~Life Never Came with Instructions~
It was mid-winter, one of the harshest the plains had seen in years, the temperatures threatening that of snow as a storm took ravage upon the land. The wind howled ferociously as the storms grey clouds strangled the roaring skies turning the heavens a twisted sick black. The thunders howls drowning out the feverish cries of a small grey, malnourished lioness inside of a little dirt den dug into the side of a large mound within the confines of the old Waterhole.
Her sweat drenched body lay panting on the icy floor, mid-labour, in a pool of red blood. A huge fresh gash scarring across her left eye travelling down along her neck and deep into her collarbone not helping her cause any as she heaved shallow breaths.
"Kitu?" The lioness gasped feverishly, eyes blindly searching the darkness.
"Momma? Jaheera cautioned, nudging the lioness with her damp nose much to her mother's cries.
Toro hid curled up in the corner, eyes wide with fear as he watched the blood pool under their mother's neck, their father conveniently absent as was Malekai.
"Toro go get momma more water" Jaheera ordered, startling the small male cub to his feet. Toro leapt up and dashed out into the cold night, squinting through the rain as he made his way over to the remains of an old wildebeest skull where water pooled within the cranium.
"Kitu?" her mother panted mid groan, Jaheera hopped to her mother's face, lifting her cheek with one paw to see her mother's eyes searching the cave, never settling on Jaheera's face as tears trickled down her fur.
"Jaheera?" a little voice whispered, startling the young lioness, Toro stood shivering and drenched with a cracked skull filled with water.
"Are the others going to come out still?" Jaheera held his gaze, their mother's delirious voice echoing in the small burrow as the storm roared at the mouth of the den.
The first two cubs so far had been stillborn, her mother bashed and bleeding from a yet another fight with Kitu.
Their father had struck and pounced upon their pregnant mother tearing a nasty gash along her neck and face.
Malekai had taken after Kitu and left Jaheera with Toro alone.
"It's okay Toro just go and dry off."
Screams of pain silenced the two.
"Momma!" Jaheera cried running over to find a little cub lying on the earth in a pool of blood encircled by its dead brethren.
Jaheera nudged the cub once, twice, before returning to her mother who lay silent on the ground.
"Momma" Toro whispered, placing a small paw on her bony ribcage, her chest unmoving.
"Momma?" He repeated, his words hanging in the cold air but Jaheera knew, knew more than she wanted to believe to be true.
Sucking in a breath she forced herself to look away, snatching up Toro into her arms, fighting back a river of tears.
"Toro hush," she hissed despite her breath hitching in her chest when her ears flickered to the sounds of tiny squeaks.
Leaping up, Jaheera dashed to the collection of stillborns to find the latest cub suddenly twitching, crying out blind and cold.
Jaheera began licking the cub clean, trying to warm its icy little body as Toro curled up against their silent mother.
"It's okay Momma, you rest. Me and Jaheera will look after Sohta?" Toro said shivering from his drenched coat as his elder sister picked up the little cub and sat with it resting in her paws, licking it furiously despite its little cries.
"Sohta?" Jaheera frowned, head cocked to one side curiously watching the tiny little cub wriggle blindly.
"I don't know I just made it up." He said, getting to his feet to join his sisters, curling up against Jaheera's shoulder as he eyed their new little sibling.
"Sohta," Jaheera whispered as if trying the name on for size as she stared down at the kit.
"I think Sohta is a perfect name," she smiled then turned her attention to the mouth of the den.