The sun rose slowly, a golden circle on the horizon, penetrating the early-morning haze that still lingered. It glided upward to join the scattered number of clouds flitting across the bright blue sky. The flow of light chased away the shadows that hung over the land, revealing a breathtaking expanse of lush green grass and leafy acacia trees. The terrain rose and fell, steep cliffs and rock formations turned ruby in the dawn light. One rock formation in particular- a huge, steep crag of light brown stone that sloped diagonally upward before abruptly halting, leaving a flat cliff face. at the base of which two other plates of rock formed a sort of den; one of them pointed upward to support the other, which jutted from the smooth precipice. Lazy rivers wound their way through the land; shimmering blue trails edged by dark mud. Animal herds could be seen grazing upon the green stalks of plant matter- gazelles, zebras, impalas, and elands. The sun hit their coats, transforming the dull morning colors into rich tawny brown, pale tan, striking black and white. It was a tract of life, both plant and animal, thriving and flourishing in a paradise of growth. It was dazzling.
None of it was noticed by the pacing red-maned lion. He moved back and forth across the top of flat piece of stone that projected from the huge rock structure, near the bottom of the sheer part. His golden fur shone in the light of the sun, and an unusual marking on his shoulder in the shape of a lion’s head appeared to glow. He was muscular and well-built, with thick eyebrows and a scarlet mane that was smoothed backwards. He was not focusing on the scene of beauty in front of him, but instead keeping his eyes, which were a rich orangey brown hue, trained to the ground.
From the den below, a feminine voice called out, “Kion! You can come in now!” Immediately, the golden lion leaped from the rock he was on to the one closest to the ground. It slanted downward, and the lion scrambled, his claws protracting as he tried to grip the rock. A rough scratching noise was produced as the lion’s claws were blunted. When all four paws were at last safely touching the ground, he turned and entered the den. Inside were three lionesses and a elderly-looking mandrill who was clutching a tall wooden staff. One of the lionesses, a slender animal with creamy brown fur, was crouched next to another, this one reddish tawny in color, who was lying on her side. The third lioness was standing slightly off to the side, watching the other two. She was noticeably taller than the others, and her dark red-brown eyes hinted at a maturity that defied the youth evident in her features. They all were smiling, though the grin worn by one of the lionesses, the one with the pale red-tawny fur, seemed exhausted. At the belly of this lioness, two tiny cubs, clearly newborns, were nestled. The male lion stared at them, his breath halting in his throat. His jaws parted as if he wanted to say something, but he was captivated by the two tiny lions nuzzling at their mother’s belly, searching for milk. He felt a tireless, indefatigable love seeping from his heart and filling his entire body. It was warm and soft, yet at the same time solid and completely unbreakable.
Finally, he spoke in a hushed voice. “Whoa . . . Zuri, they are beautiful. Perfect. Welcome to the Circle of Life, little cubs.”
Zuri’s smile widened as she gazed at her mate, and her deep blue eyes seemed to sparkle. “Aren’t they, Kion?”
“Wow, Zuri!” the cream-coated lioness exclaimed, repeatedly bouncing high into the air like a stotting gazelle before landing lightly on the tips of her toes. “You’re a mom now!” She seemed fit to burst with excitement, and her olive green eyes were stretched wide. “Do you need anything? I’ll get anything for you.”
“Thank you, Tiifu. I do find myself to be rather hungry after such an ordeal. Would you mind bringing me something to eat?”
“Sure thing, Zuri!? Tiifu replied eagerly, preparing to step out of the den. “How about gazelle? Kiara and I caught some gazelle yesterday, remember?”
Briefly, Zuri’s magenta nose wrinkled and a small frown appeared on her face. However, she seemed to tired to argue. “Actually, I find that all I desire at the moment is a long rest. Thank you, Rafiki, for your assistance.”
Kion looked at Rafiki gratefully. It had been comforting, knowing that the shaman would be there to help Zuri with her birth. It still hadn’t comforted him enough, though- he had been so excited, nervous, and tense that his sister Kiara, the other lioness, had finally just asked him to wait outside. He had done so with no small amount of reluctance.
Tiifu left with the other lioness after casting a concerned glance at Zuri. However, the mandrill, Rafiki, did not move. Neither did Kion. “Zuri, could I stay with you?” the lion asked pleadingly.
“Of course, Kion. We have decisions to make, after all.”
“Right! Names!” Kion exclaimed, gazing at his cubs. “So, Rafiki, are they boys or girls?” he asked the mandrill.
“One boy, one girl,” Rafiki responded, his grin revealing four pointed teeth. He pointed with a long pink finger. “That little one there? That is a boy. The one next to him? His sister.”
Kion ardently admired the cubs- the little golden male, his small tail curled against his legs, and the female whose pelt was indistinguishable from her mother’s. Yet Kion could see that she also resembled him, with black fur rimming the tops of her ears. Both cubs appeared to be fairly even divides between Kion and his mate. “What shall we call them, Zuri?”
“I think we should wait a little, Kion, until we know what they are like. We wouldn’t want to give a fierce name to a gentle cub, or vice versa,” Zuri explained.
“I see your point,” Kion concurred agreeably. “We’ll wait, then.” He nodded his approval of this plan.
Just then, the tips of Kion’s mane were stirred by a faint breeze. For a wind so light, it carried a strong scent. Kion’s nose twitched; it seemed vaguely familiar. His chest felt tight as he realized what the odor reminded him of: the Outlands, the dark, ashy place where the enemies of the Pride Landers- those who lived in the peaceful green region- resided. He peered outside of the den, trying to see if he could detect the odor of hyenas or jackals. But there was nothing but the heavy fetor of smoke and rot. Briefly, the breeze strengthened, and something settled upon Kion’s nose, causing it to twitch. Squinting, he could justly barely make out what it was: a single flake of pale gray ash.
After a second, Kion realized that Rafiki was standing at his side. The mandrill stood, staff in hand, his eyes dark. “Troubled times come to the Pride Lands soon,” he declared, his grip on the tall wooden cane tightening. With his frosted white mane encircling his neck, his head hanging low, and the light bluish skin of his brow furrowed, he suddenly appeared very, very old.
- - -
Far away, across the verdant land, over a line of gray cliffs that bit into the sky like a row of fangs- their tops, flushed red by the alpenglow, added to this effect, and through a plain of parched yellow grass that was stiff with lack of water, another lioness lay on her side in another den.
She was alone. Her lean body was writhing and rippling as it was racked with spasms, and her teeth were clenched tightly. Two small forms were already huddled against her, and with a final shudder on the part of the lioness, a third joined them. The exhausted mother inclined her head towards her young and gave each of them a lick, smoothing the damp fluff atop their heads. Like all young cubs, they had dappled pelts, closed eyes, skinny tails without spurs, and tiny crescent-shaped ears resembling those of meerkats. Love- as well as something close to amazement- flowered across her features. Her eyes, which were the color of freshly made honey, moved from cub to cub, taking in their appearances. Her nostrils dilated as she breathed in their warm, milky scents.
For half of an hour, she remained with her newborn cubs, grooming them and helping them find the milk they needed. Then she reared her head up, the weariness of her expression somewhat diminished. She gazed at the exit of the den, and the lance of sunlight entering her eyes caused her to look away. Blinking, she called out the name of her mate, who she knew was waiting outside of the den. “Kimbilia!”
At once, a tall lion with long gingery fur rushed into the den. Immediately, he began to shower the lioness with questions. “How are you? How are they? How many are there? Do you need anything?” He fell silent as his green eyes touched the cubs, lying side by side with their small heads buried in their mother’s pale coat.
“I am well, Kimbilia. I am very well. And they are all in perfect health,” the lioness assured her partner. However, Kimbilia did not seem to hear her. He slowly approached the cubs, inhaling the fragrances of their fur. He turned to the lioness and licked her cheek, and the lioness heard him purring as he expelled air. She buried her face into his dark red mane, which was as long and thick as the dry brush in the grassland.
“Three cubs. Oh, Nurisha. I can’t believe it. This’ll be a lot of work for us!” Kimbilia laughed, a warm sound that filled the confines of the den from corner to corner.
Nurisha smiled gently. “All males. Three lovely, handsome, healthy males. What shall we call them?” she asked, peering at the tiny creatures, who were all happily suckling.
“Huh.” Kimbilia’s eyebrows scrunched together; he was clearly thinking hard. “How about Taala for the one on the right?”
“Taala,” Nurisha echoed, trying out the name. She stared at the cub that Kimbilia had referred to. He had heavily spotted fur, rich tawny in color, and his little body was gently curved, molded against Nurisha’s hind leg. “Taala is it.”
“You name one, now,” Kimbilia told Nurisha, who nodded without glancing away from her sons.
She looked closely at one of the cubs who resembled her, but with darker fur. It had a subtle gray tint that reminded her of the rain clouds that she seldom saw. “I would like to christen the large cub on the left Ghubari.”
“You’re great at this,” Kimbilia praised, admiring the newly-named Ghubari. “And the third?”
They both observed the cub in the middle, who was eagerly feeding. Unlike the others, who were only shifting from time to time, he was wriggling and pressing his paws against Nurisha’s side. He was the smallest, though by very little. “Can we call him Jinsi?”
“Jinsi- how. Why would that be your choice?” Nurisha queried, puzzlement crossing her face.
“‘Cause I’m wondering how we’re going to raise such an energetic cub,” Kimbilia answered. “Look at him!”
Jinsi chose this moment to lunge forward with renewed vigor, pushing Taala away. The affected cub, with his milk supply cut short, cried out, revealing a wide red mouth. Without a pause, Nurisha nudged her son back to her belly, where he quickly resumed his meal.
“Taala, Ghubari, and Jinsi,” Nurisha listed. “I declare we named them well.”
“And who can go against the word of the queen?” replied Kimbilia, leaning in to nuzzle her.
Nurisha felt her heart swelling with love for her family. She would have to announce her cubs to the pride soon, but there was time. At the moment, nothing needed to be rushed. The Drylands were prospering, and it seemed as if everything that could go wrong had chosen not to.
“Lion Guard! Ready for patrols?” Kion asked his team. They were assembled in front of him, their gazes still bearing faint traces of fatigue- all except for Fuli, who was standing with perfect posture and a white-toothed smile on her face. The early hour of their morning patrol had never bothered her.
“Sure, Kion!’ the cheetah replied eagerly. “Let’s get going!”
“Right. Beshte, Fuli, you two cover Lake Matope. Ono, Bunga, and I will check Embamba Canyon and Mbali Fields.”
The Guard called their agreement before splitting up. Kion trotted to keep up with Ono, who was gliding ahead. Bunga ran at his side on all fours, moving quickly and gracefully. Kion was impressed by his speed, which was unusual for an animal of his kind. He liked to think that this was a result of the skill being honed over and over during the training sessions he planned.
“Hapana! Kion!” Ono’s voice broke Kion away from his observations. He glanced up at the egret, who had halted in the air, and could tell even from a distance that his friend had seen something worthy of concern.
“What is it, Ono?” he inquired, slowing down. Bunga copied him, looking confused.
“We have activity from the volcano in the Outlands!” Ono cried, his eyes flashing. With a flutter of wings he descended and circled above Kion’s head, clearly agitated. Kion felt an uncomfortable, creeping sensation of fear in his gut and he knew that whatever Ono had seen meant trouble.
This thought brought to mind Rafiki’s words. Troubled times come to the Pride Lands soon. He recalled how the mandrill had neglected to explain the meaning behind his ominous prediction, despite Kion’s questions. The sense of worry strengthening, Kion turned his gaze to the Outlands and was shocked by what he saw. His tail began twitching, despite his efforts to quell the fright rising inside of him.
The volcano, usually emitting a thin stream of foul smoke, was now vomiting great clouds of ugly black ash into the air. Rivulets of glowing golden-orange liquid trickled from its mouth. Inhaling deeply, Kion could scent nothing- the wind was blowing away from them- but he could tell that the ash in the sky was close enough to be dangerous. He automatically took a step back, his eyes widening.
“I don’t get it,” Bunga admitted. “The danger’s in the Outlands. Let the hyenas deal with it.”
“The danger could spread, Bunga,” Kion told Bunga gravely. The thought of what might happen to the Pride Lands if it were faced with ash and lava struck fear into his heart. This could be bad. “Ono! Take a closer look!” he called, keeping his voice carefully composed.
“Affirmative!” Ono flew higher, white and cream wings beating the air. His eyes narrowed, and Kion could see the expression of concentration upon his face. After a moment, he soared down and landed in front of Kion. “What do we have, Ono?” Kion asked, speaking quickly and urgently.
"The volcano is going to erupt soon!" Ono exclaimed. "Janja and his clan are fleeing the area!"
“Could this affect the Pride Lands?” Kion inquired, his muscles tensing as he considered the prospect.
Ono opened his beak to reply, but just then Kion became aware that the ground beneath his paws was shaking. A rumbling sounded in the air, and Kion realized he was experiencing an earthquake. The stalks of grass around him shuddered visibly, and Kion watched as a rotten tree creaked and swayed. “Evacuate the area!” he shouted. "Get everyone away!"
As the ground steadied beneath his paws, the wind changed direction. The mephitic scent of smoke assaulted Kion’s nostrils, and he abruptly expelled air to rid his senses of it. Kion watched as a herd of impalas raised their heads, noses twitching. The animals had clearly been put on edge by the earthquake, and the moment they caught sight of the volcano, they fled in terror. Under normal circumstances, Kion would have the Guard round up the frightened creatures, but at the moment the only thought on his mind was to clear the land of Pride Landers. It was unsafe to be this close to the volcano . . .
Suddenly, a horrible thought entered his mind. "Mbali Fields! The herds there . . . we have to get them away!" Without another word, he charged into Embamba Canyon. In his rush, he did not slow down on the slope, and he felt his paws being abraded by the rocky ground. With a grimace, he headed deeper into the canyon network, moving in bounding strides. Adrenaline raced through his veins, coursing throughout his body like the lava in the volcano. He turned sharply, claws ripping and scratching, before continuing down a passageway until he reached Mbali Fields.
As he clambered out of the canyon, he shook his mane out of his eyes and let out a roar. The clouds behind him took on the shapes of maned lions, mouths agape as they contributed with roars of their own. This quickly got the attention of the animals. "Listen to me!” Kion shouted. "Everybody needs to leave here sasa hivi. The volcano is going to erupt before long!"
That got their attention. The four animal herds- zebra, gazelle, sable antelope, and elephant- immediately turned and began stampeding into Embamba Canyon. A part of Kion longed for order and calmness, but he knew that they needed to move fast. He spun around and galloped forward until he was running side by side with a zebra stallion. He recognized him: the son of Muhimu, the mare who had led the zebra herd when Kion was just a cub. The zebra’s blue eyes, which were the color of the morning sky, were glazed with fear, and Kion felt a strong urge to comfort the animal that he had known since his cubhood. “Everything will be fine,” he told the striped equine. “Just keep moving.” The zebra responded with a brief nod, the terror in his gaze retreating slightly. Though Kion knew that speed was a necessity, he also was aware that he needed to prevent the zebras’ go-to strategy when they were confronted with a troubling situation: panic and run. I want them to run, but I could really do without all of the panic.
He maintained a sense of control, helping herd the animals as they sped through the canyon. The Pride Landers began to scramble clumsily up the far wall of the canyon, and Kion was forced to focus solely on an small elephant calf after the animal slipped and needed help getting to her feet. He nosed away a rock that had fallen upon her leg and nudged her up, her weight surprisingly for a creature so young. When she was safe at last, Kion turned his attention to the gazelles and zebras, calling out encouragements and guiding them.
Right as Kion helped the last sable antelope find his way up, the ground began the shudder beneath his paws, emitting a deep rumbling. Kion gripped it tightly with his claws, quenching wild, panicked thoughts about the land opening up to swallow him. Scanning the sky, he quickly located Ono. “Ono!” he yelled as loudly as he could, worrying that the egret was too far away to hear him.
But before the echo of his shout had died away, Ono was flying towards him, true fear writ large upon his features. “Kion! Look at the volcano!” Ono instructed, turning his own head in the direction of the Outlands.
Kion did the same, and the sight that greeted him sparked deep unease within his heart. The streams of fiery lava had broadened into red-gold rivers of melted rock. The clouds of smoke were so thick that they almost blocked out the awesome and yet terrifying sight of the volcano, glowing red in the light of its smoldering blood. “Is it going to explode?” Kion turned to see Bunga at his side, staring at the volcano with wide eyes. The honey badger’s fur was rumpled and covered in dust, turning it from deep blue-gray to dull brown in color.
“Ono?” asked Kion, seeking a response to Bunga’s question.
“I don’t think so, Bunga. Some volcanoes don’t erupt explosively, they just trickle lava. However, others eject lava, ash, and tephra high into the air. We need to stay as alert as possible.”
“Tephra?” Bunga questioned, his face showing his unfamiliarity towards the word.
“Rock fragments expelled by a volcano, Bunga,” Ono explained impatiently, his gaze flickering towards the volcano.
“Okay. Ono, I want you being our lookout. I’m going to find Fuli and Beshte.” Kion shook his mane nervously before racing off to locate the rest of his team. His paws stung as he ran, and at one point he noticed that he was leaving a faint trail of red behind him. He did not take the time to glance at his paw pads to assess the severity of the abrasions; the amount of blood he was leaving behind was clue enough. However, was every subsequent step he took, he was acutely aware of the ground biting into the worn skin, creating openings that further increased the pain. However, upon catching sight of Fuli and Beshte, the discomfort faded from his mind. The two were finishing chasing a flamboyance of flamingos out of the area, which was scattering pink and black feathers everywhere. Fuli kept to the side of the flock, encouraging and directing them, while Beshte called out advice, the topic of which mainly focused on marching rather than flying due to the ash in the air. Under normal circumstances, Kion would have found the marching flamingos amusing, but these were not normal circumstances. “Good job, Fuli, Beshte!” Kion shouted, causing their heads to turn.
“What’ve we got here, Kion?” Fuli inquired.
“The volcano is streaming lava still. I’m concerned about the danger that it might present to the Pride Lands. Now that everyone is cleared out, we should clear out, too.”
“Leaving the Outlanders to fend for themselves?” Beshte queried, doubt spreading across his wide, friendly face.
“We don’t have a choice, Beshte. It’s just too dangerous. And besides, the duty of the Lion Guard is to defend the Pride Lands. That’s what we need to focus on,” Kion explained. But even as he spoke, he found himself thinking about Jasiri, a kind, spunky female hyena and a distant friend of his. He had not seen her since he was a young cub, but his fondness and respect for the strong, smart animal had not receded over the years. Jasiri can take care of herself, he reminded himself. So can Janja’s clan, and Reirei's jackal family. They’re all smart enough to get away in time.
“What now, Kion?” Fuli asked, leaning into a crouch; ready to run, as always.
“We return to Bunga and Ono. Then . . . we get ourselves out of here.”
They quickly located Bunga and Ono, who had moved very little since Kion had last been with them. Though Bunga was unperturbed, Ono seemed agitated, preening his pale feathers with quick, meticulous motions and shaking his wings.
“Everyone, follow me back to Pride Rock!” Kion ordered. “The other Pride Landers have all been evacuated.”
Fuli, Beshte, Bunga, all ran ahead of him, their paws sending dust into his face, which he blinked away. Though he usually led the way, he took up the rear of the group, not wanting anyone to be left behind. Above his head, Ono was looking behind him even as he flew forward, keeping an eye on the volcano. Kion appreciated this; he was no expert on volcanoes, but he knew that they could be very unpredictable.
They made it back to Pride Rock quickly, which Kion was pleased about. In a situation like this one, time was very important. However, at the moment, Kion needed to check on Zuri and his cubs, even if they were safe as could be in the Royal Den. By now, they were about the age that he was when he first learned about the Lion Guard, but Kion still felt the desire to be with them all of the time. Kion shouldered his way past the other Guard members and found himself face to face with his sister Kiara. Her mate, Kovu, a former Outlander lion whom Kion did not know very well, was standing beside her, his green eyes dark with confusion.
“Kion, what is happening?” Kiara asked. “Zazu arrived here about a minute ago. He said that you were moving everyone towards here.”
“Not exactly,” Kion corrected her. “We were just moving them away from the Outlands. Kiara, the volcano is emitting lava.”
Concern flickered into Kiara’s dark red-brown eyes. “This isn’t good,” she murmured. “Kovu, go tell Mom and Daddy right now. They’ll want to know.” The lioness stepped around the Lion Guard and began moving back the direction they had come.
Kion flattened the tuft of her tail with a paw, halting her. “Hold on, Kiara. Where are you going?”
“I have to make sure no one was left behind, Kion!” Kiara responded, firing up at once. “You five were the only ones who looked. I know your team is great, Kion, but I am the queen. I have to make sure for myself.”
“Then I’m coming with you!” Kion insisted flatly. No way she’s going on her own.
Kiara sighed. “Fine, if you must. But leave the rest of the Lion Guard here. I’m just going to do a brief assessment of the situation and see if anyone was missed out. I don’t need a full escort.”
Behind her, Kovu cleared his throat. Kiara glared at him, but quickly relented, probably realizing that there was no talking him out of it. Kion may not know his sister’s mate very well, but he understood him enough to realize that he was deeply in love with Kiara and fiercely loyal to her.
The three of them started walking back in the direction of the Outlands, but quickly broke into a trot and then a run. Moving at a leisurely pace while a pyroclastic flow was expelling molten rock and thick ash did not seem quite appropriate. Kion felt his heat beating hard in his chest- it was fast, and he knew that his speed was not the only reason behind that. He slowed slightly to let Kovu and Kiara catch up; though they were both fairly fit, neither of them patrolled the Pride Lands all day while moving as fast as possible in order to remain even with a cheetah.
“See anything, Kion?” Kiara asked, glancing around herself.
“I do,” a voice from above Kion’s head responded.
“Sorry, Kion. Didn’t mean to startle you. The others agreed that I should come with you. I am the keenest of sight, after all,” Ono replied.
Kion growled low in his throat, too softly for Ono to hear. “Okay. Now, what do you see?”
“We have a galago asleep in the trees at Ndefu Grove,” Ono informed him. At once, Kion veered to one side, closely followed by Kovu and Kiara, and headed for Ndefu Grove. Upon reaching the cluster of trees, all of which had light green leaves and thin brown trunks, Kion looked up at Ono and asked what tree the galago was in. “To your right, Kion,” Ono answered smoothly, and Kion, turning, saw the dozing russet-coated animal snoring away in the top branches of a tree. “Ono, wake the galago up and ask her to climb down! We’ll take it from there!” Kion replied briskly.
Ono perched on the same branch as the little galago, spreading his wings to balance himself as the thin offshoot wobbled beneath his light weight. “Sorry to interrupt your sleep, but you have to leave this area!” Ono told the galago urgently, causing the little mammal’s large eyes to blink open.
Fortunately, the galago gave them no troubled. She hurried down the tree and onto Kion’s back, settling between his shoulders; he felt her soft fur pressing against his own. “I’ll take her farther in, where’ll she be safe. Ono, take one more look around and then come back. Kiara, Kovu, stay with Ono.” He waited until they had all nodded before turning around and heading back the direction he had come.
After depositing the galago onto a small acacia tree deeper into the Pride Lands, Kion returned to Pride Rock. He was certain that Ono would report any trouble to him, though he still was doubtful. As much as he trusted Ono, Kion still felt an almost overpowering instinct to be with his sister and protect her. However, one other urge, this one even stronger, rose inside of him and completely enveloped his mind. He had to go visit Zuri, fill her in on what was happening. This time, no one stopped him from entering the Royal Den. Though Zuri was not royalty by blood, Kion was technically a prince, so Zuri had been allowed to stay in the den with their cubs whenever she so desired. Of course, Kion had never had any doubt that it would be permitted by Kiara, Zuri’s best friend.
“Zuri?” Kion called out as he entered, the shadows obscuring the view of his mate. “Over here,” Zuri quietly responded from a corner, and Kion was unsettled by the worried tone of her voice.
Approaching her, he saw that his son appeared listless. His small head was balanced on Zuri’s paw, and his eyes were almost entirely closed; only slivers of deep blue were visible. “What is it?” he inquired. “Why does he seem so . . . tired?”
“I don’t know, Kion. He just keeps telling me that he wants to sleep. I let him, and he is not showing any signs of waking up,” Zuri enlightened him. “As you know, neither of them usually nap for this long.”
“I know,” Kion confirmed distractedly, still gazing at his son. “Should we wake him?”
“I’m not sure,” Zuri responded anxiously. She gently curled a paw over the cub’s back and drew him close against her soft chest fur. With even, soothing strokes of her tongue, she smoothed the small red tuft of fur atop his head. He did not respond in any way.
Kion did not know how long he stood with her, but he did not feel obliged to leave, so he asked another question to stall. "Where's Kian?" Though the purpose behind the words was to buy him more time, he was genuinely curious about his daughter's whereabouts.
“Kion!” Bunga’s voice suddenly shouted into the den. Kion turned and saw the honey badger beckoning him with a paw, muscles tensed to run.
“What is it, Bunga?”
“Fire!” Bunga replied, and without another word he spun around, dropped onto all fours, and dashed away.
“Fire? Bunga!” Kion ran after his friend, skidding across the Royal Den’s rocky floor. He cursed under his breath as he felt a sharp stabbing sensation shoot up his leg; he had broken a claw. Forcing himself not to limp, he exited the den.
He was not prepared for what he saw. Far ahead, a wall of dancing amber flames was licking at the grass, transforming the viridian stalks of life into dead, crumbled piles of black dust. The fire was extraordinary tall, and it was not diminishing; if anything, it continued to reach higher. Sparks were thrown into the air, tiny glowing specks of fire that chased each other through the air. The hot wind rushed past Kion’s mane, bringing with it the acrid stench of smoke that made Kion’s lungs burn to breathe in. The volcano. Somehow, the lava must have started the fire.
“Kion.” Fuli’s voice was what finally turned him away from the unbelievable sight of the Pride Lands burning. Her spotted fur was warm gold in the reddish light cast by the flames. “What’s the plan?”
“Fuli, there’s nothing we can do but make sure everyone is safe. They are all smart enough to move away from the fire,” Kion told her, though he could not be certain. “What about the baboon troop? You know that they don’t leave their tree unless they are forced to or provoked,” Fuli reminded him.
Kion blinked, guilt filling him as he realized that he had indeed neglected to consider the troop. “Right,” he responded briskly. “I think I know how you can take care of that. You said they don’t leave unless provoked?”
“But . . . ugh, baboons!” Fuli hissed, but nodded soon after this outcry.
“Bunga, go with her,” Kion ordered, remembering the time that Bunga had been able to get the baboons out of their tree during a rainstorm when all else had failed. Bunga agreed, leaping onto Fuli’s back; by now, the honey badger knew that he stood no chance of keeping up with her otherwise. Fuli began to run, and in an instant, she was gone, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust in her wake. Kion let out a tense sigh of relief before turning to Beshte and Ono. “Ono, you’re still on lookout. However, if the smoke makes it too hard to breathe, get out of the air. Got it?”
“Affirmative!” Ono responded, throwing a wing to his head in a saluting gesture. Turning away from Kion, he took off with several flaps of his wings.
“Beshte, you and I will be doing a check on the animals to make sure they are all far enough away to be unharmed,” Kion told his hippo friend, who inclined his large head in agreement. But as they began to walk away, Zuri called out from the Royal Den for them to wait.
“What is it, Zuri?” Kion asked his mate, forcing any trace of impatience from his tone. In the den, he could see that Kiara had joined Zuri.
“Our daughter. Where is Kian?” Zuri demanded, her sapphire eyes reflecting her disquiet.
“Isn’t she with you?” Kion inquired, fear like nothing he had ever felt before flooding through him.
“She was out playing with her friends. I thought she had been brought in with the other animals, but Kiara just told me that she had looked!” Zuri’s worry was quickly transforming into panic. So was Kion’s. If his daughter was out when Ono had first noticed the volcano, and she had not been brought in since . . .
“She’s out there!” Zuri practically screamed, her tone reflecting the terror Kion felt. “She’s out there in the fire!”
“Beshte, you take care of the other animals! I’m going to find my daughter!” Kion almost shouted in his insistency, but there was no need. Beshte ran off without hesitating, at a speed that often surprised those who had not seen a hippo run before. Despite their bulk, hippos could attain impressive speeds, something that Kion had learned long ago. Kion whirled around and plunged into the grass, stalks slashing at his muzzle and stinging his eyes.
“Kian!” he shouted, paws thumping the ground at an even rhythm as he charged through the Pride Lands. “Kian!” he repeated, his voice at full volume. He inhaled deeply, and his nose was swamped with the reek of smoke, burning things, and the herbivorous animals that had fled their grazing grounds. Just when he was about to give up using his nose to track his daughter, he caught the slightest whiff of lion scent- not that of Kian, but that of her best friend, Bidii. He rushed to the source of the smell, noticing several crushed blades of grass as he did so. Yes, Bidii had come through here. Had she been alone? He could not tell, but he was desperately hoping that Kian had been with her friend when the fire broke out.
“Kian! Bidii!” Kion bellowed, the scorching wind tossing his sound behind him. Kion noticed that he was drawing nearer to the fire itself, and that a tree not too far from him was ablaze, engulfed in tongues of sunset orange. He skirted around it and continued to glance around, the smoke causing his eyes to water. Blinking away tears, he opened his mouth to call the names of the cubs again. But just before the sound left his throat, he noticed that something small and sandy brown was running towards him. “Bidii?”
“Kion! Help! There’s a fire!” the lioness cub screamed in response, her peridot eyes flashing, not stopping as she approached him at a breakneck speed. She slammed into his side, and he grimaced she pressed against his ribs. She buried his face into his fur until, looking down at her, all Kion could see was her furry ears and the scruffy fur on the top of her head.
“I know there’s a fire, Bidii. It’s okay, I’m going to get you out of here. But first, where is Kian?” Kion asked, unable to speak the last part gently, despite his efforts to.
Bidii leaned away from him, ears flattening against her small skull. “I- I don’t know!” she cried fearfully, tears of shame trailing down her face, leaving dark lines on her fur. Bidii always felt responsible for what happened to her friends while she was with them, but her guilt was usually over something minor- a splinter earned when foolishly playing with fallen branches, or a tail crushed by a misstepping paw. “We were playing hide-and-seek . . . I never found her, she’s so good!”
Now it was Kion who felt penitence deluging him. He recalled that it had been him who had taught Kion how to play hide-and-seek better than the other cubs. ‘It may be a fun game now, but it could save your life if you ever need to hide from a clan of hungry hyenas or a pride of enemy lions!’ he had told her seriously, insistently defending truth in his words when she had giggled at the inconceivable idea that such a fatuous and puerile pastime such as hide-and-seek could prevent her from being killed. “Okay, Bidii,” he started in a slightly choked voice. Clearing his throat briskly, he continued quietly, “Show me where you last saw her.”
Bidii led him to a small clearing, a place where the cubs often played. “I closed my eyes, and she ran off! I heard her going that way-” Bidii pointed with a flick of her left forepaw. “- but I highly suspect that it was a trick on her part.”
“Right,” Kion agreed, cursing Kian’s cleverness for the first time. But as he scanned the clearing, he caught a glimpse of something out of his peripheral vision.
Approaching it, he leaned down and realized that it was a small, dark, smudged pawprint. So she wasn’t entirely able to cover her tracks. He was about to fly into the grass ahead of the mark when he remembered Bidii. I can’t leave her. Without slowing, he spun around and secured her tiny head between his jaws. In the brief period of time before he deposited the cub onto his back, he was acutely aware of her fragility as his teeth pressed into her fur.
“Hold on tight!” he ordered before speeding up, his eyes darting from side to side, searching the land for Kian. It was difficult; every stalk of grass that trembled made him think that it was Kian brushing up against it that caused it to move. It did not help that the smoke was thickening, a dark cloud not unlike those seen before a massive thunderstorm. The fire was also closer than Kion would like it to be- it was devouring the vegetation both in front of them and on one side. Kion inhaled, nose to the ground, but strangely he could detect no trace of his daughter’s scent. Where is she?
“There, Kion! Look!” Bidii suddenly exclaimed. “Where?”
“Over on that rock!”
Kion turned, and he felt panic strike him like lightning when he saw his daughter. She was perched atop a smooth gray boulder, cinereous in the light that the flames threw upon it. Much of Kian’s own fur appeared to be glowing, so bright was the glow cast by the fire surrounding her. However, patches of it were dark with some strange substance that had been spattered all over her coat. The blaze was far, far too close for comfort, the sparks dancing around her and settling on her fur. “Dad!” Kian shouted, claws gripping to rock. “Help me!”
“I will!” Kion responded, preparing to leap. “Bidii, use your teeth. There’s no other way that you’ll be able to hold onto me.”
“Wait, what?” protested the cub, shocked.
“Your teeth, Bidii!” Kion repeated impatiently, bunching his muscles. The tension that gripped him was so powerful that he felt as though his body would buckle beneath it. As soon as Bidii’s tiny fangs pierced his skin, he pounced, his jump carrying him over the flames. Not high enough, though- pain, impossibly hot, shot through his hind paws as the tongues of flame brushed against them. He smelled burning fur and knew that the fur on his belly was singed. He landed heavily, and Bidii bounced on top of him, nearly falling off. Despite the burning agony taking hold of his back paws, his leap had brought him near enough the Kian to grab her. As he stretched his neck, reaching for her, she surprised him with an impressive jump that landed her on his head. His neck bent beneath her weight, but she quickly joined Bidii on his back. Without a word, he sped back towards Pride Rock. A burning branch fell from a tree somewhere nearby, landing in front of him and sending a shower of sparks into the air. He skirted around it, paws sliding, which caused his scorched hind paws to scream in protest. Breathing hard, he tried to move faster, but each step that he took sapped more of his energy. By the time the Zuri and the others loomed into view, the exhaustion was almost causing him to black out. The smoke and ash in the air certainly did not help this matter.
When he reached his mate, he bowed down to let the two cubs slide off of him. “Thank you, Kion!” Zuri cried, leaning into him. Her tongue rasped against his mane- rough, but soothing.
“Of course, Zuri,” Kion muttered in reply. He turned to the two young ones, trying to rally an aura of fierce authority and firmness. “Bidii, Kian, what were you doing out for so long? Why didn’t you come in with the others?” he demanded, glaring.
“Well, when we saw the others going in . . .” Bidii began, but she stopped mid-sentence, her ears and sinking her head down until it hung below her shoulders.
“We . . . we thought it was just the hyenas . . . or something,” Kian finished, glancing into his eyes. Though she looked away almost at once, she slowly returned her gaze to his and held it there.
At once, fury took the place of fatigue. However, Zuri spoke before Kion could. “Just the hyenas?” she parroted, her tone uncharacteristically menacing. “Even if it had been ‘just the hyenas’, you could have been killed, staying out there and playing games!”
“We’re sorry!” Bidii apologized, appearing close to dissolving into tears again. “Have you learned your lesson?” Kion demanded angrily. “I might not be there to rescue you next time.”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Dad. Really, I am,” Kian apologized. This was enough for Kion, who sighed and looked at Zuri. She nodded, signalling that she was done scolding the cubs as well.
“Um, Kion,” Beshte interrupted hesitantly.
“Everyone is safe and accounted for. Just thought you should know,” Beshte reported dutifully.
“Thank you, Beshte. I appreciate you informing me.” Kion walked over and playfully nudged Beshte’s shoulder with his muzzle. The hippopotamus smiled, ears wiggling.
Kion sighed once again and stared at Kiara. The young queen was watching the fire. “Kiara?” Kion called to get her attention. Once she had looked over, she asked what they were to do now. “The blaze is still going.”
“I know,” Kiara responded sadly. “Why don’t you get the cubs into the Royal Den?”
“Zuri!” called a high voice that Kion recognized as Tiifu’s. He saw his mate’s friend peering at them from the entrance to the Royal Den, looking unusually nervous.
“Yes, Tiifu?” Zuri asked, frowning slightly.
“Your son,” Tiifu reminded her, and both Kion and Zuri immediately rushed inside, Kian and Bidii trailing behind them.
The little cub was still dozing. Zuri touched her nose to his shoulder and pushed against him. “Wake up, dear,” she murmured, but he still slept.
“Why won’t he wake up, Mom?” Kian questioned curiously, without worry. Kion leaned around Zuri and saw that their daughter was watching them with inquiring copper eyes. “He will. He’s just sleepy,” Kion assured her, observing the rise and fall of the slumbering cub’s belly. “Kian, Zuri, I want you both to stay in here,” he began, remembering part of the reason that he had entered the Royal Den in the first place. “Why, Dad?” Kian asked him, the corners of her mouth turning down and her shoulders slumping. “I was having fun with Bidii!” she told him dejectedly. However, Kion was contented to note that there was no trace of petulance in her voice. Kian could be fiery-tempered at times, but she was never whiny.
“Until you nearly burned to death,” Kion reminded her sternly.
“But isn’t the fire out now?” Kian queried.
“No, it isn’t. So why don’t you get some sleep?” Kion suggested, lightly licking her cheek. She smiled, revealing her sharp white teeth, before curling up against Zuri and allowing her eyelids to flutter shut.
“Would you like to stay here?” Kion asked Zuri, nuzzling her gently.
After returning his affection, she hesitated. “I think so. I don’t think that there is any way I can be of use,” she finally decided.
“I’ll help you watch the cubs, Zuri!” offered Tiifu, lying down next to her friend and nuzzling Kian, who twitched and stepped back, a look of irritation briefly crossing her face.
“All right,” Kion replied casually, carefully disguising his relief. “In that case, I will see you three later.”
Slowly, he left the Royal Den and sat beside Kiara, who was still gazing at the fire. The glow of the flames was reflecting in her deep russet eyes, turning them orange. Beside her, Kovu was standing with his head inclined, the tuft of his deep brown mane that hung above his head obscuring his eyes. "What are we going to do, Kovu?” Kiara asked her mate. Kion could not help but feel slightly excluded. What are we going to do, Kovu? Though he knew that Kiara was incredibly devoted to her mate, he still was rather unhappy that she had addressed Kovu instead of himself, leader of the Lion Guard. He had nothing against Kovu, now that he had gotten past his initial distrust of the ex-Outsider, but he believed that his role was more important than Kovu’s, despite Kovu being king. After all, he was not the king like Simba had been; it was Kiara who was the ruler, Kovu was only given the title of king as her partner.
“I don’t know, Kiara, but we’ll be fine once the fire burns out, don’t worry,” Kovu responded, entwining his tail with Kiara’s own.
“It’s not us I’m worried about,” Kiara whispered, her ears dipping down. “What about all of the other Pride Landers? My subjects.”
“They’re all accounted for,” Kion reminded her gently. “Beshte checked, remember?”
“Yes, but think, Kion. What about their grazing grounds? The grass is not going to survive the blaze. Kion, this could unbalance the Circle of Life. The fire is consuming all of the plants, which many of the Pride Landers need to survive,” Kiara explained, annoyed at his lack of understanding.
Kion felt stupid for not realizing this. He had been so focused upon getting everyone to safety that he had neglected to think about what would happen afterwards. Embarrassed, he ducked his head, causing his mane to flop into his eyes. Flicking it away with a shake of his head, he glanced back at Kiara. She did not meet his gaze. “When this is over, everything will be gone,” she continued, a note of pure sorrow creeping into her tone. “It’ll be like Scar’s reign all over again- nothing left for anyone to eat, the herds moving on . . . but this time Daddy won’t be able to come back and fix it by sending away the hyenas."
The mention of their great uncle made Kion shudder inwardly. He had lived his entirely life trying to be anything but the leader that Scar, a murderous, tyrannical lion who was once the leader of the Lion Guard, but had lost his position when he had used the Roar of the Elders, a gift bestowed upon the Guard’s leader, to ruthlessly destroy every member of his own Lion Guard. He had later cruelly sent his brother and Kion’s grandfather, Mufasa, plunging to his death. Once he had accomplished this, Scar had allowed a clan of dangerous hyenas to enter the Pride Lands and gorge themselves. This resulted in the remaining herds departing the Pride Lands while the lion pride almost starved to death.
“Kiara, we will not let that happen,” Kovu assured her, putting his paw on top of hers.
A thought struck Kion, and he hastened to reassure Kiara. “Kiara, do you remember what Dad told us that one time? About the plants here?” Kiara looked at him quizzically.
“They can survive fires! When they burn, they don’t lose very much important material, and they regrow quickly. The Pride Lands won’t be gone forever. It’ll be okay,” he told his sister.
But Kiara did not seem to agree. “That might be true, Kion. But this is no small blaze. This is an out-of-control wildfire. The plants will regrow, but not before many of the herds have starved. They’ll fight for what is left, and . . .” Kiara sighed.
“Then we’ll find a way to keep everyone fed until they regrow!” Kion insited. “We are the Lion Guard, and you are the queen. We’ll help each other- and the Pride Lands- through this.”
“Between the Lion Guard and the royal family, we can keep everything in balance with the Circle of Life!” Fuli put in, straightening up.
“Yeah!” Bunga agreed in a voice that seemed inappropriately cheerful.
Kiara did not respond to any of them, so they fell into a tense silence, eyes turned to the flames that were ravaging their home. After what felt like an eternity, night began to fall, leaving the fire as the only illumination and turning the smoke a bright orange-gray.
At one point, Beshte and Bunga both appeared inclined to sleep, their eyelids drooping slightly and their movements unsteady. “You two can go and sleep, you know,” Kion muttered, breaking the silence that had been stretching on for some time. “You’ve earned a rest. There’s nothing to do but wait.”
After a brief hesitation, they obeyed. Silence ensued once more, broken for a short time by the sound of wings as Ono took off and flew after the other two, leaving Fuli, Kion, Kovu, and Kiara alone. Kion blinked hard, thinking that he had detected a change in the size of the blaze. Is it getting smaller, or is that my imagination? Another half hour confirmed that it was not his imagination. The fire was dwindling, but it was taking its time. By the time that it withered away into heaps of embers that were still spitting sparks and glowing gold, the waxing moon was more than halfway done with its lazy journey across the ebony sky. Kion’s eyes followed the progress of the niveous crescent, but curls of gray smoke kept drifting by it, making it difficult to view without thoughts of fire and destruction interrupting.
“We need to assess the damage,” Kiara announced abruptly, shaking her head sharply as though warding off slumber. “Come on.”
“Right,” Kion agreed, turning and trying to guess where Beshte, Bunga and Ono had gone. Thinking hard, he realized that they had most likely taken shelter in the Lair of the Lion Guard, the special cave where the Lion Guard often spent their free time. It was nearby, and the three Guard members would not have wanted to go very far in case they were needed. “Fuli, please run and fetch Bunga, Beshte, and Ono,” Kion ordered, and Fuli dashed off, her legs churning into a blur of yellow. It was not long before she returned, the others trailing after her, unable to match her speed.
“What are we doin’?” Bunga asked sleepily. His black claws tugged at his lower eyelids, an obvious effort to keep himself awake. Kion delivered a sharp swat to his ear, not hard enough to hurt but hard enough to wake him up. Sure enough, Bunga straightened up with a smile. “Thanks, Kion.”
“Fuli said something about going somewhere,” Beshte put in. “She didn’t explain.” Kion was not surprised by this. Long explanations were not Fuli’s specialty. “Go? Go where?” queried Bunga, confused.
“Go and see if there are any animals left who need help,” Kion answered briskly. “Come on, we don’t want to be too late for anyone.”
“But I counted . . .” Beshte pointed out, crestfallen. “Remember, Kion?”
Seeing that his friend felt as though he were being ignored, Kion smiled brightly at him. “I know, Beshte. It’s just that we have to make sure, you know?” “Okay!” Beshte agreed, easily pleased. “Then twende!”
They all followed Kiara’s lead. The queen lioness decided that they should split up, and Kion was paired with Ono and Kovu. Kion was not quite certain how to feel about partnering with Kovu; he would rather have been with Fuli, Bunga, or Beshte instead. However, he understood that Kiara needed to spread the members of the Guard out, as they knew the Pride Lands best.
“Let’s go,” Kion ordered, setting off at a steady trot. Kovu took up a position on his right, slightly behind, while Ono soared overhead. The egret’s eyes were shining yellow, and Kion knew that he was using his sharp eyesight to check for danger or animals in need. Clearly, he saw none, for he dipped slightly lower in the air and his gaze returned to normal.
Noticing the odd grayish tint of the sky, Kion realized that the smoke was not entirely gone. “Hey, Ono! I want you to come down!” he shouted. “There’s a bit of smoke in the air!”
“I know, Kion,” Ono replied. “I was just doing a brief look-around.” He neatly descended, his stick-like black and orange striped legs projecting beneath him, talons spread wide apart as he scanned the ground for a place to perch. He landed ahead of the lions and began to walk forward in slow, slightly awkward movements while his head bobbed back and forth with his neck. Kion and Kovu quickly caught up with him, being far faster even when they were not at full speed.
Kion, noticing that his paws felt odd, lifted a forepaw off of the ground and examined it. Smeared over the scraped skin of the pad, over which a thin brownish incrustation had formed, was soot from the fire. Somehow the sight of it caused Kion to frown. Seeing the black dust, the only remains of lush vegetation, reminded him that the Pride Lands would not be back to normal for a long time, though the immediate crisis of the blazing fire was gone. Sighing, he dropped his paw to the ground and continued on.
“Um . . . Kion . . . there’s something I think you should see,” Ono stammered, unusual for him, as they approached the Outlands. He appeared to be deeply unsettled. “What would that be, Ono?” Kion called up.
“We have three hyenas- maybe more, there is ash covering anything- dead. I can see the . . . skeletons,” Ono reported.
Kion’s heart swooped. He was no fan of the hyenas, but being swallowed by lava or flame, whichever had reached them first . . . it was an awful way to die. Just then, a terrible thought struck him. Jasiri? Could it be that his fierce hyena friend had perished in the flames?
“Ono, lead the way!” Kion shouted, bounding after him. However, Kovu remained where he was, and Kion spun around to face him. “Come on,” he snapped, his tone slightly sharp. He needed to see what had happened, even if it was in the Outlands.
“The Outlands aren’t our territory,” Kovu pointed out firmly, not budging.
“We’re going to look away. I want to examine the hyenas that Ono saw. Come on.” Kion repeated, and this time Kovu followed, though his movements exhibited his reluctance to do so. Kion assumed that he did not want to return to the site where he had been raised and trained to be a killer. Kion did not know the entire story, but he knew that Kovu had been sent into the Pride Lands by his vengeful mother- or adoptive mother, this was one of the points that Kion was unclear on- on a mission to kill Kion and Kiara’s father, Simba. For this reason, Kion had not yet opened his heart to the love of his sister’s life.
“What do you hope to see, huh?” inquired Kovu, keeping pace with Kion by matching his strides. “A couple of burnt hyenas?”
Kion was saved from responding, for they had now moved past the scorched grass and into the Outlands. The surface beneath Kion’s paws transitioned to hard stone covered with a four-inch layer of ash. He resisted the temptation to shake it off, not wanting to slow down. Then he saw them. The three hyenas, their bones scattered about and yet not enough so that it was impossible to see the strange positions of each skeleton. Kion’s eyes fell onto a skull with the jaws spread wide open in a silent scream and he could not look away, staring at the wide mouth, empty eye socket, the sharp teeth with oddly long canines. Suddenly, Kion realized that the unusual length of the two upper canine teeth appeared familiar to him. He looked closer and felt a strange chill wash over him. These remains belonged to Cheezi, one of Janja’s main cronies. Perhaps Kion was supposed to feel happy that one of his enemies was gone, but he did not. There was something very sickening about seeing the bones of someone who you knew, regardless of who they were.
“Awful, isn’t it?” observed a deep, rough voice, laced with sarcasm. Kion’s eyes flicked upward just as Janja the hyena stepped out of the shadows, looking straight at him.
“Janja!” Kion snarled, instinctively baring his teeth and crouching. He tensed, his muscles growing taut, ready to lunge at the slightest sign of aggression from the animal who had invaded the Pride Lands- or at least, tried to- countless times. “Easy does it, lion cub,” Janja growled in response, using the infuriating appellation that he had not dropped since Kion had first become the leader of the Lion Guard. He was evidently itching for a fight, his pointed ears standing erect and his face twisted into a sinister grin. “What are you doing here?” Kion snapped, flexing his claws.
“Unless I’m losin’ my memory, this is my territory, which means that I’m in the right and you, Kion, are the one putting his greedy paws all of someone else’s land,” Janja retorted with acronimy, sinking into a crouch himself.
Kion felt himself go hot; Janja was correct, he was in the hyena’s territory. This had the effect of making the insult sting more than it would under normal circumstances. “Never seen you so brave without your egotistical clan at your back!” Janja shrugged, lifting his muscular shoulders. “Surprised to see you cryin’ over a hyena’s dead body. Whatcha doin’ in the Outlands in the first place, huh? Don’t imagine it was to pay a visit to me.”
“That is not your concern,” Kion replied firmly. “We’ll leave now. But if it comes to a fight, you will have to take on all of us, without your clan.” He turned and started forward once he heard Ono and Kovu walking behind him. However, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Janja moving alongside them, relying on his ash-gray coat to camouflage himself. Tail swishing, Kion swiveled around and glared at him. “You know that you aren’t welcome in the Pride Lands, Janja!” he reminded the hyena. “You stay in your own home, and we’ll keep to ours from now on. We were just checking.”
“What’s left of your home, you mean,” Janja added with a harsh laugh. “From what I saw, it got burned to bits!”
Kovu growled fiercely. “Stay out of our way, hyena.”
They left Janja standing behind them, Kion glancing back to make sure he was not following. It seemed all right- he had not moved much, though Kion thought he was leaning forward in a manner that appeared almost anticipatory. This quite disturbed Kion, but he could not understand why. Now that he was alone, Janja was no threat. The hyena leader was a coward who only engaged in battle when he had the numbers on his side or a dirty trick in his teeth.
As they strode briskly, continuing forward, Kion froze. Behind them, Janja had issued a loud whooping sound. Immediately following this, three rawboned spotted hyenas slunk into view out of the shadows- hyenas that Kion recognized. Clearly, not all of Janja’s clan had succumbed to the fire. Slowly, Kion turned around to face Janja, who was wearing a sinister grin. “Though you’d get away that easily, did ya?”
“Don’t even try, Janja. You don’t stand a chance, even with these three,” Kion told Janja coolly, lowering himself until the fur of his underbelly brushed the rocky ground. “Get away from us now, or we’ll make you.”
Janja sniggered malevolently. “I’d like to see you try. You’re gonna be hurtin’ if you think you can take us all on.”
There was no choice unless he was to risk an injury. Kion spun on his paws to face the three trulucent hyenas and opened his mouth and prepared to perform the Roar of the Elders, which would sufficiently remove them from his path. Making sure that Ono and Kovu were safely behind him, he gathered a breath and protracted his claws to grip the ground. His eyes narrowed, and he tugged his lips up to his gums to show his teeth. However, right as he was about to unleash the power of his greatest ability, Ono screeched for Kion to watch out. As he tried to turn, he felt a set of razor sharp teeth digging into his hind leg. The Roar died in his throat, a grunt of pain taking its place. He tried to spin around and pry Janja off, but the hyena easily evaded his lashing paws without releasing Kion. But just as Kion was able to fling him of by vigorously thrashing his leg, another hyena sprang onto his mane and began savaging his mane, trying to reach his throat.