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Shadowcat
By Mummraa




The night was wild and stormy, and the dark clouds clustering above
Mumm-ra's pyramid rumbled ominously.  Lightning flickered within the
black thunder-clouds, making them gleam like tarnished silver.  Rain
hammered down from the sky.  Within the pyramid, Mumm-ra awakened from a
long, deathlike sleep.  As he stepped out of his sarcophagus, he looked
up, hearing the muted roar of thunder from outside.  "Yes," he rasped.
"Now is the time.  This storm will give me the power to awaken the
Shadow-cat and put an end to my enemies forever."
He spread his arms, staring into the bubbling purple liquid of his
cauldron as he intoned a strange, dirgelike chant...
"Oh ancient spirits of the night!
Awaken your brother; give him sight
Give him form to rise and stand
Harken well to my command!"
A lightning bolt struck the tip of the black pyramid, making the ancient
stones quiver as power seeped into them.  The surface of the boiling
purple liquid began to swirl, slowly at first, then faster, spinning
around and around in a miniature malestrom.  Mumm-ra roared in triumph.
Twin bolts of red electricity shot from his outstretched hands and into
the whirlpool of his cauldron.  The water turned blood-red, and a dark
form rose up from the center of the whirlpool...a catlike form, crouched
on all fours, red eyes glowing like twin embers.
"Awaken, Shadow-cat!" roared Mumm-ra.  "Harken to your master!"
The waters of the cauldron gradually calmed and grew still, returning to
their normal color.  The Shadow-cat lept out of the cauldron and landed
in front of Mumm-ra, tail lashing.  It was not a being of fur and flesh,
but of shadow...as it moved, its form changed shape with the shifting
patterns of light.  The only thing that remained solid was its eyes;
they glowed steadily within the grey of its face, red eyes as evil and
terrible as the eyes of its master.  "I have great plans for you, my
beauty," Mumm-ra hissed.  "Listen now...go to Cat's Lair.  Seek out
Lion-o, the lord of the Thundercats.  You know what to do next.
Now...go!"  Mumm-ra thrust one arm out, pointing to the doorway.
Silent, swift, the Shadow-cat turned and bounded off, vanishing into the
stormy night.

Meanwhile, in Cat's Lair, Cheetara awakened from a troubled sleep.  She
sat up in bed, gasping for breath, sweat glistening on her forehead.
She knew she had been dreaming a moment ago, but she couldn't remember
even a fragment of what she had dreamt.  Only that it had disturbed her
deeply...
Something was wrong.  She could feel it, at the edge of her mind, like a
great evil lurking just outside her doorway.  Suddenly, and for no
reason that she could later determine, she whispered, "Lion-o is in
trouble."

At that moment, Lion-o was deep in sleep.  The sword, which he kept at
his side at all times, suddenly emitted a low-pitched, whirring
sound...the sound it gave when there was danger nearby.  Immidiately,
Lion-o was awake and reaching for the sword.  Just as his hand closed
around the hilt, there was a flash of lightning.  For an instant, the
room was lit up, bright as day.  He saw something crouched on the
windowsill, a shadow with glowing red eyes...then everything went dark,
and the shadow disappeared.  "Strange," he murmured.  Lifting the sword,
he commanded, "Sword of Omens, give me sight beyond s..."
A powerful blow knocked the sword from his hands.  It flew off into the
darkness, and there was a metallic clang as it struck the opposite
wall.  In an instant, Lion-o was on his feet, trying to confront the
mysterious attacker.  Another flash of lightning illuminated the
creature standing in front of him.  It was feline in shape.  Transparent
and grey, it seemed to be made of shadow.  The ghostly cat spread its
fearsome jaws wide and lunged for Lion-o's throat.  Its paws cannoned
into his chest, knocking him backwards, into the wall.  He struggled,
bracing his hands against its shoulders, trying to hold it back, but it
was like trying to wrestle with smoke.  If only he could reach the
sword...
"Sword of Omens, come to my hand!" he called, and felt the hilt of the
sword come to rest in his open palm.  Gripping the sword, he thrust it
deep into the shoulder of the shadow-beast.  The demon yowled as
something red and glowing poured down from the wound...not blood, but
light.
Lion-o pulled the sword from its shoulder.  Crimson light covered the
blade.
The shadow-cat hissed in fury and lashed out.  Sharp claws raked across
his skin.  Grimacing with pain, Lion-o held the sword over his head.
His voice rang out, clear and strong.
"Thunder...thunder...thunder...thunderc...aaagh!"  An unbearable agony
suddenly seared through him, causing him to drop the sword.  It felt as
if he were being torn open, his flesh ripped apart by sharp fangs.  Then
a cold sensation in his heart, like a dagger of ice.  But when another
flare of lightning illuminated the room, he saw he was not wounded at
all.  The shadow-cat had vanished.  The only sound was the pattering of
the rain outside.  Did I dream that?  Feeling dazed, Lion-o knelt to
retrieve the sword.  Such a strange, vivid dream.
At that moment, Cheetara appeared in the doorway to his room.  "Lion-o?
Are you alright?  I heard..."
"Yes...I'm fine," he interrupted.  "Just had a nightmare, that's all."
Cheetara nodded uncertainly.  "Well, if you say so..."  Turning, she
vanished out the door.

Back in the black pyramid, Mumm-ra stared into his cauldron and
grinned.  Everything was going as planned.

Morning arrived clear and beautiful, as if in compensation for the
previous night's storm.  Panthro was outside, making a few minor repairs
to the thundertank.  He was in a good mood.  He hummed to himself as he
worked, an old Thunderian tune he could never quite remember the name
of.  "Morning, Panthro," Tygra called out as he walked by, heading for
Cat's Lair.
"Morning," he replied without looking up.  "That was some storm we had
last night, eh?"
"Quite a storm.  No extensive damage to Cat's Lair, though.  How are the
thundertank repairs coming along?"
"Just fine."  Panthro stood, patting the burnished metal of the
thundertank affectionately.  "Takes more than a little bad weather to
phase this baby."
Cheetara approached.
"Lovely morning, isn't it, Cheetara?" Panthro boomed out cheerfully.
"Yes," she murmured distractedly.  "Panthro, have you seen Lion-o
today?"
He paused thoughtfully.  "No, I don't believe I have.  But I wouldn't
worry," he said, grinning.  "He's the lord of the Thundercats, after
all.  He can look after himself."
"I know," she sighed.  "But I've been getting the strangest feeling that
something's wrong..."
Panthro immidately grew serious.  He'd learned to trust Cheetara's sixth
sense, and if she was worried, then there was definately something to be
worried about.  "Any idea what it's about?" he asked.
She shook her head.  "Not a clue.  I just know that something isn't
right."
"Well, don't hesitate to tell me if you sense anything else.  Alright?"
She nodded, and headed back to Cat's Lair, wondering if Lion-o had
returned in the time she'd been out searching for him.

In the control room, Lion-o paced restlessly back and forth.  A wild,
feverish energy had been eating away at him ever since last night, when
his strange dream about the shadow-cat had prevented him from falling
back asleep.  For hours he had wandered the forests surroundings Cat's
Lair, crazed thoughts racing around in his mind.  He had begun to feel
suspicious.  Distrustful.
"Lion-o?"
He whirled around at the sound of the voice, the sword leaping from its
scabbard.  Quivering, hands locked around the hilt of the sword, every
muslce as tense as a coiled spring, he faced the owner of the voice.
"Oh...it's you, Cheetara."  Straightening with emberrassment, he
sheathed the sword and tried to maintain a semblence of calm.  "You
startled me."
"Sorry."  She paused.  "Is anything wrong, Lion-o?"
"Wrong?  No.  Nothing's wrong.  Nothing at all."
"Are you sure?  You seem a little, uh, jumpy.  I just wondered..."
"I said nothing's wrong!" he snapped, turning his back to her.  "Leave
me alone!"
Cheetara blinked in surprise.  She was confused, annoyed, and...in her
heart of hearts...a little hurt as well.  "I meant no harm," she said
levally.  "I was only concerned for you."  Casting one last, bewildered
glance at Lion-o, Cheetara turned and walked away.
Lion-o stood, alone in the control room.  He stared into empty space,
lost in a haze of confusion.  Why did he feel so defensive, so...angry?
What was going on with him?

Mumm-ra stared into his cauldron, laughing maniacally.  Clouds of purple
vapor rose up from the bubbling liquid, hissing as they escaped into the
cool, damp air of the pyramid.  Ma-mutt growled and sniffed at the
clouds of foul vapor, pacing back and forth restlessly at Mumm-ra's
side.  "Excellent," rasped Mumm-ra.  "The Shadow-cat's curse already has
Lord Lion-o in its grip.  It is only a matter of time before he turns
against his fellow Thundercats."
Ma-mutt barked, tugging at his master's cloak with his teeth.
"Patience, my putrid poodle.  We must wait until Lion-o is completely
under the Shadow-cat's power."  Mumm-ra reached down to scratch behind
the dog's ears.  Ma-mutt wagged his tail, tongue lolling from his mouth
in a wolfy grin.  Mumm-ra cackled knowingly.  "And then, my festering
fido, we will strike."

"There's something Lion-o isn't telling us," Cheetara remarked.
"Maybe," Tygra replied, "but I'm sure he has his reasons.  He'll tell us
when the time is right."
"That's what I keep telling myself," sighed Cheetara.  "but he's just
acting so...strangely.  It's just not like him to..."
"Snarf, snarf!  Cheetara, Tygra!  We're getting a message from the Tower
of Omens!"
Tygra turned his head as the screen flickered and an image appeared.
"Lynx-o to Cat's Lair.  Do you read me?  There's trouble."
"We read you loud and clear," Tygra replied, staring up at the screen,
which dominated an entire wall of the control room.  "What seems to be
the problem?"
"Mutant attack, on the Berbil Village."
"Alright.  We'll be there as soon as possible."
"Good," stated Lynx-o.  The monitor flickered and darkened once more.

It wasn't too difficult for the Thundercats to drive back the mutants
and liberate the Berbil village, but one thing troubled them...Lion-o
had not showed up to help.
"Where's Lion-o?  It's not like him to miss out on a fight," Panthro
remarked.
Bengali shrugged.  "Maybe he had more important business to attend to."

Later that day, Panthro was outside Cat's Lair, practicing a few fancy
manuevers with his nun-chucks, when he spotted Lion-o.  The young lord
was leaning against a tree a short distance away, staring into space.
"Lion-o, there you are!" he exclaimed.  "Where've you been?"
Lion-o jerked as if he'd just been bitten and spun around to face
Panthro, sword in hand.
Panthro laughed.  "Relax, Lion-o!  You're as jumpy as a snarf on
uppers!"
He lowered the sword.  "Oh...it's you Panthro."
"Sure it's me.  Who did you expect?  Mumm-ra?"
"Maybe."  Lion-o sheathed the Sword of Omens and crossed his arms over
his chest.
Panthro twirled his nun-chucks casually.  "The mutants tried to raid the
berbil village again today.  Nothing we couldn't handle, of course, but
we coulda used your help.  Where were ya?"
"Away," Lion-o replied flatly, and resumed staring into space.
Panthro frowned.  "What's with you?"
"Nothing.  I just have a lot on my mind, that's all.  Now, if it's no
trouble to you, I'd like to be alone."
"Cheetara was right...I think there's something you're not telling us."
Panthro put his nun-chucks back in their holster and took a step toward
Lion-o.  "What's going on?"
Lion-o glared at him.  "I said leave me alone!"
Unexpectedly, Lion-o launched himself at Panthro sword-first.  Panthro
was taken by surprise, but he lept out of the way, and the sword buried
itself in a tree that had been behind him.  Lion-o growled and tugged at
the sword.  It slid free of the tree's wood.  Sap drooled from the
wounded bark.  Eyes narrowed, Lion-o faced Panthro and began slowly
advancing toward him.  Panthro stared at him, stunned.  "What's gotten
into you?"
"I'm sick of being questioned.  I'm going to put an end to it!"
Again, Lion-o lunged at Panthro.  Again, he lept out of the way.  "Stop
dodging!" Lion-o roared in frustration.  "Stand and fight me!"
Panthro glared at him.  "I won't fight you, Lion-o.  We're Thundercats,
remember?  We're supposed to be on the same team!"
Lion-o glared back, face twisted in rage, hands quivering as he held the
sword out in front of him.  "Ho!" he yelled.  Nothing happened.  The Eye
of Thundera did not open.  The sword did not glow with power and shoot a
blast of deadly lightning from its tip.  Lion-o stared down at the
sword, frustrated.  "Stupid thing!  Must be broken."  He lifted the
sword above his head, bending every inch of his concentration toward
channeling its power.  "Ho!" he shouted.  Nothing.
"The Sword of Omens can never be used to kill wantonly, Lion-o."  There
was a certain quiet sadness to the familiar voice that called him.
"Least of all another Thundercat."
"Jaga?"  He turned to meet the tranquil gaze of his old mentor, who now
stood in spirit-form, surrounded by a blue aura.  "Oh great," muttered
Lion-o.  "I suppose now you'll want to lecture me too.  As if I were no
more than a kitten!"
"Open your eyes, Lion-o.  You are under the influence of a powerful
spell...it is slowly destroying you, making you become something you are
not.  You must fight it, Lion-o.  Fight the evil that has invaded your
heart."
"What are you talking about?" Lion-o demanded.  "I'm not under a spell.
How come everyone is against me?"
Angrily, he turned and stormed off, heading toward the mountains north
of Cat's Lair.  Cheetara approached and stood beside Panthro.  "What was
that all about?" she asked, bewildered, as the two of them watched
Lion-o vanish into the distance.
"I'm not sure myself," Panthro replied in his deep, rumbling voice.
"But I'm definately starting to worry about Lion-o."
"Me too," Cheetara said quietly.  A short pause, then, "I'm going to
follow him."
"Alright.  But be careful, will you?"
"Of course."  They exchanged a grim nod of understanding, then Cheetara
was off for the mountains, racing across the land at her top speed.

Lion-o made his way up the narrow, winding mountain path, carrying the
sword at his side.  The mountain air was icy against his skin, and his
breath streamed out in plumes of white.  Still, the cold could do
nothing to cool the flames of rage burning in his heart.  "They're
wrong," he muttered darkly.  "It's not me who's confused...it's them.
They're all against me."  He paused, kicking a rock.  It went tumbling
down the steep mountainside, bouncing and echoing sharply.  The echoes
grew fainter and fainter, then vanished altogether, and once more the
crystalline silence of the mountain-peaks filled his ears.
Then another sound shattered the silence...the sound of footsteps, of
low, quick breathing, of someone hurrying toward him up the trail.  He
turned to see Cheetara appear from around a bend in the path.  "Lion-o!"
she exclaimed.  "I..."
"What are you doing here?" he asked fiercly.
"I was worried about you."
"Well, don't be."  He turned his back to her and stared out over the
snow-capped peaks.
"Lion-o, please..."  Her voice was soft, gentle.  He felt the warmth of
her body as she leaned toward him.  "Don't turn away from me yet...I
sense your confusion, your anger...your uncertainty."  Tentatively, she
rested a hand on his shoulder.  Her touch, which might have made him
shiver with pleasure at any other time, only ignited his anger further.
"Please, let me help you."
For a moment, Lion-o hesitated...the voice was so gentle, he might have
been fooled into believing she was actually concerned for him.  But he
knew the truth now...he had no friends.  The world was his enemy.
"Leave...me...alone!" he growled, shoving her roughly away...
...but he had forgotten that they were standing on a very narrow trail,
and that she was just inches away from the edge...
Lion-o's eyes widened as he saw her begin to fall backwards.  He reached
out at the last minute, and she made a frantic grasp for his hand, but
missed...and toppled over the edge of the cliff.  "Cheetara, NO!" howled
Lion-o.  He lunged forward desperately...but it was too late.
A single, strangled scream reached his ears...followed by a sickening
THUD.  Lion-o crouched at the edge of the cliff, breathing in short,
quick gasps.  The sword slipped from his limp grasp and clattered to the
ground.
What had he done?  A low moan escaped his throat.  He sunk to the
ground, head bowed, eyes wide, fists planted against his temples as
panic welled up in him.  What had he done?
Get ahold of yourself.  He swallowed the rising panic, forced himself to
remain calm.  Cheetara might be alright.  She must be.  Please, please,
he prayed, let her be alright.
Bracing himself, he leaned forward and peered down the
mountainside...but he couldn't spot Cheetara anywhere among the jagged
rocks.  Heart pounding, he thrust the sword into its scabbard and began
the long, perilous climb to the bottom of the cliff...he dug his claws
into cracks in the sheer rock face, slowly making his way downwards.
Sweat trickled down his forehead, feeling like icewater against his
fever-warm skin.
After what seemed like hours, he reached the bottom.  Mopping sweat from
his face, he looked around...and felt his soul freeze within him as his
eyes came to rest on the broken, bloodied form lying in the snow.
"Cheetara," he whispered.  She lay unmoving, covered with a myriad of
cuts and bruises from her fall...a huge gash ran across her forehead.
Her head must have struck a rock during the fall.
Lion-o dropped to his knees beside Cheetara, checking desperately for
signs of life.  Nothing.  Tears stung his eyes.  "What have I done?" he
moaned.  "Oh Cheetara, I've killed you!"
A low, strained moan caught his ears...Cheetara!  She was
breathing...very faintly, but she was breathing.  "She lives...oh, thank
Jaga, she lives," he whispered shakily.
Lion-o lifted her off the cold ground and, carrying her in his arms,
began to walk, steadily making his way toward Cat's Lair.  Cheetara
moaned again, moving her head slightly.  Blood trickled down her face.
"I'm sorry, Cheetara," he said, though he knew she couldn't hear him.
"I never meant for this to happen."  He only hoped that he could get her
back to Cat's Lair before it was too late.

Cheetara drifted through the murky waters of semi-conciousness, aware
only of the firey pain in her head.  Fragments of memory flashed through
her mind...memories of falling, of sharp rocks, of cold and terror.  A
voice penetrated the fog of her nightmares like a beam of light cutting
through the darkness, calling out her name, guiding her back to
conciousness.  "Cheetara..."
She opened her eyes, but the light was so bright it seared away her
vision, until there was nothing but a white haze.  She blinked, turning
her head away from that glaring light.  "Where am I?" she asked weakly.
"Why...why can't I see anything?"
She tried to sit up, but was pushed gently back down.  "Easy," soothed a
deep voice.  "You're safe in Cat's Lair.  Just lie down and relax."
She obliged, lying still as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the
light.  Gradually, her surroundings became clear to her; she was in her
own room, lying in her own bed, sunlight streaming in through an open
window.  Panthro stood nearby, watching her.  "How are you feeling?" he
asked.
 She lifted a hand, gingerly touching her forehead, and found that the
gash there had been bandaged.  "My head hurts," she replied, "but other
than that, I think I'm alright.  How did I get here?  The last thing I
remember is the mountains..."
"Lion-o brought you here," Panthro explained.  "You took a nasty fall.
I have to admit, for awhile there I wasn't sure you were gonna make it,
but now it looks as though you'll be fine."
"Where...where is Lion-o?"
"Just outside," said Panthro, indicating the door with a nod of his
head.
"Can I speak to him?"
"Sure thing.  I'll go get him."
Panthro vanished out the door.  A few moments later, Lion-o appeared,
hovering uncertainly in the doorway.  She sat up in bed and moaned,
cradling her head in one hand as a wave of dizzyness forced her back
down.  "Lion-o?" she called.
She heard the shuffling of his footsteps as he approached and knelt
beside the bed, so he'd be at eye level with her.  "Cheetara," he said.
"I...I'm sorry.  What happened back at the cliff...it was my fault."
Cheetara sat up again, and this time managed to remain sitting.  She
reached out and rested a hand on his arm.  "It was an accient, Lion-o.
You are not to blame."
He looked away.  "What you say may be true...or it may not.  I only know
that I can never forgive myself for what I've done...not only to you,
but to the other Thundercats as well.  For this, I have no other choice
but to renounce my position as Lord of the Thundercats."
"What!?"  Cheetara's eyes widened in shock.  "You cannot..."
"I must," he interrupted.  "When I used the Sword of Omens against one
of my fellow Thundercats, I betrayed everything it, and the Thundercats,
stand for.  I am no longer worthy of my title.  That is why I must do
this..."  He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in her open
palm.  With both his hands, he closed hers around the hilt of the sword
and looked her in the eye.  "Cheetara...you are the new Lord of the
Thundercats."
She could not speak.  She tried to, but the words caught in her throat.
At last, she managed to stammer, "Lion-o, I...I don't know if I am
worthy of this."
"You are more than worthy," he replied.  "Though I have thought long and
hard over it, I knew from the beginning that it was you who I would
choose.  You are courageous, and sensible, and strong of spirit.  You
have all the qualities of a born leader."
She stared into his eyes, unable to find words to express what she was
feeling.  "Lion-o...YOU are the Lord of the Thundercats," she said at
last.  "How can I take that away from you?  It's a part of you, just as
the Sword of Omens is part of you."
He shook his head.  "Jaga was right.  I am under the influence of some
sort of evil spell.  Right now I have gained control over it, but
there's no telling how long before it overpowers me again.  Until, or
if, I am able to conquer the evil inside me, I am not fit to wield this
sword."
"What will you do?" she asked, quietly.
"I will go to Mumm-ra's pyramid--I'm sure he is at the heart of
this--and force him to undo the spell."
"But Lion-o, how can you go to the pyramid alone, and without the
sword?  You wouldn't stand a chance."
"It's the only way," he declared.  "But until then...you must take my
place.  The Thundercats need a leader.  Do you accept, Cheetara?"
She stared down at the sword in her hands, watching the way the sunlight
shone on the razor-sharp blade and glinted off the Eye of Thundera.  She
was keenly aware of the tremendous responsibilty being placed on her
shoulders.  Yet how could she refuse, when he was depending on her?  "I
accept," she said, hearing her own voice as if from far away.
Lion-o gave a single nod.  He placed his hand on the hilt of the sword,
over hers, and together they raised their voices in the time-honored
battle-cry, "Thundercats...ho!"

Shortly afterward, Lion-o strode through the sunlit forests surrounding
Cat's Lair, relying on his sense of direction and knowledge of the
landscape to guide him toward Mumm-ra's pyramid.  He felt naked without
the sword at his side.  There was no way for him to summon the other
Thundercats, no way to tell if there was danger nearby, and nothing to
defend himself with except his own wits and courage.
Lion-o stopped dead in his tracks.  He was being watched.  The feeling
skittered up his spine like a rain-soaked centipede, making him shiver.
He remained perfectly still, ears straining to catch some slight noise
that would betray the position of the watcher.  Instinctively, he
reached for the sword...but of course, it wasn't there.
He waited another minute, remaining alert, ready to act swiftly in the
case that he might have to defend himself...still nothing.  Lion-o
shrugged and resumed his trek through the woods.  But he couldn't shake
the feeling that something was wrong.

   Can this be? thought Monkian.  The mutant was crouched on a thick
bough, high in the treetops.  Peering down, he watched Lion-o pass by.
It can't be...but it is!  Lion-o has gone on a journey alone, without
the sword or the clawshield!  I must tell Slythe.  With an agility and
grace that belied his clumsy appearance, Monkian was off through the
treetops, swinging from branch to branch as he made his way toward
Castle Plun-darr.

"Are you sssure he didn't have the sword, Monkian?"
"Hoo hoo, I'm certain, Slythe!"
The reptilian narrowed his yellow eyes thoughtfully.  "Hmm...if what you
sssay is true, this will be the perfect opportunity for an ambush,
yesss?"
"Yes indeed, hoo hoo," Monkian grinned and bobbed his head in agreement.

"Prepare the Skycutters and the Nosediver," ordered Slythe.  "We're
going to pay Lord Lion-o a little visit."

The Nosediver skimmed over the treetops, three Skycutters in its wake.
Slythe, piloting the Nosediver, peered through the bubble of
transparent, orange-tinted material at the forest below.  "Not a sssoul
in sight.  Are you certain this was where you ssspotted him, Monkian?"
"Hoo hoo hoo, uh...I think so."
"Well you'd better be right!" snarled Slythe.  "Because if you're not,
I'll..."
"HAAAHK!" squawked Vultureman, pointing to something below them.  "There
he is!  AAAHK!  Dive!"
The four vehicles circled low, closing in around the lone Thundercat.
Lion-o looked up and froze in surprise at the sight of the attacking
mutants.
Jackalman giggled evilly.  "Hee hee!  This is gonna be like taking
candyfruit from a berbil!  Get that thundrainium-cannon ready,
Vultureman!"
"KAAAAH!  With pleasure!"  Vultureman aimed the weapon at Lion-o and
fired a beam of red light at the Thundercat.
Lion-o was prepared.  He lept to one side, dodging the beam.  It hit the
spot where he'd been standing an instant before, burning a large,
circular hole into the ground.  "BLAAAHST IT!" hissed Vultureman.  He
aimed the cannon again.  Slythe, Jackalman and Monkian circled closer
around Lion-o, blocking his retreat.  Vultureman grinned and fired the
cannon again.  It missed--narrowly.
Lion-o gritted his teeth and looked up, breath hissing in and out, chest
heaving with exertion and fury.  "If you wish to fight me, then come
down here instead of hiding in your flying machines!"
The feathered mutant cackled wickedly as he fired again and again,
peppering the ground with miniature craters.  "There's nowhere to run,
ThundercAAHt!  Nowhere to hide!  Surrender now, while you still have the
chAAHnce!"
"Never!" he roared.
"Ha!  I was hoping you'd say that."  Vultureman took aim and fired.
The blast of thundrainium struck Lion-o.  He moaned, staggered drunkenly
forward, and collapsed.
"We got him, we got him!" Jackalman squealed with glee.
Vultureman's beak opened in a grin.  "Wrong, JAAhckalman!  I got him!"

Meanwhile, Cheetara lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling...she was
still recovering from her injuries, and she knew she should rest.  But
she couldn't rest.  Not while Lion-o was out there somewhere, alone,
unarmed, vulnerable.  The Sword of Omens rested at her side, blade
shining in the sunlight.  Slowly, impulsively, she rose, walked over to
the window and stared out at the sky.
Pain lanced through her head...she uttered a cry, slumping forward as
she cradled her head in one hand.  Along with the pain came a flash of
vision; as if in a daydream, she saw Lion-o being attacked...being
overpowered...falling...bleeding...
"No," she whispered, trembling even as the vision faded from her mind.
"I've got to help him...but how?  I don't even know where he is!"  Her
gaze flickered frantically about the room, finally coming to rest on the
sword, which lay amid the tangled covers of her bed, blade catching the
light...
She seized the sword and held it up to her face, looking through the
curled crossbars as she had seen Lion-o do so often.  "Sword of Omens,
give me sight beyond sight!  Show me where Lion-o is!"
A flash of light, then suddenly she saw a forest...she saw mutants,
circling in their Skycutters...she saw Vultureman aiming some sort of
weapon at Lion-o...a blast of red light...
A mutant ambush!
...she saw Lion-o sinking to the ground, too weak to move...
And they're using thundrainium against him!  Without the sword, he can't
fight them off...I've got to help him!
>From what the sword had shown her, she knew he must be somewhere in the
forests surrounding Cat's Lair...she had only minutes to spare, perhaps
not even that, but if she was quick, she could reach him in time.  Sword
in one hand, she dashed out of the room and into the hallway...but she
had to stop, leaning against the wall, as dizzyness washed over her.
Tygra saw her, and approached.  "Cheetara?  Where are you going?  You
shouldn't be up and about...you're still recovering."
"No time," she murmured.  Her voice was breathless, almost frantic.  "No
time...Lion-o's in danger!"
"What?!"
Gripping the sword tightly, Cheetara took a few shaky steps toward him.
She lost her balance as another wave of vertigo engulfed her, and Tygra
had to lunge forward to catch her as she fell.  She lifted her head
weakly, and he saw that the bandage there had soaked through with
blood.  There was a wild, unfocused look in her eyes.  "Please..." she
whispered in a fading voice, "help...him."  Then she collapsed against
him, unconcious.

Lion-o crouched, trying with all his might to stand up, but his muscles
would not obey...his strength had been drained.  He was as weak as a
newborn kitten, helpless.  "Let me finish 'im off, Slythe!"  The voice
belonged to Jackalman.
"HAAAW!  Are you forgetting who shot him down, cur?  I deserve the
pleasure of killing the Lord of the Thundercats!"
"Hoo hoo hoo, stuff a sock in it, beaky!  I'm the one who first noticed
he wasn't carrying that sword...I should be the one to do it!"
"KAAH!  In your dreams, banana-breath!"
"ENOUGH!" growled Slythe.  "Stop this foolish bickering!  I'll kill him
myself!"
"You?" sneered Jackalman.  "Why should you get to finish him off?"
"I'm the leader!"
"So what?"
As the mutants argued, Lion-o gathered every ounce of strength left
within him and, grunting with exertion, began to rise.
"Vultureman, hoo hoo, he's getting up!  Give 'im the juice again!"
Another blast of thundrainium sent Lion-o crashing to the ground.
"Hee hee hee!" giggled Jackalman.  "That'll fix ya!  And just to make
sure you stay down..."  Jackalman swung the heavy, blunt club he
carried, and Lion-o felt something hard thud into the back of his
skull.  A terrible red agony flooded his brain.  He groaned and tried to
move, but his muscles felt heavy, his head was like a throbbing, leaden
weight that kept him pinned to the ground.  Jackalman swung the club
again, and Lion-o felt his mind being swallowed up by unconciousness...
"Whew!" exclaimed Jackalman.  "This guy's got a hard head."
"Yessss."  Through his fading vision, Lion-o saw Slythe leering at him.
The mutant was holding his battleaxe.  Sunlight glinted off the dull
blade as Slythe narrowed his eyes at the semiconcious Lion-o.  "Too bad
the brains beneath are so sssoft."

The Thunderstrike soared over the treetops, like some huge, silver bird,
wings gleaming in the sunlight.  "Blast it!" growled Panthro.  "These
treetops are too thick...I can't see anything below them."
"Fly lower," instructed Tygra.  "If Lion-o's in danger, then we've got
to find him, at all costs."
"He's somewhere nearby," Cheetara said shakily.  "I can feel it.
He's...he's in terrible pain."  She seemed so tired; her face was pale,
and an empty look haunted her eyes.
"I still think you should have stayed at the Lair," insisted Tygra.
She shook her head wearily.  "I couldn't rest, not while Lion-o is in
danger."
Cheetara's weakened condition was due more to her contact with Lion-o's
mind than her own injuries.  Tygra knew of such things; within the tygra
clan, these mind-links were more common than they were with other
species...but then, Cheetara had proven her mental capabilities were far
beyond that of any ordinary person.  Perhaps even greater than his own,
Tygra mused.  If that was true, then she was in terrible danger.
"You've got to block it out, Cheetara," he said, looking her in the eye.

"Block it out?" she replied, in a confused, foggy-sounding voice.  "What
do you mean?"
"Your mind is linked to Lion-o's.  You're experiencing everything that
he experiences.  If Lion-o is killed, it may kill you as well," Tygra
explained bluntly.  "You've got to block the link, Cheetara."
"But...how?"
Before he could reply, she screamed and lurched forward.  "Cheetara!
What's wrong?"
Her eyes were shut tightly; her breathing came in harsh, labored gasps.
Alarmed, he grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around to face
him; her head was bowed, her muscles were tense, her hair damp with
sweat.  She trembled, fighting for breath.  "Cheetara!" he repeated
desperately.
She looked up at him with wild, terrified eyes.  "He's dead!" she
screamed.  "Lion-o is dead!"

"Think we oughtta give 'im a few more whacks, just to make sure?"
Jackalman asked, lifting his club.
"AAH!  That won't be necessary, my canine companion," replied
Vultureman, kicking at the battered, bloodied body of their former
enemy.  "This cat is dead.  And you owe it all to my
thundrainium-cannon!"
"Don't ssstart with us, Vultureman," snarled Slythe.
Monkian grinned.  "Hoo hoo, let's go back to Castle Plun-darr and
celebrate!"
"Good idea!"
Jackalman peered up at the sky.  Blinking against the bright sunlight,
he shielded his eyes with one hand, then yelped with alarm.  "Lookout,
here come those accursed Thundercats!"
The Thunderstrike descended from the sky, coming to land at the edge of
the clearing.  Vultureman aimed his thundrainium-cannon.  "Fear not,
fellow mutants, for I, Vultureman, am prepared!  KAAH!"
Three Thundercats emerged from their flying-machine.  They stood,
weapons at ready, facing their enemies.
"Mutants," Panthro muttered in disgust.
"What have you done with Lion-o?" Tygra demanded.
Slythe grinned wickedly.  "You're too late, Thundercats.  You're
preciousss leader is dead."
Panthro quivered with rage.  "Lying reptilian scum!" he growled.
Tygra cracked his whip and took a menacing step toward the mutants.
Vultureman pointed the thundrainium-cannon at Tygra.  "AAH!  Not another
step, striped one, or you share your young lord's fate!"
"You're lying," Tygra spat scornfully.  "Lion-o would never allow
himself to be defeated by the likes of you!"
"You don't believe us?"  Slythe smiled silkily.  "Then sssee for
yourssselves!"  He stepped to one side, revealing the limp, lifeless
form of Lion-o, stretched out across the ground.  His body looked as
though it had been mangled by the claws of some huge cat.  Blood oozed
from a hundred different places; there were long, ugly gashes all over
him.
"No," Cheetara whispered.  Her hand tightened around the hilt of the
sword.  Her breathing quickened.  "No," she repeated, more intensely.
"Lion-o!"  Throwing her head back, she unleashed a terrible sound,
somewhere between a roar and a scream, that chilled both the mutants and
her fellow Thundercats to the bone.  It was a sound full of sorrow, and
loss, and terrible, burning rage.
Raising the sword over her head, Cheetara faced the startled mutants.
Her eyes glowed a brilliant gold.  She lowered the Sword of Omens,
slowly, until it was pointing directly at Jackalman.  "HO!"  A blast of
energy erupted from the tip of the sword.
Jackalman uttered a yelp of terror.  He turned to run, but he wasn't
quick enough.  The blast of power hit him, knocking him to the ground.
He lay, unmoving.  The other mutants backed slowly away, eyes wide.  "Is
he dead?" Monkian asked fearfully.
"How should I know, idiot?" snapped Slythe.  "Vultureman!  Now!"
Shakily, Vultureman aimed the thundrainium-cannon and fired.  The beam
of red energy hit Cheetara...with no effect.  Vultureman's beak dropped
open.  The cannon slipped from his limp grasp.
Cheetara stood, surrounded by a pulsing yellow light, totally uneffected
by the dose of thundrainium.  Eyes narrowed, she pointed the sword at
Monkian.  "HO!"  Monkian screeched wildly and lept for the nearest tree,
latching on with all four sets of claws.  He shinnied up the trunk,
trying to reach the safety of the branches, but halfway up he was caught
in the sword's burst of power.  He fell, crashing into the underbrush.
Slythe seized Vultureman's arm and began pulling him toward the
Skycutters.  Vultureman allowed himself to be dragged along, still
staring at Cheetara in dazed disbelief.  "Come on, you fool!"  The
reptilian's normally deep voice was shrill with terror.  "We've got to
essscape, while we still c..."
"HO!"
Another burst of power, followed by howls of death, and the heavy reek
of burnt flesh filled the air.
Cheetara stood, staring at the four fallen mutants with grim
satisfaction.  Then her gaze came to rest on Lion-o.  The gold glow
faded from her eyes.  She lowered the sword.
Panthro and Tygra watched, still numb with disbelief, as she walked over
to the body of their young lord and knelt beside him.  Smoothing his
matted, bloodied mane with one hand, Cheetara gazed into his face, tears
welling up in her eyes.  "Forgive me," she said brokenly.  "I...I came
as quickly as I could, but I was too late.  Forgive me, Lion-o."
Closing her eyes against the blood, the bruises, she leaned down and
kissed him.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and a deep voice said quietly, "Blaming
yourself won't do any good, Cheetara."
"How can I not, Panthro?  I should never have let him go on this mission
alone.  I knew that something like this might happen.  I should have
stopped him.  But I didn't.  And now..." her voice quavered and trailed
off.  She fought the tears welling up within her, but it was a lost
cause.  The tears came.  Sobbing like a kitten, she turned away, ashamed
at showing weakness.  Tygra reached out and gently turned her face
toward him. "You need not be ashamed, Cheetara.  We are your friends."
He drew her close, holding her, stroking her hair.  "Let us help," he
whispered.  She allowed herself to be comforted, and leaned her head
against his shoulder, crying softly.
Panthro stared numbly at the lifeless shell that had once housed the
spirit of his friend.  "It should have been me," he muttered.  "If one
of us was gonna die, it should have been me, not Lion-o."  With a deep,
snarling roar, he turned and raked his claws down the trunk of a tree,
digging deep furrows through the wood.  "By Jaga, if Cheetara hadn't
already taken care of those mutants, I'd rip them apart with my bare
hands!"
Wiping away tears, Cheetara looked down at Lion-o.  She realized she was
still carrying the Sword of Omens.  Gently, she placed the sword beneath
his limp hand.  "This belongs to you."
Just then, the Eye of Thundera began to glow.  Startled, Cheetara rose
to her feet and took a step back.  The three of them watched in awe as
the glow spread to engulf first the sword, then Lion-o.  It was a soft,
golden light, shimmering with an unearthly beauty.  Before their eyes,
his wounds began to heal, the deep gashes to close, the skin to knit
back together.  His chest rose as he gulped in air.  His hand closed
around the hilt of the sword.  His eyes opened.  "What..." he looked
around drowsily.  "What am I doing here?  And why is everyone staring at
me like that?"
"Lion-o!  You're alive!" Tygra gasped.
He rose to his feet, dusting himself off busily.  "Sure I'm alive!"
"But how..." Cheetara whispered  Eyes wide, she reached out to touch his
face, as if to make sure he was really there.  "The mutants used
thundrainium against you.  They..." she fell silent, staring at him.
"Lion-o, you're alive," she whispered, as if realizing it for the first
time.  A light of pure joy was dawning in her eyes.  "You're alive!" she
cried happily, throwing her arms around him.
Lion-o blinked in dazed surprise.  "Did I miss something?"
He heard a deep laugh, and turned his head to see Panthro grinning
happily at him.  "Maybe," he said.  "Doesn't matter.  Welcome back,
friend."

Later, the four of them sat in the meeting chamber of Cat's Lair.
Lion-o sighed heavily, resting his head in his hands.  "I feel as if I'm
back where I started...I didn't even make it to Mumm-ra's pyramid, much
less get him to lift the curse.  Now what am I going to do?"
"Well, first of all, we're going to find out exactly what this curse is,
and how it works," said Tygra.  "Then, maybe, we'll have a chance of
removing it."
There was a long silence.  Heavy, raspy breathing echoed throughout the
room, like the breathing of a sick animal.  It took them a moment to
realize it was coming from Lion-o.
"Hey...you okay?" Panthro asked with a worried frown.
He raised his head, slowly.  The other Thundercats recoiled when they
saw the cold, deadly light in his eyes.  "You left me to die," he
growled, in a voice totally unlike Lion-o's.
Cheetara blinked.  "What?"
"You let me die!" he roared.  "Where were you when those mutants
attacked me?  What were you doing while I bled to death in the forest?
Why didn't you help me?"
"We tried!" Cheetara shouted desperately.  "We...we came as quickly as
we could!"
"Well it wasn't quick enough!  I died, and it was your fault!  You will
pay for what you did!  I'll...you..."  A shudder convulsed him and he
and slumped forward, head cradled in his hands.
She watched, cold with fear.  "Lion-o?"
He opened his eyes.  They were wide, desperate.  "Help me!" he pleaded,
his voice cracking under the strain.  "I can't fight this any longer!"
Cheetara took his head between her hands and lifted it, staring into his
eyes.  They had an empty glaze to them now, and his breathing came in
short, ragged gasps.  "You've got to keep fighting, Lion-o!" she
commanded.  "Don't give up!"
"Cheetara..." he moaned.  "What's happening to me?"
"Don't worry," she whispered.  "I will help you."  Closing her eyes, she
reached out with the strange sense that she considered both a gift and a
curse, reached out and felt her mind come in contact with his.
Immidiately, she was engulfed by his emotional turmoil; as if she were
sinking in quicksand, she felt herself being pulled down, into a dark
whirlwind of terror and confusion.  She gasped for air.
Got to block it out.
As Tygra had taught her, she put up a mental wall between herself and
the turbulent emotions.  Calm darkness surrounded her once more.
Steeling herself, she reached out a second time, penetrated the surface
of his mind and delved through the confused tangle of thoughts and
sensations, plunging deeper into his conciousness.
Another mind clawed its way into her awareness, and a terrible voice
roared out, reverberating in her skull.  GET OUT.  HE IS MINE.
Who are you? she demanded of the faceless presence.
GET OUT, the voice repeated, and she felt sharp claws digging into her
flesh...
Gasping, she opened her eyes.  Sweat beaded on her forehead.
"Cheetara!"  Frantically, Tygra seized her by the shoulders and turned
her to face him.  "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she replied quickly, "but Lion-o is in grave danger.  There
is some sort of...presence...in his mind.  And it's trying to take
control of him."
Tygra glanced at Lion-o.  "We've got to do something.  And fast."
"But what?"
"I have an idea.  But it is risky."
Panthro pounded a fist on the tabletop, causing the entire structure to
quiver and creak.  "Well for Jaga's sake, let's hear it!"
Tygra paced back and forth restlessly as he explained.  "This being that
is occupying Lion-o's mind...it is a powerful psychic force.  Lion-o has
neither the skill nor experience to combat it..."
"But you might," Cheetara finished.
He nodded.  "Yes.  If I can somehow transfer that psychic force from
Lion-o to myself..."
"Then you might be able to control it.  But...are you certain you can do
this?" Cheetara asked anxiously.
"No, I'm not," Tygra replied.  "But what choice do I have?"  He stopped
pacing and looked up with grim determination.  "This is something I must
do."
"Yes," she replied quietly.  "I understand."
"Well?" Panthro boomed out impatiently.  "What are we waiting for?"
Tygra sighed as he sat in the chair opposite Lion-o's.  "Nothing."
Placing both hands over Lion-o's head, he closed his eyes.  Cheetara and
Panthro watched anxiously.  Tygra's jaw muscles tightened.  The veins in
his neck stood out, throbbing from the strain.  A drop of sweat rolled
down the side of his face.
Suddenly he yowled and jerked backwards.  His eyes opened, glowing red.
"No," he growled, hands clenching into trembling fists.  "I won't...let
you...control me..."
A low, fevered moan escaped his throat, then he went limp, head thudding
to the tabletop.
"Tygra!"  Cheetara shook him frantically.  No response.
"He's lost conciousness," Panthro said.
Wearily, Lion-o raised his head.  "The pain is gone," he whispered in
awe.  "Thank Jaga."  He lowered his head again, letting his eyes droop
shut as exhaustion overcame him.  "Thank Jaga."

Tygra had been set adrift in a dark, windless void.  Nothingness
surrounded him.  The silence was deafening.  Where am I? he asked of the
emptiness, unaware whether he had spoken the words or simply thought
them.
Cold, cruel laughter echoed throughout the void.  IT WAS FOOLISH OF YOU
TO TRY TO FIGHT ME.  I AM FAR STRONGER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE.  NOW, YOU
ARE TRAPPED IN THE NARROW BOUNDARY BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, AND YOU ARE
AT MY MERCY.
Who are you?  WHAT are you?
I AM AN ASSASSIN, AND A SERVANT.  I EXIST ONLY TO DESTROY THOSE WHO
INTERFERE WITH THE WILL OF MY DARK MASTER, MUMM-RA.  AND YOU...YOU ARE
JUST ANOTHER VICTIM.
A glowing portal materialized out of the darkness.  Helpless, Tygra felt
himself being pulled towards it.  From beyond that portal was visible a
wierd, purple light that pulsed and throbbed, beckoning...
No!  I've got to fight it!
He struggled, but he was growing weaker.  And that light...it was
beautiful.  He wanted nothing more than to be there, within the warmth
of that violet glow.  Once he reached it, there would be peace...peace
beyond anything he had ever imagined.
I've got to resist!  I cannot allow myself to be swallowed up by this
oblivion...the other Thundercats, they need me.  I must return.  I must
fight this thing, and somehow find a way back...
But the light...it was so beautiful.  And he was so weary...

"We're losing him!"  Cheetara's voice had gone shrill with fear.
Standing over the senseless Tygra, she looked up at Panthro, eyes wide.
"I can sense it...he's slipping further and further away from us.  He'll
die, Panthro, if we don't pull him back soon!"
"What's going on?" asked a drowsy voice.  It was Lion-o, awake and
staring at them from beneath half-closed eyelids.
"No time to explain," said Panthro.  "Cheetara, do you think you can use
your sixth sense to help him?"
"I could try," she replied uncertainly, "but I may be overpowered by the
same force that is trying to destroy him."
Panthro looked at her grimly.  "It is your choice, Cheetara."
She swallowed hard.  "Tygra risked his life to help Lion-o...now I must
do the same for him."
Panthro gave a single nod and rested a hand on her shoulder.  "Good
luck, Cheetara."
She managed a small smile.  "Thanks.  I'll need it."
Kneeling, Cheetara took Tygra's head between her hands and closed her
eyes.  Telepathically she reached out and began to search for something,
anything she could hold onto, even the slightest glimmer of
thought...but she found only blackness.  Had he sunk too deep into
unconciousness for her to reach him?  No...there was a way, even if it
meant trying something she'd never done before.
Gathering every ounce of her mental energy, Cheetara held her breath and
ventured past the normal boundaries of telepathy, into the Void...the
empty space between this world and the next, where only souls and
shadows dwell.

Tygra drifted nearer and nearer to the light.  It called him, beckoned
him.  He felt the fragile ties that held him to Third Earth--and the
world of the living--begin to dissolve.
Tygra!  Listen to me!  You mustn't go any to that light...it is your
death!
Cheetara? he called out, confused.  Where are you?  I hear you, but I
can't see you.
A light appeared out of the blackness behind him, a single, burning
star, a beacon in the night.  Follow.  I will lead you back.
I...I don't know if I can.  I've come too far...
No!  You must try!  If you give in, the nothingness will devour you.
Resist, Tygra!
DON'T LISTEN TO HER!  He felt the Shadow-cat tightening its grip on him,
pulling him toward the portal.  YOU BELONG TO ME NOW.  THERE IS NOTHING
SHE OR ANYONE ELSE CAN DO TO SAVE YOU.
No!  His mental cry of defiance was so intense that it startled the
Shadow-cat; he felt it recoiling in surprise.  A Thundercat does not
give in so easily!  And as long as there is a will, there is a way!
FOOL! the Shadow-cat roared.  It began tightening the bonds again,
trying to draw him further into its power...but Tygra was prepared.  He
lashed out with his own mind-power, and listened to the agonized scream
that ensued.  Free of the magnetic force that had been pulling him
toward the portal, he felt himself drifting away from that throbbing
purple light, felt himself drifting back toward the world of the
living.  The Shadow-cat roared and lunged for him in one last, desperate
attempt.  A combined blast of power from both Tygra and Cheetara sent
the shadow-beast plummeting back into the depths of the Void, its howl
of defeat ringing in their ears.
Lead the way back, Cheetara.

In Mumm-ra's pyramid, the waters of the cauldron bubbled and churned.
Its liquid darkened, and a pair of glowing red eyes appeared through the
blackness.  Mumm-ra! wailed the Shadow-cat.
"Why do you return?" rasped Mumm-ra, staring into the cauldron.  "Have
you destroyed Lord Lion-o, as I commanded?"
I tried Mumm-ra, but I was cast out, and now I am trapped in the Void.
Help me, Master, and I will do whatever you bid!
"You dared to fail Mumm-ra?" the demon-priest howled in fury.  "Mumm-ra
does not reward failure!  You can remain in the Void until the end of
time for all I care!"
Master, I beg of you, help me!  I will not fail again, I swear!  I shall
return to Cat's Lair and put an end to the Lord of the Thundercats for
all time...
"ENOUGH!"  Mumm-ra thrust his arms out, and red lightning burst forth
from his open palms.
Master, NO! yowled the Shadow-cat.  There was a sizzling noise, and
clouds of red smoke belched forth from the cauldron.  When the smoke
cleared, the Shadow-cat was gone.  Slowly, Mumm-ra made his way toward
his sarcophagus, muttering to himself, "Time and again I have been
disappointed by the failure of others.  I know now that Mumm-ra alone
has the power to rid Third Earth of the Thundercats."  He stepped into
his sarcophagus and waited while the lid of the casket slid shut.  "And
so he will.  Someday.  For time means nothing to Mumm-ra."








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