A/N: So I guess I just want to preface Chapter 52 by saying... apologies, I guess. LOL Apologies for the really really late chapter (which is honestly also quite brief in comparison to many of my others, though in my defense it's been so long and I was so surprised at myself for actually writing that I kinda just wanted to... get it out LOLOOLOLOLOLOL).
[I'm also a bit wired, I just had a good strong cup of coffee and slept for like 10 hours cuz I'm exhausted and I'm also in the UK right now... I'll explain that in a minute]
I guess it's just weird to me because aside from that fluke last chapter, I haven't updated this story in nearly 3 years. Kind of extremely freaky given how much of a huge part of my life this story once was. That being said, while I am updating... I do want to say a few things (and also give some personal updates from me since it's been so damn long).
So for one: ... I do plan on finishing this. That's mostly just because I guess I got tired of this story being like 85% of the way done but never finished. That feels kinda like a cheap copout. It's like running a marathon and then getting to mile 25 and being like "actually nah man I'm done bye I'm gonna go home now" like honestly that's just... fucking lame. Especially since some of you have been following for about 5 and a half years now. That's honestly really crazy. You deserve an ending.
I don't know if I will finish any of my other stories. I'm not gonna say they're abandoned, cuz ya never know, but... I guess hiatus is a good word. If I get around to them - great. If not - none too surprising, I guess. As you can imagine, I just... don't really have a ton of passion for this fanbase anymore. I don't really keep up with things around here that much. Probably much of the reason that I even thought to come back at all was that, being in the UK as I am, I actually just recently met up with Ninarojain Northern Ireland, and we had a good laugh and a talk about this site and about old times, which was... weirdly nostalgic? (I don't know if all of you know her - I reckon many of you do, though. She wrote Captive as well as a few other stories that were really popular back around 2011/2012-ish era - she's been a good friend of mine for about 4 years now). Anyway, that actually sort of... got me in the mood for updating again, I guess.
But yeah. I mean... I'm trying. But I realized kind of how difficult it is after not updating for three years. I originally made this story when I was only 13; I'm 19 now. This story basically has literally been there with me through the entirety of my teenage years: and a LOT changes in that time, as I'm sure many of you know... so yeah. I will continue to update, but as my memory is fuzzy and I don't exactly have time to re-read all 200,000+ words of this... please bear with me. I have a good idea of where I am going but there may be some changes. If there are minor plot holes, feel free to point them out but be sure to remember where I am coming from. I am doing my best to salvage a project that was started by 13/14-year-old-me and therefore wasn't always 100% coherent anyway, even if I did re-read all of it. LMAO
But yeah. Tryin my best to tie off all the relevant plot threads. Hope you all enjoy it even if it might be hard to take it 110% seriously at this point. Aha.
A few personal life updates from me, just because things have changed megatons in the last three years (feel free to skip if you don't actually give a shit - it's kinda long since I was barely 16 when I uploaded Chapter 50):
- Aside from last chapter I haven't updated at all during my college years, which is weird because as of now I am more than half-way through college. P good for me because I'm sort of low-key extremely sick of it? I dunno, lol. I'd say my senior year of high school (when I finally made my permanent friend group) was like a 6/10. An improvement over the rest of high school. Then freshman year of college was like... easily a 9/10 and probably some of the best times I've had, ever. I felt really free and awesome and had a lot going on and made lots of new friends (prolly contributed hugely to me being away from here - school keeps me extremely busy). But then sophomore year just kind of... was dogshit. lol It's too much to even explain in brief terms so I won't but I basically dealt with everything from money troubles to social problems to dealing with the aftermath of my breakup to school worries to preparing for this study abroad trip, to not getting the jobs I wanted at all... good lord the list goes on, that only scratches the surface.
- Um. Speaking of that. I had a boyfriend, then broke up with that boyfriend. It was alright though. It lasted nearly 2 years which in consideration of the circumstances was really good I guess. We still talk now and then. I think it was just a mix of being long distance and also that we were really young (he's only just graduated and he was 15 when we started dating). But yeah. It's been over a year now so I'm over those feelings and it's not a big deal. He's still a great person. It just really was rough those first few months.
- My friends are awesome but since high school we all are scattered around basically everywhere. And I'm not exactly super close with anyone at college... yeah. So that's a thing. I really need to just get into the swing of writing something again, even if it's 'just' fanfic. I get lonely sometimes, aha. But it's alright.
- I have great online friends. Different ones, since MLK has kinda fallen apart (there was lots of drama there) and I don't talk to all the same people... but it's fine. I have a new group of friends since November and they're really fantastic. I've even met a couple of them in real life, especially since being in the UK.
- Speaking of which... yeah, I'm here in the UK (never been to Europe before) studying physics. It's pretty nice. Unfortunately as a result though I am absolutely dead-fucking-broke. You can thank my school for that. I've never really had that much money but it really stressed me out. That's a story for a diff day though.
- Also speaking of broke... I leased a horse, then bought a horse. Yep. I HAVE MY OWN HORSE NOW. I'm really excited to go back to him. I've actually jumped a little bit and my riding was getting a lot better cuz I was doing it consistently. So there's that. I bought him before I was broke though. So... yeah, I foresee some money issues, but it's alright. I'm capable of working hard af and I'm sure I'll do whatever I have to do.
- I'm moving again for... hm. Including this trip to the UK, I've moved about 4 times in the past two years. This will be the 5th time. Was hoping to have a stable apartment and not have to move again after this past year but that actually... kind of really failed miserably. I got stuck with these really shitty, uptight-as-fuck roommates. Which was kinda weird cuz we were all friends my first year of college but... yeah not anymore I guess. So I basically don't have close friends there anymore and we haven't talked at all since moving out. I also didn't get the residency position I wanted at our school's animal facilities. It's a long story. lol But I'll be okay. I'll basically have a cheap living room to myself for this next year and hopefully I'ma rock it. (y)
Just am fucking jaded of moving all over the place. They were... really extremely annoying. Again, another story for another day. But it was 5 of us in a 2 bedroom apartment which was already setting me up for failure and then they basically forced me to move out, and basically I had to move the fuck out right after finals and right before this trip... I had basically two days and ended up having to sell and donate a lot of my possessions. Really sucked, but meh whatever I'm fucking over it.
- The last six months of my life were probably the worst I've been through in about 5 years. May to June was probably the most stressful month I've ever faced in my life. I'm... not even going to get into that right now.
- But yeah. I'm here now. I'm living my adult life, I'm not some kid in like junior high anymore or a depressed angsty-af young teenager LOL. I guess that's just what's up with me. But whatever XDD Enjoy the chapter. Hopefully it's decent. C: Sorry for the rambling.
IF YOU'RE STILL HERE AFTER MY THREE YEAR ABSENCE RAISE A PAW AND LEMME KNOW, I LOVE ALL YALL
The emotions she felt were strong, and she feared now that at this point perhaps nobody would ever understand them. Understand who she was, and who she'd been.
It hurt, in a way.
She was alone, and she had no support. But she had to try… damn it all, she had to try. She took a steady breath, steeling herself, the rush of the late evening wind breezing through her fur like a shroud. If it hadn't been so hot out that afternoon, she would have shuddered… even as it was, she was too nervous.
Going out without telling anyone. Without telling Mufasa. Against orders.
She grimaced, and her eyes focused intently forwards as her paw came into contact with a stone, sending it past the end of the floodplain and tumbling down the precipitous edge that hung ahead, foreboding and dangerous.
Skip, skid, skip…
The huntress stopped, her lithe body perched delicately as she looked down into the gorge. It was as she thought: his scent was strong—he had to be around here somewhere. Perhaps some ways further inside the gulch, for his trail seemed to tease her and entice her into that direction.
Yet there was something else lurking, skulking in the shadows, hidden around the metaphorical corner. Deadly and potent.
And a shame, too, for she did not know just how close it lurked…
"And what exactly do you think you are doing, miss?" Nyota's head snapped behind her, a mote of shock flickering in her eyes for the briefest of moments before she saw that it was only Zazu: albeit a peevish, lippy Zazu. She hunched her shoulders, looking away, not wishing much to speak with him but aware that she probably had little other choice in the matter. A puff of her breath escaped into the chill evening air, and she began traversing—carefully, oh so carefully—the ruthless incline of the gorge.
Several chunks of rock skipped down the edge of the gorge. Had Zazu not been airborne, he, too, might have faltered. These rocky ledges were much different than the shifting sand dunes she'd been used to; her breath hitched as she slipped a touch, paw pads chafing in a painful spasm.
Another quick hitch of the breath, and then there came the predictable reprimand:
"Nyota, Nyota." Zazu's wings beat in a flurry of feathers. "I'll have you know—" he panted, clearly in a rush—"miss, that our King Mufasa is dearly upset by your absence, for you know very well that you were supposed to remain back to Pride Rock. And, with all due respect, you directly violated his orders by leaving, and for you of all people to set an example—"
She tuned him out, not out of any sense of malice but more to avoid tumbling head over heels into the valley below them. For a moment she stood on a ledge, diffident, uncertain, her head craning this way and back and forth again as she tried to pick her way through the deadly slopes all around her.
The stampede happened here.
Her throat tightened. She couldn't imagine the turmoil, the destruction, the fear that had transpired below. It was heart-wrenching.
Zazu still was speaking.
"—and Mufasa, as you should know, is very troubled by your absence, and he has more than enough to deal with, so to leave as you did, with no warning whatsoever—is—is—"
"Zazu," her voice was a hushed whisper, approaching a hiss. She didn't intend the uncharacteristic edge of anger in her voice, but the timing of this was, undoubtedly, poor. "I'm sorry. But I can't go back to the pride right now."
She picked her way through a couple of steps, her cat eyes glinting in the night, a pair of glassy lights that matched another set in the gorge somewhere. Zazu appeared suddenly in front of her, the burst of feathered indignation causing a spry leap backwards.
"And why not?"
"Hush," she snapped, pushing past him. Her breath quickened as a rush of wind blew past her nose, fur instinctively bristling. "You're being quite loud, you know."
"And with good reason!"
"—What? How exactly do you intend to explain yourself?"
"I don't. I mean, I…" she sighed, taking another few steps downwards. "It's complicated, alright?" She looked away, trying to hide the palpable discomfort that she was feeling, the swirl of emotions running through her head like a burning tempest. "I have to do this, I have to."
"Have to do what?" By now Zazu had perched on a rock, his chest puffed. "Disobey His Highness, sneak off without permission?"
"No, I mean, yes—I—" her paw slipped, eliciting an audible squeak as she dropped down another few feet, her limbs locking, her heat skipping furiously within her chest. She was only about a quarter of the way down, and it seemed like—felt like—something was awfully wrong. Zazu flew to her side, his attitude gradually becoming replaced with concern.
It was nothing personal. She knew that. "I'm sorry. I know I'm not making sense." Her voice came out breathless and strained. "But you don't get it, the pride's in danger and I can't just sit by and let this all happen and let my friends die and know that I didn't do anything, maybe you don't understand but I've seen this before, and I can't let it happen again and I just—"
"—Miss, miss," Zazu sighed, his more sympathetic side uncovering itself. "Please. I know you're worried, but… you also know as well as I that our king has a lot on his mind. And when he saw you left—he was quite upset."
"I figured that." Her voice was steady and even. "But I think he would be more upset if he lost his pride."
"Zazu, please. This is something I have to do." The wind blew upwards, seemingly caught by the edge of the gorge. It ruffled her fur, giving her an uncharacteristically-rugged look as her face froze in determination. "You can't stop me."
He paused, seemingly taken by her resolve. "… What… what do you intend to do?"
The young lioness sighed, eyes closing as she turned away, stiff and clench-jawed. A moment passed before she resumed her trek, moving forward as Zazu, now on the wing, again caught up with her. "I can't say for sure. But there's something going on and I'm going to get to the bottom of this."
"The bottom of what?" Zazu again had resumed his frantic posturing, his movements quick and agitated. "Have you lost your mind?"
"Maybe." She made a bold leap to another ledge. "But it doesn't matter. I'm going to try to find his brother, and see if he can help me. Or if he knows someone who can."
"Scar?" Zazu seemed absolutely catatonic at this point. "Nyota! You've—you have gone mad! You're nuts! He's been—been exiled! For treason!" And then, more quietly: "should I suspect you for treason as well?"
"What? No!" The lioness bounded, sprite-like, towards another opening, her paws squeezing through a gap in some rocks and eventually leading her farther downward, towards the bottom. She was nearly there, and it now lay within sight, calm and locked in other-worldly silence. Everything lay still: almost unnervingly so.
"… Look. I know it's crazy. But he's the closest person to Mufasa." She panted, her ribs racked with pain as her diaphragm seized up in ragged spasms. It was hard to catch her breath. Something, somewhere, was tickling the back of her mind, instilling her with creeping tendrils of fear that she struggled to push aside. Something was… wrong. Somehow.
"I can't believe this," Zazu landed next to her, claws struggling to find purchase on a stone. "You really think this will help? I ought to fly back right now—"
"No!" Her tone betrayed the sudden emotion that had overtaken her. "… No. Please. Stay—you can help me."
"Nyota, if you really think—"
"Don't you hush me! I am the King's Majordomo and I will be treated wit—"
"—No, Zazu! Shush!" Her voice manifested as a grating whisper, ignoring his ruffled countenance. She directed her focus towards the pit of the gorge, senses honing in with a deadly accuracy. The bird went silent. "… Do you smell that?"
"I'm afraid not. We hornbills don't have good faculties in that department."
"Well…" she trailed off, another zephyr tickling her whiskers and bringing with it a faint, yet unmistakable odor that all at once caused her emerald eyes to snap open, pupils shrinking to mere dots in her alarm. She knew that scent, it was…
"Well, well, who do we have here?"
There came a snigger, low and taunting and full of malice, and suddenly her hackles pricked in fear and she realized that maybe, just maybe she had been over her head and Zazu leapt into the air in alarm, flying idle circles as she turned around, dreading the narrow yellow eyes that she knew would be awaiting her there.
"Yes," her voice was calm, and it came accompanied by the cackles of several fully-grown hyenas. The lioness froze, petrified. She'd known they'd been bold—but this bold? No. This couldn't be right. This was… audacious. Hyenas, an exiled race: in the gorge?
And suddenly she saw what was happening. Scar's scent—he'd been here. She could see his body, limp and unresponsive, being dragged off by three sturdy jaws. They were kidnapping the king's brother, with impunity, in what was essentially his own backyard. She would have almost been surprised, had she not been introduced to their depravity before.
"Zazu, get help!" The lioness' clipped speech highlighted the newfound urgency of this situation. "Go! Now!"
"Oh, dearie…" Zamani grinned, teeth shining in an expression that aptly reflected the pleasure she found in asserting herself. She relished this vindictive show—and her victims were sure to pay for their crimes. "… I'm afraid it's far too late for that."
There was barely enough time for her eyes to widen in shock. There was a flurry of feathers, a cackling of ferocious enemies. A moment of time in which all was still, in which she found herself frozen and surrounded and too utterly stupefied to move. Those seconds passed, gruesomely slow.
The last sight she saw was a clawed paw coming straight for her—there was a sickening crunch of bone, of claws shredding flesh… and then everything fell as dark and silent as the night in which she found herself.
When Mufasa moved, it was with an air of deft pragmatism that seemed so fully unlike who he was and who he used to be that he nearly felt beside himself, and as the days had passed he found he thought often to the person that he once was; wistful, he collapsed into his den, exhausted from a long day's work, looking out the promontory to find the moon gazing solemn-eyed back at him, an ancient friend.
He wondered, always, what his life had become, steeped in regret for the shambles within which he found himself. Once he had been confident, regal, benevolent. He still was, somewhere, he liked to think. For at one point the illusion of his life was such that he believed it immutable, it was such that he believed—no matter how difficult his life had become, no matter how grueling the trials he endured—it would remain a part of him. But now…
Now that had been tested. He faltered. He'd faltered ever since the wrongs in his life had been thrust upon him. Since he'd lost his wife. Since he'd lost his son. Since he'd lost his friends, his pride. Since he'd lost everything.
It was clear that he was not as strong as he had once believed himself to be. To pick up even the rusted fragments of his broken life was a struggle that he alone could not accomplish, and yet—
A sigh. Tired and drained. Since the 'accident' (if it could have even been called that), he realized that he hadn't even had the proper space and time to grieve, to mourn. He'd been forced, out of dire, clawing necessity, to continue on, to push those thoughts aside, to rule, to move forwards, to fight, to push, to struggle, to writhe—very unregal, he thought, but he had no choice, there'd been no other option, he had to continue fighting, he had to push his own thoughts his struggles his pain his trauma—
He had. To push it aside.
It could only last so long, this façade. But for as long as it did, he was a tainted king, caught in the throes of his inner turmoil, unable to fully reconcile himself to what happened, to how he'd changed, to whom he had become.
He wondered who that lion was. How he would change.
Only time would tell.
"Your Majesty…?" A very faint, timorous voice, and a shadow wafted along the layers of rock that formed the inner layers of the den. "… I… I'm here to report to you, sir."
"What is it?" He bit his tongue, realizing his tone was harsher than he'd wished. "… Is everything alright?"
"Alright as it can be." There was a strained, forced smile. Perhaps a bit of a laugh, though this gesture quickly faded and the night relapsed into its gloomy silence. "The hunting party was out today, as per your orders. There seems to be a good stock of gazelle in the northeast, but given the recent situation we thought we would come back to you and ask for further orders, Your Majesty."
"Please—there's no need, or time, for formalities."
"Yes." The lioness's face visibly sobered. "I… I understand."
A pause followed.
"The hunting." She made a motion with her head, as though to gesture to the wide plains outside. Back to the topic at hand, she seemed to say. He stiffened and bit his lip.
"It's close to the border but I think we can mana—"
"What did Sarafina say?" He interrupted.
"I think she's…" the lioness looked down at her paws, and then back at the monarch, fidgeting idly. "Hesitant. To say the least."
"Then I would refrain from hunting there." His voice was firm. Then, a bit more conversationally: "Did Maxi assess the borders as well?"
"Yes, Sire." She pressed her lips together firmly, pelt ruffling in a vagrant breeze. The warm, stifling atmosphere in the den eased and for a long moment they said nothing. The golden king looked down at his massive paws, his focus barely able to remain on the task set in front of him.
C'mon, a frail thought in his troubled brain urged him forwards, c'mon, you have to do this.
You have to be there for your people.
You have to overcome.
You are stronger than this.
Mufasa's amber eyes shut, a wisp of auburn mane crossing past his forehead as another stray gust of wind entered the cavern. He sighed, he picked through his thoughts like a ruthless bird of prey, he gathered them together in silence, and then, finally:
"Did her sister patrol the border?"
"The Northern border?"
"Yes." His eyes opened again, revealing a sense of tenuousness in his amber gaze. She faltered.
"… I'm… I'm not sure. She hasn't reported back yet."
"Surely she's gotten hung up somewhere, but—I'm sure she will return soon."
At that moment the den became layered in another band of shadow, its form passing frenetically across the rocks like a violently-wandering vagabond. There was a sound of beating, of shuffling, of scraping—claws being dragged across stone. Mufasa stood up, his ears alert and cupping his face. It took him several moments, before he realized.
It's only Zazu.
The bird had come in possessed by an overpowering sense of rush. He lost a few feathers in the throes of his wild fluttering, eyes darting this way and that before he finally crash-landed mere inches in front of the king, lungs heaving in a futile attempt to reobtain the breath he'd lost.
It was enough to stricken Mufasa with the contagion of his panic—not visibly, quite… but there was enough for a bitter iciness to flare up in his veins. His pupils narrowed.
"S-Sire, you have to—must… come… quick!" The bird struggled to articulate his handful of words, the ferocity of his breath overpowering whatever message he had tried to convey. Mufasa stiffened.
"Zazu, what is it? What's wrong?" He could barely hide the edge of worry in his voice. The bird straightened up.
"Nyota!" He cried out, voice barely more than a squawk. "Nyota! She's been—they've been, they're—" The hornbill's wingtips beat against the ground, claws still scritchy-scratching the hard stone floor upon which Mufasa slept. He took another breath, and then, belting out the last of his speech, it came. A message that made Mufasa's blood utterly freeze.
"Kidnapped! Nyota's been kidnapped—by hyenas! In the gorge!"
The monarch stood locked in place, eyes wide open as thoughts swirled through his brain like a wild cacophony of panic-stricken voices slamming, crashing, ramming into each other. Dark, swirling locomotives smashing, smashing, smashing through the walls in his brain, alighting an intensely-uncomfortable feeling of powerlessness, of confusion, of dread.
He couldn't fully comprehend them.
What was she doing there? What were hyenas doing there? In the gorge? Was she okay? How? Who? When? What could he do? What did he need to do?
He needed to act—he didn't have a choice. Not for this. Would she be okay? What would happen to her if he waited too long, if he didn't come to her aid, if he didn't—
If I didn't—if I don't… act. Then what?
He didn't want to lose her. Not another member of his pride. But there were too many questions. His mind stood mentally beside itself… but not his body. No. Without thinking, he sprung into action, firm muscles sending him bounding through the den, locked in a visceral sense of urgency that he couldn't quite dispel, that no amount of thinking or planning could quelch completely. He was scared for her. And whether this was the smartest option or not—he didn't know. But he knew that he would not, could not be caught in inaction.
The king bolted out of the den, ignoring the cries of protest from the huntress, the look of confusion and worry from an exhausted Zazu—no. He was going out there himself, damn it all. He was going!
"Nuru," he called behind him, not even sparing a look at the lioness. "Gather the hunting party and meet me at the gorge!"
The hornbill, with the last of his strength, beat his wings in a few long, powerful strokes, allowing him to glide to the king's shoulder and perch there, still scarcely able to breathe. Mufasa didn't at all slow for him.
"Where are they?" His voice was already breathless and forceful. "How long ago was this?"
"Scarcely—I think"—pant—"about five minutes, Your Majesty."
"Alright!" He charged forward, paws sending him straight off the edge of the promontory and into the grass, a daring leap that caused his bones to groan in pain as he landed, and then kept running. "They can't have gone far! Now lead the way!"
"Yes, Your Majesty!"
Zazu took the wing again, his frail figure a mere blot in the darkened environ as the two of them charged forwards, unsure of precisely what they would find—only that they needed to act.
For they were, very quickly and very assuredly, running out of time.
I'm sorry this chapter was so short and not much happened. It... also doesn't actually even have Scar in it at all. Shocker, right?
Anyway, I wanted to (and probably in the future will be) shining a bit more light on the other characters since I think there's a lot to explore there, esp for Mufasa. I feel like he was neglected in the past. Scar, although I wrote him decently in the past, kinda hogged most of the spotlight. So I'ma try and do Mufasa a bit of justice here since this story has basically screwed him over countless times. But yeah.
Hope you enjoyed it! Leave me a review on your thoughts - it would really help, especially after all this time away. I'd really like to see if I'm doing anything wrong. XD
[PS OH I CAN'T BELIEVE I FORGOT TO MENTION. Shameless plug but... another reason I've been away is that me and my best friend from high school have this webcomic that we are gonna do and we've been planning that out. When I uploaded Chapter 50 it either didn't exist or was in its veeeery fledgling stages but now it's a lot more fleshed out and for sure gonna happen. I'm gonna be doing a lot of the writing and contributing with the art. When it's finally out I'll be sure to share it with you all since I'm really excited about it.
But yeah. A lot of my creative energy goes towards that nowadays. Deffo contributed quite a bit. Aha.]