"Hey guys! Huge Chapter. I need to cut down on chapter side. Did a quick calculation and if things continue at this pace and at this size, we could end up not reading the final scene of this saga for TWO YEARS! NOOOOO!
Must be more concise.
Must update more.
Must forgo sleep for the next seven months.
Also: RETCON - Spelling of Shaitan is now Shai'tan. Silly me for missing that out.
Anyway: Thanks you all for the response with the reviews – I tried to respond to each of them, but a few were guests so responses below:
TheDarkKnight: Yes I really liked that scene. I was worried some might find it a little too gross this early on in the story. I don't want people to think this will simply be a gore fest. But I felt it established the character of the Shai'tan perfectly.
IthilienRanger: Glad you liked it! Yes the transformation of the Pridelands has been rather horrific. Just wait until you see what it does with its people. The people need a King. Without one… there is anarchy. Chaos.
Good luck people. You will begin to see the Shai'tan's conquest in this chapter. And more of the mysterious Shaman. Some of you have been guessing at his identity. If you have been reading all of my work carefully, you may be able to guess his name…
Chapter 2: Treachery in the Grasslands
Simba stared at the mess in mute horror. Beside him other lioness followed his gaze with various degrees of shock. He looked the pile of gore up and down. Zebra, antelope, gazelle… killed and left to rot. It was absence. This was not the Circle of life he knew. In the circle, death was just another rebirth, put back into the universe in a different place. The zebra would feed the lion with its death, and the lion would feed the zebra with its own. That was the way of things. This… perversion was an outrage. And it had happened on his land. Panting made him turn to his left where he saw Kovu running towards him. Without pausing for breath, he stopped next to him, and glanced grimly at the corpse field.
"There is another mess like this half a league to the south. The giraffe herds have been decimated… I have never seen carnage like this before." Kovu told him. Simba shook his head.
"Who could have done this?" He asked sadly. He had never mourned meat before – but such a waste of life for no purpose, other than to amuse was just… wrong. Vitani sniffed the corpses. Sabini moved paced up and down.
"Hyenas have been known to kill for pleasure…" She said. Simba grimaced. That was a possibility, but Kovu shook his head.
"Don't be absurd. No. Look at the size of the wounds. That is no mutt bite. And why would a Hyena – or even a pack, trespass in the Pridelands, kill a heard of Zebra, mutilate the corpses, flush the blood into the waterhole than massacre a passing heard of Giraffes for the grand finale!" Sabini sniffed defensively.
"What other creature would do this? The odd leopard or cheater has been known to develop a bloodlust such as this – but in mass numbers? What do you know of it anyway?" She said disdainfully. Kovu glared at her.
"I spent the first two thirds of my life living in the outlands. I got to know all sorts of killers and vermin before I was out and cubhood. And I tell you – that was no Hyena." He told her scornfully.
"Peace." Simba ordered. He turned to Kovu.
"You say no Hyena could have done this?" He asked him. Kovu shook his head.
"Unless it was the size of the Zebra? No chance." He said. Simba nodded, troubled. Whilst he was pleased that there was no immediate threat from Hyenas, he was forced to now consider a more disturbing possibility.
"Could a lioness have done this? A rouge?" he asked Kovu. Kovu blinked. He was sure Simba already knew the answer. If he wanted Kovu's opinion… Kovu nodded.
"Easily. The question – is how he did so without raising the alarm. And there is another thing…" He said not wanting to say the obvious, so Vitani said it for him.
"The blood is overpowering… but that smells of no lion I have ever smelt." Simba nodded as the lionesses became chattering among themselves with worry. Kovu glanced at her.
"What do you smell?" He asked her. Vitani's nose was near legendary. She shut her eyes and breathed in deeply.
"I smell… Anger. Rage Kovu –Hatred so profound it stains the very air. Can't you feel it?" She asked him. Kovu nodded. It was faint – difficult to detect. But it was there. Right on the edges of his senses. The party went deathly quiet. It was eventually Sabini who spoke.
"Superstitious nonsense. You are blowing this completely out of proportion." She snorted, then she turned to Simba.
"My King. Please, before we jump to this conclusion I beg of you, consider the facts: We have a large group of herbivores, systematically butchered. We know that there is large predator, probably dangerous, in the area, and we know it has managed to remain there without detection. This already a large enough problem but one we can deal with without descending into fantasy and fairytales." She said. Kovu made to interject but she silenced him with a look.
"My Prince, I am sure you and your sister were valiant trackers and hunters in the outlands when you were exiled." She said.
I wasn't exiled. My mother was. Kovu thought but said nothing.
"But these are the Pridelands. No monsters. No ghouls or specters. No demons and certainly no shadows smelling of emotions. Let us consider what we understand – what we actually know for certain." She said. Kovu glared at her.
"There are a great many things you do not know Sabini." he told her. "If we focused only upon what you understood or knew for certain, we would have a very hard time communicating, let alone solving a crisis."
"Enough!" Simba said. "I will not have you two sparring with each other like spoiled cubs!" He said. Both of them went quiet. Vitani broke the uncomfortable silence.
"Birds. There must have been birds in the area at the time of the attack. Surely they saw what happened." She said. As if on cue, there was a loud squawk as Zazu dropped out of the air, circled once then landed in front of Simba, and bowed.
"Zazu. Tell me you have good news?" Simba asked him. Zazu hesitated.
"Well… I do have news..." he said. Simba winced at the omitted 'good'.
"What do we know?" He asked the bird. Zazu looked down.
"We know nothing sire. Nothing." he said ashamed. Simba blinked. This was not like Zazu, and his fears grew as he paced up and down the grass before him.
"The hornbills are frantic! Nobody knows what is going on. First the zebra one day, and the giraffes the next! And nobody saw anything! Or if they did they are not saying. But there are signs your majesty. The subjects know something is wrong! The elephants are on the move again, and the cranes are migrating out of season. The Hippos are even braving know River Lord territory in their haste – and nobody will talk to any of my birds. As soon as they breach the subject – zip. Nothing. Silent as the grave!" He said. Then he paused sucking in deep gulps of air. Simba stared at him.
"Nothing? The chimpanzees? The gibbons?" He asked but Zazu shook his head."
"Not a peep out either of them! I don't understand it! The gopher underground has gone dead – only the meerkat colony is keeping lookouts working at all." He said urgently. Simba thought his friend, Timon, and his rather… forceful mother. Yes she would not abandon her post.
"Hah… So the King is blind and deaf to his kingdom. Subjects are dying and he doesn't know why. Caution Simba. I have seen how quickly a trickle can become… a flood." A voice said. The voice wheezed out of the creature's mouth, croaking as it did. It was like a cough that had once struggled to get pass the throat, but got stuck along the way and entrenched itself there.
The lionesses whirled to the sound of the voice. Kovu's jaw tightened and Sabini flinched at the sight. It was a vulture. Its scrawny bald head glinting and piercing flame orange eyes stared down a cruel, hooked beak at them. It spread its wings and bowed low in a perfect imitation of Zazu's.
"Greetings, Flame of Priderock. You honor me with your presence." The bird said. Simba kept a straight face. Whilst he always tried to rule fairly, something about vultures… unnerved him. The Vulture looked at each of them in turn.
"Ah. The Dark Guardian I see." He said, looking each of them. "And the Lady of the Night." He said when he saw Vitani. He glanced at the other two Pridelands, but said nothing.
"You know who we are – though Lady of the Night is new one. Not heard that before. So who are you?" Vitani asked him. The vulture smiled – or at least tried to with its curved beak. It looked like a grimace, as if he had tasted something rotten.
"I am Neikro." The Vulture said simply. Simba nodded.
"Greetings Neikro. I assume you are after…" He trailed off looking at the carnage behind him. Neikro laughed.
"Oh there will be plenty of time for that later your majesty – it's not going anywhere. Besides a little rot improves the flavor, and it's very good for the digestive system. You just need t'a look out for the worms…" He said.
"No… I heard that you wanted an eye witness account as to what happened yesterday… Well I happen to know the story." he said. Simba looked at him sharply.
"You saw it?" he asked.
"I received it from a reputable source that saw it. I trade in… information you see." He said. Zazu glared at him.
"Wait – how is it that you know things I don't?" He asked. Neikros laughed.
"That is not hard my feathered friend. But I can be very persuasive. You have about as much charisma as a bald panther." he said harshly. He turned to Simba whilst Zazu spluttered.
"You have a severe problem my King. This was not done by any wilddog or Hyena. This was a lion's work. Or rather… a lioness'." he said. Kovu looked around. A Lion was almost plausible – but a lioness? Whilst he loved his sister he knew that she did not have the muscle bulk to pull this off, nor did any lioness he knew. He said so and Neikro raised an eyebrow.
"You are correct – but four lionesses? Working in formation under cover of darkness?" he asked. Kovu mulled it over. It was defiantly possible and Simba was clearly worried.
"Four! That's a small pride – we would have spotted them! The hornbills would have seen a rouge pride that big from the air…" Kovu trailed off. Neikro grinned horribly.
"But these killings were no rouge pride Prince Kovu. It was the work of a group of lionesses within your own pride!" He announced.
The lionesses practically shrieked in outrage. They argued among themselves with raised voices over this until Simba roared. The lionesses quieted.
"You… You are certain of this Neikro?" he asked the vulture. Neikro nodded.
"Could you identify the lionesses?"
"That I could not do your majesty – to me one lioness looks the same as the other. It's the manes that make picking you out easier…" The vulture said. Simba looked troubled.
"Thank you Neikro." He said as the vulture flew off. After a minute Kovu turned to Simba.
"He could have been lying…" He said. Simba nodded.
"We have no other information at the moment though."
"Does that smell of a lioness to you?"
"No. But we can't be sure. We need to know for certain." Simba decided and lead the others back to Priderock. With the great predators gone, buzzards and vultures descended to the ground to feast. But one did not join them, instead spiraling off to the west.
Zazu watched it go. Nobody else seemed to notice, but Zazu was sure it was the same Vulture as before. Why would it be going away from the feast? Eventually his curiosity got the better of him.
"I'll meet you back at Priderock. I think I need to check… something." he said and flapped away. Vitani looked a Simba.
"Probably something he ate."
The Vulture flew until it arrived at a small outcrop of rock, just within sight of Priderock. The bird waited patiently there.
After a moment the air stood still. Then there was a flash of light. A red dot of light hung in the air before him, scarlet. It was tiny, but Neikro still felt the heat of it and stepped backward. The pinpoint of red light moved across his vision, slowly. In its wake it left a faint red trail. It zigzagged for a moment, cutting through the air until a ribbon of light hung in the air before him. Then there was a groan. Like a faint shriek of terror or a hiss of anger. And the ribbon burst open. The rift before him trembled as a figure stepped through, and Neikro bowed low.
"Fire Priest…" He murmured as the ape stepped over the white hot edges of light onto the ground before him. It clutched a great black staff of thornwood in its hand, the tip adorned with the largest single thorn he had ever seen. Its edges glowed faintly, the same color as the rift had. Behind him, two other figures moved. The first and largest moved first and Ben-Kai-Ra stepped through. A second smaller tiger moved behind him. Both eyes were the same piercing yellow, but the second tiger's face was scarred as if by some great animal. Three long thick lines of white flashed across his face from right eyebrow to lower left lip. His snout was twisted slightly by the disfigurement. But it was the ape that frightened him the most. Zazu nearly fainted on the spot, and shrank back. Neikro spoke carefully.
"Emperor –" he began. But Ben-Kai-Ra interrupted him.
"Is the deed done? Does the King believe what you told him? The Shai'tan grows impatient."
"He is cautious, but I have sown the seeds of chaos there. We shall reap the rewards soon enough." the vulture said.
"Do any of them suspect?"
"No. They suggested wilddogs and hyenas. Not one considered that the Tigers may seek to reclaim Africa after so long." The bird said honestly. The smaller tiger laughed.
"It is as the Oracle said my Emperor! They truly have forgotten their history! They don't even remember the lands beyond the eastern ocean – few even remember the seas!" He laughed gleefully.
"Be quiet Amun." The Emperor said thinking carefully. So the oracle had been right. They did not recognize the threat they faced. It was more than he could have hoped for. The shaman to his left looked toward Pride Rock in the distance.
"You have left the Pridelands weak you fool…" he said to himself, smiling.
"We should do as we planned Ben-Kai-Ra. I know these lands. We should seize the initiative whilst we still have the chance. The history of these lands does not lie – the first strike must be fatal, or the second will be. And the second usually comes from the defendant." he said. Amun turned to the ape angrily.
"You dare threaten the Emperor!" he said. The shaman looked at him in distaste.
"That was not a threat it was advice. I advise him." Then he turned to him.
"Oh and incidentally, if you speak like that to me again I shall kill you before you have time to scream. And you will defiantly want to scream." Amun took a step back and the Shaman look satisfied.
"Now that was a threat. See the difference?" He asked. Amun growled.
Neikro looked from each of them then looked at the Emperor directly.
"How else may I serve you Emperor?" He asked. The Emperor smiled.
"You have done all that is required of you. You have placed the rot inside the meat – we now need only wait." he said.
"Ah. Then I shall collect my reward as agreed and be on my way then." The vulture said. The Emperor nodded to Shaman, who raised his staff. Fire lanced out of its tip striking the vulture in the breast. Its eyes widened in surprise. Then the fire consumed it. For an instant its blackened skeleton was visible. Then it turned to dust before them, in a flash of red. Ben-Kai-Ra nodded.
"A useful tool... But traitors are single use only. They have already backstabbed one ruler. I hate to keep looking over my shoulder." In a sense it was a reward. He usually had traitors suffer a painful death. Neikro's had been instantaneous. And death by fire was such a marvelous way to go. So… dramatic.
Zazu tried to make a break for it, flapping away as fast as he could. The Shaman whirled around and red light shot from his staff once again – but dimmer than before. Zazu tumbled to the ground with a crack and lay there breathing hard.
The Shaman blew the smoke from the tip of his staff and gave a theatrical bow to the two tigers. Amun grunted. The Emperor smiled.
"Excellent shot. Now what do we have here?" He said as he moved over to where Zazu had fallen. Zazu looked up terrified.
"A hornbill… The majordomo no less…" He mused as he paced around him. Zazu could not move. The paralysis that had struck him had worn off, but he had broken both wings in the fall. Even so he tried to move away from the Emperor.
"Do you know who I am, bird?" he asked him. Zazu shook his head mutely. He was afraid. This… thing.,. was clearly responsible for the deaths of so many in the Pridelands. He clearly intended the King ill, and there was nothing he could do about it. And even if he could… this was a thing of legend. How did you fight a myth?
"Kings above…" Zazu whispered. Amun shook his head.
"He is useless to the Imperium. He has seen enough to damage our plans if he squeals. We should not lose the element of surprise." He said. Ben-Kai-Ra nodded.
"Kings above? Listen to me hornbill… there is only one God worth praying too. Death. Tell your King's Ben-Kai-Ra sent you." He said and struck with his paw. Blood spilled out onto the Pridelands. He flicked his paw and the carcass flew through the rift.
Then they stepped back through the rift as it closed behind them. Zazu's body now lay a thousand miles from his homeland. No eyes or ears of the King would report his death to him from there.
Soon King Simba. Soon. The Pride is cracked. The Emperor will Rise. Pride Rock will Shaman thought to himself. And he a score to settle with a particular inhabitant of the Pridelands.
If the Oracle was right… then the Pridelands would soon be theirs.
More mystery. More names being dropped. More original Characters. What is the 'Oracle'?
Ah. Neikro. Your life was too short. I loved that bird. It is a reused concept of a villain I suggested for another's story. Due to time constraints the character was never added so I stuck it in here. Nice. A lot to take in here. A lot. You may wish to reread it a second time. Then review. Once you get over the shock of losing Zazu. He wasn't that annoying in this version… I didn't want you to be glad I killed him.
Can anyone tell me where I got the name Shai'tan? You'll get a cookie.
And who is that bloody Shaman!
I should warn you. A lot of deaths will be sharp and shocking in this one. I intend to Shock rather than sadden you at this point in the series.