As I have been saying throughout all these chapters, I do NOT own ThunderCats.

ThunderCats: War of Kings

Chapter XIII: Into the Astral Plain

The stolen Thunderian mount carrying both Tygra and Lynx-O trotted slowly on the trail to Thundera. Both cats wore hoods to conceal their faces in case they stumbled upon anyone who might recognize them.

After fleeing Cavahna, Tygra managed to find a nearby cave where he and the general could rest before they traveled back to Thundera in the morning. As he tried to sleep, the tiger faced the nightmares that plagued him until dawn. The faceless villagers that accused him of being responsible for their deaths closed in on him until he felt as if he would suffocate.

Lynx-O had been silent since they both awoke. It unnerved the prince when the general was this quiet. He wondered if the blind cat also had nightmares about the slaughtered villagers.

"Tygra," Lynx-O said, breaking the silence, "when we return to Thundera, we must tell your father what we did. We must face justice for what we have done."

The prince looked back at the general in shock. "What must we face justice for? We did nothing wrong!"

"Our actions led to the slaughter of an entire village," Lynx-O said. "We have violated the Code of Thundera, Justice: To strive to help others and fairness in all acts that are committed. We must pay for our discrepancies."

Tygra looked to the lynx with narrowed eyes. "After everything that's happened to us," the prince began, "all you care about is some useless code of honor."

The tiger ignored the shocked look on the general's face as he spoke again. "We are at war, General Lynx-O," Tygra said sternly. "The Code of Thundera has no place during these times of war."

"Do you hear what you are saying?" Lynx-O asked incredulously. "This is the code of our people! These are the laws and tenants that Leo enacted as he established our great nation. To simply ignore the Code of Thundera is to ignore our culture and heritage, what makes us who we are."

All Tygra did was turn his head back to the path in front of him. "In war, some sacrifices must be made."

Lynx-O would not let the prince have the last word on this. "That does not mean we should sacrifice our honor as well."

Tygra wanted to retort, but the sight before him made him swallow his words. The prince suddenly felt the need to vomit, but did everything to keep the rising bile from spewing out. However, he could do nothing about the gasp that slipped past his lips.

"What is it?" Lynx-O asked. "Do you see something?"

Tygra hesitated for a moment. "It's fine," he lied. "I thought I saw someone trying to tail us, but it was nothing. We should continue forward."

As he urged the mount forward, the Crown Prince tried everything to forget what he had seen. Hanging on a tree branch, with nooses wrapped around their necks, were the dead bodies of Private Gatto and two of his fellow soldiers. Each of them bore a wooden sign hanging from their necks with the word TRAITORS crudely carved into the wood.

For the past few days, Cheetara had silently observed her prince whenever he would meditate with the Elephants. Lion-O now sat in a meditative position, his legs crossed and his hands on his knees with his back straight. His face was closed and serene as he searched for the meaning of the Spirit Stone.

The frustration Lion-O went through daily still crossed the cheetah's mind. With Mumm-Ra on one side while Claudus and Tygra were on the other, it would not surprise anyone if the Rebel Prince just gave up on it all. But they knew that it would never come to that. Lion-O was one cat that would never surrender; it was one of the reasons why Cheetara loved him.

"Mind if I sit with you?"

Cheetara looked up to see Pumyra. "Go right ahead," the Cleric said.

The puma proceeded to sit on the ground with the cheetah, looking toward the group of Elephants as she did. Both of them sat in silence, until Pumyra finally spoke up.

"Remember what we talked about when we were looking for the Tower?"

"I think so," Cheetara said. "You commented on how the Sword of Omens wasn't alive."

"Right," Pumyra nodded, "and I've been giving it some thought. It's not the Sword that's alive; it's the Eye of Thundera."

Cheetara cocked an eyebrow. "What?"

"Remember what Lion-O told us when Jaga was with him in the Book of Omens?" the puma asked. "The sword gained its power from the Eye of Thundera or War Stone, or whatever you want to call it. The Sword of Omens is a conduit of the stone's power."

Cheetara said nothing, only reflected on what Pumyra had said. She was right; the sword received its power from the stone. If Mumm-Ra fused the Eye of Thundera with his own weapon, who knew how powerful he could be.

"I suppose you have a reason for saying that?" Cheetara asked.

"No one has been asking about Mumm-Ra's own sword," Pumyra said. "He wants the Eye of Thundera to empower his weapon. We need to concentrate on finding that sword and locking it away before finding the other stones."

"We don't have any clues to where the sword is, Pumyra," Cheetara explained. "For now, we can only concentrate on the stones and hope for the best."

The puma nodded before getting up and walking off, leaving Cheetara to observe her Prince. The Cleric suddenly felt drowsy, her eyelids getting heavier. Her eyes were soon closed as she let sleep take over.

Cheetara opened her eyes to see the black clouds drifting high above her, a heavy mist surrounding her. Where the cheetah had rested with her back against a pillar, she was now flat on the ground. What was this? Was this a dream or reality?

"Hello, Cheetara."

The Cleric quickly stood when she recognized the voice of the late Queen Leona. She turned to see the lioness standing only a few feet away. With her here, this must be the Astral Plain.

"Your Majesty," Cheetara bowed.

The lioness placed a hand on her shoulder. "There is no need for that, Cheetara," she said, smiling softly.

Cheetara nodded before taking a look around to see the barren landscape surrounding her. "Why was I brought here?" the cheetah asked. "What is this place?"

Leona looked at her solemnly. "It is not my purpose to tell you, Cheetara," she said before turning her head to the right, "but she can show you what is happening."

The Cleric turned to see that she was not alone with the queen. Standing several feet away was a feminine figure shrouded in a violet cloak. This must be the woman that Lion-O had seen when he went into the Book of Omens.

Some invisible force compelled Cheetara to make her way closer to the woman. With every step she took, the cheetah sensed a great power emanating from the cloaked figure. She managed to stop herself just a few feet away.

"Who are you?" Cheetara asked, but the woman did not answer. "Why did you bring me here?"

The cheetah did receive an answer this time, but not one that she expected. A long slender finger from the woman's pale hand pointed to where the fog was heaviest. It was then that the mist began to dissipate.

As the fog drew away, Cheetara took in a sight that filled her with dread. On the horizon was a mountain which she had never seen before. It was like a scar that rose from the earth, black as ash with huge deposits of Thundrillium protruding from the rock, as if the mountain itself bled the mineral.

Cheetara could hear something over the distance. The sound of a beating heart was getting louder and louder, each of the thumps echoing around her.

The Cleric suddenly found the earth beneath her moving under her feet. She was being pushed towards the mountain by some invisible force. Darkness soon surrounded her as the cheetah had somehow entered the caverns within the mountain.

With each thump of the beating heart, a purple light flashed from a deposit of Thundrillium. Something rested within the mineral. It was something evil, and it filled this brave Cleric with fear.

With a flash of white light, her dream had ended.

"Hey, Cheetara!" WilyKit said as she shook the Cleric awake. "You gotta see this! Someone's driving the ThunderTank up to the village! You wanna go see Panthro kill that guy?"

Cheetara rubbed her eyes as she tried to comprehend the young kitten's words. Panthro would probably kill anyone that dared to try and drive his "baby". But the question was who was driving it up to the elephant village.

Cheetara and WilyKit wandered over to where they could see the ThunderTank making its way up the road. As predicted, Panthro was having a field day.

"What do you think you're doing in there?" the general yelled as he ran after his "baby". "Get the hell out of my tank!"

The ThunderTank came to a stop, the brakes groaning as the wheels came to rest. The tank's doors opened and soldiers of the Order of the Hand came pouring out of it. Panthro tried to calm his breathing as he approached the group's Captain who had the tank's pilot by his side.

The general brought a single finger up to the Captain's visor. "I want you to listen to me very carefully," Panthro said. "You have five seconds to explain to me why you drove my baby up here, before I spread your entrails all over the ground."

"You have nothing to worry about, General," the Captain said through his helmet before gesturing to the pilot. "Lieutenant Tobin here has passed all the simulations with flying colors."

"That still doesn't explain why you brought it up here," Panthro growled.

"Lord Lion-O's ThunderTank is of major strategic value," the Captain explained. "We needed to bring it up here with the rest of the heavy armor."

The rest of the heavy armor? Cheetara and WilyKit were the first ones to see the other ThunderTanks, Thunder-Walkers, Big-Cats, and other various vehicles manufactured by the Order.

Lion-O approached the group, trailed by the elephants whose meditations were interrupted. "What's going on here?" the Prince asked.

"Lord Lion-O," the Captain bowed, "we received reports from our scouts about a massive Lizard army heading this way. Grand Master Valern sent us here to reinforce you."

The group felt their eyes go wide. A lizard army was on its way here? "This is Mumm-Ra's work," Lion-O said suddenly. "He sent the army to stop us from finding the Spirit Stone."

"But it's been days," Pumyra spoke up, "and we're still no closer to finding it."

Cheetara looked to her prince. "If anyone can find it, it's you Lion-O."

Anet nodded in agreement. "You have done well in your meditations, Lion-O. You now have the insight you need to seek out the Spirit Stone. Go ahead; use your sword."

Lion-O took a deep breath before drawing his weapon and bringing the guard up to his eyes. "Sword of Omens," he said, "give me Sight Beyond Sight."

The lion's teal eyes glowed as he saw the same vision as before. The Spirit Stone was within the shack once more, but something different was happening. A burst of light emerged from the walls, and a portal soon formed.

"It can't be," Lion-O whispered. He looked over to those around him. "I know where the stone is."

Lion-O guided them to the shack where he had first looked for the stone. "I don't get it, kid," Panthro said. "You already checked this place, and it wasn't in here."

"That's because it isn't in here," Lion-O explained as he entered the shack, "it's through here. This shack is a doorway to where the Spirit Stone is hidden."

Pumyra seemed skeptical. "So if it's a doorway, then how do we open it?"

The prince looked to the sword in his hand. "Simple, you just use a key."

Lightning sparking from his blade, Lion-O thrust his sword into the wall. A golden glow flashed from the shack as a portal formed inside. The prince drew his blade away as the shimmering doorway fully formed.

"Incredible," Panthro said. "What is that?"

"It is a doorway to the Astral Plain," Anet said before turning to Lion-O. "That is where you will search for the Spirit Stone. Though I must warn you, finding it will not be easy. The Astral Plain is a place unlike you've ever been to. It is there that any thought itself is formed into reality."

Lion-O took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready." He then turned to his mentor. "Panthro, coordinate a defense and prepare for the Lizard army. I'm gonna need as much time as you can give me."

Panthro seemed confused. "But, what about the Spirit Stone?"

"Leave it to me," Lion-O replied. "I'm going in and searching for the stone alone. I need you all to stay out here and defend the portal until I get back."

Cheetara believed in her prince enough to allow him to search for the stone by himself, but something compelled her to step forward. "I can't let you do this alone," she said. "I'm coming with you."

The prince shook his head. "No, Cheetara, I need everyone out here when the Lizards attack. You're one of our best fighters; your place is with the others."

"You can argue with me all you want," Cheetara said, "but you and I both know I'm coming in with you whether you like it or not."

After a moment, Lion-O sighed. "Fine," he said. "I'll go first." With that, the prince walked through the shimmering portal and into the Astral Plain.

Cheetara was about to follow him when Anet held her back. "Wait," he said, "there is something you need to know. I have seen something, a vision."

"What sort of vision?" she asked, a worried feeling building up in her gut.

"By the evening bell tomorrow," Anet said, "everything between the two of you shall change."

Cheetara gulped nervously. "How?" she asked. "What will happen?"

"Anet's visions are never clear," Aburn said, "but they have always come true."

Though uncertain of what the future may hold for her and Lion-O, Cheetara knew it would not stop her from following him into the unknown. With that in mind, the Cleric stepped into the portal.

Outside, sitting unseen on a branch, a strange black crow observed both lion and cheetah enter the portal. Inside the crow's mind, Mumm-Ra smirked.

"Those fools do not know that their deaths will soon come to pass," said the evil voice of the Ever-Living. "For in the Astral Plain, I am all powerful!"

The crow then flew swiftly into the portal, unseen by all, following the Prince and Cleric as they began their search for the stone.