High humidity and low light--a fine example of an agitating evening at the Pepo'porojo.

The Shrinekeeps should've been tending the shrines as usual, but nearly all of them were being taught a very valuable lesson. Unfortunately, one Shrinekeep was missing out.

Safi.

Lying on her stomach in front of a rocky Hounfor, Safi was happily humming to herself as she pulled long flower stems from her silver arm bands. She placed them gingerly upon some stones before the shrine, closed her eyes with a smile to offer a silent prayer, rose to her paws, and proceeded to another Hounfor. She had momentarily wondered where the others had gone, but her mind dismissed her idle thoughts almost immediately and she had continued her work. That's what she was doing right now--blissfully ignorant of her folly and quietly tending to her duties, humming tunes for the spirits...

And that's exactly what Uovu saw.

Glowering in the dark shade of a tree stump Hounfor, the Poupe was watching the young lioness. He watched her delicate frame recline before each Hounfor--watched how elegantly she pulled each offering from her shining bands with her teeth. She was a perfect example of a Shrinekeep.

Exactly what Uovu was looking for.

Tail flicking slowly at his heels, the lion stood in the shadows for a bit longer, eyes following the female's every move.

Safi, meanwhile, was wholly unaware of her shady stalker and his purpose, whatever it was. She continued to each shrine, continued her prayers...it was a normal evening as far as she was concerned. Still, there was a little, tiny voice in her ear that wondered why she was the only one there. She was usually early the Hounfor, but not always the absolute earliest. It was strange. But again, the young female put it out of her mind.

Uovu watched the lioness's gaze move from their task and hover mindlessly every now and again--she was more than obviously losing herself in her own train of thought. It was getting better and better, the male thought. She was a good Shrinekeep and an airhead. He'd have no trouble talking to her. The more he assessed, the more confident he felt in approaching her. He waited another moment before he moved from the stump and began his walk towards the female, careful to move easily rather than to stalk, lest he appear intimidating. Every move was calculated.

The Shrinekeep sighed softly and flicked her hair out of her eyes. Upon reaching the grave of a deceased pride member she had known, Safi smiled and pointed her ears forward, as if to listen to the spirit's words. She offered a single black feather to her dead-but-living friend before turning around to face her next--

Gasping, the lioness nearly tripped backward in surprise at having found herself come face-to-face with a black male lion. Ah, but she knew him--she knew him, it was all right.

Exhaling with some relief, Safi offered a hesitant smile and folded her ears bashfully. "Good evening," she said breathlessly.

"Good evening," Uovu echoed--his greeting, of course, calculated to match hers. He hadn't meant to startle her. He knew some apology was in order if he was to make her feel more at ease because of his blunder. "I didn't mean to startle you," he admitted quietly, "truly."

Safi smiled more openly and her ears perked a bit. "Ah, no, don't apologize," she laughed gently, "I'm told I--I scare easy."

Her hesitancy to admit a flaw within her own nature led Uovu to believe that the female was also a bit self-conscious, and therefore more easy to manipulate. How had he gotten so lucky as to be able to meet with the perfect candidate while simultaneously getting to meet with her alone? If any supernatural force existed (which he doubted), luck may certainly be one of them... He also noted how gentle-mannered and soft-spoken she was. It could've been because of her training, or her born-with personality...but it also could've been that she had some form of reluctance of outspoken-ness in front of males. He had to be careful with his manners around this one...

"Well, then, I have to offer an even bigger apology," Uovu said, giving a smile that very much mirrored the lioness's own. "I know what it's like to be caught off your guard. Ah, don't make that face," Uovu rushed, smiling sheepishly at the lioness's attempt to apologize again for him apologizing. "Really, it was my fault for approaching you so quietly like that."

"Oh, please! Let's put it in the past," Safi offered. She would've been beet-red with embarrassment if her face had been capable of shifting colors. "It's not something to speak about like this." Yes, she knew this male. Son of...Ziara, she thought. She tended her grave often. But his father? She didn't know. Ohhhh, she should know! It was wrong of her not to know. She'd have to dedicate more time to learning about the deceased pride members. Hm, he was...nice, she thought. Very kind. He had a soft demeanor--she suspected his soul was a good one, but of course she'd never, ever, ever boast on being an authority on that subject!

Feeling a bit more comfortable, the lioness shrugged off some of her shyness. "Was there something you needed, uh--...umm--?" Safi asked, struggling to recall his name, though she wasn't sure if she even knew his name at all.

"Uovu," the Poupe finished for her with a smile, head tilting just slightly. It made him look a bit more cub-like, and therefore less threatening. "And yes, actually, if it's not too much trouble, errrrrr--...." he answered similarly, not knowing the female's own name.

"Safi!" the Shrinekeep answered, a bit more boldly than her usual. She seemed to notice that fact and shrank a bit into herself bashfully. She laughed lightly and glanced to the Hounfor beside her. "So, Uovu," the lioness said, looking back up at him. "What can I do for you?"

Uovu was very glad that she asked...

Very glad, indeed....









To be continued...