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Thread: Though Heroes Fall - a Tale of He-Man

  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 07:50am.

  2. #2
    Heroic Warrior
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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 07:47am.

  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 04:51am.

  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!

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  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 06:43am.

  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
    Heroic Warrior
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    Many thanks indeed for that very encouraging comment; I am delighted that this tale is appealing to some readers at least - and particularly in that the two of you are both proven writers of very considerable capacity yourselves! That makes your reactions especially pleasing, supportive - and welcome.

    "Praise from the praise-worthy is beyond all rewards"
    . Faramir, Captain of Gondor; in posterum Prince of Ithilien.

  8. #8
    Heroic Warrior MLHumble's Avatar
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    Okay! Chapter 2 down! Keep 'em coming. I absolutely love the real sense of danger you have created for our favorite hero! I honestly can't see how he's gonna get out of this one!
    Please see my arts gallery here: www.pcpfh.wordpress.com Have fun browsing!

  9. #9
    Heroic Warrior
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    Chapter 3, Part 1

     photo He-MantorturedbyEvil-Lyn_zpsb5ed361f.jpg

    3.1

    The Machine


    He-Man stirred as the cell door opened. Some dozen or more of the green-skinned creatures entered, half-filling the place, and stood, watching him – then all turned to bow as Evil-Lyn made her entrance, staff in hand. She stood, erect and slender, and scanned her captive’s wary face.

    “Come,” she said, “I have something to show you – as promised.”

    “Er – I’m a bit tied-up at the moment – Some other time, perhaps?”

    “But now is a good time, as it happens. So shall we?”

    “Well, I suppose that I was only hanging around –”

    “Very good – still with spirit, I see. Hold fast to that celebrated humor of yours; you will have need of it. Oh – and no more heroics, please. Just be a good boy and I won’t have to use this.” She raised the staff in playful but very clear warning. “You really must learn to be more helpful in your attitude; it will be very much in your best interests to co-operate.”

    “I gave my word to surrender to you; not to co-operate,” her prisoner replied steadily.

    “Understood; but it is high time to revise your behaviour. As you will soon see.” She made a peremptory gesture and her servants silently approached him – albeit somewhat more cautiously than before.

    He-Man raised a sandy eyebrow in distaste at their green, saurian uncomeliness. “Tell me; what are these creatures?”

    “Ah – my loyal and devoted followers. You will not have set eyes on their like before; I brought them hither from far, far away. They have the uncommon good sense to worship me as their goddess, you see.”

    He-Man laughed shortly as they unhooked his wrist chain and allowed his cramped arms to lower at last.

    You – a goddess? They must be very easily pleased, then, these – what do you call them?”

    “Mooks, they are known as – a simplified corruption of their tongue and its coarse speech.”

    “Then they aren’t the only corrupt thing around here, are they?”

    “So very ungallant, He-Man – I really expected better of you. But no matter. They serve their purpose – and I can always replace them, for they are a numerous folk, the people of Morc. They can well sustain some – losses – in my service.”

    They led him out, escorting him as he learned to walk with the shortened steps the ankle gyves would allow him.

    “They don’t look up to much, frankly, these Mooks. Is this the best you can do, Lyn? I really expected better of you, too.”

    “Well, even as a goddess it’s hard to get good staff.”

    “Hah!”

    “But they are exceptionally loyal – if a touch uncouth. And they are highly skilled in smithcraft, too.” She indicated the chains and manacles he bore. “You said yourself that they were nicely made. And so swiftly, too. Ah! But here we are.”

    She gestured with her staff and a heavy door swung obediently open. They escorted him into a wide chamber, lower-roofed than most and brightly lit, with a smooth stone floor which reflected back the light as if polished. He-Man blinked and came to a halt, his eyes narrowing at what he saw before him.

    “See; I told you that I had something to show you. Come closer – take a proper look.”

    “I can see from here, thanks.”

    “And what do you think?”

    “That I don’t want to play.”

    “Ah, still so spirited – as befits the hero in peril. And I have to inform you that you are in peril, I’m afraid. Look well – and consider what lies ahead.” From behind she reached up and took hold of some of the yellow hair where it grew thickly at the nape of his neck and toyed with it. Irritably he shrugged her off, his eyes still fixed on what lay in front of him.

    There was a slab of polished steel – very long and wide – which stood on some kind of tilting mechanism under clustered bright spotlights. Panels set with all manner of diodes and dials blinked consequentially on its far side and an array of wires and cables hung from above where darkened screens were suspended amid the lights. It had the look of an overgrown operating table set ready for the purposes of healing; but He-Man had a very strong presentiment that this was not in fact its purpose – and only an act of will prevented him from taking an involuntary step backwards.

    “Impressive, isn’t it?” Evil-Lyn stepped forward and ran her hands over the smooth steel surface, her voice positively purring with pleasure. “It is quite the most advanced equipment of its type ever created. And I have to admit that I am completely immodest in the pride I take in it.”

    “I’m happy for you.”

    “How considerate; but I fear that your kindly thoughts will not last – not once you discover how very effective it is.”

    He-Man stood, watching her, hiding his growing anger – and increasingly uncomfortable at what his senses were telling him. He shifted his stance uneasily – and was positively tingling with apprehension as Lyn spoke.

    “Well – aren’t you going to ask me? Aren’t you curious – not even a little?”

    “All right then; what is it?”

    She paused impressively and declaimed her announcement. “I call it – the Machine.”

    He-Man gave her a Look.

    “Great name; very original.”

    “Oh dear, oh dear. Such irony – and in one so young, too. But your pride and your wit won’t last, you know; they alone cannot sustain you against the Machine.” She shook her head. “I do understand, though.” She moved close to him, looking up into his eyes. “Defeat comes hard, does it not – especially in the knowledge that you have brought it upon yourself by your own rashness? In fact, you acted exactly as I had anticipated.”

    “So do you plan on gloating me to death, then?”

    “Not at all – not when there are so many more appealing methods to choose from; and the Machine here has most of them ready prepared for you. Not that death is by any means its primary purpose. No – you will find that it is very good at keeping its victims alive and sentient – rather moreso than you might wish. Besides, I’m confident that you will see sense before then. For that would be a tragic waste, would it not? I can think of far better uses for this strong physique of yours.” A long fingernail grooved down the centerline of his torso, from throat to navel and he tensed, uneasy. She was trying to rile him – and he must not rise to it. “But I don’t suppose that you are going to show much sense, are you? You heroes never do. Well?”

    He glared down at her – and shook his head.

    And so she turned to her servants and gave a nod. At once they began to close, their scaly claws reaching to take him. But he was ready for them. Swiftly he turned and, bringing both hands together, swung his brawny arms like a club, sending them flailing and flying so that they slid on landing all along the polished floor. Another sweep in the other direction repeated the drill. The remainder threw themselves at him, but he gathered them up in the chain between his wrists and flung them back to join the rest. The ones who were still capable of doing so rose and came at him again, but he dropped onto his hands, pivoted his body upside down and made a rotating sweep with his legs that sent them all back whence they had come. With a powerful movement He-Man pushed hard on the floor, back-flipped twice, somersaulted cleanly – and landed almost in front of the witch. There was an angry light blazing blue in his eyes as he reached out for her with his chained and manacled hands.

    “Remove these, Lyn! Do it, or by the Elders, I’ll –!”

    “You’ll – what? What will you do, exactly?” Her voice mocked him from the other side of the steel table, which she had prudently put between them. “You silly boy, you still don’t realize do you? Anyway, a little strenuous exercise has toned up your muscles nicely, I see – so we are very nearly ready to begin.”

    “The only thing you’ll be beginning is a long spell of imprisonment in Eternos.” His fierce face circled the steel slab as she backed around it.

    “I think not. Now will you co-operate? No – an inane question – of course you won’t. The hard way, always – so predictable; but rather a thrill, I must admit. Ah – and here come more of my Mooks.”

    He-Man turned his head and laughed shortly. “I can beat them with my hands tied – again. But I really don’t want to hurt them; after all it’s not their fault that they don’t know how to choose a decent deity, is it?”

    “Cutting of you; should I be bleeding?”

    “I mean it; take these things off me and give it up, Lyn – this is your last chance!”

    “We shall see.” She gestured, and a score or more of her ill-favored devotees came at him. He served them as he had the first, clubbing them with his conjoined fists and making use of the heavy chain. But still they came, picking themselves up and doggedly returning to the fight – and yet more arrived through the doorway and hurled themselves forward with a silent determination that was really rather impressive. A surging tide of them swamped him, bearing him down. With a roar he resurged from under and threw them all off. There was barely time to draw a breath and another wave hit him; he was floundering in a sea of creatures determined to drag him down. With a great bellow of effort he rose again – and sprang with a standing leap up onto the table. Once up there they could barely reach him and he was able to get in some good two-legged kicks by pivoting on his pelvis and using his fettered feet like fists. When they finally learned not to get too close to his legs he vaulted upright again and stood triumphantly in the midst of the slab, turning about to dare the boldest of those still standing to make the first approach.

    “There you are, Lyn – I told you they weren’t up to much. Send the poor devils back to Morc and get yourself some new followers who can actually make a fight of it!” He was elated and grinned down at her, exhilarated by the action – and she smiled back at him, shaking her head in admiration.

    “Your physical abilities really are impressive, you know. And with such restricted movement, too! And without your shiny sword! I was right about you all along; you really are too good to be true. Anyway, if you are quite finished playing with my loyal little Mooks, shall we get on with what needs to be done?”

    “So you’ll free my hands?”

    She stared up at him and her lip curled oddly. “Where do they get it from, this fatuous, incurable optimism? Is it part of the training they undergo to qualify as a hero?” she asked rhetorically, shaking her head. “Oh well –” She shrugged and pointed her staff at him.

    Down went He-Man, flung onto his back, his body convulsing and his face contorted in pain while pale purple light flared, hissed and crackled all about him. As soon as the blast faded the Mooks were upon him, seizing hold and pressing him down to the table-top. Even then in his weakened state he fought them as best he could, heaving them off and straining to lever himself upright again. But the sending of sorcerous power had sapped his strength too much, and they were too many. They stretched him out at full length and held him down with their sheer collective weight while his wrist and ankle manacles had the chains between them disconnected and removed, the manacles themselves being at once firmly shackled to strong cables. Then, having secured him, they stood off, looking silently down with expressionless faces until their mistress ordered them from the chamber.

    Slowly, with a lick of her dark-hued lips, Evil-Lyn circled her prisoner as he grunted and tugged, arching his body high from the surface of the machine as he fought to escape. Watching with a glow in her eyes she let him strain his fill, his struggles achieving no more than to prove himself helpless; finally he collapsed back with a groan to lie spread on the slab, his chest and stomach rising and falling with effort and emotion combined. Sweat was already beading and trickling off his skin, gleaming under the strong lights. At length his eyes opened again and watched her as she slowly circled, his head twisting as best it could to follow her unhurried progress.

    “And now, He-Man, it is time for me to introduce you to pain.”

    “Don’t bother – we’ve met. Recently!”

    His eyes glared resentfully up at her as she bent towards him.

    “Ah – but you see, there are many kinds of pain – and some are far harder to resist than others, in part because they do not take a familiar form. I see you frowning at me. Well, your puzzlement will soon end. The Machine will see to that.”

    She paced some more, circling like a beast of prey about its hunting as she expounded her intentions.

    “Your will – and your body – are undoubtedly both very strong – but the Machine is unlike anything that went before it. This is the most sophisticated interrogation device ever built, I am proud to say. Long was the labor over its planning, its creation. Modulok had the designing and making of the prototype – but I was able to – acquire – it from him, and have personally arranged for it to have certain extra capabilities and refinements which would never have entered Modulok’s dull and unimaginative little minds. And all this for you, He-Man! You should be flattered. Think what a significant contribution to the greater knowledge you will be making!”

    He-Man guarded his watchful silence as she circled.

    “Now, I know that you can resist pain well – but this will be different. Oh – there will indeed be pain – plenty, in fact – more than enough to satisfy even a determined hero like you. But there will be more than merely that; there will be the thrill of discovery! Yes, my courageous young hero – you are going to be taught things about yourself that you never even knew. And, of course, we have as long as it takes. No haste at all. After all you aren’t going anywhere, are you? Nor will any rescue come to aid you. And please do be assured that I don’t have any urgent appointments that may call me away while you make good your escape. No – I shall be here for you when you agree to tell me that which I need to know.”

    “Then you’ll wait a long, long time.”

    “Perhaps – and then again, perhaps not –” She smirked and walked around him, surveying, like a commander assessing a battleground prior to a fight. “The Machine is the ultimate instrument of truth – for those who lie in its steel embrace cannot long avoid speaking. It leaves no room for evasion, equivocation or mental reservation of any kind but demands the full and exact truth – and will accept nothing less. No secret can escape its demands. The rest is only a matter of time.”

    “Then I hope your patience will hold out; you’ll need it.”

    “My patience will outlast your capacity to resist – that much is certain.”

    “And what makes you think it will?”

    “And what makes you think it won’t?”

    She leaned and ran her spread fingers unhurriedly down him from wrist to ankle – and, rounding the slab, again up the other side. Her touch made his body shiver, though he tried hard not to let it show. Uncomfortable under her intent gaze and hand He-Man began to realize his true vulnerability; he was effectively helpless – and she could do to him whatever she liked. She saw this thought taking root in him and nodded, as if pleased with an apt pupil.

    “But, as I told you, there will be more than merely pain.”

    “Do you really think that I’ll give in to you?”

    “In the end you will, yes. I’m quite, quite certain of it.”

    “So you actually expect me to talk!”

    “Eventually – but first I expect you to scream.”

    He did not reply to that; he did not need to – for the look on his face was answer enough for her.

    “Now, at this very point rescue should arrive for you, should it not? In the very nick of time. For that is How It Is Meant To Be, so I understand, among those who subscribe to your inherently virtuous view of the world.” She cocked her head as if listening, then shook it. “But it looks as if they are late – or, worse, not coming at all, does it not? Should we give them a little longer?” Her eyes glinted with taunting irony as he shot her a furious glare of bright blue anger.

    “Oh, they’ll come. Count on it.”

    “You are the one who must do so – not I.”

    “They’ll come, I tell you!”

    “But plainly not yet. Not in time. So it looks like you’ll be screaming after all.”

    He turned his face away from her, having no words.

    “Well; then I think we’ll begin. Now, I’m not going to insult you with threats about what will happen to you if you oppose my will, since it’s patently obvious that opposing my will is what you are all about. No, I’m going to do this anyway – one step at a time – until the inevitable comes about.” She paused, considering. “And it probably will give me a certain degree of pleasure, I do have to admit.” He saw her take up a control unit; lights flashed in the panel opposite as she applied a finger to a button – and He-Man braced himself.

    And yet he was taken by surprise; he had vaguely expected an electric shock, perhaps some fiery bolt of arcane power. Instead he experienced a slight pressure on both wrists and ankles simultaneously, just where the manacles held him – and it increased steadily until he felt his arms and legs begin to pull – his limbs were being drawn in opposite directions! He strained back his head to look – but very soon abandoned that idea. Already he could feel the tension increasing, the growing strain in his midsection where the sense of stretching was strongest. He-Man winced, assessing its impact on his body – and wondering how much further she would allow the Machine to go.

    With a single movement Evil-Lyn applied pressure to the button – and the cables relaxed their hold on him so that his body un-tensed; his eyes opened very wide and he exhaled slowly, cautiously, forcing calm on himself as he tried to steady the sudden surge in his heart-rate.

    “That will do – for now,” she said. “A test – no more than that. I’m sure that you already understand the principle involved.” She continued, addressing his silence. “An ancient method of questioning, so I’m led to believe, but still one of the most effective. It is so very versatile, as you will discover. Besides, I do find it – pleasing. The extreme vulnerability of the victim is so very appealing.” Her hand reached out and scarped with palm and fingers down over his chest, glissaded the well-defined creases segmenting the muscles of his core – and He-Man felt himself starting to sweat in earnest. “But don’t let me hold you in – suspense; I really should explain how it works. The cables – Horde Steel again, please note – nothing but the best for you – are looped around a roller just below each end of the platform you are occupying. They then turn back under said platform until they meet again in the center – looped in opposite directions around a drum of small diameter – but geared to great power. The operation of this button –” her finger hovered suggestively on the control – “causes the drum to revolve; slowly, but with an irresistible force in its winching ratchet, thereby drawing the subject in two directions at once, stretching him until he – changes his stubborn mind. So very, very simple – and yet so very, very effective –”

    He-Man listened, watching her, torn between fascination and horror at her monstrous, near-obscene pride in her vile contraption of shining steel. He could well believe that the Horde’s twisted creature Modulok had had a hand in its creation.

    “Time for another demonstration; you do provide such an ideal subject for these important early tests, I have to say.” She indulged herself in a long perusal of his vulnerability – and then applied the control. Again the almost smooth sense of slack being taken up in the cables, the firm pull at wrists and ankles, the gradual increase in tension that began at the extremities and which swiftly met in the middle, in the already taut-stretched musculature of his waist. His eyes widened; a little indrawn hiss passed through his teeth. “You can probably feel the effect right now –” said Evil-Lyn conversationally, “even if, unfortunately, you cannot see it for yourself.”

    And she was right; he could feel it – and how its power grew. He could resist it – but only by exerting his full strength, and even then not wholly – it still drew him slowly apart, and the pain grew with every last small measure of extension. This time she halted the drum, but did not let it release the tension; instead she held it awhile, watching him as he struggled to contain the pull, a thin smile on her lips.

    “Enough.” She let his body relax again; his huge chest heaved as he drew back all the air which the brief intensity of the fight had expelled. “I’ve read that it was, of old, known as the Rack. Not that it really matters. It is rather what it can do now that concerns us here. And, He-Man –” and here she leaned close as she spoke – “you now begin to have some small idea of its capabilities. It will give you something to dwell on while I permit you a brief rest. After all, we wouldn’t want to spoil the fun by being impatient, would we?” She smiled archly and patted his cheek and passed out of his line of sight.

    He drew in his breath and let his eyes close, concentrating hard. The trouble was that the witch was right; he now did have some idea – and he found it deeply unsettling. He knew that his own strength was very great, and his powers had frequently surprised him, as the Sorceress had at first suggested; they waxed and waned according to his own sense of belief and urgency. There was proximity to Grayskull, too – that had always played a part in his greatest feats of supernatural strength. But the castle, the Sorceress both felt very far away now; he could not sense their presence at all – only that of his enemies and the threatening aura of their power. And there was no longer any doubt that the Etheramite element in the Horde Steel of his bonds was somehow sapping his strength. Then this Machine – this misbegotten offspring of a pair of sick minds, would prove – testing.

    “Not getting bored yet, I hope? We may have to – stretch things out awhile yet, I fear.”

    “Your humor isn’t any better than your hospitality!”

    “Oh – I’m hurt. But at least I can return the favor right away.” Smiling she took up the control and pressed. Again lights flashed – and again the Machine went about stretching the Hero of Eternia, extending his limbs, his torso, his whole being; slowly, inexorably applying the agony with each added micro-measure of tension. Hands clutching at the cables, clenching his jaw tight he fought back, the mighty muscles resisting, quivering with the sheer unremitting effort of holding on. The pain grew, filling his universe to the exclusion of all else – except his iron will not to submit to it. Like a note played on every string at once it jarred and thrilled through his entire body; no part of him was untouched by this sensation of being torn in two by the steel hands of some monstrous giant. Under his tight-shut eyelids all was redness, shot-though with jagged white lines of purest pain.

    And then it ended – and he felt his muscles contract and twitch with the sudden retraction. He opened wide his eyes and struggled to steady his breathing, all-too aware of its raggedness, and of how it must sound to his tormentor. For that reason alone he spoke, his voice irate.

    “And so this is your famous up-to-the-moment interrogation ‘Machine’ is it?” he spat with scorn. Though in truth this thing worried him – he could sense its baleful strength. But he must not let that show. “And it was meant to be so special, so you thought!”

    “And it is. Very. You speak without knowing.”

    “So it can stretch me. So what?”

    “Oh, much more than that, I do assure you. That is merely one of its attributes. One of many – as you will discover.”

    “Am I meant to be scared?”

    “Being scared would show far more sense than I would expect from a hero such as you. But you will learn to fear the Machine in time.”

    “Not as scared as you’ll be when they come for me and see what you’ve been doing!”

    “Still hoping for rescue? Put it from your mind; it won’t help you. They will not come. And long before that you will have told me that which I need to know.”

    “Oh no I won’t! You can put that from your mind!”

    “Bravado and defiance – good. You play the hero very well – as well as looking the part, of course. I like that – it makes me feel as if I am doing the right thing – to the right person.” She nodded. “We shall be moving on to anger-and-threats next, I imagine? Before we reach the whimpers, the moans and groans – the screams – obviously – and finally the tears. And did I mention the screams? I did? Good, good. Oh – just one thing, though: when you give me your scorn and defiance in the usual manner, could you please refrain from spitting in my face? Yes, I know it’s traditional, but I really don’t like it and it is so very – unhygienic. And it really wouldn’t be in your interests, either, as it will only result in your being gagged – tightly – which not only makes it far harder to breathe, but also runs the risk of my forgetting to take it off, so that even when you are ready to tell, you would be prevented from doing so – and so your interrogation would continue longer than it need do. And you wouldn’t want that, now, would you?”

    “Very confident, aren’t you?” scoffed He-Man. “But you won’t win.”

    “Oh, I’m certain that I shall. And what would you be prepared to wager against that, my fine young hero? Your word? Your pain? Your life? Oh! But you already are, aren’t you? Silly me. The process will take a little time, of course – but that suits me well enough. You, I think, probably rather less so – Not that I want you to break down just yet, of course; that would quite spoil my treat, which would be a pity, after waiting so very long. No, I’m sure that I can rely on you to hold out for a good, long time and ensure that I am given plenty of scope for my – amusement. After all, it isn’t as if I get a prime specimen like you at my mercy every –”

    Mercy !

    Don’t interrupt me when I’m giving you the benefit of my mind. It’s rude. Now, where was I?”

    “Talking drivel. More drivel.”

    Evil-Lyn made a tut-tutting noise. “Oh yes, I remember now. Looking at you laid out there reminds me of what I was saying – and of what I’m going to do to you. If you keep on interrupting me then we will move right on to the part which hurts – and you won’t get to hear my thoughts. Which would be a shame, as it’s possible that you might learn something. But, remembering your strange predilection for doing things the hard way, then I fear that I may be wasting my breath. Now what was that? Did you speak? No, I rather thought not –” She leaned close and her finger stroked his clenched jaw-line. “And I know just what you are thinking right now, He-Man; you are thinking; ‘if only I had my sword –’ I’m right, am I not? That’s just what you are thinking. But I fear that I cannot supply your lack – at least not in that respect. But, then, finding out about the Sword is just one of the things we shall be doing together – once you become more – amenable, that is.”

    “I told you; you’ll wait a long time.”

    “But we have a long time – as much as it takes.” She reached for the control and the ratchets again began to tighten – and He-Man’s body to be extended.

    “I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction!” he gritted through his teeth.

    “Oh, but my dear He-Man – I assure you that you already are! A great deal of satisfaction – and it will only get better and better.” Her forefinger delicately traced the outline of his lateral ribs where they showed defined starkly by the extension singing through him. She pressed at the button again and the Rack ceased to pull. With a long exhalation he re-opened his eyes and glared at her; his voice came unsteadily.

    “Has no-one – ever told you – that – torture never works?”

    “But torture is such an ugly word, don’t you think? Besides – it does work; I can really see it working; right here – right now.” Again her shapely finger depressed the button to set the stretching motion about its agony-inflicting work.

    He-Man tensed, fighting back with all his strength, grinding his teeth together with the effort entailed in resisting the sheer power of this horrible contraption which had him trapped in its hands of steel – and was steadily tearing him apart. The muscles of his abdomen, tensed to the extreme, shrieked in protest; his extended limbs strained and stretched; his joints felt as if they could take no more of the load and still it went on, further and further until his resistance was concentrated in simply not yelling his anguish out aloud. The low continuous growl he could hear was his own voice, suppressed, vibrating through his clenched jaw and into his ears, and it was in danger of bursting out and becoming a full-throated cry. He must not succumb to that; crying out would be the first step to submission – and that he utterly refused to contemplate. And yet still the drum was turning, still the cables tightening – tighter and tighter and – And then it ended. With an anguish near as great the tension ebbed, his quivering and elongated body began to resume its normal proportions – and he fought hard for breath, each panting intake causing further hurt to chest and stomach. As his labored breathing steadied, he could feel all his muscles go into involuntary spasm as they contracted after their stretching – and there was a spreading numbness in his hands and feet. Watching her face through misty-edged eyes above the heaving of his chest, He-Man had the first real intimation of doubt; doubt that he could hold out indefinitely against her assault on him.

    “How strong you are – and how brave! Most men – even the hardiest – would be screaming by now; but from you, barely a sound! I’m – impressed. Of course, you are far, far stronger – and possess power beyond theirs. Still; the Machine has been most carefully calibrated to take cognizance of those factors, and so –” She pondered, looking him over with a thoughtful expression while he tried to recover his breath, grateful that she did not realize just how close he really had come to crying out aloud. “So – yes; I’m impressed. Most men would surely have screamed and begged; but, then again, you are not most men –” She favored him with an appreciative smile while he peered up at her, his brow beading with sweat droplets which ran down steadily into his hair. His fingers moved, seeking to recover some feeling from the constriction of his hands. But he did not speak, and Lyn shook her head. She brought water in a beaker and held it before him, her brows framing a question needing no answer. His eyes beseeched her, craving drink – but she knew that he was not yet far-gone enough to beg, and so, moistening her fingers she held them to his lips. He hesitated a heartbeat – and then took the drops from them – and then again, his eyes fixed on her the while. She allowed him some more, surprised at her own reaction to the feel of his lips, his tongue soft on her finger ends.

    “Only a little at a time,” she chided him archly, “too much all at once is bad for you.” His forehead furrowed at this implicit irony – but he again took water from her – and something in his stern gaze seemed to soften slightly. She set aside the empty vessel and leaned over him again, wiping the perspiration from his face with a soft cloth.

    “There now. That’s my brave boy.” She looked at him as he lay there with half-shut eyes, and clicked her tongue. “It’s only a pity that your undoubted heroism isn’t matched by a greater degree of good sense. You see, the Machine feels nothing – nothing at all. It can carry on doing this to you until you are damaged quite beyond all hope of recovery; yes – even you, mighty hero. And that would be a shame – in a great many ways. And it really isn’t what I want for you – not at all. So be a good boy rather than just a brave one and unburden yourself of those petty and inconvenient details which stand between us – and you will find me a far kinder mistress than the one who so hates having to hurt you.”

    The cloth moved slowly over his chest, his stomach as she spoke, wiping away the welling sweat which ran in rivulets down his flanks and puddled the surface of the machine. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift a long moment, to escape the echoing pain, the frustrated rage of helplessness, the subtly-crafted nuances of her persuasion. There were green lawns and shady trees in the Palace gardens; cool fountains splashed in the air and sent rainbows cascading over the white, water-wet sheened stone. And Teela was laughing at him, speaking to him, though at first he could hear nothing.

    “Teela –”

    Yes – that’s right – Teela. Come to me – let me help you.

    “Help me –”

    Yes – yes – He could now not only hear her but also feel her touch upon him, soothing, gentle, taking away the pain, causing him to raise his head to meet her lips. And then she was gone, and the dreamscape fled – and returned him to the reality of the bright lights shining above him as he lay spread out, stretched on Lyn’s ghastly torture rack. The contrast was so stark and sudden that he could not suppress a groan.

    “Ah – back with us once more,” observed the witch brightly. She leaned over him with an expression of concern that very nearly looked uncontrived. “Oh, but you do look ever so weary and folorn. I think that we may be reaching the end of your first lesson; after all, there is always tomorrow – and the day after that – and so on. As long as we need, really. Day after day – after day. So we mustn’t be impatient, now, must we?”

    He-Man, still feeling that terrible sense of loss, said nothing, but looked up at her with eyes that had already begun to show the first signs of a strain she recognized so well.

    “And there is a certain irony in this, is there not? The most powerful man in the universe – that’s what they call you. And yet you really are no match for the Machine, are you? Quite, quite powerless, in fact. And we have barely even begun.”

    Still he did not respond – unless it was by the sudden goaded spark of resentful anger in his eyes. And she knew just how to play with that.

    “We don’t have to follow this path, you know. There are alternatives,” she insinuated.

    “Go to the Outer Dark!”

    “Oh, you’ll be there before me – and far sooner than you think. The Machine has much more in store for you, should you remain stubborn. Much, much more. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I mean, you don’t seem to appreciate how much it hurts me to do this to you.”

    He-Man’s response was a hollow laugh.

    “You don’t believe me? I’m wounded – I really am. And to think how much more I could have let the Machine do to you. And instead I’ve been sparing you –”

    “Then I hope you’ll pardon my skepticism, Lyn, but I don’t feel very spared!”

    “That, foolish boy, is because you have no idea what yet lies ahead of you.” Her fingers reached and toyed with his hair, smoothing back the sweat-darkened fringe from his brow while he scowled up at her. “And I really have been so, so gentle with you until now, though you do not believe it.”

    Gentle!” His tone belied the idea in its sheer scorn.

    “Well; I can see that you are still bent on defying me, and so – regrettably – the time has come to adopt sterner measures; to show you what will befall you if you do not see reason. So be it, then!” She released his hair and vanished from his field of view.

    He tried to raise his head to see what the witch was up to; not that it would help much, but he couldn’t think what else to do; lying there and waiting for the unknown was somehow worst of all. What he did know was that this was bad – and probably about to get a great deal worse as well. Here he was, the Champion of Eternia, helpless in the adamantine grip of the Horde Steel and stretched out on Lyn’s ghastly interrogation ‘Machine.’ And he knew that he was weakening; he couldn’t shift the shackles they had secured him with, not even when he was fresh. Now, after – how long? – time’s passing meant very little here – he hadn’t a chance of freeing himself. Which meant that all he could do was endure. He smiled grimly to himself; that might prove easier said than done. The Machine was stronger than he was – and so, in time, it would –

    “Here I am again,” interrupted Evil-Lyn brightly. “I didn’t want you to feel lonely, so I hurried back. And just look what I have for you!”

    He-Man lifted his head with difficulty, stared with horrid fascination, and let it fall back with a sigh. No; this did not look good at all; she was holding up a gleaming bunch of long steel pins.

    “My own special invention – tried and tested. I’m really rather proud of them. I call them vibro-needles – and they do exactly that. I can absolutely promise you that you won’t enjoy them. Not a bit. Especially when I couple their use with the Machine’s neuro-enhancement function. Unless, of course, you might yet choose to reconsider –? But no; of course not; ever the hard way for the hero. Oh well – it’s your choice, after all. So consider this a warning of worse to come.” She leaned forward and placed a hand on his broad chest, the other daintily holding the glinting metal with its heavy blunt head and sharp-looking point. She smiled down at his tight-lipped expression. “You may at first experience some slight discomfort. After that, when they actually start to vibrate, and as the frequency shifts, I’m afraid that the pain becomes really quite unbearable – or so I’ve been told; told rather forcibly, in fact. I shall be interested to hear your reaction. And I have plenty enough of them – even for you. So; shall we begin –?” So saying, with her eyes locked into his, her right hand descended slowly towards his chest.

    ******

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    Last edited by Scriptor; July 3, 2013 at 04:53am.

  10. #10
    Heroic Warrior
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    Gosh - over 10,000 views.....

    Thanks to one and all; I'm rather surprised - and flattered.

    I hope that some of you, at least, are enjoying it.

  11. #11
    Heroic Warrior MLHumble's Avatar
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    Yeah man, good gravy! 10,000! Mine story flatlined at 2,000 or so! Well deserved! Well deserved! Chomping through chapter 3 now...
    Please see my arts gallery here: www.pcpfh.wordpress.com Have fun browsing!

  12. #12
    Heroic Warrior
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    Quote Originally Posted by MLHumble View Post
    Yeah man, good gravy! 10,000! Mine story flatlined at 2,000 or so! Well deserved! Well deserved! Chomping through chapter 3 now...
    That's extremely decent of you - and I much appreciate it!
    But, you know, your exposition of the underlying causes of what is all-too-often simply termed 'evil' was masterly - it really was - and truly deserves to be very widely read. 'Evil' divorced from its root causes and its doctrinal substance is meaningless; your six pieces all contributed to an overall picture which convinced and compelled; they went into the root causes of the motivation of the individual characters concerned and explored these overlooked but vital aspects. Best of all, you showed how evil is ultimately self-defeating because it is based on fear, mistrust and hatred - especially of one's own side - and thus mars by its evil will its will towards evil.
    I found them some of the most successful explorations of this neglected theme anywhere - not just in the MotU setting.

    And do I hope that you are finding Chapter Three worth the chomping! It IS rather dark in tone and content - but not without purpose - as I'm sure that a man of your proven ability is swift to see.

  13. #13
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    Chapter3, Part 2

     photo He-ManandEvil-Lynsslaves_zps2ebf3ff9.jpg

    3.2


    King Randor’s voice held its usual authority as he spoke; few would have been able to detect his inner discomfiture. “I know that you will all join with me in acknowledging this kingdom’s great debt to He-Man; we shall do all that can be done, sparing nothing in our determination to win him back from the hands of our enemies. I thus command a general muster of our forces. Send out to all – our allies included – and summon the Heroic Warriors to our aid.”

    “That last is already done, sire – most are here already, the rest on their way.”

    “The queen and I are most grateful to all for their assistance – and for that of our allies, so freely offered.”

    “And as to Prince Adam?” Man-at-Arms’ voice was carefully neutral; perhaps even overly-so.

    The king paused and frowned.

    “We shall, perhaps, find him in seeking for He-Man – but since the prince has elected to – vanish – at this time, then we cannot make him our first priority; that must be the recovery of He-Man if at all possible.”

    Man-at-Arms bowed briskly, and left the chamber at a swift stride, with Teela running along behind him.

    “He’s letting Adam go – like he doesn’t care!”

    “He cares.”

    “But – his own son!”

    Man-at-Arms rounded on his daughter and gave her a hard look.

    “That is because he is the king – and because duty and the greater good of the realm come first – always. It is how kings must act – even when faced with the loss of their only son. And how do you imagine the queen feels? Try to remember that when next you give young Adam a hard time, won’t you? Assuming, that is, you ever get the chance!”

    He strode off leaving her staring as if she had just received a slap to the face.

    ******

    3.3

    Skeletor’s fleet was already fast approaching Etheria. The one-time acolyte was now going up against his former master with war, to wrest from him the mastery of the Dark.

    Opening a portal was demanding of much power – and thus draining, even over the Pole – and even to one of his knowledge and skill. But it was vital for traversing such distances at speed. It also gave the advantage of surprise, though there was always a risk of it being detected by the vigilant, and it left lingering signs of any passage made through it. That, however, was a price worth paying in this case. He must hit Hordak – and hard – before the Horde did the same to him. He was confident, though, that the element of surprise would, this time, redound to his advantage. Retaliation, to Skeletor’s manner of thinking, was invariably most successful if pre-emptive.

    He could not expect to destroy Hordak; that would, unfortunately, be too much to hope for. But he intended to do him as much damage as possible before breaking off the attack and heading back to thread the homebound portal. There would, inevitably, be a reprisal at some stage – a counter-raid on Snake Mountain; but he would by then be ready – and able to drive his old master’s forces away. And the more damage he could do with this attack, the longer it would be before the reprisals.

    Already the screens showed the colored orb which was Etheria growing closer; soon now – soon.

    ******

    3.4

    He had little memory of what had happened after he had passed out of consciousness for perhaps the third time; plainly Lyn had elected not to bring him around again and continue sticking him full of her demonic needles. He shuddered at the recollection of the piercing nature of the pain which had seemed to throb all through him with an ever-varying pulsating pitch.

    His tired mind held a vague image of being carried on shoulders along a passageway, the dim lights leaning to his face as he swam briefly into sentience – but soon the darkness had come for him again and he was lost. And now, awaking, he found himself here; still helpless – but not back in that cell with its vile hook – and at least not bound fast to the Machine. He stood splayed wide but quite loosely with his arms hanging from chains and his ankles made fast to cleats set in the smoothly paved flooring of a different chamber. And alone.

    So what did she intend for him now? His head fell as he sighed and did his best to steel himself. She would torture him again – she had already told him that she would. He had survived only the first of what might prove to be many sessions; they would go on until he broke and told her – or until he escaped into death. But he wasn’t going to tell her; that was for sure. And he didn’t want to die – he was certain of that, too. As champion of Grayskull he had faced death in battle many times; he could remember with a queasy clarity his first encounter with Skeletor and how his enemy had very nearly proved his nemesis; nor had that been the only time. But always he had survived; the Power of the Elders within him was strong, and the Sword was not only both blade and shield, but could also heal his hurts – at least the most serious ones on which he used it. But here in this place he had no sword, Grayskull was far away – and this was a very different kind of battle, one of which he had no experience and in which all he could do was react to what she did to him – and hold out.

    And his will was the only weapon with which he could defend himself. Even without the Sword he remained preternaturally strong – but he could tell that he was weakening; slowly, almost imperceptibly – but definitely weakening. The Horde Steel was chiefly to blame for that steady milking of his strength, but being so far from the source of his power, being without the Sword and coping with the wearing effects of pain were all taking their toll. And yet he must abide the ordeal; he simply must. Too much depended on his maintaining his silence in the face of whatever was done to him; far too much. And then there was the straightforward matter of pride; he wasn’t going to let the witch get the better of him – even if it did cost him his life. He had always known that the role of hero demanded sacrifices and that, with enemies as evil as Skeletor threatening the peace, the sacrifice demanded could well prove to be the supreme one. But this really wasn’t the kind of death he had envisaged for himself; what glory was there in being slowly, systematically, reduced to a hunk of mangled, mewling flesh?

    And so it would end here; for He-Man and Adam alike – and his parents would never know the truth – or what had befallen him; nor would Teela, nor any of those whom he loved – and who loved him. His head fell low to his chest at the thought of all that he must part from, of all the years ahead which he would never know. It was his duty, and he was sworn to it; but it was hard, all the same. Wise men said that life was nothing much to lose – but they were old, and he was still young enough to rebel in his heart at the thought of death, not least one so cruel and lingering –

    But no! He must not permit himself think like that; he must school his thoughts to be strong – and to dwell only on other matters which would take his mind far from this place and give it the freedom his body was denied. Even if he could not effect his own escape, Duncan and the Sorceress would be unresting in their efforts to organize his rescue – that was certain. They would come; they would find him in the end; all he had to do was to hold on until they arrived and freed him – and then he could settle the score with Lyn, teach her the error of her ways by putting her away for a good long time. He smiled at the thought. She would be made to regret doing this to him. Yes; they would surely come for him, though it was – strange – that his mind could register nothing at all from the power of the Sorceress, no message or even feeling of any kind. And that was – troubling – And then the door was made open and figures entered the chamber.

    There were six of them and they weren’t the Evil-Lyn-worshipping Mooks. No; these were of humanoid form, though their skins were pale blue, with a near-translucent pallor. They were tall and very slender – almost etiolated, and braided hair of the deepest black hung down their backs. They were all of them plainly female; the garments they wore made that abundantly clear. They paused, looking at him with mild, yellowish eyes; He-Man had never seen their like before – plainly the witch’s sorcery had been hard at work collecting up her servants – and these were certainly servants, or even slaves, since each of them wore a ringed leather collar about her long and slender neck. And then, wordlessly, four of them left the chamber again while the two remaining continued to stare at him until he began to feel uncomfortable under their silent scrutiny.

    Soft footsteps drew near to the door, and then two of them re-entered, bearing between them a low table which they set upon the floor; at once the other two brought in an iron brazier of glowing coals which they placed to one side. One of them agitated its contents with a steel rod, causing the coals to burn brighter and more fiercely. He-Man, watching, began to tense. And then a third item was carried in; a large cauldron that steamed and bubbled – and that too was set down, ready. Finally a long chest was borne along and placed alongside the other items, its lid raised – though in such a way that the prisoner could not see the contents. What he could see, however, was already raising his pulse and encouraging him to give the chains which held him an experimental tug. He told himself grimly that this was only what the witch had promised him and that he ought not to be surprised – but somehow he hadn’t expected her to be delegating his interrogation to others – especially these gentle-looking creatures with their deer-like eyes.

    “Look,” he said, scanning their watching faces.”I’ve no quarrel with you people – nothing against you at all. I’m guessing that you aren’t any more free around this place than I am – that Lyn has enslaved you all.” They continued to regard him with bland expressions. “I mean, who are you all – where do you come from?” There was no response, though they looked questioningly at one another. “Well, I’m He-Man – perhaps you’ve heard of me? No? Then I wonder where you do come from. But listen, if you’ll free me, then I’ll do the same for you – I give you my word on it.” He flashed his most winning smile at them. “So what do you say, girls?”

    They did not say anything. Instead they looked at him, looked at each another – then two came forward and laid hands on him – and began to remove his underloincloth.

    “Whoa! What’re you doing? – Stop it! Don’t!”

    They ignored him, silently, briskly stripping him to the skin and then made their way back to the waiting table and its companion chest, cauldron and brazier. He-Man grimaced; so this was what came next, was it? Well; it would have to be endured – no matter how unpleasant. And this looked very far from good. He watched them preparing and his heartrate rose with what he saw. They were laying out phials of colored glass, strange-looking edged instruments and folded cloths on the table now; the cauldron continued to bubble, the brazier to glow wickedly, shimmering the air above it. He swallowed down his rising apprehension and braced himself, deliberately averting his gaze upwards as they turned and came at him again– and then drew in a sharp breath at the sudden heat in contact with his skin. Liquid – hot liquid. But it didn’t scald or burn – at least not yet; so what was it, what evil concoction of the witch’s crafting were they applying to him? He gritted his teeth, expecting the onset of agony and stole a glance downwards. And then his eyebrows arched and his set lips parted in sheer surprise – it was water – hot water and soap; they were washing him down with it; they were bathing him!

    “What the –?”

    They ignored him and went calmly about their work, the soft hands, the warm, wet cloths moving methodically over every part of him – and he felt himself begin to blush at the unwonted intimacy of it, for they soaped literally every part of him. And that wasn’t the worst of it; he didn’t need to look to feel what was happening in reaction to that soft and sensuous motion. And there was nothing he could do, nothing at all; sheer embarrassment robbed him of words and his face was crimson as he stood fixed stiffly in place and endured. His throat was dry and his breath short; he bit his lip hard to avoid making a sound. But they went on, ignoring his obvious discomfiture and continued smoothing over him with cloths and hands alike; nor did they say a word. If the process gave them any pleasure then it certainly didn’t show. At last they brought warm water from the cauldron and one of them stood atop the table to reach and poured it over him from ewers; once he was sluiced-down she even washed his hair. She did it gently and, in spite of his continuing acute embarrassment, he had to admit to himself that it felt good to be properly clean of the sweat and dust and grime of his journey and imprisonment. In fact, as she sluiced him down again, it felt really very good indeed.

    The thing was, he told himself, they were so calm, so silent and so gentle that it wasn’t quite as bad as he’d feared. It somehow wasn’t – well – personal. They treated him like an object rather than a man. If they had mocked him, been amused by his helpless reactions, made sport of him – then that would have been different; that would have been degrading. But as it was – He broke off from his musings as he saw them turn to him again; they were pouring the viscous contents of the small flasks into their hands – and then they approached and began to apply it to his body – some kind of heavy-feeling oil. Again they smoothed over well-nigh every part of him, rubbing the oil well in – and again his body reacted predictably, and his face burned a fierce red.

    The memory of what she had done to him with her ‘Machine’ was still a strong echo in his body; his limbs felt as if they were bruised from the inside out; his muscles were all hideously sore, especially in his waist and back; his hips and shoulders and his all joints felt fiery with ache. Now, as the oil was massaged deep into him, he found himself gaining ease from their work. Yes, it was highly embarrassing to be handled in this way while splayed out helpless and mother-naked, but the effect on his abused body, now long-unused to anything but hardship and pain, was very soothing, almost healing, and he found himself relaxing into it at last, his eyelids drooping. When they ceased he found himself almost a little disappointed. But they weren’t quite through with him yet, it seemed.

    They came again with those strange curved blades in their delicate-looking hands – and again he tensed; so – this had been the point of it all, had it? Now the pain began! But he found himself wrong-footed once again; they used the blades to scrape, softly and skillfully over his skin, drawing out the oil and ingrained grime with it. And, though unfamiliar, it was easy to get used to. He felt really quite relaxed under their ministrations. But what in the world was Lyn playing at? She had threatened him with dire things, half-dislocated his limbs on her stretching contraption, stuck his chest and stomach muscles full of her revolting vibro-needles – his body tensed and shuddered at the mere memory of them – and now; this. It made no sense whatsoever. She seemed set on breaking him – and was here allowing her slaves to undo her work. Why? Her humor was pretty strange – he had known that for some time – all Eternia knew that – but this seemed to go well beyond a jest; and there had been precious little to laugh about while stretched on the Machine.

    They completed their gentle scraping and came again with more oil; this one was thinner – and with a heady perfume. He-Man shook his head slightly, bewildered. What was going on? Did Lyn somehow expect him to unlock Grayskull for her out of sheer embarrassment? Speaking of which – it was happening again. He drew a deep breath. It was –

    “That’s enough – stop now!”

    – really getting to him; his face was coloring-up again; he had never –

    “No! Hold up – STOP!”

    “It looks like you are getting to know each another,” said an amused voice from the doorway. Evil-Lyn was leaning nonchalantly on the jamb and watching. He-Man swallowed a great lump in his throat and stared, his features now reddening fit to ignite as he squirmed with overheated embarrassment.

    “And you really seem to be – hmm – rising to the occasion, too.”

    He gave a great fuming tug at his chains, sheer fury and the utmost humiliation mingling so that he couldn’t wait to break free and wrap them around her neck and wipe that knowing smile from her face.

    “Temper, temper. Besides, you know that you can’t get free, you silly boy –” her eyelashes fluttered significantly “– man.”

    “Oh – but if I only had my – !”

    “Sword?” she finished for him. “Yes well, quite. But you haven’t have you? So, for the moment, you’ll have to make do with – what you have.” Again her eyes slid downwards and he ground his teeth with hot anger – and even hotter shame. “But enough, I think, for now. If you get all angry and tense like that – and I really don’t know why you are blaming me for it – then you’ll only undo the careful work of my handmaidens here which was intended purely for your good. And that would be most ungrateful of you. So, aren’t you going to thank them? No? Oh well, they don’t understand a word you say in any case, so it’s no great matter. Skilful, though, are they not? I find them a great comfort, personally. You have simply no idea what stresses I have had to endure every day in coping with Skeletor’s vile moods – mostly in reaction to your doings, He-Man. He really doesn’t like you, you know, and he would be simply furious if he knew that I had you held safely here. But not as furious as he will be when we are done and he finds out what we have achieved, between us.”

    She smirked, but he was still mortified and avoided her eye.

    “No quips any more? Has our hero run out of witticisms at last?”

    He hid behind his fringe and said nothing, his humiliation complete.

    “Well now,” she continued, “it does seem a shame to have got you all nice and clean again and then to send you back to that grubby cell. On the other hand you look so sulky and ungrateful that I really don’t feel inclined to be nice to you any more, so the Hook it is, I’m afraid. Did you say something? No? Are you sure? My mistake, then.” She smiled to herself at the way he reacted. He could hide nothing from her, even when he deliberately hung his head like that. The body always gives so much away – the eyes even more. And to one of her skill many hidden things lie open. With a last lingering look at him she left the chamber in excellent high spirits.

    The blue-skinned girls began to tidy all away in their usual calm and unhurried silence and paid no more attention to the silent figure stood splayed out naked before them. Soon, he reflected bitterly, her nasty little green lizards would come and take him back to hang from that blasted hook, his toes barely able to touch the floor, straining endlessly with the bruised arches of each foot to relieve the drag on his already overstretched arms and shoulders. And who knew what joys the morrow would bring? He was already dreading another visit to that chamber of bright lights and cruel steel. They were leaving now, carrying out the cauldron and other items. Only one of them returned; she stood half way to the door and looked at him with expressive yellow eyes which reminded him of poor Cringer far away. He would have liked to speak with her – but there was no point; she wouldn’t understand him and, besides, she was almost certainly enslaved by the witch’s spellcraft, or simply terrified of her mistress. She stared at his face, and her lips moved soundlessly. He tried smiling at her – but it brought no reaction. Instead she darted forward, took up his discarded underloincloth and hurriedly replaced it about his waist before running to the door. She paused a moment, looking timidly back, then disappeared, leaving him staring.

    Soon after the inevitable squad of Mooks arrived to take him back to the cell; he didn’t fight them as they unchained and re-chained his hands and feet – there really didn’t seem to be much point – and went with them where they led him. This, to his utter astonishment, proved to be a different cell – brighter-lit and smaller – and mercifully free of dangling hooks. There was even – yes – a bed with a palliasse and sheets – and a table laid with food and drink. And there they left him; and there he decided that he should avail himself of the unexpected opportunity to refresh himself and ate and drank and laid himself down to rest in spite of the fetters; he was almost getting used to them.

    He lay awhile in the quietness and tried to compose his mind towards sleep; there might not be another such opportunity. But Lyn had promised him the Hook – and here he was, lying soft abed as if an honored guest. And Lyn had promised to break his resistance – and now – this. It was all very strange – and unexpected. But much of the worst of the ache was gone from his limbs after their care of him and he felt – well – almost grateful. And his sleep was deep and untroubled – except that at one stage he dreamed that a voice was calling his name faintly and urgently from very far away. But in time it faded and he slept again.

    ******

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    Last edited by Scriptor; July 3, 2013 at 04:55am.

  14. #14
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    Amended

    On advice, I've reposted the images illustrating this tale so that they can be seen by visitors to this site - who are, after all, the silent majority of viewers!
    I hope that some of you are enjoying reading it.

    Many thanks to Moderator JafariStew for the assist.

  15. #15
    Eternian princess Princessadora's Avatar
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    Loving it. Can't wait for more. Drawings really suit the story.
    I only fight when I have to and every time I hope its the last.

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    Heroic Warrior Salamandra's Avatar
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    Just finished Chapter 2 - fantastic! Can't wait to dig into Chapter 3. I love seeing these characters as younger versions of themselves - more rash and less certain. And I like seeing Lyn get out from under Skeletor's shadow...always wondered what she'd be up to, if she was in charge!

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Princessadora View Post
    Loving it. Can't wait for more. Drawings really suit the story.
    Many thanks for the endorsement - I'm so glad that you are enjoying the unfolding tale; I shall try hard to maintain the standard!

    And I will pass on your comment to the artist, too.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Salamandra View Post
    Just finished Chapter 2 - fantastic! Can't wait to dig into Chapter 3. I love seeing these characters as younger versions of themselves - more rash and less certain. And I like seeing Lyn get out from under Skeletor's shadow...always wondered what she'd be up to, if she was in charge!
    Thank you so much; it's pleasing that this effort (not something I've ever done before) is pleasing to you.
    I really wanted to investigate the experience of learning to cope with the undoubted burden of being He-Man - especially at the outset, when he still has much to learn, and rashness and uncertainty (as you say) are both very apparent.

    And as for Evil-Lyn - well, here she most certainly IS in charge - and appears to be enjoying it, too!
    Last edited by Scriptor; July 3, 2013 at 06:50am.

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    Chapter 4 - The Price of Power

    He-Man in torment photo He-Manintorment_zps487a6daa.jpg

    4.1

    The Price of Power


    “He lives – of that I am very sure; but his mind is lost and I cannot reach it. There is confusion – and something else; something which holds him in thraldom.” The Sorceress looked at the stolid face of Man-at-Arms before her. “The art magical at work is most surely that of Evil-Lyn. And it is grown powerful.”

    “But do we know where? Lady, we cannot find him any other way – and time is against us! If you cannot help us then we are lost – and He-Man the more so!”

    “I have tried; hour after hour, day after day – but I cannot divine the exact place; she has prepared her enchantments well and drawn on some source of great power – though whence it is derived I cannot tell. I can scry only an island, far-off, set in a place of blue seas and skies and where the sun is warm and bright.”

    “The Isles of the Southern Seas – it must be so!” Man-at-Arms' sudden flare of exhilaration died as swiftly as it had lived. “But they are an archipelago; greater and smaller there must in all be well-nigh on two hundred of them! It would take a great force much time to search them all – and that time we simply do not have!”

    The Sorceress bowed her head in silent acknowledgement.

    “So we are no further forward!” Duncan’s fist smote his palm in utter frustration. He paced, thinking furiously and turned to her again. “I shall send a small scouting force there; something may show.”

    But the Sorceress shook her covered head. “No, I would not do that; at least not yet. It would likely give too much away and warn them. Besides, I cannot be certain.”

    “But what else can we do? What can I do?” He thought of Adam’s anguish at waiting for news, of Teela’s angry impatience – and now it was his turn. “I should never have let him go!” he groaned. “This is my fault, at root. I knew that it would end badly if he had his headstrong way. I should have overcome my qualms and stunned him before arresting him; I’d have had that sword away from him, he’d not have been able to transform – and he’d be in a nice safe cell now and out of harm’s way!”

    “And your daughter?”

    “I had a plan – two plans – to get her back; either would have worked better than this. Anything has to be better than this! We don’t even know rightly where he is! Ancients, but I should have used that stunner!”

    “Then why did you not?” asked the Sorceress mildly.

    “Because – because – Oh; I don’t know! Perhaps because I knew that he would never, ever do such a thing to me. And, besides –” He broke off awkwardly, and the Sorceress gave the merest ghost of a smile.

    “The past is not so easily forgotten, is it? You could not deny Adam the chance to prove himself as you yourself had once been proven.”

    Man-at-Arms looked at her and slowly shook his head. “Teela Na, I –”

    “No; let us not speak of the past; there is too much at stake here in the present. But do not try to shoulder too much of the burden, Duncan; Adam made this decision – and we both know well-enough why his heart overruled his head; and, as He-Man, he is now paying the price. You cannot shield him always, Duncan. Nor can I. Even if you had taken the Sword from him then he would still have gone after her, even as Adam. This you know – and the why of it.”

    “He should have listened to me, shown sense!”

    “Did you?”

    He looked at her, remembering the time that had been.

    “No.” He said slowly. “Not really. But I was older.”

    “And wiser too?”

    He laughed shortly. “Not that, either. Well; it’s past now – and I can’t regret it. But I do fret for Adam – and I feel so utterly helpless, too. My science has failed us – failed him; and so we are reliant upon your art to find his whereabouts so we can have him safe away again.”

    He prowled the stones awhile, his hands clenched tight behind his back while the Sorceress’ eyes followed his confined progress.

    “You have no counsel for me, lady?”

    “Only this; I sense another figure returning to the plane of power; one that was still stirs again, and rises in strength; Skeletor is abroad.”

    “Skeletor! Then he will go to her – to take He-Man – surely he will!”

    “And yet has not done so before. And that puzzles me. Nor has Evil-Lyn taken her prisoner to deliver him over to her dark master.”

    Man-at-Arms looked at her. “Do you think that –?”

    “I do not know; but have your eyes maintain close watch on Snake Mountain – and I shall do likewise.”

    ******

    4.2

    “He hasn’t talked yet, has he? Well – has he? Oh, I knew that your methods were needlessly over-elaborate!”

    Evil-Lyn shrugged elegantly, unconcerned, and went to pour out wine into two goblets.

    “You know nothing of them, count,” she said evenly.

    “We shall run out of time through your dallying with this be-muscled halfwit; the lord Skeletor will find out and then we are lost – lost!”

    “You panic far too easily; I tell you that he will not find out; and we have plenty of time – plenty.”

    “If you are too soft-hearted to break He-Man yourself, then give him over to me! I shall soon have him begging to tell me all he knows. Let me have him for a few hours at most and I will break him – and then we can move confidently against Grayskull!”

    But Evil-Lyn’s voice was low – and chill. “Tell me, Marzo – when have you ever heard of me being accused of having too soft a heart? Do tell me that, good count. No; this matter will be dealt with according to my plan – which, I would remind you, has served us well thus far and will continue so to do. But we must be patient. Indeed we must.”

    “Why? What is it about this He-Man that keeps you from dragging the secrets of Grayskull out of his bloodied and mangled carcass? Why, your art magical alone could keep him alive just long enough for him to scream out all he that knows – and afterwards it would no longer matter!”

    “And what makes you think that I want him destroyed – or even overmuch harmed, then?” answered Evil-Lyn softly.

    The count stared at her wide-eyed. His mouth flapped as he fought to find words. “Have you taken complete leave of your senses, woman?”

    “Far from it – and be you not impertinent, count. Do you imagine for an instant that I do not know what I am about? Well – do you? If all I wanted from our captive was the matter of Grayskull, then I could most certainly do as you say. He would resist, of course, and strongly – for that is both his duty and his nature. But, for all that, the Machine and I would prevail in the end. He, however, would by then be maimed or even dead. No; far, far easier would have been to bring hither along with him the pretty little red-haired wench, the one for whom he so willingly surrendered himself – as I well knew he would. Oh, they have eyes for each other, that twain – but eyes alone. That reciprocated passion he steadfastly denies to himself – for, no doubt, the greater good of his high and noble calling as Guardian of Grayskull, Hero of Eternia.” Her voice was larded with irony and her smile thin. “He knows nothing much of passion or such things, in all his heroic innocence. I have already tested and proved that.”

    “And so what of this girl that he feels for?”

    “Why, and just how long do you imagine that He-Man, watching helplessly from his chains, would have been able to remain silent and endure the sight of her pretty frame stretched on the Machine, the sound of her sobs, her screams?”

    “Then why didn’t you do it?” cut in Marzo, bluntly. “It sounds a most excellent scheme.”

    “Because I have a better – and it involves keeping He-Man very much alive and intact. Oh, I shall be forced to threaten him – even to hurt him, of course: I owe him that much, since he is so very steeped in the role of hero and it is what he will expect and understand. Yet my methods are much more subtle than that – and there will be nothing done to him that will not readily heal; or at least, nothing of the body.” This time her smile was enigmatical.

    She went and fetched the ewer, pouring more wine for him, though none for herself. As she replaced the vessel she turned to him and said, almost musingly, “you see, count, heroes are essentially simple and uncomplicated creatures – particularly young ones. It is part of what makes them what they are – their charm, if you like. But it is also their greatest weakness – invariably manifested as predictability.”

    “But to keep He-Man – alive? He could yet prove the greatest threat to our plans of all!”

    “No; not any more – he is secured, and can be no danger to us whatsoever. And I mean to make use of him.”

    “How?”

    She arched her eyebrows, her tone of voice alike. “The strongest warrior of all, well-nigh invincible in battle, the scourge of Skeletor, the most powerful man in the universe – and you can think of no use for him, count? You lack somewhat in imagination, I fear.”

    “But – if you do sap his strength and willpower with your spells and philters and damage him on this precious ‘Machine’ of yours, he’ll be no use to us anyway, will he?”

    “You forget three things; the one being that I have the craft to heal my own handiwork – nor will the careful calibration of the Machine allow matters to go too far. Another is his resilience; he is a hero, remember – and such must necessarily have the resourcefulness to recover swiftly. But most of all –” and she smiled at the very thought “– he will regain his Sword, and if I have read all the signs aright – and you may be sure that I have – then its presence in his hand alone will restore him. And then, count, and then – why, let our foes beware!”

    “You think to turn him to – our way of thought?”

    “Precisely –” the word hissed almost lasciviously from between her lips.

    “He-Man? Fighting with us?” Marzo was fingering his black beard in some agitation.

    “No, no; fighting for us; there is a difference – and it lies in the will.”

    “But he scruples to kill – everyone knows it. He won’t shed blood – not even that of his worst enemies!”

    “He doesn’t need to kill – surely you understand that much? He is so strong and skilled in the fight that taking life is needless for him, since he can neutralize his foes without harming them unduly. His power in this respect is truly remarkable; I have often seen it put to use. Even held captive here, unarmed and fettered wrist and ankle alike, he worsted well over a score of my strongest servants – all the while regretting that he had to hurt them! Remarkable it is indeed, to possess such strength – and the compassion to match. Such attributes win the hearts of many – and cause them to follow him. Which makes him a natural leader – as you know to your cost; for did he not best you and your forces, he and his adherents, and cause your banishment?” She raised her brows quizzically at the fuming Count Marzo, who ventured no reply. “Though he does, as you say, abide rigidly by his scruples, they most certainly do not limit his effectiveness in battle. And if you do not comprehend that, count, then you know nothing at all of his character.”

    “It sounds like you admire him!”

    “Oh, but I do.” Her lips curved upwards. “Though it does not mean that I necessarily share his scruples. In any case, pray consider what an asset such a – pristine – reputation for clemency and virtue would be to us. His immense charisma would soon draw in his allies to join us in the fight against Skeletor – and there would be many others, neutral before, who would commit to us as well; once He-Man is brought over to our side.”

    Count Marzo shook his shaggy black head in petulant disagreement. “He’ll never do it – he’d choose death a dozen times over first!”

    “I’m sure that he would be flattered by such high praise, especially from you, count,” Evil-Lyn smiled somewhat slantedly. “Or, then again, perhaps not.”

    “You’ll fail – and what then? Do as I bid you; apply enough pressure that he breaks; all you need do is keep him breathing until then. Why, it’s the merest child’s play!”

    “Ah, but that is the very key to this matter, count; what I am about is very far from child’s play. He-Man is soon to discover certain things about manhood, about the true nature of heroism, of which he was wholly ignorant before.”

    Count Marzo turned angrily away, his cloak swirling crimson in his vexation. He helped himself to more wine; she could see, hear, that his hands were shaking slightly – and hid her smile as he turned back to her.

    “These over-elaborate games of yours will yet see us all in Despondos! You should mark what I say and act upon it – or at the least allow me to do so. I could have all the answers within the day.”

    “Oh indeed! Of that I’m sure; but they wouldn’t be the right answers, since you would not be asking the right questions.”

    “A taste of the laser-lash would soon free-up his tongue.”

    “Dear oh dear.” She clicked her tongue, again arch in her disapproval. “How very – unoriginal of you. Such banal and unsubtle crudity has long been superseded in these matters, count. Besides, the lash leaves such ugly weals.”

    Count Marzo scowled, further riled by her provocative comments. “I have always found it highly successful – and most rapid in its results.”

    “Your approach would be to challenge him on his strongest ground; my own is to undermine him on his weakest – where his defenses are far less likely to hold. Do you not yet understand that his body is far less vulnerable than his mind? I shall preserve the former for use – and change the latter.”

    “It would not matter a whit; not once I was done with him.”

    “I have already explained this matter to you; pray do not make me do so again.” An inflection of chill menace had crept into her voice – but the count failed to heed it.

    “Give his questioning over to me; let me have him.”

    “You’ll not touch him – he’s mine,” came the glacial reply.” Do not dare to presume on my chosen prey.”

    “Your prey? This is madness!”

    “Mind your tongue, Marzo!” Her anger flared suddenly, and then again veiled the menace of its power. “I repeat; this will be done according to my will – and you would do ill to forget that; very ill indeed.”

    With patent reluctance the count sketched a bow. “My lady – I – do but try to serve our interests.”

    At once Evil-Lyn favored him with a smile. “Do not fret, count; do but be ruled by me and, soon, your full power will be restored to you, and your fine black hounds will be free to hunt all across Eternos; free to hunt the quarry they most crave! Our way ahead lies clear; be patient.”

    There was greater acceptance evinced by his second bow, though he said no word.

    “Now, leave me; I have further devices and stratagems to plan to bring our prisoner to the place we need him to be.”

    ******

    4.3

    “Skeletor has departed Snake Mountain in force; his fleet and ships of his allies drew up in array over the sea beyond the Doom Isles – and headed on northwards.” The voice was clear through the comms speaker; all listening could hear – and Teela sat up at once, a light shining green in her eyes.

    “Northwards? You are certain of this?” Man-at-Arms frowned at the news.

    “Indeed; your own scanners will confirm it readily enough.” Stratos paused. “But there is more.”

    “Say on.”

    “They appear to have been aiming for some destination well to the north, for they were gaining altitude all the time – far more than would ever be needed for the hop across the Sea of Rakash.”

    “What are you saying, Stratos?”

    Do I know? Only that the flight pattern evinced would seem more fitting for a far longer voyage; we could no longer see them, of course – but it would have been a very elaborate deception – even for old Boneface.”

    “Indeed so. And why such numbers? They could be seeking to mislead us and double-back – even complete the circuit of the planet. But why?”

    “They may be seeking to diffuse our suspicions prior to launching an attack.”

    “Yes; that is possible.” Duncan stoked his moustache in thought. “They will surely know by now that we lack He-Man. It would be a good time.” He paused, deliberating. “Our thanks, Stratos. Please keep us informed of any status changes. Meanwhile we shall see what the eyes of science can show us.”

    He turned to the other listeners. “I shall get the scans on screen at once; let’s see what he’s up to – and track him.”

    It did not take long; but the screens showed blank – scan after scan.

    “But – even with cloaking, even with sorcery on an unimaginable scale, even he couldn’t hide that many ships! So where is he?”

    Teela was still anxiously watching the empty screens, as if they alone could give her back the two young men missing from her life. She leaned forward and pointed.

    “Look,” she said. “What’s that in the ninth sector? It looks like some kind of disturbance – a cosmic maelstrom or else a –”

    “A portal,” finished Man-at-Arms for her. “It’s the swirl left by the forced opening of one; the fabric takes time to settle again. My girl has sharp eyes, I see.” He smiled, his own eyes intent on the magnification dials.

    “Look there!” exclaimed Mekanek. “It’s still open – there, over the Pole!”

    “Ahhhh! So – that’s where he’s bound, is it?” Duncan leaned forward and shook his head. “Well, well, well.”

    The image of the far distant planet was clear to see through the magnified image of the still-open portal; it could be no other.

    “He’s headed for Etheria – with almost his entire strength. He’s committed to it – he cannot simply turn about and return – that would take some time – and careful timing, too. No – he’s further from Eternia with every passing moment.” He shook his head. “The main question –”

    “Is why,” finished Teela for him. She looked round the watching faces. “He must know about He-Man’s capture by now – he simply must. So why is he leaving? Surely he should be headed here to take us on while we are without our strongest fighter? But instead he chooses this vital moment to leave Eternia altogether! It makes no sense! Evil-Lyn takes He-Man prisoner – but not to Snake Mountain – and Skeletor heads off into space. I just don’t get it.”

    “Well –” spoke out a slow voice hesitantly “– unless’n as how the witch ain’t done told him nuthin’.”

    All eyes turned on Ram-Man who at once blushed scarlet. He blushed even deeper when Teela flung her arms as far about him as she could and gave him a smacking kiss.

    “You’re right! That’s it!”

    “What’s it?”

    “She didn’t tell Skeletor – she hasn’t – and she won’t! He doesn’t know!” Her words, her voice, her bright face all carried conviction.

    Mekanek caught up quickly – perhaps hoping that the kisses would keep coming. “So Evil-Lyn’s in business for herself, now, is she? She had you seized – and arranged for He-Man to give himself up in exchange. But not for Skeletor’s benefit. So he doesn’t even know that He-Man’s taken?”

    “Exactly!” Duncan banged down his palm on the worktop. “Nothing else could account for his absence at this crucial time. So; she sets her plan into motion and has He-Man submit himself to her; she spirits her prisoner off to the Southern Seas and holds him there on one of the many islands. And Skeletor – ignorant of this – ups and flies off to Etheria. I wonder if she somehow managed to dupe him into that as well? She’s clever – and ruthless – enough for anything.”

    “Clever – ruthless – and holding He-Man captive!” Teela’s voice was both grave and urgent now. “If only we knew just where – but even the Sorceress can’t trace him to that fine degree. We need to move now – while Bonefeatures is away. It’s just got to be our best chance of rescuing him!”

    Concerned faces exchanged worried looks; the girl was right – no doubt about it – but there seemed to be nothing to be done until they could locate the exact island – and for that they were reliant on the Sorceress.

    “Evil-Lyn’s vindictive – and dangerous – and he’s all alone there and completely under her power! She could be doing dreadful things to him right now – while we just sit here!”

    “We’ll – do whatever it takes,” her father promised quickly before she erupted again. “We can be there in force within hours – once we know where to go.” But Teela did not look much mollified.

    “And in any case, if He-Man’s held on some island, then where in all Eternia is Adam?”

    ******

    4.4

    He was sleeping when they came for him; the cloudy edges of a dream were still dissipating from his mind as he awoke with a start. Someone was seeking him, calling his name – but he had been barely conscious of it – and could make no answer. He sat up now, shaking his head, aware that he was again in danger; and aware too of the lingering dull ache in his body. He briefly considered making a fight of it – but judged it best to save himself for what was to come.

    They watched him from the doorway with their expressionless eyes and then entered into the chamber as he braced himself with surging heart-rate. But all they did was place food and drink on the table, look at him completely dispassionately – and leave him alone again. And he found that he was hungry – and thirsty too, so he ate and drank and then sat on the bed once more, cautiously stretching his muscles and wincing with the sharper twinges. For all the careful work of Lyn’s handmaidens the ache went bone-deep within him and the abiding memory of the pain too. Not for the first time he wished that he had his sword, whose virtues would have healed his hurts – albeit probably not all at once; he had never set it such a steep test before. But that was pointless; he had no sword and his strength was already depleted – he had only himself and his willpower and sheer stubbornness to set against what was to come. And how long had he been held here now? Wherever ‘here’ actually was? He blinked, feeling his eyelids droop with heaviness, his head start to spin, and he lay back with a sigh, unequal to further thought. And before long he slept again.

    – And awoke suddenly to the door of his cell being made open – and the re-entry of the soft-padded Mooks. They seized him immediately and dragged him off – back to the same cell he had occupied before – and they hung his chained wrists again on that dangling, damnable hook and left him hanging there with his aching arches doing their best to hold up his weight and relieve the pull on the already overstressed muscles of his shoulders and arms. The cramps began almost at once and he sighed and his head fell to his chest; he couldn’t help it. Somehow, it was almost worse to have been spared awhile – and then brought back to this. But he must bear it, whatever; he must.

    They came again; this time he was sure that they were going to take him and put him on that demonic ‘Machine’ again and subject him to further torture. But they did not do so; instead they fed him water and some strange fungus-like foodstuff – if it could be called that, for its taste was odd. But he knew better than to refuse anything that might help to sustain him. So he swallowed as best he could while they watched him with their alien, unwinking eyes and held more water to his lips to drink. And in the end they left him alone again.

    It was – confusing – the way in which he never knew quite what to expect; at times torment, and then remission and even care. The sheer unpredictability made it somehow harder to resist, he thought as he hung there, doing what he could to support his own weight to spare his throbbing arms and shoulders. And he was puzzled at how he found himself feeling – well – grateful – when he was spared, allowed solace. It made no sense – but that was true of so much that had befallen since he had ignored Duncan’s advice and made the impulsive decision to offer himself in exchange for Teela – and fallen neatly into the witch’s trap. He shifted uncomfortably, setting up a metallic grinding. It had been the right thing to do – surely it had? And yet – Well; it was too late now; all he could do was hold out until help arrived. They would be seeking him; of that he could be certain. And they would find him, too – for all that he had told Duncan not to come after him; he shook his head at his own callowness; he would know better after this experience, that was sure. But first he had to pass through the trial of whatever she did to him. He thought of the Machine, the needles – and suppressed a shudder. It was not the kind of battle he was used to – but a battle it was, nonetheless – and he had to endure it, survive it – because he could not afford to fail. But it was not comforting to think such grim thoughts while dangling from a hook far from all that he knew, all those he loved. Determined, He-Man closed his eyes, concentrated hard – and sent his mind to rove where it, at least, could be free.

    The making open of the cell door again awoke him; there was no means of telling how long he had drowsed, how long since last they had visited. But this time they did not bring water – and there were many more of them, which set his heart racing with the urge to act. And so, when they unhooked him from the roof-chain, he fought them, sent them spinning about the cell, using his wrist chains as weapons for want of better, clubbing and kicking out and head-butting them as they swamped him – and finally bore him down to the ground. Furiously he struggled, but they were just too, too many, and he realized now for certain that his strength was not as it had been as, between them, they lofted him up onto their shoulders and bore him along the passageways with his head lolling back.

    The Machine again awaited him; the screens above leaned to his face; its tabletop rose to meet his back as they laid him on it. And all the while he fought them, numbly, with a ferocity that was too close-akin to despair for his good. He flung several of them off, arching and twisting wildly as they tried to force him back to the steel slab, lashing out at them and sending them sprawling. But he was tiring, his strength failing, and they were fresh and numerous – and the uneven fight could not go on. At some cost in injury to themselves the creatures finally bore him down and held him spread-eagled while the cables were again made fast to the irons at his wrists and ankles. Even then he resisted, head-locking one of them each side in the crook of his bulging biceps until the Mooks set to punching him hard in the stomach and sheer lack of breath made him release them.

    And then they stood back from him, watching him impassively as he panted and wheezed for painful drafts of air. The fight had at least gained him some slight sense of self-worth, if little else beyond an exhausted numbness and a blessed dulling of the keen sense of danger burning bright through his mind.

    Hands clapped, slowly, with a heavy irony. “Bravo, my brave young warrior – bravo! That time you made it really rather hard for my poor devoted servants, didn’t you? Again, a most remarkable performance – considering.”

    He-Man looked resolutely up at the blank screens above; he would not satisfy her with a glance. He did not intend to speak; best to save his labored breath, then. She was walking slowly around him, studying him as he lay there exposed to her will; he could hear the gloating mockery in her voice.

    “You really are a magnificent creature, are you not? The Power of the Elders did not stint you; not at all.”

    He shifted in unquiet reaction to her words; it was worrying how much the witch already knew. So; it was his clear task to deny her the rest. And only his silence would do that.

    “Yes; a truly remarkable physique; but far from invulnerable. You will always have found your body to be your friend, He-Man – it will have done your will and borne you up through all your many – adventures. But, I fear, you are soon going to find that it will turn traitor, that it will betray you – for it will not be able to help itself.” She saw him squirm uncomfortably and permitted herself a slight upturning of the lips. “As you will know, there are many parts of the body that are especially – sensitive. It is all just a question of identifying them – and making good use of the knowledge. The Machine was designed with that end in mind. This control – for example –” she held up a small device where he could not help but see it “– is the Machine’s pain enhancer. Simple enough in its stimulatory effect on the nerve-endings – and so very effective, too. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.” She leaned over and laid her cool palms on his chest, above the indignantly beating heart. “Won’t you reconsider? Won’t you? There can be no escape from this place – put away all thought of it. Nor will rescue come – not here. So it is between the two of us – and the Machine, obviously – to the end. And this can end in but one way. You must already be able to tell for yourself that your great strength is failing you, that even your magnificent muscles –” her hands moved over his limbs and torso and He-Man swallowed down anger and apprehension “– cannot endure this much longer. In the end you will have to submit. So – show sense as you did on the Plateau of the Winds; yield now, before worse befall you.” Her fingers were active about him, sliding over the sweat-slick skin, contouring the landscape of his body while he lay helpless and struggled to focus his whirling mind. She was only taunting him he knew; no more than that; her habitual ironic mockery – but he also knew that her touch was having an untoward effect on his body. He forced himself to breathe slowly, to remain quite still and unresponsive under her hands, but her caresses were making it hard – very hard. Her face appeared over the mound of his chest and drew close to his.

    “Tell me He-Man – have you subjugated all your human desires to duty? Do you ever permit yourself actually to feel pleasure? Well – do you? Or are you so sternly and resolutely the hero that you do not even know how? For if so, then what a waste that would be.” She smiled at the shamed look in his eyes; he was so very easy to manipulate, so completely defenseless against one such as she. “I certainly find it pleasurable to have so splendidly sculpted, so handsome and so helpless a hero at my will – whatever that may prove to be.” She indulged herself and again humiliated him by fondling the soft hardness of his ridged abdomen. “But tell me now; are we to continue amicably and agreeably like this – or must I fetch the control unit from where it lies ready?” Veiling her own thoughts she watched the tell-tale flicker of reaction in his eyes, as she continued. “You surely know which I would prefer; but, alas, the decision is not mine to make.” She waited, observing the struggle as he acknowledged his duty to accept the agony. And then, with a last stroke of his hair, she left him and fetched what was necessary. Looking down at where he steeled himself, grimacing in readiness, his mind already creating the pain, she shook her head. “I do this with a heavy heart,” she said – and pressed the control-button.

    Panel lights blinked and gears engaged smoothly; with a low whirring the Machine set the revolving drum in motion – and the cables began to wind in, taking up the slack and drawing He-Man’s arms and legs slowly and steadily apart. All-too swiftly they reached the point where there was no more slack, and any further extension must be at the expense of that stretched and lengthening body – and still the drum turned steadily on. She watched his fight, saw the strain show clear in his face, the flaring outline of the great ribcage become starkly apparent beneath the tautening skin as his chest lifted, the enforced tapering of the waist under the powerful traction. The strong muscles in his limbs shivered with sheer tension, their outlines sharpening as it went on so that veins stood out proud; his entire body gleamed and glinted with perspiration under the powerful lights as the Machine relentlessly drew him out and out. His hands clenched and unclenched spasmodically in a pointless bid for freedom – but, though a hissing of air whistled sharp through his teeth, he did not cry out. With a jab at the button she released the tension and noted how his body reacted to the slow retraction. As he gasped and writhed and finally calmed she leaned over him, speaking while his eyes were still shut tight; she could see his teeth through the slightly parted lips

    “You suffer so very beautifully, you really do.” She studied him appreciatively as his eyes opened and looked accusingly into hers. “You see, suffering is always so very becoming – and particularly poignant on open and easily-read faces such as yours.” He said nothing, unless it was in the way in which the look on his face confirmed her words. “And your expression under duress is – sublime. At times you look positively exalted in your martyrdom, believing implicitly that your pain is in the cause of what is right and good. I see it all so plain. It is just – regrettable – that you are in error. You see, your eyes are like a clear blue sky – and, as such, hide nothing – nothing at all. You will not conceal anything long with such open windows into your very soul.”

    He was watching her; a guarded look. Plainly he had promised himself not to speak a word; they often did so, of course, in the mistaken belief that they could thereby avoid speaking the words required of them.

    “But there really is no need for you to continue to endure this – we can end it, together. Simply tell me those things I wish to know.”

    And then, pat to cue, he spoke, his voice choked.

    “I’ll die three times over first!”

    “Only three? My – associate – will be disappointed; he set your initial bid at a dozen.”

    “Then a dozen times! But get this now, Lyn; I’m not going to tell you!”

    “So the young hero courts death so assiduously that he offers to die more than once? I do rather think that you may misunderstand the concept. Oh – I have no doubt as to your bravery – and stubbornness. But you are too young and know too little of life – or of love – to be so besotted by death.” She stroked the back of her hand gently, almost tenderly along his cheek. “And you think only of the state of being dead without considering or understanding the long, drawn out process of pain and suffering and despair which would – eventually – bring you to that state of unbeing.” She looked closely into his face – and knew that her words had a horrid resonance to him, one that he could not hide. Again she softly stroked his face. “And you already know that I am right: I can see it in your eyes. Well, it is only natural to fear such things – particularly for the young. Heroism in battle is one thing: dying by degrees quite another. But do not fret, for it will not come to that; the Machine will persuade you to speak long before your life is endangered. I told you; I do not wish you harmed – so show sense and give me what I need.”

    His eyes blazed at her, defying her threats, his fears. “I told you; I’d rather die!”

    Lyn paused, scanning his set and angry face. And then she shook her head. “So determined; so dramatic – so – foolish –” She sighed, almost as if sorry. “You still have so much to learn, it seems. And so I fear that I must teach you greater wisdom with greater harshness. A pity – but learn you must.” Her finger again applied pressure to the control – which in turn set the mechanism to apply a far greater pressure to her victim. She watched closely as the captive body, taken up by the cables, was slowly, agonizingly extended. Even as it went on she tempted him, offering release. “This need not be, you know. Or do you believe my heart incapable of pity?”

    His response was incomprehensible – but it still wasn’t a scream as such. Well; that would come. She touched at the control – and the Rack desisted in its carefully scientific work of applied destruction.

    “That will serve – for now. We do have plenty of time, after all. We can afford to give you a brief rest.”

    She watched his powerful chest rising and falling as he fought raspingly for air. Streams of sweat ran down the slope to his stomach, off his flanks, every part of him; his underloincloth was sodden with it. So she fetched water and held it to his lips, even lifting his head for him as he drank it thirstily up, her fingers smoothing back the damp-darkened hair at his temples. There was a certain touching bewilderment in the look he gave her as she did so; he was so ill-versed in the rules of this game that he simply did not understand. It was time to confuse him a little more. Her voice insinuated the chance of an end to the agony – a temptation towards submission.

    “I told you; we don’t have to continue with this.”

    “I – I think that we do” He spoke quietly but grimly; brows some shades darker than his hair formed a straight and stubborn line.

    “Oh, but you will insist on your hero-role, won’t you? Well, on we go, then – though your defiance will come to nothing in the end. You will have noted already that the Machine is amply long enough – even for your impressive length. After all, it was designed especially with you in mind. Are you not flattered?”

    “Ecstatic,” grunted He-Man.

    “I do like your gameness, I will say. It mitigates this whole sorry business, for I do have to admit that it saddens me. Yes, I confess that I thought at first that my revenge would be sweet; but it transpires that you are giving me the greatest grief that I have had in a good while – and we are far from done yet; very far. Unless, of course, you are beginning to see sense? No; I feared as much.”

    Her finger hovered over the control while he watched, swallowing rapidly and bracing himself for the onset. But instead of pressing it, she leaned towards him with a sudden urgency in her voice.

    “Tell me, He-Man – just tell me – and the pain can end, and with my art I can heal you and take away even the lingering memory of it. I would do that for you, so I would; will you not do this little, little thing for me?”

    “Never!”

    “Never,” answered Evil-Lyn shaking her fine head regretfully, “is a very long time.” And her finger stabbed at the control – and again He-Man was drawn out, until his entire body was nothing more than an extended stretch of sinew and tormented muscle. And the strain was held – and held – and then with a nightmare sense of helplessness he realized that the witch was adding yet further tension! Every muscle, every joint and tendon in that great frame sang out loud in protest as they, already stretched terribly taut, suffered re-adjustment to yet greater extension; no part of him was free of the invasive penetration of the pain. It seemed to violate his innermost self in its tearing strength and left him nowhere at all within to hide. He could feel the agony soar and swell within him until it felt fit to burst – and carry his silence away with it in a great flood of release. He clenched his teeth tight to stop himself crying out, but a long, low moan escaped him all the same. The darkness behind his eyelids was turning red – all to red. Tautness vibrated through him, strung-out like an overstretched lute string; there was nothing but this agony – there never had been anything before it, might never be again. His head thrashed fiercely from side to side in a vain effort to evade what could not be escaped; the inexorable will of the Machine.

    Elders – hear me – help me – Sorceress, be with me!

    Evil-Lyn, watching closely, judged it enough – and let off the pressure on the cables by releasing the gearing of the ratchets so that the drum reversed and the pull slackened to nothing once more. She looked down; her captive’s eyes were tight shut, his sweat-sheened chest rose and fell rapidly as he gasped and gulped for air, and his tension-released muscles were all quivering in spasm. A thin trickle of blood ran out from under the manacles imprisoning his wrists and mingled with the welling perspiration which drenched him entirely. She frowned; it would be unwise to go so far again until his body had been permitted some recovery. Otherwise the damage might well be lasting – and that was not her aim. And then his eyes opened, blinking in the light and staring cloudily upwards. She leaned forwards with a dampened cloth and gently, almost tenderly, wiped the sweat from his face, the foam from his lips. He watched her as she did so; she noted the sudden brightness of his eyes, the moisture lodged in the dark-gold lashes – and concealed her satisfaction.

    “We really, really don’t have to go on, you know.” She smoothed back his thick, damp hair and smiled encouragingly. “Share your knowledge with me; you would not find me ungrateful. I would willingly reward you in all manner of ways.”

    “I – I – won’t tell you.”

    “I feared that you would say that.” She sighed – and fetched water and again helped him to drink it, supporting his head while he coughed and swallowed and choked, and calming, drank again. He looked up with brimming and uncertain eyes as she spoke softly to him. “It truly grieves me to see you suffer so; I have no wish to do you lasting harm – so won’t you co-operate, at least a little?”

    “I won’t tell you anything – I can’t!”

    She noted his words, his suddenly desperate tone, but did not comment. He was looking up at her, that expression of bruised incomprehension again on his face – though the hurt in it went deeper now. And when he spoke again his voice was less steady than he surely hoped it sounded.

    “Why are you – doing this, Lyn? You must know – that I’m not going to – submit; I won’t and can’t. So – why?”

    “You know why. And – yes; maybe I do have other reasons, too, which would surprise you, for they compass only your good – and that of others. But I will make you yield if I must – even if I deeply regret the necessity of inflicting such pain.”

    He stared at her. “Perhaps if you – told me what these reasons are – then I might at least understand – why you are – doing this to me.”

    “Perhaps if you told me of Grayskull then I wouldn’t need to hurt you,” she replied, turning his words back on him – at which he sighed; a hopeless, helpless sound.

    “Then I’ll have to – do without understanding, since I’m not – going to give in.”

    She studied him close until he turned his head aside, fearing that she would read too much from his face; he feared rightly – for so she had. And she saw a mute appeal in his eyes which was at variance with the obstructive pride in his voice.

    “Then let me leave you to think about that answer a little while; you do understand that I must have what I need of you? Which means, I’m afraid, that this must continue – though neither of us wish it to. Well – I will give you some time to consider. Use it wisely.”

    And she left him alone with his thoughts – and they could bring him no comfort at all. He lay gripped by the Machine and struggled to right his careening thoughts. How long could he endure this torment if help did not come? Lyn would not give way to pity – why should she, knowing that his resistance could be worn down session by excruciating session? And he would not yield, either. He couldn’t; the secrets of Grayskull were not his to confide, and the consequences of her knowing them just too horrid to contemplate. Which meant, with a dreadful and inescapable logic, that she would continue with his interrogation – and that the pain which gnawed so fiercely at his will would go on – and on. And so he must endure. He must.

    But for how long?

    Nothing in his young life had prepared him for this; he had fought and he had suffered injuries, even taken some few wounds which, if troubling enough, the virtue inherent within the Sword had healed. But this was – different. There was none of the thrill of the fight, the heady rush of power as, blade in hand, he brought his great strength and skill at arms into play. No; here he could only react, resist as best he could, try to hold on against an assault which was both insidious and – somehow – coldly clinical. But there was too much that he did not understand – and the confusion, the isolation – and the growing sense that he was failing – were all undermining the once-proud certainty that he would win.

    Win? How can you possibly win? You don’t even know how to play this game of hers, do you?

    To shut out these traitorous thoughts and fears he set his mind to think on other things, kindlier things, images from the time that was – before the Machine. Cringer as a kitten, chasing leaves in the garden; his first-ever victory in a sky-sled race; swimming in the fountain with Teela all those years ago, both innocently naked, until chased away by an indignant gardener; Teela – not long ago (but how long? The measure of time lost meaning here under the lights of this new world of steel and sweat and pain) kissing his cheek in play. If only – but no; there was no comfort in that; best not to dwell on it. But regrets were mingled with the memories, falling thick and fast like Cringer’s autumnal leaves.

    He would have liked to be able to make his parents proud of him; he would have liked to have had time to grow up further, too – to become a man in the normal way, without the Power of Grayskull running like liquid fire through his blood. After all, he had never asked to become He-Man; he had been chosen and the Power had devolved on him – whether I wanted it or not – and now here he was, helpless at the mercy of one who plainly had none. It just wasn’t fair! What had he, Adam, ever done to deserve this? And he had done his best to be the hero they all wanted, expected of him; he really had. It wasn’t their fault that they could never know that Adam was also He-Man. And it wasn’t his, either, was it? And where were the Elders now, when he most needed them? How was this fair, either –? The look in Teela’s eyes as he handed himself over to them – how it haunted him. And she would never know; now she never would. And she dismissed Adam in her overwhelmed admiration for Eternia’s hero. It ought to be funny – but, here and now it wasn’t; it wasn’t at all. And how was that fair? None of it was fair!

    Some part, some deeper part of him, was dimly aware that he was being tested; that the inner struggle of Adam against his other self was only surfacing through mistreatment and fear – and that he must fight it as surely as he must resist the witch’s subversion of his body and mind. And yet he feared, he feared that under this unremitting pressure, the steady diminution of his strength, of his power, then it was Adam who was becoming more prevalent. And He-Man, lying there, smiled grimly to himself, knowing that the young Eternian prince had no chance whatsoever of resisting the Machine. It was seriously disturbing to find the two halves of his soul becoming conflated like this; it was not usually difficult to keep them apart; to be wholly Adam-like when he was the prince and He-Man only when the Power was in him. But the Power is waning – and without it you can’t hold out, can you? It’s just another fight. Just another like all the rest. Never so long or so bitter as this – nor in such danger of losing it as you are now – No! He would not, could not give in. He had told her that he would not give her the satisfaction – and he had meant it, too! But soon she’ll be back to test that resolve – and can you still hold to your proud words then, hero? Well – can you? I can: for Eternia, for Grayskull, for Eternos, for my parents, for my loyal friends and helpers, for Duncan and – yes, Adam my lad, for you, too! And for Teela? Yes – for Teela, too. So that she would be proud of – us both!

    A voice interrupted his inner deliberations.

    “Well? Do we proceed?”

    He opened his eyes; the witch was back, bringing him too back from pleasant dream to horrid reality; yes, the witch was standing over him with some new toy glinting in her hand, a bright, round-headed metal rod attached to wiring.

    “Oh no – what now?” The dismayed, candid words were out before he could help it.

    “Weary already, He-Man? Tut-tut-tut. Hero – remember?”

    “Haven’t you already done enough to me?”

    “Enough? But we have barely even begun! I shall no doubt be forced to re-write the textbook in what I shall have to do to you, my brave, foolish, stubborn boy. Unless, of course, you have by now seen the utter hopelessness of your position –?”

    But He-Man had already turned his head away from her in resignation, almost managing to conceal the despair haunting his eyes. She smiled, satisfied; progress was indeed being made. But there was plenty still to be done. Plenty. She activated the electro-probe and looked him over, carefully considering where to begin.

    ******

    4.5

    Duncan’s scouts had returned – eventually – and were making their report. Teela had insisted on going with them, and her father had agreed – mostly to remove her restless presence and to give her something more constructive to do than to brood.

    “We found the tracking device – attached to a fallen giant statue in the ruins at far Gorthlindir, way beyond the forest.”

    “A fallen giant? Someone has a sense of humor, then; after a fashion.”

    But Teela was furious. “It was a decoy – a deliberate paper-chase – and all for nothing! Worse – it means that while we followed the wrong scent we lost all sight of where they really did take him!”

    Man-at-Arms shook his head in a weary fashion. “They were far too well cloaked for our trace, anyway – strong sorcery like that is hard to overcome without a deal of preparation.”

    “So we really aren’t any closer to finding him, are we?”

    “No. We aren’t.” His tone was grim.

    “And Adam?”

    “That too.”

    “So what do we do now? I can’t bear just sitting here – anything could be happening to them – anything!”

    He looked at his daughter; yes – two of a kind, that pair, right enough. It did not make him feel any better.

    “We wait. Or, rather, you wait; I’m for Grayskull and the Sorceress.”

    Teela rose at once. “Me too.”

    One look at her imploring face made him relent.

    “Come on, then.”

    ******

    4.6

    “No.”

    His rejection of her demand was confined to single word – but it came at a price – earning him the immediate punishment of being returned to that place of dark emotions and bright lights for another session of torment in the rending grip of the Machine.

    And, since he still did not speak, they set him again to hang the night in chains for being unhelpful in his attitude. And the fiery ache in his arms and shoulders was no worse than the one in his heart.

    ******

    Last edited by Scriptor; July 3, 2013 at 09:21am.

  20. #20
    Heroic Warrior MLHumble's Avatar
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    Wow- The story started strong and continues to get stronger! Keep 'em coming. Great twists!
    Please see my arts gallery here: www.pcpfh.wordpress.com Have fun browsing!

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by MLHumble View Post
    Wow - The story started strong and continues to get stronger! Keep 'em coming. Great twists!
    Many thanks! I'm glad that you are enjoying the complexities of the story - and it's very encouraging to know that some of you want more. More will follow very soon.

  22. #22
    Heroic Warrior
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    30,000 views - I really am surprised - and pleased - by this. I am just hoping that those who are reading are also enjoying.

    More to follow; I'd better dedicate the next chapter to the "silent majority" of visitors!

    Thanks to one and all.

  23. #23
    Heroic Warrior
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    Chapter 5 - Questions without Answers
    He-Man in the cell photo request03b_by_sazariel-d64nv5k_zps039d3dfd.jpg

    5.1

    Questions without Answers


    The Lord of Avion’s fierce gaze raked over the ground below; all was still – suspiciously so. He and his followers had kept constant watch over all the approaches to Snake Mountain – for while cloaking devices could blind the vision of scanners, nothing could so easily deceive the keen eyes of his fliers. He knew that others were at watch too; it was clear that wherever the captive He-Man was being held, it was not in Skeletor’s dark and flame-girt fastness. Nor was Skeletor himself present there; the Lord of Destruction was from home at this time – if home were truly the word for such a grim place. Its nightmarish shape, both natural and sculpted for effect, loomed over the dreary ashen landscape of the sad Perpetual Plain; thin threads of molten fire fell bright and amber from the open serpent jaws and spread aimlessly away over the waterless rock and shifting slag.

    Stratos banked and ran down a long thermal on his wings, conserving power; he would complete one more circuit, and then make report to Man-at-Arms. He only wished that he had better news to relate.

    ******

    5.2

    He had spent some time – though had no idea how long – laid on a slab being ministered to once again by the strange, silent blue-skinned servants. They bathed and massaged him with great gentleness and, though it hurt dreadfully at first, in time the blunt pain of it dissipated and he felt ease. Nor was it so degrading as last time; he was grateful, both for their careful healing and for the respite from the infliction of further hurt. His limbs felt again as if they belonged to him, not to someone else altogether – and that was a great comfort and relief. And after they were done with him he was permitted to lie still and rest – and it was thus that she found him as she entered and dismissed her handmaidens.

    He looked up at her and, feeling somewhat recovered after their ministrations, lifted his restrained hands to her with a quip.

    “You’ll forgive me if I don’t rise?”

    “Why of course – and, in any case, I rather think that you will.”

    He frowned, failing to understand her elliptical comment.

    “And you don’t seem very pleased to see me, either,” she pouted.

    “Now, I just can’t think why that would be.”

    “And I was so hoping to be nice to you.”

    “You still could.”

    “But you see, I’m so very certain that you haven’t yet come to the point where you are prepared to tell me those details about Grayskull which I require. No – I thought not. I can see that stubborn look back on your face. Well, two can be stubborn – and you will discover in time that it costs me less to be so – far less.”

    He was looking up at her, she noted, his expression serious.

    “Lyn – tell me something.”

    “What?”

    “Have you ever considered giving it up? I mean – you know – evil? Nothing says that you have to be so wicked in your ways. You could join our side – be reconciled – reform and make amends.”

    She looked at him and her fine arched brows lifted yet higher. “You mean – be good –?”

    “Yes – yes – exactly!”

    “And what would that gain me, then?”

    “Self respect?”

    “That I already have – in superabundance.”

    “Other people’s, then.”

    “Yours?”

    “You could surely earn it.”

    “And I suppose that the very first of my good deeds would be to set you free, would it?”

    “It would certainly be a start – a really good one.”

    “Hmm. Well; I’ll consider it. But, first, we have some things to do together, you and I. Time for the Machine again –”

    “But you said you’d consider it!”

    “And so I shall – but due consideration takes time and I can be doing that while you suffer some more, can I not? So let us see if you can touch my pity, shall we? Ah – and here’s your escort, all ready. Bring him!”

    “Lyn –!”

    Once again he was forced to the place of torment and laid out and bound on her mechanism of pain, as helpless as before – his will now further drained by the demoralizing knowledge of just what it could do. Or so he thought. Lying there, bracing himself as best he could, he concentrated his mind on resisting; he told himself firmly that had endured before – and could again, and it would not last forever. It would be a struggle – but he felt that he could survive it. Regularizing his breathing he did his best to relax every muscle, preparing himself for the fight; a different kind of fight, admittedly – but one that, as ever, he must win. The witch’s voice broke in on his thoughts; she stood by the panel and busied herself among the dials speaking over her shoulder.

    “I do wish that I didn’t have to do this to you.”

    “So do I!”

    “But it’s your own fault, you know.”

    He-Man watched her; she was up to something – something different; he could sense her expectation, her suppressed excitement. She turned to him, the control in her hand.

    “Remember how I told you that the Machine reads your reactions to each and every stimulus, recording them and adapting itself and its treatment of you accordingly to maximize its effect?”

    “Yes – I think I recall something like that.” He could feel a warning tingling in his nerve endings, the familiar fight-or-flight. So – fight then, flight not being an available option.

    “Well – we are going to test its findings – the most compelling ones.”

    “Oh. Great.”

    “I have all the earlier scans here on the screen; they make very interesting watching. Would you like to see?” She indicated the panels above. “The Machine’s sensors capture and diagnose every last little feeling – even the ones you most hoped to suppress. A vain hope! See what they show us – look closely.” The screen suspended above flickered into life; he stared, unable to help himself; that laid-out body, glinting already with sweat under the powerful lights, was his – he was actually lying there – surreal as that seemed.

    And then the image changed, became a darkened outline – a mere shape – and then lights appeared upon it – red and yellow highlights on his outlined body-scan. “See,” said the witch, “Your pain depicted, your agony made visible – and all in color. Fascinating, isn’t it? Note the pressure on the joints that the stretching action causes – outlined in red. And see how those strong muscles in your midsection must have suffered; a fetching sight I found it, too. Ah – and this is particularly interesting; your body’s reaction to the extended hold after – yes, three whole turns of the drum! Just look at all that redness – that really must have hurt you! And yet you barely even cried out, my brave, brave hero!” He-Man watched both fascinated and appalled – he really couldn’t help himself. Even when he shut his eyes that image remained imprinted on his lids – that red saltire of pain made visible was still present, his own figure, superimposed on darkness. He opened his eyelids again.

    “Just imagine what four turns of the drum would look like – would do to you. Or even more; the Machine has no limits – unlike your poor body. I do so hope that your pointless stubbornness won’t make such a brutal eventuality necessary.”

    He glanced briefly at her – and she could read his involuntary response to the threat in the stress-reactions evinced by the rapidly-dilating pupils and the tightening lips.

    “And you are probably wondering now what the yellow light represents.” She leaned close and smiled. “Yes; I can see that you are. Well – let me show you.” He felt her hand placed upon him; it moved slowly – and then the screen was showing a yellow highlight, bright and revealing so that he closed his eyes and groaned.

    “Why, my dear He-Man; I do believe that you are blushing! Such becoming modesty, such appealing shyness! But we really must investigate this matter more deeply. I wonder what the screen would show if I were to shift to – say – here?”

    “–”

    “Was that a whimper? I do rather think that it was. And so –”

    “Lyn – don’t –”

    “Is that a plea, then?”

    “I –”

    “Or what about here?”

    “Lyn – no – please!”

    She left off at once when he brought himself to say that word and came to look closely into his burning face.

    “You are learning at last,” she said – and it did not sound altogether like condescension. “Right now you have such a wounded expression – as if you cannot quite believe that any of this is really happening to you. It is very appealing, that look; almost endearing – and it inclines me to be kinder to you. Of course, you do still have things to tell me –”

    He did not say anything; defiance would surely be ill-judged at this time.

    She smiled – an unfathomable expression. “But you really should not feel any shame – none at all. Shame is for little people; it does not touch the great, for upon our nobility shame itself is ashamed to rest – and you, He-Man, are numbered among the great – and will be greater yet, in time. And you have denied yourself – and been denied – many things in your noble and self-sacrificing heroism; for it is deemed that you must ever be alone, living chaste and comfortless, the better to fulfill the high duty allotted you. Is it not so?”

    He swallowed dryness. It was hard to deny what was so patently true.

    “Is it not so?” she repeated pointedly, and he nodded curt assent, staring rigidly at the now-blank screen above, attempting to hide his thoughts.

    This time her smile was private; the unspoken language of a completely exposed and vulnerable body is not hard to read and she could chart the onset of new feelings and emotions within her captive. The eyes give so much away, and his eyes were such faithful mirrors of his feelings that they told her all that she needed to know.

    “The demands of duty are at odds with human need – and the strain of that will always tell in the end. And yet it need not always be so; it will not always be so. There is no good reason why you should be denied such pleasures as any man may take – none. And is it not strange that you, whose passion for your cause and love for your fellow creatures have made of you a true hero, should be permitted nor passion nor love in your own life? For so it has been decreed; but on what basis? With what proof? The Sorceress seeks to control you in all things – even this. And so she has.” She shook her fine head in slow sorrow. “Wrong has been done to you; you have been told an untruth – and are diminished by it. But that can be changed.”

    She saw his glance flicker over to her, then as swiftly turn away when he caught her eyes upon him. So she leaned close and twined her long fingers gently in his hair, leaning close so that he could only either close his eyes or else return the look.

    “I pity you,” she said quietly. “Too many sacrifices have already been demanded of you for one so young – and it is certain that more will yet be asked. For what end can there be to it while you remain as champion to the Sorceress of Grayskull? Is not the captivity, the pain you endure here a part of that – another demand made on your valor and your strength? These eyes of yours have seen almost nothing of life, but already they know far too much of suffering.” She sighed. “You may number me among your enemies, He-Man – though indeed I am not – but yet I pity you. And I would so gladly spare you – and show you the truth, and teach you those things of which you are ignorant. But you insist on defending with your pain those who have lied to you and left you so woefully unprepared and unfulfilled – whose treatment of you, their champion, is forever the same tale of denial and demand. You suffer out of loyalty to those who show you none in return; for where are they? Why do they not come?” Her long hand smoothed palm and fingers down his face, tracing the contour of cheek and jaw while he looked up at her, lovely in her ruefulness. “Perhaps you should learn to distinguish better between friend and foe.” She sighed again and rose and took a few paces about where he lay, aware that his eyes were following her.

    She turned and raised her brows as if in question and he looked quickly away again. Slowly she took a further turn about the table, watching him while he fixed his gaze stiffly upwards.

    “To suffer like this for the sake of an idea puts a very high price on conjecture, I should say; but to do so for another’s idea – and that of one who has sent you out to the unequal fight so very often and who now, when you have need of her aid, does nothing to aid you – seems, at best, misguided. And that is to leave aside that the idea itself is unproven – or that you may even be wrong and are not defending anything worthwhile by your lonely devotion, your long vigil of pain.”

    He shifted awkwardly in the hold of the Machine, but said nothing.

    “But where do we go from here?” she questioned rhetorically. “I would indeed like to be kind to you – and yet I still have so many questions unanswered –” She saw his eyes swivel towards her, their wide-open look, the sudden starkness of his cheekbones. She took up the control unit again and held it ready. And she detected in his blenching the renewed onset of dread as the realization dawned anew of what she meant to do to him. So; he had eventually learned to fear the Machine, had he? That was good; very good. But, sadly, the lesson would still have to be reinforced. It would be for the best – and to his benefit in the end. She leaned close to him, taking in his shifting expressions as the stress and the pride did battle within. “So tell me,” she said. “Shall the lights this time be red – or yellow?”

    His eyes widened in horror, she could see his teeth clamping onto his lower lip, the strong cords of his throat working.

    “Well? I’m waiting. The choice must be yours to make.”

    She watched his chest heave as he took in a great, long, shuddering breath, and helped him choose by drawing her forefinger slowly across the lean musculature of his waist.

    “Red,” he whispered; his eyes shut tight, and a shiver ran the length of him.

    “I’m sorry – I didn’t quite hear you. Say it again.”

    “Red.”

    “And louder still.”

    RED –” he yelled then, almost frenzied. “Red – red – RED!”

    “I hear you; no need to shout. Very well then – since, as ever, you choose the hardest path, I shall not disappoint you. Though do be aware that men have lost their reason under such duress as this, and I would not have that befall you. I would in any case far rather not be doing this at all – but since you will have it so –”

    He did not speak, but the tight-closed eyes, the rapid breathing and shivering tremor passing involuntarily through his body were eloquent enough.

    And so she activated the Machine and set him to stretching. But she did not press him very hard or for long. There was no longer need.

    ******

    5.3

    “Welcome, loyal Man-at-Arms; I am glad to see you – you and your daughter.”

    The Sorceress greeted them with a wanhope smile, though it was perhaps a little warmer as she looked on Teela, approaching the steps slowly with an unwonted expression of awe on her face. She turned to Orko who hovered at her shoulder.

    “Orko, now that we have decided on our course, be so good as to have Teela take you to the Armories and help you to select such equipment as your quest may demand.”

    “But I don’t need any equip– Ah! Yes, the Armories, of course; yes indeed. I’d be glad of Teela’s help – I do get so dreadfully muddled over these things.”

    When they were alone Man-at-Arms was at once grave.

    “Lady, what is it that you must tell me that Teela should not hear? Have you news?”

    “I have – read things; patterns stir afar in the powers and there is still a great darkness over what I fain would find – and yet –” she paused and looked sidelong at his watchful expression. “Not all things can be concealed – and some thoughts, some feelings can be divined, even through such webs of dark sorcery. I wish that I had better tidings for you, but I fear that He-Man is in great danger – and in pain.” Her gaze fell to her hands folded in her lap. “And my thought cannot reach him, though I have tried and tried to break the barrier. He must feel himself very alone – and deserted.”

    “Lady, I tried to prevent his going – Elders witness me that I did. Had it been up to me then Adam would have been locked in a cell and the Sword kept from him until I had his word not to attempt this exchange!”

    She smiled at him then, though somewhat sadly. “And yet I seem to recall a young man doing something not altogether dissimilar, not all that many years ago. Do you tell me, Duncan, that you would really have locked him away – and not felt a pang of sympathy as you remembered your own past?”

    “I would have felt the pang,” he acknowledged stolidly. “But I would still have closed and locked that cell door.”

    “And perhaps you would yet have been right to do so.” She sighed again. “What makes Adam truly Adam – and also He-Man – is that urge to set right wrongs, to lend aid to those who have need, to be a champion for all the peoples of Eternia. He has the innate courage of his ancestors and the heart to apply it for good. But he is very young and that idealism has not always stood him in good stead. His heart outstrips his head at times and leads him astray – it has certainly done so on this occasion. And yet – how could it be any other way with him, being as he is? That which makes him a true hero renders him open – and thus vulnerable.”

    “He has a lot to learn, that’s sure,” answered Duncan feelingly.

    “What is in your mind? You wonder, do you not, if I have done wrong?”

    “Lady, I mean no disrespect – but he is indeed young, and impetuous and headstrong and – many other things besides. His heart tends to govern his head far too often. I agree that it makes him what he is – but my chief concern currently is where he is – and what is being done to him!”

    “I am sorry, Duncan. I did not mean to add to your burdens, but I know how close you are to the boy – and I know that you have had your doubts all along about his being granted the Power.”

    “I – accept that it was – necessary: I needs must place my trust in your knowledge of these matters. And we were hard-pressed at that time and badly needed a champion. Yet all was – of necessity – done in such haste that I doubt the boy truly understood what he was taking on. And sixteen is very young to acquire such awesomely weighty responsibilities. Oh, I know that He-Man has superhuman strength and skill – but, deep down, he remains Adam – and for Adam I am responsible. I have seen how it has affected him – and how he has grown to meet the burden. It amazes me constantly that he manages – mostly – to pull off the act that he does; and yet I know that the tension of it can be very hard to bear and causes him anguish. He does not often complain; but I know him – and I can tell.”

    “Indeed so; it cannot be easy for a spirited boy to be a hero – and yet be widely thought an idler and even a craven. Particularly for the heir of a king himself brave and well-versed in war and with high expectations of his only son. I grieve that the protection of those about him depends on such subterfuge; but it could be no other way. I had to forbid the truth – hard as that may seem to him. And, Duncan, there were other – and far deeper – reasons as well.”

    The sudden significance in her tone lifted his bowed head. She nodded and went on.

    “You see, the Power is far too great for any man to wield indefinitely, for it burns and consumes the very spirit which is its host. It is the harnessing of much ancient might, channeled through the minds of the Wise – and in its sheer concentration it is dangerous; corrosive to he – or she – who bears it. That is why He-Man cannot always be He-Man, but must ever and anon revert to being Adam, his true self; it is in great part for his own protection. In that guise he is safe from the harm that the Power would otherwise inevitably do to him. You know for yourself that being He-Man is a great burden – and that is only the outward and obvious danger. That which is hidden would be yet greater, for it was not meant for mortal man to wield. Thus Adam protects He-Man – though he does not fully know it.”

    “But, lady – surely he should have been told of this?”

    “How could I, burdened as the boy already was? Had he not cause enough to be afraid? As you said yourself, Duncan; sixteen is very young to acquire such responsibilities; it is also young to acquire power of such magnitude. Without Adam, it would in time destroy He-Man.”

    “He – feels the strain, I can tell,” said Duncan slowly. “At times he has spoken of it to me. He said that it was like being pulled hard in two directions at once – and that it hurt.”

    “There will always be tension where two inhabit the one body, the one mind – even if both are not present at one and the same time. But the Power called him – I was only the conduit of its will. I had – have – to believe that the Elders whose strength he wields are with him – and that they will not desert him, even if we cannot do as we would wish and fly at once to his aid.”

    “He is not yet a year into this fight; it is little enough wonder that his good heart leads him to ill decisions. But I want him to have time, lady – time to be the boy he really is without forever being placed in danger; time to grow and to learn wisdom and – yes – to love. And I fear that he will be denied these things.” He sighed. “Grayskull makes such heavy demands – but that is hardly for me to tell to you, is it? You, who have sacrificed so much.”

    “Of that we shall not speak. The Power gives and the Power takes away; ever it was so – and ever will be. But I at least was granted the time to love – brief though it proved. Brief; but not fruitless.”

    Man-at-Arms bowed wordlessly.

    “Yet you are right, Duncan; the Elders called on him and granted him their strength, the Sword and the ability to wield it and to become the embodiment of the Power. But they did not grant him all. Their strength they passed to him, yes; but not their wisdom. I know that he wonders why it is – even resents – that the gift is incomplete, that the knowledge of the Elders is withheld from him. He thinks that he could rid Eternia of Skeletor had he but access to that added power – am I not right in this?”

    Duncan nodded unhappily. “And could he?”

    “Very possibly he could – and yet doing so would make him by far the most powerful being on Eternia, without peer or rival, equipped with both strength and knowledge. The critical balance would be thrown – and He-Man would then have the crushing burden it would bring in its wake – that of unrestrained power. Would you do that to him, Duncan?”

    “You fear that it would prove too much for him?”

    “As you fear that he is already endangered by what power he has – and that not the greatest part. It would strip his spirit and burn his soul away – for illimitable power is a most perilous thing. He would try to do good, for that is his nature – but would in time become impatient that he could not remake the world in the image of that goodness; and he would be tempted to employ ever greater force to bend all to his will. It is thus that tyrants are born – even those who start with the best of intentions and resist temptation longest. And none could stand against him – unless the Elders should come again. And if possessing the strength of the Elders alone is a threat to him, then imagine how much faster he would succumb if he had their wisdom as well. He would become the Power – with disastrous consequences, for him and for the world. Such boundless power is not meant for mortals. No, Duncan – well-meaning and worthy as he undoubtedly is, He-Man cannot be granted such might – for the good of all; not least his own.”

    “I – I didn’t know this. I didn’t understand.”

    “No; nor at first did I – not fully – not until Zodac warned me of it, and the reasons. Balance must be in its essence maintained, and that applies equally to us as to Skeletor – who will thus not be driven away as He-Man dreams of.”

    “And shall you tell him why the knowledge will be denied to him?”

    “One day I shall – and I pray that the day will not be long removed. You see, Duncan, there are other reasons too – even beyond these.” She leaned forward slightly, her voice more urgent. “I too am concerned as to his whereabouts – deeply. And by the fact that I read strong echoes of pain in what comes through to me from afar.”

    “You mean that he is – that they are –?”

    “We must accept the likelihood that he is being put to the question; nothing else would account for the patterns of feeling that come to me; they are faint and episodic, but also intense and very vivid – and I fear that they speak an unpalatable truth which we must face; He-Man is undergoing torture.”

    “I feared as much – I guessed that they had taken him for that very purpose. But I could see no good reason to voice my concerns; not while there was still hope.”

    “There is, I hope, still that,” she replied; but her own look was somber. “I do not like to speak of this – but feel compelled. You see, should he – break – then there will be a limit to what he can tell to them – No, hear me out, Duncan; this we must face up to though it grieve us. That is another – and more immediate – reason why the gift was not of the whole, but only a part of the Power; that, even under duress, he could not reveal all.”

    Duncan stared at her, his eyes wide.

    “You mean – you mean that we’ve taken a boy of just sixteen years, given him the strength to fight his battles, but not the knowledge that would ensure that he actually wins them? The wisdom to avoid them? And now he’s in the hands of the enemy and they are – hurting him – and we can’t get to him and so he’s become a threat to Grayskull? Is that what you mean, lady?” His voice and look were both angry and bitter.

    “Perhaps you are right to chide me; it may be that I acted wrongly, but the Power did call to him – of that there can be no doubt. He was indeed chosen – and it must have been for a reason.”

    “A better one, I hope, than suffering torture on behalf of a power that has ill-equipped him to defend himself against what he must endure!”

    “Yes, Duncan; a better one than that. He has the Power – but he is not – nor ever must be the Power; if they break him – if he should die – then the Power will remain to light upon another champion. It thus defends itself against the frailty of its hosts. But it will not leave him lightly – be sure of that.”

    “So – ruthless, lady? In the cause of good?”

    “The Power we serve must, perforce, be so – even as the Enemy is ruthless; for how else shall Grayskull be guarded?”

    “With the blood of untried boys?”

    “If needs be, then yes. The Power of the Elders, here present on Eternia, must be preserved at any cost – yes; even Adam’s life.” Her voice, in contrast to Duncan’s, was unroused; but no less implacable for that – and he turned abruptly away from her. “But it remains my hope that it will not come to that.” Her tone, softening, brought back his shadowed gaze. “As I said; he was chosen and the Elders did not grant him their prowess and strength for naught.”

    “Then I hope they help him – or, better – help us to find him. That will serve; the rest we can do ourselves.”

    The Sorceress sighed. “That is also my prayer.” She paused and shook her head. “But I accept your rebuke; I did as I thought best and gave him what I was permitted to grant – no more; but no less, either.”

    “Oh, lady; lady – I am as guilty as you; I brought him here that fateful day and have shared the secret – and much else – with him since. If there’s to be blame, then it isn’t yours to bear alone, for I’m as deep in this as you are.” He shook his head in frustration. “But it gnaws at my vitals to think of him alone and in pain.” A sigh heaved itself up from his bootsoles. “The damnable thing is that I just can’t help thinking of him as young Adam – and it makes me want to go out and break heads until he’s free and safe again. That it was his own fault that he was taken makes it no better. We are to blame, for making him what he is – and that too soon. And now it is too late.”

    “When Adam accepted the Power –”

    Accepted? He did not want it – not at all! He was sixteen and afraid; his every instinct was to refuse, to run from it; but he would not abandon his father. It was not out of any desire for such power or else any wider sense of duty that he took up the burden, but out of love!”

    “And it is because he took up the Power in love that he has sustained so little hurt from it.”

    “So little hurt! Creator’s breath, lady – they are torturing the poor lad!”

    “I understand how this must be for you, Duncan; you have stood a second father to him all these years.”

    “Why, if I could get my hands on Evil-Lyn right now I’d wring her neck for her, so I would!” Duncan span about and his tensed fingers mimicked the motion.

    But the Sorceress was silent, her eyes withdrawn and her look absent. When her voice came it was remote, hollow – as if from afar.

    Yet as with love it began, so with love shall it end.”

    Duncan, stock-still, stood and stared.

    “My lady –?”

    The Sorceress shifted, and her eyes returned to the time and place where Duncan too was.

    “I cannot tell. And yet – I feel – sense – something. More I cannot say. Matters stand ill indeed – and yet are, perhaps, not quite as they seem. Or so it to my seeming seems.”

    “I – don’t understand.”

    “Nor yet do I. Of such stuff are dreams and the eyes of prophecy see not all things that shall be. Yet I feel that there is hope for He-Man still.”

    “I hope so, too – by all that’s sacred I hope so! But what do I do? I feel – helpless to help him. Surely the Power can –?”

    She shook her head with an infinite weariness.

    “I fear not: I cannot reach him – and I sense that the Power he has is slowly withdrawing from within him – for reasons I do not understand. It must seem, to him, like betrayal.”

    “It – must.” Duncan had calmed at her words – and now he paled. “He must feel dreadfully – alone.”

    “Alone and abandoned. Yes.”

    “There must be something we can do!”

    “Not until we can locate the exact place where he is being held. I have scried into each and every plane of power, surveyed every last movement of the magical flux; but, as yet, to no further avail. All I can find for sure is the island of which we spoke. That the rest lies hidden is no accident.” She looked quickly at his face and went on. “I shall not cease from casting until I find him, though. Be assured of that.”

    “But how long –?” Duncan did not complete the question, knowing it absurd even as he spoke. He lapsed into silence and prowled the well-worn flagstones in frustration. “Surely there must be something we can do?” He sighed and looked at her – an expression she remembered from of old, when matters had stood differently between them. “Adam fretted most terribly for Teela – and now I fret for him! And as for Teela –”

    “And as for Teela – who will be returning here before long – we must not let her know of this.”

    “You think I would? She’s impossible anyway at present – thinking it’s all her fault that she’s lost both He-Man and Adam.”

    “Which, for the present, she has,” sighed the Sorceress. “Fault or no.”

    “Lady – you spoke of Zodac. Would he help us? He has the power to do it.”

    “I have sent to him – but he is deeply engaged in other matters and far off. He answers that he will come – and come he will; but we should not hope overmuch that he will do so in time.”

    “Then we can rely only upon ourselves.”

    “And, Elders willing, upon their aid. And upon the Power which is still within He-Man. He is not altogether defenceless, Duncan – and nor is Grayskull. He swore an oath to be its champion and that vow has strength – while yet the Power is in him.”

    “He will not break his word, lady. Why, if he were capable of doing so then he would not be undergoing this ordeal at all!”

    “True; the oath binds and is further strengthened by the enchantments placed upon him even as he took it; it is not only the strength of his character which makes him feel revulsion at the thought of breaking of his word, but also the spells set within him. And yet they are not unbreakable, those enchantments.”

    “Couldn’t they have been stronger, then?”

    “Yes; of course. But only by taking away his free will utterly, effectively enslaving him to his oath without his own volition. And that would rather have defeated its own purpose, would it not?”

    “Well – yes; yes it would. I understand your meaning. But – if the spell can be broken, then it comes down to his willpower in the end.”

    “And his will is strong. And yet we cannot tell what is being done to him; he is under siege, Duncan – body and mind alike – and the pressure of the assault is both subtle and relentless. Even the strongest fortress, the most indomitable of wills, may be overcome by stealth as well as by storm; the combination can be hard to resist – and I confess that I fear for him.”

    “As do I, lady; as do I.” Duncan’s face was stark in its understanding.

    “And so I must ask you, Duncan; you who can best judge. Hard as this will be for you to answer, you must tell me truthfully if you believe that He-Man, alone, far from the source of his power and without his Sword, can still hold out.”

    Man-at-Arms put his hands to his face and rubbed in a way both weary and agitated. “I – just don’t know. I hope so – Ancients, how I do! And yet –” He broke off and and frowned into the unknowable distance. “He is brave, strong and determined – and fiercely loyal. He will not give way readily because he understands how vital his silence is. But he knows too little of such things to be well-prepared for them. Once again his lack of knowledge and of experience will tell against him. And if Evil-Lyn is involved that will mean sorcery – and of the most subtle kind. How he will fare against that – and her sly cunning – I really cannot judge.” He rose abruptly and stalked the stones in an angry fashion. “Damnation to darkness – I cannot bear this! We must do something!”

    “And we shall – but at least there is this; even if he should reveal to them what he knows, then this castle will still hold. He does not know sufficient of its secrets for it to fall, even should he break.”

    Duncan turned and stared at her – a blazing look, but she held up her hand before the angry words were spoken.

    “We must think of such things; we absolutely must – for if Grayskull were to fall then night would come to Eternia; night without end. That is why, Duncan; because the defense of this place – and of what it represents – must come first; always.”

    “But he will be suffering to keep those secrets because he thinks – he really thinks – that they are essential to your safety here!”

    “Yes; that is so.”

    “You knew that this would happen!”

    “No; I did not know it.” The Sorceress bowed her head. “But the possibility was always there – and so due precautions had to be taken.”

    “And if they do break him, maim or kill him, then, lady, you will simply choose another champion, will you?”

    “Yes, Duncan, I will – and you will help me; as before.”

    Her words fell like pebbles into a long-sealed well. His angry pacing ceased and he turned to her again, with wonder drawn tight in his bloodless face.

    “Do you feel – nothing?”

    “I feel everything; that is why I am here.” It was said calmly, without inflection, but it made Duncan stare – and then he nodded slowly, and bowed.

    “Forgive me, lady; I did not understand.”

    “The demands of the Power are indeed great – and we are all bound by them, even unto death. And it may well be that He-Man’s time as its champion is already drawing to a close; I cannot tell. But this I can say –” She leaned forward in her throne. “I believe that the Elders will not desert us – and will yet aid him, for they chose him, the descendant of heroes and kings of old. It is indeed a terrible test for a young man – even one so imbued with the Power, but I believe that, in some unforseeable way, he may even yet emerge from it.”

    “But you can’t be sure, can you? And even if he does come back to us, then in what state will he be – and when?”

    “I cannot say; truly, it is only a feeling that I have; faint and indistinct, like the echoes of a dream from the recesses of another’s mind – but it is there.”

    “Then I hope that it is true, lady. Ancients, but I do.”

    “Your daughter returns with Orko. We must put up a front on our feelings for her sake. Do not tell her of my hope, for it may prove stillborn and I would not have her hurt further. But, Duncan, before they come I must make one further demand of you: you have the Sword of Power in your possession?”

    “Yes, lady; he gave it to me when he set out.”

    “Would you give it over to me, to make use of as I hope will prove best?”

    “He gave it to me to keep – and I promised him that I would hold it for him – until he – returned.”

    “Nonetheless, I ask it of you now.”

    Duncan looked at her, his eyes narrow – and was silent; and then slowly he nodded.

    “It came from Grayskull – and I know that he would want it brought back here should he – fail to return. Yes, lady – I will give you the Sword.”

    “Then I am glad – our bond of trust is not yet broken, in spite of all. And so I will tell you this; I do not intend to keep the Sword here to bestow on another champion.” She smiled faintly. “My head tells me to do just that – but my heart offers another counsel – and to that I respond. Heads have failed us in this matter – but hearts may yet prevail. The Sword of Power was given to Adam – and to him it must go. His spirit is strong upon it – all his hopes and fears and struggles are writ thereon. And, for its own part, the Sword will be seeking to go to its wielder. And so my hope is that it will – in the right hands – find its way to him. And, armed with that blade and all it contains, then He-Man may yet free himself.”

    “And whose hands are the right ones for this task?”

    “They approach even now; Orko will bear the blade to its wielder.”

    Orko! But – lady – are you sure?”

    “Yes. I am. Sure enough. And here he comes, with your daughter.”

    There was no time for Man-at-Arms to express his grave doubts. But he hoped fervently that the choice of the Sorceress would prove more fitting than he feared it would.

    ******

    5.4

    Skeletor was well-pleased with the results of his raid upon his rival. He sat aboard his cruiser and heard the tally of the enemy’s losses read over to him – and it seemed to him that he had good reason for his pleasure; it would be long before Hordak was again in a position to challenge his own dark mastery. Taken unawares, his legions of Horde Troopers already embarked upon their transport vessels, and with scarcely any defending escort, the lord of the Horde had suffered a terrible defeat, and the list of his burned vessels and the ruin of his armies was pure pleasure to his rival’s hearing. And Hordak had turned tail and fled – seeking refuge elsewhere and abandoning his muster to their fate.

    “As to our own losses, my lord –”

    Skeletor waved his losses – and Trap Jaw – away. He had more significant matters to dwell upon.

    It was true that the Doom Tower had not fallen – and that he had judged it wiser not to press home his attack and try to seize it; the engagement could well have turned into a lengthy siege, and he had not the time nor yet the patience for such. And so he had left a part of his force there on Etheria to complete the work while he returned in triumph to Eternia, the richer for much plunder – and well satisfied.

    He also had the matter of Evil-Lyn’s insubordination to deal with. Casting back his mind he reviewed her conduct these last months – and was certain now that she was plotting something against him. Well; he would make her pay richly for her presumption; did she really think herself able to challenge his might? If so, then she would soon learn her error; and the lesson would be one not easy to forget – nor yet in need of teaching twice-over.

    It was thus that Skeletor returned to Eternia – both satisfied – and not.

    ******

    5.5

    She had them bring him to her in her own chambers; he stood there scowling, uncertain and out of place barefooted and in chains, but she smiled, filtering laughter through her long lashes, and bade him be seated – and dismissed the guards. At length, bristling with suspicion – but relieved not to be already laid on the Machine – he did as she had bidden him and lowered himself gingerly to the edge of a seat.

    He looked curiously about him as her back was turned; he had somehow expected opulence – even sybaritic luxury – and was surprised by the sparse, almost austere nature of her personal apartments.

    “Drink this.” She turned to him and held out a goblet with a graceful gesture – but he did not take it. “Come; drink with me.”

    “I’d rather not.”

    “Why? Do you fear that I would poison you, then?” Lyn put back her silvery head and laughed with apparently unfeigned amusement. “Oh, but I can see that you do!” She leaned closer, smiling at him. “And whatever makes you think that, if I wanted you dead, you would still be sat here before me; somewhat bruised and sore perhaps, but still very much alive? Answer me that, O Hero of Eternia! Or shall I first drink of this cup myself or else exchange them to assuage your suspicions?”

    He-Man paused, then nodded, a little shame-faced, and held out his hand for the vessel. It was wine – deep and rich and red as blood. He sipped at it, and felt its warmth run all through him.

    “It is good, is it not?”

    He shrugged, ill-inclined to courtesy – at least toward her.

    “It comes from the matchless vineyards of the fertile plains south of Eternos.”

    “So how did it make its way to you, then? I wouldn’t have thought King Randor would be sending you much by way of gifts.”

    “I have my methods, my sources. There is little enough befalls in Randor’s realm but that I soon know of it; sometimes even before it has taken place.” She smiled, but he did not return the look, still sitting scowling with suspicion on the edge of his seat and holding the goblet over-tightly, to judge from the pallor of his knuckles.

    “You wonder why you are here, do you not?” she asked.

    “Do you wonder that I wonder at it?”

    She smiled again, elliptically, and drank from her own goblet. “I can see the suspicion in your eyes; they do not hide things well, those eyes of yours – as I have already told you.”

    “Yes; when you were last torturing me,” he replied with resentful obduracy.

    “That ugly word again,” she remarked with a curl of her lip. “And right after I have had you bathed and cosseted again. So blunt – and so very ungallant, are you not? Scarcely fit company for a lady.”

    The quirking of a tawny eyebrow was sufficient sign that he had some doubts as to whether she qualified for that title, though he did not speak.

    “And, worse, you seem to imply that I have made you suffer for no better reason than my own amusement.”

    “I could surely be forgiven for thinking so!” he said sharply, a flame kindling in his eye.

    “It is not so. I do not wish to do you any harm.”

    “Then don’t!”

    “And in the end it will redound to your good.”

    “The probe, the needles – the whole damnable Machine itself seem a strange way of going about doing me this alleged ‘good’!”

    “Yes; I can understand how you might feel that.”

    “I’m delighted to hear it!” he said with anger-steeped irony. “And does that mean that the torture will stop?”

    “Alas no; it is not so simple a matter as that; it goes far deeper – as will become clear. And I have told you often enough, He-Man; if I hurt you then I do so most unwillingly; the responsibility for the pain inflicted on you is yours – not mine.”

    “No; you ask me for what you know I cannot – and will not – give you – the secrets of Grayskull.” His brows were a defiant line above burning eyes now as he faced her; he expected her immediate ire – and probably to be dragged off to torment again – but instead she merely laughed lightly.

    “Which – as you say – you cannot give me.”

    “I’m not going to.”

    “Because you can’t.”

    His brow creased, and he hid his face in the wine-cup. Was she mocking him again? Her voice sounded almost gay.

    “It would be wrong – a betrayal; and I won’t do it.”

    “No; of course not. The hero, lone and defiant though far from all aid and helplessly vulnerable to whatever is done to him; with dwindling reserves of strength and will and facing a hopeless task – yet nonetheless remaining resolute – and faithful to his loyalty. Such fine, bright courage – and how very fitting. You really are too good to be true.”

    She must surely be mocking him he decided – but the look in her eyes, the tone of her voice somehow belied that, for there was no hint of subtlety in her tone. He drank some more of the wine, confused. She rose and walked the chamber in her slow and graceful way; her long and slender figure drew his eye and his gaze followed her, admiring in spite of himself the pale sheen of her skin. He could detect the subtle scent of the perfume she wore – faint but alluring.

    “Of course,” she said, “there are secrets – and Secrets; some greater than others. My thought is that you are not exaggerating when you say that you cannot tell me what I would fain know – but not for the reasons you think. I believe that you cannot tell me because you do not, in fact, actually know.”

    He scowled at her, more confident of his ground again.

    “I think that – you seek to cozen me,” he said. “And I won’t listen to you.”

    “Forgive me,” she replied, “but you are bound to – if you will forgive the somewhat crass play on words? But listen you must, none the less.”

    He frowned; his tongue felt suddenly swollen in his mouth and he swallowed down a swift sense of nausea. The goblet was empty now.

    “You are trying to trap me with a deceit,” he said thickly.

    She too frowned, albeit differently.

    “You misunderstand me; there is no deceit here, no trap either simple or subtle. I mean what I say; you cannot tell me – because you simply do not know. Oh, I’m sure that you know some of it – a little – such as how to open that ridiculous jawbridge affair – and maybe somesuch more on that level; but it strikes me that the Sorceress would be a fool indeed to allow you to share in the deeper mysteries; and of the greater arcana of the Elders you know almost nothing. No; do not trouble to deny it; I know all too well of what I speak, for I have long studied this lore. Knowledge, you see, is the ultimate power; mere strength is not its match. In any case, why should she share her power; she who is old in sorcery and long upon her throne? Heroes come and heroes go – they do not tend to be a long-lived breed. She can easily replace them. And there is always the risk of capture and – persuasion – which would be a threat to her, should they yield; not all champions are as brave, strong and stalwart as you, He-Man. No; I’ll warrant that there is much that she has concealed from you – probably far more than you know.”

    He-Man sat and was troubled. There was truth in Lyn’s words, and he knew it. Why had the Sorceress hidden these matters from him? Surely the Power was his? – meant for him of old, for so she had told him – and yet the greater part of it had been kept from him. He knew this already – but not the reason. Why? With the knowledge of the Elders, allied to their – his – strength, then he could settle matters with Skeletor once and for all – banish him from Eternia – banish all evil from the land for all time and for the good of all! And yet she had withheld that power. And it was his by right – it was! And so what else had she failed to tell him; what more was concealed in the great mystery shrouded in an enigma and wrapped in a riddle that was Castle Grayskull? She must have had her reasons – surely – and yet –? The inscrutability of her past words and actions, her gnomic answers to his frequent questions – could there be other reasons for them? He shook his head at the unfamiliar thoughts. It was, at the very least strange – and unsettling. And he had never really considered it for himself, but had gone out to do battle as she directed him, her champion – obedient and willing; but seemingly only half-armored for the fight. Why? Why? Did she not want him to win – did she not want Skeletor’s evil reign ended? Then why had she not given him all of the Power –?

    He broke off the train of unanswerable questions as he became aware of Lyn’s eyes upon him; her sympathetic gaze.

    “They did not tell you, did they?” she asked quietly, and it was scarcely a question. “They should have trusted you and made you aware of what was being done to you.”

    “I – don’t know.” His blood coursed sluggishly through his veins; he could hear his own heartbeat, slow but over-loud, throb like a drum in his ear. Even his breathing seemed heavy, and he struggled to marshal his wayward thoughts as they flitted through his head. He looked up at her and blinked, stupefied, repeating that he did not know.

    “But I do; it was unfair – underhand. I would have been ashamed to treat a champion of mine in such a way – and yet they name me ‘Evil-Lyn.’”

    He gave her a lost look. His head felt heavy, his lids fit to close – but at least the endless ache in his limbs was suppressed for now. He was aware of the subtle perfume she wore, the fragrance of her – it seemed to be everywhere – even within his mind. He blinked; the chamber was spinning gently about him and he felt an overwhelming urge to lie down and to sleep. Her lovely eyes were still silver-shot violet upon him, though, so he shook his head to feel less dazed and pinched the bridge of his nose and forced himself to respond.

    “I’m – sure they meant well.”

    “In giving me that horrid, hurtful name?” Her arched brows rose even higher, incredulous.

    “No – I mean – not that.” What did he mean? He had quite forgotten what he had meant to say.

    “That the Sorceress, all-powerful and good, could do no wrong – and must have had fair motives in denying you access to her secrets – and maybe even her power? Is that what you mean?”

    “I – yes; yes – that.”

    “Then if all-powerful she be, then where is she, He-Man? Why has she not sent aid to you, or else come herself to succor your distress?” She bent close, her eyes intent upon him. “Can you be so sure? Can you?”

    “Yes – yes I can! I must –”

    “And so here you are: alone and in pain and bewildered; so very young and lacking in experience and without the power you need – and she sent you out again to fight. And in return she granted you – what? Strength that fades and cannot sustain you? Hope in what will never be? Or else to be abandoned and left all alone; bereft in your solitude and your pain?”

    “But – she wouldn’t –”

    “She already has!”

    His head fell before her fierce and too-seeing gaze and he nursed the long ache to himself. If only she had sent to him, spoken a few words of comfort to strengthen him as she had often before; if only he didn’t feel so terribly alone –

    He felt a hand touch gently at the crown of his head, but did not look up. He did not want her to see his tearful eyes, his weakness.

    “Come,” she said softly, her hand resting on the bowed blond head. “I will send you to rest and to be alone awhile with your thoughts. I have been hard on you – though I did not intend it. I just hate to see such – But no. I am – sorry.” She patted his back reassuringly – and soon they came to take him to the cell – mercifully the one with the bed; and there he cast himself down and buried his face in the bolster and shed his fill of heartbroken tears.

    Sorceress – why don’t you hear me? Why – have you – abandoned me –?

    And at last he wept himself into an exhausted sleep.


  24. #24
    Kickin' It Old Skool! Alex The Kid's Avatar
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    Great job so far sir!

    I love that you explored aspects of He-Man's character, power and limitations in Chapter 5! I commend you for delving into unknown territory and discovering what makes Adam worthy of the Power.

    A very interesting read and I'm certainly looking forward to more.

  25. #25
    Alcala Idolator Crusader's Avatar
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    I say well done, sir.

    Watching the various strategies unfold is a pure delight and it's refreshing to hear characters thinking, reasoning and exposing their motivations. Not to mention the sheer joy of reading intriguing conversation that is not prone to facile quipping. Great to see the heroic warriors interacting with each other as the comrades they are supposed to be.

    The properties and consequences of the Power are all well thought out and I appreciated the biblical resonance wrought throughout. Oh, and what a marvellous jab at Giffen's "I am the Power". I hope it makes him cower and call his own writings in doubt.

    Also, I'm looking forward to learn more about Man-At-Arms' former exploits.
    "A knight is sworn to valor. His heart knows only virtue. His blade defends the helpless. His word speaks only truth. His wrath undoes the wicked."

    http://www.redbubble.com/people/crusader

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