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The Two Faces of Evil
By Demonprist


**Although I love the ThunderCats, Mumm-Ra is my favorite character from
the show.  So I thought I'd tell a story from his point of view.  This
one picks up after the ThunderCats have just saved New Thundera from
annihilation by its natural forces in "The Book Of Omens."**

                                
                                PART ONE:  DARK


        Lion-O idly picked at his leftover tuna casserole as he only half
listened to the weatherman's report.  He almost didn't hear Cheetara
speaking to him.
        "New Thundera to Lion-O, are you with us?" she chuckled.
        "Huh?  Oh, sorry, what's up?" Lion-O refocused his attention on his
friend.
        "I've only asked you what's wrong sixteen times," Cheetara gently
chided him, but her smile belied the worry behind the joke.  "How come
you aren't celebrating?  The planet's not going to self-destruct."
        Lion-O pushed his food away.  "I really don't feel like a party," he
said quietly.  "Even though I know I've got every reason to."
        "Okay.  Give," Cheetara said as she slid into the seat next to him. 
"I'm guessing this has to do with you-know-who."
        "Never could fool you, could I?" Lion-O leaned back in his chair. 
"Yeah, Mumm-Ra's on my mind."  He exhaled noisily.  "I just wonder where
it's going to end.  The fighting, I mean.  It seems like Mumm-Ra's
exhausted every weird magic trick in the book, yet when we think he's
down for the count, he comes right back with another plan.  He's more
stubborn than Panthro's mom!  And that I do not say lightly," Lion-O
tried to joke.
        Cheetara gazed thoughtfully into space.  "I don't think Mumm-Ra will
ever give up," she said.  "He'll keep plugging away at it until we, or
he, is destroyed."
        "That's my point."  Lion-O waved his hands in the air.  "Something's
got to give.  I'm tired of fighting, of being on guard twenty-four hours
a day, wondering what little trick he's going to pull and how we'll have
to combat it."
        "Somehow I sense that's only the tip of the iceberg," Cheetara said as
she fixed him with a look.
        Lion-O got up and started pacing, debating with himself whether or not
to admit the truth behind his agitation.
        It was true that he was tired of fighting.  Now that Thundera had been
reformed and refugees were starting to rebuild their lives, the
Thundercats were trying to mend their own as well.  Years of toiling to
survive, and defend Third Earthers from enslavement by various evils,
Mumm-Ra included, had taken their toll.  Lion-O wanted to explore the
more peaceful side of himself, the forgotten innocence he'd had to bury
at the tender age of twelve.
        But he was also concerned for Mumm-Ra, and here was where he had
trouble defining his feelings.
        When they'd first met, Lion-O had been awed and more than a little bit
spooked by Mumm-Ra's impressive range of powers.  Over the years, as
they frequently clashed in battle, he'd developed a healthy respect for
the devil priest.  Though Mumm-Ra almost always riled his temper, Lion-O
somehow could not bring himself to hate him.  Mumm-Ra was a warrior at
heart, and what Cheetara had said was undoubtedly true:  he would
continue in his futile obsession until destruction of any kind was the
result.
        But even a warrior eventually tires of the never-ending battles he must
wage, and as time wore on Lion-O was sure that Mumm-Ra was also growing
weary of this no-win situation.  The clincher came yesterday, when he
and Mumm-Ra had been forced to fight each other unarmed as per the
command of the Guardian of the Book of Omens.
        Mumm-Ra could easily have cheated and used his magic to destroy Lion-O
outright.  Instead, he'd played by the rules, at least for a little
while, which was not like him at all.  Even as they'd struggled Lion-O
sensed that Mumm-Ra's heart wasn't in the battle.
        "I think Mumm-Ra wants peace just as much as we do," Lion-O said
slowly.
        "Dost my ears deceive me?  Did I just hear you use the words 'Mumm-Ra'
and 'peace' in the same sentence?" Cheetara asked with surprise.
        "I'm serious."  Lion-O paused to make sure he had her full attention,
then continued.  "Ever think how easy it would have been for Mumm-Ra to
have destroyed the Book of Omens?  That would have been my course of
action if I'd been in his shoes, if you'll pardon the expression.  It
would have wiped out everyone, including the Thundercats, because New
Thundera would have self-destructed.  Then he could have gone back to
Third Earth and taken over."
        Cheetara shook her head.  "Let's not forget that you and Mumm-Ra are
two totally different people with two totally different minds.  His
would put Machiavelli's to shame."
        "I'm not saying we have to become instant best friends.  I think it's
in both of our best interests to implement a truce."  There, it was out
in the open.
        "A truce?  Are you kidding?"  She looked into his eyes and saw how
serious he was.  "Lion-O, forgive me for saying so, but you're nuttier
than Snarf's fruitcake if you think Mumm-Ra will agree to a truce."
        "But it's worth thinking about," Lion-O argued.  "If nothing else, at
least we'll know where we stand on this issue."
        Cheetara shook her head again.  "The other Thundercats aren't exactly
going to be jumping for joy over this," she warned.
        Lion-O was silent.  He knew she spoke the truth.  Periodically his
peers had urged him to make the first strike and finish Mumm-Ra for
good.  Panthro and Ben-Gali especially had been the most vocal about it,
but Lion-O had refused.  "It violates the Code of Thundera," he'd told
them, "and we swore an oath to defend life, not take it."
        Now Lion-O said, "I won't ask them to support me in this."
        Cheetara frowned.  "You're going to go behind everyone's back--"
        He cut her off.  "I never said anything about going behind anyone's
back.  I just said I wasn't going to force them to give me their
support.  I feel that we have a legitimate reason--no, a duty," Lion-O
pounded the Council Table as he spoke, "to try to forge a truce with one
of our oldest enemies and end this senseless fighting.  If you want to
help, fine.  If not, I won't think any less of you for refusing.  But it
is my decision.  I am the Lord of the Thundercats."  Lion-O met her eyes
head-on.  "Tell the rest of the Thundercats I want a full Council
meeting in one hour."  He turned to walk out of the room, but Cheetara
laid a hand on his arm.
        "I think you're crazy, but for what it's worth, Lion-O, I'm with you
all the way," she said softly.
        Lion-O allowed himself to smile.  "Thanks."

                                ********************

        On the other side of New Thundera, thunder rumbled in the distance. 
The dog glanced up at the stormy skies and whimpered to himself.  In his
experience, storms meant trouble, so he decided to beat it back to his
home.
        He scampered along the gulley until he reached the ruins of the city. 
Ahead lay the tunnel that would take him inside the most massive of the
structures, a dark pyramid that rose forty stories into the sky.  The
dog traveled the tunnel quickly, in case a flash flood swept through and
drowned those unlucky enough to be there at that time.  That had nearly
happened to him once, and but for his master's timely appearance, he
would have died.
        He rounded the corner and came to a flight of stairs.  Undaunted, he
took them two at a time with quick doggy bounds.  Upon entering a great
hall, he gave two short barks to announce his arrival to his master,
then padded along the corridor.  There was no sound save for the
clack-clack-clack of his claws against the stone floor.
        "Ma-Mutt, is that you?" a throaty voice echoed in the distance.  "Come
here, my pet."
        At the sound of his name, Ma-Mutt's ears perked up and he raced eagerly
toward the throne chamber.  He bounded past the great entrance and
rounded the bubbling cauldron with such speed that he almost collided
with his master.  His happy barks rang off the walls of the huge room.
        "Well now, what have you been up to, my pretty?"  Mumm-Ra the
Ever-Living stooped down to scratch Ma-Mutt's ears.  "Fetching more
bones?"  Ma-Mutt barked once.
        "Find anything good?"  The bulldog barked again.
        Mumm-Ra patted him on the head.  "Good.  At least one of us had some
fun today."  Ma-Mutt cocked his head at an angle, as if to say, "What do
you mean?"
        Mumm-Ra rose and gazed around his inner chamber, taking in the cruel
faces of the man-beast statues at the four corners of the room.  Those
statues were the physical representatives of the all-powerful Ancient
Spirits of Evil:  Anquat, Anubis, Apophis, and Arkseht.  They were his
masters, and it was with much trepidation that he awaited their
summons.  For once again he had failed to destroy the Thundercats.  That
in itself was bad enough, but he had deliberately disobeyed their direct
orders not to enter the Book of Omens, and the punishment for that
offense promised to be most severe.
        Mumm-Ra recalled yesterday's events.  The Spirits had awakened him from
his deep sleep to alert him to the immenient destruction of New
Thundera.  The planet, they said, was being torn apart by its
catastrophic natural phenomena.  His objective was to factor in a nice
tight spot for the Thundercats, in the hope that they would be destroyed
by their own home.  He had traveled to Cats' Lair in disguise, and
listened intently as the Guardian of the Book of Omens commanded the
Thundercats to perform a ritual presentation of sacred Thunderian
objects.  This had to be done in precise order and timing as the Lord of
the Thundercats, Lion-O, was to have entered the Book and presented the
Key of Thundera to the Guardian at the twenty-fourth hour.  But before
the penultimate moment arrived, Mumm-Ra had stolen both the Key and the
Book, intent on venturing into the forbidden realm himself.
        The Ancient Ones, however, had different ideas.  "DESTROY THE BOOK AND
KEY!" they had commanded.  "LET THE PLANET DESTRUCT!  WE WILL MOVE
ON!!!!"
        Mumm-Ra could not say for sure what had compelled him to disregard this
order.  He only knew he was sick of doing all their dirty work, and in a
rare moment of defiance, had challenged them when he put the Key into
the Book's lock and turned it.  "I'm in control here," he'd yelled, "and
I choose to go into the Book!"  He'd entered it, but Lion-O had tracked
him down and followed him to the Guardian.  The Guardian had then
ordered them to fight each other in unarmed combat for control of the
Key.  Lion-O ended up the winner and rescued the Thundercats from a
time-frozen eternity, while Mumm-Ra had slunk back to the pyramid in
defeat, perhaps for the last time.
        He reflected on that battle now.  Lion-O hadn't really wanted to fight
him, any more than Mumm-Ra had wanted to fight Lion-O.  Which was
strange, considering their long hate-filled history.  Usually all
someone had to do was mention Lion-O's name to him and Mumm-Ra was ready
to pick a fight.
        It's the energy, Mumm-Ra thought to himself.  I just don't have it in
me anymore.
        How many times had he expended copious amounts of energy in his efforts
to get rid of the Thundercats, only to have such meticulously crafted
plans backfire in his face?  Too many, Mumm-Ra decided.  And yet, he
thought, what else is there for me to do?  It's all I have known for the
past three thousand years.
        In the back of his mind the voice started whispering again.  There
might be another way.
        Mumm-Ra hesitated.  This voice had suddenly taken up residence in his
thoughts not too long ago and he'd never been able to shake it since. 
It was this voice that had in part spurred him to challenge the Ancient
Spirits yesterday.  It kept pleading with him to heed its words.
        "Why should I? You're the one that got me into trouble in the first
place."  Mumm-Ra spoke aloud to banish the silent voice, but it only
returned more strongly than before:  Sometimes you have to walk through
the fire instead of around it.
        "But what's on the other side?" Mumm-Ra wondered.
        In answer the cauldron began bubbling furiously.  Mumm-Ra approached it
cautiously, in case it was the Ancient Ones summoning him.  But instead
of the four furies he expected a vision of a snarf appeared.
        Mumm-Ra was puzzled.  What would one of those ridiculous furballs want
with him?  The snarfs on Thundera went out of their way to avoid the
pyramid.
        As he leaned closer to the cauldron, though, he could see that the
snarf was carrying a piece of paper.  The creature glanced nervously
around, dropped his parcel and quickly scurried off in the opposite
direction.
        "Hmmm.  I guess we'd better go see what he left us," Mumm-Ra said to
his faithful Ma-Mutt. 

                                ********************

        "I'd say that went rather well, eh, Lion-O?" Lynx-O chuckled to his
friend after the Council meeting.
        Lion-O groaned.  "Don't remind me.  You, Cheetara, and the
Thunderkittens were the only ones who supported my proposition.  I'm
surprised the other Thundercats didn't start stoning me."
        Lynx-O clapped a companionable hand on Lion-O's shoulder.  "Well, you
did have a point.  We must find a way to put a stop to the feuding. 
Even if Mumm-Ra refuses."
        "And if he does turn us down?" 
        "Then we'll jump off that bridge when we come to it," Lynx-O said
calmly.  "Lion-O, don't doubt yourself, for Jaga's sake.  There's
absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to make peace with one's enemies. 
The other Thundercats are so used to fighting that they've probably
forgotten what peace is.  That's why they were so adamant against a
truce."
        "It's my guess that pride is a factor too," Lion-O said as he frowned. 
"Panthro accused me of trying to form an alliance--you know, the old
'if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em' mentality.  I think everyone's afraid
Mumm-Ra will try to convert me or something."  
        Lynx-O was silent.  He sensed how much Panthro's angry words had
wounded his friend.  Never before had the Thundercats disagreed so
vehemently over a subject.  
        "Give them time to adjust.  They'll come around, I'm sure."  The aged
Thundercat patted his lord's shoulder comfortingly.  "Who knows?  You
could be proven right and have taught us all a very valuable lesson."
        Lion-O stared out the window.  "Sometimes I wish my father was here. 
He'd know what to do with this kind of situation."
        "Don't be too sure."
        "Why not?"
        Lynx-O gracefully seated himself in an ottoman nearby.  "Let me tell
you a story, Lion-O.  When I had the honor of meeting your father some
years ago, Thundera was caught up in the Mutant Wars again.  Chaos
reigned, and Claudis was feeling his years.  He thought it might be
worth a try to send a diplomat to the Mutant leader at that time, King
Bolgar.  Your father's idea was to hold a meeting between the two
leaders so that while they talked about a compromise, each side would be
able to recuperate from the warfare."
        Lion-O nodded.  "I know this one.  Bolgar's idea of peace wasn't in
sync with my father's.  The diplomat came back--in a very small box."
        Lynx-O clasped his hands together.  "Yes, that story did not have a
happy ending.  But my point is, when I met Claudis, he was expressing
the very same doubts you have now.  I remember him saying that the
future of Thundera rested on a wing and a prayer  for p eace."
        "Let's not forget that Thundera and Plun-Darr never saw that peace,"
Lion-O said.
        "Don't lose sight of your vision, Lion-O.  The only battles that are
truly lost are the ones where one side just gives up.  You're no
quitter.  Claudis and Jaga taught you well, and I know you to be a
better person than you think you are.  Even though our friends oppose
us, they know the truth of this too.  Through your actions, the Code of
Thundera lives on."
        "Thanks for the boost, Lynx-O."  Lion-O hugged him.  "I just feel like
the proverbial schmuck sometimes."
        "Everyone has their own misgivings, Lion-O.  Even me."
        "You?  Nah, you've got a gut of cast iron," Lion-O joked.  "You came
face to face with Panthro's mom's meatloaf and lived to tell about it."
        "You'd better believe it, my friend," Lynx-O laughed.
        Lion-O was about to exit the room, but as he tripped the light switch
he said, "Lynx-O?"
        "Yes?"  Darkness did not bother the elder, for he had lived much of his
life without sight and was therefore used to it.
        "All just the same, keep your fingers crossed."

                                ********************

        Within the shelter of the pyramid once more, Mumm-Ra paced rapidly
across the floor.  Behind him, Ma-Mutt whined softly in response to his
master's agitation.
        "Of all the unbelievable, incredible, insane things to have done!"
Mumm-Ra screeched to his pet.  "Lion-O must have really been smoking
something potent this time!  He's completely lost his mind!"  Ma-Mutt
whimpered and covered his ears with his front paws.  "What a week.  Zaxx
shows up wanting a rematch, the Ancient Ones sic me on the Thundercats
for the zillionth time, and I screwed up royally, again, and now the
Thundercats invite me over to their fortress for tea and cookies while
we talk about the finer points of diplomatic relations!"  He gave his
last words a sarcastic bite.  "How do you like that, Ma-Mutt?"  The
bulldog raised his head attentively.
        Mumm-Ra glanced over at the ball of paper he'd wadded up and hurled
against the sarcophagus in a fury.  He slumped to the ground and propped
his jaw on his fist.  "Just once, I wish I could do what I wanted
without anyone--Ancient Spirits and Thundercats included--telling me how
to run my life."  The absurdity of that statement struck him.  "Oh yeah,
I forgot.  I don't have a life to begin with," Mumm-Ra snickered.
        Ma-Mutt studied his master for a few moments.  Why was Mumm-Ra so
upset?  They'd just been handed the answer to all their problems.
        Maybe it was because he was a human.  An immortal human, but a human
nonetheless.  That particular species had a tendency to clutter up their
lives with so many complexities it was no wonder they were unable to
grasp the simplest concepts.
        Mumm-Ra continued to gaze off into space, lost in thought.  He began
mumbling to himself.
        Ma-Mutt waited patiently.  A few minutes and he'd figure it out.  The
dog fixed him with an intense stare.  Light prodding of such kind
usually did the trick.
        Five minutes passed.  No response.
        Ma-Mutt gave up staring and rose to his feet.  He would have to take
matters into his own paws if they were ever going to have a game plan. 
He trotted briskly up the few steps and headed for the sarcophagus. 
Stopping at the crinkled paper, he carefully picked it up in his
powerful jaws and returned to his master.
        Mumm-Ra looked up from his musings to see his pet holding the paper in
front of him.  "You want to play?"  The dog dropped the paper ball and
barked once.  "Okay, go fetch."  Mumm-Ra picked up the wad and was about
to throw it when Ma-Mutt stopped him with another bark.  "No?"  Ma-Mutt
barked.  "Well how do you expect to play fetch if I don't throw it?" 
Two more barks, and Mumm-Ra frowned thoughtfully.  "Don't throw?" he
asked the bulldog as he held up the paper and shook it.  Ma-Mutt barked
and wagged his tail.
        "Don't throw?" Mumm-Ra asked again, and Ma-Mutt barked twice in
answer.  Mumm-Ra drew back his arm, pretending he was going to throw the
wad anyway, and Ma-Mutt again stopped him with a single bark:  No. 
Mumm-Ra lowered his arm and narrowed his eyes.  "Right.  I get it. 
Don't throw."
        Ma-Mutt barked twice, happily wagging his stumpy tail.  The message was
clear:  don't throw.
        Mumm-Ra unfolded the wad of paper left by the snarf and reread Lion-O's
note, which was short and to the point:

        Mumm-Ra,

        If you are interested in settling our affair once and for all, I invite
you to discuss a resolution with me over dinner at Cats' Lair, this
Friday, seven o'clock.

                                                        Regards,

                                                        Lion-O

        "Oh no.  You're crazy if you think I'm going there."  Mumm-Ra fixed his
dog with a hard look.
        Ma-Mutt met his stare with one of his own.  He could be very persistent
when he wanted to.
        Mumm-Ra was equally stubborn.  "No.  Forget it, fur face.  Never in a
million years," he stated firmly.
        Ma-Mutt stared.
        "No."
        Stare.
        "No."
        Stare.
        "No!"
        Fierce stare.
        "I said no and that's the end of it."  Mumm-Ra started towards his
sarcophagus when a loud growl startled him.  He looked back and saw
Ma-Mutt, fur bristling, ready to charge him.  "What is with you! 
There's no way I can go walking into Cats' Lair and have a civil
discussion with them!  They'd tell me to take a flying leap straight to
hell, after they finished laughing in my face."
        Ma-Mutt snorted.  Nonsense, the bulldog seemed to say.  Remember the
note.
        "Truce, my foot," sneered Mumm-Ra.  "It's a trap.  They want me out of
the way permanently."
        Another snort from Ma-Mutt.
        Mumm-Ra sighed and glanced at the paper he still held.  He looked at
the four statues of the Ancient Spirits of Evil.  He looked at his
sarcophagus.  He looked at the cauldron and then at Ma-Mutt.  His eyes
returned to his hand.
        Remember the note.
        "All right.  You win."

                                ********************

        Friday night was clear and beautiful.  Summer was making itself known
to New Thundera's inhabitants, and everyone was enjoying it.  Everyone,
that is, except Lion-O, Lord of the Thundercats.  He'd been on pins and
needles for three days, wondering how tonight would turn out.  Would
Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living, his most powerful enemy, accept or reject a
proposal of peace?
        That question drove Lion-O nuts, caused his attitude to take a turn for
the worse, and affected his fellow Thundercats as a result.  Most of
them avoided him, either out of concession to his irritation or because
they were still peeved at him for daring to suggest that he and Mumm-Ra
make peace instead of war.
        The two exceptions to this were Cheetara and Lynx-O.  They more than
anyone else understood that their Lord needed their support like never
before.  Because of their unwavering faith, Lion-O was able to prevent
himself from falling over the mental abyss of depression.
        Now he sat in the main control room, anxiously watching the clock tick
towards seven.  Per his orders, Snarf was busy in the kitchen preparing
dinner, though not without some grumbling.  The other Thundercats stood
by awaiting the definitive moment.
        The minute hand edged closer to its destination.  Last minute doubts
assailed Lion-O.  Mumm-Ra wasn't going to show.  He'd probably had
himself a good laugh over the message and then pitched it into the
nearest wastebasket.
        Worse yet, what if Mumm-Ra did show?  He'd either tell them all to take
a flying leap straight to hell or zap them into sonic smithereens.
        A click derailed his panicky train of thought as the intercom
activated.  "Lion-O, Mumm-Ra's here."  Tygra's voice contained plenty of
surprise.  Evidently he too had figured the devil priest for a no-show.
        "Coming, Tygra.  Have the others meet me at the front entrance," Lion-O
said.  He raked his hand nervously through his mane of hair and took a
moment to collect himself.  This was the first time he'd ever tried to
form a truce with a major enemy and he didn't have much room for
mistakes.  Get it together, he told himself.  It's only Mumm-Ra, and he
couldn't possibly do anything to you he hasn't done before.
        Yeah, right, taunted the voice of doubt.  You thought that before, and
guess what happened?
        Lion-O steeled himself and left the control room to meet up with the
other Thundercats.  He'd stressed to them the importance of presenting a
united front, for all their sakes and for Mumm-Ra's as well.  If the
peace talk went well, Mumm-Ra might be motivated to reciprocate the good
will.  But if the night disintegrated, then Mumm-Ra would naturally
start looking for chinks in their armor, and at the first sign of any
tear them to shreds.
        He took the elevator down to the landing and as calmly as possible
descended the stairs to the front entrance of Cats' Lair.  All the
Thundercats were present.  Thank Jaga, Lion-O thought.  The thought is
father to the deed, he told himself, so I will think of good tidings for
the rest of the evening.
        When he reached his comrades Lion-O held out his hand palm down. 
"Thundercats, ho!"  His confident tone belied the air of tension
surrounding the group.
        A moment passed, and then Lynx-O and Cheetara extended their arms and
placed their hands palm down on top of his.  "Ho," they echoed.
        Lion-O held his breath.  The moment of truth.
        One by one, the rest of the Thundercats added their hands to the pile. 
The sound of "Ho!" carried across the room, right down to Snarf and
Snarfer.  Being of short stature, they balanced themselves on their
versatile tails and touched the tower of hands.  "Ho!" they cried.
        For the first time in three days, Lion-O smiled.  "If we're going to do
it, let's do it!"  The saying brought forth a flicker of a smile from
Panthro, who often used it himself.
        The great doors rolled open.

                                ********************
                                TO BE CONTINUED . . .






PART ONE CONTINUED . . . Mumm-Ra nearly jumped out of his skin when the huge double doors rolled back from their gates. What had he expected? A blast from the laser cannon, perhaps? He steeled himself as one by one the Thundercats, led by Lion-O, filed outside to greet him. Ma-Mutt perked up at the sight of Snarf and Snarfer. For some inexplicable reason the bulldog held a peculiar fondness for their species, preferring to hang around them instead of with other dogs. "Ma-Mutt! Hiya boy," Snarfer said enthusiastically. He'd always liked dogs, even Ma-Mutt. "C'mere and see me!" Ma-Mutt needed no further urging. He bounded over and began slurping the young snarf, enjoying the attention. "Um, it might not be a good idea to let him lick you like that," Snarf said. Disapproval was evident in his stiff posture and narrowed eyes. "You know you just got over a cold." "Aw, cool it Unc. A dog's mouth is actually cleaner than any of ours. It's something in the saliva. Yep. I learned that at Snarf College." Snarfer giggled as Ma-Mutt sniffed him with an inquisitive nose. "That tickles!" Mumm-Ra watched with the hint of a smile. Perhaps all was not lost. If a dog could make a peace offering, why not an entire army? He lifted his eyes to meet those of Lion-O, who also watched the display of affection with amusement. "Leave it to the dogs, eh?" Lynx-O chuckled. "Why not?" Mumm-Ra said. "Maybe if we did, we wouldn't be playing these stupid games." Lion-O nodded. "I agree. We can talk more about that after dinner--that is, if you're interested, Mumm-Ra . . ." His voice trailed off. "If I wasn't, would I be here?" Mumm-Ra asked. "True." Here we go, into the lions' den, thought Mumm-Ra as he followed Lion-O past the doorway. ******************** Much to his surprise, dinner hadn't been as much of an ordeal as he'd thought it would. Conversation had been minimal, but at least no scathing comments were directed at him and most of the Thundercats, though they stared openly at him with a mixture of fascination and wariness, had made genuine efforts at civility. Lion-O in particular kept trying to draw him out, perhaps to see in which direction this preliminary meeting would take them. Mumm-Ra was certain that the other Thundercats had already been given orders as to what their course of action would be should the night disintegrate, and that the only thing holding them back from laying into him was a word from their Lord. The tension among them was so thick you could have cut it with a chainsaw. Now, as he stood in the great Council room waiting for Lion-O, he wondered what he would do if matters came to a head. "Mumm-Ra?" Lion-O's voice came from behind. "Are you ready?" Mumm-Ra turned around and nodded. To show Lion-O that he didn't intend to be an easy pushover, he said, "So what's this all about? You send me a note and put on a little show for me. Well, I appreciate it, but let's cut to the chase, shall we?" After all, thought Mumm-Ra, the best defense was a good offense. Lion-O's jaw tensed a bit. He understood the tactic: keep to higher ground. However, he was willing to let the slight slide for now, in hope of what could yet come. "Good idea. I summoned you--"--here Mumm-Ra's eyes narrowed at the word 'summoned'--"--because I had hoped that we could arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement." "You mean peace," Mumm-Ra said flatly. "Peace," Lion-O confirmed. He paused and then said, "Fighting each other for as long as we have has taken its toll. We're both tired of a never-ending struggle. Am I right?" "You are." "Neither of us has been able to significantly defeat the other. Am I right?" Lion-O looked at Mumm-Ra, who slowly nodded his agreement. "And can we agree that the only way for this war to be won is if one or both of us is destroyed?" Another nod from Mumm-Ra. "Well, then, if we don't want to fight, the one option we have is to make peace. Right, Mumm-Ra?" "Wrong." Lion-O tensed. So the definitive moment had arrived at last. Jaga, give me guidance, he thought. "Why do you say that, Mumm-Ra?" Mumm-Ra looked him directly in the eye. "Because what you said is true. The only way this will ever be resolved is if one or both of us is utterly destroyed." Lion-O took a step towards the dark priest and for the first time since their initial meeting he found himself wishing that Mumm-Ra had remained in a withered state. In that appearance, he barely stood five feet, and it would have been easier to face him down. But in his formidable warrior form, the devil priest was a good foot taller than Lion-O, who was six-five. As if that wasn't enough, Mumm-Ra possessed incredible powers, not only of strength and cunning, but of dark sorcery as well, making him a force to be reckoned with. This was a fact Lion-O had learned the hard way many times in the past. The Lord of the Thundercats kept his sword hand ready. As of yet the Sword of Omens had not sounded its warning growl, so perhaps that meant danger was not immenient. Or was it? "Then what are you saying, Mumm-Ra?" Lion-O asked. "You don't want peace?" Mumm-Ra did not answer him straight away. Instead, he turned his back on Lion-O and walked over to the window. "You misunderstand," he said quietly. "I'm not saying I don't want peace." He turned around again and met Lion-O's questioning gaze. "I'm saying there can never be a peace between us." "Why?" Lion-O asked. "Isn't it obvious?" Mumm-Ra waved his arm in the air. "I work for the Ancient Spirits of Evil, remember? These beings don't want peace. They want results, and so far the ones I've produced haven't made them very happy." "So quit." Mumm-Ra gaped at him. "Quit?" "Quit. Tell them you're not doing any more evil and then leave. You can change, Mumm-Ra, if you really want to. But you have to make a clean break from your evil ways." To Lion-O's surprise Mumm-Ra started laughing. "What's so funny?" "Lion-O, Lion-O, Lion-O," Mumm-Ra snickered. "You really are naive, aren't you?" He pinched the bridge of his nose and started to pace. "It doesn't work that way. Think of it as the supernatural world's version of the Mafia. The only way out is destruction." "Then why don't you challenge these Ancient Spirits?" "Are you nuts!" Mumm-Ra shrieked. "Don't you get it, Lion-O? That is the reason the Spirits have it in for me!" Lion-O was puzzled. "What do you mean?" Mumm-Ra stopped pacing and glared at him. "New Thundera, for crying out loud. When I stole the Book of Omens and the Key of Thundera, I wasn't just supposed to make sure you never got to the Guardian, Lion-O. I was supposed to destroy both the key and the book. I had orders to let the planet fly apart. Orders which I deliberately disobeyed. Now do you understand what I'm getting at?" "You entered the Book with the Key." Lion-O studied Mumm-Ra. "Why? It would have been so easy to do what the Spirits wanted." Mumm-Ra stared out the window again. "I don't know," he said wearily. "The whole point is moot anyway. Once they decide how to deal with me, my neck won't be worth two cents." "Giving up, Mumm-Ra?" Lion-O asked mildly. The devil priest wasn't the only one who knew how to prick people with words. Mumm-Ra faced him with a hard stare. "I never give up, Lion-O." "Obviously, you're quite stubborn, Mumm-Ra, or else we never would have spent years battling you. So why don't you put that stubbornness to good use and take on the Ancient Spirits of Evil? You're a lot more formidable than you realize, except that those Spirits have got you beaten down right where they want you. They must know the extent of your powers. That's why they seize every opportunity to remind you of their supposed invincibility. They're afraid you'll challenge their reign over you." Lion-O held Mumm-Ra's gaze. "You are a powerful force in your own right, Mumm-Ra. All you have to do is get over that mental hump." "I'm being serious here, Lion-O. You don't know the Spirits like I do. It doesn't matter how they know, but believe me, they have ways. They know everything. They wouldn't make those kind of declarations if they couldn't back them up." Mumm-Ra shook his head again. "Just how did you become involved with these Ancient Spirits, anyway?" Lion-O asked. "I'm curious to know why you'd put up with them for thousands of years." Mumm-Ra was silent for a long time. "It's a long story, and I'm afraid I don't have the time to tell it. The clock's already ticking for me." "But I have the time to hear it." Lion-O persisted. "And I really do want to know." "Why should you care? I'd have thought you Thundercats would be glad to be rid of me," Mumm-Ra said. "Call it professional interest." Lion-O took a seat. "Come on, Mumm-Ra. At least humor me." "Very well." Mumm-Ra did not sit down but began to pace again, albeit more slowly than before. "To answer that, I have to tell you about my beginnings, and why I became the Ever-Living." ******************** TO BE CONTINUED...


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