Author's Note: Major edits as of 1-21-14
Chapter One: Broken Circle
"Do as you must, brother. My place is here. We are the continuation of a sacred linage, one that deserves to thrive once again."
Panja could only nod and walk away. Leona's life was hers to live. He had duties of his own, including keeping his word to their mother and attending to the hunting party that had invaded his kingdom – the one the village his idealistic sister now called herself guardian of was sheltering. In the shadow of the huts, the Jungle Emperor listened to the conversation between the village chief, the leader of the hunting party, and the priest that had accompanied them. Let's see what they have to say for themselves. His eyes narrowed as the priest spoke. And it had better be good.
"Chief, Jacob tells me your people worship white lions. Is that so?"
"No, Father John. The Priestess is not a goddess," declared the Chief. "She, like her brother in the jungle, is a guardian and guide to those of this land, put in place by the Creator."
"So, it would be like me worshiping an angel?" Father John replied.
"That's correct," replied the Chief. "Your angels are the Creator's messengers. So are the White Lions. They are far wiser that we."
"I never thought I find a people so removed from the outside world whose beliefs so mirrored ours, Chief. Thank you for talking with me."
"It is my pleasure, Father. It is rare to find one of your people who understand. Few even try."
"God or messenger," interrupted Jake Viper, leader of the hunting party, "that won't stop me from bagging the biggest prize here."
"Must you be so heartless, Jacob?" replied the priest.
That was enough. Panja set about freeing the animals the hunters had seized. He urged them to be quiet, but many were frantic and they rushed from their cages. The earth shook from their haste for freedom. The animals rushed past the bon fire and broke down the gates. As they raced by, one of the logs rolled away from its fellows and set the huts alight.
Jake demanded an explanation from the chief as he felt the ground rumble beneath him, only to be told it was Panja, just as he had been warned. In response, he stood and grabbed his shotgun. "I'll show that lion who's boss!"
Just then, Panja walked out of the shadows, right up to the hunter who stood there shaking. The Jungle Emperor yanked the gun out of his hands and calmly strode over to the fire. With a toss of his head, Panja threw the gun into the flames and walked away.
"I don't know, Jacob," said the priest, stifling a laugh. "I think maybe he showed you."
The cries of a child echoed from one burning hut, but only Panja heard. He boldly rushed into the flames and rescued the child. Leaving him just outside the range of the blaze, he whispered, "You're safe." The child was Joey, orphaned nephew of Father John, and the boy understood every word. His point made, the Jungle Emperor took leave of the village. His thoughts turned to his mate, and the journey he had to make that night. It would be a long way to Pride Rock.
Elsewhere Eliza and her sister lay in their den, talking softly about tomorrow's event.
"I'm so sorry you have to miss the presentation," said Kusema. "If only Panja wasn't so worried."
"It's all right," replied the Empress. "Panja will give our regards to Mufasa and Sarabi, don't you worry."
"Oh, well, let's try and think of names for our cubs."
"Panja should name him," replied the Empress. She smiled fondly at her sister. "But we can come up with suggestions."
Panja crested a tall cliff and turned his face east. He let out a powerful roar, which echoed across the land. As if his roar had been a signal, the sun began to rise. From all across the Pride Lands they came: the hunted, and the hunters. Today they gathered in peace, to celebrate the birth of the new Pride Rock Prince. Panja looked up to see Zazu the hornbill, eyes and ears of his brother King Mufasa, fly low over the assembly. He smiled, knowing well the earful his brother was about to receive.
"The cheetahs have all arrived, Sire, as well as the zebras, the giraffes, antelopes, the elephants, the hippos, and the – "
Mufasa quickly scanned the crowd below, tuning out his majordomo's chatter. Meticulously detailed in his reports, Zazu never seemed to know when less was more. A single white figure stood out from the throng. The King smiled as Jungle Emperor Panja escorted Rafiki, the ageing shaman, up the cliff to the top of Pride Rock. The baboon looked amused. After embracing both his brother and the shaman, Mufasa led them over to where his mate Sarabi waited with their son.
The King and the Emperor shared a smile as Rafiki preformed the ritual that marked Simba as heir to the throne. They all looked on with pride and amusement as the cub sneezed. Afterwards Rafiki carefully lifted him into his arms and carried him to the edge of Pride Rock. Then he held him up for all to see. The entire kingdom let out a cheer of joy.
Well, almost entire kingdom – in a cave within sight of Pride Rock, the rulers' dark brother watched his son toy with a mouse. Nuka released his after his prey for another chase, only for Scar's paw to lash out, landing on the mouse as it fled.
"Dad!" complained the cub. "Give it back!"
"Life's not fair, is it?" Scar asked as he began to toy with the creature, speaking as it tried to flee. "But for an accident of birth, Mufasa would never rule, and I would see to the land's welfare." Scar dangled the mouse from his claws, and grinned as his son snatched it.
"And you," Nuka addressed the mouse as he prepared to devour it, "will never see another day!"
But before he could swallow the little creature, a grating voice pierced his ears. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?"
The dark lions turned to see the King's messenger, Zazu appear in doorway of the cave.
Nuka sneered, failing to notice the mouse's escape. "What do you want?" he demanded in a bored voice.
"I'm here to announce," began Zazu in a pompous tone, "That King Mufasa and Emperor Panja are on their way. You two are in major trouble!"
"Oh," replied Nuka, yawning. "I am so scared."
"Yes, I am positively shaking all over," added Scar as with a gleam in his eye, stalking toward Zazu.
"Now, Scar," began the hornbill, his voice shaking. "Don't look at me that way… HELP!"
At that moment, the voice of Mufasa reached them. "Scar… stop," he ordered in a bored tone.
"Perfect timing, your highness," said Zazu, his wings folded. "Ah!"
Nuka pounced on the bird, pinning him to the floor. He smirked at Zazu and licked his chops. At least until Panja separated them with a gentle but firm paw, disregarding the cub's protests.
Mufasa strolled down to where Scar stood, not to commenting on his nephew's behavior. As usual, he was too lazy to intervene.
Scar slyly sided up to the King, and every word he spoke dripped with disrespect. "Oh, look, son, if it isn't my big brothers descending from on high to mingle with the commoners."
Panja's eyed narrowed. "Why didn't we see either of you at the presentation this morning?"
"Aww," said Nuka in a falsely sweet voice, "we missed the little runt's big day? Dad, did you hear that?"
"Oh, how terrible," said Scar, feigning disappointment. With those words, he scraped his claws along the carven wall. Then, as he examined the result, he said, "I can't believe that duty slipped my mind."
"You are the King's family," snapped Panja. "You should've been first in line!"
"I was first in line," replied the dark lion, "until that little hairball was born!"
"That hairball," replied Mufasa, "is my son, and your future king!"
"Oh, I shall practice my curtsy!" said Scar sarcastically, turning to leave.
Nuka chuckled and made to follow him.
"Don't turn you back on me, Scar!"
The slender, black-maned lion looked back over his shoulder, green-eyes narrowed. "Oh, no, Mufasa," he replied. "Perhaps you shouldn't turn your back on me."
Mufasa roared and rushed past Scar, spinning around to face him. "Is that a CHALLENGE?" the Lion King demanded.
"Temper, temper," chided Scar. "I wouldn't dream of challenging you."
Nuka rolled his eyes at the thought.
"Pity," said Zazu, "why not?"
"You clearly think you would make a better king," added Panja angrily.
"Because while as far as brains go, I got the lion's share," replied the green-eyed lion. "But when it comes to brute strength…" and here Scar eyed both of his vastly larger brothers. "I'm afraid I'm rather at the shallow end of the gene pool."
The rulers watched the dark lion sauntered out of the cave. Their nephew shot them a glare and followed.
"What are we going to do with them?" Mufasa asked no one in particular.
"It's my fault, brother," replied Panja. "But no one can change the past. Take care, Mufasa. I must go home."
"Farewell, Panja," Mufasa replied. I only hope one day you will cease to blame yourself. We were both at fault. "Give my regards to Eliza."
That afternoon Eliza, awakened by the sound of her mate's roar, left the shelter of her den to search for the other lion. "Panja?" she called as she wandered through the foliage. "Where are you?" Eventually she pushed past several high ferns, and came to a clearing. It's coming from over here. But in the clearing there was only a tape player. Eliza gasped. Before she could move, she found herself hoisted into the air.
"We got her! Now take her to the village! We have to finish this before that busy-body priest gets back!"
"PANJA!" cried Eliza, even though she knew he couldn't hear her.
Joey, left behind while his uncle visited two other nearby villages, awoke to the sound of the gates opening. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he got up to see what was going on. The boy's eyes widened as he saw it for what it was: a trap. Jake and his cronies had placed a caged lioness, who must be that mate of the one from last night, before the entrance, but far enough inside that he would have to enter the village. He prayed hard for God to save the lions. Though God answers all prayers, Joey forgot that, sometimes, the answer is no.
Panja sniffed this way and that. He had just gotten back to the jungle, and so far, there had been no sign of his mate. Just then, Eliza's voice reached his ears, warning him to stay away. The Jungle Emperor rushed to the village gates.
Eliza was frantic when she saw him. "PANJA!" she cried, clawing at the bars of the cage. "No, it's a trap!"
The white lion looked left and right. The path to his mate was lined with steel traps. There was no way to go but through them. Panja let out a powerful roar before he rushed headlong onto the path. The deadly traps snapped shut within inches of his paws. He simply dodged the spears the villagers aimed at him, using a tree to scale the fence. His fury was enough to scatter the humans. Once reached his mate's cage he grabbed the heavy padlock in his jaws, straining to jerk it off.
"Well, well. What have we here?"
Panja and Eliza looked up as Jake Viper strode out from behind one of the huts. There was a resounding BOOM as he fired, and Eliza watched in horror as her mate fall.
Joey had to strain to hear the white lion's last words. When he did, he not ashamed of his tears
"Eliza…" said Panja, reaching his paw toward his mate. "Don't let…"
"NO!" cried Eliza, "Panja, please! I couldn't bear it! Don't leave us, please don't go!"
"Don't let them take away our son, Eliza," said the white lion. His eyes threatened to close, but it seemed he was determined to get this message across. "He must take his rightful place."
"Panja…" replied his mate, straining her own paw to meet his.
Joey watched sadly as the two lions' paws finally met.
"Call him… Kimba," were the Jungle Emperor's last words.
"PANJA!" cried Eliza, pain filling her eyes. Then she lifted her head and let out an agonizing cry that echoed the trees, where the jungle's dogs carried it into the distance.
Joey could not stand to look any more, especially when he saw the smirk on Jake's face.
By nightfall, word of Panja's death had reached Mufasa through an avian messenger of Leona's. Despite the distance, their thoughts ran in the same direction. They both stared up at the sky, searching for a new star.
"Brother…" whispered Mufasa.
"Panja…" breathed Leona.
"I have failed you," they said in unison.
The next morning, Eliza and the other animals were loaded onto a ship headed for America. Joey and his uncle boarded the boat, resolved to see that the animals were well cared for even if they could not free them. Joey chose not to tell the Priest what Panja had said. He knew if there were any way he could he would help get Kimba to the jungle.