We're almost there!" Madoa shouted as she struggled through the tight, rocky ravine. Closely following behind her, Jasiri and Karimu carried Ulinzi and Amani within their mouths, followed closely behind by Erevu.
As the group shimmied through the short, tight ravine, a spec of light glistened up ahead. Walking into the light, they were greeted with a magnificent, reassuring sight.
"Phew!" Each and every one of the hyenas panted as they arrived at their den. Beyond them stood a rather large opening in the many canyons and crevices through the Dry Outland earth. Multiple hyenas, about ten in total, lay in the shadows, keeping their grey, thick fur out of the setting, but still boiling sun.
A handful of the hyenas instantly noticed Madoa. Resting near a covered cave entrance, a male lifted his head at the visitors.
"Madoa!" He arose to his paws, before wobbling, stiff and unstable towards the hyena. Upon reunion, both shared a series of close, affectionate brushes.
With Amani and Ulinzi still dangling from their mouths, Karimu and Jasiri made their way to the opening, with Erevu close behind.
"Mume!" She brushed her head across his neck, flicking her tail across his own as she did so. It had been hours since they were last together, yet it felt like it had been a millennium.
Their loving, fuzzy interaction didn't last long, cut short by a crackle of green, all-consuming thunder in the distance. She looked into her love's eyes; deep worry shot through her body. "Where are the cubs? Are they safe?"
Mume placed his paw on hers, trying to calm down his mate. "They're safe." Seeing the smile return to Madoa's muzzle, he removed his paw, pointing back towards the withered vine-coated cave near them. "We hid the young ones in there, as soon as we heard about..."
It was at this moment that Mume noticed Karimu, wandering up towards them. Many of the hyenas surrounding them slowly watched with intrigue as Karimu approached them, placing her young daughter on the floor beside her feet.
The hyenas’ scruffs shot up. Their teeth growling, hissing at the lioness and her cub. In their eyes, she was an intruder, at a time and place where lions were circling in their den, their home, hoping to spill their blood from scars long past.
They slowly approached the lioness, freezing her in place. They had strength in numbers, easily enough to take her down, as well as her cubs.
Karimu held her ground, slightly nervous as the group of hyenas approached her. They halted as Jasiri stood between them and their target, dropping Ulinzi between his mother's paws.
"No! Wait!" The hyenas froze as their leader stopped their advancement. All of their faces flashed with a look of confusion.
Why would she protect a lion? Especially one that was clearly not from the Pridelands?
Jasiri continued. "She's a friend!" To this, the hyenas relaxed. If Jasiri was willing to call Karimu a 'friend', then she mustn't be too bad.
Seeing them relax, Karimu continued towards the cave entrance, nudging her young behind the dried vine, and covering them from view. Ulinzi rushed back out, however, comforted more by his mother's warm, maternal presence.
"No, stay little cub." She smiled down at her son, softly brushing his small, fluffy head with her paw, forcing his ears to flex backwards as she did so. In the corner of her eye, she saw her daughter, her nervous shallow hazel eyes staring back into her soul. "You'll be safer there."
With that, Ulinzi trotted off to sit with his sister, snuggling up to her as they settled in the corner, the occasional small bursts of cries and laughs echoing from further within. He rested his head on his sister's body, watching as their mother walked off, reuniting with her new hyena friends.
Karimu returned to Jasiri and her clan. By now, many of the hyenas were rushing around, moving small boulders and broken tree trunks dotting their surroundings, dragging and pushing them towards a large opening to the west.
"Keep moving!" Madoa stood upon an overlook, watching over the operation. "We need some cover over there!"
Jasiri and Erevu worked together, pushing a reasonably sized rock to the side of the opening, providing enough cover for three or four hyenas, depending on size.
Within minutes, the cover was ready. Everyone knew that any second now, an army of trespassers could storm the den. Everyone took their positions, nestled behind the cover they had built. Karimu stood far back from the frontlines, next to Erevu and Madoa. Jasiri took the lead, hiding behind the boulder closest to the upcoming action.
The air became soaked with a deathly silence. The only noise was the brushing of outland dust, flowing gently through the opening, slightly scratching across the ground as it travelled past the assembled hyena forces.
Minute upon minute passed with no sign of trouble. As some of the hyenas rumbled behind their cover, the minuscule, regular pitter-patter of footsteps through the dry Outland dust rumbled towards them, growing louder and louder as they approached.
Jasiri awaited behind her boulder. She arched her back, ready to leap on whatever, or whoever was heading this way. They were obviously not a lion; their footsteps weren't as loud and bulky. It actually sounded more like a hyena's, but she knew that her entire clan was accounted for.
As the footsteps approached her, she pounced, pinning a hyena to the ground. He stared up at her, bewildered by his surprise attacker. Jasiri herself seemed shocked as to who laid below her, but not much, given his past.
"Janja?" She looked down at her rival. He was, quite understandably, frightened. His eyes watered as she stared at him, yet a small smile broke through his fear. His smile wasn't one of a mischievous or manic nature. It seemed...grateful... even loving. This sent a shudder through Jasiri's spine. Why did he look at her like this?
"Ja-Jasiri!" Janja's face reddened as Jasiri's breath brushed over his muzzle. It had been a while since he had been this close to the female hyena. His mind, however, focused, eager to share the horrors that had brought him to this position. "We haven't got time. We need to go!"
"Go? Go where?" Jasiri stared down at Janja, her eyes filled with questions. He nudged her with his back legs, slowly lifting her off of him, hoping not to hurt the hyena. As she let go, he rose to his paws once more, turning back to Jasiri.
"Scar knows about you. He's sent Zira to take you out!" Janja marched up and down, every now and then, taking the time to look over his shoulder, further into the Outlands. A small, recognisable dust trail caught his attention, bellowing in the distance. A thunderous, sparking lightning cloud followed the dust storm as it rushed closer.
"Oh no! They're here." He leapt behind the hyena lines, cowering behind a small unused rock within Jasiri's clan's den. Turning back around, Jasiri noticed figures in front of the incoming dust storm. Lionesses, led by Zira and a younger, cream furred lioness. She flicked her head, signalling for everyone to prepare themselves.
The fight was about to begin...
As the hyenas held their ground, waiting for their lioness opponents to clash with them, they heard the older lioness at the front roar orders at her younger accomplice.
"Vitani! Lead our forces around. Crush them from behind." Zira smiled at her daughter; her canines glistened with a greenish flash coming from a thunderbolt nearby. As the pair separated, so did the lion forces. Most of them followed Zira on the frontal assault, whilst three lionesses followed Vitani.
The pre-adult lioness, though still young, was crafty and strong. Just like her mother. She saw a small opening in the rock face, leading into a cave system running under the hyenas' den. Could it lead into their den?
Karimu's heart skipped as she saw the small group of lionesses split off from the others. She could only imagine what they were up to, but she didn't have time to react before Zira and her forces were on top of her and her hyena friends. A storm of claws and teeth rumbled through the front lines. It didn't take long for the lionesses to break through, leaving behind a trail of injured and unconscious hyenas.
"We can't hold them off!" Madoa shouted, trying to face two fully grown lionesses on her own. She was separated from her sister by a wave of creamy fur. Many of the lionesses targeted Jasiri, trying to eliminate the leader of this little rebellion. But Jasiri held her ground, before realising the impossible predicament.
"Move back!" Jasiri ordered. Karimu was nearly back within the hyena's lair, just enough to notice a small, crumbling crack formed within the rocky wall. The flicker of creamy fur brushed past, before...
"AGHHHH!" The instantly recognisable cries of Ulinzi and Amani rattled across Karimu's ears. The two cubs sprinted out of the cave, followed closely by a couple of hyena cubs, presumably Madoa's. The two hyena cubs froze when they saw Karimu, whilst Ulinzi and Amani ran to the comforting presence of their mother. Not far behind the cubs, two lionesses, teeth exposed, rushed out of the cave.
Karimu had had enough of this...
Time itself seemed to freeze. All the chaos and destruction around Karimu became nothing to the lioness. Nothing could distract her, except for the soft, watery stroking sensation next to her paws. Looking down, she saw her two cubs, vibrating with fright, looking outwards, staring at their inevitable death at the hands of these lionesses.
Turning back, she saw Madoa drop to her legs, next to the bleeding body of her mate, his body convulsing in pain as she tried her best to protect him from a lioness's onslaught of claws and teeth. Jasiri on the other hand, fought with Zira herself, struggling under the lioness’ stronger, built up weight and body.
Every inch of her body ignited with a fiery, otherworldly energy. Hate? Regret? Fear?
The two cubs brushed against her leg, interrupting her thoughts once more. But this time, they did something more powerful than just nuzzling their mother.
Karimu looked down at her cubs, their brown and hazel, innocent eyes looked up at her through her leg fur. She turned to look around her. The lionesses were close to them now, nearly in striking distance.
She thought about her cubs, how they were unlikely to escape this situation. How they would die here. The end of the Uasi Pride...
She remembered the last time she felt like this. She remembered looking down at the scarred, freshly torn body of Kopa, as Zira and her pride approached them. It was the first time she had felt this... power growing inside her.
She knew what was to come...
A burst of boiling energy exploded from her body, igniting her fur with a bright, blinding white light. She roared like she had done only once before, a stream of brightly coloured tears running down her face.
The light battered outwards, piercing every corner of the den, before spreading even further. The lionesses close to her just disappeared, seemingly disintegrating in its path. The light beckoned up to the sky, pushing back the consuming, foreboding thunderstorms back up to the northern sky.
Karimu's mind flooded with thoughts of her past.
The day she met Kopa...
When they became stuck together, freezing in an icy cave, forced to cuddle close to each other to survive. Their first time together alone as pre-adults.
The way he looked at her, no words were spoken. His scent spread across her muzzle even now, calming her as the power grew stronger.
By now, Karimu couldn't see anyone, apart from Amani and Ulinzi at her paws. She did, however, hear the confused, blinding screams of Zira and Vitani, echoing throughout the den as they moved away, slowly.
Though blinded and confused, Zira and her forces retreated. Vitani struggled to follow her mother, only by following her scent and spine-arching screaming.
Just as Karimu's roar had ended, she fell to the floor, tired and drained of strength. The last thing she felt was her cubs, burrowing themselves under her arms.
If this was the end, at least they were all together...
The peaceful, sunny afternoon eventually crumbled into an outpour of darkening rain storms. The rain battered the dry land below for hours, even up to now. The majority of the animals of the Pridelands took shelter, wishing not to be soaked in the seemingly never-ending bursts.
The lions of Pride Rock were within this group. The lair was filled with lionesses, comfortably sleeping as the pitter-patter of rain rumbled above them. Even Simba, Nala and Kiara slept, nestling on their royal overlook.
There was only one of these big cats that struggled to sleep. He tried to close his eyes, allowing the calming, peaceful sound of the rain wash him off to the land of sleep. But his nose was too active, along with his mind.
Lying next to him, Kuwinda slept peacefully. Her slightly rough, yet comfortable, heated fur brushed across his soft chest fur. His legs and paws rested behind her, allowing some space between the pair. Just being near her, however, seemed to cause a bubbling, soul-draining feeling in his chest, keeping him from falling to sleep.
This feeling had only grown since a few days before when the pair found themselves sleeping together in the old lair of Kopa's father,at the edge of the Pridelands. Though neither lion could remember what happened, they had ideas. Ideas that sent a shiver through Kopa's spine every time he saw her, inhaled her scent...
Kopa knew what he had to do.
Slowly and softly, he arose to his paws before sneaking away from Kuwinda's presence, making sure not to step on any of the piling lionesses surrounding them. The bright, gloomy exit to the lair beckoned across the room, calling for him. His way out. Freedom once more.
With every step, his heartbeat quickened. He stared down at his footing, making sure he placed his paws in the small spaces in the sea of fur beneath him. In time, he found his way out, not awakening any lioness, or at least that's what he thought.
As the young lion had moved away from her, a chilling breeze brushed across Kuwinda's exposed belly, awakening the poor lioness as her love left the lair. Seeing him walk off, she leapt to her feet, following him softly and silently.
As Kopa walked into the light of day, the rain poured down his mane. It couldn't extinguish his thoughts though, or the other fire that burned brighter within than ever before.
He drew his attention towards the Outlands. The dark, foreboding storm that corrupted and consumed the land beyond especially caught his attention. He knew he would eventually have to face its pure evil core. But first, he had a duty to find his first beloved, even if it was just her corpse…
As she stepped forward, a familiar, spine-chilling yet soft voice rattled across him.
As he turned, he saw Kuwinda, staring at him curiously. He knew it would be near impossible to leave her here, especially after everything he had done for her. But Karimu needed him more, he could just feel it.
"Where are you going?" She slowly approached him, only stopping as Kopa flicked around, his tail shot between his legs.
"Nowhere you need to know, Kuwinda." His voice murmured with a gravely, slightly depressed tone. Her face shot from being inquisitive to an expression more like worry or fear.
"Why? What's the matter?" She tried to read his face or the bits he was willing to show her. His eyes seemed focused on the Outlands, scanning the area with interest. But his smile, the one that once sparked her heart and soul with its joy and love, had dissipated. He was worried about something, possibly even regretful.
But of what?
"She's still out there, Kuwinda." Kopa turned his attention to the southern part of the Outlands, noticing the area was pristine, cleansed of the darkness battering the north. His heartbeat quickened as he stared in this direction. "I need to find her."
Kuwinda, now within striking distance, rubbed alongside her secret lover. She knew how much his old love meant to him. A part of her felt betrayed, hurt even, yet she understood his feelings.
She stole him from his true love.
She was to blame for this...
"Why don't we find her? Together." Kuwinda uttered. It was clear to Kopa she didn't want to let him go. She loved him more than anyone could possibly do so, just feeling her fur brush against him, her scent choking his nostrils. It took every inch of his will not to leap at her, licking and kissing her face with an explosion of affection and lust.
But luckily, Kopa had control, at least this once. He just shrugged away from the lioness, leaving her in his wake. She caught up with him, stopping him in his tracks.
"NO!" He roared. It was obvious he was hiding something. Something worrying.
"Why?" She stared up into his brown, thoughtful eyes. "Why don't you want me to come?"
Kopa had enough. He sure as well didn't want to hurt Kuwinda's feelings, especially since he had built them up so much these past few days. She was as confident as ever and had found her place in the pride. But because of this, Kopa now felt unneeded, useless here. His love for her tied his hind to the ground beneath, but this leash would not last long.
"I just..." He was speechless. No word could describe the feelings erupting through his heart right now. Without thinking, he reached forward, encapsulating his lips onto hers; a few seconds passed as they both continued to kiss.
Breathless and drained, they departed. Kuwinda stood still, nearly losing her footing as she glanced into Kopa's worried, tearing eyes.
"You can't come with me, Kuwinda. I'm walking into hell and I don't want you to get hurt." His breathing intensified, causing his mane to bounce. "I didn't mean for this to happen, for any of it. But..."
"Kopa?" Kuwinda cried, her voice filled with worry, along with the shock.
"I do care about you, Kuwinda." He turned around, staring out towards the Outlands. The rain intensified, making it impossible to distinguish between the rain and his tears. "In too many ways to comprehend."
Kuwinda sat next to him, her own heart and soul breaking before her lover. But Kopa rose to his paws.
"I'm sorry!" With this, Kopa leapt off, sprinting full-on across the puddle drenched grasslands beyond. Kuwinda tried to keep up with him, calling his name occasionally, before losing him to the horizon, failing to keep up from exhaustion.
Collapsing to the muddy, filthy ground, she released her own explosion of tears, over-drenching her fur with their salty content, along with the gallons of rain woven into her fur.
As the spec of her love disappeared across the horizon, she gained enough control to murmur a few, heartbroken words, between her hyperventilating breaths.