Well, I'm back to Pride Rock! Sorry for being out for so long! These few months have been hectic, but now I'm back, with a force…if that's even a term! Enjoy! ~The Ghost Writer

Chapter 41: Schemes

Another day, another drill.

By now, Nala was showing some promise during the hunting drills. She was beginning to outrun those in her group during laps and was quickly gaining the attention of the adults, all of whom praised Sarafina in various ways.

"My, my, look at little Nala! What a great hunter she is!"

"Like mother, like daughter, Saffy!"

"Look at her zipping past the other cubs!"

However, today was different.

Nala woke up early. She was beginning to enjoy hunting, despite the fact that Scar was forcing the cubs to do it. To her, hunting was a sort of competition; she relished the day when she actually got to go on her first hunt. Until then, though, she just kept training.

Sarafina wasn't present at hunting training. The other four lionesses, Nkudu, Aina, Kwenu, and Ijwene, were. They were waiting patiently as the cubs showed up.

"Where's my mom?" Nala asked.

"She's gone hunting with the others," the lioness called Nkudu replied.

"But why?" Nala wondered aloud.

"She wouldn't say."

Any further discussion was cut off as the last of the cubs showed up. "Today's the big day, girls!" Nkudu announced. "Today, we're learning hunting tactics!"

"Yaaaaaaaayy!" the cubs cheered. Aina shook her head sadly. "Look how young they still are, Nkudu. We were older than them when we learned how to hunt," she whispered.

"I know," Nkudu replied, "But look on the bright side, it's for a good cause, right?"

It became clear that the lionesses knew the cubs were itching to learn how to kill prey, because they started right with the killing methods, the first being throttling prey. For this drill, Nala was paired up with Nuri.

"So how does this go again?" Nuri asked.

"I think you get behind the prey and grab their ju-gu-lar", Nala said slowly. "Here, let me show you."

"So, why isn't your mom here with us today?" Nuri asked as Nala used her to demonstrate how to throttle prey effectively.

"I don't know," Nala replied, trying to keep her mind off the topic.

"Aren't you worried about her?" Nuri asked.

"Of course!" Nala replied, releasing her friend. "There, now, you try throttling me."

"Is it because of Mheetu?" Nuri inquired. "I've seen him wrestle with some of the boy cubs."

"Maybe," Nala said. "There you go, and that's how we throttle prey."

"Should've tried this move on Simba," Nuri giggled.

Nala nodded and smiled slightly. "Mm-hmm. Speaking of crushes, how's it going with you and Mkwazi?"

"I haven't seen him at all these few days!" Nuri exclaimed. "He just pops up and disappears!"

"I wonder what he's up to?" Nala wondered aloud. "Have you noticed he's gotten bigger? Oh, and he's getting kinda weird."

"I haven't noticed that much," Nuri replied. "I'll talk to him the next time I see him, though."

"Alright, you do that," Nala said, distracted by her own thoughts.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, dude?"

"Chafu, for the last time, I've thought this through! Now quiet down!"

Mheetu, Chafu, and Runo were perched on the edge of Pride Rock. To their side lay a pile of heavy rocks. Below them, lazing around, were packs of hyenas.

Runo peered over the edge. "Wait, we're gonna drop ROCKS on 'em?"

Mheetu nodded grimly. "Don't worry. We're not gonna kill 'em. This is just the beginning of something bigger." As he said this, the cub's eyes narrowed.

"Why don't we just kill 'em?" Chafu asked. "No point in hangin' around, pickin' on them every now and then."

Mheetu sighed. "Again, we're cubs. They'll kill us easily if they had the chance. We'd stand a better chance once we're older. For now, just listen to me, okay? I'm the lion with the plan."

The three cubs nodded and whispered among themselves as they selected a target. Mheetu motioned towards the other cubs to roll the rocks over to the ledge. "This is kinda heavy," Runo grunted. "Are you sure we're not killin' anyone today?"

Mheetu ignored him. "Okay, guys. Just a little more to the left – okay. There we are. Ready?"

The stones dropped like weights, followed by painful shrieks and whimpers from the hyenas.

"Run! RUN!" Mheetu hissed. Not bothering to see what they hit, the cubs fled back into the cave, where they hid in the corner and covered their eyes, expecting the worst.

After about a minute of hiding and dreading what would happen to them, Mheetu was the first to uncover his eyes. "They're not chasing us," he realized. "Guys!" he whispered excitedly, turning towards his friends, "the hyenas aren't chasing after us!"

Chafu and Runo pondered this. "Hmm, yeah, you're right!" Runo nodded. "I wonder why, though?"

Mheetu knew why. "Okay, first, the hyenas are kinda dumb and don't know what hit them. Second, they're not supposed to hurt the cubs." He grinned cockily at the last sentence.

"Oh, yeah!" Chafu remembered. "Remember the time Mkwazi had to break up a fight between you guys?"

Mheetu's smile faded. "Yeah…I'm seeing him less and less."

Runo sniffed dismissively, flicking away a stray pebble. "What a weirdo."

"No," Mheetu's eyes darkened. "Did you see how he handled those hyenas the last time? They obeyed him! If that were any of us, we'd be eaten on the spot!"

"And the hyenas only obey Scar, so…" realization began to dawn on Chafu and Runo.

Mheetu shook his head and closed his eyes. "I can't believe this! I thought…I thought Mkwazi was…"

"A role model?" Runo offered. Mheetu nodded sadly.

"Man, if I see that cub around, I'm gonna rip his head off!" Chafu growled.

"No!" Mheetu broke in. "Scar probably thinks Mkwazi's his own son or something! If we kill him, we kill our Pride! I still think he murdered Mufasa!"

"In that case, ya better keep him away from your sister," Chafu pointed out. "He's into her, I think…"

Mheetu bit his lip hard. "The day I grow up is the day I kill Scar and Mkwazi both!" he growled. Chafu and Runo looked at each other and decided it was best not to argue. Mheetu was one of those cubs who meant what he said.

As usual, another fight broke out between the hyenas and the lionesses during the evening meal. This time it involved almost everyone on both sides.

Of course, Scar had to break up the fight. It turned out that the reason the fight started was because the hyenas that Mheetu and his companions had dropped rocks on earlier that day were attacking the cubs, and the lionesses subsequently jumped to the defense of their young. Surprisingly enough, Scar punished nobody, even though both sides looked as if they were about to kill each other.

As the crowd departed, Nala noticed her mother quietly walk off into the den.

Nala entered the den. Her mother was there, lying down, back facing the world.

"Mom?" Nala asked timidly. No answer. "…Are-are you okay?"

When she received no reply Nala padded over to Sarafina's side. "Mom?"

Sarafina just sighed heavily. "Oh, Nala," she said quietly, looking up at her daughter. Nala was surprised. Had her mother been…crying? "I'm really afraid."

"Afraid of what?" Nala asked, sitting down next to her mother.

"Mheetu…" Sarafina replied. "It's Mheetu. He…he…I just don't want him to end up like…" her voice broke off and she turned away.

Something was seriously wrong. "What is it?" Nala pressed on. "Who don't you want Mheetu to end up as?"

Sarafina just kept shaking her head. "Nala," she whispered, stroking her daughter's neck, "you and your brother are all I have in this world. I just don't want to lose you. I mean, you two are the ones that make life worth living for me under Scar's rule."

Nala could tell her mother was fighting hard to hide the tears…and possibly something else. Maybe there was something else that Sarafina knew that was the source of all this pain. She looked into her mother's green eyes. "Mom? Who was my dad?"

"NO!" Sarafina's cry tore from her throat as if it were forcibly ripped out by a pair of tongs. Nala jumped back, startled. Sarafina started to cry. "Look what you did! Leave me alone!" she sobbed. "J-just l-leave me alone!"

"I'm sorry," Nala whispered. The sight of her own mother, who worked all day to train the cubs how to hunt, who always saved an extra piece of meat for Nala and Mheetu, who valued the lives of her own cubs more than her own, in this horrible state was heartbreaking. Nala felt tears well up in her own eyes. Squeezing her eyes shut, Nala fled the cave.

That night, Nala slept by herself.

Thanks for reading thus far! I'll try posting chapters at a steadier rate now that I'm not so busy! ~The Ghost Writer