It wasn't about him, it was about the pride. He wasn't speaking for himself. No, of course not. He was speaking on behalf of--well, not on behalf of...not to say that he was speaking for them, more that he was speaking for their benefit. Yes, that was--...oh, hell, he hadn't even reached the Mama's living space yet and he had already failed in what he had set out to accomplish. But what did he hope to accomplish, really? Well, to let her in on his thoughts and worries for some of the recent events in the pride. Certainly, some of the older members were involved...

Ithambo had been around for a year already, so he was sure some of what he had to say had some...backing. Right? Yes, of course. What was this sudden lack of confidence? Was it because he was meeting the Mama for a one-on-one conversation? He was normally fine with meeting others. Was it because of her status in the pride? Or was it the potential conflict that could arise as a result of their meeting?

Growling under his breath, the cheetah continued on through the fog, comforted somewhat by the shadows of the dying trees that surrounded him--dark arms that embraced him with every few strides. With every step, his consciousness of his species grew stronger. Curious, he thought, that after all he'd been through in the pride, him being one of the first non-lions to be christened an official member--a Bokor, no less--he was only now suddenly uncomfortable with being a minority race.

"Rubbish," he murmured to himself. He tried to shrug the feeling, but it continued to stick. Breaking through a thick patch of dry bushes, Ithambo's time to compose his emotions ran out all at once--he was upon Simbi's lair.

Simbi, meanwhile, had been consulting with the Loa. Her place in the pride as a mentor, mother, and voice of wisdom had taxed her both emotionally and physically at times, especially recently. She had a constant nagging feeling that something bad was about to happen--some negative force moving through the pride lands...

Eyes closed and lips parted, the lioness sat in complete silence, coming out slowly from her deep meditative trance. The spirits had told her little, but what they had told her was highly questionable. Bits and pieces of imagery from deep within Simbi's memories had come to surface, and she wasn't sure why or what that meant. Why would the Loa show her memories of her past? What information could past events have to do with what was currently worrying her?

Eyes opening lazily, she inhaled smooth and deep, allowing herself to wake fully from her trance. Tomorrow, she would consult with a Medsen Fey about a different kind of concoction--a type she had rarely used. Her predecessor used it frequently in times of stress to ask the Loa the best direction to take. It often helped her, but Simbi had never been fond of the headaches she'd get after, so she avoided it. Now, however, the feelings of looming dread were bringing her to drastic measures. She needed answers and she needed help. Her pride was everything--her adopted family, her children...she wanted to do everything possible to prevent any negative occurrences well before they happened.

Interrupting her thoughts was the familiar sound of creaking, dried branches. Head turning easily around, purple eyes met red.

"Ithambo," Simbi called almost curiously, not coming out from her relaxed state in the least bit. "What brings you to me?"

Now was the Bokor's time to collect his thoughts and get his points out cleanly and neatly. Everything in order--all his opinions, all of the--oh, Mawu...perhaps his premature failure had resulted from his over-preparation? It was strange how during the times he tried so hard to be mature, he was thrown off his pedestal and made out to be a cub.

Looking up with a humbler expression, the cheetah bowed his head in respect for the Mama as he spoke, "I came to speak to you about something--some concerns," he paused, trying to read the female's expression. It did not shift. "Though I know you--have been...uneasy lately, so I apologize in advance for added stress," he said, careful not to slur his words.

"Ithambo," Simbi smiled, corners of her eyes wrinkling warmly, "come, sit," she nodded her head to her front.

Stomach fluttering with nerves, but strangely eased by the lioness's kind expression, Ithambo did as he was told (or rather suggested, as the Mama never ordered anyone to do anything) and walked until he faced the lioness. He hesitated before sitting down, head still slightly lowered. The gap of silence grew thicker and thicker as the cheetah was unsure of both how to proceed and whether it would be rude or not for him to continue before being prompted to do so. Just before he opened his mouth to speak, the Mama laughed out loud.

"You offer me too much respect, Little One. And I'm not going to bite you."

Being called after the title of pridal youth would've been offensive to him if he had been called that by anybody else, but this was the Mama. And after she called him by that title, she connected something within the cheetah to her and he felt, for the first time, a complete understanding of what the Mama truly was. He understood fully why so many treated her as their actual mother regardless of any real blood relation. It had been one of the few pridal concepts that had never sunk in properly. But now it had. A strange weight of discontent and self-consciousness removed itself with her words and the cheetah visibly relaxed.

"Yes, well..." he continued, rolling his shoulders as he adjusted to his sudden relaxation, "my concern relates some of our kin view the--er, non-lions," Ithambo finished, unsure of how to put the term. Instilled with more confidence as he went, he continued, saying, "namely...Uovu."

Simbi's eyes narrowed slightly in response to the name. The expression her eyes made was not one of discontent, but of concentration. Her mind worked over every occasion in which she had spoken to the male Poupe. Indeed, she had known him for his entire life. He was a great deal younger than she, but he had been alive at the same time as the previous Mama.

"Uovu?" Simbi echoed.

"Yes," Ithambo continued, "his encounters with me have been somewhat...unsavory, for lack of a better...adjective...but lately we've been --well, there've been..."

"It's all right," the Mama said reassuringly.

"We've been having some disagreements. He seems to...dislike non-lions and lately has been more and more open...well, about least, in an expression-related sort of way. Sneering or...just a look--in his eyes."

Simbi's face slipped into troubled understanding as she pondered the cheetah's words. How to proceed with this? How to proceed... If anything, this was proof that her bad feelings had been right. If the Loa were no help to her, at least Ithambo was. His dedication to peace showed his respect and love for the pride. Simbi felt a swell of happiness at that, but the words of the Bokor brought her back down promptly.

"I noticed him speaking with someone else yesterday and as I passed, they both stopped and gave me a...sort of...unfriendly stare," Ithambo said, "and I decided it best to tell you while these open feelings were at a minimum rather than wait until they got out of hand. Well, if they would ever...I don't know," he finished.

Uovu's racism was getting under Ithambo's skin--that was the bottom line. But other than that, as he had been mulling over on his way to Simbi's lair, it wasn't just about him. He wasn't the only non-lion in the pride. For the sake of others, too, it was best that he expose the Poupe's unfairness promptly. He just hoped it had been the right decision.

Simbi was troubled, but not distraught. She knew she would have to discuss these concerns directly with Uovu, but for now she would send Ithambo on his way. He had strained himself enough for the time being, the poor thing. It was almost amusing how such a taut-faced, normally grumpy male could turn into such a respecting thing so concerned with the well-being of others. The thought made her even more satisfied in her decision to allow him into the pride to begin with.

"Thank you, Ithambo. This will be stopped," she said, and then more seriously, "this will be stopped."

Ithambo nodded deeply upon seeing the look in her gaze and bowed his head before rising to his paws.

"Thank you," he added politely, his tone more gentle than he had planned, but he supposed it didn't matter. He had done what he had set out to do. Only time would tell if it would pay off in the end.

They both hoped that it would.