The boiling, heated rush of day paved the way for a cooler, calmer evening. In the storm-free southern province of the Outlands, resting in a small, hidden cave carved into the land itself, Jasiri, Madoa and Karimu, along with the two young, tired lion cubs, Amani and Ulinzi, who nestled themselves next to their mother's visible chest, their small, feeble bodies huddled up to her own, using her warm, soft body as a heated pillow.
"Aww, they're so cute!" Jasiri stared at the two fluffy cubs, her heart practically glowing as she watched them sleep, huddled up to their mother's chest. Her small, fluffy, black tail brushed against the floor at great speed, flicking a small amount of dust and pebbles across the room.
"You wouldn't say that if you saw them earlier." Karimu chuckled, looking down at her rather adorable cubs. Ulinzi had nestled himself down the lioness' chest, his head laying softly near her pelvis. His sister on the other paw laid above him, her small, fur balled tail resting down her brother's right cheek, slightly tickling the young cub as he slept peacefully.
"I know what you mean." Madoa smiled at the two sleeping furballs resting next to her feline friend. Her hind legs stretched out across the cave's floor. She thought of her own little cubs back at the clan's den, sleeping peacefully along with a few of the other hyenas of their clan.
"You have cubs too?" Karimu seemed shocked. The hyena was not that old, about the same age as herself. She even considered herself a young, barely experienced mother who had only just barely survived over the past few months, without support from the pride, or her only love.
"Two." Madoa's eyes rolled, her mind lost as thought about her adorable cubs, Tunu and Wema. Her heartbeat with worry, even now, knowing that she was not by their side. Through, just the thought of their usual antics brought a smile to her muzzle. "And they're both little rascals, at times."
The trio giggled at this remark for several minutes, Jasiri especially rolled around on the floor, the hysterical hyena barely able to control her laughter as her sister and friend both looked on, just recovering from their own outbursts.
As they returned to their conversation, the lioness licked the heads of her tiny, dozing cubs, the slight shudder of life flickered through their little faces and bodies. Their small, brown eyes flickered up to their mother's peering into her soul. Feeling their small, fluffy fur brushing against hers it was more than magical.
The two cubs scanned their environment, their eyes barely focused on their surroundings. The blurred, grey figures in the distance forced their small, timid scruffs to shoot up as they snuggled up to their mother, hiding their fuzzy faces in her chest.
"It's ok you two." Karimu raised her paw over her young cubs, wrapping them in her comforting, maternal embrace. As she did, the two hyenas just looked on, smiling towards the two cubs as they frowned towards them, their little hearts beating heavily next to their mother's.
"Aww!" Jasiri cooed, her soft, black and brown eyes grew wide in the nuzzling presence of the two cubs. "They're so adorable!" Ulinzi, in particular, turned his attention to the hyena, giving her a small, giggly, innocent smile that just melted the hyenas and even his mother's heart.
"So Madoa, where are your cubs now?" Karimu queried the hyena, her smile illuminating the cave as her cubs nuzzled up to her chest, suckling upon her.
"They're with their father, I think." The hyena turned to the cave's entrance, watching the moon slowly drift across the sky. The stars twinkled upon her furry, gentle face. "Probably snuggled up, nice and warm, to him right now, with the rest of the clan."
"So, you have a mate then?" Karimu's ears flicked back as she felt the cubs start to pounce over her, playing their little games of tag as they giggled. The hyena shook her head in confirmation, too starstruck with the small dots in the sky, the way they sparkled in the deep, black void surrounding them seemed to force a small, twinkling feeling in the hyena's heart. She thought of her love, though a bit shabby and passive, but caring and loving around her and their two adorable cubs.
"And what about you Jasiri?" Karimu turned her attention to the other hyena in her cave. Jasiri was quite shocked by this question, shook out of a state of concentration on the two lion cubs before her, her heart melting in the presence of such cuteness. Even though she knew they would grow to be savage but proud beasts. She turned to their mother, slightly blushing as she thought about her own life.
"Well, no. Not really." She chuckled to herself. "No male's been crazy enough for me." Her slight, embarrassed giggles erupted into pure cackling laughter, spreading to Karimu and Madoa within seconds.
As they came down once more from their laughter, Madoa turned back to Karimu, turning her attention away from the stars that enticed and bewildered her. "So, Karimu, What about your mate?"
As soon as the question was asked, Karimu's ears lowered, her tail stopped shifting side to side, freezing in place directly behind her. The rumbling, nudging feeling of her own cubs against her chest became numb, their presence undetectable to the young lioness.
With tearful thought, she peered back to the time she had known Kopa. From the day they met to the day she left him, and the pride in their fate.
"Kopa?" She responded to the hyena's question as her eyesight locked to the opening of the cave. Her chest erupted with grief as she thought of her lost love. The pain she had gone through without him was... too much. Yet she always knew that she had to be strong. Her thoughts were interrupted by another round of suckling from her two cubs... his two cubs.
Tears rolled down the side of her face as she tried to speak.
"Kopa?" Jasiri queried, a puzzled look brushing over the young hyena's face. Somehow, she knew that name. But from where?
Karimu continued. "He's... gone." Her tears consumed her mind and body, erupting out of her as she grasped the two cubs with her paw, snuggling them up to her chest as tightly as she could without hurting them.
The two, rather confused and shocked hyenas approached the tearful lioness, brushing their short-furred bodies against hers, trying to calm her down.
"It's okay." Jasiri rolled onto her side, kicking her legs outward as she snuggled up to the lion trio behind her, careful not to squash the poor little cubs behind her. But their calming actions could do little to stop Karimu from thinking.
Her mind flashed through every second she could remember of Kopa. From the first day they met, trapped in the frozen peaks of the Theluji Mountains all the way through their quiet times when she was too busy training to become queen as Kopa trained to become her Royal Mlinzi. But most instinctively, she remembered the last journey they went on, through this very canyon.
She remembered the night that they spent in this very cave, the events that transpired. The love they shared.
"He was more than just my mate." The young, broken lioness managed to dribble between her heavy, emotion-flushing breaths. "He was my protector. My Royal Mlinzi."
"Wait! Royalty?!" Madoa shot her gaze over to her sister, both hyenas stood, their mouths agape as they both turned back to the tearful lioness.
"You're a member of royalty!" Jasiri's mind was especially blown.
Karimu certainly didn't look that special. The regal, awe-inspiring aura that had coated all other royalty she had met, mostly Kion, just didn't seem to fit the lioness before her. The only response they received from Karimu was a single, gloomy nod as she looked down at the two cubs before her. Their small, innocent brown eyes looked up at their tearful mother, worried, scared.
"I guess I'm all that's left of the Uasian Throne now." Karimu froze as she looked down at the small cubs snuggling up to her, their soft, luxurious fur brushing against her own. Ulinzi tried to leap onto his mother's side, resting his small, plushy bum on her rib cage. The weight of the small lion cub barely affected her comfort, but his eyes. Their small, browning irises stared into her own. He had his father's eyes. Bold and magnificent, yet calm and soothing.
"Wow!" Both hyenas laid down, allowing some space for the lioness and her cubs. Their bodies completely ripped through the shock of this revelation. They were in the presence of royalty, allegedly powerful royalty if the rumours they had heard over the years were to be believed. However, Karimu seemed to be lost in her mind, focused on her only true love.
"Oh, he was strong, brave." A giggle crackled over her muzzle. "Or borderline stupid." The hyenas smirked at this remark, quietly listening as the lioness relayed her thoughts. She pictured him, his mane slowly dancing in the wind as he wandered through the constant, battering snowstorms of the Uasiland's southern borders. The way the fluffy snow particles wove themselves into his almighty, musky-scented mane...
"He was loving, loyal." A small tear rolled down her face, splashing on her son's cheek before rolling down his. "I'm amazed he stayed loyal to me for so long."
Both Jasiri and Madoa stood speechless. A strange, otherworldly yet familiar power seemed to emanate from around the lioness. Her heart practically glowing as she thought of her lost lion love. It seemed nothing could shake her out of her trail of thought. But that was before...
"Madoa! Jasiri!" A distinct, panting sound of another hyena bellowed from outside the cave, its claws scratching across the dry, rocky canyon floor as the hyena lunged and galloped towards the cave entrance.
"Erevu?" Madoa, who was closer to the cave's entrance poked her head out, only to see the tired, exhausted hyena panting heavily in front of her, practically in her paws. "It's okay, take your breaths."
"No Madoa, they're coming!" The female hyena looked up at her matriarch, her breath slowly returning to normal as Jasiri joined the conversation, her ears pointing upward in intrigue.
Erevu took one last, stabilising breath. "The Outsiders. That pride of lions that stole our watering hole a year or two ago." Karimu's ears flicked up at the word 'Outsiders' The scar on the side of her body burnt passively. "They're heading to this canyon!"
"So?" Jasiri flicked her head back, her small fringe waving through the air like the wing of a bird. "We can take them. We always have." She turned to her older sister, her look mirroring her own. Both were confident that whatever the lions could throw at them, they could deal with them. After all, they had a lion of their own now.
"But there's more." The hyena's ears swooped low, as she looked at her two leaders , knowing that the news she brought would change everything.
"It's Scar! He's ordered their attack!"
"What?!" Both Jasiri and Madoa froze, their heats shook with energy as the news hit them hard on their noses. They turned to each other, their eyes acknowledging the disbelief of the others.
"Are you sure?" Jasiri turned back to Erevu, a cloud of doubt, shaken with fear, spread across her furry face. Erevu, rightfully worried of what news she brought, had become silent. She only replied to Jasiri's question with a solid, terrifying series of nods, her black, browning eyes enlarging as she did so.
"Damn!" Jasiri kicked a small, but reasonably sized stone with her paw out of anger. As it rattled out of the cave, the rhythmic, padded footsteps of a small group of lionesses faintly echoed back. This canyon was no longer safe.
"They're coming!" Erevu crept further into the cave, hiding closely behind Jasiri and Madoa. By now, Karimu had arisen to her paws, letting her cubs go as she did.
"Scar?" A puzzled, yet intrigued look brushed her face. She didn't recognise the name at all. "Who's Scar?"
"He was the 'king' of the Pridelands, before Simba." Madoa explained, turning her attention to the lioness. "He used us hyenas to kill the former king, Mufasa, his brother and Simba's father, to take the throne for his own."
"Taka?!" Her body shot back. She had heard of his reign from Kopa, though that was the only name Kopa ever used. She turned back to her cubs, who had cuddled up to one another, snuggling into a small pile of leaves and fur at the back of the cave.
"We need to rally the clan." Jasiri strolled up and down, planning their next move. "Then we need to hold our ground. I'm not gonna let Scar win, not this time. Madoa could only agree with her younger, yet tactically superior sister.
The pair turned towards Karimu, both smiling slightly as they did so. "And with our lion friend here, they might think twice about attacking."
"But what about the cubs?" Karimu signalled her cubs to her. The pair stumbled towards her. Amani pounced on her brother, nibbling his back as he slid towards his mother on his belly. Their small, brown, soul-piercing eyes looked up at their mother, confused as to what she and the hyenas were talking about.
"They should be safe in the den, along with our cubs." Jasiri gave the lioness a soft, caring smile. However, the soft padding of footsteps grew closer. The harsh, scarring voice echoed from outside.
"Check out the caves." One of the lionesses called out. The tumbling of loose rocks and stones thundered, synchronized by the constant boom of lightning storms blowing in from the north. The occasional flash of green light nearly blinded the hyenas and lioness, their shadows projected inside of the cave.
"We need to move. Now!" Jasiri whispered. Madoa and Erevu took the lead, checking to see if the lionesses were not looking their way. Luckily, they checked some caves further down the canyon. One of them seemed too familiar.
"Grab Ulinzi!" Karimu asked Jasiri, grabbing the scruff of the daughter as she did so. The hyena followed the lioness' instruction, picking up the male cub by his scruff, even if he fidgeted, scared out of his fur by the hyena's grasp.
He tried to claw at her muzzle and face, but the hyenas' grip was strong enough to keep the little lion cub under control. With the cubs accounted for and Zira and her pride distracted, it was now or never...
"Go!" Madoa whispered, triggering the group's escape. They kicked off the dry, dusty floor of the canyon, forging a dust storm to hide their escape. Jasiri and Karimu went first, the two small, fear-stricken lion cubs firmly gripped in their mouths. Madoa and Erevu ran interference as the lionesses spotted them.
"There! Get them!" Zira commanded her lionesses to attack. Even though they weren't as fit and athletic as their Prideland counterparts, mainly due to malnourishment, they sprinted, catching up with Madoa and Erevu in seconds. Unfortunately for the lionesses, the hyenas were prepared.
Along the canyon's length, a few, large but rather hollow boulders rested on the ground, the result of a recent rockslide caused by earth-shattering thunderstorms caused by Scar's rise to power once more. The hyenas used these to their advantage, pouncing and leaping between them, which caused some of the weaker, less elegant members of Zira's pride to smash into each, muzzle first in most cases.
The smarter, and more agile, lionesses, however, were able to easily leap through the group's plan, using the narrow canyon edges to get ahead of them.
However, Karimu and Jasiri noticed this. The lionesses positioned themselves ahead, blocking the small turn off in the canyon, which led to Jasiri and Madoa's clan den.
"Damn." The hyena and lioness grounded to a halt, the two cub's bodies flinging tightly to their muzzles as they did so. The intensity of the lightning storms above jolted, blasting the land around them with green, vicious bursts of thunderous energy.
A mixture of dry, crackling wood from an old tree, originally rooted to the side of the canyon's wall, fell around the hyenas and lioness, blocking their path. As they tried to leap over it, the thunderous lightning crackled around them, igniting the bark with a greenish, unnatural, intoxicating flame.
As the small group recovered from their abrupt halt, Zira and her lioness caught up with them, their slender, darkening bodies quickly and easily slipped through the flames, their fur smouldering with the same, toxic, demonic greenish gaze.
"Well, well, well!" The middle-aged lioness croaked, clawing her way closer to the small rebellious group. She distinctively took interest in Karimu, and t two, weak cubs cuddling up to her paws. Their youthful, yet similar scent rattled through Zira's nose.
"Hmm, my, my, the last of the Uasi Pride." Zira grinned from ear to ear.
Karimu held her ground. She stared into Zira's demonic, power-crazed eyes. Something was missing from the middle-aged lioness. Fear? Morality? Love? Whatever it was, she wasn't backing down. It had been nearly one year since they last faced each other. Back then, Karimu had Kopa to protect and guide her. Now, she was the one protecting and guiding his cubs, as well as her newly befriended hyenas.
Zira loomed around the small group, analysing them, probing their posture for weaknesses. Even though she had more than enough lionesses to take them all out, she wanted to do this... personally. She particularly eyed up the small cubs nestled in front of their mother. Their scent seemed all too familiar.
"Seeds of rebellion..." The lionesses under Zira's control snuck closer as their matriarch approached Karimu.
The young lioness kicked her cubs out of the way, blocking Zira's possible attack with her own body. A trickle of shadows rippled in Karimu's peripheral vision, high above them on the canyon's edge. Jasiri and Madoa smiled, looking up at the figures above, knowing who, or what, they were.
Zira looked up the canyon's wall and was greeted with a series of falling boulders. One or two of her lionesses were crushed by these falling rocks, providing an opportunity for Karimu and the rest to escape. The path behind them became blocked by the falling boulders, separating them from Zira and her remaining forces.
"Come on!" Jasiri leapt over the small boulder ahead, the lifeless paw of a lioness dangling beneath.
Karimu's heart dropped in her chest.
She certainly didn't want any of this to happen. But there was no other choice. Grasping her daughter once more, she caught up with her hyena friends.
They weren't far now from the clan's den. A part of Karimu's soul was still worried. She was part of a bigger, more violent conflict, one that could very well stretch across the entire Serengeti.
Then again, she had been part of it for a while now, ever since she encountered Zira and her pride along with Kopa, all whilst attempting to form alliances with an old pride of lions hidden in the Backlands.
Then, as she left the Uasilands to give birth to Amani and Ulinzi, she could only watch in horror as the waves of lionesses and hyenas rolled across the Uasiland's plains, corrupting and slaughtering every spec of life they encountered.
"Come on, Karimu!" Madoa turned back, realising the lioness was not beside them. The hyena clan's den was only down the next small ravine, etched into the canyon's wall.
Safety was within a paws distance.
Karimu looked down at the ball of fur, bone and muscle resting peacefully from her mouth. The cub's quickened heartbeat only forced her mother's heartbeat to quicken too. They were both scared, but Karimu at least knew that soon, they would be safe.
She thought about the plan she had originally developed whilst bearing the two cubs. She thought of the supposed rich, luxurious Pridelands not far from where they stood now. It was her end game. The perfect place to raise her cubs.
But, for now, that would have to wait...