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  1. #1
    Heroic Warrior
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    Though Heroes Fall - a Tale of He-Man

    Title Page - Though Heroes Fall photo ThoughHeroesFall-TitlePage_zps899105bb.jpg

    Though Heroes Fall a Tale of He-Man.

    By Scriptor with Artwork by Sazariel.


    Summary: Prince Adam's rash impulsiveness plunges a young and inexperienced He-Man into an ordeal where he is tested beyond his limits - and brought to question the true nature of loyalty, of love - and of the Power itself....


    Introduction: This is a tale about power – the complexities of acquiring and wielding it, and about its effects, both corrupting and redeeming.

    It is often over-readily assumed that to be He-Man is an altogether wonderful experience, replete with enviable strength and skill and charisma. Yet this story seeks to investigate the actual human experience – and cost – of being both Adam and He-Man and to understand the burden of that duality – both to himself and to those around him. It also portrays the strange and intense affinity – even intimacy – which can arise between bitter enemies involved in close personal conflict.

    It has a somewhat more shadowed and nuanced tone than most literature on this subject and is aimed at the more mature reader since much of it takes the form of a tense psychological drama; but it is not without its humour and – of course – its battles; this is, after all, Eternia!

    Over the course of twelve chapters, each illustrated by a specially created image from the wonderfully talented hands of Sazariel, it relates the tale of one of He-Man’s earlier adventures. And it shows how even the most noble of heroes may struggle to live up to his own high ideals and to the expectations of others – and of how there is more than one way to fall....

    [The usual disclaimer; He-Man and the MotU mythos are not of my creation and I make no IP claim in that direction – and so on.]

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    Last edited by Scriptor; August 23, 2013 at 06:50am.

  2. #2
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    Evil-Lyn about her spell-casting photo Evil-Lynaboutherspell-casting_zps3b517b98.jpg



    Oft evil will shall evil mar indeed in very deed….

    Theoden, King of Rohan. (r. III 2980-3019)

    "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."

    William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham. (British Prime Minister, 1766-1778)

    When animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction. The outcome need not always be negative since the two are equally likely to fall in love….

    Carl Jung. (Swiss analytical psychologist, 1875-1961)


    Prologue

    Chapter One – Plots and Plans

    Chapter Two – Knight Sacrifice

    Chapter Three – The Machine

    Chapter Four – The Price of Power

    Chapter Five – Questions without Answers

    Chapter Six – Up to an high Place

    Chapter Seven – Rites of Passage

    Chapter Eight – Harm and Healing

    Chapter Nine – The Place where Evil dwells

    Chapter Ten – Friend and Foe

    Chapter Eleven - Loss

    Epilogue – The Giving


    1.1 Prologue

    There were stars, many stars – a firmament of them spreading wide and far, out of sight, out of mind and time, beyond and onwards to worlds of imagination. Two moons hung low in the sky, tinged with azure light; a quiet sea rolled and sighed beneath the night’s reflective brightness – and the jagged black shape of an island barred a shadow over all.

    And yet it was not wholly dark, that blackness marring the etched silver of the sea; a faint glow hung over it, and it flickered, first faint then brighter, an eldritch light which skilled and seeing eyes would know for the presence of powerful sorcery; powerful – and altogether malign.

    Blue-silver light of moons and stars warred with the purplish tinge of magical power, a light that clung like balefire in its sullen glow. There were other lights – but they lay hidden within that rising cone of rock set about with the scarcely-stirring waters of night – for they were not meant to be seen. Within was darkness – yet a darkness touched with fire. There were torches – and such sources as burn without flame – and yet owe all to craft and nothing to sorcery. There was stillness – and the subtle, steady throb of hidden power for such ears as could hear it.

    And there were voices.

    The echo of their speech was lost, trapped and muffled by the rock-vaulted cavern with its dim light of candles and of flame. A fire burned steadily – but gave off no heat, consumed no fuel that could be seen and was itself of purple hue. All about, where the walls leaned to listen, shadows conspired in corners. A woman and a man spoke together.

    His voice was obsequious, a fitting foil for the imperiousness of hers.

    “So it is true, then; Hordak’s Horde do indeed possess such a wonder?”

    “Yes, my lady. The matter is beyond all doubt.”

    “And it has worked before? We may be sure of it? But yes; indeed we may – for we have his word for that. Very well – very well. Fetch me my scrying glass; I must know for certain before we take this step. The stakes we wager for are very high; each throw made must needs be well-founded.”

    “Indeed, my lady, for, were we to fail, then the lord –”

    “We shall not fail; I shall not fail! Fetch me the glass here!” The voice was haughty, certain of being obeyed.

    Pale purple light glowed in the heart of a crystal – her long hands enveloped it lovingly; she spoke – and light leaped and flamed within, irradiating the cavern in its deathly wyrdlight. She leaned close; her silver-strange eyes reflected back from the heart of the crystal. Long she gazed, her hands weaving strange patterns, while her companion, torn between wonder and fear, both leaned close and cringed, plucking at his straggling black beard. The inner glow made planes of light and darkness of her face as she gazed both near – and far. At last she let the light die down and straightened, a tall, slender woman in a robe so blue that it might be almost be black.

    “It can be done – it will be done! Nor shall we miscarry!” She paced, her pale hands gesturing. “Combined with the power I have drawn from my – other source – then to gain command of this as well would be stupendous – nothing less. Success would lead to the greatest overthrow Eternia has ever seen – and doubly so in this case. We should soon be in a position to take power throughout all its kingdoms – for none would dare oppose us – and I do mean none. Many would even flock to aid us willingly. Yes – yes indeed; the lure of it would be well-nigh irresistible. Allied to our – talents – a weapon so deadly, backed by such power, would be unstoppable – and all lies indeed within our reach.”

    The man’s eyes glowed red in the light. “And yet the risks are great; what if he should –”

    “He will not,” she countered quickly. “He suspects nothing – I am certain of it. And by the time that he does then he will be committed to a needless war which will distract him long enough for us to secure our objective. And then we shall strike with our new weapon and, with him out of the way, the kingdoms and lordships of Eternia will either bow the knee – or fall – one by one. And all will be ours.”

    “Is this power you speak of really so strong?” marveled the other.

    “Indeed it is – an ancient strength that lives on inside that guarded place. And it has an edge of steel. Oh, he has tried to get his claws on it many a time and oft – and has always failed. But that is because he is a noisy, pridesome fool, lacking subtlety – and because he has not troubled to understand the source of that power – and how it must be channeled.”

    “The which you do, my lady?”

    “The which I most certainly do, count. I have long studied the ancient lore and I have scried deep into the patterns of power – and I know this to be true. There is but one key to that place – and but one way to secure that key.”

    “A true key – of iron, or else one composed of sorcery?”

    “Of neither; I spoke but in metaphor – and yet it is as unfailingly the key as if it were indeed composed of or one or the other.”

    “I – do not understand, my lady.”

    She favored him with a smile. At least her mouth made that motion, though her eyes barely joined with them. “Serve our interests well and soon you shall. The rewards we seek from this intrigue are great indeed – and well-worth the risk entailed in essaying them.”

    “But, tell me – this key; what is it?”

    It is a he – and he is a man.”

    “A man – who is a key? But how so? And who is he?”

    “Why, then there indeed is a riddle for you to ponder, count!” She laughed, arch in humor. “My library is at your disposal if lore you seek!” She gestured wide with a pale and slender arm.

    His face, already dusky, grew darker. “I have not time for such games, my lady. I wish –”

    “I know what it is you wish for – and I shall secure it for you. As promised. But first there is work to be done. We shall unleash war – but must be certain that we ourselves remain unscathed to reap the benefits. Our enemies will cancel each other out – and leave us free to move against what survives of them.”

    “Tell me. I am eager to know!”

    “In good time; in good time.”

    “You spoke of a key.”

    “Indeed. And to that very end I have plans to make – or rather to perfect, for something of this has long been in my mind. Much of the necessary preparation is, indeed, already in place – thanks to my foresight. All the same, it will not be an easy task; the key – this man I spoke of – will not wish to turn for us; not at all. Overcoming his reluctance will require a subtle combination of – persuasions – both of body and of mind. And, with him, both are strong – or seemingly so.” She gave a paring of a smile.

    Her associate’s reply was a dismissive snort. “Even the strongest break – sooner or later.”

    “Indeed so; yet it is all a matter of method – and indeed of intention. Strong he is – and yet he remains the weak point in the defences. In strength of one kind lies weakness of another; a most intriguing paradox.” She shrugged elegantly. “But first we must secure what we require from Etheria. And to that end we must turn our minds and endeavours.” She paced awhile in thought and her associate’s eyes followed her with a dull red glow. At length she stilled again and spoke. “I shall open negotiations with our secret allies within the Horde – for without what they can secure for us then all will be in vain.”

    “You mean –”

    “I mean just what I say; we must first despoil the Hordelord – and ensure that he apportions the blame for his loss appropriately. And then we must have the key to Grayskull brought here so that I can begin work on – making it turn.”

    “But how long will that take?”

    “That is difficult to judge; these matters – done with due care – cannot be hurried. But I am well-prepared for the inevitable struggle – and shall, of course, succeed in time. Once he is in my hands. And that we must also attend to.” She paused, her fine features thoughtful, her strange-hued eyes intent. “But be aware; if we are to set this in motion then we must be certain; quite, quite certain.”

    “What would you have me do? But name it!”

    A long, shapely finger traced over her dark-tinged lips. “My thoughts again turn towards the realm of Randor. It is there that we shall find the means to secure what we have need of. Yes –” She smiled slender satisfaction and turned to her eager associate. “Bring me in reports from our eyes, our ears there; all that our intelligencers can muster – I shall need such matter ready to hand without delay. Offer the customary rewards; and – as ever – warn them what will happen should they fail me. The usual things; you know what to say.” She waved a dismissive hand.

    “My lady; I shall do your bidding.”

    “See that you do. It is the only way in which your lost powers can ever be returned to you. Now leave me; I would be alone to think.”

    Her tall, slim figure paced again, back and forth, back and forth. Then, turning once more to the crystal, she cast her hands over it and revived its cold heart of purple fire.

    “Show me –” she intoned, “show me –” Bent low to its depths she long remained, intent and unmoving – and the light played violet over her pallid hair, the finely modeled contours of her head. And then her face rose – and changed – and her chill laughter filled every corner of the cavern with its unhallowed sound.

    ******

    1.2

    Plots and Plans

    The sound of battle sounded from below the walls; staves clashed together, separated and came together again – but the guardsmen on duty above paid little heed, for they were well used to it. The pleasance of the Palace stretched away into trees, a green place of well-trimmed lawns and borders where fountains lifted to the sunlit morning air. Two young people were engaged in fighting – or at least its outward appearance – there. The girl was tall, shapely and red-headed, with the lithe and easy grace of a born athlete – and maybe a hint of studied aggression in her swift movements; the boy slim, youthful, with an open countenance and a cheerful mop of yellow hair. A casual observer might well judge them a handsome pair, worth the watching as they trained. For so they named it, that sparring both physical and mental which made up their days, the common currency of their exchanges. This morning was like many more before it – and so were the exasperated words of the girl.

    “No, Adam! For the ten-trillionth time, NOT LIKE THAT! By the Ancients, how can any boy be so clumsy, so handless – so useless? Now, try again!”

    “Oh, but must I? I mean – really? Couldn’t we rest now? It’s hot and I’m thirsty and –”

    He fell silent at the ominous look on her face, then smiled sheepishly, lop-sided – and held up a placating hand. “All right, all right – here I come –” He launched himself at her, failed to counter her swift side-step, received a thump on the backside from her staff and, turning, found himself brought low to the lawn by her flying tackle about his thighs. With a gasp he drew in some air and widened his eyes, letting the breath out slowly and looking up at her where she crouched above in the defense position, her green gaze keen upon him for any signs of retaliation. There weren’t any; instead he lay rather comically spread-eagled and quite unmoving. He screwed shut his eyes, assessing the damage. “I think you’ve broken my back,” he moaned. “I’m sure my spine’s sheered through – or at least badly damaged.”

    But she only laughed callously at his sorry plight. “That’ll teach you to carry-through properly and not get jumped, then, won’t it? Besides, the only real damage is to your ego.”

    “What little of it you’ve left intact, that is.”

    “Oh, quit whining, Adam. Don’t you think that worse things happen in battle? Far worse.”

    “Worse than you, you mean? Seems pretty unlikely.”

    “Get up; come at me again.”

    “And get knocked over again? Huh! Think I’ll pass on that one, thanks.” He folded his arms behind his head and crossed his legs as if composing himself for a nap.

    Teela inserted the staff under him and applied the most literal kind of leverage.

    “Ow! That hurt!”

    “But it does seem to have cured that broken back of yours, doesn’t it? Now get your lazy tail over here and face up.”

    “But why? I know how this’ll end.”

    “Then learn faster and one day it might not; come on.”

    “Don’t be mean to me, Teela; it’s my birthday –” he caught her raised red eyebrow “– soon.”

    “Uh-huh – and when it is, then you get the day off.”

    “Really?”

    “Sure; it will just mean double training each day until then to make up for it.”

    “Teela!”

    “Just kidding – probably. Come on; let’s see if you do any better on this pass.”

    He did; not that it actually kept him on his feet; he looked up at her as she again bent over him.

    “You know? I really wouldn’t want you as an enemy; I’m already a mass of bruises with you as a friend; technically a friend. And anyway; shouldn’t you be showing more respect for your future king?”

    “And if that ever happens then I hope that the Elders are really going to be watching over us.”

    He stuck out his princely tongue at her, but she shook her head, setting her long tail of hair swaying redly. Adam’s elevated status was a standing joke between them; yet Teela was not laughing now. Somehow the innately simple fact of their friendship and daily closeness had grown more complex as Adam and she had themselves grown. Particularly of late.

    “Respect has to be earned, not just given,” she said seriously, almost sternly. “If you are going to rule, then you need to be ready. One day you’ll have to go into battle in defense of your people, do your duty. What will you do then?”

    Adam shrugged. “My best, I suppose.” His voice was flippant, to mask his uneasiness; this was all getting a touch too close for comfort; time to change the subject – once again. But he couldn’t resist defending himself – at least a little. “Anyway, I do train, don’t I?”

    “Sort-of. And that only because I make you.” She frowned down at him as he lay there, his hands behind his head in that insouciant way which irritated her so. “It doesn’t exactly make you a hero, does it? I mean, look at He-Man –”

    “Do we have to? Or talk about him – again?”

    “He’s a good example for you to follow.”

    “Ummm.”

    “And, besides, as the one and only prince around here, you should be showing some leadership: training hard – and getting a grip on yourself.”

    “I’d rather get a grip on you.”

    “In your dreams, squirt. And, speaking of dreams, getting yourself out of bed before the late forenoon would help, too.”

    “Hey, I need my sleep!”

    “You need a long run, some well-focused upper-body exercises and a cold bath that’s what you need.”

    “To be just like you, you mean? Well, I’ll tell you what: every dawn you can do the run and work up a good sweat while I catch up – on some much-needed sleep. And then I’ll come and join you.”

    “For the exercises?”

    “No! In the bath, of course –”

    He rolled nimbly away from her attempt to stuff grass in his mouth, but couldn’t escape her revenge for long. Pretty soon she had him held pinned down while her free hand tunneled up under his shirt and mercilessly ticked the heaving ribs within while he giggled and squirmed and begged breathlessly.

    “Stop it! Enough – I’m sorry; I’m sorry –”

    “Prove it.”

    “Oh no – Anything – just stop!”

    “So you’ll come on the runs with me? Every morning?”

    “Not under any circumstances whatsoever. I – oh no – don’t – hate running and – oh, please , Teela, stop – just stop! All right! All right – I will! Please – I can’t stand it!”

    “The run and the weight training – agreed?”

    “And the bath?” He grinned up at her with laughing blue eyes.

    On impulse she leaned forward and planted a swift kiss on his cheek, then stood, in excellent spirits now that she had her way.

    “Dawn tomorrow we start, then; the hill route, I think.” She smiled sweetly, ruffled his bright hair as he sat indignantly up and went on her way, ignoring the admiring stares of some visiting plenipotentiaries from Grymus.

    Adam collapsed back on the grass and groaned. “I do wish she wouldn’t do that.” It wasn’t altogether clear whether he meant the punishment she had meted out or else the kiss. He groaned again. “I’m done for, Cringer – no way out of it now. I need a drink –”

    The striped cat, awake now, licked at his whiskers in agreement.

    ******

    1.3

    But watchful eyes had observed this playful little scene; paid ears, hearing, now earned their treasonous wages; hireling lips made their report. And, when it was made, there was chill laughter – and the drawing-up of plans.

    ******

    1.4

    Orko the Trollan paused; he felt a shadow pass and a sudden chill, as if a cloud had eclipsed the sun; a spider walking over his hand. And this he knew of old to be a warning. He had not, after all, always been a comical little conjurer – even if no-one much remembered that any more – sometimes not even Orko.

    But old habits, old feelings die hard – and something was wrong; very wrong. A movement; he sensed a movement in the patterns of power, the flux which guided the timeless elemental magics of Eternia, holding them forever in complex and fluid balance. And now that balance had shifted – and was, for the present at least, out of true. Alerted he concentrated hard – and was at once rewarded. Someone was drawing on great power – drawing it from afar – yes – and – and scrying – and their eye was on Eternos. He tried to determine the source – but a wall of willpower fenced the sorcery, hedging it about with caliginous and arcane power – and he could not break through. To linger long on that plane of magic was to risk alerting the other to his presence – and that someone knew well what they were about. So he disengaged his mind and tried his best to cover his tracks in a cloud of deception; he only hoped that it had worked; it was never his best spell even at the best of times.

    And now he was worried – and quite, quite sure that this was indeed a warning – and a stark one. As for the scrying – and the eye turned on Eternos – he could not believe that they meant well by it. It just felt – wrong – and his magic-reared bones did not like it. He must speak with the Sorceress – and warn his friends that trouble was looming; as ever, there would be little need to search too far for its source – that was usually pretty plain. But the magnitude and unknown nature of the power he had sensed had surprised him – almost jarred him. Yes; he must certainly share this with the Sorceress – but dared not do so on the occult plane for fear of issuing a warning to the other – the one with such ready access to this unfamiliar source.

    He must cut short his stay here and leave at once; he must go home.

    ******

    1.5

    Dawn came up – and Prince Adam was up with it – largely because Teela had yet again invaded his bedchamber to remind him of his promise – and to ensure that he kept it by emptying the better part of a jug of water over his sleepy head as he hugged his bolster. Now, clad in his training suit and running shoes he stood shivering in the dim cold of dew time while Teela went into her impressively thorough and rigorous regime of pre-run stretching exercises.

    “Well – I’m here,” he stated, somewhat obviously.

    “Only because I made you,” she observed tartly from the ground. “Otherwise you’d still be slumbering in your scratcher ’til the crack of noon.”

    “Sounds good to me,” sniffed Adam.

    “You’re incorrigible.”

    “Oh, I distinctly hope so.”

    “Hopeless.”

    “No; pretty hopeful, mostly. In spite of all.”

    “Still feeling sorry for yourself?”

    Adam shivered again, looking up at the steadily-lightening sky. “Just promise to come and look for me if I don’t get back until nightfall, huh?”

    “Don’t be so limp!”

    “But I am limp. I like being limp. Limp is good.”

    “I’ll remind you of that when you complain of blisters – again.”

    “They were really bad! And there were three of them!”

    “You big sissy.”

    “That’s not fair! Besides, I’m here, aren’t I?”

    “Point reference as before. But, since you are here, don’t just stand there moaning and feeling sorry for yourself – stretch!”

    Bending obediently to her order, Adam hid his smile. Teela, over a year his elder, had been around for as long as he could remember; they had grown up together like siblings – and she had soon assumed a protector’s role over him; it seemed to come naturally to her. Folk at the Palace had long before taken to calling her ‘Adam’s Bodyguard’ in good-natured jest, partly because she was such a tom-boy and un-girlish, and the moreso in that she was so fiercely protective of young Adam; woe betide anyone who dared harm or even speak over-harshly to the prince. No; she alone was permitted to rule him and scold him and knock him about. And in time the jest had grown to be almost the truth; it was when she argued her father into allowing her to train with the Guard cadets – and when she started beating them in almost all their drills, that some wag had named her “the little captain” – and the name had stuck. Of course, few would call her little – or a tomboy – these days; at least not to her face – and certainly never, ever twice. And so Prince Adam had a bodyguard – and a trainer, who harried him constantly and bullied him shamelessly and frequently despaired over his slack attitude. And yet in some strange way it worked, and he knew that he was fitter and stronger than he had ever been – and was secretly proud of the hard muscle he was steadily acquiring.

    “Quit the stalling, you weakling – the sun’s already up.”

    “Yeah; I wonder if he feels half as bad about it as I do.”

    “How come you’re such an idiot?”

    “I’ve had a lot of practice.” He grinned sidelong; self-deprecation was a speciality of his.

    “I suppose I should just be glad that you’ve practiced at something.” She shook her head. “Come on, then – or there’ll be no breaking your fast for your sorry highness.”

    Adam – though he never would admit it to her – actually rather enjoyed the dawn runs Teela had been inflicting on him; nor was he as slow and flatfooted as it suited his purpose to make out – not by a long way. All the same, the girl ran like a deer, swift and tireless, her bronze head with its floating skein of hair soon disappearing from view as the steepness of the track increased. Soon there was only birdsong, the rhythmic crunch of his footfalls and the sound of his breath as he ran, finding his pace and feeling just fine. His sword, slung on a baldric over his shoulder, bounced gently on his back – Teela always insisted on their taking personal arms on runs – “for the practice.” He smiled to himself as he ran; she thought of little else, bless her. Not that she was wrong, of course – the threat was real, ever-present, for Eternos was a kingdom beset by dark and dangerous enemies. But not of late – and surely not today; not on such a day with the sun climbing the skyline of the mountains and casting gold over the valleys below.

    And then there was shouting echoing though the trees ahead – shouting and – the clash of blades! Adam’s heart leapt – and he leapt with it, sprinting uphill now at a pace that would have made even Teela take back most of her well-chosen words on his apparent lack of athletic prowess. And then a voice, shrill, female – called his name, and echoed off the rocks of the pass above, dying slowly into the trees.

    Ad –d – d – d! Am –mmm!

    And he gritted his teeth, looking suddenly older than his sixteen years, and tore on upwards. Even as he did so he heard engines start into life – and a sleek gray shape rose into the air above the dark line of the forest. The ship banked, turning sharply, and he heard the throttles open up as she lifted, accelerating low along the line of the road towards him. The roar of the ship mingled with Adam’s own roar of fury; it came on straight at him, but he did not flinch – his hand was already over his shoulder reaching for the hilt as he pounded on, snarling – and a stone turned under his foot and he fell, pitching forward heavily as the craft swept directly overhead, very nearly giving his hair a new and permanent parting. He lay a lengthy moment while colored lights danced intricate patterns across his eyes – and then he rose and made the best pace he still could on up the road. The echo of the ship’s passing sounded its last recessional; Adam was alone. Breathing heavily and limping a little he entered the trees; just as well that he had been forced to slow; someone had cunningly dug a shallow pit, right where the line of forest darkness stole a runner’s vision after the sunlight. Not only that, but two ropes were strung across the track at different heights. They had been well-prepared; he had to grant them that. And now they were gone – all but the one of them who would clearly not be leaving anytime soon. And gone too was Teela. Adam went over to examine the body; nothing to identify him, of course – but all his gear had a serviceable, well-worn look to it; his weapons were the only clean thing about him. Mercenaries, then, tasked with a mission – and one which had succeeded. At least for most of them it had. He rolled the body over, grimacing at the staring eyes gazing sightlessly up into his. Teela’s work? Surely not – and yet? Adam sighed, and rose slowly to his feet.

    He must go back to the Palace and report what had befallen. There was no point in effecting the transformation – none at all. They were long gone now, far out of even He-Man’s reach. But perhaps not out of the range of Duncan’s scanners. Not that he relished telling Man-at-Arms that his daughter was gone – but it had to be done. Securing the chape of his blade, Adam set off down the track at the best speed he could muster.

    ******

    1.6

    Darkness, lit with the lurid flicker of flame; darkness and a sense of space as well – a great and lofty cavern whose height was illuminated only when the flames burned up brighter and, with their dying, fell back into deepest shadow.

    The voice which spoke was cold, deliberate and soft; a voice used to being obeyed, to quelling lesser beings – and one to whom all beings were lesser.

    “So, Hordak summons me, does he? Makes accusation against me and bids me – orders me – go to him and render account of myself?”

    The envoy of the Horde gravely nodded his reply. “So speaks the lord Hordak.”

    The being sat back into its terrible throne, a seat of power composed of the bones of many great creatures – a thing of horror and threat. There was a silence, sinister in its depth and length. Then the dark figure stirred within its hooded robe; a fiery glow of eyes came from deep within the cowl.

    “And by what right does he think to command my subservience, my presence on Etheria?”

    “By right of overlordship, since once you swore your allegiance to him; and since it has not pleased him ever to revoke that pledge – or else to consider it broken.”

    “And if I should choose to refute that claim, to deny his lordship over me – then what would follow from that?”

    “Compulsion – the bending of his wrath, his terrible might upon you; and your most assured overthrow.”

    There was silence; the flames seemed to burn lower, their light quelled.

    “Then to Etheria I shall come.” The figure rose to its feet, a tall and commanding presence, a darkness blacker than the shadows about it. “Indeed I shall come – but in war and with armed might and power to teach your lord who is the true master of the darkness.” His voice rose, and the hood fell back, revealing the grinning skull that served as a face, the glowing eyes bent on the envoy before him. “For I am Skeletor, Lord of Destruction, rightful ruler of Eternia and overlord of fate – and against me none may stand – none!

    The emissary took two swift steps back – and then the Havoc Staff with its horned skull head materialized in Skeletor’s hand – and it belched forth a jet of pale green fire which enveloped Hordak’s servant and curled itself about him, burning and piercing – and slaying.

    With a strangled cry the envoy was flung backwards and landed hard, lying very still; tendrils of smoke rose from the lifeless body.

    Skeletor lowered the staff, adjusted the hang of his cloak to a nicety – and resumed his seat. His clawed hands stroked the bone arms of his throne, and then he spoke.

    “Tri-Klops?”

    “My lord?” The burly figure with its oddly-shaped head emerged from the shadows.

    “We have business on Etheria – with Hordak. Summon all my vassals; bid then come to me with all their powers, their musters and their might. And make ready my battlefleet. I intend to strike both swiftly and soon, before he can ready himself for our onset.”

    “My lord, I shall – but it will take time to –”

    The mask of bone turned to him, unspeaking.

    “Yes, my lord,” came the reply – and Tri-Klops bowed and hastened about his master’s business.

    ******

    1.7

    The ship hummed along; the grey-grizzled leader of the hirelings ducked under the bulkhead and growled at his men. “I told you – she’s not to be harmed. Bound and secured – but not marked in any way. You got that? So keep your dirty paws to yourself, you swablets! Or do you need a reminder of what I did to Rolla back there?”

    His men, cowed by the killing of one of their own number, backed off.

    “I warned him many a time not to drink on the job – but he didn’t listen, did he? An’ to keep his hands off the girl. She’s valuable to us – an’ not to be damaged. But Rolla had to know best, didn’t he? So he had it comin’ an’ you all know it. I did for him square an’ all – gave him his chance – you all saw me. So quit your gripin’. An’ you keep well away from her, too, if you mind what’s good for you!”

    He bent to examine the girl; the drug wouldn’t wear off for some time yet – but she’d wake helpless to resist them anyway – the ropes would see to that. After she was delivered and paid-for she wasn’t his concern. But he didn’t much envy her – not at all. His shivered slightly at the memory of those uncanny eyes, that trilling laugh. Not his concern, he repeated to himself. He was being paid – and well – to do a job of work – and he would see it done, too. So he settled himself down to watch that his orders were obeyed.

    The ship sped onwards.

    ******

    1.8

    The Palace was steeped in gloom after a downcast Adam had made his report. It was not long before he was summoned before the king and queen, his parents. They listened to his account with care and did their best to make him feel better.

    “Adam, for the last time – it wasn’t your fault!” King Randor frowned down at his son; sometimes he simply did not understand the boy and his shifting moods; sometimes he found it hard to recall that he had himself once been a nearly-seventeen-year-old. Times had been different, then, he told himself sternly – and boys had grown up faster.

    His mother, though, knew her son well; well enough not to ask.

    “We shall get her back, Adam – fear you not,” she said in the quiet, calm manner that characterized her every word and action.

    “Yes, Mom.” The reply was dutiful, but the voice subdued, almost sullen – and his eyes remained lowered. “Can I go now?” She sighed inwardly, and placed a restraining hand on her husband’s twitching arm as their son slouched from the Throne Room.

    The prince made some desultory efforts to read, even to complete the Ethics essay set for him by his tutor, but he could not settle to anything and was soon back demanding action of Man-at-Arms. But Duncan had only very limited readings to help him track the kidnappers’ craft. It was plainly not going to be easy to trace Teela’s whereabouts.

    Adam listened to the reports coming in, watched the grave face of his mentor and restlessly paced the room like a caged animal. He came to a halt before the desk, running an agitated hand yet again through his fair hair; it already looked like a hayrick hit by a hurricane.

    “What do we do, Duncan? What do I do?”

    “We wait; there is nothing else that we can do,” came the grim response.

    “But – surely –”

    “Look, lad, they didn’t take her without reason –” he went on as the boy groaned and turned about, pacing again. “You say that they were probably mercenaries; your judgment on the body and its gear is echoed by Mekanek and the others who are recovering it now. That means they were hired to seize her – and some kind of falling-out took place. And so –”

    “Skeletor! It must be!” Adam whirled to face him again.

    “– And so,” repeated Man-at-Arms firmly, “they will be in touch with us soon with some kind of ransom demand. It stands to reason. And so –” he held up a calloused hand to forestall the next outburst “– we must wait. And there is as yet no evidence as to who hired these men. Yes; it could have been our bone-featured friend, of course. And yet – mercenaries isn’t quite his style; not when he has all his warriors and his legions to choose from. But no doubt we shall know soon enough.”

    Not soon enough! They could be doing anything to her – anything!”

    The boy was growing frantic again, and Duncan sighed and drummed his fingers on the surface of his station. “It’s not very likely, though, is it? They want something from us, and she is the key to that. So they won’t harm her, will they? Not as a first move. I know you’re upset, Adam – but do use your head.”

    “I don’t know how you can be so calm!”

    “Practice,” came the laconic reply.

    That cooled Adam like one of Teela’s cold baths. Crestfallen, he looked at Duncan, nodded slowly, and sat down. “I’m – sorry. But I feel really bad about this.” His head fell and he gave a short laugh, quite devoid of all humor. “Mom and Dad spent ages trying to convince me that it’s not my fault.” He looked up at Duncan’s stern face, then looked quickly away. “But they didn’t succeed.”

    “Plainly not. But that doesn’t make them wrong – or you right, does it?”

    At least Adam could meet his eyes again. “No. No it doesn’t. It just feels that way.” He was silent awhile, chewing his lower lip. “I just want to do something; this waiting flays me.”

    Duncan nodded unhappily. He seemed to have aged some years in the last hours – even his moustache appeared to droop dispiritedly; but, in fairness, he had not blamed Adam – and that, somehow, made it far, far worse. Now Adam arrived at a decision.

    “I’ll to Grayskull,” he told Man-at-Arms, “and seek the Sorceress’ aid. If anyone can help, then she can.”

    “Wait here awhile first, Adam. We shall surely find out something soon – all our eyes are in the sky.”

    “But I can’t just hang around here like a spare part!” blurted the prince, his hands gesturing in frustration. “I must do something!”

    “Be patient; or at least as patient as you can manage.”

    “How can I be patient when I feel – responsible!”

    Duncan looked at his young charge and shook his head. Best to deal with this right now.

    “All right – all right. So tell me, Adam; in what way is this your fault, then? These dawn runs weren’t your idea but hers – isn’t that so? And Teela ran on ahead.”

    “Alone! I shouldn’t have let her – I could have kept up!”

    “Only as He-Man – and we both know why that wouldn’t have worked. See sense, lad.”

    “I should have been with her – that’s why I feel responsible for what happened to her!”

    “How you feel and the plain truth aren’t the same thing.” He sighed. “They seldom are. And I’m afraid that you aren’t being rational.”

    Rational! Is that all you can say? Teela’s been taken!”

    “Yes, I was aware of that, thanks. But getting yourself into a state over it won’t bring her back any faster, will it?” He spoke on to balk the inevitable response. “I’m serious, Adam. It’s calm thought and rational behavior will win the day here – not ranting in a passion. Oh, I know well-enough why you’re doing it – but that doesn’t make it right. Even if it does speak well for your lo –” he paused a mere instant “– loyalty.” There was even, perhaps, a slight smile visible beneath the broad moustache, though Adam did not see it.

    “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to be as calm in a crisis as you are, Duncan.” He sighed and shook his blond head.

    “You will – in time,” replied his mentor with conviction. “As I said; practice.”

    “Elders forbid that I should get any more like this!” He groaned and yet again disordered his hair. “Oh, Duncan – I just want her back!”

    “So do I, lad; so do I. And get her we shall.”

    “But it’s been almost –”

    And then the comms buzzer sounded and Man-at-Arms answered, his face tense. Adam watched, listened, as his mentor questioned, his eyes on the younger man’s face.

    “Very well – then carry on, Commander.” He put down the receiver slowly, and Adam leaned forward with pounding heart.

    “Go on – tell me – do we know where they’ve taken her?”

    Duncan shook his head. “No – not that much. But we now have a ransom demand – and instructions.”

    “And –?”

    “I’d – rather not say – at least until the king has been informed –” For the first time, Man-at-Arms was avoiding Adam’s eye, but the prince rocketed up and seized his shoulders.

    “Tell me! I need to know!” He shook his mentor with the frustrated urge to action, and Duncan first sagged – and then met his eyes.

    “I should have had to tell you in the end, I suppose – Well; it’s this. They want He-Man, and He-Man only, to go to them, alone and unarmed to make –” His voice wavered and he looked down; Adam had never seen him like this – never – and his eyes were huge in his face as he listened. “To make – an exchange –”

    Adam paused still a long, long moment, then slowly patted his mentor’s shoulder and smiled grimly. “Is that all? Easy enough, then. Give me the co-ordinates and a sky-sled and I’ll be on my way.”

    “Oh no you ruddy well won’t!” Duncan’s voice had swiftly recovered its old authority. “You, Prince Adam, are staying right here!”

    “Well of course I am – it’s He-Man they want, not me.” He essayed a grin – but there was no answering bravado; none.

    “Don’t you split hairs with me, boy. You and I both know what this means. Teela is no more than bait so that they can get their hands on you. And we cannot afford that.”

    “But, Duncan –!”

    “Save it, Prince. You are heir to the throne here and you have – responsibilities.”

    “I’m also He-Man – and you know as well as I do what that means,” came the spirited reply. “I won’t leave Teela to them when it’s me they want! I can’t – and I just won’t!”

    “We shall get her back another way; we can negotiate –”

    “They want He-Man –”

    “And him they cannot have!” flared Man-at-Arms. “Do you think this land could sustain his certain loss – not to mention that of its heir? It’s completely out of the question!”

    “But it’s my duty – He-Man’s duty! I know that for sure; I should do – it was you who taught it to me!”

    “The demands of duty must always be tempered by those of prudence – or all valor is in vain,” recited Duncan, reminding him of a lesson once learned – and now plainly forgotten in the heat of youthful impulse and anxiety.

    “But, Duncan – it’s Teela!”

    “I know. My daughter, remember? However –”

    “I can save her! And that’s just what I’m going to do!”

    “Adam, just think, will you? Consider the consequences of what you’re proposing. Do you really understand what you would be taking on if you place yourself in their hands – what they could do to you?”

    “I have no choice!”

    “There’s always a choice! And this one is not as clear-cut as you seem to think! You talk of duty; you also have one to this realm, to your parents. You can’t just abandon that!”

    “Every time I go out and fight as He-Man I take that risk!”

    “Fight – yes; not deliver yourself over like a sacrifice! Adam – it’s not the same thing; it just isn’t!”

    “I can handle it!”

    “I’m sorry – but I really don’t think that you can; not this time. The risk is incalculable – and what have I always told you about those kind of odds?”

    “But you do it – all the time!”

    Duncan sighed. “I also weigh the risk – all the time. That’s why I’m still around. You can’t; not yet. You simply haven’t been at this game long enough to know how to. And I want you to have the time to learn.” He shook his head, looking down, knowing that his argument from the head would not appease Adam’s hasty heart.

    It didn’t.

    “You don’t seem to place much faith in He-Man’s capacity to deal with this!”

    Duncan looked up, fixing the prince with a steely eye. “I know pretty well what he can do – and what he can’t. Better than you do right now, it seems.”

    Adam, angered, turned away. After a pause Duncan’s voice spoke, rather more placatory in tone.

    “Look, Adam. I know how you feel – but Teela fell into this trap and it’s primarily my responsibility to get her out of it, not yours. I need some time to think, to plan – and then we’ll act. In force.”

    “It’s too great a risk!” argued the prince heatedly. “If they detect your approach –”

    “They won’t –”

    “And if they do – what then? We can’t play dice with Teela’s life!”

    “Then at the very least go to Grayskull first and seek out the Sorceress.”

    Adam shook his head. “There’s no time for that now. I won’t let them keep Teela a moment longer than I have to.”

    “This isn’t the right way – it’s all far too hasty! We need to calm down – both of us – and then consider our options. Anything has to be better than you just giving yourself up. We can decoy them, surround the area of the parley – there are plenty of alternatives. Just give me some time.”

    “Duncan – we don’t have any time! And using force is just far too much of a risk. No – He-Man must go – as demanded.”

    Duncan sighed and looked at the ardent young face, the quivering, almost coltish body before him. Not quite seventeen years old and already in a fair way to be man; it showed in the set of his shoulders, if not yet in his eyes. But he was still a boy for all that, and still had much to learn; too much for this sudden onset of responsibility.

    “Adam – listen to me – please! Alone? Unarmed? Even as He-Man it’s hopeless. Be told!”

    “No – not this time, old friend. I must do this thing. You know that I must.”

    Duncan was silent: and this lad was widely regarded as an idler, a shirker, even a coward. “You won’t be stopped, will you?” he said quietly.

    “You know that I won’t be.” Adam was also calm now – if that was indeed the right word.

    “Then go to your parents and comfort them; they feel Teela’s loss as keenly as we do, but they cannot allow themselves to show it, for the greater good of the realm. That is what it means, Adam, to be a king.” It was uttered sternly, quite without anger – but it made Adam’s throat swell, his eyes well-up.

    “I’ll – I’ll do as you say and go to them.”

    He couldn’t look at his mentor, but Duncan reached and lifted his chin in his hand and peered at him close, then nodded. “Go to the hangars when you are done. I will await your call and come to you there.”

    *****

    1.9

    Adam came away from his parents’ presence with a heavy heart. He could not tell them – of course he couldn’t. But it hurt dreadfully, knowing that he would very possibly never see them again. His mother had somehow sensed his inner agitation (he could hide little from her) and had carefully steered his father away from dangerous ground as they spoke – but it had wrung Adam’s heart to leave them with all those words unsaid. Now, as his pace quickened, his mood was grim and determined. He would not call Man-at-Arms to meet him; his plan now was to slip away unnoticed, before they could try to dissuade him. They wouldn’t succeed – and time might well be precious. He would transform himself, take a sled and go. It would save trouble and fuss and – and in any case he couldn’t trust himself to go through all that again without breaking down.

    At the doorway of the hangars Cringer was lying, plainly waiting for him. Adam bent and picked up the cat, holding the soft fur to his face. Cringer just knew; he could tell what Adam planned.

    “No, Cringer – not this time – though I’m grateful. They said alone, and that means just me – or, rather, just He-Man. Turning up with Battle Cat would, huh, provoke things. Though, Elders know, I’d much, much rather not go all alone.” He sighed, and the rough feline tongue licked his face. “I’ll do my best, anyway.” The cat’s yellow eyes were mournful and he mewled in discontent. “I know, I know. Look at the pair of us, huh? The heroes of Eternia! Just a scared kid and his cowardly pet! I really wish that – But, no – that’s pointless. I must go; I simply have to – and lingering won’t help.” He put the cat down gently and squared his shoulders. “So long, old pal. Be seeing you.”

    The hangar was deserted, the sky-sleds stood ready in long ranks, each in its bay. He chose one he used often; it might be – well – lucky. He would need every iota of that – and then some. By the time the Palace scanners picked him up he’d be on his way and it would be too late for them to stop him. He carried out the necessary routine checks by rote while his mind moved on quite another plane; the technicians knew their business, and he trusted them, and, in any case –

    A voice spoke at his back; one that he knew. He turned.

    Man-at-Arms stood there, fully uniformed, three of the Guard at his back.

    “Prince Adam – I place you under arrest, in the name of the king!” His face was gray as he spoke, but the weight of authority in his voice brooked no argument. “You, Highness, will come with me – and will first surrender your sword. Lieutenant Andros!”

    His men, also clutching stunners, looked no happier than he. Their young leader obediently took two paces forward, unspeaking, and held out his hand to the prince. It was Man-at-Arms who spoke again, his voice now less formal.

    “Come along now, Adam. You must obey your royal father’s will. There’s a quiet cell made ready for you until you learn better sense from wiser heads. Your books are already there for you – and writing paper. I’m sorry – but I have my orders, my duty to perform.”

    Slowly Adam dismounted the platform and approached his mentor. He smiled sadly – and reached out to embrace him, all-too aware of the pricking in his eyes. “I’m sorry too,” he whispered. “But we must each of us do as we must. You see, I too have my duty to perform.” So saying he brought down his elbow hard onto Duncan’s weapon arm, and caught it as it jumped from his grasp. “A trick you taught me!” he said, with the maniacal grin of the desperate as he turned Man-at-Arms like a human shield before him – and brought the stunner into play. The three royal guardsmen, shocked by his action – and appalled at the idea of opening fire on their prince – were soon relieved of their dilemma by being stunned senseless. Then Adam released Duncan – but kept his distance.

    “I’m so sorry – for this, for acting against your advice, for losing Teela – for everything! But you do see why I have to go, don’t you?” He looked into Duncan’s face and tried to laugh, but it had a cracked sound to it. “Or if you really can’t do that, then please just lie to me and tell me that you do!”

    Duncan looked at the pale and strained face before him, noted the tears glistening amid the long lashes. He was very young, for all his passionate determination. He sighed and shook his head. “I don’t need to lie, Adam – not at all. You see, if you hadn’t got the drop on me, then I intended to make use of the He-Man robot we made that time to deceive Skeletor; it would have got me close enough – and it would have kept you out of harm’s way. I could have stunned you before arresting you – but – somehow, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.” He gave his head a rueful shake. “But I do understand why you feel the need to go – of course I do. I’m not altogether blind, you know – and I was young myself, once.” He smiled – a poor-enough effort, but not without its own form of courage.

    “I – don’t know what to say to that –” admitted Adam, and the tears were falling unchecked now. “And I guess that you probably do know best , too – and I’m really scared – right now I am. But it will be all right once I’ve – I’ve –”

    “Made the change,” finished Duncan for him. “I know.” He shook his head again. “And I can’t even tell you to take care, can I? Since that would clearly be ridiculous, under the circumstances. But I will tell you that I’m proud of you, say ‘Good Journey’ and – be with you in thought.” Adam bowed his head, overwhelmed. “Now, come here, lad, and let me embrace you in my turn.” He stepped forward, holding out his arms – but Adam shook his head and backed off.

    “Likewise in thought, Duncan – but not for real! No; sorry – but I know you too well, old friend – too well –” Though he ached for that hug, truth to tell, and his vision was blurred as Duncan’s arms fell to his side with a shrug.

    “And I guess you do, too. Oh well – it was worth a try; after all, it was me who taught you the elbow-disarm move – as you reminded me. Go on, then, Adam – make your change and be on your way. I shall check over that sled one last time –” He winced at his own choice of words – but made to the platform and busied himself, ignoring the sound and light display taking place behind him. A huge brown hand touched his shoulder and he looked up – and up – and smiled wryly. “Well, I couldn’t stop you now, even if I wanted to, could I?”

    “No; I don’t suppose you could,” answered the deeper voice of He-Man with a sad smile. “But – if you were still willing to give me that hug –?”

    “I’ll try – but I suddenly need much longer arms.”

    They clasped a long moment, communicating without words. Then He-Man stood Man-at-Arms off, holding his shoulders and looking down at him hard.

    “Now, don’t you come after me – understood? They won’t play fair unless we do.” Man-at-Arms nodded mutely, forbearing to make the obvious point that ‘they’ wouldn’t play fair anyway; ‘they’ never did. “And –” and here He-Man’s voice seemed to tremble – “one last thing; will you take the Sword of Power and guard it for – for – whoever comes after me?”

    “No,” answered Man-at-Arms stoutly. “I cannot do that. But I can and will guard it for you – and for no other – until you return.” He held out his hand – and He-Man gently placed the hilt of the precious thing within it, and nodded, speechless.

    He mounted into the sled and started her up; the stunned guards were stirring now – it was time to be gone. He looked into the eyes of his mentor. “Look after them all, Duncan. And I will send her back to you, whatever the price.”

    “Don’t send her – bring her back yourself, Adam – I mean – Oh, away with you! And Good Journey.”

    He stood there, sword in hand, staring out long after the sky-sled was gone on its way.

    ******

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    Last edited by Scriptor; August 23, 2013 at 06:47am.

  3. #3
    Heroic Warrior
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    He-Man captured by Evil-Lyn photo He-MancapturedbyEvil-Lyn_zps3861d40f.jpg

    2.1

    Knight Sacrifice


    Orko had returned, only to be told of what had already happened. He was distraught, not least at coming too late to speak his warning. “But this is terrible – simply terrible! Alone? Without even his sword? And you let him go?”

    “Have you ever tried stopping He-Man when he was set on something?” answered Duncan with an edge of asperity to his voice.

    “But why didn’t he go to Grayskull first to confer with the Sorceress?”

    “He insisted that time didn’t allow.”

    “Time? Oh dear me! What was he thinking? Or, rather, why wasn’t he? So impetuous – so passionate – really no better than Adam! Not at all wise. Well, he’ll be needing help, whatever.”

    “I know that, Orko,” replied Duncan with somewhat labored patience. “We are already monitoring the meeting point co-ordinates sent to us by the kidnappers for inbound craft, and we are assembling a suitable force for the mission. Not all the Heroic Warriors can get to us in time, but we have my brother and Mek and Rammy. Roboto will soon be here and Stratos and some of his people are already up forward, on watch. That will have to do – for now. We’ll be on our way directly we have a sighting.” He shook his head. “He may have got the better of me with that stunner – but I’ll be damned thrice-over before I pay any heed to him telling us not to go after him.”

    “He-Man told you that? Dear me! They really haven’t much sense between them at times, not he and Adam put together. So very rash.” Orko shook his shrouded head. “But surely you must know what was uppermost in his mind in choosing this madcap course – and why?”

    “I know,” said Man-at-Arms testily. “It’s turned the boy’s head, concern for her – and blaming himself for what happened. Oh, I can see why; but I don’t approve his hasty reaction, and I expected better of He-Man than this show of impetuosity, too. But one forgets that they are, deep down, the same boy – and both lacking in experience.” He shook his head.

    “And also in love,” said Orko very softly, perhaps unheard.

    “I should have stopped him – but it’s too late now. But he’ll be needing help, right enough – and we’ll be going after him to get him back – get them both back.”

    “Yes, yes of course. But, you see, that isn’t quite the kind of help I had in mind. This may take more than that manner of fighting.”

    “If it even comes to that,” answered Man-at-Arms soberly.

    “Oh – yes – well – I see what you mean. Goodness.”

    “We’re going to have to be very careful in making our approach – very careful indeed. If they spot us then – well –”

    “Oh no, no – they mustn’t see you coming – not at all. What a frightful business this is – Teela gone – and He-Man gone after her!”

    “He’s resilient – and he knows what he’s up against. Well; a part of it.” But Duncan somehow failed to sound convinced by his own words, and Orko was not much comforted.

    “But what if you can’t get close enough – or if you miss them – or they play us false again – or –”

    “Now, don’t you panic just yet, Orko. I did manage to conceal a tracker device – one of the powerful, low profiles ones – onto his belt just as he was leaving.” A bleak smile flickered beneath his moustache. “I knew he’d not go without making a proper farewell; not Adam.” He shook his head. “It was the best I could do – and yet it may not be enough.”

    Orko hovered in a worried kind of way, muttering to himself the while.

    “Stratos and his people are watching from the air; we’ve asked assistance from the Andreenans; all our long-range scanners are trained on that quadrant.” Man-at-Arms still sounded as if he were trying to out-argue himself. “We will close in as soon as they move.”

    “Which is just what they will surely be expecting of us. Oh dear me – what a simply dreadful day. But at least I know what I must do; even if He-Man would not go to Grayskull, then I most certainly shall!”

    *****

    2.2

    He came to the place appointed, the Plateau of the Winds, just as twilight gave to darkness. As good a neutral place for such a meeting as any, he reflected, waiting by the sled for signs of the enemy’s coming; a great open plain of nothingness, of wind-stirred red dust. He was alone as the terms dictated – and alone he felt, too. Very. In the far distance the fire sands flared in the dimness, a baleful glare beneath the twin moon-haunted sky. A watchful silence pervaded the plateau – but all his senses spoke of threat, of danger, told him that he was being observed, so he broke that silence with his call.

    “I – He-Man – am here, as you demanded! Show yourself! I am alone and unarmed. I want to see the girl.”

    A flash of purple light flickered all about; he shielded his eyes from its sudden brightness. And suddenly he was no longer alone.

    “And so here he is; in the ample – and mostly-visible – flesh. Welcome, He-Man – well-met indeed!”

    “Lyn! I should have known –”

    “You should,” she agreed, and smiled – after a fashion. Her eyes glittered in a face of pale, fastidious beauty.

    “Where’s the girl? I want to see her – unharmed – first.”

    “And so you shall.” She cast an arm wide as if drawing back a curtain – and there they were; a small band of tough-looking, well-armed mercenaries – and Teela bound in their midst. Her head went up sharply when she saw He-Man – but, though her lips parted, she did not speak.

    “Me for her – that’s the trade you’re offering?”

    “It is.”

    “How do we know that she’ll be allowed to go free, then?”

    “You don’t, of course. But I can tell you that once you have delivered yourself into my power, then the girl is of no interest to me – none at all.”

    “So you say; but your reputation is not exactly trustworthy, is it?”

    “Ah, but yours is; you are He-Man, and you will keep your word, won’t you? You always do. In fact I’ve been counting on it.”

    He did not even hesitate. “She takes my sled and leaves; I see her safely on her way – and then I’ll – surrender to you. I pledge you my word on it.”

    Evil-Lyn smiled again; this time it had a triumphant quality to it. “That is all that I need. Very well – release the girl.”

    The hirelings unbound Teela’s hands and gave her a push towards the waiting sled. She walked slowly forward, her eyes on He-Man.

    “You can’t do this – you can’t!”

    He shook his head, not looking at her. “Go, Teela – quickly.”

    “I won’t – I won’t leave you here with them –!”

    “Go, I tell you! Go!” His eyes beseeched her for an agonized, agonizing second, then switched back to glare at his enemies.

    “But how very touching! And how very predictable. Yes, do go, wench – before I regret my – generous – impulse.”

    “Now you listen here, witch! Don’t you dare harm him or I’ll –”

    Evil-Lyn yawned ostentatiously and raised her staff in a pointed manner.

    With a furious glare of green Teela boarded the sled; He-Man was watching, and he nodded slightly as she fired the craft into life.

    “I shall be back!” snapped Teela, and took off in a cloud of red dust.

    She circled above once, twice, unable to prevent herself. She saw how he handed himself over to them, unresisting. She watched as he offered his bared wrists to be shackled and as a collar and chain were put around his neck. One blow from those powerful arms would have laid these jackals low, thought Teela, her eyes brimming with tears; mere moments under those iron fists would have served to scatter them all – but he meekly allowed himself to be fettered – and, worst of all, he was sacrificing himself to his worst and most implacable enemies – for her! And, in the instant that he had looked at her, she had seen the pain of it in his eyes. Her heart cried out – but there was nothing she could do but watch powerlessly – and see where they went. But they weren’t going to allow that, plainly. Bursts of groundfire streaked past her, causing her to bank the fragile craft steeply and throw it hard into a turn. Now there was only one thing to be done; savagely hitting the throttle to maximum, Teela set a course for home.

    *****

    2.3

    “Our envoy to Eternia has returned no word as yet?”

    “None, dread lord.”

    “Inform me at once when he does so. Skeletor is by no means to be trusted – and it is clear that he is behind the theft of our Etheramite. He does nothing without purpose – and that means some sly little scheme is most certainly brewing in that empty head of his. I have summoned him here – but it is by no means sure that he will come. He may seek to defy me – which is why I have made preparation to attack him, should he fail to comply with my will.”

    “The Horde Trooper transporters are prepared, my lord, the assault force embarked. We can launch on your word – though the escort craft are still being made ready.”

    “Then see to it directly. I would have all ready for when word arrives.” Hordak, lord of the Horde, turned his terrible face away from the screen and back to his beloved machines and engines of destruction.

    Mantenna, standing by, coughed as the Force Commander left.

    “My l-lord?” he stammered at the screen.

    “What? I am occupied,” came back the sharp voice – and the features of his master hove again into view.

    “Yes, but – forgive me, lord – I feel that I s-s-hould sp-p-eak.”

    “Then if you must, speak.”

    “My lord, I am c-concerned that Skeletor is seeking to t-trick us into making some move that may r-redound to his interests.”

    “That would scarcely be new on his part,” grated the voice of his overlord.

    “Drawing out our f-forces at this unpropitious time is n-not w-without an element of r-risk –” He let his voice trail-off with significance.

    “You think that I underestimate my former acolyte, do you?”

    “Lord, that it is s-scarcely my p-place to say so needs hardly to be s-said. And yet –”

    “I expect him to defy me. And for that he must be punished.”

    “Attacking him at Sn-n-ake M-m-ountain is not without its h-hazards, my lord.”

    “We will re-occupy our old stronghold in the Fright Zone – and move onwards from there. The plan is drawn-up, and I should need better grounds than those you are offering to reject it at this late stage. My mind is quite made up; as soon as we have news of Skeletor’s refusal, then we shall act – in force. Now – leave me!”

    The screen flickered – and died into darkness.

    Mantenna bowed and turned from the screen in its Audience Chamber – and went in search of Modulok, finding him as ever in his workshops amid the results of his endless experiments. Fortunately, Mantenna possessed both a cold heart and a strong stomach, so the sights on view did not much concern him. He leaned to the ear of the nearer head. “He will g-go ahead – his m-mind is m-made up. I tested his resolution and it is p-past all d-doubt.” Modulok nodded; the other head remained absorbed in its work, ignoring the anguish of the struggling victim.

    “Very well,” he replied. “I shall pass word of it to her – and then we shall see what we shall see.”

    ******

    2.4

    “I knew that you would come in exchange for the girl; so very noble of you, and so very foolhardy –” Evil-Lyn smiled as the Hero of Eternia submitted and was bound – his wrists manacled with steel bands and joined by a length of chain. A collar of like material was clamped in place about his sturdy neck; from it dangled another length of chain, judged fit to tether even He-Man. He stood passive and unresisting throughout as her men shackled him. “In fact, I might go so far as to say that it was the sheer predictability of your actions which has made my entire plan possible.”

    “Spare me your gloating, Lyn; I’ve heard it all before,” came the short reply. He lifted his hands experimentally, causing the links to jangle, then shrugged, dismissive. “Nicely made. But you won’t keep me, you know; you people never do.”

    “Oh, do you know? – this time I rather think that I shall.”

    “Why? What’s so different this time?”

    “Take a good look at those restraints, He-Man. Note especially the steel alloy of which they are made –”

    Frowning down, He-Man studied them; the metal had a slightly blue tinge and seemed almost to glow in the dimness with a very faint dark radiance. But the links were really quite light and slender and he concealed a smile; they never learned – Well; he had kept his word and submitted – and now it was time for them to come off. With a deep breath and drawing back his powerful shoulders he grasped the links hard and set about breaking them apart; muscles bulged, veins and cords stood out taut, his features contorted with effort – but he could not – he could not! After three attempts he stood there panting and frustrated and lifted a red and angry face to Evil-Lyn, who nodded, wry amusement flitting over her elegant features.

    “Yes, He-Man – Horde Steel, no less. Obtained – and rather ingeniously too, though I say so myself – especially for you. Skeletor was forthcoming enough to mention that when both of you were held prisoner by Hordak its virtues proved effective against even your impressive strength.” She smiled with unfeigned pleasure at the shocked look on her captive’s face as he realized that it was indeed that same Horde-made steel alloy which had successfully held him in bonds at the Doom Tower. He struggled again, with perhaps a touch of panic as well as anger – but it was clearly too late; his one and only plan was already in shreds. To cover his dismay he spoke to her.

    “So I suppose that I’m to be taken before Skeletor now, right?”

    “Skeletor? Why, wherever did you get that quaint idea from? No – I have quite another destination in mind for you. And it is indeed time that we were gone from this place. Do excuse me a moment while I concentrate, won’t you? I would so hate for anyone to follow us and try to crash our carefully-arranged little get-together.” So saying she closed her black-lashed eyes – and abruptly opened them again. “I sense some – subterfuge here. I wonder –” She looked suspiciously again at He-Man as he stood unmoving, then slowly circled him. “Ah – I thought so!” Her fingers ran down the broad back and plucked at his metal belt – and he stiffened with surprise. Evil-Lyn completed her circumnavigation and held up a tiny object. “A tracker device, attached to your person; so you thought to cheat me, did you, He-Man? Thought to alert your friends as to our destination? How feeble – and how very unexpected, too; I would never have judged that Eternia’s hero would stoop so low. But – surely that is a blush there on your manly cheek, is it not? Can it be that the mighty He-Man feels shame?”

    “I didn’t know it was there,” he said shortly.

    “On your honor?” She was mocking him still – but that did not matter. He drew himself up.

    “Yes; on my honor.”

    She gazed at him, and tapped a long thumbnail against her teeth. “I believe you,” she said simply, and moved away, adding over her shoulder that it would actually prove rather useful.

    He-Man shook his head; he should have known that the wily Duncan would be a step ahead of him; he usually was.

    And then the witch was returning.

    “The device will be sent off far, far away – whither it will lure your would-be rescuers. I just thought that you might like to know that.” She smiled ambiguously at the carefully wooden expression on her captive’s face. “But come; it is time that we were far-off ourselves. Forgive me while I work a little spell to ensure that we are not followed, won’t you?” She again closed her eyes and lifted her staff – and a flash of that same purple light erupted, searing his vision as he watched. And after that all was darkness, a void without light, until a faint glow came again from the witch’s spell-staff. “Come,” she said. “Bring him.”

    With a sharp tug on the neck-collar chain, He-Man was set to follow that faint light; not far off there came a metal ramp rising under his feet and he was climbing. So; a ship – and cloaked by her witchery as well as by the usual devices, no doubt. With a hiss a hatch closed behind him, booted feet trampled on steel decking – and then light flooded the vessel’s interior. A sleek ship, then – and a fast one.

    The witch turned to her men. “Engage cloaking devices,” she ordered, then turned aside. Her eyes closed and her shapely hands rose before her. He-Man watched as she mouthed words in a tongue he did not know. She was using her enchantments as well as the technical capability of the craft, both before and after take-off. Plainly she was taking no chances on being tracked and intercepted. Finishing her spell she opened her eyes and looked at her prisoner.

    “Secure him.”

    As the craft powered-up to lift from the plateau, He-Man was pushed into a restraining chair, his ankles made fast with clamps to its stout steel frame, the chain between his wrist manacles likewise secured. He tested the hold again, almost cursorily, then looked up at his captor.

    “The steel; so tell me – what makes it so special?”

    “That it can hold even you?” Her well-whetted irony cut and mocked him; but he must bear that.

    “But it can. I don’t understand.”

    “As I said, it is Horde Steel; rare indeed and very hard to come by. Hordak values it most highly – and will wax wrathful with Skeletor for having stolen its secret from him. Not that Skeletor actually has, of course. No – that little larceny was all my own work.” She laughed at the reaction on his face as he digested this. “I expect out-and-out warfare between the two of them to break out very, very soon. It will keep them both suitably occupied and out of my way – until it is too late.”

    “Too late for what?”

    “Oh – you’ll soon see. But, as for the steel, it is tempered with the priceless element Etheramite, found – and rarely – only on that planet; when combined alchemically in alloy form it is of such surpassing strength that it can restrain even the mighty He-Man. And most intriguingly of all, it seems to absorb and retain energy in some way – as if feeding upon it and growing stronger itself in the process. We do not know the sum of its properties fully; not as yet. In fact you will be – helping us – with those experiments, unless – Well, anyway, rest assured that our very best minds are at work on the problem.”

    “Ah – Beastman.” He-Man nodded wisely. Evil-Lyn’s mouth turned upwards and her hand reached out to smooth over the hair on the crown of his head.

    “A-hhh. I do so like a man with a sense of humor – especially when he is bound and helpless and trying his level best to appear unconcerned. Not that the act can fool me, of course. Not for long. But if it serves to keep your spirits up and if I continue to find it amusing, then there will be no need to have you gagged.” She gestured to a heavy leather appliance hanging above. He-Man grimaced and fell silent as the craft sped onwards towards its destination.

    *****

    2.5

    “And you let him go – for me? How could you?”

    “How could I not?” answered her father shortly to her ranting. She and Adam were two of a kind – monumentally arrogant in their youthful and un-tempered sense of right and wrong. All is so very clear-cut, so lacking in nuance to the young.

    “If you’d have just seen him – meekly letting them put him in chains like that!”

    “I’m very glad that I did not.” Duncan paused and rubbed at his chin. “He didn’t break free of them, though, did he? So they weren’t just ordinary steel – or else it was some working of the witch’s sorcery. Oh, she’d got this all planned-out, right enough. His freedom for yours – and no chance of his escaping her once he’d submitted.” He shook his head in vexed frustration.

    “And the look he gave me when he surrendered himself – I can see it yet!”

    “Try to think of something else,” advised her father in rather weary fashion.

    “But it’s all my fault!”

    Duncan sighed inwardly; this again. Two of a kind indeed. But, then, they were young and they were also – Well, anyway; he must make due allowance.

    “Now, Teela – we’ve been through this before; He-Man knew what he was doing and he did it willingly – to save you – as he would have done for any of us. It’s merely ill-luck that they were able to seize you and make a hostage of you as they did. Fault doesn’t enter into it.”

    “It was so brave of him – a very different kind of bravery than wielding the Sword in battle.”

    “Yes; but it was also very unwise – foolhardy – as I warned him. And now this is turning out to be – much as I feared.”

    “There’s still no word?”

    “Nothing positive, no. The vexing truth is that some kind of powerful sorcery concealed their craft – it countered our scanners just long enough for it to make a clean getaway. We’re still scanning the quadrant, of course – but –”

    “So we don’t even know where they’ve taken him?”

    Her father shook his head.

    “It must be Snake Mountain!”

    “No; wherever else it is, it certainly isn’t there. We monitored all the approaches in expectation of that, but he was not brought there. The sensors picked up nothing – neither did Stratos’ people, nor even the Andreenans, and you know how sensitive their antennae are. He’s not at Snake Mountain.”

    “But it’s Skeletor behind it all – it must be; it’s obvious. The witch was acting for him, as usual.”

    “But they haven’t taken He-Man back there. So where have they taken him? That’s the question.”

    “We must go after him – we simply must!”

    “And we shall – once we know where he’s being held.”

    “I can’t bear to think of what they may do to him –!”

    “Then don’t,” counseled her father shortly, and then relented, seeing the expression on his daughter’s face. “He-Man has emerged from many a hopeless-seeming situation before – you know that as well as I.” But she did not seem much mollified by his wise words, and continued to pace the workshop in agitation.

    “We need more searchers, more warriors! A general muster!”

    “Calm, girl. We are doing all that we can.”

    “But it might not be enough – Evil-Lyn has him!” She turned away, biting at her nails in anxiety – and just possibly a touch of guilt, which brought her back to the attack.

    “And where’s Adam? He could at least try to help.”

    “He’s not to be found right now.” Man-At-Arms avoided her furious glare.

    “Skulking again! If he were even half a man he’d already be gone to help find He-Man!”

    “Perhaps he already is,” said her father softly.

    “Oh yeah? That will be the day!”

    *****

    2.6

    “So where are we?” He-Man looked up at the glowing roof of the cavern where the ship had docked.

    “You’ll see, He-Man – soon enough even for your well-known curiosity. Come – bring him.”

    The yank on his chain gave him little option but to follow where he was led, the mercenaries padding along behind him. In the rock-hewn tunnels, away from the smell of fuel in the improvised hangar he could sense minerals, damp stone and – something else, too – something familiar. And a sound too – faint but rhythmic and insistent. His senses on full alert, He-Man knew that, wherever they were now, the sea was not far away. The passages were faintly lit, their surfaces even, almost smooth. If they had been long abandoned, then someone had since gone to some trouble to render them of use again.

    At a junction between two tunnels, Evil-Lyn halted and gestured. “I must attend to other matters; take him below – you know the place – and make him ready. And see to it that there are no errors, bounty-hunter. None!”

    But the leader stood his ground and answered her tetchily. “I’m no bounty-hunter!”

    She shrugged elegant shoulders, dismissive. “A nice distinction, some might say, for one in your trade. Well; whatever you are, earn your fee. See him safely bestowed and secured – and that without mishap.”

    She strode off, and the mercenary cursed under his breath and, scowling, turned to the prisoner. With another tug on his neck-chain, He-Man found himself drawn downwards, a long, sloping passageway, continuing deeper and deeper, though the glowing light remained steady. More of the witch’s sorcery for sure – the place reeked of it. Three descending tunnels later they came at last to a stout iron door which the leader made open. Even his captors’ manner seemed subdued in this place; they every man appeared uneasy, judged He-Man. And well they might. Within lay a large chamber, rock vaulted like the rest but walled with rough-hewn blocks of stone. What light there was illuminated an unpromising scene. At the centre a length of heavy chain and a hook dangled ominously from on high; the other end was attached to a massive bracket set firmly into the wall. The leader turned to He-Man and drew out a stunner.

    “Best take no chances with you, big feller, had we? You heard what she said.” He leveled it, point blank, and his men caught He-Man as he reeled backwards into their arms, still conscious, but for the moment quite incapable of resistance. His linked and manacled hands were hooked onto the hanging chain and were then lifted high into the air on the hoist until his boot soles were scrabbling vainly for a floor-hold. The mercenary leader eyed him critically. “Nah, let him down a bit; give him a break – he’ll be needin’ it. An’ take that collar and chain off of him an’ all – he’s not some animal.” He watched, frowning, until it was done. “Anyway, it’s nothin’ to us, is it? Her pet filth can do their own dirty work. We take our fee an’ get the blue blazes out – soon as may be.” He went up to He-Man and nodded. “Nothing personal, see – merely a matter of commerce.”

    “Wise commerce looks at more than just one offer,” said He-Man emphatically.

    “You have generous friends, perhaps?”

    “Let’s just say that you certainly wouldn’t be the losers were I to – be spirited away –”

    The man looked at him consideringly, rubbed his chin with the sound of sandpaper – and shook his head. “Nah – nothin’ doin’. She’d know for sure – an’ she’s not one to cross, that I can tell you. Not all the gold on Eternia‘s much use if you’re turned into a frog an’ dropped in a snake pit. Sorry.”

    “Are you?”

    The hireling leader turned back at the doorway and looked at the big young man there in his chains.

    “Aye – reckon as how I am. But – business is business –”

    “And fear is fear.”

    “That too.”

    The door slammed shut and He-Man was left alone.

    He tried to concentrate, to focus his mind, to prepare himself for what would come next – whatever it might be. Teela was safe – that was the main thing. He had known all along that his own capture – if not worse – was the almost certain outcome of making the exchange; yet he had felt impelled to rescue Teela. It was his clear duty as He-Man to do so – and – well – it had been Teela – and so there was that, too. He had answered the call – and the rest was up to him now. And he knew well enough that he was, for the present at least, alone in this; the chances of immediate rescue were slender in the extreme. No-one knew where he was – not even he himself – and so they could not follow. Especially as Lyn’s magic had found the concealed transmitter. They would come – that he knew for sure – Duncan would never give up on him – never. Nor would the Sorceress. But even they could not work miracles, and finding him would surely take them a while, and so the contingency of being drawn any time soon out of the witch’s clutches was at best remote. Very well, then – very well. He must hold on until help arrived – unless, of course he could possibly save them the trouble –

    Just to be quite sure – it had to be worth a try – he had another go at the chains. Nothin’ doin’, as that mercenary would have put it. So, then; he couldn’t arrange his own escape. For all his proud boast back on the plateau, for all his plan, they had him well and truly caught this time. He sighed in frustration; it had to be admitted that Lyn had shown real ingenuity in stealing the Horde’s precious secret alloy and getting Hordak to blame Skeletor for the theft. No doubt they would soon be at each other’s throats over it – that was their usual way – and that would leave the field open for Lyn – whatever it was she envisaged. And whatever it was, he himself was plainly a part of it. Why else the elaborate scheme to take Teela, to exchange her for He-Man and to bring him here? All of which had worked just as she had plainly planned it. And, hanging there helpless in unbreakable bonds of Horde Steel, He-Man had perforce to ponder Man-at-Arms’ wise words about balancing duty, valor – and prudence – and to wonder whether he hadn’t maybe had a point –

    ******

    2.7

    “He did what!” the king’s bellow might have been as much shock as anger, thought Man-at-Arms as he stolidly went on with the report he had been making to his sovereign.

    “– And stunned the guards with my weapon, and then took a sky-sled and made off,” he completed.

    Prince Adam did this?”

    “Yes, sire; resisted arrest, disarmed me with as neat a trick as I ever saw, used me as a shield, sent Lieutenant Andros and his men off for a short nap, and then made his escape. All over in moments. Nothing I could do.”

    Randor looked at his old friend’s deadpan expression as he recited the tale; he knew Duncan well – and knew both his capacity in battle and his great store of guile. And young Adam had overcome all that, had he? Well – he’d had a good teacher in Man-at-Arms; that much was sure. And perhaps there was even a faint glint of parental pride in the royal eye as he questioned further. At his side Queen Marlena was silent, but there was a frown-line furrowing her brow and her eyes were very intent on Duncan as he made his answers.

    “He has not returned, I regret to inform your majesties. We are – looking for him.”

    The queen leaned forward. “And where do you believe that he is gone, Man-at-Arms?”

    Duncan straightened. “Madam, I am quite certain, as I warned the king, that he is gone to – to rescue He-Man.” He ignored the swiftly-strangled exclamation emanating from the rear; so did the rest.

    Adam’s parents exchanged a glance, and King Randor sat heavily back in his throne and drummed his finger-ends on the arms. The queen, however, rose to her feet.

    “Our thanks to you all for this report – and for your pains in searching. We must not keep you from seeking the – two – who are missing from among our number.”

    Good for her, thought Duncan as he made his bow; she would talk Randor down without there being a Scene. But he knew that this loss would affect the royal couple very badly; even Randor in his crustiest mood would own that a somewhat unsatisfactory son-and-heir is far preferable to one missing in errantry.

    No sooner were the doors of the Audience Chamber made to than Teela accosted him.

    “Is it true – that Adam’s gone off after He-Man?”

    “You heard me say it; I heard your reaction. Yes; it’s true.”

    “But – it’s madness! He’s no match for – well – any of them! Not on his own! He’ll get himself captured – or even – even –”

    “Calm yourself – people are watching.”

    “Then let them! This is terrible; first He-Man taken – and now Adam off on some hare-brained quest of his own. What does the little idiot think he’s doing?”

    “The right thing, I guess. Besides, you don’t seem to place a lot of faith in him – considering that you – and I – trained him.”

    “But he’s barely even competent! He’ll get lost, or fall off the sled, or get caught, or –”

    “He won’t – and you know he won’t, too. You give him less than his due. He’s no fool, isn’t the prince, for all that he acts the part so well. And he certainly isn’t a coward – in spite of what you imputed of him when first he couldn’t be found. There’s more lies behind your anger than this, now, isn’t there, Teela?”

    She looked at the man who was her father, and her eyes fell, some of the glaring anger gone from their green depths.

    “I goaded him, mocked him – belittled him at every turn. It was in fun – well, mostly – and because he needed to be made more like a proper prince –” She broke off, then steeled herself to the admission. “And because it – it made me feel good.” Her eyes rose to his face again and there were iridescent tears caught in the upturned bronze lashes. “I don’t feel so good now.”

    “Oh, Teela – look, it isn’t as bad as all that. Adam is doing what he thinks right – as you would; as you will.”

    “But don’t you see? He’s only done this because I drove him to it! He’s trying to prove himself – and it’s all my fault!”

    “It’s not your fault – he felt he had to go. You know Adam –”

    “Do I? I thought I did – but now I’m not so sure that I do!”

    She looked so utterly miserable that Duncan broke with court etiquette and gave her a hug, right there before all in the Antechamber. And, for once, she didn’t protest at the public display of affection. Duncan held her and wished, not for the first time, that there were certain things he could tell her. But there weren’t.

    “But if anything happens to him then it will be my fault,” she murmured into his shoulder.

    “Not so. Not so.”

    “I just hope that he’s all right – wherever he is –”

    *****

    2.8

    “Ah, still here, I see. No futile escape attempts as yet?”

    He looked at her and raised his chin. “Maybe I’m just biding my time.”

    She smiled; a predatory look. “Then that makes two of us.”

    He was silent; she was indeed biding her time – and with supreme confidence, too – which suggested that she expected neither escape nor rescue for him. This infernal Horde Steel –

    “I trust you are comfortable?”

    “I’m getting the hang of it.”

    “Hah! That’s the spirit!”

    “And the amenities here are a little sparse, perhaps; but it’s tolerable.”

    “That may change.”

    “The amenities?”

    “No, He-Man; not the amenities.”

    Lyn’s smile had the quality of thin ice glazing a pond, he decided. She circled him, assessing, appraising.

    “But, tell me now; did you make a counter-offer to the bounty hunters? I would have, in your situation. Not that I would ever allow myself to get into your current situation, you understand. But, then, I am not afflicted with the curse of finer feelings – of goodness.”

    “Yes; I rather think I had noticed that aspect of your character.”

    “Unlike you; and just look where it has brought you; right into my trap. Such a touching little scene back there on the plateau between you and the girl. So many unsaid words! I really should have seen that earlier, looking back. Still, it’s largely irrelevant now; now that I finally have possession of my – key.”

    “Key? What key?”

    “I spoke only in metaphor; it is of no importance to you. Or, rather, it is – now that I have you just where I want you. Though I should really say very nearly where I want you.”

    She stepped back and clapped her hands – and the door opened and admitted over a dozen strange and unfamiliar creatures, all of whom bowed low to her, then fixed their bright and unwinking eyes on He-Man. Short, heavily-built and ungainly with long thick arms, they had a distinct green cast to their skins, were hairless and – frankly – hideous, with features that hovered somewhere between the saurian and the simian. The witch spoke to them in grunting tones and at once they moved forward and set upon He-Man. Swiftly, silently they seized hold of his legs and dragged off his boots; reacting, he pulled himself up high on the chain and swung violently until they were flung off, then followed this up with some well-placed heel kicks, scattering them around the chamber.

    Evil-Lyn stood and watched, a smile of tolerant amusement flickering about her lips.

    “Bravo! I was expecting some-such kind of reaction. But you can’t hang up there all day, now, can you? Better come down.”

    “Come on up and get me!” Even that brief revenge had felt good – and he was ready for more. Not that it could last – but he did feel a little less helpless.

    “Silly, brave, boy. Very well then –” Evil-Lyn lifted her staff and directed a bolt of arcane and eldritch power. Moments later a gasping He-Man was struggling frantically but feebly as her creatures swamped over, laying-on claw-like hands and subduing him. More shackles, connected by another length of chain links, were made fast to his ankles. Then, showing greater animosity than the mercenaries, they hauled on the bracketed chain to lift him off the floor so that his toes barely touched to support his weight. As he grimaced, still winded from the impact of the blast, they came again and stripped off his chest-harness and his belt; they even took his pelt loincloth leaving him hanging there clad in nothing more than his undergarment. And, throughout, Evil-Lyn watched, smiling, until with a clap of her hands she dismissed them all.

    “So, the great He-Man: my prisoner at last – if you will forgive the cliché? I just knew that you would come for the wench – it was so utterly predictable of you. You heroes do not seem to be very original thinkers, I fear. It makes matters so much easier. And now you are mine – and no-one knows that you are here, or will be able to track us to this place. So we have lots of time to get to know one another properly.” Her purring voice taunted him; she was plainly very pleased with herself. Her hand reached out, laid itself on his shoulder, allowed itself to slide slowly over his torso, downwards over his chest, the creases of his core while he held his breath and gnawed his lips. “Such powerful muscles; such a strong body – such a determined expression on your so-comely face! We are going to have some fun, you and I. Though – you rather less than I, of course.” Her touch lingered; he shivered and felt sweat begin to bedew his skin. “And we have all the time we need.”

    “I told you; you won’t keep me here.”

    “And I told you that I will – the Horde Steel alone will see to that. Try again if it so please you – I can watch you struggle all day. Something I shall be doing a great deal of rather soon, in fact. Try, then, mighty He-Man – try to burst free of your bonds!”

    He tried – he really tried, throwing all of his raw power into the effort, in part because he could imagine her face when he got free – and snapped her staff in half. But he could not do it; the metal restraints were admantine. Ordinary steel, even the finest and strongest, would surely have yielded in the end to his immense and channeled strength; but Horde Steel, of another world, impregnated with its own strange qualities, was not ordinary in any way – and for all his heaving and straining it held him firm. Worse; he was beginning to suspect that she was right; that its touch was actually weakening him, slowly but steadily. Certainly he could not break free – there was no give in the metal at all. Now, if only he had his sword – At last, defeated and frustrated, aware of the need to conserve his strength, he quietened and hung there panting, with sweat running into his brows.

    “Good; then that answers our chief question about the Horde Steel, does it not?” observed Evil-Lyn brightly – a tone which made him long to make her shut up. “The more you struggle – the more of your preternatural power you exert – the greater the drain as it feeds on your strength, itself becoming stronger. I’m sure that the obvious inference is not wasted on you.”

    He scowled at her but said nothing, concentrating instead on restoring his badly shaken composure.

    “Anyway, now that we have that inevitable episode done with, we can proceed to my terms.”

    “Terms?” asked He-Man guardedly.

    “Yes; terms. Oh, you know how it goes! There are certain – formalities, almost rituals – to these matters, after all: I make you an offer; you reject it with scorn, I threaten you, you defy me – and so on. You heroes are so noble – so resolute – so predictable. It isn’t as if we don’t both know how this will end, is it?”

    “Is it?”

    “But of course it is. You see, when you inevitably defy me, I most certainly shall be able to find it within myself to – do unpleasant things to you – until you change your mind.”

    “I shan’t.”

    “Defy me?”

    “Change my mind.”

    “Well, suit yourself – It will be much more fun this way.”

    “This way?”

    “Oh, come now, He-Man! Even you in your charming naivety must surely guess what follows. There is information I require – must have – from you. And here you are, my unwilling guest, quite, quite unable to free yourself.”

    He-Man braced up proudly. “You won’t get me to talk – whatever you do.”

    “Oh I rather think that I shall – indeed I do. But there’s no great haste; we can afford to take our time, you and I – make this most of this – opportunity. After all –” she took a pace forward, the light glinting in her fey eyes “– I have waited a long, long time for this.”

    “I’ll tell you nothing – you know that. You’ll have to kill me first.”

    “Now why would I want to do that? No; this way will be much more – fulfilling.” She reached out again, touching at his shoulder, letting her fingers slide, trace over his body, slowly, provocatively. “So splendid a body – the broad shoulders, the slim waist, the powerful limbs – not least these muscular thighs –” He-Man winced as she touched, plainly relishing his obvious discomfiture. “And so very handsome, too; hair like the sun itself, eyes like the sky – how simply delightful.”

    The chains jangled as he shifted impatiently under the calculated affront to his dignity, the pointed underlining of his helplessness.

    “Quit the play-acting, Lyn; what is it that you want?”

    “Cannot you guess? You have even less imagination than I thought, then.”

    “Just tell me.”

    “Very well, then.” She paced, circling him, while he twisted awkwardly in his bonds and tried to keep her in view. “What I need from you, He-Man, is nothing less than the secrets of Grayskull – access to the power – the true power – that will make the holder supreme in all Eternia!” She paused impressively, but when her captive failed to react, she shrugged and added, “– to begin with.”

    But He-Man simply shook his head, laughing.

    “And you call me unoriginal! That whole speech sounds like Skeletor’s standard fare – the near-daily exercise of his dramatic talents in the ongoing bid for world domination. I’d stick to sorcery, if I were you!”

    Evil-Lyn smiled thinly. “Such bravado! Such wit! Well, we each of us have our parts to play here; let us see who comes out the drama the best, shall we? As I say, I admire your sanguine humor – but please don’t abuse the privilege or I might be forced to deal harshly with you.”

    “Which, of course, you would far rather not do.”

    “Exactly! So you do know the rules of this game after all! And yet, for some reason, I have a distinct feeling that you aren’t going to prove very – how shall we say? – amenable.”

    “You have that bit right, then.”

    “Which, I must tell you, will result in much pain; some of it on my part, since I am at heart a gentle soul who prefers all pleasant around me – but mostly, I’m afraid, on yours. However, for now, I shall leave you to consider awhile. You know what I want – and I tell you now that I shall get it; with or without your co-operation.”

    “There’s nothing to consider.”

    “Really?” She smiled sweetly. “And is that, then, your answer?”

    “You know that it is.”

    She gazed at him, as if reading his eyes, then wrinkled her nose in skittish coquetry. “Splendid! Then I shall be back soon – and I shall have something to show to you, too. So don’t you go away!”

    Left alone, He-Man swallowed hard – and his expression, no longer flippant, grew grim.

    *****

    2.9

    “I cannot see him – and such sense of him as I had already grows faint.” It was long since she had spoken and the little conjurer jumped with nerves at the sound as it echoed in the great chamber of Castle Grayskull. The Sorceress sighed heavily. “He is far away – and alone. And, I fear, in peril – There is a power, a mind of malice at work; it opposes my will, screens my sight as it probes; I cannot as yet penetrate that dark fastness.”

    Orko waited in apprehension, watching in silence as she sat, shrouded in the veil of her inner thought.

    “No; I cannot reach him. This thing was done well – all too well.” She rose and came towards Orko, her robe trailing behind her.

    “I – well, I just don’t like to think of him – of them – alone. I really cannot settle to anything until this is accomplished, lady. And it is my duty, too, to watch over young Adam. And so – I shall go after him.”

    “You, Orko? You would be well out of your depth matching up to such foes as I fear you should have to cope, little one; what would you do in such a fight?”

    “Well – my best, of course,” squeaked Orko, hoping that it sounded braver than he felt at this moment.

    The Sorceress smiled softly. “None can do more. And yet – I fear –” She sighed once more and resumed her throne and sat a long while wrapped in thought. At last she spoke again.

    “It seems we have but little choice – and it may well be that stout heart will yet avail more than might and craft in war, though its frame be small.”

    “I’m ready,” lied Orko. “I can leave at once.”

    The Sorceress concealed a smile; “Once you know whence you are bound, that is?”

    “Well, yes – obviously. I meant that,” he covered.

    “Then let me scry the shifting patters of power for a sign; be sure that it will come – now that we have a champion.”

    A champion, thought Orko, bobbing up and down with worry. Just what have I gotten myself into this time?

    ******

    2.10

    “My lord, all lies now in readiness; we do but await your word.”

    Skeletor’s deathmask features turned to see Tri-Klops make his bow.

    “All?”

    “Why, yes, my lord.”

    “I would say not all; far from ‘all. Do you seek to disguise from me that some of my vassals have failed to heed my summons and send their powers to attend my muster?”

    “No, my lord. But the craft you ordered are –”

    A clawed hand waved him to silence.

    “Mer-Man I hold for the present excused; his own liegemen, though many, are not well suited to the work we have in hand – and so I shall have him prove his loyalty in some other way. And yet – tell me; what from Evil-Lyn? What word from the witch?”

    “Why, none, my lord.”

    “No answer? You are certain?”

    “Yes, lord; no word returned to us from your summons.”

    Skeletor sat in thought; the shadows in that dreadful chamber, already ancient in their blackness, seemed to lengthen and grow tall.

    “She does not hear me – does not answer,” he said at length.

    “Some harm has –”

    The cowled skull laughed thinly with malice.

    “No harm – at least none as yet – has befallen her! She chooses to prevent my reaching her in thought – and I have at the present no time to employ more penetrating methods. We must be about settling matters with Hordak. And so, for now, her impudence must perforce remain unpunished. But when we are done on Etheria, then be sure that I will see that some harm indeed comes to the witch. You may count upon it!”

    So saying he gathered his dark cloak about him and, clutching his Havoc Staff, strode from the chamber.

    ******

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    Last edited by Scriptor; July 3, 2013 at 03:51am.

  4. #4
    Queer Sorcerer Telkan2's Avatar
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    WOW! This is an amazingly compelling story, my friend, and so well-written! I cannot wait to see what comes next! Also, I love how you've incorporated elements from past incarnations (e.g., Evil-Lyn's lusting over He-Man's body as in the original series and MVC comics, the notion of Horde chains that can hold even He-Man as seen in Secret of the Sword, and there was something else--which unfortunately I didn't make a note of and I've forgotten--which struck me as being an homage to the live action film). Finally, the way you've so accurately depicted the attitudes and characteristics of the characters we know and love so well is exemplary--this is the type of material we should be seeing put out on an official level. I can't wait to read more!
    MORE POP AND NEW ADVENTURES REPRESENTATION IN MOTUC PLEASE!

    Dark Legacies
    MVC Comics - Collected Info About the Comics

    Zoar28, Facebook


  5. #5
    Heroic Warrior
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    Why thank-you! I'm very glad that the tale appeals to you - and grateful for the feedback, too (One never quite knows - lots and lots of views but no comment can look rather ominous... so it's good to know that one person at least is enjoying it.)
    And, yes; you are right. I wanted to re-assert some of the more traditional MotU characterizations and values - which seem to be under sustained attack at the moment - and so the idea was to strengthen these by referring back to key elements from past versions. Well-spotted!
    More is on its way.
    Last edited by Scriptor; June 17, 2013 at 05:43am.

  6. #6
    Heroic Warrior MLHumble's Avatar
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    One chapter down, and so far so great! I love, love the dialogue. And the story. I agree with Telkan. VERY compelling. On to 2.1 today! Can't wait. Read this, people. Great stuff.
    Please see my arts gallery here: www.pcpfh.wordpress.com Have fun browsing!

  7. #7
    Widget
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    Quote Originally Posted by Telkan2 View Post
    WOW! This is an amazingly compelling story, my friend, and so well-written! I cannot wait to see what comes next! Also, I love how you've incorporated elements from past incarnations (e.g., Evil-Lyn's lusting over He-Man's body as in the original series and MVC comics, the notion of Horde chains that can hold even He-Man as seen in Secret of the Sword, and there was something else--which unfortunately I didn't make a note of and I've forgotten--which struck me as being an homage to the live action film). Finally, the way you've so accurately depicted the attitudes and characteristics of the characters we know and love so well is exemplary--this is the type of material we should be seeing put out on an official level. I can't wait to read more!
    YES! This is just right. This He-Man story is AMAZING!!! The writing is really wonderful.

    I have read chapters 1 and 2 and it is great! The dialogue is perfect - this is how the characters should speak, and we recognize them at once because they are like we expect them to be. So we have characters we know and love seen in a new and exciting story which tells us more about them. They come over as very real people.

    It is good also to see He-Man as human and making mistakes as he is still learning about being a hero. That is very convincing.

    It is shaping up to be a real epic of a motu tale and I am really looking forward to reading more!

  8. #8
    Heroic Warrior
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    Quote Originally Posted by Telkan2 View Post
    WOW! This is an amazingly compelling story, my friend, and so well-written! I cannot wait to see what comes next! Also, I love how you've incorporated elements from past incarnations (e.g., Evil-Lyn's lusting over He-Man's body as in the original series and MVC comics, the notion of Horde chains that can hold even He-Man as seen in Secret of the Sword, and there was something else--which unfortunately I didn't make a note of and I've forgotten--which struck me as being an homage to the live action film). Finally, the way you've so accurately depicted the attitudes and characteristics of the characters we know and love so well is exemplary--this is the type of material we should be seeing put out on an official level. I can't wait to read more!
    This sums up real well how I feel about the first couple of chapters. Really enjoying it.

    Anybody know which of the MVC comics the guy above means?

  9. #9
    Heroic Warrior
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tigra View Post
    This sums up real well how I feel about the first couple of chapters. Really enjoying it.

    Anybody know which of the MVC comics the guy above means?

    Not sure quite which one - but they are all here on the Org. in the Archive. http://www.he-man.org/publishing/section.php?id=52

    I really liked the MVC comics; head and shoulders above all the rest in every way.

  10. #10
    Court Magician
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    Another outstanding chapter in Part Nine, with a very changed He-Man very much under the control of Evil-Lyn and without will of his own.

    The psychology of how he was brought to this place is fascinating - and convincing, too. There have been no sudden mind-wiping spells or other such fantastical and farfetched elements beloved of third rate writers; the hero has been slowly but systematically brought under her control by her subtle and effective blend of pain, drugging and seduction. She tests her own command over him - and finds it absolute, to the extent that he agrees to bring her the heads of her enemies if asked - and to hand Castle Grayskull to her after destroying the Sorceress, since he is now convinced that she is the enemy who stands in the way of a future Eternia free of Skeletor and at peace.

    The remarkable thing is that, in the way this is brought about in the story, it comes across as credible - which is quite a feat of storytelling!

    But plans to rescue He-Man at last - as well as Lyn's plans for him - are derailed, it seems, by the unwittingly timely arrival of a vengeful Skeletor.

    Once again, a well-crafted and skilfully written episode in this Eternian epic.

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