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Pleasant Days: Dawn's First Light
By Mummraa



  "What do you think, Ma-mutt?  Rather handsome, isn't it?"  Ma-mutt
uttered a gruff bark of approval as Mumm-ra turned, displaying his new
garment.  "Red really is my color.  Unfortunately, this is not for
me--it's Cheetara's birthday, after all.  And what a gift, eh, Ma-mutt?
A fine snarf-skin vest!"  Taking off the vest, he carefully folded it
into a square.  "Of course, I will need it delivered.  Will you do that
for me, my malicious mutt?"
  Ma-mutt woofed happily.  His tail wagged so hard that it spun in
circles.
  "That's what I like about you, Ma-mutt...always so eager to help."
Waving one hand, Mumm-ra produced a beautifully-crafted wooden box from
thin air, lifted the gem-studded lid, and placed the folded snarf-skin
inside.  "Now, all that's needed is the note..."  Another brief wave of
his bandaged hand, and two objects materialized; a square of parchment,
and an old-fashioned fountain pen.  Cheerfully, Mumm-ra took the card
and pen and sat down at the oblong stone block that served for his
desk.  On a corner of the desk sat the head Ma-mutt had twisted from
Snarfer's mangled body; Mumm-ra had been using it as a paperweight.
Now, a wicked idea sprang to mind; he picked up the snarf-head by its
shaggy tuft of hair and let a bit of blood drip from the freshly-severed
neck, into a small glass bottle.  Next, he dipped the end of the
fountain-pen into the bottle and paused, the crimson pen-tip hovering
over the clean parchment.  "What say you, poochies?  Shall we write it
in blood, or shall we stay away from such cliches and stick to plain old
ink?"  Mumm-ra pondered for a moment, then chuckled and began to write
in fancy, flourishing letters.  "What can I say?  I'm a traditionalist."

  He wrote the note with a smile fixed on his shadowy face; so far, it
had been a very pleasant day!

 ~~~

  "Oh no," whispered Cheetara.  One hand slowly stole up to her face to
cover her mouth.  Tears formed in her eyes.  "Oh gods, no.  Not little
Snarfer."
  She was staring at the note attached to the lid of the gem-studded box
which had mysteriously arrived on their doorstep just a few minutes ago;
the smug, gloating sentences appeared to be written in blood.

Dear Thundercats,
  Guess who!!  That's right, it's your everliving friend bringing you
another nugget of birthday joy.  I am quite pleased to report that your
miserable little Thundercat mascot will not be scaring the neighbors
with his hideous singing-voice any longer.  I think you'll fine him much
more useful—and less annoying—in his current form.  Curious?  Just open
the box!
  Best Wishes,
  Mumm-ra

  "Cheetara, what's wrong?"  Panthro entered the kitchen, brow furrowed
with concern.
  Cheetara could not answer.  She was numbed with horror; she could not
even bring herself to open the box to see if what the note said was
true, though she had little doubt.  So far, Mumm-ra had made good on all
his threats.
  Panthro approached and leaned down to read the birthday-card...as his
eyes moved, scanning the lines, his hands curled into quivering fists.
"No," he hissed.  "No, I won't believe it.  That god-blasted bag of
bones is lying!"  Violently, he seized the lid of the box, ripped it
off--literally tore it off its hinges--and flung it across the room.
  Within the box was a neatly-folded bundle of fur.  They both
recognized its color.
  Cheetara moaned.  "Oh no...when Snarf finds out about this...he won't
be able to bear it.  It will kill him, Panthro.  So soon after what
happened to Lion-o...and what about Pumyra?  To lose three of your
closest friends in the same day..."
  "We won't tell them," Panthro declared in a gruff whisper.  He
sniffled fiercly and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes.  "We'll
wait.  I think we can safely tell Tygra, but for now, maybe we'd better
keep it from the others."
  Cheetara was silent for a moment, staring down at the limp bundle of
skin and fur that had once been a cheerful, energetic young snarf...one
who they'd all liked very much.  At last, she closed her eyes.  "No,"
she whispered.  "As hard as it will be, it would be wrong to keep this
from them.  They have a right to know...and perhaps it will be better
this way.  Perhaps it's better to just tell them and get it over with,
rather than let their hopes build up."
  "You're right," sighed Panthro, "but when I think of Pumyra and
Snarf...how much they've already lost..."
  "I know," whispered Cheetara.  She touched the soft fur inside the
box, thought of the life it had once housed, and warm tears seeped out
beneath her closed eyelids.  Six Thundercats had fallen on that
day...six!  That was more than half their number!  Of the eleven
Thundercats who had once dwelt on Third Earth, only five remained...and
who knew when that five would be cut down to four?  To three?
  No! she told herself angrily.  You must not allow yourself to think
that way!  We must live.  For the sake of our lost friends, and the
continued survival of our species and the Code of Thundera, we cannot
allow ourselves to give in.
  But thinking about Lion-o, and the kittens...about Snarfer and Bengali
and Lynx-o...it was difficult not to feel a twinge of bitter despair.

 ~~~

  "It has been a long day, Ma-mutt, and I am weary.  Ah, but there will
be pleasant dreams tonight."  Mumm-ra knelt to scratch the panting dog
behind the ears.  "Go, Ma-mutt; go to your resting place, and tomorrow,
we will clean the rest of those wretched cats off the face of Third
Earth.  But for now, we must sleep."
  Obidiently, Ma-mutt turned and bounded over to a stone pedestal
standing nearby.  He sprang onto the pedestal and turned to face the
cauldron, then seemed to solidify; the red glow faded from his eyes, and
his skin hardened.  Within seconds, Ma-mutt became a statue of a
bulldog, indistinguishable from the other stone creatures guarding the
inner chamber of the pyramid.
  Turning, Mumm-ra made his way to his sarcophagus and retreated into
the welcoming darkness.  The casket's stone lid groaned noisily as it
slid into place.
  Resting in his sarcophagus, Mumm-ra pondered his next move.  He began
to talk to himself, as he so often did in the dark solitude of his stone
tomb.  "You have been successful so far," mused the demon-priest, "but
you must not allow yourself to become overconfident.  These five
Thundercats will not be as easy to kill as the others.  They will be on
their guard; they will be ready.  You must think the situation through,
analyze their weaknesses.  Then, when the time is right, you will
strike."
  Content and highly-pleased with the day's accomplishments, Mumm-ra
descended into a cold, deathlike sleep.  As he'd predicted, there were
pleasant dreams; Thundercats screaming for mercy as they writhed,
trapped within spheres of red fire, and Mumm-ra laughing as he looked
on.

 ~~~

  As a bloody orb of sun touched the green-golden hills of the western
horizen, the Thundercats buried their deceased friends.  They said their
final farewells to Lynx-o and Bengali; they put Snarfer's remains to
rest in the shade of a small grove of trees.  They buried the
kittens--whose bodies Panthro and Tygra had found earlier while combing
the woods for a sign of Snarfer--in the sunny fields surrounding Cat's
Lair.  They buried Lion-o's head; they buried it in the wooden box with
its velvet-lined interior and its fine filigree of gold leaves.  The
tiny, oblong box looked like a doll's coffin as they lowered it into the
square of displaced earth that marked Lion-o's final resting place.
Snarf bowed his small head and wept.  When the others tried to offer
comfort, he turned away and stared out into the distance, his eyes
hardening, his fur abristle, his muscles tense and hard as rock.  He was
looking southwest, in the direction of Mumm-ra's pyramid.

 ~~~

  "We've got to get the Sword back from Mumm-ra," declared Cheetara.
The five remaining Thundercats were seated around the edge of the
Council Table; looking at the six empty chairs, Cheetara had to swallow
back a painful lump in her throat.  "Even though the demon-priest cannot
wield the Sword himself, he may find some way to destroy it.  If the Eye
of Thundera is destroyed, the Thundercats' power is broken.  We must
recover it as soon as possible."
  "Agreed," said Tygra.  "The mission will be carried out tomorrow at
dawn.  That should leave us enough time to plan our move."  He rose from
his chair and began to pace back and forth, the metal joints of his
artificial legs creaking slightly.  How strange it must be to hear that
sound whenever you walk, thought Cheetara.  How strange, how
uncomfortable, to be burdened with metal body parts.  She would give up
ten years of the life that remained to her if that sacrifice could
somehow get Tygra his real legs back.  Sure, she thought cynically.
Wishing will do a lot of good.  While you're at it, why not wish for
Lynx-o to get his eyes back?
  But Lynx-o was gone now.
  The realization sunk in and shook her down to the marrow of her bones.

  "When we make our move, who will stay behind to guard the Lair?"
Panthro queried.
  Snarf suddenly lurched to his feet, eyes blazing.  "You're not leaving
me behind!  Don't you even think about going off without me!"
  Panthro blinked at him, startled.  "Simmer down, Snarf.  We wouldn't
leave you behind."
  "Why not?" hissed Snarf, with a venom wildly uncharacteristic of him.
"You've done it often enough in the past!  Whenever you ran off to
defend Third Earth from the mutants, it was always, 'Snyaarf!  Stay and
guard the fort!'  Whenever there was fighting to be done, did anyone
ever ask me for help?  No, you'd never deign to ask Snyaarf for help!
Snyaarf couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag, so Snyaarf just
stayed behind to clean the Lair!  That was all I was ever good for!
Well this time it's gonna be different.  I am going to Mumm-ra's pyramid
with or without your consent!  I have a right to go after what that
bastard did to Lion-o and my nephew!  Find someone else to guard the
Lair!"  Paws clenched, breath hissing in and out of both nostrils, Snarf
plopped back into his chair.
  There was a deathly hush.
  Then Tygra ventured to speak; "He's right, you know.  We've excluded
him far too often.  We never really gave him the respect he deserved."
  Snarf looked a little surprised; perhaps he'd expected his outburst to
be met with blind patience and good-natured admonishments...perhaps he'd
expected an argument.  But he hadn't expected the humble, almost
apologetic looks on the faces of the other Thundercats.  "Yes...you're
right on all counts, Snarf," Cheetara agreed.  "You, more than any of
us, have a right to be part of this mission.  I am sorry for the way
we've treated you in the past."
  Panthro nodded.  "Cheetara speaks for me as well."
  Tygra turned to face the fourth Thundercat.  "Pumyra, you've been very
quiet over the course of this meeting.  Do you wish to accompany us on
the mission to retrieve the Sword from Mumm-ra?"
  "Yes," she replied quietly, meekly...then she straightened in her
chair and spoke again, in a strong, clear voice; "Yes."
  "It's settled, then," Panthro declared.  "We go together.  No one gets
left behind."  He extended one hand and placed it palm-down in the
center of the table.  Cheetara placed her hand atop Panthro's, and Tygra
covered her hand with his.  Balancing himself on his tail, Snarf placed
his paw atop the tower of hands.  Pumyra leaned forward, adding her
slender hand to the pile, and together they raised their voices in
battle-cry; "Thundercats--ho!"

 ~~~
  They stayed long into the night, planning, discussing, changing and
revising--Snarf and Pumyra both made their contributions.  When at last
they had decided on a suitable course of action, the hour had grown
late.
  Cheetara glanced out the window.  "Maybe we'd better get some sleep
while we can."
  "Yes.  After all, we must be well-rested when the time comes,"
seconded Tygra.  "If we make one slip-up, Mumm-ra will likely seize the
opportunity to finish off one or all of us."
  "Snyarf!  He may finish me off, but before he does, I'll make sure he
needs a few new bandages to hold him together."
  "Well said, Snarf!" boomed Panthro, giving him a brief clap on the
back.
  "Vengence goes against our Code," Tygra said firmly.  "If a battle
takes place, it will only be for the sake of regaining the Sword.  We
can't allow our emotions to interfere with our cause."
  Panthro felt a flash of anger at Tygra's cold, ridgid attitude.  "For
Jaga's sake, Tygra, don't you care about what happened to Lion-o and all
the others?" he demanded.  He saw the startled hurt in his friend's face
and immidiately regretted his words.  "Sorry."
  Tygra nodded slightly and lowered his eyes.
  Panthro sat in silence, feeling like he should say something else, but
unable to root out the right words.  At last, he cleared his throat.
"Right then.  I'll take first watch; in an hour, Cheetara will take over
for me, then Tygra, then Pumyra, then Snarf.  That way, we'll all get at
least four hours sleep."
  With thoughts of coming battle weighing heavily on their minds and
burning in their hearts, the five Thundercats retired to their
bedchambers.

 ~~~

  Dawn lit the eastern horizen with its soft light, painting the clouds
delicate pastels of pink, yellow and dusky blue.  The stars faded as the
sun gave birth to a new day.  Pumyra stood in the shade of a small
willow, atop a green hill that overlooked the forest.  In her hands, she
clutched a boquet of wildflowers she'd picked from the hillside.
Beneath the willow's sheltering branches was a simple gravestone, carved
with a simple message:

 BENGALI
 COURAGEOUS FIGHTER AND LOYAL FRIEND

  Pumyra wiped a hand across her sore, tearstained eyes and knelt to
place the boquet upon the grave of her dear companion.  "Forgive me,"
she whispered.  "I tried to save you.  I really did.  I hope that
wherever you are now, you are happy and safe."
  Gently, she placed the flowers on the fresh earth of Bengali's final
resting place...
  ...and suddenly, a dirt-covered hand shot up from the ground, seizing
her wrist with powerful, bony claws.  Pumyra uttered a strangled gasp of
horror.
  "Killed me," moaned a dead, maggot-eaten voice.  "Killed me, Myra."
The arm, covered with filthy white fur and scurrying black beetles,
tightened its claws on her wrist.
  The earth crumbled and yawned open, and the brutally powerful arm
pulled her toward the gaping mouth of the grave.  Within, she could see
a white face half-illuminated by the grey dawn light; maggots squirmed
in the folds of its decaying flesh, and a single blue eye glared out at
her with soul-chilling hatred.  A bloodied mouth opened, and the teeth
within gleamed long and sharp as silver needles.  A long black centipede
wriggled from one corner of the corpse's mouth and crawled across its
face, vanishing into the dark socket where its right eye had once been.
"Killed me," it hissed.
  "No!" screamed Pumyra.  "No, I didn't mean to, Bengali!  I wanted to
help, but I didn't know what to do!  I'm so sorry!"
  "Sorry won't bring me back!" it yelled in its harsh, garbled voice.
It's bloody mouth yawned open, and Pumyra felt sharp fangs sink into her
wrist.  There was a crunch; an amplified version of the hideous
crackling noise created when an insect is crushed beneath the heel of a
boot.  Blood, thick and dark, ran across her palm and between her
fingers in syrupy streamlets.  She screamed...
   ...and sat bolt upright in bed, ensnared in a tangle of sweat-damp
bedsheets.  Still she screamed, staring fearfully into space, eyes wide
open but unseeing.  "No!" she wailed.  "No, I didn't mean to!  Please
believe me!  Bengali!  I loved you!  I l--"
  "Easy, Pumyra, easy!  You're having a nightmare!"  Strong hands
gripped her shoulders, shaking her back into wakefulness and reality.
She blinked, eyes wide, respirating in shuddering little gasps.
Panthro's worried face hovered in front of hers.  "It's okay, Pumyra.
Relax.  Take a deep breath."
  She did as instructed, gulping air into her lungs and letting it out
slowly.  The panicky flutter in her chest quieted, but the cold didn't
leave her skin.  "Did...did I scream and wake you up?  I'm sorry."
  "No, you didn't wake me up.  I was on guard duty.  But I'm surprised
the others are still asleep; the way you were screaming, you could have
woke the d--" he stopped, realizing what he'd been about to say.
  They were silent for a moment, staring at each other, the unspoken
words hovering between them.  Suddenly, Pumyra realized that she was
naked except for the bedsheets draped around her, and a flush of warmth
crept into her cheeks.  Normally, Thunderians were not bothered by this
type of thing, but Pumyra had always been abnormally self-concious...and
she'd gotten used to wearing clothes over the months she'd lived on
Third Earth.  "Um..." she began timidly, adjusting the sheets to cover
the exposed area of pale fur just above her belly, "there's a robe in
the closet.  Could you...?"
  "Sure."  Panthro got to his feet, looking a little uncertain himself,
and made his way over to the closet.
  He brought the robe back to Pumyra, keeping his eyes fixed on his
hands, which kept wanting to clench and unclench on the soft white
fabric.  He didn't know why he felt so nervous all of a sudden; it
wasn't like he hadn't seen his share of bare fur and flesh in the past.
He raised his eyes and saw Pumyra watching him with a strange
expression; her brow was furrowed, the corners of her mouth turned down
in a thoughtful little frown, and her dark eyes studied him intently.
"Here," he muttered, and thrust the robe toward her.  He almost laughed
at the sheer awkwardness of the guesture; for Jaga's sake, he was a
grown panther, not some skittish kitten alone with a young female for
the first time.
  Pumyra slowly took the robe; as she did, the covers slipped off her
shoulders.  Panthro averted his eyes with uncharacteristic modesty, but
he'd glimpsed the perfect, tantalizing curves accentuated by soft
moonlight, and his hormones were off like a runaway factory machine.
The thought that streaked crazily through his mind like a bright comet
was: Well, why not?  She was alone, lost, vulnerable; could she refuse
him?  This is crazy, he told himself.  The time is all wrong.
  But it had been such a long time...such a very long time.  And Pumyra
was so achingly beautiful...
  This morning you found your friend's severed head in a birthday-box,
and now you're ready to party?  When did you become so incredibly
shallow?
  Pumyra looked up at him.  Her eyes, depthless pools of darkness,
caught the stray wisp of moonlight from the window and reflected it
back.  A white satin sash secured the robe to her waist, and the folds
of white cloth cascaded over the edge of the bed, pooling around her
feet.  The robe was long, but that didn't help much; it was also
nearly-transparent.  Panthro swallowed, and it made a clicking sound in
his throat.  "Well, I guess I'll be going now," he said lamely.
  As he turned, she cried out, "Wait!"
  Panthro froze.  Uh-oh, he breathed in a mental sigh.  The panther
turned.  "Yes?"
  "Stay, please...or let me come and stand watch with you.  I would
rather not be alone."
  "Are you sure you can't sleep?  Like Tygra said, we need all the rest
we can get."
  She shook her head.  "I don't want to sleep.  That dream may come
back."  Her face contorted, as if she were in pain, and she turned her
head.
  Panthro hesitated.  "That was a really nasty nightmare you had, wasn't
it?"
  "The worst nightmare of my life."
  "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked quietly, at the same time
wondering if he was making a mistake; desire still burned in his loins,
and to get any closer to her would be to enter the danger-zone.  But she
needed comfort very badly right now, and what sort of cold brute would
he be to turn away from her?
  Blast...why did I volunteer for first watch?  Why couldn't it have
been Cheetara or Tygra or...or Snarf!
  Pumyra nodded.  "Come here," she said softly.
  He obliged.  His heart--among other parts of him--was throbbing almost
painfully.  Panthro sat down on the edge of the bed, a reasonably safe
distance from Pumyra, and listened as she told him about her nightmare;
Bengali's grave, and the hideous, growling, decaying creature that had
crawled out of it.  It sounded like a pretty nasty dream, alright.  When
she finished, he asked gently, "You don't really think Bengali blames
you for his death, do you?"
  "I don't know."  She lowered her gaze.  "All I know is that I didn't
do anything to save him.  I just stood there while he and Lynx-o died.
Maybe if I had...if I hadn't been so afraid, I could have helped them
somehow.  I'm supposed to be a healer.  That's what healers do.  They
help the sick."
  She had told them of Bengali and Lynx-o's death when they first found
her in the forest, huddled in a clearing and weeping, and now her words
were an echo of what she had said then; Maybe if I had done something,
it would have happened differently.
  Pumyra sat on the edge of the bed, looking small and alone and on the
verge of tears.  She believes its her fault, thought Panthro.  She
really believes that.  She couldn't feel worse even if she'd baked that
pie herself and accidentally reached for the jar of poison instead of
the sugar.  But it wasn't her fault.  She couldn't have prevented what
happened.  Hell, she even tried to warn them, if her story's true.
"Pumyra, you did all you could.  You aren't to blame for this."  She
nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor.  Panthro lifted her chin
gently and looked her in the eye.  "Listen; the only person to blame for
this is Mumm-ra, and we're going to take care of him at dawn's first
light."
  "But if it's not my fault," she whispered, "what about the dream?"
  "It was just a nightmare.  This guilt has been cooking in the back of
your mind all day.  It makes sense that it would find its way into your
dreams.  Bengali loved you, Pumyra.  You really think he'd want to do
that to you?"
  Pumyra sniffled and moved closer.  She looked at him, pleading
silently with her eyes, and he gathered her into his arms.  He held her
for a long time, and all the while, he worried that she could hear the
pounding of his heart; it seemed impossible that she would not notice
it.  The blasted thing felt as though it were about to bust through his
ribs.  But if Pumyra heard or felt it, she gave no indication; she only
clung to him gratefully and buried her face against his chest.
  Time was passing, and Panthro knew that his turn for watch would end
soon.  Watch, what watch? his mind remarked wryly.  You certainly didn't
so much watching...well, not the things you were supposed to watch,
anyway.  "I'd better go," he said at last.  "Cheetara will be wondering
where I am...she's next up for guard duty."
  For a moment, Pumyra didn't speak or move...then, slowly, regretfully,
she released him and sat back.  "Alright.  You'd better go then.  I'm
sorry I kept you so long."
  "Think nothing of it."  Panthro gave her a brief, warm smile, rose to
his feet, and made his way toward the door.
  "Panthro?" she called out.
  Cautiously, he looked back over his shoulder.  "Yeah?"
  She hesitated.  "Thank you."
  They looked at each other, each caught in the web of the spell,
trapped, pulled hungrily toward each other by mutual, unspoken
yearning.  Finally, Panthro broke the spell by nodding curtly and
turning away.  With his body aflame, his mind spinning, and his heart a
confusing whirlwind of emotion, he completed the journey to the door in
brisk strides and escaped into the shadowy solitude of the hall.

 ~~~

  Long after he had gone, Pumyra lay awake, gazing up at the ceiling.
One hand slowly stole upward to stroke the soft robe, finding comfort in
the feel of it.  All her senses seemed to have been turned up a notch.
She was very aware of her own heartbeat, and the cool robe against her
skin, the way the moonlight filtered in through the window.  There was a
dull ache somewhere deep within her.  Memories of rotting corpses and
maggots flared and faded, interspersed with memories of warm amber eyes,
of strong arms that encircled her protectively, the feel of a heart
beating hard and fast beneath that sheath of solid muscle.  Her blood
ran alternately hot and cold, as if faucets were being turned somewhere
inside her.  Grief and despair intermingled with hunger and raw
yearning.  It was confusing.
  She had come very close...she had wanted it, and he had wanted it
too.  But he'd been uncertain.  Both of them had.  Of course...the
circumstances were strange.  Should she have given in to that deep,
painful need, the temptation of temporary refuge from her pain?  It
would have been easy...so easy.  It would have taken a mere touch, a few
careful words.  But the time was not right.  She wanted to make love to
him, yes...but she didn't want it to be out of pain and desperation.
  Pumyra had never felt so uncertain or so lost--but then, she had never
felt this way about anyone.  She'd loved both Bengali and Lynx-o, but as
family, friends; brother and father.  This feeling Panthro had evoked in
her was so new she didn't know whether she liked it or feared it.  Or
both.
  Pumyra turned over on her side and gazed out the window.  She had
gotten no sleep, and dawn's first light was beginning to creep across
the land.  She could see the hill with the willow standing sentinal
atop...and the grave beneath.  Her dream came back to her with chilling
clarity.  Rising out of bed, she slipped out of the robe and began to
dress.  The others would be gathering in the Council Hall now; they
would eat, a quick, silent breakfast.  There would be no conversation;
each would be lost in his or her own thoughts, solemn and brooding.  And
then they would arm themselves for the coming battle and set out for
Mumm-ra's pyramid.
  Pumyra felt a steely glint of grim purpous in her soul.  "I am ready,"
she whispered.





                              To Be Continued...





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