With Shade Kat dead, his force broke morale and fled. The Turbokat's rotary thrusters turned downwards as the main engines powered down. The jet descended and hovered over the grass at the edge of the battlefield. A massive cheer went up from the soldiers. Inside the jet though, the mood was quite different. Mau, having regained his horse, rode towards them at full gallop, bringing to mare to a quick stop just as the canopy opened. He could sense that something was very wrong.
"How is she?"
Razor yelled back down to the mage. "She's been poisoned! I don't know how bad, but she won't stay conscious!"
"Get back to camp as fast as you can! Find the witches! GO!"
The jet rose back up, then the thrusters shut back off as the engines again roared to life and the jet flew quickly back over the forest. T-Bone pushed their speed as fast as they could take it. They covered the full distance in only a few minutes, though it felt like an eternity as Elena's life began to slip away. As soon as they landed, T-Bone took Elena and jumped down out of the jet, Razor following behind.
"We need the witches! Elena's been poisoned!"
There was a soft but panicked murmuring from those who remained at the encampment. Soon a gray-furred she-kat in a dark green dress ran towards them. "Take her to her tent! Quickly!" They did so, and T-Bone gently placed her down onto the cot. Elena's breathing was raspy and labored, and there was a pinkish foam at the corners of her mouth. Her skin felt as if she were on fire. The witch ran into the tent moments later with two other similarly dressed she-kats behind her. "Now get out! We need to work."
"I not leav..."
"OUT!" She cut him off before he could even finish his sentence.
Razor placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "C'mon, T-Bone. You know how things can be with magic. We'll wait just outside."
T-Bone growled. "Alright." He clearly wasn't happy about it, but he finally turned and stepped outside of the tent with his friend, his ears flat in both anger and concern.
Inside, they could hear the witches chanting in a language neither one recognized. Other kats in the camp constantly cast worried looks their way.
It took nearly half an hour and T-Bone was completely on edge. Razor did what he could to keep him calm, even though he was also worried. They had become good friends with Elena over the past couple of weeks and they both now feared that she might not even make it though the night. Finally the front flap of the tent opened and the witches slowly walked out.
T-Bone looked up sharply. "Well?"
"We've done all we can. The rest is up to her. But she should not be left alone this night."
Razor put a hand on T-Bone's shoulder then looked to the witches. "We'll stay with her. Thank you."
The gray-furred witch nodded, her face expressionless. Then the three walked off, back into the darkness.
Entering the tent again, the two walked over to where Elena lay on her cot. The talisman around her neck was as dark as the night about them, it's deep blue stone appearing almost black. Her breathing was still very shallow, but she was alive.
Chance finally pulled off his flight helmet and mask, setting them on the ground nearby as he kneeled down beside the cot. Gently, he took Elena's hand in his. "C'mon. I know you can survive this. I won't loose you now."
Jake set his helmet and mask on the table, then stood beside his friend. "She'll make it. I know she will." He looked down at the talisman and it's now-black stone. His ears laid back, a worried expression on his face.
Jake slowly woke up from where he lay on the ground. He could tell from the dim red light that it was now early morning. Except for the forest songbirds, the camp was still and quiet. He slowly got up and looked over to his friends. Chance was still asleep, sitting on the ground, his head resting on his folded arms on the cot beside Elena. Jake knew that his partner and the warrior she-kat cared for each other, he just didn't know yet how deeply that bond went. He walked over to them, careful not to wake Chance, and placed two fingers to Elena's neck, checking her vitals. Her breathing and pulse were still weak, but at least she was alive. He whispered softly, more to himself to than to the sleeping she-kat. "C'mon, girl. You can pull through this. You have to." The talisman's stone was still as black at night.
He turned and walked out of the tent, stretching. There was almost no sign of life in the camp. "Where is everyone? The army should have returned by now?" Jake turned and walked to the next tent over, slowly pushing back the flap. "Mau?"
"I'm here." The sorcerer's raspy voice replied from the darkness inside.
"Where is everyone?"
"The citadel. There is much work still to be done. The bodies are being collected for burial."
Jake's heart sank. "How many?"
"Over half of our soldiers have fallen."
"Wounded, but he'll be fine. He's currently in command, overseeing the work."
"What about Cymric?"
"I don't know. There's no sign of the ranger yet, and most of his unit is dead."
"Mau, the Moon Talisman... The stone is black?"
"I know, I saw it." The wizard now stepped out the entrance of the tent, leaning heavily on his staff. Jake took a step back as he did. The left side of the spotted kat's face had a long gash running from just above his eye, down to his chin. The silver-gray fur around it was stained with still drying blood. His blue robes were also splattered in blood, and Jake could see a heavy dark stain at his right hip surrounding a small gash in the fabric, apparently a stab wound from a sword.
"Are you alright?"
Jake was well used to combat, first from his Enforcer, years then from the several years that he and Chance had been the SWAT Kats. Casualties did occasionally happen, mainly with the bad guys, but the pair always did their best to avoid it. Never in his life did he dream he would see this sort of carnage. Just two nights ago he had been celebrating with the kats of this encampment, the entire clearing full of life. Now it was as still as a graveyard, half of it's occupants dead, and the other half gone to collect the bodies. He felt the knot in his stomach tighten.
"Jake? Are you alright?"
"I'm... I'm not..."
Jake suddenly turned and leaned on the pole supporting the nearest corner of the tent. He vomited. "I'm used to fighting, but not like this. Never like this."
The wizard nodded solemnly. "I understand."
Elena's body still lived, barely, but her spirit was not with it. She stood in a small clearing, veiled in mist, the crescent moon illuminating her with it's pale glow. She knew she had left her body. Her life had been unnaturally long, and she was finally ready for it to be over.
"You're not ready yet."
She turned at the sound of the voice behind her. "Yes I am."
"No, your not."
The ranger walked out of the mist towards her. Elena could see that Cymric's form was not substantial, the mists swirled through him as if he were not even there.
"You're dead. I'm dying."
"Not yet. Your aging was stopped by the Talisman, all for this night. Now it's finally over, and you can live your life as you should have."
"What life? I've nothing left."
"You do. Remember what it's like, Elena. Remember what it's like to live."
She stood there, watching the ghostly form of her friend approach. Her emerald eyes had lost their shine. They were now dull and lifeless, the many years of war weighing heavily on her soul. The blood of countless dead staining her hands.
"Think back. Remember when we first met. Remember our friendship. Remember Birman, how you practically raised him. He was like a little brother to you. Don't forget that. Don't leave him like this. Remember what it's like to live... to care... to love..."
Elena closed her eyes. Images swirled about her like leaves in the wind. She saw herself, twenty years ago. She looked the same as she did now, but Birman didn't. He was still a kitten, a teenager. His mother had been killed, his father too busy with the refugees of Shade Kat's recent attacks to pay much attention to him. Elena saw herself and him as she taught him to use a sword. To fight. She remembered laughing, enjoying herself. Enjoying the boy's constant companionship But he wasn't a kitten anymore. He was now General of her army. Her army. No, not anymore. Now it was his army. Her time was over.
The images swirled. It was ten years ago. She remembered the ranger. He was younger, more handsome. The years hadn't weighed so heavily on him then. She remembered him teaching her the ways of the forest. To track the most minute marks in the grass, to disappear into the shadows of the trees. They had become close friends, and she trusted him with her very life, just as he came to trust her with his. But he had lost his life. Lost it for her. Her best friend was gone.
The image was blown away as smoke is blown away on the wind. A small light appeared in her eyes. A single tear reflected the shine of the moon.
She then saw herself, it was the previous night. Was it only the night before? It felt like an eternity. There was a celebration in camp. She danced, loosing herself in the moment. They had hope again. For the first time in more than twenty years, they had hope. And it was because of them. The SWAT Kats. As she danced, she looked over, past the bonfire's dancing flames. She saw her new friends, Chance and Jake, sitting on a log with Birman, watching her. She had known them for only a few short weeks, but it felt like she had known them her whole life.
She remembered. She remembered later that night, at the enchanted hot spring. She remembered Chance, how they had made love beneath the moonlight. For her entire long life, she had kept herself apart from everyone else. Was it really her first time? Would it also be her last?
Elena opened her eyes. She wasn't in the clearing in the forest. Cymric wasn't there. She was in her tent, laying on her cot. She could tell by the light that it was evening. How long had it been? Hours? Days? Weeks? She didn't know. She didn't move her head, but turned her eyes to the soft sound of breathing nearby. Chance was beside her, sitting on the ground, his head resting on his arms beside her on the edge of the cot. She smiled. She was so weak, but she could feel the life slowly returning to her. She wouldn't die. Not yet.
Elena slowly reached out her hand to the big tabby's arm. She slid her hand down his arm and gently gripped his hand. His eyes opened. "Huh..? El... Elena? You're awake!"
It took three days of grievous work. Half of the camp's tents and supplies had been cleared away, now replaced by a massive graveyard. There were now hundreds of graves in over a dozen rows. Most had the swords of the fallen as their headstones. Others, wooden grave markers from nearby tree branches. The sun was now setting on the third day. The grisly task was finally completed. In the morning, the remainder of the camp would be broken down and the kats would leave the place forever to start their new lives, free of Shade Kat's rule.
Jake and Chance were helping Birman load a wagon. Jake glanced to the grim soldier. "What will you do now?"
Birman shrugged. "I don't know. I was thinking about returning to what's left of the village where I was born. Several others were talking about it as well. Maybe we can rebuild. Start over."
Chance lifted a large barrel onto the back of the wagon. Jake secured it with a rope as he stepped back. "That's the last of it."
"Thank you. Both of you. For everything."
Chance just nodded, then looked around the quiet camp. They'd been in this strange world for nearly a month. At first, he wanted nothing more than to get back home, to the tall sky-scrapers and hectic life of Megakat City. But now he was viewing this place differently. The vast forest, the peacefulness, the people. They didn't have to hide who they were. They weren't 'vigilantes'. They weren't outcasts. These people knew them and respected them. They had made several friends here. He almost wanted to stay. Jake shared his sentiments.
The day was drawing to a close, the red sun sinking low in the sky. The three kats left the wagon and walked towards the other end of camp. Towards the newly-built cemetery. They found Elena among the graves, kneeling by one in particular. A finely-crafted sword, it's hilt carved in the form of a falcon, with a line of runes down the blade, marked the grave. Other kats were nearby, saying their farewells to their friends and family members who had died in the bloody battle of three days past. The trio of kats remained quiet as they approached the she-kat. They stopped a few feet behind her. Elena's ears flicked, she knew they were there. Yet she didn't move. The last rays of the sun disappeared over the horizon. The waning moon now hung low over the trees.
Chance opened his mouth, about to say something, when another sound cut him off. A fiddle, playing slow and sad, echoed from across the field, it's soft music carrying on the wind. They looked over and saw one of the witches playing it. Everyone stood silent, watching the gray-furred she-kat. After a moment, a voice, soft and sad, echoed along with the music.
It was Elena. She sang, softly, her voice full of emotion. It was a lament to those who had fallen, to friends lost. Her eyes were closed, but everyone knew who she was singing to. And it wasn't to anyone still among the living. After the first verse, she stood slowly, her voice gaining in strength. There was a pause, then she repeated the verse. The chorus. Other voices joined in. More and more kats began to sing. Each time the chorus was repeated, ever more kats joined in until every voice in the camp was raised in song.
Chance and Jake were the only two who didn't know the lyrics, but they still mouthed the words to the chorus of the emotional song. Chance walked up to Elena and gently put his arms around her waist, laying his chin on the back of her shoulder. She closed her eyes and leaned back against him. When the song ended, not a single soul in the camp didn't have at least a single tear in their eyes.
They turned, and the four silently walked back out of the graveyard, then back through the camp to the command tent.
The morning was bleak. Thick, dark clouds hung low in the sky, blocking out the right light of the sun. In the air swirled a fine mist of miniscule droplets, a prelude to the coming rain. The encampment was in the final stages of being broken down. Some kats were already leaving in their wagons, never to see each other, or the graves of their fallen allies, again. T-Bone and Razor sat in the cockpit of the jet. Elena stood close-by with Birman and Mau. She held the two talismans, Sun and Moon, in her hands. The good-byes had already been said, and a grim silence had fallen over the kats.
The warrior and the wizard both took several steps back as a strong magical energy filled the air. Elena held up the talismans, and slowly brought them together. The energy grew, causing a powerful wind to encircle the warrior-sorceress. Sparks of white-hot energy shot between the two talismans, gaining in intensity as they came together. A bright flash caused the four male kats to hide their eyes.
When the flash faded, Elena stood still, her head low. In her hands was a single talisman. The stone was a swirling spiral of alternating bands of deep red and sapphire blue. It was surrounded by a pendant of the purest silver etched with gold runes and on a golden chain. Slowly, she placed the pendant around her neck.
Mau leaned on his staff. His hip injury in the battle had left him with a bad limp. "The Astral Stone is whole again. It's power if yours, Elena."
Elena held the stone in her hands, looking down at it, her face expressionless. She closed her emerald eyes, and the stone began to glow. The red and blue of the spiral's bands fused together in a bright violet light. She lifted her head and raised the stone in her hands. A beam of pure light short from it into the sky, opening a swirling vortex in the gray clouds. The wind howled about them.
T-Bone looked down at her. "Come with us, Elena."
She had almost expected to hear the request, but it still took her as a slight surprise.
"I can't." Her voice was soft, almost inaudible over the wind. "I'm needed here."
"No you're not." Birman walked up behind her, placing a gentle but firm hand on her shoulder. "You've been here longer than most kats have lived. You've been our guiding star throughout the endless night of Shade Kat's reign. Go. Make a new life for yourself."
Behind him, Mau nodded, supporting the warrior's decision.
She looked into his blue eyes. "But..."
A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she hugged her 'brother'.
No more words were said. They didn't need to be. Elena jumped up onto the wing of the Turbokat, then from there into the cockpit behind Razor.
Birman and Mau took several steps back as the jet lifted into the air. It's main engines flared to life and it flew into the sky, and into the swirling vortex of the portal...
[Thank you for reading my story! Please take a moment to send me a review. I'd love to know what ther people think about my work!]
*The story had ended for now, but nothing ever really ends. The Shadow Trilogy continues in part 2: Curse of the Werekat (now complete), and in part 3: Shadows of Shadow (currently in progress)
Curse of the Werekat Preview: Back in the SWAT Kat's home world, Elena is adjusting well to life with her friends, Jake and Chance. But an old enemy from her past causes new problems for her possible future, and for all of Megakat City. With Dr. Viper teaming up with the Pastmater in yet another attempt to turn Megakat City into Megaswamp City, can Elena and the SWAT Kats overcome an evil 'curse' from destroying them, while at the same time stopping the villains from destroying their home? (Rated "M" for violence, gore, and mild sexual content)