He wasn't home yet...
The sun's first light was already breaking over the horizonline, grimly seeping through the mists that swirled through the dense jungles and thick, lush grass. Dew had already begun to gather along the blades of grass just beyond the mouth of the den. Soon the mist would thin and the sun would burn through the gray of night and chaise away the songs of the frogs that called the territory home.
Takis hadn't returned...
Lazarus, barely out of cubhood, laid silently on the pelt of his father, his tiny paws clinging to the patch of mane that had once hung proudly about his shoulders. It was a bit of an oddity- but so young had he been when he'd lost his parents that the pelt had provided a quiet sense of security. The scent of his father within the cave had been enough to quiet his cries and allow his older brother some rest.
Violet eyes darted after every shadow and motion outside, his mind desperately forming the shape of the older lion out of anything- only to have a bird fly by, a vine move about in a sudden wind, or a genet scurry by.
Simbi's paws carried her weight slowly that morning. With each step, she felt more and more that rocks had been tied to her ankles. She continued onward despite her psychological distractions, however--she had something she needed to do as the Mama.
The voices of her fellow pride members still whispered in her ears, though she was far from their shock and worry. She had grown accustomed to the feel of the Loas' presence around her, but this...this was a bit different. Simbi had never had to relate to someone that their loved one had passed to the next life. The feeling of a fresh spirit seemed to cling to her neck like moss. It was so soon after the death...so soon after his body had been discovered. The others would discover what had happened while Simbi was away, she had confidence in that. The one she was going to visit was so young. She wondered if he was mature enough to understand...
Takis was dead.
Pink eyes settling on their destination, the lioness took a short breath and padded to the dwelling place that once belonged to Takis, and now belonged to the little brother he had left behind.
"Lazarus." Simbi called gently.
The cub lifted his head, hopeful ears perking up out of the stormy blue mane barely covering his head. Pawsteps! He was sure of it- at least this time. And not those of a genet either- stupid things.
The cub sat himself upright, opening his mouth but the greeting died on his maw as a familar but unexpected figure darkened the doorway of his den.
He made a soft noise in the back of his throat and bowed his head. "M-mama?"
"Hello, Lazarus," she greeted. She did her best to hide her sense of foreboding and replace it with her normal aura of motherhood. She had no biological children of her own, but the members of her pride were like her own cubs. Lazarus was no exeption, especially since he was so young. His youth and the strong bond he had with his stoic brother made her task difficult.
"How are you doing this morning, Little One?"
The cub lifted his head and gave a shrug of his boney shoulders. Like Takis, he wasn't exactly a large lion. He shared his brother's boney build, his long, gangly limbs, and the thin, fine mane. Those that didn't know any better assumed the family had been a sickly line, perhaps weaker than most lions.
"I'm... okay. Kind of hungry though...Takis is late." He wrinkled his nose up, "He's late with dinner and my belly's making noises!"
The Mama watched the young boy's gestures and blinked, masking all expression for a brief moment. When she removed her mask, she had recovered her kind smile again. She stepped closer, her larger form casting an evening shadow over the juvenile.
"Are you?" Simbi asked in response to the little one's report. "I'll invite you to come back with me to get a bite to eat, then. Does that sound good?" The lioness waited a moment before she turned and began to walk back in the direction she had come from.
She knew Lazarus was a well-mannered boy and unlikely to refuse an invitation, especially from the Mama. He was unlike his brother in that regard. It made the news she had to break feel vile in her throat, but she held onto it for a bit longer.
Lazarus rose up to all fours and gave an eager nod. Three steps from the den he paused and looked back over his shoulder. What if Takis came home? He'd worry...
He made a small noise in his throat, shuffling along behind the lioness. He was never quick to share what was on his mind, but it didn't seem right to just leave for breakfast without him...
"Mama...I wanna wait for Takis. Can he come too?"
The tiny voice stopped Simbi in her tracks.
Eyes fixed on the dirt, the lioness closed her eyes and silently prayed to the Loa. Give me the right words, she asked them. She heard air fill and empty her lungs, though she did not feel it. Death was a strange thing. The spirit world could not easily be explained, nor could the spirits themselves. How did one become a spirit? Why did they become spirits? These were questions Simbi could answer, but they were not answers one could believe without faith. Simbi had faith, but Lazarus...he was young. She wanted very much for him to understand--to not be upset or afraid by the news. But her own hesitance to portray that news told her that he would be.
"Lazarus," she called softly without turning, "come here, in front of me."
Lazarus froze at the somber tone of the Mama's voice. His ears fell down against his mane and his eyes narrowed in uncertainty. Had he done something wrong? Perhaps he had... maybe he'd forgotten an appointment, or maybe they were getting irritated that he'd not chocen a role within the pride yet. He wasn't that old...was he?
Tail tucked, the cub slank his way in front of Simbi's paws and dropped down to his haunches. "Yes, Mama?"
Simbi was almost startled by the sight of the cub's fearful body language. Seeking to ease his uncertainty, the lioness sat down and hunched her shoulders. She placed her paw at the cub's back and set her eyes to the horizon.
"You know, Lazarus...the old Mama--the one before me...she was like my mother," the lioness said, looking down to the cub before returning her gaze to the sunrise. "When she died, I was very sad. I cried for a long, long time..." Simbi's eyes narrowed as she recollected. "But soon I realized that I shouldn't be sad. She had died, but she was't gone--she had become a Loa. She would always be with me, and with the pride. She would be there to watch over me until it was my time to join her among the spirits." Simbi explained. "We can't see her anymore, but she is still with us."
The sun's light touched the Mama's eyes and caused her to squint. She turned her head and looked down at the cub, hair shading her face from the light's glare.
Takis is dead."
The cub frowned, for a time not understanding where she was going with this. Death wasn't exactly a new concept to him- but he didn't quite understand it. His father and mother had died- but he'd never seen their bodies. Only the pelts that takis had kept about to keep his younger brother calm...they were gone, but he'd been too young to really understand.
Not wanting to offend the Mama, he nodded his head slowly. The Loa he'd heard about, but he wasn't certain just what he thought about them. How could someone be around..but not be seen? It didn't make sense.
Her final words had the cub's eyes going wide, his ears dropping and his mouth slowly falling open. Takis...dead? Gone!?
Lazarus's eyes fell down to the ground, shock and disbelief flooding his features. His shoulders trembled but that was the extent of his expression of grief. No tears came, no words, no sobs. He...was gone?
Something in the lioness's heart felt weak as she watched the cub's expression and heard his whispering words. She jolted to her feet when he fell and she clambered to his side, lying down to check him closely. Brows knitting in worry, the lioness watched the cub, eager to reassure herself that he wasn't physically injured. Satisfied, Simbi came to the conclusion that the young boy was simply unable to comprehend the shock and loss of his big brother--his only living family.
Blinking her eyes quickly in an attempt to avoid tears, the female stood and grabbed the cub's scruff in her teeth. She grabbed a better hold on his neck and made sure to carry the youth as gently as possible. There was no way she would do anything to hurt the small lion--emotionally or physically. No harm would come to him, whatever his fate. If need be, she would adopt him herself, as Mamas before her did to orphaned children of the pride.
But as the lioness carried the limp cub, her eyes burned. Her chest felt tight and her muscles rolled with each step.
DAMN Takis. How COULD he? Irresponsible, rash, stoic, condesending male who only thought of himself. How could he be so foolish as to leave a little brother behind? Selfish male...Selfish...
Simbi's vision was blurred as she walked, but she kept on.
She kept on for Lazarus' sake.