Published at the Treasures of Thundera Group December 8, 2003
:taken from my original author's notes:
heheheh, ok, so here's a tygra story and, no, there's no gore, no
torture, no violence. yes, its subject is odd - as it ought to be -
but it's really a kind of love story. and, no, it's not slash.
well, not really :) let's just say, it's the one thing i haven't done
to him yet. in this one, the tiger tries to cure himself of his
fears and addiction but instead uncovers what seems to be a secret,
other-life he's been leading that he was never aware of
oh teaser of teasers...and there's also a bit of a crossover element
burried in the story. it might not be obvious but it's thereish
contrary to popular opinion, not all of my fics are about tygra, it's
just that the ones he does star in tend to be, well, a bit
memorable...honestly, it ought to be illigal to do these things to
anyway, it was really hard to edit this one, mostly 'cuase of worries
of tense-shifting. sometimes it can be a little to sublte, even for
names are mostly from japanese and do have a sort of significance.
except iguru for reasons i hope to reveal in another fic, if ever i
enjoy, lol, this might be my last tygra fic for a while. i think
i'll turn to the mutants or maybe mummra next...
"West of the Moon, East of the Sun" by RD Rivero (2003-12-08)
At ten thousand feet above sea level, the air of Tharsis Thulus is cold and thin – but my fur insulates the bitter climate and my determination tempers the physical extremes that would have otherwise plagued my endeavor. Up so high, the roof of the world is framed by the sprawl of cloudy skies. Skies that blend ever so seamlessly into the façade of icy slopes. Slopes that reveal, from place to place, the texture of eerie figures: gray ridges of stony masonry, ashen stumps of petrified wood and sun-bleached skeletons of long-extinguished beasts.
Coming nearer and nearer the forbidden peak, with every step, with ever turn, I become intimately aware of something new and different – something alien to the landscape – something just always beyond material grasp trailing me. Scattered about the virginal snows are the tell-tale footprints. Adrift through the unpolluted air are the smells and tastes of supernatural impressions, subtle and ethereal. And as the winds blow across the arching, looming mountain top, here and there reverberate into my ears the sounds of what I fathom all too well as alive. But I do not fear it for I know, all too well I know, it is not of the present time. It, the demon, the shadow is nothing more and nothing less than me, me, refracted, as it were, through time.
What infernal lunacy, what accursed disorder befalls me?
It is neither disease nor insanity; it is, truly, the experience I gained through the years that altered forever how I look upon the world. Indeed, until it happened – until I recognized it happened – I thought the continuity of time was well-defined: what was, what is and what will be, the lineage of history, from infinity to infinity, seemed clear, sharp and unmistakable distinctions in my mind. And yet howsoever persistent, despite my initial denials and misgivings, I grew to know and understand it is all illusion.
It is not madness but awareness, insight outside the limits of mortal comprehension, that allows me to behold the links binding the Universe from one era to the next, but alas the mind cannot understand the infinite horizon of time and space without at once coming to end, disintegrating to nothing.
That is why I have come to this mountain. That is why, against the onslaughts of mortal peril, against the omens of cosmic horror stalking my every move, I ascend higher and higher still. It is my intent to end this malady of unimaginable proportions, not only for myself but for my friends, for here, alone and isolated from the touch of erosion, lies the truth.
By Jagga, was I ever normal?
As our encounter with Safari Joe revealed, we Thundercats have faults – but mine were, admittedly, more obvious, less explicable. Bats are rare and though fire is common, it is often avoided by cats. Water however, is everywhere and how, exactly, does a tiger – among the few great predators that naturally acclaim themselves to it – account his fear of it? I was reserved and shy, too much so to be proper, especially for the Head of the Council, whose seat I occupied since Jagga's death. Above all, to my utter shame and eternal humiliation, I was unduly susceptible to the effects of narcotics.
The end results of those terrible addictions are now matters of infamous disasters known the world-over that will mar my name and record forever. I will not speak of my foibles any further but I will say this: the poisonous lures, the ludicrous promises – even as delusional as I knew they would be – were always the same, control and power. And, also – though I never so much as admitted it – the feeling, faint and indistinct, that new worlds were open to me while under the influence. My imagination was very active and the call of realms distant and strange dominated my fantasy life on or off the substances.
Understand my cubhood isolation sprang from primitive, almost prenatal notions that as I grew into adulthood lingered and mutated into divergent guises, impulses, neatly hidden just below the surface of waking consciousness. The ancient sublimations pointed inexplicably at a mistake of unfathomable proportions: that I had been born out of place, askew in time. Imagine, too, my arrival at Third Earth, feeling an unshakeable sense of belonging lacking in my family, my friends – my comrades. I actively likened myself to the natives for I found in them and in their cultures a certain, inviting warmth that to the queerest extreme seemed vaguely familiar. But then, as I sat aback and wondered, were I to have landed on another planet equally underdeveloped, might I not have become as attached to its indigenous civilizations as I had to the Amazonians?
Desperate to alleviate my problem with abusive substances – and with the consent and aid of my fellows – I began a series of experiments aimed at uncovering what it was about those beguiling drugs that triggered their hypnotizing responses. I wanted to learn, fancying that in so doing I would gain invaluable insight into the workings of the mind heretofore unknown to me and would provide the natural antidote against any attempt by MummRa and his Evil Allies to exercise control of my psyche. In short: to cure the addiction before it took hold of me.
Since the Keystone had been smashed and all traces of the Silky Fruit were gone, I had little choice but to research with less-mystical sources of intoxication. In that endeavor the Warrior Maidens proved invaluable. The Amazonians have a long and storied past and were more than quite familiar with herbs, medicinal leaves, extracts and their effects on the human body. Their effects on the Thunderian body was, of course, to be determined.
Very quickly I became expertly familiar with the samples Nayda helped me gather: their natural environments, their preparations – and through low, strictly-controlled doses, I qualitatively gauged their results. To my astonished disappointment, what I discovered was a singular lack of effect among the majority of the substances. True that at the very least they were habit-forming, but aside from a general calming sensation there was no psychological stimulation. True, too, that even the most docile herb had numerous uses – beneficial uses – my discouragement was great.
And then within the Nelas Chasm, that thousand-mile crack of land uninhabited by intelligent life, Nayda and I found the much-fabled papaver. I was shocked for its appearance was striking, breath-taking, as if heralding to the senses that it was indeed a very different kind of plant. Its stem was long and thick; its flower was full and bulbous. Its touch was like the softest silk. Its scent was like the morning dew. And the petals, red and white with marbleized streaks of orange-yellow, were shaped into contours of a most suggestive quality.
Nayda snapped a bud off its stem, turning it over. Squeezing it, a chalky goop oozed through the severed stump. Ripping it, black seeds emerged from the meaty, moist flesh. She claimed the tiny orbs held many a secret and I agreed as I procured five extra specimens and marked the canyon's location for future reference.
Back in my lab, in Cat's Lair, I pulverized the seeds and dissolved the powder into water, drinking the mixture. At once, almost immediately, I felt dizzy and lightheaded as if struck by a tremendous stupor. My senses were confused and befuddled such that the realm of one ran into that of the other. Sights were flavors. Sounds were scents. Physical sensations and perceptions were disembodied, disconnected images.
It was when the chamber collapsed into eddies of spectral currents and the world vanished into flurries of multi-colored brilliance that I lost all traces of consciousness.
I awoke twice that night.
The first time I opened my eyes I found myself in a remote and unknown area. It was day and the skies were an utterly pristine and unpolluted blue with traces here and there of puffy clouds. Of the terrain, to one side was a grassy veldt, to the other was a dense jungle – in between coursed a violent river, its foamy crests crashing against its weathered embankments.
As I interacted with the environment and became more and more aware of its details – its birds, its animals, its vegetation – I became aware, too, that I existed, really physically existed in that other-realm beyond what would have been possible in simple dream. But – but – I looked at my hands, my arms. My skin, pigmented with hues of light, light sepia, was smooth and hairless. I lacked fur of any kind and although I could not see my face – the prospect of so doing filling me with unexpected dread – I could tell by touch that I was essentially humanoid but not Thunderian. Outlines of muscles and buds of breasts, female breasts, were well-defined though not overtly-statuesque. The physical and mental alienation, such as it was, was rounded out by the plainest of all things: clothes of loose robes, white and red, that covered my body adequately if not entirely protective of the elements.
Invariably in my dreams, in what dreams I remember, I realize just what it is. At that point I do not awaken abruptly – more often that not the visions continue – but that fundamental understanding of truth colors my subsequent actions. So, convinced it was a hallucinatory exaggeration, I did what I admit I knew intuitively was extremely foolish: I rushed into the forest of elm and sycamore, careless about direction, heedless as to the fear, the danger that awaited – that I understood awaited – within.
Yes, that was among the completeness of the experience – and it, too, made me take pause. It was then and only then that I dawned upon me: I had knowledge of the woods, of the troubles camouflaged between the trees. Why should I? Why would I? To be sure my knowledge as Tygra, Thundercat, remained intact, but now I was faced with the fact that I possessed a plethora of extra-mental information just as complex and undeniable as the verdant surroundings I so wantonly came into.
The wilderness suddenly calmed and for endless, eternal moments the only sounds I heard were of my own breathing, the only sensations I felt were of my own heart pounding. Fear and terror engulfed me in sweaty palpitations. I was not alone and I had to get out of there.
It was by instinct that I called out: "Iguru! Iguru, help me!"
And that marked the second time I opened my eyes.
By Jagga, the questions that whole experience brought to bear – it was incredible and exhausting. Too exhausting. My body was at once numb and sore. What had I done while I was under the influence of the papaver? What had happened to me?
Slowly, gradually, my senses returned although for the most part impressions of my lab – or of anything else – were lacking. All I could tell of my surroundings was that I was alone in the dark and utterly, uncomfortably confined. Still groggy and disoriented, I was unsure about the nature of my predicament until my roaming fingers revealed the shape of the oblong box – I was coffined!
Was it another dream? Another facet of that drug-induced fantasy? No! And either way I would not let it be, I would not let my life be snuffed-out by lack of action. I struggled to break free with what little strength the ordeal left me, even as I was unsure what I would find above the lid. I felt the pine box move but its cover did not budge – it had been nailed shut.
Determined if desperate, I screamed aloud and to my surprise I heard a voice, distant and muffled, that was not my own shout: "He's still alive?"
It was Panthro and his cry was followed by a frenzy of panicked footsteps.
Bright, white light seeped through the cracks and with that the coffin's lid was torn away. My company of friends, stunned and teary-eyed, surrounded my naked, withered body. I had been found slumped over my work bench, unconscious and unresponsive. Unable to revive me, the Thundercats presumed me dead and were ready to bury me in the morning, in the custom of our people. The horror, the horror – oh, what a thing of primeval nightmare!
So total was that altered-state that I thought I was alive in another place, another time and the Thundercats believed I was dead here and now.
Resettling my mind and body and describing my experience, again and again I came back to that extra-mental insight, to that fullness, realness retained beyond the hallucination. It suggested I had been reworked – the memories, though induced and unreal, had been imprinted into my brain as if they had, exactly as if they had factually happened. At last, at long last, I found the drug and driven to unlock its secrets I went to work analyzing the papaver seeds, separating and mixing its components, its ingredients, obsessed to control its application through scientific means thus erasing from my personality my addictive susceptibility.
If I could change myself so fundamentally, what else could I do? Reform the Mutants and Lunatacs? Turn, by artificial methods, our enemies into our friends? It tempted Liono who, despite his concerns about my health, allowed me to continue the experiment. With Bengali's and Panthro's help I constructed an isolation chamber: a cast-iron tube, ten feet tall, with a small, oval window and a retractable lid. It was flooded with water kept under constant but gentle circulation by external pumps. The setup was completed by the Thunder Twins monitoring the trials from an adjacent room.
Submerged within the icy, blue waters, little more than an oxygen mask and biological sensors connected me to the outside-world. Again and again I was assaulted by the intoxicant's flood of deliria and illusion. The visuals varied but in general the overall impressions remained constant. I saw the same mountains, the same valleys. The same river banks, the same sea shores. By day it was the same, single yellow sun rising in the east; it was the same pockmarked gray moon emerging in the west by night. The clime was temperate, the seasons, if they altered at all, oscillated between hot and hotter, dry and wet. The fauna, with rare exception, transformed from the mysterious to the mundane of present-day Third Earth.
All apparent evidence seemed to point to the fact that I was experiencing just a copy of the everyday-world. Dreams, if any analogy to dreams could have been made, always took elements from real-life and transfigured them into new and bizarre expressions. But if it was simply a different kind of undiscovered dream-state, more vivid and tangible than REM-sleep, why was I always coming back to Third Earth even though I lived my whole life on Thundera and knew it with infinitely greater intimacy? Why, despite dose or duration was there absolutely no variation whatsoever in location?
Month by month, week by week, day by day, as I intensified the concoction of papaver my 'adventures' in that fantasy-world evolved. And as I refined the drug's potency more and more of that extra-mental knowledge intermingled with the reality of this world so much so that the experiences became unutterably real and the line between fact and fiction blurred. Fearful thoughts, subtle and ethereal, compelled me from time to time to reconsider my theories of the mind in favor of fleeting, bone-chilling conjectures, for though it seemed impossible I could not help but wonder if what I had inadvertently taped into was anything other than a parallel existence buried deep within my own consciousness.
Still, I was saved – rather, my pre-conceived notions were saved – by the evidence accumulated through cold, indifferent science. Though it could not be explained, it overruled the outlandish possibilities envisaged by a profoundly-frightened mind, for the sensory apparatus revealed what I suspected from my first, tentative foray: that while under the influence there was no brain activity. For all intensive purposes I was dead – how could any dreaming, real or imagined, occur?
There was something else, too, something that from the onset I made every attempt to hide.
I was not alone in that altered-state: there were towns and villages, there were clear indications of government structures and there were veiled forces of good and evil at work upon the land. And of all the inhabitants, the apparent friends, the mysterious strangers, the sly enemies, it was Iguru to whom I clung, Iguru – whose name I had invoked in a plea for help – with whom I found comfort and solace. He was at times hot-headed and ill-tempered: he rushed more often than he thought things through, but he was fearless and loyal and was my greatest, if perhaps only friend. We were companions, traveling from place to place in the capacity of crime-fighters. I was the junior and he was the senior officer. I prosecuted the law and he enforced it. And we were notorious among our peers for the efficiency of our art.
From him I learned much about my other-life, filling in the gaps, the lapses of memory that emerged here and there. My name in that dreamscape was Toraneko and I was not local to the Suchi Province though my origins were well-known. I was a troubled youth and still, for reasons small and petty, did not speak with my family. I was, it seemed, a woman who through great extremes exaggerated a kind of untouchable masculine temperament. Indeed, Iguru and I were rivals in the Academy until an incident with a shape-shifting mummy deepened our relationship.
Of our private life together I detected a certain, unspoken controversy. Though I was accepted by the populace, he was not. He was only half-human and would not declare the remainder of his parentage. His physical appearance was not altogether different from mine – or anyone else's in that realm – a humanoid of lighter tones as young as I felt I was with a stylized mane of bleach-white hair, amber eyes, a soft nose, thin lips. On the other hand, he had canine-like fangs and Thunderian-like claws, hinting at a lineage not entirely of Third Earth. I suspected traces of Plunderian blood but having seen Mutant-human hybrids among the Warrior Maidens, such a blending of genetics did not seem likely with him.
It was hard to believe yet it was so but that alone was not why I kept it a secret. It was not the possibility of depraved insanity or the notion of parallel universes or the idea of actors, occult and malevolent, again at work within my brain that horrified more than the terror of the realization that I could not any longer deny. It struck me as a bolt out of the blue: time and time again I returned to that drug-induced state not because I wanted to learn the inner workings of the mind but because of Iguru. I, Tygra, I was falling in love with him.
I was unsettled to the utmost degree, shaken and disturbed, as what knowledge I thought I possessed about the nature of things rapidly disintegrated into meaningless prattle. Venturing into the unknown as I was, I could not rely on the scientific prejudices and dogmas of the past – but it was hard to let go and hard, too, to replace. Throughout that period of uncertainly I survived on one, singular fact that as long as it persisted proved I had not lost my senses. Despite the plethora of sights, so complex and intricate, I found no parallel, no similarity between the geography and topology of that fantasy-world and Third Earth. I discovered no traces, nascent or derivate, that tied the architecture of the two realms together. I did not uncover anything that could not, by minds saner, sharper than mine, be explained by neurological operations, new and different, thought inconceivable.
Yet I kept my eyes open both here and there but especially there.
Of note was an incident that came to be known throughout the countryside as the 'Hen'itai Sacrilege of 4107.' The Hen'itai was a gang of violent outlaws – they raided the famous Enrai Temple with the promise that its massive coffers held equally-impressive treasures. But when the would-be gold and silver turned out to be grain donated by Suchi farmers, they desecrated the holy grounds, abducting its head priestess and vanishing into the surrounding jungle.
Iguru and I tracked the vicious party to an ancient fortress buried deep in the woodlands. The multi-story, five-sided castle was crowned by two towers – one slightly taller than the other – and mantled by a deep, wide moat. Its façade was an ashy-gray mixture of stone and mortar decorated by aged and withered cracks stemming from the bases, fanning to the battlements. Long, narrow windows and a yawning entry rounded its physical appearance with a lifelike quality that was both familiar and uneasy.
It was just the two of us and we worked very, very carefully. We waited until the dead of night – when the dark and shadow were sure to mask our presence – to wade across the moat. The quiet, uneventful swim brought us upon the base's mossy stonework where we met with sporadically-placed barred windows looking into, it seemed, the deepest levels of pitch-black oblivion.
Using an acidic paste devised from my knowledge as Tygra, Iguru melted off the nearest of the metal grates. Easing it into the waters, we entered the fortress undetected and safe – as safe as we could be given the situation. We explored the castle's littered passages and unkempt corridors until we reached its flooded dungeons. We treaded through it – it, the crud of stagnation that was the tell-tale spillover of the keep's primitive sewers – through vermin best left unknown to frayed nerves.
At the end of the agonizing trek we found the priestess chained to the wall in a partially-submerged cell. The ever-rising pool of infested waters warded away her swarthy minders. Quickly, we freed her. Cautiously, we fled toward the exit but a group of vigilant guards surprised us. Iguru was ready but I was not – I was struck and felt myself sink into the murky sewage.
I thought – I hoped – the shock would awaken me, return me to the security of the isolation tank, but alas it did not. I lingered in and out of consciousness until Iguru retrieved and revived me. Up until that moment, as I emerged from the absolute darkness of the sickly waters as if like a morbid, disturbed birth, I had never been as hydrophobic in that second-life as I was in my first.
When I did wake up I noticed a bruise along my forehead where I – Toraneko – had been struck. It was impossible to accept and for days I invented one excuse after the next to explain it. Excuses I knew were factually unsound for there was no object within the chamber that could have produced such a mark. There was no motion whatsoever on my part or on anyone else's for the readouts would have indicated it or the Thunder Twins would have seen it.
The experiment continued but after a while I stopped the papaver trials. Among other things, my obsession with Iguru was hidden in the cloak of innocent, well-meaning scientific study. And after all of that time spent under the influence, I had to make it seem I was progressing. I had to make believe everything was alright. I was fast becoming a functional addict, carefully juggling my dependency, artfully dodging my responsibility – duties that were suffering throughout.
It had to stop, it just had to stop, but if I thought abstaining from the seed extract might stifle the eerie effects of that burgeoning horror – that growing terror that my attempt to uncover the secrets of my mind instead caused its destruction – I was wrong. Gradually, by degrees, vestiges of the fantasy-world blended into the here and now. Although we Thundercats had more or less made ourselves at home on Third Earth, none of my fellows attained the same instinctive awareness I developed: the habits of animals, the patterns of birds and the cycles of vegetation came to me as second nature. Even the familiar shape of the terrain evolved an air of suggestion I had never felt or sensed at all previously.
During the day the forests of Cat's Lair morphed into the woods of Suchi. The coming and going of the Amazons were akin to the migration of the pilgrims from shrine to shrine. The Berbil and Wollow villages were like solemn temples, the scattered ruins were like gorgeous palaces. The pyramids of MummRa and MummRana seemed to me the snow capped peaks of the Ascreaus Range. A creek became a mighty river. A lake became a vast ocean. And on and on and on.
During the night the transformations were the worst for it was then and only then that I was haunted by the shadow of Iguru. I felt him literally everywhere and it sent chills up and down my spine. On more than one occasion the feeling of him being there impelled me to whisper his name when in truth it was merely the presence of Liono or Panthro walking about the halls. In bed, too, I fancied I was caressed by his arms, soothed by his warmth. And the dreams that followed – the visions – it continued the storylines of that drug-induced altered-state.
Often during that period of withdrawal, I found myself awaking in the middle of the night, overcome with an intense fright that reminded me of my encounter with the coffin. Sore and numb, blood only then circulated through my veins. I could not go back to sleep worrying, as I was, that if my brain and body were shutting off, the rotting of flesh might settle and become permanent.
Tensions with the Mutants flared that summer but I neither dreaded nor feared it. I confess I welcomed it, greeted it wholeheartedly – I used the conflict as the motivation to detoxify my system and rid myself forever of the experiment's ill effects. I willed myself free and little by little it happened. Weaned dry, the obfuscation of fantasy and reality ceased altogether. My mind, now rebuilt and resettled, found nothing in the gathered narcotics particularly enthralling. I noticed other changes, too, all for the better, indicating that at the very least the trials had not been a complete waste of time. My irrational fear of water abated and my demeanor, once shy and reserved, was now open and gregarious. I took up again the duties and responsibilities I let slip with renewed vigor – I was, in short, the Thundercat I should have been.
As far as Iguru was concerned, yes, it was difficult – exceedingly difficult – to deny the emotional attachment but our dealings with our Plunderian enemies formed a new obsession that substituted the needs of the old relationship.
For the first time in a long time I was happy and then the framework upon which my sanity was founded fell to pieces.
During the height of the 'Great Mutant Uprising' – as we came to call it – the Thunder Twins were captured by a troupe of belligerent reptilians. To confound our attention and divert our resources in that icy way only those of Slythe's command were capable, the enslaved pair was separated. Naturally Liono, or might I say the Sword of Omens, located their general whereabouts. Of WileyKat it was clear he was in Castle Plundarr, but of WileyKit the matter was less certain, more obscure.
As Cheetara and Panthro organized an assault on that detestable Plunderian fortress, I took it upon myself to find and rescue WileyKit. Starting at the point of ambush, deep within Amazonian territory, I investigated and uncovered tracks I prayed led to success. Invisible, I sneaked through the underbrush, employing in my tracking – in the slight, most thoughtless ways – the skills retained from my experience as Toraneko.
But while I treaded across shallow creeks and foamy streams, I fathomed the work of unwholesome forces as equally subtle as my memories transforming the panorama. The darkness, the shadow, the suggestive, unearthly void between the trees, ancient and immense. The dewy leaves, shimmering amid the moonlight, fanning the elms and sycamores. It was not one thing but a totality of things that induced an eerie – almost smoky – déjà vu. Was I Tygra or was I someone else? Was I in the real-world or was I someplace else? Or had the realms in and out of my brain melted into one conglomeration of temporal confusion?
I stopped to gather my frayed and broken senses.
"Iguru!" I called and promptly cursed the slip for I expected an answer.
Again I found the trail and again I scrambled off, running as fast as I might though in vain for the umber of that drug-induced delirium had been cast upon the face of Third Earth. And then, beneath my feet, the ground caved into a shallow depression. Before my eyes stood the remains of a fortress: little more than fallen towers and cracked battlements, the castle was aged by weather beyond the reckoning of time, disfigured and distorted. It was half-buried, half-exposed, like a corpse in a violated grave.
I stifled a gasp. "But it cannot be!" I whispered as I approached the row of barred windows at the base of the structure – it was the deepest of nights and I was grateful or else even as mystically concealed as I was my presence could have been detected.
One of the openings was unobstructed – and as I explored its vicinity I discovered along the moat's bone-dry remnant scattered iron bars identical to those used throughout the encampment's architecture but for edgewise scars corroded by acid.
It was – it was – I could not deny the evidence of my senses but at that moment I could not think outside the fact that I needed to act, not just to save WileyKit, but to get away from there and in effect save myself too.
The ruins were quiet and seemed deserted except for the sentries here and there poking their heads through the battlements. Crawling into the window, I entered. Tip-toeing about the interior, I advanced from chamber to chamber. Again fact and fiction united in my favor – I had been to that very complex once before so, instinctively, I descended into the bowels where the dungeons were located. I needed no guide, no map, I paused only once at the head of a steep incline: etched along the walls was a singular line of crusty sediments that marked the upper-most limit of stagnant flood-waters.
I came across WileyKit within what had been the head priestess's cell. A reptilian guard sat against the door, the keys attached to his belt. I sneaked over to him and uncoiled my whip, reappearing with a flash of blue. Quickly, for my action alerted him, I wrapped my weapon around his neck and squeezed not enough to kill but enough to knock-out. I freed the elder Twin in under a minute and just in time for an alarm rang and a flurry of activity echoed within the fortress.
We ran up the steep incline, all around us the clamor of our enemies reverberated through the castle's stonework. Nearing the top of the steps I stopped dead, cold, hesitating to go any further for I did not know in what time or space I was.
"Are you alright?" Iguru asked, nearing over me, his long, white hair brushing against my face.
"Iguru," I whimpered, catching WileyKit's attention.
I wrapped my whip about us and, invisible, we exited the stronghold minutes before the Mutants detected the loss of their prisoner. We radioed Cat's Lair as soon as we were safe enough away. As it turned out the tell-tale activity stirred within the fortress was not caused by the breakout but rather by the full-fledged attack on the main Plunderian base – guards and sentries had been hastily called to the front by Slythe for backup.
Sitting under a tree, waiting for the Warrior Maidens to arrive, WileyKit and I chatted idly to pass time and sooth our nerves. I was gladdened by the fact she had not been harmed or violated in any way – unlike the treatment Cheetara suffered at the hands of those self-same deranged, perverse life-forms – and I wished, too, I hoped WileyKat had been similarly left so un-abused.
"Who's Iguru?" she asked as if out of the blue.
As I sat there, momentarily stunned, she reached over to my face and pulled away a strand of long, white hair.
"Just a dream," I answered, "a strange dream. That's – that's all."
At home, rested though not recovered, I attempted to piece the puzzle together. I had experimented with various drugs to unlock their abhorrent narcochemisty. I had settled upon papaver seeds and, through the course of many trials, I had succeeded in altering the foibles of my mind. But, inadvertently, I had succeeded in opening a portal into a new world where I was a different being leading a different life – a fantasy, every bit as complex and intricate as the here and now but separate and apart from reality.
From the beginning to the very moment I reunited with the fortress, my sanity rested on the fact that the other-world was unreal and disconnected, if perhaps grounded on day-to-day experience. Proof, or lack of it, was the unfamiliarity of the terrain compared to the current geography of Third Earth – and that there were no traces of it anywhere in either nascent or derived forms.
Whatever it was, whatever I convinced myself it was, it fell apart that night when I found the castle. The ruins indicated two things: first, that fragments of the Suchi Province were extant and, second, that my fantasy-world was no fantasy. It was – it had been – a real-world set in the remote past. So remote and so removed that geography itself had been reshaped by Nature through the intervening eons.
Worse, still, was the long, white hair extracted from where it intermingled with the fur of my mane. It was Iguru's though I dared not examine it. I checked my brush, I examined my clothes – I scoured the water pumps of the isolation chamber – and I found more and more it. Say fool, Tygra, fool, it was more than just impression or suggestion, it was there all along.
It begged the question, was Toraneko just me in a past-life, or was I 'entering' her mind even as I was leaving mine? I could not explore any further until I answered it. For hours I hid in my lab, I paced and pondered, theorizing with the aid of the trial's measurements and results. When I 'traveled' I gained extra-mental knowledge of somethings – somethings but not all things – and I retained most of what I learned when I returned though it was not always obvious and took time to register as memories distinct from my experiences as Tygra. Further, while I was away my brain and body were inactive to the point of mimicking death. So, if there was a mind-transfer, it was one-way.
I read and reread my private journal, reliving vicariously my tentative and uncertain forays into that other-life. What struck me was that I was never noticed: no one ever detected my overt presence, my taking over Toraneko. All circumstantial evidence indicated that she and I had essentially the same sort of personality, interests and desires. We had virtually identical professions. We had fallen in love with Iguru for the same reasons despite it being another man. But if I remembered what I remembered then surely I must have retained my consciousness as Tygra, I must have been intact within her brain. Why, the acid paste, yes, there had been an exchange of mental insights!
Was she as aware of me as I was of her? Or what was I? Was I a fragment of her persona or was I a figment of her imagination that either case gained – by whatever means – a life of its own? Was the Universe so infinite that one might create whole new worlds simply by imagining them?
Beyond the experiment, beyond the trials, beyond the questions emerging all around me, I returned to my cubhood for a moment of introspection and recalled that dreadful intuition that I did not belong into the times I was born. And I recalled, too, a fact whose weighty realization came to me as with the swiftest of lightning. We Thundercats traveled on ships that carried us at near-luminal velocities from our home planet to Third Earth. Was it not possible that she and I had been born or created or whatever at the same time though in different locations and only brought askew across spans of eons by the dilation effects of exaggerated speeds?
The possibilities were limitless and seemingly contradictory. Implied throughout were connections between mind and matter too spooky and convoluted to be considered rational even by the insane. Yet, one way or another I was going to untangle the mess that was my life. Or die trying.
"Wait," I said as if to Iguru, whose presence though non-existent here and now was more real than anything. Of one thing I was certain, this was just as real as that and both were separated by time. Now, if I could pull something into the present, could I not take something into the past?
Quickly I set the machine into motion, preparing a sample of papaver extract, searching the lab for an item suitable for time travel.
I clutched the item tightly though discretely – I did not want the Thunder Twins to see and wonder why I was taking such a thing with me into the apparatus. I feared, too, that the water might damage it, so I settled upon entering the tube only when absolutely certain the effects of the drug were at their peak. And then, slipping into the frigid interior, thermally-induced reflexes I had not thought of almost impelled me to let it go but a strong determination of will prevented the would-be disaster.
With a flutter of eyelids I was in Gyoson, in bed with Iguru. I sat up – he sat up, alerted by my unease that something was amiss. Groggy the both of us, we crawled out of the room into the atrium of our abode. It was the dead of night, glittery and bright and the moon, full and oblate loomed overhead while the world below all around us slept.
I gazed at my hand and laughed as he looked on in utter confusion. It was then and there that I explained the situation in language I thought we might both understand. I spoke of Toraneko and Tygra, separated not so much by distance but by time, two beings who shared the same mind perhaps even the same soul. I related how the future-half stumbled upon the connections to the past-half by accident and until recently dismissed it as fantasy.
Iguru interrupted me with a kiss and whispered in the softest voice that he knew.
I was about to ask how but rather I let the extra-mental insight intermingle. Through that stretch of time I was not 'traveling' she told him of the forbidden knowledge gained as the result of the amalgamated memories. She thought little of the experiences – she believed they were outgrowths of her extra-sensory prowess and enjoyed their tranquilities invoked as I inhabited her brain.
But was I truly occupying her mind, or was I simply coming home? Was Tygra real or was it a projection of a superior will?
Falling into Iguru's loving arms, sinking into his cloak of red and white, I continued to probe within. Yes, Toraneko possessed foibles of her own, curious inclinations of this or that, queer notions of distant, faraway lands and uncanny suggestions of psychic ability. But chiefly it was that she felt incomplete, as if part of her soul was missing.
"When you told me that I thought it was the strangest sort of thing imaginable," the half-human, half-demon added through muffled sobs and tears. "It started so suddenly that afternoon – you strayed into that forest teeming with outlaws. If I hadn't heard your calls for help I don't know what I would have done."
Crying and laughing at once, our jaws dropped for at that moment I opened my hand and revealed the item – the photograph of the Thundercats I brought with me from the future – it was not the water but my sweat that destroyed its image.
Awakening within the isolation chamber without the item confirmed the interplay between Toraneko and me. And I knew what I had to do if ever I was to regain peace of mind. But I knew, too, I had to wait for the Mutants and my responsibilities as a Thundercat focused the totality of my duty. It was alright with me, though, time was on my side.
The years it took to subdue the Plunderians were the hardest, longest in my life as Tygra but it afforded the perfect opportunity for tying up loose ends regarding the welfare of my fellow Thunderians. I completed the Thunder Twins' long-belated education and groomed Bengali in the art of tact diplomacy, training the tiger to replace me as the head of the council though he did not know it, suspect it. I wanted the transition to be as smooth as possible for friends and allies.
In the meanwhile, as my plans coalesced, I bided my time.
Using the ruins of the fortress as a bridge between the locations past, present and future, I retraced the adventures of past-lives. I saw among the scattered debris of time patterns obfuscated by the erosion that yet retained an eerie familiarity: markers carved into stone with a language unspoken for eons but known to me. Rocks labeled 'ocean,' 'river,' 'mountain' and 'flatland' revealed the extent to which the forces of Nature altered the topography of the land between realms. I played with time and time played with me for it seemed that she and I were engaged in a sort of long-range, one-way conversation, destroying what little temporal sanity I was left in my brain.
And when at last I felt the time was right, I slipped my insignia under my pillow and left Cat's Lair. It was midnight and I was packed with the equipment I needed to scale Tharsis Thulus. I left no note only this manuscript that I am certain Liono and the others will find shortly – albeit too late.
Tygra is an aberration, a shadow out of time. I do not belong here – never did and never will – and across the gulfs of ages immemorial, every fiber of my being implores me at once to return home. I feel as if I stand at the crossroads of infinity, falling headlong into the nexus of the great unknown that existed, persists and will continue onward and onward, forever eternally. I prepare myself for one last flight of fantasy, armed with the strongest dose of papaver seed possible, unsure if the jump will lead me to blissful success or cosmic disaster, for I am fully aware that when ever and where ever I go I will not return. If I do succeed, as I am confident beyond absoluteness that I will, then here atop the world is where I want my body to lie, for I know, too, that a curious familiarity awaits me amid the upper slopes and I do not need markers of any kind to tell me why, though I already expect to find two buried deep in the snow.