THE RELUCTANT PRINCE
Chapter 1: The Unexpected Return Home
"Dark Kat nearly got all of us this time, buddy," T-Bone grunted, wincing in pain as he moved his shoulder wrong while piloting the Turbokat out of the danger zone they had left behind them.
"At least the bastard is finally dead," Razor muttered darkly, blood dripping from a nasty slice on his forehead and still shaken at how close they had all come to death.
What disturbed him and T-Bone the most was Dark Kat had managed to kidnap the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Dr. Sinian with absolutely no one knowing about it for more than two hours. The reason was the big league omega had not requested a ransom nor gloated about his coup to anyone which was very unusual.
It was sheer dumb luck that one of Feral's operatives working undercover at a munitions factory had overheard the plot from a couple of low level minions. The operative was trying to find out who was systematically stealing parts from this plant despite its heightened security. He had broken cover and immediately reported to the Commander that he now knew who was responsible for the thefts and that a kidnaping had occurred.
When the two minions were brought into custody and squeezed during interrogation, it was learned they had never been to Dark Kat's new digs and had no idea why their leader had taken those particular hostages. Frustrated, Feral launched a massive search.
Feral hadn't liked it but when the SWAT Kats had learned of Callie's abduction and insisted on being part of the rescue team, he reluctantly agreed and gave them a section of the city to search.
The kathunt had begun just after two in the afternoon, some six hours after the kidnapings had occurred. By ten that night, the searchers had covered three-quarters of the city but found no sign of Dark Kat.
It wasn't until dawn was peeking over the horizon they finally got a break. The SWAT Kats had gone home to refuel and when they headed out again, they decided to fly over the desert where their targeting range was located. Razor had decided to look here first before going on toward the distant mountain range to search since Dark Kat had a penchant for hiding in caves there.
Well it wasn't mountain caves he'd chosen this time but a sandstone castle hidden within the SWAT Kats very own targeting range. As the Turbokat was passing over the area, Razor had been peering out the window and spotted something out of place. Frowning, he called to his partner.
"T-Bone cut back over the section we just passed. I saw something amiss."
"What'ja see, Razor?" His partner asked as he turned the Turbokat and began a pass over the area again.
"I'm not sure...wait....slow down and go to VTOL....now....."
T-Bone put the jet on VTOL and they hovered over the farthest end of their obstacle course. This area was honeycombed with caverns, deep crevasses, and caves carved from sandstone by the winds. It had also been turned into a crystal wonderland briefly by the altered Rex Shard a year ago.
Razor dropped his x-ray scanner below the body of the jet and toggled it up and down to allow him to view the area more deeply.
"Crud! The bastard!" He suddenly hissed in shock.
"What is it? What do you see?" T-Bone demanded, wishing he could see what had his friend so upset.
"Dark Kat!" Razor spat. "That asshole found a pocket that didn't clear of crystal when Rex Shard went back to normal. It's a natural, deep cavern and its lined with that special crystal making it impervious to the winds. He's set up a complete operation in there."
"Crud!" T-Bone growled angrily. "Should we give them a warm welcome?"
"Won't work!" Razor said flatly. "Remember how difficult it was to break that crystal? No, we have to get help with this if we want to get Callie and the other's out alive.
"Ah, Razor.....I just know where you're going with this and I hate it already," the tabby complained bitterly.
"Can't be helped, buddy. Too much is at stake!" Razor said uncompromisingly, picking up his radio and making a call. "The SWAT Kats calling Feral! Urgent you respond!"
It took several minutes but a gruff, irritable voice rumbled over the speaker, "what do you want, SWAT Kat? We're busy here!"
"Yeah, well stop what you're doing and bring everything you've got to the desert region, south by southwest. We've found Dark Kat but it's going to be really difficult getting him out of the hole he's managed to find for his hideaway. Find something that can break crystal, like the stuff Rex Shard was able to make......either sound wave makers or high vibration devices. We'll back off so we aren't seen and wait for you," Razor briefed him quickly.
There was shocked silence over the line for a moment then..... "Kat's Alive!.....Be there as fast as we can. Out!" Feral cut the connection. Razor had heard him shouting orders when his voice cut off.
"T-Bone, head up! We'll stay high enough to keep from being seen until Feral and his troops get here," Razor ordered.
Without a word, T-Bone added lift to the Turbokat's turbines and they sailed silently upward for more than twenty miles then stopped. It took Feral over an hour to reach that part of the desert and he had played it smart. The ground troops were coming in at an oblique angle so their engines would not vibrate the ground nor the noise reach their intended target.
As for Feral's squadrons of jets and choppers, they came in at the same high altitude where the Turbokat waited. He had his jets take up a circle pattern above the SWAT Kat's position and his choppers just below as he, himself, came close to the jet and held position in his chopper.
Razor pointed out where Dark Kat's lair was hidden. A quick powwow of strategies were discussed and tossed out before they came upon a desperate plan. The next two hours would end up being a nightmare.
They had decided Feral, a handpicked group of black ops enforcers, and the SWAT Kats would go in on foot to check out the lay of the land first.
The SWAT Kats parked their jet some miles from Dark Kat's hideaway with Feral and several choppers landing nearby. They disembarked and walked to the Turbokat. As they watched the cargo door opened and their eyes widened at the sight of a slick looking disk floating out from the interior and down to the sand before them.
"Climb aboard the Hoverkat!" T-Bone called to them, landing the craft so they could load.
"Interesting vehicle and perfect for sneaking up on that crud!" Feral admitted unwillingly as he admired the craft while his troops climbed aboard.
"We think so!" Razor smirked.
T-Bone sent the craft racing ahead at its max speed, sand spraying up behind them as the landscape passed by in a blur. Though he was on the ground, T-Bone was still familiar with the terrain and took them through the narrow pathways without slacking his speed, causing more than one officer to curse at just how close the SWAT Kat got to the walls of the canyon.
When they were close to their target, T-Bone slowed the Hoverkat down and cautiously approached the area. It wasn't long before Razor's sharp eyes spotted a creepling on a ledge over looking a massive cave entrance and hissed a warning.
T-Bone quickly sent the Hoverkat into a sandstone cave he'd spotted nearby, floating carefully into it, landing then shutting down the engines.
"This should be a safe enough place to leave it for a fast get a way when we've rescued the prisoners," T-Bone told them in a low voice as everyone disembarked.
The next thirty minutes was bloody and hard fought. They had indeed managed to sneak into Dark Kat's stronghold without being seen. After Feral and T-Bone had killed the creepling sentries at the entrance, they spread out and moved among the huge sandstone formations that graced the entry point until they reached the crystal heart of the 'castle'.
It wasn't as big as they feared but was large enough for what Dark Kat had in mind which was making yet another bomb to destroy not only Enforcer Headquarters but city hall as well. He had kidnaped the Mayor and Deputy Mayor to force them to watch the city be nearly destroyed then declare him leader. Dr. Sinian had simply been an unintentional snatch.....truly being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The rescue team had managed to slip close enough to come upon Dark Kat's work area and be there in time to overhear his plans. The prisoners were chained to a section of the crystal walls nearest Dark Kat's huge monitor which was dark at the moment....explaining how they managed to sneak in so easily. That being on would have ended the rescue before it had even started.
The poor prisoners were forced to listen as Dark Kat waxed lyrically about his plans to finally take over the city. Studying them, the hidden group could see that, except for a few scrapes, bruises and claw marks from the creeplings, the three appeared to be unharmed so far.
Razor whispered that Dark Kat was nearly finished with the bomb they could see sitting in a pit a few feet from them and being worked on by ninjas and creeplings. The smaller SWAT Kat warned they couldn't wait any longer to rush Dark Kat and rescue the prisoners.
Feral agreed and called the charge. He and his men rushed forward from their various positions to zero in on Dark Kat and his ninja minions while the SWAT Kats dealt with the creeplings and rescued the prisoners.
Half the black ops team died as did more than half the ninjas. The creeplings had been quickly dispatched by the SWAT Kats who also succeeded in freeing the hostages which effectively ended the battle. However, Dark Kat had tried one last attempt to launch his missile but was killed instantly by a falling sandstone spire that had been severed from the ceiling by a well placed octopus missile.
As the dust settled and all stared at the now dead omega pinned to the cave floor suddenly the ground rumbled and cracks began appearing in the walls around them. Not knowing why it was happening, the group hustled the former hostages out of the cave at a run. At one point, T-Bone had to carry Callie because her shoes were no good at running in sand as they all raced for the hidden Hoverkat.
Depositing Callie in a seat and advising her to buckle up, T-Bone hurried to the driver's seat and engaged the engines as the rest of the group piled in. When everyone was secured, he carefully backed them out then shifted the Hoverkat into high speed, navigating the canyon with terrifying skill that had the Mayor crying in terror and Ms. Briggs keeping her eyes closed and praying while behind them there came the alarming sounds of rocks crashing.
Reaching the Turbokat, Razor signaled the cargo door to open and when they got close enough, T-Bone simply flew them inside. There was no time for the enforcers to go to their own planes. As they settled into seats, the SWAT Kats rushed up the ladder to the cockpit where T-Bone quick started the jet, launching from the ground fast enough to flatten everyone with a lot of g's.
When he thought they were far enough away, T-Bone pulled back on the power and they all sighed in relief. Feral called to his circling forces and got a report that huge plumes of dust could be seen where the caves were collapsing.
He ordered them to return to base then relaxed as the Turbokat cruised at a more gentle speed back to the city. Both passengers and the crew above recapped what happened, thinking the worst was over when suddenly a ripple of intense vibrations shook the jet hard.
"What the hell is happening?" T-Bone shouted as he struggled to hold onto the yoke and not lose control of the Turbokat as the jet surged forward without the benefit of its engines that whined at the force shoving it from behind.
"The crystal exploded behind us causing a sonic ripple effect which caught us," Razor shouted back, holding on for dear life.
"Crud, something's happening in front of us too!" T-Bone warned as he watched a kind of window appear in the air directly before them.
There was nothing he could do as the jet shot through the 'window'. However, as soon as they passed through it, the vibrations ceased instantly but the jet was still moving at a high rate of speed. Though badly shaken, T-Bone managed to slow the jet's speed gradually then brought it to a halt, going to VTOL so they could get their bearings.
"Where the hell are we?" Razor said in a hushed voice as he peered out his window.
"I don't know but it sure as heck isn't Megakat City," T-Bone breathed as he stared.
"What the devil were you two hotshots doing......" Feral growled, climbing up from below and poking his head into the cockpit area.
"The jolting was the crystal cave exploding and sending a sonic ripple at us which sent us here....wherever here is...." Razor explained, pointing out the window with an unhappy expression.
Frowning, Feral squeezed upward into the tight cockpit so he could see what Razor was talking about. His eyes widened in horror at what his eyes beheld.
"Kat's Alive! There's no way we could have gotten here......" his voice was hushed, a strange note in it that told Razor, Feral might have an idea where they were as impossible as that seemed.
"Familiar to you?" He asked in confusion.
"Unfortunately, yes!" Feral grunted, obviously no happier to be here than the rest of them were.
Below the jet a lush forest sprawled for as far as the eye could see with trees of a strange type and taller than anything they'd seen before. Standing tall some distance away was a stone castle of some kind and below it lay a rather large community consisting of simple but elegant homes, streets, markets, and farms surrounded by a high wall of stone. Huge gates at two different points could just been seen from their high perch.
What they could see of the people here they seemed normal except for the varied colored sets of wings they all sported which told them they were definitely not on their world anymore. This high up, there was no way to know if the inhabitants were friendly or not.
"Where the heck are we and are those people going to be hostile to us?" T-Bone asked no one in particular.
Razor eyed Feral questioningly. The Chief Enforcer seemed reluctant to speak at all but finally said in a tight voice, "they don't like strangers and will attack any who approach without prior authorization from the king that rules here. I strongly suggest we get away from here....now!"
Surprised but not willing to waste time asking more questions, T-Bone quickly took the jet off VTOL and was just making the switch to forward motion when all the functions on the Turbokat went dead.
"What the hell?!!! T-Bone shouted as the jet began to plummet toward the ground. He pushed engine restart button several times while Razor frantically searched for the reason the jet had lost all power.
Feral clung to Razor's seat as the jet continued to fall at an alarming rate of speed as T-Bone cursed and continued to try and coax the engines to restart while screams of terror and curses of dismay could be heard coming from the cargo hold, adding to the chaos.
However, just before the jet could pancake on the ground, it halted with a teeth jarring jolt just a few miles above the tallest tree. Before they could recover, the jet was moved by some invisible force forward a short distance until it was above a clearing then it began to descend again but at a slower rate of speed.
Guessing they would be landing whether they wanted to or not, T-Bone lowered the landing gear and moments later, the jet settled smoothly on the ground. No one moved or said a thing for a long moment until, T-Bone noticed movement outside his window.
"Don't look now but we've got visitors! So what do we do now, Commander?"
Feral didn't respond at first as he watched a large group of what appeared to be kats with wings come out of the forest and walk up to the jet. They held strange weapons and had grim expressions on their faces.
Continuing to stare at the strangers, Feral growled, resignation in his voice, "We get out."
"What? Why can't we just stay in here until we find out what they want first? I don't like the odds if we just go out there without any kind of plan or deal in place," Razor objected strongly. T-Bone seconded that statement with a grunt.
Feral sighed, a look in his eyes told them he wasn't happy about going out there either. "You won't have a choice. Better to leave of our own free will rather than lose our only way back because, believe me, they can rip this jet apart to retrieve us."
The SWAT Kats stared at Feral in consternation. T-Bone would rather fight but it was becoming increasingly obvious that Feral knew a great deal about these creatures so they had no choice but to follow his lead.....for now!
One stipulation Razor did make was keeping the jet locked up tight and using the cargo side door to exit thereby ensuring no one would tamper with the jet while they were gone. Feral snorted at that since he'd already stated this species could take the jet apart if they wanted to but decided not to push the point since it would make them all feel a little more in control to know the jet would still be there even though he knew it was a false sense of security.
Bracing himself for facing the ones outside, Feral squeezed back down the ladder, followed by Razor then T-Bone. Feral took a moment to explain the situation to those in the hold. Manx wanted to demand answers or he wouldn't budge.
"Then they will drag you out.....your choice Mayor Manx.....however, I wouldn't recommend it. Now we must disembark before they get impatient and come in to get us," Feral said flatly.
Not being able to argue with that, Manx subsided and waited miserably as Razor signaled the door to open. Feral led the way, followed by Ms. Briggs, Manx, Dr. Sinian, then three healthy enforcers aiding two injured ones with the SWAT Kats bringing up the rear.
As they stepped down the ladder, they could see the strangers had formed a half circle around the door, preventing any escape as they watched with hostile eyes while the passengers climbed out to stand before them. Razor quickly signaled the door closed before anyone unwanted could enter.
They stood tightly grouped together and waited for the strangers to make the first move. A big, powerful tom wearing a colorfully decorated shirt was apparently the leader who pushed his way through the circle and stared at them for some minutes then suddenly sang out apparent orders to his soldiers.
His voice was a pleasant tenor and it was obvious this was their spoken language. It sounded strange to their ears not because it was sang but because it was totally unfamiliar. Dr. Sinian listened in awed fascination. To hear a totally new language was an incredible find for her. She wondered where it had originated from.
The others weren't as interested in the fact this was a new language as they were about what the leader was saying. His song ended abruptly followed immediately by several of his soldiers making an unmistakably aggressive move toward them. The SWAT Kats immediately took a defensive posture but before something bad could happen Feral suddenly spoke.
From his throat the same musical language poured out. His deep baritone voice was beautiful to hear as he 'spoke' to the leader in clear ringing tones. The moment the first notes left his lips, the soldiers froze in their tracks, completely stunned and as Feral continued to sing, they suddenly dropped to their knees and bowed to him. The leader didn't, but bowed his head as an obvious sign of respect. Feral finished 'speaking' and waited for the leader's response.
The leader immediately sang a short stanza that brought his soldiers to their feet and standing at attention. He sang another volley of words and the troop marched forward until they took up what looked like an honor guard formation on either side of the Megakat group. Turning from his soldiers, the leader pointed toward the castle in the distance and sang an urgent sentence to Feral.
Feral sighed and nodded then sang a response back before turning to his own group. His face was grim as he said quietly, "they were going to treat us like prisoners but I made them realize we are much more important than that so we are to be treated as guests and taken before the king of this land. We are to follow them to the castle. His officers will help our wounded."
Two soldiers came forward and firmly but carefully took over the duties of helping the wounded and soon the Megakat group were being urged along through the forest at a brisk pace.
Manx moved close to Feral and hissed anxiously, "You've got a lot of explaining to do Feral. Not only do you know their language but they apparently know you very well!"
"I know!" Feral grunted back not willing to say more right now.
"Well, we've apparently got a long walk ahead of us, Commander, so why don't you enlighten us?" Callie demanded, eyeing their guards warily.
Feral shook his head. "I'll tell you later when we're alone. Not with all these ears about."
"What difference does that make. They don't speak our language," T-Bone growled irritably.
The Commander gave him an aggravated look. "They may not speak our language but believe me, they most certainly do understand yours perfectly."
"Huh? How?" T-Bone demanded, surprised.
Feral shook his head firmly again. "Later!"
"I find it very odd that you're so familiar with these people and that you can speak their language with apparent ease, Commander. By their reaction you are much more than a visitor......almost like someone very important to them," Sinian remarked carefully.
"Yeah, bowing sorta gave that away, so just who are you to these guys? Right this minute, I'm finding it hard to trust you so how about giving us something? I don't like being in the dark like this, it makes me dangerous and antsy!" Razor growled warningly.
Feral rumbled another annoyed growl before turning his head to address them. All eyes were staring at him with varying looks of confusion, anger, suspicion and fear. Tamping down his own rising anger and fear, he realized he had to tell them something so they wouldn't do something foolish just because they didn't trust him. They didn't realize just how precarious their situation was and he didn't want any of them to suffer harm or worse.
"Listen to me closely! If you want to get out of here alive, you must obey my every command, don't speak, guard your conversations until you're sure no ones listening, don't react with violence no matter what the provocation and above all don't get separated. I will keep you safe as long as you stand by me at all times while we're here."
"Why the heck should we believe you?" T-Bone snarled, getting steamed which made the guards around him tense.
"Because I'm the long missing heir to the throne of Crysalis."
"Uh.....did you say heir to the throne.....you mean as in you're a prince?" Razor blurted in shock.
Mayor Manx choked and his eyes bugged out. "You're royalty?" He squeaked.
Feral's face twisted with a mixture of loathing and helpless grim amusement. "You could say that......and it's the very reason I left.....I had no desire to remain here and become the next king."
"Wow! Talk about running from your responsibilities," Razor said caustically.
"Stuff it, SWAT Kat!" Feral snarled angrily. "You know nothing about me nor my reasons for leaving!"
"Well, I'd certainly like to hear this story," Callie interrupted.
He gave her a dark look filled with pain and anger. "No you wouldn't," he said coldly then turned away making it plain the conversation was over.