Truth, Justice, Honour, and Loyalty
It was a dream. Knave recognized it as such, but felt powerless to do anything to control it. He stood in his father's office as he had so many years ago, his mother encased in ice beside him. His father held his tiny childlike hand, to force him to kill his own mother. He remembered the day vividly; she had wanted to take her young son away from the harsh climate and cruel people of the Ice Moon, but she had been caught, as she had on a number of other occasions. Her penalty was death, his was to carry out the sentence.
Only now it wasn't his father holding that hand, it was Zanaya now, laughing maniacally at him. "You think you can escape me? Ha! For that, Cheetara will die." His eyes widened and he looked to his mother, except she wasn't his mother. The resemblance was uncanny, but now he could see that it was the Thundercat woman, the same woman he'd pledged his love to. She was getting closer, Zanaya's hand pulling his icepick inexorably closer. The tip pressed into Cheetara's tender flesh and then rammed forward. Cheetara's scream matched his own.
Knave woke with a start. It was morning and the events of the previous night rushed back at him. Though Cheetara was expected to live, she had been dealt a severe blow by that Psion. Would he never be rid of her? Would he forever be looking over his shoulder, waiting for her knife in his back? Krystalin began crying softly, so he went and picked her up. He should be angry at her too. The child was half the reason Zanaya was so upset at him. Oh, certainly there was wounded pride in there; the target she couldn't kill, but the fact that he had mated with her and produced a child was a fair chunk.
He had thought he was safe here. The hatred of the Thundercats he could deal with. Cheetara was right, trust wouldn't be built overnight, but the Lunataks and that woman especially should have been far away. That was Tycho's hidden agenda.
What happened next? His choices seemed simple enough. Stay with the Thundercats, endure the loathing even though his two biggest supporters were in the infirmary, or go back to Tycho, project failed. Neither option left a good taste in his mouth. Nor, he thought with a hint of a smile, could his fur leave a good taste in Krystalin's. He walked to the mini fridge he'd been provided and selected a bottle for her.
"So, what do we do next?" Zanaya asked. She, along with Mystan and Lura, had arrived back at the city and were trying to gauge whether anyone knew about their mission in Cat's Lair. On the one hand Mystan had successfully removed the psychic block, preventing Krystalin from using her powers, on the other hand the Thundercats had seen them. Though it was the first place anyone would look for them, they stopped in their quarters. It would be obvious that something was up if they were in hiding.
The entire journey had occurred in silence, and Lura bemoaned the loss of solitude. Questions would lead to more questions and she was instrumental in the failure. She had been distracted, hadn't noticed Zanaya sneaking off and, indeed, had managed to alert the Thundercats. She flinched as Mystan's eyes met hers briefly. He was furious, trying desperately to keep his emotions in check. "What do we do next?" he repeated, "I should send you both to into the sun. You ruined my plans. You couldn't keep your own petty desire for revenge in check, you had to see him dead at your own hands. You're a pitiful excuse for an assassin, unable to kill anyone from what I've seen." Zanaya balked, though she sensibly didn't say anything. Currently Mystan was a high priest, and the gods didn't deal fairly with people who offended their clergy. Mystan was also one of the most powerful telekinetics alive and Zanaya would be dead before she could finish the thought.
For an instant Lura was sure that Mystan would strike his niece, but the blow never came. If she believed that she was being spared, however, she was proven wrong. Mystan's attention whirled to her. "And you. I give you one simple task, keep an eye on Zanaya and you failed. And why is that?" she didn't answer. She feared the answer. Obviously he didn't know, as seconds later she felt her mind being torn apart. Valiantly she fought him off as best she could using the tricks he'd taught, but he gleaned enough. Suddenly she found it difficult to breathe and she clawed at the phantom hands around her throat.
"Master?" she choked out. She didn't need to look to Zanaya. There would be no help from her, especially once the truth was out.
"You love him?" The words were filled with such venom as she'd never heard before. She saw an incredulous look on the assassin's face. "You love that bastard? How long have you been against me? I am your master. You belong to me until the council releases you. How dare you betray me." She rose off the ground and was propelled in to the back wall, knocking over the couch as she went. "Am I forever doomed to have everyone I know want to sleep with that half-breed? Am I so cursed as to have that wretch in every facet of my life?"
He released his hold on her, but she didn't dare move. Instead she tried to regain her wits, marshal her mental defences in case of a renewed attack. "I am going to speak with the council about what has happened here. We will decide your fate." Mystan crossed to his bedroom and slammed the door.
Zanaya crouched down in front of her. "You love him? You wouldn't last the night in his bed. If Mystan doesn't kill you, I will."
Tygra closed the little green notebook again and placed it on his desk. Beside it was a slip of paper, covered in his meticulous handwriting. Deciphering Vultureman's notes wasn't terribly easy, but with some patience he felt certain that he had everything. He folded the slip and placed it in a pocket, hoping that it all worked out. Why were things going so poorly? Two Thundercats down, a houseguest who seemed to be at war with everyone else, and him thrust into a leadership role that he really didn't want.
At least he could help some of the tension. Much like Lion-O had a while back, he planned on taking Knave with him to make him feel part of the team, and to keep him from irritating the others. He didn't really trust the hybrid Lunatak, years of conflict against their kind were hard to ignore, but he did feel a fair amount of pity. "And we're not doing much to help," he thought ruefully. With an even cadence, Tygra walked down the hall to Knave's room and was about to knock when he heard voices inside. His heart leapt to his throat as he heard Panthro within.
Deciding that eavesdropping wouldn't be polite, he rapped firmly on the door. It slid open and Panthro stepped out. "Everything okay?" Tygra asked Knave once the door was shut again.
"Maybe. I think the world is going to end. I actually got an apology out of him," he replied. Knave had clearly been changing a diaper, as the room smelled of waste. There was also a thin sheen of ice on one wall. He made a mental note to contact the Lunataks about both the incident and to see what could be done. He wasn't sure if he really wanted their help, but they didn't have much choice. An infant who could breathe ice at will was a danger to everyone, including herself. Or was this part of the reason they'd sent Knave? No, that was thinking the same way as Panthro and was counterproductive.
"So the two of you are getting along now?" Tygra asked, somewhat hopeful. If Knave had been as sarcastic with Panthro as he was now then he doubted that was likely. Based on the incredulous look Knave shot him he knew his suspicions were correct. "It's a start. Anyway, I came to see if you'd like to help me this morning. Nothing fancy, plant samples mostly, but it's dangerous territory and an extra set of eyes would be nice."
"Is this an excuse to get me out of the Lair? I might as well."
Tygra recalled Lion-O telling him about a similar conversation he'd had before... he shook the thought from his head. "Truthfully, yes. I know how uncomfortable the others are around you. And with Cheetara and Lion-O out of commission short term, it might be best."
"And I don't make you uncomfortable?" Knave walked over and circled the architect, a wide grin plastered on his face. "Back on the Ice Moon, Thunderian was a favourite dish of the upper class. I know many dishes that could be made from you."
Tygra recognized the posturing for what it was and tried not to shrink back. He couldn't help but feel a little intimidated though. "Yes, you do. But it's in the best interest of the Thundercats to gain the Lunataks as allies."
"Good. I like honesty in you Thundercats, it reminds me of my own people. And that's why it would be a waste to use you as a food source. Let's get going then. I suppose Krystalin should stay behind." Tygra saw the hybrid's muscles go slack and knew that he had passed some kind of test. He brought up a good point too. An infant like that was a risk under the best of circumstances, but their collecting would take them close to Castle Plundarr where she would become a major liability.
"I'll ask Snarf to take care of her. She'll be fine."
Mystan's head throbbed already, and it was only going to get worse. He had been granted, as part of his status, a specially designed box that contained psychic energy. Long ago, the Psions had learned to harness the power of those who had died, collecting residual psychic energy from the brain and storing it in batteries. By using one a Psion could augment their powers a hundredfold. Mystan had used this one twice now, hurling his spirit across the cosmos to his home moon. A trek that took a week by ship took an hour travelling in this way.
It took a lot out of him, but the time and effort helped cool his anger too. By the time he arrived in the council room he was calm. Only a single acolyte was around, to his aggravation. This one, a young woman, hurried off immediately upon sensing him which was good, because he didn't know how long he would be able to hold his form here. Minutes later Toran, the highest of the priests, joined his mind with Mystan's.
They started with a few of the simple ones. Crushed swamp moss, an ounce of sponge fog, a few drops of liquid from Acid Lake. None of the ingredients posed any difficulty yet, but both Knave and Tygra knew that could change. Even though he had only been on the planet about a year, Knave knew that Third Earth was fraught with peril. If the creatures walking on it didn't get you, the land itself would. Looking at the vial from Acid Lake was proof of that, an entire lake that somehow contained a potent acid that dissolved anything it touched, and yet it was dotted with delicious fruit trees on its banks. It just didn't make sense. "The skin from a Mungen snake," Tygra said aloud, crossing the liquid off his list.
"And where do we find that?"
"They typically can be found near Castle Plundarr. Probably how Vultureman found them." Tygra shifted the tank into a different gear and revved the engine. There was hope for a conflict, then. The giants who lived near the sponge fog hadn't noticed them, and the rest of the denizens seemed to be disinclined to threaten the Thundertank. It almost made the trip boring. The Mutants, at least, weren't as likely to be obliging.
"I want to apologize," Knave said at length, "you've been decent to me. I shouldn't have mentioned our culinary habits." He wasn't used to feeling guilty, but the tiger was the last of his allies within the Thundercats.
"I know you're trying to adapt, and it's appreciated. Maybe when Lion-O recovers we can try and talk to Tycho about freeing our countrymen."
"It's not Tycho's call, I bet. It'll be Luna." Knave left it unspoken that Luna was far less likely to release prisoners without exacting a heavy price. He didn't really want to know what the price would be.
"Doesn't hurt to try."
Lura watched the two bedroom doors with apprehension. Any minute now one or the other could open, bringing judgement and possibly death. She had led a good life, thus far. She'd known moments of happiness. She had few friends, but a very loving family. They had given her up to the temple when her talents became obvious. They'd never once forgotten a birthday though, and always managed to scrape together some kind of present. She wondered how they would feel when her brain was brought back to the Psion Moon. How sad would they be?
There was no noise from Mystan's room, which suggested that he was still in communion with the elders back home. There was a dull rasping noise from Zanaya's, a woman intentionally sharpening weapons to unnerve her.
It was working. With Zanaya at least she had a chance. Lura could enter the assassin's mind at the speed of thought and shut down her mental processes; it was the part of the telepath that people neglected. Mystan would have a myriad of defences built up around his mind, and they would provide him with time to use his powers. Among the disciplines, telepathy was the easiest to defend against. A telekinetic didn't have to target a person, he could just as easily grab the couch and throw it at her as grabbing Lura herself.
After four hours of waiting, Mystan's door finally opened. "Get Zanaya," he said simply.
Tygra generally loved the jungle, some primal memory he had once suspected, but the jungles around Castle Plundarr weren't pleasant. They stank of rot and decay, the residual trace of the castle's occupants. If evil had a smell, this was it.
A quick glance at his companion reminded him that he wasn't the only one suffering. The Ice Lunatak hybrid was sweating profusely in the heat, causing Tygra to feel more than a little pity for him. "We're looking for a red and green snake, normally about three feet long. They're not poisonous, but there's a similar species around that is. It has purple spots on its head," he explained. Knave nodded and the two slowly walked around the brush.
Tygra stepped around a rotting deer carcass and examined a small rock. The Mungen snakes liked such rocks, but not this one apparently. Perhaps the carcass was throwing them off. There was so much about the fauna and animal life that they didn't know about to be sure.
A family of beetles scurried for other cover as he rolled a log aside, and high up in a tree some birds squawked at him for interrupting their lunch. Still no luck, which was frustrating. He was about to suggest trying another spot when he heard a cry, followed by a crash. Tygra's whip was out in a hurry, his feet crossing the gap between himself and Knave in seconds. He found him at the bottom of a deep pit, narrowly having missed a collection of spikes. "I found one of your snakes," Knave called, scooping up one that had fallen in with him. "You said they weren't poisonous, right?"
"That's right." Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than Knave had bitten the head off. The hybrid stared at the snake as it went through its death throes, finally going still. A shudder went up Tygra's spine, seeing the look of rapture on Knave's face. Maybe Panthro was right, a niggling voice at the back of his head whispered. He discounted the notion, they all had their quirks. None were as disturbing as that, but nonetheless... "Let's see about getting you out of there."
"Hoo, I don't think so, Tygra!" Monkian chuckled, jumping down from a tree branch behind him. "Normally that trap is for catching dinner, but catching bait is just as good."
Tygra whirled his whip around his body, vanishing in a flash of light. He didn't want a prolonged fight, especially with Knave helpless in the pit. Luckily Tygra had two advantages over the simian; brains and invisibility. Predictably, no sooner had he faded from sight than Monkian fired a pair of cannonballs from his shield. The thing had caused much conversation on Mutant technology, and he and Panthro often spoke of capturing it and figuring out where the cannonballs were stored.
"That's not fair. Come out and fight me man to man," Monkian shouted. He was firing blindly now, one cannonball denting the side of the Thundertank. Tygra clambered up a tree to get a better vantage point, and to stay out of the way of most of the wild shots.
"Help me out of here, I'll catch that Thundercat for you," Knave shouted from the pit. Tygra's heart sank. The Lunatak was playing his gambit now? But then, the hybrid couldn't see the invisible, could he?
"A Lunatak? Heh, you're in for it now Tygra. Two against one." Monkian chuckled to himself and uncoiled a length of rope down to the base of the pit. Now Tygra was torn. The odds weren't very good, but he didn't really want to leave the Thundertank in the hands of those vile creatures. Who knew what kind of technology they might glean from it.
If he could incapacitate Monkian, his bolo whip's fireballs should be able to take out Knave. Years of fighting against Chilla showed that fire was a deadly weapon against the Icewalkers. It wasn't so nice to non-Icewalkers either, if it came to that. He removed the whip from around his person and activated the fire control in the handle.
He didn't need to do any more, as it turned out. As soon as Knave had a solid purchase at the top of the pit, he pushed Monkian in. There was a loud cry of pain, and Tygra ran to the side. Even though Monkian had twisted to avoid hitting the spikes, one had shorn a solid chunk out of his calf and thigh. Blood was flowing from the wound, as the simian thrashed about in pain. Most disconcerting of all was the joyous look had returned to Knave's face, watching with sadistic glee. "There's a first aid kit in the Tank," he murmured to himself. He sprinted over and, within seconds, was climbing down the rope to assist the Mutant. Gratefully, Monkian seemed content to accept the ministrations without protest or violence.
"You know he wouldn't be helping you, right? Heck, I bet even his friends wouldn't be doing that." Knave was crouched, peering over the side.
"You're right. But Tygra wouldn't have pushed me in here," Monkian scowled, doubtless still bitter about the doublecross as well.
Once he'd finished his doctoring, Tygra clambered out of the pit as quickly as he could before Monkian could think to thank him for his hospitality. He left the rope there, knowing that with his injured leg it would take him a while to get out, and by then Tygra intended to be on the way back to Cat's Lair. The events had disturbed him greatly, and he needed to think about it some more.
Lura watched both people warily from the couch. There wasn't much point in moving, whatever was going to happen was going to happen. Zanaya was resting one hand on the pistol at her hip, standing against the wall. Even without her powers Lura knew what the woman was thinking, she was hoping for permission to kill. It was a distinct possibility. The price for disobeying a high priest could be death, and the price for failure in general wasn't much better. Mystan was harder to read, but then he'd always been so. Years of discarding his emotions for the sake of logic showed clearly on his impassive face. She thought she detected a faint hint of emotion in him. Fear, perhaps, or sadness. That wasn't good. When the emotions started slipping through the mask of calm it boded ill.
He had every right to feel either emotion. The council might well have punished him, in addition to whatever Tycho or Luna would throw at him. Mystan walked between the two women and closed his eyes for just a half second. "I have been in communion with the elders, and they have spoken. They are not pleased with what has happened here. I am being summoned back to the Psion Moon for further punishment. I might as well tell you, because you are bound to find out through the rumour mill. They intend on stripping me of my powers until I prove that I deserve them."
Both she and Zanaya gasped. For someone of his talent, being stripped of his telekinesis was akin to losing a limb or two. It was horrifying, and yet the fact that he was going along with it spoke to the certainty that it would only be temporary. Mystan had confidence in himself, he didn't always use his abilities in his daily life, and certainly intended to adapt to his circumstances. If there was anyone who could do it seamlessly, it was him.
If that was his price, the thought rushed to her head unbidden, what was hers? As though reading her mind, and perhaps he had, Mystan continued. "The council is equally displeased with the two of you. One of you are to serve as an example to others as to the price of failure. My final act as high priest is to decide which of you can be saved. That one will remain here on Third Earth and serve my replacement. The other is to be killed, immediately."
Lura gulped. There was still a stain on the carpet from Extroc's execution, though the body had been removed. So this was it then. She would die. Zanaya was family, and she knew that her master, former master now, valued his family. She wouldn't make it easy for him. If he wanted to kill her, he would have to work for it. Perhaps the strain of the long range communication had worn him out. Her mind lashed out, bursting into his head with ease. It was as though he had intentionally lowered all his psionic defences. Was he that worn out that he couldn't maintain them, or...
A scream brought her back to her own body. Zanaya convulsed on the floor, clutching her chest, begging. The assassin's eyes were widened, and Lura knew that the pain must have been excruciating. Finally the screaming stopped, the body ceased moving and she knew that the woman was dead. Mystan stumbled and she barely managed to catch him and ease him onto the couch. "Make sure she's dead," he said.
Carefully, Lura touched her mind to Zanaya's. A stopped pulse might be faked, but the absence of brain activity spoke the truth. "Why her? Why not me?" She needed to know, even if she was relieved.
"We were, all of us, blinded by emotion. It's a failing of us mortals, one I thought I had rid myself of. Zanaya was fuelled by hatred. She could not control it, it dominated her every waking moment. She would never stop until either she or Knave lay dead. You have been tainted by love." Mystan's voice trailed off, as though trying to remember the emotion himself. "Love can be gotten over, and it is something you will get over. My shuttle won't arrive for another three days. Until that time, I am still your superior. I made a suggestion to the council and they agreed with me. Today you are going to go to Cat's Lair yourself to deliver to Knave the news on Zanaya's death. While there you will profess your love for him. Only once he has rejected you can your redemption begin."
A chill ran down her spine. There was an unspoken threat in his words. Her life had been spared, but that could change in an instant. She had seen Zanaya's death, she knew that the crushed heart had been a subtle message to her. Was her will strong enough to do as she had been commanded? Would the Thundercats even be willing to see her, given what Zanaya and Mystan had just done? "Yes master. Thank you."
Knave felt immense relief when they got back to Cat's Lair. His first order of business was to track down Snarf and collect Krystalin. They were in the kitchen, which didn't surprise him very much. There had been very little chance that Snarf would take care of her in his bedroom, given some of the souvenirs. "And then Lion-O said 'Let's find the megacondenser...' Oh hello Knave, I was just telling Krystalin about some of our adventures, snarf, snarf." He was rocking her awkwardly in his arms.
A quick scan of the room showed, miraculously, no ice damage. "I hope you put a good spin on us Lunataks, wouldn't want Thunderian propaganda after all." He said it with a smirk, showing that there was little malice behind his words. He felt strangely at peace, it was a strange sensation that had come over him on the ride back.
"I'll have you know that this story is about the Mutants," the Snarf replied with a huff. He handed the child back to her father.
"In that case, slander all you want."
Tygra's first stop was the laboratory, where he predictably found Pumyra working with the Bacterium X Blaster. Like most of Vultureman's inventions it was simple to use and had a ridiculous name. This just meant that proving whether or not the materials Tygra had brought worked would be a simple matter. "To bad you didn't leave Knave in that pit too," Pumyra muttered, as he related the encounter with Monkian. It was a curious response, and it caught him off-guard for a moment. She didn't elaborate and went to work on a cure.
He walked back outside and sat on the steps, his mind in a whirl. Knave's disturbing behaviour was one thing, it was almost expected from a Lunatak, but Pumyra's was jarring. The Thundercats had always preached justice and honour, loyalty and truth. Such a response was almost impossible to fathom. And yet, how much did he really know about the woman? She had been a healer of some sort back on Thundera, been close friends with Bengali and Lynx-O, and then they had crashed here. He knew plenty about her, but almost nothing of her time before the explosion of Thundera.
Which meant what, exactly? She was entitled to her privacy, Jaga knew that they all kept some kind of secret. Her privacy was there in the code, somewhere between honour and truth. They trusted her not to keep anything from them that they needed to know, and the rest was hers to dispense with at will.
Flashes of his own childhood appeared. That dreaded incident with the high school bullies that had scarred his psyche. He should have died that day, drowned in the swimming pool, but had been spared at the last second. And over what? Because he wouldn't help them cheat on a test. He'd been terrified of water ever since, only his invisibility allowed him enough confidence to shove the terror aside. He'd told Panthro about it once, after some prodding, and the panther had been kind enough to keep it a secret.
Was something similar what made Pumyra act that way? Had she met the Lunataks before her arrival on Third Earth? Or was it Knave specifically. There had been a clan of white cheetahs in the western plains, if he recalled. Either way, it was her call on whether to open up or not, and he would respect it.
This was not happening. It could not be happening. Tycho stared hard at the screen almost willing the panther to say it was all a joke. Moments ago Chillaura had informed him of an incoming transmission from Cat's Lair and he had received it in his office, expecting perhaps a new message from Knave. Things weren't going great over there, but he hoped. "I know the answer already, but are you sure?"
Panthro replied with a string of profanities, indicating not only was he sure, but that he intended on doing grievous harm to Zanaya and whomever her telekinetic partner was. It didn't take him more than a second to figure out who the accomplice was, and after he'd given Mystan one more chance to prove himself. "I'm sorry about this. When Lion-O recovers we can discuss compensation. In the meantime, the culprits will be dealt with. Lunar justice can be harsh, and I've run out of patience."
Another list of threats was fired off, warning Tycho not to mess around or it would be his own posterior that was in the firing range. He ended the connection and gazed mournfully at Darius. Ever faithful Darius. "Assemble a team. Bring those three here at once."
The loyal companion to Lion-O watched over his ward as the latter lay convalescing on the bed. He looked so vulnerable. The poor boy was often in danger, but this seemed like the worst. He was a sickly green colour and hadn't moved since they'd brought him in. Getting food into him was difficult, because there was still the threat of the bacterium spreading to his caregiver. There was so much on the line, and precious little they could do.
Pumyra entered, carrying a small spray bottle which she used on the Lord of the Thundercats. He knew she had been couped up in that lab all afternoon working on the antidote, and he only hoped it would work. "How many times did you test it? Are there any side effects? What if it doesn't work?" he started, as she silenced him with a glare. He shut up. She was as worried as he was, and her reputation was at stake. If Lion-O got worse or died, it would be on her hands now. "I'm sorry. I just..."
"I know. We'll know soon enough if it works."
Much to Darius' surprise, neither Mystan nor Lura resisted as they was arrested. Mystan seemed to carry himself with an air of indifference, as though there was nothing that Tycho could do to him. It worried Darius, but he was grateful for the compliance nonetheless.
Zanaya's corpse was a bit of a shock, but still within the bounds of Mystan's jurisdiction. The laws were complicated, with Tycho in command, but others being able to carry out such punishments. It hadn't come up yet, but it was theoretically possible that one of the other moons could insist on policing their own. Only the Psions, he thought.
Tycho's door was unlocked when they got there and the pair were ushered in front of Tycho's desk, their hands bound behind their backs and weapons trained on them. The guards had their orders, kill at the first sign of telekinesis. Mystan was dangerous enough that he might have been able to take out all the guards before one got a shot off, but there was still a chance. Darius was the contingency plan. He could, as he had done before, protect the governor himself. Slowly he walked around the table and reported Zanaya's status.
"Why do I bother?" Tycho asked, half to himself. His voice was quiet, as it usually was, but Darius could hear the anger. "I give the three of you a second chance to prove yourselves, and you go and try and kill Knave again. The Thundercats are enraged. Cheetara has barely been saved from death, and who knows what other chaos you've caused."
"Cheetara's injury was not my fault. It was Zanaya who..." Mystan began.
"And I told you that you would be held accountable for her actions. So it might as well have been you that struck the blow. You violated my trust, and now I have to mete out justice."
Mystan snorted. "Do your worst. What the elders have in store is far graver than anything you might conjure. Because of my errant niece I am being stripped of all my abilities and being recalled back to the Psion moon. On the other hand, I should defend Lura in this matter. She was not involved. She's the one who warned Darius of Zanaya's previous attack on Knave, and she warned the Thundercats of this one."
All eyes fell on Lura. It was a half truth. "I followed my master's orders as best I could, but there were lines I felt uncomfortable with," she stammered.
"Fine. You can go. Mystan, I may not be able to do worse to you than what you claim your superiors plan, but I can do a fair amount. While the Psions hurt your mind, I will hurt your body. In three days the next shuttle arrives to return to the moons of Plundarr. You will be on it. In the meantime I am going to have you bound in front of the city. The public will know of your disgrace and can take whatever liberties they choose. I think I'll invite the Thundercats to come down too."
Anger flashed in the Psion's eyes, but he didn't say a word, as he allowed himself to be led from the room.
She felt relief, walking out of Tycho's office. Mystan had actually taken the proverbial bullet for her. She wasn't sure why, but she had sent a mental thanks to him. He was beaten, she knew, and for some reason had protected her. There was still one errand left to complete though, and that would be the trickiest of all. Lura had to speak to Knave.
There was equal relief in Cat's Lair. Pumyra was able to report that the green tinge in Lion-O's skin was fading, and that he seemed to be breathing normally. Coupled with Cheetara's stubborn recovery made the mood much lighter in Cat's Lair. She was even able to cope with having to eat in the same room as Knave that evening.
She wouldn't be able to stay much longer, though. The Tower of Omens was undermanned at present, with only Lynx-O, Bengali, and Snarfer there to take turns watching for danger, so she knew that she would have to take her leave shortly. Still, Lion-O's health was cause for celebration. Messages were sent to the nearby villages informing them of the good news, and Snarf found an excuse to start working on Lion-O's favourite breakfast. It seemed, at last, as though everything were finally getting back to normal.
Knave felt full from dinner. He'd even been able to crack a joke that made Wily Kat smile briefly, before the lad remembered that he didn't like him. There had been a slight incident during his feeding of Krystalin when she had accidentally frozen the bottle and his arm to her mouth, but these were some of the joys of parenthood.
He didn't really know what had happened. Icewalker children weren't normally able to use their abilities until much later in their adolescence, so it was highly unusual that Krystalin was doing such now. He laid down on the bed, with her pressed against his chest. It felt so right. How had he gone so long without a child of his own? He almost wanted more. A host of children whom he could love and raise the right way. He kissed that tiny forehead and marvelled at her.
"You look happy," Lura's voice said, somewhere in his head. Instinctively he looked around, but knew that telepaths didn't need to physically be near to use their powers. His guard went up, and Krystalin began crying at her father's tension. "It's alright. I need to talk to you, in person. I know you don't trust me, and I've never given you reason to."
Her statement was answered with a snort. He didn't trust her. She was Mystan and Zanaya's lap dog. She did whatever they wanted. "Actually, that's one of the reasons I want to talk to you. They have been punished for what they did. Zanaya is dead, and Mystan is being sent home. Actually, he's being put in front of New Lunis for public abuse and humiliation first. If you come see me, I can give you Zanaya's body and you can do what you will to him too. I know a little of Icewalker funeral customs and I can probably arrange to fulfil them."
Even through the distance, he could sense her fear, it was a tangible thing, as real as the babe at his side. It was the fear that suggested that she was being honest. "Tomorrow, then. I want to talk to my father anyway, and this is as good a chance as any. But if this is a trick..." he said.
"It's not. Tomorrow then."
There was silence for a few minutes and he wondered if she had truly left. He hadn't noticed her arrival after all, which was one reason why he hated telepaths.
He was floating through the darkness, being led onwards by a glimmering Eye of Thundera. He wasn't sure how long he had been within the oblivion, only that it had been awhile. His mind ached from trying to comprehend the void. Only the Eye mattered now, though. That shimmering jewel that had appeared moments ago. It seemed to beckon to the Lord of the Thundercats, imploring him to follow it. Lion-O wanted to obey, he had been away from his friends for too long, but what would he awaken to? The Mutants had been attacking. He had been hit, and then black. He shouldered the fear aside, and willed himself closer to the eye, diving through it with a roar.
The roar of the eye turned into the plaintive moan of Snarf. Lion-O had jerked upright, flinging his onetime nurse across the bed. The indignant moan turned into a cry of joy, as the little Snarf wrapped his arms as much as he could around Lion-O's mid-section. "You're awake!" he said. "Pumyra thought it might be this morning, but when you slept through breakfast I worried."
Lion-O couldn't help but chuckle. There wasn't a force in the world that would stop Snarf from worrying. At least he seemed to be safe within Cat's Lair. And he'd obviously missed at least two meals. Possibly more if the growling of his stomach was any indication. Maybe that hadn't been the roar of the Eye of Thundera then, he thought with a chuckle. "I've obviously missed a lot. Why don't you update me over lunch?"
"You're really going to do it?" Cheetara asked. She had recovered enough that she could walk about the Lair, though the fact that she was forbidden to go running was grating at her. So now she was seated in Knave's bedroom, watching as he put on his boots. He would be needing a new pair soon, she noted, as the soles were worn down. Mentally she made a note to visit the Wollo village to see about getting a new pair. After all the Thundercats had put him through, it was the least they could do.
"Absolutely. I owe Mystan for what he's done. And if there's proof that Zanaya's dead too, I want to know," he replied. Word had come in of Mystan's fall from grace, courtesy Tycho, and an invitation to join in the public humiliation. Zanaya's death had been mentioned in passing, something that didn't seem to surprise their houseguest. There was also something else there, but she couldn't put her finger on it. "You want me to give him one for you?"
"No thanks. It's not our way," she replied simply, though in truth it was a tempting prospect. To stand on the brink of death left one feeling little compassion, but it was against the code of Thundera. It was justice, she supposed, but not her version. Mystan was a dangerous individual, and provoking him could prove to be more hazardous than simple incarceration.
"It's too bad. For years our people have believed that seeing the consequences of defiance serves as a deterrent. Besides, this is just the tip of the iceberg. You heard Tycho, he'll be stripped of his powers. Think about it. That would be like you or I losing the use of our legs. There's nothing I can do to him that will be worse than that."
Cheetara shuddered at the comparison. Her current state was bad enough. Mystan would be going through hell soon. But for now he had access to his powers. He might just risk a final gambit when he saw the cause of his distress. Slowly walking over to him, she touched his shoulder. "Take care of yourself." She felt him imperceptibly lean into the touch and remembered the conversation they had been having before they were interrupted. Just another thing she would have to deal with when he got back.
"I have to go," he said, his eyes saying the same thing, "Tygra's taking me as far as the Tower of Omens. Pumyra doesn't sound too thrilled for the company." He shouldered Krystalin and followed Cheetara out of the room.
Mystan endured the physical torments. Rotten fruits from the cowards, open handed blows from the more daring. He memorized their faces, committing them to his brain for potential revenge. He chuckled wryly to himself at the thought, even as some celery bounced off his knee. It was revenge that had gotten him in this predicament in the first place. That was why he was chained spread eagled in the front of the city gates. Revenge. Failed revenge.
His only consolation was that he was not being punished alone. One subordinate lay dead and the other to be punished soon. The corpse lay where it had fallen, though he had little doubt that Lura had covered it with a sheet. Knave was being given permission to take as much of the body as he pleased, as long as the head remained intact for the trip back to the Psion Moon.
He wondered how the meeting would go. He had absolute faith that Lura would do as she had been told, she would bare her heart to Knave. But how would he react. He wouldn't trust her, obviously, would see it as a trick. But how deep would the wound of rejection bite? Would he kill Lura? It was a distinct possibility when it came to it.
A sharp cuff to the back of the head caught his attention, and he found himself staring Chilla in the face. He should have guessed that she would come to enjoy the sport. "You looked distracted, and I didn't think it was remorse," she hissed. The blow was probably less than what she wanted to do, the guards were present to ensure that he would survive. Her family, being as high ranked within the Icewalker society as they were, had long been a target for his moon. It had been her son, Nitro, who had been the catalyst for the mission to Third Earth. That same mission that had, through many twists and turns, brought him to this state.
"Oh, but it is remorse," he said, knowing his words would anger her. It delighted him to see her lose her temper. "Remorse that Zanaya never completed her jobs. Three members of House Iespyk should lie dead." She slapped him, but it was worth it. Soon, another would take her place.
It was gratifying to be out of the Thunderstrike. To say that Pumyra was not 'thrilled' was an understatement. She had, through the pod to pod intercom, made the suggestion three times that they should abandon Knave. Frankly, the whole situation mystified Tygra, and he was intent on learning the truth. Even as the hybrid sprinted towards the Forest of Mists, Tygra caught up to the young Puma and followed her inside.
She stopped outside her bedroom door and scowled slightly on seeing that he was still following. "Do you need anything else?" she asked at length.
"Yes. I need some answers. I don't mean to intrude on your personal life, but you've been more hostile than even Panthro towards Knave. Lion-O decided that we would take him in as a guest and, as our Lord, we have to respect his decision even if we don't like it. That's not how we treat guests."
Pumyra sighed and gestured for him to enter her room. The room was kept somewhat neat, though there were clothes scattered across one side of the room. He took a seat at her desk, shifting an empty bowl out of the way to rest his arm, while she settled on the bed. "You're right," she said. "Years before we left Thundera, my mother, sister and I were travelling in a spaceship. We were just about to reach the Thunderan system when we were boarded. I didn't know it at the time, but they were Lunataks. Icewalkers all of them. They caught my sister easily while my mother and I ran for the escape pod. They promised to let my sister go if my mother surrendered."
Even though Tygra could guess where the story was going, he didn't interrupt. He let her work through the pause. "They lied. As soon as my mother was within reach they grabbed her. They would have gotten me too, but I hit the launch button and was jettisoned towards Third Earth. I never saw either of them again. I guess," Pumyra paused again. "I guess when I see Knave, I see what might have happened to my family. Turned into slaves to those bastards. Made to sleep with whoever owned them or be eaten. I can't help but wonder if I have some half-siblings, or a niece." A shudder went up her spine, and Tygra could see Pumyra's sharp claws digging into the bed sheet, one that had similar marks on it.
"Thank you for trusting me. I'll keep it a secret, provided you try and control your emotions around him. Knave wasn't part of the raiding party. He's not to blame, and we're trying to change him." He wanted to go over to her, but sensed this was not the time.
"I think I'd like to be alone now," she whispered. Quietly he granted her request.
The miles vanished easily under his feet, as Knave ran through Dark Side. Krystalin was tucked tight against his chest, eyes clenched tight against the wind. Getting through the Forest of Mists had been a bit tricky, as it always was, but the rope he had installed long ago was still there, and it held.
It was strange to think about the whole situation. Here he was, living with the Thundercats and now heading to a city that was, technically, home. Neither group really wanted him, he knew. Nor had Zanaya. She had wooed him, captured his heart in the hopes of learning information. She had killed the chief of security on board the Excelsior for him, in the hopes of learning more. Both acts together had led to the vengeance of a goddess, springing a child on her. That same emotion led to her relentless pursuit of him, and finally death if Lura was to be believed. Death led to life, hate led to joy. It was the opposite of how his life had been up to this point. Could his life, the life of a father, start over now that she was dead?
The rocky terrain gave way to a forested region, telling him that he was getting closer to the city of New Lunis. He saw a lumber camp not too far ahead, working on making a proper road to the Forest of Mists, and stopped briefly to get an update.
Waiting was the worst of it. Lura stared around the room, the faint smell of Zanaya's body lingering in the air. She moved around the room, uncertain, going over in her head what she wanted to say. She couldn't use her powers, now more than ever. She didn't want to see the naked emotion when she told him. The revulsion, the lust perhaps? What would she find? Besides, if there was going to be any kind of relationship between them, and she wasn't certain she really wanted one, he couldn't suspect any kind of mental intrusion. That's the way Icewalkers were.
She lowered the thermostat again, trying to make him more comfortable when he got there. It would make him receptive, and keep the dead body cool. How much longer would it be? He knew where to go, didn't she? Mystan would tell him. The thought came so suddenly in her head that she wondered if her former master were projecting himself into it. Of course. Knave would come into the city through the main gates and find Mystan. He wouldn't be able to resist rubbing salt in the wounds. Mystan would direct him. Not for the first time, she prayed that everything would go okay.
"So here you are. They were telling the truth," Knave said, walking up to Mystan. The latter remained impassive. He knew that the most infuriating thing for the hybrid would be to get no reaction to his taunts. As long as it didn't provoke him enough to be thrown in jail himself. Lura was waiting, after all. "Disgraced. Do you smell that, it's a beautiful smell, the smell of victory."
To his annoyance, both father and child seemed healthy. Removing the mental block had certainly caused havoc, but not nearly as much as he had been hoping. "Nothing to say, then?" Knave asked. He gently placed a hand on Mystan's cheek and drew one sharp fingernail down the jaw and across the throat. It didn't draw blood, but a little more pressure would have done so.
"I have no need to speak with you," Mystan replied, as though it didn't phase him at all. It did, though. It vexed him greatly that he couldn't afford to risk attacking Knave here and now. He was given an edict by the high priests, and one did not disobey the high priests. Which reminded him of Lura once more. "Run along. Lura is waiting for you in my home. You know the place."
Knave grinned widely and took a step back, then he began to laugh as Krystalin screwed up her face and belched a thin mist of ice at her mother's uncle. The tiny crystals stung as they bounced off his chest. Then both disappeared around him into the city. A lumbering Graviton approached next, carrying a mug of putrid ale. This was going to be a long few days.
Standing nearby, disguised as a common guard, Darius breathed a sigh of relief. In communication with Cat's Lair he had learned that Knave intended on coming into the city; both to see Mystan and to collect Zanaya's body. He had feared the inevitable confrontation, uncertain as to whether either man would remain civil enough. But it had gone amicably well. Quietly slipping away, he confirmed that there would be a transport available if Knave needed assistance getting the corpse home.
Knave had been to Mystan's home more than once, but never had he been invited. He chuckled at the thought. Only a few days ago he had snuck in to steal Krystalin, and now he had her. More accurately, at the moment, Nitro and his girls had her. Knave wasn't sure what would await him on the other side of the door, whether it would be one last trap set by the treacherous Psions. If it was, he didn't want his baby caught in the crossfire.
He knocked on the door and scented the air. There was an unmistakable tang in the air. Death mingled with Zanaya's natural odour. When the door hissed open he saw Lura, a fearful Lura if her body language was anything to go by. She stepped aside and he walked into the room. There had been a struggle here. The couch looked as though it had seen better days, and there was blood caked on the floor, just barely covered by a sheet. His eyes flicked from the sheet to Lura. She looked away briefly. "That's her. I was going to remove the head first, but I thought I should wait. I'll give you a minute. See me before you go, please." Lura walked quickly into Zanaya's room.
Here it was. The moment of truth. His senses told him that this was her, that Zanaya was indeed a corpse, but his eyes yearned to see it. He pulled the sheet aside, seeing first the pained expression. Her hands clasped firmly over her heart, mouth wide. The blood wasn't hers, then. He crouched low and sniffed. It smelled vaguely of another Psion he'd encountered, whose name he couldn't quite remember. Good then. Most Psions were bastards and deserved death anyway.
He regarded Zanaya again, searching his soul to see if there was anything left of the love he'd once had for her. There was the physical lust, certainly, but the more emotional level? Perhaps a glimmer. A small sense of pity that if she had been raised differently then perhaps she might have. It was their common bond that he'd fallen for. A pair of trained killers who lived on the edge of society. She'd been able to slip back in when it suited her, he couldn't. His cheetah fur would forever mark him as 'outsider.' He stared at the face, the cyan markings crossing her pale purple flesh. She'd been in agony in her last moments. Begging for mercy. He wondered what had happened. How she had died. Only one person might answer that.
Quietly he padded to the bedroom door. Zanaya's scent lay heaviest in this room, which wasn't surprising. Lura was seated on the bed. The covers were rumpled, as though Zanaya had barely just gotten up. The Psion woman looked up at his entrance, and hastily put down a book she'd been reading. "How did it happen?" he asked, simply.
Something flickered on her face, a painful memory from the looks of it. "Mystan did it. The high priests were unhappy with us. You already know his punishment, but they ordered him to kill either Zanaya or I. He chose her." Knave's eyes widened in disbelief. Such was the culture of the Icewalkers, that choosing anyone over family was unfathomable. "She thought the way you do. Until he began crushing her heart. It was agony. She screamed. I can still hear it when I close my eyes. I don't know how long it lasted. I touched her mind and caught the echo of her pain."
So that was it. She had stared into the abyss of death and had survived. Mystan could have easily chosen her for the grisly fate, but he hadn't. And then a thought occurred to him. Lura had always been with someone else. Now she was alone, no mentor, no friends. He wondered if she'd even had time to make friends outside her duties. "Why? Why spare you and not her?" he asked.
The scent of fear grew, and she lowered her head, fixated on her hands. He had come to the heart of her nervousness. It wasn't just her being alone that scared her, but something in particular about that question. "He said it's because we failed him emotionally. Zanaya couldn't control her hatred for you, I couldn't control my love for you."
He hadn't expected the words, and he stifled a bitter laugh in his throat. "Love? For me?" It sounded like a practical joke. Any moment now, he expected her to burst out laughing at the very concept.
"It's true. At first it was pity, I admit, but then I got to know you. Remember when we first met? I read your mind. I saw your past. I saw the man you could be. All your life you've been falsely loved and I thought that all you needed in life was someone to say they care about you. It tears at me to know what Zanaya did to you, even what Chilla did to you. I've seen how you look at Krystalin. She looks at you with love in her eyes; she worships you."
"You're lying." The way her head snapped up, tears streaming down her face, told him she wasn't. But he continued anyway. "Mystan has tried so many ways to get at me, get at my daughter. Now this, he's sending you to get at me."
"I'm not. Look into your soul. Three times I've saved you. That first time we met, Mystan wanted you dead and I sent you away to protect you. I sent Darius to try and stop Zanaya and then..." Lura said, standing now.
"That was your voice I heard in my head." The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. She had called his name, alerting him to Zanaya's presence in Cat's Lair. The memory clicked into place. She nodded feebly. "You know it would never work. I distrust Psions as much as your people hate Icewalkers."
"We could try and make it work," she stammered.
"I'm already trying to unite Lunataks and Thunderians," he said. His mind flashed to a different uniting between Lunatak and Thunderian. Cheetara. He had confessed his love to her, and she had rejected him. Just like every other woman. Only two women had ever shared his bed. One had been using him, and the other had been sent to him by his father. Panthra had upset her master and been sent as punishment to sleep with Knave.
But now there was one who was willing, perhaps. He just needed a little more proof. She was a Psion, and all his upbringing and experiences said they couldn't be trusted. It must have been evident on his face. "I can prove my words, if you'll let me," she said. He cocked his head to the side. "I can open my mind to you. Let you see whatever you want to see, and you'll learn that I have no ulterior motives. Don't worry, I won't be in your mind at all."
He stared at her. The offer didn't mean much to him. He didn't know a lot about telepathy, but assumed that they had ways of showing false information. He breathed deep, focussing his thoughts, weighing his options. He glanced outside the door and saw Zanaya still laying there, his last experience with a Psion. Then he looked again at Lura. She was reasonably attractive, he supposed. She was fit, if a little lean. And he sensed a genuine compassion. "There's another way you can prove yourself," he said, stepping closer to her. "As I told her, I've always found death to be as arousing as love. Being here, in a dead woman's room turns me on." One hand took her head, pulling her down for a kiss. It was a powerful, lustful kiss, that turned her knees to jelly.
Lura pulled out of his grip. "That's not what every girl wants to hear." She was wrestling with something inside, her own desires he gauged. "Look, if that's what you want then... okay. But under my terms. I'm not just going to be the woman you sleep with, I want a deeper relationship. Down the road, maybe we'll have kids of our own, a proper family. I want love, not lust. And, I've heard the stories, I want a gentle lover, not an animal. If that's not you then take Zanaya's body and go."
She bit her lip and turned from him. Knave wasn't sure what to do. An Icewalker didn't make promises they wouldn't keep. So what did he want? Did he want a family? Did he want to lead the life that she wanted him to lead? Was he willing to change for her? The realization that he might actually have found someone that loved him and he was pushing them away came to him. She was right about that. All his life he had been rejected by the people he loved, and now here it was. A chance.
Reminding himself that she had asked for gentle, he turned her around. "I can't promise you much. I don't believe this will work in the end, but I'm willing to try." It seemed to be enough. Lura smiled warmly, relief washing over her, as she let herself be backed towards the bed.
Noon was slowly turning into dusk. Mystan's captors finally unbound him and led him to his cell. As he walked, he wondered how his former student had done and sent his mind towards his home. By now, he assumed, she should be devastated at the rejection.
He found her easily enough. She was sore and a little upset. Mostly he saw confusion in her mind. Knave was gone, having taken some of the corpse with him, an arm from the looks of it. Lura was laying flat on Zanaya's bed, still undressed. This alone surprised him. She opened her eyes, aware of his presence and letting him see what he wanted. It was a bit of a gift, one of the last times he would be able to do so for a long time. Despite her urging to be gentle, the two had very different definitions of the word. He had, mercifully perhaps, drawn blood once along the side of her left breast. There had been no climax for her, but there was hope for the future. "He tried. I think he'll do better next time," was the message he got. Whether that was true or not remained to be seen. He did note that she was unhappy that he had felt it necessary to warn her what would happen if it was a trick.
Curious. Mystan had fully expected a failure here too. Perhaps not, as it turned out. Perhaps his own fall from grace and Zanaya's demise had actually helped. He wished her luck, a sincere hope, and slipped back into his own body. The guards around him didn't seem to have noticed his departure.
"What are you doing with my cooking pot? Do you need any help?" Snarf asked, balancing on his tail, and trying to see what Knave was doing in the kitchen. He had arrived back at the Lair later than expected, dropped off by a Lunatak shuttle. The mere arrival had sent the Thundercats into a flurry of activity until they realized they weren't under attack.
"Where would I find nutmeg?" the Icewalker/Cheetah asked, firmly holding the lid in place.
"This cupboard. It smells good, what are you making?" Snarf chirped, running off to fetch the spice from its shelf. Knave sprinkled a little into the pot and breathed the aroma. It did smell good. The Thundercats so rarely had meat in the Lair, that he had started to miss it. Still, he didn't think that it would do for them to know what he was cooking.
"It's an old family recipe. No, you don't get any." He turned around to see how Krystalin was doing, sitting happily in a high chair. She giggled, though he suspected it was just gas. He placed a towel in front of her mouth as she burped again.
He whirled around in time to see Snarf lifting the lid and peering inside. "Is... Is that an arm? Lion-O!" A streak of red and yellow fur bolted from the room. Knave replaced the lid, knowing that he would have to explain Icewalker funeral customs soon, and probably buy Snarf a new cooking pot.
On to Truth, Justice, Honour, and Loyalty - epilogue
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