“Rest now to rise again Father.” “May your next life show you peace.” --Grieving sons Lion-O and Tygra. Cheetara isn’t sure how long the three of them have spent paused at the edge of the cliffside overlooking the ruins of Thundera but she can guess it’s been at least an hour, perhaps two, as the sky was a pale blue bordering pink, a sign of first light, when they had first emerged from the cavern. The pink has faded, leaving only pale blue and the shadows were clearing in the sun’s gradual appearance. She’s sore and suspects it has to do with her body still tight with anxiety over their close escape and she’s finding it difficult even now that the danger has passed to get her body to be as blank and still as her mind is. Since her mind is mostly centered she focuses on centering her body, she allows the world to fall away once her lids shut. She can only hear her blood rushing and the whispered intake of each breath from her nose to her lungs. Slow. Slow, Cheetara. The blood no longer rushes and her heart rate slows in seconds to a near lethargic state that forces her fatigued muscles to slacken and she feels solid again. The cloud of numbness pushing against her will have to be kept in check for the two princes that remain and need her focused. She still has a duty, a service to what remains of the royal family. Both brother’s tiger and lion stand there shoulder to shoulder so close to the steep precipice she feels her heart rhythm give a slight jump. The rising smoke of the waning fires is thick and strong, forming a grey curtain around the princes, their faces greying with soot. They’re too far over almost leaning, both wearing the very same numb look. Her nose is burning and her eyes sting unbearably and she is much further away from the worse of it but close enough to see the high shine of their irises and she can’t be sure if it’s the smoke that’s causing it. “We should go,” she says finally. She’s surprised at how…small she sounds. Tygra is the first to move, coming away from the cliffside he doesn’t even look at her but he is beside her when he addresses his brother. “She’s right, we can’t linger here anymore. They’ll find us,” Tygra reasons. He sounds sure and strong. Casual. She feels a bit better even knowing it’s a falsehood. “Let them,” Lion-O growls. He doesn’t move from his spot and Cheetara can feel the anger rolling off of him in waves. The lion’s emotions swelling like an overfilled water skin. She’s not sure what to do. The heir needs time, but it is a luxury they cannot afford. The city has fallen and with it some number of five thousand cats, including the one she called king and these two brothers called father. The loss is staggering. “Lion-O.” When the young lord turns his bright blue eyes are harsh and unwelcoming, his features twisted into nearly a snarl and they do not relent when Tygra is finally seen beyond the red haze. His brother’s amber eyes hold no fire, his expression still. “Come on, she’s right, it’s time to go.” He can’t remember the last time Tygra had spoken to him in such a way. His tone is measured and gentle, almost paternal. Almost the way his father used to speak to him infinitely long ago when he was a staggering little cub and the world was far too bright for newly seeing eyes. His father, their father would never be speaking to them again. The world was not bright and Lion-O only wished he could be a blind cub again. “I’m not leaving,” Lion-O decides. Their young lord doesn’t even give them a moment to process his words before he’s dropping to his knees to pivot and start scaling the cliff. Cheetara is at a loss but not Tygra. Suddenly the fire is back in Tygra’s eyes once more, they don’t have time for this and he suddenly has an urge to hit his brother and if he weren’t already hanging along a cliff wall at an impressive 100 foot drop he isn’t sure he wouldn’t for Lion-O pulling something so stupid. “Lion-O, stop, have you gone mad? What can you possibly hope to accomplish? The city is gone, the others cats are gone and father wouldn’t want— Lion-O nearly loses his precarious hold yanking his claws out of Tygra’s grip before digging them deep into the wall. “Father’s not here!” He roars and he knows he sounds emotional and desperate and he doesn’t care. “And he won’t ever be again, but I’m not leaving him down there somewhere probably being mocked, desecrated or put out there for the crows.” Lion-O swallows and his tongue remains dry and thick in his mouth, his eyes hot. He isn’t sure he’s ever felt so sick in his life. “Our father, our king deserves better, they all do.” The cheetah and the tiger haven’t moved but Lion-O is still climbing, digging in his powerful claws on all paws, feet and hands alike, to descend. Cheetara looks to the oldest prince at her side, he still isn’t looking at her. “We shouldn’t risk it, we need a head start, we…don’t have time for it. He’s the king now the risk is a stupid, unnecessary one.” His words are soft and full of regret. The city will be full of lizards and they are only ensuring their own capture and possibly death by returning but she cannot insist again they leave. The lizards’ victory over Thundera, over Claudus, will likely not go uncelebrated in perhaps a grisly fashion directed towards their fallen leader not unlike Lion-O mentioned. She finds Tygra’s large paw and squeezes it into her own and finally he is looking at her and the grief in those eyes is staggering, horrifying, but she’d take it over the disconnection and blankness. “We will make time.” Her hands and feet are raw and a bit swollen after the climb down, stone is not like wood and hanging on and maintaining ones grip required serious clawing deep into the stone and the dull pain working around her claws was becoming more than a nuisance. She is relieved when her feet touch solid earth and the sting of smoke in her nostrils is harsh again. Cheetara jogs ahead to take the point of their triangle without a word as they move along the edge of the city, both princes follow the cleric a few paces behind. Once the city’s center is in sight they make their way silently to the games arena where they’d last seen their king before imprisonment though their stealth seems hardly necessary. “Not a single lizard,” she murmurs. “Of course.” Tygra is barely a breath away, as though by magic, as she hadn’t seen nor heard him approach. “Why hang out in the city when there’s a palace to loot?” Tygra darkly observes. He nor Lion-O wait for the cleric before entering the arena and their king isn’t hard to spot. His fiery mane is a vibrant flag peeking past the forever sleeping giant’s form. Cheetara slows to a near stop at the entrance of the arena but neither of her companions has noticed, they are silent and carefully moving towards Lord Claudus’ body. Their footfalls are colored with hesitation and Lion-O is sure his heart is beating so hard and erratic he may just end up with it sitting atop his tongue. He’s come to his knees only a breath away from the body. Claudus is…so still, his countenance has lost all color, his golden even seems darker. Lion-O is careful, so careful he can barely allow himself more than the pads of his hands to rest upon the king; he has a strange fear than he can barely understand the logic to of hurting his father, or breaking--, dissolving him into dust. When Tygra appears a mere foot back Lion-O barely notices and it is a relief for the eldest brother, he isn’t sure he can come closer without being swallowed by his brother’s grief, it’s hard enough when his own is bubbling, boiling his insides. “We should—“ Tygra starts. His eyes fall on Claudus and his brother’s hands, both the same tawny color and one day would be same size and shape. His own, a rich blood orange, is not like either’s. His father, his brother— Claudus may be dead but he’s the one who feels severed, dead from any connection to either lion. His stomach twists painfully at that thought and he forces out his next words in a nearly mute exhale, “I’ll go start a fire. I’ll need your help moving him to the west corridor.” If Lion-O hears him he doesn’t know and Tygra leaves him be. Wood isn’t hard to find from the ravished square of their city, everything is broken around him. He gathers as much splintered timber he can carry for the fire. Tygra stops in the archway, Cheetara is standing there next to a flaming pyre of broken wood and the foot of a tall stone slab that once served as the base of their Lord’s marble likeness, only the feet remain. “We should have enough firewood to finish the rites and rituals as soon as you both are ready.” Tygra isn’t sure what to say, she must have worked very fast and hard to set up such a pyre in such a short amount of time. He wants to thank her, to tell her how much he and even Lion-O appreciate the gesture, to give her kind words knowing her pain must be a hidden raw wound as well, losing her mentor and comrades within the clericy. He isn't sure it will help, perhaps their mention would only dishearten her when she seems to be holding up so well, he just doesn't know. “Give him a few minutes.” Cheetara nods in that docile mute way he’s familiar with from members of the clericy, but it’s odd now, she isn’t anymore their protector than he is a prince anymore. That life, that world is gone. “Tygra.” He looks tired and angry and she can see that blankness creeping back into his eyes. It’s frightening, the way it keeps rolling in like the tide, she can only hope he doesn’t disappear into it. “I’m sorry.” His reaction isn’t the one she was hoping for; he’s still watching the flames. “He was a great king, honorable and fair, much loved by his people.” Tygra nods shortly not meeting her eyes. “Thanks.” “Even more loved by his two sons.” That catches his attention, but her eyes give away nothing but sympathy and understanding and he wonders how she knows what to say. “He was your father too, say goodbye you will not get another chance for it,” she urges. “I will tend the flame as long as necessary.” She’s gone back to feeding the flames and clearing away the corridor of the rubble of stones and glass effectively ending their short discussion. Cheetara feels her heart lift through its veil of her own grief watching the striped cat return to the arena to take his proper place next to his grieving brother and their mighty king, and father.