The sun had set across the horizon and Nala was wandering back to Pride Rock along with Kiara, Tiifu and Zuri. The young lionesses had been so caught up in Nala's hunting lessons, that they had not realised how late it really was.
As they clambered up one of the steep, grassy hills, the magnificent monument came into view. Home. Its sight gave them all the light boost of energy enough to sneak back into the tall grass below.
Nala took the lead, her long, fur-tipped tail slivering through the tall grass, providing an indicator for the three younger lionesses. Kiara followed her mother as Tiifu and Zuri walked beside her. Each lioness moved quietly, practicing the skills they had learned through the evening. Claws sheathed, tail low to the ground as well as the nose.
As they moved, they sensed many smells, antelope, zebra and other lionesses who had come through earlier. Kiara even picked up a faint musky scent, bearing a striking resemblance to Kopa's. To pick up a scent so weak and lost to time was a great achievement, especially for such a young lioness.
As they neared the end of the patch of grassland, the lionesses resorted back to their normal, upright posture. The moon had come out from under the volcano in the Outlands and had perched itself upon it. The stars, twinkling away in the sky, grabbed their attention. No matter how many times they looked up at night, they were never tired of such a show. Kiara herself had never forgotten something her father had told her, that the Great Lions of the Past live among those stars, watching all that goes on in the world.
"Come on you three." Nala called, turning around to head down the path leading to the base of Pride Rock. "We'd better get home." The three young lionesses turned away, slightly tired from their little adventure with the queen.
As they walked, the ground began to rumble ever so slightly. At first, they thought it was because they were tired. But the shaking became more and more dominant until the entire land rattled like the wing of a bird in flight. Each of them held their ground, scurrying to each other's comforting presence as the shaking became even more powerful.
Nala scanned the horizon. She had noticed a small blast of dust spewing from the earth. Was this the source of the earthquakes? She noticed how it became clearer with every passing second. Whatever it was, it was coming this way.
Before he could think a bright, unnatural flash of green gleamed out from the horizon, nearly blinding the lionesses. After a few seconds, they all noticed what had caused it. The volcano in the Outlands had erupted. But not in the usual manner. Something was wrong.
"RUN!" They all ran for the safety of Pride Rock The dust storm that Nala had spotted was closing in, revealing itself to be the Pridelands animals: zebra, antelope, wildebeest. But not even those animals could kick up this dirt. Taking a glance back once more, she noticed a layer of distinctive grey fur, nestled behind the animals.
As they reached the base of Pride Rock, the cries of animals echoed across the Pridelands. As the lionesses climbed, they saw the scale of the chaos below. Greenish fire rained from the sky, burning the trees and grasslands. Cries of agony were all they could hear. Kiara, Tiifu and Zuri, all terrified of the situation, kept their heads down, hoping that this was just a bad dream. Surely it was, and they would wake up soon. But the feeling under their paws as they desperately climbed made them doubt their hopes.
As they arrived at the top, the pride was fully awake. Lionesses were teaming up, ready to go to war. Some of the injured animals, the leaders of herds, were being brought up.
Ma Tembo, Muhimu, Swala. All of them had barely clambered up the steps up the monument, before collapsing with exhaustion.
In the bustle of activity. Nala squeezed her way through, hoping to see that impressive, reddish mane of her mate. Kiara stayed close behind her, followed by Tiifu and Zuri. Within seconds, he came into view, looking out to the burning Pridelands below.
"Simba!" Nala practically pounced at him as he turned to the sweet, emotion-drenched cry of his name. Kiara followed not long after, landing beside her parents as they snuggled.
"Nala! Kiara!" Tears started to form in the lion's eyes. "Thank the Kings you're alive!" He continued to nuzzle his startled mate whilst also providing his shoulder for his terrified daughter to cry on.
She looked at her friends, reunited with their own mothers. As she continued to snuggle up to her father, he continued his conversation with her mother.
"Where's Kion?" He uttered. The two lions looked around, hoping to see any sign of their son, but to no avail. They scanned the horizon, their hearts frantically searching for a spot of golden fur on the horizon, but they were left disappointed.
Simba arose to his feet. The last of the lionesses had left, leaving only those with cubs remaining, sheltering and calming them down. Nala's breathing intensified. She knew what was coming.
"Stay with the girls!" He turned his head slightly, still facing away from his mate. "Let nothing take them." And with that, he ran off into the night. Nala got up, looking around, she noticed groups of lionesses with their cubs, out in the open.
"Everyone! Into the lair!" She shouted, gaining everyone’s attention. As they all moved, she flicked her own daughter with her nose, shoving her off her fear-frozen feet. As everyone else retreated to the safety of the lair, Nala took one last look out at her land. The flashes of green, the fires, the sounds of laughter and screams. This was Scar's doing. He had returned, somehow. Her thoughts flashed to that of her son. She hoped he was alive, somewhere out there. Her eyes peered at Rafiki's tree, where Kuwinda had been taken hours before. It hadn't been hit, not yet. But she knew that it would be any moment now. To think of what would happen to the young lioness if she was found. Well, maybe it wasn't best to think of that, right now.
After all, Nala had more important things to do. She had to focus on the lionesses and their cubs down below, organising and leading them in defense of the Pridelands’ future. She knew Simba would win; he always did. And if Kopa returned. Scar would be stopped, and he would pay the price once more...
Everything seemed calm and complacent at Rafiki's tree. The old mandrill was sitting in his tree, meditating as the soothing environment eased calmed breaths onto the once panicked lioness laid within. Kuwinda had spent the last few hours slowly calming from the shock of her pregnancy and now, after all the commotion and stress had resided, rested peacefully dreaming about what the future may hold.
She dreamt of large, open plains, with white-topped mountains glistening in the distance to the south, seemingly reaching for the sky. To the north, a boggy, yet seemingly life-filled swamp and to the west, a lush, secluded forest. The perfect place to hide. In her dream, she laid on a rock, overlooking a vast plain of animals. Zebras, giraffes, antelope. She saw other lions and lionesses, laying in front of her, cuddled up, enjoying each other's company. Right then, she felt a set of small paws rest against her side, turning around, she saw two little lioness cubs, both bearing a striking resemblance to herself.
"Mum?" The first cub pleaded, her cute little voice instantly pierced through her soul. "Can we go play?" Both cubs smiled at her, grinning widely in a pleading fashion. How could she refuse them, after all, the world in the surrounding area looked safe enough, especially with the other lions seemingly a part of her pride around.
"Sure girls. "She smiled back at them. "But don't go too far from the lair and stay in my sights." She licked their faces as they approached her for a farewell cuddle.
"YAY!" The two cubs couldn't contain their excitement, and after giving their mother a farewell cuddle, ran off into the plains, pouncing and laying with each other as they went. As they did, a strikingly familiar male lion brushed his way through the tall grass as the two girls were about to enter. He stopped them from entering, looking down at their level. Kuwinda couldn't tell what he was saying but he took a glance at her and smiled before turning back down to the cubs. They brushed up against him, before entering the tall grass.
The lion slowly approached the stone Kuwinda laid on, a smile crossing his muzzle. That beautiful, gleaming muzzle. It was as if it was only yesterday they had met once again, and that they had spent that one night in his father's old cave. The night the two cubs were conceived.
As he brushed against her, she hummed affectionately. It had been a while since the two had been this close. As he stopped, she stared into his loving, brown eyes.
"Kopa?" She became lost in them. They were perfect, as she had always remembered them, but then they changed. Reds and oranges burnt across his pupils, and as he reached his paw out, it changed from light to a darker shade of brown.
As his paw grabbed hers, she felt him hold her tightly. Fear shot through his eyes as she began to shake. But even this could not prepare her for what came next.
He roared, as loud as it seemed possible. The earth shattered around them, destroying everything. A massive wave of earth rushed towards her. Her heart raced as his claws dug into her paws, a crimson red ooze bubbled out, before a final, destructive roar rattled through her ears.
And everything went dark...
"Kuwinda!" The lioness awoke to a shuddering, shaking the Mandrill grasping her front paws. His eyes shot through fear as demonic laughter, mixed with the snarling and roars of unknown lionesses. She leapt to her feet, still dazed and shaken from her deep sleep.
"Rafiki?" Her eyesight properly focused after a few seconds. She noticed a younger mandrill shaking near the entrance to the tree, clenching a staff. As she rose to her feet, she turned back to Rafiki, who had begun to walk towards the gap in the tree's trunk. "What's going on?"
"We are under attack!" The mandrill shuddered. Approaching the trunk's opening, Kuwinda saw a ring of fire surrounding the baobab tree, hyenas and lionesses slowly approaching through the flames. One lioness in particular, seemingly the leader of their small group, roared out orders to the other.
"Take the mandrills alive!" It was at this point she noticed Kuwinda, staring back at her. Her eyes filled with hate and aggression. There was no way that Kuwinda would let these intruders take her home, her land. And there was no way she would let them take her unborn cubs, without ending her first.
Kuwinda turned to the mandrills, both armed with their staffs and nodded. On the count of three in their heads, the trio leapt into action. Makini and Rafiki, both trained in martial arts, made short work of the first batch of hyenas, flinging them into the tall grass with ease.
This only left a handful of lionesses for Kuwinda to deal with. Holding a defensive stance, Kuwinda allowed the Outlander lionesses to strike. Her quick, huntress reflexes allowed her to narrowly avoid their attacks.
She thought of the training Kopa had given her, about using all her senses to track prey or her adversaries. She heard their breaths on the crackling wind, their scent, plastered with fear and pain rippled across her nose as she swung for them. Her paws clawed away some of their facial fur, flinging the first two straight to a nearby rock. As their skulls crashed onto the rock, the sound of cracking ruptured through her ears. The two lionesses lay unconscious, barely breathing.
More hyenas and lionesses rushed through the flames. Rafiki and Makini struggled to fight off the hyenas, and even one or two of the lionesses, but they succeeded in knocking them all unconscious. Kuwinda was left with four lionesses, all strong, athletic. Capable. They were quick, far quicker than her. One pounced on top of her, digging her claws into Kuwinda's back. The young lioness screeched in pain, but this pain would only fuel a fire deep inside her. Unknowingly, she lifted off the ground, sending the lioness clawing her back flying backwards, landing on top of more lionesses in the process.
Only two remained. Kuwinda felt a sharp pain spreading across her back. Turning to her side for a split second, she noticed a trickle of a crimson liquid dripping off her back and onto the grass. She was bleeding, quite badly too.
The two remaining Outland lionesses, the leader and a normal grunt, slowly moved in. They pounded from two sides, two directions, eager to slaughter Kuwinda in the Pridelands’ tall grass as a small ember began to ignite it. The flames quickened, spreading towards them as they attacked, slightly out of sync.
This gave Kuwinda the advantage...
Within seconds, the grunt lioness was in range of Kuwinda. With one powerful strike, she was able to hit the lioness out of the sky, her protracted claws gracefully scarring her foe as she fell to the floor, hitting the ground with incredible force. The lioness was knocked unconscious, resting in a dirt opening, safe from the approaching flames.
Only the lioness leader remained. She pounced on Kuwinda, knocking the young lioness onto her back. The large, claw-shaped scar on her back, still fresh, sent a shot of pain through her body, triggered by the heavier, vicious weight of her older adversary.
The fires were nearing them. The Outlander's vaster weight allowed her to pin Kuwinda to the ground, ready to finish her off. Kuwinda struggled, avoiding the lioness' strikes. The Outlander clawed at her chest as the young lioness felt the light bubbling inside her move, a shot of pain ruptured through her insides. After being nearly clawed to death, Kuwinda felt the Outlander place her claws near her throat, strangling the lioness, draining her of life.
Acting purely on instinct, Kuwinda lunged one last desperate time with just enough force to push the older lioness over. She held her down for a few seconds, before feeling her heavier opponent break free. She listened to the instinctive voices in her head, ordering her to strike.
In the blink of an eye, she stuck, digging her fangs into her opponent's neck. The Outlander's body trembled. Convulsing slightly in Kuwinda's cold embrace. Her brown, life-draining eyes closed, knowing she had been outdone. This was her end.
Moments passed. Kuwinda, still blinded by her huntress instincts, kept a tight hold of her prey, not letting go until the light of life faded from her body. As the last flicker of life escaped the Outlander, Kuwinda's jaw let go, allowing the lioness' body to rest among the grassland below.
Her first kill... One of her own kind...
Kuwinda regained herself. She looked down at the body before her. Did she do this? How? A small, unexpected tear brushed down her face. What had she done?
She didn't have time to think about this though. The fire that ravaged the land had spread mere inches away from her paws. The young lioness leapt out of the way, landing on a patch of dirt not far from her first kill. All she could do was look on as the Outlander's body barricaded the flames, the stench of cooking flesh clinging to the air within seconds.
A few feet away, Makini and Rafiki were contending with a constant wave of hyenas. They held their ground, flinging the rather clever creatures quite some distance. But that was changing, quickly. The hyenas had become more orchestrated in their attacks. Two or three leapt for each mandrill, causing them to use every inch of perception just to counteract their enemy's attacks.
"Stay back!" Makini screamed as three hyenas stalked the young mandrill. She held her staff outward defensively, trying to hold them back. They showed no fear and attacked. They grabbed the mandrill's staff, snatching it from her grasp, before chewing and tearing it apart. The mandrill sighed. "There goes another staff..."
The mandrills retreated, moving closer and closer to their baobab tree home. Both of them had lost their staff, making it tricky to fight the savage, coordinated hyenas. Makini avoided the attacks coming her way using her youthful fitness to out jump and out-maneuver her foes.
"MAKINI!" A terrified scream pierced her ears. Turning around, she saw Rafiki, being dragged away by a trio of hyenas. The mandrill tried to dig his hands into the dirt, attempting to halt his captor's progress. But he couldn't get enough grip. He saw the young, scarred lioness, resting, exhausted in the dirt in the distance. "KUWINDA!" His voice became croaky, dried and hollowed out of pure, terrifying fear. "Ru-!" His voice ended. His captors dragged his limp body into the distance, toward Pride Rock.
Seeing the situation before her, Kuwinda rose to her paws. The remaining hyenas had surrounded Makini, their teeth gleaming in the blackening sun. They were set to kill, to create yet another bloodbath. The mandrill shrunk in on herself. This was it. This was the end.
Ignoring all shots of pain in her body, Kuwinda pounced, landing in between Makini and the hyenas. They froze.
‘Where did she come from?’ The hyenas analysed the lioness's scarred body.
‘She was weak, injured. She was no match for them. Everyone knew that.’ They mused. Seeing that they had the advantage, they attacked.
Kuwinda held her ground, easily taking out four hyenas without raising a paw. But for every hyena she defeated, four more would take their place. If Makini and herself were to survive, they had to retreat, to run.
She grabbed the terrified, weeping mandrill, throwing her onto her stinging, scarred back. Without thinking, she ran, quicker than she ever had before, not once looking back. She saw the land around her, burning, corrupting. She heard the terrified, pain-drenched cries and screams of a variety of animals. It was like her cubhood again… when Scar ruled the lands. This land, her home, was falling.
And she could do nothing to stop it...