AN: We're coming to the end of the first part of the finale. Already things are slowly starting to develop. I've been reading the reviews, and I've gotta say that I'm loving the speculation. It really makes my day. Keep it coming!

the-mysterious-other: The Interceptor is a lot less evil than in his first appearance, isn't he? Saving Simba has definitely improved his image. He's an interesting ally now...

LionKingFactsGuy2: I pride myself on my twists. I'll keep 'em coming!

Chapter Seven: The Taking

Simba, Nala, Haiba and the Interceptor finally came to a halt in the middle of a small clearing, having been running non-stop in order to evade the deadly threat that was Virusi. They were still keeping an eye out for him even as they stopped…

"Okay," Simba panted, his chest aching with exhaustion. "Okay. I think he's stopped chasing us."

Simba had a sinking feeling, deep down in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't help it. It felt ominous to him. The arrival of Virusi signalled the start of something big. Something that would not only affect the jungle, but the entire world. If only he could figure out what his plan was…

"I've never ran that fast in my life," Nala gasped, collapsing against a tree. "I hope he's just as tired as we are."

"I don't think viruses get tired," the Interceptor said. He was the only one of the four who didn't appear incredibly fatigued by their lengthy run. After all, he was used to running and jumping all the time. His 'job' required him to be extensively active. "That guy can keep on going for ever."

"We're lucky we got away," Haiba said, sitting himself down on a small rock. "I don't like the look of that guy's claw. It'd probably go right through us. It was a pretty dumb move to take him on like that, Simba."

"Well, what else was I supposed to do?" Simba retorted, glaring at him. "Just let him kill us all?"

"That wasn't what I meant," Haiba said. "What if you died? We're only barely surviving with just four of us. Why make things worse?"

"I wonder if my mom's okay," Nala said, suddenly reminded of her. She's probably with Zazu, she thought. I just hope that virus hasn't found her…

"How far would it take to get to this hermit?" the Interceptor asked. "I'm not usually one for saving the day, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna let that virus disrupt my life. I want to kill him!"

"I think we have more than just him to worry about," Haiba said, frowning. "You heard what he said. His 'creator' is the one who wants him to kill us. If only we could figure out who it is."

"He looked like Death," Nala said, causing Simba to give her a funny stare. "What? He does."

"I killed Death," Simba stated, thinking back to their confrontation together. Both of them had died in the conflict; a mysterious being who went by the name of You-Know-Who resurrected Simba, however. If that hadn't happened, then both he and Nala would have been dead a long time ago… "He can't come back."

"You don't know that," Nala said. "We knew very little about him. I mean, he's the root of all evil. Isn't it just a little bit possible that he can come back to life?"

"Nope," Simba said. "There was nothing left. I made sure of that. I'm sure evil can carry on just fine without him."

"Just standing around here speculating isn't going to help," Haiba interjected. "We have to find the Hermit of Hekima. We can use that secret underground tunnel to get there quicker, can't we?"

"We should be able to get there way before that virus does," Simba said optimistically. "Then maybe we stand a chance of getting our home back."

"But he lied," Nala said, unable to believe it. "Why would he do that? He looks like one of the most truthful animals out there."

"That virus said it was to protect us," Simba told her. "But what from? Him?"

"The 'creator', I imagine," replied Haiba. "Maybe the hermit knows who he is. But we're not gonna find out by just standing here."

"You're right," Simba agreed. "Let's go."

"Something's up with this cub," Sarafina said, placing Ugaidi gently on the ground by the riverside. He was still completely unconscious after overloading with fear earlier. "I wish I knew what it was."

"Sarafina, I strongly suggest that you stop paying attention to the ramblings of this inept cub," Zazu advised, unimpressed by how determined she seemed to wake Ugaidi from his unconscious state. "It's quite clear that there is very little left of his mind."

"Zazu, it's obvious that something has frightened him," Sarafina said. "He can see into the future. There's no telling what he might have witnessed."

"He's witnessed nothing," Zazu stressed. "If some sort of apocalyptic event were to occur, then I'm very sure that there would have been some noticeable signs by now!"

"Who says there haven't been any noticeable signs?" the lioness retorted. "I'm pretty sure that Ugaidi is one of them. Behind all that insanity, he's hiding something. Some kind of secret. We just need to get through to him."

Sarafina glanced around the empty space of the resort, and wondered where the other cubs had gotten to. "The one time you need them, and they're not here…" she murmured, before dipping a paw into the river and splashing water across Ugaidi's face.

The result was instantaneous. Ugaidi coughed and spluttered, awakening immediately from his slumber. He caught sight of Sarafina and Zazu, and became terrified in a matter of seconds. He attempted to back away and escape, but the river behind him prevented that. It was either fall into the water or face the other two animals. He had no choice.

"The sickness," he said, eyes wide. "We must hide. Hide from the sickness. It will infect us all… There is nothing you can do to stop him."

"Ugaidi, you have to calm down," Sarafina said soothingly, speaking to him the way she would speak to her daughter. She was pretty good when it came to taking care of cubs. She was a very experienced mother, having looked after Nala on her own ever since she was born. "We have to understand what you're so afraid of. We're not going to hurt you."

"The sickness…" Ugaidi was squirming uncomfortably on the spot, as if he would rather be anywhere than here. "He has been here already. The mark… the mark is underneath your paws."

Sarafina lifted one of her forepaws to reveal that some of the land below was cracked and scarred, glowing with an orangey colour that wasn't too dissimilar to magma. It was like someone had been slashing right through it. "What is going on around here?"

"The sickness. The virus." Ugaidi's eyes were darting around in terror. It was as though he thought that the creature would appear in the resort there and then. "He will begin the plan. And none shall survive."

"How do you know this, Ugaidi?" Sarafina questioned softly, placing a paw gently on the cub's shoulder. "How do you know?"

"The gift," Ugaidi mumbled, slowly collapsing onto his back. "He gave me the gift…"

He passed out once more, completely motionless.

Sarafina and Zazu exchanged curious looks with one another, unsure what to make of Ugaidi's ramblings.

But then were they really ramblings? Or perhaps something much more important?

"I think we have to find Simba," Sarafina said. "Before something horrible happens."

Virusi emerged from the opening of the underground tunnel, which had allowed him to cross underneath the desert with ease. His creator had provided him with enough geographical knowledge to know his way around, so finding the secret tunnel wasn't hard. The Hermit of Hekima certainly liked to keep things hidden…

But not for long.

Virusi slashed aside bushes and branches that were blocking his way, getting closer and closer to the spot where the hermit resided. He smiled widely when he reached his destination: a wide clearing that opened out onto a massive rocky cliff. It overlooked an enormous, beautiful river about one hundred feet below.

The sky was beginning to turn an orangey purple colour; the evening was quickly drawing in. The sun was already starting to set. Thanks to the relatively bright illumination, it didn't take long for the living virus to spot the golden eagle.

He was perched on one of the cliff's long protruding edges, staring out at the endless waters. It appeared that the Hermit of Hekima had failed to notice Virusi, so he was none the wiser to his presence.

That was about to change.

Virusi chuckled as he approached the hermit, smiling evilly. "You thought you could hide all the way out here, huh, hermit?"

The living virus didn't see the Hermit of Hekima smile. "I knew you were coming," the golden eagle said, his back to Virusi. "I sensed your presence hours ago. Such strong evil is very easy to detect."

Virusi snarled as the Hermit of Hekima turned around to face him. "So you know why I'm here?"

The hermit nodded. "Of course," he said. "You want to kill me. Because you know, don't you?"

"My creator knows," said Virusi. "You lied to those cubs, didn't you? To protect them and yourself?"

"Not exactly," said the Hermit of Hekima, much to Virusi's bemusement. "I lied to them because I knew that this would happen."

"You can't tell the future," Virusi said. "Only read minds."

"I know," agreed the golden eagle. "But it's all too obvious why that spell was put around the Pride Lands. I knew right from the start that it was the work of something deadly. Whoever your creator is, he certainly has something huge planned. And that's why you need me." He spread his long wings. "I'm something huge."

"Something powerful," Virusi retorted, brandishing his razor-sharp claw. "And you have that power."

The Hermit of Hekima smiled, totally unafraid. "Whatever you're planning, it won't work," he said. "Those cubs will stop you."

"They don't know a thing that's going on," Virusi replied. "By the time they figure everything out, it will all be too late."

"We'll see," the Hermit of Hekima said.

Virusi frowned—

—and plunged his claw right into the golden eagle's chest.

The living virus laughed evilly as the Hermit of Hekima gasped in pain, his claw penetrating right through the golden eagle's chest. The hermit stood there, transfixed, devoid of all movement.

With a horrible squelching noise, Virusi finally removed the dangerous appendage from the Hermit of Hekima's chest. A blue orb—about the size of an orange—was stuck on the tip of his claw, extracted right from the golden eagle.

Virusi had exactly what he wanted.

The living virus didn't look back as the Hermit of Hekima let out a dying screech, falling from the edge of the cliff and plummeting one hundred feet into the river below. A loud splash punctuated his fate.

From then, all that could be heard were Virusi's maniacal laughs, echoing away into the evening sky…

"Where is he?"

Simba looked around in confusion, stood on the edge of the cliff as the light evening breeze swirled around him. This was where the Hermit of Hekima usually lived. He couldn't think of anywhere else he might be.

"This is where he normally is," Simba said. "At least, that's where he was when we saw him. I don't know where else he would go."

"He wouldn't just vanish," Nala said. She stared out into the distance, bright sunlight shining down on her. "Man, it's bright up here." She glanced aside from the light, momentarily staring down at the ground.

That was when she saw it.

"Simba, look," Nala said, holding something up.

"What is it?"

It didn't take him long to see that Nala was holding a blood-stained feather.

It didn't take him long to see that Virusi had been here.

It didn't take him long to see that the Hermit of Hekima was dead.

"Oh, that's brilliant," the Interceptor sighed, hitting the ground in frustration. "So the only guy who could have helped us is dead?"

Simba frowned, his face tight. "Yeah." He was desperately trying to disguise the despair that he felt in his heart. "He's dead."

"Oh, no…" Nala felt her stomach sink. Her grip loosened on the bloody feather, allowing the breeze to scatter it into the air, disappearing into the sunset.

"Whatever happened, he got what he wanted," the Interceptor said. "Stupid virus."

"His secret died with him," Haiba said sadly.

Simba suddenly turned his attention to Haiba. "You said you saw him."

Haiba narrowed his eyes. "What?"

"You." Simba took a step towards Haiba, eyeing him with curiosity. "Earlier. Before the Interceptor showed up. You said that you saw the Hermit of Hekima the other day. How? Why?"

"Yeah," Nala agreed, staring at Haiba as well. "You did say that. Why? Why would he have visited you, Haiba?"

"It was when you disappeared, wasn't it?" Simba demanded, looking very angry. "Tell us the truth, Haiba. Now."

"Uh… um…" Haiba shifted awkwardly on the spot, feeling helplessly trapped. He swallowed hard, as all eyes were on him. He took a deep breath—

—and uttered three words which he deeply regretted.

"I killed Tama."

To Be Continued…

AN: Ooh, that was an absolutely diabolical cliffhanger! Haiba's finally told the truth about Tama's death. Not to mention the Hermit of Hekima is dead! No! I loved that guy! How will all of this affect the rest of the group? Well, I'm sure you guys will come up with some more interesting theories for me to read concerning that.

So, that leaves me with just two more stories to write. I'll see you tomorrow with the first two chapters of The Final Task!

NEXT TIME: Virusi continues with his creator's plan... Can Simba stop him before it's too late?