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Heritage of the Lunatak Empire
Part Five

The tension surrounding Lura and Mystan was high as they raced away in their car, heading back to the pastry factory. As she stared blankly out the window, watching the trees and houses whistle by, Lura found that she was still troubled by the urgent message from the oracle, wondering what could have changed in the last few hours that would have caused them to abandon their mission. And yet, there was a part of her that was pleased. Aristarchus was an idiot whose ideals and plans happened to coincide with those of the Psion high priests. Tycho didn't fit either category which made him unappealing to those in power.

Lura disagreed with such sentiment. Tycho desired peace and unity among the moons, which couldn't necessarily be a bad thing, in her opinion. Surely peace among the moons would lead to greater glory for the empire as a whole. Tycho also was known to reward his friends and be harsh on his enemies, all this senseless fighting only made them the latter. It just made sense to her that the Psions could gain the most by siding with Tycho, and she wasn't the only one to think that way.

Being highly skilled at reading the thoughts of others, Lura knew that Mystan thought poorly of Aristarchus' judgement. He thought Aristarchus was a buffoon and was pleased himself to finally be returning to the moon and leaving the would-be king to his fate.

Mystan cleared his throat, catching Lura's attention and she looked over in time to see his eyes narrowed on her. His look reminded her that, while he was most adept at telekinesis, he possessed some talents with the other psionic disciplines, and that he knew she was poking where she shouldn't. Satisfied that they were on the same page he focussed his attention back on the road.

The Thundercats moved swiftly by land and air. Their target; Sky Tomb and the Honour of the Moon. They would rescue Wily Kat. They would defeat the Lunataks as they had done on many occasions. The numbers would only be overwhelming if they allowed them to be, they believed in themselves and their cause and failure was not an option.

The cells of Sky Tomb were not designed for comfort. Groups of Brute Men, Wollos, and Bulkins were often packed like sardines into the rooms. In that respect, Knave and Zanaya were fortunate. There weren't many prisoners at present, as the Thundercats had taken part in a rescue operation recently. Instead, they were shackled by the wrists to the wall and otherwise left alone. In the cell across the way, Wily Kat lay still on the floor, his bowl of stew ignored. Much further along were Paeder and her companions.

Zanaya's eyes opened and she stifled a groan at her predicament, trying to remember the old penalties for crimes. There had been so many rulers in the last few years it was often hard to keep track, but attempted murder was still greatly frowned on. Tycho was a little easier than most, resorting to a quick painless death. Others had been less inclined to be merciful, she remembered.

She took in the surroundings, finally catching sight of her companion. Knave. He was the reason she was in this mess. If he'd given her what she wanted in the first place and then had the good sense to die... "Idiot," she muttered, imagining for a moment what it would be like to make him feel as violated as she had when he'd raped her.

"What?" he asked, his head turning towards her. He looked worn down. He hadn't had much sleep lately, and was still sore both mentally and physically from Cameo's abuse.

"I called you an idiot," she said crisply and evenly.

"Why would you say that? You were trying to kill Chilla," Knave said, his face showing the hurt he felt inside. Confused as to why the woman he loved was insulting him. "She's my kin, my blood, why would you do that?"

She laughed haughtily. "You heard what I said earlier. For the glory of the Psions, she should be dead. With her, your precious Icewalkers gain an advantage, without her we gain strength. Unfortunately I seem to have a poor track record killing members of House Iespyk. Your grandmother, your father, you... Heck, I even prevented you from dying."

"What? You never did that," he said, racking his brain and more confused than ever.

"Didn't I?" Zanaya asked. "What about your fight with Captain Havallance? I was with you every step of the way, helping you defeat him. I tripped him, grabbed him, punched him, did whatever I could to help you win and you almost screwed that up. If I hadn't needed that information out of you I'd have let him have his fun."

"But the law of the Icewalkers forbids..."

"It does, doesn't it? I believe by your own laws that you should be put to do death for cheating in the combat. If I thought I'd get away with it, I'd consider telling your people that too."

Knave, she could tell, was hurt and confused, and that somehow made her feel better about herself. After all she had put up with from him, from the physical attacks when they'd first met to the psychological attacks when she'd been made to submit to him, it was satisfying to know that she could use it to her benefit. "Why are you talking like this? I thought you loved me," he stammered.

Zanaya laughed again, this time loud enough to catch the attention of anyone within earshot. She didn't care. "Love you? I never loved you. I used you like the pathetic little kitty you are. You're no different than any man; a few sweet words and a pair of open legs from an attractive woman and you go all soft. I got what I wanted out of you. I found out about Alluro and had the chance to kill the others. My only regret is that when Luna decides to execute us, I won't get to kill you myself."

As she spoke, Knave began to shake, visibly becoming angrier as every word struck him as though it were a physical blow. She paused and spat at him, the glob of saliva landing on his shoulder. "You are the most loathsome individual I've ever laid eyes on. You and your father are so much alike; blood thirsty monsters with no regard for anyone but yourselves and your precious honour. Let me tell something, you have no honour, not the way you treat me, nor the way you treat any of your friends. You're not a proud warrior, you're a coward."

Some part of her mind cautioned her to stop baiting him, but the hatred she'd had building up came flooding out, and the cork could not be put back in place. Were she paying attention to him, Zanaya would have noticed that the rattling of Knave's chains had gone still. Eerily still, in fact. She only realized what was happening when she heard the sound of flesh tearing from bone and his ear splitting bellow. She turned and realized that he was forcibly removing the shackles that had hung loosely around his wrists. The hands were covered in blood as he tore them free and advanced menacingly towards her, evil intent in his stance. She could see, in that moment, that he was no longer a Lunatak but a wild animal that she had managed to provoke. His thoughts were clear; he wanted her dead. There was only one chance. "I'm pregnant!" she cried.

The beast stopped short, feral rage halted for a moment as the words slowly sank in. The bloodlust in his eyes wavered and he eyed her suspiciously.

"It's true. The gods visited me and told me the truth, that I would bear a child for you. I know it sounds hard to believe so early but..." she spoke quickly, fearing that every word might be her last.

It seemed to work though. While the hate and anger was still there, naked in his eyes, another gleam was there too. A ripple of fear shook her as he lifted her shirt and placed one bloodied hand on the flat of her stomach, the same stomach that would soon be swelling with his child. "This is mine," he murmured so softly she almost didn't hear it. Then he met her gaze and she understood that she'd only stayed her execution if he had his way. The next time he spoke it was louder. "Until this is born you are under my protection. Once my son or daughter is in my arms, your life is forfeit."

The scene in the cellar of the Brythago home was more touching, as Darius and Tycho embraced, happy to see each other still alive. The former detailed, in brief, what had happened upstairs. Tycho had noticed, naturally, that the building was in darkness, and had heard the scuffling above. He'd sequestered himself in this room with a gun aimed on the door. If a Darkling had entered he or she would have been shot.

The time for hiding, however, was over, and Tycho's presence needed to be felt by those above. As monarch he knew he needed to be seen as strong and caring, tending to the wounded and meting out justice as needed. There was very little of the latter to do. The few Darklings to survive the attack weren't talking and would be dealt with later. Tycho put greater priority on dealing with those who had fought for him or been caught in the middle. He made the rounds, offering sympathy and condolences, promising that the injured would receive the best care available.

Nitro met him as he comforted an Icewalker who had taken a severe shot to the chest. "You honour us, your majesty," Nitro said. "You've shown me your wisdom and kindness. While I may not approve of your deception, I also must acknowledge that it was effective against treacherous enemies like the Psions and Darklings."

"My thanks to you and your people, Nitro of House Iespyk. Those who died today, died in defence of the crown and therefore have died with full honour and glory. I know the role I must play, though it brings danger to those around me. No one should have to die on my behalf, but with people like yourself and Darius around to protect me from myself, I feel secure that I am doing the right thing for the Lunar people," Tycho said.

"A politician after all," Nitro chuckled, clasping Tycho's shoulder firmly. "I have my people scouring the area, but whoever was co-ordinating this attack has already crawled back into whatever hole they came from, I regret to say. Don't worry though, I'd stake my honour on finding Aristarchus, dead or alive."

Aristarchus, at that moment, was miles away, staring absently at a stray globule of purple pie filling that had somehow affixed itself to the corner of the desk he was using. The radio reports from the local media were casting the attack on the Brythago home in a poor light. They indicated that they were the actions of a desperate man who was acting rashly. Rashly? Him? Never. His plans were well thought out, layer upon layer of detail. If his flunkies couldn't carry them out properly, that couldn't be his fault.

He was somewhat surprised that he hadn't heard yet from Mystan. No Psions were reported dead or captured, and he had that telepathic girl with him. It was very unlike Mystan not to check in. He was the sort who knew his own value made it unlikely that Aristarchus would punish him for bearing bad news. Men like that were dangerous, and usually cocky. Mystan was not.

A flicker of activity caught his attention. A trio of Psions walking past the office window, heading for the exit. He lurched to his feet and walked briskly to catch up to them. "Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.

"We are cutting our losses. The Psions are choosing to no longer support Aristarchus in his bid to be king," one replied.

"Be grateful we do not hand you over to your enemies for the benefit of our empire," another said.

Aristarchus stood by the door in bewilderment, watching the Psions leave. This couldn't be happening. To be abandoned, like an old pair of shoes at the side of the road. It was almost unfathomable that such a thing could happen to a person of his stature. There had to be a logical explanation.

"There is," Mystan's voice at last carried into his head. He was using Lura's telepathic abilities to carry his thoughts. "We have supported you because we felt that you were the best candidate to assist us in our divine role as leaders of the Lunataks. We chose you because your ideas and interests ran the same direction as ours. Yet, despite our aid, you have failed time and again. We are a patient people, but we do not forgive failure."

The telepathic connection cut off as abruptly as it had come, preventing Aristarchus from pleading his case. As he looked around the factory, he realized how alone he was. Only five others, all royal Lunataks, remained. It was time for him to disappear, he thought, and wait for the proper time to rise again. He turned to his cohorts. "Gentlemen, you have served me well. It's time to leave. I want you to remove all evidence that I've been here. Understood?" They saluted and went to work.

While they busied themselves, he walked to his car, hidden in the warehouse, and began to drive away. When he was well clear of the garage door he detonated explosives throughout the building, bringing it down on those inside. "And I will remove the witnesses."

In the command hub of Sky Tomb, perched on a platform high above the floor, was Tug Mug's personal computer. It was here that he kept his secret collection of video games and screen shots from his hidden spy cameras. Luna had been furious the one time she'd spotted one, forcing him to be a little more clever with them. He was especially proud of the one he'd managed to set up in the Warrior Maiden village the one day. He sighed sadly. That was one thing he was going to miss when he left Third Earth. They had laws against that sort of thing back on the moons.

He was snickering at an amusing image of Alluro, after an encounter with the giant bees that inhabited the forest nearby, when the internal alarms began blaring. Tug Mug switched his station to the outer cameras that dotted the Dark Side landscape. "Thundercats!" he cursed, rapidly tapping at the controls to summon the others. If the felines wanted a fight, they would get one.

The Honour of the Moon began to power up and rose slowly into the air. Although they were without their captain, the Icewalkers aboard saw an enemy approaching and knew their duty.

Each Thundercat understood his or her task. The massive starship was the biggest threat, so Lion-O would be responsible for that. Wily Kit and Cheetara were given the most difficult task of all; sneak in to Sky Tomb and rescue Wily Kat without being caught. The Lord of the Thundercats urged Pumyra to fly the Thunderclaw closer to the ship, confident that the Sword of Omens would protect them from incoming laser blasts. Even still, he winced as the powerful bolts struck the energy shield he was generating. The energy rattled his arm, sending vibrations through his body. As they soared closer, he shifted to more aggressive tactics, firing blasts of energy of his own at the vessel.

Lunattacker and Thundertank clashed in the middle of the battlefield, Red Eye and Panthro each trying to out muscle the other's vehicle, pushing violently and spraying fire. Overall the Thundertank was probably the stronger, but it had expended a fair amount of fuel getting to Dark Side and therefore had less power to draw on. Panthro had dispatched his passengers earlier, and they were presently doing battle with the other Lunataks, which meant that he had to win this one on his own. "Come on baby, give me all you've got," he growled, revving the engine harder. She was complaining about the abuse but she was a fine machine. She wouldn't let him down.

Bengali found himself up against a rocky outcropping with Snarf and Snarfer, a marginal piece of shelter from Chilla's strafing runs in the Ice Runner. Snarf was already injured, his tail having narrowly been caught by Chilla's icy breath. Bengali had grabbed him at the last minute and pulled him to safety with his nephew, but the rocks wouldn't prove to be safe for long. The Ice Runner was swift and manoeuvrable, and had managed to loop around for a second run at the trio. Bengali raised the Hammer of Thundera and fired a couple of quick shots off before having to sprint for more cover. Chilla evaded the hasty attack and cackled triumphantly as she managed to freeze the rest of Snarf.

In the bowels of Sky Tomb, Wily Kat drew his knees up to his chest. He wasn't quite sure what was going on outside, but there felt like a lot of activity. The alarms had gone off and he'd felt the engines of the demonic structure powering up. It had to be the Thundercats, trying to rescue him. That was the kind of thing they did for one another.

He looked across the hall at where Knave and Zanaya were. The two had been making a terrible amount of noise earlier, and Wily Kat had been certain that the hybrid was going to kill the Psion. He'd heard her say something about being pregnant and that had halted the assault. Now Knave sat on the floor, tending to his injuries. When he realized he was being watched, Knave gave him a hungry look and slowly licked his lips. Such an act was enough to make Wily Kat inch further away from the bars of his cell.

"I should have you for dinner some time, you look like you've got plenty of meat on you," he sneered, laughing when Wily Kat paled.

"You don't scare me. You're a prisoner of the Lunataks too!" the cub stuttered, trying to sound braver than he was.

"Keep telling yourself that, kid," Knave replied, turning back to his haphazard bandaging.

Further down the hall, Paeder and her companions were listening to the goings on with interest. The captain decided she'd had enough of her captivity and that the time had come to leave the cramped room. If the Lunataks were in the midst of a battle, as she surmised, then they might be too distracted to notice the Icewalkers leaving. "The two of you are fire throwers. Direct your blasts at the lock," she said as the duo moved into position.

Cameo produced a pistol he'd kept tucked in his jacket pocket, it was an older model and had belonged to his father at one point, or so his mother had said. He wasn't a great shot with it, he was better behind the controls of a ship, but he was capable of putting up a good fight. He was trying to keep close to Luna, to protect her for the empire, but was having trouble fending off Tygra. He was starting to debate whether knocking the feline out of the Hovercat had been a good thing or not. At least when he was in the flying craft Cameo could keep tabs on where he was, outside of it he had turned invisible.

The hybrid cursed as he saw Amok trying to avoid being slashed by the human that the others had identified as Hachiman, and took a step in that direction when he felt a fireball slam into his back. Cameo turned and glowered at Tygra, standing smugly with his whip in one hand. He curled it about himself again and vanished. Cameo lunged at the spot where he'd been but found nothing but barren rock. "Fight with honour," he spat.

"Lunataks have no honour," Tygra replied evenly from somewhere off to Cameo's left. He looked in that direction but found no evidence of his attacker. What he did see, and the sight brought a smile to his face, was Red Eye driving the Lunattacker towards him. Darklings were known for their abilities to see the Tigers of Thundera. Perhaps a change of opponent would be in order. The Thundertank barrelling behind Red Eye would be a suitable choice if he could get Panthro out of it.

He felt the rush of cold air move past him and shivered involuntarily. That had been a close call, and Bengali knew it. He was feeling rather helpless, since if he were out in the open he'd be an easy target, but concealed he couldn't hit her. The terrain around where he was fighting was slick with ice too, making manoeuvring even more dangerous.

The Ice Runner swept around the boulder and Chilla breathed again, pleased when she saw his leg trapped mid-stride. Frantically he began smashing the imposing ice with his hammer, while praying to Jaga that he had enough time before she made another run. The ice finally came loose, but not in time. Bengali saw Chilla's wicked grin as she breathed on him.

Blessed with not being an active combatant, Luna was able to take a quick look around at the battlefield. Hachiman had managed to score several small wounds on Amok's thick arms, but they didn't seem to be hampering his determination. Sure, the Thundercutter was making it difficult for Amok to get within striking range, but the samurai knew that all it would take was a single punch from her Guardian to fell him. Off to one side she could see Alluro and Tug Mug hampering each other's efforts as they tried to contain the Thunderstrike, the former from his jet pack and the latter using Sky Tomb's cannons. Chilla had taken care of Bengali and the Snarves, Tygra and Panthro were having mixed results with Red Eye and Cameo respectively, and the Lord of the Thundercats was battling the Honour of the Moon.

But where were Wily Kit and Cheetara? Everyone else seemed to have been brought in, and the cub especially would not have accepted being left behind. Sky Tomb! They must have gone in to Sky Tomb somehow when no one was looking. She looked back at her home fortress and saw that the elevator had been retracted, which ruled that out as a point of entry. She just hoped Tug Mug could deal with any intruders.

Zanaya still hung from her shackles, staring daggers at Knave. The hybrid had finished bandaging his hands and stared out the door. The words of the goddess Lunis rang in her ears. Surely a god couldn't be wrong, could they? Or had her own god withdrawn his protection? Lunis promised that she would bear a child, and that meant that Zanaya wouldn't be dying any time soon. One look at Knave reminded her that she might not live long after birth, unless she could kill him first.

A noise further down the hall caught her attention. It sounded like multiple voices, and the running of feet. "Paeder," she heard Knave say, staring in that direction. The footfalls grew louder and soon Zanaya could see them too. Paeder and her company of guards paused in front of the cells.

"If I had a gun, I'd put you down like the animal you are," she said as Knave snapped his jaws at her. "Still, it pleases me to know that you won't be joining us on the flight home." That said they jogged away. Zanaya listened to the footfalls growing fainter and fainter, accompanied by the slamming of a door. The air was still, Wily Kat's teeth chattered in the cold of his cell and Knave's heavy breathing was the only other sound.

"Let me down," Zanaya said. "We have to get out of here. I'm not getting left behind."

Knave whirled angrily and started to grab her throat. "I don't take orders from you. If you weren't carrying my child..." She could see him struggling with his impulses, wanting to strangle her but needing her alive at the same time.

"Maybe, but you need me now. You should be able to open these shackles. If you do, I can open the cell door. The lock doesn't look too complicated," she said.

"I know you. If I let you go, you'll attack me. I can't take the chance I'd hurt my child." He released her and went back to the door of the cell, driving his shoulder against it to try and break it open.

Seeing an opponent on foot, Panthro had grudgingly felt obliged to battle in a similar fashion. The Lunatak he faced was one he'd never seen before, but he looked like an Icewalker, which meant he had to be wary of an ice breath attack. For whatever reason, not knowing that such an attack wasn't in Cameo's repertoire, he insisted on fighting hand to hand, using twin knives he kept on his person for just such an occasion.

Panthro whirled his nunchaku about his head and thrust one at his crouching enemy. The Lunatak blocked the clawed stave with his dagger, and jabbed for Panthro's mid-section with the other. The fight carried on for several minutes with the Lunatak largely on the defensive. Although ordinarily Panthro was the stronger of the two, Cameo still had Amok's proportionate strength and reflexes, allowing him to match him on that front. What Cameo did lack was the experience to use them, and Panthro's skill in the martial arts. "You fight pretty good," Panthro said, his nunchaku straining against Cameo's daggers.

"So do you. It's a shame you have to lose," the Lunatak replied.

"Cocky, aren't you?" Panthro said jumping back.

"Confident, not cocky," Cameo replied.

"Are you blind, Tug Mug? Blind as this geezer?" Alluro thought nastily to himself as the moon cannons narrowly missed him. "Better off not even bothering." It was bad enough that Lynx-O was able, largely, to avoid the psyche club crystal, but having to watch out for friendly fire made the fight that much more difficult. "Surrender, Lynx-O, you haven't got a chance!"

If the Thundercat made a response Alluro didn't hear it. Instead Lynx-O fired the guns of the Thunderstrike, getting closer to hitting the small, but manoeuvrable target. Again the moon cannons went off, this time thankfully at their intended target. The Thunderstrike's left pod suffered a direct hit, sparks and debris flying in all directions, forcing Alluro to nimbly move out of the way. "It's about time, Tug Mug," he muttered quietly to himself.

The halls of Sky Tomb were confusing to ones not familiar with them. While Wily Kit and Cheetara had indeed been inside the forbidding structure before, they had scarcely paid much attention to the layout. They knew the engine room, and consequently the dungeons, were in the basement so they followed any avenue that looked like it went down.

It had been easy getting into Sky Tomb, with all the commotion going on outside. The hangar bay doors were still open, allowing Cheetara and Wily Kit to sneak in on the latter's hover board. It got warmer as they went lower too, which they took as a good sign.

They heard voices approaching and ducked into the first room they could to hide. Wily Kit let out a squeak of revulsion, finding her mouth clamped over by the older woman. The room was a pigsty, covered in garbage and half eaten food. A thin leafy tree had somehow taken root in all the filth. Wily Kit noticed the large bed with a deep round indentation on it and could tell by this, and the overpowering stench, that it was Tug Mug's bedroom.

Cheetara slowly uncurled her hand from the child's mouth and pressed her ear against the door, noting with a measure of disgust that it was wet. She inched the door open and peeked out. She pushed it further and gave a thumbs up sign to the Thunderkitten, gesturing for her to follow quietly. Whoever it had been was long gone now.

A few minutes later they arrived at the prison block. Many of the cells had a plain metal door with a small grille in it, these ones, closest to the engine block, had bars instead. Wily Kit made a noise of relief at seeing her brother relatively unharmed. Immediately she set to work on the lock.

"Who are you?" Cheetara heard someone ask, turning in surprise to see the other two prisoners. She'd been so focussed on Wily Kat that she'd somehow failed to notice them. It was the male who had spoken to her with a somewhat friendly tone.

"I am Cheetara of the Thundercats, who are you?" she asked.

"I am Knave of House Iespyk, son of Nitro," he replied. He was staring at her, a strange tone creeping into the man's voice.

"What... What's wrong?" Cheetara asked. Her heart saw such incredible sadness in him and she yearned to comfort him.

"You remind me of my mother somehow," Knave said simply, turning so she wouldn't see the tears burning his eyes.

"Don't listen to him, Cheetara! He threatened to kill and eat me!" Wily Kat interrupted the tender scene before she could unlock his cell to let him out. "He's a Lunatak. He tried to kill the woman in there too, but she's having his kid or something."

"We don't have time for him, our friends need us," Wily Kit said, triumphantly opening the lock with a well placed explosive pellet.

"You're right. I'm sorry, friend. I don't know the life you've had, but if the Thundercats can ever help you, just ask." Cheetara looked to the kittens and led the way back out.

Luna and Amok had managed to gain the upper hand on Hachiman with the help of Chilla, who had begun hurling fireballs at the helpless samurai. Thus distracted he'd been unable to completely avoid Amok's flying fists, catching one across the chest and knocking the wind out of him. Snarling, Luna led her charge to press their advantage, pounding Hachiman's head into the earth with great force. While the helmet absorbed some of the blow, it was enough to render him unconscious.

"Ho!" Lion-O shouted, aiming the Sword of Omens at the nearest gun bay. His Thundercats were suffering heavy losses down there and he knew it was only a matter of time before the Lunataks overwhelmed them. How could this be happening, he wondered, evil wasn't supposed to triumph over good, were they? The gun exploded, granting him a moment's respite to see where he should go next.

"Lion-O! The ship is landing!" Pumyra said, turning to look over her shoulder at her leader. Indeed, the massive vessel was lowering rapidly to the ground. Nearby, near the base of it, he could see a door way opening. "Reinforcements?" she asked.

"I don't know, but I don't like the looks of it. Wait, over there, Lunataks running from Sky Tomb. I... I think they're leaving."

Tug Mug had realized the same thing moments ago when he'd detected the elevator lowering, and the cameras within had revealed Paeder and her cronies. A fleeting image of being abandoned on this planet crossed his mind and he bolted for the hangar. His only hopes were that his pistons would allow him to bounce to the ship in time.

All across the battlefield the Lunataks and Thunderians were coming to similar conclusions and reacting accordingly; the Lunataks had been on Third Earth too long, and did not want to wait for another rescue party to come, while the Thunderians were more than happy to see the Lunataks go, hopefully never to return.

Paeder used every curse word she knew as she ran for the gaping door. They had to take off before Queen Luna and the rest of her crew could get on board, it would serve them right for how they had treated her. Chilla, at least, could fly to the landing bay and help the Icewalkers gain more power. She was almost at the door when Alluro landed in front of her. "Ha, ha, ha, almost missed my ride," he chuckled dryly, entering. The delay was long enough for the others to close the gap between them. Reluctantly, Paeder conceded that she had seven additional passengers.

Lion-O sat on a large rock, breathing hard from the exertion of the last hour or so. The large spaceship had taken off and he couldn't help but feel a little uneasy about it all. The Lunataks weren't known for taking defeat kindly, and would doubtless return someday. Lion-O hoped that he and the good people of Third Earth would be ready for them when they did.

The Thundercats gathered together to assess their injuries, and inspect the damage caused to their vehicles. The latter were all still serviceable, at least enough to get back to Cat's Lair for intensive repairs, and the injuries to the former weren't fatal. Hachiman had been roused and complained of a terrible headache, and Tygra was favouring his left leg, the result of a piece of shrapnel hitting him in his fight with Red Eye. The Thunderkittens and Cheetara joined them and gazed likewise to the stars. "Is that it? Did we win?" Wily Kat timidly.

"I don't know. I wish I did," Lion-O replied.

"There are two Lunataks in the prison inside Sky Tomb. What should we do about them?" Cheetara asked. "One of them is similar in looks to Alluro, and the other is half Thunderian."

"Ah yes, the countryman I fought yesterday," Lion-O said. "We'll free them and let them decide. It would be cruel to just leave them there to starve. They've done us little harm, so I see no need to detain them further at Cat's Lair. If they agree to keep things that way, we can let them stay here."

"What? One of them is a savage. We can't just..." Wily Kat began.

"Lion-O is right. No matter what their disposition, leaving them in that prison cell would be a death sentence, and we Thunderians don't have that kind of penalty," Tygra said, stepping forward and standing beside his lord.

"It's settled then. Lead the way, then, Cheetara."

Knave and Zanaya took the news better than had been expected. Despite Wily Kat's fears, the two seemed docile enough, even accepting limited medical treatment for their injuries from the Wollo doctor before the Thundercats and the other freed prisoners left. The two Lunataks had declined offers of food and shelter, preferring to stay in Sky Tomb for the time being. Only Wily Kat knew the hostility that existed between the two, and he shuddered when Knave's eyes met his own.

"Check out this room!" Tug Mug said enthusiastically. With the shortage of space and allies, Luna insisted that her crew remain in the spacious guest quarters that had been prepared. She didn't trust Paeder at all, and suspected the captain might try something. Chilla disagreed, but chose not to protest. Paeder had sworn to transport them safely, and an Icewalker's word was their bond.

"Indeed Tug Mug," Red Eye said, eyeing the large bed enviously. Luna was going to claim it for her own and Amok would provide back-up. "It's been so long since we've seen luxuries it's hard to remember what life was like before all this."

"That's right. We left all our possessions on board the Excelsior, just like we did at Sky Tomb," Alluro said. "Do you think we'll ever go back?"

"I wouldn't doubt it. Getting revenge on those Thundercats would make me very happy. But first we must get our affairs in order back on the moons. A lot has changed since we left, and I'm sure all of you have friends and family you want to find out about. I hope whoever is in charge doesn't mind surrendering their crown. And if they do?" Luna chuckled, patting Amok meaningfully, causing the others to begin laughing too.

Even though he had seen plenty of devastation and ruined buildings in his time, Darius found the sight of the pastry factory difficult to look at, it reminded him too much of his recent entrapment under Aristarchus' manor. He, along with Roly Poly had been sent to investigate the collapse after a fire marshal reported finding some documents implicating Aristarchus' presence.

Darius couldn't hide a smile when he saw Roly Poly chewing on a box of cookies that had remained largely intact within the debris. "I keep hoping we'll come across Aristarchus' body," Darius remarked, turning one of the dead bodies over. A royal Lunatak whose head had been crushed by the rubble, but was too skinny to be Aristarchus.

"So do I," Roly Poly replied between bites. "Eet would be nice to tell Kaprenius the bad news when we leave tomorrow." The Gravitons were anxious to put the boy in front of their courts. They didn't get a chance to hold many serious trials, and were looking forward to their first in months.

"What do you expect will happen to him?"

"We'll be pushing for the death penalty," Roly Poly said. For a moment his normally jovial attitude was replaced with seriousness, fuelled by his thirst for retribution.

The typical Graviton death sentence had a victim's density increased until they were crushed under their own weight. With an offender like Kaprenius the rate of execution would doubtless be prolonged. His last moments would be excruciatingly painful. Darius shuddered at the thought. He jumped slightly when his radio chirped. "Sir? I just spoke to a neighbour whose surveillance system shows a car speeding by shortly after the explosion. I'm going to get a copy of the footage. Hopefully it'll show who did it," the gentleman on the radio announced.

"Affirmative," Darius replied, though he knew there wasn't much point. The footage would only reveal what they already suspected; that Aristarchus had gotten away.

The halls of the temple were busy as Mystan arrived, though most took the time to bow at his passing. Ordinarily he'd have accepted the respects with grace, but this morning he was in a rotten mood. His experiences on the Royal Moon had gone poorly, and now he was going to have to account for himself in front of the other elders. They would understand, no doubt, but that didn't make it any more pleasant.

They had debated hotly over whom they should back in the power struggle, and even with the oracle's words it had been a close vote. Mystan had, at the time, supported the notion that Aristarchus was the right choice. His mind was weak and his lust for power was great. One such as that could only benefit the Psion empire. And then he'd met the man and his dislike for him had grown exponentially.

All the council members were there, seated in plush chairs around a circular table. He closed the heavy wooden doors and took his seat, gazing around the table at his peers. He could see the questioning looks in their eyes and, most insultingly, the doubt. No. This wasn't going to be pleasant.

Paeder watched Third Earth slip away from view in the monitor, and breathed a sigh of relief to be headed home. She'd been on countless space flights and none had ever been this chaotic. The captain and his first mate were dead. The mission wasn't a complete success. But at least she'd rid herself of one of the half-breeds. She growled at the memory of that disgusting creature. The ship was better off without him, she firmly believed.

She had just finished instructing the pilot to set a course for home when the doors to the bridge opened, admitting Luna. The tiny woman looked displeased about something, and that boded ill for Paeder. Nonetheless, she was royalty, and honour dictated a certain level of courtesy. "Welcome aboard, your majesty," Paeder said, forcing a bow.

The Guardian and his charge walked close, far closer than she was comfortable with. "I am told that you are keeping a Psikaris of House Myntaello prisoner. May I ask why?"

The other half-breed, Paeder muttered to herself. She'd almost forgotten that she had had the engineer locked up. "It was an insurance policy to make sure Cameo followed instructions. He didn't, but I suppose I'm going to have to let her go."

Luna's expression didn't change, she was still displeased. "Indeed you are. Cameo is a friend of mine and my protection extends to his girlfriend. Release her at once."

"Of course," Paeder said, bowing again as Luna left the room. As soon as the door closed, Paeder made a rude gesture in the queen's direction. If this was what the future held for the monarchy then things looked bleak.

It was rather amusing, Alluro noted, to see the strange looks they were getting from the Icewalkers in the mess hall. Cameo had requested to speak with Luna in private, so he, Red Eye, Tug Mug and Chilla had been shown to the mess hall to grab a light snack before bed. They'd been wakened twice that night, once by Knave and Zanaya's assassination attempts, and again when the Thundercats arrived. Even still, they were too excited to sleep. Finally it felt like they were going home.

The food was pretty good, though he was comparing it to the food they'd had on Third Earth. He couldn't wait to get home and have a real meal. Psion cuisine was an acquired taste, but he'd always found it delicious.

Around the table the conversation centred on what awaited them back home, questions about what had happened to old friends and family as well as places and events. What kind of reception would await them too, was front and centre. Chilla knew what she could expect, if the awed looks from those around them were any indication, and Tug Mug suspected that he would be welcomed back with open arms. Gravitons were friendly to all kin, by and large, and he doubted that could have changed in their time away.

Alluro was less certain. His inclusion on the initial voyage had been controversial, many thought that someone of his intellect was more valuable back in the lab. But he'd been insistent, his thirst for knowledge forcing him to ruffle a few feathers. Besides, he'd argued, who better to explore a strange new world than he? Some called it ego. He called it the truth. A plate of some kind of eggs appeared in front of him. Chilla had received them as a gift, but she was unable to finish them. He smiled warmly at her, politely accepting them. Not quite as good as some he'd had, but the best he'd had in a long time.

His throat was bared, all it would take was a flick of her knife and the deed would be done. Something stayed her hand, though. After the Thundercats had helped them out of their prison cell, Knave and Zanaya had gone to the control room to review the logs, discovering that they were indeed the only Lunataks left on the planet. Knave had said little and commandeered Chilla's bedroom.

She stood in the doorway now, remembering only hours before standing in the same spot, same weapon in her hand. It had been a member of House Iespyk too. She wondered if the motion sensors were activated and whether she really wanted to do the deed right now. Bluntly, she needed him. The Thundercats would probably find somewhere that she could live, and raise her baby, but anywhere she went she'd be marked as a villain. Alluro and the other Lunataks had raised hell on this planet, and the denizens weren't likely to treat her well. And that meant living in Sky Tomb for the time being.

Knave wouldn't hurt her. Not yet. Not so long as she was pregnant. But he would after, unless she was able to change his mind or beat him to it. The Thundercats would probably accept him into their ranks, if he wanted, he had the heritage for it. But not her.

It took her a moment to realize that the strange feeling she felt was loneliness. She'd been alone before, but never like this, never without some way of getting back home among friends and family. Suddenly a part of her yearned for Knave's embrace and that shocked her. "Blasted hormones," she muttered to herself, leaving the doorway and heading to find a room of her own. Psion physiology often created a bond between mates during pregnancy, a means of ensuring that the child would have two loving parents to raise them. In a woman it created a sense of need towards the partner, while in the male it fostered a protectiveness, projected by the woman subconsciously. Maybe that was why Knave was so fond of his unborn child. She may have unknowingly created that feeling in him. Whatever the case, it had kept her alive in that prison cell, so she wouldn't complain.

A door near the room Knave slept in yielded the results she'd expected. Alluro's room. A long bed nestled against one wall, and a lab section dominating the other half. A robot stood at attention near a pile of boxes too, which unnerved her somewhat. Still, the robot didn't seem to be activated and hopefully wouldn't disturb her sleep. She crawled beneath the covers and curled up for a fitful sleep, dreaming dreams of being alone in the wilderness.

Knave scented her arrival and curled his hand around the slender icepick he kept beneath his covers. He was a warrior, trained to sleep with one eye open, making it almost impossible to catch him off-guard. He felt confident that she wouldn't betray him. Not yet. She would need him later in her pregnancy, just as he needed her. The words she had spoken in the prison cell stung as vibrantly as the wounds about his hands. He would never forget them, nor wholly forgive her.

As the door hissed closed again he heard her mumble something, but disregarded it. He relaxed his grip on the icepick and allowed himself to resume his peaceful slumber.

Although Luna had offered him quarters elsewhere, much to Paeder's dismay, Cameo had chosen to stay in the little room near the engines. He didn't need all the fuss made over him, just a place to rest his feet and some food in his belly. He didn't really feel like the latter, the uncertainty over his girlfriend dominating his thoughts. Upon arriving on the ship, he'd made a beeline for engineering and had been told that Psikaris was being detained elsewhere. The thought of what Paeder might have done to her, and memories of his own period of incarceration, drove hunger away. He ate what little food he could muster and went to his bunk, breathing the lingering scent of her body from the air. Was she alright? Had she been tortured or beaten? Did she hate him for abandoning her?

Cameo jumped when the door opened again. The air seemed to sing as Psikaris entered and his eyes began misting over. He pulled her into a deep embrace, fearing that if he let go that she might vanish. "I'm okay, Cameo," she said, the teasing tone barely concealing a worried one. She hadn't been given any updates on the goings on of Cameo and Knave, only that she was being held prisoner on his account. Finally he relinquished his hold on her and pulled her to the bed, resting her head on his shoulder. "What happened, Cameo?" she began, hesitantly.

Over the course of several minutes Cameo outlined the events, answering the few questions she had about Luna and her crew. When he finished he turned the question around, prompting her for an explanation of her time.

She related her arrest from the cargo hold, where she had been tinkering with a faulty temperature gauge, and how the security officers had been none too gentle about putting her in chains. Psikaris had tripped in the hallway and displayed the bruises beginning to form from where one of the guards had grabbed her to force her to her feet. Other than the physicality in arresting her, though, the guards had left her alone. Paeder wasn't around to perform an interrogation, so she was simply left hanging in the office. "But that's over with now," she murmured. "I'm safe now, and so are you. Maybe with Luna around, people like us will be accepted on the Moons."

"I hope so, 'Karis, I hope so."

Blackness. All around her was blackness. But she could think clearly, a rarity since that fateful day. Shade could recall the bitter taste of that water and the sudden onset of madness that came with it. She cast her eyes around in all directions, searching for anything. A Darkling was used to the darkness, but this felt different. "Where am I?" she asked aloud, the void swallowing up her words.

"You are within," a voice, as deep a voice as she had ever heard whispered, causing the very air to tremble. "You are everywhere and nowhere. You are at the core of your being. Call for light in the darkness, and it shall be so."

"I want light!" she said, confused by the words of the stranger. At once the area was full of light. There was little to see; she could see herself and a shadow that hovered by her side. "Who are you?"

"I am a friend. I can help you regain what you have lost. I was the one who has been guiding your thoughts, remembering who you once were. A vibrant hunter, strong, intelligent. I can help you get revenge on the ones who hurt you," the shadow said, flitting around her. She reached out instinctively to touch it, surprised at the warmth therein.

"Revenge?" she asked, hesitating.

"That's right. Revenge on the ones who robbed you of your mind. Iespyk. The family that stole your treasured intellect," the voice soothed, as the shadow wrapped around her shoulders.

"But they caught the man..."

"They caught the tool, but not the hand that wields the tool. Nitro ordered your fall, but Davyn paid the price. Even now I can feel your thirst for revenge, for the gifts I can give you," there was a seductive tone to the voice, one that Shade desperately wanted to give in to, though she knew it was wrong. The spirit knew it too, her soul was naked before the spirit, her innermost thoughts and emotions almost visible in the air around her. "I can give you your youth and vitality back, increasing it tenfold," it cooed.

"What? How?" Shade began, noticing now that the shadow was wrapping itself around her; when it had fully enveloped her she felt energy flowing through her, warping her, changing her. Suddenly she could see with crystal clarity, her hands were supple and free of the wrinkles and jutting veins that had marred them before. Her whole body was likewise transformed. A mirror appeared before her, and she saw herself as she had been many years ago, a young woman of about twenty.

"This is but a taste of the gifts I can give you," the spirit said, removing its influence and returning her to the gnarled old woman she had been.

Shade felt weakened and found a chair behind her, one she was sure hadn't been there a moment ago. "I don't understand. What do you get out of all this?"

The spirit seemed to laugh, though it made no noise, flitting back and forth in front of her. "I have been denied life for too long, I desire only to experience life once more through you, a body through which I can remember what it feels like to do the simplest things. To breathe, to taste, to be mortal again. I can help you and you can help me."

"I don't know. I want to listen but..."

"You still doubt my motives. I understand. I will make you whole for now, return you to the real world. I will bestow one more gift upon you before I do, however, the gift of knowledge. Your father is still alive and will return in one week. My offer will still stand, whenever you choose. I am patient. I can wait, after all, I've waited this long," the spirit said.

Shade barely had time to register the words before the world around her swirled. The light grew brighter and she awoke in a hospital bed. Tajengo still sat by her bedside, and rushed into her arms when he saw her awake. She was whole, her mind saw clearly, and she knew that the spirit was not lying. Her father, Red Eye, was coming home.

The hunt for Aristarchus was going poorly. The bulk of the Icewalker force had returned to the Ice Moon, though Nitro insisted on staying and aided the local forces in the search efforts. Tycho had settled into a steady routine over the last several days, making appearances, presiding over a few cases, and spending precious time with Darius and Eluosi.

He still felt a pang of guilt when he looked at the woman, her arm hanging limply at her side, reminding him of his own failure to protect her. He hadn't quite worked up the courage to propose to her as there always seemed to be something else interfering. Darius accused him of trying to find a way out of it, and there was perhaps some truth in it.

Darius wasn't around, at present, leaving Tycho alone with Nitro while they went through the latest reports on the search. Tycho was just about to suggest turning in for a late lunch when a courier bolted into the war room. "My liege! An urgent message for you!" the courier said, his eyes alight with excitement. He led Nitro and Tycho through the tangle of hallways until they reached the command centre. On a large monitor was an image of the interior of a spaceship, focussing on an empty captain's chair. Nitro, naturally, recognized it at once and realized what the message was likely to be.

A female voice off camera could be heard talking, prompting another woman to walk over to the captain's seat and sit down. "Greetings and honour to you, King Tycho of the Lunatak empire. I request permission to dock on the Royal Moon. We are carrying valuable cargo that you will be most interested in." She gestured with one hand and a petite Lunar woman astride a mammoth Guardian entered the picture.

Tycho knew the face at once, a picture of Luna hung in the audience chamber as a reminder of the queen who had been lost. At once he knelt on the floor, flanked by Nitro and the rest of the people in the control room. "Permission granted, my queen."

The Honour of the Moon was still almost a day away, leaving Tycho very little time to prepare the capital for the arrival of their true ruler. A parade route, leading from the docking bay to the palace was organized, and a large catering order was made. Everything had to go perfectly, and Tycho knew it. His first act had been to call Darius. Darius was good at organizing these things and would see to all the finer details that Tycho would miss.

Nitro too was busy, bustling around, getting his people fitted for dress uniforms. He knew, though Tycho didn't, that Chilla was likely on board that ship too. The sight of Paeder as captain confused him greatly, but his boy wasn't present and that was probably a good thing. The hours seemed too short, in the end, and the massive ship was skilfully docked in the middle of the hangar. Tycho, Nitro, Darius, and any other important dignitary that could be wrangled up on short notice, were present as the doors hissed open. Emerging from within, looking every bit the returning heroes, were Luna and the rest of her original crew. Behind them Paeder, Cameo and ranking officers.

Tycho knelt humbly at the feet of Amok, staring at the brute's knuckles, trembling not from fear but from excitement. "Welcome home, my queen. Your humble servant returns the throne to you and hopes he has done well as your caretaker," he said.

"Rise, Tycho Lunar. We will discuss the throne elsewhere, where there is more privacy. It's good to be home," Luna said, clearly enjoying the adulation from the crowd.

"Of course. If you'll follow me, there's a dinner to be served shortly." He stood and led the procession through the streets, waving politely at the cheering throng. They passed into the palace proper and walked to the large banquet hall that he himself had seldom used, preferring more intimate meetings to lavish affairs.

The food was exquisite, all five moons represented with signature dishes, and ample supplies of everything. The heroes sat together at the head table, joined by Tycho, Darius, Nitro, and Paeder. Conversation centred around all that had transpired both on the moons and on Third Earth in the eighty years Luna had been absent. Underlying it all were questions about the future and what it held.

Tycho found it difficult to concentrate on the meal, his stomach felt as though a gravity carbine had been used on it. Luna was back and looking as young as she had when she'd left. It boggled his mind to imagine how they could have survived their lava bath, and hearing of their exploits on Third Earth made it that much more unbelievable. But he also wondered what his place would be. Traditionally there was no such thing as a ruler stepping aside for another. In Luna's day the crown was pried from the dead fingers of the previous ruler; he hoped she wasn't a stickler for tradition.

Though he found himself conversing with both Luna and Tug Mug, Tycho couldn't help but look around at his fellow dinner companions. Darius and Red Eye were engrossed in a discussion on the jungles of the Dark Moon and how new species were threatening some of the old ones. Paeder was pointedly ignoring Alluro, the latter seeming pleased to be able to carry both sides of a conversation.

At the far end, Nitro and Chilla side by side. It was almost amusing to Tycho, to see how Nitro cowed himself in his mother's presence, though she was old enough to be his daughter. He knew of Icewalker politics and knew that Chilla's return automatically made her the matriarch of the House, giving her rank above Nitro. They were in the same boat he realized, himself and Nitro. Both in command and both having to take a step back now that another was here. The difference was Tycho had no craving for power. Nitro did.

After the desserts were finished, people began to drift away, bidding their final goodbyes to Luna and the others. With most people gone, Luna turned her full attention to Tycho. "You conceded the throne to me rather quickly. Why?" she asked, producing a riding crop and tapping it gently against the palm of her hand.

The room went quiet. This was the moment many had been anticipating. "With all due respect," Tycho said, picking his words carefully. "My duty is to serve the empire first, personal preferences come second. In this instance duty and desire are one. I have very little desire to wear the crown, I only desire to live peacefully, away from all this. I pledge my loyalty to you and offer to assist you in the transition, but the throne is not for me."

Luna's gaze intensified, searching him for deceit. Finally it was her Guardian that spoke. "Amok like," he said, turning those beady eyes towards his master. Tycho hadn't noticed it, but the beast had been staring equally hard at him.

"Amok is a good judge of character," Luna said. "He can often tell when someone is lying to me, and if he says you can be trusted then he's probably right. I accept your offer, Tycho Lunar. Much has changed in these last eighty years, and I will need people around me who know the moons and their situations."

He let go a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding. "Thank you, Queen Luna. I won't disappoint you," he said. Her smile told him that he had better not or the consequences would be messy. "Shall I arrange transport for your associates? I'm sure they will want to return to their home moons. Perhaps accommodations for them can be arranged too. I doubt they have any holdings or possessions left after all this time."

"I would like that, you may see to it. Any of you who wish to return here after will be welcomed. We share a common past, and I would like people I know around me. I'm sure I can find positions for you all."

Red Eye was the first to speak. "I promise to return to you, Luna. There's not much left for me on the Dark Moon."

"I look forward to it, then, Red Eye," Luna said. The other Lunataks added their opinions, suggesting that most would likely return to the capital at some point or other.

"I will be heading back to the Ice Moon then," Paeder announced, rising smoothly from her seat. "I expect sire Chilla and Nitro will be accompanying me?"

"That would be fine. I want to see firsthand what my son has done," Chilla hissed, causing Nitro to flinch slightly. Mother and son followed Paeder out the door and to the Honour of the Moon. As they did, Cameo and Psikaris approached. They had been listening a discrete distance away.

"We should be taking our leave too, my queen. It's been an honour serving you," Cameo said, bowing.

"Don't stay away too long. It wouldn't do for my new captain of the fleet to be away from his post," Luna said. Cameo almost didn't catch it, she'd said it so fluidly, but stopped mid-stride, confusion rampant on his face. "Being trustworthy is a rare trait for a Lunatak, and those are the kinds of people a smart ruler keeps around them. You have proved yourself to be trustworthy, and so your place is here. I will find a similar posting for Psikaris here too, I wouldn't want you pining away for her instead of doing your job." She was smiling, a sight which made her face actually look more attractive. Somehow, that open smile made him feel better about his decision to bring her back.

"Thank you, Queen Luna. We truly appreciate it," Psikaris said. When Luna waved them away, they sprinted to catch up to Nitro and Chilla.

Luna looked one more time around the banquet hall. It had been so long since she'd been in this room, and it didn't look much different. A new coat of paint had been added and faded hangings had been replaced, but it still felt like home. She couldn't stop her pleasure at being home from showing, and didn't really care either. She was back and she was in charge. All was right with the universe.

On to Heritage of the Lunatak Empire - epilogue
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