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Pleasant Days: Red Balloons
By Mummraa



  The Sword of Omens hung on the wall of Mumm-ra's pyramid, blade-tip
pointing downward.  Embedded in its hilt, the Eye of Thundera remained
shut.  The Sword's master was dead, and the legendary weapon was
powerless without Lion-o to wield it...but Mumm-ra knew that he could
not leave it at that.  The Sword would find a new master.  He had to
destroy the Sword, somehow, and he had to work quickly.  Those mangy
cats would come looking for it.  "But how, Ma-mutt?" hissed the
devil-priest, pacing slowly back and forth in front of the wall-mounted
blade.  "We have tried everything.  Simply breaking the blade will do no
good; it is the Eye of Thundera--the source of the Thundercats
power--that must be demolished.  There must be a way.  But what?  It
cannot be melted.  It cannot be shattered or crushed.  But there must be
a way.  Nothing is indestructable.  Nothing is without a weakness."
  There was a hiss of steam from the cauldron.  Mumm-ra turned.  The
cauldron frothed and roiled; the mystic waters bubbled, giving off
bursts of green mist that rose in ghostly shapes.  "What is it?"
Mumm-ra spread his arms, parting the clouds of mist, and peered into the
restless waters.  "Be still, cauldron!  Show me what troubles you."
  The water grew calm and mirror-still.  An image appeared on its
surface; an image of the Thundertank roaring across the desert, towing a
thick cloud of dust in its wake.  As the 'tank clawed its way over
another dune, a towering soot-colored structure rose up in the distance;
the Black Pyramid.  "They come," hissed Mumm-ra.  He swept one arm
outward, and an angry cloud of red smoke belched forth from the
cauldrons waters, evaporating the vision of the Thundertank.  "This is
the opportunity I have been waiting for--the chance to eliminate the
remaining five Thundercats in one fell swoop."  Mumm-ra knelt and
ruffled the ears of his expectant-looking pet.  "Go and hide the Sword,
Ma-mutt, while I prepare myself for battle.  The Thundercats shall not
leave this pyramid alive."

 ~~~

  Five Thundercats stood outside the 'tank, gazing up at the immense
black pyramid whose tip pierced the pale dawn sky.  The air was cool and
dry; the sun had not yet had time to turn the desert into a scorching
oven.  "Well, this is it," remarked Tygra.  "Once we're inside that
pyramid, there's no turning back.  We leave victorious, carrying the
Sword of Omens, or not at all."  He turned to face his companions.  "Not
all of us may survive this battle."
  A ghost of a smile flickered across Panthro's face.  "Tygra, when the
chips are down, your optimism is a real comfort."
  Tygra returned the faint smile with one of its kind.  "I'm just being
realistic.  I guess what I'm getting at is...if any of you have anything
important to say, you should say it now."  He waited.  At first, there
was silence.  Then Cheetara opened her mouth, as if she were about to
speak...and closed it.
  Tygra regarded her curiously.  "Cheetara?  Is there something you wish
to tell us?"
  She cleared her throat.  "Just that...I love you, Tygra.  With all my
heart."
  He moved closer.  His hands captured her face, and he gazed deeply
into her eyes...then, leaning down, he kissed her.  Cheetara slipped her
arms around his neck and held him close, deepening the kiss.  For a long
moment they remained like that, locked together in an intimate blend of
tenderness and passion.  When they seperated, breathless and dizzy, she
felt a pang of regret.  How she wished that they would have been allowed
to remain together longer last night...but this mission could not wait.
  Tygra's words returned to her with chilling force--Not all of us may
survive this mission--and a needle of fear lanced through her as she
thought of the secret she might or might not be keeping.
  Tygra regarded her curiously.  "What's wrong?"
  "What do you mean?" she asked innocently.
  "A strange look just came into your eyes, that's all.  Are you sure
there is nothing else you need to tell me?"
  Oh Tygra, she sighed silently, how well you see into my heart.  But I
can't say anything...not until I am sure.  What if I'm wrong?  "There is
nothing wrong, love...it's just the coming battle..."
  "Oh," he said, the confusion melting away from his face.  "I
understand."  He kissed her once more--softly, lightly--then turned
toward the other three Thundercats.  "How will we get into the pyramid?"

  "Shouldn't have any trouble," shrugged Panthro.  "The door's open, as
you can see."
  "Strange," commented Pumyra.
  "Strange indeed," Tygra said as he stared darkly at the yawning
doorway.  Sand swirled in front of the dark rectangle, swept into tiny
tornadoes by the dry desert wind.  "You'd almost think Mumm-ra was
waiting for us."
  "Snyarf snyarf!  So what if he is?" spat Snarf.  "Come on!  Let's go
teach that miserable mummy that the Thundercats are not so easily
defeated!"  With a howling battle-cry, Snarf bounded forward, leaving
shallow paw-tracks in the sand.
  "Wait, Snarf!" called Panthro, stepping in front of the impatient
creature.  Snarf halted, bristling and glaring up at him.  "We can't
just go charging in there in a storm of flashing teeth and temper.
We've got to follow the plan, go slowly and carefully so we don't walk
into any traps Mumm-ra might have set for us...and I'm certain he's set
traps.  That devil's crafty, and a sorceror to boot.  We must be on our
guard."
  Snarf's fur lowered...just a bit.  "Alright."
  Tygra spoke up: "We'll move in a box-shape; Panthro will go in front,
Cheetara and I will flank him to the left and right, and Pumyra and
Snarf will bring up the rear.  We'll be less vulnerable if we stay close
together."
  "Right," agreed Cheetara.  "And everyone have you weapons at ready.
Snarf, you might want to arm yourself with something...there are a few
spare weapons in the 'tank..."
  Snarf's gaze took on a hard, wintery glint.  "I've got my weapons
right here."  He bared his short, rabbity buck-teeth.  In another
situation, this might have been funny...but no one laughed.  Anyone who
might have chosen to laugh at that moment would probably have gotten a
chunk of his face clawed off.
  Panthro looked at each of his fellow Thundercats in turn.  "Are we
ready, then?"  They all nodded.  "Good.  If we're gonna do it, let's do
it."  Flanked by Cheetara and Tygra, followed by Pumyra and Snarf,
Panthro moved toward the waiting mouth of Mumm-ra's front door.

 ~~~

  "There!" Mumm-ra exclaimed in triumph as he completed the final
stitch.  Snapping the thread, he knotted the end, repocketed the needle,
and stepped back to admire his work.  "Look at it, Ma-mutt.  A
masterpiece!"
  Sitting in the corner of the pyramid's inner chamber, slumped in a
large, rough-hewn stone chair, was Lion-o's body; it was covered with
blood and cuts, and one boot was heavily-stained where Ma-mutt had
performed a number of bodily functions.  Mumm-ra had intended to dispose
of the smelly thing after sending the head to the Thundercats, but in
the end, he'd decided it might be amusing to keep it around as
decoration...and now, it appeared as though it would serve a purpous as
well.  And here was where Mumm-ra's mastery of needlework came in
handy...
  For stitched to Lion-o's neck, looking absurdly small between the
massive, beefy shoulders, was Snarfer's head.
  Ma-mutt wheezed with laughter.  Mumm-ra rose to his full height--in
his warrior form, he topped seven feet--and peered down at the body of
his former enemy.  "Not so haughty now, are you Lion-o?  Where is your
bold laughter?  Your idiotic braying of melodramatic threats and
self-righteous rubbish?"
  The snarf-headed Thundercat did not answer; it only sat there in its
stone chair, slumped forward, dripping blood and thick, yellowish
substance.  Ma-mutt lifted his leg and doused Lion-o's right boot, which
had been relatively clean a moment ago.
  Mumm-ra watched approvingly.  "Our work is almost complete now,
Ma-mutt...but one thing remains.  We must animate this useless bag of
beef, give it life...through sorcery, it can be done."
  Ma-mutt whined and tilted his head to one side.
  "Don't worry, my dubious dog...it will not turn against us.  It will
be a mindless puppet, a weapon of destruction to be used against the
other Thundercats."
  Ma-mutt's face broke into a wide grin.  His pink tongue poked out
between his front teeth and his eyes narrowed to fiendish slits.  The
expression was such a perfect reflection of Mumm-ra's own wicked delight
that the dark warrior threw back his head and roared with laughter.
Spreading his arms, he began to chant, and his voice rang out like the
tolling of a funeral bell:  "Oh Ancient Spirits of Evil...grant your
servant the power to bring life to this inanimate body.  Let its heart
begin to beat, and cold black blood to flow through its veins.  Let it
be filled with the terrible strength of the undead.  Let it awaken to do
my bidding, and mine alone.  Ancient Spirits of Evil, heed me now and
grant me this!"
  The eyes of the four stone statues glowed a deep scarlet; the red of a
blacksmith's forge, of blood and sin.
  Of strawberry pie.
  Twin bolts of red lightning shot from Mumm-ra's outstretched hands and
struck the limp corpse of the Thundercat, making it shudder in its
chair, making it twitch and jerk.  Its claws twisted, clutching at thin
air.  Its feet kicked.  Its eyes rolled toward the grinning face of
Mumm-ra, who continued to feed power into the corpse, instilling it with
a hideous parody of life.  Its mouth gaped, and breath hissed in its
throat.  With a low, thick gurgle, the corpse lurched from its chair,
standing on legs as thick as tree-trunks.  Its tiny head rolled to one
side, dull yellow eyes slitted, drool frothing and foaming whitely on
its jaws.  Ma-mutt shrunk away from the grisly creature, ears flattened
against his neck.  A low whimper emerged from the dog's throat.
  Mumm-ra let his hands drop to his sides.  The dead Thundercat stood
before them, chest heaving, eyes staring blankly.  "Do not fear,
Ma-mutt," the warrior reassured his companion.  "See?  It is only a
mindless zombie.  It can do only what we command it.  Watch."  Mumm-ra
glared at the creature before him.  "Stand on one leg and hop up and
down three times."
  The zombie slowly raised its right foot off the ground; standing on
its left foot, it hopped clumsily up and down.  As it hopped, its small,
shaggy head bounced against its chest, but the stitches held; Mumm-ra
had sewn them well.
  "The Thundercats will be here shortly," Mumm-ra said, watching the
drooling corpse carry out its task.  "I sense their presence.  They will
come looking for their precious Sword of Omens.  They will expect a
trap, but they will not be prepared for our automaton."  Mumm-ra raised
his head, gazing into the shadows of the upper pyramid.  "I cannot rest
until every last Thundercat is dead and evil reigns once more on Third
Earth.  These cats have defiled my home long enough; it is time to
reclaim what is mine."

 ~~~

  "This has been too easy.  We should have run into trouble by now."
  "Snyaaarf...p-r-r-r, awfully dark in here.  And wet.  What's this
white stuff I just stepped in?"
  "Quiet, both of you.  Just because Mumm-ra knows we're coming doesn't
mean we have to advertise our presence."  Panthro held out both arms,
halting his companions.  "We're here.  The inner chamber."
  "But it looks empty!"
  "Looks being the operative word.  You can bet Mumm-ra is waiting for
us."
  "You got that right, Tygra.  Alright, remember the plan...he's got the
Sword stashed somewhere in here.  We'll move in and..."
  "Graaaahhhk..."
  Snarf shrank back from the entrance to the inner chamber, ears
standing up tall and alert.  "P-r-r!  I didn't much like the sound of
that."
  "What was it, Tygra?"
  "Dang blast it!  I told you two to pipe down!  We're making ourselves
an easy target for..."
  "Grrraaaaaahhhk!"  Something came charging at them from the shadows,
swinging an enormous battle-axe aloft.  Its body was enormous, but its
head was absurdly tiny, perched atop its massive bull-neck like the head
of a dinosaur.  Its mouth hung open, and the shrill, terrible cry
squawked forth; "Graaaakh!"
  "Oh dear gods!" mewled Snarf, shrinking further away.  "It's Lion-o!"
  But it wasn't...not quite.  Though Panthro found it difficult to
believe what he was seeing, the meager light which fell across the face
of the brute revealed that Snarfer's head had been suetured to Lion-o's
body.  The creature before them was like the result of some hideous,
grim science experiment.  Uttering its ear-shattering war-cry (which
was, now that he thought of it, not so very different from Snarfer's
singing voice) the brute swung its battle-axe.  For all its bulk, it was
deadly-swift and agile.  Only razor-sharp reflexes saved Panthro from
being cleaved in two.  He lept to one side, and the axe thudded against
the stone floor of the pyramid.
  All five Thundercats were now backing away from the beast that was
both Lion-o and Snarfer and yet neither of them...the creature raised
its head, snout wrinkling in an animal grimace.  It lifted the
battle-axe with its huge, thickly-muscled lion's arms and charged
straight for Cheetara, howling out its ugly "Grraaaahk!" all the while.
  Cheetara darted to one side and thrust her bo-staff in the monster's
path, tripping it.  It went sprawling, knocking its head against the
floor.  Gurgling and growling, it stumbled to its feet and turned to
face them, fresh blood pouring down its face.  Taking no notice of the
blood, it raised its axe and came thundering toward Tygra.  He twirled
his bola-whip, and the blue coils wrapped themselves around his body; an
instant later, Tygra faded into nothingness.  The monster lurched to a
halt, head swiveling left and right as it searched for its missing
prey...then a pair of invisible arms seized the monster's neck, slamming
its head into the wall.  More blood poured down its face, red as fine
wine, red as roses and strawberries, plump, fresh strawberries full of
succulent juice, strawberries just right for putting in a pie...
  The creature hissed.  It swung one arm outward in a wild arc, and
there was a startled grunt; then a thud, and suddenly Tygra was halfway
across the pyramid with his back against a wall, sliding to the floor
like a broken toy.  He was half-visible; the stones could be seen
clearly through his body.  He faded in and out.  He flickered like
forest-shadows, like sun on mist...then he solidified, and slumped
limply against the wall.  "Tygra!" Cheetara cried out.  Desperate, she
charged the monster, hoping to force her way past so she could get to
Tygra.  She was quick, but the brute's massive arm flicked out like the
wing of a hummingbird, and its fist caught her under the chin.  A
sickening crunch split the air, and she flew backwards, landing in a
tangled heap on the floor.
  Panthro roared and spun his nunchucks.  One of them thwacked the brute
across the chest, tearing off a strip of skin.  The brute simply
grinned--the corners of its mouth twisted upward, and its eyes widened,
showing wide rings of white around the blood-flecked yellow orbs--and
lumbered toward the panther.  Somewhere in the pyramid, he could hear
Mumm-ra laughing.  "Kill them!  Tear out their guts!" the demon-priest
shrieked merrily.
  The brute's arms shot out, seizing Panthro and lifting him easily off
the ground.  Then the massive hands began to squeeze.  All the breath
was forced out of his lungs in one violent whoosh...then there was a
stifling pain in his chest.  He couldn't breathe; his eyes bulged, he
gagged and choked.  His ribs were slowly being crushed; it was only a
matter of seconds before they snapped like overwound bow-strings.  The
suffocating pain spread throughout his chest, throbbing dully in his
throat and behind his eyes.  The nunchucks fell from his grasp and
clattered to the floor.  He struggled, but his strength was bleeding
away.  Lion-o had been nearly as strong as he, and now he Mumm-ra's dark
magic had instilled this thing with a supernatural strength beyond
anything a living creature could hope to match.  Panthro's ribs ached,
his lungs screamed for air, and his vision slowly faded to grey and
began to deepen into black...
  Dimly, he heard Pumyra voice a howl of primal fury and raw power that
was astonishing, coming from that shy, gentle creature; "LET HIM GO!"
  A shrill whistling sound, an explosion of blue, and the monster's head
evaporated into a hundred bloody chunks.  Through his fading vision,
Panthro saw bits of bone, brain and fur go flying in every direction,
splattering against the walls, smacking wetly against his face and into
his mouth, filling it with the bright, electric taste of blood.  The
hands locked around his ribcage loosened their death-grip and Panthro
collapsed, crumpling to the ground like a tent in a windstorm.  He
coughed, clutching at his throat.  His lungs burned, his throat ached,
and his ribs screamed with pain...but he was alive.
  A hand touched his shoulder.  "Are you alright?"
  "Yeah," he managed to wheeze.  "Just gotta...catch my breath...say, is
that thing dead?"  It seemed impossible that it wouldn't be; its head
had exploded.  Literally exploded.  But he had to make sure.
  "I think so," Pumyra replied.  "I used the most powerful pellet I
had..."
  "Pumyra, look out!" shrieked Snarf.
  The puma spun around to see a massive axe-head swinging toward her;
she ducked, and heard the thin whistle of air as the axe swished by
overhead.  Pumyra lept back, digging in her ammunition-pouch for another
pellet.  Panthro stumbled to his feet and raised his head to see the
headless horror standing before them; the thing was so covered in blood
that almost none of its true fur-color was visible.  It staggered
forward and swung its axe again, blindly.  Pumyra hurled another
pellet.  This one struck the headless monster square in the chest and
blasted a huge, gaping hole.  For a moment, the brute's ribcage was
visible, and within it, a wet, throbbing heart...the heart lurched, then
gave one final shudder and grew still.  The brute staggered forward
another step and collapsed.  It lay there, twitching and thrashing in a
spreading pool of its own blood.  Severed veins and tendons poked out of
its neck like worms from a brick of sod.  The wiry black threads that
had once held a snarf's head to that neck were now frayed and twisted.
The creature's limbs gave one final, convulsive jerk...then it was
still.
  The pyramid was silent.  Panthro and Pumyra stood side by side, gazing
down at Lion-o's body with the wide eyes of cubs who have just felled a
fairy-tale giant.  Pumyra reached out unconciously for Panthro's hand
and--just as unconciously--he took it.  Snarf crouched at Panthro's
feet, shivering and miserable.  Tygra slumped against the wall of the
pyramid; Cheetara lay on the floor some distance away, head pillowed on
her long golden hair, now speckled with blood.  Both of them were
absolutely still.  Unconcious?  Or dead?
  Mumm-ra's laughter rang out, wild and indulgant.
  Panthro spun around, trying to face the source of the laughter.  "Show
yourself!" he shouted hoarsely.  No reply--but more laughter, rolling
throughout the pyramid, rising and swelling eerily.  Something appeared
from behind one of the four great statues--something small and red.  It
tumbled lightly across the floor, skipping toward them, bouncing and
rolling smoothly.  Panthro stared at it in disbelief.
  It was a red balloon.
  The balloon skittered and floated toward him, as if carried by a
gentle breeze.  It stopped at his feet, where it sat perfectly still,
round and red as a ripe strawberry.  Then, as he watched, it began to
swell...it grew tight, bloated--grew pregnant--until it was no longer
red, but a pale, transparent pink...
  and then it popped.
  The flat, hollow pop piereced the deathly hush of Mumm-ra's tomb as
the balloon burst, and they all jumped, shrinking away, expecting a
cloud of hornets to come swarming from the shattered body of the ballon,
or poisonous gas to seep out...but there was only silence.  Scraps of
red plastic lay scattered across the floor of the pyramid.
  Mumm-ra stepped from behind one of the four statues and grinned at
them.  "Boo."
  The three Thundercats stood, staring.
  "Disappointed?"  Mumm-ra gave them a pouty look...or rather, the
closest thing to a pouty look that an eight-foot-tall, ever-living
demon-priest can manage.  "I try my best.  Really.  I don't think you
fully appreciate all that I do for you."
  "Murdering scum!" snarled Panthro.  He reached for his nunchucks, only
to find their holster empty.
  Mumm-ra pulled something from beneath his cape.  "Looking for these?"
he asked coyly, dangling Panthro's nunchucks in front of his face.
  A raging bellow rose up from the depths of the panther's chest.  He
lunged.  The demon-priest's arm shot out, and red light burst forth.
Panthro lurched to a halt as lightning wrapped its lively red coils
around his body, shocking him down to the core of his bones.  He roared
in pain.  Red light flickered and danced around him, a myriad of
glimmering ruby particles which collected and formed themselves into a
solid sphere, a forcefield.  Pumyra lept forward, twirling her sling.
  "Oh no you don't!" declared Mumm-ra, and thrust one arm out.  Another
bolt of red lightning burst forth.  Pumyra was jerked backwards and
brought to her knees as serpents of electricity crawled over her
eagerly.  They crackled, hissed, seared into her flesh.  Pumyra screamed
as the currents of electricity raged through her body, shaking her
violently, and the reek of burning fur filled the air.  Mumm-ra looked
on, red eyes narrowed.  "You may have gotten the best of me once, girl,
but you were lucky...it will not happen again!"  The slingshot clattered
to the floor of the pyramid.  Red particles swarmed around Pumyra,
glistening, glowing, and condensed into a huge red sphere.  The two
spheres--Panthro and Pumyra trapped within--floated toward the ceiling
of the pyramid.  They hung there, suspended in midair, bobbing up and
down slightly like red balloons.
  "Two cats in the bag!" Mumm-ra snickered.  "Really too easy.  I was
expecting a bit more of a challenge."
  Snarf lept forward, teeth bared.  "Snyarf snyarf!  You want a
challenge, Mumm-ra?  Come on, I'll fight you!  Snyaarf!"
  Mumm-ra took a step back, hands held to his face in mock terror.  "Oh
no, Snarf!  Please, spare me!  Don't rip out my throat with your
fearsome little gerbil-teeth!"
  Snarf quivered with rage.  "Little gerbil-teeth, huh?  I'll show you
what little gerbil-teeth can do!"  He lowered his head like a stag and
charged.
  "Sic 'em, Ma-mutt!" commanded the demon-priest.
  Ma-mutt lept out from behind Mumm-ra's cloak and raced forward to meet
the charging Snarf.  The two met with a growl and a shrieking hiss;
Ma-mutt sunk his teeth into Snarf's shoulder, and Snarf gouged his claws
into Ma-mutt's flank.  The pair of furry foes rolled across the floor of
the pyramid, locked in mortal combat.  Claws slashed.  Teeth bit.  Flesh
tore, and fur flew.  Snarf was badly-wounded, bleeding in several
places; Ma-mutt had suffered only a few scratches.  Now, as the panting,
injured Snarf felt fangs sink into his throat, he knew that he would not
survive this battle...he knew, and he would not have it any other way.
He would die trying to avenge his fellow Thundercats.  It was
natural--it was right.
  As he stared into the face of his enemy, Snarf--who understood the
language of all creatures--heard the triumphant message encoded in
Ma-mutt's deep, rumbling growls as the dog sunk its fangs deeper into
his furry neck:  Killed your nephew, wretched Thundercat-creature.
Killed him and enjoyed it.  Tore him to pieces.  Ripped out his guts and
slurped them up like spaghetti.  Yummy-yum!
  Sickly anger bubbled up within Snarf, and he was consumed by a
bloodthirsty battle-fever the likes of which he had never felt before.
A yowl rose up from deep in his belly, resonating in his chest and
swelling in his throat like lava rising to the mouth of a valcano to
erupt forth in a bone-chilling burst of sound; "Snyaaaarf!"  He lashed
out, clawing at Ma-mutt's face.  The dog opened its mouth in a startled
yip, releasing Snarf's neck--Snarf wriggled free and pounced on his
nemesis, sinking his short teeth as deep into Ma-mutt's throat as they
would go.  He tasted blood--bright, hot, sweet.  The taste filled him
with a pulsing excitment, a need for more.  Face contorting with the
effort, Snarf pulled his head back and tore a chunk of flesh from
Ma-mutt's neck.  Ma-mutt staggered forward and collapsed, his neck and
shoulder a mess of thick black blood, spittle-coated tongue hanging from
one side of his open mouth.
  "NO!" Mumm-ra wailed.
  A bolt of red lightning struck Snarf, sending him flying.  He sailed
through the air, struck a wall, and slid down, landing on his feet.  His
eyes blazed.  Splotches of blood decorated his creme-colored beard of
fur.  His tiny vegetarian's teeth were bared, and they gleamed a
brilliant white beneath the crimson stains.  "Mess with the Thundercats
and know the wrath of Snarf!" he screeched.
  Mumm-ra fell to his knees beside his fallen companion, his ancient
face a mask of horror and despair.  "Ma-mutt!  My poor pet!"  Scooping
the pitiful sack of fur and bones into his arms, Mumm-ra glared at the
bristling Snarf.  "You will die for this, miserable creature.  I will
return...but Ma-mutt comes first, even before the chance to avenge him.
You have not seen the last of Mumm-ra."  There was a shrill cry of wind,
a flash of light, and Mumm-ra was gone...both he and Ma-mutt had
vanished.  To where, Snarf did not know...nor did he much care.
  With a low whimper, Snarf waddled miserably over to Lion-o's headless,
blood-soaked corpse and huddled against it.  Ignoring the stink of
death, the gore, he nuzzled against his master's shoulder.  His eyes
squeezed shut, and tears seeped out from beneath his closed lids,
carving deep paths through his fur.  "Oh Lion-o," he sniffled.  "It was
never meant to end like this."
  A low, wierd humming sound worked its way into Snarf's ears.  Wearily,
he raised his head and peered up at the ceiling through tear-dimmed
eyes.  The two red balloons hovering near the ceiling were beginning to
fade as Mumm-ra's spell wore off; they flickered, dimmed, and finally
popped.  Panthro and Pumyra tumbled out and fell, turning head over
feet, toward the ground; they managed to right themselves in midair and
landed on their feet like true cats.  Both of them looked dazed but
unhurt.  "Mumm-ra," Panthro said shakily.  "Is he..."
  "Gone," Snarf replied indifferently.  "You'd better check on Tygra and
Cheetara."  Lowering his head, he buried his face against Lion-o's
shoulder and seemed to forget about Panthro and Pumyra; shut them out of
his mind.
  Panthro looked on, bewildered and unsettled by Snarf's behavior.
Snarf no longer seemed to care that Mumm-ra had been defeated, or that
Tygra and Cheetara might very well be dead; all he wanted to do was lie
there, huddled against that foul-smelling, headless thing.  Well, first
things first.  We'll worry about this when the time comes.  "Pumyra, you
go take a look at Cheetara.  I'll check on Tygra."
  The cougar nodded and turned away.  Panthro walked over to the inert
form of Tygra and knelt beside him, checking for signs of life.  Tygra
remained silent and motionless, head slumped against his chest.  Panthro
felt a twinge of fear.  Don't let him be dead, he pleaded silently,
hunting for a pulse.  Please, let him be alright.  He doesn't deserve
this.  He's a good man.  I've known him for years.  We've been friends
ever since we were snot-nosed little kittens.  Don't let him be gone
now...
  As these thoughts travelled through his mind, Panthro began to wonder
who he was talking to.  The truth was, he'd ceased to believe in the
traditional Thunderian gods of peace and order around the time he'd seen
his father's head cleaved in two by a mutant war-axe.  If there was no
one living up there, guiding and shaping the lives of mortals, then why
did he suddenly feel it necessary to...
  Tygra groaned, moving his head a bit.  "Thank the gods," breathed
Panthro, barely thinking about the words he was speaking.  "Tygra, you
alright?  Say something, man."
  Tygra opened his eyes and rubbed the back of his head.  "What
happened?"
  "Mumm-ra split...but he'll be back, you can bet on that.  We've just
gotta swipe the Sword and get out of here before he shows up."
  "And it will undoubtably be difficult t--" he stopped, eyes widening.
"Cheetara!  Is Cheetara alright?"
  Pumyra approached, helping Cheetara to walk.  "Yes, I'm alright,"
Cheetara reassured him.
  "And Snarf?"
  "He is...safe.  What of you, Tygra?  Can you stand?"
  "Yes.  Help me up, please."  Panthro helped him to his feet.  He
wavered there for a moment, leaning against the wall for support, and
then straightened.  "Come on.  We've got to get the Sword.  It's
somewhere in the pyramid, that's certain, but...where?"
  Cheetara stepped forward.  "Perhaps I can use my sixth sense to see
where it is hidden."
  "Are you sure you're up to it?  Those trances take a lot out of you,
and you don't look to be in peak condition, if you don't mind me saying
so."
  "I must do this, Panthro, and I must do it now.  We have little time
to waste."
  He sighed reluctantly.  "Very well.  Good luck, Cheetara."
  "Thank you.  I may need it."  Facing away from them, she closed her
eyes and spread her arms like an eagle taking to flight...
  Just then, Pumyra called out a sharp--"Wait!"--startling Cheetara out
of her near-trancelike state.
  Tygra turned to her curiously.  "What is it, Pumyra?"
  "Well, I..." she began haltingly.  Three pairs of eyes were focused on
her.  Color crept into her cheeks.  She cleared her throat, glancing
from one Thundercat to the next.  "Supposing one of us tried to call the
Sword, the way Lion-o used to do?"
  Panthro glanced over at Tygra.  "I don't know.  Do you think it would
work?"
  Tygra shrugged.  "It's worth a try."
  "Call the Sword of Omens, Tygra," Cheetara urged.
  He nodded.  Taking a few steps toward the center of the chamber, he
tilted his head back, reached into the air, and raised his voice in a
deep, resonating shout of, "Sword of Omens, come to my hand!"  They
waited, looking around expectantly as the call faded into echoes, but
nothing happened.  Tygra turned around and shrugged.  "Anyone else care
to give it a try?"
  "Yeah, sure," said Panthro, "I'll give it a shot.  Though if it didn't
work for you, I doubt it'll...hey, why don't we have Cheetara try it?"
  "Me?" the cheetah asked doubtfully.
  "Sure," said Panthro.  "Why not?"
  "Alright...but don't get your hopes up."
  Panthro only smiled...an odd, knowing little smile.
  Cheetara faced the back wall of the chamber and raised one open palm
into the air.  Her voice rang out, clear and strong, the ring of steel
and truth..."Sword of Omens, come to my hand!"...and they held their
breath as the echo of the last word lingered in the air like a feather
that is reluctant to drift to ground, filling the room with a sense of
waiting, of unfulfilled potential.
  At first there was silence.
  Then came a sound that was not quite a sound...a low humming, just
outside the bounds of hearing.  The humming increased in pitch until it
became a true noise, a quavering, warbling note that penetrated the
dense stone, the thin whine of a harp-string that has been twanged and
still vibrates, sending out its soft song...and gradually it deepened,
becoming a growl and then a roar that grew louder and louder, vibrating
in the hollows of their bones, the centers of their heads and the stones
beneath their feet, and still it grew louder...it was thunder, it was a
raging river, it was a voice...the voice of justice and truth, of pride,
of triumph...
  "It's coming!" Pumyra gasped, and as soon as she spoke, it came--
  Something began to happen to the stones of the wall Cheetara faced.
They creaked, they groaned, they started to crumble and buckle outward,
pushing themselves out of the wall, as if trying to escape.  Then they
shattered and exploded outward as beams of pure white light shot through
the opening in the wall, flooding the inner chamber with terrifying,
wonderful radiance.  The Sword of Omens soared through the opening,
blade sparkling in the light.  Eye of Thundera was wide open and glowed
a vivid red as the hilt of the Sword came to rest in Cheetara's waiting
palm.  Her hand closed around it instinctively, and her eyes gazed upon
the blade with wide, dreamlike amazement.  The Sword sang out a single
note--a clear, bright cry that seemed to pierce the soul of every
Thundercat with a lance of truest white brilliance, and even Snarf
raised his blood-spattered head, a look of wonder fixed in his face as
the Sword's message sounded thunderously in his mind and heart and soul:

 "Be glad, and take comfort!  The Sword rests in the hand of its
master...
 the new Lord of the Thundercats has been chosen!"


 

                              Next Story...





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