Aspire To Heaven
Chapter 1: Desolation
There was no music from the popular quartet which normally played in the courtyard. The major-domo was not shooing the mischievous handmaidens away from Prince Adam's quarters, and there were no representatives bringing gifts to the royal court chamber. The Palace was quiet, its people missing, and its reinforced white-washed walls broken from what will go down in the tomes as a legendary battle. The images of the past dire hours, still raced through his mind. His tanned face remains stern as he recall the breaking of stone, the glimmer of magic and energy, and the lingering metallic smell of swords having clashed. His giant hands rest atop the council table and his ears are finely tuned to the voice of the king. He cannot remember the last time he has seen his father so uneasy. He wishes for nothing more than to be at his side, supporting his heavy decisions with a son's arm. Though as He-Man, he still holds a seat in the council chamber, he must watch his words and mind his emotions a little more carefully, speaking to his father with stoic courage, when all he wants to do is embrace him.
King Randor is under the impression that his son is safely stowed away with his beloved queen, hidden within the walls of the royal safe house, far away from the crippled palace, its secret location disclosed to only a handful of the most trusted members of the council. One less concern of the heavy minded king, should he not survive the next conflict. He-Man is reminded of the further deception going at this very moment, for Orko, has been given the unfavorable task of charming Queen Marlena and the incognito guards within the safe house into believing Prince Adam is with them. The strong-willed queen speaks to nothing more than an illusion, a charm, created by an old Trollan incantation, one that Orko has performed surprisingly well. Man-At-Arms can see the anxiety in He-Man's young eyes, which even the mighty powers bestowed upon him by the magic of Grayskull still fail to conceal. Nearly two years of deception have taken their toll on the young Prince, thrusted into the destiny of a man. This battle has also taken its toll, for the heroes sit in a half empty chamber, usually occupied by their most trusted companions. Buzz-Off, Stratos, Clamp Champ, and Sy-Klone lay in the infirmary, their injuries are severe, though fortunately not life threatening. Even the mighty Moss Man, a century old warrior, and protector of Eternia, fell in the furious fires of battle.
In the absence of such great allies and friends, Randor remains extremely composed, hashing out a strategy to defend what remains of the battered palace. Roboto gave a valiant effort, and paid severly for it as Skeletor's henchmen attacked him with far less reserve. He-Man's friends are preferred incapacitated or captured for their dark lords amusement, as for Roboto, he is expendable, and therefore is treated with zero tolerance. Alone now in Man-At-Arms' work shop With whats left of his body propped up on wielding bench, the intelligent robot slowly rebuilds his frame and a full diagnostics check after being ripped apart by the Skeletor's bruisers.
There was simply no way to defend against the onslaught brought down upon them by his powerful new minion. The bat faced robot dubbed, Screamor, was engineered through the most diabolical of Tri-Klops's intellect, and served its sinister purpose well. The overlord's expanded roster of henchmen has left The Defenders slightly outnumbered, vulnerable and demoralized. Skeletor knew what he was doing this time. The Royal Guardsmen are nearly entirely depleted. The great Eternian army once comprised of a ten thousand healthy men have been reduced to mere hundreds. Most of them lay within the beds of their small homes awaiting proper attention for their injuries. The less fortunate, crowd the infirmaries, half deaf and alone, having suffered at the hands of Screamors sonic barrage. Rumors circulate that some of the men have fled the kingdom entirely, escaping to the Mystic Mountains rather than facing Skeletor's forces. In an unprecedented display of grace, the Sorceress herself appeared to the severely injured soldiers, risking her vulnerability outside the protection of Grayskull to personally thank the fallen for their unfailing courage, soothing their confusion with her comforting spells. They will be at ease until proper medical care can be administered, however it will be a long time before the healing begins, for now she must keep the sinister Skeletor from breaching Grayskull and seizing the power he has lusted for so insatiably, an event to which the extent of consequences would be unspeakable.
Battle Cat paces back and fourth outside the chamber. The restless beast can sense the sadness emananting from the room, and the current silence of the palace hallways have granted him no reassurance. Skeletor's forces could be lurking around every corner. "Easy there..." her voice is soft and warm, much like her encouraging pat. "I know how you feel cat." she speaks to him as an equal, for he has saved her life many times. Teela has remained focused throughout these past few days, though the reinforced stone and mortar castle walls have crumbled, her will has not. She has shown much maturity in what could be their most desperate time. Battle Cat licks her scarred palm, a reminder of her most recent clash with the forces of evil, and the viciousness of Skeletor's crony Trap-Jaw, who has made it his personal vendetta to mar her beauty. She brushes her hair, and snaps at a fly as it zips past her head, making its way towards the council session. She can still hear the terrible sound of his metallic mouth scraping along her staff as he tried to rip it from her grasp. She was close enough to smell his stale breath and nearly lost her hand to the metal monster, that is, until she was able to remove his jaw.
"My friends, we are at a loss. Skeletor succeeded in dealing us a mighty blow. We were simply not prepared for this new weapon system, and I am not going to diminsh the sevarity of the situation. A secondary attack could mean the end of us." Randor speaks with a heavy unrestrained breath. "The Sorceress is aware of our status, and what remaining troops we do have are on high alert. With Buzz-Off, Sy-Clone and Stratos out of comission, our air support is diminished substantially. Our allies Clamp Champ, Roboto and Fisto are also unable to assist in case of incident..." like his king, Man-At-Arms does not spare any details.
"My king, what of Zodak?" A thoughtful Mekaneck suggests.
"We have tried, however the cosmic enforcer is unreachable."
This news sends a chill through the room. The representatives from across Eternia are upset. Carnivus speaks "Skeletor planned his attack well. The Calligars are moving deep within Subternia to guard against an active volcanic season, and my people are in no shape to fight...." he too embarrassed to say what everyone knows. It is rutting season for his people. A time when the male and females of his species come together to court and mate. They are untamed, feral and at their most solitary. The primal tradition leaves them at their least organized and most vulnerable. Only those too young and too old to mate remain, and they are not capable of fighting either. Skeletor was smart enough to ignore them, as they are of no threat to his goal.
"Do not worry old friend, we understand that some old ways cannot be changed, and should not be. Your people have aided us much in these troubled times. We shall prevail, and your offspring remain free as they are now."
"I hope you are right King Randor. I hope very much..."
"My body my be a little worse for wear old friend, but my mind functions well." his familiar voice is a breath of fresh air in the cold chamber, the Avian leader walks strong on his injured leg. "Another assault would be folly on Skeletor's part. Screamor is destroyed and his dreadful emissary critical. His loss has been substantial." Stratos speaks from behind bandages and brace. The old soldier is certain they are safe for now. Ram Man interjects his own brand of support.
"Yeah, I smashed that bat robot good!" he says tapping his cracked helmet. Mekaneck smiles, his large friend his absolutely right. "Ram Man is right, old bonehead and his bunch are still hurting. It's going to be a while before they're able to gain a leg to stand on."
"If Skeletor fixes it, I'll smash him again!" Ram Man. Fisto raises his heavy head, and his even heavier fist.
"Not if I get my hand on it first."
Man-E-Faces silently absorbs the conversation as flashes of the battle fill his head. Presenting his robotic face to coceal the sadness of the other two, his mind wanders back in time to the heated conflict. He can still smell the sizzling flesh and fur of his once friend and companion, Rayven, who as far as he is concerned is nothing more than a pawn under the spell of the infernal Overlord of Evil. He can hear the anguish in his tortured little body before he was wisked away by griffon wings. In some twisted way, he is actually thankful that Beastman seems so keen on the young warrior, it will mean some degree of protection until he is able to devise a way to regain Rayven's trust. "I miss you..." he mutters on an escaping breath.
"What was that Man-E?" Duncan asks, hoping the hearty actor would have something positive to add. "Nothing sir." the warrior lowers his eyes, batting at a low flying pest. While some of the other masters are unaware, the wizened inventor is far more attuned to the feelings of his comrades than he lets on, his perception does not stop short of mechanical genius, he is fully aware of his companions feelings, so is He-Man. Man-E-Faces has not been himself for quite some time now. He has become withdrawn, and time between his stage performances has increased. They have seen many battles together, and the old solider hopes that as the inevitable conflict finds them, he does not let his emotions rule his thoughts, nor interfere with his duty to protect the innocent. Again he bats at the persistant pest, this time vocalizing his frustration with an old Eternian curse, one long since forgotten, and one Prince Adam's ears were not accustomed to hearing.
The insignificant insect buzzes away swift, but not before making one more defiant pass at the blue armored hero. "By the Elders! I'll smash you into-"
he stops himself before the face of the king. Randor watches the tiny insect slip away, it lingers for a moment on the glass which separates the quite chamber from the even more still courtyard as if waiting for something. The king watches the fly as if there was more too the minute creature, missing the apology offered up by his embarrassed defender-
"No, its nothing."
"What as that my king?"
"No, no, its nothing, Man-E-Faces, do not excuse yourself."
Deep within the walls of Snake Mountain Skeletor sits upon his throne, nursing a minor impact wound, while carefully weighing the possibility of another assault. Fisto was lucky to land such a blow, an insult that will not go unpunished.
"Evil-Lyn! I want an update on the status of my warriors immediately!" he shouts into his communication sphere. The technological eye connects him with every view screen in his stolen stronghold. Through the glowing orb he can see Trap-Jaw reaffixing his detached manible. His new toy, the powerful sonic robot eloquently named Screamor, lay in a twisted heap on Tri-Klop's work table. Not far from the mass of vibrillum and wire, a writing mass of wings and flesh not too far away. Rayven, one of Skeletor's most favored minions convulses violently, encased in a medical capsule still suffering from the power surge which wrecked unspeakable damage on his body. The over confident creature failed in an attempt to destroy He-Man's sword with a powerful electrical assault. The two were locked in a continuous circuit of recycled energy as he hammered the barbarian relentlessly. The resulting feedback has left him weak and hairless, in a contorted state of physical torment. Beastman peers through the glass at his winged comrade, thumbing the open spaces in his gums where his fangs used to reside. "Is it going to be alright?"
The Beastman had grown rather fond of Skeletor's new pet.
Clawful receives a polymer mend on his cracked claw. He mumbles to himself as Mer-Man smears the sticky fast drying goo over his most favorite weapon. "Be careful... I don't want it to look stupid."
Rolling her eyes in their sockets Evil-Lyn spares the giant crab man her obligatory harshness as she defends the clan of dis helved evil doers while they clean themselves up. "Skeletor, we are in no shape to attack again."
As much as he enjoys disagreeing with the witch, Evil-Lyn just may be right. Hee can see the anxiousness in her eyes as his little spy returns to him. The small buzzing insect floating bravely atop his crown lands not far from his throne, and in a flutter of magic, increases thousands in size, brandishing a speared weapon. "Spy Fly. What news have you brought me?"
The twitching monster regurgitates his swallowed information in the form of a raspy, snickering buzz. "Prince Adam and Queen Marlena are in a safe house. A lone Moss Man guards the doors of Grayskull while the other masters recuperate in the infirmary." he snickers, pleasing his master. While some of his more menacing minions have suffered severe damage to their bodies, the sly, second stringers are still very much capable of fighting. Stinkor, Mer-Man, and Webstor, who are far more cunning than the heavy hitters could hope to be are ready and willing to serve their master.
"On the contrary Evil-Lyn, I believe we are, however this attack will be no where near the scale of our first strike, and it does not have to be..." Skeletor can see that there is still some fight left in his band. "Yesss masster, today we can take Grayskull once and for all." Webstor snarls, his severed arachnoid leg has already begun to regrow, and he is itching to sink his fangs into the insect that removed it. Fisto will make a fine meal, and his heavy armor will allow his flesh to keep nicely as he slowly feeds on the barbarians remains. Though his race are not in the habit of eating humans, he will relish the dish, saving the meaty fist for last. "Tri-Klops, see what you can do with whats left of Rayven and Screamor. Should you find them sufficient capable to fight, send them to the Palace to rattle Randor's cage. We leave for Grayskull immediately. Beastman, prepare my Griffon!"
The tinkerer returns to his lab at his masters command. For now Screamor is a total loss. It will take him weeks to repair the exoskeleton and calibrate its sonic weapons. Kicking through the laboratory, the frustrated three-eyed warrior weighs his options. Then to his amazement and fright, the medical capsule which only moments ago contained Rayven is empty.
"What happened?! Where is he?" he is not impressed. Another set back, another mess to clean to, and Skeletor does not like it when his property goes missing. "I don't know... one minute he was there, the next he was gone." Trap-Jaw shouts over the sparks of the grinder. Skeletor is stunned, utterly baffled as to how an injured creature could escpace a capsule and make it out of a laboratory occupied by all of his henchmen. If they had not given their all today he could cast them into the bowels of Snake Mountain, leaving their recuperation to chance.
"Then find him you idiots! Find him now!"
Evil-Lyn enters the laboratory with a curious look about her face, she can sense a change in the air. It resonates with a strange energy. Following the trail of fluid from the capsule she finds tufts of dark hair that does not belong to any of the other furred cronies. "Skeletor, follow me..."