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The Two Faces of Evil
By Demonprist

                                PART ONE CONTINUED . . .

        "But I wanna hear what they're saying!"
        Wilykit shoved her brother away.  "If you get us caught I swear I'll
give you a fat lip," she hissed.  "Do you know how long we'll get
grounded for if Lion-O finds out we were spying?"
        "It's not spying.  We're just looking out for each other, that's all. 
Anything that affects Lion-O affects all of us, you know?"  Wilykat
edged closer to the crack in the Council room doors.  "Now will you
please give me some room so I can hear what's going on?"
        "Spying," Kit mumbled as she leaned aside to give Kat his turn.


        Inside the Council room, Mumm-Ra addressed Lion-O once more.  "Would
you say that magic is a learned talent, Lion-O?"
        "Well, yes.  If you wanted to improve upon it, you'd have to practice
using it just like with any other talent," Lion-O said.
        "Naturally.  But it is also said that some talents are inborn.  Your
Thundercat friends are perfect examples."
        "I see what you're getting at."  Lion-O nodded.  "Like some people just
seem to have been born with a gift for a certain aptitude."
        "Yes."  Mumm-Ra paused, then continued.  "Before sciences and
technologies corrupted the ancient worlds, people believed strongly in
kismet.  Fate.  Or destiny.  Whatever you choose to call it, that was
how they explained such unusual occurrences."
        "As I recall, the ancients were also big believers in witch hunts,
human sacrifices, cannibalism, and other barbaric practices," Lion-O
interrupted.  "We have modern technology to thank for disproving these
terrible beliefs.  It's done the universe a lot of good."
        "Has it?"  Mumm-Ra's voice was sharp.  "Pushbutton warfare was one of
the hallmarks of First Earth civilization.  You had only to press a
simple switch to annihilate an entire planet!  Thank heavens the elders
realized their mistakes in time to correct them, or else Third Earth as
we know it would never have existed."
        "True," Lion-O admitted, "but only cowards prefer such means. 
Technology itself isn't evil.  Those who are foolish enough to use it
for their own selfish purposes are the evil ones."
        "And we both know there's no shortage of such people," Mumm-Ra said
coolly.  He stopped in his tracks and glanced out the window again.  All
he could see was his own vague reflection, for nightfall had cast its
blanket over the land.  Lion-O wondered if he was thinking of another
complaint to gnaw over.  Better move on, he decided.  "All right.  I
think I can figure it out.  You're one of these 'gifted' people, and
your specialty is magic."  Lion-O drummed his fingers on the table.
        "Correct.  That is what first drew the Ancient Spirits' attention to
me.  They are always searching the universe for potential allies."
        "Fresh blood."
        Mumm-Ra shot Lion-O a dirty look.  "At that time, I was one of the most
powerful forces on Third Earth.  But it wasn't enough for them. 
Sorcerers back then were a dime a dozen, no matter how many complex
spells they knew.  What the Spirits wanted was a champion who could
stand the test of time."
        "An immortal," Lion-O said slowly as the implication set in.  "Because
powerful dynasties rise and fall.  An immortal ruler would be able to
make an empire last for eternity."
        "But in order for them to have recruited you, you'd already have had to
be immortal," Lion-O said.  "How did you do it?"
        "How I crossed that line is not so much important as why," Mumm-Ra said
in a low voice.  "I did it for the wrong reasons, and by the time I
realized my error it was too late to turn back."
        "Then why did you do it?"
        "For you to truly understand you would have had to have known me when I
was mortal.  That is an even longer story, but suffice it to say that my
existence was . . . harsh."  Mumm-Ra's eyes were haunted.  "I was
utterly alone.  No family, no home, nothing.  A warrior's life is
nomadic--because you never know when you'll have to pick up and move on
to another fight."  He looked down at his hands, intertwining his
fingers repeatedly.  When he spoke again his voice had sunk to a
murmur.  "So, one night, at the age of thirty and four summers, I
decided to take my own life."
        Lion-O silently waited.  Though he found Mumm-Ra's revelations
increasingly terrible, he was loath to do or say anything that might
cause the priest to clam up.  Someone had told him that confession was
good for the soul, and in Mumm-Ra's case, it might be the means by which
old evils would be laid to rest.
        Mumm-Ra continued as he held up his arms.  "You cannot see them, but I
still carry the scars on my wrists from the wounds I inflicted with my
dagger."  The gold bracelets encircling his wrists shone brightly under
the light.  "I kept the scars to remind me of my folly."
        "Which was?" Lion-O asked gently.
        "Typical mortal foolishness," Mumm-Ra said.  "As I lay dying I suddenly
grew frightened of what death might hold in store for me.  I panicked,
and begged the gods to spare me from that black oblivion.  That was when
the Ancient Spirits of Evil answered my plea."
        "They made you immortal?"
        "They revived me under the condition that I would serve them for the
rest of my immortal life.  I was in no position to argue, so of course I
gave them that promise.  The rest is, as they say, history."  Mumm-Ra
held up a hand when Lion-O was about to speak.  "No, you needn't tell me
how stupid a thing it was for me to have done.  I knew nothing of what I
had gotten myself into, but by then it was too late.  I had no choice
but to lie in the bed I had made for myself."  Mumm-Ra stopped talking
and began to pace again.  
        Lion-O chose his words carefully.  "I'm sorry that you had to learn the
hard way from your mistakes, Mumm-Ra.  But you still have a chance at a
better life . . . if you want it badly enough."
        "How?  I've told you what kind of a debt I owe the Spirits.  What
choice do I have?  Rebel and face destruction by their wrath, or
continue this futile war against the Thundercats?  Either way, I'm
screwed."  Mumm-Ra shook his head.  "It's a matter of picking the lesser
of two evils, really."
        "It most certainly is not, Mumm-Ra.  Both of those options are equally
evil.  The only real choice you do have is to get out.  Now."
        "And just how do you expect me to take on the Ancient Spirits and win? 
Answer me that, if you please."  Mumm-Ra folded his arms expectantly
across his chest.
        "I don't have that answer.  But the Guardian of the Book of Omens may,"
Lion-O said confidently.   

                                TO BE CONTINUED . . .

PART ONE CONTINUED . . . "Psst! Jailbreak tonight. Pass it on!" The urgency in Jackalman's voice caught Vultureman's attention. He looked up to see the scavenger Mutant quivering with excitement. "What?" "The Lunataks are making a break for it in a couple of hours, when Bragg goes to bed," Jackalman said giddily. "Tell Slithe and Monkian!" He began to hop up and down clapping his hands together. "Ooohh, I can hardly wait to get outta here!" Vultureman scowled. "Cool it, Jackalman. What makes you think the Lunataks will include us in their plans?" Jackalman stopped in mid-hop and gave him a puzzled look. "Well, why wouldn't they? I mean, we're all pretty much in the same boat, doncha think?" Vultureman snickered. "Just because we share the same fate on this wretched circus train doesn't mean the Lunataks are going to give a rat's--" "Shut up, Vultureman. I'd like to hear more about this-s-s escape plan, yes-s-s?" Slithe said from behind him. Vultureman looked over his shoulder as he glared at his reptilian comrade. Trust Slithe to stick his nose in everything. Jackalman, now that he was assured of a rapt audience, eagerly continued spilling his news. "I overheard Tug-Mug and Aluro talking during lunch hour. They're planning to escape sometime tonight after Captain Bragg goes to sleep." Slithe stroked his chin thoughtfully. "They'll need s-s-someone to make sure Bragg doesn't call in that lady cop. Or worse yet, thos-s-se blasted Thundercats." "It's too risky. I don't want to add another five galactoyears for an escape attempt to my sentence," Vultureman groused. "That didn't stop you from going after that whatchamacallit Mumm-Ra had," Jackalman snickered. "And you didn't even bother to ask us whether or not we wanted to come along. I almost wish Mumm-Ra had wiped the floor with your sorry carcass." Vultureman curled his fingers into fists. "Why you miserable cur--" "Both of you, be quiet!" Slithe barked. "Bragg's coming this way!" Minutes later, Captain Bragg passed by their cell. "Well, well, well, Mutants," he said with a smile. "Arguing over who gets the window seat again?" "What's it to you," Jackalman grumbled. "To us? Nothing. To you, about ten more years in the slammer." Crownan the Wonder Crow spoke from his perpetual perch on Bragg's shoulder. "Hey, you guys wanna hear my new joke?" Without waiting for a response, he asked, "How many Mutants does it take to screw in a light bulb?" He paused. "One. Mutants will screw anything!" Crownan cackled loudly as he flew off into the distance. Bragg chuckled. "Behave yourselves, Mutants." He walked away humming to himself. As soon as he was sure that Captain Bragg was out of earshot, Jackalman snarled, "The first thing I'm gonna do when I'm free is whack that jerk!" "Good thinking, Jackalman," Vultureman loaded his voice with sarcasm. "Get us all shipped off to the Grey Penal Planet for Bragg's murder, why don't you?" "I wasn't talking about Bragg. I meant that stupid crow of his." Jackalman punched the bars of the cell and yelped as his knuckles struck metal. "Owwww!" "Forget those fools for now," Slithe said. "We must prepare ourselves for tonight. This-s-s is too good an opportunity to pass up." "But we can't trust the Lunataks! They'll double-cross us," Vultureman protested. "Not if we have a bargaining chip," Slithe said with a slow smile. "If we give Luna a reas-s-son to believe we are invaluable to her, then the Lunataks will have to free us-s-s, yes-s-s-s?" "But we don't have anything to bargain with," Jackalman said, whimpering as he rubbed his injured knuckles. "Oh yes-s-s we do." Slithe's eyes gleamed. "You just gave me an idea." "I did?" Jackalman furrowed his brow. "What'd I say?" "Let's just s-s-say that we're going to get a little help from Mumm-Ra." Jackalman scratched his head. "We are?" "Grab Monkian and meet us by the barracks after dinner," Slithe said. His next words were for Vultureman. "Find us-s-s a radio." "There's one in the train's pilot room," Vultureman said. "But I don't see--" "Do it. I'll explain later." Slithe smiled chillingly. ******************** "He's coming this way!" Wilykit gasped. "Quick, up on the ceiling!" She and Wilykat barely had enough time to leap up and grasp onto the light fixtures before the Council room doors flew open and Lion-O exited. He made a beeline to the right. "Jeez, that was close." Wilykat let out a sigh of relief. "Where's he going?" "Probably to the Sword Chamber," Wilykit said. "I heard him mention something about the Book of Omens." "What are you two doing up there?" Both Thunderkittens turned beet red as they looked down to see Mumm-Ra standing in the doorway. "Um, just fixing the bulb?" Wilykat said after a moment's silence. "Mmm-hmm," Mumm-Ra said knowingly. Wilykit shrugged. "Okay. You caught us. We were eavesdropping," she said calmly. "But we had a good reason to," Wilykat put in quickly. "You're terribly nosy, aren't you?" A smile tugged at the corners of Mumm-Ra's mouth. "You betcha," Wilykit said unashamedly. Kat pulled out a pack of playing cards from his pocket and began shuffling them idly. "Hey Mumm-Ra, you know any good games?" "None that you'd want to play." The kittens eyed him with interest. "Oh yeah? Like what?" Kit asked. Mumm-Ra leaned against the wall. "Ever hear of 'Dead Man's Bluff'?" "It's a spades game. So what's so bad about that?" Kit cocked her head. "Well, where I came from, it really was 'Dead Man's Bluff'." "Yikes!" Wilykit wrinkled her nose. "You mean the losers got killed?" Wilykat's eyes widened with anticipation of the answer. "What'd they do? Toss 'em into a pot of boiling oil or something?" Mumm-Ra shook his head. "I had no idea you Thundercats were interested in such things." Wilykat's reply was drowned out by the sudden sounds of alarms activating. The hall lights flickered off and on rapidly as sirens blared from upstairs. "What's happening!" Wilykit yelled. The noise died abruptly. Mumm-Ra glanced around nervously. Had his time come? Ben-Gali's voice crackled over the intercom. "Lion-O, report to the control room stat!" "Come on! Let's go! You too, Mumm-Ra," Kit said as she grabbed her brother's arm. Mumm-Ra stayed put. "I'll wait here, if you don't mind." If it was the Ancient Ones venting their fury, he needed a few moments to collect himself. "Suit yourself." Wilykit studied him for a moment, then raced off down the hall, Kat at her heels. ******************** The escape had gone beautifully. Off-key singing rang off the walls of the airborne circus train as it sped toward its destination. "Whooeeee, we're free!" Monkian howled. "Pipe down. I need to concentrate on running this thing," Vultureman snapped. He fiddled with the controls as Aluro looked on. "Chill out, beaky. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to fly this heap." Chilla lazily stretched her arms. "Third Earth. Mmmm, I can't wait," she breathed. "I don't care where we go as long as it's not back to that dump of an island!" Tug-Mug pounded his chest. "Aaaagh! One day on Wayoutback Island is guaranteed to drive anybody insane with boredom!" "You said it," Jackalman agreed. Aluro grinned. "Remember the look on Bragg's face when we locked him in the camp's freezer? From now on he'll be doing duty as a popsicle!" "It was even better when Chilla iced Crownan," Jackalman giggled. "That was the best snowball I've ever thrown!" Luna spoke up from the corner. "I hope this plan of yours works, Slithe. Taking on Mumm-Ra is no easy feat." "Relax, Luna." Slithe rubbed his hands together. "When we reach Third Earth Kembri will meet us at Castle Plun-Darr with the emanon. Then--" "What's an emanon?" Monkian interrupted. "I don't know," Slithe said. " But Kembri promised us it would give Mumm-Ra a run for his-s-s money. And the bonus is that we also wipe out the Thundercats on the s-s-side!" He shook his fist triumphantly at Luna. "Revenge, Luna, is-s-s a dish best served cold. Yes-s-s-s?" "Yes," Luna said with an evil smile. ******************** TO BE CONTINUED . . .

PART ONE CONTINUED . . . Grasping the Book of Omens and the Key of Thundera in one hand, Lion-O raced along the corridors of Cats' Lair. He'd just picked them up when the alarms had gone off. Out of habit he'd thought that Mumm-Ra was responsible. After all, old grudges died hard. Then Lion-O realized that the Sword still remained silent. He reigned in his nervousness and stopped just before the main control room doors. With his free hand he pulled the Sword from the claw shield and studied it. The Eye of Thundera was closed. The crossbars did not curl, and there was no fierce growl to warn him of danger. Surely this meant that there was nothing to fear. Or was this a new trick Mumm-Ra had learned? "Come on, Lion-O," he said to himself. "You're getting as paranoid as Panthro. Mumm-Ra deserves the benefit of the doubt." Ben-Gali's voice startled him from his musings. "Lion-O, if you are in the immediate area, report to the control room stat!" Lion-O sheathed the Sword once more and pressed the button on the wall. The control room doors slid open with a slight whoosh of air. "What's going on?" Ben-Gali replaced the intercom microphone on its panel. "Officer Mandora's on the horn. Those blasted Mutants and Lunataks have escaped from Wayoutback Island!" "No way! They were stuck there for good," Wilykat said as he hovered over Panthro's shoulder. "Obviously not," Kit said wryly. "Damn! This is all we need," Panthro said from the main console. "We've got the devil in our home and his buddies in our backyard." "Put Mandora on speaker," Lion-O said. Ben-Gali tripped a switch by the intercom and the room was filled with the voice of First Class Evil Chaser Mandora. "Thundercats! Officer Mandora calling Cats' Lair! Do you read?" "We're here." "The Mutants and the Lunataks have hijacked Captain Bragg's circus train on Wayoutback Island. They overpowered Bragg and locked him in the camp freezer, then took off. Bragg managed to pick the lock and contacted IPCF via satellite relay transmission." Lion-O spoke into the microphone. "What's their last known position?" "About forty light-years away from Third Earth. That appears to be their destination. They should be entering its orbital range in approximately two hours." "Two hours?" Ben-Gali raised an eyebrow. "It must take more than that if they're forty light-years away from the planet." Panthro shook his head. "Not if that train is equipped with rocket boosters. Boosters would enable them to blow right past the atmosphere." "Copy that, Mandora. We'll alert the Thundercats on Third Earth and keep our channels open in case you need assistance," Lion-O said. "Roger, Lion-O. I'm already on my way. Mandora out." The speaker clicked off. Lion-O turned to Panthro and Ben-Gali, but they had already read his mind and were busily contacting Third Earth. "Pumyra's on duty at the Tower and Tygra's at the Lair. Ben-Gali and I will join Lynx-O in the Feliner and meet up with them," Panthro informed his Lord as he manipulated an array of humming buttons. "I think the Mutants won't be too hard to handle, but those Lunataks are another kettle of fish." He paused in his work and swirled around in his chair. "You sure you'll be okay with Mumm-Ra around?" "Everything's fine, Panthro. Mumm-Ra and I are actually having a decent conversation." "Sure," Ben-Gali said under his breath. He coughed loudly when Lion-O glanced over in his direction. "You two stay close if Lion-O needs you," Panthro said to the Thunderkittens. "Cheetara's downstairs with Snarf and Snarfer, too." "You got it." Wilykat and Wilykit jumped to attention. "Go with Jaga's luck," Lion-O said as he left the room. ******************** Mumm-Ra paced nervously around the Council room. The waiting was driving him crazy. Where were the Ancient Ones? It wasn't like them to be so sneaky. They were usually quite eager to reprimand him, and in this case, he expected them to appear before him in a violent burst of energy, prepared to quell any opposition. Enraged at his insolence, they would no doubt reduce him to a smoking pile of ashes with one fiery bolt of-- "Mumm-Ra?" Mumm-Ra spun on his feet while simultaneously whipping out his sword. He nearly collapsed in relief when he saw only Lion-O. "Don't ever do that to me again! I was ready to fry you on the spot!" Lion-O looked at him closely. Mumm-Ra had been reserved all night, speaking only when spoken to. During their talk, he had seemed resigned to doom, even though it was obvious that he feared such reprisal from the Ancient Spirits of Evil. Now, however, he was on edge, his body tensed for battle. His eyes darted nervously around the room, as if he sensed omnipotent forces at work. "You're really freaked out about this whole thing, aren't you?" Lion-O said as he approached Mumm-Ra. "You would be too if you were in my place, and if you knew what the Spirits are capable of," Mumm-Ra snapped. He still gripped the Sword of Plun-Darr tightly in his fists. "What's with the Book of Omens?" "This is what will solve our problem," Lion-O said confidently as he laid the book and its key on the table. "Our problem?" Mumm-Ra queried. "Let's not be forgetting whose neck is on the line here." "All we have to do is enter the Book of Omens and ask the Guardian how to defeat the Ancient Spirits of Evil." Mumm-Ra lowered his sword and eyed the book warily. "What makes you think he'll know? I thought that book was for Thundercat secrets only." "It's true that the Guardian is the keeper of all the ancient Thundercat secrets," Lion-O said. "But he may also have some knowledge of ancient universal evils, including your Spirits. After all, he did tell Snarf how I could beat you back on Third Earth that one time." "Point taken," Mumm-Ra conceded. "Even so, there's no way I can fight the Spirits. I wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell." "You wouldn't be alone," Lion-O reminded him. "The Thundercats will help you." "Over my dead body. Did you see the look on Panthro's face when he saw me tonight? I've seen happier faces on roadkill." Lion-O shook his head. "That's not true, Mumm-Ra. Thundercats are honor-bound to--" "To help anyone in distress, blah, blah, blah, blah. I know your whole routine," Mumm-Ra sneered. "You have a very bad habit of poking your noses under stones that are better left unturned." "Are you finished?" Lion-O asked. "Don't interrupt me," Mumm-Ra hissed. "Just because you have some grandiose vision of harmonious existence doesn't mean you have the right to impose it on anyone else. Damn it, Third Earth was fine before you Thundercats showed up! I kept the peace there for centuries!" "Through force." "So? At least I had enough sense not to mess with the establishment. Let me tell you, Lion-O, it's insane to believe that you can push aside legacies of hatred and expect everyone to follow your views." Mumm-Ra glared at him. "You know what happens to people like you? They get to be saints and martyrs." "Is that so bad in your eyes?" Mumm-Ra fixed him with a look. "All the ones I know are dead," he said icily. "It doesn't have to be that way," Lion-O said. "If you'd just listen to reason, Mumm-Ra--" "Forget it." Mumm-Ra replaced the Sword of Plun-Darr in his cape pocket. "I should never have come here. I'm leaving." With that, he headed for the doors. He pointed at them and they flew open the instant he exited the Council room. Lion-O sighed and glanced first at the spot formerly occupied by Mumm-Ra, then at the open doors. "What the devil do I do now?" he wondered aloud. ******************** TO BE CONTINUED . . .

PART ONE CONTINUED . . . "Get out of here, you mangy cur!" Snarf squealed at Ma-Mutt as the bulldog inquisitively sniffed the pot of applesauce. "Beat it! Shoo! Scat!" Snarf punctuated each of his admonitions with a wave of his ladle. "What's all the commotion, Snarf?" Cheetara entered the kitchen. Snarf glared at Ma-Mutt. "That miserable dog of Mumm-Ra's is eating my applesauce!" "No he's not, Uncle Snarf. He just wants to see what's cooking," Snarfer giggled. "Get it? What's cooking? Get it?" He gave Cheetara an innocent smile. "You're no help," Snarf grumbled to his nephew. He marched over to the table and snatched the pot away from Ma-Mutt. "I told you to scram!" Ma-Mutt whined. "Do you have any idea how long it takes me to make the special seasoning in that sauce?" "Oh, give him a break, Snarf." Cheetara stooped down to scratch Ma-Mutt's ears. "If you let him have a couple of leftovers he'll leave your applesauce alone." Snarf glared at her. "Feed my fettucine to Mumm-Ra's mangy mutt? Absolutely not!" He crossed his arms over his chest. Cheetara was just about to reply when the loud bang of a door startled them all. She ran out into the hall just in time to see Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living turn the corner, his cape flapping noisily behind him. Ma-Mutt darted past her and took off after his master. Snarfer peeked out from behind the door. "What in Thundera was that all about?" Cheetara frowned. "I think negotiations just broke down." "Lion-O! Come on, we'd better find him!" Snarf cried. "Stay calm, guys. I'm fine," Lion-O sighed as he exited the same doorway that Mumm-Ra had just passed through. "What happened?" Cheetara asked. Lion-O raked a hand through his hair in agitation. "We got into an argument." "What else is new," Snarf grumbled. "We'd better follow him." Cheetara started to jog away, but stopped when she saw that Lion-O still stood in place. "Well, aren't you coming?" "I have no idea what move to make next," Lion-O said. "Maybe I was wrong about Mumm-Ra and the peace plan." Cheetara was incensed. "This coming from the person who said, 'We have a duty to form a truce with our most bitter enemy'?" "Forget it, Cheetara. The Thundercats and Mumm-Ra will always be enemies," Snarf said as he shook his head. To Lion-O, he said, "Don't feel bad, Lion-O. You just got a bad case of optimism, that's all." "Well, gentlemen, you may be giving up, but I'm not about to," Cheetara said. Disgust flashed in her amber eyes. "I'm going after Mumm-Ra." With that, she raced down the hall. Lion-O glanced in her direction, shrugged as if to say, What else can I do? and then followed her. Snarf tsked softly to himself. "Guess they'll just have to learn the hard way." ******************** Mumm-Ra paused at a nearby corner and peered down the next hall. It looked like the one he'd passed through earlier. "But then, so had the last three paths," he muttered to Ma-Mutt. "We might as well try it anyway. Sooner or later we'll find the exit." They'd only begun to travel their chosen route when rapid footsteps echoed down the hall. Mumm-Ra turned around to see Cheetara, with Lion-O close behind, running towards him. "How the devil do you find your way around in this place?" he demanded. "Even pyramids don't have labyrinths this complex!" Cheetara and Lion-O halted a few feet from him. "That's the wrong way. You missed the turnoff about seven hallways back," Lion-O said wryly. "Then direct me to it, if you please," Mumm-Ra said haughtily. Ma-Mutt sat down beside him and waited patiently for the situation to resolve itself. "Just a minute. Why are you leaving?" Cheetara wanted to know. "I thought you were interested in bringing a closure to the feud." "Forget the feud. I just want out of here," Mumm-Ra snapped. "Are you going to show me the right exit or not?" Cheetara took a step towards him. "I asked you a question, Mumm-Ra." "I asked you first." Lion-O stepped between them. "Mumm-Ra--" Cheetara pushed him aside. "Was it because you couldn't set aside your pride for once?" "Pride has nothing to do with it," Mumm-Ra said, and then realized he'd been baited. Glaring at Cheetara, he said, "I told Lion-O the truth: that there could never be a peace between us. He can't handle it because he's on a great crusade to save the whole universe." "So what's wrong with that? At least he's not somebody else's doormat," Cheetara said. Mumm-Ra saw red. "I am not a doormat," he hissed, "and what's wrong with crusading is that it's an impossible task, fit only for martyrs and saints. That leaves egomaniacs, who screw things up even worse." Now it was Lion-O's turn to get angry. "So because I want to spread the Code of Thundera--justice, truth, honor, and loyalty--to other worlds, that makes me an egomaniac? It's not even my original idea! Every Thundercat lord since the beginning of time has had that ambition! There's nothing wrong with it as long as ambition doesn't get in the way of common sense, which, by the way, I don't allow it to." Mumm-Ra started to speak but Lion-O cut him off. "And for the record, Thundercats are neither martyrs nor saints. We happen to believe in the ideals we espouse, and conduct our lives in accordance with these principles as best we can, for that is the only way anything resembling 'harmonious existence', as you put it, will ever be achieved. Otherwise we're just hypocrites flashing a catchy slogan." The priest looked like he was going to make a crack about that, so Lion-O continued. "Furthermore, I don't know what event or events in your 'harsh' life gives you cause to be distrustful, but what makes you think that you're the only one who has experienced hardship? We thought we were the only ones of our people who survived the destruction of our home planet. How's that for hardship?" Cheetara spoke up. "And you are a doormat, Mumm-Ra. A toady for the Ancient Spirits of Evil. You know it, we know it, and everyone else knows it. Your problem is that you can't handle the fact that anybody can see how two-faced you really are, so you take it out on them when you ought to be blaming yourself!" "How dare you!" Mumm-Ra snarled. "I never asked for the hand I was dealt! I played it the only way I knew how!" Ma-Mutt whimpered softly in response to the escalating discord. "So evil is all you know?" Cheetara asked incredulously. "Then you've learned nothing!" "Taking out your hostility and frustration on us doesn't help your situation," Lion-O said, a shade more calmer than before. "The Ancient Spirits want you destroyed. We can help you prevent that from happening, so why bite the hand that feeds you?" Instantly Lion-O realized he'd said the wrong thing. If looks could kill, he would have dropped like a rock after receiving the venomous glare Mumm-Ra shot him with. "Go to hell!" the priest barked. "I can take care of myself!" Seething with rage, he scooped up Ma-Mutt in his arms. The dog gave a startled yelp as Mumm-Ra spun on his heel and stalked off. Cheetara pursued him. "Wait!" Lion-O called out after her. Cheetara ignored him and caught up with Mumm-Ra. She reached out a hand to touch his shoulder when he stopped and whirled around to face her. With a spark of mage lightning he flung off her hand. "Leave me alone!" he hissed. Cheetara jumped back and held his angry stare. "Go ahead, take a swing at me if it makes you feel better," she challenged. But to her astonishment Mumm-Ra lowered his hand and allowed the spell to die. Something changed in the depths of his ruby eyes as he regarded her with an otherwise inscrutable face. "No." Cheetara was confused. All the fight seemed to have suddenly drained out of him. "Mumm-Ra?" she said tentatively. Mumm-Ra looked positively ill now. "No," he repeated quietly. He slowly backed away from her, Ma-Mutt in tow, and turned his hand over so that his palm faced up. A small ball of light energy sprouted from its center and in the next instant there was a brilliant flash of white lightning that completely enveloped him. When the light cleared a second later, Cheetara saw that Mumm-Ra had vanished. ******************** END OF PART ONE ******************** TO BE CONTINUED...

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