Darkness spread over the Pridelands, a blackness so thick not even the stars could break it. No moon was shining on this night, and the land lay in hopeless silence at the mercy of any demons that would come to find it. There was a constant breeze, which heralded the approach of another storm. A faint rumble of thunder disturbed the peace for only a second before the hush returned, surpressing all signs of life.

The throne of the Great Kings faced down on an unusually quiet and peaceful Pride Rock. Maten had collapsed early to take his first peaceful slumber, unhaunted by the images of Kovu's smug face eternally mocking him from his grave. Bakari had taken the place which had, for generations, been claimed by a queen, and the rightful queen was instead sitting outside, her pale gold fur light a light in the darkness.

She was on the Queen's Stone, sitting as tall as she could as she faced the darkness. Far in the distance, her eyes picked up a very quick lightening of the sky followed by another rolling thunder that passed over the statuesque being. Her soft brown eyes were shimmering with tears as her eyes turned up to the unforgiving skies. No clouds blocked out the stars, but they were not showing tonight... It was as if the Great Kings themselves were mourning over the day's events.

Between her paws was the tan and white Mëa, her two-toned eyes slightly hidden under drooping lids. Elata was proud of the cub; she had not cried about her mother's death. She had showed no weakness after Maten threw the body down the side of Pride Rock, leaving it to the scavengers. She had kept to Elata's side through the ordeal of moving the sacred remains to the gorge and the trek back home.

"You would have made a fine queen," Elata whispered, words that were borne quickly from her jaws to the four winds. She brushed her paw over Mëa's fur softly before her eyes turned out to the horizon again and she became like a stone once more, protecting the slumbering cub from whatever dangers the darkness would thrust upon her.

"I wish I could read the signs."

The soft voice snapped her out of her trance-like state what felt like hours later, but which was in reality only mere minutes. She searched for the source of the familiar voice and felt a flood of relief as Aujilo landed next to her, with Penrai not too far behind. The green majordomo had taken up residence in the Tree of Life, finding it better to avoid Maten's claws and to remain in safety. The gold-eyed fishing eagle enjoyed the company since the death of his mentor, and it was obvious that Penrai enjoyed both the safety and the companionship.

"The stars fading from the skies worries me, and the darkness is surely a warning of the times to come." Aujilo's voice was subdued as he gazed across the lands, his eyes dim. "It is going to be a dangerous time, my friend."

Elata nodded slowly, looking out across the lands again. "I'm ready for it," she said quietly. Aujilo looked out across the Pridelands as the pale lioness spoke more softly to him.

"Aranhi is dead, Aujilo..."

Elata gave him a soft look, and the shaman turned his knowing eyes to the cub. He had visioned the death, but hadn't been sure it was indeed Aranhi who had fallen to Maten's claws. He had witnessed the rest of the day's events, though, at the base of the gorge...


The cub was shaken gently awake and she stared up at Elata, but her eyes were unfocused. She was staring at a point beyond Elata... Something behind her. And as Elata noticed Aujilo and Penrai also staring, she got a sinking feeling in her chest and whipped around, expecting to be faced with cold blue eyes and claws. But her eyes were immediately drawn upwards to the sky, where a single star was shining above them. She locked her gaze on it, and she heard a familiar yet hushed cackle carried on the wind as it swirled around them. She felt a brief warmth spread through her body, almost like a rolling fire of hope and determination. She would survive, and so would the others. Maten may be a cruel leader, but Nala had lived through a drought with King Scar... There was suddenly no doubt in Elata's mind that she would be able to pull herself and her friends though this. As quickly as the young cub had noted the star it faded again, leaving the throne of the Great Kings cast over with the same thick hopelessness of darkness that shrouded the Pridelands.

She was suddenly aware that the space between her paws was no longer warm with the closeness of Mëa. The pale huntress watched with sad eyes as the tan and white cub padded softly after the departing form of Aujilo and Penrai. She almost stood up to follow, but sat down quickly. A sign from Rafiki, no doubt... She would be raised as a shamaness, a creature that even Maten would respect and even fear. A soft smile flashed briefly across Elata's muzzle as relief flooded through her body. The daughter of Aranhi would live, then... She would not be forced to bear Maten's claws.

The Circle of Life would continue.

But the smile faded as the three forms were swallowed by the darkness, and a face of stone emerged on the soft face as her gaze found the horizon once again. The flashes of lightning had long since faded into the distance, and the thunder was barely noticeable. The Pridelands were again submerged in the thick and black silence of an unguided and unguarded night, a night with no hope and no escape. Through it all the pale lioness sat, a soft flame in the midst of the black landscape, eyes trained on the horizon as she sought the faintest hints of the new day to break the tight hold of this eternal midnight.

I'm loathe to put the "Completed" mark on this... It's been a much longer and more involved process than I thought it would be when I began writing this, what, a year or more now?

I know frowns upon long author's notes, ( at least last I heard, ) so I'm going to keep this short and simple... Thank you to all my readers and especially reviewes who have stayed by me over this year and have held out faith that this would eventually end. I don't think I'll write a sequel of any sort... Maybe one-shots to further give details of the reign of Maten, but I think a full-blown sequel would ruin what I have going for me - unless you would all like me to try one, in which case I'd be more than willing to give it a shot.

So again, thank you very much to everyone.