DUTY AND DESIRE
C. L. Furlong
June 01, 2006
June 15, 2009
July 27, 2009
You may reach clfurlong through his email account located at tugamail dot com
RATING / WARNINGS:
M for violent content and gore (implicit and graphic), swearing, mild sexual innuendo and angst.
|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.|
Oh, my God, it’s finally finished! This whole series of stories took almost seven years, but it’s finally done! Never before has a story had me occupied for so long but also never before have I and Helion attempted to craft nearly from scratch part of the mythos that surrounded the PastMaster and MadKat. So much could be said, so many stories could be woven, but this “monster” had to come to an end some day. I’m pleased with my contribution to this final chapter of this epic story. If you could see the smile I have on my face for finally being able to finish this story, you could understand how important this piece of writing was to me.
However, as you probably noticed, Helion’s name is missing from the “authors” section and there is no comment from him here. There’s an explanation for that. The fact was that I wrote about 95% of “History Unmade” and Helion the remaining 5%. He feels he didn’t help at all in the making of this chapter, so he told me to erase his name from the “authors” section. Well, while I did write the largest portion of this chapter, I just know that you, the attentive reader, will undoubtedly see Helion’s hand throughout the story.
I truly hope you can enjoy yourselves while reading this chapter, but be forewarned: this is a story with a definitive murky ending that many won’t appreciate! Parts One to Three of “Duty and Desire” form a self-contained unit and you need not read this part to understand the story!
Dr. Abby Sinian’s eyes were gleaming, just as they always did when she was unearthing history. Giving life back to ancient achievements and peculiarities so that Katkind could share the wonders of the past with a visit to the Megakat Museum of History was an indescribable bliss.
The history Abby had slowly been putting together throughout the night was exceptional in many ways. For once, there was no need for archeological excavations to unearth past’s secrets – all the mysteries were hidden in the words, in scrolls and parchments with writings so faded as only time could bleach them. She’d just managed to finish her first reading, and she was simply staggered with their content. Taken together, those writs told a heinous story of betrayal and death. Moreover, although it related directly to the past of Megakat City – to an ancient chapter buried deeply for its darkness – the history, exceptionally, centered on kats still living.
She closed her eyes, trying to sort out the plotline of this fabulous story in her mind as it extended back eight hundred years in time. The manuscripts at her side told of a tom, Sir Khronos, a powerful sorcerer completely devoted to his King and Queen’s cause, and of his nefarious fate.
Khronos was a fine soldier, part of the so-called Purple Company, the elite guard of King de Manx XIII and Queen Callista of Megalith City. Still, he was no ordinary fighter, but one of the rare and ever-decreasing stock of kats with the inborn ability to wield magic. Trained only by the best, these sorcerers became the Mystical Knights, the magic spearhead of the Purple Company, and the most feared warriors in the known world.
When an invasion party from a neighboring realm, commanded by a certain Lord Tyrakks of Darkwater and helped from the inside by the scorned former Royal Jester, sneaked past Megalith City’s defenses, it was Khronos, along with his comrades Telluros, Pyros, Eolos and Hydor, who opposed them. While the other four Mystical Knights engaged and finally defeated Lord Tyrakks and his kats in battle, Khronos fought the jester, who, in his own dark agenda, had separated from his allies. Khronos confronted him inside the clock tower that served as training grounds for the Mystical Knights, where the jester was about to rob a magical amulet that their mentor Sir Astor had stored away for his private studies with his sixth and secret student, Queen Callista. As a result of the so-called First Mystical Battle of Megalith that followed, Khronos was severely injured. He woke up a moon later, the same on the outside but forever changed on the inside.
That’s when everything took a turn for the worse. In his unhinged state of mind, the secret love Khronos had always hedged for his queen festered until it held sway over him completely. Using a forbidden book of spells he had found, the Tome of Time, he created receptacles for his magic. First, he used the jester in order to create MadKat, a magic-wielding raving lunatic bent on revenge against the new Royal Jester, the knight that imprisoned him and his King and Queen. It is my guess that Khronos intended for MadKat to be a mere pawn, someone who would rid him of the King and whose death by his hand afterwards wouldn’t raise too many questions. MadKat, however, threatened to assassinate Queen Callista first, leaving Khronos no other choice but to stop him, and so the Second Mystical Battle of Megalith ensued. It was there that Khronos lost his eye to the hilt of his own sword but with the help of the Tome of Time, he finally managed to lock MadKat inside a magical prison, the fateful kat-in-a-box Lenny Ringtail stumbled across centuries later.
The Tome of Time was then withdrawn from Khronos, but it was already too late. The book had poisoned his mind so much he regarded everyone as a traitor and an enemy to be killed. And, so began the Third Mystical Battle of Megalith, the most fratricidal battle of them all, for Khronos, who now had adopted the name of PastMaster, using only his magical prowess, killed all who interposed in his path, including his comrades, his master and his king.
It was then that Queen Callista revealed herself as a sorceress, chanted her most powerful spell and turned the gray-furred former body of the PastMaster into the dwarfish red skeleton we, in Megakat City, unfortunately came to know so well. Buried in the common’s graveyard inside a trunk, as was customary to traitors to lord and land, the PastMaster was awakened eight hundred years later to resume his reign of terror, as we all know…
Returning to the past time and time again, he managed to conjure up a dragon so large that it consumed and killed the better part of Megalith City and its citizens. Queen Callista then wielded a powerful spell that destroyed the rest of the city, as well as the PastMaster’s dragon. The History compendiums say that Queen Callista died there and then, but now I know otherwise. Queen Callista survived the Holocaust of Megalith, effectively deceiving the PastMaster and allowing her and her people to continue their lives until Megalith City turned into Megakat City.
All this is history, but, amazingly, it is only the beginning and surely not the end of it…
She opened her eyes and looked at the ancient journal she’d acquired from Katz Antiques and to the scrolls inside that wooden box. Amazing… Only months ago she took what the compendiums told her for granted. It had been an amazing journey…
“Gonna beat you to it!” – Tristan shouted as he heaved his torso in order to deliver another blow to the wall with the pickaxe.
“Not if I have anything to say about it!” – Gonzales replied as shards of stone flew from the point of contact with the sharp edge of his shovel.
“Come on, guys, this isn’t a race!” – Dr. Sinian reproached her PhD students – “Besides, you might miss something if you dig too fast.”
“Toms…” – Angela, a brunette she-kat, Abby’s junior assistant for the present semester, intervened – “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them…”
Abby smiled. She was working the crowbar around the cracks in the wall of the ancient abbey. When the eco-sounders had revealed a hollow space behind the wall, her curiosity instantly peaked. The dwelling wasn’t at all strange to her. After all, she was all too well accustomed to the Dark Ages’ architectural style. What was odd was the location itself. She wouldn’t expect to find such a fine specimen of Megalith City’s architecture so far away from the fallen city’s resting place. Namely, an ocean away, in another continent!
When one of Abby’s now graduated students had sent her a photograph of this abbey, sitting alone with only two or three more small dwellings in the middle of some woods, completely covered by the vegetation, hidden from view for centuries, she instantly recognized the architectural style of the building.
She was thrilled to find yet more remnants of that bygone civilization that fathered modern-day Megakat City, but when she learnt those ruins sat in another continent, she was completely fascinated. She just *had* to drop everything and go check it out for herself. However, it wasn’t until two months later that she had made all the arrangements for her trip.
She, her students and her assistant had just arrived the day before. She had barely slept at all with all the excitement of the coming morning. Still, she was the very first to get up. They had been exploring the recesses of the abbey for just five hours and already they had discovered a hidden niche, barred with a solid wall of stone bricks. The same wall they were now trying to bring down.
The same wall Tristan and Gonzales were hammering on like there was no tomorrow. This healthy rivalry that existed among them was nothing more than the purest form of friendship. The two toms had known each other since elementary school, and they were as close as any real brothers could be. The fact that both toms came from rather underprivileged families forced them to shoulder their education since their teenager years solely on their own. That and a series of other events brought these two young toms closer than any two brothers. So through competition they actually reinforced their bonds of friendship.
“Gonna beat you to it!”
“No way in heeeeee…” – the last word Gonzales spoke was prolonged as his shovel penetrated through the age-old wall, making him lose his balance and fall head-first into the hollow behind the now ruined stone brick wall. Tristan dropped his pickaxe and readily bent down to help his falling friend but to no avail. Both toms fell in a heap as the stone bricks hammered down on the ground all around them.
“Are you two okay?” – Dr. Sinian asked, concerned.
The two youngsters, however, were laughing their tails off.
“Looks like you were wrong this time, pal.”
“Not that it happens very often…”
“Just often enough!”
“Okay, you guys can kiss and make better later.” – Angela intervened as she stepped through the middle of them. She raised her lantern in an attempt to illuminate the dark niche. Her next words took the smile off of the toms’ faces – “It’s empty.”
“Aw, man! All this work for an empty hole? No fair!”
“Totally no fair!”
Dr. Sinian stepped inside the hollow and she too swept the place across with the strong halogen beam spouting from her hand lantern. Almost immediately, she spotted two torches hanging on opposite walls.
“Can I borrow your lighter, Tristan? Thanks.”
Moments later, the niche was illuminated by the flickering orange glow of both torches. As her eyes adapted, she could discern more of the architecture of that hidden place.
“You know, it’s amazing how spiders always find these places before everyone else…” – Gonzales said as he swept aside a large cobweb.
“As long as they don’t decide I’m their next meal, they’re just fine by me…” – said Angela, her penetrating eyes trying to discern something unusual.
Dr. Sinian examined the bricks on the walls. They were just the same as the bricks Gonzales and Tristan hammered down just minutes ago to gain access to this hollow space. It seemed that, other than the torches, there was nothing else inside the room.
“What a bummer…”
“Would you two shut up, please? I can’t even hear myself thinking!” – Angela cut the two students up, irritation and frustration filling her voice. She started to massage her right temple as she turned to Dr. Sinian – “What do you make of all this, Dr. Sinian? Is it really empty like it seems? I have to say that nothing really catches my eye, but …”
“But, why build a hidden niche, torch-holders and all and have nothing in it?”
“Maybe it was ransacked many years ago.” – Tristan proposed.
“Maybe it was an error in the plans.” – was Gonzales idea.
“Angela?” – Dr. Sinian gave the ground to her assistant as she herself focused on the walls once again.
“First of all: Megalith’s architects *didn’t* make mistakes! Each and every plan was designed not by one but by a group of architects that would then submit the plan to another group comprised of what we would now call geologists, engineers, biologists… who would do something like an environmental impact study of the plan, as well as a study of its stability and functions. Megalith’s architects were far more advanced than any others at their time. It’s a shame we don’t follow their standards anymore…”
Dr. Sinian smiled at this remark. She’d heard many discussions of friends that were environmental engineers and geologists about that topic, so she was fairly acquainted with that. Apparently, Angela shared the same concerns. The archaeologist focused her attention on a particular spot of the wall to the right of the entrance they’d made. She picked up her compass and checked it.
“Second: if this place was ransacked, then why was the wall rebuilt, moreover so sturdily? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Good points, both of them!” – Dr. Sinian said as she straightened herself up – “But, like to us she-kats, there’s more to this chamber than meets the eye. And, I think I figured it out…”
The three kats huddled closer to her, already engrossed. She turned to the wall, touching it with her palm.
“This wall faces south, the prime alignment direction to which Megalith’s architects built their greatest works, like the Castle, the Cathedral and the Throne Room. According to the texts our ancestors left, the north direction has ever been appointed as a direction of bad omen, probably because it was the direction the frozen wind blew when winter came.”
“It is also the direction of Tor Bloodhelm… Legend has it that a terrible battle ensued there. A traitor was slain at the cost of the blood of a hundred knights. Hence the dreadful name of that hill…”
Dr. Sinian looked irritated at Gonzales.
“Let’s not confuse legend with history, shall we? There are no evidences of such battle at Tor Bloodhelm. Chances are the people just named it after a trick of the light on sunset or the autumnal foliage… Anyway…” – she focused on the wall again – “The fact that this wall faces south would be meaningless if not for the slightly different color of the mortar that binds the bricks together. That must mean there is a hidden niche inside this hidden niche that was opened and closed more than once. Besides that…” – she pointed to a specific brick in the wall, which heralded a symbol as small as a ladybug – “… this brick presents the royal crest of Megalith.”
“The Royal Seal! That means…”
“Let’s open it!” – said Dr. Sinian as she produced a pocketknife and started to scratch the mortar around the branded brick – “Help me out! Remove all the different color mortar but do *not* damage the bricks!”
After several minutes of scraping, several bricks were already lying on the ground, arranged in the exact same way as they had been in the wall, which now presented a gaping hole. Dr. Sinian pointed her light towards the opening.
“There are too many cobwebs… I can’t see clearly… Give me something to wipe them out.”
Dr. Sinian wiped the cobwebs almost feverishly. The thrill of the hunt always made her nervous. She knew she had to calm down for there was always the possibility of setting off a trap, however unlikely it was when dealing with Megalith City’s architecture. Finally, something glinted at the end of the hole.
“There! I saw something!” – Gonzales said as he stuck out his hand and reached out towards the object.
“STOP!” – Dr. Sinian exclaimed – “You might destroy it! Go get the steel sheet! Better safe than sorry…”
“Procedures! Remember the procedures! They’re not just for the item’s protection but for your own safety as well! Now go!”
The scant minutes Gonzales took seemed like hours to Abby. She quickly picked the thin metallic sheet the young tom had brought and, adjusting it to the hole’s floor, she started to push it in. When she reached the base of the object, she forced the sheet down so it would go under it. She made it at her second try. She pushed in some more until she found more resistance. She reasoned that the sheet must have hit the back wall.
“Time to reel in our prize, people.”
Patiently, agonizingly slowly, she dragged the object perched atop the thin metallic sheet through the small tunnel carved in the rock wall. Moments later, a small but sturdy chest came into view. Gonzales and Tristan proceeded to support the sheet of steel and lower it ever so slowly to the ground.
“It’s… It’s…” – Tristan stuttered, spellbound.
“… a dust-covered old box!” – Gonzales finished in an equally bewildered tone.
Angela just shook her head – “I honestly can’t even begin to reason how you could have ever been able to finish college…”
“It must date back to that short period of time known as the Post-Golden Age of Megalith City, some seven hundred and fifty years ago.” – Tristan proposed, entranced.
“Judging by the markings on the lid and the intricate footing, this must have been done by the Royal Master Carpenter himself.”
“That and the intricacy of the rose pair carved on the top.”
“The keyhole’s work is definitely the one of the Royal Chief-Jeweler! And look! It forms the Queen’s Signet! This means…”
“Queen Callista…” – Dr. Sinian whispered – “The noblest and most mysterious of Megalith City’s queens!”
“Let’s just quit the ‘oh-ah’ and open it already! Who’s got the acid?” – Angela queried.
“Here.” – Tristan stopped – “Dr. Sinian, would you do the honors? We know you hold Queen Callista in high regard.”
“Thank you, people…”
Carefully, slowly, Dr. Sinian pressed the plunger of the large glass syringe. The acid quickly corroded the age-old seal, fizzing and smoking its way into the box’s lid, finally eating through the locks. They all held their breath when they heard the familiar sucking sound of air rushing into a closed space. The lid had just opened up less than a millimeter, seemingly for the first time in several hundred years.
“The moment of truth, lady and gentlekats…” – Dr. Sinian commented under her breath as she gently forced the hinges. Her hands were quivering slightly, as if the lid was made of lead instead of wood.
“Come on, Dr. Sinian, open it up already!” – they all looked askew to Tristan, who just shrugged – “The suspense is killing me!”
“Fine, then. You just ruined the moment.” – the senior scientist stated as she flung the lid wide open, which caused everyone to gasp in panic. However, to their dismay, the interior was completely and utterly…
“Empty!” – Gonzales sputtered – “I can’t believe it!”
“So it seems…”
“After all this suspense! Come on, that’s completely anticlimactic!”
“These markings on the bottom… Dr. Sinian, don’t they suggest…”
“Nothing! This is nothing but an ordinary safe designed to protect the Queen’s jewelry. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Dr. Sinian quickly closed the wooden vault and handed it over to Tristan.
“Tag and prepare it for transport back to Megakat City.”
Dr. Sinian sat with her laptop perched over her crossed legs. The glowing screen was reflected from her glasses as she wrote.
“Log entry: 12th June
“Holy Kats, my hands are still shaking… Today, my crew and I found an artifact that puzzled me and, simultaneously, shocked me beyond words. It puzzled me because of the location of the finding: we’re a whole ocean away from the resting site of ancient Megalith City, in the ruins my former student discovered. The place, in itself, is nothing out of the ordinary, basic Megalith City architecture. I’ve seen better, I must confess…
“It was the artifact, together with the remoteness of this place that made this trip worthwhile… We found a wooden vault that bore the royal crest of Queen Callista. I was baffled to find such a thing so far away from Megalith City. My crew was also befuddled by this finding, but I’m sure their attention would soon fall upon the slight detail that had caught my eye and demanded my quick action.”
The brunette she-kat surreptitiously looked over the edge of the laptop’s screen, towards Tristan, Gonzales and Angela, who stood a few feet away, cataloguing the other finds of the day and working on their field reports by the camp fire. She lowered her eyes to the flat glowing screen once more.
“I don’t know if the chest is but an elaborate forgery, but I’m just dying to get my hands on it and lift that trapdoor in the bottom… I know what it is; I’ve seen other wooden vaults like that, with similar systems of deception… Disguised as a simple safe for small jewelry, often Megalith’s noblesse hid, in a false bottom specifically designed and built into those vaults, written documents that would only be accessed by someone who knew how to lift that little trapdoor, usually the owner… Or the maker!
“Hiding in plain sight has ever been one of the fortes of Megalith’s nobles… The fact we just dug up such a fine specimen of that Megalithian tradition so far away from the city’s resting place is something I do not yet understand… But I plan to as soon as I return to Megakat City!”
That was four months ago. Now, in the early dawn’s twilight of the day on which Dr. Sinian sat at the table of her office studying the ancient documents she had found, two toms drove an armored truck across the mountainous regions northeast of Megakat City. Thunder rolled across the pitch-black storm clouds as its natural predecessor had crossed the leaden skies just a second before, immersing the rugged shapes of Megakat Mountains in a blinding white electric light.
“Holy Kats, that was a close one!” – Bernard, a pudgy tom in his late forties, recoiled as his ears glued to the sides of his head upon hearing the roar of the thunder. His colleague, Harris, a tough-looking black-pelted short tom in his late thirties, risked a glance at Bernard and showed one of his traditional grins, which consisted of showing his right golden canine.
“Afraid of the thunder still, Bern?”
“Just drive, okay? By all rights, I should be with Bess in some hot lovemaking by now…”
“As if Bess and you had had any sex in the recent years…”
“If you must know, we’ve been at it day in, day out!”
“More like year in, year out, I’d venture.”
“Can we change the subject, please?”
“Pay attention to the road, will you? It’s raining really hard now” – Bernard said before a blinding flash and a deafening boom made both toms tense their muscles.
“Whoa! Now *that* was a really close one!” – Harris said with his ears still flattened against his head.
“And it’s not over yet! I can still hear it rolling…”
And, those were the very last words Bernard spoke before an avalanche of rocks and debris hammered on the side of the truck, turning it around and its occupants together with it. However, the final audible sound coming from Bernard was that of his cervical vertebrae popping when his neck was twisted at an impossible angle.
Harris was thrown headfirst against the bulletproof glass of the driver’s window, smearing it in red. Dazed from both shocks, the surprise rock avalanche and the blow to his head, Harris had to struggle to release himself from the vise-like grip of the seatbelt, only to be rewarded with more pain when he suddenly fell half a foot over his bruised left arm. After a muffled curse, Harris regained enough composure to claw his way up towards the passenger’s door, oblivious of the mass that lay ahead still strapped to the seat thanks to the seatbelt. The blood oozing from the gash in his forehead partially blinded the vision from his left eye and it was only when he felt his thumb dig deeply into something at the same time hard and squishy that he remembered that his friend was still in the truck with him.
“Bern?” – he called out, twice. Only silence met him back.
Harris couldn’t even rely on the flashes of lightning to provide some light to the darkened cabin since the only thing separating him from a crushing death was the shaken windshield, already cracking at an alarming rate from the weight of the rocks and dirt piled against it.
As the ominous cracking intensified by the moment, so did Harris’ desperation. So much so that he soon forgot about his friend, starting to claw his way out with increasing fierceness, not really caring whether or not he’d hurt Bern. Just the atavistic horror of being buried alive was enough to drive him to the edge of insanity.
A couple of yards, maybe even less than that, were all that separated Harris from freedom. Yet, those scant, measly feet were the hardest climb of his life. Despite that, despite being bathed in sweat and blood, despite having his fingers slippery from some unknown substance coming from Bern’s face and his own blood and despite being partially blind from his left eye, he made it nevertheless. He tried the doorknob, but his fingers slipped off and he failed to open the door. It was only on his third try that his hand cupped the piece of steel and tugged at it.
He heard the familiar noise of the door unlatching, but it did not open. As he stood with the tip of his shoes on the door of the driver’s side, he stretched out but could not muster enough force to beat the spring that held the door just unlatched but otherwise closed.
Feeling with his knees, he tried to find the handle of the handbrake. Sweating and hurting, he managed to place his knee over the handbrake and lunged himself at the door, hitting it with his shoulder with all the strength his battered body could muster. To his dismay, the door barely moved at all.
His mind almost blocked as he finished processing what had just happened. After a few minutes of hyperventilation and a paralyzing certainty that he’d die there with his friend, his mind shifted suddenly to its primal gear. He started clawing out once again, trying to place both feet over the handbrake. When he finally managed that feat, he rested his back against the door and, using his legs as levers, he forced the door up. It was with a primal growl of terror that he finally found the strength to push open the door, dislodging the few rocks that held it in place.
Cold rain hammering down in sheets greeted the beaten tom as he greedily sucked in the cold night air. He looked around to get his bearings and, in doing so, he noticed he wasn’t alone. There was a figure, smudged by the heavy rain but darkened by the lightning cracking behind it that was climbing down the rubble towards the turned-over truck.
Feeling relieved beyond words, Harris waved his arms in the air and shouted, trying to get the stranger’s attention. He watched as the figure stopped briefly, as if startled, and then resumed its descent from the top of the hill down towards him. If Harris’ mind hadn’t just been through such an ordeal, he’d have wondered what someone was doing alone in those mountains on a night like this, even more so when that someone was climbing *down* the hill instead of *up* the pile of debris left by the avalanche. As this wasn’t the case, Harris couldn’t really grasp just why the stranger picked up a heavy coconut-sized stone from among the rubble shortly before he reached him. It was only when the stranger lifted his arm and brought down the stone in a sideward arc with full force that his intentions became clear to him, and by then it was too late already to stop his attacker from dashing his skull in.
All his calculations had turned out correct; his information, solid. It had been worth the bribes and the favors he’d had to collect for this job. Comedian, maybe… But, never underestimate a trickster with a good network of connections.
As Lenny Ringtail searched the bleeding remains of the driver, he couldn’t say his mind was even there, paying attention to what he was doing. Truth be told, it wasn’t very far either! All he could think was about the contents of that armored truck.
“Bingo!” – he breathed out.
With his secondary goal in his hands, he headed for the back of truck, which, thanks to the calculations of his friend, a pyrotechnician, had made for him, was virtually free of rock debris. He inserted the key he’d just stolen into the lock, turned it and had to jump away to avoid being hit by the falling door.
He took a deep breath to regain his composure. A small fright, that was all it had been, although a broken leg in a place and a time like this would have foiled all his plans. He focused on the opened up treasure chest that was the armored truck. It was time to retrieve his primary goal, his *prize*.
Scanning the interior with the small flashlight, he almost immediately found it: a small cubic object, fallen on the side of the truck, now serving as its floor. It was just an inexpensive steel vault. He grinned: one well aimed shot with piercing rounds and it would spring open much in the same way its contents usually did. Of course, the adrenalin now flooding his veins made him miss the first three shots but the forth finally hit payday. The lock mechanism came in pieces and the door sprung open exposing the red and beige but otherwise uncharacteristic box.
He picked it up in his hands and turned it, observing it. His breath came in a series of short, rapid gasps as he felt the box, as though waves of sexual pleasure were coursing through his body. He finally located the button that would make the handle slide out. As he rolled the handle, slowly coiling the spring inside to a point where it would do nothing else but uncoil violently and suddenly, his thrill grew and his muscles tensed. And, when the time came for the puppet inside to come rushing out of the box, he greeted it first with a startled jump. Leveling eyes with it and bearing a grin to match the sneer of the puppet, Ringtail finally greeted it properly.
The loud clang of steel hitting steel muffled the forced exhalation of relief as Jake placed the barbell back in its holder. He wiped the beads of perspiration off his forehead with his forearm as he straightened up and got off the flat bench.
“And *that’s* how you perform fifty bench presses with a hundred-and-fifty-pound weight.” – he cockishly said. His arms, however, told a completely different story: they seemed as though they were made of jelly…
“Pretty impressive…” – stated Chance matter-of-factly, removing the fifty-pound weight from the barbell and replacing it with another hundred-pound weight – “I’ll see your hundred-and-fifty and raise you fifty.”
As Chance lay down on the flat bench and adjusted himself, Jake slowly felt a pit opening under his stomach. When he watched the burly tom start his series seemingly effortlessly, he just turned around, tossing his towel over his shoulder. He knew he’d reached his limit, there was no way he could endure another fifty bench presses with that kind of load. There was simply no point in sitting there, watching Chance make short work of his attempt to beat the brawny tom at bench pressing.
“Really, Jake…” – he thought to himself as he headed out of their weight room – “…What were you thinking when you wagered a whole month of housecleaning in this kind of bet? He *is* stronger than you!”
Jake looked back at Chance when he reached the door. The tabby was grunting out the numbers as he almost effortlessly did bench press after bench press. He smiled. No wonder Chance gave bone-breaking bear hugs.
“I’m hitting the shower, bud!”
“What?” – Chance grunted out, surprised – “Don’t you wanna see me winning?”
“Not really, I…”
Suddenly, the blaring sound of the alarm filled the room.
“Aw, *crud*! I’m all sweaty! I *need* a shower!” – Jake complained as he threw away the towel and bolted out of the weight room. He still heard the clang of the barbell being quickly placed up on its holder before Chance was fast on Jake’s heels.
“Yes, Miss Briggs?” – the slim kat greeted after smacking the back of his fist against the large intercom button. There was a prolonged silence on the other side – “Miss Briggs?”
“Metallikats, guys. This time they’ve gone too far, even for them…” – Callie’s voice sounded disgusted even from the other side of the com-link – “They’ve hijacked a school bus and are holding the kittens hostage for ransom. The Enforcers can’t get near the school bus ’cause they’ll blast anything that gets within a ten-yard radius.”
“Where are they keeping the bus?” – Chance queried. Again, Callie didn’t respond at once, as if she was distracted somehow – “Miss Briggs?”
“They’re driving the bus through downtown and destroying everything that comes in their way. They’re threatening to kill the kittens if the bus ever comes to a stop before their demands are met.” – now Jake and Chance stared at each other in silence – “Guys?”
“What do those bastards want?” – Jake asked, a faint growl growing in the back of his throat.
“Not much. Just the key to the City and every penny and quarter there is in Megakat Mint.”
“We’re on to it, Miss Briggs!” – Chance stated before he cut the transmission. He looked back at Jake. He could see the slim kat was appalled with all that. – “Let’s go, Jake.”
“Kittens… Those bastards are gonna pay…”
The Deputy Mayor put the triangular communication device back into her purse, but she did so mechanically. What had distracted her in her talks with Razor and T-Bone was still occupying her mind. Not even the Metallikats’ attack on innocent kittens, the latest nadir of mindless criminal violence in her city, could stop her gaze from repeatedly wandering back to the piece of paper atop her desk. She looked intently at the beautiful handwriting of those eight lines of text as they formed a poem she couldn’t understand but she knew had to have some meaning. In fact, her feeling went deeper than that: she felt like she knew the owner of such handwriting but couldn’t quite place where or *when* had she seen it for the last time. This feeling filled her with unease.
She reclined in her executive chair and closed her eyes. She could have let the SWAT Kats know of the poem but for what reason? Even *she* couldn’t understand why she felt so uneasy… After all, nobody knew! Nobody *could* know! Nobody *alive* anyway…
Still, she needed someone to talk to about this… She picked up her cell phone and dialed. Staring out the window of her office, towards the gray veil that blanketed Megakat City in a drowsy drizzle, she waited impatiently for the familiar voice but when it came, she realized she was just hearing the taped message of Dr. Sinian’s answering machine. Frustrated, she tried reaching her at her workplace. Her line at the Megakat Natural History Museum was busy, so she typed in the number of the museum’s reception.
“This is Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs. I must speak with Dr. Sinian urgently.” – she said the instant her call got through.
“One moment, please.” – the receptionist said and put Callie on hold as he tried to get hold of the curator. Classical music flooded the line in his absence, tinny, soulless. The wait seemed to last an eternity for the distressed she-kat.
Then, finally, the voice of the receptionist was back. But, his news was bad – “I’m sorry, Deputy Mayor. Dr. Sinian gave explicit and strict orders that she wasn’t to be disturbed by anyone. I believe it has something to do with her last expedition. I think they found something valuable, and the doctor is analyzing it thoroughly.”
“Really?” – she wondered. She bit her lower lip, pondering on her next move. She knew how obstinate Abby could be with her findings, and she didn’t really have an ironclad reason for wanting to disturb her. Just a poem scribbled in a piece of paper…
“Is there anything I can help you with, Deputy Mayor?” – the receptionist asked, solicitous, yanking Callie off her train of thought.
“No, thanks! I’m sure it can wait! Thank you, once again!”
She ended the connection and picked herself from the chair. Despite what she had said, she didn’t think she could wait that long. Her vague fear had to be alleviated somehow. She considered what her next action should be. She opened her petite leather-covered agenda and roamed through her contacts. As she expected, she had someone who could help shed some light on the matter…
She folded the sheet of paper in four and sank it in the depths of her purse before she went out of her office and drove to Megakat University.
Troubled, Dr. Sinian looked out of the window of her Museum office. On the table beside her stood the wooden vault she and her students had found in those ruins half a world away, and next to it lay the scrolls she retrieved from its false bottom. She had checked, double-checked, triple-checked and then double-checked them again just to be sure of what those writs were saying to her. There was no mistake. The story those manuscripts told would change the world as Katkind knew it. They had changed *her* world, that was for sure.
She closed her eyes and sighed. In her lifetime, she’d stood against ghost pilots, giant mummies, pre-historic beasts and eight-hundred year old sorcerers but never *ever* could she have even dreamed of the shocking revelations brought upon her by those ancient scrolls.
A polite cough in her back shook her out of her reverie. She turned around to the receptionist, not quite managing to smooth over the lines of indecision that marred her beautiful face.
“I told the Deputy Mayor you were unavailable, just as you wished. She still didn’t tell me why she wanted to speak to you, Dr. Sinian, but she said it could wait.”
“Thank you, Carl.” – Dr Sinian said, and the tomkat returned to his place at the reception.
Abby gazed out the window again. She realized that, outside, all was gray, all was grim. As was the decision she had to make… She could either stay quiet, letting the best opportunity to carve her name in the History compendiums slip her by or she could publish a scientific article on her findings and turn one of her closest friends into an abomination, an outcast, a test subject.
Duty or desire: which would be the right choice?
“E-excuse me, m-miss…”
“WHAT?” – Molly snapped back at the frightened young tom, who just coiled back in fear.
“I-I n-need to go…”
Molly’s optics burned in bright red as she leveled her chromium-plated face to the kitten’s.
“Do I look like your mother?”
“Then SHUT UP AND BE QUIET!” – she screamed as she tore the empty seat from the bus’ floor and threw it against the closed window, smashing it. The seat crashed on a parked car on the other side of the avenue, setting off the vehicle’s airbags and alarm – “And that goes double for the rest of you too!”
“What are you going to do with the kittens? I *demand* that you leave this bus *immediately*!”
“Oooohh, mister school-bus driver, sir…” – Mac said mellifluously – “You should be more concerned about what we’re going to do to you…”
And, the last thing the driver saw was Mac’s chromium-plated fist rushing to hit his snout… And turn his face into a bloody pulp… Mac then opened the front doors and tossed the corpse out onto the wet street. As he occupied the now vacant driver’s seat, two bumps rocked the frame of the vehicle.
“Attention, students. This is your driver speaking.” – Mac stated through the speakers – “As of now, school’s out!”
“Yeah, it’s time for Camp Metallikat now! And, you’d better behave if you want to see your mommas again!” – Molly threatened before both robots laughed at their wit.
“We need a plan, buddy…” – Razor stated as the Turbokat flew high over downtown, the droplets of the light rain mingling with the clouds – “This is a hostage situation and the hijackers aren’t feline… There’s no telling what those two could do.”
Razor could hear the low growl of disgust stressing the tabby’s words. He too was appalled with the situation at hand. Those were kittens down there! First-graders! They had no idea what evil was and now they had been suddenly swept into a maelstrom of violence and malice. T-Bone had to agree with Razor… Those bastards were *so* gonna pay for this…
“So, what do you suggest, sureshot?” – no answer came from behind. He peered back and saw Razor scrutinizing something on his screen. Then he heard a sigh.
“I’ve got an idea… But, you’re not gonna like it…”
“It’s extremely risky… The timing *must* be flawless… And, I’ll be relying on your shooting skills to save my life…”
T-Bone just gulped before he headed for a thicker cloud bank.
“C’mon, get outta my way!” – Mac said through the seesaw movement of the windshield wipers as the bus crashed against the car directly in front of it, sending it swerving out of control – “Like I always say, if you can’t drive, stay outta the road!”
“I wonder when that punk Feral will try to stop us” – Molly said as she polished her hand cannon.
“He knows better than to try somethin’ stupid like that. We’ve made our point with the bus driver. He knows who’s in charge here.”
“Yeah, you’re right, but don’t let it go to your head. Hey! What about the SWAT Kats?”
“What about them?”
“Duh, they don’t answer to Feral, knucklehead! You’d expect they’d be here already! Hah! Guess those two are not like advertised…” – she chuckled before she looked out the window. They were coming to an intersection. In addition to the troubles that morning’s light rain was causing to the traffic, Molly saw as the cars screeched to a halt to let the speeding bus come through.
It was only on a second glance that she saw something that shouldn’t be there. She saw a plane flying so low it was almost touching the cars driving in the street. Milliseconds later, she turned to warn her husband of the jet fighter, but it was already too late. A jolting impact forced her to grab one of the poles to prevent her from being thrown down to the floor.
The bus swerved ninety degrees and spun out of control along the other avenue, hitting vehicle after vehicle until it finally came to a halt a whole block away, in the middle of the next intersection.
Molly got back up and quickly asserted her situation. The kittens were all there and although they were now terrified beyond words they were otherwise unharmed.
Good, she still had her hostages.
Then she looked for her husband, but all she could find was a gaping hole in the driver’s window, from which the drizzly rain poured in and soaked the driver’s seat. No one stood at the steering wheel. She looked left to right in order to locate Mac, but all she could find was a set of blasted front doors. Whatever got Mac must have entered from the driver’s window and left by the front doors. She looked back at the scared sobbing kittens and fired a few shots that cut through the roof of the bus as though it was made of butter and allowed even more moisture inside the bus.
“SHUT UP AND BE QUIET!”
“Temper, temper, Molly! That’s not the way to deal with kittens!” – someone said from behind.
“Hah. I should have known you clowns wouldn’t stay put for long…”
Molly turned around suddenly and fired a volley of laser fire over Razor that, instead, hit the windshield, shattering it. The slim SWAT Kat had ducked and barely had had time to extend the glovatrix’s shield before Molly corrected her aim and retargeted Razor.
With the shield deployed, Razor had little to fear from Molly’s blasts, but something happened that made his stomach sink to his feet. Some of the blasts ricocheted back at the kittens and barely missed them. Razor immediately realized his strategy had failed.
“MOLLY, STOP! I SURRENDER!” – Razor bellowed as he ventured peeking at Molly.
“Then disable your shield and throw away your weapons!” – she demanded, terms to which Razor had no other choice but to obey. He rolled the shield back in and took off the glovatrix.
“Put it down and kick it towards me. Gently!” – she pointed her blaster towards the kittens – “Or the Holy Kats’ Halls will be a little crowded today.”
Razor did as she ordered. Molly grinned as she trained the cannon on the SWAT Kat again. She bent down to grab the glovatrix.
“This is some incredible piece of weaponry you got here, SWAT Kat, I’ll give you that.” – she put the glovatrix on – “Why don’t I just finish you off using your own weapon? Don’t you think it’s a fitting end for you?”
Molly accessed the electronics of the glovatrix in order to turn it on but as soon as she did it, a massive electric discharge ravaged throughout her body, severing a number of servos and rendering her momentarily disoriented.
“NOW!” – Razor screamed to the com-link as he became one with the floor. When Molly regained enough of her composure, she saw the slick black jet rushing along the avenue, again almost touching the vehicles. She saw something shooting from beneath the jet, heading straight towards her. And, that was the last Molly saw before her system crashed due to an electrical overload.
Razor ran to the blown out back door to see Molly wrapped in the metallic web of a Spider-Chain Missile. The momentum of the rocket had been enough to make her crash through the back door of the bus. Only then did the three parts of the missile split up and wrap around her frame, letting out a powerful electric shock. He turned to the frightened kittens.
“It’s all over now. You’re safe.” – he said in the most soothing tone his adrenaline-soaked voice could muster. Slowly, frightened beyond words, the kittens started to get off the seats and to approach Razor – “It’s okay! It’s over now! See? We defeated them! They won’t try to hurt you again!”
The kittens finally ran to Razor, tears hanging in the corners of their eyes, some crying openly, and huddled around their hero. He tried to sooth them and slowly they all got off the bus. He turned his head towards the sound of sirens approaching. The Enforcers were finally arriving at the scene. Good. They’d get the kittens home safely. He was still getting the kittens off the ruined school bus when a tremendous screeching noise reached his ears.
“Keep moving! Don’t stop. For nothing, you hear me?”
The SWAT Kat jumped on top of the bus and tried to locate the source of the ever increasing sound. The drizzle had lifted a bit but, in its stead, a pale veil of mist lingered on. Then he saw it. He had to clean the blinding droplets of water that slowly dripped from his helmet and over his eyes with his sleeve just to be sure that he was actually seeing what he was: on the transversal road, coming straight towards him, there was a tanker truck speeding out of control. Razor widened his eyes in disbelief.
Razor was dumbfounded with the violence of this act. It seemed the Metallikats were completely out of control. No sign of decency or felinity. Just plain cold evil. Apparently, Mac was planning to ram the SWAT Kat head on and was demonstrating his old driving motto plainly: if you can’t drive, stay out of the road! Cars careened and were veered to either side of the truck as its formidable mass and speed wiped them out of the way and rapidly decreased the span between the two large vehicles. The truck’s horn blared, like a trumpet from hell announcing Razor’s demise.
He looked down, to the back end of the ruined school bus. The kittens were still leaving the vehicle, helped by the Enforcers, who, by now, had also spotted the incoming threat and hurried the kittens along. Razor, however, daren’t leave the bus until all the kittens were out safely.
Jetpack! Cyclotron! Grappling hook! Mini Turbo Blades! Mini Cement-Launchers! All of these ideas passed through Razor’s mind as he desperately tried to find a way out of this predicament. But, there was nothing Razor could do. He hadn’t brought any jetpack to fly away, no Cyclotron to speed away from danger. There was nothing near for the grappling hook to hold on to. Shooting the tires of the truck or covering Mac’s face with cement would only make things worse.
The kittens he vowed to protect had just finished stepping out of the bus. Razor thought about running, but there simply was no time to evade it without getting injured. There was nothing left to do but die…
“At least the kittens are safe. My work is done.”
“RAZOR!” – T-Bone’s voice rang through the com-link – “GRAB THE LINE!”
“Of course… T-Bone! Why didn’t I think of my *partner* as a solution for this?” – he muttered to himself.
Razor watched the Turbokat fly low and almost out of reflex grabbed the cable dangling from the bomb bay just when the tanker started to hit the side of the bus. The SWAT Kat felt the floor speed away from his feet as the Turbokat yanked him off the bus’ rooftop. Mac smashed the tanker against the side of the bus and dragged it several yards until something completely unexpected happened.
The metallic mass crumpled underneath the front fender became so large it stopped the tanker dead in its tracks. However, as the First Law of Movement states, a moving body tends to remain in motion. The liquid mass inside the tank kept moving at the same speed although the truck had stopped completely. The result: the tank flipped over the truck’s cabin, rising thirty feet into the air, ripping off the locks that kept it trailed to the truck and falling rear side first into the asphalt. The tank teetered for about half a second before it came crashing down on its side on the street, ripping its hull and spewing its contents.
Then, the Third Law of Movement came into action: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The friction of the metal walls of the tank against the rough asphalt produced a tiny little spark that completed the so-called “fire triangle”: carburant, fuel and ignition source.
Hell broke loose.
T-Bone sat silent in the cockpit, waiting for Razor to say something. Anything. While their interference had saved the kittens, it was more than likely that the Metallikats’ rampage had claimed some casualties. The detonation of the tanker truck had been tremendous…
At last he heard Razor sigh – “This is not the result I was hoping for this mission…” – he lowered his head and T-Bone wished they weren’t in the TurboKat, that he could put his arm around his friend’s shoulders as a sign of support.
“We did what we could. It was a tricky situation, we both know that. Hostage situations usually are.”
“I know all that. It just pains me to have innocent bystanders injured… or killed…”
“Hey, don’t take this personally, you hear? It wasn’t your fault!”
“I’m not saying it was! I *know* it wasn’t my fault. *The Metallikats* did it. I’m fully aware of that… It’s just… Well, I’ve never seen them so vicious before…”
“You’re right. I know they used to be mob bosses, but this surpasses even that… It’s like they were out of control…”
Before both toms could ponder the thought further, a frenzied radio transmission on the Enforcers band caught their attention.
It seemed Mac and Molly Mange had only been the first course of mayhem on the menu for the day…
“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice, Stan.” – Callie said as she stepped inside the small office of Stanley Whiterspoon, linguist and emeritus professor at the Faculty of English Studies at Megakat University.
“Please, it’s an honor to have the visit of the Deputy Mayor!” – Stanley said as he took a pile of books from the chair and placed it on the ground – “As you can see my office can barely contain myself, let alone other people. Do be seated Callie! So, to what do I owe this honor?”
“Well, Stan, I wish I could say I’m here to catch up on the old days…”
“Ahh, always to the point, my dear Callie…”
“I’m sorry. We should go out one of these days…” – she opened her purse and fished out the folded sheet of paper – “There’s something I’d like to show you.”
Stanley adjusted his specs and eyed carefully the piece of paper Callie handed to him. He smiled after he read the poem, taking off his glasses in a slow, affected manner.
“An admirer, perhaps? Don’t bother to answer, I know it’s not. I, at least, wouldn’t want to have this kind of an admirer…”
Now Callie looked concerned – “Why? What do you make of it?”
“Let me read it out loud.” – Stanley cleared his throat before he declaimed the poem.
“Before the Full is done/Rise the one trampled shall./Past sins to atone./Black soul burn in Hell.
Thy Wiccan laughter/Makes thy witchcraft prowess/Thy future cannot alter./Turn thy body humorless.”
Again, Callie felt a shiver run down her spine without really understanding why. Then she noticed Stanley waving his head in an appreciative manner.
“Callie, this ‘admirer’ of yours can make one *lousy* poem, even when he tried a baroque style…”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the word order isn’t direct. He does some weird weaving in these eight lines.” – he fished a red-tipped pen – “Here, let me show to you. Can I scribble on this paper?” – she assented – “Okay. See this.”
Stanley drew two circles, each of them surrounding each stanza.
“This poem is obviously divided into two distinct strophes”
“I got that just as soon as I looked at it, Stan. What else?”
“Let’s consider the first strophe. It’s quite direct, although he uses an anastrophe in the second verse…” – he underlined the verse in question and showed it to Callie – “…which means the order of the words within the verse is slightly switched.”
“Before the Full Moon is done, the trampled one shall rise. Past sins to atone. Black soul burn in Hell” – Callie muttered.
“Ah, so you understood that ‘Full’ with a capitalized ‘F’ stood for ‘Full Moon’… I wonder what you need me for…” – she nudged him lightly – “So, someone who you trampled shall rise in less than…” – he turned to look at the calendar – “…well, tonight is full moon, so he shall rise today, actually, to make your black soul atone for the sins you committed against him in the past and you’ll still burn in Hell for that… Clearly someone doesn’t like you…”
“Who could this guy be?”
“Well, you needn’t look any further: *I* wrote the poem. *I* will rise from my grammatical grave and *I* will…”
“Okay, I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“What about the second stanza?”
“The second strophe is far more complicated than the first. Only a set of trained eyes and a quick mind like mine could have deciphered it upon one reading.” – Callie rolled her eyes – “You see, here your ‘admirer’ uses a massive hyperbaton to pass his message…”
Stanley proceeded to number the verses on the second stanza, one to four.
“Not only is the word order switched within each verse but the order of the *verses* themselves is also switched. Like this.” – he traced two arcs, one linking the first and the third verses and the other linking the remaining two.
“Your Wiccan laughter can’t alter your future. Your witchcraft prowess makes your body turn humorless.” – Callie muttered. She pointed to the word “humorless” – “What does it mean?”
“It’s quite obvious, I’d say. In the past, it was believed that the feline body was kept alive by what was called the humors. There were four of them, representing the four elements, fire, water, air and earth. Any unbalance of these humors would result in illness and death. There was a fifth humor who ruled over all four of them. Of course, we know now that there’s nothing like a humor keeping a kat alive. That was just another one of the plethora of superstitions that spiced the life back in the Dark Ages. No, that word doesn’t cause me any kind of surprise. There are *other* words, though, that puzzle me, like the use of ‘Wiccan’ and ‘witchcraft’ in his reference to you… Any ideas on this, Callie?”
“How should I know? The kind of power you wield when you’re in a position such as mine can sometimes look magical to some people. Perhaps this is just someone who’s been ill-favored by some bill we’ve signed in the past and is now looking to get even. It happened before, with Mac and Molly Mange, when I turned down their parole. I guess it’s bound to happen again…”
“If this is the case, you should ask for protection. I’ll call the Enforcers right away to escort you…”
“Thanks, Stan but I’m sure there’s no reason for that. Whoever sent me this poem clearly wanted to spook me and I just played along. As Deputy Mayor, I can’t let these things get to me, or I’d just be a plaything for the scum in this city. I’ll be all right, Stan; thanks for caring.”
“Are you sure about this? This guy probably went through a lot of trouble to come up with this poem just to scare you. Don’t you think this guy means business?”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. Thanks for your time, Stan.” – she kissed him in the cheek and retrieved the paper from the desk, folding it in four and stashing it away in the depths of her purse – “You were a sweet. I hope I get to see you soon!”
Callie’s cell phone started ringing the very moment she reached the university’s main parking lot. She answered the call immediately, something Mayor Manx’s habit of calling her at least twice a day had ingrained in her. But, even if she had taken the time to think about the caller first, she would have expected it to be Manx, telling her that he had just collected Mr. Young at the airport. Therefore the sound of a female voice at the other end of the line took her by surprise.
“Callie, we need to talk!” – Dr. Sinian’s voice had an unusual high pitch, as if slightly strained.
“I’d love to, Abby, but I fear you picked a most unfortunate of times for a chat.” – she said. Now that she had faced the horrors of the strange poem together with Stanley Witherspoon, she realized how tightly packed her schedule for the rest of the day was – “I’m just leaving Megakat University, the inauguration of the new wind farm is just a few hours away, and I still have to print out the speech I’ve written for Mayor Manx and bring it to him. And also…” – she swallowed – “…there is a personal matter I have to see to first. I hope this can wait?”
There was a long pause – “Actually… no, it can’t. Can I meet you in your office when you get those documents?”
Callie stopped beside her car, eyeing her watch – “No, that wouldn’t work. Why don’t you come to my apartment instead? There is something I have to pick up in my room, and I can access the office servers from my desktop and print out the speech at home. I will be there in about ten minutes.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”
“So tell me, what is so urgent that you willingly took a break from studying your latest discoveries?” – Callie asked teasingly while she was fumbling for her keys in her purse – “Abby? Abby?” – she asked when there was no response.
She looked at the blank display and realized that she hadn’t switched her phone off all day. The old university building with its thick walls most likely blocked off any satellite signal, and the phone’s continual signal search had exhausted its battery so much that her short conversation with Abby had deadened it.
She climbed into her car, gunned the engine, revved it up once and drove off the university’s parking lot, wondering what Abby might want from her.
A purple flash briefly illuminated the ruins of Megalith City. A moment later, the sound of someone falling to the ground and grunting both in pain and exhaustion was heard. Groaning and quivering as he futilely tried to straighten himself up, the PastMaster ended up sprawling on his back over the wet rocky remains of the clock tower’s roof.
It was not physical exhaustion that nailed the PastMaster’s bones to the ground. After all, he was but a living bag o’ bones! No, the exhaustion washing over the skeletal form was not of physical nature but rather of a magical one. In his last predicament involving the SWAT Kats, they’d destroyed the giant mummies of Katchu Pichu and even found out a way to subdue the big half-demon itself by breaking the head dress that so much time the PastMaster had invested searching for. The destruction of the head dress also brought about the fall of the legendary lost pyramid of Katchu Pichu, ripping open a direct way to the fiery pits of its mystical dungeons, where the PastMaster had remained, enduring torment after torment, trial after trial, labor after labor in his epic journey to leave those infernal catacombs. With just enough time to quickly conjure a time vortex to anywhere, in his weakened state of mind, he ended up going farther back in time than he wished for. He ended up in Megakat State’s pre-history, where, again, he had to flee from all the dangers those wild times presented him. Taking refuge in a cave, he finally had enough time to properly calculate the right amount of energy he had to use in order to open a time vortex back to present day Megakat City, which happened just seconds ago.
He finally found the strength to sit there, remembering his ordeal and panting as though he had run for miles. He thought this was odd, since he no longer had any lungs or muscles, nor did he breathe anymore. He reasoned that the panting motion he presented was nothing more than a remnant of a reflex act of his previous life, back when he was still a living tom, Khronos, the Gray Devil of Megalith City.
The dimness of the heavily overcast day soothed him as his mind wandered over the past centuries, remembering the dark events that turned him into what he currently was… He closed his only eye, caressing the black void of his empty left eye socket, remembering how the hilt of his own blade pierced his flesh and ripped his eye off his face. He looked down on his hands, to the reddish bones, with an expressionless gaze. He motioned his hand towards a nearby stone, attempting a spell in order to move it and sighed as his efforts were met with very limited success.
Above him, the clouds shifted and the sun was allowed to shine briefly between wisps of cloud on the golden frame of his watch, making it glint and catching his eye. He unclipped the golden timepiece and stared intensely at it, caressing it ever so gently with the reddish bony remains of his thumb. The sapphire glass of the watch reflected the skeletal face that had replaced his former handsome features.
He remembered that Pyros once told him, between swigs of ale, that several maidens always swooned over him whenever they caught a glimpse of him in practice, comments that enticed a series of remarks on his good looks by Hydor and Eolos and soon ended in the attributes of the outer bailey’s wenches. He remembered that his best friend Telluros had stayed silent, drinking his ale as he stared intently at him. It was obvious the brown-furred warrior already suspected he had eyes for only one lady.
Pyros. Hydor. Eolos. Telluros. He hadn’t thought about his friends in a long time. Suddenly he missed them wholeheartedly, wishing they’d be there with him today. He wished they were all back at the Hard Hart after a hard day of practice, drinking mead and laughing. If the PastMaster had been able to shed tears, he’d have done so. For the first time in centuries, he longed to be Khronos again. Just Khronos, not over-empowered PastMaster. No Tome of Time, no betrayal, no death… Just the Dark Ages as they were: a violent time but also a pleasant one…
Muttering a spell, the glass face of the watch turned opaque for a moment before an image shown, glimmering eerily with a light of its own.
“Alive, after all…” – he whispered, entranced by the image, his friends forgotten for the moment.
The animated image showed Queen Callista standing proudly over the Royal Manor’s balcony in a shiny and beautiful spring morning. A light breeze waved her aureate mane as if it weighed as much as the invisible effluvium. At the same time, a shower of rose petals fell behind her, in the background. He sighed again, longingly.
“I thought the conflagration that consumed the castle had also taken your life… My savage beauty… I never thought you’d go so far as to condemn you and all your people only to evade me… Even though I thought you were dead, I sought you out tirelessly for so long… So many centuries have I searched for you… So many centuries have you eluded me… Constantly avoiding and spurning my love… But now…”
He hoarded back his watch, breaking the viewing spell. He rose to his feet, walking to the edge of the stone ruins that once were the mighty and proud clock tower of Megalith City, training grounds for the Mystical Knights and the tallest structure on all the land of Megalith at its time. His stare turned heavenwards, to the ever-shifting clouds. Once again, the sun shone out briefly between shreds of clouds, bathing him in a weak tint of gold and making his only eye glint.
“I have found you now! Even though I had to escape from the fiery dungeons of Katchu Pichu to where those infernal SWAT Kats threw me after my last defeat, that was easy enough compared to the torment of being apart from you all these centuries… But, now I have another chance! The fact you assented to marry me of your own accord… That brought me joy as I never felt during all these centuries! I believe I would have even released those blasted SWAT buggers…
“Alas, you were lost to me again that time… But, I have yet to give you up. Even if the Damned Halls are emptied and their accursed inhabitants set loose upon me, that will not be enough to keep us apart, my beloved Callista! This time you *will* be mine!” – he stated as the rock of the wall he was groping became dust under his hand’s pressure. Suddenly, he fell back over the ruins, gasping for air as the sun was rapidly covered by the shifting dark clouds.
“Curses… Escaping from the dungeons of Katchu Pichu has drained me of more power than I expected… I need to regain my strength… The Mystic Tarn… Tonight is full moon… I need to get to the Mystic Tarn…”
When people talk about retirement homes, they usually think about cozy, peaceful places where elders can come to live out the remainder of their days in peace and quiet. Hallowed Kats Day Care Center was all a retired kat could ever ask: friendly and professionally trained personnel, broad, cozy and accessible accommodations, a stunning view over the sea and large outdoor areas, including an adorable small coastal bosket bordering the cliffs for long walks enchanted by the scent of maritime pines. Usually, their tenants get all the care and attention they require. Today was no exception, as the Enforcers’ SWAT Team stood before Hallowed Kats.
“Surrender, Chop Shop! You’re surrounded! Give yourself up peacefully and we’ll go easy on you!”
“Commander, Commander…” – T-Bone muttered as he surveyed the scene from afar – “Where did you learn to negotiate with terrorists, in the fish market?”
T-Bone looked up to the new storm rolling in from the sea as he handed the binoculars to Razor, who took them and quickly inspected the situation.
“So, what do you say, bud? One good shot and we can all go home?” – he asked, almost matter-of-factly, as the first drops of the storm to come hit the burly tom square in the face.
“It’s not that easy… We don’t know what kind of detonator Chop Shop is holding. If it’s pressure sensitive, taking him down could activate the bomb.”
“An EMP, perhaps, then?” – the brawny SWAT Kat proposed, zipping his G-suit closed as a fresh wind started to pick up. Definitely not the best conditions to be flying out in the sea today, he thought.
“And render all weapons inoperable, including our own? Not a chance… Besides, we don’t know either what kind of bomb he has in there. If the trigger turns out to be mechanical instead of electronic, an EMP would be useless.”
T-Bone sighed – “I’m running out of options, here… Sneak attack?” – T-Bone looked towards the horizon and was amazed that he couldn’t discern where the sea ended and the black clouds started until the first lightning bolt had joined the party.
“From the cliff on the seaside?” – Razor asked as a topographic map of the area showed on the screen of his glovatrix – “It could be an idea… We do know Chop Shop is alone. This might work.”
T-Bone said nothing, but anything he would have had to say would have been cut short by Chop Shop’s voice barking his demands to the Enforcers.
“I won’t come out until my demands are met!” – they heard Chop Shop scream in the distance – “A jet-powered chopper and ten billion in unmarked bills! Oh, and I want Mayor Manx and the Deputy Mayor to personally hand me the key to the City as a token of good will. You have four hours to comply!”
“You know very well we can’t get what you demand in such a short window of time! Be reasonable, Chop Shop! Whatever your qualms against the City may be, those people have nothing to do with it. Let them out and we’ll talk this over peacefully.”
“*Three* hours, Commander! You’re wasting your time!”
“What if we’re unable to provide your demands in time?”
Chop Shop let out a frustrated sigh. It was like talking to a wall! – “I’m *really* getting stressed out here, Feral! If my demands aren’t met, in two hours of time I’ll start killing off one hostage every five minutes until either I get what I want or everyone here is *dead*! Now, *git*!”
Razor sighed – “Things don’t look good, buddy. Chop Shop is crazier and more vicious than I thought!”
“I think he means it… That laughing hyena! When I get my hands on him, I’ll…”
“Save it. We have no time for empty threats now. We’re going in.”
“What’s the plan, Razor?” – T-Bone asked as they ran up the ramp leading to the Turbokat’s bomb bay.
“You’ll fly out in a large arc and come on to the cliff from the sea. You wait in hover mode at the base of the cliff while I climb…”
“Hold it right there, mister! I let you pull off that stunt with the school bus all on your own, but you’re *not* talking me out of this one. The weather’s not gonna hold and Chop Shop is a tough guy that…”
“More than Molly?” – Razor queried as he raised one brow. T-Bone sighed and closed his eyes.
“Point taken… But, just for the record, Razor…” – the tabby turned completely on his seat to look the slim kat in the eye – “I *don’t* approve your plan.”
Dr. Sinian parked her car at the side of the street. Through the water-specked windshield, she squinted up at the apartment building looming above her. She was still unsure whether or not this had been the right option. Sighing, she killed the motor, gathered an umbrella and her handbag and headed for the entrance hall. Reluctantly, she pressed the front door buzzer.
“Why, Abby! Come on up!” – Callie’s voice sounded through the intercom and the front door opened with a loud buzz.
Dr. Sinian headed for the elevator. As she ascended, a wave of ambivalence assailed her yet again. Was this the correct option? She was still mulling over this when the elevator immobilized and the door slid open to reveal a smiling Callie.
“So, what brings you to my humble abode, Abby?” – Callie asked.
“I…” – she started but soon her voice lost its strength. She cleared her throat. – “I wanted to ask you something…”
“Sure!” – Callie steered her into the living room, where some relaxing jazz music was playing in the background. She motioned for Abby to sit down on the white leather sofa, pressed a mug of hot chocolate into her hands and sat down on the couch opposite – “Shoot!”
Abby produced a manila-paper envelope from her handbag before handing it over to Callie.
“Please, open this.”
Callie did as she was told. She put aside her own warm and cozy mug of chocolate, opened the envelope and retrieved several sheets of paper from inside. They seemed like copies of some ancient manuscripts.
“What are these?”
“You can read them, can’t you?”
Callie looked intently at the copies. Her heart thumped in surprise and shock.
“You recognize your handwriting, don’t you… Queen Callista?”
Callie looked up at Abby, a frightened look upon her face. She didn’t know what to do. Where could have Abby dug up those documents from? Nobody knew! Nobody *alive* knew! And yet, here she was, confronting her… And, with evidence to boot, too… She sighed inaudibly as she put the papers back in the envelope and rested it over the table. She looked Abby straight in the eye.
“Of all people who could have noticed, why am I not surprised that it had to be you, my friend? Yes, I am Callista of Megalith.”
“Holy Kats, so it *is* true!” – Dr. Sinian said as she covered her mouth with both her hands, in an expression of utmost shock and disbelief. Then those manuscripts weren’t just some elaborate hoax – ” But how? You should have died eight hundred years ago!”
“You don’t have to remind me. I find it hard to believe myself.”
“But, you haven’t aged a day! How is that possible? Or are you using some kind of spell?”
“The answer to that question is tricky… Technically, I’m eight hundred and twenty three years old, so I *have* aged every day I had to age, although I don’t look like it. I’m not *willingly* using any spell to prolong my lifespan or my youth, but I’m *definitely* under some kind of spell. What spell exactly I can’t say, or else I’d have died a long time ago… I would have seen to that…”
“Good Holy Kats, you’ve actually *witnessed* History!” – Abby said, fascinated.
“Calm down, Abby, eight hundred years is a lot of time and my memory isn’t that good, so don’t start asking a thousand questions ’cause you’re likely to know more than I do!”
“Fair enough.” – Abby assented. She was beginning to feel acquainted with Callista. After all, she was just being plain old Callie! Abby was now sure that she had chosen the right option.
“Where did you get those manuscripts? I had them destroyed centuries ago!”
“They were very far away, a whole *ocean* away, to be precise, but they *weren’t* destroyed. My guess is that one of your followers loved his or her Queen too much to just let her fall into oblivion. These scrolls were found in an abbey, inside a wooden vault, very secluded from sight. If it weren’t for one of my former students, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”
“They should have been destroyed, along with every other thing that belonged or related to me… If he’d found them…”
“You’re talking about Khronos, right?”
“No. Khronos is dead. I’m talking about the PastMaster. Kats Above, just uttering that name gives me chills…”
“So the story narrated in those scrolls is true…”
“Every word… Regrettably…” – Callie somberly replied before taking a sip of the hot chocolate, which wasn’t so hot anymore.
“You lost your husband at the hands of a maddened tom…”
“How was he? No portrait of King deManx XIII survived to this day…”
Callie bore an empty smile as she looked up to ceiling. She embraced herself as though a cold gust of wind had suddenly ravaged her form.
“He wasn’t the most handsome tom, I have to admit it… In that regard, Khronos beat Maurice by a mile, I give him that. Maurice was rather short and round, actually. He did have strong arms and an even stronger will. Business was his turf, he *always* got what he wanted, the way he wanted and when he wanted… He wasn’t much of a lover in bed, but he surely knew how to keep me happy and fulfilled… I loved him, I truly did… Unfortunately, his living closest relative isn’t a tenth of the tom Maurice was…”
“You’re talking about Mayor Manx, aren’t you? Does Mayor Manx look like your husband?”
She smiled – “On the outside, they’re like two drops of water but on the inside…”
“You’re not in love with Mayor…”
“Heavens, *NO*! Kats alive, I wouldn’t date him if he was the last tom on this planet! No, I still love Maurice… Even after eight hundred years of separation, my love for him hasn’t cooled a bit. I love Maurice, and I will *always* love him and *only* him!” – she looked outside, confirming that the weather seemed to be holding for the moment – “Would you like to see him? I’ll be right back!”
Callie left the living room, briefly abandoning Abby to her now cold hot chocolate for about fifteen minutes. The curator almost dropped the mug to the floor when Callie reappeared. Her hair, formerly unrestrained and cascading down her shoulders and her back was now enveloped in a light black silk scarf with white etchings resembling flower motifs that matched those on her long thick black dress. In her hands, instead of her usual white purse were flowers. A simple bouquet made of a single red rose encircled by blue forget-me-nots.
“I’m already late. Let’s go.”
The drive didn’t last more than twenty minutes. When both she-kats stepped out of Callie’s car, they watched as the skies were slowly becoming more and more darkened by the arrival of the storm clouds from the sea. But, for the time being, the weather was still holding up.
“It’s the anniversary of his passing. I had planned to come here earlier today but some things interfered…” – Callie explained as they approached a large tree located on a cliff on the outskirts of the ruins of Megalith City. She slowly hunkered down over the wet fallen leaves covering the soft grass beneath the large oak. The tree was impressive as impressive as its story. Surviving floods, fires, earthquakes, storms, wars and civilization, the small acorn had managed to grow into a sturdy sixty-foot high tree spreading its branches over an impressive area. It would take at least fifteen people to completely encircle the girth of the trunk.
Now, the tree protected both she-kats from the cold breeze wheezing from the coast. Dr. Sinian looked upwards, towards the swaying branches, taking in the rustle of the oak’s remaining leaves as the last watery pearls of that morning’s drizzle plunged all around her. Indeed, autumn had definitely settled in and winter was approaching with wide steps.
Looking to the base of the sturdy tree, Callie settled the flowers over a protruding root before taking away the rusty-colored leaves with her hands. A small rounded gray stone then appeared, nestled between two thick roots. She picked the bouquet and lovingly deposited it in front of the small headstone before saying an age-old silent prayer. A tear escaped her green eye, promptly caught in a gust of wind that also raised a small tourbillion of dead leaves around her. She looked up when she finished her prayer, perhaps in search of comfort but all the dark retorted arms of the old tree could give her was a strange ominous feeling…
“A better cathedral could not be found…” – Dr. Sinian whispered to the crouching she-kat in front of her, touched.
Callie got to her feet and nodded.
“This oak is seven hundred and fifty seven years old. It was planted when I secretly had my husband’s grave moved from the Cathedral of Consecrated Felinity in the inner bailey of Megalith City. Something told me that the Cathedral would someday be razed to the ground and I was not proven wrong…” – she remembered the destruction of Megalith City at her own hands – “I couldn’t let my husband’s memory be destroyed. The people of Megalith City always lived in communion with Nature. We knew that, in order to command nature, we first had to obey its whims1. So I planted the acorn after I enchanted it. And look what a beautiful tree it grew to be…”
Callie got up to her feet and turned to the curator. Both she-kats left that hallowed place light-hearted, although for different reasons.
The rain hammered down on the canopy of the Turbokat as T-Bone squinted at Razor’s ascent of the steep cliff side just below the back patio of Hallowed Kats. The burly tom tried not to worry, returning his gaze to the panel of instruments before him, but he soon found himself squinting through the rain battered canopy at the face of the cliff again. Okay, so Razor wasn’t actually climbing like an alpinist. Instead, the powerful motor built into his glovatrix was doing all the work but still… The wind seemed to be picking up… Or was it just his imagination? Did he see Razor stop? Did the engine stall? Did the cable break?
“Get a grip on yourself, Chance! It’s not the first time he’s done this kind of stunt and this time he’s wearing a delta pack, so should anything go screwy, at least he’s got a means to flee! But, why am I so uneasy? Crud, I should have gone with him… I shouldn’t have let him talk me out of it…”
A larger wave broke against the side of the cliff, licking the Turbokat’s frame and pulling T-Bone out of his dark thoughts. He noticed he’d unconsciously lowered his position so he was too close to the sea surface. He quickly corrected the jet’s position, steering it up and away from the range of the larger waves. He looked down to the enraged sea below and shivered. Should any of them fall to such a sea, not even their corpses would ever be found…
Battered by the rain and flogged by the wind, Razor wasn’t exactly having any picnic. That morning’s autumnal drizzle had, it seemed, been just a prelude to this early winter storm, which was making his ascent all the harder. Still, the engine seemed to be hanging on well. He was rapidly approaching the metallic handrail of the back patio. He looked at where he’d fired the grappling hook. It’d entwined itself on one of the metal posts of the balustrade and although he could see the post had given way a little bit, it seemed it wouldn’t move any further.
Razor reached the top of the cliff without complications. He quickly surveyed the place. As he expected, it was empty. Everybody was inside, safe from the rain but thickening Chop Shop’s ranks of hostages. He climbed up the banister and onto the patio and quickly and silently moved on to the wall. Consulting the watch built into the glovatrix, he saw he still had more than one hour to the end of Chop Shop’s deadline.
Glued to the wall, Razor headed for the nearest window and carefully peeked inside. Every light was turned off so it was fairly dark, but still he managed to discern many unmoving forms inside and one that paced from one side to the other. Chop Shop was in that room along with the hostages. Now, all he needed was to sneak inside…
“Chop Shop, this is Feral” – Razor heard. He saw the pacing form stop and stiffen. – “We’ve got the chopper you demanded, but it will take three more hours to round up the amount of money you requested.”
Even in the gloom of the darkened interior, Razor could see that Chop Shop wasn’t happy. He saw him moving to another room located further to the front of the retirement home. That was the opportunity Razor was waiting for. Carefully, he headed towards one of the back doors and tried the knob. To his surprise, it wasn’t locked. He was about to open the door when a lightning bolt crossed the skies just behind him and, in the electric blue flash, he noticed the thin wire attached to the door knob.
“Booby trap! So, you’re not as sloppy as I thought, Chop Shop… But, that trap is easily avoided.”
Razor disabled the trap and, after another inspection of the rest of the door, he went inside, where he waited a moment for his eyes to adapt to the new conditions of lighting. He inspected his surroundings. The room he was in had three doors, the one to the back patio, a door to his left and a door right across the room. The hostages he’d just seen were in the adjacent room to his, left but they were not his primary objective. He tiptoed across the room towards the front door and silently opened it ajar.
“You’re wasting your time, Commander! My demands stand as does my deadline. But, I can always move forward my threat to start killing off these people every five minutes. Don’t tempt me, Feral! And, what about the Mayor and Deputy Mayor?”
“We’re trying to reach them, but…”
“No excuses, Commander! Get them here or I will start killing these people. You’ve wasted enough of my precious time already.”
“Chop Shop, listen…”
“NO, YOU LISTEN, FERAL…” – Chop Shop snatched one of the nurses by her waist and shoved a gun on her right temple – “Time’s up! You have five seconds to meet the terms I demanded or this nice piece of ass will be the first to die.”
Whatever strategy Razor had planned, those words had just rendered it useless.
If he hadn’t been so drained, his transportation spell would have brought him directly to the small spring hidden in the mountains. As it was, the PastMaster instead materialized in the forest at the foot of the mountain, under a hammering rain, and had no other choice but to walk the rest of the way under the downpour.
Not that he felt cold or wet or uncomfortable. He could barely feel anything at all in his present state. If he were still Khronos, then he’d certainly feel miserable under such weather. But, to the PastMaster, the rain presented only a small hindrance as it made his robes cling closer to his body, encumbering his movement. He knew his way to the Mystic Tarn by heart, but eight hundred years had surely altered the forest. Much to his surprise, he found that it was easier to walk in the forest nowadays than back in the Dark Ages.
“Katkind surely forgot how to live in balance with Nature… Even under this purifying rain, I can taste their pollution… And, the trees, once so closely packed that they presented a challenge just to walk in a straight line, now are sparser than ever… Katkind deserves a serious wake-up call… And, I’m about to deliver it…”
He remembered the glorious sunrises he’d watched atop the Tower, back in the Dark Ages, in Megalith City. The swiftness of the rising aster’s brilliance sweeping across the land and enveloping everything into an untainted radiance… How he missed the feeling of the sun’s rays warming his skin, the soft touch of the grass under his feet, the wetness of the morning dew around his legs, the gentle breeze caressing his face…
He missed those days so badly he actually fell to his knees right there, overwhelmed by the feeling. Again, he thought about all his companions, about Sir Astor, even about King deManx! He closed his eye and sighed as the hammering rain brought him to the present. He knew he had always longed to return to the Dark Ages, but he never thought he’d long so much to be *Khronos* again… Had the Tome of Time held its sway over him in such a manner that he’d been blind all this time?
“No! The Tome of Time is mine! All mine! The Tome isn’t evil… Sir Astor was… King deManx was… *She* was…”
He swept the rainwater from his face, feeling its skeletal features with the bony remains of his hands. Enraged and disgusted at his appearance, he smacked his balled fist into the soaked wet ground.
“How naive! How could I have failed to master such simple a spell as the one that creates mystic receptacles? All it required was utter concentration, nothing more!” – he looked heavenwards, teeth gritted – “If I hadn’t transferred so much of my powers to that fool’s cap… If only I could find the *blasted* jester and undo the spell that created him… Oh, if regret could kill…”
After a few moments of inactivity, the PastMaster rose to his feet and resumed his journey. No point in crying over spilt milk, he rightfully thought.
At first, Chop Shop didn’t really understand what had knocked him over. The gun went clattering away in the floor before he could twist his body and confront his aggressor. He was a bit surprised to see a black mask covering the face of the kat on top of him, but he quickly came to his senses. Folding his legs underneath the attacker’s midsection, he suddenly extended them, yanking the slim SWAT Kat off of him.
“I should have known you SWAT Kats would try something stupid like this.” – Chop Shop said as he picked himself up.
Razor slowly got up from the ground, always keeping an eye on the villain.
“It’s over, Chop Shop! You lost already. The Enforcers have you completely surrounded. Any minute now and they’ll be breaking in from everywhere and all your efforts will have been for naught.”
“Is that a fact? Then I guess we won’t be needing *this* anymore, don’t you think?” – Chop Shop showed Razor his left hand, cupped around a small gray plastic rod with blinking yellow lights – “The moment the pressure sensors within this little gizmo here hit zero everything will rocket sky high!”
“Are you prepared to die?” – Razor bluffed.
Both kats stared for a long moment at each other intensely, teeth grinding against each other, unblinking and unflinching until Chop Shop sneered maniacally.
“This *is* the end!” – Chop Shop proceeded to open his hand.
In that very moment, Razor aimed the glovatrix at Chop Shop. The split seconds the Mini Cement Launcher took to come forth and fire four cement slugs almost made Razor lose his faith. But, the slugs hit their target right on time, enclosing Chop Shop’s hand in a coffin of quick-drying cement, not allowing him to open his hand completely and thus preventing the pressure sensors inside the detonator to reach zero PSI. Razor blew the smoke off the barrel of the glovatrix and smiled back at the surprised Chop Shop.
“Fastest glovatrix in the West!”
“This isn’t over yet, bitch!” – Chop Shop proceeded to hit his encased hand against the wall in hopes of breaking the cement and fulfilling his desperate ploy. But, Razor had other plans. He fired two Mini Spider Missiles against the villain, who, completely entangled in the missiles’ threads, fell to the ground, putting an end to his frantic attempts to break the cement casing.
“UNTIE ME, YOU FREAK! I’LL KILL THE LOT OF YOU! I SWEAR I’LL GUT YOU ALL FOR THIS!”
“You leave me no other choice…”
Razor’s elbow crashed violently – and not without some satisfaction, Razor had to admit it – against the side of Chop Shop’s skull, knocking the tom unconscious immediately. Razor sighed in relief. Finally, it was all over and no one had gotten hurt. Well, no one except Chop Shop.
When Razor got off the unmoving body of the villain, his eyes widened as he gasped in terror. He had looked down to Chop Shop’s left hand and noticed the cement casing had been broken. The detonator was no longer in Chop Shop’s hand but lying in the floor a few inches from his open hand. The little yellow lights had stopped flickering and remained continuously on.
“EVERYBODY OUT! NOW!” – he shrieked in panic. And, panic indeed ensued. The staff began rolling wheelchairs; the ones who could walk strained their tired muscles and age-gnawed bones to run away from that place; those who couldn’t were carried by those who could. The front doors soon became crowded and, with the first fall there was the first victim, trampled to death by the remaining tenants of the retirement home.
Razor stayed behind. When the last of the freezing effects of panic finally melted away, he realized something was wrong with the detonator. The bomb should have gone off the same instant Chop Shop had let go of the detonator. The slim SWAT Kat picked up the small device and inspected it. And, gasped at what he found…
“It’s a dud! It’s just a toy!”
By the time Razor realized that, the Enforcers already had everything under control and managed to calm down the frightened people, who now were evacuating the retirement home in an ordered manner. He did not yet know that there had already been one casualty.
“Hold it right there, SWAT Kat!” – the familiar voice of Commander Feral reached Razor’s ears.
“Are you detaining me, Commander?” – Razor asked as he gave the detonator to Feral – “It’s a dud. Chop Shop was bluffing all along. I bet the only weapon he had was that gun.”
“You think so?” – Feral queried as he inspected the toy in his hands – “Did you know your evacuation order caused one death and several injured?”
Razor did not respond to that, but Feral nonetheless saw he’d just caught the SWAT Kat by surprise. Instead of answering his interlocutor, he headed for the back patio, followed by Feral. Once there, he went to the balustrade, under the heavy rainfall, chin glued to his chest. Feral stayed behind, protected from the rain inside the retirement home. Razor didn’t want Feral to see the tears soaking his mask and running down his facial fur.
“Get a grip, Jake!” – he thought to himself moments later before he looked above, letting the raindrops fall directly over his face – “You did what you judged to be best. It’s not your fault! It’s *not* your fault!”
He felt a strong hand over his shoulder. Looking back, Razor was surprised to see Feral there.
“You did what was right. When we first got here, Chop Shop had showed the detonator to me, and I too thought it was real. And, you know, I’ve seen my fair share of detonators, so don’t punish yourself for that.”
The SWAT Kat cocked one eyebrow. Feral was trying to cheer him up? Had the world come to an end without him knowing? It certainly felt like it when three explosions made their strong roars heard in a rapid succession that didn’t last more than two seconds.
Razor and Feral ducked and covered their heads from the falling debris. When they looked up again, the retirement home had disappeared and, in its place, only a pile of rubble remained. But, worse than that was the constant tremor that was being transmitted throughout the ground.
T-Bone looked up when the roar of the explosions reached his ears. Instantly, he gunned the VTOL engines and the jet hurtled upwards. It was with dread that he watched as the whole side of the cliff abated over his head.
Almost out of reflex, he gunned the aft engines full throttle and barely managed to avoid the largest falling blocks of rock, albeit the jet was still hit by several of the smaller ones, cracking the canopy open.
Now the strength of the storm invaded the Turbokat’s cockpit. T-Bone lowered his helmet’s visor and quickly put on the oxygen mask before he stabilized the jet. He turned around to face the falling cliff side. He squinted through the visor, intent on locating his partner but failing to acquire his target.
“RAZOR! RAZOR, DO YOU COPY? RAZOR!”
No response. For what seemed like an eternity, not even a crackle of static was heard from the other side of the line. A deep sinking feeling enveloped the brawny tom for only a moment before the radio finally crackled to life and Razor’s voice reached his ears.
“I could use some backup right about now, buddy!” – he seemed distressed.
“RAZOR! Where are you, buddy? You’re not reading on my scope!”
“I’ve deployed my delta pack, but I can’t make it back to the Turbokat! I’ll send out a flare.”
Moments later, T-Bone saw the familiar red light of one of their flares to his right. Of course Razor had to be downwind. He mentally kicked himself for his thickness. As he squinted through the shattered canopy, he managed to find the reddish delta wing.
“I see you. I’m going in.”
“Hurry! I can’t hold out in this storm for much longer!” – he seemed almost desperate.
“Hang on, buddy!”
T-Bone dashed towards his partner. When he came within range, he fired a net that engulfed the triangular shape beneath the jet and pulled it in via bomb bay doors.
“Hang in there, buddy. I’ve got you now!” – T-Bone reported, awash with relief – “What happened back there? I heard you saying, through the com-link, that the detonator was a dud! What was that explosion all about?”
“Apparently it wasn’t just a toy.” – Razor responded, his voice sounding slightly stressed through the com-link as he exited the bomb bay and climbed back to his seat, strapping in – “The bomb had obviously some kind of timing device. Most likely, it was rigged to blow a few minutes after the pressure sensitive detonator reached zero PSI… To allow Chop Shop enough time to escape unscathed…”
“While the tenants and the Enforcers die in his stead.” – a rumbling aggressive third voice snarled through the com-link, nearly making the big tom jump in his seat from shock and surprise – “He’s gonna have some serious charges to answer to when he wakes up…”
“Commander Feral?” – T-Bone looked back to find Feral standing behind Razor’s seat. Feral smiled at the tabby’s surprised countenance behind the oxygen mask Razor had proffered him.
“Yeah. He was with me when the devices went off.” – now that he was back in the relative safety of the Turbokat, Razor addressed his guest in his usual light manner – “How about we drop you off at the rim of the cliff, Commander?”
Feral wrinkled his nose in response, making the skin between his eyes to fold deeply – “I can’t wait to get out of this jet. How often do you guys shower? Once a week?”
Afternoon was approaching fast when the PastMaster finally entered the secret passage through the bosom of the imposing mountain looming over him. Good. He was tired of rain already. A small energy ball, conjured using only a tiny fraction of his remaining powers, granted some purplish light to the dark, damp and diminutive corridor he was walking through.
Soon enough, he came to the other side and was forced to blink twice. A thick pocket of haze covered everything in sight. He cast a spell to clear away the mist and reveal the dark blue waters of the Mystic Tarn. In the farther corner of the pond there was a small cascade of crystalline water, falling from a couple hundred feet high and spreading its liquid content in the air as a haze and crashing down on the rocks. Dark green spots of vegetation, like strokes on a watercolor, punctuated the otherwise bare gray rocks, falling down like tresses from their higher resting places.
He closed his eyes, and his mind wandered back centuries although the location was exactly the same. He looked down to his arms and saw the gray fur stand on end.
“Master, it’s *icy*” – he complained, shivering fiercely.
“It’s good for your muscle tonus.” – Sir Astor responded as he entered the waters of the pond, robes and all. Khronos, Telluros, Pyros, Hydor and Eolos, stripped from the waist up, watched the elder walk into the glacial dark blue waters to his waist level and were amazed when they saw a trail of light bluish glow in the aging tom’s wake.
“It’s also good for your magic, as you can plainly see.” – he smiled – “Come on, the water’s fine!”
“Oh, what the heck… CANNONBALL!” – Pyros yelled before he ran towards the pond and jumped in. The immense splash of water hit everyone but Hydor, who just cast a spell to maneuver the water droplets around him. When Pyros resurfaced and swung his head to clear the water off his mane, Sir Astor greeted him with the coldest glare imaginable. Still, Pyros and the rest could not help to laugh at their soaked wet master.
“Oh, you’ll all pay *dearly* for this…”
With a wave of his staff, Sir Astor made all four kats in the margin levitate freely in the air. When they were located just above Pyros and he was gaping up, awestruck, Sir Astor broke the levitating spell and the four kats dropped like stones over poor Pyros, plunging them all into the gelid waters. When Khronos and Telluros came to the surface, gasping for air and of coldness, they noticed the elder’s fatherly smile.
“Now, let’s be done with these childish games and focus on what we’re here to do. Pay close attention… *Hydor*!”
The fair-furred tom broke the spell that kept the water away from him and was suddenly immersed in the chilling liquid. All his comrades stared silently at him.
“What? You’d all have done the same if you could!” – he shrugged.
“The water that forms this pond is magic, as you’re all undoubtedly aware by now. The mystic reverberations are not only soothing but also replenishing. Should your magic powers ever become depleted and you are in dire need of replenishment, come to this place. It is guarded by the most powerful cloaking spell I could muster, but the five of you will know how to enter this secluded place if you memorize the trail here. Any “bread crumb” trail you leave behind to serve as a pointer to this place will promptly be displaced or erased, for the road is also enchanted.”
“How did you learn of this place, master?” – Khronos asked as a small shiver ravaged his body.
“My teacher showed it to me, as his teacher had and his teacher’s teacher… What is important about this place is that its magic is neutral: it does not stand for any element over the other and does not discriminate evil from good no more than it can empower you beyond your present capacities. Now come. Join me in meditation beneath the waterfall.”
When the PastMaster opened his eye, he found himself immersed in the water up to his waist. He sighed and snarled half-heartedly. He would have more than *welcomed* the gelid touch of those waters, but he felt absolutely nothing. He muttered a spell to prevent him from sinking to the bottom and thus he swam to the waterfall, robes and all. Moments later, he sat in lotus position under the icy sheets of water, which abated mercilessly over his neck and shoulders, allowing the replenishing properties of that magical fluid to douse him as he closed his eye and began his meditation.
“Hey, Razor?” – T-Bone asked through the com-link as he steered the Turbokat towards the Salvage Yard. The rain had finally stopped and the wind howled with less ferocity around the frame of the fighter jet, but the skies remained as menacing as before, with ink-black clouds roofing the large city.
T-Bone narrowed his eyes. Razor’s comeback had been much less intense and lively than he’d hoped for.
“How are you doing?”
“How do you think?”
The tabby drew in a deep breath.
“My order caused casualties. I should have checked the detonator more carefully. Someone is dead because of my irresponsibility.” – Razor continued, his voice only loud enough to be heard.
“Are you listening to yourself? What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense!”
Razor blinked and looked at the back of T-Bone’s helmet in front of him.
“What would you have done if you had taken the time to check the detonator?”
Razor didn’t answer immediately. He knew where T-Bone was headed for.
“I might have done two things: either I wouldn’t have issued an evacuation order or I would have.”
“And, what would have been the consequences if you hadn’t told those people to get the hell out of there?”
“Lots of innocent people would have died…”
“So, from where I’m standing, I’d say you had only one choice: to issue an evacuation order as fast as possible. Dozens of kats were saved because of your order, bud.”
“And, I suppose that makes it okay for the one who died…”
“No, Razor, it doesn’t make it okay for the poor guy who died. But, you said it yourself: there wasn’t anything else you could have done.”
Razor cleaned the wetness that had formed in the corner of his eye with his gloved hand – “I suppose…” – he looked again at the back of T-Bone’s helmet – “How come something like this doesn’t affect you?”
The tabby looked to the distance for a little while before he replied – “It does.”
Razor looked intensely at his comrade.
“We just have different ways to deal with it.” – the tabby completed before the radio crackled.
“SWAT Kats! Come in, please!”
“We’re here, Miss Briggs!” – Razor responded – “What seems to be the problem now?”
“I have a personal favor to ask of you, guys. I hope I’m not overstepping my boundaries here…”
“Anything for you, Miss Briggs!” – T-Bone answered – “We just have to get back to the hangar to refuel and replace the Turbokat’s canopy. But, after that, we’re all yours!”
“Won’t that take all day long?”
The tabby winked – “With Razor’s gadgets working full throttle? We’ll be ready well within the hour!”
“So, what can we do for you, Miss Briggs?”
Mayor Manx warily eyed the foreboding skies from inside his limousine as he covered the distance between the airport and the newest wind farm on the outskirts of Megakat City. He excused himself from the guest at his side, the ever-present Mr. Young, and turned his head to speak into his cell phone confidentially.
“I hope no rain blemishes the ceremony. Did you remember to provide for a tarp, Callie?”
“Don’t worry, Mayor. Every contingency is sure to be covered.” – she smiled at her own wit, reassuring the Mayor. She was at the wind farm already, standing at the foot of the makeshift podium constructed at the front gate of the main building, the Mayor’s speech inside a briefcase in her hand. Far as the eye could see behind the main building stood but a few of the four hundred wind turbines, which spanned over a total area of about eighty square miles, making Megakat Wind Farm one of the largest in the planet. The project had cost *dearly* to the City Treasury, as well to foreign investors. One of them was Mr. Young, who surely had a knack for investing in such a unique city as Megakat was.
“Good, good. We will be there in about five minutes.”
“By then everything will be ready, Mayor.” – She looked up, and between wisps of cloud, she managed to pinpoint the Turbokat. She smiled and sighed on the sly. She felt a whole lot better when the SWAT Kats had acquiesced to serve as their bodyguards for the inauguration ceremony. For some reason, she couldn’t forget that silly little poem she had received.
When the Mayor and his distinguished visitor reached the wind farm, a small crowd had already assembled. Thunder rolled in the distance, so Mayor Manx hastened up the steps to the podium and started his speech, while T-Bone and Razor flew over the area, sometimes hidden through the clouds but constantly surveying the ceremony.
“The weather isn’t going to hold, Razor. I keep picking up spikes in the electromagnetic sensor. It’s gonna blast soon.”
“I read you; we’d better play it safe this time. Shutting off dimensional radar.”
As soon as the radar was off, T-Bone broke from the cloud cover and proceeded to do a visual reconnaissance of the area as Razor swept the place with every conceivable wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum available to them. The area seemed secure.
In fact, the impending danger did not come from below but rather from behind and above them. The frame of the jet shook violently when a powerful lightning bolt hit it. Lights of warning came to life all over the instruments panel.
“Where the hell did *that* come from?” – T-Bone queried as he attended the several warnings that had fired off.
“Beats me, but it seems it’s coming again! I’ve got a spike in the reader!”
And, so it came. Another bolt hit the jet, this time destroying its tail and causing the jet to hurtle towards the ground.
“Crud! The rear stabilizers!” – Razor shouted – “They’re gone!”
“Switching to hover mode!”
That stopped the jet from crashing down on the ground but still, without the use of its tail stabilizers, it was almost futile to try to control the jet and, much to the stunned crowd’s surprise, the black jet all but fell from the sky just a couple dozen yards away, narrowly missing one of the wind generators.
But, that was just the first of many surprises. The next was a pillar of pure electricity rushing down from the heavens and striking one of the wind turbines dead center, causing it to crash over another, which, in turn, caused it to fall apart as well, missing the main building by scant inches. However, another bolt hit the main building, destroying most of its façade.
“Mayor Manx, look out!” – Callie blurted and ducked, together with the Mayor under the podium. She closed her eyes and waited for the rumbling sound of the falling concrete to cease. She was surprised to hear a guttural and deep grunt of either effort or pain. She opened her eyes and looked back over her shoulder to the frowning face of Commander Feral. The Commander had used himself as a shield against the debris shot from the tumbling fascia and had, indeed, been hit by some heavy chunks of concrete and the marble from the inauguration plaque.
“Commander! Thank you! Are you all right?” – Callie asked, truly concerned.
The husky brown-furred tom got up and shook the dust and rubble off him.
“I’m fine, Miss Briggs. How’s the Mayor?”
“He’s well, thanks to you, Commander. Now what the hell is going on?”
The Commander looked up at the flashing storm clouds and narrowed his eyes. There was only one tom that could do such a thing, and he growled out his name.
As if on cue, a thunderbolt dashed from the skies and hit the ground in front of the podium. In the middle of the crater it created, in a blue electric flash, a kat bearing a strange turquoise coat and a mohawk materialized and sneered.
“Well, well, looks like the gang’s all here! Lucky me!”
“Looks like you’ve been learning some new tricks, light blip!” – T-Bone said as he fired a mini spider missile, which wrapped around Hard Drive, knocking him to the ground.
The villain merely smiled before he turned into a brilliant flash of electricity and thundered towards T-Bone, hitting him square in the chest. The tabby screamed as white-hot digits of searing pain enveloped him.
When Hard Drive reappeared in his solid form again a few feet away, everyone witnessed in shock as the brawny SWAT Kat lay motionless on the ground, blood leaking from his nostrils. Razor was the first to come to him and soon realized his partner wasn’t breathing. He immediately started CPR and fortunately, only seconds later, his friend gasped back to life.
“Wha-what happened?” – T-Bone queried in a slurry manner as he gasped the precious air.
“Later, buddy. Let’s just say you were out for a while.” – Razor narrowed his eyes as he looked to the grinning villain, feeling an incredibly strong déjà vu. Hard Drive, just like the Metallikats and Chop Shop before, seemed more vicious than ever. Of all the times they had fought Hard Drive, he’d let perfectly clear just how powerful and deadly he could be but never came to such extremes. Now, with a single strike, he’d managed to nearly kill T-Bone. *Kill*! Something was definitely *not* right!
“Are you okay already?”
“I’m fine. How do we unplug this guy, Razor?”
“Like this. HEY, SPARKY! ONE RIGHT HERE!” – Razor growled and pointed to the middle of his chest. Hard Drive was only too happy to oblige. He converted into the familiar flashing blue plasma and rushed towards the slim SWAT Kat.
“RAZOR, LOOK OUT!” – Callie shouted but to no avail.
Silence followed a strong sound and a bright flash. The next second, she saw T-Bone supporting Razor by his shoulders. Stunned, she looked around but was unable to find Hard Drive. After a moment of hesitation, she ran towards the SWAT Kats.
“Well done, buddy!” – T-Bone cheered Razor up in a muttered warm voice.
The slim kat gingerly got to his feet and shook his head.
“Oooooh… Remind me never to do this again…”
“Razor, are you okay? Where’s Hard Drive?” – the Deputy Mayor asked, concerned.
“He’s in that Mini Insulated Missile, Miss Briggs.” – T-Bone answered for Razor, who was still trying to shake off the dizziness. He pointed to a small white missile a couple of yards away, still flickering with little electric sparks.
“You managed to fool him again with that same trick!”
“Yeah! What a loser…”
“Temper, temper, ladies and gentlekats!” – a familiar voice snickered from above them.
They all looked above and, atop one of the closest wind generators, there was Hard Drive.
“If I’m really inside that insulated missile, then what am I doing up here?” – he returned to his flashing blue plasmatic form – “Unless, of course, I’m omnipresent and in that case you’re fighting a GOD!”
The last word was roared out as he thundered down towards them. The impact on the ground was so large it created a shockwave that hurled everybody back at least a couple of yards. Razor was the first to get up but did not dare to make a move against the flickering mass of electricity that slowly regained feline form.
“So, what I felt wasn’t just a shockwave, as I thought. When I fired the Mini Insulated Missile, some of Hard Drive’s energy must have gotten trapped in it, but he somehow managed to avoid it and struck me as well! Crud, he’s learning from his past mistakes!”
Suddenly, they heard the familiar sound of rotors. They looked to the skies towards Megakat City and saw five Enforcer choppers heading their way, fully armed and ready to do some damage.
Hard Drive just grinned.
“The fools actually think they can stop me!” – he looked straight at Commander Feral – “You don’t get it, do you, Commander? Your toys make absolutely no difference! Now, you’ll clearly see the error in your actions!”
Hard Drive turned into energy and arced out to one of the approaching helicopters. Once aboard, he let out a mild electric discharge, just enough to leave everyone inside unconscious. He assumed command of that chopper and, with thin strings of electricity flickering off his fingers, he engaged the weapons systems, targeted the already approaching four helicopters and fired off a volley of every piece of ammo he had.
Feral watched powerless at the carnage that ensued. The four choppers were destroyed in mere seconds and burning metal carcasses fell from the skies, hitting a number of wind generators and destroying them as well. Only the chopper Hard Drive commandeered remained airborne but not for long. As he abandoned the flying machine, arcing back to the earth, the chopper banked sharply to the right and soon met the ground with explosive force.
Hard Drive walked slowly and confidently towards the fuming Commander. The villain was smiling, delighted at the show he’d just served.
“This is Feral! Bring me…” – the brawny tom bellowed into his handset but his word was cut short by a bolt of electricity that hit him dead center, sending him flying away and making him acquainted with the dirt. The Commander felt his hands tingling, and he soon found out he couldn’t speak clearly. It was then that another electric ray hit him and made him pass out instantaneously.
“One down, four to go. Now, who’ll be next? I’ve got plenty of *juice* to go around!”
“Razor!” – T-Bone whispered and looked back surreptitiously at the Turbokat. Razor acknowledged and darted for the jet. In the meantime, T-Bone fired all his stock of mini insulated missiles at Hard Drive, who just converted to his plasmatic state and easily escaped the incoming projectiles before reassuming feline form.
“Is that the best you can do, SWAT Kat?”
“Not really!” – T-Bone said as he ducked. Hard Drive frowned as he watched the barrel of the Turbokat’s cement machinegun center on him. Understanding dawning upon him, he barely had time to move away from the first two shots before he once again turned into pure electricity and arced to the top of one of the wind turbines.
“Crud! I can’t shoot him when he’s up there!” – Razor cursed – “But, there’s always the upper missile launcher!”
“So, that’s the way you want it, huh? Fine, then!”
Hard Drive began to charge himself up. His body became surrounded by flashing thunderbolts, although this time he hadn’t turned into plasma. He remained in this state long enough for Razor to fire a volley of spider missiles, but the projectiles never hit their target, rather diverting their pre-programmed trajectories all around Hard Drive.
“Your aim needs improving, Razor!” – T-Bone remarked, sarcastically.
“It’s not my aim! The missiles were diverted around him! Only a very strong magnetic field could do that!” – Razor said and a bottomless pit opened under his stomach just as soon as he finished uttering those words. He looked at Hard Drive, who was still charging up. He lowered his visor and scanned the lightning lit tom only to see his worries confirmed. A powerful magnetic field was developing around the electric field created by Hard Drive. The tom was acting like a giant capacitor. And, he was reaching critical mass!
“Oh, no!” – was all Razor had time to whisper before a pulsing wave exploded soundlessly from Hard Drive in all directions. It took only nanoseconds for the pulse to reach them but none of them felt anything. The wave, in itself, could neither be seen nor heard, so, to the kats assembled there, it seemed that Hard Drive had just stopped charging up and was now standing on top of a wind turbine, stupidly grinning at them and doing seemingly nothing. It was only moments later that T-Bone widened his eyes and muttered – “Oh, no!”
Razor didn’t have to point his glovatrix at Hard Drive like T-Bone tried to know it wasn’t working. In fact, nothing aboard the Turbokat worked, he was sure of it. All circuit boards had just been fried.
“Fire, damn it, FIRE!”
“It’s no use, T-Bone! You know what he did…” – Razor stated as he placed his hand on T-Bone’s shoulder.
T-Bone lowered his gaze to the useless weapon and slowly took it off his arm and let it fall to the ground.
Callie stared at T-Bone with a confused look in her features. She couldn’t understand why their weapons weren’t working. As neither did Mayor Manx.
“What are you waiting for, SWAT Kats?” – the Mayor blabbered – “Just shoot him down already before he makes me lose *millions*!”
“They can’t, Mayor!” – Hard Drive said from his place on top the wind turbine – “Not after the EMP I’ve just served them.”
“EMP?” – Callie asked, confused. Hard Drive arced down the wind generator and stood right in front of them.
“Electromagnetic pulse, sweetheart. The weapon of tomorrow in the hands of today’s bad kat…” – Hard Drive snickered before he hit an unsuspecting Mayor Manx with a lightning bolt.
The Mayor instantly blacked out.
“You son of a…” – T-Bone lunged at the blue-coated tom only to be thrown back by a rather powerful electric bolt. The brawny SWAT Kat lay on the ground in the painful paroxysm of severely contracting muscles. Razor soon received the same treatment. Hard Drive slowly and confidently approached the defenseless SWAT Kats. He would have shot another bolt if it hadn’t been for Callie jumping over his back and starting to smack her petite fists against his head. However, even this was short-lived for a mild electric shock soon sent the Deputy Mayor off his back and brought her to the ground. Hard Drive looked back over his shoulder.
“I’ll save you for last, Deputy Mayor. Just hang in there, honey. As for you, SWAT Kats, time for a small lesson.” – he fired a weak electric ray, just enough to make the SWAT Kats’ muscles spasm harder – “Biology 101: what happens when muscular tissue is submitted to continuously increasing amperage?”
He hunkered between both fallen and aching SWAT Kats and placed each of his hands over their chests before releasing a high voltage, low amperage electric discharge. He felt the heroes’ muscles contracting spasmodically and grinned.
“Answer: they contract so many times that eventually they don’t even have time to relax and so become continuously contracted, preventing you from breathing and leading to one result, death by suffocation.”
The amperage increased. Both toms opened their mouths but only a silent scream came out of them.
“Time for a concept test, don’t you think?”
Hard Drive prepared to finish the heroes off with a massive electric discharge when, all of a sudden, the techno-crook was hit hard by something that made him tumble forward. Hard Drive grunted in pain and stroked the back of his neck. When he looked back, he expected to see the Deputy Mayor with some sort of makeshift mace in her hands, but instead what he saw left him speechless.
Callie was there, no surprise in that. But, her looks had taken a turn for the worse. Her hair waved aswirl around her face, as though caught in a strong wind. Her eyes blazed in a bright golden color and, to top it off, she was floating a good couple of feet above the ground! Only several stunned seconds later did a surprised Hard Drive notice the golden sparks flickering on and off on her balled fists.
“Sister, did you *dare*…” – Hard Drive started but was cut off by a golden discharge of mystical energy.
“I dare do all that makes thee crawl beneath my feet, cur.”
Even her lovely voice had changed! The tone was so dark and terrible that Hard Drive could do little but shiver and cower in fear in the presence of Dame Callista, Queen of Megalith. Of course, in his present state of mind, Hard Drive could never have made the association. At least, not before another torrent of raw mystical power washed over him, bringing unconsciousness to the terrified tom.
Razor and T-Bone couldn’t believe in their eyes as well. They, however, had recognized their savior almost instantly. Despite the pain he felt, Razor’s heart throbbed harder in contentment to see his Queen one more time before darkness enveloped his mind as well as T-Bone’s.
Callista calmed down as she became aware of Hard Drive’s unconsciousness. She floated back to the ground and her hair lost the energy that animated it in a colubrine frenzy. Taking some deep breaths, she pulled her hair behind her back and searched for her glasses. She was still looking for them when a cloud of sulfurous smoke exploded in front of her. Immediately, she recognized the foe thrown in her path.
“MadKat!” – she growled.
“Why, Dame Callista, my Queen! I’m touched that you still remember me!” – he said as he tried to caress her cheek.
She shook his hand away.
“How *dare* you touch your Queen, you wretch?”
“You’re not queen of anything now save from some old ruins.” – he smiled and turned his back to Callista, staring at the gray skies – “How you’ve eluded time is a mystery to me but, then again, so have I! It seems the knight that forged what I am succeeded in bringing Megalith City to its knees, I see. But, who brought *him* to his knees? Surely not your pheasant king. Was it the work of his comrades? Now, there’s something I’d have liked to watch.”
He looked at the fallen techno-crook and made a disgusted face as he gingerly kicked his head.
“Garbage! What a waste of my magic, to possess these so-called felons… A burst of magic, and they go all limp like a boned squirrel…”
“You mean… The Metallikats, Chop Shop and now Hard Drive…”
“Attempts at having some fun at your expense, my pretty Queen. Now I wonder who could have defeated Khronos. Perhaps the old geezer, maybe.”
With a sardonic smile in his lips, he turned to face Callista, only to gape and gasp at his Queen’s eyes sparkling in a bright golden light.
“Why don’t you try someone *else*?” – she rumbled, sparks flickering in her delicate hands.
“You?” – MadKat’s disbelief was tangible – “You managed to defeat the one who bested me? Impossible!”
“Unlikely but not impossible. And, I will succeed where Khronos failed.”
“Tall words for someone whose magic expertise did not stand a chance against only a fraction of my powers!” – he gloated before he turned into a giant ball – “You will excuse me if I’m not so gentle today!”
He leapt high into the air, intent on squashing Callista on his way down. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. He felt himself being immobilized while still in the air. He turned back to his feline form and gaped as he saw Callista holding him unmoving in the air with a mere finger.
“A Queen keeps her promises. SPHERE OF CONTRACTION!”
MadKat broadened his eyes in terror. He remembered that spell, and he did *not* want to get caught in it again. So, before Callista had finished her incantation, he burst into another yellow cloud, making it impossible for her to pin the spell on him.
“I’m not falling for that old trick anymore, my little Queen! You’ll have to do more than those scrawny fledgling attacks to defeat me!” – his voice hung in the air, although he remained unseen.
“How about some *new* tricks, then?” – Callista grinned.
The reverberations were sensible even in that secluded place. It had been a while since the PastMaster felt them, at the same time so familiar and so not in tune with the calming mystic reverberations from that mythic place. He opened his eye, slowly. He’d spent the last couple of hours underneath the frigid waterfall, meditating on everything he’d done eight hundred years ago and came to a conclusion. Although he did miss his friends and master, he *didn’t* regret having been the harbinger of their deaths. Callista would make everything better. She surely wouldn’t refuse him now. His hopes, kindled by her willing request to marry him back in the Katchu Pichu ruins, had in the meantime bolstered his resolve. She was softer, weak, her determination undermined by the centuries of solitude, he reasoned. If only he could be the tom he once was… But, for that, he needed…
The PastMaster suddenly widened his eye. He’d finally recognized those mystic reverberations! An incredibly powerful burst of radiant purple energy made the waterfall run up for a moment in an inverted shower of water droplets, only to remain frozen in a hollow sphere all around the mystical knight as the PastMaster roared out MadKat’s name in contempt, surprise and relief.
“Sharper than the beaks of eagles/ I call forth the Ice Needles!” – Callista chanted before the spell made the humidity in the air gather and freeze in order to conjure several large icicles that were then hurtled against MadKat. It was a slight, albeit more powerful, variant of the spell commonly used by Hydor in battle.
The mad jester had, however, no trouble with that attack. Turning his body as malleable as rubber, he swiftly dodged the incoming ice spears. When that danger was averted, he pounced over the queen, flattening his body like a large blanket, intent on wrapping himself around Megalith’s Master Mage in order to smother her. But, it was a mistake. Callista swiftly moved her arms in a wide circle before pulling them together in an upward motion. From underneath the flattened form of MadKat, a giant rocky spike thrust up, effectively landing a most powerful uppercut to the jester’s midsection. Without wasting any time, she extended her arms in front of her to release a massive torrent of fire that washed over her unprepared foe, burning him. MadKat fell in a heap to the ground.
“The wind flows/ In strength it grows/ Sharper than a knife/ I call the Wind Scythe!” – she proclaimed in order to use the trademarked spell of Eolos and swished her arm in a slashing motion. The wind blade she created hit MadKat’s arm, tearing it off his body.
“How’s that for a scrawny fledgling, you wretched excuse for a bad yarn?” – she gloated, but MadKat seemed unimpressed. He simply burst into a myriad of smaller ball-like versions of himself that scurried all around Callista, chittering as they went. When Callista was completely surrounded, they started to pounce over her, literally covering her features. The small copies burst into a pasty mass as they contacted with Callista’s body. She gasped as the rest of those small figurines jumped over her, covering her completely in a whirling red and beige mass. MadKat’s face appeared in the moving mass, distorted by the spinning movements but always grinning.
Callista could feel herself suffocating. She had to act fast or she was going to die there and then. Conjuring up a large amount of raw mystical energy, she blasted out a large conflagration, much like the one that doomed Megalith City but considerably less potent. With that magic assault, she managed to get rid of her attacker, but soon enough, MadKat reformed himself in his giant version.
“Accursed wretch… What does it take to defeat you?” – she thought to herself as she watched the giant in front of her warily. She had already attacked him with the might of the four elements with disappointing results. What was left for her to try?
“Tired already, my little weak fledgling? But, I have so *many* bad yarns for you!” – his left arm turned into a sword and his right arm into a flail, always tinted in the same colors – “Have you heard the one of the sword and the morning star? I must say it’s a *killer*!”
He struck. First, a slash of the sword that Callista had no trouble to dodge. However, the stroke of the flail that came afterward barely missed her. She grimaced. Although she could conjure weapons like MadKat could, it would avail her little. Hand-to-hand combat had never been her forte. All she could do was to rely on her magic and her wits. MadKat struck again and Callista only had time to erect a stout barrier to protect herself.
“Already resorting to protective magic? I thought you were made of sterner stuff, my little Queen. Surely you weren’t the one to bring down the Gray Devil!” – he said before he started to laugh. She glared at him for the briefest of moments before she chanted another spell.
“The wind that blows in ire/ Takes the air you respire./ Your agony is dire/ When you in void expire.”
The wind picked up, and, much to MadKat’s surprise he found out that the gusts of wind made his movements very hard. He soon realized the howling winds were circling him and effectively limiting his movements, binding him like invisible chains. Shortly after that, he started to have trouble breathing. He shrunk to his normal size and was relieved to notice that the sphere of encircling winds did not shrink with him. However, he was still having trouble breathing, as though the air inside had been becoming thinner with every passing moment. Soon enough, MadKat started to see lights dancing in front of his eyes.
“What… magic… is this… you witch?” – he struggled to utter, after which he had to kneel on the ground. He was beginning to feel dizzy, and the corners of his vision had already started to turn black. A few moments later and the mad jester fell to ground, utterly unconscious from the air deprivation caused by the vacuum that spell produced within the walls of the howling and binding winds.
Callista only broke the spell when she was confident the mad jester was not pretending. She fell over on her rear when she broke the spell, slightly worn out. No wonder Eolos had ever been unable to use that spell, even if he was a practitioner of wind magic, she thought as she cleaned the beads of perspiration that had formed on her forehead. She lay down on her back on the gravel of the ground and closed her eyes, resting for a moment.
It was, however, a short rest for something made her jump upright. A mystical emanation she thought lost after the fires of the Damned Halls beneath had engulfed its bearer. She looked around, scrutinizing her surroundings. Alas, the fleeting sensation had seemingly left no physical evidences save one: MadKat was no longer there. His body had disappeared. She came to her feet and continued to survey the place but everything seemed exactly as before, with the exception of the missing body. Could have she mistaken that emanation for MadKat’s? It hadn’t been so long ago that she felt it… But,the PastMaster was dead, was he not? *Was he not*?
Her train of thought was soon put to a rest after she heard the grunts of pain of her heroes coming back to the world of the conscious.
“My… Queen…” – Razor called her out in a voice that was more wheeze than anything else – “My Queen… Where… are you?”
Like a maggot trying to crawl for the first time, Razor could still barely move. He found out that his extremities were still numb. Even his voice, now somewhat stronger, was still slurred after the effects of electricity. His eyes didn’t focus too well and anxiety gripped at his heart.
“I’m here, Razor.”
Through the torpor still grasping his body, he felt her touch his hand, and he closed his eyes as he smiled and sighed out in relief.
“Is that… really you… my Queen? Are you… okay?”
“Ooooh, that son of a *bitch* got us good…” – T-Bone complained as he tried to sit up and failed miserably.
“*T-Bone*! Mind your manners!” – Razor hissed.
“It’s okay, you two have just been through a lot. And, to answer your question, Razor, I’m fine, thanks.”
“I’m sorry we couldn’t do more to protect you, Callie…” – T-Bone mumbled as he tried to sit up again, this time managing it.
Razor was also regaining his motion.
“How can this be? I mean, I can’t believe the Callie I know has suddenly turned into a powerful sorceress! Is it really you, Queen Callista?” – Razor queried as his sight slowly but steadily regained its focus. He looked straight into the emerald eyes of the she-kat.
“I am Dame Callista of Megalith and also Miss Callico Briggs of Megakat. I’m no longer queen of anything, so you don’t have to be all reverent around me! I’m still Callie!”
Both SWAT Kats were now well enough to stand up by themselves. T-Bone went back to the Turbokat, intent on doing a damage check. Razor, however, stayed at Callista’s side. He gulped, trying to summon the courage to utter his next words.
“My Queen… Do you remember the last words I said back in Megalith City, eight hundred years ago?”
She acknowledged with an almost imperceptible nod.
“You said that you wouldn’t mind remaining in Megalith City for the rest of your nine lives. You were a sweet, but…”
“I still mean it. I would have abandoned everything and everyone to stay in Megalith City…” – he took her hand and gently placed it over his chest, where she could feel his heart pulsing strongly – “With you…”
T-Bone’s ears drooped and his heart also beat stronger. Though outstanding as their friendship was, he always knew that one day they’d have to part. Love always came before friendship, and he knew it to be true for *both* of them. He swallowed and closed his eyes, dreading the “yes” to come but desiring it for Jake anyway.
Callista’s eyes acquired a saddened look as she stared at her hand being gently held against the hero’s chest. She closed her eyes and sighed before she opened them again and looked Razor straight in the eye.
“No, Razor, I can’t do that.” – she retrieved her hand, and she could almost swear she heard the sound of Razor’s heart shattering as though it was made of crystal. But, the worst was yet to come, and she decided that he should be aware of everything so she minced not the words she spoke – “And, there are several reasons why I can’t accept your love. First and always, I’m a married she-kat. Second, although my husband has been long dead, I still carry him in my heart, and I always will. I love my husband, Razor, please understand that! Even if he’s not with me anymore, I have always, still do and will always love him, to the very end of my days.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over the three kats for a few moments. Only the wind-swept trees murmured their low-pitched song. Razor felt as if a bucket of icy water had just been dipped over him. As he kept his head abated over his chest, he was glad for the absorbing fabric of the bandanna. That way, she wouldn’t have to see his tears.
T-Bone looked back at Razor from the jet. He could almost taste the slender SWAT Kat’s sadness. He *knew*, even without looking at Razor’s face, that he was inconsolable. Razor had talked so much about Callista in the weeks that followed that mission in Megalith City. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the slim kat had completely fallen in love with the queen… He’d tried to persuade Razor out of it, that it had only been a once in a lifetime visit to the Dark Ages, that she probably had already forgotten him, that she probably was already betrothed to someone else… Razor had finally come to his senses, it seemed, reasoning that those were logical scenarios and, in time, stopped mentioning the name of Callista completely. But, the tabby knew a love like that never really dies. He sometimes heard the slim kat calling out her name in his dreams. And now, fate, it seemed, had suddenly placed the queen again in Razor’s path, only to deal him a “go to the beginning without stopping by the prison” card… It just wasn’t fair…
“So, you managed to defeat Hard Drive easily, did you?” – Razor asked, affable and beaming.
That elicited another smile from Callista, a smile that couldn’t, however, tell of the relief she felt after the guilt of mercilessly breaking Razor’s heart. Eight hundred years had surely chilled more than kindled her emotions. She hated the bluntness of the words she used to ward Razor off but she felt, she just couldn’t afford this poor tom to have false hopes about her. She truly *didn’t* love him, after all…
T-Bone, however, conserved a grim mood. He knew Razor too well to know the slim kat was just using a stratagem to flee from the pain he was feeling inside right now…
“Yes, yes I did!” – she said cheerfully – “And, I didn’t do just that! I’ve defeated MadKat as well!”
“MadKat?” – both toms asked in unison, truly surprised.
Callista proceeded then to explain the details of MadKat’s attack and his claims of possession and, thus, control over the actions of Mac and Molly Mange, Chop Shop and Hard Drive. She, however, left out the sudden disappearing of the mystical foe. Razor seemed very interested in the claims of possession.
“It fits… Their actions were way over the top… I mean, they’re bad but never before have I seen such fiendish actions from them…”
“I agree.” – T-Bone intervened – “Kidnapping school kittens, holding elderly people hostage and the vicious attacks we all suffered from Hard Drive, clearly meant to kill rather than stun… It’s just too brutal even for them… If it were Dark Kat or Doctor Viper, I wouldn’t be surprised but not some small fry like Chop Shop or Hard Drive. They’d never have the guts to try something like this.”
“But, Ringtail doesn’t think like us. His merging with MadKat must have worsened his already weakened mental condition and turned him into a deranged psychopath who revels in the most sadistic and brutal forms of carnage…”
“It’s not Ringtail’s fault.” – Callista said, eyes boring holes in the ground – “Ringtail has no more fault for bearing MadKat than a stray dog has for bearing ticks… No, the fault is ours… You see, the curse of MadKat began several centuries ago, back in Megalith City…”
Callista closed her eyes, reminiscent. Through the centuries she had acquired great knowledge, and she knew of the connection between Khronos and MadKat. By the time Khronos had been completely consumed by the dark powers of the Tome of Time, all she knew was that the Purple Rider Khronos had, once again at the cost of his health, saved the sovereigns of Megalith from yet another powerful servant of the Dark Ones Beneath. It was only later that she found out that the brave Mystical Knight had indeed been the one to conjure up such an evil… Oh, how the Doom Dealers wove intricate webs…
“Fortunately, no one was severely harmed…” – she said after she turned to face Mayor Manx and Commander Feral, still unconscious and lying down on the gravel – “Their vital auras remain intact. They’ll be sore in the morning, but they’ll be alive…”
“Unfortunately, that’s more than we can say for the Turbokat… She’s way past dead…” – T-Bone lamented as he passed a hand affectionately under the nose cone of the jet.
“Yeah…” – Razor concurred as his eyes also acquired a saddened look. Fate, it seemed, wasn’t with him today. To lose two of the things he cared for most in his life in one fell swoop was enough for a tom to drown his sorrows in nothing less than a barrel of spirits. He picked up the glovatrix T-Bone had dropped and took off his own, throwing them inside the cabin – “All of the electronic components will have to be replaced… *Months* of work await us…”
“Come on, guys, it’s not the first time your jet is scrapped!”
“It’s the first time its electronics didn’t make it… It’s not the welding work that scares me. In fact, that’s the least of my problems… It’s the fine tuning of all the systems that makes me want to bite my head off!”
“I think I may be able to help you…” – Callista said as she approached the mangled jet – “If I understand it correctly, all you need is to put the jet back the way it was before you were struck by the lightning, right?”
“Pretty much, yes.” – said T-Bone, looking intensely at Callista, wondering what was going through her head.
“Stand back a little, please.”
They did as they were told. Callista raised her arms slightly over her head. A thin golden aura, only visible to those versed in magic, framed her as each string of her hair was again animated with a colubrine movement. The timbre of her voice fell down an octave, as it usually happened when she chanted the incantations.
“Time is mine to command/ Through ages it flows./ The wrongs it will amend/ As backwards it goes.”
The SWAT Kats tensed their muscles in surprise when they saw Callista’s hair move as though it had a life of its own. They gaped as a hemisphere of some sort of golden energy enveloped the Turbokat. For a few moments, nothing seemed to happen. Then, all of the sudden, sparks started to appear all around the frame of the jet. But, they looked different. Instead of bursting out from a point and dispersing in the air, they started from their dispersed positions in the air and rushed back into the jet. In the end, it was like watching a tape playing in reverse. Even the molten bits of the destroyed tail stabilizers seemed to gain life and reshape themselves. In a few minutes, the Turbokat had returned to the shape she had before being struck by Hard Drive’s lightning bolts.
“There… I think that does it…” – she turned her head towards the awestruck SWAT Kats – “Care to try it out?”
“H-how…” – Razor started but was cut short by T-Bone’s nudge to his ribs.
“Magic, sureshot. Don’t try to analyze it.”
“I reversed the flow of time within that sphere you saw. Everything went back to the way it was before it was damaged so everything should be in shipshape now.”
Her voice had lowered continuously as she talked until the last word was more murmured than spoken. Her strength faltered, and she gave in to gravity. Her fall was, however, broken by T-Bone’s arms. She lay in the tabby’s embrace, her face snuggled over T-Bone’s chest, recovering her strength. The tabby affectionately caressed her back as he murmured an inquiry about her wellness. It would have been a completely innocent scene if not for the little green devil poised over Razor’s shoulder poisoning his mind and making him see not an innocuous act of courtesy but an unforgivable act of treason…
“Callie, are you all right?” – T-Bone repeated in a soft tone. This time, he managed to yank Callie from her stupor, and he stared deeply into those lovely green eyes that made his heart stir – “What happened?”
She muttered a moan – “I must have used more energy than I expected… Making time flow backwards is a very demanding spell, so much so I think this was the first time anyone had attempted it…”
She had already straightened herself up when Razor reached her.
“Are you sure everything is well with you, my Queen?”
“I told you I’m not queen of anything now, Razor…”
“To me you’ll always be my beloved sovereign and I will always be your devoted knight.” – he knelt before her and bowed his head – “My allegiance lies nowhere else but here.”
T-Bone rolled his eyes and grabbed the slim SWAT Kat by the collar of his G-suit, dragging him towards the Turbokat.
“Where can we drop you off, Miss Briggs?” – the burly tom questioned as he popped open the canopy.
“I must stay here with the Mayor and Commander Feral, guys. They’ll be jumping all around if they wake up and don’t see me here. Thanks for everything, SWAT Kats!”
“What are you thanking us for? *You* saved our hides, not the opposite!” – T-Bone said from the pilot seat before he called his partner to join him in the cabin. Razor jumped aboard and looked towards Callista one last time before he lowered the visor on his helmet. Moments later, the jet hurtled towards Megakat City.
Callista looked towards the leaden skies that threatened to rupture at any time and then she gazed upon the destruction brought upon the wind farm. She sighed.
“Will History repeat itself? Will my presence conjure up more evil? Must I raze yet another city to the ground so that people can live untroubled by those who would see me dead? Oh, Doom Dealers, why will you not allow me to die?”
The engines whirred down to a sigh as the hydraulic elevator raised the Turbokat to the underground hangar. T-Bone slid the canopy open and jumped down to the ground, landing with a bit of difficulty. No doubt, the effects of Hard Drive’s attack were taking their time leaving them. Razor watched his tabby friend with ice-cold eyes as he slowly unstrapped himself from the rear seat.
“I still find it hard to believe that Queen Callista has been hiding this whole time under our very noses and we didn’t have the wit to see her deception! Huh, Jake?” – he turned to look at the jet as he took off the helmet and the mask.
Jake remained silent as he jumped down to the ground to land smoothly on all fours. He took off his helmet and bandanna as he proceeded to the locker without a word. When he passed by Chance, the burly tom grasped his arm, making Jake turn and face him.
“What’s wrong with you? You’ve given me nothing but silence and sarcasm ever since we flew off the wind farm.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed and he let go of the helmet to push Chance aside. The burly tom took two awkward steps behind, surprised.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve asking me what’s wrong. You know very well what’s wrong.” – Jake hissed.
“What the *hell* are you talking about?”
“YOU’RE TRYING TO TAKE MY SHE-KAT, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!”
“Don’t give me that! DON’T YOU DARE TO GIVE ME THAT! I *know* what I saw! Did it feel good, to have my Queen in your arms; to feel the gentle touch of her face against your chest? Did you enjoy the smoothness of her body? DID YOU?”
The tabby couldn’t take anymore. He narrowed his eyes and violently pinned the slim kat against the lockers, holding him tightly in place.
“LET ME GO, YOU SON OF A…”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” – Chance bellowed with the authority that only he could show when he was angry – “Now listen to me! LISTEN TO ME!”
The slim kat reluctantly quieted down, and Chance’s grip relaxed a bit.
“I’ve never hid from you the way I feel about Callie. You know I like her, you know how hot I think she is. Yes, I think I *do* love Callie, I think we’d make a lovely couple. Sometimes I even think how nice it would be if the two us got married and had kittens and grew old together.”
Jake gritted his teeth in contempt.
“You know all this to be true; I’ve never hid it from you. But, because you know that, you should know that Callie didn’t break just one heart today.”
The slim kat widened his eyes in both surprise and understanding and stared at Chance.
“Both of us heard *from her mouth* to whom her heart belongs and it’s to neither of us. Callista doesn’t love you more than Callie loves me. She loves her husband and only her husband.”
Chance let go of Jake, who kept looking at the tabby with a surprised expression.
“When I found out that Callie was Callista, I was broken. I knew, then and there, that I had lost all my chances of ever ending up with Callie. I was sure that if Callista loved any of us, it would have to be you. I felt so jealous of you that I more than welcomed the blackness of unconsciousness that came with Hard Drive’s attack. At least I wouldn’t have to see you two together…”
Chance closed his eyes and lowered his head to his chest.
“But, when I came to and saw the two of you holding hands, I felt my heart shrinking. I wanted to be in your place; I didn’t want the two of you to be together. But who was I to stop a love like yours? I might as well accept that Callie was gone for good from my life. I might as well embrace the situation and bless your love… But then, she tore both our hearts with her bare hands and squashed them like they were nothing… I knew, there and then, that you had received a fatal blow. From where I stood I couldn’t see your face, but I know you too well to *know* you were bleeding on the inside.”
Chance looked Jake straight in the eye.
“I would have given then anything and everything to take away your pain, Jake. Including letting go of the she-kat I loved.”
Jake remained silent for a moment, but Chance could see his friend’s fortitude diminishing with each passing second. When the slim kat closed his eyes, tears ran freely down his cheeks, although only a subdued sob was heard from him. Chance embraced his friend, who just remained motionless. Jake sobbed quietly, his muzzle muffled by the tabby’s chest.
“I’m sorry, brother…” – he managed to say between sobs – “It just hurts so much…”
“I know, Jake… I know…”
The howl of pain was rapidly swallowed by the thick murkiness of that overcast night. The PastMaster sneered malevolently. The pleasure that torturing this wretched piece of crud brought to him was immeasurable. He’d started his game a few hours ago, when his prey had finally come to. Oh, the look on this miserable sac of meat when he finally recognized his captor and, at long last, realized he wouldn’t ever leave that place alive…
“To take back what’s rightfully mine, bugger.” – he had explained to the terrified tom prior to the process of extricating the totality of his mystical powers. Depriving the poor bastard of his magic prowess was painful enough, but the PastMaster simply *wanted* him to suffer a considerable amount of agony before departing from this world. And, he knew all the magic forms of unleashing indescribable pain upon those he chose to…
The tom before him was now completely exhausted, a feline rag, so to speak, utterly devoid of any lingering resolve to live. There was no mystic energy left in him save for a small speck that he would promptly lose.
“And, with this, I take back what has always been mine and clear a mistake that has cost me dearly already.” – he rumbled before he tore the final bell on MadKat’s cap with his fore claw, sucking in the last of the power used in the jester’s creation.
Howling in agony and despair, MadKat slowly expired in a yellowish vapor cloud, leaving only the mangled Lenny Ringtail behind. Ringtail watched, through eyes veiled in an indescribable pain, as a flashing purple light enveloped the skeleton sorcerer for a few moments. When the blinding flash of light was finally gone, the last thing he saw before he met his maker was not the skeletal red face of the PastMaster but a rather attractive, albeit surprised, gray-furred tom dressed in the same clothes as the PastMaster.
The city woke up to the silvery sunlight as it filtered through the wisps of clouds and the chilling breeze that blew from the sea, announcing yet another autumnal day. Thousands of bustling kats hurried to their jobs, filling the roads with interminable lines and granting the great burg its daily cacophony of honk and screech and roar.
It was the middle of the morning already and the gray rooftop of clouds, previously uninterrupted, had begun to rotate, although very few did notice anything. In City Hall, Callista – or was she Callie? – strolled down to her office after making a quick pit-stop at the coffee machine. A mug in her right hand and a bundle of files in her left, she sat at her desk, reclining in her chair and taking a good swig of enlivening coffee before she opened the topmost file, which happened to be on the recent events caused by Mac and Molly Mange. She read there that their bodies had survived the blows they’d received – nothing new there. She turned the page and a list of damaged property appeared. She sighed when she looked at the bottom of the table, to the grand total… She turned to the next page, which was a bill granting the necessary funds from the city’s Treasury to cope with that crisis. Sighing again, she picked up the pen to sign the bill.
The pen, however, seemed awfully heavy and an oppressing feeling grabbed hold of her. The mystic reverberations she was receiving were overwhelming and yet so familiar! She dropped the pen and reached for the mug, but the deafening sound and shockwaves of a tremendous blast threw the recipient to the ground, shattered her office’s window and opened several cracks in the sturdy walls. Alarms began to blare and, outside, the sprinklers flared up to life. She clamped her ears with her hands, not to shut down the noise from the alarms but to try to stifle the familiar reverberations that once were no louder than a frail whisper but now tolled like the bells of a cathedral within her mind. She opened her eyes and gritted her teeth in contempt.
So, the PastMaster had survived the inferno beneath the ruins of Katchu Pichu, and had just announced his arrival!
“Talk about a dull morning, partner.” – Chance complained as he took a sip of coffee. Jake joined him a moment later atop the pile of metallic litter.
“And, this weather isn’t helping much either… I’m starting to feel a bit depressed…”
“Hey, you still got me!” – the trademark smirk appeared in the tabby’s face.
“Big deal… Who wants a big teddy bear like…”
What Jake saw did indeed have the power to cut his word short. Both toms got up as they stared into the distance. They watched in awe and growing concern the maelstrom of dark clouds opening above Megakat City much like an inverted gigantic tornado. The drop of water that made both toms bolt towards the garage, leaving their coffee recipients to crash over the hood of the car they were standing on, was the flash of purple lightning hurtling towards Megakat City.
Within minutes, the Turbokat soared on the leaden skies towards the eye of the unusual storm they so well knew. Razor tuned in to the Enforcer’s band only to hear shouted orders to converge to City Hall.
“City Hall, buddy. That figures…” – Razor growled – “The PastMaster’s after Callista again.”
Afterburners flaring, the jet rocketed towards the center of Megakat City.
Callista had little trouble getting to the top of the building since everyone was trying to get *down*. The stairs led out to the clock tower, where she and Abby had been blasted away by her age-old wannabe boyfriend when he first made his appearance in Megakat City. She opened the door to the small patio bordering the exterior of the clock tower expecting to see the short figure of the skeletal sorcerer but instead she bumped against a large form. For a moment, she looked dazed at his robes, recognizing the attire this stranger wore as the one used by the Purple Company, the elite unit of the Mystical Knights of Megalith.
She took a step back to look up to the tom’s face and widened her eyes in shock when she finally recognized the tom in front of her.
“Khronos!” – she gasped.
Lightning crossed the sky from behind him, immersing his face in an absolute darkness but for his eye, glowing in a bright yellow.
“You recognize me, my love.” – his voice rumbled but not in an irate tone.
Callista was dumbfounded. She never expected to see that familiar face again in her lifetime, much less here, atop the clock tower of City Hall, of all places – “H-how did you regain…”
“I’m as surprised as you are, my dear. But, who am I to decline what Fortune so compassionately offered me?” – he smiled, showing Callista his golden watch – “It’s past time the two of us get married…”
He grabbed her left wrist and dragged her with him to the rim of the patio, only to be met with the blinding flash of searchlights.
“This is Commander Feral! Surrender at once or we will open fire.”
Khronos looked down to the open space in front of City Hall, which was now littered by Enforcer cruisers and tanks and smiled. He looked back at Callista.
“What do you think they’d do if they saw you with me?”
Callista expressed a disgusted face.
“Don’t worry. Hostage situations are for lowly scum like MadKat. I’m different. Besides, what fun would it have if they were unable to worship me properly?”
That said, he pointed his watch downward and fired a purple bolt of raw mystical power, sweeping it across the square and detonating every vehicle it touched. A chaotic inferno ensued and all the Commander or any of his Enforcers could do was duck for cover.
“Bring me aerial backup, on the double!” – Feral barked into the communicator.
“Yes, Commander, bring me some toys to play with!”
“You haven’t changed a bit in eight hundred years. REMOVE YOURSELF FROM MY PRESENCE!”
She fired off a large blast of golden energy from her right hand that shunted the PastMaster away from her and almost made the sorcerer lose his stand and nearly fall over the rim.
“Kitty’s got claws… I *like* that!” – he released bolts of purple energy against her that were promptly fended off with a sturdy shield.
“I grew more powerful than you’ll ever know, cur!” – she growled before she quickly chanted a spell that unleashed the power of giant ice needles against the gray-furred tom, impaling him like a roasted boar. Khronos bellowed in pain as the large icicle skewered him from side to side.
“You sick witch…” – he growled as he took off the bloodied icy spear and cast his ever-present regenerating spell – “Have you learned nothing from our past battles?”
Enraged, Khronos aimed the watch at her and was about to fire when he saw Callista jump off the patio, only to be caught, seconds later, in a strange-looking bag-like net. Only then did he hear the roaring of the Turbokat’s engines, taking Callista away from him. Full of spite for being crossed yet again by those flying buffoons, he roared out as dozens of purple discharges rained down from the vortex of clouds.
T-Bone did the best he could to avoid the deadly blasts while Razor reeled Callista in. Only the most magnificent of pilots could have evaded the blasts thrown at them, and luckily, the tabby was amongst the best of them.
“Thanks, guys, but don’t you think you’re cutting in a little too close?” – she said as she tried to step free from the net.
Razor went to her aid.
“We’re sorry, Miss Briggs, I mean, Queen Callista, I mean…”
“Miss Briggs will do just fine, T-Bone.”
“Who was that guy, anyway?” – Razor queried as he finished removing the net off Callista – “We thought the PastMaster was responsible for that time vortex!”
“It’s a long story, guys…”
“Then give us the short version.” – T-Bone asked as he banked the jet to his left in order to avoid another of the amethyst rays of energy.
“Okay, you’ll have to take what I’ll say to you on faith because not even I am sure of how this happened.” – Callista took a dramatic pause – “That guy *is* the PastMaster.”
Silence reigned for a few moments within the cockpit.
“So, he found his skin again?” – T-Bone remarked, doing a barrel roll in order to avoid becoming impaled into another bright purple bolt.
“Something like that. But, I fear that’s not the only thing he’s found again.”
“Yeah, he’s stronger; I got that too.” – Razor said as he headed towards his seat.
“The PastMaster wasn’t always the dwarfish red skeleton you knew. A long time ago, eight hundred years ago, to be precise, he was one of the most powerful sorcerers of Megalith City, Sir Alexander Khronos. The short version, as you asked, T-Bone, is that he was a knight at my service – and a good one at that – and he fell in love with me. Out of that maddened love, he assassinated all his comrades, his master and his king, my husband. Because of that, I sought to kill him but, instead, I merely turned him into the skeletal figure of the PastMaster that you know.”
“That explains a lot. The PastMaster finally realized you were Callista of Megalith and in the name of that ancient love he wanted to force you into marrying him.” – Razor growled his next words – “Disgusting little creep.”
“Somehow he must have found a way to restore his old power and, with it, he must have somehow gained the power to restore his old appearance as well. You must be careful, SWAT Kats! Khronos is to the PastMaster like an elephant is to an ant.” – she added the next words in a mutter – “And, he’s vastly beyond your own power…”
T-Bone flew them down in order to leave Callista with Feral. All of that took only a few minutes before the jet hurtled back towards the top of City Hall. Callista watched in apprehension as the black jet bolted upwards.
“Commander, you must withdraw. You’re seriously outclassed here. I’m not sure if even the SWAT Kats can do anything about this enemy. I fear for all your lives if you stay near.”
“Don’t worry, Miss Briggs. We’re prepared…”
“You’re prepared? Commander, your vehicles were torn asunder by *a single bolt* from him! You do *not* have the power to subdue him! I’m not sure if even the SWAT Kats have that kind of power! If you send your jets against him, your pilots will need much more than nine lives to stand a chance against Khronos.”
Callista pursed her lips for a moment like a kitten caught red-handed.
“Please, Commander. I don’t want you or anyone else to die here today! You must fall back!”
The Commander closed his eyes before he retorted – “Miss Briggs, you seem to know a lot more than you say. But, let me tell you this: even if our defeat were certain, it’d still be my job to protect you and everyone else in this city. I can’t do what you ask.”
“I knew you’d answer that… You’ve always been a good and loyal soldier… But, this is a fight you can’t win. I’m sorry, Commander.” – she raised her arms and chanted – “Both time and space/ My want concede./ To other place/ You will recede.”
A golden aura enveloped every kat present in the square, only to disappear a moment later, along with the kats it enclosed. She fell down on her knees, slightly worn out from the difficult spell. But, her work was not yet done. Next, she raised a barrier around the perimeter she had just cleared. Her intent was obvious: the battle shouldn’t be interrupted. She hoped that, by the time Feral could regroup, all would be finished.
She turned her head heavenwards and watched as the slick black jet masterly eluded the incoming amethyst rays and fired off a volley of Turboblades towards Khronos.
The sorcerer barely had time to cast one of his trademarked spells, creating a bubble around him in the walls of which time quickened its pace. Remembering the trouble he had eight centuries ago with the spears thrown at him by the Royal Guard of King deManx, he intensified the spell. It was much to his surprise that the incoming projectiles turned into nothing more than rust in less than a second. He looked at his hands in confusion.
“I have no idea why I returned to my feline self, but it appears the energy I took from MadKat had something to do with it.” – he thought as he watched the black jet come around for another shot at him – “Apparently, if I hadn’t created MadKat back then, I could have beaten Callista and wouldn’t have turned into a meager red skeleton… Well, good for me, bad for *them*!”
From the Turbokat’s bomb bay, several Match-Head Missiles were launched against the gray-furred sorcerer, who just restored the time-quickening barrier and, just like it had happened with the Turboblades, the missiles exploded in a burst of rust as soon as they contacted with the mystic wall.
“*My* turn!” – Khronos sardonically said before he aimed his watch at the jet and fired a volley of purple bolts of energy that T-Bone expertly avoided.
Aboard the Turbokat, the moods were grim. T-Bone pushed the control stick towards him and led the Turbokat in a vertical climb above the rooftop of clouds. He soon regretted doing that when several purple rays broke from the clouds beneath and grazed the jet’s frame.
“We can’t evade him forever, buddy! What are we going to do?”
“I’ve analyzed the footage from the off-board camera and discovered that our missiles didn’t actually explode. They just rusted away.”
“Rusted? How? They’re all brand new!”
“Yeah, I know… My guess is that he’s casting some sort of time-quickening spell.”
T-Bone nodded, grasping what Razor was telling him – “Turning the metal into rust and the plastic into dust… Crud, what *can* we do, Razor?”
“I can only see one way. We’ll have to use the Megalaser.”
“Will that work against his barrier?”
“I don’t see why it shouldn’t. A laser is just concentrated light, photons arranged in a beam. And, photons don’t decay! If anything, it might even accelerate the laser.”
“It’s worth a… Hey!” – T-Bone could barely avoid the jet being impaled by one of the amethyst beams – “That was too close, pal. We have to sneak up on him in order to have a chance.”
“Roger that. Turning on Dimensional Radar.”
“There you are…”
The black jet hurtled downwards, towards the city limits, from where Khronos could not see them approaching. The sorcerer stopped firing energy blasts. He reasoned it was a pointless depletion of his energy. He’d have to see them to hit them. The gray-furred tom looked all around him, but his foes were nowhere in sight. All he could see was the gray skies and all he could hear was the wailing wind.
“Where are you, you wretched heroes…”
He blinked once, seemingly surprised by his *own* words. Since when had *he* become the villain? His ears flicked as he picked up a sound that wasn’t there a moment before. It seemed like a roar in the distance but getting increasingly louder. He widened his eyes and turned to face the clock tower, the direction from where the sound appeared to be coming from, but, as he did, the clock tower itself exploded in his face right before the most powerful jolt he’d ever felt hit his body, hurling the helpless sorcerer off the patio of the clock tower and down to the lobby of one of the buildings just across City Hall.
The impact was exceedingly violent, and the explosion that followed was none the smaller. The ground and first floors were almost completely obliterated and the rest of the building teetered unstably over its destroyed base. Moments later, the rest of the five-story high construction collapsed in on itself, burying Khronos in tons of debris.
Razor and T-Bone cheered for their victory but such commemoration wasn’t meant to last long. An explosion of debris and purple energy tossed rubble in every direction, damaging the adjacent buildings violently and hitting the Turbokat a number of times. Completely awe-struck, the SWAT Kats watched as Khronos appeared in the center of the pile of rubble apparently unscathed. Rage, however, burned with a fiery intensity in the sorcerer’s eye as he aimed his watch at the jet and fired torrent after torrent of raw mystical energy. The blasts were so powerful that even just the only ray that grazed the left wing completely obliterated it, sending the Turbokat into an uncontrolled nose-dive. But, Khronos had other plans for the SWAT Kats. He wouldn’t let gravity finish them, no. He wanted to have that pleasure. So, he aimed his watch at the helpless falling fighter plane again and fired another blast that hit the fuel tanks of the mangled jet, igniting their contents instantly and causing an explosion that lit the dull morning of Megakat City.
The silence was the first thing he noticed. The silence and the quietude. He felt like floating in the air.
“Am I dead?”
It was strange. Nothing hurt but he couldn’t feel anything as well.
“This must be death.”
He didn’t really want to open his eyes, afraid that, should the blessed serenity he was experiencing be a dream, he’d wake up.
“I must be dead.”
Then, for the first time, he mustered enough will to slowly open his eyes. He smiled. He was dreaming after all. Still dreaming. The first that he found out was that everything seemed painted in orange. Then, as he focused his eyes, he discerned other things. Pieces of translucent glass. Black, red and blue retorted pieces of metal. Pieces of leather. All frozen in mid-air like someone had hit the “pause” button on a media player.
Nothing made any sense.
He looked down on himself. He was wearing his G-suit and, although he searched thoroughly, he didn’t find a scratch on him. He looked onward and saw T-Bone sitting in a seat almost completely engulfed by what seemed motionless orange flames. The tabby looked back at him with an inquisitive look on his face.
“Are we dead?” – T-Bone asked.
“T-Bone! Razor!” – they heard a female voice call them from afar. They looked everywhere but couldn’t locate the source of the sound.
“Queen Callista! She must be using some sort of spell…”
Her petite figure came from within the frozen flames as though coming from behind a curtain. She took each tom in her hands and led them towards the engulfing still flames.
Khronos partially covered his face from the fiery explosion of the Turbokat. He grinned as the jet hit the ground and exploded in yet another fireball that rose towards the skies.
“Worthless maggots! None can withstand the overwhelming might of Khronos!” – he laughed – “Now that I’m done with these pests, nothing shall interpose between me and my bride…”
“I wouldn’t bet on that, old-timer.” – Razor’s voice hovered above the crackling of the flames.
“Yeah, we haven’t even begun to fight!”
Khronos watched, astounded, as the SWAT Kats emerged from the inferno he’d just served them, completely unhurt. Only then did he notice Callista behind them, trying to catch her breath. He narrowed his eye, understanding dawning on him. He reasoned that she must have used a spell to stop time long enough to rescue the SWAT Kats.
“The same spell Sir Astor used to prevent my husband from dying with an arrow sticking from his head, Khronos…” – she said as though she could hear his thoughts.
Amazing, he thought. Not only had she become proficient in the use of magic, but she had also mastered the elemental spells… Time included… That was remarkable, considering she never had the aid of the Tome of Time… But, then again, she was unaware of the dark and powerful time-related spells that he knew… And, she would soon learn that he hadn’t lain idly over the past eight hundred years…
Khronos drew steel and positioned his sword upside down as he chanted a spell. When he finished, he pierced the rubble with the tip of the sword, and a swirling torrent of fire rushed towards the trio. The SWAT Kats immediately deployed their shields as Callista raised one of her own. The attack had been successfully averted, but Callista was flabbergasted.
“That was Pyros’ Fire Rivulet!” – she exclaimed as she undid the protective barrier.
“And, that’s not the only thing I can do with this, my dear!” – he said as he swung the sword in a broad horizontal arc.
She ordered them to duck and only a moment later the lamp post behind them was hit by an invisible blast and barely missed them when it fell to the ground. Callista swiftly inspected the polished surface and discovered it had been cut, not broken.
“Eolos’ Wind Scythe! He managed to learn his comrades’ spells!”
Khronos rammed down the edge of his sword on the ground and a rift started to open towards them. She cast a spell that allowed her to float in the air while both SWAT Kats dexterously jumped above the gaping crack. She was astounded. He’d even learned Telluros’ earthquake! She watched as Razor and T-Bone fired a volley of Mini Turboblades towards the sorcerer. Khronos defended them with his sword and his watch, which served as a small shield. He struck them again with the Wind Scythe, and both SWAT Kats had to deploy their shields in order to protect themselves. The agrecite shields held nicely, although they had to take a couple of awkward steps back, such had been the force behind the attack.
“T-Bone! Razor! You need help to defeat him. Take these!” – a couple of long swords materialized in their free hands.
“Hum, I don’t think this will be of much help to me, Callie…” – T-Bone said as he watched doubtfully the long piece of metal in his hand – “Don’t you have something smaller like a dagger or something? *That* I know how to use…”
“A sword is just like a dagger, buddy, only longer.” – Razor taunted as he attacked Khronos.
T-Bone shrugged and joined the fray.
Hack and slash. Metal clashing against metal. Shields splintering. Sparkle and clangor. It was both a song and a dance that Khronos hadn’t heard or swayed to for a long, long time. The SWAT Kats’ attacks were fierce, full of the energy of the youth. They made him actually give some ground to them.
Slash. Defend. Open guard to disarm. Close guard. Jump. Hack. Land. Rotate. Slash. Shield.
The deadly dance continued, and Khronos had spotted at least a dozen weak spots for each SWAT Kat. Their blows were strong, especially those from the brawny one, but they lacked strategy and experience. He smiled. They’d be fine with their swords if they had the time to practice. But, time was *not* on their side…
Khronos jumped high in the air and hurled his sword towards the burly tom. The projectile impacted where T-Bone had stood just a second ago, burying its tip into the street. The tabby lost his stand and fell over his tail. Khronos landed and ducked to avoid being decapitated by Razor’s horizontal slash. Taking advantage of his position, Khronos flexed his legs and straightened himself up to deliver a jarring punch with his watch to the slim kat’s muzzle, which made Razor fly back and meet the floor with his back. Khronos dashed over to his sword and somersaulted over it, picking it up when he was upside down and using the pent up force of the rotation to hack down on T-Bone, who just had time to raise his shield to defend the incoming slash. Somersaulting back to avoid being impaled by Razor’s thrust, Khronos landed just in time to block the slim kat’s backslash. T-Bone came from the other side, intent on slashing down on the sorcerer’s head but getting expertly blocked by Khronos’ watch. The gray-furred warrior let himself fall on his back and rolled to a stand, which made the SWAT Kats lose their stands and bury the tips of their swords in the ground. With a kick and a powerful punch, Khronos made his foes roll on the ground and with a couple of well aimed shots, destroyed their swords.
“Stand up. This is only beginning.” – he taunted them.
“We know…” – Razor said before he was launched by his burly partner high up into the air.
Khronos watched the slim kat ascend but in doing so he took his eyes off T-Bone. The burly SWAT Kat seized the occasion and punched Khronos in the face with all the might he had. The sorcerer fell back over his tail and, while he was trying to get up, Razor fell down knee first on his gut, emptying the sorcerer’s stomach contents, as well as large gobs of blood.
“You see? We were just warming up.” – T-Bone taunted.
Razor regrouped as Khronos tried to get to his feet, vomiting some more blood in the process.
“Bastards… You will pay for touching me…” – he hissed in fury before he fired a torrent of mystical raw energy against the SWAT Kats, who just had time to jump out of the way. The torrent was then headed for Callista, who barely had time to raise a protective barrier.
Razor was still lying on the ground when he felt Khronos’ foot on his gut and then on his face. Blood spurted in an arc from the slim kat’s muzzle as he lay dazed on the ground. The tabby was already up when Khronos appeared next to him. He kicked the back of T-Bone’s legs, making the tom kneel violently. Grabbing the tabby by the back of his head, he forced his head down to the ground, where it impacted with an unprecedented violence.
“Get up! I don’t need magic to gut the lot of you!”
The SWAT Kats groggily got to their feet and cleaned the blood oozing down their nostrils. They adopted defensive stances as they gritted their teeth. There was simply *no way* this piece of crud was going to beat them.
T-Bone attacked first, running towards Khronos, who just waited for him. T-Bone jumped in the air, ready to deliver a flying kick to the sorcerer’s chest when Razor dashed from under T-Bone and kicked Khronos in the face before letting his body fall down to the ground in order to allow T-Bone to deliver his kick. Khronos was thrown back, flying until he was stopped by the wall of the adjacent building.
The sorcerer fell down on all fours, shaking his head. He’d underestimated the unconventional fighting technique the SWAT Kats used. He hadn’t seen anything like it in his time. He roared out in rage as he tensed his muscles.
Callista watched the battle with unbridled attention. From the sneak peeks she was able to get of the Mystical Knights’ sparring lessons, she knew Khronos was impressively built and was almost as strong as Pyros. T-Bone looked a bit like Pyros but she never before had been able to appreciate the tabby’s build, so she wasn’t sure what to expect from this match. Eolos looked much like Razor, but she was surprised with the strength and agility of the SWAT Kat. Never had Eolos displayed such a fine form as Razor.
Again, the SWAT Kats attacked as a unit, but Khronos seemed ready this time. At least, he was able to defend Razor’s blow, but when it came to the sheer force behind T-Bone’s strikes, there was little he could do. Thrown once again to the ground, he decided that enough was enough. Physical prowess or not, the SWAT Kats were going down!
Khronos fired a purple bolt against the ground, obliterating a large portion of the street and causing a shower of debris. The SWAT Kats deployed their shields and hid behind them. Exactly what he expected them to do. He darted towards the SWAT Kats, got behind them and fired a torrent of mystical energy towards them.
Only in the last second did the SWAT Kats realize their foe was behind them and turned around in an attempt to fend off the incoming assault. That probably saved their lives, for the onslaught they received flung them against the adjacent building with tremendous force. The impact was strong enough to knock their helmets off their heads before they fell limply on the ground. The helmets rolled away towards the incoming Khronos, who used a foot to stop the motion of one of them, crushing it beneath his boot in the next moment as the other one rolled him by.
The SWAT Kats were still standing on all fours, trying to shake off the dizziness when they felt two powerful hands grab them by their hair, over their masks, and lift them nonchalantly. They roared off the pain before each of them, as though combined by some sort of mental link, drew their fists and turned around to punch Khronos in the face. The blow was so strong that Khronos was hurled backwards a couple of yards, where he fell on the ground tail-first.
When the gray-furred warrior opened his eyes, he felt something smooth in his hands. Looking down at them, he saw two black pieces of cloth. He then looked up towards the SWAT Kats and noticed there was something different about them. Then he realized he had just taken their masks off. That surprise, however, was nothing compared to what he saw when he focused his sight. His heart couldn’t believe what his eyes showed him! After all that time, after eight hundred years, the Kats Above had granted him his wish! He managed to see his friends again.
“Pyros! Eolos! You survived! My friends, you survived!” – he said as he picked himself up. Khronos was jubilant. He took a few steps forward, dropping the masks to the ground and preparing himself to embrace his friends. However, he soon stopped dead in his tracks.
“Wait, why are you still fighting against me, my friends? Megalith is no more! King deManx is dead; I saw to it myself! There’s nothing left for you to fight, so why do you continue to oppose me?” – he widened his eyes suddenly as though a pail of icy water had been dropped over him – “Or is this…”
He narrowed his eyes and showed his fangs in contempt.
“How *dare* you? HOW DARE YOU!”
He fired two bolts from his watch that sent the SWAT Kats hurtling back against the wall they’d impacted not five minutes before.
“This is low even for you… How dare you use the faces of my friends to defeat me? Cease this disgusting spell at once or *I* will!”
“What the hell is he talking about?” – T-Bone asked as he tried to get up.
An unfortunate choice of words for Khronos did indeed beat them again and again, lost in the embers of his madness. It was true that Chance and Jake shared similar features with Pyros and Eolos, but there was no known affinity to the latter. But, Khronos did not know that and neither did he care. So, using his time-quickening spell, he would have quite literally massacred the SWAT Kats to death if not for Callista’s intervention.
“Remember who you’re fighting, cur!”
“I’m fighting the lackeys of your highness, Queen Callista, who so cowardly lent them the faces of my beloved friends so I’d be coerced to give in.” – he snarled in contempt – “That was a *very* low blow, Callista!”
“Lower than the murdering of your friends, your master and your KING?”
“Do not accuse me of treason, my Queen! It was not I that razed Megalith City to the ground and condemned generation after generation to bitter hardship.”
“All of this can be laid down on your doorstep.”
“Why don’t you embrace your future as my wife, Callista? Look at all the pain you’ve brought upon your subjects because of this sick desire for freedom!”
She looked at the battered, bruised and bloodied bodies of her heroes, struggling to remain conscious.
“Sick? If I am sick for desiring freedom, then I surely hope there is no cure for me. But no, it isn’t I who is sick, *PastMaster*. No. The only sick person here is you and I’d like you to regard me as *your* cure.”
She fired off a ball of golden energy that Khronos promptly returned to her. She had only time to raise a weak shield that barely protected her at all, so she was thrown back by the energy she herself had conjured. But, she did not fall to the ground. Instead, she found herself in the arms of Khronos, who had used his time-quickening spell to get behind Callista.
“Don’t touch me, you *slime*!” – she struggled to free herself from the tom’s tight grip, but she was no match for a seasoned warrior. Khronos immobilized her in mere moments.
Callista understood that it was useless to fight Khronos physically, so she resorted to her ultimate weapon.
“You leave me no choice. TOUCH OF DESTINY!”
Once again, she unleashed the power of her ultimate mystical onslaught over Khronos. Callista took the warrior’s hands in hers and gripped tightly. Sparks snaked around their bodies as her eyes glowed brightly and her hair seemed imprisoned in an invisible eddy of furious winds. Her voice was so fell and terrible that even the light seemed to wane. Gale force winds punished the battered bodies of the SWAT Kats, who tried their best to protect themselves from the flogging winds. For the first time, Razor felt an unnatural fear of Callista.
The queen finished her chanting and looked triumphantly at Khronos, ready to watch the miserable assassin shrivel into nothing but a rotten clump of meat. Her surprise was great when she realized Khronos was smiling broadly. In just a few moments, the winds quieted down and the sparks stopped completely. She couldn’t believe in her eyes. Khronos was unscathed! The Touch of Destiny, her most powerful mystical attack, had failed!
Khronos broke out in a fit of maniacal laughter – “How amusing you are, my Queen! You’ve grown powerful and wise in these eight centuries and yet, for all your power and wisdom, you lack the wit to see that the Touch of Destiny cannot be cast again *while it’s still in use*?”
“W-what do you mean?” – she asked, truly frightened now.
“You mean to tell me that you truly do not know this?” – Khronos seemed a bit surprised but soon regained his condescending manner – “Ah, let me savor this moment… Sir Astor’s favorite doesn’t actually know what went wrong with her pathetic little spell… Oh, Callista, if only you knew the destruction *my* ultimate mystical onslaught can bring about…”
“Unhand me…” – she ordered but not in a very convincing manner.
Khronos continued as though she had said nothing.
“Combining spells can sometimes have disturbing aftereffects. Your ultimate mystical onslaught uses your life force to turn your foe into a pile of rotting remains, thus ending both yours and your enemy’s lives. My regenerating spell allows my life force to rebuild my body by accelerating the healing processes that allow us to recover from injury. The combination of both spells resulted in me turning into a living skeleton, since your spell did turn the rest of my body into a decaying carcass but my spell allowed me to keep on living. Even so, you were the luckiest of us for you conserved your youth. The reason you can’t die is because our lives are connected! Unless your spell is completed or my regenerating spell ceases, neither of us can die!”
Callista was shocked. The reason for her unnatural long life had finally been revealed, and it fell like a bomb. Her eyes glazed over. The shock of that revelation had just been too much. She simply lay in Khronos’ arms, unable to make a decision as simple as attack or flee.
“Now, Callista, what do you say? We both still live because the Doom Dealers intertwined the strings of our fates. Is it not a clear sign that you’re meant to be with no one else but me?” – he looked at her unmoving eyes – “Maybe this will rekindle your desire.”
Khronos approached his lips to Callista’s as he supported her head with a hand. Softly at first, he touched her lips and kissed her deeply. Callista didn’t make a move.
Razor widened his eyes as he saw Khronos kissing Callista. Moved by blind love and rage, he found the strength to pick himself up and run towards the couple, roaring out in maddened fury.
Khronos watched out of the corner of his eye the approach of the slim kat. He broke the kiss in the last moment and, tossing Callista aside, he unsheathed his sword and swished it across Razor’s midsection. A large burst of blood gushed into the air and splashed down on the ground.
Razor’s vision lost its focus for a moment. He looked down only to see a large bleeding gash in his midsection. The next thing he felt was a powerful blow to his chest that sent him flying back against the wall, where he crashed. He looked down to his gut again and saw what seemed to be a large snake starting to protrude from that area. He quickly covered that area with his hand, trying to keep his intestines inside his body.
Callista regained her sanity after she felt the hard stomp of the cold concrete of the adjacent building’s wall on her cheek. She woke up from her stupor just in time to watch Razor being punched in the chest. She gasped in terror as a large quantity of blood flew off Razor’s abdomen before he crashed on the wall. She realized then that the slim kat was going to die unless she did something fast. But what? She couldn’t use her most powerful spell, and Khronos surely was able to repel any other attack she launched upon him. After a moment of hesitation, she frantically searched the convolutions of her golden locks, hoping beyond any hope to find one of the needles she used to keep her long hair in place. The sharp stabbing pain told her she had found her target.
T-Bone staggered towards Razor and knelt beside the slim kat, who was nearly hyperventilating and sweating profusely. The tabby noticed his friend’s skin under his fur was rapidly becoming pale. His intestines were just a little more than a membrane away from spilling out to the ground. The slim kat surely wouldn’t last much longer, and there was little he could do to help his friend. T-Bone quickly tore both sleeves off of Razor’s G-suit, tied them together and wrapped them around Razor’s waist in an attempt to close the bleeding gash and give some comfort to his friend.
The tabby picked himself up and turned to face Khronos when another drama got his attention. He watched as Callista took the long needle in her hand and stabbed her own breast with it, releasing a muffled exclamation of pain. T-Bone mouthed a silent and flabbergasted “no”, the only response he could give in his shocked and powerless state. Khronos, seeing the burly tom’s looks, quickly turned around, but it was already too late. Callista had fallen to the ground with the long thick needle riveted deeply in herself.
T-Bone’s pupils contracted so much by the sheer horror of it all that they became nothing but tiny dots. His teeth were so tightly clenched with hatred that a thread of blood dripped down the side of his mouth.
“YOU BASTARD! MESS WITH ME ALL YOU WANT, BUT HURTING MY BROTHER AND MY LOVE WILL GET YOU KILLED!”
Before Khronos had any time to react either to Callista’s fall or to the tabby’s challenge, T-Bone lunged towards Khronos. Both toms rolled on the ground entwined in each other. The tabby managed to remain on top and punched the gray-furred warrior in the face time and time again before Khronos managed to put a foot on the tabby’s midsection and kick him off himself.
“You think you have any chance against me? Be gone from my way, mongrel, for I must attend to my Queen!”
“Over my dead body!” – the tabby growled as he ripped his upper G-suit off and tensed his powerful muscles, ready for the combat.
“So be it! I have too little time to waste on the likes of you, but I see that only by killing you I can save my Queen.”
Both toms circled each other, waiting for the right time to attack. Khronos attacked first, but T-Bone easily dodged his attack and hit the sorcerer’s back with his elbow, making the ancient warrior gasp saliva and blood. Wasting no time, T-Bone smacked both hands against Khronos’ ears when he turned to attack the tabby. That dazed the sorcerer long enough for T-Bone to deliver a powerful blow with his elbow to the side of Khronos’ head that made the sorcerer go down in a swirl. Khronos was still on all fours when T-Bone prepared to kick him in the gut but, this time, the gray-furred warrior managed to grab the tabby’s foot and bolted upwards, delivering a jarring uppercut to T-Bone’s chin that made the brawny tom fly and fall on his back.
Khronos spat a broken tooth and a bit of blood as he waited for T-Bone to get up. The tabby cleaned the trickle of blood running down his chin with the back of his hand. Much to Khronos’ surprise, he pointed towards his abdomen.
“Come on! One right here!”
Khronos was only too happy to oblige. The impact was tremendous, but the tabby didn’t even flinch. He grinned down on the surprised sorcerer and chopped down with his hands on both sides of the warrior’s neck, nearly breaking his clavicles. Khronos knelt down in pain and his muzzle promptly connected with T-Bone’s upward rushing knee. The impact elicited large spurts of blood from Khronos’ mouth while he was flying backwards towards the ground. But, T-Bone didn’t stop there. He had jumped high in the air and had rushed down to fall knee first with all his might on Khronos’ head. The sickening sound of breaking bones filled the air for a moment. Breathing intensely, T-Bone staggered back a couple of steps and tried to regain his breath.
For a fleeting moment, T-Bone thought that Khronos was finished. After all, no tom could survive with his skull broken in pieces. So it was a terrified T-Bone that witnessed what he thought was a dead body rising again. Khronos’ face was nothing more than bloody pulp, worthy of the worst nightmares a feline mind could conjure, but it soon began to mend itself, restoring the broken bones, refilling the torn muscles and recovering the damaged skin and fur. In a few moments, the gray-furred warrior was as good as new.
“Do you understand now? I cannot be defeated!” – Khronos drew steel and prepared for the slaughter.
In the meantime, Jake had dragged himself towards the still form of Callista, much like a maggot would do. Each movement he made hurt as though fine daggers were riveted in his gut, but T-Bone’s patchwork of the slim kat seemed to be holding Razor’s life. He watched her closely as he embraced her, tears running down his eyes. He had been unable to protect her. He had failed not only in his duty as a hero but also as a tom in love.
Although he did not condone her attitude, he knew why she tried to kill herself. Both he and T-Bone had reached the same conclusion, although none of them was even slightly versed in the arts of magic. If her spell used her life force to kill the opponent and if the spell was interrupted by Khronos’ regenerating spell, this would lead to one of two possible results: either Khronos would somehow be finally killed by Callista’s spell, putting an end to her life as well, or Callista could put an end to her life, thus consummating her spell and effectively killing Khronos. Either way, she had figured out she’d die anyway…
“The fee hasn’t been collected yet…” – she wheezed out, startling Razor – “The fee… Collect the fee… Collect… The fee…”
Callista passed out, but Razor could still feel her heartbeat and her breathing. Both very weak but both still there. She wasn’t dead yet, and that’s why Khronos was still alive and massacring T-Bone.
Khronos swished his sword in a broad horizontal slash that T-Bone had to jump back in order to avoid. He searched for something he could use as a weapon but, unfortunately, the sorcerer had destroyed the swords Callista had given them.
“Callista. She killed herself to rid us of this monster! So, why isn’t he dead already?”
He looked back at where Callista and Razor were. He had her in his arms.
“RAZOR! WHY?” – he bellowed as the gray-furred warrior finally managed to slash T-Bone’s arm, drawing blood. Razor didn’t answer him, but he didn’t have to. If Khronos was alive, then it was sure that Callista was still alive as well. The needle mustn’t have entered the heart correctly or perhaps it missed the heart entirely… Something had gone wrong. Callista was taking too much time to die, and Khronos was getting fiercer with each passing moment. He shivered with the dark intensity of his own thoughts and the unthinkable words he was going to utter next…
“YOU MUST KILL HER!” – he bellowed before the fist-cupped hilt of Khronos’ sword came crashing down on T-Bone’s jaw, breaking it. T-Bone let out a loud exclamation of pain and landed on all fours.
Razor watched the horrible battle that occurred in front of his eyes. T-Bone, it seemed, was exhausted and bleeding, his will to keep fighting wavering and on the brink of extinction. The WSO looked down at the pale face of his beloved Callista. He knew he had to kill her or all would be lost. Tears streamed down his facial fur as his shaking hands slowly assumed their positions on both sides of Callista’s head. For the longest moment, he remained motionless, trying to build up the necessary courage to perform the nefarious deed, only to release her head with a disgusted expression plastered on his face. He just couldn’t bring himself to kill the one he loved so dearly. His humid eyes stared back at his partner, who was battling a vastly superior foe and practically defeated already. If he didn’t act soon, then T-Bone would surely die. He closed his eyes in despair. The most important kats in his life and both their lives were in his hands.
Khronos kicked T-Bone in the gut, which made the tabby roll over and vomit some blood. The sorcerer grasped T-Bone’s throat and lifted him up as though he was but a ragdoll. The compression around the tabby’s throat was firm but not enough to kill him. T-Bone gripped Khronos’ arms trying to pry them off his neck but to no avail.
“I have to break free! He’s going to kill them if I don’t break free! I *have* to free myself! I HAVE TO!” – the tabby distraughtly thought as he bared his fangs as best his broken jaw allowed him and closed his eyes in his effort to escape the death grip of the sorcerer.
“You actually believed you could keep me away from my beloved Callista. But, now you’ll learn that *nothing* crosses the path I’ve designed for us.”
Razor watched helplessly as that horrific scene unfolded. His mind, clouded by terror, rendered him unable to make the dreadful decision. T-Bone desperately struggled to burst free from the vise-like grip of Khronos but to no avail. The warrior was too strong, and the tabby barely had any strength left in his mangled body. T-Bone was still trying to free himself when he gasped as he felt the most horrible of pains shooting up his body. The tabby looked down and discovered that Khronos had thrust his sword upward across his torso. The sharp piece of metal had entered him from his lower midsection and had come out from his upper back. Intestines, liver, heart and lungs, all of them were mercilessly pierced.
Razor gasped too as he widened his eyes in terror and disbelief when he saw the bloodied tip of the sword protruding from the tabby’s back. He opened his mouth to mutter a silent negative as heavy tears rolled unheeded down his facial fur.
T-Bone closed his eyes as he gasped out his pain, only to suddenly open them wide and roar in agony when Khronos twisted the sword inside the tabby’s body, shredding his innards and making him vomit blood over Khronos’ arm and chest.
Razor’s heart was crushed to nothingness when he heard those unnamable sounds, when he realized T-Bone was being brutally and sadistically murdered right in front of him. He closed his eyes as he cried in an unabashedly, notwithstanding silent, fashion. Never before had the slim kat felt so helpless…
“Chance…” – he groaned in the voice full of despair and pain the tight knot that had formed in his throat allowed him – “No, Chance… Not you… Not *you*!”
But, Khronos wasn’t done yet. He was not content by simply skewering and gutting T-Bone. He looked up, to the eyes of the burly SWAT Kat, fogged by the horrible pain his tormentor was serving him. A constant trickle of blood dripped from his broken hanging mouth. The gray-furred warrior smiled before he snapped the bones in the tabby’s neck with a single soft swing of his powerful and expert hand, killing the SWAT Kat instantly.
T-Bone’s eyes glazed over as his head hung limply towards his back.
Razor cringed, terrified, at the horrible sound of snapping bones that rose from his tormented partner, effectively ending his friend’s ordeal in a definite and horrendous manner. Impossible as he thought it to be, his heart fell down to a whole new level of pain and misery.
Khronos smiled lewdly at the dead face of T-Bone and, moments later, he withdrew his sword from the tabby’s corpse and tossed him away like garbage. The tabby’s body fell heavily on the ground and soon a large pool of blood formed underneath him.
Khronos bent down to grab a piece of T-Bone’s torn G-suit to clean the blood off his sword when he realized Callista was in the arms of Razor.
“HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY BRIDE, YOU FILTHY WHORESON?” – Khronos bellowed as he headed with decisive and firm steps towards Razor.
The slim kat was nearly in shock after witnessing his friend’s violent death. He knew what he had to do, but he dared not to. He loved Callista too much. He loved her too much to simply kill her in cold blood. But, he also loved her too much to let her endure not only a lifetime but an eternity of agony at Khronos’ side. His heart ached as he grabbed Callista’s head in that position he had learned by heart so many years ago when he was still just an Enforcer. Even with Khronos only scant yards away from him and closing, intent on murdering him perhaps in even a more horrendous fashion than T-Bone’s, he still felt the overwhelming hesitation ordering his trembling hands to unhand his love’s tender golden locks. He sobbed as he rested his lips against her warm forehead, in a gentle but passionate kiss that only had the power to enrage Khronos even more. He looked through the corner of his eye to the hematic corpse of the tom he called his brother lying in a pool of blood not twenty feet away from him and closed his eyes, forcing out the bitter tears.
“Forgive me, my love.” – he whispered to Callista in a silent sob.
He snapped her head to the side, breaking the bones in her neck and killing her immediately.
“*NO*! YOU’LL PAY FOR THIS WITH YOUR LIFE, YOU MISERAB…”
Khronos’ mouth was the first part to decay and fall down as a putrid drop. Then his legs gave way, as did his arms, all turning into a putrescent mass. His torso was next and then his head. The last organ that remained was Khronos’ only eye, which still stared at Razor for a moment before melting into a pool of filth.
It was done…
The world was finally free of that ancient evil… PastMaster, Khronos… None of them existed anymore…
Summoning whatever resolve and strength he still had left in his body and soul, Razor got up to his feet with Callista in his arms and slowly staggered towards the corpse of his friend as blood dripped from him with every awkward step he took. When he reached his friend’s body, he knelt down and leaned Callista against his trunk as he dragged T-Bone towards him, also leaning his friend over his chest. There Razor lay, leaning against the remains of an Enforcer tank and with the remains of the two kats that meant the world to him resting against each side of his chest. He embraced each of them with an arm soulfully.
Razor looked down to the unseeing eyes of his best friend. The tabby was growing somewhat cold already. He caressed the burly tom’s cheek as the mask of grief plastered in his face all but intensified. The slim kat sobbed violently as the harsh reality sank in his mind that he’d never see Chance again. He placed a kiss on the tabby’s forehead, affectionately, before he closed T-Bone’s eyes. Crushed, he rested his cheek atop the burly tom’s head and cried openly.
Rain had, in the meantime, started to fall from the leaden heavens, mingling with the bitter tears of the sole survivor of the bloodiest mystical battle Megakat City had ever witnessed. His stare shifted from his dead friend to his dead love. She seemed so pale! With heart-wrenching agony tying a tight knot in his throat, his lips brushed hers in a posthumous homage to his love, a silent kiss of bitter farewell. But, the pain could not be contained anymore, and he roared it out to the falling rain in anguish and despair unparalleled.
Dr. Abby Sinian’s eyes were not gleaming anymore. Rather she was crying openly in mourning for her friends that died in order to vanquish an evil far superior to their combined strengths. She thought about the broken Razor.
Thanks to his partner, the SWAT Kat had survived long enough to be admitted into a hospital and, after his wounds had been attended, to narrate to Commander Feral the horrid events apropos what she would call the Fourth Mystical Battle of Megalith. However, he disappeared soon after his testimony. Even injured, she reckoned no hospital – nor prison – could hold down the SWAT Kat. Yet, she feared for him, for his fate… She knew a broken tom could commit many unforgivable acts. Khronos was proof enough of that. Her guess was that, sooner or later, Razor would be found dead near Callista’s and T-Bone’s graves. But, the future’s not anyone’s to tell…
Yes, the history Abby was going to retell was exceptional in many ways. Not only there was no need for archeological excavations to unearth the past’s secrets and the events related directly to the past – and present – of Megakat City but also the history – despite its age – centered on kats that only a few days ago still lived…
Her discovery of the Megalithian scrolls was likely the most important find since the Rosetta Stone, and she felt she had to share with the world this peculiar chapter of History, buried deeply for its darkness. However, Dr. Sinian hoped that it could bring light to the city after all these centuries, honoring the memory of the kats she was proud to call her friends. Dr. Sinian pushed her chair a few inches closer to the monitor and began to write her article, the gleam returning to her eyes.
Megakat City’s past is as mysterious as its present is unique…
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