"Alright, who's next?" Shenzi asked. The others; Banzai, Ed, Gituku, Kamau, Abeni and Bongani were all silent. In the mix-up of yesterday, the remaining pups had lost track of whose turn it was to be given the role of "Truth or Dare Asker".

"I forget." Banzai stated as he scratched his head. Abeni looked at Shenzi.

"Maybe Ed can tell us who's next; he used to watch his brother play a lot." The quiet but smart female suggested. The young matriarch turned her head towards her friend.

"Anything you can tell us Ed?" She asked. Gituku began snickering from the word "tell", but a mean look from Banzai was all it took to shut him up.

Ed put his paw on his chin for a minute; but honestly, right now, his mind wasn't fixed on the game of "Truth or Dare" they were playing. No, he was more focused on reliving the memory of what happened earlier this morning: his brother's wedding rehearsal.

Flashback…

There was a large group of hyenas gathered in front of the skull which was home to Rashid, Neema, Edward, and the male of the hour: Maumbu. Ed looked over all of them and was surprised at how many guests had turned out for this event. He heard his parents saying they'd invite some family and a few close friends as well; if that was the case, Ed either must've been behind on his heritage or wasn't paying attention when his parents said they had a lot of friends.

Behind Ed sat his mother, and to their right sat Rashid. And directly beside those three was Maumbu and his mate-to-be Hasina, whose parents were sitting near her. Hasina's mother was smiling one of those sad smiles; Ed thought he could see tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Her father wasn't very emotional about the event, or at least he tried not to be; he started at the ground, occasionally glancing up at his daughter, only to stare at it again upon seeing her happy expression.

Ed glazed over the crowd a bit more before suddenly darting his attention to his father when he heard him clear his throat and stand up, the crowd copied the young hyena's actions. Rashid took a deep breath and grinned at his eldest son before looking at the mass of guests and speaking up.

"On behalf of everyone here today, I'd like to congratulate this happy couple on their decision for a new path into life: together." There was some light cheering and Ed saw his brother and his soon-to-be sister-in-law waving back to everyone before Rashid spoke again.

"One week ago, these two were just another nonchalant teenage couple of the Elephant Graveyard. And soon from now, they'll be happily married. …Oh, there I go; I promised myself I wouldn't cry." The male stated before rubbing one of his eyes with his paw. Hasina smiled as Maumbu quietly sighed before saying,

"It's alright dad."

"Rashid, you're going to get me started." Ed heard his mother say, before looking up and seeing her also wiping an eye with her paw. And upon looking over at Hasina's parents, he could already see some happy tears streaming down her mother's face, while her father completely stared down at the ground at this point…before Ed saw some drops hit the dirt beneath the male's head.

"I remember when Maumbu was about Ed's age; although I can certainly say their interest in females was slightly different." Ed heard a light commotion of chuckling from the hyenas settled in front of them.

"Dad." Came a familiar, but annoyed, voice. The pup looked over just in time to see Maumbu giving his father a look before Rashid waved it off and continued talking.

"I was there the first time he met Hasina, although I had no idea I was meeting my future daughter-in-law." Rashid grinned at Neema before speaking again.

"We were just starting on one of our hunting trips, I don't have to tell you all how that went." The large group of hyenas nodded to each other while Ed heard murmuring amongst them.

"We were going to search near some geysers to see if any unlucky animals, had stumbled upon an unfortunate encounter. It was like looking for your very own pre-barbecued meal!" The crowd laughed again before Ed's father went on.

"As the two of us were just about to reach this valley, some young female rolls out in front of us from out of nowhere. I'm a little surprised, but Maumbu runs right behind my leg until he realizes it's just a girl." Maumbu tried to hide his face as the crowd lightly chortled.

"She asks us where we're going, I say 'We're hunting', she asks if she can come too, I say 'Sure', but Maumbu throws a fit." The mass of hyenas began laughing as Maumbu glared at his father in embarrassment.

"He complained a lot less when they started dating." The crowd laughed harder. This was becoming humiliating; unless some natural disaster occurred Maumbu was going to have to find some other way to make his dad zip it.

"Well long story short, a few years after that I'm also the first one to know about the engagement." He then focused his attention on the two hyenas next to him.

"To the happy couple: may your marriage, be every bit as good as mine is." There was a mixture of laughter and applause, and thankfully at that last comment Maumbu was no longer embarrassed; he even laughed a bit himself before nuzzling his future mate, which she returned. Rashid put his paw to his chin for a moment.

"Of course this does remind me of another story-"

"DAD!"

End of flashback…

"ED!" Ed immediately shook his head from his thoughts when some very annoyed voices yelled his name. He looked up to see every pup in the game staring at him, looking irritated. He giggled in embarrassment, feeling like his brother at that rehearsal, before thinking to himself again.

In all the times he observed his brother playing "Truth or Dare", a conflict such as this had never occurred before. But to him, the logical thing to do was let Shenzi pick; since Monifa had ran off and was disqualified from the game, Shenzi seemed to be the only eligible choice. So he simply told the others his opinion in the matter, and since the majority seemed to agree with him (Gituku wanted another turn), Shenzi looked over what alternatives she had.

"Hmmm…I pick…Banzai." The male's eyes quickly enlarged at her choice, but Gituku started snickering again; even Ed and Bongani, with their paws compressed against their muzzles of course, couldn't hold back their ribbing giggles. The oldest of the group quickly swallowed the lump in his throat and managed to get his salivary glands working enough to speak in an eligible lexis. The others weren't surprised at his pick of the litter.

"Hey Tuki, Truth or Dare?" Banzai smirked at Gituku's irritated response; ever since Banzai heard Gituku's mother call him that he used it to infuriate his rival every chance he got, as if it were a basic instinct.

"Dare. Novio." The pup sneered.

"You don't even know what novio means." Banzai responded; for once completely unaffected by an intended insult.

"Just dare 'im already!" Shenzi intervened; wanting to prevent another brawl between the two, that is unless Banzai dared Gituku to fight him.

"Yeah; and do the dare the way you're supposed to." Kamau added as he looked at his currently annoyed friend. Banzai looked up in thought.

"Let's see…I dare you to…" The others waited patiently on his decision; speaking of which, Shenzi was wondering if she had made the right one by picking him. From how long she knew Banzai, he seemed to be the unpredictable type. A quick-temper, a doer before a thinker, and one who was easy to provoke; Banzai must've been a handful for his mom.

Shenzi was praying in her mind that her friend wouldn't challenge Gituku to do something to get them both in gigantic trouble; or at least not get himself in gigantic trouble. After a minute of pondering what to do, Banzai's face lit up.

"I got it! You know how you're always braggin' about how faster you are than me?"

"Yeah." Gituku replied.

"Prove it."

"How?" The second-oldest of the group raised an eyebrow. Banzai pointed to some sort of monument that was a mere speck on the horizon.

"See that huge ribcage?" The others had to squint their eyes in order to just vaguely bring it into sight.

"…Yeah." Gituku answered after stretching his neck out some.

"Run as fast as ya can towards it. If you can make it over there fast enough, I'll give you my leftover share of the food that Taka brought for us yesterday." His rival's eyes grew to the size of ostrich eggs and the rest of the pups' jaws dropped right to their forepaws; was Banzai serious?

Food was one of his favorite things in the world, and he was going to give all of it, not some but all, to his rival? Willingly? This didn't make any sense. Banzai hated Gituku; why would he consent to providing him with anything? Food especially.

The two had been rivals as far back as anybody could remember; it seemed like always if they weren't yelling insults they were throwing blows. However, their detestation for each other was slightly ironic because they were almost exactly alike in personality except for two things: taste in girls, since Banzai liked Shenzi and Gituku liked Monifa, and the fact that they hated each other.

Knowing all this, the group of pups figured there was either something critically wrong with Banzai, or he and Gituku had claimed a truce fire. The first one seemed to be the more likely of the possibilities.

There was a moment of stillness between the seven pups, before Gituku finally exclaimed,

"You got yourself a dare!" And began running towards the horizon. Banzai merely smirked; causing the others more confusion.

"Why ya smilin'?" Shenzi inquired. Her friend's grin only became wider as he answered.

"Ed said if you run away you're out of the game, right? Well, he ran away."

The pups were stunned, even Shenzi was speechless; apparently, Banzai could be smart…when he wanted to be that is.

"So, I guess that means you're not giving him your food?" Kamau and Bongani asked at the same time.

"Nope."

"Not bad, for you. Go ahead; pick the next one." Shenzi said. The male pup scanned over his peers, before grinning and motioning to,

"Ed." The pup smiled and grinned his teeth at his friend for his selection. He motioned to Abeni, who blushed and replied,

"Truth."

"Why are all the girls picking 'truth'?" Bongani whispered to Kamau.

"Monifa answered 'dare', and I guess they don't wanna be like her." He replied. Ed asked Abeni something in a language of "tongues" and occasional hand gestures. The group of pups were clueless as to what he just said, so they were puzzled when Abeni replied,

"…A little." Ed grinned; causing bewilderment among the remainder of pups. …Except for Banzai, who raised an eyebrow. He thought the expression on Ed's face seemed very familiar, and it occurred to him that he himself might've had the same look presented on his face whenever…something happened. What was it though?

Finally, it hit him: Ed's pleased expression was very similar to the one he got whenever Shenzi complimented him (which was rare, and he was also careful to not let her see it). Banzai rolled his eyes as he figured out what his friend must have asked her, and he confirmed his assumption when he noticed Abeni's eyes started to shift left and right before she diffidently got to her feet and said,

"I'm done playing now. …Uh, I'll go keep Gituku busy while you guys finish!" And without another word she darted from the group. At this point some of the pups were awestruck, particularly Shenzi.

"That's three times in a row! Why is everybody turning into fraidy little lion cubs all of a sudden?!" She exclaimed, which is when Kamau stood up.

"I'm not a fraidy cub, but I'll go help her with Gituku." And with open jaws at this point the future matriarch saw him walk away. The three remaining males merely stared.

"Who's next?" Shenzi groaned. But suddenly Ed began pointing vigorously in some random direction.

"Don't tell me you wanna leave too?" She asked. The male shook his head and continued his eager gesturing.

"The bathroom's behind that rock." Banzai told him as he motioned towards a medium-sized boulder which the other side was closed off from view; thinking Ed was prancing around from some increasingly sensitive nerve endings, which is what a lot of pups did whenever they needed to take a rest stop.

Ed smacked his paw against his forehead as he growled in frustration, before firmly grabbing Shenzi and Banzai's heads and turning them around. The two blinked as they scanned the vicinity before gasping at the site of,

"Taka!" Shenzi exclaimed. The 17 year-old lion was indeed coming into the Elephant Graveyard, and for some reason he was mainly leaning on Zira.

"…And Zira's with 'im." Banzai gradually added. Ed murmured something into his ear; Banzai interpreted it as,

"I'm just glad she didn't bring her boyfriend." The male had to agree with him on that. Bongani was just staring at the whole episode. Suddenly Banzai and Ed looked over and became surprised at seeing Shenzi was gone. Noticing this, Bongani simply gestured in the direction Ed had previously pointed in; the two looked up to see her now a few yards off.

"What're you guys doing?! Don't you remember what Taka told us last night?!" At that, both male's eyes widened and they sprang in her direction, but quickly halted after a few sprints and turned back to their companion.

"Uh, you win Bongani!" Banzai said quickly while Ed nodded in agreement, then Bongani watched as they both continued running towards Shenzi. Bongani blinked.

"…Yay…"

Meanwhile…

Zira sighed as she helped Taka saunter down the path, formed over years of coming into the Elephant Graveyard, as much she could; since yesterday her friend's body didn't allow him to do much. The remaining prince of priderock acted happy for his brother but everybody knew the real emotions he held deep down. He wouldn't even eat breakfast this morning, and when friends said hello, he wasn't very responsive.

She was hoping a visit to the Elephant Graveyard would heighten his spirits; it seemed to make him happy and with any luck the two would stumble upon the three hyena pups Taka was particularly fond of, which would make things even better…but none of those plans seemed to be working at the moment. No hyena pups, nor any other signs of life as they neared the destination. Zira glanced over at her friend who was still but a limp figure who could, and would, only walk. In a last attempt to comfort her friend, she smiled and spoke to him.

"Cheer up Taka; I'm sure you're not the first male of priderock to endure this kind of problem." He blinked, but other than that made no reply. The lioness bit her lip as she struggled to think of something else.

"Y'know…this could actually be a good thing for you. I heard princes get most of the power of a king, with a countering part of the responsibility." Her friend merely sighed. At this point, Zira was becoming very worried for her friend; her eyes started darting around in search of the hyena pups.

"C'mon, you three have got to be around here somewhere…" She wasn't exactly fond of them but if they made Taka happy, if anything made Taka happy, at this point she'd be willing to do anything to get it for him. But then the lioness was suddenly brought out of her thoughts, and not to mention partially startled, when Taka spoke back.

"I know you're trying your best to help me Zira, and I'm glad you care for me that much. But right now, to make one of my statements blunt for once, I am in no mood for cheering up."

"But you can't be like this all the time; it would kill me to always see you in this way. Not to mention your mother, and your brother, and Sarabi, and Sarafina, and-"

"Zira please; let me finish." She obeyed his plea but couldn't help biting her lip as he spoke again.

"Zira, you're a strong lioness, and like others, your emotions are the key center of everything you do. But you have to understand: I've always been calm, quiet Taka, the one who would never let his personal feelings get in the way of his better judgment, the one who was comfortable in the shadow of his brother. I used to accept that, but now…I'm not so sure.

…Please Zira…let me be angry or sad or, if it is, unfair, if only for awhile." The sorrowful prince begged. Zira looked upon her friend with dearest sincerity and gently said,

"Alright."

"Hey Taka!" Came 2 ½ voices. The pridelanders darted their gazes upward to see three familiar faces headed their way. Careful not to let her friend see it, Zira smiled.

"Of course I know it's hard for you to be any of those things around them."

"So how'd it go?" Banzai asked once the trio had reached them. Taka made no reply. Thinking he didn't know what Banzai meant, Shenzi rephrased the question.

"Y'know; are ya king now?" Zira's hopeful gaze dropped.

"Then again…"

And, to her, things were only made worse for the prince's emotional stability when the three of them started bursting out into questions:

"Was there lots of animals there?!"

"Didja have a bunch of food to celebrate with?!"

"Aha-bwa-fah-ha-heh?!"

"Was they all surprised when your daddy said ya name?!"

"Do ya get your own cave now?!"

"Heh-heh-fa-puh-huh?!"

But nothing could prepare either lions for what they all said in unison:

"Can we go in the Pridelands now?!"

Zira felt a lump in her throat. She slowly twisted her head in Taka's direction. The prince was silent the whole time. Zira's heart went out to him; what with his now fully-grown mane, that was once half-matured when they met the trio, drooping over his eyes, staring at the ground with his tail between his legs. And although there was no physical evidence, she could tell, but not begin to understand, the pain he was in. The tension was so thick she was surprised the pups had not sensed its heavy presence in the air.

She felt so helpless, like she was the most awful friend a person could have for not putting a cease to his torment. He looked so beleaguered she thought she might cry right there; but Zira had prided herself on being a strong lioness, not like the other overly-emotional female inhabitants of priderock. If she were to cry, it would not be now.

Finally though, much to Zira's surprise, Taka gazed up at the pup, and answered their questions in the order they were asked.

"Yes; yes; I'm still single; not exactly; the pride shares the same den; my brother's status has changed, but not in the way you think; …and…no."

The trio were puzzled.

"…"

And they became even more puzzled, if not alarmed, at their friend's sudden uncharacteristic behavior.

"I WASN'T PICKED, MY BROTHER WAS; I WON'T BE THE NEXT KING OF PRIDEROCK; MUFASA WILL HAVE THE PLEASURE OF RULING THE KINGDOM WHILE I SIT IN THE SHADOWS; AND NO, NONE OF YOU WILL SET PAW IN THE PRIDELANDS!"

The trio cringed together so tightly you couldn't tell one from the other; Banzai covered the back while digging his paws into someone else's, Ed was at the front with his backbone embedded into somebody's stomach, and Shenzi was compressed right in the middle, enduring Banzai's claws in her shoulder discs and Ed's spine swishing her tummy.

Taka stared hard at them; eyes stern, mouth twisted downward, claws digging into the ground…blood slowly draining from his face, muscles losing their tension, veins no longer pulsing with rage, expression immediately transforming from one of irritated fury to one of regretful apology.

The lion couldn't believe himself; how could he act in such a way? And to those who were his friends. What had come over him? He knew this was the absolute worst mood he'd ever been in, but to him that was no excuse for raising his voice in such a hostile manner, especially to minors who had done nothing but ask him a few simple questions.

"What am I doing? That wasn't me."

"Not all of it." Came another voice.

"You." Taka's eyes narrowed.

"Well now ya've seen what I'm capable of. Y'know I could make it stop, if you simply do one thing…"

"Alright who are you?! If you're going to mentally torture me the least I should know is your identity."

"I'm you; your dark side. I walk, talk, and function in the same ways you do."

"What are you talking about?! You can't be me!"

"If I'm not you then why am I stuck in your mind?"

"I…I…"

"Taka?" Came a concerned voice. The prince abruptly shook his head to rid himself of the mindful intruder, thankfully it had left for now. He looked over to see Zira staring at him concernedly. Upon shifting his eyes lower, he could see the trio standing behind her back legs.

"Uh…yes?"

"Are you ok?" She asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You stopped talking, or…moving, at all. …It scared us." Taka looked at Shenzi, Banzai and Ed; still blocking themselves from his view. He stared for awhile before sighing and looking at all four of them with great sympathy.

"I'm sorry…I just…yesterday was a long day and…" Zira nodded in understanding.

"I'd hoped I'd proven myself to father but…I guess not. Well…I'd do something to make up for it but, I can't bring you any more food until tomorrow." Suddenly Shenzi's face lit up, and a small smile came upon her face. That could only mean one thing: idea. No longer fearful, she stepped out from behind her lioness barricade and approached her friend; Banzai and Ed's wary eyes glued onto her. Taka was also puzzled at the young female's sudden valor as she stopped in front of him.

"Nothin' says your daddy can't like ya no more just 'cause ya ain't king…right?"

"Yes?" He answered, a bit confused at her question though.

"Well then don't that mean you two can still hang out? …Unless your daddy has to train your brother or somethin'…" Shenzi drooped her head, that thought hadn't occurred to her until just now. But then it was Zira's turn to brighten, she walked up beside Taka.

"Actually, I'm sure Ahadi knows Mufasa has all the requirements needed to be a king already." Then the lioness looked directly at the prince. "Meaning he won't have much else to occupy his time." She grinned. Taka's eyes widened. And it was at this point he realized Banzai and Ed had walked up beside Shenzi and were grinning at him along with the two females. He scanned his eyes over his friends, before smiling himself: another idea was sparked that day…

"Father?" Ahadi looked back when a voice called from behind. He completely turned around when he saw his youngest son walking in his direction. He noticed Zira in the background, but only enough to see her walk off with her boyfriend. That didn't interest him much though, plus there was something about that rogue that didn't feel right. Deciding to put the more important matter ahead though, he looked at the lion prince that had now reached him.

"Oh, hello son. No hard feelings about last night I hope?"

"No. I'm happy for my brother." He replied. Ahadi smiled, although he couldn't help but feel those weren't the prince's true feelings, for he overheard Taka using those exact same words repeatedly this morning. His son knew his father wasn't believing his reply but he ignored it and continued talking.

"Mufasa will be off scouting the Pridelands with Zazu all day tomorrow, correct?"

"…Yes." His father replied, a bit perplexed though at the question.

"Then I suppose you have no plans for tomorrow?"

Now the King understood; he smiled…for a second or so before he seemed a little depressed. Taka noticed his change in expression and became troubled.

"What's the matter? …Is spending the day with me that horrible?"

"No, it's merely…your mother told you about my…condition, didn't she?" His son nodded.

"I'm worried…what if I-"

"Father, since I now know any blow you may impact to my physical being will hurt you just as much, if not more…most likely not even close, as it will hurt me, I'll be happy to take whatever you may bring out." Taka stated. Ahadi lightly smiled before replying,

"Tomorrow afternoon?" His son happily nodded.


The next day…

Taka strolled over to the Elephant Graveyard in much higher spirits than he was since his last visit. Today was the day; the day he'd spend a whole afternoon's time with his father. It was going to be great, because now Taka felt like he could actually be himself for once; something he thought he could only be when he was in the vicinity of the Elephant Graveyard where there were no others around whose sole purpose was to judge him just because he was a prince. Here, a for a moment's time in the Pridelands, he was just Taka.

Later today, it would be only him and his dad; not the great Ahadi, not the king of priderock, but his father. And Taka would not be a prince of priderock, nor the lion now with the solitary reputation as Mufasa's younger brother, just plain old Taka. His grin kept getting wider and wider with each step he took towards his home away from home. When he got there, he was surprised to see Shenzi, Banzai and Ed there waiting for him. ONLY Shenzi, Banzai and Ed there waiting for him. Unless…

Taka figured it out, and for a moment, became disappointed in himself again; he must've been the only connection the hyenas had with the outside world, a world other than the graveyard. What was worse, he must've been their only chance into getting inside the Pridelands and away from this year-round famine they were in. And after hearing what happened, they had given up. And now the rascally little trio was all he had. The trio walked up to their friend and noticed his down expression.

"Whatcha mopin' about?" Shenzi asked.

"Oh nothing; it's just a stomachache." He replied, which was partly true; there was an upset in his abdomen, although the aching was mostly butterflies.

"Oh. Ok. Guess what?!" The young female said.

"What?"

"Ed's brother's gonna give us huntin' lessons!" Banzai announced.

"Isn't that for the more older pups?" The prince asked.

"We are older!" Shenzi and Banzai stated in unison. Taka's eyes slightly enlarged; in all the time he must've been occupied in the expectations of his own life, he'd forgotten that Banzai was now 7, Ed was 6, and even though Shenzi was still five she had very impressive skills so it wasn't that much of a surprise she was starting to hunt.

"Oh, um, well that's great." He told them. Shenzi snickered.

"We're gonna use some 'a those moves you used to bring down our food yesterday, too!" Shenzi stated.

"On him!" Banzai added, in which all three began laughing. Taka raised an eyebrow.

"How could you three have simply watched me? I was all the way in the pridela-"

"Remember that big skull we showed ya? We climbed on top of it." Shenzi replied. The prince seemed to be in thought for a minute.

"Aren't the parents mainly the ones to give their pups hunting lessons?" He asked. Shenzi and Ed's expressions quickly dropped.

"Well, yeah but…ya see…all the female pups are supposed to be teached by their mommas, and the male pups…" Shenzi trailed off. Taka was about to tell her it was "taught" not "teached", until he suddenly realized what she was trying to say.

The prince had learned about Graveyard tradition by Safia, particularly about dealing with pups since he was responsible for most of the food brought to them. And when being instructed to hunt, female pups would be taught by their mothers, meaning the males would be taught by their fathers. That method had been used for generations; like the matriarch said, it was tradition.

If that had been the case, Shenzi would've been taught by her mother and Ed would've been taught by his father. But Banzai…he didn't have a father…

Since this was the case, the lion pondered over why Ed's older sibling was chosen to teach them all. …Until he finally uncovered a memory in the back of his psyche; it was faint, but he remembered Safia also telling him that if for any reason, a parent couldn't be there to teach their offspring, the present matriarch would decide on a substitute. Maumbu seemed to be the reliable choice since, due to his baby brother, he seemed to have the more experience with pups.

Now Taka understood why the trio was being taught by Ed's brother. He looked over at Banzai, who didn't seem very responsive. He seemed to try to cover up his dejectedness by scratching at his ear with his hind leg. The prince lowered his gaze and saw Shenzi and Ed were staring at him with the same sympathetic look. He cleared his throat, catching all three of the pups' attention. He grinned and said,

"Expect an extra big meal to be brought back today." Shenzi, Ed, and even Banzai, looked up in curiosity.

"Whatcha mean by that?" Shenzi asked. Taka's smile grew wider as he replied.

"Father's agreed to take me on a hunt today. Am I glad I took your advice!" He happily stated. Shenzi grinned at the compliment, as did Ed, but at the word "father", Banzai just looked back down at the ground again.

"Are ya excited?!" Shenzi asked.

"Ecstatic! I may not be re-picked to become king because of this, but it could be my one chance to prove to myself to him that I can be useful!" Taka exclaimed, before looking at Banzai and noticing for the second time his depressed mood. He put a paw on his chin in thought for a minute…before his face lit up as he had a striking idea. The prince casually started circling the pups.

"Of course, there is the…no, never mind."

"What?" Shenzi asked while Ed slightly tilted his head at him in question.

"It's just that…aw forget it."

"What?!"

"Well…I was thinking. I've heard of males who didn't have fathers when they were young and…" Taka snuck a glance at Banzai and grinned invisibly when he saw the 7 year-old's attention was caught.

"And WHAT?!" Shenzi demanded.

"It's just a rumor but, I've heard that males who don't have fathers tend to work harder than the ones who do have them. Something about wanting to prove themselves. But by doing so, their status' are fairly elevated in their clans as adults." He replied.

"…So, what I think you just told us is if some male don't got a daddy he can still rank high when he grows up?" Shenzi inquired.

"That's right." Taka snuck a second glance at Banzai and could see he was trying to hide a broad grin. The prince was satisfied with what he had done but suddenly darted his gaze over to Ed to see if he had offended him in any way, but the young pup was too busy gorging himself on his own foreleg.

"I'll definitely have to bring back something large this time." He thought aloud.

"Naw, he always does that." Shenzi and Banzai told him.

"Well, wish me luck!" The royal finished as he turned to leave the graveyard; the trio waved him off.

"See ya Taka!"


King Ahadi patiently waited in the grasslands for his son. Soon noon would arrive and the hunt would begin. Personally he was looking forward to it but he couldn't help this feeling in the back of his mind that something was amiss; it was like a slight tingling in the rear of his head. But without warning, there was a sudden pain in his temple. He was about to roar in agony before something new emerged in his intellect and stopped him from shouting just in time.

But now for some reason he couldn't wait for this day to be over with. Wasting his time with the little piece of dirt he was forced to call his "son". His namesake fit the useless spawn well. How idiotic could he have been to schedule this little fruitless escapade? Well, at least he finally came to his senses; a bit late though, but better late than never. He dug his claws into the ground as he waited for the annoyance to show up.

"King Ahadi! King Ahadi!" Came a voice. The lion looked up to see Zazu, the very skilled flyer and new majordomo, swoop up to him. He sighed; this could only mean trouble…but where was Mufasa? Wasn't a future king always supposed to stay aside his majordomo and vice versa? Ahadi blinked at the sight before his eyes narrowed; what else could go wrong today?

"What is it Zazu?" He demanded.

"I come with urgent news: there's a quarrel between the buffalo and the wildebeests that needs settled at once! Your son has tried his best to reason with them, but they won't listen!" The blue hornbill exclaimed.

Ahadi's interest was quickly perked; this was nearly too good to be true! Now he would no longer have to deal with the little nuisance at all! And if he was questioned, he would have a perfectly sensible alibi. Not to mention he would be assisting his perfect son when he needed aid: no doubt he was going to make those foolish herbivores pay for even doubting Mufasa in the first place. The thought of it though, him and Mufasa, side-by-side, solving a problem of the kingdom together.

It was almost enough to make the king want to leap into the air in merriment. But fortunately he kept his composure, although he couldn't help but grin as he looked up at the bird and said,

"Lead the way."

Without further exchange of discourse the king and the majordomo were off.

A few minutes later…

Mufasa stood before two herds of grazing animals: on one side, wildebeest, on the other, buffalo. What they were arguing about he could not comprehend; they wouldn't even listen to reply to his questions. So much for the more respected of the princes.

It was only a few minutes ago he had sent Zazu to look for some assistance; Sarabi, Uru, Zira, anybody would do. The site was becoming ugly though, and the more time passed the more aggressive each herd became.

"Please, everyone! If you'll just tell me what's going on-!" But he was cut off by a buffalo.

"Stay out of this greenhorn! We'll only speak to only the king on this matter!"

"Well, here he is!" Came a voice behind Mufasa. The lion, and the two groups of grazing animals, looked back to see Ahadi with his gaze burning on the two herds. The wildebeest herd now seemed a bit coy but the buffalo herd kept their stance.

"Now what is so important that you won't even tell the future king of priderock about it?!" Ahadi demanded.

"These grass gnawers wouldn't wait their turn for the watering hole! It gets less and less water in it every day but they're too high and mighty to even share it with a herd of buffalo!" The leader of the buffalo herd stated, glaring at the herd of wildebeests in front of him.

"On the contrary, it is you beasts, who won't wait on your turn for the watering hole; it shrinks every day due to this drought and you drink every drop you get the chance to!" The wildebeest herd leader opposed.

"I commanded you both to stay away from each other! No matter how bad this 'drought' as you call it is, you two herds were not to be near one another in the first place!" At this, both groups were silent. The lion king's lip curled back in a snarl.

"Now get out of my sight." He ordered. The grazers remained where they were.

"MOVE!" He shouted. Suddenly all of them scattered in different directions; the wildebeest uphill and the buffalo downhill. Ahadi smirked at his accomplishment.

Mufasa, who had seen the whole thing, looked at the ground in disappointment. If he was to become a good king, how could he possibly do it with a start-off like this? He couldn't even control a herd of grazing animals; how would he manage to do so with an entire kingdom? Plus Sarabi would look to him for provision, especially if they ever had a cub; the thought of it all made him uneasy, particularly of himself.

Zazu, who flew down beside him without the lion noticing after the herds were gone, looked up at his friend before smiling sincerely and patting him on the foreleg. Mufasa looked down at the hornbill and saw the smile, before gradually giving one back just like it.

After dealing with those pesky herds, Ahadi turned his attention towards Mufasa. He could see that there was some work to do, but it wouldn't be a struggle; after all, he was his son. The present king walked towards his eldest cub.

"Mufasa." The lion and the hornbill directed their attention to their king. Ahadi grinned before walking aside his son and speaking up.

"I realize being king is a new experience for you. But fortunately, I'm here to help every step of the way." Mufasa smiled at his father before the two began walking in a direction the wildebeest and buffalo had not taken.

"First of all son, as king, you have to be assertive; no saying "please", "thank-you", or any speaking of that kind. You must show them you mean business and in order to…" The king's voice grew faint as he and Mufasa walked off into the distance.

Zazu sighed contentedly as he watched them depart.


Meanwhile…

Long after their meeting with Taka, the hyena trio had ventured back to their elephant skull. Maumbu's unscheduled beating had gone as planned, but the fun soon dried up after it was over and Ed's older brother went back to Hasina. They tried to occupy themselves in whatever they could, but boredom soon overcame the three and they sluggishly laid around the inside; merely waiting for their lion friend to arrive with their meal.

Shenzi, who was daydreaming while looking outside of an eye socket, began thinking to herself. Remembering back to when she met Taka, he seemed like an entirely different person; twitchy, panicky, slightly paranoid, and at times almost too scared to even breathe. He was even scared of her, a four year-old pup, upon their first meeting. But afterwards, as he began to trust she was not his enemy, Shenzi found the prince was more than just…well, a prince. He was very intelligent, a little weird at times, but intelligent. And he could be funny too, when he wanted to be that is.

Shenzi figured Taka just needed some friends that weren't wrapped around the index claw of Priderock; and the Elephant Graveyard was as far from Priderock as you could get without leaving the region. Plus although most of the lions at Priderock were polite, sincere and courteous, there were still a few bad apples in the bunch. Take Zira's boyfriend for example; what he nearly did to Banzai and Ed was all over the graveyard after it happened, as was Maumbu's heroic rescue of his brother but Shenzi now found that boring since it was over and both Banzai and Ed were ok.

Plus, she found that Taka was a bit scared of his father at some times; their first visit to the Pridelands would definitely not be forgotten. Plus, the prince used to have bruises of all sorts delicately showing underneath his fur; his condition had improved some, thankfully, and the last she heard things between him and his father were…well, better than they used to be. She still couldn't shake the feeling that royalty surpassed morality around that place though.

As far as she could make out, morals were definitely common among the residents of the Elephant Graveyard. Only in rare situations did the hyenas who subsisted there have to prosecute their own kind. But in most cases, if there was food it was shared as much as it could go around, if there was water others were informed about it, if there were injuries, sicknesses, or temporary disabilities those who had them would be assisted. But as for the disabilities, Ed was an exception; what he had the majority of the population didn't see as a disability, they saw it as…a sickness…an incurable sickness. But that was another good thing about Taka; if someone accepted him, he accepted them, even somebody like Ed.

Shenzi thought herself very fortunate to have Taka as her first lion friend. The only thing she couldn't figure out was how Taka became close to someone like Zira…or any other lioness. He seemed shy around girls…maybe Zira introduced herself to him. It was possible…

The most important thing she found about Taka though, was without him she would've never learned to associate better with others. Her first meeting with Banzai and Ed didn't go very well, and their second meeting was decent at best (particularly if you counted the kiss but Shenzi didn't know what to think about that). But seeing how well Taka could easily converse with others, she decided to give it a shot: and it gave her the best friends she'd possibly have all her life! Without him, she wouldn't have that …or a full stomach. And she'd never admit it to anybody but herself.

Meanwhile, Ed, who was lying on the floor on his back with his four legs up in the air, was pondering over his own feelings about Taka; he found the lion peculiar, but then again he too was peculiar to most. What's more, neither of them could figure out why others found them so different; Ed could tell the two of them could clearly see the differences in each other, but not themselves. That didn't matter though, the only thing important to the young pup was that he had friends, and odds are Taka probably felt the same way. If it hadn't been for him, Ed wouldn't have learned the simple things you need to know if you want your ideal social life: be yourself; if others don't accept you then look for those who do. It may be hard, but there are others out there who will like you. If you know where to look.

Ed often found himself giggling, which should've been common in a elephant's bone yard capacity of hyenas, and it was, if there was reason to; such as a joke or prank. Not at random moments or as a single language. Some times, Ed often felt a strange feeling inside him whenever others would give him this odd look; he didn't like it, it made him feel bad. And at other times, he also felt like he was holding his parents back with the condition he was in, whatever it was; his brother had pointed that out in the past numerous times.

Shenzi and Banzai gave him looks too, but never hurtful or despising ones; just the occasional raise of an eyebrow. And sometimes they'd join in with him. Ed was glad for that. But for once, whenever he laughed, Taka, a lion who was also a prince, had a chuckle of his own, and not out of spite or tease, but for actual enjoyment. Ed smiled to himself, only this time, it was for a reason.

And Banzai, who was staring at Shenzi where he could see her but she couldn't see him, was daydreaming about himself and her; but that didn't mean he hadn't been taught a few things because of Taka.

Aside from Ed, Taka was the only friend Banzai had who had a father; albeit Taka's relationship with Ahadi wasn't exactly…"tender", unless you counted the bruises, his dialect was much easier to understand than Ed's was. Hence, he found out a lot more about a lifestyle that included a father figure from him.

And over time Banzai learned there were many terms that were as acceptable as "father": "dad", "daddy", "pops", "ol' man". He also learned that there were some things a father usually taught his son rather than a mother; Taka was reluctant to tell him these things, but Banzai demanded to know. It was basically hunting, typical male behavior, fundamental male instincts… oh, and the facts of life. Banzai asked a question about what that was, but the lion quickly dismissed it; saying it should be only discussed with close family members.

There was no doubt Banzai learned a lot from Taka; the oldest of the group continued to stare at Shenzi as he subconsciously evoked these memories.


Taka unwearyingly lingered in the plains for the arrival of his father, but all the while, wondering what was taking so long. He tried to keep his mind off the subject and made effort to focus more on the pleasant wind that was blowing, bending the long yellowish-green grass at a slight angle, the bright blue sky overlooking the earth, and the brilliant sun…drying up every bit of moisture available.

The young lion sighed; much as his father didn't want to believe it, there was a drought on its way and everyone needed to ready themselves for the occurrence.

"I hope father does something soon; we all need to be prepared for this possible crisis." He thought.

"Be prepared? …I like that; has a nice tenor to it." Another voice stated.

"You again?! What are you doing here?!" Taka demanded.

"Just keeping you company." The voice innocently replied.

"Well no need thanks; I'm expecting my father any minute now."

"Our father. And anyway, how do you know he's even coming? Do you see him anywhere?" The voice asked.

"This conversation, if it is one anyway, is OVER!" And without a second thought Taka pushed the thing into the very depths of his mind. He scowled; how could it, whatever it was, even think his father would do something like that? Ahadi did a lot of things, but if there was one thing he didn't do, it was break his promises. …Although, the prince couldn't help observing his surroundings; no sight of Ahadi anywhere.

Now he was becoming concerned; his father had promised he'd be here by now.

"Maybe…no he couldn't have; he promised. …Then again…"

Taka's thoughts were soon interrupted when he heard a slight rumbling sound. Looking at the ground below, he cocked an eyebrow in perplexity when he saw the gravel bouncing along the dirt. Then he heard the rumbling become louder, and once he looked up ahead, he was instantly filled with horror: a buffalo stampede was headed his way! Taka turned tail and ran for his life.

The prince fled as fast as his four legs would go, but it seemed every time he glanced back the herd was getting closer and closer. What could've caused them to run like this so much was a mystery to him; but that didn't matter, because what made this horrible moment worse was that they decided to stampede downhill. He could easily stumble, lose his balance and be trampled without even a single herd animal's knowledge.

Taka tried not to get his legs entangled in any of the long, dry shrubbery; unfortunately due to all this heat the plants were desperate to spread seeds before they shriveled to the earth, and some had tiny hooks on their seedlings which were frantic to latch on any passerby with fur. It could easily slow an animal down if it was running at a high speed but unfortunately for Taka the method seemed to be working more for him than the buffalo.

The lion began heaving for breath; exhaustion was taking over him but he wouldn't dare stop now, no matter how high the temperatures had increased. Then suddenly he heard an abnormal noise behind him, although he thought it foolish, he glanced by anyhow and was just in time to see one buffalo get its foot caught in a hole. This caused a chain effect and mad the rest of the herd stumble over it and them to stumble over each other. Taka thought this as a lucky break and made a final sprinting leap to get away from the massive, now half-charging, animals.

But after he had sprung into the air, for some reason, he traveled no distance.

The next few minutes, which seemed like hours, were perhaps the worst Taka would ever experience in his life.

Without warning, the prince felt himself getting jerked back. Unbeknownst to him, one of the buffalo had landed on his tail. He landed on his stomach against the blistering, dried and cracked sand of the plains. Not to mention rocky, the small but sharp pebbles scraped through his fur; just barely touching the skin underneath.

One of the buffalo in the back struggled to get past his fallen comrades, instinct dominant above all else. Meanwhile, Taka was struggling to get up to his feet, but it became unambiguous that in order for him to do so, he must first liberate himself from whatever was holding him back. He clawed at the ground in an effort to pull free; the sand giving way to his massive claws. He tried to force his upper body off the ground, all the while failing to notice a buffalo half its way over its collapsed herd.

Suddenly though, Taka felt something in his lower region slipping out from a large weight of some sort; it instantly occurred to him what must've happened. But there was no time for summarizing now; he had to get away while he still could. But then, there was another weight; smaller but much heavier. He cried in agony and tried to pull away once more; not bothering to look back and see the buffalo in the middle of stepping on his tail.

His howl of pain frightened the creature and it tried to do the only thing its body would let it do: run.

Taka roared in pain as he felt his flesh being infiltrated by a razor-sharp buffalo horn. It was excruciating and a torture to experience; all he wanted it to do was stop.

"How much do you want this pain to end?" A voice Taka had long known existed in him asked; using the distressed moment to free himself from the nadir of its host's mind. Taka was in so much agony; all he could do was reply,

"More than the kingdom itself! It is torture without end!"

"Do you really wish for me to end it all? To end all of our pain?"

"Yes, please! Make it stop!"

"You will allow me?"

"At this point I don't care anymore. I don't know who you are or how you got here, but whoever you are, stop all of it!" Taka screamed.

"As you wish…" The internal voice replied. And before Taka could even say another word…

The buffalo herd quickly picked itself up and continued to flee from the scene.

He could only lay there on the ground as they trampled away…


"I wonder how much food Taka's getting' on his hunt." Banzai pondered as he scratched an ear with his hind leg.

"He said expect more than usual. And maybe today he'll finally settle things with his daddy." Shenzi stated.

"Yeah well, wish I had a 'daddy'." The oldest of the group muttered under his breath.

"What was that?" She asked.

"Nothin'!" He quickly replied. Suddenly, all three of the hyena pups jumped at a loud roar. It echoed across the plains and through every crack, gap, corner, or any hollow space available. Some hyenas even ventured out of their homes to investigate the unfamiliar sound.

But, just as quickly as it came, it left; and abruptly at that. There was silence, as if they were all waiting for it to sound again. Nothing happened though.

…After awhile, the majority of the hyenas simply went back into their homes. A few stayed outside; whether to chat with someone they saw that they knew, or get a quick drink from a mostly likely unsanitary water source, or just get away from their unsuitable homes.

Shenzi, Banzai and Ed all stared at each other; all thinking the same thing. After a pause, they said the exact inquiry in unison,

"What the heck was that?"


Well…the pain was gone, to say the least; no physical pain detected any longer, and his eye would heal…but at what cost? And of dear Taka…he was no more.

The thing sneered as it remembered all the suffering its so-called "father" had caused him. How much anguish and misery he had to endure because of those who named themselves as his friends, when all along they were just laughing at him; making fun of his pathetic exterior. The thing snarled just thinking about it. But they'd all think differently after today; and thankfully, after what happened merely minutes ago.

"You will regret having done this to me father. You all will." But before it did anything else, it stumbled off to the Elephant Graveyard, failing to see two lions running up to him from behind.

"Taka! Taka!" Zira yelled. Mufasa ran alongside her, both lions had the same objective; to see if Taka was alright. Mufasa had come back to priderock where Zira was staring off into the plains, looking worried. When the future king asked her what was wrong she replied that after hearing of Ahadi and Taka's scheduled hunt today she was eager to view their get-together without disturbing either. When Mufasa informed her that he just came back with Ahadi, she became shaken; but not because of what he just told her, but because of what she just saw. And when Mufasa saw it too, he was just as shocked. Instantly, both lions broke out in a dash to aid their fallen companion.

But then, as they were running, Mufasa noticed something about his brother…something different…something wrong. Instantaneously, he cut in front of Zira's path.

"What are you doing?!" She demanded.

"Let him go." Mufasa told her, then turned to watch as the thing that was once his brother continue to the graveyard; Zira did the same.

"Let him go." He repeated.


The trio looked out of their skull when they noticed something entering the graveyard. When they realized it was Taka coming back from his hunt with his father they eagerly ran up to meet him.

"Hey Taka!" Shenzi greeted.

"How'd the hunt go?" Banzai asked. The thing they called "Taka", turned its head to look at them.

"Don't. Ever. Call me Taka. Again." It hissed.