Return to Power
The cave was exactly as it had been described to him by the ancient spirits of evil. An ordinary looking cave with a deadly secret. Alluro had only come across one reference to this place in his studies of Third Earthen legends, and it had been a vague mention a sorcerer using it to artificially age his monstrous creations. This was only a legend, but most tended to be grounded in fact.
Unlike Alluro, Snarf had seen the effects of the Cave of Time first hand. Once with Tygra and once with Lion-O. The cave, as he knew well, aged one while they were in it, and if one stayed long enough they died. And the ancients wanted them to take Mumm-Ra in there? "Brr... We're here. Now what? Snarf, snarf," he said, shaking.
The Thundercat companion had made his displeasure over the quest known loudly the entire trip, and frankly Alluro was getting sick of it. If it wasn't for Snarf knowing the way to the cave, he'd have ditched him long ago. But the creature had a valid point. What were they to do now? The cave would age either one of them, and tossing Mumm-Ra in didn't seem to be a viable option. He looked at the large stone eye he'd rescued from the blast site of Mumm-Ra's pyramid again and mentally directed the question at it. "They say they will protect us from the cave's effects," he announced to Snarf.
"Not a chance. If you want to put your faith in them go ahead, but old Snarf doesn't want to become older Snarf." He crossed his arms and shook his head. He was stubborn, but with good reason. Alluro agreed that there was every likelihood that the ancient spirits would betray him as soon as his use was done, but he had seen what the world looked like if that other spirit, the one that had possessed Shade, won. There was no point in living on a world like that.
Assuming that the ancients weren't lying, a niggling voice in the back of his head chanted. No. They sounded truly afraid of this thing. Like there was potential for that spirit to do damage to them. They also rewarded those who obeyed them. He squared his shoulders and sneered at the little hairball. It wouldn't do to show fear to Snarf. "Fine, then I'll go in alone," he said, and took the first step inside, Mumm-Ra draped over one shoulder.
Although the Thunderkittens had traversed this terrain dozens of times, today felt different. Today they had learned that their home was destroyed and their friends might be dead. There was little joy in their riding, and their frolicking was non-existent. What, they wondered, would they find when they reached the Tower of Omens? Would it be rubble too? Would they find corpses?
Each cub let out a breath when they saw the gleaming tower, shining in the distance. It certainly appeared to be intact, at least from this vantage. Urging their boards on, Wily Kit and Kat raced to learn more.
"Fascinating," Alluro murmured as he went further into the cave. There were plenty of skeletal remains, as he expected. A creature who wandered in might not realize what was happening until it was too late to turn around and get out. But whatever caused this only seemed to be choosy in what it affected. Living tissue, certainly, was affected, but there were still bones, which suggested that there was a point at which the magical aging stopped. Clothing was affected too, or the humanoids who'd wandered in here had all been naked. Since most clothes would be comprised largely of animal hides, perhaps this cave only worked on living tissues.
His scientific mind whirled, trying to think of the things he would like to try. He had an automaton back in his workshop that might survive. And what about plants? And how did it affect mental functions and muscle structures. If he were to bring an infant inside, would they age mentally as well? How would it affect their ability to walk?
There were no more skeletons, he realized as he continued on, suggesting that nothing had made it this far. Virgin territory for any living creature, he realized. The tunnel was jagged, though the floor was somewhat smooth, allowing his passage to go fairly easily. The crystal from his psyche club provided light, so that he didn't trip over anything.
Finally the cave ended at a larger open area. There was a stone slab there covered in writing, and he recognized it as the same language in Mumm-Ra's pyramid. "Put Mumm-Ra on the table," the ancients instructed. "On the living, the cave of time speeds aging, but for those who do not age it speeds their recovery." He did as he was instructed, carefully draping the devil priest on the slab. There didn't seem to be an immediate change, so Alluro settled on the floor and waited.
"Lynx-O! Bengali! Pumyra!" the kittens shouted, running up the tight spiral stairs to the command deck. All three, plus Snarfer, were there, having seen the cubs approaching on the monitors. They hugged each other, holding on as if to affirm that yes, they were still alive. "You're alright! Tygra told us what happened at the Lair..." Wily Kit began.
"Tygra?" Pumyra said, confused.
"Yes. He's back at the warrior maiden village. We got sent to make sure you guys were alive and to bring you back there. I think we're going to go attack the Lunataks," Wily Kat said.
"But Mandora said to leave the Lunataks alone, yep she sure did, snarfer, snarfer, and we should always do what she says," Snarfer piped up.
"Snarfer is right. Perhaps we should encourage Tygra and the maidens to come to the Tower of Omens. It is closer to Dark Side and would make for a good place to use as our base of operations," Lynx-O said. "And I can contact Mandora to keep her updated. She should be at the Lunatak city by now, and may know more."
"That sounds like a great idea. We'll go back to the village now and try and bring everyone for tomorrow morning," Wily Kit said.
Zanaya had been keeping watch over her companion for the last several hours from the safety of the woods. She and Lura had been dropped off near Cat's Lair in the hopes of figuring out what had happened to her uncle, and Lura's mentor, Mystan. The two had done a search of the area, working from Aristarchus' description of the battle. After that they had done a more thorough search before Lura announced that they should move somewhere sheltered.
She had seen this done before, and it was extremely difficult to do, none but the best telepaths had the patience and skill to do it. Zanaya watched the younger woman set her back against a tree and close her eyes, sinking deep into a trance. It would be her duty to protect Lura during this delicate time. She was, ultimately, the perfect person for the job; her own powers could convince a person's mind that she wasn't there, it was almost like being invisible, only a little trickier. She'd used it only once before to shield another with her, and knew that it would require a lot of concentration.
The arrival of Tygra and the warrior women had complicated things. Lura had only been in her trance for twenty or so minutes when the feline and his companions and wandered through, inspecting the site of the battle and taking a look at the Lair. Thankfully they either found what they were looking for or didn't want to stay very long, because they left after a short while. And they walked within arm's length of the two women.
With the threat long since gone, probably three or four hours, Zanaya relaxed her guard somewhat and took stock of things. Rushing after Mystan had really sounded like a good idea back in New Lunis. He was important in both of their lives, and to the Psion moon as a whole. He was one of the high priests, the same high priests who governed the moon and were influential parts of the Lunar empire. With Mystan gone it would throw things into chaos for a short time, a new representative would need to be chosen and sent to Third Earth to take his place.
But on a more personal level Mystan was important to her as well. Mystan had been her biggest supporter in life, convincing the high priests to assign her some of the plum assassination jobs. It was through those kills that she had built her reputation. It was also one of those jobs that had stained her flawless record. Nitro. The priests had made the cardinal mistake of wanting him to know who wanted him dead, and that had allowed him the time to figure out where she was and incapacitate her. And now Nitro was back in the city. Would Mystan give her a second chance? It would be fitting, after all, to have the honour of killing both the father and the son.
That all presumed that Mystan was alive, something that was likely but not a guarantee. Chances were that whoever had taken him had done so with a purpose, why take a man when it was easier to kill them? Unless they wanted information. It was plausible, but Mystan wouldn't crack under any circumstance.
Zanaya regarded Lura again. The woman hadn't moved an inch since closing her eyes, which she would doubtless regret when she woke. Lura was a sweet girl, which made her studying as Mystan's apprentice so bizarre. She had the raw talent of a master, and in that regard she would be an excellent high priest, but her demeanor was soft, she was too friendly and forgiving. Too many times, already, she had seen Lura looking for more peaceful approaches in dealing with the Thundercats. In her hands someone like Zanaya would be out of a job.
Or maybe not. How many assignments had come her way where the person was squeamish? Where they had hinted that they wanted a person taken care of, had handed over money, but not wanted to know any particulars. Some who did that wanted deniability, but most were soft people, who knew what needed to be done, but didn't want anything to do with it. Zanaya chuckled out loud. Yes, the first time Lura needed a job like that done would be most interesting.
"I've found him!" Lura said, snapping the older woman out of her thoughts. Now that Lura had a psychic lock on him she was able to move more freely, and together they began running towards the desert of sinking sands.
At that same moment Shade placed the spell book on the floor. She was very nervous as magic wasn't a skill she'd ever tried, and she only *thought* she understood what the words on the thin pages were. From the times that her mind had touched Nightshade's she had gained a certain amount of arcane knowledge, and it was this knowledge that she hoped to use. Weaving designs in the air she began chanting in the foreign language, eyes flitting between book and mystical barriers. She was old and weak, and the magic felt like it was making her more so, but sheer determination and pride were winning out. The Lunataks and Thundercats were soon going to be killing each other, blaming the other for Nightshade's acts, and she couldn't allow that.
When her strength started to fail, an image of her father flashed into her head. Nightshade was coming for him. He would take him and drain him like he had done to so many others. With a sizzling sound, and the faint smell of burning meat, the barriers dissipated back into the ether from whence they'd come. Cheetara was the first one out, anticipating perhaps that Shade would need help. She was caught by the feline and helped to sit back upright. "Let's kill her," Paeder growled, stepping forward.
"Are you mad?" Knave spat, coming to stand defensively at Cheetara's side. He looked like hell, and clearly could benefit from sleeping for about a week, but he wouldn't let that stop him.
"She's a traitor to my people," Paeder said. "Spitfire and Frostor would still be alive if not for her."
"I'm not thrilled with being captured either, but there is no honour in killing someone who can't fight back. Besides, you saw that thing. It's using her just as much as it is us, and she's redeeming herself," Knave said.
Before Paeder could respond, Mystan stepped forward. "As indifferent as I am whether she lives or dies, do you know how to read that spell book?" Paeder shook her head. "Then we need her alive. We have no way of getting out of here without her."
"Thank you," Shade said. "I just need to gather my strength. There are plenty of spells which might work to get us out, but I'm just so weak."
"Great. So we wait here and hope that Nightshade doesn't get back in time. Wonderful. You're all insane," Paeder sighed, pacing over to the pool of water. There was little else to do but wait and watch.
It was a little after dark when Tygra and the warrior women arrived at the Tower of Omens. To a woman, every one left the village, determined to show the Lunataks the consequences of trying to conquer their planet. Many would die, they knew, and many more would be injured and taken prisoner, but they wouldn't be taken easily.
Along the way they encountered the Snow Man of Hook Mountain, astride Snow Meow his fearsome snow tiger companion. The Thunderkittens had raced on ahead to see if he would join them, hoping that any extra allies would be beneficial. There wasn't much room in the Tower of Omens, but the women were accustomed to sleeping outdoors and had come prepared. In the control room, Willa, Nayda, Snow Man and the Thundercats stood about, looking at various maps of Dark Side, and discussing possible options. It was grim. The Lunataks outnumbered and outgunned them. The only hope was that they would have the element of surprise.
"I talked to Mandora and she says we are at war, officially, with the Lunataks and that they have a legal right to have Lion-O and Panthro as prisoners. She is doing everything she can. She suggests we stay here, but knows that it's not likely we will," Lynx-O said. The woman was working through the night, trying to find that crucial piece of evidence that would sway Control to come to their aid.
"Absolutely not. Lion-O is in danger and we must help him," Willa confirmed, other voices crying out as well.
"The city is heavily guarded, and they've erected walls. That's going to make life difficult. My suggestion is the river bed. We Thundercats can attack from one side and draw their attention while the women climb up into their city. If we're lucky we can take advantage of their confusion," Tygra said. He'd caught a glimpse of some of the defences while in the city, before he was captured, and had noted that the wall was shorter along the edge of the city that overlooked the cliffs. Of course, he also left it unsaid that with just the Thunderstrike and the kittens' hover boards, that the diversion wouldn't last very long against the Lunatak fleet.
"Taking Sky Tomb should be our main priority. Lion-O's bound to be kept in there, and the Sword of Omens will give us a huge advantage. Plus we might be able to catch some of the leaders and get them to surrender," Pumyra said, and Bengali snorted at the prospect of the Lunataks giving up.
"We've been at this for a long time," Nayda finally said, noting some tension in the room. "I suggest we all get a good night's sleep."
"Nayda's right. If we're to leave at first light, we'll need all the rest we can get," Tygra said. One by one the Thundercats and their companions filed out of the room.
Tygra found her waiting for him at the door leading to the guest quarters. It was no secret that he and the warrior woman known as Alundra had been seeing each other and he felt a mixture of pleasure and sorrow to see her. "I didn't know which room was yours," she said shyly. It was one of the traits he liked in her, very quiet and reserved, neither demanded a lot of the other's time but treasured the moments they spent together. He took her hand in his own and escorted her to his room.
They went immediately to the bed, not for sexual intimacy but the kind of closeness two who truly trust each other can experience. It was a comforting embrace, trying to will away the heavy concerns that were plaguing them. There was every chance that neither would survive the coming battle, and even then death was not the worst fate that could befall either of them. For Tygra there was potential torture, being paraded before the Lunataks as a prize catch before his blessed relief. Aristarchus had gone in great detail about his potential future, including a vibrant description on how he might be the guest of honour at a feast.
For Alundra the possibilities were more hazy. While the Lunataks might well resort to torture, they were just as likely to enslave their prisoners, forcing them to do whatever menial tasks they wanted. She would probably be forced to work until she dropped or, more revoltingly, be made to breed and produce future slaves.
She stroked the fur at the back of his neck, letting it slide through her fingers, as she sensed him tensing. He kissed her forehead gently, the smooth skin still strange to him, even after all these years. "We'll be fine," he murmured, more for his own benefit than hers. "Good always triumphs over evil." Gradually the two drifted off into a fitful sleep
Mandora wasn't tired in the least bit. She had a job to do, and resting would waste valuable time, time before those Thundercats did something rash. They would fight, it was inevitable, they were impulsive at times, and wouldn't wait things out. Not that they really had much time to begin with. She had delayed Aristarchus, but he might just take it on himself to carry out an execution; he seemed spiteful like that. Sure, if he executed Lion-O and Panthro she would bring the full force of the law on him, but it wouldn't do much good for the Thundercats.
But if she could find evidence of Cheetara's capture, then she could use Control to bring him in. "What's in here?" she asked of the Darkling, Captain Stalker, who had been assigned as escort. With his high rank he could get her into any room, including personnel quarters. And with his background in security he could appreciate her needs. They were starting with Sky Tomb, methodically entering every room, looking for clues.
"This room is assigned to Lura Crantex, Mystan and Zanaya Benekasbeel and the latter's daughter Krystalin. None of them are presently in the city. Mystan disappeared near Cat's Lair and the other two went to find him. The child is with another family," Stalker said.
"Good, then no one should be inside. Open the door."
He did as he was asked, keying in his override commands, and the door hissed open. The room was meticulously neat, everything was precisely where it belonged. Stalker knew that Mystan liked things orderly and would give Lura a severe tongue-lashing if she didn't do likewise. Zanaya was likewise a clean freak, something that she needed for her professional life.
There was, however, one thing out of place. A tiny, almost imperceptible splotch of red on the side of the desk, next to a closet that was ever so slightly ajar, and Mandora saw it at once. In policing keen observational skills were vital. The smallest thing that was where it didn't belong was a clue. "Blood," she murmured, crouching down and inspecting the droplet. There was a faint smell of cleaning products in the air, as of someone cleaning in the last day or two. This wasn't unusual in itself, given the state of the rooms, but it smelled stronger here. Drawing her boomerang she opened the closet door and heard the startled gasp behind her. There, in a seated position, was the corpse of Cheetara.
In hindsight, Nightshade mused, cloaked from the sight of Mandora, he should have drained Cheetara and used the real body. His magic probably wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny, but he was hoping that the right nudge would start the war between Lunatak and Control before anyone realized they were being manipulated. Mandora was, after all, one of the best cops in the universe, and if anyone was going to find him out, it would be her. Still, he was pleased when she immediately contacted Control and requested back-up. She was planning on arresting Aristarchus if she could find any evidence of his hand in this and was expecting resistence. While she made that call, Stalker went to fetch the governor.
With those events in motion, Nightshade slipped from the room unseen and began hunting for Red Eye; he needed to teach Shade a lesson.
"Get up," Nitro said, kicking Nuiane firmly in the shin. After the dinner dishes were cleaned, she had curled up and cried herself to sleep. She tried to read his expression and saw nothing but anger. Following dinner he had announced that he was going to get answers from Aristarchus on what was to happen to Chilla and, to a much lesser degree, Psychro. If he was still angry that meant one of two things. One, there was no decision at all, but then why would he be here? Two, he didn't like the ruling, which boded ill for her.
She stood, trying to appear submissive to him. She'd known him long enough to know that was the best way of dealing with him in this kind of mood. "I spoke to Aristarchus," he said, spitting the name out like it was some kind of poison. "He wasn't in a good mood, something about Mandora snooping around, and he's made a decision. Chilla and Psychro are going to die. Burned at the stake like all Icewalker traitors." It was a painful death, the worst kind for their race. While some Icewalkers were able to throw fire, the flames reacted more negatively on their bodies than it did to the other races.
So that was it. Chilla would die, and Nuiane would die for her part in it. She considered throwing herself on his mercy, but knew that if he'd already made his decision then there was no amount of pleading that would change it. "All I ask is that you make my death swift and painless," she said, closing her eyes, and bracing for it. He always did it himself, she had heard, it showed that he was still a force to be reckoned with.
"I'm not killing you," he said bluntly. She opened her eyes in confusion. "I'm not because Chilla is not going to die. Not like that, not like some common criminal, and you're going to see to it she doesn't. Prince Tycho is en route, or so I'm told, and he will clear her when he gets here. But that's going to be some ways off, so you're going to rescue her or you'll be wishing it was you burning at the stake rather than her by the time I'm done with you."
Free Chilla? Break into Sky Tomb's dungeons? It was a tall task for anyone, let alone someone who had spent the last few years in a pampered harem life. But there was no alternative, there was no room for negotiation with Nitro. "Yes master," she said, "thank you master."
The guards standing outside Aristarchus' door were quite uncertain as to how to react to the evil chaser demanding entry; a question of whom did they fear more cropping up as they looked at that uncompromising face. That Stalker was with her only complicated matters. Finally, after threats of being incarcerated themselves were brought about, one of them stepped into the bedroom to awaken the governor.
He was dressed in a pair of striped pyjama bottoms and a purple silk robe that showed just enough of his chest to display the battle scar that crossed it. His shoulder blade length hair was unkempt and he bore the expression of one who is not appreciative of being wakened. "What is the meaning of this?" he snapped.
"Aristarchus Lunar, you are under arrest under suspicion of conspiracy to abduct and murder one Cheetara of the Thundercats. Come along peaceably and it will be noted in your record; resist and I will take you by force," she said, handing him the warrant. Further questioning as to how much, if any, involvement he'd had in the case would be conducted in a Control facility, Cheetara's body would also be sent there so that cause and time of death could be determined.
"How dare you. How dare you!" Aristarchus bellowed, startling all except for Mandora. Her years of experience had allowed all manners of people to display their most basic of natures and she had known that he would be a violent one. The tirade continued, "I am Aristarchus, governor of New Lunis and future king of the Lunatak empire. I bow to one's laws but my own and you and your pathetic Control force can shove it." He jabbed a finger at her, grazing her chest. Beside her Stalker gasped at the physical contact and, himself, knew what was about to happen. Mandora's free hand lashed out, grabbing the offending digit and began twisting so that Aristarchus' arm was behind his back. "Arrest her!" he shouted, glaring over his shoulder at the dumbfounded guards.
"I warn you. Hindering the arrest of a felon is a punishable offence," she said even as the duo snapped out of their trance. Mandora shoved Aristarchus bodily into his bedroom and braced herself as the nearer of the two, a slightly overweight Psion, brought his pistol to bear. She grabbed his wrist before he could fire and snapped it against the doorframe. She heard a satisfying crack and knew that he was out of the fight. His companion was quicker, blowing ice at her and covering her from shoulder to toe.
Mandora had come prepared, knowing the basic tricks of the Lunataks, and accustomed to them thanks to a few arrests. She had inserted a device in her glove that would melt the ice, but never got a chance to use it as Stalker dealt her a clubbing blow to the back of the head.
"Take her to the dungeons. We'll have a triple execution, something to show those miserable Thundercats what awaits them. And we'll show Control that they can't bully us at the same time. We are the Lunataks and we are strong!" Aristarchus said, pointing. Stalker and the Icewalker guard dragged Mandora away while the remaining guard went to get his hand looked at.
"Now what?" Zanaya asked. She and Lura had made slow progress, but had finally reached the desert of sinking sands. It had taken them almost five hours to get there on foot, as the former was still coping with her recent pregnancy and surgery. But now they were there, perched over the spot that Lura said was where Mystan was. Now that they were there, the telepath was able to conduct some kind of conversation and had explained the situation. Some sorcerer had imprisoned a bunch of Lunataks and Third Earthers here, including Cheetara, and was using them as a kind of power source. They were getting ready to fight this creature when it came back.
"I don't know. Dig, maybe?" Lura shrugged. All she knew was that Mystan and the others were beneath them. Ten feet? A hundred? Miles? Who knew? Neither woman particularly felt like digging, and using telekinesis to do it would be just as tedious, especially since it wasn't a discipline either was skilled in. The thought had come up, very briefly, of getting Mystan to do it, since he was one of the best, but there was nowhere for him to really put the dirt once he'd moved it. Besides, if the demon came back, his powers would be needed.
"Great, and me without a shovel."
"Well, we could always call up Aristarchus. See if he could send some people over. They might even be handy in a fight," Lura said. It was worth a shot anyway. Zanaya picked up her communicator.
There was a noise, as of many foot falls on the floor. Lion-O nudged Panthro awake as Stalker and the Icewalker guard brought in their prisoner. Whoever it was, was draped limply over the latter's shoulder. The cell block was kept generally dark, though it could be illuminated brighter if an inspection needed to be made, and that coupled with the person's dark clothes obscured who it was until the Icewalker turned slightly.
"Mandora?" Lion-O gasped, struggling to his feet and approaching the cell door. He, much like Panthro, was still feeling the effects of the thundrainium shackles that had long been removed. He wasn't as weak as he had been, but it still took a lot of effort to move around. Panthro was on his feet beside him, watching as the guard grunted at them.
"Just following orders. She attacked Aristarchus, so she's being locked up," Stalker told them as he removed her helmet and her boomerang. Satisfied that she was disarmed, the Darkling opened the cell adjacent to the Thundercats. "Just don't get used to her company, she'll be dead by tomorrow evening, just like those two."
He heard the words, but could scarcely believe them. Aristarchus had been attacked by Mandora, and now he had the gall to sentence her to death? Did he not realize how foolhardy a plan that was? Control's reach was vast. They had a standing army, but they relied mostly on friendly worlds supplying extra arms and bodies to maintain order. How many worlds would line up to avenge Mandora, beloved space cop? And then there was the list of worlds that would be more than happy to see the Lunataks knocked down a peg. It was ridiculous. He was fighting a war that could not be won, and why? Because of his ego?
"She'd have been fine if she hadn't accused our illustrious governor with the cat woman's death," the Ice Lunatak said, snorting. "That's right, kitties, we found your friend's body, good and cold."
"Quiet," Stalker snapped. "I'm afraid he's right, though. We found Cheetara's body in one of the bedrooms and Mandora accused Aristarchus in helping to cover it up. She's probably luckier than you two, if the governor has his way. I'm sorry."
The two Lunataks left, leaving Panthro and Lion-O to stand in stunned silence. Even Chilla and Psychro, across the way, seemed to be in shock. Cheetara was dead? The words were alien to the young lord of the Thundercats. She had always been there, it seemed impossible to conceive that she wouldn't be anymore. First Tygra and now her too? Was their species doomed to die out? Would he and Panthro be next?
Sadness turned to a burning anger, hatred for the man who had had a hand in both deaths. Aristarchus. "By Jaga," Lion-O growled, his strength mounting as he punched the cell door as hard as he could. He met Panthro's gaze, saw the same emotions brewing in there. They both knew that they would not let Mandora die. Not this way.
"They're sending a ship," Zanaya reported to Lura as she closed her communicator. She'd had a frustrating conversation with the woman named Chillaura. It had been like pulling teeth just to get to speak to someone in charge. Something about trying to listen to her music, and how doing work interrupted it. Frankly, the assassin was surprised that the woman still had a job with an attitude like that. "It sounds like there's quite a bit of commotion going on over there, like we're mobilizing for war. I couldn't get a hold of Aristarchus though."
"Yeah, well, I gather the group down there is mobilizing for war too. Mystan says they'll hold out as long as they can, but that the extra support will... I've lost contact. Nightshade must be there!"
Far away, Alluro sat with his back against the rough stone wall. He had drifted momentarily asleep, but found himself wide awake now. It had been eerily still inside the cave of time, no noise carried this far, and only the very faintest smells from outside wafted through. His psyche club crystal had returned to its place, but shone dimly, allowing him to see barren rock and the plain altar on which Mumm-Ra lay.
He took out the stone eye and saw that it was glowing too. That didn't surprise him, somehow. It seemed probable that the ancients would be gathering their power too since Mumm-Ra was. He turned his attention to the devil priest, a saw why he had been wakened. One gnarled hand was clenching and unclenching, nails scraping faintly against the stone slab on which they rested. A sense of dread trembled through him, watching the sorcerer coming back to life. Without warning, Mumm-Ra sat up, his eyes illuminated with a fiery red light.
"Mumm-Ra lives!" the Egyptian said, standing and stretching. His bones creaked disconcertingly and the tattered remains of his cloak moved restlessly about his shoulders. The demon's head turned suddenly, spying Alluro in the corner, baleful eyes burning holes into the Lunatak's soul. "So, one of the accursed Lunataks. You dared betray Mumm-Ra the everliving, but I can not be destroyed, only stopped for a while."
Alluro knew what he was talking about. Mumm-Ra's death had been the result of a trick by the Lunataks and Thundercats to eliminate a common threat. Alluro had even been present for the planning and implementing of the trap. This was something he hadn't considered on the journey, though, the possibility that Mumm-Ra would remember that. "I suppose saying 'I'm sorry' wouldn't help?" he ventured. There was no point in fighting right now. If he lost, he'd be dead. If he won, he would still be trapped in the cave of time. "Although, I should point out, I brought you here."
The servant of evil pondered this, snatching the stone eye from Alluro's grasp. "Indeed you did. Perhaps some mercy should be shown to you. A quick death then." He raised one bony arm as if to cast a spell, but seemed to think better of it. "No. I am still weak, and I have an usurper to repay. Much as I am loathe to admit it, I may have need of you. Come, then, Alluro. We shall evict my tresspasser, but first; Ancient spirits of evil," he intoned, holding the eye up.
Snarf was sleeping outside the cave of time. He wasn't sure how long Alluro would be in there, or even if the Lunatak would ever come back out, but he figured that a nap while he waited couldn't hurt. It was only when he felt his tail being grabbed that he jerked awake. His eyes took in the landscape growing further and further away, and he wriggled around to see Mumm-Ra in his monstrous form carrying both him and Alluro through the air. He wasn't sure where he was being taken, but he hoped it wasn't far and that the landing would be more graceful than being splattered across the terrain.
None of them had really been prepared for Nightshade's arrival, despite their best intentions. Cheetara was seated by the pool of water, trying to figure out how to tune it on to Nightshade, while Mystan was busy talking to Lura. Shade was in the side room, poring over the spell books and trying to decipher them while Knave and Paeder were casting disparaging looks at one another, but otherwise keeping out of the way.
When he dropped through the ceiling, Red Eye struggling in his grasp, he saw immediately that his prisoners had escaped, and hurled beams of energy at each of them. Knave, despite his better judgement, tackled Paeder out of the way and into one of the cells. "Fools! Surrender yourselves or be destroyed!" he shouted, turning as a piece of rock hit the back of his head.
"We'll be destroyed anyway," Cheetara said defiantly, using her innate speed to avoid his next strike. "I'd rather die fighting."
"So be it." More rocks flew, this time courtesy of Mystan's telekinesis. When Nightshade turned to deal with that threat, Cheetara rushed in and kicked him firmly in the back. He stumbled, but didn't fall, ignoring the hit and continuing to advance on Mystan. Knave could see that it was sound strategy, eliminate the opponents one by one. Mystan was the slower, and he might be able to weaken Nightshade more than Cheetara could.
If he were asked, Knave would deny that he helped Mystan because he wanted the honour of killing the grand uncle of his child, he would lie through his teeth and claim that it was mostly because he thought that they might need the man to defeat Nightshade. It wasn't true, of course, he was confident that the addition or subtraction of such a waste of flesh wouldn't make any difference to the outcome, and yet he didn't want to be deprived of the opportunity by the evil entity. His own strength was lagging, he had been a favourite meal for Nightshade, but adrenaline and a will to live pushed him to jump on the demon's back raking his claws across his throat, surprised when no blood spilled.
Nightshade howled in both pain and triumph, reaching back sucking extra life out Knave's body, sending him crumpling to the ground, almost lifeless.
The Thundercats had quieted down. The bars of their cell were sturdy, one of the things that the Lunataks were very good at making. Psychro appreciated where they were coming from, but frankly had too many of his own problems to worry about them. He was with the most beautiful woman he'd ever met but he couldn't sleep with her because she wouldn't let him. He was trapped in a cell, and would be let out soon, but only for tomorrow's burning at the stake. He had witnessed a number of those and had never managed to make it through one. He could actually recall dumping a hot woman because she had been turned on by the affair.
Things were getting crazy up there, he realized. Mandora had been arrested, which meant that Control would be crawling all over the place, but they wouldn't interfere with internal politics, which meant that his execution might be delayed, but not prevented. He couldn't sleep, not knowing what was awaiting him. It was because of this that he saw Nuiane's appearance before Chilla did. She seemed to ooze through the wall of the dungeon and walked straight towards the Icewalker woman.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. Right now the why was more important than the how. He had heard of rare Darklings who could become one with the shadows and sneak through small places, so he assumed that was the case. His voice woke Chilla, who got up off the mattress and looked quizzically at the girl.
Psychro saw the look of recognition flash across her face. She was one of her son's playthings. "Nitro sent me to free you," the girl said to Chilla, ignoring the hybrid completely. He couldn't say he blamed her, he had almost slept with her against her will. There were times he couldn't control his powers, unfortunately. "I'm supposed to take you somewhere safe until Tycho gets here. He's been appointed governor and he'll pardon you for your crimes."
"What about me?" he asked, earning a scathing look. He had no way of knowing it, but it was his aborted attempt to sleep with her that had set everything in motion. Nuiane had gone to Aristarchus demanding Psychro's head, which had led to he and Chilla being set up by the governor for an attempt on another of his lackeys' lives.
"You can rot here," Nuiane said.
"No. He's coming with us. And free the rest of the prisoners too. The distraction will allow us to get away," Chilla said, demandingly. Psychro was startled, but pleased. He didn't think that she held him in very high regard, but she obviously cared enough to see to his freedom. Nuiane didn't seem nearly as pleased, but with the personal stakes set so high, she didn't have a choice but to give in. Besides, technically Chilla outranked Nitro and she could order him to get rid of her.
"Fine. But we'll need to be quick." One by one she took the prisoners by the hand and pulled them through the shadows with her until everyone was gathered in the hallway. "The way out for you Thundercats is that way," she said pointing.
"Thank you, whoever you are," Lion-O replied, hefting Mandora over his shoulder.
"Don't mention it. Really." The three Lunataks ran in the opposite direction, towards the outer wall of Sky Tomb. They would follow the tiny crack outside and then find somewhere to hide.
Red Eye wasn't entirely certain what was happening, and he only had a matter of a few seconds to figure it out. He had been exhausted after a day of work, one of the walls on a house that was being built had fallen and he'd been assigned to help rebuild. Between that and the endless meetings and emotional trauma of his girlfriend being arrested and then dumping him, he had collapsed on his bed still fully dressed.
That turned out to be a blessing. He'd been asleep for several hours before strange hands grabbed him and dragged through the ground, leaving no tunnel in their wake. He wasn't even sure how it was happening. Suddenly he was in a large open cavern and a fight broke out. He recognized Cheetara, Paeder, Mystan and Knave and was momentarily stunned as the hybrid was dispatched by whatever force had brought him here. Red Eye didn't know who the man was, but if the Thundercats and Lunataks were united against him then he knew what side he was on.
"Don't let Nightshade touch you," Cheetara hissed, sprinting past him to try and rescue Knave. "And don't use fire, it likes fire."
He'd seen the futility of attacking the creature physically, and trusted Cheetara's judgement. If fire was what it wanted, she was probably right. He pulled the sidewinder from its compartment on his chest and pointed it at the one Cheetara had dubbed Nightshade. A missile rocketed out, crashing into the demon and causing him to cry out. Those horrible soulless eyes turned and stared at the source of his pain.
"Keep at him!" Mystan shouted, hurling chunks of rock at Nightshade's head. These didn't seem to do much damage, only distracted him as he walked painfully towards Red Eye.
Even while he watched, moving carefully around the edge of the room to keep the greatest distance possible, Red Eye could see the creature's clothes ruined by the blast and a scorch mark on its skin. "What is that thing?" he muttered to himself.
"I'll explain later," he heard a familiar voice say. Red Eye chanced a look behind, and saw Shade emerging from a curtained room.
Chilla wasn't sure where they could go. Nuiane had led them out of Sky Tomb itself, but the fortress was in the middle of the city. She, at the very least, would be recognized almost anywhere they went, and Psychro too probably. If rumour hadn't circulated about what they'd done yet, Chilla would be very surprised.
Luckily, it seemed that Nuiane had thought somewhat ahead. There was a car waiting, one she recognized as belonging to Nitro, which she ushered them into. At least made sense. Chilla didn't have a particularly high opinion of either her son or the woman he was sleeping with, but he knew them well enough to have anticipated needing a getaway.
The two escapees were settled in the back of the car with boxes and blankets draped over them to disguise their true contents. Through it, Chilla wondered just how much Nitro was involved in this. Did he leave the details to Nuiane and leave himself to appear innocent of wrongdoing? Did he even care that much?
"I always wanted you in the back of a car, you know, but not like this," Psychro snorted, to her irritation.
"Quiet. You're not really there, remember?" Nuiane hissed, as she got into the front. Chilla felt the car start up and pull away. She was grateful for the woman interceding, because her reply would have been nastier. Now they just had to make it to the gate and hope they weren't searched.
"Sword of Omens, come to my hand!" Lion-O said firmly, raising his hand in the air. Mandora had roused enough to walk on her own, and the two Thundercats had found the evil chaser's weaponry on a table in the guard room. Stalker hadn't bothered putting it away yet, thankfully, though the Thundercat weapons weren't here. Three Lunataks, two Gravitons and a Psion, had been, until the trio took them out.
While Panthro and Mandora locked them in the closest cell, Lion-O held his hand out, wondering whether or not the Eye of Thundera would hear his call. There were ways to block the sword's power, he just hoped none had been used.
The plan, such as he and the other two had discussed, was to get to the hangar and try and take a ship. The Lunatak city was crawling with people, they didn't stand much chance, but they had to try. Certainly their odds would be greatly increased with the Sword of Omens.
Even as he thought the words, he heard an explosion from somewhere overhead, as the sword burst through steel walls and dropped neatly into his still outstretched hand. "Well, if that doesn't tell them something's up, nothing will," Panthro said.
"In that case, there's no point in subtlety. Thunder, thunder, thunder, Thundercats ho!" he shouted, holding up the sword as the insignia flared into the sky, alerting all Thundercats that their Lord was in danger.
In the Tower of Omens Tygra awoke, disentangling himself from Alundra's warm embrace. He had heard the faint roar of the Sword of Omens and looked out the window. There. Lion-O was in danger. He ran to the control room, with the maiden hot on his heels, to alert the others.
Flying over the desert of sinking sands, Snarf saw the symbol. He had no way of getting there, however, and the prospect of asking Mumm-Ra for help didn't seem likely.
Even were she on the surface, Cheetara was too distracted to pay attention to the sword's call, and wouldn't have been able to leave even if she did. Shade's appearance distracted Nightshade long enough for Cheetara to slip in and move Knave out of the field of combat, he deserved that much at least. Paeder was the key to the fight, she suspected. If Nightshade was vulnerable to it, then she had to be kept safe, she was the only one who could make ice of the group. Fleetingly, she wondered if the natural coldness of Knave's body would have made his strikes more painful to the thing.
Luckily, other forms of attack seemed to hurt too. The rocks that Mystan was throwing, combined with Red Eye's missiles were obviously hurting him. But not enough. Cautiously she reached out with her mind, to try and touch Nightshade's mind. She wasn't a skilled telepath, but she knew she had the power. She could sometimes see the past and more, and knew with training she might be even more than that.
What she felt when her mind brushed against his, though, made her recoil. Such an ancient mind, filled with hatred and loathing, a soul tormented by centuries of abandonment, and old wounds left to fester. It was only with the barest of self-control that she was able to pull her mind free again.
Cheetara opened her eyes and saw Nightshade grinning at her, grabbing her arm and sucking the life force out of her like drinking through a straw. Cheetara dropped to her knees, feeling weaker and thinner. The pain was intense, like nothing she'd ever experienced, it was as though she were feeling a lifetime's pain in five brief seconds. The agony stopped suddenly, and she found the demon turning towards Paeder instead. It wasn't hard to see why, either. The Icewalker had managed to get a clear shot and covered his back with ice.
Shards of ice sprayed in various directions as Nightshade howled. "You dare hurt me," he said, running at the woman, though the ice had clearly hurt him.
"What the hell is that?" Aristarchus snapped. He had been unable to sleep following Mandora's arrest, and had immediately begun planning how they would deal with the impending retaliation from Control. He had with him his advisors, most of whom he had wakened in the middle of the night. There had been a few minor interruptions, so the strange image was just the latest.
"Eet looks like the Thundercat symbol," Tug Mug said, turning to look out the window. "Lion-O must need help."
Aristarchus used a word decidedly unlike himself. "I knew those Thundercats couldn't be trusted. They must have escaped, doubtless rescuing the evil chaser at the same time."
Stalker was two steps ahead of the governor, reaching for his radio before he was told. "All available units to the Sky Tomb prison facility. The Thundercats are presumed loose and armed. Take them alive, preferably."
Paeder's life flashed before her eyes. A life full of advancing through the ranks of the Icewalker fleet, earning her way onto the flagship by sleeping with the captain, and finally obtaining the same rank. She saw moments of glory, like the time she had led her security detachment into the thick of an angry mob and captured them all without suffering any casualties. And she saw moments she'd rather forget, like her failed relationship with both Psychro and Captain Havallance.
While the evil being they called Nightshade was injured by her ice attacks, he wasn't down, and he closed the distance between them in a hurry. He grabbed her and began viciously draining her life force. He took just enough not to kill her, but leave her alive to witness the final triumph. She fell to the floor and saw Red Eye's missiles crashing into him repeatedly, but having little effect.
Lion-O lowered the sword and the trio sprinted up the steps of Sky Tomb. People were soon barring their way, firing weapons of all manner down at them, forcing a hasty retreat. "We can't stay here," Lion-O said, looking over at Panthro. His comrade was half-carrying Mandora, and it was slowing them down. Luckily, it seemed, the Lunataks weren't good shots and weren't trying to kill them.
"If we can't get out that door, maybe we could make our own," Mandora said blearily.
"Not a bad idea. Ho!" Energy erupted from the tip of the sword, blowing a hole clean through the outer wall. This hole deposited them in a maintenance hall, which they ducked into. They weren't sure where the hallway led, but figured that it had to be a better solution than staying where they were.
The Thundercats and warrior women left immediately, even though it was still dark out. The cat signal was rarely used except in dangerous circumstances, and it was all they could do to stop themselves from rushing ahead with their vehicles to help Lion-O.
Red Eye stumbled backwards against Shade, watching as the demon got closer. "This is your pathetic attempt at rebellion?" Nightshade asked, tossing Paeder aside. "This? All you've done is sped up their deaths. More will come, more will be devoured, including your father. Your boyfriend will be next, mark my words."
Behind him, Mystan used his telekinesis to collect the ice crystals, and hurled them with fantastic force, knocking Nightshade down to his hands and knees for a moment, giving Red Eye a moment to fire his last missile directly into his face.
"Fools! You will both die!" Faster than they had seen him move, though later they would wonder if it was in part to Cheetara and Knave's life force, he grabbed both Red Eye and Mystan by their throats and proceeded to draw their energy into him.
"No!" Shade cried, chanting loudly one of the spells she had seen in Nightshade's collection. Fear and adrenaline fuelled her strength as purple green bolts of power raced out and struck the spirit. She could feel the bolts sending his energy into her, and felt her body getting stronger.
The link was broken as Red Eye was thrown into her, and she had to try and catch him. Nightshade dropped Mystan's useless body to the side and came closer to the woman he had once possessed, the same one he had once thought about keeping alive as a kind of pet. All such thoughts were gone, replaced by thinking of her annihilation. He raised his hand, to steal her life, when a thunderous explosion rocked the cavern. Both Lunatak and ancient spirit looked to see what the commotion was.
The dust choked the air, but they could make out four humanoids and a smaller companion. Shade recognized Alluro, Lura, Zanaya and Snarf immediately, but it was Mumm-Ra who was the most startling.
It was the devil priest of Third Earth who spoke first, stepping clear of the Lunataks to stand face to face with the man who had tried to destroy him. "Now, imposter, you shall feel my wrath."
Lura felt way out of her league, standing in the middle of the cavern. Zanaya had started to doze off against her shoulder while the two women waited anxiously for help to arrive. She had been loosely reading Mystan's mind, trying to get a sense of what was happening, and it was looking bleak. One by one Mystan's allies fell, including her mentor himself, leaving her feeling somewhat scared about what would happen. Would this demonic beast get them as well? Would Lunar forces get there in time? She was just debating whether they should move elsewhere when Zanaya shook her and pointed skyward.
She saw what the assassin was looking at, a great winged thing swooping down in their direction, carrying two other things. As it got closer, even contrasted against the night sky, she realized that one of those things was humanoid, while the other was shrieking. She pointed her mind in their direction and knew who they were, but she didn't get a chance to warn Zanaya before Mumm-Ra hit the ground in front of them, burrowing down a good fifty feet to the cavern below.
Now she had the chance to see Nightshade with her own eyes, wrestling with Mumm-Ra physically, testing one another's strength. But what could she do? She had seen Cheetara's failed psychic attempt through Mystan, and knew that it probably wouldn't do any good. And even if it did, whom did they want to win? Mumm-Ra winning couldn't be in their interest, could it? The others, she saw, were having similar dilemmas. None of them were really suited as an army. A hypnotist, a telepath, a recently pregnant woman and a Snarf. Even the Berbils wouldn't tremble before their might.
She went to Mystan's side, grateful that he was still alive. "Get Nightshade," he whispered, even the act of talking draining what little energy he had left. Zanaya took a knife from her belt and jumped, intending to plunge the blade deep into the meaty tissue of Nightshade's shoulders. Lura saw the flash of surprise on the woman as the knife nicked the skin, but did little else. Mumm-Ra was able to take advantage, and pressed the attack, gaining leverage on the slightly smaller man.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Mumm-Ra was still weak. Nightshade was being strengthened by the life energy of the prisoners he'd been keeping while Mumm-Ra was unconscious. If the devil priest was going to win this fight, he would need all the help he could get.
Cheetara wasn't a trained telepath, her skill was raw and unfocussed. Maybe, just maybe, a skilled one would succeed where she had failed. At worst it might buy Mumm-Ra a brief advantage. Swallowing hard, Lura centred herself and projected her mind outward again, directing her power at Nightshade.
Like the Thunderian woman before her, Lura felt the weight of abandonment and hatred lurking within Nightshade's being, a desire for revenge almost overwhelmed her. There was such age to the thoughts, so much time alone, so much rage, it felt like she was drowning in raw emotional power. But somewhere in there, buried deep below the surface, lay the brain, and if she could touch it, she might be able to plant a suggestion to stop what he was doing.
There was a hand on her shoulder, Alluro's as it would turn out, offering a calming lifeline back to the real world in case she got lost. It had happened before, telepaths being so caught up by the emotions around them that their minds couldn't find their way back to their bodies. She had seen one, an otherwise healthy body with no soul. Calm and patience came through her physical link with Alluro, a gentleness and reassurance. And faith. She sensed a faith in her abilities, as she forcibly moved through the quagmire of emotions. A nugget of jealousy here, an element of longing there. But she wasn't alone, and she could do it.
Lion-O opened the door at the end of the narrow hall and the trio found themselves behind a startled group of Lunataks. He blocked the way, brandishing the Sword of Omens, spinning it rapidly to create a shield from the laser fire, and to allow his friends the chance to move further down the hall from the action. When they had what he felt was a good head start, he lowered the sword and ran.
The evil spirit was staggering under the assault, but he was still stronger than Mumm-Ra. Lura's attack was distracting him, as was Zanaya's repeated attempts to stab him, making it harder to concentrate on knocking Mumm-Ra out. They jumped apart and Nightshade found himself having to switch from blocking physical attacks to blocking magical. Mumm-Ra hurled mystical bolts of lightning at him, and he scarcely managed to put up a shield to block the worst of it.
The demon priest was weakening, he hadn't had the time to recover all his power yet, and he'd been so sure that he could beat Nightshade without it. Now he was paying the price for his arrogance. Mumm-Ra's arm drooped ever so slightly, and there was the faintest of quivering in his knees. This was the moment he'd been waiting for, the moment to press the attack. Nightshade burst his energy shield outward in to needle like bursts of energy that peppered Mumm-Ra's body.
He let out an unearthly howl, his body wracked with pain, while Nightshade basked in the glory of the moment. He would kill Mumm-Ra and then deal with these other interlopers at his leisure, their life would slake his hunger and replenish the energy he had expended thus far. A shimmering blade of pure magical energy with a solid gold hilt appeared in his hands as he stepped closer to where Mumm-Ra's shrivelled mummy form knelt.
"Impossible, you cannot defeat Mumm-Ra the everliving!"
"I just did," Nightshade smiled, raising the weapon. Suddenly he stopped, his body went completely numb for just a few seconds, the sword clattering to the ground uselessly. Ah right, the little girl who was probing through his head. "Get out!" he bellowed.
The next hallway wasn't much better for the two Thundercats and their ally. The Lunataks were in constant contact with each other, and were constantly in the way. Each time they stopped and fought, only gave the Lunataks that much more time to organize themselves. The trio were being kept from any routes that led either to the hangar or to outside with surprising efficiency. Panthro barrelled through a pair of Darklings and opened a door that proved to be nothing more than a broom closet. "Dang blast it. Let's try this way."
Lura had been thrown before, both physically and mentally, but nothing compared to the force with which Nightshade expelled her from his mind. It was like having her body covered in bandaids, and all of them torn off at once. Luckily her tether was still in place, and Alluro guided her back into her body. Her eyes snapped open and she saw Nightshade advancing towards them. "Big mistake," he hissed. She and Alluro tried to walk away from him, but there was nowhere really to go. The only escape was fifty some odd feet up, and there was no way to climb it.
But Lura saw something that Nightshade didn't. Gritting her teeth, Zanaya scooped up the fallen sword and plunged it deep into the demon's body, destroying the shell in which the spirit lived. Smoke poured from the wound, coalescing into a cloud that hovered over the battlefield. It struck at Zanaya, still clinging to Nightshade's back, knocking her to the ground, wounded.
"Nightshade! Over here!" Shade shouted, the noise a surprise. Lura hadn't seen Shade in the fight, the elderly woman not moving since her father went down, and frankly Lura had assumed her out of commission, distraught from grief or something. "If you spare my father, you can take me," she said.
"Traitor!" Snarf spat, hissing, but trying to stay out of the way. He was crouched by Cheetara's sleeping body.
"I'm thinking of the ones I love. Nightshade will kill you all anyway, why not try and save my own hide," Shade snarled in the furball's direction.
"It's a deal," Nightshade said, wafting into the woman. No sooner had he done so, than Shade began frantically chanting in some obscure language, her connection with the spirit granting her a greater understanding of the pronunciation of certain words. The spirit struggled to free itself from her, but willpower and the magic kept him in place. The room filled momentarily with light so bright that everyone had to turn away.
They reached the hangar at last, by some small miracle. The Sword of Omens blazed energy, knocking aside the opposition as they tried to block their way. A large group of Lunataks, including Tug Mug, Stalker and Aristarchus were waiting for them there.
"Surrender, Thundercats, in the name of the law," Stalker said, stepping forward.
"Let us through or face the true law, the universal law," Mandora replied, flashing her badge. There would be a fight, it was obvious to all involved, it was only a question of who would take the first shot.
The Lunataks were confident that it didn't matter who shot first, they would be the ones to shoot last. There were a good forty to fifty of them to the three prisoners, one of whom was unarmed and all three were exhausted and weakened. The Thundercats knew the odds were poor too, they weren't stupid, but neither did they want to give up. With a savage roar Lion-O charged at Aristarchus, followed by Mandora and Panthro, and was easily subdued.
The light faded around her. Shade flexed her fingers and looked around. Zanaya, Alluro, Lura, and Snarf were still shielding their eyes, while Mumm-Ra was just starting to stir. The others weren't dead, but they weren't moving either. Which left the question of Nightshade. Had her plan worked? A scream echoed through her head, informing her that it had. He was trapped and wouldn't be getting out. "What happened?" Alluro asked, voicing the question that they all were wondering.
"Elward's spell of binding," Mumm-Ra answered, rolling to one knee. He would need months in his sarcophagus to recover from this assault. "It binds one life to another. As Shade lives, so does Nightshade. But it has never been used this way. It was used, at one point, to ensure faithfulness between allies. For if one died, so too would the other."
Zanaya picked up her knife, the sword having vanished with the shell Nightshade had inhabited. "Then we kill Shade and kill Nightshade in the process," she said. "I'll make it a clean kill, you deserve that much."
"No! As I said, the spell has never been used this way, to bind an immortal to a mortal. There could be unexpected consequences. You may find that killing Shade frees Nightshade, a prospect we dare not chance," Mumm-Ra walked closer to where the Darkling woman still crouched, cradling her weakened father. "You have taken a great risk, but you have saved my life. I will transport you and your friends to the surface, and then you must go. I will study the spell in depth, but for the time being, the rest of you must keep her alive."
He clapped his hands once and the group appeared on the surface beside the hole. None dared venture into, for fear of reprisals from Mumm-Ra. "A ship was on its way from New Lunis," Lura ventured. "We should wait for it, and it will take us there. Um, you Thundercats probably won't want to come with us under the circumstances."
Snarf narrowed his eyes and stood protectively by Cheetara's side, along with the Wollo and Berbil that had been present. "I think they'll all be fine with some rest," Shade said, weakly. "And so will I, after about a month of sleep."
The spirit known as Nightshade whipped around her mind, though, reminding her that she would never truly rest. He seemed to promise that he would some day figure out a way out of this shell, but until then he would make life miserable. He might need Shade alive, just in case, but Lunatak life spans weren't very long, the oldest reaching one hundred and fifty years; Shade was only twenty-eight years shy of that. Resigned to her fate, for now, she settled down on the ground and waited for the Lunatak ship.
"Prince Tycho!" one of the helmsmen said, turning in his chair. Tycho's ship was the fastest one available, and carried fresh troops and supplies. Tycho had insisted on maximum speed, not wanting to give Aristarchus even a minute longer a reign than necessary.
Before they'd left, Tycho had cautioned Luna not to give Aristarchus a head's up that they were on the way, lest he do something rash. Let Aristarchus think that all was going normal for now until Tycho could get his feet on the ground. At present they were two days away from Third Earth, time enough that any transmission Luna had sent would have gotten there by now.
"Yes? What is it?" he asked anxiously, as he walked up to where the young man was sitting.
"We're intercepting a message from Control. Their forces are getting ready to attack New Lunis on Third Earth," he said, hastily recording the transmission.
"Dammit. Get me through to the nearest Control headquarters. Let's see if I can get Aristarchus out of whatever mess he's getting us in to."
The sun was just cresting the sky while commotion took place in front of Sky Tomb. A large pit was set up, and Aristarchus happily walked among the crowd of people, checking the preparations. Things were looking brighter now, and not just in the literal sense. Mystan had been found and was safely back in the city; he would recover and would soon be back by his side as advisor. The Thundercats were his prisoners again, and Mandora would soon be dead.
As if on cue, a group of soldiers, mostly Gravitons, came out with the three prisoners. The Thundercats were heavily shackled in Thundrainium chains, while Mandora was being held in place by a skilled telekinetic. Mandora was carted over to the pit and firmly secured to a metallic post in the middle. Wood was piled around her, and this was further soaked in gas. Normally Aristarchus believed that an execution should be experienced at dinner, an entertaining light show contrasted with the gathering darkness; but the escape had cost him precious sleep, and he didn't want to take the chance of further heroics.
He walked languidly over to the pair of Thundercats, struggling futilely despite their bonds. "You should count yourselves fortunate," he said, leaning down to meet their hostile stares. "You won't be sharing her fate. No, you will be paraded through the streets on all the moons of Plundarr, a symbol of my superiority over Luna. Maybe, after I've had my fun, I'll kill you, or maybe I'll break your wills and make you my personal slaves." He began to laugh heartily.
"Yo! Aristarchus, we got company coming," Chillaura said over his radio. "Looks like Thundercat vehicles and warrior maidens."
"Oh ho! Friends of yours. Make the pit bigger, we'll throw some of these warrior maidens on as examples of what happens to our enemies. Everyone else, prepare for combat. Mobilize the fleet, take them alive if you can."
The Thunderstrike detached from its position above the ground forces, consisting largely of people on foot but also including the two hover boards used by the Thunderkittens. Lynx-O disengaged the side pods, creating more air support. He knew that he, as well as Bengali and Pumyra, would be the keys in this fight. The Lunataks possessed many ships in the atmosphere, and their own ground forces could overwhelm the warrior women. But if they could gain the city quickly enough, there was a remote chance that the Lunataks wouldn't destroy New Lunis with their fighter craft.
About a hundred Lunataks were already gathered at the front gate, with more racing from every part of the city to boost the numbers. Lynx-O didn't really want to kill, but those were his friends down there, and the Lunataks weren't likely to want prisoners. His first energy blasts cut a swath through the forward ranks before he had to circle around, and the braille board informed him that there were three definite kills. Behind him the two side pods made their run, wounding many and killing another half dozen.
The Lunataks on the ground weren't unarmed, of course, and returned fire. Missiles rocked the side of the Thunderstrike, as did balls of fire and hurled chunks of earth. Worst of all were the Psion attacks, which weren't so easily avoided. Bengali screamed over the radio, shouting that something had a grip on his control stick. And things were only getting worse; already his long range scanners indicated that several small Lunatak ships were descending from their bases and making a beeline for them. "Pumyra! Bengali! Keep fighting, reinforcements are coming at eleven o'clock!"
"I understand that," Tycho fumed, sitting in his office and staring at the cold face of the evil chaser on his screen. "All I'm asking is for a temporary cease fire so that we can work on some kind of agreement. I'm a big proponent of justice, I want to see the right thing done. I'm not there yet, though, and I can't do anything until I'm on the ground and can restore order."
The woman, a human with reddish hair, seemed unimpressed. "Your people have one of ours. There can be no negotiating until we get her back."
"And you will. Just tell your people to wait. I'll be there within a day. I'll get Mandora out of there and safely return her to you. I need time."
"Time is a luxury we don't have. Policy dictates that when an officer's life is in danger we act swiftly. Our rescue operation forces are en route and will be there shortly."
The transmission ended abruptly, leaving Tycho fuming. Only the calming presence of Darius stopped him from trashing the room. "I think it's time you made a different call," Darius said grimly.
If Tygra had thought the hardest part of the journey would be walking through the Forest of Mists before the sun rose, he was wrong. With the Thunderstrike now occupied defending itself from the sleek fighters that were whirring about it, he, the kittens, and the warrior maidens were having to fight the Lunataks person to person. Volleys of arrows had been the first move, downing several Lunataks, while the Lunataks counterattacked with their various offensive powers.
Unlike the others, he had an advantage against most of the combatants. His invisibility allowed him to support any of his friends who might need it at a moment's notice. Like Wily Kat, who had been tackled from his space board by a Graviton, who was proceeding to choke him. Tygra sprinted over, tripping an Icewalker bent on breathing ice on Nayda, and clubbed him in the back of the head. The pungent aroma from being this close to the Graviton was nearly overwhelming by itself, but was nothing compared to what it would be like if they failed. Pumyra had reported, horrified, the bonfire pit she'd seen on her monitors with Mandora bound to the stake. Was that the fate that awaited them all?
Wily Kit screamed, an energy blast catching her squarely in the chest, knocking her flat on the ground. He lost sight of her as a group of warrior maidens and Icewalkers got in the way. He prayed to Jaga that she was still alive. How many lives would be lost today he wondered? A Darkling ran at him, using his infrared vision to spot the feline immediately. Tygra crouched and pounced on the man, his claws ripping at flesh and his fists rendering him unconscious. So much blood, so much death.
A second Graviton, seeing the Darkling fall and sprout wounds for no obvious reason, barrelled over, forcing Tygra to abandon that opponent and get to safety. He knew he shouldn't, but he found himself searching the battleground for Alundra. She was over to his left, he thought, locked hand to hand with an Icewalker whose hands were glowing red. He had to get to her quickly.
Pumyra watched as Bengali crashed his pod into the ground. After all the work put into fixing the Thunderstrike, to see it taking this much abuse was a real shame. The Lunatak pilots were very good, and outnumbered her five to one. It was only through sheer luck that she wasn't parked next to Bengali's.
In the opening moments of the fight, a telepath had prodded at her mind, suggesting that what she really wanted to do was shoot down Lynx-O. Thankfully he wasn't very good at it, and she resisted his voice long enough to send an energy blast in his general area. While the ground erupted in a shower of earth and rock, the voice in her head suddenly vanished. "Lynx-O! Something's happening!" she said, as four of the five fighters on her tail veered off and went back into the atmosphere.
"I see it, Pumyra. Hang on," came the reply from the oldest Thundercat. Seconds later he had slipped behind her pursuer and blown him up. With the skies now empty she could see that whatever was happening with the fighters in the air was also happening on the ground. Clumps of Lunataks were slowly moving away from the fight.
"I don't get it. There's almost ten of them for every one of us. Why are they retreating?" She asked.
"The braille board says that it's mostly the Icewalkers, Darklings and now the Gravitons pulling back."
Lura knew it too. One of the advantages that Lunataks had over the other, lesser, races was their use of telepathy. She and several others had been conscripted into helping co-ordinate the fight, relaying messages from commanders to the subordinates. Unfortunately several of those commanders were relaying orders counter to Aristarchus'.
She didn't even want to be there. Her place, as Mystan's pupil, was at his side in case he needed anything. "Go," he had told her, "Aristarchus needs people loyal to him." And so she had gone, for disobeying a high priest was tantamount to blasphemy.
Her sense of duty and loyalty to Mystan didn't make breaking bad news to Aristarchus any easier. The man was still standing by the Thundercat prisoners and the fire pit, anxiously hearing reports from the battlefield. Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, she approached him. "Nitro and Stalker are pulling their people back, the Gravitons are following," she informed him.
"What? I gave no such order. I want their heads! I am in command here, not them, the gutless cowards," Aristarchus said, turning with such anger that the Psion woman took a large step back.
"Actually, they say their orders come from Tycho, who has been re-assigned as governor of New Lunis. They refuse to listen to you." He struck her with such force that she nearly fell into the fire pit herself, and a thin streak of blood oozed from her cheek.
"Tycho?" Aristarchus roared. "Tycho! I will not have my moment of glory spoiled by that useless whelp. Send the word, we kill all the prisoners! All of them!" He started to walk towards the fire pit, grabbing a lighter, menace in his eyes.
Lura scrabbled out of the way, frantically trying to get a hold of Mystan psychically to appraise him of the situation and seek further orders. She could see that Aristarchus was going mad, and wanted no part of whatever might happen next. She had been iffy on executing Mandora, and that was when they had held a position of power over the Thundercats. That, at least, had been a situation they might be able to rectify. But this?
"Farewell, Mandora. It gives me great pleasure to end your life," Aristarchus said, setting torch to wood.
The Snow Man of Hook Mountain had managed to find himself on the edge of the combat, paired with his fearsome steed/best friend Snow Meow. He threw a Royal Lunatak aside and was pleased with the way things were going. The Lunataks seemed to be disorganized now, and it was in their interest to press the advantage. Like the others, he had no idea what was going on. One minute he had been surrounded by Icewalkers and Darklings, and the next they had faded back out of his reach.
He was just about to go after a large Royal Lunatak when he saw a faint wisp of smoke heading up into the sky from within the city. There was something ominous about that, and it needed his attention. "Come on, Snow Meow! Into the city!" he urged, not needing to say any more; the great white cat understood his master and they ran.
"Nitro! Aristarchus is killing the evil chaser!" a telepath who was on the high ranking Icewalker's side announced in a panic. While most Psions tended to follow whatever the high priests said, there were a few who disagreed.
"All available units, rescue Mandora. Now," Nitro spat over his radio. He didn't particularly like the woman, though he had great respect for her dedication to the law, but Tycho wanted her alive.
The whole situation was awkward for Nitro, as he sprinted for the city's centre to try and maintain order until Tycho could get there. Icewalkers were known for two things, their ferocity in a fight and their loyalty to whomever was in charge. Strictly speaking, at present, that was Aristarchus. Even with Tycho en route, it was Aristarchus who was in command during over most military matters, if he understood the message from the moons. Tycho would handle the diplomacy, and Aristarchus the military.
But Aristarchus had gone mad, whether from the power he had or if it had always been there he wasn't sure. Nitro tried to convince himself that he wasn't betraying his oath for personal reasons, either. Even though Aristarchus was the man who had sentenced his mother to death, he couldn't let such things hold sway over the way he conducted his business. No, right now his only motivation was that he thought Tycho's orders superceded Aristarchus' on this matter.
As he rounded the bend he saw a fight had broken out between individual forces. Aristarchus' loyal people were forming a barrier between Nitro's Icewalkers and the fire pit, where Mandora was coughing and sputtering against the wall of flames. Even as he drew near he could see her skin turning red, and her cries getting weaker. She wouldn't last much longer, which was largely what Aristarchus needed.
The man himself, the cowardly fool, was taunting the Icewalkers from the safety of the rear line. "Nitro! New problem, Control ships incoming, long range scanners picked them up."
"Stand down. Let them through," Nitro said, cursing softly. If Control found Mandora dead, there would be hell to pay. Charges left right and centre. He himself would probably be dragged before a court of law, and that would hurt his family's standing. "All ice breathers, put that fire out, Aristarchus be damned."
Lion-O really wasn't sure what was going on, and was finding it hard to concentrate anyway. He had watched in horror as Aristarchus lit Mandora's pyre. Her uniform was made of special material, and the helmet was custom designed to provide the wearer with a steady oxygen supply, even in deep space, but neither would last very long against the raging inferno.
But it wasn't just that happening. He had heard Lura's report that several of the Lunatak factions were turning on Aristarchus at the behest of Tycho. That was one Lunatak whom Lion-O did respect. He had felt some kind of kinship with the former Lunar prince, a pair of people who were born to lead but neither really wanted the job. He had been saddened when Tycho had finally gotten his wish and had moved back home to live a quiet life, and almost wished that he could do the same. If Tycho was coming back, that meant that order might be restored. Sure, there would be residual tensions between their peoples, but there would also be hope for the future.
The Icewalkers seemed to be at the forefront of Tycho's rebellion, trying to break through the telekinetic shield that Aristarchus' Psions were raising. Were he not shackled in Thundrainium and watching one of his friends being roasted alive he might have found the confrontation fascinating. Certainly he'd never seen this level of hostility between Chilla and Alluro, but then he had never really looked for it.
Fifty mouths opened then, breathing a steady sheet of ice that cracked through the invisible barrier, coating both startled Psions and, thankfully, Mandora. Beside him he heard Panthro breathe his own sigh of relief.
"It's over, Aristarchus," Nitro said, walking around his men to meet the governor of New Lunis. A few of the Psions near the back, along with Aristarchus, had avoided the worst of the ice attack and were now starting to get ready for a second round.
"No. Queen Luna appointed me governor of this city, which means you follow my orders, do you hear? You will obey me and kill Mandora, kill the Thundercats, and kill their allies," Aristarchus replied, walking closer. "And if you don't I will have you and your mother burning in that pit long before Tycho gets here."
Nitro regarded the man for a long moment. This was a man who was constantly betraying his people for the sake of personal gain, a man who had tried to kill one of Nitro's friends just because Tycho had held a higher rank, a man who thought little of the safety of anyone except himself. Aristarchus was in reasonably good shape, practising constantly with weapons, but he was nowhere near Nitro's level. Oh certainly he was smarter, Nitro was willing to concede that point, but when it came to muscle he didn't stand a chance.
"Try and take me then," he said, bracing for an attack. Predictably Aristarchus obliged, swinging wildly with his right fist, which Nitro skilfully countered by stepping out of reach. With his opponent thus overextended, Nitro tripped him and pinned him to the ground with his arms trapped beneath him. "On prince Tycho's behalf, I am relieving Aristarchus of power until proper negotiations can be made. Inform all Lunataks to back off from the Thundercats and warrior women, and inform Control that we will co-operate in any way they ask."
On to Return to Power - epilogue
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