03/13/10 - The Mountain Pass

The Players:
Badiliko - White Lion from Kopje Valley
Elimnyama - Rogue Black Lion, Mystic, and Chief Witness
Itumele - Juvenile Lion and Son of Balana
Johari - Badiliko's Mate and Kopje Valley Lioness
Kahini - Rogue Lioness and Kumalo Guide
Miiba - Wandering Hedgehog-Turned-Guide
Sanlina - Rogue Lioness and Guide

Although not even a day had truly passed, Badiliko's going was slowing the party down severely. His wounds, though cleaned and no longer bleeding, were stil a source of relevant pain and prevented him from quick movement. In fact, were it not for the support of his companions (especially Johari) the journey would have stopped as is. Nevertheless, it went on to the mountains, where Miiba's directions lead them to a dark valley. Although there is sunlight in the sky it is not enough to provide clear illumination through this corridor, leaving the party to fumble through if need be.

In light of their leader's injuries, Itumele's been behaving himself a little bit. A little. Besides, now that they're out of purely flat, boring terrain, he seems to be a little more interested and a little less irritated. He'll wander off slightly towards one side of the valley, sniff at it, then go check out the other side. This time, though, he's gone a little further up ahead, slightly out of sight.

Badiliko's strength is not with him to act as parent for Itumele and makes no efforts one way or the other to reign the youth in properly. It has been a blessing that the juvenile has been behaving more and he's grateful. Not that the white lion can express that gratitude as is, though, but he's quite intent on moving forward and raises no objections to Itumele acting as a forward scout. "So dark," he comments silently on the nature of the corridor.

"Fortunately for us, we have a bright, white lion to lead the way for us." Johari remarks from a couple of feet away. The young lioness has found it much easier to keep pace with the group now that the pace has slowed as is. "Though if there were a more desirable path to be on, I'd be the first one on it."

Kahini is several paces away from both Badiliko and Johari. The Ex-Kumalo has kept her own eye on Miiba ever since they entered the dead land and the trip started to sour. Trust? Nope. Not a chance. The Kumalo Scout finally does take her eyes from the hedgehog, glancing sideways to the lioness next to her. "Shadows are advantages as much as they are disadvantages, don't you think, Lioness Sanlina."

Sanlina keeps her own eyes and ears perked, glancing around, listening to everything she can, keeping senses open for potential trouble, especially when Itumele keeps searching into the deeper shadows. She glances sidelong at Kahini, perking her ears at a sound, then turns her attention to Kahini for a moment. "I do." she replies softly. "Though if the advantage works for both, we may well slip past trouble before it actually finds us. Unless trouble is a steep cliff or deep crack in the ground." she notes.

"The earth shake didn't come this far, though," Miiba counters. "And by all accounts, we should have been met by Jahusi lions by now…I don't understand it." He stays just behind Itumele so that there's a lifeboat chain thing going on which prevents the youth from going too far out of sight. "The place didn't get less creepy, though…"

The hedgehog's diligence works for a little bit, until Itumele stops, peers off to the side, and goes off into some side crevice. He's not gone long before he comes popping out again with a bird egg in his maw, which he stops to show to Kahini, since she's the nearest. "Look what I caught!" he says once he's deposited the egg on the ground.

Badiliko, who is not yet in range of the find that Itumele has come across, just smiles softly as he continues to push along in his injured state. "When we get back…I want to sleep for a week." He chuckles softly as well, though it soon becomes a hiss of pain.

Johari moves a foot or so closer to the white lion, gently bumping her forehead against the other's throat. "You need to stop and rest for a little bit Badi?" Johari has successfully become the overly concerned mate one might expect from someone like herself. As is, she hasn't noticed the egg carrying lion yet either.

Kahini is about to say something else to Sanlina when Itumele shows up with an egg. The Kumalo gives Itumele a strange stare. "Is there any reason in particular you're trying to get the attention of those around us?" Her voice hints with annoyance.

Sanlina also glancse over to Itumele. "It's best if you put that back, Itumele. If you annoy the birds here too much, especially if stealing their eggs, the noise may alert others to our presence. And we're at a dissadvantage in the dark in unknown territory."

Miiba pauses. "Birds? There aren't supposed to be any birds around here." From the shadows another voice echoes (with freakish timing), "That's right. There shouldn't be." The voice is aged (though not elderly) and very, very deep. It's hard to tell from where it came thanks to the echo of the mountainsides, but it's audible enough to be perfectly heard.

So much for excitement. The juvenile just gives Kahini and Sanlina a dirty glare. Before he can pick it up, though, someone else speaks up. "What waaas that?" he questions as his ears perk up and he looks around. "I never heard someone that spoke that deep. 'cept maybe an elephant," Itumele observes.

Badiliko pauses for a moment, his opportunity to answer Johari and the group being snatched by the necessity to answer to…to whoever that was. "…who are you…?" he asks suspiciously and with a little weakness. "Itumele, get behind me. You too, Miiba." Badiliko sits for a moment before forcing himself to rise up and assume a defensive posture.

Johari's ears pin back against her head as she hears that deep voice up ahead. She remains standing at Badiliko's side, though if one got a good look at her eyes, they'd show uncertainty, and perhaps a bit of fear.

Kahini is just about to chime in with Sanlina's remark when another voice booms from up ahead. Kahini frowns outright, realizing rather quickly that the situation this is developing into isn't very favorable. Looking at the young lion, she remarks "Keep your egg safe, Lion Itumele, and we can discuss this further in a little while." Hopefully he takes the hint. Keep the egg safe by staying out of harm's way. Once she does this, she pads up and pauses off a little ways from Badiliko, intentionally leaving some space between herself and the others.

Sanlina also frowns, perking her ears directly toward the sound. "Could be an alligator or croc." she notes. She takes Badiliko's other side, also moving a bit from the others. Whoever might surprise them has a multitude of fronts to attempt to attack.. and get attacked by.

"They don't come where there water is lacking," the voice responds. Miiba, yet again, looks horrified. Only this time he knows exactly what it is. The deep, authoritative voice continues by asking, "Who are you and why are you here?"

"But… I was gonna eat it," Itumele says as he watches Kahini pass by and get up in front of him. The lion rolls his eyes, scoops up the egg in his maw, and sulkily pads over behind Badiliko, plopping down on his haunches and staring off in the opposite direction from where the white lion looks. After all, something could come from behind too!

Badiliko looks over his party and realizes a difficult choice needs to be made right now. He carefully looks at them all, especially Itu and Johari, and then looks forward and boldly replies (or towards that effect), "I am Badiliko, son of Theluji. We've come to see the Jahusi and must make haste to that end." He stands firm, not budging and being ready for a fight if necessary.

Johari doesn't like this one bit. Her eyes are constantly looking, scanning the shadows for something, anything. SomeTHING belongs to that voice, and whatever it is, it isn't overly welcoming. Being so far from home, Johari once again finds that she has no idea what to expect.

Kahini's coat seems to stand out a little different in the shadows than that of the others. While Badiliko's is certainly unique, Kahini's ashen coat is much the same. Or is it? The lioness starts to wonder if she's the first Kumalo bloodline cat to have walked in this place. Her instincts tell her odds are there were others before her, and more than likely with the same Kumalo intentions that came down upon the three prides so long ago.

Sanlina keeps her ears perked, silently listening, silently watching, head swiveling back and forth slowly as she tries to keep track of the sounds in here. She's ready in case the voice starts to come closer.

And come closer it does. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump. With each sounding of heavy footsteps is also a tiny, yet notable tremor in the ground that becomes slightly larger as it approaches. Thump thump. Thump thump. It takes several long moments until the source of the sounds is within sight, and once it is…wow. The source of all this noise is a very large rhinoceros with a very large horn and a very large collection of scars along its armored hide. Its eyes are faded, but they seem to be working still. He doesn't look very pleased and is looking at the entire party with eyes that match those of one who has killed lions before.

Itumele looks around behind Badiliko… but soon enough it's obvious that it's not something back there. It's somewhere else! So the juvenile turns to look around the larger male. "Woooah. Cool!" he blurts out with the typical enthusiasm of youth. Nevermind the fact that they're all staring down the horn of a huge creature that has more than enough power to gore through all of them, maybe at once. "A rhinoskerisk!"

Badiliko sends a sharp glance at Itumele, silently ordering him to stay back and quiet (although the comments are not necessarily lost). With another bold look he faces the rhinoceros once again, his eyes on fire for perhaps the first time. "I have no qualm with you. Let us go on or send us away, but do not stop us here."

Johari has seen a rhino before. Of course, it was a VERY long ways away from her. This is totally different. She swallows and would REALLY like to turn tail on such a creature and run. If Badiliko wasn't next to her, she probably would.

Kahini stands her ground firmly, not budging a muscle at this danger. She's faced many dangers before. This is but one more. As Badiliko seems to have its attention, she holds her own tongue until it becomes more apparent what this creature's intentions are.

Sanlina studies the rhino carefully. She knows it'll take more then brute force to take it down. This group has at least two who qualify. But taking on a rhino is another level of difficulty still. Her confidence and focus doesn't wavier, giving the rhino at least two he'd have to deal with, if it came down to that.

The rhinoceros finishes examining the group and especially Badiliko. "We feared your return, Mrithi. Come, the Matriarch has much she wants to discuss with you," the gargantuan animal summons in a tone that suggests Badiliko NEEDS to take the rest. "No harm will come to any of you."

Itumele simply rolls his eyes and paws idly at the egg he picked up before. But since everybody seems intent on being paranoid and scolding him for whatever he does, he simply continues to sit there as they deal with the rhino.

Badiliko emits a nonphysical sigh of relief as his posture softens a little bit. "Then lead us." Short, sweet, and straight to the point, no? Before going on again, he looks at Itumele and gives an apologetic look. "Mind if I look at that egg?" He didn't mean to be mean, but when the situation is potentially dangerous…

Johari breathes a sigh of relief. She's safe. She is safe, right? Well, she's not certain about much of anything, other than the changing tone of voice coming from the rhino. She waits for Badiliko, keeping a loose eye on the rhino.

Kahini casts a look to Sanlina before fixing her eyes on this massive creature before her. She's more curious than ever as to its remarks, and more so where it intends to lead them.

Sanlina returns Kahini's glance, then glances back to Badiliko momentarily. Mrithi? There's more here going on then what's been known. She looks back to the rhino, waiting quietly for Badiliko to make his decision.

"Come," the large rhino commands plainly before turning around with those same enormous footfalls. "Stay close, lest you lose the way." And with a thump thump thump he marches into the darkness.

Itumele's hackles visibly raise as Badiliko questions him about the egg. The juvenile pauses with his paw atop it, and for a moment it's hard to tell just what he's going to do. Ultimately, however, he abandons it where it sits, getting up and shoving past Badiliko as he moves to follow after the rhinoceros, foul mood clearly having descended upon him again.

…well, that could have gone a little better. Badiliko sighs softly a little bit and leads the group behind the rhinoceros. Thankfully he seems confident that as-is it's of no threat, especially given that a rhino's true danger is a frontal charge. "Come on, let's follow and get some rest."

Johari tags along close to Badiliko, finding a bit of eagerness creeping up in her now that the apparent on the spot danger has past. The lioness keeps pace with the rhino and heads into the darkness.

Kahini has no real trouble following the thumping foot steps of the rhinocerous, that much is for certain. However, unlike the others, she has not grown at ease in the least. Her eyes, ears, and nose stay alert as the shadows close in around them.

Sanlina moves up alongside Kahini as we advance into the caverns. She also continues to look around carefully. She stays silent for now, letting the echos of the dark talk instead to her and Kahini.

Silent and stoic the rhinoceros leads the group through the darkness, a very long corridor of it. What comes as a surprise is when the rhinoceros turns into a mountain wall and goes into what appears to be a cave. Ah-ha! "Stay close, it's easy to lose yourself here." And on he leads through winding tunnels of caves. Miiba, of course, is pulling rear guard and staying well enough away from the rhino.

Itumele follows along behind the rhinoceros in his own disgruntled manner, not saying anything.

As does Badiliko, who is most likely too exhausted to keep up a proper defensive screen through all of this. Not that many can blame him, but it is a deadly mistake, perhaps in this circumstance.

Johari continues along the way, saying nothing as they go deeper into this strange cavern. She's never seen anything like it in size, its awe striking!

Kahini is quite alert of the surroundings, and is doing her best to memorize distinctive features along the way. One never knows when one might need a speedy retreat. Thus the life of a Kumalo Scout.

Sanlina sticks with Kahini, also studying things. Two heads and pairs of eyes and ears are better then one, especially for a place like this.

The rhino continues leading the group until they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Once through the tunnel they all enter what appears to be a caveborn garden with natural fauna and flowers growing all over the ground. They're all sweet to the smell (a scent familiar to those who have smelled Badiliko) and beautiful to look upon and, not too unlike the volcano, there is natural light flowing in from an opening in the ceiling of this cave. The only thing out of place here is what lies in the middle: a giant slab of jet black rock, natural but uneasy to be around. "Welcome to the Nursery, last holding of the Jahusi," the rhino states. Oddly enough, not a lion to be seen (aside from the visitors).

~End Part 5~

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