Author's note: Well, I did a marathon and rewatched book 3 on DVD. Wow. All of the ThunderCats in 2011, IMO, have a lot of growing up to do (or phobias to get over). Plus, their friendships need a lot of repair. I had hoped new episodes would rebuild their friendships. So, the next stories deal with this. I didn't expect this fic to play out this way, but I was curious about how Cheetara might have felt about her role as cleric in the second part of the season. This is one take.

The relationships in this fic are based on the 2011 show.

Also, I've been playing with the idea of "false Aesops." None of the "lessons" are quite as straightforward as they seem in these next stories.

Will post new chapters when edits are further along. Oh, and I made Horus ('Horis') an owl instead of a pigeon. Was easier to write.

Again, thanks for reading.

Book Three of The Cheetara Chronicles

"The Lady and the Cleric, Part I "

Chapter 1: The End of the Beginning

Cleric. Cheetara tore through the dark and spit out the word cleric. She murmured the word over and over again until it had no meaning, until it sounded like the clamor of diggers opening up a fresh grave in the Forest of Souls. Cler - ric, clink click. Tick click. Shove it. The kid had a knack for wrenching this bile out of people, she now understood. Pound pound pound pound her feet bashed against the ground. Ripped at the air as she went faster. Rip at someone. Rip him apart, Cheetara thought. Was it possible to care for someone, to pledge him your fealty, to believe in him fiercely, to believe in him more deeply than you believed in yourself, to be willing to lay down your life for him, yet, still want to shake him? She wanted to shake him until he could see her, until his eyes popped open. Could she feel this way and still care for him? Could a cleric even feel this way? Could a guardian feel this way? Hah, Cheetara thought. Well at least that's over. Cleric. Shove it. Oh, she was tempted. She ran faster. If she ran faster she could achieve it. If she ran faster she would annihilate everything in her path. Never. But oh she was tempted. If only she were not a cleric. If only it were not deep in her bones, she would not have to take in cleansing sighs instinctually, despite her feelings, she would not have to slow down and protect those around her, reflexively, even though she wanted to roar with speed. She gripped the yellow staff. This could not be the balance that the spirits meant for her to seek. But for now, she ran, casting off the ire. Wherever it might lead her. How could she have known the day would end like this?

-o-

The air of the summer morning had still been crisp and merry when Cheetara plunged into the lake that lay to the northwest of their camp. Her body quaked as she bathed, but she knew her shivering wasn't about the chill of the water. Today, she would ask Lion-O for the Book of Omens, and she was filled with excitement and nervous energy as she practiced what she would say. She let the water lap over her face to calm herself. It felt strange that she should let such a thing bristle her fur; but she had reason to be on edge, she supposed. She wasn't sure what Lion-O would say. He could be unpredictable at times, and when he was angry, his words could bite. In short, he was a Thunderan King. Perhaps the most gentle, and least "Thunderan" of all the kings she had ever known or read about, but he was a king, nonetheless. And kings could be challenging.

Still, Cheetara had always faced her challenges with calm and measured strength; she took pride in that. And today's request was too important for her to give in to unnecessary jitters. So, Cheetara spread out her arms and let the lake massage her all over; as she kicked, the cool waves ran over her knees and feet and helped her shake off her nerves; she relaxed and thought about what to say when she found the right time to speak with him.

Finding a quiet moment to ask Lion-O for the Book would not be difficult. The cats had some time to spare. Neither the Book nor the Sword of Omens had yet shown the location of the next Power Stone, and before she could look forward to any new adventures, they would have to finish repairs to the Thundertank. Refreshed and invigorated, the cheetah cleric sprang from the lake and trotted back to the camp.

Lion-O, Panthro and Tygra dedicated the day to Thundertank repairs; as they labored under the early morning sun, Cheetara gathered the kittens and the Avista City chicks together to take food to the animals.

"WilyKit. WilyKat." Cheetara ducked into the tents and shook the kittens. "You've slumbered enough! Come help me take out the baskets with the food and water for the day."

Almost one-thousand birds survivors stayed with their grounded city. Cheetara put the birds in small groups, and she supervised as her little volunteers fed everyone.

In addition to the birds, they fed the seven elephants, nine fish men, and twelve dogs in their company. Before taking the meals to the birds and the other animals, Cheetara filled six small baskets with roasted gazelle meat and fruit. She carried the baskets to the Thundertank for the cats; the two kittens, Lion-O, Panthro, Tygra and Lion-O's pet Snarf.

"Thanks again for doing the hunting," Lion-O smiled when Cheetara presented him with the food.

"My pleasure, Lion-O. It was nothing," she grinned at him, feeling her heart swell with pride in spite of herself. She started to bend down to kiss his cheek, but then straightened up again, thinking better of it.

The gazelle meat carried a faint sweet aroma from rockrose leaves with which it had been roasted. Tygra sniffed the meat and frowned; he sniffed again, and then winked at her. "Cheetara, I doubt this is how you meant to season the meat. . ." Tygra said, raising an eyebrow.

I meant for you to eat it, not sniff it, Cheetara thought. She had a busy morning ahead and she eyed him blankly before walking toward the gates of Avista, deciding not to give his curious expressions much thought.

The bird refugees lined up in their groups against the city gates according to Cheetara's instructions. They waited patiently to receive the food.

Cheetara recognized the downcast eyes and hard expressions from the birds as she directed the chicks and the kittens to hand out the provisions. In the three weeks after the disaster on Avista, fatigue and exposure tarnished the birds' clothing and feathers, which were becoming dusty, dry and malodorous in the summer heat. Cheetara was somber as she remembered another time she had seen embittered stares in the eyes of those receiving charity during a time of hardship.

-o-