A/N: I do NOT own any part of Thundercats (2011). Credit for that genius goes to Warner Bros. I do however, own the few OCs that appear in this prologue. This is a companion story to my other current TC fanfic, "Mortal Bonds," and just as with that story, any OCs appearing in Shadowed Path will be accredited to their individual creators in each copy of each of these chapters as they appear listed in my deviantArt gallery. Enjoy the beginning, and R&R please!
Prologue: The Turning Point
The sun was setting just on the horizon, casting a violet glow over the city of Thundera, nearly concealing the flush of excitement that lit the faces of the young captains, so recently returned from another battle won. The younger soldiers under their command were already beginning to disperse into the city, each to their own pursuits, and the two captains were no different.
"Oh, before I forget, Grune," Panthro said, turning to his friend with an eager grin, "Some of the lieutenants have arranged for a homecoming party later tonight, down at Jagendi's tavern. You wanna come?"
Grune paused, slowing his pace as he regarded his friend, hesitant to decline, but hesitant also to agree.
"You don't have to come, you know." Panthro added, seeing his uncertainty.
"No, it's not that," Grune said with a weak chuckle, "You go on ahead, I'll catch up with you later."
He pulled away at that point, resuming his brisk pace and heading toward one of the higher avenues in the city.
"Where are you going?" the question called up after him.
"To see Muaraine!" he shouted back, "She'll kill me if I don't stop by to show her I'm not dead!"
"Your sister would kill you even if you were dead!" Panthro yelled, prompting him to chuckle. His path took him past several humble dwellings, the smithy, the tanner, the apothecary…until at last he came to his sister's home at the end of the avenue, built against the high shoulder of a stone wall erected to prevent citizens from falling a good twenty feet into the street below. As he drew closer, the heavy aroma of baked goods reached his nose, making his mouth water. He carefully rapped on the door with his knuckles, remembering the last time when he'd been yelled at for splintering the wooden frame.
"Hold on just a moment!" a voice edged with borderline panic called from within. A few seconds later there was a soft thump, the sound of desperate scrambling, and the door swung inward, revealing a young female saber-toothed cat. She blinked up at Grune with eyes the same shade of caramel as his own, and frowned.
"Oh, it's just you. And here you got my hopes up, thinking Damo had come home early." she grumbled.
"Really now, sis," Grune pleaded, putting on his most charming smile, "Where's your sense of family compassion?"
Her frown deepened to a glare, but she opened the door all the way and allowed him to enter, spinning on her heel as she returned her attention to her baking.
"I swear, between you and Damorn, I'll have gray in my hair by the time I've reached my forties," she grumbled.
"Now surely your husband isn't that worrisome," Grune said dismissively, hovering over her shoulder, "What kind of pie is that?"
Muaraine bared her teeth, smacking his shoulder roughly. "Keep your filthy paws to yourself! Gods know when you last had a decent washing!"
Grune snorted. "You have no faith in me. Are you really going to let your only brother starve?"
She gave him another pointed glare, but shoved a meat pie at him nonetheless, indicating for him to sit at the weathered wooden table in the center of the room. He offered her another grin in return and took a seat, gingerly touching the edges of the pie so as not to burn himself.
"Don't see why you're leeching off me when you're just going to run out and go drinking with the other soldiers later." Muaraine muttered, setting a few other pies out to cool before sitting across from him.
"Whoever said I was going to?" he cocked an eyebrow at her before nibbling at the pie crust.
"You always do." She replied. "I don't think you should bother; after all, aren't you and Panthro supposed to return to training the princes tomorrow morning?"
"Got it in one. Prince Tygra is progressing nicely; I think that boy's going to be the best swordsman any of us has ever laid eyes on, once he's grown up. Prince Lion-O, on the other hand…" Grune paused and shook his head. "Well, I won't declare him hopeless yet, but the cub would rather spend his time daydreaming about technology."
Muaraine smiled. "Cubs will be cubs. You know…"
"Not forever," he said quickly, not realizing he had cut her off, "One day the boy's going to grow up and hopefully by then he'll have his head on his shoulders right. Perhaps he and Tygra will each serve as generals one day, too."
"You've already made general?" she asked in surprise. He shook his head and swallowed a bite before answering.
"Not yet. But the last I heard from Claudus as we were getting back this morning, he's planning on…making a 'very special announcement' tomorrow during the prince's training." Grune couldn't stop his face from breaking into a triumphant grin, and Muaraine's eyes widened.
"Brother, this is wonderful! You and Panthro both making general!"
"Not yet," he chuckled, "But the second I do, you and Damorn are both invited to the celebrations!"
She smiled, then glanced down, her expression growing somewhat awkward.
"What's wrong, Muaraine?"
"Well…" she said slowly, "Damo and I have decided that we're going to try…we're going to try for a cub."
Grune's eyes widened in surprise, then crinkled with delighted laughter. "Damo's finally warmed up to the idea of becoming a family man? Sister, this is fantastic!" He gave a whooping laugh and swept her up in an enormous hug. "General and uncle! I doubt Panthro will be able to say he's ever been so honored!"
"Ease up, you big brute!" she laughed back, "I'm delicate!"
"That's what all the men used to say before you'd break their arms. Muaraine, don't you see? We should celebrate! This is a turning point in both our lives! A critical axis! Our parents would be so proud!"
"We can celebrate later, after King Claudus's announcement." She said with a smile. "In the meantime, you get back to your friends and tankards. I'm going to wait for Damo so he and I can…ahh…"
Grune gave a snicker and set his sister down. "Alright, alright, I get the idea." He snatched up the remainder of the pie and headed for the door. "A critical axis, Muaraine! And one day, with any luck, I'll be ruling and you and Damorn will be living like royalty!"
"Keep dreaming, brother!" she called after him as he walked off, "And if you don't tell me the second you're made a general, I'll bust your kneecaps!"
Grune chuckled to himself as he headed for Jagendi's tavern, allowing his own daydreams to surface for once, as he envisioned Claudus naming he and Panthro generals the following morning.
Claudus took in a breath, not completely meeting the eyes of either of them. "I've chosen Lynx-O to be the general of the army."
The words slammed into Grune with the force of a battering ram as his jaw slowly dropped. "…Lynx-O has less experience than either of us!" he barely managed to say the words clearly through his shock, fighting to keep himself from shaking with unhinged rage.
"I know," Claudus admitted, "Which is why I'm keeping the two of you together for a much greater task." He drew from his belt a scroll, stained from time and lack of use, carefully unrolling the ends to reveal the painting within.
"The Book of Omens."
The name hung on the air like an ominous cloud, bringing with it that hush of reverence that it always inspired.
"I believe it is more than just a legend. And if anyone can find it, it's you two." Claudus declared, his blue eyes passing from Panthro's crimson ones to meet the caramel orbs of Grune. The saber-tooth cat went rigid and averted his gaze, stifling a growl that was building in his throat. Did Claudus know…?
"Our role," Panthro spoke up, stepping forward and bowing formally, "Is not to question, my king."
Grune barely heard him above the sound of his world shattering.
How could he face his sister now…?
They had stopped keeping track of the passage of time long ago.
How long had it been since they left Thundera? Weeks? Months? Years? He was willing to bet it was the latter. They had already endured two harsh winters and two sweltering summers. Panthro continued to insist it was merely the different climates all around Third Earth, but Grune knew better.
Just like he knew better about why Claudus had sent them on this wild myth chase.
Then one day they arrived at a small, wayside village, barely a proper town, and stopped to rest and replenish their supplies. Normally he would have been glad of a chance to sit on a proper chair and drink ale again, but Grune had been keeping his thoughts to himself of late, and made no sign of relief or gratitude.
"Hey, just got word from the smithy here." Panthro said softly, pulling up a chair and sitting beside his friend. "Two years."
Grune exhaled, his expression deepening to a scowl as he looked away and began to nurse the tankard he'd been served.
"Grune, it's not so bad."
The saber-tooth said nothing, his jaw tightening in anger. The panther saw the warning sign and immediately fell quiet, the silence spreading between them all through their small meal.
Soon a runner entered the village, passing by the tavern, laden with a heavy shoulder satchel that was full to bursting with letters. Grune glanced up absentmindedly. The young cat messenger had obviously come a good distance, and wore the official seal of Thundera, a sign he was delivering only to other cats in the area.
"Sorry, excuse me!" he yelped, elbowing his way through a small gaggle of chattering people. "Official business for Thundera, you know. Any Thunderans nearby?"
Neither Grune or Panthro knew who pointed at them, but the next moment, the young messenger was facing them, breathing hard from exertion, and asking their names.
"Whoa, slow down there, kid!" Panthro said, motioning for the server to brink a glass of water. "The world's not going to end just because you can't deliver all those messages at once."
"N-names, p-please." The messenger stammered, nodding his thanks to the waitress for the water. "I may yet have something in here for you."
"Captains Panthro and Grune of the royal Thunderan army."
The younger cat gave a quick nod and proceeded to dig through his satchel.
"I doubt there's going to be anything." Grune said sourly. "Honestly, Panthro, do you think anyone even remembers us?"
"Don't talk so negative, Grune." Panthro said firmly. "Are you forgetting the send-off we received when we left?"
Oh, he hadn't forgotten. "Did the fact that we've been gone over two years leave your brain as soon as you told me?"
"You act like that's a lifetime."
"I think that's the intent." The saber-tooth said quietly.
"What?" Panthro asked abruptly, looking at him in confusion.
"AHA!" the runner cried. "Here's something!"
He drew a long, folded parchment out of the satchel in triumph and thrust it at Grune, who recoiled in mild shock.
"For you, Captain Grune!" the young cat declared proudly, squinting at the name and seal on the parchment. "From a Muaraine—"
He ripped the letter from the messenger's hand immediately, surging up from his chair and walking away to read it in private. Panthro yelled after him, no doubt irritated with his behavior, but at that point it didn't matter; the world fell away as he tore open the letter from his sister.
I'm not sure how to tell you this but...
Sometime after you left, Damo was elevated to captain, serving under General Lynx-O.
A few weeks ago a messenger came by the house with a black envelope.
Brother, I don't know what to do. I'm so lost without my Damo…
He sucked in a breath. Damorn had died? Then Muaraine was all by herself in that house. How could this have happened? The paper crackled threateningly as his hands shook, fighting the urge to crumple the letter in his hands.
This wouldn't have happened if he had been made general.
The world around him seemed to grow a touch darker, and it was only through an effort of will that he was able to force his eyes back to the letter, and read the rest.
I do have a tiny bit of good news. I went to the clerics recently, and it has been confirmed that I am with child. A little over three months along, so I am searching for a midwife and working on a set of infant's clothes.
Damo will live on through our child, at the very least. Your niece or nephew, brother.
I have already selected the name if my baby is a daughter, but without Damo, I am at a loss as to what I should name a son.
Grune's eyes scanned that line again and again.
I am at a loss as to what I should name a son.
He heard without hearing, his sister's plea. She needed a name for a son.
The young cat messenger was back, standing at his shoulder, his face a mix of anxiety and determination.
"Sir, I really must object—"
But his mind was already reeling back, back to the last time he had seen Muaraine, back to the discussion they had in her home. And his own words returned to him with stark clarity.
"This is a turning point in both our lives! A critical axis!"
He had already given Muaraine her son's name.
"Do you have any writing implements on you?" he murmured.
"—And furthermore—er. What did you say?" the messenger paused, thrown off.
"Do you have something I can write with?" Grune demanded, spinning round and seizing the younger cat by the material of his sleeve.
"Yike! W-watch it!" he yelped, fumbling in his tunic for something. "H-here!"
A pen was shoved into Grune's hand and he immediately scrawled one word at the bottom of the letter.
"Here!" He snapped, refolding the letter and smashing the seal back in place. "Return this to its sender."
"Just do it," he groaned, waving the younger cat off as he pushed the letter into the reluctant hands. The messenger gave him a sidelong glance, then turned and left. Grune sighed, rubbing his temples wearily.
"Okay, now what the heck was that about?" Panthro demanded.
He didn't answer. He couldn't.
A turning point indeed! If only he had known just how pathetic his own life would wind up after saying those words. If only he had known the tragedy that would befall his only sister. It was a change for both of them…for the worse.
Much later that night, when Grune laid down to sleep, his last waking thought was of his sister, the sight of her watching at her window, waiting for a husband who would never return. And as he drifted off, another image entered his dreams: a vast structure that rose to a sharp peak, shielded from mortal eyes by a huge, cyclonic sandstorm.
This marked yet another turning point.
A critical axis.