A COMPLICATED HEART "Are you telling me our only chance of finding the Book of Omens is if his sword gives us directions?" "It's about as hopeless as it sounds." "Lion-O can get us there he just has to believe in himself, it might help if you believed in him too." - Panthro, Tygra and Cheetara (Journey to the Tower of Omens) Tygra has been avoiding her, she's pretty positive of that fact now. She had first noticed his aloofness in that tangled briar, he had been quiet, true, since they had left Thundera behind and begun their journey but now his silence was even more pronounced with some emotion he seemed desperate to bury. She had first thought it grief and had decided to given him both time and distance, well, she had tried to anyway, but she'd often be setting a tent or gathering firewood or even just musing somewhere at a distance and find herself next to him. They seemed to gravitate towards one another without conscious effort and she wonders at the pull of his aura to her own, it's a magic in itself that seems to grow with the more time she spends around him. It's intoxication, the pleasant pull of it, and she does her very best to ignore the sensations, the pleasant hum is a huge distraction from her duties as a cleric. She cannot let up on Lion-O now. He still needs her and will continue to for a little while at least, he had not the confidence to lead, only confusion and youthful brashness and would surely struggle even more without a single cat to support him. She believed in her king and trusted him to lead them and only wished the others did as well, especially his brother. But Tygra is struggling even more than the others; he's already ten steps ahead of his sibling in so many things and has no patience for blunders no matter how small. Some days the sharpness of his tongue is more like a razor and less like it's usually poking sting, with all of it spoken to Lion-O. Tygra must be given time and with time acceptance and finally respect. One cannot force a mountain to move, she thinks. Cheetara cannot ask it of him as much as she cannot force herself to ignore for too long the feelings she has for him, she's growing only more conscious of them without the separation of the walls of the clerisy and the palace of Thundera and she isn't sure how she's supposed to handle being this close to him every day and not getting distracted, so she supposes she too is doing some avoiding herself by absorbing herself into the job she promised her mentor she would do and help Lion-O. And it is her pleasure to assist him. Lion-O has not surprised her with his small successes and victories; he is a product after all of their Lord Claudus, victories and successes are as much inherited in the royal bloodline as vibrant red manes. She spots a flash of orange and Tygra is just a short distance away sitting perched atop the Thundertank with the general, Panthro both are sitting casually but their heavy lids look desperate for a good night's slumber. They've been almost cozy with each other in the last few days, Tygra slipping back into his role of collected aristocrat prince to the general's gruff authority. She joins them, her fur warming from the effect of the sun's rays on the usually cold steel of the tank and she can easily see why the two cats have chosen to post themselves here, it's a high enough point to observe a good distance around them even through the maze of trees. Already she feels sleep lulling at the edge of her mind, her breathing a slow drag, it feels a little too perfect for her sitting there watching the morning give way to the afternoon and close enough to scent Tygra with a light breeze. Cheetara shifts closer to Tygra's side, so close she can feel his body heat against her side. He acknowledges her presence with only a bemused look, she expects him to slip away but he doesn't move. He says nothing about her close proximity before stiffly turning his attention back to his brother. With the ancient sword poised high and straight, Lion-O is all but glaring through the eyeholes within the hilt, his voice ringing with impatience and imploring frustration. "Are you telling me our only chance of finding the Book of Omens is if his sword gives us directions?" Panthro finally asks. Tygra shrugs and she swears he sounds amused when he answers the panther. "It's about as hopeless as it sounds." "Lion-O can get us there he just has to believe in himself, it might help if you believed in him too," she adds. Tygra looks taken aback by her words and sure enough Cheetara's pretty pink mouth is set in a thin line that clearly shows she's angry with him, he finds he doesn't quite know what to say to her or if it's wise to say anything, she's never looked at him that way and he feels like a kitten being scolded with those eyes of her digging into him. He hates to admit she has silenced him with her disapproval and that look. But she does not hold him long as she's slides to the far edge of the tank before easing down to the grass, her intentioned destination clear. Tygra is unprepared for the way his breath catches at the sight of her striding towards his brother. She's glowing, her hair a white-gold sparkle, the dark nearly black spots in her hair flashing with her every movement and when the sun floods her frame her tawny coat of cream has the look of molten gold. But the most striking thing of all is the way he's unable to help watching the soft contracting of the muscles in the small of her back with the easy swing to her hips that makes his mouth go dry. He doesn't catch her words but his concern is less of her words and more of her actions, she's placing encouraging hands upon Lion-O's shoulders and speaking so close to his ear Tygra can clearly see Lion-O's fur prickle unconsciously drawn to her presence. A hot white heat is rolling through his gut and he can taste iron on his tongue, a hot sting making him aware he's drawn blood after nicking his tongue with gritted fangs. He's decided he doesn't care what the two of them do together. "He sacrificed himself for you, for all of us." -Cheetara (Journey to the Tower of Omens)He's still thinking about it, dispute resolving not to he is, even after the harrowing events of the day. Nearly getting filleted, almost drowning, and blasted by the old mummy had been hair-raising and for all the reward of snatching the Book right from Mumm-ra's withered claws they had indefinitely loss Jaga. For a reward of no worth at that, finding the blank pages had been devastating for the whole company. It had been mutually decided that it would be best to make camp within the Tower as they figured out their next course of action, with the book being useless knowing what to do next was difficult. Lion-O himself however had not given up on the idea of the Book being useful and had resolutely sat in the tower top fiddling with the useless relic for hours now, never minding Tygra's own suggestion of discarding it. He sat there now, while they sat waiting, and waiting for what besides a good night's sleep he didn't know. Answers seemed far away and he's never been a cat that can stay put for long. His pacing around the Tower of Omens a second time and it has him absently noting he has not seen Cheetara in a bit, no more than a good quarter hour but still… She isn't with Lion-O and that itself is odd and concerning. The cheetah had insisted she was just fine when he'd inquired about her hit from Mumm-ra but she'd been a closed book right after. Tygra combs the area around the tower carefully. Perhaps she wasn't okay and was hurt after all. He's suddenly ashamed of himself for not tending to her right away after she'd taken the hit, yes, the book was important and he was nearly certain she of all people would want it safe, as Jaga had commanded, but- He crosses the chasm stepping carefully over the flat stone pillars of the bridge coming away from the tower, she is there at the ledge where a few spindly shrubs are stubbornly weaving, and she's nearly hidden by the foliage. A broken lantern cradled to her breast as though she holds a child and not a casing of iron and broken glass. He cannot see her whole in the shadow of the cliff side overhang but the parts of her he can see look as though her body longs to crumble. And she's just standing there, eyes squeezed shut and inhaling a long draw of air that releases as a broken faltering exhale before repeating slightly faster her breaths just as quiet but even more broken. He suddenly feels like a terrible intruder but knows he can't possible walk away now seeing she is clearly upset. "Cheetara?" Her eyes fly open and they are larger than he's ever seen them. The coral of her irises swallowed by each dilated pupil and they are so glassy he can see himself within them. "Are you all right?" He takes but a few hesitant steps forward craning to see her eyes which she's now holding downcast to that lantern. She nods before answering quietly, "I'm all right, thank you Tygra." Cheetara doesn't move, not even to offer her eyes to him in her lie, she's certain she'll just break under his concerned gaze. "You disappeared so I thought I'd just make sure." Cheetara nods mutely and he's sure she isn't even listening. He comes even closer, kneeling to rest on one knee beside her. He has the sudden urge to nuzzle her cheek against his own, to comfort her. "I'm sorry about Jaga," he offers. Her spotted arms weave more tightly around the lantern as though guarding it from him, "thank you." Tygra understands, he was there the day Jaga had carried her into the clerisy, accepted her into the order and even his heart. He knew she was well trusted and highly favored and it had just as much to do with her skill as Jaga's own admiration for her, he'd guess him the closest thing to family Cheetara had, though he can't be certain, she'd never spoken about family before. "But he wouldn't want you carrying around that old broken lantern forever you know." When she meets him eyes there's a glint to them that's kind and spirited even. "I have a better idea." Cheetara isn't sure she cares to hear it, it hurts far too much the idea of letting go. Her hope of his survival after the fall of Thundera shattered with the lantern and the lantern is everything she has left. Which if she's honest is nothing more than a trace energy signature but at least she can still sense he was there once. She can't feel anything except this biting discomfort to her hands and a climbing tightness in her chest, so when the heat of his claws over her own holding the lantern wash over her she feels herself becoming solid again. "That lantern of yours will serve a fine vessel. How about assuring Jaga a happy, safe passage home huh?" he suggests. Cheetara does her best to grant him a smile for his thoughtfulness but it will not come. "You are not a cleric; you don't know the proper Rites of the Departed and you can't channel, only a conduit can." "I know them, all twelve prayers, and for your information I channel just fine," he assures her loosening her hold of the lantern to gingerly place it in the dirt between them. "And I know you can handle the rest. I'll be your conduit. Trust me." Cheetara thinks to ask the tiger prince just how he knows anything about rituals performed by clerics for the dead in the privacy of their clerisy and at that how he knows such rituals can be molded by a single cleric to include positive energies and magick's of those who are receptive as conduits. He does not offer an explanation so she does not ask. She sits with a small tug of suggestion from his hold on her hands, she notes him paying great attention to her hands as she slips her hands from his. She hadn't even noticed she'd managed to cut the tops of her knuckles on the glass. "I'm fine, just a small nick," Cheetara says. Tygra nods taking his own seat across from her, he extends both arms to her own, stark white hands open in invitation and she takes them. The minute their claws hands meet, his nearly double the size of her own, she feels him faintly, he's already begun shifting his mental energy to prepare for an opening. Once she's settled her mind's eye can "see" again and she gingerly pushes open his wider for the necessary breech. His energy, his life force is acting as a signature of his soul and her own pulse to meet together. The vessel of Jaga's glass and iron prison containing trace amounts of his essence acting as a magnetic force molding both energies inside the other. Cheetara gasps when they merge and she knows he's affected too, if his sinking of claws into her wrist is any indication. It's incredible. She can touch his insides even taste him and the throb of his energies is powerful and brimming with magicks. Cheetara had known Tygra possessed trace amounts of magick, that much is obvious with his invisibility, but there's something else larger and more erratic and powerful centering in his mind. She means to probe but already their signature is joining the air around them and the earth and even the waters of the river below, it grants less control but draws in more needed magicks to beats a loud rhythm that is not in their ears at all before hammering and then pulsing quietly. "Of the earth, of the sky, of the water, spirits lead them home," she begins. "Take of my claw, take of my tooth, take of my heart, my soul and lead them enter." She can feel her hands shaking and she has to pause before recovering. "And once entered, embrace me and know me once more and forget me not in your journey but keep me into the next life." Tygra is sure now even through the pleasant happy hum of the spirits around them Cheetara, composed and clever, is struggling, her grief roaring around them over the sweet genial measure of her voice. She feels him finally. Jaga's presence a comforting trickle emoting a clear message that is easy enough for her to make sense of. Fear not, my soul goes safely on to the stars and to the sky. "I will miss you always," she whispers fiercely. Her face feels hot and her throat impossibly tight and she doesn't even hear Tygra completing the rites, doesn't even realize it until she feels the air begin to thin and a crackling pulsation of energies and magicks dissolving. "Journey home, take my heart for safe passage and forget not to also take grief," Tygra finishes. He opens his eyes to the sensation of something hot and wet landing on the top of his thumb. A single wet trail down her prominent cheekbones confirms the tear is Cheetara's own. The redness of her eyes and the single tear all that betrays her sadness. The plane is closed and with it Jaga. In all his years of knowing the cleric he does not believe he's ever seen her cry. It wasn't that she was cold; in fact she was probably the most caring cat he knew. Sometimes he remembers the haughty, impulsive little girl cub and is in wonder of how she became such a patient and mild mannered she-cat, one so very different from the other and yet exactly the same. But in all that time marked by changes of the body and mind he'd never once seen her shed a single tear. Tygra is surprised her pain can still affect him the way it does now and he doubts a carefully picked day astrid is going to fix her situation this time. But it's ebbing, because she looks stronger and more peaceful now. "Thank you Tygra." "My pleasure," he answers easily, because it truly is. He finds his feet looking across the chasm to see a burly figure and an orange light. Panthro no doubt starting a fire. "Don't linger too long I don't want to have to come rescue you from something out here." She tries to hide her smile of amusement at his absurd statement of a cleric needing rescuing and the suggestion of a prince doing the rescuing but her elusive tactic seems to amuse the snarky prince even more. "Tygra." Tygra halts turning. "The Rites, how did you know them?" She imagines he'll confess to sneaking around the cleric ceremonies looking for mischief as a cub and charming his way into learning a few tricks from Jaga but she knows she's wrong by the sudden sober expression. "Jaga, taught it to me a long time ago. My mother," he started, then clarifying, "the Queen, when she died I didn't understand. So Jaga took me to the temple before she was buried and he taught me the magicks necessary to be a conduit and with it the Rites, he said I was a natural wielder of certain energies." Of that Jaga was certainly truthful and she wonders if he ever shared with the prince just how much he wielded that could go beyond tricks of invisibility. She wonders too how much of what Jaga had taught the tiger was secret as she'd never known it and feels privileged that he would share it. "I think he knew I just wanted to feel her surround me, one last time and know where she was going was good and things were okay." He shrugs but she can tell the memory is not an easy one. "I was just a little cub." "You should have told me, you and Lion-O were owed a much better chance to say goodbye to Lord Claudus, had I known you two were trained as conduits-" Tygra shakes his head, "I was taught the rituals by Jaga. Lion-O was just an infant when she died and he had no reason to try to teach him when he was old enough." "But you could have— "Lion-O would not have been granted our father's spirit, Lord of the Thundercats or not, you and I both know magick doesn't work that way." His expression is far-away and hard with confliction. "I couldn't if he can't. He felt separated enough from Father with adding the Rites to complicate things. We had our goodbyes and your magicks more than assured him safe passage." He is right but her heart still hurts for what she knows is his want and now regret. His wonderful gift to her had only served to remind him of what he had not allowed himself. What she was not powerful enough to grant Lion-O and thereby grant Tygra. But she was not nearly as powerful as Jaga and such an attempt to mold one's energies and magicks into a single force to work as a conduit could leave a mind shattered, something she could never risk on Lion-O. And it still too depended on a mind that was beyond disciplined. A situation she could not help even if she'd considered it. "I'm sorry," she tells him. But when she looks up Tygra is gone and there's only an empty lantern to keep her company. Cheetara doesn't get up right away, instead she ponders on Tygra, he seemed a different cat than the one she had admonished that afternoon, sometimes its even a surprise for her his conflicting nature towards their king and his conflicted nature towards his heart. His heart that continously makes quiet sacrifies, invisible even to her. And she knows she's falling deeper in love.