Chapter 7: Rites of Passage
Added On: September 13, 2013 8:52 am
Type: Prose
Community Series: MOTU Classic


Chapter 7: Rites of Passage



7.1

Rites of passage


“Orko – come quickly! I have it at last – at last!”

“What? What?”

She turned bright and seeing eyes on him. “She has left her mark on the planes of power; she was looking outwards, showing visions and casting up sights from afar. And it has given her away. And I know now for sure that He-Man lives and stands unbroken, for I saw him at her side.”

“But that’s wonderful news!”

“It is – and it is not.” Her brow creased now and she shook her head. “He remains in dire and awful peril – and the time grows short. I believe his mind to be under much greater threat than I had feared; I can feel him – turning against us –”

“What? He-Man? No!”

“I fear so; his mind is confused and resentful – and hurt, too – and his much-abused body grows rapidly weaker as well.”

“But He-Man would never doubt you, lady – never!”

She sighed and shook her head, her eyes troubled. “I sense it, even so. We do not know what has been done to him – what he has suffered to bring him to this pass. And the sorcery and cunning of Evil-Lyn are grown powerful indeed and he lacks the wiles to counter such things.” She sighed again. “I cannot altogether blame him for feeling abandoned, even betrayed – but I do greatly fear his reaction to such feelings.”

“But he could not bring himself to betray the secrets of Grayskull – to bewray you! He’d rather –” Orko left the needless and unchancy word unspoken.

“When this thing was begun, when Adam first took up the Sword, I set a guard upon his tongue which would prevent the casual utterances of a lively boy from betraying him. This in the same way that the guising glamour set over him renders it hard to see any resemblance between him and He-Man, even for those who best know and love him. These safeguards were done with his assent – as you recall – and have stood him in good stead this last year. The enchantment is a part of the oath he swore to defend Grayskull and be its champion. It is deep-set within him and, like his word, will not easily be broken: but broken it can be. And therein lies great peril.” She fell silent, seemingly contemplating her folded hands before her. “It will hold – and prevent him from inadvertently or willingly giving anything away – until such time as duress overcomes his will.”

“You mean –?”

“Yes; pain so unbearable that he can no longer endure – and his will – breaks. If that should happen, then even the spell cannot prevent his speaking. And this – allied to the confusion and doubt I sense in his shadowed mind – fills me with a deep foreboding of yet worse. He may, in such extremity, even be brought to deny the Power – and betray Grayskull.”

“Lady – I cannot believe it! No! Not He-Man – not Adam! You do him wrong – surely?”

But the Sorceress only shook her head; a weary and careworn gesture.

“I hope that you are right, little one, and I pray so too. But the strain, the stress, the isolation – and something else, too – something dark and secret; all these grind down his willpower. It was much to ask of any boy – or man – no matter how well-intentioned, brave and strong.”

“Does Man-at-Arms know of this?”

“Duncan has suffered agonies enough on behalf of his young charge; this – worse – I have spared him. I told him only that, should He-Man break under torture, then he could not reveal enough to make Grayskull’s fall inevitable. But – if he should be brought to turn against us, to deny the Power of his own volition – and do so three times –”

Her voice faltered – and Orko eyed her with deep qualms; it took but the scantest acquaintance with even the lesser arcana of the art magical for any adept to know the significance of the third time of happening – and Orko was no such neophyte. Her silence, the starkness of her shadowed face were more eloquent than anything her tongue might have uttered. And, strangely, Orko felt his own subdued courage rise up like a small, bright flame within him; a candle in a gale, perhaps – but, once lit, not so easily extinguished. For He-Man lay in diremost danger; one worse than pain, worse even than dreadful death itself. And he, Orko, would not – could not – know content ever again until his friend were returned to those who loved him and who could heal his hurts, both of body and of mind. And so his own way lay clear.

“Then I must make haste. Lady; where is he?”

“An island – far to the south, as I saw dimly before: I have seen it much more clearly now; it is taller than all its fellows and one end rises to a fang-like cone above the southern sea. More than that I cannot yet say.”

“We can find that – can’t we?”

“Yes; given time – but – Orko, you must indeed hasten, for his situation grows ever more parlous. The tide of time has turned and now runs fast against us. The Power is withdrawing from him – I can feel it draining away. His strength will fail and –” she looked at the little Trollan “– he will revert to being Prince Adam.”

Orko in his anxiety clutched two-handed at his broad-brimmed headgear. “But poor Adam would have almost no chance at all with them – with her! Oh – but that’s just too bad to think of! No; I must be off right away. There may still be some searching to do when I get there.”

“Let us hope that the Sword can help you find him. It will be seeking to go to him, so mark well what it tells you.”

“I will. I will. I have a most sovereign conjuration prepared to carry me as far as the coastline – but it will not work over water, so I shall have to make my own way to the Isles. And that will take time, I’m afraid.” He saw her face as he said it and hastened to reassure her. “But I’ll hurry, don’t you worry.”

“May all the powers of good be with you, little one. Do but bring the Sword to He-Man and it – and he – will do the rest.”

Orko bobbed a bow, and set about casting his spell. After three attempts he turned to the Sorceress.

“Umm – it doesn’t quite seem to be working today. I – er – don’t suppose that you could possibly –?”

A moment later he was on his way.

******

7.2

He-Man lay back with a sigh and drew in a deep and reflective breath. It was quiet now that he was again alone in his cell; without her potent presence the space seemed very empty again, its walls, its vault hemming him in. He was worn and weary and it would make best sense to try to take some sleep while at least he was granted the use of a bed; the Hook was not conducive to much by way of rest. All the same, her visit had unsettled him and he doubted that sleep would come easily. He lay and stared up at the dim vaulting above and struggled to compose the thoughts which circled endlessly in his head, no more free to escape than he was.

Was she sincere in what she had told him – that she had no desire to hurt him, that she did so only because his resistance – which she named misguided – forced her to do so? He sighed and shifted restlessly on the palliasse. She had said as much before, of course – and yet gone on with tormenting him. She was an accomplished dissembler and wily in her ways – and determined to have the information she needed from him – and which he must not give her. He shifted again, unable to find ease. Her eyes, her words had seemed so sincere that he knew not what to think; she had reminded him of the vision she had cast up before his eyes – that of an Eternia freed forever from the baleful presence of Skeletor, a world green with growth and renewed in both beauty and strength. And again she had spoken of kingship, of his duty to help her to bring the vision to pass so that he might rule in enduring peace.

‘But I told you,’ he had said to her, ‘I gave my word – and cannot break it.’

‘But if you do not break your word,’ she had urged him, ‘then the Machine will most assuredly break you!’ And she had gone on to describe the full horror of what, exactly, it would do to him if he did not yield. It had not been comfortable hearing, especially now that he knew the truth of it; and he had no doubt whatsoever that she did not exaggerate. Sweat had trickled chill down his sides as she spoke of the unbearable pain to come, the slow ruination of his body which lay ahead. He had listened to her words, watched her face, her eyes, as she attempted to convince him of the futility of further defiance. There had been none of the almost lascivious pleasure she had demonstrated when first putting him to the torment of the Machine’s steely embrace: no; she had seemed genuinely upset – and he had found himself moved. But a little while ago he might well have taken her coming to him for a signal that he was beating her, that he was overcoming the torture; but now he knew all-too-well that it was not so. Ultimately the Machine would triumph; he would either talk – or be destroyed. And her words daunted him, though he did his best not to let it show. But if she saw his dismay then she made no comment, seeking only to persuade him – at the end almost pleading with him – to do her will and spare himself – them both – the inevitable.

And at length he had agreed to think upon it, to consider her words, her unwillingly-made threats – and in return she had promised him time to do so; there would be no going on with his interrogation until after the morrow – by which time he must have decided. And it was, of course, no decision at all; he had given his word – and could not give way. The chain-links between his wrists jangled softly as he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Perhaps her pity was feigned, her pleas only a subtle scheme to undermine his will to fight on. Maybe even the glorious vision itself was merely a trick, an attempt to beguile him into abandoning his sworn duty. She was surely capable of such deceit – and he would be wise to be wary of sympathy from one who interrogated him with such assiduous regularity. And yet – and yet –

He rolled restlessly onto his side, the frame of the pallet creaking beneath him with the almost violent suddenness of the movement. But there was no comfort to be had; it was not only the dull, throbbing ache of his body; the turmoil of his mind had slain all prospect of sleep.

The trouble was that so much of what Lyn had told him rang true, chimed with his own thoughts and fears – and doubts. Why did no help come for him? He had always gone to the aid of others, had never, ever spared himself from the pressing need to use his powers for the good of those in peril. And now here he was himself; imprisoned without hope of escape, tortured almost daily and growing weaker all the time – and yet no rescue arrived for him. Surely they wouldn’t abandon him – would they? True, he had failed them, let them all down by his rash and intemperate reaction, the pressing imperative to go toTeela’s aid; Duncan had warned him not to – and he had been right. And he, in his naivety, had ordered Duncan not to come after him. What had he been thinking to do that? The truth was that he hadn’t been thinking at all but had ignored what he had been so carefully taught and gone running heedlessly into danger. And been caught – and now badly needed the help he had rejected. But – surely – Duncan wouldn’t take his arrogant words seriously – would he? No! Not Duncan!

And yet still no-one came. Worst of all he could sense nothing of the presence of the Sorceress; out of Grayskull came not a word, nor comfort nor warning – and that, somehow, made him feel more alone than ever. Why had she cut him off like this? Was it because his rashness had angered her – jeopardized the safety of the secrets of Grayskull? If that were so then it meant that the Sorceress expected him to fail – to break – to tell Lyn all that he knew.

He groaned and rolled over yet again; sleep was as far-off as Grayskull and as elusive. So he had failed her – and she had cast him off. The defense of the Power of the Elders must come first – of course it must. Yet – all the same – he did think that she might have tried to save him, at least a little. Even a few words would have helped him to fight on. But this utter loneliness preyed on his mind – and he could not help but feel abandoned. Perhaps it was only right – and most certainly his own fault; but that did not make it feel any less unfair – and he knew that he resented it. Always he had given, always poured out his own self for the good of others, unstinting in his desire to be a worthy champion. But plainly his good intentions were not enough; he had failed – once – and fatally – and now must pay the heavy price demanded. But it did seem hard, and his young mind, still ardent with high ideals, rebelled at the thought of drawn-out death.

And why was the Power deserting him, just as he had most need of it? In his enfeebled state it depressed him unutterably to think of the superhuman strength he had always taken for granted, now that it was waning. There could be no doubting it; the Power was leaving his body – he could sense its slow withdrawal as his plight steadily milked his resources, eroded his resistance. And, without it, how much longer could he hope to holdout? His willpower, his very life essence were both draining away along with his strength – and he could not comprehend why. It seemed a betrayal – yes – a betrayal – that he should be left all alone to face this cruel fate. His strength and ability to resist were diminishing daily – and Lyn knew it, and seemed truly to pity him. Which made no sense; none at all.

He turned, restless and resentful, and again stared up at the vault above. How long had it been, how great was the tally of the days – or weeks – since first he was brought here? How long since he had committed his one monumental act of folly and handed himself over to Lyn – and to this torment? And now each day seemed the same: there was either pain or its absence and there was Lyn; nothing else. And no rescue came. Again his thoughts walked the same worn and wearisome path; he had failed them all by his impulsiveness – but that scarcely seemed sufficient reason for the Sorceress to cast him off, for his being abandoned to a lonely and lingering death. Duncan had every right to be angry with him; he had long guided and guarded Adam, had done the same – and more – for He-Man this past year while he learned his part by trial and error. But never error so great as this when he had failed to learn, failed to listen – and had ignored his mentor. But angry and affronted as Duncan might be, surely he wouldn’t just abandon him? And it had been for Teela – all for Teela! It was his overriding compulsion to save her which had brought him to this pass; the thought of her held captive had driven him to a kind of frenzy – and to folly. But Teela did not – could not – love him, any more than he could love her. And Adam, who could, she despised as weak and craven. He-Man screwed his eyes tight shut and moaned aloud in desolation. There was no comfort; none. Nothing but captive thoughts endlessly cycling themselves through his exhausted mind. If only he had listened to Duncan! If ever he escaped this mess then he would make it up to him – to them all; somehow. But how could he escape without their aid – and why, oh why did that aid not arrive?

And time was rapidly running out.

He tried hard to suppress the mounting sense of resentment, of bitterness – but it was not easy. It simply wasn’t fair that he should be cast off like this; he would never, ever have abandoned any of his comrades to such a fate – and yet they had done so to him. Lyn had told him time and again that they would not come, that there would be no rescue; and still he lay here in prison, alone. What was it she had dubbed him? Her ‘constant hero’ – that had been it. Well – Elders knew how he had striven – strove still – to be constant in his devotion to Grayskull and the defense of Eternos from its evil adversaries. But he had failed in the end – and now was left sole and helpless. Again the sense of futility he struggled to hold at bay engulfed him in its clammy embrace. He remembered with unease Lyn’s words as she told him, at first calmly – and then with mounting agitation, of what the Machine would do to him, the steps by which he would be reduced to a jerking, mangled thing, mere flinching flesh and barely any longer human. And that was no way to die; not for anyone – let alone one regarded as a champion, a hero. It filled him with indignation – as well as with fear; there was nothing noble about such dying – nothing at all. And he did not want to die – all his young soul revolted at the prospect. If only he could fight back, fall decently in battle with his foes, sword in hand – so that men would sing of the end that he made and mourn him. But he had forfeited all that through his own rashness; it would be for failing that he would be remembered. If Eternos survived at all – and if any were left to remember.

No – it just wasn’t fair. Even though he had brought this on himself through ill-judgment – and had maybe even doomed those he loved by doing so – why didn’t they all see that neglecting him would help them not at all? A rescue sally could still save him – and Grayskull and those it guarded. Unless, he thought heavily, the Sorceress had forbidden it, his sin being beyond all forgiveness. In which case he owed her nothing – and it would almost serve her aright if he did surrender her secrets to Lyn –

He caught his erring thoughts just in time – shocked at where they were leading – and what they revealed to him. He told himself sternly that he must not allow them to stray like that again. Such arrant self-pity was wrong – and despicable. But the truth was that it was hard not to feel bitter at his treatment. He rolled over, grimacing at the movement which sparked sharply in his tender muscles and damaged joints – and groaned more with frustration than with pain. Before there had been certainties – hadn’t there? Yes: he had enacted the will of the Elders, wielding the Power under the guidance of the Sorceress; he had fought his battles with wrongdoers and won them. It had not been easy or without hurt – but it had felt – been – right. And now he was at a loss; those certainties had evaporated, leaving him here, alone; here, where there was only doubt and dread – and pain.

‘Help me to help you and there will be no more pain – I promise it,’ Lyn had pledged him. ‘For I shall heal you, take away even the memory of what you have undergone. You will be restored, made hale again – and, in time, grow yet stronger and wiser than ever you were before. I can do these things for you if you will but help me. Fight at my side, He-Man, and, together, we shall free this world of Skeletor’s tyranny – and render it fit for you to rule over in lasting peace.’

Her words recalled the stirring vision of an Eternia renewed which she had called forth to set before him, there the in sun and wind of that high place. And, here in darkness, worn and troubled, he yearned for it with all his weary heart. A lasting peace! No more fighting, no more strife and constant watchfulness against the brooding malice of the Dark One. There would be battles, yes; but they would be the last ones – and after that he could lay down the Sword – perhaps never need to call on the Power ever again – and live on untroubled and at peace. And why should he not rule well and wisely? His father did so; could not he, in time, do the same? To bring that about would be a worthwhile end – even worth suffering this prolonged torment for. The Sorceress had never offered him either peace or such power; indeed she had denied him the full measure of what was his birthright; and had he not earned the right to it by his constant striving for her as He-Man? But still the knowledge of the Elders – which would enable him to defeat Skeletor and restore Eternia to glory – was resolutely denied him. Lyn was prepared to entrust him with great power – but the Sorceress, whose champion he was, would not grant it to him; plainly she did not trust him to use it wisely: or else she feared that, enriched by the wisdom of the Elders, he might become too powerful for her to control –

He shifted in discomfort in the dimness; he had never been troubled with such dark doubts before – but now they circled like caged creatures in his head, treading endlessly the same track of unease.

But why wouldn’t the Sorceress grant him what he needed for the final overthrow of the Lord of Destruction? Why not? Why? There was no logical reason for her to deny himnone. Unless Lyn was right; unless the Sorceress had wantonly used him for her own ends – and now abandoned him. It was a terrible thought – but he could not be rid of its nagging; not now that it had insinuated itself into his consciousness. Why had she not spoken to him, sent words of support, of encouragement? Just to know that she was with him would have strengthened him so much – would have lent him the will to go on, no matter what was done to him. It would have taken so little – so very little to hold him to his sworn course. But there had been no word, no sense of her presence – nothing. And the isolation, the constant wearing down of his will and strength and, above all, the withdrawal of the Power from within him – just when he felt the want of it most keenly – had brought him to this bitter place where no hope was.

Which meant that he must choose: to suffer and die – or to trust Lyn’s word. But could he – dare he – do so? She was Skeletor’s creature – though not, she alleged, any longer. She now sought He-Man’s aid to cast down her erstwhile master. But if she lied then all was lost. And if he held silent and the Machine took his life, then all was lost; either way this doom seemed writ, graven inexorably in letters of stone. And he had taken an oath, too – though at the time he had been unaware of its true significance. Yet did that render it void – or was he still bound by it?? He sighed with heavy sorrow. How could he possibly know which course to follow? An oath was an oath – no matter what: but he knew that he feared the renewed onset of the agony – and, worse, that he might be suffering for no reason – or even doing harm to all that he loved by doing so. Or was that just fear – no more thanself-pity, such as he would, not long ago, have scorned? But, if so, then it was the only pity he was shown – except that professed by Lyn; and she was the one who put him to the torment of the Machine. He turned over restlessly on the bed again; unable to find ease for the discomfort of either body or mind. So was her supposed compassion towards him feigned, merely part of her efforts to undermine his resistance, seduce him from his loyalty? It was so difficult to be sure – Yet something in her voice, her eyes when she pleaded with him seemed sincere; a genuine desire to spare him and – so she said – herself – from the harsh necessity of further questioning. And then there was the reality of the vision, of the destiny she had offered him –

Dare he trust her? How could he know? He acknowledged to himself that he wanted to – but that might be for base and ignoble reasons. And tomorrow they would come and drag him to the place where he least desired to go and bind him down and begin his breaking once again. He would be stretched to screaming point, until his strength failed and his body betrayed him. It was the Power which gave him the resilience of He-Man – and that Power was waning within him – and without it he was lost. Lonely courage, it seemed, was the hardest of all to find – and he feared now that his will was failing along with his ability to endure. And, intimidated by the threat, in all truth he did not know if he could hold out any longer. And yet he must. Because, whether Lyn had lied or else the Sorceress discarded him, there remained the matter of his sworn word. That, here, was the only certainty – and so he, uncertain of the rest, must hold fast to what he knew.

But it was hard to do.

Dull, leaden thoughts beat slowly through his aching head and left hope languishing and lost.

He lifted his fettered arms before him, ignoring the sharp twinges in his shoulders and cautiously flexed his fingers; his hands and feet felt number and number with each session on the Machine and he was beginning to lose feeling in his extremities. If this continued, he thought despondently, he might neverwield sword again. And then he smiled with a dark irony: if this continued then that would surely be the least of his woes. The Horde Steel manacles glowed faintly in the darkness, even now stealthily stealing his strength. How much of it remained to him? And how much more torment could he endure? He felt that he could barely remember a time when he had been free and unbound; and, in truth, even then – how free had he really been? This past year he had lived two lives – and the burden of that had grown heavy. And now, in captivity, it was becoming intolerable. If any more proof were needed that the Power of Grayskull was fading from him he had only to recall that he would, in the ordinary way of things, have been unable to remain in the guise of He-Man for so long without the need to revert to being Adam once again. But these past weeks (and how long had it been? It felt like half his life had been spent imprisoned here) he had not had to do so. Which wasjust as well; it would not be fair to expect him to resist the Rack in the person of the young prince. But, then, what had fairness to do with any of this?

And he was increasingly worried that the character of the prince was re-asserting itself under duress as He-Man was tested to his very limits – and perhaps beyond. And now he could not keep them apart, his two natures – and they were in conflict under the stress of what was done to him. And soon, without the Power, he would be bereft; a hero no longer but a mere frightened boy facing a fight he could not hope to win.

He sighed and again lowered his arms. It was not an easy truth to acknowledge – but it was clear that this could not go on. The Machine would break him in the end – and that end could not now be far off. Lyn was right – he must yield or perish; and he had sworn an oath and allowed the Sorceress to strengthen it with enchantments. But the Sorceress had cast him off to suffer and to die – and yet he was still bound to his vow – as firmly as to the Machine – and so could not yield. And so must die – for her. He felt tears slide down his face as he lay there in the dimness, but no longer cared. What did it matter any more? He could only hope to be as brave as he could be – but it was hard to die like this, and he felt so very alone – and would have given anything to have seen his parents again.

Forgive me – I failed you, and I never told you, showed you, how much I loved you – and now I never can! And, Duncan – forgive me for letting you down. And, Teela – I – I –

Sobs carried away the rest; tears dissolved the patterns of his thought and drowned them in sorrow. The pain of his body was overcome by that in his mind as he curled himself up into a tight ball on the bed and shook with inconsolable grief for all that never would be.

And on the morrow, Lyn would be back for his answer.

******

7.3

“Sat all alone in the dark are you, lassie? Nay, come now – that’ll never do! Up with your chin, girl – and never fret; we’ll get yon lads back for you – or I’m no judge!”

Teela smiled weakly at her uncle’s cheery words; he had only one level of volume to his voice, did Uncle Malcolm – and that was Loud. She was very fond of him; he had always had time for her, even when her father was preoccupied, and his easy affection had always been a comfort; but, right now, she just wanted to be left alone with her heavy thoughts – and she could not help but wish that he would take his blustery and boisterous presence away.

Fisto – as he was everywhere known – however, plainly had other ideas. He seated himself at the table and placed elbows like joints of beef on its smooth surface; dark red hair glinted as he turned up the dim lighting.

“There! That’s way better; now I can see my bonnie lassie properly. And what’s this I see? Tear-tracks? Nay! Why, if I could but get my hands – hand – on whoever made my little girl cry, why – then I’d soon make them regret it – sure and I would!”

Teela, with an effort, found her voice.

“I’m fine, uncle – really I am. It’s just that – well – I feel so very helpless –” Her voice quavered and she bit her lip; another cloudburst would solve nothing – could only make matters worse. And she aspired to be a warrior –

“I’ve not seen you in tears these good many years, so I haven’t.”

“I’d never as much cause as now.” Her voice reflected her shamefaced look, fearing blame for her weakness.

But her uncle looked at her with unwonted gravity and nodded. He, unwed, was also fond of her – and it grieved him to see her in such a sad state – though he very well knew why.

“Aye, well; I suppose matters stand ill-enough – that’s true. I’d never have thought He-Man would allow himself to be taken captive like that. And as for young Adam running off to find him – well; it says plenty for his pluck – but little enough for his wit.”

Teela looked down at the flooring. “It’s not their fault, either of them,” she said in a small voice. “It’s mine.” She swallowed hard. “I went and got myself caught – and He-Man surrendered himself – for me! And now he’s a prisoner and I’m sure that they’re doing terrible things to him and – and –”

“And so what of Prince Adam?” interrupted her uncle. “How is it your fault that he ran off like that, then?”

“He went to try to rescue He-Man – all by himself! It’s sheer madness – but I was the one who drove him to it, forever pushing him, nagging him, putting him down.”

“So you think that he went after He-Man just to prove himself, do you?”

“Yes! Of course he did – and that’s my doing. You see, I put him up to it – though I didn’t mean to – and now he’ll be captured as well or hurt – or both – and I can’t bear it! I just want him – both of them – back!”

Fisto regarded her steadily with deep-set eyes, and scratched at his copper-red beard.

“Well, you know, I doubt Adam would have done any such thing had he not wanted to. He’s no He-Man, true enough – but I reckon that you underestimate the lad. There’s more to him than meets the eye at a first glance – be sure of that. He-Man will likely enough have felt obliged to save you – seen it as his duty. But that might well be true for young Adam, too. That and maybe something more besides.”

“But I was the one who doubted him the most – drove him the hardest! We never seem to stop bickering!”

“Well, your father and I argued and fought constantly as lads, so we did; but woe betide any who dared stand against us – either of us. Duncan would never have allowed any harm to come to me – nor I to him – for all that we were always at odds; aye – even when way old enough to know better. Love is – strange. Didn’t you know that?”

Teela looked up at him with tear-bright emerald eyes. “I don’t know much about love,” she confessed, and sniffed. “I’m not sure that I understand it at all.”

Her uncle eyed her with profound affection. “Oh, but one day you will – be sure of that. It just takes its time – like everything else in life worth the having.” He pondered, as if wondering whether to go on; being Fisto, go on he did. “Of course, it’s but natural and understandable that you should have a wee crush on He-Man –”

Teela began to protest at once, but he overrode her too-eager denials.

“Aye – understandable enough, is that. But you know how dedicated to his great task the man is; and I doubt that he could ever permit himself to make a lasting commitment of that kind. And I speak as one who knows! So I just don’t think that love is for him – pity though it be for the man – and for all the lassies, too!” He gave a wryly appreciative grin through his beard and shook his head. “But I tell you this, my little girl; the laddie who surely loves you the best may not be so very clearly a hero – but that doesn’t mean he’s without his own qualities – and damn’ fine ones at that. Awkward in his manner at times and shy of showing it, perhaps – but it shows plain enough all the same, to some of us. You really shouldn’t misprize him, you know; he’s worth far more than that.”

Teela stared at him, listening close to his unexpected words with fixed green gaze and saying not a word, though her thoughts were active enough.

“He’d have gone after you all by himself, the lad would, had He-Man not gone on ahead of him; aye – and some daft folk brand him a shirker and even a coward! But your father knows better – and your uncle, too – so you heed their words, mind!”

“But – Adam wouldn’t ever have gone after me – whyever would he?”

Fisto rose from the table and looked down at his brother’s child.

“You’re right about one thing, lassie; you don’t know much about love, do you?”

He shook his head and smiled – and turned to be gone; but at the doorway he turned again and faced her.

“Well, there’ll be a time for that – a fitter time yet to come. And that’s why we mean to get him back for you – young Adam as well as He-Man. And we shall, too – never you go doubting it!”

And he left her staring after him, wide-eyed and speechless.

******

7.4

He-Man dreamed he awoke in complete darkness with his senses, even dulled as they were, telling him that he was not alone. A figure stood by the bed where he lay – but he could not make out more. He began to lever himself upright, but a soft hand pushed gently against his breast and bore him back down to the palliasse.

“Who–?”

Ssshh. Lie still.

“Teela – is it really you?”

Who else? She seemed to laugh softly in the absence of light.

“But – how?”

I was – sent.

“To – free me?”

No – not yet. But to comfort you.

He must be dreaming, a lucid part of him told himself; she could not really be here – or could she? Her dark figure appeared outlined in a faint flickering light, as if she were somehow shining. He could sense the presence of a power.

“I – am – in great need of comfort,” he admitted.

And for that I was sent. Be silent now – lie back and be still.

The darkness was chill – but her touch warm and it eased and soothed – and drew a deep sigh of lost content from deep within him. Hands, fingers moved with gentle insistence; lips came close, mouths moved together and were as one in breath. Her body covered him like a blanket of smooth silk and he was drawn under by it, like one who ceases to fight against the waters which drown him. His mind wandered in far and unknown regions and he was lost – and found again. All else was set at naught, even his torment forgotten as flesh fused willingly with flesh. Nothing of it remained with him but the sense of her unseen presence and of her gentleness to him, and the sheer, sweet, spilling delight of it. Never had he felt such bliss. And eventually, unhurriedly, there came release too – and freedom awhile from fear and from the long echo of pain.

He lay back and breathed deep, far from himself and all else. Unknowing of the rest, a sensuous slumber enfolded them, suspending time itself. And, in time, rising above him, she came again and kissed him with her lips as he had never before been kissed so that he too rose renewed once more – and both were glad.

And when at length her warmth went from him and he opened his eyes, the faint shine of her was still there in the darkness, a glamour all about them both. A soft hand laid itself across his brow and then covered gently over his eyes – and a voice spoke wordlessly; it was well known to him – but it was not hers.

After this, a part of me will always be with you – always.

And he felt her go from him and blinked himself awake – and was alone again.

******

7.5

The Machine, obedient to her will, whirred softly into motion and, as the cables were wound smoothly onto the drum, tightened its iron hold on its captive; his figure, splayed out and stretched, shone glistening beneath the lights like a newly gilded statue. He held himself steady, gauging the effect; it was bearable – for the present.

She leaned to him and spoke, slowly shaking her lovely head.

“How much more of this punishment do you think even your unmatched frame can endure? Less than you would hope – and certainly far less than the Machine can carry out. You know by now its sheer strength, its implacable capacity for inflicting suffering; what is frail flesh to set against that? Must all your joints be started, your smooth skin split, these lissome limbs torn from their sockets as your body is steadily destroyed?”

He shut his eyes tight; but could not stop his ears from hearing her words.

“Your strength is waning; that of the Machine is not. Why continue with so pointless a struggle? What are you defending by your silence? Not the Sorceress who has betrayed you and left you to your fate? Not Grayskull, whose power has been but a burden to you and which now withdraws itself when most you have need of its aid? So why do you resist me still? Or is your word truly so significant that it cannot ever be broken – that youyourself must be broken in its stead? For that is what the Machine will do to you; break you past all hope of mending, leaving you utterly shent. Please do listen to me! There is a better way and I would have you take it – and save not only yourself but others! The offer which I made to you when we stood together high in wind and sun; that offer still stands. The beauty of the vision I set before you awaits us. For I would take your noble nature, your strength and skill and enhance them all with a power worthy of your station – and make a true king of you; one both revered and renowned!”

Her voice rang out with the glory of the destiny she set held out before him; his tension-tautened body trembled with the words she spoke – but he made no answer, seeking only to endure. She leaned close and caressed his face with a strange tenderness which shook him through. Slowly his pain-glazed eyes opened again and met her look – but could not hold it.

“Is it not both stubborn and selfish on your part to value the mere keeping of your vow ahead of the good of all this world and the welfare of its peoples? Surely you must see that it is? And at what point does valor become vainglory? So why do you still elect to suffer? Shall we not end this torment? Say that we shall and gladden us both – yes – and all Eternia too!”

The lights on the overhead screen were flashing now; red was a color he had learned to hate. He could see himself in the image, lying there, waiting. And he could feel the Power withdrawing from his body, his own failing strength – and the steady onset of despair. Each refusal cost him more and more of the diminishing reserves of will he still possessed. But still he managed to make himself shake his head; it was safer not to speak – his voice would surely betray him. She studied him close, and then her eyes shut tight and she sighed deeply with a matching shake of her own head.

“Very well, then – very well –”

He was subjected to another rotation of the drum; the tension tightened and held, and held him transfixed tight within it. He closed his eyes and repeatedthe silent words; resist; endure; fight! repeated them over and over and over, to numb the unending throb of the anguish: Resist; endure; fight! But he knew that he was losing, was becoming no more than a red streak of puremost pain – and was almost pathetically glad when she at last released the stretch and granted him relief.

“You look – different – when you are suffering; even younger, somehow. In fact, you remind me of someone else entirely – though I cannot quite place theresemblance. I wonder, now –” She looked at him again, frowning with consideration, her voice of a sudden uncertain. “I sense a spell of some kind – But no. No –”

She turned away to the controls and He-Man felt sweat stand out on his brow, and it was more than just the renewed torment. Was it becoming so obvious, as the Power waned within him? Would he actually transform back into Adam – but slowly, by degrees? Or else even in an instant, under excessive stress? It had happened more than once before. And would it even matter if it did? She would know his great secret – but since he would not survive this treatment anyway – Of course it will matter! You must fight on, He-Man – you must! Remember: resist; endure; fight. Adam, I’m failing – mystrength gives out – without the Power I’m nothing! If you submit then Grayskull falls – and you let them all down – everyone who trusts you. You’re the Sorceress’ champion and – She’s abandoned me– no help comes – no word – nothing! I know – and it’s hard on you; but you swore an oath all the same. And do you truly think that Duncan would ever give up on us? Do you? Then why doesn’t someone come? I can’t hold out against this much longer! Even if I last out the day – and the one after – in the endeither my will or my body will be broken! You must hold – choice doesn’t enter into it. It’s killing me – killing us both. Yes; it is – And dying like this is – terrifying. But Grayskull will still stand – unless you betray it. But with me – gone – then it may fall anyway! All the more reason for you to hold fast. But for how long? I don’t know; but you must try. And if the transformation happensanyway – what then? How long do you think you can resist the Machine?I – don’t know. I’m not the hero here – and I haven’t your strength. But I shall try my best – just like you. It isn’t much of a plan, is it? Have you a better one? If so, then now’s the time for it. No – I only wish I had. Oh, I was a fool to fall for this; I should have listened to Duncan! We should have listened; but Teela’s safe – remember that. And if we die – well; at least we won’t have to live with the shame of betraying all Eternia. But dying – like this! Why doesn’t anyone come? I wouldn’t let any of them suffer in this way. I don’t know; but I haven’t given up hope – not yet. What if Lyn’s right? What if no-one’s coming to save us? If we’re all alone?They will. We must trust them. Then they had best hurry – my powers are failing; I grow weaker every day – and this torment goes on and on! He-Man, they must be coming – they wouldn’t just abandon us to –

A jolt of sharp, smarting pain lanced through him bringing him back with a gasp and he bit his lip hard to stifle the urge to cry out aloud.

“No, please don’t drift off. We have much to do yet – if we absolutely must. You will not have forgotten this.” She held up the probe – and his features tightened in instant, instinctive reaction before he could school his expression to stoicism. “The lights shown screened above depict all the most tender, most sensitive spots for its effective application. You see, the Machine now knows your body and its weaknesses better than you do yourself – and it will exploit that knowledge to the full. So I fear that the pain will now be very bad – quite past all bearing.”

He-Man closed his eyes and strove hard to level his breathing, to shut out her insidious words which so sapped his courage. He did not want to look at the screen above; he knew only too well what it would show him. At least, he told himself, while she was making her threats she was not actually applying them – setting him to stretch so agonizingly – or jolting him with repeated electric shocks. Or both together – He drew deeper breaths, seeking to summon his depleted strength. She came yet closer and he felt her fingers stroke back the soaked hair from his brow; her tone sounded regretful as she went on.

“There is ever a price to pay for power – always. Did you, my young innocent, imagine that you were exempt? Or did the Sorceress never see fit to warn you? Ah – I see that she did not. And that, perhaps, is no great wonder. But now you pay the forfeit for a power which withdraws its strength from you just as you feel its want the most.” He opened his eyes and looked up at her; the appeal in his face was unintentional, perhaps, but yet it was there – and she gave him a sad little smile of understanding. “And I pity you – truly I do. To find out that all you have fought for, that all your suffering is in vain, that you have been deserted by those in whom you placed your trust – must be – hard.”

He swallowed the lump which had formed tight in his throat; her words touched him – and he struggled to stay silent in the face of her sympathy – the only kindness he had been shown since first this ordeal began. He suppressed a treacherous longing to tell her how aggrieved he felt – how betrayed by those he had so faithfully served. Again she shook her fine head, her lovely eyes filled with a sorrow which he knew to be for him. “No; not even you in all your unimpeachable nobility, your touching fortitude and hardiness of heart, are exempt. And nor am I – for it grieves me sore to hurt you, for all that I must. You have no idea what it does to me to do this to you.”

And she bent forward and touched at him again with the electro-probe; sweat sizzled on his skin with the intensity of it – and he bit down hard on his lip – but could not hold back a gasping sob – nor yet hide the tell-tale way in which his body continued to convulse, jerking on and on puppet-like within its restraints.

How much longer will she do this to me? I don’t know. Maybe not too much more, now. And if not? Hush! Concentrate – close your mind to the fear. Don’t let it in! Do you think I’m not trying to? Try harder. But I’m scared that I’m going to scream – and begin to babble. Creator’s teeth, He-Man! Be still, will you? You really aren’t helping! Neither is anyone else – or they’dbe here by now – Stop it! You can’t afford to think that way. But I can’t fight on indefinitely! Look, with any luck you can pass out again soon. And be revived – and go through the whole cycle again? If needs be. You’re a real comfort, I must say. I’m recalling your high duty to your mind – lest you forget it. You swore an oath. You swore an oath, Adam – not me! That’s a false distinction – and you know it! Look, like it or not, we – both of us – are bound by it. And I’m bound to the Machine – and it’s destroying me – and it may all be for nothing! For Grayskull is not for nothing; how can it be? But what if Lyn’s right? What if the Sorceress has no more use for us? And what if Lyn is sincere about helping me, giving me the power to defeat Skeletor, remake Eternia as itshould be? Do you trust her? It would be more like her to seek to deceive you. But it makes sense – rings true. The Sorceress denied me the full extent of the Power – and without it I can never defeat him! She must have had her reasons.And for leaving me here to my fate? Did she have her reasons for that, too? He-Man, it’s a question of whom to trust – and why would you trust Lyn before the Sorceress of Grayskull? Because shetells me the truth! You don’t know that! How can you? But Lyn’s right in one thing; there is a price to power. With payment in pain? Yes – But the Power is leaving me! I’ve honored my pledge to the Sorceress time after time – you know it’s true! And now she won’t lift a finger to help me! There’s still the matter of a binding vow. But if the oath itself was false then this is all for nothing! Worse, it’s actually helping Skeletor, since I’m the only one able to cast him down! So Lyn says. Who else can, then? If I die here we die here –then he wins all! Another champion will arise. Some other deluded youth who thinks he’s a hero? Ancients! If you put half the effort into fighting Lyn that you do into arguing with me, then you really would be a hero! Look, Adam; I’m all-but spent – and my spirit is riven with doubt. Lyn seems to know so much already – and I really do think that she has some good left in her. If I couldbut – The risk’s too great – you can’t afford to trust her! Deep down she really wants to help me. So that’s why she’s tearing you in two, is it? It’s complicated – Sometimes she’s so very kind to me. Kind? Admit it – you’re attracted to her, aren’t you? She’s using that weakness to lead you astray! But you just said yourselfthat she tortures me! And in the night? Was that torture too? That was a dream! It was Teela who came! Was it? Are you so sure? I – can’t be, can I? And, anyway, what would Teela say right now? Well? I – I – Oh, Adam! I’m so confused and frightened. What shall I do? Stand by your oath. Resist her until help arrives, what else? I don’tknow if I can – You can. You must. I’m trapped aren’t I? And there’s no way out of it. Why me?Everyone asks that in time of trouble. But you already know the answer, don’t you? Yes – I suppose I do –Doesn’t stop it hurting, though, does it? No! That it doesn’t. But you’ll hold on, won’t you? I’ll try. I know you will – you’re a hero – remember? I don’t feel like one. Does anyone – ever? All you have to do is –

Lyn brought him back from his tranced abstraction more kindly this time, by stroking his face until his eyes opened and met her own.

“Where is it that you go to, He-Man, when the pain is beyond bearing? And with whom do you speak in that far place?” Her voice was soft, curious. “I should like to know.”

He made the effort to raise some kind of smile. “Yes, I’m sure that you would. But you could not find your way there, Lyn. And you never shall.”

She did not smile in return but clicked her tongue. “Why will you insist on treating me as an enemy?”

“Because you insist on acting like one – and because my duty tells me to act as a hero should.”

“And suffer accordingly?” She raised the probe; it glinted brightly under the lights.

He nodded, poised mid way between defiance and resignation – and quite without hope.

Again current tore through him, causing him to thrash against the restraints and groan high-pitched through tight-clenched teeth. When it ended and his body had ceased to shudder he lay gasping and spent, gulping for air – and the look he darted at her was far from friendly. But Lyn only shook her head with that same rueful air.

“I know, I know; I understand – believe me. I really wish that I could let you rest – the Machine’s sensors tell me that you are in sore need of it. All the same, this must go on until you permit me to help you. If you continue with this pointless obstructiveness then – for your own good – I shall be forced to be even harder on you. I would greatly regret having to use the needles again; but I shall if I must. You won’t have forgotten them, I’m sure; when they are combined with the Rack and the probe then even your valor will shrivel.”

He fixed her with a fierce blue glare.

“Well, I won’t beg!”

“Beg? You? So true a hero, so firm in your resolve, ever willing to suffer in defense of those who have deserted you? The very thought of it! Why, you won’t even allow yourself to scream, will you?” The edge of mockery – if such it were – went from her voice and she spoke soberly, intent upon his expressive face, both angry and apprehensive. “And I would think less of you if you did. Don’t you know that?”

He stared up at her, as ever uncertain as to the truth of what she told him. Her pity, the strange admiration she expressed for his defiance always unsettled him; it undermined his willpower even more than when she hurt him. And she sounded so sincere, too –

“You – don’t have to do this –” he managed.

“I wish that were true. I long for it to be over.”

“I wish that were true as well.”

“It is true. But I can only make you believe it when I succeed – when you come to understand at last that I do this only for the good of Eternia; to bring down our dark adversary – and to make of you a king.”

“Against my will?”

“If I must; though I hope still that you will come to understand – and allow me to give you what you need in order to throw down Skeletor and bring light – lasting light – to this, our dark and war-weary world.”

“By betraying my oath?”

“An oath falsely extracted by a ruthless sorceress who has long exploited your innocent goodwill – and who has now deserted you. I will grant you what she will not; the power to recreate Eternia. But first I need you to grant me the boon of making of you what you were born to be. I can do it – and will; if you will but do this one small thing for me.”

He fought over again the bitter battle within himself. What if she were right and he strove for nothing – suffered only in a cause which had abandoned him? What if by undergoing this torment he simply strengthened Skeletor’s grip on Eternia, since no other could bring him down? And he too wanted this to be over –

Lyn sighed. “I really must have your help, He-Man. Eternia’s need is great – and I have staked my all – and the fate of many – on securing your aid to make my vision a reality. But you are bound by the Sorceress’ cunning deceits, your mind trammeled so that you employ your pride and courage for her – and not for me – and not for Eternia either. And I cannot persuade you otherwise – and so must employ force.” With a shake of her head she took up the control unit of the Rack and looked at him. “Why must it be this way?” she asked – and depressed the button.

Stretched helplessly, every part of him suffering the appalling strain, sweat salt-stinging his eyes, he held on – and on, hoping against hope that she would not subject him to any more rotations of the drum. The tension held at two turns – and bending forward she sought yet again to persuade him to yield.

“Show sense, I beg of you! The Machine is tearing you apart!”

He opened his eyes and peered blearily up at her.

“You – you do it to me.”

“No! He-Man, it is the Sorceress, her spellhold on your mind. Let me release you from it – please! Help me to help you! It is not submission – it is not! It is but sense! Let me spare you, heal you – bring you to the destiny long foretold for you!”

“My vow –”

“History will absolve you of it – once you are in a position to re-write the chronicles of our time – once the Dark One has been overthrown.”

“It would be – betrayal – I –” His breath gave out, his words failed and the pincers of the pain closed so that his senses swam. Seeing, she released the tension and revived him with water – and with the mephitic substance in a phial which she held before his nose.

“The only betrayal here is the one that has been done to you,” she told him when he was again in a postion to hear her.

He coughed, half-choking over his words.

“I – I am Grayskull’s champion! I can’t go against that –”

“You would be saving Grayskull – from its worst foe.”

“I – would be – b-betraying every free b-being on Eternia!”

NO! Not at all! Did you understand nothing of what I told you, showed you, up there on that high place? But surely you did – your eyes told it plain; so now you choose to be obtuse with me! If you will but trust me – as implicitly as I trust you – then I shall empower you to save Eternia; yes – every last free being in all this turning world!” She paced, gesturing wide with the force of her emotion. His eyes followed her – and registered both doubt and temptation. To be free of the pain – and of Skeletor – could it be true? Could it? She was so very vehement in her desire – and he recalled with a pang the loveliness of the image of Eternia she had set before him; a world renderedfree of the shadow of fear. “But, instead, you fight me, force me to do you harm! Cannot you see what this is doing – to us both? Please listen to me – for my sake if not for your own, since you seem to care nothing for yourself!”

“Lyn, I – I – don’t know how to answer you. L-let me think – give me s-some time – please.”

She shook her head. “I should dearly like to; but I fear that you will only grow yet more stubborn – and all this will be to do over again. And I would spare you that – for all that you do not help me.”

He gave a kind of sob – and turned his face away.

“I – I don’t know – what to do!”

“Then fight at my side! Bring your sword, your strong right arm, your powerful presence to the battle which we must win if this wounded world is to be healed! Together we shall rid Eternia of a great and enduring evil. And then, He-Man – and then I promise you that I shall be yours.” Her kiss pledged her promise – and the promise of much more besides. “I have seen how your eyes follow me – how you stare when you think yourself unnoticed; I know your desire – and I will fulfill it – in fullest measure. What other woman is my match in looks or words – or deeds? Who else has my skill, my art? And all these things I will place at your service.” Her hands caressed him with loving-kindness – but there was a fierce, devouring hunger in their touch too – and, helpless, he could not help but rise to it. And, seeing, she smiled on his response and spoke again. “These lordly limbs, this superlative body of yours are far too fine to be torn apart in some futile gesture of defiance. They were not made to be used so – nor need they be so. No; I have a better use in mind for you – one that I see you share. And am I not fair? Am I not a prize worth the winning – a fit mate even for the mighty He-Man?”

He drew a breath that was suddenly hard to swallow. He blinked rapidly; his ears were buzzing, his heart racing – all his senses at feverish pitch as desire mounted yet more urgently.

“Yes, Lyn – you are – beautiful – As lovely as a mountain under morning snows –”

She smiled at his words, perhaps touched. “I took you for a warrior, not a bard – but I see there is yet much about you for me to discover.” Still her hands roamed freely over his sweat-smooth skin. “And so, soon, I shall.” The surge of appetence filled his entire being, choked him, charged him full – and he emitted a soft moan. “Imagine how it would be for us – together. What pair among all the planets could equal our conjoint splendor – and our strength? And in our coming together there would be joy enough to gush forth in molten streams – and melt away all other care –”

“Free – free my hands – I –” He could barely breathe for need. “I want you – Free me!”

She smiled, and slid herself smoothly up onto the surface where he lay and straddled him, her knees pressing his flanks. “What need?” she whispered, supremely arch in her triumph. “We shall do very well as we are, you and I. But, first – allow me.” Her hands moved with dexterity; her fingers followed the grooves of his muscle-segmented stomach and so down – and down. His eyes widened in momentary surprise – and then he closed them with a grateful sigh – and surrendered himself.

But it did not last.

What are you doing, He-Man? This is wrong! Stop her!I can’t – You must! Can’t you tell what she’s up to? Resist her! How can I? I’m completely helpless – That’s no excuse at all – fight her! I’ve no power left. You won’t have if you don’t, you fool! You don’t understand, Adam. You’re right enough there! But I know just how wrong this is; you’re letting her seduce you – and you can’t pass this off as a dream, can you? It – feels like a dream – She’s corrupting youshe’s after the Power, and you’re handing it to her on a platter! The Power – it’sleaving me – that’s why you’re here. It’s as well that I am, too! Lyn will grant me the Power in full – give me back my Sword!But at what cost? She means me no harm. Then why is she torturing you? To save me! Save you? Don’t be so gullible, He-Man! You’ll fall – give in, tell her – and then she’ll have no more use for you! She’ll make me a king – What, King He-Man? What an absurdity! If this weren’t so serious I’d laugh! I’m the one destined to be king, remember – if there’s still anything left to inherit once you’re done betraying us all to Evil-Lyn! Adam, I – Fight back, He-Man – before it’s too late! But she’ll torture me again – and I’m so very tired and weak –Fight her – or I will! But – you can’t – you haven’t the strength –Nor, it seems, have you. Some hero you turned out to be! What would Father say? Or Duncan? And what about Teela? Teela – Yes – Teela!She deserves better of you than this, He-Man – much, much better! She loves you – and you know it. I – can’t love her back – it isn’t allowed.So what? Does that make your submitting to Lyn right? I – no; no it doesn’t. Then resist her – you can still find the strength; it’s there, inside of you. Use it! I may fail – And I’m – afraid. We both are – but if you won’t fight her, then I shall have to – and we both know what that will mean. You are Champion of Eternia, He-Man – strong; admired by all. So act like it! Adam – I – think you’re stronger than I am – Only some ways; or at least not as – tempted. So – you stop her right now – or it will be too late!

“Lyn – don’t. I – don’t want you to.”

Her head rose – and her eyes narrowed. “What?”

“I said stop this; it isn’t right. Let go of me.”

“You were eager enough before this –”

“We mustn’t do it. You can’t win me over this way, Lyn – so don’t try.”

Her lips pursed tight – and a different light shone in her eyes. Slowly she rose and lowered herself to the floor, her gaze not leaving his face – once more defiant.

“You scorn me –?” she said in a tone of quiet disbelief. “You actually dare?”

“Not – not from choice; but because I must.”

“After all I have done for you – offered you? And now you set me at naught?”

“No – Lyn; not at all. Far from it. But I still can’t yield to you – though a part of me wishes that I could.”

“And you will do so with all your being before long – that I promise!” Her hand reached vengefully out – and took up the control unit for the Machine.

“Lyn – listen to me –!”

“Oh, but I shall; I shall listen to your screams with profound pleasure. It is high time you learned not to trifle with me!”

“But, Lyn – Lyn – NO!

With a decisive gesture she pressed the control – and the Rack wound on – and on – and on – until his chest swelled huge with the urge to cry out – and his overborne senses fled down the deep red tunnel of pain into uttermost darkness.

******

7.6

The Sorceress sat in stillness, her mind elevated to the highest planes of power, moving slowly among them scrying, ever seeking, hoping still to reach He-Man in her mind; to re-establish a connection between them – and to reassure him that he was not alone. But, once more, she found herself baulked by the sheer strength of the shielding spell, denying her thought entry to the place it wished to be. A dark mass of intermeshing strands, an impenetrable web of sorcerous power trapped all which sought admission – and, try as she might, she could not pass through.

Silently she called upon the Power, summoned to her aid all that Grayskull’s ancient might could grant in defense of its champion whose need was great. And light burned, blinding bright, searing the eyes of her inner sight – and she saw – she saw.

Images, sensations flitted across her mind, visions from afar, fleeting impressions of uncertainty, turmoil, desire – of fear and loneliness; of betrayal, resentment – and, above all, of pain.

Tight-lipped she endured, a film of perspiration forming on her brow, hands clenched white-knuckled on the arms of her throne. And she groaned aloud with the vicarious anguish of it.

He-Man – hear me! Be brave; please be strong – and hold! Turn not against us, I implore you!

Her head jerked back and she went rigid, quivering along all her length and all color left her face.

Help comes – it draws near even now! Hold but a little longer –!

But she knew that he could not hear her, that his dulled and blinded senses told him only that he was alone – abandoned – and in agony.

And her sudden cry echoed all through those shadow-haunted halls of silent stone.

******


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