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Expansion and Conquest
Part Two

The prison cell was made of stone, with solid metal bars across the door. A mattress was the only furnishing, though a wooden platter with a mug of beer and a thin loaf of bread rested near the entrance. The sole occupant wasn't terribly hungry at the moment.

Kaprenius; only son of Aristarchus. When his father had attempted to seize the throne Kaprenius had been there by his side, not from any particular sense of loyalty, but in an attempt to raise his own station. Things had gone badly and Aristarchus had escaped. Kaprenius had not. He'd been turned over to the Graviton government for sentencing because he'd made the mistake of trying to intimidate them over to their side of the conflict. After a lengthy trial and deliberations, they'd finally set a date.

The young man shuddered at the prospect of death awaiting him. A gravity carbine would increase his mass over the course of an hour. It would be an effort to move at all in short order, even something as simple as breathing would become painful to do. Eventually he would expire from the enormous pressures. Kaprenius was gleefully told stories of how sometimes they would let the pressure continue well after that, smearing the accused into a fine paste.

Two days. That's all that was left to him. Two days to ponder his fate and pray for a miracle. He drew his knees up to his chest, and forced himself not to cry.

In the three days since Luna's big proclamation, work was heavily under way in preparing the dozen space ships that would carry crew and supplies. Many of the materials, it was believed, could be found already on the surface of Third Earth, and one of larger ships was going to be left behind, to be cannibalised as needed.

All in all, Tycho was pleased. He was also, as his longtime companion Darius would point out, delaying the inevitable. Luna was bound to find out sooner or later about Eluosi's challenge to the throne, and would probably be sending out her assassin's sooner rather than later. This made it even more important that Tycho get to her first. He knew where she lived, and drove himself there.

He knocked on the door, praying no one was home. No such luck. Eluosi's eyes were full of hatred for him, and he couldn't prevent a flinch. "Unless Luna's surrendering the throne, I don't want to speak to you," she said, harshly.

"Eluosi, please. This has to stop. Luna will kill you, I know she will," Tycho said.

"So, they want to kill the rest of me then? My arm is already near lifeless, why not the rest of me too? You know, a month ago, I was depressed enough that I might have let her assassin do their work. Finish me off and make me whole again. But now? Now I have revenge in sight, I cannot be stopped."

Tycho sighed, the weight of the world resting on his shoulders for a moment. "It doesn't have to be this way. Please. We have to find a way, and we will heal you, and your career will flourish again."

"Ha! How long did you try and find a way to revive this arm? And now I have found someone who can do it, someone who is helping me get what I want, someone who actually cares about me. Unlike you, I might add."


"That's for my benefactor and I to know, and you never to find out. Enjoy your time in power while you can," Eluosi said, closing the door on the stunned prince.

Eluosi walked briskly from the front entrance to her bedroom. The room was sparsely furnished with pale pink paint adorning the walls and floor. A shelf over her bed held the three awards she'd won for her work on the stage and screen. A binder lay open on the bed itself, full of reviews of her performances.

The other occupant of the room smiled warmly. "Tycho?" he asked, already knowing the answer. Voices carried quite well in this house.

"You were right. He tried to persuade me to abandon the lawsuit, threatened to have an assassin kill me," she replied.

Aristarchus took her hand and patted it gently. With his natural charm, and a telepathic nudge from someone on his payroll, he'd managed to manipulate her mind into forgetting that it had been he who had orchestrated her abduction along with Tycho, and had led to her injury. She was so blinded by her anger that using her for his own vengeance was almost too easy. "There, there dear. Let Luna send an assassin after you, and it will only prove that she is unfit for the throne. The assassin will fail and the public will turn against her, trying to kill a star of your calibre. Ah, I remember this night well," he said, drawing her attention to a newspaper clipping. "You were the only bright spot, well worth the price of admission."

"You're right. We can use this assassination attempt against Luna. She won't know what hit her."

Cameo walked around his desk and sat on the edge facing his guest. Paeder, captain of the Honour of the Moon, stood rigidly at attention, clearly displeased with the turn of events. It wasn't so long ago that she'd tried to have Cameo exiled to Third Earth based solely on the fact that he was of mixed heritage. Though his mother was part of House Mymekon, his father was a Solarian, a planet nestled amidst eight suns. She probably would have succeeded had Luna not intervened on his behalf. The half-breed had managed to worm his way into the queen's heart by sacrificing himself to protect her. It was all a clever scam, Paeder told herself, unused to being wrong about people, and Cameo would someday prove her right.

The problem was that Luna had also promoted him to the position of captain of the Lunar fleet, which meant that he outranked Paeder now. Icewalker's were raised to treat their superiors with respect and honour, and that warred against her personal dislike for the man. He had summoned her to his office an hour ago and so here she was. Cameo was letting her wait, making her wonder what sort of business the two of them had. It occurred to her, suddenly, that he might possess enough pull to have her demoted. Such a thought must have shown on her face, because Cameo ended her curiosity.

"Captain Paeder, I'm glad you could be here. I've got a problem that I need your advice with," he said, surprising her completely. The last thing she expected was a request for help, unless he was being sarcastic. "Luna has informed me that I am needed here on the moons and that I must choose someone to command the air forces on Third Earth. It's also been suggested that I should choose such a person in a political fashion. Icewalkers are the superior commanders, everyone knows that, but I can't be seen to be playing favourites with my home moon. I want you to understand that you are not receiving this posting out of any personal vendetta I might have against you."

Paeder nodded, still too confused and surprised to say much. "Good. Then I figured that if I can't grant you that kind of position that you might help me pick someone who is qualified. Someone you can work with, since I am assigning you as second in command in my stead."

"Thank you. I wouldn't have expected such kindness from a half-breed. There's a Darkling captain I've heard good things about. Captain Stalker," she replied. She'd faced him in combat on two occasions and been impressed with his grasp of tactics.

"A Darkling? I thought Icewalkers and Darklings couldn't get along, that certainly will help with the politics side of things. I'll do it then, I'll arrange a briefing with the two of you as soon as I can," Cameo said, standing and offering his hand in friendship. If she and Stalker could put aside the animosity between the two warring moons, there might be hope yet that this would all work out.

Shade followed Nitro through the city streets, pleased with how well her younger body was working. He had a small security detail protecting him, but they would be of little use if she decided to hurt him. She'd run through the potential scenarios in her head and was reasonably certain that she could incapacitate him and be away in under ten seconds.

She shook her head. The spirit's thoughts were mingling with her own, and it was a little confusing to figure out which belonged to which. Shade had killed plenty in her times as part of the Dark Moon's patrols, but those had been trespassers and hardened criminals. There was still some lingering doubt.

"Wait and watch," the spirit cautioned her. So she did, slipping easily into the lavish guest quarters that had been afforded the visitors from the Ice Moon, as the guards peeled off to stand outside. The temperature within was kept low, to make sure the guests were comfortable, but Shade didn't seem to feel it.

As she walked down the hall, several steps behind Nitro, she passed a mirror and was startled to see an Icewalker face staring back at her. The spirit had altered her appearance without her noticing, something she didn't really realize it could do. Nitro stopped at the door to the room he'd been assigned, the guard outside that door saluting crisply. "How's my pet doing?" Nitro asked.

"She's been complaining about the cold, sir," the guard replied, both men oblivious to Shade standing nearby. She could only assume that the spirit was doing something.

"Then I'd best warm her up," he replied, opening the door long enough that Shade was able to sneak in. She watched, horrified, as a Darkling woman rose from the bed and bowed before him.

"You've returned, master. How did your meeting go?" the woman asked. When she raised her head, Shade could see a collar around her throat.

"It went well. Luna is a wise woman who knows the value of the Icewalker people, she's offered me the choice of going along to Third Earth, but I'm undecided. With Chilla going too I don't want to leave the Ice Moon unprotected," Nitro replied, stepping close enough to her to touch her. His hand stroked her head, like one might do to an animal, comforting and patronizing. Shade had seen enough. She grabbed a chair and smashed it over Nitro's head, knocking him unconscious in a single blow.

"Come on, I've got to get you out of here," Shade said, removing the collar from the woman.

"What are you doing? You've hurt him!" the woman pushed Shade aside and inspected Nitro's wound. It didn't seem to be fatal, and he would doubtless come round shortly.

"You're not his prisoner anymore. Let's go, you're free!" Shade said, trying to take the woman's arm and confused as to why she wouldn't let her.

"I'm not a prisoner. Maybe I used to be, but I love him now. He loves all of us. I'm calling the authorities," the woman rose and screamed, drawing the guard from outside. Instantly Shade jumped out the window and soared to safety.

"...that the natives call a 'Tongue-a-saurus.' Naturally, with a name like that, I had to go see one for myself. Despite its hokey name and goofy appearance the Tongue-a-saurus is all business. Before I knew it I was back in Dark Side. (See attached picture of Tongue-a-saurus.)"

Zanaya closed the journal entry. She'd seen enough pictures in Tug Mug's diary to know better than to open any attachments. She swore that she had seen more scantily clad women reading his diary than she had in the all girls school she'd attended. It was with some resignation that she had begun reading the journals and data entries of the Lunataks. She and Knave were likely stranded here for the long run, and knowing the dangers and food sources was integral to survival. Of course, Zanaya was sure of her own survival; the gods had promised that she would bear a child and that guaranteed at least seven more months of life. Her stomach churned some more thinking of the growing collection of cells within her womb and dreading the effects that were to come.

Psion women had it worse off, in some ways, than did other Lunar women. At the seven month mark the beginnings of psionic powers began to take effect, strengthening bond between mother and child. On the one hand, such gave the mother the benefit of having a better understanding of how the child was feeling. On the other hand some infants were known to drive their mothers insane with their confused thoughts. Given the dire portents she'd been given, Zanaya knew this was coming.

Further thoughts were driven from her head by the sound of the proximity alarm going off; someone was venturing close to Sky Tomb. A quick glance at the monitor revealed what she and Knave had feared. Mutants. "We've got incoming. Two Skycutters and one Nosediver!" she shouted into the intercom. If the Mutants wanted a fight, they would get one.

Knave swept the last dregs of Thundrillium into the furnace. They would need to find a supply of the stuff soon or Sky Tomb would be useless as a base. They'd already reduced power as much as they could in an effort to conserve.

Now there were Mutants. He raced through the doors and out into the middle of the rocky plains. The Skycutters were inaccessible, but the Nosediver was fair game. He picked up speed and barrelled headlong at Slythe, playing a game of chicken; confident in the Mutant's overconfidence. The Reptile believed that his machine would easily win any collision, making his surprise that much more pleasing when Knave jumped up and over him, his claws raking Slythe's back as he passed.

The odds were heavily against the Lunatak pair. The Mutants had the advantage of attacking from the air as well as numbers, making it crucial that Knave dispatch with Slythe quickly. The Reptilian Mutant cried out in pain as he turned the Nosediver around for a second run, this time firing the vehicle's lasers to discourage Knave from trying the same trick twice. The beams missed their target by a narrow margin and Slythe grumbled that Vultureman hadn't fixed the targeting systems yet. "Give up, Lunatak! We'll get you yet!"

Indeed, Knave wasn't feeling very optimistic. Too much time had passed and the three Mutant vehicles were getting closer and closer with their energy blasts. He was quick, but he wouldn't be able to last forever. Had Zanaya finally abandoned him? No, that wasn't likely. Where was she then? Even as he formed the thought, the woman answered his doubts for him, jumping from Sky Tomb on to Monkian's Skycutter. She drove her knife wickedly between his shoulders, sending him hurtling onto Jackalman's Skycutter, which was just below.

"Slythe! Monkian's hurt!" the Canine whimpered, glancing at the steady stream of blood flowing from the open wound. "And someone's got the other Skycutter! I say we retreat!" Zanaya circled behind Jackalman and fired several shots, damaging his aircraft. Not waiting for an affirmative response, Jackalman high-tailed it for Castle Plundarr.

Now that the odds had been reversed, Slythe had little choice but to join his cowardly companion in a hasty retreat. Tired and sweaty, but feeling exhilaration, Knave returned to Sky Tomb while Zanaya parked their new vehicle in the hangar.

Scowling, Shade paced through the small patch of forest she'd chosen to gather her thoughts. It was peaceful here, reminding her very much of her home on the Dark Moon, and she was all alone. Almost alone, she corrected, and that was part of the reason she'd selected this deserted area. "Why did you show me that?" she fumed.

"I showed it to you to show you the evils of the Iespyks. You see how he feels for Darkling women? They are nothing but bed warmers to him, living only to pleasure him. You heard what he called her; a pet. An animal. He corrupts their minds into thinking they love him. I assure you, he cares nothing for her. But I notice that you did not kill him. Why is that? You have allowed such a vile man to live. If your father dies because you couldn't do what is right..." the spirit's voice trailed off, allowing her mind to fill in the blanks.

"I can kill. I will kill, I promise you that. The next time I meet Nitro, he will not be so fortunate."

"Hmm... This is very odd. Tygra, come take a look at this and tell me what you see," Lynx-O said, stationed at the control centre in the Tower of Omens. Tygra and the Thunderkittens were visiting, after dropping off some much needed supplies. All three approached to see what had caught the elder Thunderian's attention.

"By Jaga's beard! It's the Mutants leaving Dark Side, and they look hurt," Tygra exclaimed. Indeed the camera revealed a lone Skycutter with two passengers, one of whom, Monkian, seemed to be matted in blood and slumped over. The Nosediver followed close behind and Slythe too seemed to be injured.

"That's what I thought. But what could have happened to them in Dark Side?" Lynx-O pondered.

"Maybe they did us a favour and took care of those two Lunataks," Wily Kat snapped, still remembering how the one called Knave had threatened to eat him.

"Wily Kat!" Tygra chastised. "They may be Lunataks, but one of them is a pregnant woman and the other is part Thunderian. We owe it to them to make sure they're alright."

The kitten didn't seem to be thrilled with the prospect, clearly preferring that his assessment were right. "You can go, I'm staying here where it's safe."

"Fine. You and Wily Kit stay here with Bengali. Pumyra, Lynx-O and I will investigate. Call Cat's Lair and let the others know what's going on," Tygra said, patting the youngster on the shoulder. Lynx-O nodded and followed Tygra out of the room.

From further down the hall Kaprenius could hear some sort of activity. Visitors, from the sound of it. Here in this maximum security area there was only himself and the guards, so he wondered who could possibly be coming to see him. He prayed that it wasn't a conjugal visit. The Gravitons had offered to supply him with a woman before his execution, but he'd seen the women around here and didn't feel like being crushed under their weight before he was crushed under his own.

A pair of Gravitons ambled into view, a male and a female, fuelling Kaprenius' fears and stepped close to the bars of the cell. The male pressed a meaty finger to his lips to forestall any questions and glanced back the way they'd come. "Kaprenius. You will not be put to death. Your father has allies even here. We have a plan..." he whispered low.

Psychro wiped his greasy hands across his coveralls as he stepped back and admired his handiwork. Cameo's personal fighter craft was purring like a kitten now. A fan belt had come a little loose and had been making a rattling noise. He let it run for a few moments longer, just in case, and gestured for Cameo to cut the power. "There you go, sir. Good as new. You got a minute?" he asked, watching as the man who was both his potential brother-in-law and his boss descended a ladder to the ground.

"Sure, what's on your mind?" Cameo replied. He gestured for the mechanic to follow him into his office and leaned against a filing cabinet, waiting to hear what the other man had to say.

"You've been pretty cozy with Psikaris for two months now, and this is the first chance you and I have had a chance to really talk about it. So let me get to the point. You hurt her and I will hurt you," Psychro said, threateningly.

"I knew this conversation was coming. Why do you think I asked you in particular to look over my engine when I've got 'Karis around?" Cameo said, unimpressed by the macho posturing.

"Maybe. But Psikaris needs a man who will treat her right. I find out you plan on using her for her body and ditching her at the first sign of trouble..."

"That's funny coming from you of all people. How many bastard children are you up to again?" Cameo snickered.

"And how many angry family members have I had to fight off. My point still stands. As long as Psikaris is happy, we're cool. You ever mistreat her and I will find you."

Cameo stepped forward, "Are you done? Good. This conversation, as far as I'm concerned, is moot. I will do whatever it takes to make 'Karis happy, and that includes tolerating her overprotective brother. You and I go way back. I trust you, I respect you, but if that feeling isn't mutual then you can walk out that door and go back to the Ice Moon, because I don't want you around here."

The tension hung in the air between the two men. Finally both men relaxed, confident that they had each made their point. Turning on his heel Psychro left Cameo's office.

As he lay nestled against Nuiane, Nitro wondered just what had happened tonight. He'd entered his quarters intending to have some fun with one of his harem girls and the next thing he knew, he was staring up into the face a pair of security guards. Nuiane had filled in the details for him, but they didn't explain why. He didn't think he'd offended anyone. Nuiane didn't know his attacker, so that ruled that out. She'd been caught stealing from the city on his watch and he'd offered her a position in lieu of being sent into the dungeons for a year. When her time was up she'd decided to stay. That wasn't wrong, was it?

Some, he conceded, would view her as initially being an unwilling companion in his bed and, perhaps, he'd had to punish her for disobedience more than once. She cuddled closer to him, trying to seek warmth in a room that was kept relatively cool. She cared for him, even though she wasn't his favourite. Which was weird, in a way. Icewalkers kept many lovers, and a harem for a powerful Icewalker wasn't terribly uncommon. He'd heard that it had started as a means of keeping warm during the colder times of the year. But Icewalkers, though more open to such things than other Lunataks, still tended to keep to their own sub-species. Nitro didn't. He'd always been intrigued by the exotic, which is why his lovers tended to be of other races; Chilla did not approve, and as head of the House he had to follow her rules. He'd been forced to give up his non-Lunar woman, a Panther female. He hadn't liked doing it, but he'd had her sent down to the kitchens and guiltily enjoyed eating her for breakfast the next day.

But none of that really told him why the mysterious woman had attacked him. Was it the same woman who had attacked Chilla not so long ago? What had his House done to upset someone that much? Sensing his disturbance, Nuiane rolled over and comforted him the best she knew how. Soon, all thoughts of assassins and strangers in the night vanished.

"Dammit," Knave muttered, glancing through the gaping maw of the hangar doors. He had decided to take a look at the Skycutter to determine what, if any, repairs it needed. More importantly, however, would be flight time. He knew the basics, and Mutant ships were notoriously easy to operate, mostly due to the simple minds they were built for.

Zanaya was nearby in the hangar, checking the fuel supplies and looked up at his remark. She followed Knave's gaze outside and saw the Thunderstrike swooping in for a landing. "Thundercats? What do they want?" she asked.

"Who cares? Let's just get rid of them," Knave replied. The battle with the Mutants had been too brief, just long enough to start his juices flowing but not long enough to satisfy his thirst for blood. The Thundercats, at least, wouldn't turn at the first sign of danger.

"We can't afford to make more enemies, much as I'd like to kill Thunderians," Zanaya started to point out, looking fixedly at Knave. She didn't need to voice the thought there was one of Thunderian heritage in particular that she would like to kill. Though he wasn't the brightest individual, Knave was able to pick up on the subtle inference and backhanded her hard, spinning her to the floor.

"Some Thunderians can kill too," he snapped. A momentary fear of harming his baby flashed through his mind, but he figured it was fairly safe. Zanaya rose to her feet and met him nose to nose.

"Anyone can kill, but I'm better at it."

"Some assassin you are, have you ever actually killed anyone?"

"Sleep lightly. I need you only until I find an alternative."

"And I need you only long enough to bear my child."

Hateful glare met hateful glare, neither wanting to show weakness in front of the other. Both were spared the shame when Tygra's voice called out from below. Asking if they were alright. "We'll settle this later," Knave said, pushing past her.

Zanaya fingered the knife at her hip. "No. I'll settle this," she murmured.

The Thundercats were waiting patiently at the bottom of the elevator, a sense of relief when it opened to reveal the two Lunataks. Neither one seemed to be injured, though Tygra could almost feel the tension between them. "Um, hi. We saw the Mutants leaving Dark Side and felt that we should make sure you're okay. The Mutants looked like they'd been through a fight and, given that we have a kinsman and a pregnant woman here..."

"We're fine," Knave said crisply, hoping that the Tiger wouldn't take the hint and would do something to provoke a confrontation. Tiger Thunderians were the most succulent of the Thunderian breeds, and it thrilled him to see such in front of him.

"Be that as it may, I can't help but feel that you would be better off staying with us. Pumyra here is a healer, and she could help your friend here with your pregnancy."

Zanaya eyed Pumyra sceptically. "Have you ever delivered a baby?" she asked.

"Well, no. Thunderian births are very rare and I never got the opportunity to take part in one, but I know the principles behind it," Pumyra explained a little sheepishly.

"Not to sound ungrateful, but I think I'm better off here for now. Psion births can be very tricky," she said, recalling the stories she'd heard. "If I change my mind, I'll remember that you offered."

The Thundercats shrugged helplessly; they weren't used to people being so stubborn about refusing their aid and weren't quite sure how to react. Seeing, ultimately, that there would be no changing Knave and Zanaya's minds they turned for the Thunderstrike. "If you do change your mind, you can contact us at the Tower of Omens," Lynx-O said, pausing. Then he climbed into the cockpit and fired up the engines.

"I think I just found my alternative," Zanaya whispered to herself.

Darius walked up and down the aisles of the quaint store he was in, admiring the various designer clothes hanging on racks and trying his best to ignore the hovering salespeople. He'd shopped at this store for years and had a good reputation with the owner, but he sometimes found the clerks a little pushy.

With Kaprenius' execution fast approaching, Tycho would need an appropriate wardrobe for when he attended, and naturally Darius volunteered to do the shopping for him. It was actually very easy, he had a good eye for fashion and his shape changing allowed him to mimic Tycho's body perfectly. A black shirt with dark purple trim caught his eye; the black was sombre enough for the occasion while the purple reminded people of his stature. It was also soft to the touch, a thought that made Darius tingle a bit.

Pushing intimate thoughts aside he took the garment into the change room and took on Tycho's familiar form. It was a little tight about the neck, but that could probably be modified. It also went nicely with the very dark purple pants he'd found earlier in the his excursion. Tycho would be very happy with the purchases. Reverting to his proper state, Darius collected the bundle of clothing and proceeded to the cash desk. As he reached for his money his personal communicator chirped. "Darius speaking," he said, handing the salesperson the required amount. "Oh, hello my Queen, how may I... I see... I understand. I'll be there at once." He closed the communicator unhappily. He and Tycho had foreseen it happening but had hoped to delay it. Luna had found out about Eluosi's claim and now she insisted on speaking to the duo in person.

It was later in the day than Shade expected, but she'd found that she needed more rest now than she had in years past. She cursed her aging body, but didn't dare allow the spirit to transform her into her younger form with Red Eye around. No. For now it must remain a secret. Which brought to mind the question of where he was, as she passed into the shared living room area in their guest quarters. Luna had been very generous with accommodations for her friends and this spacious two bedroom suite, located just steps from the palace, was quite lovely.

She rummaged through the fridge for something to eat and located her father's specialty. 'Edible Darkness'; a thick and gooey substance that was surprisingly healthy, though difficult to stomach more than a few spoonfuls. She hadn't had any in a long time, no else being able to get the consistency quite right. And then it occurred to her that her tastebuds had dulled with time. With Red Eye not around, could she experience the joys of eating like she used to? The spirit seemed to snicker at such a use of its powers, but understood. After all, it had been centuries since it had had taste buds itself. The contortions of her body seemed to take longer as she de-aged, but she barely noticed in her excitement.

Shade forced a spoon into the pot and took a small helping, sliding the spoon past her lips. Memories of her childhood flooded her mind, remembering being given it as a treat for doing well in school. Of picnics and special occasions. As she lowered the spoon from her mouth she caught sight of a note on the counter.

Red Eye wasn't in, it said, he was out with Chilla and wouldn't be back until dinner. A sudden pang of fear raced through her. Chilla had lured him away, but why? She needed to know. "Spirit, can you show me?" she asked aloud.

"I can, though my powers grow weak. I need more rest. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your father and open your mind to me. I will find him for you," the spirit replied. She did as it commanded, startled when she felt herself leaving her body. She saw it still standing below as she drifted through the ceiling of the building, her spirit guiding her movements. She turned and surveyed the city, finally seeing a mote of light not too far away. The spirit guided her essence towards it, settling them on one of the city temples, the one dedicated to Lunis - the goddess of warriors, fertility and the Icewalkers.

Chilla had been in this temple only once, and that had been before they'd gone to Third Earth for Luna. The original structure had taken a fair amount of damage during the riots shortly after they'd left and much had been replaced. It was still the same basic structure though. Pale blue and white walls adorned with frescos depicting the glories of battle and miracles of birth. At the heart was a spacious circular room with the traditional blood covered table. She felt Red Eye beside her shudder at the sight, reminded that the table was a place where many had given birth, but many more had been slain upon its surface. A statue of a pregnant warrior, sword pointed in challenge, stood near the table.

With a steadying hand on her arm, Red Eye followed her to some padded chairs to the statue's left and sat quietly next to her. She wasn't fully certain why she'd asked him to join her in this. She was a very private person in most regards and such a baring of the soul was uncommon. It was likely due, in part, to their common loss. Red Eye's wife. Her husband. Most other Icewalkers scoffed at her for taking only one mate, but she'd felt that Ren encompassed all the traits she needed in a man.

"Great goddess Lunis, who watches over all who fight. I ask your support in what I am about to do," she said to herself. She wanted Red Eye for emotional support, but he didn't need to hear what she had to say. "Luna is sending me back to Third Earth on another fool's errand and I would ask that I might serve my people and the crown well there. Reserve a place of honour for me and let me die with dignity that I might be re-united with Ren someday, but first allow me to send all my enemies to their graves."

She continued for many minutes, before sitting in silence, opening herself to any response the goddess might deign to give. An image formed. Four people standing in front of a beautiful city. She recognized herself immediately as the image solidified, the man beside her was Nitro. His bastard son, Knave, was next in line and a baby girl already clad in warrior's garb. Chilla wasn't certain what the vision meant but thanked the goddess nonetheless. She glanced over at Red Eye and nodded. She was ready to leave.

They enjoyed a pleasant mid-day meal and walked around the palace grounds. Chilla didn't really feel like being alone yet and, though they talked of many things, Red Eye knew well enough not to discuss what had happened in the temple, for which she was grateful. That was the nice thing about him, he knew her moods well enough to read them and didn't feel the need to use them for his own amusement. It was a shame, in a way, that he was the wrong species.

Shade returned to her body with a jolt. "My apologies, Shade. I am weak," the spirit within said. "I have pushed myself too far and I need rest. I do not think your father is in any immediate danger."

"Me neither," she said absently. She felt guilty for intruding on such a private moment. Chilla, it seemed, didn't bear Red Eye much ill will, and whatever praying she'd been doing was none of Shade's business. The ice woman was in pain, and that tore at Shade's heart. She knew what it meant to lose someone close to her. When first her father had gone missing she'd been devastated. She'd always been closer to him than her mother, more so when her mother re-married. The step-father had tried to be kind, but he wasn't Red Eye and she'd reminded him of the fact often. When their car had collided with another and the couple was killed, Shade had felt incredible guilt for not treating either better.

She wondered if that was the reason her own romances failed, she was harboring too much baggage from those days and was afraid to let them get close enough. Either way, it didn't matter; she was too old now, or was she? She had the spirit now, a creature that could restore her to youth. She needn't worry now that she could assume any form. It was tempting, on some level, but not yet. Certainly not until the spirit had recovered. Her bones and muscles aching, Shade walked to the couch and settled back down.

This had been his office once, Tycho thought as he entered the room Luna now occupied. She had changed little since her return, though the chair behind the desk was new as was one of the paintings on the wall. The woman herself held a sheaf of papers in one hand and was drumming on the desk with the others. She commanded them to take seats before her with an intimidating glower. The muscle behind that intimidation stood on guard to her left.

"How long have you kept this from me?" she asked, waving the papers in their direction.

They all knew what this was about, so there was no point in denying it. Tycho had, in fact, been dreading this very conversation ever since Eluosi's declaration had crossed his eyes. Luna was, probably justifiably so, angry and how she would vent said anger was something he had hoped to delay a little longer. "Well, your majesty," he said slowly, picking his words carefully, "we've known for a couple of days now. I was rather hoping that I'd be able to talk her out of this business before it got to you."

"I see. You thought I didn't need to know about a challenge to my throne. What else have you kept hidden from me?" she snapped.

"Nothing, my queen, I assure you," Darius said quickly. Judging by Luna's face, Tycho wondered if it hadn't been a little too quickly. He'd spent a long time trying to read the honesty of people by how they spoke and he rarely trusted quick answers.

"Darius speaks the truth. You're right, of course, that we should have come to you right away. But I honestly thought I could get through to her. She's just misguided. The Eluosi I knew would never want to see anyone hurt, even someone who hurt her. I just don't know what's come over her."

"A lust for power has come over her, that's all. She got a taste of it when you courted her and now she sees a chance to get more. Since you've obviously been unable to neutralize her in four days, I will deal with her myself," Luna said.

"No!" Tycho shouted, catching himself before he stepped forward. His mental calculations assured him that Amok would intercept him long before he got close enough to her. "I mean, that's what your husband did, killing his enemies and that touched off riots."

"My husband was an idiot. The people need to know who is in charge, but there is a right way to do things. Where my husband held public executions, I have sent for a specialist; someone who will make an example to all those with designs on my throne," Luna said. Theirs had been a marriage of convenience, a means to solidify their respective claims to the throne. There had never been much in the way of love or romance. Some affection, certainly a degree of friendship, but never love.

"Please, Luna, this isn't necessary. There are better ways..." Tycho began.

"I have given you two leeway these last two months because I was away so long, but sometimes the old ways work. Eluosi will die, and that's the end of it. If I ever catch either of you harbouring secrets from me, I'll use the old ways on you too. You are dismissed," Luna shrieked, sending both men scuttling out of the room.

That went well, Tycho thought bitterly to himself. The duo walked past the royal guardsmen at Luna's door and further on out into the courtyard. How could he make Eluosi and Luna see his view of things. Eluosi neither needed to die nor to carry out this litigation. Why couldn't these two stubborn women see that? And what would the consequences be? Tycho well remembered seeing the reports on the riots following King Piscaar's executions. Tycho's parents, probably fortunately, had been vacationing on the Graviton Moon at the time and chosen not to return until things quieted down. Would the populace accept such a blatant show of power from Piscaar former wife or would they believe that the same madness flowed through her veins too?

Unconsciously Tycho led his partner to his car and began driving, ignoring Darius' inquiries for the time being. He had to get to Eluosi's home and... then what? He'd warned her already that this was going to happen, and he didn't dare try and protect her from the assassin, did he? That would very likely result in his own death. In fact, the matter was taken entirely out of his hands for the time being. As his mind was pre-occupied with questions of what he should do, Tycho found himself colliding with another vehicle.

Darius had heard the expression that time sometimes went slowly. Such was the case when the two cars collided. Glass seemed to shower everywhere, twinkling in the light as it cascaded around him, there were scraping and crunching noises, and Tycho's expression changed from distant to pained. An automatic force field surrounded the prince, preventing serious bodily harm, so the changeling wasn't too concerned. As time snapped back to normal speed, Darius could see a crowd of people beginning to form around them. He emerged from the car and gave Tycho a quick once over to confirm that he was safe. Once this was established he approached the other vehicle.

The car had taken the hit side on, demolishing the passenger side. It was very fortunate that there had only been the driver inside. The driver in question was groggy, shaking his head of cobwebs, but seemed otherwise fine. Even as he stepped back, Darius could hear the sirens of the approaching security and paramedic forces. This close to the palace, they were always quick to respond.

Tycho, too, was emerging from the car, brushing the broken glass from his clothes. "By the gods," he groaned, "is everyone alright?"

The other driver emerged from his car, a heavy set Royal Lunatak who stared first at his car and then at Tycho with shock. "What in the Moons do you think you're doing?" he snapped, walking around the wreck and coming face to face with Tycho. "Just because you're highborn means you get to do whatever you want on these roads?"

"Sir, please calm down," Darius said, stepping between the pair.

"And what are you, his babysitter? People like you don't deserve to drive," the other driver snapped, shoving Darius out of the way. Ordinarily Darius would have responded with similar force but, with the proper authorities on their way and Luna already angry at them, he chose not to. Regardless, it seemed like the other man was content to vent his frustrations, as he began inspecting the damage.

Moments later the man would be taken aside by a police officer and questioned at length. Any relief Tycho may have felt as this happened was quashed by a pair of officers taking he and Darius aside and interrogating them at length about their version of the events.

Cameo had to admit that he found Gravitons amusing to be with. Certainly the way they talked about sex and food (often the one included the other) made Cameo feel uneasy, and the aromas emanating from their bodies bordered on the nauseating, but the way they seemed to let little bother them for long and their ability to concentrate when need be was comforting. Such was the case now as he, Tug Mug and Roly Poly sat in the cafeteria. Prince Tycho had decided that he would have a council to assist him on Third Earth. The four members of Luna's original crew and one representative from each moon would advise him and vote on decisions, with Tycho possessing a veto vote. The two Gravitons were poring over a list of names to represent their moon, and Cameo was listening in since he had nothing better to do.

"We could send Frazzle Dazzle. She's been on the Graviton council for twenty years," Roly Poly mused, a mug of gravy in one hand and a mug of beer in the other.

"She'd want to bring her husband and three kids. She's very attached. Are we taking kids?" Tug Mug asked the Icewalker hybrid, waving an obscenely long sandwich in the air as he did.

Cameo ducked the flying sandwich and answered. "Not in the first wave, I'd expect. Eventually there'll be a need for kids to produce a sustainable population."

"I wouldn't mind producing a sustainable population weeth Frazzle Dazzle," Tug Mug chortled. "Think I've got a chance eef we tell her to leave the husband at home?"

"Not likely, but you never know. What about Six Sticks or Red Bread?" Roly Poly said suddenly, pointing at the names on his list. "Both are brewery owner's sons. I'm sure Third Earth will need a distillery."

"Good point. I can't theenk of a Graviton that wouldn't jump at the business venture."

"Excuse me if this sounds rude, but I've always wondered. How do you guys get your names?" Cameo asked, flicking a piece of lettuce off the table.

"Why? What's so odd about our names?" the two Gravitons asked looking confused from each other to Cameo.

"Never mind. Forget I asked. More beer?" he replied, starting to rise.

"Sure!" they said in tandem.

It was quiet in the bedroom of Eluosi, a pleasant breeze whistled softly through the window as the woman herself sat at her desk writing out her opening speech at the coming trial. She didn't have too much against Luna, she just disagreed with her being on the throne. Luna's time was in the past, a past full of bloodshed and tears, a past that Luna was now trying to bring back by conquering a new world. Some distant part of her mind reminded her that Aristarchus wanted the same thing, but for some reason it was quashed before it could fully take shape.

She didn't realize it, but a telepath had been interfering with her brain, setting up mental barriers and glossing over Aristarchus' misdeeds. Instead she thought of how he was trying to help her. Her arm tingled a bit where the genetic engineers had been working, trying to coax her damaged flesh to come back to life. Aristarchus was also working on preventing her assassination at the hands of Luna's hired help, another reason to find the woman unfit for the crown.

Eluosi's parents had always been very strict about these things, you took care of things yourself when you had problems. That was half the reason Eluosi had organized protests and attended rallies. In fact, those were the same reasons that going through all this legal bother annoyed her, it was relying on a flawed system to do her work for her.

Her alarm chimed, reminding her that she had another appointment with her doctor to keep. Someday things would be back to normal.

Luna's fingers drummed rhythmically across the top of her desk, their staccato beat matching Tycho's heartbeat. "I heard about what happened," Luna said, her voice calm and even. Tycho had been around her long enough, though, to sense an underlying tension to it. "I trust you are healthy?"

"I am, my queen. Thank you," he replied, looking nervously at Darius to see if the changeling felt the same.

"Good. Because I can assure you that you won't be if I see you in this office again. You are aware that I have been under a great deal of stress lately getting things ready for your expedition to Third Earth. I also have had trouble sleeping of late and that has put me in a foul mood to begin with. There is a ship heading to the Graviton moon tonight, I suggest you be on it," she said, her voice growing more shrill with every passing word. It was dangerous when Luna spoke like that, especially if one was within easy striking distance from Amok. Tycho and Darius left without comment.

"Not yet," Zanaya thought to herself as she lazily checked the monitors of Sky Tomb. Ever since the Thundercats had made their way home, she had been going over and over in her head the positives and negatives of leaving Sky Tomb and moving in with those felines. Certainly it would be safer for her there, the cats were unlikely to let any harm come to her, fighting to their last breaths. She would want for nothing and they would wait on her hand and foot, she had no doubt, and that was why she didn't want to go there. Not yet. She suspected there was a finite amount of their smarm that her system could take, and that that amount would grow thinner the closer she got to her due date.

It would be best to wait a few more months, see if there wasn't some way to manipulate back into Knave's good graces, and then kill him at her leisure afterwards. She was, if nothing else, a survivor; she was accustomed to living on her own, and knew that it was only her current predicament that would hinder such plans. There was a clatter of noise behind her, and Zanaya whirled around in her chair to see what had caused it.

Evil. The creature looming before her radiated evil, she could taste the malice and smell the hatred. He was a large humanoid with blue skin, long claws extended from his finger tips and jagged fangs dripping with saliva grinned at her. She had read the reports on this one from the computer's database. "Broken bundle of bandages" and "miserable mummy" hardly seemed to encapsulate this being. Even the largest of the Guardians back on the Moons of Plundarr seemed dwarfed in size and power by this thing that was regarding her with glowing red eyes. Her legs suddenly felt weak under that stare, but she forced herself to remain standing.

"Who are you?" Mumm-Ra asked, finally breaking the gaze. "And where are the other Lunataks?" His tone indicated that there was no refusing to answer and that if he didn't like the reason, there would be consequences. Tug Mug's entry mentioned, in passing, that this was the one who had encased them in lava. A being capable of that could doubtless come up with worse.

"I am Zanaya of the Moons of Plundarr. I was left behind when a rescue party came and took Luna and her crew away," she said.

"What?!? She thinks she has escaped my clutches, no doubt, but she merely inconveniences me. Hmm... I had hoped to make use of her crew, but I suppose you will have to suffice. Come with me and do not fail me or being left behind will be the least of your worries," he said. He gripped her arm and they were flying away.

That night, Eluosi's slumber was interrupted by her alarm going off. She'd encouraged her family to spend the night elsewhere, as Aristarchus had discovered that her assassination attempt would be tonight.

She couldn't believe how different a man he seemed from the one in her hazy memories. So kind. So loving. He would protect her where Tycho could not. He had assured her that someone would come, and they would try to kill her, but that Aristarchus had everything under control, and this would backfire on Luna. She sat nervously on her bed, threading a wooden brush through her shoulder length hair, the simple act soothing her jangled nerves.

She barely heard the pane of glass break, and was startled to realize just how quickly someone had gained access to her bedroom. A thin man clad in black loomed in the darkness at the foot of her bed, pistol drawn. Her chest rose and fell as her breathing quickened, her heart hammering against her ribs so hard she feared it would burst. But he did nothing, said nothing, just stood there. Jerkily he moved, taking a sheet of paper from her desk he began to scrawl on the page.

Suddenly he whirled on her, his gun once again taking aim, and again he stopped. This time was different. She could make out his face and confusion was written all over it. "What's going on?" he asked aloud, his expression changing to horror as his arm holding the gun slowly raised and pointed the barrel at his forehead. "No! Stop it! You can't..." his words were silenced by a sharp bang, the back of his skull splitting open as the contents within were splattered across the wall.

Eluosi screamed.

"You lost him," Mystan hissed, displeased with his apprentice. Aristarchus had paid the Psion government a small fortune to take care of this job, and he had allowed Lura to take the lead. As a telepath, controlling a mind like that should have been an easy assignment. The two of them were staked out in the Brythago family backyard.

"I'm sorry," she explained. "I just..."

"Let your emotions get the better of you. I don't need to be a telepath to know that you dislike controlling people like that. But your displeasure and doubts weakened your hold on him. Emotions hinder our powers, rid yourself of them," Mystan said. It was fortunate that he had been watching her progress and had been able to telekinetically grab the assassin's body before he'd completed the job.

"But you said emotions were a good thing."

"I said they *can* be a good thing," he corrected. "If you had hated that man or loved Eluosi you could have used those emotions to strengthen your resolve. Emotions, of themselves, are neither good nor bad, but they can do both. You must learn how to shut your emotions out when they are not conducive to your efforts and how to channel them properly when they are. I, myself, prefer to dispense with them entirely on most occasions. Emotions cloud judgement and I choose to be clear of mind when I'm working. Do you understand?"

"I think so. I just don't understand why we're helping Aristarchus again, I thought the chief priests had decided not to support him," Lura said, trying to fully grasp the concept.

"We did, but we also know the value of money and keeping our options open. By helping Aristarchus we stand to gain should he come to power. There is precedent to what he's doing, and there's a slim chance it will work. Sullying Luna's reputation, too, can only benefit us. Come now, our work here is done and this Royal Moon air is too chilly for my tastes." Mystan rose and led the way back to their car, Lura following obediently behind.

The air around the Forest of Mists was damp, growing thicker as Knave drew closer to the opening that the Thundercats used to get through to Dark Side. He'd noticed that Zanaya was missing and suspected that she had finally up and sided with the felines. Since there was only the one way through, he was exploring the possibility of traversing it on foot.

To refer to the air as mist was a misnomer, soup was better. He was barely a few feet in and already he could barely make out his hand inches from his face. Only the rope he tied to a rock outside told him in which direction the exit was. To make matters worse, the mist interfered with most of his other senses; sound was muffled and all he could smell was the blasted fog. He suspected that if he were to open his mouth that's all he would be able to taste too. His only hope was that there were no creatures living in this murky land.

He backtracked out and sat down to think. The sun would be setting soon, he would need to either head home or press onwards before the light failed completely. He'd nearly made up his mind when he heard an approaching engine and the Thunderstrike burst through the crevice into Dark Side. It banked sharply and landed, the nearest pod opening up to reveal Lion-O. "We're taking Zanaya back to Sky Tomb, do you need a lift?" he asked, kindly.

A half dozen sarcastic responses came to mind, including a suggestion that the Thundercats had gotten sick of her quicker than he'd expected, but decided discretion was the better part of valour. "No. I've got a Skycutter here," he said, gesturing nearby.

"Well, if you need anything, just ask. We're always willing to help out kinsmen," Lion-O said, pressing a button to close the pod's lid. He watched them go for a minute and shook his head. Sure, there was plenty they could bring. Food, thundrillium, medical supplies. But doing so would mean opening a door to further relations.

Further relations would also mean looking at those dark recesses of his mind. The part that yearned for friendship from his other half. There had been that Cheetah woman, someone who had reminded him faintly of his mother. That boy who reminded Knave of himself at that age, so bold, so brash. That part of him really did want to accept their hospitality, but knew that he would never be fully accepted. Sooner or later they would find out all the things he'd done and they would be horrified. No, he would fit in with them just as much as he did with Lunataks. He just wasn't meant for better.

Still, if they were bringing Zanaya back then there was no need in his standing around at the Forest of Mists. He climbed on the Skycutter and returned home.

Space flight always made Darius feel more than a little uncomfortable. The Guardian program often involved taking native species and messing with their genetic code. Darius' had been a species that lived in a cave, being close to the earth. It was rare that they even used their wings for flying very high. Tycho, as usual, had fallen asleep almost immediately. The flight would only last three hours, but even so they had been granted the captain's quarters for some privacy.

Darius was busily watching the news, hoping it would act as enough of a distraction for him to forget where he was, when he was suddenly on the bed, shaking Tycho awake.

"Not right now, Darius, it wouldn't be polite to the captain," Tycho murmured, rolling over onto his other side.

"Wake up! It's important," Darius urged. Finally taking note of the tone of voice, Tycho sat up and followed his changeling to the monitor.

"...after a failed attempt to assassinate the former actress," a newscaster said, the Brythago estate shown in the background as a pair of security personnel carried a body out of the building. "We aren't being told much, except that the assassin confessed that he had been hired by our queen and chose to commit suicide rather than carry out his orders. We're hoping for a statement from Eluosi later today, and we have people trying to get word from Queen Luna."

"All of a sudden, I'm glad we're miles away from the palace," Tycho said, staring slack jawed at the images on the screen.

Darius nodded. "That sound you just heard was Luna screaming."

Psychro scowled. So his plan to woo Chilla wasn't working out, that didn't change who he was. That didn't mean he wasn't still the most handsome and virile man out there. Certainly his prowess wasn't in doubt, if the expression on the woman laying next to him was any indication. She was an Icewalker girl who claimed that she had been named after Chilla. Once he'd heard such a proclamation he had convinced her to wear an outfit similar to the great hero's and let him have his way with her. All through the frenzied coupling he'd noticed the differences; her hair was cut shorter, her lips just a little fuller, her breasts shaped differently, her waistline wider. It just wasn't the same and he'd barely been able to finish.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were supposed to fall for him, not the other way around. He would chase them for a while and finally they would succumb to his charms. Chilla seemed more resistant than any other. The poor girl next to him stirred, whispering the pet name she'd given him. "Chro-chro." He hated it, and allowed that to be another reason to leave her in the morning.

"Well?" Knave asked, walking into her bedroom. As usual he hadn't knocked, a trait Zanaya found irritating. It wasn't the specific act, but his attitude towards her as a whole that bothered her, like she was only the vessel in which his child lay, like an animal being fattened for the slaughter. She stood from her desk and stared coldly at him in response. "You were gone for several hours and come back escorted by Thundercats. Don't you think I deserve an explanation?"

She snorted. "No, but you're not going to leave until you get one if I know you, stubborn creature. Mumm-Ra took me. He said he needed me for some sort of incantation, an extra set of hands to help him sacrifice one of the Thundercats, Tygra I think his name was. The Thundercats came and rescued their friend, chased Mumm-Ra into his sarcophagus and brought me home. It's that simple. Now get out." The memories of that dark place made her skin crawl. Even the desert that should have reminded her of home was of little comfort. It felt unnatural.

"Are you giving me orders? I go where I want and do what I want," he said, walking close enough that she could touched him.

"That's what got me in this predicament in the first place," she said touching her belly. His mood shifted, she noted with dismay, as his eyes grazed possessively over her body. She feared, for a moment, that he would try and force himself on her again. He blinked and put his hand on her shoulder, not for any amorous reasons but to steady himself. She watched, confused, as he seemed to sway on his feet.

"We'll continue this later," he said, starting to stagger to the door. In that instant Zanaya realized what was happening. She'd hidden Thundrainium under her bed, it must be weakening him. She might never have a better opportunity to be rid of him. In a flash she drew her pistol from her desk and tried to fire it, to no avail. She couldn't seem to squeeze the trigger. Panicking, she pounced on his back, driving his head hard into the floor.

Zanaya turned him over onto his back and tilted his head. A clean kill was preferable in most instances, but a messy death was the way to go for one such as him. She yearned to feel his blood spraying across her face, to see that glimmer of life fading from his eyes as it drained away. She drew a slender but razor sharp knife from her boot and placed it against his throat, feeling the gentle pulse of the vein beneath her fingertips.

She couldn't do it. Her mind warred with itself, fighting to do the deed, finish the job, but she couldn't. Pain built in her skull and she flung the knife across the room. She rose and stared hatefully at the man, wondering what it was that was preventing her vengeance. There was only one way to find out, but it was dangerous and she'd never tried it before. Zanaya dragged the weakened Knave closer to the Thundrainium, bound him tightly, and locked him in her room. She couldn't risk him interfering.

Alluro's room was the one most likely to have what she needed, and she wasn't disappointed to find a makeshift prayer orb. Similar to his psyche club crystals, this would allow her to make the necessary journey to the realm of the gods.

There was a message waiting for him when he and Darius checked into their royal suite. Tycho wasn't surprised in the least, either, to learn that it was from Luna. As he expected it was a profanity laced tirade against both himself and Eluosi, and placed the blame for the failed assassination squarely on his shoulders, promising him a thrashing when he returned from the Graviton moon.

"Well, at least we have something to look forward to when we get back. Should be a great 'welcome home' party," Darius said, sitting cross-legged on the bed and going through their bags. There hadn't been much time for packing so there were bound to be essentials missing. Still, the Gravitons were friendly and would have many basic supplies in stock, unless there were cleaning supplies missing, those might have to be custom ordered.

"I thought balloons were more traditional," he replied wryly, "maybe she'll have simmered down by then."

"One can only hope. We'd better hurry up and get dressed. The itinerary says there's a banquet in our honour in less than an hour," Darius said, handing Tycho his outfit, a red and purple outfit that draped loosely around him.

The last time she had been in this place Zanaya had been summoned by the goddess Lunis, and had been told that her pregnancy was punishment for slaying an Icewalker. She had been told, at that time, that she was under the protection of another, and that was the only reason her life had been spared.

Choosing to dwell on a more positive memory, she then remembered the only other time she'd been brought here. As an initiate in the middle of the temple, her mentor had guided her on a spiritual quest to seek the blessing of the primary god the Psions followed: Cyris, god of all knowledge, of the Psion people in particular, and death. It was this combination of fields that he had used in guiding her to be an assassin. A protector of the Psions and murderer of others. She had served him loyally for years, and now would need to speak with him again.

Everywhere she turned she saw nothing but rock, stretching on for miles. Tiny stars twinkled in the air, their dim light providing enough light to see by. There was no point in wandering this vast expanse, the gods could control where things were and who could see them. She sat, back straight, head bowed, and waited. If Cyris was willing to speak, he would know she was there.

She felt his presence and nervously looked into his warm and friendly face. He appeared Psion, though that was probably to put her at ease. He stood proud and noble in robes of a shimmering white and purple material. He bore in one hand a book and adjusted the glasses on his face with the other. "I know why you have come child, though you already know the answers to your question. When a Psion mates there is a physical union but..."

"There's also a psychic union that binds the partners for the sake of the child. But he's not one of us," Zanaya said, trying to remember everything she'd learned in biology class.

"No he isn't. You are, and one partner is all that is needed to establish such a link. My poor child, as long as you carry his baby neither you nor he will be able to kill the other intentionally, it would be akin to killing yourself. Besides, he is part Icewalker and I would not be so hasty to kill another of their kind while Lunis is still angry with you. I have sacrificed much to keep you from my realm."

Though he radiated warmth and kindness, Zanaya could sense the undertone of his fearsome power and found it difficult to look at him for long. "But why me?" she asked, hoping she didn't sound ungrateful for the protection.

"Because I am a god of knowledge. I know all there is to know, including the role you are to play. The future is malleable, however, and things may change. Other paths may open to me and I may withdraw my protection. For now you are safe." Before she could speak again, she found herself back in Alluro's room, mystified over what she had been told.

Shade was asleep when Red Eye returned to his temporary home. She sat in an ornate armchair, head tilted to the side and a thin strand of saliva hanging from her lip. It pained his heart to see her like that. He cursed the mummy who had imprisoned him in lava, causing his family to continue to age while he remained in suspended animation. A father outliving their offspring was tragic enough without adding these peculiar circumstances. He walked over as quietly as he could and draped a blanket around her.

As the evening progressed Alluro found himself walking through the park, soaking in the sights before he was shipped off again to Third Earth. It was peaceful here, trees and flowers in full bloom filled his nostrils with their fragrances. Too soon the smell of sulfur and Thundrillium would be assaulting his senses. A man rose from a bench as Alluro walked near it.

"Greetings, Alluro," the man said, formally. Now that he was closer Alluro recognized him as Mystan Benekasbeel, one of the high priests of the Psion moon. Alluro greeted him politely and made to continue on his way, but something bid him stay. "I have been told that I will be representing the Psion people on Tycho's council."

"Ah, they are sending their disposable high priest," Alluro said with a chuckle. He'd been around the politics of the temple in his day to know how they operated. Mystan stiffened at the remark but managed to compose himself quickly.

"On the contrary. The high priests feel that having a strong foothold on Third Earth is critical to our needs," he lowered his voice conspiratorially. "If we control both Luna and Tycho we control the empire."

"Ha! If I couldn't control Luna, what hope do you have."

"Ah, we are on the same wave length too. You wish to control Luna and gain power for yourself."

"You don't need to be telepathic to know that. And for future reference, you might advise your pupil that she should be more discreet with her telepathy. It's not my forte but I might be able to pass on some tips if you're unable," Alluro said, staring in the direction that Lura was lurking.

She emerged from behind a tree, managing to look sheepish. Her master bristled at the remark, however. "The stories they told of you failed to mention your rudeness," Mystan said, trying to control his mounting anger. "I am far more capable of teaching telepathy than you, and I dare say that I am your superior in all other psionic disciplines. Remember your roots and stay out of my way."

Mystan walked briskly away, much to Alluro's amusement. It was a shame that some people couldn't see their own inadequacies.

Knave woke up in his own bed with a start, confused as to how he'd gotten there. He'd been talking to Zanaya when he'd felt weak. She'd attacked him, smashed his head into the ground. The fog began to clear from his mind only to be replaced by a cloud of anger. He grabbed his icepick and sprinted down the hall to her bedroom and burst in. She was standing in front of a mirror wearing her night clothes and brushing her short cropped hair. She turned at his entrance and stared wide-eyed at him.

"How dare you!" Knave growled. He lunged forward with blinding speed, claws slashing the air where she had been seconds before. She was camouflaged now, making it difficult to tell where she was, worse so now that she was in her room, where her scent pervaded everything. But it wasn't perfect, not to one with his keen senses. She brushed against the bed in her haste to get a weapon and he pounced again, barely missing an ankle as she dove away from him. "You hit me, it's only fair that I hit back." His rage had worked its way into a lather and he was beyond rational thought. She clubbed him in the back with her desk chair. He stumbled forward and received a kick to the back of the knees to send him to the floor again.

His mind told him where she was as she swung the chair downwards again. Blindly he reached out and managed to catch it before it could inflict more damage. He jerked it forward and felt her land on top of him. They wrestled across the floor until he managed to pin her. He was feeling the same weakness creeping up on him again and knew he had to finish this quickly. He brought his icepick up sharply and tried to drive it through her heart. But his arms wouldn't budge from that position. He struggled mightily to do the deed, spurred on by her burst of laughter. "Why won't you die? What have you done to me?" he said, his voice starting to falter.

"You can't kill me. How rich. When Psions mate, the man is bound to his partner mentally. He will protect her at all costs and cannot kill her," she retorted, glossing over the other side of the equation. "You'll never be able to kill me. Never."

"Imposs... Impossible..." Knave murmured collapsing. She easily rolled him off and wondered what she could do to him that wouldn't kill him.

Tycho groaned loudly as he sunk on to the bed, his stomach seeming to have grown three sizes over the last few hours. Gravitons were known for their feasts, arguing that a guest with an empty stomach was an insult to the host. There was certainly no insult today. To make matters worse was that there was another feast in a little over three hours when Kaprenius' execution was scheduled to take place. Darius, at least, had the advantage of being a shape changer and was able to disperse excess mass into the air. The changeling was currently getting Tycho's formal clothes ready to wear to this execution. Seeing his companion's discomfort, however, he approached and sat next to him, placing a hand over Tycho's chest, caressing it gently. Tycho eyed him keenly, observing his closed eyes and fierce concentration. He could feel the weight in his belly lightening and suspected that Darius was carefully absorbing some of the excess mass and dispersing it back into the air. "Thank you," he whispered when Darius finally relaxed.

"It's my pleasure, my liege," Darius replied, bending over and planting a kiss on Tycho's lips. And it was Tycho's pleasure to repay his friend's kindness, though time was limited, in the best way he knew how.

The feasting hall had been re-arranged in the last few hours. A section of tables had been pushed aside to make way for a small clear chamber. The walls of this chamber were see-through and made of a very hard substance. There was a small platform at the top with a staircase leading up to it from outside. This was where Kaprenius' execution would take place. The guests were starting to file in and the conversation consisted of debating the merits of the punishment. Nitro, for his part, thought that the death would be public and brutal enough to serve as a warning to others. Roly Poly, seated next to him, was looking forward to the execution with particular relish. He'd suffered many injuries at the hands of the Royal's Mutant escorts, not the least of which was mangling his hand beyond repair.

Tycho and Darius arrived about fifteen minutes before the festivities and settled into their assigned seats next to Roly Poly. Nitro exchanged pleasantries with the prince and took a sip of the beer he'd been provided. He disliked beer, especially of the Graviton variety, but had accepted it because it was expected.

A clash of cymbals announced the arrival of the first course of the banquet, to be served before the prisoner was brought out. A thick and creamy soup was placed before the Icewalker. Butter soup, one of their favourites. His hosts had been gracious enough, in light of his heritage, to serve his at room temperature. He found himself unable to eat the whole bowl and politely pushed it aside. He wasn't really here for the food anyway.

A second clash of cymbals announced the procession of both prisoner and a serving of fried tubers; the former in shackles, the latter with a creamy white dip. Nitro sampled one, watching as Kaprenius was carried up the staircase by a Graviton with very pale purple hair. Her complexion seemed a bit off to Nitro too, but he dismissed it as poor lighting. Kaprenius toppled forward into the chamber and tested the sturdiness of the walls. The Graviton hefted a custom designed gravity carbine and turned to Roly Poly.

"Prince Tycho, do you wish to speak before we proceed?" the head of the Graviton council asked. Tycho shook his head, so Roly Poly continued. "Kaprenius. You were found guilty of assaulting several members of the council, attempting to incite a revolution against the throne, and a failed attempt to murder the king at the time. The council pronounced a sentence of death. Does the condemned wish to say anything before sentence ees carried out?"

"Only that I wish I'd done more than mangle your arm, bastard," Kaprenius said defiantly.

"Noted. Very well then. Rathja?"

The Graviton at the top of the staircase aimed the gravity carbine at Kaprenius and enveloped him in a dusty red glow. There was no immediate effect, however, his mass was very slowly increasing. While he let loose with a string of profanity, a meat course was served to the guests. After fifteen minutes he sat down, his breathing becoming laboured. After half an hour he lay down, anguish written all over his face. After forty minutes he ceased breathing entirely. And after an hour he was little more than a bloody smear on the bottom of the chamber.

When it was decreed to be finished, Roly Poly gestured for the guards to take the chamber away. "Well," he said at last, turning to the assembly. "That was entertaining. Who wants dessert?"

"Well, that was entertaining. Who wants dessert?" Roly Poly said, as the television camera panned over the crowd of people. Watching from closer than the Graviton could imagine a pair of figures sat watching the broadcast.

"I'll give that walking tub of lard dessert," one grumbled to the other, launching a pillow from the couch he was on at the fat Lunatak's head.

"I believe a tub of lard *is* a dessert," his companion said. "You should calm down. Soon we'll be back with Aristarchus and all his enemies will fall. Including Roly Poly and prince Tycho."

"You're right. I will squeeze Roly Poly's neck with my own hands for what he has put me through. I want the last thing he sees to be my face. The face of a man he thought dead. The face of Kaprenius."

On to Expansion and Conquest - part three
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