A/N: Can I just say I'm proud of myself for finishing this so quickly? And I still like how it turned out regardless. Once again, credit to the owners of each OC appearing in this fanfic is given in my artist's comments on this chapter on deviantArt. (If you don't know my deviantArt username to find my gallery, I'm on there as Yoruhoshi.) NOTE: This fanfiction is a companion to my other Thundercats fanfic, "Mortal Bonds." If you want to understand some of the events that will come to take place in this story, I highly recommend you read both. R&R please!
Chapter 5: Jaga's Blessing
Cazarak's eerie silence from earlier in the morning didn't hold for long. The moment he saw Axis return from the training session, the lizard fled the room for a few brief moments, then returned bearing several bandages, a washbasin, and a threadbare cloth. He kept his tongue until Grune was called away, then at once he began muttering in an indignant fury as he dabbed gently at Axis's bruises.
"Of all the stupid things!" The lizard hissed. "I cannot believe he made you begin training today with those brutes, and on the gauntlet, to top it all off!"
"But I wanted to go on the gauntlet!" Axis yowled, flinching from the washrag as Cazarak dabbed with it at his cheek. "I'm not a baby!"
"While I admire your courage Axis, the gauntlet is not safe. Who knows what sort of injuries you could get from it?" He huffed in response, shaking his crested head as he submerged the cloth in the washbasin. "It's bad enough you're already training with those-"
"But I'm not fighting with any of the lizards yet," the cub interrupted, "Only Uncle Grune trained with me today."
All at once Cazarak's face darkened and his eyes narrowed sharply, clear inner eyelids flicking as fast as lightning, and he paused, wringing out the washcloth so tightly Axis thought it would rip in those massive claws. He swallowed, leaning back out of instinct. Cazarak was so kind; he didn't think the big lizard would ever look so...so...angry.
"You say your uncle did this to you?" He said quietly, inner eyelids flicking again.
"Y-yessir," he squeaked, "He said he doesn't want me training with any of the other soldiers just yet. He says I gotta learn the basics."
Cazarak's scowl deepened, but his hands became a touch more gentle with the cloth, and he took great care to avoid wrapping the bandages around Axis too tight. Axis felt his stomach give a guilty lurch, and he stared gloomily down at the floor, trying to avoid glancing at his right hand. Why was his new friend so quiet all of a sudden? He didn't like it.
"Cazarak?" He said tentatively.
"Did I make you mad?"
The lizard let out a heavy sigh, the scarlet crest on his head drooping a little, and he gathered up the cloth and washbasin.
"No, you didn't."
"But..." He started to protest, only to fall short. What could he say to make Cazarak feel better? He didn't know; grown-ups were confusing and frustrating that way. He glanced back down at the floor, kicking his feet and feeling overwhelmed. It wasn't even lunchtime yet, and already the day felt like it was going on forever! First the creepy sash, then fish for breakfast, then training, and now Cazarak was grumpy?
"Bet the day can't get any worse..." He whispered to himself, crossing his arms and sticking out his lower lip in a pout.
"What did you say?" Cazarak asked, crest rising again as he put the washbasin away, and he glanced over at the kitten, blinking with both sets of eyelids this time. Axis turned his head away, chewing his lower lip in hopes he wouldn't seem so sulky.
"Nothin'." He mumbled, kicking his feet some more. He heard a rich, warm chuckle and looked up, relieved to see the lizard shaking his head and smiling.
"The gods of the ancient world must have blessed you, Axis. You're still such a child after what has happened to you already." He said kindly, and the cub wrinkled his nose. He didn't like being reminded that he was still little, but he chewed his lip some more, deciding to stay quiet about it, since Cazarak was happy again.
"Tell you what," the lizard said, coming over and crouching down to his eye level, "How about we find out what to get you for lunch?"
He opened his mouth to answer, when a loud, unearthly sound rang through the entire temple. Axis jumped, looking around wildly. What was that sound? It cracked and boomed and shrieked all at once, almost like lightning and thunder together, but with something else in there. Chills ran up his spine and the fur on his shoulders rose abruptly, but despite his apprehension, he felt...curious. Before he considered whether or not it was a good idea, the cub leapt to his feet and dashed out of the room, running as fast as he could to find the noise, a protesting Cazarak hot on his heels. He ran through several corridors, trying to track the sound, which rose and fell, like something was making it over and over again, and slowly, the sound grew louder and louder in his ears. He started down another hall, and the sound became softer than before, and he spun on the spot, skidding on the smooth floor, and heading back for the last spot where the thundering, shrieking crack had been the loudest. Cazarak slid behind him, clawed hands grasping at the air as he tried to catch the kitten.
"Axis!" He hissed, "We shouldn't be here!"
He wasn't listening; the sound was here, he was sure of it. The door before him stood open just a crack, and he could see a glimmer of bright light coming from it. Tentatively, caught in a mixture of curiosity and trepidation, he pushed the door slightly inward as the powerful, resonating sound blasted around him. Beyond the door, he saw several lizards gathered in a circle, and at their head stood his uncle, looking furious beyond anything Axis had ever seen him, and standing at the top of many stairs behind Grune was Mumm-Ra, red eyes glittering in the darkness as he glared down at something in the center of the strange ring of lizards. Axis gulped, feeling his insides go cold. He had to leave, but his feet were rooted to the spot, and his gaze went from Mumm-Ra to the thing in the middle of the small gathering, and he received a jolt that ran through his entire frame.
There was a person in their midst, another cat. An older cat with a long white beard, a blue helmet, and robes far richer than any clothes the kitten had ever seen in his life. He lay sprawled on the floor, his head turned to the side, and he trembled all over, shaking as thin, curling wisps of smoke rose off his clothes. And with no warning, the kitten realized it was he, the old cat, who had been making the eerie shrieks that rose and fell with the cracking of lightning and the booming of thunder. He had been screaming in pain.
Axis shook with terror, tears starting to brim at the edges of his eyes. What was happening to that poor old man? And why was his uncle looking at him like he hated him?
"TCH! Nothing!" Grune spat. "Bah!" He lowered his left arm, a huge mace hanging lazily from his hand. Mumm-Ra tilted his head to the side, and Axis got the horrible feeling the evil monster somehow thought this was all incredibly funny. Slowly, step by step he descended the stairs, looming and ominous in the dim gloom.
"Your methods are ineffective, general." He rasped in that horrid voice. "Brute strength is a tool of barbarians."
He strode toward them, and Grune stepped aside respectfully, allowing Mumm-Ra room to look down on the older cat.
"Wizards...are a trifle more bothersome to deal with. Their power comes from the mind." He remarked coldly, and the old cat stirred, opening shockingly dark blue eyes. "Meaning it is the mind that must be used as the battlefield."
"I'm afraid you'll have a tad more difficulty in breaking my mind than you will my body." The old cat said in a strong, courageous voice. His blue eyes then slipped away, and found Axis, going wide as they locked onto him. The cub jumped, and in that moment, Mumm-Ra and Grune followed the old cat's gaze.
"Axis?" Grune said in confusion, the hate easing out of his expression. But he couldn't answer his uncle; he was caught under two very different but immensely powerful gazes, the red eyes flashing in irritation, and the blue softening in vast sorrow. Without a word, Mumm-Ra turned, all eyes shifting as he moved, and he approached Axis in that same slow, deliberate way as he had before. The kitten began to shake harder, eyes going wider and wider in fear as he cowered, trying to make himself smaller in hopes he would be ignored, but to no avail: Mumm-Ra never stopped.
"My lord, if I could just-"
One of the bandaged, gray hands shot out, cutting Grune off, and Axis let out a small whimper, saberteeth biting into his lower lip.
"Your curiosity is going to get you in trouble one of these days." Mumm-Ra said quietly, and he swung the same hand back around. Axis flinched, expecting to be struck, but the hand simply came down on top of his head, fingers curling and clenching his hair tightly. He let out a small mewl of pain as Mumm-Ra turned him around, forcing him to walk out of the room, where Cazarak waited in wide-eyed horror.
"See to it the boy doesn't come here again unless summoned." He hissed, snapping his wrist and thrusting Axis forward sharply into the lizard's arms. Cazarak nodded quickly, trying to usher him away as Mumm-Ra turned back to enter the room again, but not before Axis took one last look inside.
The older cat's blue eyes still watched him, and this time, there was something else shining in those indigo pools with the sadness.
"Bless you, child."
Axis's eyes widened as he heard the cat's voice, not with his ears, but in his head, as clear as one of his own thoughts, and those blue eyes shut in acknowledgment.
"You bought me the moment I needed."
Then the doors closed behind Mumm-Ra with a sharp bang, and Cazarak tugged at him again, urging him to return to his room. This time, the cub obeyed without a word, feeling as empty again as he had when he'd woken after his mother's death, and with a strange certainty he couldn't explain, he knew the old cat was going to die soon.
"You've the demon's own luck, Axis! You could've been killed or worse if Mumm-Ra hadn't been distracted and he turned his mind-spell on you." Cazarak scolded.
"He's gonna kill him, isn't he?" He murmured.
They stopped walking, and the lizard looked down at him, thrown for a moment.
"Isn't he?" He whispered, the tears starting to brim around his eyes again, hotter than before. "That poor old cat. Mumm-Ra's gonna kill him."
"Axis, that's not something you should be talking about." He answered quietly, the tips of his scarlet crest turning down. "Come on, let's get back to your room."
"I'm not really hungry any more..." he muttered, looking down at his feet as they started to walk again, and it was true. His stomach seemed to have disappeared from inside him altogether. They went slowly, neither saying a word, and for that, Axis was grateful. He thought if Cazarak tried to tell him things would be okay, he would just start crying.
They had almost reached his room again, when they stopped abruptly once more, and he jerked his head up at the strange, stale smell that filled the air, only to see two more unpleasant faces staring down at him.
"And where might you be headed?" Slythia asked from behind her fan, eye locked on Axis, though he guessed she was really talking to Cazarak.
"The more important quessstion isss where are they coming from?" Nagendra hissed, acid green eyes flicking from the cub to the slave. "After all, you're going to missss ssseeing the Dark Massster rip the information he wantsss from the cleric'sss frail mind."
"Oh, how I do love a good torture!" Slythia purred behind her fan, averting her gaze to nothing as her expression glazed over with bliss. Cazarak's hand tightened on Axis's, and the cub noticed the lizard's crest flatten sharply in anger as he glared back at the snakes.
"Let us pass." He responded coldly, and the cobras' hoods flared open as their heads snapped about to look at him.
"Watch your tongue, ssslave, if you value it." Nagendra hissed, drawing himself up on the massive coils of his tail until he towered over them all. Sudden anger flared in Axis's chest, burning bright and dousing his turmoil of other emotions, and he took a stuff forward, clenching his fists and baring all of his teeth.
"Who do you think you are, bossing my friend around?" He snapped. The black slits of the snake's pupils flicked onto him, going thinner as he stared in surprise, which quickly turned to irritation.
"I am Nagendra, high priessst of the order of Hisss Dark Majesssty," the cobra hissed, "And I sssay I'll let you both passss if I feel like it!"
"I'm Axis," he shot back, "And I'm angry, so get out of my way!"
"Why, you little infidel!" Nagendra drew back in outrage, raising a fist.
"High priest?" Slythia said calmly, and when the acid green eyes turned to her, she snapped her fan half-shut, flicked it forward in a rotating semi-circle, then opened it before her face once more. The high priest followed the motion, his eyes locking onto a spot above Axis's chest, which weighed heavily where it pressed into him, but he dared not glance down. Then, with a great deal of reluctance, the cobras parted to one side, and Nagendra inclined his head, folding his hood back in and gesturing for them to continue on their way, a poisonous look on his face.
"My apologiesss." He muttered in a voice that didn't sound at all sorry. Axis bared his teeth again, then took off at a brisk pace, stomping and swinging his fists the whole way back to his room, where he bounded into the cold bed, rolled up in the thin blanket, and shut his eyes against the tears, silently drifting off into a dark, dreamless sleep.
He woke again feeling hollow and hungry, to a room that was completely dark. His stomach let out a loud grumble, and it echoed eeriely in the darkness. His fur stood on end again, and he called out into the darkness.
There came no answer.
"Cazarak?" He tried again, and this time when there came no reply, he slipped out of the bed, feet tingling as they hit the cold floor, and he reached out blindly with his hands, trying to find his way to the door by memory. After a few bumps and stumbles, he managed to find it again, gently prying it open. He stuck his head out into the hallway, looking to the right and seeing nothing but a hallway disappearing into darkness. He looked to the left, and let out a squeak of surprise when he saw a pair of caramel eyes looming out of the darkness, staring at him.
"I was wondering when you were going to wake up." Grune rumbled, rising from the makeshift chair. "You've been asleep for a while now."
"Really?" He asked, scrunching his nose and raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, really." Grune said, crossing his massive arms. "It's almost midnight."
The cub's eyes went wide. "Midnight?" He whispered, exhaling a "Wow!" when his uncle nodded.
"I imagine you're hungry?"
"Uh-huh," He said guiltily, nodding slowly and tucking his chin in against his chest. "Am I in trouble because of earlier?"
The caramel eyes studied him for a long moment, the same way his mother's identical eyes used to study him when he had misbehaved. Grune worked his bearded jaw, sabertooth catching a few winks of the light as he tilted his head.
"No," he answered, "You aren't. Though I cannot say Lord Mumm-Ra is too pleased that his prisoner managed to shield his mind, thanks to him having to throw you out of the room."
Axis looked down quickly, hoping his uncle wouldn't see his relief at the news. So the old cat managed to find a way to protect himself from Mumm-Ra's evil magic! Thankfully, Grune seemed to take his reaction the other way, crouching down to his level and placing both massive hands on his thin shoulders.
"Axis..." He said, his voice concerned and his expression warm and worried, "Are you alright, boy?"
"Mm-hmm." He hummed, nodding again.
"You weren't supposed to see any of that." His uncle said in a low voice, several emotions passing across his scruffy face that Axis couldn't recognize. "So I don't want you telling anyone what you saw."
"I won't tell!" He promised, shaking his head rapidly, and the older sabertooth breathed a ragged sigh of relief.
"Good lad. Now, let's get some food in you, and then you can get back to sleep."
His supper was brief, the food was heavy, and he fell back asleep even deeper than before, a strange sense of comfort enveloping him in his dreams.
The next morning dawned with little difference from the previous one, but Axis noticed that day as his uncle ran him through more training exercises in an attempt to set up a routine, that suddenly the practice sword didn't feel quite as heavy as it did before, and the knotted scar on his right hand barely twinged at all.