Lion-O grumbled in his sleep as he felt a prodding at his side. He opened his eyes slowly to see a stork woman awkwardly withdraw her feathery hand away from him.
"I need to check on the patient." She said gently, "I'm going to have to ask that you leave. I'll tell you when you can come back in."
Lion-O nodded, and stood up, letting the doctor get to work as he walked out of the tent, sighing when he discovered a crick in his neck from his less than comfortable sleeping position beside Leanne's cot all night. When he came out, he saw Panthro waiting for him, his robotic arms folded across his chest as he eyed Lion-O's exhausted form.
"Waited all night, huh?" He asked. Lion-O nodded his head.
"Yeah…She didn't wake up." Lion-O said quietly. Panthro nodded, his expression one of understanding.
"Come on, they have breakfast down by the tarp." He said, putting his paw on Lion-O's shoulder, leading him towards an area where breakfast was being served. Using the large amount of scavenged food supplies from the crashed city, a table had been set up with all kinds of Bird cuisine. Lion-O didn't go for any of those and neither did Panthro. They used some of their own edibles for their morning meal. Nick joined them with a plate that was a mix of the Bird food and some of their rationed bits. The kittens sat on either side of him as they ate some of their candy fruit. Lion-O sighed. Normally, Leanne would have gotten on the kitten's case about having sugar for breakfast, lecturing them on how it was bad for them.
"So, how's she looking?" Nick asked Lion-O as he dryly swallowed down some of the rationed food. Lion-O shrugged.
"She's still unconscious. I can't tell if she doing any better. I'm just glad the bleeding stopped." said Lion-O, slowly eating his food. He wasn't really in the mood to eat, but he forced himself to swallow it down. He didn't want to worry the others.
"Is she going to wake up soon?" Kit asked.
Lion-O was quiet, staring at his plate. "…Of course she is, she'll pull through." He said after a moment, trying to lighten the kitten's mood as well as his own.
Kit frowned sadly, but said nothing more as she kept eating her food. There wasn't much talk between them, no one had the energy for it.
Lucas flinched when Slithe's fist slammed down on the table, "You were given a simple task! Why couldn't you complete it?!"
"It's not like I could have tracked her down that easily!" Lucas retorted defensively, "And Mumm-Ra could have taken her in if he tried!"
"It was not Mumm-Ra's duty to take the girl, it was yours!" Slithe hissed.
"This is not my fault!" Lucas yelled in return.
"Enough." Mumm-Ra's sharp rasp made them both swivel their heads. "Lucas could not retrieve her because he didn't know her whereabouts. We shall leave it at that, but," He turned his red eyes to Lucas, who gulped nervously, "If you lose her again, there will be consequences."
"Yes, My Lord…" Lucas mumbled.
Lucas looked across the table to where the two newest members of their team were seated. Vultare sat next to Atticus and Slithe. He would occasionally send a beady-eyed glare at the ape, but never said anything. As soon as he had pledged his loyalty to their cause, Vultare had been accepted into Mumm-Ra's army, and he seemed to fit right in with the other generals. Since he had been making an argument about his position after years of experience in politics and battle strategy, he had been promoted to general only minutes after his pledge. Pumyra was sitting at Mumm-Ra's right hand, Slithe's former seat. He didn't look too happy about it, but didn't comment.
"And our venture was not in vain." Mumm-Ra said, waving his hand over the Well of Souls. They watched Leanne come into view, unconscious and laying on a cot in some kind of tent. A stork woman had just finished shooing the young Lion prince away, and was carefully attaching certain medical devices to her. It reminded Lucas of a heart monitor, but it didn't look like anything he had seen back on Earth. There were some other contraptions he saw that had purposes he couldn't discern just from looking at them as they put them off to the side of the cot. "The bearer of the Jewel has been severely injured." He put his hand on Pumyra's shoulder, and she smiled up at him with evil pride, "Her soul now wanders between this world and the next, trapped in Limbo."
"If she is defenseless, then let us attack!" Vultare said, "I want revenge on those barbarians!"
"Not yet." Mumm-Ra said, He turned to Lucas, who sat upright at the sight of Mumm-Ra's red stare. "This is your chance to redeem yourself, boy. You will go to the camp and retrieve the girl and the Jewel of Omens. From there, her power is yours and the Jewel is mine." Lucas hesitated in nodding.
"Yes, My Lord…"
"You may have a platoon accompany you." Mumm-Ra said. Lucas was quiet for a moment, thinking, then looked up at Mumm-Ra.
"Actually, sir, I think I only need one soldier to come with me." He said. Mumm-Ra was quiet as all of the generals and Pumyra looked towards him.
"Only one?" Vultare scoffed, "You realize you are going up against my people, do you not? You will need more than one soldier to defeat them."
"One is all I need." Lucas stated,"For the sake of keeping our numbers as great as they are, I will only take one." They all looked to Mumm-Ra to see what his verdict would be on the matter.
"You will take three." Mumm-Ra said, "I cannot risk losing one of my generals. Pick whichever you like."
Lucas nodded, "Yes, My Lord."
"…Come on girl, wake up!" someone boomed.
Leanne snapped her eyes open, letting out a small shriek at her rude awakening. Scrambling blindly backwards, she stood up quickly, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes with haste to face whoever had just woken her up. As the scene in front of her came into focus, her confusion greatly increased. There was a long, beautifully crafted, wooden table that was stacked with an almost sickening amount of food and other edibles. Three massive marble chairs were equally spaced behind the table, each holding an extravagantly dressed animal. On the left sat a wolf who was having an unsuccessful time trying to fill his goblet with what looked like wine. His plate was a disaster of food, and he ended up spilling the goblet's contents all over the table, muttering curses while bumping into other plates of stacked food trying to locate something to clean up the mess. His fur was a lustrous black with royal golden dots scattered about it. He wore a napkin that was tucked snugly into his deep blue robe, which had a variety of stains on it, and a matching crown lined with gold. In the center was a brightly colored and angry looking Monkian who wore a pale yellow and green shirt that clashed horrendously with his astonishingly orange fur. His hands were clasped together, lacing his fingers into one another with his elbows set upon the table. Leanne could hear his foot tapping on the ground with impatience. A lettuce leaf hung from between his lips that he either didn't know about or chose to ignore. On the right side, Leanne saw a massive Grizzly Bear with what looked like a fresh kill on his plate. His maw was red with blood, which went well with the color of his war torn armor.
"Who are you? Where am I? How did I get here?" Leanne fired off questions until the Monkian held up a paw to silence her.
"My name is Carota, Ancient Spirit of order and direction." He said, "Right now, you are in the realm of Limbo, neither dead nor alive. And I believe you can guess how you got here. Your grandmother did say you were a clever girl…"
"Wait, my Nana? Where is sh—" Leanne began, until she was interrupted.
"And I am Ovis!" said the royal wolf, flinging his arms out in display, knocking plates of food all over the table. He gave Leanne a sheepish grin. "God of clumsiness at your service."
"And I am Atruim," said the Grizzly, "God of fortitude and endurance."
There was an awkward pause for a moment, as if the animals were waiting for Leanne to burst out cheering and applaud their speeches.
"So am I dead, or not?" asked Leanne slowly, eyeing the deities warily.
Carota groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Are you deaf? I specifically told you tha—" Carota was cut off by a voice that Leanne thought she would never hear again.
"Now, now, Carota, remember what I taught you? Count to five and take a deep breath."
Leanne was stunned. "N-Nana? Is that you?" Leanne asked, twisting around looking for her.
Carota made a grunting sound. "Of course I remember what you taught me Erica, but your granddaughter is making it very hard."
Ovis jumped into the conversation "Oh, come now Carrot, even I don't—"
"Don't call me that, unless you want 'Lord Pigsty' to be your official nickname for the next few hundred years. Again."
Ovis made a sour face, accidentally resting his elbow in a plate of mashed something or other while giving Carota a hard stare.
Atruim rolled his eyes at the quarreling gods. "I may be the spirit of endurance, but you two are insufferable."
"Stay out of this!" the other gods snapped.
The bickering went on for another minute or so before Leanne tried to get their attention.
"Um, excuse me, but could we get back to—"
"And all you do is complain and whine about everything!"
"Well, maybe I wouldn't complain so much if you cleaned up once in a while!"
"Well where have you been for the past few eons? Or did you just forget that I'm the God of Clumsiness?"
"I don't know Lord Pigsty. Why don't you tell me?"
"You're really starting to-"
Ovis was cut off by a small lick of fire that nipped his snout. He yelped and recoiled backwards, ungracefully falling out of his seat.
"That's enough boys," said Erica, walking out from behind Atruim's chair, startling the Bear slightly.
Erica wore a nice, forest green silk dress with a white flower pattern running diagonally across it. She had no shoes on, and she looked a little irked at the fighting gods, but her frown changed into a smile when she saw Leanne standing awkwardly and aghast at the end of the table.
Lion-O waited at Leanne's bedside, listening to small, constant beeps that came from one of the machines the doctor had attached to her. He had come to love and hate those beeps over the time he had been watching Leanne. They were increasingly annoying, but signified that she was still alive. It was strange for Lion-O to see her like this, just lying there on a cot. She was wearing a white medical gown that allowed easy access for doctors to open up and fix bandages. It had previously been red, but now it had dried and darkened into a cruel brown. The center of the stain was still very much red, though. He was fixated on the rise and fall of her chest, as if it would suddenly stop for some reason.
He knew the figure before him was Leanne, he knew that. It looked like her, with dark hair and furless skin, but at the same time… It wasn't her. She looked too pale, and she was so quiet. Even her breathing seemed strained. He remembered Leanne with a bright smile on her face that seemed to light up the world around her. She was happy, and adventurous. She wouldn't have enjoyed lying in a cot for an entire day, doing nothing but sleeping.
Then again, considering how things had been between him and her lately, he shouldn't be remembering her as happy. She had been avoiding him, and they hadn't really talked since Pumyra had joined their team. He had just been so swept up with her, and the idea of starting over with another Cat that Leanne had left his mind. He had put attention on her when she was a feline only because he had honestly wanted to get back together. Pumyra had been a good conversationalist, or she had at least acted like one, so he enjoyed talking with her, but every time he imagined himself romantically with Pumyra, he kept comparing her to Leanne. She had been on his mind all the time before. Now she was all he thought about, all he cared about.
He kept his eyes on Leanne as the flap to the tent opened and someone came in. Whoever it was moved beside him, giving him a nudge to get his attention. Lion-O looked over to find Tygra.
"Hey," He greeted his older brother. Lion-O nodded his head and focused on Leanne.
"How is she?" asked Tygra in an attempt to make small talk.
Lion-O shrugged, remaining silent. Tygra looked over at Leanne, seeing her incredible stillness, glancing at all the machines attached to her, "Is there any sign she's going to wake up soon?" Lion-O was still quiet and Tygra sighed, "You know, this conversation would feel a little more interesting if it wasn't just me talking."
"Sorry…"Lion-O mumbled. Tygra let out a breath of relief when he heard his voice, knowing that he was still acting like himself. "There's just been a lot on my mind lately."
"I know." Tygra said, "And we understand that this really shook you, but we're worried about you. We need to find the next stone before Mumm-Ra's able to get his hands on it."
"We're not going anywhere without Leanne." Lion-O said, keeping his eyes on her as she remained in the cot.
"I never said we would." Tygra said quickly, "But… It's been a full day. I've talked to the doctors and… well, it may be a while before she wakes up."
"We're not leaving without her." Lion-O said firmly. "When she wakes up, we'll start to look for the next stone."
"And what if she never wakes up?" Tygra asked, "What then? Will you just keep sitting beside her bed, waiting for her eyes to open? What good will that do? I know how important Leanne is to you, heck, she's important to all of us, but is she so important that you would forsake all of Third Earth just so you could wait by her bedside?"
Lion-O looked to his brother, opening his mouth, planning to respond with a firm and solid 'yes,' but his words sunk in. What if Leanne didn't wake up? How long would she even be like this? What if she… died? He had his position as king to consider. He had responsibilities, people that needed him. As much as he cared about Leanne, he couldn't just leave them all behind, no matter how much he wanted to. He turned back to look at Leanne again, mouth closed and silent. He heard Tygra sigh.
"Just think about it." He said, turning towards the tent's entrance. He paused when he was about to go through it, "By the way, lunch is ready." Lion-O was still quiet and Tygra frowned, walking through the tent where Cheetara waited on the other side.
"How is he?" She asked.
"It's bad." Tygra said, "He refuses to leave her side. He won't even think about moving on so we can find the next stone. I can understand his distress, but we need to think about this war. We already lost one stone, we can't afford to lose another."
"Well… try and see it from his perspective." Cheetara said gently, "Lion-O cares very deeply for Leanne. If it were you that had suffered such a severe injury, I wouldn't leave your side either. I'd want to make sure I was there for you when something went wrong, and I'd want to be there to see you wake up."
"Even then, I don't think we should risk our mission." He said, "I'd want you to move on without me so that there's a chance to end these battles. If I woke up to a beaten Mumm-Ra, I would be just as happy if I woke up to you."
"Well, then, what if someone you deeply cared about was on that bed?" Cheetara asked, "What if it was Lion-O who was injured? Or me?" Tygra was quiet for a moment, thinking. He remembered how pale Leanne looked on that bedside, how she very much resembled a corpse. He pictured Cheetara in that same position and he could feel his heart drop into his stomach. He looked up at her and she was gazing at him, patiently waiting for his answer.
He nodded slowly, reaching for Cheetara's hand and holding it with both of his, "If it were you in Leanne's place, I'd have to admit, I'd be the same. I wouldn't leave your side until you woke up." Cheetara sighed, giving him a small smile and a kiss on the cheek.
"I'm guessing he won't come out for lunch?" She asked.
"Nope. I'm surprised we were able to get him out for breakfast." Tygra said as they walked towards the others who were getting their meals together.
"Technically, it was the doctor that got him out for breakfast." Cheetara said, sitting down beside Kit and Kat. Snarf came over to them, letting out a worried mewl as Cheetara prepared a plate of food and held it out to him. "Here, go and make sure that Lion-O has some food. And give him some company." Snarf let out another mewl, taking the plate on his head and carefully balancing it as he walked over to the tent. Lion-O didn't notice him when he came him. He let out a small noise to get his attention and Lion-O looked down, seeing the food he carried. He took the plate from him and started to slowly eat the meal as Snarf came over by his side, sitting by his master's feet and looking up at him with big, worried eyes. Lion-O reached down, giving his head an affectionate rub before going back to eating the meal. Snarf lay down, resting his head on Lion-O's foot, making sure he wasn't lonely as he waited for Leanne to wake up.
Lucas sighed as he shouldered his bag that held various supplies for his journey to the ruins of the City of Avista. He looked back at the three soldiers he had brought with him. The only one he recognized was Sinzer, the other two he didn't know very well. They all carried their own supplies and weapons as they walked through the desert, heading to the much greener land that lay ahead after a day of traveling. They were going by hovercraft, and couldn't risk their baggage falling off, so they all carried their things. Lucas's bag was the largest because he had decided to take all of his belongings. The lizard soldiers were confused by his choice of packing for a day-and-a-half long trip, but said nothing about it.
"How far are we from the forest border?" Lucas asked, wanting to know just how long they had been travelling.
"Still another day, General." Sinzer said, Lucas nodded.
"We'll keep traveling until the sun sets, then make camp." The soldiers all glanced at each other.
"General…With all due respect, wouldn't it be faster if we traveled through the night?" One of the soldiers asked. "We could catch them by surprise and attack during the early morning."
"I'm sure the Cats aren't stupid enough not to have someone keep watch during the night." Lucas said, "They're sure to see us coming. I don't want to risk losing the few of you that I have in a small skirmish. I believe it's better that we get a good night's rest and be prepared for them sometime tomorrow."
The soldier who asked looked over at Sinzer, who shrugged, "He's the general, what can we do?" He whispered to him. The other soldier sighed, frowning as he looked at Lucas.
Lucas remained quiet, directing the hovercraft further and further through the sands, planning on making camp as they got closer to actual grass and forest life. That was one of the things he hated about Mumm-Ra's temple. Too much sand and desert, there was hardly any life, not even a single stray cactus. In a place like a desert, he would have thought that the constant dark clouds that circle above that place would have given them plenty of rain to water them, but it never did rain. The clouds just circled. It explained why there wasn't any life around the temple, but even in the Sahara desert there was the occasional show of life. There was none around the temple, no life that had roots or survived by photosynthesis in anyway. It would be nice to see some green again.
He dreaded returning back to Mumm-Ra and the other generals once this mission was done. If they succeeded with it, then they wouldn't really have opposition in bringing… order. Lucas sighed internally. Mumm-Ra's idea of order was the ideal dictatorship, where everyone blindly followed the leader, never questioning what he said and believing every word whole-heartedly. He couldn't imagine a world where people had no emotions at all. The idea left a bad taste in his mouth. He was sure he didn't want to be part of the group that created a place like that, but what choice did he have? He couldn't run, not when he had three other soldiers travelling with him. He couldn't let them go back to Mumm-Ra without a general, and even if he managed to convince them to run with him, they'd be at the top of their Most-Wanted list.
He looked ahead, the gears in his mind slowly clicking as he tried to come up with a plan on what to do. The hovercraft soaring over the Sand Sea, the waves crashing down on more sand as they finally went past its coast, heading further and further out of the desert.
Leanne was crying of laughter by the time her Grandma had finished the story.
"And then—Ha, ha!—Garflin just picks up my slipper, and puts it back in his pocket! I'd been looking for that damn thing for months."
Even Carota cracked a small smile at the story. The other spirits had been listening in on the bonding moment between the two women. After another set of fits and giggles, Leanne turned to Erica, who was very much red in the face.
"Nana, what's it like?" asked Leanne.
"To what?" Erica asked, calming herself a little before speaking.
"To be with Garflin, a Cat."
Erica got a wistful look on her face, as if remembering everything she had done with him in her whole life.
"What can I say about ol' Garfey?" She said, looking upwards.
"Garfey?" Leanne wrinkled her nose at the nickname.
"He was kind, gentle and all around sweet, and he was fierce when it came to protecting me…and astounding in bed." She sighed wistfully, a smile on her face, "Cats make great lovers, you know. Sometimes Garflin would—"
"Nana! A little too much!" said Leanne, whose face turned a dark shade of red
"Oh, come now. Why do you ask? Is it that Lion-O?" Erica asked.
Leanne, still red in the face, nodded her head, "Kind of… I mean, Lion-O… Lion-O's a great guy, and I really like him. But… I don't know if it would work out. There are lots of things going on right now and…"
Erica nodded in understanding. "Admittedly, Garflin and I weren't the perfect match when we first met, and we had our own share of problems, but we persevered and got through it. We came to know one another, and we were happy."
Leanne nodded slowly, "But… How did you move past them?"
Erica shrugged, "We talked about it. He let me speak first, saying everything I needed to say and everything I was feeling, and then he would say what he felt, and we would come to a compromise." Leanne was quiet.
"In the ways of mortal love," Atruim began, "I have always found that in order for the bond to last, both must endure through the faults of the other. Creating compromises is something that must be done. If none are made, then nothing will last." Leanne looked up at him, then back in front of her, thinking.
"But… How do I know if he even wants to try and make compromises anymore?" She asked.
"Ask him." Carota said, "Being direct is a good method, perhaps not the best, but a good method to know the answers to the questions you're thinking of."
Leanne nodded again, quiet. Erica saw how somber she was becoming and walked over to her, putting her arm around her shoulder with a grin, "Well, this is all very depressing, isn't it? Why don't we think of something else to talk about?"
Leanne nodded, smiling up at her, "Maybe another story about Garflin?"
Erica smiled widely, "Okay, maybe one more." She walked forward and Leanne started to walk with her, but she felt her grandmother's arm leaving her shoulder. She frowned as she felt her arm moving away, but her grandmother walked forward as if it was still there. Leanne stopped, and her grandmother's arm went through her. Leanne's eyes widened, seeing the room was starting to grow darker. Her grandmother turned around, eyes wide. Her lips moved, but Leanne could only hear a muffled voice, as if she was speaking to her through a wall. She watched as her eyes widened, as well as the eyes of Ovis and Atruim. Carota was still, an impassive expression on his face.
"Nana?" Leanne reached out for her grandmother, but as the room became darker and darker, she lost sight of Erica, and when she almost touched her arm, her hand went through her, everything she had seen suddenly turning to a black mist, and she was left in a dark void. She looked around worriedly when she realized she was alone.
She heard a noise and she whirled around, seeing a single figure among the vast black void dressed in a dark cloak that hid their face. She got in a fighting stance, glaring at the figure, "Who are you?" The figure looked up, and reached up with their hand, pulling down the hood. Leanne's eyes widened when she saw their face.
He looked relatively young, somewhere in his mid to late twenties. Despite that, he had pure white hair, which was slightly disheveled. There were dark circles under his dull eyes, and he looked like he hadn't had much sleep for a few days. But that wasn't what surprised Leanne the most. He was, without any doubt in her mind, human.
"I am Falx." He said, his voice graveled and deep, "The Lord of Death."
Lucas stepped out of the hovercraft, looking around at the clearing they had stopped in, "We'll camp here for the night." He told the soldiers. The three of them nodded, preparing to set up a shelter. They were all surrounded by the thick, green trees of the Magi Oar forest, soft grass beneath their feet, letting out quiet whispers as the wind blew over it. Lucas gazed up at the sky, watching a few stars poke through the growing darkness, seeing a couple of moons rising up. "How long do you think it would be before we reach the remains of the flying city?" He asked.
"Perhaps an hour, sir." One of the soldiers said as he tossed down a small metal dome. He pushed the button at the top, and stepped back, watching as it grew larger, spreading out, creating a much larger dome that was to be used as a tent, "Your quarters." Lucas nodded, thanking him as he headed inside. The mechanical dome was empty save for a single, solitary cot. He immediately went for it and lay down, sighing. The cot was uncomfortable, and it wasn't anything like the feather down bed he had back at the temple, but he didn't care. In this forest, he didn't feel the impending sense of doom and death as he did back at Mumm-Ra's temple. With any luck, he would actually be able to sleep well.
He didn't get much of a chance to try before one of the soldiers stepped in, "Sir, pardon the interruption." He looked up from the bed at Sinzer, "But, if we are to attack tomorrow, shouldn't we be using this time to plan a form of attack?" Lucas sighed, nodding.
"Yes, we should…" He mumbled, getting up from the small cot and walking over to him. "How many weapons do we have at our disposal?"
"Three rifles, sir; As well as eighteen packs of ammunition." Lucas nodded, trying to calculate how many of each pack of ammunition the three of them would get. "And, if I may, I have an idea for an attack plan." Lucas looked at the lizard, putting his full attention on him. "I assume that you have your own means of attack for the battle. So, I was thinking that I, along with the other two, fan out, creating a sort of triangle as we move out over the groups of birds. Then we could—"
"Do you have a large family, Sinzer?"
Sinzer looked up, giving Lucas a strange stare at the random question. "Uh… No, sir."
Lucas nodded, "Are you an only child?"
Sinzer eyed him oddly, wondering just where these questions were coming from, "No… I have two brothers, one older and one younger."
Lucas nodded again, "Do you see them very often?"
"No, sir… but I contact them sometimes." Sinzer said, "Why does this matter?"
"Do you miss them?" Lucas asked, avoiding his question.
Sinzer shrugged, "At times." He answered shortly.
Lucas nodded again. There was a silence between the two of them, "…My plan, sir?"
"Yes, go on." Lucas said, waving his hand. Sinzer nodded slowly and proceeded to tell him of his plans, but Lucas was only half-listening, his tired mind wandering other places. He kept on thinking of his home, of his little cousin, and his family. He wondered what they were doing now, and how Elizabeth was doing with her condition. When Sinzer had finished, he didn't notice until about ten seconds after he was done speaking. He approved the plan and dismissed him, telling him to tell the others of his strategy and rest up.
He made his way over to the cot and lay down, closing his eyes, his exhaustion catching up to him suddenly, and he sank into the cot. He was asleep within minutes.
Lion-O was having one of the strangest dreams. It had started out with he and Tygra having dinner with Dad during the Boralian Nights festival. They were laughing and eating, having the best of times, back when things were happy. His Dad had ordered Snart tongue, and turned to Lion-O to ask him what he wanted, but the words that came out of his mouth didn't make any sense.
"—The supplies, bandages! The blood is falling back into the lungs! Hurry!" his father said.
"What?" Lion-O began to say, when he was snapped out of the dream and into the real world. Lion-O's eyes opened painfully slow. He had been sitting by Leanne's medical tent for the past two days, and refused to leave the area. His eyes began to track a flurry of motion by Leanne's tent. It looked like ghosts moving in and out of the tent. Lion-O stood up groggily, moving towards the tent, massaging his lower back and yawning. As his vision cleared, he focused on the white shapes rushing about the tent.
Storks. And lots of them.
Their white feathery hands were grappling supplies and syringes on a tray set up outside Leanne's make-shift hospital.
"Hey," Lion-O called groggily, "what's going o—"
He was interrupted by a beige nurse dove carrying various medical supplies to the tent. She bumped into him, dropping two rolls of bandages.
"Move!" she commanded urgently, bending down to pick up the rolls.
Lion-O huffed in annoyance. "Sorry." He muttered, stepping back out of the way.
The dove called to one of the doctors in the tent. "How's she doing?"
"Not good, where are we on the bandages?"
Now Lion-O was confused. What happened while he was asleep? A golden stream of light passed by, kicking up a gust of wind.
It was Cheetara. She looked frazzled and on edge.
"Cheetara, what's going on? Are you okay?" Lion-O asked, still half-asleep.
She gave him an incredulous look. "Am I okay? Have you been sitting out here for two days for nothing?"
Lion-O's eyes widened as he suddenly remembered just why he had been at the tent in the first place.
Blood in the lungs. Falling back in. Never worked with a species like her.
Confusion molded into panic as Lion-O looked over at the tent.
"What happened? Is she okay? When did this start? What—" Lion-O started, but was stopped by the rest of the ThunderCats catching up with Cheetara. Panthro reached out and put his hand on Lion-O's shoulder to hold him back for the moment. Nick was there as well, looking at the tent worriedly.
"We heard," panted Tygra,"and got here as soon as possible."
"Heard what?" Lion-O asked, "What are they doing to her?"
"Let them work." Panthro told him, "They need to do their job and they don't need any distractions."
He stopped when a distinct, flat beep could be heard coming from inside. Everything seemed to explode around the tent after that. Doctors rushed in and out at top speed, grabbing desperately for supplies, shouting out to the others, ordering the nurses for bandages and different medical devices. Soon, it died down, the beep sound still going, and there was a silence all around.
"What's happened? What's going on? Somebody please tell me!" Lion-O begged, his words reaching the doctors in the tent.
A long-necked Stork doctor came out of the tent with bloody hands, and a solemn expression on his beaked face. His next words stabbed Lion-O straight through the heart.
"I'm so sorry… She's dead."
Lion-O's eyes widened and he immediately bolted for the tent, escaping from Panthro's grasp, shoving past the doctors and nurses to find a stork covering Leanne up with a white sheet.
"Wait! Stop!" yelled Lion-O, reaching out for her, grabbing the Stork woman's hand and pushing her away, "She's not- She can't be…!" He looked down at her face; she was so still, and so pale. He refused to believe that she was dead. He couldn't.
The doctor who had given them the news came in, "Sir, you can't stay here, we need to move her out—"
"She's not dead!" Lion-O snapped, tears of disbelief welling in his eyes, "She's not…!" The other Cats came in, while Cheetara remained outside with Kit and Kat, wrapping them in a tight, comforting hug. Nick had kept himself outside as well, not wanting to see his cousin in such a way. Tygra went over to his brother's side.
"Lion-O, there's nothing they can do." He said.
"Then they're not trying hard enough!" Lion-O snapped. Panthro came over and pulled him away by the shoulders.
"Kid, this is hard on all of us, but we—"
"Let me go, Panthro!" Lion-O snapped at him, trying to move out of his grasp, but Panthro held him still. "I said let me go!"
"Not until you cool down!" Panthro snapped back, pulling him away, trying to get him out of the tent. Snarf managed to squeeze in to the tent, looking up at Leanne's still body.
"Let go!" Lion-O growled, trying to move back to Leanne's side. In his desperate belief, he called out to her, "Leanne! Leanne!"
She stared at the dark-clothed human with wide eyes. What was he doing here? Especially in this darkness… She didn't recognize him at all. He had said he was the Lord of Death, just like Ovis was the God of Clumsiness, Atruim the God of Endurance, and Carota the Spirit of Order. But… they were all animals. He was a human. She didn't understand, she didn't realize she had voiced her thoughts until he started responding to her.
"Most animals are very surprised to see me when their time comes." He said to her, "But they don't realize that my people embody death for Third Earth. I'm surprised to see another human among them."
"What do mean 'embody death'? Last I checked, I never killed anyone. Why am I talking to you?" Leanne asked.
"Not your people. Mine. And your friends up there seemed to forget why they brought you here." Falx informed patiently, "In your realm, humans are the dominant species, overtaking all nature and resources and using them for their own personal whims and gains. In this realm, humans did exist as yours did, but many, many years ago. They had evolved differently than your people, and instead of needing only water, food, and shelter, they required one more thing. A special fruit known as vitam that was as addicting as it was nutritious. They became dependent on this fruit, including it in whenever they ate, and they grew it by the orchard." He waved his hand and Leanne could see different pictures of stick figures holding spears and what must have been swords and shields fighting off others that bore the same weapons, "A great and vast amount of wars were fought when they inhabited the planet. Millions perished as the humans battled one another, tribes fought tribes, cities battled cities, and countries destroyed countries. They raged for many millennia, both sides claiming to be in the right, that their cause was the most important. They almost destroyed each other completely." Leanne watched as one picture after another was depicted before her, showing her the many battles that were fought by the humans. Although the drawings were rather crude, she could see that the fighting was fierce, as well as many different deaths. Falx waved his hand again, and the pictures disappeared, "When Mumm-Ra's ship, filled with different animals, crashed to the planet, the ship's emissions created a cloud that filled the atmosphere, blocking the sun, and killing the vitam orchards. By the time animals had even discovered humans, they had been so twisted and deformed by starvation that they had become nearly unrecognizable, and could barely speak. The humans died not long after that. I took the form of the last of the humans who lived. Your grandmother had a chance to meet him before he perished."
Leanne looked over his form. Underneath the robe he wore, she could see he was a grotesquely thin, and his complexion was very pale. He did look sickly… Was that how that boy looked before he died?
"So… What about the other humans from my realm?" asked Leanne. Falx shrugged.
"They are not my concern," stated Falx. He gazed upwards into the dark void, and Leanne looked at him confusedly. She waited for an awkward second before deciding to follow his gaze, and when she looked up to see what he was staring at, the place seemed to shake.
"What is that?!" Leanne cried worriedly. Falx remained calm and collected.
"It seems our time together is approaching its end." He said, he turned his attention back to Leanne, "You will not be joining your grandmother in the afterlife. But before we part, I only have these words to offer you." She looked back at him, letting out a yelp as the shaking knocked her off balance and made her fall to the floor. She looked up at Falx, wondering just what he had to say to her before whatever was about to happen was going to happen, "If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you should accept everyone with open arms."
Before Leanne had a chance to question just what it was that he meant, the shaking became more intense, and she couldn't help tightly shutting her eyes out of fear.
Lion-O's eyes widened as he suddenly saw the Jewel of Omens around her neck start to glow a warm red. It grew brighter and brighter, slowly catching the attention of everyone in the tent. He held up his hand, shielding his eyes from it, squinting to try and see what was happening to Leanne.
Nick's eyes widened as he saw the light coming from inside, suddenly feeling an intense amount of magical power coming from within the tent.
"What's happening?" Kit gasped as she saw the light.
Inside, Panthro and Tygra had released Lion-O, trying to make sure they weren't blinded by the same red glow. Lion-O watched as sparks and lightning danced and tumbled around Leanne's body, traveling over her torso, her arms, her legs, her face, all of it originating from the Jewel of Omens. Soon, they stopped, and the light died down. Leanne still lay on the cot, although some color had returned to her cheeks, the Jewel of Omens still glowing. The light slowly started to fade, but just before it went out completely, one last spark flew out of it, landing over her chest. Leanne's eyes opened and she let out a loud gasp, her body moving up with her huge gulp of breath. She suddenly started coughing violently, bending over the side of the bed as she tried to get her breath back. Lion-O could feel confusion and relief welling up inside him as he ran over to her side, moving his arms around her shoulders as she kept coughing. When she stopped, he immediately embraced her, moving one hand around her back and pressing her body against him, his other hand going up and cradling the back of her neck as she started to calm down.
Leanne looked around, seeing that she was in a tent with Panthro and Tygra and some of the storks and doctors.
Nick burst into the tent, "What happened?" He demanded. His eyes went to his cousin, and he froze.
Leanne realized that she was being held by someone and her hands slowly moved to wrap her arms around their middle, blinking slowly. They smelled like oil and…she wasn't sure what to place it, but the other scent reminded her of the outdoors. Of forests and mountains.
"Lion-O…?"She asked softly, recognizing the feel of his fur under her palms as she moved her hands over him.
"You're awake." He murmured, holding her close. Although she couldn't see it, he was smiling, "You're finally awake."
Leanne nodded slowly, keeping her arms around him. "How long was I out?" She looked up to Panthro and the others as she asked. They were quiet, staring at her for a moment before they managed to snap out of their gaping state.
"Uh…Two days." Panthro said. He let out a small, relieved chuckle, a smile of his own coming onto his face, "You really had us scared, kid."
Leanne smiled back at him, glancing over at Tygra who was smiling in relief. Nick was the same way. Snarf, who she didn't notice was in the tent until that moment, mewled up happily, jumping onto the cot where her legs still rested as Lion-O held her.
The doctors looked completely dumbfounded, starting to go over their medical charts, checking the machines, muttering something she couldn't hear. Cheetara and the kittens came into the tent. They all smiled brightly when they saw that Leanne was awake and okay. Kit and Kat ran over with happy cheers, jumping onto Lion-O's back to join in the hug. The wildcat duo proved to be too much for him,and they fell back onto the ground with a shared cry, Lion-O dragging Leanne off of the cot and on top of him. They hit the ground with an "oof!" The kittens laughed it off, still keeping their arms anchored around Leanne and Lion-O. Their laughter was contagious, and soon everyone in the tent was laughing, their joy and relief for Leanne's wellbeing causing it, and the more they kept on laughing, the more their worries and stress about the situation melted away.
The rest of the evening was very eventful, with the Berbils informing everyone that they had completed repairs on Avista, converting its power supply to focus on a different source. The engine they had made generated anti-gravity emissions similar to the way the Tech Stone did, although it would require a single day every year to power down, or it would overheat. The Birds promised to do so, and they would set the city afloat in the morning. The officials of the city, including Horace, thanked the Berbils for their help, and offered to give them paying jobs on board the city as mechanics. They declined, saying the work they did was for pleasure, not pay. Nevertheless, they told them they were welcome at any time to visit.
"…As are any other ground dwellers." Horace said, facing the Cats, "While the damage you put on our city was devastating, it was a small price to pay for starting to… understand those who live here. I think we need to get back in touch with our roots." He turned to Lion-O, "We want to thank you for opening our eyes to life here." He turned, facing the Elephants, the Fish Men, and Dogs, "You are all welcome to visit our fair city, should you ever wish to. Our doors are no longer closed." The animals let out a cheer, glad to know that their time making friends with the Birds was well worth it.
Once the announcement was over, the Birds created a small space in the forest at their crash site as a means for communication to anyone who wanted to notify the Avistans so they can give them the means to travelling up into the sky-city.
A tent was set up for Leanne, which was basically the same tent she had been in for the last few days, just with all the medical equipment taken out. It was nice to be rid of the hospital-like smells. Lion-O never left her side the entire time. She walked around, greeting all the friends she and the ThunderCats had made on Third Earth, and saying hello to her cousin. She spent most of her time catching up with him, hearing about everything that's been going on since they last spoke to each other. He hadn't been able to get in contact with her mother, as the phone number she gave them was over ten years old, but he assured her that she was doing all right. It comforted her to know that she was doing okay, although there wasn't a doubt in her mind that her mother could manage without her.
The ThunderCats grouped together, deciding to leave after Avista had safely risen back up into the sky and begin their search for the next stone. They split up afterwards, stocking up on supplies while Leanne went to do a final check-up with the doctors to make sure she was okay, even though the only problems she had was a small soreness that came from the wound on her stomach. As she sat on a small log outside of her tent, the stork doctor examined her, checking her vitals, reflexes and other bodily functions. Nick was nearby the entire time, telling the doctor if what was happening was normal or abnormal, since he was the only human that could give him a second opinion. As the examination came to a close and the doctor said that everything seemed fine, Lion-O approached the two of them, a solemn and serious look on his face.
"Hey." Leanne greeted him.
"Hey." He said softly. The doctor, sensing that this was a moment that they wanted alone, picked up his equipment and walked away. Nick came over to Leanne's side, patting her shoulder, giving her a friendly squeeze.
"I'm gonna pack my things and head out, but I'll say my goodbyes before I leave." He promised. Leanne looked up at him.
"Okay, see you in a bit." She said, patting his hand. He gave it another squeeze before walking away, glancing at Lion-O who bore an unreadable expression.
Lion-O moved in front of Leanne, sitting down on the small boulder that the doctor had been sitting on previously. He rested his arms on his knees, linking his hands together in front of him. He was quiet for a moment, thinking about what he needed to say and Leanne patiently waited, knowing he wouldn't have come over if it wasn't important. He looked up at her, and Leanne saw remorse and regret in his eyes. "I'm sorry." He said.
"For what?" Leanne asked, looking at him curiously.
"For…all of this." He replied, hanging his head, "For not listening to you about Pumyra, for trusting her more than I trusted you, and for getting you hurt. I'm so, so sorry." His voice shook a little, and so did his hands. He never once looked up while he was speaking, too ashamed of his actions to see her face, "I just… I wanted to hang onto the belief that she was one of us— That she was on our side, because she was a Cat." His hands gripped tightly to each other, his body tensing up as he felt tears fall onto his cheeks.
"Lion-O…"Leanne murmured, feeling her heart breaking as she listened to him.
"I just…" He sighed, "I feel like, ever since I've become king, I've made the wrong decisions. I thought that just being lord of the ThunderCats would give me, I don't know, a kingly sense, let me know which decision was right and wrong." He sighed, his body relaxing as his face took on a more wistful expression, "Father always seemed to make the right decisions, I thought it was something about having that power that would give me the insight on being a leader. But… it seems all the decisions I've made have only led to my city being destroyed, Jaga's life being taken, giving a spy the perfect opportunity to find our weak points, and almost killing the girl I care about most."
Leanne reached over, getting off of her seat to kneel in front of Lion-O, putting her hands over his paws and gently squeezing them. He looked up at her and saw a soft smile on her face. "Nobody's perfect, Lion-O. I'm sure your father had his faults and made mistakes when he first became king, and I don't think anyone expected you to be this all-knowing guy that makes the right calls. Besides, you've done so many things in such a short time that I don't think your father could have ever done in his life. What you did up in Avista was one of the bravest things I've ever seen. Not to mention that you managed to bring together the different species of Third Earth, beat Mumm-Ra in hand-to-hand combat multiple times, died and came back to life, passed a whole bunch of otherworldly trials, found the lost Tiger tribe, and the Book of Omens and so many other things!" She squeezed his paws again, "I think everything you've done for us since this mission started has far outweighed any blunders you've had in the past."
Lion-O smiled at her and pulled his hands out of her grasp and brought her close to him, hugging her tightly. She winced a little when his hug caused a little pain, but she didn't say anything as she wrapped her self around his neck. He pulled back from her slightly, but his arms remained around her midsection. He gazed into her silvery eyes and she looked back into his bright blue ones. Slowly, he pressed himself closer to her. Their eyes closed as Lion-O's lips met hers in a soft kiss, which she returned happily enough. They kissed for a few moments before releasing each other for air.
Lion-O gave her a boyish grin, and she smiled back at him. "I'd forgotten what that was like." Lion-O said, before leaning forward, pressing another kiss to the corner of her mouth. Leanne giggled a little. Lion-O looked back at her, "Do you…? I mean, if you want to—"
"Yes, I'd like to be with you, too." Leanne said. Lion-O smiled brightly and he held her closely again. She winced again when it pulled at her wound, "That kinda hurts a little…"
"Oh, sorry." He let her go and Leanne smiled at him before pushing herself to stand up, planting a kiss to Lion-O's cheek.
"I'm going to go help Nick pack up his things." Leanne said, patting his shoulder before walking away. Lion-O reached for her hand, hanging onto it for as long as she could before she walked off. She grinned at him, letting her hand hang back in her steps until she was too far away from him. She turned her attention to the front as she went over to where Nick was packing up the last of his supplies. He smiled at her as she came over, saying something Lion-O couldn't hear, but it earned him a punch to the shoulder as Leanne snapped something back, although the smile on her face betrayed any anger she might have been trying to show. Lion-O kept smiling at the sight as he stood up and went to go help Tygra and Panthro gather up some more gear.
Lucas slowly pulled the hovercraft to a stop, the readings from their radar telling them that a large mass of warm bodies was lying just ten yards away. They turned off the machine and the soldiers got their guns, warming them up in preparation for the battle as Lucas stood behind them his hands out of his pockets.
"We move on my signal." He told the soldiers, who all got into the formation that Sinzer had spoken to them about the other night. Lucas held up his hand, his fingers and eyes glowing a sickly green as two beams shot out, zapping away the consciousness of the two soldiers whose names he didn't care to remember. Sinzer nearly jumped out of his scales as he saw them falling to the ground, his eyes wide as he turned to Lucas, who was giving him a very serious look.
"S-Sir…?"Sinzer questioned his actions, his body shaking his armor as he looked at the General, who still held up his hand.
"I'm only giving you one chance to run." Lucas told him, "Go back home to your family."
"But…sir, the mission…" Sinzer said, pointing to the thicket of trees behind him, knowing that their enemy lay just beyond it, "What about the ThunderCats?"
"I think I'm starting to relate to their side instead of this one." Lucas said, "Sinzer… I don't trust Mumm-Ra. I don't think his plans will create the society you think it will. Mumm-Ra wants us all to be nothing more than mindless servants who will do whatever he says, all in the name of order… I can't accept a world like that, even if it's not mine. So I'm giving you this one chance. Run away. Go back home to your family. Live happily and wait for this war to come to an end." Sinzer stood still in front of him, eyes wide. "I can't sleep at night knowing that I let someone so young die in a war like this. Drop the gun and run."
Sinzer let the weapon fall out of his grasp, his eyes still on Lucas. He froze, as if unsure of what he should do, and then he went to the hovercraft and took off somewhere behind Lucas. He watched as the lizard went deeper and deeper into the woods. Even after he had left his sight, Lucas didn't move until he no longer heard the sound of the hovercraft's engine. Lucas looked over at the soldiers, unsure of what to do with them, but his thoughts were cut short as the ground started to shake and a loud rumbling was heard, as well as a loud chorus of cheers. He felt a strong wind pushing on him and he looked up to see the City of Avista taking off into the sky. It wasn't very long afterwards that another ship took off. This one being much, much smaller, but he recognizes the ThunderCats marking that's been painted on the side. He watched as it flew off, heading eastward. He started walking in that same direction, lifting up his hand, using his magic to create a small, translucent green disc that hovered above the ground. He stepped on it, sticking his hands in his pockets, his talisman glowing as he flew up into the air, following behind the Feliner at a remarkably slower pace, but he was able to keep the ship within his sight.
Sinzer raced back to the temple as quickly as he could, arriving within the day. The second he returned, he jumped off of the hovercraft, much to the displeasure of some of the soldiers in charge as he never bothered stopping it and the machine rammed against a couple of other crafts. He paid them no mind as he ran through the temple halls, his reptile lungs burning from the breaths he was taking. He went straight to the entrance of Mumm-Ra's lair, pounding on the huge doors.
"M-My Lord…!" He shouted, "Please, let me in! There is something I must tell you!"
"Enter." Mumm-Ra's calm voice rasped from the other side of the doors. Sinzer stood back as they slid open. He looked into the room, seeing that he must have interrupted a meeting between him and the generals. He ran into the room, kneeling down at the table.
"Forgive my intrusion, but there is something you need to know." He said, panting slightly from his run.
"Speak up, soldier." Slithe said, "What is it?"
Sinzer looked up at Mumm-Ra, "General Lucas has turned against us. He left the mission to join the ThunderCats."
Mumm-Ra's frowned, but didn't let his emotions play across his face, unlike his other generals. His red eyes did enough to show his anger at the news, his skinny, clawed hands turning to fists on the table.
"And now the child shows his true colors…" He muttered, waving his hand over the Well of Souls to show Lucas still riding on his translucent disc after the Feliner as the sun started to set behind him. He glared at the young boy's image, his mouth turning to an angered sneer.
Ta-da! Here it is! I know you all were just on the edge of your seats to find out what happened next. I hope this is good enough for you! I will be doing my best to continue the story with my own little plotline for the next few chapters and, with any luck, we'll be able to see this story to the end! Although, it may take a while... ^_^"
Anyway, I want to thank y'all for sticking with me as long as you have, and I want to give a great big THANK YOU to my beta reader Dalebeto Feninski! I couldn't have done this without you!