Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or the series of Thundercats, this belong to Cartoon Network, I think, there's no profit being made from this piece of fanfiction.
Chapter 05. Cubs are not for battlefield.
Tygra woke with a start and tried to remain quiet while he assessed his surroundings. He didn't remember what he had been dreaming, but he had a feeling of anxiousness that wouldn't go away. It had been the same every day since he had returned to the village.
He hadn't told anyone about it. The time he had spent at the castle had made him realize that his bad dreams upset the lady that was charged with his care. He had heard her say that it was no wonder that no one but Claudus had wanted to take care of him. No one in their right mind would want to deal with an orphan with such problems. The little tiger had promised himself that he'd cease to be a bother, so Tana and Yero wouldn't be upset with him. He had forced himself to wake up without noise, so no one would have to be troubled with his dreams. Besides, it would be a waste of time for Tana to comfort him, when he couldn't even remember what he had dreamt about.
Tygra sighed deeply, trying to calm himself, and was startled when a wet tongue lapped at his nose. He blinked at Snarf, wondering for a second what the pet was doing in his bed. Then he noticed that the bed was a bit harder than he was used to, and that it was in fact vibrating. The noise of rumbling finally registered and Tygra sat up, more than a bit scared. He looked at the metallic structure all around him, and remembered. He was inside the tank.
The cub could see Cheetara and the kits. They were peeking at the front of the tank into what Kat had told him was the driver's cabin. No one was paying attention to him.
Tygra tried to stand. He had to get out of the thing. He had to go back to Tana.
A sudden bump made Tygra lose his balance and he yelped as he fell, almost on top of Snarf. The small noise made Kit turn around and she smiled happily at the cub. She was at his side in an instant.
"Hey! Look who is awake!"
Kit and Kat helped him to stand and step away from the blankets. Cheetara was quickly kneeling in front of him, looking at him with worry.
"Tygra. Did you sleep well? Are you ok dear?"
No, he was not ok. He wanted Tana, now. He pointed in the general direction of the door he had used to get inside the tank. Cheetara turned and looked confused, but Kit caught on.
"Oh, the trap door. Do you want to go outside?"
Tygra nodded, and bit his lip anxiously.
"Tana." He said. Cheetara closed her eyes and sighed.
"You want to go with Tana. Tygra, we…"
She didn't know what to say. Tygra wasn't going to believe that he was supposed to be with them and not with the wolves. How do you explain to a three years old cub that he's not supposed to have that age? That he didn't remember his own family? She hugged the little tiger, who stiffened a bit.
"I'm sorry dear. We're not in the village anymore. You see, we had to leave. There's something very important we have to do, and we couldn't leave you behind. I-I'm sure Yero and Tana understand…"
Tygra pushed himself away from Cheetara, and the female cleric looked as the big brown eyes filled with tears. She tried to gently grab the tiger's shoulder and caress his cheek, but he shied away from her, giving a few steps backwards until he was stepping on the blankets between the boxes again.
"Oh Tygra, please understand…"
The cub sobbed as tears started to run down his face. This couldn't be happening. He had been on his best behaviour. They weren't supposed to leave him with the cats again! Kraus had gone to pick him up to the castle, hadn't he? Why? What had he done wrong?
He sat down heavily and bent his knees; his arms crossed over them and buried his head. He cried freely, not acknowledging the presence of the two Thunderkittens at his side. Not even feeling their hands caressing his head and back, or listening to their words. He stayed like that for a long time until he fell into a light slumber.
"Come on Tygra! Aren't you hungry?"
Asked Kit, more than a bit worried. Tygra was awake, but he was not moving, and was stubbornly not looking at them. Not even at Snarf, who was rubbing himself on the cub's side, trying to get his attention.
They had stopped to set up camp close to a small lake. They were several miles away from the forest already, but the place they had chosen was surrounded by a group of trees that grew up in the vicinity of the lake. It was nice and they had found enough wood to start a fire. It was evening already, and they needed to rest.
Wilykit and Wilykat had been trying for several minutes already to make Tygra leave his nest of blankets and go with them. He needed to eat. He had spent the entire travel in his corner, ignoring them. Both kits were sad to see how depressed the cub was, and a bit angry at Lion-O for simply took him out of the village without even saying goodbye to the wolves. Now they didn't know what to do to make Tygra happy again.
"Kits, go with Cheetara. She needs a bit of help." The lion called, while he entered the tank. Both kittens turned to look at him.
"But Lion-O, Tygra doesn't want to come."
"He's not talking to us. He's going to make himself sick."
Lion-O sighed. He had already tried to speak with Tygra, to explain to him why they had had to leave so suddenly. But it seemed like the tiger had not listened to him. The cub had remained un-responding to their attempts to comfort him. He just sat in the corner, curled into himself, and not making a sound.
"Just go with Cheetara. I'd be there soon with Tygra."
The Thunderkittens gave him an incredulous look, but they got out of the tank after giving Tygra a last pat on the head. Snarf stayed at the cub's side. Lion-O knelt, trying to be as close to his brother as possible.
"Tygra? Don't you want to eat? Cheetara is cooking some of the meat we brought from the village."
He put his hand on the tiger's back, but the cub didn't react. Not even flinched at the touch. Lion-O sighed.
"Tygra, please. Don't be stubborn now. I'm sorry we had to leave like that, but they wouldn't have…"
He interrupted himself and caressed his brother's little head. He wasn't used to this. He had never had to deal with a cub. He certainly had never had to look out for Tygra, or take full responsibility for him. It was usually the other way around. Lion-O had never truly realized how much he depended on his brother. He needed to feel that certain amount of security that came from the knowledge that there was someone supporting him. That someone was always going to back him up. Tygra had been a constant in his life since he remembered. No matter how much they fought, or the ugly shade of resentment that appeared between them from time to time. Tygra had always been there for him. Even if he didn't agree with Lion-O in more than a few occasions, he still was with him.
"Tygra, please understand. I couldn't leave you with them. I need you with me brother. Please."
He didn't know what else to do. He wished that Tygra would talk to him. He wanted him to start behaving more like the boisterous brother he knew. He was used to deal with that.
"I promise that I'd fix this Tygra. I'd get you back somehow."
He considered the little form, and decided that he best let him have some space. That always worked when Tygra was upset.
"I'm going to bring you something to eat. I'd be back in a minute."
He got up and took Snarf with him. He figured that Tygra wanted to be alone for some moments. His brother used to disappear for a couple of minutes when he was utterly frustrated with him. He just needed a bit of time to sort himself out.
Once the lion went away, Tygra sighed and rubbed his eyes. He felt them puffy and he was sure his face was all dirty. He had just barely been listening to everything the cats had been telling him, and understanding even less. One thing though had gotten his attention. It looked like they had left without telling anyone. That meant that Tana and Yero had not left him in the cats' care, they may not know he was with them. Maybe they were looking for him.
His stomach growled and he bit his lip. He was hungry and thirsty, but he didn't want anything from the cats. However, he understood that he had to eat something. Besides, his body was just starting to remind him that he had other biological needs too.
Tygra looked up and around him. He was alone. The top of the tank was open, but there wasn't any other way to get out on sight. He stood up and started to explore. The trap door was closed, and he didn't know how to open it. There had to be another exit. His limbs were stiff from being curled up the entire day, but he managed with some difficulty to walk almost normally.
There was something brilliant at the front of the tank. Tygra noticed that the front cabin was also open, and he wandered towards it, thinking that it could be easier to get out from there.
He peeked at the cocks pit and widened his eyes in surprise. There was a book in the front panel. There was this creepy light surrounding it, and the jewel in the middle was misty.
Tygra reached with his hand to touch it. Suddenly, an eerie blue mist went out of the jewel. It condensed quite quickly in front of the cub, who looked in terror as it formed a distorted face with luminescent eyes.
The hollow voice that came out of the apparition's mouth sent shivers down his spine. Tygra screamed.
Lion-O was in the process of preparing a plate of food for his brother, when he heard the high-pitched scream from the tank. He was immediately up, and charging at the vehicle with the sword ready, the rest of the Thundercats close by him.
Snarf bolted inside before the lot of them. When Lion-O landed in the middle of the tank he saw his pet all freaked out, hissing, and confused as to where was the threat. Tygra was still screaming. Lion-O ran to the little cub, who had crammed himself inside a tight crevice of the tank, and now looked stuck. The lion had no idea how his brother had managed to fit there.
"Go 'way! Go 'way!"
"Tygra! Tygra calm down!"
"What happened?" Asked Cheetara. She and Panthro had quickly looked over the entire tank and had found nothing out of the ordinary.
"I'm not sure. Tygra is pretty much scared. I don't think I can get him out of there."
Cheetara looked at the distressed cub and the place he was in. What in the world could have scared him that much?
"Let me try. You'd hurt him if you just pull him out."
Lion-O let Cheetara step in, and looked worriedly while she tried to coax Tygra out of his hiding place. She managed to get a hold of him, and pull him into her arms without hurting him. The tiger got a dead grab on her clothes, and she could smell and feel that he was wet. She carried him out making soft noises and rubbing his back to comfort him.
"There, there Tygra. There's nothing to fear. We're here sweetheart. You have nothing to be scared about."
Tygra continued sobbing uncontrollably, but he didn't fight when Cheetara took him to the lake to clean him.
It took a while for Tygra to calm down. Cheetara managed to get him to eat a candy fruit, and drink some water before he fell asleep. She tucked him inside one of the sleeping bags they were using, and sat at his side. He looked so small and fragile. The cheetah wondered what exactly had scared him.
Lion-O had helped washing Tygra's pants, after they had painfully realized that they had no clothes for the cub. They were hanging close to the fire to dry.
The lion came over and sat down at the other side of Tygra, while Snarf made himself comfortable at the cub's feet. Lion-O extended a hand and started to groom Tygra's mane with his fingers. Cheetara smiled sadly.
"It was a rough day, wasn't it?" Asked Lion-O. Cheetara nodded.
"More than it should." Then she added after a pause. "I miss him Lion-O. I miss his presence, his security, his flirting behaviour. How could this have happened?"
"We'll have him back Cheetara." He said with certainty. "Once we have the stones, we'll get him back to normal."
"Lion-O, I don't really think that's possible…"
"It is! The sword of Omens wouldn't lie. I-I…"
Cheetara put her hand over his. She knew that much of the king's stubbornness came from fear that he might have lost his brother forever.
"It's fine Lion-O. We'd get through this. And I'm sure that Tygra will warm up to you. You only have to give him more time."
The lion sighed and continued grooming his brother's head. A small purring noise came from the cub, who was evidently enjoying the attention in his sleep.
"I guess I'm like evil incarnated for him at this moment. At least he's already allowing you to hug him."
"He was scared. He'd have let anyone of us hug him."
Lion-O did an incredulous huff, and Cheetara rolled her eyes. She then stood up and stretched her limbs.
"I'm going for the rest of the sleeping bags. I think it's better if we both sleep close to him."
She walked away and Lion-O muttered under his breath.
"He'd let anyone hug him. Yeah, sure." He sighed in tiredness and looked down to the peaceful, sleeping, tiger. "Figures that you'd go with her rather than me, eh Tygra?"
Of course, the cub didn't answer him, but Lion-O preferred to cheat himself into believing that Tygra was annoying him on purpose. He sighed again and leaned down to kiss his brother's forehead.
"I'll get you back Tygra. I promise. I'm not going to let you down too."
Tygra looked distrustfully at the tank while the Thundercats lifted camp.
He had woken up tucked between Cheetara and Lion-O, and had felt extremely weird. It might have been stubbornness, but he had the impression that he never would have let the lion cuddle like that with him. It just was… well, weird. He wasn't exactly sure what he was feeling.
They had had something resembling breakfast, and the cheetah had coaxed him to eat a few bites, but it had not been much. Now they were preparing to leave, Tygra had no idea where to, but he was pretty sure it'd be to the palace.
He frowned in concentration. He didn't remember how long it had been with Claudus the first time Tygra had been taken to Thundera. He also didn't remember much of such trip.
A long shadow suddenly fell on him, and the cub lifted his eyes startled. The towering figure of Panthro smiled at him.
"Hey lad, do you want to wait for us at the driver's seat?"
Tygra shook his head vehemently. He didn't want to be anywhere close to that freaky book. Panthro scratched his head.
"Well, then maybe you'd want to sit inside with Snarf? That way you'd be ready when we have finished."
What Panthro wanted was to prevent Tygra from wandering away. The lake was too close, and he didn't want any accidents. Tygra looked at Snarf, considering his options. He finally decided that it didn't matter where he waited. He didn't want to be with the lot of them anyway.
He shrugged his little shoulders, and Panthro chose to take that as an affirmation. He picked the little tiger up and walked with him to the tank. Tygra was positively awed at how far he was from the ground and held tight to Panthro, even mewling in some distress when the panther jumped on the tank. The general chuckled.
"Don't worry lad. I'm not dropping you."
He deposited Tygra on one of the seats and ruffled the fur on his head. Tygra flinched and glared at him in complain. Panthro chuckled at his expression.
"Now be a good tiger and wait for us. It'd be only a couple of minutes." He was gone in an instant.
Snarf jumped and curled at the cub's side. Tygra started to pet him while narrowing his eyes at the front of the tank. There was nothing unusual on sight. Tygra sighed and tried to ignore it. He didn't mind to be inside the tank as long as Snarf was there with him. He had found out early in his life that he didn't hear any voices or saw strange things when someone was with him. Which was pretty unfair in his opinion. No one in the castle had believed him when he had told then what he had seen in the halls. They had told him that he had been imagining things.
Tygra sniffled quietly. Kraus believed him. He had told Tygra that he could hear some things that others couldn't, and had promised to teach him how to control his gift. He wanted to go home.
Snarf seemed to perceive his sadness and licked his face. Tygra giggled and pushed the pet away.
Suddenly his ears twitched, and a sense of dread invaded him. Snarf tensed too and both of them sniffed the air in apprehension. There was a strange sound and the tank began to shake. Tygra looked around, wondering what was happening. He didn't have time to think much about it. There was a terrible noise, and Tygra looked upwards to see what looked like a big wall of white flesh rising into the sky. The cub grabbed Snarf and screamed as the tank was hit. The next thing he knew, he was flying.
Lion-O and the rest of the Thundercats had put out the fire, and packed everything. Panthro and the kits had gone to the lake for some water. Once they'd return, they'd be ready to go.
Suddenly, Lion-O heard a rumbling noise. He turned around, but there was nothing apart from the scarce trees that surrounded the lake, and the meadow. Cheetara was soon at his side, her ears standing up in alertness. The earth began to shake and Lion-O turned towards the tank, ready to run and protect his brother, but the ground in front of him suddenly exploded with force. Both cats looked in terror as a huge creature resurfaced from underground. It was a white worm, but it was monstrous. It could have easily towered over Thundera's palace.
The creature shook free of the ground, and the cats clearly heard the noise of something big crashing heavily somewhere behind the worm. They panicked, and took out their weapons, charging towards the worm in an attempt to get past it. The thing however decided to attack, and lashed at them with its tail, following in surprisingly quick succession with its mouth. They could see three lines full of sharp teeth in it.
Panthro and the kittens arrived and joined the battle, almost at the same time that a second worm revealed itself. Lion-O attacked with the sword, desperate to reach the tank and his brother, but his blasts of energy didn't seem to be making a dent in the beast's skin. Panthro and Cheetara weren't having much more luck. The Lord of the Thundercats didn't give up. He tried to get on top of the creature, in the hopes to find a weak point. They had to stop the worms that clearly wanted to eat them.
Zama looked at the cats getting ready to continue their trip. He was taking every precaution needed for the felines to not pick out his smell. The spray that the crows had developed had been really useful. So long he remained undiscovered. He looked into the distance across the plains. Soon he'll ran out of trees, and it'd be up to Thera to follow the cats into the bare roads around the mountains. Zama disliked the dryness of the forlorn mountains.
Something in the meadow called his attention, a slight movement, only visible to him because he was in a high tree. Zama focused and soon cursed as he distinguished the telltale signs of two albino worms, tunnelling their way towards the cats, surely looking for water and food.
He camouflaged, turning himself practically invisible and hurried to the tank. He needed to pull the cub out of the way before he was hurt. He arrived just as the worm hit the tank, sending it flying a good ten metres away. Tygra got propelled out of the vehicle, and Zama caught him in midair. He quickly ran as far away from the worms as he could without loosing sight of the fighting cats, and took the cub to the relative security of a tall tree.
He put the cub on a branch, high enough for the Thundercats to see him from afar. The worms were busy enough with the cats; it was improbable that they noticed the faint smell of the cub. However, he'd remain close by in case more help was required. He took a moment to confirm that Tygra had no wounds, while the little tiger processed what had happened. Snarf jumped from the cub's arms to the tree branch and hissed in fear, all of his fur stood on end.
Once Zama was sure that the cub was unharmed, he returned to the trunk, ready to disappear again.
"Wait here for the cats kiddo. They'd finish soon. Do not try to get down by yourself."
He climbed up, just about to camouflage with the leaves, but Tygra stood on the branch and tried to reach him.
The cub braced the trunk and looked upwards. The branch where he was standing was wide enough to not even move with his light weight, and provided solid support. The small tiger had recognized Zama's smell. It had been strong in the house, just around the room where Yero discussed with important guests. He had seen chameleons before in his own village. His father had explained that they were the only species of reptiles that traded with the tigers, and that they had their own town somewhere in the forest. Tygra knew that this chameleon could take him to the wolves. He couldn't let it go.
"'ait! 'ease! Wanna go wi' Tana!"
Zama turned around, still attached to the tree trunk. He was facing the cub upside –down. The little tiger looked ready to try and climb the trunk. The reptile sighed.
"Look, I can't take you now kiddo. You must stay with the cats a bit longer."
"No!" Tygra shook his head, and tears started to mist his eyes. "Mama sa' to s'ay wi' Tana! Don' wanna s'ay wi' 'em!"
Zama sighed again. He got closer to the cub and tried to explain. He didn't think that anyone had even tried to explain to Tygra what was happening. The cub must be pretty confused.
"Listen kid, it's not that easy. See that cat over there? The lion?"
Lion-O was over one of the worms, trying to cut it to pieces without much success. It looked like a lot of work for a creature what could be driven away easily with fire. Tygra looked at the battle for a second and returned to look up at Zama. The chameleon continued.
"You see, that cat believes that you're his brother."
Tygra's eyes widened in surprise, and he turned his head to see the lion again. He had heard Lion-O calling him brother, but had not really made the connection.
"Bu' I'm not! I a tiger!" He said, and looked at Zama again. The chameleon chuckled.
"That has little importance for him. Tana and Yero are like your family, aren't they?"
The tiger nodded vehemently.
"And still, they are wolves, not tigers like you. See?"
Tygra frowned. He looked again at the cats that apparently had successfully beaten one of the worms and were in the process of getting rid of the second.
"Bu' I 'now Tana an' Yero. Don' 'now 'im."
"Ah, well. That's because you had a… little accident."
Tygra looked at Zama again, confusion written plainly in his face.
"Yes. You were, mmh, pretty bad in fact. That's why the cats had to take you with the wolves again. You can't remember now, but they were pretty much worried about you."
Zama didn't saw harm in changing the facts a little bit. After all, he wasn't about to tell Tygra that he should be an adult now. That would require a lot of explanations, unnecessary at the moment. Tygra bit his lip, still not convinced.
"Bu'… Moma sa' to be wi' Tana."
"We know kiddo. Look, it's just for a little while. A couple of days at most. The cats only want to spend more time with you. They need to be sure that you're gonna be fine, and that you won't forget about them. Yero and Tana are going to come for you, but you must wait for them with the cats, ok?"
"'hey will?" Said Tygra hopefully. Zama nodded.
"They will kiddo. Just try to be patient. The cats don't want to hurt you. They only need to convince themselves that you're going to be safe with the wolves. I have to go now. Be good."
Tygra nodded and looked in wonder as the chameleon disappeared among the leaves. Almost immediately, he heard the frantic calls of the cats. He looked down to see the panicked felines going around the tank. The vehicle was resting on its side, and the cats were looking inside and around it, yelling Tygra's name. There was no sight of the worms.
The tiger looked at the ground and gasped. He was miles up the tree! How was he supposed to get down? Not even Panthro would be able to reach him!
Tygra considered his options. He could climb down the tree trunk as he had seen Zama doing. It had looked pretty easy. But Zama had told him to wait in the branch for the cats. Snarf solved his dilemma mewling loudly to get the Thundercats' attention. Soon the felines realized where the sound was coming from and hurried at the tree. Lion-O looked up at his brother and Snarf, and started to climb the trunk.
"Don't move Tygra! I'm coming for you!"
"How in Thundera's name did they end up there?" Said Panthro, looking up at the tiny figure of the tiger. The branch where the cub was standing was about 30 feet up, and the tree was a good fifty meters away from the tank. The general looked at Cheetara in concern, but the female just shrugged. For all they knew, Tygra and Snarf could have managed to climb the tree in panic. If someone had helped them, surely that person would have hung around.
Both cats looked as their king reached the branch. Snarf immediately jumped to get a hold of the lion's shoulder, while Tygra looked still distrustfully at the young king. Lion-O extended his arm for the cub and smiled.
"Come on Tygra. Grab me tightly and I'd get you down."
Tygra looked into Lion-O's eyes, and for the first time really tried to remember having seen them before. A slight feeling of annoyance at himself for needing help surprised him. He didn't know how to react. Lion-O's smile faltered a little at the cub's hesitation, but he insisted.
"Tygra, please. I swear to you, everything's going to be fine. I'm going to fix it brother. Just come with me."
Tygra looked down again and back to Lion-O. He still wasn't so sure about the cat's motives, but the chameleon had said that it'd only be for a little time. He pressed his lips and reached out to the lion. He manoeuvred a bit, until he held tightly to Lion-O's shoulder and neck, and let the lord of the Thundercats carry him safely to the ground.
It took a moment for Panthro and Lion-O to put the tank on its wheels again, while Cheetara checked up Tygra for injuries. She asked him how he had managed to climb the tree, but Tygra just shrugged. He didn't mention the chameleon. He had the distinct impression that the reptile wouldn't have wanted the cats to know he had been there. Fortunately Cheetara didn't press the issue, and they waited for Panthro to make sure that the tank was functioning adequately. Soon, they hit the road again, and Lion-O took his chance to try once more to talk with his brother, now that the cub seemed to be more receptive to him.
Cheetara installed herself in the cockpit with Panthro, and the kits distracted themselves with Snarf to give the brothers some semblance of privacy. Lion-O sat with Tygra on his lap and prayed that the cub would actually talk to him. He encouraged himself by the fact that Tygra had let him hold him, and that he wasn't tensing or running away anymore. Tygra looked almost curious. Lion-O hoped that was a good sign.
"Ok brother, I know all of this has been a bit rough for you. But I'm going to fix it, all right?"
Tygra looked at him, not sure of what exactly needed fixing, but he gave an uncertain nod. Lion-O beamed at him.
"Good. Now, I need to know how much you remember. You know that you're my brother, right?"
Tygra bit his lip. The chameleon had told him that the lion believed him to be his brother, but he couldn't for the life of him imagine how the cat had reached that conclusion. Tygra had never seen the lion before. In fact, the only lions he had ever met were king Claudus, and his mate. Yet, these cats acted like they knew him. Maybe he had had an accident, like the reptile had said. He looked at Lion-O seriously, and shook his head in negation. The lion's face fell.
"No? Don't you remember our father? King Claudus?"
Tygra scowled in confusion. He remembered the big lion, but he certainly was not his father.
"Tha' kin' s'not me dad." He said seriously. Lion-O pressed his lips in a tight line.
"You don't remember that father adopted you?"
The queen had been insisting that he could see them as his family, but he didn't want to do that. Claudus had mentioned something, and the people at the palace had been talking about the king taking the cub under his wing, but Tygra hadn't been paying much attention, so he only shrugged at Lion-O's question. The lion sighed and raked his mane with his fingers.
"But you remember him, and that you were living in Thundera?"
Tygra nodded. Lion-O thought for a second.
"Ok. What's the last thing you remember before Kraus found you?"
Tygra scowled in concentration. He recalled being yelled at by his caretaker, because he refused to eat. He had escaped when the female had turned her back on him, and had ended up in the gardens. He had walked aimlessly for a while, ignoring the whispers he had been hearing. He didn't remember clearly, it was all very fuzzy. Maybe he had fallen asleep in the gardens.
"I's in tha' ga'den. Fe' a'leep."
"You were in the gardens alone?"
Tygra nodded. Lion-O thought hard.
"Who do you remember from ho… the palace?"
Tygra inclined his head a bit to the side.
"Tha' kin, tha' quee', th'old cat, tha' lady tha' care fo' me, an' tha' g'ards."
Lion-O's scowl deepened. Tygra wasn't calling anyone by name, not even his mother.
"How long have you been in the palace?"
Tygra pressed his lips, and counted his fingers, trying to remember how many days he'd been living in Thundera. He finally shrugged. He still wasn't that good counting anyway.
"Don'ow. Ma'be fou' nighs?"
Lion-O looked at his brother, and for the first time actually realized how young the tiger was, and that he was likely to stay that way unless he somehow managed to counteract whatever magic had been cast on him.
"You really don't remember us, do you?"
Tygra shook his head shyly, and Lion-O closed his eyes. He hugged the confused cub tightly and sighed.
"It's ok Tygra. You'd get better in no-time, you'd see."
Tygra let himself be hugged. There was something about the lion that felt oddly familiar, but he couldn't pinpoint what it was. After a while, Lion-O let him go, and the thunderkittens dragged him with them. He still wasn't in the mood to play, but he went and watched them do tricks with some pebbles. Lion-O observed them for some minutes, and then submerged himself in his own thoughts. There wasn't much more to do while they reached the next town anyway.
They stopped in the late afternoon. They weren't at the plains anymore, and there wasn't a plant in sight. It was bare rock everywhere you look at, for miles around. Fortunately there was an ample path for the tank to get by. Lion-O wanted to continue a bit longer, but they had now three kittens that needed to eat and rest.
Tygra was uncomfortable and upset. He felt tired and bored, and he had no idea why he was tired in the first place. He hadn't done anything for the entire trip! He had tried to play with Snarf in the tank, but he had ended up nauseous and had throw up all over himself and one of the seats. That had been the thing that had made the cats decide they needed to stop for the day. Tygra was very embarrassed. He had no more clothing, so he had borrowed the only spare tunic they had. It was Kat's, but still too big for the little cub. Tygra didn't like it, but it was better than going around naked. The temperature had dropped, and the air was a bit cold.
Cheetara was trying to prepare something with the provisions they had, but without wood to start a fire they were technically stuck with dry meat and candy fruit. The twins went to explore, but Tygra stayed behind with Snarf. Cheetara had pointed out that it was not safe for the three years old to go exploring unknown and dangerous terrain.
Lion-O sat close to his brother and looked as the cub distractedly threw a ball to Snarf for the pet to catch. The tiger looked sad, and Lion-O feared that he could get sick. Tygra had not eaten as he should, and his throwing up in the tank had not been any help. He was also uncomfortable in Kat's clothes, which were too big for him, and didn't allow for the cub to move freely, but they didn't have anything else that Tygra could wear. As if to make the point clear, the cub tried to run after Snarf to take the ball back, and he tripped with the hem of the overlarge tunic and fell. Lion-O quickly went to pick him up, checking him for injuries. Tygra was fine, but had to use the shirt to get rid of the dirt in his hands. There wasn't enough water for him to clean properly.
Lion-O mentioned that soon they'd find some town where they could buy supplies and clothes. Tygra immediately asked for the wolves' village, and made clear that he didn't want to go anywhere but there. He wanted to return to Tana and Yero, and when Lion-O frowned and commented that it may not be possible, Tygra tensed and refused to talk any more. He cried when Cheetara attempted to give him something to eat, and the cleric glared daggers at Lion-O, evidently blaming him for the cub's depression. The young king wanted to pull out his mane in helplessness.
Once more, Tygra fell asleep without taking more than a few bites of candy fruit. Panthro even commented his surprise that the fruit didn't have the same effect in Tygra that it had with the kits. Cheetara said that maybe the tiger was so depressed, and weak for lack of proper food, that all the candy fruit could do was keep him going.
The cheetah was seriously worried for the cub. He needed to eat, and have the proper care for a three years old, or he was going to get sick. He shouldn't be travelling like they were. They didn't have any supplies for him, and were not in the position to stop every hour or even have a steady schedule. They didn't even know when they'd be arriving to the next town, or if its inhabitants were going to be friendly. She had had the scare of her life when she had seen the tank on its side and had not found any trace of Tygra inside. She had nearly collapsed in relief when they had heard Snarf and found the two of them.
She sighed as he tucked the cub in a travelling cloak, and a sleeping bag. The temperature had dropped considerably in the evening, and it promised to get even colder as the night progressed. Snarf curled at Tygra's back inside of the sleeping bag to provide more heat, and Cheetara smiled in gratefulness. Lion-O sat at her side, still finishing his food ration, and she sighed again, looking at the dark sky.
"Still not tired? It was a busy day."
"It could have been much worse Lion-O." Said the cheetah, turning to look at the young king. He turned his head down.
"Tygra could have been severely injured. It was a miracle that he got out of the mess without even a scar. But if that thing had gone for him instead of us… I don't even want to think what could have happened."
"I know." Said the lion, sighing in dejection. "He was finally talking to me, but…" He looked past Cheetara at the bundle inside the sleeping bag. Tygra looked so tiny all covered up, and with Snarf at his side. Almost absently Lion-O started to speak again.
"He needs clothes, and food, and a proper bed…"
"He needs to be safe Lion-O. He can't take care of himself. He can't fight! He'd be hard pressured to run if he'd need to. And what if something happens to us? If for some reason he gets separated from us, he'd be alone and helpless!" She sighed and put a hand on her forehead, trying to calm herself. "He misses his home Lion-O. That's part of the reason he's not eating."
"He barely remembers the palace…" Started to say Lion-O, when the cheetah interrupted him again.
"We both know that the palace is not home for him right now."
Lion-O scowled at the ground. Cheetara put a hand over his arm.
"I know that you don't like the wolves, but we really have no options here. At least Tygra would be safe with them."
Lion-O snorted, and the cheetah raised her eyebrows in question.
"I don't know. It's just that I don't really trust them. There's something about this whole mess that just seems off. But Tygra…"
He looked at the cub again and smiled with fondness despite himself. Tygra always managed to make him feel stupid, and this time the tiger wasn't even trying. The lion sighed, and leaned on his knees.
"He doesn't remember me. Doesn't know who I am. What if he just never remembers?"
Cheetara put her left arm around Lion-O's shoulders and tried to comfort him.
"He will, Lion-O. We're going to return as soon as we can, and I'm sure that we can trust Tana to not speak ill of us. You're not going to lose him Lion-O."
The king just shook his head. He didn't like the idea of letting his brother out of his sight. He felt like he should be able to care for him. Tygra would never have left him. He was sure that the tiger would have been able to keep him at his side. He had the impression that he was failing again as a brother. But he didn't want to tell that to Cheetara, so he said instead:
"Father was perfectly capable of raising both of us."
"Of course Lion-O. But king Claudus had a palace, and plenty of servants to help him. He was not on the run, chasing malevolent creatures, like us."
"You may have a point." Said the lion, still unhappy about the situation. "Let's rest for tonight. We'd see tomorrow."
Cheetara sighed. At least the lion was starting to see reason. She didn't want to leave Tygra behind more than he, but she understood that all of them were in greater danger with a cub in their midst. Hopefully, Lion-O would see that his brother was not fit for their quest in his present condition, and would decide the best for the cub's safety.
Panthro was standing guard a few metres away from the camp, but Lion-O couldn't sleep. He'd been thinking about his quest, and what he'd need to do before he could ask the book of Omens about a solution for Tygra's problem.
The lion was sitting beside the cub, to provide cover from the biting cold air. Lion-O was wondering what he could do to ensure that his brother was really going to be safe if he decided to leave him with the wolves, when the brother in question started to whimper and curl further under his covers. Lion-O jumped into action when the sobs started, realizing that Tygra must be having a nightmare. He fought a bit with the sleeping bag, but managed to pull a trembling and crying cub into his arms. Tygra was still covered with the travelling cloak. Lion-O put away the hood, so he could see his brother's face. He did his best to clean the tears running down the tiger's cheeks and started to rock back and forth, not sure of what else he could do to calm the cub.
"Shh… Easy, Tygra. It's ok, it was only a bad dream. You're safe with me brother."
He rubbed the cub's back rhythmically until the sobs subsided a little and Tygra started hiccupping. Lion-O offered him some water, and waited for the cub to calm down a bit more before attempting to question him.
Tygra gave a tiny nod and sniffled. Lion-O cleaned his face with the hem of the cloak.
"Do you want to tell me about your dream? Sometimes it helps." Said Lion-O, remembering when he himself had been a cub and Tygra had comforted him after a nightmare. He wanted to make a good impression now that the roles were reversed. To his surprise, the tiger flinched and in a tiny voice asked, without looking at him.
"You no' mad?"
Lion-O blinked and caressed gently his brother's head.
"Why should I be mad? You've done nothing wrong Tygra. You just had a bad dream."
Tygra sniffled again, and dropped his head shamefully.
"Tha' lady at tha' palace yelle' a me fo' 'akin 'er up."
Lion-O suppressed a growl. No wonder his brother was so skittish around them. He hugged the cub tightly and kissed his forehead.
"She shouldn't have done that. It's not your fault you had a bad dream. Everyone has them once in a while."
Tygra moved and lifted his face to look at him.
Lion-O smiled at the cub.
"Yes Tygra." He touched the tiger's nose playfully. The cub made a funny face and smiled. "Now, do you want to talk about your dream? It does help to have someone listening to you."
The little tiger bit his lip, and looked doubtful for a moment. Then, his eyes misted over again, and his lip trembled.
"The' was fi'e… evyw'ere… an' 'ckeamin'… an' mom was runin…"
He started to sob again, and Lion-O cradled him to his chest.
"Shh… It's ok, it's ok. It's over now Tygra. There's no more fire. You're safe now."
"… I-I… I wanna go home…" Said the cub between sobs.
Lion-O bit his lip. He didn't want to let go of his brother, but he couldn't give Tygra the support and stability that the cub needed at the moment.
'Whiskers.' He thought.
He didn't know what to do. Turning back was to lose four days. But he couldn't risk his brother's health. What other option did he have?
"It's ok Tygra. We… We'd see tomorrow. Maybe we can go back sooner…"
The little tiger sat up and looked hopefully at Lion-O.
The Lion smiled at his brother and nodded. The cub squeaked in happiness and put his arms around the bigger cat's neck, trying to hug him. Lion-O held his brother tightly, mindful of the little frame. Cheetara spied them from her spot, and smiled. Maybe now things will get better. Lion-O was about to put Tygra to sleep again, when Panthro came running upon them.
"Wake up! Everyone!"
"Panthro? What's wrong?"
The rumbling tremors of the ground that hit them seconds later indicated that something rather big was approaching. Cheetara was up instantly, and the kits woke up to the panther's insistence.
"What's going on?"
"Hurry! We don't have time, they're right upon us!"
"How many?" Asked Lion-O, getting ready to fight.
"I'm not sure, it's hard to see, and the rocky terrain doesn't help. It's either run before they notice us, or fight almost blind."
"Too late to make a choice Thundercat."
The surprised cats jumped away as several scout lizards fired on them. Panthro was inside the tank in a second, just in time to answer the fire of the machines that had noticed the blasts of laser from the scouts. Cheetara managed to knock out the lizards that had busted them while Lion-O gave Tygra to Wilykit.
"You three, go and find a place to hide! Don't come out until we call you! Keep Tygra safe, go on!"
The thunderkittens disappeared with Snarf trailing after them, leaving the adults to sort out the attack.
The kits ran as far away from the battle as they could before finding a convenient crevice to hide and spy the outcome. Tygra disentangled himself from Kit's arms and the travelling cloak, and looked fearfully at the display of lights that the blasts of the machines created. The noise and the brightness made him think of fire, and he grabbed Wilykit's arm in panic.
The girl hugged the tiger cub and tried to reassure him.
"Don't worry Tygra. Lion-O and the others are going to beat the lizards. We're going to be ok."
Tygra didn't understand very well. He was about to ask again what was the problem, when a large figure appeared just in front of them.
"Well, well, well. Look what I found! Are the kittens lost?"
Kit immediately pulled Tygra behind her, while her brother took out some explosives. The boy threw his grenades at the impressive figure of Grune, then turned, grabbed Tygra, and ran alongside his sister.
The kits tried to be fast, but with the cub in their arms they only could hope to use the rocks as protection.
"That wasn't very nice. You're not going far kittens!"
There was a loud noise, as Grune hit the ground with his weapon. The earthquake that the hit elicited made the thunderkittens more concerned with dodging the falling rocks than hiding. Suddenly, Kit found herself tangled in a net while Kat tripped and let go of Tygra. The cub started running, but he didn't make it far before he was grabbed by the back of his neck and lifted unceremoniously. He screamed and tried to scratch the offending paw away, but pressure on a certain point made him go limp. He soon was looking directly to the ugly face of a rather big cat, with one large tooth protruding from his mouth. The traitorous ex-general looked for one moment in bafflement at the cub, and then started laughing.
"Tygra? Is this the prince? Ha, ha, ha! Well, this is certainly a most unforeseen development!"
"Let him go! You big bully!"
Kat was just about to bodily attack the sabretooth while Snarf jumped to the traitor's face. Grune hit Snarf with his weapon and sent him flying away. Then, he kicked Kat in the stomach, and threw him into the rocks. Tygra mewled in distress and the ex-general turned his attention back to him.
"Oh, Mum-Ra is going to have so much fun with this!"
Out of nowhere, a laser hit the ground at Grune's feet, and the cat turned around, weapon ready, to confront the enemy. With a quick movement, he tucked Tygra under his left arm, and dispelled another two blasts of laser, using his weapon as a shield. A voice came from the shadows in front of him.
"You better let the cub go, cat."
"Show yourself! I may as soon decide to kill the little kitten… Arghh!"
A blast at his back interrupted Grune. Suddenly Tygra slipped from under his arm, and he found himself being attacked from two fronts. He discharged his massive weapon several times, but apparently could never hit a target.
He retreated towards the light of the battle, and a hover arrived at his side. The lizard aboard asked for orders, and Grune lost no time in jumping on the vehicle. He looked at the battle. Several machines had exploded and were burning uselessly. The few that remained were still attacking the Thundercats, but he could see that the infernal tank and Lion-O were doing an excellent job of destroying them. Grune ordered a tactical retry. The hover departed quickly, followed by the only two machines that survived the battle.
Wilykit and Wilykat looked in amazement as the shadows around them took form, and three black wolves freed them.