They were moving fast; faster than was comfortable for them. Cubs rode on the backs of their parents and those who fell were quickly helped up. They couldn't stop, not now. Toyo was right on their trail and they were cut off on both sides by vertical canyon walls.
Kiota watched everyone closely for signs of fatigue, though there was little he could do to help them if they did succumb to exhaustion. No, he was just trying to keep himself busy and to not think too much about the dam up ahead. It was a daunting thought; at any moment it could break, and by the looks of the ground it was already leaking. Small streams cut through the dry ground and flowed past their feet in muddy trickles. The dam was full, and from the looks of the sky up ahead, it was still raining over it and only adding to the pressure behind the wall of debris.
Ralon kept stealing nervous glances at him that he didn't think Kiota saw. He was nervous too. What if the dam broke before they got to the path leading out? It really wasn't a question, he knew what would happen. They would die. They would be caught by the torrents of cold water and debris and the life would be violently squeezed out of their fragile bodies. Then their corpses would be spewed out at the mouth of the canyon along with logs, stones, mud, and anything else that was unfortunate enough to be caught in the flash flood. There would be no chance of survival for anyone; young or old, sick or healthy. They were all the same in the eyes of the water.
"Kiota." Ralon said quietly as he approached the rogue. "I know there's nothing to do now… but I changed my mind. I think we should have climbed the slope before going in here."
Kiota chuckled slightly. "Getting cold feet?"
"I didn't think that the dam would be this fragile… we're standing in water right now!"
"We have time."
Ralon shook his head irritably. "God, I hope that you are right."
They were silent for a while as they walked. Slowly the massive structure of a dam made of rubble came into view as they turned a slight corner in the canyon. Ralon gaped at its size; it was bigger than he thought it would be.
"Oh, kings…" he swore softly.
"Don't get so nervous, there's the path to get out of here." He tried to reassure the younger lion. Sure enough, a narrow stone path ascended the canyon side at a gentle slope from the opposite direction from the dam. They would have to get directly to the base of the structure if they were to begin the climb out of the pit.
"LET'S GO!" someone yelled out from behind. At first Kiota smiled, thinking that he was just trying to encourage everyone to move faster on this last stretch. His appreciation turned to fear as he looked to the rear of the unit. They were coming.
"WE'VE GOT COMPANY!" shouted the same lion as he tried to hurry those in front of him. Behind him, a group of animals were approaching… fast.
They were small cats; mostly leopards and cheetahs but with a few smaller lions among them. There were only a handful of them, but they looked nasty. Their dark eyes were deep holes in their otherwise expressionless faces. They were ready to kill.
Kiota turned to Ralon. "Get some fighters and come with me!" he shouted before bolting towards the opposing forces. He dodged his comrades as they ran past in an attempt to outrun Toyo's troops. The expression of fear was clear on their faces.
With a roar, he cleared the last bunch of rebels and found himself in the open ground between his army and the approaching fighters. They came at him fast and Kiota sunk down into a low stance to take on their weight.
The first leopard growled dangerously and launched himself through the air at the lone rogue while a different one came in low.
Kiota ducked under the first attack before agilely leaping over the second. He hit the ground and rolled before meeting a small lion head on. The lighter animal grunted in pain as Kiota landed a heavy blow to his chest. It was only a short movement to then travel up to the throat. The lion gagged and writhed as Kiota sunk his claws into the soft flesh. The sound of approaching steps signaled him to end the fight; he ripped out and the body fell while he turned sharply.
The first leopard swiped out aggressively, but Kiota blocked it easily with his arm before tripping him with his foot. The leopard's eyes widened as he fell to the wet ground with a splash. His eyes widened even more when his abdomen was ripped open by the rogue's merciless claws.
"Kiota!" Ralon cried. "Watch out!"
He looked up in time to see a paw of extended claws flying towards his face. Kiota threw himself backwards off the torn leopard, narrowly missing the blow. He rolled backwards and quickly rose to his feet to prepare for the next challenger.
Before he could take his next opponent on, however, Ralon arrived. He threw himself into the beast with all his force, sending the lighter animal sprawling into a shallow stream. The red-furred lion quickly recovered and leapt on the already downed soldier. It was easy for him to use his heavier mass to hold the opposing fighter's head below the surface of the water until he stopped thrashing.
Kiota looked around urgently for a new opponent, but none were available. The fighters that had accompanied Ralon seemed to have the situation under control and were beating back the small force with ease. The rogue watched as they overpowered the last of the soldiers with ease.
"Well that was easy…" Ralon muttered as he approached.
"They weren't supposed to hurt us, just slow us down." Kiota replied, looking out across the canyon floor. Toyo's army was still coming; they could almost hear their footsteps. The low rumble of the many feet echoed off the canyon walls and intensifying as it traveled, becoming more distinct as they neared.
"It worked." Ralon commented bitterly. "Come on, we need to go now!"
He was right. Kiota followed the younger lion back in a near sprint back to the rest of the group. They had reached the base of the leaking dam and were beginning the climb. The slope was gentle enough, but it was narrow; they could only go a few at a time.
"LET'S GO!" Ralon yelled over the crowd in vain but it was little use; there was only so much that they could do to increase their speed. He turned to Kiota. "We need to get out of here! They're coming!"
He was right; Toyo was still coming in at a fast pace. He would likely be there in a matter of minutes. Kiota shook his head; they had time enough for the dam, but Toyo was getting too close. He looked back to his own army, feeling somewhat relieved to see them finally falling into a rhythm. There was less pushing and shoving and a silent order seemed to take over. They all filed up the pathway as quickly as they could with minimal talking. Somehow within a few moments (albeit tense moments), the last of the rebels managed to get their feet on the pathway. Now it was just the leftover fighters with Ralon and Kiota.
Ralon rushed ahead with the rest, but Kiota didn't move. He just stared at the pathway that would lead to salvation.
Ralon turned around when he realized the Kiota wasn't following. "Come on! We need to go, they're almost here!"
He was right. They WERE almost there. Hell, they were practically on top of them. "No…"
Ralon froze. "What?" he hissed. "What do you mean no? They're here, and we need to leave now!"
"No, Ralon… they're too close. They'll just follow us up the path and catch up with us on top. It's only delaying the inevitable."
Ralon stared at him incredulously, then to the approaching hostile force and back to the other fighters. "Go!" he told them. "We'll catch up."
They nodded slowly and began to walk towards the path reluctantly. It was clear that they didn't want to just leave them there, but they knew that there was little point arguing with them.
Once they were well on their way, Ralon turned back to his leader. "You aren't making sense, Kiota." He said quietly as he walked over to the older lion's side. "Why come all this way if it's all pointless? Why even start a rebellion?"
"You misunderstood me. It's not pointless for us to go, just pointless for me to go. We need more time!"
"What are you talking about? How do we get more time?"
Kiota was quiet for a moment. "I'll give it to you." He said in a near whisper.
Ralon blinked. "You can't be serious… you think that you can hold off an entire army on your own? That's impossible!"
"Toyo won't just kill me off the back. He'll want to talk, even if it means losing his losing you."
"Yea! Because then it won't matter anymore!" Ralon cried. "Without you, the rebellion is done! You are the heart of it all, you hold it all together! If you just throw yourself away like this, everything will be over!"
Kiota smiled, making Ralon even more frustrated. "You're wrong." He replied simply. "They will follow the same lion that they have been following. You."
"I am not their leader! I can't be the lion that you are!"
"You're already better than me, Ralon. You just haven't realized it yet. Besides, isn't this what you always wanted? Justice?"
"I- I didn't…" Ralon stuttered. "Y-you… but- Not like this, Kiota! We need you! I need you!"
"I murdered your father."
"You've changed; I forgive you! You don't need to do this just for me!"
Kiota blinked in surprise. Of all the things he had expected to come from Ralon's mouth, forgiveness was not one of them. He looked with amazement as tears began to well up in the young lion's eyes. The normally tough and masculine lion was crying! "I'm not doing for just you… I'm doing it for everyone. For you, for me, for your father… and for a lost friend. I've got more to pay for than just your family. I've done too much to this world, and I now have the opportunity to fix it. This is the path I choose; the one I want."
"Kiota…" he said softly. "Please!"
The rogue shook his head. "No. You need the time; there isn't any other way for everyone to get away."
"No, Ralon. I've trained you. You are the new heart of the rebellion. You are the new leader. I never expected my involvement in this to last very long; I knew that I had to pay eventually. It has always been about you… and I'm so proud of how far you've come."
Ralon nodded slowly. "T-thank you… I'm sorry f-for…" He paused, unable to finish. "For a lot of things."
Kiota was silent. He knew what the younger lion meant. "Go, Ralon. You know what to do, and how to do it. I trust you."
"Thank you, Kiota… Goodbye." He replied solemnly in a small voice before turning away, tears falling from his face.
The rogue watched him go, not blaming him one bit when he didn't look back. There was nothing more to see. Ralon got to the pathway and quickly began the climb to catch up to the rest of the fighters. He ascended the trail with his head low and his footsteps strong, leaving in his wake a small cloud of dust from the higher and dryer elevation. He reached the top in due time and looked down the slope with blurred vision at his mentor. Kiota nodded in what he hoped would be an encouraging gesture. The red-furred lion was far away, but Kiota was sure that he was smiling.
He sighed. That was that. He returned his gaze to the ground. It seemed so detailed all of a sudden; the small and intricate larger pebbles that lay half buried in the soft sand. The different colors vividly contrasted each other as clear water flowed through intricately formed channels. He smiled softly to himself as he realized the cause of his attention to detail. He knew that this would likely be one of the last times looking at the dirt.
He turned his back to the approaching forces for a moment and analyzed the precariously situated dam that hung over him dauntingly. He heard the soldiers slow their pace hardly twenty yards from him, but he paid no attention. He remained fixated on the dam; it appeared so fragile, yet it was restraining an unimaginable amount of water. It was clear that it would break soon, but he doubted that it would be today. If it had held this long, it was pretty unlikely for it to break now.
"Kiota…" a dry familiar voice began from behind the rogue.
He didn't answer at first. He didn't even move. He knew it was Toyo, and he knew what was coming. Slowly, he turned to face the king and the army behind him.
"I thought that it was you standing here, Kiota." Toyo said smugly as he saw the lion. "It was just a bit difficult to tell from farther away."
Kiota didn't respond. He just stood there with his back to the dam and his side to the pathway. A larger stream of water poured from the base of a protruding log that was jammed into the dam. The water fed a small stream and flowed under his feet before meeting with other streams farther down into the canyon. He didn't blink; he didn't even change his facial expression. Kiota kept his eyes locked onto the vicious king, completely ignoring the mercenaries and soldiers that surrounded him with their teeth bared and growls rumbling from their throats. It was clear that they were hungry for the kill.
Toyo sighed. "What are you doing, Kiota?" he said forlornly. "Are you here in an attempt to negotiate? I might lend you a receptive ear if you play your cards right." He hinted mischievously.
"I'm not here to negotiate with you, Toyo."
"Please, Kiota. I think we can work something out. Every lion has his price.
Toyo took a step forwards. "I can make you more powerful than you can imagine! Servants at your beck and call… beautiful lionesses of your choosing… anything you want! All you have to do is take back what you have done."
"What I've done?"
"Yes, the rebellion you started. I want you to correct the situation at hand."
A small smile crept across the rogue's face. "That is exactly what I was planning on doing."
Toyo's eyes' lit up in hope. "So you will help us destroy your army?"
"No." Kiota replied icily, his eyes filled with a sharp focus that sent chills down the king's spine. "I'm going to destroy you."
Several of the soldiers cocked their heads to the side in confusion. Toyo furrowed his brow. "You can't beat us all, Kiota. We'll overpower you in a matter of seconds!"
Kiota was silent. He lowered his eyes to the ground and allowed them to drift. Toyo continued to speak, but he wasn't listening. He inhaled the humid air in the fullest extent that he could before his lungs burned from the strain. He exhaled slowly and closed his eyes.
"I'm coming, Kya." He whispered softly as a gentle breeze swept through his mane and seemed to lift him up. It was time. He sunk his hind legs into the soft ground and pushed off with all his might with a massive roar that echoed across the canyon walls. He threw himself not at Toyo, but at the protruding log next to him. He hit the chunk of wood with his full body weight but it hardly moved. The stream of water that had been leaking from underneath it didn't increase flow. Nothing happened.
Toyo's eyes widened. "STOP HIM!"
Kiota was not deterred. With another roar, he threw himself at the log even harder than the first time. He grunted in pain as he felt the hard wood smash his side, perhaps breaking a rib or two. It moved; albeit slightly, but it moved. He grinned slightly and pushed off from the log as he heard a growling beast approaching from behind. He threw himself flat as a larger dark-furred lion flew overhead, smashing into the log with a resounding 'crack!' The sickening sound appeared at first to be a result of only the lion's skull, but then it became obvious that it had come from the log as well. As the lion fell away in pain from the collision with the solid wood, the stream became visible. It was flowing much more profusely than it had been; it poured from the widened cavity with increasing intensity as more and more mud was stripped away due to the increased speed of the water.
"NO!" Toyo screamed as his troops rushed past him towards the rogue.
Kiota's face fell to a solemn tone as he raced towards the log one final time. He leapt over the fallen dark-furred lion and landed with all of his weight against the log. It slid from its displaced position and opened the water flow even wider. Kiota struggled to maintain his footing as the small trickle evolved into a small river. The water moved faster and faster, threatening to throw him off balance as it struck his body.
Many of the soldiers that had originally rushed to attack him were now frozen in fear. Those who did have the courage to approach the foreboding waters were slowed by the power that the liquid dealt.
Kiota looked up from the log. He saw Toyo staring at him with pure hatred, his cruel eyes boring holes into the rogue's hide. He saw countless soldiers and mercenaries running. Some fled up the trail in a vain attempt to get to higher ground while others fled back in the direction that they came as if they would be able to outrun the water when it came.
He looked up the canyon walls to where the bright sapphire sky contrasted sharply with the dark stone walls. A lone figure stood atop the cliffs, his red-stained mane blowing in the breeze afforded by the higher elevation. He watched the event solemnly with respect.
On the other side of the canyon another figure stood. She was a young lioness that stood calmly on the edge. He was hardly close enough to see any details, but somehow her vision cut through the distance. The intensity and focus that was imbued within her irises made him smile to himself.
Kiota closed his eyes and inhaled. This was it. He leaned up against the log and pushed with all his might. He ignored the water and debris that sprayed in his face with increasing power. His paws sunk into the mud and he found the needed force within himself. With a final growl, Kiota pushed the log from its place in the dam. It pulled away from its position all together and fell away onto the water-covered ground with a splash. Kiota would have smiled at his work, but a fresh burst of water hit him from behind. He tried to stand, but another log fell from the dam, closely followed by three more and a vast amount of water behind them.
Motives are an interesting thing because they are naturally imbued in our being. They define us for who we are and why we do what it is that we do. A cutthroat mercenary and a noble soldier each do the same job; they fight. What sets them apart is the reason for the violence. To serve only themselves, or to serve everyone else. It is the same action being preformed, but the purpose is different. Motives are how others define their value; the intent of a decision can be equally important as the decision itself. We all like to think that we are selfless, but are we really? How many of our so-called selfless actions are really done for the praise or image associated with generosity? Do we really want to be selfless, or appear to be selfless? When given the opportunity to make a change, how far will you go to ensure that the best ending is reached? How much will you be willing to sacrifice?
Thank you all for reading, I hope that you enjoyed the ending that I finally finished. Regarding Part 3, I think that I may have made a mistake or two when I began to work on it. I noticed that reviews sank from around 8 per chapter to 3 per chapter. If you were one of those readers that I lost due to my writing , I apologize. I am currently considering returning to this story after a short break and redoing Part 3 with a new and different plot line.
Thanks again for staying with this story for the whole time, I know that it has been long! Please comment, this is after all the final chapter!