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The Two Faces of Evil - Sleeping Beauty
By Demonprist



"Gods, that was fucking hilarious! The look on that kid’s face was
positively to die for!"

"An immature brat like yourself would enjoy something that disgusting."

A spark of lightning came within inches of roasting the second speaker.
"Piss off! You’re just jealous because I have the better player!" A
throaty laugh bubbled with malevolent merriment. "I wonder if he’ll make
the psycho tear out the eyes of all the victims he nails?" A scornful
noise from the other deepened his ugly smile. "Admit it, this time I’ve
got your moldy green ass on the run. Score one for the bad boys!" He
cackled in triumph, fists tightly clenched, and yanked his arms backward
in a forceful yessss! motion while thrusting his hips up at the same
time.

"It isn’t over yet. And if I were you, I’d be a lot more careful where I
toss my charges around lest I disturb a certain parental unit."

Casual shrug. "The old man’s off boozing it up with Sekhmet. He ain’t
gonna be disturbed by nothin’ by the time he comes back around." He
looked at the last vision. "It might as well be over anyway. He’s dead."
Smug smile.

"Not completely," his companion reminded him. "He’s still an immortal.
Besides, now that she’s entered the picture, the odds are better than
ever for my side."

"Big deal. She’s lain inactive for Ra only knows how long and just now
she resurfaces? What a wuss."

"Hardly." Deliberate pause as he quickly debated the wisdom of flaunting
his secret in light of baby bro’s volatile temper. Aw, screw it. The
little shit deserved a shake-up. "She’s been storing up all her power
for this very occasion." He allowed himself a smug smile of his own as
the other’s face darkened angrily at the implication in that statement.
"You’re not the only one who can pull aces out of his sleeve, you know."

"Bastard!" the vicious hiss exploded. "You just won’t give it up, will
you?" Exasperated sigh. "When are you going to get tired of this damned
game?"

"When you stop playing it."

"Fuck you."

"Likewise." A new scenario appeared before them. "She’s taken him back
to the white pyramid."

His detractor watched in irritation. This development in the game was
not good. He hadn’t gone to the trouble of setting up the contest and
coming this far in it to be derailed by this stupid bitch now. "Beg your
pardon, milord," he said as he spoke in a condescending tone, "I assume
I am allowed to inform my player of this event?"

"Ditch the attitude. It’s really wearing thin. Of course you can tell
your player what’s going on. But remember the moratorium. You have to
wait until that eclipse takes place before making your next move. Be
sure you inform your player of that."

"But of course, oh great one." He shot his opponent another glare. "We
wouldn’t want to actually get anything fun done in this game."

"I know you. You’re dying to cheat the first opportunity you get. Well,
remember the rules, little brother, in case you get any ideas."

"I know, I know, I know. ‘Cheating renders the entire game null and
void,’" he parroted mockingly from memory in a high-pitched squeaky
voice. He snorted in disgust. "No wonder everyone hates to play with
you, Os. You oughta take Thoth, go back to your piss-ant of a field
where you belong and spend eternity lording it over all the happy little
dead people. It’d work out fine ‘cause you’re both total tight-asses!"

"Your idea of fun leads to chaos. No, you’re just pissed because I’m
onto your scheme and you’re not getting your way this time. Looks to me
like you’re the ass." Much to his amusement the other snarled an
unintelligible obscenity under his breath, but he chose to ignore it in
favor of the unfolding scene before them. "Now shut up and pay attention
to what’s happening. This is going to be quite interesting, I think."





Thirty days.

Mumm-Rana was satisfied that this amount of time was sufficient enough
for her to accomplish her tasks. She had waited long and patiently for
this occasion to arrive, and though there was much to be done before the
next encounter she welcomed the work. It fulfilled her sense of purpose.

She felt the joy of the Ancient Spirits of Goodness warming her as their
representatives’ eyes shone down upon her. Finally, after all this time,
the children of Maat were reunited, as they were destined to be.

The priestess carried Mumm-Ra’s limp body over to her sarcophagus and
gently laid him in it. Thoughtfully she gazed down at his ravaged
features. "Everyone has to start somewhere, do they not?" she spoke
aloud, and made her decision. "I shall start with your physical self."

Mumm-Rana held out her hand and a silver dagger arose out of the
cauldron. It floated over to her and landed handle first in her open
palm. She used it to cut away the bloodstained clothing on her charge
before taking a moment to call forth her healing magic. Then, tossing
the rags and her dagger aside, she placed both palms on the soles of his
feet and let her powers flow forth into his body.

"How is he?"

Her spirit visitor did not disturb her in the least. "Bad, but I will
fix that," Mumm-Rana replied evenly as Oanahaptu moved closer to get a
better look. "He’s terribly ill as well. That will take a bit longer to
correct."

Oanahaptu frowned. "He seems perfectly healthy to me. Aside from being
undead, of course. And that nasty neck wound."

"I meant that he has a sickness of the soul," the priestess said.
"Mumm-Ra has almost no faith in life at all."

"Ahhhh." Oanahaptu nodded in understanding. "The worst kind of illness."

"It can be cured. But as I said, it will take time. I cannot do it all
myself, but I can aid in the healing process."

"Good. I have every confidence in you. Your mother taught you well,
child."

Mumm-Rana moved her hands up to the priest’s calves. "Where is she, by
the way?"

"With your father, as usual," Oanahaptu chuckled. "They spend
practically all their time in sekhet-hetepet now. Makes me long for my
Sessendriht," she sighed happily. "Maybe later . . ." she said with a
suggestive grin.

A tiny smile curved Mumm-Rana’s plush lips. "I should have known," she
said with a light laugh. "When you see them, please tell them that I
will want to speak with both of them in the near future. Nut is going to
send us the ring of fire when the time for revival has come."

"As you wish." Oanahaptu watched for a few minutes while Mumm-Rana
passed her hands over Mumm-Ra’s legs and settled them on his thighs.
"He’s badly hurt, is he?"

"Yes. Set’s agent did quite a number on him, considering neither of them
were in their prime."

"Tell me, why did you wait until the last blow had been dealt before
stepping in? I’m curious to know why you allowed the situation to
escalate to that point."

"Mumm-Ra wants to change," Mumm-Rana said. "In order to do that, he must
make a complete break from his old life. You see this?" She tapped the
symbol on his chest. "He was branded." Oanahaptu sighed knowingly. "What
you have witnessed is merely the death of the old, evil Mumm-Ra. Any
evil ties he still retains—those slave bonds, for instance—must be
permanently severed. Only then he will be able to reenter this world as
a new person. A better person, the one he was meant to be."

"He has no faith in life and yet he wishes to rejoin it?" Oanahaptu
asked in surprise.

"Almost no faith," Mumm-Rana stressed, moving her hands from his thighs
to his belly and massaging lightly. "There is a small bit of hope in the
innermost core of his soul that has managed to survive and flourish. It
was the catalyst that caused him to defy the Ancient Spirits of Evil
once and for all. Thank Amon Father, Lyana, and the Thundercats helped
nourish it along. Without that hope I think Mumm-Ra might very well have
been entirely smothered by evil."

"Then it’s a damned good thing you prepared for this," Oanahaptu said.
"I’d hate to see the poor boy condemned to that kind of eternity.
Especially since he’s led such a hard life the first time around." Her
violet eyes grew misty with tears. "Every time I recall the look on his
face when Thaetith murdered me it breaks my heart. And when Durakkon was
killed . . ." She broke off and sniffled. "Sweet Isis, what will we do
about that monster!"

Mumm-Rana’s lips tightened grimly. She knew which man her grandmother
was calling a monster. "We will jump off that bridge when we come to
it," she said quietly. "For now, it is important that Mumm-Ra be
restored. Thaetith will be planning his next attack."

"Yes, that’s true enough." Oanahaptu pursed her lips. "Are you going to
tell Mumm-Ra everything?"

"Yes. Though I will let Mother tell him her part of the story. That is
why I want them both to be present at the Opening of the Mouth."

"Including the part about the . . . you know . . .?" Oanahaptu bobbed
her eyebrows meaningfully as she gestured with her hands.

"That too." Mumm-Rana’s hands left Mumm-Ra’s stomach and traveled up to
his chest, her thumbs and fingers circling slowly across the skin. "He
needs to know."

"Good." Oanahaptu nodded. "I will leave you to your work then." She
knelt beside Mumm-Ra and kissed his cheek. "Hang in there, Rani," she
whispered. "The game’s far from over." The seer’s form faded away as she
returned to the astral realm.

Mumm-Rana stopped the healing process for a minute to examine the ruins
of clothing. Patiently she searched the pockets until she found what she
was looking for. She pulled out a small black box that looked like it
had been squashed and held it up in the light. Its network of fine
golden lines glinted sharply. "Did you miss me?" she asked aloud.

In answer the box suddenly shifted its shape. A long jagged point
unfolded from its top left corner and shot out, pointing directly at
Mumm-Rana’s face.

"I thought so," Mumm-Rana said with cool recognition, and taking the box
by its point, hurled it at the nearest cauldron spire. It sank into the
stone with a loud CHIIIIING that echoed throughout the cavernous tomb
chamber.

Mumm-Rana returned to her patient. She laid her hands upon his chest
once more and the magic seeped into his body. It spread from his chest
to his throat and shoulder, knitting up the torn flesh seamlessly in a
haze of blue light.

A low angry hissing behind her drew her notice. "You can’t come out,"
Mumm-Rana said firmly.

The hissing intensified until it sounded like a horde of swarming bees.
"Be still!" the priestess, whirling around, ordered sharply. "I have
things to do. Be still and cease this foolish spiel of wrath. I will
deal with you later."

After another few minutes of making furious frustrated noise, the box
quieted down. Satisfied that it would cause no more trouble for the time
being, Mumm-Rana turned back to the priest and finished healing his
physical wounds. Her hands skimmed his shoulders and arms before coming
to rest on his wrists.

"You won’t be needing these any more." By the time she had spoken the
last word of her sentence the golden bands had weakened and snapped
apart. She flung them into the cauldron, where they vanished in the
steam produced by its boiling waters. Mumm-Rana did the same with the
bond encircling his right upper arm, and let her gaze fall upon the ugly
scars crisscrossing Mumm-Ra’s wrists, just below the palms.

She applied her magic and watched solemnly as the last of the injuries
faded in the wake of reforming flesh. The scars gradually smoothed
themselves out until the skin was free of any blemishes. The throat
wound was healed, as was the hole in his shoulder. Mumm-Ra was fine
except for the comatose state he remained in. As one of the undead, he
could withstand mortal injuries but was kept a prisoner by his own body,
unable to vacate it as would normally have occurred had he been mortal.
Until his energy was restored he would not reawaken.

Mumm-Rana fully intended to revive him, but before that could be done
she needed to complete the repairs she had mentioned to her grandmother.
She had never before seen someone so discouraged with life as he was.
Yet she was aware that he also feared death just as greatly as he did
life; hence his bargain with the Ancient Spirits of Evil. What Oanahaptu
had said was true: Mumm-Ra had seen too much of death’s horror and not
enough of life’s joy to be able to come to grips with the terms of
either. That imbalance fed his fears, which were fantastical in the
extreme, and as long as he allowed them to rule over his consciousness
he would always be psychically scarred. That kind of damage would be
much harder to repair.

She sighed as she smoothed her hand over his jaw and neck, lightly
tracing the cords at the base of his throat with the tips of her
fingers. "Brother mine, I made a promise long ago that I would stay true
to you, and I shall keep that promise. When next you rise, Mumm-Ra, you
will have the new life you wish for. This vow I make to you." Mumm-Rana
smiled down at him. "Sleep, and may your dreams be peaceful."





So began the thirty days of restoration. Mumm-Rana worked steadily
through the month, needing no rest of her own, nor nourishment of any
kind. Her power was at its peak; she had been inactive for eons because
of the need to conserve it for the proper time.

Only thrice since becoming an immortal herself had she ventured from her
tomb to combat evil forces. The first and third times had been to
prevent the enslavement of Third Earth by Queen Luna and her
granddaughter; the second, her senses had alerted her to what became her
first meeting with Mumm-Ra. A band of creatures calling themselves
Mutants were forced to abandon their space vehicle, and having drifted
over the skies of the white pyramid subsequently came to her attention.
Not knowing their true alignment at first, she had rescued them,
compelled by an inexplicable inner force. These beings carried with them
a significant omen that was not to be ignored—and of course, the omen
revealed its true meaning when a fearsome entity stepped out into the
open, claiming to be familiar with the Mutants . . . and with her.

She had not known who he really was until he had introduced himself, and
by then she was also fairly sure that he did not know who she really was
either. Some research on her part had later confirmed this. He had taken
up allegiance with evil, which was why he had attempted to use her in a
twisted plot for destruction. Further research revealed that not only
was he aligned with evil, he was also a very powerful and legendary
force within its leagues. However, his will was not his own. He had even
higher-ranking superiors whom he was forced to serve on a regular basis,
and it was these beings who were responsible for his conversion. They
had pressured him relentlessly, seeking out his weak spot, tormenting
him until he caved in and allowed them to claim his soul for their own
evil purposes. They wrapped it tightly in untold layers of misguided
beliefs, hateful rage, deceitful corruption, and many other brutal
spawns of evil, packing as much into his severely warping psyche as they
could to produce the end result that was Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living.

It was a great testament to the powers of good that his hope had
survived these evil trappings. Somewhere past the fortress he’d erected
around it, within his heart lay the goodness of his former self. Despite
being imprisoned in a body meant for darkness it had lived on, patiently
awaiting a chance to assert itself and depose the sadistic evil trying
to extinguish its bright spark.

Mumm-Rana’s purpose was to give him that chance. Though both the desire
to change and the will to carry that change through first had to come
from Mumm-Ra, he would not be able to sustain them long were he on his
own. He needed someone to guide him along the treacherous route he must
take, and that was where she came in.

The first half of the resurrection took place internally. She sought out
the parts of him that she deemed the most hindering, and added
counterparts to them that would balance his psyche out. She could not
completely eradicate the potentially harmful traits; rather, her aim was
to give Mumm-Ra’s good self a means of gaining the higher ground.

Good and evil are the most basic yin and yang in existence. One cannot
exist without the other; yet neither side is allowed total dominance.
It’s just the way the game works. Utopias exist only in the minds of
either those persons whose visions have crossed the boundary from plain
insanity to pure madness, or those who are hopelessly naive. The idea,
then, is that a compromise between the two must be worked out. Thus good
and evil are locked in an eternal struggle.

Mumm-Rana had already found the main components of his goodness. She
simply brought them to the forefront and augmented them with her own
healing powers. Later during the presentation of the ten gifts of heart
he would receive additional facets of goodness to cement his improved
psyche.

By the end of the first week, she had succeeded in renewing Mumm-Ra’s
interest in living. His will to survive was the strongest it had ever
been.

By the end of the second week, she had purged him of any remaining
desire for evil and given him a newfound sense of hope.

During the third week, she replaced his harsh, cold temperament with an
affectionate, gentle nature and a playful sense of humor. His naturally
granted sensitivity and empathy would get along nicely with those
assets, as would his innate curiosity with the mysteries and wonders of
life.

The fourth week was the hardest. Throughout the entire healing process
Mumm-Rana continually came into contact with a serious mixture of guilt,
self-loathing, fear, and—worst of all—hate. The emotions were so strong
she found it difficult to repair the damage done by these destructive
forces. Eventually the best she could do was to temper the guilt with a
bit of rational responsibility and match a dash of equal parts hope and
courage with the fear. The self-loathing she offered a sprinkle of
self-confidence to, hoping that with time and use (provided that Mumm-Ra
listened to her and worked with his natural talents) self-realization
would take place.

As for the hatred, there was nothing she could do for that. It was so
deeply ingrained into him that not the least bit of probing and healing
diminished it. The priestess realized that only Mumm-Ra could deal with
this hate, since he had planted it there himself. Such was the way of
these things.

But she was not yet finished.

Mumm-Rana reviewed all that she had learned of him, taking a full day to
decide on a course of action.

On the eve of the eclipse, when she was ready, she slipped her magic
touch into the recesses of Mumm-Ra’s soul one final time.

I can do nothing for your hatred myself, Mumm-Ra. Only you can remove it
from your heart, she told him, and with that bestowed upon him the
precious gift she had been saving for last. The antithesis of hate was
known to be the greatest healer of all time.

Unable to rid him of hatred’s plague, Mumm-Rana had instead opened
Mumm-Ra to the possibility of love. It was up to him to decide what to
do with this power.





All that remained to be done were the finishing touches. Mumm-Rana gazed
down at the still form of the devil priest, studying him carefully.
"This will not do," she spoke aloud suddenly, and went to the cauldron.
"Ancient Spirits of Goodness, your servant Mumm-Rana calls upon your aid
once more!" she cried, spreading her arms wide.

The cauldron bubbled with frothy lavender liquid as the Spirits answered
her summons. A pale blue orb burst free of the waters and hovered in the
air for a brief moment; then as if someone had switched out a light it
was gone in the next instant.

"Very good," Mumm-Rana said in response to the Spirits’ decision. "It is
as I had hoped."

She returned to Mumm-Ra and laid her right hand, which emanated a soft
blue energy, palm down in the center of his chest, right on the
double-headed serpent brand. "I cast this symbol of evil out of thy
essence. The Ancient Spirits of Evil no longer hold any claim to you. I,
Mumm-Rana the Merciful, have declared it so. From this day forth you are
a free soul."

She watched with grim satisfaction as the brand burned a vivid red, her
hand searing away all traces of the hateful mark. Within minutes the
circle had blackened and shrunk, and then it disappeared completely,
leaving his chest bare. There was no indication that it had ever been
there, not even a scar.

Mumm-Rana lifted Mumm-Ra in her strong arms and carried him back to the
cauldron. The blue orb rose out of the bubbling waters again and waited
silently as the priestess used her levitation powers to place him inside
it. She lowered it partially into the cauldron and allowed it to take on
enough water to submerge the priest’s body. The liquid easily seeped
through the orb’s seemingly impenetrable barrier. She then murmured an
incantation in an ancient tongue understood only by those who would take
the resurrection process from here, and watched as the blue orb sealed
itself up and sank beneath the cauldron waters until it was gone from
sight.

The eyes of the four statues surrounding the tomb chamber flashed
sapphire blue as the statues suddenly and repeatedly shot beams into the
cauldron, causing it to come to a fierce boil. The heated lavender
waters quickly changed to a deep purplish hue, churning wildly yet never
once splashing a scalding drop anywhere. Mumm-Rana waited until the good
Spirits’ barrage of energy bolts ceased before firing her own magic into
the waters with both hands. Her spell instantly calmed them and they
fell still, fading from purple-black to their original lavender.

"Rest now," Mumm-Rana said, pleased with her efforts. "We have a big day
tomorrow."





"Got a minute?"

The quiet smooth tone startled Tradyk from his musings. The last month
had been a never-ending catastrophe for him, and he was doing his best
to keep from coming undone, but it wasn’t easy when one had a constant
hailstorm of harsh voices nagging at him. To hear this one speak to him
with such calming sentiment was a blessing. He swiveled around in his
desk chair and smiled wearily at the Lunatak. "What’s up, Aluro?"

Aluro’s pale green eyes shifted around nervously. He was well aware of
the consequences for disturbing one of Genvironment’s top bigwigs from
his work. Even though Tradyk himself had encouraged the visits, Numero
Uno, General Kembri, would not be so quick to look the other way. Just
last week in front of the others he had soundly redressed Vultureman for
asking too many questions of one of the Mutant DNA researchers. Aluro
had no wish to further antagonize Kembri, who was in a particularly foul
mood this week, and especially so since Safari Joe’s contract hunt for
the Thundercats had failed to yield any bodies yet.

Now having determined that it was safe enough for him to venture inside
Tradyk’s hallowed domain without risking discovery by either Kembri or
Sephi-vo-Notar, he slipped into the room and settled into a chair near
Tradyk. "I’ve got to talk to you about my feelings," he said in a
half-whisper. Aluro was paranoid about spies—a paranoia that wasn’t
altogether unhealthy here.

"I understand. Your claustrophobia is acting up again," Tradyk said
calmly, invoking the codespeak they had agreed upon whenever they wished
to talk without fear of interruption. "Take a couple of deep breaths and
try to keep your cool. If it makes you feel better to get some exercise,
why don’t you change that cracked bulb in my light?" He made a show of
offering Aluro a brand new light bulb from a box on a shelf unit next to
the desk.

Aluro nodded and accepted the bulb. On the unspoken pretense of making
himself more comfortable he removed his boots and sat quietly, fidgeting
every few seconds. Then, carefully trying to minimize any noise he was
making with his actions he got up from his seat. Tradyk watched
wordlessly as the Lunatak stood on top of his desk to reach the camera
planted in what appeared to be a simple fire sprinkler overhead. Within
a matter of minutes Aluro had succeeded in rewiring the mechanism so
that any spies lurking nearby would see only a bare wall. He’d also
fixed it so that no sound but silence would transmit through the
camera’s microphone. Aluro had a talent for such things.

Tradyk breathed a sigh of relief. They could speak freely now. He went
to the office entrance, turning the DO NOT DISTURB sign around on the
note panel so that it was face up before closing and locking the door
securely with the punching of a few buttons. "Now what’s going on?"

"Vultureman again."

"Shit."

"Yeah. This time he’s found out a way to break into the main labs
downstairs. He does it during the three a.m. shift change."

"You’re kidding!" Tradyk yelped.

Vultureman had taken to Genvironment like a fish to water. It was the
embodiment of every warped science-fiction fantasy he’d ever dreamed up.
He spent countless hours pumping everyone from the topmost scientists to
the lowly janitors for any information, no matter how large or small.
Since Kembri of course forbade all of them from giving out such
freebies, the feathered freak had had to resort to scheming his way into
the cookie jar. Three weeks ago he’d finally succeeded, and there had
been no stopping him since.

He’d started by scamming spare parts of various machinery from a few of
the researchers. Sephi had complained that the guests’ presence was
interfering with regular work, so a conference was held and it was
agreed upon that some form of entertainment had to be provided to keep
them out of everyone’s hair. Towards that end Kembri had unbent a little
and repealed his edict on the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, and the
Mutants and Lunataks were allowed supervised tours into some of the
labs. During these tours Vultureman had boasted of his skill in
computerized toy-making, a skill to Aluro’s knowledge the Mutant had
never possessed at any time. Several of the Genvironment workers had
fallen for it, however, and with Kembri’s permission prevailed upon
Vultureman to build toys for them.

Vultureman did indeed build toys—but he also hoarded a cache of parts
for his own purposes. He quickly turned out nine perfectly formed
miniature computerized robots, each in the form of its owner—and each
equipped with a transmitter capable of passing along data to the main
base. In order for these metal monsters to work, they had to be hooked
up to the computers in the researchers’ offices, in which case they
would then fulfill Vultureman’s intention. To the untrained eye these
would appear to be nothing more than animated robots, programmed simply
to announce a series of vocal greetings and perform mundane tasks such
as filling a coffee cup. In reality every time they were activated they
would automatically hack into the computer files, copy the latest
information, and send it back to Vultureman, who had built his very own
computer in order to receive the data. Because he had made the robots
compatible with the researchers’ systems as ordered, he had no fear that
someone would pick up on his spying. Thanks also to his creation of a
memory wipe, the robots would immediately afterward erase any evidence
of a transfer that had taken place between them and their host. The
program he used on the computer to receive, open, and read the stolen
files had ingeniously been designed to resemble a primitive arcade game
much like one that had existed during a phase from First Earth, when
people were just beginning to explore technology’s wonders.

The game’s premise was easy: an ever-changing maze of dots was laid out
for each level while a small yellow orb, manipulated by the controller,
traced its corridors gobbling the dots. To add challenge demonic little
orb-chasing and -eating ghosts were entered into the program’s
configurations. In Vultureman’s game the players’ appearances were
drastically altered—the orb was ditched in favor of a vulture Mutant’s
head, complete with a large dot-devouring beak, while the ghosts were
replaced with heads resembling the four beings Vultureman hated the
most: Slithe, Luna, Mumm-Ra, and Lion-O. He would dearly have loved to
have been able to stick Kembri in there, since the general was his first
Thunderian choice, but as that was sure to get his ass kicked into orbit
he had substituted Lion-O instead. He hated the Thundercat Lord just as
much as he did Kembri anyway.

While under surveillance from the ever-present camera in his room
Vultureman whiled away his hours racking up the score on his creation.
As soon as the guard shifted at three o’ clock desert time, however,
Vultureman swung into action. With Aluro’s help he was able to learn how
to dismantle and reconfigure the security camera so that it would appear
nothing more sinister than a late-night gaming marathon was going on. He
then proceeded to load his password into the program, switching it from
‘gaming’ to ‘processing’ mode.

As a result of his altering of the camera’s angle Vultureman was able to
play as much as he wanted to on his homemade computer, tapping into
sensitive files and gaining loads of information on any subject he was
interested in. The guards on the three o’ clock shift tended to be lax,
trusting that no one besides the most important researchers and Kembri
himself to be up and about at that time of night. Vultureman had tested
his theory on that and proven it right when he’d taken a stroll on the
second level for six consecutive nights. He’d disabled the alarm on
Tradyk’s office and picked the door’s lock, then swiped some meaningless
object like a paperweight. Before leaving he’d locked the door and reset
the alarm. Then he waited to see whether or not anyone had noticed his
sudden kleptomania. When no one raised a fuss over the missing articles,
he’d decided he was safe so long as he made no attempt to pry into the
sublevels in the flesh. Hence the necessity for the toy robots. So every
night Vultureman had five hours in which to learn all he could about
creating his own breed of warrior vulture clones before the guard
changed again just after dawn, at eight.

Aluro would never have agreed to his part in Vultureman’s grand scheme
were it not for the Mutant’s threat to expose him as a dissenter among
the ranks. Vultureman, knowing hints of rebellion would not be welcome
by either Kembri or the rest of their comrades, told Aluro that he would
insinuate to everyone that the Lunatak was thinking of turning evidence
to IPCF after the Emanon Project had fulfilled its objective. This
threat would not have held any water had Aluro not gotten in the habit
of voicing his concerns to many of the inhabitants of Genvironment,
including Kembri, after the emanon’s showcasing. As a result Aluro had
no choice but to play along for fear of being turned upon by the others.
He believed Tradyk when the Thunderian had said no one left the
underground base except in a body bag, and he had no wish to end up as
such.

However, he wasn’t about to sit idly by and let Vultureman have his way
either. Upon seeing the emanon in all its violent glory Aluro had come
to the instant realization that he was in way over his head. He’d
privately renounced his earlier position on cloning, sickened by the
degree of destruction that Mumm-Ra’s clone was capable of. Though the
creature hadn’t so much as cracked a smile during any of the recorded
sessions, he’d gotten the distinct feeling that the emanon—or just plain
Emanon, as Tradyk called him—sincerely enjoyed inflicting pain and
certainly would not hesitate to maim or kill in a real battle. It said a
lot about his own vindictive mortal nature that he had blindly rushed
into Slithe’s plan without a clear understanding of this situation,
which bothered him a good deal. Despite the fearsome Lunatak reputation
he’d acquired during his years with the others of his kind, he was at
heart not a vicious person. True, he’d done plenty of deeds that could
accurately be categorized as evil, but he did not have it in him to be
entirely cold-hearted. Barring Kembri, after a thorough psionic
screening of the major players, he had settled on Tradyk as the one who
would be most receptive to his plight, having sensed within him a
kindred spirit.

His assumption was correct. Tradyk, though unable to act directly as
much as Aluro, had agreed to meet in secret to work out a plan of
escape, or, more likely, a plan to bring Genvironment’s secrets to
light. They had only to figure out a way past the intense security
safeguards, which applied to everything everywhere—and that included the
transfer of computer files, their best bet at exposing Kembri’s pet
project. Since Tradyk’s computer was connected to an online system
hookup with all the others throughout Genvironment, an attempt to send
files would be duly noted and copies of the transfer sent to both Kembri
and Sephi. After much tense undercover tinkering with systems and
encryption of files, Tradyk and Aluro were able to fool the online
monitors into thinking Tradyk’s computer was still online, when in fact
it was off making contact with the same wavelength Lynx-O’s braille
board used. Aluro had been able to help out on that one, having had some
experience with the board’s workings when Luna and Chilla swiped it a
couple of years ago.

A deal was struck. Aluro brought Tradyk reports on Vultureman’s perfidy
and Tradyk hacked into the braille board frequency to transmit short
messages about the evils harbored by the underground science facility. A
shaky plan at best, due to Kembri’s spies’ high success rate at sniffing
out betrayals, but a plan nonetheless.

Better than nothing, Aluro thought now as he prepared to spill more
beans to Tradyk. "I didn’t believe he could do it—hell, maybe I didn’t
want to believe he could do it is more accurate, I guess," he said.

"The ostrich syndrome," Tradyk said with a nod. "Don’t feel so bad,
Aluro. You’re not the only one who’s been guilty of it." Like me, he
thought, ashamed. "Anyway, he has done it, so now we have to look at the
possible results of his actions. One, he might very well be caught by
Kembri, in which case Kembri would surely have him killed. Two, he could
get away with it for some length of time. Then there’s no telling what
he could accomplish until his plans bear fruit. Three—" Tradyk halted
for a second.

"What?" Aluro asked, getting the distinct impression that he was not
going to like the third alternative.

"One bad seed ruins it for everyone. If he gets caught, Kembri might
decide that all of you are too high of a security risk and have you guys
executed on the spot—in secret, of course. He’d make your deaths look
like accidents, the same way he did with poor Choscal."

"Executed?" Aluro nearly shrieked before he caught himself and tempered
his exclamation to a hiss.

"You would probably all have been killed anyway, had the original plan
followed suit," Tradyk said quietly. "We’ve never had any outsiders
enter Genvironment before. Kembri just won’t allow it. Even though
Slithe is Sephi’s cousin, I have a strong feeling Sephi would sacrifice
him just for the sake of the Emanon Project. Which leaves us with no
choice except to find a way out of here, and fast. Any day now Safari
Joe could come marching in here with a stack of Thundercat corpses."

"You’ve warned them, haven’t you?"

"Yes, but Safari Joe’s success rate is very high. Up until his first
meeting with the Thundercats, he was a formidable opponent. Now that
he’s been properly outfitted with compensation for his weaknesses and
their strengths, he’s much more dangerous."

"Dammit." Aluro slumped in his chair and covered his face with his
hands. "I wish to Plun-Darr Slithe hadn’t let Luna in on this." He
thought a second. "Aren’t the Thundercats taking your messages
seriously? Do they think this is some kind of sick joke?"

"Take it easy," Tradyk cautioned. "Yes, they’re acknowledging my
messages, but they seem to be trying to track down the source of the
signals first. Believe me, I’ve made it very clear that time is of the
essence here. All we can do is wait for them to act upon the
information. If they can’t find us, they really can’t do anything about
it."

"You’ve got to send another message. Tonight," Aluro pressed. "That
idiot Vultureman has totally gone off the deep end. It’s like there’s a
spirit in this place that’s warped what’s left of his brains or
something. He’s a nutcase. I would so love to tell him what to do with
his, quote, ‘pioneering imagination.’"

"I know," Tradyk sighed. "Down here we’re all nutcases. But just
remember something, okay Aluro? Vultureman may be a wacko, but he’s a
smart wacko. That makes him dangerous. Resist the temptation to
antagonize him. It’ll only fuck things up worse."

"No shit," Aluro growled, but there was no malice in his tone for
Tradyk. "And you’re no wacko. You’re the only levelheaded guy around."

"You wouldn’t think so if you’d seen me before this thing got started. I
was as gung-ho as the rest of the bunch." Tradyk massaged his temples,
feeling the first twinges of a headache.

"You changed though," Aluro said, pale green gaze boring into Tradyk’s
brown one. "You saw what that thing . . . Emanon . . . can do. And it
scared the hell out of you, right?"

"Yes." Tradyk glanced at his desk, where the day’s journal entry awaited
his signature. "That and the fact that I can’t stand our project leader.
I don’t like what he’s up to." It was the first time he’d openly
admitted to anyone his dislike of the general and it felt good. "He’s
abused his talents for his own selfish purposes and it’s the innocents
out there who will pay the price. Emanon’s already killed ten guards
here, plus two outsiders. There’s no telling how many more he’ll get
unless someone stops him. Permanently."

Aluro blanched at the thought that the clone might potentially be
invincible. "Can you stop him?"

"He can be killed, yes, but it will be extremely difficult to do now. If
he hadn’t discovered the safeguards installed in his body it would have
been a simple matter for us to activate them." Tradyk shook his head.
"He removed them sometime during his escape. He’s amazingly smart, and
he learns at a remarkable rate. Add to that his powderkeg nature and his
extraordinary shapeshifting, healing, and magic abilities and it all
adds up to trouble with a capital T."

Aluro lifted his head, looking hopeful. "Wait. Maybe we’re not the ones
who can do it. This guy’s modeled after Mumm-Ra, right? So ideally
Mumm-Ra should be the one to get rid of him."

Tradyk’s shoulders sagged. "Ideally. But I don’t think even he can stand
up to Emanon."

"Why not?"

"We got a report from a spy near the Great Beneath a month ago. Emanon
went after the Thundercats up there, and guess who he found with them?"

"Oh man, why do I have the feeling this is not going to be good?" Aluro
asked himself, cringing.

"He did something to the Cats’ Lair that destroyed all their systems.
Then he attacked the occupants. No fatalities among the Thundercats
because they were able to retreat in time. But Mumm-Ra was apparently
either injured severely or killed outright, according to varying
accounts the spy picked up. There’s been no sign of him anywhere since."

A despairing Aluro dropped his head into his hands. "We’re screwed then.
If Mumm-Ra can’t fight Emanon, who can?"





"All clear up here, Benny." Pumyra scanned the surrounding valleys
below. She flew the Hovercat towards the clearing he’d indicated. "I
still don’t see anything."

"Make another pass," Ben-Gali suggested over the radio. "Trust me, it’s
there."

"I can’t believe I’m doing this. If I weren’t so fond of you . . ."
Pumyra sighed and followed his directions. In the dim morning light it
was hard to see whatever lay among the tall grasses. She switched the
fog lamps to maximum intensity and peered over the vehicle’s hull. "Wait
a sec . . . I think there is something up ahead . . ."

"I told you!" came the triumphant exclamation.

She was puzzled by his excitement. Why would he send her all the way out
to the Warrior Maidens’ territory just to look for a dinky trail marker?

It was folly to be out and about anyway. Safari Joe, an intergalactic
big game hunter that the original Thundercats had once made the
unfortunate acquaintance of, was back in action. They’d found that out
one afternoon when Tygra and Lion-O had been ambushed during a council
meeting at the Treetop Kingdom. But for the timely intervention of Queen
Willa’s elite archery squadron, the hunter might very well have bagged
his prey. Somewhere along the line he’d picked up several powerful
weapons which he’d used in his counterattack. Three of the archers had
been killed by one—a strange explosive resembling a wand with a ball at
the top. With the help of the other Warrior Maidens, Tygra and Lion-O
(who had been reunited with a repaired Sword of Omens courtesy of
Ben-Gali) were able to beat back Joe and send him packing. Since then
all the Thundercats exercised extreme caution, and no one was allowed to
venture out alone. The buddy system was the way to go during these
treacherous times.

"Benny, why don’t you just tell me what this is all about?"

"Because I want you to see it," he replied patiently.

"This is serious, Ben. We shouldn’t be out here. Safari Joe could be
watching us!"

"He’s not, Pummy. Trust me, this is worth it."

Pummy? she wondered. He hadn’t called her that since they were kids. It
was his pet nickname for her.

Then she saw what she was looking for and understood why he’d just used
that endearment. The fluorescent coating on the grasses lit up in full
splendor when the Hovercat’s lamps hit the ground. "Oh my gods!" Pumyra
gasped once she’d read the entire message.

Written out in five-foot-high bright orange misshapen letters was the
question PUMYRA WILL U MARRY ME?

Pumyra was so surprised by it that she had to land the Hovercat. She got
out and dreamily wandered over to the site. Pinch me, somebody, please!
Behind her Ben-Gali landed the Thunderclaw. He was laughing as he ran
over to her. "I told you, I told you there was something there!" he
chortled.

"Ben-Gali . . . you really mean it?" she asked, still pleasantly
surprised that he’d had the gumption to pull off such a stunt.

"Hell yeah I mean it!" he blurted, and a slight blush colored his face
as he became serious. "Pumyra . . . I’ve always had this . . . feeling .
. . for you . . . you know? I mean, I’ve loved you when we were kids,
and I’ve loved you when we were comrades, but now . . . I want to love
you as a husband does a wife," he finished softly.

Pumyra’s heart flip-flopped. "Tygra must have given you ideas," she said
lightly, though she was a bit teary-eyed with emotion. Her lifelong
closest friend was asking her to become his wife!

"Yup. He got Willa to send a few of her girls out with the mandroga
flower pulp and smear it on the clearing." Ben-Gali grinned broadly.

A month ago upon returning to Third Earth, Tygra had wasted no time in
making a beeline for the Treetop Kingdom, where he had promptly wed
Queen Willa in a secret ceremony. By the time the other Thundercats had
found out, the marriage had already been consummated and entered into
the books. It had thrown the entire northern sector of Third Earth’s
society into an uproar. Most of the people had been understanding about
it and even quite happy for the couple, but many of the warrior maidens
had considered the marriage to be yet another intrusion upon their
secluded lives. Warrior women were allowed to take husbands, but males
were often excluded from the predominantly female culture—the result of
hundreds of years of conditioning. Women in that society were raised to
be self-sufficient, and while exploration of either sexuality with
lovers or casual friendships was not discouraged, men were mostly looked
down upon as the destroyers of all that civilization had worked hard to
build. In their eyes, men’s warlike natures dictated that they would
someday begin to cause disruption with their constant urge to wage
battles with someone, anyone, and plunge the region into costly chaos.

Tygra’s public image did not help his cause at first. Although the
Thundercats were generally well-liked among the maidens, there were some
who felt that they were just one more nuisance to contend with,
especially since their arrival precluded that of the Mutants. The
freeing of the Lunataks, an even more warlike people, hadn’t helped
matters. Up until recently some of the maidens had talked about
rescinding their alliance with the Thundercats, in order to further
withdraw from the outside world as best they could. Tygra, however, was
determined to fit in. He set about winning over his critics as he
promised to obey the laws of their people. By voluntarily relinquishing
his right to command as Willa’s lawful husband during a public assembly,
he gained much support from those who feared he might instigate a sudden
movement into a more aggressive agenda. Tygra genuinely respected
Willa’s leadership, needing no throne to assure himself of his own
masculinity, and felt his presence as a leader in his chosen community
would only serve to alienate his neighbors. Thus he happily gave up the
crown to his new wife and settled in peaceably. As a man he was afforded
the same rights as the women but held no authority. The only position he
could lay any claim to was that of a healer and assistant architect,
with his knowledgeable skills of medicine and science. Naturally, being
simultaneously committed to the Code of Thundera, he had assured his own
countrymen that he would continue to fulfil those responsibilities when
needed. Any other person would have collapsed under the dual duty
burden, but Tygra never did. He saw his two worlds as a blessing.

Tygra was content, though his decision to leave Cats’ Lair and move into
the Treetop Kingdom to live with Willa hadn’t sat well with his fellow
Thundercats. They had freaked upon hearing the news of his marriage.
Part of their shock was due to the fact that none of them had had any
inkling that a relationship had been going on all this time. Their other
worry was how the union would physically and socially affect any
children. Even though Thunderians were known to have possessed humanoid
blood as part of their genetic makeup, in all the recorded history of
Thundera no full-blooded human had married into the cat clans since the
creation of the first Thunderians. It was said that the reasons for this
exclusion had included genetic mutations. Other clans feared the
distillation of their purity. Whatever the reasons, shunning of the
resulting children had soon become a popular practice, more so among the
nobility in the cases of a wayward daughter or son straying from the
original family to mate with one not of their same blood.

It was a blow to them in the beginning, but when both Tygra and Willa
expressed their concerns for mutually prosperous and friendly relations
with the two sides the Thundercats had quickly come around and accepted
the marriage. This came not only as a great relief to Tygra and Willa
but to Lion-O as well. He was juggling too many balls in the air to cope
with the possibility of a political feud between Thundercats and Warrior
Maidens at this point.

Pumyra felt a little guilty as she realized accepting Ben-Gali’s
proposal would no doubt bring more stress to an already-overworked team.
Between New Thundera and Third Earth the Thundercats were simply spread
too thin.

They still had the escape of their longtime enemies the Mutants and the
Lunataks to worry about, and Lion-O had warned all of them that the
disaster up on New Thundera was very likely connected to that event. No
one except Lion-O, Cheetara, Panthro, the Thunderkittens, the snarfs,
and Mumm-Ra had ever laid eyes on this new enemy called Emanon, but from
Cheetara’s description he was major bad news. Pumyra hadn’t thought that
Mumm-Ra could be killed, but according to Lion-O that was exactly what
had happened in the confrontation with Emanon. The priest’s body had
been taken back to the white pyramid to be healed by his counterpart,
the good sorceress Mumm-Rana. On top of that someone was hacking into
Lynx-O’s braille board frequency and sending him encoded messages about
an underground Third Earth base named Genvironment—the same organization
their ally Quick Pick had dug up gossip on.

On the other hand she truly loved Ben-Gali. Their marriage would be the
pinnacle of their dreams if they went ahead with it. And weddings where
both parties were in love with each other were always cause to
celebrate. Perhaps some joy in their lives was just what everyone
needed. After all, it was common knowledge that she and Ben had been a
couple for quite some time, and the rest of the Thundercats expected
that they would announce their nuptials in the near future.

Pumyra smiled at her fiancée, all the love in her heart plainly visible
on her face as she answered Ben-Gali. "I accept."





Safari Joe spat a thick wad of smelly tobacco onto the ground and
switched his gatling gun’s trigger back to safety. "A wedding, eh? Ought
to be jolly good sport!"

The hunter packed up his equipment and hiked back through his concealed
trail to his ship, a decommissioned Plun-Darrian Skeeter Z. He hummed an
old bar tune while musing this development over. The people who hired
him were certain to be angry at first when he told them he hadn’t taken
such a pathetically easy shot at the two lovers. But after he explained
his plan to them their attitudes would improve greatly. A wedding,
particularly a Thunderian wedding, was sure to be a public event where
all the Thundercats would be in attendance. Easy pickings.

Joe affectionately patted a bulge in his enormous olive green canvas
duffel. Those Pepper Spikes were the damnedest things he’d seen in a
long time. Pop off a few of those buggers at the wedding, he’d wipe out
the whole lot of Thundercats and then some! It would deprive him of the
fun of stalking each cat individually, but his employers were demanding
fast results and the money he was getting for this contract was well
worth the sacrifice of sport. Besides, with that kind of funding he
could easily arrange to hunt other creatures of his choosing at his
leisure. He had had a pretty good time on that expedition to Ayala,
hunting his own species . . .





Lion-O rolled over in bed and stared the clock in the face. 5:30.
"Damn."

He hadn’t slept well during the past month. Every time he turned around,
it seemed a new crisis would erupt. As Lord of the Thundercats, it was
his duty to deal with the unexpected. Yet he knew he couldn’t shoulder
everything himself. I’m just one person, I can only do so much, he
thought. But what if that’s not enough?

Sometimes being the leader sucked.

You know what though? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lion-O yawned, resigning himself to another early morning call. He got
up and dressed unhurriedly, giving the calendar on his wall a
perfunctory glance before realizing what day it was:

"Eclipse day."

It was a new month. July 1, circled in bright red magic marker, stood
boldly out even in the shadowy bedchamber. Lion-O’s heart beat just a
little bit faster. This was the day Mumm-Rana was supposed to summon the
Thundercats to her audience.

He studied the calendar, wondering what the priestess had in store for
them. He presumed it would have to do with Mumm-Ra. Mumm-Rana probably
had needed the time to heal his body after the fight with Emanon.

Just thinking of the cruel doppelganger made Lion-O shiver. He’d had
several very unpleasant nightmares involving bondage and a pack of
starving Emanons, all of them having rabid saliva-stained, razor-sharp
piranhaesque teeth. Jaga only knew where such a being could come from.

He hoped Mumm-Rana’s spell had permanently destroyed the clone,
disintegrated the creature into a measly heap of ashes from whence he
could never return. In his heart he knew that was about as likely as he
was to start dating Luna.

Thinking of that midget monster brought his mind back to the present
state of affairs. Lynx-O had told him last night that he and Quick Pick
had managed to piece together some of the encrypted files they’d been
receiving from some as-yet unknown source. Parts of the files made a few
references to the Mutants and Lunataks. Lynx-O figured that the person
who was sending out this information had to be an insider who had
defected or was on the verge of defecting from the Genvironment
organization. Panthro had been right about their old enemies getting
help.

Lion-O decided to hold a briefing on this in the council room as soon as
everyone else was up. Fully dressed, he started out the door when a
shrill cry at the window startled him.

He pivoted and brought the Sword of Omens up into an attack stance.
Instead of an enemy, however, a single bird was perched on the sill,
staring at him with eyes of pure obsidian. He noted the bird’s markings
and size. What was a hawk doing here at this time of morning?

The hawk suddenly flew through the open window and landed gracefully on
the headboard of his bed. It continued to fix him with its fathomless
beady black gaze, and he saw that a scroll had been attached to one of
its legs. Proceeding slowly towards it lest he alarm the bird, Lion-O
sheathed the Sword before reaching out to snare the scroll. The hawk
made no move to peck him, nor did it lash out with its viciously sharp
talons as he carefully untied the string and removed the scroll.

It sat silently while he read the message. When Lion-O looked up at it,
the bird issued three sharp shrieks in answer and then fell quiet, never
moving its eyes from his.

The ride home was spent in happy discussion of wedding plans as the
morning sun bestowed its warm light upon Third Earth. "Ho, Thundercats,
are you upstairs?" Ben-Gali bellowed upon returning to the lair. "Guess
what! Pumyra and I are getting married!"

No answer was forthcoming.

"Try the control room. Someone’s got to be on watch," Pumyra suggested.
"There’s an eclipse of the sun that’s supposed to occur at high noon
today."

"They could be plotting the moon’s course," Ben-Gali agreed. "We’ll go
have a look-see." Dragging Pumyra along with him, he took to the halls
in search of his comrades to spread the good news.

He barged into the main control room, where Lion-O was sitting in front
of the huge screen reading a note. "Hey Lion-O we’re—"

That was when he saw it. Perched next to the Thundercat Lord on the
console panel was a beautiful light brown hawk. It stared intently,
uttering nary a squawk or screech when it sighted the new Thundercats.

"Lion-O? What’s going on?" Ben-Gali asked cautiously, sensing the
ambivalent mood. The hawk’s unblinking beady black eyes were giving him
the creeps. People he could stare down any day, but animals were a whole
different story. You couldn’t jerk them around. They knew exactly what
you were up to. He was sure this one was reading his mind like an open
book and lapping up all the pages of fear in it.

"Round up any other Thundercats you can track down," Lion-O said slowly
as he looked up. He handed them the note. Pumyra and Ben-Gali read it in
startled silence.

It is time. Bring five of your people to the white pyramid by noon
today.

The note was signed, Mumm-Rana.





"This is totally weird." Panthro suppressed a shiver threatening to
ensnare his body. He never was one for this freaky supernatural stuff.
"I should have stayed for guard duty with Ben-Gali and Wilykit."

"Well, she did say she was going to summon us at the end of the month,"
Cheetara said sensibly. "For what I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough."
She felt at peace here in the confines of the pyramid, sensing much good
among these walls.

"Right," Lion-O nodded as the group made its way down the cheerily lit
hall to the main tomb chamber.

Wilykat voiced the question niggling in all their heads. "I wonder what
she did to Mumm-Ra?"

"I expect that’s the reason for this meeting," Lion-O said. "Surely she
must have restored him to an active state. She’s got the power for it."

"But why wait a whole month? Why today of all days does she tell us to
come here?" Tygra asked.

"The eclipse probably has some mystical connotation for her," Pumyra
said. "That’s how the supernatural world seems to operate. They thrive
on those events."

"Just as long as we don’t have to do freaky stuff like eat boiled toad
bladders with refried mouse droppings or dance the hootchie-cootchie
naked while wearing hula-hoops and reciting love sonnets," Panthro said.

"Mumm-Rana wouldn’t do anything like that, I’m sure," Pumyra said.

"Yeah, she’d make it boiled mouse droppings and knock-knock jokes
instead," Kat cracked.

Lion-O would have commented on that with his own wry observations, but
they came to the end of the hall leading inside the main chamber. "Save
the jokes for later, guys," he warned as the group entered. "I don’t
know what all to expect, but—"

"Check it out!" Kat said. "We’re not alone." He pointed to the
sarcophagus ahead, where a prostrate form lay silently.

"It’s him!" Cheetara gasped.

"Huh?" Panthro asked, baffled.

"Him! The mirror man!" Cheetara cried.

Lion-O blinked twice and rubbed his eyes. "Holy shit."

Excited by this new turn of events, the Thundercats raced over to take a
closer look. Clothed in only a simple white linen kilt, a paragon of
exceptional beauty awaited them at the top of the dais. He appeared to
be asleep, though no outward sign of movement could be seen, not even
the throb of a pulse in his throat. The lack of animation, rather than
detracting from his mysterious aura, only added to it. He looked frozen
in time, preserved in eternal perfection that worshippers might view him
in all his glory. Dark lashes made thick sooty crescents on his pale
cheeks. Plush lips were parted slightly, as if he awaited the kiss of
rejuvenation from one who would awaken him. A gorgeous mane of mahogany
tinted with polished ruby red streamed down the back of his neck and
shoulders, spanning the length of his entire sinewy torso. He was tall,
perhaps the same height as Lion-O himself, with a muscular but slender
build hinting at a feline grace.

Silky bangs caressed his forehead as they fluttered in the breeze from
the air ducts above. One could only imagine what this man must be like
when conscious!

"He’s so beautiful," Cheetara whispered in a hushed tone. Unable to
resist she stroked his face with the tips of her fingers. His skin,
smooth and strangely warm to the touch, seemed softer than her own did!

"You know who this guy is?" Tygra asked Cheetara.

"This is Mumm-Ra in mortal form," she explained with breathless
fascination. "This is who he was before he became the Ever-Living." She
stared down at the former demon priest. She’d never seen such long
eyelashes on any man before.

Kat whistled sharply. "Kick-ass!"

Lion-O nodded mutely, unable to think of any appropriate response. It
was one thing to see such an exotic creature in a vision; it was quite
another to be able to view him up close and personal. Part of him wanted
to argue that this couldn’t possibly be his old enemy, but when he
studied the bone structure carefully it was irrefutable proof. Mumm-Ra
had assumed his full human contours.

Panthro voiced his own doubt. "No way. This can’t be Mumm-Ra. Mumm-Ra
was a freak. This guy’s . . . . . ." He trailed off as he fumbled for an
accurate description.

"Sexy?" Pumyra said, grinning.

"That’s a fine way for a soon-to-be married lady to talk," Kat teased
affectionately.

Laughing, Pumyra gently bopped him on the head with a fist. "I’m
engaged, not blind. Besides, you know I could never marry anyone else
but Ben-Gali."

"It’s Mumm-Ra," Cheetara assured Panthro. "Remember the Mirror of
Truth."

"Sheesh!" Panthro smacked a hand to his broad forehead. "Never thought
I’d see anything like this before." He leaned forward and squinted. "Is
he even alive?"

"You like?" inquired a dulcet voice behind them.

Lion-O glanced over at Mumm-Rana. She was as they’d last seen her, in
her own warrior form. In several strides she glided up to the
sarcophagus to share in the admiration over Mumm-Ra. "He sleeps," she
said with a twinkle in her eyes. "We must awaken him."

"I’m impressed," Lion-O told her solemnly. "However did you give him
back his mortal form?"

"Easy," the priestess said. "I promised him a new life. He cannot enjoy
it if he is still in his evil body, now can he?"

"If that’s healing I’d love to see what you could do for Panthro’s mom,"
Tygra joked nervously. Panthro scowled in mock disapproval.

"Shall we commence with the ceremony?" Mumm-Rana asked, clearing her
throat. "The eclipse is about to begin."

"I knew it," Panthro muttered under his breath. "We’re gonna have to
drink bat pee pina` coladas after all!"

"What do we have to do?" Lion-O asked.

"Gather around Mumm-Ra. Hold hands, everyone." She looked pointedly at
Cheetara. "Please stand over here, by his head."

Awkwardly the group shuffled to their respective positions, everyone
circling the gleaming sarcophagus, which resembled an oversized couch.
Mumm-Rana took up her place at Mumm-Ra’s head as she called out to three
other people unseen. "Ladies Oanahaptu and Malesenkha, Lord Durakkon, we
are ready."

"We are here, Mumm-Rana," a woman’s strong voice answered. Lion-O
glanced over his shoulder to see who the speaker was and gasped as three
spirits materialized next to him one by one.

The first spirit was the speaker. She was a few inches shorter than
Cheetara but by no means petite, even had she been without the sandals
that shod her feet. Her hair, which was free, was a lovely rich shade of
amber, the same as Mumm-Rana’s, and she was dressed in a pale gown of
tan linen. A few pieces of bright blue jewelry adorned her person, the
most notable being a sizable oval-shape necklace that Lion-O recognized
as a scarab from Dr. Dometone’s archaeology lectures. The scarab showed
a woman with an orb and a pair of horns hovering above her head. Though
she did not have the classic ancient Egyptian look, she was a beautiful
woman in her own right. He realized with some degree of surprise that
she bore a striking resemblance to the priestess herself, and he deduced
that she must be a close relative.

The second spirit just popped right in beside the first woman. She was a
bit taller than the blonde, with darker hair quite similar to Mumm-Ra’s
except that hers was lightly streaked with silver. She wore her tresses
in a loose ponytail that complemented the red robe she wore over a white
linen gown and sandals like the ones her companion had. She also
possessed more masculine features, particularly a strong nose. On any
other female it would have looked ridiculous, but this woman carried it
off with style. Her countenance was a no-nonsense dignity, which she
dispelled in a flash as she smiled broadly and winked at Lion-O.

The third spirit filled in next to her, and his appearance startled them
all.

For in every way except a few minute facial nuances he could have been
Mumm-Ra’s twin. His hair was slightly darker, and his nose was a tad
larger, but the resemblance was uncanny. He wore a kilt of white with a
purple belt that looped around his waist, its ends coming to point down
the front. Over this he had on an emerald green robe with wrist-length
sleeves and the same tan sandals as the other two. Like the first woman
he too wore a blue scarab necklace, but his bore the emblem of a
hawk-headed man in the center. Lion-O knew without a doubt that they
were looking at Mumm-Ra’s long-lost father, the Pharaoh Durakkon.

His eyes were a warm violet, and he turned this gentle gaze upon
Mumm-Rana as he addressed her. "Everyone is present, Mumm-Rana." His
voice was a rich melodic tone, slightly throaty and pleasing to the ear.
He inclined his head subtly towards Cheetara. "You have chosen well."

Cheetara gave him a puzzled smile. "Chosen for what?" she asked, a
little uneasily.

Durakkon beamed at her. "Oh, it’s nothing to fear. Quite the opposite.
You are the one who shall revive my son."

"Me? How?"

The blonde woman spoke. "Have you ever heard of the Osiris legend, my
dear?" Her voice was deeper than one would have thought for her
coloring, but it suited her well.

"Yes. Mumm-Ra told us that part when he explained the myth about Set’s
Heart."

All three spirits hastily made the sign against the Evil Eye at her
mention of that fearsome entity. "Well, someone has to breathe life back
into Mumm-Ra if he is to awaken properly," the blonde said with
amusement. "Don’t worry, Cheetara. When the time comes during the
Opening of the Mouth you’ll do fine."

"The what?"

"Mother means the ceremony we must perform," Mumm-Rana said. "There are
certain rules we must abide by, as everything has its time and place in
this game."

"’Mother’ . . ." Lion-O fell silent as he contemplated this. "You’re
Mumm-Rana’s mother?" he asked the blonde. She nodded, and Lion-O turned
to Durakkon. "I know you’ve got to be Mumm-Ra’s father." Durakkon smiled
again in acknowledgement. "So who are you?" Lion-O asked the dark-haired
woman. "How come there’s two different parents?"

"I am Queen Regent Oanahaptu Mosaire Seti. What do you mean, two
different parents?"

"She—" Lion-O indicated the blonde—"is Mumm-Rana’s mother, correct?"

"Yes. Malesenkha is my daughter-in-law."

"And he is Mumm-Ra’s father?" Lion-O asked as he gestured to Durakkon.

"Yes. Durakkon is my son." Oanahaptu smiled proudly the way mothers do
when introducing their offspring. Her smile deepened as she added
slowly, "He also happens to be Mali’s husband."

Lion-O let his brain absorb her clarifications. "Then that means Mumm-Ra
and Mumm-Rana—"

"—Are brother and sister," Oanahaptu finished. "Well done, young man."

"Twins!" Kat exclaimed. "Lion-O, they’re fraternal twins! Like me and
Kit!"

Lion-O looked from Wilykat to Oanahaptu to Mumm-Rana and finally
Mumm-Ra. "By Jaga, you’re right!" Now that they’d mentioned it, there
was a family continuum there. "I never would have guessed!"

"Of course not," Oanahaptu said kindly. "Mumm-Ra was trapped in bondage
by the Ancient Spirits of Evil. He never knew either because they kept
him from ever learning the truth. They knew he wouldn’t have remained in
their service otherwise."

"Come on!" Panthro shook his head in disbelief. "The guy roams Third
Earth for centuries and never stumbles across his other immortal
sibling?"

"It is true," Malesenkha insisted. "Because of one man’s jealous hatred
our family was separated from each other. We are only just beginning to
fix the damage done by Thaetith."

"This Thaetith," Tygra spoke up, "he’s the infamous uncle Mumm-Ra
despises so?"

Oanahaptu’s shoulders sagged and some of the spirit left her violet
eyes, dulling them. "Yes. Thaetith was my older son." None of them
missed the fact that she deliberately spoke of Thaetith in the past
tense.

Mumm-Rana was quick to dispel the somber mood following the mention of
that black sheep. "We must begin. The moon has partially covered the sun
already," she noted. "No matter what, when the eclipse is full you must
not step outside the ring’s boundary. Understood?" Everyone nodded
assent.

Thundercats and spirits completed the circle around the sarcophagus.
Mumm-Rana stood at the head of it, with Cheetara to her left per her
instructions. More hands were joined; some bowed their heads in
respectful silence as they waited for the next step in this odd
ceremony.

Mumm-Rana spoke in a booming oratory. "Ancient Spirits of Goodness! Hear
us now, as the ring of fire descends upon Third Earth to give new life!
We call upon you to witness the Opening of the Mouth.

"For thousands of years this man before you has fallen unto evil ways
not of his free will. He was condemned to a life of evil as an undead
servant by the Dark One. We beseech you, O holy and most revered
representatives of Lord Amon-Ra himself, to appeal to his son the great
Osiris to grant renewed life to my brother.

"Once he was known as Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living, devil priest of darkness.
>From this day forth he shall be known instead by his True Name!"

Mumm-Rana released Cheetara’s hand to touch Mumm-Ra’s slack lips.
"Mau’Rahn-Durakkon Merneptah, I return to thee the life that was taken
from you so cruelly. Arise and know the joys of mortal constraints once
more."

The Thundercats held their collective breath, expecting to see Mumm-Ra
suddenly sit up and speak like a puppet at Mumm-Rana’s command. When he
didn’t they exchanged confused looks as if to say What the heck is going
on here, some kind of joke?

In the next few seconds their question was answered. Above their heads a
ceiling partition drew back, stone scraping noisily, to reveal the pink
overhead sky. The solar eclipse had begun. Sunlight poured down upon the
group and bathed them in rich rose undertones. Behind Mumm-Rana an arc
of pure white light appeared. Slowly it lengthened until it had spread
halfway around the sarcophagus, then grew still more, forming an entire
fiery ring surrounding the ceremony’s players. Panthro, spooked by this
eerie display, started to back away but stopped when Mumm-Rana shook her
head at him in stern reminder. The ring of fire grew yet further in size
as the eclipse reached its peak.

When the circle was complete the eyes of the ever watchful statues
glowed sapphire blue. Mumm-Rana called upon them by name as she
continued her incantations. "Good Sephetah, She Who Commands Peace over
Anquat of War, Good Sehmesep, He Whose Justice Presides over Apophis of
Vengeance, Good Hethhatu, He Whose Life Banishes Anubis of Death, Good
Haphor, She Whose Eternal Love Triumphs over Arkseht of Hatred!"

All four statues’ eyes sparked with bolts of blue lightning one by one
as their praises were sung. "Ancient Spirits of Goodness, You Who
Preserve and Protect all of Maat from the Dark One, He Whose Heart Beats
with naught except the Poison of Evil, I present to thee your servant
newly sworn, Mau’Rahn-Durakkon Merneptah, The Dreamer. Let your combined
powers shower down upon him, give life to him that he may fulfill his
True Destiny and rid Third Earth of Setuusehkt’s influence!"

Once more Oanahaptu, Malesenkha, and Durakkon made the sign against
Set’s Evil Eye. Mumm-Rana did this as well, and Lion-O, figuring it
couldn’t hurt to follow suit, motioned to the others that they should do
the same as all the Thundercats clumsily imitated the hand gestures of
the four Egyptians.

The Ancient Spirits of Goodness spoke then, but not aloud. It was as if
they were a part of everyone’s mind, and their words seemed to come not
from any outside source but from within the makings of each person’s own
thoughts. We have heard your plea, O Daughter of Maat. The Creator and
The Lord of Two Lands agree it must be so. With our great pleasure we
grant thee this request. Let each one of you bestow a piece of his or
her soul upon the Son of Maat, that he may enjoy his new life in its
entirety as is proper.

"We understand, O Spirits," Mumm-Rana answered. "And it is with great
happiness that we obey this proclamation."

"No we do not understand," Panthro interjected. "What the heck do they
mean give Mumm-Ra a piece of our soul? Are we going to get mentally
chopped up or something? Y’know, as in Freddy Cougar-style?" He
scrunched up his face in revulsion at what he feared was about to become
an unauthorized public lobotomy.

"Each of us must declare aloud a gift of heart that we wish the Good
Spirits to add to Mumm-Ra’s spirit," Mumm-Rana explained. "These will
aid him all the days of his life from now on, so choose wisely."
Demonstrating for them, she lifted her eyes to the statues and said, "I
give to my brother the gift of love, for it is in love that I act to
grant you your heart’s desire, and give you life such as you deserve. To
live in love is to truly live. I have waited long for your return, dear
brother. Welcome home."

Tygra was the first to catch on and after a bit of thought voiced his
part. "I give to this man the gift of imagination, for any man can
possess intellect, but a clever man with a sharp wit will exercise the
boundless powers of an imaginative mind to their fullest and beyond."

Pumyra was next. She took a deep breath and said, "I give the gift of
innocence, because I believe everyone should be able to view life with
the wonder of a child’s gentle heart, no matter how old they are."

Then Wilykat was up and he blurted out, "Even though I know it has to be
earned I give him the ability to trust, so he can experience the fun of
sharing that special closeness with someone." He quickly lowered his
head to hide his open embarrassment at revealing such intimate ideas
before adult company, despite inward certainty that no one was going to
tease him about them.

>From Oanahaptu: "I give my grandson strength, that he will not only
endure throughout future hardships but flourish in the face of
adversity."

Lion-O felt her squeeze his hand, and he took his turn. "I give . . ."
He paused, wondering how to address Mumm-Ra. His familiar name didn’t
seem proper given the ceremony’s formality. "Ex-enemy" was pretty much
out too. He settled on what he decided was a nice choice. "I give my new
friend the gift of courage. Even though fear has its place, there are
times when it prevents a person from acting. Courage is the resolve to
do what is needed in spite of fear."

"Good one, Lion-O," Panthro said to his comrade with a bob of his
eyebrows, clearly impressed by the amount of thought put into his
choice. He waited for the next person to speak, and when no one did he
realized all eyes were on him. "Uh, it’s my turn already?" he asked
meekly.

"Go ahead, Panthro, you can do it," Pumyra prodded with an encouraging
grin.

"Ummm . . . okay." Panthro furrowed his brow as he chewed his lip in
heavy thought. "All right, I’ve got one." He looked down at Mumm-Ra’s
serene face. "I’ll give him a good sense of humor, because everybody has
the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of laughter." He said this
with such a straight face everyone was hard-pressed to contain any mirth
at the unintentionally amusing remark.

Durakkon and Malesenkha exchanged a tender glance. Then the pharaoh
spoke, violet eyes shining passionately. "We too give our beloved son
the gift of love. In all that you do, in everything and everyone that
you encounter, it is our dearest wish that you see all but hold close to
your heart only the goodness of life, and forgive not just the faults of
others but your own as well."

Malesenkha added, "Most of all you must cherish your own worth. I speak
not of the empty pleasure of vanity’s cold arrogance, but instead of the
pride and joy, the happiness that comes from knowing there exists within
you the potential to enrich other lives by giving people happiness
through your kind words and deeds—indeed, your very presence."

Cheetara swallowed audibly as Malesenkha’s words echoed in the chamber.
Her chance had finally arrived. How was she going to match that one? She
surveyed the others’ faces but saw no censure, only encouragement.
Whatever gift she contributed would be equally welcome and valued.

"I give to this man the gift of hope. For in hope lives faith, and out
of faith love is born." In short, live well, laugh often, and love much,
she thought, pleased with her choice.

Mumm-Rana took control of the ceremony again. "You have witnessed our
offerings, Good Spirits. Now we turn the reigns over to you." She was
quiet for a minute as she drew a large breath for her next sentence.
"Let the Opening of the Mouth commence!" she cried, flinging open her
arms and raising them to the heavens with a broad smile.

The Ancient Spirits of Goodness acknowledged this declaration with a
snap-crackle-pop of bright blue lightning from four pairs of eyes. In a
split second this lightning flew towards the group and divided into ten
separate bolts of energy, which penetrated every person’s heart. By the
time they realized what had happened the lightning had already left
their bodies in the form of ten tiny sapphire blue spheres, carrying
within these the gifts of heart promised by each soul.

Mumm-Rana held out her hands and the spheres began condensing into one
big ball of vibrantly pulsing life energy. Rainbow hues shimmering, the
lone sphere suddenly shrank to the size of a golf ball and surrendered
itself to Mumm-Rana’s gentle grasp. The priestess turned to Cheetara,
unfolding her cupped hands. Nestled snugly in her palms was the ball of
life energy. "For you," Mumm-Rana said happily.

Cheetara stared at the entrancing creation. "What am I supposed to do
with it?"

"Give it to Mumm-Ra. You are the one, after all."

Cheetara stretched forth a hand to receive the dazzling sphere, but it
had plans of its own. Without so much as a warning it sprang from
Mumm-Rana’s hands and leapt down the Thundercat’s open mouth, forcing
her to swallow it amid loud gasps and shocked murmurs. She would have
gagged on the glob of energy if it hadn’t zipped with such slick speed
through her system. It settled in her breast, palpitating in rhythm with
her heartbeat. The physical sensation of its presence inside her body,
while too strange to describe in mere words, wasn’t unpleasant at all.
In fact, she felt deliciously giddy . . .? Wonderful feelings
immediately blossomed within her, and suddenly she figured out what
Malesenkha had meant when she said life had to be breathed back into
Mumm-Ra.

Leaning over him now Cheetara intuitively understood what was to be
done. The rightness, the sheer ingenuity of this plan in the grand
scheme was delightfully unquestionable and she took her cue from guiding
instinct.

With reverence she knelt by the side of the sarcophagus, lowered her
lips firmly onto his, and exhaled deeply.

She had an entire fraction of a second to contemplate the softness and
the warmth of his mouth before the life energy bolted eagerly from her
body to his—

He knew only that he was smothered in the oppressive void. Though unable
to sense anything while drifting in darkness, surrounded by empty,
lifeless enclosure, he somehow understood this as fact . . . until The
Force came tugging at his essence, first lightly then increasingly
harder as it sucked him into an even fiercer grip than that of the void.
The Force pulled him out of this nothingness as easily as a red-hot
knife slices through butter, moving faster-faster-faster-faster until
any sensation around him was but an incomprehensive blur and he was
compressed with dizzying speed into a downward whirlwind spiral of
multicolored light—





His senses reawakened to a new beginning as he registered the presence
of a pair of exquisitely tender lips pressed against his own. Then the
full impact of the possession struck him with a crashing jolt as the
flesh enclosed him completely within itself. His eyes flew open to a
stunning circle of rose-colored light overhead, the clarity of which
would have been blinding except for the cascade of gold blocking most of
the rays from view.

Thinking at first he was being suffocated by some horrid anomaly he
panicked, and struggled until he realized that it was another person, a
woman, bending over him. He gasped frantically, disentangling himself
from her kiss and gulping down lungful after lungful of what must have
been the freshest air he could ever remember breathing. Trembling, chest
heaving as he inhaled huge clean breaths, he pulled himself upright into
a sitting position and saw the group gathered round him.

Bewildered by their awed expressions, he started to rise further to
investigate. In addition to the coolness in the air he felt the caress
of something silkily soft against his bare back, shoulders, and face. He
could see the dark reddish tendrils dangling in front of his eyes but
had to touch them to consciously reassure himself of their existence. He
reached up with one hand, passing it over then behind his head as he
slid strong fingers through the lush mass, and dazedly grasped a fistful
of shiny red mahogany strands much longer than the whole of his arm,
still blinking in wide-eyed disorientation at the gawkers.

He touched tentative fingertips to his cheek and traced them slowly
across the warm skin. With growing realization he explored the smooth
contours of his eyelids, nose, lips, and jaw.

I am alive!

He was whole again! Alive and whole! No tattered bandages, no musty
smell, not even the formerly apparent face of death remained to taunt
him, for healthy living flesh and blood had taken over. He felt his
chest and looked at it with amazement. The double-headed serpent brand
was missing. So were his wrist scars and the bonds that used to cover
them.

He was a mortal man once more.

As he woke entirely to the wonderful shock of being back in human
embodiment he caught sight of himself in a mirror offered him by an
amber-haired woman whose own radiant face reflected his happiness. The
blood-red gaze he was familiar with of old was no longer there in the
looking glass either. Violet—yes, violet!—eyes large with joyful
astonishment blinked rapidly back at him, and he watched his own full
lips part to utter a mute cry of surprise.

The youth standing off to his right side broke the silence for him. "IT
WORKED!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "IT REALLY WORKED!"

Wilykat’s cries resounded wildly throughout the pyramid, penetrating
every wall and carrying beyond the stone to the outside world the joyous
news. "Mumm-Ra lives!"


                    Next Chapter



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