Expansion and Conquest
The black pyramid on Third Earth, located deep in the heart of the desert of sinking sands, reeked of decay and was full of things best left untouched. Nestled near the centre of the onyx structure was a cauldron of gently bubbling liquid of unknown origins. Surrounding the cauldron were four hideous statues, and two stone worked paths. The first led to the exit, assuming the master of the pyramid allowed you to reach it, and the latter led to a well worn sarcophagus.
It was within the crypt that Mumm-Ra rested, re-charging his powers to once again reclaim dominion over the people of Third Earth and be rid of the Thundercats once and for all. Under any other circumstance it was unwise to disturb the ancient demon priest, but his one companion in un-life knew better. He knew that such portents as the cauldron now revealed should be made known to his master. Ma-Mutt, faithful undead hound of Mumm-Ra placed his front paws against the lid of the sarcophagus and let out an insistent bark. Gradually an eerie red glow emanated from within, as the lid slid to one side.
"This had better be important, Ma-Mutt," he growled. His latest setback had been humiliating and he needed more time to lick his proverbial wounds. The dog barked again, prancing from one foot to another, inching closer to the cauldron, urging his master to follow. Reluctantly, knowing he would get no further rest until he investigated, Mumm-Ra approached and peered into the suddenly still surface of the pool.
No longer did he see the foul liquid, but the sky above. Several ships were approaching and beginning a steady descent. "What is this? Visitors to my planet?" he said, more to himself than Ma-Mutt. He waved his hands over the surface and the scene shifted to one of the ships. "Lunataks! So, they've returned, have they? How foolish of them to do so. Wait, perhaps they can be of some use. The Thundercats don't stand a chance against such a formidable force. Yes. Once they have eliminated the Thundercats we can encase them all in lava, as I did once before. But first... Ancient spirits of evil, transform this decayed form to Mumm-Ra the everliving!"
Ma-Mutt yelped as the statues raised their arms, their magical energy transferring to Mumm-Ra, causing him to grow larger, more powerful. When the transformation was complete, he rose swiftly into the air and soared through the roof of the pyramid.
All across Third Earth people took notice of the objects in the sky. Warrior Maidens paused their hunting, Berbils looked up from their harvesting, the Mutants trembled, recognizing the markings on the ships. The Thundercats had been warned by Mandora to expect company and weren't surprised to see them.
In Sky Tomb, the two Lunataks who had taken up residence were startled to see the armada landing nearby. Knave and Zanaya, a half-breed Icewalker/Cheetah and a Psion, were in the control room watching with fascination. They'd been upset at the initial abandonment and weren't sure what kind of reception to expect. Ultimately they decided that they couldn't fight such a force, and to go greet them.
"That was a better landing than last time," Chilla muttered quietly to herself. She, Mystan, Lura, and a collection of Icewalker soldiers had been chosen to take a shuttle to Sky Tomb on the assumption that those inside were less likely to attack kin. Chilla was still feeling rattled from her experience with Psychro earlier in the day. It had taken six people to tear the two apart, and even after his pleas of innocence she wasn't entirely convinced. She'd dealt with Psions before and they would lie about the colour of the sky just to get out of trouble. Being forced to work with another one now didn't help matters, especially the knowing look he was giving her.
"Had a rough night?" he asked suddenly. "Brawling, from what I hear."
"I don't want to talk about it," Chilla snapped, as the pilot deftly landed the shuttle.
"Fair enough. Tell me about Knave then. It's strange, I thought you Icewalkers were above interspecies breeding, but then that's the point, your son was above another species. You must be so proud of your boy, bringing honour to the family and all that," Mystan said, ignoring the wide eyes of Lura. Chilla whirled around, a ball of fire forming between her hands. "Go ahead, hurt me. That would be two people you've attacked in the last few hours. I'm sure that would impress prince Tycho. If it makes you feel better, I'm told Knave may be sleeping with Zanaya. That practically makes us family." The fireball was extinguished and Chilla pointedly ignored Mystan's remarks.
The briefing on their mission indicated that Zanaya was a niece of Mystan's. After the assassin's failed attempt on Chilla's life, the Icewalker could care less if the woman lived or not. No, that wasn't wholly true. She wanted Zanaya alive long enough to show her how it was done. And Mystan had no idea how close he was to the truth; her vision had hinted at an offspring, a baby girl. The only logical explanation was that it was Knave and Zanaya's.
A startled gasp caused Chilla to snap out of her reverie to glower at Mystan. A sensation, like when one's hat has blown from their head, passed through her mind and she realized what had happened. Before anyone could react, Chilla's fist had connected with Mystan's face, knocking him to the ground. When he tried to regain his footing, he found that he was covered up to his neck in ice. "If I ever catch you rooting through my mind again you will regret it," she snapped, brushing aside the guards who moved to hold her.
Knave and Zanaya were emerging from Sky Tomb as it was, and the truth would be obvious, but it was the general principle. She, like all her kind, didn't take kindly to the telepathic abilities of the Psions. It was cheating. It was treacherous and without any honour at all. The guards that accompanied them would take her side on the matter. As she walked towards her grandson she could hear one of the men freeing Mystan from his icy prison and then all eight hurried to catch up.
"Greetings, sire Chilla," Knave said, kneeling as befitting his low rank. "I was hoping you'd come back."
"We did. Queen Luna has decided to colonize Third Earth and sent us to bring you and Sky Tomb to the new city," the woman replied, noting the swelling of Zanaya's belly.
"Chilla's correct. Does Sky Tomb have enough power to fly?" Mystan asked.
"As long as it's not far, I think there's some Thundrillium in the reserves," Zanaya answered, avoiding her uncle's eyes. They would speak later about her situation. Together, she and Knave led the way into the fortress.
As Mumm-Ra soared through the air, swallowing the miles between him and the Lunatak armada, his body gradually became transparent becoming both invisible to the naked eye and intangible, allowing him to pass through the hull of what appeared to be the flag ship. He drifted unseen through the decks, musing to himself how easy it would be to slaughter them before they realized he was there.
Crew members were scurrying about performing their mundane tasks. Most of them seemed to be of the same sub-species as Luna, though there was the occasional other breed. Mumm-Ra noticed this was especially true as he arrived on the bridge of the ship. An Icewalker male stood at attention at the rear while a pair of Royals sat at the main controls. A man who appeared to be the leader was conferring quietly with a Graviton and a strange green creature with wings. Mumm-Ra had never seen his like before and made a note to watch this one closely so he could learn its powers.
To one side were two individuals that Mumm-Ra had seen before; Alluro and Red Eye. The treacherous Lunataks dared return? He looked forward greatly to their deaths. Suddenly, the demon priest realized he was being watched. Impossible! None should be able to pierce his camouflage. And yet
A darkling woman, stooped with age, stared at him with narrowed eyes. The very sight of her caused a flash of remembrance in Mumm-Ra's skull, though it was like grasping at water, he couldn't get a firm grip on the reason he knew her. Well then, there was no need to maintain the deception. He began cackling and revealed himself to the startled Lunataks. Weapons were drawn, and the Icewalker took in a sharp breath, but the leader stayed their hands.
"You must be Mumm-Ra," he said, matter-of-factly, though the ancient one could sense the man trembling. "I am Tycho, prince of the Lunatak Empire and governor of the city of New Lunis on Third Earth."
"I am indeed Mumm-Ra. I have been called many things in my time; demon priest, ever living, ruler of all of Third Earth, destroyer of cities and taker of lives. There are none that can withstand my powers, and that includes your precious empire,"" he said, towering over the smaller man, his eyes glowing a bright red, all designed to create maximum terror.
"Except for the Thundercats." That was Alluro, adding another reason to Mumm-Ra's lengthy list of reasons he should die.
"A minor setback, Alluro. Were I not preoccupied with more trivial matters I could indeed reduce their pathetic Cat's Lair to dust and make the Thunderian race extinct."
Tycho gestured as Alluro was about to speak again and the Psion obeyed. "Most powerful Mumm-Ra, we know that you are powerful and we both fear and respect you. Indeed, we were hoping to meet you to negotiate a deal. We will take care of the Thundercats for you, and all we ask in return is to allow us to live peacefully in Dark Side. Third Earth is more than big enough to accommodate our two peoples; we would naturally be subservient to you."
Mumm-Ra disliked the man. He was too much the diplomat and politician, using his tongue to worm his way around problems. Luna, at least, would have argued longer and possibly threatened him. He also knew that as soon as the Thundercats were defeated that Tycho would turn his armies on himself. Still, it was what he had been wanting. The Lunataks would battle the Thundercats, and he would destroy the weakened victor.
"In fact, we even have a plan. We intend on going to the Thundercats and inviting them to join us for a peaceful discussion. Once we've lulled them into a false sense of security, we'll attack them," Tycho said.
The ancient demon priest chuckled. The plan would work. The Thundercats were far too good and peaceful to resist an offer like that. Peace at all costs was how they operated, and every evil person could be redeemed. Yes, the plan would doubtless work. "Very well, Lunatak. An alliance would be beneficial to both of us. You may govern Dark Side as you please, but you will always answer to me." He winked out of sight again, drifting up through the ceiling and vanishing into the night. And to ensure that they would co-operate he would watch them in the magic cauldron.
"That went better than I expected," Tycho muttered, watching the vacant space where Mumm-Ra had stood only moments before. He'd heard various reports on the monstrous being from all of Queen Luna's former crew, but none of them had quite captured the horror and power of this being. He wondered suddenly whether Mumm-Ra had even left and waved a hand through the area.
"Yes, well, I suppose you'd better assemble your expedition," Darius said, ever the practical one. "I'm going to go file a report on this for posterity." A subtle look, carrying the kind of communication possessed only by long time friends and lovers, told Tycho that the plan was still in effect. Mumm-Ra wouldn't see it coming.
The elation radiating through Shade's body was astounding. The spirit within seemed overly pleased by the confrontation with Mumm-Ra, a fact that baffled the Darkling woman. If anything, she'd have thought, the encounter would have served as a reminder of the power they were dealing with. Even odder was that she seemed to have been the only one who could see Mumm-Ra entering and leaving the ship. She'd initially chalked this up to her Darkling heritage, but even her father had been surprised to see the demon priest finally show himself. Mentally she poked the spirit.
"I know his power, I can almost taste it, and I find it lacking," the spirit said, seeming to ooze with confidence and pleasure. The sensation was almost intoxicating.
"You can defeat him?" Shade had to stop herself from asking the question aloud. If Mumm-Ra knew about her spirit friend that might be an advantage lost.
"I can do more than defeat him. Once I charge my own powers a little more," the spirit whispered, seeming to sink back into her. There would be plenty of time to mull over his words. The assorted Lunataks had been given specific job assignments, Shade would work in the kitchens doing more menial work, out of consideration to her advanced age.
Walking through the halls of the royal palace on the Royal Moon of Plundarr was nerve wracking. Cameo was a ranking person on the moons, responsible for the fleet of ships that comprised part of the army, meaning that he often found himself in this very building reporting on the activities of his forces and answering any questions Luna might have. But those were ordinary meetings with the queen, scheduled into his week. They were safe and predictable. Cameo liked it when these things were predictable, because it meant that everything was running smoothly as it should.
A late night summons from the queen, demanding his presence in her office, did not constitute 'safe' or 'predictable' in his books. If anything they set him further on edge. It wasn't that long ago that he and Amok had been kidnapped and sent to a Mutant prison cell. He'd suffered brutally at the hands of those foul smelling Mutants and he didn't care to go through that again. The door to the office opened even as he approached and Cameo watched one of his pilots go out. The man shook his head and rolled his eyes in the direction of the queen, wishing Cameo the best of luck talking sense into her. Now Cameo was afraid.
"Greetings Royal Captain of the Fleet," Luna said. She'd used his title. That couldn't possibly be a good sign. "Come. Sit. We have business to discuss."
Unseen by anyone, a small insect swooped through a gap in the door to the outside world, racing towards the Forest of Mists.
Being a skilled telekinetic, Mystan had been assigned to help move pieces of scrap metal from one location to another. The 'Promise' was slowly being disassembled to build the foundations of the first buildings. It was long and tiring work, so he felt no guilt about taking a break in his quarters. The rest also allowed him to take care of personal business. Even though he telepathic skills weren't his strong suit, he could veritably taste the nervousness emanating from Zanaya, along with a very faint trace of hunger from her womb. Foetuses were difficult to read, having only very basic needs.
He let his niece stew a little longer, taking a long quaff of water. "You failed your mission," he finally said, flatly. "Nitro still lives. Chilla still lives. Knave still lives, and has even gotten you pregnant. Your reputation is going to suffer," he finally said, meeting her gaze.
"I know. What do the elders want me to do?" Zanaya said, to her credit accepting her failure and not making excuses.
"Redeem yourself. I won't be able to confirm this with them, but we are still working on weakening our enemies, especially the Icewalkers. Your bond won't allow you to harm Knave, but there are plenty of others you can. It wouldn't be prudent yet to kill, but watch for openings, learn any secrets you can, especially about Chilla. She's become too dangerous and has insulted me personally." Mystan glanced at his wall clock, he had another ten minutes before he needed to return to his work.
"I won't fail the elders again," Zanaya said, bowing her head.
Tycho had seen topographical maps of the region, but even still was surprised at just how wild and untamed Third Earth was. He had selected a slow moving shuttle for his small delegation to take, intentionally taking their time in wending their way to Cat's Lair. They had to give Darius enough time to get there first and explain the plan. Mumm-Ra, assuming Alluro's assertion that he'd be spying on them was right, would be watching the wrong envoy. Darius would speak to the Thundercats about their plan and hopefully convince them to help.
He'd chosen bring four others with him, delegates from each of the moons. Enough to provide him with defence if he needed it, but not so many that it would cause alarm in the Thundercats themselves.
The shuttle passed silently over the Fire Rock Mountains, a region so toxic to Thunderians merely smelled off to the Lunatak contingent. Soon enough, he thought, there would be a city nearby this very region, the perfect defence against those same Thundercats, should they decide to attack.
Armed with a cutting torch Psychro attacked a wall with vigour. This particular room had once been part of the bathrooms. Another team had already been through and disassembled the toilets to use in one of the new structures. Once the last cut had been made he stepped back and waited for a thick Graviton to blast the wall with his gravity carbine, making it easier for the two of them to transport.
This kind of work made Psychro happy, especially after the week he'd had. Attacked and beaten by Chilla twice, this was the kind of activity that allowed him to vent his frustrations without hurting anyone. And what was he so upset about? A woman? That had never bothered him before. Women had turned him down, heck he'd even been hit by them once or twice. Chilla was different. He'd finally thought he was finding someone he could love, not just make love to. If anything, this whole experience should have been liberating. She'd made her intentions crystal clear. She wasn't interested in dating him. End of story. It was time to cut his losses and find someone else. That's what he would do, redeem his masculinity in his own eyes, find some new woman to seduce.
The Graviton across from him, holding the near weightless piece of metal, backed towards the door, and the two carted it outside with the rest of what had been salvaged thus far. There wasn't much yet, but they'd only been working about four hours, and the outdoor team had barely done much in the way of foundations for the new buildings. The priority was digging a spot where they would place Sky Tomb. A completed command centre and future home to the higher ranked Lunataks. Near it would be the military training grounds, barracks, launch pad and a hospital. Residential would come after that and then the other assorted buildings that make up a city.
Psychro hoped that there would be a decent bar built, one with plenty of beautiful young women. Ironically, the Graviton was thinking the same thing.
Lion-O didn't like any of Darius' plan. In fact, the deception he was being asked to take part in went against the 'truth' part of the Code of Thundera. But there were circumstances where the code could be ignored, and he suspected that this was one of them.
Darius had shown up a little more than an hour ago, speaking of the Lunataks making peace with the Thundercats and staying out of trouble, in exchange for assistance in permanently defeating Mumm-Ra. Certainly, for the greater good, destroying Mumm-Ra would be helpful, and allies could always be useful. He also knew that Mumm-Ra was doubtless spying on the Lunataks as they traversed closer in their shuttle. Pumyra had signalled from the Tower of Omens that she had seen their vehicle emerging from the Fire Rock Mountains. But a niggling voice, one that sounded suspiciously like Jaga's cautioned that the Lunataks had yet to prove themselves entirely trustworthy, and were doubtless plotting to wipe out the Thundercats once the business with Mumm-Ra was done. They wouldn't be content to stay within their borders for very long.
Once the initial conversation was over, Darius had shape changed into an insect again and gone whizzing back to Dark Side.
"Hail, Lion-O, lord of the Thundercats," Tycho said, stepping from the shuttle and walking to the drawbridge. "I am Tycho, prince of the Lunatak Empire and governor of the city of New Lunis on Third Earth. It is an honour to meet someone who is so highly spoken of."
"Ho, Tycho. I am Lion-O, and these are my friends, Panthro, Tygra, Cheetara, Wily Kit and Wily Kat," the Thunderian replied. Snarf was in the control room but doubtless monitoring things. He'd brought his entire contingent out, just in case.
"And these are my aides. Paeder, Stalker, Lura, and I believe you already know Tug Mug," Tycho gestured to each in turn. The first two had been carefully chosen as his military specialists, to analyse the visible defences of Cat's Lair, Lura had been chosen to give light mind readings and relay his commands if necessary. Tug Mug was chosen to acknowledge that the Thundercats' old enemies were indeed present. "I have come with an offer of peace. Our peoples have warred for far too long, many lives lost. Your people are near extinction and to lose such a race is saddening. Therefore, I would like to invite you and your friends to our new home tomorrow evening. We will show you a feast like you have never seen, with the finest delicacies of Lunar cuisine, and cement our new friendship."
To their credit, the Thundercats managed to appear surprised by the offer, some being better actors than others, "This is truly a surprise, prince Tycho. We would be honoured to join you," his words picked carefully to acknowledge their alliance against the demon priest.
"Excellent. I'm happy to hear it," Tycho said, smiling broadly. It was a warm and inviting smile, and Lion-O believed that it was an honest one, that Tycho was genuinely pleased to have made new friends. "Until tomorrow then."
For what he believed was the first time in his life, even the presence of his girlfriend Psikaris could not lighten Cameo's mood. He stomped from room to room, hastily throwing a few possessions into his bag. She'd listened to him vent for half an hour already about the special assignment Luna had given him, a last minute trip to Third Earth with special cargo. The plan was ridiculous. It wouldn't work. Psikaris gave up listening to the same arguments and went back to her reading, pausing only to kiss him goodbye.
The spirit within Shade pulsed, sensing, tasting the outside world. This planet was exactly what he had been looking for, and he couldn't be happier. Wicked thoughts came to it and it seeped back into Shade's consciousness. "You know, Shade, you've been enjoying all the treasures of your youth through me," he whispered. She was resting in her quarters as the evening progressed. Dinner had gone off without a hitch and she'd been able to escape early. Her aching body could only tolerate so much, and she yearned to become her young self again. But with a battle against Mumm-Ra coming she didn't want to tax the spirit on frivolous matters, especially with one of her roommates, a Darkling named Eclipse sleeping in the room. With the one starship being taken apart, the displaced inhabitants had to find spaces in the other ships. It seemed silly to have this large suite for just herself and her father.
"I have. I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to taste, to run, to do all kinds of things and not feel pain in my muscles," she said to herself.
"You have done all these things, and I have done them with you. But there is one pleasure you have ignored. The pleasures of the flesh." Shade suddenly hoped Eclipse wouldn't look in her direction with her goggles on. She would see the blood rushing to her face in embarrassment. "How long has it been?"
The spirit knew damn well how long it had been. It knew her thoughts. It knew her life. That didn't help. "Too long," she finally conceded. The thought *had* crossed her mind, but it would feel odd with the spirit watching.
"I wouldn't watch," the spirit's voice soothed her, its presence seeming to caress her body causing a slight shiver to run down her spine. "In fact I encourage it because it fits in to our plans. To harm House Iespyk and protect your father." It had her full attention now. "Psychro of House Myntaello. He is the perfect ally to use, bitter and angry against Chilla we can use him to harm her."
"Psychro? An Icewalker? Yuck," she said, catching herself before she said it aloud.
There seemed to be a chuckle that rippled through her, like a breeze through the leaves of a tree. "I live within you, remember? I know your innermost thoughts. You find him handsome. You even stared at his rear when he was getting his food. Besides, you've heard all the stories about him. If you're going to have casual sex, why not get it from the best?" Shade shook her head, amazed that the spirit was being so persistent on the subject. "I'm just in a good mood, and I want you to feel the same pleasure I feel."
"Fine. We'll do it," she sighed, moving to the door of their room. She waited until her infrared vision told her there was no one in the hall and stepped out. The change was instantaneous, wrinkles melting away and curves forming in all the right places. Enhanced in all the right places too, she noted, wrinkling her nose.
"I know his tastes," the spirit responded to the unasked question. "You'll find him in the mess hall.
Even though he didn't believe Mumm-Ra would still be watching them, Tycho had decided to hold a meeting with his council to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Thundercats and the tentative plan on how to defeat them. It was all very practical, and most of it useless. In truth, they'd been going over the plans for a long time, and their idea for turning a feigned attack on the Thundercats into an all out assault on Mumm-Ra's pyramid was firmly in place.
Darius had indicated, through code, that he had relayed the plan to the Thundercats and that they would readily participate. It would be a fine line between play-acting and realism if they wanted to keep Mumm-Ra in the dark.
"...and cannot swim unless he's invisible," Stalker concluded. "We're not likely to be near any water sources, but it may prove useful. The Darklings will be especially helpful in finding Tygra if he does use his invisibility."
Tycho shook his head. All this fuss and bother, and chances were high that they wouldn't be fighting the Thundercats for another few months. Still, knowing their abilities might help in using them against Mumm-Ra. Tygra's invisibility, for instance, assuming that the Thundercats were willing to take direct orders from the Lunataks.
"The Mutants also claim that he can make illusions," Tug Mug piped up. "But then, one never knows whether the Mutants are telling the truth or not. We certainly never saw it."
"No, but illusions are similar enough to invisibility that we can't discount the possibility," Stalker replied. The Darkling, feeling the subject of the Tiger was finished gradually moved on through the remaining Thundercats, concluding with Lion-O.
It was with the leader of the Thundercats that there was the most debate from Luna's original Lunataks. The main abilities were noted, but the Sword of Omens had many question marks. They had seen it perform dozens of tricks, from flight to energy blasts, from making shields to fixing things. It was rumoured to have even more abilities too. Here Tycho paid particular attention. This was a powerful artifact that, hopefully, could someday be turned into a weapon for the Lunar Empire. It couldn't be used to commit evil deeds, but that depended greatly on one's perception of good and evil.
Tycho, like most Lunataks, didn't see himself as particularly evil. He'd done things he regretted, and that others might have called evil, but they had been causes he believed in. Was it evil to kill a man? In most cases it was, but if you killed him to save others, was it noble or still evil? At the very least he figured it would be interesting to ask the sword these questions. When he figured the meeting, and general arguing, had gone on long enough he released everyone to go relax. There was plenty of work still left to do.
Shade scanned the mess hall, searching for her man. It was largely empty at this hour, most Lunataks being too exhausted to do much more than curl up in bed after all the work to bother. She felt a strange blend of emotions as she looked around, ranging from nervousness to excitement. It had been far too long since she'd even thought about sex. It wasn't quite so much that she saw herself as too old for it, but that she couldn't be bothered to find someone her own age, develop a relationship, and then move to that stage.
Psychro was at a table with a few other Lunataks, drinking. She saw an empty chair beside him, grabbed a mug of beer, and hastily approached. If she weren't trying to seduce him, the look on his face when he saw her would have made her laugh out loud. His eyes almost bulged out of his head and, she surmised, they weren't the only thing bulging. "Do you mind if I sit here?" she asked politely. The companions at the table each answered immediately and she knew that if she hadn't had her sights set on this one, that any of them would have taken her home. But she knew that Psychro was different. He was the kind of guy who liked a challenge. He could almost assuredly have any woman he wanted, so when they offered themselves to him it became too easy.
"Be my guest," Psychro replied finally, as she settled on to the chair she made sure she brushed ever so slightly against his shoulder. "We're just talking about the work we did today. Where did they assign you?"
"I was helping dig the hole for Sky Tomb," she replied, smiling warmly at him. The spirit had suggested the work locale, so she assumed it somehow knew where to say. The last thing she needed was to be caught in a lie by one of these gentlemen.
"I'm impressed. That was some hard work done down there," Psychro said. "You look like you barely broke a sweat."
"It's working," the spirit whispered. "He's imagining trying make you sweat." She was about to question it how it knew what he was thinking when she felt a hand on her thigh. Shade's eyes flicked down to the hand and looked at his eyes. She could see the lust written there.
"Yes, well, I'm tired as it is. I figured I'd have a quick drink, go for a bit of a walk and go to bed," she said, making sure that her expression indicated that her plans could change if there were better ideas.
"Which way you heading?" one of the others at the table, a heavy set Darkling asked. She felt Psychro's hand tense and couldn't resist a sidelong glance at him, with the barest hint of a smirk on her lips.
"I thought I might see what the construction area looks like in the night," she said.
"That's a dangerous area," Psychro jumped in before the Darkling could offer his protection. "Lots of holes and sharp objects in the area. Tell you what, I'll go with you. My barracks are in that general direction."
The Darkling was about to protest, but Shade saw his eyes staring at the table for a second. He shut up at once, resigned that he wasn't going to get the girl. She realized that he must have been using his infrared vision and seen what Psychro was busy doing. He was getting dangerously close to her most intimate parts, truth be told, and it was all she could do to stop from getting too excited. "I would like that," she said, "you're so kind."
"There's nothing I wouldn't do for a lady," he replied, reluctantly moving his hand away from her crotch and taking her arm instead. Slowly the two made their way out of the mess hall.
Chilla was stunned. Desperate for some rest in her assigned quarters within Sky Tomb, where most of the higher ups were being stationed, she had caught a glimpse of Psychro and some floozy sneaking beneath the landing struts. She felt outrage and jealousy, for some obscure reason. She certainly wasn't dating Psychro by any stretch of the imagination, but she'd started having second thoughts about turning him down. She'd attacked him for what she was starting to believe were unfounded reasons, and had been considering offering a date as an apology. But now? To see that he was able to cast her aside like a used handkerchief for some bimbo was just a slap in the face. She squared her shoulders and moved to her room. No, Psychro had just lost any chance he had with her.
He was impressed, and by the noises she'd been making only moments ago she was too. Psychro never had any doubts about his charm or his lovemaking skills, though they'd taken a beating with every rejection Chilla had sent his way. The Darkling woman, she'd called herself Munara Darken, had been so fantastic in every way that he was tempted to try and seek her out again in a day or two. She deserved that much for bolstering his ego a bit.
She was curled against him, a thin piece of sheet metal the only thing keeping the two of them from laying on hard, broken rock. He ran his fingers through her hair, amazed that any woman could so perfectly match his physical ideal of a woman. "That was better than the stories say," she murmured into his neck.
"I told you there was nothing I wouldn't do for a lady, even exceed my own reputation." His words were smug, but she found them charming regardless. She felt relaxed and complete. That make out session was exactly what she had needed, and it felt even better than she remembered it.
Even still, their snuggling would have to be cut short. If someone noticed they were missing after curfew, a search party might be sent looking for them. Shade knew that it would be impossible to explain who she was without alerting people to her true nature. Alternately it would be equally hard to maintain the identity of Munara, given that there was no such person. She carefully untangled herself from Psychro and dressed. He pulled her down again and planted a kiss on her lips. "I'll see you around," he whispered.
"Not likely," she thought quietly to herself. Not unless she felt the need again.
Acquiring a private bedroom was next to impossible at present, given the need to find space for a ship load of passengers, so Mystan had resigned himself to sharing his room with four others, one of whom was in the mess hall at present. Lura, naturally, was with him; as his apprentice she followed him wherever he went as necessary. Zanaya was another logical choice, as she was family. Friandis was a young pyrokinetic. He had advanced swiftly through the ranks on the basis that his skills were rare among Psions, and the council liked keeping people like him happy. Mesmir, the dream walker, was the last.
There was a knock at the door and instinctively he looked to Lura. "It's Knave," she said, concentrating her powers for half a second. "He's not angry, he's looking for Zanaya."
"Stay out of sight," Mystan said, turning to his niece. Once she'd disappeared into the bathroom Mystan opened the door, looking contemptuously at the hybrid. Zanaya's pregnancy with this wretch would be the scandal of the decade, it would cost him personally in the eyes of the council and hurt her reputation forever. The more distance they put between father and mother the better. "What do you want?" he said, levelly. His tone and posture indicated that regardless of what he wanted, Knave wasn't getting it.
"I need to see Zanaya. I was told she's staying here," Knave said. Mystan recognized the signs of tension rippling through the youth's body; like some kind of primitive animal.
"She is, and you're not."
Knave's eyes narrowed, "Why not? She's mine, and I insist on seeing her," he said, the hint of a growl low in his throat.
"She's yours? I didn't realize she was property, but then I forgot that you Icewalkers are possessive like that towards your mates. Let me say this so that even you can understand. You will never see Zanaya again. It is only out of deference to your psychic bond that I allow you to live. If you wish your state of being to continue after that..." Mystan was nearly surprised by Knave's pounce, but Lura's urgent telepathic warning gave him the time he needed to catch the hybrid in a telekinetic bubble. He cleared his throat. "As I was saying. If I see you after the child is born, I will kill you."
"Let him go, Mystan," a voice said from the hallway. Mystan saw Stalker, commander of the military on Third Earth, move into the doorway, pistol drawn. Even though the Psion priest knew he could disarm and incapacitate Stalker before the Darkling could move, he knew that there was a time and place to deal with such unruly individuals. Right now, unfortunately, the man was needed for the assault on Mumm-Ra. But if something were to happen to him during the fight, well, that would be nice. He released his hold, dropping Knave to the ground, but ready to grab him again if he tried to attack. "Come along Knave. I'll see you back to your quarters."
When they had moved far away from the doors, Mystan turned to his compatriots, who had been listening intently. "See to it that Stalker suffers an accident," he said.
Morning broke over Third Earth. In Cat's Lair, the Thundercats were beginning to stir, going about their daily routines. Tygra and Panthro were in the command centre, doing routine maintenance while keeping an eye out for trouble, Cheetara had left some minutes ago to go for a jog, believing that keeping in tiptop shape was important, the Thunderkittens were eating the breakfast that Snarf happily served them, while Lion-O was just getting out of bed, dressing in his simple blue outfit.
The Lord of the Thundercats couldn't help but feel anxious. Today might be the day that they rid Third Earth of Mumm-Ra, and that was a good thing. Almost every problem on the planet could be traced back to that demon priest, and yet taking the fight to him almost felt wrong, especially when they were relying on the Lunataks to help them. The Lunataks. Could they truly be agents of goodness? It seemed impossible given what little he knew of their species. But then he supposed there were good and bad apples within all species. The betrayal of Grune, former Thundercat turned fierce foe, came to mind. Someone who had only met Grune might assume that all Thunderians were evil. He had to give them a chance.
"Beware, Lion-O," a ghostly voice said. The faint blue glow that accompanied the voice told Lion-O that it was his mentor, Jaga, who had died during the exodus to Third Earth. "The Lunataks may well betray you, but I sense a greater evil than them at work. Something that may rival Mumm-Ra."
"Stronger than Mumm-Ra?" Lion-O asked, concerned more than he had been.
"I do not know. I just sense an evil force behind the scenes, I wish I could tell you more," Jaga said, his expression sad.
"Thank you, Jaga, we'll be careful," he said. He would tell the other Thundercats at the next opportunity. If there was another danger then they had the right to know about it.
While Tycho had the work crews continue their efforts, it was understood that they would need to conserve their strength for the upcoming battle, so the progress moved much more slowly. Tycho stood in the control room of Sky Tomb, mulling over the modifications he would make when he had a chance. This was going to be his home away from home until Luna found a replacement for him, something he hoped would not take long. He felt, rather than saw, Darius come up behind him and smiled lovingly at him. There was every possibility that one or both of them would die in this fight and they'd spent most of the night cuddled close together, trying to soak every last drop of love from the other.
Bearing the antithesis of Tycho's feelings at the moment, Chilla stormed into the control room. She was still bristling over the Psychro situation, and had been even more irked to find that Knave had been pawing through her possessions, even finding Ren's painting he'd given her on the one year anniversary of their bonding. The priceless piece of art had been left sitting out in the open where it was at risk to the elements.
Snapping her attention away from that irritating thought, she focussed on the Lunatak before her. She disliked Royals. They tended to be small and weak, useless in a fight, and only good as figureheads. Yet the gods willed them to be the leaders of her people, and honour dictated that she obey. "Reporting as ordered," she said. As they'd left the meeting he had insisted on speaking with her about the confrontation with Psychro and to discuss further disciplinary action.
"Very punctual of you. Thank you. Let me get right to it. You attacked Psychro yesterday morning without provocation. I understand your accusations of dream walking, but Psychro has yet to demonstrate this ability and I'm inclined to believe he's not hiding it. Given how difficult it was to remove you from him, and the fact that one of my security officers is in the hospital because of you, I have to punish you." Tycho locked eyes with the woman, proud that she wasn't resisting, but knowing that she was weighing him. If he didn't have her backing, the Icewalkers might well leave. "After the battle this evening you will be taken before our people and have twenty lashes administered to you, five of which will be by Psychro. We are starting a new life on this planet, and I can not be seen to play favourites with anyone. The laws of our people must be upheld and their punishments carried out regardless of race. Are there objections?"
He was challenging her, daring her to speak out. But any snide remark she wanted to make was bitten back and swallowed. "None at all," she rasped.
"You can't mean that!" Shade sputtered, shaking with anger. Her father had been getting ready for his part in the battle and had bluntly told her she wasn't going too. She needed to be there. The spirit within her told her she would be needed in the fight if the Lunataks had any hope of defeating Mumm-Ra.
"I do mean that, Shade. It's too dangerous out there..." he started before she abruptly cut him off.
"I am a Lunatak from the Moons of Plundarr. I will not sit back and be mollycoddled just because there's danger. Need I remind you that I was once one of the most feared fighters on the Dark Moon?"
For an instant Red Eye felt the room go darker, and he Shade's body seemed to change; her back straightened, her eyes shone a reddish hue and her skin appeared to be smoother as the wrinkles faded. But it must have been a trick of the light coupled with a surge of adrenaline, as Shade slumped forward. He caught her and held her tight to his chest. "I know. It's a father's prerogative to be protective of his daughter, I just love you too much. Look at you, you're weakened by that little outburst. How can you expect to take on our enemies? I love you Shade," he said, helping her sit in her chair again. He was grateful that Eclipse had left some time ago to grab some food, so that she wasn't witness to this.
"I know, father. You're right. Father's are always right, even when their daughters are older than they are," she managed a wan smile. He patted her hand gently and went to finish getting ready. "I lost you once, and I'm going to make sure I don't lose you again. I love you too much," she said quietly to herself.
The ageless devil priest shuffled forward towards the cauldron. The Thundercats were leaving Cat's Lair and the Tower of Omens, unsuspecting of the trap that awaited. He had overheard the Lunataks plotting and knew they intended to drive the Thundercats towards Mumm-Ra's pyramid and trap them between a rock and a hard place. It couldn't work better for his purposes either. Once they were successful, Mumm-Ra would trap them beneath the surface of the Desert of Sinking Sands. With his biggest threats dealt with, Mumm-Ra could turn his attention to the rest of the planet, reasserting his control over the populace. But there was one thing to take care of first.
Slowly he raised his arms. "Ancient spirits of evil," he intoned, feeling a surge of power as his masters began to feed him raw energy, bathing him in their might. "Transform this decayed form to Mumm-Ra, the ever living!" His skeletal frame gained mass, muscles bulged and his robe dissolved. Those first moments after transformation were the times he felt most alive, today more so. For today the Thundercats and the Lunataks would be no more.
Darius surveyed the dining room, making sure that everything was perfect. The decor, the lighting, the entertainment, all of it was critical to creating the right impression to the Thunderian guests that were soon to arrive. Tycho had confided, on the voyage, that there was every possibility that they could befriend the Thundercats and not have to fight them for many years. Dark Side was a wild and untamed region, surely most of their efforts would be put in to conquering what they had and worrying about the rest later. Darius wasn't sure that Luna would agree with the sentiment, but chose not to say anything. It didn't matter, Tycho knew it already.
The biggest obstacle, for both species, would be putting racial prejudices aside. It was one of the arguments Tycho had used to insist that each Thundercat would be assigned a member of his council. Old enemies would be forced to eat side by side, and hopefully gain a measure of respect. It was chancy, and they'd worked hard at the precise arrangements. Sitting the lustful Gravitons away from the Thunderian females, for example, as well as seating the Thunderkittens away from people they'd fought, as they were the most likely to find it difficult to make peace.
As there were nine Thundercats and ten council members, Darius had volunteered to be manning the flagship and act as commander until everyone else was in position. He walked over to the name plates once more. The Graviton brewer Six Sticks sat at the far left, next to Wily Kat and Wily Kit. Stalker and Mystan were next, followed by Panthro, Tygra, Tug Mug, Tycho, Lion-O, Cheetara, Chilla, Paeder, Bengali, Pumyra, Alluro, Red Eye and Lynx-O.
Keeping Paeder and Stalker at opposite ends had been another brilliant move. The two were keen strategists, and their odds of picking up some useful information against the Thundercats was increased. Seeing that everything was in order, Darius made his way out.
Lion-O had to concede that he was impressed. The Lunataks had done a lot of work since landing, much more than he would have expected. They were a warrior race, which he supposed meant there was a fair amount of discipline. There certainly didn't appear to be any slave labour, although that may have been hidden knowing they had guests coming. The Thundertank, Thunderstrike, Hovercat and Thunderclaw all came to a stop outside the biggest ship where Tycho and a small entourage was waiting.
"Welcome to our home, Lord Lion-O of the Thundercats and your friends. It is an honour to have you," Tycho said, bowing low. The other Lunataks, some more grudgingly than others, bowed their heads too.
"Thank you for you hospitality, it feels a little weird to be here and not fighting," he said sheepishly.
"Old wounds can turn into new friendships, as my father used to tell me. Come, dinner will be served soon. I've taken the liberty of arranging for some entertainment too, I hope it will be to your liking." Tycho led the way inside, the Lunataks and Thundercats following.
A trio of Psions were singing in an open area between the tables, their rich voices creating a calm atmosphere. If there was a hint of hypnosis thrown in, so much the better. The Thundercats and Lunataks each took their assigned seats and servers rushed to bring out the first course, an appetizer of Ice Moon mushrooms and served with the juice of a specially grown fruit from the Royal Moon. Dishes of all sorts followed, with each moon represented in some form, and no one left hungry.
Tycho actually found himself liking the young lord. The man spoke with confidence, but with a sense of honour and pride in his people. He rarely seemed to take credit and was open about their former battles. "Lord Lion-O," Tycho began as the feline held up a hand.
"Please. Lord Lion-O is too formal, especially at the start of a new friendship. Just call me Lion-O."
He grinned. "I've never had much use for titles either," Tycho sighed. "They're more of a burden than they're worth. I tried to do away with mine and Luna sent me here instead."
"People don't realize that power isn't as fun as they think. Too many spend all their lives trying to get as much power as they can, but it's not really living. They miss out on the important things. Friends, family, love, honour. I would give it all up to spend one more day with my friends," Lion-O tasted a piece of meat slathered in gravy. The meat was almost a dark purple and he'd been told that the Darklings hunted this beast only once a year because the population was so small. It was succulent and he marvelled at the flavour.
Elsewhere around the table Chilla was trying to ignore the obvious flirtations from Bengali towards her fellow Icewalker Paeder; she had that effect on men, and to his left Pumyra was glaring daggers. Paeder seemed to be politely refusing his advances, but such overtures reminded Chilla of her own son's activities. Cheetara, sitting next to her, likewise seemed uncomfortable. Finally the silence between them grew to the point where Cheetara felt the need to end it. "Your son," she started, paused as though choosing the right words, and continued, "do you know who he slept with?"
She did, and she hoped that Cheetara didn't know the woman. It was highly unlikely, but possible that she would know the clan. "Her name was Amber, of the Goldenrod clan," she said, watching the other woman's face for any sign of recognition. There was a faint flicker, as though a vague remembrance.
"I think I heard about that. Are there many Thunderian prisoners on the moons?"
Chilla was startled by the question and torn at what her response was. The truth was that there were some, but most prisoners they caught were killed or experimented on, few were kept as prisoners or slave labour. A sadistic side of her wanted to explain that, on the Ice Moon, Thunderian prisoners were consumed as soon as they outlived their usefulness, providing one last use in their existence. But she didn't. If an alliance was going to happen at all, Tycho would have to deal with the issue of freeing Thunderians. For now. "Of course there are, but not many," she said.
"Oh, well, that's good news. We'll have to make arrangements for freeing them," Cheetara said, thinking. She would bring it up to Lion-O after this was over.
"You'll love these," Six Sticks said as a tray came by. He reached out with plump fingers and grabbed a half dozen spheres and placed two of those on Wily Kat's plate. "On my moon we call eet 'Deep Fried Surprise'. The surprise ees that the centre ees actually lard. Eet's delicious and should put some meat on those bones of yours."
He chortled and jostled the youth in way that Wily Kat found disconcerting. A look at the man's gut and he had the feeling that Six Sticks could devour him with little effort. He took one of the spheres between index finger and thumb, the softness making his stomach lurch. Despite this, he took a bite, excess lard dribbling down his chin. Despite his fears, he had to admit that they didn't taste nearly as bad as he thought. Just eating it made him feel like he needed to go for a twenty mile jog, but even still, not bad.
"Thanks," he said, forcing himself to punch Six Sticks in the shoulder. Of all the people he had to be sitting next to, the foul smelling and boisterous Graviton was the worst. He had a sudden horrifying thought that the beads of sweat running along his ample belly weren't actually sweat, but grease. At least his twin sister seemed to be having a good time.
Stalker was regaling Wily Kit about his daughter, who was a little older than she was, and how big a troublemaker she'd been. He managed to have Wily Kit bursting with laughter as he told her about the time his daughter brought home a mud snake and tried to hide it beneath her bed, and how shrill her scream had been upon discovering that the mud snake had had a litter of fifty baby snakes.
Wily Kat turned back to realize that Six Sticks was talking about a beer recipe he'd been experimenting with. The youth's jaw dropped in revulsion when he revealed that one of his favourite blends was mixed with a few drops of blood. He claimed it gave the drink its potency, but Wily Kat had no interest in verifying.
Between the dinner courses, all manner of entertainment was produced. Singers, dancers, comedians, and acrobats. As with the food, each moon was represented in the shows. A pair of Icewalkers managed to put on a brilliant hand to hand combat set that ended when both conceded a draw. All things considered, Lion-O was impressed. He'd never given much thought to his enemies outside the battlefield, but here he was learning a great deal. The Lunataks weren't that much different to Thunderians; they had feelings, hobbies, and weren't the epitome of evil he'd been led to believe. He could almost imagine a future where the two races lived in harmony, helping each other and sharing their resources. He felt good about the future, but sobered when he remembered that there might not be a future.
All too soon the dinner ended, small talk was over, and he knew that the fight of his life was coming. They would have to act convincingly to deceive Mumm-Ra into thinking they were being herded towards his pyramid and distract him long enough for the Lunataks to deliver the crushing blow to his source of power. They'd fought Mumm-Ra before, but never had they taken the fight directly to him. This time it was all or nothing. A look at Cheetara's face revealed that she was thinking the same thing. Lives would be lost, it was unavoidable, but the greater good was at stake.
Or was it? Jaga's words gnawed at him. By being victorious, were they actually dooming themselves to an even greater evil? Were they fighting on the wrong side in this conflict? Should they be helping Mumm-Ra? He didn't know, and he didn't have an answer. All he could do was have faith in himself and his peers.
"Tycho, it's been a pleasure but we must be off. We need to get home before it gets dark," he said, as the he and the other Thundercats rose.
"I wish you a safe journey home, then," Tycho said. And Lion-O knew, by the glimmer of fright in the Lunatak's green eyes, that he felt the same way Lion-O did.
It was time. Within minutes of the Thundercats' departure, Lunataks were scurrying to their battle stations, ready to take off. Shade watched the activity from the communications position on Stalker's ship 'The Eternal Night.' Her father was on this ship, and would soon be taking a position at one of the gunner positions. She felt badly for the young woman she'd had to abduct and replace in order to be here, but her father's safety and her own greater purpose in the conflict was critical. He stepped out, along with Stalker and settled into a seat next to hers. "Hello, Nightowl," Red Eye said politely.
She was horrified. There was an established relationship between the two, but what kind? Were they friends? Colleagues? Lovers? Shade's face flushed at the thought but dismissed the notion. His greeting hadn't been that of intimacy, so probably just friends. "Sorry," she finally said, realizing that she'd let the silence draw too long. "I'm a little distracted with all this going on."
"Try not to let it bother you," he smiled reassuringly, a smile that she adored seeing, and patted her on the shoulder. Then he turned to his station and gave the weapons systems a once over to make sure they were fully functional. Shade breathed a sigh of relief and resumed her own duties.
Knave's job, as explained by Stalker, was to assist in defeating Mumm-Ra if he came onboard this ship. He was a brawler, unsuited for much more than reconnaissance or hand to hand combat, and there was a temptation to leave him behind. Mystan was vehemently opposed to the idea, given that he might try and see Zanaya again, and had grudgingly accepted the whelp on his ship. Of course, just because he was onboard didn't mean he was doing anything useful. Knave's first orders were to guard a section of hallway that was hardly used and had little of interest down it except for storage. Mystan figured it was a good use of Knave's abilities.
Even as Tycho stepped on to the bridge, Darius was ordering the ship to begin liftoff procedures. "We're ready to go on your command," the changeling said.
"Let's do it then," Tycho replied. "Attention all ships, this is Prince Tycho speaking, we attack at once. Obey all Captain Stalker's orders as though they were my own, because they are."
"Liftoff in five, four, three, two, one..." Stalker's voice crackled over the radio. All over the small area the massive warships started rising off the ground. The Eternal Night took the forward position, moving slowly at first towards the Fire Rock Mountains.
Psychro felt the ship lurch forward and knew that they were on their way. He, along with many others, were seated in the hangar bay waiting for when they would be needed. The pilots were going over their pre-flight rituals while grease monkeys like himself were awaiting the inevitable repairs that came with any combat. He highly doubted there would be much to do until after the fight was over, but anything was possible. Pilots were known to come in mid-fight for some repair work.
Despite all the hectic goings on he found his mind wandering back to Munara. She'd been as nervous and excited as a virgin, with all the skill of a pro, and it had been incredible. One part of him wanted to see her again, to feel her ample assets in his hands and her urgent kisses on his lips. But then he remembered Chilla, a woman who had hurt him physically without provocation. He'd heard her version and didn't believe a word of it, but still there was that niggling voice that wouldn't let her go. It was probably his massive ego, an ego that was unaccustomed to rejection. She probably still saw him as weak, though, a coward. Something he'd never get to disprove while sitting in here. But then, he didn't know how to fly, wasn't great at hand to hand, this was what he knew, being a mechanic was what he was good at. Well, that and sex, but she'd never let him prove that to her.
With a disgusted sigh he double checked that his tool belt was fastened properly and waited.
Driving through the Forest of Mists, Panthro felt on edge. "Do you trust the Lunataks?" he asked Cheetara, riding in the passenger seat. The Thundercubs were in the back, while Tygra and Lion-O flew the Hovercat and Thunderclaw repsectively. Lynx-O, Pumyra and Bengali were in the Thunderstrike and had emerged just before they had.
"I don't, but Lion-O is right. This is our chance to end Mumm-Ra's reign of terror. I don't like it, and I know as well as you do that this might be a trap, but I do believe that Tycho is a good person. I got a sense of honesty off of him, if that makes any sense," the woman replied, her eyes trying to pierce the thick mists. Even with the fog lamps installed, it was difficult to see more than a few feet in front of them, forcing them to drive at a snail's pace. More than once they had to back up and go around a particularly large stalactite. She wondered how the aerial vehicles were coping.
"I'll take your word for it, Cheetara. I was too busy trying to make conversation with Tug Mug. I think I learned more about food than I ever needed to know," Panthro replied.
"Yeah, well, count yourself lucky then. My Graviton talked about beer and kept trying to feed me greasy food. I think I won't be eating for a month," Wily Kat snorted.
"I'll let Snarf know he doesn't have to serve your candy fruit pie then," Cheetara chuckled nervously. She needed to sound confident and not think about how these two might be changed in the coming hours. Would they live or die? Would any of them be coming home? Probably not if the Lunataks decided to attack them. Despite what Chilla thought, Cheetara had heard tales of what Lunataks did to their prisoners, and the prospect of being eaten alive was enough to make her shiver. Panthro noticed and give a quick glance at the back. The kittens were talking quietly to each other and hadn't been paying attention to their elders. Panthro gave her hand a quick squeeze.
Onboard the 'Tug Mug's Gut' the Graviton people were the first to spot the Thundercats procession of vehicles in the distance. "Captain Stalker, we see the Thundercat sheeps," Six Sticks announced over the radio.
"Affirmative. Remember the plan, cut off all avenues of escape except for heading in the direction of the Black Pyramid," Stalker responded.
Six Sticks smiled to himself, taking a gulp from his beer. "Attack plan seven," he told his crew. The squat wide ship slipped to the left of the Thundertank and opened fire, missing by several inches. All around, the remaining Lunatak ships moved into similar positions, stinging the Thundercat vehicles. Soon the hangars opened and the small personal crafts emerged to join in the action.
"That was almost a little too close," Tygra said to himself, trying to make it appear as though he were trying to turn the Hovercat around to fight one of the small crafts that was making life miserable. The pilot was good, whoever he or she was, and the dance they were performing almost seemed real. Just when the feline was debating whether he'd have to score a hit to get them to back off, he sensed the pilot smirking at him.
"Just putting on a good show," a voice echoed inside his head. A Psion then, and one with their typical smug attitude. "Oh come now, I'm hurt," the voice chuckled, and he saw the smaller craft spin away to regroup with its fellow ships.
Lynx-O grunted, a blast of laser fire grazing the cockpit of the Thunderstrike. An Ice Lunatak ship had pulled along the right hand side of him, coming close enough that he thought he could reach out and touch it. These Lunataks were either excellent actors or lousy shots, and he wasn't sure which one he'd prefer. Much like the rest of the Thundercats, he wasn't entirely sold on the motives of the villains. They were known as marauders and mercenaries, not for their honour and trust. His fingers danced across the braille board's controls and a quick burst of energy lanced out in front of the smaller ship, forcing the pilot to perform some fancy manoeuvres in order to avoid being hit. Despite his blindness, Lynx-O was reasonably certain that he was being given a dirty look.
"Rowl! We're almost at the pyramid, Lynx-O," Bengali said needlessly from the right pod. The elder feline was already well aware of their proximity and was trying to ignore the nervous butterflies in his stomach.
"Indeed we are. Keep an eye out for Mumm-Ra, he should be appearing any moment."
Tycho's heart raced. The gap between the Thundercats and the pyramid was shrinking with every passing mile, and soon the question of whether their plan had worked would be answered. "There he is," Darius' voice came from beside him. Even he sounded nervous, though it was only Tycho's familiarity with the changeling that caused him to notice.
The Lunar prince looked at the monitor in front of him and saw the blue speck rising out the top of the pyramid, racing towards the combatants. The speck grew larger, revealing Mumm-Ra's awe-inspiring form. He hovered in mid-air some distance away and was clearly laughing at the Thundercats predicament. Bolts of lightning crashed into the ground around the Thundertank, which swerved and tried to beat a hasty retreat.
"Good," Tycho breathed, "he doesn't suspect."
"All units, maximum velocity. Hit the pyramid as hard and fast as you can," Stalker's voice said over the radio. It went unsaid that time was an enemy. That once Mumm-Ra figured out what they were doing he'd start on them, and if they weren't fast enough in destroying his home he might just destroy all of them.
Mumm-Ra was confused, watching as the massive Lunatak ships swept past him, and grew angry when he realized that they weren't just turning around. "Accursed Lunataks!" he snarled, about to launch after them. Oh, he would make them suffer dearly for trying to betray him. He would make them wish that he was encasing them in molten lava again. Their agony would be eternal. He would smash their empire here and rid the universe of the rest of them too. The word 'Lunatak' would become synonymous with 'fools' and they would serve as a warning to all other creatures.
Searing pain raced up his back, and he started to tumble to the desert floor. His hate filled eyes turned and glared at the offender who had dared to strike him while he was distracted. "Lion-O," he said, bracing as the Lord of the Thundercats sent another burst of energy from the Sword of Omens. Soon all the Thundercats were bringing their weapons to bear on him. The vehicles struck him with lasers, the Thunderkittens with gas filled pellets, causing him great discomfort. He could not be beaten, though. Not by these puny weapons. Only the sword was hurting him too badly and he could get away from that.
He grinned fiendishly. There was only one way he could think of to even the odds a little. He jumped into the air again and flew swiftly into one of the Lunatak ships.
"Where did he go?" Mystan cursed, frantically sending his mind throughout his ship, hunting for the demon priest. There were many who were better at this sort of thing and he cursed himself for having devoted quite so much time on the telekinetic studies. Most Psions, he was aware, could perform acts from each of the disciplines. With practice some could become more proficient in one, lucky ones could be masters of more than one. Mystan had concentrated on the field that had come most naturally to him. It didn't matter. Mumm-Ra would probably be headed for the bridge and he intended to be ready for him.
There came a rending sound, metal tearing from metal as though it were tissue paper. Knave stood facing the door, his senses tuned to the intruder's whereabouts. The smell of decay reached his nostrils only seconds before the door buckled, the noise assaulting his ears. Mumm-Ra took a step closer, his bulk filling the doorway, and his back stooped to avoid hitting his head on the door itself. Knave let out a fierce war cry and pounced. Mumm-Ra scowled and caught him by the throat and used his own momentum to crush him against the wall. With a wet sounding splat, Knave sank to the ground and Mumm-Ra resumed his progress.
"Evil! Evil, evil, evil, hate! Destroy, crush, evil!" a telepath began screaming, having decided to try and pierce Mumm-Ra's mind before he could reach the bridge. "Insignificant toads, destroy, kill, crush, evil!" Mystan slapped the man hard and hoped his remaining telepaths wouldn't do anything so foolish themselves.
To say that the door opened wouldn't be entirely accurate. The door was forcibly removed from the track it ran along and propelled towards the front of the ship, severing a hapless Psion's neck. Mystan's telekinetic powers flared and he grabbed the door, launching it back at Mumm-Ra. All around, his fellow Psions leapt into action, striking the devil priest with all their powers. Tongues of fire leapt from fingertips, stray objects soared through the air, while the telepaths tried to organize the combatants.
"Stall him as long you can," Mystan thought to his compatriots, Lura passing the message along. He grunted and rolled to the side as the doors were forcibly wrenched from his telekinetic grip and hurled at him. The metal clipped his feet and he went sprawling across the floor, praying that they weren't broken.
"You cannot defeat me, Lunataks!" Mumm-Ra shouted, crushing a pyrokinetic's hands with little effort and casting the woman aside. Mystan feared the brute was right, wincing as another Psion's chest burst into flames, the victim of Mumm-Ra's lightning. As the last of the able-bodied Psions fell, the demon priest walked to the controls and pointed the ship at another nearby. He forcibly engaged the thrusters and departed through a hole he made in the ceiling.
Mystan tried to get to his feet, to stop the forward momentum, but couldn't; the pain was unbearable. Desperately he reached out to the buttons telekinetically, but only succeeded in slowing their progress. The two ships collided with a bang and he was aware that they were dropping. He formed a telekinetic shield to protect himself from falling debris and waited agonizingly for the second impact.
"Evasive manoeuvres!" Stalker shouted, watching as the Psion ship turned to meet them. He knew there wasn't enough time, that they would collide no matter what they did, but he had to give the order anyway. "Brace for impact!"
The Eternal Night tilted violently sideways, rolling from the sheer impact, and started to plummet. Stalker flew from the captain's chair and he landed at the feet of Red Eye and Nightowl. From his prone position he watched as the man at the pilot station tried to regain control of the off-balance vessel.
"We're going down," the man growled. "I can't stop it." Despite his complaints, the pilot was able to guide the ship to a slightly more controlled crash. Stalker's eyes widened as a large section of bulkhead started to drop on him.
Red Eye had never felt so helpless before. Their ship hadn't even gotten to within firing range of the black pyramid before the Psion ship hit them. He'd bounced awkwardly off the controls in front of him, gashing his head open on the edge of the desk, then he was jostled and driven hard into the edge of the desk by the ship hitting the ground, and he worried that he might have broken his ribs. He glanced down and saw Stalker on the ground and was about to help him up when he saw the man's eyes widen in horror. Before he could look up to see what the captain was reacting to, he felt himself being pushed aside, almost landing on top of Stalker.
"Move," a voice said, one that he recognized.
"Shade?" he asked, wondering if the blow to the head had done more severe damage than he'd thought. He managed to turn around to see his daughter holding a large, and potentially fatal, bulkhead up. If she hadn't caught it he would have been squashed flat. He carefully stood and began dragging Stalker out, keeping his eyes fixed on Shade. How was she doing that? A woman of any age shouldn't be able to lift something that size, let alone an elderly one.
"I'll explain later. I have work to do," she replied, stepping through the front window that had been shattered by the impact of the ground. Before he could stop her, she was sprinting across the desert.
Down below, the Thundercats were feeling rather helpless. With Mumm-Ra inside the Lunatak ships, there was very little they could do. To Lion-O, it almost felt like they were betraying their new allies. He was just considering trying to fly the Thunderclaw through the hole Mumm-Ra had made when the demon priest made a new one. "Ho!" he shouted, channelling power through the sword and into Mumm-Ra's side, concentrating and trying to ignore the Lunar ship descending at an awful angle. Lives would be lost, but even more would be lost if they weren't successful here, and he couldn't let their sacrifices be in vain.
In the distance the first of the massive Lunatak ships had arrived at the great black pyramid and was beginning to open fire. That, more than the Sword of Omens, got Mumm-Ra's attention. He howled again and raced off to prevent the destruction of his source of power.
"Panthro! You and Cheetara see about rescuing anyone in those ships," he called down, "we'll try and keep Mumm-Ra busy."
From another Graviton ship, Tug Mug watched the vessel bearing the name of his proudest feature explode in a cascade of sparks. There had been fifty Gravitons on board the 'Tug Mug's Gut' and now they were all dead. He would spare the time to mourn them later. As Mumm-Ra emerged from the carnage, Tug Mug turned the massive gravity cannon onboard on the everliving, causing him to suddenly be a hundred times heavier. He dropped like a rock, sinking at least a mile beneath the shifting sands. "That one was for the Gut!" he said, grabbing a handy mug of beer and raising it in salute to his fallen comrades, a toast that was echoed by the others on the bridge.
Shade was feeling very disconcerted. The spirit had taken almost full control of her body after she'd saved Stalker and her father. It had been all she could do to offer the small hope of explanation to them before the spirit had forced her out of the ship. Now she was standing within arm's reach of the pyramid and had no idea what was in store for her.
"I'll explain later," the spirit said, almost a mockery of her words to Red Eye. She found her arms raising and saw energy crackling from her fingertips, obliterating a small section of wall. As the dust settled she felt the ground shake from Mumm-Ra hitting it and the repeated blasts coming from the ships above her head. Shade's legs moved of their own volition, stepping over rocks and entering a rough hallway that led into the heart of the pyramid.
"How do you know where you're going?" she asked, voicing the concern. She was starting to realize that there was an awful lot she didn't know about the being that was inhabiting her body.
"We don't have time for this. Just do as you're told," the spirit hissed, sounding a lot more malevolent than she'd ever heard it. Frankly she was becoming scared of it.
They travelled for what was probably only a minute or two, and soon emerged in the middle of a large open room. More dust and debris was falling from the ceiling as it took the brunt of the energy blasts. The eyes of the four statues standing in the middle of the room lit up and she was sure were looking at her. "It's time to end this." The words came from her lips but were not her own. The spirit had taken control of her voice too.
On the royal flagship, Tycho was growing dismayed. It was taking far too long to destroy what appeared to be a stone structure. The bolts of energy from the ship's weapons were barely scratching the surface, and he knew that magic must be involved. He hated magic. It made things unpredictable.
Darius cursed, something Tycho didn't think he'd ever heard the changeling do before, and he looked to see what had provoked such a reaction. Mumm-Ra was back on the surface, sending sand in every direction and looking very angry. To make matters worse, he had turned his attention to the flagship.
The Thundertank's claws carefully peeled away a section of hull, allowing Cheetara and the Thunderkittens to enter the Darkling ship. There were people strewn everywhere, all of them bearing injuries of some kind. Gingerly they began making their way through the vessel, helping those who needed it most. Some Darklings were able to stand on their own power and started to help the rescue process. Red Eye and Stalker were two of these, and Cheetara found herself experiencing a strange blend of emotions. Before the dinner, she doubted she would have shed any tears to see Red Eye dead, but he'd seemed so different there. It was entirely possible that these Lunataks were different people under Tycho's command. A kinder people. She wouldn't hold her breath on that count, but still found herself smiling to see him helping out.
On the whole, the Darklings had largely survived, and they had the badly gathered in one place. A look at the Psion ship told her she couldn't expect the same results there.
"Did you miss me?" The spirit said with Shade's voice. She found herself walking up the set of stairs and standing before the magic cauldron, at the centre of the four statues. "I have not forgotten the past, and now I will be the bearer of your destruction." Power, greater than any the spirit had ever given her before, coursed through her body, making her hair stand on end. She felt muscles rippling beneath the skin tight body suit and the world seemed to shrink around her. More accurately, she knew, was that she was growing larger.
She screamed as the power continued to build to a blinding crescendo, and the building rocked with the force.
As soon as Mumm-Ra was on the bridge, Darius launched himself at the evil one, drawing mass from the air around him and tackled him to the ground. He had to protect Tycho, nothing else mattered. His fists, turned hard as diamond, pounded on Mumm-Ra's head, having some effect but not enough. He could tell by the way Mumm-Ra's muscles were tensing that the demon priest would blast him away in short order.
But then something happened. Mumm-Ra howled in agony and raced from the ship, descending on the pyramid. It was working! Their assault on the black pyramid was weakening Mumm-Ra enough that they would be able to destroy him once and for all. "Keep firing!" he shouted over the outburst of cheers. The crew might think him a hero, but they hadn't won until they'd seen Mumm-Ra's corpse.
Circling the pyramid Lion-O discharged blast after blast of energy at the mammoth pillars outside. They were starting to show cracks in their surface and he began to feel good about himself. After all, he'd heard what had happened to Mumm-Rana when her pyramid had been damaged; she had been too weakened to do anything other than lay in her sarcophagus.
He heard Mumm-Ra's unearthly scream and continued to fire. Such a noise could only mean that they were close. He felt the sweat drip from his forehead as he drew his reserves of energy, intensifying the energy radiating from the tip of the Sword of Omens. Then, for an instant, he felt nothing.
"Lion-O!" Pumyra gasped, watching in horror as the pyramid was engulfed in light, exploding outwards and sending the Lord of the Thundercats hurtling through the air. Lynx-O tried desperately to steady the controls of the Thunderstrike as boulders from the now destroyed pyramid rained in every direction, pelting the Thunderian and Lunatak vehicles. All forces pulled back as best they could to wait out the storm. A piece of stone, the size of a fist, crashed through the supposedly unbreakable window of her pod and smacked into a finger that she hadn't been able to move in time.
Tycho stumbled into Darius at the explosion, grateful that the changeling was there to break his fall. "All ships, pull back. Keep your eyes peeled in case Mumm-Ra's not done yet," he said, grabbing a radio.
The Lunar fleet moved near where the first two ships had fallen watching restlessly for the cloud to clear. If an explosion of that magnitude hadn't defeated Mumm-Ra, then what would it take?
Panthro didn't have the luxury of waiting for Cheetara or the Thunderkittens to get back. He'd seen Lion-O and the Thunderclaw take a tremendous hit from being so close to the pyramid when it blew up, and Panthro knew that Lion-O's odds of survival were lessened by the flying pieces of rock. The Thundertank could take it, though, and he pushed the engines to the limits to rush to the aid of his leader. Lion-O had to be alive. It couldn't end this way, not so close to their triumph over evil. Large dents covered the surface of the tank, many of which would be next to impossible to repair, and some threatened to punch right through. But Panthro had never let his personal problems get in the way of protecting his friends.
As he got closer he saw that through some minor miracle, Lion-O was relatively safe. The Thunderclaw had flipped over and crashed in such a way that most of him was covered by it. Panthro positioned the tank to add further protection and waited it out.
Red Eye gasped, nearly dropping the Psion he was helping to carry. As soon as he'd heard the explosion coming from the direction of the pyramid a single thought raced through his head. Shade; was she alive? He'd seen her heading towards it, and remembered her saying something about having work to do. What did that mean? Where had she gotten that kind of strength? And then he knew, everything fell into place. She had been at ground zero when the explosion occurred.
There was nothing there but a crater, in the end. Mumm-Ra's wizened body had been found at the very edge, and the belief was that he was really dead this time. The Thundercats agreed to take it with them so that they could keep an eye on it, just in case, but there was little doubt anything would come of it.
Lion-O had roused after about an hour or so, his body aching in places he hadn't been aware could ache, and the first to greet him had been Tycho. The Lunar prince certainly had a vested interest in the feline's death, but he'd also sensed a kind of kinship in the man that he had hoped wouldn't be extinguished quite so easily.
"Did we win?" Lion-O managed to ask weakly. The others were still helping the injured and recovering the dead from the fallen ships. Tycho nodded. "Good. Third Earth deserves this era of peace." Tycho understood. His own actions had made it clear that the Lunataks intended not to cause trouble, and the greatest source of evil was gone. There were still pockets of evil, but they could be dealt with.
Standing at the crater's edge, Red Eye clutched a small black scrap of cloth in one hand. It still faintly bore the scent of his daughter, and it somehow confirmed to him that she was gone. She'd been keeping something from him, and now he would never know what it was. He would never understand what had happened.
She'd saved him. Protected him from that falling metal and he'd been unable to return the favour. The loss was crippling. He'd presumed her dead once before, when they found out how long they had been trapped in lava and he'd cried then over her. But then he'd discovered that she lived and he'd dared to dream that they would live together for a long, long time. And now he was grieving for her a second time. A second death, but one that she would have been proud of; dying to protect her people, dying with honour. He would petition Luna to allow him to recognize her feat.
A cool hand touched his shoulder, and he met Chilla's eyes. "She was the last of my family," he said, his voice betraying him, cracking as tears slid down his cheeks.
"I wish I could trade mine for yours," she replied. They'd found her grandson in a bloody heap, alive but probably wishing he were dead.
He almost managed a smile at that, knowing how little she cared about her surviving kin. "It's not just that. She was my last tie to my past life. The life before I came to Third Earth. I have nothing left."
"For what it's worth, you still have us," she said awkwardly, gesturing at where Tug Mug and Alluro were working. She wasn't good with words, but Red Eye was a friend, one of the few she was able to say she had. "We're family. We lived together for years." She turned him to face her, letting her eyes speak for her.
He pulled her tight to him, glad to have such friends. "Thank you, friend."
On to Expansion and Conquest - epilogue
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