Simba refused to leave the remains of Mount Tempest until we recovered Kopa's body. Digging through the mountain was not easy, but Malka assured us that we were welcome to stay as long as we needed.
But I could tell everyone wanted to leave. Mount Tempest is nothing but a place of bitterness and death now. The Pridelanders were eager to return home. The Tempest pride can't live here anymore, so they're going to travel south once we leave. They have another home hidden in the mountains called Shira Hollow, apparently. Malka told me it was a beautiful place.
Zamaradi said she would understand if Simba wanted to banish the Keepers from the Serengeti. But his response surprised me. "What I want is to begin a time of healing," he had said. "You have lost friends, just as we have. I ask you to come home with us."
He renamed them the Keepers of the Pridelands, since they're no longer outcasts; their purpose now is to safeguard their home and the creatures that inhabit it. He also reinstated an old organization called the Lion Guard, for any lions that want to take up their own mantle of protection alongside the Keepers. Its numbers are small right now since we've lost many in the battle, but it will grow with time.
Finding Kopa hadn't taken as long as I thought it would. We had only started digging for a few days when Nala found his body resting inside one of the lower passageways. Most of the debris was still left untouched. Maybe that was for the best. We already uncovered multiple bodies from before the flood and it doesn't get any easier as we find more of them.
Janga's was one of them. She hadn't ended up far from Kopa. Zamaradi told us that she had been a loyal friend, so we decided to lay her to rest with the rest of the fallen Keepers. Mheetu, who made a full recovery, was almost unable to live with himself for letting Kopa be taken in his place. I couldn't bring myself to tell him that it was because Janga had been so driven to avenge him, so desperate to die with him.
The parting of the two prides was emotional, to say the least. We had spent a long time in each other's company, formed friendships, fought and bled for each other. I had a feeling all of us were going to have a lot of quiet days to reflect back on once we went our separate ways. I wasn't wrong.
It was especially hard to say goodbye to Afua and Siri. With everything that had happened, who could have guessed that this whole crisis would have led him back home, and brought the two of them together? Even now I still remember that last conversation...
"Take care of yourself, Afua," Nala said to him. Then she embraced him like he was her own son. In a way, he had been for a long time.
"I will," he told her quietly. "Thank you for taking care of me, and you, Simba. You saved my life. I won't forget that." The way he looked around at the Pridelanders made me notice just how few of us were left. "You've all shown me so much kindness. Someday I hope I'll get the chance to repay you."
Simba came forward to embrace him as well. "We were very lucky to have you in our pride, Afua," he said wistfully. "It won't be the same without you there."
Afua felt the same way. I could see it in his eyes. "I'll miss all of you. But my father needs me now. And I don't think I can bear to go back without Kopa."
Nala's eyes filled with tears at the mention of Kopa, but she managed to hold them back. "Your pride needs its heir, Afua. You're going to make them very proud."
After they made their farewells, he came to talk to me. He just stood before me at first, struggling to figure out the words he was looking for. I gave him some time to find them. Finally, he decided to ask, "What did he say before he left?"
It wasn't that I had trouble remembering. But when I recalled Kopa's words, I only realized just then that he had gone after Janga not expecting to come back. "He told me to take care of them," I said.
Afua nodded, not needing further explanation. "Then make sure you do that," was his reply.
I promised him I would.
"One day you're going to be king, Kovu. He trusted you to take that responsibility in his place, so I will too. I hope I'll see the Pridelanders' numbers renewed the next time we meet."
I still remember his last words as I watched him walk away. "Our prides will be depending on us. Let's do our best to make sure this never happens again."
3 MONTHS LATER
Kovu saw Kiara standing at the edge of Pride Rock, watching the sunrise in solitude. He approached her quietly, taking his place by her side without a word. She continued to stare out at the horizon without so much of a turn of her head.
He gave her a little more time, then decided to break the silence. "Everything the light touches…"
"...is our kingdom," she finished. "Will always be our kingdom. Because of him."
"Yeah," he said awkwardly, not sure what else to say.
He could see the sadness in her eyes now. "I hardly got the chance to know him, Kovu," she murmured. "Sometimes in these last few months I feel like he really wasn't in my life at all. It makes me feel so...empty."
He placed a paw around her shoulders, leaning her gently against him. "Kiara..."
A tear fell from Kiara's eye and dripped into his mane. She sniffed, wiping her eyes with a sigh.
"I'll be okay, Kovu. If there's anything I've learned from the war, it's that we have to move on when we lose the ones we care about. There are so many more important things to live for than sadness."
He nodded solemnly, almost wishing that she could still be as innocent and optimistic as she once was. But he knew that Kiara was gone, just like Kopa.
But maybe not completely. Kovu wondered if his next question would dispel his mate's grief or further it. But he decided to ask. "Where's Kion? What's he up to?"
For a moment, Kiara gave the slightest hint of a smile. "Running circles around my parents, probably. He's always got enough energy to spare to tire them out."
One way to keep their mind off things, I guess, Kovu thought. After the battle at Mount Tempest, no one was more surprised than Simba and Nala to find out that they were expecting a cub. Kion was born a month later without a hitch, shortly after their return to the Pridelands. It was a bittersweet feeling after losing Kopa so recently, but both of them had chosen to accept their newfound happiness. Kion was born healthy, surprisingly so considering everything Nala had gone through recently. Neither she or Simba had let him out of their sight yet, not that Kovu could blame them. That kid is a miracle. The first to come after the battle. But maybe not the last...
"I'm worried about Vitani," Kiara said. "Everything that happened...she's been taking it the hardest. I don't know how she's going to have the cub like this..."
"Vitani will pull through," Kovu assured her. "She's strong, and brave, and—"
He broke off when he heard a cry of pain from inside the den, and out rushed a hassled-looking Sarafina. She had been tending to Vitani tirelessly for the last few days, ever since the younger lioness had begun to feel unwell. "It's coming," she said breathlessly.
Kiara straightened. "I'll find my parents." She ran past them and dashed across the savanna, away from Pride Rock. Since their return home, Simba and Nala had spent many days away from everyone else, trying to come to terms with their grief. If it wasn't for Kion, Kovu wasn't sure what state they would be in by now.
"Kovu, hurry," Sarafina urged. He followed her into the den, which had been cleared of its occupants the previous night. It was empty save for Vitani's writhing form and Rafiki, who was crouched over her.
Kovu was at his sister's side in an instant. "It's okay, Tani," he murmured. "You're going to be okay."
She convulsed with another cry, which receded into painful, heavy panting. Her brow was tense and beaded with sweat.
Kovu grasped her paw, trying not to wince when she squeezed it tightly. "Come on, Vitani. You can do it."
Tears were forming in her eyes as the agony began to overtake her. "I can't," she gasped. "I can't do it without him, Kovu."
"Yes, you can!" he said fiercely. He shot Rafiki a look, silently inquiring how she was doing.
"It is almost time," the mandrill assured him. "No complications as far as I can see."
"Kion, wait here," came Nala's voice from outside.
Kion's protest was drowned out by another scream from Vitani, and the cub wisely chose not to argue. A moment later, Kiara rushed in with Nala, Simba, and Mheetu. They hurried over, silent with anxiety. Kovu waited with them, watching as Vitani struggled to carry out her arduous task. Sarafina was wiping the sweat off her face and whispering words of encouragement to her.
Finally, Vitani let out a long, drawn-out scream, curling herself upward as Kovu and Sarafina tried to hold her steady. A tiny wail was heard, and Vitani slumped back, drained from her ordeal. Rafiki straightened, holding the newborn in his arms and bringing it over to her. Everyone craned their necks to peer upon the cub.
A weary smile appeared at last on Vitani's face as she cradled her precious burden. Kovu could see the change come over her instantly. Beside him, Nala whispered something in Simba's ear, to which he smiled in response. Mheetu's forlorn eyes softened, as if witnessing the birth of new life was erasing the death and destruction that had left its mark on him. Even Kiara's downcast demeanour began to disappear as she regarded the new addition to their pride.
And it was then that Kovu knew that his family—Kopa's family—was going to be okay again. It would take time for them to accept closure with their prince's valiant sacrifice, that much was obvious. But the healing that Simba wanted for all of them had begun with Kion, and it would continue with this cub as well. Kovu only wished that Kopa could have lived to see the birth of his child.
Vitani drew her cub close to her, pressing its tiny form against her face. It was already asleep, and as she took in its every feature, it was difficult not to envy how blissful and carefree it looked. "He lives in you," she whispered to the slumbering newborn. "And he lives in me."
Our cub will be your legacy one day, Kopa. And so will I.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, marks the end of Kopa's Legacy. Let me just say that this adventure of five stories, three hiatuses, and nearly two years of work has been an incredible experience. What an honour it has been to take this journey with you all! I hope Kopa's Legacy and everything that came along the way with it has left as much of an impression on you as it has on me.
Now, what's next in store? I'll be honest, Kopa's Legacy has really taken a lot out of me to finish. I'm going to need to take a long break from writing TLK, especially projects as big as this one. But don't panic! I'm not disappearing off the face of the Earth. For the next little while, I'll be helping Asante write chapters to his story, Fall of Man. Having someone else do the heavy lifting might be just the thing I need right now anyway, and Sante is a lot of fun to work with.
As for my personal plans, I do have at least one more TLK novel that I intend to complete. One novel doesn't sound like much after I just delivered five, right? Don't worry, this novel is going to be huge (and I mean HUGE). It may take me a long time, years even, before it's ready to be published. And I'll be laying out the path leading up to it with as many short stories as I can come up with, so you'll still have something to read from me during the wait. I won't reveal too much right now, but let's just say that Kopa's son or daughter (haven't decided yet which; that I will actually leave to you, the readers, to decide when the time comes) is going to be central to this story. Once I'm ready to begin, I will make every effort to deliver the best story possible. So please be patient, I will make sure the wait is worth it!
I'm going to end this author's note with a list of thank-you's that I feel I simply must give. The response to Kopa's Legacy was the first time I was able to create a massive following here, and time and time again I am astounded by your show of support. Each and every one of you have been a great audience. So here I go, and if I forget to mention you, I'm sorry! You're all fantastic!
First and foremost, thanks to Bookworm Gal for writing an amazing TLK story called When Did I Become a Parent?, which went on to inspire me to write something deeply emotional of my own. Since Kopa's Legacy technically wouldn't have existed without your story, I think it's only right to put you first on this list. Oh, and thanks for lending me your character, Shani.
To Haradion, for taking the time to leave me concise and thoughtful reviews that have helped me greatly in improving my writing. I hope I did justice with your character Bane, even if I had him brutally murdered.
To Actene, BC Lord, and ASniper, my friends from Halo Fanon (surprise, I write about stuff other than TLK) for willingly coming over here and reading my stories about talking lions. Thanks as well for taking the time to leave detailed reviews for every chapter you read. I promise I won't make you read anything outside of Halo anymore if you don't want to :P
To Watership's Nightwish Rat, for being a great friend both here and on YouTube, and for following Kopa's Legacy so avidly. It's always great to connect with someone who's both a Redwall and a Lion King fan.
To Goodbye0Bluesky, for your enthusiasm and kindness. I love it when you share with me the emotions that Kopa's Legacy has given you. You're one of those readers that make me truly feel like I've succeeded in creating a good story. I haven't forgotten either the times when you would offer your support to me when I was held back by my writer's block or going through personal struggles. Believe me when I say that I couldn't have finished this series without you. Your character Maji was a lot of fun to work with and I hope to see more TLK stories from you soon!
To Zero Unit RGB, MuggleCreator, and yeti1995, for following Kopa's Legacy from start to finish. I wish you all the best in your writing and hope you will always find joy in it!
Lastly, I want to thank Asante for too many things to say in one sentence. So I'll break it down and try not to ramble on here. Asante, you're a great writer and your stories are hilarious. Sometimes I'm not sure how you can stomach my depressing stories, but I'm flattered that you think so highly of them. I'm glad I have the chance to work with you on Fall of Man, even though I'm sad to hear it will be your last fanfiction. Nonetheless, all the more reason to make it a good one, right? As one author to another, I want to wish you all the best in advance and encourage you to never stop writing! You've been a very helpful influence since we first started talking to each other (you actually were a big reason I got over my last hiatus!); I hope that I was able to do the same for you somewhere along the way. Community is an amazing thing, even when it's only a virtual one. I've really enjoyed the time we've had to write and chat together. I'm looking forward to writing your story with you. (And for God's sakes, I hope you end your series on a happy note! Our poor readers don't need another cryfest like the one they undoubtedly got from me!) I'm going to steal your catchphrase here to end off. Hope you don't mind. Asante sana!