Truth, Justice, Honour, and Loyalty
Knave. House Iespyk. The very words brought bile to Zanaya's mouth. She wished that she had never heard the name of either the man or his family. It was now two days since her attempt at ending his miserable life, an attempt that should have worked. How had he been rescued in time? His precious blood was spilling out of his gaping wounds, his head had taken a forceful blow, and she hadn't seen anyone. Yet he was the one who was expected to be out and about later today while she languished in a god's forsaken dungeon.
The gods. Perhaps they were the root of her problems. The Icewalker goddess, Lunis, in particular. She was the one who had decided that she would carry Knave's child, and that the child would bring her nothing but turmoil. And here she was, incarcerated for trying to prevent the child's father from having her. Maybe she would be better off without both in her life. But then, how much life did she have left? Lunatak laws varied from ruler to ruler, but attempted murder almost always held a high price.
"This child you bring in to the world will cause you heartbreak and pain. Before long, you will be begging me to take your life. Then, and only then, will you know peace." Those were the goddess' words to her. What did they mean? Was that a promising sign that Tycho wouldn't order her death? Or would his death sentence be so horrible that she would be begging. She'd never felt the need to beg before, it was undignified and yet the gods couldn't be wrong.
She rested against the wall of the little cell. At least it was quiet. A pair of Gravitons were in the drunk tank a little further down, but they'd long since fallen asleep, and a Psion man who had been caught stealing was staring out his tiny window. There hadn't been much in the way of crime in the little city of New Lunis, not yet, so most of the fixtures and furnishings were unspoiled by stale urine and sweat. She heard footsteps down the hall, the regular cadence of the guards, come to bring her another meal of stale bread and probably rotten fruit.
Cat's Lair was looking good. The Berbils had announced that they were finished with the repair work and that the Thundercats could move back in anytime they pleased. Cheetara crossed the bridge on foot, carrying a duffel bag. When the Lair had first been destroyed, very few of her possessions had been salvageable, and fewer still she wanted with her at the Tower of Omens. The important things, like her family and friends, had survived, but that didn't fully lessen the ache she felt.
Still, she had to admit that the Berbils had done a good job restoring it to its former glory. She was always appreciative of the hard work the people of Third Earth put out when they were so inclined.
The Thundertank was parked outside, indicating that Panthro had managed to pick up some food supplies and still beat her there. He was working on updating the surveillance systems in preparation for their guest. Unlike most of the other Thundercats she had had few problems with the hybrid, almost trusted him in fact. Not only had she spent the most time talking to him, learning about him, but the two had been held captive by an evil entity that had tried to usurp Mumm-Ra's position. She had seen him at his most vulnerable then, and also seen the noble streak in him.
Oh sure, she thought as she pushed the door open, there was the occasional story that made her cringe. Anything involving the culinary habits of the Icewalkers especially. Thankfully Knave tended to look a little embarrassed talking to her about it, though whether that was because he sensed her discomfort or because he felt guilt she wasn't sure. Then there was his mother. Through hints and guesses, she had pieced his relationship with her and suspected that she had done something and he'd been forced to take part in her execution. The horrible things a person could do to a child never ceased to amaze her.
"Ho, Cheetara!" Panthro's voice boomed from somewhere above her. She looked up and saw him hanging by a cable, installing something over the door. "Combination motion sensor and camera," he explained. "Give me a second and I'll get you the new access codes for the computers, and you'll need me to get you into the control room. Can't be too careful."
Cheetara considered arguing, but had to concede that some extra precautions were prudent. Knave had never mentioned an aptitude for computers, but anything was conceivable. She waited patiently while he finished screwing in the device and lowered himself to the ground. They walked from the main foyer, up a set of stairs until they reached the control room level. Lion-O's room was on the same floor, with the others spaced around the building. She wondered which room was going to be set aside for Knave, and guessed immediately. Panthro was the one most vocal against allowing the half-Lunatak into the building, and there was a spare room near his.
Panthro walked up to the control room door and placed his palm against the panel adjacent. "There's one on our bedrooms and the weapons room too. It can also be synched for voice commands," he said, as the door slid open. Other than looking cleaner, very little looked different about this control room. The Berbils had managed to replicate most of the room from memory and through salvaging what still worked. Panthro keyed a couple of commands into the computer. "Your turn. Speak into the microphone."
She shrugged and placed a hand against the panel. "What do I need to say?" she asked.
"Nothing. That should do it. Let me know if you have any problems getting into your room." He left her to her own devices to continue his installations.
Krystalin stared at the small object that seemed to change colour every time she squeezed it. Darius wondered how long it would be before she decided to put his hand in her mouth. He and Tycho had come down to her father's home and were surprised to find that Mystan and Lura had already dropped off the child and her meagre possessions. The fact that Knave was out of the hospital wasn't as much of a surprise, he seemed to have a remarkable ability to heal, and Tycho expressed the hope that this was passed on.
It was an incredible transformation, Darius thought to himself, listening to his master and the hybrid talk. Knave seemed so calm, so happy with the girl near him. Even the rest of the household seemed thrilled, Nuiane and Gravica had been fussing over her until Nitro called them away to give the governor some privacy. That was the one Darius was most curious about. Nitro had never been fond of his son, but he was the only one to produce an heir. Krystalin was the oldest of the generation, and could well find herself as the sire of the House, depending on the rest of the family tree. He made a note to look it up for his own interest.
"When do you want me to leave?" Knave asked.
"The Thundercats are still moving into their Lair, and they've promised to keep you on light duties, whatever their interpretation of that is. I'd say another day or two won't hurt," Tycho replied.
"I think I can manage to have everything packed. I'm sure Nit... my father will be only too pleased to help." Darius heard the slip. So the feud wasn't one-sided, they rarely were. At least he was trying to remember his place. Hopefully that would carry over when he was with the Thundercats. Tycho had promised to send a few history books as a token peace offering, but the primary work would be based on how Knave behaved. Maybe sending the child was a good thing, if it could keep her father in line.
"I'm glad to hear it. We'll send a small ship to drop you off. The Thundercats might get a little nervous if we sent a big cruiser. It'll be a little slower, but should help keep things calm. Get rest and listen to the doctors. I don't care how fast you think you heal, you're no good to me if they're sending you back for repairs." A smile flashed across Tycho's face, taking the sting out of his words. That was one of the things Darius loved about him, how he could turn a command like that into a sense of concern. Few people could be offended by Tycho. A jolt rushed through him as, indeed, his hand disappeared into Krystalin's mouth. He carefully extracted himself before the two went back to Sky Tomb.
Redirect, block, move, switch... Lura worked her mind quickly as Mystan continued to batter at her psychic defences. Generally he was very good at this, his lack of skill in the telepathic arts made up by his years of experience. But she was quickly closing the gap in knowledge, learning his tricks, and he was impatient today. He had been distracted by the Zanaya affair of late and she couldn't help but feel a little smug that she was doing so well today.
She had the motivation. Buried deep in her mind was the part she had played. It was a knowledge she only let surface when she was absolutely sure that no one was around, hidden by the tiniest of threads. She probably could have left it out in the open for all the care Mystan was taking right now. His frustration was building, until he yanked his mind out of hers with a mildly painful ripping sensation. "You're getting better," he said, his voice low, almost daring her to question him.
"Thank you master. You've taught me well," she said, keeping her thoughts to herself. She had seen Mystan truly angry once before, watched as he telekinetically crushed rocks to powder and threatened to turn such power on an underling who had remarked on it. What would he do to her if he knew the truth?
"What are Tycho's thoughts?" he asked suddenly.
"His thoughts?" she started to asked. Sharp yellow eyes stared at her, and she saw her error. Of course. There was only one thing he could possibly mean. What was he going to do to Zanaya. Searching Tycho's mind was dangerous, but so was being alone in this room with her master. Effortlessly she cast her mind out, questing for that of the governor's. She sensed him walking down the road, and Darius was with him. That would make life more complicated. Some Guardians, creatures genetically programmed to serve the Royals, could detect psychic manipulation. Darius had never shown this ability, but that didn't mean anything.
She touched Tycho's mind with the lightest of touches, trying to remain aware of Darius' aura. There didn't seem to be a change, so she pressed a little harder. The trick to remaining undetected was to be slow and gentle, which wasn't so easy with the subtle drumming of fingers she could sense from her corporeal self. "What are you going to do with Zanaya?" she whispered, the question triggering a reaction in the brain, summoning thoughts and memories. It was easier than sifting through his brain, and possibly finding out more than she wanted to know. Indeed, one of his surface thoughts were on what they planned on doing later in the night. Something involving Darius changing the size of his...
Forcefully, she reminded herself of her purpose. It was easy enough for a telepath's own thoughts to influence the one whose brain she was scanning. Even now, the thoughts she wanted were slipping into the ether while others began to bubble. She clung frantically to the ones concerning Zanaya and began examining them more closely.
The world snapped back into place around her. Lura always found it a little disorienting returning to her own body. Some day, she feared, she would venture out and not return. There were stories of it happening. A telepath could go anywhere, see the world through the eyes of countless persons without having suffer for it. But the mortal body was vulnerable while they were out. A spirit cut from the body could drift forever, unable to ever truly experience life. She shuddered.
"He's leaning towards exile," she said, "though he wants to send her to Luna for judgement. The only reason he doesn't want to is he thinks Luna will sentence her to death." The wave of telekinesis caught her flush in the chest, propelling her the couch into the back wall. She feared for an instant that she'd been found out, bracing herself for another attack, but eased a bit when she saw that it wasn't directed at her, just in general.
"Idiots. The Royals are idiots. How many murders have they committed to hold their power, how much blood is on their hands? Zanaya did nothing different than they, she just got sloppy. Exile? Death? For my kin?" Mystan was ranting, pacing back and forth.
"How do we get her out then?" Lura asked. It brought attention back to her, but it was that or be accused of not caring.
"I've got a few ideas."
The control room was empty aside from Panthro. The other Thundercats had arrived and were performing regular duties in and around Cat's Lair, he just had one last thing to check and he'd done so with a sense of satisfaction. He had seen Cheetara heading outside and had asked her to take his toolbox outside for him, as he planned on doing a tune-up on the Thundertank. Unbeknownst to her, he had placed the monitoring device he intended on strapping to Knave inside. As soon as she crossed the threshold of the entrance, an energy field formed around her and sirens blared.
On the camera, he could see Cheetara look around in confusion, then in annoyance. Soon his laughter came through the speakers. "Sorry about that, Cheetara. Just testing my security system. If you can't escape, then Knave won't either." He deactivated the holding field and headed down. Cheetara would be upset at him, not only for the humiliation but for the way he was reacting to Knave's arrival. He didn't trust the Lunataks, not by a longshot, and felt she was a little overconfident. Time would tell which of them was right in this, he just hoped she wouldn't learn too late.
She was waiting when he got there, along with Lion-O and Wily Kit. "He's a guest, Panthro," Cheetara said sternly. "He can come and go as he pleases."
"That's only for combat situations, or if he goes anywhere he shouldn't. If the Lunataks, or anyone else attack, we can be sure where he is and keep him there," Panthro explained, removing the thin band from the toolbox.
"Which wasn't part of the agreement. Lion-O..."
"I don't like it either, Cheetara, but Panthro has a point. What if he does get into the sword chamber or somewhere else. We need a way of containing him if the need arises. We'll go over it with him to make sure he's prepared," the Lord of the Thundercats said, holding his hand up to forestall further argument. Panthro knew that she would chew Lion-O out in privacy later, as was her right, but his word was law. It was rare that this kind of dispute cropped up, but Panthro had seen it happen before, both under Lion-O himself and under Claudus. The Cheetah nodded her head and sprinted out for a jog.
"She'll be fine," Lion-O said, eyeing Panthro as Wily Kit went back to her work. "But next time, you might want to run this kind of test by me first."
For Knave, the two days of resting came and went in a rush. He was still under orders to take things easy, which grated at his natural impulses, and a pair of Icewalkers were helping to carry his possessions to the small transport that would take him to his new home. Krystalin was sleeping, blissfully, the feel of her tiny body against his furred chest comforting for both of them. It was going to be an interesting experience to say the least.
All his life his only contact with Thunderians had been prisoners of one sort or another. There were those like his mother who had been pressed into servicing Nitro and other such nobles, and then there were those poor refugees who had had the misfortune of winding up on the Ice Moon. He'd had his fair share of prisoners to interrogate, though most of them were delivered to the Royal Moon.
But the Thunderians he'd be seeing soon wouldn't be in either category, they would be free of shackles and were definitely not a food source. He watched Krystalin's crib be carried into the transport before taking a seat. He was most looking forward to seeing Cheetara again. Of the Thundercats, she was the only one to show him much kindness, but then there had always been a soft spot for those of her race. Loyalty to one's kin was drilled into every Icewalker, often reinforced through brutality, but they obviously hadn't considered cases like his. The one Cheetah prisoner who had been under his care had earned the enmity of his fellows when it was seen that Knave wasn't as harsh towards him. He had been found one morning, dangling from the ceiling by his own entrails.
Knave shook his head. Those days were gone. His mother had always tried to assure him that living among Thunderians would be a better life for him. He supposed he was about to find out whether or not she was right. The transport shifted and slowly rose into the air, leading him to that promised land.
From his office in Sky Tomb, Tycho watched the launch on his computer monitor. "It's a big moment," he said to Darius, standing behind him. "If this works, it will be the greatest thing I've ever done."
"It's a start. There's been so much bloodshed over the centuries, peace won't happen overnight. And it wouldn't take much to undo," Darius cautioned.
"I know. Which brings me to the next issue. Mystan. He's been too quiet lately, and I don't trust it." Mystan was a schemer, but very influential. He was probably one of the few people on the planet he couldn't touch without repercussions from Luna and her latest missive reminded him. It took close to two days for any transmission to reach the Moons of Plundarr, and she was probably only now getting word about Zanaya's imprisonment. He was holding off a formal decision on the woman until he heard back, back that didn't mean there wasn't political manoeuvring going on. "Let's start by changing her accommodations. I've got a hunch."
The small transport's windows went black as it went through the Forest of Mists. Knave had been here before on foot, making slow progress while stumbling through the dark. No one understood Third Earth geography, it seemed to be one mysterious locale after another, and the Forest of Mists was no different. It wasn't just dark, it was oppressive. Even something as simple as holding a lit match was swallowed by the darkness. When he'd walked it, he had felt cold and scared. But the cold was good, the cold reminded him that he was alive. His sense of smell and hearing had been muffled in that place too, rendering him down to two senses, and he had no inclination to use his taste buds.
He had heard that the Thundercats had developed a powerful enough light to illuminate land in front of them, but so far they hadn't shared the technology. If they had the Darkling pilot might not have been necessary. Knave wondered how well his infrared goggles were working against that soupy mist, and then hoped they worked very well.
Instead of staring out the window, being drawn into a state of despair, he turned his attention to Krystalin. She was awake and chewing on his vest. She looked so innocent and sweet, and he wished that she could remain that way forever. The transport burst through the other side of the mountain range, filling the interior with natural sunlight again, and continued towards Cat's Lair.
It was noon, and the guards didn't think anything of Mystan or Lura walking into the dungeons of New Lunis, and Lura made sure that it stayed that way. She didn't particularly enjoy blocking memories from people's minds, it was an inexact science and could cause further problems down the line, but it was a necessary evil sometimes. A high priest's word was law to the Psions, believing that what they did came directly from Cyrus. Besides, she was walking on thin ice. Mystan might not know what she had done, but disobedience might bring a thorough search of her mind, something she couldn't chance. Besides, these were recent memories, so they were less risky.
She had debated what to do about the people on the street. The jail was out in the open, just slightly north of Sky Tomb, and any number of people might have seen them enter. Too many to risk. If there was even one complication, it could draw attention to the prospect of others. Some other gifted telepath might even be able to undo her work. "Down this hall," she reported, looking through another gentleman's brain, seeing the layout perfectly through his eyes.
"Hey baby!" a Graviton voice called as they passed the first line of cells. There was a second Graviton with him, but it was the slightly heavier one who had made the catcall. "Eef you ever get tired of that walking stick of a boyfriend..." his words were cut off as she closed off the memory of their passing. She did likewise to his friend and hurried after Mystan.
Nauseating creatures, the Gravitons were. She swore that every one she passed was undressing her in his mind, some of the women too. She had the power to confirm it, and had once or twice, but it came with visions of the person in question naked as well. Psions tended to have an elitist attitude towards romance, preferring people of their own sub-race to the those of others. Psion/Royals weren't uncommon, but Lura figured that was more for political means than any kind of sexual preference.
"Focus," Mystan's voice cut through her thoughts. They were fast approaching the cell in question and he would need her to be sharp, in case they were interrupted.
Zanaya was standing in her cell, hands clasping the bars of the cage. Lura could feel the energy field that was dampening her powers from outside the door. The assassin didn't say anything immediately, merely watched them, and then spared a glance down the halls. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Rescuing you. Tycho is considering exile or death for you, and we're trying to prevent it," Lura explained. Her master knelt in front of the door and closed his mind, searching. He was looking for the mechanism that would release the lock. He could probably have just torn the door from the wall, but needed to cast doubt on who had performed the rescue.
"That's what I thought," Zanaya said, grinning as the door hissed open. "Tycho figured you'd waited long enough." The voice changed, becoming masculine and a little higher pitched. In horror Lura saw the assassin's body changing, turning green with wings sprouting from the back.
"Darius!" she gasped. But Mystan was quicker, grabbing the changeling as best he could telekinetically. Lura knew that she had to do something, but what? They were immune to telepathy, weren't they? But only because they could move their brains, disperse it throughout their bodies. Darius was still partially in Zanaya's shape, he might be vulnerable now. Forcefully she aimed a psychic blast at him pushing into his head. The process had already started, parts weren't there. She would consider the logistics later, when her life wasn't in danger. She sifted quickly through what she could, and found that the short term memory centre hadn't vanished yet. Whether her mental block would last through shape changing, she couldn't be sure, but it would at least buy them time to escape. "I'm out," she told Mystan, jerking back into the real world.
"Then let's go. Quickly, before he recovers."
"There it is," Knave said quietly, looking on the massive fortress that was the Thundercats' home. It was a magnificent structure of white and blue, surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs and on the fourth by a deep gorge. How the Thundercats had managed to find such a location was incredibly good fortune. He wondered what kind of defences they had if someone were to scale the place from the rear, and figured he would probably never know.
The transport ship he was in made a slight turn and landed on the far side of the bridge. All the Thundercats seemed to be on hand except for the two youngest, probably manning the scanners in case there were more Lunatak ships. Lion-O's hand rested lightly on the hilt of the Sword of Omens even as the rear hatch of the ship opened, allowing Knave to step out into the crisp clean air. "Ho, Knave, welcome to Cat's Lair, and to your daughter. Before we go inside, Panthro would like to examine your possessions, just in case there's anything that might interfere with..."
"He wants to look for bombs?" Knave asked the Lord of the Thundercats, a little incredulous at the suggestion. Had the Thundercats always been this suspicious, or was it because of what Aristarchus had done.
"Why don't I escort Knave to his room," Cheetara interjected before the tension could rise. "He's not supposed to move any of these things anyway, remember?"
Panthro handed her something, and an unvoiced conversation passed between the two. He was too focussed on Lion-O's apologetic response. It was something about precautions and how they weren't implicating him of anything, that any number of his kin might have accidentally left something that they shouldn't. Knave tuned out most of it, nodding when he thought it was expected. It was theoretically possible that someone like Mystan might have planted an explosive in his bags, but he didn't think there was time to do it. Besides, Mystan seemed to prefer being relatively hands on so that he could confirm a kill.
Speaking of which, Mystan was lucky that Knave was moving out. Zanaya had nearly killed him, and that wasn't the kind of thing that he took lightly. The next time he saw her, he swore that it would be the last and anyone else from her family who tried to protect her.
He didn't see any need to stick around while his things were searched, so he followed Cheetara across the bridge and up the stairs to the Lair. "As part of the agreement, I'm supposed to make sure you wear this," she said, holding up the tracking device. "I trust you enough not to need it, but Panthro and Lion-O insist."
"I understand. That's Tycho's vision, that this will help our people to trust one another. Frankly, I wouldn't trust us either if I were you," Knave glanced at where the others were working, and thought he saw Panthro look his way. That Panther was going to make his life miserable, he could tell.
"Something like that. Hold still, let me know if it's too tight. I'm told that there's a sensor to tell if it's been tampered with, so please don't try." She knelt at his feet and affixed the device to his ankle. There was a barely audible click as it locked in place and she stood up. "Let's go inside then."
"I don't detect anything dangerous," Panthro said, managing to sound only a little disappointed. If he could find some reason to shut the whole experiment down, Lion-O knew he would be grateful.
"There's baby food here," Tygra announced. "I'll take a sample to my lab, but I doubt it's poisonous." Lion-O nodded. Diabolical as the Lunataks were, he didn't think they'd be as blatant as that. Still, it would be good to test in case it wasn't compatible with their bodies and to see if they could synthesize something for when that stock ran out.
When Lion-O had learned that Krystalin would be staying with them as well, he had consulted with Tycho on what kind of diet an infant that age lived on, and found that while it was very similar to their own, there were differences. Mostly, however, it seemed to vary from child to child and was a matter of the parent's opinion. "Let's start unloading the ship then, so our Lunatak friend can go."
The pilot stared blankly at them from his seat. He'd watched and listened to the whole conversation in silence and would doubtless be filing some kind of report when he got back. It was one of the reasons Lion-O had hoped that the verbal barbs would be kept to a minimum. Life was going to be awkward for Knave living among strangers, without Tycho worrying about how things were going. He would give his own reports, along with chatting about anything that might turn up in the history books, but the views of that Darkling Lunatak might be just jaded enough to set the governor on edge.
In no time at all, the three of them had managed to unload the contents of the shuttle on to the bridge and slowly retracted it so that they wouldn't have to carry things as far. Once they were done, the pilot took the ship back up into the atmosphere and was gone. "He didn't even say goodbye," Lion-O commented.
"Just as long as he doesn't come back," Panthro replied, picking up two large duffel bags.
The room was bigger than he was used to, and brightly lit. There was a bed that dominated the room, a closet, a small dresser and a bathroom. Someone had been kind enough to lower the room's temperature so that it was colder than the rest of Lair, and he made a mental note to find some heavier curtains to make the room a little darker. Back on the Ice Moon only the wealthy had windows of any sort, the rest of the mountain cities were light with artificial light. House Iespyk had certainly been wealthy, but Knave wasn't important enough in the hierarchy to merit a window. Besides, he'd spent most of his time in the dungeons, which had even less lighting.
Cheetara took him around the room, showing him where the temperature controls and the intercom were. She handed him a map of Lair, with places like the kitchen and general supply room clearly marked. Someone had also marked with red X's the rooms he was not to enter. She apologized again for the seeming lack of trust and hoped that he would be granted greater freedom sooner rather than later.
"It's been so long since I've seen a baby, do you mind?" she asked, holding out her arms. There wasn't hesitation, to his own surprise, as he handed her Krystalin. There was a faint stab of pain, thinking of his mother, holding him in her arms much like that. The innocense and sheer beauty of the scene. Cheetara leaned her head down, staring at the child, making those noises one makes to a baby and gently rocking her. Krystalin's eyes were wide, but she was quiet, staring at this strange person holding her. "She look so much like you."
"And little like her mother," Knave replied. "We don't know why, either." There were suspicions, something to add to Zanaya's guilt over killing the Icewalker woman whose name the child bore. The doctors had tested her and his own Icewalker half was the dominant strain in her DNA, accounting for half of hers. She would be a master of snow and ice in the same way that some Psions could control fire, a new ability unheard of before in any such pairings.
She handed Krystalin back as the other Thundercats began entering the room, bearing luggage, which they dumped with some care along the near wall. Knave owned very little in the way of furniture, and would find a place for most of his things in the space the Thundercats had provided. "We'll let you get settled. If you need anything you can use the intercom. Someone will get you when dinner's ready," Lion-O said.
When he was alone, Knave rocked his child and stared around the room. "Well, kid, this is it. Our new home. Hope you like it."
Lura was pushing exhaustion. For the last five hours Mystan had had her searching the city for any clues as to where the real Zanaya might be. Touching Tycho's mind was too dangerous, especially since his suspicion level was already raised, and Darius was certainly out of the question. Whatever those two had done with her, they had done it well.
The exercise wasn't entirely fruitless, though, she hadn't detected any sign from the guards in the jail that Darius realized what had happened. As far as any of *them* knew, it was Zanaya in the cell. Mystan wouldn't be happy to hear that, though, and she could already sense his aggravation level near critical mass. If she reported more failure to him... She shuddered at the thought.
She ventured through the bowels of Sky Tomb, looking into the mind of a janitor who was fighting a losing battle against the badly stained tiles. She searched through the jumbled thoughts of a spider, perturbed that its web was empty today. Lura even examined a rat that had died an hour before. Searching the minds of the dead was tricky stuff, and even that depended on being there within a short period of time. None of them saw anything even remotely resembling Zanaya of late, nor the prince, nor his changeling.
But would that make sense? The guards at the jail didn't remember Zanaya leaving, so there must have been a disguise of some kind used. She brought herself back to the real world and took a long drink of water. Mystan was sitting in front of her still, staring at her in an unnerving way. "Nothing yet," she said, swaying ever so slightly. She'd been out of her body too long and her head ached from the strain. "I just need to get something to eat and I'll keep going."
"Make it quick. I'm not used to being foiled like this," he said, harshly. She knew Mystan wasn't lying. He had the rank that made people around him bend to his will, he was smart enough to usually be on the winning side, and that control was slipping. He had been Aristarchus' strongest supporter and his reputation had taken a beating when the former governor had gone mad.
Lura had seen the report from the Psion Moon and knew how displeased they all were for not being able to control their pawn. But Mystan had been taken captive by some demon, and that disappearance had contributed to Aristarchus' insanity. How could he be at fault for that? Too bad the other high priests didn't see it that way.
Hurriedly Lura got some food from the cupboard and ate. There was an urgency, since her mental block on Darius could fall at any second. Once she was settled on the ground again, she resumed her hunt.
Dinner was a quiet affair. The Thundercats sat around the table, having helped themselves to the buffet of food Snarf had provided and spoke mostly about trivial matters. The Wollo mayor was expecting another child, the Bulkins were concerned about having seen Jackalman in the neighbourhood, and the Warrior Maidens wanted to know how things were going. It wasn't terribly interesting, to Knave's ears but he listened anyway, contributing when necessary.
The conversation turned very briefly to the Lunataks, but an awkward silence filled the room, forcing Cheetara to change the subject to how well the sensor grid was working. Through the meal Knave sampled a number of different Thunderian foods, impressed at the variety of concoctions one could make using mostly candy fruit. He was a little disappointed, though he wouldn't admit it, that there was very little meat available.
But the biggest problem, he found, was the hostility radiating from both Panthro and the Thunderkittens. It wasn't that he particularly cared what they thought of him, he had been called every name in the book by his prisoners, but he had to remind himself of his duty and not try and provoke reactions.
"Krystalin seems to be enjoying herself," Snarf said, walking over to the stroller she was sitting in, as she stared wide eyed around the room. "I thought they said she was always crying, snarf, snarf, but I've barely heard a peep from her."
"That's what Zanaya said, that she was nothing but trouble," Knave replied. He took a bite of a candy fruit glazed piece of fish. "Frankly I don't blame the kid, Zanaya was a bit of a bitch."
"Which made you the perfect couple," Wily Kat retorted almost immediately.
The rest of the Thundercats looked in shock from one to the other. Panthro's hand clenched, watching Knave to see if he would lash out, but the hybrid just laughed. He wouldn't win a fight here, but he'd figure out a way to keep his vow to Tycho and pay the whelp back. "Wily Kat, behave yourself or there'll be no Berbilberry pie," Snarf managed to find his voice first, then rounded on Knave. "And you should watch your mouth around children or old Snarf will find a bar of soap to wash your mouth."
He counted to three internally, his initial response discarded. "Of course. My apologies, among the Lunataks we don't think twice about such language. I'll bear that in mind for the future."
The tension eased noticeably. "That's much better. Now, who wants pie?"
When dinner was over Tygra escorted Knave back to his room. It wasn't so much an issue of trust, he was wearing his ankle tracking device after all, he argued to himself that Knave was not yet acquainted with the layout of Cat's Lair. This was true, but not entirely so. It would be a while before any of the Thundercats would feel comfortable with Knave wandering loose around the Lair, and vice versa. If Wily Kat and the Lunatak had had that little sparring match elsewhere, Jaga alone knew what might have happened.
With that done, he returned to the control room to help Lion-O with the last watch of the day. Very little tended to happen in the evening, and the systems were set on automatic through the night. "Sector 12b all clear," Lion-O mumbled aloud, cycling through the various cameras they had set up through the area. They had tried, once, putting one at Castle Plundarr, but the range was too great. "Oh, hello Tygra."
"Hello. Another quiet night, I hope?" he asked, settling in front of a monitor of his own.
"So far. We've had enough excitement the last little while. We should send someone to check on the Mutants. I don't trust it when they're quiet, especially after that Bulkin report."
"I can do that tomorrow. I'm wanting to stop in at the Berbil village, and Castle Plundarr's not too far out of my way."
Alone again, with only his child for company, Knave began rummaging through the boxes and putting away what possessions he had. When he'd first come to this planet, roughly a year and a half ago now, it had been with the intent of finding Chilla and coming straight back. He hadn't bothered packing much then, just a small bag with a few changes of clothes. His father, graciously, had arranged for two more boxes to be sent. It was a rare act of kindness from the man who loathed him. Perhaps it was a token appreciation for having gotten the job done.
News reports from the Moons of Plundarr indicated that Luna had brought a measure of stability to the uncertain power structure. Following her disappearance, and her husband's assassination, there had been a revolving door of kings and queens. Now there was hope, provided Luna could produce an heir.
An old stuffed toy, an Icewalker dressed in a flight suit, came out of the box and Krystalin squealed as he placed it with her in her crib. She grabbed it and promptly began sucking on one of the feet. He smiled and tossed his clothes into the dresser. He eyed the other box, the one containing his trophies, and debated whether or not to put them on display. Mostly they were taken off kills that he was particularly proud of, and many were Thunderian in nature.
His father would have without a second thought, knowing that such things would intimidate visitors, especially blowhards like Panthro. It was why Nitro's office had a Cheetah hide hanging over the desk, to remind both son and harem of the consequences of betrayal. It was tempting, especially the carefully preserved Panther hand. It was the only thing that had remained undamaged after the prisoner's foiled escape attempt, having been severed almost immediately. Even without it, the man had put up an impressive fight, earning Knave's respect in death.
But Knave tried not to be like his father. He hated how he'd been treated by the man, with such contempt for his existence. Icewalkers were hard on their children, expecting them to grow faster than those from other moons, but Knave knew that he'd been given less slack than his brothers had. It wouldn't be like that for Krystalin; she would lead a beautiful life, full of happiness. He put the severed hand on the dresser anyway, and set out a few of the more tasteful artifacts.
"You summoned me?" a lanky Psion named Extroc asked, knocking on the door to Mystan's room. Things were not going well, Lura was on the brink of exhaustion, and Mystan was no closer to finding an answer. Hence he had decided to take a chance and had summoned another Psion telepath to pick up where Lura had left off.
"I did. Lura is having trouble finding my niece, Zanaya. I need you to try and find her," he said simply. Realistically any Psion in the city would have agreed to do Mystan's work, angering a high priest was akin to angering the gods themselves, but few would ask as few questions as Extroc. He just assumed that Mystan had his reasons and obeyed immediately, settling on the floor in front of his student. Extroc placed his hands on top of Lura's and used it as a focus to find Lura's psychic self to learn where he should start.
Lura swayed noticeably as she returned to her body and put out a hand to steady herself. "I'm sorry, master," she said, bowing her head slightly.
He shrugged indifferently. Her apology wouldn't change things, but it was good that she acknowledged her failure. There was something about her that was bothering him lately, some faint aura that he couldn't put his finger on. If he wasn't so focussed on the task at hand, he might have been inclined to scan her mind in this vulnerable state to learn the truth. He watched her stagger to her feet and collapse down on the couch, drawing her blanket tightly around her head. If Extroc was unlucky, he would just have to put her to work again in the morning.
"I'm still not sure about the ethics of this," Tycho thought to himself. Morning had come to Dark Side, and the light didn't seem to be brightening up either the landscape or his mood. Outside people were going about their business, mostly continuing the construction of buildings and the like, but inside his head he was conflicted. They were trying a largely untested and possibly immoral tactic on Zanaya.
A Graviton scientist, some years ago during the war between the moos, had come into the possession of a trio of Psions and had performed some dubious experiments. None of the three had survived to tell the tale, but he had come up with something interesting. If a person was kept sedated under certain chemicals their minds appeared not to exist to Psion brainwaves.
Hidden in a room that only he and Darius had any access to, Zanaya lay in a state of unconsciousness, a tiny amount of the chemical solution pumping through her system. Tycho and Darius knew Mystan too well. If for some reason he figured out that the person in the jail wasn't Zanaya he would scan the city looking for her. But how long before Mystan would take the chance to read his mind, or try some other tactic? What they needed was a more permanent solution.
Mystan was powerful, both in regards to the telekinesis at his control and the political might he had. It made him very dangerous, and Tycho needed some way to keep him in check. He also couldn't just let Zanaya run around at her leisure. Even exiled there was a chance she would come back to Third Earth in search of his head. "I hate Psions," he muttered, dressing for the day.
Lion-O weighed the options in front of him. Panthro had gone to the Berbil village with Tygra to help them deal with an insect infestation that was threatening the latest crop of candy fruit. Cheetara had gone to the Tower of Omens to do some repair work, and he had to repair a faulty radio in the Warrior Maiden village. He didn't really want to leave the Thunderkittens alone with their guest, but he wasn't sure if Knave would want to join him.
He knocked on the hybrid's bedroom door. "Good morning. I hope I didn't wake you," Lion-O said.
"No. Krystalin's been awake for about half an hour, she wanted company." There was the ghost of a smile on Knave's face as he said it. Lion-O had never dealt much with children, but he'd heard horror stories about it. Snarf told him that he'd constantly been a handful when he was younger.
"Sorry to hear it. I thought you might like to join me at the Warrior Maiden village. I've got some work to do, and there's no one around here other than the kittens."
"In other words, you want to keep an eye on me. You could just say it."
Lion-O looked shocked. He really did have the best intentions at heart, he just didn't always know how to communicate them. "That's not it at all. I just thought you'd both be more comfortable if you weren't stuck together. I'm sorry if it came across as insulting." It was a horrible feeling, being thought of in that way, but Lion-O supposed that there was a reason behind it. In fact, if he thought about it a little, he did come across that way.
Knave gestured for Lion-O to enter while he put on his boots. "You call that insulting? Remind me sometime and I'll tell you some of the names I've been called. Darklings are the worst for it. I don't think it's physically possible to do some of the things they suggested. There's no need to dance around the issue, I can take it. The kittens don't want to be around me, especially alone. I get that. So let's not make them uncomfortable." Unsure how to take the small rant, Lion-O led the way down to the waiting Thunderclaw.
Darius tried to remember to scowl in Tycho's direction when his ward approached, flanked by two guards. Playing Zanaya was easy around the common folk, she seemed to enjoy giving people hostile glares and refusing to speak. At least his version did, and no one seemed to correct him. Shape changing was a simple matter for his people. Specific shapes could be tricky, and mimicking voices more so, but Darius had had plenty of practice at it.
So far the incarceration had gone well. Tycho had ordered the guards to leave 'her' alone other than for feeding, and there were no other prisoners in this section of the jail. Not that there had been much crime anyway. Lunataks were fairly lawless by nature, but they hadn't been on Third Earth long enough for any of the mischief makers to arrive from the Moons. "You can go," Tycho said, not looking at either of the men, "she won't cause me any trouble. Will you?"
Darius spat on the ground, a gesture of contempt. But mostly it was to avoid those eyes. Darius had always been able to read Tycho's emotions, through his expression, his body language, but especially the eyes. Today his eyes spoke of sadness clashing with annoyance with a large helping of longing. Tycho was a loving person, but his station meant that he had to be careful whom he let his guard down around. He'd often wondered if that was a small part of the popularity of the Guardian program. Genetic engineer someone who would be absolutely loyal to you and you could afford those moments of weakness without wondering when the person would jam the knife in your back.
When the guards had finally left, Tycho lowered his voice and stepped close to the cell. "Anything yet?"
"Nothing but a splitting headache," he replied. Darius wanted to reach through the bars, comfort his prince, stroke his silken hair that smelled faintly of mint. There were cameras in the hall, and it was too risky, but it was so tempting. A scandal where Tycho was sleeping with a prisoner wasn't needed now. "I'll be fine."
"I know. I don't think we can do this much longer. We need to make a decision. Sooner or later Mystan's going to find out the truth or make his move."
Tycho's body went rigid for a moment and Darius acted instinctively. He had seen it before. Telepaths had tried to invade his head before and Guardians were trained to recognize the signs. Instantly his body morphed into a protective bubble around Tycho, constantly changing to block the telepathic waves from penetrating. And suddenly the migraine was gone. In its place was the unprotected memory of Mystan and Lura's attempt to free Zanaya.
Lura lurched awake when she heard Extroc's colourful litany of curses. The commotion also seemed to draw Mystan from his room. "What is it? What have you done?" he snapped. Lura could tell by looking that her master had gotten very little sleep the night before.
"I'm so sorry. I thought if anyone might know where Zanaya was, it would be Tycho. He was in the jail, visiting the one you said wasn't Zanaya, and..."
She knew what that meant. Darius had shape changed, the secret was out. Mystan knew it too. Lura could feel the almost palpable anger emanating from his body as he stared at Extroc. Mystan believed that emotions had to be harnessed and he was swiftly losing his control over them. With an unearthly roar he lashed out with his pent up power, wrenching the head from Extroc's body and splattering it against the far wall. Lura braced herself, running through the list of mental shields that might hold against such an onslaught, but Mystan's anger petered out as his logical mind took over.
"Tycho will be here soon. Possibly with security. We should be ready."
The wind whistled through Knave's hair as the Thunderclaw travelled towards the Tree Top Kingdom. It felt good, an exhilarating sensation that he seldom experienced. Running would have been better, especially in this pleasant weather, but this was faster.
It was also very trusting of the young Lord of the Thundercats to expose himself like this. Though Knave's arms were wrapped around Lion-O's waist, it would be a small effort to kill him with the slender blade at his hip. He could do the deed, pitch him over the side, and probably still have time to get to the controls before it crashed. Probably. Krystalin would be in the way for that, he supposed, cradled against his chest. It was all moot, anyway, Knave wasn't inclined to kill Lion-O, his loyalty to the throne and a general liking of the man prevented it.
He was, however, curious to test him in hand to hand combat. Ever since Tycho had brought up staying with the Thundercats, Knave had debated how he would keep in top physical condition, and certainly sparring was an option. Neither the Thunderkittens nor Panthro would work, as he didn't trust himself to stop himself from dealing a killing stroke, but Tygra and Lion-O certainly were.
Cheetara then? A memory of his mother, her eyes squeezed shut, as Nitro made his younger self kill her, came unbidden. No. He couldn't spar with Cheetara, not yet, not without seeing that horrible moment. Krystalin made a noise, somewhere between a giggle and a burp, and the horrid thought was banished like the darkness was by light. Krystalin was his light and no evil would harm her.
To say that Mystan was surprised to find only Tycho and Darius on the other side of the door was an understatement. He had, in truth, fully expected a full complement of soldiers to arrest him, instead of just two. Which meant that the governor had something else in mind. "Tycho, how may I be of service?" he asked, on the off chance that their deception was unknown.
"I have enough evidence to have you sent back to the moons in disgrace," Tycho replied. "Murder too, I see."
Mystan spared a glance over his shoulder at the headless body of Extroc. Lura had at least had the courtesy to find a sheet to cover the head with. It would be sent back to the Psion Moon at the next opportunity, and the brain added to the psionic batteries beneath the temple. "Internal affair, well within my jurisdiction."
"Attempting to break out Zanaya and attacking my bodyguard are not, however. I know how tenuous a hold you have on your position as high priest these days, and a charge like that could be disastrous. Look, we have never seen eye to eye, from your days supporting Aristarchus, to now. I'm not asking for friendship, I'm asking for peace between us. If you can guarantee your good behaviour and take full responsibility for Zanaya's actions, I will release her and pretend all of this didn't happen. Understand?"
He did. He hadn't expected anything remotely like this offer, but he did understand it. It was one of Tycho's character flaws that had put Aristarchus in front of him in the eyes of the Psion high priests. Tycho didn't like making the difficult decisions. Aristarchus would have executed the both of them instantly, here Tycho was offering a token of peace. How different the two men were, Mystan thought, not that he was complaining in this instance.
"Crystal clear. Now, if you'll take me to the real Zanaya then?"
She floated through a purple mist, surrounded by laughing children. She knew them, they all bore the same marks on the throat. Little necks, snapped before they could grow old. Zanaya looked down at her hands, in an attempt to avoid those rictus grins on crooked heads, but they were drenched in blood. Thick, syrupy blood that stank of death. The babies began spinning around her, creating a vortex in the purple mist, until they united into one. A tall blue skinned woman with white hair. Her hands reached for Zanaya's throat. "Mother," the woman croaked, cold hands touching her neck.
Tycho was startled by the scream. The quartet had entered the small room Zanaya was being kept in to unhook her from the chemical solution that was keeping her sedated. Certainly the scientists hadn't mentioned anything like this as a reaction. He looked to Mystan, who immediately stood in front of her, speaking to her telepathically no doubt. Zanaya's features softened, whatever unknown terror had been bothering her dispelled. They hardened again suddenly and she spat in Tycho's direction.
"I take full responsibility for that, governor," Mystan said with a hint of sarcasm, as he led his niece and his apprentice out.
"I don't care. Just keep your end of the bargain," he replied.
Lion-O landed the Thunderclaw outside the warrior maiden village, in a small clearing. The Thundercats preferred to land near the village, rather than in it, due to the close spacing of the tree huts and the love the maidens had for their 'primitive' lifestyle. "Stay with me," he cautioned Knave as the two dismounted and began the short trek. The last time the maidens had seen the Lunataks had been when the armies of Third Earth had rallied against the Lunar city of New Lunis. The maidens might be inclined to react to his presence before Lion-O could explain. Twenty-three warrior maidens had died in the assault, and many more had been wounded. Doubt crept into his decision to bring the hybrid, but it was too late now.
The forest was still, reminding Lion-O of the forest of silence. It was an eerie calm, that warned him that they were being closely watched. Krystalin began a soft whimpering, picking up on the tension in the air. "It is I, Lion-O, Lord of the Thundercats. I come in peace!" he said out loud. His eyes scanned the trees, but he couldn't see anything for the dense foliage.
He led the way a little further, with still no sign of their watcher, until an arrow thudded into the ground, inches from Knave's foot. "Go no further, evil one," the commanding voice of Willa said. The woman herself emerged from further along the path. She narrowed her eyes angrily at Knave.
"It's okay, Willa. He's with me."
"I know. That's why he isn't dead. He is unwelcome in our village, for the evils that his people committed, and it's only our friendship with you that keeps him alive."
A glint of metal in the trees showed that that blessing could change in an instant. Luckily it seemed as though the half-breed wasn't inclined to fight at present, especially under losing odds. Willa was stubborn, and Lion-O knew it from past dealings. "I'm sorry, Knave. If you go back to the Thunderclaw, I'm sure this won't take long."
"Don't worry, they're just as intolerant as the Lunataks," he replied, turning on his heel and walking away. A faint rustling in the trees indicated that the maidens would be keeping a close watch on him even from there.
"You'll have to forgive him, he's got a bit of a short temper," Lion-O began, crossing the distance between himself and the queen of the Warrior Maidens.
"And you should know better than to bring such a disgusting creature into our home. We're better off without his kind. We fought alongside you against those monsters, if you recall. I lost some good women to them, friends and family." She stopped short of hitting him, though the words stung more than any physical blow.
"But he's part Thunderian. With him maybe we can reform the Lunataks."
"Do as you please. But if he crosses our borders again, he's dead. Now, the radio is this way."
He had had few dealings with humans. Back when he had served as jailer for Nitro on the Ice Moon there hadn't been any, and here on Third Earth they had generally avoided Dark Side. Knave knew he'd been followed back to the Thunderclaw, his senses were working fine and he wasn't an idiot. How many were there, he wondered, setting to work scanning the trees to find their hiding spots. They were good, he only spotted the one, and he cheerily waved at her. "I can see your foot," he called out. Instantly it moved, but there was no further response. It didn't matter, he wouldn't be able to get at one of them before being turned into a pincushion anyway.
Carefully unhooking Krystalin, he set her down on the seat of the Thunderclaw. This was the reality of his situation. The Lunataks weren't loved throughout the universe, and they did very little to try and change that opinion. Tycho was different. He saw a need to change the reputation, and he was honest in his motives. Knave respected that, and yet their was something too friendly about the man, almost a weakness. Lion-O was the same; too friendly, but he at least looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Maybe that was a good thing where this proposed alliance was concerned, Tycho and Lion-O were similar men in their ideals and desire for peace. The question was whether their people would follow.
On to Truth, Justice, Honour, and Loyalty - part three
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