Do not attempt to carry the weight of the world alone.
It was midnight in the deserts of middle Egypt, and the full moon illuminated the blood-stained hills. The red clay told a story of the hunter and the hunted; victorious footprints continuing where paw prints did not. The painful cries of many echoed in the air like ghosts, and the sorrow was acrid like ashes falling from the heavens. The Savannah was still.
Joshua surveyed his broken kingdom. He had owed his tribe safety. A mighty lion such as he should have been able to keep that promise. He shook with pain and the chill of the dark night. He remembered: the arrows, still shooting past his skin; the blood dripping down his mane; his wife, Tzipporah, screaming in terror; his wife, cold and still. He remembered the Humans, they who steal life. Then, the silence. The unbearable, everlasting silence. He relived this, again and again.
He roared, a furious sound full of anger and lamentation. His wife, his tribe, they had been his responsibility. It was he who had sworn to protect them. It was he who had promised on the rising sun that he would forever keep them safe. He had failed his tribe, his wife, and his honor.
His head pounded with delirium, frantic adrenaline pounding too hard in his veins. The horizon was dark, even in the milky moonlight. From behind him came a cry—he spun around, terrified—weren't the Humans gone already?—take this chance, fool, do not hesitate! This is your redemption! Avenge your wife!—but the time had passed and the scream which hung in the air was not Tzipporah's.
"Uncle!" came the scream of a frantic lioness, Miriam. Joshua bounded towards his young niece, glad that there was still something the Humans had not destroyed. "Uncle, my children are ill from cold and there are no voices save ours on the plains. Tell us, please!" she sobbed, a wretched noise which tormented the very air around them. "Uncle, what have we done to deserve this? The Gods-Who-Created-All persecute us with loss of life; the spirits mock our missteps with Human treachery. The birds of the air alone escape Man's blood lust. Must we, too, fly? Are we unfit for life, as simple creatures sentenced forever to walk the earth? What must we do, uncle? How must we please the gods?"
Joshua said nothing. Muffled shouts stopped short in his throat; his heart was heavy and black. He turned away from Miriam, whose pleas and grief both terrified and infuriated him. How could she—how dare she—worry about unreal entities such as the gods when real life was calling so loudly? She had four mouths to feed. She should not voice her fears aloud. Joshua growled under his breath. He would never be so careless around the young. He was a good leader, and as such he would say nothing of his own pain or misery.
"Miriam," he began, his voice skillfully devoid of emotion. "Take your children to the Great Valley. Do not dismay. Worry not. Think not. Go." He could not stand to look at them. Mother and child, a family unbroken; they were a feast in the famine, an unheard of bagatelle... and he burned with jealousy. Without another thought to Miriam or her cubs, Joshua tore away into the plains.
He felt it was his duty to collect the scattered remains of his tribe. He searched fruitlessly in the hours before the early dawn. Joshua felt the spirits of hundreds of his people but found crimson stains and arrowheads enough to discourage him beyond measure. The first living being he saw was searching the dilapidated landscape with as much, if not more, fervor as he. Mekhet, his sister, wept tears of grief and pain. They were close, he and she: leaders of their own right, and well respected in the tribe. Now Mekhet, who had no children of her own, nor a husband, dried her eyes upon seeing Joshua. "Oh, my dear brother! Thank the gods you are alive! I had prayed I would find you here. Now the world is at ease and my heart is light. Shall we pray in thanksgiving for the blessings of our spared lives?"
Joshua stared, open-mouthed, stunned into silence. He had anticipated a multitude of feelings from his tribe, ranging from manic confusion to terror, but never had he imagined a lion—his sister, nonetheless!—would kneel down in prayer during the aftermath of a slaughter. He roared. "How can you say that, sister? How can you thank the gods for the plague that is Man? They toss about trial and discourse in our lives as if for amusement! Who is to say that they are even there?"
"Brother, do not let the troubles of this world affect eternity. Quiet your heart and look to heaven above for reflection. The gods favor those who have faith."
"The dust in the sky makes stars, not deity. Have you seen the hills, Mekhet? Have you seen the bloodshed and the carcasses?" He stiffened and lowered his voice. "There are no gods. There is no one but us and them, the Humans, they who kill us without remorse."
Mekhet growled. "Who spoke the universe into existence? Who controls the rising and setting sun? Who are we to control the tides of the sea or the path of Man's arrow? We can neither see tomorrow nor visit yesterday. We are nothing. We are nothing. Cease your pride, brother, and hold your tongue. You give thanks for your life." She changed her tone, and her face was calm as she spoke. "We are safe. We have been blessed."
"We are not safe! Don't you see, Mekhet? We can never be safe again!" Joshua sighed. "This is my fault. This catastrophe, this calamity! If I had protected us, if I had alerted the tribe... there would be no deaths." He dropped to a whisper. "My wife would not have died."
"Oh, Tzipporah!" Mekhet shut her eyes for a moment, silent tears swimming down her fur. "Joshua, I am sorry. She was... a sister to me. I loved her dearly. She is safe now, take heart in that. She is happy and can never be hurt or defiled again. She is proud. You be proud of her, too. She..." A deep breath was taken, to prevent an onslaught of grief. "She was one of the strongest lionesses I have ever met."
At this, Joshua began to shake. "I cannot go on without her. I cannot lead this tribe without her by my side. I do not know how to go on. I control nothing, not even the safety of my family. I am helpless."
Mekhet knelt by her brother and held him in her paws. "Who, again, speaks the earth into motion? Not you, brother. Do not be fooled into thinking you can become like Amun-Re! You cannot warm the earth with sunfire or coax the night to day even for a moment. Such is the duty of the gods. You cannot carry every problem, every trial, by yourself. No one expects you too." Joshua felt the walls crumbling down. "Dear brother... you are not alone. I will not abandon you, in faith or in doubt. Nobody knows how many suns we will see in our lifetimes (that is a matter for the gods), but I do know that I am here for you, and I will always be here." Mekhet kissed her brother on the cheek.