Forgotten Dynasty: Page Nine
"The hyenas flowed over and across the hills in the west. They spilled around and through the waters of the river, slipping and sliding through icy mud and grunting as they scrambled over shards of rock and rubble. And over it all there was the insane giggling and eerie laughter that burbled from their lips, the wide and sharp smiles plastered on every muzzle. Spines bristled with spiky and matted manes, and red and gold and orange eyes glittered like frozen stars from beneath lowered brows.
The sight and sound of them all… of that sweeping mass of seemingly endless death and destruction… it chilled to the bone every lion standing with Selwisegolo. It frosted their insides, and made them quiver. Some of them flinched forward, as if to run at the enemy, but the King ordered everyone to hold their positions. “Let them come to us, tire themselves out a bit in the running. A small advantage – but one we must take,” he said, and the pride heeded his wise words. They didn’t have to make this easy for the white lions’ pack of demons. No indeed.
As the line of snapping and foaming jaws drew almost close enough to touch, and as Selwisegolo and his pride bunched muscles to finally leap to meet them and die in one last blaze of glory, the ground behind and among the feet of the racing hyenas erupted in a wall of dirt, grass, and rock. The clan spun this way and that, every animal going a different direction, their single-minded focus disrupted in an instant, and from those rents in the earth came lions and lionesses. Their pelts were in shades of greys, some darker, some lighter, but all well-muscled and bearing the scars of many battles before. They tore into the hyenas, shredding muscle and bone wherever they could get a second’s grip.
Seeing them, Kunya’s eyes darted all around, looking for something, and finally settling on a small ridge of mountains to the southwest. He could just make out the form of a lioness, two smaller lionesses on either side of her, and the shape of her head and the fur thereon spoke volumes: Queen Jivana of the RockLands stood there, waiting and watching. These were her people. These were her warriors, helping them. The one land they had not allied themselves to – the land they had used and insulted to gain alliances with other lands – it was the only one who had come to their aid.
The only one.
With a flick of his head, Kunya did the only thing he could in order to thank that Queen and what she did for them all: he ran straight into the boiling ranks of the hyenas, giving out as much punishment as they were. He could do no less, nor sit back while they did the PrideLanders work for them. And as soon as he made his move, Selwisegolo and his daughters sprang forward at nearly the same instant, and the rest followed suit in seconds.
The three Princesses found themselves separated from the others early on, shifted away from their pride by the swirling eddies of the hyena fighters. They pressed as close to one another as they could, hindquarter to hindquarter, guarding each other’s blind spots as best they could, but the hyenas seemed endless. They would kill one only to have three more push their way in to take its place. One latched onto Yingozi’s ear, grinding its teeth and making the Princess squeal in pain. Qinisa tore into its back, savaging it and burying her teeth into its backbone with a crunch, but still it clung on, kicking clawed feet back at her. The youngest daughter of Selwisegolo gave one last great pull, and the fangs slid out of Yingozi’s ear at last – but only because flesh gave way and not hyena teeth. Her ear was just ribbons of flesh now, and the blood ran down her jaw in rivulets. With a nasty grin, Yingozi shook her head, sending red droplets flying, and turned on the hyenas once more. “You’ll have to do better than that, carrion dogs! I can live with only one ear!”
Xosha was having some difficulties with her own set of snapping hyenas, ones who were trying to drive her backwards and herd her further away from her sisters. With Yingozi and Qinisa occupied, it was working. The Crown Princess slashed viciously at the beasts, but they dodged like snakes – it was making her angry. Angry that they were driving her along like some silly prey animal, angry that they were trying to kill herself and everyone else, angry that they were here in the first place, and angry that the Spirit Pride had sent them. But all that anger didn’t change the fact that she was being driven… culled from the herd like she would do to a common prey animal. And they were so many, and circling even behind her. She couldn’t have eyes everywhere at once, and she was beginning to tire.
Luckily for her, her sisters weren’t the only ones watching out for her – a great grey-brown lioness of the Shard Pride had been keeping an eye on the Princesses, and seeing one in trouble, she shoved her way through the press of bodies to her side. She was easily large enough to beat away Xosha’s tormentors, and she stood side-to-side with the Princess, breaking bodies as if they were twigs. When the hyenas decided to back off and rethink their strategy, Xosha faced her rescuer. The other lioness nodded once to her, and then waded back into battle, slashing hyenas off of Qinisa and Yingozi.
Once room had been cleared, and there was time to rest for a moment or two, Xosha called out to the larger lioness, asking whom she was who had saved her life. The striped head faced her, and chuckled. “Now is not the time for names, but you may call me Dumiša.” Her eyes flickered over across the seething horde of fighting bodies to where a half-grown male with only a spinal ridge of mane was waving for her attention, whistling. She nodded to him and he gestured towards a cluster of steep and piled rocks, then jumped back into the fray.
Before Xosha and her sisters could ask what that was about, Dumiša turned to them and answered the unspoken question: “The Matriarch has been spotted.” She set off at a trot, lashing out at any hyena that came too near and even swatting savagely at any of the grey male lions of her own pride who bumped into her as they battled. The three Princesses followed in her wake, keeping close enough to benefit from the wider berth their enemy was giving Dumiša. As they came out the other side of the warzone, Dumiša pointed one red-slicked talon at the pile of rubble. “Through there lies the Queen of the hyenas. If she falls, the army falls with her – she is the key to ending this before we all die.”
Yingozi clenched her jaw. “Why isn’t the bitch out here with the rest of her little scum? Cowardly creature!”
“You misunderstand, my lady – it is not cowardice that keeps her behind her ranks, but her own orders from on high. She is there to provide her clan with… incentive
. For as long as she remains to their rear, they dare not flee this battle, nor surrender. Dying at the paws of lions is much preferable to facing the Matriarch,” Dumiša replied, eyes slanting at Yingozi. “Never doubt that the Matriarch is both brave and vicious – she will not die easily.”
The middle Princess rolled her eyes. Hyenas were nasty suckers, true enough – but she and her sister were more than a match for a single one of them, no matter how
good a fighter it was. “Lead on, then, and let’s end this,” she snapped.
Dumiša grinned. “We shall see if your enthusiasm remains in the face of her, my dear.” Then she turned tail and galloped towards the ridge of rock. The three Princesses followed at a similar pace. When they had entered a narrow gulley through the pile or rubble… that was when they were set up from above.
Hyenas had been lying in wait, hidden in the same-colored stone, and they leaped down upon the group as they passed beneath. Dumiša was seemingly unconcerned, tearing into them even as one of her ears was nearly torn off and her shoulder was gouged deep enough to let blood flow far too freely for comfort. The sister had a harder time of it, but Qinisa and Xosha managed to fend off their attackers at last. It was Yingozi who suffered worst. One hyena managed to get its fangs into her throat, and had torn through skin and muscle to pierce her windpipe. She killed that hyena, but breathing was terribly hard and blood foamed from the rends in her neck. Dumiša immediately turned her over onto her stomach, and worked hard with paws and tongue to keep Yingozi’s airways clear of blood. “You!” she barked, pointing at Qinisa. “You go back out there and signal my Queen on the ridge. She will send help for your sister. But you must be quick about it. Time waits for no one, and this one has little left tospare.”
Qinisa, eyes wide and panicked, fled back the way they had come, climbing up the rocks to gain height, and began to lurch onto her hind legs, waving her forepaws at the distant ridge where Jivana stood. She waved and waved, trying to get the grey lioness to notice her, and just as she thought she would fail, the Queen waved a paw back. One of the lionesses beside her disappeared down the rocks, weaving downwards, and Qinisa jumped down from her perch, pacing anxiously. That lioness moved her way, followed by another shape, one that resolved itself into a mandrill, and the pair pushed past Qinisa and into the gulley where Yingozi lay.
As she turned to follow, Qinisa caught a flash of white out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she spotted him – the same white lion who had come before, lying between his teeth and then threatening them. She growled, and noticed that when he flicked his tail certain ways, the hyena clan changed direction or methods. He was conducting them! Directing them! Him
! Snarling, Qinisa threw herself in his direction. Forget the Matriarch… that white bastard was the real leader of the hyena army. White-hot with rage over the dread of losing her sister, at the pain of watching those she knew die here today, Qinisa flew in his direction. She’d end this. Right here, right now. She’d stop it before it went any further.
Unknowing of where her sister had gone, and fearing that she had been lost while getting help for Yingozi, Xosha turned away from the sight of the mandrill tending to that grievous throat injury and instead faced Dumiša. “Keep watch over my sister. Keep her safe. I’ll deal with the Matriarch.”
Dumiša looked blankly at Xosha, then inclined her head slightly. “You are brave beyond even your knowing, and I bow to you in honor of it.” She raised her great head. “But my Queen would believe me remiss in my duties and mission if I let you go alone.” Before Xosha could protest, she continued on. “I will stay here, as commanded. The two of us --” a nod at the lioness who had brought the mandrill “—are enough to protect your sister. But you will not go alone into this battle nonetheless.” She raised her muzzle and whistled, sharply and shrilly, several shot bursts followed by a longer one. “Just wait.” She could see Xosha’s impatience.
A minute or so later, the sound of galloping paws heralded the arrival of a massive wall of lion. His dark reddish-grey mane meshed nicely with his slate-grey pelt and icy blue eyes, but he seemed to still in the face for a living creature -- his expression was blanker than blank. He halted before Dumiša, silent but attentive. “Go with her,” Dumiša said, gesturing at Xosha. “She goes to the Matriarch.” The large male nodded, then faced Xosha, waiting for her move. Dumiša’s face was serious as she spoke one last time to Xosha. “He will obey you, in all things, except one: he is the bait, there to draw the Matriarch’s attention and buy you time to end her. Do not waste this gift of my Queen. Use his death wisely.”
“Death?” Xosha blinked. “No, no he can help, he can fight! Why would he only die? I will bring him back to you.”
Dumiša smiled, a smile both sad and savage. “We shall see, my lady. We shall see.” She flicked her head at the male, and he moved to nudge Xosha. “Go now. Go fast. And good luck.”
Xosha went, racing through the gullies, the big male hot on her heels. The path wove for what seemed like forever, but could not have truly been that long, until it opened out into a wide clearing, bounded on all sides with steep rocks. Only two openings existed: the one Xosha had entered by, and the one the Matriarch must have used. But the clearing was empty except of boulders. “Did she hear us and flee?” she asked the male. He did not look round at her, but shook his head once in negation. “Then she hides.” Again a head shake.
“She is not one who hides.” The male’s voice was deep, rough and rich. “She is here. Right there.” Xosha followed his nod, and saw only a particularly odd-shaped boulder. A boulder that raised its head and turned eyes the color of burning lava on her. As she gaped, it rose up on legs, its head going up. And up. And then it opened its mouth and roared – not a hyena sound at all, not laughter, but the primal scream of a very large and very angry predator – and the sound shook Xosha to her core. She felt the sound in her very bones. She cursed, very softly. No wonder the hyena clan would not flee while this was behind them. Death in battle was preferable to facing this… thing
And then the male beside her made his move, and the world went red with blood."
Finally an update, eh? I'm working on the next part, too, so hopefully it won't be as long a wait for that. Hopefully. I promise nothing, though.
That battle scene up there on the page is crap, so forgive it, plase. I reffed it from some TLK shots and concept works, but I still couldn't pull it off right. Meh.
Anyone able to guess who that male is that is with Xosha at the end there? (No fair cheating!) Also: we shall see the Matriarch on the next page. I promise
Xosha, Yingozi, Qinisa, Dumiša, Antaka, art and story © me.
Please do not copy, alter, trace, or reproduce in any way, shape, or form without written permission from me. Thank you.