A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » November 16th, 2013, 7:18 pm

chapter 30: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 30: Fear


Buraya's breath eventually slowed to a normal rate, while he rose back onto his paws, for the first time after what had been several minutes. He caught a quick glance at Mohatu and Mari, before he lowered his head to the ground in shame.

Not only had he lost a fight against several snakes, but he had just surrendered his allegiance to two lions, who he had once believed to be his sworn enemies. He had made a complete fool of himself by proudly displaying both his ignorance and his pitiful inefficacies, and that was putting it lightly.

To Buraya's obvious misfortune, there was no option of turning back anymore. In truth, he had not one other choice. Even if Mohatu wasn't King Leo, that lion—whoever he was—and Mari were much too strong to be able to settle the issue with a duel, like the great kings would have intended.

But, as such, the two were worthy leaders in Buraya's eyes. He tried to convince himself it was for the best; if Mohatu really was Leo, after all, then he had made the right choice. He would be learning from the true master of war—that in itself was a golden opportunity, and a chance of a lifetime.

Meanwhile, while Buraya raveled in his thoughts, Mari sought to find a way out of the situation. She approached the edge of the passageway and looked down into the perpendicularly running corridor below, which was doubtlessly ignited with torches and festered with snakes. What immediately caught her eye wasn't that, however—it was Zuria's body.

The lioness draped one of her paws over the ledge, while her eyes fell on the poor lioness below. "Pumzika kwa amani," Mari whispered.

Mari's words continued to vibrate the air around her ears for several seconds, before the sound faded off, eventually becoming inaudible behind the hisses of the snakes below. She closed her eyes for a moment, only hoping that Buraya would realize the peaceful meaning of her words.

But the sudden feeling of tranquility did not last, not even within Mari's own mind.

"Buraya," Mari called softly, while she turned back around to face the other two felines. "Do you know where this passageway leads to?"

The lion in question lifted his head up for a moment, but his eyes soon fell back to the ground, shortly after Mari had caught his attention. Buraya's reply came without interest; his depression masked the usual patterns of his voice, leaving behind only a mumble. "Uhh... no. I didn't even know this was here."

"That's good," Mohatu stated, allowing his spirit to lift slightly. His eyes darted around the passageway for a second, while he tried to make sense of where he was. He searched the deepest archives of his damaged memory, hoping only to find some sort of clue to the puzzle.

Satisfied with his thoughts, Mohatu licked his nose. "If you've never seen this before, then it's probably what we're supposed to find," he finally explained aloud.

"Right," Mari nodded.

Buraya, however, still seemed to remain confused. The slow, oscillatory movements of his tail only served to exemplify his obvious lack of attention. His eyes were focused on the stone tiles beneath his paws, and his ears tilted inward, almost entirely hidden under his black mane.

Mohatu tried to grab Buraya's attention by speaking more firmly, continuing where he had left off. "What we're looking for are the remaining artifacts—the ones that open the tomb of Regulus," Leo explained.

Buraya tilted his head up. "I don't know about those," he admitted. "But it doesn't matter. We need to get out of here... there aren't usually that many snakes."

"I know, but we're not leaving just yet," replied Mohatu. "If that is the case, then I think this pyramid might be... reacting to my presence. The ancient kings may be—"

"Mohatu," Buraya interrupted, although his voice still remained mostly monotonous. He stared at the other lion for a few seconds, still showing a dry concern of fear on his muzzle. "You saw what happened to Zuria. We need to get outta here."

"Alright... I agree," Mohatu conceded. "But we can't go back down, so we can't go out the way we came. We're going to have to find another way."

The lioness in the group gestured toward the end of the chamber with her shoulder, which very obviously led to another part of the tomb. Needless to say, it seemed to be what Mohatu was hinting at, as well.

"This is another passageway, Buraya," Mari stated, clearing her throat while she finished. "Now, if the ancient kings forced the snakes to make us go up here, where we can see this secret path, there must be some reason for it."

Mari contemplated the situation further, tapping her paw slightly before she continued on with her own speculation. "My guess is that this path leads to somewhere important," she added. "I think... this is right where we're supposed to be."

"Exactly what I was going to say," Mohatu agreed. "We might find the remaining keys to the tomb of Regulus in here."

The orange lioness stretched herself out across the floor for a brief second, while the torchlight from the upper chamber's walls illuminated her fur in an eerie red glow. She then perked her ears up, and started to glance down into the path ahead. "It's possible," Mari replied.

Buraya's breathing stopped for a few heartbeats. "Umm... keys?" the yellow lion wondered. "What's going on?"

Ignoring the lion's inquiry, Mohatu began to walk down the hidden passageway. Meanwhile, torches on the side of the corridor started to ignite all the way to the very end of the path, on queue. Like the previous corridor, this one led downward; the only difference was that this one ran perpendicularly to the viper-infested one below it.

"Let's go," Mohatu stated, relieving Buraya of his wait. The former king looked back for a split second, but only to make sure that his two companions were following. "If we find the keys, I'll show you."

"They're discs," Mari explained, as she followed somewhat impatiently behind Leo. "There are eight of them... one for each star in the constellation of the lion."

Buraya angled his head slightly, while his mind tried to absorb the lioness's words. He wasn't quite sure that he was understanding it all; in fact, he was merely following along with the other two, both physically and mentally. "But there were nine kings before Leo, not eight," he stated, with a very clear tone of confusion.

However, immediately afterward, the same lion brought his paw up to scratch his whiskers. "Ugh... Leo, I mean... you."

In consequence, Mohatu rolled his eyes. Quite frankly, such meaningless technicalities hardly even mattered to him.

"Well..." Mari corrected herself, "it's not quite like that." The lioness thought for a moment, trying to find a way to explain the situation to Buraya in the simplest way possible. "You see, Regulus's tomb doesn't have a key, because the keys open his tomb."

"Exactly," Mohatu nodded. "Nine kings ruled the ancient kingdom, but there are only eight discs. The eight discs open the tomb of the last king—Regulus's tomb."

Mari proceeded to continue where Mohatu had left off. "Each of the eight artifacts were hidden in the final burial ground of their respective king," she said. "But, before Leo and Rex created the new kingdom, they were searching for these keys. I know they found them, and I know they hid them. But where they hid them is anyone's guess."

"I... see." Buraya acknowledged with slight hesitation. He finally started to demonstrate some degree of understanding, but it was short-lived, to say the least.

"But," Buraya interjected, "you're Leo... so why don't you know where they are?"

"Heh, my memory isn't so good," Mohatu answered truthfully, although with an odd hint of ambiguity, as well. "And besides, Rex probably hid the keys from me."

"Uh huh," Buraya muttered. "I guess that makes sense."

Suddenly, what Mohatu had said gave Mari something new to consider. It wasn't exactly a new thought in its entirety, but it did give her something new to say. The lioness's eyes flashed open, while her ears tilted back farther, with each successive step. "I wonder what all Minerva and Rex have been hiding from you guys," Mari interjected.

"I mean," Mari continued with a brief pause, "if you don't know about the keys, then what else isn't she telling you?"

For several seconds, only the soft sounds of pawsteps filled the corridor. Not one of the three lions had the courage to speak their thoughts out loud, but it was no less than apparent that they were all thinking the exact same thing.

After a very long pause, Buraya finally answered. "If you're not making this up, then everything."


---



At the very end of the passageway, the electrically-ignited torches ended. The corridor transformed from a perfectly rectangular shape, uniform in dimensions, to something much more natural and inharmonious in appearance. The masterfully carved stones ended, and the passage terminated right around a corner, which opened up into a large room.

In an odd way, the new room almost looked like a natural cave.

But, unlike the cave Mari and Mohatu had found themselves stuck in, this one was lit. The lowest parts of the floor flickered rapidly with light, and an electrical cackling sound rang all the way through the room. The light source wasn't all that different from the torches that lit the walls of the passageway; it was only bigger, brighter, and louder.

"What the hell is this?" Buraya asked slowly. He peeked his head around from the corner, and tried to examine the pool of flickering light with all his mental focus. In the meantime, he hoped that either of the other two lions would have some sort of explanation.

"I... have no idea," Mohatu stated. "Believe me; I don't."

"It's like... lightning," Mari interjected. "The floor is lightning. It's that jagged, white, loud, crackly plasma stuff!"

Very much like the curious feline he was, Mohatu stepped down into the natural cave, and began to approach the odd light source. After a few paces, he stopped and looked back. "It's all clear," he informed the other two.

"No snakes?" Buraya asked.

"I don't see any," Mohatu answered. "You can come down."

With Leo's confirmation, the other two lions in the group began their descent into the natural cave. Both Mari and Buraya kept their noses low to the ground, while they examined the odd change of terrain beneath their paws. Their movements were slow and careful, while they both studied their surroundings closely.

The walls of the cave were made from what was a slippery, rocky substance, and it felt like it was coated with a layer of slimy, waxy sludge, which reflected any amount of light that glazed its surface, like water. The rocks themselves, which rested underneath the layers of condensation, were mostly brownish in color. Although, upon further analysis, a few appeared to be made out of small crystals, much like sand.

The air in the room was almost sickeningly moist, and the scent of ozone was fierce enough to punch any lion's olfactory senses into a coma. The mostly natural cave was incredibly hot as well, being nearly an entire season hotter than the previous corridor. It was like a sauna, in the largest sense, with sticky, persistent plumes that could not be removed from fur.

Eventually, as Mohatu's patience dwindled, he gathered up the courage to approach the light source in the ground even closer—which was still the most interesting sight, by far. Both his companions followed behind, no doubt sharing an equal degree of curiosity.

"Interesting..." Mohatu stated, allowing his fascination to flow out of his breath. "Very interesting."

"I have never seen anything like this," Buraya added. "I didn't even know this was here!"

"It almost looks like... water," Mari thought aloud, gazing into what she thought was an electrified pool of water.

Although the flickering had already started to make her eyes hurt, and the crackling electric sound only added to the developing migraine within her head, Mari had just made a very keen observation.

She was right. The lowest part of the floor looked almost like a pool—it was a long body of hypersalinated water, sitting dead the center of the the cave. The watery substance was somewhat reflective while it maintained its translucent properties, and it even contained a few ripples amidst the erratic patterns of electric shocks.

"It is water," Mohatu stated. He then squinted his eyes. "Look... I can see my reflection in it."

Buraya dropped one of his front paws downward, until the bottom was only barely above the water's slimy surface. He held it there for a few moments, feeling the radiant heat of the liquid substance below his paw.

It was water, but little did Buraya know that it was water that carried a high voltage.

Against his wisest judgements, Buraya dipped one of his pawtoes beneath the glowing and sparking surface. The electrical flickering sound grew louder at that very instant, and his entire body began to radiate with a painful and tingling numbness from that one nubby little pawtoe.

bzzzbzbzbbBBZZZZZKKKkkkKSKHHTTZZzzTT!

At that very instant, every nerve in Buraya's pawtoe died. The signal traveled up his body, before he could even blink. Paralysis quickly set in, and his entire consciousness turned to soup.

Mohatu and Mari jumped back. Before their eyes could even begin to fathom what was going on, they had already leaped several tail lengths away, acting on instinct alone.

Much to the surprise of the two remaining sentient lions, Buraya continued to stand still, unable to even move his paw while he remained stunned by the flow of electric current. The bright, white light engulfed his entire body, which rested lifelessly as his muscles tensed up.

It was the weirdest thing any lion had seen, and by no small margin.

Quickly, Mohatu ran back up to the lion and smacked him upside the head, without ever even thinking of going near the electrified pool. The motion was smooth and swift, and the strike was brisk enough to knock Buraya down on his back within the shattered fraction of a second.

It all happened within a single flash of light; Mari could barely even tell what was going on.

As an immediate result of Mohatu's actions, Buraya landed safely on the ground with a heavy grunt, finally free from the electric shock. The tips of his hairs were all burnt to a painful black crisp, but he was lucky to still have a pulse at the core of his body.

Eventually, Buraya's eyes opened, and he found himself looking up at Mohatu. They shared a glance of confusion and worry, before Mohatu finally broke the silence. "What happened?" he asked.

"I..." Buraya explained. "I just touched the water and it... it wouldn't let me move."

Mari took a step closer. "Whatever is inside that water jumped onto you, too," she explained from her own point of view. "It was... weird. You just stopped moving, and it looked like you were controlled by whatever entity is inside there."

Buraya tried to lean back over onto his paws, but struggled to even roll across the wet cavefloor. "Uuuuugh," he groaned. "The great kings punished me... I can barely move. I can't feel anything."

"You touched the water," Mohatu thought aloud. "From now on, let's not do that."

"Well, gee!" Buraya struggled to exhale heavily. "Thanks for the tip, genius! I wasn't ever going to do that again!" he added, with incredibly strong sensations of bitterness on his tongue.

"Sorry... how bad does it hurt?" Leo asked. He dropped his jaw a bit, while he watched the other lion struggle to even speak for a few seconds. "Can you get up, at least?" he asked.

Several jolts of motion fell down the length of Buraya's spine, but that was about it. He was almost entirely incapable of making any other movements. "No!" he stuttered. It was like he had just been struck by lightning; the stunning effect of the electric pulses was still running through his body.

Mohatu leaned downward, and used his muzzle to try to lift Buraya off the ground. With the added assistance of his forepaws, and eventually Mari's help, he managed to turn Buraya back over onto his stomach.

From there, the yellow lion started to raise his forepaws on his own. After a swift kick to the knee, Mohatu succeeded in sending a nervous jolt through Buraya's hindlegs, which allowed him to finally stand on all fours, once again.

Even still, the injured lion's walk was jagged, robotic, and imprecise after his electrocution, but at least he could move. He couldn't feel a thing, and his sense of balance was non-existent, although that was the least of his worries.

At that point, Buraya just wanted to leave.

Meanwhile, Mari gazed upon the lion with her deepest sympathies, unsure of what to say. She simply remained quiet, while she contemplated how to move into the next room.

With Buraya back on his paws, Mohatu decided to take another quick look around. The lion scanned every last part of the cave, before he inevitably found something of great interest.

"That water is blocking our path," Mohatu informed the other two. "But there's something in the water... I wonder if that's what's making it do this."

Although Mohatu didn't know it, the object in the water was like a battery of some sort—it was what was making the water unsafe. The voltage source danged into the pool from a rope above, and the rope itself was attached to a pulley system at the top of the cave's roof, over the water.

"What do you mean?" Mari asked.

"All this light is coming from that thing," Mohatu stated, as he pointed to the large, tapered cylinder of a rusted battery with his paw. He watched in awe as an impressive display of sparks flew from its terminals, thousands by the second.

"And this thing is tied to a rope," Mohatu added. "If you pull down here, that end should lift up."

"So...?" Mari tried to follow the lion's trail of logic, but failed to do so in a timely manner. "Then what? If I lift that out, do you think we'll be able to cross?"

"Possibly," Leo answered. "It's worth a shot."

"Alright," Mari agreed to the idea. She walked under the other end of the rope, which dangled up above the drier ground. With one giant leap into the air, she grabbed the end of the rope between her massive incisors, and pulled it downward on her fall back to the ground.

For a few seconds, the lioness hung in midair, but her weight eventually caused the pulley to move. In consequence, the tension in the rope pulled the battery out of the water, and the entire room suddenly died.

The noises stopped. The sparks ceased to flow. There was no more light. Only the heat and moist, bubbling air remained.

But, most importantly, the room fell dark. In Mari's opinion, that detail was worth mentioning twice. The only source of light came from the torches in the corridor, which were barely enough to penetrate the natural cave to any visible extent.

In consequence, the lack of visibility sent a chill down Mari's spine.

"Ferrern dermert!" Mari exclaimed several various profane words, while she struggled to hold the rope down against the weight of the large battery. Fortunately, with her teeth sealed shut to keep the rope in place, she couldn't exactly speak clearly.

"Just hold it there," Mohatu commanded. "Your eyes will adjust."

"Errrd derr thers ser!" Mari yelled unintelligibly, through what she perceived to be pitch-black darkness.

"I can see a little bit," Mohatu stated. "Just hold it there, I'm going to try to walk across."

Without further ado, the lion did just that, stepping forward with more caution than he ever could have imagined. Before he reached the edge of the water, however, he realized that there was one major problem—some lion would need to keep the battery out of the water so that Mari could cross.

But there was also a bigger problem. If Mohatu's idea didn't work, he would end up like Buraya.

Mohatu placed his paw right by the water's edge, before he stopped. At that point, he turned around in hesitation, and took a step back the other way. "Mari?" he asked with a whisper.

Before he stepped in, he had something to say first. But the lioness didn't answer.

Mohatu sighed, looking back into the water. Less than a second later, he looked back at the lioness's glowing eyes, yet again.

Without any further words, he trotted over to the lioness and brushed his fur alongside her tense body, in the near-complete darkness of the cave. Although Leo couldn't really see, he knew where the lioness was. And although he didn't want to say what he was thinking, aloud and in front of Buraya, he knew what he wanted her to know.

They both knew, and that was all that truly mattered to him.

Before a faint purr rumbled in Mohatu's throat, he immediately walked back over to the water. This time, he was free to step in; he felt no more obligations which kept him from plunging down into what could have been his potential death.

But it wasn't.

The water was still hot, thick, slimy and sticky, not entirely unlike the cavewater from the other night. Fortunately, it was now uncharged and safe to cross. Mohatu floated across the dense watery substance with ease, until he ended up on the other side.

By the time he looked back in the dim light, he saw what appeared to be Buraya and Mari's reflective eyes, glowing as any lion's ocular organs would at night. However, Buraya was still struggling to move; there was no way he could swim across after his electrocution, and both lions knew it.

But Mohatu had a plan. Now on the opposite side of the cave, the lion was able to walk up beside the battery, which hung from the ceiling. He examined it closely for a few seconds, before he decided what it was that he was going to do.

"Okay, Mari," Mohatu said, grabbing her attention yet again. "I'm on the other side. Lower it slowly..."

On the lion's command, Mari did just that, and the object started to fall back into the water at a slow and steady rate.

Mohatu reached up and grabbed the rope it hung from with his claws, effectively ripping the connection and tossing the enormous battery aside, with a quick and powerful motion of his forepaw. Although it required every ounce of the lion's upper-body strength, he managed to pull off such an impressive feat.

It would even have managed to impress the lioness of his dreams—if she could have seen it. But, perhaps that was just Mohatu's own wishful thinking, as he looked back with his own sense of accomplishment.

The battery rattled, clanked, tumbled, and rolled across the dry ground, after Mohatu threw it away. The rope, which was connected to the battery's tapered end, now drooped freely on the ground and rested without motion. Meanwhile, the lion stood exhausted from exerting all his energy.

As she felt the drop of resistance in the other end of the rope, Mari spat it out of her mouth. "What did you do?" she immediately asked. "I didn't see."

"I took this thing off the rope," Mohatu stated. "Now you don't have to hold it to keep it out of the water, so you and Buraya can get across."

"Okay... is there anything over there?" inquired Mari.

To answer the lioness's question, Mohatu turned around. As soon as he did, he found what just happened to be another den in the cave, but not much else of interest.

"Yeah," the lion whispered. Afterward, he took a step closer to the unexplored room, and several torches ignited to light it immediately.

Mohatu shook the water out of his fur, and allowed his eyes to gaze with awe at the other side of the den. It was an amazing sight, to say the least; there were all sorts of shiny, reflective artifacts scattered about on the walls. Carvings, markings, and otherwise odd engravings littered the face of every rock, as far as he could see.

To put it simply, there was more to see than could ever be seen.

"You can go on," Mari nodded, relieved by the added source of light. "I'll help Buraya get across... we'll catch up in a minute."

"Alright," Mohatu nodded, already making the short walk into the next room, with slow steps of curiosity.


---



At the other end of the cave, a door slid open, smoothly and quietly. It fell down beneath the surface of the last chamber, into a small crack. Behind it, Mohatu found what appeared to be a small, short, and narrow passageway—it led to yet another disproportionally large, cylindrical-shaped chamber, which happened to be loaded with various artifacts and treasures.

Mohatu walked in, but the silence engulfed him from all directions. There was nothing but the beautiful glimmer of gold to be seen, as well as the chilling floor below the tips of his pawpads.

The lion smirked. "Wow..." he muttered to himself, while he had a few moments to gaze upon all the shiny treasures with his eyes alone. "So this is what you've left behind..."

Yet, despite all the gold, Mohatu could not find any of the other artifacts. Not the important ones, at least. That oncoming realization frustrated him a little, but his thoughts were interrupted by the threat of danger, before he finished his search, completely.

Suddenly, a strange tapping noise sounded from the other side of the room. Mohatu glanced over, but found nothing. The silence resumed.

"Mari?" the lion asked. "Is that you?"

Leo's words echoed across the room with no response.

Yet, to his surprise, the sound grew louder instead of quieter with each successful recoil, and eventually erupted into an amplified roar, equal in volume to a small-yield bomb. At the end, it deafened his ears for several seconds and tainted his perception, while it all went out with a bang.

Then, there was darkness. Complete, unmitigated darkness in every direction.

A tingling chill fell down Leo's spine. Something terrible was about to happen, he knew for sure. But he couldn't quite conclude what the danger was. The room was empty, he thought—or was it?

Shortly after darkness fell, the door sealed in turn. It remained locked in place, and its immobility was made certain by one final clank and click of a lock.


---



Bright orange infernos ignited from the room's edges thereafter, and consumed every part of Mohatu's vision before he could even blink. The chilling darkness exploded into a fireball of fury, which lit cinders and ashes far into the night sky, with heights rivaling that of Pride Rock's towering peak.

In fact, he could even see Pride Rock, off in the distance. It was burning.

"What's going on?" Mohatu asked. For the first time since he could remember, he started to feel a dwelling sense of danger in the pit of his gut. It wasn't just the feeling of danger, to be exact; this was much more severe. He felt as if he was looking death straight in the eye, like he was about to face his greatest enemy.

Not just any enemy, but an enemy of infinite strength. Had he just angered the Gods?

Mohatu looked up at the night sky, while the Pridelandian savannah burned eternally, all around him. Only one star was visible in the dark void above, amidst the all-consuming plume of smoke that circled it.

Was that his star? Did he have a place in the night sky, as well?

Mohatu, succumbing to his internal sense of fear, only thought to plead for mercy. "What are you doing?" he asked the light in the sky. "This... this is my home! You can't destroy this!"

"Indeed, I can," the sinister voice of an evil lion erupted through the dense, smoky air.

Mohatu set his eyes on the lion immediately, and forced its figure to come into focus, despite the heat wave that blurred his vision. His opponent was infinitely powerful, enormous, and very similar in appearance to himself. However, to Mohatu's surprise, he wasn't a ghost, oddly enough.

His enemy was Rex.

"Look at what you have become," Rex taunted his older brother. He stepped closer to Mohatu without fear, while his strength was fueled by the chaos. "Look at what you once were... and recognize that I have taken your place as king! Hahahaa!"

"No..." Mohatu backed away. "No, no, no! Stop!"

As Mohatu continued to retreat backward, he eventually bumped into another furry figure. Immediately, he found himself trapped between two lions; Rex on one side, and Mari on the other.

Mohatu gasped with horror, while his eyes met the lioness. "Come on... what are you doing?" he persuaded. "We've got to get out of here!"

"Not anymore," Mari retorted. "You don't understand. I resisted at first, but I now see the truth." The lioness moved swiftly on her paws, and circled around Leo until she met with Rex in a suggestive nuzzle.

"What?" Mohatu tried to ask himself, but only a whine escaped from his muzzle.

"You are not the prophet, Leo..." she whispered ominously. "You never were."

Mohatu winced, while lightning struck behind his two adversaries, blending a bright, bluish jagged light into the blurred cinders of the background heat wave. Yet again, Mohatu continued to fall backward while the sight engulfed his senses, until his tail almost caught fire from the hell that had been unleashed behind him.

Had it not have been for the intense heat that evaporated away his tears, Mohatu would not have been able to watch. The pain he felt was insurmountable, as it sent burning shocks to his eyes and all throughout his body. "How... how could you?" he asked Mari.

"Rex showed me the truth," she explained. "You are a weak lion; you deserve nothing other than execution. I will see to that myself."

Mohatu closed his eyes in the burning pain, while his hindpaws erupted in fire. At that very moment, he gave up all hope. Instantly, Mohatu allowed himself to crash onto the ground, where the grassland fires started to consume his entire body.

At long last, Leo finally faced defeat. This was how it ended. There had been no warning, and there was not going to be any mercy. Mohatu had no energy remaining, and even less of a will to fight. He couldn't kill her.

"I can't fight you... I won't," Leo stated, his voice running deep with emotions he never expected to feel. "I loved you, Mari."

Had he really just said that?

Normally, he wouldn't have been so quick to say such a thing. He knew Mari didn't love him like he loved her, and he knew his words would change nothing. But as Leo glanced back at the meager history of his new life, memory by memory, the words just slipped off his tongue. It seemed ridiculous to say anything less.

After all he had been through, how much he loved Mari was the only thing he was absolutely sure of.

"And that is why you will die," Mari retorted. As she stepped closer to Leo, she drew out her claws and scratched him across his head, digging through what was left of his charred and burning mane. "You are not worthy of being a heir to the throne. You are too weak."

Mohatu brought his forepaws up to cover his face, but it was no use. Even though his eyes were closed, he could still see Mari's anger through the fires of pain and death.

It was unlike anything he had ever seen before, almost unbelievable in every respect. But, more importantly, he couldn't believe it.

Mari continued to strike her opponent down through all the flames, even though he had already been clearly defeated. Mohatu had no strength left, and as time passed, the only emotion to flow through his body was pain.

Aside from his doubt, of course.

"I don't believe it..." Mohatu stated aloud, wistfully at first. However, his voice quickly faded from sorrow to pure and utter denial. "You wouldn't..."

Suddenly, Mari opened her mouth, and exposed her teeth to Mohatu. Her attacks stopped, but she was still acting more aggressive than the lion had ever seen.

Mohatu repeated himself, this time with a certain hint of confidence. "You wouldn't." It wasn't a plea, it wasn't a hope, and it wasn't a final wish. It was a statement. Mari wouldn't, and he knew it.

Mohatu's pain stopped. All the taint of fear that he had once held was quickly transformed into his own internal power, which allowed him to push the lioness away using his mind alone. She fell, rolled and toppled all the way back on her tail, while Mohatu's will to fight increased exponentially with each breath.

The fires ceased. The entire inferno was extinguished by a sudden shockwave of energy that emitted from Mohatu's body. As a result, both Rex and Mari stood defenseless, while they looked up at an all-powerful king of the Pridelands.

Leo's mane grew back, and his burns healed within a split second. "This isn't real," Mohatu concluded, before allowing his breath to slow and the scene to dissolve away.

And, at that precise moment, it did.


---



The cloudy vision faded, and Mohatu found himself back in the circular room, deep underground within the largest of the three pyramids. No other lion was around, just like it was when he left reality. The room rested cold and lifelessly, precisely in the same way he remembered from when he had first entered.

Mohatu's eyes started to dart around all the golden treasures in the chamber, just in case he had missed something. After a few seconds, he finally regained his composure completely.

"That was weird," the lion exhaled heavily, but with great relief.

Losing Mari was by far his greatest fear, and he knew it without question. Somehow or another, the room itself seemed to magnify and focus all that fear onto a single lens of vision in his mind, and it had almost tricked him into acting on it.

But he knew better.

Mohatu knew he had no reason to fear the lioness; he would never hurt her, and he knew that she felt the same way. He no longer needed Mari to validate and verify such thoughts in his head, as she often did with her generous actions. It wasn't necessary.

Their companionship was instinctive. He simply knew of its existence, much in the same way he simply knew how to run, fight, swallow, and breathe. It was almost subconscious, but far deeper.

He couldn't question it anymore. It just was.

But, aside from that, Mohatu didn't know for sure what it was that his strange vision was all about, specifically. All he knew was that he did not ever want to have to experience such an event ever again, even if it was imaginary.

And despite the sudden decay of calamity, there was still something odd about the room Mohatu was in. He was alone, yet he knew he wasn't alone. He could feel the presence of another lion in the subtle twitches of his whiskers.

Not to his surprise, Mohatu glanced behind his shoulder, and immediately found the figure of a ghost—the one he initially thought he was going to find. This time, however, it was not his imagination. What he saw was the cloudy aura of one of the ancient kings, and without a doubt, it was within the realm of actuality.

"Welcome back, Leo."
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » November 24th, 2013, 3:07 am

chapter 31: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 31: Perfect Execution


Mohatu stood in the center of a circular, hidden room, deep within the confined, catacomb-like corridors of the largest pyramid. By far, the room was the most elegant of all the ancient chambers that he had seen, containing more treasures than even the king could have imagined. It was like a gold mine, stashed with piles upon piles of shiny metallic jewels.

Something about the room itself had managed to channel Mohatu's fears into a single vision, but he was strong enough to counter it with his own mind. What remained was nothing but his own feeling of emptiness, aside from the spontaneous appearance of the figure of a ghost—presumably one of the ancient kings.

Although the lion's eyes wanted to wander to his golden surroundings, Leo kept his focus on the ghost in front of him. Mohatu stared at the aura of the ancient king with respect and admiration, but maintained his own brute form. He was neither fearful nor sycophantic; he viewed the ancient king not as his superior, but as his equal.

"I am pleased to see your return," the ghost finally told Mohatu. Without a doubt, he was one of the builders of the pyramids, but he wasn't Algenubi, surprisingly enough. From what Mohatu could see, this ghost had a very different identity. His facial features were a bit thicker, and his voice had a slightly deeper tone.

Mohatu stood back, and his eyes widened. In all reality, he was unsure of what to think. Had he just done something wrong, or was he doing something right? What was it that the ancient kings expected of him, anyway?

"That was... most odd," the ghost continued. "You have much greater control over your fear than the last time we met. I'm impressed, considering how weak you've become since the last time we met."

Mohatu blinked and shook his head, simultaneously. "Wait... was that a test?" he asked, as he looked up curiously. The lion brought his paw up to wipe his eyes clear, still feeling somewhat unsure of whether or not he could believe what he was hearing.

The ghost began to release a small bit of laughter. "Hah! What do you think?"

"I take that as a yes," Mohatu lowered his voice at the retort. "So, you have guided me here. What could a powerful king like you want from a simple lion like me?"

"Nothing, of course," the ghost answered. "It is what you want that concerns me."

Mohatu sat down and rested his forepaws peacefully in front of his mane. He was sure to retract his claws as far as he could, not to provoke any sort of violent conflict. "I seek answers to my questions," he explained. "Where are the keys? What is it that Regulus left behind? Why do I have to challenge Rex?"

"You have only one more test, before I can give you your answers," the ghost explained. "I do not think you will pass, but—"

"And if I don't?" Mohatu interrupted with a simple question of his own.

"You will die," the ancient king stated dryly.

Oddly enough, Mohatu did not seem to care. After all he had been through, it seemed ridiculous to think that he could have any fear of death remaining, after building up such a thick shell of leonine bravery with all his actions. What he truly feared was losing Mari, not his own death. "Then begin," he stated.

"Very well. We shall begin. All you need to do is tell me how you... should act." The ghost grinned, while an evil chuckle filled the air around him. "Scenario one: you have discovered that a group of rogues will attack your pride at dusk, tomorrow. What do you do?"

Leo contemplated the situation for a brief moment. "I would gather the warriors to defend my territory, and evacuate the rest of my pride to safety," Mohatu explained his initial thoughts. It seemed like a flawless plan on the surface, but the nature of the question almost made Mohatu think otherwise, for a split second.

"It is not that simple," the ghost interrupted. "There is a catch: you know that on the day after, the pride of your opponents will be left undefended. What do you do, then?"

"I would still gather the warriors to defend my territory, and evacuate the rest of my pride to safety," Mohatu explained.

"No, no, no!" the ancient king yelled. "You've got this all wrong!"

Mohatu lowered his brows, growing slightly annoyed. "Wrong? I would minimize casualties..."

"But at what cost?" the ghost argued relentlessly. "If you evacuate your pride, you will alert your enemy to your knowledge of their plans, and they will be forced to change them. Meanwhile, if you have your subordinate warriors defend the pride, you will lose your opportunity to strike back the next night. You may win the battle, but you will lose the war."

"Not necessarily," Mohatu disagreed, but tried to keep a certain amount of respect for a little while longer. To put it simply, it was only a matter of priorities, and not much else. There really wasn't a right or wrong answer, from what Mohatu had already deduced.

The ghostly king exhaled a heavy cough. "At best, you prolong the situation, and lose many more lives in the process. Your war of attrition is not effective. That is not a quality of a great leader."

"But, you don't understand..." Mohatu argued. "There's more to being a great leader than winning a war between other prides. To survive a battle is to live to fight another day and inspire hope. Domination does not equate to victory."

"Wrong!" the ghost interrupted. "A great leader understands that victory is desirable, at any cost."

The ancient king ignored Mohatu's statement, and instead continued with his second question. "Now then, let's say you and your friend, Mari, are caught for committing murder. If neither of you blame the other, then you both serve one year in captivity."

The ghost demonstrated a brief pause, while he allowed Mohatu to contemplate his thoughts. "If you blame her, she gets five years of imprisonment, while you get zero. If she blames you, you get five years of imprisonment, while she gets none. If you both blame each other, you both die."

"I wouldn't say anything," Mohatu answered. "And neither would Mari."

"But you don't know that, do you?" the ancient king asked suggestively. "Can you really be sure?"

"That doesn't matter," Leo argued. "I wouldn't say anything, even if that means I have to stay captive for five years. It would be a small price to pay, to be free of the guilt of treating Mari unfairly."

Meanwhile, a furious eye of evil began to glow on the ancient king's aura. "Wrong answer," he spat.

Shortly after Mohatu explained his reasoning, a roar of defiance nearly escaped his muzzle. "Okay, so I didn't give you the answer you wanted to hear. Are you going to kill me now?" he asked, almost teasing in a sarcastic way with his voice. If it was going to have to come to that, Mohatu knew he was more than prepared.

"Why, of course!"

Leo rolled his eyes in arrogant defiance. "Go on. Mari will be here any moment, and we'll be able to kill anything you can throw at us."

"Oooh, oh, oh!" The ancient king took a step back with delight. "Confident, are you?" he smirked.

"You know it's true," Mohatu argued. He ripped out his claws, lowered his head, and faced the ghost eye-to-eye. "You haven't stopped us yet, and you won't stop us now. Together, we cannot fail. That is what you do not understand."

"Kill him," the ghost ordered.

Mohatu's eyes darted around. "Wait... what?" he asked. With the room being largely empty, Leo could only wonder who it was that the ghost was talking to. Some creature had just been given an order to kill him, no doubt, but he could not see a thing.

But that suddenly changed, within the blink of an eye.

At that precise moment, a snake roughly four times the size of the last viper slithered into view. It began essing back and fourth, creating several series of chicanes in the cold floor, with its tremendously long body. It quickly emerged in its entirety from a small crack in the room, at what was nearly running speed.

Desperately, Mohatu reached forward with one of his paws, and tried to match the movements of the serpent's head. He attempted to make a few gradual circles with his lifted forepaw, like some form of hypnosis with movement.

Because Leo was hardly an experienced snake charmer, the lion's strategy was doomed to fail miserably, as he quickly learned. The snake continued to approach, before it eventually lifted up its head and frayed out its hood. It almost seemed to feed on the laughter of the ghost—the cobra was no doubt growing in size and speed as the situation unfolded.

"You see him?" the ghost asked. "Please, keep him company! Haha!"

Mohatu growled, exposing his bared teeth to the air surrounding him. "I will," he taunted. "I'm just getting started." He stepped back and strafed aside, while the giant snake brought its ugly tongue up into the air.

"He's a king cobra," the ghost explained. "A real treasure, too. You won't typically find one of these out here—only during the kingdom's most glorious days, did we ever find these... in the Ricelands, and the Highlands."

Mohatu ceased all movement. He focused every last drop of his energy into the lifeless eyes of the reptile, and blocked everything else from view. "King cobra," he stated aloud, repeating what the ancient king had said. "King cobra... king cobra..." he continued, between the deep pounds of his adrenaline-soaked heart.

Somehow, that word seemed to elicit very deep memories from within Mohatu's head, which nearly screwed with his concentration.

"This little guy is special, though," the ghost added. "Very poisonous, very lethal, and very effective! He's a potent little guy, for how small he is. He's even killed tigers..."

"King cobra," Mohatu stated again, thinking aloud without doing much else. "Slippery, slithery... long and smooth... but deadly."

While Mohatu tried to stay calm, the God-sized snake remained still as well, for a few seconds. Eventually, however, the cobra lifted his tail in the air, as well as his head, showing off his tremendous length as his body slithered across the floor.

Leo strafed aside and out of the path of danger, still deeply immersed in his own thoughts. "King cobra... the tail end of the kingdom..." he finally remembered, coming to a quick conclusion based on his shattered memories. "So, you're King Denebola's pet," he stated aloud and with confidence.

"Right you are," the ghost of King Denebola answered. "But now, you must die, Leo. Good riddance!"

On the ancient king's command, the king cobra unleashed a powerful strike forward, and bit his teeth into Mohatu's manefur. Luckily, the thick, layered wads of it provided a significant layer of protection from the venom, which allowed Leo to stay safe for a few seconds, before it could puncture through his skin.

With the snake's head busy, the rest of the king cobra's length moved into position to strangle his opponent. The tail end started to slide up Mohatu's hindleg, and his body trailed behind in a deadly, constricting motion.

Mohatu struggled to react in time. The leonine warrior shifted all his weight onto his hindpaws, so that he stood towering high in the air like a bipedal creature. His entire beastly form was exposed in his stance, which nearly rivaled that of the snake.

It was lion king versus king cobra: a battle of tremendous proportions, without any clearly identifiable victor.

But Mohatu had plans to change just that. He wasn't going to lose now—especially not after all he had been through. It did not matter how potent the snake was; Leo was still Leo, the king of beasts. He would win.

Leo raised his forepaws backward, and pushed his claws in to gouge the snake's eyes. From there, he followed up by strangling his serpentine opponent's neck, and eventually crushing its head with all the strength from his core. With one final move, the lion sliced his claws through the back of its skull, and effectively removed the snake's head from the rest of its body.

Mohatu threw the remainder of the creature's coiled form down on the floor, before shifting his gaze back up to Denebola's ghostly figure. "You see?" he stated clearly. "You're wrong, your highness."

"Oh, am I?" Denebola asked rhetorically. "Am I wrong?"

"Yes..." Mohatu repeated himself, this time somewhat hesitantly. The source of his hesitation was not Denebola, however.

A loud banging noise repeated itself, coming from the direction of the small, metal door that Mohatu had entered through. It would not relent; something or someone was on the other side, and who or whatever it was certainly wanted in.

That someone was, more than likely, a lioness named Mari. She had probably heard all the commotion going on, although Mohatu still wasn't sure if it was safe for her to enter. Not after what the ghost had said.

"Oh, no," Denebola retorted. "We have only begun, you ignorant fool. You can't kill my pet that easily."

Mohatu's eyes shifted back and fourth rapidly, from Denebola to the door. Eventually, however, a third event caught his sight, as well.

As chaos accumulated in the air once more, the same snake started to approach Mohatu from where it had supposedly died. What was once the snake's body had split off, into what was now two parts. What Mohatu saw was a two-headed snake—twice as strong, and twice as deadly.

"You see?" Denebola asked. "You cut off one head, but two grow back. I told you, he's special."

Mohatu gulped, and rushed to the locked door. "Mari!" he yelled, hoping the lioness would hear his call through the other side. "Don't come in! There's a snake! It's a king cobra!"

The knocking continued for a few more seconds, but eventually faded off into the hisses of the king cobra heads. At that moment, the twin skulls surrounded Mohatu from both sides, and closed the distance at a frightening rate.

Mohatu jumped to evade one strike, and then rolled across the floor to evade another, from the opposite head. It was all he could do just to concentrate; the creature challenged his attention and put his skills to the ultimate test.

Not only was the snake twice as powerful, but he was now angry and relentless. He threw around several times the swaths of doom, with a ferocity outmatched by that of even a true leonine warrior.

Mohatu was on the defensive, with not a single sliver of an idea in regard to how to turn the tide. Victory against such a creature was nearly impossible—not without some sort of heavy, unconventional weapon. Mohatu looked for a way to use his environment to his advantage, but could find no such option.

Although, Leo did still have an idea, as usual. Perhaps an electric shock could suffice, he thought, but that was out of the question. The battery was in the previous room, where Mari was.

That was certainly a problem, albeit with a rather simple solution.

Meanwhile, the snake lashed out at the lion once again, with several more series of masterfully precise attacks that uncoiled, one after another. Mohatu dodged and evaded to the best of his ability, this time hoping to place himself in a strategic position.

He sprinted over to the other side of the room at a blistering pace; his paws moved so fast they could not be seen behind the blur of motion. His body weight shifted rapidly between each step, several times a second, and his tail followed in the wake of his pawprints. He kept running with all his energy, until he reached the end of the line, right at the golden wall.

At that point, Mohatu turned around. Consequently, he found that the snake was right where he wanted him: directly between the door and himself.

Somehow or another, the lion had just a small feeling that he knew what was about to happen. Perhaps it was merely a hope, but it was a strong hope, nevertheless.

Mari was in the other room, and she had the heavy weapon at her disposal. She only needed to knock down the door, and the battery was definitely heavy enough to blow it down. It only needed a little momentum.

From there, she could jam the battery right into the snake, and crush it with its combined weight and electric shock. Simple enough, the only problem was that she just needed to do it.

Meanwhile, time was running out for Mohatu. The snake quickly slithered back up into its striking position, right in front of his face. Needless to say, it was still frightening in the largest sense, no matter how much hope he had. The snake was poising itself to strike, and it only needed a single hit to take down even a kingly lion.

But at that same moment, the automatic door busted open, under the tremendous force of a lioness with a lion-sized hunk of metal. Mari arrived, just like Mohatu had envisioned. She had the battery's untethered rope in her mouth, and she had slung it through the doorway to break it down.

Perhaps it had been some sort of telepathic communication, but it hardly mattered. Mari was always like that—she just knew what to do, without ever being told. Yes, from Mohatu's perspective, Mari was indeed way more capable than she would have admitted. She was just as resourceful under pressure as he ever could have been, if not even more crafty.

Without even the shadow of a doubt, things were about to go from really bad to really good for Mohatu's once hopeless situation. Simply put, that was just the way it worked; whenever he needed assistance, Mari was there to save the day. Without command, she knew what to do.

Leo was once the king of beasts, but she was his Mari, after all.

Rather conveniently, Mari continued to bust her way in, and immediately caught sight of the advancing snake. In all honesty, never before had she looked so pretty as she did at that moment, equally frightened and fearless, standing in the face of danger with her own unmatched prowess in battle. Just like Mohatu, she stood gallantly in the face of danger, ready to meet her fate.

Mari pushed the battery across the floor with her head, with its terminals exposed on the opposite end. She started to make her alignments, precisely in the same way Mohatu had imagined it, only seconds prior.

Not surprisingly, the lioness's stance almost elicited a lustful drool of admiration from Mohatu, in addition to the obvious rush of hope that she gave him. Damn, was she good at that.

"No!" Denebola interrupted with a gasp. "Don't do that!"

Mohatu breathed a sigh of relief. "Too late," he retorted triumphantly. "Kill the snake," he then told Mari, doubtlessly cheering her on.

The lioness grabbed the battery's frayed rope between her teeth, and began to sling it around in circles, once again. The massive hunk of metal accelerated to high speeds while it built up rotational energy. Although the lioness struggled to keep her claws into the tiles, her grip never totally slipped against the tremendous force pulling against her teeth.

Eventually, the battery flew off the ground in its rotational pattern, before Mari let loose. When the lioness let go, the battery broke free from the tension, flying off in a tangent path. Before it stopped rolling across the ground, its terminals landed precisely onto the king cobra, right on the snake's tail end.

BzzzbzbzbbBBZZZZZKKKkkkKSKHHTTZZzzTT!

Both Mohatu and Mari watched as the snake jumped and fell into a coma, induced by pure electrical energy. Its entire body ignited and glowed with flickers of bluish sparks and fury, before the smell of ozone and burnt, crispy snakeskin clouded the air in waves of smoke.

After she had gathered her breath, Mari walked over and started to press down, thus forcing the heavy battery's terminals into the snake's skin. She was now holding it in place without a single thought, securing her kill, for sure.

"No! No! No!" The ghost of Denebola cried. "What have you done?"

"I passed your test," Mohatu stated matter-of-factly.

"Why, you... I'll..."

With the snake dead, Mari relaxed her muscles, before she proceeded to walk up beside her companion. She placed a paw on Mohatu's shoulder, while he sat still in all his prophetical glory. "We passed your test," Mari corrected him.

"But... my... my poor kingcobra!" Denebola retorted, trying to wrap his mind around the mere thought of defeat. "What did he ever do to you, huh?" he asked with a heavy retort.

The ghost then paused, before he lowered his voice with a slightly lackadaisical laughter. "Oh, wait... never mind. Haha! Oh well, I always hated my king cobra anyway!"

"Now," Mohatu began, trying not to unintentionally raise his voice, after all the chaos that had ensued the last time he did so. "I need to know... what is this all about? What are the pyramids and keys for? Why did Algenubi tell me to come here?"

"I... I guess you really are worthy," Denebola finally conceded. The ghost then sat down in the center of the circular floor, while the other two lions caught their breath. "I will answer your questions."

Looking around, Mari inhaled a deep breath of satisfaction, before she prepared herself for the slew of information that was inevitably going to be dropped in front of her eyes.

Like Mohatu, although she wanted to examine all the artifacts, she knew she did not have time to do so. Instead, she merely stood still, waiting patiently for her mind to slow down.

By the time Buraya limped into the room on his own accord, the rush of adrenaline had completely faded away from the other two. The ghost stood gazing upon Mohatu with his judgmental eyes, while the lion's two friends joined up beside him.

"You are here because you are worthy," Denebola explained. "You are one of the few, Leo."

"There's no need to flatter me, your highness," Mohatu interjected. "I'm really not as strong as you want to think. I couldn't have done this without the help of my friends..."

"You are wrong," Denebola immediately corrected Leo. "Every year, some lions are born, and some die. Time is always in motion... lions are always vying for control. But of each generation, there can be only one true victor. There can only be one lion king."

But that's not true," Mohatu argued slowly, tilting his head downward and raising his brow suggestively.

"Then you are blind, Leo," Denebola retorted. "Only a few lions are influential enough to make their marks in history—and none shaped the world like we did. But you... you have potential to outshine even us, in the sky."

"Dude..." Buraya stood with his jaw agape. His voice was only a whisper, overcome by the rush of awe that flowed through his mind. "Oh my God, this is so cool, dude... dude, dude! You really are Leo!"

"We were the great lion kings," Denebola added, ignoring Buraya's foolish babbling. "Our kingdom ruled all across Africa, thousands of years ago. Every species we met, we enslaved, and our conquest expanded to the borders of the known world. None could escape us."

"But your conquest ended," Mari stated. Obviously, she had a slight feeling that the ancient kingdom wasn't anywhere near as strong as Denebola made it out to be.

"These pyramids were constructed during the pinnacle of our reign," continued Denebola, ignoring Mari's comment, as well. "But, as you have noticed... they were never complete. They are broken."

"What do you mean?" Mohatu asked. He and Mari gazed upward, with a tranquil sense of curiosity reflecting in their eyes.

"We were never able to finish them," the ghost answered. "Regulus had nearly a hundred thousand human slaves working day and night to finish construction on all three, but our kingdom collapsed from rebellion. Over time, they have been destroyed by wind and sand, and all that remains is underneath."

"But, what happened?" Mohatu asked. "Why couldn't the pyramids be finished? What was it that caused this... rebellion?"

Denebola started to explain. "Lea Halalela was once fertile savannah, ripe with life... much like your Pridelands. It was our holy land for many generations, and the center of our civilization.

"But in time, the climate changed. The lands grew dry, and we were plagued with droughts, season after season. We struggled to fight back against famine and starvation—and only the strongest survived. The river became our only source of water, and it was not enough to support the many slaves we required. They fought for their own survival, but most died off... crushed beneath our own paws."

The ghost took a deep breath, before he allowed himself to continue. "The pyramids themselves were built with one specific purpose in mind—to ionize the atmosphere. With the end of water in sight, Regulus ordered our remaining slaves to start construction on the pyramids... but we have yet to see their completion."

"So... what does that mean?" Mohatu inquired again.

"The pyramids were intended to make rain, by generating electricity from the reservoirs and caverns in the ground below, and dispensing the energy into the air, at the tip of the peak. The design in itself was hardly our greatest accomplishment..."

"I guess that makes sense," Mari explained, while her eyes lit up with understanding. "That stuff in that water... that was lightning. The pyramids were supposed to put it into the air, and create rain..."

"Yeah," Mohatu agreed.

"But the pyramids also serve another purpose," Denebola added. "When their alignment matches the three stars in the belt of Orion, the statue of Regulus will gaze into his own star—the heart of the lion—and thus the prophecy will be fulfilled. Our new king will rise."

"The prophecy?" Mohatu asked. "What is the prophecy... exactly? I've heard about it, but..."

"The prophet is the lion to resurrect our kingdom," Denebola answered. "To be the prophet, you must confront Rex. You must prove yourself superior to every other lion of your generation," he stated frankly.

"If you can defeat Rex," the ghost continued, "you will take the keys to the tomb of Regulus, and fulfill the prophecy by entering his tomb. Then... we will bow before you, and the kingdom will be yours."

"Perhaps you have... misunderstood the prophecy," Mari replied, suggesting a deeper understanding of the kingdom with a shallow wink of her brow. Although it was unlike her to confront the ancient kings in such a way, she still had a very obvious rush of confidence after defeating the snake.

"Mari?" Mohatu asked, surprised that she would have the courage to suggest such an idea. "Are you...?"

"Mohatu," Mari whispered warmly. "Last night, I thought about what you said before... and you're right." She then smiled deviously, before shifting her eyes back over to the king's ghost.

"We will see about that," Denebola replied. "Is there anything else you wish to know?" he asked.

Leo thought for a moment, scratching his mane with his paw, before he realized that he still had a few questions remaining. "Where are the keys?" Mohatu inquired. "And what is inside the tomb of Regulus?"

"I cannot say," Denebola answered. "You have already demonstrated your true power to us, but you still have one challenge left to face, before you will find your answers."

"Well, isn't that typical," Mari rolled her eyes. "It always goes like this, doesn't it?"

"There is nothing left to challenge you, here," Denebola told Leo, continuing where he had left off. "You are ready for the final test, now. Go fourth; confront Rex and take your rightful place as king. Make us proud—we will all be watching."

Even after all that Mohatu had been through, a surprising chill still flowed through his blood upon hearing those encouraging words. He had done it; this was it. Everything he had fought for was all going to come down to this final battle with his brother.

He could do it, he told himself.

He could fight Rex, and strike him down. With Mari and Buraya's help, he could bring the king down and force him to surrender. From there, Mohatu could gain the influence of every lion in the kingdom, as well as the ancient kings. He could use their own beliefs and traditions against them, to gain the advantage he needed.

At long last, Leo saw a way to bring peace, once and for all.

He could have his dream as a lion living in the Pridelands, and Mari would think of him as a hero. He could settle down, start his own pride, and revel in an era of peace for generations to come. But, best of all, he could live a life with the lioness of his dreams.

After all the violence he had seen, the thought of finally prevailing was almost happy enough to bring a tear to Leo's eye. Soon, he would have his redemption—not just in the eyes of Mari and his family, but in the eyes of the entire kingdom, as well. He could make things right.

But first, he had to get out of the pyramid.

"If you have no more questions, you are free to go," the ghost stated. "I have calmed the snakes; they will no longer attack you."

As if by command, a second door unlocked, and opened up another passageway. The ghost of Denebola started to fade away, and the hisses of snakes in the background ceased.

Within seconds, the ancient king had disappeared completely, but his voice still boomed through the air. "Just remember, if you need guidance in your quest, look up at the stars. We will always light the path to victory... and so will I."

Mohatu glanced around at his two companions, before stating his new intentions. "Mari, go get that lightning thing, and bring it back with us... I have an idea. Buraya, come with me. Since the snakes should leave us alone now, we'll go help Zuria."

Mari cocked her head back over at Mohatu. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" She asked. "Hunting wildebeest with lightning?"

"Yep," Mohatu agreed. "If they're by the river, we can just put it in, and then..."

Mari grinned, leaning down to pick up the safe end of the battery with her teeth. Since she struggled to carry it in her mouth, like smaller objects, she instead decided to roll it along the ground. "Well, I'd rather not have to kill that many wildebeest... but alright. I guess that will be the easiest way," she nodded. "Let's go."
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » December 1st, 2013, 8:03 am

chapter 32: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 32: Monkey Business


A dim circle of light spawned from a vast field of darkness. It began to flicker in its amber glow, crackling slightly as electrical current sparked from the source. The sudden sight of illumination was accompanied by another orb of light, which ignited much like the one before it. Within seconds, more and more lights turned on, marking out the perfect upward slope of an ancient, underground passageway.

Ascending the passage were three lions; one being Mohatu, the others being Mari and Buraya. The climb to the upper levels proceeded with little hesitation, but great haste. Buraya's erratic, electrocuted walk, and Mari's attempt to roll a battery nearly the size of herself were the only sources of sluggishness for the trio.

Thankfully, what was once a snake-infested path had cleared out completely, leaving only the body of a dead lioness in the center of the poorly-lit hallway. Zuria's tawny front paw covered her nose and face, while her other draped across the floor, claws still extended. Her stomach rested on the ground, completely immobile from even the shallowest of breaths.

Mohatu ceased his walking, and tilted his head downward to examine the carcass, which rested on the stone-cold surface of the floor. "Zuria...?" he asked, but received no response.

In truth, Mohatu hardly expected a verbal response. Nevertheless, what he did expect was to see the lioness breathing. The snakes that bit her were venomous, certainly, but they weren't that venomous. It had not been longer than ten or fifteen minutes since the first bite—she should still have been alive.

Mohatu gently placed his forepaw over the lioness's closed eyelid. He could not feel any sign of life, aside from her intense body heat. Maybe it wasn't much, but it was still something.

"She's dead, Leo," Mari whispered sadly. She rested her forepaws above the battery, while she leaned against it with all her weight.

Mohatu walked around to the other side of the downed lioness, where he spotted the open wound left by the snake bite. Without question, the lion came to one instant conclusion: the viper had bit through the end of Zuria's ankle, down to the tarsal bone. The entire area was covered with irritated, exposed flesh, and suffered from obvious muscle spasms.

"Damn..." Leo muttered aloud. "I thought..."

Mohatu felt his heart sink to the ground, before he could even finish his empty statement. Although Zuria had not been all that nice to him, he always had a soft spot for lionesses in distress. She was no exception.

"Let's just leave her here," Buraya stated his thoughts aloud. The tone of his voice screamed of the teachings of Hakuna Matata, but with almost a slightly sinister, devious addition to the mix.

Never before had Mari heard a voice so apathetic in the face of death as Buraya's was. Immediately, the golden lioness turned to glance at Buraya with an intense stare. "She's your sister..." the female retorted slowly, completely awestruck by Buraya's significant display of apathy.

"So?" Buraya asked.

Mari struggled not to spit out her words in a violent burst of fury, but her intense state of baffled irritation overcame her emotions. "Don't you have any sense of... compassion? Of responsibility?"

Normally, Mari was good at keeping herself calm, but this situation quickly became an exception to the rule. "Just..." she flattened her ears. "How can you say that? What is wrong with you?" she asked rhetorically, almost yelling across the hall. "Don't you see that some lioness died here? Have you no respect? Do you not know humility?"

"Lions die all the time," Buraya answered. "I see it every day. It's just part of the circle of life. I'm not going to cry about it, just because she was my sister. I choose to be strong, even in the face of death."

After a moment's pause, Mari's rant diminished to a mere scowl of disgust. "Fine," she sighed. "And when you're the one lying dead on the ground, we'll forget about you, too."

Buraya, in his sarcastically infinite wisdom, did not reply to the lioness's final comment. Instead, he set his eyes back on his sister, one last time, and kicked his paw across the back of her neck. "I told you... you weren't strong enough to be a knight," he bragged aloud, expressing his apathy even further.

Suddenly, Zuria growled at the thought, feeling the sensation of Buraya's rough strike. "I swear," she grunted with a cough, between her struggled breaths. "I will... kill you... all... one day!" Although it was difficult enough for the lioness to even force her respiration, she managed to speak a few syllables at a time, fueled by her anger alone.

Consequently, the other three felines stepped backward in unison. It was almost like a shockwave had been emitted from Zuria's body, sending every lion flying backward.

So, Zuria really was alive, all along. It was a startling discovery, which shook the air for several seconds. A surprisingly large amount of time had passed, before even one of the other lions began to interpret the meaning of Zuria's words outside of that context.

Mohatu knew he could have ended the lioness's life with a simple stroke of his paw, but it was his choice not to do so. He wanted to remind Zuria that he could, but he could not bring himself to say that, either. It just wasn't right. Instead, he had something else in mind.

"Zuria," Mohatu exclaimed calmly but with a stern tone, allowing his powerful voice to send a chill down her spine, as well as Buraya's. "If you didn't try to kill me, you wouldn't be in this much pain." It was a simple principle, in itself, but the logic behind it seemed to evade both Buraya and Zuria's brains.

"You'll never kill us," Buraya grinned. "We're unstoppable."

"Open your eyes," Mohatu commanded to Zuria. "Look where you are now. You are at the very bottom of the great pyramid, dying from rattlesnake poison. If I leave you behind, no one will remember you, and no one will call out your name. This is how your life will end, if you choose to follow this path."

Immediately afterward, Leo shifted his gaze back over to Buraya. "That goes for you, too."

Buraya stepped back and lifted one of his paws up, slightly. Very nervous, he could only wonder if he had done something wrong. "Wha... what did I do... your highness? I thought I was on your side!"

"Tell your sister you're sorry," Mohatu demanded. His voice was almost parent-like, in the oddest, yet most predictable of ways.

"What?" Buraya asked, unsure of whether or not he heard Leo correctly. The answer was that he had heard Mohatu correctly, no doubt, but he sincerely wished he hadn't. "That's lame. I'm not going to—"

"You heard me," Leo insisted. He straightened up his back, and lowered his brows into a more stern expression. The lion's patience for Buraya was not yet wearing thin, but he knew what he had to do.

Leo had no other option but to assert his dominance. He did not like talking down to the other lion in such a way, but under no condition would he ever condone his two allies fighting one another.

"But..." Buraya attempted to argue, before he got the hint. At that moment, he shifted his head downward and closed his eyes. "I..." he began, hesitating slightly, "I'm sorry, Zuria." Upon completing his words, he looked back up at Mohatu.

"Are you?" Mohatu asked, trying to provoke a very specific type of response.

Buraya lifted his head back down. "Welp... ugh..."

"She's your sister," Mohatu explained. "If you do not help her in her time of need, she will not help you in yours... and neither will I. You can't win every fight yourself, nor can she. Your fate will be the same as hers."

"But... I'm better than she is..." Buraya argued.

Mohatu released a deep sigh. He knew precisely what it was that he wanted to say, but he was not sure if saying it was the best idea. Regardless, he spoke his mind anyway. "You're not," the lion stated bluntly, in a manner not all that different from Mari's occasional insertions.

"But I..." Buraya repeated himself.

"You have just as much to learn as she does," Leo explained. "I can tell you more later, but first, we need to get Zuria some antivenom before it's too late."

"Okay, okay," Buraya replied. "Whatever you say, King Leo... sir. But if you want my suggestion, I'd kill her right here. If she lives, she's going to be a drain on society..."

"But I'm not like you," Mohatu retorted. With that, Leo ignored his companion's brutally apathetic attitude. Instead, he stepped forward to pick up Zuria above his paws. "You'll see," he added.

After a few wiggly movements, Leo managed to carry the poisoned lioness's weight on his back. She jiggled around slightly, in pain, but otherwise put up little resistance.

Likewise, Mari started to push the battery along, continuing where she had left off. Finally, the four were ready to leave the great pyramid, once and for all. Although it had only been a few minutes of exploration, the slow illusion of time made it feel like centuries, before they ever found their way out.


---



Now back on the dry desert grasslands, Mohatu placed his paws just before the rough edge of the sinkhole. The lion tilted his head downward, wondering how to get to the bottom with the sick lioness on his back.

The slope wasn't too steep steep, but it wasn't exactly easy to navigate, either. Normally, Mohatu would have jumped, although he had no such option with Zuria's weight pressing down on his spine. He knew that he had to be careful.

Meanwhile, Mari pushed the battery aside and out of the way. While it rested on ground level, its exterior metal plating shined brightly in the sunlight, which forced the lioness to squint her eyes, before she turned away. "Do you want me to help?" she asked Mohatu. "Or should I go find the herbs to make the antivenom?"

"I... ugh..." Mohatu stuttered, while he started his descent into the cave. "I think I've got it." Not long after, the lion stepped down onto the risky slope, trying his best to keep his balance intact. It was a very tedious task at its easiest, but Leo persisted, nevertheless.

After trailing behind the two, Buraya limped and waddled over to the ledge of the sinkhole, as well. He then looked down inside the cave entrance, equally surprised and mesmerized by the sight. "Whoa..." he exclaimed slowly. "I didn't know there was this big hole down here!"

Seconds later, the same lion started to chuckle to himself. "That's what she said," Buraya whispered in retort of his own comment, before expounding into full-blown laughter. He had set himself right up for that joke, as he quickly realized.

Mari shot the lion a condescending stare at first, but eventually started to chuckle, as well. Her jaw fell open, while she tried to contain her sudden urge to laugh. "Jeez... I can't believe you just said that," she muttered in a dry state of shock. The lioness then shook her head, looked away, and rolled her eyes.

Mohatu's eyes widened upon hearing that subtle interjection. Quite literally, the surprise caught him off balance in the midst of his descent, and his grip faltered.

Not surprisingly, Leo's paw slipped on the ledge, as a result. Before long, he ended up rolling his way down into the cave, much like a clumsier lion would have done. His face bit the dirt, and the rest of his body fell and twisted around in suit. A cloud of dust engulfed his fur, and all sorts of chaos ensued within.

Consequently, Zuria slid off the lion's back and toppled over. A burning sensation of nausea churned in the poisoned lioness's stomach, while her muscles were already numb from the venom. Fortunately, she was only partially conscious, even after the roll downward. Her vision remained mostly dark and narrow; her awareness was minimal at best.

As soon as Mohatu regained his balance, he shook the twists out of his mane, before his own hearty laughter ensued. "Haha, that was terrible," he burst aloud, intentionally rolling across the cave's floor with his paws covering his stomach.

"I have more lioness jokes, if you wanna hear them," Buraya added, snickering while he looked down on Mohatu's expression of humor. "If a lioness leaves the hunting ground to nag you, what have you done wrong?"

"Buraya, stop," Mohatu insisted, finally able to regain his composure as his laugh diminished. He turned himself back around on his paws, and started to push up off the stony cave floor. "That's enough; this is serious. We need to get Zuria some antivenom..."

"You made her leash too long," Buraya answered his own joke. "Haha, you get it?"

Mari's ears tilted backward. "If you actually think that's funny, you obviously know nothing about lionesses," she retorted. This time, she gave Buraya such an evil look, she felt as though he easily could have been her prey.

"Yeah, that's right," Buraya added. "Lionesses need chains, not leashes!"

Mari raised a brow, while simultaneously showing the pointy tips of her masterfully sharpened incisors. "Something tells me you've never even seen a lioness before," she quickly retorted again. "You don't really know what to think of me, do you? You don't know I have teeth too?"

"I've been near a lioness before," Buraya replied lackadaisically. "One time, I got too close to one... and she was so fat, I almost got stuck into her orbit! Damn, she was fat... she was almost half your size!" Once again, Buraya erupted into his own laughter.

Unbeknownst to the lion, however, Mohatu had already started to climb back up and out of the sinkhole. He left Zuria on a rock in the cave's mouth, safe by the shade, and he was already focusing on Buraya's own issues.

In a quick burst of fury, Mohatu leaped up out of the cave's entrance, and launched himself right into Buraya's face. Leo's teeth and claws extended into a lethal fighting position, while he breathed down on the surprised lion below him.

"I don't ever want to hear you talk like that again," Mohatu stated, making himself as intimidating as possible. Although he did not want to use his brute strength in such a way, he knew he had to set Buraya straight, one way or another. "That is not the way we talk about lionesses," he continued, roaring right into Buraya's face.

"Relax, it was just a joke," Buraya replied. He flinched at Mohatu's every breath with great hesitation, once again fearing for his life. He rested on his back, twiddling his paws, while feeling dwarfed by Mohatu's impressive size. "I wasn't being serious..."

"Get out," stated Mohatu. His voice was harsh and cold, showing only the bare minimum amount of mercy. He required all of his mental strength not to rip Buraya to shreds, for talking to Mari in such a way.

"Um... what, sir?" Buraya asked sadly.

"I want you out of my sight," Mohatu insisted.

Buraya struggled to reply. "But..."

"You have no place in my pride," Leo continued. "I don't want to hear any excuses. Don't act so surprised; you know what you did. You're either going to straighten up and be a lion, or you can kiss my kingdom goodbye."

"I..."

"I don't need you here," Mohatu added. "The world doesn't need lions like you."

Buraya's ears drooped a bit, but he otherwise made no other movements. He no longer even had the courage to say anything—not with Mohatu breathing down his neck like he was. Buraya's response was merely a tremble of feigned confidence.

At the same time, Mari walked up next to the two lions, almost brushing herself across Mohatu's mane. "Leo," she began passively, both relieved and annoyed by the fact that he had stood up for her. "Don't you think that's a bit too harsh, now? I can deal with him, if you go find the herbs to make the antivenom."

Mohatu stepped back, thus giving Buraya some breathing space. Sure enough, he realized that Mari was right. He had said enough, and Buraya seemed to have learned something already.

Seemed to, at least. Whether or not that was actually the case remained to be decided.

As the sound of Mari's beautiful voice caused the tension in the air to die down, Mohatu instead forced himself to contemplate his plans for the afternoon, while he let Buraya stand back up on his paws.

How the remainder of the day was to be spent hadn't quite been decided, but Mohatu had a few ideas, aside from talking sense into his new assistant. "I was going to go to the river and kill the wildebeest," he explained. "I could go find the herbs, but I don't know which ones we need."

"Well," Mari started to think, "I know we need oil palm juice and acacia extract, but I can't remember if it's the green or the yellow kind..."

Eventually, the lioness's words trailed off, becoming overpowered by the gentle breeze across the horizon. Her fur suddenly fell behind the shadow of a cloud, while she scratched her head with her paw in hesitation. "Or... was it sweet thorns?" she asked herself. "No, that wasn't it."

"Wait," Leo interrupted. "You mean... you don't you know how to make it?" he asked.

"Well... no."

"That's typical of a lioness," Buraya muttered quietly, trying not to laugh to himself. Thankfully, no other creature seemed to notice his shallow comment. "Stupid lionesses... they never know what they're doing," he whispered.

Even after just being intimidated by Mohatu, Buraya couldn't help but to make yet another lioness joke. One moment he was on the ground, nonverbally begging for mercy, and another he was stirring up trouble, all over again.

Buraya was a bit of a slow learner, apparently.

Meanwhile, Mohatu tried to suggest an alternative idea, but never managed to think of one. Unlike the other male, he actually made an attempt to be a bit helpful. "Is there any way we could..."

"I don't know," added Mari, shrugging her shoulders. "We need Rafiki. I know he's good at this sort of thing..."

Oddly enough, at that precise moment, the very same mandrill appeared from behind a shrub. The most likely explanation for his sudden appearance was that he had just jumped down from a tree, but there were no such objects anywhere nearby. His presence was sudden, convenient, and spontaneous, much like that of the ancient ghosts.

"Haha! You need Rafiki?" the mandrill asked, raising his head from behind the grasses.

Mari turned around immediately, dropping her jaw at that exact same moment. "What?" she asked quickly. She could only wonder where it was that he came from, while she arched back and raised her fur with a jolt. "Um... hello there. Where did you—"

"I be Rafiki," he explained. "It is what I do!"

"Yeah... right," Mari nodded, pretending to understand what she knew she never would. "Well... as I was saying, I was going to ask you if you know how to make antivenom." The lioness then gestured her paw downward, toward the sinkhole, where Zuria rested in her burning and aching pain. "She was bit by a viper," Mari explained.

"I know just the thing," Rafiki stated. He waved his covered sword in the air with a swing of excitement, before leaping down into the cavern's entrance, beside the snake-bitten lioness.

"Great," Mohatu announced. "So you'll help her?"

"Go on," Rafiki answered. "I will fix her up."

Although Mari prepared herself to take off and leave Rafiki behind, she immediately hesitated before doing just that. She shifted her weight mostly onto her front paws as she stood up, but remained otherwise motionless under the morning sun. "Do you need us to get anything?" the lioness asked.

The monkey bent down to examine Zuria's snakebite, before he answered Mari's question. "Hakuna Matata," Rafiki stated.

Mari tilted her head. "What?"

"No worries," the mandrill-like creature answered. "Rafiki is here; she'll be fine."

"Right..." Mari nodded. She then shifted her gaze away from the primate, and instead brought her focus back on Buraya. "And, Buraya," she called, "why don't you come with us," Mari requested.

"What?" Buraya replied, questioning the lioness's demand. "But hunting is for—"

Mari didn't even need to say anything more. All she did was wink, and the other lion seemed to get the hint. Her suggestive nod was enough to get the point across, even with Buraya being as slow as he was.

"Oh," Buraya replied, zipping his mouth shut to a tight vacuum soon afterward. "Okay, okay... I'll help out."
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » January 11th, 2014, 10:32 pm

chapter 33: show
A/N: I know. I haven't updated this story in a long time. I remember how I said I'd have it finished before 2014, but as you can see, that hasn't happened.

Yeah... about that. Life has been pretty crazy, and I have had neither the time nor the motivation to work on this story, all throughout December. I was finishing up with my projects and finals for the semester, and preparing to move out of my parent's house. The stress was a bit too much for me to cope with, so projects like this were put on hold, without warning.

But anyway, most of that is cleared up now. That's the good news. I won't be sticking to a schedule anymore, but there should be more frequent updates for the next 5 or so chapters, all the way to the end. Happy reading! :D


---


A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 33: Shock and Awe


More than an entire herd of wildebeest stood in view of the Nial River delta, resting below the direct sunlight surrounding the Giza pyramid complex. The clusters of lion chow appeared almost like blobs on the horizon, drinking from the water and grazing on the sparse fields of river grasses.

The entire horizon was illuminated by the intense mid-afternoon sun, and the wildebeest gathered by the edges of swampy water to cool off—thus marking the prime hours for catching lunch.

And obviously, lunchtime it was.

Buraya, Mohatu, and Mari had an excellent view of their targets, while they gazed down into the forking streams, away and below. It was the perfect opportunity for a hunt—especially with the mysterious electromotive force they had discovered, known infamously as the battery that Mohatu pushed along with his paws.

The timing could not have been any more perfect; the operation was about to become a shocking success. More importantly, Mohatu knew it. The entire hunt was about to unfold, and it was all about to go just as he planned. It wasn't going to be the textbook style of approach. Nope, not that at all. What the resourceful lion had in mind was much more creative.

"So," Buraya started to ask, quickly growing bored. "When are we actually going to see some action?" The lion raised his head slightly, egging Mohatu on. "I'm ready to start killing some lions, as soon as you're tired of all this hunting business."

"Buraya, no..." Mari answered, looking back at Buraya from the hillside on which the trio stood. "It's not like that."

The same lioness bit her lip gently, while she wondered just what it was that went through Buraya's head. Did he not understand the horrors of war? Had he never been forced to kill another lion, before? What the heck was it about Buraya that made him so eager to get killed, anyway?

Regardless of the answer, Mari thought Buraya seemed a bit too naive for his own good. It was almost like he had no idea what he was getting himself into. His claws obviously weren't the sharpest, but his tenacity spanned to heights that Mari could not barely begin to comprehend.

"But isn't it like that?" Buraya asked. "You don't understand... this is Giza. Lions come here from all across Africa, to become the best of the best. You gotta—"

"But that's not why we're here," Mari answered. She tried to argue, while simultaneously being as respectful as she could allow. "We're not here to kill anyone. We're only here for the keys to the tomb of Regulus."

"But..." Buraya started to ask again, taking a brief moment to pause. This time, he directed his question at Leo, specifically. "Aren't you gonna fight Rex... and Minerva too?"

"If I have to, I will," Leo answered. He then turned away and resumed pushing the battery along, with the other two behind him. As he walked down even closer to the waterhole, he could hardly bother to take his focus off the hunt. "But, as Mari said, that's not why I'm here."

"But..." Buraya choked on his breath, in response. He simply could not believe what he was hearing—Leo was hardly the badass he had heard stories of. King Leo was the greatest lion of his time, and perhaps even the greatest lion of all time. But yet there he was, claiming to avoid a fight if he could. From Buraya's perspective, it just didn't add up. It was nonsense.

"Dude," Buraya finally continued, after a moment's pause. "You're Leo, man! As soon as everyone knows you're still alive, Rex won't be king anymore. You can—"

"I know," Mohatu interrupted with a simple statement, though he never ceased to walk downhill. "But I don't want that."

Buraya stepped back, seeming flabbergasted by Mohatu's strange perception of the kingdom. The twitch of Buraya's tail only solidified his lack of understanding. "You don't...? What? I mean, that's like..."

"Buraya, forget it," Mohatu replied. It was little more than a subtle attempt to get him to shut up, but it seemed to work for a few seconds. "I'll explain my plan later," he continued.

"But for now..." Mohatu added, stepping ever closer to the marshy riverside. At that point, his forepaws stood merely an inch from the shoreline, buried in a few wild plants. "I'm going to put this lightning thing into the waterhole," he explained. "The wildebeest will die. Then I'll pull it out, and you and Mari will help retrieve the wildebeest carcasses. We'll impress Inari or Minerva, and then they might give us clues as to where the keys are."

"That's boring," Buraya whined, as he followed behind the other two with slow, hesitant paces. Obviously, he wasn't too interested in the situation as a whole; that much was clear. "The only reason why I'm here is because I want to watch you kill Minerva," he admitted aloud.

"Well," Mari exhaled the mass in her lungs, with a simultaneous twitch of her ears. "At least you're honest about it."

Ignoring the lion's oddly peculiar and violent comment, Mohatu stopped to place the battery just before the intersection of sandy dirt and water. He then leaned to push that same cylindrical hunk of metal onto its upright position, and grabbed the end of the frayed rope in his mouth.

From there, Mohatu held the battery upright by the rope, so that it barely dangled off the ground. Though the battery itself was nearly the size of a refrigerator and half of Mohatu's weight, the lion had only a small bit of trouble performing such a task.

With a smooth swing of his head, carrying the battery dangling from his teeth, Mohatu tossed the heavy object over the edge of the water. It fell into the murky liquid with a gentle plop, but a loud, crackling roar ensued from the resulting impact.

KSHZZZHZZZTTTZZTTTT!

Instinctively, Mohatu took a step back, still holding the rope between the fringes of his jaw. His eyes lit up with a bright white glow, which was really only a reflection of the sparks of electricity before him.

Like a brilliant display of firecrackers, the entire river ignited with an impressive display of light. Every edge of the Nial River jolted outward with a plasma-like electric shock, which radiated across the horizon for miles in every which direction, right from the source of the voltage.

Much to every lion's pleasant satisfaction, all the wildebeest unfortunate enough to even have so much as a paw in the water had already been shocked, and after a few seconds, one even started to drop dead. The splishing, splashing, and plopping of falling wildebeest could barely be heard over the loud buzzes of electricity.

Buraya's jaw flipped open, before remaining in that place for quite some time. "Mhm, okay... maybe this hunting stuff is a little cool..." he admitted.

After a few more seconds, every wildebeest within viewing distance had been impaired by the electric shock. After a few more seconds, the majority of those unfortunate creatures became lifeless under their skin and bones. Now, they were congregated much more like clusters of rocks at the bottom of the riverbed.

"I think that's enough," Mari stated. "You can pull it out now."

"That's what s—" Buraya started to whisper with a devious giggle, before finding that Mari had already shot him a look of disapproval.

He just wasn't allowed to make jokes, was he?

"What?" Buraya asked, suddenly realizing he had said something he shouldn't have. His question seemed innocent enough, but contained not even the smallest ounce of true innocence underneath his voice. "I was going to say... that's what sh... ugh..."

"I know what you were going to say," Mari retorted. She rolled her eyes with a bit more patience than she thought she had, surprised by the fact that she hadn't left the guy in the pyramid. "Is that really all you lions ever think about? It's either that, or killing something..."

"No it's not," Buraya answered. "I was actually thinking, that's what sounds like a good idea," he corrected himself.

By that time, Mohatu had already removed the battery from the water's surface, by dragging the rope backward with all his strength. As soon as the terminals on the other end had been freed from submersion with the murky liquid, peace and quiet returned to the river, once more.

The sounds that punctured the air ceased, and life surrounding the three lions returned back to normal. The only difference now was that the wildebeest nearest the battery were all dead—the rest remained only shocked from the dissipation of energy. A gentle breeze flew by, and buzzards began to circle and gather above the riverside.

"Let's see," Mari started, gazing out at all the dead wildebeest. "One... two... three... five... seven... twelve..."

"We only have twelve?" Buraya asked, slightly concerned. "But we need ten, and they're all dead! How are we supposed to get that many more?"

Mari paused for a second, and then swished her head in utter denial of ever having heard such a stupid question. "Wait... are you serious?" she asked. "If we need ten, then we have two more than we need. Didn't your mother ever teach you this when you were younger?"

"Oh..." Buraya finally muttered. "I never tried to learn how to do that stuff," he answered. "It's not important. It's stupid."

Mari exhaled a deep sigh. "So I noticed," she argued subtly, ending the conversation with her retort. And with that comment, she stepped into the water, and began walking forward to retrieve the carcasses between her incisors.

Considering that each of the three lions worked together, it was not long before every dead wildebeest rested atop the riverbank for feasting. Without even the smallest doubt, the strange weapons of the ancient kings proved to be most valuable in just about any situation.

Hunting in bulk quantities had never been so easy.


---



Zuria's eyelids peered open at an incredibly sluggish rate, accompanied by several obvious groans, moans, and gasps for breath. Every last end of each limb felt numb to her mind, but almost contained a slight burning sensation. The back of her spine tingled with the same burning pain, but with even greater severity. Overall, the unfortunate lioness could barely see, barely feel, and barely move.

At best, Zuria could only tilt her head aside. Surprisingly, she had grown to be quite comfortable sitting in the dark, cool depression of the sinkhole. Even as hard as the rock she lazed upon was, it had already become her second home. The form of her spine had already grown in place of the rocky surface below it, stretching out to a tight and comfortable fit.

In fact, despite the tremendous pain she felt, Zuria almost experienced an equal twinge of comfort.

Yet, there was still another disturbance to the relaxing environment, even amidst the pleasant chirping of birds and the tranquil flow of water into the nearby cave. It was like a tapping, clashing and banging—barely perceptible, but all-encompassing.

But more importantly, the disturbance was breathing. Whatever it was—it was alive.

It wasn't another lion; there was no such scent. The creature's odd grunts were not even remotely similar to a lion, either. In conclusion, there was simply no way the creature invading on Zuria's rest was of the feline form. It had to have been something else—from the sound of it, something bipedal.

As the light of midday flooded into Zuria's vision, she found what appeared to be a long, sharp piece of metal. Her eyes jolted open immediately, and with a sudden shock, her consciousness expanded to include a much wider perception of reality.

Although Zuria didn't know it, what she had just seen was Rafiki's sword. It rested gallantly on a rock before her eyes, free from the confined grip of Rafiki's hands.

The lioness's eyes continued to dart around, until she found the blurred form of a mandrill. For reasons Zuria could not explain, he seemed to be mixing some crazy sort of concoction, inside the shell of what appeared to once be a tortoise. The sounds of his pattering were accompanied by a certain lackadaisical humming, which quickly freaked the lioness out.

Zuria groaned at the sight, expressing her confusion and fear with no other form of communication.

"Hi!" Rafiki exclaimed, with his typical casual and happy smile.

Zuria tried to twitch herself away from the mandrill, but her attempt to flee was met with minimal success. She could barely even feel her own tail, much less the muscles in her own forepaws. She was dizzy, disoriented, and well into the zone of sickening nausea. Escape was impossible.

"What are you?" Zuria demanded lethargically, with no small sense of fear in her voice. "And where did you get that?" she asked, obviously referring to Rafiki's sword—no doubt a weapon left behind from the ancient times.

"Silly kitty, I be Rafiki! I am a baboon, and you are not!"

Zuria squinted her eyes. It was an odd response, but he was an odd creature, after all.

After a few struggled breaths, the lioness rested her head back on the rock below her. It wasn't exactly by choice—it just happened. It was hardly the most cozy place to rest, but she had little say in the matter while her body screamed for a place to die.

Not long after, Rafiki finally approached the lioness. He used one hand to lift Zuria's head up, and used the other to pour his concoction of various herbs and chemicals into her mouth. "Drink up!"

Zuria struggled to even gulp down the mixture, but eventually she managed to do so. As soon as she swallowed the bitter taste out of her mouth, she closed her eyes, and her head fell back down to the ground. Of course, half of the mixture rolled down her face, along with a puddle of drool.

Although Zuria remained almost lifeless, she could hear the trickling stream of the water, gently running down and into the cave. The occasional breezes of wind had never felt more lively, and even the sun's intense light seemed to cast rays of hope, up above the surface of the land.

In the final moments of her life, what the lioness had once taken for granted had never seemed quite so special. "But... I don't want to die..." Zuria muttered slowly, each syllable more pronounced with fear than the last.

"You will not die," Rafiki stated. "That was antivenom, not poison! Haha!"

Zuria breathed out a sigh of relief, before collapsing her head down onto the rock. Finally feeling a bit calm by the growing sensation of numbness, the lioness allowed herself to return to a state of deep, restful slumber. Whatever it was that was going on with the mandrill, she quickly decided that it could wait.

None of it mattered, to her. Not anymore. She was comfortable, and she wasn't going to die. For now, that was enough for the lioness.

"You will be better in a few days," Rafiki stated. "Just get some rest."


---



Mohatu dragged the last remaining wildebeest carcass out of the water, and into the open sunlight and grasses. The marked location of the feasting ground was not far from where the battery stood, but it was far enough away to be considered a respectable, safe distance.

The battery itself leaned against the trunk of an arid palm tree, now out of sight and out of mind. The dead wildebeest, however, were directly in view of any creature to walk by. It was an odd sight, in the largest sense—but no doubt pleasant for any lion to imagine. The fresh, meaty carcasses resting in the sun were almost a little too salivating.

"Last one?" Mari asked, looking back into the river. Although she wasn't totally sure that the job had been completed, she found no other kills to bring ashore.

"Yep," Mohatu finally nodded, after spitting out the limb he carried in his mouth. After the exhalation of a deep breath, he then decided to voice his next idea. "Why don't you two go back to the sinkhole and see if Rafiki needs help," he suggested. "I'll stay here and watch over the carcasses until Knight Inari gets back."

"Aww!" Buraya immediately interjected. "But I want to watch you kill—"

Mari silenced Buraya with a gentle nod. "I... think I know what you have in mind," she told Mohatu, albeit with a very notable degree of hesitation. "It might be best if we take our lunch and get out of sight. Let's let Mohatu handle this on his own."

However, it was a bit too late for that. Leo's ears perked up across the horizon, at the very moment he heard what sounded like a group of felines approaching. His head and eyes followed quickly behind, meeting the group in less than an instant.

"Damn," Mohatu spat. "They're already here."

More than likely, the spectacular light show probably caught a bit of interest from the pride—something that was about to make Mohatu's presence known. By extension, it also put Mari at risk of being discovered.

"Should we go?" Mari asked. She quickly glanced around, until she found the approaching lions with her own two eyes. "Can we just grab a quick bite to eat, first?"

"Actually..." Mohatu started to ponder the situation once again. On second thought, it didn't really matter if Knight Inari saw Mari or not. Mohatu had completed his task with utmost excellence, and there was little questioning it no matter who helped.

"Don't go," Mohatu reasoned. "Help yourself," he added lackadaisically, but with a slight grin. "I'm going to go talk to Inari. I'll meet you back at the sinkhole, in a little bit."

And with those words, Mohatu set off to confront Inari himself. As the distance closed, he tried his best to carry the most impressive stance he could—head high, claws sharp, and tail straight. His appearance was as sharp and spiffy as could be, bristling with his newfound confidence.

Leo held himself still for a moment, before he decided to speak in the most regal voice possible. "I have done as you asked," he stated. "Twelve wildebeest. It should be enough to feed the whole pride for days."

Inari's jaw dropped, almost pleasantly. "Well I'll be damned, rookie. You actually pulled it off!"

The many subordinate lions surrounding Inari scattered and took off, running straight at their first sight of fresh meat in days. It did not take Mohatu long before he realized that he had essentially just gained their allegiance. Almost literally, he had the entire pride feeding right from his paw.

It was an excellent development, but Mohatu also realized that it was about to get even better. All he needed to do was tell Inari what had happened, and then he would have even the Knight on his side, more than likely.

"I summoned the spirits of the great kings," Mohatu continued. "Their will was what led to this outcome."

Inari cocked his head to the side, both surprised and confused. "What?"

"The weapons of the ancient kings are mine to command," Mohatu started to explain, slowly and clearly. He let his voice boom with intimidation, and his form empowered his words. "I confronted the spirit of Denebola, and I used what I found in the largest pyramid to kill these wildebeest."

Even still, Inari's jaw remained open. His ears and tail twitched, but he could not bring himself to say much in his state of complete awe. "But how did you...?"

"Why don't you sit down and have a bite to eat," Leo suggested casually. "I'll tell you all about it..."

"Not so fast, rookie," the knight interjected, spitting across the sand. "I want to know how you managed to do all that. The great pyramid is way too dangerous for a lion of your skill level! You couldn't—"

"It is the will of the ancients," Mohatu persuaded calmly. "Fighting the kingcobra was... easy."

Inari's eyes widened momentarily, but he eventually relaxed and grew a devious smirk on his muzzle. Although he didn't seem to want to believe Mohatu at first, that suddenly all changed. "Heh! Easy, you say?" the knight asked rhetorically. "If you're as good as you say you are, I might have a side job for you."

"I need a challenge," Mohatu stated, with a bold thunder in his voice.

Leo then shifted his gaze away from the knight, and turned his focus back to the dead wildebeest. What he saw back at the riverside was nothing less than a feast for every lion in the pride, as they all gathered by the kills to enjoy their lunch. Mari and Buraya both had their own animal to chew on, while many of the other pride members grabbed their own lunch, as well.

"Come on," Mohatu turned around and nodded. "Let's get some while it's fresh. I think I'll have some of the chuck eye..."

Oddly enough, the knight did not step closer to the feasting lions. He continued to stand still, appearing to be deep in thought. "What I'm suggesting..." Knight Inari began slowly, but eventually lost most of his voice. "It's—"

Inari closed his mouth at once, realizing the secrecy of what he was about to say. "Come with me," he commanded.

Mohatu's eyes shot back around, and his pupils dilated with pleasant delight. "Alright," he agreed, starting to drool from the corners of his mouth. "But can I just get a bite to eat, first?"

"Fine," Inari answered. "Make it quick."

Upon hearing that, Mohatu trotted back over to where the carcasses rested, and the many lions in the pride gathered to celebrate the great feast. He approached the two lions nearest him, who sat beside a fresh hunk of meaty goodness.

Although his mind attempted to filter out their words, Mohatu could not help but notice that the two unfamiliar lions seemed to be arguing over something. As Leo approached, their words only grew louder, seeping into his most carefully-guarded internal thoughts.

"I told you," one of the unfamiliar lions argued smugly, grinning with a sinister, yet happy smile. "My lioness is the prettiest."

"No she's not!" the other insisted. He placed his paw up in the air forcefully, and drew out his claws. "My lioness is the prettiest. Yours is ugly!"

"No she's not!"

"Is too!"

Meanwhile, Mohatu's heart skipped a beat. So that was what they were arguing over? Was it really that important? He could only wonder—but the thought quickly incited other feelings. The lion's ears fell low, and his tail lowered to drag along the ground.

It didn't matter that he had saved the life of two lions, earlier that morning. It didn't matter that he killed a king cobra, or that he confronted the spirit of Denebola. It didn't matter that he had just killed a dozen wildebeest for lunch, with only a little bit of effort. All of Mohatu's confidence suddenly shattered into a thousand pieces.

What mattered to him was what Mari thought of him.

If having a pretty lioness to claim his own was something to boast about, what did that ultimately say about him? He didn't have any lioness—pretty or otherwise. He wasn't loved by anyone. Although he had tried not to let it bother him before, that was no longer working. Mari's lack of romantic affection was only now starting to seep into his skin with full force.

"But..." Mohatu started to whisper to himself, as he walked past the other two. "She would... wouldn't she?"

After all, Mari never said that she didn't like Mohatu. She never said it wasn't a possibility. She acted like she had some sort of affection for him, and there was no denying that much. Maybe it was still possible, after all. Realizing this, Mohatu tried to keep his head up and his eyes on the horizon.

"My lioness is as beautiful as the night sky," one of the unfamiliar lions boasted again, interrupting Mohatu's thoughts for a second time.

"Oh yeah?" the other unfamiliar lion retorted, with a juicy hunk of meat hanging in his mouth. "Well, my lioness is as beautiful as the daytime sky. She's as bright as the sun, compared to your puny stars."

Mohatu shook his head, still hearing the words of the other two pridemates. Although he wanted nothing more than to ignore them, it was proving to be a challenge. He could only imagine what it would even be like, just to see Mari thinking of him in that same way. It didn't take much for him to start thinking about her, but this conversation wasn't helping any.

Mari and Mohatu were friends, but their relationship wasn't anything like that—even despite how much Mohatu wanted it to be. And somehow, as Mohatu had already deduced, that apparently made his relationship far less valuable. There was no denying it: he wasn't loved, and therefore he wasn't actually important.

The lion shook his head with frustration, before swallowing a piece of meat and running back to Inari. He tried to force a smile, but the only thought that kept him going was the possibility that Mari would someday change her mind. After all, there was still a chancea chance that his life could one day become important in Mari's eyes.

It would be enough for the restless warrior, just to be with her. But first, he had some business to attend to with Knight Inari.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » February 10th, 2014, 5:38 am

chapter 34: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 34: Betrayal Gardens


Mari leaned her head down to pinch off a steak with her sharp incisors. The hunk of meat split from the wildebeest hide, as the golden lioness swallowed it whole. A bright-reddish stain of blood congregated on her chinfur, which she wiped away with the longer edge of her forepaw. Even as messy as her lunch was, it did not take away from the ecstasy of the taste, in all its deliciousness.

"Mmmm..." the lioness grinned, swallowing what remained of the taste with a large gulp of saliva. "It's pretty good," she added, "although it is a little crisp."

Yet, despite Mari's relaxed appearance, she kept her eyes dialed in on Buraya the whole time—just to make sure that he wasn't going to do something stupid. Mari wasn't sure if she could trust the lion or not, although based on what he had said prior to the feast, that answer was nearly a definite no.

However, as time passed at a snail's pace, one of the golden lioness's eyes also found its way back to Mohatu. Naturally, of course, Mari could only wonder where it was that her companion was about to go. He had eaten far less than his share, and he was heading off with Knight Inari. But, in all honesty, where the two males were going was anyone's guess.

But even more importantly, the greater question remained: why were the two leaving?

"He's lucky," Buraya whined, after a steady pause had momentarily filled the air. "He's going to take all the credit for my work..."

Mari's gaze fell back on Buraya. She stared at him for several seconds, twitching her ears while her pupils increased in size. "Um... what?" she asked slowly, trying to be calm and polite. "You do realize what's at stake here, right?"

"It was my idea," Buraya added, still seeming just as sure of himself as he was before the entire king cobra fiasco. "I better get to be a knight for this."

"This isn't about you," Mari corrected, planting her paws down firmly into the crusted coat of dirt beneath her. Already, her lunch had been ruined by Buraya's simple expression of selfishness. Mari was never the type of lioness to have patience for intentionally antagonistic behavior—but Buraya seemed to excel at pissing her off, in a way that was very clearly unmatched by any other feline.

Most instinctively, Mari shook her head, trying as hard as possible not to burst out with another rant. She couldn't do that, and she knew it. Not where she was. Not in front of an entire pride of lions loyal to the king. It would have ended badly for her, to say the least.

Mari breathed in, and then out. Her eyes gazed dead still, while the inner workings of her mind shifted rapidly between states of fire and ice. After a moment's pause, she began to open her jaw.

But the movement was only temporary. In her state of internal conflict, Mari immediately had second thoughts about expressing herself. She knew what she wanted to say, but she just couldn't say it. Instead of opening her mouth, the lioness concentrated all her focus at the tip of her tongue for a little while longer, holding her breath from an explosion of force.

Eventually, however, she gave in. "All you want to do is watch us kill each other, and then take credit for it," Mari stated carefully, after what seemed to be half an eternity.

"Right," Buraya nodded. "You say that like it's a bad thing..."

Mari twitched her ear, growing increasingly agitated with each passing second. "But... what!" she spat lightly, trying her best not to whisper a yell. "Of course it's a bad thing! You can't just put yourself above everyone else like that. It's... wrong!"

Buraya looked down at his paws for a brief moment. As his head returned to the horizon, he carefully cupped a ball of sand between his pawtoes. He set his sights on Mari, and prepared himself to aim.

It was not a moment after until Buraya consequently flung the wad of dirt into the lioness's eyes—very obviously before Mari ever saw it coming. It was a quick attack; not fatal, but certainly a stealthy jab. Buraya felt a rush of satisfaction, as he smirked at his success in domination. "I don't think so," he retorted quietly. "Stupid lioness."

Mari held her eyes shut for several seconds afterward, while Buraya slowly started to walk away. She did not dare to open the blink and face the searing pain of sand grains scratching across the glassy surface of her cornea. Instead, she lowered her head, and congregated her thoughts into pure, raw energy at her core.

"I swear," quietly grunted the lioness. "Mohatu and I have saved your rump twice today." Although Mari's subtle voice faded off into distance silence thereafter, her thoughts never ceased. "You haven't helped," she continued, speaking only to herself. "You have done nothing but give us more work to do. You don't respect me, your former king, or even your own sister..."

Mari opened her eyes, and immediately found Buraya as he glided away to the edge of the horizon, giving her the tail view. "If you just happen to die today..." she grunted again, clenching her teeth, "I won't care."

With a burst of fury, the same orange lioness wiped the sand from her eyes, and then darted forward to catch up to Buraya within an instant. "Where are you going?" she yelled aloud, now a respectable distance away from the rest of the feasting pride.

"Oh," Buraya turned around casually, like not a single event had ever transpired in the world. "Nothing."

Mari held a steady scowl. "You expect me to believe that?"

"Yeah," Buraya shrugged. "I just ate. I'm gonna go lay down and do nothing until it's time for all the action."

It was a likely excuse, and Mari knew it. If Buraya truly wanted to be a knight, he had no such reason to wait for the big showdown. This was the time—now or never. The outcome of any potential battle was not going to be decided by the strongest lion, but by the group of lions most prepared. That much was obvious as daylight.

But more importantly, that unquestionably meant telling Inari or Minerva about Mohatu's plans. Regardless of whether or not Buraya was about to do just that, it was what Mari already began to fear.

"That's bull spit, and you know it," Mari retorted. "I know what you're trying to do, and I'm not going to let it happen."

"What's that?" Buraya asked, innocently enough. Whether or not he was truly innocent wasn't exactly the most obvious thing to determine. The truth was still obscured, and Buraya's underlying intentions continued to remain a mystery. That was if he even had any underlying intentions, of course.

Mari approached even closer to Buraya, and stared deep into the lion's eyes. Now, the distance between the two was starting to get uncomfortable. Although the edges of Mari's eyelids were red and irritated from the sand, she set her gaze upon Buraya with unprecedented, silent fury. "I dare you to do it," she whispered.

"Do what?"

"Go on," Mari suggested ominously. "Tell the queen the truth about Mohatu. Tell her who I am. Make her come get us. I dare you."

At that precise moment, Buraya's jaw started to slide open. Surprisingly, he seemed to be a little worried, now—although he never would have admitted it. "You... no! I wasn't going to!"

"Let her win," Mari persuaded. "Take Queen Minerva's side. Betray us." Although a reasonably long pause filled the air, the lioness kept her eyebrows low and her ears pinned back, while she emitted the most serious and stern impression she could. "If Minerva is anything like you are, your reward will still be nothing," Mari reasoned.

"At least I tried to feed you," Mari added. "I looked after you all morning, and I'm the reason why you're alive."

In the time that followed, Mari paced around Buraya in a zigzag pattern, intimidating the male with her lean and lithe, yet powerful form of motion. "I can't promise you that you'll see a bloody night," she stated slowly. "But I can promise you this: if blood is what you want to see, that is what you will see."

Buraya gulped, but otherwise remained still. "I can handle it," he stated. "I've been waiting for something like this."

"If I were you... I'd stay out of the fight," Mari warned.

"Why?" Buraya asked. He puffed out his chest, and stretched every fiber of his mane to exemplify his masculine form. "Because I'm not good enough? Do you... do you think I couldn't kill you?"

Without even the smallest fraction of hesitation, Mari placed her paw over Buraya's, and refused to consider exposing her claws. She slid in closer, totally unafraid of the male's obvious threat. "If you kill me... you will not find happiness in your future." It was a calm and simple gesture that she made, but oddly threatening in her own way.

"I'm knight material! I've killed two lions before," Buraya retorted, stepping back and raising his voice. "You'll be three!"

"I don't care," Mari argued passively, still unimposed and totally unimpressed by the threats. "I am not here to fight you."

"Okay," Buraya admitted, leaning back even farther. "It was just one..." he continued, lightening his mood slightly, "but she was pregnant with a cub. So it really was two!"

Finally, Mari also took a step back of her own, with a deep breath of inhalation. As much as she had grown to dislike Buraya, the lioness could not help but recognize that he was little more than a fool. As a steady stream of cool air blew across the lioness's fur, she had to wonder why she was even talking to such an imbecile in the first place.

He may have claimed to be a killer, but he was a killer of a pregnant mother and her cub—it wasn't exactly the most prestigious claim to make. Quite simply, Buraya was nothing more than a coward with a mane and claws. He had a big roar, but nothing to pack a punch behind it. Although he talked a big game, he obviously struggled to stay alive without the help of more experienced lions.

Realizing this, Mari suddenly began to cool off. It didn't really matter what the fool thought, did it? Buraya was nothing other than a pawn; he was a mindless drone, whose only purpose in life was to get on the lioness's last nerve in their final moments.

"You know what, just forget it," Mari sighed. "I don't doubt that you've killed lions before... that wasn't what I meant." she conceded. "I just don't care that you have."

Briefly looking up to the sky, Mari decided to take charge of the situation, like the decisive lioness she was supposed to be. "Now, help me go get one of these carcasses. We can bring it back to the sinkhole for Zuria and Leo, so they can have something to eat, too."

"Why should I listen to you?" Buraya argued. "I'm not afraid to kill you and eat more, all by myself."

Mari stopped for a moment, before she could come up with a legitimate answer to the other lion's question. She had one in mind, but she wasn't totally sure that it would incite the desired effect. Nevertheless, she spoke her mind anyway. "Because I'm King Leo's mate," Mari stated a bluntly, as a deceptive lie. "That's why."

Buraya immediately jumped back, and simultaneously choked on his own saliva. "Whoa! Oooookay, I didn't know that. I'll help out!"

He then looked down at his paws, and whispered a few words that were almost entirely unintelligible from the low volume of his voice. "I can't believe Leo's mate is such a bi—"

"I can hear you, y'know," Mari scowled. "Ugh! Now come on! If you insist on being a pain like this, we won't get back to the sinkhole for another week."


---



Far from Mari and Buraya, two of the most experienced warriors in the entire kingdom walked in tandem, down the riverside. As the murky water of the Nial River delta spanned out beyond the horizon and into the sea, the land grew increasingly fertile. Instead of only occasional and sparse shrubs or trees, the landscape now resembled something much more like a garden of sorts.

Not only was the grass a vibrant green, but the sky started to become hidden behind a canopy of palm trees, as well. Bushes of wildflowers grew below each and every one, in brilliant shades of white, pink, and yellow. With all the dense vegetation, the wide open landscape funneled down into a few paths, resembling a natural labyrinth.

One of the lions stopped under the shadows of the canopy, and waited for the other to catch up beside him. "Do you know why we're here?" he asked.

Quickly and suddenly, Mohatu looked behind his shoulder, fearing an ambush under the absence of sunlight. In all honesty, he wasn't quite sure why he had been brought to the labyrinth—but he could guess. Since he found no other lions around, Mohatu concluded that whatever was about to happen was intended to be top secret business.

"No," Mohatu admitted. "I guess I don't."

Knight Inari grinned. "Good," he replied. "The less obvious it is, the better."

Mohatu blinked with a gulp in his throat. "I'm sorry, I don't understand..." he continued, feigning his ignorance. "With all due respect," Mohatu began again, this time swallowing his gulp of saliva and lowering his brows. "Is there something you're hiding from me?"

In all honesty, Mohatu did have a small idea of what was about to happen. Without a doubt, he had just proved his worth to the knight, by fighting off snakes, meeting the ancient King Denebola, and killing a bunch of wildebeest. Obviously, what Inari wanted had something to do with that. Something about that had sparked his interest—and Leo knew that wasn't exactly a bad thing.

"I think it's time we start committing treason," Inari replied simply. His voice was but a whisper, but his seriousness could not have been a tad clearer. Surely, he was planning something truly worthy of a faithful warrior's time.

"Treason?" Mohatu grinned. "What kind of treason?"

"Shut up!" Inari commanded, lowering his brow to angrily meet Mohatu's gaze. "Not just yet. Save your questions."

Conversely, Mohatu once again raised his brow with his typical, curious interest. "Continue, then," he grinned.

"I need you to kill Zuria and Buraya," the knight explained first. He looked as if he had a lot more to say, but he took a moment to pause, so that Mohatu could interpret the importance of his new objective.

Although Leo inherently disapproved the thought, he nodded while he awaited a more in-depth explanation. Killing his two companions was something he could do if he had to, but he hoped it wasn't going to come to that. In fact, being the redeemed lion he thought himself, he would strictly refuse to do so.

"Okay," Mohatu nodded. "I can do that," he lied. After all, he knew he could always pretend to kill Buraya and Zuria. His possibilities weren't exactly limited, in that respect. In all reality, Mohatu had his own plans, anyway. He wasn't going to let a knight like Inari tell him what to do.

"However..." Mohatu firmly began his immediate request, "I would prefer to keep them alive."

"No," Inari argued, without ever a second thought. "We need those two imbeciles dead," he insisted. "Once they're out of the academy and gone for good, Queen Minerva will have no choice but to see your true worth and promote you to knight."

"Right..."

"And then... we can kill the queen," Inari continued deviously. As the lion finished his words, he slammed his paw forcefully into the dirt, ending on a rather violent note. "I've about had enough of her. The only reason why she's in power is because she gets special treatment from Rex... having that silky white fur."

"But..." Mohatu almost took a step backward. "Why would we want to kill her?"

"To send a message," the knight answered forcefully. "With Minerva dead, I'll have control of Giza. Her death will lure king Rex into a trap, and we can... we'll make things the way they're meant to be."

Mohatu started to grin with a sinister sense of satisfaction. "You mean like... the prophecy?" he inquired curiously, hoping it was exactly what he was thinking of.

Was Inari really just about to lead Mohatu to the remaining keys, which would in turn open the tomb of Regulus and fulfill the prophecy? It almost seemed too good to be true. There had to have been some sort of catch, and Mohatu knew it.

"I'll explain more later, when the time comes," replied Knight Inari. "But for now, it's not important. Kill Zuria and Buraya, and I'll convince Minerva to make you a knight. You're off to an impressive start," Inari continued, "but it's not enough to make you a knight just yet."

"But... why do I need to be a knight for this?" Mohatu asked. "We could always team up against Minerva, anyway..."

"It's to keep the others in line," Inari explained. "If you're a knight, you can assume control of a pride without any trouble. You'll be expected to have a pride of your own to command. With the combined strength of both of our prides, we'll be able to accomplish what Minerva and Rex never could."

Mohatu nodded, but eventually lowered his head into a bow of false respect. "I'll see to it," he concluded.

Inari stepped closer, gently but firmly placing his paw over Mohatu's neck. "Don't screw this up, rookie. I'm confident you can pull it off, but if you don't... we're in a world of trouble."

As Leo looked back up, his only response was a simple statement of acceptance. "I understand, my liege."

"Good."

"But..." Leo started to ask, before Inari became too comfortable with the idea. Obviously, Leo wasn't going to let the knight get away just yet. There was still more he wanted to know. "How are we going to kill Minerva, once I'm a knight?"

Inari's face remained still for an instant, while he sat in the dirt. "Normally, you'd become a knight by killing all of your competitors," he explained. "But these are unusual circumstances... this time, you won't need to fight them all. There will be a knighting ceremony in the pyramid. At the end of the ceremony, you'll seize your chance—assassinate Minerva—and take her place as head of the academy."

"Why me?" Mohatu asked curiously, without worry. "Aren't you the stronger one?"

"Because Minerva won't expect betrayal from a new knight like you," Knight Inari insisted. "She won't expect you to share my ambition, and I want Rex to come after you."

"Oh, I get it," Mohatu said as his mouth widened into a casual and sarcastic smile. "So I'm the bait? Great!"

"No," Inari insisted. "Rex will be mad at you for killing his little sweetheart... but I'll fight with you," the knight replied. "We'll have the advantage of surprise. No one will expect assistance from me and my pride."

Mohatu raised his head and tail. "That will help, but I'll still be doing the dirty work. If I kill Minerva, I'll have to... I mean... there will be assassins after me, too..." Mohatu sighed with hesitation, temporarily lowering his eyes to the ground. "You don't really think this is a good idea, do you?"

"If you kill Minerva, her pride will be yours to command... and you will be the new knight. Knight Mohatu." Inari grinned. "Don't you realize how big of an opportunity this is?"

"I do."

"This will be the coup of the century," Inari responded. "It's the chance of a lifetime; you would be a fool not to pounce on it."

"I understand that," Mohatu nodded. "But there's still something I'm not sure about. Why do we want to kill Minerva? Shouldn't we be working together to look for Mari and her pride?"

"That is my concern," Inari retorted. "But Minerva does not share our... desire to see the assassins dead. She's an idiot. She's too concerned about protecting her own tail and keeping her power over the academy. She doesn't want any of us to succeed in our hunt. If we succeed, then she loses influence."

"But Rex?" Mohatu asked. "If we kill Minerva, and then Rex... then... the assassins win."

"Let me ask you a question," Inari retorted. "Do you think this kingdom got to be where it was because of Rex's decisions? Do you think he was the one to conquer all our territories? Do you really think... he deserves to be in power?"

"Well... no..." Mohatu answered slowly, but with no greater honesty. "Not really."

"This kingdom wouldn't be half of what it is today, had it not have been for Leo. King Leo understood the art of war like no other lion. The kingdom was his creation... this was his destiny, not Rex's."

Inari held his breath for a moment, before he decided to continue. "I fought beside Leo, and I fought beside Rex. I can tell you, Leo never would have let this kingdom fall apart like it has. Leo never would've let a lioness like Minerva run loose in his territory. Leo understood how to fight, and that was why he was successful. Leo was always on the front line—if you met him on the battlefield, you either ran or you died."

"But, I don't understand," Mohatu lied. "What does this have to do with us?"

"Heh," Inari grunted, scratching and stroking his chin. "We need lions like you and me in charge, or this kingdom is doomed to collapse. You remind me a lot of Leo, in a way..."

Mohatu grinned. "Must be a coincidence."

"You know how to impress. What you've done is just... not even an experienced knight has done that. I see great things in your future, rookie," the knight continued. "You have the blood of a champion. I can see the fire of war in your eyes. If we work together, we can show the assassins the true wrath of a king, like Leo before us."

"Or, we could just wait and let the assassins kill Rex, too," Mohatu suggested.

By the look of the knight's gaze, he did not seem to like the idea. "And loyalty will fall even further, if the outsiders are seen to be that powerful," Inari replied. "Unless we kill Rex, we will not be able to keep the disciples from rebelling against us. Trust me. This is the easiest way. Hell, it's the only way! This is the way of our ancestors. This is what Leo would want us to do."

Mohatu cocked his head aside, still suggesting an alternative idea. "But maybe the assassins would be happy to join us... don't you think? We have the same goal in mind, I'm sure. We help them; they help us. I'm sure their support could be rather useful."

"The assassins will stop at nothing to see us all dead," Inari retorted, from under the harsh canopy shadow of a palm tree. "You're an idiot if you think they'll join us. The assassins hate us. They hate our ancestors. They won't follow their own heritage. They seek to destroy what we've uncovered."

"But, I'm not so sure that's true," Mohatu argued passively. "Mari was once Leo's best friend... I don't think she would have killed him. Maybe she never even killed Leo. I think it's possible that he never died..."

"Make no mistake," Inari warned. "The assassins are evil."

The knight inhaled a breath of fresh air, before he began speaking with a less forceful tone. "But... I wouldn't be surprised if Leo was still alive, out there somewhere..." he replied. "Leo... I don't know. I still can't believe he's gone. He was too... he was too strong to die. Sometimes, I wonder..."

Knight Inari's eyes expanded dramatically. He paused for several seconds, while he choked on his own spit. "Wait... did you know Mari?"

"I knew all the Pridelanders, just as I knew Leo," Mohatu answered truthfully. "I lived with them, when I was younger. But now... they're the assassins." Leo paused for a moment, so that his words could sink into Inari's mind. "Isn't that odd?" he asked. "The assassins are the remaining survivors of Leo's family."

"How do you know all this?" Inari asked, with no small tone of accusation in his voice. He stood up on all four of his paws, and started breathing down Mohatu's face. "Are you a spy? Are you with them? You're too skilled to be a rookie. You know too much..."

Mohatu stood still. Instead of saying a word, he merely stared into Inari's eyes. Time slowed down to a standstill, but the intensity of the situation never died. "Do you trust me?" Leo asked slowly, breaking a long silence.

"No..." Inari stepped forward, beginning to unsheathe the tips of his front claws.

Leo disagreed. "Then perhaps you shouldn't ask me to kill Minerva..."

Unappeased by the reaction, Inari drug out his claws into their full, extended length and placed his forepaw around Mohatu's throat. At the same time, his other forepaw slid up the backside of Mohatu's neck and pushed back. The knight's grip was perfect, and he remained in a position to kill his subordinate in less than an instant.

"My allegiance is to King Leo," Inari stated coldly. "If you are one of the assassins, I'll kill you right here."

Mohatu's breaths grew rampant, but he did not dare to move on the outside. He knew how to get out of the choke hold, although that was the least of his concerns. Leo didn't want to fight back; he had a loyal follower, and what was quite literally the key to the kingdom. He had to approach Inari carefully—not because he feared death, but because he feared losing his golden opportunity.

"I am not an assassin," Mohatu stated clearly and truthfully, looking Inari square in the eye. The tension and pressure was intense, but Mohatu knew he held the upper paw.

"But I want you to understand," began Mohatu, almost condescendingly. "My allegiance is not to King Leo, either. I fight only for truth and understanding. I am here to understand the ways of our ancestors, not blindly follow them. I will decide what is right for myself."

Inari tightened his grip on Mohatu's throat. "You're avoiding the question," he insisted, interrogating Leo. "How do you know so much? Have you been helping the assassins?"

"No," Mohatu lied simply. "I came to Giza for answers. I just want to know what happened to Leo, before and after he became the king. I am not an assassin, and I am not here to cause trouble."

Inari slightly released the pressure on Mohatu's throat. However, he did not remove his paws. "Then why did you agree to help me fight Minerva and Rex?"

"Because I think I know the answer," Mohatu explained.

Finally, Inari retracted his paws from Mohatu's trachea. He stepped back, curious and no longer threatened. "Go on," he insisted.

"I know that Leo and Rex left their family as adolescents, to protect their pride from Hyenas. Leo chased them into the desert, where he murdered them and found Giza. Something happened out here... something inspired him to become the next king. I believe he was searching for the keys to the tomb of Regulus."

Inari remained still, but his eyes widened. "He was."

Mohatu nodded, before continuing where he left off. "The assassins have the artifact of King Algenubi, but they have no idea what it is. They can't find the other seven. I believe Mari came here to discover the artifact's purpose."

Rather unexpectedly, Knight Inari began walking back through the labyrinth and away from Mohatu. "Leo guarded the artifacts he found himself," Inari explained, looking back. "But when Rex assumed leadership, he hid the artifacts from us. I have not seen them since."

Stepping back onto his own four paws, Mohatu quickly followed Inari back on the path. "That's... what I thought."

"This is why we have no other choice," Inari answered. "We need the assassins, Minerva, and Rex dead. It is the only way to uncover all the artifacts."

Although the situation was starting to unfold in a positive light, Mohatu's steps grew more hesitant, as the moments passed. "I hope it doesn't have to come to that," he stated wistfully. "I would like to avoid killing them."

"That won't be possible," Inari retorted. "Violence is the only way."

"I..." Mohatu began, but quickly lost his voice. "I understand," he lied.

"So you'll do it?" Inari asked.

"Yes," Mohatu agreed. "Convince Minerva to promote me to the rank of knight. I will kill her and take her place as the leader of her pride—and together—we will be strong enough to kill the assassins and the king. Only then will we have all the artifacts at the tips of our paws."

"Good," Inari stated. "Now go kill Zuria and Buraya to gain prestige. I'll go talk to Minerva."

"It will be done," Mohatu lied with a decisive grin.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » February 28th, 2014, 12:13 pm

chapter 35: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 35: Mohatu's Pride


The one and only falling orb of sunlight approached the western horizon, thus throwing the sinkhole near Giza under a field of shadows. Although a few hours remained before nightfall, the heat of midday had already passed. The temperatures were falling, and the brightness of the entire dusty landscape was decreasing at a steady but imperceptible rate.

It was at that sinkhole where Zuria rested beside Rafiki, and where Mari and Buraya joined up to meet them. Although they were still waiting on Mohatu, their plans for the night were soon to become realized. It was only a matter of time before the onslaught of hell, and that much was certain.

"Puh!" Buraya exhaled, as he spat the upper half of a wildebeest carcass in front of Zuria's closed eyelids. "Here you go," he teased his sister. "I slobbered all over it for ya."

Mari released a sigh with a simultaneous dart of her eyes. "Is that really necessary?" she belatedly asked.

"Yes," Buraya grinned in sarcastic retort. "Is it really necessary for you to be all highfalutin and uppity? Is it really necessary for you to think you're better than everyone else, just because you're the good guy?"

Once again, Mari struggled to comprehend even the nearest reaches of Buraya's perceived stupidity. Her tail twitched slightly. "Why... just why," she started to ask, although her words were more akin to a declaration of contempt, rather than an actual question. "Why am I even talking to you right now?" she later inquired, with no lack of anger in her voice.

In absolute truth, neither the lion nor the lioness knew the answer to that question. The aforementioned fact was quickly exemplified by the lack of silence that followed—although it did not last long. For a few seconds, the only sounds to be heard were the occasional chirps and calls of insects.

It was not Buraya who broke the silence, however. Nor was it the occupied Rafiki, who had previously sat humming and stirring even more concoctions in his cracked fruit shells. With Zuria asleep in an artificially-induced coma, the interruption of peace came from the pawsteps of a fourth lion, whose identity was doubtlessly Mohatu.

"Good news," Mohatu boomed suddenly, from the upper edge of the sinkhole's rim. His paws twitched with an itch from the grasses beneath them, but it did not detract from his focus. "And bad news, too," Mohatu continued, trying not to convey an overly optimistic message.

"While I'm already in a rut," Mari began with exaggerated frustration, "let's hear the bad news first." She was quick to turn away from Buraya, thus giving all her attention to Leo.

"The bad news is that Buraya and Zuria are dead," Mohatu announced. "And..." he continued slowly, pausing for a moment. He tilted his head while he licked his lips from a surge of nervousness. "I'm going to need to assassinate Queen Minerva."

"Well..." Mari thought for a moment, somewhat relieved. Although she didn't seem too happy with what her companion had said, she wasn't totally opposed to the idea, either. "That's all? I thought you were going to say something worse than that."

"What?" Buraya asked, just afterward. He scratched his head with his paw, not quite comprehending the idea that Mohatu was trying to convey. "What do you mean I'm dead? I'm too awesome to die."

"Buraya..." Mohatu began. "You're supposed to be dead. I'm supposed to kill you. Got it?"

One of Buraya's hindpaws immediately retreated backward, while an expanding look of concern grew on his face. "But I'm supposed to be a knight! Why...?"

"I'm not actually going to kill you," Mohatu stated. "I just want you to stay here, at the sinkhole. I'm going to need your help after I assassinate Minerva."

"Wait a minute," Mari suddenly interrupted. "What's going on? Why don't you start from the beginning," she suggested. "This is getting a little confusing, even for me." The orange lioness inhaled a heavy breath. "I thought our plan was to—"

"Okay," Mohatu agreed, jumping down from the ledge shortly thereafter. As he regained his balance in the mouth of the cave, he straightened his spine out and waited for Rafiki to notice.

"Can you... fight?" Mohatu asked Rafiki, as soon as the latter looked upward. "Do you still have that ancient weapon?"

"Sure do," exclaimed the baboon. He reached behind his back with his hand, and suddenly brought the weapon between his eyes and the lion's nose in under an instant. "Ahh-yah! Hah! Rafiki know Kung Fu!"

Mohatu raised his paw, and gently parried the sword from his face. "Good," he responded simply, although an expansive smile of satisfaction lifted from the corners of his muzzle. "You... can fight with us."

"Alright now," Mari insisted, although still calm with her voice. "What's going on? Who are we fighting and why?"

"As I said, the bad news is that I have to assassinate Minerva," Mohatu reiterated himself. He then raised his head and shook the fringes of his mane away from his eyebrows. "But the good news is that Minerva's death will set us forward.

"Minerva's death will serve as a scapegoat," Leo added. "I'll become a knight, soon. At the ceremony, I'll kill her. I'll be able to take control of her pride, and from there, we'll have control of Giza. We'll be working with Knight Inari to lure Rex into a trap. Then, we can defeat him, and take the remaining keys to the tomb of Regulus. I'll be able to confront the ancient kings and end this mess, once and for all."

"So..." Mari's eyes widened. "Inari told you this? How much did you tell him?"

"A... lot," Mohatu admitted, rather hesitantly. "But he doesn't know who I am. He doesn't know what's important."

"And you think you can trust him?" Mari asked.

Initially, Mohatu's answer was merely a simple statement of reassurance. "Yes." However, as a gentle wind grazed across his fur, the brown-maned lion decided to elaborate. "I think Inari is using me as the bait... but it's not like I'm unprepared," the lion continued. "Killing Minerva was his idea... he just wants me to do it. If I tell Minerva about this, then..."

At that point, Mari wasn't sure if she should hold back her smile. "You play a dangerous game," she stated, in what was largely a dry tone. "You're going to try to play both sides of this, aren't you?"

"Well..." Mohatu stuttered. "I didn't blackmail him..."

"I..." Mari began, but paused for several seconds. Her breaths passed at a normal rate, while her thoughts conflicted with one another and ran amuck in her mind. "I know what you're thinking, but I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not. No matter who you side with, either Minerva or Inari is probably going to die. They hate each other, don't they?"

"Minerva might offer a better reward," Mohatu stated. "If I tell her about Inari's plans and work with her, I'll look good in her eyes. If I don't, I'll have Inari's assistance. Either way, we're on the path to confront Rex. I just need to do something to get my brother's attention."

Mari raised her brow. "You're going to pick one side?" she asked, with a surprisingly large sense of deviousness in her voice. "I was expecting you to say that you were going to play both sides. Knowing you, that's what you'd do."

"Ideally, I'd rather stop them from killing each other..." Mohatu thought aloud. "But if they're determined to vie for control of Giza, I could use this to my advantage."

"Right," Mari replied.

After several moments of silence, Mari continued with an entirely different thought. "But... I am worried about something else," she admitted. "Look," she added, lowering her voice and directing her eyes toward Mohatu specifically. "I think we need to talk in private, for a little bit."

"Sure," Mohatu shrugged. "I was going to tell you the same, actually..."

However, before the duo could get very far, their moment was sullied by a sudden laughter. "Hah," Buraya chuckled. "Are you two love birds going to go build a nest for tonight?"

Mohatu exhaled heavily. "I wish," he retorted. Following a roll of his eyes, the lion was quickly reminded that he could only dream of such fantasies. "But... no," he answered. "You don't understand; it's not like that."

Mari simply nodded. "We won't be long. I just have something I want to talk about. That's all. I'll be back before sundown."

"Yeah..." Mohatu agreed. He then looked back at Rafiki, Zuria, and Buraya. "You guys stay here. I don't want you to go anywhere or be seen until I decide how we're going to do this."

"But..." Buraya whined.

"It's the king's orders," Leo insisted sternly, easily shutting the other up.


---



Mari walked slowly away from the outer edge of the sinkhole, after she pulled herself up onto ground level. Her path followed up the stream of water, to the shadow of a surprisingly large thorn bush.

At that spot, the lioness stretched her paws out on the ground. A shallow roar of relaxation escaped her muzzle, while she felt the tingling sensation of freedom at the tip of her paws and tail. Finally, she at last had her fresh air.

At the climax of her relief, Mari lowered her weight to the ground and proceeded to roll over onto her side. A bit of sand kicked into her fur and rocks pushed into her spine, but that was irrelevant. She was away from Buraya—that was what truly mattered to her. After the hours she had spent with him, she couldn't get far enough away.

Meanwhile, Mohatu followed behind at an even slower pace. Glancing back over his shoulder, he checked to make sure that neither Buraya nor Rafiki had followed. "So..." he then began. "What were you wanting to talk about?"

Mari exhaled a heavy breath, without moving a single muscle. "I... just wanted to get away," she insisted. "I can't stand to be around him for another minute. I swear... my head is going to explode from his stupidity."

"Who?" Mohatu inquired. "Are you talking about Buraya?"

"Yeah," answered the lioness. "I can only tolerate it for so long. He's just... ugh!" She then violently scratched the top of her head with a forepaw, in some sort of attempt to make the pain of annoyance go away.

"Welp, I don't like him either," Mohatu admitted, keeping his forepaws firm in the sand. "But we do need him. We'll need them both in the future. I'm not going to kill him."

"I don't trust him," Mari retorted, momentarily lifting her tail with a twitch.

"But you trust me, right?" Mohatu asked, seeking reassurance.

"Of course I trust you," Mari answered quickly, without ever a second thought. "You... you're different. I've known you for most of my life, and what you did wasn't out of spite. You never—"

Mohatu shook his head while he placed his hindpaw over the lioness's tail, suddenly bringing her thoughts to a halt. "But how is Buraya any different?" he asked. "How do you know he's so bad? Maybe he just doesn't know any better."

"You're right," Mari answered. "He doesn't know any better, and that's the problem." The lioness grasped a clump of dirt with her paw, and pushed it along the length of her shoulder's rotation. "How can I teach someone who just doesn't get it? How can I make him understand? It's impossible."

"I think I might be able to," Mohatu answered. "He seems to respect me, at least. Maybe, if I..."

"It's not worth your time," Mari retorted. "Just... trust me on this one."

"What do you suggest I do, then?" Mohatu asked. "I know what you're thinking but, it's just... we've come too far. We're so damn close... we can't back out now. I have to go through with this, one way or another, and I need help."

"That is not the kind of help you need," Mari replied. "You can play your games of deception with Minerva and Inari, but Buraya's loudmouth is going to cause the very problem I've worked so hard to avoid..."

"That will happen anyway," Mohatu insisted. "You know what I'm up against. You know what I need to do."

Mari rolled over onto her stomach, releasing yet another sigh of her breath. "I wish I didn't."

Mohatu stood still for a few seconds, watching Mari closely while she did the same. The lion's eyes never blinked, but his head eventually started to fall. He thought about taking a step forward, but he eventually decided against it. "Mari?" he asked slowly. "Are you okay?"

The lioness had seemed to be fine earlier, but something changed. She was no longer as sparky as she was that morning. Her energy had been drained, and although Mohatu brought good news and bad news, Mari's outlook wasn't all that positive anymore. Something was wrong; something was bothering her.

The lioness lowered her head to rest above her forepaws. She did not look Mohatu in the eye; instead, she merely gazed at his leftover wildebeest from the afternoon. "Yeah," she replied lethargically, before changing the subject. "Are you going to eat that?"

"The wildebeest leg?" Mohatu asked.

"Yeah."

Mohatu answered the lioness's question with the sniff of his nose. In less than a mere moment, he sat down beside Mari, and began to chow down. He hadn't quite gotten to eat his fair share yet, although spending the time alone with Mari made it all worth it in the end. He didn't just savor every bite—he savored every breath, too. Every second he spent beside the the lioness was a second in heaven.

"It wasn't easy hiding that from Buraya," Mari explained with little energy, never lifting her head from the lazy comfort of her paws. "He's such a pain to deal with..."

As he picked apart a chunk of meat with his teeth, Mohatu leaned into Mari a little closer. "Why?" he asked, expressing his concern for the lioness's peculiar behavior. "What did he do?"

"You know..."

"I know he's annoying," Mohatu continued. "But I don't think he's that bad."

"No," Mari said. "He's not..."

"What is it, then?"

"It's not him," Mari answered. Her ears fell downward, and her voice drifted away. "It's me."

Leo was surprised by Mari's change of tone, although he did not bring himself to move. He merely waited for the lioness to explain. Even after several seconds, she never did. "What do you mean?" Mohatu asked in consequence, after those few moments of delay.

"This whole day has just been crazy," the golden lioness explained. "We've killed so many today. I think... I don't know. Maybe the stress is starting to get to us."

"What do you mean?" Mohatu inquired again. "We're doing what we have to do."

"Maybe you think you are, but I'm not so sure. We killed a whole bunch of snakes, and then we almost killed Buraya and Zuria. We killed all those wildebeest, and even other innocent creatures too. Now you're talking about killing Minerva, and... I don't know. It's too much. This is happening too fast. We're causing the very problem we're trying to avoid."

"We didn't have any other choice," Mohatu tried to argue passively. "What else are we going to do?"

"It's all because of that stupid tomb," Mari answered. "Don't you wonder what happened to yourself out here? How do you know the same thing isn't going to happen all over again? How do I know we won't become the new rulers of Africa?"

Mari closed her eyes, and her ears fell to the sides of her head. "I just want to go home... I want this to be over already. I'm tired of killing. I'm tired of having nightmares about it all."

"I know," Mohatu added. "I'd like that too..."

"But we can't," Mari continued, speaking with a small trace of sadness in her voice. "Ever since you discovered these keys, you've been fighting for them. There's always going to be a fight for them, isn't there?"

"You heard what King Denebola said," Mohatu added. "I need to confront Rex. Maybe I won't have to kill him, but I need to fight him. I'm not doing this because I want to—and that's why I'm not going to make the same mistake again. This is the prophecy... but I can end it."

"If you say so," Mari replied. "But I..."

"You what?"

"I..." Mari stuttered, as she finally began to express her worries. "I haven't felt like... myself, today. It's this place. It's this environment." The lioness's body began to chill unexpectedly, as she tilted her head aside and across the ground. "I know it seems crazy, but the energy is just... overpowering. I can feel it. It begs me to give into it."

"What do you mean?"

Mari closed her eyes, and started to speak at an even slower pace. "For a minute today, I... I wanted to kill Buraya. I was so close to fighting him. I want to see him die like the fool he is."

"No, you don't," Mohatu stated.

Mari tilted her head up, surprised by her companion's certainty. "Yes, I do. The way those two fought each other, the way he talked to me, the way he kicked sand at me—yes, I want him to die."

"But look at yourself," Mohatu explained. "You're just as guilty as I've ever been. We didn't kill him while we had the chance, and we won't. You know I won't, and you know you won't, either. You know it isn't right."

"That doesn't make it okay," Mari retorted. "It doesn't matter if I feel bad for it; the fact that we've killed so many today isn't going to change. I know we killed Usama and Ganji's prides, but this... this is different. We killed innocent creatures today, and not because we needed to do it for our own survival.

"This isn't war," Mari continued. "These aren't warriors we're fighting... not anymore. They're other lions were plotting to kill. We actually are assassins, now. We're killing to gain power over them. We're talking about killing innocents for the purpose of proving our own superiority."

"But I'm not," Mohatu insisted. "You know I'm trying not to do that. I want them to join me. Last year, I was able to unite the prides by killing Musashi, but now I'm trying to unite the prides by fulfilling the prophecy. I can make this work; just give me a chance."

"Perhaps you can, but how can I? Do you have any idea how hard it is not to rip Buraya to shreds? I can barely control myself. I hate him."

"Maybe you should just stay away from him for a while," Mohatu suggested. "Rafiki should be watching over him and Zuria for now, so maybe you can avoid him for the rest of the night. Maybe..."

Mari set her head back down on the ground. Her breaths grew longer and deeper, but she never quite managed to rest her mind.

"Maybe..." Mohatu repeated himself, before terminating his thoughts at once. "Do you just want to take a nap? I wouldn't mind staying here for a while. "

"I guess," responded Mari. Although her voice seemed uncertain, her lack of energy proved otherwise.

At that moment, Mohatu set himself down on the ground adjacent to his golden-orange companion. Within a matter of seconds, he cleared a spot in the dirt for the lioness to rest beside him, but she never looked. She didn't see it. She didn't know.

"You can come over here, if you want," Leo offered. "I cleared out all the rocks."

The lioness closed her eyes. "That's okay. I think I just need to rest for a while."

Mohatu did not respond. He merely sat still, watching the lioness's gentle but ceaseless breaths. Although he wanted her to move beside him, she never did. It was Mohatu's desire to hold the lioness tight and give her comfort, but she just didn't seem to know or care. She didn't understand how much she was loved. She really was tired. Too tired to move.

However, Leo could not tolerate the silence for long. After seeing the lioness's distress, he had to say something. "Hey Mari..." Mohatu began slowly, but struggled to find something appropriate to say. "You know I..."

Mohatu bit his lip for a moment, before he could express his words. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you," he stated, at long last. He had said something similar in the past, but he felt it necessary to repeat himself. "I'm not going to let anything happen to Buraya or Zuria or Rafiki, either. You guys are my pride now." At the trailing end of the lion's words, his face broke out into a barely perceptible but irrefutable smile. "And it's only going to get bigger from here."

"This may be your pride," Mari answered belatedly, "but it isn't mine."

Mohatu lifted his head back. "Mhm?" It was an odd response to hear, at the very least.

"I can't wait to go home," Mari explained. "I can't wait to get away from Buraya... and see my mom again. I can't wait to see her reaction, once I tell her about what all we've found, and what all we've done. It would be so nice to be with a real pride again."

"What about me?" Mohatu asked. "Don't you think I'm..."

"No, I can't think," Mari's voice sparked a retort. "You know, I don't really know what to think anymore. I need a break."

"But..."

Mari exhaled every ounce of air in her lungs, but otherwise never moved a muscle. Her breath interrupted Mohatu, but she waited momentarily before speaking. "Honestly, I don't trust Buraya. I'm not sure if I can trust Zuria. I have no idea what Inari is planning, and I'm sure Minerva is out to kill us, too. I'm not even sure if I trust myself anymore."

"But you do trust me," Mohatu stated.

"Yes..."

Mohatu's ears expressed a hint of delight at the response. "Well, I trust you, and I'm glad to have you here with me. You know I'd be lost without you."

In the moments that followed, Mohatu watched the corners of Mari's mouth form into a shallow smile, while she rested beside the thorn bush. It wasn't much, but it was certainly a sign of relief in and of itself.

"Yeah," Mari replied. "Well... thanks. I'm sorry about all this... it's just not easy. Especially when you run off and leave me to deal with the idiot on my own. I... was not prepared for that."

Mohatu licked his lips with pleasure at the thought. "If I could spend all day with you, I would."

Mari's shallow smile eventually formed into a grin, exposing the shiny outsides of her white teeth. "Yeah... I know." Although her voice denied it, the look on the lioness's face proved that she liked the thought. "Just let me get some rest for a while. We can talk about this later."

Mohatu's only response was a purr of satisfied laziness. "Okay."

Perhaps that wasn't what Mari wanted to talk about, but that was what he wanted to discuss. Now that events were starting to unravel, and Mohatu's true character was becoming increasingly apparent, he knew that things were about to change for the better. Mari wasn't his mate yet, but he was sure that she had already changed her mind. The nervous grin spoke for itself.


---



Buraya's eyes wandered over to a shiny, pointy, and metal object, lying beside Rafiki. He stepped closer to get a better look, before bending down to check it out with his nose. It was a magnificent sight, but its scent reeked from the blandness of iron composites. As his nose got closer, he cut himself on the object's blade.

"Ouch! What is this?" Buraya asked. "It's like... some sort of ancient cutting thing!"

"It is a sword," Rafiki explained. "Hehehe, careful!"

The unskilled lion walked over to the other end, where he managed to grab the handle between his teeth. From there, he picked the sword up with the movement of his head, and began swinging and swooshing the weapon around with utmost danger. It swished and swashed through the air, eventually causing Rafiki to duck his head. Crackling whips of air packets exploded thereafter, as the sword broke through the sound barrier.

"Hey hey hey! Careful with that!" the blue mandrill exclaimed. This time, it was not a statement of caution. The baboon's voice was a stern declaration of command. He rolled forward to get in close under Buraya's mane, and then he snatched the sword from the lion's teeth. "This is not a weapon for lions!"

"Aww..." Buraya sighed, after his initial jumpy reaction. "But it looks like fun. I want to kill Zuria with it!" The lion then dropped his head, signaling his sudden disappointment at the thought of such a lost opportunity. "I bet it makes a really awesome sound when you push it all the way through a bone.

"Jeez," Buraya continued, after several moments of reflective silence. He could imagine it all, and almost a little too vividly in his head. "I could be such a badass knight with a weapon like that..."

Rafiki carefully placed the weapon back in its sheath. "No sword for you!" he stated quickly, before tapping Buraya upside the head with a moderately forceful dink. Since the weapon was now back in its protective case, the hit barely hurt Buraya at all.

Rafiki stepped back, pulling the weapon up by his waist. It slid into position around a braided set of vines, which acted as a belt and holster. "Do you not have enough bloody noses?" he teased.

"No!" Buraya insisted. "I want two more," he answered sarcastically.

Rafiki placed his hand back on the sword, and proceeded to unsheathe the weapon once again. Although Buraya was quite the sarcastic lion, it seemed as if he had just met his match.

"No no no," Buraya finally answered truthfully. "You don't have to do that!"

And with that response, Rafiki turned his attention away. His job had been accomplished, and so his focus shifted back to the gourds of fruits, herbs, and chemicals. The humming resumed, and Buraya's brain returned to soup.

"This... is... so..." Buraya mumbled with exaggeration. "BORING!"

Meanwhile, Rafiki ignored the impatient lion. His focused never shifted from his work, which he apparently presumed to be much more important.

"LEO," the lion yelled, "WHEN ARE YOU GETTING BACK?" After hearing only an echo of himself for a response, Buraya started to pout under the steep slope of the sinkhole. "Hurry up Leo. I want to go zebra tipping tonight."

In his state of extreme boredom, Buraya was only reminded of how much he hated guard duty. No matter what, he always found himself in such situations—bored, really bored, or bored to death and back to life again. Even after the return of the king, he was always bored.

"Ugh!" the lion exclaimed relentlessly. Seeking nothing other than the mere thrill of mild amusement, he walked back over to Rafiki, where he began to take interest in the funky-smelling mixtures. "What's all this?"

"Baobab ale," Rafiki answered. He reached his hand out to politely offer the lion a sip of his mixture. "It's good stuff... but I think I may have made it a little too strong. Hehe!"

"What does it do?" Buraya asked, sticking the pad of his nose all the way into the shell.

"It's alcohol..."

Although it stung the cut on his nose, Buraya didn't pull his head back. He submerged his face in the liquid, and quickly downed the entire bowl with a single gulp of inhalation.

"Ahh..." the lion muttered, now more relaxed than ever before. It did not take more than a few seconds before the lion's paws gave out, and he crashed to the ground with a boom and a bang. His lights turned off, and his breaths slowed to a smooth sail of calmness.

"Hehe!" Rafiki giggled. "No zebra tipping for you! Nighty night; sleepy tight! Don't let the termites bite!"
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » March 23rd, 2014, 7:31 am

chapter 36: show
A/N: Just a fair word of warning, here. This chapter is really, really long. This is by far the longest yet, and probably the longest I'll ever write. It even dwarfs chapter 20. I would break this one up into two chapters, but then it would be too weird because it's all one scene. This one is also written from a bit of a different and more detailed perspective than the others—and yes, there is a reason for that, as you'll see later.

For the story as a whole, I can now say that there will be a total of 40 chapters, not including a short epilogue at the end. That said, you can expect the remaining four chapters to be longer than usual. This is finally it, and everything is coming together for the ending. I'm almost done, and though I've been dragging it out for a long time, I promise that the events I have planned for the end will be worth it.


---


A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 36: Sunset


Splat!

The odd, mushy sound of a squish forced reality to come back to life. In response, Mari's eyelids slid open, and her jawline reached upward. That was it; her short nap was over. Brightness rushed in to accommodate her view of the world.

The reddish hue of the horizon dominated Mari's perception, as the falling sun coated every inch of the landscape with its eerie, crimson glow. It was almost as if the entire pyramid complex had stained the sky with its chill of blood, or something like that, anyway. The deep red wasn't exactly the prettiest sight, but it was rather unique and unusual, nevertheless. It wasn't quite like anything anyone had ever seen in the Pridelands.

Releasing a slight yawn, the lioness rose back up on her paws. After her relaxing little catnap, she was beginning to feel a little bit more clear-minded. It had been a long and strenuous day, even by her standards—but the energy in her core was starting to replenish.

And playfully so, at that. Hell was about ensue, certainly, but the lioness didn't want to spend her final hours before the inevitable battle in a state of worry. After all, Mohatu seemed like he had the situation under control, and what he said had helped to calm her a little. She just needed to rest for a while, and that was what she had done. Now, her attitude was a bit closer to the positive side. Not much, but measurably so.

Mari glanced back over to her flank, where she found Mohatu lazily resting near the same thorn bush. His appearance—his mane especially—was unusually colored. Instead of the typical shades of brown, Mohatu glowed a deep crimson underneath the intense, lateral sunlight from the West. It was just as peculiar as the bloody horizon itself, though only barely notable to the unobservant eye.

However, that wasn't what immediately caught Mari's attention. As she inspected the male, her face started to grow into an unusually large grin. Although she had been wondering what the mushy sound was that awakened her, she now knew.

Mohatu turned his head around to meet the lioness's restless gaze. He, too, started to grin in return. He refused to say anything, in fear of breaking Mari's enlightening smile. She was quite something—especially when she looked at him like that.

Mari started to giggle. "Umm..." she began slowly. "You do realize you just got crapped on, right?"

"Did I?" Mohatu asked. His eyes darted up to the brilliant shades of the magnificently colored sky, where he immediately saw a flock of birds circling around above him. He then leaped to his paws and shook his mane. As the fibers of his hairs moved from side to side, it did not take long before he found the sticky, wet spot on his glowing back. "Eww..."

"This is why I like to sleep in dens..." Mari stated, lightly amused by her companion's sudden change of attitude. "I don't know why, but you've always had this problem."

Mohatu reached his forepaw up backward, and brushed the poo off of his mane. Quickly, he then began to rub his pawpad through the dirt, in a meager attempt to clear off the nastiness. "This is disgusting!" he replied with great resent.

"Yep..." Mari agreed. After a sudden pause, she knew precisely how she wanted to continue the conversation. "Those birds must really like you. But what else can I say? Being crapped on is a small price to pay for being a chick magnet," she added, signifying a small flirtatious intonation.

Mohatu's eyes widened. His pupils, especially, dilated to roughly four times their normal size. Was she implying something? The way she said that seemed a little too suggestive. He had been wanting to get the relationship ball rolling for quite some time, but that—that was the encouragement he had been waiting for.

Certainly, it was a very good sign.

The uplifting feeling Mari brought him quickly drove the thoughts of disgust from Leo's mind. He had wiped the avian dung from his mane, and he had cleaned his paw by rubbing it across the sand. He was clean enough, or so he figured. Now, a totally different type of thought filled his consciousness.

He was standing beside a beautiful lioness who seemed to be flirting with him. In all honesty, there wasn't much else for him to think about.

"A chick magnet, huh?" Mohatu asked for confirmation. His grin returned, and his question incited an obvious shiver beneath Mari's fur. "Is that what you think of me?" he fawned, tilting his head to the side and exposing the smile of his teeth.

"Well... I... um..." The lioness twitched one of her ears. "Are you... sure you want to talk about that?" she asked, with a painfully exaggerated slowness in her voice. Although she seemed somewhat annoyed by the fact that Mohatu had brought the subject up again, she secretly thanked him for doing just that.

Mari gulped afterward, realizing this was her chance to tell him how she felt. She knew she had to choose her words carefully. This was it, now or never.

"Yeah," Mohatu nodded. "If that's what you think, we could always spend the night out here by ourselves. Whatever you want is okay with me. I don't mind, but I was thinking, maybe we can just... you know..."

To be truthful, Mari didn't really know what he was thinking. With the crimson sun falling back behind the pyramids and the entire horizon lighting up in brilliant, contrasting rays of gold, purple, and pink, she could easily speculate about what he wanted to do. But that was it.

Mohatu shrugged his shoulders. "We could just spend the night out here," he suggested, repeating himself. "We've been so busy, lately, we haven't had any time to do anything together..."

Sharing another calm, relaxing night out under the stars was definitely a pleasant thought for the lioness, but she still wasn't totally sure if that was what she wanted. Of course she wanted it, but she also felt it necessary to stay focused on the more important goals. Even despite her playful attitude, she couldn't deny that part of herself—always steady and focused on the task at the front of her paws.

That was what she had told herself in the past, at least. Nevertheless, one simple fact remained; Mari wasn't really sure that was the reason that was keeping her from confessing her true feelings. Not anymore.

To be more precise, Mari knew that wasn't the reason why. It was only an excuse. There were many other thoughts occupying the lioness's mind, and she struggled to rush through them all and formulate an accurate response.

"Come on," Mohatu persuaded with a wink. "It'll be nice to have some time to ourselves... away from Buraya."

A tingle of nervousness brewed in Mari's stomach. Her ears jittered for a moment, while her eyes momentarily fell to the sand below her paws. Once again, she looked like she had a lot to say, but she did not seem to know how she wanted to say it.

But suddenly, something changed.

Mari's eyes lit up again, glamorously reflecting the sunset in the center of her pupils. She raised her eyebrows with a sly grin, and started to smile across the corners of her muzzle. It was like a playful sort of idea had just been planted in her mind.

Regardless of whatever that idea was, she seemed ready to speak freely, now. Mari took a deep breath, and prepared herself to say what she needed to. At that instant, her jaw opened, but not a single word sounded from her throat. In fact, Mari's only tangible response was a shallow, nervous giggle with the slight lateral movements of her head.

Meanwhile, Mohatu braced himself to finally hear what he had been waiting for. His excitement churned in his stomach, but he tried to keep his cool on the outside.

Somehow, he simply knew that this time, it was going to be different. It seemed crazy, but he could not argue with what he felt inside. He felt as if he loved Mari, and he could not deny that Mari loved him, even though she hadn't quite admitted it. It was just the simple look she gave him, which spoke more than a million words—two of which were come hither.

Yes, it was that look.

There was no questioning it anymore, not after all he had been through. Mohatu's intuition had not led him astray in the past, and he was sure that it would not do so now. He had never been any more sure of anything in his life.

He could see it in Mari's happy, star-crossed gaze. Something about her had changed since they had arrived at Lea Halalela. Mari was so much different, now; it was undeniable and indisputable. She was more open, more honest, more playful, more confident, and even more lovable than ever before. She was a happier lioness now, and it was all because of him.

This time, she was going to say yes.

And why wouldn't she?

Mohatu knew he could provide Mari with anything and everything she wanted. Not only had he dedicated his life to helping her destroy his own kingdom, but he shared her visions of the future of their pride, as well. She obviously enjoyed being around him, and he enjoyed her company. It was a win-win situation for both of the lions, no matter how he looked at it.

But the lioness's voice suddenly seemed to contradict that. It was like a sudden flip of personality, which transpired in under a second. "I thought I already told you how I feel about this," she began slowly, almost condescending in tone.

Mari's change of attitude was most odd, and totally unexpected.

"Yeah... you did," Mohatu whispered to himself, only slightly above Mari's threshold of hearing.

But that wasn't what Leo was truly thinking. Quite honestly, he was only baffled. What he heard wasn't what Mari was supposed to say. She was supposed to lay down in the sand, then smile and whisper something far more lovely. He could even see it in his imagination, like it was actually about to happen.

Wasn't it going to happen?

Suddenly, Mohatu entered a completely different frame of mind. All the confidence he once had, only seconds ago, started to wash away. Unless it was just a joke, what Mohatu now had in his mind was nothing other than a bumbling fool's disappointment.

Needless to say, the situation wasn't going as he planned. Mohatu thought for sure that Mari liked him. She acted like she liked him. She never said that she didn't like him, which directly contrasted with the way she acted around Buraya. For that reason, it wasn't like she was just being nice, because she was afraid of rejecting him. That obviously wasn't the case.

There was something in there, deep within Mari's heart. He knew it. There had to be, Mohatu assured himself.

Mari had told Mohatu that she would consider a potential relationship with him—which meant she saw him as her best friend and a potential mate. Mari only seemed nervous, unsure, and indecisive; the answer was never a blunt and straightforward no.

Which, to Mohatu, meant yes. That was the way these things worked... right?

Mohatu's forepaw squirmed around in the sand. "But... you've been acting different, lately," he stated. "I just thought that... don't you...?" the lion tried to ask, without being too forceful. What he wanted to make clear to the lioness was only one simple message—she wasn't obligated to discuss the matter if she wasn't ready.

"I mean, whatever is okay with you is okay with me," Mohatu added anxiously. "I just want to know if you still think that..."

At the time, Leo only wanted to know if she was going to change her mind; that much was true. But now, as the reality of the situation fell upon him once again, he wasn't entirely sure that he was ready to talk about it, either. It was still a bit of a sensitive subject for him, even though he knew Mari wasn't going to be a jerk about it.

And, besides, he didn't want to appear too needy, either. Mari already knew the truth, so he had little reason to press the issue any further than she was comfortable with.

He had only brought the topic up because it seemed like the right time to ask. Considering the way the past few days had gone, it was one of only a few moments of peace, which made it a good opportunity, whether Mari was flirting with him or not.

So, as long as Mari was comfortable, that was fine with Mohatu. He wasn't going to push it. As long as she was happy, he was happy. That wasn't entirely true, of course, but that was what he tried to convince himself for the betterment of his sanity.

However, despite her apparent nervousness, Mari continued. "Leo..." the golden lioness explained softly. "I'm sorry... but you know how this is going to end."

Speaking more firmly, Mari straightened out her spine and paws. Her ears tilted forward, and her smile fell from her face. "Rejection," she answered with a very stern tone of voice.

A chill fell throughout Mohatu's body. His eyes ran to the ground, and his head collapsed beneath his mane. His entire body tilted downward. No, he didn't know it would end that way. He had no idea. Didn't she love him? Didn't she see him for who he truly was? Didn't she...?

Just with the tone of her voice, Mari made it seem so obvious that he shouldn't ever have considered the idea of being with her. Instantly, Mohatu felt like he was eternally wrong to think such a thing. Mari spoke as if Leo had just committed something akin to an act of murder—something totally unable to be condoned. It was almost like he wasn't allowed to love her.

"I know what I said before... and all of that is still true," the orange lioness stated, softening her appearance upon feeling her initial surge of guilt. "I never said that I don't like you."

Mari bit her tongue, wondering how to explain the rest of it in the way that she wanted to. Her sudden pause was accompanied by a deep sigh, in addition to a slight shake of her head. "But, I don't like you in the same way that you like me."

Instinctively, Mohatu refused to raise his head. What he heard was the answer he thought he no longer feared. It was not the answer he expected; instead, it was the impossible answer. It was the answer against all fathomable odds.

He tried not to let it bother him, but that simple task was far easier said than done.

To Mohatu's surprise, the reality of the situation punctured his heart even deeper than he thought it would. Nothing had changed; she was still the same lioness she was before. She still didn't like him, in the very same way she didn't like him before. There was no difference. There was no loss.

But that only remained true for the external world. Inside the world of Mohatu's head, it was a completely different situation. Once again, his only hopeful dreams were being busted and shattered to pieces, while he questioned his own perception.

It was like he should have seen it all along, but he only realized it seconds ago.

Mari didn't actually like him.

Prior to Mari's sudden disclosure, Leo still had a bit of hope—she said she would consider it. He felt as if he had a chance, like Mari was giving him a way to prove himself as being worthy of being her mate.

In consequence, everything Mohatu did was to please her, so that she would like him. That was why he fought against his own kingdom; there was no greater meaning behind his crusade. In truth, he had no other motivation. Of course, Leo did seek his own redemption, but that was minimal in comparison to what he hoped to do for Mari.

Acceptance in Mari's eyes was the only thing he had left to live for. What hurt him the most was his own false belief that he had been earning it.

After all, Mari had changed since that night before they found Lea Halalela. Something was definitely different about her, and she had been acting like she had feelings for him. It was even apparent in her movements, and the intricate patterns of her voice. Perhaps it was only some sort of pheromone that Mohatu had picked up on, but it was definitely there, whatever it was.

Or was it? Had Leo misinterpreted Mari's unbreakable friendship for something that was far deeper? He didn't know what was true.

Much to Mohatu's sudden, unfortunate surprise, he had to wonder if he was just being overdramatic and delusional. Mari was still his friend, and he knew she wasn't going to leave him for anything. Quite obviously, he was still lucky to have a friend like her, especially considering the circumstances he found himself in.

Yet, one important question remained: why couldn't he have been happy with that? What more could he truly have asked of a lioness, anyway? Leo didn't know the answers to those questions, either. The thoughts simply sat dormant in his mind, plaguing him from happiness.

Once again, the pain Mohatu felt was completely within himself, yet completely outside of his control. Although he was thankful for what Mari had done, he found no greater torment than her unexpected lack of mutual affection. For reasons he couldn't explain, it bothered him a little more than he was comfortable admitting.

"I think you're a good lion," Mari added. "And, I think you would make a good mate for some other lioness. I really appreciate all that you've tried to do for me..."

Mohatu shook his head. There it was; he had his final answer, for sure.

The rest was easy to ignore. He could barely shake the thought—Mari was only continuing because she felt guilty for rejecting him. It was almost as if she believed saying such things would actually make him feel better, like it would somehow make things right.

It did make him feel a bit better, but it was all negligible in comparison to his unexpected loss. It was like trying to heal a broken limb and a fractured bone, with only a shell full of water to rinse off the dirt. It was simply pointless.

It wasn't going to change anything. It didn't matter if he was the right lion for some other lioness; that wasn't what he wanted. Mari was one of a kind, and the more time Leo spent with other lionesses, the more he began to realize that. No other lioness had that same spark that Mari did. No other lioness even came close.

What he had with Mari was something he would never have with another lioness. It wasn't just a sort of emotional attachment to her; it was something even greater. Ever since he had gone by the name of Mohatu, Mari had almost become part of him, in a rather obvious way.

He was nothing without her, and that was hardly an exaggeration. Day after day, it remained true physically, emotionally, and possibly even spiritually. Without Mari, Mohatu would have ceased to exist, long ago. He knew it, she knew it—it was just a fact. Perhaps he was the prophet, but Mari... she was something else altogether, equally special in her own way.

He was her weapon, and she was his compass—two separate units, but combined together as one all-powerful, God-rivaling organism. United, they were nearly omniscient and omnipotent. They were partners in crime, in a world sworn to kill them both.

Their lives were closely intertwined and interdependent, and they both knew it. Every lion in Mari's pride had realized it long ago, including Mari herself. There was no coincidence—the entire mission to find Lea Halalela was the result of very deliberate planning, much of which was Mari's own. Their fates were obviously tied together in a way that even the wisest of creatures could only barely comprehend.

And that, Mohatu started to think, was why Mari was just being nice. She was using him. For a split second, he almost wondered if Mari was even his friend at all. Was she faking all of her affection, just to leech from his strength? Now, it started to seem like a possibility.

Either way, the lioness was only saying such comforting things to make him feel better, and not because they were true. If it was true that Leo was going to make a good mate for some other lioness, he would only believe it when he felt loved by some other lioness. That was simply a matter of facing reality. It was little more than wishful thinking.

As such, anything comforting that Mari said wasn't going to help for any longer than a few seconds. What Mohatu needed wasn't a lioness to tell him he would find love, but a lioness to actually show him love. There was no other way to completely fix the wound in his heart, and he had concluded that from his experiences days ago. He had already been through this before.

But, on the other side of the horizon, Mari almost seemed to carry a smirk, strangely enough. She looked like she was either hiding something, or simply enjoying the conversation. Though, to throw confusion into the mix, her smile was oddly sadistic, as were her words. "Well..." Mari continued. "I do like you, but not in the same way that you want me to like you. You're my best friend, and it just doesn't seem... right."

"But..." the other lion interjected sadly. Mohatu only started to wonder: how couldn't she love her best friend?

To Mohatu, the thought hardly made any sense at all. In fact, that was the very reason why he liked her as much as he did. She was always there for him, and he always wanted to be there for her. No other relationship could have felt more natural. It simply seemed right, like a refreshing sip of water to go with a delicious hunk of zebra.

What Mari had said just contradicted that, and he couldn't figure out why. It seemed totally backwards.

"You're a great guy," Mari added. "You deserve more than what I could give you... because I just don't feel that way. I'm sorry, I wish it wasn't true... but I can't do anything about it, and neither can you. That's just the way it is. It's not meant to be."

After a few seconds, Mari tried to wear a bit more of an earnest smile on her muzzle. "I know that's not what you want to hear," she continued. "I know you think I'm the lioness you need, but I'm not. I know how you feel about me, and... I just... I can't do that."

Leo could hardly believe it. Once again, what Mari said seemed totally backwards. She could do it; all she had to do was say yes. It would have made everything better for Mohatu. He would have leaped into the air with happiness and bounced up and down for hours without end, like a cub on caffeine. That one word of acceptance was all he needed.

It wouldn't have made his day, nor would it have made his year. It would have made the rest of his life so much better. It was all he ever wanted. It was the only thing he ever wanted. Acceptance. Recognition. Appreciation. Love.

For the longest time, Mari seemed like she understood everything. Only now did that cease to remain true. She claimed to understand, but no. There was no way she could possibly have understood what he was going through. What Mari didn't understand was that she, of all lionesses, was the very lioness that Mohatu needed.

And as such, Mari never seemed to relent. "Look, it's not that I don't like you," she explained. "I know how much you like me, and I do like you, but I... just don't like you that much. There is only one lion I think I could like that much, and you aren't him."

So there was someone else? Mohatu could only wonder what the lioness meant by that. By the suggestiveness of the her voice, the unfortunate answer was most likely yes.

Mohatu blinked his eyes. Simultaneously, his breath tensed up, under his chest. "Okay, I get it," he attempted to whisper aloud. "You don't like me... I understand."

However, the lion never heard his words as audible sounds. He couldn't even open his mouth. Unfortunately, what he now knew stripped his confidence down to a remarkably low level, and consequently, the words never left his tongue.

After all they had been through together, was there really someone else? Really? Was that even possible?

Upon his realization, Mohatu tried to shake the feeling away. He only wanted to appear strong, even in the face of Mari's barrage of neglect and indifference. He was a lion. He could handle it, despite how much it ate him up, inside. He could keep his depression to himself, even if his only reason was to please her. In fact, that was the only reason he needed.

Meanwhile, Mari appeared as if she was about to chuckle, but she quickly contained herself, less than a second later. "I know, that sounds kinda stupid..." she admitted. "Ugh, I thought I would be able to explain it better than that."

Suddenly, the lioness took a deep breath. To her surprise, what she was about to say was actually a bit more difficult than she originally expected, but she swallowed her gulp and persisted. "You know, it's just that... what I mean is that it's not going to work," she explained. "Maybe it could, for a little while... but I'd rather not put you in that situation. It would only end up being painful for both of us."

Mari twitched her tail. "I know it would look right from the outside, if we get together... just because of the situation we're in," she explained. "But it wouldn't feel right to me... and that's what matters."

Mohatu nodded sadly. At the very least, he had to agree with that—even though nothing would have felt any more right, to him. Nevertheless, he respected Mari's feelings and her decision. If that was what she truly wanted, then he would have to accept it and live with it.

And so he tried.

Mari bit her lip, swallowing her breath at the same time. "It wouldn't feel right because... well... I just don't love you."

Mohatu closed his eyes. He already knew that. It was now obvious that she didn't love him at all. Why did she insist on driving the idea straight through his head, with such tremendous force? Every time Mari opened her mouth, her words kicked Mohatu in the chest with such tremendous pain. He knew he wasn't loved; she didn't have to continue.

"I really want to like you that much," Mari added. "But I just don't. I mean... I can't help it, but I want some lion like you, just not you."

With a heavy sigh, Mohatu's ears fell even lower. His heart rate slowed, while his tail and nose twitched. What Mari had already told him was hard enough to hear, but this was even worse. How could Mari have said she wanted a lion like him, but not him? What did it mean, anyway? That was nearly as absurd as some of Minerva's beliefs, if not even a little bit more ridiculous.

But, more importantly, how could Mari even have managed to say something like that, especially out loud and right in front of him? Didn't she understand how much pain she was already putting him through?

It was like she had no idea.

Normally, Leo probably wouldn't have cared too much, if it had been any other lioness rejecting him in such a way. But Mari was still supposed to be his best friend, at the very least—she wasn't supposed to make him feel lonely and inadequate. She wasn't supposed to do this to him.

She was Mari. She was the very lioness Leo idolized. She was supposed to be the virtuous one, above all else. Although it wasn't entirely true, that was what Mohatu thought, at least. Though he didn't know it, his infatuation had misled him.

Mohatu knew that Mari wasn't obligated to love him, and he wanted to believe that they both respected each other's feelings. Yet, even with that being considered, this time it seemed so much different. Perhaps Mohatu's perspective was clouded by his own emotions, but it seemed like Mari was just toying with him on purpose.

It was almost like she was trying to make him as miserable as possible, as if it had been her intention, all along. In fact, if Mohatu had not already known her as the lioness she was, he would have believed that to have been her true goal, from the very beginning.

He knew it wasn't true, but that was the way he felt. Something about the lioness was just... odd. She wasn't being her usual, compassionate self.

"Look, I mean... it's not your fault," Mari added, in a meager attempt to clear up the mess from her last comment. "You're my best friend. You already know all my secrets, so... it's just not that much fun. There's no excitement in that. You're a nice guy, but I can't be romantic with you—it would be boring for me."

The lioness continued to hold a smile, although it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to keep it. "Nothing against you personally, I just want some other lion... someone who I've never really known before. Some lion who would be from some faraway land, so it would be new and exciting. That's the type of lion I could love."

"Right," Mohatu finally replied out loud. Soon after, he held his breath, in a miserable attempt to withhold his emotions for just a little while longer. "Okay... I get it, now," he whispered. "Sorry I asked."

"I know I should have told you this earlier," Mari began. "But... I wanted to like you... and I tried to. I just can't. My heart isn't in it. I can't fake love for you, and I know you don't want me to do that."

Mari inhaled heavily, while she prepared herself to explain why. What she had already said was nothing in comparison; she knew what was to come was going to be the hard part. She held her tail steadily, while she concentrated her focus on Mohatu's eyes. "The past few nights... I've had this recurring dream about another lion. I don't know if he really exists or not... but I want to find him, after this is all over."

Mohatu's jaw finally dropped. He felt as though he had just been cheated on, even though that wasn't quite the case. In truth, Mari never even loved him enough to get to that point. He only thought she did. In reality, Mohatu never even had any love to begin with—nor did he feel that he was deserving of it, anymore.

"I know how I feel about him," Mari continued. "And, even though I want to feel that way about you, I can't force it to happen. If I'm going to find a mate... I want him to be perfect," she added. "I'm not going to accept anyone less. That would be... terrible.

"Ugh," Mari continued, after a brief pause. "I'd hate to be with anyone other than him. I've actually had dreams about that, too—they were nightmares."

Mohatu winced.

The lioness looked up to the evening clouds, which still shadowed rays of vivid sunlight across the horizon. Although Mari's smile diminished, a dreamy expression began to form in her eyes, as she gazed ecstatically into the sunset.

She still had more to say, and what was to come was going to be the most difficult chunk for Mohatu to swallow. Nevertheless, she hardly seemed to care. Perhaps Mohatu was in love with Mari, but it was now obvious that Mari was equally infatuated with some other lion. Her idealistic perception of a fictional leonine lover was now very apparent.

"The perfect lion's mane would be bright red," Mari stated, almost as if she had been thinking about it for quite some time. Of course, she had been elaborately imagining the entire scene for a while, after all. "He would have eyes as beautiful as the sky, and he would have an amazing singing voice."

Mohatu couldn't listen anymore. He had heard enough. It was now obvious to him that he wasn't that lion she wanted, and he could hardly bear to hear why. What Mari wanted was exactly what he wasn't. It was what could never be.

That was all Mohatu needed to know. That was what he needed to know a week ago, before he had invested all of his emotions into her. If Mari had acted like that before, he knew he wouldn't even have agreed to help her. If some other lion was so special, he could have been the one to help save her skin several times over.

Yet, even despite Mohatu's internal turmoil, Mari never ceased to elaborate on this newly revealed dream of hers. "First, he would show me around his territory," she added. "And he'd take me around the mountains that overlook it all. We could sit up on the mountaintop and gaze out across the beautiful landscape, while we both bathe in the sunlight. It would be so warm and cozy, and I'd let him snuggle up on me."

Mohatu closed his eyes and looked away. He felt as though he had just been kicked in the stomach, although he knew his pain would not subside that quickly. A kick in the gut would have been preferable, by several orders of magnitude.

Internally, Leo begged for a quicker ending. Why was Mari doing this to him? Why couldn't she just kill him and be done with it? What was this... torture?

Meanwhile, Mari had only paused for a second, to gather her breath. "He would sing to me from across the savannah, and fill the air with the lovely tone of his voice. At the end, I'd run up and hug his mane, and tell him how amazing it is..."

If there was anything Mohatu truly wanted, it was that same hug that he imagined, and not much else. Unfortunately, Mari was too blind to see it, and Mohatu was far too uncomfortable to ask for it. He couldn't let Mari know how much it bothered him. He was a leonine warrior; he had to stay strong, hugs notwithstanding.

Nervously and anxiously, Mohatu rubbed one of his forepaws over the other. It was all he could think to do, just to distract himself from Mari's seemingly incessant descriptions. Needless to say, however, his expressions easily gave away his true feelings.

Mari, however, didn't even seem to care.

Surprisingly, Mari never quite seemed to notice. She was so engulfed in her dreams, that she had completely forgotten about the lion right in front of her. "Then," Mari added, not quite paying attention, "we could go to the waterhole and play games... climb trees... and run across the grasslands. He would nuzzle me, hug me again... then I'd groom his fur, and we would have a kiss under the sunset."

Finally, after what seemed like nothing less than an eternity, Mari started to notice the other lion's dejected reaction. Her sudden pause was greeted with a chilling wind of awkwardness; she looked hesitant, like she was beginning to wonder if she was going to far.

Certainly, Mohatu thought that answer was yes, but whether or not Mari believed that remained unseen.

Either way, she did not stop. Mari wasn't done just yet; she still had a few more things to say. "The sky would be lit with fireflies... and, hah, one would even land on his nose. He'd try to get it off, but I'd seize the moment and pin him to the ground. And then we would laugh, and roll around in the grass..."

Not too surprisingly, Mohatu had actually imagined something similar, in the past. Heck, he even would have let Mari pin him to the ground; it didn't matter who would have won the skirmish. It seemed like fun, and Mohatu would have happily played along.

If only she would have let him.

Yet, part of Mohatu almost wanted to try it, just to prove a point. While Mari stood behind the sunset, in peace, he wanted to remind the lioness that he was still there, still listening, and still wanting to play. Perhaps he didn't have that red mane, but he was still a lion. He was still just as capable of pleasing her as anyone else... wasn't he?

Pouncing on Mari would have been his way of telling her, but Mohatu could not consider the idea for longer than a split second. Mari didn't seem to be in the mood for that, anymore; and besides, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. The simple fact of the matter was that he wasn't going to play with the lioness, if she wasn't going to find it fun, pleasurable, or entertaining.

More and more, Mohatu was starting to get the feeling that Mari wanted him to go away. In all likelihood, she would have found his actions annoying. Even as much as it hurt him, Mohatu respected that. And so he let the lioness continue, while his heart fell back into the shell of his fur.

All things considered, she probably had nightmares about playing with him.

"And after that," Mari began again, "we would lay under the stars, and tell stories of the past while we gaze up at them. I'd tell him about my home in the Pridelands, and how I saved you, of course..."

"Okay," Mohatu raised his voice, once again. "I'm sure you'll have a good time," he replied, but inevitably with no small amount of sadness under his tongue. Even though he tried to hide it, it was beyond evident that the entire conversation had decimated all his hopes for the rest of his life.

After hearing it all, Leo wanted nothing more than to curl up under a tree and die. He was happy for her, no question about it, but he had never felt more insignificant in his entire life. Was everything he did really that unimportant to her, just because he wasn't that lion?

Did he even exist?

Just when Mohatu thought he couldn't find himself feeling any worse, Mari found something to say to make his heart hurt even more. "Maybe, someday I'd leave the Pridelands to go live with him... we'd have our own territory, and we would be so happy," she added. "We would start a pride, all our own... and our cubs would be so cute! I'd name the first one Ahadi..."

Mohatu breathed out yet another deep sigh.

So, she had actually planned the cub's names and everything? Beyond even the shadow of a doubt, Mohatu would have let Mari name all their cubs, if it really meant that much to her. But, at this point, he didn't even want to think about that. He couldn't think about it anymore.

It was just too much. Even for Mohatu, it was too much pain.

Mari only grinned. "We'd raise our cubs on my mate's beautiful land, filled with bright green, rolling grasslands, and waterfalls as tall as Pride Rock. We would have the best life..."

Mohatu winced again. There was just no end to the hell he was in.

For a brief moment, the lioness paused and chuckled to herself. "Hah, maybe someday I'd even bring my mate out here, and show him the pyramids. I'm sure he'd be proud of us, to see what all we had to endure..."

"Okay," Mohatu grunted. Finally, he gathered the courage to make his move. He shook his head vigorously, before turning his back to the lioness, one final time. Instead of looking at Mari, he tried to focus all his attention on the beautiful twilight sky above.

"And sometime, I could take him on an adventure," Mari added. "We could travel across Africa... visit all the biomes, and... for his anniversary present, I would do something really special for him. I'd..."

Mari paused. That was it; she was done, now. She had gone too far, she realized.

Although Mohatu had been looking forward to sharing the evening with Mari, that was no longer the case, anymore. It wasn't even what she said that bothered him; it was the way she said it. It was the way she just didn't seem to care about him that ate him apart, above all else.

Mohatu knew that Mari didn't have to love him, but this was different. It was like she was completely ignoring him.

It was exactly like he didn't even exist.

Apparently, Mohatu really was the weapon Mari needed to reach the end, and not much else. Although he had once denied it to preserve his infatuation for the lioness, he now struggled to see it any other way. He had been deceived by a lie, all along. Once again, what he thought he had was little more than a mirage.

Mari was everything to him, but he was nothing more than a weapon to her.

As Mohatu's eyes fell on the sunset, he felt nothing other than his own insignificance. The scenery was beautiful and enchanting, as always, although its meaning was so much different from what he had felt before. He could no longer appreciate the sky's elegant, mesmerizing glow. It all seemed so empty without Mari's companionship—regardless of whether or not she was his mate.

When Mari stared into the sunset over the horizon, she saw a bright and fresh future ahead of her, with beautiful territory, a handsome mate, and the greatest cubs she could ask for. When Mohatu stared into the sunset, he saw nothing but a reflection of his own loneliness. It was only what it was: a bright ball of light in the sky. Nothing more, nothing less. It had no meaning.

Mohatu had no pride, and he had no life. Worst of all, he now realized that he was incapable of being Mari's hero. He was incapable of ever achieving his dreams, and incapable of ever being loved.

If he had no future with Mari, who could have convinced him that he had a future with any lioness? She was supposed to be the lioness who understood and accepted him for who he was, not the lioness who wanted someone better. If she couldn't love him, then there was no lion who could, he thought. Never before had the world seemed to be so empty and desolate, and he could hardly contain himself for another moment.

And so Leo took an uncertain step forward, away from Mari and off into the sands. That was it; he was done for the night, and he was leaving. Where he wanted to go, he was unsure of. It didn't matter where. All he knew was that he definitely wasn't going to sit around, while Mari blatantly ignored him and talked about her fantasies, with the lion she actually cared about.

By being with Mari, Mohatu was only hurting himself. He couldn't do it anymore. He had to move on, or die trying. Besides, that was what she would have wanted him to do.

"Wait," Mari sighed. At that instant, her tone of voice changed drastically from a dreamy to a more serious state. "Leo, don't go just yet. There is still something I want to show you," she finally admitted.

Mohatu could not stand it any longer. He stopped in his wandering tracks, but he did not turn around. He couldn't even look at her.

So now she wanted to acknowledge his existence?

"Look," Mari continued, finally starting to display a tone of guilt in her speech. "I've decided that I want to find a lion who truly loves me, and I know you'll be able to find some other lioness, in the future. It's okay... it doesn't matter, we'll always be friends."

Mohatu shook his head. Was she really being serious? Did she really think it was okay for her to ignore his feelings in such a way? Did she really think that he didn't truly love her?

In spite of everything Mari had just said, nothing mattered more to Mohatu. Mari's decision was the difference between living a fulfilling life of happiness, and a life of isolation and loneliness. Of course it mattered, to him. She was a stupid fool to think otherwise.

Leo twisted his head back around. It was incredibly hard to bear looking Mari in the eye, but he forced himself to do it anyway. He had to check Mari's expression—just to see if she was being sarcastic.

"Well... you know," Mari began to extrapolate. "Just because I'm a lion and you're a lioness... it doesn't mean we have to be mates. Someday, we'll look back, we'll have our own lives, and we'll be able to have a laugh at this. Whenever my mate is busy, I'd come to the Pridelands—you'd have your own lioness, and we could just... you know. We could sit up on Pride Rock, and we could just talk."

It would have been a pleasant thought for Mohatu, but that just wasn't the way he imagined it. What he imagined was that she would find another lion and forget all about him. After all, why would she need him if she had the perfect mate?

She wouldn't.

To add to the pain of the situation, Mohatu knew he wouldn't find another lioness like Mari, either. Instead, he would end up watching as his lioness gazed upon the stars with her mate, isolated in a bubble of love—with him on the outside of it.

He would spend his entire life without ever experiencing love, and Mari wouldn't even notice. She wouldn't care. At best, she would talk to him about how great her love life would be with her mate, but completely ignore his own feelings in the process, exactly like she had just done. And even if her love life turned out to be crap, she would still ignore the fact that he loved her more—she would ignore his existence, and the love he had to offer.

Mohatu could see his future very clearly, and it was impossible to imagine with a smile. In essence, if Mari ever found another mate and returned to the Pridelands in her down time, it would inevitably be a continuation of what Mohatu was experiencing now. That, he was sure of. What Mohatu had just experienced was the only the first step on a brutal trail of mental torment; it was but a taste of what was to come.

If Mari wasn't the right lioness for him, then it would have been a different situation. In such a case, Mohatu wouldn't have cared at all. Mari would have been right, and Leo would have been comfortable with it. But she was the lioness of his dreams. What Mari had said only proved that she had no understanding of that. Mari didn't seem to know about the actual depth and intensity of his feelings, and even if she did, she didn't even seem to care.

Mohatu could only imagine that if Mari had any idea how much she was loved, she would feel differently. But that problem, Mohatu thought, was related to his own shortcomings, more or less.

"Leo... I'm sorry," Mari added. "I feel guilty about not telling you this earlier, but I'm sorta in love with the idea of finding that lion from my dreams... especially that one with a red mane. I can't help that."

Mari then exhaled her breath. "But... you know, love is never wrong, and so it never dies. Not true love, at least. What I want is true love... and I'm not going to settle for anything less."

Mohatu used every last bit of strength to prevent his paw from rising to cover his face. There was no way she was being serious, he thought. All she was doing was devaluing his own feelings and his own love—and then justifying it by claiming that her love for this other fictional lion was of far greater purity.

Mari held her smile, still continuing to verbalize her thoughts. "It's not just about the red mane, though. I'm looking for someone who will always be with me, someone who will always help me, and someone who will make me a better lioness... that's what he'll offer me. He'll see through my faults, and none of that will matter... because he'll love me for who I am."

As if Mohatu didn't.

"I know... and I'm not mad at you, or anything," Mohatu nodded dejectedly, while his voice nearly cracked into a cubbish whine. "It's okay," he convinced himself. "I didn't really... love you... anyway," he lied.

Although it hurt him to say it, it was the only way he could preserve what little friendship he had remaining with the lioness. He had to convince himself that he didn't love her. It was what could never be.

But truthfully, Mohatu only wanted to throw his paws up into the air with great exasperation and despair. What he had heard was the most ridiculous thought he could even comprehend. Mari was in love with the idea of meeting an imaginary lion who didn't even exist. She even admitted it directly. Why was she acting like that lion was so much more important than him?

Mohatu was there. He was real, and he did love her.

Yet, despite this, it didn't even score him enough points, in her eyes. Simply put, he was being neglected for some lion who was little more than a fantasy for Mari. He was less important than even filaments of her imagination.

Even after all they had fought for together, Mari was willing to leave her pride—her home—and run off to go looking for some fictional lion from her wildest dreams, just because that was what she perceived to be true love. In essence, she was imagining the perfect life, and it was a life without Leo, their home in the Pridelands, or even their own pride.

He really meant that little to her? Did it all mean that little? Did he even know her? Not only was it unthinkable, it was unthinkably heartbreaking for Mohatu.

"Aww, but... Leo..." Mari fawned for a moment, releasing a mew from her throat. She stepped closer, and her grin grew wider, despite Mohatu's obvious expression of helplessness. For a moment, she looked like she wanted to say something, but her face quickly tensed up.

Instead, she said something else. "Ahem," Mari cleared her throat. "So... when are you going to dye your mane red?" she asked playfully, finally dropping a hint.

Mohatu felt a twitch in his ear. "What?" he gazed up sadly, hardly paying attention.

Mari's mood lightened, and her appearance began to soften. "Just... wait here and think about it," she winked, throwing the lion beside her yet another intentional tease. "I'll be back in a minute."

"What?" the lion asked again. His question was not in regard to what Mari had said, but what it meant, more or less. "Where are you going?"

In consequence, Mari's eyes quickly darted across the horizon. On second thought, she wasn't leaving just yet.

"Leo," Mari repeated herself, even more warmly, this time. "Think about what I just said," she smiled, this time with greater depth than ever before. Mari then stepped back over beside Mohatu, and almost placed one of her paws on his shoulder. She would have done just that, had the spot not have been covered by the dried remnants of bird feces.

The orange lioness took a deep breath while she thought for less than a moment, before she came up with an even better way to convey her message. "You see, all I wanted to say is that not all love is reciprocated," she added, and the tone of her voice returned to normal. "That's just part of life—but that's what makes reciprocated love as special as it is."

Mari tilted her head aside, allowing her fur to blow in the sudden breeze. "Someday, you're going to find a lioness you love... and she will love you in the same way that you love her. Then, you'll understand... and you'll be happy, because you'll realize what you'll have, and how meaningful it is to you."

Although Leo struggled to think of it, he realized that Mari had a point. For a split second, he could almost imagine himself with another lioness—and when he imagined how much more he would love her than Mari, he could almost shed a tear of happiness.

Almost.

Maybe Mari wasn't going to say yes to him, but perhaps some other lioness would. That lioness would fill the hole in his heart—the very hole that Mari had just created. That lioness, whoever she was, would be more important to him than anything or anyone he was capable of imagining.

But that was only because he couldn't imagine it.

The thought of any lioness saying yes seemed so unreal, after all that Mari had said. Although Leo once wondered what he would do if he had to face rejection, he now wondered what it would even be like to face acceptance.

Did such a thing even exist?

It seemed like such an impossibility, and Leo did not want to let himself get his hopes up. It wasn't going to happen, and he knew it. If he ever thought he would be sitting pretty in the face of acceptance, he only believed he would find himself facing the same disappointment all over again.

There was no such thing as acceptance. For Mohatu, there was only rejection.

In truth, he had to wonder how any lion ever managed to find a mate. Most lions could; that was the only way to create more lions, after all. But for Mohatu, he had given Mari all he had, without even the smallest sign of reciprocated love. He had not even the smallest sign that he was of any value to her whatsoever.

Not even a hug.

He had to have been doing something wrong. He had to have been completely unlovable. There was simply no other way Mari would have chosen an imaginary lion over him, he reasoned.

"But..." Mohatu lowered his head again. "No one loves me..." he admitted. He did not want to say it as hopelessly as he sounded, but the words just naturally slipped out of his mouth.

"Yes," Mari insisted. "There is one lioness who does." As she finished her words, her whiskers flared upward, and her loving smile expanded uncontrollably. "Maybe you haven't met her yet, but maybe you have," she continued, almost erupting into a suggestive, playful giggle. "I don't know," she lied.

Mohatu exhaled a heavy sigh, while his eyes shifted upward, in desperation.

Mari watched the lion's reaction carefully, and eventually gave herself permission to continue. "But, I can promise you this," Mari added. "She exists. She's out there somewhere, and she's looking for you, too. Don't ask me how I know—you just have to trust me. You will find her eventually... and probably very soon."

Before Mari walked away, she repeated herself with another suggestive wink. "Think about that, and don't go anywhere," she smiled. "I'll be back in just a minute."

In the moments that followed, Mohatu remained still, as he was told. He did not want to stay where he was, but he could barely even muster the energy to twitch a muscle. How could he convince himself to do anything, when the world seemed so empty and meaningless without Mari?

Leo glanced over at the grasses and the pyramids, only seconds before the sun set behind it all. The bright, vibrant red mass eventually hid behind the dunes of sand completely, while it barely illuminated the visible edge of the atmosphere for a few more minutes.

And then, it was all gone. Not just the sun, but all the light and every last ray of hope that came with it.

Mohatu sighed, before falling back down into the sand below his paws. He rolled over and onto his spine, so that he could gaze freely up at the darkening night sky, eyes tainted with sadness. He knew the sand was going to make a mess of his mane, but he struggled to convince himself that he cared.

After all, it wasn't like he was trying to please a lioness. Not anymore. It simply didn't matter how he looked; it wouldn't change anything.

For a split second, Leo glanced over at his side, hoping to find Mari laying beside him—hoping she would tell him it was all just a cruel joke. It was little more than an impossible dream, at this point, but knowing that did not stop him from thinking about her.

In fact, he only thought about her more.

Mari's figure appeared beside Mohatu, in the depth of his imagination. Mohatu tried to reach his paw out toward the imaginary lioness, but he no longer allowed himself to do just that. Even though the faint image of Mari's relaxed form wasn't real, he simply couldn't go near her. She wouldn't have wanted him to.

Instead, Mohatu moved his paw up to wipe his forehead, covering his eyes in the process. He whispered, but his voice cracked. "Where did I go wrong?"

It was a simple question with a simple answer, but Mohatu couldn't find it anywhere. Instead, he forced himself to accept the bitter truth for what it was—Mari didn't like him, she never would, and thus he would have to find some other lioness.

But it wasn't like that was ever going to happen, he thought. Yet again, Mohatu tried to bring himself to accept an even more harsh reality, regardless of the many lies Mari had told him. He was simply going to have to face being alone.

After all, no lioness—or any creature, for that matter—could possibly have liked him, after what he did.

Perhaps Mari would have claimed to disagree, but she was the very lioness to choose a future, imaginary mate over a life with her best friend, anyway. What she said couldn't possibly have held any meaning in Mohatu's eyes, for that very reason. That evening, she had revealed her true feelings, and that was all that mattered to him.

Perhaps he didn't have the eyes Mari liked, and he knew he didn't have the red mane she wanted. But only now, Mohatu knew for absolute certain that he wasn't the lion in Mari's dreams; there was no denying it any longer.

As Leo started to realize, all those bedtime stories that had been engraved into his mind were a bunch of lies, told to cubs to help them sleep at night. This wasn't a bedtime story—this was reality. It didn't matter how hard Mohatu tried, persistence really was futile. He couldn't win. He couldn't have what he wanted most, and the ending wouldn't be pretty.

However, even at the very least, Mohatu had thought that he could have shown Mari the true meaning of love. And hadn't he? Even still, couldn't he show her what love meant, if only he had the chance?

Obviously not. Mari didn't even want to give him a chance. Not anymore.

And, in all honesty, Mohatu could not blame the lioness for that. As he looked up at the twilight sky of dusk, Mohatu only started to despise himself. Mari had every reason not to like him. When it came right down to it, he didn't truly like himself either. Although he wanted to believe that Mari was using him, or that she had done something wrong, it was all merely a defense mechanism.

Even after all that Mari had told him, he still couldn't hold anything against the lioness for hurting him in the way that she did. In truth, she deserved to have a mate who was far better than Leo ever was. It wasn't her fault; she didn't do anything wrong by saying that out loud.

With that last thought, Mohatu rested his head back into the sand and rolled over, onto his side.

Although Leo wanted to sleep, he was far too upset to ever be able to do so. Instead, he watched various lions walk across the horizon, off in the distance. He observed silently as the groups of felines gathered in their cliques, and shared their stories under the warm night sky.

Mohatu was forced to watch, while every lion met with their friends and family, and experienced what he would never have—the comfort of companionship. Meanwhile, Leo was consumed by his own pain of isolation, which quickly became the only thing to thrash in his mind.

He really was all alone.

In the highest level of truth, Mohatu had no other friend aside from Mari, and he was hardly sure that she was still his friend, after the way she had acted. She had brought him so much pain, and she had left him to deal with it on his own, like she didn't even care. In essence, Mari was the friend who made him feel even more alone than not having any friends at all.

Mohatu groaned. "Even if you don't love me, I just hope you don't forget me..." he started to whisper, while his face rested half-buried in the sand. "Because I'll never forget you."

And with that final plea, all of Mohatu's thoughts started to repeat. Mari didn't actually like him. He had shown her his best, and he had emptied his heart out, but he still remained unlovable. He wasn't good enough to be a mate. It was as simple as that; there was no denying it.

No matter how elaborately Mohatu tried to fool himself, desiring the opposite outcome couldn't even have made it happen in the farthest, most senseless reaches of his dreams. Not anymore.

Mohatu's love was wrong, and so it had to die.


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A/N: Happy belated Valentine's day, everyone! :D
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » April 13th, 2014, 6:38 am

chapter 37: show
A/N: Do you remember how I said there wouldn't be a chapter as long as the last one? Yeah... about that. Well, this one is even longer. I don't know how I manage to do this, honestly.

Anyway, there are only three more chapters until the end. I hope you like my little twist here. ;)


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A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 37: Royal Relations


There never was any sight quite like the pyramids at dusk. From the sandy flats of Lea Halalela, only a faint belt of light rested above the horizon, while millions of stars lit into view from above. Grouped into many various clusters and sprayed across a big, bluish-black thing, not one celestial body remained hidden above a cloud.

The sky couldn't have been any more pure and crisp, and even the dimmest of nebulae were visible just after sunset. It was nothing short of a mesmerizing sight, capable of striking awe into the heart of any lion who sought to look upward.

But for Mohatu, it was different.

The lion raised his eyes up at the starry twilight sky above his ears, but his thoughts remained elsewhere. The lioness Mohatu loved with all his heart had just confessed her love for another lion—it didn't matter what he thought of it, there was no way he could possibly have felt good about the situation. It was impossible for him to feel anything other than numbness in the pit of his stomach.

What was once confusion, fear, guilt, and anger no longer existed within Mohatu's own heart. It was all replaced by a dull sense of aching pain, continuously churning within. At best, it was nothing other than the simple pain of being unable to share a life with Mari. At worst, it was the pain of his own inadequacy. Regardless, it was the pain of his internal emptiness.

If Mari felt like she needed to find some other lion to bring her happiness, Mohatu was not going to dispute that. He was neither mad at her for thinking in such a way, nor was he incapable of understanding why she felt the way she did. He understood that, he accepted that, and he respected that.

In truth, what pain Mohatu felt wasn't actually in relation to Mari at all; it was in relation to himself. Leo was capable of fighting for her, he was capable of protecting her, and he was capable of loving her. It just would have made sense for her to love him back. Yet, Mari felt as though she needed to go searching across Africa to find another lion to love her, while he was right there in front of her.

There must have been some reason why Mari felt that way. There must have been some intrinsic personality trait that Leo had, which she simply found repelling. She couldn't see him as a mate, and there had to have been some reason why. Something about him just wasn't good enough. Leo interpreted Mari's decision in no other way.

There was simply no other possible explanation. If Mari knew how he felt, she probably would have told him it wasn't true—but Leo knew better. It obviously was true. If Mari actually believed he was good enough, she would have been able to love him.

Apparently, as Mohatu started to think, Mari never believed he was good enough. It was obvious that she believed he was a capable warrior, but she never saw him for who he truly was. She never saw him as an actual lion—a living, breathing, sentient being, capable of experiencing love.

Only now did Mohatu realize this.

Without a doubt, Mohatu was one of the strongest, most capable lions in all of Africa. He had outmatched every opponent that he had fought thus far, without ever suffering from a major injury. He was capable of rivaling the great kings of the past, and he could easily provide food for an entire pride. Day in and day out, he proved his capacity to succeed, no matter how intensely the world crumbled around him.

But those were his abilities and achievements, which were in no way related to his identity as a lion. Every lion seemed to like what he did, but as Mohatu began to realize, no lion seemed to like him for who he was. No one, not even Mari, seemed to notice that he was there, on a deeper, more intimate level.

Although the kings of the past wanted Leo to prove his superiority, that was not what he wanted in the slightest. He did not think of himself as being superior to any other lion, nor was that the way he wanted to view himself. He only wanted love. As twilight fell upon him, he realized how true it was.

Mohatu's goal was never to become the best of the best. Leo knew he already possessed all the power he needed; he did not have any such desire to become any stronger, unlike those who felt powerless. Instead, Leo's only goal was to become Mari's beloved lion—mainly because he felt unloved. Unlike most lions, it was that love which he did not have, and it was that which he sought the most.

In truth, Leo was an experienced warrior on the outside, but he was merely a cub, at heart. Behind the armor of his thick teeth and sharp claws, Leo was actually a very different lion from the brutal creature he appeared to be. Even though he was once a king, Mohatu was hardly a cold, ruthless, and heartless killer.

In fact, Mohatu's perception of reality always leaned toward the untamed and hypersensitive side, which proved to be both his strength and his weakness. His sensitivity to his inner core of emotions fueled his will and awareness in battle, but it was precisely that same overexposure to reality which devastated him on the inside, on occasion.

Long ago, it was that sensitivity that pushed him forward to kill the hyenas, and that very same sensitivity was what guided him to the keys. It was that sensitivity that allowed him to connect with his ancient ancestors, in ways that no lion had ever done before. It was his defining characteristic, though as the case was with Mari, it didn't always manifest on positive terms.

From what Mohatu had originally thought, Mari knew all of that. She seemed to understand who Mohatu truly was on the inside, and that much had been evident from her actions alone. Throughout the entire quest, Mari was the only lioness who seemed to treat Mohatu as another lion, and that was why he loved her. Mari was the only lioness to see him for who he was underneath his thick skin, and Mohatu had believed that she actually did like him.

But it wasn't actually like that at all. It wasn't as if Mari didn't like what he did, or that she despised him for what he couldn't do. She just didn't like him for who he was. Although she had said that it was nothing personal, it couldn't have been any more personal, in all reality.

Mari wanted some lion like him, just not him. From Mohatu's perspective, that was the epitome of personal insults. She didn't just reject the lion he was on the outside; she had completely rejected the lion she knew he was on the inside.

And so he was indeed unlovable. There was no questioning it. For a brief moment, Mohatu closed his eyes, holding back his tears of pain, frustration, and disappointment. His gaze refused to lock on to the horizon, and instead turned inward.

Mohatu quickly came to the realization that every morning, Mari woke up with a smile on her face—not because he was there to greet her, but because she had been dreaming of another lion. Although Mohatu had once thought that he was the reason why Mari's mood lifted, he now knew that wasn't true. It was a sudden revelation that hit him, and nearly knocked him down off his paws.

He wasn't the source of Mari's happiness. Everything he did just didn't matter to her, nor did it truly matter to any lion.

Mohatu closed his eyes in pain, and tried to drift off to sleep. Leaving the real world behind, even if only for a few hours, was the only way to escape from his loathsome thoughts. He tried to ignore the reality of the situation with all his strength, but it was impossible.

Even in his light state of rest, he couldn't break free. That was when he needed Mari's comfort the most.

Leo continued to lay in the sand with dulled senses, but his inner thoughts filled his imagination. Standing across from him was an orange lioness—a very specific orange lioness, actually. She frolicked in the breeze, almost weightless on her paws. Her head reigned high above her spine, and her typical, playful grin never fell from her face.

Mari. Yes, that was it. She was Mari.

Leo shook his head, in an attempt to make the vision disappear. It simply wouldn't. No matter how hard Mohatu clenched his eyes to darkness, Mari's vibrant image still managed to come through. She just wouldn't leave his head. Her face, her gait, and her scent—it was all embedded into his conscious, and remained unmovable without even the strength of a thousand rhinos.

Eventually, Mari's aura ceased all movement. She stood paralyzed by happiness, while a strange-looking red-maned lion placed his paw over hers. The male grinned deviously, before adding three heavy words to the silence of crickets. "Good job, love."

"Oh," Mari whispered in her most carefree voice possible. "It was nothing."

"Haha... not for a sexy lioness like you," the red-maned male replied. "I knew you would be able to turn him down." With that comment, he reached his muzzle inward, until it nearly met Mari's lips for a kiss. Their breaths grazed their fur, and their combined warmth emitted a shield of bright light.

"You should have seen the look on his face," Mari stated, almost triumphantly. She wrapped one of her forepaws around the red-maned lion's neck, and pulled his muzzle even closer to her own. Their cheeks met in a nuzzle, and Mari licked her love's ears. "He thought I loved him," Mari bragged. "He was easy to fool."

The red-maned lion's smile remained in place, but the perfect form of his teeth started to show underneath. "I'm so proud of you," he stated. "You're... amazing."

"I did it all for you," Mari fawned.

Mari's true mate started to chuckle. His eyes stared directly at Mohatu, and after a few seconds, he brought his paw up to comb his own mane. He was so bright, so shiny, and... worst of all, perfect. Such a showoff.

Mohatu felt what little gut he had remaining collapse with fear. He brought his paws up to cover his face, and he buried his entire muzzle in the sand. He couldn't look. He just couldn't.

"Look at him," Mari's red-maned love interest teased. "I can't believe you ever hung around such a loser. What were you even thinking?"

"Hah," Mari laughed. "Yeah..." She added, licked her lips, and rolled over onto her back. "I wasn't thinking." Afterward, she reached a paw upward, and tugged on the male's lower manefur. "You're sooooooo much better than he is."

The red male stepped over atop Mari, and then rested his chin on her belly. Holding a seductive grin, he looked into Mari's eyes, slowly savoring the moments he spent with the best female from the Pridelands. "That's right, my love," he answered slowly, his voice as sleek as silk.

Finally, Mohatu had seen enough. He leaped up to his paws, and drug his claws through the dirt. His eyes jolted open, his teeth met the outside air, and his brows lowered to conform to his squint. A deep rumble of a growl sounded from his throat, nearly causing an earthquake.

Yet, before Mohatu could berate the lioness and her mate for their atrocious acts, she disappeared. The red-maned lion was nowhere to be found, either. They were both just visions of worry. They didn't actually exist in reality.

Retracting his claws, Mohatu exhaled his breath. Okay, so he realized it wasn't real. Mari never actually found the red-maned lion. She never actually betrayed Leo. She wasn't teasing him. He was just getting a little ahead of himself. That was all.

After a few seconds of peace, a gust of wind blew the tuft of Mohatu's mane into his eyes. It was just a rough night. He was simply having a hard time coming to terms with being rejected. In truth, that was all it was.

Really. Seriously. It wasn't that bad. It was nowhere near as bad as Mohatu's inner lion thought it was. Sure, Mari had unintentionally said some hurtful things, but she was still his friend. She wouldn't do that to him. Even in Leo's state of internal chaos, he knew better than to assume the worst in her.

Again, he tried to close his eyes as he rested back down in the sand. This time, he remained a bit more relaxed. "She wouldn't do that to me," Leo mumbled to himself. "She's my friend. She wouldn't..."

But could he really be sure?

Mohatu exhaled yet another breath of exasperation. No, he couldn't. He wasn't sure of anything. He didn't know what to think, anymore. Nothing Mari said made any sense to him. Now, his thoughts were merely fragments of a whole, shattered about the scatters of his mind. It was all a crazy mumble of chaotic mayhem. Even in silence, it was all too much to bear.

But there wasn't actually silence. In addition to Mohatu's thoughts, several repeating whisks of pawsteps gradually increased in volume, as a creature doubtlessly approached his resting place. In consequence, Mohatu eventually lifted his head up and opened his eyes, at which point he found a bright white figure standing before him.

"And just what are you doing, sleeping out here... all alone?" Minerva asked.

Mohatu shook himself off, in a meager attempt to get the many grains of sand out of his mane. He then glanced upward, and struggled to hide his sorrow as best as he could. He wasn't sure how well he could succeed in that respect, but the least he wanted was for Minerva to take advantage of his situation. That would certainly have been a bad thing, and he was hardly oblivious to it.

Mohatu forced a smile. "I... just wanted to see the great kings of the past..." he lied.

"So you do." Queen Minerva paused for a moment, looking up to the sky herself. Her jaw opened in a state of admiration, and the light purplish colors of her mouth became apparent inside the bright whiteout of her luscious fur. "Magnificent, aren't they?" she asked. "You know, of all the times I've seen the night sky, the great kings never lose their elegance."

"Yep."

A gentle wind passed through the two felines, before Minerva quickly changed her attitude into a more serious state. "So..." she added, looking back at Mohatu. "Where did your slave go?" she asked. She only seemed slightly demeaning with her question, which was rather odd in contrast to her typical behavior.

"Oh," Mohatu immediately choked on his breath. "Uh... I don't really know," he answered. "She didn't say."

Minerva raised a brow. "Interesting."

"Mhm?"

"Oh, nothing," the queen tried to clarify herself, but cleverly added more ambiguity to her thoughts, in the process. Her tone of voice suggested that she actually wanted Mohatu to inquire further, although she did not give him time to do so.

"I just thought..." Minerva raised her tail suggestively, while she briefly considered brushing herself across Mohatu's body. She gave him the look, but she refused to step too close. "Your lioness slave doesn't treat you like you want... does she?"

Mohatu's eyes dilated to twice their normal size. He took a large step backward, while his ears expanded and inched forward. He could only wonder if the queen had been listening in on their entire conversation. Did she know...?

By the suggestiveness of her voice, that answer was probably yes.

"No," Mohatu immediately replied. "I mean... yes," he corrected himself, soon after. "She's fine... I'm not mad at her, or anything." Mohatu tried his best to keep himself relaxed, but it was becoming increasingly difficult as the conversation unfolded. "It's not like you think."

"Oh... is that so?" Minerva inquired further. She took a giant, seductive step forward, and tried her best to entice Mohatu's more primitive senses. "Are you sure your lioness isn't giving you trouble? I could fix that..."

Mohatu's nose twitched. Oh, such a pretty girl, she was.

The queen's pure, white fur was already elegant enough to capture the eye of any lion, just in itself. Yet, it was the way she looked at Mohatu that exacerbated her attractiveness, in his eyes. Simply put, Minerva was now the very image of irresistivity, if not something even more irresistible than that. Just the sight itself had already induced a steady flow of saliva from Mohatu's tongue.

Oooooohhh...

If the way Mari smiled at Mohatu was as beautiful as the night sky, Minerva's playful grin suddenly lit up to be a thousand times more inviting. The queen wasn't just pretty; her beauty was unmatched by any lioness—even the Goddesses in a lion's imagination. She was like something out of the most pleasant of dreams, but even more perfect.

In fact, she was almost too perfect. She was so flawless that Mohatu began to wonder if it was a dream, after all. Given the circumstances, he was indeed unwell enough to start having more hallucinations. That was well inside the realm of possibility.

There he had been, thinking about how no lioness could ever love him, until the very symbol of beauty itself—embedded into the form of a regal lioness—walked right up beside him. Never before had there ever been a greater example of wishful thinking, and especially not in such an ironic form.

Minerva's presence beside Mohatu was just a little too convenient.

After a moment of pause, queen Minerva's smile expanded, while devious and dirty thoughts filled her mind. "When was the last time your slave ever tried to please you... mhm?" she asked. "She just ran off... does she even care about what you want?" The same lioness raised her paw up and started to clean between her toes with her tongue, silently begging Mohatu to approach with her subtle movements.

At this point, Leo could not question what the queen was referring to. The flirtatious intonation within her voice was already enough to tell him all that he needed to know.

Mohatu sighed, deep in thoughts of self-reflection. He did not know how to answer the queen's question accurately, but even more importantly, he didn't even know how he wanted to answer it.

Mohatu knew what he wanted, but it wasn't that. He wanted Mari, not Minerva. The hole in his heart wasn't something that could have been replaced by some random lioness he hardly even knew.

Or was it?

Well... she was pretty, after all.

Perhaps Minerva could help a little, to a small extent. After all, Mohatu was a lion. As such, his innermost thoughts were hardly all that unpredictable: sleep, eat, and... lionesses, of course. Who was he really kidding? A beautiful white lioness like Minerva was exactly what he wanted, especially after being turned down by Mari.

After all that Mari had said, what Mohatu needed was the comfort of any lioness, just to help him clear his mind. For Leo, simply having another lioness show romantic interest in him boosted his confidence in an oddest way—already bringing him far more relief than he could have imagined.

That said, Minerva wasn't his beloved Mari, so it wasn't quite the same. But it was still a nice gesture, of course.

The lioness tilted her head downward, and let a small sliver of a purr escape her windpipe as she exhaled. "I don't think she knows your true worth," Minerva added, still referring to Mari. "Oh... no," she continued. "She doesn't see you... not like I do."

"Minerva," Mohatu replied, with what was very clearly a stern expression in his voice. "It's not what you think," he insisted. He struggled not to allow his desires to overcome his thoughts, but it was quickly becoming a losing battle.

Why was he even fighting it? He knew he wanted it. He knew he wanted her. It seemed useless to resist. It was like trying to stop the vast flow of the Nial River in all its smooth, everlasting entirety—no exaggeration.

Surprised, Minerva took a shallow step back. "Well, anyway..." she added, regaining her momentum with her words. "I have a proposition for you... if you'd like to hear it."

"I'm not interested," Mohatu lied. He tried to turn his head aside, but that effort was quickly met with his own inability to stop staring at the hottest thing on four legs.

Minerva smiled. "Hah... well, that's too bad. After what you've done today, I think it's time—and I have something special in mind, for you."

Mohatu's ears perked up, but only by a bit. He twitched his tail with agitation, although his eyes gazed upon the queen with greater lust than he ever could have imagined. The longer she stood there in front of him, the more he wanted her. Oh, yes—it was true. There was no denying it. He wanted her. He totally wanted her. Although his words denied it, he was just waiting for Minerva to step closer.

"Based on my own observations," Minerva began, "as well as Knight Inari's recommendation... I have decided to promote you to knight." The royal lioness then dropped her head, and eyed Mohatu earnestly. "I'll make the preparations tomorrow..."

Leo shook his head, as he tried to break free from his desires. It was difficult for him to concentrate on the lioness's words, but he knew he had heard her correctly. "Really?" he asked, unsure of whether or not he was supposed to act surprised. Splendid, he truly thought. What a splendid development it was indeed.

"I know what you're capable of," Minerva explained. "I've seen what you can do, and I know your potential has no limits. Around here, we reward those who excel, and you... you are worthy of recognition."

The queen raised her head and stepped even closer to Mohatu, until she was nearly able to lick his muzzle. "And, perhaps something even more," she added flirtatiously. "Does being a king interest you?" she whispered into his ear, raising a brow.

Enticed and eternally enthralled by the lioness's seductive form, Mohatu was largely unable to answer that question. He stood still nervously, while his heart started to pound outside of his chest. His pulse was louder than even the heaviest drums of war. He could even feel the blood flowing through the tips of his paws and ears.

Was Minerva really serious about this?

"Why don't you come over to my den, for the night?" Minerva asked, finally rubbing her head beneath Mohatu's large chin in a nuzzle. "There is more I would like to discuss," she suggested.

Mohatu wanted to inch backward on instinct, but he simply couldn't resist the temptation of Minerva's smooth fur. Not only was the queen far more beautiful than Mari had ever looked, but she was even softer, too. Minerva leaned against the lion's manefur gently and with a loving affection, eventually forcing Mohatu to instinctively lick the top of her ear, in return.

Mohatu couldn't stop himself, nor did he truly want to. What Minerva did was exactly what he had imagined that Mari was going to do—only the queen actually did it. Minerva was giving him the affection that he wanted, which was something that Mari apparently never even thought to do. And for Mohatu, nothing had ever been more satisfying.

It was irresistible, the way the royal lioness inhaled heavily and sighed with happiness, at the scent of Mohatu's fur. Although he was only beginning to realize it, Minerva was the lioness that he always wanted. In essence, the queen was exactly what Mari told him she would never be. While the lioness moved up to playfully lick Mohatu's nose, that tingle of a thought developed greater strength in his mind.

Minerva then stepped back with a giggle. "Come with me," she nodded, gesturing toward the pyramid with her claws, where her den was. "We have a bright future ahead of us... in the Pridelands."

Leo looked down at his paws. Naturally, as the lioness in his vision backed away, Mohatu couldn't help but feel a tinge of guilt. Was he really going to leave the lioness he truly loved, for a lioness who merely seemed interested in him? Was it really even happening? It seemed impossible. It had to be too good to be true, or there had to have been some sort of catch.

But perhaps not.

While it was true that Mari didn't like him, Leo still felt like he was betraying his loved one by following Minerva. It was odd, in the most unexplainable way. It seemed so wrong to him, even though it really wasn't. After all, Mari had told him to find another lioness. She said it would be okay.

Mohatu nodded silently. "She really would be okay with it..." he whispered to himself.

Perhaps, Mohatu's guilt actually existed because of Minerva's allegiance, as the queen of the Pridelands. Mohatu wasn't sure that he could trust the queen, but that didn't seem to matter, anymore. What mattered was that she wanted him, whereas Mari didn't. After all the time Mohatu had spent with Mari, it was all meaningless now. Minerva was the better option, and by a very significant margin.

And after all that Mari had said, there was no way that she would care, Mohatu assured himself. Mari had to go live her own life with her own lion, while Mohatu had to find his own lioness. Heck, it was what Mari said she wanted him to do. Between each breath, Mohatu struggled to remind himself of that.

"It'll be fine..." Mohatu whispered, as a second attempt to convince himself.

Mari would be okay with it, or so Mohatu forced himself to reason. That was her destiny, and this was his. Although they had spent so many days together, their paths had to split. It was still a sad moment for Mohatu, and perhaps eternally so—but it was what had to be.

At the very worst, Mohatu was only going to be putting Mari through the same pain that she had just put him through. And besides, if Mari did become jealous, by any chance, it would even work out in Leo's favor. By going with Minerva, he had everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

And, with that final thought, Mohatu took a step forward. As he started walking along with Minerva, all of his feelings of inadequacy fell behind him. Already, he was a new lion now.

Leo quickly decided that he would never leave Minerva—but only for as long as his true mate wanted to be with someone else. That seemed fair enough to him.


---



Much like her mother, Mari was hardly an average lioness. It was the way she thought, the way she acted, and the way she held her beliefs—it never quite coincided with a typical lioness of her age.

To put it simply, Mari was just different. She wasn't the type of lioness to be as lovey-dovey as Mohatu was. That wasn't in her nature. On the most fundamental level, she just wasn't into that sort of thing.

While other adolescent lionesses were running around with their future mates, Mari was always one to walk her own path. She had never fallen in love, nor had she ever honestly claimed to. Of course, there were a few lions she had a certain fondness for—Leo was obviously one of them—but it was never anything serious. For her, it was just a shallow feeling that would pass in time, not some inescapable force of nature.

Contrary to what she had just told Mohatu, not once did Mari ever feel as though she wanted to run off with another lion, and leave everything she knew behind her. Mari's loyalty was to her own pride, and her desire to find a mate was superfluous, not essential to her self worth, hopes, and dreams.

Mari was her own lioness. She expected a mate to broaden her view of life, not narrow or reduce it. Mari never felt a need to find her other half, because she had no such thing; she never considered herself half a lioness. Mari was perfectly happy living life on her own, with her friends and family. To her, that was what seemed natural.

Unlike Mohatu, Mari didn't feel any sort of need to be loved in that way. She just wasn't like that.

As a matter of fact, the thought of romance was almost a deterrent for Mari. As odd as it was for a grown lioness to think in such a way, the entire concept of romantic love only seemed awkward to her—hence the reason why she tried so hard to avoid it.

In the past, Mari had been willing to do anything to get out of a relationship; that much was blatantly obvious. She had even lied and told Mohatu she was gay to avoid the thought, although that was only a temporary fix. But, more importantly, it was an excuse. It was all an excuse. Everything Mari told Mohatu about the way she felt was only partially true. All those fallacious thoughts were only obscuring the truth underneath.

The truth was simple enough, or so it seemed from the external shell of her mind. Mari didn't really want to be romantic with any lion. The unpleasant discomfort she experienced from the mere thought of all the mushy-gushy stuff was too much for her to bear. For Mari, it was frivolous, unnecessary, and downright sickeningly sweet at times.

But on a deeper level of truth, that was an oversimplification of Mari's feelings by quite a landslide. Something about Mohatu made the lioness's perception of love a bit different, in the most internally conflicting way imaginable.

Mari never expected to think that. She never even wanted to feel that way about any lion. The entire idea of love, romance, and finding a soul mate was all pointless to her. In the past, it hadn't meant anything. But, as Mari looked back, she began to realize that it did actually mean something.

Even back in the earliest days with Leo, the thought of being close to him wasn't gross at all. It never seemed that way. At the time, she had no idea why she felt that way, but she always did. She respected him. She admired him. She looked up to him. And when he turned against her, she corrected him.

Yeah, she sorta liked him. Mari wasn't afraid to admit that. They were best friends—of course they had a strong emotional attachment to each other. That fact was indisputable. For that reason, it wasn't like Mari's feelings spontaneously appeared out of thin air. It wasn't like a switch had suddenly been turned on, and she started falling for him. Instead, it was a slow, gradual process. What she felt was always there, only sitting dormant in the center of her heart.

With all the chaos that had interrupted their friendship, Mari had tried to suppress her attraction. Perhaps it was only out of her fear of being betrayed by Leo a second time, but regardless, Mari simply had not allowed herself to fall into the trap of love. She never wanted to view herself as a victim to her feelings. Certainly not in a time like this.

But things were finally starting to look up. The end was near, and it wasn't nearly as ugly of a picture as she thought it would be. Granted, it wasn't pretty either, but she had expected worse. No matter which direction Mari looked, she arrived at one startling conclusion: she could trust Leo more than any other lion around her.

Mari hadn't always appreciated the thought of intimacy, but with Mohatu, there was something strange about it that she secretly liked—more so now than ever. What exactly that was, Mari was unsure of. But it didn't matter. It simply felt right to her, in a way otherwise indescribable by words.

For the longest time, she was just denying it.

Obviously that state of denial hadn't changed, even in light of recent events. Whenever Mohatu was not around, Mari could not help but to feel lonely. The air was dense, dry, and empty. The grasses were quiet, and the sky was peaceful. Mari loved the tranquil environment, but there was one thing she loved even more. That was Mohatu's comfort.

Since Leo's rebirth, something had changed inside Mari's heart, which gave her such a sense of internal conflict. It was a small change, certainly, and she had not mentioned it aloud—but it doubtlessly had its effects visible in plain sight.

As odd as it seemed, something about being reunited with Leo was incredibly pleasing to the lioness. Never before had Mari felt it necessary to proclaim her love out loud, but for the first time, she wanted to. She knew how much Mohatu loved her, and she wanted him to know how important that was to her.

Contrary to what she initially would have thought, it was important.

But still, Mari was different—and that wasn't ever going to change. She could not bring herself to say how she felt out loud; doing so would have been far too awkward for her tastes. Mari, being the lioness she was, had other ideas. She had her own unique way of doing things, as Mohatu was about to learn.

Mari had been hiding her feelings for long enough. She had to tell him what she really thought, but she had to do it in her own way, on her own terms.

Naturally, she wanted Mohatu to know that she loved him. She wanted to hug him, lick his muzzle, and tell him the truth. As much as it made her uncomfortable to think about it, it was a pleasant sort of discomfort. It was the discomfort of opening up to him, oddly combined with the comfort of knowing that she could.

Mari knew that she liked Mohatu, and she also knew that Mohatu liked her. He had told her about his feelings on numerous occasions, and although he wasn't always comfortable with it either, Mari found solace in the fact that he could do so. It was like a special sort of secret that they shared, which, in truth, only added to her feelings of attachment.

In addition, Mohatu looked up to Mari to guide them on their journey. Although Mari had never admitted it, that meant something special to her, as well. He really trusted her, and he really did love her. Mari could not even begin to deny that.

Yet, it wasn't gross, and it wasn't weird. It was... something else. The only emotion it incited from Mari was a bond of attachment. Although she never would have admitted it at first, knowing how Mohatu felt about her only brought her happiness. It wasn't just some sort of meaningless infatuation like she had originally believed; what Mari felt toward Mohatu was far deeper.

Mohatu was the lion she truly wanted. It was still awkward and uncomfortable for Mari to think that, being the lioness she was, but it was also a very pleasant thought. Nothing made Mari feel safer than knowing that she was loved by the strongest lion in Africa. It was the way he looked after her—she didn't just like the attention he gave her; she never wanted to go without it.

Largely, if anything, it was what Mohatu had said before that made Mari change her mind about love. As she had time to slowly contemplate it on her own, the thought of living together, growing up together, and sharing life together just seemed right to her. It was the thought that he would always be with her—something about that changed everything.

And yet, Mohatu had no idea. Mari never told him the truth, because she simply couldn't.

Not surprisingly, that reason was because Mari was still somewhat nervous about explaining all that she wanted to. After all, it wasn't just embarrassing. She knew she had to eat her own words, which meant admitting that Mohatu was right, all along. She didn't have too many qualms about that, but it didn't actually help the situation, either.

Days ago, Mari had said that a romantic relationship with Mohatu was a possibility. At the time, she had absolutely no intention of deviating from her true mission—saving her pride. Even still, that was what she wanted to accomplish, above all else. However, what Mari began to realize was that her goal didn't necessarily conflict with keeping Mohatu happy. In fact, there was hardly any reason why she couldn't have been in a relationship with Leo, while simultaneously opposing Leo's kingdom.

What she had once feared—Leo's second betrayal—no longer existed as a possibility. Even in her wildest dreams, she couldn't see it happening a second time. Not after what Rafiki had said, not after what Mohatu had said, and certainly not after what Mohatu had done. It just couldn't happen. It was unthinkable. In that sense, Mari was actually more concerned about her own fate, rather than Leo's.

In the end, it all came down to a few simple ideas. Mari liked Mohatu. She wanted to be with him. She simply didn't want to admit that she was wrong, and she had no idea how she wanted to tell him all that.

And so the lie about the red-maned lion was born.

For the most part, what Mari had told Mohatu was true. She was falling in love with a red-maned lion from her dreams—that lion in her dreams was Mohatu. Unbeknownst to him, his mane appeared red, under the light of the sunset. That one detail was her subtle hint, although he never quite picked up on it.

Mari simply couldn't bring herself to admit her true feelings directly, and that was why she had fooled him in the way that she did. She had to do it that way; she was far too nervous to say how much she loved him in any other way. And besides, it just wouldn't have had the effect she wanted.

In essence, it was all a playful little game, for her. Mari knew she was toying with Mohatu's emotions by telling him that she was in love with another lion, but she did it anyway. She did it because she wanted to make him jealous. Mohatu's jealousy was going to make the situation easier for her to deal with. It would take the pressure off of her, and gave her the opportunity to tell Mohatu she loved him—in such a way that would later give him a night to remember.

Now, all Mari had to do was tell him she was just kidding. But even in regard to that aspect, Mari had a very specific plan in mind.

All the while, Mari had been wandering over to the patchy grasslands, which grew through the dry sands in scattered clusters. Gentle winds rolled across the horizon which whisked the grasses around, but none were any stronger than a slight breeze.

The lioness stared downward at her paws, examining one plant in particular. It was little more than a shrub in size, but that was not what caught the lioness's immediate interest. Under the falling temperatures of night, what captured Mari's eyes were the small, yellow bundles of wildflowers, which hung from each and every end.

The flora she spotted were precisely the same type of flower that Mohatu had picked for her, what seemed like eons ago. Although he had once set his gift down in the sand to let it wither and die in the desert, Mari now had her own ideas.

At that time, Mari pretended to ignore it. She wanted to act like she had never seen the flower, so that she could live her life in a state of peaceful ignorance, free from any worries of a relationship.

But that all changed. This was the time.

It was difficult for Mari to imagine any greater happiness than what she was about to give Mohatu, and that was just the way she wanted it to be. She planned to catch him by surprise, and her intention was to give him a romantic night to remember. Mari knew that it was going to be nothing short of the best night ever, and she couldn't wait to see the smile on Mohatu's face when he would eventually realize the truth.

That, she knew, was what would make it all worth the effort.

After all, Mari could not deny that an evening of peace was exactly what they both deserved. The two had overcome the majority of their struggles, and a little bit of celebration was growing necessary.

Mari picked the yellow wildflower up with her pawtoes, and tucked it behind her ear. She then rolled onto her back, and twisted her spine from side to side. The sweet scent of flowers seeped into the ruffles of her fur, just the way she had intended.

This was going to be good, and she knew it.

Smiling a grin of satisfaction, the lioness rose back onto her paws. She reached her paw back, to make sure the flower she picked was still tucked behind her ear. Yep, it was still there. Check. Got it.

Now, Mari took a final deep breath. She felt the tingles of nervousness in her stomach, but it was a good sort of nervousness. It was a happy nervousness. It was the anticipation of what was soon to be the most memorable night of her life—of their life, actually. It was the anticipation of all good things.

And with that final thought, Mari trotted off, back to go find Mohatu. She ran as fast as she could without shorting her breath. She simply couldn't wait another moment.


---



Minerva sat down in the center of her den. As the torches on the wall ignited, she turned her head around to meet Mohatu's poky movements. "Well, aren't you in a hurry," she stated with no small amount of sarcasm within.

Mohatu glanced downward at the white lioness's shadows, noting the intricate, checkered tile pattern on the floor's center. The queen's den was much nicer of a place than all the others, and by no small margin. The entire room radiated a sense of beauty and perfection, while also being about ten times the size of Mohatu's own den in the same pyramid. It was like a luxury suite, though perhaps even better.

"What's the rush?" Mohatu asked, trying to keep his cool in spite of the intense, rumbling purr of his inner kitty. As he looked back up to meet the lioness's eyes, he shot her a seductive grin of his own. "We have all night to enjoy ourselves..."

"True," stated Minerva. She stepped over to the side of the room and kicked a pile of strange, crafted metal bits into the center of the tile floor. "Let's start off with a game, shall we?"

Mohatu rested his hindquarters on the flat floor beneath him. "What game?" he asked, curiously enough.

"It's called chess," Minerva answered. "It's a favorite of the ancient kings." With the pieces in the middle of the floor between them, the queen rolled over onto her side, smiling both lackadaisically and somewhat maliciously. "You take the black pieces, I'll take the white pieces," she continued. "These checkered tiles here represent the board."

"Mmm... okay," Mohatu mumbled. He reached out his paw and collected the darker metal pieces, thus bringing them all into a pile. "I think I may have played this before... but I forgot."

"It is no matter," Minerva answered. "The rules are simple." She reached her paw out to lift up one of the smallest pieces, and placed it on the board. Then, she began her demonstrations. "These are pawns. They start here, and they can only move like this. They can only attack like this."

Mohatu nodded, allowing the white lioness to continue.

"These are rooks," she added. "They can move and attack only in a straight line, but are not limited by the number of spaces. The others are bishops, which work in the same way, though they can only move diagonally."

"Uh-huh..." Mohatu nodded.

"The two equine pieces are knights," Minerva continued. "They move in an odd pattern, like this. They are the only ones which possess the ability to jump over other pieces."

"Okay..."

Minerva smiled. "And the last two are the king and queen. The queen is the most useful piece, capable of moving like a rook or a bishop. The king is limited in its movement to only adjacent tiles, but killing him is the objective of the game."

"Oh," Mohatu opened his mouth, after watching carefully. "I get it... this is supposed to be some sort of metaphor for what's going to happen, isn't it?"

The white lioness unleashed a slight, sinister giggle from her throat. "Oh... possibly."

In consequence, Mohatu lowered his brow. He quickly placed all his pieces in their respective positions, and already began contemplating his strategy. In the depth of his concentration, the tip of his tongue started to slip outside of his mouth. "Let's do this. You go first."

Minerva reached her paw out to the board, and pushed a pawn two spaces forward. "There," she said. "Now your move?"

Mohatu thought briefly, before realizing that he wasn't quite sure what to do. He had a plethora of pieces to move, but which would yield the best outcome? He needed time to decide. Hesitantly, he brought his paw forward, but he did not touch a single piece.

Meanwhile, Minerva rose back up onto her paws. "I'm going to fetch a few drinks," she stated. "Do you like acacia cider?"

"Yeah... sure, your highness," Mohatu replied, trying to remember his manners.


---



Mari trotted down the hill to where she had left Mohatu, but as the thorn bush filled her vision under the stars, she immediately realized that something was wrong. The land was quiet and empty—unusually so, considering how she had left the scene. Based on that observation, what stood out in her mind was one simple fact of even greater importance.

Mohatu wasn't there.

Mari's smile faded away, and her teeth clenched together. "Aww, zebra spit," she swore aloud. Her eyes darted around, but she found no sign of the lion's presence. She couldn't even smell him.

"I told you to stay here," Mari complained. Despite the fact that no one was around, she made no effort to hide her voice. "I told you I'd be back... was it really that hard to stay still for a few minutes?"

After a second, she looked down at her paws. "Damn... I wonder if he..." The orange lioness raised her paw, and brushed the flower stuck behind her ear. Her happy sense of nervousness faded into something much more threatening and terrifying. "I hope I didn't go too far..." she whined.

Mari stepped forward slowly and cautiously, keeping her eyes glued to the ground the entire time. "Crap," she whispered to herself. "I went too far, didn't I?"

Step after step, Mari felt increasingly guilty. She knew what she did. She knew she had hurt Mohatu by saying the things that she had said; she was hardly as ignorant as she appeared to be. As such, it didn't totally surprise her that he got up and left. She had teased his most sensitive emotions and neglected his feelings—even as she was doing it, she knew she wasn't exactly doing the right thing.

"Mohatu..." she called quietly, as if it would somehow make everything better. "I'm sorry. It was just a joke... I didn't mean it like that. I just wanted to surprise you, that's all."

While she continued to walk at a slow, agonizing pace, Mari's paw fell into a large depression in the sand. In consequence, her heart sank to the bottom of her pawpad, inches below the rest of the sand. As she looked downward, the revelation hit her: that was where Mohatu had been laying.

Suddenly, Mari's eyes perked up. Naturally, her ears and tail followed in suit. She scanned across the horizon, and quickly found what looked to be Mohatu's pawprints. They led directly to one of the pyramids.

Mari's brow twitched for a second. She didn't want to go in there, but she had no other choice. She had to make things right.

The lioness's pace quickened. Her focus narrowed on the tracks ahead of her, and her heart started to accelerate. "I promise, Mohatu," she stated. "I wasn't being serious. I... I didn't mean to. I didn't know it would hurt you this much."

It wasn't going to be easy to say, but she had already learned her lesson, for sure. Mari wasn't going to be able to sleep until she made everything right. She had to tell him the truth, and set her guilt free. And so that was what she was going to do.


---



Minerva returned to the cozy enclave of her den with the lips of two bowls of juice clenched between her teeth. Carefully, she placed them both on the floor, beside the large, checkered tiles of the game board. Before she lapped up the drink from one of the bowls, she slid the other over to Mohatu's side.

Minerva raised her bowl up into the air with her paw, and waited for Mohatu to do the same. At that moment, she clashed her bowl against his, while a clack sounded from the cups. "To the great kings," she announced, somewhat awestruck by the sacred regalia of her own voice.

Mohatu repeated the lioness's toast. "To the great kings..."

In secret, Leo then set his cup down and turned his head aside for a split second. His eyes darted to the den's ceiling. "This doesn't mean a thing, Algenubi," he whispered in his deepest, most intimidating voice with closed teeth. Certainly, he wasn't going to switch his views around just because of something that Mari had said.

"Ahh..." Minerva verbalized her feeling of refreshment. "You'll never find acacia cider quite as good as this."

Mohatu smelled his bowl of juice, before taking a sip on his own accord. "Mhm... it is pretty good," agreed the lion. "It's sweeter than I thought it would be."

A moment's pause proceeded in the time that followed. Using the break advantageously, the queen moved a piece on the board, and then rolled back over onto her side. She intentionally exposed her underbelly to Leo, very distractingly. She also brought her tail around to twitch Mohatu's, casually signaling flirtatious behavior in the leonine form. Needless to say, it was an enticing sight for any male lion, no doubt about it.

While Mohatu's focused shifted to Minerva's body, the queen finally decided to continue the conversation. "It is sweet," she agreed, twiddling her paw impatiently. "We're royalty... we're superior. We get only the best."

"I can taste it," Mohatu replied, while moving a chess piece of his own.

"That's the taste of excellence," Minerva started to explain. She then moved yet another piece forward, in the break of her words. "You see... I'm the queen," she stated, dragging out her words for emphasis. "I hold great power within these borders..."

"I've noticed," Mohatu nodded, though his thoughts remained elsewhere.

"But that's not important, now," she continued. "What's important is that I have the power to make you the next king." Glaring at Mohatu seductively, she blinked and flared her eye. "You have potential to surpass even Leo."

Mohatu slid his paw across the board, pushing one of his own pieces across. "What do I need to do to taste more of this... power?" he questioned slowly, both interested and slightly afraid to hear the answer. He made every attempt to hide such fear, nonetheless.

"Oh," Minerva continued with a casual smile, staring deep into Mohatu's wanting eyes. Almost lackadaisically, she also moved a piece forward. "Nothing much... nothing you don't already want to do..."

Mohatu grinned. "I like what you're thinking," he added, moving a piece to kill one of Minerva's pawns.

Minerva shared the lion's grin, seeming not to pay attention to the game board in front of her paws. "Oh, I know. I like it too. It shall be our little secret."

Mohatu's heart started to beat a little faster. The extent to which he was enjoying Minerva's attention was simply off the charts. Already, she had made him feel more wanted, needed, and appreciated than Mari had ever done. The thought of sharing a secret with her—especially that kind of secret—was almost a little too exciting for him to keep his head straight. That stupid, dorky grin of infatuation just never left his face.

The sweet and delicious cider was starting to show its effects of inhibition, as well—but that was much less important to Mohatu. He was simply eying Minerva and the game board, waiting anxiously but with great desire. Several turns between the two felines passed in silence, with each moment growing more tense than the last.

"Well, it is not that simple a thing. There is a little more..." Minerva added with a whisper.

Mohatu, however, paid the lioness no mind. His thoughts were deep in concentration, focused intensely on two different but seemingly unrelated things. "What's that...?" he asked, with little acknowledgement of his own words. His brain was merely on autopilot, responding like a drone.

"Oh..." continued Minerva, "just someone I want... that's all."

After briefly scratching his chin, Leo decided which piece he wanted to move. He saw a flaw in Minerva's formation and claimed one of her bishops as his own. His focus on the game was actually quite surprising, considering how distracting Minerva was trying to be.

"Very well then," Minerva stated nonchalantly. She then moved a knight into place, to take out one of Mohatu's most critical pieces.

Leo's eyes widened. He jolted back, as soon as he saw his mistake. "Hey, you... you killed my queen!"

"Surprised?" Minerva asked. "I can't let you keep her. Oh, no... the queen of the battlefield is always the first target."

Frantically, Mohatu moved another of his pieces into place, to cover up his mistake. In due time, Minerva swiped that one away, too. Now, it was a game of predator versus prey, and Mohatu was on the defensive. Every move he made was to keep his king alive—and the queen's seductive presence wasn't helping any.

Mohatu's eyes had never been any more stressed and confused. To compromise, one of his pupils dialed in on the game board, while the other stared at the queen's alluring bellyfur—causing him to go cross-eyed. His mind struggled to keep up, alternating between states of intense attraction and decisive strategy several thousand times every second.

"You're skilled for a beginner," Minerva complimented her opponent, as she moved one last piece into place. "Few survive with their king intact for this long."

"It's not over yet," Mohatu taunted. He moved his king aside, and out of the way of danger. There, he waited—just one more move and he'd be able to put Minerva's king in check. The odds weren't good, but he still had a plan. There was a chance...

Yet, with one simple move of her queen, Minerva put Mohatu's king back in check, again. However, this time, it was a little different. Mohatu was out of options.

Mohatu placed his paw on top of his king to cover his most important piece, but the feeling of defeat started to swell in his stomach. He could move there... but no. But he could move there... no. There was nowhere he could move. He had no choice but to surrender.

"Checkmate," Minerva grinned.

"But..."

Minerva leaned forward, placing her paw on the checkered game board. "It's over. You lost."

Mohatu stood up onto his paws, and simultaneously shook his head. Okay, so it was true. He did lose. Quite literally, he had just been pwn'ed by Minerva's superior tactics. He took his paw and swiped away the entire board, thus ending the game and forfeiting his turn. "It would have helped if you weren't so pretty..." he teased, licking his lips with the same lust that he felt before.

Minerva leaned forward, until the pad of her nose touched Mohatu's own, at long last. She could feel his nervousness, his heartbeat, and his rush of adrenaline. "What are you waiting for, now?" she asked, breathing right onto him and wrapping her tail around his own. "Just kiss me, you uncultured swine."

And with those words of consent, Mohatu did. He never thought twice. Time slowed to a standstill, and needless to say, he enjoyed every millisecond of it. His eyes locked in place with Minerva's, and the simple quiver-inducing feel of her lips on his own was enough to get his mind going with even better thoughts. Perhaps the night wouldn't be so bad, after all.


---



Mari approached the entrance to the pyramid, until she met with the stare of two royal leonine guards under the starlight. Lacking caution, she approached the males—despite the fact that she wasn't quite sure of how to explain herself.

"Stop," one of the guards demanded as he lifted his paw. "Who are you and what is your business here?"

"No time to explain," Mari replied, allowing her shortness of breath to speak for itself. "You need to let me in. This is an emergency..."

One of the royal guardians of the pyramid stepped forward to block the entrance, while the other approached Mari from the side. "That's odd," he announced, "I haven't been notified. What's the emergency?"

"Oh..." Mari blushed. "Um..." She stepped back with great anxiety, until she found that she had no escape. She had to think of something, and she had to think fast. "Umm... FIRE!"

Suddenly, the two guards stopped, with what was perhaps vaguely reminiscent of a gasp. Their ears twitched, but neither of them knew what was actually going on. They merely stood awkwardly, showing no expression other than confusion.

"FIRE!" Mari yelled again. "THERE'S A FIRE! Tell everyone to evacuate. I... I have to go get my cubs!"

The two guards looked at one another, signs of worry starting to grow on both their muzzles. Neither of them saw a fire, but what if there actually was one? The lioness seemed distressed enough—and a fire wasn't something to joke about.

Using her golden opportunity, the lioness pushed her way between the two guards and straight into the corridor of the pyramid. She ran faster than ever, quickly leaving the two slower males behind in the maze of catacombs. Mari was an agile lioness; she could easily outrun the two behemoth warriors with their vibrant, bulky manes.

"Hey you! Get back here!" one of the guards yelled, while the other stayed behind to cover the entrance. The two split up, and the one went after Mari. Even if there was a fire, he had a job to do. That said, they both had reasonable doubt about any impending inferno, considering Mari's behavior.

Mari, however, stopped to wait. She was out of breath, and she needed a pause to replenish her energy. As the leonine guardian approached her, she decided to hide her tail around a corner like the stealthy fighter she was. Already, she had yet another plan.

As the distance between the two adversaries reached zero, Mari unleashed a swath of her claws on her pursuer's muzzle. The other paw of hers ran up to cover his mouth, which prevented him from making a single sound. Her attack was harsh, brash, and utterly relentless—and her advantage of stealth secured her position on top.

Now, the tables were turned. Mari held the upper paw, and considering the circumstances, she wasn't afraid to use her advantage, in the dim and dark light of the pyramid's narrow corridor.

"Where did Mohatu go?" She demanded, choking and pinning the lion below her.

However, as the blood rushed to her head, she realized what she was doing. Needless to say, Mari wasn't quite comfortable with the thought of becoming an interrogator. She knew she had her reasons, but she decided to lessen her grip on her adversary.

As soon as Mari let go, the male guardian gasped desperately for air. Mari stood atop her paws, and circled around while she waited for her answer. That said, it was taking a little longer than she thought. All the guard did was cough and wheeze; he could barely speak a mumbled word. Mari looked down impatiently, staring at the humiliated guard for a few seconds. "Forget it," she said with a whisper. "It's a boring conversation, anyway."

With those final words, Mari trotted off, completely uninterested in whatever it was that the male was going to say. She had more important things to do, and finding Mohatu was at the very top of the list. Of all the things that were about to happen, this really wasn't the best time to be picking fights. She would deal with the guards later.

For now, Mari decided that stealth would be her ally. It was nighttime after all, and most lions were sleeping in their dens. She could easily sneak through each corridor until she found Mohatu, wherever he was...


---



Mohatu gazed downward from his position atop Minerva, smiling as she reclined back into the den's wall. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but the lights around him seemed to dim to only a barely perceptible glow. "I can't believe we're doing this..." he chuckled nervously.

"It's part of the... ritual," Minerva replied. "You're one of us now."

For a split second, Mohatu looked away. "Heh..." he exhaled lightly. "Somehow, I always knew I was..."

Minerva wrapped her forepaws around Mohatu's neck, and brought the lion closer to her than he had ever been before. She held him tight, and then licked the underside of his chin. "You're really good..." she added.

Mohatu leaned his head back down and closer the Minerva's, feeling not a tad happier than he had ever been before. "Yeah, I think so too... I guess I am pretty good, aren't I? And so are you," he smirked.

Minerva then nuzzled the top of her head across Mohatu's cheeks. "And now, I want you to smell like me," she stated. "Yes... that's right... smell like me..."

Yet, that wasn't the only thing going on. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the two, another creature was approaching from the distance.

In the back, two glowing eyes appeared from around the corner, and started to watch from afar. Not surprisingly, those eyes just happened to belong to a very specific love interest of Mohatu's. Neither Minerva nor Mohatu knew of Mari's presence in their states of bliss, but for Mari, watching it was something else entirely.

Mari's jaw dropped on instinct. Based on her initial reaction, she wasn't even sure whether to laugh or cry. "You've got to be kidding me..." she whispered to herself. "There's no way this is happening..."

The observing lioness ceased to watch. She couldn't. She had only seen the two together for a mere second, but that was enough. She didn't need to see any more to understand what they were doing... or had already done. But more importantly, she had to wonder—why?

Mari winced at her own painful thoughts. She didn't like where her mind was taking her, and that much was certain. All she did was leave Mohatu alone for a few minutes, and then there he was—laying atop of the queen, as if nothing else mattered in the entire world.

And at that moment, all of Mohatu's self-loathing thoughts suddenly fell on Mari's shoulders. The energy drained from her core, and nearly an infinite number of anxieties started to cloud her internal voice.

"Well, damn..." Mari muttered to herself. "I really messed this up..."

With no other thoughts or concerns, the lioness turned around and proceeded to leave the den. Her entire plan had backfired on her, but this wasn't the time to try fix it. Not with Minerva around. Mari kept quiet on her paws, and made every effort to hide in the sorrows of solace. She decided she would spend the night in one of the pyramid's empty dens, if she could even manage to get any sleep at all.

Meanwhile, back at the other corner of Minerva's den, Mohatu's eyes folded over. His head collapsed above Minerva, and he rolled over beside her. He maintained his purr all the while, rumbling with satisfaction after each breath.

"So how many cubs do you think we're going to have?" Mohatu asked teasingly.

Mari flattened her ears and forcefully flushed her breath as she exited the den. "Oh... dear... God," she grunted.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » May 31st, 2014, 3:48 pm

chapter 38: show
A/N: Yeah, I know. It's been a rather long time since I've last updated this story. Please don't kill me. I know I said that the updates would be more frequent this year, but I simply haven't been able to keep to any sort of schedule. Not only are these chapters really long, but they're also very complex. In this chapter and the next three, everything I've begun will be brought to an end.

I have a lot of loose ends to tie up, and I want everything to be as good as I can possibly make it. That means editing and revising—lots of it. While I lack in quantity, I hope to make up for it in quality. We're getting close to the end, and so I want to be sure that I get everything just right before I put it up for you guys to read.

So, without further ado, here it is. This is the product of months of sleepless nights, hundreds of hours of procrastinating, and loads of general goofing off when I should have been getting down to work. :)


---


A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 38: Twin Sunset


The world shook and wobbled. Left. Right. Up. Down. Forward and back. There was no sense of stability in direction, only a spinning dizziness in its place. From what could be felt, only a warm body brushed across reality through the darkness of Leo's consciousness. It was all a fuzzy mesh. Precisely where his fur ended and his mate's fur began wasn't notable in the slightest, definitely not through the indiscernible blob of all good things.

In the midst of his relief and euphoria, Mohatu rolled over onto his back and kicked his paws into the air. He purr-rumbled with the satisfied happiness of his own internal pleasures, all warm and fuzzy—free from any sort of worry. He didn't know what was going on, but he didn't care. For the first time in days, he actually felt good.

It wasn't just a good feeling on the outside, like a smile painted onto his face. No, this was different. Mohatu's feeling came from deep within. It was an internal happiness, unbounded by the limitations he placed on his own self. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing—regardless, he was truly ecstatically happy. There was only one thing that could have made him any happier, but he wasn't going to think about that and let it ruin the moment.

"Mhmmmm... I suppose it's time to start the day," the brown-maned lion heard from across him. Doubtlessly, it was the regal voice of Minerva, all fluid and powerful. "Still sleepy, big guy?" she asked.

To maintain his comfort, Mohatu rolled over. He never quite opened his eyes until he realized that the queen wasn't still there beside him. She had already erected herself up onto her paws, after somehow disentangling herself from the male. Yet, even despite that, Leo stayed motionless. He wasn't quite ready to bring about a start to the next day. The night had been so good—it was a shame for it to end so abruptly.

"You can rest here for a little while longer," Minerva offered. "In fact, I was planning to give you the entire day off. You'll need to save your strength for your big day tomorrow."

Mohatu widened his grin. "Hah... tomorrow?" he muttered. "I thought this was the big event."

Well, to him it was the big event, anyway. All Mohatu really wanted was a lioness to sleep with, so everything else was more akin to a background event, hardly worthy of his attention. Little did he know what he was getting himself into, however. As she had mentioned last night, Minerva clearly had something special in mind for her newfound mate.

"Oh, no..." the queen replied slowly. Her brows lowered into a sinister gaze, while her throat prepared to deepen her voice with her usual, sinister twist. "Tomorrow is the big day: your promotion to knight."

What? That was it? Surely there must have been something more in mind, Mohatu thought. He was supposed to be something more than a mere knight.

Mohatu lifted his head from the solid, flat tile floor. He looked up at Minerva, both tired and confused. The two emotions were clearly evident in his droopy, reflective eyes, but the sight faded away after a blink of thought. After a brief moment, Mohatu questioned his new mate's proposition. "I thought I was going to be promoted to king?"

"Do not fret," Minerva insisted, teasingly enough as it seemed. "You already are a king. It's just a matter of... shall I say... rearranging the hierarchy." Her reaffirming words were accompanied by a warm smile, plastered so odd and firm on her face.

Mohatu's head returned to the cold floor below him, satisfied enough by the answer to resume his rest. "I like that," he answered casually.

"Mhhmm hmm," Minerva nodded secretly. "I'll bet you do." She then turned to the exit of her elaborate den, and proceed to leave Mohatu in there all on his own. "The ceremony will take place tomorrow at noon. Just get some rest today... you'll need it to face the challenges that will await you."

"Will you help me with the challenges?" Mohatu asked innocently.

Before the queen could leave her den completely, she paused to answer her mate's question. "No," she bluntly stated. "This will be something you must face alone. It is your destiny, not mine. If you succeed in the trail, it will be that success which will place you above your peers, and earn you the revered title of knight."

"But..." Mohatu insisted. "You're my mate, aren't you? Isn't that what mates do? We have to look after each other, you know... that's the way it's supposed to be."

Mohatu's questions, however, were never answered. The regal queen had left her den without even a goodbye, and her shadow diminished behind the wall of a stony, dimly lit corner. Whether or not she heard him wasn't the easiest thing to determine—but regardless, she left Mohatu behind in a state of wonder.

Mohatu closed his eyes again, breathing out heavily through his nose. Although he wanted to continue to feel good, he couldn't deny that something also felt a little wrong. Whatever it was about Minerva—something about her made Mohatu a bit uncomfortable. All things considered, it was just a little creepy.

"Alright," Mohatu whispered to himself. "So, she's going to help me kill Rex... and then I'll be able to take the artifacts. Okay... I can do this. I just need to do what she says, that's all..."


---



Back on the exterior horizon, the sun had already risen a few degrees up into the sky. The night had already become the day, and every corner of the visible world was coming back to life. Like usual, it was a vibrant picture—filled with a gorgeous scenery of fauna both rustling about on the ground and flying gallantly in the sky.

Much like Mohatu, Buraya found himself waking up with odd feelings of dizziness and a very notable lack of self-orientation. As his eyelids contracted open to reveal the irides below, the two were crossed and out of focus, rotating in circles. The lion's mouth opened and released a significant amount of drool, but he didn't care.

In fact, he hardly even seemed to notice the saliva oozing out of the corner of his lips. Buraya grumbled, closing his eyelids back to their natural position. "Ugh... I feel turrrrrible..."

He attempted to move his paw, trying to get a bit more comfortable. Much to his misfortune, however, he only found himself sticking his limb into a bowl of half-empty liquid of some sort—probably something leftover from Rafiki's experiments. The movement created a splash, soaked Buraya's pawfur, and spilled the remainder of the foamy liquid across the rocky surface on which it was placed, inside the sinkhole.

Buraya groaned again. "I tink I'm gonna... ugh... I shshouldn tuh drankan so much." A blergh succeeded his words, along with deep shivers of sickness throughout his entire body. It was all the lion could do to keep yesterday's lunch down in his stomach. It wanted out, and it was knocking on the door of his throat like an over-pressurized can of something nasty.

Well, perhaps the morning scenery wasn't so gorgeous, after all.

That was a notion seconded by Zuria. She too experienced the ill feelings toward dawn, as life bloomed all around her. Though she had been given a different concoction to taste, her symptoms were hardly all that far from Buraya's. She felt nasty and sick to her stomach, with very little energy to persevere through the continuous pain.

Rafiki, however, seemed to have no notable end to the amount of energy at his core. He was an exception to the general rule, as it seemed.

As the heat of the morning sun illuminated his backside, he drew out his sword—eventually bringing the weapon to a steady hold above his waist. He slashed it through the air with a powerful strike, then again across the other way. The monkey had no opponent to face, yet he insisted on practicing and sharpening his skills with a blade.

The mandrill stepped forward, then repeated the attack. After, he repeated the entire length of his motions again, this time facing another imaginary opponent to his right. He added a block and a kick to the mix, before holding the sword high above his head. At that point, he brought all his weight to bear down on the ground, in a brutal final move.

With each attack, Rafiki exhaled heavily. One after another, his voice grew louder. The form of his kata was precise, sharp, and powerful—neither sloppy with anger nor reliant on fury. He was quite the powerful monkeylord, bristling and brimming with a swordsman's experience beyond his years.

"Would you..." Buraya groaned slowly, "...cut it out?"

"Can't cut it out, haha," Rafiki grinned. "It'll grow right back!"


---



Mari groaned, while her stomach inverted itself from the inside out. Her guts insisted on doing gymnastics, causing her to feel no better than the pile of avian excrement on Mohatu's mane the night before. For some odd reason or another, the feelings of crappiness only intensified as the pitter-patters of pawsteps and mumbles of voices in the background increased in volume.

"Ugh," the lioness groaned. "Just another morning..."

It was true that the lioness hadn't slept half a bit, but this—regardless of why, this was worse than any ordinary sleep deprivation. Mari was a mess, and her appearance in the torchlight of the pyramid's empty dens was a good sign of her internal condition. Her fur was a little more ruffled than usual, and her glazed eyes never seemed to move even the smallest blink. Her whiskers were frayed and asymmetrical, as if she had almost been eaten by a much larger predator.

Mari's mind did not allow her such luxuries as being kempt. Mari had a great deal of drama on her shoulders, and not one slice of it was something she could sleep through. For starters, she was standing in a pyramid, hiding from and surrounded by numerous adversaries. But to make matters worse, the fate of her family depended on her ability to change her best friend's destiny—and she had upset him beyond the point of no return.

It was all her mistake. It was all her fault. Mohatu was making a bad choice, and it was all because of something she had done; something totally unnecessary, out of place, and actually quite hurtful. Mari had made a huge mistake, but it wasn't until she saw Leo and Minerva together—that was what made her see it for what it was truly worth.

Through her carelessness, Mari had drawn out the possibility of a devastating outcome. It wasn't just devastating for her, but also for Leo and their entire pride.

Normally, Mari was quite the logical lioness; the mechanics of love, as she understood them, were merely an exception. But as she quickly learned, feigning a lack of attraction to a lion wasn't any way to entice him and increase his attraction. It was a very illogical method, and it yielded disastrous results. All she had to do was say something, anything really. Anything other than what she actually said that night would have been preferable.

Yes, it was true that Mari had told Mohatu to find another lioness. She said it; that just wasn't what she actually wanted or intended. The odds of that happening, as she thought, were abysmal at best. Never in her farthest dreams did Mari expect Mohatu and Minerva to get together that same night.

Obviously, Mari never meant for it to happen, for Minerva and Mohatu to end up sleeping together. It just did, the relationship just spawned out of thin air, like some critical unexpected error of nature. Why or how it happened, she didn't know.

But regardless, it was a problem of catastrophic proportions.

Mari released another groan from her throat. She clenched her pawtoes together, and forced them down into the shiny, reflective tile floor. It was merely an effort to vent her frustrations, more so than anything else. The situation at the forefront of her paws was a problem—a very big problem—and somehow, she was going to have to fix it.

More so now than ever, Mari wanted Mohatu to love her. Though her plan had been to make Mohatu jealous, she had only done the opposite. Now she was the jealous one, wanting Mohatu with a much greater intensity than ever before. The feeling of seeing Mohatu with another lioness resonated with her on such a disastrous level; it was like being trampled to death by a stampede of wildebeest.

Though she hadn't said it, Mohatu was her mate. He was supposed to be with her, not with Minerva. That much should have been obvious.

Every time Mari thought about it, a hoof punctured through her skin and into her heart. Though she had never quite confessed her love for Mohatu, Mari knew it existed. Everything she had done for him, she believed, should have been enough to speak for itself. From the moment they first met, Leo had been the most important lion in Mari's life. Even after his so-called 'death,' that fact hadn't changed. Even after his betrayal, she still saw the good in him.

If that wasn't true love, then Mari had no idea what was. After all that, after all their adventures, experiences, and time together, Mohatu was willing to walk away and get it on with Minerva, as if it all meant nothing to him. Mari was simply baffled; it wasn't what she expected in the slightest.

Although, that said, it was awfully foolish of Mari to think that Mohatu wouldn't find another lioness when she had explicitly said to do so.

Damn, was that a mistake.

Mari sighed, her head lowering to a level below her shoulders. It just didn't make sense. It was unthinkable. Mari loved Mohatu as much as she could ever love any lion, perhaps even more than she could comprehend herself. She had expected the same from Mohatu, and she was surprised when she did not find it. She expected their relationship to actually mean something to him. She expected some sense of fidelity.

How could he? How was it even possible?

Mari shook her head. She didn't know. She had absolutely no idea how it all happened, even though she was ready to admit that it was all her fault for encouraging him.

But there was more to it than that. Mari's feelings were just a grain of sand in the badlands. There was still the greater concern underneath it all, overshadowing the unimportant bits. When it came right down to it, Minerva was the queen. She barely knew Mohatu at all, but yet she was willing to open the door and let him inside—rather suspicious, by any means of measurement.

The question Mari had wasn't just in regard to what Mohatu was doing, but also in regard to what Minerva was doing. Mari had no idea what Minerva's relationship was with Rex, and even less of an idea of what it was with Leo before him. There was a lot she didn't know, and finding the pieces of the puzzle was proving to be a challenge. Hell, it was downright impossible.

What was it that the white lioness wanted? What were her true intentions? Surely, the queen had to have enticed Mohatu in some way, and surely she had some reason for doing so.

Mohatu wasn't even that attractive; he was big, but he wasn't necessarily sexy, per se. His body was built mostly for combat, not for attracting females. He looked like a walking tank, not a leonine supermodel. He had numerous scratches and bruises from his many battles, to add to the mix. None were serious, but they were slightly off-putting, overall. And that wasn't to mention the reek of feces and the respective mushy spot left behind from earlier.

Obviously, Mohatu's looks weren't the reason Minerva took him in. That wasn't why Minerva was interested in him. There was something else, and something—as Mari knew—something dangerous. To say otherwise was absurd and unrealistic.

If Minerva wanted Mohatu, it was for his physical or spiritual power and nothing more. King Leo's influence was as vast as any lion could imagine, and if Minerva knew the truth about Mohatu's identity, then it was all over. She had already won whatever battle it was that she was trying to fight. With that thought, Minerva was manipulating Leo, and the outcome wasn't going to be pretty for anyone else.

Mari closed her eyes. There was just no end to the worries.

But by the many sounds of ruckus, it was morning now. The noises had been going on for quite some time already; it was probably well past morning. More than likely, Mohatu was already awake. She had to find him, somehow—and especially, more importantly, away from Minerva. She had to see him personally, away from all other creatures with ears.

If Mari was to feel any sort of relief, she had to say something. She had to do something, even if it was just to bring closure to it all. Even if Mohatu chose to go with Minerva, she had to tell him how she truly felt and voice her concerns. She had to set herself free. She couldn't live anymore, not like this. Not for another agonizing minute.

There was simply too much at stake. Mari had made a bad choice, one that had kept her awake all night. Now she wanted nothing more than to correct it. She had grown a little too comfortable and a little too playful in a time of great peril for her, Leo, and their pride. Admittedly so, no doubt.

And with that thought, Mari looked up to the ceiling of the den. "Leo," she called, but her voice was quieter than a whisper. "Where are you?"

Her response was as silent as could be. She heard many lions around her, but none were the voice of Mohatu. Not one of them was even a bit similar to her memories of the lion she desired most to see. She tried to feel his presence in the air, but it was no use. Not even his sweaty scent of avian fecal matter was identified by Mari's sensitive nostrils.

After looking both ways, Mari stepped out of the small den and out into the torchlight of the long, narrow corridor. "Here goes nothing," she whispered sarcastically. And so her stealthy trek began, simple enough as it was. All she had to do was find Mohatu without getting caught. That didn't seem too bad, at least not in relation to the consequences of not doing so.


---



Mohatu looked down at his forepaws, heavily contemplating his next move. Although he was still a little tired, his thoughts kept him awake, too. As it so happened, Mari wasn't the only one with an overactive brain.

Leo raised his head, finally muttering to himself after a long silence. "So this is how it's going to end..."

And indeed, this was the end. He was already the queen's mate, and now, he was soon to become a knight as well. Ultimately, this meant that in order for him to achieve his destiny, he had but one more task to accomplish. He had to defeat Rex in personal combat—perhaps not with Minerva's assistance, but possibly with Mari, Rafiki, Buraya, and Zuria by his side.

Somehow, anyway. He'd work out the details of that plan some other time, or so he thought. It wasn't really important right now. There were still other things on the lion's mind.

More importantly, the situation still left Inari open to pick a side. Considering the circumstances with Minerva, that wasn't going to be easy for Mohatu to accept. What was he going to tell the knight? He had already agreed to follow through with Inari's plan. He couldn't turn his back without suffering some sort of negative consequence, if not several negative consequences.

For a few moments, Mohatu thought to himself. He scratched the fluffy fur on his chin with a front claw. In the meantime, he realized that he had two options. He could tell Minerva about Inari's intentions to take over her pride, or he could tell Inari about Minerva's intentions.

But there was also a third option looming above Mohatu's shoulders. He could do both.

Mohatu could tell Minerva about Inari's plans to kill her, and also tell Inari about Minerva's plans to take over. By playing both sides of the fence, he could gain himself a distinct advantage.

After all, that was what Mari said he would do. She knew him well, and right she was; Mohatu realized it was a brilliant plan in its sheer simplicity. If given the choice of Minerva or Inari, Mohatu would choose neither. He would choose himself. In any case, he was probably strong enough to take on the two of them, especially with Mari's help.

But now, there was a slight problem with that idea—the very plan he originally liked so much. Minerva was now Mohatu's mate; it would have felt wrong to betray her. And additionally, Mari wasn't Mohatu's mate. Though Mohatu hadn't wanted to change his allegiance, he had little choice in the matter.

Whether he liked it or not, Mohatu had to accept the facts. Minerva was his mate; she was the one he needed to stay loyal to. That much was obligatory for the lion. Contrary to his prior behavior, he had no desire to lean toward promiscuity or infidelity. Minerva saw him for the badass he truly was—and as such, Mohatu instinctively knew where his loyalties stood. With the queen, of course.

Since Minerva was willing to help Mohatu become the new king, Mohatu was willing to help Minerva, no matter the circumstances. She gave him the affection he wanted, and as such, Mohatu vowed to try his best to do the same for her. That was what was right; that was fair. It would have been ridiculous of him to say otherwise.

Eventually, Minerva would become the mother of Mohatu's very own cubs. They would live together in the Pridelands, as soon as Rex was ready to bite the dust. The entire kingdom would be theirs to share and shape to their own desires. It would be a new kingdom, a better kingdom—a kingdom reborn. It would be a kingdom founded on Mari's principles.

And, as for the lioness herself... that was another matter to consider.

Leo rose to his paws, proudly so. He twitched his whiskers, enjoying the warm scent of the air. A sigh escaped his muzzle, but it empowered him and filled his body with an electrical surge of energy down his spine. Never before had he felt so confident—for the first morning in his memory, Leo actually felt like a king when he lifted himself.

With Minerva at his side, Mohatu had no need for Mari to be in his pride. He was no longer dependent. She would be free to choose her own path. Whether Mari loved him or hated him, Mohatu didn't care anymore. It was all irrelevant. That choice was for her to make; her destiny would rest within the boundaries of her own paws.

Feeling better than ever, Mohatu finally made the decision to exit Minerva's den. It was time to tell his pride the news: he had found a mate, and he was going to see things through to the end.

Mohatu grinned. As odd as it seemed, he couldn't wait to see the look on Mari's face. Her reaction would be priceless.

With mixed feelings of both extreme comfort and mild discomfort, simultaneous and discording in coexistence, Mohatu made his step out into the hall of the pyramid. Though he was a bit of a mess internally, dopamine from the night before still rushing through his blood, he walked with the satisfaction of knowing that he had Minerva on his side. He was practically royalty already; he owned the place. Everything he saw, and every lion he met—it was all under his command, for he was once king Leo.

With Mari off to the side and Minerva in the big picture, it was about time to reclaim that destiny. King Mohatu: the reborn, as it was going to be. He was just a step from becoming King Mohatu: the rightful king, the one true heir, the savior, the bringer of peace, and the prophet of the ancient kings. Either way, it all sounded good and badass for his tastes. Although it was once a destiny Mari obviously disapproved of, that was irrelevant now.

Mohatu had to forge his own path, and if he couldn't have Mari as his mate for life, this was the way it was going to be. He would be the king, and Mari would probably run away with her red-maned lion to become nothing, never to be seen or heard of in the Pridelands again.

At the very core of the matter, Leo wasn't trying to please her anymore. Now, he had a queen to please. It was as simple as that, to put it bluntly.

Whether Mari liked it or not, the Pridelands belonged to him. The keys belonged to him. The kingdom was rightfully his. Minerva belonged to him. Their cubs—little Mohatus—would rule over the land for generations to come, all in his name, carrying his legacy.

Mari would be sorry. This was her loss, not his. This was his destiny, his life, and soon to be his triumph.

What a shame it was that she didn't see the value in what love he had to offer. A true shame, indeed.


---



Meanwhile, in the other side of the pyramid, Minerva's regal voice pierced through the corridor of the den in the most ominous way possible. Her shiny white fur emerged from the shadows, and her eyes glowed violently amidst the relative the darkness. "Going somewhere, lioness?" she asked.

Mari stepped back on reflex. She winced at the voice, long before she ever turned her head around to see who it was. She didn't need to look; she already knew. It was the one lioness she didn't want to see—the queen.

"Oh," Mari blushed upon making eye contact. "Yes... I was..." As usual, she tripped over her tongue before she found a good excuse to use. "I just need to get some fresh air. This pyramid is rather stuffy."

"Very well," Minerva nodded. "Before you go, one of the royal guards told me a lioness snuck past the entry last night, and hid somewhere in here, possibly in one of those dens. Perhaps you know something about this, yes?"

"No," lied Mari. "It would be stupid for anyone to hide in here."

Minerva's response was simple. "So I see." However, after a moment of pause, she lowered her head. Her brows fell to a stern gaze, and her pupils nearly killed Mari with the intensity of her stare. "What did you say your name was, again?"

"I'm..." Mari paused. "Nala," she fibbed innocently and with little hesitation. "My name is Nala. It's... after my grandmother's name, Nalae."

Minerva stepped forward, making Mari even more uncomfortable. "Is that so?" she persisted, slow and insistent with the release of every syllable. "You don't look like a Nala to me. You look like someone I once knew..."

Mari gulped. She could only hesitate to respond. In all reality, she had no idea what to say. She had no image of how to weasel her way out of the situation. With each surprise that awaited her, the day just kept getting better, all sarcasm considered.

It was true that she had seen Minerva before, and needless to say, it was on the field of battle. Minerva was once a lioness in Leo's pride—she was once a knight, one of the attackers to unleash hell on Pride Rock. Mari recognized those metallic eyes, that pink nose, and that brilliant white fur. It was the image of her enemy.

"I don't believe we've met before," Mari lied.

"Ah, I see," Minerva agreed. "Perhaps we should get acquainted, then?"

"Look," Mari rolled her eyes. "That would be really great, but I... ugh... I gotta get going. Mohatu needs me..."

Minerva smiled flirtatiously, giving Mari the very same seductive smile she gave Mohatu. "Don't you worry about him," she assured the other lioness. "I already took care of him for you. He should be happy and dazed for a few more hours."

Mari's only tangible reaction was the shift of her breath. The awkwardness of the conversation had just soared to new heights for her. No matter which way she looked, all Mari could find was some weird sort of emotional pain inside her. "Uhh... thanks?"

Minerva merely continued her insidious smile. "You just make yourself at home, for now," she commanded. "Mohatu's big day is tomorrow... and don't worry, I'll be sure to give you one of the front row seats. I wouldn't want you to miss out on any of the action."

"That's... very..." Mari started to continue the conversation, but she eventually shut her maw as she heard the pawsteps of a nearby lion. Mohatu's subsequent appearance in the torchlight later shifted her attention away from Minerva entirely, inducing shivers of nervousness.

At that moment, Mohatu joined the conversation. His first comment was directed toward Minerva. "Are you telling her about my promotion tomorrow, little snugglekitten?"

Minerva shifted her head aside, nodding. "Affirmative. That is correct."

Simultaneously, Mari threw a shake of her head. If she could have wiped her paw across her face without exposing her true emotions, she would have done that, too. As if Minerva wasn't bad enough, now she had to listen to Mohatu sweettalk with his mate. Her fur was practically burning in hell. She could feel the flames of her misery. There was no end; there was only torture for the liongirl.

Nevertheless, Mari found the strength to persist through her pain. "Mohatu," Mari said sternly. "We need to talk. Again."

Mohatu looked down at Minerva. "I guess I better get her out of here," he said casually. "You know how slaves are. They get all whiny when you don't beat them enough."

"I understand," Minerva stated. "You should probably beat her more often."

Before he even gave leaving a single thought, Mohatu leaned forward into Minerva's space of occupation, and gave her a brief, romantic lick on the side of the neck. "I will. Have a good day, sweetheart," he cooed.

Mari walked up beside Mohatu, and quickly jabbed a claw through his mane and into his shoulder. "Come on," she whispered, never a tad more serious with her display of frustrations.


---



The blinding shot of midday sunlight rushed into the eyes of Mohatu and Mari, painting their entire field of view with brightness. The duo exited the pyramid in tandem, not in the most brisk fashion, but certainly with intent. As soon as they passed the two guards at the entrance, Mari stepped up beside Mohatu to meet him face-to-face.

"Alright," the female gulped. Her voice struggled to break through at first, but the rest of her words soon followed. "Just tell me," she insisted, serious but almost pleading to know more. "What's the deal with you and Minerva?"

On second thought, she seemed more demanding than anything.

Mohatu's response was a little aghast, initially. Sure, Mari was blunt at times, but she seemed to be getting worse about that. Never before had she been so upfront as she was at that instant—direct and straight to the point of the matter, as if she simply had to know all the steamy details at that very instant.

At the center of the matter, it was none of Mari's business. Not anymore, at least. She said she wasn't interested in any such things just the night before, but yet she still insisted on nudging her way into Mohatu's life. As paradoxical as it was, it succeed masterfully in confusing Mohatu beyond his scope of comprehension.

"Are you sure you want to know?" Mohatu asked. "We started talking last night... and..."

"I told you not to go anywhere," Mari stated, her ears flat as could be. She wasn't succeeding with her efforts to hide her frustration. As she walked, her pawsteps were becoming a little more forceful than usual, especially considering the graceful, elegant feline she usually was. Every muscle in her body was now tense, exemplifying her stress very clearly. "I told you I would be right back."

"Minerva invited me over to her den for the night," Mohatu explained.

"Leo," Mari began, quick to throw her retort in his face. Although she was feeling herself far more argumentative than she usually was, her voice was still soft by Zuria's standards. "I saw what you were doing. Why do you think I went into the pyramid in the first place?"

Now several hundred steps from the pyramid's entrance, Mohatu ceased his walking. He focused all his attention on Mari, but delved deep into thought. For some reason, he hadn't thought of that. He couldn't remember much of the night before, besides the game of chess with Minerva and a general feeling of hope or happiness. The entire time with the queen was like a blur to him—a big, overjoyed blur of pleasure.

Perhaps the cider had a greater effect on him than he thought. He wasn't exactly in the sharpest frame of mind, and if anything was to blame, that was probably it. The only other potential cause was the buzz Leo still had from the refractory period. But that was hours ago, and the afterglow should have worn off mostly; it was now well past dawn.

"I'm... not sure," Mohatu answered at last, slightly embarrassed. "What all did you see?"

"I saw you two getting it on," Mari said, matter-of-factly. She tried her best to keep her emotions out of the mix, instead focusing on Mohatu's emotions first. Eventually she planned to tell him her side of the story, but first, she had to know his.

Although Mohatu's initial reaction was that of embarrassment, he quickly covered his true feelings with a toothy grin. "Well... did you like what you saw?"

He stepped forward, showing off his full brown mane. His head tilted aside, and he twitched his ears, waiting eagerly to hear Mari's reaction. Normally he wouldn't have dared to make such a move, but Minerva had given him the encouragement he needed.

Mari lowered her brows. "That's beside the point."

Mohatu stepped back, shrugging his shoulders. "Is it?"

After all, Mari seemed upset by the fact that Mohatu was chasing after a lioness other than her—without a doubt, this built upon his view that Mari actually did care. Perhaps she was attracted to him after all; it was entirely possible that she wanted her fair share of love, too. Regardless of its plausibility, Mohatu entertained the bliss of the thought.

"Yes, it is," Mari insisted, trying her best to keep calm and stay impartial. "This is about you and Minerva, not me." She stepped forward, deep in frustration that she simply could not hide despite even her best efforts. It didn't matter how hard she tried, her true feelings were more than apparent.

Again, Mari opened her mouth. "What did she tell you? What's going on? How do you know she's not going to—"

"Unlike you," Mohatu began bitterly, "Minerva sees my true worth. She's going to promote me to knight tomorrow, and she told me she has plans to make me the king. We're going to be mates."

On instinct, Mari shook her head. She took a deep breath, ready to lecture at Mohatu, but unsure of where to begin. She had so much to say and so much to tell him, but it loomed over her like an avalanche waiting to fall. There was so much energy and pent-up frustration inside her, beginning to speak a single word wasn't the easiest thing. In fact, it was particularly daunting.

Mari lifted her paw up to cover her mouth, thinking all the while. She stroked her lips for a few seconds, before she moved her forepaw aside and slowly opened her maw. From there, she took yet another deep breath before speaking. "Do you realize..." she began slowly. She spoke with a deeper voice than usual, exaggerating and emphasizing herself like the gargantuan pyramids on the horizon.

"What?" Mohatu shrugged. "She's beautiful, isn't she? She's my little sugarbun snugglekitten! I love her so much!"

Mari stepped even closer to her friend. She stared at him deeply, in the most serious expression she could possibly hold on her muzzle. "You... are making a big mistake," she insisted. "You can't just..."

"I can, and I did," Mohatu answered smugly. "She loves me, and I love her. This isn't as complicated as you'd make it out to be."

Mari swished her head in utter disbelief. Her companion was even more naive than she thought. "How can you even say that?" she argued. "You've known her for a day! One day! You can't mate with someone you just met! It doesn't work like that!"

Mohatu's high dropped a small bit. Something about what Mari had said just stirred up some dust in his gut. Suddenly, he was on the defensive again, now feeling insecure about the entire ordeal from the inside out. Mari hit a nerve with that comment, but what or how remained unknown to Mohatu.

After she inhaled her breath, Mari's scowl grew in intensity. "She's obviously the queen because your brother likes her... and besides, she doesn't even know who you are! She doesn't know your past... and you don't know her past, either. You don't know her. You don't know what she's going to do...

"Tell me," Mari continued, "did she even say how she was going to make you the king? How do you know that she's not bluffing? You have no way of knowing whose side she's on, or what her true plans are."

Mohatu closed his eyes to shield himself from the brutal pain and continuous onslaught of Mari's words.

Who was she to judge his relationship? She didn't know. She didn't understand what he had been through. She was the very reason why he was interested in Minerva to begin with. If he had any other options—namely, being with Mari instead—he happily would have gone with that. He didn't want to be Minerva's mate; that outcome was forced upon him. It was either be Minerva's mate or be alone for the rest of eternity, and one of those was clearly the lesser of two hells.

If Mari was going to criticize his choice, then she had no place in his live. It was as simple as that.

Mohatu blinked his eyes and twitched his tail. "The lioness I've known and loved for all my life won't be my mate, so what choice do I have?" he argued in retort. He turned his head away, realizing that he was slightly ashamed of what he had said aloud. Naturally, his voice sounded rather whiny, very unusual for a lion of his size.

In an effort to regain his composure, Mohatu thought it best to continue. "Minerva is the one who actually loves me," Mohatu added. The intrinsic tone of his speech sounded unsure, as if he was trying to convince himself of the truth of his statements. "And she's perfect, too. She's as beautiful as a Goddess, wise as any, powerful among the kingdom, soft as silk, and—"

"Stop," Mari commanded. The last thing she wanted to hear about was how much Mohatu enjoyed the queen's company. Oh no, she wasn't going to listen to that crap for another second. Not in her wildest dreams.

Mari's reaction fueled Mohatu's pleasure, slightly but increasingly so. Now, he realized he was giving her a taste of her own medicine. Oh, the satisfaction! On that accord, he refused to stop. "Sleeping with Minerva was like sleeping on a cloud," Mohatu fawned, almost purring internally. "A big, white, fluffy cloud." The beastly lion raised his brows, looking away confidently. "She is so much softer than you are... I can hardly believe it."

To make matters worse, Mohatu thought of an even better idea as he finished his words. "Actually..." he interrupted himself, "do you mind if I take that flower?" Mohatu asked, pointing a pawtoe up to where a desert wildflower rested in Mari's ear from the night before. "I'm sure Minerva would love to have one of those."

"Stop!" Mari commanded again. This time, she was about ready to yell. "Excuse me, I have something to say. Could you please just let me talk for a few minutes?"

"Okay, okay," Mohatu backed off nonchalantly. "It doesn't feel good to be neglected, does it?" he asked, still showing a hint of bitterness.

"Mohatu, I said stop," Mari insisted for a third time. She didn't have the patience for that crap, and that was more than evident by the way she forced her words down into Mohatu's ears. She was about ready to place her paw across Mohatu's mouth and fix the problem herself, but she thought it best not to resort to such measures just yet.

Meanwhile, All Mohatu did was lean back. "Go ahead," he shrugged. He was enjoying his moment of satisfaction, but he decided not to anger the lioness any further. Any more, he realized, and she was probably going to explode in a burst of feline fury.

"Okay," the lioness inhaled her breath. Now that Mohatu had finally shut his trap, she was ready to begin with her lecture for the day. "You are making a big mistake," Mari explained again. "I wouldn't trust Minerva as far as I could throw her. If she knows who you are, and she knows who I am, she's going to try to turn you against me. She is the queen. She is our enemy."

"She's my mate," Mohatu answered. "You're not."

In essence, Leo was actually proving Mari's point. Minerva was using Leo's loneliness to her own advantage—that was exactly what was happening, and Leo was too blind to see it. He was clinging to that very idea of being partners, and using it to shield himself from reality.

Mari's scowl grew in intensity. "Why won't you listen? Don't you understand? Don't you trust me? You know I would never do anything to hurt you. I've been here for you... I always have! You can't say that about her."

"You did hurt me," Mohatu corrected. He couldn't quite look Mari in the eye, anymore; instead, he focused his gaze on her nosepad to relieve his strain. He was a little too embarrassed to admit to being as sensitive as he was—but at this point, he had nothing left to lose. "What you said last night hurt a lot... and nothing you can say will ever make up for the fact that you just don't like me."

"I didn't mean to," Mari argued.

"I know," Mohatu agreed. "But you still did. That doesn't make it hurt any less."

Mohatu lowered his stare to the ground, now unable to look any higher than Mari's paws. He sighed deeply, finding great pain as he uncovered his memories of that very conversation. It was so much to bear, almost a little too much for him to handle. The formations of tears started to cover his eyes, but he held them back like the lion he was.

Mohatu tried to explain himself, as calmly as he could. Despite Mari's frustration and all his previous bliss with Minerva, all Mohatu found within his heart was sorrow. "Do you have any idea how much it hurts to be less important than a lion who doesn't even exist? Do you know how much it hurts to know that the one lioness you truly love doesn't give a rat's ass about you or your happiness? Do you know what it's like to have your best friend tell you that she doesn't love you?"

"Leo—"

Mohatu didn't stop. He couldn't, even if he wanted to. He was just getting started with his rant. As he looked back at his horrible memory of the night before, the rush of all those awful feelings came back to him, and subsequently flowed out of his mouth at an alarming rate. "Do you have any idea what I went through, before I found Minerva? I felt so terrible, worthless, and useless... I just... I wanted to die."

"But—"

"You wouldn't understand, Mari," Mohatu whined. "You wouldn't ever know what it feels like unless you've been in my place before. As long as the lion you love actually loves you back, you'll never know my pain. You'll never know what it's like to be turned down... to watch your entire life fall apart. You probably can't even begin to comprehend how much that hurts me, even still.

"What purpose do I have," Leo added, "if no one wants to be with me? Why do I even exist if no one knows it? Why would I endure the pain of living, if my life doesn't mean anything to anyone? You don't understand... I need someone... I need Minerva."

"None of that is true, Leo," Mari explained carefully. "Please, listen..."

"Yes it is," Mohatu insisted, his voice rising in pitch. "You said it yourself! You don't need me, you don't want me, you don't want to live with me... I get the idea. I don't mean a damn thing to you. You'd rather never see me again, and spend your entire life with someone better."

Finally, Mohatu lifted his head up. "And for that reason, I have to say the same thing. I'd rather spend my life with someone who actually wants me. I don't want you, either. In the past, I did... but not anymore. I belong with Minerva, now."

Mari shook her head, tears beginning to form in her own eyes as well. Although Mohatu didn't understand, this was just as hard for her as it was for him. She never meant to upset him, and it really wasn't true. He was making all sorts of incorrect assumptions that were simply fallacious. Mari closed her eyes, shielding herself ever so slightly from the intense onslaught of emotional pain and guilt. "You know that's not true."

"Yes it is," Mohatu replied again. "It's what you said."

"That doesn't mean I..."

"Minerva is a good lioness," Mohatu assured, trying to lift himself up after whining about his previous experience. After a moment's pause, he decided to take a jab of his own. "You're just jealous because you didn't think I was good enough to have a mate. You don't think I deserve love."

"Leo," Mari bit her lip. "None of that is true," she replied. "I never said anything like that, and I don't think that at all." Needless to say, all she could think of was how overly dramatic Mohatu was being. He was going too far with his angst, and this was just ridiculous. She kept herself from saying that aloud, however.

"You are jealous," insisted Mohatu. "I can see it."

"Well... ugh!" Mari grunted. To be fair, Mohatu actually was right about that.

And so this was it, now or never. She had to say something about that too, if she was actually going to make this right. This time, however, it was far easier. Now, the thought wasn't anywhere near as queasy as it was just the night before. "Of course I'm jealous! That doesn't even begin to describe it! You and Minerva... that shouldn't have happened. That was not part of the plan."

"Right..." Mohatu stepped back. His spirits lifted a small amount. "So you admit it!" he asked for confirmation, raising a brow.

Mari closed her eyes, exhaling her breath before speaking. "Yes."

The golden lioness sat down in the sands. She wrapped the tuft of her tail back around her forepaws, in a desperate attempt to relax as much as she could. The chaotic fury in her mind was making it too hard to think. "Leo," she began softly, breathing deeply, "you know I wouldn't do anything to hurt you. We've been through some of the roughest times together, and I wouldn't give you up for anyone."

Again, Mari bit her lip before continuing. She found herself doing that quite often now; both from stress and from her own internal pain. "I never meant to hurt you with what I said. I was trying to make you jealous, but I..." Mari looked down at her paws, hesitating to continue her speech. "I didn't know you would take it so hard. I didn't know I would hurt you like I did. I should have known better, but I just... I'm sorry."

Several seconds passed in silence between the two felines. It was a very tense moment for both, but also rather tender as well. The tone of Mari's voice was doubtlessly apologetic—something Mohatu would have savored in satisfaction, if it wasn't for the fact that he found Mari so cute. She looked so innocent, so helpless, and even more huggable than the big ball of fur that she was.

There was no doubt about it, unless he was to deny the true nature of himself. Mari was the one he loved, much more so than Minerva. Even when Mari was an ass to him, Mohatu still thought she was something special. She wasn't even as beautiful as Minerva, but that hardly mattered. At this point, it was instinctive. Mohatu's reaction would have been the same if it was his actual mate lying on the ground like that.

He couldn't explain why. He couldn't explain what it was about Mari that he liked so much, but there was something there. Something about her carried the very image of love, acceptance, and friendliness in his eyes. Hearing her regretful apology brought back all those feelings Mohatu had tried to kill inside himself.

Perhaps Minerva was Mohatu's physical mate—but Mari, whether she wanted to be or not, was Mohatu's true mate. She was his soulmate, no matter who he was actually with. She was the one his heart screamed for; she was the one he wanted to be with. It was as simple as that. Everything else was merely a facade to cover up the ugly truth of unrequited love, of which he was forced to come to terms with.

It was difficult for Mohatu to synthesize all of the new information in his state of mental unrest, but he tried his best. It was a lot to deal with, that was certain. In due time, Mari's last words eventually sunk into his brain. Mohatu stepped closer, looking down at the lioness on the ground. "But... I don't understand," he voiced his confusion. "Why did you want me to be jealous, last night?"

"Same reason why you want me to be jealous of Minerva," Mari answered.

"How..." Mohatu muttered, flabbergasted by Mari's accuracy in her assumption. How did she know he wanted that?

He was indeed trying to make Mari jealous, and it was all because it gave him a sense of hope after being treated so harshly. It was liberating, empowering even, just to imagine Mari feeling guilty for what she did. She regretted not seeing the true extent of Leo's awesomeness, and that tidbit was very pleasing to him. He wanted her to see her mistake—he wanted her to see all the love she could have had, and feel like she had made the wrong choice by denying herself of it.

Because, obviously, it was the wrong choice—even Mari seemed to be hinting at that when she started trash-talking Minerva. From Mohatu's perspective, he couldn't see it any other way. The thought of a relationship with Mari felt so much more comforting; that was what was meant to be.

But how Mari knew all of that was another matter, though. "How do you manage to read my mind so well?" he finally asked, after a few seconds of pondering his internal thoughts in silence.

Mari exhaled a sigh. "It's obvious... thankfully."

Leo continued to stand in confusion for a moment, before the realization dawned upon him. If Mari was jealous in the same way, that had to mean that she felt the same way. And that also meant something else—something far more important to him. Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that she actually did love him. Of course it was indeed wishful thinking, but the possibility was there. It had to be.

"You want me to be jealous of the red-maned lion... because you want me to like you?" Leo asked slowly, hesitant to suggest the thought. On the occurrence that he was wrong, Mari probably would have bit his face off for suggesting such a thing. But considering the way she was acting, it wasn't all that likely.

Mari lifted her head up. She didn't answer, but a sliver of a grin formed across the center of her muzzle. As she looked into Mohatu's eyes, her smile expanded without bound.

Mohatu grinned as well, showing the whites of his teeth. "It's true, isn't it?"

Even still, Mari refused to reply. She felt a tingling weirdness inside her, just from the thought itself. She could hardly speak. For several seconds, nothing happened but complete and total silence. "You got it," Mari answered, at long last.

"So..." Mohatu began, finally having realized the truth. "You told me all of that, because you wanted me to be jealous of the red-maned lion... because you wanted me to like you?"

Mari looked away. "Well... not quite," she clarified. "I wanted to surprise you."

Immediately, Mohatu lifted his eyelids. "With what? What's the surprise?"

Mari tilted her head aside, so that the flower she had lodged behind her ear was clearly visible from Mohatu's point of view. She reached a forepaw backward and grasped it between her pawtoes, before holding it between her and her friend in the sand. "This."

Mari waited for her companion to catch his breath, before she continued. She held the flower out in her open paw, with great anticipation. She was ready for Mohatu to reach out and grab it. "After our... talk... I wanted to give you this last night," she explained.

Slowly, Mohatu took a step forward. Even without taking a closer look, he knew what it was—more importantly, he knew what it meant. It was precisely the same type of flower that he had intended to give Mari long ago, several days before they found Lea Halalela. For that reason, it was a bit more special than any ordinary flower.

Mohatu's heart melted at that very instant. Though he had once felt the weight of his entire body pushing down on his paws, he now felt entirely weightless under the sun. All of his senses were dulled and numbed, dwarfed by the supernova of feels going on within his own stomach.

His dreams really were coming true, after all.

Leo really was right when he thought Mari loved him. What originally seemed too cruel to be real actually was a joke. What seemed impossible actually was impossible. She was his beloved Mari, and no matter what, she wouldn't ever really leave him. The trust he placed in her was indeed grounded in reality.

Mohatu placed his paw over Mari's, grabbing the wildflower between his toes. "Thanks," he smiled jokingly. "Minerva is going to love this!"

Consequently, Mari's head jolted upon hearing those words. "Look," she sighed, holding her head down as low as her tail. All of her energy had been drained from her previous rant, and now, all that was left was the dead-silent calm after the storm. "Whether you're with Minerva or me, I don't care. Whatever makes you happy...

"But," Mari raised her paw, suddenly interrupting herself. At that moment, her voice deepened to a growl, and her eyes fell to a playful scowl of sorts. "I would rather you be with me, instead of her. In fact... don't you dare think about giving that to Minerva. I'm trying to help you, but I'm pretty sure she's trying to kill us both. There is a difference, here."

"So you want to be with me, but you respect me enough to let me be with someone else if I want to," Mohatu whispered to himself. That was the way he interpreted what Mari had said, more or less.

In the flash of the moment, he fell to his paws and rolled over onto his back. The dry heat from the sand scorched his fur, but he barely even noticed. As he rested without motion, his eyes remained steady and focused on the wispy white clouds above him. "Come here," he murmured.

Mari gulped. "Why?" she asked, before she gave the command a hint of thought.

Patiently, Mohatu waited. "Just do it."

With a slight bit of hesitation, Mari followed the lion's command. She rose to her paws, slow and steady, but eventually managed to push her weight above her joints. From there, she stepped closer, looking down on Mohatu with a hint of confusion—despite the fact that she knew a little too well what she could expect from him.

"What is it?" inquired the lioness.

"Come closer."

Finally, Mari dragged her paws closer, so that she was standing merely inches from Mohatu's head. She looked down, deep into his eyes—yep, she knew what was coming. What he was about to do was both obvious and inevitable.

Mohatu wrapped his paws around Mari's own, kicking her off balance. Gravity took over from there, and in less than a second, her chin landed plump on Mohatu's belly.

Leo then embraced the lioness as much as he could. Despite the fact that Mari was neither as pretty nor as soft as Minerva, he had never held anyone or anything any tighter. All his problems withered away, with Mari on top of him like such. He had the comfort of the lioness he loved most; he had the one thing he desired above all else. She put up no resistance, allowing him freedom to demonstrate his affection.

Mohatu allowed himself to release his purr; this time he didn't even bother to keep it quiet. At this point, he had nothing to hide. He wasn't secretly crushing on her anymore, and even more importantly, he wasn't trying to convince himself that he didn't love her. He did love her, and now, his spirit was allowed to roam free. He no longer had to deny himself what he wanted—he had it, and it was everything he ever could have dreamt it to be.

"I love you, Mari."

The lioness pulled back, breaking free from Mohatu's hug. She now stood atop his chest, somehow managing not to crush the gigantic beast beneath her own weight. She grinned, eyes darting laterally, before she started to release a nervous chuckle. "I know you do," she acknowledged, and happily so at that. "I love me, too."

It was, however, a bit of a strange response. "Say it," Mohatu grinned playfully.

Mari looked away in a futile attempt to hide her awkwardness. It felt a little weird to her just to think about it, for reasons she barely understood. Telling him what he wanted to hear wasn't going to be done without a shiver down her spine, in addition to the craziness that she was already feeling. "No."

"Say it!"

Mari looked back, this time a little more insistent. "No!"

"You know you want to say it," Mohatu chuckled.

It was true. Mari's eyes darted again from side to side, before she lowered her eyelids. An even wider smile formed around the corners of her muzzle, and she subsequently lowered herself to nuzzle his mane. When it finally came, her response was as soft as a whisper. "And I'll always love you, too."

In the blissful moments that followed, Mohatu felt Mari wrap her own paws around him—all four of them, in fact. He felt her bringing him even closer, absorbing the warmth and affection he thought he'd never be able to experience.

At that very moment, all the pain Mohatu once felt had died completely, never to return to the surface of his mind again. That entire night was nothing more than a joke—like a bad dream that he had just awakened from. It really wasn't true. He wasn't neglected, forgotten, unneeded, worthless, or unwanted. He wasn't the despicable piece of crap that Mari made him feel like he was.

Quite the contrary was true, in fact. He really was loved after all, and his life really did have a purpose. Mari did indeed see something special in him; he was right all along. What Mohatu held in his paws was something more valuable than anything else he could have imagined, and he promised himself he wouldn't ever let it go.

No matter what, no lioness could ever have meant any more to him than Mari.

Unfortunately for Leo, however, the moment was short-lived at best. Like all good things, it ended all too soon. Mari pushed herself out of the hug, and rolled back over onto the ground beside her companion.

"Are you going to rub my belly, now?" Mohatu inquired, a little less than delighted by Mari's actions. "Or do I need to act cute until you give in and do it?"

Mari answered with a laugh. "Haha, fine," she agreed lightheartedly, as she drug her paw over to brush across Mohatu's mane. She continued with simple back-and-forth strokes, relieving herself of stress with her rhythmic motions. She could even feel her blood pressure drop, comforted and relaxed by Mohatu's subtle purr with each exhalation of his breath.

"I guess this means you..." Mari started to suggest, although her words fell short of her breath. She couldn't quite bring herself to say it, considering how weird the thought sounded in her head. Telling Leo she loved him was already difficult enough—asking him if she was his mate escalated to an entire new level of weirdness.

"Ahem," Mari cleared her throat, after receiving a puzzled look from her companion. She couldn't hold it back any longer; she just had to come out and say it. "We're mates now, aren't we?" Her words incited a blush beneath her fur, although this time she made no effort to hide it.

Mohatu grinned. His response was as enthusiastic as could be, soaked with so much pleasure, joy, glee, and happiness that it even caught Mari off guard. "Damn straight, we are. I wouldn't want it any other way."

Mari was a bit surprised and enlightened by the lively response, but unlike Mohatu, her mind was thinking a few steps ahead. "So, what are you going to do?" she asked. "You're already Minerva's mate..."

Mohatu's smile diminished and fell from his face. In his moment of bliss, he had completely forgotten about that. Mari was too alluring for him to think about anything else unless she brought the subject up on her own, as she just did.

And so the lion realized there was really only one thing for him to do. It wasn't like he had many options—he could be loyal to one lioness or the other. Mohatu knew in his heart which one that was, but still, he had to do something about the other. "I guess..." he pondered, "I'll tell her the same thing you told me."

"And hopefully she won't react in the same way that you did," added Mari. Her response was meant to be taken lightly, although she quickly realized that the way she had phrased it seemed a little harsh.

Mohatu found himself feeling slightly embarrassed by that comment. Yeah, it was true. There was little he could do to hide it or deny it. He had acted rather immaturely in regard to the entire situation as a whole. Although he could have taken it a bit worse, he wasn't proud of what he did, the way he moped around and nearly cried himself to sleep in the most melodramatic way possible.

Leo rolled over onto his side, forcing Mari to pause her movements. "The only reason why it hurt so much was because I really do love you," he explained. "I trusted you not to do that to me... and I couldn't believe that you did."

Mari's head shook gently. "There's no need to apologize," she replied. "You did nothing wrong. I did.

"You confessed your feelings for me, and I pretended like I didn't care," the lioness continued. "I was intentionally ignoring you... and I even made up some stupid persona of a lion I was supposed to like. I was stupid; I should have just been honest with you... even as awkward as that would have been."

Mari looked down at her paws, slightly ashamed of herself. "You trusted me enough to be honest, and I abused that trust."

"Yeah..." Mohatu blushed.

Mari looked away for a brief moment, collecting her breath while she thought. "I never would have had the guts to do what you did," she added. "So, I know that must have hurt. If I... actually didn't like you, I wouldn't have been that harsh. I was trying to be harsh... I thought you could have figured out that I wasn't being serious."

"No," Mohatu tried to shake his had, but he only made a cradle in the sand. "I... thought it seemed like a joke, but I... well, I couldn't say anything. I didn't want to belittle you for your decision."

"Aww, come on," Mari smiled teasingly. "Do you really think I could fall in love with a lion who doesn't even exist? You know you're my best friend; no one could ever mean more to me than you do. No one could ever replace you, no matter what color your mane is."

"I thought it seemed strange," replied Mohatu, expressing his relief quite clearly. "I couldn't figure out why you wouldn't want to be with me. I thought I did something wrong, and I didn't understand what it was. I thought I was inadequate... or broken, somehow. I felt like, y'know, there was something wrong with me..."

"Not at all," the female lion assured. "I thought you knew me well enough to see that I was pulling your tail. I expected you to call me out on it. I gave you a few hints, but you never picked up on any of them."

"It hurt too much for me to be able to think," Mohatu reasoned. It was true, for the most part. The moment Mari said she didn't love him was the moment Mohatu lost all focus. He wasn't able to pay attention to what Mari was saying, because his internal pain was such a prominent distraction.

Mari scooted closer to the lion, before wrapping her paw around the back of his neck. She proceeded by hugging him again and licking the backside of his ear with her sandpaper tongue, comfortingly so, of course. "Does this make it better?" she asked warmly.

"Yes," Mohatu purred. "I forgive you."

"And I forgive you for having fun without me," added the orange lioness. She began to chuckle a little as the thought occurred to her. "Everything always works out favorably for you, doesn't it?"

Mohatu shrugged. "It doesn't always seem that way."

"Well it is true," Mari argued passively, slightly teasing with the intonation of her voice. "I bet it's every guy's dream to see the lionesses who reject them act like this. I mean, it's awfully idealistic to assume that all our problems can be solved because we truly love each other."

Mari twitched her ears, amused by her own thought. "Eww... that's cheesy. When did I get to be so sentimental?" she giggled to herself.

Mohatu lifted himself up onto his paws, into a more comfortable sitting position. "I'm not going to complain," Mohatu laughed. "I'm glad we got this worked out... and I wouldn't be as satisfied with any other outcome."

Mari smiled. "Me neither."

"See?" Mohatu grinned, nuzzling his new mate in pure bliss. "I know you like it, snugglekitten."

The lioness couldn't help but blush at the thought. Yeah, it was true. It was all pretty cheesy—and she did indeed like it, no matter how much she tried to avoid showing it. Normally, Mari wasn't the type to be lovey-dovey at all, but that was mostly only a result of her own embarrassment. It was just that she wasn't very comfortable with it; it made her feel a little bit too vulnerable.

But it was just Leo. No one else was around; no one else had to know that she liked being romantic with him.

From the night before, Mari had learned her lesson. Leo was perfectly comfortable confiding to Mari and allowing her to see his weaknesses, so it was only fair for her to do the same. He had admitted a lot of personal things just within the past few moments, and most of those things Mari never expected to hear. It set her mind at ease, not much but by a notable degree.

Mari's eyes darted downward. "Yeah, I like it," she admitted shyly. "I'm usually too uncomfortable to talk about things like this, though."

"I know," Mohatu replied. "From now on, I'll try not to pressure you," he nodded. "I'll... uh... I'll keep that in mind."

"And I'll try to be more honest with you when it comes to this stuff," Mari pledged warmly. "I guess you already know my deepest secret, and... well, I won't do anything like that ever again. I promise."

The lioness was quite sure of herself, this time. It was as if she had just stepped over a great barrier of some sort; from here on out, she knew it would be easier, and she would grow more comfortable with such things in time.

Mohatu, however, only grew a little more curious. "Which one was your deepest secret?" he asked. "The one about me being Leo, or the one about you secretly loving me?"

"The latter," Mari answered. "It's the fact that I deliberately tried not to fall in love with you, so we could focus on our mission... and it happened anyway." Mari lifted her head gently, now smiling a little more. "I guess it was stupid of me to think it would be a bad thing. I didn't know not being in love would cause more problems than being in love."

"I need someone to love me," Mohatu admitted.

In truth, the world was a dark, cruel, and violent place. Evil was everywhere. In contrast to the cold, harsh surroundings, Mari was like a big fluffy teddy bear to cling to; her mere existence helped to drive Leo's worries and fears from his mind. Mohatu needed someone he could trust and confide to, and there was little arguing with that fact. Perhaps some lions could have been happy working alone, but Mohatu simply wasn't one of them.

"I... understand," Mari said, the volume of her voice slightly lower than usual. "You're important to keeping me sane, and... I need you, too."

Several seconds passed, as Mari's words trailed off into a void of silence. There wasn't a single creature anywhere to be found, and even the wind itself was as still as could be. It was a rather tranquil environment, especially as the sun fell to only a few degrees above the horizon line.

"Hey Mari..." Mohatu grinned, breaking the peaceful moment of silence. "Do you think we were always in love? Like... even before this happened?"

"Oh, we were," Mari answered easily. "I was... at least. By the time I thought you were dead, I was thinking about you at least once every five minutes... no matter what I did." The lioness rolled her eyes, grinning slightly. "I just pretended that it wasn't true."

Mohatu nodded. He then leaned against the lioness, resting his head beside her own and into her neckfur.

"When you left us... that was what made me realize that I was probably in love. Before that, I wasn't sure of myself, so I never said anything about it. I was afraid that if I said something, you would think I was weird...

"I had never heard of anyone falling in love with their best friend, before," Mari added, explaining herself before Mohatu had the time to ask any questions. "I didn't think it was possible. I thought it was something else that I felt... but I didn't know any better. I only ever saw lionesses chasing after handsome lions from other territories; I never saw anyone in love with their friend."

"Is that why you didn't kill me?" Leo asked.

"Yes..." Mari admitted. "I guess you can see the whole truth, now. If I decided to save Rex instead of you, it wouldn't be the same. I couldn't make this journey with him. I wanted to save you, because I wanted to do this with you. I guess I'm biased like that... but I'd like to see Rex be redeemed, too."

"As would I," Mohatu agreed.

"That reminds me," Mari interrupted spontaneously, as a recurring thought made its return to her mind. She perked up a bit, distracting herself from that last thought and replacing it with a much more lighthearted memory. "There was something else I wanted to show you last night," she added.

"What is it?"

"Look at the sunset," answered Mari.

"Yeah..."

Mari smirked. "Do you want to see it twice?"

Mohatu brought his paw up to scratch his head. "Umm... what do you mean?"

"It's something we used to do all the time," Mari explained. "Every night, when we weren't busy, we would watch the sunset in the Pridelands. And then when it started to get dark, we would climb up to the top of Pride Rock. From there, we could see the sunset all over again. It was always brighter up there, like going back in time."

Mohatu smiled. "I think I remember... something like that. Maybe in one of my dreams."

Mari pointed her paw up in the air, directly at the peak of one of the pyramids. "I say we climb up to the top of that pyramid," she grinned. "Just like old times."

"Alright," Mohatu shot the lioness a delighted wink.


---



Probably trillions of grains of sand existed within the territory of Lea Halalela, all visible from the top of the largest of the pyramids. The smaller pyramids, the stone lion, the Nial river, the cave, the valley—it could all be seen from that very point. It was a breathtaking sight of all the desert scenery, as grand, expansive, and epic as it was mesmerizing.

Behind it all stood a gigantic sun, a red mass of light bright enough to blind any lion who dared to look at it directly. Everything was highlighted with its red glow, except the long shadows on the other side. The light source was very clearly the centerpiece of the entire scene, even with the massive blocky structures protruding from the sands.

Mohatu leaped all four of his paws up onto the top block of the pyramid at once, as a brave jump of triumph. Mari soon followed in a similar motion, panting just as heavily. Again, they stood united above the typical events of dusk. Though it had been longer than a year since Leo and Mari had looked down on the Earth with their tails intertwined, it was hardly a foreign memory to either of them.

Despite the foreign scenery, Mari felt as though she was actually at home. She felt only a comforting sense of peace, which added to her tenderness from earlier. It really was just like old times—the times she had missed so dearly.

Changing the subject on her mind, the lioness grinned and nudged Mohatu with her paw. "Look down," she said.

Mohatu did as he was told, but he didn't understand why. Nothing of interest caught his eye. It was all pretty standard fare beneath his chin, nothing more than sand, a rocky surface, and his paws. It was hardly interesting in the slightest. "What is it?"

"Your mane," Mari teased. "Notice something?"

"No..."

"It looks red, doesn't it?" Mari asked.

Mohatu hesitated for a moment, before nodding slightly. "Yeah."

"You are the red-maned lion," the lioness explained with a hearty smile. Even though Mohatu already knew the truth, she still wanted to say that little tidbit out loud.

Almost immediately, Mohatu thought back to what Mari had said the night before. Now, it all made sense. He really was the lion Mari was talking about, when she said all those things. "You... planned all this out, didn't you?"

"Only sort of," Mari explained. "I wanted to take you up here, where I could surprise you and then give you the flower. When I was talking about him, I was actually thinking about you."

Mohatu couldn't help but fawn a little at the thought. Mari really did have good intentions, after all. She was a lot sweeter than he ever would have thought. "Is it any wonder why I love you?" he asked himself, jokingly of course.

"Not really," Mari added cheekily.

As his feelings started to die down and fade to a more serene state, Leo stepped over to the edge of the block on which he stood. He gazed out and saw the sun fall back behind the wall of the horizon in its entirety, obscured by sands. It was a brilliant sight, slow in motion, but Mohatu soon found himself looking elsewhere.

The lion's focus shifted downward to the felines near the pyramids; most notably, they marched in a trail of about eight strong, towards one of the pyramids. There were others as well, but the linear group was by far the most prominent feature. "Look at them," Mohatu said. "They look like ants down there..."

"And there's Buraya and Zuria and Rafiki," Mari pointed downward and across from Mohatu's focus.

"Tomorrow," Mohatu whispered, reminding himself of a few things as he heard the spoken words of their names.

Instinctively, Mari had to ask. "What's going to happen tomorrow?"

"I'll sort this out with them," Mohatu explained. "I'll face a trial before I'll be promoted to knight... but I think I'll..."

Mohatu paused himself, realizing that he didn't like what he was about to say. He was originally going to say that he would side with Minerva after the trial, but then he also considered siding with Inari. Either way, he didn't really like his options.

Instead, Leo quickly changed his plans. "After the ceremony, I'm going to try to make peace with Inari and Minerva. I'll need you and the others to back me up in case things get ugly."

"I have a feeling they will," whispered the lioness.

"Tomorrow," Leo said again, inciting a chill beneath his own coat of fur, "Lea Halalela is going to be ours."

No matter what was about to happen, he had full confidence in himself and his abilities. With Mari's love, he felt there was no limit to what he could accomplish. He knew it would probably get ugly, but he almost didn't care anymore. He was on top of the entire world, and his opponents were merely ants beneath his paws.

"Are you going to go back down and tell the others?" Mari suggested. "I don't want them to be surprised in the morning."

"We could..." Mohatu thought for a moment. "But there's something else I'd rather do tonight. We're already up here..."

"Mohatu, I didn't sleep at all, last night," Mari said. "I know what you're thinking... but I'm tired, especially after climbing all this way." She set her paws down on the stone block, and rolled over into a comfortable napping position. "I think I'm just going to sleep here. Especially if things are going to get crazy tomorrow."

"Won't it get cold?" Leo asked. He noticed that his toes started to shiver under the first openings of starlight, though it was hardly enough to keep him from sitting down on the chilly, rocky surface.

Mari grinned. "That's what you're here for."

Mohatu couldn't bring himself to argue with that logic. If Mari wanted to use him as a blanket, he had no qualms about it. In fact, he actually liked the idea.

Before either of the two felines could blink, Mohatu found himself curling up beside his mate. He was ready to spend the night out under the stars, no matter how cold it was going to get. It was a nice little place to be, all the way up above the entire scene of the night-dwellers. The peace was unquestionable—in all honesty, there was nowhere in the entire world Mohatu would rather have been. Reality was finally better than even his best daydreams.

"It's a good life we live," Mari whispered.

"The best," Mohatu added.

Mari closed her eyes. "May it never change..."

Mohatu wrapped his forepaws around the lioness, and buried his chin underneath her own. He let loose a purr, before finishing where Mari had left off. "And may it never change us."
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » June 12th, 2014, 9:11 pm

chapter 39: show
A/N: I'm back this week with a shorter chapter. This one is pretty simple and straightforward, but it sets everything up for the final event. I'm hoping to have this entire story over and done with in the next few days, as tribute for TLK's 20th birthday. Check back in a little while and the end will probably be up.


---


A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 39: Zero Hour


Far below the bliss of Mohatu and Mari, the atmosphere was much darker inside the deep chambers of the pyramid. Knight Inari sat in the dim torchlight, gazing at the den's floor marked with territories and littered with metallic icons and avatars like a board game. Each one represented a pride, and the entire floor was a representation of the battleground of the kingdom.

"Today's threat level was low," Inari reported to the others in the room, raising his head to meet the eyes of his and Minerva's combined subordinates. "The state of our kingdom is deteriorating like hell, and yet we haven't found a single transgressor in any of the red zones."

"Quite the contrary; my reports indicate otherwise," Minerva interrupted with utmost abruptness.

Inari raised his ears with interest. Noting Minerva's succeeding silence, he quickly expressed his doubt. "For the third day in a row, I've run an extensive search of our borders. With all due respect, I'm not sure what makes you so certain," Inari immediately questioned.

"Mari is here," Minerva assured the knight, grinning slightly with the satisfaction of imminent success. "I saw her myself... and there's something special about her companion."

The queen raised her paw, immediately bringing every lion around her from a subtle whisper to complete, utter silence. "I have notified the prophet, and he shall be here shortly to deal with this new threat before it spirals out of control."

Inari slammed his paw down onto the floor, on the paw-drawn map of the kingdom. "I have it under control," Inari argued. "Rex should be there in the yellow zones; that's where the reinforcements are needed." The lion cocked his head thereafter. "What about Knight Safar and his pride?"

"Safar's progress does not concern us any longer," Minerva announced. "He will soon be recalled to the Pridelands to join up with Zabayah—"

"What!" Inari held his breath for a moment. "But... that doesn't make any sense! We've made too much progress in the Tango Zone to pull out now. We need to keep on the offensive."

"Silence," Minerva hissed. "You do not understand."

"I understand this isn't what Leo would have done," the knight argued forcefully. "Listen, Leo's conquest was only successful because he was brutal. He didn't waste time sitting around. We stuck together, and we struck out at our enemies with violent surprise. A war cannot be fought by defense alone."

"Shut up, old fool," Minerva cleared her throat. "We are not fighting a war. We are fighting two lions. They are here, as the great kings have foreseen."

The other lion gazed upon the queen with fury in his eyes. "Then where are they?" Inari demanded.

"Inari," Minerva began slowly. Her voice calmed to a whisper, while every lion in the room sat and waited in silence. "You are relieved from command. Dismissed."

"You can't do that," Inari blurted aloud without ever an immediate thought. "This is my mission, now—King Rex assigned me to track down the lioness, and with good reason. You're nothing but the head of the academy!"

"Inari," Minerva called, still just as calm as before. "I outrank you, knight. You are relieved of duty."

Subsequently, Inari turned his back to the queen, making a run for the chamber's exit. "Whatever you say, my queen," he growled sarcastically. As he walked past Minerva, he shoved his paw at her shoulder. "I'll watch you mess it up from here. If there's one thing I know for certain, it's that if the assassins are not a threat to us, it's because that's what they want us to think."

Before Minerva could respond, Inari was already halfway to to the connecting corridor, on his way to exit. His vision was focused on the passageway ahead, and he didn't dare to look back. His feud with Minerva was starting to ignite in full force, but little did he know which side the king was on. Surely Rex wasn't so stupid, he thought.

"You will watch the king's success," Minerva stated. She then closed her eyes and brought her paws together peacefully. The other lions started to scatter in Inari's path, feeling that the meeting was now over without their commander's presence. Their dismissal was now apparent.

Yet, most oddly, before Inari's tail exited the room completely, the dark central corridor of the pyramid came to life with the sounds of approaching pawsteps from the opposite direction.

The torches ignited their yellow and tangerine glow in the king's eyes, as his ocular organs reflected the sudden switch of light. The mass of his mane blocked out the entire pathway; resultantly, his two guards were forced to follow in tandem. Steam rose in plumes on both sides of him, but not one of the felines seemed fazed by the activity.

"My lord," Inari greeted unexpectedly, holding his muscles tight while he feigned a confident smile. "Knight Inari here, glad to have you on board.

"These..." Inari continued with a sigh, struggling to explain himself before the king could rendezvous with his lover. "These are interesting times. I don't know if you know it, but Minerva has—"

Rex pushed the knight aside, ignoring his words in the most visible form possible. "I am only here for Mohatu," he announced carelessly.

As he passed Inari and reached the end of the passage, the self-proclaimed king of beasts came to a dead stop at the chamber's entrance.

Across from him, at the other side of the den sat the white lioness known only as Minerva, deep in some form of perceived meditation. The king's presence threw her consciousness out of its trance, and her eyes quickly opened to meet the lion. "I'm pleased to see your arrival, my lord," Minerva stated dryly.

"Guards," Rex immediately directed, raising his paw into the air. "Leave us."

The two nodded. "As you wish, my liege." In consequence, the bodyguards on opposite sides turned their backs to the king, and subsequently left the meditation chamber. In the dim light, silence mainly ensued thereafter; the only audible sounds were the whistles and hisses of the hot vapors in the air.

Minerva raised her head, also spreading her ears a bit in the process. "I've already started preparations for the trial," she explained. "Our plans are in motion at last. I'll fill you in on the details."

"Good," Rex nodded. "If what Sheikra told me is true... this time, we will not fail."


---



A single streak of light rose through the air, signaling an end to the darkness of night. The stars lost their visibility as soon as the atmosphere lit up into a dull shade of cyan. The cold chill of the air started to liven up a bit, though it was still going to be a while before the arid desert would burst into its typical excruciating heat.

Mohatu yawned his release of morning breath, slow and loud in the process. Such a good feeling it was, waking up with his paws wrapped around the love of his life in such a way. For the second night in a row, Mohatu had slept well. This time, however, it was even better of a morning—it helped that he opened his eyes and thought about something other than Mari's brutal kick in his lonely.

As a matter of fact, Mohatu struggled to comprehend how lucky he actually was. Just the fact that Mari had even noticed his existence was amazing in and of itself. After the night prior, Mohatu felt himself privileged just to have been presented the opportunity to speak to his love. The fact that she actually liked him after all was nothing short of the best surprise ever. He never expected the night to turn out as well as it did, and that was precisely what made it such a happy moment.

As the lion's field of view widened and his awareness expanded to comprehend it, he couldn't help but play back the events of the night in his mind. Mohatu remembered every word, twitch, and breath of the entire conversation; he kept it all on repeat so he wouldn't ever forget it. It seemed so unreal—though obviously real it was.

He was cuddled up with the lioness, laying on the very peak of the tallest point around. There was no other way to explain how he managed to get himself tangled so snugly in such a position.

And so Mohatu enjoyed his bliss, knowing full well it would not last. Yesterday was his day off, but this time it was going to be different. Mohatu had a trial to face, and based on Minerva's hype, it seemed important enough to be worthy of his attention. This was bound to be the day of his promotion to knight; it was to be a rise to the upper ranks of the kingdom, where he knew he rightfully belonged.

In due time, the increasing light pushed Mari from her sleep, as well. Mohatu sighed, knowing full well that meant his cuddle time was over. "Can you just stay still for a little while longer?" he begged.

Mari stretched out her paws, thus pushing Mohatu away. He subsequently flopped onto his belly, and his fur brushed back against the grain. Still, such a peaceful morning it was, standing above the entire world on the pyramid with the love of his life like a complete badass. A Lioness to love? Check. A pride to fight with? Check. Badass? Check. Everything was good to go.

"As much as I'd like to, we can't just stand up here all day," Mari insisted. "I think it's time we go down and tell the others about what's going on."

"Right," Mohatu nodded, now rising to his paws. "I'll go find Minerva and talk to her first. You go find the others and tell them to meet me at the sinkhole if they aren't already there. I'll devise a plan once I know what Minerva and Inari are going to do."

Mari yawned. "Sounds good. I'll see you back at the sinkhole."

Mohatu leaped down from the pyramid's tip, in the very opposite direction that Mari chose. Before he left the lioness completely, he placed his paws back over the tallest block and peeked around. "Mari..." Mohatu whispered. "I love you."

Mari turned her head around. "You just said that last night," she immediately giggled. "I guess you were too excited to remember any of it," she added jokingly.

Mohatu beamed back at the lioness. "No, I remember. But it's true. I do."

"I know you do, I was just kidding," Mari almost blushed through her fur. "Be safe down there. I love you, too."


---



"Mohatu!" A voice called out from below and afar, as soon as Mohatu's paws reached ground level. "There you are," Inari announced again, now completely visible in Mohatu's field of view. "What the blazes where you doing up there, rookie?"

"Well..." Mohatu muttered. He had to wonder if he had just broken a rule or something; he didn't quite know for sure. Inari didn't seem too pleased, and that seemed to be as good a reason as any. "I... ugh..."

"You can explain later," Inari shook his head. "I've got some news for you, and I'm sure you'll wanna hear about this."

Not surprisingly, Mohatu felt a little relieved upon hearing those words. He regained his orientation on the ground, and let the anxiety release through his tail. He was no longer tense, instead, he stretched out his paws and proceeded to walk towards the knight. "Mhm? Do tell."

"King Rex is here," Inari stated quickly and earnestly. His scowl was evident on his face, as his whiskers started to bend downward. "He's changed all our battle plans, and he says he's here for you."

Mohatu felt a deep shock radiate down his spine. And so it was. This was the way it would all end, he soon realized. "Well..." Mohatu started to look a bit uneasy once again. "What did he say he wanted?"

"Don't know," Inari growled. "If he's heard about what you've done, it's very likely he's here to meet you personally. You're the only warrior to be promoted to knight since Leo's death... I'm sure your success gained his attention. That's gotta have something to do with it."

"Hmm..." Mohatu thought for a moment, although the break of silence was short-lived at best. "I'm honored," he smirked.

"Yeah?" the knight questioned. He clenched his teeth out of anger, before shoving his words down Leo's throat. "Maybe you think this is good for you, but I can tell you it's a major problem. This is going to put a dent into our plans..."

"I do agree," Mohatu turned away casually. He gazed out at the expansive morning horizon, before returning his focus to Inari's eyes. "So what do you think we should do, my liege?"

"I don't know," Inari retorted. "Something is out of place, and I don't like it."

"Indeed," Mohatu nodded. "Indeed..."

"The assassination will have to wait until after your trial," Inari thought aloud. "There's no way we're going to risk killing Minerva with Rex here. There's guards everywhere... this place is a fortress now."

Mohatu forced himself to hide his growing smile. "Well... that's too bad. It looks like we'll have to postpone the bloodshed and wait until we have a better opportunity."

"The sooner she's out, the better off we'll be," Inari insisted. "You need to take charge of her pride before she gets us all killed. Minerva knows nothing about fighting a war, and she's not fit for command."

Leo raised his paw as a thought entered his mind. "I am on friendly terms with Minerva, for now," Mohatu explained, albeit with a small degree of hesitation. "Perhaps I can use that to my advantage and get her to reason with your demands. It will make our job easier."

"Don't even try it," Inari spat. "It isn't going to work."

"It's better than waiting," Mohatu argued. And with that, he set his course for main pyramid, where he would inevitably find Minerva and get to the truth of the matter. Just with that little bit of information, Mohatu had a lot to reconsider. Needless to say, he found it difficult to keep his focus straight.

As soon as he stepped forward, Mohatu immediately began to have second thoughts. Rex was probably in that pyramid, too. More than likely, it was best to avoid them. If it was some sort of trap, Mohatu wanted to be out in the open, where his pride could easily come to his aid. In the corridors of the pyramid, Mohatu knew he would be trapped and vulnerable.

Not that he couldn't fight back if he needed to, of course; it just wasn't going to be an advantageous battle, that way.

Regardless, Mohatu's plans to claim Giza as his own weren't looking all that bright. Now, all that mattered was finding and confronting Rex on favorable terms. That meant being with his pride, and possibly even having Inari beside him. Although Mohatu wanted to prevent the situation from getting ugly, with Rex there, that wasn't going to be possible.

"Good luck in your trial," Inari raised his head earnestly and intently toward Mohatu. "It'll be a pleasure to have you among our ranks."

"Thank you, sir," Mohatu grinned in return, but the smirk was short-lived at best.


---



As she approached the sinkhole, Mari scrunched her nose. "What is that horrendous smell?" she asked aloud and to herself, despite looking at Buraya down in the cavern below. The entire zone reeked with the awful scent of vomit, and the numerous quantity of flies rustling about only served to add to the legitimacy of that theory. More than likely, there was a pile of something nasty, somewhere in Mari's vicinity. "Yuck... it's putrid."

Buraya turned away. "Sorry," he muttered. "I was really sick yesterday, and—"

"Are you better now?" Mari asked.

"Only a little..." Buraya said.

"Where are Rafiki and Zuria?" Mari inquired.

Rafiki tapped Mari's tail with his sword, its shiny blade protected by its natural, elegant encasing. The baboon caught Mari by surprise, but by now, she was beginning to get used to it. Spawning out of nowhere was something he just did—consistently, at that. Mari twitched her tail in consequence, before turning around to see who it was.

"Hi," Rafiki grinned.

"You need to stop doing that," she stated dryly, her ears slightly lower than usual. "And besides, don't touch my tail. I don't like that."

Zuria was next to show herself, rising from out behind the shadow of a rock. "I'm here... what do you want from me?" she asked, slowly and with a notable degree of hesitation. She seemed a little scared, and rightfully so, of course—she didn't appear to be in any sort of fighting condition.

"The former King Leo has infiltrated the academy as a rogue named Mohatu," Mari announced. "Today, he's scheduled to be promoted to knight, but he wants us to wait here..."

"More waiting?" the male lion in the group grunted. "Ugh, what for?" Buraya demanded. He frowned a little, swiping his paw across the ground and kicking up a cloud of dust.

"He's going to tell us what we need to do," Mari explained. She tried as best as she could to keep her patience, this time. Fortunately, it seemed a little easier than it was days before. "Leo is going to need our help to secure our hold of Giza."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Zuria backed away, fear clearly evident in her eyes. "What do you mean... what's going on? How long have I been knocked out?"

"Ehh... not that long. Only about two days," Mari answered shyly. "You would have died from your snakebite, but Leo and I rescued you from the pyramid. Rafiki patched you up."

"Sure did!" Rafiki smiled.

Zuria's eyes widened, and her mind shot blank for several seconds. It didn't appear easy for her to come to terms with the slew of new information, and that was especially visible once her jaw dropped a little. Unlike Buraya, the more serious lioness was still a bit baffled by the whole ordeal. "So, you're telling me that you... saved... me..."

"Yes," Mari confirmed what she had said.

"It's true," Buraya laughed. "You looked so dumb when you were asleep!"

"Shut up!" Zuria growled in response. She didn't have too much energy, but her brother always had a way of getting her nerves rallied up. He was an expert in that field, doubtlessly so. In merely an instant, Zuria's mood flipped upside down to a much more furious tone.

"Quiet," Mari announced. She lowered her stance on the ground, securing her foothold both physically and mentally. "Until Mohatu gets back, I'm the one in charge here. There will be no more of that. We're all on the same side, here."

"Oh," Buraya cocked his head aside, sarcastically giving the alpha-lioness an expression of compliance. "Aren't you too short to be a good leader?" he teased. "I would have expected a queen to be a little bigger. And besides... you're a girl! You can't tell me what to do, because you're dumb and I'm not."

"Can I slash him now?" Zuria asked Mari, squinting her eyes and extending the tips of her claws out to the disgusting scent of the morning air. She stared intently at each fine point, ready to start slicing through leonine flesh.

"No," Mari yelled. "We wait for Leo."

"That's dumb," Buraya retorted. "I just want to hurry up and kill things."

"Then save your energy," Mari commanded. "If this situation unfolds like all the others inevitably do, we'll have plenty of enemies to face... and you can earn your glory. But for now, I suggest you wait. Mohatu will be here in any minute."

"So..." Zuria scowled, still struggling to wrap her mind around it all. "You're Mari, you're working with Leo, and you're going to take over Giza...?"

"Something like that, yes," Mari nodded. "Leo will be able to tell us more when he gets here. He just went to talk to Minerva, that's all."


---



Before Mohatu even made it halfway to the pyramid's entrance, he caught sight of Minerva's shiny white fur by the Nial River. She seemed to be headed for her morning drink, which gave Mohatu the perfect opportunity to interrupt her.

"Queen Minerva," Mohatu greeted, a little more formal than usual this time around. "I am ready for my trial." He hesitated for a moment, before continuing with what he wanted to say. "But... there's something I wanted to talk to you about, first..."

"Go on," the queen demanded, as soon as she turned around.

"You see," Mohatu started to explain, "it's just... about the other night. I don't think we're—"

"Interesting," Minerva immediately interrupted. Somehow, she managed to know what Mohatu was about to say before he even finished mouthing his words. "What makes you say that?"

"It's just..." Mohatu sighed. "I wasn't thinking clearly. It's not that I don't like you, I just don't think I know you well enough to take our relationship seriously. I mean... it was just one night, and I was—"

"What?" Minerva flattened her ears. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no. You're not backing out now. I brought Rex here so we could kill him, and now you're going to say—"

"Oooooooh," Mohatu immediately took a giant leap backward. "Whooooooah! I didn't know that!" That little bit of information was electrifying at best, and practically knocked him down onto his paws.

"Listen to me," Minerva whispered, staring deeply. "At your trial, you're going to go through the smallest of the three pyramids. Normally, once you reach the end, you would face and kill the other remaining students, thus proving your superiority to us and the kings of the past. But this time... Rex is here to watch. He will be there, waiting for you at the end. That will be our chance. We'll team up and kill him, and then we can rule the Pridelands ourselves."

Mohatu's eyes widened. "Okay... okay... I'll do it." His response was more out of compliance, and not necessarily a true agreement. More accurately, he had no idea what else to say. Minerva seemed far too serious about this; he couldn't let her down. She was too quick and too pushy. Mohatu didn't have time to think.

A bright smile expanded upon the queens elegant muzzle. "Excellent. It's good to see that my faith in you has not been misplaced."

"So..." Mohatu thought aloud, after a short break of silence amidst the morning wind. "It'll be at the small pyramid? Got it. I'll be there in a few minutes... I just have a few loose ends to tie up, first. You know, with my slave and all."

"I see," Minerva continued to hold her grin. "I'll be headed on my way to the pyramid soon, after a drink. As soon as we're both there, the trial will begin."

"Okay... good," Mohatu humored the lioness. "Alright... I'll see you in a little bit!"


---



"There he is," Mari smiled, much to her internal relief upon sighting her mate. She trotted across the sands, first to meet Leo and greet him with her typical, pleasured voice. "So?" she asked. "What's the word?"

Mohatu sighed before he expressed himself in any other way, even despite seeing the smile of his mate. "This is going to be harder than I thought," explained the lion. "My brother is here, and he's going to be waiting for me at the end of my trial."

Mari's eyes widened. "So... wow." She tried to take a step forward, but her mind would not allow it. "...I guess this is it, huh?"

"Yep."

"So..."

Mohatu shook his head, his manefur drooping down above his eyes. "I don't know, Mari. I don't know what I'm going to do..."

By the time Mohatu's voice faded away, Buraya, Rafiki, and Zuria were now well within auditory range. The other three gathered closely, waiting with great anticipation to hear the news. Rafiki placed his pole into the ground and leaned against it, while the two felines sat on their tails.

Several seconds passed in complete, eerie silence. Mohatu's thoughts circled and bounced around; he had never struggled so much to come up with a plan. He felt as though he was almost trapped, unable to make any sort of wise move. No matter what he did, there was some risk involved. He found no way to secure a victory, even if he actually was going to work with Minerva.

"Mari..." Leo began. "The trial is going to take place in the smallest pyramid. I want you to find a way in, around the back. I'm going to need you to help me fight Rex."

"I'll do what I can," Mari nodded. "I'll see this through."

"Rafiki," Mohatu ordered, "I want you to stay here and guard the sinkhole. If we fail, we're going to need an escape, and the sinkhole is our best bet for a hiding place."

Rafiki bowed, acknowledging the order without any comments.

"Zuria, it's good to see you're feeling better, today," Mohatu allowed his mood to lift a little. "You're going to cover the entrance, after I go in. Make sure that not one lion gets inside the pyramid after me."

Zuria placed her paw over her chest. "As you wish, my king," Zuria nodded.

"Buraya," Mohatu directed his final command. "You're going to sweep the area and provide cover for anyone who needs it. Stay alert, and be ready to react to trouble wherever it may arise."

"But I don't want to be on guard duty again," whined Buraya. "It's sooooo boring!"

Mohatu shook his head. "You're going to complain no matter what I tell you to do," he argued easily. "Now let's move out!"
Regulus
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