Adrenaline rushed throughout her as her tail swayed back and forth silently. She whirled around, planting her paws in the rough, scratchy dirt, and met her opponent head on.
She swiped out swiftly with her paws, catching him in the side of his head.
"OW." Her opponent hissed through clenched teeth. "You're getting better at this, Cleo." He winced as the pain washed over him and he twisted around to lick the wound.
Cleo stared in shock. "You're doing that now, Morocco?" She demanded. "In the middle of a freaking battle?"
"Not so much a battle as a fighting practice." Morocco muttered.
"What was that?" Cleo said, narrowing her eyes.
Morocco laughed. "You're always so wound up, Cleo." He paused, then swept into a teasing bow. "Excuse me. I meant Princess Cleopatra." His eyes sparkled mischievously.
"Don't call me that!" Cleo snapped angrily. "You know I don't like being called that! I absolutely don't want to be the heir, and never want to be called that ever again!"
Morocco tilted his head to the side, confused. "Why don't you want to be the heir?" He asked. "Anybody would want to be the heir of our Pride." He pointed out.
Cleo ignored him and surveyed her surroundings, once again marveling at the size of the cave. Yes, the dirt was scratchy, but this was the Training Cave after all.
On one side of the cave was a pile of big rocks, raising a long flat rock that was able to support multiple lions at once to watch the fighting practices. Sitting there now was Queen Savannah.
She was obviously pretending not to hear them, but her ears were turned toward her cubs, listening carefully. Cleo twisted her head around to look towards the entrance on the other side.
Light spilled into the cave, covering it in a bright glow.
Cleo flicked her tail in the direction of Queen Savannah. "She listening to us." Cleo murmured quietly.
Morocco nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I know." He whispered.
Queen Savannah suddenly jumped off the platform and padded over to the two cubs. The only movement that gave away Queen Savannah's feelings was the irritated flick of her tail.
"Cleo, you are the heir, and you will follow in your father's pawsteps." She said sternly.
Cleo looked away angrily. "Why can't Morocco be the heir?" She asked with a sidelong glance at Morocco.
"Morocco wasn't the first born." Queen Savannah replied.
"So? He can still be the heir."
"No, he can't. That isn't how our Pride works."
Cleo narrowed her eyes toward Morocco.
Morocco seemed to notice Cleo watching him and shrugged. "Mom already said it. It isn't how the Pride works." His voice carried a note of sorrow in it.
Cleo sank her claws into the rough dirt. "Fine!" She hissed. "I have to go meet with Dad now." Her muzzle twisted into a smile. "Another hunting lesson, I think." She murmured hopefully.
She turned tail and leaped out of the cave entrance into the blinding light outside. The sun shone brightly above her and she smiled happily, the argument before already forgotten.
She ran toward the Main Cave, bounding over every boulder in her way with each big leap.
King Leonidas stood in the entrance of the Main Cave, watching Cleo come steadily closer. King Leo's face practically glowed with pride.
"Hunting?" Cleo asked as she skidded to a halt in front of her father. When she saw King Leo nod, her eyes brightened. "I love hunting!" She exclaimed happily.
"Let's go!" She said impatiently, nudging King Leo towards the hunting grounds.
King Leo let out a deep, rumbling laugh deep in his throat. "You got that trait from me, Cleo." He said, his eyes glittering with laughter.
Cleo didn’t answer. She bounded in front of King Leo towards the hunting grounds. She ran faster as she saw the gleaming flat plane full of other animals, or in this case, prey.
"Remember." King Leo began the usual lecture. "We don't hunt just to hunt. We hunt to feed the Pride."
Cleo rolled her eyes. "Yes, father." She said. "I know. You tell me this every day." She pretended not to care, but she was watching King Leo for a reaction.
"Cleo, I can never tell you this enough." Her father urged. "You can never hear it too many times."
"Is this about what happened to Uru?" Cleo asked suspiciously.
"Well, not really."
"But is must be."
"Uru never listened to what I had to say. That's why, instead of being the heir, he was banished from our Pride forever. I hope we won't ever have to banish any other lions from our Pride."
Cleo sighed in exasperation, attempting to hide her worry. "I understand, Father."
She watched a rabbit out of the corner of her eye, knowing that if she caught it she wouldn't get a lecture because it was only big enough to feed one lion.
She advanced carefully, creeping closer, but pretending to watch a zebra instead. She was faintly aware of King Leo watching her. She suddenly leaped, landing squarely on the rabbit.
Before it could let out a squeak, Cleo ended it’s life in one quick motion.
Cleo crouched down beside the rabbit in the regular ritual. "Thank you for your life. It will sustain us." She murmured to the rabbit.
King Leo nodded in approval.
Cleo pushed herself to her paws and picked up the rabbit, tilting her head questioningly at King Leo.
"Let's catch more for the Pride." He responded to the unspoken question.
But before the two lions could get close enough to hunt another animal, they noticed Queen Savannah and Morocco running over the plane towards them.
They both stopped and turned to watch their kin approach.
“What is wrong?” King Leo asked, noticing their urgency. He took a step forward, bringing himself closer so he could hear them clearly.
“A-a herd of zebras are migrating too soon.” Queen Savannah said, still trying to catch her breath.
“What?” Cleo cut in. “What is scaring them?” She asked, immediately assuming that something is scaring the zebras into migrating too early.
Queen Savannah’s eyes flashed with anger before becoming calm once more. Cleo noticed the second of anger. The heir holds more power than the second in command.
If Cleo ever gets a mate, the male would be second in command because he wasn’t the actual heir. Cleo suspected that this was why Queen Savannah was angry.
The heir, as a cub, becomes second in command and pushes Queen Savannah to third.
“We suspect it’s those wolves.” Morocco responded. “We think they are trying to hunt more than their share.”
Cleo narrowed her eyes, lost in thought.
“We can’t do anything to help.” King Leo said firmly. “Just try to stop the wolves from now on.” He ordered.
Cleo nodded absently. “What if they attack us?” She asked suddenly.
King Leo looked shocked. “Why would they?” He asked. “They wouldn’t get anything good out of it.”
Cleo shrugged, not convinced.
“Let’s all go back to the Pride.” King Leo said.
All four lions started padding towards the Pride. Cleo and Morocco lagged behind, just out of earshot of the Queen and King.
“I’m worried.” Cleo said to her brother. “Since we were younger, we were told that wolves were selfish. They could, and probably would, attack us.
King Leo and Queen Savannah don’t believe me, though.”
“Welcome to the family.” Morocco said dryly. “You usually are always believed. Unlike me.” He pointed out. “Because you are the heir.”
Cleo sighed. “Still.” She said.
Morocco nodded. “Well, let’s worry about this tomorrow.” He gazed up at the setting sun. “When we aren’t all tired.”
Cleo murmured in agreement and they both bounded forward to join the King and Queen. Together the family walked towards the Royal Sleeping Tree and stopped.
The tree had thick branches, each about the width of a squirrel. The branches were interwoven together to form a kind of dip, or a bed.
There were several, but only four were padded with soft feathers. King Leo and Queen Savannah each leaped into the two tree beds that they occupy every night.
Their beds were close enough that, if they tried, their tail could brush together. Morocco jumped into another tree bed, and settled down.
Cleo bunched up her legs, preparing to pounce, and leaped up into the tree. She curled up in the smallest tree bed, for she was smaller than Morocco.
Cleo looked up at the stars and gazed around. When Morocco’s breathing had slowed, and Queen Savannah was fast asleep, Cleo felt herself drift into sleep.
Cleo jolted awake. She twitched her tail, wondering what had woken her. She lay there for a moment, waiting. Cleo tensed when she heard a twig snap.
Queen Savannah, King Leo, and Morocco were all still asleep. Cleo paused. She couldn’t hear the slow breathing of Morocco or King Leo. Cleo twitched her ears.
A sudden screech split the air and made her jump. She scrambled to her paws, planting all four of her paws firmly on the interwoven branches.
She gazed around and, through the moonlight, she spotted dark creatures creeping through the branches toward her.
With a sickening lurch, Cleo realized the screech had come from Queen Savannah, who she could no longer hear breathing.
“What should we do with this one?” She heard a voice ask. “Should we kill her, too?”
“Let her live.” Another replied. “That bigger cub must have been the heir, and that means she can’t inherit. There’s no harm letting this female be humiliated for the rest of her life.”
Evil laughs echoed off the trees. Cleo flattened her ears, trying to block out the noise, without much victory. She shook with anger.
Cleo saw the wolves jump off the tree and start padding away towards the hunting planes. Cleo hurried over to Morocco, who was closer to her. She almost fell of the tree in fright.
Morocco had blood seeping from a fatal wound on his neck. Cleo new that her father and mother would have a similar wound, and thought it was best not to see them.
Cleo let out a yowl of grief and anger. Her last thought before she saw the wolves disappear over the horizon was ‘I will get revenge for my family.’