Chapter Six

Lion-O's muscles tensed. Maybe this was going to be his last stand, but he couldn't let Mumm-Ra get away with this, not without at least trying to fight back.

Moving swiftly, he elbowed Monkian in the stomach, causing the Mutant to double over in pain. Slithe snarled with unrestrained fury, outraged that Monkian had allowed Lion-O to fight back, but, then again, it was probably a mistake trusting a Simian Mutant with an important job like guarding the Lord of the Thundercats. They were not exactly famous for their brains, Slithe recalled; their average IQ was somewhere in the mid-eighties. Reptilians on the other hand . . . "Musssst I do everything mysssssself?!" Slithe hissed.

In spite of everything, Lion-O managed a faint smile at the sight of the two quarrelling Mutants. Slithe was hissing furiously, his eyes aglow with an evil light as he made to claw Monkian in the face for his incompetence. When the Reptilian Mutant got mad, those who knew him knew to stay well out of the way or risk finding themselves on the wrong end of either his claws or his tail. So Monkian's eyes were firmly fixed on his comrade, ever alert for his next move.

With both Mutants distracted, Lion-O took his chance. He darted over to the nearest carving and rubbed his bound hands against the rough stone, feeling the friction burning his skin as it wore through the ropes binding him and his hands came free. Then, before his enemies could stop him, he shouted out: "Sword of Omens, come to my hand! I, Lion-O, Lord of the Thundercats, command it! Come . . . to . . . my . . . hand!"

The Sword glowed slightly as, in response to the voice of its rightful owner, the Eye of Thundera opened. Then, the mystical blade soared through the air in an arc, drawn as if by a magnet to Lion-O's hand. The Mutants had no time to do anything except watch. The whole thing happened in just a few seconds, not enough time for them to even think of trying to stop Lion-O from catching the blade. And, even if they had tried, he would doubtless have caught it anyway. "HOOOOOOO!" Lion-O cried, raising the Sword and sending a bolt of blue lightning in Slithe's direction. The Reptilian dodged to one side, then ran at Lion-O in an attempt to trip him up with his tail. At that moment, however, a high voice rang through the chamber.

"Don't give up, Lion-O! You can beat them!"

Lion-O and the Mutants turned at the sound of the voice to see Wilykit sitting up on the cold stone floor. She looked exhausted and beat-up, but at least there didn't appear to be any serious harm done. And she was now egging Lion-O on, urging him not to give up the battle no matter how insurmountable the odds seemed. Lion-O flashed her a quick thumbs-up signal, before jumping out of range of Slithe's tail and landing directly opposite the Mutant.

Meanwhile, Third Earth had descended into chaos. The forces Mumm-Ra had unleashed were restless, baying for innocent blood, and only one thing could stop them now. The only hope for the planet was that Lion-O would be able to stop Mumm-Ra before it was too late.

And, in the sky, a sinister-looking cloud hovered, glowing with a scarlet light. It seemed to be the essence of evil made visible by Mumm-Ra's sorcery, looming over the planet, waiting for the moment when the Curse was unleashed, waiting for Mumm-Ra to complete his dreadful ritual. It was a sight no good Third Earthling could stand and, all over the planet, Wollos, Bolkins, Warrior Maidens and many others were united in prayer.

Among them were the two Unicorn Keepers. They sat with their unicorns in the deepest part of the forest, a place that had never been touched by evil and should keep the unicorns safe - for now at least. The unicorns were restless, pawing the ground with their hooves as the female Unicorn Keeper walked among them and tried to soothe them.

"Don't be afraid," she whispered to one young filly, patting her brilliant white neck. "The Thundercats have never failed us yet."

"Give it up, Lion-O!" Slithe hissed. "We Mutantsss hold all the cardsssssss!"

Lion-O's only response was to raise the Sword of Omens and send a blast of energy at the Reptilian Mutant. Slithe recoiled from the impact, before steadying himself and launching himself at Lion-O. The Lord of the Thundercats silently cursed himself for forgetting how tough a Reptilian's skin could be. But he wasn't beaten yet. He dodged out of the way and ran towards the wall, thinking maybe he could at least take out Vultureman, Monkian and Jackalman.

Turning to face the wall, Lion-O raised the hand on which he wore his Claw Shield. He took aim at a projecting area of stone and one of the Shield's claws shot out, revealing a length of rope artfully hidden in the finger. In an instant, Lion-O wrapped it round the stone and jumped . . . Swinging above the heads of the speechless Mutants, he looked down and called out to them in a taunting voice. "Hey, Mutants! Bet you can't catch me!"

"Hah!" Jackalman spat. "Don't be a fool! Monkian, get him!" It was pretty much what Lion-O had expected - Jackalman had never been one to fight of his own free will - and, as Monkian made ready to jump at him, he swung clear and kicked the Simian full in the chest. Monkian fell, winded, and stared up at Lion-O as he retracted his claw and jumped down, landing with a soft thud. The next thing Monkian knew, he, Jackalman and Vultureman were being hauled up by Lion-O and held in a rather unceremonious fashion.

"Give it up, you scum!" Lion-O growled, slamming their heads together as hard as he could and dumping them on the floor. As they lay dazed, Lion-O turned his attention to Slithe. This would take a little more planning as the Reptilian was very cunning and his claws and tail could do someone a serious injury.

"What's going on here?!"

It was Mumm-Ra, who had been alerted by the noise of the battle and come striding over to investigate. The evil mummy's face bore an expression of raw fury, his red eyes blazing angrily at the sight of the Mutants facing off against the Lord of the Thundercats. Lion-O and all the Thundercats had been nothing but a nuisance to him, forever thwarting his plans to dominate Third Earth and, ultimately, the universe. Well, not for long - the Curse of Sekh was almost ready to be unleashed and then things would change. Then, those meddlesome Thundercats would be no more.

Lion-O stood his ground. He had faced Mumm-Ra down before and he was determined to do it again; no matter what happened, he could not let the evil demon succeed in his twisted plans. The very future of Third Earth depended on the young Lord of the Thundercats, currently all that stood between Mumm-Ra and the fulfilment of a curse that was almost too terrible to imagine.

"You can't win, Lion-O!" Mumm-Ra taunted, his evil laughter echoing off the walls of the Pyramid. Electricity crackled in his ancient fingers as he prepared to blast the Thundercat. Lion-O dodged and smiled to himself as one of the many carvings got blasted instead. Mumm-Ra remained nonchalant; the carvings in his Pyramid were imbued with an ancient magic and would repair themselves if they got broken. "I hold all the cards this time! The Thundercats . . . are finished!" And he launched once more in his evil laugh.

"That's what you think!" Lion-O thought as he raised the Sword of Omens, intending to use it to show Mumm-Ra his hideous reflection. This trick had worked in the past and Lion-O saw no reason why it shouldn't work again.

But, before Lion-O could carry out this plan, Mumm-Ra let fly with his energy blasts, catching the Thundercat in the side and knocking him to the floor. The evil mummy moved in to finish his enemy off; with the Lord of the Thundercats "removed", there would be no-one left to oppose him. And, once the Curse of Sekh had descended, Third Earth would be his for eternity. But he was so absorbed by his murderous intentions that he failed to notice Wilykit sneaking up behind him.

Wilykit had seen Lion-O's desperate fight and, with the impulsive courage of the young, decided she had to help him. So, with her lariat and pouches gone, she elected to sneak up on Mumm-Ra and take him on hand-to-hand. She fantasized about being the heroine of Third Earth, the one who had stopped the evil Mumm-Ra from calling forth the Curse of Sekh. But she was young and inexperienced, a pre-teenaged girl attempting to take on a being thousands of years older than her and with many deadly powers at his disposal.

Lion-O saw what she was doing and knew immediately that he had to stop her. "Wilykit! No!" he shouted. But it was too late. Wilykit had latched onto Mumm-Ra's red cloak and was attempting to pull him off his feet.

Mumm-Ra roared with sheer abandoned fury. Wilykit was too weak to make much impact against him, but she had succeeded in distracting him from what he was trying to do. And no-one stood in the way of the almighty Mumm-Ra, least of all an insolent slip of a Thundercat girl. His eyes blazed red with fury as he struggled to shake off the Thunderkitten clinging to his cloak. He would finish those feline do-gooders yet and, when he did, the fun would begin. First, though, he had a ritual to complete. And, even though he knew it was not the appointed time yet, he was too impatient to wait. The Curse of Sekh was almost ready to descend, almost ready to unleash its evil on Third Earth. Four out of the five ingredients had already been added to his cauldron; there was only one more thing to add.

Before Lion-O had time to react, Mumm-Ra whipped round and grabbed Wilykit, pulling her off her feet. Then, he pointed into the air as dark energy coursed through his hand and formed into a deadly ceremonial knife, silver with a snake's head for a handle. Wilykit screamed at the sight of it; she did not know what Mumm-Ra was planning to do, but instinct told her that it was bound to be bad. "Lion-O!" she cried, closing her eyes as Mumm-Ra raised the blade over her. "Do . . ."

She was cut off abruptly as the blade cut into her arm. Blood welled up and Mumm-Ra laughed triumphantly at the sight; finally, his plans were coming to fruition. "Oh Mighty Sekh!" he chanted, swabbing the cut with a piece of cloth he had prepared especially. "I, Mumm-Ra the Ever-living, have done it! The ingredients are assembled!" With that, he threw the bloodstained cloth into his cauldron and began chanting a series of evil words, words in a language so foul that all reference to it had been destroyed long ago. Or so it had been thought.

Lion-O and Wilykit could only look on in horror, helpless to stop Mumm-Ra as he continued to chant and the evil forces he had already unleashed grew ever stronger. They had failed. Neither Thundercat wanted to believed it, but the evidence was right before their eyes. They had been unable to stop Mumm-Ra from unleashing the Curse of Sekh and, now, Third Earth was doomed. Lion-O cursed himself, wishing he had depleted Mumm-Ra's power when he had the chance, wishing he had been able to stop him.

Then, as Mumm-Ra continued his evil ritual, a menacing voice echoed through the chamber. "Foolish Mumm-Ra! The appointed time is not yet upon us!"

Mumm-Ra stopped in his tracks as he recognised the voice; it was coming from one of the statues surrounding his cauldron. The Ancient Spirits of Evil were speaking to him and they were not happy. "Mumm-Ra," they said, "it is not yet time for the Curse to descend. Did you not know of the Prophecy?"

"What Prophecy? What are you talking about?" Mumm-Ra's voice had a note of impatience. He wanted the Curse of Sekh unleashed now; he could not afford to wait for anything, not even the Ancient Spirits of Evil.

"The Prophecy runs thus," replied the Spirits. "And the Eternal Demon shall call forth the evil once more, but his impatience shall be his undoing. And, by those means, shall the Outsiders find triumph. Mumm-Ra, you have failed! Your impatience has undone the Curse! Behold!"

Mumm-Ra looked at his cauldron. Sure enough, the forces he had unleashed had stilled so that the substance in the cauldron now looked as tranquil as a pond at sunset. Not only that, a scene was materialising, a scene showing the inhabitants of Third Earth going about their daily business as if nothing had happened. "ARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!" he cried, giving full vent to his fury as he realised what had happened. Those blasted Thundercats had done it again - and they hadn't even tried this time. Still, he could at least finish off Lion-O and Wilykit, so the day wouldn't be completely wasted.

As Mumm-Ra raised his hand and prepared to blast Wilykit with magical energy, Lion-O rushed in from the side, the Sword of Omens raised above his head. "Kit, run!" Lion-O shouted. "You've got to get out of here! I'll take care of Mumm-Ra!"

"No! I'll stay with you!"

"Don't argue!" Lion-O told her, giving her a little push forward. But, at that moment, Wilykit swooned suddenly and collapsed on the floor of the chamber. Lion-O forgot about Mumm-Ra for the moment and hurried over to the fallen Thunderkitten. To his relief, she was still alive, but she seemed very weak and the cut Mumm-Ra had made in her arm was beginning to ooze a greenish substance. "Mumm-Ra!" Lion-O shouted, his voice tinged with fury. "What have you done to her?!"

The answer came almost at once, but not from Mumm-Ra. A shaft of white light suddenly appeared, growing larger as it took on the shape of an elderly male Thundercat - Jaga. "She has been cut with a Netherblade," he told Lion-O. "A blade with the power to turn an innocent being into a Spirit of Evil."

Lion-O looked at Wilykit and saw to his horror that she was already starting to transform; her face had taken on a distinctly Reptilian look. Was this how it was going to end? Even though the Curse of Sekh had been halted, was Wilykit still doomed? No, he thought to himself, there had to be a way to save her. "Is there anything we can do?" he asked Jaga.

The ghostly Thundercat nodded slightly. "Yes, but the evil forces here would cancel it out. So I will transport you both away from here." With that, he raised a spectral hand over Lion-O and Wilykit. Mumm-Ra snarled and tried to stop the ghostly Thundercat; unfortunately, his unsuccessful attempt to invoke the Curse of Sekh had drained his energy and he only succeeded in making his fingers crackle with electricity. Cursing loudly, he reverted to his mummy form and retreated into his stone sarcophagus to recharge and plot his revenge.

The next thing Lion-O knew, he was outside the Pyramid, still clasping Wilykit against his chest. The evil magic of Mumm-Ra's blade was fast turning her into something few of the Thundercats wanted to think about, a Spirit of Evil like those Mumm-Ra served. "Hurry, Lion-O!" Jaga urged the young Lord. "You must act while she's still recognisable as a Thunderian."

"What do I have to do?" asked Lion-O, sensing the urgency in his ghostly mentor's tone. Almost by instinct, his hand strayed in the direction of the Sword of Omens.

"The Sword, Lion-O. The sword can break the spell."

Lion-O frowned as he realised Jaga was almost certainly right; the Sword was the essence of the Thundercats, the thing that bound them together. And, while he did know several of its powers, it still had many secrets to reveal. Jaga, who had wielded the Sword before Lion-O, already knew most of those secrets and nodded approvingly as Lion-O raised the sacred blade over Wilykit.

"Sword of Omens!" Lion-O proclaimed. "I, Lion-O, Lord of the Thundercats, command you! Release this child from the evil which has befallen her!" Then, as the Sword shook in his hands, he shouted out the ancient Thundercat battle cry. "Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Thundercats, ho!" With each repetition of the word "thunder", the Sword glowed more and more intensely. Then, as Lion-O said the last two words of the chant which normally projected the Cat Signal into the sky, a brilliant beam of light shot out and converged on Wilykit. She was instantly surrounded by a bright glow, which slowly seeped into her body as the hideous transformation which had already taken place halted and went into reverse. Her Reptilian features shrunk back and became once again those of a young female Thunderian, while the wound on her arm closed up and faded away, leaving no trace of its presence, not even a scar.

As the glow faded, she opened her eyes. "Lion-O?" she asked. The last thing she remembered was being a prisoner in Mumm-Ra's Pyramid, in fear for her life. So what had happened? How did they get out here? "W - what's going on?"

Lion-O looked at Jaga, who shook his head slowly. It was best if Wilykit never knew what she had so nearly turned into; she was just a child, after all. In the end, Lion-O sighed and helped the girl to her feet. "You're safe now and that's all that matters," he told her. "It's all over. Jaga," he added, "what about the other Thundercats?"

"All safe," replied Jaga. "And waiting back at Cats' Lair." With that, he wrapped his cloak around himself - and vanished.