Heritage of the Lunatak Empire
The next two days breezed by as Tycho and Darius spent much of their time trying to get the capital back under a normal routine. They dealt with common problems, intervening on important court cases and handling mundane issues involving pricing and harvests and all the other chores that fell on the shoulders of a ruler. When not involved in such day to day events, they were working hard to figure out where Aristarchus and his crew were hiding. The usurper had been suspiciously quiet, ever since that night in Eluosi's hospital room, which unnerved the king.
Eluosi. That was another issue that Tycho was worried about. The woman was refusing any cybernetic enhancements to restore her dead arm to life, and nothing else was working. It was frustrating for him to watch such a talented actress throw her livelihood away over such foolish pride. Cybernetics were unnatural, she said. So were cars and ships, but she still used them. There was hardly anything that was completely natural anymore.
Darius padded over to him, seated at a desk in the king's room. His presence brought a sense of order back to Tycho's troubled thoughts. In fact, it was hard right now to be frustrated with Darius around. The changeling didn't say a word, merely massaged his shoulders, easing the remaining tension away.
She was a grown woman. Eluosi could make whatever decision she wanted and he would support her right to do so, no matter how wrong it felt. She wouldn't need to be focussing on her career soon anyway, once they were married...
"What is it?" Darius asked, feeling the tension returning to Tycho's body. The latter turned around and gazed up into the concerned eyes of his Guardian friend.
"I've been thinking. After all I've put her through, I should probably ask Eluosi to marry me. It would be the right thing to do," Tycho said, a touch of sadness in his voice.
"Oh," Darius replied, his only reply for a long time. "I understand. Let me know when you do and I'll make the necessary arrangements. I support you." He turned away sharply and fled the room. Tycho understood too, he understood that his friend needed time to weep.
Alluro stepped back and admired his handiwork. The Automaton was truly his most brilliant idea yet. A robot that could think on its own, and yet be controlled remotely. It had started out as a joking remark from Tug Mug that what they really needed around Sky Tomb was some manual labour that wouldn't complain, and could Alluro build one. The answer had been "Yes. Of course. I'm Alluro, and I can invent anything, you foul smelling creature."
Tug Mug had not let him forget about it. Not for the three months of intensive labour. Step one had been obtaining, dissecting, and analysing a Berbil. After that, the remaining steps fell into place one after another. Obviously the scale had needed to be upgraded, and a specific look was needed. The answer to that one had come after a rather one-sided encounter that Red Eye had told him about with the samurai warrior Hachiman. It made Alluro feel superior to have Hachiman doing his bidding, even if it was just a robotic facsimile.
Of course, mass producing the things would be labour intensive in and of itself. They had neither the man-power nor the raw material to build an army of the things, so for now one would have to do. Unless Luna's latest scheme destroyed it.
She was still smarting from one of many encounters with the Sword of Omens, and had been intrigued by Red Eye's tale of his lop-sided battle with Hachiman. Tug Mug had been interested too, but that was merely for the purposes of rubbing salt in the wound later. Luna surmised that if they could get their hands on the Thundercutter they would have the perfect weapon to counter Lion-O's famous sword. Since neither sword could be wielded by a person with evil intentions, a creature devoid of intent was needed. The Automaton.
"It's about time, Alluro. That fool Hachiman will be visiting the Thundercats soon, and it just so happens that I know of the perfect ambush spot along the route he plans on taking," Luna said. Alluro didn't question how she knew these things. She always seemed to have sources, and refused to divulge who they were.
"That's if we can get there, Luna," Red Eye said from his station at the monitors. "There's a powerful storm moving through Dark Side. We're being hit hard by wind and snow." He gestured at the monitors. Sure enough it looked like the storm would be raging through the area for several hours, including along the route Hachiman would be taking.
"That's of little concern to me. In fact, that will help us. The ambush spot requires us travelling through the Valley of Chains. Legend has it that an evil wizard put a spell on the area, causing chains to rise from the ground and ensnare the unwary, but that these chains dislike the cold and should leave us alone," Luna said, having her great steed Amok pace up and down, and punctuating her sentences by slapping her hand with her riding crop. "I will go on ahead and lie in wait along the path, posing as a helpless child. I will then lure Hachiman into a cave nearby where Alluro and Chilla will be waiting. Red Eye will have to stay behind, if Hachiman sees him he might realize it's a trap."
"What about me, Loona?" Tug Mug asked, bouncing.
"You will stay here and assist Red Eye with Sky Tomb," she replied simply.
"Wait a minute, Luna. I'm picking up something on the long range sensors. A ship of some kind..." Red Eye announced. He stared at the monitor, punching buttons and looking at the readouts. He turned slowly to the others. "It's Lunatak."
The Tower of Omens, home to the Thundercats, lay nestled near the Forest of Mists, the only known route through to Dark Side without crossing through the Fire Rock Mountains. The Mountains gained their name from the naturally occurring Thundrainium that was buried there. This rock weakened all Thunderians, and thus was something to avoid. On duty were Lynx-O, Lion-O, Snarfer and the Thunderkittens. The latter three were preparing the Tower for the arrival of their old friend; Hachiman.
"Any sign of Hachiman?" Lion-O asked. He wasn't overly concerned, there was little that the samurai couldn't deal with on his own, but he was travelling near Dark Side and that was enough to make even the bravest fighter hesitate.
"Not yet, Lion-O, but my long range sensors are detecting something strange approaching. A ship of some kind. I can't quite tell what kind, but it's moving quickly. I will alert Cat's Lair. Perhaps Panthro can use the Feliner to investigate," Lynx-O replied, his hands deftly moving across the braille board.
"It's too dangerous for that. There's a storm coming and they might not be able to re-enter. Besides, we don't want to alarm anyone that might mean us no harm. Keep an eye on it and let me know if anything changes," Lion-O replied.
On the bridge of the Honour of the Moon, Paeder watched as the blue speck grew larger and larger through the window of the ship. There it was; Third Earth. She'd heard tales of it, of course, and had wondered what it would be like. She informed the woman at the pilot seat to set the ship in orbit over the co-ordinates where Luna's shuttle had originally gone down. She examined the monitors, checking the weather patterns over the pyramid structure. There was a nasty storm there, but there was also one over the crashed site area. She would need solid proof that it was safe before risking this ship in those storms. And there were just two people perfectly suited to such a foolhardy task.
Cameo was napping when he got the call. Captain Paeder had come to deliver the message in person and miffed that Knave was not present. He got to his feet and followed her up to the medical lab, where the other hybrid was clearly getting restless.
The nurse, too, was clearly less than pleased at her patient's presence, an opinion that Paeder tended to share. She advanced to where the pair was arguing, Cameo still following. "What are you doing still in bed?" she demanded.
"I'm trying to get out of bed, but someone seems to have something lodged in her rear, and won't let me. I wouldn't want to offend our new captain by slugging a doctor, now would I?" Knave responded. His sarcasm making it clear that he was feeling somewhat recovered from the battle.
"No you wouldn't. You and Cameo are going on a trip down to Third Earth to make sure it's safe for the rest of us. When you've found what you are looking for, signal the ship and we will land nearby. Do not, I repeat, do not initiate contact. Do you understand?" she said, directing her question at Knave rather than Cameo.
"Not really, but I'm sure if you used smaller words. Now out of my way," Knave said, standing and leaving the room.
As Cameo shrugged helplessly and followed him, Paeder turned to the doctor and said "I hope you can set bones, because I'm going to break his legs when he gets back. If he gets back."
"If you need help, just ask," she replied.
Knave didn't go where Cameo expected him to. Once free of the medical lab he sprinted to the cargo hold and waited. His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared, catching the scent he was so familiar with. He walked purposefully and was startled to find only Zanaya's jacket draped over a box. He looked around in confusion, finally catching sight of the woman peering down from another stack of boxes. She grinned and hopped down before him, planting a kiss on his lips.
"So they finally let you out of there, eh lover boy? I figured you'd come here to find me eventually. I heard Paeder tell Cameo that the two of you are going down to the planet?" she asked, hand on his chest.
"We are. I'm so excited and nervous. There are so many questions. What happened down there so many years ago? Will whatever attacked Luna's crew attack us too? Will we really find Chilla and the others still alive?" he said, placing his hands on her shoulders, trying to convey his emotions to the girl.
She was excited all right, but not for the reason he supposed. She'd finally learned the secret. So, they thought that Luna's crew had survived the crash, eh? That meant Alluro too. If they could get such a master hypnotist back on the Psion Moon, they would be invincible. The others would be a problem, however. Luna herself would change the balance of power, and the Icewalkers would gain strength if Chilla were alive. Zanaya decided that she would have to play along a little longer and hope to get the chance to kill the others. And then? And then she would have to figure out some way to sneak herself and Alluro back onboard for the ride home. That didn't sound terribly promising, but she'd worry about that when the time came.
"I'll go with you, my love," she said as huskily as she could. "I need you with me, to protect me from all these people who would hurt me. And I might be able to help you down there in return."
"Of course. The fighters hold only one, but you're small enough that you should fit in there. On my lap if need be," Knave said, pleased that his lover was interested. He'd been worried about her reaction to the mission.
Cameo went through the pre-flight checklist with Knave, making sure that all the gauges and dials were turned accordingly. Knave knew the very basics of piloting a craft such as this one, and Cameo had given him a few last minute pointers, unaware that a pilot would be riding with him. If they should run into any enemies then Knave would be on his own. Cameo would do what he could, but he would be focussing on saving himself first.
Once the other's checklist was complete, he went through the same list for his own ship and waited patiently for permission to disembark. The hangar doors labouriously opened, revealing the planet below. Cameo took a steadying breath. The first rush of the engines propelling him always exhilarated him, and he reminded himself to stay calm. A voice over his headset gave him the okay and he waited for Knave's fighter to lurch forward, disappearing out the door. Cameo punched the ignition and he was soon following Knave out the hangar doors, diving for the planet the natives called Third Earth.
"Lion-O!" Lynx-O said with alarm, drawing the attention of the Lord of the Thundercats. "That ship. I've analysed the markings on it, and it's a Lunatak ship. Two small fighters have just left it and are headed towards Dark Side!"
"What? By Jaga! If the Lunataks gain reenforcements we're in big trouble. Get the Thunderstrike ready. You, me and the Thunderkittens will have to do what we can to prevent them from reaching Sky Tomb. And call the Thundercats at Cat's Lair on the way. We'll need all the help we can get," Lion-O said, dashing from the room. Deep in his heart of hearts he was scared. They had barely contained the Lunataks in the past. Now that there would soon be more of them, they would be hard pressed to do anything. Third Earth was in terrible danger.
In many ways, Red Eye's eyes were far more efficient than the computers on board Sky Tomb. He watched the progress of the twin fighter craft and projected their course manually in his head. He wasn't quite sure what to make of this development. For close to a year they had been trying to find some way off this miserable little planet to no avail. Mumm-Ra probably could have helped, but the price for asking favours from the devil priest was almost assuredly your soul. All the other Lunataks were waiting in the hangar for his instructions, and soon were off, using both the Ice Runner and the Lunattacker. He would follow behind with their moveable fortress and rendezvous along the way.
As he stared up at the image of the ship he wondered if Shade was on it. Was she even still alive. Mumm-Ra had insinuated that a lot of time had gone by since he'd first encased them in lava, an act that he would forever hold against him. If he was telling the truth, then it was possible that Shade was long dead. "She'd better not be, Mumm-Ra, or else."
Deep in his black pyramid, despite Ma-Mutt's whimperings, the ever living source of evil rested quietly. His numerous recent battles with the Thundercats had taken their toll on his magical energies, and he needed to recuperate, so the arrival of the new Lunataks went unnoticed.
Mystan watched from the window as a large cargo ship slowly lowered itself to the ground outside. These Royals were so easy to deceive, he mused to himself, loving the idea that they had gotten one over on them. Onboard were a dozen Psions and an equal number of Darklings. One of the more powerful telepaths had been the one talking to the search party and had managed to convince them that the twenty-four heavily soldiers were, in fact, confectionary sugar and gumdrops.
As they walked cautiously from the ship into the warehouse, Mystan recalled the heated argument that he'd had with Aristarchus. Certainly it was possible to have thousands of troops paraded here in a similar manner, but the time for a full scale war had passed. Subterfuge and stealth were the keys to victory now, and Mystan insisted on using them. Toran had pressed him again, urging haste in putting Aristarchus on the throne. The oracle was getting very insistent on that point.
Naturally, Aristarchus didn't understand nor did he care about such things. He wanted things done his way and it was only when Mystan threatened not to bring any of his men in that he'd finally relented. And now, here they were, the best of the best that he could find. Each one was loyal to Aristarchus, and would lead to Tycho's demise. Soon they would strike.
The whine of the engines slowly died, and the cockpit hissed as it opened wide, like the jaws of some fearsome beast. Knave hesitated a moment to allow Zanaya to exit without Cameo seeing her, and then slowly descended to the ground. The pair had chosen a clearing at the edge of a dense forest as their starting point, for it was in this region that the Excelsior's crew had gone down.
They were just considering the prospect of searching the forest on foot when they heard the sound of a vehicle approaching, a loud whistling sound that marked the arrival of a gleaming white craft. It was fairly small, and its landing struts were shaped like crescent moons. They could hear more noises of vehicles in the distance and knew that they wouldn't need to search out the Lunataks; the Lunataks would find them. A cloud of dust arose as the small craft touched down, briefly obscuring the pilot, but when it did Knave was overwhelmed. An Icewalker woman, her features unmistakable. "Grandmother," he whispered. "The story was true."
Chilla, too, seemed a little overwhelmed as she stepped off the Ice Runner and walked towards them. Were she to admit it, she would grant that it had been far too long since she'd seen another Icewalker, and the two before her were refreshing to see. Though, frankly, she'd been expecting her husband Ren to be leading any rescue party. What caught her most offguard, however, was that one of the two of them seemed to be half Thunderian, and he looked very familiar to her. This one ran up to her and knelt at her feet.
"Chilla, it is my honour to have found you at last," Knave said. "You have been away from the moons for such a long time, and I am pleased to have finally met you, grandmother."
She had been in countless battles before, received all manner of injuries including blows to the head, lacerations, and broken bones, but they all paled in comparison to the words that came from the hybrid's lips. "Grandmother," he'd called her. Such a concept was beyond comprehension. She would have more readily believed that the sky was made of cheese. "What did you call me?" she asked as Cameo approached.
"I thought we agreed to let me do the talking," he said, forcing Knave to his feet. "Excuse my friend here, it's a rather long story which we'd rather explain to all of you at once than telling it multiple times. And it looks like some of your companions are arriving." He gestured behind her where Alluro and Tug Mug were approaching. The former fiddled with the controls of his jet pack while the latter bounced into the clearing, coming to a stop next to the Psion.
"Hey look, Alluro! Eet looks like Thunderians and Loonataks can breed. Wait until Pumyra hears about this. Won't she be thrilled?" Tug Mug said, elbowing the hypnotist in the ribs.
"Of course, Tug Mug, but I suspect Chilla will be even more thrilled that you've turned your attentions elsewhere," Alluro mumbled, finally getting the jet pack to turn off.
"Don't worry, Chilla. My bed ees always open to you," Tug Mug said, leering.
"How many times do I have to ice you?" Chilla's eyes narrowed, and a stream of ice missed the Graviton's wheels.
"Careful, Chilla. You nearly hit me instead. I'm not the one hitting on you," Alluro said, glowering slightly.
"This time," Chilla retorted.
Any further arguing that might have ensued was stopped when the dragon shaped Lunattacker rumbled into view. The doors opened, allowing Amok and Luna to clamber out. The latter looked displeased as she focussed her glare and riding crop on all three of her cohorts. "Is this how we treat our guests?" she asked sternly. "It's been years since we've seen another Lunatak, and this is the first impression you want to give them?" Each Lunatak avoided her gaze, finding something much more fascinating on the ground. "I thought so. Please excuse my associates. As you no doubt know, I am Luna, queen of the Lunataks. You are here to rescue us, I assume?"
Knave's first thought was that they were there to rescue Chilla, strictly speaking, and not Luna herself, but he didn't think Cameo would approve of such a statement.
"We are indeed," Cameo said rather formally. "As I was just explaining to Chilla here, before the rest of you arrived, it would be best to tell you all what has happened since you left. Is this all of you? I thought there were five Lunataks, plus Amok."
"Amok *is* a Lunatak," Luna said crisply. "However, you are correct. Red Eye is back at Sky Tomb. Just follow us and we'll take you there."
The Thunderstrike, under Lynx-O's skilled hands, navigated the Forest of Mists with ease. The forest wasn't much of a forest, per se, but more of a jagged opening in the mountains that led through to Dark Side. It was dark within, but Lynx-O's braille board told him where all the rocky outcroppings were, and he'd yet to do major damage to the Thunderstrike. Once through this narrow gap he, Lion-O, Snarfer and the Thunderkittens were racing toward the Lunatak fortress.
"What are those idiots doing?" Paeder snapped, watching the proceedings on one of the monitors. "I told them not to initiate contact, and that's the first thing they do. I knew I should have sent someone reliable. Watch where they go and find a suitable landing site nearby," she said to the pilot, and then turned to a pair of security guards. "You two, go fetch that crossbred bitch from engineering. If Cameo won't stand down, we'll kill her."
Slowly turning the invite over in his hands, Tycho slowly sat down at his desk. The card was trimmed in gold and had crisp black letters inviting him to a formal dinner function at the home of Eluosi's parents. She had been released from the hospital, and this banquet was their way of thanking him for taking such good care of their daughter during the last little while. Obviously they had forgotten who it was that had gotten her in that trouble to begin with, he thought with a sigh.
It wasn't that he didn't want to go, although he really didn't, it was the timing of it. Eluosi was still recovering, Tycho himself was still recovering, and there was a madman out there who wanted Tycho's head on a silver platter. It wasn't practical to do so, and he'd made the mistake of saying as much in front of Darius and Nitro. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than they were climbing all over him, pointing out why he should go.
Nitro thought it would show weakness to turn it down, let the people and Aristarchus think that he was afraid to go out in public anymore. It would be akin to declaring Aristarchus the new king and running away; a tempting thought at times.
Darius saw a different angle. He agreed that in many ways he owed the Brythago family a debt for what had happened to her, and that turning down their invite may be perceived as wanting nothing more to do with her now that she was damaged goods.
Between the two of them Tycho knew that there was no way he'd be allowed to back out of it. At least he'd be able to beef up security at this function, and it would give him the chance to wear the formal robe Darius had bought him recently. He cast the invitation aside and went to have some breakfast.
Red Eye turned to face the door, curious about the new arrivals to Sky Tomb. The two small fighter craft had followed the Ice Runner and had landed outside, the hangar not being big enough to hold them, and now the pilots were riding in the elevator with the rest of the crew.
The two were engaged in conversation as they entered, one with Luna and the other fawning over Chilla. Curiously, the latter's blood pressure changed as he emerged from the lift and caught sight of Red Eye. He made a mental note to watch that one very carefully as he toggled his infrared glasses to the regular visual spectrum. As usual, it was Luna who took control of the situation. "Well, we're all here now so you can end the suspense," she said, as the gang formed a semi-circle in front of the two hybrids. Luna, naturally, was in the centre with Alluro and Tug Mug to one side and Chilla and Red Eye on the other.
"Absolutely," spoke Cameo before Knave could do so. "I am Cameo of House Mymekon and this is Knave of House Iespyk." A brief ripple of surprise filtered through the Lunataks. He continued. "I'm not sure how to explain things, but you have been gone from the Moons of Plundarr for over eighty years."
"Impossible! How would we still be alive?" Luna asked.
"Actually, Luna, I've suspected as much for some time," Alluro interjected, "Between things Mumm-Ra has said, and the state of our ship when we were freed from our lava prison, it stands to reason that we were trapped for a long time." He had actually estimated it as being much longer than the eighty years the duo had claimed, but felt no need to mention this.
"You were encased in lava?" Knave asked, incredulously.
"Correct. When we arrived, we tried to overthrow a powerful sorcerer named Mumm-Ra. As revenge he covered us in lava. He must have used magic to put us in a kind of suspended animation," Luna said, tapping her chin in thought.
"He only freed us again because he needed us to beat up the Thundercats," Tug Mug said, emphasizing his words by bouncing on his hydraulic wheels, and omitting that they had, thus far, been unsuccessful.
"Hnh. Well, that explains that. At any rate, we got word that you were still alive so we got sent to bring you home," Cameo said, his voice cutting off as the alarm began to sound. Instantly their guests were forgotten, and the Lunataks looked to the monitors.
"Speaking of the Thundercats, here they come!" Red Eye said, pointing.
"Excellent. Let's show the Thundercats what eighty years of technological advances can do," Luna cackled. The Lunataks split up, Tug Mug led Knave and Cameo back outside while the remainder went down to the hangar.
"There they are," Lion-O said grimly, watching as the Lunataks mobilized from their fortress. Panthro had sent word via radio that the rest of them were moving as fast as they could, and hoped to be there soon. He could only pray that they could hold off the Lunataks long enough for reenforcements to arrive. The Thunderstrike lowered, allowing the Thunderkittens, Snarfer and Lion-O to jump out safely.
"They're sending children at us?" Cameo asked in disgust as he revved up the engine of his ship. He'd witnessed the Thunderian ship release its passengers and take off again. That would be the primary target, he figured. After all, what could a man with a sword, two kids and a house cat do that a fighter craft couldn't.
It wasn't that he was inherently biassed against children, indeed they were raised to be warriors almost out of the womb on the Ice Moon. But Thunderians were different. They coddled their young in a way that Cameo almost envied. The memories of his own childhood flashed back to him; His mother had raised him the best she could, always certain that his belly was full no matter how difficult the times were for the family. And oh the food she made, able to turn the most vile of substances in to dishes fit for the royals. But it was his aunts and uncles who'd made him cringe. He received beatings if he did poorly in school, both in the classroom and in the schoolyard fights. That was no way for a child to live.
He shook his head to clear it of the ghosts from his past, he had a job to do. His craft rose swiftly into the air and met the Thunderian one head on.
He wasn't a pilot, Knave knew, so trying to handle the fighter craft in combat was out of the question. However, he did have heightened reflexes, enhanced speed and an icy touch. He picked his target out immediately, there was something about the small red and yellow creature that set his nerves on edge. As he ran towards it, the creature justified his dislike of it by screeching for help with a voice that made his skin crawl. He closed the distance between the two of them before any of the others could reach him.
Zanaya watched the goings on, sprinting across the rocky expanse that was serving as their battleground. No longer was Knave the focus of her defences, she'd gotten what she needed out of him and now could dispose of him at her leisure. Now it was a case of protecting Alluro. He seemed to have picked out the musclebound warrior with the red head of hair, orbiting him with his jet pack, his psyche club's orb hanging in the air above him. This one had strong will, she noted, and she had an idea of why.
The leader of the Thundercats was carrying a massive sword that seemed to supply him with the energy needed to withstand Alluro's might. If this were a powerful magical artifact perhaps, she figured, it could be used for the Lunataks' purposes. All his attention was on Alluro, trying to swat at the dangling crystal while keeping an eye on his friends. He would never see her creeping up behind him and seizing the sword from his hands.
Knave saw the flash light and heard the cry of Zanaya, and turned to see what had happened. Over by the Thundercat lord she lay sprawled on the ground, writhing in pain and clutching her hand. The Thunderian lion stood stupidly staring at her long enough for Alluro's full thrall to come into effect. The half-cheetah was so distracted himself by the injury to his lover, that Snarfer was able to sink his teeth into Knave's arm. He let out a shout of his own and tried to dislodge the creature from his person. The thing finally let go and bolted in the direction of Alluro, Zanaya and the Lion. Refusing to risk it taking advantage of Zanaya's helplessness, he followed.
"This guy's good," Cameo muttered, spinning his fighter around for another strafing run. Chilla, he noticed, had joined him in ganging up on the larger craft, but the Thundercat was too accustomed to these odds. The only benefit was that he was so outnumbered that he couldn't mount a concentrated attack of his own without leaving himself defenceless to one or the other of them. While he had the opportunity to do so, Cameo glanced out the window to see how his allies were doing.
The Lunattacker and Tug Mug were contending with the two children while Knave and Alluro were handling the small cat and lion respectively. He saw the flash of light and cursed quietly. He'd almost been looking directly at the sword when it happened, and now there were stars dancing in front of his eyes. He felt energy blasts hit the wing of his ship and knew he had to land immediately.
"Ho!" Lion-O shouted, pointing his sword in the direction of the crystal Alluro used to hypnotise, shattering it at once. The appearance of the strange woman had startled him and briefly allowed Alluro to get him under his control, but the arrival of Snarfer had changed that. The fact that one of his dear friends was in danger was enough to allow him to jump out of the sphere of influence of the orb and return fire. He had just finished that when he found the blue Lunatak upon him. It only took him a second to realize that somehow this man was part Thunderian Cheetah. "Ho, friend! We are kin, why are you attacking us?" Lion-O tried, fending off the crazed punches of the hybrid.
"We are not kin," he grunted in response, his fist colliding with the claw shield.
"We are both Thunderians. We should be allies, fighting against the Lunataks," Lion-O said in vain, suspecting deep down that there would be no peace. He knew, though, that he had to try anyway.
"Shut up," the hybrid responded drawing his icepick from its holder. For the second time that day, Snarfer clamped his teeth around Knave's hand, causing the weapon to bounce harmlessly to the ground.
Lion-O used this opportunity to shout "Ho!" at him again, blasting him in the chest with the Eye of Thundera and propelling him backwards onto the strange woman. Perhaps he could be made to see the truth under different circumstances. Cheetara perhaps, she might be able to reach his heart.
With his foe dispatched, Lion-O scanned the battlefield to see who else needed help. Lynx-O seemed to handling Chilla just fine, now that the fighter craft was out of the way. Alluro had retreated back to base, probably to get a new crystal, but the Thunderkittens were a different story. The Lunattacker and Tug Mug were chasing Wily Kit, keeping her from helping her brother, who was pinned beneath Amok's meaty fists. "Snarfer, you help Kit. I'm going to rescue Kat."
Back at Cat's Lair, Bengali had made a discovery. While watching the progress of the various Thundercats, he had noticed on a side monitor that the large Lunar space ship was descending swiftly, headed for the location of Lion-O's battle. He immediately picked up the radio and warned both Lynx-O and Panthro of this event, and then prepared to join them himself. They would need all the help they could get.
Slamming his fist against the side of the fighter craft, Cameo considered his options. He wasn't the greatest hand to hand fighter, and Knave's ship was still nearby, but it appeared that Luna was going to need him sooner than that. The big burly Thundercat with the sword was headed in her direction and looked none too pleased. Even as he sprinted towards them the Lion discharged a blast of energy from his sword, narrowly missing Amok's shoulder and causing both the Guardian and Luna to look his way.
"One more step and Amok will squash the boy, Thundercat," Cameo shouted, getting closer. This made the Lion stop in his tracks. He hadn't considered the possibility, and neither had Luna if her expression was any indication.
"That's right, Lion-O. Surrender now or Amok here will see how flat Wily Kat can get," Luna cackled.
"Thundercats never surrender," Cameo heard the one Luna had called Lion-O say.
"Are you stupid?" he asked. "Do you think we're bluffing?"
The Lion's eyes flicked over to Cameo, his sword still wavering. Finally the tip drooped and Cameo thought he'd finally seen reason. Suddenly it raised again and he shouted "Ho!" Energy raced along the blade and made a beeline for Luna. Without thinking about what he was doing, having started moving as soon as he realized what Lion-O was doing, Cameo jumped in the way of the blast, taking the hit in her stead.
Wily Kat's life flashed before his eyes. He remembered all the mischief he and Wily Kit had gotten in to. Their exodus from Thundera. The arrival on Third Earth. Meeting new allies. Fighting battles with countless foes. Amok's fist rocketed towards his head, but swerved at the last moment. When he dared open his eyes, Wily Kat saw that Lion-O had dropped the Sword of Omens, thus sparing his life.
High above the battlefield, Lynx-O could see what was happening clearly through his braille board. He could also see the space ship getting within range. Lion-O would hate him for abandoning Wily Kat but there was no alternative. He fired a direct hit on the Ice Runner and swooped down, covering Amok and Luna with dust as he opened one of the pods. "Quickly, Lion-O, more Lunataks are approaching. We must re-group!" he urged. Reluctantly, the lion obeyed, climbing in with Snarfer at his heels. They turned and collected Wily Kit as well before racing away.
Darius was very put out, as he walked around the home of Eluosi. Nitro had been there for an hour or so setting up the security arrangements, a job that did not fall under his jurisdiction. The house itself was fairly small, comfortably housing six people, with two stories plus a basement. There were caterers setting up tables and chairs on the back lawn, and he had seen Eluosi's youngest sister rehearsing a song of some sort. The pleasant atmosphere was hindered, in his opinion, by the heavily armed Icewalkers checking people's credentials and walking around.
At long last he found Nitro, inspecting a bowl of punch. "You're resistant to poisons, aren't you?" The sire of House Iespyk asked, holding a crystal glass out to the changeling.
"This really isn't necessary," Darius said, accepting the glass regardless. He was immune to most poisons, but wasn't keen to find out what the exceptions were. "This isn't the Ice Moon, and we're more than capable of handling the arrangements."
"Yes, I saw how good the Royal security force was when Tycho was first abducted. Very well done, I must say. The royal family looks weak as a result, and needs the Icewalkers around," Nitro said.
"There are going to be flaws in any security plan. We didn't know that Aristarchus would have allies that close to Tycho's quarters. And your plan makes it feel like a prison more than a party," Darius said.
Nitro was about to step closer to Darius, obviously irked at having his judgement challenged. He wasn't the sort to be questioned, certainly not on the Ice Moon where he might as well have been king. "The Ice Moon has had fewer assassinations per attempt than any other moon in the empire, do you know why? It's because we take precautions. We assume that there is danger everywhere, and we're usually right. There are people out there who want to kill the king, in case you've forgotten. They've tried twice in the last few days. They will try again. I'm not going to risk Aristarchus gaining the throne just to satisfy Tycho's pet."
"In the empire," Darius said, causing his body to grow larger, "there is only one person with greater authority than myself, and that is Tycho. The same Tycho that trusts my judgement in all matters. You would do well to remember that, Nitro." His body returned to its normal state as he noticed the looks the duo were receiving from the hired help. "Keep your security detail if it makes you happy, but our enemies will always find ways around them. No one, not even you, is perfect."
Nitro scowled as the changeling walked away. He was right, and that frustrated the Icewalker even more. Honour dictated obedience to Darius. For now.
The infirmary of Sky Tomb consisted of a padded table in a large closet. A few medical supplies were on hand, having been stolen from the outlying villages, and it wasn't uncommon for a doctor to go missing from one of these villages in a pinch. Luckily they had kept a Bulkin doctor and, even though he was exhausted from working in the engine room, dumping Thundrillium into the furnace, he had done a reasonable job attending to the various injuries the Lunataks had accrued against the Thundercats.
Shortly after the Thundercats had fled, the Honour of the Moon had landed outside, huge landing struts sinking into the rocky land outside. Paeder and her entourage were welcomed immediately to Luna's control room. Luna felt an almost immediate dislike for the woman already, though Tug Mug's leering suggested he didn't feel the same. It was the way Paeder hadn't so much as bowed when she'd entered that did it. Common courtesies couldn't have de-evolved so much in eighty years.
"I don't know what those traitors have told you," she began, referring to Cameo and Knave who were still in the infirmary, "but we were sent from the Ice Moon to rescue Chilla, whom we heard was here."
"Indeed?" Luna said.
"Yes. So, if you don't mind we will take Chilla and depart at once," Paeder said, eliciting a chuckle from Luna.
"If you think you are leaving me behind, you are sadly mistaken," she replied. Paeder had only brought four guards with her, and they would probably follow their captain. Red Eye, Tug Mug and Alluro could be counted on to stand by her. Chilla's loyalties she wasn't entirely sure about, though the woman answered that question quickly.
"I don't know who you are, but in my time our people respected the throne. I may not always like Luna, but what Cameo and Knave have said suggests that she's needed back on the Royal Moon. We are not leaving her behind," Chilla hissed, a stream of cold vapour escaping her lips.
"Fine. We take the queen and Chilla. Come along then," Paeder said, turning for the elevator. Her way was stopped as Tug Mug bounded in front of her, and she could hear Alluro shuffling behind her.
"You aren't leaving without us either," Tug Mug said.
"My psyche club may be archaic by your standards, but I assure you my powers are great enough to control your feeble mind," Alluro added.
Paeder snorted derisively, turning to meet the hypnotist with her gun drawn. "We have no room on our ship for Psions," she said. "If it wasn't for Chilla's insistence, we wouldn't even be taking the queen."
"I suggest you reconsider," Luna said, walking Amok closer. "You may outnumber us, but we are stronger than you. No one is being left behind. We will leave in the morning, assuming Cameo, Knave and that Psion are able to leave the infirmary."
Paeder pushed past Alluro and met Luna eye to eye. "I will grudgingly take you along, I may even accept these three, but those traitorous hybrids deserve to be left behind. They have been nothing but trouble since the day they came on board, and now I find that they snuck a Psion along with them. In fact, abandoning them here might be too kind a fate for the likes of them, I suggest death."
The speed of Amok was often underestimated, given his considerable size, but his reflexes were honed to perfection. No sooner had the words escaped Paeder's mouth than she was held high in the air, Amok's hands squeezing her body painfully. "I am not fond of repeating myself," Luna said, enunciating every word carefully. "Cameo risked his life to save me. I am not going to abandon anyone who has proven themselves worthy of my trust."
While Luna and Amok were occupied with Paeder the rest of her crew jumped into action, each imprisoning a guard in their own fashion. Amok turned Paeder to see her captured companions. "Fine!" she gasped, still being held very tightly. "I will return to my ship for the night, and we will all leave in the morning."
"I don't think so. You're just as likely to leave us behind. We may have been away from the Moons for eighty years, but Lunataks haven't changed much. No, you're going to inform your crew that you will be spending the night here, and helping us transfer what equipment we can salvage. Red Eye, Alluro and Tug Mug. You will take our guests to suitable accommodations, Chilla and I will check on our other guests."
In the infirmary Zanaya looked nervously at her two companions. Her secret was out now, and Cameo looked none too pleased with Knave about it. At least Knave didn't suspect what was going on in her heart, how she planned on ridding herself of her lover in a violent fashion. For being forced to sleep with him and the product of that union growing in her belly, she would hurt him more than he'd ever been hurt before. But she wouldn't be able to do that from here, certainly not with Cameo watching. There was nothing for it but to keep up the charade a bit longer and wait for the perfect opportunity.
Disgustingly, Knave refused to sit on the bed, and instead sat on the floor next to her. He'd asked about her hands, still stiff and sore from the momentary contact with the Sword of Omens. Cameo sat on the bed, with the doctor huddled by the door. Touching that sword had been unbelievable. It had felt like some great power had sifted through her brain and deemed her unworthy, she'd felt the rejection from the weapon so fiercely, and the jolt that had coursed through her hands and into her body had been an experience that she never wanted to feel again. What kind of power did that thing have? And how could she get it to the Psions for study?
All thoughts were interrupted as the door unlocked and hissed open. She looked nervously up at Luna and Chilla, deciding for the time being not to use her powers. The quarters were too tight, and with Amok blocking the door way she would have little chance of escape. Besides, where would she go? This was an alien planet and these people were her best chance of getting off the mudball.
"Follow us," Luna said simply, her voice implying that she disliked not being obeyed. The three Lunataks did so, leaving the Bulkin doctor locked in the room.
She and Chilla led them down the hall and into a larger room; this one was mostly empty except for a few chairs and a round table. It was easy to tell, Zanaya thought to herself, which spot belonged to which Lunatak. A high chair with a wide gap next to it was clearly where Luna and Amok sat. An empty space marked with food residue was where Tug Mug stood. A high backed chair for Alluro, a broad chair for Red Eye and a simple wooden chair for Chilla. As if to verify her suspicions, Luna and Chilla took their spots. Moments later the other three returned from dropping off their 'guests'. Here, Luna took the initiative. "An explanation is order. This Psion was not present earlier, and your captain knew nothing about her."
It looked bad. Lunataks of all breeds didn't take kindly to spies, and getting caught being one was dangerous. She considered again the possibility of camouflaging herself and running. Luna caught the expression on her face and tapped a remote at her side, locking the door. Besides, Red Eye might still be able to see her with his infravision.
"I suppose it's my turn, then. A lot has changed since you left, my queen. The moons are fractured, each vying for control of the empire," Zanaya explained hesitantly.
"I thought you said a lot had changed," Luna snorted, pleased with her joke.
"True, I suppose, but it worsened without a strong hand, your strong hand, to guide it. The Psion people needed an advantage over the Icewalkers, so they sent me to *ahem* deal with Nitro of House Iespyk, given how powerful he is among his people," Zanaya said. Chilla grinned, clearly pleased with her son's success. "Anyway, I was caught in the act and managed to escape. Just as I was about to leave, I heard some people talking about going to Third Earth to get something, taking the flagship, so I tried to find out what was going on. I found out too late to get further instructions from my home moon and... that brings us here."
"And your relationship with Knave?" Cameo asked tersely.
"He discovered me one day and we formed an alliance. The old captain of the ship hated half-breeds, as most Lunataks still do, and we found a common enemy. He was going to leave Knave, Cameo and the other half-breed behind and, even though they are Icewalkers, I felt that was wrong. And we sort of fell in love," Zanaya said, picking her words carefully.
"Love?" Luna snorted. "I'm not stupid. You got caught and used him. He found someone willing to sleep with him. I remember Lunatak attitudes towards hybrids, I dislike them myself, and I can imagine Knave would find little companionship." Zanaya started to protest, as did Knave but Luna silenced them with a look. She then turned her eyes to Cameo. "She called you a half-breed too, but you don't look it."
"That's true. I always favoured my mother's side. My father was a Solarin. I apologize if my heritage offends you, but maybe it will help prove that we hybrids can be useful," Cameo said diplomatically.
"You saved my life, and regardless of your parents, I will remember that. From now on, though, there will be no deception among any of you or I will let Paeder leave you on this miserable planet. Each of you will help me and my crew determine what can be salvaged from Sky Tomb and what can not. Except for you, Red Eye. Doubtless the Thundercats will come to rescue their cub, and I want all the warning I can."
In the royal living quarters, Tycho was in the process of putting the finishing touches on his outfit. Dark purple pants and long sleeved shirt held in place with a gold belt, a white with gold trim cape hung over his shoulders, and a crescent shaped amulet that weighed heavily around his neck. He looked at himself in the mirror and was quite pleased with what he saw. Darius hated this pair of boots, though, and would fuss about how hard they were to clean. Tycho liked them. They were black and shone brightly. They'd been a gift from his mother shortly before her death and he'd always treasured them for that reason.
There was no reason to delay the inevitable, so Tycho gathered up his ceremonial sword and strode purposefully to the waiting car.
Tug Mug and Cameo were in the kitchen, selecting things that could be added to the Honour of the Moon's food stores. Cameo wasn't quite certain what to think of the rotund Graviton quite yet, but thought he saw a lot of good in the man. Like most Gravitons, however, he seemed to devote much of the conversation to food and sex. Cameo found himself longing for the former as Tug Mug mentioned some of the things he would like to do to Paeder to 'loosen her up.' He doubted somehow that the captain would find any of the suggestions very relaxing, and tried to blot out the half-formed images.
At least the food supply in Sky Tomb wasn't too bad. Tug Mug had produced two barrels of strangely shaped fruit that tasted sweet like candy, but was highly nutritious from what he was told. He wondered if the seeds could be cultivated and planted on one of the moons. Access to food like this would be a hit. He was just clamping the lid back on the barrel when he sensed a presence. He poked his head out into the corridor but couldn't see anything.
Elsewhere, Knave was assisting Chilla in her personal quarters, packing her meagre belongings in a box. Like most Icewalkers she didn't believe in owning much in the way of personal possessions, but had managed to collect a few trophies that she enjoyed looking at, remembering how she'd gotten them. At the moment, however, she was listening to Knave tell stories about her family. So many of them had been lost, though she was pleased to hear that her husband Ren had died valiantly in combat with Mutants. It had been such a glorious battle, the prestige of her house had risen.
Stories about her son, however, pleased her less. She disliked Thunderians, made worse by their frequent battles on Third Earth, and hearing that he had bedded one nauseated her. The sight of them naked as they were cooked for dinner had been bad enough on the Ice Moon, let alone being naked with them in an intimate fashion. Still, her grandson seemed amiable enough, though most of that was the worship in his eyes. She supposed that, in the end, such creatures could be put to use. His relationship with the Psion was equally disgusting and, she decided, would have to come to an end. "That's the last of it," she said, standing next to the two boxes. She didn't need the furniture, and everything else could be replaced. "Let's take these to the hangar and start on the next room."
Zanaya had hoped that, when they were being assigned partners, she would get to work with Alluro, and had been greatly displeased when Luna decided to work with her herself. She'd been dragged to the engine room where the queen of the Lunataks was explaining the benefits of using Thundrillium to power the ship. It was rather boring stuff, and Zanaya's eyes wandered. Everything in this room was primitive, nothing was worth keeping. Despite Luna's claims, Thundrillium seemed to be in short supply outside a few planets and none of those were accessible from the Moons. It would be a waste to convert engines to their use. By co-incidence she happened to be looking at the doorway, longing to leave, when she thought she saw a glimmer of movement.
Her natural camouflage powers also granted her some very vague ability to sense others who were camouflaged. When she asked Luna if anyone could do such a trick, the queen pushed Amok to a run. "Hurry! We must get to the dungeons!" she cried.
She'd seen him, somehow. Tygra cursed softly to himself and began sprinting down the halls, his feet scarcely making a sound against the metallic floors. Lion-O had sent him ahead to determine where Wily Kat was being kept and whether he could be extracted without being noticed. He had seen Red Eye walking towards the command centre and had figured the rest of his journey would be uneventful, but then there was that strange woman. His plans would have to be altered, he thought glumly, as he threw himself into a side passage just as Amok and the Psion lumbered by. He couldn't risk being seen again. He would just have to hope that they could find Wily Kat in time.
Silently, at Alluro's direction, the Automaton packed the scientist's possessions, placing experiments, books, bottles and clothes into clearly labelled boxes. When all was complete, he would order the machine to transfer everything to the Honour of the Moon. He wondered what kind of quarters they had on board. For that matter, he wondered what awaited him on the Psion Moon. He'd had a home and family there, as well as an important job. He'd had a place of honour at the temple, conducting experiments to try and augment psionic powers. The psyche club had been a stroke of genius, he mused, and he'd had time to develop new theories.
The new Psion filled him with a certain amount of pride too, even though she had been caught. Alluro had no doubt the woman had used Knave to gain access to the Icewalker secrets and probably planned on killing him when his use expired. His people had been at the forefront of the Lunar empire, their telepaths manipulating the throne with ease. And then they'd been caught, a fact that the other moons never let them forget. He'd have had control of Luna too if it weren't for Amok.
His sandals slapping gently against the metallic floor of his lab area, he walked over to the device the Thundercats had ruined on one of their recent visits. His Skull Scope. It would have been perfect if Lynx-O's mind hadn't resisted so strongly. Would it be worth it to try and salvage it? Probably not, sadly, though the blueprints would be invaluable. That was the trick with half his inventions. Space onboard that ship would be limited, so anything that could be recreated would have to stay behind.
"He's been gone too long," Lion-O said, standing with the other Thundercats and Hachiman near the Forest of Mists. "If anything's happened to him..."
Cheetara came up behind her Lord and touched his arm. "Don't speak like that, especially in front of Wily Kit," she said softly, "the Sword of Omens would warn us if either Wily Kat or Tygra were in any real danger."
"You're right, Cheetara," he replied, his eyes flashing an apology. Wily Kit was beside herself with worry, more so than the rest of them, her brother was being held prisoner by those monsters, and they had no idea what the Lunataks might do to him. "Speaking of which, Sword of Omens give me sight beyond sight!" He raised the powerful sword to his face and gazed through the hilt.
The world before him changed, revealing Wily Kat sprawled on the floor of a metallic cell, the hide of a Brute Man lay on the floor across the room as he refused to use the skin of an ally for his own benefit. He appeared to be alright, though a few minor abrasions marked his body. These would heal with time. The Lunataks, it seemed, were busy with other things.
Again his vision distorted, revealing a location nearby. There was nothing there out of the ordinary and Lion-O wondered for a moment if the sword was playing tricks on him. His mind realized what it was doing when he saw footprints in the dry earth and knew that it was Tygra.
"It looks like we're going to get some answers sooner than we thought," Lion-O said, lowering the mystical blade and looking around at his companions, taking in their expressions. Wily Kit sat, being consoled, with Pumyra on the Thunderclaw. Hachiman and Panthro were talking near the Thundertank while Lynx-O and the Snarfs did some repair work on the Thunderstrike. "Tygra is almost here," he explained.
Traversing the landscape of Dark Side was a tricky task, but to one of Tygra's experience it wasn't too bad. He found the others just as the sun was beginning to set, and took a drink of water when Cheetara handed him the flask. He gave his report, though there was little to give. The Lunataks seemed to be stationary for the moment and he'd been unable to get near Wily Kat. He couldn't even give a report on the abilities of the new comers, though it was safe to assume that they were similar enough to their brethren. Their numbers were also inflated greatly by the arrival of the spaceship.
The prospects looked grim indeed, but Thundercats made it a point never to give up. The next hour was spent discussing how they might rescue the cub. Each member of the team gave their opinions and a plan was made.
The boy looked balefully at the queen of the Lunataks as she inspected the door to his cell. Pleased that it hadn't been tampered with she stared hard at Zanaya. "Are you sure you saw something?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Zanaya said. "It was a distortion of some kind, like someone that's invisible was here."
"Hmm... Stay here with the prisoner. If you see this distortion again sound the alarm."
Red Eye and Tug Mug switched places after a few hours so that Red Eye could take his turn at dinner, while the rest of the crew searched the premises for any sign of Thundercats. The Lunataks had decided early on that everyone would split the various duties around Sky Tomb, although it wasn't uncommon for one to trade for a job that they were better at. No one ever traded to let Red Eye cook more often; he was terrible at it, but loved cooking and thought every dish was delicious.
Tonight, in honour of their last day, he was preparing one of his favourite dishes: Roast Berbil Stew. The recipe was a closely guarded secret, but only the choicest pieces of Berbils were used to prepare it. Other ingredients that had been guessed at were cheese, honey stolen from the gigantic bees of Dark Side, and something that left a very bitter taste in the mouth that Chilla often speculated reminded her of rust. Strangely, ever since he'd first introduced the dish, fewer Berbils were captured, or were kept hidden from him.
Before he left, Cameo had made the mistake of saying that he looked forward to dinner and ended up with a larger portion of the revolting stew. Alluro was the first to volunteer to take Wily Kat and Zanaya their food, mostly so he could get to his secret stash, a trick that all the Lunataks employed.
Tycho straightened his shoulders as he walked up to the front door of the Brythago family home, greeting the guard there politely. Once his identity was verified, he was shown inside and immediately met the face of Eluosi's mother. She was a heavy set woman who, if he recalled from his brief research, had been in the opera. Her voice was high but delicate as she called out his name, embracing him warmly. "How good of you to come," she said, finally freeing him from her grip. "It is such an honour to have one of your influence among us. Please come in, have some punch. Mister Iespyk assures me it's safe." Her voice indicated a certain displeasure at Nitro's security efforts, though Tycho approved of them.
Walking briskly from the matron of the home, Tycho helped himself to some of the aforementioned punch and looked around to see where Eluosi was. He found her resting in a red velvet chair, near the window overlooking the backyard, gazing off into space. Her injured arm was tucked daintily in a sling and covered with a copper coloured coat. Gradually making his way over to her, he finally managed to catch her eye. "How are you?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
She smiled cordially at him, "I'm well, all things considered. I'll be happier once I have full use of my arm again."
He chose to ignore the old battle. "This is a lovely home you have here," he said instead, "I like the decor especially. You really didn't need to go to all this fuss for me."
"I know I didn't, but I agree with my mother. You've gone above and beyond the call of duty for me, and we want you to know how much we appreciate it. Just wait until you hear my sister sing, she takes after my mother. I'd wager she'll be in the opera before you know it," Eluosi said enthusiastically.
"I don't doubt it. The stage runs in your blood. It won't be long now, I wager, until we see you back on the stage," he said, drinking from the glass. It was pretty good punch.
"Not until this heals," she sighed deeply. "There aren't many parts that call for a one-armed woman."
Glancing up at the sound of footsteps approaching, Zanaya stood and arched her back, easing out all the kinks. She drew her pistol and watched closely, smiling warmly when she saw who it was. The master hypnotist carried two bowls in his hand and slipped one of them inside the cell. He then gestured Zanaya to follow him. Alluro led her down the hall, still in sight of Wily Kat's cell but far enough that he wouldn't hear anything.
"What are things like back on the Moon?" he asked.
"Same as they've been since you left. We've found it difficult the last few decades to gain much of a foothold within the empire. Leadership changes so constantly that work has to start over too often. We have a candidate that we're trying to put in place, but nothing concrete. How much control do you have over Luna?" Zanaya asked.
Alluro snorted. "So long as Luna has Amok, she has control over us," he said. "But, in a strange way, I think she listens to my advice. I haven't even had to use hypnotism to do it, just my natural charm. But then, I've yet to meet anyone who can resist my charm." His eyes grazed over her body, drinking it in. He'd been away from the moon for so long with the only female companions being Luna and Chilla, that he found himself craving her company, but he squelched the idea. There were plenty of female Psions back home to just hop in the sack with the first one he saw, and this one would probably succumb too readily.
"Yes, your charm and persuasion are legendary back on the moon, it's a wonder you weren't made a high priest," Zanaya said, not catching his leering as Wily Kat had stirred and was poking hesitantly at the food.
"Indeed they tried. But I was happier with my inventions, and I found had little time for those I considered my lessers," Alluro said. "I was so close to a breakthrough when I was called on for this fool's errand. She lost the belt, you know. Knocked off a cliff and shattered, she says. Perhaps some fragment of it might be found, but the magic is doubtless gone."
"Luna is an idiot then," Zanaya muttered.
"Oh, no doubt about it. But as long as she's around, she'll have to do. Anyhow, I should go before the others start wondering where I've gone. Keep an eye on the kitty, won't you?" he said, striding away.
"I'll make you proud," she said as she watched him go. She continued to stare off in the direction he'd gone and wondered to herself what he had meant with those words. 'As long as she's around' he'd said. So if Luna wasn't around... Was he asking her to kill Luna? Kill the other Lunataks? The thought was appealing, even something her high priests would approve of. Each one of them posed a threat to the greater plans of the Psion moon. And with each stroke of her knife she could neutralize that threat.
The 'guest room' was disgusting. A spot near the furnace, this room was clearly a place where they stored excess ore when times were good. Plenty of rocks were still scattered about, along with an empty ore cart. The pickaxe that had been present had been taken away when Paeder and her escort were locked up. Luna couldn't treat them like this. Paeder was the captain of the flagship of the Ice Moon, and deserved to be treated with respect. Even worse was Chilla, a hero of legendary proportions, being a part of this conspiracy. And then there was Tug Mug. Paeder's mouth filled with bile at the thought of the little man who had suggested alternative accommodations in his bedroom if she wanted them. She settled with her back against the ore cart and plotted his violent demise.
The home of the Brythago family was bustling with activity. Most of the people were in the backyard, though many mingled and chatted in the house proper, eating hors d'oeuvres and drinking punch. There were numerous celebrities present, and an almost equal number of Icewalker guards. From a seedy restaurant down the street, Mystan sat with one of his telepath allies, sipping at a glass of water. The woman, named Lura, had her eyes closed and was being his scout, slipping her mind into that of the partygoers to inspect the security.
"They're all moving outside," she murmured, "the hostess just announced that Eluosi's sister is going to sing."
Perfect, he thought, finding the king would be that much easier once the singing started. Tycho would have a place of honour at the front of the pack. Closing his own eyes, Mystan allowed his senses to follow the thread of Lura's psychic link and drifted towards the crowd, and was pleased when he saw that he was right. He swept his view away and examined closely the locations of the guards. "There," he said to Lura, "that's the guard we'll use, the one by the flower bush. I'll hold him still, you finish the deed."
Although he couldn't see Lura herself, she gave an affirmative and quietly took over the mind of the selected target. Seeing that she was ready, he sent his own consciousness over the body of Tycho, creating a telekinetic bubble to prevent him from moving. It was difficult for some reason, the force sliding off him like hands on a bar of soap. No matter, whatever resistence he had wouldn't do him much good. "Now!" he intoned.
Nitro listened to the singing with only a passing interest. It wasn't spectacular but was adequate. He'd never been much into the opera scene anyway, viewing it as a group of fat women singing as loud as they could. Minimal plot, foreign dialect, all very boring. He jerked to attention when he heard one of his guardsmen shout "Death to the king!" and fire successive energy bursts from his rifle at Tycho's position. The king took the blows square to the chest and slumped back.
Proudly, the rest of his men moved into action, returning fire immediately and rushing to the aid of the king. Nitro felt a wave of shame overtake him; He had failed in his duty. There was no way Tycho could have survived such an assault. The Icewalker responsible and his family would suffer for this act.
Rushing over to inspect the fallen royalty, he was surprised to hear Tycho laughing and standing, brushing the scorch marks clean off his clothes. "Not to worry, folks. I'm fine," he said, morphing his body into Darius. "Nitro, canvas the area to find where those Psions are hiding. There's at least a telekinetic in the bunch and probably a telepath too." Nitro agreed and was about to send his men out when the entire area went pitch black.
Mystan cursed the changeling, not for the first time, and told Lura to engage plan B. There were Darkling forces ready nearby; they cast the area in darkness and waded in, guns drawn. They began seeking out the heat signatures of all Icewalkers, firing and killing any they came across. The Icewalkers weren't stupid, however, and began blindly spraying ice in the direction the shots were coming from.
It was chaos, and Darius knew he had to act quickly. Transforming his body into a Darkling was easy, doing so and having the abilities of the Darkling was hard. Slowly he forced his eyes to become infrared and scanned for signs of intruders. There they were, and since he would register as kin to them, they wouldn't be likely to shoot back. Moving through the crowd Darius began picking off the traitorous Darklings, killing many before they realized the deception. At least one enemy soldier was mistaken for the changeling and killed accidentally, and Darius managed to take care of the rest of them. Once they were all accounted for, the darkness began to dissipate. Quickly, before Nitro's Icewalkers mistook him for an intruder, Darius reverted to his natural form.
"How? Where's the king?" Nitro asked, looking around at the carnage astonished.
"I told you I could take care of things. Tycho and I switched places in the bathroom. We knew that this was the likely time for an attack and prepared a counter measure. Go tend to your people, I'll let Tycho know it's safe," Darius said, the trace of a smug expression on his countenance.
Nitro nodded curtly and sent his remaining troops to scour the immediate area, determined to find the Psions nearby. The royal guard he employed to tend to the wounded until professional help arrived, and to gather up the dead.
"I'm getting word from the oracle," Lura said, gasping as the urgent message was sent. She and Mystan were hurrying to their car, parked behind the restaurant. She looked confused by the words and settled into the passenger seat. "We're being recalled," she said, "the oracle says it's too late."
"We'll gather the other Psions then. Aristarchus can fend for himself," Mystan said.
The door to Red Eye's room slid open easily. The Darkling had been so exhausted from working that he'd forgotten to lock it, a boon to his visitor. Quietly, the intruder crept forward, trying not to make a sound in the darkened room. Red Eye was a tidy individual, everything went precisely where it belonged, even his clothes were draped in an orderly fashion over the back of his chair. The room itself was simple. A few potted plants hung from the ceiling and a mirror adorned the wall next to the door. There was a trunk full of clothes, a desk, and the bed in which the target lay sprawled on his back, one hand carelessly touching the floor.
Slowly the assassin pulled back the sheets and drew a long sharp knife. Red Eye's throat was bare, head cocked slightly to the side. His death would come swiftly and painlessly. Just as the knife was raised for the killing stroke, strong hands clamped firmly around the assassin's mouth and wrist, dragging them back out into the hall. As soon as the door shut again, Cameo turned them around. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Knave?" he asked, his voice low.
The fellow hybrid scowled back, freeing his arm from Cameo's grip. "I'm carrying out my orders. Red Eye and Alluro are not to arrive on the Ice Moon. My father's orders," he said.
"Your fath... Are you his dog now? Did he sleep with one of the Jackalmen? Come on, you hate your father, it's common knowledge, and yet you do whatever daddy tells you? I thought you were better than that. I thought you could think for yourself," Cameo said, trying hard to keep his voice low so as not to wake anyone up. He'd been having trouble sleeping and had heard Knave get out of bed. Curious, he'd followed at a discreet distance.
"Out of my way, Cameo. I don't like hurting other Icewalkers, but I will if I have to. I have a duty to perform and you..." Knave began.
"You will do nothing of the sort. It's because of such dated attitudes that I agreed to come on this mission. We are all Lunataks. In our veins runs the same blood. Believe it or not, the other moons are not your enemies."
"Yeah, well, his people killed my brother."
"Because your brother killed a bunch of his people. And now you're going to kill him. And his people will want to kill more Icewalkers if you do, until finally you're all dead. It's not going to happen. You've been nothing but arrogant and ignorant since we met. I put it aside as being part of your upbringing and because we had something in common, but now I see I'm going to have to beat both out of you," Cameo said.
Knave took a step back, startled at the words that were coming out of his mouth, but then started to smile. The man had guts, but Knave had experience. He'd fought with many people who thought they were better than him, and most of them hadn't been able to back up their words with action. "And how are you going to do that?" he asked, still brandishing his icepick.
"You never did ask what my abilities were," Cameo said, grabbing Knave's arm and painfully squeezing it, causing the knife to clatter to the ground. "Funny thing about my background, my Solarian DNA seems to allow me to copy the strengths and abilities of people I touch. I try not to let it be too wide known, most people might not like that. During dinner I touched Amok. Isn't that funny? I've got the raw power and speed he does, only slightly diminished." Knave kicked Cameo's legs but found the other was quicker. He swung Knave by the arm, propelling him into the wall. Then he used the same arm to draw Knave close enough for a hard punch in the face.
Knave reeled under the assault, and was pleased when Cameo released at last. The half-Solarian stared hard at him, body tensed and waiting to see if there was a counter-attack. "Did I make myself clear?" Cameo asked.
Any reply Knave was about to make was halted when Chilla let loose a scream from her room up the hall. Instantly both hybrids were sprinting as fast as they could to see what the problem was.
It was fortunate that Chilla was a light sleeper. More fortunate still was her distrust of her colleagues. A motion sensor just inside the door alerted the ice woman that there was an intruder, moments before a knife whistled past where her head had been, skewering the pillow. She couldn't see her attacker, despite the moonlight falling through her bedroom window, but could feel her assailant's hands grappling for her neck. It was a poor choice in strategy, as this particular Icewalker could use both ice and fire. She grabbed the phantom wrists and shot fire from her fingertips, igniting the black outfit Zanaya wore.
At that point Knave and Cameo burst into the room. Cameo cast a harsh look at his partner "You two deserve each other," he hissed, tackling the Psion woman to the floor. Knave ignored the comment and rushed to prevent Cameo from hurting her too badly. She may have just attacked his grandmother, but she was still the woman he cared about and there had to be a logical explanation.
The commotion and screaming must have been loud enough, as soon the rest of the Lunataks were gathered in the tight confines of Chilla's bedroom. "What's going on?" Luna demanded.
"That one," Chilla said, pointing her finger in Zanaya's direction, "tried to kill me in my sleep. Here's her knife to prove it." Luna, or rather Amok, walked over and took the blade from the Icewalker.
"That's right," Zanaya said, seeing no point in denying it. She knew that in a case of Chilla's word against her own, that Luna would go with Chilla's. "I did it for Alluro and the glory of the Psions."
"Me? Leave me out of this. I had nothing to do with this," Alluro stuttered, genuinely shocked at the accusation.
"Knave's not innocent either," Cameo said, angry enough at the hybrid to see he got punished further for his actions. "I caught him trying to do the same to Red Eye."
"Really? Confine them both to the dungeon. I will deal with them in the morning. I warn you two, while warring may be the Lunatak way, disturbing my beauty sleep is a grave offense," Luna said.
On to Heritage of the Lunatak Empire - part five
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