"So I can't mess up the plan," my leonine captors had said. But I already know everything now so what point is anything if I'll just keep coming back?
But maybe they know that I can't come back. Sometimes I feel like I'd rather just lie around in the comfort of somewhere far away and let my kingdom crumble than walk back and forth through miles! These stubby crocodile legs are meant for paddling through a shallow pond, not hiking.
I was almost surprised that I was relieved to be locked away in this damp and cold dungeon instead of having to walk more. At least I can just lie here... and who knows? Maybe some magical force will sense the sheer injustice of all this and rescue the kingdom for me? There's not much I alone can do by now, except to record this. Then one day, someone with far more flexible legs than I could see this and find enough energy to finish the job for me...
So here I am. Prince Rainbow, all alone in this damp, dark dungeon. These lions that came from seemingly nowhere have imprisoned me in my own kingdom and are taking it over by force. I have no idea what they plan other than what will cause despair for my subjects, surely.
...No, wait. There is something I overheard while being guided through Honeygrass.
I looked around through the dungeon and saw dozens of pairs of flickering but hopeless eyes. Some pairs were specialized for the night and glowed in the darkness.
I was about to ask to confirm if my suspicions were true, but just before the first syllable flew out of my jaws, a small rabbit spoke up.
"Prince Rainbow, my name is Cherimoya and I know some things about what the lions will do. Thats why they imprisoned me in the first place, because I knew too much."
Could she be a mind reader? "C-could you...?" I choked out.
"Maybe I'm a mind reader, I don't know much about it myself. But please, I'd like to speak quickly before they come back. But I warn you, you may not be prepared for what I'm going to tell you." She continued. It sounded almost rehearsed, the way she said it, but what else was anyone going to do while trapped in a dungeon than plot their escape? I was a prince. I had power. I could get her out of there, possibly, with what little scraps of authority I still had.
"I'm not prepared for anything, but I need this knowledge." I responded. I thought about how long it had been since I had last spoke with an ally.
"Alright, here goes: I've been thinking about this a lot and a lot of these things just don't seem right, but I'll get to the fact before I get to my speculations. I've probably been in here the longest and while I've suffered the most of all this boredom and fear, I've gained the most knowledge about the lions. They're going to spread fear and anxiety throughout the kingdom's villages, which will lure phantoms out and spread even MORE fear about... so it will be a vicious circle of fear, yes." Cherimoya took a deep breath before continuing.
"So the former crocodile kingdom will swarm with phantoms, and I don't know exactly how a phantom portal is formed, but I'm guessing that having a ton of phantoms around is part of it. A massive phantom portal will be formed– bigger than anything you've probably seen before and swallow the crocodile kingdom into darkness."
I did not know what to make of that. My head was swimming and I really was afraid. I tried to respond, but I was too hoarse. I could have fainted.
But Cherimoya was fine, and continued: "So what's this speculation I have about the lions? It's that they are just too connected with these phantoms to be... like us. I mean, why are these lions doing this? The phantoms don't establish treaties with any creature unless they mean to break them in a few seconds."
I found my voice. "What do you mean? I'm not understanding this at all."
She sighed and tried to resume her momentum. We could both hear paw steps coming down the stone stairs. "What will the lions get from phantoms swarming their kingdom? What will any creature get from phantoms being there? Fear, negative things– nothing worth making big plans for! This can't just be from curiosity– I believe the lions have somehow merged with the phantoms long ago! How else could they be the only known creature to shape shift?" the paw steps got louder and quicker and Cherimoya got louder with desperation. "So-called phantom magic isn't something you can practice, because you have to be a phantom to do it!"
At this point I was terrified and could only focus on the paw steps drawing closer to Cherimoya's dungeon cell. I could see the glowing eyes of a nocturnal hunter, but it didn't appear that the lioness could see mine. Only Cherimoya's desperate rambling.
I saw she turned around to look at the lioness, and there was fear in her eyes, but only fear of not getting her message out. She still continued even as the lioness spoke in a surprisingly calm voice: "You've been in here too long, rabbit. I have been given orders to dispatch you somewhere far away from Honeygrass where you cannot do any damage to our plan."
I was temporarily thrown off guard by the mocking way she said "our," but then I noticed that Cherimoya had finally stopped– no, allowed herself to be interrupted.
"I... I think so, too." She said in a whisper.
And then as docile as a leaf, Cherimoya left with the lioness and I could hear the dungeon door close.
I pressed my claws up against the cold stone wall and thought about all that Cherimoya said, and thought about how useless it was for me.
Still, it was better than nothing. I thought it over and noticed the darkening sky through the window too high for my crocodile legs to lift me, or my crocodile voice to be heard.
--End of Rainy's journal entry--
--Beginning of Strawberry the lion's POV--
After exiting the castle, I guided Cherimoya over to the secret exit path out of the jungle. Everything had always felt so wrong since I was a cub, so with the rabbit I was going to escape, and hopefully guide some of those trapped in the forest, too.
"Over this way!" I whisper-yelled. If I failed this one task, I would have failed Mira. After hearing Cherimoya over and over again in the cell, even with the way she so analyzed our ways, I secretly felt relieved because I was right! This little rabbit had guided me out of the darkness that the phantoms choked the other lions with.
Cherimoya expressed her gratitude profusely, but I should have been thanking her! But I didn't dare talk more than I needed to, lest another lion hear my familiar voice.
I guided her through the forest, while she promised to guide me to the Savannah. With a last glance at the dark clouds looming over the castle, I silently promised myself that one day, no matter what happened, I would go back and free my brothers and sisters from the phantoms. But until then, I could only hope that the crocodile prince Cherimoya had been talking to could remember her words.
"Let's go, Strawberry." Cherimoya whispered.
"Thank you," I whispered back, even softer.
*TO BE CONTINUED IN APRIL!*