[Author's Note]
Hey everyone! It's been a great National Novel Writing Month so far, since I finally kicked my creative writing back into gear. Thanks so much for coming to check out my series, whether you're reading it for the first time or coming back to see how the story unfolds this time around. I've been pretty low-profile in this TLK community for a long time, so I'm always looking forward to making new friends and hoping at least a few of my old ones have stuck around. Message me on my forum or in private, and we can literally talk about anything. Got a story you want me to read? Don't be shy.

I'd also like to thank SomethingPhilosophical for being my beta reader and Haradion for all the ideas he pitched to me. I probably couldn't have done this revamp without their support and demand for quality, so here's hoping I can deliver. Okay, let's dive into this adventure! Zuka zama!


Shadows settle on the place that you left
Our minds are troubled by the emptiness.
Destroy the middle, it's a waste of time,
From the perfect start to the finish line.
—Daughter, "Youth"

The cool of the evening was finally beginning to settle over the Serengeti after the slow stretch of a relentlessly hot day. The setting sun had slipped behind Mount Tempest some time ago, and the mountain's enormous shadow loomed over Siri in the fading light as she approached her pride's stronghold. The thick grass she waded through was coming to an end just up ahead, and the dirt became cool beneath her paws as she neared the rocky plateau separating the grassland from the mountain range. She had begun to relax at the sight of her home's familiar territory, but Siri reminded herself that she was not done yet. She had been sent ahead of the hunting party to find her pride members and help them with carrying the rest of the party's kills.

Siri was about to step out onto the plateau when a faint scent that she could not place began to irritate her nose. She froze at the edge of the grass, gaze flickering warily across the quiet plateau. That was when she spotted a side entrance into Mount Tempest; or rather, the massive boulder jammed in front of it. The pride had been drilled on sealing the mountain in case of an emergency, but she couldn't recall having one ever since she joined the pride. Everything had been fine when the hunting party left, so if the king, Malka, had given the order recently, then her pride couldn't be far.

She felt a breeze float past her, and she tensed as the scent strengthened to become recognizable. Blood.

Slowly, looking up and down the plateau to make sure no one was within sight, Siri shifted out of the grass with barely a rustle, padding across the rocky surface just as silently. She reached the blocked entrance and examined the way it sat in the trench. It was definitely the work of her pride members. So if this wasn't an accident, what's going on?

Her ears pricked at the faint sound of stone scraping against stone, the dull reverberations sending slight tremors through the earth beneath her paws. Someone is trying to open an entrance. Crouching as low as she could, Siri prowled around the side of Mount Tempest, making sure to stick close to the rock face. She passed by several other side entrances, all of them blocked off like the first one. She was nearing the main entrance, an overhanging alcove tucked into the "front" of Mount Tempest that could fit an entire score of lions, and had to stifle a cry of shock when she saw them.

Seven of her pride members lay scattered outside the main entrance, their glazed eyes still half-open. Their wounds were clearly inflicted by other lions, but where were their murderers lurking about? And where was the rest of the pride?

"...last of ours have been laid out," came a gravelly voice from inside the overhang. "Janga's paying her respects now."

"How many?" This voice was female, and there was something in her silky voice that sent a shiver down Siri's spine. She peeked around the corner to see a burly tan-furred lion standing outside the main entrance with a lioness, whose sleek grey fur made her almost invisible in the darkness. The male's face was partially hidden by the dark crimson of his overgrowing mane.

"Five," he growled. "She wants to do the same for the ones we killed."

"Not important," the grey-furred female responded coolly. "We need to get the tunnels reopened if we're going to hold out here."

The male made an exasperated noise. "They weren't supposed to close the main entrance to begin with."

"It was part of the plan," she reminded him patiently.

He bristled. "No, being stuck out here wasn't part of the plan. We were supposed to be faster."

"Jeraha..."

"Don't," snapped the male, Jeraha. "We could have done better than this." He gestured at the great tunnel that was, until recently, the main entrance. It was now piled more than halfway up with rocks, and Siri again recognized her pride's handiwork. From a glance it was obvious that the tunnel wouldn't be reopened anytime soon.

"Well, we didn't," the female retorted. "Now we deal with it. Janga's got everyone opening as many of the side passages as they can. They'll be at it until sunrise."

Something slammed hard into Siri, and the next thing she knew she was pinned against the side of the mountain. She struggled for breath as a paw pressed her throat to the cold stone.

"Don't be ridiculous, Kivuli," came a new female voice next to Siri's ear, as its owner held her in place. "Everyone is tired and the injured haven't been treated yet." The lioness lifted her paw and Siri fell to the ground, gasping. "But this one might save us the trouble."

Siri glared up at the brown-furred lioness, who regarded her unflinchingly through hard orange eyes. Kivuli, the grey-furred female, stepped out from the alcove with Jeraha to stand beside the new lioness.

"Janga," Jeraha greeted his leader. "Do we have a way in?"

"We do now," Janga replied. "It looks like one of Malka's came back." Her attention remained focused upon Siri.

Siri glared up at Janga. "Where's the rest of my pride?" she demanded.

"I was hoping you could tell me," Janga sighed. "But it's been a long day for my lions, so let's stay focused." She stepped back and allowed Siri to stand up. "You're going to open one of the tunnels. It can be a small one."

Jeraha nudged Siri to start walking. She bared her teeth but complied, following her captors closely. "And if I don't, then what? You'll kill me?"

"Oh, I've already decided to kill you," Janga said calmly. "You've heard far too much and I can't have the Pridelanders knowing we're here. But you can help me, and the more quickly we deal with this complication, the less lives need be lost. Do you understand?"

"You-you're going to invade the Pride Lands too?" Siri exclaimed. "Why are you doing this? What do you want with us?"

Janga stopped them at one of the side entrances. "Your pride and their ancestors have built an impressive fortress out of this mountain," she said with a hint of admiration. "Not many lions are so talented."

"You killed a lot of them tonight," Siri growled.

She was taken aback by the genuine regret that surfaced in Janga's orange eyes. The black fur lining her ears drooped ever so slightly. "I'm sorry. You didn't ask for this." Then she turned back to the blocked entrance. "Now, open it."

Slowly, Siri approached the boulder and climbed top of it with three pairs of eyes on her back. She spotted her hunting party, unaware of the danger, emerging from the grassland just before the mountain's bend. Janga saw them too and moved straight for Siri. "RUN!" Siri yelled as loud as she could.

There was no time to wait for a response as Janga's paw grabbed for her. She propelled herself off the boulder and landed on the plateau, dashing off into the grassland and away from the hunting party as numerous enemy lions appeared at the sound of the commotion. It's me they're after, Siri thought feverishly as she tore through the thick grass. They won't care if the others get away. But the sinking feeling in her stomach told her that no one in her pride was safe. Not from Janga and her plans.

•••

Jeraha was the first to react, bounding into the tall grass after Siri with his attack team following swiftly. Janga made no move to join them; Jeraha knew what to do. Instead, she turned her attention to her pride members, who were gathering around the entrance to find out what was going on.

We don't have to kill the entire pride, she thought as she observed her lions, numbering close to thirty in all. But the eavesdropper has to die. And she's not the only one either...

Her gaze settled on Kivuli, who was watching her leader through gleaming silver eyes. It was time to begin the next part of the plan. "Gather your team and find Fujo," Janga told her. "Locate Malka. Kill him before he finds a way to warn the Pride Lands."


[Author's Note]
As always, your reviews are very much appreciated. If you've already reviewed a chapter and want to leave a new one, you can write a guest review (with your pen name so I know who it is). I'm not a fan of using private messages for reviews because the inbox is a nightmare to keep organized, and finding a specific message is nearly impossible. Anyway, enough from me. Please enjoy the new and improved Kopa's Legacy :)