The Two Faces of Evil - That Old Black Magic
I hate this bitch, thought Carlemon-Wassey as he helped himself to
another handful of pistachios. Officer Mandora of Control Force Five had
a legendary reputation among the IPCF. She was well known for her dogged
determination in tracking down criminals to the ends of the galaxies and
beyond. Pity the poor sap that got in her way, for she would bulldoze
right over him in pursuit of her mission.
She was using that same determination to wheedle information out of the
chief now. She'd breezed into his office that morning, cool as you
please, and demanded an all-points bulletin check on a Mutant war
fighter still operational in the Third Earth region. Right now Wassey
was doing his best to conceal evidence of an actual Skeeter Z existence
without giving himself away to Mandora. She was slick as snot, that one.
She could pick out a phony ID from the best counterfeit craftsmen in the
universe and smell a perp before he ever came to town. If she got one
whiff of his double dealing with Genvironment, she'd cream her panties
in the blink of an eye. That kind of bust was every officer's fantasy.
" . . . as you know, the Skeeter Z is not a familiar vehicle to Third
Earthlings, so we should be able to get a lead on it fast because of its
unusual description," Mandora droned on, ignoring the slightly bored
look on Wassey's face. "This is our first major lead since their escape.
Thanks to the tabbut who turned in the call we could have our fugitives
within twenty-four hours."
Wassey stifled a burp. Fucking tabbuts! Always on the go to collect
their precious money. He was certain that this one wouldn't have
bothered reporting the sighting had it not been for the damned
Thundercats poking their noses into the situation. The feline heroes'
intervention had prompted the head of the Calis Officers' Board to issue
a statement promising a hefty reward for any information leading to the
recapture of the Mutants and the Lunataks. Of course tattling in
exchange for money would appeal to a greedy tabbut.
According to Kembri, however, it wouldn't have made much difference even
if the tattler had never come forward. He'd gotten the scoop from the
general's partner, that disgusting Sephi-what's-his-name. The chief
grunted as he swallowed another bubble of gas. He hated this job. The
pay was great but the stress was killing him. He'd already been warned
by his doctor to lay off the pistachios because they were aggravating
his ulcer. Screw that. He'd sooner give up cop work than abandon his
beloved pistachios. The problem was convincing Kembri that he wished to
take an early retirement. Wassey had a bad feeling that his idea of
retirement differed vastly from Kembri's.
Well, hell. When he'd agreed ten years ago to act as a spy for the
Thunderian he'd never thought he'd have to deal with the deaths of
noblemen in his jurisdiction. The media alone would have a field day
once news of the Thundercats' deaths hit town. When that happened,
Wassey planned to be well out of range as the splatters hit the fan and
"Wassey?" Mandora's annoying tone cut in on his thoughts.
The chief quickly fumbled in his mind for an appropriate response.
"Frankly, I don't see how we can issue a bulletin when we don't even
have tangible evidence of this vehicle's existence."
Mandora's lips thinned. "Oh yes we do. We've got that tabbut's
testimony. He got a clean look at the ship."
"He could have made it up just to have a go at the money. You know what
tabbuts are like."
"Not even the best gold diggers could falsify a description as accurate
as the one this tabbut gave me. Use your pull with the board, Wassey.
They'll let you issue the bulletin. Given the high profiles of these
fugitives, I don't see how they could refuse."
"I've got four task groups searching out there now," Wassey said, barely
managing to conceal his irritation. "If I bring down any more manpower
the district's gonna raise a fit because I'm going over the budget. Let
the Thundercats deal with it--that's what they're here for, right?"
"It's every citizen of the galaxy's duty to assist in the preservation
of the peace," Mandora said, the visor of her helmet gleaming under the
lights. "But we can't sit back and expect the Thundercats to take on our
job completely. Besides, from what I hear, they've got their own
problems to take care of." She rapped his desk smartly with a fist.
"I've got a rendezvous with Quick Pick this afternoon. I want an
all-points-bulletin for one unmarked Plun-Darrian Skeeter Z spaceship
issued by the end of the day."
"Keep in touch," the woman said with a wave of her hand as she strode
coolly out of his office, her tone clearly indicating that she expected
him to follow through.
"Bitch," Wassey muttered under his breath the minute she was out of
earshot. He picked up his private line and keyed in a number he knew by
heart. Kembri was not going to be happy about this.
The general's co-conspirator answered on the third tone. "Wass-s-sey,"
Sephi-vo-Notar's unmistakable hiss came slithering across the line. It
never failed to chill the chief.
"No, he's-s-s in council with our Plun-Darrian faction right now," Sephi
said. "What's-s-s up?"
Wassey longed to tell the Mutant to stick that tongue of his in a
blender so he wouldn't have to listen to that aggravating lisp. Instead
he said, "Mandora's on my back about the Skeeter Z. She wants me to put
out an all-points-bulletin on it."
There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. Then a
barely audible, "Shit."
"Yeah. So what do you wanna do?"
An even longer silence passed. "Let me talk to Kembri and I'll call you
back," Sephi said finally, and hung up before Wassey could get in a word
The chief spent another half-hour eating more pistachios and sweating
bullets wondering what Kembri's new orders would be while waiting for
Sephi's call. When the Mutant did he pounced on the line. "Well?"
"Kembri s-s-says to go ahead and put the bulletin through. We're going
to s-s-send out a decoy ship for them to chase while we figure out the
next move." He paused, then asked, "Any word on the other yet?"
"None that I'm aware of," Wassey said, suppressing the shudder he felt
every time he heard 'the other' mentioned. "Last known sighting was on
New Thundera when it went after the Thundercats, wasn't it?"
Wassey fiddled with a pistachio shell nervously. "You do realize that if
this thing is still alive and it comes into my jurisdiction, I'm going
to have to call out the force on it."
"No." The response was short. "We don't want a huge manhunt like that.
It will only s-s-serve to alert it to our pres-s-sence."
"Sephi, you yourself said that it was a killer. If it starts knocking
off folks in my area, I have no other choice but to put cops on it."
"No manhunts," Sephi said warningly. "We've already got people on it.
You concentrate on Mandora and thos-s-se Thundercats-s-s." The line went
"Dammit," Wassey hissed. He hoped to high heaven that Genvironment's
genetic freak stayed the hell away from his jurisdiction. He had no idea
what it was exactly, but judging from what he'd been told by Sephi, this
thing was one vicious psycho.
He tapped in his code to his computer and went online to draw up the
bulletin. The things I do for money, he thought sourly.
In less than ten minutes he'd completed the necessary paperwork and
written the bulletin. Figuring that Kembri would act fast to send out
his decoy, he saw no reason to wait on issuing his statement, and so he
uploaded it to every IPCF station between Third Earth and the Grey Penal
Planet. They in turn would release it to all officers on duty, who would
then be on the lookout for one dark green Skeeter Z, missing its
Mandora was en route to Cats' Lair when the call from Wassey came
through. "It's done," he said.
"I knew I could count on you," Mandora said, unruffled by his huffy
tone. "Once I finish debriefing Quick Pick I'll check back at the Calis
station. Over and out."
She'd no sooner replaced her communicator on the dashboard of her bike
than it began beeping again. "Mandora, Evil Chaser First Class," she
said as she picked up the call.
"Mandora, where are you?" Quick Pick's excited voice crackled through.
"Passing over the River of Despair now. What is it?"
"Oh man, you have got to see this! We just hit the jackpot!" Quick Pick
babbled. "You know those weird files I've been hacking?"
"What about them?"
"Well, let's just say that we're about to make the bust of the century,
"Care to elaborate on that?"
"You know that last file? The new one we just got? It was sent to us by
this guy named Tradyk. He's the mole."
"The one who's been sending the Thundercats the last bunch of files?"
"The very same. And guess where he works? This new file has practically
everything you ever wanted to know about one super-secret science
organization by the name of--" Quick Pick paused
melodramatically--"Genvironment! Whaddya think of that?"
"So they're the ones behind the Mutants' and the Lunataks' escape."
"Bingo. Damn, that file was a bugger to open too, probably more so than
the last ones. Never mind the fact that I first had to disable the
friggin' alarm system before going to the password entry."
"Yeah, these files come with their very own handy-dandy alarm system.
It'll either shut the whole enchilada down or alert some mook at the
main base that we're trying to run their stupid program."
"But you were able to bypass that feature."
"Yup. A little hacking here and there . . . you know. As to actually
getting into the files, I've tried every single anti-encryption trick I
could think of but nothing worked, so I got desperate and went with the
guessing game. And whaddya know, it paid off." Quick Pick's tone was
smug despite his problem report. "Can I hack 'em or can I hack 'em,
"Mandora, thank you very much," the officer said coolly. Her blood raced
eagerly. Nothing beat a big bust, not even the best cream-filled donut
in the world. "Does Lion-O know what you found yet?"
"No, we can't raise a response on the Thundertank's communicator. He and
several other Thundercats went over to Mumm-Rana's white pyramid early
this morning. Lynx-O's at the Tower of Omens, though."
"All right. I'll fly by the white pyramid and see if I can pick them up.
I'll meet you at Cats' Lair."
"Gotcha. Oh, and Mandora? Believe me, there's a lot more to this file
that you absolutely have to see. Tons of really freaky
stuff--experiments, and something called the em--"
"You can tell us all about it when we get there. Mandora out." She
swiftly reprogrammed the Electra-Charger's coordinates, and sped off in
the direction of the white pyramid.
"Where are we going, Thay?"
"This doesn't look like any spot for horses. There's no water."
Trust Durakkon to make such an astute observation. "We're not going to
be riding horses today," Thaetith said calmly, though inside he was
anything but. "I want to show you something special instead."
The two brothers were hiking along the desert plains towards their
destination. It was early afternoon--not the best time to be out and
about, for the sun was baking the lands as it always did this time of
day. Nevertheless Thaetith had been prepared for this. He'd brought
along two water flasks, one for him and one for little brother. From
time to time each paused to sip a bit of the precious liquid; here in
this unforgiving land water was literally life.
Now Durakkon's eyes lit up at his brother's words. "A surprise? What is
"You'll see when we get to the temple." Abruptly Thaetith stopped and
whirled to face his brother. "Swear by Amon's eye that this will remain
between the two of us!" he hissed.
Startled by Thaetith's sudden change in mood Durakkon nodded quickly,
unsure of what to make of the strange fire burning brightly in his
brother's eyes. He hadn't seen such a look before, yet it spooked him
for reasons that he couldn't quite articulate. "I swear," he said
"Good." As quickly as it had flared the light was gone and Thaetith's
eyes were their normal obsidian selves again. He smiled and pointed
ahead. "See those stones off in the distance? That's where we're going."
Durakkon scanned the horizon, squinting, and at last located the
crumbling structure. "It sure is a long way from home," he commented.
"How come you go all the way out here? Mama would pitch a fit if she
"Mom's not here right now, is she? And you swore you wouldn't speak a
word of this to anyone but me," Thaetith said, his voice taking on a
hurt overcast. "Besides, what Mom doesn't know won't hurt her."
"Well . . ." Durakkon paused, scrunching up his face in deep thought as
he struggled to justify the situation. "It would be like an adventure,
us two exploring the wilderness, huh?"
"Exactly!" Thaetith grinned. "Trust me. We're going to have some fun!"
The remainder of the trek went smoothly after that. Eventually the boys
reached Thaetith's temple. It was situated on a small hill, and to call
it a temple now was inaccurate, for the building had quite obviously
been worn away to ruins in the passage of time. Sand dunes had
half-buried one side while eating away at the stone on the other,
creating a haggard skeleton that looked ready to come tumbling down at
the first strong gust of wind. Yet it was readily apparent that this had
once been a significant place of worship, for signs that religious
services had been conducted here were in plain sight. Hieroglyphs
littered every visible block in the walls, and though Durakkon was not
able to understand many of them he could read enough to know that they'd
found the remains of a heavy-duty cult. "Wow," he breathed. "I guess
whoever built this place got struck down by Amon 'cause he didn't like
"Blasphemy, and on the contrary, little brother, they were merely
waiting for the right person to come along to pay proper tribute. It
didn't matter how long they had to wait. They knew that someone would
come sooner or later."
"Huh?" Durakkon had no clue as to what his brother was talking about, so
he moved over to study a huge statue in one of the corners of the
interior. "Boy, this one's ugly," he said with distaste. "He looks like
the face of what Teneo brought back from the hunting party yesterday."
Durakkon looked around and realized that there were three other statues
similar to it in the adjoining corners. He went up to the next statue,
noticing that it held an enormous scimitar carved out of stone. "This
one's ugly too," he declared. "They're all ugly. What's so special about
a bunch of ugly statues, Thay?"
No answer. Durakkon tried again, still staring in awe up into the cruel
face of the lifeless beast. "Thay?"
Not receiving a response for the second time Durakkon turned to look for
his brother. Thaetith was not behind him as he expected. He was kneeling
before the sandblasted altar with head bowed and hands clasped together
in silent prayer. Puzzled, Durakkon cautiously approached him. "What are
you doing?" he half-whispered.
"Hush." Thaetith's voice was low. "They are listening. They will answer
Durakkon lifted his head and strained to listen for signs of an
intruder. "Who's 'they?'"
"The Ancient Ones."
"No. They are His guardsmen, as eternal as time itself. They wait for
the One who will wield His Heart over the Two Lands. Be silent,
Durakkon, and in a moment I will explain everything to you." Thaetith
resumed his quiet vigil at the altar.
Durakkon shrugged and glanced at the worn block of stone, which unlike
most of the temple's remaining artifacts, looked like it had been wiped
clean of sand recently. He saw that it was stained dark with
something--a dye?--and he felt an unexplainable chill course through his
body. He didn't like this place. It was way too spooky, but for some
strange reason his brother had taken a liking to it, enough to make him
want to bring Durakkon here to see it. "You've been here before," he
"Yes I have. Many times," Thaetith said softly with a peculiar smile. He
rose and faced his brother. "You're probably too young to remember when
Father passed on, but it was a little bit before then, when I first
discovered the temple." His face took on a dreamlike trance. "I was
wandering around the deserts one day, wondering what life could possibly
have in store for someone as gifted as me. I knew I would be someone to
reckon with one day, I just didn't know how or when that would take
place. And then I found it. This temple was just sitting here, waiting .
. . waiting for someone . . . waiting for me. Almost as if . . . it had
been created and survived throughout the centuries just for me alone.
Like I was its sole purpose for existing. It welcomed me as I have never
felt welcomed by anyone before."
Durakkon was beginning to feel even more unsettled by Thaetith's
behavior. "Why would you want to visit a creepy place like this? It's a
cult of Set."
"It only seems creepy to you because you don't understand it," Thaetith
said with the smug air of superiority. "Brother, Set really isn't the
fearsome deity he's made out to be. It's only the cowards who pray to
that fool Osiris who make that nonsense up, because they don't want Set
cashing in on Osiris' popularity. They're afraid once people really find
out what Set is all about they'll ditch Ozzie in droves and put the
entire jolly bunch of priesthood out of business." Thaetith's eyes
gleamed with feverish zeal. "Oh gods, Durakkon, if only you knew how
many times I've prayed for the purpose and the power to become something
other than Merneptah Seti's grandson or Sessendriht's boy!" He jumped up
and began to pace back and forth, wringing his hands in wide, sweeping
gestures. "It was always all about them, dead saints who were buried and
long gone but yet still talked about as if they were still a part of the
world. Nobody ever asked me what it was I wanted to do. Nobody ever
asked me what my thoughts on anything were, they just automatically
assumed that I would be an extension of those ghosts. They never saw me
as anything but that, when in reality I am my own person!"
Durakkon frowned, trying to make sense of this. "Mama says pride can be
a good thing, Thay, but too much pride is bad. It makes you act selfish
and do mean things just to get your own way."
"And what is selfish, Durakkon?" Thaetith seemed to tower over the
younger boy now, his body alive with the force of something unholy. "Is
it selfish to want to forge your own destiny, separate from the past? Is
it selfish to want to make something of your life before passing on to
that great void of an afterlife? Is it selfish to try to achieve all
your dreams in that short wretched existence we call life?"
"Well, no . . . but--"
"Everyone thinks that I'm this spoiled brat who will never amount to
anything because I don't like to sit in a stuffy classroom listening to
a boring sermon from some burned-out old scribe about lessons that I
already know, when I could be out there in the great wide open learning
the real lessons of life. It's said by the local gossipmongers that I'm
a deviate who's headed straight for the gutter just because I like to
loosen up with a little prank involving acid and knife-throwing, or
perhaps one with fire instead if I'm feeling creative. And I'm certain
that you wouldn't have to venture far to find a man who doesn't believe
that I'm flat-out evil because I'm ready to sacrifice whatever it takes
to have my chance at something infinitely better than what I've got
now," Thaetith spat contemptuously. He put his face right up to
Durakkon's so that they were eye to eye. "I . . . want . . . more," he
His brother was genuinely afraid now. Thaetith wasn't Thaetith anymore;
he'd become something ruthless and untouchable during his rant.
Durakkon's eyes slipped unwillingly to the stained altar once more, and
an awful thought suddenly occurred to him. "Sacrifice . . . oh Thay,
please don't tell me you--"
"Set likes offerings of blood," Thaetith said with a nasty smile. "Blood
is the river of life, and when someone willingly and joyfully surrenders
his life--or another's--to His power, He is mightily pleased. What
greater honor could one receive than Set's favor for presenting Him with
such a priceless gift?"
The younger boy trembled in outright terror. "Are you going to kill me
for Set?" he asked timidly.
Thaetith threw back his head and laughed raucously. The sound echoed
harshly off the aged stone. "Oh perish the thought, dear Durakkon!" He
moved closer and put a companionable arm around his brother. "You're my
brother. You and I are as close as two could ever be . . . and yet, we
could be closer. Don't deny it because you know it's true. I haven't
always been the attentive, caring elder brother that I could have been.
I admit that. That's why I wanted you to see this place, see and hear
all that I've put myself through just so we could take the world by
storm, us two, together forever and so tight that nothing could break
Thaetith's voice, his gestures, came across as both inspiring and
pleading but the cold inhuman fury blazing in the ebony depths of his
eyes warned Durakkon of danger. Whatever evil essence had possessed his
brother was now attempting to claim him as well, and he would have none
of it. "Thay, I love you as you are now, not as this crazy vision you
have of yourself. Sure, we're supposed to stick together as a family,
but that doesn't mean we have to turn our backs on everybody else.
Rulers are supposed to serve their people, that's what Mama said."
"If Mama jumped off a cliff would you do that too?" Disgust curled
Thaetith's mouth. "I thought you would listen to me, Durakkon. I thought
you'd understand. I guess I was wrong." He turned and walked over to the
altar again. "A king has power handed to him on a silver platter. What
good is he if he allows that power to sit idle? Power is not dispensing
mercy and trinkets to the flea-bitten beggar on your stairs. Power is
about moving and shaking, bending the earth to your will, conquering its
weaker peoples and using them to benefit your own glory."
"No it's not. That's--" Durakkon fumbled for the right word--"that's
tyranny. It's wrong."
Thaetith's scowl deepened. "Methinks you speak too soon, brother dear.
Wait until you have beheld the full measure of what I am about to reveal
to you before you make up your mind."
Durakkon slowly started to back away, towards the exit. "I've seen
enough of this yucky place. I want to go home."
"Stay!" Thaetith ordered, throwing his arm wide. "Stay and I will show
you what true power is."
>From a sack on his belt he withdrew a shiny black object. Durakkon
scrunched up his face in curiosity despite his fear. The box Thaetith
held cradled lovingly in his hands really wasn't all that remarkable.
Other than its thin patchwork of crisscrossing golden lines it bore no
important markings. Yet Durakkon had the distinct impression that within
this meager box lay a terrible secret, one that he had no wish to
disturb no matter what the cost. "What's that thing?"
"This is the real power," Thaetith whispered reverently, caressing the
edges of the box with his thumbs. His eyes seemed to glow with feverish
obsession as he spoke. "Father took me aside one day and showed me my
destiny. He told me the tale of the great battle of Set and Horus--do
you know that story?" Durakkon nodded hastily. "Oh, of course you would.
I expect that Mother taught it to you, after altering certain bits here
and there to make it more palatable to your child's taste," Thaetith
sniffed. "The reality is far harsher than a mere fairy tale, brother,
but it is also far more glorious than any bedtime story could ever be.
For in truth it is said that Set's mighty Heart still lives on inside
this little puzzle box. He waits, you see, for the One who would wield
his titanic strength as ruler of the Two Lands. Only a strong king could
withstand the force of His magic, and when I laid eyes upon this
exciting mystery, I knew then what His guardsmen were trying to tell
me." He smiled some more, and chills ran down Durakkon's spine. "I was
to be the King."
"But you're already king," Durakkon said, still confused. "You will be,
anyway, when you're a grownup."
"Merely the hereditary king of some dinky country, Durakkon. Had I not
known of the wonderful fate Set ordained for me, I would have gone on to
become just another chiseled recording in the stone of history, and then
sanded away by the passage of time. No, He knew that I would never be
content with such meager pickings, and so He answered my prayers."
"What did you ask Set for?" his cowed brother whispered fearfully,
dreading the answer.
"This," Thaetith said with glee, and holding the box aloft in a firm
grip, twisted both ends of it in opposite directions as if it were made
The room seemed to explode with energy in the next instant. Red and blue
sparks of lightning crackled from the box as it shot out of Thaetith's
hands and began spinning wildly in a circle. Durakkon yelped when a bolt
landed perilously close to the tips of his toes and raced over by the
statue farthest from the fantastic display to avoid becoming a barbecue.
The fireworks continued to grow in intensity as the box expanded to
twice its size to release even more fury. It morphed into a tall, thin
pyramid and then bored into the sagging ceiling, spraying chips of stone
in its sudden quest for freedom. Both boys ducked in the wake of the
shower and scurried outside to see where the box had flown off.
"Where did it go?"
"There!" Thaetith cried, pointing to the fast-blackening skies above.
The box had risen only a few feet above their heads, yet it seemed as
unreachable as the heavens themselves. It spun and whipped furiously
about as it changed its shape into a series of indistinguishable forms,
discarding each of them for another just as quickly and spewing out all
manner of lightning and red hail while the dark clouds churned in
Durakkon wanted badly to flee from this terrifying sight, but he would
not abandon his brother to the mercy of the evil box. He turned to grab
Thaetith with the intention of dragging him away from this corrupt
place--and then he noticed something else that was wrong:
Thaetith was not in the least bit afraid of this storm. Thaetith was
enjoying it. His bright eyes and wide smile were blatant testimonies to
that fact as he spread his arms out and laughed maniacally. "Isn't this
incredible, Durakkon!" he yelled above the howling din. "Feel the power!
The power of mighty Set!"
Thunder crashed in accompaniment with his words and four hideous figures
with matching red eyes appeared in the sky, surrounding the thrashing
box. Durakkon recognized them as the same statues whose ugliness he had
previously decried, and felt his heart sink even further in the pit of
his stomach. What in the name of Osiris had Thaetith gotten them into?
"Great Ones!" Thaetith cried, throwing his arms wide open as if to
embrace them. "I have brought a nonbeliever, a witness to the spectacle
of your powers, that he may embrace the gift that I would give him and
become one with me to fulfill your Lord's quest!"
The statues' eyes blazed crimson in response. Durakkon cringed at the
almost deafening booms of thunder that followed their sudden appearance,
and then he realized that it was actually the voice of the figures
drifting above. They spoke as one, relaying their dark lord's message to
the two boys.
"IF YOUR BROTHER WOULD TRULY JOIN YOUR SIDE, LET HIM PARTAKE OF THE SAME
KNOWLEDGE AS YOU!"
"Gladly, o mighty ones!" Thaetith answered them, and then he turned
towards Durakkon, the lightning behind him illuminating his smile in a
frightening manner. The puzzle box, which up until now had been
frantically spinning itself in the sky, now raced down to hover between
the brothers. It stopped spinning as it reached a point before Durakkon
and pulled in all its misshapen edges, once again becoming a simple
black box. The unholy life inside it, however, did not diminish in
power. Like a poisonous cloud it continuously seeped out to contaminate
all that it touched.
Durakkon was terrified beyond words. The ugly box wanted him to touch
it. It floated motionlessly in the air before his face, sending out its
quiet but seductive invitation. Touch me, touch me, it beckoned. What
are you waiting for?
Thaetith was wondering the same thing, because he bent and hissed into
his brother's ear, "Go ahead, Durakkon! All you have to do is let him
inside you . . . and Set will give you everything you've ever desired."
Lies, lies, all of it! Durakkon longed to shake some sense into his
brother but Thaetith was beyond reasoning with. The darkness had already
corrupted his soul. Now it wanted Durakkon's to add to its collection.
Well, he was determined that Set--if it really was Set who lived inside
that wretched little thing--wasn't going to get his greedy mitts on it.
Even if I have to blow my own secret wide open.
Durakkon screwed up his courage and put a foot forward. Thaetith nodded
approvingly and watched the younger boy step up to the box. It glided
down before his face and waited eagerly for him to accept its gift.
I can do this, the child thought suddenly with an unnatural calm. It was
as if someone else was there with him now, guiding his actions as he
prepared himself for the unholy alliance.
Durakkon looked up briefly. He saw the four spirits circling slowly in
the stormy sky. To his left stood Thaetith, eyes shining with evil glee.
"Do it!" the older boy mouthed wildly.
Durakkon stared at the softly glowing box. A ruby haze sheathed it as it
moved closer to him. He took a deep breath and reached out, clasping it
tightly in both hands.
Pain! Red-hot fire pain blazing through his body in the next instant!
Durakkon bit his lip so hard he drew blood, and a bright red tentacle
whipped out from the now burning box to flick the drops away. It left a
searing mark where its tip touched the flesh.
The spirits above howled their triumph and Thaetith cackled along with
them. "Isn't it great, Durakkon! Doesn't it feel so good to have a taste
of real power for once!" he yelled.
He didn't know it, but Thaetith hadn't actually yet seen real power. No,
not by a long shot. Durakkon had an ace up his sleeve that Evil hadn't
Since his brother and he were toddlers their mother had taught them
certain skills. Some of these skills just happened to be magical ones,
and Durakkon had been an adept pupil when it came to mastering them. But
sometimes he was able to perform feats that seemed to come from out of
nowhere, and none of his caretakers--his mother included--were able to
explain their occurrences. Like, for instance, the healing of the sick
and wounded--without the use of potions or other such means. Durakkon
had merely to lay his hands upon the patient in question and the strange
power would spread from his body to the other person's, rooting out
whatever malady was responsible and curing him or her entirely. This
healing power extended to the soul as well. Formerly grouchy or
depressed people found themselves looking at life in a whole new light
after a visit with their prince. The compassionate boy, who held a
special fondness for them, healed even animals with his amazing gift.
The two stipulations that he imposed upon the use of the power were
these: First, it must be used for noble purposes--no exploiting this
talent for selfish gain. Second, it had to be done secretly. As any
child who fears being singled out for having a distinctive trait will
struggle to fit in, so too did Durakkon, while he quietly practiced his
weird but wonderful magic as far away from prying eyes as he could.
Because animals were much less likely than humans to run through the
streets proclaiming his secret, he almost always limited himself to
working his miracles on them. Plenty of opportunities came his way
throughout the short span of his 'medical career,' and he soon learned
how to perform surgeries on severely injured creatures, using only the
magic of his mind.
Durakkon drew upon that knowledge now as he faced Set's eternal
damnation. He shut out everything else, the spirits, his brother, the
storm--and brought his whole being to that special, private place where
the soul lives.
Mind over matter.
Fusion, fission, what's your vision?
He'd learned those two big words from Grandma Phuorbes. She liked to
teach him, as she put it, "colorful language." Fusion meant you were
putting things together and making them one. Fission was the opposite,
where you split things apart to make fragments. Durakkon thought for a
second and decided that he wanted to do fission, so he concentrated hard
on the fury in front of him.
Thaetith was the first to notice what was going on. "What the hell?" he
growled, seeing the red glow evaporate from his brother and a blue one
take its place. To his astonishment he realized that the blue light was
coming from Durakkon. "What are you doing!"
His brother neither heard nor saw him, having blotted out the
distractions of the physical world. You can't have me, he firmly told
the occupant inside the box as it fought to dominate him. I don't like
you and I want you to stay inside there. You don't belong in my world.
The angry box thrashed around in his hands but couldn't quite escape his
clutches entirely. Durakkon held fast to it, forcing its power back down
inside its square confinement with his own until it was trapped. Showers
of blue sparks clashed with red ones and he began his surgery on the
frantically squirming patient.
"Are you crazy!" Thaetith screamed. "Stop that this instant!" He ran to
Durakkon and tried to tear the shapeshifting box out of his hands but a
nasty shock knocked him head over heels before he even got near it.
Dazed, the elder prince sat up and watched incredulously while his
little brother calmly sealed Set's Heart back up and split it into two
Surely no tailor alive could have cut and stitched as finely as Durakkon
did. He made that puzzle box separate as neatly as white-hot lightning
slices through clouds in the sky. For a moment it appeared to be one
large churning black and golden blob--and then it morphed into a pair of
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Above, the enraged spirits swirled amidst the
storm clouds in their agony. Their monstrous visages faded and they
retreated to their own realm, leaving the boys alone in a deathly
silence with the results of Durakkon's mind manipulation.
Thaetith recovered from his electrical shock and grabbed the pieces of
the Heart that had tumbled to the sand. "You broke it! You broke Set's
Heart!" he wailed, fumbling with the halves as he tried in vain to put
them back together.
"I know," Durakkon said quietly. A soothing stillness had taken control
of his body. He'd used an unbelievable amount of power to accomplish his
task and he was now exhausted. "It was evil, Thay. That box wanted to
destroy us . . . I felt it. I had to stop it."
"What have you done!" Thaetith roared as he stood. Black hatred coursed
through his body as he glared balefully at his placid younger sibling.
Durakkon was acting so benevolent it was sickening, like he'd just saved
Thaetith from a fate worse than death. That saintliness fueled the
prince's wrath. "You've ruined everything!"
"No I didn't, Thay. I rescued you. That box would have done bad things
to you if you'd been with it much longer. It hates people, Thay. It
hates everything. I didn't want to see you get eaten up by its evil."
Durakkon smiled gently, almost sleepily. "Let's go home now. Mama will
want to know where we've been all this time." He ambled off slowly,
pausing every now and then to catch his bearing.
Thaetith remained standing in the desert, alone with his shattered
dreams. After a while he emerged from his daze with a new madness . . .
and a new purpose.
He bent down and gingerly picked up the pieces of the Heart. Then he
followed Durakkon at a distance, letting impure thoughts take flight
inside his head. For the first time in his life Thaetith could say with
complete honesty that he did indeed despise his brother.
"Someday Durakkon, I will take you apart just like you did with Set's
Heart," he vowed softly as they began the bitter trek home.
Things between the two brothers were never the same after that. True to
his word Durakkon never said anything to Oanahaptu about their
excursion, and that silence further infuriated Thaetith, who had fully
expected to be ratted on. If his brother thought that the matter was
closed then he had another thought coming. Day by day Thaetith's rage
and hatred grew, as the elder prince devoted himself to the study and
practice of dark sorcery with a vengeance. Durakkon was one of the weak.
He should have seen it before. How else was he to explain the confounded
graciousness in which his brother dealt with others, even the lowliest
of low? And so in Thaetith's mind it was settled--Durakkon would be
banished from his kingdom as soon as it came to fruition.
Even as Thaetith developed his plans for the future Durakkon was working
on his own. Remembering how crazed his brother had acted over the loss
of Set's Heart Durakkon decided then and there to prevent such evil from
ever roaming the Two Lands. He quietly, humbly continued his training,
increasing in potency until his magic rivaled that of Thaetith's, which
only angered his brother further. By then Thaetith was so jealous of
Durakkon's popularity that he constantly set out to prove his own
superiority, in the form of many a contest of skills that Durakkon won
more often than not. The young prince was living proof that nice guys
really did finish first, much to his mother's relief--and his brother's
Durakkon was well aware of Thaetith's continued attempts to try to
restore the Heart of Set, and he worried that his brother might one day
succeed. He took time off from his usual studies and concentrated on
finding a solution to that problem until he had it. Then he waited for
the right time to act upon his idea, and soon enough it came. One day
when Thaetith had left his room unguarded (a rare occurrence, since the
elder grew more paranoid all the time) Durakkon slipped in via his
powers and found the secret stash where that most insidious of objects
was kept. He took what he wanted and after tidying up to make it appear
just as he had found it, departed the room.
"Why did you do that for?" Wilykat asked Durakkon. "Seems to me it would
have made more sense to get rid of the thing entirely."
"I could have done that, yes," Durakkon agreed. "That was my ultimate
goal, but obviously I had another problem to deal with: my brother.
Thaetith at that time had grown quite powerful, you see, and he would
have instantly sensed that something was wrong. My intention was to buy
some time until such as I could banish the Heart permanently from the
Two Lands, without fear that he would stumble onto my scheme and try to
prevent my actions."
"What you should have done was get rid of Thaetith permanently," Mumm-Ra
muttered under his breath, and coughed loudly when others turned to give
him a questioning look.
Durakkon heard him anyway. "And what good would that have done, Mumm-Ra?
None of us had any way of knowing what Thaetith would become in later
years. Nobody can predict the future accurately enough, not even ones
such as us with all our mystic powers."
"Wasn't it painfully clear that something was warped in his mind that
day he showed the Heart off to you?" Mumm-Ra demanded. "If he was as
poisoned as you knew him to be, then wouldn't it have made more sense to
stop the problem before it got out of hand?" he asked pointedly.
The elder sighed and shook his head. "Sometimes, Mumm-Ra, certain things
happen for reasons we don't yet understand. We might not ever understand
them. You may not be able to control events, but you can control your
response to them. You can either let them drag you down or you can rise
above and create something new and better out of the darkness." He
paused. "Besides, I couldn't bring myself to do such a thing. For better
or for worse, Thaetith was my brother and I would never have abandoned
"Family--can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em," Panthro said to Tygra.
Mumm-Ra gazed sadly at his father. "Papa, you always were such a soft
heart." Impulsively he crossed the room to hug his father, scowling
slightly when his arms passed through Durakkon's spirit body instead of
embracing him. He tried again, concentrating, and this time was able to
connect. Father and son shared a silent moment together until Lion-O
asked, "What happened to the Heart?"
"From here on the story is Mumm-Ra's to tell," Mumm-Rana answered,
ignoring the puzzlement on her brother's face at her words, "but suffice
it for now to say that at this present time, we possess both pieces of
"Both pieces?" Cheetara asked. "I thought we just had the one!"
"What gives, Mumm-Rana?" Mumm-Ra asked with an indignant glare.
The priestess favored them with a benevolent smile. "You brought one
half with you when I rescued you from Emanon," she said to Mumm-Ra. "The
other half has been kept in the white pyramid, guarded and known only to
Amidst startled gasps and exclamations the cauldron began bubbling
furiously. The onlookers backed up in case the pool decided to spit out
something, and in fact it did, relinquishing two black-and-gold boxes
before their very shocked eyes. The objects ascended the dark purple
waters and floated over to Mumm-Rana's outstretched palms.
She held them out to Mumm-Ra. "Take them."
His response was instant. "No."
"Take them," Mumm-Rana said again, and it was not a request. Her eyes
pinned his in a fierce lock. "You'll never learn how to use your powers
correctly if you don't practice with them."
"What powers? I don't have any!" Mumm-Ra protested. "I dumped all the
ones I had back in the Book of Omens because the Guardian told me I had
to leave all evil associations behind."
"This Guardian only removed the evil magic. You still have plenty of
power," his sister answered calmly. "You've always had it, it's just
that you've never been given the chance to fully explore your potential.
The Ancient Spirits of Evil didn't want you to know the full truth of
your life, Mumm-Ra, and so they buried you alive in their machinations."
"The word, my friend, is brainwashed," Wilykat said as he strolled over
and slung his arm around Mumm-Ra's waist. "Come on, Mumm-Ra. I for one
want to see you doing the ass-kicking for a change!"
Mumm-Ra still hesitated. There was something about those two ominous
pieces of the Heart glittering wickedly in Mumm-Rana's hands . . .
Two pieces . . .
Two faces . . .
Now where had that line of thought come from?
Two halves equal one.
Fear and loathing crept up on him in the next instant, causing his voice
to wobble when he said, "No, I don't want anything to do with that box
ever again! I can't even stand to look at it." He edged behind Cheetara,
using her as a shield between him and the divided Heart.
Cheetara picked up on his unease. "It's all right," she said
reassuringly as she faced him. "Mumm-Ra, she's your sister. She's not
going to let you get hurt, especially since she's taken such pains to
rescue and heal you."
"It's not her," he said warily, his eyes flickering back and forth from
the boxes to Cheetara. "I . . . it's that box. I just don't want to make
"When two halves equal one Setuusekht's will might be done!" he argued,
even though he was alarmed at hearing that phrase slip so easily out of
his mouth. "Don't you see? If that box is joined together then whoever
wants to can unleash Set's fury on the universe!"
"Do you want to let Set's evil out?" Mumm-Rana asked curtly.
"What, are you crazy? Of course not!" Mumm-Ra practically shrieked at
"Then you won't. It's as simple as that." The priestess smiled again and
approached him with the two boxes. "Now take these and put them
together. You need to know how to handle your new powers."
Mumm-Ra shuddered involuntarily and Cheetara hugged him tightly. "Just
trust her, okay? Please?" She gently squeezed his shoulders and looked
into the depths of his stormy violet eyes. "For me?"
He shivered again and glanced down at her. A warm amber gaze greeted
him, temporarily allaying his fears. Peace be with you, he thought, and
then realized that those words weren't from his mind, but from hers
instead. She was communicating with him mentally.
It's going to be fine. We're here for you, remember?
I can't promise anything, Cheetara . . . but . . . all right. I'll try,
he told her.
That's all I ask. She winked and hugged him once more before stepping
Mumm-Ra took a deep breath and cautiously neared Mumm-Rana. "What do I
have to do?"
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