Finding the Truth - and Kizawaa

Open Grasslands (neutral)
This area is a vast, open plain all covered with grasses kept short by herds of zebras, antelopes and wildebeests who can be seen wandering around and grazing contentedly. Here and there small shrubs and bushes dot this sea of grasses between the territories of lion prides and hyena clans, neutral ground only claimed by the soft breeze wafting across it.
Nothing larger than a meerkat can hide here, every lion or hyena can be seen from afar already, making hunting almost impossible while offering perfect conditions for negotiations without surprises.
To the north, the grasslands continue far into the territory of the Kisasa clan, with only scents marking the border.
Off to the east, Pride Rock is visible, interrupting the continuity of the savannah with its impressive sight.
West of here is an area still unknown and explored, with secrets of its own yet to be lifted…
And to the northwest, a path leads towards some more hilly terrain, finally giving way to a ridge bordering Uzima Valley, home of the Natamba pride, and high hills far off in the distance.
To the southwest the grasslands slowly pass into the grassy outskirts of the Mekauri territory, home of the Mekauri pride.

Kizawaa, Adult Lioness
Bakunja, Adult Lion

It is likely by this point that Nkosi is starting to get worried, for this return trip to the Mekauri was only supposed to last a few days… long enough to cross the physical distance, speak with Goddatumba, and then immediately turn tail and recross the distance back to the Utatu. Yet it has turned out to be nowhere near so simple… It has been over a week now since Baku and Shuka left Utatu, with the lion spending the last few days criss-crossing the lands in an attempt to find his twin. Only the faintest wisps of Tumba's scent could be found nearby the waterfall and faintly along the border. Confused and concerned and at a loss of what else to do… the scarlet mane of Baku can be seen moving in from the southwest as he steps onto the neutral ground, expanding his investigation.

It's a bit ironic how time seems to flow in circles. Was it so long ago that Kizawaa had first met Bakunja in this very place? The feeling of deja vu' seems to linger in the silent, almost eerie air. Ever since becoming part of the Mekauri, Kizawaa hadn't dared to venture beyond the pride's borders. So it certainly may seem a bit strange for her form to be seen against the backdrop of the Pridelands in the distance. A melancholy sound of one single lioness's roar rings out across the distance, with no reply in return. The sound is strained, as if she's been roaring for quite some time. She's seemingly oblivious to Bakunja's appearance from the Mekauri lands behind her, her eyes trained so hard on the world beyond.

Perhaps they missed crossing each other's paths when Bakunja first arrived back in Mekauri by mere hours… or perhaps it was days. In any event it does not matter now, for the golden lion's ears catch the sound of the roar and the woeful note within it. That in itself would be cause for Baku to grow concerned… however in this case that voice is one he recognizes. His walk promptly transforms into a trot and as he locates Kizawaa's form amongst the grasses, the golden lion releases a heavy chuffing in answer. The puzzlement and worry that had been present on his face before has now doubled - what in the world is Kiza doing here, calling out in such a way? He had not detected any evidence of a fight or other foul play in the lands… yet something is quite clearly amiss.

All too quickly, Kizawaa's head turns as her ears catch the sound of the chuff nearby. Her ears cup forward and her eyes suddenly go wide as she spots Bakunja. That response only lasts a moment though, the lioness taking a half step forward as if she were about to run towards him. Then… recognition sets in. No, this lion was not Goddatumba. And like anyone given a sliver of hope only to have it taken away, a breath catches in her throat and her ears slick back. Her eyes turn sorrowful, but her body seems to move even beyond her control. Kizawaa races forward, closing the distance quickly even as tears mark down her cheeks. At first, there are no words. She hesitates for only a moment within a length of the lion, and then steps forward, leaning her head towards his shoulder. "Oh Bakunja… he… he's gone." On closer inspection, it's clear that the lioness is not in the best of shape. Her fur is dusty and shows sign of ill care. So much again like when the two had first met, once a rogue, so a rogue again.

Her first reaction does not confuse him much for there have been countless times in his life when he has been mistaken for his twin. As she hesitates, Bakunja's own paces dwindle back to a walk as he begins to wonder if perhaps she wishes to remain distant… yet that is quickly proven false as the lioness starts forward again. As she comes to him, he notes the thinness of her shoulders, the unkempt nature of her fur, her tears, and they brings a wave of certainty - for something /must/ have happened for Kiza to be in this state. When she leans against his shoulder, Baku presses his cheek to the top of her head to offer comfort despite the fact that he still has little idea as to what is going on. "He is gone? What do you mean? What has happened?"

"He's gone…" This seems to be the only response the lioness is able to give at first, sniffling a little even as she rubs her head against his shoulder, seeking out comfort in one of the few who might understand her loss. Her shoulders shake for just a moment before she seems to take a deep breath, trying to steady herself. She doesn't lift her head, but her eyes close ever more tightly. "Right about the time you and Nkosi left… Goddatumba, Kithaura, and a few others went to visit the old Mekauri. He'd said he wanted me to come, but he left without telling me." Her ears remain slicked against her skull, as if that were the warning sign she should have known something was wrong. "A few days later… Kanoni came back with news that they… that they weren't coming back. I'd thought… maybe the bird was wrong but… it's been so long."

Bakunja's looks steadily more and more astonished as the lioness explains and the information she divulges answers many questions that had been filling his mind over the last few days. For he remembers Goddatumba's repeated requests for Baku to accompany him back to their homelands… and he remembers that he gave his word that he would do so when Tumba was ready. Despite the rift between them and the fact that Baku had already decided to leave his twin's pride for the chance to walk a different path… he still would have kept his promise to visit his family. Yet it would seem that the promise was unneeded, or perhaps undesired in the end. However it is not until Kizawaa voices those last few remarks that the golden lion again appears dumbfounded. "Not coming back? …As in they are /never/ coming back? What of his pride? What of you and the others left behind?" While he has always known Tumba to have an ego, he had never expected his brother to do something like this.

At first, Kizawaa doesn't answer the questions. The same questions that have tormented her mind for the past ages as she tried to come to grips with what the news meant for her. "I guess… maybe never cared that much for us after all." This seems to be the conclusion that she's come to, or at least the only one that made that much sense. Sighing, she finally lifts her head, looking up at Bakunja with red tinging her blue-gray eyes. "Diallo's off checking the border to Adhama, but everything's gone quiet there, too. Tiombe went to follow her father." As she says this much, it seems clear that Kizawaa finds her daughter's return as unlikely as her mate's. "There's not much of us left. Guess it didn't take much to tear this family apart."

Bakunja is too stricken with shock to be able to immediately process much of what the lioness says after she confesses her belief that Tumba's concern was more for himself than for his pride. However… he cannot say much of anything to argue the fact. After all, look at where they are now - with half of the former Mekauri having left Tumba's kingdom, before Tumba abandoned his own crown to retreat back home. Sorrow and shame floods Baku's face now and his head lowers - much of his face hidden by sections of mane that tumble across his brow. "I walked the Adhama border myself several days ago. There is nothing." News of Tiombe is met only with a wince… which only deepens at Kiza's final sentiment. Pained silence is all that is heard from him for a time although when Baku speaks again, his baritone voice is so quiet that Kiza may have to strain to hear him properly. "I do not know if I can apologize on my brother's behalf for his actions… nevertheless you have my own apology, Kizawaa. Tumba has failed us… yet I have also failed you in that I could not seem to fix whatever it was that was wrong with the Mekauri pride. I am sorry to have left you and yours without a home."

The lack of argument from even Goddatumba's brother only seems to steel the assumption in Kizawaa's heart. "Guess… I made the wrong choice after all." She murmurs, so quietly that it might be hard to hear. Still, her sorrow is evident in her features. "It isn't your fault, Bakunja." She shakes her head from side to side. "Or ours… I think…" She hesitates, and looks away towards the Mekauri lands. Even though silence has taken hold of them, they still have that beautiful quality that had drawn the pride originally to this place. "I think that perhaps all of this was never good enough for him. He wanted to rule the Mekauri. So much he named our pride after them. But we could never be your father's pride." She sighs a little bit, tail curling despondently around her legs. "I've been a rogue before… I'll survive."

Bakunja does not catch the whispered words that the lioness first utters… for he is too lost in the swirl of thoughts now clattering through his own mind. A barrage of what-ifs and if-onlys. Yet the whirlwind is slowed as Kizawaa offers her perspective of why Goddatumba did what he has done. The lion's head lifts back up, pieces of his fire-red mane falling back a little although some of those incessant pieces remain hanging before his eyes. "I had not thought of it that way before," he admits. "But I do believe you are right… perhaps Tumba wanted more of us than we could ever have hoped to give him. You are wise beyond your years, Kiza." The edge of his maw nudges her shoulder in a reassuring manner though his blue-green eyes widen a shade as she speaks of a rogue's life. "You do not need to return to a nomadic lifestyle if it is not your wish," he says. "I know that we have not seen much of each other over the last few moons… I kept my distance in order to avoid any additional trouble with my twin as I know I know he has always been somewhat possessive of you. But Nkosi and I left because of our unhappiness with Tumba's behaviors. While we have been gone… we decided that we did not wish to continue living our lives, feeling restless and useless in Mekauri. Nkosi suggesting establishing a new pride… and that is what he is going to try to do. I told him that I will follow him, so has Shuka and a few new faces we met in Utatu. You are welcome to remain part of our family, and become part of a new one, if that is your desire."

"Wise… but wisdom sometimes doesn't save a heart." Kizawaa replies. She sniffles once, and then closes her eyes to regather her control over herself. It's a hard struggle, but she lifts her head after a time, listening even with the wellspring of emotions threatening to run over in her chest. "So you two were leaving anyways…" She says softly, but then nods her head. "I had… a feeling that you might go. Things haven't quite been the same between you two since the pride started, have they?" She asks, although it's clear that she knows the answer. She looks towards the lands once more, the ones that had been her home - her pride, and sighs. "Not much point in staying here, I suppose. Too many memories." She shakes her head. "Diallo may come, he's been… staying with me." She bobs her head, a silent appreciation of her son's sacrifice for her sake. "I'm sure he'd come with for a time, but he's young. I can't say what path he'll want to take."

The way that Bakunja's ears slant back into his own blood-red mane may be answer enough to her question about how his relationship with his twin had been faring since the establishment of the pride. Yet he replies in words nevertheless. "No… things between he and I wound up quite different. I came here believing that I would have a place beside my brother. That I would be a part of the choices… that I too would help to direct the path of this pride. However, time and time again, that was not the case. Nkosi's joining and appointment to supporting king… then the mess with Mthama… followed by his weeks of pouting over the preferences of the lionesses. It was the last that finally ended my patience." The golden lion exhales a slow and saddened sigh. "All that is in the past now… I suppose I should stop being frustrated over it as it is now quite fruitless. But your son is welcome to do as he sees fit… I well know that it is hard for the paws of a young lion to stay long in one place."

"I don't have much keeping my paws here anymore." Kizawaa admits, her tail giving one small flick as she looks down towards her dark-tipped paws. Conflict still rages in her eyes, as if she were fighting with her own demons to try and figure out just what all this change means for her future. Perhaps for an older lioness, losing a pride might mean the end, but she's still young. The future… whatever it holds, is still a long way away. "I'd said once before… that I owed you two my life. So my life is yours in exchange." She sighs, and lifts her head then to look at him more seriously. "So… if you'd have me. It's not as if I have anyplace else to go."

Bakunja's own personal conflicts are evaporated - temporarily at the very least - as the lioness speaks in such a fashion. "You owe me nothing… certainly not your life. As you said, you are a thoroughly capable lioness and you survived as a rogue before Tumba and myself came along. There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that, if you wished for such a lifestyle - you would succeed in it. Besides… " Here, Baku's eyes also angle downward to stare at the soil just before his own toes. "You say that we saved your life, that we gave you a life? It would seem that we also took it away - myself by my departure for a new path and Tumba by his abandonment of his own pride. You are certainly not in our debt." He clears his throat and tries to clear away a fresh welling of shame at the same time. "So if you choose to accompany me back to Utatu… to find Nkosi for him to bring us all to new lands… then it would be my honor to escort you, and your son."

Kizawaa's mouth opens as if she were about to argue, to dredge up old bones and old debts, but then some part of her thinks better of it and she just shakes her head from side to side. "You don't see yourself very clearly sometimes, Bakunja… but I guess that's a fault most of us have." Although there is a sound of amusement in her voice, it doesn't reach her eyes, which still seem dead behind their reddish tinge. Still, she takes a long slow breath and nods a bit, "It's probably for the best. I don't think… I could stay here much longer. You may want to try to round up what lionesses remain. I'm afraid we're rather scattered now. Laini is gone, Kithaura is gone… the few left don't look to me. Wouldn't have made a very good queen after all." She snorts, a bit of bitterness finding a way through her grief.

Bakunja slowly shakes his head as he says, "You are the first that I have managed to find here… I searched the lands thoroughly and whatever scent trails I found were days old, some even older than that. It would seem that those others Tumba left behind have chosen to either go elsewhere, or to retreat into the farthest corners of the lands so that they cannot be found." A puzzled look passes fleetingly across his face as Kizawaa mentions the status of queen… yet he decides to not venture any questions on that subject as he senses that it is something holding a fresh batch of upset for the lioness. "I made sure that my trail exiting the lands was strong and obvious… so if and when any of those tucked away in the lands decide to emerge, they should be able to follow easily enough if they would like to."

Acceptance settles itself onto the lioness's features, although her ears stay slicked back, a sure sign that she is far from done dealing with the after-effects of her abandonment. Still, she takes a few steps away from Bakunja, twitching her nose towards the lands as she nods her head. "Diallo should be back from Adhama within the day… then we can go." She says, resigned to whatever fate has deemed for her away from this place. "I… need to hunt if we're going to travel." It's clear that hunting has been the last thing on her mind lately, and without the help of a hunting party, the pickings have been slim from Mekauri's larger herds. "Is… it safe in Utatu?" She asks though, hesitating as she looks over one shoulder. "I thought that was where Mtukutu took his pride."

Bakunja sets down his haunches and soon settles onto his belly as Kizawaa backpedals and looks back toward the Mekauri border. He too follows her eyes while his tail winds amongst the grasses where he now lies. "Shuka should be along shortly as well… Hopefully her arrival will come around the same time as your son's." However as the subject of hunting is raised, the golden lion quickly says, "Shuka and I can help you make a kill… I have become fairly adept at being the one… oh bother, I cannot remember what it is called. The one who hides in the grass and waits for the hunted to run by - then leaps?" Baku clearly has been receiving some instruction while in the Utatu as they did not have enough lionesses about. "I should be able to do that rather well. And you need not worry about the Utatu. Mtukutu's pride has dwindled into very small numbers - and half of them are gone on some sort of quest. Mtukutu himself is injured and we have not seen or heard anything from him in all the time we have been there. The only interaction we have had in the Tsavo has been with a couple of their lionesses - Hamaki, do you remember her? - and one of Mtukutu's youngest daughters, a cub named Tumaini. There is nothing to fear."

There is some hesitation in Kizawaa's form, as if she were afraid that if she leaves now to go hunt that she may lose track of the last vestiges of her family that seem to still remain. "You've learned to be the ambush." Kizawaa replies, her brows tightening inward a little as she nods her head. "Not bad for someone who sticks out quite so much." Again, she seems to be at least -attempting- to be lighthearted, but the effect just comes across as a bit forced, especially as there is still drying tear-stains on her cheeks. "Good to know, though. Without a full hunting party, we may need it."

"Aha! That is it!" One of those 'eureka' looks shows on Bakunja's face as Kizawaa says the technical term that was eluding him… and he tries to keep the mood at least a bit higher than it was just a short time before. "I have found that I am only efficient as the ambush if I have something other than grass to hide behind. A rock or a fallen tree or something of that nature… as this blasted mane is visible even through the thickest of grasses." Yet Bakunja's eyes move from the direction of Mekauri… to aim eastward. "We do not have to do our hunting within the Mekauri," he says. "The Pridelands have already recovered significantly from the drought. While the herds have not returned to that territory entirely… I should think that they are large enough to support the four of us for a day or two while we travel. That way we can keep moving forward… in body and in mind."

"Maybe…" Kizawaa glances again at the lands, and then turns away from them, drawing her haunches up underneath her as her tail wraps close around her. "Maybe that's for the best." There is a rumble from her stomach, but she ignores it, settling to lay down nearby. Just in case Bakunja is some soft of illusion that might disappear with distance. "We can go when Shuka and Diallo return, then." She murmurs, and lays her head down on her paws. "Maybe… we'll leave some of the past behind us when we go." She sighs, a sound that shows she doesn't think it all that likely.

As Kizawaa seems to agree with the idea of moving into the Pridelands, the golden lion goes about making himself a shade more comfortable here… he stretches out his front legs and then drops his head downward to rest his chin upon his relaxed elbows. An ear tilts to the lioness's mention of ridding themselves of the past… to which Bakunja rumbles a sigh and then says, "Perhaps it is wisest to hope that some of it stays with us. We must learn from our mistakes behind us… to try to better walk the path ahead of us. Do not let your heartbreak get the better of you, Kiza… Maybe all of this was meant to be." With a smile that is reassuring in that same calm, gentle manner that he has always had, the lion dips his head to her before settling in for some rest.

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