A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » August 11th, 2013, 4:46 am

chapter 22: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu


Chapter 22: Subtle Infiltration


"Hey! You!" the raspy voice of a lioness suddenly called Mohatu from across the river. "I don't think I've seen you before..."

The brown lion gazed up immediately, still trying to think of an explanation for his presence. "You haven't. I'm Mohatu... I'm a rogue. I've been traveling."

To the lion's pleasant surprise, he even managed to amaze himself with the smoothness of his voice, considering the chaos that had erupted within his mind only seconds prior.

"Oh," the tawny lioness replied simply. She stepped closer, carrying her body with a swift, silky motion. "Well..." she began, extending her claws right in front of the lion, "you might want to think twice before drinking from this waterhole."

Mohatu stepped back, trying to calm himself even further, despite the lioness's attitude. "Yeah, well I won't be here for long. I'm only looking for the wisdom of the great kings... to guide me on the rest of my journey."

It was a lie, of course, but it sounded believable and that was all that mattered.

"Let me tell you something," the tawny female continued. "The kingdom rules this land... and as the followers of our king, we do as we please. You would be wise to leave."

"I understand," Mohatu nodded passively.

The old king looked away, and proceeded to walk to the even calmer portion of the river, where he caught sight of several other lions approaching indifferently. Certainly, they weren't going to make this any easier for him.

While he did not necessarily want to speak to the rest of the native's pride, he did not want to appear to be avoiding all contact with other lions, either. He had to act natural if he was to prevent himself from looking suspicious, which meant being more confrontational than he wanted to be.

"I mean it," the lioness spat, clenching her teeth. "You better leave."

Mohatu exhaled heavily, completely ignoring the lioness's display of aggression. "Yeah, right," he whispered sarcastically to himself. To the former king, the lioness was not physically intimidating in the slightest. He was only looking to avoid a fight for much more practical reasons.

The former king focused his attention on the other lions, instead. There were three of them, all walking passively along the riverside. They seemed to be chatting about something, but as soon as Mohatu tried to listen in, the conversation stopped at once.

The three other lions paused, shifting their eyes over to Mohatu. A deep chill ran through his spine, as the forgotten king began to realize he had drawn attention to himself. They were all watching him from afar.

"I think I've just decided I don't like you," the lioness behind Mohatu spat.

Mohatu strafed over to the side, slightly, while turning his head around to meet the lioness again. As much as he did not want to start a fight, he was not going to be bossed around, either.

Leo scowled. "That's too bad."

One of the three spectators stepped over, closing in on the lioness's position. His shiny black mane and bright yellow fur began to illuminate in the sunlight, as he stepped out of the shade of a patch of trees and into the open grassland. "Hmmm..." he grinned. "It looks like another rogue lion is going to stand up to you, Zuria."

Mohatu remained silent, waiting for either of the two native lions to make their next move. He stood back, watching the situation unfold before him with a distinct, cat-like interest.

"Shut up," the tawny lioness demanded, scowling at the lion beside her. "I'm getting tired of all these rogues coming out here, thinking they're better than us!"

"He might be better than you," the other lion retorted. A smirk began to form across his muzzle, as he tilted his head to the side. "Heh! I bet he can take you!"

"No..." Mohatu replied. "I'm not actually looking for a fight."

"Yeah, yeah," the other male lion continued. "I know what you're looking for, rogue. But it isn't going to happen unless you get your paws dirty. This is Giza—if you want something, you have to work for it."

Could the lion really have known what Mohatu was looking for? The question festered in the old king's mind for a moment, as he began to wonder how obvious his intentions truly were. Surely, any lion to venture out into the Badlands was looking for something, but was it that obvious?

Zuria squinted her eyes at Mohatu, lowering her torso to the ground and throwing her tail up into the air, while her three nearby peers watched. "Let's go, Mohatu... unless you're afraid."

"Hey guys, come over here," the black-maned spectator called his other two buddies. "This guy is going to fight Zuria!"

"No, I'm not," Mohatu insisted. The more experienced lion was quite firm in his decision, keeping his head high above the lioness, and ignoring her two approaching comrades.

Yet, in the back of his mind, Mohatu began to consider his options. He could not think of a way to end the conflict peacefully, without running away.

That would have been stupid. He knew fleeing would only make him look suspicious, and he wasn't going to have that. The other male lion was right: if he was to get what he wanted, he had to work for it. He had to face his new opponent.

Perhaps, he could just show Zuria a little something—a taste of his true power. Not enough to hurt her, but just enough to gain the respect of her peers. That, Mohatu decided, was the preferable solution.

"Giza is no place for a pacifist," Zuria inched toward Mohatu cautiously. "You already had your chance to flee. Now, you will fight or die."

Mohatu stepped back, not yet drawing out his natural leonine weapons burred beneath his pawtoes. However, he showed no sign of submission, either.

"What should I do, Buraya?" Zuria glanced over at the other male lion for a second, without showing a single hint of fear. "Should I rip his limbs apart with my bare claws... or should I push him into the river and let him drown to death? Will a little bit of humiliation suffice, instead?"

A snarky chuckle escaped from the lion's nose. "I'll let you decide," Buraya replied casually.

"Why don't you think about who you're messing with?" Mohatu taunted. Quickly, he tried to think of a few lies, so that he could impress the obvious wannabes around him. "I... fought beside Leo in the battle of Kivumba, before the siege of Pride Rock."

"There was no battle of Kivumba," Buraya retorted.

"It was due west of the Pridelands, three days before the rise of the kingdom," Mohatu lied, stepping back and pulling out his claws. "Lake Kivumba was the final staging ground for the attack."

"Yeah?" Zuria asked, unimpressed. "What did you kill? Rodents?"

"Scrubs like you," Mohatu retorted. Although he didn't want to provoke the lioness, she had set herself up for that retort.

"I'm not a scrub!" Zuria hissed.

As the dull-furred lioness began to rush in to attack, Mohatu strafed aside and grabbed the lioness by the paw. The other three lions watched carefully, never taking their sights away from the duel.

Zuria attempted to break free, but could not manage to pull her paw back. Her other forepaw dangled helplessly in the air, trying to scratch Mohatu's face to no avail.

Mohatu glanced over at the spectators for a moment, showing a slight grin. "Watch this," he taunted. "It's one of Leo's old favorites."

Buraya, especially, seemed rather interested to see what Mohatu had to offer.

Shifting his attention back to Zuria, Mohatu bent the lioness's forepaw backwards, and stepped back to sling it across the grasses. Likewise, the lioness's body followed, crashing into the ground on a whim. The brown lion's opposite shoulder acted like a fulcrum; he had strategically placed himself to launch the lioness anywhere he desired.

"Whoa! That was awesome!" Buraya called out.

Zuria shook her head for a moment, her jaw hanging open while she rested upside-down. Mohatu's prowess had caught her by surprise, no doubt about it. As she regained her breath, she found Buraya looking down at her, instead of Mohatu.

"Hah!" the male lion grinned down at his fallen peer, causing Zuria to blush. "Looks like you still need a bit of practice before you can call yourself a knight."

Mohatu stepped back even farther, eying all four of the lions in front of him. To the old king's surprise, proving his ability without starting a war was far easier than he originally thought it was going to be. "That was with my left paw..."

"You..." Buraya continued in amazement, this time speaking to Mohatu. "You have to teach me how to do that!"

Mohatu pondered the request for a moment. As he began to consider what it was that he did, the lion started to realize that explaining the process would not be easy.

Mohatu had forgotten most of his combat training. In fact, he was beginning to wonder how he was even able to fight at all, considering his lack of memories. The recollections of combat in his mind were gone entirely, but, oddly enough, that did not matter.

Mohatu still retained his muscle memory, even after being unconscious for a week. Flipping the lioness over onto her back was a natural reaction. He did not have to think about it—it just happened. He had trained himself to fight on instinct alone.

Regardless, he knew it wouldn't hurt to try. Befriending one of Zuria's peers didn't seem like half a bad idea.

"I... I guess I could show you again," Mohatu shrugged.

Before Mohatu began to demonstrate his skill a second time, the brown lion stepped forward, and placed one of his forepaws above Zuria, who continued to rest on the ground.

Hesitantly, the defeated lioness grabbed Mohatu's paw, and used it to lift herself back up. Her cheeks blushed slightly with a hint of embarrassment, although she now knew that none of her peers could have fared any better against the rogue.

The four lions all watched Mohatu carefully, as he slowly began to demonstrate the technique on an invisible, imaginary opponent.

"It's simple, really," Mohatu explained. "You see, all you have to do is step to the side, like this..."

"Hmm?" one of the unfamiliar lions mumbled, stepping closer to get a better look. "But how did you-"

Mohatu paused, shifting his weight back into a natural, more comfortable stance. "Let me see your paw," he asked.

"Okay," Buraya volunteered first, sticking his forepaw out so that Mohatu could bend it.

The former king grabbed his faux opponent's paw, holding it by the wrist. "You have to get the grip just right..." Mohatu continued, "like this." The lion demonstrated his grip slowly, making it very clear where he grabbed his opponent.

"Huh," Buraya raised his brows in disbelief, slightly confused by Mohatu's strange technique. "How does that help?"

"I used this grip to bend the paw back against the shoulder," Mohatu added. "My shoulder acts as a fulcrum. The paw locks in place, and the body goes wherever my paw goes. I could also use my claws to tighten the grip, and add a bit of pain as a distraction."

Mohatu demonstrated his technique slowly on the other lion, pushing the entire forepaw back the way it wasn't meant to go. In consequence, Buraya moved forward and down to the ground, to alleviate the pain.

"That's ridiculous," Zuria spat. "You can't just... do that!"

"Yes, I can," Mohatu smirked, releasing his grip on Buraya's forepaw. "Any lion can. It's just a combat technique. There are many more I could show you..."

"But... you..." Zuria tried to argue, still in disbelief that such a passive lion could be such a proficient warrior.

"Being a badass doesn't mean you go looking for trouble," Mohatu replied, lending a paw to help Buraya rise off the ground as well. "It means you can get yourself out of it."

Buraya dusted himself off with his paw, after regaining his balance. "What's your name?" he asked the rogue lion.

"Mohatu."

"I'm Buraya," he greeted the rogue formally. "I assume you're planning on sticking around here?" the young lion asked.

"Possibly," Mohatu answered. "It depends."

"You're pretty good," Buraya commented on the lion's skill. "You definitely know a thing or two about fighting... you should speak to Minerva. She's the leader of the academy here at Giza. We could use a lion around here, like you."

Mohatu grinned. Apparently, with a little bit of effort, he could even pretend to be one of them. It would allow him free access to any part of the lands that he desired, without any worry of being caught. It was a pleasant thought, with the only difficult part being convincing Mari of the brilliance of such an idea.

But he would worry about that later. For now, it was time to get back to business. Mohatu focused his attention back on the group of lions in front of him. It was all he could do, trying not to imagine them turning into giant pieces of meat with his grumbling stomach.

Zuria scowled, rolling her eyes with annoyance. "The least we need is another arrogant fool around here thinking he's better than the rest of us."

"The only fool around here is you, Zuria," the other lion retorted, before shifting his focus back onto Mohatu. "Don't worry about her, she's just upset because you put her in her place."

"I am not!" the lioness yelled with flattened ears and a twitchy tail.

"Calm down," Mohatu replied easily. Quickly, he tried to think of something wise to say while he held in his laughter. "You'll get better in time, with practice. Just have some patience."

"Pfft," the lioness rolled her eyes again, before walking away in frustration. As she left, her paws stomped through the grass, in an obvious display of agitation.

The remaining two unfamiliar lions walked off as well, leaving only Mohatu and Buraya at the bank of the waterhole. A slight breeze split the air between them, as the situation began to die down.

"So..." Mohatu continued, speaking to Buraya once again. "What's the academy? And what's Giza?"

"This is Giza," Buraya answered. "It means darkness. That's what Leo and Rex called this land, when they first came out here."

"I see... but I thought this was Lea Halalela?"

"Lea Halalela is the ancient name for this place," the younger lion explained. "It's the holy land of the ancient kings. It's called that because of the pyramids... they're like burial grounds. Apparently, the land is infused with spirits or... I don't know."

"Interesting," Mohatu muttered. "And the academy?"

"We're all students of the academy," Buraya replied. "This is where all lions come to learn the ways of our ancestors, and hopefully become respected knights of the kingdom. Minerva is the lead instructor. She's also the queen."

"Hmm..." Mohatu cocked his brow. It would be a dangerous move, revealing his presence in front of the lion queen, but he knew the reward would be worth seeking.

If Mohatu could show Rex's followers his true worth, in time they would respect him. They would tell him everything they knew about the ancient kings, and he would be able to learn so much more, in a much shorter time frame.

"I'm interested," Mohatu finally responded. "Can you take me to Minerva?"

"She should be back from the afternoon hunt, soon," Buraya informed Mohatu. "You'll have to pass an entry test before you can become a student like us... but I'm sure you won't find it too difficult."

"That's okay," Mohatu stepped away, looking around to explore his surroundings a bit more. Without a doubt, he was beginning to like where the situation was going.

"If you want, I can show you around until she gets here..." Buraya offered. The lion stood up, beginning to examine his surroundings in greater detail.

"Sure," Mohatu accepted. To the lion's pleasant surprise, his new plan seemed to be working almost flawlessly. It was almost too good to be true.

Before Mohatu began following the native lion, he glanced over at the tree that Mari hid under. She had been watching, waiting, and hearing everything, no doubt.

As Mohatu's eyes met the tip of the lioness's head, standing out amidst the grasses, Mohatu gave her a suggestive wink of the eye. "Don't worry," he mouthed silently to his stealthy companion. "It'll be fine."


--- --- ---


Buraya stopped walking and gazed out at the vast landscape ahead of him, scratching his chin with his forepaw. The three massive pyramids of Giza loomed in the foreground, with equally enormous shadows covering the ground below them.

"That back there is the Nial River delta," Buraya explained to Mohatu. "All the water we get comes from that river, and eventually goes out into the sea, all the way to the northeast. There's many different streams and waterholes back there... it's mostly just marshland."

"I see," Mohatu nodded casually. "So... what's with the pyramids? I was actually wondering about that."

Buraya glanced at the faux rogue lion for a moment before speaking. "The pyramids? So that's what you want to know about, huh?"

"Yes..."

"No one really knows for sure," Buraya replied. "It's a bit of a mystery, to be honest."

Mohatu cocked his head to the side. "Mhm?"

"Well... you see that big one there? The one in the center?" Buraya asked rhetorically. "That's the great pyramid. You're not going to believe how old that thing is..."

"Yeah, I can imagine it's pretty old," Mohatu agreed. "But what is it?"

"It's a tomb, basically. It has three chambers: an upper chamber, a lower chamber, and an unfinished chamber deep into the ground. I don't know what they're for, actually... I don't think any lion knows. Some say the sarcophagi of the ancient kings were hidden in there, but I've heard stranger theories..."

Mohatu planted his rump down onto the ground, allowing himself to sit and rest for a moment, while his mind absorbed all the information. "So... how hard is it to walk inside?" Mohatu asked.

"I've been in there before," the other lion answered. "You have to climb up a bit to get to the entrance, but it's pretty easy to get in."

"But what about the other two?"

"The one on the left isn't built as well as the others. Some believe it's because that king died before his pyramid was finished completely. It's also possible that some lion tried to demolish the pyramid."

"But is there anything inside it?" Leo inquired.

"It's completely locked down... only Leo and Rex were ever able to get inside. Don't ask me how they were able to do it; I have no idea," Buraya shrugged lackadaisically. "I'm pretty sure Minerva can get in too, but you'd have to ask her about that."

"And the one on the right?" Mohatu asked.

"That one is used as the living quarters... the den, basically," the other lion answered. "There are several smaller rooms, plus many other chambers for gathering purposes and rituals. There are several entrances... and they're all open."

Mohatu nodded. "I see."

"Anything else you want to know about the pyramids?" Buraya asked. Although he knew he did not know as much as Mohatu wanted to hear, the lion's knowledge wasn't totally useless.

"I'm actually looking for a very specific tomb," Mohatu admitted. "Does the tomb of Regulus sound familiar to you?"

Buraya squinted his eyes, scowling slightly. "You're looking for that? Hah! Good luck!"

"I know it's here," Mohatu insisted. "It has to be here, somewhere."

"Oh, it's here," the black-maned lion answered. "But you'll never get inside. The entrance is locked shut. It's completely sealed off... not even the king can get in there."

"I could have guessed," Mohatu replied. Of course he wouldn't be able to get in; that much was obvious. He didn't have the keys.

Regardless, he still wanted to find the tomb, just to acquire a greater understanding of it. More than likely, it would help him discover the truth, in relation to what happened to his former self. "But do you have any idea where it is?" Mohatu asked.

"Look to the right of the pyramids, out there," Buraya pointed his paw across the horizon. "That big shape out there is a lion made of stone... it's a monument. According to legend, the tomb of Regulus is inside and beneath the stone lion."

"A stone lion?" Mohatu asked, seeking clarification that he had heard Buraya's words correctly. He couldn't see much of it, as a foggy cloud of dust cast a layer of haze over his distant vision. It blurred the horizon and sky into one inseparable entity, blocking out most of the landscape's more intricate features.

"Yeah," the other lion added. "It's a giant sculpture of a lion... carved from the ground itself."

"Hmm..." Mohatu mumbled, thinking quietly to himself. It was odd to imagine, no doubt, but it did make sense. More than likely, the stone lion was a monument of the last lion king. Perhaps it was a symbol of Regulus's power... but perhaps it was something else—something even greater.

Although, to be fair, Mohatu had no idea what that greater purpose could have been.

Meanwhile, Buraya continued to ramble. "I know... I couldn't believe it either, the first time I saw it. The ancient kings were capable of things far greater than we ever will be. It's amazing when you look at it, but it's even more amazing when you think about it..."

Buraya looked down and licked his paw for a moment, before continuing. "There's also a few other temples and monuments, on the far side of the pyramids. Sometimes, if you dig around out there, you might be able to find some artifacts left behind from the builders."

"Is there anything else I should know about?" Mohatu asked.

"Not that I can think of," Buraya replied. "We're basically just waiting on Minerva to get back, now. She should be here any minute."

"Alright," Leo nodded. As the other lion began to pace around, Mohatu decided to ask yet another question to break the silence. "So... what do you guys usually do out here?"

"We're students," Buraya explained. "No lion really knows anything about this stuff... that's why we're here. We're training to be the future leaders of the kingdom, like our ancestors before us."

"So..." Mohatu smirked, beginning to consider what that meant. "If I get accepted into the academy, that means I could be the next king?"

Mohatu did not want to be the next king, of course, but the idea brought him a great amount of amusement. It seemed almost too strange to be true: a former king, learning how to be a king. No lion could have predicted the ridiculous absurdity of it.

"Possibly," Buraya retorted. The lion looked down, kicking his paw through the grass angrily. "Hell, with the way things have been going, I wouldn't be surprised. There's been all sorts of leadership changes going on, recently."

"What do you mean?" Mohatu asked.

"Leo was assassinated about a month ago," the younger lion explained. "I'm sure you know about that... but since then, we've lost two knights in battle. First it was Usama and all his subordinates, and now it's Ganji and half the academy. Everyone is getting killed..."

"Ganji is dead now? What happened to him?" Mohatu inquired, pretending to be far more ignorant than he actually was. The entire situation was beginning to provide a bit of entertainment for the former king, in a strange, sadistic way.

Buraya seemed rather surprised by Mohatu's lack of knowledge. "You really haven't heard about that?" the younger lion asked. "You must have been under a rock all this time!"

To tell the truth, Leo had been living underground for the past few days, after all. That was close enough. "No... I haven't," Mohatu scratched his mane, hiding his obvious lie. "I'm serious. I've been traveling."

Buraya breathed out a deep sigh. "Just the other day, two lions killed him out here. Several others died in the attack, in the valley to the south. The murderers managed to escape... and Leo's assassin was with them."

"That's awful," Mohatu replied. Although, truth be told, the old king was actually a bit better at feigning sympathy than he originally thought he would be.

"When Leo was king, the only knights to die were the ones he killed. But now, two knights have died in the past week. I don't know if it's just bad luck, or..."

"Who knows," Mohatu lied sarcastically. "Could be anything."

"Yeah..."
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » August 17th, 2013, 8:13 pm

chapter 23: show
A/N: This one is another short chapter, but it's very important, nevertheless. Part of the reason why I'm breaking these up into smaller segments is because I'm trying to keep up with the one chapter per week schedule, but it's also because each of these scenes is adding even more complexity. Hopefully, I'm still keeping a good pace with these past few chapters, but if not, just let me know.


--- --- ---


A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu


Chapter 23: The Great Evil


Mari lifted her head out of the grass completely, slowly retreating from her carefully-chosen hiding spot. She looked back at the murky stream behind her, noting that the herd of buffalo had scattered in its entirety.

Mohatu was gone; he had left to follow one of the native lions. After his quick fight with some lioness named Zuria, the group had dispersed completely, leaving only silence at the waterhole.

Every last corner of the landscape was now completely devoid of life. Even the scattered mangroves and palm trees by the water rested still. No clouds, no breeze, and not a single sign of movement could be found anywhere. It was odd, in a way—calm and peaceful, yet eerie and chilling.

Mari sighed heavily, stepping out into the open, where her fur lit up from the intense sunlight of afternoon. To the lioness's disappointment, all the food had left the area long before she was free to hunt again.

Yet, Mari's lack of food wasn't the only thing on her mind. She had managed to grab a single bite to eat, and that was enough to keep her satisfied for a few hours. However, more importantly, there was a far greater concern on her shoulders with Mohatu gone.

Although he was taking a great risk by following the native lions, it was no surprise to Mari what he had in mind. In fact, infiltrating the local pride wasn't entirely a bad idea, in itself.

Minerva's presence was the only problem.

There was little doubt in Mari's mind that Minerva knew what was going on, as the queen of the Pridelands. How much Minerva knew about Leo before he died was a mystery to Mari, but she could only wonder if the queen would be able to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. After all, it wasn't that hard to figure out. Every bit of evidence pointed to the truth.

Leo disappeared after fighting Mari's pride. His body was never found.

Afterward, Usama died by the paw of an unknown lion in the jungle, while attacking Mari's pride.

Then, Ganji was killed by Mari and an unknown lion in the valley near Lea Halalela.

That was more than enough evidence to suggest what was truly going on. It seemed so obvious—no rogue lion would have been able to kill two knights, nor would any rogue lion have found the motivation to fight the kingdom with such dedication. Was Rex really gullible enough to believe his brother had actually died?

Obviously, Rex had sent Ganji after Mohatu, but did the king expect Mohatu to be Leo? Was Minerva looking for Mohatu as well?

"This is a bad idea..." Mari finally muttered, walking back and forth across the grasses without any destination in particular. "This isn't part of the plan... it never was!" Mari shook her head for a moment, kicking her paw through the dirt. "We need answers, but this is not the way to find them."

Yet, as the lioness continued to ponder the situation, she began to wonder why she was at Lea Halalela. There were pyramids—but they had to have been more than just tombs. Traveling all the way out to the middle of the desert to find a bunch of dead lions was pointless. There were dead lions everywhere; she didn't need to leave the Pridelands to find them.

But what was it that was so important about the tomb of Regulus? Something was hidden there, but what could it have been? Why was it so significant to the kingdom?

The golden lioness ceased her aimless pacing, eventually resting still in the drier half of the grasses. Slowly, she glanced up at the three pyramids again, still struggling to fathom the thought of their existence.

The sight, in itself, was mesmerizing. There had to have been some greater importance behind their construction—it would have taken many years, and many hundreds of thousands of lions to move the stones into place. There had to have been some meaning behind it all.

And likewise, Mari knew there had to have been a very good reason for coming to see it.

"Can this really be... real?" the lioness whispered to herself. She wasn't entirely sure who she was talking to, but voicing her thoughts seemed to bring her a bit of comfort from the intense feeling of loneliness around her.

"How can this happen?" Mari asked rhetorically. "How can a civilization capable of creating such things... how can it even exist?"

The lioness rubbed her paw through the dirt below her, pushing it over the roots of the grass. "They attack each other, they fight each other, and they kill each other... but they made that?" Mari looked down at her paws, still whispering her thoughts. "What sort of lion could...?"

The orange lioness raised her head again, allowing the sight of the three gigantic pyramids to burn itself into her vision. "I... I just don't get it. I thought I would find answers..."

"But all I have are more questions," Mari continued, this time much more stern with her voice. "Why would Algenubi tell Leo to come here? If it's just a burial ground... why? This doesn't make any sense!"

"The answers are right in front of you," the familiar voice of an ancient male lion sounded from behind.

Not expecting an answer to her rhetorical question, Mari jumped up into the air immediately, arching her back and spreading her fur out. As she landed, the lioness turned around, keeping her head and torso low to the ground, ready to pounce on her target.

The ghost's presence was unexpected, of course, but the ancient kings had a tendency to show up at the strangest of times. "Algenubi..." the golden lioness grunted bitterly.

"Oh, you're such a brilliant lioness!" the old king muttered with an obvious tone of sarcasm.

"Enough fooling around," Mari insisted. "I'm tired of this. I just want to know... what is the meaning of it all?"

Algenubi began to snicker quietly, as he watched the lioness frustrate herself with her confusion. "Leo isn't here for the tomb of Regulus," he retorted. "Oh, no... not yet."

"What is it then?" Mari asked, stepping closer to the ghost.

Algenubi stepped back, his aura appearing to shrug its shoulders. "Look around you," he whispered. "Isn't it obvious?"

"The only thing that's obvious is the fact that you've been teasing us ever since this all began!" Mari argued. "I don't know what you want from us, or what you're looking for... but I've had enough of it."

The ancient king only grinned deviously. "Okay, I'll humor you."

Algenubi's ghostly form began to illuminate, growing in depth and clarity as he prepared himself to speak. "Wouldn't it be awfully boring if there was only one lion searching for the keys? How can one lion achieve greatness and become a prophet, if he has no enemies?"

"What?" Mari's jaw remained open for a moment.

"Without at least two, there is no struggle." Algenubi continued to smile sadistically, almost laughing at the lioness's ignorance. "Don't you understand? There can be no great king... not without a great opponent to face in battle."

Mari continued to remain still, completely baffled by the ancient king's philosophy. "So... you've been antagonizing us, so that we'll fight each other? You want Leo to kill me, and you want me to kill him... so you'll know which of us is the prophet?" The lioness began to scowl with disgust. "Is this some sort of sick joke?"

Mari shook her head violently. "And what does this even have to do with the pyramids?" she inquired vigorously.

"Oh, no," Algenubi interrupted. "I'd prefer it if he killed you, but you're not part of this."

The concept is simple, really," the ghost continued, using his most condescending voice. "Leo isn't here for tomb of Regulus. Leo is here to reclaim his lost identity, so that Rex has a worthy opponent to challenge for the throne."

"What?" Mari asked again. Each word only went through one of her ears, and immediately out the other. Nothing the old king said made any sense to her at all.

"The keys do have a purpose," Algenubi informed the lioness. "The purpose is to determine the true prophet. Only those who are worthy of being the prophet can find the keys."

"Leo is worthy," Algenubi added. "That is why he is here. Soon... he will find his place in his kingdom, once again."

"So..." Mari began, her eyes widening as the realization dawned upon her. "The prophet is either Leo or Rex..."

"Damn!" the golden lioness suddenly exclaimed, as she realized she had just been fooled. "You told him to come here... so he would discover his identity, the prophecy, the tomb of Regulus, and... fight Rex over it all? You want them to find each other... so they can fight each other over the new kingdom?"

"What did you expect?" Algenubi asked bitterly. "Did you honestly think you would find some great catalyst of evil out here?" The ancient king began chuckling with sarcasm. "Oh, that's a good one..."

Mari looked back down at the ground below her paws, sighing once again. "No... I did find a great evil out here. I found you!"

"Evil?" Algenubi asked, almost smiling. "You're kidding? Oh dear, you can't possibly be serious about that!"

Mari stepped toward the ghost, exposing her teeth and claws, while the fur on her back arched up into spikes once more. "Don't you see what you've done?" she asked furiously. "I was right! You're the one responsible for the death of my pride! You're the one who started this!"

"That's nature," Algenubi admitted simply. "The strong survive. The weak die."

"That's..." Mari began to argue, but lost her breath almost immediately. "That's not right! What you just said is the very epitome of evil!"

"Oh really?" Algenubi argued. "By helping others, you only weaken them. You deny them of their right to struggle... you deny them of their opportunity to prevail."

"That's not true," Mari retorted.

"A great king must face a great opponent. Leo and Rex must face one another... like they should have done long ago, before you interfered. The worthy one will become the true king, and the other will die. Only then will the new king reign supreme. Greatness will be achieved, the kingdom will be reborn, and the new era will truly begin."

"That doesn't make any sense!" Mari sighed in disbelief. "What sort of kingdom fights itself to grow stronger?"

"That is the prophecy," Algenubi explained. "That is the way it is."

Mari lowered her eyes. "No, it isn't."

"Why not?" the leonine ghost asked rhetorically. "Look around. Do you really think we built those pyramids by helping each other? What a joke!"

Mari continued to sit still, speechless, while waiting for Algenubi to continue.

"The strength of a kingdom relies on the strength of the king—his ability to reign supreme and maintain control of his kingdom. None of this could have been done without slavery. The weak serve the strong... it is only natural. In time, you and Leo will learn this truth."

"Slavery?" Mari asked in disbelief. "I swear," the lioness clenched her teeth, flattening her ears while her tail hugged the grass below. "That is the most ridiculous statement I've ever heard in my life..."

"You will learn that it is true," Algenubi retorted. "Do you really expect every lion to be able to live like we did? It doesn't work that way, you imbecile. Life is only fair when the strongest lions are given power over the weakest. The weak do not deserve to live... and in time, the strong take their place. It is the job of the worthless to empower the worthy."

"I will see you answer for this," Mari glared. "Mark my words: I will fight the kingdom to my last breath."

"Oh, no," Algenubi muttered carelessly. "You're pathetic. Your threats do not concern me. You will see."

Mari clenched her paws through the soil below, while the ghost began to dissolve into a vapor of translucent light. "That just... that makes no sense at all!" she yelled, her voice fading into the grassland. "The weak empowering the worthy?"

As the empty silence filled her mind, Mari turned around, beginning to walk back to the waterhole with forceful and diligent steps of agitation. "What is he even thinking?" she asked bitterly. "How could any lion possibly think that slavery is a necessity?"

The golden lioness cringed at the mere thought, almost feeling slightly sick to her stomach. "Aw, hell..." she muttered. "Where's Leo?"

Unfortunately, Leo had already walked right into Algenubi's trap. If the ancient king's entire plan was for Leo to find the academy and be discovered by Rex, it was far too late for her to convince the lion to change his mind and go back.

As her mind filled with thoughts of despair, Mari nearly wanted to scream. "Leo..." she called, although her voice was barely louder than a whisper. "Don't do this again," Mari continued, only wishing he could hear her. "Please don't do this again. You know this isn't right..."

As the sight of the river approached, Mari looked deep down into the water's surface. She stared for a moment, allowing her mind to be mesmerized by the soothing flow.

Mari closed her eyes, trying as hard as she could to keep her thoughts calm. "If Rex finds out you're here... we're all going to die."

After nearly a minute had passed, Mari began to open her eyes once again, breathing slowly and heavily. The slow-moving current of the river pushed onward, and she began to notice that a large object created a wake on the surface.

It was the dead bison.

Mari sighed, dragging her paws back through the river to grab the carcass with her teeth. Clenching a soaked, exposed bone between her canines, Mari stepped backward, eventually bringing the kill onto dry land.

"The weak empower the worthy," Mari repeated to herself, as she looked down at the soggy meal below her. "It... it can't be true."

The lioness bit off a piece of flesh, finally trying to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Yet, before she could swallow, a sick, nauseating feeling churned in her stomach.

For a single moment, Mari considered spitting the meat back out into the river. Instead, she gulped it down quickly, in an attempt to flush the taste from her mouth. Although she needed to eat, the immediate thought of disgust overcame her appetite. "He's right," she muttered sadly. "They die, so we can live..."

Feeling a crushing force of defeat overcome her muscles, Mari sat down on the ground beside her kill. She brought her head to rest above her paws, while the river grasses blew against her fur.

"One of them dies... so the other can live," the orange lioness continued, as she felt the sinister shadow of evil fall over her heart. "Abeni died, so Musashi's clan could live. Musashi died, so Leo and Rex could live. Our pride dies... so the kingdom can live."

Mari tilted her head off to the side, watching the horizon shift to a vertical position. "Is this like... some sort of game?" she asked herself. "Is this some sort of competition for survival?"

Almost immediately, the orange lioness pushed herself off the ground. She did not want to stay in the open for too long, considering the circumstances. Before she walked back to the shade, Mari looked down at the dead animal once again.

"Pumzika kwa amani," Mari whispered sadly. It was the first time she had ever honored the death of another animal, but it was also the first time she felt it to be necessary.

In an odd way, she almost felt a hint of sympathy for the bison. She needed to eat, which meant the buffalo needed to die. It was only natural, but at the same time, it was... heartbreaking.

"I guess... we're going to be next," the lioness added, her eyes still fixed on her kill. "I know how it feels, now."

Glancing back over to the stream, Mari found the cluster of trees and grasses where she originally hid from the local pride. For a brief moment, she almost considered walking back over to the shade, but she could not convince herself to do it.

Instead, the lioness turned her head to the clouds far off in the distance. "I don't understand..." Mari muttered. "If this is all a competition, then what are we competing for?"

Yet, as the lioness began to notice the pyramids in her peripheral vision, it all started to make sense. "They're competing for the keys," she thought aloud. "And the keys unlock the tomb of Regulus... which unlocks... I don't even know what."

Only now did she finally understand. All of her efforts so far had been in vein—Leo and Rex were inevitably going to fight each other over the keys, and the winner would inevitably claim the kingdom as theirs.

Unfortunately, finding the keys wasn't going to help Mari in the slightest. It was a devastating blow to the lioness, as everything she had feared suddenly fell upon her.

Although she originally sought answers, finding them had not helped. She had changed nothing. She only prolonged the inevitable.

Mari looked down at her paws once again, watching as flies started to gather around the carcass, occasionally buzzing into the lioness's ears. "I have to tell Leo about this. It can't work... it can't happen!"

Regardless of what untold powers remained hidden under that tomb, Mari quickly decided that it was not worth fighting over. Nothing was worth having to face the imminent death of her family.

Mari glanced around, searching the landscape for any sign of approaching felines. Although the area was still clear, she was beginning to wonder how long it would take for Leo to return.

"We need to get out of here," Mari sighed. She shook her head, before falling down to the ground once again. "We can..." the lioness continued, but her thoughts eventually trailed off.

Mari brought her paw up to cover her eyes as she stood still, hiding in the grasses. "No... we can't go anywhere." The Pridelands were under the control of king Rex. The jungle had been burnt down to the ground. The only other option was to go to the termite-infested Outlands.

The only other option was to go back home, with her pride.

Admittedly, with the key of Algenubi in Busar's paws, Mari's pride was little more than bait. Going home wasn't an option. If she returned to her family, she would only bring another wave of death along with her, in the wake of her path.

Yet, knowing that did not stop Mari from remembering her pride.

The golden lioness suddenly looked up to the distant clouds, trying to imagine returning to her family once again. "It didn't work," she explained, although not a single creature was actually around to listen. "I found the answer, but it isn't the answer we were looking for. We were deceived..."

"I only brought Leo here so he can reclaim his own kingdom," Mari added, suddenly finding it difficult to speak. "I just hope that baboon is right, after all..."

As the lioness's words drifted off into a painful silence, Mari continued to lay under the shadow of a palm tree, only barely moving with a slight breeze. The hours of the afternoon passed by slowly, while a nervous fluttering only grew in Mari's stomach. Helpless thoughts of pain and death filled her mind once again, only growing in intensity with every breath.

Since she first saw the pyramids, a cold feeling had begun to fester in the lioness's heart, and she was only beginning to wonder if the chill of death was about to arrive. Something about the pyramids, the sand, and the spirit of the ancient kings was wrong. The entire landscape contained such power, so much energy, yet it was cold and lifeless.

It was the same creepy feeling she had experienced in Algenubi's jungle tomb, and later in the tomb of Zosma with Rafiki. Yet, at Lea Halalela, it was far stronger. It was like staring deep into the heart of the kings of the past, while their spirits endlessly shrouded, engulfed, and controlled everything around them.

As crazy as it seemed, the feeling was beginning to affect Mari more than she was able to admit. The lioness quickly scanned her surroundings once again, preparing herself to run away if she needed to. The thought of danger seeped into her mind, and she was having trouble keeping herself calm, from the perceived threat.

It wasn't just Algenubi's words that began to affect the lioness. As a matter of fact, what the ancient king had said wasn't entirely that surprising; she had indeed expected to encounter an evil entity at Lea Halalela. That ridiculous philosophy was, no doubt, the very heart of the kingdom's evil.

Mari sighed one last time, looking down at the kill below her. She watched in pain, as a crocodile began to climb ashore, waiting to grab a bite.

"Just take it," Mari muttered, leaving both the crocodile and the dead bison behind her. Beginning to walk away, the lioness shook her head again. "He died, so you could live..."

Mari's eyes darted across the desert, as she left the Nial river delta behind her. "Jeez... where did he go?" she asked herself, obviously referring to Leo. "We need to..." she continued, but the lioness's ears eventually fell before she could finish.

"I don't know what we need to do anymore," Mari muttered sadly. She began to wander around aimlessly, hoping to find Leo by himself. "I think we're going to need a lot more catnip," the orange lioness finally concluded.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » August 24th, 2013, 8:03 pm

chapter 24: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu


Chapter 24: Fresh Meat


Three lionesses strode quickly across the desert, covering the ground between them and the great pyramids on the horizon with haste. The trio of huntresses passed by several blocky stone structures before ending their trek at a large bone, embedded slightly into the ground.

The decaying marker was tall and slender, casting a dark line of a shadow on the dry ground below. It seemed to function as both a gathering place and a solar clock of some sort, with several markings on the ground below, in a circular pattern.

It was a dry area, very close to the trio of pyramids. Naturally, the location was lifeless as well, save the simple fact that the entire pride had gathered by the bone. Almost a dozen lions stood loitering around the small, grayish-white landmark, waiting for the three huntresses to arrive with their lunch. Some were sleeping, others were laughing, while many more were sparring in the open heat.

Among the lions stood Mohatu and his new companion, Buraya, waiting patiently for one of the lionesses to drop the hard-earned kill of the day.

Two of the lionesses in the hunting party appeared small, young, and eager, but the one to carry the prey was quite different. Her fur was nearly a pure white, as it glistened in the rays of afternoon sunlight. In her mouth, she carried an entire impala by herself, showing off the powerful muscles beneath her regal coat.

The white lioness dropped her kill down at the marked gathering place, while the two younger, creamy lionesses split off on their respective sides. They each stepped back, giving the oldest of the trio plenty of space.

Mohatu lowered his head as he began to walk closer to the albino lioness, but quickly felt as if he was doing something wrong. In his peripheral vision, he could clearly see that no other lion dared to walk near the kill.

Slowly, the white lioness bit off one of the impala's legs, carefully removing all its meat within a matter of minutes, if not hours. At last, with only the bone remaining, the lead huntress tossed it away. It whisked through the air, before skidding across the desert sands.

Patiently, the entire pride only watched while the white lioness began to lick her paws, cleaning her face from the stains of blood. She was both elegant and beautiful, but, among other things, a ruthless killer as well.

As time continued to pass, not one of the other lions dared to move, oddly enough. It had been several minutes before any of the other members of the pride even considered gathering around the dead animal, and much more time passed before any lion attempted to drag their paws forward.

The white lioness hardly even paid any attention to the other felines around her. She was the alpha lioness, no doubt, as the others all stood waiting to chew on their share of the kill. The white lioness merely stuck her nose in the air, taking her sweet time while the carcass below her paws slowly began to rot away.

At last, the lioness looked down to the horizon, meeting the eyes of the many felines who came for their lunch. "So..." she began slowly, intentionally prolonging her words. "Who wants to be first?" she asked.

The white lioness looked around at the many lions surrounding her, males and females alike. Before any of them answered, the huntress's eyes caught sight of one male in particular. "Who are you?" she asked. "You must be a new guy..."

Mohatu gulped immediately, while trying to keep himself as calm as possible. "Yes, your highness," he replied, only assuming the white lioness was Minerva. Considering the way the other lions respected her, she had to have been the queen.

The lioness remained still for a moment, examining Mohatu closely. After a few seconds, a wicked grin began to appear across the corners of her muzzle. "That's what I like to hear," she replied. Minerva stepped forward, exposing her shiny, white teeth to the lion in front of her. "So... what about you?" she asked again. "Are you... hungry?"

Mohatu merely stood still, trying to gaze into Minerva's eyes without stealing the food right from below her paws. He had little doubt that the lioness was teasing him, considering how obvious it was that he had not eaten in days.

She was using her power as queen to keep every lion in their place, and Mohatu knew he was no exception. Was he really going to allow that?

For now, yes. He was.

"Hmm-hm-hmm..." the queen giggled to herself. Carefully, she leaned over, cutting a chunk of meat away from the kill. "Amuse me, and I might consider letting you have this."

"I'm king Leo," Mohatu blurted out in his most serious voice.

Minerva stepped back for a split second, almost chuckling at the thought. "No, really."

"I'm serious," Mohatu insisted. "I'm king Leo. "

"Hah," Minerva rolled her eyes. "That's a good one."

Many of the other lions around Mohatu began to chuckle as well, obviously thinking nothing more of it than the joke it was intended to be.

Upon seeing her pride's reaction, Minerva grabbed the chunk of meat with her paw, before placing it in front of Mohatu. "I suppose I did ask you to amuse me, and that was amusing," she replied slowly. "Though, it was a bit foolish."

Fortunately, regardless of what Minerva truly thought, the situation played out in Mohatu's favor.

With haste, the brown lion swallowed his share whole, not wasting a single moment to fill up his stomach. As he nearly choked himself, he looked back up at his new pride. They each watched him closely, almost as if they were waiting for something to happen.

"Now," Minerva insisted, "why don't you tell us who you really are?"

"I'm Mohatu," the lion replied. "I came here seeking the wisdom of the ancient kings."

"Oh," the elegant white lioness retorted. She turned around for a brief moment, placing her black claw up to her lip while she scratched her chin. "So you have."

Immediately, the queen stepped away from her subordinates, waving her paw down at the dead impala. "Have at it," she added lackadaisically.

"But..." one of the younger huntresses stepped forward. "Your highness," she addressed the queen hesitantly, "this was my kill! Don't I-"

"No," Minerva insisted. "If you want to eat, you must fight the others for it."

The subordinate lioness lowered her head immediately, watching as every member of the pride began to fight over the remaining scraps of meat.

Of course, that eruption of violence included every lion except Mohatu and Minerva. Buraya, who stood beside Mohatu, considered following the two for a moment, but instead chose to join the fray. A good meal at Giza was not nearly as frequent and ubiquitous as any lion could wish for, apparently.

"Such savages," Mohatu whispered quietly to himself, turning around to avoid the chaos. "Mari would never act like that..."

However, to Mohatu's surprise, the white lioness caught up with him sooner than he thought. "So..." Minerva addressed the lion, following behind as he walked toward the pyramids. Fortunately, she did not seem to hear the faux rogue's soft-spoken comment. "You look like a tough lion. How would you like to become a knight?"

Mohatu paused for a moment, glancing back around at the white lioness. "I don't know," he shrugged.

"Sure you do," Minerva insisted. "Every rogue comes to Giza hoping to become a knight."

Mohatu continued to stare at the lioness, contemplating his next move. Surely, he thought it would be best to feign such an intention, but something about that idea seemed wrong.

Alright, so maybe he was beginning to have second thoughts about his plan, after all. After watching the indigenous species fight over their food, he wanted nothing more than to continue hunting with Mari. Without a doubt in Mohatu's mind, she was a lioness who was actually worthy of such respect.

Minerva walked slowly up beside the lion, grinning across her muzzle so that her shining teeth were exposed to the sunlight. "Mhm..." she mumbled quickly, almost seductively, in a way. "Let's go someplace quiet," she added. "Away from all this."

Mumbling with reluctance, Mohatu began to step forward, following the lioness as she walked ever closer to the pyramids.

For the first time, Mohatu could see the structures for what they really were—heaping mounds of blocks, stacked upon one another with laser-like precision. It was nothing short of an amazing sight, to say the least. Not even Pride Rock could compare to such an awe-inspiring structure.

However, to be fair, Mohatu could only barely remember what Pride Rock looked like, and that was from his shattered dreams.

Yet, just knowing how old the pyramids were was enough to send a chill down the lion's spine. Seeing the towering structures from the very bottom was almost enough to make him gasp for air. The sheer magnificence blew the lion's mind into a thousand pieces, if not many more.

Yet, the lion was equally mesmerized by the lioness herself. It was the way she walked, the way she carried herself so high, and the fluid-like motion of her steps; it managed to draw him in, while he was captivated by her pure, elegant white beauty.

Eventually, the lioness stepped into the shade of one of the pyramids, not far from an obvious entrance to the catacombs inside. Two large guards stood by the entry, standing out and gazing across the sand like statues, their manes waving in the breeze.

Although Mohatu tried to focus much more on his surroundings, the lioness's bright blue eyes eventually caught his attention.

"So..." Minerva began, "I can get you into the academy."

"You... can?" Mohatu inquired. It was a pointless question for him to ask, obviously, but it was the only thought on his mind. Of course she could get him into the academy; she was the queen of half of Africa. More than likely, she was second in command only to Rex himself.

"Normally," the queen continued, "I would have you run through several tests to prove your worth to me, before you can begin your real training. But I think this is a special case."

Mohatu raised his brow. That thought seemed very familiar to him, oddly enough. It almost reminded him of something Mari would have said, going all the way back to when she was trying to convince him to fight Rex.

For a brief second, Minerva's statement only made Mohatu consider one important question: did she know the truth?

"I see you and Buraya are getting along pretty well," the lioness added, commenting on what she had seen as she returned from her hunt.

Quickly, she looked down at her claws, which extended from the tips of her white toes as she brought her paw off the ground. "And I would absolutely hate to have to chase you off," she added sarcastically.

It would certainly have been interesting for her to try, Mohatu thought to himself. Although he wasn't in the best condition, he could still put up a fight fit for a king. At the very least, he believed he could.

"So?" the queen asked. "What shall it be, Mohatu?"

The lion sighed. After all, he didn't have much of a choice, considering the circumstances. Reluctantly, Mohatu bowed before the queen, groveling by her paws. He would play along with her little game.

But only for now.

"I accept whatever training you have to offer," the brown lion replied, pretending to sound grateful. More than likely, she would eventually see through to his transparent intentions underneath, but the arrangement would be enough to buy him some time to explore the tomb... or tombs... or whatever. At this point, Mohatu didn't even know.

"Good," the queen lifted her head up, beginning to walk into one of the pyramids. "Now follow me."

"Yes, your highness," Mohatu nodded.

By the time the lion stood up on his paws, the white lioness had already begun to leave him. He trotted quickly for a second, so that he could keep up with the female's blistering pace.

Minerva turned her head around, while she kept walking forward. "What do you know about the lion kingdom?" she asked Mohatu. "What preconceived misconceptions has your mind been polluted with?"

Mohatu paused for a moment, thinking quickly while he tried to gather his breath. In truth, he didn't exactly know much about the lion kingdom, and he had even less of an idea regarding what he was expected to know about it. "Not much," the brown lion conceded. "Long ago, the ancient kings once ruled this land, but now Leo and Rex have risen to take their place."

"But do you know what it is that we fight for?" Minerva asked with vigor.

"Not particularly," Mohatu conceded. "I used to know a lot about the lion kingdom, but I forgot most of it."

Minerva stopped in her tracks immediately. She tilted her head to the side for a moment, almost sticking her tongue out from her black lips. "You're..."

"What?" Mohatu shrugged.

"You're a very strange lion," Minerva replied, her tail curling up into a squiggly question mark while she held a scowl. "You know that?"

"I know," the former king admitted. "I'd tell you why, but believe me: you'd never believe me."

"So," Minerva rolled her eyes, stepping toward the two guards covering the pyramid entrance. "Does this interest you?" she asked quickly, pointing her paw toward the pyramid behind her.

"Yes, your highness," Mohatu replied with a bit of hesitation. The way the queen was acting only seemed to elicit a deep feeling of dread within the lion, which grew with every breath.

There was something odd about Minerva, as well. The way she gazed upon him was beyond intense; it was like being watched under a microscope. It was almost as if she saw Mohatu as a puzzle, and she struggled to read his true intentions. She stood watching, waiting, only seeking clues to understand who he actually was.

"Has the search for knowledge brought you here?" Minerva inquired. "Do you seek the truth... do you seek answers?"

"I'm not sure what I expect to find," Leo lied. "But I do expect to find something here."

"So you do," Minerva stated matter-of-factly. "But what about... power? Is that it?"

"Maybe," Mohatu shrugged quietly, while he continued to stare at the lioness.

"Is it freedom that you're searching for?" Minerva suggested. "Is it liberation? Opportunity? Excitement? Adventure?"

"Perhaps it's all of those things," Mohatu lied again. After all, if the lioness was sworn to interrogate him, he felt it necessary to make it as difficult for her as he possibly could.

The lion queen glanced behind her shoulder for a moment, noting the two leonine guards and the open entrance to the pyramid. She then lifted her chin up, preparing to ask Mohatu one final question. "Do you not feel a surge of excitement right now? Do you not anticipate... becoming a better lion?"

"I do," Mohatu replied, although the sound of his voice easily suggested that he was not entirely sure of himself.

That was what he thought, at least. Perhaps, being the old king, Mohatu was better at feigning that smug sense of superiority than he originally expected.

"You see," Minerva explained, "it is that which drives us to achieve victory. That flicker of passion, of excitement, of curiosity... that is why we fight. That is the lost spirit of our ancestors. We are lions... we fight like lions. We all desire greatness, but only the few of us can actually achieve it."

Mohatu nodded. "I understand."

"Very well," Minerva added. "Shall we begin, now?" she asked, pointing her paw to the pyramid's entrance once again.

Mohatu leaned down, bowing before Minerva's paws in a faux act of both respect and admiration. "I am ready," he added briskly.


--- --- ---


Mohatu followed the white lioness through a long and narrow passageway, directly under one of the many pyramids. Much like the tomb of Zosma, the walls of the structure were illuminated with the dim, yellowish glow of torches. Each light source cast several long shadows across the stone walls, eerily following in synchronization with Mohatu's every move.

As he looked back, Mohatu noticed that the corridor was sloped downward slightly, going deeper and deeper beneath the desert sands with each step. Under the pyramid, the surface could only be seen from the tiny opening at the end of the path. Yet, despite its lack of a functioning door, the interior still remained much cooler in temperature than the outside air.

Eventually, the passage terminated at what Mohatu thought to be the direct center of the pyramid. It led to a circular room made entirely of the same stone as the outside structure of the pyramids, with various containers and urns resting on the outside of the walls. Most of the artifacts appeared to have been made of a hardened clay-like substance, and contained several cracks to embolden their obvious age.

From the outside edge of the circular room, odd plumes of steam seemed to rise. With an obvious, incessant hissing sound, the clouds of smoke rose from the edge of the floor, and converged into the center of the dome ceiling.

That, in itself, was perhaps the strangest of all the things that Mohatu had seen so far. Quickly, the lion realized that something below must have been giving off heat, or some other form of energy. If the pyramid was a tomb, it was very much alive—obviously, because something had to power the lights, as well.

In the absolute most strange way possible, the pyramid was its own separate entity. The way the tomb itself reacted to its environment was very attentive, absorbing and reacting to the energy around and inside it.

"This way," Minerva commanded, grabbing Mohatu's attention immediately. She led the lion down one of the other passageways, which terminated at a much larger and brighter room.

"This is the library," the queen explained. "Most of the artifacts we've gathered have been put here."

"Hmm..." Mohatu inspected his surroundings closely. Although he wanted to ask the lioness if the keys to the tomb of Regulus were in the archive, he could not bring himself to take such a risk. "What kind of artifacts?" Mohatu asked indirectly.

"The artifacts we've found around here," Minerva replied. "Such as this," the white lioness continued, picking up a tablet with her paw. It was mostly a flat, lump free rock, but it had many distinctive markings on it.

Not surprisingly, the markings appeared very similar to those in Mohatu's memory. "What does it say?" he asked.

"It is our creed," Minerva explained. "There are four pillars, which form the core of our existence and fuel the limitless conquest of our kingdom."

The words on the tablet were written in a very archaic form of language, Mohatu noticed almost immediately. Like the many other ancient writings that he saw, it certainly wasn't readable without significant effort.

Mohatu could, in fact, piece together bits and pieces of the symbols and comprehend their meaning, but reading the entire script fluently was nothing short of impossible. His mind had been too badly damaged to remember all that he once knew, in whole.

Instead of reading it himself, Mohatu waited for Minerva to continue.

The lioness began speaking slowly, exaggerating and emphasizing her words as she recited the entire creed from memory. "The first pillar refers to truth. It says this," Minerva began. "There is no universal truth in the circle of life, only within ourselves. Truth is synthetic; it is the artificial product of life."

"And the second pillar?"

"There is no authority, only ourselves. We are not significant without first proving our superiority through our own power. Power is acquired only through knowledge and skill. Without proving superiority, victory is meaningless; it is superficial."

"Does that mean...?" Mohatu began to ask, suggestively hinting at Minerva's own misplaced sense of authority.

"No!" Minerva scowled. "Let me continue."

The third pillar emphasizes the idea of free will, of limitless potential," the lion queen added. "There are no Gods, only ourselves. We decide what is important, and what we must do. Whether we live or die is our own decision to face, and we all have the ability to face it ourselves."

"And, finally," Minerva concluded, "the strong survive, the weak die. This is the circle of life, and all is permitted."

"Now," Minerva continued, setting the tablet back down on the wall's shelf. "Do you understand what it means?"

"If nothing can be true, then doesn't that mean the creed isn't true?" the lion inquired. "That seems like a paradox."

It was one of many flaws in the creed, Mohatu noticed, although he was not entirely sure that pointing them all out in front of the queen was as good of an idea as he wished it to be.

"It means there is no universal truth in life," Minerva explained. "Meaning, there is no good or evil. There is only competition for survival. It means we must seek truth ourselves, through our own struggles."

"I see," Mohatu nodded. "So... we fight to better ourselves... because nothing else is true?" the lion asked, hoping to have understood what was expected of him.

"Not quite," Minerva replied. "We fight to gain power for ourselves, and through our power, we reign supreme. If we do not, the circle of life is broken."

"But..." Mohatu wanted to argue, although he still struggled to decide whether or not it was such a good idea. If he had any logically sound arguments, he knew it was highly likely that Minerva would simply use Mohatu's perceived inexperience to invalidate his points.

Instead, the brown lion sought to expand his view of the creed, first."What's the circle of life?"

"Simple," Minerva stated with her nose high in the air. "Let's say... hypothetically, we have two lions. One is the king, and the other... isn't."

"Okay," Mohatu waited for the queen to continue.

"When the king grows old and weak, it is the responsibility of the other to take his place. This way, the strongest always rule."

"You mean... they kill each other?" Mohatu asked.

"This is the way it must be," Minerva retorted. "A lion cannot be the king, if he is not the strongest. Then what happens? The strong are led by the weak. The weak overpopulate, and the strong die off. We all become weak, and we all die."

"That doesn't make much sense," Mohatu argued.

"Consider this," Minerva shook her head. "If you are hunting, do you target the strong, or do you target the weak?"

"Well..." Mohatu pondered the situation for a moment. "I would go for the one that is easier to kill."

"Exactly," Minerva continued. "And the ones that are harder to kill survive the day. The weak die, the strong survive."

"But if-"

"No!" Minerva raised her voice. "Only the strong can be allowed to live. If the strong die, and the weak pass on their traits to the next generation, we all become weak. We must enslave and kill those who are inferior to benefit our civilization."

"But that's not..." Mohatu tried to argue, but struggled to think of what Mari would have said.

"You are thinking with your heart, not your brain," Minerva retorted. "It is not wrong; it is not evil. Such concepts do not exist beyond your imagination. It is our responsibility to ensure that we become stronger, and the weak become weaker. It is only natural. It is the circle of life."

"You're right," Mohatu conceded, but only to prevent from angering the lioness further.

"Shall we move on, now?" Minerva inquired impatiently. "If you cannot understand our creed, you will not survive long here."

"It's fine... I get it, now," Mohatu said, exhaling heavily in defeat.

"Good."

With that, the white lioness proceeded to walk down another passageway, into yet another room. The third room was much larger, with significantly brighter lighting on the walls. It was entirely empty, round in shape, with the only decorations being a few pillars scattered around the edges.

As Mohatu approached, he began to notice what seemed to be a fountain of water, right in the center of the room. Unlike the river outside of the pyramids, the water appeared to be crystal clear, almost entirely translucent. The continuous, subtle splashing sound helped to add an ambient sense of tranquility, as well.

"This is the meditation room, up ahead," Minerva explained. "If you focus your vision into the water, you may find one of the great spirits in the center."

"The great spirits?" Mohatu asked. "You mean... the kings of the past?"

"Yes," the lion queen answered. "They are all around us... watching us..."

"I see," Leo replied. "I've... heard the stories."

"I'm sure you have," the white lioness replied with a mysterious nonchalance.

Stepping into another connecting passageway, the queen began to lead Mohatu to another chamber. "Over here, is the sleeping area. Your den will be the first one on the right."

"Okay," Mohatu nodded.

"And across from here," Minerva continued, "you'll find the training room. Starting tomorrow, you will be expected to meet there every evening."

"Hmm..." the brown lion thought quietly. If he had been expected to spend his nights training with the local pride, would he still be able to explore the tomb of Regulus at his own will? "But what if-" Mohatu began to ask, but suddenly cut himself off.

"Is there somewhere else you should be?" Minerva inquired hastily.

"Ugh... no," Mohatu lied.

Minerva tilted her head up, sitting down on the stone floor of the training room, in the foreground of a few sparring lions. "Your training will start tomorrow," the lioness stated. "For now, you will be put under Knight Inari's command. You will report to him tomorrow morning, at sunrise. He will deal with you."

The brown lion nodded. "Okay, but... just out of curiosity, how many knights are there?" Mohatu asked.

"There were eight of us," Minerva answered easily. "Leo killed two. When he died, I became the queen. Usama and Ganji are also dead now, so there are only three. This is why we have opened the academy to all rogues... but most of those imbeciles have no idea what they're doing."

Mohatu brought his paw up to scratch his chin. "But... shouldn't the knights be in the Pridelands... where the kingdom is?" the faux rogue lion inquired respectfully.

"No," Minerva answered. "Knight Inari is here... he has his own reasons. Knight Safar is busy fighting in the Tango zone, and Knight Zabayah is in charge of the defense of the Pridelands. The kingdom is far too vast to have all our assets in one place. Such a childish defense strategy would be suicide."

"That makes sense," Mohatu agreed. "So... the knights serve under you and the king, and the rest of the kingdom serves under the knights?"

"There are a few exceptions, but yes," Minerva nodded. "Without such a chain of command, the kingdom could never flourish in the same way that it has."

"I see," Mohatu concluded. Once again, the lion lowered his torso to the ground, bowing before the queen in submission. "Thank you, for providing me with this opportunity."

"Your one chance at greatness lies here," Minerva whispered, beginning to walk away. "If you impress Inari, you may soon find yourself becoming a knight as well," the white lioness added with a sinister ring in her voice.

Finally, Mohatu lifted his head up, noting that the lioness had already walked off. Sensing that he was free, at last, Mohatu began to look around for an exit to the outside world.

More than likely, the evening would be approaching soon, and he needed to find Mari before the fall of darkness. "Great," Mohatu whispered sarcastically. "She's going to kill me for this..."


--- --- ---


A/N: So, that's queen Minerva. Not to spoil the rest, but she'll be playing a very critical role in the upcoming chapters. ;)

I'd also like to say that although I'm introducing even more characters in this chapter (indirectly), they're hardly significant. This story isn't going to be overrun with even more OCs, any more than it already is. All the important characters are all in the story now, so there shouldn't be any sort of surprises like that.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » August 31st, 2013, 4:51 pm

chapter 25: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu


Chapter 25: Balance of Deception


Mohatu exited the pyramid with blistering haste, wasting no time in his search for a certain golden lioness. He walked past the two guards at the entrance without even the smallest sight of a problem, before looking hopelessly across the desert landscape ahead of him.

A beautifully intimidating gradient of orange and pink fell on the horizon, as the first stars of the night appeared above Lea Halalela with bright purity. In addition, several clusters of storm clouds filled the distant void, lighting up the sky in the background with the occasional strike of cloud-to-cloud lightning.

With the sinister shadows of the three large pyramids tainting the view as well, the sight in itself was enough to drive any weak-minded lion into the depths of insanity.

Fortunately, Mohatu was not such a lion. Unfortunately, he had no idea where to even begin looking for Mari.

"Why did I do this?" Mohatu asked himself. "I never should have left her..."

Perhaps, following Minerva wasn't the brightest of Mohatu's ideas. At the time, if he had been presented with much of a say in the matter, he never would have left Mari's side. The entire situation had spawned from a large inconvenience, and it was becoming more and more troublesome with each passing second.

Only one idea crossed the lion's mind, and that was to return to the riverbank, where he had originally separated from the golden lioness. It was little more than a wild guess, but somehow, the old lion king doubted Mari had gone very far.

Yet, almost immediately after his thoughts started converging, Mohatu began to sense something else. He could almost feel Mari's presence, at the very tip of his whiskers.

"That's right," a very recognizable voice added from afar. "You never should have gone with them! That was a very bad idea."

Mohatu's eyes slid open further, and his pupil's darted toward the origin of the noise. His head turned to the side, meeting Mari's stern gaze with shock. Somehow, the lioness seemed to appear out of thin air, right from the middle of the the open sands. "How did you... did you follow me?" the brown lion asked.

"Look, that's not important," Mari sighed, lowering her head and ears a bit. "We need to talk."

"I... I can explain why I did that," Mohatu answered. "I have a plan."

Mari stepped closer to the lion, not exactly showing explicit interest in his words. "I think I know what you're doing; you don't need to explain," the golden lioness replied easily. "Let's hurry up and get back to the sinkhole before it gets too dark."

"Okay," Mohatu lifted up his paw with hesitation, for he was still not entirely sure what the lioness was thinking. He knew, however, that he was about to find out.

Looking carefully for any other lions, Mari began following her own path back to the riverside. After a few seconds, her brown companion followed back up her trail as well, staying within close proximity.

Yet, though both felines were pleased to see one another, something strange was certainly ruining the mood. Mohatu could clearly feel a layer of tension that had festered in the air around him, and even more so in the way Mari walked in front of him. Her steps were slow, exaggerated, and deliberate, like she was focusing all of her energy into ignoring the situation on her mind.

Mari, of course, knew precisely what was bothering her, but Mohatu had not a fraction of an idea. "It's not what you think," the old king added. "I don't think Minerva knows who I am..."

"You know they're looking for us," Mari argued, not yet stating the true dilemma. "They might even be watching us right now."

"Ganji had no idea he was fighting me, and most of the ones who saw us are dead now," Mohatu persuaded. "If I couldn't figure out that I was Leo, then I'm sure the entire kingdom can't, either."

"Yes..." Mari agreed. "That's true. Everyone thinks you're dead. I doubt anyone thinks you're still alive, much less the same lion that killed Ganji... or even Usama." As she continued to speak, the lioness's voice grew firmer. "But how much longer will it be? How long will it take for some lion to uncover the truth about you?"

"Why does it matter if they do?" Mohatu asked. "If I'm the king-"

"I'd rather not find out how they'd react," Mari interrupted, reading the lion's mind quite well. "I know what you're thinking, but I just... I don't like this idea of yours. We need to be careful. If Rex finds out you're the one causing him trouble, you can bet we'll have the biggest war we've ever seen."

"But couldn't I defeat him... if I had to?" Mohatu inquired. "Between us, I was the strongest. I was the king."

"Maybe you'll be able to defeat him," Mari admitted. "But maybe not. Either way, a whole lot of lions are going to die. It won't be pretty. The most peaceful solution here is to avoid all contact with the kingdom... no matter what."

"Mari..." Mohatu began sadly, although he struggled to gather his words.

Hours ago, he had felt like she was beginning to trust him. Yet, the lioness's obvious, persistent opposition the idea meant that he still had a long way to go to redemption.

From Mohatu's perspective, he was once again feeling as if the lioness did not trust him in the slightest. If he began to interact with his old followers, he would be able to regain his potential power. He could, very easily, reclaim his right to the throne. That was Mari's fear, he reasoned; that was why she did not want him to infiltrate the kingdom.

But he wouldn't become the next king. That was not his goal.

Mohatu sighed heavily. "You know I'm not going to reclaim my place as king. I'm not king Leo anymore... I'm Mohatu now."

Mari shook her head, continuing to follow the path she had left for herself. "I wish I could believe you, but..."

"So you were lying, last night? You don't think I can make up for what I've done?"

The orange lioness closed her eyes in desperation. "No..." she argued sadly. She wasn't lying at the time, but as she began to reconsider the situation, her perspective shifted slightly. "No, no, no," Mari continued, repeating herself indefinitely. "It's not like that... just let me explain."

"Then what is it?"

"Well," Mari looked away for a second, trying to find her words. "Okay. You might be able to get away with that plan of yours. Everyone thinks you're dead, so if you pretend to be a rogue lion... it could work. I doubt any lion would think anything of it."

"But I can't do that," the lioness added, before shaking her head in despair. "If one lion recognizes me, that's all it takes to set off the alarm... then, who knows what all will happen," Mari rolled her eyes, scowling as she continued to speak. "I'm a murderer, remember? They think I killed you."

"Right," Mohatu conceded. "But what did you expect to happen, now that we're here? How am I supposed to confront whatever evil entity is out here, if I can't even talk to a lion sitting at the waterhole?"

Mari stepped farther in front of the former king, beginning to speed up her pace. "I didn't expect you to want to do that. You're good at sneaking around; I sorta thought we would be able to avoid any lions we find."

"We don't need to sneak around," Mohatu insisted. "They think I'm one of them, now. I can-"

Mari turned back around, beginning to look slightly annoyed. "All it takes is one to recognize you, too. Then you'll have to confront Rex... and I know you aren't ready for that. Just... trust me on this one," Mari retorted. "It's not a good idea."

"Yes it is," Mohatu argued. "I don't even know what we're looking for out here... all I know is that Algenubi told me to go here. I need to know what they know about the tombs, and this is the easiest way to find out. Don't you see...?"

Mari sighed, her eyes beginning to burn while she thought again of the revelation that had dawned upon her, earlier that afternoon. "I understand that... but I don't know what to do..." she admitted wistfully.

There was a very clear reason why Algenubi told Mohatu to go to back to Lea Halalela: if Leo was the prophet, he was supposed to go to Lea Halalela to realize that obvious fact.

Mohatu was right—finding the tomb, in itself, probably wasn't going to help much. If what Rafiki said was true, the tomb could not be opened without the keys. More than likely, Rex had the keys.

Mohatu needed to face the kingdom, not run from it.

No matter what, a direct confrontation with Rex seemed to be inevitable. Ever since the discovery of Algenubi's tomb in the jungle, Mari had been fooled. Unintentionally, she had brought Mohatu to Lea Halalela to confront the king, and there was no way out. With each passing breath, that fact only became more apparent, and even more ugly.

"I mean... that's just it," Mari continued. "All of this is part of Algenubi's plan... or something. He wanted you to come here, so you would be able to sneak in right under Rex's nose and bop him upside the head. He wants you two to fight each other."

"Oh," Mohatu finally muttered, upon analyzing the lioness's dejected reaction. Within a matter of seconds, he had come to the same revelation. "Algenubi wanted me to come here, so I can challenge Rex and reclaim my place as king..."

"Yeah," Mari closed here eyes, trying to hide the pain.

"So..." Mohatu quickly began to speculate, not seeming quite as downhearted as his companion. "I'm not really here for the tomb of Regulus, am I?"

"I don't think so," Mari admitted. "I'm still not totally sure."

"I've..." Mohatu struggled to find his words, as he began to explain what he had done. "I've already been admitted into the academy. The queen gave me a tour of one of the pyramids, and I'm supposed to report to one of the knights in the morning... it's for training."

Finally, Mari ceased her walking. Immediately, her focus shifted back to the brown lion behind her. "Did she..."

"No," Mohatu answered the lioness's question before it slipped off her tongue. "She seemed interested in my background, but I think she's more confused about who I am than anything."

"You know she's going to be watching you like a fly. I wouldn't trust her."

"I don't," Leo replied. "After all that I've seen today, I don't trust anyone but you." As cheesy as it sounded, that was the truth, pure and simple.

Mari tried to hold back a smile, turning away and stepping back down into the sinkhole from which she emerged hours before. "I know. They're insane," the lioness added, almost showing a tone of disbelief in her voice. "You wouldn't believe what Algenubi told me today..."

The lioness slid down the many layers of clay and sand, right back into the cozy cave entrance. The gentle running flow of water began to add a bit of tranquility to her mood, although it was hardly enough to help her take her focus away from the more serious issues surrounding the future of her pride.

"I probably can," Mohatu shrugged, after following the lioness down to the edge of the grasses. "You wouldn't believe what Minerva told me in that pyramid..."

"So..." Mari inquired after a few seconds, sitting down for a bit. "What did she say?"

Mohatu leaped down into the mouth of the cave as well, crashing onto one of the boulders that sat in the hole. "She was explaining their entire philosophy... it's called the circle of life."

"Let me guess," Mari retorted. "The weak empower the worthy?"

"Basically. It's used as a creative excuse to justify slaughtering and enslaving other lions for no good reason, other than for personal gain."

The golden lioness sighed. "That's close to what Algenubi told me. Do you... actually believe it?"

Mohatu closed his eyes while he shook his head. Slowly, he stepped off the boulder, toward the lioness, keeping his breath shallow and his tail low to the ground. "No," he answered earnestly, looking deep into Mari's reflective eyes. "I know what I did was wrong. The kings of the past are wrong. It's all wrong."

"Are you sure you're not going to change your mind?" the lioness asked. "I want to believe you. I know I should believe you... I mean, it seems crazy, but-"

"Mari," Mohatu interrupted her. A shot of euphoria dazed into his mind, while the sound of the lioness's name rang through his ears. The brown lion stepped closer, instinctively rubbing his head under Mari's chin. "What you told me last night really meant something."

"It... did?"

"Yeah," he added, as he began to tremble nervously. Of course it meant something to him, although, to be truthful, he wasn't entirely sure what that something was. "If there's just a chance that I can change some lion's life, in the same way you've changed mine... it's worth it."

Initially feeling equally embarrassed by the lion's sudden change of heart, Mari returned his nuzzle, while her heart began to fill with hope once again. "But... do you have any idea how much catnip we used to do that?" she whispered rhetorically, almost giggling as her mood lifted quite a bit.

Although he still felt the fluttering of nervousness in the pit of his stomach, Mohatu licked Mari's muzzle briefly, causing her to quiver as the sudden, tickling sensation of feline affection overcame them both. "It wasn't the catnip that convinced me," Mohatu beamed back at her. "You know that."

"Maybe you're right," the lioness finally stepped back with a nervous shiver from Mohatu's warm embrace. "But I don't like the idea. I'm sure you didn't intend to fight Ganji, but look how that turned out. Those lions will do anything to make sure you're dead... even if they don't know who you are."

"Mari..." Mohatu whispered again. "I know that, and that's the very reason why I still need to confront the kingdom. It's the only way."

"Okay... okay, fine," Mari gave up. "I think I understand your plan. I just hope you know what you're getting yourself into..."

"This is my kingdom," Leo insisted. "I managed to get these lions to follow me before, I just need to do it again."

"Just... please, don't get into any trouble and bring too much attention to yourself... again," the golden lioness sighed, grinning as she rolled her eyes slightly. "Y'know... you have a tendency to do that," she added, poking fun at him.

Meanwhile, Mohatu tried to keep a serious attitude. "They seem to have respect for brave and violent acts of reckless superiority... even if it kills their own kind," he thought aloud. "If I set my paws out right, I might be able to gain their trust and show them their mistakes."

"There's still one more problem, though," Mari replied. "Rex is looking to kill us and find the keys to the tomb of Regulus."

"We'll deal with that problem later," Mohatu insisted. "There isn't much we can do about that... yet. If I can just get a few important lions to follow me, I'll be able to end this entire conflict peacefully. We won't have to run—we'll be able to make a stand."

"Yeah, okay," Mari nodded. Without a doubt, it seemed that she was beginning to warm up to the idea. "But... what about the kings of the past? What are you going to do about them? I'm pretty sure that's the whole reason why this began, anyway."

"The kings of the past fooled all of us into fighting each other, and we both know it's true," Mohatu stated. "Now, if I can just... prove that, somehow..."

A long silence broke the air between the two lions, with only a slight wind and a few crickets providing ambient noise under the stars. The storms off in the distance had fizzled out and broken up, mostly, while the sun had fallen beyond the horizon in its entirety.

"You know what we're up against," Mari sighed. She lifted her paw upward, pointing to the stars. "That."

"I have no idea what we're up against," Mohatu admitted. "All I know is that you're one step ahead of them."

"I wish," the lioness replied, clouded by the doubts in her own mind.

"It's like..." Mohatu tried to explain, "I don't know. But I..." the lion bit his lip, his thoughts trailing off into silence. Although he vaguely knew what he wanted to say, the coffee-colored lion still found it rather difficult to bring his words into the realm of existence.

After Mohatu's sudden outbreak of nervous embarrassment at the unfinished, terminated thought, Mari seemed to understand the hint. "Is that really what you think of me?"

"Yes... it is," Mohatu admitted, grinning shyly. "But that's beside the point."

Mari began to blush slightly. "We're up against a race of God-like lions, and you think I..."

"You have no idea!" Mohatu added, beginning to smile across the corners of his muzzle. "Those lions are crazy! They even fight over their own food!"

"We did that too," Mari shrugged, trying to hide her initial reaction. "Although you always let me have it, in the end."

"Well... yeah," Mohatu continued. "I'm not going to kill you over a scrap of meat, and I know you wouldn't do it to me. We never would have made it this far if we did something stupid like that."

"That's true..."

"If only the strongest lion can survive... then I'd be pretty lonely," Mohatu admitted humorously. "All that talk of strength and skill and passion—it's meaningless. The only thing that even matters in this stupid world is when we mean something to another lion..." the old king continued, gazing back up at the stars above him.

"I guess..." Mohatu added, "that's what you showed me. All this time we've been looking for these pyramids, but I know that's not what I actually wanted to find." Predictably, the obvious intonation in the lion's voice made what he was really hoping to find much less than a surprise.

Mari simply nodded in slow motion, acknowledging the brown lion's words. "I could say the same," she whispered.

Mohatu lifted his head up again with interest. "You could?"

It was a slightly unexpected thing for the lioness to say, and she knew it. She had been betrayed, half her pride had been killed, and the other half of her family was still in grave danger. All of lionkind was falling apart as a result of the endogenous destruction, and yet, at the very center of Mari's heart, it was all secondary.

Many times, she had put all those problems behind her; they were replaced by more trivial concerns, which had been growing in Mari's mind for quite some time. Although she wanted to ignore them for the sake of her responsibilities, Mari's own personal desires weren't entirely nonexistent.

Yet, the lioness was beginning to realize that it wasn't such a bad thing, after all. She had once again forged a strong friendship with Leo, and that in itself brightened the entire situation considerably. It gave her something to look forward to, and naturally changed her perspective into a much more optimistic outlook on life.

All in all, Mohatu was happy to have her around, and she was happy to have him, as well. Unarguably, it was a rather pleasant situation for both felines. In its largely immature state, their relationship had not yet created any detriments thus far, even in regard to the much more important, larger-scale conflict.

Mari had initially felt a pang of guilt over the entire situation, as well as a taint of fear over what ridiculous drama would erupt between them, considering the circumstances of the mission. However, as the end drew nearer, it was becoming apparent to her that neither of those two feelings toward Mohatu were justified.

In essence, Mari's love for Leo, regardless of its form, had not blinded her to the harsh reality in front of her paws like she originally thought it would—instead, it was the one thing that saved him, above all else. Now, she was starting to wonder if it would save her as well, in due time.

It was, no doubt, one of the most ridiculous, fluff-filled, and cheesy thoughts that had ever crossed the lioness's mind, but after all she had been through, she could not argue with the truth. It had been right in front of her, throughout the entire journey.

However, the golden lioness didn't know whether or not she was ready to tell Mohatu of all her thoughts, just yet. All things considered, the night was shaping up to be long enough, anyway.

Besides, Mari still couldn't bring herself to take her mind off of the more important matters completely. Her relationship with Mohatu was important to her beyond words, but not nearly as important as the future of the Pridelands as a whole, she reasoned. That was, of course, her more rational side of thinking.

"I mean... sorta," Mari finally admitted, almost losing track of time in her own internal monologue. "You know. I got caught up in all of this... and I kinda forgot why I saved you in the first place."

"Because we're family," Mohatu continued. "And that's what we're supposed to do."

"Yeah," Mari sighed. Although that was what she had planned on saying, the fact that Leo said it for her suddenly gave her a cold, unexplainable hint of sadness. It wasn't very strong, but it made her reconsider, for a split second. "That's why."

Yet, the lioness couldn't help but simultaneously feel relieved as she heard Mohatu speak those words. She had indeed changed him back into the lion he once was, that much was certain.

As a matter of fact, she could almost trust Mohatu more than she could trust herself. Even as intimidating as the spirits of the ancient kings were, Mohatu seemed largely unfazed by their power. Without question, the lion knew which side he was on: hers.

Even as awkward as that persisting thought was, being the center of his attention, it felt like a nice, warm blanket of comfort. In the midst of all the chaos, the lioness's efforts were finally beginning to provide obvious returns.

After all, if Leo and Rex were inevitably destined to fight over the keys to the kingdom, then perhaps having one of the two kings protecting their pride would actually work out to be somewhat beneficial. Clearly, it was better than the alternative.

No matter which way the lioness thought about it, she kept coming back to the same conclusions.

Finally realizing that a break opened up in the conversation, Mohatu decided to change the subject. "Did you still want to go looking around, now that it's dark?" he asked. "I know where the tomb of Regulus is, now."

"Oh," Mari's mood suddenly lit up further. "You do?"

"It's not in one of the pyramids. It's inside a stone lion."

"That's... weird," Mari muttered. "We could go check it out," she offered, stretching out her front paws across the clay walls of the sinkhole. "How bad could it be, this time of night?"

"Look, it's not that big of a deal," Mohatu began. "If we run into any lions, I'll just tell them you're my slave. It'll be fine."

Mari flattened her ears at once. "What?"

Mohatu leaned in toward the lioness, rubbing his mane across her shoulder. "Just play along with it, okay?"

Immediately, Mari rolled over onto the ground, throwing Mohatu below her like a feline ninja. In less than a split second, she had the much larger male pinned below her forepaws and breathing quickly. "Yes, master," she replied sarcastically. "I'm just glad you don't beat me anymore."

"Let me up," Mohatu groaned in annoyance. "I... let you do that," he lied.

"Whatever you say, master," Mari smirked. Hastily, she rose to her paws, allowing Mohatu to move with full freedom. "That's enough banter for now. Come on, let's go."

Before Mohatu could regain his orientation back onto his paws, Mari had already climbed out of the sinkhole. For a lioness who had just looked as defeated as ever, she seemed to possess a high amount of energy, oddly enough.

Mohatu couldn't help but smile, as he followed the lioness's pawprints back up to the dry desert grasses. Although it was unfortunate that Algenubi made him come to Lea Halalela to reclaim his kingdom, Mohatu found it difficult to view the situation in a negative light.

From the very beginning, he had expected to fight Rex, so that wasn't much of a surprise in itself. It was hardly news to him, and he truly did believe that he could work around the situation. Mari needed a hero, and come hell or high water, this was how he planned to be that hero.

Mohatu was about to start playing both sides of the conflict. Soon, he would be able to influence the outcome of any situation in any way he desired.

Truth be told, if Rex wanted to kill him, he would need every possible edge. With the lion king's insurmountable power, Mohatu's own deceptive plan was the only way to even the odds. Contrary to Mari's initial belief, it was the least violent approach to resisting the king, in fact.

If the two kings were going to fight one another, Mohatu had no intention of jumping into a confrontation without knowing for sure that he could secure an effortless victory. The kingdom, in turn, would fall solely into his grasp. Then, with his rightful control over his greatest enemy, Mari and his pride would be safe, at long last.

It would work. Oh, it would totally work, Mohatu thought.

In the corner of the former king's peripheral vision, he could almost imagine his knights standing by him, following his every move as he walked up to his younger brother, where the confrontation would finally take place.

Rex would have no idea who Mohatu was, or what his intentions were. The king would be struck down, and eventually fall to the ground like a clumsy giraffe. Then, at that moment, the truth would be revealed, and Rex would be given the opportunity to mend his actions as king.

Mohatu would show his brother mercy, like Mari had done to him. In doing so, he would break the circle of lifebreak the tradition of his ancestors—and demonstrate just how flawed the philosophy truly was.

In fact, the entire situation was quite a pleasant thought, to Mohatu. Finally, he could see the end beginning to take shape, and it was nothing short of beautiful.

Mohatu would not fall to the will of the ancient kings, like Leo had done in the past. For as long as Mari stood beside him, he knew why he fought. It was not for power, for glory, for fame, or for honor. It was not even for truth, either.

It was for her.

Mari was respectable on the field of battle, but she knew when to back off and show her opponent mercy. She did not fight unless it was necessary, and Mohatu vowed to follow that same conduct. Although he could not explain why, Mohatu knew that was what it meant to be a true lion.

At the very least, that was the type of lion he wanted to be. Above all else, Mohatu wanted nothing more than to be his pride's true savior, in much the same way as he saw Mariand the same way Mari saw him.

That, he promised himself, was what he was going to do.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Dark Huntress » September 2nd, 2013, 3:38 am

*ack! Your grave! Lol*

Wow! A lot going on!
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » September 2nd, 2013, 4:00 am

I know. xD

Believe me. I know. :P
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » September 8th, 2013, 12:35 am

chapter 26: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu


Chapter 26: Heart of the Lion


Mari breathed in heavily, absorbing the cool, crisp air of dusk. The occasional droplet of dew began to form on the grasses below her paws, as any remaining moisture in the atmosphere fell and condensed upon the landscape at night.

Considering that the land immediately surrounding the pyramids was desert-like, it was a very odd climate, no doubt. The pyramids themselves were odd, but the land of Giza almost seemed to be a natural phenomenon of its own. Pyramids, caves, sinkholes, marshlands, and deserts—they were all in the same region. It could all be seen at the same time.

As a Pridelander, it was one of the strangest things Mari had ever experienced with her own pair of eyes.

Yet, as the orange lioness continued to follow her companion, something else began to stand out, as well. Glancing over at the pyramids, she noticed that their positions seemed to point to the many thousands of lights in the sky. It was almost as if the structures were begging Mari's eyes to look upward, calling to the heavens in the most literal meaning.

Between that, and what Mohatu had revealed long ago regarding the lion in the sky, it became apparent that the pointy structures did indeed have an ulterior purpose. Perhaps there was some correlation between the night sky, the artifacts, and the pyramids, after all.

But, at the same time, Mari could only wonder if that was just want the kings wanted her to believe.

The approach to Regulus's tomb was almost entirely silent, with only the sound of the duo's pawsteps crunching through dried grasses and twigs to fill the air. Although Mari wasn't exactly enjoying the quiet atmosphere, she thought it best to keep her jaw shut. After all, she was on enemy territory, and like any sane lioness, she did not want to interact with her adversaries.

Yet, as she looked ahead, she could only notice that Mohatu seemed far less worried about the entire situation.

Of course, Mari wasn't worried nearly as much as she had been earlier that afternoon, but her companion seemed as intrigued as ever, without even the slightest hint of concern. Even his whiskers were flaring with a strange, upbeat thoughtfulness, which only struck the lioness as being somewhat odd, given how quiet he was.

Perhaps it was because he was blinded by his own ignorance, relative to the stakes of the situation as a whole, but that seemed unlikely. Another possibility was that the lion may have overestimated his own importance, knowing who he once was. But yet, that did not distract from the raw truth, either.

The raw truth was that he was Leo. For a brief moment, it only made Mari consider if she had been overreacting.

The more the golden lioness thought about it, the more she began to realize what the implications were. He could easily fight Rex and win, if his plan came to fruition. At the very core of the dilemma, if he had to fight one of the ancient kings with his own bare paws, he could do that too.

Leo was by no means a Godly lion with supernatural powers; he obviously exhibited several flaws of his own, both physical and mental. He was not invulnerable, and he was not unstoppable, as Mari's pride had proved quite easily. That being said, his potential was nearly unbounded, and his influence was as vast as Africa itself, during the peak of his reign.

The all-powerful kings of the past may have been able to build the towering pyramids, but they were long gone. Their civilization died off long ago. If Leo was the prophet—the one capable of restoring the kingdom—then perhaps even Mari had underestimated him.

When it came right down to it, Leo could put the ancient kings in their place, as well as Rex. After all... he was Leo. That fact could not be argued with. The question was not a matter of whether or not he could prevail, if it ever was; instead, Mari knew that the ultimate fate of her pride would be decided by the side he would choose.

Over the past few days, Mari had learned to trust Mohatu for who he truly was, and that, above all, was what mattered most. For as long as Mohatu remained reminiscent of the warmhearted cub she remembered from the days of her past, she had nothing to worry about.

Regardless, Mari knew this was now Mohatu's problem, for the foreseeable future. Mari had followed the lion to Lea Halalela, but it was his journey to make, in the end. Although the orange lioness had guided him as far as she could, she was not the prophet. It wasn't her place to fight the lion's battles.

And, with that being brought into consideration, Mari was merely following along for the ride. She had shown Mohatu the way, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that he would be leading the path until its inevitable, cataclysmic end.

Finally, he started developing his own plans and devising his own ideas—and for the sake of what remained of his pride, that was what he needed to do. Not surprisingly, when it came to the art of war, Leo's elaborate strategies were leaps and bounds ahead of the lioness's. If springing Algenubi's trap was his idea, then he probably could do it, all things considered.

"Hey..." Mari began slowly, whispering only a bit louder than Mohatu's threshold of hearing.

Not too surprisingly, the gentle sound of the lioness's voice sent a warm shiver down the chocolate-colored lion's spine. "What?" he asked softly.

"I... ugh..." the lioness licked her lips, quickly trying to rephrase what she was originally going to say. "I didn't mean to say that you couldn't do this," she apologized. "If that's what you thought I meant, earlier."

"You're still thinking about that?" Mohatu asked, glancing behind his mane as he walked.

"Yes..." Mari admitted.

Although Mohatu's thoughts had been occupied by the situation as well, he was surprised to find that Mari was still thinking about the issue. "It's not going to be a problem," Mohatu continued. "I can deal with this."

Mari breathed out a deep sigh. "Yeah, I know," she replied. "I just didn't expect it to have to come to this, and I don't want that to upset you. That's all."

"You're okay," the brown lion added, sensing Mari's unnecessary apologetic tone. "You'd have to do a lot more than question my ideas, to get on my bad side."

"Well... y'know," Mari nodded. "You're being unusually quiet right now, and I thought you might-"

"Don't worry about it; I was just thinking," Mohatu smiled. "If I'm not making the right choice by playing along with Minerva's little game, then I'd want you to tell me."

Mari's eyes darted across the desert, while she tried to give her companion the truthful answer he requested. "I'm not sure," the lioness added joylessly. "I'll help as I can, but I can't really do much anymore. Whatever happens between you and the kingdom... that's your zebra to kill. You're leading the way, from here."

"Don't talk like that," Mohatu replied warmly, slowing his pace by a bit. "Your place is no less important than mine..."

Mari shook her head, instantly exemplifying her disagreement. "As it stands now, if I interfere, I probably won't make it through alive. This is something you're going to have to do on your own."

"For now, yes," Mohatu agreed. "But fighting alone is exactly what I'm trying not to do. I want you by my side when I confront my brother."

"I... understand," said the lioness. "And I will be there... don't get me wrong. Whatever it is that I can do to help, I'll do it."

"But that's not what I meant," Mari added, scratching the side of her neck with a paw as she walked, before continuing with her original train of thought. "All I wanted to say is that... I trust you completely. If you think what you're doing is best... then it probably is. I didn't mean to make it sound like I ever doubted you, because I don't. I... just wanted you to know that."

Looking back, Mohatu eventually stopped walking, never taking his eyes off of the lioness as his pace slowed. For several seconds, he did not speak a single word, only wearing a grin across his muzzle. Tears of happiness began to form in his eyes, but he quickly blinked them away.

The brown lion simply nodded, acknowledging the lioness's words. "After all that I've done, that means a lot," he stated calmly, yet his heart fluttered with euphoria, just like the night before. Although it was a slightly uncomfortable feeling that suddenly took control of his gut, it still felt good, in a way.

Despite the fact that he already knew what the lioness said was true, hearing Mari's words was enough to remind him of why she was the very best lioness he had ever met. Somehow, Mari knew exactly what to say to make him the happiest lion in existence. For a few seconds, at least.

"If you decide to jump off a cliff..." Mari added, grinning as she stepped closer to the lion, "I won't do it. But you get the idea."

"Fair enough," Mohatu's grin widened.

"You do what you have to do," Mari stated, beginning to continue her elongated walk. "There really isn't a clear-cut path out of this situation, and by now, you probably know more than I do. If you think this'll work, I trust your judgement."

"After all," the lioness continued, "everyone thought my plan was crazy at first, too."

As Mari resumed her walking, passing by the brown lion, she rubbed the side of her head across Mohatu's mane. "Now let's keep going," she gestured toward the path ahead. "At this rate, by the time we get to that stone lion, It'll be morning."

And with that, the two set off once again, continuing the short walk to the tomb of Regulus. This time, however, the duo trekked with a much shorter distance between them, weaving through the desert obstacles in parallel, while their shoulders occasionally met after every few steps.

Although the dry, desert ground of Lea Halalela was mostly flat, the infrequent tree, shrub, or rock helped to provide a random landmark aside from the three massive pyramids. But, more importantly, amongst the few forgettable features was a large boulder, which stuck out from the ground. It was due east of the three pyramids, but not by too much of a distance.

In addition to its peculiarly large size, the boulder was fairly round in shape, but elongated at one end, almost reminiscent of a lion's facial features. Although the intricate details, such as the eyes and nose, were rather difficult to spot under the dim starlight, the vague and odd resemblance to a living, breathing lion was nothing less than slightly eerie.

Yet, what surprised Mohatu even more was the startling fact that the sandy bolder stood above something much larger, in the middle of an excavated pit. Before Mohatu's eyes could truly grasp what he saw, he knew there was an entire lion's body underneath the outcropping rock.

Slowing his pace down to a crawl, Mohatu approached the edge of the excavated area, placing his forepaws just before the beginning of the drop. He looked down, finding not just the neck of a stone lion, but its entire body—tail, tuft, legs, and pawtoes included.

The entire figure sat comfortably in the pit, with only its leonine head above ground level. While Mohatu breathed in and out, slowly taking in the sight below his eyes, the stone lion rested still, guarding over the starry cover of night with an unmatched, authoritative elegance.

"So you're Regulus," Mohatu whispered, with no small hint of admiration in his voice. "The last of the ancient kings..."

"Are you sure this is a statue of Regulus?" Mari asked, finally speaking up for the first time in several minutes. "I have to admit, it is odd that the other kings have their tombs scattered all across Africa, but Regulus's tomb is here... and it looks like this."

To put it simply, although the duo had seen many strange things, none were quite as strange as a giant sculpture of a lion. The statue of Regulus was something all of its own, very distinctly different in construction from the other tombs and pyramids.

"Is it odd, though?" Mohatu asked. "There could be a number of reasons for this..."

Mari raised her eyebrows. "Such as?"

"Well..." Mohatu pondered, "the kingdom was pretty big. It's possible that each king could have ruled at the same time... and Regulus could have been the king of kings."

"I don't know," Mari replied, thinking much more slowly and with far greater hesitation than the lion.

"If all the keys are required to open his tomb, there must have been something special about his reign," the brown lion reasoned. "And with the way this tomb looks, that would seem about right."

Lifting her paw up, Mari began to scratch the side of her cheek for a moment. "A king of kings sounds downright absurd... but that's the only explanation I can come up with," she admitted.

"But Regulus was also the last king," Mohatu interjected, arguing more with himself than with the lioness, oddly enough. "Which means he probably witnessed the demise of his kingdom, shortly before he died."

"So... what are you thinking?" Mari inquired. "Do you think he built his tomb—this tomb—with the intention of safeguarding his secrets? To protect the remains of the ancient kingdom?"

"It's possible," Mohatu answered. "If that was what he intended to do just before he died, that would explain the prophecy..."

"Indeed it would," Mari nodded slowly. Eventually, her words faded into the silence of the wind, while she continued to stare at the monument in a blissful state of fascination.

"Are you going to jump down?" the brown lion asked with a devious grin.

"Actually, no," the lioness replied. Needless to say, she seemed to be rather mesmerized by the entire statue. "Just... look at it for a minute," she suggested.

"What is it?" Mohatu tilted his head to the side, still wondering what was on Mari's mind. "Do you see something?"

"Notice what it's looking at," Mari hinted. "It's facing away from the pyramids."

Mohatu nodded slightly. "Right. Perhaps it was supposed to be the guardian of the kingdom? Like... to scare away invaders?"

"Well..." Mari lifted her paw up, stepping back slightly. "That's not exactly what I was thinking," she replied. "Remember what you showed me that one night... that lion in the sky? This stone lion is pointed to face that lion up there... and I don't think that's a coincidence."

Looking back up at the stars, Mohatu only realized that the lioness was right. The monument was made to gaze up at the constellation, no doubt about it. The two were connected and intertwined on a much more intricate level than Mohatu ever could have predicted.

A smug grin of satisfaction appeared across the former king's muzzle, as he realized his initial prediction was correct, after all. "I told you it was a star map."

"I thought you were nuts," Mari replied. "But... no. You were right all along."

At this point, neither of the two felines could deny the obvious connection between the tombs, pyramids, kings, and stars. It was all related, in some odd way or another; that much was obvious.

Mohatu looked down at his paws, and then back up at the sky once more. He blinked several times, expecting the perspective to change, but it never did. No matter how many times Mohatu tried to look at the sky with a different image in view, it never happened.

The stone lion certainly did seem to be watching the sky, and its orientation aligned almost perfectly with the constellation. Even after thousands of years, nothing had changed. The alignment was no doubt intentional, although the underlying intention was not quite as clear.

Mohatu purposely slipped his paw down below the sandy layer on which he stood, and his body began leaning into the pit. Carefully, he tried to grab hold of the edge, sinking his weight into his claws, which punctured deep into the layers of sandstone.

Plumes of sand began to slip away, although the lion's grip never faulted. Not surprisingly, he maintained his balance like the prodigious lion he was, eventually managing to plant all four of his paws on the near-vertical edge.

"Watch out," he told Mari, who still remained at the ground's surface. "That spot over there is a little soft," the lion cautioned, gesturing toward where he had nearly fallen only seconds prior. "This isn't easy as it looks."

"Actually," Mari smirked, "I think I have a better idea."

"What?" Mohatu looked up, his eyes widening while Mari's devious smile only grew more apparent.

"I told you: if you're going to jump down a cliff, I won't do it." After a bit of a pause, Mari finally continued where she left off. "But I lied," the orange lioness admitted. "Now that I think about it, there are some situations in which that isn't such a bad idea. This is one of them."

"Oh... sh-" the other lion muttered, finally realizing what was about to happen to him.

Before Mohatu could react, his companion leaped downward, into the fluffy protection of his mane. Upon impact, the lion could no longer keep his balance, and began to tumble into the pit below.

Eventually, the lioness's momentum managed to turn Mohatu onto his back, beginning to roll down the sandy cliff. The two inevitably changed places rapidly, forming themselves into a ball that rotated all the way to the very bottom of the pit.

The ground and sky faded into a single blur of rotational motion, while the entire world became a thrilling, yet vomit-inducing centrifuge. By the time the duo ceased falling and rotating, both felines eventually found themselves buried to their necks in sand.

Mohatu shook his head with the lioness still on top of him, causing the many sand particles in his mane to fly out in every which direction. As soon as his balance started to retain itself, Mohatu used his first breaths of air to scowl at the lioness. "I knew you were going to do that," he said, trying to hold back a smile while he made an attempt at pushing and rolling himself out of the sandy pit.

"You know you like it," Mari beamed, looking down at her companion triumphantly. "The drop was only a few tails high, and it's not like there are any rocks down here. What sort of lion wouldn't do that?"

"I'll remember this," Mohatu added with an equally devious smirk. To tell the truth, he wasn't entirely as annoyed as he pretended to be. In all reality, he was much more infuriated by the fact that he wasn't able to hold onto the edge with the lioness on his back, rather than the lioness herself.

"Good," Mari replied. "At least you'll remember doing something fun today."

Mohatu shrugged, finally managing to break his last hindpaw free from the miniature sand dune. "It hasn't been that bad," he added, noting the subtle sense of melancholy in Mari's voice.

"Maybe not for you," the golden lioness sighed. "But I know we've both had a rough week."

Although she was being truthful, Mari tried to carry a tone of optimism in her voice. She had not intended to spark yet another conversation with her comment. "Fires, cactus fields, sandy deserts, baboons with swords, dark caves... you know," she reasoned. "It's been crazy..."

"So, you decide to push me down a cliff and into a pile of sand?" Mohatu asked hastily.

"Yep," Mari grinned, raising her eyebrows with felicity. "That's what we do," she continued, poking the brown-furred lion's mane with her forepaw. "You know you would have done the same thing. Don't deny it."

Mohatu closed his eyes for a split second, while he tilted his head to the side. "Yeah..." he nodded with content, completely giving up the pointless argument. "I can't argue with that."

"Glad you agree," Mari added, turning her head aside to inspect the massive sculpture's paws. "Now, how is this thing supposed to be a tomb?" she asked. "It's just a monument... or, at least, that's what it looks like."

With a surge of curiosity, the lioness stepped closer, observing the cracks and crevices of each layer of rock. The stone lion had been weathered significantly since its construction in the ancient times of the lion kingdom's reign, with very noticeable layers of both rain and sand erosion.

"Maybe we need to push it into a bigger pit and see what happens," Mohatu suggested playfully.

Mari stepped back a bit, after analyzing the hindpaw for a few seconds. "I know that was intended to be a joke, but I'm honestly afraid to even breathe on this thing," she replied. "It just... it looks so old..."

"Maybe we need to climb it," Mohatu shrugged.

"It's possible," the lioness added softly. "But... you know, if there is some sort of tomb inside here, I think we're looking in the wrong place. This is just the paw... not an entry. I think we're going to have to go around back..."

"You mean...?" Mohatu's eyes widened. The brown lion shook his head, trying not to laugh at the unbelievable ridiculousness of that thought. "Do you think an ancient civilization of great power is going to put their most valuable treasures inside there?" he asked, chuckling under his breath.

"Where else would we find an opening?" Mari asked. "I know this sounds weird... but I don't think you'll just be able to walk inside to the heart, any other way..."

"You know what?" Mohatu asked rhetorically. "If I understand this correctly, there are eight keys," Mohatu explained, thinking back to what he had been told before. "Each one is from a different king's tomb."

"So...?" Mari waited for her companion to continue.

"There are also nine stars in the lion in the sky," Mohatu added. "The eight, and Regulus. Do you have any idea which one is Regulus?"

"Not really," Mari conceded. "But if I had to guess, if Regulus was the most important king, his star would also be the brightest."

"Right, that's what I was thinking," Mohatu nodded. Glancing back up at the sky, he quickly found the entire constellation, with the brightest star sitting near the joint of the lion's forepaws, marking the lion's heart.

"So... you think...?" Mari began to ask, but struggled to understand where exactly the lion was going with all of his inane muses.

"Regulus was the king of kings. He was the heart of the kingdom, and he marks the heart of the lion," Mohatu explained simply, lifting his head and tail up in exhilaration. "The eight are the keys to open the one... this one. The heart."

Mari's eyes wandered for a moment, while she tried to grasp the mere thought. She could only wonder if it had really been that simple all along. "I don't know whether you've made a groundbreaking discovery, or you're just making up nonsense..."

"The two are rarely mutually exclusive," Mohatu thought aloud.

Sighing, Mari turned around and began to walk to the stone lion's forepaws. "That's not always true," she thought in a low tone, following a rather long pause. "But I should have expected you to say something like that."

"So... I don't think we're looking for a way inside just yet," Leo explained, following beside Mari as the two walked to the other side of the gargantuan monument. "With the eight keys, we'll find the tomb inside the heart of the lion."

"I guess that makes sense," Mari said quietly.

"Oh, it makes sense," Mohatu assured the lioness confidently. With a quick breath, the lion then leaped up atop the statue's forepaw, before walking up toward the figure's enormous mane.

"Leo, I don't know if you should-" Mari began to question, before being interrupted.

"Just as I expected," Mohatu interjected, almost completely ignoring the lioness in his state of bliss. Turning around, he grinned at Mari. "You see what this is?" he asked.

Obviously not brave enough to jump up with Mohatu, the lioness decided to remain in place below Regulus's paw. "No, I don't," she answered, "but look at this thing from back here! It's is giving me the creeps!"

"You can come up here, it's okay," Mohatu tried not to laugh at Mari's irrational state of paranoia. "I really don't think this is all that much different from the other tombs... only, there's this."

"There's what?" Mari asked predictably.

"Come up here, and I'll show you," the brown lion answered.

Mari approached the lion, but tried to keep a respectful distance from the statue's paws. As the fine details of the lion's mane came into view, what she found was unmistakable.

Deep into the shadows of the lion's mane stood the same, familiar pattern that resembled the lion of the stars. This time, they were not just markings, however; each one was beveled into the statue, perfectly circular in shape, and precisely the same size as Algenubi's artifact.

If each artifact was a key, what Mohatu had found was the keyhole. Eight keyholes, to be exact, minus the one in the center, which marked Regulus's place in the constellation.

"So this is what we're here for," Mari stated slowly. "Everything you fought for, was for this..."

"The final tomb," Mohatu added. "We need all eight keys to open it, and we only have one."

"My guess is that Rex has the others," Mari continued. "So..." the lioness cocked her head to the side, slightly. "What do you think will happen now?" she asked, although her voice wasn't quite as hopeful as she wished it to be.

"I was about to ask you the same thing," Mohatu answered uneasily, finally jumping back down off the statue's paw. "I'm not sure I want to open this final tomb, after all we've seen... but I have no doubt that Rex wants in there."

"Which means our pride is in danger," Mari continued. "That is, if they're even still alive," she added, trying to prevent from tearing up at the thought of losing all that she had worked so hard to fight for.

"I'm thinking we need to find and destroy the remaining keys," Mohatu planned aloud. "If that's even possible..."

The lioness, however, had already developed a slightly different conception. "I could go back to the Outlands and rendezvous with the pride," Mari suggested, although she did not seem entirely convinced of the efficacy of her own idea. "But it would be dangerous..."

"I'm pretty sure our pride is fine," Mohatu stated. "If Rex killed them, he'd have the key of Algenubi, which means he would have all the keys, and this would be unlocked."

"That's assuming he has all the keys except that one," Mari corrected the lion. "Which... he might not. I get what you're saying, though."

"Hmm..." Mohatu smirked, only being reminded of the situation at the forefront of his paws. "It looks like I'm going to have to bring Minerva or one of the knights on our side," he concluded. "I just need to know how many keys Rex has, where they are, and what his plans are... and then we can proceed from there."

Mari gulped and yawned, simultaneously smiling a bit as well. "Yeah, okay," she nodded, flickers of hope clearly emerging in her eyes. "I'm not sure how you plan to do that, but I'll leave that up to you, I guess."

Slowly, Mohatu looked down at his paws for a moment, knowing his time with the lioness was about to be brought to an end for the day. "Um... Mari?" he began quietly, with a slight but cute hint of anxiety in his voice.

"Yeah?" Mari looked up at the lion.

"Look... I think I better go back to the pyramid for the night," Mohatu explained. "I think they're going to be expecting me to do something in the morning."

"Oh," Mari sighed. "You're not going to spend the night out here?"

"I wish I could," the lion added. "But, you know... they might find it suspicious if I'm not in my den."

"Right..."

"Sweet dreams," he mewed quietly, throwing a wink before he began to walk away. He seemed more than saddened by the fact that he had to leave so soon and abruptly, but it was for the best, he reasoned. One day, he assured himself, Mari wouldn't have to hide any longer.

"Leo?" Mari called, before the lion could walk more than a few paces. The way she begged him to stay for a few more seconds was almost too predictable, but the lioness didn't think much of it at the time.

Consequently, Mohatu stopped in his tracks, turning around to see the warm-colored lioness one last time for the night.

"When can I expect to see you again?" the lioness asked. "Tomorrow morning, or afternoon, or...?"

"Hopefully I'll get a break in the afternoon," Mohatu replied, "but if not, probably tomorrow night. We can explore the big pyramid, then."

"Alright," Mari acknowledged contently. "I'll see you then."

"See you tomorrow," Mohatu whispered back, ultimately marking what he thought would be the end of a very long and arduous day.

As Mohatu's silhouette faded away into a single point on the horizon, no larger than the stars themselves, the golden lioness released a deep sigh. After all that had happened, and with all the events unfolding before her very eyes, she found it very difficult to contain her thoughts. Nevertheless, the lioness simply bit her tongue, continuing on with Mohatu's plan.

And so she began her returning trip back to the sinkhole, where she decided to set in for the night. The temperature was already falling a bit cold, and the night was becoming even more lifeless and chilling than the day. All the while, she was merely walking, simply existing.

The way she felt was certainly odd, as her thoughts fractured into many different contradicting directions. Her entire gut was fluttering with excitement, anticipation, fear, hope, and whatever else it was that she was feeling, all at the same time. Amidst the never-ending chaos, the golden lioness only knew one thing in complete truth: she just had to do what she had to do, to put it simply.

Mari wasn't sure of the validity of what she had told Mohatu, in its entirety; whether or not she could rely on him to the extent that she wanted to was up for her to debate internally. For the sake of her own sanity, however, she chose not to do just that.

Regardless of the status of that situation, from that point onward, everything the golden lioness knew was inevitably going to condense into a big, nasty hairball of chaos and destruction. More than ever, she wanted to hear the comforting rumble of a purr as Mohatu slept beside her, providing a shield of heat against the chill of night.

Never before had she thought she would ever have such a strong desire to be with another lion, but it occupied her mind, along with many other senseless thoughts. Perhaps she was just feeling lonely, but perhaps there was more to it than that, after all.

It bothered her, in a way, to have become so dependent on Mohatu, and worst of all was that she remained completely unaware of it until he left, earlier that day. She didn't know why, but it didn't matter. She knew she would have plenty of time to deal with it at dawn.

If only dawn would ever come, she immediately thought.


--- --- ---


A/N: Okay, so I'm thinking this might potentially be the last update for a while. There could be one or two more in the next one or two weeks, but now that I'm back in school I simply have neither the time nor energy to write one chapter every week. Keeping up with that schedule was enough of a challenge over the summer, and that was back when I didn't have anything going on.

Considering how long these chapters are, and how much gets edited, revised, or cut out completely, it corresponds to an average of about 1,000 words of writing a day. Honestly, I'm lucky to be able to reach half of that quota nowadays.

I promise, I will not be giving up on this project without seeing through to its completion. I'm just saying that sometime soon, there will be a month or so (perhaps two) of hiatus with the updates. During that time, I won't be taking a break; in fact, I will be working as hard as I can to get this story finished before the end of the year.

Just remember, I want to see the end of this just as much as you guys do... if not more. :)

Expect progress to slow down now, but expect the weekly updates to make a return after a few weeks, as soon as I feel that I am ready to post another batch.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » September 17th, 2013, 12:20 am

chapter 27: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu


Chapter 27: Burden of Mercy


As the hours of the night passed, the sky only grew darker, hiding behind the gloomy shadows cast by the pyramids. The typical belt of cyan light across the horizon was only barely visible to the eye, for the atmosphere was illuminated only by a very dim moon. Likewise, the cloudless void directly above Lea Halalela was filled with a pure, dark black, scattered with many hundreds of stars.

Mohatu observed his surroundings carefully, allowing his natural curiosity to overcome his consciousness for a few minutes. Although he had seen the night sky many times, what he and Mari had just found had given him a new perspective to consider.

It was a new mindset; a contemporary prospect not just in relation to the ancient kings, but relative to all of life in itself.

As the lion gazed upon the stars, he did not experience fear. He did not experience anger, hatred, or any other sort of malicious emotion, either. Mohatu only sought understanding and correction. He did not view the kings of the past as being greater than himself—in fact, quite the opposite was true, in a way.

Yet, as the lion returned to his own den for the night, he only started to wonder how we would do it. How would he manage to show his ancestors their mistake? Would he need to open the tomb of Regulus, to prove his worth as the prophet?

Regardless, it would all start tomorrow, and the lion knew it. He would deal with the smaller steps first: influence the base of the kingdom with Buraya and Zuria, then work up the courage to confront Minerva and Rex over the keys. From there, the kingdom would naturally fall into Mohatu's grasp.

Then, he could change it, mold it, and bend it at will, to fit his new perspective—Mari's perspective. The former king Leo, king of all lions, could incite the revolution he wanted to see.

Unfortunately, however, the lion's own thoughts were soon interrupted by reality. Not long after he initiated his walk, several large stones obscured the lion's path back to the pyramid. During his return, Mohatu had unwittingly wandered directly into a labyrinth of some sort, made from leftover building materials from the pyramids.

There were many large, rectangular blocks, scattered about in several different directions. Yet, among them all, something of far greater importance began to catch Mohatu's eye.

The illustrious, elegant white lioness watched over the evening sky, far from what she perceived to be the impure presence of any other felines. The queen stood alone, gazing into the stars with a distinctive state of meditation, and a notable appearance of thoughtful fascination. Surrounding her were no known distractions; only the comforting emptiness of nature itself kept the regal lioness company.

Yet, in the foreground of the horizon, a black speck began to glide across the early night sky, slowly but surely increasing in apparent size as it approached at a steady rate. The silhouette grew larger, the dark shape began to take the form of a bird, and the king's majordomo formed from the figure in due time.

Carefully, Mohatu decided to move behind one of the stones. It obscured the silhouette of his body completely, allowing him to hide from view.

Regardless of whatever was about to happen, Mohatu knew it was going to be good.

Eventually, the usual brown-feathered African hawk descended onto a stone block, stretching out his wings momentarily before speaking. "Are you ready to hear the nightly report, your highness?" he greeted.

"What's the situation, Sheikra?" Minerva inquired with a strange, lackadaisical haste, while her demanding voice rumbled through the air like a roar. Following the boom of her command, the white lioness stepped forward, raising her muzzle even higher into the starry sky.

Almost immediately, the bird began to launch himself into a semi-rehearsed monologue. "Knight Inari's pride has yet to find any sign of Mari's presence on their patrols, madam. He is requesting to search the Eastern marshlands instead. He believes the lioness may be seeking refuge in-"

"Hmph!" the lion queen spat, interrupting the king's ignorant assistant. "Mari is here," she stated slowly, and almost as quietly as a whisper.

"But Inari's patrols never found anything!" Sheikra interjected. The bird of prey stepped back with one of his thin legs, scowling with arrogant resistance. "May I have permission to speak freely, your highness?"

"Go on," Minerva turned her head away indifferently. She neither knew nor cared what the bird thought, for this time she knew far more than the simple hawk did, oddly enough.

"With all due respect," the African hawk began, almost biting his tongue in an effort to stay polite, "you're placing too much faith in that crazy religion of yours. That furball is not to be underestimated. She's killed too many... and it's time for this to end. We're not going to be able to kill her without utilizing every asset available!"

"Have patience, Sheikra," Minerva whispered deviously. "Mari will come to us... and when the little parasite arrives, we shall not be unprepared."

The bird shook his head, clearly growing annoyed with the queen's stubbornness. "But it hasn't been working," he argued. "We're forced to defend several territories, while those terrorists can pick and choose where to attack. We need to pull back on all fronts and concentrate on finding the assassins, like Rex asked you to do. This conquest means nothing if even a stupid lioness can slip through your thick, greasy paws!"

"That's enough," Minerva roared, raising her entire torso off the ground in an impressive display of leonine force. "You do not understand."

"Crazy furball," the bird spat, backing away and preparing to take flight by raising his wings. "The king will not approve of this!"

"I don't care what Rex thinks," the white lioness interjected. "I am the queen! I am not obligated to listen to him!" she insisted.

Calming her breath slightly, Minerva began to continue with what she was originally going to say. "Now, I suspect Mari is here because Mohatu is here. I saw him today."

Sheikra's beak slipped open for a split second, resembling an obvious, sudden change in attitude. Without question, that little bit of information changed the entire scope of the situation, and apparently by no small measure. "Mohatu?" he asked curiously. Clearly, the name seemed rather familiar to him.

"The other assassin," Minerva explained. "If you remember, Mohatu was the one Ganji was supposed to kill. I believe he may be working with Mari."

"You... saw him here? Did you kill him?"

"Oh, no," Minerva grinned sadistically. "Even better."

"You captured him?" Sheikra asked.

"He thinks I do not know why he is here," the lioness retorted. "And I have allowed him to join the academy."

"That is not a wise idea," Sheikra rolled his eyes, wanting to cover his face with his wing in utter disagreement. "Are you sure Rex would approve of this?"

Minerva swatted at the bird, causing him to step back and prepare to take flight once again. "Listen!" she yelled. "If Mohatu is here, then Mari might be as well. I have assigned him under Inari's command for now, so that I can keep watch on him discreetly. He may just lead me to her and her pride, and from there, we will have the key of Algenubi in our paws. I can use the rogue as bait."

"If you insist," the bird grunted.

"Let me handle this," Minerva replied stubbornly. "He may have escaped from Usama and Ganji's wrath, but he won't get away from me. Not here."

"As you wish, but I do not think Rex will be pleased," Sheikra stated, flapping his wings in an effort to life himself off from the stone block. Within seconds, he was airborne once again, back at home in his natural domain of the sky.

Quickly, Mohatu flattened his body up against the back of another stone block, hiding from the bird's view as best as he could. Fortunately, he had heard the entire conversation from beginning to end.

Unfortunately, however, his little eavesdropping only led to more questions than answers.

"So, they want to kill me," Mohatu whispered to himself, thinking aloud. "Hmph! This just keeps getting better," he added, with only a small hint of sarcasm.

But, as the lion continued to contemplate the situation for a few more seconds, he only came to realize that perhaps Minerva didn't want to see him dead. Although she certainly showed significant interest in Mohatu, that wasn't necessarily her intention.

More than likely, she was interested in Mohatu only for the artifact of Algenubi itself, which she apparently believed he or Mari had. In all honesty, it wasn't a farfetched conclusion for the queen to reach, knowing that Mohatu killed Usama over that key.

And, after all, the key was what brought him to Lea Halalela to begin with.

Looking back, Riza just had to give everything away by screaming Mohatu's name to Rex before she died. It was such an inconvenience, the old king immediately realized, shaking his head for a moment. Without question, that was what completely blew away his secret identity among the kingdom's most elite.

Nevertheless, the old king found it rather comforting to know his opponent's intel. Without a doubt, that information regarding Minerva's true intentions would surely become useful. And besides, if possible, he could even devise a way to play the situation to his own advantage... somehow.

Perhaps he could give Minerva false information, regarding Mari's location. In essence, he could actually pretend to betray the wanted lioness, and gain the support of his peers. It didn't seem like the most preferable idea to him, but he knew it could work.

But Mohatu also knew there was clearly more to the situation at his paws than just that. From what little he had heard, Minerva and Rex didn't seem to have the strongest relationship. In fact, their ideas seemed to clash quite easily, like oil and water.

It was Rex who wanted Mohatu and Mari dead, apparently. In addition, it was probably Rex who sent the knights after the duo of wanderers.

Minerva, in contrast, seemed to be much more methodical in her aggression. Already, Mohatu could clearly observe that she emitted a metaphorical aura of her meticulousness, and it was not entirely unlikely that she may have had a different goal in mind.

It only begged one single question: could Mohatu potentially turn Minerva against Rex? Could she help him?

At that point, anything was possible. Mohatu's options were nearly limitless. Immediately, the brown lion smirked, knowing just that.

Sneaking away from the white lioness with his tail low to the ground, Mohatu continued his walk back to the main pyramid, where he would stay for the night. Thankfully, using various rocks and shrubs for cover, the lion managed to remain hidden from Minerva.

Luck was certainly on his side, but his soft paws helped to keep him undercover as well. The pads of his toes served to dampen the noise of each step, while he whisked through the sands, slowly but deliberately, silently and stealthily.

Yet, before the king's majordomo flew out of the Mohatu's field of vision completely, the brown lion stopped to look up at the night sky once more.

"You know what?" Mohatu whispered quietly to himself, watching the bird fly away into the horizon. "I need to get one of those..."

Without question, a little flying friend would have been more than useful, in just about any situation Mohatu found himself in. Someday, he would need a majordomo of his own.


--- --- ---


It was not long before Mohatu caught sight of a few subordinate lions outside of the pyramid, including Buraya. They, too, seemed to be gazing up at the stars, chatting casually amongst one another, under the falling temperatures and refreshing winds of night.

Curious, Mohatu decided to approach his new friend for a moment, just to see what was going on. This time, however, he was determined not to remain hidden. His decision to reveal himself in the public area, near the waterhole, was mostly for obvious reasons—being that he intended on speaking to Buraya again, anyway.

The brown lion stepped out into the open sands, not far from the entrance of the main pyramid. He exaggerated his steps slightly, so that the subordinate warriors would quickly notice his presence.

Buraya was first to turn around, greeting Mohatu with an unexpected, natural smile. Conversely, upon seeing the approaching rogue, many of the other lions did not seem to pay too much attention. Instead, they quickly continued on with their own conversations like nothing had happened.

"Sup," the black-maned subordinate greeted Mohatu casually. "I guess Minerva let you stay, huh?"

"Yep," Mohatu answered.

Although he was growing rather tired, the former king was far too thoughtful to be able to sleep, in his state of mind. In addition, there was little reason in prolonging the inevitable talk until the morning after. Quite frankly, after overhearing Minerva's conversation, Mohatu was rather interested in what Buraya thought, anyway.

Quickly, Leo's eyes began to dart around, analyzing his surroundings for any potential eavesdroppers. After a few seconds, he stepped closer to Buraya, before whispering into his ear. "Can we go somewhere else for a moment? I need to ask you some things... in private."

Buraya shrugged. "Yeah, okay..." he answered in a state of bewilderment. "Did you get yourself into trouble already?"

"No, no," Mohatu answered, this time a little bit louder. "Well... not yet," he smiled, correcting himself.

Buraya cocked his head to the side, evidently not quite sure of what was going on.

"Just come with me," Mohatu added, beginning to inch away from Buraya and the other subordinate lions. "This will only take a minute."

"Sure, sure," Buraya said, following Mohatu's path into a more secluded section of the ancient ruins. As the voices of the other lions faded off into the ambient whistles of the wind, the yellow lion finally gathered the courage to speak up. "So, what's this all about?"

"Well," Mohatu began, struggling to phrase his question without eliciting any sort of suspicion. "What do you think of her?" asked Mohatu. "Minerva, I mean," he added quickly.

"She's the queen," Buraya stated. "She's alright, I guess..."

"I noticed that she was acting a little bit... strange, earlier," Mohatu continued. "I think she might be trying to kill me."

"But... she's letting you stay, right?" Buraya asked. "If she was a bit more aggressive than usual, that's probably just because of what happened recently," the subordinate lion explained. "I told you... things have been pretty uptight around here, since Ganji's death."

Suddenly, Buraya began to hold a bit of a smirk. "Everyone around here is half-cocked... and it's only a matter of time before some of the nuts start to crack open. It's good for us, though—just means we'll be knights sooner!"

Mohatu nodded. "But what about Rex?"

"King Rex?" Buraya inquired hesitantly.

"Do you think he's really the king?" Mohatu asked. "Or... was Leo the king?"

"Leo is dead," Buraya answered, seeming even more confused with Mohatu's inquiries than ever. "Before that, Rex was the prince... so yes, he is the king now."

"Yeah," Mohatu forced himself to agree. "But do you think there's a just a chance Leo is still alive?"

"I don't know," Buraya conceded, beginning to show noticeable signs of nervousness in the twitchy movements of his paws. "Why are you asking this of me?"

"I just want to know what you think," the old king lied easily.

Buraya began to hold a scowl. "You're not really a friend of the kingdom, are you?" he asked. "Are you a spy?"

"It's not like that," Mohatu insisted. "I'm just curious."

The other lion squinted his eyes, holding a deep stare for several seconds. "Not sure if spy or..."

Meanwhile, Mohatu rolled his eyes in a state of frustration, almost allowing a grunt to escape his muzzle. "Forget I said anything," he replied. "I'm sure Minerva isn't trying to kill me," he lied convincingly. "She would have no reason to."

Of course, in truth, Minerva was already watching Mohatu under a figurative microscope, and he needed to recruit lions to his own cause. However, if Leo was going to be accused of being a spy, he knew it was best to drop the subject entirely.

"Still not sure," Buraya hummed, sticking his tongue out from the corner of his mouth as he continued to stare.

"Umm... okay," Mohatu backed away cautiously. "There was actually something else I wanted to ask you," he continued, trying as hard as possible to change the subject. "Have you ever seen like a... a really bright dot?"

It seemed like a stupid thing to ask, and it probably was, in all reality. But, the stray thought was the first thing, and perhaps even the only thing, to cross the lion's mind in such a state of increasing internal panic.

Buraya's jaw dropped. "Eh... what?"

"Sometimes I'll see a really bright dot on the ground... it's usually red or green, and usually at night. If I try to run after it, it goes away... but if I'm quick enough, it runs over my paw every time."

At this point, Mohatu was merely making things up, only to take the other lion's mind off of his important questions. To Leo's pleasant surprise, however, it actually seemed to be working.

"That's weird," Buraya replied.

"It's really small, but I can't ever catch it..."

"Dude..." Buraya remained relatively speechless for several seconds. "You should see a shaman for that."

"You've never seen anything like it?" Mohatu asked.

"Maybe once or twice, but I never..."

"Okay," Mohatu replied quickly. He then shook his mane a bit, subconsciously trying to wring himself into a state of freedom. "I was just curious. I thought I saw one of those dots on my way over here, and I was only wondering if you noticed it before," he lied.

"Seeing bright dots is a sign of adult-onset quadrabetes," Buraya stated. "If you don't do something soon, you're going to die."

Mohatu looked down at his claws, not quite sure of whether or not to sharpen them on an adjacent tree. The awkwardness of the situation had suddenly soared to entirely new heights, and he only wanted to forget about it. "No... I'm sure I'm fine, really-"

A smirk of laughter began to form across Buraya's face. "Haha, I'm just messing with you," he apologized nonchalantly. Quickly, he brought his paw upward, before wrapping it around Mohatu's mane and shaking up his fur. "Welcome to the academy, bro! I knew you'd get in!"

"Right," Mohatu breathed out a sigh, heavy in contents of both annoyance and relief. Immediately afterward, the lion decided to cease his search for information regarding Buraya's allegiance, in an attempt to keep his identity a secret for a bit longer. Even if it was all just a joke, he had just been called a spy, after all.

Needless to say, that wasn't the most pleasant experience for the brown lion.

But perhaps, Mohatu figured, he just needed to spend a little bit more time with Buraya. Then, the aspiring leonine warrior could warm up to the idea of aiding him in his struggle against Rex. That was still his plan; whether or not it would work as intended remained to be seen.

Mohatu loosened his spine up a bit, in an attempt to appear more natural and fluid. "So, yeah..." he continued. "Minerva let me into the academy, and I'll be with Knight Inari tomorrow."

"Awesome!" Buraya replied. "You'll be with me, and a few others."

"What do you guys do?" Mohatu asked. He stretched his paws out on the sand below him, inevitably initiating the sleepy brew of a yawn in his jaw, at the same time.

"Oh, not much," Buraya explained casually. The black-maned lion began to walk around, obviously unable to sit still for very long. "Not much... at all."

"What...? Is it guard duty?" Mohatu asked. After overhearing Minerva's conversation, he had a bit of an educated guess, to say the least.

"Yeah," Buraya replied without even the smallest sign of interest. "Have you ever watched a sun rise? It's like that!"

In all honesty, the thought of watching a sunrise didn't seem all that bad to Mohatu... as long as Mari was with him, of course. For some odd reason or another, that one little tidbit made a large difference.

Yet, Mari wouldn't be with him in the morning; therefore, it probably was going to get a bit boring, he realized. "Well, it could be worse," Mohatu shrugged. "It can't be that bad, can it?"

"You have no idea!" Buraya continued, raising his voice by a significant margin. "It's terrible! All we do is sit and watch the grass grow... there is nothing worse than guard duty!"

"Maybe there will be a change in plans tomorrow," Mohatu added, trying to sound convincing without suggesting what he knew.

In fact, it was highly probable that Minerva would want to interfere with the situation, at some point. But regardless, and perhaps more importantly, Mohatu could only guess what Knight Inari would think of the situation, as a whole.

A change of plans wasn't all that farfetched, by any means. That was especially true, if Inari wasn't exactly fond of guard duty, either.

"I wish," Buraya retorted. "Ever since Ganji died, all we do is guard the pyramids... because we need to look for that freaking lioness..."

"Seems pointless to me," Mohatu replied, his voice falling rather low. "Any lioness would be stupid to linger around here."

"I totally agree," Buraya interjected in compliance. The golden lion almost threw a yell across the dry grassland with his intense expression of agreement. "Y'know, we could go into the marshlands and try to find her, or just get some fresh air, or do something... but nope!" the hopeful subordinate lion shook his head. "One day, I'll get to be a knight... then I'll be able to-"

"Hmm..." Mohatu thought aloud. "Do you think Inari would let us go hunting tomorrow, instead?" he asked. "Maybe I can teach you a few things I learned, back when I... ugh... hunted."

"Hunting is for lionesses," Buraya retorted, walking up to a large tree and beginning to lean onto one of its horizontal branches. The small branch swayed downward under the weight of the lion's forepaws, before the inevitable release of various cracking sounds under the stress.

"True, but it's still a good skill to learn," Mohatu argued with a passive voice, staying behind the other lion. "Plus, it wouldn't hurt to have more hunters in the pride," he continued, stating what should have been a very blatant observation.

The yellow lion pushed himself off the tree branch, before scratching it with his claws. "I'm not interested," he replied.

"What if we explore the big pyramid, then?" Mohatu asked. "I've been wanting to do that."

"We'll have to wait until after the guard shift," Buraya explained, still lacking enthusiasm in regard to the idea. "Knight Inari won't let us do that."

"That's fine," Mohatu suddenly released his yawn. At that precise moment, it became apparent that his sleepiness was beginning to overcome him. Of course, he quickly tried to ignore it, immediately afterward. "We can do that during lunch."

"Alright... later, then?" Buraya asked with a sudden rush of impatience, almost waiting for Mohatu to leave so he could get back to what he was doing.

"Yeah," Mohatu added. "See you in the morning."

"See ya around, bro," Buraya replied.

It was a strange, abrupt end to the conversation, but neither lion had been willing to discuss the situation further. After those final words, Mohatu belatedly continued his short walk back to the main pyramid, where he planned on resting for the night.

By the position of the stars, the lion knew that it had already been at least a few hours since the fall of the sun. It was shaping up to be a busy morning, and Mohatu was beginning to wonder if he'd be able to manage with such little rest.

As the sight of the pyramid grew larger, Mohatu only wondered if he'd get any sleep at all, in the middle of such an eerie and chilling environment. More than likely, he wouldn't, but knowing that didn't stop him from walking in anyway.


--- --- ---


Without hesitation, the two guards at the pyramid's entrance let Mohatu pass through, into the enormous, sheltered, and pointy bunker. The lion tried his best to navigate across the many passageways of catacombs underneath, but ultimately lost his tracks along the way, in due time.

After a minute or two, it all started to look the same. Every room was barely lit, and the walls of the passageways had no recognizable, defining features. In essence, the entire structure was little more than a maze on the inside—resembling a puzzle not that much unlike the ancient kingdom itself.

Looking on the optimistic side, the temperature of the air inside the pyramid was much warmer. Although it was cooler than the outside air during the day, the entire rocky structure above seemed to trap in the heat, keeping a constant temperature regardless of the external condition.

Nevertheless, the air was also a bit more moist in the pyramid, which eliminated any sort of potential coziness from the heat. Even if Mohatu could find his den, it was not going to be as comfortable as he would have liked.

Mohatu's frustration grew slowly but surely. Eventually, he kicked his forepaw across the bottom of the floor, exhaling an exasperated sigh from under his breath. "There's more to this pyramid than what Minerva showed me," the brown lion concluded.

Angrily, the lion sighed in desperation. "She's such a jerk..." he added under his breath.

He had gone left, then right, then left again, then up, then down, then turned, then flipped, then made three Immelman turns, then... what? It was all too confusing. Unfortunately, Mohatu lost his sense of direction in its entirety. As he gazed around at all the passageways, he had nothing to guide him, other than dumb luck itself.

To the lion's fortunate surprise, that bit of luck was enough to get him where he wanted to go, minus the dumb part. Eventually, after several frustrating, agonizing minutes, he managed to find the section of the pyramid with the small dens.

However, by the time he reached that point, Mohatu wasn't as interested in sleeping as he should have been.

Yet again, for the third time that night, something else had caught Mohatu's eye. It was another lioness, but this time it was a different one. It was not Minerva, and it certainly wasn't a male lion like Buraya. As Mohatu examined the figure more closely, he came to recognize the lioness as Zuria; the one he had fought that afternoon.

"What do you want?" the tawny lioness hissed, scowling from the corner of her own den, while Mohatu stood in the hall. Her face was barely lit by a torchlight, with only the reflective glimmer of illumination visible in her soft eyes.

Although Mohatu did not expect it, Zuria almost looked a bit sad. She sat on the floor, with her ears drooped down as far as they could go. In a way, she almost appeared to have been crying, but it was hard to determine in such dim light.

Although she pretended to be such a strong, influential lioness with an obviously relaxed moral compass, perhaps that wasn't quite the case.

After all, she had disappeared completely since the fight, earlier that afternoon. Mohatu had restrained himself from actually hurting her, of course, but her ego seemed to be in tatters from the inside out. Perhaps that bit of humiliation had been necessary, considering the nature of the situation, but Mohatu could only wonder if he had gone too far.

Mohatu had easily demonstrated his superiority over the lioness with a simple swing of his forepaw, in front of many of her peers. Zuria was the first to attack, but Mohatu knew he had provoked her, by calling her a scrub.

The entire situation was just as much his fault as it was hers. Almost immediately, Mohatu realized that he should have found a better way to deal with the lioness, instead of humiliating her.

Surely, Mohatu was better than that. If he intended to correct his old mistakes as king, he had to be.

Initially, Mohatu's only reaction was to walk away, but he quickly decided not to do just that. Even though it was her fault, and even though she was the instigator of the fight, Leo was almost beginning to feel a tangible amount of guilt. As he stood still, the feeling only grew stronger in his gut, expounding drastically.

"I just wanted to talk," Mohatu answered, after a simple moment of pause. "I... I wasn't trying to hurt you, earlier."

"I don't care; I don't want to talk to you," the lioness retorted instantly. "Now get out," she threatened afterward, although her words carried little force. She spoke not like a lion, but like a lamb: weak, defeated, and helpless.

Mohatu lifted his paw up for a brief second, almost complying with the lioness's command, but he suddenly found himself developing second thoughts. He wasn't going to leave the lioness. Not like this.

"I never wanted to fight you," the old king explained. "You attacked me. You wanted me to prove that I have the right to be here... so here I am."

"I know," the lioness conceded hastily. "You were right. Now get out!"

"Zuria," Mohatu insisted with a soft voice, "just listen to me, for a minute." Surprisingly, the lion's words carried neither arrogance nor menace. It was merely a request, more akin to a plea for forgiveness, in an odd way.

Meanwhile, the tawny lioness's eyes began to wander, while she made every effort possible to look away. Whatever this was about, she had no idea. But quite frankly, she really didn't want to listen to it.

"If I embarrassed you, I'm sorry I did that," Mohatu continued slowly. "But you can't compare yourself to me... I've had years of fighting experience. That was my entire life. I've trained for many years to be able to do that sort of thing."

"And... in the end, it doesn't mean anything," Leo interrupted himself, growing more firm with his voice. "I don't care if you lost a fight to me. It doesn't make you any less of a lion."

Zuria blinked her eyes slowly, but otherwise made no movement. Even her breathing remained shallow, while she waited for Mohatu to continue. By the look of her steady, flustered scowl, she was listening against her will.

Mohatu lowered his tail slightly. "I'm not here to hurt you, I'm not here to judge you, and I'm not here to belittle you," the brown lion added, trying his best to think of something Mari would have said. "I think you could make a great knight, one day... and one little incident like that doesn't change anything. You'll learn, and you'll get better in time... as I did."

Zuria tilted her head up, once again. For the first time since the fight that afternoon, she managed to look Mohatu in the eye. "That's not the way it is around here," she insisted sadly, but almost with a slight hint of anger. "It's over. I lost it."

Mohatu paused for a moment. Slowly, he began to take a step back. "Wait... what?"

What did she mean, she lost it? Was she going to be killed for losing a stupid fight? Was that it? It seemed like some sort of belief that Minerva would have planted into the lioness's head, but Mohatu couldn't be sure.

"You don't know yet?" Zuria asked. "Whenever we fail, Minerva punishes us," explained the lioness, clearly feeling rather distressed by the thought. "That is the way of our ancestors. I failed; now, I'm going to die... or worse. I'll be lucky if I get to die."

"No one is going to kill you," Mohatu insisted. "That would be stupid. You have too much potential... just to let it go to waste like that!"

"Try telling that to Minerva," Zuria retorted. "I'm going to be banished for sure, as soon as she finds out what happened here... as soon as she finds out what a fool I am..."

"I don't think so," Mohatu insisted confidently. "Minerva is the fool, here."

Zuria's jaw nearly slipped open. Her eyes widened, and her ears perked up a bit. "You have a lot of guts, saying something like that around here," the tawny lioness retorted after a long pause, while she raised her head slightly. By the look of it, she did not seem to believe what Mohatu was implying. In fact, she almost seemed incapable of comprehending the thought. "Do you have a death wish?"

"No," Mohatu answered with a simple shake of his head.

"I was actually thinking..." the lion continued slowly, "maybe you're not a knight. I don't think you are," he suggested, raising his brows in a slight motion. Upon seeing Zuria's wordless reaction, Mohatu thought it best to explain. "Maybe you're destiny lies along a... greater path."

Zuria still held her scowl of disapproval. "What... are you talking about?"

"You don't deserve to die," Mohatu answered. "So why should you? Why should you fight to the death for a cause you do not benefit from believing in?" Almost on cue, the brown lion's face began to grow into an oddly persuasive smirk.

"But..." Zuria mumbled. "The great kings have-"

"Maybe the great kings aren't as great as you think," the brown lion interjected. "Look inside yourself. You know this isn't right. Mercy is not a burden; it is a gift. It gives us all strength to survive... strength to fight another day. That strength... Minerva has no knowledge of it."

"But..." Zuria's words escaped her. She wanted to argue, but for some odd reason or another, she could not keep up with Mohatu's rapid pace of thought.

"It's not what you think..." Mohatu interrupted at once, trying to find a way to rephrase what he desperately wanted to say. "Everything you see here is wrong. Everything the kings have led you to believe is a lie. I've seen this kingdom from the inside out; I know what it's like. Just give me a chance... I'll show you the truth."

Mohatu licked the top of his lip briefly, before continuing with a warm smile and a suggestive nod. "I'll show you, tomorrow. I'll show you what it truly means to be a lion, and what it truly means to be part of a pride. Then... you'll understand."

Zuria tried to stand up on her paws for a split second, although she never actually gathered the energy. Instead, she simply nodded as well, though she still seemed unsatisfied with the premise. "Alright," she replied. "Tomorrow, then."

"Good," Mohatu smiled. "You'll see."

Zuria, however, remained much less optimistic. "Don't waste my time," she spat.

"I won't," the brown lion smirked, while the savory taste of victory overcame him. To Leo's pleasant satisfaction, he had just set himself up to unleash the most powerful weapon of all; he was now prepared to turn his enemies to his own cause, and he planned to do so, one at a time.

Mohatu turned around, walking away from the lioness's den, and toward his own. It was only a few steps down the hall, and on the opposite side. Even as lazily as he walked, Mohatu reached his own lounge within only a matter of seconds.

The lion's own bed was made primarily of a stony material, like a soft rock carved into a cradle. The small room was only marginally bigger than the lion himself, and the small hint of torchlight made it feel slightly cozy. Surprisingly, the miniature den was rather comfortable.

As the former lion king sat down in his den, he breathed out a deep sigh of exhaustion, while his mind overflowed with even more profound thoughts. Muses regarding the ancient kings, the prophecy, and the pride around Lea Halalela flooded his mind, draining the lion of any remaining energy.

First up in the lion's mind was Zuria. She may have been an overconfident lion, but her support would no doubt become an invaluable asset to Mohatu's crusade, provided that he could be persuasive enough.

And, after all, how hard could that possibly be? All Mohatu had to do was show her the ways of a true pride of lions. It wasn't like Minerva didn't have malicious intentions to begin with, and that much was as obvious as daylight.

Buraya, however, was a bit of a different story. Mohatu contemplated whether or not he could persuade the aspiring knight, but that seemed far less likely. Buraya would probably need a bit more time to grow fond of the idea of starting an insurrection, if he ever would.

But, most importantly, Mohatu also realized that Queen Minerva was probably going to pose a threat. The queen knew that he was working with the infamous murderer, Mari—only the question remained: what would she do about it?

To solve that problem, Mohatu also hoped to bring Knight Inari to his own cause. With Mari, Zuria, Buraya, and Inari's assistance, Minerva would not stand a chance. She would be outnumbered and outmatched. The lion queen's rule could quickly be brought to an end, should she choose to follow in Leo and Rex's pawprints.

However, one thought still loomed in the brown lion's mind, even above all else. That thought was Mari.

As Mohatu curled up into a nearly spherical ball of fur, wrapping his tail around his head and his forepaws into his mane, the unforgettable image of Mari's face was all he could think of. Even though she was probably somewhere on the other side of the territory, the strength of Mohatu's feelings almost made it seem as if she had been right there beside him, all along.

But she wasn't beside him. Of course she wasn't. She couldn't have been.

And sadly, no matter what, it just wasn't the same without her.

Slowly, the lion draped his paws off the side of his rocky bed, allowing them to laze and droop down onto the den's floor below. With a melancholic yawn, he muttered only two words before closing his eyes for the final time, that night. "Goodnight, Mari."


--- --- ---


A/N: Okay, sorry for the late chapter this week. It took me quite a bit of time to finish this one up, and there's no way I'm going to be able to put up chapter 28 any time soon. I haven't even started on it yet. This is officially going to be the last update in a while.

Expect the updates to return in like... two months, maybe? Writing is hard, and I need time to make this stuff turn out good enough. :P
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » November 2nd, 2013, 10:48 pm

chapter 28: show
A/N: Booyeah, sweet mother of sons-of-biscuits! The weekly updates are back! :D

Enjoy!


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A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 28: Bared Ambitions


The irritating sound of pawsteps gradually grew louder. To add to the chaos of dawn, several rattling and banging noises echoed through the pyramid's hall, clashing with Mohatu's slumber in a disastrous cacophony of infuriating annoyances. Amidst the thrashing sounds of morning horror, only one spoken word was audible.

"Mohatu!" a harsh voice called, echoing through the halls with a notably impatient taint. "Get up," the unfamiliar male lion continued, which eventually elicited a moan of response from the lion in question. "You're late, rookie!"

Mohatu's eyes folded open for a brief moment, while a mighty leonine yawn escaped his jaw, containing enough rumbling force to knock over a small shrub. Or so it seemed, at the very least.

But could it really have been morning already? Mohatu was left to ponder the question on his own, for he saw only the torchlight from within the pyramid's dens. There was no sign of a rising sun, and no way to tell what time of day it was. The pyramid acted as a shelter, thus blocking out any trace of time that normally would have been visible in the outside world.

In a slow, arduous, and exaggerated motion, Mohatu lifted his head up, although his eyes remained shut to a squint. Using every last drop of motivation that he could muster, Leo forced himself to awaken and absorb the image of his surroundings. It happened at a painfully sluggish rate, before the geometry of the room eventually came into view.

"Come on, bro," another leonine figure, with a voice reminiscent of Buraya's, finally added to the sudden silence. "It's time for..." the lion started to explain, but ended up shuddering at the thought, before he could finish.

"Guard duty," Buraya gulped, finishing where he had left off. "We gotta go, man! That dirt isn't going to watch itself!"

"Alright, alright," Mohatu conceded to the demand, while he struggled to rise himself up onto his paws. "I'm up," he lied, speaking long before he actually started to twitch a single limb.

After a few long seconds, the lion's eyes finally opened into their natural, semi-alert position, and Mohatu managed to find two male lions standing in the hall.

One was Buraya, but the other was almost entirely unfamiliar, only slightly recognizable by the tangled knots of his thick fur. The other lion was quite a bit larger than Buraya, and by no small margin. In addition, he appeared to be much more rugged and far older in age, and he stood with a noticeably tattered mane. Yet, he almost looked familiar, in an oddly peculiar way.

The other lion happened to be Knight Inari, no doubt about it. He had to have been the knight tasked with guarding the pyramids of Giza. Somehow or another, the description of the name just seemed to fit the image, in a way that Mohatu could only understand with his intuition alone.

That lion, who Mohatu presumed to be Inari, suddenly gestured toward the end of the hall. "Now get out there," he commanded. "No wasting time."

Mohatu sighed quietly, trying not to outwardly express his complete lack of interest, while he followed the two others out of the den. He could hardly bring himself to feign even a remote sliver of responsibility, in regard to the tedious task that had been laid out for him.

After all, Mohatu had little reason to sit for hours on end, watching over the horizon of Lea Halalela. Even aside from the appealing thought of returning to his deep slumber, what he needed to do was far more important than simply vegetating like a statue.

But, as usual, Mohatu's curiosity eventually overcame the better half of his mind. "So... I take it you're Knight Inari?" Mohatu asked the unfamiliar lion, before the group of three reached the end of the passage.

"Yeah, that's right, rookie," the large lion answered, distinctly conveying a strange lack of interest in his subordinate.

"Look," the knight continued suddenly, clearly showing his arrogance with his tone of voice. "I know what queen Minerva taught you at the academy, but you need to forget all that crap. From here on out, you do as I say. You answer to me, and only to me. Don't make me say it twice."

"Alright sir," Mohatu lied easily, almost exaggerating his formality in a near-sarcastic way. Fortunately, however, his tone of rebelliousness remained quite hidden beneath the patterns of his voice. "I understand, my liege."

"Good," Inari replied. "You'll find yourself dead if you listen to anyone else, out here."

"It's true," Buraya added in agreement, temporarily bringing a quick end to the conversation.

As soon as the trio exited the pyramid, Knight Inari ceased leading the group. Instead of continuing to walk off into the sandy void, he turned around, and allowed his brownish-gold figure to glisten in the early sunrise. Brilliant rays of yellow, orange, and red illuminated his leonine stance, thus casting a deep shadow across his two adjacent subordinates, Buraya and Mohatu.

After several seconds had passed, nearly a dozen other lions gathered and joined the group—presumably, they were Inari's other pawns. Most were unfamiliar to Mohatu, but he did manage to find Zuria amongst them all. Some were males, some were females, but they were mostly all of a relatively young age, with few being any older than Mohatu himself. More than likely, they were all students of the academy at Giza.

The queen, however, was nowhere to be seen. No matter how Mohatu looked at it, that was unquestionably good news.

The cluster of lions eventually gathered and formed into a mob shape, all watching their commander closely. Clouds of dust were swept up in the wind, but such natural distractions did not seem to affect the conditioned pride.

"Today, we're going to try something different," Knight Inari stated almost immediately, after noting that every lion in his pride was within earshot. "Minerva still believes Mari is here, but I have something else in mind."

Mohatu smiled deviously. "Hmm... this could be interesting," he whispered to Buraya, while they both hid in the shadow of their peers. "I wonder what this guy thinks he's going to do."

In truth, Mohatu found it rather amusing how every lion seemed to think themselves superior to those around them. More than likely, that was the legacy he had left behind. Regardless, he now knew it was a rather absurd gesture, especially after watching it from his perspective.

"You, you, and you..." the knight pointed to a few lions, while he kept his other paw firm on the ground. "You're coming with me. The rest of you will go to your assigned positions until afternoon. Follow the same trails as yesterday."

A steady roar of background chatter began to erupt among Inari's many subordinates, while they broke off into their own smaller groups. Every lion seemed to split up and form into their assigned positions, leaving only a few wannabe warriors behind with the knight.

Rather conveniently, the few included Buraya, Mohatu, and Zuria.

"Damn!" Buraya interjected, while the other lions began to scatter around him. "I really don't want to do this again..."

Almost immediately, Mohatu kicked his new lion friend with his paw. "Shh! Not yet! I still need to know what he wants me to do..."

Fortunately for Mohatu, he did not have to wait very long to find out.

"One more thing," Inari interjected. "Zuria, I have a special task for you."

Alright, so maybe that wasn't entirely true just yet. Mohatu still had to wait a bit longer, before he had his own orders. And so he stood waiting with catlike patience, watching Zuria all the while.

Consequently, Zuria gulped. She knew what it was about, and she wasn't looking forward to it in the slightest. With great hesitation, the tawny lioness approached the knight in charge, eyes closed with sorrow, with her tail barely hovering above the ground.

"What do you ask of me?" Zuria inquired, nearly trembling while she approached.

"If you cannot hold your own against Mohatu, then you do not deserve to be here," Inari stated. "You think Mari or any of the assassins are going to show you mercy if you run into them?" he asked rhetorically. "Hah! You gotta be prepared to hold your own in a fight!"

The knight licked his whiskers for a moment, while a growl rumbled from the pit of his stomach. "But," he added, "I'm willing to give you a second chance. I want you to bring me three wildebeest by sunset."

Zuria's jaw flipped open. "But... but... but..." she stuttered. "That's impossible!"

"Then maybe you're just not cut out for this," the knight retorted. "Whether you live or die here is your choice. I'm giving you that choice. Now go on!"

Listening in on the conversation, Mohatu kept his ears raised for a few seconds. Eventually, however, he decided to make his move. He stepped forward, keeping his posture firm and serious. An idea churned in his mind; he knew how to make the situation right.

With one authoritative request, Mohatu made himself known. "Let me join her hunting party," he stated blatantly.

Almost immediately, a condescending laugh began to escape Inari's tongue. "Hah! You're joking, rookie..."

Within only a few seconds, the knight's chuckle eventually formed into a smile of twisted satisfaction. "But I like your ambition," he added. "Brash and bold—those are very nice qualities to find in a young warrior... as long as you can back them up. What do you think, rookie? You think you can do better than her?"

"I'm not joking," Mohatu began his proposal. "Buraya and I will go with Zuria. Collectively, we will bring back ten wildebeest, and it will happen before midday."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Buraya and Zuria blurted out in unison. "We can't-"

Mohatu only winked, silencing them both with his mysterious ambition. "Don't worry about it," he whispered. "We can do this... easily," he lied convincingly.

Meanwhile, the knight's eyes shot open to twice their normal size. His breathing slowed, and his jaw fell downward for a second, as well. "Ten wildebeest?" Inari questioned, clearly not even believing Mohatu's request, due to the ludicrously ridiculous absurdity in and of itself. "You must be stupid... or crazy."

"No sir," Mohatu insisted, trying to convince himself he could do it, too. "Just give the three of us the morning off, and we can feed this entire pride."

The lion in charge kept his thoughts to himself for a few moments, before speaking out loud. "Alright," Inari nodded, at last. "I'll take it. But I want the carcasses by noon. If you don't deliver, your tail is mine!"

"You won't be disappointed," Leo replied. Turning around, he winked over at his two new hunting partners, Buraya and Zuria, while he proceeded to walk away.

After a few minutes, the other lions had scattered completely, including the knight himself. The three in the hunting party were the only ones left standing outside the pyramid, and they had just been given permission to roam free.

Needless to say, it was precisely the way Mohatu wanted it. "Come on, guys. I'll tell you how we're going to do this," he stated calmly.

"I'm not doing anything!" Buraya retorted. "Hunting is for females!"

"Then go back to guard duty," Mohatu retorted at once, wasting no more time in dealing with Buraya's stubbornness. "But if you want something to eat today, I suggest you follow me," he added, with a deep but passive sense of persuasion in his tone. "You like to eat... right?"

Before Buraya could even reply, the lioness in the group decided to share her thoughts, as well. "I can't wait to see this crazy plan of yours," Zuria rolled her eyes. "You're such an idiot, Mohatu..."

Mohatu ceased his walking almost immediately, not long after he had begun. "Guys... calm down," he sighed. "I know a lioness who can help us. If we all work together, we should be able to do it."

"There's no way we'll be able to kill ten wildebeest!" Zuria exclaimed. "Congrats, Retard-ohatu," she added, with what was quite possibly the most bitter tone of sarcasm known to lionkind. "You've just crushed all our chances of ever becoming knights."

"I'm not doing this..." Buraya retorted, throwing his chest in the air, in an effort to keep his appearance as macho as possible. "Zuria, go do your job and make me a wildebeest sandwich. I'm going to do some more exploring in the great pyramid with Mohatu, and enjoy my morning off."

Zuria scowled, grinding her teeth upon hearing the other lion's comment. "Don't you just leave me like this! You're a piece of-"

"Zuria!" Mohatu nearly yelled. "That's enough."

"And just who do you think you are!" Zuria interjected, almost throwing a complete fit at Mohatu, as well. By the way her face started to shrivel up, it was obvious that her blood began to boil with anger, underneath. "You can't tell us how to-"

"Zuria!" Mohatu continued to hold his own condescending scowl. "I'm doing this because I'm trying to make up for what I did yesterday. Just give me a chance... I'll show you what we can do."

"This is all your fault!" Zuria retorted. "You're not just going to start telling us what to do, because of what happened yesterday! I'm not listening to you!"

Finally, Mohatu gave up on arguing with the lioness. With one last sigh, he turned his focus back to Buraya, who seemed to be a little bit less of a pain to deal with. He wasn't much less of a pain—only a little—but that sliver of a difference was all that mattered. "Let's go take a look at the pyramid," Mohatu suggested quietly, effectively leaving Zuria out of the group.

"Wait..." Zuria suddenly flattened her ears, at Mohatu's change in attitude. "Alright, Mohatu," the tawny lioness replied, caving in to lion's plan, after all. "I'll let you try this."

Mohatu smiled, while a brief but blissful sense of accomplishment flowed to his head. "Good! Wait here, I'm going to go get my slave to help us hunt."

Buraya kicked his paw through the dirt, unintentionally expressing his sudden discontent with a single jolt. "But... I thought we were going to explore the pyramid!" he whined.

Mohatu raised his eyebrows. "I'm sure my slave would love to explore the pyramid, too," he stated jokingly. "Hah, she loves ancient tombs!"

Leo then tried to force a smile, before clearing his throat and continuing where he had left off. "So, we'll do that, and then we'll help Zuria, and we'll all have enough to eat for lunch. Sound good?"

The other two lions scowled, but agreed to Mohatu's terms, anyway. "Fine," they responded in unison, much to their own discontentment.

"I knew I could count on you guys," Mohatu replied, trying to hold some degree of optimism. "Now don't kill each other. I'll be back in a few minutes."


---



Quickly, Mohatu trotted all the way back to the familiar location of the sinkhole, where he expected to find Mari. Not to his surprise, he spotted the vibrant lioness laying out on a stone, deep in the center of the cave's wide entrance. He found her in what just happened to be the first, and fortunately, the only place he looked.

Mohatu leaped down into the depression before waking the lioness, landing quietly beside her with all four of his paws simultaneously. He bent his knees like springs, which helped to absorb the shock. Although Mari felt the impact through the ground itself, the event did not seem to wake her.

Shortly after his gentle landing, Mohatu skipped over and rubbed his muzzle across the back of Mari's head. Up until that point, she had been sleeping through the morning, safe from view in the hidden shadows of the sinkhole. The soft movement of Mohatu's whiskers sent a tingle down the lioness's spine, eventually causing her to jitter into a state of higher alertness.

"Wake up," Mohatu beamed with delight, upon seeing Mari's eyes open slowly.

"Ugh," the lioness groaned, while she tilted her head upward. "Good... morning?" she greeted the lion, with a questionable statement. Obviously, she had picked up on the fact that there had been a bit of a change in plans.

"Wait... what's going on?" Mari asked, seeming much more well-rested than Mohatu had been, only minutes before. "What are you doing here this early?"

Mohatu's warm smile suddenly faded away. "Look, I... ugh..." he struggled to find his words.

How was he supposed to explain it? Mari had specifically told him not to do anything to attract attention, and that was precisely what he did. Mohatu had every intention of attracting attention to himself by helping Zuria—that was part of his plan.

But would Mari approve of it? Mohatu almost winced, although he tried not to hesitate too much at the mere thought. She seemed to be willing to work with his plans, but his worries still conquered the best of him.

Stretching out her paws, Mari began to tilt her head aside, removing her cheek from the surface of the ground. Her fur had not yet been exposed to the sun, but she still glimmered with curiosity in her eyes like the beautiful lioness she was. "What did you do this time? Hmm?" she smirked, trying to hide her internal fears of any real danger. "Is this..."

"I need your help," Mohatu replied at once. "I don't mean to put you on the spot like this, but..." Mohatu paused, to scratch the back of his head with his paw. "I've... ugh... volunteered to feed the pride."

Mari's head fell back down to the stone floor of the cave's entrance. "And... let me guess. You expect me to hunt for you... to feed an entire army?" Mari inquired lethargically.

"Two other lions will be with us," Mohatu explained. "I think we should be able to pull it off," he added, although his voice wasn't entirely as confident as he wanted it to be.

"Great," the lioness exclaimed, with a surprising indifference to the idea.

Mari erected her weight back onto her paws, slowly bringing herself to prepare for the task. "You know, I haven't hunted with a pride in ages... and when I did, it was only with our family. I'm probably not going to be able to help as much as you think."

"Besides," Mari added, struggling not to break into a sleepy yawn. "I haven't really felt like hunting again... not after what happened yesterday. I feel like I might be getting sick... or something. It's just..."

Mohatu looked down at his paws for a second, before leaning closer to the lioness beside him. "I was watching you yesterday," he replied warmly, and stepped closer to the lioness in a very predictable way.

As soon as his muzzle was beside her head, he began to exhale a purr while he licked her under her ear. "I know you'll do fine. You're so much more capable than you think you are—you don't give yourself enough credit, sometimes. Even though it didn't work, yesterday, your plan of attack was... brilliant. You're a natural huntress."

Although Leo's actions were nothing less than totally predictable to Mari, it still helped her to overcome her own anxiety. The lion's powerfully enchanting voice always had a way to calm her nerves. This was no exception.

Of course, it also helped that in the center of her heart, she knew he was right, anyway.

"I know..." the lioness blanched with modest and humble embarrassment, twiddling her paw on the rocky floor of the cave entrance. Although she didn't really want to admit it, there was a very large degree of truth to what Leo had said.

"But..." she added quickly, leaning away to find space to breathe. "It's not that. It's just... I don't know. I kinda have a funny feeling about this, that's all..."

"Well, Buraya is also going to show us inside the big pyramid, first," Mohatu explained. "Come on... it's better than sitting around here, all day. If anything goes wrong, I'll be watching your back."

"That's good to know," Mari replied softly. She paused for a moment, before leaning back toward Mohatu, inch by inch.

Suddenly, Mari lifted her paw up off the ground, and then placed it around Mohatu's spine. The movement caught the male lion by surprise, but he reacted with only a slight twitch of his tail. Although silence persisted in the air, it was yet another sentimental moment for both felines.

"I've got your back too," Mari whispered. Smiling, she brought her nose up to the lion's ear, while she embraced the warmth of his fur. "And... ugh... thanks," she continued quietly. "I needed that."

Yet again, it was another heartwarming moment for Mohatu.

Mohatu placed his paw over Mari's, as well, beginning to maintain a purr once again. "No problem," he smirked playfully. "That's what slaves are for," he added, trying to keep a straight face for a brief moment, while the joke slipped off his tongue.

Immediately, Mari tried to wiggle herself free. Her eyes and ears dropped with a sudden, obvious distaste at the thought, while she backed away with a grimace across her muzzle. "You didn't..."

"They don't have to know about this," replied Mohatu, before he cleared his throat. "They can't know about this," he immediately corrected himself.

"I..." Mari interrupted with flattened ears, but she eventually lost her words.

"Mari," Mohatu began, no longer hesitating to express himself, this time. After all he had been through with the lioness, it only felt natural to share his true feelings, at this point.

The lion closed his eyes for a second, blocking the external world from view so that he could gather his thoughts. Moments later, he inhaled heavily before speaking.

Although he held a smile, Mohatu found it difficult to focus on Mari's stern gaze, considering what he was about to say. "You're more important to me than any other lioness could ever be," he began. "I don't care if you feel the same way about me or not... it doesn't even matter. I'm not going to treat you as a slave. I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you... not ever. I care about you too much to let that happen."

In consequence, Mari blushed slightly. She knew it, but the thought still made her somewhat uncomfortable, for reasons she could not quite explain.

"But they can't know that," Mohatu continued, blinking his eyes back into focus. "Queen Minerva and Knight Inari are looking for us. Even Buraya suspected I was a spy. They're watching me... they know I'm up to something. I need them to think you're my slave so they won't be after you, too."

"Yeah..." Mari sighed. "I know."

"Whatever happens out there..." Mohatu continued slowly, "I just want you to know that it's just a facade. From now on, I'm going to pretend that you're my slave... but I just need you to play along with it, like I've been doing with Minerva. I don't actually think you're my slave, and I won't ever do anything to hurt you. It's just to fool them into thinking you're unimportant, so you'll be ignored."

"I know all this, but I still don't like where this is going..." Mari tried to explain herself.

"Neither do I," Mohatu agreed, persisting with the idea while simultaneously conveying a sad hint of reluctance. "But it's the only way, for now. When the time comes... then I'll tell them the truth."

Mari closed her eyes for a brief moment. "It's just that... I don't think it's a good idea. But, I suppose I don't have much of a choice... do I?"

Considering the circumstances, Mari had every reason to be worried. She didn't want to think about all that could happen, and she could sense the truth in Mohatu's words. But, despite this, something simply felt wrong. Disaster was lingering in the air, and Mari could not shake the feeling that it would strike like a snake—unseen, and deadly.

Mohatu clearly had some plan of his own. So did Minerva, Rex, Knight Inari, and the ancient kings. All Mari could do was remember what Rafiki had told her and hope for the best. Something was bound to happen, and with the chill of death so saturated in the air, some lion was inevitably going to die soon.

Mari had been thinking it for a while, but the thought was only becoming increasingly apparent as time passed, even more so now than ever.

Suddenly, Mohatu interrupted the lioness's immediate thoughts. "There's no other option," Leo stated, while he looked away for a second. "If I had a choice, I wouldn't be Inari's pawn or Minerva's student, either. This is what we have to do, for now."

"I understand that," Mari nodded hesitantly. "But, I guess this whole ordeal is what I was feeling reluctant about."

After all, being called a slave, even only in an act of deception, wasn't Mari's most pleasant thought.

Mohatu shook his head. "Me too..." he added wistfully, before turning away and climbing back out of the sinkhole. His voice faded off into the wind, while the shadow of a cloud flew over the two ascending felines.

"You coming?" he asked from above.

"Yeah... let's get this over with," Mari answered.


---



Meanwhile, Buraya and Zuria stood apart, gazing into the eyes of the other with visible disdain. The sun climbed up into the sky to a noticeable degree, and the reddish and yellowish hue of the horizon shifted into a more neutral blue, while the wispy clouds above started to turn from pink to white.

The entire territory of Lea Halalela began to come alive for another day, but neither lion seemed to care at all. There was a much more important matter at the tip of their paws, they thought, and it had been disturbing them to a great extent.

"I could be sleeping right now," Buraya muttered, picking through the sand below his paws. "I can't believe Mohatu brought me into your mess..."

"Shut up, Buraya," Zuria retorted. From the look of it, she nearly wanted to tear the other lion's face to shreds. "This is all Mohatu's fault, not mine."

Buraya rolled his eyes. "That's garbage. Lionesses... always getting me involved in their problems."

Zuria's tail moved back and fourth across the sand, while she sat in what was almost a pouncing stance. She had little tolerance remaining, and it nearly seemed as if Buraya was trying to drain it all away. "Shut... the... hell... up!"

"I'm not listening to you; you're a stupid lioness," Buraya insisted, outright denying the lioness's wish for his own sadistic pleasure. "Maybe, if you did your job properly and actually caught a wildebeest once a week, we wouldn't have this problem."

Zuria's claws scratched through the sand, puncturing deep crevices into the ground while she stroked her paws around. "You know it's not that easy..."

"Blah, blah, blah, stupid lioness," Buraya retorted, agonizing the female even further. "Hey, how many lionesses does it take to kill a wildebeest, anyway?"

"Shut up!" Zuria growled a bit louder, this time.

"Forty-two," Buraya explained, grinning deviously. "Forty-one to try, and one to get a male to kill the prey for her."

Zuria arched her backside up, into a deadly pouncing position for sure. Her teeth clenched together, and a steady rumble of a roar sounded from her throat, which shook the ground with rough vibrations.

"Oh, I guess you don't get it, huh?" Buraya sighed. "That's usually the way it is. Lionesses don't typically understand jokes."

Zuria narrowed her eyes to a deep squint of hatred. "I'm going to give you a count to three, to eat your damn words..."

Consequently, Buraya leaned back, exposing a sarcastic grin. "You can count to three?" he asked. "Wow, that's impressive for a blonde. I didn't realize my sister was such a genius!"

"Three..." Zuria counted, lowering her head as much as she could.

"It's okay..." Buraya conceded. "You'll understand the joke someday. In fact, I usually have to tell my jokes three times to lionesses, before they ever understand."

"Two..."

"The first time, they pretend to laugh when I tell them the joke," Buraya teased. "The second time, they pretend to laugh when I explain the joke. The third time, they truly laugh, because that's when lionesses actually understand the joke. They're slow learners, haha."

Zuria's spine shifted from side to side, while her two hind legs prepared to uncoil on her brother. "One..."

"Very slow learners," Buraya added, shifting into his own fighting stance in the blink of an eye. The yellow lion lifted his forepaws off the ground, balancing his weight on his hindlegs. With only two paws secured into the sand, he appeared enormous, with his black mane towering over Zuria's relatively puny form.

Without even a shadow of doubt, he was ready to prove his superiority to his female sibling. But, with two returning felines, his luck immediately ran out.

"Buraya!" Mohatu suddenly growled, while he approached from several tail lengths away. "Stop!"

The standing lion jolted suddenly; it caused him to lose his balance and fall down into the sand. Conversely, the entire scene managed to elicit a smile of satisfaction from Zuria, while she watched her brother make a complete fool of himself.

"I told you two not to kill each other," Mohatu retorted, continuing where he had left off only moments before. "Is it really that difficult?"

"Apparently so, master," Mari added from behind her companion. Although her voice was intended to be only barely louder than a whisper into Mohatu's ear, the other two lions managed to hear her quite clearly.

"Hah..." Buraya chuckled, while he looked up from his crash into the ground. "We weren't going to fight... we were just..."

"Damn straight, we're going to fight," Zuria argued. "He's being a-"

"Zuria!" Mohatu commanded, interrupting the tawny lioness before she could find a word with sufficient vulgarity to use. "Stop this nonsense, or I'm not going to help you."

Zuria groaned. "Oh, that's right, your highness," she replied sarcastically. "I'm sorry; I forgot my manners. I didn't realize you were the new king of Giza..."

Mohatu merely shook his head at the thought. "You have no idea..."

Meanwhile, Buraya struggled to get back up onto all four of his paws with his dignity intact. However, looking around, he found Mari standing closely beside Mohatu. "Who's that?" he asked, attempting to change the subject.

"This is my slave," Mohatu explained. "Her name is Ma-"

Mari stepped on Mohatu's tail with her hindleg in the nick of time, digging her claws into his fur before he gave away too much information.

"Ah... ugh... I mean... Nala. Her name is Nala," Mohatu corrected himself, very clearly lying to the other two lions. Obviously, he couldn't tell them her true name—Mari was known throughout the kingdom as the most important lion to kill.

Buraya's appearance started to soften a bit. "Ooooh..." he mumbled to himself, suddenly becoming enthralled by Mari's elegant form. "Hello there, Nala," he greeted the lioness, trying to make his voice as smooth as he could while he flexed his muscles. "You look rather beautiful this morning..."

Both Mari and Mohatu shared a brief glance at one another for a moment, secretly communicating all their thoughts to each other in less than an instant. For Mohatu, it was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud.

"Hmm," the yellow lion continued with a smirk. "You're very pretty, but I want to see if your hunting skills are just as amazing as your looks, first." Buraya immediately took a step back. "What about this: why don't you go out and kill ten wildebeest for us, and then when you come back, you can make me a wildebeest sandwich. I like it with no liver, no intestines... just the lean muscle bits are fine... preferably fresh killed... and then-"

"Don't even think about it," Mohatu retorted. "She's my slave. Only I tell her what to do."

"The master is correct," Mari admitted, rolling her eyes at Buraya's pitiful attempt at seduction. It was a fruitless gesture in every possible sense, but Buraya had no idea.

"Oh, but..." Buraya stepped aside, trying to show off his mane as one final attempt to entice the lioness.

"You are Buraya, yes?" Mari asked immediately, only seeking to confirm what she had thought.

"Yeah... that's me," the lion answered.

"I know what you're thinking, and I'm not interested," Mari retorted firmly, almost scolding Buraya, in a rather surprising way. "I'm not that kind of slave... but more importantly, we have a job to do here. I suggest we hurry up and get started, before things go from bad to worse."

Mari then nodded slightly, conveying her impatient demand to move on in the most polite way possible.

Buraya's ears fell downward. "Oh... well..." he struggled to find his words. "You're just a slave. You're not supposed to be sassy like that," he reasoned. It wasn't much of a comeback, and every lion knew it. However, it managed to end the discussion for a few seconds.

At nearly the same time, Mohatu turned to face his companion. "Hah, I like that," he muttered a whisper to the orange lioness, grinning slightly. "I didn't know you had it in you."

"I learned a lot of things, growing up with you," Mari whispered back. "I'm not usually afraid to say what I need to... as I'm sure you've noticed," she added.

Mohatu smiled. "Good, good, good..." he thought aloud. "Buraya, why don't you take us to the great pyramid, now," he suggested. The lion began to show a bit of Mari's reflected impatience with his request, despite his seemingly positive attitude.

"Yeah, alright," Buraya's head dropped a bit. "It's just over here," he added, beginning to walk along a rarely-traveled path.

The three other lions followed behind closely, all waiting for the events of the day to unfold beneath their paws. Yet, little did they know that it was all about to happen much sooner than any of the four could have predicted.
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Re: A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Postby Regulus » November 10th, 2013, 1:11 am

chapter 29: show
A Kingdom Reborn: The Legend of Mohatu

Chapter 29: Serpentine Slip


Several layers of golden, dusty blocks towered up to a dark, rectangular hole in the largest of the three pyramids. The blocks which composed the pyramids were far greater in size than even the largest of lions, and layers of sand coated their smooth surfaces. There were few cracks or crevices, apart from the entrance itself.

The entrance was extremely small in comparison to the gargantuan structure as a whole, seeming like nothing more than a dark spot in the otherwise perfectly aligned layers of stone. Very obviously, it was the only way inside and the only way out, completely open and unguarded under the rising sun.

Only the bravest lions ever dared to enter. Even fewer survived.

"And why are we going to go up there?" Zuria asked, breaking the eerie silence of the early morning with angst in her voice. "We're supposed to be hunting wildebeest... not raiding these stupid tombs."

"Because hunting is lioness work," Buraya retorted, with the sole intention of teasing the aggravated feline even further, and not much else. "This is what the cool cats do in the morning," he added.

"Buraya... no," Mohatu insisted, before the other two started to erupt into another ferocious argument. "That's not why we're here... although you might think otherwise." The lion paused, raising his tail off the ground slightly, while he rested at the sandy dunes beside the pyramid's massive base. "I'm not sure what we'll find in here, but whatever it is, I want you two to see it."

"We should still hunt first..." Zuria scowled.

"And then you'll run off afterward, once we're done... and you won't get to see this," Mohatu argued. "I will live up to my promise, but I believe finding the purpose of this pyramid is an even higher priority."

"It's not," Zuria stated with blatant disagreement.

"That's a bad way to put it," blurted Mari, suddenly adding to the conversation. "What the master means is that he wants to show you inside before siesta time," she explained. The lioness then tilted her head forward, while she gathered her thoughts. "What is inside may be of very high importance to the kingdom... in a way that you won't ever believe until you see it for yourself," she continued.

Quickly, the same golden lioness shifted her eyes back to Leo for a split second. "Isn't that right, Mohatu?"

"Yep," Mohatu nodded.

"What do you mean... show me?" Zuria grunted, raising her voice even further. "I've been in that tomb before. There's nothing to see in there but vipers and cobras, and a bunch of stupid clay pots. You're the one who hasn't been inside before..."

Mohatu lifted his forepaw, begging Zuria to calm herself down before she could even finish. "That's not necessarily true," he sighed. "Believe me, I would love to explain everything right now, but I can't..."

"I don't understand... how can you..." Zuria interjected, kicking her paw sideways across the sand. "If you're such a damn wise guy, why don't you just walk right up to Minerva and challenge her in battle like any respectable lion would do? What's your problem, Mohatu? Why are you acting like this... what are you trying to prove?" she roared.

"The truth," Mari answered immediately, leaning back and placing one of her forepaws above the other, while she sat with no other movement. Her orange coat of fur only served to emboss the outline of her blunt and tranquil form—calm, peaceful, yet oddly wise and seemingly arrogant in her own right.

Perhaps Leo's royal, prophetical sense of confidence was beginning to seep into Mari's own skin, as well.

"Oh, right," Zuria spat with no small hint of sarcasm, eying Mari with an evil glare of hatred. "And whose side are you on, slave? Why don't you just shut up and let Mohatu answer this?"

"She's right, Zuria," Mohatu answered. "The truth is literally right in front of you... but you're not going to see it unless I show you."

Mohatu straightened out his spine, and prepared his throat to speak with a deeper and more kingly voice. "Now, as soon as you stop trying to argue with me for just a few minutes, we can get on with this, and I'll try my best to show you what's actually going on in this kingdom, like I intended to do."

"I don't believe you," the tawny lioness still argued.

"I don't know either," Buraya added in, shrugging his shoulders to a noticeable degree. He then tilted his head up, breathing quickly and heavily through his nostrils, with loud sniffs. The tip of his nosepad twitched, and his eyes fell to a squint. "Something is fishy..." he agreed.

Mohatu shook his head, before raising his paw off to point at the entrance. "Just go," he sighed with exasperation. "Buraya, you lead the way."

"Fine," the lion replied. Buraya did as he was told, and led the other three up the layers of blocks. He leaped up to each successive stair, one at a time, eventually panting heavily before he ever reached the end.

Zuria held her teeth clenched the entire time, almost unable to bear looking any other lion in the eye without ripping out her claws. Her steps were even more exaggerated than Buraya's, crashing into the blocks below her paws with all her strength, as if she imagined herself hammering into the guts of her opponents.

Meanwhile, Mohatu stayed back for a moment, only to whisper a few words to Mari, before they began the ascension as well. "So here's the plan," he explained. "I'm hoping that there's a secret area of the tomb somewhere, that only I can access as the prophet. If I can get in there, I'll prove my worth to them..."

"And...?" Mari begged the lion to continue with her near-silent request.

"If that doesn't work, I'm at least going to help them with the hunt," Mohatu added. "A hungry lion isn't a happy lion... but a happy, well-fed pride is a loyal pride. Since Minerva seems to control the food supply, if we can work around her, there will be some big changes around here."

It was a simple enough idea, in its basic form: give the pride free food, and win their hearts and minds in the process. Mohatu had already planned for it to be the first, passive step to a change in the pride's leadership.

"But what about...?" Mari asked, pausing momentarily. "You know," she winked, tilting her head slightly.

"I'm not going to tell them who we really are unless the opportunity presents itself," Mohatu explained. "I'm not taking any risks with that... not with queen Minerva watching me like she is."

"Right," Mari nodded. "I just wanted to make sure... you almost seemed like you were planning on telling them..."

"Only if it's convenient," Mohatu stated.

He then gestured up toward the entrance with his head. "Now come on," he added, allowing the long strands of his mane to whisk freely in the wind, with the fluid movement of each step upward. And with that, his ascension to the pyramid's entrance had begun.

Mari followed behind with clearly observable patience, slowly working her way up with much more careful and diligent steps. The weight on her paws remained light as a feather, almost buoyant in comparison to Zuria's heavy climb.


---



By the time all four lions had reached the entrance level, Buraya and Zuria were nearly ready to kill each other one again. They shared a deep stare, rumbling only an occasional growl of distaste, every few seconds.

However, neither of the two were brave enough to enter the pyramid without Mohatu.

Mohatu rolled hid eyes, quickly becoming annoyed by the situation, as well. "Why can't you two stop it?" he asked politely, for what felt like nothing less than the hundredth time. "It's not important. This childish feud between you doesn't matter. You act like siblings..."

Immediately, the two turned to face one another for a moment. "We are siblings," Buraya and Zuria retorted in unison.

"Well... I guess that explains it," Mari mumbled with a shallow breath, while Mohatu turned away.

Mohatu struggled to hold back a scowl as he stepped into the dark passageway. However, instead of condemning the two, he took a deep breath. "I should have known," he stated wistfully.

After a moment of pause, Mohatu continued where he left off. "You two remind me of Leo and Rex... and they didn't exactly get along, either. They were always in competition, always trying to prove their superiority... vying for domination of the Pridelands."

The former king's words began to echo through the passageway with an eerily recurring hint of wisdom, while the darkness of the corridor engulfed the entire group. In a strange way, the lion sounded as if he was actually far older than he appeared, carrying impressions of unmatched intelligence in the patterns of his fading voice.

Oddly enough, Leo was starting to share a vague resemblance to his father, for the first time that he could recall.

"Umm... yeah, bro," Buraya added, almost conveying a slight tone of hesitation, before following the former king. "We're lions... that's what we do. That's our heritage. We are born to rise and fight."

Mohatu's eyes only narrowed while he twitched his whiskers. "Indeed, it is... or so the great kings would say. That is what we are led to believe, after so many generations of violence," he replied. "But that does not mean it is true."

With that final comment, only a deafening silence remained in the cool air at the end of the passageway. It was dark, narrow, and chilling, and the path eventually broke off into a fork. One path went up to a chamber above, while another went downward, deep into the ground itself.

Mohatu stopped, considering which path to take while he waited for the other three to catch up. "So, how many rooms are there?" Leo asked.

"Three," Buraya replied. "This one, one above, and an unfinished one underground."

Mohatu's ears peeled back slightly under the torchlight. "What do you mean, unfinished?" he begged for a more thorough answer, unsure of whether or not Buraya spoke the truth.

"Well... yeah," Buraya replied. "It's not like..."

"I think that's a ruse," Mari blurted aloud, thus confirming Leo's thoughts. "Mohatu and I have seen other tombs before, and there are often several rooms... but the main one is generally hidden."

Mohatu stepped down into the passageway leading to the underground section, and gestured for the others to follow with his tail. "Mari is right," he stated aloud. "What we'll find down here is probably..."

Immediately, the other three felines stopped moving, for some odd reason or another. The sudden, persisting silence in the air only made Mohatu feel incredibly awkward. Eventually, he ceased all movement as well, turning around to face the other three in the corridor.

Had he just done something wrong?

Zuria and Buraya's eyes dilated to several times their normal size, and their ears perked up with shock. By the look of it, neither of the two could believe what they had just heard.

"Mari...?" Buraya asked, almost tripping and stuttering on his own saliva. He exhaled heavily, dropping his jaw as low as it could go. "Whaaaaaat?"

Mohatu felt a searing pain in his chest, as soon as he realized what he had just said. It had only been a few minutes, and his tongue had already slipped. It was over; that was it. They knew who she was, and there was not way around it. He had failed, plain and simple.

Meanwhile, the lioness herself stood still, not quite sure of what to do. Every lion's eyes suddenly wandered to her, staring with a blank curiosity. She only felt a numbness in her joints, while her mind quickly became flooded with anxious thoughts. For several seconds, she was paralyzed, unable to make even the smallest of movements.

"No... no... it's not what you think," Mari tried to explain, although her mouth lost synchronization with her brain.

Mohatu closed his eyes shut with all his strength, trying to block out all the pain of his mistake. It was a futile effort, of course, especially considering how the events which followed all happened at once. There was no wait, no time to reflect, and no time to think. With a flash of light, Mohatu's eyes blinked open again, and the entire world rushed in, suddenly erupting into utter chaos in its most recognizable form.

"You're working with her... you're a traitor! You're with them!" Buraya exclaimed. "You really are a spy!"

Mohatu winced at the thought, feeling his heart pound outside of his chest. His blood began to flow to his teeth and claws, and his senses all became magnified.

Judging by the subtle vibrations emanating through the air, Mohatu knew that Mari's reaction was hardly any different.

"Kill her!" Zuria shouted, drawing out her claws before Mari could even react to the situation.

With those two words, only one thought came to the former king Leo: it was time. Just like that, the landscape of the future changed, no longer certain in even the most unpredictable form of certainty.

The only certainty was war. Fortunately, it was a domain Mohatu remained all too familiar with. No matter what happened, he could handle it. In all of Africa, no lion had more experience in close quarters combat than he did.

Without any further warning, Zuria ran into Mari to attack, with her natural weapons blazing through the air. What Mohatu perceived was little more than a flash of raging fury, that ignited a powered keg of violence.

Quickly, Mohatu threw himself atop the attacking lioness, catching her off balance. Her strike fell to the ground, instead. In the dim light of the corridor, there was hardly enough room for a fight, but Mohatu used that to his advantage. The former king managed to keep his beloved lioness safe, simply by blocking the path with his long body.

On one side of the experienced warrior stood Mari, barely gasping for air. On the other side stood his two new and inexperienced opponents, who suddenly insisted on killing his best friend for life. Mohatu was in total control.

Zuria struggled to regain her balance, panting heavily between her rapid breaths. Her chest rose and fell several times a second above her paws, and her eyes darted across the scene with rapid movements.

Zuria stood in front of Buraya, watching Mohatu with an evil, yet worried and defensive glare. She lowered her head, not yielding to the more powerful lion, but fighting with her entire life on the line. It was her ultimate risk.

This was it for the young lioness—the one moment of truth. She had to kill Mohatu and Mari, to prove her worth in the eyes of her superiors. It was her only shot at vengeance. It was retribution for the day before. For Zuria, killing Mohatu and Mari was the only way to advance through the ranks, after her brutal failure.

Yet, the tawny lioness couldn't kill the two assassins on her own, and she knew it. She needed help, especially against a lion of Mohatu's expertise. Stepping aside, she allowed Buraya into the fight as well. As she tried to catch her breath, the two lions came to stand perpendicularly to Leo's enormous body, facing him as a team.

Fortunately, Leo seemed to notice the anxiety in the minds of his opponents. To both Zuria and Buraya's surprise, he tried to calm himself. His posture loosened up a bit, and his tail fell to a more relaxed state.

Leo decided not to fight.

"She isn't going to die today," Mohatu stated, once again feeling confident about the situation, with Mari safe on his other side. Considering the extreme hesitation of his two opponents, he held the upper paw in the fight against the two of them, and he knew it.

Mohatu dropped his guard slightly, nearly begging for his opponents to surrender as well. "Mari isn't the murderer you think she is..." he added, trying to ease the tension as best as he could.

"I don't believe you!" Zuria yelled her cry for battle, suddenly lashing out a swath at Mohatu, this time. It was a furious strike, with several successive swipes of her forepaws that followed. The attacks never seemed to relent, only growing stronger with each surge of momentum. "You... are... the... enemy!" she yelled, inhaling heavily between each syllable.

However unsurprisingly, Mohatu never seemed to get hurt by the attacks. Being the prodigious lion he was, he managed to keep himself at a safe distance, uninjured and unharmed—only flustered by the lioness's apparent lack of experience in combat, while she flailed her claws around. She was quick and ruthless, but she lacked form.

"Stop," the brown lion backed away. His voice was far more commanding than pleading in nature, oddly enough. "You don't know the truth," Mohatu added quickly, hoping to bring an end to the fight as early as he could, before Zuria suffered any injuries of her own.

For a split second, Zuria did indeed stop. She stared deep into Mari's eyes, trying her best to anticipate his movements.

"Mari never killed Leo..." Mohatu gulped with a dramatic pause, swallowing his breath soon afterward.

All the while, Zuria resumed throwing her strikes. This time, she was trying to claw Mohatu's face up from both sides, simultaneously. To her own demise, her movements were still most predictable to Mohatu, who managed to counter each attack with frightening ease.

It didn't matter what she did. It didn't matter how hard she hit, or how fast she made her moves. It was pointless. Mohatu could read her body, and predict her movements with pinpoint accuracy. He expected every attack, and he countered each strike with a precise block from his paw.

"I am Leo," he stated clearly, stepping even farther back.

Breath after breath, Zuria only responded with grunts, exerting all her strength into Mohatu. Whether or not she even heard her opponent speak was unclear, based on her lack of any sort of tangible reaction.

"Mari saved my life," Mohatu added, continuing to parry each strike away without even using his claws. "And if you try to kill her, I will save hers," he growled.

"I WILL KILL YOU!" Zuria yelled, almost as if she was trying to justify her actions and confirm her own thoughts at the same time.

She suddenly started to lunge toward Mohatu, signaling a move of obvious desperation. Both her forepaws were lined with unsheathed talons, and her teeth remained exposed like knives flying through the air. It was her final attack, like a bee's sting; it was her final burst of energy to defend herself, before the inevitable defeat she would later face at Mohatu's claws.

While the lioness flew through the air, Mohatu mirrored her movements, keeping an eye on Buraya's own erratic behavior as well. In a split second, the two clashing lions met in midair, thus sending a dramatic shockwave throughout the entire pyramid. Every rock and tile began to vibrate and rattle, with roars of pain that echoed through the chamber.

The jaws of the two lions interlocked, while their nosepads pressed against the other, and their eyes met in fury. Zuria's final attack was largely unsuccessful, and Mohatu had matched her movements with plenty of strength remaining for a counterattack.

Yet, even after several seconds had passed, the lioness never moved. She stood still, leaning against Mohatu with her mouth open, teeth and claws exposed. A faint whine began to escape her throat, which only added to the rattling sound that persisted throughout the passageway.

Mohatu took a step back, consequently allowing Zuria to fall forward onto the ground. As soon as her head crashed into the stony tiled floor, her eyes closed, but her mouth opened even wider.

"Aaaahhhh..." A tearful wince enclosed the tawny lioness's eye, while a mumbled cry of pain escaped her muzzle. "AaaaaahhhhhhHHHH!"

Without any trace of doubt, the lioness had been defeated. She was down and out, no longer able to fight in any form. As much as the sight came to Mohatu's relief, he quickly realized that something was wrong, which prevented him from gathering any hope of a fresh breath of air.

To put it simply, Mohatu had been fighting defensively. He never attacked. Every move he made was only to protect himself from Zuria's slaughterous barrage of fury. Not once did Mohatu ever fight back.

Whatever it was that hurt Zuria, it wasn't him. Something else had injured the lioness, to the point where she could no longer fight.

Considering that the odd rattling sound continued to persist for several more seconds, that thought never seemed to fade from Mohatu's mind. It only grew louder, expanding upon itself until it was the only thing to occupy his focus.

Mohatu scanned his surroundings as quickly as he could, but found no signs of an external threat, of any sort. Buraya's movements were erratic, but he had his back turned to Mohatu, and Mari stood behind them both, watching with her eyes agape.

"Don't," Mari whispered, holding her breath for some strange reason. "Move."

"What?" Mohatu asked, continuing to allow his eyes to dart around, while he kept all four of his paws steady on the lioness's command. He could feel the danger in the air, but he wasn't sure what the danger was.

Mari only trembled in response. She was no longer able to speak out of her own fear of... something.

But what was it?

Nothing answered Mohatu's question, aside from the same, continuous rattling that he first heard seconds prior. It sounded almost like seeds being tossed around in the shell of a fruit, shaking and sliding around without end. But obviously, that wasn't it.

Perhaps, more importantly, it also sounded like something else from Mohatu's memory. The recollection of the sound was something familiar—slippery, slimy, and serpentine in nature.

Like the rattle of a snake's tail.

With the smooth hiss of a snake's thin, forked tongue flapping back and forth outside its mouth, Mohatu's suspicions were confirmed. At once, his eyes suddenly met the pitch-black eyes of a serpent, after it had already been staring him down for several seconds. The snake began sliding up and over Mari's forepaws, while she struggled to even breathe.

"Oh... damn..." Mohatu mumbled, with a coarse growl that rumbled from the bottom of his throat. With his words, he finally acknowledged the threat, after so many seconds of complete obliviousness in his fight with Zuria. "Snakes..." he added in continuation, mindlessly repeating his own internal monologue out loud.

At that moment, the lion's focused gaze shifted over to his lioness of interest. He only thought to protect her.

Mohatu stepped toward Mari, catching the snake's attention with his movement. As he expected, the scaly creature slid his head toward the approaching lion, raised his jaw in an act of aggression, and showed off the two narrow, pointed, and venomous fangs.

Mohatu felt as if he had just looked danger square in the eye. Yet, being the aggressive lion he was, he did not allow his fear to elicit falter. Although he was not comfortable fighting snakes, the principles of battle remained the same. Leo still knew how to defend himself.

Instinctively, Mohatu took a step back, but accidentally stepped on one of Zuria's forepaws in the process. Ignoring the downed lioness, Leo only tried to calm himself. "What kind of snakes are these?" he asked with slow hesitation. He tried to keep his voice just as cool as it had been only seconds prior, although that effort was close to futile.

Even for Leo, it was hard not to panic.

"I don't know," Mari answered, her voice barely louder than the most faint whisper Mohatu had ever heard. It was little more than a high-pitched squealing sound, barely any more audible than the buzzing of a fly on the opposite side of a pond.

Clearly, the snake in question wasn't a cobra; it did not have the visibly expanded hood behind it's small head. It was something else, and judging by Zuria's sudden reaction, it was likely very poisonous, possessing a lethal or near-lethal bite. One of the snakes had literally sucked the life out of her, and there was great doubt in Mohatu's mind that the onslaught of death would stop there.

"I..." Mari stuttered, "I think it's a viper." Almost immediately afterward, she winced, while the thought reared its ugly head into the darkest depths of her mind. "Oh, God... oh Gods!"

Not too surprisingly, and much to Mari's fortune, Leo was already executing his own battle strategy before the lioness could even grasp her internal struggle.

Mohatu waited for the snake to lash out at him, at which point he stepped back even farther. The snake had forgotten about Mari completely, and now remained focused entirely on the former king—just the way he wanted it.

"Mari..." Mohatu began to command slowly, keeping his eyes on the snake's head and his senses more alert than ever before. "On the count of three, take your paw, and pin the back of his head to the ground..."

The lioness gulped, simultaneously signaling a nod while she waited for Mohatu to initiate the countdown.

"Three... two... one..."

With one swift movement, Mari captured the viper beneath her paw and the rocky floor, while it was distracted by Mohatu's own lateral, snakelike movements.

Much to the lioness's annoyance, the snake used the rest of its body to fling itself around. The viper smacked and slapped Mari around with its rattlesnake tail, in a desperate attempt to flee from the lioness's heavy grasp.

Fortunately, Mari didn't let it work. She forced all her weight down onto her forepaws, which prevented the snake's head from turning around and lashing out with a lethal bite.

Watching his companion struggle, Mohatu stepped closer and let his dark claws slide out from the tips of his pawtoes. Quickly, he grabbed the snake by the tail end, and sliced it apart with the razor-sharp incisors buried beneath his other paw.

Shortly afterward, Mari lifted herself up for a split second. She then pressed all her weight back down on the snake's head, until she heard and felt the crack of its skull collapse under the tremendous pressure of a forceful impact.

Done and done.

Both felines sighed in relief. Although its muscles still twitched, there was no tangible way the snake could still have been alive, after all that. That was one less scaly creature to deal with, for sure.

But there were still more. One, two, three... four... perhaps even five more vipers. Buraya seemed to be struggling to fight off several snakes on his own, and one was very clearly slithering across Zuria's fallen body.

Acting on pure instinct alone, Mohatu turned around to assist the other two lions, even though they had just tried to kill him. Certainly, it was against his better judgement, but that seemed irrelevant in such a state of chaos.

They may have tried to attack him, but Mohatu wasn't going to let that stop him from being the hero, once again. Quickly, and without any further thought, Mohatu reoriented himself with delicate caution, keeping his movements precise and his weight light and agile.

As Buraya came into Mohatu's field of vision once again, many terrified cries and screams suddenly faded into Mohatu's ears. The younger lion danced around like a drunken ballerina; he was hopping, dancing, wobbling, and even tumbling all throughout the snake-infested hallway. He tried his best to avoid each and every one, but he didn't seem to be succeeding in that respect.

In fact, Mohatu was beginning to wonder if Buraya had even explored the pyramid before—the way he reacted suggested he wasn't even half as brave as he thought he was.

To put it simply, Buraya just now realized that had not been vetted.

"Aaaah! Ahhhh! Ah! Snakes! I hate snakes!" he screamed, losing every last remaining hint of masculinity that he once held only moments ago.

Mohatu stepped toward the screaming lion, keeping his head low to the ground. His body was ready to dart in any given direction in the blink of an eye, if he needed to do so. Every ounce of strength he had went directly to his concentration, as he tried to approach the snakes with such extreme caution.

"Leo, stop!" Mari called quickly. "Sit down."

Mohatu's ears shot backward at the thought, but he did as he was told for some unfathomable reason. He only knew that Mari must have had a plan, and that was good enough in his eyes. In fact, plans were generally good things to have, and that remained especially true in such chaotic situations.

While Mohatu lowered his rump to the ground, he tried to keep the rest of his body as still as possible. "Uhh... okay," the lion acknowledged.

Although he wanted to know what was going on, he did not dare to ask what Mari's plan was. There were too many snakes in front of him to be contemplating such relatively trivial things.

Mari looked behind her, instantly finding two more snakes approaching near her tail. Quickly, she took a few steps backward before they got too close, and then used all her energy to spring forward—onto Mohatu's back.

In only a matter of seconds, Mari's forepaws dug into the back of Mohatu's hindlegs. She propelled herself both forward and upward, and used Mohatu's spine as an inclined plane. It was a ramp to run up, and his shoulders were a platform to make a jump off of.

Pushing Mohatu down, Mari did just that, before leaping high into the air. With her running start, she managed to fly a great distance, eventually grabbing onto a strange ledge in the ceiling of the passageway. She had found a platform hidden around the roof of the passageway, and she had made a leap of faith to get to it.

Leo grunted, closing his eyes and exhaling in pain while his chin banged into the ground with a thud. By the time he was able to look back up, he saw Mari's vivid orange hindlegs dangling from a gaping hole in the ceiling. Her tail wobbled back and fourth, before she eventually managed to pull herself up completely.

Shoving Mari out of his mind, Mohatu stood up again and tried to regain his balance as quickly as he possibly could. With all the adrenaline flowing through his blood at such a rapid rate, it did not take long before he could see clearly again, even despite Buraya's screaming and Zuria's moaning.

With a flash of moment, Mari turned around so that her head protruded from the hole in the ceiling, and she quickly lent her paw downward. "Leo!" she called. "Get up here!"

As Mari expected, Mohatu wasted little time. He ran forward, before throwing his forepaws up into the air and onto the ledge. Mari, in turn, grabbed the lion's paw, and secured her hold of it so that he could not fall downward. With her assistance, Mohatu quickly managed to pull himself up to the floor above.

Now safe from the snakes in the lower passageway, Mohatu looked down, staring at the two lions below him. Against his sound judgement, he called to help the remaining survivor. "Buraya! Grab my paw!"

The lion below stood still for a second, looking upward and into Mohatu's eyes with an expression of complete and utter terror. He then looked back at the snakes on Zuria for a split second. Then back to Mohatu. Then back to the snakes. The pattern repeated for another second or two, until he finally made his move.

With one sudden burst of energy, Buraya closed his eyes, held his breath, turned around, and made a similar leap of faith upward. He knew he was likely to die either way, but being killed by Mohatu's paw was more honorable than suffering from a painful death at the mouth of a viper, he apparently decided.

But Buraya's lunge upward was much more violent. The lion's claws frayed outward, and he swatted at Mohatu's paw in midair. He did not jump to escape the snakes; he jumped to attack.

In consequence, one of Buraya's forepaws met Mohatu's during the peak of his flight, and he never fell back to the ground. Instead, his entire body dangled in the air, while his hindlegs flailed back and fourth, just out of reach of nearly a dozen venomous rattlesnakes.

Mohatu secured Buraya's forepaw between his own two front limbs, while Mari helped to grab the lion's other erratic paw. Together, they tried walking and lifting backward, dragging Buraya onto the higher ground with each step.

Eventually, the bright yellow lion's chest landed above the roof of the passageway, before he nearly vomited up a powerful sigh of relief. Shortly after, he bent his body around, and kicked his hindlegs up as well.


---



From that moment on, Buraya kept his eyes closed. His head fell to the ground with the exhaustion and humiliation of defeat, and his ears dropped to the sides of his head, beneath his mane. A shiver rattled his body from the inside out, while he struggled to breathe at a comfortable rate.

Although he could hardly believe it, he was finally safe from the many slithery reptiles. What he did not know, however, was whether or not he was safe from Mohatu and Mari.

He only assumed the worst.

Oddly enough, Mohatu viewed the lion with almost a feeling of sympathy. Leo allowed his friend to rest for several moments before he even considered saying anything.

Needless to say, he and Mari certainly needed a bit of rest as well, so the long silence and the lack of movement was actually much appreciated.

"Tha- that... ack," Mari began, but coughed and choked on her breath. "That was almost too convenient."

"Are you okay?" Mohatu asked the other two lions quickly and hastily, ignoring the comment Mari had made as a result of his own immediate concerns.

"Phew," Mari nearly whistled a sigh, after regaining control of her breathing patterns. "That was very close... but I'm alright. One of them almost bit my tail in half before I jumped up here," she added. The lioness then closed her eyes with relief. "And... I thought that one on my paw was going to get me, for sure."

"Buraya?" Mohatu shifted his focus to the lion in question. "Did you get bit?"

Although Mohatu had pulled the other lion up, he looked to be in no better shape than his sister.

Upon further analysis, Buraya definitely wasn't okay. Not only was his breathing exaggerated, but he seemed to be otherwise devoid of energy. He only sat by the edge, like he had just given up the fight of his life.

Perhaps that was because he had given up, after all, Mohatu immediately realized. That revelation brought Leo a splash of great relief.

The yellow lion tilted his head up, seconds after hearing Mohatu call his name. After sharing a glance at Mohatu, he looked into the lion's eyes with complete disbelief, wondering only why the infamous murderer and her companion helped their attackers in the way that they did. It wasn't at all like the stories he had heard, and Mari's recent actions were nothing like what he had been led to believe.

Buraya placed one of his forepaws off the ledge, forcing his pawpads to grasp onto the rocky edge, just in case. In the darkest depths of his mind, he was preparing himself to jump back down, head first, and onto the floor below. That plan was a form of suicide attempt, certainly, but he was not quite ready to commit to such an irreversible act just yet.

"W-what are you... what are you going to do to me?" he asked hesitantly, with only fear remaining in his voice.

Mohatu took a step closer.

"Please..." Buraya begged. "No, don't... I didn't want to do this..."

As Mohatu took yet another step closer, Buraya could not bring himself to move. Although the latter knew death was imminent, he could not force himself to go through with the fall to end his existence. Instead, he simply clung to the ledge, only hoping for some sort of miracle.

Another miracle, aside from what had already happened.

"Just..." Buraya mumbled. "Hurry up and kill me. Make it quick."

"I'm not going to do anything," Mohatu finally responded with words of his own. "We're not like you think. I'm not here to be a knight, and Mari isn't a murderer," he stated clearly.

The other lion could only sit still with his jaw agape. His deep breaths slowed, while his irrational fear of dying began to fade away, bit by bit. At the very least, he knew he had a few more seconds to live. It gave him a small rush of hope, although he did not allow himself to grow too optimistic in his state of complete confusion.

Leo interpreted the lion's lack of response as a request to continue. "A month ago, Mari's pride led an attack on the Pridelands. She faced king Leo, but she never killed him."

"I was king Leo," Mohatu stated, before glancing back over at Mari for a second. "And her name isn't Nala. She's not my slave. Her name is Mari, but she's not my assassin. She's my best friend."

Mohatu took a deep breath. He lowered his head slightly, while he continued with his speech. His voice remained calm but firm, with subtle hints of relief, in a barely perceptible way. "Mari gave me a new life. She gave me a chance to atone for my actions... a chance to be reborn, despite what I did."

Leo then lifted his forepaw off the ground on which he stood, and placed it into the air. "So... what do you say?" Mohatu asked. "Are you going to continue to swallow every lie that Rex sends your way, or will you join us... in liberation?"

"Whaaaa?" Buraya shook his head. "No..." he muttered. "It's not true. It can't be true! You... there's no way you're the king!"

"It's true," Mari answered, in an attempt to confirm all that Mohatu had said.

I don't believe it," the yellow lion closed his eyes, and his head fell down into the surprisingly deep crevasse, formed by the crack between his paws.

"How can I..." the same lion tried to add, but his words eventually fell short of his rapid bombardment of thoughts. In all honesty, he had no idea what to say. He had no idea of whether or not what Mohatu had said was even true.

As crazy as it seemed, it did make sense. He couldn't argue that Mohatu wasn't a kingly lion, and his slave did appear to be exactly like Mari's description, after all. He had been such a fool not to notice, but it was no doubt the truth, now that it had been brought to his attention.

Buraya's shiny mane reflected a bit of light, as it glimmered from torchlit illuminations from below. Much to Buraya's embarrassment, the side of the lion's face was very clearly visible, appearing humiliated from every angle. "I'm sorry," he cleared his throat, finally seeming to have come to a sudden revelation. "I didn't know you were the true king, all this time..."

For several seconds, Mohatu did not respond. He let Buraya's heavy breaths fill the air, providing the lion with time to consider the situation further.

"You were led to believe that I was dead," Mohatu stated belatedly, at long last. "You were fooled by a lie... my entire kingdom was. My death was only an act of deception."

Although Mohatu wasn't quite ready to admit it in front of Buraya, that widespread lie was the very reason why he was still alive.

That lie was the only thing that still protected his family from the chaos that would later ensue, if Leo ever decided to truly return from the dead. That lie was keeping Rex in power, and keeping the entire kingdom in line. It was the only remaining agent of stability, in a world plagued with violent uncertainties.

But the other lion didn't need to know that much, Mohatu had decided. Still, not just yet. Mohatu had to continue to walk in the shadows of the kingdom for a little while longer.

"Please," Buraya stuttered. "Let me help! Let me live, and I can... I'll be on your side! You... you are the king!"

"I may be the prophet, but I'm not the king," Mohatu replied. "The king is dead. I'm not who I once was. I'm not here to reclaim what I once had... I'm here to correct my mistakes."

With great surprise, Buraya did not seem to exemplify any change of heart. "Okay... I'll... I'll help you get out of here," he begged. "I promise, I'll do anything for you, if you spare our lives... your highness."

Mohatu slid his paw across the other lion's shoulder, much to Buraya's disbelief. The younger of the two jolted his head upward as soon as he felt it, but he could not bring himself to reveal his eyes from under the shadow of his reflective mane.

"You don't have to call me that," Leo stated. "I'm not the king anymore... I'm only here to help. You can call me Mohatu."

Buraya tried to roll over onto his back, in submission, but Mohatu held him in place with his paw. He did not allow it.

"There's no need for that," Leo stated with a warm smile across his muzzle. "I've made too many mistakes in my own short life... and I will not repeat them. I don't care if you tried to kill me... you're still a lion. I can't think of one good reason why I would allow this sort of unnecessary social hierarchy to exist."

"Mhm... hmm," Mari nodded with wide ears.

Meanwhile, Buraya remained silent, too frightened and surprised to even speak.

"You are fully capable of differentiating between right and wrong on your own," Mohatu stated. "You have a destiny before you, but your fate is uncertain. You, like every lion, have the ability to choose which path to take. You can either become a hero or a villain... and in the end, you must make that choice on your own."

Mari nodded with a glance of curiosity, wondering where Mohatu was going with that idea. This time, it seemed to be something she hadn't quite told him directly, which caught her intense, catlike interest.

"I'm giving you the same opportunity Mari gave me," Mohatu continued, while he sat down beside the yellow lion, allowing his rump to rest. "You can continue to follow the path of a knight... or maybe even a king, but you will regret such a decision, in time... as I did. There is much more to being a lion than fighting and killing... and I know you realize this, as you look back upon your life, now."

Buraya winced, and his eyes shut with an incredible tightness. He almost felt a tinge of pain in his facial muscles.

"You can't change the past," Mohatu stated matter-of-factly. "But you can change your future. It's all up to you... I'm giving you that chance." He then lifted his paw for a moment. "You can run off and tell Minerva and Rex that I'm here. You'll become a trusted knight under their rule, and Mari and I will be forced to fight to our last breaths. Many will die, while war will erupt across Africa, and anything that remains today will be destroyed."

Mohatu raised his brow suggestively. "Or, you could join us in our fight against your superiors and their corrupted academy. With your help, we can bring the kingdom down, and we'll restore the Pridelands to its golden age. You'll be celebrated as a hero, and a savior of our pride."

Mohatu winked with a suggestive grin. "It's up to you."

Buraya blinked his eyes open, and leaned forward into Mohatu's mane. He rubbed the top of his head under Leo's chest, signaling the end of his aggression. It was like a leonine treaty, in a way. It was a sign of obvious affection; a naturally perceptible truce, apparent to a creature of any species.

Regardless, the yellow lion was still feeling more baffled than ever, in regard to the entire situation. The fact that Leo was still alive was big news, certainly—it was the biggest news of the entire savannah, without question. Buraya knew he would need much more than a few minutes to wrap his mind around the idea. It was simply mind-blowing.

But despite his disbelief over the entire situation, he could not help but to feel eternally grateful for Mohatu's remarkable kindness, at the same time. Even as odd and unbelievable as the news was, Mohatu's generosity had effected a change in the lion's beliefs within only a few minutes.

Without words, Buraya's flipped allegiance became quite clear, even as strange as that was.

"Welcome to a real pride, my friend," Mohatu smiled, ruffling his paw through Buraya's mane.
Regulus
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