Original SWAT Kats Story

Duty and Desire

By C.L. Furlong & Helion

  • 4 Chapters
  • 119,156 Words

When, years before the SWAT Kats will unintentionally visit Megalith City’s magnificent halls, duty and desire cause the paths of two different kats to cross, the future of a whole kingdom is suddenly connected directly with their fates. Rated M for strong language and violence. (Complete)

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Author's Notes:

C. L. Furlong:
clfurlong@aeiou.pt

(implicit and graphic) and swearing.

When, years before the SWAT Kats will unintentionally visit Megalith City’s magnificent halls, duty and desire cause the paths of two different kats to cross, the future of a whole kingdom is suddenly connected directly with their fates.
SWAT Kats and anything related to the series is the property of Hanna-Barbera. No infringement is intended and no profit is gained with this fiction.
C. L. Furlong:
So here’s, at last, the third part of this epic. I must say, this part turned out to be most enjoying to write. Looking back on these three parts already written, I can really say I didn’t have this much fun writing since the days of my previous co-work “The Tournament”… Granted, I took the reigns of “Duty and Desire – Downfall” into my own hands and carved most of the scenes displayed here, in this part. Personal and professional matters meddled in the way of this thing you now have in your hands, matters that I have already explained previously. Since I felt guilty of hoarding the story for so long, I thought I owed Helion much more than just an incomplete, sketchy story. So I worked on it whenever I got the opportunity and, as soon as I finished revising it, I sent it to him to be judged, worked, reworked, trimmed, edited… It is true that my co-author changed/rearranged a little of the initial work but what he did alter and add only made the story much better, just like a jewel-maker cutting a rough gem to bring out its full beauty. So I indeed hope this chapter is to your liking, dear SK-fan, who still bears with us. ? This story is, thus, unrelated to my “Final Resistance” series.

Helion:

I’d like to compare the writing of this third part of “Duty and Desire” with the building of a cruise ship: C. L. crafted all the components and put them together, I merely filled the pools on the deck with water. In other words, I only crafted one (little) scene, C. L. every other part. And yet, since we had designed the ship together, he sent his finished writing over, for me to re-read and maybe even to slightly re-shape it. I “thanked” him by stripping the hull, swapping the captain’s quarters for the galley, completely removing the bridge and finally resealing the hull by using steel plates painted lilac. Then I sent it back to him, saying: “Here’s you’re ship, new and improved!” But is it?

It is certainly irritating (to say the least) to get a text back and to realize it looks as if someone had declared war on it. Therefore, not only my deepest thanks, but first and foremost my deepest *apologies* go to my writing colleague and friend! C. L., your lengthy “Final Resistance” series shows that your texts actually don’t need re-editing, so I hope this “pool boy” didn’t mess things up too badly. “DaD – Downfall” would not have seen the light of day without the 48-page monster you wrote single-handedly!

peculiarities that appear in Part 2 of the story is given at the end of this text. You

can click on any “—S-W-A-T–K-a-t-s—” dividing

line to jump direct to the glossary. Use the “back” button of your

browser to navigate back to your former position in the text.

Chapter 3

Downfall

DUTY AND DESIRE

PART THREE – DOWNFALL

“Here it comes!” – someone shouted – “The boar is coming!”

The animal fled away from its hiding point, charging towards the hunters. Vapor puffed out from the beast’s nostrils as it raced towards them. DeManx pulled at the string of his bow, aiming the arrow down at the advancing animal.

He shot. The arrow pierced every raindrop until it rested between the boar’s eyes, buried deeply inside the beast’s skull. The animal tripped and skidded in the mud until it came to rest at the hooves of deManx’s charger.

“An excellent shot, sire!” – Sir Astor complimented his sovereign as he conducted his mounting closer to his liege.

“Ah, it was a lucky shot…” – taunted Duke Bralnir, deManx’s hunting companion for that day. He spurred the sides of his black steed and trotted in front of deManx before he dismounted. He examined the inanimate beast. – “Oh, you’ve ruined the best part of it, my cousin…”

“Sometimes, you surprise me, Bralnir, eh eh…” – deManx said with a slightly disgusted look on his face.

“Always glad to help, my lord.”

Sir Astor spurred the sides of his white horse and went back to Pyros and Eolos, who stood somewhat distanced from the hunting party. When he neared them, he dismounted. Both Mystical Knights did the same.

“What a gloomy morning…” – Pyros grumped. Being a practitioner of fire sorcery, he more than disliked rainy weather.

“And the wind hasn’t spoken a whisper yet…” – Eolos stated – “That is most peculiar…”

Sir Astor looked from Pyros to Eolos and then back again at Pyros. His eyes seemed tired, very tired.

“Indeed, the day is gloomy…” – the elder said before he looked up, to the gray veiled skies. He sighed. – “And I fear it may become gloomier still… Something’s happening… I can feel the emanations… I take it you felt the magic reverberations, have you not?”

“Over due to the North…” – Eolos added as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Yes, from where Megalith Castle is located…” – Sir Astor muttered as he nodded.

The hunt was forgotten. The three Mystical Knights focused on the mystic reverberations they were receiving. They were very weak. The distance and the walls of trees of the Southern Woodland baffled them out. Suddenly, however, they all felt a massive discharge of raw mystical power that neither the distance nor the trees could befuddle, rendering Pyros and Eolos nearly breathless.

“What was that?” – Pyros questioned the elder, but Sir Astor was already mounting his horse again.

“That was our cue to end the hunt and get the King back to safety immediately!” – he ordered.

Sir Astor could have a dominating air about him, and, despite the king’s great and his cousin’s even greater displeasure, the hunting grounds as well as the boar were abandoned with well-practiced haste. The party had soon left the last outskirts of the forest behind them and the ground slowly but steadily started to rise.

Like his protégés, Sir Astor scrutinized the horizon towards Megalith Castle. The castle seemed serene, enveloped in the gray veil of the humdrum rain. What he saw further to the north, however, left him speechless.

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“My lord Telluros! My lord Telluros!” – a tan-furred esquire shouted as he knocked frantically at the door to the antechamber of Queen Callista’s quarters. Telluros exited the room and closed the door behind him. He looked down on the young tom with an exasperated face, clearly showing him that he had some nerve, to interrupt a Mystical Knight in such a manner. The youngster took a step back in fright.

“Tabor! How many times have I told…” – Telluros began his lecture but was interrupted in mid-sentence by the adolescent kat.

“Please, my lord Telluros. Forgive my ill manners but I bear an important message from Sir Hydor. He requests that my lord joins him at the top of the Tower. He emphasized this matter was most urgent.”

Telluros straightened himself up and looked gravely down on the young tom cowering before him. It was one of the esquires from Megalith City’s garrison. The knights there were non-magical pendant to the Mystical Knights. Hydor must have intercepted him. Obviously, he’d also scared him badly. He gave the esquire a brief smile and ruffled the youngster’s mane.

“You did well. But, next time, make yourself announced or I’ll have you strung up by your tail! And now back to your station. Your master might need you there!” – he said before he ran away, not even hearing the tom’s frightened affirmative reply.

The rather violent magical reverberations he was feeling on his way made Telluros practically bolt towards the Tower. Soon, he had reached it and taken the steps to its top. He unlatched the door, stepped outside and had to cover his face from the flogging wind, which punished any fool who dared to climb so high in such a blistering cold and blinding rain. Among the gusts and blows of wind, Telluros managed to spot Hydor, who was grabbing on to the roof’s spike. He
noticed he was facing north, over the Norford River and towards the forest of Kingswood and Tor Drabtop. Surprisingly, the droplets of fog and rain seemed
to circle around the frame of the Mystical Knight. Telluros reasoned that his comrade must have been using some spell to control the rainwater.

“HYDOR!” – Telluros shouted – “WHAT ARE…”

Hydor turned around and only then did Telluros see it. The vision drove the wind off his lungs. He just stared in awe as a glimmering golden column of sunlight descended upon Kingswood. The emanations were coming directly from there!

Telluros looked around and saw some soldiers on the nearby guard towers pointing towards the same column of light. Some were chattering animatedly and others were spellbound. All of them, however, were clearly frightened. He was about to ask Hydor what he thought about that strange phenomenon when a massive discharge of mystical power enlarged the width of the column. The energy pulse was so intense that both Mystical Knights felt like being punched in the gut. Telluros was the one most affected by the mystical onslaught. He had to double over and, in doing so, lost his stand, slipped and fell over the parapet, off the Tower.

“TELLUROS!” – Hydor shouted as he saw his comrade fall. Fortunately, his training kicked in and he rapidly conjured a spell that saved his friend. The rain droplets precipitated towards the falling Telluros and formed a thick water column under the warrior, shielding him from the fall and bringing him again atop the Tower.

“Are you well, Telluros?” – Hydor asked, concerned, as Telluros stepped onto the dipping roof of the Tower.

“Yes, I think so… Thank you, my good friend…” – the brown-furred tom responded as he grabbed on to the central spike protruding from the roof.

“You’d better *be* well! You just trimmed off a couple of years from my lifetime!” – the gloomy Mystical Knight complained.

“Forget about me… What is *that* thing?” – Telluros asked as he pointed towards the column of light.

“I have no idea…” – Hydor muttered, bewildered as he gazed upon the eerie golden light that seemed to pour from the clouds – “That’s Tor Drabtop, is it not?”

Telluros was about to answer when a purple flare suddenly filled the base of the light column. As rapidly as the flare came, it faded. Hydor and Telluros
weren’t feeling the terrifying mystic reverberations anymore. In amazement, they watched as the column dimmed out to nothingness. Once again, the gray rooftop of clouds was uninterrupted.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

A foreboding sense of dread urging them towards the source of the mystery, Telluros and Hydor galloped out off Megalith City, followed by ten other soldiers. It took them only minutes to reach the stone bridge over the Norford River. Now, the forest of Kingswood aggrandized before them as it climbed up the sides of Tor Drabtop. Their cavalcade slowed down considerably as they zigzagged through the wall of pine trees but, finally, the vegetation lay behind them and they were climbing a barren path hewn in rock: the final stage of their ride. Telluros and Hydor arrived first at the flat summit of Tor Drabtop and were shocked with the gory scene displayed in front of their eyes.

Telluros dismounted and observed dumbfounded how the gray stone had turned red with the blood shed in that place. He saw an animal cloven in two and, far in the distance, partially covered by the veil of rain, it seemed to him there was a dark silhouette on the ground.

“Look at this place…” – Hydor commented as he too dismounted. His attention was directed towards the dead horse – “This place looks like a war zone! Don’t you think, Telluros? Telluros?”

His comrade didn’t answer. His gaze was drawn towards the unmoving dark form on the ground. The rain dispersed a bit and he recognized a color: purple.

“Khronos!” – he whispered before he ran towards the fallen body of the Mystical Knight – “KHRONOS!”

Telluros hadn’t yet reached the motionless body of the gray-furred Mystical Knight and already he could see the puddle of blood forming underneath Khronos. Telluros knelt on the floor, almost immediately followed by Hydor. He took Khronos’ torso in his hands and turned him around. What he saw rendered him speechless of both concern and shock. Even the dark-tempered Hydor opened his mouth in disbelief. Ripped off flesh dangled from the blood-soaked left side of Khronos’ wounded face as gore still poured out viscously from his left eye socket. There was another wound in the warrior’s shoulder that had bled everything it had to bleed. Khronos’ robes were in shreds. Only his hauberk had somehow given him some protection against the blows he received. Partially covered by the purple cloak remained an age-old book, sprinkled in red droplets.

“Khronos! Can you hear me? Say something!” – Telluros asked as he shook his fallen comrade ever so slightly.

“He’s not dead, is he?” – Hydor queried. In that moment, five of the guards that accompanied them saw the gory spectacle and quickly turned around with muffled exclamations of horror.

Hydor’s question was a pressing one indeed. In his shocked state, Telluros hadn’t even considered that Khronos could have died in the battle fought there. Settling the purple-clad warrior down, Telluros leaned over Khronos’ chest. He was relieved to hear the sounds of life were still beating inside the gray-furred tom.

“He’s alive… But, I don’t know if he’ll pull through…”

“Come on, he’s faced that terrible wound from Bard’s Horn! He’s defeated that insane jester! *Of course* he’s going to pull through!” – Hydor commented in an undertone that might have carried either sarcasm or worry.

“You’re right.” – the brown-furred tom said in a voice that indicated renewed hope before he placed a hand under Khronos’ back and another behind Khronos’ knees and raised him up in his arms – “You’re right.”

“Look!” – Hydor bent down to pick up the book – “He must have dropped this in the battle. I’ll carry it with me.”

Telluros brought Khronos to his brown-furred charger. When he got there, Khronos’ body trembled slightly and he opened his only eye a little. As the battered warrior did so, the clouds dispersed a bit and a few rays of sunlight bathed the red matted clearing.

“Khronos!” – Telluros rejoiced – “Welcome back to the world of the living!”

“Telluros?” – Khronos muttered in a voice as loud as the soft breeze – “You think… proud of me…?”

As soon as he spoke those words, Khronos fainted again. Telluros smiled.

“Of course she’ll be proud of you… My dear little brother…” – he muttered before he gave a gentle fraternal kiss on Khronos’ forehead – “Try to rest for now…”

With the help of two of the accompanying soldiers, Telluros managed to seat Khronos’ limp body atop his charger, in front of him. The party was about to leave when Hydor noticed a small geometrical object standing exactly in the middle of the clearing. He went there and picked it up. It seemed a simple box, otherwise featureless if not for the red and beige patterns on it. If not for its weight, for it was a lot heavier than it seemed at first sight, it could have been one of those kat-in-the-box play toys the kittens Megalith Castle often owned. Confused as to the reasons for that strange object being there, he placed it on top of the red matted book and marched towards his gray-furred horse. Unnoticeably to Hydor, a faint green luminescence enveloped the box for only a few moments.

Telluros took a last look at the gory clearing. Large pools of blood matted the once bare gray rock; red threads striped the flat summit.

“The rain will wash away the blood. But, no rain can scrape off a scar once it was sliced. This night, more than one scar was borne. Many more, and many
deep… Tor Drabtop this place is called… As Tor Bloodhelm I shall remember it.”

He spoke in a whisper, not really meaning his words to carry. But, horror creates its own laws, and to the shocked and shaken knights around him his voice was like thunder. Thus, his words were repeated back in the castle, and eventually people of Megalith Kingdom remembered the site only as Tor Bloodhelm.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The silent gloom dominated the ride back to Megalith City. The gray rooftop of clouds started to disperse in a slow but steady fashion, allowing the warm sunlight to filter between the rags of clouds.

The party slowly trotted towards the fortified citadel. The sun bathed the city with a golden aura, making its walls glint with an aureate reflection,
as though the entire citadel was made out of the precious metal. The wind, however, was absent. The air had a quietness of death and not even a bird or a cricket was heard during the entire journey.

Waiting for them was the hunting group. At the head was Sir Astor, bordered by Pyros and Eolos. King deManx and his cousin, as well as the rest of the noblemen had already passed the gates with most of the guard. Only a ten-strong garrison had remained with the Mystical Knights, as was ordered by the king.

As soon as Pyros and Eolos laid their eyes on the wounded form of Khronos, they spurred their chargers and galloped off to meet Telluros and Hydor’s group. Sir Astor stayed behind, a grave scowl visible in his face. The elder watched as the two parties joined and entered Megalith City. He was the last to pass through the gates before they clanged shut.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“The Council must be informed of this Tome of Time, my lieges.” – Astor stated as he paced from one side to the other in front of the white and black marble table where the mystic book was displayed.

It had come to his hands by Hydor, taken from Tor Bloodhelm’s battle theatre. Sir Astor still remembered the moments of torture he had had to endure since he’d received the book. It burned and froze his hands at the same time. And the sheer weight was staggering, as though it was not a tome but a leaden mace he was carrying.

It had been a relief to throw the nefarious book onto his studying table. To Astor it seemed the golden rays of the afternoon light that poured in from the window had dimmed and dulled as soon as the tome entered his quarters, as though a shadow had been cast in front of the sparkling aster.

It didn’t take him long to discover, in one of his dust-covered ancient manuscripts, that the tome had been written and crafted by one of the powerful arch-mages of old, from a time when the mystical creatures of this earth still roamed free and had business with the mortals. When he finally translated the author’s name, a chill ran up his spine… He decided it would be a secret that would die with him… It was also written that the book bore powerful ancient spells, most of them time-related. But, more than this, Sir Astor could feel the attraction the book was exerting upon him. It was as though it was calling out to him, maliciously whispering his name amid the promises of power. The very mystic reverberations coming from it were enough to leave him slightly nauseated.

He had no doubt about it! The book was altogether evil!

“Per se, it’s strong enough to turn an ordinary kat into an outstanding mystical foe.” – the elder proceeded – “It is my advice that such a dangerous and powerful object should be locked up where no one can ever find it. If it were up only to me, I would rather have it destroyed.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit rash, Astor?” – King deManx asked as he stared at the brown-leathered book. The cover had some dark brown droplets on it. The sovereign of Megalith City proceeded to open the book but Sir Astor’s hand promptly pressed on top of the Tome of Time, closing it.

“Rash, my lord?” – Astor’s voice was a deep rumble – “Kingdoms have been lost, emperors dethroned because of their fascinations over lesser mystical artifacts in the past.”

“Because they were misused!” – deManx countered – “I demand that this book is kept safe until we find a way to subjugate its wild magic!”

“My husband, listen to yourself! And listen to Sir Astor.” – Queen Callista interceded, embracing her husband – “You need not paltry magical items to rule! You’re loved by all and your ruling is both wise and good. Do not throw away what you have for something that is unworthy of you.”

King deManx looked down on the emerald-green eyes of her wife. They were begging him to abdicate the power of the book. But, how could he allow such powerful a weapon to be destroyed? For a second, he returned his gaze to the cover of the Tome of Time, as if he was entranced by it, incapable of staring at anything else but it. It seemed the book had drawn his gaze, holding that fascination unyieldingly.

At this time, when deManx’s eyes parted from Callista’s, she gasped ever so softly. She feared for her husband, feared that the malevolent tome had won her husband to its side. She tightened the embrace so very slightly that it was almost imperceptible. She understood that she was doing something not expected from a Queen. She was defying her husband. Retribution could be devastating for her.

At last, deManx returned his gaze to Callista. He closed his eyes and took his hand off the book before he embraced his wife tenderly.

“You’re right, my beloved, you’re right. I already have everything I want and need.” – he looked deeply in her eyes before he kissed her. – “Have the Counsel informed on the affair and report them of our decree, Sir Astor! By their assent, you may have the Tome of Time destroyed.”

Sir Astor acknowledged King deManx’s wise decision with a low bow. When he straightened up again, he saw Callista’s head leaned on the king’s shoulder, but her eyes were fixed not upon her husband, but on him.

Queen Callista’s mute stare could impart more commands than many a battle commander’s never-ending battle briefing. Sir Astor nodded almost imperceptibly. He knew he had just been ordered into a secret meeting with his queen.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The Royal Gardens were a beautiful place in the cold winter months and nothing less than a sheer display of wonder when the days were long and the rays of light were dancing joyfully upon its multi-colored flora. Exotic trees, their leaves and bark peregrine, their smells and forms unusual, were vying with the huge, broad stems of ancient oak and chestnut trees.

Today, Callista had no eye for beauty, though. Remoteness led her, not ambience. A Royal Garden was large by definition, and there were places aplenty that were both secluded and difficult to overhear. The queen walked purposefully until she had reached a corner of the park-like garden, where the location was shielded on two sides by the walls of the Royal Manor, and by a tall and thick hedge of common boxwood on the third. The only way to this place was by the fourth direction, and she would spot any kat on this path a hundred meters before he reached the corner where she was now sitting down on a bench.

She did not have to wait long. Sir Astor marched down the grassy path, easily recognizable by his wooden staff that drilled into the earth every time his right foot touched the ground. After a minute he had reached her, bowing low.

“My Queen!”

Callista rose. She was too agitated to remain seated.

“My faithful Sir Astor, I fear time is short, so will not mince matters: your speech was severely lacking in some points. I understand this lies in the nature
of the things you left out, for the courtiers do not truly comprehend magic and thus should not be made queasy with things beyond their understanding. Yet,
I am no courtier. I know magic and you will fill me in on the points you left untouched. It does not do to leave your Queen in ignorance in these troubled
times.”

“Indeed it does not.” – Sir Astor acknowledged with another deep bow – “What questions have been troubling you, my Lady?”

“The Tome of Time. It was found on Tor Drabtop, you said. But, where does it
come from?”

“Khronos took it there.”

“Impossible!” – the queen replied forcefully.

Sir Astor held her stare. – “My queen, you said you would speak roundly with me, and I ask you to allow me to speak outright, too. Any long answer I gave you would have the same bottom line, and only clothe the pain with unnecessary words.”

He waited. Callista remained silent, her head pounding. Sir Astor’s words were true. She nodded for him to continue.

“Khronos, yes. Impossible it seemed to me, too, yet there are facts that point to him, facts I tried to but cannot longer ignore.

When Sir Hydor and Sir Telluros reached Tor Drabtop with the city’s guards, only the hoof prints of Sir Khronos’ steed, Trouncer, led up to the plateau. You told me that the mad jester had appeared in your chamber out of nowhere before he attacked you, so I must assume he did the same on the hilltop. It means either of the two must have taken the book there, for I doubt it that the book lay on the hill all the time, waiting to be found.”

“Then the book is MadKat’s.”

“So I heard my heart argue, yet my mind tells me that this is nothing but a wish. For once, you did not mention any book when this madkat attacked you, from which I must assume that he did not own it. Moreover, in the Tome of Time I found the spell with which a wizard can imprison another kat just the way MadKat was imprisoned, which means that Khronos must have used the book at least once. There is no denying that he was familiar with it.”

“The Tome of Time is powerful?”

“It’s as powerful a magical object as it is foul, my Lady, and I have never seen anything as evil as this book!”

“When you gave me the amulet, you told me that many kats could sense magic. If Khronos has had the Tome of Time for a while, why didn’t anybody ever sense its magical emanations, Sir Astor?” – she defended her friend. Her argument was sound, which brought hope back to her voice.

“There are ways to mask those emanations. Cloaking spells, some even so powerful they change the appearance of an object. It requires much talent and cunning to make them work, and I believe Khronos can perform them. I assume he has found the Tome of Time sometime in the past.

Milady, I wish I could come to any other conclusion, but I fear Khronos caused MadKat’s creation, the death of MadKat’s successor and his own injury. The jester’s escape has dark magic written all over it. It is peculiar that he escaped from the deepest dungeon while the guards cannot remember anything happening on their watch – not even the uproar MadKat caused in the castle. Most likely, Khronos has been under the tome’s dark influence for a long time, and its evil ways have tainted him.”

Queen Callista looked up, into the sky. When the heavens had turned gray she couldn’t say, yet gray they were, the ashen color of depression and despair.

“Sir Khronos saved my life from that abominable jester. I refuse to judge him by these assumptions alone. I wish to speak to him as soon as he awakens, Sir Astor! I am sure he will have some explanations for what happened.”

“May the Sacred Kats hear you, my Queen!” – Sir Astor prayed.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“Dark have my mind’s wanderings been of late…” – Khronos muttered unintelligibly as he forced his eye to open despite the discomfort the act caused him. Amid the tourbillion of late afternoon light blurting into the slit aperture his eyelid had formed he thought he saw a dark form, hooded and cloaked, in the corner of his barracks, near the window. When the discomfort became too great to bear, he closed his eye and, upon reopening it, he noticed the form wasn’t there anymore.

“Darkness envelopes me still…” – he blurted in a slurry manner.

“No, not darkness anymore… Light does…” – Khronos heard someone to his right say. Startled, he tried to stand up only to be pinned down by the most excruciating pain to the side of his head he had ever felt.

“Relax. It is me, Telluros.” – the brown-furred warrior soothed his friend down.

“T-Telluros?” – Khronos muttered, trying to get a hold on the pain ravishing the left side of his face – “W-where am I? What happened?”

“Relax, old friend…” – Telluros proceeded in a soothing tone – “You’re amidst friends now. You’re back in your quarters, in Megalith Castle.”

“Megalith Cas… What happened? Where’s that foul creature?” – Khronos blurted out. For some reason, to Telluros, it almost sounded as a cachinnation, such was the coldness and disdain on the gray warrior’s tone.

“So you *have* fought against that mad jester…” – the brown-furred Mystical Knight mused to himself but not in a quiet enough tone to prevent Khronos from hearing him – “You have battled against the madkat. Do you remember it?”

Khronos mind sprung up to the light. He remembered it all: the releasing of the insane clown, the thwarted attempt on assassinating Queen Callista, the despair of holding a seemingly lifeless love in his arms, the exulting joy of lifeless love becoming alive, the pursuit, the battle, the blood, the pain, the insanity, the overjoyed feeling of power and, lastly, the cover of darkness that subdued him.

He also remembered the high treason he had been about to commit using the deviant clown as his instrument. For a second, he analyzed Telluros face. For a second, distrust filled his entrails with fear, compelling him to…

“But hazily, I’m afraid…”

…lie.

“MadKat attacked Queen Callista… I felt those foul emanations of his, and ran to her chambers as fast as I could, but when I reached there, he had already dared to touch and blemish my Queen’s fairness…” – at this point, Khronos stopped and assumed his best tortured expression, hoping beyond hope that his friend had not noticed his slip of the tongue.

“Relax, my friend”- Telluros soothed him, having either missed or ignored Khronos’ use of the word ‘my’ – “You thwarted the ill-fated buffoon’s evil plans just in time. Our beloved Queen is resting peacefully and totally recovered now.”

Khronos sighed out in relief. This he did truly and sincerely, since he hadn’t really known how serious his love’s condition was when he left her chambers in a hurry, after the jester.

“The remainder of the events is unclear to everyone. The madkat must have escaped somehow, for the next piece of the puzzle was a glimmering column of light pouring down from the heavens over Tor Bloodelm…”

“Tor Bloodelm?” – he inquired, truly lost.

“Tor Drabtop, in Kingswood.” – Telluros explained – “I’ll elucidate you on that later.”

Khronos nodded, though he did not really care – “I forced MadKat to flee there, and followed him, mad with rage at what he did to our beloved Queen. That was my mistake. I underestimated the jester and his powers.”

“A mistake we all would have made, I am sure. When Hydor and I went into Kingswood to see what was happening, we found you lying lifeless on the goriest battlefield I’ve ever witnessed.”

“It was like battling a demon…” – Khronos said as he looked down to his chest – “Was I alone when you found me?”

Telluros took a fraction of time longer to answer Khronos inquiry – “Yes.”

Khronos looked into the distance, his mind racing with thoughts – “Was there anything else besides myself in Tor Drabtop?”

This time, the hesitation was blatant to the eyes of Khronos – “No, there was nothing else in the clearing.”

Khronos looked deep into the eyes of his friend, in search of something more than his words were telling. He found the remotest quiver on the brown-furred warrior’s eyes, so small and insignificant it would have passed by any other kat’s judgement. The verdict could be only one.

Telluros was lying to him.

More than that, he was now also watching Khronos closely, as if evaluating his reaction. It stung Khronos deeply and he turned this pain into a groan only too willingly.

“Then I failed.” – he replied in a false mourning tone. If his friend grasped the falsity of Khronos’ words, he did not show it.

“What?” – asked Telluros, nonplussed.

“My efforts were in vain. If there was nothing else in the clearing apart from me, then MadKat got away. There should have been a box…”

Telluros looked abashed now.

“Oh… A small beige and red one?”

“Yes. You found it?”

“Indeed. And, when we stumbled across it, I was hoping you could provide more details. But, I had already forgotten about it in the meantime…” – Telluros
said, looking towards the hills in the distance, beyond the window.

“In the meantime? How long have I been recovering?”

“Two days.”

Khronos closed his one eye. Another two days of his life were lost forever.

“What is this box?” – Telluros asked into Khronos’ silence.

“It’s Madkat’s new home. So mighty were his powers that I could not kill him, but had to create a magical gaol to imprison him. If you found it, then my desperate plan has worked. The insane kat is now bound to the box, unable to get loose again. And, even if he does…”

“Yes?”

“Even if he does, it will take him most of his powers just to maintain form outside his prison. Destroy his fool’s cap, and he will be forced into the box again…” – he stated, falling back onto his back, exhausted from the long speech.

Telluros took the hint. He stood up and made to leave.

“Our master will want to further discuss the matter with you. I will let him know you have awakened.”

“Why does my face hurt so?”

Telluros hesitated once more, and this time, even a blind kat would have seen it. The brown-furred Mystical Knight approached Khronos’ bed again.

“He wounded you deeply in the face. Your left eye… is gone… The Chief Healer says your scar will remain to the very end of your days… I’m sorry, my friend…”

Khronos watched as his friend exited his billet. Hatred welled up in Khronos’ heart like never before. He rose from bed, trying to ignore the pain on the
side of his head, and went to the studying table. The stacks of books were there, just like when he left his quarters that morning. But the one he looked for
wasn’t. Telluros had lied to him. ‘No, there was nothing else in the clearing’, indeed! They had found not only the box with MadKat inside, but also the Tome
of Time. *LIARS*! They had taken it from him. Stolen it! He turned around cursing, when he heard footsteps climbing up the stairs leading to his quarters. He quickly returned to bed, and, moments later, the door opened and Sir Astor, the Chief Healer and Queen Callista entered.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“This is all very peculiar, Khronos…” – Sir Astor conceded five minutes into their disputation. He stopped and looked directly into Khronos’ eye, studying it. Khronos returned the glare with defiance – “How did you know the madkat was loose?”

“The same way my master and my comrades felt my battle against him…”

“That does not answer my question…” – Astor replied, coldly – “How did you know where to look for him? How did he get free?”

“I think you should address those questions to the guards who arrested and guarded him. You said it yourself – the jester had used great powers to subjugate
you all. Perhaps he wasn’t as defenseless as you thought.”

“Because of the book?”

“What book?”

“The book we found some pieces from on Tor Drabtop. The Tome of Time. It got destroyed in your battle, but it must have been a powerful piece of magic. Why didn’t you tell us about it, Khronos?”

Khronos hesitated for a moment, and only the semidarkness hid the fact that the color was draining from his face. When he spoke, his voice was an angry shout.

“BECAUSE IT GOT DESTROYED AND THAT WAS THE END OF IT! MadKat wanted to use it against me and I shredded it to pieces before I banished him. He should have known my enemies have the tendency to become history, *my master*!”

Pupil and master kept glaring at each other for some time, as though assessing forces.

“I think…” – an energetic voice called out, quenching any further clash of words – “…that we should let our brave knight rest. It is getting late, Sir Astor…”

Both toms turned towards the window. There, sat on a wooden stool, Queen Callista was watching the moon’s slow ascent in the darkened skies. She had remained quiet throughout her stay in Khronos’ quarters, as if her thoughts were a million miles away from that place, but now she drew her steely gaze away from the wandering orb and looked directly at Khronos. Her expression was inscrutable, her lips tight. Then she spoke.

“Valiant Khronos, you have my thanks for saving me from the hands of that abominable jester! It pains me to see you suffered so dearly for your heroic act. I will ensure that our Chief Healer gives you his utmost attention.

Yet, the healer’s helping hands alone are insufficient to nurse you to your fullest. Peace is equally important, so I expect you to stay in your bed until
your wounds have healed completely.” – Here, a wan smile crept onto her face- “Let the kingdom’s fate rest on your comrades’ shoulders for once.”

Almost as soon as it had sprouted, the smile wilted. Callista still eyed Khronos momentarily, and to him it seemed for a second as if she was reevaluating him, before she said – “Sir Astor, will you accompany me back to the castle?”

Astor narrowed his eyes and acknowledged his Queen’s request with a bow before leaving. The stare he gave Khronos was like a November dawn in the mountains, cold and overcast. Khronos could barely contain himself until the two had disappeared.

“They are aware. They know!” – he muttered as soon as they closed the door – “They all know! They’re plotting against me, I’m sure of it!”

He got out of bed and headed towards the window, putting on a woolen tunic as he went. He gazed at the glinting gray light of the stars. From his window, he could get a glimpse of Kingswood Forest over due north. It was nothing but a noire blot in the night.

“The threat of MadKat is dealt with. I was a fool to concede him so much power. I should have known he’d turn against me as soon as he’d get a chance. But,
he’s defeated now, unable to break free from his mystic gaol.”

Khronos looked down at his own hands at the glimmering red flare of the oil lamp. He clenched them into fists.

“It doesn’t matter now. All that matters is you, Callista, my love.”

He left the window and paced his quarters, agitated.

“Time is against me now. MadKat has precipitated the events. They suspect me. Astor above all. I must make my move now! And, for that I need the Tome of Time!”

Anger, fueled for so long now beneath his skin, erupted in a mighty kick that sent a heavy wooden chest tilting. Parchments, books, bibelots and even his beloved golden watch spew from it and onto the floor.

Khronos hissed behind tightly clenched teeth – “They took it! They bloody took it away! The buggers!”

In his eye a raging fire could be seen burning with hate and madness. He could no longer suppress the roar of rage and hatred that echoed in the night. He turned his gaze to the dancing flame on the oil lamp, baring his fangs and unsheathing his claws and conjuring a small sphere of sparkling purple light on his right hand.

“I will kill them! I will kill them all and espouse you, Callista.” – he hissed in a low tone. His face bore the lines of hatred and anger, which got even more accentuated at the glimmering mixture of red light from the oil lamp and the purple sparkles from the sphere in his right hand that bathed his face in tones of blood red. Briskly, he threw the purple sphere out of the window, into the distance, where it must have hit some tree that promptly burst into flames, a fiery tiny red spot in the dark night.

Suddenly, he heard a knock on the door. He snapped his head towards it, releasing a low, unnatural guttural growl as he stared at it.

“Khronos?” – he heard the gentle voice of Eolos from outside. He narrowed his eye until it was nothing more than a thin slit.

“And, I may as well start now…”

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Telluros entered his quarters on the lowest level of the Tower. Being a practitioner of earth-magic he liked to be close to the ground, even though the view wasn’t as beautiful as that from Khronos’ billet. He didn’t really care. As long as he was close to the ground… Climbing up to the roof of the Tower had been innerving and falling off it had been just daunting. If his comrades were ever to find this particular weakness of his, he’d never hear the end of it! Pyros and Hydor would see to that. However, it wasn’t his fear of heights that troubled the husky brown-furred warrior now.

As he closed the door behind him and rested his back on the solid wood, he exhaled deeply in a sigh of both sorrow and shame. With a simple gesture, he lit all the candles in the darkened room and the walls became alive by a multitude of shadows. He headed for the small working table and went for a small book with iron corners and a golden string framing the cover. The dark blue cover seemed somewhat blackened by the red flare from the candles. Telluros’ hand stopped, hesitating for a second at the perception of the cover’s new colour, before it opened the book slightly in the middle. After rummaging through a few more pages, he finally found a blank one. Diving the sharp tip of the writing feather into the small metallic vial filled with writing fluid, he prepared to write another entry in his journal.

“Sometimes, the duty of a Mystical Knight is rewarding. Other times, it’s repulsing… Today, I’m revolted that my orders were to carry out such a shameful task… I was forced to lie to my best friend in order to gain knowledge about his alleged plan to overtake my king.

I can’t believe he’s a traitor. Sir Astor must be wrong! I know he’s in love for the wrong lady, but he can’t possibly be a traitor! He fought valiantly to save the king from Darkwater’s minions that night! The accursed mad jester is the one who should be considered traitor! He was the one who punished us mercilessly that night! If it weren’t for Khronos, we’d be dead now, I’m sure of it!

I owe Khronos my life for that and many other times in battle. He deserves better than to be lied to. I don’t know how I could carry out such disgusting
mission. And, for what? Khronos told nothing we didn’t already know. I lied to my best friend needlessly! I betrayed his trust in me needlessly!

Now Khronos… He’s the real hero! He single-handedly rid us of that mad jester not once but twice! He saved the king and the queen from certain death! Except for our sovereigns and my master, there isn’t a tom in this kingdom as noble and honourable as Khronos. My deeds pale in the wake of his and now I crawl in shame under his feet.

His nobility is such that he graciously told me how he defeated the insane MadKat. In fact, it’s an old legend that was verified as true. Every jester says his power is in his fool’s cap. Destroy it and the jester is destroyed. I always thought that was just a joke, something not to be taken literally. Yet, it was not!

Khronos told me how the jester suffered when he ripped off the bells in his cap. Too bad he couldn’t rip all the bells off. He had had to use magic to imprison the deadly foe. MadKat is locked in the box and, may the Kats Above hear me, there he will remain for all eternity. It is my firm belief, though, that, had the cap’s bells been all torn off, the evil of MadKat would have been destroyed for all time.

However, that would have been unworthy of Khronos. What he accomplished was an unparalleled magical prowess that even our master must be proud of. I know I admire him entirely…”

Suddenly, a knock on the door awakened Telluros from his writing. Putting down the feather, he went to the door, where a personal servant of Sir Astor informed him the elder required his presence anon. Telluros acknowledged with a nod before he closed the door and headed back to the study table. After cleaning the nib of the writing feather on a rag and putting on the lid on the vial with writing fluid, he looked to the brownish light handwriting on the page of his journal.

“I do admire you, my friend, and I wholeheartedly hope Sir Astor is wrong about you…” – he muttered before he closed the book and exited the room.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“So this is what you’ve been working on for so long?” – Eolos asked as he admired the golden timepiece he held in his hand – “It looks just like the clock in
the Tower, only much smaller! It’s amazing! And, it works?”

“Yes it does, Eolos.”

Eolos looked up from the watch at the tone in Khronos’ voice, a low guttural growl that made the hairs on Eolos’ neck stand on end. Suddenly, he realized
that it was only the damage to his lungs that made Khronos speak like this. Eolos felt the blood pump into his face with embarrassment. For a moment he
had taken the voice to contain bitterness or even hostility. What a poor way to honor Khronos’ sacrifices for Megalith City…

Luckily, his friend hadn’t noticed his blushing. Khronos was looking into the distance, towards the stars, bobbing his head slightly up and down, silently according to something unspoken as he took a cold but reviving sip of the sparkling wine he, Eolos, had brought. Eolos hastened to end the uncomfortable silence.

“It’s amazing!” – he said truthfully, returning his gaze to the watch – “So, was it because of this that you lost your temper?” – he queried before sipping the wine from his flagon.

Khronos’ head snapped back towards Eolos. He hesitated for a moment before nodding an affirmative.

“Yes. I couldn’t find one of my tools, precisely the one I needed to finish it. But now, I’ve found it already.” – he showed Eolos a foot-long needle-shaped
tool. Then he got to his feet and approached him – “I have one thing to ask you.”

“Go ahead!” – Eolos encouraged. He took another swig of wine. Cold voice or not, it was good to hear his friend talking again. The injuries had changed Khronos, he thought, made him withdraw, and Eolos took the conversation as a first sign of recovery. His friend was slowly coming back to the world of the living again.

“Where is the book?”

Eolos stopped with the flagon halfway to his mouth. He didn’t dare to look into the eye of his interrogator as his mind was racing. Instead, he fixed his
stare on the feet of his recipient, fortifying himself for the lie he was about to tell.

“I know not what you’re talking about, my friend.” – he managed to say before completing the flagon’s trip to his mouth.

Khronos grimaced, showing his right fang. His eye seemed to have acquired a brighter red glow. Eolos felt a shiver running up his spine. He could hear the guttural snarl deep in Khronos’ chest every time the gray-furred warrior breathed.

“Of course you know nothing about it… Who would tell a simpleton like you such high a secret…” – Khronos growled in a low tone – “There’s another thing I’d like to show you, my good *friend*. Come closer. Observe.”

Eolos obeyed. Some part in the back of his mind shouted that he should be offended to be called a simpleton, but he barely heard the protest, as he was transfixed by the vocal power of the one-eyed warrior. He stared at Khronos’ scarred face as he closed his eye and began to chant something unintelligibly. Astonished, he watched as new skin and fur rapidly grew around Khronos’ wound, leaving only a barely noticeable scar running from his left eye to his left ear. After the completion of the spell, Khronos opened is only eye to behold a completely dumfounded Eolos.

“How did you do that without losing your life? Sir Astor told us that healing someone is a life-consuming spell!”

“Sir Astor knows not everything… Time is mine to master, remember? I only made time pass quicker around my wounds, allowing them to heal faster.”

“Amazing! I always suspected this could be done, but…”

“Oh, it can…”

The pain came altogether sudden, and a bolting warhorse trampling his torso into the ground would not have felt more intense. Eolos looked at his chest,
and his eyes widened in surprise. His blood, darkened by the pale flare coming from the oil lamp, was dripping from a thick needle that was stabbed deeply
into his chest, and onto Khronos’ hand. It was the foot-long tool his friend had shown him earlier. Eolos looked up to Khronos, disbelief and shock plastered
in his face.

“The wound is not yet fatal, my *friend*. I will give you one more chance to tell me where has the old-timer hid my Tome of Time. Once I have repossessed that which is rightfully mine, I will heal you in the same fashion I did with my wounds. You have my word.” – Khronos growled, his nose almost touching Eolos’.

“You will forgive me if your word seems of little value to me now. As for the book’s whereabouts, well… That’s for me to know and for you to *never* find out!” – Eolos muttered, scorn and disdain dripping out of each word he spoke.

“CUR!” – Khronos exclaimed as he turned the spike inside Eolos’ heart. The warhorse had rejoined with its battalion and the pain was excruciating. It felt as if it would never end. Finally, though, Eolos’ head fell forward onto the gray-furred chest of his murderer. The last thing he ever felt was his comrade patting him the back ever so softly before giving him a gentle kiss on the top of his head. Khronos’ cold voice shepherded him to oblivion.

“Brave and loyal Eolos… I gave you the opportunity to aid me freely, but you elected another path… You see: loyalty just brings out the fool in us!”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The feeling was not altogether unfamiliar. Not to him, at least. It came very close to a blow to the gut. Yet, this time, it was somehow different. Somehow, it hurt more than the other times he felt it. Somehow, it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Telluros looked to the other two kats in the room, Sir Astor and Lady Callista. He wasn’t shocked to see his master reacting in a similar manner. After all, Telluros considered the graying tom the most powerful mage of the country, if not even of the world. No, Sir Astor would have to have experienced the same feeling, perchance at an even greater level. What confused him was seeing his beloved Queen doubling over, as though she felt the very same thing.

“Telluros…” – Sir Astor called, short of breath – “Gather your sound comrades. I fear the Purple Raiders head to war.”

“War, milord?” – the astonishment was blatant in Telluros’ words.

“The most dreadful war you have ever witnessed, my lad. Go now! Quickly!” – the elder urged. Telluros bowed and left. Sir Astor turned to his Queen, who was still gasping for air.

“I felt something similar in my chamber, just before MadKat ambuscaded me. But, this time, it was worse. Ten times worse. Is this what you feel when one
of us gets injured?” – she questioned her advisor, her face paler than usual.

“Not injured, milady. Dead.”

Callista gasped in both fright and horror. She couldn’t conceive one of her mystic comrades being felled by an enemy.

“This might be as we feared, my Queen. If Khronos is to be blamed for this death, Your Highness should be ready to depart with all haste, for he will not stop at anything before whatever mischievous plans he has plotted are fulfilled.”

“I refuse to believe in such a scenario! I have utter confidence in my knights… It might very well be another powerful warlock from another kingdom…”

“Nevertheless, the Royal Couple should be ready to depart, even if Khronos proves to be on our side. The king and the queen’s lives are more important than all of our souls. You must be ready to go!”

“I am not fond of running away like a scared, helpless doe. However…” – she added quickly, for Sir Astor had already opened his mouth to protest – “However, I will heed your advice. I may not like my options, but it does not to do let ignorance and pride guide me when I can see the wisdom in your words…”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“Ah, nothing like a good flagon o’ ale to clear out the mind.” – Pyros exclaimed as he sniffed the foamy top of the metallic container. He took a fast swig at the golden-brown liquid, which left his whiskers bathed with pale yellow foam.

“Clear out the mind?” – Hydor asked rhetorically – “With only six flagons? Your mind is indeed bogged, my friend. Look at me! It takes at least twice that amount to clear *my* mind!”

“You’re a milk-drinker, Hydor; you’ve always been!” – Pyros retorted after he drank the rest of the liquid in one draught – “Now me, well, that’s a different story! You see, I was drinking spirits when I was still in my dad’s sac, if you get my meaning.”

“Let’s put that to the test, shall we? Another pint for me and Pyros, Saddleford.”

“And keep them coming!”

“Here they are, sirs. I hope they’re to your liking.” – the innkeeper said as he produced two flagons of foaming ale and brought them to the table where the two mystical knights were reclusively seated. Pyros and Hydor drank them as fast as one thirsty tom would drink a glass of water. Hydor finished last.

“Say, you haven’t been spiking this ale, have you, Saddleford? It has a strange taste.” – Hydor queried. The innkeeper, who had, in the meantime, returned to the counter to get another couple of flagons of ale, opened up his eyes in the most surprised expression he could muster.

“Why, not even in my dreams would I attempt such a thing on such noble knights, milord!”

“Very well… Keep the ale flowing. Before this night is done we shall empty your stock!” – Hydor said before he began to greedily suck in the golden-brown fluid. Pyros was on to it as well but, before he even drank halfway through, he felt something that made him gasp and he gagged on the ale. The brawny kat put down the flagon so violently that most of the ale inside spilled out from it. He got up, coughing and leaned against the table.

“I’m glad *I* am the milk-drinker of us two. You can’t even hold your liquor!” – Hydor taunted after he finished drinking the ale. By that time, Pyros had found enough composure to talk back, although in a still hoarse voice.

“Didn’t you feel it?” – he asked. His eyes showed great concern.

“Feel what?”

“The punch feeling, deep in your bowels…”

“The only punch I felt was from this ale. I’m sure it’s spiked, all right.”

“No! I felt this before… Something’s happened to one of us… Something horrible…” – Pyros looked from one side to the other, trying to make sense of what he felt, of what he knew that happened.

“You’re just a sore loser, that’s all!”

“Stop that! I’m telling you that something’s very wrong! I can’t believe you haven’t felt it!”

“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” – Hydor queried, which gained him an awry stare from his burly companion – “Very well, I believe you. Look, there comes Telluros! If someone’s bound to know what is happening, it’s him!”

“Look sharp, everyone!” – Telluros said – “Something’s happening. Sir Astor wants us. He says we have to prepare for battle.”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

After killing Eolos, Khronos discarded the woolen cloak he’d been wearing and placed it over the dead body of his former comrade, sadly whispering a little prayer for Eolos’ soul. He got up and slipped on the chain mail and hauberk he used on his battle against Madkat before donning his purple cape over his shoulders and heading for the door. Before he left his quarters, he looked back at the dark lump that was Eolos, lying on the floor over a pool of his own crimson blood. The sight made him look down for a second, in sadness. He waved his hand and the movement put out the lights in the room, returning it to the arms of darkness. He placed the hood over his head and closed the door.

“I know what I must do!” – he said as he headed upstairs, towards Sir Astor’s study – “I shall take the reins of destiny into my own hands!

The Tome of Time is bound to be in that blasted old fool’s private chambers… With it, I shall create a second magic receptacle, something I can carry with me at all times to regain my full power. I know now what I must do!” – Khronos thought as a low growl grew deep in his throat.

His footsteps echoed on the stony walls of the empty Tower. Soon enough, he reached the top floor, where Sir Astor’s quarters were located. He looked to the scorched wall to his left, a solid evidence of his first fight against Madkat. He looked at the blackened bricks.

“The old geezer must be losing his touch. His spells must be backfiring more often than not these days if he scorches the walls with them…” – he muttered before resuming his walk. He headed for the closed wooden door and was about to reach for the latch when something stopped him. He gritted his teeth in contempt.

“A mystic barrier! A strong one, too. Well done, master.” – he thought as he prepared to conjure a counter-spell in order to break the defensive barrier surrounding Astor’s quarters – “Let’s see how good your pupil is, shall we?”

Khronos chanted a spell that promptly broke the protective barrier, granting the gray-furred warrior access to the study. Khronos grinned – “Looks like the pupil surpassed the master…”

He entered the study and a musty odor of vellum and papyrus filled his nostrils, forcing him to cover his nose with his hands as he released a muffled exclamation.

“Oh, how can he be here most of the time? What a pungent odor! Now, let’s see…”

Khronos closed his eye and focused on the one book he wanted to find. The Tome of Time was much more than a mere book, as Khronos had already found out. It was a mighty mystical artifact and so it was constantly seeping magic, which could be sensed by a kat well versed in the arts of magic, such as a Mystical Knight.

Khronos’ face was a tense mixture of concentration and exasperation. He knew he had taken an enormous chance by killing Eolos. His other comrades were sure to have felt that punching feeling every mystical kat sensed when one of them fell victim of an assault. Now, time was more than ever against him.

“Where *is it*?” – he snarled, at last – “I know! Astor must’ve put a cloaking spell on it to cover its magical aura! It has to be!”

The gray-furred warrior muttered the strongest charm he knew to counteract the effect of whatever cloaking spell he believed Sir Astor used to conceal the volume from unfriendly gazes. He grinned broadly when he started feeling its mystic reverberations. They led him to a coffer from where he finally retrieved the Tome of Time.

“At last, you’re once again mine! All mine and mine alone!”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“So, you felt it too?” – Pyros queried.

“How couldn’t I? It was so strong and violent a feeling I would have to be dead not to sense it.”

“Hydor here didn’t feel a thing…” – Pyros taunted as he nudged the flaxen mystical knight.

“I *did* feel something, but I thought it was the ale.”

“Where is Eolos?” – Telluros asked – “I thought he might be here with you!”

“He must be in the Tower. He went to see Khronos.” – Pyros informed – “You don’t think Khronos perished, do you?”

“I don’t know… I don’t have any answers now. I’m just following Sir Astor’s orders.”

“I’ll go see if he’s still in Khronos’ quarters.” – Hydor retorted as he put on his gauntlets and adjusted his sword – “This shouldn’t take long.”

Telluros gripped his arm before he could move one step. “Be careful, my friend!” – he warned.

Hydor grinned. What did Telluros think he was, fifteen? – “Not to worry, mother.” – he replied sarcastically – “We’ll meet again in the main yard.”

He slapped his friend’s arm away and was gone before Telluros could pipe up again. He headed directly to the Tower. When he got there, he sensed some weak magic reverberations but paid no attention to them, thinking Eolos could be entertaining poor Khronos with some mild tricks. He started the long walk up the stairs to Khronos’ floor.

“Poor fellow. He’s always getting some serious injury that nails him to the bed… He must be dying to get out of his quarters and fight again. ‘The Gray Devil’ his enemies dub him. I really miss him during our daily practice…” – muttered the fair-furred tom as he punched his own fist.

By the time Hydor reached Khronos’ floor, the mystic emanations stopped. Again, Hydor paid no heed to that fact. He knocked on the door and asked to come in. Of course, no response came from within the closed quarters.

“Come on, what are you two doing in there? I’m coming in!” – he taunted as he opened the door.

At first, Hydor only saw darkness as his eyes took its time to get accustomed to the new light conditions. He whispered a spell that lit all the candles and
lamps on the room. Again, his eyes had to adapt to the red light that invaded the empty billet. He looked towards the bed, hoping to see Khronos there, but
the bed was unmade and empty.

“What the…?” – he muttered. Only then a grayish mound on the ground, partially shielded from sight by the bulk of the bed, caught his attention. He moved towards it and he only had to take a few steps to see the dark red stripes running from under the woolen grayish cloak.

With a sense of urgency, he bolted to the mound and took off the cloak. Eolos’ eyes stared at him without seeing. Hydor clenched his teeth and the straight
line of his lips became a downward curve. He had seen death many times before. But, the death of a comrade still struck him with full force, so he couldn’t
conceal the muffled exclamation of mourning for Eolos’ death.

“Where’s Khronos?” – he muttered a few moments later, when his logical mind had started functioning again.

“This is *my* Tower!” – a dark and deep rumbling voice said from behind the blond Mystical Knight – “And, I declare death to all trespassers!”

Hydor only saw a red trail of light coming towards him. Out of desperation he raised his fists to his face. Khronos’ blade met Hydor’s gauntlets, which stopped the impending slash. However, the impact broke both of Hydor’s wrists, making the blond tom scream in pain.

“You should have accepted your fate without struggling, Hydor. You’re badly injured now; a ripping pain festers in your heart and you can no longer conjure magic with your hands broken.” – Khronos said under Hydor’s glare as he raised his sword high above his head, readying himself for the final blow – “I might as well ease your passing!”

The blade came crashing down over Hydor’s head, crushing the skull in two and slicing its innards. Blood drops splashed onto Khronos’ facial fur and garbs. Hydor’s inert body fell helplessly on top of Eolos’ and a new puddle of blood formed over the partially clogged pool from his first victim.

Red drops fell from the red-dyed blade of Khronos’ sword. He slashed the air to his left with it, sending a splash of the red fluid over his bed and walls, streaking them. He put his sword in front of him, pointing it upside down and knelt on the stony slabs of the floor. He rested his forehead over the hilt and closed his eye. There he muttered a small prayer.

“May the Sacred Kats keep you in their mighty company, my friend.”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“Sacred Kats! Yet again!” – Telluros gasped as he doubled over.

“Another death, you think?”

“I’m afraid so… Hydor…”

Pyros’ eyes widened in horror – “You’re implying that…”

“Telluros, Pyros!” – Sir Astor called as he came down the stairs located on the side of the Royal Manor frontage. He joined them in a few moments. Both knights bowed to their master.

“Where are the others?” – the old tom queried.

“Hydor went for Eolos, master. In Khronos’ quarters…” – Telluros informed. The graying tom pressed his lips in concern.

“Come with me.” – he ordered. They all climbed up the stairs and entered the Royal Manor. In only a few moments, they were in the throne room. King deManx and Queen Callista were there, sitting in their elevated thrones of the whitest marble Telluros and Pyros had ever seen. To their right, a roaring fireplace borrowed a warm tinge of orange to the otherwise rather spartan room. The three mystical knights knelt on the floor before their lieges. Astor spoke.

“My sovereigns, the hour is indeed a dark one. I fear for the lives of two of my pupils, Sir Hydor and Sir Eolos.” – the elder’s voice rumbled across the empty room. Pyros looked to Telluros in shock. The brown-furred warrior only leaned his head down, in dark confirmation for his fears. Queen Callista released a muffled exclamation of grief for those losses. King deManx’s face remained unaltered.

“How do you know this, Sir Astor?” – the sovereign of Megalith City asked. Astor looked briefly into the emerald-green eyes of his Queen before he answered his liege’s question.

“A mystical knight can feel it when one of our midst dies. We have now all felt two deaths in the last hour.”

Queen Callista closed her eyes in grief. Telluros and Pyros gritted their teeth.

Sir Astor made sure that his words were fully assimilated by all and that the shock of his words was past before he proceeded.

“Khronos has changed. I do not know the reason for this but he has become a death-bringer, unquestionably. I have looked into Khronos’ future once and saw
a kat at a crossroads of fate. I am afraid he has chosen his path, and, sadly, he now walks in darkness. He lied about what happened on Tor Draptop, and the
only reason I can assume for this is that he is meaning ill. He killed Hydor and Eolos, and I am sure he is coming to kill you, my liege.”

This had truly shocked deManx. He looked from one side of the room to the other, blabbering something on the sly. Callista noticed this and placed her right hand over deManx’s left. That had the effect of calming down the unquiet tom.

“He must be planning to overthrow your rule, my lord.” – Astor proceeded – “He must be stopped at all costs!”

“No!” – Telluros spoke with his head still abated – “He does not come for your Highness’s rule.”

Every head in the room turned to face Telluros with inquisitorial gazes.

“Explain yourself, Sir Telluros.” – Astor demanded.

Telluros raised his head.

“I do not think Khronos has any interest in your Majesty’s rule. I have been observing him, watching him closely. You know he is very discrete, and he lives
a rather secluded life. I believe I’m the best friend he has. He trusts me. And, I’m very fond of Khronos as well.”

“So are we all.” – Sir Astor interrupted in a condescending manner – “But, I do not see how that changes anything!”

“Please, bear with me all the way, master. As his closest friend, I believe I understood things none of us paid much attention. He spent many times alone,
sometimes practicing his swordsmanship, others his mystic skills. Sometimes he would just sit apart from us and stare at the moon for hours on end, sighing
every now and then. I know what that is, I’ve been put through the same test more than once. Khronos is in love.”

“What has love got to do with death?” – King deManx queried, confused.

“In this case, my lord, I believe it has everything to do with it. On the night of the feast, the night when Darkwater’s minions were captured, before the fight, I watched Khronos closely. He was unaware of this fact, I’m sure of it. I noticed he kept glancing briefly at one lady during the whole time she had been present in the feast. When she left, he followed her with his eyes until she disappeared from view. Days later, when he fought against the malevolent jester, I picked him up on the battlefield and he asked me if someone would have been proud of him for vanquishing that evil creature. I could only assume he was talking about one person.” – Telluros paused to make sure his words sank in everyone – “Queen Callista. I believe Khronos has fallen for our adored Queen. He’s coming for her, not for King deManx. I’m just afraid that he’ll annihilate everyone who tries to stop him…”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Khronos got up and took a last look at his dead comrades. His eye acquired a steely glint. He glared at Hydor and Eolos’ corpses.

“I know what I must do!” – he said as he headed for the chest where he hoarded his miniaturized watch. He opened the lid and retrieved it, eyeing it greedily with his only eye.

“My beloved watch shall become my magic receptacle, just as the fool’s cap became the magic vessel for that bastard. I know now what I must do!”

He deposited the clock on the floor and straightened up, opening the Tome of Time and starting to chant the same dark spell he used in the dungeons in order to create Madkat. The lights went out with the might of the spell. A vortex of dust and droplets of blood encircled Khronos amid the darkness of the room. Suddenly, the watch started glowing in an eerie green light. Khronos’ voice dropped down to a horrible grave speech that seemed like coming straight from the lairs of the Kats Beneath. The walls shuddered and moaned a lugubrious dirge in unison with the flogging winds. The spell neared its completion and the watch began to float in the air in front of Khronos. All of a sudden, a very bright green ray shot from Khronos to the watch and with it so did a part of his mystical force.

This was the hardest part of the spell to control. In the dungeons, he had let more of his energy into the fool’s cap than he had wanted before he finally managed to put a stop to the sinkhole that the receptacle he created had become. The spell had cost him practically half of his mystical powers. Now he was aware of it. He wouldn’t make the same mistake. And yet…

Half as powerful as when he first conjured this spell, he could not control the withdrawal of his powers. They poured in a never ceasing torrent of raw
mystical power into the golden clock, empowering it beyond Khronos’ wildest dreams. Again, he felt as if the spell had a will of its own. He didn’t have
enough power to command it, to bring it under his control. The watch kept sucking in Khronos’ powers unyieldingly, becoming more and more a formidable and mighty mystical artifact. Khronos dropped to the floor. With a large surge of very bright green light, the spell ended as abruptly as it started. Khronos was still kneeling on the floor, his cloak covering his body and his hood hiding his facial features. The spell had drained him of all his mystic powers. The golden clock glowed with a greenish faint glow, and it slowly soared down to the level of Khronos’ face. The sorcerer extended an arm to claim his prize, tightening the grip on the watch and bringing it closer to his face. He grinned maniacally.

The spell might have burned him out, ripped away all his might and stored it in another vessel, but he could still access his powers. His face bathed in the faint glow of the watch, and his grin turned into maniacal laughter. With his watch, he was invincible.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“Those are grim news…” – Sir Astor spoke after a few moments of pondering – “A tom in love is capable of the worst atrocities imaginable. An insane tom in love is capable of the unimaginable…”

“Then, maybe if I talk to him…” – Queen Callista said before her words were quenched with the powerful mystic reverberations she and the three Mystical Knights assembled in front of her and her husband were receiving.

“What foul spell is this?” – Pyros queried as he grabbed his head with both hands. Telluros, Sir Astor and Callista were equally visibly affected. The onlookers were watching the mystical knights in horror.

“What is happening, Sir Astor?” – King deManx queried, but the graying tom was already shouting orders to his knights, having recognized the receptacle-making spell almost at once.

“It’s coming from the Tower! Khronos!” – he mumbled to himself. He then turned to Pyros and Telluros. – “PREPARE FOR BATTLE! Let us defend the yard. Khronos shall not enter the throne room!”

His pupils nodded and hastened outside. Sir Astor intended to follow them, yet before he could do so, his king’s voice cut through the giant hall – “Gather the Royal Guard. Have them assembled and ready for battle in the main yard anon.”

Sir Astor turned. His sovereign had headed for a side door and given his order to the sentinel stationed there. The kat wasn’t gone for ten seconds when a company of fifty strong and heavily armed kats entered the throne room and passed through it on their way to the yard.

DeManx, meanwhile, had used the melee to move to the side of the room, where a magnificent marble staircase lead to the throne room gallery. Sir Astor and Queen Callista noticed this simultaneously and ran after him, just to see him reach the upper level.

“My lord, what is the meaning of this?” – Sir Astor queried.

The king, unheeding, moved onwards, from the gallery and onto a balcony overhanging the yard. This was where the elder found him, watching the place beneath.

“The finest warriors in the land.” – the burly king finally retorted – “Trained to do only one thing: to defend the Royal Couple from any intended attack. Even from mystic foes.”

“My sovereign, you do not seem to grasp the seriousness of this situation! Khronos…”

“Is coming, and he will be stopped by my personal guard. They were trained to face any kind of opponent as he soon will learn to his cost.”

Sir Astor looked intensely towards his sovereign. He then tried to catch Queen Callista’s gaze, in search of some support, but she could only stare back helplessly. The graying tom returned his attention to his warriors. They stood beneath them, in the yard with their swords at the ready, King deManx’s Royal guard stationed in front of them.

His sovereign was in severe danger, staying on the balcony. It was Sir Astor’s duty to protect him, yet the excitement that shone in deManx’s eyes convinced
Sir Astor that it would be time wasted if he tried to argue the point. And, time was short!

“Keep the King and yourself safe, my Queen.” – he therefore whispered instead, addressing Callista. Loud, he added – “I will be back in a moment, my Lord.”

He climbed down the stairs again and headed towards Pyros and Telluros in the main yard.

“The king is confident that the Royal Guard will stop any foe and intends to watch the spectacle from the balcony. He has no idea of what Khronos is capable of… I’ve seldom seen such mythic powers embodied in one tom. I fear for the faith of those assembled in front of us. Yet, for all the uselessness of their efforts, they may provide us some tactical advantage over the impending doom that draws ever near.”

“I have a foul feeling about all this, master!” – Telluros warned.

Astor could sense the uneasiness in his voice. His words were foreboding, and Astor knew that.

“Your heart is full of doubt, my son!” – he said – “Khronos is also very dear to me. My heart doesn’t want to believe that he murdered Eolos and Hydor. In a way, a part of me still hopes things have gone some other way that we cannot yet grasp, that Khronos is still one of us, that what we felt was something else entirely…”

“Master…”

“But, it isn’t. Khronos *has* changed. I’ve sensed it in his voice. I’ve heard it in his breathing. I’ve seen it in his mind. I just wish I hadn’t… But,
I did. The future looks bleak, my son, I will not hide this from you. At this moment, the deadliest and most powerful foe you have ever battled is coming.
You must be prepared for death: either his or yours… And yet you, Telluros, and Pyros as well, are still our best hope to end this charade in a good manner.”

Telluros looked down on his gloved hands; the insanity of the situation had left him without words.

Sir Astor eyed his student for a moment, nodding his head ever so slightly – “Hold your ground. Courage is the best defense you now possess.”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The sound of tightening leather straps gave place to a soft metallic rasping when Khronos cleansed the blood from the blade of his sword with a cloth. He repeated the gesture a few times until the metal gave out a streak of red light, reflecting brightly the flame from the oil lamps. He turned the polished surface towards himself and watched the reflection of his only eye on it. The yellow iris tightened as it forced the pupil to narrow. He hit it with his finger and the whole blade reverberated with a low metallic dirge. The warrior embedded the sword in its sheath, the metallic sound still in the air when he pulled the purple hood further, so his face was completely immersed in darkness. Eyeing his dead comrades for a last time, he left his quarters, setting out to bring some more deaths to those around him.

When he reached the exterior of the Tower, he stopped and looked down on the Tome of Time in his hand. He knew Sir Astor and the others were forewarned, and he didn’t doubt the coward who named himself king had shouted for reinforcements in his fright. Khronos was convinced that he would have to fight his way through his enemies with his sword, and in such a situation the tome, thanks to its weight and size, was unfortunately more of a hindrance than help. He couldn’t afford to lose it in the heat of the battle lest one of his former comrades should pick it up and use the spells within it against him.

Thankfully, the watch alone was powerful enough to overthrow any opposition, and it was small and light enough. He groped the side of his torso and felt
the timepiece’s golden framing warm touch, now clipped to his leather belt by means of a chain made out of the same metal as the watch’s casing.

Taking it in his hands, he shot a purple beam of energy towards the wall, which made the cement age and fall, loosening a few bricks. He removed them and hid the tome in the niche he had just made. After that, he put back the bricks in their rightful place. Giving one step back to inspect what he had just done, he decided no one would ever think about looking for the spell book there.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Telluros scowled, sunk in his own thoughts. Khronos was like a brother to him; he knew him better than anybody else. He’d always had the feeling that Khronos had held back in their sparring lessons, as if unsure whether he should truly hurt his comrades. Khronos had changed, and still Telluros couldn’t believe he’d be a menace to them. And yet…

The thought was there, unwelcome, yet indestructible – “What if he’d only held back because he never wanted to show the total amplitude of his powers, of his strength?”

A tear ran down his eye, though Telluros didn’t notice. How could such good a friend turn on his comrades?

Suddenly, three explosions lit the darkness of the night, bursting with thunderous roar and cutting Telluros’ word short. The guards assembled in front of the Mystical Knights dropped down to their knees and used their shields for protection. Curiously, no one was hurt. When the roaring fires abated to a whisper and a crackle, Sir Astor had reached the Royal Couple on the balcony again, standing protectively before them. Amid the distorted air from the heat waves, he saw a form, hooded and cloaked, approaching.

“He is here.” – he whispered.

“ARCHERS IN THE BACK…” – the captain of the guard bellowed. He’d obviously spotted the threat, too – “…ON YOUR FEET!”

Khronos kept on coming towards the royal manor. Through the draping edges of the hood, he saw the small phalanx regrouping, already recovered from the wake-up call he’d just served them. He grinned slightly as he heard the sound of the cords being stretched to the limit and the light cracking of the wood from the bows. His lips muttered rapidly a protective spell. Soon, a faint glimmering orb enveloped him.

“RELEASE ARROWS!”

The quietness of the night was suddenly filled with the swishing sounds of tens of arrows crossing the air as they approached relentlessly the hooded form. Khronos merely kept coming as if the impending attack was nothing more than a harmless gust of wind.

Sir Astor watched as the arrows simply burst into a fine dust whenever they contacted the glimmering sphere. Only a second later did he realize what his former pupil had done.

“He’s made time pass quicker in the walls of the sphere, causing the iron to rust and the wood to rot!” – he informed his secret sixth student, Queen Callista, who just acknowledged.

The captain was flabbergasted. He had just hit the incomer with a hail of arrows, and he just kept coming as if it were nothing!

“SPEARS!” – he bellowed. The kats in the phalanx’s first row got to their feet as one. Soon, ten spears were thrown towards the advancing Khronos. Yet, they
met with the same fate as the arrows.

Khronos’ smile disappeared when he saw the javelins coming to him. He remembered instantly the moment he got himself speared at the battle of Bard’s Horn. Destroying the spears by means of that spell was also harder than disintegrating the fragile arrows thrown at him. Besides that, keeping the spell was becoming troublesome and increasingly difficult. After all, even empowered beyond his wildest dreams, some spells were still hard to be mastered and controlling time around him fell into this category. So, he broke the spell shortly after the last spear had turned into dust, only to grasp his watch and point it towards the phalanx. Khronos smiled, showing his sharp teeth, just before he let out a maniacal laugh.

Sir Astor watched the item pointed at the guard assembled in front of them with curiosity. He was asking himself what that object might possibly be when a bright flash of purple light headed directly towards the Royal Guard. Sir Astor quickly raised a large defensive shield and expanded it outwards to the yard, so that all the warriors there would stand behind the magical barrier. The purple ray shooting from the object Khronos had in his hand met the barrier in an explosion of light. Covering his eyes partially with his forearm, Sir Astor saw Khronos sweep the ray throughout the small host. He felt his shield tremble under the onslaught. Whatever it was that Khronos had turned into a receptacle, it was extremely powerful. Sir Astor intensified his efforts to keep his shield up, but Khronos’ sweeping movement complicated the task, finally rendering it impossible. He had to watch in horror as the purple ray shattered his defense like glass. The next second, he saw those toms being thrown in the air due to the might of the beam.

When Khronos ceased his attack, two thirds of the guard was either dead or severely injured. Many of them had been turned into smoldering piles of ash. Others were turned into charred corpses with black bones showing off. The unluckiest ones had their innards spilt over the ground as they agonized during the final moments of their lives.

Telluros was stupefied. He had watched the macabre display of insensitivity in front of him without believing, as had Pyros. This was more grizzly and unthinkable than anything they’d ever imagined! And, the shock had rooted them to the spot. If not for Sir Astor’s intervention… Temporarily overpowered by a sentiment of powerlessness, he watched in horror as the remaining third of the guard unsheathed their swords and engaged their attacker.

“Are you ready, Telluros?” – Pyros queried as he recovered and readied himself for the battle, too. When he heard no response from his comrade, he looked to the side to see a dark-tempered Telluros, still sunk in his own thoughts.

“TELLUROS!” – Pyros screamed, administering a harsh slap to his friend’s cheek – “Snap out of it. Don’t force me to battle with you too. Khronos is coming,
and he’s not the same nice person you and I have met. He’s insane. He’s murdered Eolos and Hydor, and he’s going to do the same to us if we don’t stop him. You saw his power! It rivals ours! If we do not stop him now, he might become too powerful to be stopped at all!”

Telluros woke from his stupor. He was unsure about the amount of time that had passed in the meantime when he looked to his side and saw Pyros holding his sword in a downward position in front of him. He was preparing to discharge a fire rivulet.

Telluros closed his eyes. He knew Pyros was right. Beyond friendship was his duty towards his King and Queen. His face acquired a grim expression; his decision was made. He spoke his silent farewell to Khronos.

“We will stop him.”

“Now you’re talking!”

Both toms elevated their swords vertically to their eye level, bowed their heads slightly and lowered their blades to their right side.

“For Death and Glory!” – Pyros muttered.

“No. For our Sovereigns! For our people! For us!” – Telluros retorted in the same manner.

“For us!” – Pyros released his magic.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Meanwhile, Khronos too had unsheathed his sword, holding it high above his head and swinging it in a circle as he confronted the charging party. The first
blow came crashing down on a poor tom’s skull, blowing it up to a thousand pieces. Not even the iron helmet did any good against such a powerful strike. But, before a second defender could step in, Khronos spotted something glowing in bright orange from the corner of his eye. It was rushing towards him. He barely had time to cast a spell that lifted a protective magic barrier in front of him. Even so, caught almost off-guard by the mighty blast, the spell was shattered and the fire rivulet shot from Pyros’ sword hit him almost with full force, throwing Khronos back a few meters.

Khronos shook his head to clear his mind and narrowed his eye to a thin slit as he gritted his teeth. He got up slowly, always watching the movements of
the remaining guards who intended to surround him completely. Over the heads of his foes he could see Pyros and Telluros joining the melee. The sight stirred his fury and pushed him into motion. Roaring insanely, he blocked an attacking tom’s sword with his own, pushed the kat aside with the blade’s tip in his throat and elbowed a second warrior in the eye, sending him wheeling to his right. Through the gap he could see Telluros, and he shot a purple blast at him. Telluros ducked, yet endless sparring sessions with his friend had given Khronos a fair idea that he would do exactly that and he quickly sent a second purple blast that sent the earth-bound warrior flying over the yard until his body was stopped headfirst by a tree. There, he lay motionless and inert.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The roar bore all the rage and madness that ravaged Khronos’ soul, and it sent shivers down deManx’s spine. The king was shivering, and his hands clutched
the balustrade not only to stop the trembling but also for support. The scene that had just happened repeated itself before his inner eye. The soldiers, the
purple beam, the deaths… Again and again… It was so unspeakably callous!

“Sir Astor named Khronos a death-bringer…” – deManx thought terror-struck – “A death-bringer to us all!”

“Maurice!”

He did not hear Callista’s voice. He did not want to hear or see anything anymore. King deManx turned on the spot and ran back inside, down the stairs onto the floor below, intent on getting as far away from the throne room and the carnage in its yard as possible.

“Maurice!” – Queen Callista shouted again to no avail, and then hastened after him.

Sir Astor had no choice other than to follow the unprotected Royal Couple.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

“TELLUROS!” – Pyros screamed as he watched his friend lying down apathetically on the ground. A burning rage festered in his heart.

“Don’t worry! You’ll soon join him.” – Khronos cachinnated as he landed a blow on another guard. They had formed a circle around him again, and a dozen blades slashed out as mightily as they could. Nevertheless, Khronos lived up to his alias, the Gray Devil, as his sword surely seemed animated by a demon. Together with his watch, which he used not only as a weapon but also as a small shield, Khronos made his way through them, slashing out and shooting purple rays of raw mystical energy to his adversaries. Seven defenders were down, either dead or in their death throes, before the incensed Pyros was at their side.

Pyros kicked at Khronos’ gut with his boot. Khronos fell back against a guard behind him, incidentally spearing the poor tom with his sword. Both kats went down in a heap, and Khronos quickly rolled to the side in order to avoid Pyros’ slash. It hit the spot where he had lain just a moment ago, meeting with Khronos’ fallen sword and eliciting a small explosion of sparks and rubble.

The gray knight quickly regained his footing. Though without his steel blade, he was far from defenseless. He gripped his watch, shooting a purple spell at the next-best attacker, which happened to be one of the last three remaining Royal Guards. The surprised kat howled in agony as his body appeared to dry out in seconds. His skin got wrinkled and leathery, finally thin and brittle as old parchment, and exploded in a mushroom of dust. Khronos caught the now late defender’s falling sword before it even hit the ground. It had suffered, too, and was now not much more than a rusty brown piece of iron.

It was still sufficient to divert Pyros’ next slash, though. The aged thing broke in two in the act, which was even helpful for Khronos, for the sudden loss of resistance made his burly adversary overbalance. As Pyros stumbled past him, Khronos used the chance to throw the useless thing at another kat. His aim fell with the sword piece riveted through his brain, and Khronos dove for his own sword. He came up again with his weapon at the ready.

Bellowing a deep growl, Pyros sprang forward, his heavy sword raised above his head. – “DIE!” – he roared as he stroke down on Khronos. The hooded warrior
defended the downward slash with his sword, but the sheer brute force of his opponent sent him to his knees as a shower of hot sparks came out from the point of contact of both swords.

Now there was something he didn’t really account for: Pyros’ outstanding strength. He had to think of something quickly or his takeover would be taken out before it even started. In his present position, holding his sword with both hands, he couldn’t use the watch without Pyros’ sword slashing down through his neck. He had to try something desperate and stupid. So, risking his own stand, he kicked out at Pyros’ shin with all his strength, breaking it.

The sudden rush of pain was so strong that Pyros lost his stand and fell to his right, his sword sliding down to the same side. Khronos also lost his stand but fell to the opposite side, rolled over and quickly got to his feet. He grinned.

“Hmm… The tables have turned to my favor, wouldn’t you say?”

Khronos readied to give Pyros the coup-de-grace, raising his sword with both hands to his eye level and pointing it towards the fallen knight. He was about to charge when he felt being pushed aside by something rather large and powerful. Khronos rolled on the floor a few meters, always entwined with his attacker. Somehow, he managed to rotate his body, so that he faced his opponent and kicked out, releasing him from the powerful embrace. He quickly regained his foot and looked at this unexpected foe. It was the captain of the Royal Guard, swordless but with desperation etched into his features.

“GET BACK!”

Both the captain and Khronos looked back at Pyros, who strained to get up on his injured leg with the aid of his sword.

“If *anyone* will finish that bastard off, it will be me…” – he growled behind gritted teeth. He held his sword upside down only a few inches from the ground. He looked intensely at Khronos before he darkly started to mutter a spell.

“The old flame keeps you warm // Fire and brimstone // Listen to the one // Who invokes the mighty firestorm.” – Pyros completed and sank his sword on the stone slabs. From the tip came a roaring rush of fire directed at Khronos.

It was his trademark mystical attack, the fire rivulet, and one of Pyros’ most powerful strikes. None of the time spells Khronos knew could do anything against
such onslaught. So instead, he raised a stout protective bubble around himself. The tourbillion of fire hit the shielding sphere and its streamlines were successfully diverted around the hooded warrior. Khronos’ thought had been fast and astute. In many ways, fire acted like water. If he somehow managed to separate the main stream into many smaller streamlines, he thought he might have a chance. And, so it happened.

The captain stared in disbelief. Nothing seemed to stop the Gray Devil. Nothing! It was just a second’s hesitation, yet the tip of a blade sprouted from his back in following second already, ending his life.

Khronos pulled his sword out of the captain’s body. He undid the protective spell around him and looked contemptuously towards the last kat standing – “Is
this the best you can conjure, Pyros? I thought you to be made of sterner stuff, but I see you’re nothing but a mere mongrel, unworthy of the title of Mystical
Knight!”

“Unworthy?” – Pyros growled. He gritted his teeth in pure rage. – “Unworthy? YOU are unworthy of the title of Mystical Knight, you miserable hen-bugger! Have you forgotten everything Sir Astor taught us? Have you forgotten for what we stand? Have you shed off your dignity when you made that demoniacal pact with the Kats Beneath?”

“IT IS NOT I WHO STANDS WITHOUT DIGNITY HERE!” – Khronos shouted in anger – “I’VE BLED FOR THIS KINGDOM MORE OFTEN THAN YOU DID! I’VE FOUGHT FOR ITS PEASANT KING WHEN *HE* IDLY LAY HERE INSTEAD OF DOING BATTLE WITH HIS SERVANTS!”

“A King’s duty is to survive so he can guide our souls to the halls of our fore-bearers! To rise this kingdom above all others in undimmed glory” – Pyros countered.

“And, you still believe in those fairy tales, Pyros? With *this* pathetic excuse for a king that we have? If it weren’t for us, he would not have a kingdom to
rule anymore! If it weren’t for us, he’d be *dead* a long time ago! If it weren’t for *me*, he’d be dead a long time ago…

Where was he when we bled for him at Bard’s Horn? Where was he cowering when Darkwater raided this castle? Where was he frolicking when his Queen was assailed?

Face it, Pyros. It was not deManx XIII who led our people to victory at Bard’s Horn! It was not deManx XIII who defended his castle against Darkwater! It was not deManx XIII who defended his Queen from MadKat’s onslaught!”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

DeManx stopped so abruptly that his wife could only narrowly avoid running into him. Sir Astor, only a few steps behind Callista, had no such luck.

Surprisingly, though, the king did feel their heavy forms collide only distantly and – although he himself did not notice – he did not even voice a shout of protest or pain, but rather shrugged it off as if nothing happened.

His queen was speaking to him, concerned, and Sir Astor was saying something that turned seamlessly from apology into flight plans, his voice getting louder as he noticed his king did not respond.

Alarm was written on both his companions’ faces. They had not been far enough from the battlefield to escape the noise. They knew he too had clearly heard the words Khronos had shouted and the heated argument that followed it.

“A peasant king…”

Every sentence the fallen knight screamed was a glowing hot tenterhook spiking the king’s mind. Was it true? Was he just the kingdom’s useless adornment? Had he failed his people? He turned and walked back towards the throne room without seeing, lost in his own thoughts, not even feeling it when his wife tightened her grip soothingly on his hand.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Pyros narrowed his eyes. To him what Khronos had just said was the purest and vilest blasphemy. He would not suffer him anymore. Trying to ignore the pain on his broken leg, he raised his sword over his head, pointing it heavenwards. In a deep guttural voice, he started chanting a spell. Suddenly, his sword was enveloped in flames. Continuing to chant, he described a full circle with the blazing sword in front of him. Wings of fire spread out from the sword and a flaming shape that resembled a bird appeared.

During their training, each Mystical Knight was taught in the magic they were meant to use. In Telluros’ case, earth magic; in Pyros’ instance, fire magic and in Khronos’ case, time-related magic. Powerful mystical spells that Sir Astor used to call “ultimate mystical onslaught”, were part of this training, devastating incantations that should only be used in the direst emergency, for they were likely to consume the life of their wielder. So, it was with dread that Khronos watched Pyros invoke…

“The Flame of the Phoenix!” – Khronos gritted his teeth – “No shield can protect me from this attack! And, there’s no escaping it! The mystical energy will pursue me until it hits me… They say the Flame of the Phoenix strikes like thunder, both in velocity and power… Perhaps my only way out is… But, that will consume a great deal of my energy…”

Khronos was still sunk in his thoughts when Pyros lowered his sword at his chest level, pointing it towards Khronos. The avian form seemed to open its beak to let out a terrifying screech before it plunged forth towards Khronos.

The next events took less than a moment to occur. With time only to react, Khronos cast a spell over himself, creating a bubble of time distortion, where time passed faster. The effect to Khronos was as if time had slowed down around him, allowing him to move faster than the feline eye. Straining to keep up the spell, Khronos ran towards Pyros. He saw as the flaming bird changed direction and followed his every move. Quickly, he hid behind Pyros.

He watched in glee as his plan worked like a charm. The blazing bird was just about to hit Pyros in its quest for Khronos. He then intensified the spell, allowing him to move away at an even quicker pace. This pushed him over the edge. Unable to further prolong the time-quickening spell, he dove as the mystical blast hit Pyros with full force.

A bright orange beam hit the burly knight, sending him through the air against the guard tower. The blast was so intense it demolished the wall and exploded inside with a deafening roar. The whole tower then began to blow up from the bottom to the top, spraying debris and flames throughout the yard and torching some of the trees.

Khronos was astonished. Even he hadn’t known the extent of Pyros’ power. He looked to the destroyed guard tower. Nothing could have survived that. Now he only had to remove Sir Astor from his path. When he turned, however, he saw an enemy he had already counted out.

“Telluros! You fell! I saw you hit that tree headfirst!” – Khronos stated, somewhat unbelievingly.

“It would appear that the rumors concerning my demise were unfounded, *old friend*…” – Telluros responded as he too regained his foot.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Outside, the dreadful battle had just claimed another life. Sir Astor’s body trembled slightly, and Lady Callista knelt on the throne room floor in grief
as the all too familiar walloping feeling to her stomach invaded her soul. It was as if some part of her was being ripped away. Another mystical knight was
dead. The infamous feeling was proof enough of that. And, it was not Khronos; she could still hear his shouting.

DeManx did not fail to notice.

“Our forces are rapidly being depleted.” – he stated somberly.

“Yes, milord. Sir Telluros is now all that stands in his way…” – Sir Astor corroborated. The king turned to him.

“You fear for him?”

“I fear for your realm, milord. Khronos is more powerful than I knew. His last magic stunts had me befuddled, I must admit. He must have forged quite a powerful mystic receptacle indeed.”

There was a moment of silence from outside, but the throne room reverberated with the echo of Sir Astor’s words. It was too much for Callista! All her beloved comrades were dying and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. She sought consolation in her husband’s familiar features, yet the battle had changed him, too. He looked… distant. She’d never seen him so quiet and detached. And, when he spoke, she dreaded his words.

“Tell me, Astor… Do you think my ruling is wise?”

“Unquestionably, milord!”

“Then why was I not here to protect my wife from MadKat?”

Sir Astor and Queen Callista just stared at him, unsure of what to answer.

“Why have I not battled against the enemies of my people? Why have I not partaken in the great battle of Bard’s Horn, where hundreds of my best warriors were slain?” – deManx kept asking with increasing fervor – “Who am I, Astor?”

“You’re our beloved sovereign, sire!”

“Am I? How can I be your sovereign if I didn’t take the reins of my kingdom in my own hands? How can I be your sovereign when my hands do not have the calluses of sword-wielding? How can I be your sovereign when I send others to do my bidding? Is this the true nature of a king? To have others do my bidding? To have others fight my own battles? To have others defend and die defending what I should have kept safe?”

“Sire, I fear you are overreacting and underestimating your worth! Megalith Kingdom is one of the richest in the continent, if not *the* richest! That is why Darkwater had his greedy eye turned on Megalith for so long, so he could pillage and rape, hack and destroy, crash and burn, defeat and kill.”

“Yet, for all its riches, Megalith is not invulnerable! I should have cared more for the well-being of my people than the treasure I collected.” – deManx gravely added as he turned his back to them yet again, facing the wall behind which the grizzly battle was taking place.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The temporary silence in which both kats had eyed each other carefully passed. Khronos snarled contemptuously under his hood.

“What chance do you think you have?”

“Chance? An even chance, I’d say. And, even if my death were certain, I’d battle with you nonetheless! I know what is asked of a Mystical Knight when he swears fealty to his lord and land. King deManx might not be the symbol of valor and honor that makes a warrior’s heart burn like fire, but I understand my duty.

It is our pride to be gifted with magics. Yes, it makes us special, even puts us above the king in this respect. But, it also is our curse, our obligation,
as you are supposed to know! Each of us is expected to give no more and no less than his best for our kingdom, for *us*! A baker gives his bread to our people,
a miller his corn, a king his wise rule. We are the king’s magical shield. If we are asked to give our lives in his name, then we are expected to do so.

In fact, it would be an honor.

Pyros knew. And Hydor. And Eolos.

As do I.

The best for our kingdom…

This is not about chances. It is about duty!”

With a determination made from the deaths of all his comrades, he drew steel as he muttered a spell in a dark booming voice.

“I beckon on the power // Of the mighty earthquake // So in my final hour // There’s destruction in my wake!”

The air reverberated as the spell completed. Khronos eyed Telluros warily. He saw the thin green glimmering aura surrounding him, unnoticeable to the untrained eye but not to another Mystical Knight. Truth be told, Khronos didn’t really know what Telluros could be capable of. In their sparring sessions, Telluros ended up defeated most of the times. But, Khronos had watched him closely in battle. He was a terrifying enemy. Right after the “Gray Devil”, the warrior the enemies of Megalith Kingdom most feared was the “Golem of Megalith”, as they dubbed Telluros. He had noticed that the brown-furred warrior always returned practically unarmed from battle, even though he had fought the captains and the warlords themselves and won. In the battle theatre, Telluros had never known defeat. Yet, he was deeply caring for his friends and allies.

“What a mysterious duality of character… This particular idiosyncrasy of Telluros is simultaneously the source of his greatest weakness and of his greatest strength… I must beware of him…”

“Khronos, you shall not leave this yard alive. I will do everything in my power to see to that.” – Telluros growled as he prepared for battle.

Khronos nodded as he too drew steel.

“May the best kat survive then, my friend.”

“You have no friends left…” – the brown-furred warrior snarled before he charged towards Khronos.

“So, it finally comes to this…”

Both toms charged towards each other, their swords ready, high above their heads. The first strike was like lightning and thunder in the night, such were the powers at play. Sparks came out from the point of contact of both swords and an ominous sound of metal rasping on metal carried away throughout the yard.

Telluros broke the duel first, squatting and rotating his blade to hit Khronos on his legs but the gray-furred sorcerer jumped in the air and slashed down on his former comrade, who blocked his blow holding his sword horizontally above his head with both hands, eliciting more sparks when the two blades crossed.

“You’ve never defeated me before, Telluros.” – Khronos grunted as he forced his sword down.

Telluros rose from the ground and threw Khronos’ sword away from him, quickly
regaining his footing and closing his guard.

Khronos did the same.

“There’s always a first!” – he snarled as he charged towards Khronos. Again, the two blades were crossed and each warrior pushed with all his strength against the other. Large beads of perspiration appeared on Telluros’ forehead as a droplet ran down Khronos’ temple and down the curve of his tightly clenched jaw.

“Idealistic gudgeon!” – Khronos grunted behind gritted teeth – “You will not stop me from attaining my prize!”

“Queen Callista is not yours for the taking!” – Telluros blurted out. This made Khronos lose his focus for a moment, which was all the time Telluros needed to withdraw his sword and punch the gray-furred warrior in the gut. Khronos opened his eye wide when he felt the most powerful blow he had ever experienced in his life. It had been as if a boulder had been flung towards him by a catapult. The impact was so strong it made him fly through the air a couple of meters. From his standpoint on the ground, Khronos fought to regain his stand as he watched Telluros calmly walk towards him.

“Queen Callista can never be yours, Khronos. Even if the king perishes, what makes you think she’ll want to stay with you?”

“She *will* be mine! Callista is not his save for unfortunate mishap! She could have been mine! She *should* have been mine!” – Khronos blurted out before he pointed his watch towards Telluros and shot a purple ray of energy.

The brown-furred warrior jumped to the side just in time to avoid the blast and darted towards the gray-furred sorcerer, attempting an upward slash. Khronos could just barely defend Telluros’ blow. Teluros rotated his body and backhanded Khronos on the face with his fist closed, sending the hooded tom flying across the yard. Khronos quickly regained his stance again.

“Give up, Khronos. There is absolutely no path open to my destruction now.” – Telluros gloated as he raised his sword above his head and slashed it down on the stone slabs of the yard, causing a rift to rip open towards Khronos. The gray-furred tom thrashed and flailed amid the debris to keep from being swallowed by the earth. Only barely did he manage to stay away from the gaping crack.

Khronos gasped for breath. He looked back at Telluros, who stood at the beginning of the fracture. He noticed the terrible stare of his enemy gazing at him. He didn’t recognize Telluros. It appeared that, in front of him, stood a demon from the Damned Halls below, with coruscating eyes and an expressionless face. To add to all the rest, the thin eerie green aura around the tom’s form gave him an even more supernatural look.

“Give up, Khronos. This is a battle you cannot win! You cannot sojourn an unstoppable fist. Do not make me end your life.”

“An unstoppable fist…” – Khronos pondered – “Of course! Telluros wields the mystical force of the earth, so his blows come with the strength and power of an earthquake! His blows are unstoppable… But…”

Khronos got to his feet and ran towards the aperture on the ground, somersaulting over it and landing graciously on the other side. He pointed his sword at Telluros.

“My life has ended a long time ago, when my heart was enthralled and bewitched by that which is fairer than anything else below this sun. There is nothing you can take away from me, Telluros! Let us end this dispute once and for all!”

“I hope you are prepared to die, villain.”

“There is some dying to be made before this night is done, but it will notbe me, I assure you, my friend.” – he grinned maniacally – “Come! If you have
the balls for it…”

Telluros narrowed his eyes. He charged against Khronos, prepared to deliver a downward slash. Khronos prepared to repel Telluros’ attack. The clash between them seemed like a small earthquake, with invisible waves of energy radiating from them. Telluros rotated his body and tried to punch Khronos’ gut with all his might. Telluros’ fist sank on Khronos’ waist area with such force that the gray-furred warrior’s cape draped as though taken by a powerful gust of wind. Invisible waves of seismic energy radiated from the point of contact and made the ground undulate outwards from them. The shockwaves were so potent that the glasses of the Royal Manor undulated and broke in a thousand shards.

It should have been the final blow to Khronos. Yet, he smiled. Moments later, Telluros fell back as his arm exploded from the interior, spreading blood, flesh and shards of bone everywhere. The brown-furred warrior watched in terror and disbelief to what had happened to his arm. He didn’t understand anything!

“What is to happen when an unstoppable fist collides with an unbreakable shield?” – Khronos queried in a low voice as he showed what he held in his right hand, the one he used to defend Telluros’ punch.

Telluros stared at the golden timepiece in Khronos’ hands. It bore the stains of blood from the contact with his hand. He looked to Khronos, unbelievingly.

“A spell I learned from our *master*…” – he grinned before he let out a deriding snicker of victory – “It truly *came in handy* this time!”

Khronos had cast an invulnerability spell on his golden watch. The spell had been taught by Sir Astor himself and they were used to cast it over their protective outfit whenever they went to war. In the words of Sir Astor, the Mystical Knights could not afford to bear casualties so whatever help they could get would be welcome. Telluros closed his eyes. He had underestimated his opponent. He had forgotten about the “Gray Devil’s” cunning and quick thought and paid dearly for his mistake. The “Golem of Megalith” had been defeated in battle for the first time…

“Finish me off… I have failed in my mission to protect my king and my queen. I do not deserve to live…”

“That can be arranged!” – Khronos gloated as he grinned maniacally. He raised his sword above Telluros’ chest and prepared to puncture it when he felt something stabbing against his leg. He looked down and saw Telluros’ dagger riveted in his thigh.

“You didn’t really think I would go down so easily, did you? You’ve offended me deeply!”

Khronos kicked Telluros’ head before he retrieved the dagger from his leg. He took to his mouth and licked the blood dripping down the steely surface of the blade before he laughed.

“My dear Telluros, you did not seriously think a dagger injury would stop he who commands the time, did you? Now *you* are offending me! Watch!”

With the aid of his magic, Khronos made time pass faster around his injuries, curing them. In seconds, the bleeding gash had healed and only a nasty-looking scar stood in its place. Telluros was astonished!

“That’s not possible! How did you do that without consuming your life?”

“Eolos asked me the same thing before he passed away…” – Khronos answered before he buried his sword on Telluros’ heart, twisting it. The brown-furred warrior grunted out his pain before he left this world.

Khronos retrieved his sword from the blood-covered corpse of Telluros and snapped it to his right before he turned to face the Royal Manor. His eye opened wide and illuminated by the fiery embers madness, he let out a demoniacal laugh before he roared out loud.

“IS THERE SOMEONE ELSE IN THIS PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A KINGDOM THAT DARES DEFY ME?”

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Unmoving though he’d been during the whole battle, King deManx’s mind had raced afar all the time. Now his eyes acquired a steely glint.

“Who shall defend Megalith’s people if not their king?” – he muttered, slightly transfixed. Then he began to walk, away from his wife and his most trusted advisor.

“My husband! What are you doing? Where are you going?” – Callista queried as she grabbed her husband’s arm tightly. In her heart, she knew what deManx wanted but she couldn’t just let him go to be slaughtered. – “Do not do this! You do not have to do this!”

The king looked deeply into the eyes of his wife and the tenderness and apprehension he saw in there almost caused his heart to flinch and his resolve to soften. But, his mind was made, nevertheless.

“Ask everything of me, fairest… But, do not deny me of my quarry, of my duty…”
– he whispered in a warm voice.

Tears rolled down her eyes as her mouth made a silent plead. As his eyes showed no sign of softening, she slowly eased her grip on his arm until she freed him. Sir Astor took a step towards deManx but the king promptly drew steel and in a coruscant move, he pointed his sword towards the elder, resting the tip less than an inch from Sir Astor’s throat.

“Do not stop me, Astor. This is my destiny, my duty. You know it. You have foreseen it.”

“I did. And, I also foresaw what would become of you.” – the elder contested – “My king, I’ve known you since you were a newborn. So many victories still
lie ahead of you. Why throw away your life? Let me do battle with Khronos! Let me try to stay this madness!”

“No more! No more shall I let others fight and die for me! Who will defend this kingdom if not its king? Who will lead Megalith’s armies into battle if not their king? It is my duty, Astor, and you know it…”

“Do I? Is this all about duty or is it about desire?”

Suddenly, a purple shot penetrated the throne room from the broken window on the balcony above, hitting the ceiling and causing a small explosion. They all lowered their heads as a small shower of debris fell over the thrones. The king narrowed his eyes as his resolve became even stronger.

“The greatest threat my kingdom has ever had to endure is out there, in the yard, and it is a menace I have nurtured throughout the years… Should any of us survive, the Mystical Knights are officially disbanded and forbidden! Every kat able to wield magic shall be repressed and only one shall be trained to take the place of the king’s arch-mage. I will not bring further hurt and death to my people by nurturing potential mystical vipers like Khronos.”

Sir Astor was shocked beyond words. Queen Callista lowered her head and said nothing.

“So declares the king.” – deManx stated as he turned to leave the throne room.

As deManx climbed down the stairs from the Royal Manor to the main yard, Callista fell to her knees, embracing herself. Bitter heavy tears rolled from her closed eyes, her heart shrinking inside her chest in anguish. She and Astor heard the sounds of battle from outside and, moments later, a bloodcurdling cry echoed in the night. Callista doubled over and cried like she never had before, the pain of the loss ravaging her soul. Astor placed a hand over her shoulders, trying to comfort her. He knew the worst battle was yet to come.

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

The door to the throne room was blasted to pieces as Khronos made his way to the large division. When the dust and the debris settled, he entered the familiar room. The walls and the floors glistened palely with the dying flames of the fireplace, which borrowed a tinge of red to the mostly white marbled room. Over the mantelpiece stood a large tapestry with the coat of arms of the deManx family, with background tones of blue and silver. A black eagle crowned the field. Crossed swords in chief, over a red open castle with golden windows completed the set. Khronos eyed it in contempt. Heraldry has ever been one of the things he abominated. Coming from a rather simple family, he despised those fancy coats of arms, with all their symbolic tinges and items. In derision, he pointed his watch towards the tapestry, intending to blast it to smithereens.

“Dare not blemish that tapestry; save you crave to be razed together with it!” – a deep and venerable voice made itself heard.

Khronos looked to the other end of the room and saw the white-garbed form of Sir Astor, whose staff was pointed towards him. To his side and slightly behind him stood the object of Khronos’ desire, Queen Callista. He narrowed his eye and grinned.

“Will you do battle with me for my Queen, Sir Astor?”

“She is not your Queen, cur, but ours!” – Sir Astor hissed in fury.

“Temper, temper!” – Khronos mocked as he waved a finger in the air – “Such rude words in front of a dame… I thought you were more courteous, Sir Astor. Anyway, enough talk. You want me, old-timer? Come and get me!”

“Inconsiderate buffoon!” – Astor blurted out as he swung his staff rapidly.

Khronos tensed all his muscles. Defeating Astor could prove to be a tad harder than it was destroying his comrades. He watched in astonishment as Sir Astor made the closest large monolithic throne come hurtling towards him with a single swing of his staff. With time only to react, he shot a powerful purple ray from his watch, aimed at the hurtling throne. Alas, it had no more effect than a frail breeze trying to sojourn a cannon ball… Throwing himself to the ground in the last moment, Khronos felt the rush of air as the enormous chair-like boulder of polished white marble dashed just a few inches over him, crashing down on the wall behind him with full force, so that it came down partly.

The gray-furred tom looked behind him, a bit incredulously. Had it *really* been that old-timer the one to do such a thing? He got to his feet and dusted himself off, trying to look calm and cool-tempered but at all times keeping an eye on Astor. Khronos noticed he was shaking. He was nervous. He only hoped his fear didn’t transpire or he’d be in big trouble.

“Is this the best…” – Khronos started but was interrupted in mid-sentence by a green ray of light coming from the elder’s staff. It hit him square in his chest, sending him back over the rubble of the broken wall behind him.

“No, Khronos, it is not…” – Astor replied behind clenched teeth. He decided he would give no quarter to his former student. Not after what he had done to his pupils!

Khronos staggered up to stand above the rubble. He rubbed his fist over the corner of his mouth, smearing the thread of blood running down towards his chin. His eye was narrowed to a thin slit as he eyed Sir Astor cautiously.

“You’re very strong and skillful, I’ll give you that… And yet, like all your disciples, you lack something that will cause both your defeat and your demise: You never know when to…”

Before Khronos could utter another word, Sir Astor shot another mystical blast at him. Khronos somersaulted on the air, off the pile of lithic rubble and once his feet touched the ground, he darted towards the elder, unsheathing his sword as he went. Khronos moved fast as Astor fired another bolt of energy towards him. He quickly changed direction, skidding slightly on the polished marble slabs, resuming his approach to Astor. The elder fired a third beam and Khronos somersaulted above it and prepared to land a downward slash on Sir Astor.

“Sir Astor! Beware!” – Callista shrieked as she saw the blade approach relentlessly the forehead of her mystic master. She covered her eyes with her hands, waiting the inevitable doom.

In the last moment, Astor raised his staff and successfully blocked Khronos’ slash. A powerful sound of metal hitting wood reverberated throughout the empty room as invisible waves of raw mystical power emanated from the point of contact of both weapons, causing dust to fall from the ceiling and the walls.

For the longest moment, Callista waited to hear her mentor’s demise. When she finally found enough courage to uncover her eyes, she saw the twosome in a stalemate. She watched as both warrior and mage fought against each other using every fiber in their beings. Teeth clenched, beads of perspiration running down their foreheads, none gave in to each other’s pressing.

Suddenly, they broke off, as if they had agreed on doing that simultaneously. Khronos’ chest heaved heavily. Sir Astor also soaked up as much air as his old lungs would allow him. They were both preparing for the next onslaught.

Khronos attacked with ferocity and as suddenly as a snake would strike at its prey. Sir Astor fended him off as best as he could. Though mightier than Khronos he might be, he was old and could by no means compare to the young tom’s vitality. He extended his left hand in front of him, towards Khronos and, even without touching him, Khronos was hurled back in the air a couple of meters. However, the mystical knight landed on his feet and, once the moment of surprise passed, he charged again.

“Overconfidence will be your downfall…” – Astor muttered before he swung his staff to the right, which sent Khronos flying towards the wall. The helpless tom hit the wall with full force. Khronos hadn’t even begun to fall down and Sir Astor swung his staff in the other direction, hurtling Khronos towards the other wall. The force of the blow drove the wind off his lungs. He fell, helplessly, on the ground, dropping his sword. There, he coughed some blood before he stood on all fours. Sir Astor eyed him condescendingly.

“You are no match for me, Khronos… What will you procure from this insane display? The Queen’s hand in marriage? That will *never* happen and you know this, Khronos.”

Sir Astor approached the fallen form of Khronos, still on all fours and coughing.

“Don’t paternalize me!” – Khronos snarled in contempt – “I have no use for your pity! Callista will be mine, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it!”

“CUR!” – Astor shouted as he pointed his staff towards the fallen Khronos, pinning him against the wall with an invisible talon.

“You could have had everything, Khronos… EVERYTHING! Respect… Power… Wealth… And, you threw it all away because you thought you were in love for
our Queen… because your darkest desires surfaced… Could you not see it, Khronos? Could you not see that that was an impossible love? A knight and a
Queen? A low-life and a high-rank? What did you expect? What was the only possible and reasonable outcome for this situation?

Here I have you, Khronos, completely at my mercy…”

Khronos had his eye tightly shut, his teeth gritted, his head low as he felt the pressure of the invisible vice pinning him to the wall. A lonely tear ran down his closed eye.

“NEVER!” – he roared as he aimed his watch towards Sir Astor and shot a powerful ray of raw mystical energy towards the elder tom, hitting him in the chest and sending him flying through the air until the elder’s back contacted the opposite wall with a loud thump. Sir Astor sank to the ground as he dropped his staff.

“I will never be at someone’s mercy!” – Khronos quickly regained his composure and muttered a spell. His watch came to life with purple rays snaking their way around the timepiece as he chanted.

“Time is mine to master // Through ages it flies // You will wither and alter // Until your existence it nullifies!”

A purple beam shot from the watch, directed not at Sir Astor but rather at his staff. The spell hit the wooden retorted walking stick, making it rot and, in a few moments, turn to dust.

“Not so tough now, are you?” – Khronos taunted as he trained his timepiece on the fallen graying tom. Sir Astor slowly straightened up, at all times keeping
a close watch on his former pupil.

“Overconfident, arrogant buffoon…” – Sir Astor said in a low tone – “I don’t need my staff to defeat you! It was just a vessel through which I worked my magic!”

“Is that so?”

Warrior and mage eyed each other warily and contemptuously. Queen Callista stood apart but mesmerized with the powers at play. She knew Khronos was powerful, but she hadn’t the faintest idea how his power had grown with the forging of the watch. She saw Khronos glancing at her and grinning. A chill ran down her spine. They had been such good friends! She could not tell when that friendship had turned into love. She definitely didn’t love him! At least, not in the way Khronos wanted her to love him.

She tried to find in her heart the pity to forgive him, for all the friendship they might have had in the past. Yet now, all she could feel for Khronos was
anger and pain. He’d killed all her good friends, the Mystical Knights. Above all, he’d killed her beloved husband, who she treasured more than her own life.

“Pity? For a cold-blooded assassin? I think not… Nothing would please me more than to see him hung by his own entrails as the crows pecked on his still throbbing heart…

Oh, Maurice, my dear, how I miss you…”

Suddenly, Khronos disappeared from view. She was astonished! The warrior had just vanished into thin air. Just like the jester used to, only without the sulfurous cloud…

Sir Astor muttered a spell, too, namely the same one he cast on that fatidic night of Darkwater’s minions attack on the king. He slowed down time.

To Callista, it seemed as Sir Astor had also vanished, as though the earth had swallowed him. The room had suddenly become empty and silent. Moments dragged, slow like hours. She could see or hear nothing in the room. Then, suddenly, something exploded on the wall to her right, causing a small charred crater to appear. A series of small explosions lined the ground a couple of meters ahead of her. She could feel the mystic emanations of powerful spells being
cast. Sometimes, she could even feel the very air in the room stir due to the invisible waves of raw power. And yet, she could not see the contenders. She
knew they were there, but she could not see them!

All of a sudden, she saw something colored in white being hurled against the wall behind her with full force. When she looked back, she saw none other than Sir Astor lying on the ground, his back against the wall and his head lowered. A trickle of blood ran down his chin from his mouth and his garbs were charred in some spots. The old tom wheezed with each breath he took.

“SIR ASTOR!” – she shrieked as she ran towards the elder, tending to him. When she was cleaning the blood from her mentor’s wounds, she heard something similar to a soft suction-like sound behind her. She looked back and saw Khronos appearing out of nowhere as he undid the mystical time-quickening sphere around him, his fur matted red and scorched in several places, chest heaving up and down wildly as he fought to regain his breath. His hood had been dilacerated and, through the shreds, she could see the furless fearful-looking scar crossing his empty left eye. He grinned at her, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth towards his chin and from the gashes in his forehead.

Khronos made time pass faster around his wounds, healing them and leaving furless nasty-looking scars behind. – “Can you see how powerful I’ve become? Will you finally acknowledge that the student has clearly surpassed the master?”

Sir Astor staggered to a stand. He breathed in and out wildly as he sucked in the precious and vital air. His body trembled visibly with the strain of standing up. Khronos eyed him victoriously.

Khronos pointed his watch towards the quivering elder. Purple sparks came to life as they snaked around the golden timepiece – “Say your last prayer, Astor. Your time is finally…”

Again, before he could finish his words, Sir Astor extended his arms before him, and Khronos was sent flying against the wall. The gray-furred knight still fired a purple beam from his watch, which failed to hit the elder. It struck the ceiling, leaving a trail of falling debris. Khronos landed hard on his back but didn’t take much time to regain his stand. He wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth.

“You’re only delaying the unavoidable, *master*!”

Sir Astor started chanting a spell that wasn’t heard on the surface of the land for centuries beyond reckoning. The elder spoke an ancient tongue, with a tone that was melodious and terrible, beautiful and dark. All light seemed to wane as a black orb started to materialize in Astor’s hands. Every now and then, a green spark would cross the ebony surface of the sphere, which rapidly grew in size until it reached the size of a small cannonball. Gale-force winds invaded the room as the sphere seemed to suck in not only the light in the room but also the air. At all times, Astor’s voiced boomed and reverberated above the sound of rushing winds and the lithic moan of the walls, fell and terrible.

Khronos tried to make a move. He wouldn’t just let Sir Astor hit him with some spell he knew nothing about. He had to interfere, to make his former master lose his concentration, to stop this spell at any cost! But, when he tried to move his arms and legs, he found them to be frozen stiff in place. He soon found out that his body did not obey his commands to move. He would have widened his eyes and gritted his teeth when he discovered it was the fell timbre of Astor’s voice that was preventing him to move. It was with dread that he reasoned that this must be Sir Astor’s ultimate mystical onslaught.

As the spell neared its completion, the walls and the floor and the flogging winds seemed to intone a most lugubrious dirge that seemed to be coming straight
from the fiery pits beneath, a wailing lament for the soul who was about to be reaped in so horrible a manner. Finally, when the orb had grown to the size
of a small barrel and green sparks flickered continuously over the dark surface of the sphere, the spell was completed. Sir Astor gazed at Khronos, standing
frozen in front of him, near the opposite wall.

“My last lesson to you, Khronos: there is *always* someone stronger!”

With those words, Sir Astor hurled the dark sphere at Khronos. The gray-furred tom could only stare, powerless, as the black orb rushed towards him. In a few moments, it would hit him, and there would be nothing he could do to prevent it. He couldn’t even open his mouth to scream when the orb finally contacted with his body and exploded in a large conflagration of black flames and purple smoke.

The blast was horrific and so powerful that most of the stout walls of the room caved in over Khronos, burying him under tons of marble and granite. The roar of the explosion and the falling debris was deafening and was heard in a radius of miles from the castle.

When the dust finally settled enough to allow for breathing and sight, Queen Callista coughed and tried to breathe in. She found Sir Astor leaning over her. He had lunged towards Callista and had shielded her from the blast of his own mystical onslaught.

“Sir Astor!” – she called in a weak voice – “Sir Astor, are you well?”

As the elder did not respond to her calling, she forced herself from underneath him and rolled the old tom over on the floor, onto his back. She looked at the
sullied white garbs of her mentor. They were nothing but rags. Dusty brown and red matted and striped the once immaculate white robes. But, it was Astor’s
face that concerned her the most. The elder had his eyes tightly shut, and a thin thread of blood flowed continuously from his nostrils. She looked at the
elder’s pale face, the retracted and dried lips, the eyes, sunken deep into the eye sockets… She feared for her mentor’s life. She softly called out the
elder’s name but to no avail. A tear rolled heavily across her facial fur and dropped onto Sir Astor’s face, making the graying tom quiver ever so slightly.

He slowly and painfully opened his unfocused eyes. Dread and compassion filled his heart when he noticed it was his Queen who was crying for him. Quivering all the way up, Astor lifted his left arm to touch his Queen’s face. She opened her eyes in surprise when she felt the soft touch.

“Do not cry for me, milady! I am not worthy of your tears!” – he said in a very weak voice.

“Sir Astor… Don’t speak! You must be moved at once! I’ll call the Chief-Healer…” – she sobbed as she caressed the elder’s face. She meant to leave, but he stopped her, grabbing her hand. She turned her face to him.

“The Chief-Healer is of no more use here… My time has come, my Queen…”

“No! You cannot mean it! You have so many more years ahead of you!”

Astor coughed a bit of blood – “I’m afraid not, my Queen! My last mystical assault left me without energy, nearly without life… Besides, I am old, milady…
So very old… My body has taken much more abuse than a normal kat would… It is broken, defeated…”

“Don’t say those things! You cannot leave us! You mustn’t leave us!”

Astor caressed his Queen’s cheek ever so softly – “Dearest Queen… I must leave you… It is not in my hands anymore… But, at least, I’ll leave you with the knowledge that I’ve protected my liege to my very last breath, that I’ve taken the most powerful mage this kingdom has ever known with me… For Khronos was indeed powerful… The deadliest foe that ever has been placed in my path… It is so sad that he had to be destroyed…” – Astor coughed again and started wheezing out audibly with each breath he took.

“What of my training, Sir Astor? How can I replace you, the wisest and most powerful of mages? Please, do not place this burden onto my back!”

“Sweet Queen, your training is indeed incomplete… Yet, the teachings of magic will survive me in the form of books. They are still in the tower for you to
study, and you possess enough power to defy any who crosses your path!” – he passed his hand over the golden casing of the emerald amulet – “The mystic receptacle you wear will help you well, but do not rely only on its powers. You must practice hard in order to become a great magician. As for wisdom, you already possess more than I ever would have. Trust this…” – he pointed to her heart – “…but temper its whims with a bit of this!” – he pointed to her forehead.

Sir Astor touched his queen’s tear-stained face again – “Do not be afraid, milady… You will be well…”

Callista was about to say something when, out of the blue, a purple beam of raw mystical power came from behind her and hit the limp form of Sir Astor. The elder’s body jerked up in spasm and sagged back, limp. Callista held on to the elder’s head, which hung back flaccidly in her arm. His eyes were wide open and stared without seeing. Blood ran freely from his nostrils and from the corner of his mouth. Callista couldn’t believe in what had just happened. Sir Astor was dead! She held the old tom close to her.

“Don’t worry about that, old-timer… She *will* be well… As my spouse!” – a disdainful voice said from behind.

Khronos had come out from underneath the pile of rubble. Blood matted his body in several places, where bleeding gashes had been carved from the falling stones. His left arm was completely broken, as were a few of his ribs. Ripped out flesh dangled from his face and chest revealing white patches of bare bone. Yet, a smile was on his face, now that the last obstacle to his marriage with Callista had been successfully removed from his path.

“Now, Callista, it is time to forget the past and think about your future with me!”

He gave an awkward step towards Callista but the pain of his broken left foot made him cast his rejuvenating spell over himself, which made time pass quicker around his wounds, healing them. However, his wounds were too severe and deep and his mystical power has lowered due to the mystical onslaughts he received and served. It took Khronos his last reserves to redirect his spell so that his bones knitted, but they did it only crudely and the wounds to his body were still open and bleeding heavily.

Callista shed heavy and bitter tears in mourning for her master, Sir Astor. She heard Khronos approach slowly from behind her. She opened her eyes and a steely glint could be seen on them. A rage grew inside her heart, a rage so powerful and wild that her eyes began to glow in a golden light. She clenched her teeth until blood started to pour from the corner of her mouth.

Khronos stopped befuddled. He was feeling rather powerful mystical emanations. – “Who could be summoning such power? It cannot be Sir Astor! He’s dead!”

He was still sunk in these thoughts when Calista turned around to face him. He widened his eyes and opened his mouth in shock when he saw Callista’s eyes glowing like torches. The mystical emanations were coming from *her*!

“You have caused too many deaths today, Khronos… My friends, my husband and now my master lie dead in your wake… This can never be forgotten nor forgiven… Today, you meet your judgment and your sentence is: death!”

Callista’s hair rose in colubrid frenzy as she conjured a spell. Khronos was speechless. He never thought his beloved to be an apprentice of Wicca. He didn’t know what to do! Callista shot a green ray of energy from her amulet, sending the mangled gray-furred tom back against the remains of the wall. He fell down, smearing the wall with his own blood. Coughing and vomiting his vital fluid, he looked up and saw Callista hovering above him, sparks crossing the emerald surface of her amulet, her face dark and terrible as the tempestuous sea. For the first time ever, Khronos felt afraid of a she-kat. He crawled back over the rubble, eye wide open in fear.

“The ill-use of magical powers must be punished and his wielder made an example for everyone else. Prepare to receive your castigation for your fell deeds.”

And with those words, she let out a powerful discharge against Khronos. Bright green thunders left her amulet and stroke Khronos with full force, making the tom arch his body spasmodically as he howled in pain. When the mystic attack ceased, Khronos lay in a heap, aching with every movement he made. His eye was closed in pain. The spell he had cast over his injuries hadn’t had enough time to heal his wounds capably. He was bleeding from several deep gashes. Callista hovered above him, beautiful and terrible.

“You disgust me, Khronos! How could you descend so low? I will never be yours! I despise thee! I *loathe* thee!”

Her words were like daggers riveting in his heart. How cruel could this she-kat be? Couldn’t she see he’d done all of this for her? That he’d left everything for her? How could she deny him so? How could she spurn him so? Khronos narrowed his eye as it acquired a steely and evil glint.

“I *will not* be denied! You *will* become my bride! Even if this means I will have to alter the future, the present and even the past to do so!” – he grunted before he cast his healing spell again. Once more, his wounds started to regenerate as time passed quicker around them.

“Never, Khronos! *Never*!”

He growled as he straightened up and grabbed her hand tightly.

“Obscene slob! Unhand me!” – she demanded but, instead, he tightened the grip around her wrist. A wild sneer appeared in his face.

“Do you perchance think it didn’t hurt to dispose of them all? They were my friends, Callista, all of them! Even your peasant of a king surprised me! I
thought him incapable of his last deeds! I must confess they were… unexpected…”

Callista eyed him closely, not truly believing what she was hearing. Khronos’ ears drooped as his eye narrowed, gazing towards the ground. She was surprised to see what seemed to be sorrow and sadness in his expression.

“It was a worthy ending for a king, facing a foe that was vastly beyond him. He did not suffer much, Callista. I killed him quickly and cleanly.”

Anger welled up in Callista’s heart once more as a lonely tear hung on the corner of her eye. Unaware of this, Khronos continued in a rumble.

“Astor taught me everything I know. Don’t you think it was hard to eliminate him too? It is true, I outgrew him in power, but he seemed to fear that I could
overthrow him. That was insane! Isn’t it the wish of every master to see their pupils surpass them? And Telluros… My good friend Telluros…”

He looked directly to Callista. Once again, she was surprised with his expression. A tear ran down his facial fur, mingling with the blood of his injuries and streaking his cheek in red.

“Telluros was my best friend! He was the only one I ever considered confiding my love for you! Even he turned on me! You should have seen him when I fought against him. He used every ounce of energy, every fiber of his body to overthrow me! What a fighter that he was!” – Khronos said, pride dripping from every word he spoke. His gaze turned back towards the ground.

“You should have seen the warrior Telluros, the ‘Golem of Megalith’ in action… He was like a beast from the Damned Halls beneath. I was lucky to survive him! But you, Sir Astor and your king turned him on me! Never before have I seen Telluros fight with so much passion! You three murdered Telluros, not I!”

She could not believe her own ears. Khronos was blaming *her* for the deaths of them all? She decided that Khronos was indeed insane.

“Dead they all are… But, they are not lost…” – he said in a whisper.

“What?” – she hissed, both in rage and surprise.

“I’m the most powerful sorcerer this world has ever seen, Callista. With the Tome of Time, there is no stopping me! And with the Tome of Time, I can bring them all back from the dead!”

She eyed him in both horror and disgust.

“Marry me, Callista! Marry me and I will bring them all back! Yes, I am that powerful. I can raise the dead and restore them to life! It is simple enough to bring back the past with the Tome of Time.”

“That book is altogether evil, Khronos! You are a fool to wield it!”

“No! Astor was the fool. What would he do with it, Callista? Did his sense of duty order him to destroy it? Or did he secretly desire it? He knew the power
of the book! And, he always feared that I could overpower him. He would use the book to destroy us, our love and our kingdom!

Did he tell you the name of the author of the Tome of Time? Did he?”

Callista did not respond.

“PastMaster was his name… In his days, he controlled time with the aid of the book. The past had no secrets to him! The past was his realm!

Thousands of years later, another comes that is capable of wielding the same book, the same powers! Time is mine to command! The past has no secrets to me! The past is *my* realm! I command the Tome of Time! I COMMAND TIME ITSELF!” – he screamed, his voice lost in the fires of madness.

He looked directly to Callista, their noses almost touching. She could feel the intensity of his stare as though it was a blazing iron poking in her brain. He proceeded in a rumbling tone.

“Khronos you have called me thus far… Khronos was a name of a subordinate, a knight in his majesty’s service who could do but a few tricks related with time! That knight, Callista, is dead… The name Khronos is unworthy of the one who commands time, of the one true master of the Tome of Time…

I now change my name… Let it be known that I now take the name of the wizard who crafted the Tome of Time… Let it be known that I am its master and the master of all time…

I AM THE PASTMASTER!”

She looked to him in puzzlement. She didn’t indeed recognize Khronos in front of her anymore. Whatever remained of the brave and fair knight was now lost to madness and vain ambition. Slowly, her perplexity turned to disgust and rage.

“You would even use your grief as a cloak to achieve your intentions! Khronos you were once called, but you are no longer worthy of that name! Indeed, from
now on, my foe’s name will be known as the PastMaster, for madness has indeed consumed you!” – she said before she spat in his face.

He growled – “You will learn to love and respect me… as your beloved husband and lord!”

She let out a disgusted exclamation – “I’d rather die!”

“I’d bring you back with my powers!” – he grinned.

A chill of disgust ravaged Callista’s being and her soul. She realized then what she had to do. She started to chant a spell in an ancient tongue and, just like it happened to Sir Astor, the light faded away as the moon and the stars became veiled by a cloak of dark clouds. Khronos, now named PastMaster, struck Callista in the face, ripping her cheek with one of his rings. Even so, Callista did not stop. Her voice fell and became a grave tone, so dark and terrible that even the Pastmaster clenched his teeth in fear.

When he prepared to strike her again, his body jerked spasmodically in pain. His eye was wide open with fear. He felt his very life being reaped away from
his body! He screamed an unholy roar of pain and let go of Callista, but it was her who now held him with both her hands. Her eyes sparkled in golden bright
light as the spell continued to suck the life out of him. His flesh became rotten and then fell off in dry patches before it turned to a fine dust. His innards
fell, a red bloody mass at Callista’s feet, promptly turning to dust as well. The PastMaster’s howl soon became a banshee’s wail as it echoed in the night.
His bare skeleton, covered by the shreds of his purple robe, shrank and turned to a bloody shade of red. He looked at Callista with his only eye, one of the
few organs still remaining in his body. His stare begged Callista to stop, to spare him, but nothing could end the Queen’s deadly invocation. The Khronos
she had known was gone, and the PastMaster had long since forfeited any request.
With grim satisfaction, she saw his eye glaze over.

An explosion lit the night and threw both Callista and the PastMaster in opposite directions. Callista saw the former Mystical Knight fall lifelessly over the rubble of marble and granite before she, too, passed out. The silence finally returned to the destroyed Royal Manor.

Evil, in the form of the PastMaster, was at long last defeated!

—————S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——–

Of all the kats still living in Megalith City, only three were daring enough to venture near the destroyed Royal Manor. The remainder was either too frightened or too superstitious to come. These three became Megalith Kingdom’s most trustworthy knights in the days to follow, even if the days of the city were numbered already.

They found me inside the rubble of the destroyed throne room, unconscious yet otherwise I appeared perfectly well to them, save for the rip on my cheek.
They could not know of the power, the effort and the pain it had cost me to perform my ultimate mystical onslaught. And, I am glad they could not, glad
they had never had the spark to wield magic, never had the taint of it. A part of me died on that day, and for some time, the other part of me wanted to die
as well. Only the duty to my subjects prevented me from following my beloved husband.

As it were, they took me to the Chief-Healer, who nourished me back to health, and I came to late in the morning after the great battle.

The three courageous knights also found the reddish skeleton atop the pile of rubble, a golden watch still chained to its tattered robes. Brave as they
were, they were too superstitious to touch such a bad omen. So, the vile thing lay there in the former center of our realm, until I was sound enough to deal
with state affairs again, and the first business I put myself upon to do was to dispose the remains of Khronos. I eyed him with much consideration and, although I longed for Sir Astor to still be alive to advise me, I decided Khronos, not the PastMaster, would have some honors in his funeral. I let him wear fresh clothes from the Purple Company and left the mystical recipient Khronos had generated rest with him. I was a bit puzzled with the fact that his skeleton had shrunk. I didn’t know the spell I cast could do that. There were many things I did not know at the time, things that would play a crucial role in the future of Megalith City…

The PastMaster was placed inside a trunk, according to the kingdom’s custom for the burial of traitors to lord and land, and buried in the common’s graveyard. Honors, yes, but punishment as well.

After that, I attended to the burial of my beloved husband, my mentor and my dearest friends, the Mystical Knights who so bravely fought against monumental opposing forces to protect their lord. All had the highest honors and were entombed as heroes. Even so, I came to know that some of the nobles spoke against me, that the kingdom was now weak without a male figure to rule, that I had paid more attention to the enemy of the kingdom, burying him first, than to my husband and the ones who tried to protect me. Little do they know…

As the years after came to prove, Megalith had never known years as golden as those when I ruled. I commanded the fates of the kingdom with wisdom and charity but also with firmness and resolution, as my husband would have. And, I respected his last decree, that no more Mystical Knights would be nurtured and all magic wielders would be discouraged to do so. The kingdom prospered much in those years. Alas, that it had to be during my rule that the most horrid events happened to Megalith City, events that, in time, caused the destruction of the mighty citadel.

For, unknown to me, a terrible bond had been forged from the battle between the PastMaster and I. At the time, I cast that terrible and fell incantation as he had cast his healing spell over himself. The combination of both spells had had a tragic result that sealed the fate of Megalith City:

In his tomb, the bones of the PastMaster rested and waited, passing out of all knowledge for over eight hundred years. The great mystical battle that
took place inside the Royal Manor of Megalith Castle was forgotten to most of the passing generations and history became legend, which, in turn, became myth… And, some things that should have remained buried and forgotten for all time were unearthed by greedy and unscrupulous kats…

The PastMaster rose again!

Yes, the struggle is yet to be finished… The doom of our people will be decided, not in Megalith Kingdom, but in the metropolis that has been built upon its pillars: Megakat City…

The waters stir…
The wind whines…
The earth revolves…

It has come to it at last… The greatest battle of this time…

To be concluded…


Glossary

of Characters, Names and Places


Characters

The Royal House of Megalith

The Court of Megalith

The Mystical Knights

Mystical Knights and counselor to the King and Queen.


Names

Megalith City who, as a group, have been given the power by

King deManx to co-determine on his gravest decisions; set up to

prevent the possible abuse of the monarchical power (as it

had occurred in other kingdoms), the Council has never so

far had any reason to disagree with the king’s wise

ruling.

the highest tower in the land, with a mechanic clock fitted

in under its roof.


Places

north of Megalith City.

of Megalith Kingdom; court of King deManx and Queen Callista.

great battle that took place there.

named after its plateau of bare gray rock.

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