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Seeing Red
Part Three

Living on Third Earth

Present day

"My trip to Third Earth, not one of my prouder moments, no," Luna sighed. She had hoped that telling Black Tiger stories about Red Eye would either make him look bad or make her look good. Unfortunately, one of the key moments in his life was neither, in fact it was just the opposite. But it was all common knowledge and there was no point in holding anything back. Besides, there were four other people on board that ship.

"We left the Moons of Plundarr with one goal in mind, find my grandmother's magical belt and defeat Mumm-Rana. We didn't anticipate there being a second powerful wizard. The crew of the Excelsior was chosen from the greatest each of the moons had to offer, which probably says more about the state of the empire if those were really the best we could find. It was an era when the moons needed something to focus on, and Mumm-Rana seemed like the perfect choice."

81 years ago

"There it is; Third Earth. Somewhere on that insignificant planet lies the belt and my ultimate triumph," Luna said as she stared out the window of her bedroom. The little blue planet spun slowly, and she could feel a thrill of anticipation. How many times had she sat on her grandmother's knee and heard the stories of her conquests? Creatures that called themselves 'Wollos' and 'Bulkins.' Robotic bears known as Berbils and an entire culture of warrior women. None of them had posed even the slightest challenge to the original Queen Luna.

Only one had done so. Mumm-Rana, a name that stirred the blood in her veins, the name of the foul creature who claimed to be a force of goodness. It was the name of the sorceress who had placed a terrible curse on grandmother Luna and all her descendants.

She looked at her legs, scarcely strong enough to bear the weight of her body, including a grotesquely oversized head. Her mother had borne the curse stoically, but Luna intended to do something about it. "Amok, to the bridge."

The brutish Guardian, her only trusted friend in the world, turned from the window and stomped down the hall. She wasn't sure where she would be without him, someone so utterly loyal to her. She didn't even trust her own husband, and wondered how Piscaar was ruling the Moons of Plundarr in her absence.

They were all there, representatives from each of the moons as she'd ordered. They would board a shuttle and be the first to set foot on their new planet, do a little reconnaissance and maybe establish a base of operations. It was a political move, she conceded mentally. Allow each moon to have a representative on that first voyage and none of them would feel like she was playing favourites. She was sure they would jockey to see who got to exit the shuttle second, and didn't care. She would be first.

"Find the pyramid. Grandmother said there was a pyramid that Mumm-Rana lived in. It shouldn't be that hard to find," Luna said. All early reports indicated very few habited areas, and none with significant technology. Seventy years was a long time since her grandmother had been here, and only the Berbils had once possessed space flight capabilities. There was an entire planet of the wretched things, but these ones either had crashed or had no interest in returning.

"Pyramid located, your majesty, along with heavy storm activity," the captain said.

"Excellent. The four of you are dismissed, we leave for the surface in an hour."

Shade was in a state. Ever since they had come within visual range of Third Earth she had been acting strangely. When Luna made her pronouncement she stopped her father in the hallway. "Don't ask me to explain it, but there's something wrong; I can feel it in my bones. There's," she paused, searching for the right words to say. "It feels like someone is watching me. Someone so foul and evil that it's making me nervous. Something is going to happen down there, back down, let Nuitache go instead."

"I understand," Red Eye said, pulling her close in a hug. He felt warm and comforting, he'd always had that effect on her. Some people found it odd, but she'd always had that kind of relationship with him. But the feeling lingered, she couldn't put her finger on why or how she knew, she just did. "You're worried about me. I'm leaving to an unknown planet, and we know what that planet did to the previous Queen Luna."

She shook her head vigorously. "It's not that, I trust you to take care of yourself, and this Luna has the might of the Lunar empire behind her. But this is nothing like we think it is. Luna says Mumm-Rana is an agent of goodness, but this feels like the opposite. The strongest evil I've ever felt, it's not safe..."

Red Eye placed his fingers over her lips, silencing her. "I have to go. To not go would be cowardice. I love you, Shade. I'll see you on the surface."

"You're right. I love you too."

Present day

"I wouldn't see him again for eighty years. I watched from the bridge of the ship as he disappeared from my life forever. I never got over it," Shade stared out the window of Sky Tomb. There was pain behind those eyes, a memory that never faded with time.

"You don't have to talk about it any more if you don't want," Black Tiger said sympathetically. She couldn't imagine going through that. It scared her enough every time her father left on some military mission. "Tug Mug and Alluro told me what happened inside that shuttle."

81 years ago

"There are heavy storms in the area, Luna, I don't think I can land us safely near that pyramid," Alluro said, staring at the instruments of the shuttle. To his trained eyes it looked like there might be a connection between the pyramid and the storms. If Mumm-Rana was a sorceress, then maybe she was generating them. They knew so little about the nature of magic, that it was hard to pin limits to it. He held the shuttle in position a short distance from the Excelsior. "I think that mountainous area might be the closest I can get us safely."

"We'll have to walk it from there, or fly the shuttle low," Tug Mug said, tapping on the arm rest. "Seems a small price to avoid decorating the scenery."

Amok grunted, never a good sound to Alluro's ears as it signified he was picking up on Luna's irritation. "Fine. Our revenge can wait a little longer, blasted storms. Take us in."

He didn't reply, Alluro angled the shuttle to clear the stormy region by a good mark and began his descent. The upper atmosphere was a little bumpy, which was very curious. Perhaps he'd miscalculated just how large the storm was. And yet... "The storm's moving! Alluro, you idiot, you didn't factor in the wind." Chilla hissed, her cool misty breath causing the hairs on the back of his neck to rise. He had though. The storm was stationary, there was no wind a minute ago. But storms didn't act that way.

"I don't think it's natural," he said, trying to correct it. "Mumm-Rana must be behind this."

"Correct our course then," Luna said, stating the obvious. He chose not to say as much right now. She might not have Amok thrash him now, but they had to land eventually. Hopefully in one piece.

There was a problem, a very dire one. The controls weren't responding to his commands. As panic began to settle in, he activated the radio. "Alluro to Excelsior. Something has gone wrong. I can't control the ship." He heard screaming behind him, shouted insults, and the sound of the storm buffeting the little shuttle. Sparks flew from the console. "I've lost navigation. I calculate the integrity down to thirty percent. It's like someone else is flying us, like a giant hand holding on and pulling us down. My God, we're going to crash!" His eyes widened as the mountain range they had been aiming for, loomed much closer than he would like. The shuttle struck the side of the volcano.

How am I still alive? That was the first thought to cross Red Eye's mind. Realistically he knew that they hadn't been down long, the rain seeping through the smashed window had barely gotten him moist. But they couldn't stay put, they needed to get moving. Mumm-Rana had stripped Queen Luna of her powers, stealing her height and health with them. What would she do to them now that they had returned?

He unfastened his seat belt and looked over at his companions. They were starting to stir too, which was a good thing. He would need all the help he could get if the priestess was going to attack. How much help could they expect to get from the Excelsior too?

"Everyone outside," Chilla said. "We need to find shelter."

"I am in command here." Luna sounded weakened. If only Amok had been injured too they might have considered arguing with her. "But you're probably right. Amok, outside boy."

It wasn't much better outside. The rain was coming down, and the lightning strikes felt as though they were all around them. The landscape was fairly desolate, the victim of these volcanos, he figured. They were near the base of one of these, surrounded by jagged rocks and stubby grass. There didn't seem to be any obvious places to go, except for maybe a forested region in the distance. Perhaps a cave would present itself if they tried the mountains.

"This way!" Luna called. She'd selected the forest, though it was very likely that she didn't have any idea if that was the safer route or not any more than the rest of them.

Safe. Shade had warned him that it wasn't safe and he'd brushed her concerns off as though they were the worries of a child afraid of the dark. He'd never treated her so dismissively and now it looked like he might not get a chance to create a new final memory. He would apologize to her when he saw her again.

They hadn't gone very far when a particularly large bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of them, stopping them in their tracks. Where the bolt had touched, the ground smouldered, and the air filled with a mocking laugh. A large blue/grey figure hovered in the air, red cape flapping wildly in the wind with matching eyes watching them. "So these are the invaders, eh?" the creature asked. This did not look like the 'Mumm-Rana' they'd been warned about.

"I am Luna, queen of the Lunataks, and I demand you return my grandmother's belt," Luna said, bringing about another round of laughter from the demon.

"You demand of Mumm-Ra? Mumm-Ra the ever living?" Great. There were two of them. Siblings perhaps, spouses. Whatever the relationship didn't matter to him. Red Eye made a quick mental calculation on the trajectory he would have to fire his missiles if he was given the order. There was still a faint hope that the demon, clearly a powerful one, could be reasoned with. "No one makes demands of me."

"Mumm-Ra? Bah, you are not the one we want. Out of our way or face the wrath of Luna." Or maybe Luna could stick her tiny foot in her mouth. Why antagonize him? But then that was the Lunatak way; conquer first and ask questions later.

Just as Psions preferred saving their necks at the expense of others. "She doesn't speak for all of us. If you could point us at Mumm-Rana we'll be on our way," Alluro intoned. He was obviously trying to use his hypnotic powers to sway the demon. He had once boasted that no one could resist his mental powers, and now Red Eye found himself sincerely hoping that the assessment was accurate. He didn't relish finding out what else Mumm-Ra could do.

"Fools. You can not control me, you can not command me, for I am Mumm-Ra, supreme ruler of Third Earth, demon priest of all that is evil and foul. Nothing occurs unless I will it, and I will you not to leave." No sooner had the words left his mouth than the Lunataks jumped in to action. A series of missiles erupted from a hidden compartment on Red Eye's chest, accompanied by a ball of fire from Chilla and a blast from Tug Mug's gravity carbine.

They struck simultaneously, dropping Mumm-Ra down from the sky. He didn't stay down long though, which was disconcerting. Amok was already in motion, swinging a heavy fist at Mumm-Ra which Mumm-Ra caught. The undead creature skidded back a pace, maybe two, and retaliated with a fist of his own, rocking Amok back in to their midst.

What were they going to do? If Mumm-Ra could shrug off their attacks, what more could they bring to the fight. Chilla stepped forward, icy breath coating him in a thick layer, while Alluro's psyche club crystal soared over his head. "You can not resist me, you will surrender to my will." The voice wasn't confident, which Red Eye believed was a good portion of his power.

The ice began to crack, and they were showered by the chunks of ice as Mumm-Ra freed himself. The demon priest raised off the ground again, scowling at them all. "You are indeed powerful, but you are nothing compared to me. For daring to strike at me I condemn you to a fate worse than death." He shrugged off additional fire balls, slipped aside of Red Eye's missiles, and began gesticulating in the air.

A knot of fear sat in the pit of Red Eye's stomach as the very ground began to tremble. Where were their reinforcements? Why hadn't the Excelsior sent a rescue ship down to retrieve them? It didn't make sense; the queen was down here.

"What are you doing? Don't you know who I am? I am Luna, queen of the Lunatak empire. Answer me, Mumm-Ra, answer me or else," their queen shrieked. Were he feeling more jovial Red Eye might have speculated that perhaps it was this attitude that was slowing their rescue.

The rumbling noise grew and cracks began to form all around them. He saw molten lava starting to ooze from the cracks, ringing around them in a wide circle. Mumm-Ra was still gesturing, still avoiding their attacks. A new plan was needed unless they wanted to be cooked to a crisp. Now even Luna saw the threat and they began backing together.

"This is all your fault," Alluro cursed. They were all closer than they would have liked under ordinary circumstances. "You've killed us all."

Red Eye felt the lava touch him. It burned where it touched but, to his surprise, it had another effect. He couldn't move his foot, and the lava began working its way up his leg. The others were experiencing similar things. Now Mumm-Ra spoke, his words clear even through the burning pain. "You are worthless to me now, but I feel the evil in your hearts. Some day you might prove useful to me. Until that day, prepare yourself for oblivion!"

The lava had worked its way to his waist, and Red Eye's sidewinder was having no effect on the quickly solidifying lava. He hoped with all his heart, suddenly, that help would not come. The thought of Shade experiencing this, suffering as he was suffering, was an unpleasant feeling. His poor daughter, his poor family. What would they do? Twyla would never forgive him for abandoning her like this. He sent a prayer to Tesudas that he would see Shade again. Someday.

Present day

"And he would, but not for eighty years." Shade nodded her head sadly. "The captain refused to go after her. He wouldn't let anyone else go down either, even me. I remember watching that day, it felt so helpless. I didn't grieve when we got back to the Royal Moon and Piscaar had him put to death. The others were a different story. Mad with grief Piscaar killed the senior staff of the ship. You know the rest, riots, assassinations, about a hundred different rulers. Bloodshed and more bloodshed as the moons turned on each other."

Black Tiger nodded. It was a required part of the Darkling education system, a warning on the perils of absolute power and what the other moons were capable of.

"Closer to home my mother seemed almost relieved that Red Eye was presumed dead. She filed for widow's benefits, and took control of all his possessions, property and wealth. Within a year she'd re-married, this time a kitchen hand. No kids, she blamed me for the marriage ending and didn't want her new one ruined by children. They died in an accident much later. Seeing their mangled corpses didn't mean as much to me as seeing that ship disappear. I can honestly say that I was never the same. I kept the squad going for a while, but central command could see that my heart wasn't in to it. I was given a sum of money, and then gained my mother's assets. Nothing helped, nothing seemed to fill that void in my life."

"Until many years later when Davyn of House Iespyk poisoned the water supply," Black Tiger said. Chilla's grandson had struck where Darklings were vulnerable. Many died, but Shade hadn't. An evil entity moved in, driving her mad until the two could adapt to one another. The entity would try and take over Third Earth later and be contained through magic. Davyn was caught trying to escape and was burned alive.

"And then word came that Red Eye lived. The Thundercats had arrived on Third Earth and Mumm-Ra couldn't defeat them, so he enlisted the Lunataks to do his dirty work. It didn't work, even the Lunataks couldn't defeat them."

1 year ago

"It's all that Vultureman's fault. Sound stones? Ha! What's next, harness Tug Mug's odour to defeat the Thundercats?" Luna was ranting again and Red Eye was doing his best to ignore it. She'd been droning on and on for the last twenty minutes, whacking anyone within easy reach of her riding crop. Tug Mug and Alluro had gotten lucky and were off duty, he and Chilla didn't have the luxury.

The whole ordeal had been a disaster. They'd spied Vultureman stealing something called a sound stone from a sorceress, Third Earth seemed to be riddled with them, and created a sonic gun to defeat the Thundercats. The Lunataks had either volunteered to help him or been tricked in to it depending on who you asked. The Thundercats had rallied, built their own weapon, and sent the Lunataks scurrying back to Dark Side. It was the same old routine, and it was getting more than a little tiresome. Why Luna wasn't devoting her efforts in finding that stupid belt, he didn't know.

Significant damage had been done to Sky Tomb as well, and its main computer banks were a mess. That was Red Eye's current headache, trying to salvage what he could of the tangled wires and blown circuitry. "Why would you agree to work with a Mutant, Chilla?" Luna demanded.

Red Eye knew that Chilla was the last person she should be antagonizing. Her temper was like a thread, ready to snap in an instant. "It was your idea to work with Vultureman. I suggested stealing his invention."

He counted to three and then heard a strangled gasp followed by the sound of Luna's riding crop whacking Chilla on the head. He didn't need to turn around to know that Amok had the Icewalker by the throat and was happily holding her for his mistress. It was routine these days. At least their fighting meant that he was briefly out of the line of fire. It wouldn't last long and soon Luna would tire of Chilla and seek out a new target to vent at.

It was late by the time he got back to his room. Sky Tomb would be operational again and they would come up with a new plan. Today, none of it seemed to matter. Of late he had been plagued by the feeling that they had been away from the Moons of Plundarr longer than they realized. Fifty years, perhaps, probably more. It was something Mumm-Ra had said the other day, suggesting that if they hadn't been in magic lava, they would be dead by now. Lunataks lived a hundred and fifty years, rarely more.

He stepped in to his room and looked around at the place he'd called home for several months. It was possible this was all that remained of his life. His whole family and all his friends might be dead, his wife, his daughter, uncles and aunts, cousins... grandchildren? If they had been gone that long, had Shade moved on with her life? Had she settled down to raise a family of her own? And even if she had, they had no way of getting back to the moons.

A lamp by his desk needed a new bulb so he set about changing it, mostly to give himself something to do. He'd been working on a replacement set of eyes in case something happened to his current pair. He had no illusions that Luna wouldn't dispose of him if he became blind. The Thundercat Lynx-O seemed to get by without his eyes, but Thundercats were a more gentle species. They might even help him if he asked.

It would be fitting as Lynx-O owed him, as far as he could tell. The impulses his braille board gave off matched those the Icewalker masks had given off, it couldn't be a co-incidence. Two Lynxes, one technology. He gave up tinkering with the eyes after only a minute or two. He'd been messing with machinery all day, the thought of dealing with more was unappealing.

And that was part of the problem on the planet too. A massive fortress like Sky Tomb and only four hands capable of doing repairs. They were overworked and Luna didn't care; if anything she kept pushing them harder. It didn't help that once a week, seemingly, the place was being shot down out of the sky, or attacked by Thundercats who didn't appreciate them using slave labour.

There was an idea. One thing seemed to bring him happiness still, even if the others didn't quite appreciate it. He walked down to the kitchen, a big grin spreading on his face. Food in Dark Side was scarce, they often had to raid the villages of the Berbils or Bulkins just to survive, and so that had led them to improvising, and Red Eye knew all about improvising. On a dare one day he had taken a Berbil in to the kitchen and opened it up. Sure, it was mostly metal, but there were pieces that were edible, and whatever fuel source the Berbils used actually made certain parts very flavourful. The anti-freeze storage compartment, for example had a pleasant minty taste.

Once he'd decided what did and what didn't taste good, he began experimenting with combinations until he had found one that he liked. There was a breed of bee that lived in Dark Side, they were enormous and potentially deadly to Lunataks, but they made a delicious honey that, when blended into a creamy mixture with melted cheese stolen from the Wollo village, made for an excellent sauce across Berbil ears and memory chips. He put the whole concoction into a roasting pan and cooked it for an hour to bring out the flavour. When it was done he would sprinkle just a dash of rust and lime juice on top.

None of the others could stand Roast Berbil Stew, but it was his best recipe yet no matter what they said. And the nice part was, since they wouldn't eat it, there was always leftovers in the fridge. He poured himself a bowl and headed back to his room.

"Hey Red Eye, you want a beer to go with that?" Tug Mug asked. The Darkling hadn't even noticed his friend coming the other way. He had a fridge in his room that was filled with booze. Luna could never figure out where the booze came from, and usually Red Eye didn't ask. It was there, that was all that mattered. He shrugged and followed the Graviton in to his room. He didn't feel like being alone right now, it brought back his gloomy thoughts.

The Graviton's room was filthy, clothes and knick knacks covered every available surface. The bed reeked of sweat, booze, and other fluids he'd rather not dwell on. There was a shrub that had somehow taken root near Tug Mug's never used shower. He called it Bernice, and they teased that it was the only woman he'd ever had in his room. That wasn't true. Red Eye knew for a fact that a Bulkin woman had vanished one day from the slave pens and returned the next. She'd never said a word about it, but she didn't have to. Red Eye's eyes worked just fine to connect the dots.

"My spy cams caught Chilla in the shower. She hasn't noticed this one yet. You want to see the footage?" He did, but wasn't sure how much of that was an actual attraction to the woman, and how much was because she was the only woman in Sky Tomb of even remote interest to him. He'd been away from the Dark Moon long enough that it got harder to control his hormones. She was an attractive woman, physically fit and passionate in her beliefs, but when the options were her or Luna, she became an object of lust very quickly. Worse yet once, while fighting the Thundercats, he'd even caught himself taking a quick look at Cheetara, and that was even more disgusting than looking at a non-Darkling.

He was also still technically married to Twyla, no matter how far in the future they might be. He still had to consider himself a married man until he could prove otherwise. "What's the matter? You're not yourself tonight," Tug Mug said, shaking him out of his reverie.

"Do you ever wonder what we've missed back home?" Red Eye said at length.

"Oh sure. Lots of new beers, the young women, the sports..." Tug Mug sighed. "All I know is the longer we're away, the less likely I'll have to pay all my bar tabs.

He didn't get it, or maybe Gravitons thought differently. "What about family and friends?" he asked optimistically.

"Yeah, I guess I miss them too. Hey! That's right, you have a wife and daughter back home. Look on the bright side, now you don't need to divorce or pay child support," Tug Mug punched his shoulder and laughed, spilling beer all over him. "Hey, speaking of funny things, I put a camera in Castle Plundarr, want to catch the highlights?"

"Another time, perhaps." Red Eye stood and walked from the room and put his dishes away. The weight of the situation hung over him like an umbrella. Tug Mug didn't understand the situation because Gravitons had different opinions on families and relationships. What he needed was someone else who had lost significantly. Alluro had been a bachelor at the time, and Luna was still in a foul mood, which left Chilla. She'd had a husband and a child back home, Red Eye had seen both on the Excelsior. Quickly he made his way down to her room.

Present day

"That was long before we started dating. Maybe that's when it started." Black Tiger chose not to say a word. The fact that Chilla was talking at all about her love life was unusual. Among the five Lunar races, the Icewalkers were the least likely to find lovers among the other sub-races. The skin temperatures were too different between Icewalkers and other Lunataks. Many found this difference unpleasant and a relationship without a physical component died quickly.

Conversely, Icewalkers usually liked having a 'warm blooded' partner to help regulate their bodies on those cold nights. That was why, or so she suspected, Icewalkers kept slaves. It was certainly part of the reason that having multiple partners was encouraged. Chilla wasn't like that, though. In her life she'd only had the one man, and speculation had it that it was why she and Red Eye's relationship had been brief. Black Tiger really hoped that Chilla wouldn't start talking about their sex life.

1 year ago

She added the 'sound stone' incident to a log book. Back when she'd fought in the gladitorial arenas Chilla had kept detailed records of battles won and lost. She'd tried to do the same here on Third Earth, though the losses were far outnumbering the victories of late. She was tired and frustrated. A heated shouting match against Luna was like shouting at a brick wall, except that brick wall had a riding crop.

And whoever was knocking on her door wasn't improving matters. She closed the book and opened the door. It was Red Eye, probably the most tolerable person in Sky Tomb. Alluro could be charming, they'd even tried having a relationship once, but there was always a self-centred tone to his end of the conversation. Luna was just screechy and Tug Mug was vile. With such competition it was easy for Red Eye to crawl to the top of the pile. "Do you have a minute?" he asked.

Yes she did, but she didn't really want to give it to him. "What do you want?" she asked. She knew what the others said, Tug Mug mostly, that she had perpetual PMS, but she didn't care. They didn't leave her alone even with that 'reputation'.

"How do you cope, without knowing what has happened to Ren?" he asked. It was perilously close to something Alluro had said last week, except Alluro had offered to fill the void in her life and between her legs that Ren had once occupied. She didn't think Red Eye was going in the same direction, and could ice him if it turned out he was. Seeing that this was something a little more complicated than could be dealt with standing in her door way, and feeling a shred of pity for the Darkling, she stepped aside.

Her room was kept tidy and bare. A bed, a desk, and a few trinkets of battle. There was a bow hanging on the wall, the warrior woman who'd carried it was long since worm food, and a lock of Lion-O's hair with a date scribbled under it. She took the desk chair to avoid giving Red Eye any ideas, and he took the bed. "I have a feeling that, even if we got back to the moons today, we'd find that time has gone by. Twyla, Shade, everyone I knew may be long dead."

That she understood. She'd wondered the same thing, in truth. When Mumm-Ra had freed them she'd seen a glimpse of the forest nearby. The trees had felt bigger, closer, but she'd passed it off as imagination. But now and then she would think about that and ask herself how Ren was doing, how her son was. If it was long enough... "I try not to think about it. Besides, I trust Ren to raise our son properly."

"But what if they've moved on?" Chilla scowled. She didn't need to be a telepath to know that he was hurting, she even sympathized. She and Ren were closer than most Icewalkers got, their relationship was so perfect that adding a third of either gender would have thrown off that perfect alignment. They counted on one another, and losing Ren for however long it had been did hurt. But Icewalkers were made as harsh as the climate on their frozen moon, death was a constant companion, closer than a shadow on most days. How many friends had she lost? Family members?

"Then you move on as well," she said. "It's easy to wallow in grief, but there comes a point where you have to deal with it. If Ren's dead, I trust that he lived his life to the fullest and died with honour. I regret not seeing Nitro grow up, but if he has than so be it. I can't change that. You want the best for your loved ones, so imagine the best for them, because I don't have the faith that we're ever going to see the moons again, not with Luna leading."

It looked like she'd slapped him across the face, and she nearly sighed in exasperation. Had he never had a girlfriend dump him or lost a friend? The Dark Moon was no safer a place than the Ice. But it was two different cultures, and that was half the problem. "I'm not saying to forget them, I say a prayer to Lunis every night that they're well, but I honour their memory. I know they would want the best for me, and that's how I try to live."

He didn't fully understand, she could see it in the set of his shoulders. She was no good at these things, she didn't really do 'comfort.' She tried to remember the things she'd said when Ren would come home frustrated, but he'd been easy to deal with. Him, she could slap across the face and it would knock sense in to him. "I love them," he whispered.

"And I love Ren. But I can't change what's happened, and dwelling on it is only going to make it worse. Channel that grief in to anger, and use it the next time we fight the Thundercats." Chilla grinned, that was one thing she was good at.

Red Eye looked up. "You're right. I can't change the situation. Thank you." He stood and started to walk to the door, but stopped. "By the way, speaking of channelling anger, Tug Mug installed a new camera in your shower."

Present day

"You don't believe me?" Tug Mug said, trying his best to look hurt. "Would I lie to you?"

It was a question that carried an automatic answer, so she gave it. "Yes, you would," Black Tiger replied. "There's no way you snapped the Sword of Omens in half with your bare hands."

"I did! I totally did. You can ask Slythe, he was there... no, wait, he'd left by then. Ask Lion-O, you know *he* would never lie to you."

He sounded sincere, and he was right. Lion-O was a Thundercat, and Thundercats were sworn to uphold truth. She was pretty sure they could lie, but they would feel real bad about it. For the time being she would let it pass. "Whatever, that still has nothing to do with Red Eye. This is a book about him, not you. Maybe my next one will be."

"A story about Red Eye, then. How about the time he tried to eat the Sword of Omens?" Eating a sword? She was sceptical, how did one eat a sword? She shrugged and raised her pen. "Okay then. Luna had sent us to the warrior maiden village to fetch some slaves, but of course Lion-O had to spoil the fun..."

11 months ago

Red Eye ran as fast as he could, trying to keep up with Tug Mug. The fact that he was relegated to carrying their warrior maiden prisoner, bound and gagged but still able to kick and squirm, didn't help. Lion-O was on their tail and gaining ground quickly. They needed to get to the Lunattacker nearby if they had any hope of getting away.

Why had they parked so far away, he asked himself, and why hadn't they knocked the woman unconscious first? It was a little late for that now. He saw the Lunattacker ahead, but no sign of Tug Mug. Perhaps the Graviton had decided to bounce the rest of the way to Dark Side, or had gotten lost somehow. His loss, either way, Red Eye had no intention of waiting for him.

"Ho!" came Lion-O's familiar call, the only warning one ever got that there was a bolt of energy with your name on it. Lion-O would aim carefully, given that there was a squealing hostage over his shoulder, but the sword seemed to be sentient or something, knowing whom its master was aiming at. Even as the beam struck him between the shoulders he cursed the wretched weapon. It was more powerful than all the Lunataks together and could not be used by so-called evil people. They would be so much better off without it.

Red Eye's knees buckled and the woman went tumbling to the side. He turned, drawing out his sidewinder, though his back still stung. "Let the warrior maiden free, Red Eye," Lion-O commanded, using his most authoritative voice. It was the same tone he himself used to use on prisoners they'd found on the Dark Moon. Poor souls who needed to realize that they had lost, and he found himself disliking being on the other end of that voice.

"Never," he replied. If he could get off a lucky shot, maybe he could injure Lion-O. And maybe Lion-O would suddenly decide to run himself through with that stupid sword.

"I warned you, Lunatak." He snarled. Red Eye hated being referred to by species, there was something demeaning about it, especially since Lion-O had used his name earlier on. Then his eyes saw something else. A large mass of warmth creeping behind Lion-O. So, Tug Mug hadn't ditched him then. Perhaps he owed the Graviton an apology.

He fired the sidewinder, the ball of fire spinning out only to be sliced in two by that sword. The aforementioned sword then raised, the tip glowing as energy built up again. What was taking Tug Mug so long? Lion-O was distracted, he had an opening. Why wasn't he getting involved? Red Eye reached over and grabbed the warrior maiden, pulling her in front of him as a shield. Lion-O gasped. "Cowardly wretch, fight like a man."

It wasn't his first choice either, but survival was survival. The woman doubtless knew this lesson from living on such a hostile world, a pity that Lion-O didn't. He was a noble, though, born with a silver spoon in his mouth and wanting for nothing. His idea of danger was probably wearing shoes that didn't match. But Lion-O's sword wavered, he wouldn't dare take the shot. It was against his code of conduct to put another at risk, and that was when Tug Mug attacked, dropping down from the sky and smashing his metal gauntlet in to Lion-O's head, causing him to fall like a sack of hammers. "About time," he said, tossing the girl aside and walking over to the fallen Lord of the Thundercats.

"I was hoping you'd get him in a better position. Ah well, Luna will be happy to have a second prisoner. With those muscles he should be able to shovel a lot of thundrillium," Tug Mug replied, starting to bind Lion-O's wrists, while Red Eye stooped to collect the fallen weapon.

Luna would no doubt want the sword for herself, a dangerous trophy to keep around, in Red Eye's opinion. It, much like Lion-O himself, needed to be destroyed. If they slit Lion-O's throat now they wouldn't need to worry about what would happen when the other Thundercats came looking, or watch as Sky Tomb was destroyed in yet another escape attempt. But how? Tug Mug had snapped it in half once and they'd simply repaired it.

Present day

"Tug Mug!" Black Tiger said. She was slightly irritated that he'd worked a tale of his own exploits in to his Red Eye story. She had presumed that the matter of whether or not he had broken the sword with his bare hands had been dropped. Apparently not.

"What? I'm just adding realism..."

11 months ago

Looking down at the prone body of Lion-O, Red Eye knew what Chilla would suggest as a means of disposing of him. He was well aware that most Icewalker prisoners could count on themselves being served as a meal the moment their usefulness expired. It was a gruesome fate, but it was a way of life for them.

Which made him wonder. Could the same principle be used on the Sword of Omens? Surely if his stomach could tolerate, even enjoy, Berbil 'flesh' then perhaps... He gave the blade an experimental lick. It wasn't bad, actually. The faint flavour of cooked meat with a tingling sensation that went all the way down to the tips of his toes. Already he could imagine what condiments would go well on it and what should be served with it. A vegetable, for sure, perhaps some carrots and mustard.

"Ew! What are you doing? Don't you know where that's been?" Tug Mug interrupted his thoughts. Red Eye had forgotten where he was momentarily, caught up in the moment. "Besides, Luna will want it."

Tug Mug was struggling to get Lion-O in to the Lunattacker, so he went to help, hefting the unconscious feline on top of their frightened warrior maiden. "I'll handle Luna. She'll be grateful to have the sword out of commission, and be distracted by torturing Lion-O."

"I don't know about you sometimes, Red. We have a beautiful woman and a sword, and you'd rather play with the sword. You think Luna will let me have the woman?" Tug Mug asked, patting the Darkling on the shoulder as the latter started up the Lunattacker.

"You never know."

Luna was indeed thrilled to get Lion-O, so much so that she forgot about the Sword of Omens until well after the fact. By that time Red Eye had vanished down to the kitchen. The sword, he'd decided, would have to be broken in to more manageable pieces. But that would allow him to experiment a little more. Tomato paste and chocolate, he decided, would be the first. But first he had to break the sword. Carefully he placed it in a pot of boiling water to soften the alloys. While he waited, he made a salad.

Collapsing in an ungainly heap on the floor, Lion-O felt tired and sore. His head hurt, and his chest felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. But then Luna and Amok had been interrogating him for an hour at least. There was only the one other prisoner in the dungeons at present, the warrior maiden he'd come in with. She seemed unharmed physically, but frightened and out of her element. "I'm going to get you out of here. I swear it on my honour as Lord of the Thundercats," he told her, looking around. "I just don't know how. If only I had the Sword of Omens, it could blast down the door. Sword of Omens, come to my hand!"

A long pause. By now he was sure the sword would be reunited with its master. Something must be hindering its progress. "That brute with the red eyes said he was going to eat your sword," the maiden, named Valana, said in a low voice.

Was that even possible? So little was known about the Lunataks. It was theoretically plausible that they would be able to consume things that the ordinary Thunderian couldn't. He had to find out, and he wouldn't be able to do that from within Sky Tomb's prison cells.

He examined the door. There was a control panel just to the right of the door that, he suspected, operated the locking mechanism. His arm was too short to reach through the window and reach but the warrior woman was still armed with her bow and arrows. With his chest protesting the movement he walked over to Valana. "I need to borrow this for a minute, selecting a shaft from her quiver." Just as he'd hoped. If he held it by the fletching he could reach the buttons, and a moment later the door opened.

Now they needed to escape. But which way? Lion-O tried frantically to remember which direction Luna had him carried from. "Right. We should go to the right," he finally said. The hall seemed to slope upwards in that direction, and he thought he recognized the burnt out light fixture at the far end. That way would lead closer to the control room, but he had been inside Sky Tomb just often enough to have a general idea of the layout. What he didn't know was where the kitchen and/or Red Eye would be.

And did he dare try and find either while dragging Valana along behind him? As it turned out he didn't need to worry, as Alluro was in the middle of walking down the hall. He yelped and turned to run, forcing Lion-O and Valana to chase after him before he could raise the alarm. Lion-O noted that the hypnotist wasn't carrying his psyche club, which meant half of his power was gone.

The Lunatak led them up a flight up stairs and stumbled through the door in to what turned out to be the kitchen. "Red Eye! Lion-O has escaped!" Alluro said.

"So I see. Surrender Lion-O."

Lion-O was accustomed to such bluster, it was one of the few things the Lunataks were good at. Such evil beings they were, if only they would turn their motives to purity and goodness the denizens of Third Earth could live happily in peace. But no, there were those who always preferred to let greed take control of their actions, and the greed would fester and corrupt. It was sad, but it was why the Thundercats had been formed by his ancestors. It was also why the Sword of Omens served them faithfully.

Speaking of which, if the sword were with Red Eye in the kitchen, then where was it? A pot on the stove, full of a bubbling brown mixture caught his attention. Was the sword in there? He tried to decide whether he could retrieve the weapon before Red Eye could use his sidewinder. "That's right, Lion-O. Sword of Omens in chocolate sauce, it should be delicious," the Darkling chuckled, "perhaps I'll save you a slice."

"By Jaga, no." Lion-O decided that Red Eye was too busy laughing at his joke to stop him and knew he had to act fast. There was an easy solution to his immediate problem, he ran forward, grabbed the pot, and hurled the contents at the two startled Lunataks. With both Alluro and Red Eye contained by the scalding power of the chocolate, Lion-O carefully picked up the Sword of Omens and sheathed it. He would worry later about cleaning it. For now he and Valana had to get out of Sky Tomb.

Present day

"That wasn't a story of Red Eye's bravery," Black Tiger said, scratching her head. She sat in Cat's Lair with both her father and Lion-O.

"I know. That's why I was surprised you asked about it. He looks rather foolish, though, maybe that's why Tug Mug told you it. Come to think of it, he looked rather good in it, didn't he?" Lion-O said in response. "The story you really want to hear about is a recent one. The Lunataks had formed a city in Dark Side, and we decided that a joint effort between our peoples would be beneficial..."

Last month

"Have a little faith in me, I know what I'm doing," Tycho said as calmly as he could. Red Eye didn't believe a word of it. Governor Tycho, technically the next in line to the throne until Luna provided a proper heir, had been assigned to manage the city of New Lunis.

That had been a stroke of genius, he had to concede. One of Tycho's lackeys had gone through proper legal channels to argue that the Lunataks had been on the land in Dark Side for eighty years and thus had some claim to it. Never mind that their being there had been against their will, nor that they had been encased in lava. The claim had been validated by the Interplanetary Control Force since none of the other races of Third Earth had a prior claim to it, and the Thundercats had been forced to accept that the Lunataks could build a city there if they pleased.

But Tycho was too friendly to be a Lunatak, in Red Eye's opinion. When the Darkling looked at the planet, he saw minimal threats if the Lunataks wanted to put out a concerted effort at conquest. Two powerful wizards, a handful of Thundercats, and many primitive cultures. At first he'd thought that an alliance with the Thundercats was a ruse to get help defeating Mumm-Ra, but Tycho legitimately thought that peace between the two species was the way to go, and he planned to talk to Luna about that very matter the next chance he had.

In theory Tycho had a council of eight, two from each of the moons with himself representing the Royal. Red Eye and the other Darkling in the room, Stalker, were the Dark Moon council members. "Look. The Lunataks haven't really done very well 'making friends' on this planet. By helping the Thundercats deliver relief supplies we'll make ourselves look better. I'm not asking either of you to like it, but I do expect you to be on your best behaviour. You're representing me on this mission."

And that was the crux of it. They didn't have to like it, but they had to obey Tycho's word. The fact that he didn't often throw his power around didn't matter. "As you wish, sir," Stalker said.

The two, along with Shade, would take a small shuttle to a Bulkin village that had been hit by heavy flooding. The Thundercats were sending the Thunderstrike, had already left in fact, so they would need to hurry if they were going to catch up. A team was already at the space port, loading their shuttle with food and medical supplies. They could barely afford to spare the latter, an argument that Stalker had tried to make, but Tycho had dismissed the concerns. They would be paid back in kindness, he was sure, when the shoe was on the other foot.

"If we ever need help from Bulkins I'm resigning," Red Eye mumbled. It wasn't wholly true. They'd used the Bulkins on a number of occasions, but that was as slave labour to fuel their furnaces and perform menial tasks. He couldn't imagine that this relief effort would go very far in changing their image.

"It won't be so bad. We might learn something about the Thundercats in the process," Stalker shrugged. His official capacity was commanding the military forces on Third Earth, but with no active conflicts it amounted to patrols and checking defences. He had a sharp mind that Red Eye appreciated, always looking for that other angle. He reminded him of Ponacht that way, only nowhere near as gruff.

They arrived at the hangar and found Shade supervising the loading operation. She'd become very clingy towards him, a product of eighty years apart he supposed. It also had wildly changed their relationship. Outside his lava prison time had continued to move. While he hadn't aged at all, his daughter had become a very old woman. It was unnatural for a daughter to be older than her father. But then, there wasn't much natural about her situation.

Trapped within that body was an evil entity they'd dubbed Nightshade. Were she to die it might be freed, and it was a moment they dreaded. Nightshade had nearly destroyed Mumm-Ra himself. What damage might he wreak the next time? And so the Thundercats had provided them with water from a fountain of youth to revitalize her and delay the inevitable.

She turned at their approach. "They're almost done. It's going to be tight in there, but we'll all fit."

"Good. I'll go get the ship warmed up," Stalker said, walking over to the pilot compartment. There was room for a co-pilot, which Shade would take despite her objections, leaving Red Eye to travel in the back with the supplies.

As the last box was placed inside, Red Eye took his seat, and Shade closed the rear hatch. In moments he felt the ship lift off the ground and soar across the planet. He'd seen the countryside enough to know that they were leaving the Fire Rock Mountains far behind, soaring past the hostile region of Dark Side and in to the more fertile lands beyond. Very little in the way of grains grew in that densely packed and rocky soil, making their gifts of food even more precious.

Despite Stalker's optimism, Red Eye didn't see it the same way. The Thundercats had always been enemies. Perhaps he was too old fashioned, perhaps he'd just been on the wrong side of a Sword of Omens blast, but he couldn't see them any other way.

It would probably end up being Tygra in the Thunderstrike too. Of all the Thundercats he and the Tiger had probably clashed the most often, a result of being the only one who could penetrate Tygra's invisibility. A very real hatred had formed from the constant fighting, especially since Red Eye knew that he should be able to handle the feline. Tygra was crafty and quick, but Red Eye was intelligent in his own right, he possessed superior fire power, and easily out muscled him.

They were landing before he knew it, and the back door opened to reveal a desperate situation. The village had been located on the waterfront, a small fishing village he suspected, when a monstrous wave had struck. Homes had been destroyed and a few people had been swept away. A single boat had avoided being ripped to pieces, and it was currently in the middle of the water, trying to collect victims.

The Thunderstrike was nearby and Red Eye could see, as he'd feared, Tygra among the three person crew. He and Lion-O were working on excavating a demolished house, while Pumyra tended to the wounded. "Let's get this over with," he said, scooping up a box of medicines and carting it over to the healer.

"They came after all," Tygra noted, struggling with a heavy beam. The homes of the Bulkins were simply made, but that didn't make their work feel any easier. He hadn't been sure whether or not the offer to help had been genuine. Naturally he and Lion-O had hoped for the best, relations between the two races did seem to be improving, but one never knew.

"They did. Darklings too, which should be a big help." Lion-O came over and the two pried the wood loose. They were searching for people who might have been caught unawares in their homes. So far they'd found one, but they hadn't been working at it long.

The flood had hit a few hours ago, and even he was impressed with how quickly they'd managed to mobilize help. If there wasn't so much going on at Cat's Lair and the Tower of Omens, more Thundercats would have come. Calling the Lunataks had been a desperate move, but one that seemed to have worked. With that in mind he jogged over to where Red Eye and Pumyra were talking, carrying the injured Bulkin in his arms.

"Glad you could make it," he said, easing the man to the ground. Pumyra had gathered all the blankets she could from their infirmary and they wrapped one around the shivering Bulkin. "We need your eyes to help scan the fallen buildings to..." he faltered. A strange look crossed Red Eye's face.

"We're not under your command," Red Eye said evenly.

Lion-O checked his response. It was a tense situation and hostile words wouldn't help matters. He supposed that he had sounded a little demanding, and would have to make a mental note that he couldn't speak to the Lunataks as he would to Tygra or Pumyra, even if it felt silly. This was a crisis situation and egos needed to be checked at the door. "Forgive me. Would you please help us search for survivors?" he asked.

"I suppose I can do that. Shade, you and Stalker continue unloading the shuttle, I'll be working with Lion-O and Tygra apparently," Red Eye said, and followed the Lord of the Thundercats to the worst of the damaged buildings. He put his hand to his head and began fiddling with his mechanical eyes. "Over there. Weak life signs, probably a child."

A few hours later they paused for lunch. With Red Eye taking the lead they determined that they had rescued as many people as they could, along with a handful of corpses. There were still two people unaccounted for, and it was hoped they were out of the village and not still buried beneath one of the huts. Even a dead body should have some residual heat, he figured, so he was reasonably optimistic that they wouldn't find anyone else in the rubble.

The work hadn't gone too badly, he grudgingly conceded. The Thundercats were hard workers, almost as hard as Lunataks, and refrained from making too many sanctimonious remarks. Still, when lunch was called, Red Eye, Stalker, and Shade stuck together near their shuttle. "So, you think Tycho's plan is working?" Shade asked, taking a large bite out of a piece of purple candy fruit.

"If it is, it's going to be a long road. The Bulkins made it clear that they would rather be injured or sick than be treated by me," Stalker said. He had been helping Pumyra with the wounded, since he had some first aid knowledge from his military training. It wasn't much, and most of it was more suited to a combat field with little other options, but it was better than nothing.

"Yeah, well, the Thundercats aren't much better. Lion-O probably thinks I'm letting people die under their houses right now, the way he kept asking if there were any others," Red Eye snorted. As if it were worth his bother to have a personal vendetta against a Bulkin.

"Let's face it, Lunataks weren't cut out to be the martyrs of the universe," Shade said. Halfheartedly they toasted one another with canteens of water.

Shortly after lunch they resumed work, this time trying to repair homes. This was harder work in many ways, and Red Eye was starting to feel more than a little tired. Stalker had moved from the medical duties, in order to make the injured more comfortable, and the two Darkling males were in the process of installing a centre post for one of the new buildings when a cry went up from the Bulkins. "Berserkers!"

"Maybe they're here to help with the relief efforts," Red Eye said. Although the arrival of enemies pleased him, there would be no need to be nice to the pirates, and it had been a long time since he'd been able to be violent.

"Help themselves to the plunder, more likely," Stalker replied, though he too sported a bit of a grin. "I bet the Berserkers think it's just Bulkins here. Maybe the Thundercats too if they can see the Thunderstrike. We should stay out of sight until they come to shore."

He nodded. There were only four Berserkers that posed any kind of threat. The rest of the crew was comprised of whatever dregs of the earth they'd picked up. Their leader, Hammerhand, would be the most difficult to deal with. "Or maybe not. Incoming!" Red Eye jumped to the side as a fireball landed in their midst. He'd forgotten that the Berserker ship could shoot fireballs. It was difficult to aim, but the pirates clearly felt that they were better off smashing the Thundercats from a distance.

A quick look revealed that the Thundercats had gathered on the beach front. Lion-O was holding up his sword now, the artifact generating a shield that he was using to absorb and block any attacks that were aimed within easy running distance, but it was a bit of a stalemate. Tygra and Pumyra had distance weapons, but nothing that would reach from the beach to the pirate ship, and it would be suicide to attempt to swim.

The Thundercats couldn't reach the ship with their weapons, Red Eye thought, but he probably could. The missiles he fired could probably reach that far if he wanted to. Tycho would probably insist that he should. It galled him to be of service to the Thundercats, but they were likely to be just as bothered that they'd needed a Lunatak's help. That made helping a little more palatable.

The Berserkers were starting to catch on that Lion-O had a limited range to work from and launched a second fireball over his head, landing perilously close to where the wounded were laying. Red Eye ran forward, flanked by Shade and Stalker, and took aim. Three missiles, aimed low, soared over the water punching holes through the boat. They were low enough that the ship would start taking on water as it pitched up and down, the waves lapping against its hull. This attack caught the Berserkers attention and several dashed for the long boats, intent on fighting the battle on foot rather than be caught onboard, while others tried to repair the damage.

The Bulkins would be non-factors in the fight, they wouldn't even make for useful shields, which meant that the Lunataks and Thunderians would have to contend with the entire horde of pirates on their own. Stalker marked Hammerhand as Lion-O's problem, none of the rest of them would be able to match the power of his metallic arm. The rest of them would be a separate matter.

A man with a giant wheel embedded in his chest was the first out of the long boats, running through the surf. It must be the one he'd read about in one of their briefings, named Ram Bam, his logical move would be to drop to the ground once he was clear of the water, so the best place to engage him was before he got to that point. Stalker rushed forward, swinging his pacifier in front of him.

Ram Bam was taken by surprise, but showed quickly that there was more to him than just a wheel in his chest. There was muscle there too and speed as he stepped around Stalker's first swing and lashed out with his fist, catching him in the shoulder.

Not too far, Red Eye found that the brute named Cruncher was able to swat away his missiles. It was unusual, but the projectiles weren't particularly powerful. They were, by necessity, small and compact. He'd considered seeing about upgrading the launching system to give them more thrust, but hadn't gotten around to it.

The Berserker was narrowing the distance between the two of them, so Red Eye abandoned that mode of attack, switching to first the sidewinder, whose magical flames couldn't seem to slow him down, and then to the pacifier. This was hardly his first choice. Cruncher was massive and very strong, able to pulverise rocks with those arms. The prospect of what he could do to bone was not something he looked forward to.

As he tried to send an electrical blast through his opponent, Red Eye hoped that the rest of his friends were doing well, Shade especially. He didn't have time to take a look around the battle ground, narrowly avoiding being grabbed by those hands. Red Eye brought the pacifier down in to Cruncher's lower back, shocking him and cause him to roar in pain. It wasn't enough though, and he felt a gauntleted hand backhand him into the water where even more pirates were pouring out of the longboats. He would need to increase the power setting on the pacifier if he hoped to use it on Cruncher again, it would be lethal against the regular pirates, but they were only Berserkers, and survival was the most important thing.

Stalker saw Tygra plowing through a pair of pirates in his peripheral vision even as he tangled with Ram Bam. They'd locked together in a test of strength briefly, but when it looked like Stalker would win that contest he felt a sudden burning sensation across his chest as that infernal wheel spun rapidly. He pushed away and broke a pirate's nose when he got too close. "What the hell are you?" he asked.

"I'm Ram Bam, and I'm a Berserker, Berserker" the idiot replied. Even the voice was annoying, with a bit of a stutter at the end of it. Stalker hoped that he wouldn't get beaten by such a man.

Working back to back with a Thundercat was a little unexpected, but Shade was pleasantly surprised to find that she and Pumyra were making a pretty good team. Surrounded by a group of pirates who all seemed to blur in to one, she was reasonably certain that it was their gender that was causing the Berserkers to underestimate them. It also left her no doubt what would happen if the Berserkers won. Since she didn't really feel like being nothing more than a pair of spread legs, she felt a little more motivated.

It had long become impossible to use distance weapons. The pirates were too close, and a short 'gentleman' whom Pumyra called Top Spinner was able to reflect projectiles back at them by somehow twirling around at the waist. A robotic lower half, perhaps? Whatever the case, he was probably the most dangerous of the group of eight around them.

She kicked a pirate in the stomach when he tried to close in, and heard another gasp as Pumyra did something to him. "Come on, girlies, surrender. Surrender," Top Spinner said, pushing past his brethren.

"Maybe not," Shade replied, scooping up a handful of sand and tossing it at his face. He spun, as she'd hoped, and his shield clipped one of his friends who had been standing just a little too close.

The Thundercats would probably give him hell, he thought as another Berserker dropped face down in to the water. Red Eye didn't care, it felt good to be using his combat skills in an actual fight rather than just in training scenarios. This was life and death, and he preferred former to the latter.

"Hold still, hold still!" Cruncher snarled. This was obviously not going as easily as they'd thought. A defenceless village, trying to repair the damage of a flood, it should have been easy pickings, he supposed.

Red Eye did hold still long enough to let Cruncher get closer, though the pirate had long figured out that the pacifier was a deadly weapon, and definitely something to be avoided. When Red Eye tried swinging again, Cruncher reached out and grabbed the pacifier instead of trying to move out of the way. Caught off-guard as the weapon was jerked out of his hands, he stumbled within reach of the pirate's other hand.

Bones felt like they would snap in that viselike grip. "Now then, matey, let's see what happens when I use this on you!"

Things were going a little better for Stalker. Ram Bam wasn't the brightest of individuals, a characteristic he was sure he could assign to all of the Berserkers, based on what little he could see. He was most effective when he could use his wheel to pick up speed and possibly gore his opponents on his helm, in a hand to hand fight he was much less useful. Certainly he was nowhere near the skill that Stalker was.

A heavy kick to Ram Bam's thigh brought his arms down a fraction, presenting Stalker with an opening to strike his throat with the pacifier. A weak electrical charge raced through the pirate, knocking him to the ground. Stalker took the moment to roll him on to his back, ensuring that the ringleaders of the operation would be caught alive. There was something to be said for showing the effects of justice, though he doubted Bulkin 'justice' would be anything in comparison to the punishment Ram Bam and the others would get before Queen Luna or even governor Tycho.

With the immediate threat taken care of, Stalker looked around. There were still a few nondescript pirates running around, making life difficult for his compatriots, but it was mostly the ringleaders. Lion-O and Hammerhand seemed to be an even match, sword clashing against arm, that was a fight to leave alone. If it looked like Lion-O would be seriously injured or killed, then he would intervene.

Shade and Pumyra were slowly gaining the upper hand on Top Spinner. As they picked off the underlings, they would be able to concentrate their forces on the stubby pirate. Red Eye was in trouble, though, so that was the direction he moved.

He saw a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye, a whip coiled around the chest of a pirate who had been running to intercept him. Tygra. He hadn't seen Tygra on the battlefield until now. Perhaps he'd been invisible, taking on threats as he was able. It was certainly within his abilities.

Pain made it hard to concentrate, as did Cruncher's new tactic of holding his head beneath the water briefly. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you can still row our boat," Cruncher chuckled, pulling him momentarily from the surf.

It wasn't reassuring. A life as a slave was no fate for a warrior. Luckily he knew help was coming. Though there was water blurring his sight, he saw Stalker coming. The military commander jumped through the air, landing neatly on Cruncher's back, forcing him to drop Red Eye completely to deal with this new threat.

Years of training and frustration came back. No matter how wounded one was, one had to get one's bearings quickly or be killed. Stalker was probably the better fighter, but even one shot from Cruncher could be devastating as he well knew. Red Eye grabbed his pacifier from where the pirate had dropped it and thrust it as hard as he could at him. Cruncher dropped like a rock, shimmering red energy crackling around him.

The battle was over. Hammerhand and his surviving pirates beat a hasty retreat when it became obvious that they wouldn't be winning today. Several stopped to drag fallen friends in to the longboats and they fled back to whatever cove they'd come from.

Shade walked over to where her father was catching his breath and put a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?" she asked. While fighting Top Spinner she had caught a glimpse of Red Eye's predicament. He nodded and they joined the others in rounding up the prisoners. The Thundercats would help the Bulkins carry out trials, though she suspected the sentences would be laughable, amounting to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Five of the thirty or so pirates were dead, four by Red Eye's hand, and their corpses were buried properly further down the beach. All in all it wasn't a bad outing. None of them were seriously injured and they'd scored a victory. Perhaps they'd even gained a measure of respect in the eyes of both the Thundercats and the Bulkins. That would make Tycho happy, anyway.

With this new work taken care of, the half dozen prisoners were loaded in to a makeshift detention block. Shade knew that if she were to wander by the following day that the Berserkers would have escaped, which seemed to be part of the argument Stalker and Lion-O were having. She couldn't make out what was being said but could guess well enough. Justice meant two different things to both men.

Putting it out of her mind, knowing that Stalker would likely gripe about it the entire trip back to New Lunis, she set about packing up what little was coming back with them in the shuttle.

"And then he had the nerve to suggest that I was a barbarian, just as bad they were," Stalker snarled. Shade flew, as Stalker was too riled to do so safely, and Red Eye listened from the back.

"But he asked for your opinion. Why ask if you're going to complain about the answer?" Shade asked. The Thundercats were planning on lingering a little longer at the Bulkin village, but the Lunataks wanted to get back. Tycho would be expecting a report, and with tensions running high again it would be better to get back than stay for the celebration banquet the Bulkins were preparing. A feast with the food they'd brought, Red Eye added mentally. It seemed backwards somehow.

"Exactly. They just don't understand. We've got two of their ringleaders. You execute them both and set an example that piracy won't be tolerated. It's taught in the schools, basic education. Black Tiger knew that when she was six, there are consequences for your actions. Argh. I should have left Ram Bam to drown, at least that would be one more out of the way," Stalker continued to grouse.

"Survival of the fittest," Red Eye nodded. He supposed it irritated Stalker more because he'd been in the position of giving out penalties on the Dark Moon so he knew what worked and what didn't. All Red Eye ever had to do was apprehend fugitives, he left the bulk of the rest to judges and lawyers.

"All I know is that if the Berserkers ever come to Dark Side they won't be getting locked in a flimsy detention cell so that they can escape a week later. Lion-O figures they'll get community service, be forced to rebuild the village, and then they'll get to go free. Unbelievable." Stalker's fist hit the dashboard, making a small dent.

Unbelievable was the right word for it. Red Eye was surprised that the Thundercats could be so blind, or maybe they just felt that strongly about respecting the laws of others. It was technically Bulkin jurisdiction, but that wouldn't have mattered to the Lunataks if Lion-O, Tygra and Pumyra hadn't been there.

That was lost respect for the Thundercats. In fact, it made him wonder just how much the Lunataks could get away with then, if that was going to be the extent of the law. "I hear they exiled a guy once," Shade said. "Some rogue Thundercat, so this doesn't surprise me."

Present day

"Now that's hardly fair. The Bulkins have as much right to prosecute the Berserkers as anyone. And Thunderian justice does allow for some very stiff penalties," Lion-O said.

"And what happened that night in the Bulkin village?" Stalker prompted, tapping his foot idly against the floor. Black Tiger could guess from the sheepish expression on the Lord's face.

"They broke out about an hour after we left. Two Bulkins were injured and their last boat was stolen. How about we tell a story that doesn't embarrass the Thundercats?" Black Tiger chose not to point out that it had been Lion-O's idea to tell that particular story. It had, in fact, shown a strong side to Red Eye's character.

"You know what your book is missing?" Stalker asked. "You. This is your work, why don't you tell about your first meeting with Red Eye?"

Because it had been a little embarrassing was the real reason, from both of their perspectives. Still, it was a good idea. A little self insertion didn't hurt, and it would help to illustrate how Red Eye was viewed by the modern Darkling. "Okay. I'll do it."

Last month

She was being ridiculous and she knew it. She'd barely been on Third Earth for more than a day and her father, a great hero in his own right, had arranged a meeting with the legendary Red Eye. He was a hero on the Dark Moon, an icon of an era long gone and the harbinger of good things to come. She'd learned his name in school, heard the stories how he singlehandedly turned back an Icewalker invasion force. How he'd died fighting alongside the queen of the empire, as any true and loyal Darkling would. He was, in short, one step from godhood.

And who was she? A seventeen year old girl, barely finished her training in the squads, squad 9 at that, and an aspiring writer. She was a nobody whose only connection to fame was riding her father's coattails.

Black Tiger scrutinized herself in the mirror, brushing her short orange hair back, a reminder of what else she was. Half-breed. The kids at school and in the squads had never let her forget that she wasn't a proper Lunatak, she was Thunderian, a creature so vile that even the mention of the word was insulting. Her parents loved her, they tried to make up for the hate, but they were mere mortals.

Would the larger-than-life hero see her as anything more than the kin of an enemy? How many years had he been fighting the Thundercats? How many Tigers had he killed or caught in the patrols. To be rejected by one such as him caused her legs to quiver. She'd borne the hostile glares from her peers, but could she endure it from someone she looked up to?

She'd done her best. Picked out a nice black dress that complimented her skin colour and hair, applied just a touch of makeup, made herself as decent as she could. She'd have to rely on her charm to do the rest.

The meeting was designed to get his permission to do a book on his exploits. Ever since she'd heard those first stories she'd wanted to learn more, find out more about this mysterious figure, and the dream of writing his life story had flourished in her tender mind. What if he said no? It was a vile thought and she thrust it from her head. She needed the positive energy, she needed to be optimistic here.

"You're acting like a little girl, going on her first date," she chastised herself. "A date with a man who is old enough to be your great grandfather." That brought a laugh to her lips. She somehow suspected this would be unlike any of the dates she'd ever been on. For one thing it wasn't with some teenaged boy who was hoping she'd be an easy bedmate. More negativity, and she shoved it aside. He would be at their home soon, so she went downstairs and waited.

She watched the clock in the hall, the minutes ticking by painfully slowly, and she rehearsed how she would ask. She needed to sound mature and professional, something to reassure him that letting her write about his life would be a sensible choice, that she could handle the responsibility. The clock clicked to a minute past one; he was late, maybe wasn't even going to show up. Why couldn't her parents have been home to be her support?

There was a knock on the door.

He was doing it as a favour. Ever since the Lunataks had rescued himself, Luna, and the others, there had seemed to be an influx of hero worship. Everyone he ran in to viewed him as some kind of icon. They didn't seem to realize that all those supposed exploits had been more luck than skill, nor that there had often been other people present. If that was what a hero was, then he knew a great number of heroes.

Stalker was high ranking, a veritable tie with himself as far as Darklings on Third Earth went. It could even be argued that Stalker was a notch above, though the military commander would never suggest as much. His daughter, he had claimed, was dying to meet him. She wanted to talk to him and he'd figured that he would take her out on patrol with him; kill two birds with one stone as it were.

A door wouldn't knock on itself, he thought sullenly, standing outside for at least thirty seconds before raising his hand. It opened suddenly, as though Black Tiger had been standing waiting. His breath caught in his throat, she was a spitting image of Twyla as she had been that day in the hotel on the Royal Moon. The dress was the same style, there was even enough of a resemblance that he intended to look up her family tree when he got home. She had the same smile, that same gleam in her eyes, only the orange hair marked her as someone different.

She was beautiful, as Twyla had been, and he felt the same stirring of lust that he'd felt when he'd been her age. It felt wrong and he shook his head slightly. And then he saw that pretty smile falter and the gleam fade. He'd been silent too long and she was looking less like his old wife and more like a scared teenager. "You reminded me of someone I once knew, many years ago," he said in apology. "Your father didn't tell you that I was thinking of taking you out on patrol?"

"Oh! No, I should, erm, go change. I'll be a minute, make yourself at home," she said, scampering upstairs before he could stop her.

Cursing silently, Red Eye settled on a couch. She was upset, probably crying. A fine thing to do to a friend's daughter. He had, of course, known in advance that she would be half-Thunderian, and was grateful that Stalker had mentioned it. Growing up like that would have been very difficult for her, he imagined. Lunataks could be very cruel to those who were different. He'd never understood the appeal of dating a non-Lunatak.

In fact, he'd never really considered non-Darklings as an option either. He and Chilla had tried it for a little while, but it had been awkward. Theirs had been a relationship built on a common loss, both having lost spouses during their imprisonment, both dealing with grown up children. In the end he should have known that the relationship wouldn't last, they were just too different.

Black Tiger returned, a hint of streaks on her face. She'd obviously applied makeup to try and cover the tears, but there was still moisture in her eyes. It was going to be difficult to explain that it wasn't personal, that he didn't hate her, but he couldn't admit that for a moment he'd felt lust. Other than a clumsy night with Chilla, it had been a long time since he'd been with a woman of any kind, and he knew he should remedy that. But not with Black Tiger.

The girl now wore a loose black shirt with dark orange pants, a more simple attire and appropriate for their brief patrol. He supposed, in hindsight, that a dress wouldn't have been bad given that they would be in the small hover car that Tycho preferred for area patrols, but if there had been a threat and she needed to fight...

"Stalker speaks very highly of you. He says you're looking to be a writer?" he said, offering his arm and escorting her to his waiting vehicle.

"Oh yes. I mean, I'm working to improve. I just have to keep at it. Actually that's kind of why I wanted to meet you." She wasn't looking at him, her eyes were busily inspecting specks of dirt on her shoes, but her cheeks were starting to colour. "I was hoping you'd let me write about you."

He was surprised, but responded quickly so he wouldn't make the same mistake he had earlier. "About me? Why?" The truth was, he wasn't special. He'd just done his job, nothing much more than that.

"Well, because there are so many stories about you. I've always admired you and wanted to learn more about you, so I figured if I felt that way that others might too. But you probably don't want some dumb kid half-breed to..."

"I didn't say that." And the hope returned to her eyes. So he'd been right then, it had been a difficult life, experiencing the worst that his people had to offer. He didn't want to commit to anything, after all her writing might not be nearly as good as she thought, and he still didn't think he merited a biography. "It's not a yes yet, either. I want to read a sample of your work first. No offence, but I've read a lot of dreck."

She didn't look hurt at that. She could accept that he was judging her on skill rather than on who she was. It also meant that she was honest about her talents. "Fair enough. When we get back I can give you my last story. I wrote a short story a little while back about my dad. It's a little childish, but it's not bad." She bit her lip. "Do you mind telling me a little about yourself anyway? About growing up or being here on Third Earth or something?"

It was hard not to warm to her. And he could work it in to the patrol route. "Third Earth is fresher. Chilla had just sideswiped a Thundercat ship. Unfortunately Officer Mandora, from the Interplanetary Control Force, was in the area..."

She was starting to feel a little more comfortable in Red Eye's presence. The early blip was forgotten and she was picking up a vague sense of acceptance. He was still uncomfortable around her but at least she didn't feel like he hated her.

Black Tiger wondered if her dad had mentioned that Red Eye wanted to do a patrol at the same time and she just hadn't been paying attention. She'd been so excited at the prospect of meeting Red Eye that she might well have missed a part of the conversation.

What she wasn't missing was what he was saying to her now. They drove around the perimeter of the city before taking a rocky path. Red Eye grew quiet as they went, and she suspected that they were headed somewhere important. The path was worn with tire treads and led to a small clearing at the base of some cliffs, a volcano lurking nearby. The hovercraft came to a stop near twisted pieces of rock and they stepped out.

There was magic in the air, and it caused the hairs on the back of her neck to tingle. "Do you know where we are?" She shook her head. She didn't know much about Third Earth, only what little her father had said. There was no great pyramid and no Cat's Lair. Though the Fire Rock Mountains were nearby, she didn't think that was what he meant, after all the mountains ran close to New Lunis as well, part of the defensive strategy should the Thundercats ever attack them.

"This is where Mumm-Ra imprisoned us," he said solemnly. That was a story she'd heard about. "On the side of that volcano is where we crashed, and we made it this far before Mumm-Ra attacked. We fought our best, but his demon sorcery was too strong for us. He drew lava from the volcano and covered us."

She followed at a respectful distance as he walked to twisted rocks. He turned one over with his hand and she thought she saw the outline of a face in it, probably Alluro's based on the shape of it. "Eighty years we stood here. Eighty years where time stood still."

"That's horrible. I heard the story, but it doesn't sound real. And yet you and the others are proof of it," Black Tiger said. She turned away from the rocks, she was seeing body parts in them and it felt disquieting. "How have you done it? You lost your family, your friends, everything. And how did Shade? I can't imagine losing my father so suddenly."

"Maybe you are the right person to tell my story then," Red Eye placed his hand on her shoulder. "Being a hero isn't all glory and honour. There's love, hope, pain, and suffering. If I let you do this, will you tell it all or gloss over the good."

It was tricky with those mechanical eyes to get a good reading of the emotions in him, but the furrowing of his eyebrows showed that he was being serious. "I will. I'll be as thorough as I can. I'll even let you see it before I try getting it published, and you can stop the whole thing if you want. I promise on my honour," she said. Her heart was hammering quicker, she still needed him to see her prior work before he would commit to it, but it was sounding more and more likely that he would give the go ahead. Finally she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Thank you. I'll make you proud."

"I know you will. Let's get you back home before your father sends out search parties." He walked back towards the hovercraft and cast one last look at his former prison. She suspected there were going to be a lot of emotional moments in the days ahead.

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