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Return to Power
Part One

"Our story begins long before your pathetic species took its first breath. We were a powerful people, obsessed with knowledge, constantly thirsting for more. With what we knew we grew in strength, our technology allowing us to cheat death time and time again until we became nigh immortal."

"Perhaps we grew too quickly. The gods feared us, and with good reason. Every scientific advance brought us closer to being gods ourselves and they knew we would conquer them in time if they allowed it."

"They didn't. Seeing our strength they banished us from our home world, scattering us throughout the galaxy, and trapping our bodies. I, along with some of my kin, found myself on the Moons of Plundarr trapped inside that wretched hovel I showed you. Gradually we learned to manipulate the primitive minds of any creature that came near, be they insects or your earliest ancestors. But their minds were weak and we consumed them quickly."

"Such frustration led to anger, and I slayed one of my kin. It was then that I discovered that by killing them I grew in strength, I gained control. My remaining family and friends died soon after, their lives given in order that I might become almighty. And yet, I still needed a host. A shell in which to put my essence until I could become even more powerful. That's when you came along, Shade. Your mind was weakened by the poisons in the water and I was able to take hold. You started going mad, just like all the others, but something happened. The explosion on the bus rendered you unconscious, and I was able to nurture our bond, repairing the damage that had been done. You proved to be a valuable learning tool for my revenge on the gods and those that serve them. Together we will conquer this primitive planet and I will grow even more powerful. With what I have learned, I will create a new body for myself. I might even let you rule this pathetic world in my stead as I search the cosmos for more of my kin."

Shade was being put to work by the spirit that still inhabited her body, though she noticed that it seemed able to float around the room as non-corporeal mist too, which it was doing now. Following Mumm-Ra's destruction, the two had found themselves buried deep underground, and she was now being made to create rooms in this cavern. A large pit was steadily receiving a gentle drip of water. In the two months it had been there it had only filled half way. She shifted a pile of sand up to the surface like she'd been taught and settled on a stone bench. The spirit slipped from around her body, reverting it back to the old woman she truly was, and wafted eagerly around the room.

"Once I kill enough of my kinsmen, I will be as powerful as any god. The heavens themselves will run with whatever blood courses through their veins. All will worship me!"

"What if they try and stop you again?" she asked. Shade resented the spirit and all it was making her do. She had no alternative in the matter, though. It had promised to leave her friends and family alone if she co-operated and, while she didn't quite believe the spirit, she had little choice but to accept.

"Why do you think I chose this planet? The gods have forgotten this world, abandoned it to the native peoples when they stopped believing. By the time they realize what I'm doing, it will be too late. Now come, back to work."

There was a gentle breeze blowing through the Caymar Valley. It was here that Tycho Lunar had settled following the incidents on Third Earth. Even now, two months later, he could remember them vividly and the roller coaster of emotions that he'd felt. They had decided to settle the area known as Dark Side, even surprised the Thundercats by making it legal and official through the Interplanetary Control Force. He'd felt proud of his people, working together to build a new city. They had triumphed with those same Thundercats over the evil Mumm-Ra, destroying his pyramid utterly in the process; his corpse had been found and taken to Cat's Lair for observation, but it seemed like he was genuinely gone this time. It was a remarkable victory and he'd felt such a rush of joy at the accomplishment, and sadness and the terrible price they'd paid in blood and flesh. So many Lunataks, a fifth of what they'd brought, dead.

And then Aristarchus had come, a memory that made Tycho growl aloud. His old rival who had killed his way to the top and tried on numerous occasions to kill Tycho too, had been named governor of Third Earth. Tycho still could not understand why that was. He'd tried to kill Luna, kidnaped Amok and threatened to kill him, and she ignored all this to put him in power? Were they *that* short on candidates for the position?

When he'd gotten back from Third Earth and confronted her, she'd told him that she was under the impression he just wanted a nice place out in the country to live with his lover/protector Darius, and was granting his wish. She'd been so smug about it that he wanted to hit her for it, but one look at the monstrous Amok told him not to.

"Is everything alright?" one of his sheep asked him, startling him for half a second until the sheep turned into Darius. He'd forgotten that the changeling was mingling with his flock.

"It's this whole Aristarchus and Luna mess," He replied, tapping his staff lazily against the palm of his hand. "I know he's up to no good over there, undoing all the good relations I built with the Thundercats."

Darius nodded in understanding. Tycho had been so furious that he'd actually asked him to shape change into Luna so that he could beat her up. Darius didn't like giving in to that kind of request, it was dangerous and wasn't particularly pleasant to be on the receiving end of. "What do you plan to do?"

"I need someone I can trust near him, to make sure that he's not plotting against Luna," a proverbial light bulb went off over his head. "And I know just who to call."

Looking at Mumm-Ra's corpse was not Cheetara's idea of fun, but it was necessary work. All too often Mumm-Ra had seemed to be gone forever and resurfaced later, more powerful than before. Because of that, they made inspecting his body a part of the routine patrols. He was located in a special room, vacuum sealed to protect it from the elements and locked in a variety of manners to make retrieving it more difficult. Even with all that it was hard to look at the body and not expect it to rise.

He was shriveled, wearing bandages and his red cloak, his head turned to face the window, eyes hollow and lifeless. He had been at ground zero when the pyramid had been bombarded and imploded. He'd fallen at the edge of the crater where the building used to be, and the Thundercats had taken him home.

Was he truly dead, she wondered, could they breathe at last? Seeing that he hadn't moved, and knowing that the motion sensors would alert them even if he did, she continued along the halls, heading to report in to the control room.

Letting out a long and colourful string of curses, Zanaya of the Psion Moon looked around at the room that might as well have been her prison. Seven months pregnant with the unwanted child of Knave, grandson of Chilla and a member of one of the more powerful houses on the Ice Moon, was not a situation she was particularly fond of. Especially given the precise nature of it. She had managed to offend one of the Lunar gods, one who just happened to have influence over fertility. This child, and every single complication the goddess could think of, was her curse.

A sudden need to cool down overwhelmed her. The stupid child was hot, apparently. As a Psion child developed, the mother often formed a telepathic bond with it, knowing its needs and desires while it was still in the womb. Most parents found this to be a blessing, but Zanaya was finding it to be a nuisance. The hint of Ice Walker blood was just enough to make the baby have difficulty regulating its internal temperature against that of the mother.

She eyed the door, debating whether she would be able to slip down to the cafeteria in Sky Tomb without one of her guardians popping up. Knave, thanks to a secondary telepathic bond designed to keep parents together, was always on hand, wanting to make sure she was comfortable. On the flip side was her uncle, one of the high priests of the Psion Moon; Mystan Benekasbeel. He was also frequently around, to keep Knave away from her. She liked his presence more than the Icewalker/Cheetah hybrid, but always felt like he was staring at her disapprovingly. While mixed race children weren't unheard of, they were more common on the other moons than the isolated and reclusive Psions.

Still, there was no sense putting it off for too long. The child wanted to be cool, and it would continue to mentally pester until she gave in. She stepped toward the door and it swished open. There was no sign of either man outside so she continued on to the cafeteria.

At that moment, Knave was watching the Thunderian visitors with some degree of interest. As an act of good faith, Panthro and Bengali were helping with engine modifications on a machine that would plant crops. It was in their best interests, really, since a steady food supply would ensure that the Lunataks wouldn't need to do any raiding outside of their borders.

Knave hadn't really met Panthro yet, but liked what he saw. None of the Thundercats truly liked the Lunataks, though Lion-O was starting to change his mind. Panthro was the most open about his opinions, and that was refreshing. Knave really disliked the backstabbing and political manoeuvring that went on in life, preferring to be honest in his reactions.

Bengali was another matter entirely. The younger Tiger had encountered Knave one day and they'd hit it off based entirely on their mutual heritage. Bengali was fascinated by his origins and what life had been like. Knave, on the other hand, found it hard not to tell Bengali what they typically did to Thunderians they captured on the Ice Moon. Life was hard there and if they couldn't find another use for you, they would turn you into a food source. Knave's mother had lamented to him once that she wished they'd done that to her, at least death would have been quick. Warming the bed of his father against her will, often shackled to prevent her escape, was no way to be.

As they stepped back from the machine, Bengali glanced over at him and waved cheerfully. "Ho, Knave!" he shouted.

"Hello Bengali," Knave replied cordially, walking over and shaking both his and Panthro's hands.

"Cheetara's been asking about you," Bengali said, "keeps saying that she'd like to talk to you about your mother."

Panthro snorted, obviously having had a discussion on the matter with Cheetara. "Probably feels lonely, not knowing any one else of her kind."

"Why don't you come with us back to the Lair? We have to go that way anyway," Bengali said. Knave was still looking at Panthro as he said it and caught the flash of annoyance on the Panther's face.

"I'll check with my commanding officer, but I don't think it will be a problem," he said, keeping eye contact and smirking.

"There we are," the spirit said as Shade sat huddled against the wall. It had abandoned her to do its own work, and now returned it's attention to her. The misty creature settled around her body, making it stronger and younger again, a process that she had once found exhilarating now filled her with revulsion as she understood the evil that made it happen. "To the surface we go."

A pair of warrior maidens travelled through a valley near their village. It was peaceful and quiet, and the sun was just beginning to peak. They knew of an orchard nearby that produced succulent fruit and had made up their minds to get some for their village, a treat in preparation for a local festival. With baskets in their hands, and bows in the other, they chatted amiably about the latest hunt. They were completely unprepared for when the ground grabbed at their feet, catching them up to their ankles.

"What's happening?" one of them cried, yanking on her leg to try and pull it free of the muck.

"I don't know," the other said, keeping her calm and digging at the soil with her bare hands. Suddenly the ground gripped her hands too, and she began to struggle in earnest and she screamed.

"Quiet, pitiful humans," Shade snapped descending from above. She had been flying along, almost invisible when the spirit had taken control of her hands to weave the magic. The first warrior maiden dropped her basket and started to pull an arrow out of her quiver. The angle was awkward, but she managed to let loose a forceful shot that Shade had to move quickly to avoid. The spirit moved her hands again and streams of black sticky goo coated both warrior women, solidifying into nets that surrounded them.

"Let us go!" the second woman shouted. "We've done nothing to you."

"I don't think so," Shade sneered. With a strength that she knew could only come from her spiritual entity, she picked up both nets and soared back to her underground home.

The tension in the Thundertank was thick enough that it could be cut with a knife. Once Bengali had been dropped off at the Tower of Omens, Panthro and Knave drove in silence the bulk of the way to the Lair where Cheetara had been asked to meet them. Finally Panthro spoke. "Just so you know, I'm going to be within easy hearing of the two of you, so if you try anything."

His voice was low, but the meaning behind the words was easily interpreted. Never one to take a threat idly, Knave bared his teeth "If I wanted her dead, I'd kill her before you could stop me. I could probably kill you too."

The Thundertank stopped abruptly, and Panthro opened the hatch, gesturing an invitation to settle the conflict. "I said 'if.' I happen to like Cheetara," Knave said, the meaning behind his own words as plain as the nose on his face. He wasn't averse to fighting the man, just felt that now wasn't the best time. He really did want to see Cheetara again, she'd been a friendly face during a dark time, and she looked so much like his mother it was astounding.

"I'll remember that when you Lunataks break the truce," Panthro replied, starting the engine again.

A careful measure of potatoes went on each plate as the line of Lunataks went past Red Eye's station. Cooking had always been a passion of his, even if there were few who appreciated his sensitive palette. He'd found himself immersing himself in cooking more and more lately, using it to escape the torrential grief that threatened to drown him. Losing his daughter in the epic battle against Mumm-Ra had been devastating, a battle that she shouldn't have been at, and one that left more questions than it had answers.

He'd presumed her lost once before, when they'd first learned that they had been entombed in lava on Third Earth for eighty years. Lunataks lived a long time, but such a time made her living unlikely. He'd accepted it. And then he'd found her alive on the moons, a reunion that should have been triumphant.

The last time he'd seen her she had displayed strength and energy that seemed impossible, and she'd been running to the black pyramid. Moments later, the obliteration of that demonic structure and the ruin of the last piece of his family. Chilla had been there for him in the months since then, as well as Alluro and Tug Mug, but their words of comfort seldom seemed to make much difference. And so here he was, working in the cafeteria, dolling out food to any who wanted it.

A pregnant woman, Zanaya if he remembered the name correctly, approached. She had a plate in one hand and a large drink in the other. She held out the plate and he placed a scoop of potato on it. Everyone knew who she was, her child promised to be the first born in the city of New Lunis, people were excited. Chilla was not; she would be a great-grandmother, and Tug Mug made sure to remind her of the fact.

He was startled out of his thoughts by the stifled groan from the woman and saw that she was reacting to Mystan, who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. He had grabbed her plate telekinetically and jerked it towards him. "You shouldn't be out of your room without an escort," he snapped. "You're getting close, and who knows where that half-breed of yours is."

"I can handle this myself," she said, raising her voice and drawing the attention of others nearby.

"Handling things yourself is what got you in this mess." He was trying not to make a bigger scene of this than he needed to, but knew that it was inevitable that he would come across as the bad guy here. He wanted to protect her, help her during this delicate time. The birth of a child was a time of great joy and spiritual celebration among his people. The health of the baby would reflect on the family and their faith. "I'll just take your plate to a table and meet you there."

"You sure you don't want to carry me too?" she said, a little harsher than she otherwise might have, but followed anyway.

It was rare that they had guests, but Tycho and Darius were always open to visits from friends. Roly Poly was the current head of the Graviton council, a position held by anyone who wanted it, within certain guidelines. The two had become fast friends during Tycho's brief reign, and so his visit was a pleasant surprise. Tycho had just finished washing up when Darius shouted from the fields announcing the arrival.

Tycho greeted the Graviton warmly, accepting with as much dignity as he could when the latter pulled him in for a hug. Before his tiny frame could be pulled into Roly Poly's significant gut Tycho slipped free. "Welcome to our humble home," he said, gesturing at the rustic farm house. "I'm afraid we probably don't have as much food as you'd like, but we'll gladly share whatever there is." He saw the side door close and knew that Darius was off to start preparing dinner, which also meant that the sheep were safely taken care of.

"Not to worry, I know how leettle you Royal Lunars eat. That's why I came prepared," Roly Poly announced, walking back to his car. With reverence he began pulling food out of the back; a large roast, some beer, and a pie. Tycho wrinkled his nose as he saw it. He hated eating pie, especially of the Graviton variety. They tended to be far too greasy for his tastes, but then just about everything associated with Gravitons was like that.

He joined Roly Poly at the car and took the pie and beer from him, carting it into the house for the meal and ushered his guest to the sitting room. Tycho took his customary seat in the large purple chair that sat by the window. From this chair, if he turned it, he could gaze out on his property and watch as the sun set in the evening. Luna had picked the perfect spot for his semi-retirement.

Roly Poly settled on the couch, the wood creaking eerily as he did, and regarded the former prince. "You're looking well," he said, keeping the conversation to straightforward topics while Darius was busy. There would be time for more serious matters later.

"Thank you, I see you've put on some weight," Tycho replied.

"Eet's good of you to notice. I've been trying to eat more, but there's only so much room een the stomach." Tycho would never understand the appeal, but figured they could live their lives however they wanted to. It didn't impact him. Except, of course, when he'd been forced to attend various functions hosted by Gravitons. They always insisted that he looked too skinny and practically force-fed him platters of fatty foods.

"Yes, well. I hope you'll find dinner satisfying enough. It should be ready soon."

Shade had been abandoned almost immediately upon arriving back home. The spirit still found it necessary to keep close, but it also was clearly trying to keep some things hidden from her. At present it was floating in front of the two captured warrior maidens, both trapped in an earthen cell with a strange magical barrier preventing their escape. They'd become quieter since their arrival, the hopelessness of the situation firmly sinking in. This far beneath the surface their cries for help would go unheard, and nothing they could do would harm the ghostly mist that seemed to delight in their misery.

"Let us go!" one of them, the older of the two, begged. "By the woodland gods I beg of you!"

The words seemed to anger the spirit and it soared through the energy barrier, wrapping itself around the frightened woman. She screamed now, her sister clawing at the smoke to no effect. Shade winced as the screaming grew weaker and weaker until it finally stopped. The spirit wafted back through the barrier, letting the warrior woman drop. "Come and see, Shade," it said, and she knew it was an order rather than a suggestion. Struggling to her feet, Shade approached the cell and saw a withered woman inside. She wasn't sure what the spirit had done, but it resembled a skeleton wrapped in skin.

"What have you done to her?" she asked, unable to remove her eyes from the desiccated body.

"I have stolen most of her life force, far more than I had intended, truthfully. This cell will drain the energy I need for me but, as you can see, I can also speed up the process. I will take all I need until there is nothing left," the spirit replied, turning its sinister attention to the other woman, who trembled as she listened. "Your precious woodland gods can't hear you here. They have abandoned you to my mercies. We'll bring you some company soon enough."

They were in what could be described as a sunroom. Along one wall were a series of tall slender windows, allowing rays of light to cascade against the set of chairs. This was, Cheetara had explained, one of her favourite rooms to be in. The Cat's Lair was designed as a fortress first and foremost, but rooms like this made it pleasant to be in. Knave couldn't help but agree. Some primal instinct deep within his being relished the feel of the sun beating down on him, warm enough without baking him. They had exchanged pleasantries and engaged in small talk for some time, and he really found himself conflicted in his opinions of her, a fact he confided in her.

"I was always told that Thunderians were worthless, and I've believed it for so long. Why are you so nice to me?" he said. The lesson had been beaten into him, as a constant reminder that he himself was useless too, being half feline.

"Because not all stories are true. I've learned to judge each person by what they do, not what groups they belong to. You're a Lunatak, but you're not like Tug Mug or Alluro. You're you," she replied. He looked so vulnerable in front of her and she wanted to hug him, tell him that he was special, but he was still wild and she didn't dare. "What about your mother? Was she worthless?" He recoiled and she knew that there was a deep wound there.

"Yes," he said and looked away.

She let it go. If he wanted to open up about his past he would. "The new city is looking good," she said, deciding to change the subject.

"It is. We're making a lot of progress. I think we're all a little surprised at how much you have helped us, even though there are still prejudices." As if on cue, Panthro poked his head in the room. Knave scowled in his direction. "I'm not going to hurt her," he snapped.

"Panthro. It's alright. I can handle it," Cheetara said. She watched him leave and returned her focus to the guest. "We've been fighting the Lunataks for a long time, it's going to take a while for both sides to get over it."

"Yeah, well, he'd better get over it soon, because we aren't going anywhere."

Alluro stared across the vast expanse of desert. This was known as the Desert of Sinking Sands because of Mumm-Ra and his penchant for sinking things beneath the surface. Somewhere down there were countless treasures waiting for the taking. When the Psions built a city here, he was sure that they would be conducting excavations, searching for relics.

He wasn't sure why he'd come. A desire to remind himself that Mumm-Ra was gone, perhaps. The words sounded wrong, even as he stared at the vast crater. A piece of rock from one of the ominous statues that had been inside rested at his feet. Those horrid looking things had frightened him the first time he'd seen them, not that he'd ever have admitted to such. He was glad they were gone. He nudged the stone with his foot and realized it was an eye. Curious that it was still intact, Alluro picked it up.

"Evil in the dark..." a voice echoed through his head, and he dropped the stone immediately. Residual psychic energy no doubt, channelled through his receptive mind. It didn't even make sense. Maybe the statues had seen something in the shadows, and these were its last thoughts. He wasn't afraid, though, certainly wouldn't appear to be so if anyone was looking. He picked it up again. "Evil in the dark... horrors lurk below... life traded for life... cold against heat... she will save us... he will rise again." The stone eye seemed to grow silent, so Alluro pocketed it. The message was even more confusing. She? Who was 'she' and who would rise again? Mumm-Ra? Did the spirits know something? Alarm grew as he considered the possibility that the devil priest was alive. A sudden need to see the corpse arose, even if it meant dealing with those cats.

"I don't know how you do eet," Roly Poly said, consuming a large morsel of the roast. "Eet's so boring here. So peaceful and quiet. What do you do for fun?"

Tycho shrugged, the small amount of food dwarfed by that on the Graviton's. "Sometimes we race our sheep," he said.

"What's the latest from the capital?" Darius said, deciding to inject some life into the conversation. One or the other of them would have eventually done so themselves, so he didn't feel too bad.

"Loona ees preparing another craft to Third Earth, she's optimistic that resources will soon trickle een. She'd better be right. Thees has cost a lot of money and there's some grumbling about eet. At least eet's kept the moons unified. There's concern Aristarchus wasn't the best choice either," Roly Poly said.

Tycho snorted, agreeing. Luna would figure it out herself eventually, he just hoped it wasn't too late. "Why, what's he done this time?"

"People theenk he's trying to build an army there so he can take over the moons here. Eet would be a good place to build, but he can't hope to have the numbers yet."

"Unless he can win public favour. Certainly, a decisive victory over the Thundercats would prove that he's a superior leader to Luna; she spent years trying to do that. I'm not convinced though. Aristarchus is a smart man, and I have no doubts he has his eyes on Luna's throne, but an army? That's not the way he's going to go about it, unless he finds something powerful on Third Earth that will give him an arms advantage," Tycho said.

"And that's what I told Loona. What she needs ees someone she can trust down there. You should come out of retirement."

"Don't even joke about it. I'm through with politics. Let someone else deal with the backstabbing and ass-kissing. It's not me... Wait, Luna sent you, didn't she." Tycho said it a little more accusingly than he have liked, but he meant it. She'd sent feelers out before, somehow convinced that he would come back.

"She did," the Graviton conceded. "She knows that you're the best suited for the post, and you know eet too. You just won't admit eet."

"Tell Luna it's not happening," Tycho sighed and settled back in his chair.

"I will." They ate the rest of the meal in silence.

Another wall fell into place and Psychro mopped his brow. Work on the city was going well, a few rudimentary buildings were in place and a vague outline of streets was taking shape. Nestled near the edge of a cliff, near a large volcano, Sky Tomb dominated the skyline, the rest of the buildings were smaller, confined to one or two stories depending on the nature of the building. He was currently assigned to working on the hospital and couldn't wait for his shift to be over.

Psychro was a mechanic by trade, and this kind of manual labour didn't really suit his tastes. The posterior of the pretty young woman with the welding torch on the other hand... Her head jerked in his direction, narrowing her gaze to tell him that she knew exactly what he was thinking and that it wasn't appreciated. Then he caught sight of the faint cyan markings around the eyes. Part Psion. It figured that the woman he'd been ogling would be a mind-reader. He wasn't having good luck with women lately. Chilla had beaten him up twice and the woman he'd slept with before the battle against Mumm-Ra had vanished entirely. No one had ever heard the name Munara Darken before. Who was she?

"Sorry," he said, walking over and offering his hand in apology to the welder. "I just get easily distracted around beautiful women."

"I'm sure you do," she accepted the handshake and her stance seemed to soften. Obviously the apology had made her see that he wasn't such a bad guy after all. "You didn't know that I was part Psion, and it's a little flattering to be thought of that way, I guess. Brae Mindwalker."

"Psychro, of House Myntaello. How about I make it up to you after our shift. The cafeteria doesn't have the best food, but it'll do until we build a proper restaurant," he said.

"It's a date," she replied. And he tried to keep himself from thinking about how he planned on finishing the date.

Panthro was tinkering with one of the hover boards outside the Lair. Wily Kat had had another unfortunate accident riding it and it needed to be repaired so he could visit the Warrior Maidens. They were having some sort of festival, and had invited the Thunderkittens to take part. It was cultural, and Lion-O insisted that they go, learn more about their neighbours, and express gratitude for being invited. Panthro thought it was just a way to get them out of his hair for a while.

The junior Thundercat saw the visitor before Panthro did, and coughed to get the latter's attention. Panthro groaned inwardly. Another Lunatak. Just what they needed. "What do you want Alluro?" He asked, setting the hover board down and crossing his arms over his chest. That Lunatak's presence was not good news.

"I have to see Mumm-Ra," Alluro replied, seeming agitated. Panthro had no way of knowing, but the gnawing fear that Mumm-Ra wasn't quite dead had grown exponentially in the Psion's mind since leaving the desolate waste. He'd practically run half the journey.

"He's not taking visitors right now, he's kind of dead," Wily Kat piped up, trying to mimic Panthro's 'no-nonsense' stance.

"I know that, at least I think I know that. Fine, I don't have time for this. Let me see Lion-O." The hypnotist shifted restlessly, and he unconsciously touched the rock in his pocket. Panthro gestured at Wily Kat with his head and the boy bolted inside. Alluro wouldn't be setting foot in Cat's Lair without Lion-O's permission unless he got past Panthro.

Not surprisingly, Lion-O guided Panthro and Alluro up to the conference room. He also, based on Wily Kat's version of events, sent for all available Thundercats and Knave too, so he wouldn't be left alone in their base. Once everyone was present, Alluro nervously recounted the experience with the idol's eye.

"Would you mind if Cheetara tries it? She has some psychic abilities as you well know," Lion-O said, recalling the incident with the telepathy beam. A weapon that had caused havoc with her powers until she'd managed to send a psychic backlash to destroy it. "Perhaps she'll be able to pick up more."

"If I wanted that, I'd go see my own people. There are almost a hundred Psions of varying skill available to me," Alluro snapped, impatient to have his fears put to rest. "But I suppose I'll never get anywhere until I let you." He placed the rock on the table and stepped aside so that Cheetara could reach it.

She cried out, sparking a violent reaction from Panthro. He decked Alluro and moved to contain Knave as well until Lion-O stopped him. Cheetara's pain was subsiding and she steadied herself on Tygra's shoulder. "I sensed hate. Overwhelming hate. And hope too, there was a feeling of hope and hate, mingled together. I saw a woman, cold, alone. And the words 'He will rise again.' I think Alluro might be right. It can only mean Mumm-Ra."

"Then he and I will go investigate," Lion-O said, drawing the legendary Sword of Omens. "The rock should stay here, just in case he's able to draw on power from it."

Alluro sighed heavily. He knew the Thundercats wouldn't steal the rock from him, he just wished they would stop wasting time with their babble and act for once. About the only nice thing was that it was Lion-O going down with him. That Sword of Omens was notorious for defeating Mumm-Ra, and the Lord would distract the demon priest from him if it came down to a fight.

The pair went down several corridors and down several flights of stairs until they reached the resting place of Mumm-Ra. A heavy steel door blocked the way, a Thundercat insignia covering it, and here Lion-O became more cautious. He entered a six digit code into the pad by the door, one that Alluro now knew if he ever needed it, and opened it.

Stale air wafted through the door; this section of the Lair had been little more than a storage area once, now it only stored Mumm-Ra's remains. The lights were on bright, and someone had obviously taken great pains to clean the floor, but the place still seemed dirty and rotten. His prison was vacuum sealed but Alluro still thought he could smell the scent of decay, a smell that clung to Mumm-Ra like a second skin. The demon priest hadn't moved, didn't look like he could move if he wanted to.

Lion-O looked at him questioningly, as though asking if their thoughts were the same. Alluro doubted very much that Lion-O was considering how he'd put Alluro between him and any blasts if Mumm-Ra did arise. "I guess that answers that," the feline eventually said, "we'd better report to the others before they start to worry."

If such things comforted the Thundercats, they were fools. Alluro trusted his psychic instincts far more than he did his own eyes. Something was wrong here, and Mumm-Ra wasn't dead.

Robear Bowan looked in confusion at the shrivelled body that served as a room mate in the cramped cell he was in. He had been out of the Berbil village, delivering for his cousin Roberto's taco stand when the demon had risen from the ground and taken him away. That woman frightened him deep in his servos. The body was clearly that of a warrior maiden, based mostly on the clothes she wore, but he'd never seen one that looked like this. He wasn't sure, but humans didn't dry out quite like that. There was another woman with him, another warrior maiden, but she was too terrified to speak. Her cheeks were hollow, and her skin taut against her bones.

Giving up for the moment on the woman, he waddled up to the energy field blocking his exit and probed it gently with one hand. Although the robotic bears didn't really feel pain, the sensation that arced through him was enough to assure him that he didn't want to experience it again.

"Don't rush it," an old woman on the other side of the barrier said.

"Who are you?" the Berbil asked, curious, although its robotic voice was difficult to understand. The woman chuckled and slipped into a coughing fit.

"No one important. I'm being used up just like the rest of you." She stopped so abruptly that Robear Bowan wondered if she'd fallen asleep. "A worthless shell to be used until there's nothing left to use."

It was practically nightfall by the time Alluro and Knave returned to New Lunis. Sentries waiting for them told them to speak to Aristarchus immediately. Knave snapped off a sarcastic insult at the sentries, one that Alluro agreed with but wouldn't have bothered saying.

The governor of Dark Side was in his office within Sky Tomb, as they expected. A large Darkling and a smaller Psion stood on either side of the doorway, blocking their entrance. While the Darkling kept watch on the duo, the Psion telepathically informed Aristarchus of their arrival. "He's expecting you," the Psion finally said, opening the door.

The office wasn't particularly lavish but had a few chairs, some finery hanging from the walls, and a thin carpet on the floor. It seemed cramped, but that wasn't surprising given that it had been designed with the diminutive Luna in mind. The man himself set down some papers he was reading and regarded the two of them cooly. "You were both gone for a long time. And at Cat's Lair too, from what I gather," he said. His voice was crisp but with a faint nasal noise, he had a way of talking that made even compliments sound insulting.

"I had permission," Knave said.

"I'm aware of that, and your commanding officer has been disciplined for it. And you, Alluro? You requested permission to go to the Desert of Sinking Sands. Cat's Lair is not en route."

"No, sir, it isn't." Alluro wanted to reach across the desk and throttle Aristarchus. Was he insinuating that the two of them had been delivering information to the Thundercats? Alluro hated the Thundercats with a passion, he would never betray the Lunataks for them. "I decided I wanted to see if Mumm-Ra was still dead. He is." He shot Knave a glance, warning him not to say anything about the stone or the visions.

"I see. In the future all such visits must come through me. We aren't at war with them yet, but I want to regulate all contact with them. Is that understood?" Aristarchus asked, leaning forward. Both grumbled but agreed. "Good. Then you may leave."

Singing voices greeted the Thunderkittens as they approached the tree top kingdom that was home to the warrior maidens. Neither Wily Kit nor Wily Kat knew the tune, but found it uplighting nonetheless. It was a song speaking of the joys of life, of the joy in watching a sapling grow into a mighty tree, and how this was a metaphor for how they wanted to live their own lives. It had been explained to them that the Festival of Trees was one of their most sacred times, and rarely seen by outsiders. Willa had tried to explain that this was a time to give thanks to the trees that they used in every aspect of their existence. They used its wood to build their homes, weapons and other accoutrements. They relied on it to conceal them from their foes and protect them from the elements. They used the wood to keep warm at night, and the fruit that grew from some of them to nourish themselves.

Frankly, the talk made the duo bored, but they were polite enough to feign interest. Queen Willa herself met them at the edge of their village, she was resplendent in an outfit of green, carrying an ornately carved staff. "Welcome to our village, Wily Kat and Wily Kit, make yourself at home," she said. There was an odd tone to her voice, but neither cub could put their finger on it, so they dismissed it for the present.

"The village looks great," Wily Kat said, following Willa further in. Lights hung from each tree, and a giant bonfire dominated the small clearing. It was around this fire, with their backs to the flames, that the maidens were singing. Their eyes were cast skyward, focussing on the tree tops. "And that looks even better!"

Willa chuckled as she followed the boy's eyes to the large table that was covered with food. Fruits, meat, and bread from the Berbil village. The succulent aromas were mingling with the burning wood smell to tantalize and tempt the Thunderkittens. "We'll be eating soon," she said. She took her place in the fire circle and joined the song.

Following the song was a brief prayer to the woodland spirits, thanking them for the past year, and then the food was served. Wily Kat felt that this was a kind of culture he could put up with.

While everyone ate, Willa told the legend of the first warrior maidens, as they fled the mountains against a fearsome band of raiders. The men chased them into the forest where the trees turned flesh and destroyed the invaders. Ever since that day, she explained, the warrior maidens had made the forest their home and defended it with their lives.

Other stories were told, mostly along similar veins, of woodland spirits coming to the aid of the maidens, protecting them from the evils of men. Wily Kat was about to ask how they reproduced if men were evil, but received a sharp glare from his sister.

The night grew late, and the stories turned from legends to more modern tales. Stories of great hunts, and times when they felt like the trees were helping them. Wily Kit nudged her brother and pointed in Willa's direction. She was distracted, sitting quietly by herself. The staff she'd been carrying was now cradled at her feet. The two kittens padded over to her and settled on either side. "What's the matter?" Wily Kit asked, placing her hand on the queen's shoulder. Willa was a friend of the Thundercats, and anything they could do to help they would.

"It's probably nothing, but two of our women went out to gather fruit and never returned. I can't help wondering what's happened to them. I knew them both well, they were fine warriors and nothing should have been able to take them both on, except maybe the Mutants," she said.

"Mutants?" Wily Kat gasped, somewhat surprised. In all the commotion of making peace with the Lunataks and Mumm-Ra's defeat, they had forgotten about the other group on Third Earth. "We'll mention it to Lion-O when we get back, and help you look for them," he said hastily.

"Yeah. If those Mutants have done anything like that..." Wily Kit's voice trailed off and Willa couldn't help but feel comforted. The two were young and eager, much like she had been at that age. Of course the Thundercats would help, though it was equally possible there was a logical explanation for their disappearance that didn't involve danger.

"Thank you, I'll start our search in the morning. I hope it's nothing."

Zanaya screamed in frustration, scattering pillows and blankets in every direction. Why wouldn't the child let her sleep? For the last three hours she had felt it kicking and writhing in her womb. To make matters worse its psionic tie with her was going haywire, feelings of frustration flowing from child to mother. It wanted out, and it wanted out now. A sharp pain in her side made her wonder suddenly whether Thunderian children had their claws while in the womb; it certainly felt like this one, only a quarter Thunderian, did.

"Calm yourself," she heard Lura say. It was impossible. Lura, Mystan's apprentice, was in the room adjacent, not in Zanaya's. Telepathy, she remembered suddenly. Lura was showing signs that she would be an excellent telepath. "Empathy works both ways," Lura's voice continued, and Zanaya could almost imagine the woman sitting on the edge of her bed. "While you can read the baby's emotions, it is picking up on yours. That's the main reason you aren't sleeping right now.

"So it's my fault?" Zanaya sounded more irritated than she'd intended. She wasn't thinking clearly right now, and knew from the stories she'd heard that it was true.

"In part, yes. I can help you." She couldn't help it. The voice was soothing, full of kindness and compassion. It was a trait in Lura that Mystan didn't like, but at present Mystan could jump off of Sky Tomb for all she cared. Zanaya felt Lura's amusement. "I don't think Mystan will be doing that any time soon. This may be a little disorienting for a minute, but I think it will work."

Zanaya felt the telepath moving through her mind, moving with precision towards the region of the brain where the link to the baby was. Mentally she touched the link, sending waves of calm and peace down it. The sensation was akin to sudden numbness enveloping her head, but it felt good. There was no more discomfort, and the baby indeed settled down almost immediately. "Thank you," she whispered.

"You're welcome," came Lura's reply, as she slipped back into her own body again.

The rock sat on a shelf in Alluro's room, about as far from the bed as he could put it, and was covered in a heavy cloth. The hypnotist knew that the cloth wouldn't block any telepathic transmissions, but it made him feel better knowing that the thing wasn't actively 'looking' at him. The Thundercats had been reluctant to let him leave the building with such a potentially powerful thing in his grasp, but their keen sense of honour prevented them from taking it by force. He wouldn't have hesitated if the roles had been reversed.

He cast another long glance at the shrouded eye and changed out of his dusty everyday clothes and slipped into a thin nightgown that was light as a feather. It was extremely comfortable to wear, but he'd never let anyone see him in it. Tug Mug had bought it for him as a gag gift after hearing him complain about being too warm at night, and had intentionally found the most hideous nightgown he could find. Little dancing Berbils dotted the outfit on a drab beige background. But it was comfortable.

Alluro was about to get into bed when he changed his mind. He walked over to where the strange stone sat and turned it around so that the eye was pointing away from his bed. With that settled he climbed in and drifted into a restless slumber; visions of Mumm-Ra in his head.

Bright and early the next morning, while the first shift of Lunataks was beginning their construction duties, the Thundercats were setting out from Cat's Lair to see what they could find out about the missing warrior women.

The Thunderkittens, eager to be of service, joined Lion-O and Cheetara in the search, while Panthro and Tygra held down the fort in Cat's Lair. They would start at the grove that the maidens had been heading for and backtrack towards the village, hopefully meeting up with Willa en route.

What they didn't know is that they would be too late to save either one. The surviving maiden, a once robust warrior known as Lexa, had watched her best friend shrivel up at that demon's touch, and had felt that same touch herself. The strange spirit seemed to be learning and using herself and the Berbil as its teachers. She was weak, barely enough strength to raise her head now, or swallow when Robear Bowan offered her water. Her skin was stretched so tight on her bones she expected to see through it.

All the while the demon moved around the small series of rooms, sometimes talking to itself, and sometimes to the Lunar woman. That one was confusing to Lexa. She was evil, of that there was little doubt, and yet there was a sense of compassion for the prisoners. Whatever the Lunatak was doing, it wasn't entirely of her own free will.

She felt the spirit drift into the cell again. It circled her once and then stopped before her eyes. "They're looking for you," the being said, it's voice deep and threatening. "They'll never find you. We're too far away. Even if they do, it will be too late. One more touch and your life will be over. But perhaps I should let you live long enough to see my next prey. Maybe it will be someone you know. Another friend, perhaps, a sister, maybe it will be a small child. Would you like that? A child to play with? Your robotic friend here doesn't have much flavour, but maybe a young one will."

She tried to summon the strength to shout, to curse, or attack, but could barely shed a tear, for the sake of the next victim. Slowly the spirit settled around her shoulders, drawing the last of her life energy from her. In the corner Robear Bowan said a prayer for her.

Luna looked up sharply at the intrusion to her office. There was the official throne room, but she rarely used it, preferring the simplicity of this room. Amok was settled by the fireplace, alert and staring with beady eyes at the intruder. Roly Poly stepped closer and gave him some beer-flavoured candy, placating him almost instantly. "Well?" she asked, almost relieved to have a distraction herself. The Mutants of Plundarr were complaining about a prisoner being held on the Ice Moon, and wanted her to release him. Coming up with a polite way of rejecting them didn't come easy to her.

"There's no change, I've done my best. He likes his farm too much, even eef a part of him wants to go Third Earth," the Graviton said. He wasn't offered a seat due to his bulk, and made a mental note to send her a new heavy duty chair to replace the one he'd broken earlier in the week.

"He's related to me, alright, stubborn as anything. Some day he'll realize that it isn't peace that he wants, he needs to be in charge. I can see it in his eyes, because I saw it in my eyes at one point. Remember that day, Amok?" she said. The brute looked up and grinned at her. He probably didn't, but liked to see his mistress happy. She'd been close, then, to giving up the crown. Four assassination attempts in a week, a pair of wars going on and a riot in the capital. But then she'd realized that despite all that, she was still standing. She was the best candidate for the job. And so would Tycho, when he smartened up. "Very well, you've pleased me Roly Poly, I'll summon you when I have further use for you." He bowed as much as his gut would allow, and left.

The Thundercats met Willa and a trio of warrior women along a dirt road about a half mile from the orchard. They were standing by a section of ground that looked as though a hole had been dug and subsequently refilled, inspecting something when Lion-O and the others approached. Willa rose from her crouch and displayed a basket. "Is that from your women?" he asked.

"It is. We found their trail easily enough and it ended here. This basket was here, on the edge of the disturbed area. What do you make of it?" she asked.

The Lord of the Thundercats looked around in confusion and probed the soil with his sword. "Nothing seems out of the ordinary. The ground seems a little loose, but not unreasonably so. I'd suggest an ambush, but there's no sign of a fight."

"No. Two women like that wouldn't have gone down without some indication. There are no other footprints around here either. I was just thinking of digging into the earth to see if they got buried."

"We'll help, it will make the work go faster," Lion-O suggested. They had no shovels on them, so the kittens returned to the Lair, which wasn't that far away, to get some. In the meantime Lion-O, Cheetara and the maidens started moving dirt by hand. They dug a fair ways more once the shovels arrived, but found no evidence of anything other than earthworms.

"We'll check out Castle Plundarr and talk to the Lunataks. If either of them had anything to do with this, we'll find out," Lion-O said, when they finally called a halt to their excavations.

"Thank you, Lion-O. As always, your help is greatly appreciated."

Psychro's jaw still smarted from where Red Eye had hit him. It had been completely unprovoked too, but it proved the rumours were true. The Ice/Psion hybrid had heard that Red Eye had lost what little sense of humour he had following the death of his daughter, so when his immediate response to being told that he would be working under Chilla was "great, and I don't even have to buy her dinner first" Red Eye had decked him. Only the intervention of Brae had prevented him from retaliating.

As he adjusted the landing strut of a damaged fighter, brought in by a not very skilled pilot, he considered that the incident also helped prove his theory. He fancied himself an expert in relationships, studying people and the way they interacted. It helped when trying to gauge if a woman was playing hard to get and when she was simply not interested. Red Eye and Chilla, if his hunches were right, were at that delicate stage just before one would ask the other out. The way they talked when the other was in the room, subtle body language and stolen glances. They would be dating within a week if he was right.

The socket wrench slipped from the bolt he was working on and he bent to retrieve it. They wouldn't last, in the end. Both were too old school to consider cross-racial dating for long. Despite their similarities, the old ways were too deep. Seven months, tops. However, this would only be good for Chilla. She'd been moody around him ever since he'd turned his attentions elsewhere. Two beatings from her was enough to convince him that she wasn't worth the effort, and it clearly rankled her. The relationship might even soften her temper, at least until it ended. He made a mental note to avoid her once it did.

Unbeknownst to him, Chilla was keeping an eye on Psychro as he worked. Several of the crescent fighters had been damaged by a careless pilot, and she had been charged with assembling a proper crew to repair them. She probably wouldn't even have chosen Psychro if he wasn't so blasted good at his job. He was good at other things too if the stink of sex on his body was an indicator.

She wasn't sure why that bothered her at all, really, other than it showed a lack of respect for his duties. Between the stink and the rumpled clothes that had clearly been worn the previous day, she was sure that he'd literally just finished up with whatever floozie he'd been with and come straight to the job site. Late. Back in her days he would have been publicly punished for such disrespect. But there was something deeper, a nugget that she would barely accept. Her pride was stung by the way he'd given up on the chase just as she was starting to come around, preferring the comforts of an easy lay to her. Another day or two and she would have been willing to go out with him and possibly... No. It was for the best this way. Let him catch whatever viruses these women had, it would serve the bastard right.

As he turned, glancing in her direction, she saw the black eye that was starting to form there. Red Eye had given him something that he deserved, and Chilla figured that she owed him a thank you. Perhaps she would invite him out to dinner.

Sitting across the desk from Aristarchus were the Thundercats Lion-O and Wily Kit, and they were frankly boring him. He wouldn't have even seen them at all if it weren't for the desire to keep the tenuous peace between them a little longer. They'd arrived a few moments ago, talking of missing warrior women, as though he cared what happened to the humans that inhabited this planet. He barely even wanted this planet, there was no real power here. What he wanted were the moons. "I assure you I know nothing of these warrior maidens," he said tiredly.

"Then maybe you could help us find them. In the interests of fellowship, perhaps you could loan us a telepath or one of your Darklings; they might be able to see if there's anything underground that we missed," Lion-O said.

With cold detachment Aristarchus stared back at the Lord of the Thundercats. "I'm afraid I have none I can spare. We're rather busy with our own interests to worry about some primitives," he said.

Lion-O appeared startled by the outright rejection, but managed to force the anger down. The whelp beside him was less skilled. "After all we've done for you?" she blurted.

"Come along, Wily Kit," Lion-O said, placing a hand on her shoulder, "we'll gain nothing more here today."

When Cheetara and Wily Kat returned to the Lair, their report was no less disheartening. The Mutants knew nothing of the missing women, and a hasty inspection of the dungeons revealed no recent activity at all. It was a mystery to the Thundercats as to what had transpired. More disturbing, when they visited the Berbil village on the way back was learning of a disappearance there too. Between these incidents and the stone eye that Alluro had found, things were very unsettling for the young lord of the Thundercats. Lion-O only hoped they could solve the puzzle before anything else happened.

On to Return to Power - part two
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