Gbagok and Iceman present: The Book of Evil part 2 - The Bells of Doom
After 5 long years The Book of Evil part 2 is finally ready!! We thought that now is as good a time as any to bring some new MotU goodness to the forums!
Gbagok and I are still working on artwork that will appear in this Part as well as Part 3!! Thank you so much for all your patience, we appreciate the response thus far and we hope you enjoy this installment of our Pic-Fic Epic!
If you have never read the first part before, make sure you catch up here: The Book of Evil Part 1
So without further ado, we present the second part of The Book of Evil: The Bells of Doom!
(A special shout out to Sllohcin for his input on the first chapter!)
The walls of Hordak’s temple echo with a loud crash as the pool upon its altar boils with a vile unnatural heat. Keldor drops to his knee before it quickly as the face of the dark lord materializes in the smoke rising from the pool. The ghostly visage gasps as if it is actually breathing Eternian air, but of course Keldor knows differently. Hordak still lives in exhile, but his power fills the room as if he is there. Then those fearsome red eyes fixate up on Keldor, who lowers his head submissively and fights his growing sense of dread. Then Hordak laughs softly like a growl and Keldor nearly loses his fight.
“You have done well, my apprentice! I can feel the link is stronger now. Not in hundreds of years have I felt so close to Eternia!
“Ah, but I see you have adopted the vestments of an Infinitian War Mage. And you honor me by forging my emblem upon its breast plate. Very good. You’ve grown stronger. You have come a long way in the short months since our arrangement began. But...I sense that you are still shielding your thoughts from me. This does not please me, Keldor.”
Keldor looks up at Hordak. “Was it not this very skill that so impressed you that you made me your new apprentice,” he says with a weak smile, then adds quickly “my Lord?”
“Yes,” Hordak says thoughtfully. “But the time for secrets between us is drawing to a close, and if I am to be your master, then I demand no less than your full submission.” Keldor is silent and afraid. Will Hordak demand he surrender his only advantage?
Then Hordak heaves a heavy sigh. “But it matters not for now. You have collected the secret elixirs and ancients relics that I requested?”
“Yes, Hordak, all but one.”
“The Staff of Zalecia. It is lost to history. There has been no accounting of it. Even in the oldest texts, there is not but a mention of it after the city’s destruction. I have visited the ruins as well, but they are...guarded.”
“Ghosts and shadows are of little concern to an apprentice of Hordak! Find the Staff, Keldor. It is indestructible, thus it cannot have been destroyed. Do not fail me,” and his tone drops to such a growl that Keldor knows there can be no answer but obedience.
“Summon me again when you have completed your task.” Hordak vanishes then and the temple becomes quiet and still. Keldor rises and, sure that Hordak has gone, spits at the altar.
“Are you not enamored with your grand teacher, Keldor,” says a fell voice from the shadows where Hordak could not have seen. The Nameless One emerges, his hood still shrouding his identity.
Keldor whirls to face him. “How much longer must I endure this humiliation? He is arrogant, pig-headed, and worst of all--”
“Powerful?” says the Nameless One. Keldor sneers but does not disagree. “Fear not, Keldor. Everything is proceeding as I had foreseen. Hordak has commanded you to retrieve something lost in the past. The only path now is to go to the past to get it.”
Keldor gasps. “The past? You said that we couldn’t change the past--that I had to stay here. That’s why you wouldn’t go back and save--”
“Remember, Keldor, I have seen far more of this world’s history than you. It’s secrets are not so well hidden from me. The Staff vanished in the past because it was taken. Not misplaced, not buried to be discovered by some vital but unknown actor. The staff is gone...because you will take it.”
Keldor shakes his head, “This is absurd! I spent months collecting all those trinkets for him, and in the end he doesn’t give even one of them a second look. All he wants is that staff.”
“The other relics were just tests of your power, Keldor. Hordak wanted you to learn to use them in a field of battle. It’s the staff that he’s needed all along.”
“Wonderful. I don’t even know what it looks like!”
“Then behold,” says the Nameless One, holding his staff out for Keldor to see it. Keldor’s eyes widen.
“You’ve had it all along?! Why don’t you just give it to me then?”
“Weren’t you listening,” the Nameless One growls fearsomely. “I said you will take the staff from the past. If you do not retrieve it, then I will never have it in the future!”
Keldor falls silent. He is appreciative of the Nameless One’s help, for it was he who showed Keldor Hordak’s secret Places of Power, and revealed the means of contacting Hordak through the ensorcelled shrine. He even taught Keldor how to shield his thoughts from Hordak so that the dark lord might never known of the Nameless One’s help, and this ability more than any other had seemed to impress Hordak enough to recruit him. But after all his help, the Nameless One had still never explained why he’d been so helpful. And not knowing had made Keldor feel like a pawn in someone else’s game--just as he had been to the elders.
“So that’s why you are helping me! So I can get that staff for you? How do I know you won’t slit my throat once you have it? Hordak would be none the wiser.”
“You are slow to trust, Keldor. That is good. Trust will only hurt you. If you must trust something, trust power. Not the powerful, nor even the weak, but power itself. It is what all men and women crave. Some call it other things. Secruity. Honor. Love. But in their hearts they all seek control that comes only with power. Right now, I am giving you power, and that is not natural. So be cautious. No one gives something to anyone without a self-serving motive, be it delusions of altruism or genuine deceit. If I am going to betray you for the staff after all this however, that is a problem you will have to solve for yourself.”
Keldor throws his head back in resignation. This Nameless One torments him with winding logic and answers dressed in riddles. Finally Keldor asks, “How do you expect me to travel through time? Is there a talismon somewhere, or some ancient spell?”
“There are such things, but we have no need of them.” He holds up a device, one he had used to create the portal through space that had brought them to Hordak’s place of power months earlier. It was hardly an ancient-looking item. It was a thing of metal, with gears and pinions that sprang to life and began to actually sing a tune as they moved. Soon sparks fly about the little device and twist into the air like fire melting a glass wall. A new portal opens, and the Nameless One gestured for Keldor to enter.
Chapter One: Temple of the Sun
One by one the Elders of Grayskull appear before the Sorceress within the sanctity of the great Castle Grayskull. Not for the first time she wonders if they miss their lives of flesh and blood, or if such memories are as fleeting to them now as memories of the womb. But this is no time for wonderings and she puts the thought out of her mind.
“There is a great danger rising on Eternia,” she says.
“We know, Sorceress,” one of them says flatly. “The Bells of Doom will soon toll and the Book of Evil will return in the hands of Skeletor.”
“Is there no way to prevent it?”
“He-Man himself wishes to use the Book. He fears losing his family.”
“He did not know the price...”
“He knew,” says a deeper voice. Zodak enters the circle of elders now. “Like a child he imagined he would not suffer the consequences. Now Eternia is in peril because of him.”
“That is not fair, Zodak! He only seeks to do good.”
“And yet he may accomplish evil. It is better that he learn the difference sooner rather than later.”
The Sorceress raises an eyebrow. “Then this is a test?”
“Life is a test,” one of the elders states unhelpfully.
“And if he fails? We cannot allow it.”
“He is not the only one being tested,” says Zodak bluntly. “We are as well, Sorceress. How strong is a champion who depends on us to win his battles for him? How long can you help him...when even now you carry the venom of Serpos within you.”
The Soceress lowers her eyes. It is true, the bites she sustained from King Hiss a year ago were laced with venom taken from Serpos himself. Though the elders healed her at the time, the poison could not be fully eliminated. Even now she feels the drain upon her. She longs to spread her wings as the falcon Zoar, but she knows she cannot remain outside of Grayskull even in that form for long any more.
“It may be time for you to pass your role here to another,” Zodak suggests. “She is stronger now, and you have already reached out the magic growing inside of her.”
“No,” the Sorceress says plainly. She cannot bear to think of Teela inheriting this legacy now, so soon. “She does not need to be here. She can still have a life...children of her own to raise before coming here.”
“Do you hate being the Sorceress that much?”
“You can never know the joy I have experienced, the honor I feel as the Sorceress of Grayskull. When Koduc Ungl told me that this life would be my choice, I felt only humility and gratitude for being selected. But I made my choice thinking I would not have children, that I would not fall in love. I did not think I would have a daughter I could not raise, a husband I couldn’t love. All Sorceresses of Grayskull have this sacrifice since the beginning. I cannot ask Teela to make the same sacrifice when she is so young and cannot yet appreciate the loss.”
The elders look amongst themselves. “We shall have to see what the future brings. For the time being, we cannot change the course He-Man or Teela have set for themselves. Higher powers than ourselves have put their hand upon Eternia and guide its people even now. We must have faith both in them and in our champion.” One by one the elders vanish.
Zodak doesn’t leave. “I too may not be involved. And like you, I suffer for my restraint. Do not forget, I too have a child I could not raise. And unlike Teela, his fate may already be sealed if the Spell of Shrouding remains in effect. Despite that I must remain neutral...I pray He-Man is victorious.”
The Sand of Time burns hot and dry under Battle Cat’s massive paws and heat reflects on Lt. Andra’s face as she rides the mighty beast across the Eternian desert. “We should find rest soon,” she says to He-Man who sit before her on the saddle, urging his steed onward. “We’ve been riding for a full day. He will need water.”
“There are wells in Kallesh,” says He-Man. “Every second brings Skeletor closer to the Bells! Battle Cat knows our rest would come at too high a price!” The cat roars in a way that seems to Andra like a hearty agreement with his master.
She grunts. “You must normally treat your beast well to earn such devotion as this. But the champion I’d heard about was much wiser than to ride his steed to its death.”
He-Man looks over his shoulder to her, and she thought she saw mortification flash in his eyes. “Battle Cat is no mere beast. He is strong enough to make this journey. I would ask no more of him than I know he can give.” She stares into his eyes for an instant, recognizes that he is not simply boasting, and then nods understandingly.
“I meant no offense,” she says to Battle Cat, who roars in response. She looks up. The wind warrior Su-Nami flies in a bright whirlwind streaking across the sky, and beside her a windraider flies parallel to Battle Cat’s path. Before them, the Sands of Time appear endless, as if the whole planet were not but a desert. “Scrolls of this region did not prepare me for its arid desolation. It is far more vast than I had imagined.”
“Few from Eternos or your home of Dyperia ever come so far outland,” says the Royal Archeologist Melaktha via their communicators. Overhead he pilots the windraider along with his students Stanlan and Kira, and the court magician Orko--all of whom Melaktha did not wish to leave behind in Academia so soon after its attack by the Evil Warriors of Skeletor.
“The outskirts of Kallesh should be over the next dune reef,” he explains, “but I warn you all to be on your guard. This region is unsafe to the inexperienced. Even I have had difficulty in these savage lands. It is no exaggeration to say that mercenaries and thieves lie in wait behind every rock.”
“And the first Bell of Doom will just be waiting for us in Kallesh, r-r-right?” asks Orko. The nervous Trollan’s stammer makes Andra wonder why He-Man had allowed him to come along. A court jester’s magic was hardly a boon to their cause. Melaktha’s students at least were archeologists in training and possessed some knowledge of the Sands of Time.
“Don’t bet on it, Orko,” says He-Man. “Whoever hid the Bells of Doom went to a lot of trouble to keep them out of the wrong hands. They’re certain to have left guardians to keep the Bells safe, and after all this time, I doubt even the right hands would be allowed to just take the Bells at will.”
“Melaktha, what’s that up ahead,” asks Stanlan, the younger of his two students. Andra sees a billow of smoke rising from the horizon ahead of them. She hears the distant scream of weapons fire.
“It’s the Perimeter Fort of Kallesh,” says Melaktha. “They’re under attack!”
He-Man urges Battlecat onward, and amazingly the beast picks up speed.
After they climb over the next crest of dunes, they see the Fortress. Energy blasts pound against its walls, fired from attackers hiding in the adjacent dunes. The windraider is spotted quickly, and the attackers fire into the sky, damaging the craft. “Su-Nami, land them safely,” He-Man orders. The Wind Warrior woman creates a cushion of air to catch the falling ship while He-Man looks for the mysterious enemy.
“There,” he points to a glare in the sand. A metal device reflects the sunlight. It appears to all the world like nothing but a metal box. Another rises up from the sand next to it, revealing a round shape that opens like an eye glaring upon the fortress. With a red flash, an energy blast pulses from the eye and strikes against the fortress’s front wall.
“By the Elders, what are they?”
“Machines of some kind,” says He-Man, and indeed the metal eyes rise up out of the sand to reveal huge spider-like bodies. First two, then four climb out of the sand, their eye-beams firing at the fortress. From beneath the spiders rise many cloaked fighters, brandishing spears, energy guns, and shields. Their reptilian snouts and lithe movements betray their identities.
“Reptile Men,” Andra says as she draws her sword.
They charge the ranks of Reptile Men, who scatter to avoid Battle Cat’s claws. He-Man leaps off the saddle and onto the first spider-droid, hacking at its armor with his sword. The droid does not notice him until it is too late and the Sword of Power pierces the metal skin, damaging the vital circuits within. With sparks and smoke rising from its wound, the droid malfunctions and topples over itself while the others march relentlessly toward the fortress. He-Man runs after the next Droid, slashing at its legs and sending it crashing to a halt as well. The other droids now recognize He-Man as a threat and turn to engage him. Two more rise up from the sand and they surround him.
A voice calls to He-Man from speakers on the spiders’ heads. “Ha! It’s no good, He-Man! My droids were built with you in mind!”
“Trap-Jaw?” He-Man almost laughs. “How’d a meat-head like you build anything that could walk in a straight line?”
Trap-Jaw does not hide his rage well, “I’m a not so dumb as you think, fool! Tri-Klops designed these beauties, but I’m the one who gave them their kick.”
A spider-droid lunges at He-Man. He leaps clear over its head, landing on its back with his sword thrust down. Another tries to crush him with its leg, but he flings himself out of the way, allowing the second droid’s leg to impale the first.
“You should have let Tri-Klops work on these alone, Trap-Jaw. Then they’d probably take me twice as long to destroy. But thanks for your help!”
“KILL HIM!!!” Trap-Jaw’s cry is so loud that the speakers squeal.
The droids open fire at He-Man, who evades their eye-beams but in doing so is unable to approach the others to destroy them. He sees that Andra and Battle Cat are likewise overwhelmed by the number of Reptile Men attackers. Whatever defenses the fortress had, they must have been destroyed in the first wave of the attack. He-Man acts quickly to lure the droids’ fire toward the Reptile Men, who fan out to avoid friendly fire. In his rage, Trap-Jaw has forgotten the fortress and is determined to kill He-Man instead. The distraction works, but He-Man has underestimated the number of Reptile Men. The sound of weapons’ fire at the fort alerts him to a swarm of the green-skinned renegades scaling the walls.
“There’s too many of them,” says Andra, “and we’re weakened from our trek to get here!” She steadies herself, preparing to fight to the end.
“Wait,” says He-Man as he sees something on the horizon. It starts as a blur, but quickly takes shape. A man approaches, cloaked in a dark blue cape and hood. He raises a sword that glistens like the sun. From behind him, a wave of warriors runs into the battle. Their swords are like shards of sunlight, yellow and fierce against their dark cloaks. The tide of battle turns against the Reptile Men. He-Man, free to focus on the spider-droids, lifts one over his head and hurtles it into two more. By now only two droids remain, and, sensing his defeat is imminent, Trap-Jaw commands them to retreat.
One last Droid stands over He-Man, taking him by surprise with its menacing laser eye glowing red and about to fire. Trap-Jaw’s voice cackles “Ah-hah! Say goodbye, He-Man!” Suddenly a funnel of wind encircles the droid, twisting its head around and around until it spins right off its body. The rest of the droid collapses. Su-Nami lands beside He-Man as the wind storm she had created subsides.
“‘Good bye, Trap-Jaw’ would be more fitting,” she observes.
Thanking her, He-Man breathes a sigh of relief. He turns to Andra, and sees two Reptile Men charging her from behind. He starts for her, but one of the sunblade-wielding warriors stops him.