I am a cookcoo, laid in the wrong nest... Fragile shell breaks under my little hands - What have I killed in these moments after birth?... A great bird holds a writhing serpent in its beak... There is a call to me, coiled around the mountain... I miss her, like I miss a part of myself... The circle is joined, the snake eating its tail, lava in the belly, iron at the core... Take up the iron scale-mail, the iron blade, for to let them rest is to let them rust... These are the first and last things: forged in stars, quenched in our blood, eternal spheres of iron at the end of time... The metal of war and of life... The soil is hungry for fertile blood... There at the world's centre, the many-armed Procrustus holds together a world pulling itself apart, his great arms bound by iron, his throne of iron, all drenched in our blood...I am... I am...
"Teela!" Man-E pushed past the attentive nurses bending over the wounded on their pallets. Teela lay on a bloodstained cot, but she was sitting up and turned her cut and bruised face from the mug of water in her hands. When she saw Man-E she carefully placed the cup down, her hands shaking as they embraced her beloved. "Manefred!"
"Teela!" He held her gently and then drew back to scrutinize her. "He-Man rescued you!?"
She quietly asked the pressing group of people around them to leave. Once her attendants and aides had departed, she nodded. "But he is gone."
Man-E stared at her. "It is as expected..." he said quietly.
Teela wanted to speak of Adam, but the current situation was more pressing, so she quickly asked, "How goes the battle?"
Beyond the walls, distant cries muted by the crashing of arms and a reverberating thudding could be heard, mingling with the closer moans and sobbings of pain in the ward. "We're taking advantage of every error they make. They seem over-confident, swaggering with their numbers. But we're just holding our ground - we can't push them back... I think we will be overwhelmed. This time, there are just too many. I do not know how Skeletor was able to bring so many of the tribes together..."
"You must return to battle quickly."
"Aye. But Teela "
She began to rise. "I'm coming too."
"But you - !"
"It looks worse than it is", she cut in. "Our healers are skilled in numbing pain. I won't be on the front. But I am needed. They've done everything that can be done for me here. These are not serious wounds." She pushed herself up and on to the floor while Man-E supported her. "Let me help you, you still have a limp." Then he said: "I'll carry you we'll move faster." And with that he picked her up and took long strides out of the infirmary and towards the Palace Wall - where Fist was commanding.
Behind this Inner Wall, all of the non-combatant subjects of Eternos had, by now, retreated it was the second and last line of defence should the Outer Wall fall, surrounding the Palace itself. This Wall was the barrier that the defenseless young and old prayed would never be scaled.
Again Teela was carried close against a loved-ones breast and she momentarily felt a sense of the heart-beat therein. "Man-E..." she spoke softly "...I now understand what you were trying to tell me. About Adam, I mean. I saw him - he held up his sword and said... And then, and then there was an awesome explosion... He changed into..." Teela looked around herself cautiously. "He changed Man-E! Oh, Man-E, how did you know?"
Man-E looked down at the dirty and tear streaked face of the Captain. "I just guessed." He said tonelessly. "There were clues." Teela looked at him carefully, expecting more, but Man-E just shrugged. "That is all. You saw how such a thing can be yourself. It sounds like great magic." Man-E sighed heavily.
"Where is he, Man-E?" Teela breathed hard, sobs threatening to shake her bruised chest.
"Gone. And why not? We did reject him. Even hated him." He hurried down a wide Palace corridor abuzz with a confusion of healers and the wounded.
"Oh, aye! Oh!" Tears threatened to overwhelm her and she struggled to drive them back.
"I understand your guilt my beloved, but your treatment of Adam was a result of your duty. The King had you honour-bound to make him a man, a warrior. Adam always fought against you. You cannot blame yourself for that."
"But I can blame myself for not acknowledging his nobility of spirit! He is indeed a fighter - he fought us all. All of us who said his pacificism was cowardice! His life bookish and weak! We mocked him, derided him - him, our Prince, our future King!"
"You felt that he had no future."
"But look at us! I"ve heard Fist's reports - we are losing fast! Has Randor's way saved our day?"
"We are not defeated yet. Besides, had Adam been King, we would have been conquered long since."
"Not so Man-E! He-Man came to us - I mean, Adam became He-Man only a year or so after he had preached the way of peace. Adam could have lead with the word and the sword. He-Man has never been a killer, yet he has always driven back our foes. Don't you see? We should have trusted Adam - he knew the truth."
"We did not know. It was kept a secret."
"It doesn't matter. We owed our Prince our faith and loyalty unto death. Instead - "
" - We treated him as our King did. With contempt and dismay, for the Prince is not the King."
"But Man-E, even up until today you helped him! You remained true." Teela let out an agonised groan of regret. "I am such a fool!"
"You are no fool. It is past and the present is greatly pressing... I should have tried harder No, but I did try... But he is determined."
"Determined to do what? To run away?"
"Aye, and for the first time too!" whispered Man-E, a little vindictively. "And now he has truly abdicated his destiny."
Teela's mouth twisted downward with pain. "Oh gods What have we done to him? What recompense could there be?"
Man-E glanced back down at Teela in his arms as he chose the fastest route to Fist's postion. "I doubt Adam would wish for recompense for his heroism. Yet it must indeed be terrible for him. We cannot ask him to fight anymore - can we?"
"He-Man would never leave - there's no need to ask He will always fight!"
"But Teela He-Man is Adam - and he has left!" Man-E skirted around a gurney carrying a screaming, burnt man. "Left us to this!"
"Stop! I don't believe it I can only think of one other place he'd go to, and there have been good reasons why he has remained there and not helped us before." She clung to his shoulders harder, as if for emphasis but truly and for the first time she needed his reassurances.
"Then you believe Greyskull is under attack?"
Teela look up again to her betrothed. "Skeletor tried to kill Adam, a mere monk, so he surely knows what we know. In believing he has succeeded, and with He-Man no-where in sight, he will surely now march on Greyskull, believing it to be defended by the Sorceress alone!" She paused, flicking her tongue over torn lips. "But if Beastman has found his way through the chaos to a long-range radio, Skeletor will soon know he failed, for Beastman and I both saw Adam become He-Man..."
"Beastman! But he - ! Oh aye! And that knowledge might lead Skeletor to call off the assault."
"Aye, and his attack on Greyskull."
"Then let's just radio Skeletor ourselves! We have the only long-range known amongst the allied tribes."
"Manefred! You think he'd believe us!? Especially when He-Man is no-where to be seen. No you have to find Beastman and help him tell Skeletor what he saw in the wood by taking our long-range radio to him."
Man-E said nothing for a moment as he considered the idea. They were moving closer to Fist's position of command. Then he said "The only way to do that would be to disguise myself."
"Aye Man-E." Teela's voice was laden with gravity. "But that news might be enough to stop this so long as we maintain our defences. Skeletor's action seems to spring from the supposed success of the assassination."
"I hope so."
"No - not that way - this way."
Man-E breathed hard as he paused. "But Fist is commanding from the Inner - "
"Then let him! Here, put me down. Man-E, you have to get ready to infiltrate their ranks and get the radio to Beastman." She stared into his eyes, willing him to be strong. "You know the easiest way to do that."
Man-E understood. An edge of fear nudged at his nerves. "I understand." His best disguise was his own curse. He had controlled his monstrous aspect in the past to his advantage, but he had never forced that transformation without the Sorceress' medicant to hand so that he could change back without any danger of losing complete control and remaining the Monster or Robot, leaving him vulnerable to Skeletor's control and at the mercy of the Sorceress' aid.
Teela began to limp away from him. "Good fortune and all of the gods' blessings, my love."
Man-E looked around the Palace corridor. "But where are you going!?"
"I will take the last remaining sky-sled. If Adam is riding to Greyskull, I'm going to catch up with him." She moved away, the empty corridor ahead of her strangely silent and devoid of the rush and noise further behind them.
"You think you can convince him to help us?" Man-E began to walk away, but called after her.
"Only if leaving us is his choice and not that of the Sorceress." Teela tried to smile. "Have faith. I love you. Fight fearlessly."
Man-E stopped walking and gazed at her, so uncommon were these tender words. "I love you too, and wish to follow you, my wife-to-be. Yet, I honour you also as my Captain, and I must obey your command. Fare thee well my love." And with that he turned on his heel and hurried to requisition a radio.
Teela half jumped and limped on, hurrying her own way, holding her bandaged wrist high so as not to jar it. For a moment, she felt a pang at their parting and turned to look back, exepcting to see Man-E watching her - but he was gone.
If Adam has abandoned us, then will the Sorceress not help? she thought as she entered the hanger. If victory is ours this night, is it not only a temporary measure if Adam will not return?
Nevertheless, she had to try.
Evil-Lyn stared intently at the scrying pool, now as flat and still as a mirror. Upon the surface, a heaving legion of humanoids, undead and chimerical beasts marched to the reverberating beats of large drums, or otherwise they shambled and scuttled in mobs, driven forward by Skeletor's unstoppable will, or the scourges of his slave-masters. The army had reached the City walls. This Night, with He-Man dead, Skeletor would succeed.
She must maintain her observance - Skeletor had given her the task to look for He-Man or Adam to ensure that they were truly gone. Paranoia had saved Skeletor in the past, and he had good reason to fear Webstor's failure, so his success was not entirely certain. Skeletor had sent every force he could bring to assail Eternos, while he himself was doubtlessly preparing to use all of his own sorcerous might to enter Greyskull. Were He-Man to arrive, he would catch Skeletor at his weakest moment. But Evil-Lyn saw no hint of their enemy.
Again she looked to Castle Greyskull - a sight that at once frustrated and inspired her. It gave her some comfort to feel that the secret that would free her, hidden deep therein, was not far from her grasp. A thrill of excitement and fear tightened her skin with goose-flesh, sending her insides aflutter. Could it be that she was now close to the end? That she could live her long life free of the pact with the Olden God and free of her servitude to Skeletor or any other? It was now time to make her own move.