1 Her Cub-Remake

Rain pounded against the dense jungle floor, hiding the scents of Zella and Mika. They were making their way to the secret sanctuary Mika found for Zella to give birth, away from the leopard clan and evil tyrant Kezar. with the help of a few close sisters, Mika worked hard scouting every place possible until finding one so secluded, that even the best leopard couldn't sniff Zella or her cub out.

"Will this be enough Mika?" Zella uttered in a meek whisper,

"I think so, it was hard to find, Zella. It may be enough to hide you both." Zella felt safer already next to her closest companion's side, however, Mika reminded her "We are not safe yet." A roar in the distance silenced both sisters.

"Kezar.." Zella said in a whimper. "Do you think anyone got caught?" but Zella's words fell on deaf ears, Mika was to focused on the sound of paws pounding against the ground, coming straight for them.

"We need to hurry Zella!" Mika growled. Zella was having a hard time keeping up, as Mika leaped and ran through the jungle that was becoming more dense the further they went in.

"Wait, Mika! Our tacks and scent! They will follow us!" Zella panted heavily, as she finally caught up to Mika.

"Zella, I will cover our tracks. Follow the berry bushes to the end of their path, go just beyond the field and you will come to a large over hang with a waterfall. Behind the waterfall is a cave. It should be hidden well enough for both of you to be safe." Mika was already covering Zella's tracks and scent.

"What about you, sister? How can i leave you behind? Kezar will surly kill you." It broke Zella's heart to leave her closest friend and confidant in the clutches of Kezars paws.

"We promised to help you escape, we made an oath to you Queen Zella. Take our prince and run. Please, for the sake of our future clan." Mika purred and rubbed her face against Zella's neck. "We will meet again my Queen. Even if its among the stars."

Zella teared up, she nodded to Mika and leaped further into the thicket, determined to stay alive."Till we meet again sister." she roared.

Mika scrapped her paws against the ground, then rubbed herself against trees to make sure the only scent that was left was her own. Mika knew if Kezar found Zella he would kill her on spot for being pregnant with a male. Just like hes done so many times before. She leaped into the jungle going in the opposite direction as Zella, hoping Kezar would follow her instead. Mikas plan paid off better then she expected as Kezar caught up to her quickly.

"Where is she Mika!?" Kezar growled deeply. His very presence was intimidating, his worn fur covered in deep red blood. Mika tried hard to keep her composure.

"I dont know king, i lost her in the rain." Mika panted hanging her head low. Kezar swiped at her with his muddy claws.

"I already killed your sisters that helped you two escape, do you think I will not do the same to you Mika?" Kezar stood above her baring his sharp teeth, that dripped with the blood of her sisters. Mika shut her eyes, she didn't want to show him fear, its what he wanted her to do. She steady her voice,

"King, Kezar, I did what i thought was right. As did my sisters. If I must pay for this, then I shall." Mika lowered her head, giving Kezar a clean spot to strike her down. Kezar roared so loudly that Zella could hear him from the far distance she was at, even through the pounding rain hitting the jungle leaves. She could hear it above the sound of her own racing heart. A cry was let out that made the whole jungle fall silent. Zella stopped in her tracks.

"Mika.." Zella whimpered. she only allowed herself to stop for a second to look at the stars above her.

"Till we meet again" echoed through her mind.

"Thank you sister" Zella whispered as she continued her journey to find the cave. She needed to find it fast, she was running out of time. 'My cub will be here soon' she thought to herself as she pushed past the last berry bush into the field. The field itself was covered in wild flowers as far as Zella could see. The rain damped the field hiding her scent even more from the tyrant. Soon she came to the edge of the field just as Mika had said. The jungle darkened from here and became so thick that Zella had to lumber around trees and through thicket. Thorny plants poked at her sides and paws. She endured the pain of their thorns, and emerged from the jungle line to a looming cliff side where water fell from its edge. No other sound could be heard next to the water fall and just as Mika said, a cave hidden well from the outside world that was damp and secluded, was found. Zella felt her way through the cave to a spot just away from the splashing water. she hunkered down and panted hard. She felt as if her stomach was going to burst at any moment and began pushing as hard as she could. She groaned in agony with each push. The waterfall pounded heavily echoing throughout the cave, she could no longer hold back her cries of anguish and roared louder then she ever had before. Zella's fear of being found wasn't as great as the pain she was enduring now. She pushed harder letting out another cry, praying that the waterfall was dense enough to hide her grunts and growls. Soon her cries weren't the only ones coming from the cave. A small cub with dark fur and marks down his head emerged from her body. She cuffed him in her paws and brought him close to her. She began licking him to clean and sooth his cries. His bright eyes opened for the first time and Zella was captivated. Hes green eyes studied her for a moment before he left out a soft purr that seemed to stop Zella's heart in its tracks.

"My child," she began "You are going to be the most powerful ruler of our clan. You will need a powerful name too." the cub yelped back at his mother in agreement. Zella smiled gently "I shall name you Zuni. The great Zuni." Zuni tucked his face under her neck purring loudly. "I will always keep you safe Zuni. One day, you will free us all. For now, you must eat, and become strong." Zella rolled over on her side allowing Zuni to drink the milk from her breast. "We will survive Zuni. For our sisters, for our clan." Zella now exhausted from birth and her escape thought of nothing more then what the future would hold for them. She thought about the wonders she would be able to show Zuni, the way the light strikes the waters at night. the thrill of hunting, and the purity of what love can be. She vowed then as well, to tell him of the tyrant he must one day defeat. She wanted to tell him of the sisters that came to her aid to save his and even her life. 'Mika,' she thought to herself 'I will tell him of your bravery, i will tell him of your loyalty, or our friendship. In hopes that one day, he may find a friendship as kind as ours.' With that thought, Zella tucked Zuni's already sleeping body, under her warm fur.

"We will survive my little prince. We will rebel. We will save everyone."

Zella awoke before the sun rose above the jungle. She got up slowly as to not wake her cub. He was nestled sweetly under her most of the night but Zella knew she needed to get bedding to keep them both warmer. The water was rather cold as it splashed against her back, wetting her fur. she emerged from behind the waterfall into the dark dusk of a new day. 'I must hunt as well today. Hopefully there is something near by i can catch.' She shifted her weight between her paws and began sniffing the air. She was smelling to see if any other leopards were close before she began her hunt. Zella smelled no other leopards nearby, but she did smell another animal. She licked her chops and drooled at the thought of finally having a meal. Zella sprang from the waterfall onto the sand shore of the river bed. She followed the scent and hid in the thicket as she crept closer. She could finally see a small monkey, perched on a low hanging branch, eating fruit off the tree. The little monkey was unaware of Zella hiding close by, ready to pounce. Zella let her breathing steady and fixated her glare on only the monkey itself. With her powerful back legs, she hurled herself into the air aiming straight for the little monkey. In a swift movement, her jaws clenched around the monkeys throat, breaking it in a single snap. It lay limp in her mouth, dead instantly. Zella, not wanting to attract any other predators, took her kill to the waterfall where its scent would also be hidden and the blood would flow down stream away from where they were. After a nice meal, Zella once again took the chance of going back out into the jungle to retrieve bedding for her cub.

"M-Mommy" Zuni mumbled before Zella left. She licked his tiny face, "I will be back Zuni." she purred to him. She leaped out of the waterfall and raced to grab bedding. she took leaves and thatch from the jungle floor, bringing it back to make a little nest for Zuni and her to lay in. Zuni was now fully awake, as Zella began shuffling the thatch and leaves around to make it comfortable. He watched her and mimicked what she was doing.

"Zuni, come drink some milk. You need to grow strong." She said. He shuffled closer to her. He was clumsy and his paws looked to big for his tiny body. He tripped over himself constantly making Zella chuckle while watching him. His hunger was insatiable as well, he slurped up as much milk as Zella could produce. Zuni was her first cub, Zella wasn't sure if his hunger was normal. She had witnessed other leopards giving birth to their cubs but those cubs were all girls. Kezar would kill any female that bore a male in fear that the male would over throw him. Zella couldn't recall any of the female cubs eating as much and Zuni was, but she psuhed the thought out of her mind. 'He was the only male born for such a long time it must be normal..' Zella thought. Zuni fell fast asleep after drinking his fill, but Zella would have none of that. She wanted him to become strong quickly so he would survive.

"Wake now my little prince, we must train." Zella said in a low growl, just enough to startle him awake without scaring him.

"B-But.." Zuni began in a childish tone of protest.

"No 'buts' Zuni, I must teach you things. I know you are very young so for now you may listen and watch but I need to make sure you are well taught." Zella wouldn't listen to anymore protests from her little child. "You must learn to not be so clumsy little one." She stood up and positioned all four paws at a wide stance. "Hold yourself high and keep your paws apart so they don't get tangle with each other as you walk." She started walking forward showing Zuni how to not fall. He purred at her while getting up as well to try and be like mommy. He positioned his paws at a wide stance and attempted to walk as she did. This was to no avail, however, he tripped over his big paws again landing on his face. Zella watched him shaking her head. She walked over and grabbed him by his neck standing him up once again. "Try it again Zuni." She said in gruff voice. Zella wasn't sure what she expected. He was young after all, but the faster they could move further away from the clan, the better. Zella knew she couldn't carry Zuni the whole way, she would need to be able to protect him if another predator showed up or if Kezar himself caught up to them. If she could make Zuni less clumsy, then he would at least be able to run and hide if she needed him too. "Again" Zella said over and over, until Zuni tripped less. Zuni panted and collapsed next to his mother. She allowed him to rest now, but only because she saw improvement in his walking.

"Must we do this mommy?" he growled in frustration while looking at his paws.

"Yes Zuni, the better you become at walking and running the safer we are." She licked her cubs face and nuzzled him. "Now drink some more and sleep while you can." Zuni purred softly and began to suckle until he fell asleep once again. Zella noticed it was becoming dark now,

"I must have made him practice all day.." Zella whispered to herself as she watched her cub sleep nestled closely to her side. She observed him intensely this time, watching his little chest fall and rise with every breath he took. His nose was wet and black with speckled pink dots scattered across it. His paws were large, with tiny claws poking out that didn't seem to suit him. His tiny white, sparkling teeth showed partly, as he snored softly. His spots we a beautiful deep black that seemed to scatter all over his body endlessly. What caught her attention the most, however, was the markings on his head. They seemed different then what she had seen before. He had a large black spot on the top of his head that almost resembled a crown, and smaller black spots lining the edge of his crown like spot. They met together near his eyes and went down the side of his face framing it in perfectly. Zella couldn't help but think that he was meant to be a king one day. The last thing she noticed were his whiskers, they were long and thin like a spiders web with the smallest amount of fresh few dripping from them. She adored her little cub, and felt her motherly instinct over power her every time she looked at him. She nuzzled herself closer to him and laid her head against his tiny body. She was starting to drift off to sleep, when she noticed a smell that she could've sworn she smelled before. Zella's head shot up and she slowly got up from the bedding. She walked over to the waterfall and cautiously stuck her head out through the water. She stood their for a moment sniffing the air deeply.

"Kezar.." she growled under her breath. "Hes near." her mind raced back and forth on what to do. Neither her nor her cub were ready to leave the cave just yet. 'He needs more practice' Zella thought to herself as she slowly retired back into the cave. The water splashed around her ears while she pulled her head back through. Zella shook off her fur and sat at the front of the cave. She thought long and hard about what to do next but she soon realized she had no choice but to stay put hoping that Kezar wouldn't find her and Zuni. Zella felt a pit in her stomach as she watching the water trickle down onto the caves floor.

"I need to keep him safe." she said aloud, then began licking her fur, cleaning off any left over water. She retreated back to the bedding where Zuni was still fast asleep. She licked his crown and nestled herself once again next to him with her head over is small body. However, this time her intention wasn't to go to sleep, but to keep his scent as well hidden as possible.

A week passed in a blink of an eye, Zella had been on high alert for sometime now. Zuni was forced to practice running, jumping and walking until his clumsiness was all but gone.

"Mommy, why do I have to keep doing this everyday?" Zuni muttered, annoyed with his daily practices.

"Zuni, I cant protect you if I have to carry you everywhere, can I?" Zella was tired and weak due to not being able to hunt. She could smell Kezar's scent growing closer every night. 'Why does he keep circling?' She thought to herself more then once. Zuni was unaware of the dangers lurking beyond the cave. She couldn't blame him for being so innocent, but sometimes it did frustrate her. "Zuni, come." she said, insisting he come sit by her. "Let me tell you of the things waiting outside of this cave." Zuni's eyes grew big with excitement, he had never been allowed to leave the cave before so stories of the outside world were fascinating to him. He curled up next to Zella purring loudly. "Zuni, the jungle is a dangerous place, it's filled with vicious predators that will eat you for lunch." She growled making Zuni jump next to her. "I want you to be safe and be a cub for awhile but, you are not like other cubs. You are a prince, there are things that are expected of you, even now." Zella paused for a moment, the look on Zuni's little face was too much for her to bare. He seemed disappointed and confused about what was going on. "I know you want to play and have fun Zuni but, one day you will be the leader of the leopard clan. It's important that you learn quickly so you can take your thrown."

"But mommy, if I am supposed to be the leader of a clan, why aren't we there now?" Zuni's words hit Zella's heart as she remembered all who were sacrificed for them to live.

"Zuni, there is an evil waiting for you to come of age out there. Even now, if givin the chance, it would swoop you up and devour you whole. This evil is sitting on your thrown right now, trying to figure out where we are and how to get to us. So many of my sisters gave up their lives so that i could raise you. So that one day you will grow powerful and take the thrown back freeing us all." Zella looked deeply at her cub "I know this is a lot to put on your shoulders my cub, but you are the only one that can stop this evil. Everyone is counting on you to survive, to grow, to rule." Zella stood shifting her weight in her paws. She walked over the the waterfall as if she was staring at something far away.

"Mommy?" Zuni started but she didn't answer, she was too lost in thought about all that is to come. Zuni stood as well walking closer to her, he did not fully understand what was happening but knew that if it scared his mother, then he should also be scared as well. "I'll grow up big and strong mommy, I'll stop the evil in their tracks!" he exclaimed pouncing with excitement at his mothers tail swaying back and forth. Zella chuckled,

"You are fierce now my cub" She said with a smile. "Maybe we should take a break for a moment," Zella lowered the front of her body to he cubs face stomping the ground with her front paws. Zuni did the same and they started chasing each other around the cave. Zuni dashed right, attacking his mothers tail. She in turn pounced on him tossing him in the air and catching him again. Zella and Zuni both laughed as they played together. It was the first time sense Zuni had been born that they were able to relax, even if for a moment. It was short lived, however, because Zella's stomach growled intensely.

"Mommy?" Zuni said with his head tilted to the side.

"It's okay Zuni, I just need to hunt soon." She laid down panting, it has been a few days sense she had ate. She used most of her energy playing with Zuni and was tired. She knew she needed food so she would have the energy to stay up and keep watch tonight, in case Kezar's scent was closer again. "I will be back Zuni, stay hidden until i return." Zuni nodded and hunkered down in the bedding making it hard to spot him. Zella leaped through the waterfall and shook off her fur. She paced the bank of the river bed with her nose in the air trying to find any sign of life she could catch. a faint smell wafted through the air, 'PIG' her mind shouted in response to the aroma. Zella lumbered slowly in the direction of the animal. She kept her body low to the ground so she wasn't seen by anything. The smell was stronger with every step she took. Soon her eyes rested on a wild bore chowing down on some berries. His snout had long sharp tusks poking out that curled towards his nose. 'this might be dangerous..' she thought to herself as she crept closer. Her hunger was over powering her though, she needed nourishment or she would die leaving her cub all alone with nobody else to rely on. 'He would probably perish as well' she thought to herself. This was a reality she refused to let happen. She slowly made her way closer to the wild bore. She didn't want to attack it head on like she had done the monkey , she needed to attack from the side or the back in order to not get injured. Zella dug her back paws deep into the jungles soil. She got a running start leaping out of the wood line, tackling the wild bore in its side. A high pitched cry echoed through the jungle and then was silenced in its tracks. Zella tore into the pig right there, not stopping to think about who was near by or not being seen. She was so hungry that nothing else mattered in that moment. Blood dripped from her chin with each mouth full she gobbled down. By the end, there wasn't much left but bones and hide. Zella stood and began walking back to the cave, but a pain in her side made her collapse. She looked over noticing she was injured. 'the hog must have got me before I killed it.' She thought as she began licking the wound. Zella winced in pain at the first lick. She realized then it was a bit deeper then she thought. She realized something even more alarming then as well, "My blood! They will know i was here!" the sudden realization made her want to throw up all the food she just ate. "I need to get back to my cub," she said allowed. Zella forced herself back up and rushed as fast as she could to the river bank. She waded into the water and stood there for sometime. The water was ice cold, it helped stop most of the bleeding and cleaned her fur so the scent trail would end there. She followed the river up stream until she finally reached the water fall. Zella made sure to cover her tracks and only walk in the edge of the river so no one could follow her. She leaped through the water fall into the cave and collapsed. Zuni rushed over to her,

"Momma! Are you okay!?" Zuni asked with a shaking voice.

"Yes, I will live Zuni. Its not as bad as it looks, this is why you have to be careful hunting." She smiled softly to Zuni but knew that her words did not stop him from being scared. "Zuni lets lay down for awhile, okay?" Zella panted as she used the last of her strength to grab her cub and walk to the bedding. She laid down and snuggled him close licking his head to reassure him.

"Momma, did the evil get you?" He asked with tears in his eyes, Zella didn't answer though she didn't want him to be scared or worried. She also didn't want him to know that she made a mistake and Kezar might really find them now, especially if he thinks Zella is injured.

"Hush now my cub, let us not worry about any of that and just rest." Zella placed her head on Zuni's snuggling close to him. Zuni didn't protest this time and purred softly under his mothers chin. He was worried but knew that there was nothing he could do right now. Zella drifted to sleep and didn't hear Zuni when he said "Its okay momma, I'll grow big and strong just to protect you. I promise."

A week passed in a blink of an eye, Zella had been on high alert for sometime now. Zuni was forced to practice running, jumping and walking until his clumsiness was all but gone.

"Mommy, why do I have to keep doing this everyday?" Zuni muttered, annoyed with his daily practices.

"Zuni, I cant protect you if I have to carry you everywhere, can I?" Zella was tired and weak due to not being able to hunt. She could smell Kezar's scent growing closer every night. 'Why does he keep circling?' She thought to herself more then once. Zuni was unaware of the dangers lurking beyond the cave. She couldn't blame him for being so innocent, but sometimes it did frustrate her. "Zuni, come." she said, insisting he come sit by her. "Let me tell you of the things waiting outside of this cave." Zuni's eyes grew big with excitement, he had never been allowed to leave the cave before so stories of the outside world were fascinating to him. He curled up next to Zella purring loudly. "Zuni, the jungle is a dangerous place, it's filled with vicious predators that will eat you for lunch." She growled making Zuni jump next to her. "I want you to be safe and be a cub for awhile but, you are not like other cubs. You are a prince, there are things that are expected of you, even now." Zella paused for a moment, the look on Zuni's little face was too much for her to bare. He seemed disappointed and confused about what was going on. "I know you want to play and have fun Zuni but, one day you will be the leader of the leopard clan. It's important that you learn quickly so you can take your thrown."

"But mommy, if I am supposed to be the leader of a clan, why aren't we there now?" Zuni's words hit Zella's heart as she remembered all who were sacrificed for them to live.

"Zuni, there is an evil waiting for you to come of age out there. Even now, if givin the chance, it would swoop you up and devour you whole. This evil is sitting on your thrown right now, trying to figure out where we are and how to get to us. So many of my sisters gave up their lives so that i could raise you. So that one day you will grow powerful and take the thrown back freeing us all." Zella looked deeply at her cub "I know this is a lot to put on your shoulders my cub, but you are the only one that can stop this evil. Everyone is counting on you to survive, to grow, to rule." Zella stood shifting her weight in her paws. She walked over the the waterfall as if she was staring at something far away.

"Mommy?" Zuni started but she didn't answer, she was too lost in thought about all that is to come. Zuni stood as well walking closer to her, he did not fully understand what was happening but knew that if it scared his mother, then he should also be scared as well. "I'll grow up big and strong mommy, I'll stop the evil in their tracks!" he exclaimed pouncing with excitement at his mothers tail swaying back and forth. Zella chuckled,

"You are fierce now my cub" She said with a smile. "Maybe we should take a break for a moment," Zella lowered the front of her body to he cubs face stomping the ground with her front paws. Zuni did the same and they started chasing each other around the cave. Zuni dashed right, attacking his mothers tail. She in turn pounced on him tossing him in the air and catching him again. Zella and Zuni both laughed as they played together. It was the first time sense Zuni had been born that they were able to relax, even if for a moment. It was short lived, however, because Zella's stomach growled intensely.

"Mommy?" Zuni said with his head tilted to the side.

"It's okay Zuni, I just need to hunt soon." She laid down panting, it has been a few days sense she had ate. She used most of her energy playing with Zuni and was tired. She knew she needed food so she would have the energy to stay up and keep watch tonight, in case Kezar's scent was closer again. "I will be back Zuni, stay hidden until i return." Zuni nodded and hunkered down in the bedding making it hard to spot him. Zella leaped through the waterfall and shook off her fur. She paced the bank of the river bed with her nose in the air trying to find any sign of life she could catch. a faint smell wafted through the air, 'PIG' her mind shouted in response to the aroma. Zella lumbered slowly in the direction of the animal. She kept her body low to the ground so she wasn't seen by anything. The smell was stronger with every step she took. Soon her eyes rested on a wild bore chowing down on some berries. His snout had long sharp tusks poking out that curled towards his nose. 'this might be dangerous..' she thought to herself as she crept closer. Her hunger was over powering her though, she needed nourishment or she would die leaving her cub all alone with nobody else to rely on. 'He would probably perish as well' she thought to herself. This was a reality she refused to let happen. She slowly made her way closer to the wild bore. She didn't want to attack it head on like she had done the monkey , she needed to attack from the side or the back in order to not get injured. Zella dug her back paws deep into the jungles soil. She got a running start leaping out of the wood line, tackling the wild bore in its side. A high pitched cry echoed through the jungle and then was silenced in its tracks. Zella tore into the pig right there, not stopping to think about who was near by or not being seen. She was so hungry that nothing else mattered in that moment. Blood dripped from her chin with each mouth full she gobbled down. By the end, there wasn't much left but bones and hide. Zella stood and began walking back to the cave, but a pain in her side made her collapse. She looked over noticing she was injured. 'the hog must have got me before I killed it.' She thought as she began licking the wound. Zella winced in pain at the first lick. She realized then it was a bit deeper then she thought. She realized something even more alarming then as well, "My blood! They will know i was here!" the sudden realization made her want to throw up all the food she just ate. "I need to get back to my cub," she said allowed. Zella forced herself back up and rushed as fast as she could to the river bank. She waded into the water and stood there for sometime. The water was ice cold, it helped stop most of the bleeding and cleaned her fur so the scent trail would end there. She followed the river up stream until she finally reached the water fall. Zella made sure to cover her tracks and only walk in the edge of the river so no one could follow her. She leaped through the water fall into the cave and collapsed. Zuni rushed over to her,

"Momma! Are you okay!?" Zuni asked with a shaking voice.

"Yes, I will live Zuni. Its not as bad as it looks, this is why you have to be careful hunting." She smiled softly to Zuni but knew that her words did not stop him from being scared. "Zuni lets lay down for awhile, okay?" Zella panted as she used the last of her strength to grab her cub and walk to the bedding. She laid down and snuggled him close licking his head to reassure him.

"Momma, did the evil get you?" He asked with tears in his eyes, Zella didn't answer though she didn't want him to be scared or worried. She also didn't want him to know that she made a mistake and Kezar might really find them now, especially if he thinks Zella is injured.

"Hush now my cub, let us not worry about any of that and just rest." Zella placed her head on Zuni's snuggling close to him. Zuni didn't protest this time and purred softly under his mothers chin. He was worried but knew that there was nothing he could do right now. Zella drifted to sleep and didn't hear Zuni when he said "Its okay momma, I'll grow big and strong just to protect you. I promise."

Zuni awoke to a strange sound. Zella was still fast asleep and Zuni didn't want to wake her. The sound was coming from right out side the cave. Zuni stood slowly so he didn't wake Zella and walked over to the water fall. he begun sniffing the air around the entrance to the cave. It was hard to tell if anything was out there because of the water but there was a faint smell. 'It smells like us!' Zuni thought to himself. He glanced back at Zella who stirred in her sleep making a gruff noise as she rolled onto her side. Zuni was afraid of the 'evil', Zella spoke of was now within reach of them.

"I'll protect you momma.." Zuni whispered softly. He mustard up all the courage he had and leaped out of the cave crashing into the sandy bank of the river. He jumped to his feet and let out what he considered a powerful roar. In the dim light of dusk he could make out a large dark figure walking towards him. His courage dwindled with every step the creature took as it became larger and larger. Soon a big leopard stood before him.

"W-Who are you!?" Zuni demanded, in a not so convincing tone.

"The real question is, who are you?" the mysterious, strange leopard asked. As the sun rose a little higher above the canopy Zuni could make out some distinctive marks on the leopard. One of his ears were torn and he had scars scattered across his face. The leopard laid down next to the bank of the river near Zuni. "Well?" the leopard said as he began licking himself.

"I'm Zuni.. who are you?" Zuni was now more curious, he had never met another leopard especially not a male.

"My name is Liukin, Zuni was it? Where is your clan?" he looked at Zuni cautiously almost as if he was expect them to jump out from anywhere.

"Momma is sleeping.." Zuni said looking back at the waterfall.

"Oh, so she is dead?" Liukin replied seemingly more relaxed now.

"No! Momma is hurt but she isn't dead!" he replied in a frustrated tone. Zuni sat next to Liukin, "What is dead?" Zuni asked with his head tilted. Liukin looked at him and smiled slyly.

"Dead means you never see them again and they rot on the ground. Little animals come and eat up all their bones. Then they don't exist anymore." Liukin watched Zuni slowly piecing it together.

"Is momma going to die!?" Zuni exclaimed with a lump in his throat.

"Don't know," Liukin said mostly uninterested.

Zuni inched closer to Liukin before asking "Do you have a clan?" Liukin now stopped licking himself and watched Zuni carefully.

"No." he replied.

"We don't either, well at least not until I'm older. I'll be king one day you know, then maybe you can join our clan Mr. Liukin." Zuni playfully smacked at the water while speaking. "I've never been outside of the cave you know, mommy would be mad if she found out."

"Well we wouldn't want that now would we." Liukin said sarcastically. However, Zuni didn't pick up on his annoyance.

"Well, momma has been teaching me all kinds of things so I can protect everyone." Zuni splashed more water and giggled. As the water cleared once more Zuni saw the reflection of the few stars left in the sky. "Woah, what are those?" He asked in awe.

"Stars? are you dimwitted or something?" Liukin asked surprised that he knew nothing of stars.

"I've never been out of the cave before...momma doesn't talk much about the outside world. She's afraid the evil will get me. But I can fight the evil now, watch me roar." Zuni took a deep breath letting out his biggest roar yet. Liukin laughed in response.

"That's no roar kid, I can show you how to roar if you'd like." Zuni jumped up and down smacking his paws in the dirt.

"Yes! I want to learn to roar so I can scare away the evil!" he exclaimed. Liukin rolled his eyes but figured he could at least help the cub learn to do one thing right.

"Okay, stand big and tall, puff out your chest and take a deep breath. Then let it all out!" Liukin roared loudly making Zuni stumble backwards and giggle. "Your turn, show me what you got little cub." Zuni stood tall and puffed out his chest, he took a deep breath then let out a tiny roar. "Much better," Liukin said "Try again though." Zuni continued to try to roar and was enjoying his time with his new friend. Zella stirred and awoke the minute Liukin roared. She searched for Zuni frantically before heading to the front of the cave. She poked her head out of the water fall just enough to see Zuni playing around with a large leopard. She instantly thought it was Kezar and leaped though the waterfall despite her injury. She jumped in front of Zuni and roared deeply at Liukin. Liukin still sat uncaringly in the same spot. "This your mom?" he said peaking around Zella to look at Zuni. Zuni nodded looking like he was about to get scolded.

"Who are you!? Why are you near my cub!?" Zella demanded. Zuni dashed around his mother and stood between her and Liukin.

"Momma this is my friend.." Zuni started

"Well I'd hardly call us that cub, I was just walking by and your cub leaped from the waterfall trying to roar. Asking about stars and death. So i told him a few things and was trying to get him to roar like a real male-"

"ENOUGH! You are in my territory, leave." Zella tried hard to put on her fiercest face but to no avail. Her wound was throbbing, causing her a lot of pain.

"Looks like your hurt." Liukin said glancing at her cub then back to Zella. "Where's your clan?" He asked now more curious then before.

"We belong to no clan. At least not anymore." Zella said looking away from them both.

"Well isn't that convenient, I don't belong to a clan either. Maybe we could strike up a deal?" Liukin said moving closer to Zella with a sly look on his face.

"What kind of deal..?" Zella didn't know how to feel about this male. He definitely wasn't Kezar but some how she couldn't help but think he was bad news.

"You are obviously injured, so that means you can't hunt. "

"And?" Zella was becoming annoyed already.

"And, I can hunt. So if you let me stay here in your hide out, I will hunt for us. Even teach your cub a thing or two about being a male. What do you say miss leopard?" he flashed her a look that made zella think he wasn't really giving her a choice.

"It's Zella," She said thinking hard on is words.

"Well, Zella, do we have a deal?" Zella nodded slowly. She knew not taking his deal meant he could return to her clan and tell everyone where she is or worse he would strike her and Zuni down right here.

"We have a deal, but you must hide our scent with yours as well." she looked deeply into Liukin's eyes. He didn't seem to care in the slightest as to why she would ask him to do that though.

"Okay, fine with me." He walked over to the water fall and jumped through it to the cave. Zella looked at Zuni with hell fury eyes.

"What were you thinking!?" She growled deeply at him. "You forced me to bring a stranger into our only sanctuary! You snuck out on your own! What if the evil got you!? Is that what you wanted Zuni!? To die!?" She was close to Zunis face now baring her teeth at him.

"Momma I-" He began, but Zella would have none of it. She picked Zuni up with her mouth and jumped through the waterfall as well. Zuni felt heartbroken, he had only wanted to protect his mother but he knew he shouldn't have left without her. Zella place Zuni in the bedding and laid next to him watching Liukin. He was laying at the entrance getting splashed with a little water. Zella knew what he was doing, his scent, especially, wet would be the only thing other predators would smell for miles. She hoped that it would be enough to keep Kezar at bay. 'I'll keep Liukin around until I'm healed. Then we will leave him behind.'

Zella didn't sleep once for the next few days. She wouldn't let Zuni leave her side either. Liukin was true to his word and once a day brought a meal, whether small or large, to Zella. She began regaining her strength and the wound on her side slowly started to heal. Zuni had been sulking sense the day Liukin arrived. Zella had not made much of an attempt to speak to him because she was still furious. Liukin caught on to the situation pretty fast, he could see how sorry Zuni was but he could also understand Zella's anger with him. One quiet, dark night when the moon was full, Liukin decided he had enough of the awkward silence between everyone and decided to break the ice.

"You know, the cub was only trying to protect you." he spoke while pretending to not care. Zella shot him a look, she didn't say anything to Liukin though. "Look dame, I get it, you have your reasons for wanting to hide him but-"

"It doesn't matter, this doesn't concern you, and I told you my name is Zella. Not dame or miss leopard" Zella stated, shooting Liukin a look of anger.

"Actually, now it kind of does. Whether you like it or not 'Zella' I'm staying here now. I've kept up my side of our deal. Cant you trust me yet?" Liukin huffed in annoyance at Zella's stubbornness.

"I don't know you well enough to trust you." Zella's words where half hearted, even Liukin could tell that whatever they were going through seemed to be taking its toll on her.

"Look, he is a good cub. He is also still small. He doesn't know any better yet." Liukin tried to sound as understanding as possible. Zella stood and walked over to the entrance of the cave where Liukin was perched.

"It doesn't matter, if Kezar got ahold of him..." Zella trailed off, she wasn't sure if she should open up to Liukin. He didn't seem like the type to care or even want to know. However, for some reason or another, Zella felt that in that moment he was actually concerned and he was right. So far he had givin her no reason not to trust his word. "We come from a clan just south of here. I was the eighth queen to come before Kezar our tyrant leader. The others before me were killed for one reason, they had male cubs. I, however, escaped with the help of my sisters. most of which, were probably killed. Including my closest sister Mika. She found this place for us. Where i could give birth to Zuni and raise him until he was strong enough to go back and free our people. Whether Zuni is small now or not, it is important that Zuni heeds my warnings. Leaving without me was one of those warnings." Liukin sat in silence for a moment. He knew whatever was going on was bad but he didn't think it was this bad.

"I can't say I don't understand Zella." Liukin looked at the water fall. "I was suppose to do something, similar, but I was defeated. I wasn't strong enough to protect my clan. Eventually I was shunned and forced out. Sense then I have been wondering around living on my own." Zella felt moved by Liukin's words "I know Zuni may have a destiny to uphold, just look at his markings, It screams destiny." Zella chuckled at this glancing over to her cubs crown markings. "But letting him be a cub is important too, at least letting him know you are by his side could change the outcome of everything. It's not just his fight, it's yours too." Liukin laid his head down between his paws seemingly deep in thought. Zella took his silence as motive to be left alone. She stood leaving Liukin to his thoughts and wondered back to the bedding. She laid next to her cub and thought about what Liukin said. 'He is right' she thought while looking down at her cub. 'He is just a cub, he doesn't know better. Maybe while Liukin is here, I could have him show Zuni things while I am recovering.' The next day Zella woke her cub early.

"Zuni, I want you to go with Liukin and practice your training." it was hard for zella to stomach saying those words but she knew it was for the best.

"Okay momma, but are you sure I can be alone with Liukin?" Zuni's voice was unsure a shaky. Zella realized she was robbing Zuni of the things she wanted to teach him the most. Friendship like she had with Mika, Love from a mother, she was even robbing him of exploring the wonders of the world. This made Zella feel like a failure, to her cub she was a strong force to be reckoned with but to Zella she was naive and a failure as a mother. Zella whimpered a bit, she had to fight back tears for the sake of her precious cub.

"Yes my prince, he can be trusted. " Zella choked out a few more words before sending Zuni out. "I adore you my sweet cub, you are doing great." Zuni's eyes widened as a look of joy spread across his face.

"Thanks momma!" He exclaimed and pounce out of the cave through the water fall. Liukin stood from him position in the front of the cave. He looked to Zella and nodded in approval with a sincere smile on his face. Zella knew she had done well by her cub and by Liukin. She hoped that this experience would help Zuni grow not only in body but in his mind as well. She turned over trying to get some rest hoping that Liukin could prove even more that he could be trusted.

Liukin pounced out of the water fall with ease, Zuni watched in awe as Liukin's body stretched out and landed perfectly on the bay next to him. Zuni looked back at the waterfall. He sat there for a moment wondering whether his mother really was okay or not.

"Worried about Zella?" Liukin asked

"Momma is still hurt, Will she ever recover?" Liukin noticed tears swelling up in the cubs eyes. He knew he had to say something to sooth him.

"She is recovering well Zuni, I promise. Now she just needs rest, so she asked me to train you." Liukin watched as Zuni's eyes lit up. "Are you ready little cub?" With a big jump for joy Zuni nodded and the training with Liukin began.

A new day brought new challenges for Zuni. Liukin was teaching him to pounce and roar now. Zuni did as Liukin asked every time but couldn't seem to get it right.

"Zuni you need to focus, I have seen you pounce better then that." Liukin said in annoyance. Zuni was frustrated, his mothers training seemed so hard at the time but Liukin was on a whole new level.

"Liukin can't we stop and explore for awhile?" Zuni asked in a huff.

"Zuni, your mother tasked me with teaching you and I intend to do so. Try again." Zuni pressed his back paws into the ground and lowered his upper body. He pushed with his back legs hard springing into the air. His body arched for the landing but once again he landed on is face. Liukin shook his head walking to Zuni. "Maybe we should take a break, you seem distracted." Liukin knew Zuni was missing Zella. She had been sleeping a lot and it was becoming difficult to convince Zuni that she was alright. "Why don't you go see your momma Zuni." Liukin said. He knew the only way Zuni would be able to focus is if Zella herself told him that she was okay. Zuni nodded but said nothing as he walked to the waterfall. He lumbered into the cave looking for Zella.

"Momma?" Zuni whispered thinking she was still asleep.

"Zuni? how is your training coming along?" To Zuni's surprise, Zella was up and walking around pacing the floor.

"Momma! are you all better now?" Zuni asked with tears in his eyes. Zella chuckled nodding at Zuni. Her cub jumped on her purring loudly nuzzling his face against hers. "Does this mean you can train me again momma?" Zuni asked excitedly.

"Do you not enjoy training with Liukin?" Zuni was confused, at first Zella barely allowed Liukin near him, now she wanted him to train with Liukin all the time.

"Liukin is hard on me momma," Zuni started but before his protests could be heard anymore Zella got up quickly. She moved to the waterfall and jumped through it in a swift movement landing on the sandy bank. Her nose was in the air the whole time and a look of utter fear washed over her. Zuni fell out of the cave, once again crashing in the sand trying to follow his mother. "Momma, what is it?" but before Zuni could get another word out Zella spoke.

"Liukin take Zuni and run." Her words were cold, her voice crackled as she spoke.

"I don't understand," Zuni said trying to sniff the air. He could smell a weird unfamiliar smell lingering near by. 'Is this smell the evil?' Zuni thought to himself as Liukin rushed to Zella's side.

"Zella, I'll stay here and cover your scent with mine. Take Zuni and run further north, I will find you once he is gone." Zella turned to look at Liukin,

"You were right, this is my fight too. I will fend him off, you take Zuni and-"

"Enough Zella! Zuni needs his mom, take him and go. I'll be fine. If you really think its him you need to leave. Both of you." Liukin was unsure if Zella really smelled Kezar or if she was just paranoid but there was a weird smell in the air and it did smell like a leopard. Although this smell lingered with blood as well. Liukin figured if it was Kezar, the tyrant Zella feared, then Kezar would be uninterested in a lone male with no clan. Liukin motioned for them to go and Zella did as he said. She swooped up Zuni taking off north. Zella said a hushed thank you to Liukin thinking that he would probably die just as her sisters did. She ran as fast as her paws could take her, she was unaware that her grip on Zuni was becoming harder with each step she took.

"Ow momma you are hurting me!" Zuni cried. Zella didn't know how far she had run but she figured they were far enough now. She lumbered up a tree with Zuni still in her mouth. Once on a sturdy enough branch she placed Zuni next to her and checked him over. There was a small amount of blood dripping from his neck where she had been holding him.

"I'm sorry my cub" she said as she licked away the blood.

"Was that the evil? is it going to get Liukin?" Zunis eyes were big, Zella knew she had scared him but felt it was necessary for his survival.

"Yes Zuni, that was the evil." Zella couldn't answer Zuni's question about Liukin though. it broke her heart to think, once again, someone was going to die because of her. Zuni took his mothers silence as an unsure answer. They both sat quietly in the tree waiting to see if Liukin would return.

Liukin covered zella and Zunis trail. The scent was getting closer and Liukin was afraid Zella might have been right. The sound of branches cracking under paws made Liukin stiffen up. He watched the wood line closely waiting for Kezar to pop out. Instead two female leopards emerged from the wood line.

"I was sure I smelled her scent." One of them said sniffing the air. Their eyes rested on Liukin, he was trying to act as if he hadn't seen them by drinking water from the river. "You there, who are you?" The leopard on the right asked with her teeth bared.

"Me? I'm nobody." Liukin responded not even giving them a second glance. He study their behavior a bit. He didn't think they would try anything but he knew who they were looking for. 'Maybe Kezar set them to find Zella, they might be part of her clan.' Liukin thought as he lifted his head away from the river to face the leopards.

"Have you seen any other leopards around here?" They asked but Liukin didn't respond. "Answer us!" They demanded.

"Besides you two, no. this is my territory. No other leopards would dare tread here." He wasn't convinced that they believed him so he roared at them before speaking again. "Now who are you, why are you in my territory!?" Both leopards backed down quickly before answering, Liukin could tell they weren't interested in picking a fight with him.

"We are here on behalf of our clans king, Kezar. We are here to fetch the Queen and her cub." They said in skiddish tones.

"Why would they be here?" Liukin asked. He wanted to know more information before the leopards bolted.

"We had intel that this is where they were hiding, but its apparent that our intel was wrong." The leopards hung their heads low before turning to leave. One of the females looked back at Liukin and sniffed the air. He was sure she had smelled a faint scent of Zella or Zuni but before they could turn around he roared again chasing them off. 'This isn't good' Liukin thought to himself. 'I need to find them.' Liukin wasn't trying to stick around and see if Kezar himself would show. He dashed north through the thicket keeping his eyes open for Zella and Zuni. He hoped they were hidden well or at least further north now. 'I bought us sometime, but they know she was there now.' Liukin thought as he dodged trees and bushes in search of them. Liukin felt a pit in his stomach, he didn't know when he started to care but somewhere along the way they had become like family to him. He couldn't stand the idea of them getting captured or worse killed.

Zella guarded Zuni all night long, she had heard roars coming from the direction of where Liukin was at the evening before but hadn't seen him sense. She feared the worst now, knowing she couldn't hide in this tree forever she decided at first light she would wake Zuni and head north once more. Zella also feared something else. She had never been this north before and wasn't sure where to go anymore. Her clan was all she knew for so long, she was hoping she could stay at the waterfall for a little longer but that obviously wasn't going to happen. She knew only stories of the north and none of them were very inspiring. She remembered what her mother told her as a cub about the north.

"The north is a dangerous place, filled with predators bigger then even us, more cunning too. Giant monkeys that don't climb, Huge worms with sharp fangs, Water logs that wait for you to get close and then gobble you up, even the dreaded furless that chop down the trees and kill all near by. We made our clan far far away from these monsters. Never go to the north my sweet Zella, only death awaits you there."

Her mothers words were a warning echoing through her ears. Zella glanced at her cub, she didn't have much of a choice, they needed to keep as far away from Kezar as possible. Zella hoped that Kezar too knew of the horrors that awaited him in the north. Hoping that it would keep him from coming after her and Zuni. She thought back to Kezar's fearsomeness and wondered if he would even care about any of the other predators. Zella's biggest fear was failing Zuni, so she had no choice but to ignore her mothers warnings and head further north. Praying that she wouldn't run into these predators her mother spoke of. It was almost dawn, she awoke Zuni who was sleeping tenderly beside her. He sprang up startling Zella,

"Is Liukin back momma? Did he defeat the evil?" Zella's voice was caught in her throat. she didn't know what to tell her cub. She had not seen nor smelled Liukin's scent, sense they ran away, she didn't know if he was alive or if he had perish trying to protect them. Zuni watched his mother's face, he knew that Liukin had likely died. He nuzzled his face under Zella's chin.

"Will we be okay without Liukin momma?" Zuni asked in a soft velvet like tone. Zella thought for a moment before answering, she wasn't really sure. especially with her mothers words echoing through her head. However, she had to reassure her cub,

"Yes my prince, we will be fine. You need to stick close to me from now on though. No running off and no goofing around. At least until we find some place safe again." Zuni nodded at his mothers words. Zella grabbed Zuni by the tuff and jumped down from the tree. She slowly set Zuni on the ground and started sniffing the air around them checking for anything dangerous near by. Zuni watched his mother then began mimicking her, he wanted to get better at sniffing like Zella so he too could smell the evil as easily as she did. Zella began to walk north with Zuni close to her heals. Both walked in silence so Zella could stay alert. The jungle was much denser here and navigating through the brush became difficult for Zuni. He was still rather small and couldn't see above the bushes and thicket. Zella didn't notice Zuni falling behind, she was too focused on looking ahead and staying alert. Soon Zuni was lost, left behind by Zella who was moving more and more out of sight. Zuni didn't want to burden his mother anymore then she already was, so he hadn't told her he was struggling to keep pace. Once Zuni realized that he had lost sight of his mother he became frantic.

"Momma!? Momma!?" He said in a scared tone. He realized he had made a mistake keeping quite. He stood on the jungle floor walking in circles crying out for Zella to find him. He stopped and sat for a moment thinking 'what would momma do? She'd sniff the air!' he put his nose to the air and took a deep breath trying hard to find any lingering scent of his mothers. Soon a scent filled his nose and he happily pounce out of the bushes towards where the scent was coming from. "Momma?" his words echoed through the jungle making all the bugs and birds stop chirping. The jungle fell eerily quite and this made Zuni tense up. He repeated once more "Momma? Where are you?" but his words were not acknowledged. He began panting and became scared. The scent he followed was still wofting through the air so he decided to follow it further. The jungle became dark and thorny plants pricked his sides as he tried to push through.

"Awe what a sweet little cub." he heard a voice say from beyond the thicket. "How did you get all the way out here little one? are you lost?" It came again. Zuni looked all around him but saw nothing.

"Where are you?" Zuni said in a shaking voice.

"I'm up here little cub." The voice hummed back. Zuni looked up to see a large bird perched on a branch. He had never seen this kind of bird before and it smelled really bad. "What are you doing out here all alone little thing? Don't you know stuff out here will eat you for a snack?" The bird replied with a grim smile.

"I lost my momma, I'm trying to find her." Zuni replied now more afraid then before. the birds eyes were tiny and they pierced through him with every glance. It's beak was sharp and pointed stained with old blood. Even its feathers seemed tattered and worn.

"Oh, if your mother was lost in here she is dead now little cub." the bird replied with a smirk. "Why don't you just stay here awhile with me, we could be friends." its voice dared Zuni to object. It leaned forward on the branch as if sizing Zuni up. Its sharp claws clicked against the wood impatiently. "What do you say cub? Want to be friends?" Zuni hunched down a bit he was scared what might happen if he answered this scary bird.

"I don't think momma would like that." Zuni managed to choke out. The birds face fell into an annoyed look.

"I don't think you heard me, we will be friends, or I'll devour you right here!" It cawed. Zuni let out a cry as the bird jumped from the branch and swooped towards him. Just as his claws were about to touch Zuni's fur a leopard pounced tackling the bird to the ground. Zuni heard a sharp snap and the bird laid lifeless on the ground.

"Zuni!?"

"Liukin!?"

Zella made her way through the jungle heading north, She had been walking for most of the day. Zella was proud of her cub for not complaining at all the whole time. 'Actually' Zella thought 'He hasn't made a sound the whole time.' Zella's head shot back to look towards her cub. Her heart stopped, he was gone. She ran through the jungle frantically searching for Zuni. Her nose was to the ground trying to find any bit of scent left behind by him. She darted back and forth zig zagging trying to find him. The brush was so dense she could barely see, 'he must've gotten lost in the brush! how long has he been gone!?' Zella thought to herself as her heart pounded harder in her chest. she felt helpless, 'how could i let him slip through my paws' she asked herself feeling more like a failure then ever. Finally exhausted from running around, Zella sat on the jungle floor. She cried and pounded the ground with her paws.

"I was never meant to be a mother, how could I not notice my sweet cub wasn't by my side. oh Zuni, i'm so sorry. You deserve better than me." She hung her head low huffing as tears escaped her eyes. She was lost, he was lost, Liukin was dead, nothing seemed to matter anymore. How could she possibly make up for this, all her sisters died trying to protect her and zuni, Liukin died trying to defend them. "What do i do now, how can i live knowing i failed everyone? How can i live knowing i failed Zuni?" She said aloud.

"Well you didn't really fail Zuni, so you should be okay." a voice said from above her. Zella stood looking around, until her eyes fell on Liukin.

"Liukin!?" She yelped. he chuckled

"Hi momma!" Zuni said poking his head out from behind Liukin.

"Zuni!" Zella said climbing up in the tree swiftly snatching zuni up. Zella cried even harder as her heart filled with joy.

"Found this little trouble maker going toe to toe with a bird." Liukin began

"It almost got me too momma! But then Liukin jumped out of the bushes and saved me!" Zella looked deep into Liukin's eyes and licked his forehead.

"Thank you" Zella said with a look of pure gratitude on her face. Liukin was baffled 'Zella just kissed me?!' he thought to himself unable to say anything back to her gesture.

"Momma i was so scared! i thought i lost you forever, then the bird said you were probably dead!" Zuni cared not for the affection Zella had given Liukin, for Zuni already saw Liukin as his hero.

"My you've seem to have had quite the adventure Zuni, but never leave my side again!" Zella was overcome with joy. Not only that she found her cub but that Liukin was still well alive. They decided to hunker down for the evening. Everyone was tired and Zella needed a moment to breath and think. Once Zuni was fast asleep under some brush hiding his little body zella walked to a clearing just feet away from her cub and laid down in the tall grass. The sun was going down and stars were starting to appear in the sky. She watched them closely thinking of Mika. She longed to see her again but knew it would only happen in death. Liukin, who was perched in a tree, jumped down and laid next to Zella's side. "I owe you a debt Liukin, i don't know how I'll ever repay you." Liukin did not respond, he was thinking of what those leopards said back at the waterfall. "Liukin?" Zella said "how did you find us? how did you beat Kezar?"

"Actually I didn't," Liukin's words were flat, zella could tell something else was going on. "It wasn't Kezar that showed up. It was two female leopards." Zella's heart raced, 'My sisters?' she thought to herself.

"What did they want?" Zella asked curiously.

"You and Zuni, they said it was ordered by your clans king, Kezar, that they find you and bring you home." Liukin searched Zella's face for answers.

"Is that all they said?" Zella was certain they had said more but Liukin wasn't saying anything else.

"Yes." He said softly not looking Zella in the eyes. Zella didn't pry, she thought that whatever they told him had him questioning Zella's motive and loyalty. Instead she changed the subject.

"Mika once told me, we will meet again in the stars. She used to think that when we die our energy creates a new star to fill our sky. I never really believed it but somehow it made me feel better." Zella said watching the last rays of sun drift off behind the trees.

"Zella, are you really royalty?" Liukin asked looking deeply into her eyes. Zella sighed,

"No and yes. My ancestors are not royalty. Kezar killed our queen and king long ago, he took wives after words but killed them as well...I was never destined to be royalty. I never wanted to be either. I was happy with my life the way it was. Kezar had his own plans though." Zella's voice drifted off. Liukin wanted to know more but he was afraid he would only upset her.

"I am not royalty either zella," He said putting his head down. "My mother always hated the royals in our clan, she always said they looked down on us. With the help of some fellow clansmen they trained me." Liukin took a breath. Zella could tell this was a hard topic for him to discuss and felt honored that he wanted to share it with her. "I was still pretty young when they said I was ready to face our clans king. I was scared but mother told me I must make sacrifices for the good of our clan. I didn't even last a minute. The king, he bowed to me after our fight, he told me that I was brave for trying to dethrone him at such a young age. He was so gentle, he didn't take the fight further then it needed to go. However, I was naïve," Liukin now looked up to the stars. "I told him I never wanted to fight him, he seemed shocked and asked me 'Then why did you?' I blurted out that it was what my mother and others wanted, this infuriated him. not because they wanted to dethrone him but because they sent a child to do their dirty work. soon after he punish all who forced me to fight, once their punishment was over they decided I was a traitor." Liukin stopped once more, Zella saw a tear run down his fur. "My own mother lead the pack against me they clawed me and bit me scaring my face. once they were satisfied my mother sent me away with these words 'Your face is now a reminder to all, that you betrayed your people. No clan will ever accept you now.' then I was on my own, young and unsure, I grew and taught myself to hunt and survive. Until I met you two." Zella was stunned, she didn't know what to say or how to make things better. She could only let the words pierce through her mind. She felt a rage boil in her stomach. She hated the idea that he was alone for such a long time, she hated even more that his own mother forced him out. She couldn't imagine doing that to Zuni, even if he didn't want to face Kezar one day. Zella nuzzled her head under Liukin's chin and purred. He was surprised by her gesture and purred back loudly. They sat together as the last stars came out in the sky nestled closely by each other's side.

Zella awoke, Zuni was stirring in his sleep. He made whining sounds, kicking his feet back and forth in his sleep. Zella licked his crown purring, she felt badly for leaving him behind. She made him go through an awfully experience because of her neglect. She looked back to Liukin, he too stirred in his sleep but he didn't whine or kick his feet, he growled deeply and painfully. Zella now saw why Liukin gave her that advice about the fighting with Kezar being her fight too. 'It will be us my sweet cub, that free our people.' she thought to herself laying close to Zuni's side. She hoped now that maybe she could sleep peaceful with Liukin around once more. That maybe they could share the load and learn how to grow together.

When Zella awoke the next morning, Zuni and Liukin we already up and training without her. She slumped to her feet slowly, her side throbbed a bit. the pain from the wound hadn't hurt for awhile but because of the running around the last few days it began to bother her once more. She didn't want Zuni to know she was hurting again though. She didn't want him to be worried anymore. Zella stretched out, she walked over to Zuni and Liukin.

Why'd you let me sleep so long?" She muttered after looking to the sky seeing how far the sun as stretched in the sky. Liukin leaned towards her,

"Zuni was up pretty early, I think he was having nightmares. He seems pretty determined to train today." Liukin tried hard to whisper so Zuni wouldn't hear but Zella noticed he was to focused on training to hear what they said. Zella wasn't sure what to do, she knew he was having nightmares last night but didn't think they would bother him that much. Liukin nudged her "Go talk him." He said, then turned and walked away, giving them space.

"Zuni?" Zella called to him, "Come her for a second." Zuni looked over to her and started walking over. He sat in front of Zella but said nothing. "Zuni are you okay..?" Zella asked. She wasn't sure what to say, she kept wanting to tell him to be brave and comfort him but she knew he needed more then just comfort.

"Momma, I was scared yesterday. That bird almost ate me for lunch. How can i ever get strong enough to fight the evil?" Zuni's eyes teared up a bit and he sniffled. Zella was heart broken. All this time she has been pushing him into the horror not giving him time to rest. If Liukin was there the other day, her cub would be no longer here.

"Zuni, this isn't just your fight anymore. This is mine as well, you didn't ask for this my cub. I wont force you to do this any longer." Zuni's expression changed a bit, he looked relieved but still concerned.

"But I want to fight the evil with you momma! you and Liukin!" Zuni said looking up to her.

"I know Zuni, and one day we will. But not today, or tomorrow. For now lets just find someplace to call home." Zella licked her cub, he purred at her touch.

"We will be like a clan momma, you, me and Liukin!" Zuni jumped up and down smacking his paws in the grass. Zella felt the words wrap around her mind. the thought of them being a clan, a family, together made her heart beat. She didn't think Liukin wanted the same though. When she thought about it, she wasn't even sure why he was around anymore. Their deal could no longer be held up, so why stay? This made Zella feel anxious, she never had a male that she could trust. Liukin was different and she knew that, but to form a clan with him seemed to be to much. Zuni watched her intensely awaiting a response.

"Zuni, for now, let us focus on finding a home." Zuni's face fell, he was clearly upset at the fact that zella didn't agree with him on them forming a clan. "Zuni, we need a home before we can form a clan." Zella said trying to cheer him up a bit. Zuni looked up at her with a faint smile, she didn't want to tell him that Liukin still being around was suspicious. She didn't want him to know the doubts that she harbored in her mind. Zella wanted to believe that Liukin was here for a good reason, but in her mind thoughts raced and doubts lingered. Zella motioned for Zuni to follow her. They walked to Liukin who was perched in a tree scouting the area around them.

"We should continue to head north" Liukin said with his eyes still scouting, "It will be dangerous, but we should be able to stay far away from kezar if we move now." Zella nodded but said nothing. Liukin looked down at her, he thought that maybe she didn't get enough sleep or that she even regretted their words last night. He pushed the idea out of his head and jumped down from the tree, "We need to move" he said taking lead. Zella did not protest and zuni stayed between the both of them so they didn't lose him again. They pressed forward hoping that the way ahead wouldn't be to dangerous.

Liukin walked in front lead, With Zuni in the middle and Zella trailing behind them keeping a close eye on Zuni at all times. Zella couldn't help but feel over protective of Zuni now especially after realizing he was having nightmares about the bird that tired to take a bite out of him. Liukin aided him in feeling safer but Zella knew she should be trying harder to be there for them and protect him like she was meant too. She wasn't sure either, how she felt about Liukin doing fatherly things with and for Zuni. She watched him more attentively now. With every glace he took at Zuni and every stride he stepped she observed Zella was attempting to find anything she could to explain why Liukin was helping them. She knew his back story and how it was alike to Zuni but he was not Liukin's cub.

"Maybe we should rest for awhile." Liukin spoke eyeing the weariness on Zella's face. She didn't protest and sat gently on the ground. The grass brushed against her fur giving off a cool breeze. Zella sighed lightly, she hadn't noticed how burnt-out she actually was until they stopped. This exhaustion drained her mind even further. However, a frightful noise ringing through the jungle seemed to bring her paranoia to a stop imminently.

"Was that the evil momma?" Zuni whispered tucking himself underneath Zella. Liukin walked forward towards where the noise was coming from.

"No, that was…" Liukin's face became sour as he paused to listen again to the echoing noise, "Furless ones" His statement rang through Zella's ears. She felt her heart jump out of her chest.

"What do we do!?" Zella demanded in a whisper, she was to panic-stricken to speak louder then a whisper in fear they could hear them too.

"We keep moving, they don't know were here yet, lets move." Liukin didn't take his eyes off the jungle where the noise was emanating. Quickly he turned to look at Zella, He watched her closely. As if trying to read her mind, before turning and heading away from the noise. Zella didn't question him, she had heard stories all of her life about the furless ones. How they destroy the jungle taking huge trees down with a loud roar. She heard they even keep the heads of warriors they kill in battle, putting them in their caves. She shuttered at the thought of Zuni's little head sitting in someone's cave. She looked at Liukin with worry in her eyes.

"It's okay Zella, they are slow. We are fast." Liukin gave a soft smile to Zella, he knew that she had never seen a furless one and was scared. He looked to Zuni who now walked between them glancing around anxiously. Zella watched Liukin tenderly smile at Zuni, she started to wonder if he really did just care about them and she was just being overly paranoid about everything sense the only real experience she had with a male was Kezar. She breathed deeply noticing that she hadn't relaxed sense hearing the echo in the jungle of the furless ones. Liukin seemed like he knew what he was doing when it came to the furless ones, Zella made note that she would have to ask him how he knew so much in the future.

'Future' Zella thought to herself, 'our future' She glanced at both Zuni and Liukin. She had allowed herself to assume Liukin was bad like Kezar. She was scared when she lost Zuni, she feared that Kezar had captured him or worse killed him. However, Liukin brought him safely back to her, even though he didn't have to help or return Zuni to her, he did. She felt ashamed that she even had thoughts of leaving Liukin behind or not trusting him. 'He even shared his past with me.' Zella thought with sadness in her heart. She vowed she would trust Liukin from now on. He had cared for them for awhile now, even when he didn't have too. He was even going out of his way to train Zuni and teach him the things that Zella couldn't teach him alone. Zella allowed herself to relax more as she let her negative thoughts drift away along with her doubts. She felt like now maybe everything would turn out fine, they would find another cave or dwelling and they could be happy far away from everything that mistreated them or wants to hurt them. 'We will be safe now, as long as we are together.' Zella thought before letting her mind rest.

Zuni couldn't understand why his mother looked so fearful. Liukin was also uneasy and standoffish, but Liukin seemed to be keeping it together pretty well. It seemed to Zuni that they had walked a long time after hearing the echo's in the jungle. To Zuni though, they didn't sound that alarming. It seemed as if the echo's were corresponding to a conversation. 'Like they were talking to each other' Zuni viewed to himself while keeping pace with Zella as well as Liukin. The hours of daylight dwindled with night consuming the sky and jungle around them. Even the stars couldn't be seen from under the impenetrable canopy.

"Lets stop here for the night, I think we made good ground today." Zella said in a soft tone. She had notice Zuni was drained, as well as slowing down. She didn't want to risk losing him again. Liukin nodded in agreement.

"We should be safe up in the trees for tonight, we don't want to risk being on the ground around here." Liukin suggested they use a sizable tree then normal, sense they had heard the furless ones near by. Zella was certain they were far enough but knew it was better to be safe rather then sorry. She picked up Zuni in her mouth springing from the ground to the nearest branch. She then balanced herself and looked for another branch further up, before once again jumping farther into the tree. Liukin took the branch closest to the ground so he could defend them if anything happen to find them. Zuni was weary and imminently went to sleep once settled in the tree. He didn't mind the height or the noises from around them. He was debilitated and exhausted from days of running with out stop but also from fearing for his life. Zella observed closely as his eyes fluttered closed and his little chest rising and falling beneath her breast. She licked his crown, snuggling him close to her. She could hear his heart beat pounding gently in his chest and his purring fading as he went deeper into sleep. Once Zella knew he was in deep sleep, she looked to Liukin hoping for some answers about the furless ones.

"Liukin," Zella whispered to get his attention. He looked up at her, his eyes gleamed in the darkness reflecting every tiny speck of light that crossed them. She hadn't notice before but his eyes seemed filled with more light then the stars themselves. She felt her heart flutter with the thought, before realizing she had just been staring at him for awhile.

"Oh, um, I wanted to ask how you seem to know so much about the furless ones, have you seen them before?" Zella was able to break free from his eyes to ask. He watched her closely at first. To Zella he seemed confused and a bit annoyed. She was taken back by this. "You don't have to answer…" She said in a faint utter a little abashed that he didn't say anything.

"You asked me how I knew about them, but I think you owe me an answer to something first." He said looking away from her as he spoke. She was astonished by his response. "Why have you been ignoring me? You act as if you don't want me around anymore." Zella noted Liukins sorrowfulness in his question. Zella hadn't realized that Liukin detected anything was wrong. She tired to conceal it the best she could. She didn't want Liukin knowing she distrusted him so much after everything he had done for her. However, she knew she had to answer him honestly or risk losing him all together.

"I became paranoid, I doubted you Liukin. But you need to understand I've never met a male like you. It was only ever Kezar in my clan that I remember-" Liukin cut zella off,

"I'm. Not. Kezar." Liukin growled in disappointment. Zella tried to speak again to explain she knew that but he stopped her. "I get it, at least I'm trying too. But if you can't trust me, then I will leave on my own. "

"Liukin wait-"

"No, I will get you two to safety. After that, I will bid you both farewell. Liukins voice cracked as he finished the sentence.

"Liukin, I do trust you. I am just scared for my cub. You taught me and him so much in this short time. You have been a mentor to Zuni and a dear friend to me. You have helped us when you didn't have to. I was never questioning you. I was doubting myself. Once I lost Zuni, all I could think of was how horrible of a mother I was. How I put to much on him and was making him grow up to fast. Then you told me your own story Liukin. I realsied even more that it was exactly what I was doing to my precious cub. You helped me see that, and helped me correct it. I don't know what im doing Liukin, but around you...i feel like im doing the right thing." Zella was in tears, she felt atrocious for ever doubting Liukin. She felt worse after hearing it said out loud. However, Liukin said nothing, he didn't even look at her. She couldn't tell what he was thinking or feeling. Above all, she was terrified he would leave. A few moments passed before Liukin spoke,

"Okay Zella," he said still with a frustrating tone. Zella's heart raced, he acknowledged what she had said but gave no answers in return. She felt devastated and tense all in one. Liukin put this head between his paws not saying anything else. In Zella's heart she knew she messed up, she knew he was hurt and thinking. All she could hope for now was that he would once again choose to stay and be a clan like Zuni wanted. Like Zella craved.

Liukin was upset with Zella. He had given her no reason to not trust him yet she still had doubts. 'What am I doing wrong?' He thought to himself. He knew Zella hadn't had much contact with other males besides Kezar but Liukin felt he had already proved to Zella that he wasn't anything like that tyrant. It hurt Liukin's heart immensely to think that all he has done was disregarded. He cared deeply for Zella and treat Zuni like his own cub. Liukin was robbed of the things that most cubs have growing up and all he wanted was to give it all to Zuni and Zella. To keep them safe for as long as possible and content with life. He even thought about fighting Kezar himself just to ensure Zella and Zuni stayed safe. He knew it wasn't right to be so cold towards Zella. However, it was difficult to keep his composure when it was painfully obvious that she had doubts about him. Liukin needed time to think everything over now. Of coarse he wanted to stay by their side but if Zella kept pushing him away or comparing him to kezar it would only make things harder. Liukin knew that they needed to talk about everything but he wasn't ready just yet and he hoped that Zella would understand for now.

Zuni was awake for most of the conversation. He felt pain for his mother but mostly for Liukin. Liukin had already proved to Zuni that he was a good leopard. 'He protected us from the evil, why is momma still weary of him?' Zuni's thoughts continued as they talked. He questioned Liukin at first too but Liukin saved him from the scary bird. He took them far away from the evil. He even guided them away from the 'furless ones'. Zuni snuggled closer to Zella, he hoped that maybe Liukin would still choose to stay as well. Zuni never knew a clan before but the way Zella talked about it made him feel lonely. He wanted a clan too, and Liukin could be in their clan. 'Like a papa' Zuni thought smiling to himself softly. Zella noticed Zuni's soft smile and snuggled him closer. She felt wrong for everything that happened but didn't want to burden Zuni with any of this. She wanted Zuni's dreams to be filled with happy things. Zella put her head on Zuni's, drifting off to sleep. The next morning came quickly. Zella didn't get much sleep but neither did Liukin. They both were drained and everyone was hungry.

"Momma can we eat?" Zuni said in a whiny tone. Zella chuckled and laid on her side for Zuni to suckle a little.

"I'll go hunt and bring something back as well. We need real food." Liukin said not looking at either Zuni or Zella. Zella said nothing as he turned and left. Zuni didn't want to confess he heard anything though. He knew his momma was trying hard to protect him and that she was sad too. As Zuni suckled Zella kept watch, scanning every inch of the jungle for threats. Zella knew Zuni would still be hungry even after suckling. He had grown fast and milk just wasn't enough anymore. Soon Zella would have to help Liukin hunt for the three of them to keep up with Zuni's appetite. Zella felt bad about Liukin hunting on his own in this part of the jungle. She knew it was dangerous, if something were to happen to him she didn't want the last conversation they had to be negative. She decided before the go on the move again she wanted to talk to him about everything. Explain to him that things are different now, that she understood how he felt and that she appreciated deeply how much effort he was putting into helping them. She wanted to express her wants to start a clan with him in hopes that maybe other leopards would want to join their clan in hopes for a safer future. Zella relaxed herself as she went over what she would say over and over again until she thought it was perfect. Zuni had fallen asleep suckling so she stood up slowly as to not wake him. She paced the jungle floor waiting for Liukin to come back. Not only because she was starving but because she wanted to talk without Zuni worrying about what was going on. Zella looked to her cub. 'He really is perfect.' She smiled to herself as she thought about Zuni's bright future. 'He will be a king one day even if its not to our real clan.' she thought. It wasn't long before she heard rustling in the bushes nearby. The jungle thicket was dense though. She couldn't tell if it was Liukin or not. Her heart pounded in her chest hoping to see Liukin's eyes shine brightly before her. However, a familiar scent made her whole body freeze and shudder. 'No' She thought as her heart raced faster in her chest. Emerging from the bushes, was Kezar.

"Thought you could run forever Zella?" Kezars voice was a low growl. Zella felt her body freeze, she couldn't move. Only she stood between Kezar and Zuni now. In her mind she begged for Liukin to show up, she screamed his name in her mind.

"No hello?" Kezar mocked baring his fangs that looked illuminating in the moon light. He stepped forward closing the gap between Zella and himself.

"I have been looking for you for quite some time my Queen, you have what belongs to me." Kezar stood only feet from her.

"My son does not belong to you tryant!" Zella growled back widening her stance to fight. Kezar chuckled,

"That is where you are wrong. You decided to bring him into this world, escaping my clutches time and time again. He belongs to me Zella, to be the heir of our clan." Kezar's eyes gleamed with pure pleasure of having trapped Zella finally.

"Besides, don't you want to see your sister?"

Zella's heart sank. What was he talking about? No sister survived her escape.

"My sisters died by your paws Kezar, you will not fool me." Zellas voice shook, she wanted nothing more than to see her sisters but they were gone, she was sure of it.

"I spared one of your sisters Zella, she awaits your return home." Kezars voice was sturdy, zella knew that he was not one to make idle jokes to his prey or give false hope. "If you come with me now, I will spare our cub and your sister. This is my only offer Zella."

Zella stood frozen in place. She looked back at Zuni who slept peacefully behind her unaware that the evil had indeed found them. She began scanning the surrounds in search of Liukin or his scent.

"Looking for that ugly leopard?" Kezar smiled slightly, which made Zella's heart beat loudly.

"What did you do to him Kezar!?" She roared, hoping Liukin was safe in the back of her mind.

"Nothing, I simply told him this was clan business. Something he would know nothing about with a face that disgraced. He left you Zella. You only have me now." Kezar stood tall puffing out his chest, "come home zella, we both know you will be struck down if you fight here. Zuni will only have me left." These words pierced Zella's mind. She knew he was right, she couldn't fight kezar on her own. He would surely kill her where she stands and take Zuni. She lowered her head to Kezar in defeat. She had to go with him and he knew it. Kezar sat upon the ground watching zella with intensity. She picked Zuni up by his tuff in her mouth and walked toward Kezar. Zella was on edge but knew this was the best option she had without luikin. As she walked forward Kezar followed closely behind her. Not giving her a chance to escape again. As they went further into the jungle more leopards joined the group from all sides closing Zella and Zuni in.

'No escape' zella thought glancing from leopard to leopard. These were her clan members, leopards she had known all her life. They looked defeated, worn to the bone. Kezar's tyrant ways were slowly killing them. Zella glance down at her cub still asleep even while being carried. She hoped he would sleep a long time, 'at least he may escape through his dreams for now' she finally let her mind drift to Luikin. Had he really left her behind? Had he really abandoned them? She felt tears swell in her eyes but refused to let a single one fall. This wasn't Luikins fight, she knew one day he would depart from them but she didn't expect it to be so soon. He had no reason to stay though, especially in the face of danger. She forgave him and did her best to respect his choice. From this point forward it was just her and Zuni. Zella couldn't hide the curiosity about her one alive sister though. She was eager to embrace any sister still alive. A small part of her wanted it to be Mika but her memory was clear on that night. She heard mikas cries and kezars roar. Mika did not survive. Zella's heart fluttered in her chest, she wasn't scared for herself. But for the ones she loved.

Luikin stalked his prey, a small monkey eating fruit off the jungle floor. He needed to come back with a kill for Zella, she was still feeding Zuni on her own. She was far to tired to hunt by herself. Although, luikin knew she was strong. He just wanted to be useful to her so he could stay around longer. Luikin thought alot about Zella being royalty, even if it was the original blood line like most clans. Zella seemed to nice to be a royal. The ones he had met through the years of his travels were nothing like Zella. He thought back to his original clan leader, strong, smart, but kind and knew when to spare a life. Zella reminded him of his past and now made him look into the future with comfort. He pounced towards the monkey in a swift leap landing on it with ease and snapping its neck. A swift death. It's all anyone one could ask for. He grabbed up the monkeys body in his mouth and started towards where he last left zella and Zuni. He was about half way there when I figure loomed from the dark brush. The scent was powerful, and he smelled it on the female leopards he encountered. Kezar. This scent was exactly new to him, most royal males make their scent known amongst their neck of the jungle. Luikin leaped into a near by tree leaving the kill on the ground. He didn't want Kezar to smell the scent up in the tree, it would give away his position. Kezar stalked the tree below, as if trying to find luikin but the smell of the kill out weighed luikins scent. After a few moments of the large leopard lingering around he finally seemed to find a scent worth tracking. Luikins eyes widened as he realized Kezar was headed straight towards Zella and Zuni. Luikin had no way of getting to them with alerting Kezar, and luikin also noticed more leopards lingered nearby just far enough to prevent Zella from running again. Luikin was angry. He couldn't help Zella or Zuni now. The most he could do was lay quiet in the dark and await a moment to set them free. He kept his distance from the group so his scent wouldn't be picked up. Zella looked defeated and carried a sleeping Zuni in her mouth. She was surrounded by leopards the closer she came to their clans home. Luikin knew he had to free them some how, he would wait and watch for now. If it came to it, he would risk his life to distract Kezar and his minions long enough for zella and Zuni to escape. He just had to wait now.

-To be Continued-