Here's the final chapter. What a long strange journey this has been. I would like to shout out a great big THANK YOU to Prarie24 for all her help as my Beta reader. As always, I OWN NOTHING!
ThunderCats: Sword of Kings
Chapter XVI: This New Path
As the setting sun cast shadows over the main courtyard of the Royal Palace, Claudus stood between two funeral pyres. He looked to the full regiment of soldiers and gathering of various nobles that had come to mourn and grieve. The King was surprised to see the nobility gathering together on such short notice.
"Yesterday," Claudus boomed, "in the dead of night, we were betrayed by those we believed to be one of us." The mighty lion gestured to the palace behind him, already under repairs from the fires. "My son, Lion-O, along with his treacherous Cleric, has stolen the Sword of Omens and delivered it into the hands of the traitor Panthro and his seditionist order."
The new Crown Prince Tygra heard his father's speech as he stood under guard of some Clerics. His broken arm was in a sling, bandages bound a few of his cracked ribs together, and a few bruises and swellings marred his handsome face. Thoughts of last night continued to plague him as the king continued on.
"But this was not their only mark of betrayal," Claudus said. "They were also responsible for the unjust murders of our revered General Grune and our beloved Head Cleric, Lord Jaga."
As he said this, all eyes were on the two bodies that rested on the wooden pyres. On the left was General Grune; the saber tooth was adorned in gold ceremonial armor and the shattered pieces of his mace were placed around him. Jaga was in the other pyre beside him and dressed in ceremonial robes with his Cleric staff grasped in both hands.
"Their deaths will not be forgotten," Claudus went on. "We will not forget the sacrifices they made in defending our great kingdom from treachery and deception. Today we will grieve, and tomorrow we will begin our hunt for those who wish to see everything we have built crumble to dust and ash."
Claudus walked off to stand by his son as two Clerics approached the pyres with torches in their hands. Tygra watched them light the pyres, the flames beginning to feed from the wood and dead flesh. It was not long before the smoke began to climb up to the sky.
Tygra watched the flames flicker as he recounted the events from the night before. The doctor said that the injuries to his body would heal, but he knew that the wound in his heart would not. Every injury he received from his beating was like a nail through his soul.
Lion-O was a traitor to Thundera. He had stolen the Sword of Omens, brutally killed General Grune in combat, and murdered Jaga, Cheetara's mentor and father figure, in cold blood. Yet despite all this, she came to his defense when Tygra tried to stop him for good.
The tiger remembered the young cheetah girl he gave the Day Astrid to and the grateful spark in her eyes. Now all Tygra could picture was the cold fury in those fuchsia irises as she attacked him with her staff.
A lone tear slipped down his cheek, falling from his chin and dripping onto the cold stone below.
Lynx-O never liked funerals. With his heightened smell, the scent of charred flesh always burned his nostrils. But he was here for Grune, who was a good friend and ally. He had died honorably in service to the crown and all of Thundera.
If only he believed that was the case.
Lynx-O knew that something was afoul with Grune. Ever since Lion-O's return, the saber tooth was always on edge. He didn't need eyes to know that.
After the general's death, Lynx-O and several soldiers collected his late ally's belonging from his bedroom. It was by accident the blind cat uncovered the false bottom. There he had found what felt like a jewel.
Lynx-O felt the jewel. It was a perfect sphere, no edges or anything else. But what was obvious was the sense of over whelming dread that came with holding that thing. Something felt evil about it. Something that made the general take it to the nearest canal and throw it into a river.
Still, the unnatural feeling remained even hours after he disposed of it.
Grune had his secrets like any other cat, but the one behind that jewel may be something that could have brought his loyalties into question. For now though, Lynx-O would wait until this secret revealed itself.
A baker, a merchant, a blacksmith, and an off-duty city guardsman sat together in one of Thundera's taverns. They sat at a table on the far side, a good distance away from the other patrons. They seemed to be deeply involved in a game of cards.
"So," the merchant said, "what's with all that smoke at the palace?"
"You mean you don't know?" the guardsman asked shocked. "General Grune and Lord Jaga were killed yesterday. Today is their funeral."
"How was I supposed to know that?" the merchant asked annoyed, tossing a coin onto the pile. "Not a lot of gossip going through the market lately."
The baker studied his cards. "So," he said suddenly, "who do you think did it?"
This brought a confused look on the blacksmith's face. "What are talking about?"
The baker looked annoyed. "I mean," he groaned, "who you guys think really killed Lord Jaga? Do you think it was Claudus or Grune?"
"My money's on Grune," the guardsman said. "That cat was more blood thirsty than a rabid jackalman."
"Well I say it was Claudus," the merchant drew a card from the deck. "He's been unpredictable ever since the Queen's death." They all bowed slightly in respect for her. "Who knows what that madman is capable of?"
The group showed their cards and slight groans sounded, the baker won this hand. He collected his winnings as the merchant gathered all the cards and reshuffled the deck.
The new cards were passed around. "I've heard word from our brothers in the Palace Guard and the Clerics," the guardsman said. "Claudus believes that all of us have fled the city."
The blacksmith snorted. "Why the hell would he think that?" he grumbled.
The baker made his bet. "Grand Master Valern and the council did leave," he said. "Not to mention that General Panthro left with Prince Lion-O in the ThunderTank. Why wouldn't he think that?"
"Well, we haven't fled," the guardsman said, pressing his finger down on the table. "We are still the eyes and ears of the Order. We must watch everyone and hear everything."
The other three nodded at this. Their reach was not as finite as Claudus would believe. They were everywhere, and they were everyone. They were the most influential noble and the lowliest beggar. They would watch and listen until the time was ready to return and bring Thundera into a new golden age.
After all, they were the Hand that will guide Thundera.
Panthro was in discussion with Pumyra on where to meet the rest of the Order. She said something about them heading to this village of "Ro-Bear Berbils." The puma was telling him about a stronghold they had been building for some time.
All the while, Panthro was keeping an eye on the cheetah Cleric, who was now watching Lion-O leaning against a tree. "So," the old cat said, "will all this gold Lion-O's bringing really help the Order?"
Pumyra smirked. "It never hurts to have someone in your pocket, General," she said. "A lot of gold can go a long way."
"Is that really wise?" Cheetara asked, unwavering under the panther's stare. She knew that it would take a while for him to trust her. "What guarantee do we have that whoever we bribe with this gold to will stay loyal to us?"
"Don't worry about it," Panthro said. "That's the Order of the Hand's problem, not ours."
"Yes, I've been meaning to talk to you about the Order," Cheetara said; it was her turn to glare. "Queen Leona wanted Lion-O to have nothing to do with these people, and now we're going to them to help."
Panthro grimaced. "We don't exactly have a choice," he said dismissively.
"We always have a choice," the cheetah argued.
"Not this time," Pumyra countered, "not with Mumm-Ra back. Lion-O needs us, and the Order needs him. That's just how it is right now."
Cheetara's eyes turned to look at the prince again. She seemed hopeful that they wouldn't really have to go to Valern and the Order. The Cleric sighed as she realized it was for Lion-O's own good.
Pumyra looked between her and the lion. "So," she said, "you and him, huh?"
Cheetara turned to glare at the puma. "Yes, what of it?"
Pumyra raised her hands in defense. "Hey," she said, "it's none of my business. Though just as a heads up, my father may not be too happy about it."
Cheetara seemed indifferent. "Well then," she said, "if you father does have any objections, I can tell him right where he can shove them."
Pumyra suddenly barked in laughter as a smirk grew on Panthro's face. He was starting to like this cheetah.
He watched her walk to Lion-O. "So," he turned to Pumyra, "this stronghold, does it have a name?"
The puma shrugged. "My father has a flair for dramatics," she said. "He's been calling it the 'Cats Lair'."
Lion-O leaned on the tree, seeing the sun set over the tree line. Many thoughts had been plaguing him since they left Thundera behind. The prince's life flashed before his eyes, from his time in the Ring to his experiences in the palace. So far, it all came back to one certain cheetah.
"Lion-O?" He turned to see Cheetara approaching, her eyes full of worry. "Is something wrong?"
Lion-O sighed. "It's just…" Lion-O didn't know what to say for a while. "Things are different now, and not in a good way."
Cheetara looked down. He knew Jaga's death still haunted her. "But it doesn't have to be like that forever," she said hopefully. "We have the Sword of Omens, Lion-O, and we have you. Claudus and Mumm-Ra won't stand a chance once we find the Book of Omens."
Lion-O shared her hope that the legendary tome would have some way to fight both threats, but he still had some doubts. "Listen, Cheetara," he said, "I was looking at the map and I noticed that there is a village not too far from here."
Her eyes widened. "What are you saying?"
"I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to leave," Lion-O said. "You can simply write down whatever knowledge Jaga gave you and drop you off there."
Cheetara grabbed his hands and laced her fingers with his, a determined look on her face. "You're not getting rid of me that easily, Lion-O," she said with a slight grin. "Listen, wherever this new path takes us, I will be right there beside you. That's because I love you, and I believe in you."
That was when she put everything on the line. Those three words showed the prince that she was in this until the very end. Even if they were to fail in this quest, she would never even consider leaving his side.
"I love you too, Cheetara," Lion-O said. "I just hope that you won't regret—"
She silenced all his doubts when the cheetah pressed her lips against the lion's. They could have sworn that they heard WilyKat's exaggerated gagging and WilyKit's sighing at the loving sight. They eventually broke away from their kiss, and Lion-O could see the faith that she had for him.
They walked hand-in-hand back to the ThunderTank, towards whatever the future had in store for them.
In the heart of the Black Pyramid, General Slithe, War Chief of all Lizard Clans, stood before his master. Surrounding him were statues depicting the Ancient Spirits of Evil, the strange gods that his lord faithfully worshiped. Standing at the top of the steps, in front of the red-eyed face that served as his sarcophagus, the War Chief's master had his back turned to him.
"Lord Mumm-Ra," Slithe addressed the red-cloaked figure, "Grune's death was a great blow to our plans, and we know nothing of Prince Lion-O's whereabouts. Our plans have begun to unravel by the seams."
A raspy chuckle emanated from the cloaked figure. "You must have patience, General Slithe," Mumm-Ra said. The ancient enemy of Thundera and Third Earth turned to the War Chief. Beneath the red cloak were bandages that covered the withered flesh of this old evil, the hood did nothing to hide the blood red eyes that shone with greed and a hunger for power.
"But, My Lord," Slithe said, "what are we to do?"
Mumm-Ra's hands rubbed together in anticipation. "We shall only watch and wait, General," his raspy voice said cheerfully. "I have a feeling that this new Lord of the ThunderCats will seek out the Book of Omens. When he finally does find it, not only will I have the book, but the War Stone as well." An evil smile grew from his cracked lips. "Once I have them both, then nothing will stand in my way as I take back what is rightfully mine."
To be continued in…
ThunderCats: War of Kings