It is amazing how time works. I could almost remember it now. I just used to love to see Mandarin laugh, his shoulders quivering, tear droplets forming on his eyes, and just his one chuckle could make the whole room laugh....

Oh, there were so many things that I loved when he was still our leader.... Cracking a few bad jokes in attempt to make others laugh.... Helping Antauri and Gibson on their research.... Assuring Otto when things went bad....

Of course...

....that all changed when the Skeleton King arrived.

The first time he challenged us we had underestimated him. He had minions that melted into ooze, for Pete's sake. But... the more times we fought him, the stronger he became. It didn't come to mind that he was watching us and taking note of what we were doing; how we battled, the techniques we used.

...and for the first time, after, I don't know how many battles, we lost.

Mandarin was infuriated. He had blamed all of us for not trying hard enough, for not doing our work. All of us tried to calm him down.

"It was only one battle, Mandarin," Otto said soothingly.

"But don't you understand?" Mandarin screeched. "He's becoming stronger! How long do you think it'll be before he wipes out completely?"

The long, solemn silence stunned me. Mandarin was usually very optimistic, no matter how bad we lost in other fights. Sure he'd sometimes correct us a little harshly, but he wasn't this hopeless. By the angry glisten in his eye, all of us knew that he was changing.

And it wasn't for the better.

"We'll train harder," Antauri said, forcing on a smile. "Make up some new techniques, some new strategies, and maybe even-"

"Who's the leader, Antauri?" Mandarin interrupted bitterly.

"Oh, um... You are, Mandarin," Antauri addressed humbly.

"And are you questioning my authority, Antauri?"

Antauri stared at him uncomfortably. "N-no, no, of course not."

"Then allow me to do my job to authorize the team," Mandarin snapped. Antauri almost jumped back a step. "Now.... if you may excuse me...."

Mandarin turned around and walked away, saying things ruthlessly to himself under his breath.

"I... I don't understand," Gibson murmured. "He... he never acted in such a manner before..."

"Maybe I should talk to him," Otto said.

"Wait..." Antauri stopped Otto. "I... think he should be alone for a while."

"I agree," Gibson whispered. "I don't want to spark his anger at all. He sounded so solemn it was as if he wanted to murder Antauri."

.....That painful, agonizing, evil silence took a grip on us again....

"Well I'm tired," Sprx piped, breaking the dead air. "I'm going to sleep, alright? Who wants to join me?" His grin faded when we all just gaped at him. "What...? Aw, c'mon, guys! We all know Mandarin! He'll make a fuss out of it for a while and then get over it."

"I'm afraid this isn't the case this time," Antauri mumbled. "I'm sensing some sort of disturbance withen him-"

"Come off it, Antauri!" Sprx growled. "Quit making things so suspenseful! He'll be alright in the morning!"

He shook his head and strolled quietly to his quarters.

"Do you think there's a possibility that... that Mandarin..." Gibson paused.

"I'm not sure," I said softly. "With Mandarin... just about anything could happen."

To Be Continued