|Added On:||June 26, 2013 9:40 am|
|Community Series:||MOTU Classic|
King Randor’s voice held its usual authority as he spoke; few would have been able to detect his inner discomfiture. “I know that you will all join with me in acknowledging this kingdom’s great debt to He-Man; we shall do all that can be done, sparing nothing in our determination to win him back from the hands of our enemies. I thus command a general muster of our forces. Send out to all – our allies included – and summon the Heroic Warriors to our aid.”
“That last is already done, sire – most are here already, the rest on their way.”
“The queen and I are most grateful to all for their assistance – and for that of our allies, so freely offered.”
“And as to Prince Adam?” Man-at-Arms’ voice was carefully neutral; perhaps even overly-so.
The king paused and frowned.
“We shall, perhaps, find him in seeking for He-Man – but since the prince has elected to – vanish – at this time, then we cannot make him our first priority; that must be the recovery of He-Man if at all possible.”
Man-at-Arms bowed briskly, and left the chamber at a swift stride, with Teela running along behind him.
“He’s letting Adam go – like he doesn’t care!”
“But – his own son!”
Man-at-Arms rounded on his daughter and gave her a hard look.
“That is because he is the king – and because duty and the greater good of the realm come first – always. It is how kings must act – even when faced with the loss of their only son. And how do you imagine the queen feels? Try to remember that when next you give young Adam a hard time, won’t you? Assuming, that is, you ever get the chance!”
He strode off leaving her staring as if she had just received a slap to the face.
Skeletor’s fleet was already fast approaching Etheria. The one-time acolyte was now going up against his former master with war, to wrest from him the mastery of the Dark.
Opening a portal was demanding of much power – and thus draining, even over the Pole – and even to one of his knowledge and skill. But it was vital for traversing such distances at speed. It also gave the advantage of surprise, though there was always a risk of it being detected by the vigilant, and it left lingering signs of any passage made through it. That, however, was a price worth paying in this case. He must hit Hordak – and hard – before the Horde did the same to him. He was confident, though, that the element of surprise would, this time, redound to his advantage. Retaliation, to Skeletor’s manner of thinking, was invariably most successful if pre-emptive.
He could not expect to destroy Hordak; that would, unfortunately, be too much to hope for. But he intended to do him as much damage as possible before breaking off the attack and heading back to thread the homebound portal. There would, inevitably, be a reprisal at some stage – a counter-raid on Snake Mountain; but he would by then be ready – and able to drive his old master’s forces away. And the more damage he could do with this attack, the longer it would be before the reprisals.
Already the screens showed the colored orb which was Etheria growing closer; soon now – soon.
He had little memory of what had happened after he had passed out of consciousness for perhaps the third time; plainly Lyn had elected not to bring him around again and continue sticking him full of her demonic needles. He shuddered at the recollection of the piercing nature of the pain which had seemed to throb all through him with an ever-varying pulsating pitch.
His tired mind held a vague image of being carried on shoulders along a passageway, the dim lights leaning to his face as he swam briefly into sentience – but soon the darkness had come for him again and he was lost. And now, awaking, he found himself here; still helpless – but not back in that cell with its vile hook – and at least not bound fast to the Machine. He stood splayed wide but quite loosely with his arms hanging from chains and his ankles made fast to cleats set in the smoothly paved flooring of a different chamber. And alone.
So what did she intend for him now? His head fell as he sighed and did his best to steel himself. She would torture him again – she had already told him that she would. He had survived only the first of what might prove to be many sessions; they would go on until he broke and told her – or until he escaped into death. But he wasn’t going to tell her; that was for sure. And he didn’t want to die – he was certain of that, too. As champion of Grayskull he had faced death in battle many times; he could remember with a queasy clarity his first encounter with Skeletor and how his enemy had very nearly proved his nemesis; nor had that been the only time. But always he had survived; the Power of the Elders within him was strong, and the Sword was not only both blade and shield, but could also heal his hurts – at least the most serious ones on which he used it. But here in this place he had no sword, Grayskull was far away – and this was a very different kind of battle, one of which he had no experience and in which all he could do was react to what she did to him – and hold out.
And his will was the only weapon with which he could defend himself. Even without the Sword he remained preternaturally strong – but he could tell that he was weakening; slowly, almost imperceptibly – but definitely weakening. The Horde Steel was chiefly to blame for that steady milking of his strength, but being so far from the source of his power, being without the Sword and coping with the wearing effects of pain were all taking their toll. And yet he must abide the ordeal; he simply must. Too much depended on his maintaining his silence in the face of whatever was done to him; far too much. And then there was the straightforward matter of pride; he wasn’t going to let the witch get the better of him – even if it did cost him his life. He had always known that the role of hero demanded sacrifices and that, with enemies as evil as Skeletor threatening the peace, the sacrifice demanded could well prove to be the supreme one. But this really wasn’t the kind of death he had envisaged for himself; what glory was there in being slowly, systematically, reduced to a hunk of mangled, mewling flesh?
And so it would end here; for He-Man and Adam alike – and his parents would never know the truth – or what had befallen him; nor would Teela, nor any of those whom he loved – and who loved him. His head fell low to his chest at the thought of all that he must part from, of all the years ahead which he would never know. It was his duty, and he was sworn to it; but it was hard, all the same. Wise men said that life was nothing much to lose – but they were old, and he was still young enough to rebel in his heart at the thought of death, not least one so cruel and lingering –
But no! He must not permit himself think like that; he must school his thoughts to be strong – and to dwell only on other matters which would take his mind far from this place and give it the freedom his body was denied. Even if he could not effect his own escape, Duncan and the Sorceress would be unresting in their efforts to organize his rescue – that was certain. They would come; they would find him in the end; all he had to do was to hold on until they arrived and freed him – and then he could settle the score with Lyn, teach her the error of her ways by putting her away for a good long time. He smiled at the thought. She would be made to regret doing this to him. Yes; they would surely come for him, though it was – strange – that his mind could register nothing at all from the power of the Sorceress, no message or even feeling of any kind. And that was – troubling – And then the door was made open and figures entered the chamber.
There were six of them and they weren’t the Evil-Lyn-worshipping Mooks. No; these were of humanoid form, though their skins were pale blue, with a near-translucent pallor. They were tall and very slender – almost etiolated, and braided hair of the deepest black hung down their backs. They were all of them plainly female; the garments they wore made that abundantly clear. They paused, looking at him with mild, yellowish eyes; He-Man had never seen their like before – plainly the witch’s sorcery had been hard at work collecting up her servants – and these were certainly servants, or even slaves, since each of them wore a ringed leather collar about her long and slender neck. And then, wordlessly, four of them left the chamber again while the two remaining continued to stare at him until he began to feel uncomfortable under their silent scrutiny.
Soft footsteps drew near to the door, and then two of them re-entered, bearing between them a low table which they set upon the floor; at once the other two brought in an iron brazier of glowing coals which they placed to one side. One of them agitated its contents with a steel rod, causing the coals to burn brighter and more fiercely. He-Man, watching, began to tense. And then a third item was carried in; a large cauldron that steamed and bubbled – and that too was set down, ready. Finally a long chest was borne along and placed alongside the other items, its lid raised – though in such a way that the prisoner could not see the contents. What he could see, however, was already raising his pulse and encouraging him to give the chains which held him an experimental tug. He told himself grimly that this was only what the witch had promised him and that he ought not to be surprised – but somehow he hadn’t expected her to be delegating his interrogation to others – especially these gentle-looking creatures with their deer-like eyes.
“Look,” he said, scanning their watching faces.”I’ve no quarrel with you people – nothing against you at all. I’m guessing that you aren’t any more free around this place than I am – that Lyn has enslaved you all.” They continued to regard him with bland expressions. “I mean, who are you all – where do you come from?” There was no response, though they looked questioningly at one another. “Well, I’m He-Man – perhaps you’ve heard of me? No? Then I wonder where you do come from. But listen, if you’ll free me, then I’ll do the same for you – I give you my word on it.” He flashed his most winning smile at them. “So what do you say, girls?”
They did not say anything. Instead they looked at him, looked at each another – then two came forward and laid hands on him – and began to remove his underloincloth.
“Whoa! What’re you doing? – Stop it! Don’t!”
They ignored him, silently, briskly stripping him to the skin and then made their way back to the waiting table and its companion chest, cauldron and brazier. He-Man grimaced; so this was what came next, was it? Well; it would have to be endured – no matter how unpleasant. And this looked very far from good. He watched them preparing and his heartrate rose with what he saw. They were laying out phials of colored glass, strange-looking edged instruments and folded cloths on the table now; the cauldron continued to bubble, the brazier to glow wickedly, shimmering the air above it. He swallowed down his rising apprehension and braced himself, deliberately averting his gaze upwards as they turned and came at him again– and then drew in a sharp breath at the sudden heat in contact with his skin. Liquid – hot liquid. But it didn’t scald or burn – at least not yet; so what was it, what evil concoction of the witch’s crafting were they applying to him? He gritted his teeth, expecting the onset of agony and stole a glance downwards. And then his eyebrows arched and his set lips parted in sheer surprise – it was water – hot water and soap; they were washing him down with it; they were bathing him!
“What the –?”
They ignored him and went calmly about their work, the soft hands, the warm, wet cloths moving methodically over every part of him – and he felt himself begin to blush at the unwonted intimacy of it, for they soaped literally every part of him. And that wasn’t the worst of it; he didn’t need to look to feel what was happening in reaction to that soft and sensuous motion. And there was nothing he could do, nothing at all; sheer embarrassment robbed him of words and his face was crimson as he stood fixed stiffly in place and endured. His throat was dry and his breath short; he bit his lip hard to avoid making a sound. But they went on, ignoring his obvious discomfiture and continued smoothing over him with cloths and hands alike; nor did they say a word. If the process gave them any pleasure then it certainly didn’t show. At last they brought warm water from the cauldron and one of them stood atop the table to reach and poured it over him from ewers; once he was sluiced-down she even washed his hair. She did it gently and, in spite of his continuing acute embarrassment, he had to admit to himself that it felt good to be properly clean of the sweat and dust and grime of his journey and imprisonment. In fact, as she sluiced him down again, it felt really very good indeed.
The thing was, he told himself, they were so calm, so silent and so gentle that it wasn’t quite as bad as he’d feared. It somehow wasn’t – well – personal. They treated him like an object rather than a man. If they had mocked him, been amused by his helpless reactions, made sport of him – then that would have been different; that would have been degrading. But as it was – He broke off from his musings as he saw them turn to him again; they were pouring the viscous contents of the small flasks into their hands – and then they approached and began to apply it to his body – some kind of heavy-feeling oil. Again they smoothed over well-nigh every part of him, rubbing the oil well in – and again his body reacted predictably, and his face burned a fierce red.
The memory of what she had done to him with her ‘Machine’ was still a strong echo in his body; his limbs felt as if they were bruised from the inside out; his muscles were all hideously sore, especially in his waist and back; his hips and shoulders and his all joints felt fiery with ache. Now, as the oil was massaged deep into him, he found himself gaining ease from their work. Yes, it was highly embarrassing to be handled in this way while splayed out helpless and mother-naked, but the effect on his abused body, now long-unused to anything but hardship and pain, was very soothing, almost healing, and he found himself relaxing into it at last, his eyelids drooping. When they ceased he found himself almost a little disappointed. But they weren’t quite through with him yet, it seemed.
They came again with those strange curved blades in their delicate-looking hands – and again he tensed; so – this had been the point of it all, had it? Now the pain began! But he found himself wrong-footed once again; they used the blades to scrape, softly and skillfully over his skin, drawing out the oil and ingrained grime with it. And, though unfamiliar, it was easy to get used to. He felt really quite relaxed under their ministrations. But what in the world was Lyn playing at? She had threatened him with dire things, half-dislocated his limbs on her stretching contraption, stuck his chest and stomach muscles full of her revolting vibro-needles – his body tensed and shuddered at the mere memory of them – and now; this. It made no sense whatsoever. She seemed set on breaking him – and was here allowing her slaves to undo her work. Why? Her humor was pretty strange – he had known that for some time – all Eternia knew that – but this seemed to go well beyond a jest; and there had been precious little to laugh about while stretched on the Machine.
They completed their gentle scraping and came again with more oil; this one was thinner – and with a heady perfume. He-Man shook his head slightly,bewildered. What was going on? Did Lyn somehow expect him to unlock Grayskull for her out of sheer embarrassment? Speaking of which – it was happening again. He drew a deep breath. It was –
“That’s enough – stop now!”
– really getting to him; his face was coloring-up again; he had never –
“No! Hold up – STOP!”
“It looks like you are getting to know each another,” said an amused voice from the doorway. Evil-Lyn was leaning nonchalantly on the jamb and watching. He-Man swallowed a great lump in his throat and stared, his features now reddening fit to ignite as he squirmed with overheated embarrassment.
“And you really seem to be – hmm – rising to the occasion, too.”
He gave a great fuming tug at his chains, sheer fury and the utmost humiliation mingling so that he couldn’t wait to break free and wrap them around her neck and wipe that knowing smile from her face.
“Temper, temper. Besides, you know that you can’t get free, you silly boy –” her eyelashes fluttered significantly “– man.”
“Oh – but if I only had my – !”
“Sword?” she finished for him. “Yes well, quite. But you haven’t have you? So, for the moment, you’ll have to make do with – what you have.” Again her eyes slid downwards and he ground his teeth with hot anger – and even hotter shame. “But enough, I think, for now. If you get all angry and tense like that – and I really don’t know why you are blaming me for it – then you’ll only undo the careful work of my handmaidens here which was intended purely for your good. And that would be most ungrateful of you. So, aren’t you going to thank them? No? Oh well, they don’t understand a word you say in any case, so it’s no great matter. Skilful, though, are they not? I find them a great comfort, personally. You have simply no idea what stresses I have had to endure every day in coping with Skeletor’s vile moods – mostly in reaction to your doings, He-Man. He really doesn’t like you, you know, and he would be simply furious if he knew that I had you held safely here. But not as furious as he will be when we are done and he finds out what we have achieved, between us.”
She smirked, but he was still mortified and avoided her eye.
“No quips any more? Has our hero run out of witticisms at last?”
He hid behind his fringe and said nothing, his humiliation complete.
“Well now,” she continued, “it does seem a shame to have got you all nice and clean again and then to send you back to that grubby cell. On the other hand you look so sulky and ungrateful that I really don’t feel inclined to be nice to you any more, so the Hook it is, I’m afraid. Did you say something? No? Are you sure? My mistake, then.” She smiled to herself at the way he reacted. He could hide nothing from her, even when he deliberately hung his head like that. The body always gives so much away – the eyes even more. And to one of her skill many hidden things lie open. With a last lingering look at him she left the chamber in excellent high spirits.
The blue-skinned girls began to tidy all away in their usual calm and unhurried silence and paid no more attention to the silent figure stood splayed out naked before them. Soon, he reflected bitterly, her nasty little green lizards would come and take him back to hang from that blasted hook, his toes barely able to touch the floor, straining endlessly with the bruised arches of each foot to relieve the drag on his already overstretched arms and shoulders. And who knew what joys the morrow would bring? He was already dreading another visit to that chamber of bright lights and cruel steel. They were leaving now, carrying out the cauldron and other items. Only one of them returned; she stood half way to the door and looked at him with expressive yellow eyes which reminded him of poor Cringer far away. He would have liked to speak with her – but there was no point; she wouldn’t understand him and, besides, she was almost certainly enslaved by the witch’s spellcraft, or simply terrified of her mistress. She stared at his face, and her lips moved soundlessly. He tried smiling at her – but it brought no reaction. Instead she darted forward, took up his discarded underloincloth and hurriedly replaced it about his waist before running to the door. She paused a moment, looking timidly back, then disappeared, leaving him staring.
Soon after the inevitable squad of Mooks arrived to take him back to the cell; he didn’t fight them as they unchained and re-chained his hands and feet – there really didn’t seem to be much point – and went with them where they led him. This, to his utter astonishment, proved to be a different cell – brighter-lit and smaller – and mercifully free of dangling hooks. There was even – yes – a bed with a palliasse and sheets – and a table laid with food and drink. And there they left him; and there he decided that he should avail himself of the unexpected opportunity to refresh himself and ate and drank and laid himself down to rest in spite of the fetters; he was almost getting used to them.
He lay awhile in the quietness and tried to compose his mind towards sleep; there might not be another such opportunity. But Lyn had promised him the Hook – and here he was, lying soft abed as if an honored guest. And Lyn had promised to break his resistance – and now – this. It was all very strange – and unexpected. But much of the worst of the ache was gone from his limbs after their care of him and he felt – well – almost grateful. And his sleep was deep and untroubled – except that at one stage he dreamed that a voice was calling his name faintly and urgently from very far away. But in time it faded and he slept again.