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21st Phantom
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The Twenty First Phantom
He was born in the Skull Cave. His father held him proudly, and with great joy spoke one word to him: "Kit!" Thus the Twentieth welcomed to the world the baby destined to become the Twenty-First, the Phantom of our time. The very day he was born, the Twentieth engraved a headstone in the crypt, a promise made in granite to fulfill an ancient vow. The headstone said merely, "The Twenty-First." It stood in the crypt, ready, next to the headstone of the Twentieth, that was carved by his father before him.

Like all the Phantoms since the First's son, the Twenty-First was raised in the Skull Cave, hidden in the Deep Woods of Bengalla. He grew up as a child of the jungle and learned its ways. He hunted with children of a friendly tribe. He played with lion cubs. He knew the animals and plants of the forest as one knows brothers and sisters. He also grew up as the child of the Phantom. He learned self-defense and survival. He learned honor, bravery, and perseverance.

He learned the history of his ancestors and their tireless dedication to their cause. He learned that one day, he would lay his father to rest in the crypt, behind the stone that was engraved "The Twentieth", and then he would be the Phantom. He would marry and have a son, and he would love him and teach him. He would reveal the secrets of the Phantom only twice during his lifetime: to the woman he was to marry and to his son. And he would also carve the headstone of The Twenty-Second, because the vow must be fulfilled: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice, and my sons and their sons shall follow me."

The Twentieth showed Kit the ancient Skull Ring he wore on his right hand, which he had inherited down the centuries from the First Phantom. By some mysterious process, when the ring hits an evildoer, it leaves a skull mark on his skin forever. Young Kit was fascinated by this ring, which he knew would be his some day. The Twentieth also showed him the ring of The Good Mark, worn on his left hand (closer to the heart).

When he was 12 years old, it was time for Kit to receive his formal education. Traditionally, each of the Phantoms has been educated in the native country of his mother, so young Kit was sent to America to live with his aunt and uncle in Clarksville, Missouri. His father gave him a bag filled with precious jewels to pay for his upkeep, a concept Kit did not understand since his life in the jungle had nothing to do with any form of money.

He assumed the identity of Kit Walker, (which the Phantoms use whenever they are out in the world and not in costume) and left for America. It was his first time outside of Bengalla, and his way of life was far different from that of the people he encountered. He had read about the outside world, and seen pictures, but some things cannot be understood until they are lived. There were the simple, basic things like wearing clothes and shoes, which he found very restrictive and uncomfortable, but which he had to accept. And there were more complex things, like learning that outside the jungle, not every fool who picked a fight knew he was engaging in a fight to the death. The transition was hard on Kit, and more than once, he wanted to give up and go home. The only place he found solace in this strange land was at the zoo, where he could be near the kind of animals he knew from the jungle.

His life with his aunt and uncle was uncomfortable. His uncle was surly and strict, and resented having to feed and house his wife's sister's boy, whom he considered a jungle beast. Only when Kit finally remembered to give him the bag of jewels, a fortune in jewels, did his uncle start to look at him with a more open mind.

Because Kit was so different, he became shy and cautious of showing his feelings. He was finally brought out of his shell by the temptation of watching the other students practice archery. Kit had hunted with bow and arrow since early childhood, but this sleek, huge bow and its shiny, perfect arrows were new and exciting to him. Although he was several years younger than the boys who were practicing, he was immensely strong, and drew the stiff bow back with astounding ease. His marksmanship was even more astounding. The coach who watched him had never seen anything like it.

Within a few weeks, the coach had tempted Kit into trying other sports, and at each he proved phenomenal. Suddenly the ice was broken, and the mysterious boy from the jungle was the talk of Clarksville Academy. It was, in fact, the beginning of an American sports legend.

One day, a ferocious panther at the zoo mauled a keeper and escaped. Panic swept through the town. This place was totally unprepared and utterly vulnerable to a powerful predator. Children were shut up in their schools or immediately sent home. Citizens locked themselves indoors. The keepers and police moved cautiously through the area, searching.

Kit was on his way to archery class when the news came and everyone was sent home. But Kit did not go home. He took the bow and steel-tipped arrows, and began to prowl the streets. Starting at the zoo, he tracked the beast using signs unnoticed by those untrained in stalking wild animals. He followed the trail to a girl's school. The children in this school had been kept there for safety, but so many anxious parents called that the school changed its decision and sent them home. The girls were running across the campus when Kit arrived, and some instinct told him to run towards them, sensing that his prey, too, was near at hand.

Suddenly, one of the girls looked up and saw the panther in a tree right above her. The little girls screamed and fled. The panther crouched to spring. Kit pulled an arrow from his quiver almost faster than the eye could see. The bow bent. The panther leaped. The arrow met the panther in mid-air, striking it in the side. The panther fell, wounded and snarling, straining to pull the arrow out with its teeth.

The furious beast gazed around in hatred, and saw a young girl hobbling away on a twisted ankle. It began to move towards her, for revenge, but Kit thrust his body between them. The panther leaped straight at him, but he shot an arrow deep into the rushing monster, and it fell dead. Kit picked up the terrified girl and carried her away. That little girl was named Diana Palmer. Little did Kit realize that she was destined to be the love of his life.

The town was electrified by Kit's dramatic stand against the panther. His legend grew. His achievements in athletics earned him a national reputation as "The Schoolboy Wonder." By his senior year, he had his pick of the largest and most prestigious university scholarships. Instead he chose Harrison College, an small school that specialized in forestry courses, a study close to his heart.

Kit's presence at Harrison made it an athletic force to reckon with. Suddenly, the school, too, had a national reputation. By Kit's senior year, the enrollment had tripled. Harrison's teams, which had previously been obscure and only matched against small colleges like itself, was playing and winning on the fields of the nation. Kit was prominently featured in magazines, newspaper and on TV.

During the Christmas vacation of his junior year, he attended a dance at the country club, where his aunt and uncle were eager to show off their famous nephew. There, he was introduced to a girl, several years younger than him, and undoubtedly the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. He did not recognize her, but she knew him. It was Diana Palmer, the girl he had saved from the panther. She had followed his sports career closely, and idolized him. His inspiration had driven her to excel in sports herself. She glowed at him.

Kit quickly knew that she was the girl he had been waiting for. Their romance grew and strengthened through their brief vacations together, through their long weeks and months apart.

In his senior year, Kit was asked to take part in a publicity boxing match with the Heavyweight Champion at the Harrison gym. He agreed, as a favor to the school. It was supposed to be merely a sparring match, a workout for the champ who was due to fight professionally in the region soon after. But the atmosphere in the gym, with Kit's fans and classmates packing the stands, made the champ resentful. He went after Kit not as a sparring partner, but for real. Kit was no easy, college-boy boxer and gave back as good as he got. The champ grew more angry and uncontrollable, and fight turned ugly. But Kit had learned much since his time in the jungle, and could control his killer instinct. He fought back as a boxer, a powerful, masterful boxer and, as the TV cameras watched, the college boy knocked out the Heavyweight Champion, to the amazement of the world.

As graduation approached, Harrison prepared to dedicate a new stadium, the existence of which they owed largely to the prominence of their star athlete, Kit Walker. The opening was declared to be Kit Walker Day, an enormous celebration. Kit's aunt and uncle and even Diana flew in to be part of the festivities. With Diana beside him, Kit felt near heaven, and as he looked back on his eight years so far in America, he knew he was far from the jungle world of his youth.

On the eve of the celebration, the jungle reached out to reclaim him. A messenger at his window brought him the terrible news that his father was dying in the Deep Woods. He had been stabbed treacherously. Kit packed the small bag that he had arrived with and prepared to leave. The only stop he made was to climb to Diana's third floor window for a secret goodbye. He could give her no more explanation than that his father was dying, and he had to leave immediately. He made her promise to tell no one what she knew. He promised to write, but he truthfully did not know if he would ever see her again. Such is the fate of the Phantom.

Then Kit Walker vanished without a trace, to the amazement of his friends his fans, and the world.

He arrived at Skull Cave in time to find his father still alive, holding onto life by sheer will, waiting to see his son. The dying Phantom administered the Oath of the Skull to Kit and placed the ancient Skull Ring on his finger. "This is the ring of the Oath, Kit," his father said weakly. "Be faithful to it." He made Kit promise to use the Phantom's great treasure only for the good.

Kit assured his father that he would uphold the traditions of the Phantom line and maintain the Chronicles. His father's last words to him were indeed prophetic: "There will be good times . . . and bad times. . . ."

Kit picked up his father's body and took it to the crypt, where he placed it tenderly in the coffin that was already prepared. Then he placed the casket in its niche in the wall, and using old iron tools he found nearby, chiseled the death-date in the stone tablet.

As he laid his father to rest, Kit noticed that The Twentieth's gun belt was missing. Could the man who killed him have taken it as a souvenir? Kit vowed to find out and bring the murderer to justice.

Kit donned the Phantom costume that had been prepared for him by his father. When he first looked at himself in the mirror, he was astonished by his resemblance to his father. Now he understood in his heart how powerful the legend of the Phantom's immortality really was. In his mind, he could hear the words his father had read to him years before, the words of the First Phantom, four centuries ago: "Today I swore an oath on the skull of my father's murderer..." Now, he was The Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks, the Man Who Cannot Die.

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