Who knows how the mysteries of the world are explained. I'm sure I've heard Rafiki jabbering about it a time or two, but was too occupied in my own lack of a life to notice. Maybe there's just things that we don't know about but find out later—like when we're dead. Or maybe there's this big group of people chosen to withhold such information from the general public. Or maybe there's things that just happen because they happen. Whatever it is, I know one thing is definite:
My dad is going to kill me if I'm late for dinner again.
Speak of the devil—I could feel my heart pounding as I bounded in the direction of Priderock. My four legs were killing me, but I knew this mild discomfort was child's play compared to what Dad would do if I was tardy.
It's not my fault I've almost missed eating with the family a time or two; in fact it's sort of their fault.
Long story, so allow me to summarize: Dad's resented me since birth for not looking like an exact duplicate of him, unlike my twin brother Mufasa. Yes, we're twins—even though he has a red mane and I have a black one; his eyes are gold and mine are green; his pelt is also gold while mine is a light tan. Obviously I take after Mom, whose pelt is brownish and whose eyes are also green.
Back to topic—due to Father's disappointment of me he once took a liking to beating me senseless on a regular basis, a procedure which he still executes every now and then, but not as often as he used to since 10 years later—out of desire to survive with all my limbs—I finally ventured out in search of a new home. …But since I'd have to be able to survive for about two weeks using nothing but my bare paws to feed and fend myself—and I'm…kind of at the shallow end of the gene pool when it comes to brute strength—I decided to see if any nearby haven was available.
This is what causes the larger half of my problems. Granted, the Elephant Graveyard isn't exactly a haven, but at least there's no temper-oriented father to continuously pummel me like it's just some old, chronic habit. And despite the reputation my family's bestowed upon them over the years, the inhabitants—hyenas—are actually pretty decent. I mean sure there's a few violent scraps here and there but it's mostly over food, which is understandable: it is a graveyard. Now, allow me to introduce my three main companions:
Well first, there's Ed. 15 years old, nice guy, likes to laugh…at anything…and everything. Likes to make jokes, knows a few good ones too…it's just a tad hard to comprehend them. Ed can also speak in grunts and tones of laughter. Often mistaken for an animal that is mentally impaired, Ed is actually as bright as the rest of us…he just has trouble focusing his unusually bulbous eyeballs…as well as keeping his abnormally large tongue inside his mouth.
Moving on, my second chum, Banzai, is 16 and an all-around nice guy…when he's not trying to bash your skull in. He's not hostile or threatening, just has a bit of an anger issue. But if kept on his good side—which isn't too difficult—he makes good company. Enjoys joking around as well, only his speech is much easier to understand…most of the time. Banzai is bilingual—Spanish being second nature to him—though he doesn't find many a situation that calls for it.
Being one out of the only three males in my pride, my father—who's busy running a kingdom all day, and brother—who's busy learning to run a kingdom all day, are usually too preoccupied to knock about the Pridelands with me. So the company at home is essentially female-oriented. Come to think of it, Banzai and Ed are about the only male friends I have. …Come to think of it, I don't believe I would even be mingling with Father if he had the time anyway.
I mentioned having three companions, didn't I? Well, the third one is also 15 but female. Her name is…truly unique: Shenzi-Marie Predatora Veldetta Jacquelina Hyena—we call her Shenzi of course. What can I say about her? Well, for one, she's sharp as they get—with the mind and the claws; literally a force to be reckoned with. As the future matriarch of her clan, she must be, don't you agree? There was a time I thought Banzai was scarier, now I just pity the soul impudent enough to infuriate her.
Aside from being a feminine fatality, she's also quick-witted and humorous. We share much of the same interests, and I must say it's relieving to know at least one animal outside Priderock comprehends my accented vocabulary. She too has an accent though greatly different than mine.
Where was I? Ah yes, the larger half of my problems. Well, for starters father has never approved of my association with the "undesirables". And quite a bit of rumors have been spreading about me ever since my connection with the hyenas became public—I'm insane, I have a death wish, my mother sired me from a male hyena, if you paint me with spots I'll look just like one, etc.
And of course with their home being a safe distance away from mine, I haven't exactly been the most present prince. Which brings me to the situation I'm in now. They don't really care if I skip breakfast or miss lunch, but dinner's kind of a special occasion, one Mother prefers we all share as a family. She understands if I miss, Dad on the other hand…
Seems out of all the family he has, I'm the one he wouldn't mutilate for. …I'm the mutilate-ee.
My pride's home now visible in the distance, I picked up speed, passing the halfway mark; a familiar-looking, enormous tree. Not long after, I heard that illustrious yet painful chant echoing through the savanna. Just before that blue-butted primate dangled from one of the branches by his tail, grinning at me like a frightened chimpanzee.
"O-ho! Late again I see." He laughed, starting to swing back and forth. I frowned. He chuckled, holding that stick in both his palms. "Off with de hyenas again, eh?"
I panted, trying to keep up my pace. "Can't you see I'm trying to keep myself from being maimed?!"
That snake-oil-peddling shaman just tittered, swaying to and fro without a care in the world. I ignored him by now, too busy worrying over what I'll get this time. I passed right underneath him as he immediately swung on top of the branch.
"I'd considah stopping to smell de roses!" He cackled from behind me. I rolled my eyes—what a nut. "You may find tings turning diffahrent very soon!"
"That's what I'm trying to prevent!" I called back without stopping, images of a crippled version of myself flashing through my head.
"De Great Spirits tell me dey have big changes in store!" He laughed again. "De whole kingdom will know it!"
Yeah, and when did you find this out exactly? "Accidental" inhalation of another one too many "potions"? I didn't have time for his hallucinogenic-induced riddles, I had a dinner-date to attend to and soon after be pummeled at.
But just as I felt the soft, leafy foliage beneath my paws, I noticed…a change in the Pridelands' aura. As I glanced at my surroundings, a waft of air caught my breath; I could smell how the scent changed, and it burned my nostrils.
Before I could even recognize anything the scenery was morphing right in front of my eyes. For a minute I thought that baboon dropped some kind of concoction on me and now I was having hallucinations. But, suddenly it feels as though everything was dissolving around me; the air becomes thick, and it's hard to move.
I can breath, but every time I inhale I keep detecting new aromas that vanish as fast as they came. And pretty soon, much to my fear, I can't detect any scents at all! The air smells vacant and barren. When the world seemed to stop spinning I groaned, my brain still circulating in my head even though my body had stopped running long ago. My vision is somewhat blurred from dizziness, but when it's finally over, I look back at Rafiki.
…At least, what's standing in the place of Rafiki. Now I just see some old man with a long white beard and a red cloak; he's smiling at me with this satisfied look on his face. Wait a second…old man? This is the Serengeti—there's cheetahs and jackals and hyenas and well, my kind. So how the heck could an old man make it out he…
I look down; the ground is much further than it used to be, like I'm standing on a short cliff, but the environment hasn't changed. I finally realize I'm only standing on two legs; I glance up to see whatever I'm using to support myself but…there's nothing there. I'm completely erect. I glance down to see if my forepaws are still there…fingers…no claws…thumbs?
That's when I realize…
I am no longer lion; I am human.
…And I'm still late for dinner.
Bolting as fast as my back legs could support me—surprisingly well—I made my way towards home…now a palace. As I ran faster, I took in the surroundings around me: what was once the Pridelands now appears to be a suburban area only fancier. I glance up at home and see large golden gates opened to a huge, lush lawn with numerous flower beds, hedges and a giant, ivory-white entrance with pillars and door handles made of gold.
…Where are all these words coming from? I've never even heard of "suburban" or "gates" or "door handles made of gold."
Hoping to get to the bottom of this, I tried to get inside. Instinct must've taken over because I'd have no idea just to grip the handles and pull if I wasn't on an adrenaline high. …High? How can adrenaline get up in the air? I shook my head, this wasn't the time.
When ran inside I found myself in a large room, with a red carpet—never heard of carpet before, though when I allow my brain to tell me what it is I almost laugh at the simplicity. The floor covering lead to several hallways leading to many other rooms. A giant chandelier—don't know where I picked that up, either—hung over from the ceiling—or that—reflecting glistening images on nearly every wall.
…Father was also waiting for me when I came in. …At least I recognized him as my father, which frankly I found surprising; he looks only faintly like before, wearing a plain white wool sweater with a crest of Priderock on it, and black pressed pants with shiny black shoes. He's standing on two legs as well, so I figure that must be what I look like now…only much less muscular. Hey, I'm at the shallow end of the gene pool, remember? Father's mane—I'm suddenly compelled to call it "hair"—is red, which is the same, but even though it's long it doesn't even touch his neck—it's all hanging from the back down to below his shoulder discs. His eyes are…scary—ok, they're gold, same as before—and his fur is gone; replaced with some smooth-looking pinkish-white stuff. I wondered if he recognized me.
He just stood there with his arms crossed, eyes narrowed, and jaw tightened; which felt strangely familiar. Familiar because…I soon got the aura that I did not want to be here. He definitely recognized me.
"Late again, are you? That's the 8th time this month!" He shouted, taking a hostile step in my direction. I instinctively step back, but only seconds before I see a second two-legged creature approaching. He holds a nearly identical resemblance to my father, then I realize to my astonishment that it's my brother Mufasa.
"Taka?" His eyes are wide with bewilderment, and had I not been so panicky myself, I would've chuckled at my brother's appearance—he's even dressed like Father. Same red "hair", same golden eyes, and same crested wool sweater, although his pants are light green and his shoes white.
Other than his lower attire, the only physical difference between them is that my brother's face is kinder, less violent toward me. If anything he seems concerned about me. At the sound of his "golden child's" voice, Father turns around. I see his eyes grow wide.
"Mufasa?" He seems thunderstruck, dazed…and then utterly euphoric. "My boy! Would you look at you!" He smiles, walking around my brother with a smile of joy growing wider by the minute. "You're the spitting image of me! If only your mother were here to see this!"
"Someone call me?" A familiar, womanly voice spoke. Each of us turned to see a tall woman with dark brown hair and green eyes draw near. Almost instantly I recognized her as Mother. She was about an inch taller than me but must've been at least 2 inches below Dad and half an inch below Mufasa. She wore a dark brown, V-neck sweater (crest present of course), with a long, flowing white skirt; her left ring finger held a wedding band with quite a good-sized diamond. And when she turned to look at me, I saw she kept that same, motherly smile I'd grown to know as my only sign of paternal affection.
The somewhat relieving moment was quickly ruined when Father turned Mufasa towards Mother so she could get a full-view of him. "Look at us!" He smiled proudly, putting an arm around Muffy's shoulders as he glances away, an unenthusiastic smile present on his face. "If he was a bit taller you wouldn't tell the difference, would you?"
Mother stepped up to Mufasa, gently stroking a front lock of his hair. "I think I'd know my own son from my husband, regardless of how much they're similar." I let out a silent breath of relief, feeling safe enough to walk away and explore the manor; perhaps with the attention now on Mufasa, my slight tardiness would be forgotten.
I cringe, stopping to turn and reluctantly face Father, who's glaring at me poisonously once more. Well, you can't put these things off forever. I let out another silent breath, thinking, "Let's get this over with."
He advances on me yet again, snarling, "Don't think I've forgot about you!" I can't help but step back. Surely he wouldn't try something with Mother around, would he? …I desperately pray so as he backs me against the wall. Just as I feel I'm about to lose consciousness, Mother's voice breaks the tension.
"Dear, are you not aware that we're not particularly the same?" She asked.
"Of course I am!" Father replies, the anger felt towards me fueling his voice. Mother remains calm despite his temper—I don't really think I've seen her not calm.
"Then don't you think we should go check on the others to make sure they're safe?" She suggests.
Father doesn't seem persuaded; he points to me, attention still locked on Mother. "Taka here was neck-deep in hyenas, and he's as strong as a dead mouse!" Ouch. "If he's made it home alright, who's to say anyone else hasn't?!"
Mother kept persistent. "Maybe someone's been injured in the confusion. Maybe Taka did find his way here unharmed but he's more cool-headed than many of the other residents—we should find out what's happened to our girls." Leave it to Mother to compliment me while giving a logical explanation.
Father looks aside for a moment, chewing this over. I see his jaw tighten—not out of consideration, but of resentment for letting me go unscathed. He eventually groans under his breath, before looking back up at Mother. "Alright, fine. Let's go find them."
As if on cue, three young ladies rush down the tall arch of stairs leading from the middle of the lobby. The one in front—dark brown hair and ruby eyes—I recognize as Sarabi; a brown skirt going down to her knees, a peach blouse, and brown loafers with red roses beaded into the design. Though the best evidence to guarantee it was her, was that the first person she even glanced at was Mufasa.
The second one—the one who called my father's name—was Sarafina. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a white long-sleeved blouse with…a few buttons left unbuttoned (why I'd find that interesting I'm not quite sure), a long flowing blue skirt and white sandals that fastened on. Somewhat tomboyish and still feminine.
The last one…needs to lighten up her load on the make-up; too much eye-liner, too much mascara, and a truckload of fire-red lipstick. She has blonde hair and red eyes, and is wearing a dark blue shirt, no collar, and a few buttons are also left unbuttoned…for some reason that doesn't interest me as much as Sarafina's. She's wearing denim shorts purposely torn-off at the ends, and black flip flops. By the way, that girl is named Zira. And at first glance her mood towards everybody is blasé, though when she sees me her eyes widen.
"Taka!" She smiles. "You're alright!" Much to my surprise she hugs me the second she gets down here, the other two having made it as well. Sarabi is by Mufasa, who's placating her worried look with an assuring smile. Sarafina approaches my parents, obviously to get some answers on the situation.
All of their hair is short, as is my mother's, and barely exceeds their jaw line. But I suppose it's not to be unexpected, lionesses never had long hair in the first place.
"Sarafina," my Mother smiles, "good to see you and these two are just fine. …Aren't you?"
She waves it off, "Oh, we're alright, thank-you. We just got a bit confused when we suddenly started walking on all-two." She grins.
"Where is the rest of the pride?" My Father asks "nobly".
"The others? Don't worry, they're safe. They just chose us to go see what was happening."
"They forced you to go alone?" Mother's eyes widened.
"Well, actually," Sarafina corrected, "Sarabi and I volunteered." She turns to me jokingly, "I think they only picked Zira just to get rid of her." My parents continue to question her about the rest of the pride, whilst Mufasa and Sarabi reconnect after the grueling five minutes apart by holding each other.
…Zira meanwhile, still hasn't stopped hugging me—I'm unsure of what to do…
"Um," I begin, grabbing her arms to pry her off me, "it's…very nice to see you're not dead." Which is about as sincere as I can put it. She's a tad resilient but eventually lets me go…still, she grins wider and snatches my hand in both her palms, basically crushing it. I have to hold in a grunt of pain as she, oblivious to my discomfort, begins to rant.
"See I just knew you'd make it back in one piece! Sarabi and Sarafina were such worrywarts about the whole situation, and the whole pride would've been in a panic if not for me! So they sent me to accompany them to try to find you! They couldn't stop babbling about who or what could be hurt but I remained calm about the whole thing! And when we finally found you and your family we heard enough when we were just coming down the stairs and I completely don't agree with your dad at all: you're not strong as a dead mouse!"
"Well thanks, that is nice to hear." At least somebody thought so…my hand is now numb.
"And Zira," came my father's voice. We both turned to see his eyes narrowed not at me but her. "Where did you get such deplorable excuse for attire? You are to change straight away; I'll be alerting Zazu to incite a dress code immediately. You're to wear a skirt from now on." He finished, apparently maintaining a strict reign as his top priority.
Zira's eyes shifted their way to the floor, a somewhat pout on her face; she finally releases my hand, saying reluctantly, "Yes my king." And without another word was led back upstairs by Sarafina and Sarabi, who departed only after kissing Mufasa goodbye.
"Well, aside from our new…exteriors," I hear Mother say, "everything seems to be in order here."
"Meaning…?" Father trails off.
I don't have to turn around to see Mother rolling her eyes, but smiling, "Perhaps we should check to see if the surrounding kingdom is as fortunate."
"Ah, yes! Of course! Just as I thought." Father proclaimed, and I hear two pairs of footsteps leaving the room, until one of them suddenly halts.
"Taka?" Mother is calling me. "Will you and Mufasa be alright on your own?"
Mufasa laughs, "Mother, we're 17 now. And with Taka's brains here to help me out, what's the need to worry?"
Mother chuckles, "I suppose you're right. But do be careful, we may not be out of the woods yet. …Though it looks as though your tardy's been pardoned, Taka." A quiet laugh, before a lone pair of footsteps depart into the hall.
I was engulfed in all my surroundings—Priderock hadn't even resembled what it looks like now, and yet, it's still breath-taking. I begin to make my way over to one of the tributary halls when I stop, having passed something that caught my eye. I take a few steps back and nearly gawk at the site before me.
I stopped, I looked in a mirror:
I didn't even know what a mirror was until then, or its purpose, but it's overpowering—it was like staring back into solid water, and for the first time I see my actual appearance. As I stared back at the two-legged creature facing me in the pane, it finally sank in that my whole world had changed:
As I mentioned, my home is more than just a home now—it's a palace. And that's not some metaphorical term for how much my home means to me, it was actually an enormous, dazzling, high-society mansion; with a golden emblem of Priderock on everything. There were columns and long arches above every door, large staircases, and the entire place was the color of gold.
I took another look in the mirror, and noticed my new features in detail—same old green eyes, but my fur was now replaced with that same pale-ish white/pink stuff which is apparently called—I let my brain enlighten me—…skin. My mane was shorter than Dad and Mufasa's—like always—and barely reached my neck. I was wearing…clothes. Clothes? Clothes, that's a weird word—nothing I've heard before. And yet I know it. Mufasa comes up beside me, and his reaction to his own reflection is not much different than mine.
"It's overwhelming isn't it?" I hear him quietly breath, touching the glass with his fingertips. I can't help but agree. I look down at my attire and see I'm in black shoes, black pants, and a dark blue long-sleeve with a crest of Priderock on the top right corner…and then I realize something: my family and I are the only ones adorned in our home's former image; the same mark was nowhere to be found on Sarabi, Sarafina or Zira. …It's a symbol of royalty. Well, at least it will be much easier to distinguish me as a part of my own family, unlike before; muscular and red-maned related to scrawny and black-maned? It was shocking to every newcomer our kingdom had.
Shaking those thoughts from my head, I move on to more pleasant ones, such as if my three companions are alright. And suddenly I remember Father's earlier statement—"neck-deep in hyenas". Technically, I was halfway away from the Elephant Graveyard when this happened, so I scarcely even know what the hyenas look like by now, let alone my three best friends. …So you could understand why I felt compelled to check on them. I turned to Mufasa.
"I'm going back to the Graveyard." I tell him, walking to the door. His eyes widen as he quickly follows me, grabbing my arm before I can even reach the welcome mat.
"Wait a minute," he warns, "don't you think that could be risky? I mean everything's so…different now. What if you get lost? Or what if you do make it to the Elephant Graveyard—or at least what's replaced it—and the hyenas don't recognize you? What if they're still hyenas and they try to eat you? You'll be outnumbered!"
Mufasa's strong, but he's only holding my arm, not gripping it. I slide it free and look him in the eye. "Listen, it's nothing I haven't done before. And if everything's the same aside from appearance, I should make it back ok. And if I don't come back, well…Father won't really care and he's the only one who matters around here."
"Mother will care," Mufasa counters, "and Dad complies with her."
I reach out to the door handle, still looking at my brother. "Ok, how about this? If I promise to come back in one piece before sundown, will you let me go?"
Mufasa breathes heavily, shaking his head. "Taka, that's just it, I don't know if you'll come back in one piece… Let me come with you." He suddenly offers.
My eyes widen: bad idea. Those hyenas don't trust royals, the only reason I'm an exception is 1—I'm a weakling, so even a male hyena could take me down (male hyenas are the weaker gender of their species), and 2—I used to bring food a lot, so I've somewhat gained their confidence, and 3—I'm friends with the matriarch's daughter, plus the matriarch herself seems to take a liking to me. Mufasa coming on the other hand, wouldn't be the best idea: with Ahadi the Tyrant's kid (well, the one he cared about) wondering in there, it'd be a safe bet that some of the residents would get…ideas. Ideas that could involve hostage negotiations to let them back into the Pridelands. And I wouldn't be able to stop them if they tried…plus when Mufasa got home safely—I say "when" because Dad will do anything for him…unlike me—I'd get blamed for his captivity and be in for a world of hurt.
So I tried my best to talk him out of it. Eventually he let out a deeper sigh and complied. "Alright, but sundown and no later. And if you're not back I will come to get you."
I nodded and said, "Thanks," prior to opening the door. I look back one more time before going out, and see my brother rubbing his chin, staring hard at the ground. I pause for a moment out of curiosity. "What is it?"
"…Y'know what, Dad mentioned finding Zazu for a new law earlier. I'm gonna go see if I can find him."
I nod again, smirking. "Then it looks like we'll both have our own search-and-possibly-rescue mission."
He laughs, as do I, and we part to go our separate ways—he to venture deeper into the mansion, and I into the outside world.
It's hard to tell where the heck I've wondered off to; Mufasa was right, all this change in landscaping's confused me. And to top it all off, I've lost my sense of direction back to the house as well. I sigh: I am in a very deep mess. From what I can tell I've journeyed to a concrete wasteland, just numerous cracks and outcroppings as any sign of life.
Since leaving the Pridelands I've observed the change in surroundings: first, there's my home, which is in the heart of this suburban-like, wealthy town, and all the houses surrounding us are full of what used to be other lions. Some ways away from there, is an average-looking town with people who…used to be our food; zebras, wildebeests, heck even meerkats and warthogs. And when they saw me the first thing they did was scatter from the area, though instead of bellows and grunts, now it was all just screaming. …Strange, none of them even looked appetizing anymore. Moving on, when you pass the average looking town there's the city, with a bunch of café's and shops and numerous other attractions.
Then—which is the place I'm at—there's just this big slab of concrete bordering our kingdom, with hardly any life in it. In fact it's almost as sad-looking as the rows upon rows of slum-looking houses just up ahead.
…I mentally kick myself for being such an idiot.
Rushing inside the dull and depressing town, I quickly monitor my surroundings; it may be a district now but it's still the Elephant Graveyard, and my guard needs to stay up. Since everything's been morphed into something else now, I quickly figure out what these slum homes used to be—actually they made the elephant skeletons look good. I nearly shudder to think what's replaced the explosive geysers as I make my way deeper into the place.
Other than the human-based touch, the Elephant Graveyard doesn't look all that different. Same amount of dark and dreary, same dense atmosphere…hey, there were even dead bodies here and there!
I slowly back away from the corpse lying in the gutter, nearly jumping as I felt something from behind. Oh, it was just a brick wall. My breathing gets heavy with agitation; I need to get out of here, but the urge to find my friends is battling my body's stimulus to danger. Nervously I round a corner, headed down a dark alleyway. Ok, that was probably stupid, but having never been in a life-or-death predicament such as this I wasn't so sure what to do; except fornot going back in the direction where that dead body lay.
Fortunately I come out of the other side of the alley to find a large intersection of houses. …I guess I should stop calling them houses seeing as how houses that stay houses aren't made of ancient plywood and don't have old sheets for doors.
I warily step out into the open, calling out their names. "…Shenzi? Banzai? Ed?"
"Taka?" Come two voices. I almost jump out of my skin but look into an alleyway across from mine to see three people huddled together in it, all looking at me. I recognize their voices and am slightly relieved they don't sound hurt.
…It's weird though—their eyes aren't glowing even though the alley is dark. Though I suppose that'd be no different than assuming I still have claws and walk on four legs.
I take a step toward them. "Are you three…alright?"
"Sheesh! You changed man!" Came a familiar, slightly gruff tone. Out steps Banzai, once standing protectively in front of Shenzi, who was guarding Ed. I had to laugh as they stepped out; as if unaware to the fact they now walked on two legs too.
"Look who's talking." I replied, getting an eye-full of them.
Shenzi had brown eyes, long black hair, and a red-and-white horizontal-striped…low cut, tank top. Her pants were baggy and too big for her, a black belt scrunching the waistband together to fit her abdomen. She had on brown, gently-used shoes.
Banzai also had brown eyes, with short, ruffled hair, and a blue and white jersey with one of the hems of the sleeves ripped. His jeans were baggy but fit his waist without a belt, and he wore grayish-white also gently-used shoes.
All three of them looked like they'd just raided a charity giveaway.
Their skin was…darker.
Their fur had been darker so I guess that makes sense; aside from that I couldn't really see any differences between us (with the skin, not the fur). Banzai's skin was a tad lighter than Shenzi and Ed's, not by much but noticeable. I wonder why.
Of course the most unique one of us was Ed: …he didn't have a mouth. Oh yeah, and he had short hair like Banzai's and wore a smudged-up white t-shirt and blue jeans…but all of us were mostly focused on the mouth—or lack of it.
I was surprised to see both Shenzi and Banzai staring at him. "Wait a second, you mean you two didn't notice this until now?"
Shenzi glanced at me, "When you lose two legs and sprout thumbs, you tend to neglect that your best friend's lost a mouth."
"The thumbs were a biggie." Banzai added.
Ed stared at us, confused at why we were staring at him. His head was tilted sideways, his eyes curious. He looks at Shenzi; probably figures she can explain it better to him.
She reads his mind and looks aside, unsure, then eventually glances back at him and asks, "Ed, do you feel…different?" He looks at us and shrugs, raising an eyebrow in perplexity. Shenzi glances away and I can tell she's trying to find a good way to put this. Suddenly Banzai steps in front of her.
"Lemme try somethin'." He says, then smiles at his friend. "Hey Ed?" Ed tilts his head again in acknowledgement. "Do this." Banzai opens his mouth wide and chops his teeth together. Ed raises an eyebrow again, possibly a bit weirded-out at his friend's antics, but rolls his eyes and puts his hands on his hips, looking at us with an expression that says "Do you take me for some kind of idiot?"
All three of us stare, unsure of what to think. "Wait, so…you know you don't have a…?" Shenzi trails off. Ed's eyes crinkled for some reason and he nodded frantically.
"So…does it hurt?" Banzai asked. Ed shook his head, his eyes crinkling again; I wonder why they keep doing that.
Shenzi blinked, and out of curiosity, touched her fingertips to the skin where Ed's mouth would've been. He jolted back at first, worrying us, then paused a moment. He looked at Shenzi, took her hand, and pointed to the place she touched.
She stared, until guessing, "…You want me to do it again?" Ed nodded, leaning forward for emphasis. Unsure at first, she gradually reached her hand up and gently pressed her fingers to his oral area again: this time Ed shook. All three of us immediately stepped forward—afraid there was something the matter. But as we approached he quickly put his hands up, gazing upward at us with this…familiar though strange look on his face; his eyes are scrunched and curved downward. There's something I know about that expression, yet I can't put my finger on it.
It finally hits me—the shaking, the constant crinkling of his eyes: Ed is laughing. I'd hardly recognized it without the mouth (obviously). He stops shaking, his eyes are still arched but slightly open, and he leans over to grab this rock with a sharpened edge lying on the ground. He turns to the concrete wall in the alley, and scratches something onto it. Afterward, he points to what he just wrote eagerly. Shenzi walks up to it as Banzai and I look on curiously.
"What's it say?" He asked.
"He wrote: 'That tickles.'" She answered.
Hmmm, so it seems what was once Ed's mouth is now replaced by a bundle of nerves. Mind-boggling. …Still, I can't help but wonder how he's going to eat.
"So, have any other physical changes occurred since the commencement of this alternation of universe?" I asked.
"…B-wha?" Banzai's jaw is half-open.
"Nah, just Ed." Shenzi answers, before suddenly get a strange look on her face and turning towards me. "Wait a minute…"
I glance around, vague of what she wants. "What?"
"You just left not one hour ago so you wouldn't be late for dinner."
I laugh slightly, "Oh, that. Well, obviously there was a change in plans."
"So why come back?"
"…Well," I rub the back of my neck, "I was concerned about you guys, was all. Afraid maybe one or all of you might've got hurt."
"Aw, all that for us?" Banzai locks his arm around my neck and gives me a noogie. I protest, both of us laughing, as he keeps ahold of me. See I told you a male hyena could take me down—though since this is Banzai we're talking about, he wouldn't (normally) lay a paw…er, hand on me. Plus, hey, Banzai's pretty tough—Ed and me might be a match though.
Shenzi rolls her eyes and Ed "laughs" again, and after awhile Banzai lets me go. I see Shenzi glance at me. "Spendin' the night?"
"Sorry, promised my brother I'd be back by dark. Or else he'll tear this place asunder just by looking for me."
Banzai laughs, stretching his arm. "That's brotherly love for ya."
I smile, "Well it's not like they'll be bodies in the streets." Suddenly an image from minutes earlier clicks into my head and my expression quickly fades. I look at my companions soberly.
"Say um, are you three in any trouble?"
Shenzi, Banzai and Ed each stare at me like I'm crazy…like I'm pre-morphed Ed.
"Trouble?" Shenzi says. "Yeah, um…" I'm unclear of how to explain it, so eventually I just motion for them to follow me, turning around and say, "This way."
I lead them to the place I first wondered when I got here, and pointed to the man lying face-down on the street.
"Oh." Shenzi and Banzai chorused, looking relieved.
"Don't worry 'bout it." Banzai stated. I stared. "Are you serious? A dead man is lying out in the street and you're-"
"He ain't dead," Shenzi cut in, "he's drunk." Oh. …Wait, what?
"Drunk?" I said.
Banzai…and Ed, each snickered as Shenzi peevishly blew a strand of hair from her eye. …It looked sort of cute. …Wait, what?
"Yeah, see, when this…whatever it was happened, some group of males and females found this huge crate of booze and went to town." She glanced down at the unconscious being apathetically and nudged him with her foot. "He must've been the first of 'em."
I let my mind register and tell me what this "booze" was—booze: a slang term for alcohol. Alcohol: an intoxicating liquid consumed at festivities, celebrations, or casually; can cause drunkenness, vomiting or even death if consumed excessively.
Shenzi glanced back up at me, "Banzai," she turned to scowl at him momentarily, "being the smart guy he is, took a swig or two."
Banzai cackled, then looked at me as well. "Dude, you ain't lived 'til you tried some of this stuff!"
Shenzi visibly cringed in disgust. "There should be an age limit on that stuff. To keep idiots like Banzai from usin' it."
"What happened, exactly?" I asked.
"Most of them either passed out or threw up, and the rest are either at home with injury or hangover."
I glanced at Banzai. "So how come you're alright?"
"Moderation." He answered smugly—which is about the smartest word I've heard him use. "Shenzi took a sip too." He stated.
"I took a taste!" She immediately countered, glowering at him. "And it wasn't even that good, made me wonder why you liked it so much."
"Gives ya a buzz." He smirked. While we're so profoundly deep in our conversation, Ed, I notice, is busy counting on his fingers. Probably just to pass the time.
"Would I like it?" I ask Banzai. "If there was any left I'd give some to ya." He answered.
"Oh no you don't!" Shenzi interjected, pointing at me, "He's the only one here who still has enough brain cells to turn down that stuff!"
"So you, wouldn't recommend it?" I asked her. She crooks a brow at me. "Let's just say if I ever saw you drinking it, I'd officially lose all faith in males." Her answer nearly makes me laugh, and I see Banzai—bored with her rant—leaving to go horse around with Ed. I glance down at her; I forgot to mention Shenzi's two inches lower than me, Banzai's half an inch lower and Ed's one inch lower.
"So I'm masculinity's only lifeline?" She sighs and, tired of standing I guess, makes herself comfy on the lid on top of a trashcan. It almost pains me to see them living in these conditions—I'm reminded of how shocked I was when I first saw their lifestyle in the former Graveyard. She looks up at me and says,
"You're about the only guy I've seen with more than half a brain."
"…I should take that as a compliment, right?"
"Taka! I thought I'd find you here!" I turned to see an eager, red-lipped girl with blonde hair and dark-brimmed eyes. "When Mufasa said you'd left all by yourself for here I-"
Two screams, and I'm pushed aside. I hear a couple beatings, before a large thud. I look back to where I once stood and there lay my fellow Pridelander, face-down on the road. I glanced up to see Banzai with a 2x4 in his hand, Shenzi and Ed standing vigilantly nearby. I'm completely bewildered as to why they did that.
"Um," I began, walking over to them, "that's Zira…" I say. Shenzi's eyes widen while Banzai and Ed each crook a brow at the body now lying on the pavement.
"It is?" Banzai said, "I thought we were gonna get mauled by a bear or somethin'."