Hey there, guys. Well, it's finally here! The moment you all have been waiting for. Chapter 16! That's right, the REAL chapter 16! It wasn't easy, but I finally managed to pull it off. Now, before you get to reading, let me explain a little about this chapter. In the previous chapter, I said this'd be the chronicle of Talu's life in the Pride Lands. Here's the thing, however: What I want to explain in the chronicle was too much information than I intended, so I came up with a conclusion. "Talu's life in the Pride Lands should be a prequel." So that's what I decided to do.
There was too much to explain about Talu's past, and I didn't want to drift away from the main plot any more that I already have. So if you were hoping to see Talu in the Pride Lands again, I apologize.
Anyway, for this chapter, it is a lot shorter than my previous ones, due to my writing time being limited thanks to my job. But I think you'll like it. Chapter 16 basically explains what happened to Suka, and what the Rebel Six's intentions are. It takes place around the same time Kodi was with Sauda, and Lea learning more on her second hunt with Talu.
Last but not least, I'd like to give a BIG thanks to a fellow fanfic writer and very good friend of mine, iWolf231, for beta reading this chapter, and doing an outstanding job on editing and IMPROVING this chapter. Seriously, this chapter wouldn't be this great without him. Okay. Enough chatting. Onward!
Suka was in very good spirits. The little lion cub didn't have a care in the world, because everything in his life was perfect. He had warmhearted parents that cared for him deeply. He had a loving sister whom was always more than happy to play with him and vice-versa. He had a devoted uncle whom was more like a big brother to him, whom would laugh and play with him and his sister. And last but not least, he had a tender grandmother whom would sing to him and his sister at nights, and tell them stories of adventure, love, and friendship.
There was nothing more he could ask for.
The young prince was curled into a little ball, waking up from his catnap. Something soft and warm started to rub against his back. The feeling wasn't rough or harsh in any way. On the contrary, he never wanted it to leave him, for it was full of love and kindness; one of which he recognized immediately. He raised his head, and saw a pair of sky blue eyes that shone with warmth and love. The cub couldn't help but smile and reach his head over to nuzzle the loving lioness' chin.
"My sweet little Suka," his mother greeted, her voice filled with love and care. "You and your sister are growing up so fast. It won't be long before you'll be able to join your father and uncle in roaming the savanna."
"Mommy," was the first word the young cub said before a morning yawn escaped him. "Does that mean I'm old enough to leave the den and play a little bit farther, without a babysitter always watching me?"
His mother chuckled and licked his face affectionately.
"Not yet, my brave prince," she replied. "Maybe next year - you shouldn't be rushing these things. Good things always come to those who are patient."
"Aw, but Lea and I wanna go out explore already—by ourselves!"
Despite his protests, his mother just shook her head.
"What have I done?" she mumbled, causing Suka to pout. His mother sighed and licked his cheek.
"One day, my brave little Suka," she told him warmly. "For now, I want to enjoy the time having you curled up in my paws while I can. Before I know it, you'll be at the age where you wouldn't want your mother always near you."
Suka sighed in defeat. He knew it was pointless to argue with his mother any further. No matter what, she would always hold some power over him, and always felt at peace whenever his mother had said his name that way—filled with such warmth and love only a true mother could accomplish.
"Feels nice, doesn't it?" another voice snickered.
Suka's eyes shot open. The voice wasn't his mother's, but it was coming from where she was supposed to be. He looked up and was terrified to find that in her place was the most frightening hyena he had ever seen. The beast had multiple scars on its face and body, and a couple of bite marks on its ears. Its right eye lacked an iris and pupil, making it appear as white as a bone. The repulsive creature carried a wicked smug on its face, eyeing the frightened little cub beneath it.
"I'm sorry, were you expecting someone else?" the hideous creature mocked, its snicker giving way to cruel laughter at the cub's fright.
Suka jumped out of the hyena's scar-covered arms and stared at the mysterious beast in utter shock. The one-eyed hyena was cackling hysterically, its open jaws exposing yellow fangs and blackened gums at the distraught lion cub.
"I know what you're thinking, kid – 'Where, oh where, is my sweet, beloved mommy?' Well, don't fret - your mother is right behind you."
Suka jerked his head over his shoulder and saw not his loving mother with her sweet, heartwarming smile, but a shredded and torn-out lioness carcass laying on the ground, her shock frozen into her lifeless eyes.
"Mommy?" He shrieked, running toward her. "Mommy, wake up! P-Please, M-Mommy! T-This isn't funny! This is scaring me! Make it go away, please! PLEASE!"
Unfortunately, his efforts were for naught. The kind, humble queen was truly dead. Tears stained the young cub's cheeks as he desperately pleaded for his mother to wake up. The monstrous hyena let out another screeching cackle as he watched the upset lion cub's fruitless efforts.
"You have never actually seen death before, have you, kid?" he remarked, snickering. "Well, I guess there's a first time for everything."
The hyena let out another laugh, but this one was far more sinister than the ones before it. It was a laugh that made blood run cold, and would steal the courage of even the bravest beast. A second laugh followed, then another, and many more after that. There were many voices now, each coming from a new hyena that emerged from the first, all identical to each other. The monster itself was splitting apart, each half forming a new copy before splitting again, until there were more than Suka could count. The young cub sank as low as he could, trembling in utter fear and confusion.
Why is this happening? What has happened to my mother? Why are these…MONSTERS doing this? All these questions sent his head into a spin, leaving him with no room to breathe.
Suddenly the hyenas merged into one, but this time—it was replaced by a rusty red and creamy white colored beast, with no pupil or iris just like the hyena.
"What's the matter, kid?" it said, smirking. "Still sore about me taking your 'Mommy' away? Well, your grandma and your sister seemed to have gotten over it already. Why don't you? After all, I'm part of the pride now."
The beast then let out yet another laugh, and the small cub could feel himself falling. The laughter echoed in his ears, growing louder and louder the farther he descended into the darkness…
Suka jumped and screamed, but his yells were muffled. The startled lion found himself bound and gagged by vines securely tied around his legs and muzzle. He looked at his surroundings—or what he could see of them that is. The light was dim, meaning the only things he could make out was a dark slab overhead. He was in some sort of cave. He could hear water crashing to his side, and he turned to see a waterfall cascading down at the other end of the cave, probably as its entrance. Realizing his predicament, he struggled relentlessly to break himself free from the vines.
How could this have happened? he thought as he continued to break free. Who's done this to me?
His first thought was of the red and white hyena, but that idea was quickly pushed aside. Suka was ten times stronger than the wretched beast. He could've taken the thing down blindfolded. Their last encounter was a good example…
No, Suka thought as he kept struggling. It couldn't have been him…but who then? I need to break free…
A snicker escaped from the shadows, causing Suka to freeze. He glanced to his left and saw two silhouettes moving towards him. Once they were close enough for him to identify, memories of what had happen to him last night started flowing like the waterfall not far from him. A growl started to form in his throat, becoming fiercer the closer the two lions got to him, but were still muffled by the vines that held his jaw shut.
"Good to see you're finally awake, sunshine," said a grey lion.
"For a moment there we thought Ajani used too much of his brawn on you," said the battle scarred lion.
"Then again, we did lend in a paw, didn't we, Diallo?" the first lion asked, looking at his partner, who just shrugged and chuckled.
"Yeah, I guess we did, Kiho…but what are friends for?"
You mean former friends, Suka thought as he glared daggers at the two. The bound lion resumed his efforts to be free, but the two brutes simply laughed at his efforts.
"You might as well just stop, Sukiee," Kiho sneered. "Chisulo managed to get some mongooses who are good with tying tight knots. Speaking of which, we need to inform the boss the grudge-holder's finally awake."
"No need, boys," came Chisulo's voice as he walked into the cave, along with his lover in discord, Sade. "I'm right here."
The smug lion walked over to his former best friend and fellow rebel.
"How was that nap, Sukiee?" he taunted in Suka's left ear. "Dreaming of dead, ungrateful mothers again? Or perhaps some certain hyenas?"
Like a reflex, Suka's hatred burned like lava throughout his body just from hearing his name, amplified further by Chisulo's taunts. He wished that the fire within him would burn off his restraints so he could turn his captor and his grunts into unrecognizable carcasses. Chisulo could see Suka's rapid struggle to break free, and simply laughed.
"Same old Suka - always gets sore from hearing his own name. Well, care to hold on a minute so I can tell you why you're here in the first place?"
Suka's struggles slowed to a halt, but the anger still burned in his eyes. As much as he wanted to rip and tear that arrogant smirk on his former friend's muzzle, the White Cloud prince did want to know why he had been brought here like this.
Satisfied that he had Suka's attention, the Rebel Six leader began his story.
"You see, Sukiee, it's like this: The White Clouds are a dying breed. They've been holding on by a loose thread for so many years now. It's a wonder that they've managed to stay together for this long. Nevertheless, it's only a matter of time until that walking shell of a king that you call a father drops dead from the grief of losing his dear mate."
Suka growled as ferociously as he could with vines strapped around his muzzle. Sade calmly walked to the enraged prince and swiped him on his side with her claws, and ending Suka's growls.
"First rule to follow while you're here with us, little Sukiee," she smirked. "Never speak when my Chisulo is talking. Consider that your first, and only warning."
Kiho and Diallo snickered, while Chisulo simply smiled in pride at his sadistic lover.
"Thank you, dear," he said, giving her a lick on the cheek.
"It was my pleasure, sweet-face," Sade replied, giggling a little. They couldn't see it, but their exchange made Suka roll his eyes, adding annoyance to his monumental rage.
"Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," Chisulo went on. "My pals and I believe it's high time we put that weepy king out of his misery, and take control of the entire kingdom, with yours truly as the new king, of course."
Suka stared at the lion, flabbergasted by what he just heard. The Rebel Six were actually going to kill his father and take the kingdom by force?
"Ooovvah vy bbedd bovy!" he yelled through his restraints, but his protest only earned more laughter from his captors.
"Like I said, same old Suka," Chisulo taunted. "In case you haven't realized it, Sukiee, not only are you all tied up, but you're also outnumbered four to one. And I'm very sure that my men haven't roughed you up enough for you to forget about last night."
Suka said nothing, and looked away from his ex-partner trying hard to hide his shame. He hated to admit it, but Chisulo was right. Even if he somehow managed get free from the restraints, Suka would be heavily outmatched by Chisulo and his lackeys. Even he knew he'd be fighting a losing battle. He was helpless, and his captors knew it, snickering over how they'd managed to bring the proud lion down to their level.
"Good, Sukiee," the alpha lion said. "You're finally being submissive for once. Now then, I still haven't finished explaining why you're here. You see, we need bait, and what better bait is there than the weepy king's only son?"
Suka let out another muffled roar, but the rebel leader did not react to it.
"But don't you worry, Sukiee," Chisulo assured. "If everything goes according to plan, I'm sure you won't be hurt…much."
More snickering from the group followed, before Chisulo turned to his followers.
"All right then," he called to his lackeys. "With that aside, let's get things running. Right now, Ajani's tracking that wimpy Kora as we speak. He should be back in a few hours with more information."
"Oh come on, boss!" Diallo whined. "We've been spying on that miserable old fool for three days already! It's the same old thing: He wanders the land aimlessly, roars at his subjects to prove that he's 'the king', and then mopes some more! It's just the same old crap, day after day. I say we're more than ready to take that pussycat out now!"
"I know that, but we still need to bide our time," Chisulo snapped. "We know everything about Kora, but not his lionesses; they aren't taking their dead queen as doleful as him, which means they could still be a threat to us."
"Oh come on, love," Sade added, shaking her head. "You think they'd help their wimpy king in his time of need? Please, they're just waiting for somebody to put him down already! Why don't we do the honor now?"
"Because, my little sadist, there's more than what meets the eye here," her mate purred. "Sure, the lionesses don't like their king any more than we do, but there's one other threat we can't overlook: That old hag, Talu."
"Sukiee's grandmother?" Kilo asked.
"Yes, the very same," Chisulo replied.
Suka was dead silent when he heard his grandmother's name.
"So what about that dried-out rug?" Sade asked in annoyance.
Chisulo shook his head, before explaining, "The White Clouds are near the edge thanks to their king, but if that old fool Talu were to take charge, not only will the whole pride recover, but her subjects would follow her every command, leading them to greatness again."
"But she's old!" Diallo yelled out. "Her time's almost up! Not to mention that she's no match for any of us!"
Chisulo roared out, startling everyone in the den, even Suka. "Diallo, do you ever stop to think before you speak?" he growled.
The subordinate lion bit his lip and looked away sheepishly.
"I didn't think so," his leader muttered. "Alright, just so everyone's clear on my intentions: we all know that Talu is a wretched old hag that life has no need for her anymore. However, not everybody agrees with me. She still has subjects loyal to her, including those lionesses of Kora's. Long story short, if anything were to happen to any of her kin, the hag would lead the lionesses and whoever else she can find to capture the ones responsible. Those fools would follow that hag to the ends of the earth if they had to; that's how loyal they are to her! Then we will be the ones outmatched and outnumbered! We're just lucky that Sukiee here is known to go off for weeks on end…not to mention that everyone is scared witless of him. That means no one's going to start looking for him anytime soon."
The leader looked down at his prisoner with a satisfied smirk. Suka was wishing more than anything that he could strike down Chisulo just by starting at him with all his hate and rage.
"What we need is a way to lead the hag out of her safe haven and take her out—after we bring down that weeping king once and for all!" Chisulo declared. "Don't worry, my faithful followers - in a few days, we'll use Sukiee to lure Kora directly to us, then we'll kill him. And the same will be said on that old hag!"
As the rebels cheered in agreement, Suka couldn't believe what he was hearing. It was bad enough that his former fellow rebels took him down, but they were also going to use him to lead his father and grandmother to their doom. That thought rattled him to his core, and he couldn't stop the tears that began to leak out of his eyes. He felt there was nothing he could do to stop them from fulfilling their devious plans. The vines were much too strong for him to break, nobody was out looking for him, and his captors were leaving no opening for escape. His fear and helplessness made him think back to last night, when he was desperately crying to the heavens for his late mother to call out his name. Now, he felt as if even she had abandoned him in his time of need. He was alone here, and for the first time in a long time, he didn't wish to be alone…
"Well, now that's out of the way," Chisulo added, breaking Suka from his thoughts. "I need to speak with my baby brother. Do any of you know where he's at?"
"He's probably out at his usual spot talking with those mongooses again," Kiho replied. "Should I get him, boss?"
"Nah," Chisulo replied. "I need to speak with him in private anyway. You three keep an eye on our old friend here; make sure he doesn't get…lonesome."
"You got it, boss," Diallo replied.
"Considered it done," Kiho affirmed.
"Don't worry, lover, we'll take good care of him," Sade added, licking her right claws. "Though if it's not too much trouble, I wouldn't mind it if you brought those mongooses over here…I'm starting to get a bit bored and hungry."
Chisulo chuckled and nuzzled his future queen passionately.
"Of course, my sweet," he whispered in her ear, earning a purr from her.
He trotted towards the mouth of the rebels' hideout and jumped through the waterfall. After shaking the water out of his mane, he set off for his destination. Out in a secluded part of the jungle, Chisulo found his little brother Chicha, finding his back was turned. The smug leader saw his little brother lying on the ground, and from what he could see, he was talking to the mongooses who had helped them tie Suka up. Chisulo smirked at the scene before him.
Of course he'd be talking to them - who else does he have? The others find him boring and I can only handle his pity pleas and mumbling for so long. Chisulo quietly crept towards the group, able to overhear their conversation.
"- I know you wanna leave, and believe me, if I could, I would let you go - but I can't," Chicha spoke in a low, timid voice to the mongoose couple. "My brother makes all the decisions, and if he sees you guys missing, he'd be very angry…and you really won't like him when he's angry."
"Please, Chicha, you have to help us somehow!" begged the male mongoose, who was on his knees to plead with the lion. "My mate and I have done what your brother and his friends wanted us to do. What more does he want from us?"
"Maybe you could reason with him," the female mongoose added. "Tell him that we've done our part and we would like to go home to our children. They must be worried sick from wondering what's become of us by now."
Chicha could only feel for the mongoose couple. He didn't like having to hold them against their will…but what could he do?
"Aba, Dahnay, as much as that sounds like the right thing to do…I just can't," he explained in defeat. "Chisulo won't listen to me. I've begged him time and time again, but he never listens."
"Never listens to what, little brother?"
Chicha, Aba, and Dahnay jumped from shocked when they heard Chisulo's voice. The timid trio jerked their heads to the rebel leader as he approached.
"Now, what is it you three are doing out here all by yourselves?" the alpha lion asked, eyeing each one of them while wearing a smirk on his muzzle. "Having a private conversation of how unfair I am?"
None of them answered. All were trying to avoid eye contact, but Chisulo's smirk only grew wider. They feared him, and that was what he liked to see.
"Well? I'm waiting."
Chicha looked at his older brother timidly, before summing what courage he had to speak.
"Chisulo…please…can you let these mongooses go now?" He spoke in the bravest tone he could muster, but even that held a bit of a waver from his fear. "T-They've done what you wanted. Suka is tied up…just like you wanted. What more do you need from them?"
This is too easy, he thought.
"You're right, little brother," he said. "I don't need them anymore."
His brother and the mongoose couple lit up with glee at that, thinking his smile was out of sincerity rather than the sadism he truly held.
Again too easy, he thought.
"So in that case, I'll have my beloved Sade have some fun with them," he announced. "She just told me she'd like to see them right now."
"NOOO!" Chicha shouted in utter terror, knowing full well where this was going. "P-Please d-don't!"
The little couple hid behind Chicha's hind legs in utter fear. They knew exactly what kind of "fun" Sade the Sadist had in store for them as much as their lion friend did. In the meantime, Chisulo masked himself with a serious expression. The sweet joy of intimidation - he thrived on that.
"What's the matter, little brother?" Chisulo said in mock naïve. "I really don't need those two anymore, but my beloved does, and you know how I hate to disappoint her. I'm sure they'll be just fine with her."
Aba and Dahnay felt shivers run their spines from fear at the powerful, muscular lion from behind their friend's legs; all while Chicha was desperately thinking of an excuse or something to keep them from being Sade's new "playthings".
"W-wait!" he stuttered. "I-I forgot something v-very important. W-what if…the vines get loose and…Suka…what if he breaks free and tries to run again?"
"Ah! You're brought up an interesting point, little brother," Chisulo said, going along with the excuse.
"Y-yeah," the timid brother continued. "M-maybe having the mongooses leave so early would be a bad idea. I'm sorry for not realizing that sooner, big brother."
"Ah! No harm done," Chisulo replied. "Looks like Sade will have to wait a little longer to have fun with them. Hopefully she won't be too disappointed."
Aba and Dahnay exhaled the air they didn't even know they were holding in. They'd just been saved from being tortured – and eaten – thanks to the actions of their new friend and savior.
"Well, in that case, you two pipsqueaks better head back to the cave right now!" Chisulo ordered firmly. "Tell Sade in these exact words, 'I'm afraid not today, my radiant flower'. That should do the trick in your favor. Go—NOW!"
The two small mammals jumped and dashed toward the den without hesitation. Chisulo was now alone with his little brother, which was perfect for him.
"Now," he began. "With those two out of the way, I have something I'd like to share with you, Chickie."
Chicha was still avoiding his older brother's gaze. He always hated it when he called him by that stupid nickname.
"W-what is it?" he stammered in a low voice.
"Well, little brother, it is no secret that you're—how should I put this nicely—incapable of putting up a good fight, let alone leading a pride to victory," his brother stated matter-of-factly. "So, as future king of this new land, it's my decision to have Kiho as my second-in-command. I trust there's no hard feelings, little bro."
Chicha said nothing. It was no surprise that Chisulo would pull something like that. For as long as he could remember, Chicha would always get the short end of the stick when it had come to his brother and the other rebels. Besides, Chicha had no intention of becoming second-in-command even if - by some miracle - Chisulo wanted him to. He had never wanted to take part of this crazy plan his brother thought up a few months back in the first place, but what choice did he have? His only living relative was Chisulo, he had no skills or instincts to live as a rouge lion, and he always dreaded the thought of being all by himself.
Chisulo knew what his brother was thinking simply by looking at his gloomy expression.
"Hey, come on, bro, cheer up, already. What have I told you about thinking about the past?"
"It'll only make you weaker than what you already are," Chicha said, reciting the exact words Chisulo had told him countless times.
"Exactly. Look what has happened to Sukiee back there. That's all he and his weeping family do all day! That's why their kingdom is crumbling to dust, and they don't even know it! Now tell yourself: Do you think Mom would want any of us to be weak when we have a kingdom to rule?"
"No, she wouldn't," Chicha answered, making his brother's smile grow wider in satisfaction. "Although…she also told us…on the night she died…to live a happy and fulfilled life…"
Chisulo's conceited smile dropped. Hearing the exact quote his long-dead mother had given him from his little brother had took him by surprise.
"And we are," he replied in a firm tone, regaining his composure. "We're in the middle of planning to rule a stunning and gorgeous land by bringing down some losers who don't deserve to be called rulers. Once that's taken care of, we'll be happier than ever!"
There was a pause, before Chicha asked a question that had dogged his mind for a long time, but he'd been too afraid to ask, "But who would be more happy? Just you, your crazy, sick girlfriend and your cruel friends? Or am I included too for once?"
Chisulo was taken aback. He wasn't used to hearing his weak, defenseless brother talk back to him like that. Hearing such insubordination caused an angry growl to start to form in his throat
"You have some nerve talking to me like that, little brother," he stated, trying to maintain a hold on his anger. "To answer your question, I want us all to be happy. However…" It took less than a second for Chisulo to pounce on his brother, meaning the younger lion never saw it coming. The proud leader roared right in his younger sibling's terrified face, adding, "I can also make you very, very unhappy if I so choose to right now. Let's not forget who you're talking to. Your older brother who could beat you down with one swift of his tail! Without me, you're nothing! Without me, you would've been died long ago!"
Chicha could feel Chisulo's claws digging into his chest as his brother delivered his ultimatum, knowing full well it wouldn't take much more for them to tear into him.
"And let's not forget your two little friends," Chisulo continued. "They'd already be Sade's chow if I didn't spare them. You think I'm worried about little Sukiee escaping? Pfft. It seems you don't know me well enough. I just decided to keep your friends alive for now because I felt like being generous to you, my little brother." He placed his right paw on Chicha's neck, making sure to press hard enough to make his brother struggle for breath. "Now, if you ever talk like that to your older brother and your future king, you don't even want to know what the punishment would be, but I assure you you'll be begging for another chance. Do I make myself clear?"
Chicha desperately tried to reply, but the pressure on his neck prevented him from getting any words out. His older brother was right about being far stronger. Fortunately, Chisulo could tell his brother had gotten the message, and released him from his grip. Chicha sucked in the sweet air, grateful to be able to live another day.
"Sorry about that, Chickie, but I felt you needed to be reminded of your place with me," Chisulo smirked. "Now, be a good boy and go play with your little friends," he finished before taking off, muttering to himself, "I am the king."
Finally alone, but still shaken from the ordeal Chicha felt hot tears sliding down his cheeks. Sure, his brother had verbally picked on him before, but never before had he gotten so physically aggressive to the point where he felt his own life was in danger.
"What has happened to you, Chisulo?" he asked himself, wondering if this would only be a taste of the storm to come.
Well, there you have it. Again, I'm sorry for not making it as long as my hiatus, but I do have a life; a very busy one, at that.
I'd like to thank you all for your amazing feedback on this story. Seriously, I never thought this story would take off at all. And I also like to say a few words to the impatient fellas (you know who you are). I'm sorry for making you wait this long for this chapter, but like I already said, I have a busy life. And when I'm not busy, I'd like to take some time reading other amazing writers' work. If I could, I'd be uploading new chapters of all my stories every other day. So be patient, alright? Just like you, I have problems that require my full attention sometimes.
On a lighter note, I like to again thank iWolf231 for doing such a remarkable job on this chapter. Half of the credit goes directly to him. Okay, I've never done this before, but I feel I need to. If you guys love my story, then you'll definitely enjoy iWolf231's stories. They all focus on the Balto franchise and believe me, he does the franchise great justice. While you're waiting for Chapter 17, check out his profile. Trust me, you won't be disappointed! His stories are AWESOME! Plain and simple.