Queen Sorcha’s beautiful face looked tired and worn as she studied a map of her army’s placement and listened to one of her generals describe some new atrocity at King Gareth’s paws. Suddenly, her brother came hurrying in with a look of tension and excitement on his face.
Her heart sank. What new disaster had happened?
“What is it, Conall?” Her voice filled with dread but holding herself with regal determination. Whatever it was, she would face it as a Queen should.
“We have an emissary at our front lines from King Gareth’s advisers who would speak with you.”
“What?” She gaped at him in shocked disbelief. For as long as this war had been going on, none from Gareth’s kingdom had ever requested a meet with her. What could this mean?
“It’s true, my Queen. I myself went to see this person and believe him when he says they are tired of this war and afraid of their King.” Conall lowered his voice as if he was afraid to be overheard and added, “They wish to put him aside permanently as he is too insane to trust any longer.”
Sorcha’s expression was one of tentative hope and shock. She had suspected Gareth might be insane but illness was extremely uncommon among the Fae. However, mind sickness in someone very old did happen, though it was rare. Was this the case now? Shaking off those distracting thoughts, she focused on what her brother was saying.
“I think we should hear him out, my Queen. It could be our only chance to stop this endless war.”
“Then bring him here so we may see if this be a trick or the hope we have longed for.”
Her brother nodded his head briskly, then turned and flew out of her war room. Her generals eyed her as she turned back to them, their faces skeptical. Sighing, she tried to get her focus on their previous discussion, but this new development kept intruding.
“I’m wary of this gesture, my Queen. It could be but a last minute feint before an all out attack,” General Zinar warned, fanning his wings in agitation.
“Aye, I too am wary, my friend. We desperately need an end to this war but after so long . . . ” Sorcha let her sentence hang then shook her head. They’d been disappointed too many times, so she would wait to see if this was more of the same or a true request for an end. Less than an hour later, her brother returned with four Dark Fae, tightly guarded behind him. One she recognized immediately.
“Aye, and ye look as radiant and beautiful as ever, Queen Sorcha,” the one addressed said sincerely, a sad smile looking odd on his cold and saturnine face.
“I thought nothing would take you from your army,” she said, shocked and surprised. Perhaps all was not lost after all. This was one of Gareth’s top advisers. A Fae as dark as midnight as he was handsome but cunning and cruel. His long fangs protruded on either side of his mouth and his wings were ebony with slashes of white and red streaking them. A formidable individual. For him to be here was unheard of and momentous.
“To bring an end to this travesty of a war that will destroy us all if it’s not stopped, I would do anything required, including walking into the den of our enemy,” Tochere said flatly, his body taut and alert, wings tense and tight at his back.
“Ahh, so things are dire with your king then?” she asked, cautiously. Let him state baldly to them all what the king’s state of mind was. She would make no hasty conclusion.
Tochere’s face pulled tight as if he’d swallowed a lemon. This was something he’d been loathe to admit for decades but was forced to accept when the heir apparent made him bear witness to the fact when he summoned him to see the King. Much as he wanted to, he could not deny his own ears and eyes of the King’s madness. So long had he been kept at the front lines, he’d learned to dismiss the rumors that came to his ears and now he knew why he’d been kept away. No one had wanted him to see what had become of this once great leader, knowing what he might do if he had.
And, they’d been right. Fools they were to continue on in cowardice while their people suffered in a war that should never have been. He lay the guilt on the heir. Who else would know more intimately what was going on with the King than his own son? Even if the Prince had been afraid or unwilling to admit what he was seeing, it shouldn’t have taken him more than a century to get the balls to decide enough was enough. What was more frightening and most likely the reason the Prince finally made his move was the gradual loss of magic from the land. This had to stop or they were all doomed. Terrified to his core, he obeyed the Prince’s order to seek an alliance with the Queen of Light. Some of the races of Fae could survive on other worlds, but none of the Dark Fae could. The King was killing his own people and was too insane to notice. But, all that was in the past now. Only saving the future mattered, which was why he was here.
“King Gareth is insane,” he said bluntly, no point in dancing around the truth. He wasn’t here to save face. “I have seen it with my own eyes and ears. Being out in the field so many decades, I had wrongly dismissed the rumors of such a thing being true. Who would believe such a thing of their leader? But, I have seen the devastation, I have felt our magic fading, and yet still he calls us to continue on with this mad desire to conquer all. We will all die as a race if we allow this,” he said passionately, his wings fanning the air with agitation.
Sorcha sighed within. At last someone else has seen the danger and it is someone who can make a difference, but caution must still be observed, she warned herself. Nodding gravely at her unexpected ally, she walked down from her work area to stand before her guest.
“And, what do you suggest we do about it? We’ve been fighting as hard as we can to stop him without much success,” she said, throwing the ball back into his court. If they wanted her help, they had to be willing to do so without hesitation on their part. Her people could not survive a betrayal.
He eyed her intently. She was still the most beautiful thing in their world and to have her extinguished would destroy them all. He’d forgotten that in the heat of battle, but standing here now, so close to her, he realized his folly. The Queen of the Light must survive, and he had to convince her that he and the heir apparent were united in their desire to stop this war.
“I am to serve as hostage and will remain here while these three return to inform his highness, Prince Lugus, that we are in accord. He has a plan to take down his uncle then take his place as King. This is not something he has decided lightly and it is with a heavy heart. No one wishes to be named a kin-slayer, but he knows what’s at stake if he doesn’t make a stand now. I and the armies these three lead are behind him on this. But, I’d be a fool if I didn’t know the King’ s personal guard will defend him to the death. Nothing we say will turn them even their own eventual destruction when magic disappears completely. And, there are the armies of creatures that heed only King Gareth’s commands.”
“A huge force to try and overcome, Tochere. So, a betrayal in the dark against his own guard with none of his armies being aware, is his plan?”
Sorcha grimaced. It was considered cowardice to take a King down in such a fashion, but he wielded too much power to defeat any other way. If her son returned … no, she mustn’t pin her hopes on that. If he comes, things could change, but he wasn’t here now so she must find a way to make this work. “I do not envy him such a task. What is it he wishes of me while he attempts this thing?”
Tochere swallowed bile at what he was about to say, “Initiate an assault on his rear flank. These generals will sneak you in so that you and they can act as decoys while the Prince and his conspirators act.”
Her face pinched together in a frown that equaled the emissary’s own. “For a plan, it has many holes in it with higher than average risk. How will Prince Lugus get the King alone to accomplish what he must and does he have enough forces to fight off the King’s guards?”
The dark face went cold and flat. “He hopes to call the King away to a private conference then dispatch him before his guards are aware. He does have enough to dispatch the guards, but …” he shrugged. “… we both know the guard is very well trained and have no regard for their lives, which makes them a suicidal and difficult force to defeat,” he admitted bitterly.
Sorcha sighed and shook her head. The whole plan was suicidal, and all she could see were the last of her army destroyed and, following that, the end of Alaria. Something else had to be figured out but what? Before she could voice her doubts, an interruption caused by a rush of excited of voices coming from the passageway made everyone’s heads turn to see what was going on. Only seconds later, the reason came zooming in through the cave archway, flying above everyone’s head. A caterfly messenger flew so fast its wings were a blur. As it got closer, its face was filled with excitement, shock, and hope. It didn’t halt its headlong flight until it was nearly in the Queen’s face.
“Your majesty!” the creature squeaked, breathlessly.
“What is it? Calm yourself then speak.” Sorcha eyed the tiny creature in concern.
It gulped and tried to slow its breathing, but it was a losing battle and its message was obviously too shocking and important.
“The Prince! *gasp* The Prince *wheeze* has come in a strange machine. *pant* He’s nearly here!”
Sorcha’s eyes widened. Were her prayers getting answered? Before she could get anymore details, a loud roar, much stronger and ear piercing than a dragon could ever produce, filled the mountain, making it ring.
Everyone covered their ears in pain, their sensitive ears hurting from the high pitched sound. Fear and wonder filled all faces, including Tochere and his fellow Dark Fae. As suddenly as it had filled their ears, the thunderous noise ceased, stunning everyone into immobility.
“I think that’s the mountain we’re looking for, buddy,” Razor called into his helmet radio as he checked his coordinates.
“Yeah, you’re right. I can feel strong magic coming from there unlike the devastated landscape we flew over,” T-Bone agreed. “But, ya got any idea where to land the jet?”
“Cruise by on VTOL, and I’ll check.”
T-Bone did so, floating them close but watching the wingtips didn’t brush against the many outcrops of stone he could barely make out in the murky light. The thick darkness had been left behind them, but, away from that area, they’d discovered it was actually daylight but the sun was obscured by some kind of nasty green haze. The sickly quality of the sky and the ground below him made T-Bone uneasy. He hoped his homecoming wasn’t too late. His gloomy thoughts were interrupted by his partner’s shout.
“Found the perfect spot. Go forward five clicks. You should see a huge, cavernous opening. The jet will fit in there with room to spare, and my instruments tell me there is a large collection of warm bodies just beyond that in another large cavern,” Razor said with satisfaction.
“Roger.” T-Bone used his steering jets to guide the Turbokat forward until he spotted the dark opening in the mountain wall. Turning the jet, he nudged it forward,using the lights Razor had attached to see better. A large clearing appeared, making him sigh in relief. Setting the jet down carefully, he grimaced. Razor might have said it was roomy enough, but it looked rather tight to him. Far too much rock close to the jet’s wingtips for his tastes. As soon as the wheels touched ground, he cut the engines, knowing full well the roar from them was probably deafening everyone within.
In a hurry to see his mother for the first time, T-Bone shot the canopy open, grabbed the sword he’d gotten from the museum, and leaped to the floor. A thud behind him told him his partner had done the same. The canopy slid shut, and he heard the distinctive sound of security being set. His partner was insuring no one got hurt trying to check this strange craft out. As they strode forward, he was reminded of his conversation with his uncle before leaving. He had asked about how he should appear to his mother this first time.
“My first response would be, appear as the prince you are, but on reflection, I would have to say, be the warrior you are here. It will show our people both your heritages and prove that you are a warrior in both forms. Many would fear you were nothing more than a helpless non-magical outsider but armed as you are and the excellent shape you’re in will go far to convince them otherwise,” he said after some thought.
T-Bone agreed that seemed best, so he stalked across the rough floor of the cavern as a Kat, sword in paw and glovetrix on his arm with his partner beside him. They must see him as a warrior in his half Fae form before he presented his true form to them all. He wanted no misconceptions of who and what he was.
Suddenly, a group of soldiers flew toward them but didn’t attack. Even so, T-Bone halted in his tracks, Razor standing close and a step behind him, and waited to see what their reception would be. The leader of the group gaped at him and shook his head in disbelief. The soldiers were equally stunned to see the one the prophesy spoke of standing before them.
The leader signaled his troops to surround the pair then dropped in front of T-Bone. “Who dares to come before Queen Sorcha?” he demanded, his naked sword pointing at the stranger, his wings rigid with tension.
T-Bone gave him a calm face, but his voice was loud and strong. “I am Prince Lorcan, recently arrived from my father’s world, Aristal. I’ve come to aid my Queen and mother. Let me pass.”
The leader stared hard at this tom with the naked blade in his paw. He was old enough to have known the deceased consort, and this young tom looked very much like him despite the mask and strange clothing. Coming to a decision, he bowed his head low and said with grave respect, “Welcome home, Prince Lorcan. We will be happy to escort you to the Queen.”
T-Bone bowed back.
The leader turned and began to walk briskly back the way he’d flown from, his soldiers falling in line, forming an honor guard.
When the group passed through a long corridor carved from the rock, they stepped into yet another large cavern. Here, it looked less like a cave and more like someone had made a huge effort to make it look like a palace throne room. The Fae had brought some hominess to the place for the Queen’s sake by bringing everything they could from her palace and affixing it to the stone walls. Beautiful tapestries and garlands of greenery were spread everywhere as were flowers of every color and description.
As they made their way to a crude raised area that held a throne and where a stunningly beautiful Fae stood waiting, T-Bone and Razor looked around them in amazement at the different types of Fae surrounding them. In the air above their heads, clouds of caterflies zoomed around them, making Razor look like an owl as he turned his head every which way to study them.
The caterflies were miniature versions of the light Fae but were only a little bigger than a robin from Aristal in size. Their tiny gossamer wings came in a myriad of colors. They looked like so many butterflies as they buzzed the room, their high voices, like tiny bells, filling the air with their excited chatter.
Everything their eyes beheld was incredible, but their attention was drawn back to the one waiting for them. T-Bone’s heart rose to his throat at the sight of mother in the flesh rather than the one in the medallion. Razor could only stare, nearly running into his buddy when the whole group stopped.
As Queen Sorcha waited, nervous and excited, her people poured into the throne room when word had spread the Prince had returned. It soon became almost too noisy for her to think, but she wouldn’t quiet them. They, like she, had waited so very long to see their Prince again. She had sent her guards to meet Lorcan and escort him back here to her. Suddenly, everyone exploded into shouts of amazement as the guard returned, surrounding a most unusual pair of Kats.
The two males wore some kind of colorful clothing that appeared to be a uniform of sorts. They both had strange devices strapped to their left arms but one carried a naked Fae sword in his right paw. Her heart leaped . . . Lorcan! She would know him anywhere despite his Kat form, his coloring, stripes and body type were very much a copy of his father. But, as desperately as she wished to throw herself at her son and hug him as any mother would do, she had to maintain her decorum as a leader despite the real ache in her heart.
She studied his powerful form and easy grace of movement. Even in Kat form he looked every inch a warrior much to her relief. Casting her eyes around the room as her son approached, she noted the same looks of wonder and hope on her subjects’ faces and keen interest by her unexpected guests. None displayed any disgust that the Prince looked nothing like them, only awe and amazement filled their eyes as they stared at his alien form.
The honor guard, for such it was now, halted before the Queen. The leader bowed then announced, “My Queen, I bring you someone who claims to be Prince Lorcan.”
She nodded back then gestured for him to stand down. “Thank you, Captain. Please move so I may see this tom for myself,” she ordered regally.
The leader bowed again then signaled his soldiers to stand aside. They did so, leaving the SWAT Kats to face the Queen. When the two beheld each other, they froze and stared, neither speaking as they drank in each others’ presence after so many years.
T-Bone thought she was simply breathtaking, and his heart hurt for their lost years. Staring up at her, she was regal in bearing, but he didn’t fail to see the strain showing around her eyes and mouth. The years of war had taken a toll on her. She was dressed for battle in something a knight might have worn but was not made of heavy plating. Instead, it seemed to be woven of metal links of some kind of supple material that fit her like a glove. Strapped to her side was a long slim sword. Her lon, silky blond hair was held by a small diadem on her head. The family crest adorned the front of her breastplate. Her wings were only half open and were a blend of gold, red, and large orange eyes at its tips. She was breathtaking and every inch a Queen.
“Hello, mother,” he breathed reverently, bowing his head to her and not feeling a bit self conscious about doing it.
A radiant smile lit her face as she waved her tiny subjects away. Though reluctant, they did as bid, flying upward then floating above the scene, watching avidly the meeting of the Queen and her long lost son.
“Greetings, my son, Prince Lorcan,” she said formally. This told all her subjects that she recognized the male as the true Prince. That done, she finally allowed herself to be a mother. Stepping down from her throne, she walked to him with arms open.
T-Bone handed his sword to his friend, who took it quickly, while smiling warmly at the happy scene as the Queen enfolded her son in a hug long-denied.
Holding her close, T-Bone felt his heart sing. Her scent smelled of Springtime and apples, and he drew it deeply into his lungs. “It feels so good to finally hold you and know you’re real,” he moaned softly, nuzzling her neck.
“My son. How much I have missed you, my dearest one. My arms and heart have ached so long for the loss of you,” she murmured back, kissing his cheek. He smelled of strange oils, sandalwood and male musk. His body beneath her paws was strong and well built. Pulling back so she could see his face, she frowned when she encountered the mask that hid his eyes.
“Why are you frowning, mother?” T-Bone asked, concerned.
“It’s a silly thing, my son, but I so miss your beautiful eyes. Why do you have your face covered so?” she asked, her voice sweet as silver bells.
“Ahh, uh my friend, Razor, and I are vigilantes on Aristal. We fight against evil but not on the side of the official military, so we have to hide our identities when we’re in battle. We’ve fought as a team against the enemies of our city for the past six years. He’s also my best friend, Jake Clawson. Razor is only his fighting name. Mine is T-Bone, and my adoptive parents named me Chance Furlong,” he said by way of introduction, pulling his mask off so she could see him better.
Razor followed suit quickly, holding his mask in his paws and twisting it nervously.
The Queen stared into her son’s face and smiled anew at the sight of his emerald green eyes. “So like your father you are,” she breathed, an ache in her heart at the bittersweet memory of her mate. Then she bestowed a warm smile just for Jake as she reached over and caressed his face in greeting. “Well met, Jake Clawson. Glad I am that my son has had the company of such a loyal and good friend.”
Jake blushed even harder and lowered his eyes.
“He’s rather shy around she-kats,” Chance added, smirking a little.
His mother chuckled lightly. “So I see.” Then, sighing reluctantly, she released her son and stepped back. “I’d love to hear about your life on Aristal, my son, however, that must wait. Things have moved faster than I have anticipated, but your arrival was well timed. Come, we have one important thing to do before we can discuss what your presence means in terms of ending this war quickly.” She turned around, drawing him with her by the paw toward the throne area. Not knowing what else to do, Jake quickly followed and stood behind his partner rather than beside so they wouldn’t be distracted by his being there, but his ears were tuned to everything going on.
Turning so they faced the room, Queen Sorcha raised her son’s paw into the air with her own and announced, “Prince Lorcan has returned!”
The room erupted with ragged cheers though there were a few that were still skeptical about this strange looking male. Knowing this, she turned her lead a little toward her son and murmured. “Please take your true form, my son, so that we will have all our subjects believing your true identity.”
Nodding in obedience, Chance stuffed his mask in a pocket then took his true form. There was a second’s stunned silence, then the voices roared with cheers and calling his name … Lorcan … Lorcan …! The Queen let them go on for several minutes.
Meanwhile, another familiar person joined the group near the throne. Prince Conall moved to take a stand beside his sister and smiled broadly toward the golden warrior with pride.
Chance smiled back then bowed toward his uncle with respect. Under cover of the still roaring crowd he said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person, sir. You have trained me well, and I’m pleased to say you told me I’m powerful enough magically to fight even the Dark King himself.”
A pleased look crossed Conall’s face as he bowed back to the Prince. “If I said it, your highness, then it must be true. Welcome home! You are much needed.”
“I hope I don’t disappoint.” Turning back to his mother he said, “Mother, you say things have come to a head suddenly. What exactly has happened and what can I do to help you?”
“A moment my son,” Sorcha murmured then raised a paw. Instantly, the crowd silenced. “My people, with my son’s return we will take back our world. Prepare for a counterattack!” she ordered. Taking that as a dismissal, the cavern quickly emptied out as those involved in fighting went to prepare while others took care of their warrior’s needs.
As the hall was emptying, she gestured for those around her to follow. She stepped off the throne area and made for a door set to one side. A guard opened the crude door for her. Within, Chance and Jake saw a room the size of a conference room back home with a large table at its center. A huge map of the world was laid out, and small figures marked certain areas of it.
The Queen took the head of the table to stand, gestured for her son to stand beside her, Conall took her other side, her advisers took the left side of the table and their guests, the Dark Fae, stood on the right and waited. The guard closed the door.
While all this was going on, General Tochere had been studying this lost prince very carefully. The young tom’s body fairly thrummed with power, so his boast that he was a match or better than the Dark King was not an idle one. The prophesy that had so frightened his king was more true than any of them had believed. It seemed Prince Lugus wouldn’t be forced to slay his own father since the prophesy said it would be the Prince of Light that would do the deed. Staring at this warrior and feeling his power, Tochere was beginning to believe they would succeed in ending this war. He rather liked their chances now.
“My son, may I introduce General Tochere, one of the top officers of King Gareth’s armies,” Sorcha formally introduced the Dark Fae.
“A surprise and a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Prince Lorcan,” the general said politely, inclining his head.
Chance blinked at him, surprise filling his eyes a moment then narrowing in speculation. “So, his being here is the reason you said my appearance was well timed, mother?”
Sorcha sighed inwardly. Her son was showing he wasn’t slow on the update, much to her relief. “Prince Lugus of the Dark Fae has finally realized that his father means to destroy the world if he isn’t stopped. Magic is already fading, and this is why he has sent General Tochere to us with a request for help in taking King Gareth out,” she stated bluntly.
“Ahh, I see. And so, this is where the prophesy plays out and why my part in it is so important,” Chance said, thoughtfully.
“It is indeed, my son. Time to talk tactics and how we insure the prophesy is fulfilled,” she said with a nod.
“I agree,” Chance nodded gravely back.
Jake had taken up a position just behind his friend and intended to make sure his input in this impending attack on another kingdom didn’t happen without him and the weapons he’d brought. He prayed hard that Chance and he came out of this prophecy thing alive.
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