken-Claw, including its guards where usually never at. It was night, and Meersha had skipped any lessons she would have had after the "hunt."
"Izegbe," Yawnda called, a few feet away.
Kikaru looked up quickly and glared as Meersha stopped her crying, but kept her face in his mane, away from Yawnda, her eyes closed. Her rage towards that lioness was too great right then.
The lion roared, "Yawnda!" so loud that Meersha could feel it shake his whole body.
"Yes, my son?" she asked with a snicker.
Zarazu shook his head and snarled, "How dare you do such a thing to her? How dare you show your face to her again!"
"Well, if that's the way you want it to be," Yawnda growled lowly, then jerked her head at Meersha. "Izegbe! I know you're listening,"
"Don't talk to her!" Kikaru yelled, and leapt in front of Yawnda, leaving Meersha to sit, staring up at the sky, her eyes still stinging and watery.
"I have something to show her." the dark lioness stated strongly. "One of the lionesses had been able to rescue one of the cubs before we fled,"
Her words made Meersha turn to her, teary eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?" she snapped.
"Come closer, my sister,"
Kikaru sat down as Meersha joined them. The two adolescents looked down, just as Yawnda took a step back to reveal a small fur ball of gold, curled in the grass. It looked up at Meersha with baby blue eyes and blinked.
"It's...it's a cub," she whispered in disbelief.
The lion smiled at it.
"All right well, I'll be leaving you with it," Yawnda exclaimed with a yawn as she was about to turn away.
"Wait!" Meersha said, looking up.
"I-I can't keep a cub,"
"And why not?"
Yawnda shook her head. "There is no excuse, Izegbe."
"Then why don't you take it?" Meersha growled.
"The lionesses are too busy these days, training the adolescents - including the Drie-Leeu. We can't be bothered with cubs until the females have been fully taught to find another batch for the Broken-Claw's newest generation. Look, this was the only cub left alive and we got it. You think you'd be too busy? All you have is lessons once a day, and the lessons are for this."
"For what?" she replied, eyes narrowed still.
"For taking care of cubs. Adopting, rescuing, and eventually having them yourself. When you're old enough and have your mate, you two will take care of any cubs the lionesses bring back. That's why we have you, Izegbe. And this fur ball," she nodded to the little one. "is good for training you for cubs in the future. Got it?"
For a moment, Meersha thought. Was it the right thing to do? Well, if the cub would be sent back to his first family, he would surely be killed. So, taking pity, she finally nodded.
"Good," Yawnda smiled, and turned back around.
"But," Meersha said, turning to Kikaru. "What will I do with it while I'm at my lessons?"
"I can take care of it." he suggested.
"But don't you have 'em, too?"
"Yeah, but you have yours in the morning until noon. Mine start at noon and end near evening."
"Oh, Zarazu!" Meersha cried out and nuzzled him.
He chuckled, but then looked at the cub, who stared back, fright in his sparkling eyes. "What's his name anyway?" he asked.
"Hmm," Meersha looked at it. "What do you think it should be?"
"Er," he said. "You're the mother,"
"I already named you, though." she giggled. "Besides, you're practically like it's father. I mean, we're both taking care of it..."
For a moment, the two stared at each other, but quickly looked away awkardly. "Yeah...I guess you're...Er, how about," and he paused to think, only to say, "Rombu?"
Meersha said nothing, but her _expression was soft and he knew it was the right name. So, leaning down, Meersha picked the cub up, and they walked back near the water. There was a den near its edge which they easily climbed into.
"It's so beautiful," Meersha uttered, staring at the lake that lie in front of them.
"It looks like he's cold," Kikaru pointed out.
Indeed, the cub was now shivering.
"Oh, crap," she growled, and quickly curled herself around it, and began to groom it.
Meersha was young, and needed much practice in parenthood. Yet she hadn't asked for the cub, it just came to her. Zarazu helped out as much as he could. Whenever he was gone, learning how to be a "true" lion, though, Meersha was stuck with Rombu. The only free time she had away from him and the lessons, she spent asking the older lionesses about how to take care of cubs. Sometimes they themselves were too busy to answer, though. So she just watched them raise the young lionesses, which helped, too.
Luckily, she had never been taken on another "hunt" again. The younger adolescents easily caught prey, though, and brought them back to her. It was a sad thing to see those young ones often fighting in combat, for one day, they would be the ones hunting males. At least half would, while the other half would one day be out searching for cubs to rescue.
Meersha was usually found around the water hole in the southwest now, often with Rombu. If she was anywhere else, he was there, too. Unless he was being taken care of by his "father." Some lionesses pitied the two, others felt sorry for them, taking on this much responsablity at such a young age, never having time for fun. After all, an adult was usually never found playing, and one should live their youth up. The other adolescents, including the males, at least had time for some fun and play, while Kikaru and Meersha were left with Rombu.
It wasn't all bad, though. After the first week, Rombu had been able to talk and walk better than before. This meant at least they got to play with him, instead of trying to calm down a crying ball of fur, or having to chew up food and even mix it with water and special crushed up plants that had had many vitamins in them. Rombu was so young when they had gotten him, that he was still nursing, and because Meersha was so young as well and had never had cubs, she did not produce milk. The other lionesses were either too young, too old, or too busy - despite the fact that they as well did not have any blood cubs. So, the adolescent parents had been able to find the right vitamins he needed to survive.
Rombu would pounce and play, run around and never stop asking questions. He thirsted for information. That was the thing that really frightened Meersha the most, though. What was she supposed to tell him when he asked where he came from and about his old family and why he was rescued? What was she supposed to tell him about how prides worked and when he asked about males and being leaders? If she ended up telling him anything wrong, she was afraid that Ahadgna and the rest of the Broken-Claw would not see him fit as a "true" male, and kill him. Often Meersha spoke to Kikaru about this, but he always told her not to worry, and to let him explain to Rombu all the things a male should know.
One day, Meersha was lying down in the grass, tail swishing around. Rombu was pouncing on it as his mother sunbathed.
"Mama," he then said.
"Hmm?" she asked, peeking out of one eye.
"Why does Daddy call you Meersha but Grandma and everyone else call you Izege or whatever?"
"Izegbe," she corrected. "Anyway, that is my name to them. But to your father, I am Meersha, just as he is Zarazu to me, and Kikaru to the pride."
"But why?" Rombu asked, his head tilted.
She chuckled and sat up. "So many questions. It's just the way it is."
That was a phrase Meersha usually used to answer him, even if it wasn't much of an answer.
He heaved a sigh and said, "OK. Whatever you say."
"I'm sorry. I can't explain it. Maybe one sun you will learn." and she laid down again to lick him.
Rombu was small, but growing fast. His coat was a red-brown and the tuff of his tail was a red-gold. The eyes were still baby blue, but there was some development of green in them.
"Daddy!" he yelled, pleased as he romped through the grass, over to the approaching Kikaru.
Zarazu leaned down and nuzzled his son. Meersha smiled. His mane was almost fully grown.
"You got off early today," Meersha exclaimed.
He nodded with a grin. "They said that was our last lesson."
"Really? That's great!" she said, sitting up by him now as Rombu headbutted their forelegs playfully.
"Yup," he said proudly. "They say we're all true lions now. But, Meersh..." and he looked down at Rombu, making sure he was now too busy, pouncing after bugs. "when is the time that you pick your mate?"
"Er, well, I'm not sure. Mother and Yawnda haven't told me yet," she explained.
Meersha had finally been calling Ahadgna "Mother" now that Rombu was calling her "Grandma."
"So um, who do you think you're going to, uh, pick, then?" he asked nervously.
She smiled and bopped him on the head with her paw. "Who do you think, ya silly cub? You!"
He returned the smile, along with a sigh of relief.
Later that night, the small family was atop the hill near the water hole, staring up at the sparkling stars.
"What are they?" Rombu asked as he rolled over on his back.
"They're the lions of the past," exclaimed Meersha, gazing up at them with wonder, as she recalled the times she had done this with her mother, father and brothers.
"Wow," the cub muttered in pure fascination. "Will I be up there one day?"
"We all will." she acknowledged.
"Cool!" he shouted, and started pouncing around.
Because of Zarazu's lessons ending, the three of them spent more and more time together. For once in a long time - ever since she left her brother, half-brother and half-sister - Meersha felt happy. She smiled, laying in the grass on the hill that oversaw the silky water hole.
"Mom!" she heard someone call.
"Yeah, Rombu?" she asked as he came romping over to her.
"Dad just showed me all the lands of the Broken-Claw!"
"Took ya long enough," the lioness snickered as Kikaru came over.
"Hey," he giggled. "He barely gets to see what's far from this water hole, don't ya son?"
Rombu nodded as his father nuzzled and licked Meersha. Soon, though, the cub was pouncing a near fly.
"You know, Zarazu, this cub has really brought us together and has made us happy," Meersha pointed out.
"Mhm," Kikaru replied with a nod, smiling at the playful Rombu.
Indeed, this little scrap of fur, this tiny animal had brought them both happines. Rombu was something special. He was a merical, just as Meersha herself was, having been lucky enough to survive the actions of a rogue as a cub, even if she didn't see herself the way she saw Rombu. How brave and strong he was to have gone through it. And more happy moments came from him, because, they - Zarazu and Meersha - both felt in their minds, even if they hadn't said anything, and the ceremony hadn't yet taken place, the two thought of each other as mates. They were a family. They were kin.
Meersha smiled at the thought. I have kin again, she stated in her mind. And nothing can take that away from me.
Rombu ran down the hill, away from the water hole and the knoll his teen parents were on.
"Don't go far, Rombu!" Meersha called.
"I won't!" he replied over his shoulder.
"He'll be OK. There's guards anyway," Meersha said to herself.
Kikaru shook his head. "Mother let the guards go back to training for future...'hunts.'" he exclaimed. "They did when you got Rombu."
She blinked. "Ah, I wonder why they didn't tell me."
"Guess they trusted you enough to take them away, but not enough to tell you." and he shrugged.
The cub tilted his head as a gray feather landed in front of him. Smirking, he crouched for a moment, before pouncing on it. Yet, due to the wind, it was let free in the air again. Snarling, Rombu ran after it, crossing the borders of the Broken-Claw Empire. His parents, being young and in love, were nuzzling and chattering away, not even noticing their cub was now in real danger as the feather landed on a river bank. A few feet away, the small lion crouched once more, growling, before suddenly leaping up. It was then, that he landed on it, and it was then, that the giant, black rock - or what he thought was a rock - rose from its spot in the gentle river, abruptly breaking the surface, only to reveal an angry face, a flaring nose, blazing eyes and large horns. Rombu gasped and jumped back in fright, forgetting about the feather that was now taken away in the water. The buffulo's ears twitched angrily as he narrowed his eyes at the cub.
"What do you want?!" he yelled.
Rombu took a few steps back, only to have the buffulo walk in front of him on land now, soaking wet as he spit the grass out from his mouth. "Well?"
"I-I'm sorry," the cub stammared. "I just-"
"You just what?" interuppted the huge animal. "You just ran into me on purpose."
"It doesn't matter now! My patience is running out. You stepped upon my land and will pay. But just to be fair, I will count to three."
"What?" and he cocked his head.
Rombu's eyes widened, and he turned sharply around to run back back.
"Mom! Dad!" he yelled as he scampered away.
Suddenly, thunder sounded behind him as the ground shook. Rombu could feel the buffulo catch up to him in a couple split seconds, hearing him snort as the gigantic hooves pounded the ground, almost ripping the dirt apart from his weight so that chunks of the earth flew out everywhere. When he was close enough, he lowered his head, the horns gentle pressing at the cub in front. Rombu gasped at the sudden touch, but found, surprisingly, that it was light, and the only thing it did was push him. It didn't stop his heart from beating in fear, though and his eyes from tearing up. The buffulo was just playing with him, but would soon make that one move which would end Rombu's life.
"Mom! Dad!" he pleaded.
Back at the hill, Meersha lifted her head, ears twitching as she scented the air.
"Zarazu, did you hear that?" she asked.
"Hmm? Hear what?" he mumbled, peaking out of one eye.
The adolescents had just gotten ready for a catnap when Meersha had heard the cries for help.
"MOM!" someone yelled in the distance.
"That!" she snapped, jumping up and running, following her son's scent trail as Kikaru quickly did the same.
The lions luckily met up with the cub who had been running as fast as his little legs to carry him as he panted. Meersha and Zarazu leapt in front of him, roaring. This gave Rombu time to stop and breathe deeply as his parents reassured his saftey.
"What are you doing to our son?!" Meersha snarled.
"He got on my territory!" the buffulo snorted after he had come to a hault.
"He did not harm you or your land," growled Zarazu lowly. "And he's just a cub. So back off."
The buffulo lowered his head and stomped the ground in challenge.
"You might want to move out somewhere else, and take your family with you. You're right by a large pride that can take down any elephant," the lion threatened.
This caused the huge animal to snort, and back off.
The lions said nothing, and Meersha picked up her son as they headed back. When at the hill again, the lioness heaved a sigh after setting the little one down, not exactly knowing what to say.
"I-" he started, but she then cut him off, now finding the words.
"How dare you!" she growled. "I tell you not to go too far but you do!" She paused and hesitated before using the words her mother and father had used on her when she was being a naughty cub. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
Rombu's ears lowered at the scolding as he pawed the ground. "Aw, I'm sorry, Mom. I was just playing."
"You're not gonna be a true lion if you do things like that, son." adviced Kikaru.
The cub looked up. "Huh?"
"Any male adult in the Broken-Claw must be a true lion. Now, are you going to be a true lion?" he asked.
Rombu sat up and blurted out, "Yes!"
"Well straighten up then," the lion said, pawing playfully at the cub.
Meersha blinked, thinking for a moment. She had joined the Broken-Claw, but even if she hadn't she would've been forced to, all because she had the scent of Banjija and Gatu - who supposedly had tried to take over the pride - all over her. Now, did she really want to raise her cub - or any cubs for that matter - here? The lioness was about to point that out, when yet another thought struck her. If she were to try and have a normal life in a pride or make one up herself, then that would mean she would have to let Zarazu go, because one sun, he would either be chased off or killed. As well as any future cubs. Really, she pondered, what's better? Living here or in a "normal" pride?
"What's wrong?" Zarazu asked, sensing something wasn't right.
She sighed and shook her head. "Nothing."
"Tell me." he said, nudging her with his nose. "Er, if you want to."
Again, she shook her head. "Nothing I'd be able to find the answer to anyway."
That night, the small family was still at the hill, sleeping peacefully under the twinkling stars. Not even crickets were sounding that moon, and so it all seemed so much harder for the creeping shadow to get closer to the three lions. It was a daunting job, not just stepping on old grass or moving a bush, but eventually, the shadow was close enough to them to let the moonlight show in its face, so that if one looked up, they would see the evil _expression of Yawnda. She glared, narrowing her eyes at the cub. It had been thirty suns and thirty moons, and now it was time. But the lioness had overseen the incident earlier that day. She had been able to find a feather, and not stuck it in Rombu's sleeping face. It tickled his nose as she slumped off.
"Huh?" he muttered to himself, opening his eyes. "Hey!" he growled then, getting up quickly, ready to pounce the feather. Right as the cub landed before it, though, the piece of nature was soon up in the air once more. He tilted his head and watched. It was getting away! But last time this had happened, it had ended him in a quite of a situation. Should he follow it? Unfortunately, being the playful, mischeivous cub he was, Rombu padded after.
It took but a few minutes for the cub to end up far away from his mother and father again. The feather had been blown over, behind a few large boulders. The direction of the sudden wind had not been planned, but hoped for. Shadows blanketed the giant rocks' walls, but Rombu had seen plenty of them, and was always reassured that a shadow came from a tree or a stump...usually. Yet he was so intuned to this feather, that even as it landed right between the boulders, he did not notice one of the shadows shift.
"There goes the prey," he told himself, smirking at the fallen feather. "Here comes the predator!"
And with that, he leapt once again. This time, the feather had stayed, but Rombu gasped as someone had suddenly walked up in front of him. Yawnda shook her head with a, "Tut, tut." She sat down and exclaimed, "Cubs shouldn't be out late at night, away from their mommies."
Rombu stared up into the cold face of the lioness, whom his mother had told him about several times to know she was never up to any good. He began to back up, his eyes wide with fright. Maybe he was not afraid as he was supposed to be, after all, this lioness was family. And family would not hurt family, right?
Suddenly, the shadows of the lions were melted into one. Only a second later, the larger shadow rose, and padded away. The smaller one was left, still. Just a few moment later, the big one came back, looking somewhat deformed as it was holding something - a bloody piece of mane, which was rubbed around on the infant. It had once belonged to nothing more than a victim, as was the body of the cub.
The next day, everything made Meersha frantic. When she had found that her cub was not around, she had began to call, then search, and finally go to others for help, including other animals. Zarazu helped all he could, but no one knew where the cub had gone. None of the lionesses themselves knew either. It was when she nervously approached Ahadgna, did she get a clue.
"I believe," the ghostly lioness said, yawning from atop her hill. "That there was a rouue lurking near the southwestern borders of our lands...Isn't that where you usually are?"
Meersha gasped, and took off to tell Kikaru of the news. He roared, and their search became more desperate.
"Bahashi!" she pleaded when she was at the one knoll where many of the lionesses lazily basked in the sun were. "Tell me, have you seen my cub?"
"Oo, you've had him but a full moon and you've already lost him?" she snickered in responce.
Meersha glared, ears folding back for a moment, before she looked around, notcing a few lionesses were missing. About to ask, her question was answered as a few of the missing lionesses - including Yawnda - had met up with the rest of the pride, panting.
"Meersha," breathed Yawnda. "We...we found your son."
"Where?!" she quickly asked, jumping up.
But Yawnda shook her head gravely and after catching her breath, replied, "It's all too sad. You might not want to see him."
"What? What happened?!"
"A rogue," said one of the lionesses who had acompanied Yawnda. "We tried to stop him but..."
"He got to the poor cub before we could," another exclaimed.
Meersha gasped. "No!"
"I'm sorry," Yawnda uttered, looking at the ground. "I'm sure you don't want to see-"
"No! It's not true! Not my little Rombu!" she cried.
"Come. Follow, then."
The two walked out to the southwest, passing Hawkna on their way.
"Pretty lioness in tears?" he responded to the scene. "Want me to make it all better?"
"Enough!" snapped Yawnda. "There has been a murder, by a most untrue lion. Now hush."
The male fell silent as the two soon disappeared over the horizion. Meersha just stared in front of her, not talking, not crying, and rarely blinking.
"Meersha! What's wrong? Have they found him?" Zarazu called as he ran over to them.
"I'm leading her to him now, if you'd wish to come," Yawnda replied.
"Yes! He's my son!"
The trio didn't take long to stop at a few boulders, and Zarazu didn't need telling that something bad had happened.
"In there," the old lioness whispered.
Meersha and Zarazu looked at each other briefly, fearing for the most, before padding silently in. There, in the circle of huge rocks, lie the bloody carcass of little Rombu. Meersha roared so loudly, that near animals fled. It was a roar that filled the whole night with a terrible shock, layered by sentiments that could only be recognized as one of pure sorrow and grief.
Killing the Killer
The young mother and father barely had any time to mourn together, before Meersha was torn from Zarazu's company, and placed back into her lessons. It was, in fact, the day after Rombu's death that Ahadgna had come to visit the two with her comands at paw.
"Meersha, come." the white lioness demanded with her smooth voice.
Reluctantly, Meersha got up and padded beside the leader, attempting not to burst out crying.
"Izegbe, my daughter," Ahadgna exclaimed as they continued on their way east. "I can sence your sorrow, but you must not let one's death rule your life. It's the way things are. It's the Circle of Life. Nothing can change it. After all, we were born to die."
Meersha glowered inwardly, for all these words could've easily been brought back on Ahadgna. It seemed as if the Broken-Claw was letting the deaths of cubs and males, as well as the murders from them, rule their lives. But Meersha kept silent.
"From the moment you set eyes upon a cub, or a mate, a sister, a brother, a friend," Ahadgna continued. "From the moment you know you love them, you must learn to let go in that very piece of time as well, because one sun, they will die...and you will, too. We all will. Yet we will all go at different times and in different ways...whatever our fate is, we must learn to except it, and the fate of others."
"Then isn't it the fate of the old leader and the cubs to die?" the adolescent finally muttered.
"What was that?"
Yet in truth, Ahadgna had heard every word. She's not yet seeing the ways of the Broken-Claw, the white one thought. She's not seeing the ways that life is supposed to be.
After a bit of hesitation, Ahadgna replied, "Your cub is dead. Get over it. Now all there's left to do is save others that are still alive and innocent. Meersha, are you listening?"
She nodded in responce, a tear trickling down her face as she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat.
Ahadgna took a deep breath and said, "Maybe it was a good thing he died. You're young, and I have to admit that was a bit more responsibilty than you could've handled...At least, to raise him into a true lion."
"What are you saying?" Meersha choked.
Her "Mother" shrugged. "He probably would've been killed here in the Broken-Claw anyway. As in, once he got his mane, we would have to have put him through tests and training - in fact, he should've already have started his lessons. He hadn't. You had not yet given him the chance to-"
"He was but a couple full moons old!" Meersha blurted out before she could help herself.
Ahadgna nodded solemly as they walked. "Yes, well, my dear daughter. When you start having cubs of your own, and when you start adopting again, we'll have to see which males are going to be true males. If Rombu had lived long enough, we would've done that to him, too. So far he wasn't a true male. But don't worry, it wasn't a waste of your time. He gave you - you and Kikaru - good training in how to raise a cub. Now when the time comes, it will be more...familiar for you."
The words escaping Ahadgna's mouth made Meersha close to vomiting. How could she say such cruel things? That Meersha and Kikaru were not good parents? That the cub was not a true male? That he would've been killed in his own pride anyway? That the only reason why he wasn't a "waste of time" was because he was used for them to train with?
Meersha pushed out everything Ahadgna was saying after that. Her ears twitched as she listened to chirping birds, the swaying of the grass. She would listen to anything but the ghost lion's words. Anything. And then, she was saved from this humiliation and heartbreak.
"Ah. Izegbe. We're here. For now, you'll just have one teacher. I picked out Gonra, seeing she has done the best to our last bunch of cubs and is still teaching them." Ahadgna exclaimed before she took off, further to the east.
Meersha sat down in front of an old, brown lioness, who's beady, yellow eyes took in the adolescent's mourning hungrily. Soon, after a minute of dull silence, Meersha broke down, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Stop that!" Gonra finally snapped. "Have you not learned anything from your time here? You can't bring back your cub from the dead! You can do practically nothing!"
Meersha looked up slowly, blinking away more tears as she whispered, "Practically?"
With that, Gonra smiled. "The rouge killed your cub. Actually, he is not a rouge anymore. He was, in fact, the new leader of that pride in the south. He did not have to kill that cub - you got the fur ball off his paws. But no, he wanted to, so he did. The only things left that you can do are...?" and she left the sentence open for an answer.
"...Adopt and rescue other cubs?"
"To raise and teach them the right ways."
"And what else can you do?"
"...Have cubs of my own."
"To raise and teach them the right ways of life."
"There's something else...can you think of it?"
Meersha pondered as she took in her lessons. Yet her mixed mind could not follow what she was being taught.
"I-I dont know," she studdered.
Gonra growled and began to circle the young lioness, glaring at her. Meersha could do nothing but take this manipulation, and cry out.
"No! No more crying! You've done enough of that! It's time to figure out what you can do, what you should do, so that you will do it sometime soon!" her teacher yelled, still circling.
"No..." sobbed Meersha.
"Yes! Now, name three facts about other hunting strategies!"
"The lionesses work together," she sniffled. "to take down large prey."
"The cheetah uses its claws to dig into the ground while it's running for grip and speed so it can catch the meal,"
"The hyenas usually take from others."
"Now," Gonra was somewhat calmer, just as Meersha was. "Tell me, who are we?"
"We are the Broken-Claw,"
"What do we stand for?"
"We stand for...life?"
"What do we do?!"
"Raise cubs to teach them the right ways of life!" and she glared in dawning rage.
"What are the right ways of life?"
"To not have males around except the true males who will prosper from us, the Broken-Claw!"
"And what must you do?" But Gonra suddenly leapt in front of her and whispered in Meersha's ear, so that a chill ran down her sping, causing the adolescent to quiver slightly. "Not with cubs...What must we do to the males?"
Meersha snarled and narrowed her eyes at nothing before leaping up and roaring out, "We must kill lions!"
"YES!" Gonra said triumpantly and chuckled, taking a step back to examine her work.
Meersha blinked. Had she really said that? But she couldn't help it as it had escaped her lips so fast...Then the image of Rombu's bloody body came into her mind, and she suddenly growled, fur bristling. That lion who killed him...he deserved to die. Ire blanketed any pity for that new leader. Her yellow golden fur began to bristle as she inwardly growled. This choler was so strong, that she hadn't even noticed the teacher disappear for a few moments. Blackness filled her vision as she the pictures of her brother, father and son came into her mind, when suddenly, the stentch came to her nose so quick, it almost knocked her off her paws. She blinked, her sight returning to normal, except that, as the teacher now stood in front of her again, Meersha could see something in the lioness's mouth. It looked stiff and red, and the odor made her nose wrinkle. Aburptly, she gasped, now figuring out what Gonra was holding. Rombu.
"What are you doing?" the adolescent choked.
Gonra set the dead cub down and exclaimed, "You will let go of your sorrow and pity by dropping your own son in the water hole beneath the hanging land in the southeast, where crockadiles will help you forget those sentiments. I'll lead you, but you must bring the cub yourself."
Meersha's eyes widened. She would have to pick that dead thing up? That thing that used to her son? There were no questions asked as the old lion turned and started off to the southeast. Taking a deep and shakey breath, Meersha latched her jaws around the small carcass, and lifted it to trail behind her teacher. She wrinkled her nose at the eyewatering aroma that was now inches away from her nostrils and her ears lay flat against her skull. Any moment, she could faint, but her jello legs kept her moving. Several times as they walked, she told herself that it was not her son, that it was just a meerkat, so that she could calm herself. But Meersha knew there was no way she could compare Rombu to that creature.
Finally, after forcing herself to pad a half hour or so, Gonra haulted on the edge of a large piece of land. Meersha stepped beside her, staring into the water hole below.
"Now. Drop it." Gonra ordered.
How could she do that? How could she drop her own son to be eaten by crockadiles?
"Do it!" she snarled.
Meersha took a step back, only to feel a sharp pain rush into her flank, where her teacher bit.
"Now drop it!" commanded the old lioness.
Suddenly, Meersha let the cub fall, all the way down those ten feet or so, to where it splashed, and was moments later, consumed by those reptiles. They ripped at the flesh and turned it over, rolling around in the water and splashing out in their enjoyment.
"No! Watch! You must!" growled Gonra as she turned away from the sight. "Watch!"
Meersha turned back just as one crockadile finally brought it in its huge jaws and swallowed it whole. She had been holding her breath, and when the cub was gone, she let out a sigh.
"What does this make you feel?" Gonra whispered, still gazing at the water.
Slowly, the young lioness shook her head, also staring down. What had it made her feel? Possible even more fury towards that lion, as well as Gonra right then. Suddenly, Meersha lifted a paw and smacked it in Gonra's face, raking her, and leaving small, long wounds that would soon end up to be scars. Yet, surprisingly, the teacher did nothing but flinch, her eyes still off in the distance.
"You know what you have to do..." the old one uttered.
"Meersha!" Zarazu called as he saw his future mate return to the water hole they always stayed near in the southwest. "What is it?" he then asked, frowning as he saw her wild _expression.
Panting and slowing down as the sun began to set, Meersha shook her head. "I just figured out what I have to do." she stated.
He raised a brow. "What?"
With a grin, Meersha shook her head again. "You'll find out...soon."
Suddenly, Meersha nuzzled him, and the words that came from her mouth almost frigthened him. "I'm so glad you're a true lion, Kikaru."
Gatu paced back and forth nervously as he stared at his giant paws and the ground, his almost-full mane swaying as he did so. The evening grew into the night, and he sighed as he sat down, looking up to the north longingly. Meersha's trail was long gone, and it had been weeks since she had left. He heaved yet another sigh.
"Poor guy," Lusala said quietly as she sat by the tree.
Banjija nodded in agreement. "He really misses her, huh?"
"Yup," Lusala was able to say when suddenly Gatu trotted over and said, "You guys. Meersha left a while back and she said she'd be back here one sun."
"Yeah, so?" asked Banjija, bobcat ears twitching.
"So she hasn't come back yet! Something could be wrong!"
"Gatu, she said she would come back one sun, but she didn't say when. She'll probably be back soon to see us." the lioness replied, gently.
"No! Soon's not good enough!..." he paused before saying desperately, "If I just knew she was safe..."
"She is," Banjija growled, annoyed.
When he and Lusala were asleep, just a few minutes later, Gatu was lying near the invisible borders of their small territory, gazing towards the east once more. The young lion seemed to be pondering, when finally, he got up, and headed out into the night, beginning his search.
For a few more suns, Meersha was back in her lessons. She found that she could concentrate on nothing but them. Her teacher's words rushed through her head and mind and brain as she hungrily listened, almost like a cub. She would never talk or inturupt, she would just sit still, ears perked, eyes staring into the distance. Whenever she was asked a question, Meersha would quickly respond.
Her lessons was the only thing that kept her from moping over her killed cub. Not even Zarazu - or Kikaru as she now called him - helped, for whenever she got back, she would almost always stay silent, even when he attempted to start up conversations. Meersha would just gaze at the silky water hole, or out into the savannah behidn them. Sometimes even up at the stars. Whenever she did talk, her voice sounded distant, and it was usually an answer to one of the lion's answers. Whenever Kikaru mentioned Rombu, Meersha would snarl and climb into a near den.
Now Meersha called Zarazu Kikaru, and even excepted the name Izegbe for herself, which just worried Zarazu even further.
Soon, she began to arrive at the place where she was taught, even earlier than she was supposed to show. This made Gonra, Yawnda and the others lionesses grin every time they saw her. Ocassionally, when being taught, Ahadgna would sit nearby and listen curiously.
One night, after her lessons, Meersha was padding back to the water hole, when she heard, "Oh, look. It's Izegbe! How's it goin'?"
She rolled her eyes and responded, "Much better, thank you, Uhawku."
When the lioness finally got back to the water hole where Kikaru was, she found him sound asleep in a den. With that, she grinned, and turned around to start off to the south.
As the lioness dissapeared into the night, two lionesses sat on a grassy, green knoll, watching her.
"Finally," said Ahadgna. "She's ready."
Yawnda nodded in agreement. "Gonra's taught her well I presume."
"Don't be like that, my sister. You did great parts in this as well. That cub wouldn't have just gone and killed himself, nor would the rouge."
"He was big, but the sisters and I brought him down and got the mane," Yawnda smiled. "And it worked. There was no stentch of me on that dead one."
Izegbe snarled as her front legs kept reaching out in front of her, her back ones pushing her forward. Her claws were extended now for grip. It didn't take long to pass the borders of the Broken-Claw Empire, yet she continued racing northward. The lioness passed a small herd of zebras, who jumped at the sight, but easily calmed down when she was in the distance once more. Nothing mattered to her anymore, except the killing of that murderer. He deserves what's coming to him, she thought.
Finally, she slowed down, scenting the air after catching her breath, her right side aching slightly while her heart pumped. The territory markings of the pride she had seen before, was now beneath her paws. She raked the ground angrily as she padded further and deeper within the pride's lands. Soon, she stopped, just atop the hill which she had been forced to stay at and watch the murder. Meersha growled slightly, watching some lionesses who slept under the stars, before she jerked her head up to see a lion, standing in the dark, just a few yards away. Grinning, the lioness made her way near to him, before bounding down the other side of the hill. The sound of paw pads on the ground forced her to pick up speed again, now running to the west. She couldn't help as a smile spread over her face.
Soon, she ran over another hill in the distance. The lion snarled as he sprinted through the grass. When he was just over the hill, though, he stopped, and looked around, scenting the air. Before long, he made a challenging grunt. It was right after he called out to her, that Izegbe suddenly leapt from a near tree, claws out. She landed on him and his roar broke out as she dug her claws into his skin. Yet the lion rolled over, and Meersha was forced to jump off. She immieditely turned around and smirked.
Gatu gasped at the roar in the distance, and started on again.
He had traveled for a few days now, and got the information he need by gossiping birds. They had talked about a new lioness in a pride where they had three young lions and at least thirty other females.
Now, he was panting, still sprinting into the night.
Izegbe leapt to the side as the lion had tried to attack. She did it again, and again, and again. He snarled in frusteration, which only made her laugh. The studying back in her early adolescence had really payed off now.
"You act like a dumb cub," she spat.
The lion roared again, this time in anger as he finally managed to pounce her. She yelped in surprise but was able to roll onto her back and kick her hind legs at his snout. Jumping back, he pawed his nose in pain as the lioness was once again on her feet.
"What are you doing?!" he finally growled.
"You killed my son! Now you deserve to die!" she yelled.
"But you're not even part of this pride!" the lion said in shock.
"I adopted him!" but before he could say anything else, Izegbe tackled him, and they rolled.
The two aburptly stopped and, as Meersha was on top, she lifted a paw, sharp claws out.
"I didn't kill your son!" he choked.
Her other front paw was on his throat, while the back too dug into his stomach.
"Liar!" she snarled, eyes and teeth flashing.
The lion rolled before she could strike him, causing her to fall over. He stumbled up, but she was quicker. Meersha charged at him, and opened her mouth. Yet, instead of just biting him, she remembered how hippos used their tusks to get under the chin, and she ended up biting his lower jaw. Blood rushed under his chin and he could taste it in his mouth as she pulled away. Shocked at this unusual behavior for a lion, he was caught off guard for a moment. This gave her the chance, and she knocked him over again.
This time, as she kept her back paws on his stomach, she buried her claws into the flesh as she much as she could, as well as the front one on his throat. He gagged and struggled, but anger kept Izegbe atop him.
"What are your last words?" Gatu heard a female voice.
The male teen gasped at how familiar it was, and so he followed the voice, only to stop near a bush, half in shock as he saw Meersha on top of a lion, almost kiling him. Had it been shock that she was able to keep down such a beast? Or shock that his friend and half-sister would ever do such a thing? If she hadn't been concentrating on his squrming body and fearful - as well as confused - __expression, Meersha would've noticed that face, and perhaps would've spared the life. But no. She did not notice.
"I said, what are your last words?!" she roared.
"I..." he choked, blood trickling down the side of his mouth. "...didn't...do it."
"Wrong!" she roared and laughed.
"Please!" he was finally able to blurt. "I have cubs on the way! And my mates and family!"
Gatu stayed near, one eye wide. He didn't know what to do or say.
"Ha! Too bad!" was all Izegbe replied, before she suddenly lifted the same paw, and let it rake down on face.
He roared in pain, and she did it again, this time striking his neck.
"Please..." he pleaded in a whisper.
Izegbe ignored him and, with a bite at the throat, he was dead.
For a moment, the lioness examined him, then shrugged and jumped off. It was all for Rombu. Having done her work, she turned, and padded off silently, still not smelling Gatu's scent as she was too shooken up with rage and her own shock.
Finally, when she was gone over the hill, Gatu's one eye still rested on the dead body. Meersha had killed him. She had murdered someone.
"She's..." he whispered to himself, almost not able to finish the sentence. "a murderer..."
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