War of Attrition: the Doom of Prince Adam
War of Attrition: I - Beginning of the End (part 1)
I am Adam, no longer Prince of Eternia….
Adam eased his aching body into the cold window seat and stared out at the dusk. His weakened frame cast a thin shadow beside him, distorted and warped as it bled out into the low, dark ceiling. It was night-fall and though the young man shuddered he was not consciously aware of the cold aura that seeped through the glass and prickled the hairs on his skin. Though his skin bore very few warrior's scars, he no longer appeared youthful or vigorous. His flesh seemed to sag from his bones and he had the strained appearance of a sick and desperate man. Years of worry and tension had taken their physical toll, shrinking his appetite, ruining his sleep and threatening his health. Adam's feeble yet unscathed body was an intense source of shame for him. While He-Man received the people's adoration and loyalty, only scorn and contempt were heaped upon Adam.
He focused his attention outside the window, watching as the shuffling peasants returned from the dark fields beyond the walls. An inadequate and apprehensive armed Guard were their only company, while a single, wan searchlight guided them to their homes. The peasants did not seem to notice the Eternian soldiers as they, like Adam, were wrapped up in their worries and cares - heads bowed, shoulders stooped, fatigue written heavily on their frail bodies.
Poor people, thought Adam, tied forever to their relentless toils... to the faltering, infertile soil, bound to sick and dying children and terrible privations of war... He turned from the window, his sunken features gouged by the flitting shadows of the pale candle light. All of this they must bear now, without one single, reliable hope...
He tried to pity them, but instead felt the stirrings of bitterness once more - toward them, toward everyone. Adam squeezed his eyes shut to be rid of the thought. My heart aches, but surely these are no longer my people? Skeletor has made wretched animals of us all. We only continue to live because the walls do not fall. He shuddered - was he terrified for their fate? Or for his own?
The Night-time - a black and bodiless beast with a thousand twinkling eyes... These silvery pupils glared down with freezing light from the depths of the unshakable cloak that descended to wrap Eternos City in darkness. It chilled and blinded, voraciously devouring everything in sight - invisible itself, but omnipresent.
Until recently Adam could welcome the Night's cloak and how it would deaden the City's frenetic sounds while masking the miserable sights of the daily world. But of late, he could not forget this everyday world of dilapidated buildings and cratered streets. Something like sickness or insanity forced him to remember the cellars and tunnels beneath these shattered buildings, crowded with dirty refugees and wailing children, grimacing and contorted with illness. Amongst them were people so sickly and starved that one could no longer tell whether they were men or women. He saw the marked faces of the old looking on with helpless indifference, only to turn away and limp to their own end.
All of this should vanish before his eyes under the unstoppable spell of the Night - yet he could not forget these visions in his mind-sight. Nor did the Night offer any longer the blessed oblivion of sleep - there was no getting away from the pains of memory and fatigue that jarred and stung his weary frame throughout the lightless hours - and then into the next day and every day after. He groaned, reaching for his head to stem the onslaught of blows - it was a gesture that was in vain.
Beginning of the End (part 3)
The thought hurt like grief and provoked like an insult. Fighting no longer cleared her head, but instead brought back terrible memories.
Teela had spent so many years listening to her father's reasonings, to Orko's stupid suggestions, and to Adam's own feeble excuses. At first she had been prepared to forgive, to help the Prince find the courage that she felt was in his soul. As his body-guard, Teela had worked hard with him to build his martial prowess and reach a mastery of the discipline. And as the Captain of the Guard it was her duty to ensure that he was primed to lead his people into a life or death struggle, as their world was a dangerous one. Every territory was beset with tribal wars and prey to ravenous monsters - even before Skeletor had emerged from myth.
Teela's teaching had honed Adam's body to be ready as a weapon of tribal war, so that by the time he came of age, he could defend his kingdom. But by the time Adam was old enough to spill blood on the battle-ground, Skeletor had begun his merciless war of despoliation. Adam had refused to face Skeletor, and when Teela had pressed him, he would use intellectual arguments and spiritual justifications of pacifism and purity to explain the staying of his hand. Such ideas did not earn the respect of the militant royal court or its allies of harsh warrior peoples.
Did she blame herself for Adam's fall anymore? It was true that she now felt that she, like her father Man-at-Arms, had done her duty in giving her life in service to the Prince - to teach him war-craft and strategy, weapons-smithing and honourable combat. A great deal had been given to that boy - and much more sacrificed. For what!?
With a furious ululation she swung her metal pole-ax from her warhorse, smashing open the head of the automated Manikin. As the warhorse's hooves thudded to a stop Teela leapt, using the armoured beast's momentum, towards another Manikin with her sword; it defended itself with surprising alacrity. Teela landed a destructive counter-blow, but her seething mind was not focused on the fight - instead she battled old resentments against Adam.
Killing blows, crippling throws and lethal weapons were at his command, but what had she ever seen Adam do when he couldn't avoid a fight? Only holds, throws and blocks that stunned or disabled, disarmed or frightened. No, there was no occasion when he had willingly shed blood for his kingdom.
And though when Skeletor first appeared upon Eternian soil and Eternos thus lost its warrior-prince, the City had at the same time gained the aid of a powerful warrior - the Sorceress of Castle Greyskull had sent He-Man to fight against Skeletor for King Randor. It was a strange and inspiring turn of events. He-Man was a foreigner and had never before been seen outside the Castle, for he was thought to be the defender of the forbidden Secrets hidden deep within - and it was a mystery as to why the powerful and solitary Sorceress would send her champion to help Eternos. She was well known to be above the constant warring between the humanoid tribes throughout the vast lands of Eternia. She and her vassal, He-man, had no need for allies, being known as too frightening and powerful to attack. But then, when Skeletor tipped the local balance of power between the tribes and gathered a vast army, He-Man had let it be understood that his aid to King Randor was secondary only to Greyskull. When Eternos finally faced the new threat and He-Man fought alongside them all, the Sorceress would summon the Castle's terrifying defences. In all of the time He-Man had fought for Eternos he would return to Greyskull only if the awesome power of the Sorceress faltered and Greyskull itself was threatened.
But ten years had since passed and He-man's devotion to Eternos seemed to be at an end. These days, the Messengers of the City to Greyskull saw no signs of life therein. He-Man no longer arrived at the critical moment during the night-time assaults, but remained absent. No-one knew why. Had the Sorceress sent him to another world? Or had he succumbed to some horror that they were yet to learn of? During these cryptic latter days, Teela herself had beseeched the great Jawbridge to open - but the Castle remained shut, while around the massive walls of blackened stone silence reigned and the fathomless eyes of Greyskull stayed blind to her entreaties. A wretched feeling of abandonment had sunk into the hearts of her warriors, while the kings of the lesser tribes of Eternia demanded explanation from Randor. Of course Adam did not take up the sword to rally the allies. He had become a pariah from the fractious court and had drifted away from real life into a pitiful isolation.
Beginning of the End (part 4)
Through all of the years that He-Man had fought for Eternos, the
Prince had become more enervated. Adam's compassion had fallen into
weariness, his loyalties turned to skeptical wavering, and his sharp
mind degenerated into a dulled muddle of philosophical uncertainty and self-doubt.
Teela knew well that years of continuous warfare had worn on everyone,
but despite the trials and tragedies, Adam should have endured - his
failure to lead could have easily brought Skeletor's tyrannical rule
upon his people.
But not only did Adam fail to provide leadership
throughout this broken decade of war, he had this past week finally
turned his back for good. Adam was now no longer a Prince, having
dealt his father one final humiliation by abdicating and withdrawing
into the Temple for a life of prayer, meditation, and charity. It
seemed he had chosen the Temple in particular because the brothers
therein took vows of non-violence, silence, chastity and alms. They
were withdrawn from life, except where the sick and aged were
concerned, and even then she had heard rumour that Adam had taken the
vow of solitude... perhaps even to withdraw into the desolate caves in
the hilly wilds beyond Greyskull. Teela held the monks he had joined in scorn for their naive belief that their prayers for peace would be heard, for the gods themselves were said to be at war.
"It's just like you!" she raged, jabbing the artificial
Manikin-warrior with her weapon, "A selfish boy in every way!" She
landed a blow the archaic Manikin failed to calculate and smashed it
down onto the pitted and cracked courtyard. There was a tinkling, then
silence. The Eternian Sun was falling into darkness, the late Autumn
day drawing near to the time when Skeletor's slaves might mount
another attack. For some time to come, these nights would get longer and longer.
"Have you slain another Prince, Captain?"
Teela started in surprise and quickly twisted towards the gentle voice
that sounded as grey and smooth as the gathering twilight. Manefred,
known to his audiences and patrons as Man-E-Faces, looked at her with
sad eyes and an uncertain, sympathetic smile as he stooped to pick up
the Manikin's rolling, robotic eye-ball. Man-E's appearance had
startled her all the more because, of late, there was an ominous
tension about him that could erupt into brief but frightening rages.
"I have no Prince, Man-E," she growled, her heart pounding as she
wiped the rolling sweat from her face, afraid that it might lend her
the appearance of weeping.
"No, not now that he's…" and he dangled the eye-ball, "...out of sight."
Teela did not look at him and Manefred closed his hand around the orb
of metal, saying nothing for a few moments. The Captain bent down and
set to the task of picking up pieces of the smashed body of the robot
fighter, ignoring Man-E's comment. The actor decided to change the
subject, and cleared his throat. "...Should we really be using such
valuable resources for -" and then just as suddenly stopped himself.
Angry eyes glowered up at him. "These Manikins may well be of the
Ancients, but I'm not going to have these few tools locked away, no
matter how venerated. We need to use them, so they will sometimes get
broken. Must you question me so?" she hissed.
Manefred had sought Teela out, anxious to prevent her from
over-exerting herself. He was afraid that grief and demanding duties
were weakening her. With affectionate concern, he started to reach
towards her in an attempt to forestall a predictable spiral of angry
exchanges - but the rigidity of her muscles and quick, violent
movements were like armour that repelled his touch. Like his comment,
his hand faltered in mid-air and then he withdrew it. He bent over the
stone ground instead, working with her to pick up the pieces.
"You know less about these machines than me…" she muttered.
"You and Duncan have taught me a few things. I feel that we all should
learn what we can now."
She remained distant. "I've told you before to leave me alone when I
am training," she said flatly.
With a keen sense of sadness Man-E-Faces realized that he was only
aggravating Teela's bellicose mood in referring to Man-At-Arms. "It is
almost dark - you must finish here and take your post." Teela did not
respond, and Man-E fell silent. In that moment he was suddenly caught
off-guard by the potent, creeping sensation that burgeoned up from
inside him. Man-E shook his head, but failed to completely rid himself
of the growing feeling of wrath.
"Headache again?" It was the first time Teela's tone had changed and
now she paused briefly to look at him before returning to her task. It
was just a slight change, with nothing of the usual softness of a
woman, or the care of a lover, but it was enough encouragement to
prevent Man-E from bidding her goodnight.
"Not exactly." Man-E ground his teeth while scowling heavily.
Teela, noting his tension, reconsidered her harsh manner with a frown.
She had to be more mindful of herself and avoid these petty
confrontations with Man-E - a recurring fear that he might
unexpectedly lose his will to Skeletor's old curse had made her
suddenly uneasy. "You've done well without the potion these last few
months," she said, attempting to encourage him.
But his anger did not
subside in being reminded that he must go without it. He felt
resentful of the certainty of shame if he failed to control his
moments of violent rages. For many a year, Man-E had felt bitterly
towards his fate, and raged at Skeletor for cursing him. Too often he
felt himself to be cold, a persistently disconnected machine, and it
was alienating. It seemed he would never be rid of his curse.
Teela ceased her furious gathering of Manikin pieces, but still
without looking at him said, "You are no longer relying on it." Then
she turned to face the man beside her, trying to hold his gaze.
Man-E's eyes fell. His feelings hardened in his defense, and his voice
was barely even. "The addiction could not be helped. The Sorceress
warned me. It was either addiction or.. or I would remain a threat."
"But now you've proven that you don't need it." Teela looked away.
"You have been monstrously enraged only once since the your medicament
ran out. Your sickness is one of spirit, and so the cure is one of
will, not potions. Can you not see that now?"
"I... " Man-E made a vague gesture, as if to elaborate, but paused.
Aren't sorcery and willpower much the same? he thought, but
aware that he did not know magic. Then before he could put his
thoughts into words Teela sighed and turned earnest eyes upon him.
"Man-E, if you don't believe that it is up to you to control your
curse, then you will always be afraid that others will take control of
it, you will always depend on this alchemical crutch. Doesn't all of
this time without the potion show you that? I still trust that you
will not succumb to the curse."
Man-E's eyes wavered around hers, ashamed and uncertain.
Beginning of the End (part 5)
The moons and stars shone through his small window, glinting with a
cold, distant light that Adam knew to be the long dead eyes of the
Night. Silhouetted within the window frame, he turned and groped in
the darkness towards his low, hard mat. It was not the discomfort of
this new life that wearied him, but rather, the endless nightmares -
the nightmares and the memory of battles. He could not go on like
this, struggling against sleep while the Night pressed downward its
smothering cloak. It was time to lie down and give in - yet once
seated on his mat, he made no move to do so. Some time passed, his
head hanging in darkness. He swooned as a wave of fatigue pulled down
at his body.
Once, almost 10 years ago now, nothing could have shaken Adam's
resolve to be victor, to repel Skeletor and safeguard Eternia under
the rule of justice and the King. A decade ago, he had felt no
disconnect between himself and He-Man. They were as one, with the
power of Greyskull suffused into Adam's soul to make him He-Man. If he
was not respected for his unknown efforts, it did not matter - he
embraced the sacrifice of Prince Adam's life and posterity. But after
the brief, glorious beginning as a demigod, Adam had felt himself grow
slowly and steadily more aged, eroded, spent through his experience,
while Skeletor remained not only ageless and powerful as ever, but
more canny and perspicacious, learning his weaknesses.
Skeletor had had many years to assail Adam's flesh and spirit, to torment him, to grind down his mind and strength of will with the incessant conflicts against He-Man that fueled the young man's nightmares. The fell sorcerer summoned, bound and bribed the foulest daemons of the Universe to annihilate He-Man, or created lethal servitors and weapons to attempt to slay him. He mounted waves of invasions by enslaving the nearby tribal-kingdoms, then raising all of the fallen as unquiet dead, driven only by killer
instinct, to burn and spread plague among surviving towns and settlements. He-Man resisted and defeated them all, but every success bore more heavy a price - a life-long burden of loss and pain for Adam.
The Power that was so potently imbued within Adam inevitably
returned to Greyskull - for the Power belonged to Greyskull - and Adam
was left with nothing but his own inner resources to heal himself of his
experiences - those experiences designed to rend He-Man, the most powerful
of all men, guardian of the most profound mysteries. Will my
nemesis simply keep up the struggle until I am too old and weak, or
finally insane? With a sick and dizzying feeling, Adam suddenly
felt that this Night had conclusively brought along that very time of
reckoning... insidiously at first, but now starkly revealed to him,
swiftly and pitilessly. My life truly ended when He-Man's was begun
- yet I am still alive, it seems.
Adam had not stirred from his comfortless mat, a vanished form in the
darkness of his small cell. Slowly and quietly within the lucubratory
silence of the Temple, Adam took up the ominous short-sword beside
him, where it lay unsheathed as if readied. This instrument he
dreaded, yet it alone offered him protection and some measure of
comfort and familiarity. The edge was as keen as ever and the sheen of
the metal - pale as water in the moons-light - had never dulled.
Here is evidence of perfection.... He laid it
across his lap. This weapon, the Sword of Power, was never far away.
At its touch, Adam shuddered - a shred of possibility, portending
regeneration - the greatest power was only moments away, words away.
But the transformation itself took its toll and had become an almost
unbearable process. Now when the awesome Power struck down upon him,
he felt that he would not be able to stand it - only to be saved
moments later by the very same Power that threatened to shatter him.
His thoughts would cool and steady as he became He-Man - his body
would no longer be weary, his spirit would be refreshed and
invigorated. This evocation of god-life seemed each time to sustain
him, to provide him enough strength to continue. Like a drug, it
augmented him temporarily, then beckoned to him when he was once more
vulnerable, a mere man.
Beginning of the End (part 6)
He could exist without fear, without
nightmares if only he could remain He-Man and truly allow Adam to
perish. But no such being could be long contained within a mortal
vessel. He-Man is not a man all of himself but needs me to exist. I
have only to give up the Sword and end my struggle. But who else would
fulfill my destiny? My life has no value without the power to protect
my people. I am no longer a Prince, He-Man is all that I have left,
yet I am not strong enough to keep what good of me remains...
Adam clenched his fists and brought them together, face knotted with
tension, guilt, his skin discolored with exhaustion. Who would face
the devils and monsters I have faced? Who would survive the battles,
bear the sight of mangled limbs, smashed faces, spilled innards, all
strewn over battlefields? His desperate appeals to justify his
defeat could never reassure him - instead his thoughts suddenly
spiraled into hideous, involuntary flashbacks: again in his mind's eye
he watched as mad-men launched their devastating weapons and marched
their relentless, bestial armies, laying waste to the terrorised,
fleeing huddles of women clutching tight their ashen children… again
he beheld the towering daemon, rippling with the faces of a thousand
murderers, victims, teeth gnashing, howling with rage, terror… again
he recalled the impossible fiends devouring innocent children before
his eyes, growing more vicious on their young blood... again he stood
before the voracious aliens without conscience nor fear, summoned from
the stars, descending like a plague upon his people and the riven
kingdoms of Eternia…
Adam was gasping and trembling as the rapid series of memories
atrophied into a warped and blurred phantasmagoria, leaving disjointed
images in their wake and a clamorous sense of fatality and despair.
This double-life was destroying him - he could no longer live with the
traumatic memories of the endless wars nor amongst the people who
unwittingly vilified him as a weakling though he willingly suffered so
grievously to save them. He felt a harried compulsion towards some
decisive act. Would he finally summon the will to force the Sword's
point through his heart, this Night? But to die without returning such
a potent weapon would be an irredeemable betrayal of his sacred oath
to the Sorceress. Adam's body shook with the foretaste of disaster -
what would become of Eternia without its champion?
He did not move. The Sword of Power lay upon his lap, the round pommel
glinting like a veiled eye behind a gauze of moon-beam, open but
visionless. He had not dared to confess his defeat, his failure to
fight on, to the remote and alien Sorceress of Greyskull. Instead he
had fled, abdicated his blood-right and hid himself within the Temple,
clutching at, but not raising, the Sword. He had heard no word from her, no sound nor call from Greyskull, no visitation from Zoar. Could Adam ever go to
her, pleading final release from his suffering? Might she end the
secret life that had torn the royal family apart, a life that had
borne him such intolerable disgrace and self-doubt? Guilt and shame
sapped him, for that difficult life was his most solemn duty. The
sense of the cold, hard blade forced question after question to the
fore of his mind, creating a confusion of feeling and another
shuddering wave of nausea. Could he ever be rid of this blade, this
oath, his duties?
If only he could put these questions to a friend who could advise him.
He was lost and now so alone without Duncan, more alone than ever
before. Adam rose, shaking with tension and now wet with feverish
sweat, the questions beating at his head. With torpid, fumbling
movements, he dressed himself in his thick monk's robes and his
warrior's harness, feeling the weight of his unsheathed blade pulling
down at him, still bound to him, forever upon his back. He touched the
winking pommel of the Sword, fingers flinching as if burned - few
people had ever held this sword and none had spoken the eldritch words
that enacted the spell of transformation. It was his burden alone.
Standing in the darkness of his monk's cell, silent moments passed in
stillness, disturbed only by his ragged breath. Then he stumbled on
trembling legs towards the door, compelled yet dreading his passage
into the looming Night outside. Finally, he must face the Sorceress -
in truth there had never been any other choice.
Edging beyond the threshold, Adam turned to quietly shut his small,
dark cell behind him, feeling increasingly resolved to leave, his
uncertainties urging him on to seek some route of escape from his
double-life. But despite the resolve that drove Adam from the
cloister, he hung his head. So it is true,, he told himself,
I am a coward. But even this humiliation would not stop him
from beginning his long and arduous journey to Greyskull.
Beginning of the End (part 7)
"Why did he do it?" Her question was not one to answer, but an
expression of her sorrow, her anger, and her hatred.
He'd listened to these words before, offered explanations, but she had
attacked him, armed as she was with wild confusion and brutal
accusation. Man-E was not sure what to say this time, and so held a
needle between his lips as an excuse for silence. Carefully, he
re-threaded another and tenderly continued to stitch the re-opened
wound on Teela's shoulder. Wiping away her blood, a familiar thought
entered his mind – I seem to know many things, but I am only a
master of illusion – and not even a master of myself, nor of my decisions.
"You should be more careful," he murmured, barely audible, knowing his
advice would not be accepted.
"Aye, and you shouldn't avoid questions."
Man-E sighed, "I don't want to argue with you again."
Teela turned her tightly-bound head of red hair around to her
companion. "Nor I you. I'm sorry - "
Man-E had leaned forward quickly to catch her lips on his. When he
drew back he said, "I've already forgiven you. Now try not to move."
She looked back out of the window into the dark courtyard. "Forgiving
me may get harder and harder." Across the way, beyond the palatial
buildings of the Royal grounds, beyond the new litter of ruins and
under the lightless sky of the blacked-out City, Teela imagined the
Temple. "You can only forgive so much."
"This is why you want explanations Teela. You do want to forgive him."
She said nothing and Man-E sensed that this silence was filled with
her noisy, embattled thoughts.
He finished the last stitch in her skin. Then carefully, quietly, he
said, "You've lost your father..." She didn't react badly and so he
went on, "and now you do not want to lose a brother."
"Aye." Her voice was soft, but for a moment. "But he is lost!" she
twisted around suddenly to face him, her face alight with anger. "Even
if I understand, if I forgive, he has taken life-time vows. Only exile
would free him from his monkish servitude, and then he would be even
more of a disgrace!" and she smacked her palm with the back of her
hand for emphasis.
Man-E sighed and put the needle and thread down. Could he make it
easier for her if he told her what he suspected? Should he? Was
it not a very dangerous knowledge? "I think he wanted to end his
failings, to find success in his life in some other way."
"Life!?" Teela let out a bitter laugh and glanced outside again at the
embattled City. Then after a moment's reflection she turned back to
Man-E. "You're saying I was too hard on him."
"It is your job to be hard. He was a brother, but also a student, and
a poor one."
"Is it his fault? Can I blame a man for the heart he was born with?
But what of the head he decides with?" Again she looked out of the
window while Man-E addressed the back of her head.
"He is ashamed, Teela. Afraid too. How could he look to the future as
a King who - for reasons that seem strange to us - would not bare
"He was not a poor student - in theory he is a great fighter. He has
skill. Yet he is misguided by his exotic philosophies and muddled old books."
"But truly, he is also a spiritual man and a caring one. And with a
subtle and incisive mind. You are both drawn to the wisdom of the
Ancients, but your eye is for their technological treasures - his is
for their ideas of peace and harmony. He must have realized that the
Temple was a better place for him and -."
"A better place for him, no doubt - the boy never even took to
hunting! Did he ever shed a drop of blood for food if not honour? Why
could he not see that great Kings are not made in libraries?"
"Adam is… he feels the pain of others keenly. Too keenly you'd say."
He'd stopped her short, guessing her response, so she added: "For a Prince."
"For the Prince you and everyone wanted him to be." Man-E remained
sitting behind her as she looked away. He took hold of his own hands
and squeezed them to try to release the tension that tightened his
"Had to be! Not even the greatest warrior loves war! But we have to
fight it! Have to! And he knows how!" Teela gestured, becoming more
impassioned, her voice rising as she spoke.
Man-E could not help but think on his inferior sword-skill compared to
Teela's. Unlike her, he had become strong and acrobatic for the
tumbling and dancing he did on stage, and his showy and flamboyant use
of weapons was much lacking in real skill. "Not everyone can fight!"
he suddenly snarled back.
"Then they die!" she rounded on him and stood up.
"No..." Man-E paused to wrest control of his temper "...then we
protect them." Man-E-Faces said nothing more and only concentrated on
relaxing his body, on cooling his mind.
Teela understood she'd made a mistake, and rested an apologetic hand
upon his. "You are right. And you have better control of your anger
"Because I must." His stomach churned as he spoke - she
would not turn into a psychotic abomination if she failed to remain
reasonable. How terrible that his beloved was the person who most
sorely provoked his curse to manifestation!
"Aye – then you understand what we 'must' do and what we 'must' not do."
Man-E thought about her statement and frowned. "You'd rather Adam had
died than fled?"
"Aye!" she hissed with conviction. "He has no honour – and that is a
living death, Man-E." She paused, then said, "My father died with
honour - and so he will be remembered. Adam is trying to make us
forget him, even while he still lives."
"But Teela, there are still those who love him." Man-E asserted.
"Are there?" Teela glared at him.
"Yes," he said.
"Well! It is not enough! Kings do not need love, but obediance and
loyalty. Kings make sacrifices - including of themselves."
He held her gaze. "Isn't love enough?" Saying nothing, she looked away.
"Honour," he went on, "is that all that matters?" But Teela said
nothing more. Man-E stood and stepped towards her. "The wars have
scarred you deeply." His fingers grazed the closed wound on her
"You'd rather I weep like a maiden?" She tried to sound scornful.
Teela flushed hotly and opened her mouth, intending to justify herself
and her unyielding stand against the Prince. Before her, she caught a
glimpse of Man-E, stiff with tension, mouth tight with uncertainty. As
he waited for her response, his tension was palpable - she watched him
fidgeting with anxious anticipation, his brow creased with cares, eyes
staring, sincere. Suddenly feeling compassion for him, she took hold of
her own passions - admiring his self-control, even grateful for his
forgiveness. Then she said softly, "Man-E - you must know something
more, to feel such loyalty for him still - why do you defend him so?"
Man-E paused cautiously. "Am I so easy to read, my love?"
"You are a great actor, but also one with a curse... When we last
spoke of Adam," She moved closer, holding his gaze in the flickering
torch-light, "I saw a glimmer of metal behind your eyes. As though you
didn't want to feel…"
It was true, he had felt his body grow resistant to feeling, to touch,
as his mind had withdrawn from hers, as he had sought to protect the
dangerous thoughts he had entertained. "Aye my betrothed," he sighed
as her words hung in the air, "the machine within sometimes catches
the man up in its wheels and drags him inside its shell - "
" - 'to clamp down the mouth and solder the eyes so that there is
nothing more to tell.' Oh, Manefred, I know well your rhymes and
reasons. I know well that when you want to retreat into your own
silence, you seek out the cursed cold metal within you and embrace it
and feel encased... untouchable and unseen. But will you not come out
of your armoured shell and tell me what you have been trying to guard
with your emotionless tone and blank face?"
Man-E stood, trembling a little. He had controlled his Monstrous
temper, but only in assuming the emotional deadness and disconnection
of the Robot - and with that, all of its limitations. Man-E asserted
himself, meditating upon his loving commitment to Teela, allowing his
feeling to pierce the metal plate closing around his heart.
Teela moved closer again, touching him. "What do you wish to tell me?"
"I – I do not know for certain."
"Then tell me what you think you know."
For a few moments, Man-E said nothing. Then he turned careful eyes
upon hers. "So many years the same pattern… you say Adam is a coward,
but his thoughts are not cowardly. His arguments are not cowardly. He
has fought against the whole court so as to make his own ideas heard
and believed in... They may be ideas of non-violence and purity, but
these are brave ideas in any time of war - or peace. We have all seen
Adam act cowardly... but though he may have fled battle time
and again, never did I feel him to be a coward – I sensed him running
towards something, not away. His mind, his look… they were not craven.
When he runs, it is with a determined look, as if toward a solution.
Aye..." Man-E murmered and nodded to himself. "And when he is not
there when he is needed, only your father or Orko have been able to
account for him." Man-E sighed. "I think I understand the look in the
eyes of a person when… when they are split. Divided. Do you
"No Man-E... I don't understand. Are you saying he is cursed like you?"
"Aye Teela, but a curse that is like mine and not at all like mine…
not a curse but a… a… well - words fail me."
She took hold of both his hands, startled by the depth of his empathy
for Adam, confused at the heavy and confused thoughts he was trying to
impart. "You are an orator, a poet. You have words – come, let me
understand you. I will hear you." Man-E took heart at her concern and
the softness of her countenance. He drew a breath. "I think Adam has
led a double-life. I think... I think - AH!"
A sonic thundering and
white flash momentarily saturated the room, bursting through the dark
Night from beyond the palace grounds.
Teela ran to the window and cried, "The Temple site!" She turned and
punched at the old, worn intercom by the door, her voice rising as the
alarm-bells began to toll. "This is Captain Teela! Mekanek, what is
"Captain! A single, massive blast at the Temple but no foe, no machine
sighted beyond our walls... I see Snout-Spout leading a team to the
"Keep me informed!" she yelled as she grabbed Man-E. "COME!"
[u]War of Attrition: II - the Witch of Snake Mountain[/u] (part 1)
War of Attrition: II - the Witch of Snake Mountain part 1
The previous night...
Hot, humid winds screamed down the mountain tunnels and shafts of Snake Mountain. At times, the wind was so loud it was the only thing that could be heard. Snake Mountain was riddled with a labyrinth of dusty conduits and corridors that channeled the winds – some of these were seemingly carved out, while others bore a less artificial appearance, as if some great wyrm had eaten its way through the stone. Evil-Lyn knew that these latter passage-ways were the true routes to power - that they were indeed the work of a great wyrm; according to a forgotten legend these passages were the final path of the Snake-God after it was banished from Greyskull for attempting to force its way in. It was now petrified in its final throes around and about the mountain and held in place by a continual flow of lava through its body.
From the top of Snake Mountain the serpentine path of the Snake-God led underground and from there deeper under the mountain range over which the Mountain towered... and then onwards, away from the ranges of violent volcanoes and sudden ravines of the Darklands. This long underground route was sinuous and confusing, but Skeletor believed it twisted and twined all the way into the ancient catacombs upon which Greyskull had been built, where Serpantos had been gnawing at the foundations before it was cast out to writhe in agony, eatings its way through the rock beneath the surface of Eternia, to escape the punishment of fires flowing through its tormented body and a growing skin of stone it could not shed. This venerable underpass was the royal-road to power - yet He-Man and the Sorceress did not seem to know about it, making it the weakest point in their defenses. It was for the true route to Greyskull through this chthonic labyrinth that Evil-Lyn and Skeletor had cast their many divinations, hoping that the answer to the endless puzzle of the snaking passageways would be revealed and that they would find the place where Serpantos had first attacked the foundations of the Castle.
But dead-ends and blind-alleys kept their eyes closed, their hands empty. For a decade they had circled around this frustration: no spirit guide could lead them, no scrying mirror would reflect the truth, no sign would form in the entrails of dragons, the cast teeth of wyrms, nor in the smoke of the burning skins of sea-serpents. Not even these sacred monsters of Serpantos would be read to determine the Snake-god's final path – it was as if some greater power was thwarting every effort.
How to put aside the writhing, churning paths and routes that she had studied and memorized? Evil-Lyn focalized her attention as Eternia's vast Great Moon began to rise - for it was the Night of Bethinking and she, old as she was, needed to extirpate the useless memories and experiences of the last 10 years while retaining those of use – otherwise her magically enhanced memory would become an overloaded jumble and collapse into chaos. But here, as the blue glow of the Great Moon shed its cold skin of light upon her raised hands, she felt a sense of constriction in mind and movement. Now unmoving, her thoughts arrested, she felt nearly trapped as she recalled the numerous myriad turns and coils of Serpantos' final route.
What of this vast maze to forget? What to keep in memory? Without knowing the true way, could she dare to discard any knowledge of the subterranean network that she had learned and memorised henceforth? A confusion of questions weakened her concentration, and a shot of fear left the taste of bile within her pale, shapely mouth. There was not much time left... She had lived for so long, terrorizing Eternians as a consequence of her ambition to enter Greyskull, yet all the while time was running out - time was her true enemy. Though Skeletor had brought her closer than ever to the forbidden knowledge of Greyskull, she still had not discovered the secret ritual spell which would free her; for Evil-Lyn was bound by a secret pact she had made with one of the Olden Gods of the Outer Worlds - a pact that magically extended her life but did not maintain her youth and vigour. At that time, long ago, she was weak and naïve - neither what she must sacrifice nor the length of her new life were clear to her then: she had not understood the Olden God's riddles and vagaries. Evil-Lyn had thus spent many difficult years studying more and more magic to divine how this Olden God had behaved in the past, and what manner of loop-hole she might use to escape the ultimate fate that she herself had sealed.
II - the Witch of Snake Mountain (part 2)
Of course it had also been necessary to study magic to make her strong and to defend herself from the locals on her home world who had persecuted her and loathed her for her witchcraft. That throng, that vile morass of ignorant and worthless peasants, had already shattered her mortal life, and so they had deserved the terrible revenge she had wrought upon them, long ago. After that, she had needed to attain yet more power to defend herself in future, and yet more spells to rejuvenate her body as it began to age and disintegrate under the dead weight of past years. All the while, Evil-Lyn summoned fearful demons, parlayed with the dead, and plundered sacred libraries so as to uncover the route to Eternia - for there, on that strange world, the mythical Castle Greyskull could be sought - and perhaps entered. Only within this virtually impenetrable fortress could she reach the critical secret that would finally release her from the horrific pact she had made. With Eternia as her home, Evil-Lyn relentlessly pursued her studies and research so that she might penetrate the mystic defenses of the Castle and so discover the secret means by which to escape the Third Olden God. Now, with so many years passed, she was keenly aware that the urgent need for more power would never allow rest or cessation. From with-out amassed her mortal enemies; from within, age and insanity threatened to enfeeble and crush her. Evil-Lyn could never end this exhausting struggle and this night, she sensed, she must somehow re-double her efforts to achieve the breakthrough and save her soul.
Her blue-bathed hands had been manipulating some invisible force that felt cold and viscous against her palms, but now her hands fell still and hung limply at her sides. The sound of her command, which continued to echo around the chamber, was suddenly obliterated by a shriek of wind. The spell was paused momentarily as Evil-Lyn drew upon new reserves of mental effort, her face grimacing with fatigue, her black cloak flapping about her like a broken bat's wing - she once more drew up her thin arms.
The witch continued to ponder the vast underground labyrinth between Snake Mountain and Greyskull. If this grueling exploration went on for another ten years, her mind would be filled to over-flowing with the knowledge of these underground contortions. But ten years from now would not matter - she would have surely ran out of time by then. Without the secret spell that would free her, the Third Olden God of the Outer Worlds would move through the dimensions of space and time to claim her. It had been many, many years since this fate had been decided. There was no biding her time like Skeletor could. Now she could no longer dare to assume she had that much time left - though it was impossible to tell exactly how many days or months remained. Whatever the plans of Skeletor, she had to make her own move soon and finally enter Greyskull.
Could she trust the maps of the labyrinth that Skeletor had drawn up? No – she could trust nothing he shared with her. Only her enchanted memory, which gifted her with clarity of photographic remembrance, could be relied upon. But it was a burden too – in this last decade, her over-crowded mind had worked harder than ever before.
There was so much she must remember – the subtle signs of plot and intrigue against her; the lessons learned from defeat; the grimoires stolen and destroyed - except in her own memory. What, then, could she forget? She cast her mind back to the beginnings of this decade, looking for memories she could erase... The Ritual of Bethinking had begun in earnest.
II - the Witch of Snake Mountain (part 3)
Ten years ago...
Evil-Lyn savage bark went ringing down the halls of Snake Mountain. She drew herself up after her sorcerous exertions. "You will now swear-" the witch caught her breath "-swear your loyalty upon this enchanted memento-mori!" With a graceful sweep she grasped an object from a nearby shelf and held it out towards the vanquished men - a skull, its eyes burning liquid witch-light.
Filled with a sense of triumph she paused but for a moment to savor the mortal fear of the two before her. Trap-Jaw's agony and the iron smell of his blood was an aphrodisiac to her and she thrilled at her victory. The criminal lay prone, holding the stump of his arm and gasping with shock through his metal mandibles. His ally, the barbarian swordsmaster Tri-Klops, knelt over him but made no more movements – he had been stunned and disarmed by the suddenness of her vicious counter-attack and was now disarmed and afraid.
"You came to me as wanted men, begging for the protection of the Witch of Snake Mountain!" she hissed as she prowled a circle around them. "But now I see your true aim." She paused, glowering with menace and suspicion. "You will never usurp me – you can take nothing from me! No-one can. Now – swear your life-long fealty and become my thralls – or else I will send your souls screaming into the demon world and feed what remains of your mortal shells to my wolves!"
Tri-Klops said nothing for a moment, then rose. "No more harm will come to us?" his thick voice was heavy with the foreign accent of the Northern Tribes.
Evil-Lyn laughed, "That I cannot guarantee! You can no longer bargain with me – there is no hope for your future except in service to me! Now place your hand upon the skull, warrior, and be sure that I am watching you - targeting me! Do not dare to blast me with your second eye again – you have been warned!" Evil-Lyn's eyes melted into blue-light, the orb of her wand glowed the same. Without further hesitation, Tri-Klops placed his hand upon the burning bone, his angular face all grimacing with rage and steeled against pain.
The hot eyes of the memento-mori suddenly sputtered and were consumed by black oily smoke that billowed about the powerful form of the Eternian barbarian. Tri-Klops let go of the skull and staggered back, choking and wheezing. With sadistic pleasure, the witch laughed. "Now you!" she struck a boney finger out at the shivering Trap-Jaw. This mass-murderer was now as helpless as a child, as feeble as an old woman and all covered in his own blood.
She glanced at the dismembered blue arm, at the hand that had strangled, shot and stabbed – a hand steeped in the gore of past murders. The desperado staggered to his feet while Tri-Klops gagged, now careless of his accomplice and muttering curses. Trap-Jaws artificial voice struggled out of his bullish throat "My arm… what of my arm!?"
"Kneel and swear fealty unto death fool! Accept the loss of your arm –unless you want to lose your life too!"
"What is my life if I am in chains!?"
Evil-Lyn laughed "You are brave to be so reluctant. You will be in no dungeon – you will still have that freedom. Now choose – death, or thralldom!"
Trap-Jaw laid a heavy, quivering hand upon the hot skull – again it extinguished and exhaled smoke leaving the killer to reel away, spluttering and spitting.
The witch of Snake Mountain sneered with satisfaction, her eyes fading back to human colours. "I will protect you from those who are chasing you down. They will not dare to set foot here, and when they learn that you are my thralls, they will not dare to put chains upon you again. Is that not why you made this journey?"
The two men made helpless gestures of agreement and Tri-Klops, who had recovered his composure, suddenly asked "You are confident that you can stop Rio-Blast? He is the Frontier-Sheriff - more machine than man – perhaps built by the Ancients themselves."
Evil-Lyn placed the skull back onto the shelf and walked calmly towards a brazier that stood among the sorcerous paraphernalia of the ritual-chamber. "The Frontier-Sheriff? Tell me more" she purred, calmly interested. One of Tri-Klops' eyes seemed to glance at the groaning Trap-Jaw who stood hunched, his muscular blue baulk quivering in struggle against unconsciousness. Noticing, Evil-Lyn barked "Go on!"
Tri-Klops drew breath between his meaty lips and said "He enforces laws among planets beyond Eternia. Trap-Jaw has been wanted for piracy and murder for years… So finally they sent Rio Blast after him. Whichever law-enforcer that rides the stars-skies and does the bravest work receives the honour of having his head transplanted. They put the head onto a headless cybernetic body, "the Blast". The Blast is a fast machine, heavily armed and probably very venerable. Once they'd changed him, Rio managed to catch Trap-Jaw once, but Trap's crew broke him out of Prison Star, so Rio ended up on their trail again. But during that chase the pirates got caught up in a vortex that sent them crash-landing to Eternia. Trap-Jaw was the only survivor."
"Have no fear of this law-man. Eternia is a hidden world, cut-off from the remnants of the Galactic culture the Ancients built – we have little commerce or communication with the peoples of other world, except by exceptional or well-guarded means. Most non-Eternians understand their technology as poorly as most Eternians do. Only a sorcerer or technomancer could find their way here."
Evil-Lyn smiled with self-satisfaction "Trap-Jaw's crash-landing was a cosmic happenstance. He should be safe from all but the warring Kings of Eternia. The most powerful is Randor – but if Trap-Jaw has broken no law here, he has nothing left to fear – but me." The witch smiled in such a way as to reveal her perfect teeth, but no mirth.
Then Trap-Jaw toppled to his armoured knees only to crash completely upon the floor, a strange metallic groan escaping his deadly, jagged mouth.
Evil-Lyn turned to Tri-Klops "He is strong and will outlive this injury. I know that you are well versed in the arts of Ancient technology – you wear a helmet that proves it. So you can fashion him a new arm!"
Tri-Klops' face hardened with anger "I only know what I learned in Royal Service as part of the tribal alliance. My own tribe knows little of these treasures. Man-At-Arms never taught me how to implant these cybernetic limbs. That is difficult and well-guarded knowledge that even he admits to not truly understanding. And as for building him an arm - !"
"We will find a way" she interrupted, and moved from behind the now burning brazier... the memory was beginning to falter and fade… and her thoughts from that past time echoed into the distance.... kidnap Man-At-Arms? ...Ancient manuscripts… her store of ancient cybernetic treasures…
The memory was gone, and she was returned to the present.
II - the Witch of Snake Mountain (part 4)
Evil-Lyn was still standing, arms raised and bathed in the Moon's blue glow, stiffly upright within the magic circle. These long years had begun with this triumph – two new and useful thralls to do her work had presented such opportunities... Trap-Jaw was merciless and lethal in combat, psychotically bloodthirsty and made all the more dangerous by the ancient cybernetic arm that had been fitted to him. Tri-Klops was the more skilled and controlled, and a technomancer too, who had been induced as a trusted ally into those ancient arts by the Master, Man-At-Arms himself. But then he'd turned traitor, usurping the king of his tribe and using his stolen three-eyed helmet against Eternos and their Guards.
They should have been able to help her break into Greyskull – but they could not. And it was not long thereafter that she was indeed dethroned and made a slave herself.
Bethink you fool, she told herself, there is little time left and this opportunity may not come again! She cleared her mind of the useless and rotten, taking each memory that still mattered – shaped like a bright jewel in her mind's eye – and stored it within her long-term memory. In her mind's-eye she watched the image of her arm, her true arm, withered and pocked with age, holding the bright memory of her victory over Tri-Klops and Trap-Jaw, to be placed in a dark alcove set among rows and rows of other glimmering jewels that represented her retained memories. But there were not many alcoves left, her magical memory had to be re-ordered and purged.
Beyond this alcove where her victory had been stored, her minds-eye moved back, further back, and down, deeper down, to the oldest recesses where memories of mortal times lay. Perhaps she could make space in her mind by ridding herself of the painful reminders that represented her youth, emptying these alcoves for more useful experiences?
For a moment, the clawed and darkened hand in her mind reached out for one of the oldest shining jewels, and touched it for the shortest time…
No! It was not necessary to linger over that pain, the pain of powerlessness, of torment and terror as a helpless young woman. Humans were cruel and disgusting beasts, worse than the miscegenations and mutants she had to deal with, and she was glad to no longer count herself amongst their number - should she now destroy the bitter remembrance of her own victimisation?
The blue light of the Moon touched her face, smooth with the illusion of seductive beauty and youth. It fell upon her lips as they moved "No, it would destroy me" she whispered. Evil-Lyn knew that she could not jettison her sorrowful past, she did not wish to truly forget the miseries that had forged her. These formative memories must remain undisturbed and so she barred these alcoves with a thought, observing black metal closing like a grill around the opening of the oldest recess in her mind, to prevent future temptation. There they were now, memories of mortal times secured against future plunder – had she not just saved herself?
But perhaps it was a mistake, there was weakness there, weakness that Evil-Lyn had worked hard to expunge. That work had made her cruel and selfish by their standards, but what did they know? By her own standards humanoids were ignorant and limited, blind to any greater purpose beyond what they were told to believe, stupid for any real ambition within a universe that presented amazing opportunities – for all of them were frightened and cowed by the worldly authorities that exploited them with one hand - and then petted them with the other!
They cursed her, and they had attacked first. They deserved her wrath – it was a justice cleaner than their corrupt courts, and more fitting.
And besides, without some idea of who she had been, some contact with the experience of mortal humanity, she could lose herself in her pursuit of power. It would become the end, not the means, and with that she would become like Skeletor – unable to empathise with common experience, hungering only for absolute power, a limited and empty existence devoid of the pleasures of mind and flesh, of the satisfactions of being alive - and was it not her desire to live, and to live freely by her own will, that had brought her this far? This was the only real edge she now maintained over the Liche that ruled her – this memory of human understanding, of human desire for life. It leant her the ability to manipulate her enemies without the crude coercions that Skeletor resorted to.
The giant Great Moon of Eternia was high now, criss-crossed with canal-like lines and dented with vast craters. Its watery light bathed her svelte body, harnessed and bound as it was in her black armour.
There was no-one in the chamber with Evil-Lyn, but had there been, they would have seen the Moon's light shining through the illusion of supple, youthful skin. They would have seen it illumining the skeletal and withered frame beneath, they would have seen the ghastly and crumpled face of the Witch of Snake Mountain, deep in reverie as she reviewed the experience of her long life, beginning again with the start of this long decade of struggle....
II - the Witch of Snake Mountain (part 5)
Tri-Klops, Trap-Jaw, triumph....
… But it was not long thereafter that she was indeed dethroned and made a slave herself.
It appeared outside Snake Mountain, far down the black, serrated paths that lead up the trecherous cliff-side routes to the ante-chambers of Evil-Lyn's lair. One of the witch's guardian familiars, bound to her service, had sighted the approach of a baleful creature, and sped to the witch's library where she was deep in research. "The intruder defies all magical wards and guards my mistress" the ghost whispered to Evil-Lyn "the very sight of it brings mortal fear to me, me who no longer has need for, or true feeling of, such fear..."
What manner of creature could put fear of death into the dead? Sudden, explosive rage burned up through Evil-Lyn's throat and the witch snarled as she rose, her hands clawed and flashing with aggressive magic. Controlling her destructive urge, she swept past the sentinal-spirit, out of her study, and hurried up the stone stairs to the look-out tower. Her magic should prevent any instrusion - only some being, more powerful than she, could manage to approach this far.
Outside was a dim daylight filtering through the ash clouds that hung overhead. There! - she sighted a smudged shape of the thing as she aimed her old and baroque looking tool known as a telescope, mounted upon a heavy tripod. She turned the dial to lend the image accuracy. Then, when the figure's outlines lost their blur and were cut with clarity in the lens, she reeled back in fright - the figure was bowed and haggard, looking mummified within the ragged and dirty cloak it had pulled about itself, yet it moved with machine-like determination and speed - a tireless carriage that suggested inhumanity. This skeletal shade carried a rams-headed staff that glared with enchanted life.
Evil-Lyn looked beyond the scope with her own eyes, blinking as they were dried by chilly blasts that forced their way into the appature of the look-out tower through which the telescope pointed. There, far below on the winding path-way, she could discern the small, vague shadow caught in the foggy light as it climbed the heights of the mountain with inexorable intent. This creature must be stopped! she thought, hurrying to prepare her emergency defenses.
The ritual chamber - a dangerous room where powerful magics could be controlled to summon daemons and commune with the dead. Across the jagged walls and the dusty floor were written mysterous sigils and patterns in the dried blood and ichor of once living creatures. Brimstone burned in ornate braziers and a stack of shelves creaked under the weight of magical ingredients stored in heavy jars, each carefully label to avoid error – for any error in these rituals would prove worse than fatal. Evil-Lyn dashed from her lecturn (beside which a pile of grimoires, heavy metal tablets and rolls of delicate scrolls were gathered) to the smoking braziers in which the materials for her ritual would be burnt. She must make haste!
Time was of the essence, no attack that her guards had flung at the spectre had slowed its confident march towards the heights where she was barricaded. She had watched her Orcs and Goblins warriors lay in ambush for the intruder, only to be burnt in a terrible, magical conflagration as they surged down the mountain-side waving their brutal weapons. And so she had sent powerful winged monsters, some that had taken her years to tame, down from the sky to tear the intruder apart. But lo, these magnificant beast were beaten back by flashing jolts of energy from the ramsheaded staff - they had fallen away or spiralled out of the sky to meet their doom on the jagged rocks below.
Anticipating this failure, the witch of Snake Mountain had already contrived an avalanche to crash down on the cloaked fiend as it held its staff aloft. No sooner had her flying monsters fallen, massive black rocks were moved by her magic into a devastating rock-fall. The black shade suddenly vanished beneath the collapse of obsidian rock and black dust. For sometime she watched as the air cleared and stillness fell like death over the mountain pathway, now a wall of tons and tons of rubble. For a moment, Evil-Lyn had considered victory to be hers, but as she made to leave the look-out tower, a door of energy was cut through the rocks closest to the remainder of the path - and from within the rock pile, the terrible shade strode out of the magical exit, streaming dust behind it - unharmed.
The creature was unstoppable. And so she had hurried to her ritual chamber - hoping she had time to summon one of the most foul and violent demons at her command: Gorgagoth the undefiable - a many armed giant, each powerful limb wielding a cruel weapon of war, it's body fused to iron-plates that were streaked with the blood of a million and one victims. Gorgagoth the Undefeated, the Bloody, the Slayer.
"Great Gorgagoth! Murderer-supreme! Hear my plea and come to me!"
The unstoppable invader had entered the lower dungeons of the mountains chambers - no sentry had slowed it, nothing could dare to stand in its path and none could match it when they brought their arms to bear.
"I offer gallons of blood. I promise a mighty battle. I beseech thee!"
Ghostly messengers and squirming animal familiars fled from the lower caves to their Mistress - they spoke of the skull-faced wizard moving through the chambers of Snake Mountain, moving upwards, higher towards her position....
"You slay the weak, you slay the mighty. Kingdoms and planets are smashed beneath your hammer, gods and daemons are cleft in twain by your sword. Follow this scent of gore, come to my world and bring us war!"
It blasted its way through the lower caverns that were filled with Orcs and Goblins, Ogres and Trolls - none of these violent and cruel creatures dared to face it. It seared the ranks of guardian spirits that haunted the upper passageways, releasing them from their enslavement through its' means of annihilation. It clambered the worn-smooth Uncounted Steps from the upper passageways, and moved with knowing purpose through the towering Inner Gates where it dispelled the magical Wards and broke through Evil-Lyn's sorcerous barriers. It saw through the mystic blanket of darkness where all were blinded. It navigated the winding tunnels of Serpantos without hesitation or error. It penetrated the higher-caves, passing through the Witch's laboratory where human captives lay bound to operating tables or cowed in filthy dungeons terrified of the tortures to come.
It came towards her without pause - nothing could slow its inexorable march. The dread-creature came closer and closer while Evil-Lyn fervedly carried out her ritual summons of the daemon that might save her.
"Gorgagoth, killer! Gorgagoth, hither! Your blade will never fail, to you I cry my hail. I offer great sacrifice to be honoured by your charge - charge into my domain, destroy my enemy, let my plea not be in vain!"
But Evil-Lyn's plan was not to be - Gorgagoth was only partially manifested by the time the dark invader arrived. Evil-Lyn had spilled gallons of blood, stored in the freezing cellars of her fortress, carefully kept for just such an emergency. The whole ritual room was awash with a sticky mess of black and coagulating liquid while the sigils of summoning burned bright white light in devilish patterns through the turged blood. Gagging with the stench, Evil-Lyn forced herself to bellow the daemon-call, but her body shook uncontrollably with terror as she sensed the intruder's approach.
The incantation fell dead from her lips....
The black form, corpse thin and jerking like an insect as it moved, was preceeded by a terrible cold. The spirit guardians that she had gathered around her were suddenly taken up by a powerful spell and blasted into the hell-world. As their keening screams faded from the room, Evil-Lyn grabbed her Orb wand, the crystal upon it now held in the fleshless hand of the mass-murderer Trap-Jaw, to lend it his merciless power.
But it was too late - the fiend struck with a lightening movement she could not expect from a creature so decayed and foul. The rams-head dealt her a magical blow that bowled her over into the pool of blood that covered the floor of the chamber. Gasping, she stared up with growing horror at the fell thing that stood before her -indominable and terrifying!
The creature wore a heavy hood over its emaciated head. The fire-light cast a deep shadow across its face. As it turned ts head, the dark shadows trickled away in rippling pieces, as dark water does when draining from an uneven surface. Before the dim light of the braziers, features of bone jutted out – skinless cheek-bones and a fleshless jaw thrust forward grimacing teeth - teeth caught snapped shut in a rictus smile of [i]mortis[i]... No lips moved as it spoke - the sound emerged from the jaws that remained clamped closed. Above that terrible visage were two empty sockets, devoid of any feature but a deep blackness that seemed to swallow up Evil-Lyn's defiance and freeze her soul with profound fear. Around the edges of the skull face, peeling flesh hung as dead leaves do on a decayed tree.
Her heart beat like trapped prey, and she could only gasp while trying to plead for mercy. She had read in rare and lost tomes of this creature – the most terrible of vampires and a fearsome necromancer – before her stood a Liche.
Yet no killing blow came, though a heavy sense of threat hung over the room, like a corpse shroud dragged in by this undead thing, to smother the resistance of the living. The creature surveyed the chamber in silence, observing the dematerialising form of Gorgagoth. She should attack now while she still could - but she could not!
Eyeless eyes fell upon her and she felt the power of will that animated this creature in the mortal world, a world that shuddered in its passing, sensing the terrible blasphemy that its very existence personified. This was a creature that no mortal thing could face without some manner of mutilation, without some loss of sanity. Even gods trembled at the approach of this perverse miscreation.
The witch could only weakly raised her arms in her defence, but then the Liche suddenly collapsed into black dust and this in turn seemed to drain away into some central hole, leaving nothing behind but a vague stench of decay and a long, drawn out howling...
...The next time Evil-Lyn met Skeletor he would reappear in the exact spot from which he had vanished, his successful incursion into her domain having allowed him to establish a magical route directly into the Mountain. But he would be changed, transformed and strengthened in body, powerfully built like a living man, energized and invigorated and without any apparent need to drink blood as her tomes told her a Liche should. In short, Skeletor had freed himself of the weaknesses of his sorcerous undeath and had become something more and worse than the fearsome Liche.
Later, she would discover how this had come to pass. Sometime after invading snake Mountain, Skeletor would also enter Castle Greyskull before He-Man had arisen to defend it – this was the only time he would commit such an occult larceny - and he would do it without her, without anyone. In doing so, the fiend had made certain that she would never sit upon the throne of Snake Mountain in the years of struggle to come, and that the response of Greyskull was to bring forth He-Man, to ensure such a theft could not happen again... She placed this memory in another alcove and barred it...
This she could never forget.
War of Attrition: III - Storm Waves (part 1)
War of Attrition: III - Storm Waves
As Brother Adam hurried away from the old Temple, cloaked in rough monk's robes and cold darkness, the image of his old sailing boat drifted into his confused and tired mind. It was a boat always associated with peace and calm for him; but the image began to change to include Duncan... He was standing at the prow, now sailing with him on the vessel. There, on the boat in his minds-eye, Adam watched Duncan's noble profile - his high, intelligent forehead and broad features lending a strong appearance to his mouth and nose. He was standing still, despite the waves beneath them, his arms crossed in a characteristic stance that indicated he was both contemplative and ready. Duncan's penetrating gaze was cast out to the sea, the water as grey as his eyes... as the sky above... as the dull metal hanging from his belt... For a time, Duncan remained, watching the swelling waves as they rolled away forever into the sky. Then the steely grey colour of the vision seems to cloud in upon Duncan as he finally turned to look Adam in the eye...
A familiar feeling made Adam's stomach churn and spam and his face redden with the hot blood that boiled up from his constricted and enflamed heart. The dream-like image of Duncan on the old sailing boat was now gone, but the feeling of shame grew in Adam, and he felt as if he were suddenly suspended over a great depth into which he could instantly drop and sink like a lump of iron.
Peace and calm are sunk beneath storm waves went the old saying For both man and boat there is nothing that saves.
Not even He-Man can bring back the dead.
Shame and regret were now Adam's fore and aft – shame was an ugly figurehead that moved before him, something people felt once his presence was expected, something they experienced before he even entered a room. Regret was something he left in his wake, casting ripples of discontent through the bitter sea of tears he moved in - the uncomfortable and destructive passage of a man who could not be completely removed from the elite of Eternos, yet one who could not be accepted within it either. So he had scuttled his own vessel and had since clung to what was left - now he was adrift, far away from Royal courts and duties, and tonight, he felt like he had lost what was keeping him afloat; he had begun to drown in the misery that had long threatened to swollow him.
No longer a Prince, he was not expected to fight, yet this Night was the scene of one of his most difficult battles – and there was no Royal Bodyguard and Captain who was a sister, no Man-At-Arms who was a father, no loyal and brave friends – his vows had cut him off from them all; deliberately, hurtfully. He had even left Cringer behind at the Palace, as the Order did not allow animals in the Temple. And yet, mere days after speaking his monk's vows with all due solemnity, he was breaking them and running away again. And yet… what did his word matter any more? Did he not choose to join the Order knowing that his choice was a farce? A mere cover? Aye, and in so doing he had expressed his contempt for the kindly and spiritual monks, using them for his own purposes, to escape his torment and disgrace while inflicting yet more on his suffering parents.
Come the morning, they would find him gone and the King's court would make attempts to track him down, bring him back, regardless of his new, lowly rank and status; officially he was not worth more than any other commoner. My old friends should be relieved that I am no longer their burden, that I am now the concern of the High Priest – they should be glad and not try to find me.
No, this was no battle, but a retreat, and Adam used all of his faded strength to prevent it from turning into a rout. He was tempted to steal one of the few remaining and precious sky-sleds to reach his goal, but again, he resolved to go alone his own way, without inconveniencing others - that way, no more ill could be said of him. He must desert the Order, but he would not stoop to stealing from the beleaguered City.
He-Man had won this final battle, the battle between him and Prince Adam. Prince Adam no longer existed - he was now merely Adam - whereas He-Man would probably always exist, as long as Greyskull needed a champion - and Greyskull must always endure, until the very end of time. This night, Adam's time was finished - it was now only left for him to return the Sword in submission and beg the Sorceress for release from his most solemn oath. If his intuitions were correct, the terrible Sword of Power should pass on to a new man of greater worth and bravery, for surely there were many throughout the Universe much better than he.
Aye, they called me the kind Prince, but also the cowardly Prince. And I am that coward, now that kindness is sunken under the prow of my degradation and turned to bitterness. I renege on my sacred oath Sorceress… Sorceress! Don't you hear these thoughts!? Sorceress – I blame you! I blame you for choosing me! You will hear me!
Adam made his way towards the edge of the Temple grounds, having avoided any confrontation with his fellow monks, his face all twisted with misery. No-one but Guards upon the walls could be seen - the rest of Eternos was cowed behind trembling walls and trapped beneath the infinite weight of Night. Adam crossed the dark street when, with no warning, the silence of the City was shattered by a mighty blast behind him that blew a column of fire towards the distant, twinkling stars, carrying hundreds of burning souls with it.
It was here that Adam, once Prince of Eternia, was flung down amidst the falling debris and the flame, and could ponder no more his fate.
War of Attrition: III - Storm Waves (part 2)
The silhouette of a monstrous and mechanistic elephantine head blotted the blazing inferno behind it. Snout Spout stood facing the fire, his powerful body held rigid as a great jet of water fired out from his twisting cybernetic trunk and into the conflagration. Spout was simultaneously directing the Guardsmen on fire-duty as they arrived on the scene, their grey helmets and yellow shoulder pads striped with red to indicate their work. These helmets bobbed as the fighters pushed their faces behind the make-shift smoke-masks attached to their throat-guards – but only the cyborg Spout could breathe the thick smoke as the dark wind turned to fling it into their faces.
The Captain stopped her sprint as she reached Spout's side. She took in the scene with typical alacrity and precision – Spout didn't need help and so she wondered what the chances were of anyone inside the Temple, where Adam was cloistered. Man-E caught up with her as she stopped, both of them coughing as the ashen smoke filtered into their lungs. "Why is no-one going in!?" she yelled to Spout and looking toward the teetering Temple as it burned and creaked.
Spout's voice was deep and metallic as he spoke. "It's not just a fire, but an explosion. Your eyes can't see the structure like mine can, but I can tell you it is ruined and ready to collapse." Teela looked at the flames burning red against the brightly polished metal of Spout's
helmet, and then the burning debris about herself – the firemen were arming themselves with great hooks on long poles.
"You're going to tear it down?"
"Best way to stop the fire Captain – it could spread to nearby roof-tops in this wind. We need a controlled collapse." Spout was brief and to the point.
"What about the people inside?"
"They are already dead or doomed."
"Spout! What fear do you have with your fire-resistant armour? Your enhanced vision and invulnerabilities to smoke!? What do you fear!? Why aren't you in there after the Prince!? He is inside!"
"Captain, there is no Prince inside. There is no Prince."
"No, curse it all! He is not just another monk. Go in there and find him!"
The robotic eyes of the mastodon face were red with reflected fire as they gazed impassively for a moment at Teela. Then the great metal head turned to command his firemen as the mammoth fire-fighter moved away. Aghast at Spout's flagrant disobediance, Teela watched as the Guards began to push their poles up to hook onto the consumed Temple building. Spout continued away from her, directing the fire-fight and blasting water into the burning, teetering building.
Man-E had a hold of Teela and was surprised to feel her give in to his gentle tug – she allowed him to lead her away. He realized that even to her the situation was clearly hopeless – yet she had ordered Spout to needlessly risk his life for a man she held in contempt. Man-E was only relieved that Spout had maintained his characteristic stubbornness and had held his ground - Teela must be already regretting her rash outburst.
Now Spout's giant, glowing red figure was shouting at them and waving. "This way! It's going to completely collapse this way! Move! Move!" The Temple began to crumble, throwing out billowing embers, clouds of smoke and shards of masonry.
Teela fled with Man-E out of the area, scorched and littered as it was with shattered and burning wood, stone fragments, and scattered wreckage that might have been blackened idols and tools, or the immolated heads and limbs of holy men. By all that is Good! See to it that Adam has escaped! Man-E prayed silently as they ran. Then, thinking of the others inside the Temple, he added: Gods! - We beg that you allow them all peace, whoever they are.
Behind them were louder and louder thunderous crashings and a sense of great force behind them, and with it, a sense of Adam's passing into death. Man-E staggered under the weight of this thought and the looming spectre of grief that the burning Temple promised them. Teela half-dragged him beyond the fire-fight and into the gloom surrounding the scene. Only a few people stood in the street to watch – most were afraid that this was the beginning of a new and terrible bombardment – but she could see Guards still in surveillance positions while other mobile units searched the City for the saboteur – Mekanek had not yet reported any foe or threatening activity beyond the walls. She guessed that the saboteur was alone, highly mobile, and very skilled. Teela crushed a hand into a fist and grabbed at her communicator, demanding updates, as she swore to herself that this murderous and sacriligeous act would be avenged with the worst punishments.
Man-E breathed hard, though he had not really exerted himself during the run. He tried to reassure himself - until Adam's body was found, there was still hope he lived. "This is it?"
"Aye." Teela watched the last of the Temple building fall. "This attack is all that has been reported for now. Perhaps an isolated incident. Oh! But what a grievous and disgusting blow to our people and to our gods!" But this time she spoke nothing of Adam.
Man-E coughed and slid his back down a wall to sit in the street and he shivered, the cold wind seeping under his long courtier's coat. Adam was in the Temple - that Temple is now destroyed – falling into rubble before my eyes. So what now, if I am right? Man-E had never wished for such a terrible test of his suspicion. Suddenly he began to wonder and turned to Teela – but she was already discussing the implications with Mekanek on her radio.
"Are you sure?" she was saying "Why attack just this location? A blow to morale? No-body but non-combatants, holy men and mystics -"
Man-E suddenly grabbed her arm. "Assassination!" He hissed.
"Mek – hold on. What's that?"
"Teela! Skeletor's spies are everywhere – "
"It doesn't make sense Man-E" she whispered back "why assassinate a Prince who just abdicated and has no strategic value? Who-ever did this went to a lot of effort to build or find and plant this bomb. Such explosions can only be made with the old technologies. It could have been used with greater effect against the armory, the workshops, the - "
"There's no suspect? Not one of Skeletor's suicide-robots?"
"I have my suspects, but the blast is too big for Blast-Attack robots, there's some other – "
It was Spout, addressing them formally as usual. Laying in his gargantuan arms was a shrunken figure, robes billowing amidst the acrid smoke. The two ran over to their comrade and kept pace as Spout hurried to a Guard cart for the wounded. As he lay the crumpled form down, Teela exclaimed: "Adam! You rescued him after all!"
Spout turned to her, his vast metal head inscrutable and vaguely menacing. "No – we found him outside, just beyond the monastic garden, lying in the street and covered in debris."
"Man-E!" Teela grabbed his arm and shook him out of his surprise. "Get on board and guard the Pri-, guard him. If you are right, he will need a guard - but I'm still not sure why you'd be right." For a moment her face hovered over Adam's. His expression was mask-like and unaware, while hers was animated with a mess of conflicting emotions. Her forehead wrinkled as if she were to weep, but she kept her mouth shut with a tight grimace and the characteristic deep frown that had permanently furrowed her forehead. Then she turned and hurry away, barking orders into her radio without even looking at Man-E.
Man-E climbed aboard the Guard's rickety medi-cart, Spout showing him where to hold the gauzy dressing over Adam's exposed and lightly burnt hands. For a moment, Man-E wondered whether Spout had made a mistake and had picked up someone else. Adam lay prone in the bottom of the cart, all covered in scorched and dusty Holy Order robes, looking small, almost withered. He did not look like the young man Man-E knew. Upon Adam's back was his sword. It was not the same as He-Man's, but perhaps it transformed too?
The horses whinneyed at the nearby flames as the cart lurched away. Man-E watched his beloved and the fire-fighter return to the flickering scene of flames and ruin. There was no knowing whether this explosion would herald further misery and mayhem this night, but it was now important to be sure of one thing – no-one else should learn that Adam had survived. If Skeletor suspected what he, Man-E-Faces did, this could be the perfect chance to fool the enemy. He called Teela's radio while holding on to Adam, to demand secrecy from herself, Spout, and any others who had seen Adam.
As Man-E watched over Adam, he silently prayed again: May this secret be as well protected as all of those within Greyskull...
War of Attrition: III - Storm Waves (part 3)
Sorceress…. You chose me. Was it not because I would never kill? Aye, only accidental blood has stained the Sword of Power… Unintentional slayings and manslaughters... But narry a drop in self-defense… "An edge keen with regret and sheathed in mercy", you once said. "The Sword is a shield", you once said. What then, would happen to us were I to murder in cold-blood..? Is there any peace? Any end to this!? Release me..!
"... Let me go!"
Man-E stepped back from Adam's cot as he flung out his arms, crying aloud. Man-E tried again to gently awake his friend. "You are dreaming!"
Adam's eyes opened, but vision only filled them seconds later and a sense of numbness dulled each colour and blurred every line. He felt adrift, floating in some white ocean, the sun clashing against his sore head with white-hot cymbols. His mouth opened as if to speak, but instead he slowly gathered himself upwards, feeling the hospital gown on his body, the symbol of Healing sewn upon its chest, the anointed bandages tight around his numb hands. "My Sword!"
"It is here. I would let no-one touch it." Man-E patted the ascetic looking scabbard across his lap, the hilt of Adam's sword jutting out, the plain, carefully weighted pommel on the end glinting like a falling star. "Here" he handed it to Adam "I know it is special to you. It is a strong and faithful metal, surprisingly sharp and superbly balanced – a beautiful weapon for an ugly business."
Adam looked at his old friend carefully for a moment and then cast his eyes back down to the simple looking short-sword and pondered: Why did he examine the Sword? For a few moments, Adam did not move nor speak, uncertain as to how to act, still confused and trying to remember what had happened. "I don't... I didn't expect this" he murmured to himself, hoping Man-E would feel a little more at ease if he said something.
"Do you want to know what happened?"
"Aye." He spoke quietly without raising his eyes. "Tell me Manefred... Are many dead?"
"Aye... Aye, Adam. The entire Temple is gone. A massive explosion almost took you into the Otherworld with it." He paused with a small and serious smile as he said "I'm glad it didn't." When Adam did not reply he continued "We have not found the saboteur yet and I doubt we will. Teela thinks it was a timed explosion which gave our enemy a chance to flee. And despite the blow, there is no enemy in sight outside. It does not seem to be the opening shot of an assault, but something else..."
Adam let go a ragged sigh. "The monks were kind and learned men. They did not scorn me."
"Our enemies were trying to kill you. I think." Man-E said. Again, Adam said nothing in response. "It is why you are alone in this room with this unnecessary dressing on your face" Man-E prompted, hoping for a conversation with his outcast friend. Adam nodded and only sighed heavily when the actor added: "I think this was an assassination attempt."
"Then you are keeping my escape, my life, a secret."
"This won't do old friend. Faking my death is no way to escape my dishonour." Adam tried shakily to rise, but felt like he was on a boat caught in a storm and fell heavily back down, tasting rising bile, and groaned.
"Please" Man-E rested a restraining hand on the patient "That is not the reason. They say you will take some time to heal."
"I have no time. There is no… no…"
"Healing?" Man-E paused, searching Adam's face, which was all a-frown behind white gauze. "You are split in two..." Man-E's heart leapt as he spoke the words. For almost an hour he had sat with Adam, waiting for him to recover, listening to his feverish mutterings about his sword and the Sorceress. For that long time he had debated with himself whether, once Adam awoke, he would allude to the secret he suspected Adam of keeping. The debate had raged within Man-E unlike any normal introspection. In stressful times, Man-E could hear the other voices inside himself: emotionless and rational, the voice he called 'Robot' suggested he wait for more evidence and keep his counsel, while the voice he called 'Monster' urged speedy action: there was no time to lose, and if he were right, it was time Adam was relieved of his terrible burden. And if he were wrong, so what? Neither voice had prevailed.
Adam's blue eyes were the only clear thing to be seen on his bandaged visage. They stared hard and cold for a moment at Man-E, no longer looking lost and empty. Then his eyes quickly fell away and he tugged for emphasis at the bandages on his face, changing the subject. "Nice disguise."
"I know disguises - " The Monster growled inside Man-E – there is no time, he said as much himself, you must act, you must ask - do it now!
"You were always a clever friend." Adam interrupted with a whisper.
Man-E smiled self-depreciatingly "I have Skeletor and the Sorceress to thank for a boost to my rational thinking. But not for my decision making and temper… Listen Adam - !"
"We are alike, aren't we?" Adam interrupted again and Man-E nodded, his eyes furtively searching to match Adam's distant, down-cast gaze. Adam went on "We enjoy the arts... Give aid to the poor… We are self-humbling - "
"Adam - !" Man-E sensed his friend was deliberately drifting away from what he had hinted at.
But Adam suddenly lurched, grabbing his friend's arm and breathed. "I am dead, remember? Prince Adam is more dead than ever. It pays not to speak… clearly." Man-E nodded, Adam's eyes finally meeting his again. Did Adam realize what Man-E was saying to him? Was this confidential air the confirmation of what he suspected?
Adam leaned in closer still, smelling of pungent healing herbs, dust and burnt hair. "Help me" he whispered. "I was to go alone... Just beyond the walls, passed the Guards... It is all I need from you. I will ask no more." Man-E opened his mouth to ask a question, but Adam anticipated it. "I am dead to all Man-E. But I now know I can rely on you for help. And in helping me you help us all – swear it to me."
Man-E gently held onto his friend's burnt hand, uncertain of exactly what Adam was asking of him, but determined to be true to him as his only friend. "I swear it."
"Then we leave here now."
War of Attrition: IV - Beyond the Walls (part 1)
War of Attrition: IV - Beyond the Walls
Earlier that Night...
A scuttling figure hidden by the long robes of the Night clambered over a battered rock-wall beyond the blasted wastelands that were once the farms and homesteads of Eternos. For a moment the shadow paused, resting its hand on an old brown blood-stain upon the wall… and was reminded of its thirst... and of times-past...
Walls and trenches like this had served as initial defensive positions for Randor's armies when the first siege began years ago, led by Hordak. The attempted invasion had been long and bloody and the fleeting shade remembers when it was almost caught and forced back into the ranks of the Horde - back into submission.
For a moment, the black-form could be glimpsed moving within the moons-light that sliced through the trees above like shards of ice in dark-water. In that moment of pale light, the flat, arachnid face of Webstor almost smiled with self-congratulation for his fore-sight and abilities that had enabled him to escape the galactic tyrant Hordak for a second time. But the deformed smirk on the spider-like face hardened into concentration again as Webstor vanished back into darkness, moving swiftly towards where his waiting mount was hidden.
This hunger of his could be distracting at these times, and it took his austere willpower not to stop and search among the nomad tribes further north for their fresh blood. Humanoid blood was the most satisfying and he would not stoop to the common herds of animals that his prey husbanded, unless he was desperate.
This man-spider was akin to Hordak's other lieutenants – a vampire who needed blood to survive, a creature of the Night made all the more powerful when the Sun went down. Like the others, Webstor's vampirism had wrought thaumaturgical changes upon his once human body - Leech had assumed his particular, grotesque form which enabled him to drain more than just blood. Grizzlor had become viciously bestial, requiring his blood to come from fresh flesh torn from the bones – a vampire that had to murder to live. The parasitical Mosquitor flew through the air and sucked blood through a diseased proboscis, spreading a more insidious misery. Hordak himself had gained the aspect of the vampire bat – unless, perhaps, he had always been thus. He, Webstor, had that of the spider, granting his silent agility, malleability, and speed. He had often wondered what form of blood-sucker Skeletor had been before he had changed into a Liche and then again into the creature he was today, free from Hordak's control and from the need for blood, darkness and a lair.
Would he ever be able to gain that boon himself? Probably not while Skeletor continued his long unlife. Yet, though he wished for Skeletor's destruction he had nonetheless taken advantage of a deal the ancient creature had offered, a deal that continually threatened to bring him under Skeletor's control - for control was Skeletor's obsession.
There! His steed stood waiting, a well trained and loyal creature that did not need to be tethered. As Webstor flung himself over the horse's saddle, he reflected on the irony of his life on Eternia. His subtle mind had enabled him to navigate the maze-like dimensions that surrounded this world and hid it from the sight of sorcerers and space-farers who attempted to find the mythical planet. The strange, cacooning reality that obscured Eternia was a labyrinth of time and space, a vast puzzle that continually directed you back from the way you had arrived – or else far away into even stranger territory. But Webstor, whose mind was as intricate as the webs he wove, excelled at puzzling over paradoxes and complexities. It was with Hordak's occult guidance that he had found his way to this hidden planet and left a long, magical thread behind himself which Hordak had eventually followed, bringing his Horde armies with him.
Years ago, when he had arrived on Eternia by this method, Webstor's purpose had been to hunt down Skeletor and either kill him, catch him, or return him to Hordak. But Hordak had under-estimated the old Liche - Skeletor had changed into something more powerful during his time on Eternia. Webstor was almost destroyed during the confrontation and it was only when Skeletor learned that Webstor could betray Hordak by cutting the magical thread, did he decide to offer Webstor a deal. On that baleful night, many years ago, Skeletor had promised him freedom from the blood-thirst, but Webstor had known such oaths meant nothing – it had been a ploy to buy his loyalty, to trap him in a sorcerous pact that would rob his autonomy. He had rejected the offer, but pledged comradeship in the fight against He-Man and against Hordak, who would surely find some new route to Eternia - and then he had escaped.
War of Attrition: IV - Beyond the Walls (part 2)
Webstor did not believe Skeletor would share any of the power he promised. He believed that every other being in the Universe was nothing but a disposable tool to Skeletor – this sorcerer was a megalomaniacal as the tyrant Hordak. Yet, Webstor could not return to Hordak, nor escape Eternia having severed his route out and back to the Horde. But neither could he wish He-Man to be the victor in this long war, as neither victor would serve him any better. Webstor had long since vowed to himself that he had to play off both sides until they wore each other down - and so sometimes he had also worked for He-Man and Randor, sometimes without them even knowing it.
Hordak's incursion had been welcome when it came (other than the danger it had presented to himself), weakening both sides in the conflict and sowing discord and terror throughout the numerous barbarian tribes of Eternia - tribes that sometimes fought for Randor, for Skeletor or some other power. But even to this day, Skeletor and He-Man continued to be dead-locked, neither of them gaining the upper-hand for long while the barbarians and techno-savages switched sides, betrayed each other, and hedged their bets, dividing their loyalties and slaughtering each other for politics, power and religion. All sides had lost loyal and strong followers, wasted and despoiled resources, and failed to deliver a desicive blow - until tonight.
Having observed the fortunes of despots like Hordak and Skeletor, Webstor had reached the conclusion that earthly conquest was useless, and that what truly mattered was within the walls of Greyskull - which even now remained unshaken, impenetrable, monstrous…. Holy and dreadful. So he had surmised that tonights coming detonation was no mere act of terrorism, but a new move by Skeletor calculated to have far reaching effects. But Webstor knew not what, so it was time to draw closer to Skeletor to see what he could espy...
Both sides had quickly under-stood that Webstor worked towards his own ends. And yet, after years of threats, Skeletor had respectfully commisioned this recent work from Webstor, he, the only creature on Eternia that might could creep unknown in and out of Eternos, guarded by Man-At-Arm's technology and the enchantments of the Sorceress, while carrying such a heavy and unique explosive. For a moment, Webstor wondered whether he had made a mistake - perhaps it was not time to enable Skeletor's victory and leave him too powerful. But Skeletor had to be strong enough to enter Greyskull so that he, Webstor, could follow him into the breech and free himself of the vampiric limitations, just as Skeletor had. Perhaps this Night heralded Skeletor's most determined invasion of the Castle?
Again Webstor wondered why He-Man was so inflexible - had He-Man allowed him to enter Greyskull in search of what he needed, he would not have made an enemy of him. Webstor could only conclude that the Sorceress was greedy enough to want all of the secrets for herself - he could not believe that she was merely their Guardian - such talk was a ploy, a trick. Could He-Man and the Sorceress give nothing to no-one? He knew from his experience as a spy that even one so trustworthy as Man-At-Arms had wondered how the secrets inside could benefit people for the good, and whether they could be shared. Greyskull was a vast temptation to anyone with any ambition or intelligence. Webstor felt no guilt in seeking to steal the knowledge he needed from the power-hungry and selfish Sorceress.
Here, not far from the outlying woodland, Webstor remained seated on his steed, neither vampire nor beast moving in the silent Night-time. The explosion should be happening soon and he wanted to verify his success before he fled in earnest. Six small, black and convex eyes slid in their sockets to stare behind to the outline of the blacked-out City, frozen and still beneath tthe moons'-light, it's tall, studry minarets looking wasted and feeble at this distance. Tension gripped Webstor's innards and anxiety nudged his thoughts to refreshing, invigorating blood – but then it happened: he had not been thwarted!
The explosion illumined the focal point which continued to flicker as the Temple burned, venting smoke towards a sky filled with glowering stars and the seven moons, each in their varied states of waxing or waning.
The blast was beyond Webstor's expectations - the bomb must have been from Ancient times. Who-ever Skeletor had wanted dead must be truly destroyed – and now he must make all haste, for he expected to see Randor's allies, the Avionians, to take flight as a surveillance unit at any moment now. He spured his steed into a gallop towards the Dark Lands, towards Skeletor.
War of Attrition: IV - Beyond the Walls (part 3)
An explosion! At his post, Tropos trembled in anticipation for the call to arms. This was his first mission, only days after being sent to Eternos to relieve the dying Mesos, shot down on the wing during Tri-Klops' last lightening attack.
The call came: "Spread wings!"
He put his hand up to his blue, streamlined helmet as he heard Stratos' command come through, as if he couldn't quite believe it was time. He stepped onto the balcony, from which he had been watching the sudden column of fire rising into the sky, and leapt gracefully into the night-air.
The young Avionian fell in a dive as if spring-boarding into water. The decorative feathers on his arms rippled as he fell and were then pushed flat with sudden force when the flight-pack on his back burst to life, the half gauntlet fixed upon his left hand and fingers manipulating the digital controls. He flew in a broad and twisting sweep designed to make him a hard target for enemy sharp-shooters who might be waiting for the Avionians to suddenly take-off. Rolling in the air as he turned upwards for a steep climb, he brought in his wirey arms and legs only to fling them back out again, his body a small, black cruciform shape against the distant stars and bright circular moons above. Beneath him, there were no flashes of fire, nor shouts of command to take aim. As he flew at speed on the defensive, he was quick to see there was no army at the gates.
Tropos ceased his evasive moves - he had expected another attempted invasion, but it was not so. Stratos' voice came through again, to issue initial orders:
"Big fire at the Temple. No enemy. Navigate your surveillance circumference as per s-pattern 8. Ready lances and warn if enemy sighted. Out."
Tropos started - his mind had blanked. What was his circumference arc in s-pattern 8!? Tropos' helmet contained a neural interface which allowed him and the others to follow Eternia's magnetic fields to navigate through the skies. But he realized he wasn't sure which sky-path to take, and in combat circumstances there was no time to ask. Through his protective goggles he could see a few comrades shooting away from the City in great arcs or spinning, tight spirals. If he didn't get this right he might miss the signs of hidden enemy below in his line of vision. Not that he could see much in this darkness, but this was something he must get used to. Skeletor had been attacking by night for years to take advantage of the cover it leant his slaves, and of the fear and fatigue his night-attacks instilled in a population that relied on day-time to work and farm. Only the human-periscope Mekanek wore the rare night-vision technology that would prove advantageous in these circumstances.
During a few moments of confusion, fearful thoughts flashed through the young Tropos' mind as he began to panic.
The others were relying on him. Had he not proved himself? Like any other sky-warrior, he wore arm bands made of the feathers of the dangerous birds and sky-beasts he had personally hunted and brought down by himself. These alone showed everyone that he was mature enough to fight and kill. More importantly, Stratos had deemed him worthy to wear the rare and unique flight-pack and helmet that bestowed the prestige and power that a skillful Avion-warrior deserved. He had passed all of the tests and proven his mettle fighting on the ground.
But with this honour of sky-warrior-hood and martial prowess came grave duties – if ever the pack or helmet were lost or irreparably damaged, he would be expected to forfeit his own life or go into exile. Luckily these sacred artifacts were very durable, but over the few centuries
since writtens records began in Avion, there had been irreplaceable losses – losses which ate into the very fibre of the warrior-class Tropos now found himself a part of, reducing the maximum limit of their number and weakening the defenses of Avion with each irreplaceable blow.
One day, when all of these holy gifts, these war-gear of flight and honour, were exhausted, the mountain-top city of Avion will be home to grounded men and women, forced to walk the land like all of the other Eternian tribes, with nothing to distinguish them but their bows for hunting birds, their furry skin and lithe, light builds – the genetic inheritance of their forefathers from the ancient days of wisdom. But in this dark future, Avionians would have become a lost and weakened people, forced to submit to the earth, and only soaring to the sky in death.
Of course, most people in Avion did not fly like the warrior and ruling classes – there were not enough helmets and packs for every Avionian – but this was widely accepted as necessary and everyone shared in the pride of the warriors when they flew out to battle. The privation of "wings" (as the helm and pack were together known) had even driven innovation, with imaginative Avionians attempting flight by other means – though these experiments had thus far failed.
All of these thoughts, half-formed and hasty, fled through Tropos' mind as he felt the terror of being humiliated as a failed warrior - publically stripped of his "wings", his feather trophies, shorn of his manly beard, and spat upon by the watching crowd. This was his first mission, he must not fail, and yet he could still not remember what his part in surveillance pattern 8 was.
In the Night-time, he hovered aloft trying to locate Stratos, who would surely head East in the direction of Snake Mountain in the Dark Lands, where the bomber would have probably fled. If there's nothing I can do here,Tropos thought, I might do well to lend Stratos aid... and with that he lurched East, his nimble hand directing the delicate finger-controls of the pack, while his other arm held his lance steady against the air-pressure.