A/N and Disclaimer: I do not own Thundercats 2011. As always, credit for the creators and all fancharacters/concepts appearing are listed in the copy of the chapter found in my deviantArt gallery. If you haven't read my hints in my notes on my other works and you want to know what inspired this story/why I'm writing this, I've summarized it all pretty well in a posted link on the same copy of the chapter on dA. TAKE NOTE: I will warn anyone reading this, this prologue is currently set in a very weird time frame. The setting is a year after the 'final' chapter of "Mortal Bonds" but nine years before the epilogue of "Mortal Bonds." (Sorry if it's confusing that the 'last' chapter and epilogue of "Mortal Bonds" have a ten year time gap; it's just how the story has set itself up in my head.) I'm telling you this so that whether or not you read "Mortal Bonds," you can know that some things, like the freeing of the enslaved cats, the founding of New Thundera, etc. have not yet come to pass in my other writing for this fandom, but will eventually be penned down in later chapters. But don't worry! Only the prologue is set in this timeline. You'll see what I'm talking about when I get chapter one finished and posted. R&R please!
Prologue: The Burdens of Kings
The cloak of night had descended upon the ramshackle young city hours ago, and torches had been lit high along the fortifications of New Thundera, patrolled and watched vigilantly by the brave few willing to risk life and limb to defend the fledgling settlement. The stone walls were still in the process of being built, and the wooden towers that rose above them creaked softly when a wind would blow through the city.
If it can be called a city, the young king of the cats thought grimly as he turned from the small window of his room, heart heavy with the weight of his position. Really, New Thundera was currently little more than a village, clustered inside a vast expanse of land surrounded by a long stretch of wooden posts and towers marking where the city walls were being built. The rescued cat slaves from Old Thundera had eagerly set to work in the new settlement, putting forth their best efforts to try to raise the wall as soon as they could. The wall was Lion-O's greatest concern at the moment. Comfort could come later; his people needed to be protected. A year had passed since the slaves had been freed, since the confrontation with Mumm-Ra in the mountains near Conscientia and the Ever-Ice. The demon had been driven back into his pyramid, silent since then, but his army was ever on the move, and every day Lion-O feared his people being overrun and slaughtered. I can't protect them on my own, and even with Panthro and the others helping to train them, Mumm-Ra's army would make short work of them.
"Something wrong, Lion-O?"
He looked up as Tygra entered the small hut set aside for him, and sighed, lifting the azure diadem off his head briefly to massage his temples.
"I'm worried, Tygra. I've been worried. The wall is still only a third-finished." He murmured. "At any moment the army could march here and destroy New Thundera with a few well-aimed shots."
"I know, Lion-O, and you're right to be worried," his brother said kindly, striding over and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, "But remember that Mumm-Ra hasn't been seen in a year. His army has lost some of its momentum without him leaving the pyramid to enforce his orders. I wouldn't even be surprised if Slithe was running the show more now than Mumm-Ra himself."
Lion-O gave a brief nod, mouth twisting slightly, and reaching up, he gripped his brother's hand in silent gratitude. Still, his worries weren't completely dashed, and his blue eyes fell to the dirt floor, staring at nothing. There was a brief silence, then Tygra spoke again, gesturing toward the diadem in Lion-O's hands.
"Is it really weighing on you that much?" He asked softly.
"The responsibility of a king, or the symbol of one?"
Lion-O sighed again, raising the diadem up to eye level, studying the flawless blue metal intently, the way he had done several times in the year since it had come into his possession. It had once belonged to one of his ancestors, a king named Rithlio, of whom Lion-O knew little, apart from the mysterious title of The Ghost In Azhure. The diadem and the matching, luxurious blue cape had come into Lion-O's possession by sheer accident, and since then, the snow leopard mages, Kuncia and Niveus and their young acolytes, had studied both extensively, revealing the two had magical properties. While the cloak's power remained a mystery and Lion-O had yet to don the garment, the diadem had a powerful spell on it that allowed the wearer to think with unfettered clarity, preventing the mind from outside influences.
"Yes, both are, Tygra." He answered. "I want to protect my people."
"Naturally. You're a king-"
"All my people, Tygra." He emphasized. "Not just the cats. Everyone we've met, everyone we've befriended since our journey started."
"What are you saying?"
Lion-O sucked in a breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled roughly. "Our home...Old Thundera...it was a beautiful place. At least on the surface. And father was a good king. But there was still oppression, Tygra. The more I think back on it, the more I remember that even the poorest cats in the city were still treated better than any other animals that came to live in Thundera." He explained, feeling more and more melancholy with each word, and automatically he strode back to the window, clasping his hands behind his back as he looked out over the stretch of land. "I don't want New Thundera to be that way. I want all the animals to be equal."
"Getting the people to adhere to that way of thinking won't be easy, Lion-O." Tygra sighed, shaking his head as he walked to his younger brother's side. "People don't let go of their prejudices so easily."
"The cats here now lived under harsh conditions and suffered under the iron fist of Ratar-O and the rats since Thundera fell." Lion-O remarked softly. "If seeing Salariss and Cazarak, two lizards, fighting to protect them alongside the rest of us isn't enough to break their prejudices, I should hope the ordeals we all had to endure would."
Tygra hesitated a moment before responding, and when he spoke, he too stared out the window, his expression concerned and grim. "I still think the rest of the cats won't warm up to the idea so easily. But I'm willing to support your decision." He murmured.
"Good," the young king remarked, the hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, "Because I've already sent word to Chovani and the other monkey rebels that are still in hiding and offered them residence here."
"You're offering the bandits residence?" The tiger prince blurted out in shock. "Lion-O, are you sure that you want to do that?"
"I trust Chovani, and since she's been named the leader of their rebel force in the past year, I feel she can lead them well."
"They're still bandits, Lion-O."
"But if they accept, that's roughly thirty more individuals willing to defend this city that have combat training."
The prince bit back a retort, pondering his brother's words. In line with that reasoning, his argument would fall short. Still, he felt he needed to say something, even if it was simply to change the subject, and his eyes darted to the diadem, dangling off one of Lion-O's fingers.
"Is that compelling you to make these choices? Does it have something to do with your ancestor?" He asked skeptically.
"The diadem doesn't compel me to do anything," Lion-O answered patiently, "You were there when Kuncia and Niveus returned it to me. All it does is protect my mind from outside influences."
"What about the cloak?"
They turned as one, eyes falling upon a chest in the corner of the hut, where a small chest was nestled, the lid open to reveal a stretch of folded blue cloth. Lion-O had been reluctant to wear it, but he couldn't bear to have anything happen to it, so it simply sat, gathering dust every now and then when he left the lid open to look at it. A frown passed over the young king's face.
"I'm not sure. We still don't know what sort of enchantments are woven into it." He replied. "It's strange though...I have the feeling that Jaga might have had something to do with the cloak and diadem. I don't have any proof, but it's just a feeling."
Tygra raised an eyebrow at him for a moment, glanced to the chest, then tossed his younger brother a wicked grin. "Well, then..." he remarked, "Why don't we just try it on you and see what happens?"
Lion-O blinked in shock, taking a moment to register Tygra striding over to the chest and reaching for the cloak.
"I'm not totally sure that's a good idea-"
"What are you worried about? If Jaga was the one who enchanted the cloak, it should be fine." He retorted, lifting the beautiful fabric into the air for them both to see. "Besides, it sounds like we aren't going to find out what it does otherwise."
The young king stared at the cloak for a minute, weighing his brother's points as his eyes ran over the length of blue material. He hesitated a moment too long, and without warning Tygra threw the cloak over his head with a wild laugh. For a moment, Lion-O was stunned speechless, feeling compelled to protest angrily, but hearing his brother laugh that way for the first time in a long while was infectious, and he let out a small chuckle, feeling like cubs at play again.
"Alright, alright!" He snapped in pretend irritation, unable to keep from grinning, "I'll wear the cloak if you insist so much!"
"You should leave it on your face, you look better that way!" Tygra snorted, crossing his arms and smiling in the smug way he once used to. "Of course I insist! Besides, what's the worst that could happen? No harm ever came from playing dress-up."
A sudden, chill breeze blew through the hut, rustling their hair before dying down. Lion-O tossed his brother a flat look, and Tygra shrugged helplessly.
"Coincidence." He said.
"Or maybe the cloak's power is simply to generate a good breeze on a hot day." The young king scoffed with a helpless shrug as he adjusted the cloak on his shoulders.
"Or maybe," Tygra said in a strange tone of voice, "It glows. Lion-O, look!"
He glanced down and jumped, eyes going wide. The cloak was giving off a faint blue-white luminescence, the soft color of a full moon in midsummer. It didn't grow any brighter, but the light seemed to stretch away from the cloak after a moment, as though it were trying to separate from the garment. Finally, a small wisp of light detached itself from the glow and bounced around in the air at the level of both cats' torsos.
"What do you suppose it is?" Tygra murmured, gingerly reaching a hand out to touch the light wisp, which shied away from him. It spun a few circles around the brothers before floating toward the door, where it bobbed up and down insistantly.
"I'm not sure," Lion-O answered slowly, "But I think it wants us to follow it."
They exchanged wary looks before resolving silently what they would do, and they quietly followed the light wisp out of the hut and into the dark, fledgling city. For a moment, Lion-O worried that the glow off the azure cloak would draw too much attention to them, but the moon was brighter than normal, and somehow the glow seemed to diminish in the face of that alone, as though most of its power was being used then to fuel the wisp. The small ball of light bobbed and floated along, taking them further and further from Lion-O's humble little shack and along a path that had been designated early on as a building site for what would eventually be the palace of New Thundera. Lion-O had given explicit orders that the palace was to be built last, that the walls and fortifications came first, followed by the dwelling places for his people, and the other important locations in the city, such as a market, squares, temples, libraries and places of learning. Still, it was hard to discourage the builders, and they insisted on marking off the site anyway for future work.
"Where do you think it's taking us?" Tygra whispered.
"Your guess is as good as mine." Lion-O replied, shrugging. The wisp clearly had no regard for where it led them, and they stayed close behind it as it floated along toward the site that would eventually be the palace gardens. Most of the wild plants growing along the area hadn't been cleared out, which Lion-O was grateful for; he wasn't sure they ought to upset the natural balance of the place so drastically or so soon. They came to a path lined with tightly packed trees on either side, and the wisp paused at the mouth of the trail, as though considering something.
"Think it's lost?" Tygra muttered.
"I'm not sure if-" Lion-O began, but his words were stolen a breath later as the wisp suddenly started to expand and grow. At first it only seemed to be getting a little longer and brighter, but then it became larger and the glow died down to a dull, transparent blue radiance and the wisp became more and more defined. Tendrils of light formed powerful, muscular limbs growing from a striking body garbed in fine armor, and the bright core of light from the wisp rapidly formed a head and face, from which a massive mane suddenly blossomed. The eyes of the face opened and came to settle on them, and the newly formed mouth smiled faintly.
"Is...is that...?" Tygra found himself at a loss for what to say as he gripped his brother's arm.
"Rithlio." Lion-O finished for him, equally stunned. As he said this, the lips of the ghost's mouth parted to expose a brilliant smile, and Rithlio gestured for them to follow. Instinctively, Tygra started to pull away.
"You better go." He murmured. "I'll just leave you alone for this."
The ghost king pointed at him then, shaking his transparent head slowly before crooking his fingers insistantly.
"I think...he wants both of us to follow." Lion-O whispered, grabbing his brothers arm and giving a small tug. "Come on."
The ghost gave an enthusiastic nod, then spun on the spot and marched through the forested trail, the image of the azure cloak trailing behind him and hanging in the air lazily, in a way it never would were it solid. The young king and the tiger prince hastened to follow, breaking into a brisk trot, both filled with equal apprehension and excitement. The ghost of Rithlio walked with an air of purpose, occasionally glancing over his insubstantial shoulder at them, as though to make sure they were keeping up.
Abruptly, the path opened into a beautiful glade, where a small lake was nestled in its center. Brilliant flashes of colorful light winked across the water's surface, nearly blinding their eyes. After blinking and clearing his vision, Lion-O saw that the ghostly king had settled on a rock near the lakeshore, sitting at ease and waiting with a patient smile on his face.
"Where are we?" Tygra asked, looking all around the copse and taking in everything he could. "I don't think we saw this place originally when we were mapping out the area for the gardens."
"I'm not sure, Tygra, but..." Lion-O murmured, "I think we might be in the Astral Plane again." He turned to the image of his ancestor. "Well? Did you lead us to the Astral Plane?"
Rithlio said nothing, and his smile never wavered, making the young king frown in mild irritation. At least when he had talks with Jaga's ghost from time to time, the old cleric would talk back. He'd only seen Rithlio's ghost a few times before, and the former king never spoke a word.
As if the ghost could sense his thoughts, Rithlio stretched out a hand and pointed to the surface of the lake, giving a slow nod.
"The lake?" Tygra asked, crinkling his nose doubtfully.
"Is there something important about this lake, grandfather?" Lion-O asked.
Rithlio only smiled and pointed again, a bit more force behind the gesture. The brothers exchanged a helpless look and Lion-O shrugged.
"Guess he wants us to look at the lake." He said flatly. They let out weary sighs, and stepped forward, approaching the lake with mild curiousity, the colors darting across the water's surface catching their eyes. Standing at the edge, they looked down into the stark, clear water, which seemed to be illuminated by something at the bottom of the lake.
"I don't get it," Tygra murmured, "What are we supposed to be seeing?"
Lion-O shook his head, about to answer, when there came a warm, rich chuckle from behind them, and the lake flashed with a brilliant, blinding explosion of light, the world vanishing in a kaleidoscopic swirl of color.