Truth, Justice, Honour, and Loyalty
"Adjusting to the length of days here on Third Earth isn't nearly as bad as you'd think. With five moons and the planet Plundarr, we're used to making the change," Knave was sitting in his room with Cheetara. The Thundercats had a great thirst for knowledge on life on the Moons of Plundarr, and often either Cheetara or Lion-O would come and visit and ask questions. Tygra did once, but he seemed to be uncomfortable around the hybrid Lunatak. Knave was reasonably certain it was mostly a natural shyness than any particular dislike for the man.
"Thundera isn't... wasn't much different than Third Earth; only about an hour off. Truthfully, a lot of our current calendar we've stolen off the Warrior Maidens and other gentle creatures. Twelve months to a year, twenty-four hours to a day, and so on." It was Cheetara today, and he was happy. He found that he got along better with the woman than any of the other Thundercats. He'd been here almost a week now, and Panthro still regarded him with suspicion, while the Thunderkittens bristled with open hostility. He didn't blame any of them, his people weren't the most trustworthy. The feelings were largely reciprocated. Back on the Moons he had been taught that Thunderians were a pathetic species forcing their way of life on to others by feigning to be friends. If you disagreed they would put pressure on you, and guilt you. When that didn't work, they'd destroy you.
"We set our clocks by the Royal capital," he resumed. "I'm not sure when that started, probably for trade reasons. We were lucky on the Ice Moon, our rotation was close to that of the Royal, we only needed to add thirty-one seconds at the end of the day to compensate. The Darklings weren't so lucky. While we all have twenty hour clocks, they have to add a whole hour. The Gravitons, of course, used technology to speed their moon up to keep it in line." The conversation had arisen over a discussion on the calendar system in the files that Tycho had sent over. Some were marked with low numbers, while others with high. Knave had explained that because Luna didn't know what year it was when they were awakened by Mumm-Ra, they had declared that to be the first day of the first month of year one. Other files would reference dates on the moons of Plundarr.
"Wouldn't that throw off their ecology?" Cheetara asked, amazed.
"You're asking the wrong person. Nitro gave me the best education, but only enough to make sure I wouldn't embarrass him." Knave glanced over to where Krystalin was snuggled up against her Mr. Spaceman doll. She was reasonably well behaved for him, for which he was grateful.
As Cheetara was about to respond, an alarm blared through Cat's Lair. The female speedster bolted from the room, even as an explosion rocked the building. Knave didn't know what was going on, but figured this was the chance he'd been waiting for. Combat against the enemy. Who they were and how many there were didn't matter. He had been couped up inside so long he didn't care. He ran to the door and found, to his irritation, that it was locked, as was the window when he tried to open it. All he could do was watch in frustration.
Mutants. Always with the blasted Mutants, Panthro snarled to himself, trying to get a lock on Vultureman's Flying Machine. Luckily he had been outside tinkering with his proudest creation, the Thundertank, when he had spied the Mutants approaching. He hit the alarm and then prepared for action. When would they ever learn? Throwing themselves blindly at the Thundercats only resulted in them having to go back home to lick their wounds and repair their vehicles. More than once he had suggested to the council that they pursue them and break the cycle.
A beam of green energy hit the ground beside him, sending debris into the air. Some new weapon then, probably an invention of Vultureman's. The Mutants always seemed to be a little more bold when they were cowering behind the Avian's inventions. He didn't know what the energy would do to him, and he didn't really want to find out.
Vultureman's plane dipped and turned, getting ready to make another run at the Lair, affording Panthro the opportunity to take a quick look to see where everyone else was. The Thunderkittens were harassing Monkian with what looked to be laughing gas, while Tygra and Cheetara were keeping Jackalman off guard. Both Mutants were in Skycutters, nasty little machines that Panthro was itching to destroy again.
"Ho!" he heard Lion-O shout, pointing the Sword of Omens at Slythe's Nosediver, and knocking the Reptilian over the edge of the bridge into the gorge.
He was too open, and his attention was diverted, watching to see the fate of the Mutant. Even as Panthro tried to swivel the Thundertank's gun into position, he saw Vultureman's Flying Machine swooping down towards the young Lord of the Thundercats. A beam lanced into the ground at Lion-O's feet, cascading him with dirt and stone. Vultureman attempted to correct his aim and narrowly scorched Lion-O's left leg as the Lord dove away. He roared in pain, the green glow spreading swiftly along the wound.
"Lion-O!" Panthro cursed, ripping a series of shots into the Flying Machine, crippling it. With their numbers dwindling and equipment in shreds, the Mutants beat a hasty retreat. They could wait. Their leader could not. Panthro sprinted towards where Lion-O lay, his skin a greenish hue, and was soon joined by the others.
"What's wrong with him?" Wily Kit asked.
"I don't know. That weapon of Vultureman's got him. No, don't touch him!" Tygra as Wily Kat leaned closer. "I saw it spread quickly, and we don't know if it will infect any of us. We'll have to be careful carrying him into the Lair. Why don't you call Pumyra at the Tower of Omens, we'll need her help."
"Where's Knave? Why didn't he come out and fight?" Cheetara asked suddenly, even as the youngest Thundercat took off inside.
"Didn't have much of a choice. I locked him in a room. Better there than sticking that icepick of his in our backs," Panthro said, with a hint of smugness. Configuring the system to isolate Knave had been a stroke of genius. Know where your enemies were at all times.
"And maybe Lion-O wouldn't have gotten hit if we had the extra help," Cheetara snapped.
"Yeah, maybe Vultureman would have shot him instead," Wily Kit piped up.
"Enough," Tygra's normally reserved voice cut through the tension. "We'll deal with that issue later. Lion-O has to be our first priority. Cheetara, now that the action's over, why don't you go do damage control with our guest. Wily Kit, you join your brother in the control room, I want every warning if those Mutants decide to come back. Panthro and I will take it from here. And someone let Snarf know what happened. He'll be worried sick." Automatically everyone obeyed, heading to their particular tasks. For his part Panthro ducked into the garage and collected two pairs of disposable gloves and a gurney from the infirmary. He only hoped the Mutants' weapon wouldn't do any lasting damage.
Mystan floated through the ether, emptying his mind of all other worldly concerns. He set a mental beacon, requesting an audience with Cyris, god of wisdom and death. He was also the patron deity of the Psion people. Dealing with the gods, even for a priest of Mystan's rank, was risky. An angry god could not be stopped by mere mortals, and who knew what might offend them. Sometimes, even a plea such as his would earn the wrath of gods.
From what he knew, Cyris was better than most. He was patient and kind, generally protective of the Lunatak people. Mystan knew the tales of his other aspect, though, the angry reaper who destroyed worlds in a fit of anger. That was the aspect he didn't want to encounter today.
In the space of time it took his eyes to blink, the god was standing before him. He wore a simple white robe dotted in eyes, the symbol of Psion power. This was not the guise Mystan was accustomed to seeing him in.
"No, it isn't. Last time I saw you, you were seeking guidance on how to redeem yourself from Aristarchus' folly. I chose a more appropriate outfit for this occasion," the voice was soft, much softer than a god's voice should be.
"Appropriate?" Mystan queried, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. Because you need to open your eyes and see more clearly. You are much too close to your problems and thinking with muscles instead of your mind." An image appeared in the air, two windows. In the first was himself and Zanaya, in the other Knave and Tycho. Seated between them was Krystalin.
"You're right, of course," he stated. The god of wisdom knew everything he did and more. "Pride and loyalty to my family dictate vengeance on that half-breed and the governor that would protect him. But my standing has eroded. I stand to lose a lot if we fail again."
Cyris' face remained impassive. "You stand to lose more than you think," he said. "Events are already in motion that you cannot control. The reward is great, but the price may be steep. Open your eyes and see clearly." The eyes on Cyris' robe began to widen and shift, merging to become one giant eye that swallowed him up.
Perspiring greatly, Mystan came back into his body from his meditative state. Lura was where he'd left her, watching him with concern plastered on her face. He ignored it and stretched. There was much to consider and the extra set of ears would help.
Cheetara was not surprised to find that Knave had taken his incarceration poorly. He had sworn up and down that he would tear Panthro limb from limb for his clear mistrust. At the moment, she was almost willing to let him. Only when he promised not to try anything did she let him leave.
It was a setback, she'd been successful in getting him to open up so much. She now knew more about the Lunataks than she had ever hoped to know, she could almost see how similar their races were. They bled just as easily as any Thunderian, and felt the same sorrows and joys. And they could feel pain. Knave's voice spoke of anger and vengeance, but the eyes and posture spoke of a deep hurt. Icewalkers trusted one another, he had told her, their word was their bond and now they had offended that honour.
She settled in front of her mirror, stretching out tense muscles. The fight with the Mutants had gone fairly smoothly up until Lion-O's injury, and she had suffered only a slight bruising while avoiding Jackalman's shots. Lion-O. "I should check on him," she thought to herself, abandoning her regimen.
"Of course. I've been looking at this much too closely," Mystan said, rubbing his chin in thought. He and Lura had gone over and over Cyris' message, and the answer came so suddenly he thought someone must have put it there. He couldn't be sure, of course. The words of Cyris could be interpreted many ways. That was one of the tricks. The concept of reward and punishment could indicate the consequences if he tried to get revenge and failed or they could indicate the attempt itself. Perhaps there was punishment waiting if he tried, or the punishment would occur if he didn't. It was one of the reasons the Psions had an Oracle, someone to take the blame for the misinterpretation of the gods.
"We've been taking the brute force route to revenge, but there's so many other ways. Remember when Krystalin was born?" Lura nodded. She hadn't been present, of course, but she'd been told of the events. "I placed a mental block around her mind, preventing her from being able to access her powers until she was old enough." It was common, if difficult. He had performed it himself on the child even as she was surgically removed. There were far too many stories of a child's powers manifesting in wildly unpredictable ways. "What if we removed that block? Either the power would destroy the Thundercats and that accursed Knave, or he would beg us to take her back."
"But master. To do that you'd need to be close to her, and Tycho will never allow it," Lura said. The poor child, so fearful.
"Then we'll go her without Tycho knowing. Zanaya can get me close, and you can keep watch on the Thundercats' activity."
"What are you doing in here?" Wily Kit growled, standing protectively in front of Lion-O, while her brother came over to join her. The Thundercubs had been left alone to see the Lord of the Thundercats, though no one was being permitted to cross the barrier that Tygra and Pumyra had erected. There was so much they didn't know. Discussion would be held soon over what to do, once the basic operations of the Lair were taken care of.
The young girl glanced at her brother, and felt a surge of disappointment that it was he instead of Panthro, who had relieved her in the control room, standing beside her. Panthro could handle Knave for sure. She knew that as a pair that they were capable of handling most any opponent, but there was very little they knew about the hybrid other than that he was bad news. "Oh shut up, I came to check on Lion-O."
"So you can finish him off, no doubt," Wily Kat produced an exploding capsule. "I told him you couldn't be trusted. You're going to kill and eat us."
Something flashed across Knave's face. Anger perhaps, she wasn't good at reading expressions. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead. I do know a few recipes you'd be good for, actually. As long as Snarf has nutmeg in the cupboard." Maybe that's what the look was, one of hunger. None of the others had really believed her brother when he said that Knave had suggested cooking, but she had. She knew him well enough to know when he was lying. And this cinched it. Before she could react, Wily Kat had thrown whatever capsule he'd been holding at the Lunatak hybrid, exploding across the man's arm.
"Bit of a sticky situation you're in," Wily Kat chuckled, as the glue set in, holding Knave firmly in place.
"Let's tie him up before he gets free," Kit added.
Cheetara heard cursing from the infirmary and began sprinting, covering the short distance. The Thunderkittens held their lariats in their hands, with Knave wrapped up on the other end, covered from head to toe in a sticky yellow glue. She recognized some of the Plundarrian words as being very vulgar and hoped to never know what the others meant. "Wily Kit! Wily Kat! What are you doing?"
The twins looked surprised and a little smug. "We caught him before he could do anything to Lion-O," Kat said, giving his lariat an extra tug, which off-balanced Knave long enough to send him tumbling to the floor.
"What do you mean?" She could hardly believe it. Were Panthro and the others right? Was this all part of a Lunatak plot? It didn't make sense if it was. Knave had had plenty of opportunities to do Lion-O in. Why now?
"We saw him come in, and..." Wily Kat's voice trailed off. "Well, he didn't actually say he was going to hurt Lion-O."
"But he did say that he knew recipes to eat us," Kit chipped in. "It was the way he walked in. We just knew that he was going to do something bad."
"So all he did was walk in?" she heaved a sigh.
"I know it sounds silly, but you have to believe us. He was up to no good. We know it."
"Listen, you two. I appreciate your concern, but Thundercats don't work that way. We don't harass guests just because of how they look, we judge people by their actions. And right now, you two look like the villains in this mess. Why don't you go find Tygra and see when we're going to meet. I'll help Knave out here." Cheetara took a capsule of solvent, designed for this purpose, from Wily Kat and ushered them out. "I'm so sorry, Knave. They're young, they don't have the patience the rest of us do."
"Don't bother apologizing. When I get free I'm going to teach them to finish a fight." His body shuddered as she worked. It was almost tempting to leave him where he was until he calmed down, but he might hurt himself in the process. Right now helping him would be a sign of trust, and he needed that more than anything.
"Please don't. Let us handle them, they're our responsibility. We'll punish them our way." She touched his cheek, and stared him in the face. She wouldn't admit it openly, but there were times she wanted to reach out and remind him of his mother. He obviously had cared for her, and the glimmer of memory did seem to help.
"Fine. I'll accept your Thunderian justice, because I have to." It was about all she was going to get out of him. She couldn't blame him for being mad, and she would now have to make sure that the kittens did get some sort of punishment. Still, she knew him well enough that his word was his bond, and she could release him without fear.
Tycho read Knave's report about an hour later. He had been out of the building when the message came in, so Darius helpfully transcribed it. It didn't sound promising. Lion-O injured, fights breaking out. He had known there would be difficulties in this arrangement, but he hadn't expected it to be stronger on the Thunderian side of things. He made a note to contact the Lair and find out if their leader was okay.
A plan was made; Tygra and the Thundercubs would infiltrate Castle Plundarr and learn what they could of the Mutants' fiendish weapon. There had been heated debate over who should go, each cat feeling the burning desire to see their leader avenged. Ultimately it was Tygra's invisibility that won the argument. The kittens were a separate issue; they were full of unbridled energy, and would only make things worse if they were around the Lair. At least if a combat came about they would have a chance to vent their frustrations at being punished. Tygra could read their faces, they felt like they were right in their opinion of Knave, and he could hardly blame them.
The hybrid wasn't terribly easy to like, despite Tygra's best efforts. He could come across as rude and crass, and yet a lot of that had something to do with his upbringing. Tygra's own childhood had been so much different, a loving family with a network of close friends who supported him, he couldn't relate. But Lion-O was right, this was the kind of step needed in repairing the feelings between the Thunderians and Lunataks.
As Tygra piloted the Hovercat, flanked by the kittens on their space boards, he wondered if there would ever come a day when the Mutants would likewise try and make peace. It was the ideal situation, a world free of conflict and hate, where all races got along. But Tygra was much more practical than that. He knew that creatures of evil would always exist, it was what forced agents of good to keep on their toes. Castle Plundarr had the same effect, especially with the encroaching darkness. Just seeing it made his fur stand on end. Somewhere in there was the answer to their questions. He landed the Hovercat in a small clearing near the forbidding structure and turned to his charges. "Stick to the plan. Wait for my signal and then join me," he reminded them. He winked out of sight and treaded closer to the castle.
Lura felt a wave of unease pass through her. She understood the concept of revenge, she'd taken some of her own before, but this seemed like poking a sleeping bear with a stick. Mystan wanted revenge on Knave and was willing to risk whatever punishments Tycho could come up with to get it. The other Psion high priests weren't likely to be terribly happy with failure either, and they could impose some very diabolical things too. Lura had heard of people being stripped of their psychic abilities or having their memories painfully erased. There were a million horror stories, most designed to ensure co-operation, and those were just the ones people knew about. There were also too many stories of people up and vanishing entirely.
As she, along with Zanaya and Mystan, took a small cargo ship over the Fire Rock Mountains she couldn't help but wonder what the penalties for herself and Zanaya would be if something went wrong. Sure they were following the orders of a high priest, but if they were part of the reason things went poorly then would they suffer the same fate?
And what if they knew the truth? What if someone found out that she had prevented Zanaya's assassination of Knave? "It's a shame," Zanaya said, jolting Lura out of her thoughts. "We're sneaking in anyway, it would be easy enough to slit his throat. But maybe that brat will have a use after all."
"We tried it your way, remember?" Mystan asked.
"Remember? I've got more scars from his attempts at making love than a career of killing. I've still got excess fat to get rid of from carrying his whelp. And I've got memories of every last agonizing minute I spent in his company. I can still taste the blood when I almost had him," Zanaya snapped. She scowled at her uncle, and for a brief moment Lura wondered if the assassin would be able to stay her hand if the opportunity arose. Zanaya broke the gaze first, picking up a pistol and checking the power pack.
"Watch her," Mystan's voice spoke directly into her head. "If you think she's going to ruin the mission, warn me."
Castle Plundarr was eerily quiet on the outside, as Tygra walked across the bridge to the main doors. He couldn't just walk in that way, especially since they were barred, but he could climb easily enough, even with his bolo whip wrapped around his body. The walls were damp and reeked of organic waste, no doubt cast out of the windows over his head. A prayer to Jaga that none of the Mutants decided to empty one with him underneath. Slowly he began his ascent, cautiously making sure that every hand and foot was on solid ground before continuing. The progress was labourious, but patience was a virtue.
He wondered how the cubs were doing. Even now they would be waiting at the forest's edge for him to signal them over. It would be risky, but less so if he could guarantee that there were no sentries pointed in their direction. He reached a ledge and poked his head through the open window. Stray banana skins scattered across the floor, and the smell of wet animal permeated the air. A scan of the room revealed that Monkian was not at home. No one seemed to be on patrol on the rooftop either. Quickly Tygra turned visible and waved for the kittens. Soon the pair were racing toward his vantage point and slipped inside.
"Now where?" Wily Kat asked, wrinkling his nose at the odour. He and his sister, though they'd been reluctant to do so, had tucked their boards under the bed, so that they wouldn't be obvious if Monkian returned.
"Vultureman's lab is higher up in the castle. Let me go first and I'll reconnaissance," Tygra replied, fading away again. Despite having seen him do it a million times before, Wily Kat couldn't help but be impressed by the disappearing act. He had asked Tygra to teach it to him once, but the elder Thundercat said that it was a trick that non-Tigers couldn't do. It was a shame, because Kat figured it would be useful for visiting the Warrior Maiden village.
The halls weren't much better than the bedroom. At least the halls had seen a broom in recent memory, probably at least within the last month, but they smelled of several different kinds of creature. Even though Wily Kat had been inside the Mutants' home before, it astounded him that any creature could live in such filth, it acted as incentive to keep his bedroom neat. "To the right," Tygra's voice whispered. Wily Kit took the lead while Kat fearfully glanced back the other way. Just because Tygra was scouting ahead didn't mean someone might not come up from behind.
There was nothing but silence. Panthro scanned the monitors, alternating between the internal cameras and the external. Pumyra was examining Lion-O through the protective screen. The Berbils were bringing in the last of the day's crops. Knave was in the gymnasium, beating the stuffing out of a practice dummy. The road to Castle Plundarr was empty, causing him to wonder how the others were doing.
Much as they might like to think that each Thundercat was equally important, Panthro had to concede that Lion-O was a slightly bigger cog in their engine. Lion-O was their leader, the only one who could wield the Sword of Omens, and he was their moral anchor. He could be impetuous sometimes, but his heart was always in the right place. In him there was very little taint of evil, something that he couldn't claim for himself. They needed Lion-O. He did another run through the sensors. It was all he could do for now.
Tygra's eyes flitted from side to side, watching for any sign of movement. Luckily the Mutants didn't tend to be quiet creatures, but they were equally likely to stumble on one sleeping in the middle of the floor. He almost wished he hadn't brought the cubs along, as his progress could be a lot quicker, but the extra set of eyes would be invaluable when they got to Vultureman's lab. Besides, if a fight broke out he would need all the help he could get.
He peered in through a door and dismissed the room as another crew quarters. This one resembled more of a barracks for a number of Mutants. It didn't seem to have been used in some time. It was very unusual. When the Mutants had first arrived there had been dozens of the creatures. Now there only seemed to be the four. Often he had found himself wondering what had happened to the others, without really wanting to know. There had been plenty of speculation, most of it grisly and ranging from food to foul sacrifices for Mumm-Ra's plans. Either way, they seemed to be gone.
He guided the kittens up a moving staircase to the next floor, hoping that they would find Vultureman's lab soon.
Duck, roll, slash. Jump, spin, kick. Knave's body moved through the drills fluidly. His father had been determined that his son not embarrass the family, hence the quality education he'd received and the fierce regimen in hand to hand combat. Knave wasn't particularly good at either, but he wasn't horrible. To Nitro's dismay, Knave had a losing record in the arena, though that wasn't exactly his fault. It seemed that the bias against Thunderians, and hybrids in general, brought out the best in his opponents.
He countered an imagined thrust, knocking an invisible blade aside and landed a solid blow on the punching bag's 'chest'. It fascinated him to know that his foul moods always brought his thoughts to his father, a man who had been the source of so much discomfort in his life. And yet there were indelible similarities between the men. "Except that I love my child, regardless of who the mother is," he muttered, taking a precious moment to mop the sweat at his brow. "Krystalin will be raised right."
Or would she? What kind of life was he building for her? She'd changed hands, was torn from a mother who hadn't shown her love and been placed in a home where the father wasn't liked. Where her father was hated and distrusted. Sharp claws pierced the heavy canvas and rent it from top to bottom, wishing that it was the flesh of one of his tormentors. Panthro, Wily Kit or Wily Kat. Other than those three, he might actually enjoy his time here, or at least tolerate it. But with the constant barbs and attacks.
The Thundercats had taken the kittens' side, he wasn't stupid. Even Cheetara said all the right things in front of him. Was she no better than the rest? No, he wouldn't believe that. Cheetara was friendly, she seemed open. If it came down to it she would stand by her kin, as was right, but she would help where she could.
Knave eyed the damage he'd caused and walked over to the bench where Krystalin sat, gazing at her father with adoration in those beautiful eyes. "It's so easy for you," he said, tickling her tummy. "You trust anyone who pays attention to you and feeds you. You haven't had your trust betrayed yet. Oh, I hope you never grow up."
"Caw! I don't know why a genius like me has to put up with those fools, sometimes," the unmistakable voice of Vultureman filtered through the partially closed door. "They bungle everything. I'm half surprised that none of them got hit by my Bacterium X Blaster. It would serve them right."
Wily Kat wasn't sure whether it was a good thing or bad to hear the Avian's voice. He and his sister kept an uneasy eye on the hallway while Tygra invisibly slipped inside. Seconds later he heard they sound of a scuffle and followed Wily Kit in. Vultureman was on the ground, pinned under Tygra's body with his beak wrapped in Tygra's whip. "Where's the cure for your weapon, Vultureman?" Tygra demanded, jerking the whip slightly.
The garbled words, made difficult to understand through a closed mouth, sounded distinctly like a Plundarrian swear word that Wily Kat had learned one day, and it probably sounded the same to Tygra, as the elder Thundercat fought to control a rising temper. "Wily Kit, get the blaster. If he won't give us the cure for Lion-O's illness, we'll give him a dose to see if that motivates him.
Vultureman's eyes bulged and he struggled under his captor. Wily Kat wasn't sure what the Mutant had said this time, but doubted it was any kind of swearing. In truth, the cub wasn't sure whether Tygra was bluffing or not. He seemed angrier than he'd ever seen him, even more so than the time he and Wily Kit had played marbles throughout Cat's Lair and missed one outside Tygra's bedroom door.
Wily Kit hefted the gun and looked uncertainly from her brother to Vultureman. "I'd do what he says. I think he means it," she said.
There was more garbled cawing, which Tygra seemed to understand as he relaxed a little. "That's much better. Wily Kat, take the green note book off the desk. He says they don't have an antidote here, but it's listed in the book. We're taking the gun too, just in case he's lying." There was more cawing, but it seemed to be of the resigned sort, so he ignore it.
Wily Kat crossed the room and took a thin leathery green notebook, one which reminded him oddly of Slythe's skin, and tucked it into his belt. Then he passed his lariat over to his superior. "We should probably tie him up so that he doesn't try and warn the others," he said.
Where getting into Castle Plundarr was relatively easy, getting out proved to be much more difficult. No sooner had the trio left Vultureman's lab than they found Slythe and Monkian coming towards them. "Thundercats!" Slythe gasped.
"That's right, lizard lips, now out of our way before we use this gun on you!" Wily Kit said, gesturing with the weapon.
"You're bluffing, Thunderbrat, yes?" the Reptilian leader of the Mutants replied. Despite his bravado, his posture didn't match his words. One foot inched back, seemingly ready to turn and run if it looked like Wily Kit was going to shoot.
Monkian hopped up and down beside his leader, though he appeared equally conflicted. "Yeah, you Thundercats can't use that gun on us; we could die, and Thundercats don't kill."
"Makes you wonder, doesn't it Monkian. How many Thundercats did we get? Lion-O for sure, yes, but what about the others. Maybe Cheetara and Panthro too. The Snarf, I hope." Slythe readied his battle axe.
Damn if they weren't right, Tygra thought to himself as he watched the two Mutants carefully. Both sides were weighing the options, trying to gauge the possible outcomes. Luckily the Mutants of Plundarr weren't known for their intellect, so that gave Tygra a distinct advantage, even with the twitchy trigger fingers of his junior companions. "That's where you're wrong. The Code of Thundera allows us to kill under specific circumstances, revenge for a fallen leader for example. We've already killed Vultureman for inventing this gun." He stepped aside so that the Mutants had a clear view of the laboratory where he, with great difficulty, projected an illusion of Vultureman's bloody corpse.
Without a moment's hesitation Slythe and Monkian ran down the halls, screaming for whatever gods they might believe in. Tygra sagged and leaned against the wall as he let his illusion drop. Even such a small use of his power took a great deal out of him, and he was feeling the strain as it was. They wouldn't have much time before their deception was discovered, or the Mutants found some courage, so they would have to move fairly quickly. "Let's get back to Monkian's room and get your space boards," he said, righting himself and heading back down the stairs.
Mystan disembarked from the shuttle. They had decided not to get too close to Cat's Lair, to avoid any unwanted attention. The mission would be difficult enough without the Thundercats' interference in the matter. And the longer it took for them to realize they had visitors the better. He stared at Lura, wondering if she would be able to pull off her part of the job. She was distracted, which wouldn't help her focus. She didn't have the discipline he did yet, to convert emotions into power, despite her training. It was, perhaps, a failing of his that he had not succeeded. But would that distraction be enough to affect the mission?
A solid hour's walk took them within visual distance of the imposing fortress, and it was here that the work began. Lura settled against a tree and cast her mind towards the Lair, while Mystan and Zanaya began their part of the job. One last glance at Lura, more to make sure she was getting ready than out of any real modesty, and Mystan shed his heavy robes. Zanaya had insisted that he wear the black camouflage gear to help him blend in with the shadows. With the sun having just set, he would be fine. He wasn't used to wearing such form fitting clothes, though. Psions preferred to wear loose clothes, adapted for their warm desert moon.
His niece was applying the black face paint to herself with the help of a small hand mirror, before moving over to do the same to him. It made sense, even if the Thundercats figured out that there was an intruder, they wouldn't know who it was, which might buy them some leeway with Tycho should he find out. "Okay, I'm ready," Lura said.
Lura had once tried to explain to a non-Psion what it was like to try and find a mind, and found that it was like standing in the middle of the desert looking for a rock. If one knew where the rock was, one could walk straight to it and collect it, which is why it was always easy to locate thoughts if the person was in sight. Looking for someone you knew well was like looking for a boulder jutting out of the ground; you might have to hunt around a bit, but it was obvious when you were close. When you didn't know either the person or the location it was like digging for buried treasure. Luckily her skill at it gave her a bit of an edge at the game. She knew someone would be in the command centre of Cat's Lair and just had to whittle through the options.
It was Panthro, as it turned out, and his mind told her where everyone else was. "We're in luck," she said aloud, careful not to dislodge her psychic connection with the Thundercat. "Half the Thundercats aren't here, and Lion-O seems to be sick, maybe dying. Krystalin is in the gymnasium with Knave."
"Excellent. Keep monitoring Panthro. Make sure he never looks in a camera pointed in our direction," Mystan said.
She nodded, creating a second link, this one with Zanaya. She was the one to focus on, she was the one who might jeopardize the mission. Though Lura was fully capable of multi-tasking, she needed to maintain as few links as possible to reduce the risk of the Thundercats learning of her presence in their heads, so the decision had been made to link with only one of Zanaya and Mystan. Once the pair got close enough to Cat's Lair that the possibly would arise of meeting a Thundercat Lura would need to keep tabs on where everyone else was, which meant small links with at least three others. Her head would be pounding for a day after all this, but it would be worth it, wouldn't it?
"Of course it will," Zanaya's mind, connected through the link, snapped.
"I know. Some doubt is normal," Lura sent, cursing herself for having forgotten that her link with the assassin was much more fluid, and thus allowed for a greater flow of information both ways. She double checked on Panthro's movements. He was still looking at the cameras, only not as frequently now. His mind was wandering to potential modifications they could make to the defences.
"That was awesome, Tygra," Wily Kat said, flying his board alongside the Hovercat. "The way you showed the Mutants who's boss." It was difficult to hear the excited youth over the whirr of his engine, but he certainly caught most of it.
"Were you really going to shoot the Mutants?" Wily Kit asked.
Both gun and book were stashed in the back of the Hovercat now, safe from being accidentally dropped into the forest below. He tried not to make eye contact with Kit. "Of course not. Thundercats don't kill." And yet he didn't believe the words coming out of his own mouth. He couldn't be sure about that. Thundercats weren't supposed to kill, but he'd been honest in what he said to Slythe. There were exceptions to the rule, if very strict. He liked the Lord of the Thundercats; Lion-O was more than just a student, and even more than a friend, he was family in a universe where the number of known Thunderians could be counted on two hands.
When he had seen Lion-O fall like that, a victim of this Bacterium X, he had felt an unfamiliar surge of anger towards the Mutants, something stronger than he'd felt when his own life had been in the hands of those same creatures. There was just enough of a spark of decency in him that he didn't think he would turn the gun loose on Slythe and Monkian, but then he thought back on his convincing illusion. That image of Vultureman's mutilated corpse had been plucked from his own subconscious mind, and that frightened him more than a little.
At least once they deciphered Vultureman's notes they would be able to rescue Lion-O and things could begin to get back to normal.
There was a track in the gymnasium, pitifully small, but it served its purpose. Knave jogged along it, unable to hit his top stride but relishing the feel anyway. Pumyra had dropped in moments ago and had made a very unladylike comment in his direction before abandoning the thought of a quick workout before bed. He wondered what the issue with her was. Experience told him that the two people you didn't want to offend were your doctor and your cook. Though at least he was assured that it was probably against the code of Thundera for her to do him any harm.
Not that he cared what the puma specifically thought of him. His only interest in her was a curiosity in how his speed matched against hers. Well, that and the voice inside that wondered how she tasted. Of all the Thunderian species that had landed on the Ice Moon none had been pumas, denying him the experience.
With the jog done he scooped Krystalin up into his arms. "I know," he teased her as she began to wriggle a little, "daddy smells, but I can't leave you out here while I shower." He carefully laid her on a bench just visible from the shower stall and got it ready.
Mystan levitated himself and Zanaya to a window near the foot of Cat's Lair. It was their second attempt as their first choice had been locked. Luckily this one was open, and the room beyond was vacant. A work shop, from what he could tell. There were tools and half finished projects scattered all over. None of it seemed remarkable to him, so he slipped into the room.
"We're getting the all clear," Zanaya said in a low voice. Just because they knew where all the Cat's Lair occupants were didn't mean there wasn't still a risk of detection. He didn't like skulking about, it seemed inefficient to him. Skulduggery was something he left to others, but this job required his own hands.
Zanaya took the lead, opening the door and slipping into the hall. She glanced uneasily at a camera in the corner of the ceiling, but Mystan had greater faith. Lura might not be quite as ruthless as he would like, but she knew her duty and was very good at her job. She wouldn't fail him, unlike his niece who had now failed to complete an assassination four times to his knowledge.
They had debated extensively whether to wait for him in his bedroom or to go him. Certainly since the bedroom had windows, it might be easier, but there was a time factor. If Tycho found that the three of them were missing, he might start to ask questions.
Lura fought violently against her mind, separating the part that was transmitting her thoughts to Zanaya from her conscious mind. She had made the mistake of seeing where Knave was and found him completely undressed in the shower. She would consider her body's reactions later. Now was not the time.
Especially when a slip of concentration could prove disastrous. Not only might she accidentally alert the Thundercats to her presence in their heads, but she might lose her consciousness too. Every first year telepath heard the horror stories, brilliant telepaths who lost their hold on their identity and whose consciousness dissipated into the ether. "Knave is still in the gym. He's in the shower, so he'll be moving soon," she informed Zanaya, feeling a shudder of revulsion tremble up through their link. "Pumyra's going to be heading down the hall in about two minutes, you're going to want to find cover."
Her mind cycled rapidly through the Lair's occupants, Lion-O, Panthro and on. They were all more or less stationary, making life a little easier, but Pumyra and Cheetara were in the halls. In fact, it seemed as though Cheetara was heading to the gym too, looking for Knave. She relayed this information to Zanaya and Mystan.
"Knave?" Cheetara called out, entering the gym. She saw him emerge from the showers, wearing his pants but still towelling off his hair. She felt a strange surge of emotion in the back of her head. Affection? Certainly she did feel some affection, towards him but nothing like what she had just experienced. The feeling was so fleeting that she ignored it. "I just came to see how you were doing."
He ducked back into the showers to collect Krystalin and settled on a weight bench. "I've felt better. I don't know how well this experiment is going to work, though. Between those..." he cut himself off, and she could fill in the blanks. His opinions of Panthro and the kittens were no secret. "Between them and my own feelings. It's hard to wrap my mind from Thunderians being prey to being allies."
She placed a hand on his shoulder. He flinched, but she left it there anyway. So the education ran deep. Thunderians were food or playthings in Lunar society, she knew, and not for the first time did she wonder how that meant he'd been treated. "It's hard for us too. We've been fighting the Lunataks for years, and none of that is going to change overnight. The important thing is that we're trying to change it. There is good in you, and we want to foster peace between Thundercat and Lunatak. It can happen, I know it."
Dimly Cheetara thought she heard the door open and close, but decided to ignore it. It was probably just someone walking by and accidentally setting off the sensor. "And what about me? How do I change the way I think, the way I feel? I don't like hating."
"You don't hate everyone," she pointed out. He stared at her for a long moment, and then back down to Krystalin, and she smiled warmly. "See? You love Krystalin, and I don't believe you hate me either."
"I don't," he agreed. He kissed her so suddenly that she was caught off guard by it. She pulled back, seeing the confusion in his face. A feeling of dread and sadness washed over her. He didn't hate her, he loved her, and it would break his heart to find that she didn't feel the same way. It would take delicacy.
"Knave, I'm sorry," she began.
"Don't be. It was stupid of me to think you could ever love a Lunatak," he turned away from her, and she could see his whole body tensing. Knave didn't handle negative emotions well, she knew, and she feared for Krystalin in an instance like this.
Cheetara walked around him and knelt so that they were eye to eye again. "It's not that at all. I care about you, because I see so much promise in you. And admittedly it's been years since I've seen another cheetah, but the love I feel for you is as a kinsman, nothing romantic. Besides, there's Lion-O..."
Lura watched the exchange with growing frustration, her grasp on her power was slipping. She felt bad for Knave. Forcibly she returned her focus to her connection with Zanaya and saw Mystan sitting in the showers, eyes closed in concentration. It had been a difficult trick to sneak them past the two, but it was worth it. The showers were just close enough that Mystan should be able to do his work. She hoped so, anyway.
She resumed her scans. Pumyra had indeed gone to bed. The Snarf was double checking things in the kitchen. Panthro was looking bored at a monitor pointed at the front entrance. Zanaya was slowly leaving the showers, weapon drawn. Realization struck like thunder.
"Knave!" The signal word blared through Panthro's skull and he instinctively switched to the gym's camera. The hybrid was sitting close to Cheetara. Knave stood suddenly, claws bared and Panthro hit the security device's built in control, sending electricity arcing through his body. He tumbled to the ground with a grunt. Panthro hurried down to the gym to secure him further.
Cheetara didn't know what to make of it all. One moment she had been trying to comfort Knave, and the next his name had blared through her skull. Wherever the strange voice had come from her companion had clearly heard it too. He stood, claws extended, scenting the air. Then he dropped like a stone. Cheetara caught little Krystalin before she could fall and scanned the room. There was something amiss, a scent she had never smelled, or couldn't remember. The room was silent apart from her breathing and Krystalin's whimper.
She heard a faint rasp of metal on metal and stared in the direction she'd heard it. For half a second she thought she saw the image of a woman dressed entirely in black, but then it was gone. The woman was moving towards Knave and very suddenly a few pieces of the puzzle came together. Knave had mentioned Krystalin's mother, a Psion with some camouflage abilities. She had tried to kill him before he'd come to the Thundercats, and was doubtless about to try again.
Extending her bo staff in one fluid motion, Cheetara charged through the space she had seen the intruder, staff flailing wildly at intense speeds. She stopped before she hit the wall and turned sharply. Had she imagined it? Was her sixth sense playing tricks on her? No, she had been down this road before and proven herself more than capable. She concentrated and tried to see what wasn't there. The woman flickered again. She had obviously moved off to the side before Cheetara's sprint and was now much closer to her quarry. "Stop right there, Zanaya," she said, closing the gap. This time her staff connected with something solid and a rack of barbells quivered.
The assassin didn't say a word, which was annoying to Cheetara. She was either out cold or moving again. Her sixth sense was strong, but it worked better against things aimed directly at her. She caught the faint smell again and twisted to the side, pain blossoming across her right arm as a thin river of blood began to flow. With all the speed she could muster she swung her staff again, missing.
Obviously this was going to take a different tactic. Cheetara was effectively fighting blind against the assassin and she needed to even the odds. Sprinting across the room, Cheetara hit the light switch, plunging the gymnasium into darkness.
"Poor little Thundercat," Zanaya spoke softly. Her voice was the same almost hypnotic voice that all Psions seemed to possess. "I've trained to fight in the dark. I'm betting you haven't."
She was right. Thundercats relied on light to guide them, but a Thunderian had more than just one sense. Now that she knew what she was looking for, Cheetara's nose pointed her to her left. It wasn't perfect, but it gave her a general idea of where to look. "You can't win," she said, hoping that she was right. Her arm was throbbing from the knife Zanaya had been wielding, and she prayed to Jaga that the assassin hadn't laced it with some kind of poison.
"Wanna bet?" The voice came from very near and pain exploded in her skull. Something heavy, one of the barbells she was guessing, had made contact. Cheetara slumped to the floor, vainly trying to stay conscious. Dimly she heard a belch.
Mystan drew back into his body, aware that there was some kind of commotion going on outside the showers. His clothes were damp from Knave's wet footprints, and the room was pitch black. What had his niece gotten him into this time? "Sorry, master. It was my fault," Lura's voice chimed in his head. He glowered, certain that his irritation would be transmitted. He would worry about her infraction later. He fumbled for the doorway and heard a burp followed by a litany of curses.
"Situation," he snapped, along his telepathic link.
"Cheetara is unconscious. Knave is unconscious. Zanaya is covered in ice?" Lura faltered, confused.
"That means my work was successful," he responded, his mind grasping the implications. He had removed the mental block that prohibited Krystalin's powers. Her passing of gas had no doubt managed to throw a stream of ice around her mother. It certainly sounded like the type of co-incidental behaviour that he would expect from a vengeful goddess. He followed along the wall, searching for a light switch until the door opened, revealing Panthro and Snarf. The former turned on the light and locked eyes with Zanaya.
Now that there was light, Mystan could see clearly the gym and take stock of things. His niece held a bloodied barbell in one hand, though both hands and legs were now covered in a thin coating of ice, which she was working on extricating herself from. She stood over Cheetara, who was clearly bleeding from both the head and arm. She would likely die if she wasn't given medical attention soon, and that would benefit his plans.
"Lunataks!" Panthro snarled, drawing out his nunchakus.
Mystan didn't have the energy for anything fancy. His manipulation of Krystalin's mind had taken more out of him than he'd care to admit, but it would be sufficient for his needs. He telekinetically grabbed both Panthro and Snarf and shoved them to one side. "You have no chance against me. I could crush you like an insect if I chose, but you are beneath my notice. My assistant and I will be leaving now and you won't follow us. Besides, you have more pressing concerns, panther. Cheetara will die if you waste time, and you will die too if you follow us."
Panthro growled, but they both knew that Mystan was right. They would have an easy time getting out of Cat's Lair without being pursued. As he caught sight of Zanaya's guilty expression he wondered if he would find it as easy to get out of Tycho's wrath.
Seeing the Lunataks crossing the bridge, fleeing back into the forest, filled Tygra with a certain fear. What had happened? The Lair had been relatively undefended, and two Lunataks could have posed a problem. He considered briefly asking the kittens to go on ahead without him while he followed, but decided that the odds would be even worse then. No. His first priority was to determine the state of his friends and worry about the invaders later.
He didn't like it, though. Memories of a similar incident, one that had led to the destruction of Cat's Lair, flashed through his mind. He, Lion-O and Panthro had been ambushed by the Lunataks. The other two were taken captive, but he had fallen in the moat. The Lunataks had swung around with their warship and taken several shots at the Lair. Was this a reprisal? Could he expect to turn and see a warship?
Landing next to the Lair he followed Wily Kit and Kat into the building and heard all sorts of commotion from the lower levels. Snarf came barrelling by carrying towels, and he skidded to a stop when he saw the trio. "Hurry! Snarf, snarf, Cheetara's dying!"
On to Truth, Justice, Honour, and Loyalty - part four
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