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

  1. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex The Kid View Post
    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.

    Thank-you; I'm very glad that you are enjoying the piece - and you are absolutely spot-on, too; I have always been fascinated by the nature of the Power - its limits as well as its strengths - and by the effects that this would certainly have on the one who was entrusted with it. Equally, by what makes Adam worthy of wielding such a - potentially dangerous - force - and why, therefore the dual persona is vital to the overall dramatic tension of the Eternian mythos.

    As I see it, Adam's innate decency and innocence actually protects He-Man from the possibly corrupting effects of using a power not really meant for mortal hands. But even decency and genuine good intentions have their limits - hence the serious stress suffered by He-Man under Evil-Lyn's subtle ministrations....

    (I shall post more of the tale soon; apologies for the delay, but I have been off fulfilling a part of my Reservist commitment.)
    Last edited by Scriptor; July 27, 2013 at 09:15am.

  2. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crusader View Post
    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.

    Why, thank-you; your very pertinent and telling comments are much appreciated by this author!

    Yes; I did try to make the plot involved - and involving; this is not the same format as a comic (thank the gods....) and so it allows more scope for development - not least in terms of character.
    To me one of the rather neglected aspects of the Eternian mythos is the actual natures of the characters themselves; WHY do they act as they do - and how does that influence the action? And do their characters ever alter over time? Some writers handle this well (I liked ML Humble's exploration of the origins of the Evil Warriors for just that reason) but it seems all too often be be completely ignored.

    As for the dialogue - well, no apologies for making it resonant and even somewhat archaic in tone; this is an epic of the endless fight of good and evil and - to my mind - the characters should NOT speak like brain-dead teenagers hanging around a Californian boardwalk; an opinion very evidently not shared by all who write MotU and who - frankly - should know better. Which also applies to such basics as the nature of the Power. It is all a matter of context.
    And - again yes; there was indeed an element of reaction to the poor quality of the current DC MotU offerings involved in my writing this. Could it really be that hard to do better? (albeit in a different format.) I am, after all, a writer - though this is my first Eternian foray.

    Whether I have succeeded is, of course, up to the judgement of others!
    Last edited by Scriptor; July 31, 2013 at 08:49am.

  3. #28
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    Chapter 6: Up to an high Place
     photo He-Mantempted_zps03588409.jpg

    6.1

    Up to an high Place

    “Lieutenant?”

    “Sir?”

    “Make to all units – and all allies in the field.”

    “Yessir! Standing by for signal, sir.”

    “Message as follows – usual channels and coding: Skeletor is returning from Etheria and appears to be on a heading for Snake Mountain. Numbers reported in transit appear fewer than departed. All surveillance units to monitor and stand by for updates; inform Eternos at once of all status changes. Message Ends. You’ve got that, son?”

    “Yessir! Copy to all?”

    “Make it so.”

    Duncan turned a grave face to his fellow Warriors. “So – he’s back,” he said.

    ******

    6.2

    They came for him in force, unannounced, and seized him, and he swallowed his pride and did not fight them this time, knowing that he could not win – and must save his dwindling strength for the ordeal to come. He was marched through the dim passageways and then dragged to the Machine and again pinioned there. One of them came with a syringe and plunged its fluid contents deep into his thigh. And then they left him waiting – and waiting. Already his heart was racing, sweat beginning to well and seep, trickling down as he tried to prepare himself. He had no hope of being spared anything; not any more. All that he could do was to hold out a little while longer – and ignore the treacherous inner voice that would not be still and which whispered of despair – and asked him why? Dry-mouthed, tensed with tremendous apprehension he lay there, his mind creating the agony before it arrived, his body keying itself up to endure once more. He had an all-too vivid recollection of her shocking him with the probe, jolting him again and again until he twitched intermittently even between its stinging, blistering kisses: of how, through her applying it to especially sensitive areas of his body, the urgent need to cry out had almost overwhelmed him, driving him to the very brink of breaking silence.

    She had even brought its gleaming menace close to his face until his weak flesh had betrayed his mind’s firm resolve by shying away. He had despised himself for that – though, strangely, she then touched his cheek only with her fingers and had immediately had him released, for once still fully conscious. He could not understand why she appeared to alternate between cruelty and a strange kindness – and it bothered him; the sheer unpredictability of it was unsettling. But this time her intentions were surely clear enough; once more he was here on the Machine, at her mercy, and soon she would come and hurt him again. It was inevitable – like the rising of the sun somewhere beyond these caverns which had imprisoned him all this time while it daily rose and set, set and rose; and still he was here – at the behest of her ever-changing whim. But no-one came. Nor was there a sound but for the Machine humming softly to itself. Time seemed to slow when he was spread on the Rack, as if it were itself stretched.

    Slowly he calmed and grew torpid again; he felt strangely light-headed, somehow detatched; perhaps it was his mind’s defense against the prospect of pain? If so then he was glad of it, having precious little other, since the Power was plainly leaving him and the Sorceress had clearly cast him off. Well; he had failed them all by his rashness and must surely atone – but he could not quite suppress a sense of resentment: was that one failure good reason to abandon him to this lonely torment of drawn-out death? He sighed and tried to think of other things – but his mind seemed clouded and lucid thought eluded him. His sweat dried on him, salted his lips.Time passed immeasurably by; he lay and awaited her arrival – but still she did not come. His eyelids grew heavy and he yawned, drifting into drowsiness – and, in the end, exhausted with long effort, He-Man fell fast asleep.

    He awoke slowly, to the gentle caress of soothing hands; surfacing from deep, drugged stupor, he stirred.

    “Teela –?”

    “Shhh – lie still.”

    The hands were as gentle as the voice. He lay as bidden and let out a long, long sigh.

    It felt so good to be soothed in this way, so very good. The sheer relief of it after suffering so made his head feel light and his senses swim. He allowed his mind to float, to drift wherever it would – and soon it found its way to the glowing green of the Palace pleasance. They were lying under the sun, on the grass and Teela was holding him down, punishing him for some quip in her usual way, her hand up his shirt, her probing fingers tickling him until he squirmed and giggled in utter helplessness. “Work on your core muscles, Adam, like I tell you to! Three hundred sit-ups and two hundred crunches – and I shall check!” “A’right! A’right – I promise – I promise – stop! Teela – stop!” And she did and looked down at him green-eyed and grinning white at her victory. For a moment – a moment only – he felt himself surfacing, as if coming up out of deep water – but the image of her face was strong and, with an effort of will, he clung to it and was able to be back there on the grass with her. And she put her soft lips to his and kissed him, and was kind to him; she comforted his abused body and her falling tears healed his hurts as she showed forth compassion – and love. It was in her eyes – and he felt his own love mount to meet it – and the swift onset of sorrow. For at once he knew that it could not be – could never be. He was Adam, yes – there in the garden – but he was also He-Man, and he could not love her – not in that form. It would not – could not – be permitted – not in the usual way of love between man and woman. He-Man indeed – but not a man in that sense at least, for he must be alone, always, sworn to defend all Eternia’s creatures from evil. Alone, ever apart – but Teela was close again, smiling; her hands were on him, soft and caressing; it felt – oh, so very wonderful! But it was wrong – wrong! Not for him, her love. As Adam – possibly; but she did not, could not love poor Adam; or if she did then it was as a brother, a friend. And he knew that Teela felt – something – for him; but that was as He-Man – His head span in swirling confusion – which was he? – Who was he? They must always be kept separate, the hero and the prince – and now, here, caught fast in the twin vice cheeks of pain and helplessness, they were pressing all-too close! He-Man was innured to hardship, endurance, self-denial; there could be no place for softness in a life sworn to the dedicated defense of the good of Eternia and its peoples. But right now he really needed her – and was it too much to ask, considering how he had suffered? Was it? That she should come to him in his need and comfort him with her love? Again he felt love strong within him – and then a fierce upsurge of desire, of feelings long suppressed and shut deep away within. It was like a spreading fire that would not be denied, and he moaned aloud and writhed with it as he lay under her. He must not – but he knew that he must. With another groan he made to embrace her, but she held down his hands, immobilizing him. Puzzled he tried again but could not make shift at all; her grip was like steel – like steel!

    His eyes opened and blinked stupidly in the brightness of the light – but not that of the sun. He was still on the Machine; the grip that held him down was indeed of steel – but the hands upon him were not Teela’s. And realization brought a flush of anger – and he raised his head as best he could and struggled fruitlessly in sheer frustration.

    “Witch! You tricked me! Damn you to darkness!”

    Slowly she left off him and rose, and her smirk was no less satisfied than before.

    “Not very polite of you, He-Man. Besides – you tricked yourself – didn’t you?”

    “I – I – No!”

    “Oh, I think that we both know that you did.”

    “I could throttle you!”

    “Not right now you couldn’t. And since when has He-Man ever harmed a woman? Besides, I’m right – and you know it, too; hence your anger, which I think is aimed as much at yourself as at me.”

    “Blast you!”

    “For what? Being right? Taking pity on your need, your noble self-denial all this time? Tut-tut, He-Man; hardly the attitude of a high-minded hero, is it?”

    “When I get free, I’ll –!”

    “What? What will you do – assuming that you do ever get free by your own agency – which hardly looks likely, does it? Besides, you’re being silly, aren’t you? Struggling only makes you weaker and the restraints stronger, remember?”

    But he ignored her, heaving about as best he could, snarling and cursing. So she pointedly picked up the control for the Rack and held it before his raging and resentful eyes. “Well – do I press this button? Or do you behave yourself?”

    “You –!”

    “Last warning; you haven’t actually screamed out loud for me yet, have you? But I can soon change that.”

    He struggled a moment more, then collapsed back with a sigh, spent – but also definitely cowed by the threat. He recovered his breath and lay there very still, glaring up at her, bravely, pathetically, trying to brace himself for the inevitable.

    But she did not torture him; at least not by the operation of the Machine. Instead she smiled subtly and nodded with a kind of grim approval. “You are learning – good boy. You really will have to submit in the end, you know. Why drag it out?”

    “I won’t give in – I won’t!”

    “You must – and you already know it.”

    “I shan’t! You’ll only pass it all on to Skeletor and then untold evil will be let loose as Grayskull falls!”

    “Skeletor? Is that what you believe? Truly? Have you not yet understood that he is as much my enemy as yours – and that, should he ever learn that I hold you here, my fate and yours would be alike?”

    “So you say.”

    “I do; and it is true. He would destroy you with the greatest of exquisite pleasure.”

    “While you – do this to me.”

    “And if I do, He-Man, then it is not out of spite, nor yet cruelty. And – as I have told you – it gives me no pleasure. I am not like Skeletor; indeed I would gladly defeat the Lord of Chaos and cast him out – our mutual enemy.”

    “Your master!”

    “He is no master of mine.” She shook her head with slow and deliberate emphasis. “If only you knew how I hate him!”

    “You just say that because you intend to betray him!”

    “Betray? Ah, my noble young hero – betrayal is a relative term. Even love can turn to treason; it is far from the least apt of emotions to do so. Few hatreds are as bitter as those that stem from love abused, love betrayed.”

    She looked at him – and their eyes met – and held. And yet it was he who looked away the first.

    “You do not understand do you? And, in some wise, I am glad of that; of your dear innocence. For I would not have you hurt.”

    He gave a short laugh of bitter irony at her words, since he did not follow her meaning – and she sighed.

    “Well, that will come, I suppose – if you insist on defying what must be. But I wish that there were an easier way to make you understand than this.” She walked slowly around him, observing. “You really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, you know – or indeed so hard on us both. I keep on telling you; it gives me no pleasure to hurt you – none at all.”

    “If only I could believe that.”

    “Ah – but you do, don’t you? Already, in your heart, you know it to be true.”

    “But I don’t know; I can’t tell if what you say is what you really mean.”

    She noted that the bitterness was gone from his voice with the frankness of the admission; now he sounded reproachful rather than resentful – and sad.

    “I have but tried to show you the truth. You should not fight me but rather trust me – as I do you.”

    “But you keep on torturing me, so I have to fight back. I have to.”

    “Yet by your obduracy and silence you insist on making me harm you – forcing me to do those things I most abhor. And I would so gladly take pity on you – if you would but do the same for me.”

    “But – you say there aren’t any secrets in Grayskull that I can tell you – so – why are you doing this to me? I – I don’t understand!”

    “Because you must come to trust me – and prove it by your co-operation before I can set you free.”

    “Free from this machine?”

    “Yes – but more importantly free from the bonds which hold your mind shackled far more surely than those which hold you here.”

    “What – what do you mean by that?”

    “You will soon see. I shall explain it to you at the proper time. When you are in a fitter mind to listen.”

    “Does that mean –?” he broke off and gulped down rising apprehension, “that you will – hurt – me again?”

    “If I must – and only for your own good and that of Eternia – though I would far liefer not.”

    He gave a sort of shudder and his eyes closed, resigned. For some time he lay still and silent, his breathing growing calmer. And then they opened again and sought hers.

    “Set me free, Lyn,” he said, very quietly.

    “I am trying to – do you not yet understand that? But you do not help me – and so it goes on, though we both grow weary of it.”

    He sighed heavily and looked away and she allowed him the time he needed; after all, that commodity was on her side, not his. After a while his head lifted and he spoke, his voice strained.

    “Lyn – listen to me. If you will – stop – torturing me – and you say you hate doing it – then when my friends come for me, I promise that I’ll let no harm befall you; I’ll – even plead for you at your trial. I swear it.”

    She gazed down at him, the sweat-streaked body, the pitiful wanhope look in his eyes – and slowly shook her head.

    “They are not coming, these supposed friends of yours. You defend those who have deserted you – who are as much in thrall to lies and deceit as you are. Put by all thought of rescue if it gives you hope, for – like your courage and your resilience – hope is not your friend – and can only prolong your sufferings.” She watched his faint flicker of aspiration douse at her words – and sighed. “My constant hero – so touchingly, unfailingly willing to suffer – and in so bad a cause.” She leaned over him, bringing her face close to his. “Truly I pity you – and it makes me want to help you all the more. But you must first help me.”

    “By breaking faith with those who trust me?”

    I trust you – implicitly. Cannot you trust me?”

    “I – I – don’t think I should.”

    “Why not? Because you are afraid that I am not sincere?”

    “And aren’t you? I only wish I knew.”

    She could see that his former anger was absent; he lay subdued and his expression now was merely forlorn. So she put her lips to his ear and urged him to submit.

    “I am right, He-Man – I really, really am. I only wish that I could make you believe me – and allow me to end all this. I would far rather heal than harm you – make amends to you for this harsh treatment. It grieves me to see such misplaced valor, such pointless pain – and that you are so very alone.” Her fingers caressed his hair, his cheek. He looked back at her with wounded eyes. “Won’t you do this for me – please? It would make me so very happy.”

    There were tears on his face now; at last. She could afford to be magnanimous in her victory.

    “I – can’t! I – I just can’t!”

    “Why do you insist on inflicting such suffering on yourself?”

    “You do it to me!” It was almost a sob. “Why do you torment me so? I have never harmed you!”

    “You know why; and what you have to do to stop it.” Her voice was soft; strangely kind.

    “But – I mustn’t! You know that I mustn’t!”

    “Then ask yourself this: those whom you defend with your pain, your lone suffering and struggle – where are they? You tell me that they will come for you – but none have done so. Why have they not come hastening to the rescue of the dashing young hero who has saved them countless times since he appeared out of nowhere nigh-on a year ago? Not altogether an easy year, was it? I imagine that even your brief time as a captive in the Doom Tower was of a nature to leave unpleasing memories. I doubt that Hordak and his Horde proved as kind as I – and I would be all the more so if you would but let me. And when you fell into my hands, did I make you over to Skeletor, who would so gladly have destroyed you out of sheer hatred and spite? That would most surely not have been an easy death for you; but I spared you, as I have since. Tell me, He-Man – who of all your friends has done as much as I, shown greater care for you? They have not lifted a finger to save you, but let you hand yourself over – and then abandoned you.”

    “They didn’t want me to! They tried to stop me!”

    “Well of course they did, you poor, trusting boy; they knew that, with you gone, they would have to take some risks of their own – for a change. No wonder they wanted you stood at your post – between them and their foes – as ever! How fortunate, then, that it was to my hands you came, and not those of the enemy.”

    “But – but – you tortured me!” There were more tears now; bewilderment and exhaustion had worn away at his resistance, fretted his fine resolve.

    “Not without good cause – and that far better than you can at present know. And, though I have been forced to hurt you, I have spared you all that I could – and I have done you no harm which cannot readily be healed by my art. This you must surely own for yourself – for every word of it is truth. And yet you persist in seeing me as the enemy. I told you, did I not, that you should learn to distinguish better between friend and foe?”

    “I don’t know which is which – or what I’m doing any more – I don’t even know who I am!”

    She considerately concealed her pleasure at his unguarded outburst and leaned close, her steepled hands gently framing his face with its hurt and tear-bright eyes. “Do but ask yourself why I have done this – and you will find that you know the answer well-enough.” She dropped her lips to his and kissed them, lingering, only drawing away when his body beneath hers lay completely relaxed again.

    He gazed up at her with dazed perplexity; he could see only sadness – and compassion – in her lovely eyes. Yet the long fingers which touched tenderly at his face and gently wiped away his tears were those same which controlled the Machine to inflict such excruciating agony upon him. Truly, it was beyond his understanding. She brought water to him and again helped him to drink – and all the while he watched her and wondered. And his heart yearned – though he did not know for what.

    “Well; you have much to think about, haven’t you? And are rather overwrought, too – and I really do think that you have some earned rest and respite. I will have you taken from here and given over to my servants to be tended again. Would you like that? You would? Good.”

    And she gave order accordingly and he was released and taken away; it caused her to smile secretively when his head remained over his shoulder, looking at her with a kind of bruised and abject wonderment until they led him through the doorway.

    ******

    6.3

    Orko awaited word in the long silence of the Great Hall of Castle Grayskull; it had been a goodly while since last the Sorceress had last spoken – and he sensed very clearly that she was putting forth all her power in the bid to locate where He-Man was being held. It was needful – and he must perforce abide in patience. The waiting was playing on his mind, though – and multiplying his own doubts and worries.

    He knew well enough that Man-at-Arms did not approve his being sent to take the Sword of Power to its chosen wielder – not at all. He understood that Duncan placed little faith in his magical art and even in his innate competence to carry out so vital a task. And Duncan, he thought, might yet be proved right. But when he had asked the Sorceress about this she had merely smiled faintly and spoken thus in answer: ‘Duncan is a man of science throughout; to him all power must stem from provable knowledge, must be clearly explicable. He accepts the reality of the existence of magical strength – but he does not much like it. He was ever thus – even as a young man.’ She had broken off then and smiled to herself – a look tinged with a certain wry affection. ‘He was uncomfortable with the power I discovered within me – and with the insistent and implacable call of Grayskull which came between us.’ And she had fallen silent again, her mind clearly in the past, while Orko watched her guarded face; it was so seldom that she spoke of herself, of the time when she and Duncan had been – close. And she had made a great sacrifice for the Power – two great sacrifices – he reminded himself. And that must have left its indelible mark upon her – upon them both; albeit in different ways. Yet, for all their long silence, the imposed barrier which lay between them, it remained yet clear to his seeing eye, that overtly denied mutual affection – both strong and enduring.

    Not only that, but Dekker had once hinted of how stern, dour, canny Duncan had once laid-down his duty and his solemn care and – in defiance of both orders and all rational sense – raced off to rescue her from diremost peril.

    Even as Adam had done in his turn. No wonder Duncan had felt so torn about arresting the lad – even on the orders of the king – and preventing his going after Teela. The necessity of it must have tugged hard at his heartstrings as he remembered his own youthful ardor.

    And yet, in the end Grayskull had taken her to its own service; the high duty of the Sorceress could not be denied – and poor Duncan had been bereft. Bereft – but not alone. Orko sighed; he felt deeply for these poor, tangled human creatures. If only he had all his old power back, then maybe he could –? But, no; that was merely a dream – and folly; and of folly there had surely been sufficient. And now he himself, with precious little more resource than they, must somehow be brave and steel himself to go and succor Adam in his self-inflicted plight. For he too had a high duty to which he was sworn – and which he could not – would not – deny.

    But, all the same, the silent vigil in this chill hall was doing nothing for his courage.

    And – lost somewhere afar – Adam was alone and in pain, needing his aid.

    And still the wait went on.

    ******

    6.4

    She entered the cell, alone and unannounced and made him an offer.

    He was at once tempted – vastly; it was just what he had yearned for in his thoughts, but he was suspicious too and hesitated before answering her, his tone dubious.

    “Why, Lyn? Tell me that.”

    “Because it would be good for you to walk out in the sun and the air – and because I should dislike seeing you grow pallid and unhealthy – it offends my sense of the fitting. But chiefly because I know that if you give me your word not to attempt to escape then you will keep it.”

    He looked at her, licked at dry lips, then lowered his head, regret apparent in every movement. His eyes were hidden by the fall of his fringe of hair, but she had no need of what they would tell her. His entire body sagged heavily in its chains.

    “I – I can’t do that.”

    “You did before.”

    “But that wasn’t for me – and this would be.”

    “I see – an interesting distinction. Nice, almost; I can respect that – your innate nobility of spirit. Well, you really aren’t going to free yourself anyway, are you? And so let us say that I am feeling generous today.” She turned to her silent and watchful servants and spoke to them in their own harsh tongue. They at once unhooked He-Man from the hanging chain and even removed the links which ran between the gyves on his ankles, the first time they had done so – except for when they spread him on the Machine. The chain connecting his wrist shackles, however, remained in place. They gave him wine and water mingled to drink, and all the while Evil-Lyn stood by and watched their work. He lowered his gaze to hers, distrustful, but she only smiled. “Come,” she said. “Follow.”

    It felt really very strange to walk again of his own free will, without being dragged or carried, and to do so without the ankle chain which hobbled him made his legs feel absurdly light. But the steady upward slope of the passages was telling on him long before the glimmer of true daylight showed ahead; further proof, if any were needed, that his unmatched strength was failing. That he, the champion of Grayskull, should find his breathing a touch troubled, his legs begin to tire from walking awhile uphill! Yet emerging into the clear light of the sun, the feel of the breeze on his face and body made the unwonted effort a thousandfold worthwhile. He stood and stared, as if he had never seen such things before, his eyes blinking in the relentlessness of the light of a noontide sun high overhead.

    He breathed deep of the sea air, filling his lungs with it until it rushed to his head and set it spinning like too much wine. Seabirds swooped and cried in shrill and beckoning voices; the ocean below foamed white and a thousand shades of green and grey and blue. The sun sank its welcome heat into his shoulders warming and soothing his aching body; quickened, he gave a long, rapt sigh of contentment and looked his fill.

    “And is this not better than a dungeon cell, He-Man? Is it not good to be alive and free?”

    He looked at her and silently held up his fettered hands with a wry smile.

    “Ingrate; I should spare my pains.”

    “As I recall it most of the pains were mine.”

    In some strange way they were smiling at one another like old friends, complicit in the black-hued humor of it. It was – strange – and it puzzled him; but the fresh breeze off the sea flacked his hair and the sun shone warm on his back and – well – she was right; it was good to be alive and – relatively – free.

    “And I’m really not ungrateful,” he gruffed. There; it was out – and with perhaps less ill grace than altogether deserved.

    She smiled enigmatically in that way of hers he was coming to know, and then turned aside to look out over the expanse of water which stretched blue beyond sight. He watched her, his eye drawn to the lithe shape of her, the fascinating pearlescence of her skin, so smooth and fine. He could not help but wonder if it were as soft to the touch as it appeared.

    “Come,” she said, beckoning him on. “Come up higher – and see.”

    There was a high place; winding rock-cut steps led up to it and at the top a low wall surrounded a wide half-circle of paved stone terrace backing onto the cliff behind. Beneath, far beneath, the sea seethed, boiling foam over the rocks. There was sun and wind and the cries of the white and wheeling birds. He stared out, seeing other islands set in the blueness of the sea, and a far horizon. The idea of returning to that noisome cell with its Hook was well-nigh unbearable – and he tried hard not to give the Machine a thought – though it was present, lurking in the back of his mind, a darkly bright threat which would not quite go away.

    “Behold,” she said. “All Eternia lies before us.” Her hand laid itself gently on his shoulder and, diverted, he let it lie.

    “There is more to Eternia than the Southern Seas,” he answered, looking out. “But it lies far off.”

    “Indeed so; but for those who have power to see, no place lies far off.” Her slender fingers now passed before his eyes and she spoke a few words in some long-lost arcane tongue – and suddenly he started – and stared in wide-eyed wonder.

    There before him lay all the inhabited lands – as if drawn somehow on the insubstantial air itself. Far-off indeed – and at the same time almost close enough to touch. Yet this was no mere map, but instead a living world in miniature, conjured forth by her enchantments and laid out fair to be seen. He stared in wonderment while her voice went smoothly on.

    “Behold Eternia – this one wonder of a world, set like a gem amid the unnumbered stars. How lovely it lies; seen from here it is perfect in its beauty, a world unmarred by shadows, unstained by sorrow. And yet it is not so.”

    She paused and turned her head to look at him, but his eyes were intent upon the vision before him, his expression rapt. Her hand rose, pointing.

    “See there – the Ice Mountains, the fabled realm of Valmorlar. Southward, the Vine Jungle – there Gorthlindir, there the Evergreen Forest; and the Fire Sands – the Forest of Gwylvos and the inner seas – all are here. Indeed, all the land is here – all the realms of Eternia, each and every one. And they are many – too many. All these petty lordships with their little, little rulers, always bickering, always warring, never showing understanding; for what do they stand? Where lies good governance in all of Eternia? What realm lives free of fear? Not yours, for sure – behold Eternos!” And there it lay now before him, exquisite in its gem-like beauty and perfect in detail, the great lake shimmering beyond. The sight of it made his captive heart stir with yearning. “And this you defend with your courage against the might of Skeletor. But never can you cast him down, for he is no longer of man-kind but become demonic, and cannot easily be ended. And you, for all your vast strength and valor, are but a man – and mortal. There is none in all Eternia who may finally defeat the Lord of Destruction – none! You stare at me; did you not know this? Did they not tell you of it? They should have; indeed they should – for how can you fight that which you cannot defeat? And yet – and yet – there is a way; there is indeed a way to defeat and drive-off even Skeletor, a way to bring peace to all Eternia – and that a lasting peace.”

    He looked at her, distracted even from the heart-searing vision of his distant home by her words.

    “Peace? But how?”

    “It will come only when Skeletor is banished to a place where even he can do but little harm. And for that to come about he must first be thrown down – defeated in the duello, overcome in the fight by one mightier than he.”

    “But – you just said for yourself that there isn’t such a one! Not in all Eternia – I heard you say it!”

    “Yes indeed; and I stand by those words – for they are true.”

    “Then – I don’t understand.” He looked at her; the blue eyes were bemused – but she was not done yet. She paced the paving, her shadow slender set aside the long wide shape of his.

    “A subtlety of speech; I said only that there is none to match him – yet.”

    “Yet? Do you mean that –?”

    “I mean that such a one could arise – will arise! One with the power to cast down and exile the Dark One forever, so that his shadow lie no more across this unhappy world, and all echo of his strife be forgotten. Imagine, He-Man, the beauty of this world of ours were it but free of his dark and brooding presence, his ceaseless malice, his gnawing spite. See – it lies before you, all its realms, all its cities and peoples – and it lies within the power of one man to set it free! Look again now – look well!”

    Her hands wove gracefully in the air – and the vision stirred before him; it brightened as if the sun had emerged from cloud, or else a dark shadow passed away. Deserts grew green and lush, forests and tilled fields flourished where before was but barren rock: there were dwellings where wilderness had been; new cities reared bright and hopeful towers. Eternia was made anew – and transfigured. His eyes widened, his lips parted in wonder as he responded to the sight – and he turned an animated face on her, suddenly boyish in its eagerness. “Why, it’s beautiful!” he marveled, “it’s far lovelier than I could ever have imagined it! And so very –” He gestured wide – and the chain between his wrists drew him up short – and he looked down at his bonds – and the swift-kindled fire within him as swiftly doused and died. His head, his shoulders drooped; the elation went from his voice so that it grew sullen. “But it isn’t real.”

    “No; but it could be.”

    He looked at her; the exiled yearning was still there, but veiled now in suspicion.

    “And yet it will take great bravery – and also belief.” She smiled at him, there in the sunlight. “Belief is hard, He-Man; hardest of all is getting others to share that belief.” She gestured to the floating, perfected world before them. “I believe,” she said simply. “I could not have created such a vision, for all my skill, without the underlying conviction that it could indeed be made true. You may know but little of the art magical, but that I am sure you can comprehend that for yourself.”

    He nodded unwillingly, wary.

    “The world I have set before you is but an image of the world that would be – will be – when one arises in might; one who can challenge his Dark Eminence. Consider these things: an end to all wars, the senseless waste of it. Good governance spread – with its manifold benefits – all across the surface of the planet, its peoples set free – and at peace. And the peace thus created would endure, too, He-Man. With Skeletor overthrown and banished, Hordak confined forever to Etheria, how could it not? For evil would have flown.” She turned her fine eyes on him, and they were shot-through with silver and with crystal of amethyst. “Is that not a prize worth the striving for? I believe that it is!”

    He looked at her, and the yearning warred with doubt in his troubled mind. He lifted his hands and ran them through his hair, rattling the chain.

    “But – you serve Skeletor yourself. And yet you would banish him, see him overthrown? Why, Lyn? Tell me that.”

    She shrugged. “Because, through my art, I have scried into the world that will be – and I did not see him there.”

    “So – you just want to be on the winning side, do you?” He scowled at her – but his antagonistic expression changed to astonishment when she put back her pale-haired head – and the terrace and its stones, the cliff behind, all echoed with her clear laughter, drowning out the cries of the circling birds.

    “Oh, but you are such a darling, you really are! I wish that your lovely innocence might be forever preserved as a reminder of a kindlier world that was!”

    “You mock me,” he said with sullen offense, but again she laughed – a silvery sound – and came to him, placing her soft-skinned hands on his shoulders and looking up into his eyes. Communing with their glittering, shifting depths made him feel giddy, as if he were falling into them; violet-silver crystal suffused his vision and blurred it with clarity.

    “No,” she said, smiling without ambiguity, brighter than the sunlight which now caressed her high cheekbones. “No; I do not mock you at all – I mean what I say; no more, no less. It is only because you can share my dream that you can see for yourself the vision I create; we are alike in that, you and I.” Her long, slender fingers reached to brush aside his hair and stroke his cheek; her enchanting eyes compelled him; he could not look away. “Yet, He-Man, allow me to explain something of the art magical – no, do not frown; there is no harm in it, I swear. It is safe enough even for your tender ears. In brief, the reason why I did not see Skeletor on the world I seek to build is simple; he was not there because he was – elsewhere – banished – and thus that better world could come about, he having left it. Do you follow me in this?”

    He nodded his head slowly, gazing down into her eyes, mesmerized by their disorienting depths. “I – think so. It is because you were able to defeat him that you could not see him – and thus your choice was already made. Am I right?”

    She looked up at him, suddenly seeming sad, and shook her head; the long dark-lashed lids obscured her eyes. “You are right about the choice having been made – but you are wrong in thinking that it is I who will defeat the Lord of Destruction. For that task is beyond me – I, alone, have not such power. No, He-Man; that glory is to be yours – you will be the one to cast him down, to banish him – and to usher-in the long and golden peace which will see Eternia become what it truly should be; even as we have now seen it arrayed before us; remade, renewed – unmarred.”

    “Me?” he said incredulously. “But – you only just told me that he is beyond me, that I cannot defeat him – that he cannot die!”

    “Die? No; for he is gone beyond such mortal bounds. But he may be banished to a place which would make death seem sweet by comparison, deminimalized to a lower plane of existence.”

    He stared at her, his face, close to hers, perplexed. “But what does that mean?”

    “There are dark places set aside from this seen and seeing world of which you know nothing. But it is there that the soul-snatchers, demoniac entities confined to the beyond, lie forever in wait. And they hunger always; are forever famished.”

    “They – steal souls?”

    “It is their only way into this our world, to entrap a soul and devour it for their own use. And the souls of the powerful are those they covet the most – for they themselves are weak, and have but one weapon. And that weapon is fear, of which they are masters. And Skeletor has communed with them in extending his power – and now they lie always in wait for him. If thrown down and banished to the Forsaken Realm, they would swallow him. This he knows – and thus is never free of that fear.”

    “But – that still means that he has to be defeated first – and you told me that I could never defeat him!” Anger was replacing puzzlement in his eyes. “And now you tell me that I’m to be the one to do it! Are you cozening me? Isn’t all this merely some new trick of yours?” He glared at her – then threw off her arms and took a few angry paces. She watched his hunched shoulders, the broad seething back, and sighed.

    “It is no trick; it is true – though I see that I have not as yet succeeded in getting you to share my belief. Well – I said that it was hard to do. But perhaps I have not explained the matter well. Listen, then: the defeat of Skeletor is indeed beyond you as you are now; but there will come a time when that is no longer so – because you will have been granted a new and greater power than that which has already been vouchsafed to you. And you will know how to make use of it – and wield it with a greater skill and to greater effect than you do your Sword of Grayskull.”

    He turned abruptly and stared at her, of a sudden very still; again she smiled. “Come now; did you truly imagine that I do not know whence the Sword came – and what it represents? I told you; I have long made study of this lore – and there is much that I know – and much still to learn. You remember that we spoke of it – the power you have been granted – and that which has been withheld? I spoke of secrets and Secrets. And I asked you why the Sorceress had not told you of these things – and you had no answer for me, had you? But you did not deny that there was yet greater power to be had from Grayskull, did you? And if you had, then I would not have believed you – for I know it to be true. There is an ancient power lies within that place – the power of a great warrior king and sage of old, vested in and magnified by the Elders. It is yours by right – none can deny it to you in justice. And I tell you this, O Champion of Grayskull: until you possess that power in full – both strength and knowledge – then you never can send Skeletor down to final defeat. Oh, you may triumph for a day, a year – but never will you be rid of him. His hatred for you has unhinged his mind; you symbolize for him all that he is not, can never be – and all that he would fain destroy because he can no longer possess it.” She paused – and her voice faltered, changed. “And, one day, he will surely overcome you – and that will be your end, and that of all you fight for – and the world re-made I set forth before you will remain forever nothing more than a pretty dream – and as fleeting and insubstantial.”

    She turned away from him – and he thought for a moment that he had heard her sob – but perhaps it was only the seabirds’ cry.

    “Lyn – I’m sorry. I – I – did you wrong.” He looked down at his feet, bare on the sun-warmed stone.

    “Perhaps,” she said quietly, “we wronged one other.”

    And then there was a long silence in that high place. The breeze off the sea stirred and shifted and the sea itself sighed slowly beneath them. And then he spoke, his voice more decided.

    “I cannot lay hold on that power unless it is given to me. It is not to be simply – taken. It would be – wrong.”

    “And who told you that? Ah – the Sorceress! But of course!”

    But he shook his head. “No – for she did not speak of it; she told me only what could be granted to me; the Power I hold from her, from Grayskull.”

    “And did she offer any reason why the rest should be withheld?”

    He looked at her – and again his head fell. “No,” he muttered. “She did not.”

    “And, without proof, you took what she told you on faith – and never questioned it?”

    The fair head rose again quickly at her question. His voice rose with it.

    “But I did question! I just couldn’t accept that –” He broke off abruptly, aware of having said too much – and he avoided her eye.

    “I see,” she said; no more than that. He shifted uncomfortably; something in her tone suggested that she did see as well.

    “Are you afraid to face Skeletor?”

    “No! I have already fought him – more than once. I am not afraid.”

    “But you may fight him fully ten thousand times – and beat him too – and he remains Skeletor, a great lord of the Darkness: if he beat you but the once – then farewell, He-Man, forever. Perhaps you would be wiser to be afraid – for it is a battle which, limited and hampered as you are by the Sorceress’ will, ultimately you cannot win.”

    “But I must fight him, nonetheless.”

    “Yes – of course; as day battles night. It must be so. But tell me; would it not be better if you were armed with the knowledge which would secure victory for you – and for Eternia renewed?”

    “It would be – better – yes. But the Sorceress –” He broke off; she had turned abruptly away from him. He saw her slender shoulders heave. “What – what is it?”

    “It makes me so very angry to see you so shamefully used! You have been lied to – and that with foul intent. And you, in good part, have faithfully believed it all! And thus you are condemned to fight without hope of ultimate victory – and so to your certain death!” She span and faced him – and he gave back before the bright anger in her eyes; but there was more than anger – for, surely, those were tears?

    “Lyn – I must be true to my vow.” His voice was suddenly defensive.

    “You have been – none truer – and look what it has done to you! Look what she has done to you! You could be truly, truly great – it lies within you; do you think that I do not see that, do not know that? You have power, strength, courage – the ability to inspire, to win hearts, to lead! You could establish that golden time, rule in peace over a land of plenty; every race, every last kingdom would welcome you as its liberator, its savior – all crowns and lordships would be yours. With that ancient might and wisdom allied there would be none to challenge you; with my power and yours conjoined, then there would be none to challenge us. None would dare. But there would be no challenges, for there would at long last be peace! Just imagine the strength we should command had we but both: yours and mine – together! I have already drawn on great power from afar, but this would be yet greater. We would not just possess the Power – we would become the Power! We would order all things according to our will – and for the good of all. Do but imagine: peace and good governance; one strong rule spread across land and sea instead of the division, the instability of all these petty kingdoms. A high king – a true king for all Eternia! And at his side a queen; wise and gracious – and beloved.”

    He stared at her, the fierce beauty of her, the strong conviction shining out from all her words. His own arguments seemed childish by comparison – and selfish, too, for this she wanted for the good of Eternia, the good of all. The Sorceress had never shared any such glorious vision with him; she spoke only of duty, and of danger, of the need for him to fight battle after battle; but it appeared now that he could never win that fight – and Lyn’s vision of a transfigured Eternia was truly lovely – as she herself was lovely; dazzling to his eyes. And yet –

    “I – pledged my word –”

    “Which you always keep, do you not? Yes; for you are He-Man; noble, good and strong. Yet perhaps not always wise. Possession of the knowledge of the Elders would soon heal that lack within you – and show you that I am right.”

    “But it sounds like a great deal of power for one man to hold. He would need to wield it wisely.”

    “Which you would – with due guidance. Noble and upright as you are, you would acquire the wisdom to do so – and I could direct you towards the goal we both seek; the golden glory of an Eternia renewed, free of evil – and at peace.”

    He stared at her, and the yearning was again in his eyes – and with it the doubt.

    “I can’t just take what isn’t meant for me.”

    “But it IS meant for you – the power, the whole power of the Ancients is yours by right. I have long studied this lore - and by my inner sight know that you were born to be a king. I have forseen it -- and such visions cannot lie! It is only the will of the Sorceress – who has elected to withhold it from you – which denies the granting. The knowledge should – and must – go along with the strength to make you what you were always meant to be; the Hero of Eternia – and its overlord – and king!”

    “King Randor –”

    “Randor is but one of many rulers in this world; he too would surely acknowledge your sway – and gladly. So would they all – for you are their natural overlord and master – and your rule would be wise and just and, with the fall of Skeletor, would bring lasting peace to all.”

    “But –” He rubbed at his face with the heels of his palms, setting his fetters rattling. “I don’t think I was meant to be – that kind of king. The Sorceress did not speak of it.”

    “No – plainly not, and it seems to me again that she is much to be blamed for that omission. And it makes me question her reasons.”

    “I have had no cause to doubt her.”

    “Until now.”

    He looked at her and then bowed his head, unable to match her certainty with his own growing doubts. It made his head spin, and his hands clenched and unclenched, an outward sign of his inner struggle.

    “Why won’t you see this, He-Man? Why won’t you help me to bring this about, for the good of all this world? Or are you the only one who is allowed to try to save it – and to love it?”

    He looked at her vivid face, her shining and passionate eyes – and was drawn in once again by their silver-shot violet depths; he felt the compelling urge to do as she wished, to bring about all that she had said, rise strongly within him. He swayed on his feet like one drunken, his thoughts reeling, focusing only with difficulty. His mind felt giddy with the overwhelming lure of it; her words seemed to be within his head, as if he heard them without hearing. He blinked in the sunlight’s brightness and listened to her.

    “The overlord of all the kingdoms of Eternia would have need of a strong right arm – and whose arms are stronger than those of the most powerful man in the universe? What a waste it would be, what a tragic, terrible waste, to let the Machine tear those fine limbs, that magnificent body asunder. I can think of better – far better – uses for both. I have no desire to hurt you – none; you must by now surely know that. I would much rather that you listened to me and took up the power which is your destiny. With my guidance you would become the kind of king of whom the ancient legends speak – and your name and fame would be everlasting.” She turned aside and paced with frustration while he watched her, blinking in the sun and still unsteady on his feet. “But you are bound less by these shackles –” she gestured “– than by those which fetter your mind. And I must free you of them, since you cannot. Well; if needs must, then be it so. Yet let me show you what stands in your way – behold!”

    Her hands reached out over the sea – and again an image began to form in the airy blue nothingness. Gray stone walls, a beetling abyss only partially spanned by a bridge, a sense of desertion, of chill desolation – and, over all, the grinning, fang-toothed skull stared out hollow-eyed from the precipitous rock. He-Man’s own eyes widened.

    “Yes,” she said. “Castle Grayskull. And an ill-enough looking place, is it not? Ill indeed – for the abode of all that is meant to be good and noble. And yet a power undoubtedly dwells within – one that we must have if all else is to be brought to pass.” She turned to him. “And that power – too long withheld – is yours; is yours by right!”

    Dazed he stared at her, and shook his head to steady its swimming and put up his palms to his face in agitation. He could feel the over-heavy thump of his heartbeat, sense the blood pump sluggishly through his body.

    “I can grant it to you if she will not – and so I shall. But first I need Grayskull – and thus I need you to co-operate. Give me what I must have – and I will give you the power you need to free this world from all evil!”

    “You know – that I cannot.” There was a deep regret detectable in his voice as he said it, though, and the young-looking head fell before her penetrating gaze. “I just can’t. You see, I swore.”

    “And you would set the keeping of your word ahead of all the world’s good? Truly?”

    “I pledged it – and must stand to it.” He shook his head in a kind of frustration; his eyes entreated her understanding. “Lyn – there’s so much here that I don’t understand! But I do know that keeping my word matters. It has to!”

    “Then – you know what this will mean – what I shall have to do to you? I would far liefer not – but you rob me of the choice. This world must be changed – or Skeletor will rule all – and for all time. And there is no other way to bring the dream about and make it real.” She looked away from him and shook her head bitterly. “And so it seems that I must hurt you in order to help you – and build a brighter and better world for you to rule over on the foundation of your pain and in despite of all your resistance. Oh, how the Sorceress would laugh with sharpest scorn to hear this, to see us now, you and I! And as for Skeletor – imagine his black mockery!” She laughed herself – but utterly without mirth – and he stared at her, and again lowered his eyes.

    “I am – sorry. But – truly – I cannot.”

    And thus, with diminished will and depleted hardiness, though greatly tempted, he somehow yet managed to resist – and reject her; though he did it humbly, awkwardly – regretfully; quite without the proud defiance he would once have shown.

    “Then I cannot fault your courage; only your misguided sense of loyalty. It is deserving of greater reward – and worthy of a better cause by far.” Her voice was quiet now, her passion spent, and he looked up again.

    She was smiling at him, unfathomably; as if satisfied in some strange manner with his answer.

    And so it was back to the cell – back to that hated hook which held him just a little too high for any lasting relief from the dragging weight of his own body. And there he hung; and a small and insistent voice told him over and over that it was all his own fault.

    But the next time she came to ask if he would walk with her under the sun, then he did as she wished and gave her his word not to seek to escape – and, to his amazement, they removed his chains – all but the four bands of Horde Steel – and he walked freely and gladly in the open air again.

    ******

    6.5

    Count Marzo had seen them walking abroad, noted how the captive went unchained – and came to make his plaint to her as she completed her work among the retorts and alembics, the heady scent of herbs mingling with more mephitic odors – and with the indefinable, sinister whiff of sorcery. Occult and arcane power was almost overwhelming in its baleful presence. The furnace glowed and dark candles wavered, their eerie light glinting fitfully on the prodigious shapes of glass and iron, on crucibles, stills and tall vessels. The table beyond lay strewn with books and scrolls, with ancient and unlawful knowledge and with great grimoires.

    “See, count – it is done! I have finally completed the elixir I have long labored over.”

    Marzo looked suspiciously at the phial; its contents were liquid, viscous and, perhaps inevitably, of a faint purple hue. “What is it?”

    “It will make of him what I – we – wish. It is the perfection of co-mingled arts, both alchemical and magical; there is no withstanding its captivating power. Already I have fed him the trial potions – to good effect – but this most potent dose will in time settle all.”

    “But what is it?”

    “Why, nothing less than a miracle of thaumaturgy. I call it –” she paused impressively “– The Elixir!”

    Count Marzo gave her a Look.

    “You seem – unimpressed, count.”

    “I would dub it more chimerical than alchemical; it lacks the needful element of force and is but women’s magic.”

    The witch arched shapely and quizzical brows. “Then it is hardly to be wondered at, since that I am indeed a woman. Or had that trite observation somehow escaped you, count?”

    “I have other – and greater – concerns! It seems your taste for dangerous games grows ever more of a threat, my lady! He-Man, unrestrained and permitted to walk freely! I saw it for myself. What were you thinking?”

    “At least, I was thinking. You plainly aren’t. He gave me his word, Marzo – his word.”

    “Well – what of it? He could easily trick you and make good his escape – and then where should we be?”

    But to his utter astonishment the white-haired witch put back her head and laughed until the cavernous space rang with her mirth; the very beakers seemed to bubble up at the sound.

    “You just don’t understand, do you? The sheer significance of it? Dear oh dear!” She calmed and turned again to his fuming face. “You see, count, there are some men who actually mean what they say – and whose word, one given, cannot simply be retracted. He-Man is such a man.”

    “Then he’s a fool!”

    “A fool? Maybe – maybe – though, in truth, I do find it rather an admirable virtue; as well as highly useful, of course. But I can well understand that, to you, it is an unfamiliar concept.”

    “Why does it matter so?”

    “I told you; I want to win him, not destroy him. He is of real value to our plans – but only once his mind has been so bemused, so re-directed that he comes to me – to us – of his own free will; or – rather – what he believes to be such. He knows now for sure that his Grayskull-derived power is withdrawing from him – and that he cannot much longer endure. But the undermining of his resolve is much more subtle than that alone. His situation bewilders him; he does not know what to expect each day he is here; how to react when he is taken by surprise – as he, being such an innocent in these delicate matters – constantly is. Some days pain; others its remission – or even healing. The uncertainty is unsettling – and it saps the will to fight on; why, sometimes he is positively endearing in the near-gratitude he shows when he is spared.” She smiled softly, thoughtfully – and her companion huffed with deep disapproval.

    Endearing!’ What are you about, lady?”

    “I am about telling you how his resistance will be broken – without first breaking him,” she said tartly, now brisk again. “And you would do well to be silent, to listen – and to learn, for I have much to teach.”

    The count subsided, wordless but without much good grace, and Lyn, smoothing a finger over her lips, went on with her lesson.

    “In addition to these carefully crafted subtleties the very sustenance he takes in drugs him and softens his resolution; the very bonds which hold him sap both will and strength. And all this even before I administer my final and most potent elixir. The bodily pain he must suffer is actually almost incidental, inflicted for the most part to allow his mind to excuse itself for the betrayal it will soon commit. It is his innate belief in the Power of Grayskull which alone sustains him; and the bedrock of that belief is being steadily eroded away as doubt fills his mind. For be you well assured that it is indeed his mind which will give way first – in accordance with my design. All; body and mind, pain and – yes – pleasure at the withdrawal of pain – all combine to deliver him to my hand; beguiled, quite bereft of will – and utterly pliant. Once he has submitted, then submissive he will remain. He will serve – and willingly, out of wonder, and out of love. Once professed to our service he will be the most reliable weapon in our entire armory – not to mention the one most deadly to our foes.”

    “So you really believe that he will yield to you?”

    “Well of course I believe it – it was my own infallible plan! And again yes – He-Man will yield, and by then he will be past much care that he has done so, and can thus be put to our best use.”

    Marzo stroked his straggling beard. “I do not like it.”

    “So you have said – but that is of no consequence.”

    Her dismissive tone sparked his ever-lurking anger. “My lady, I tell you plain: your obsessive dalliance with this pretty young man is becoming a liability – and one that will yet bring us to rue!”

    “Have a care for what you say, Marzo; I mislike your tone.”

    Her voice was quiet in the face of his bluster – deceptively so – and she stood still and silent and cold. But his congealed fury vented itself in furious pacing as he berated her.

    “And I, my lady, mislike your recklessness in this matter! I begin to wonder if your sudden squeamishness, your reluctance to apply the needful measures to make him speak, is rooted in more than merely your stated aim of winning him over to be of our party!”

    Her regard narrowed, though her speech remained level.

    “Speak your mind in plain, count.”

    “So I fully intend! Plainly, then, it seems to me that you are motivated more by lust for his strong young body than by any desire to have out of him what he knows! Why, drooling over him as you do, you appear to be in grave danger of falling for our greatest enemy!”

    It was perhaps well for the count that, as he paced, he did not see the expression which flitted over Lyn’s features, the chill fire like violet ice flare fiercely in her eyes. Or maybe not so very well.

    “Just do as I bid you and break him!” he urged. “Or, if your delicacy cannot stomach that, then merely deliver him over to me!”

    Her riposte was sharp, immediate – imperious. “I warn you, Marzo; do not raise this matter again or it will go very ill with you. There will be no further warning than this: he is mine. No-one lays hand upon him but me – and you will accept that and not presume. Mark me well – for I mean well what I say!”

    Their embattled gazes locked – but his fell first and he held his tongue to provoke her no more. The armed silence drew out – and then the witch shook her head.

    “But come, count; we here waste time in futile argument when there is yet much to be done. I wish you to communicate privily with our hidden allies among the Horde and warn them to be ready to move on my word; we must ensure that the lord Hordak does not interfere in our plans.” Evil-Lyn’s upturned lips indicated a chill mirth. “Fortunately my triggering of Skeletor’s pre-emptive attack on Etheria has blunted his horns for the present – but we must take no chances.”

    “But you do not have what you need from the prisoner yet,” he answered sullenly. “We cannot move without that, surely?”

    “You are right; yet these things – done properly – take time.”

    “And so how long will this – convoluted – scheme of yours take? How long before He-Man gives you Grayskull’s secrets?”

    Evil-Lyn smiled and stretched with the elegant luxuriance of a sated cat. “Not long at all, now, though he does not yet know it. We begin to approach an end – and a beginning!”

    ******

    6.6

    Skeletor, far-off in his fire-girt fastness of Snake Mountain was also smiling; it was a time for smiles – for some. “You did well to bring these tidings to me, Mer-Man – very well. I may yet reconsider the matter of the very considerable tribute you still owe to me.” His thin, clawed fingers toyed with his Havoc Staff, and then he clicked them with a harsh sound. Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw came forward and bowed. “So our little witch has tried to play us false, has she? I knew she was up to something when she did not respond to my call for a muster against Hordak. Well, well; it seems that I was right once again – But it would appear that crossing over the sea was an ill move for her – indeed it was.”

    He turned again to the self-styled ‘Emperor of the Oceans.’ “You are sure of this?”

    “Oh yes, my lord” came the fluting voice. “Quite, quite certain. Her conveyance crossed my southern provinces – neither cloaking device nor witchery may conceal a flying shadow on water. The shape was unmistakable – as was the course of its flight.”

    “You know where she is?”

    “Indeed, my lord – I made all speed to follow her myself; she has taken one of the southern islands for her own – and they lie within my domain.”

    “Which you, I may remind you, hold in vassalage from me, your overlord.” Skeletor leaned back in his nightmarish throne of grotesque remains and considered silently until Mer-Man began to fear the swift and sudden onset of his displeasure.

    “Then prepare a suitable force – we shall follow at once. You, Mer-Man, shall come along with me – and lend me your aid and that of your subjects. I do not as yet know what she is about – but I soon shall! And then she will surely rue the day she tried to deceive the Lord of Chaos! Go; summon my warriors and ready my ship for flight.”

    Last edited by Scriptor; September 30, 2013 at 07:15am.

  4. #29
    Eternian princess Princessadora's Avatar
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    Love it. Looking forward to the next chapter.
    I only fight when I have to and every time I hope its the last.

  5. #30
    Heroic Warrior MLHumble's Avatar
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    Still lovin it, man! I just moved from Chicago to Kentucky, so that's why I'm behind, but I can't wait to catch up!
    Please see my arts gallery here: www.pcpfh.wordpress.com Have fun browsing!

  6. #31
    Heroic Warrior
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    Thanks, everybody! I was very agreeably surprised to return from duty to find that this tale has reached over 60,000 views. I'm really rather surprised - and flattered, too. It made for an encouraging homecoming, I must say.

    Especial thanks to those who commented; it's really good to have some feedback on the work - and even moreso to know that you all seem to approve!

    I shall be posting Chapter Seven - Rites of Passage - very soon.
    The outlook is pretty bleak for our hero at present, admittedly; but this is Eternia - and matters do not always stand quite as they seem to....
    Last edited by Scriptor; August 23, 2013 at 07:52am.

  7. #32
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    Chapter 7 : Rites of Passage

    He-Man seduced by Evil-Lyn photo request4rt_by_sazariel-d6fiz4u-2altv2ii_zps439989f9.jpg


    7.1

    Rites of passage

    “Orko – come quickly! I have it at last – at last!”

    “What? What?”

    She turned bright and seeing eyes on him. “She has left her mark on the planes of power; she was looking outwards, showing visions and casting up sights from afar. And it has given her away. And I know now for sure that He-Man lives and stands unbroken, for I saw him at her side.”

    “But that’s wonderful news!”

    “It is – and it is not.” Her brow creased now and she shook her head. “He remains in dire and awful peril – and the time grows short. I believe his mind to be under much greater threat than I had feared; I can feel him – turning against us –”

    “What? He-Man? No!”

    “I fear so; his mind is confused and resentful – and hurt, too – and his much-abused body grows rapidly weaker as well.”

    “But He-Man would never doubt you, lady – never!”

    She sighed and shook her head, her eyes troubled. “I sense it, even so. We do not know what has been done to him – what he has suffered to bring him to this pass. And the sorcery and cunning of Evil-Lyn are grown powerful indeed and he lacks the wiles to counter such things.” She sighed again. “I cannot altogether blame him for feeling abandoned, even betrayed – but I do greatly fear his reaction to such feelings.”

    “But he could not bring himself to betray the secrets of Grayskull – to bewray you! He’d rather –” Orko left the needless and unchancy word unspoken.

    “When this thing was begun, when Adam first took up the Sword, I set a guard upon his tongue which would prevent the casual utterances of a lively boy from betraying him. This in the same way that the guising glamour set over him renders it hard to see any resemblance between him and He-Man, even for those who best know and love him. These safeguards were done with his assent – as you recall – and have stood him in good stead this last year. The enchantment is a part of the oath he swore to defend Grayskull and be its champion. It is deep-set within him and, like his word, will not easily be broken: but broken it can be. And therein lies great peril.” She fell silent, seemingly contemplating her folded hands before her. “It will hold – and prevent him from inadvertently or willingly giving anything away – until such time as duress overcomes his will.”

    “You mean –?”

    “Yes; pain so unbearable that he can no longer endure – and his will – breaks. If that should happen, then even the spell cannot prevent his speaking. And this – allied to the confusion and doubt I sense in his shadowed mind – fills me with a deep foreboding of yet worse. He may, in such extremity, even be brought to deny the Power – and betray Grayskull.”

    “Lady – I cannot believe it! No! Not He-Man – not Adam! You do him wrong – surely?”

    But the Sorceress only shook her head; a weary and careworn gesture.

    “I hope that you are right, little one, and I pray so too. But the strain, the stress, the isolation – and something else, too – something dark and secret; all these grind down his willpower. It was much to ask of any boy – or man – no matter how well-intentioned, brave and strong.”

    “Does Man-at-Arms know of this?”

    “Duncan has suffered agonies enough on behalf of his young charge; this – worse – I have spared him. I told him only that, should He-Man break under torture, then he could not reveal enough to make Grayskull’s fall inevitable. But – if he should be brought to turn against us, to deny the Power of his own volition – and do so three times –”

    Her voice faltered – and Orko eyed her with deep qualms; it took but the scantest acquaintance with even the lesser arcana of the art magical for any adept to know the significance of the third time of happening – and Orko was no such neophyte. Her silence, the starkness of her shadowed face were more eloquent than anything her tongue might have uttered. And, strangely, Orko felt his own subdued courage rise up like a small, bright flame within him; a candle in a gale, perhaps – but, once lit, not so easily extinguished. For He-Man lay in diremost danger; one worse than pain, worse even than dreadful death itself. And he, Orko, would not – could not – know content ever again until his friend were returned to those who loved him and who could heal his hurts, both of body and of mind. And so his own way lay clear.

    “Then I must make haste. Lady; where is he?”

    “An island – far to the south, as I saw dimly before: I have seen it much more clearly now; it is taller than all its fellows and one end rises to a fang-like cone above the southern sea. More than that I cannot yet say.”

    “We can find that – can’t we?”

    “Yes; given time – but – Orko, you must indeed hasten, for his situation grows ever more parlous. The tide of time has turned and now runs fast against us. The Power is withdrawing from him – I can feel it draining away. His strength will fail and –” she looked at the little Trollan “– he will revert to being Prince Adam.”

    Orko in his anxiety clutched two-handed at his broad-brimmed headgear. “But poor Adam would have almost no chance at all with them – with her! Oh – but that’s just too bad to think of! No; I must be off right away. There may still be some searching to do when I get there.”

    “Let us hope that the Sword can help you find him. It will be seeking to go to him, so mark well what it tells you.”

    “I will. I will. I have a most sovereign conjuration prepared to carry me as far as the coastline – but it will not work over water, so I shall have to make my own way to the Isles. And that will take time, I’m afraid.” He saw her face as he said it and hastened to reassure her. “But I’ll hurry, don’t you worry.”

    “May all the powers of good be with you, little one. Do but bring the Sword to He-Man and it – and he – will do the rest.”

    Orko bobbed a bow, and set about casting his spell. After three attempts he turned to the Sorceress.

    “Umm – it doesn’t quite seem to be working today. I – er – don’t suppose that you could possibly –?”

    A moment later he was on his way.

    ******

    7.2

    He-Man lay back with a sigh and drew in a deep and reflective breath. It was quiet now that he was again alone in his cell; without her potent presence the space seemed very empty again, its walls, its vault hemming him in. He was worn and weary and it would make best sense to try to take some sleep while at least he was granted the use of a bed; the Hook was not conducive to much by way of rest. All the same, her visit had unsettled him and he doubted that sleep would come easily. He lay and stared up at the dim vaulting above and struggled to compose the thoughts which circled endlessly in his head, no more free to escape than he was.

    Was she sincere in what she had told him – that she had no desire to hurt him, that she did so only because his resistance – which she named misguided – forced her to do so? He sighed and shifted restlessly on the palliasse. She had said as much before, of course – and yet gone on with tormenting him. She was an accomplished dissembler and wily in her ways – and determined to have the information she needed from him – and which he must not give her. He shifted again, unable to find ease. Her eyes, her words had seemed so sincere that he knew not what to think; she had reminded him of the vision she had cast up before his eyes – that of an Eternia freed forever from the baleful presence of Skeletor, a world green with growth and renewed in both beauty and strength. And again she had spoken of kingship, of his duty to help her to bring the vision to pass so that he might rule in enduring peace.

    ‘But I told you,’ he had said to her, ‘I gave my word – and cannot break it.’

    ‘But if you do not break your word,’ she had urged him, ‘then the Machine will most assuredly break you!’ And she had gone on to describe the full horror of what, exactly, it would do to him if he did not yield. It had not been comfortable hearing, especially now that he knew the truth of it; and he had no doubt whatsoever that she did not exaggerate. Sweat had trickled chill down his sides as she spoke of the unbearable pain to come, the slow ruination of his body which lay ahead. He had listened to her words, watched her face, her eyes, as she attempted to convince him of the futility of further defiance. There had been none of the almost lascivious pleasure she had demonstrated when first putting him to the torment of the Machine’s steely embrace: no; she had seemed genuinely upset – and he had found himself moved. But a little while ago he might well have taken her coming to him for a signal that he was beating her, that he was overcoming the torture; but now he knew all-too-well that it was not so. Ultimately the Machine would triumph; he would either talk – or be destroyed. And her words daunted him, though he did his best not to let it show. But if she saw his dismay then she made no comment, seeking only to persuade him – at the end almost pleading with him – to do her will and spare himself – them both – the inevitable.

    And at length he had agreed to think upon it, to consider her words, her unwillingly-made threats – and in return she had promised him time to do so; there would be no going on with his interrogation until after the morrow – by which time he must have decided. And it was, of course, no decision at all; he had given his word – and could not give way. The chain-links between his wrists jangled softly as he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Perhaps her pity was feigned, her pleas only a subtle scheme to undermine his will to fight on. Maybe even the glorious vision itself was merely a trick, an attempt to beguile him into abandoning his sworn duty. She was surely capable of such deceit – and he would be wise to be wary of sympathy from one who interrogated him with such assiduous regularity. And yet – and yet –

    He rolled restlessly onto his side, the frame of the pallet creaking beneath him with the almost violent suddenness of the movement. But there was no comfort to be had; it was not only the dull, throbbing ache of his body; the turmoil of his mind had slain all prospect of sleep.

    The trouble was that so much of what Lyn had told him rang true, chimed with his own thoughts and fears – and doubts. Why did no help come for him? He had always gone to the aid of others, had never, ever spared himself from the pressing need to use his powers for the good of those in peril. And now here he was himself; imprisoned without hope of escape, tortured almost daily and growing weaker all the time – and yet no rescue arrived for him. Surely they wouldn’t abandon him – would they? True, he had failed them, let them all down by his rash and intemperate reaction, the pressing imperative to go to Teela’s aid; Duncan had warned him not to – and he had been right. And he, in his naivety, had ordered Duncan not to come after him. What had he been thinking to do that? The truth was that he hadn’t been thinking at all but had ignored what he had been so carefully taught and gone running heedlessly into danger. And been caught – and now badly needed the help he had rejected. But – surely – Duncan wouldn’t take his arrogant words seriously – would he? No! Not Duncan!

    And yet still no-one came. Worst of all he could sense nothing of the presence of the Sorceress; out of Grayskull came not a word, nor comfort nor warning – and that, somehow, made him feel more alone than ever. Why had she cut him off like this? Was it because his rashness had angered her – jeopardized the safety of the secrets of Grayskull? If that were so then it meant that the Sorceress expected him to fail – to break – to tell Lyn all that he knew.

    He groaned and rolled over yet again; sleep was as far-off as Grayskull and as elusive. So he had failed her – and she had cast him off. The defense of the Power of the Elders must come first – of course it must. Yet – all the same – he did think that she might have tried to save him, at least a little. Even a few words would have helped him to fight on. But this utter loneliness preyed on his mind – and he could not help but feel abandoned. Perhaps it was only right – and most certainly his own fault; but that did not make it feel any less unfair – and he knew that he resented it. Always he had given, always poured out his own self for the good of others, unstinting in his desire to be a worthy champion. But plainly his good intentions were not enough; he had failed – once – and fatally – and now must pay the heavy price demanded. But it did seem hard, and his young mind, still ardent with high ideals, rebelled at the thought of drawn-out death.

    And why was the Power deserting him, just as he had most need of it? In his enfeebled state it depressed him unutterably to think of the superhuman strength he had always taken for granted, now that it was waning. There could be no doubting it; the Power was leaving his body – he could sense its slow withdrawal as his plight steadily milked his resources, eroded his resistance. And, without it, how much longer could he hope to hold out? His willpower, his very life essence were both draining away along with his strength – and he could not comprehend why. It seemed a betrayal – yes – a betrayal – that he should be left all alone to face this cruel fate. His strength and ability to resist were diminishing daily – and Lyn knew it, and seemed truly to pity him. Which made no sense; none at all.

    He turned, restless and resentful, and again stared up at the vault above. How long had it been, how great was the tally of the days – or weeks – since first he was brought here? How long since he had committed his one monumental act of folly and handed himself over to Lyn – and to this torment? And now each day seemed the same: there was either pain or its absence and there was Lyn; nothing else. And no rescue came. Again his thoughts walked the same worn and wearisome path; he had failed them all by his impulsiveness – but that scarcely seemed sufficient reason for the Sorceress to cast him off, for his being abandoned to a lonely and lingering death. Duncan had every right to be angry with him; he had long guided and guarded Adam, had done the same – and more – for He-Man this past year while he learned his part by trial and error. But never error so great as this when he had failed to learn, failed to listen – and had ignored his mentor. But angry and affronted as Duncan might be, surely he wouldn’t just abandon him? And it had been for Teela – all for Teela! It was his overriding compulsion to save her which had brought him to this pass; the thought of her held captive had driven him to a kind of frenzy – and to folly. But Teela did not – could not – love him, any more than he could love her. And Adam, who could, she despised as weak and craven. He-Man screwed his eyes tight shut and moaned aloud in desolation. There was no comfort; none. Nothing but captive thoughts endlessly cycling themselves through his exhausted mind. If only he had listened to Duncan! If ever he escaped this mess then he would make it up to him – to them all; somehow. But how could he escape without their aid – and why, oh why did that aid not arrive?

    And time was rapidly running out.

    He tried hard to suppress the mounting sense of resentment, of bitterness – but it was not easy. It simply wasn’t fair that he should be cast off like this; he would never, ever have abandoned any of his comrades to such a fate – and yet they had done so to him. Lyn had told him time and again that they would not come, that there would be no rescue; and still he lay here in prison, alone. What was it she had dubbed him? Her ‘constant hero’ – that had been it. Well – Elders knew how he had striven – strove still – to be constant in his devotion to Grayskull and the defense of Eternos from its evil adversaries. But he had failed in the end – and now was left sole and helpless. Again the sense of futility he struggled to hold at bay engulfed him in its clammy embrace. He remembered with unease Lyn’s words as she told him, at first calmly – and then with mounting agitation, of what the Machine would do to him, the steps by which he would be reduced to a jerking, mangled thing, mere flinching flesh and barely any longer human. And that was no way to die; not for anyone – let alone one regarded as a champion, a hero. It filled him with indignation – as well as with fear; there was nothing noble about such dying – nothing at all. And he did not want to die – all his young soul revolted at the prospect. If only he could fight back, fall decently in battle with his foes, sword in hand – so that men would sing of the end that he made and mourn him. But he had forfeited all that through his own rashness; it would be for failing that he would be remembered. If Eternos survived at all – and if any were left to remember.

    No – it just wasn’t fair. Even though he had brought this on himself through ill-judgment – and had maybe even doomed those he loved by doing so – why didn’t they all see that neglecting him would help them not at all? A rescue sally could still save him – and Grayskull and those it guarded. Unless, he thought heavily, the Sorceress had forbidden it, his sin being beyond all forgiveness. In which case he owed her nothing – and it would almost serve her aright if he did surrender her secrets to Lyn –

    He caught his erring thoughts just in time – shocked at where they were leading – and what they revealed to him. He told himself sternly that he must not allow them to stray like that again. Such arrant self-pity was wrong – and despicable. But the truth was that it was hard not to feel bitter at his treatment. He rolled over, grimacing at the movement which sparked sharply in his tender muscles and damaged joints – and groaned more with frustration than with pain. Before there had been certainties – hadn’t there? Yes: he had enacted the will of the Elders, wielding the Power under the guidance of the Sorceress; he had fought his battles with wrongdoers and won them. It had not been easy or without hurt – but it had felt – been – right. And now he was at a loss; those certainties had evaporated, leaving him here, alone; here, where there was only doubt and dread – and pain.

    ‘Help me to help you and there will be no more pain – I promise it,’ Lyn had pledged him. ‘For I shall heal you, take away even the memory of what you have undergone. You will be restored, made hale again – and, in time, grow yet stronger and wiser than ever you were before. I can do these things for you if you will but help me. Fight at my side, He-Man, and, together, we shall free this world of Skeletor’s tyranny – and render it fit for you to rule over in lasting peace.’

    Her words recalled the stirring vision of an Eternia renewed which she had called forth to set before him, there the in sun and wind of that high place. And, here in darkness, worn and troubled, he yearned for it with all his weary heart. A lasting peace! No more fighting, no more strife and constant watchfulness against the brooding malice of the Dark One. There would be battles, yes; but they would be the last ones – and after that he could lay down the Sword – perhaps never need to call on the Power ever again – and live on untroubled and at peace. And why should he not rule well and wisely? His father did so; could not he, in time, do the same? To bring that about would be a worthwhile end – even worth suffering this prolonged torment for. The Sorceress had never offered him either peace or such power; indeed she had denied him the full measure of what was his birthright; and had he not earned the right to it by his constant striving for her as He-Man? But still the knowledge of the Elders – which would enable him to defeat Skeletor and restore Eternia to glory – was resolutely denied him. Lyn was prepared to entrust him with great power – but the Sorceress, whose champion he was, would not grant it to him; plainly she did not trust him to use it wisely: or else she feared that, enriched by the wisdom of the Elders, he might become too powerful for her to control –

    He shifted in discomfort in the dimness; he had never been troubled with such dark doubts before – but now they circled like caged creatures in his head, treading endlessly the same track of unease.

    But why wouldn’t the Sorceress grant him what he needed for the final overthrow of the Lord of Destruction? Why not? Why? There was no logical reason for her to deny himnone. Unless Lyn was right; unless the Sorceress had wantonly used him for her own ends – and now abandoned him. It was a terrible thought – but he could not be rid of its nagging; not now that it had insinuated itself into his consciousness. Why had she not spoken to him, sent words of support, of encouragement? Just to know that she was with him would have strengthened him so much – would have lent him the will to go on, no matter what was done to him. It would have taken so little – so very little to hold him to his sworn course. But there had been no word, no sense of her presence – nothing. And the isolation, the constant wearing down of his will and strength and, above all, the withdrawal of the Power from within him – just when he felt the want of it most keenly – had brought him to this bitter place where no hope was.

    Which meant that he must choose: to suffer and die – or to trust Lyn’s word. But could he – dare he – do so? She was Skeletor’s creature – though not, she alleged, any longer. She now sought He-Man’s aid to cast down her erstwhile master. But if she lied then all was lost. And if he held silent and the Machine took his life, then all was lost; either way this doom seemed writ, graven inexorably in letters of stone. And he had taken an oath, too – though at the time he had been unaware of its true significance. Yet did that render it void – or was he still bound by it?? He sighed with heavy sorrow. How could he possibly know which course to follow? An oath was an oath – no matter what: but he knew that he feared the renewed onset of the agony – and, worse, that he might be suffering for no reason – or even doing harm to all that he loved by doing so. Or was that just fear – no more than self-pity, such as he would, not long ago, have scorned? But, if so, then it was the only pity he was shown – except that professed by Lyn; and she was the one who put him to the torment of the Machine. He turned over restlessly on the bed again; unable to find ease for the discomfort of either body or mind. So was her supposed compassion towards him feigned, merely part of her efforts to undermine his resistance, seduce him from his loyalty? It was so difficult to be sure – Yet something in her voice, her eyes when she pleaded with him seemed sincere; a genuine desire to spare him and – so she said – herself – from the harsh necessity of further questioning. And then there was the reality of the vision, of the destiny she had offered him –

    Dare he trust her? How could he know? He acknowledged to himself that he wanted to – but that might be for base and ignoble reasons. And tomorrow they would come and drag him to the place where he least desired to go and bind him down and begin his breaking once again. He would be stretched to screaming point, until his strength failed and his body betrayed him. It was the Power which gave him the resilience of He-Man – and that Power was waning within him – and without it he was lost. Lonely courage, it seemed, was the hardest of all to find – and he feared now that his will was failing along with his ability to endure. And, intimidated by the threat, in all truth he did not know if he could hold out any longer. And yet he must. Because, whether Lyn had lied or else the Sorceress discarded him, there remained the matter of his sworn word. That, here, was the only certainty – and so he, uncertain of the rest, must hold fast to what he knew.

    But it was hard to do.

    Dull, leaden thoughts beat slowly through his aching head and left hope languishing and lost.

    He lifted his fettered arms before him, ignoring the sharp twinges in his shoulders and cautiously flexed his fingers; his hands and feet felt number and number with each session on the Machine and he was beginning to lose feeling in his extremities. If this continued, he thought despondently, he might never wield sword again. And then he smiled with a dark irony: if this continued then that would surely be the least of his woes. The Horde Steel manacles glowed faintly in the darkness, even now stealthily stealing his strength. How much of it remained to him? And how much more torment could he endure? He felt that he could barely remember a time when he had been free and unbound; and, in truth, even then – how free had he really been? This past year he had lived two lives – and the burden of that had grown heavy. And now, in captivity, it was becoming intolerable. If any more proof were needed that the Power of Grayskull was fading from him he had only to recall that he would, in the ordinary way of things, have been unable to remain in the guise of He-Man for so long without the need to revert to being Adam once again. But these past weeks (and how long had it been? It felt like half his life had been spent imprisoned here) he had not had to do so. Which was just as well; it would not be fair to expect him to resist the Rack in the person of the young prince. But, then, what had fairness to do with any of this?

    And he was increasingly worried that the character of the prince was re-asserting itself under duress as He-Man was tested to his very limits – and perhaps beyond. And now he could not keep them apart, his two natures – and they were in conflict under the stress of what was done to him. And soon, without the Power, he would be bereft; a hero no longer but a mere frightened boy facing a fight he could not hope to win.

    He sighed and again lowered his arms. It was not an easy truth to acknowledge – but it was clear that this could not go on. The Machine would break him in the end – and that end could not now be far off. Lyn was right – he must yield or perish; and he had sworn an oath and allowed the Sorceress to strengthen it with enchantments. But the Sorceress had cast him off to suffer and to die – and yet he was still bound to his vow – as firmly as to the Machine – and so could not yield. And so must die – for her. He felt tears slide down his face as he lay there in the dimness, but no longer cared. What did it matter any more? He could only hope to be as brave as he could be – but it was hard to die like this, and he felt so very alone – and would have given anything to have seen his parents again.

    Forgive me – I failed you, and I never told you, showed you, how much I loved you – and now I never can! And, Duncan – forgive me for letting you down. And, Teela – I – I –

    Sobs carried away the rest; tears dissolved the patterns of his thought and drowned them in sorrow. The pain of his body was overcome by that in his mind as he curled himself up into a tight ball on the bed and shook with inconsolable grief for all that never would be.

    And on the morrow, Lyn would be back for his answer.

    ******

    7.3

    “Sat all alone in the dark are you, lassie? Nay, come now – that’ll never do! Up with your chin, girl – and never fret; we’ll get yon lads back for you – or I’m no judge!”

    Teela smiled weakly at her uncle’s cheery words; he had only one level of volume to his voice, did Uncle Malcolm – and that was Loud. She was very fond of him; he had always had time for her, even when her father was preoccupied, and his easy affection had always been a comfort; but, right now, she just wanted to be left alone with her heavy thoughts – and she could not help but wish that he would take his blustery and boisterous presence away.

    Fisto – as he was everywhere known – however, plainly had other ideas. He seated himself at the table and placed elbows like joints of beef on its smooth surface; dark red hair glinted as he turned up the dim lighting.

    “There! That’s way better; now I can see my bonnie lassie properly. And what’s this I see? Tear-tracks? Nay! Why, if I could but get my hands – hand – on whoever made my little girl cry, why – then I’d soon make them regret it – sure and I would!”

    Teela, with an effort, found her voice.

    “I’m fine, uncle – really I am. It’s just that – well – I feel so very helpless –” Her voice quavered and she bit her lip; another cloudburst would solve nothing – could only make matters worse. And she aspired to be a warrior –

    “I’ve not seen you in tears these good many years, so I haven’t.”

    “I’d never as much cause as now.” Her voice reflected her shamefaced look, fearing blame for her weakness.

    But her uncle looked at her with unwonted gravity and nodded. He, unwed, was also fond of her – and it grieved him sorely to see her in such a sad state – though he very well knew why.

    “Aye, well; I suppose matters stand ill-enough – that’s true. I’d never have thought He-Man would allow himself to be taken captive like that. And as for young Adam running off to find him – well; it says plenty for his pluck – but little enough for his wit.”

    Teela looked down at the flooring. “It’s not their fault, either of them,” she said in a small voice. “It’s mine.” She swallowed hard. “I went and got myself caught – and He-Man surrendered himself – for me! And now he’s a prisoner and I’m sure that they’re doing terrible things to him and – and –”

    “And so what of Prince Adam?” interrupted her uncle. “How is it your fault that he ran off like that, then?”

    “He went to try to rescue He-Man – all by himself! It’s sheer madness – but I was the one who drove him to it, forever pushing him, nagging him, putting him down.”

    “So you think that he went after He-Man just to prove himself, do you?”

    “Yes! Of course he did – and that’s my doing. You see, I put him up to it – though I didn’t mean to – and now he’ll be captured as well or hurt – or both – and I can’t bear it! I just want him – both of them – back!”

    Fisto regarded her steadily with deep-set eyes, and scratched at his copper-red beard.

    “Well, you know, I doubt Adam would have done any such thing had he not wanted to. He’s no He-Man, true enough – but I reckon that you underestimate the lad. There’s more to him than meets the eye at a first glance – be sure of that. He-Man will likely enough have felt obliged to save you – seen it as his duty. But that might well be true for young Adam, too. That and maybe something more besides.”

    “But I was the one who doubted him the most – drove him the hardest! We never seem to stop bickering!”

    “Well, your father and I argued and fought constantly as lads, so we did; but woe betide any who dared stand against us – either of us. Duncan would never have allowed any harm to come to me – nor I to him – for all that we were always at odds; aye – even when way old enough to know better. Love is – strange. Didn’t you know that?”

    Teela looked up at him with tear-bright emerald eyes. “I don’t know much about love,” she confessed, and sniffed. “I’m not sure that I understand it at all.”

    Her uncle eyed her with profound affection. “Oh, but one day you will – be sure of that. It just takes its time – like everything else in life worth the having.” He pondered, as if wondering whether to go on; being Fisto, go on he did. “Of course, it’s but natural and understandable that you should have a wee crush on He-Man –”

    Teela began to protest at once, but he overrode her too-eager denials.

    “Aye – understandable enough, is that. But you know how dedicated to his great task the man is; and I doubt that he could ever permit himself to make a lasting commitment of that kind. And I speak as one who knows! So I just don’t think that love is for him – pity though it be for the man – and for all the lassies, too!” He gave a wryly appreciative grin through his beard and shook his head. “But I tell you this, my little girl; the laddie who surely loves you the best may not be so very clearly a hero – but that doesn’t mean he’s without his own qualities – and damn’ fine ones at that. Awkward in his manner at times and shy of showing it, perhaps – but it shows plain enough all the same, to some of us. You really shouldn’t misprize him, you know; he’s worth far more than that.”

    Teela stared at him, listening close to his unexpected words with fixed green gaze and saying not a word, though her thoughts were active enough.

    “He’d have gone after you all by himself, the lad would, had He-Man not gone on ahead of him; aye – and some daft folk brand him a shirker and even a coward! But your father knows better – and your uncle, too – so you heed their words, mind!”

    “But – Adam wouldn’t ever have gone after me – whyever would he?”

    Fisto rose from the table and looked down at his brother’s child.

    “You’re right about one thing, lassie; you don’t know much about love, do you?”

    He shook his head and smiled – and turned to be gone; but at the doorway he turned again and faced her.

    “Well, there’ll be a time for that – a fitter time yet to come. And that’s why we mean to get him back for you – young Adam as well as He-Man. And we shall, too – never you go a-doubting it!”

    And he left her staring after him, wide-eyed and speechless.

    ******

    7.4

    He-Man dreamed he awoke in complete darkness with his senses, even dulled as they were, telling him that he was not alone. A figure stood by the bed where he lay – but he could not make out more. He began to lever himself upright, but a soft hand pushed gently against his breast and bore him back down to the palliasse.

    “Who–?”

    Ssshh. Lie still.

    “Teela – is it really you?”

    Who else? She seemed to laugh softly in the absence of light.

    “But – how?”

    I was – sent.

    “To – free me?”

    No – not yet. But to comfort you.

    He must be dreaming, a lucid part of him told himself; she could not really be here – or could she? Her dark figure appeared outlined in a faint flickering light, as if she were somehow shining. He could sense the presence of a power.

    “I – am – in great need of comfort,” he admitted.

    And for that I was sent. Be silent now – lie back and be still.

    The darkness was chill – but her touch warm and it eased and soothed – and drew a deep sigh of lost content from deep within him. Hands, fingers moved with gentle insistence; lips came close, mouths moved together and were as one in breath. Her body covered him like a blanket of smooth silk and he was drawn under by it, like one who ceases to fight against the waters which drown him. His mind wandered in far and unknown regions and he was lost – and found again. All else was set at naught, even his torment forgotten as flesh fused willingly with flesh. Nothing of it remained with him but the sense of her unseen presence and of her gentleness to him, and the sheer, sweet, spilling delight of it. Never had he felt such bliss. And eventually, unhurriedly, there came release too – and freedom awhile from fear and from the long echo of pain.

    He lay back and breathed deep, far from himself and all else. Unknowing of the rest, a sensuous slumber enfolded them, suspending time itself. And, in time, rising above him, she came again and kissed him with her lips as he had never before been kissed so that he too rose renewed once more – and both were glad.

    And when at length her warmth went from him and he opened his eyes, the faint shine of her was still there in the darkness, a glamour all about them both. A soft hand laid itself across his brow and then covered gently over his eyes – and a voice spoke wordlessly; it was well known to him – but it was not hers.

    After this, a part of me will always be with you – always.

    And he felt her go from him and blinked himself awake – and was alone again.

    ******

    7.5

    The Machine, obedient to her will, whirred softly into motion and, as the cables were wound smoothly onto the drum, tightened its iron hold on its captive; his figure, splayed out and stretched, shone glistening beneath the lights like a newly gilded statue. He held himself steady, gauging the effect; it was bearable – for the present.

    She leaned to him and spoke, slowly shaking her lovely head.

    “How much more of this punishment do you think even your unmatched frame can endure? Less than you would hope – and certainly far less than the Machine can carry out. You know by now its sheer strength, its implacable capacity for inflicting suffering; what is frail flesh to set against that? Must all your joints be started, your smooth skin split, these lissome limbs torn from their sockets as your body is steadily destroyed?”

    He shut his eyes tight; but could not stop his ears from hearing her words.

    “Your strength is waning; that of the Machine is not. Why continue with so pointless a struggle? What are you defending by your silence? Not the Sorceress who has betrayed you and left you to your fate? Not Grayskull, whose power has been but a burden to you and which now withdraws itself when most you have need of its aid? So why do you resist me still? Or is your word truly so significant that it cannot ever be broken – that you yourself must be broken in its stead? For that is what the Machine will do to you; break you past all hope of mending, leaving you utterly shent. Please do listen to me! There is a better way and I would have you take it – and save not only yourself but others! The offer which I made to you when we stood together high in wind and sun; that offer still stands. The beauty of the vision I set before you awaits us. For I would take your noble nature, your strength and skill and enhance them all with a power worthy of your station – and make a true king of you; one both revered and renowned!”

    Her voice rang out with the glory of the destiny she set held out before him; his tension-tautened body trembled with the words she spoke – but he made no answer, seeking only to endure. She leaned close and caressed his face with a strange tenderness which shook him through. Slowly his pain-glazed eyes opened again and met her look – but could not hold it.

    “Is it not both stubborn and selfish on your part to value the mere keeping of your vow ahead of the good of all this world and the welfare of its peoples? Surely you must see that it is? And at what point does valor become vainglory? So why do you still elect to suffer? Shall we not end this torment? Say that we shall and gladden us both – yes – and all Eternia too!”

    The lights on the overhead screen were flashing now; red was a color he had learned to hate. He could see himself in the image, lying there, waiting. And he could feel the Power withdrawing from his body, his own failing strength – and the steady onset of despair. Each refusal cost him more and more of the diminishing reserves of will he still possessed. But still he managed to make himself shake his head; it was safer not to speak – his voice would surely betray him. She studied him close, and then her eyes shut tight and she sighed deeply with a matching shake of her own head.

    “Very well, then – very well –”

    He was subjected to another rotation of the drum; the tension tightened and held, and held him transfixed tight within it. He closed his eyes and repeated the silent words; resist; endure; fight! repeated them over and over and over, to numb the unending throb of the anguish: Resist; endure; fight! But he knew that he was losing, was becoming no more than a red streak of puremost pain – and was almost pathetically glad when she at last released the stretch and granted him relief.

    “You look – different – when you are suffering; even younger, somehow. In fact, you remind me of someone else entirely – though I cannot quite place the resemblance. I wonder, now –” She looked at him again, frowning with consideration, her voice of a sudden uncertain. “I sense a spell of some kind – But no. No –”

    She turned away to the controls and He-Man felt sweat stand out on his brow, and it was more than just the renewed torment. Was it becoming so obvious, as the Power waned within him? Would he actually transform back into Adam – but slowly, by degrees? Or else even in an instant, under excessive stress? It had happened more than once before. And would it even matter if it did? She would know his great secret – but since he would not survive this treatment anyway – Of course it will matter! You must fight on, He-Man – you must! Remember: resist; endure; fight. Adam, I’m failing – my strength gives out – without the Power I’m nothing! If you submit then Grayskull falls – and you let them all down – everyone who trusts you. You’re the Sorceress’ champion and – She’s abandoned me – no help comes – no word – nothing! I know – and it’s hard on you; but you swore an oath all the same. And do you truly think that Duncan would ever give up on us? Do you? Then why doesn’t someone come? I can’t hold out against this much longer! Even if I last out the day – and the one after – in the end either my will or my body will be broken! You must hold – choice doesn’t enter into it. It’s killing me – killing us both. Yes; it is – And dying like this is – terrifying. But Grayskull will still stand – unless you betray it. But with me – gone – then it may fall anyway! All the more reason for you to hold fast. But for how long? I don’t know; but you must try. And if the transformation happens anyway – what then? How long do you think you can resist the Machine?I – don’t know. I’m not the hero here – and I haven’t your strength. But I shall try my best – just like you. It isn’t much of a plan, is it? Have you a better one? If so, then now’s the time for it. No – I only wish I had. Oh, I was a fool to fall for this; I should have listened to Duncan! We should have listened; but Teela’s safe – remember that. And if we die – well; at least we won’t have to live with the shame of betraying all Eternia. But dying – like this! Why doesn’t anyone come? I wouldn’t let any of them suffer in this way. I don’t know; but I haven’t given up hope – not yet. What if Lyn’s right? What if no-one’s coming to save us? If we’re all alone?They will. We must trust them. Then they had best hurry – my powers are failing; I grow weaker every day – and this torment goes on and on! He-Man, they must be coming – they wouldn’t just abandon us to –

    A jolt of sharp, smarting pain lanced through him bringing him back with a gasp and he bit his lip hard to stifle the urge to cry out aloud.

    “No, please don’t drift off. We have much to do yet – if we absolutely must. You will not have forgotten this.” She held up the probe – and his features tightened in instant, instinctive reaction before he could school his expression to stoicism. “The lights shown screened above depict all the most tender, most sensitive spots for its effective application. You see, the Machine now knows your body and its weaknesses better than you do yourself – and it will exploit that knowledge to the full. So I fear that the pain will now be very bad – quite past all bearing.”

    He-Man closed his eyes and strove hard to level his breathing, to shut out her insidious words which so sapped his courage. He did not want to look at the screen above; he knew only too well what it would show him. At least, he told himself, while she was making her threats she was not actually applying them – setting him to stretch so agonizingly – or jolting him with repeated electric shocks. Or both together – He drew deeper breaths, seeking to summon his depleted strength. She came yet closer and he felt her fingers stroke back the soaked hair from his brow; her tone sounded regretful as she went on.

    “There is ever a price to pay for power – always. Did you, my young innocent, imagine that you were exempt? Or did the Sorceress never see fit to warn you? Ah – I see that she did not. And that, perhaps, is no great wonder. But now you pay the forfeit for a power which withdraws its strength from you just as you feel its want the most.” He opened his eyes and looked up at her; the appeal in his face was unintentional, perhaps, but yet it was there – and she gave him a sad little smile of understanding. “And I pity you – truly I do. To find out that all you have fought for, that all your suffering is in vain, that you have been deserted by those in whom you placed your trust – must be – hard.”

    He swallowed the lump which had formed tight in his throat; her words touched him – and he struggled to stay silent in the face of her sympathy – the only kindness he had been shown since first this ordeal began. He suppressed a treacherous longing to tell her how aggrieved he felt – how betrayed by those he had so faithfully served. Again she shook her fine head, her lovely eyes filled with a sorrow which he knew to be for him. “No; not even you in all your unimpeachable nobility, your touching fortitude and hardiness of heart, are exempt. And nor am I – for it grieves me sore to hurt you, for all that I must. You have no idea what it does to me to do this to you.”

    And she bent forward and touched at him again with the electro-probe; sweat sizzled on his skin with the intensity of it – and he bit down hard on his lip – but could not hold back a gasping sob – nor yet hide the tell-tale way in which his body continued to convulse, jerking on and on puppet-like within its restraints.

    How much longer will she do this to me? I don’t know. Maybe not too much more, now. And if not? Hush! Concentrate – close your mind to the fear. Don’t let it in! Do you think I’m not trying to? Try harder. But I’m scared that I’m going to scream – and begin to babble. Creator’s teeth, He-Man! Be still, will you? You really aren’t helping! Neither is anyone else – or they’d be here by now – Stop it! You can’t afford to think that way. But I can’t fight on indefinitely! Look, with any luck you can pass out again soon. And be revived – and go through the whole cycle again? If needs be. You’re a real comfort, I must say. I’m recalling your high duty to your mind – lest you forget it. You swore an oath. You swore an oath, Adam – not me! That’s a false distinction – and you know it! Look, like it or not, we – both of us – are bound by it. And I’m bound to the Machine – and it’s destroying me – and it may all be for nothing! For Grayskull is not for nothing; how can it be? But what if Lyn’s right? What if the Sorceress has no more use for us? And what if Lyn is sincere about helping me, giving me the power to defeat Skeletor, remake Eternia as it should be? Do you trust her? It would be more like her to seek to deceive you. But it makes sense – rings true. The Sorceress denied me the full extent of the Power – and without it I can never defeat him! She must have had her reasons. And for leaving me here to my fate? Did she have her reasons for that, too? He-Man, it’s a question of whom to trust – and why would you trust Lyn before the Sorceress of Grayskull? Because she tells me the truth! You don’t know that! How can you? But Lyn’s right in one thing; there is a price to power. With payment in pain? Yes – But the Power is leaving me! I’ve honored my pledge to the Sorceress time after time – you know it’s true! And now she won’t lift a finger to help me! There’s still the matter of a binding vow. But if the oath itself was false then this is all for nothing! Worse, it’s actually helping Skeletor, since I’m the only one able to cast him down! So Lyn says. Who else can, then? If I die here we die here – then he wins all! Another champion will arise. Some other deluded youth who thinks he’s a hero? Ancients! If you put half the effort into fighting Lyn that you do into arguing with me, then you really would be a hero! Look, Adam; I’m all-but spent – and my spirit is riven with doubt. Lyn seems to know so much already – and I really do think that she has some good left in her. If I could but – The risk’s too great – you can’t afford to trust her! Deep down she really wants to help me. So that’s why she’s tearing you in two, is it? It’s complicated – Sometimes she’s so very kind to me. Kind? Admit it – you’re attracted to her, aren’t you? She’s using that weakness to lead you astray! But you just said yourself that she tortures me! And in the night? Was that torture too? That was a dream! It was Teela who came! Was it? Are you so sure? I – can’t be, can I? And, anyway, what would Teela say right now? Well? I – I – Oh, Adam! I’m so confused and frightened. What shall I do? Stand by your oath. Resist her until help arrives, what else? I don’t know if I can – You can. You must. I’m trapped aren’t I? And there’s no way out of it. Why me?Everyone asks that in time of trouble. But you already know the answer, don’t you? Yes – I suppose I do –Doesn’t stop it hurting, though, does it? No! That it doesn’t. But you’ll hold on, won’t you? I’ll try. I know you will – you’re a hero – remember? I don’t feel like one. Does anyone – ever? All you have to do is –

    Lyn brought him back from his tranced abstraction more kindly this time, by stroking his face until his eyes opened and met her own.

    “Where is it that you go to, He-Man, when the pain is beyond bearing? And with whom do you speak in that far place?” Her voice was soft, curious. “I should like to know.”

    He made the effort to raise some kind of smile. “Yes, I’m sure that you would. But you could not find your way there, Lyn. And you never shall.”

    She did not smile in return but clicked her tongue. “Why will you insist on treating me as an enemy?”

    “Because you insist on acting like one – and because my duty and my conscience together tell me to act as a hero should.”

    “And suffer accordingly?” She raised the probe; its smooth metallic length gleamed bright menace under the lights.

    He nodded, poised mid way between defiance and resignation – and quite without hope.

    Again current tore through him, causing him to thrash against the restraints and groan high-pitched through tight-clenched teeth. When it ended and his body had ceased to shudder he lay gasping and spent, gulping for air – and the look he darted at her was far from friendly. But Lyn only shook her head with that same rueful air.

    “I know, I know; I understand – believe me. I really wish that I could let you rest – the Machine’s sensors tell me that you are in sore need of it. All the same, this must go on until you permit me to help you. If you continue with this pointless obstructiveness then – for your own good – I shall be forced to be even harder on you. I would greatly regret having to use the needles again; but I shall if I must. You won’t have forgotten them, I’m sure; when they are combined with the Rack and the probe then even your valor will shrivel.”

    He fixed her with a fierce blue glare.

    “Well, I won’t beg!”

    “Beg? You? So true a hero, so firm in your resolve, ever willing to suffer in defense of those who have deserted you? The very thought of it! Why, you won’t even allow yourself to scream, will you?” The edge of mockery – if such it were – went from her voice and she spoke soberly, intent upon his expressive face, both angry and apprehensive. “And I would think less of you if you did. Don’t you know that?”

    He stared up at her, as ever uncertain as to the truth of what she told him. Her pity, the strange admiration she expressed for his defiance always unsettled him; it undermined his willpower even more than when she hurt him. And she sounded so sincere, too –

    “You – don’t have to do this –” he managed.

    “I wish that were true. I long for it to be over.”

    “I wish that were true as well.”

    “It is true. But I can only make you believe it when I succeed – when you come to understand at last that I do this only for the good of Eternia; to bring down our dark adversary – and to make of you a king.”

    “Against my will?”

    “If I must; though I hope still that you will come to understand – and allow me to give you what you need in order to throw down Skeletor and bring light – lasting light – to this, our dark and war-weary world.”

    “By betraying my oath?”

    “An oath falsely extracted by a ruthless sorceress who has long exploited your innocent goodwill – and who has now deserted you. I will grant you what she will not; the power to recreate Eternia. But first I need you to grant me the boon of making of you what you were born to be. I can do it – and will; if you will but do this one small thing for me.”

    He fought over again the bitter battle within himself. What if she were right and he strove for nothing – suffered only in a cause which had abandoned him? What if by undergoing this torment he simply strengthened Skeletor’s grip on Eternia, since no other could bring him down? And he too wanted this to be over –

    Lyn sighed. “I really must have your help, He-Man. Eternia’s need is great – and I have staked my all – and the fate of many – on securing your aid to make my vision a reality. But you are bound by the Sorceress’ cunning deceits, your mind trammeled so that you employ your pride and courage for her – and not for me – and not for Eternia either. And I cannot persuade you otherwise – and so must employ force.” With a shake of her head she took up the control unit of the Rack and looked at him. “Why must it be this way?” she asked – and depressed the button.

    Stretched helplessly, every part of him suffering the appalling strain, sweat salt-stinging his eyes, he held on – and on, hoping against hope that she would not subject him to any more rotations of the drum. The tension held at two turns – and bending forward she sought yet again to persuade him to yield.

    “Show sense, I beg of you! The Machine is tearing you apart!”

    He opened his eyes and peered blearily up at her.

    “You – you do it to me.”

    “No! He-Man, it is the Sorceress, her spellhold on your mind. Let me release you from it – please! Help me to help you! It is not submission – it is not! It is but sense! Let me spare you, heal you – bring you to the destiny long foretold for you!”

    “My vow –”

    “History will absolve you of it – once you are in a position to re-write the chronicles of our time – once the Dark One has been overthrown.”

    “It would be – betrayal – I –” His breath gave out, his words failed and the pincers of the pain closed so that his senses swam. Seeing, she released the tension and revived him with water – and with the mephitic substance in a phial which she held before his nose.

    “The only betrayal here is the one that has been done to you,” she told him when he was again in a postion to hear her.

    He coughed, half-choking over his words.

    “I – I am Grayskull’s champion! I can’t go against that –”

    “You would be saving Grayskull – from its worst foe.”

    “I – would be – b-betraying every free b-being on Eternia!”

    NO! Not at all! Did you understand nothing of what I told you, showed you, up there on that high place? But surely you did – your eyes told it plain; so now you choose to be obtuse with me! If you will but trust me – as implicitly as I trust you – then I shall empower you to save Eternia; yes – every last free being in all this turning world!” She paced, gesturing wide with the force of her emotion. His eyes followed her – and registered both doubt and temptation. To be free of the pain – and of Skeletor – could it be true? Could it? She was so very vehement in her desire – and he recalled with a pang the loveliness of the image of Eternia she had set before him; a world rendered free of the shadow of fear. “But, instead, you fight me, force me to do you harm! Cannot you see what this is doing – to us both? Please listen to me – for my sake if not for your own, since you seem to care nothing for yourself!”

    “Lyn, I – I – don’t know how to answer you. L-let me think – give me s-some time – please.”

    She shook her head. “I should dearly like to; but I fear that you will only grow yet more stubborn – and all this will be to do over again. And I would spare you that – for all that you do not help me.”

    He gave a kind of sob – and turned his face away.

    “I – I don’t know – what to do!”

    “Then fight at my side! Bring your sword, your strong right arm, your powerful presence to the battle which we must win if this wounded world is to be healed! Together we shall rid Eternia of a great and enduring evil. And then, He-Man – and then I promise you that I shall be yours.” Her kiss pledged her promise – and the promise of much more besides. “I have seen how your eyes follow me – how you stare when you think yourself unnoticed; I know your desire – and I will fulfill it – in fullest measure. What other woman is my match in looks or words – or deeds? Who else has my skill, my art? And all these things I will place at your service.” Her hands caressed him with loving-kindness – but there was a fierce, devouring hunger in their touch too – and, helpless, he could not help but rise to it. And, seeing, she smiled on his response and spoke again. “These lordly limbs, this superlative body of yours are far too fine to be torn apart in some futile gesture of defiance. They were not made to be used so – nor need they be so. No; I have a better use in mind for you – one that I see you share. And am I not fair? Am I not a prize worth the winning – a fit mate even for the mighty He-Man?”

    He drew a breath that was suddenly hard to swallow. He blinked rapidly; his ears were buzzing, his heart racing – all his senses at feverish pitch as desire mounted yet more urgently.

    “Yes, Lyn – you are – beautiful – As lovely as a mountain under morning snows –”

    She smiled at his words, perhaps touched. “I took you for a warrior, not a bard – but I see there is yet much about you for me to discover.” Still her hands roamed freely over his sweat-smooth skin. “And so, soon, I shall.” The surge of appetence filled his entire being, choked him, charged him full – and he emitted a soft moan. “Imagine how it would be for us – together. What pair among all the planets could equal our conjoint splendor – and our strength? And in our coming together there would be joy enough to gush forth in molten streams – and melt away all other care –”

    “Free – free my hands – I –” He could barely breathe for need. “I want you – Free me!”

    She smiled, and slid herself smoothly up onto the surface where he lay and straddled him, her knees pressing his flanks. “What need?” she whispered, supremely arch in her triumph. “We shall do very well as we are, you and I. But, first – allow me.” Her hands moved with dexterity; her fingers followed the grooves of his muscle-segmented stomach and so down – and down. His eyes widened in momentary surprise – and then he closed them with a grateful sigh – and surrendered himself.

    But it did not last.

    What are you doing, He-Man? This is wrong! Stop her! I can’t – You must! Can’t you tell what she’s up to? Resist her! How can I? I’m completely helpless – That’s no excuse at all – fight her! I’ve no power left. You won’t have if you don’t, you fool! You don’t understand, Adam. You’re right enough there! But I know just how wrong this is; you’re letting her seduce you – and you can’t pass this off as a dream, can you? It – feels like a dream – She’s corrupting youshe’s after the Power, and you’re handing it to her on a platter! The Power – it’s leaving me – that’s why you’re here. It’s as well that I am, too! Lyn will grant me the Power in full – give me back my Sword! But at what cost? She means me no harm. Then why is she torturing you? To save me! Save you? Don’t be so gullible, He-Man! You’ll fall – give in, tell her – and then she’ll have no more use for you! She’ll make me a king – What, King He-Man? What an absurdity! If this weren’t so serious I’d laugh! I’m the one destined to be king, remember – if there’s still anything left to inherit once you’re done betraying us all to Evil-Lyn! Adam, I – Fight back, He-Man – before it’s too late! But she’ll torture me again – and I’m so very tired and weak – Fight her – or I will! But – you can’t – you haven’t the strength –Nor, it seems, have you. Some hero you turned out to be! What would Father say? Or Duncan? And what about Teela? Teela – Yes – Teela! She deserves better of you than this, He-Man – much, much better! She loves you – and you know it. I – can’t love her back – it isn’t allowed. So what? Does that make your submitting to Lyn right? I – no; no it doesn’t. Then resist her – you can still find the strength; it’s there, inside of you. Use it! I may fail – And I’m – afraid. We both are – but if you won’t fight her, then I shall have to – and we both know what that will mean. You are Champion of Eternia, Guardian of Grayskull, He-Man – strong; admired by all. So act like it! Adam – I – think you’re stronger than I am – Only some ways; or at least not as – tempted. So – you stop her right now – or it will be too late!

    “Lyn – don’t. I – don’t want you to.”

    Her head rose – and her eyes narrowed. “What?”

    “I said stop this; it isn’t right. Let go of me.”

    “You were eager enough before this –”

    “We mustn’t do it. You can’t win me over this way, Lyn – so don’t try.”

    Her lips pursed tight – and a different light shone in her eyes. Slowly she rose and lowered herself to the floor, her gaze not leaving his face – once more defiant.

    “You scorn me –?” she said in a tone of quiet disbelief. “You actually dare?”

    “Not scorn – and not from choice; but because I must.”

    “After all I have done for you – offered you? And now you set me at naught?”

    “No – Lyn; not at all. Far from it. But I still can’t yield to you – though a part of me wishes that I could.”

    “And you will do so with all your being before long – that I promise!” Her hand reached vengefully out – and took up the control unit for the Machine.

    “Lyn – listen to me –!”

    “Oh, but I shall; I shall listen to your screams with profound pleasure. It is high time you learned not to trifle with me!”

    “But, Lyn – Lyn – NO!

    With a decisive gesture she pressed the control – and the Rack wound on – and on – and on – until his chest swelled huge with the urge to cry out – and his overborne senses fled down the deep red tunnel of pain into uttermost darkness.

    ******

    7.6

    The Sorceress sat in stillness, her mind elevated to the highest planes of power, moving slowly among them scrying, ever seeking, hoping still to reach He-Man in her mind; to re-establish a connection between them – and to reassure him that he was not alone. But, once more, she found herself baulked by the sheer strength of the shielding spell, denying her thought entry to the place it wished to be. A dark mass of intermeshing strands, an impenetrable web of sorcerous power trapped all which sought admission – and, try as she might, she could not pass through.

    Silently she called upon the Power, summoned to her aid all that Grayskull’s ancient might could grant in defense of its champion whose need was great. And light burned, blinding bright, searing the eyes of her inner sight – and she saw – she saw.

    Images, sensations flitted across her mind, visions from afar, fleeting impressions of uncertainty, turmoil, desire – of fear and loneliness; of betrayal, resentment – and, above all, of pain.

    Tight-lipped she endured, a film of perspiration forming on her brow, hands clenched white-knuckled on the arms of her throne. And she groaned aloud with the vicarious anguish of it.

    He-Man – hear me! Be brave; please be strong – and hold! Turn not against us, I implore you!

    Her head jerked back and she went rigid, quivering along all her length and all color left her face.

    Help comes – it draws near even now! Hold but a little longer –!

    But she knew that he could not hear her, that his dulled and blinded senses told him only that he was alone – abandoned – and in agony.

    And her sudden cry echoed all through those shadow-haunted halls of silent stone.

    ******

    Last edited by Scriptor; August 31, 2013 at 11:40am.

  8. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Princessadora View Post
    Love it. Looking forward to the next chapter.
    I'm very glad that it is still holding your interest; I'm sorry for the long gap between Chs 6 and 7 - but I was away doing my duty for my "other job!"
    Anyway, I hope that Chapter 7 - which I have posted above - will also appeal.

  9. #34
    Eternian princess Princessadora's Avatar
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    Yep love chapter seven, now I would love to see chapter eight. Hopefully soon!
    I only fight when I have to and every time I hope its the last.

  10. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Princessadora View Post
    Yep love chapter seven, now I would love to see chapter eight. Hopefully soon!

    Thanks - I'm glad that you are still enjoying it!

    Sorry for the delay in posting Chapter Eight; I've been waiting for the illustrator to send me the image she has created to accompany Harm and Healing. She has been very busy - but I shall be able to post soon.

  11. #36
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    Chapter Eight: Harm and Healing
    The Triumph of Evil-Lyn photo TheTriumphofEvil-Lyn_zps9aae8349.jpg

    Harm and Healing

    8.1

    “Teela! What’s amiss? Are you –?”

    “I saw him – I saw him!” She clutched at her father’s arm, wide-eyed with agitation. “He – No! But no; that can’t be right –” She frowned in angry puzzlement.

    “Steady – steady. What did you see – and how?”

    “I don’t know. I just don’t – but it was like a vision; like the ones I had when I was small. I think. Yes; like those.”

    Duncan nodded, understanding without understanding.

    “And I saw Adam –”

    “You did? Are you certain? But where?” He leaned in close. “Where is he?”

    “I – couldn’t tell. There was bright light and darkness – and then the light again. And he was struggling and afraid and –” She looked at her father and her green gaze was clouded with concern. “I felt really strongly that he was in terrible trouble – and in pain.” Her eyes closed – then opened again. “He was Adam – and he – wasn’t, at one and the same time. I don’t understand –”

    “Well, we’re all worried for him – for them – and the stress of it does strange things to us all. Maybe you –”

    “I saw him, I tell you! I wasn’t wrong, and it wasn’t a dream. I still don’t understand – but that’s not the point! Adam’s in danger – someone is hurting him – badly – and he’s trying very hard to be brave – but he really, really needs our help!”

    “And we need to know his whereabouts.”

    “He’s wherever He-Man is.”

    Duncan stared into his daughter’s tight face.

    “Are you – sure?” he asked with care.

    “Of course I’m sure! They are – close. So close that for a moment I even confused them. But I know that if we can just get there then we can rescue them both.”

    Her father eyed her with a worried expression. Something about the sudden recurrence of her childhood visions seemed all too familiar; it disinterred long-buried memories. It did not make him glad. And how else could she know what she had seen – without comprehending its true significance? But there would be a time to dwell on that; for now they must focus all their efforts on effecting the distressingly overdue rescue of He-Man – and of Adam.

    ******

    8.2

    He-Man awakened to the strange sense that he was floating – that he lay suspended in a nothingness that was somehow both warm and soft. Light pressed at his eyelids – but he resisted it, unwilling to lose this blessed sense of being free from all harm. There were disturbing echoes deep within him – memories of pain – and when he tried to turn away from the brightness he found that he could not; something was holding him. For a moment longer he lingered half in consciousness; a soft voice was chanting somewhere near – a voice he knew well – and the more he listened the more withdrawn he felt – until his senses slipped away again and he submerged and lay drowned deep in emptiness.

    But there came at last a time of awakening – and he could no longer shut out the insistent demand of the light. He stirred, his eyes blinked open – and he groaned aloud. For a moment he sought refuge again in the dark – but it was too late; for good or ill he had come to once more – and he lifted his head to see.

    And looked straight into the eyes of Lyn.

    For a long, silent, strangely complex time they stared at one another, their gazes locked. And he had the strangest sensation that she was – embarrassed – almost sheepish. She colored slightly under his eyes – and turned away, carefully setting down her staff. Why did she keep her back turned towards him? Could she possibly be composing her face to meet his look? He shifted slightly, aware that while he lay still on the Machine and while the cables still held him shackled, they were far from taut. He frowned; surely he had passed out with the throes she had inflicted on him in anger at his rejection of her? But he was not in pain now; and he should be – shouldn’t he? Time had passed – but not much. So what had she done? Drugged him again? He lifted his head – and she faced him, her expression ambiguous.

    “I have taken away the pain of what was done – what I did – to you,” she said quietly, answering the question in his gaze. “I have that skill, through my art. I – trust that you feel – recovered.” Again he had the odd feeling that she was choosing her words with care – and that she wore a somewhat shamefaced look. But, surely –? His eyes widened – and she looked away, avoiding their searching stare, and spoke over her shoulder. “I – regret – what I did. I am – sorry. Truly. And I have done my best to make amends.” He could find no word to say, and so she turned back to him with raised brows, perhaps misinterpreting his silence. “You are not harmed by it – though I fear that you will be sore when the charm wears off.” His mute stare seemed to unsettle her – almost to rile her, and her voice rose. “But it was you who drove me to it – and just as we were getting along so well.”

    “You – have a – strange way of showing repentance, Lyn.”

    Her eyes lifted and she smiled – a very wry look which he found oddly moving.

    “Yes; I suppose that I have. Perhaps it is – unfamiliarity.” She sighed and the strange smile faded. “My ill temper at your – change of heart – got the better of my sense. Well; I shall not stretch you again until after you have recovered. And I hope still to persuade you not to make any further such treatment necessary.” His face at once took on a guarded look – and she shook her head ruefully. “No; I cannot let you go just yet – though I should like to – and I must still have you yield to me. But not the Rack – that I promise.”

    He tried to keep the relief he felt from flooding his face. It would mean the probe again – even the needles – but at least not that indescribable, unbearable sense of being torn in two. “I shall be glad of that,” he admitted grudgingly, feeling that he owed her something in return. And then, boldly: “But I’d be even more glad if you’d accept at last that I’m not going to give way – and spare us both.” Their eyes held – and then Lyn shook her exquisite head.

    “You know that I cannot do that – and why. As you must surely know by now that I do not wish you hurt more and would gladly spare – us both.” She fetched a sigh. “I should be overjoyed if I could but make you understand that I really am trying to help you.”

    “Then your help is even stranger than your repentance.”

    “So it must seem; but I am sincere in my wish; do you recall how I spoke of the price that all power demands? Well; it is no more than the truth. We are both subject to it, you and I. To save you I must hurt you – and in doing so hurt myself. There is no avoiding it; we are each of us bound – by a forfeit of pain. I wish with all my heart that it were otherwise – but it is not. And so –” She held up the shining electro-probe before his eyes and, even as he winced at the sight, applied it to him.

    His body, seared with the savage, smarting sting of it, bucked wildly, tugging at the cables which restrained him – and he gave a breathless cry. The current coursed fiercely through him jolting him to the limits of movement so that his body arched and lifted from the slab – and then fell back as the instrument was withdrawn. He twitched on and on until at last he lay, mouth gaping and eyes wide in shocked disbelief.

    She bowed herself over his heaving torso and sought his pain-misted gaze.

    “I am sorry – truly I am. I wish only to do you good – and must instead do you harm. But hold me blameless; it is the fault of the one who has shackled your mind with her sorcery – she who granted you the incomplete power you hold; the strength which now deserts you.”

    He glared at her, still outraged by the agony she had inflicted on him.

    “And still you suffer in payment for this power, offering up your dutiful forfeit of pain. And this is but the start; as long as you remain in thrall to the Sorceress then you will be called upon again and again to pay this due of anguish. Pain will be your portion; pain of both body and mind – until you learn how ill you have been used by those who claim to be your friends. Until you come at last to your senses and to the knowledge that you suffer vainly – and thereby learn at last to trust me.”

    He twisted in the iron grip of the Machine, fearing her words and the wisdom of them. Yes; he had known that power came at a price, that there were forfeits demanded for the granting and wielding of the Power of Grayskull; but this end he had never expected – never. Her words chimed all too closely with his own doubts and fears – and that same resentful wave of self-pity washed chill over him again and so he retaliated in the only way he could trust – with bitter anger.

    “You speak of my power, Lyn – but what your own? Tell me, is there also to be a price for that dwimmercraft which you possess in plenty? For your past deeds? Will you pay one day for the power you siphoned-off from Morc and for enslaving its folk? Even for what you do here, to me?”

    Her eyes, intent upon him, darted away like disturbed fish.

    “Perhaps I already do,” she said, so softly that he did not hear her.

    “And you spoke too of demons who devour souls, who lie in wait for those who have had dealings with them in pursuing power.” His defiant riposte drew back her reluctant gaze to his blazing eyes. “Do they hunger for your soul, too, Lyn? For – if so – then I pity you!”

    She stared as if stricken and she paled – if that were possible. Her lips parted but she spoke no word – and turned away her gaze.

    He let fall his head to the steel slab and drew labored breath, the sweat running in rivulets from his working chest and abdomen. Defiance helped – a little – but anger alone could not save him. Nothing could.

    When her voice came it was small – almost tentative.

    “They say that suffering purifies the soul. You, of all men, would surely subscribe to that. I have given you reason enough – and in doing so have myself suffered. Could such purity even deny the demons their due?”

    “And if it be so, Lyn, then, tell me: does my suffering purify your soul? For if it does, then, demons or no, I pity you indeed!”

    She rushed forward, leaned close with twisted face.

    “He-Man – truly – I am trying to help you!”

    “So you say – but perhaps it is you needs the help!”

    She scowled slit-eyed and in spiteful, almost savage vindication of her mastery over him jammed the probe hard within his navel – and energized it.

    The strung-out puppet performed once more its macabre dance, twitching in ecstasies of affliction. He ground his teeth together, fought to suppress the yell which rose loud and carrying in his chest and throat – and barely contained its escape. The sensation of burning, of shrieking nerve-endings, of muscles rending in spasm was well-nigh overwhelming. He writhed and squirmed and thrashed his head until she desisted – and even then his limbs gave involuntary twitches and he could not be still. The pain of it made him retch and he choked, still trembling with shock. She watched his anguish, then frowned as one foiled – and set down the instrument. She brought water and, supporting him with great care and gentleness, helped him to drink, dribbling ease to his parched throat. Recovering, he looked into her eyes, close now to his. And there was compassion there – and it was for him – her hapless victim!

    “I – d-don’t – understand you,” he said in a fractured voice. “N-not at all.”

    Delicately, unhurriedly, she wiped the sheen of sweat from his face with a cloth, then fetched another and mopped over his chest and stomach; and she answered not a word. She set aside the soaked material – and, seeing bright blood trickle from where he had torn his wrist in fighting the restraints, tenderly cleansed the wound – and all the while he watched her – and wondered. And then, done, she looked down on what her handiwork had wrought; his body bore the marks left by the probe – burns and blistered flesh, and veins stood out from the stretched skin, sinews made visible by the sheer struggle of resisting the Rack. The golden hair was darkened and matted with sweat – and the vulnerability and loss in the look on that face which regarded her so intently touched her anew.

    She shook her head – and gusted a sigh before answering him at last.

    “I’m not altogether sure that I understand myself,” she said, very softly.

    Their eyes met – and something tacit passed between them – though neither, perhaps, truly knew what.

    The brittle moment held as a crystal vessel holds both liquid and light – and then it shattered.

    “Don’t look at me like that!” Lyn’s voice winged abruptly upwards. “Those wounded eyes – like a little boy lost! I won’t have it!”

    “Lyn – please – you –”

    No!

    She turned brusquely aside and drew herself upright and set to pacing the chamber, her footfalls rapid with ire; he heard her mutter fiercely – and again – as if arguing with herself – and then her face, changed, appeared above him and she pursed her lips.

    “Why won’t you believe me when I tell you the truth – that I have no wish to do this to you? If ever I had such a feeling, then it is long gone. And I truly repent that ever I felt so.”

    “Then prove it.”

    “I – cannot. Don’t you see that? Not unless you will first help me to help you.” She shook her head – and he saw to his horror that she had again taken up the hateful probe. “We have come too far for that, you and I; much too far.” Her hectic, over-bright eyes narrowed. “This has gone on long enough; it is time to make an end.”

    She applied the scorching, stinging kiss of the steel to another of those sensitive spots where the lights directed it – and forced a yelp from her victim whose tormented torso quivered on with the shock even after contact had ceased. His eyes blinked repeatedly; he stared, dazed and unfocused, panting, seeking to cope with the violent jolting he had received.

    “I know; it pains you so – and I am truly, truly sorry. My art would take away the pain – even to the last lingering memory of it – and make you whole and well again; instead of hurting you I could heal you. Would you not like that? Surely you would? And I would so very, very gladly do that for you – give you the loving care your courage deserves. Will you not let me show you kindness? It would bless us both!” Her voice had almost a desperate edge to it as she pleaded with him.

    He drew breath and lifted his head as best he could; the strained, handsome face was very intent as he stammered out his own appeal.

    “It’s not t-too late, Lyn. Not even now. You c-could still give up this madness – s-still redeem yourself.”

    “And if I did, would you be able to forgive me, He-Man, for what has been done to you here? Would you?”

    He stared at her in silence, and she could detect the struggle within. And then he laid back his head to the unyielding slab of steel and sighed.

    “I would – try.”

    “Yes; you would as well, wouldn’t you?” She shook her head slowly – and her expression was unreadable. “And in the end you would do it, too. You really would. You would forgive me in spite of all.” Her voice trailed off in a thread and she looked away.

    “I’m trying even now – all this time I have.” Again he sighed. “I don’t want to hate you, Lyn; hatred corrodes, corrupts, doing no harm to anyone but the one who hates.” He made a choked sound in the back of his throat. “But sometimes you don’t make it easy.”

    “We have not made it easy for one other, have we?”

    She was regarding him strangely, not in a way he had seen before. And she had set aside the dreaded probe.

    “I do what I must – in duty,” he said, because it was true.

    “Even if you are wrong – and if the duty so-called is but delusion?”

    “I only have your word for that.”

    “And you still do not trust me, do you?”

    “How can I – when you are so cruel to me?”

    “So in spite of all I have said, you really do think that I derive pleasure from hurting you!”

    “Now wherever would I get an idea like that from?”

    Both face and voice were defiant; defiant but weary, too – and there was a vulnerability, a resignation about them both, for all his wan efforts at bravado. Dew glistened in those long lashes, darker than his brows. His strength was leaving him, taking his frail and failing hope with it – and belief would soon follow hope. It would not be long now.

    But Lyn, looking down on him, shook her head and her voice rose.

    You are cruel, He-Man – and your words are hurtful! I am trying to help you – to bring about a glorious vision of a better world – but at every step you oppose me! How can I prove how much it grieves me to be so unkind to you?”

    “You could stop torturing me.”

    “But how can I? Not when it is the only way in which I can save you!”

    “Save me? What do you mean? Save me from what?”

    “From her!”

    “Her? But – I don’t understand.”

    “You are right; you don’t understand – though I have tried so hard to show you the truth! But now I shall tell it plain – vile as it is! Listen to me, He-Man – listen well! You are indeed deluded, spell-bound, enslaved by powerful enchantments which make you believe that what you are fighting for is right and good and noble! And it is not – it is NOT! As I have told you, the bonds which in truth hold you captive are all in your mind – and your mind, ensorcelled, is not your own but hers! You – her champion – are no more than a puppet, a creature dangling on the strings of her sorcery! She has from the outset lied to you, used you – and now I alone can set you free!”

    “But – you bound me – here, to this thing – hurt me!”

    “It is the only way to overcome the evil enchantments which hold you – don’t you see that? I have to break the barrier the Sorceress has set about you – I must, since you cannot! Only by freeing you from her thralldom may I strengthen you to defeat Skeletor – and thereby save Eternia!”

    “Her incantations were for my good – to help me –”

    “She lied; they have made of you her slave.”

    “No!”

    “She spellbound your mind, denied you all but a tithe of the might which should be yours – and sent you out to battle with one whom you could never overcome.” She gestured wide in frustrated anger – then set her vehement face close to his. “Pay heed to this I tell you: without your assuming the full Power of Grayskull then not by your hand will Skeletor fall; and if not by yours – then by whose? There is none other in all Eternia who can cast down the Lord of Destruction – none! He-Man, you must take up what is yours by right; if you do not then Skeletor’s power will wax ever the greater and all the world will fall beneath the shadow of his dark dominion; his heel will grind out the last embers of the light – and all will be darkness without end!” Her eyes glowed amethystine with the intensity of her emotion; he could not have looked away. “You – and you alone – can save Eternia – and then only with my aid. And yet still you thwart my purpose – and I am forced to do you harm!”

    He stared at her, captivated, swallowing words which went unsaid.

    And then her head fell – and her voice grew quiet. “And yet I would – I would that there were some other way.”

    “But the Sorceress opposes Skeletor; surely she is noble, g-good –”

    His voice shook – his mind with it.

    “She isn’t – she isn’t! She is not Skeletor’s enemy but his rival! Her intricate web of deceit spans the world, deluding many, many more than just her beguiled young champion. Yet see her now as she truly is: there – behold the Lady of Grayskull!”

    He raised his head – and both lips and eyelids drew apart as he viewed the image her conjuration cast before him in the air. There, floating in a faint purple haze, was the Sorceress; but not as he had ever seen her.

    “But – she is – is –”

    “Hideous? Yes – is she not? An ancient and mighty evil; a withered hag, a shrivelled crone! Yet one who gives herself a glamour, assumes an appearance of beauty and goodness and maintains her power by ensnaring men to fight her battles for her – even as she ensnared you.”

    He stared at the apparition, fixated and appalled; it seemed as if long years of death staved-off hung about that withered frame – and the face was malice itself made frail and faded flesh. The eyes alone had life – and that was cold as the grave. A shudder ran through him and he looked away.

    “And this is the true face of the one you have so loyally served – and who has in return abandoned you to suffer all alone. This is she – your good, noble – and beautiful – Sorceress!”

    “But – she gave me the Power – she gave me the Sword.” His eyes had a haunted look now – and a deep furrow of thought divided his brow as he struggled to drown his doubts, to defend what he was meant to believe in.

    “Yes – of course she did; the most recent in a long line of her ‘champions’! She made you into He-Man, didn’t she, deep in her den at Castle Grayskull? Which she can never leave; did it not strike you that there might be concealed reasons for that?”

    “She – she has to guard the secrets of the Castle.” His voice lacked conviction even in his own ears.

    “Yes – so she told you! And you dutifully believed her! But were she ever to leave the confines of the walls, then she would appear as she truly is – ancient and raddled – and wholly wicked!”

    “But –”

    “She has lied to you – cheated you of the full strength and wisdom which are yours by right – used you abominably in all your willing ignorance – and, when you were of no more use to her, discarded you without a qualm!”

    With a sweep of her slender white arm Lyn dispelled the hovering effigy; but the repellent image of it was not so easily dismissed from his reeling mind.

    “I – don’t want to –”

    “No – of course you don’t! You go on and on defending her with your lonely martyrdom – such is your nobility of spirit. And yet it is all in vain – all for naught! Of course you would far rather believe the pretty tale she spun for you – for that alone can lend purpose to your long ordeal. But I have told you the truth – and, in your heart, already you know it!”

    He turned his head aside from her vehemence – but he knew that she was right; the Sorceress had indeed betrayed his trust – and he had suffered all of this agony of body and spirit – for nothing. Worse, for a year now he had been not one but two persons – and the tearing tensions, the enforced denials of that duality were all her fault too; he had lived a lie – for the sake of a lie. He groaned out aloud for sheer loss – and felt Lyn’s steadying hand smooth slowly, softly down his face, contouring his cheekbone, cupping his jaw.

    “I am so sorry,” she said quietly. “It is hard for you, to learn this at the last.”

    “I believed – I truly believed – that my pain, even my life – mattered less than the secrets of Grayskull.” There was pain of a different kind in his eyes now – and she sighed and briefly looked away.

    “Listen, He-Man – there are no real ‘secrets’ there in Grayskull; the only great secret is how she has managed to maintain her power, year on year, age on age – by duping good men like you to defend her and bring down those whom she identifies as her enemies. Who do you think named me ‘Evil-Lyn’, then? Do you imagine I chose that epithet for myself? Lyn is my name – and you, alone of all, actually call me by that. You can have no idea how it warms me within that you, brought to regard me as a bitter foe, a witch, can still call me by my true name!”

    She was weeping; pearl-sheened tears trickled down her face as He-Man watched, shaking his head in utter bewilderment.

    “Don’t cry, Lyn – please don’t cry! I’m sorry, too – truly I am.”

    “You have no call to be so; you were not the one who did me this great wrong. She has wronged us both, He-Man – for did she not take you away from your former life and turn you by her artful enchantments into what you now are? And, even as with me, she also took away your name, didn’t she? No longer are you – who you were before – but simply ‘He-Man’ – an object, not even a real person – a mere name – a hero, whether you wanted it or not; one who goes constantly into danger and pain, while she sits safe in her webs of sorcery in that evil-looking place – and plots. And when you fall – as one day you will, since she pits you always against her most powerful enemies – then she will simply find another young warrior – and he will be He-Man and you will be – will be –”

    “Lyn, please!”

    She turned her bright, tear-filled eyes to him. “If only I could make you see the truth of it – but her enchantments are strong, her hold over you great! I have so hated to hurt you – and yet it is the only way to free your mind, to cleanse it of her imprint, to drive her out. Tell me – what proof did she ever offer you; what did you ever see for yourself which upheld the tale she told you about your being her great champion and in the service of good?” He was silent now, his face troubled as she went on. “And, when you were held on Etheria by Hordak, did she set you free? Has she lifted even a finger to help you now? Has she? No – and shall I tell you why? You have failed her – and are expendable – of no further use to her! And so it has fallen to me to save you, to steel myself even to have to inflict pain upon your body – because there is no other way to save your soul!”

    “But – why did you not tell me of this before? Of what the Sorceress had done?”

    She shut her eyes tight; tears were still leaking down her pale cheeks and she shook her head vehemently. “You would not have believed me! Why would you have? I – whom you saw as an enemy, one who only ever hurt you?” She turned her face aside and he stared up in confusion.

    “I – don’t know. Honestly I don’t; it all seems – clearer – now, somehow. So much that I didn’t understand.”

    She turned to him again. “I did not think that you would listen – would trust me to tell you the truth, to allow me to show you what she has done to you. And I had to pretend that it gave me pleasure to – to – do this.” Her voice caught on a sob. “And you fought me so bravely, too and I – I –”

    “Lyn – you needn’t cry – I know why you did it. Now I do.”

    “I was – proud of you! Even while I was tormenting you – I was so very proud! It tore me through –”

    “I thought – I truly thought – that I had to – to defend the Sorceress and Grayskull.” He shook his head as he lay there immoblised by the restraints. “But if she lied –”

    “She did lie – and her wickedness in using you so vilely brought us both to – to this!”

    “And I believed her,” he said bitterly. “Every word.” He sighed and lay silent a long while – then lifted his head to look at her. “I must deny the Sorceress – to be free of her?”

    “You must; it is the only way.”

    His eyes had a spark in them now as he frowned and spoke with determination. “Then it is time I was free again: deny her I shall –” He took a deep, deep breath and his lips parted. “I – I –” His voice faltered and he frowned and drew another breath to speak his denial – and to be free. But then the enormity of it struck him like a huge weight descending on his chest, invading his throat, squeezing the very air out of him so that he choked and could not say a word. Reddening, he tried again. “I – deny – the –” but again he was rendered silent, gasping for breath. After three more attempts he was turning blue and Lyn leaned forward and put her finger to his lips.

    “Enough – no more. You cannot do it, can you? I knew it. She is deep entrenched within you and will not readily be expelled. She will let go only in the very last extremity – and that can only come out of a cry drawn from deep within your soul, overcoming even her grasp over you. Which means –”

    “Help me, Lyn –” he gasped in a tight voice. I can’t do this alone; you see what she has done to me? I can’t say the words – she won’t let me!” His face contorted with emotion, his throat still constricted. “Please, Lyn – I need your help; I so long to be free of her spells – to be myself again!”

    She looked down at him – but said nothing, tasting the irony of it as bitter as wormwood and sharp as gall.

    “And – and the others – what about them? They aren’t evil too, are they? I can’t believe that – not Duncan, surely?”

    “Of course not; they have all been subject to the same dark deception, the same sly sorcery as have you. But, once you are free, then you will be able to do the same for them. It will not be easy; her power is deep-ingrained, but I believe that it can be done.” She looked at him with deep misgiving and her head fell. “Or could be. But I cannot continue; we have come close to seeing her power driven from you – but I can do no more; I will do no more!”

    He looked up at her gravely. “Do you – do you truly believe that you can do it? I mean drive her out – set me free?”

    She would not meet his eyes. “I could,” she said unwillingly, addressing the floor, “but –”

    “And that, once freed, I could free the others?”

    “Yes; yes you could; you have it within you – even without her power.”

    “And – with the Power enhanced to its full extent – go on to defeat Skeletor – and re-shape our world?”

    Her eyes closed tightly and her whole body gave a great shudder. “Yes,” she said, her voice a mere thread.

    He swallowed, dry and hard. “Then you must go on,” he said.

    She turned back to him, her eyes opening wide. “You mean that I should –?”

    “Yes. You must make her leave me.”

    “Hurt you so cruelly that your soul spits her forth in its anguish?”

    “Yes! If that is truly the only way to release me and my friends – and end the fighting forever.”

    “But it will mean terrible pain for you!”

    “There’s no other way, is there?”

    She looked down. “No; no – there is not.”

    “Then do it, Lyn – I beg you!”

    “You really wish me to do this?”

    He tried gamely to smile. “I can bear it if you can.”

    “I don’t know that I can – not any more.”

    “You must.”

    She gazed long on him – and then passed a hand slowly over her face – and leaned to kiss his cheek. “False and evil hag the Sorceress may be – but she surely knows how to choose a true hero. Your courage moves me beyond all telling.”

    His second attempt at a smile was far, far brighter.

    “I knew it! I knew that there was good in you, Lyn; it just wasn’t possible that you could be doing this out of spite or greed for power. I sensed your sympathy – and I knew, somehow, that you must be acting this way for some hidden higher purpose – and so you are! I wish I had been able to understand why earlier – but now, at least – at last – I do. And I’m so very glad; glad for your sake!”

    And in that moment he felt very close to her; as close, perhaps, to this intimate enemy as ever he had to another being.

    But she looked aside from his sudden animation and was silent; long enough for him to fear that he had lost her, that she would no longer aid him.

    “Lyn –? I still need you to free me – take away the enchantments. Please?”

    She turned a pallid, sober face back to him. “I – I am –” Her words died and again she looked away.

    “I asked you once before to set me free; now I ask it of you again – this time in the knowledge of what freedom actually means.”

    “It means torment for us both.” Her voice came back lifeless.

    “Do it, Lyn – for the sake of all those she has deceived. And for the vision we both share.”

    She stared at him with that strange expression – and he sought to reassure her.

    “It will be all right, Lyn – really it will. I understand now why you had to do this; that you meant well by it. Finish it – please. I want so much to be free again.”

    She ran a hand across her brow and, with great reluctance evident in her movements, again took up the electro-probe.

    “Are you truly certain of this?”

    “If there really isn’t any other way.”

    “There is none; I only would that there were.”

    “Then – yes; yes I am.”

    “Then – prepare yourself.”

    He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, waiting for the sizzling sting of the hateful instrument that was his only way to freedom, for all that his flesh cringed from its touch. But instead there came a ringing clatter, and when he lifted his head she was stood there with her face in her hands.

    “I cannot – I will not! Why must you still make me be cruel to you – why? Could you not even spare me this? Your pain sears me through – and I can no longer bear the guilt of it!”

    “Lyn – please –!”

    “How could you do this to me? How can you even bear to be as you are? Why couldn’t you scream and beg like other men? I could have despised you, then – I could have escaped the spell which you have cast over me! But you wouldn’t cry out, would you? Not once! And when I dubbed you noble, told you that you were too good to be true I thought that I was mocking you! And yet it was ill-done – for I find that it is so; you are those things – and more! And thus the irony of my humor in taunting you is returned to me in fullest measure! The more I hurt you the more you moved me! And now look what is come of it! Look what is come of me!”

    He stared at her wide-eyed, an utter lack of comprehension clear in his eyes as he watched her rant and rage.

    “I took you captive by my cunning – but you, in your heroic innocence, have captured me! And I am shent – shent!” Her pale hands clasped, were wrung together before her in an agony of anger – and anguish. “Your cursed, blessed heroism has undone me in the end and I admit defeat! All the power I siphoned off at such risk from Morc’s magical wellsprings, all the lore, the spellcraft I have drawn to myself – all are as nothing; you, in guileless weakness – you – have utterly vanquished me! How? How? I have won – and am lost ! And I so want to hate you for it and I – cannot; to punish you – and I cannot! If you have no pity for yourself, at least have some for me, most miserable and wretched of women!”

    His bewilderment allowed him no words to answer her; his lips moved, soundless.

    Why must I be moved to cherish that which I am forced to hurt? What evil and ironic fate is that? And I can neither escape it nor complain of it, since it is so richly deserved!”

    “Lyn –”

    “Even as you suffered you were staunch; you kept faith with those who have showed you none; you have proved too great of heart for me to overcome – and I am undone. And ashamed.”

    Deeply touched, his generous heart indeed stirred with sorrow for her. The distance between them was gone now; now that he at last understood. Had his arms been free he would have reached out and enfolded her within them and comforted her.

    “Lyn, Lyn – you know that I – I would spare you this if I could – but –”

    “I am beyond any further endurance of it. I shall deliver you, set you free –”

    “Lyn, you can’t! You must go on – defeat the Sorceress – drive her out – please! It’s the only hope we have! Eternia –”

    “No – no; I – cannot. Do not ask this of me! I – I need to be alone awhile – I must go and consider, consult my books of lore – No –!”

    Weeping, she rushed from the chamber and left him lying there, helpless.

    “Lyn! – LYN!

    He called after her – but her running feet died away into silence and he was alone. He sighed and laid back his head, and his mind was filled with a new clarity – and with a heavy sadness.

    She was sincere; this time she was not toying with him. Of that there could be no doubt – he could feel her heartfelt regret, it swamped his senses – and none could feign such sorrow. The sight of the tears in her amethyst eyes, their tracks on her cheeks had moved him deeply. So she had indeed been trying to help him and he – had done her wrong. He had been wrong in so many ways, deluded for a year, living perforce a dual life he had never asked for, supposing himself a hero – because that was what the Sorceress had told him. And all the while he had been deceived – duped. Anger welled up in him now, driving away the sadness; not only had she drawn poor Adam into her web, but others of his friends, too. And so many of them had since faced danger, injury, the constant threat of exile and death – and for what? A few sparse words of grudging praise from a remote figure set apart from them all, unreal, a thing of shadows – a shape-shifting crone! Hidden deep within Castle Grayskull she had directed all of their actions; they had never questioned her right to do so – and she had poisoned their minds. Well – no more! He would beg Lyn to set him free, enduring whatever pain it cost him to be so – and then he would free his friends from the enslaving snare of her spellcraft. And then he would enact his final duties as He-Man; he would go and ensure that the Sorceress would never again lure a young man into her clutches and destroy his life. The ancient evil of Castle Grayskull would at long last be purged. And he would wield the Sword in the final battles which would bring down Skeletor and establish a lasting peace throughout Eternia – just as Lyn had foretold in her vision. He would help her to realize that dream of a golden time for the sake of all – and for Lyn herself. And, that accomplished, he would at last lay down the Sword forever and go back to being Adam – and Adam only! And he would, freed of the daily tension of duality, become a model prince and earn the respect of all; his parents would be proud of him at last. No more transforming into a falsehood, an unreal hero who was no more than a puppet. And, with Skeletor thrown down and without the Sorceress’ baleful influence, maybe peace could actually be achieved at last. There would be nothing more to fight over; and even if there were, it would no longer be his fight. Yes; all that was worth enduring even more pain for; it could not last forever and soon her sinister sorcery would be driven out of him and he would be free again – for Lyn had told him so.

    And he owed so much to Lyn. How could he ever have done her so great a wrong as to believe that she had not wanted to help him? The pain she had caused him had all along been for his own good; without it he would never have brought himself to believe in the great and abiding evil perpetrated so falsely by the Sorceress. Harsh as Lyn’s methods had seemed to him in his ignorance, they had brought him to see clearly at last – and for that he was deeply grateful. And he was moved, too: moved that one whom he had long judged an enemy had taken such pains to save him. He sighed to himself as he lay there on her Machine, that strange and terrible instrument of his salvation.

    The vision she had brought forth for him with her art, the golden glory of an Eternia renewed, was so lovely, so tempting, that he was almost willing to do her bidding to the full and help her to rule over it. He surely owed that to her for her care of him. And yet he doubted in truth that he could bring himself to do so. Once Skeletor was banished, the Sorceress – removed – and peace established throughout Eternia, he had no desire to fight any more battles – or ever to be He-Man again. It would disappoint Lyn, of that he was sure, and it grieved him that he could not support her in this as wholeheartedly as she wished. But he could not – and surely she would understand that, knowing him as she did? He was not fitted to be the kind of king over Eternia she had in mind – not without remaining He-Man; and that he simply could not do. But he would do everything short of that to help her, both out of respect for her vision and out of his deep gratitude. And, he frankly acknowledged to himself, in no small part out of love –

    He lay there, dwelling on these new revelations: he could yet persuade her to drive the Sorceress’ spells from him, once she was recovered from her tears. Even if it would hurt her to hurt him the thing had to be done – and he would find a way to make it up to her afterwards, for he owed her a debt. He thought on her face in its softer moods, her slender figure – and smiled to himself. Yes; indeed he would find a way. Now, alone, he missed her presence; the chamber felt empty without her. He shifted in the grip of the Machine, hoping that she would soon return; he wanted this thing over with as swiftly as possible now that he had a goal in mind. And he wanted to see her again – and bring her from out of the last of the darkness to a place of safety and freedom – and love.

    He heard footsteps approaching – but a heavier tread than hers – and lifted his head. And then his eyes widened and his mouth fell open.

    “Count Marzo! What –? But – you were banished!”

    “Yes – and largely thanks to you, He-Man. But it looks as if I’m now in a strong position to return the ill-turn, does it not?” He leaned his dusky and malevolent face close until his long beard prickled at the captive’s chest; his dark eyes glowed with a crimson fire. “I’m also in haste, so we shall waste no time. You will give me such of the secrets of Grayskull as will enable me to take it and hold it. It’s high time that this much-vaunted piece of machinery were put to its proper use.” He took up the control and at once pressed it. “No more of her precious play – I shall gladly tear you apart if needs be and leave nothing of you for the witch to enjoy. So start speaking.” The first turn of the drum had barely completed before he was queuing up a second.

    “Tell me of Grayskull – start with the jawbridge – what word of power opens it?” He-Man set his own jaw, shut his eyes and set himself to hold on.

    “– And the defenses within – what of those?” Three turns already – as far as she had ever gone. The claws of the pain gripped him tight, tearing and shredding at his will as the racking tore and strained his body. Elders – save your servant in his time of trial! Marzo’s voice came again, fierce and demanding, a strong hand seizing his jaw and shaking it hard. The tunnel before his eyes was red – all red, shot through with thin black veins of uttermost darkness. I am weak, my strength fails – please! – and then four turns of the ratcheted gears, of the drum and its ever-shortening cables. The red lights on the screens were blinking persistently; a warning buzzer began to sound; Marzo ignored them all. Somebody – anybody – help me! He tasted coppery blood in his mouth where he had bitten his tongue; he could not marshal his thoughts for the mind-numbing volume of the screaming deep within his tormented body. Sorceress! No – I cannot call on her. She is – evil – He was being drawn inexorably into the void and no longer knew where he himself ended and the endless darkness began. He wanted to cry out aloud – but could not summon the breath. “The Sorceress, what of her power – speak!” Duncan – help – please! “Answer me, boy – I am in haste!”

    No!

    Fierce pain, hot and sharp, erupted in his chest, then his belly – and so on downwards. Marzo was jabbing the probe into him, again and again. “Grayskull – tell me!”

    N-n-n – no!

    “I have not time for this! Talk, damn you!” Marzo’s finger stabbed again at the control – five full revolutions of the Rack! I cannot endure – I can-not – en-d-d-ure! The irresistible pull of its cables caused his over-stressed joints to crack loudly with the mounting tension; very soon now it would wrench them from their sockets. Lyn! Save me –! Lyn!

    “Tell me!”

    “MOM!”

    The drum wound on, winching in with a terrible, inhuman strength and drew him with it, stretched unbearably both ways – until it tore a great, long-contained howl of agony from him – and another – and at once a terrible third that echoed down the passageways and into the lofty caverns and made even the silent and scurrying Mooks stand still and look up.

    And she came in her fury, unseen – and occult light and power erupted and her sending, a giant fist of searing violet, caught the count by the throat even as he tried to defend himself and lifted him high into the air. Her staff held him fixed in place aloft, while her other hand groped for the control panel and pressed so that the Machine reversed its action – and its victim jerked and slumped back to the slab and lay very still with lolling head.

    I WARNED YOU! I told you NOT to presume!” she fumed in her barely-controlled rage.

    His hands made mute, exculpatory movements, frantic to explain away the transgression, wanting to tell her that the prisoner was ready to break, and that a single turn of the drum more would most surely – But he had no words, for he had no breath and was choking in the grip of that disembodied fist.

    “If you have harmed him beyond healing, then by the Great Darkness I swear that you will take his place on there, Marzo! But how dare you interfere!”

    His legs kicked frantically and his face empurpled to match the visible sign of her sorcery.

    “And you miserable, jealous, spiteful wretch; how dare you do harm to him, who alone is worth a thousand of you? He would forgive me – even after all I have done to him! Can you even begin to comprehend that? He saw good in me – worth! None since my lord father saw that – none but He-Man! And you have dared to do him harm! But I will be rid of you, worm-spawn that you are. I should have done so soon in any case, for your unwisdom far outstrips your usefulness. And this very time serves me equally well.” His already bulging eyes widened in terror as she raised her staff. “Marzo, lately known as count, I hereby cast you down – and do by my power banish you – UNTO DESPONDOS!There was an immense discharge, an unheard surge of power that hurt the ears – and then nor spectral fist nor count were present. Lyn leaned briefly on her staff and let her breath grow even again; and then she turned to her prisoner.

    She bent over him in concern, her face grave – and she stepped back a pace and lifted her hand, spreading the fingers wide before his reactionless face, and spoke words of arcane knowledge. At once his chest heaved and, with a choking cough, he seemed to breathe again, but stertorously, remaining deep in the swoon. Her hands ran swiftly over his limbs, shoulders and hips and she frowned and bit her lip. Then she shouted aloud and her silent servants came running to do their deity’s bidding. They took him from the grip of the machine and lifted him up and bore him swiftly in the train of her rapid gait though the passageways, behind her still glowing staff of power.

    ******

    8.3

    “Lady – it is as you suspected; Skeletor is moving once again. His own vessel has left Snake Mountain and set a course southward. I have just now received the news – and both our forward eyes and our scanners confirm it. It looks as if you were right; he means to go to the island where He-Man is being held.” He paused, suddenly hesitant. “Shall we intercept, lady? We could – at some cost to ourselves – bring his ship down. But as to then defeating him –”

    “No, Duncan – I do not think so. For that would still leave He-Man in her power – and all hope of surprise gone.”

    “But if he gets there unchallenged, then he will have He-Man as his captive and –” His voice broke off, seeing no need to say more.

    The Sorceress looked at him, his weary and worried face. “My thought is much as is your daughter’s: I believe that Evil-Lyn has reasons of her own for holding He-Man – and that she has told Skeletor nothing of this. Why else would he concern himself with Etheria, knowing that He-Man was his for the taking? No; he went because he did not know; quite possibly he was falsely lured there at that vital time. She has surely deceived him – for there is no honor among these servants of darkness, and very readily do they betray one another. But Skeletor has found out in some manner – and now goes to bring her to heel.”

    “But, lady, he will still have He-Man! Dare we allow that?”

    “I judge that we must – for the present. It may yet be that Orko can fulfil his quest and bring the Sword to He-Man before Skeletor’s coming.” She paused and gave the ghost of a smile. “I know that you have your doubts, Duncan – they are writ all too clear to see – but Orko has yet some part to play in this matter; of that I am sure. Why else would he have sensed something amiss from afar before ever Skeletor or I did so? He knows his own limitations, and has had to overcome his fear – but love and loyalty such as his are potent forces in this world – and may yet surprise us all.”

    “And if he does not succeed – what then?”

    She paused again, her eyes narrowed in thought. “Skeletor is Skeletor – and will do as ever he does. He is predictable in his pride – his unswerving devotion to his own self-aggrandizement and love of spectacle. And his hubris has a great desire to master He-Man – and, above all, to be seen before all Eternia to have done so. The imperative towards grandiose gesture will prove irresistible.” She looked at Duncan directly. “He will do him no immediate harm, but take him to Snake Mountain as his prisoner – and he will attempt to bargain with us for his release.”

    “But he will never release him – never!”

    “You are right; but it would ease the gnawing pain in his black and shrivelled heart to offer us the torment of hope and to have us make over to him all we can give and more to have our lost hero back. He will probably ask for Grayskull in return; it would be like him so to do.”

    “But – you couldn’t give him that, could you? Not even for Adam’s life?”

    “No; I could not. And do not judge me too harshly, Duncan – for you know yourself that He-Man himself would not wish it – would never ask it. But it is vain in any case; Skeletor, base master of treachery, would inevitably betray our hope, no matter what we gave him – and we would never see our friend again.” She fell silent, looking down at the long, pale hands folded in her lap.

    “So what would you have me do, lady? Shall I prepare to assault Snake Mountain?”

    “Yes, Duncan – that is exactly my counsel.”

    “Can we take it, in despite of Skeletor and all his dark legions?”

    “No; he is much too strong for you to overcome in battle, there in full force and on his own ground. But what you can and must do is to divert his attention – and try to snatch He-Man from his clutches. A small, chosen force of dedicated warriors might yet succeed under cover of the threat of battle – and what warriors are more dedicated, or more attached to He-Man, than the ones he has led this last year?”

    Man-at-Arms nodded slowly. “We can certainly hold his attention while a rescue attempt is made, even if we cannot defeat him in open battle. I will go to the king and we shall draw out a chosen force from Eternos and its allies that will give even Skeletor food for thought.”

    “There will likely be losses, Duncan – perhaps heavy ones.”

    “Yet for all that there’s not a man won’t volunteer, lady – they all know what Eternia’s hero has done for them this past year – and will act to honor it, now that the need is his. If He-Man can be set free by high valor and low cunning, then set free he will be. And at least we have a little time to make our preparations while Boneface is absent.”

    “Duncan, you raise my spirits. May all the blessings of the Elders be with you and all your men; and with your daughter, too.”

    Duncan frowned. “Teela will stay with the king and queen. I do not want her in this battle – she does not know how to hold back and her strength and her spirit do not yet match.”

    “But her spirit is strong – perhaps far stronger than you know. My thought is that she should indeed be there. And besides, you would have to lock her in the cell prepared for Adam to keep her from this fight – and well you know it, too.”

    “I should have locked them both up at the outset and saved a whole lot of bother,” gruffed Duncan; but he was effectively acknowledging defeat now.

    “Then go – and may wisdom guide you.”

    He bowed and took his leave and she watched him go forth to yet another fight – but one where much stood in the hazard.

    And may Creator and Elders watch over you, Duncan; both you and our daughter.

    ******

    8.4

    He was alone on the highest point of the terrace. He had lain awhile in the sun, feeling its welcome warmth soak into him, easing the lingering stiffness and fading memories of pain. He had certainly slept; he had done a great deal of that of late, but she had told him that it was only right he should do so, that it was good for him. She had given him potions to drink which she said helped him to sleep both deep and dreamless, helped to purge the memory of his torment. And so he had trusted her and drunk them all down and slept long – and been content. Now he was drowsily awake – and somewhat troubled by the fading vestiges of a dream – a voice calling his name, a face that was fleetingly familiar beneath its red hair before it escaped, him leaving only a faintly disquieting image of green eyes gazing close into his. But the sun-drenched lassitude overcame all the rest and the feeling passed – and he yawned wide and looked languorously about him, unhurried and sleepy. He rose, slowly, steadying himself again before he moved, placing his weight with due care. She had told him not to overtax himself and he knew that she was as ever right, and meant only his good. Sometimes he felt heavy-headed and dull and his balance was unsteady. But she would set him to rights again, as she had promised – and he had implicit faith in her. He stood fully upright and stretched, yawning, and looked out over the endless shift and pull of the sea far below. The sight, the rhythmic sound of it, lulled him, soothed him; even the memory of the dream was gone and he was content again – or almost so. She had told him that she would come to him soon – but it was not soon enough.

    “You look better today than I have seen you; stronger. I am glad – you are recovering well.”

    “Am I? I feel – not as I was, somehow.” He frowned slightly, puzzled at his own words’ import. “I don’t remember.” She was stood looking at him, the sun making planes of light and darkness in her face; he had not heard her approach – and the very sight of her made his heart beat faster.

    “It is for the best that such evil memories should fade; they are not a comfort. But, with aid from my art, they will soon pass.”

    He stared at her, her lithe loveliness, her exquisite pallor that made the sunlight seem garish – and was robbed of speech.

    “I fear that it is only to be expected after what befell you at his hands; for you were most cruelly used.”

    “I can’t remember much; there was – pain – red pain – and anger.” He looked fleetingly into her eyes, and his own gaze fell before the glory that was hers. He hesitated, still vague. “I thought it was some dreadful dream.”

    She shook her lovely head, her face grave. “It was real enough; your bodily hurts must still tell you that. But he has paid for what he dared to do to you – and will have ample time to repent it; and indeed something over ample. Yet this is far too fair a day to dwell on such vermin as our dear departed count. The sun is bright and you recover and grow strong again, and so we should be glad.”

    “Yes, my lady,” he replied. “I – am glad. I don’t want to remember.” His eyes followed her movements as she paced the terrace; her slender shape, the shadow compact beneath her under the height of the sun. She draped herself over a stone bench and the breeze off the sea toyed with her pale hair.

    “Come – sit by me here.” She patted the embrasure at her side and at once he came obediently to her. With satisfaction she watched him approach; he was no longer lame – and the muscles of his long body rippled under the skin supple and smooth as cream.

    “The touch of the sun suits you well; I like to see it.”

    “I – like it, too. The feel of it. Warm.” He spoke haltingly; words did not come easily to him now – and their meanings seemed somehow remote.

    “Have you pain still?”

    He furrowed his brow again with the effort of thought. “Some aches – no more. It is dulled now since – you healed me with your art.” He looked at her. “I am – deep in your debt, my lady.” He blushed, looking down; his hair fell forward over his brow, further shadowing his clouded eyes. “And forever grateful.”

    “There is no debt – none. It was no great hardship for me to tend you as you lay in enchanted sleep and to apply my skill to your hurts.” Her look suggested subtle amusement – though he would not have recognized it as such – and the back of her hand smoothed over his cheek. “And now I know you even better than I did.” Again she smiled, as one who knows a secret not to be shared. “You are not much marred by what you endured so bravely – and even that will pass.” The hand moved, stroked now appreciatively over his shoulder, traced the mounded muscles of his arm. “You will recover in full, will be as you were before; you do know that, don’t you? And one day soon you will be far, far stronger than ever you have been. Trust me – and all will yet be well. I promise it.” She smiled on him and he smiled back, both hopeful and shy.

    “Alas, you are not yet quite free of those malign spells and that final step we shall most certainly need to accomplish –” She saw the faint flicker of remembrance, the vague look of anxiety that followed as his half-tranced mind recalled pain, so at once she hastened to re-assure him. “But all of that can wait; wait until you are fully rested and I judge that you are fit to go on with – what will be required. Do not fret; it will not be soon – and when it does come you will again be strong enough to endure it. Nor need it be for long – you have surely suffered enough. Let these four bands of steel you bear be a symbol of your faith.” She touched lightly at the manacle encircling one wrist. They were no longer connected by chains; those were no longer needed. “On the day that you are liberated from those last enchantments, then they will be struck off – and we shall rejoice together! And then, at last, you will be free. And that is what you desire most, is it not? To be free?”

    “Yes, my lady,” came his slow-worded reply. “I desire most to be free – and – and to serve you – and be ever at your side.” He cast his beguiled gaze downwards, overcome at his own temerity, but she reached and lifted his chin and kissed his lips.

    “That’s my sweet youth; and how very prettily you do blush.” She traced the strong line of his jaw while he gazed at her with devoted eyes which rendered his inarticulacy wholly eloquent.

    “When you are fully restored to haleness – and we have ousted the last remnants of the Sorceress’ evil from your mind,” she continued, “then we shall set free your comrades in arms who have been similarly afflicted – and you shall soon have an army to lead, and will once again wield your sword. Grayskull will fall to you and you will cleanse it – and at long last take up your due; and then there will be a time of reckoning for Skeletor. Your arising in the fullness of the Power will be, for him, the harbinger of doom. For you shall cast him down and send his sundered soul to feed the demons who so hungrily await it. This world will be rid of his dark presence – forever. And all those things I spoke of, all those images of timeless beauty, will at length come to pass; a lasting peace; a golden time, Eternia restored to great glory. And you will rule over it, its high lord and its king.” She paused, looking deep into his eyes. “But yet you seem troubled, He-Man; is this not your greatest wish, the promise which I made to you, the reward for all your valor – and fulfilment of your noble destiny?”

    He looked down, dazzled as with too great a light, dragging his eyes from a beauty which shook his heart.

    “Only – if I can have you with me – to – to rule at my side –”

    His face was turned downwards, still bright with blush, still overcome.

    “And is that truly your wish?”

    “You – are my wish. My only desire. Nothing else.” He shook his bowed head.

    “But you will be a great king; your might and power will be unchallenged. A high destiny awaits.”

    “Not – not without you –” he said stubbornly, like a child that will have its way, and she smiled and again lifted his chin to see him close, brushing back the unruly hair.

    “Oh, fond and foolish boy; did you really think that I would abandon you, burden you with the weight of a crown and then leave you bereft? Did you? No, He-Man – a thousand times no! I here give you my word; I shall set you free of those last enchantments, and then assist you to defeat your enemies – and when that is done, then – yes – I shall grant you your heart’s desire; I shall rule at your side, your gracious and beloved queen. A high destiny indeed – but not a lonely one.”

    His eyes gazed on her with unalloyed adoration.

    “But I want to serve you,” he said fervently, “more than anything. It seems – wrong – that I should rule – when I am so unworthy of you –”

    Her hands reached up and framed his face in their chancelling length, and she smiled, dazzling his eyes with brightness. “You have already proved your worth – and will again. I have no doubts – be content.” And she brought down his unresisting head and kissed his lips at length. When she released him there were tears trembling in his lashes.

    “I will –” he said in a low, unsteady voice. “I – I swear it.”

    “I know. And that you will keep your word.” Her smile this time had a slightly different quality to it – but he did not notice and stared at her dumbly and with the liquid eyes of love. And then, without warning, he yawned wide, blinking in the brightness. “Ah, but I see that you are still weary, still worn. Well, that is no great wonder – and we can well afford the time for your fullest recovery. So lay your length here and take your ease. No harm can befall you now; not while I watch over you.” She held his head in her lap and smiled down at him until the tranced and hazy blue of his eyes disappeared beneath the heavy lids. She stroked his hair, his breast, and a close observer would have seen her lips moving, though no sound was heard. But there were no observers, none to watch; not in that high place where only wind and the cry of white-winged birds ventured.

    And beneath them the sea sighed on.


  12. #37
    Kickin' It Old Skool! Alex The Kid's Avatar
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    Wow! Another thrilling chapter Scriptor!
    Like the show Breaking Bad, I wonder how you are going to wrap this up in just 2 chapters?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex The Kid View Post
    Wow! Another thrilling chapter Scriptor!
    Like the show Breaking Bad, I wonder how you are going to wrap this up in just 2 chapters?

    Thanks, Alex - I'm really pleased that you are still enjoying this rather unusual look at the Eternian mythos; many thanks for your comment, which is much appreciated.

    Our hero has indeed discovered that there is far more to the wielding of power than he had ever imagined - and that responsibilities are a very heavy burden. And, by this stage, he is no match for the cunning of his adversary. But the interaction between them is complex - and, though matters look bleak, he is not quite as defenceless as he appears, since Lyn has also been found more vulnerable than expected - and in very a strange way.

    But as to resolving the complexities - well; there are still four more chapters to come - and maybe the odd twist and turn in the plot as well.....

  14. #39
    Heroic Warrior Salamandra's Avatar
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    Love the systematic dismantling of He-Man's psyche - Lyn is an amazing brainwasher. Very realistic stuff - and I like the discussion about how being elevated to hero destroys significant parts of Adam's life and his future. Plus the idea about how a relationship with Teela is impossible if he is to be a hero's hero and put Eternia first....and his failure to do that got him into this mess in the first place!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Salamandra View Post
    Love the systematic dismantling of He-Man's psyche - Lyn is an amazing brainwasher. Very realistic stuff - and I like the discussion about how being elevated to hero destroys significant parts of Adam's life and his future. Plus the idea about how a relationship with Teela is impossible if he is to be a hero's hero and put Eternia first....and his failure to do that got him into this mess in the first place!
    Exactly:"the systematic dismantling of He-Man's psyche" is just what Lyn is about here - and she is very skilled in carrying it out. And he appears defenceless at this stage having been turned against all that he was sworn to defend.

    "A relationship with Teela is impossible if he is to be a hero's hero and put Eternia first....and his failure to do that got him into this mess in the first place!" Absolutely; a deliberate paradox for our hapless hero, now brought face to face with the harsh reality of his self-inflicted predicament.

    I'm really pleased that you are enjoying it - and your comments are very much the ideas I was trying to put across; that being He-Man is a tremendous burden which - as you say - destroys a great deal of Adam's potential future life - and that He-Man is, in effect, doomed to be forever alone if he is to be truly dedicated to his sworn task; even if he never wanted it in the first place...

    I very much appreciate your keen understanding of these rather complex points.
    Last edited by Scriptor; September 23, 2013 at 09:25am.

  16. #41
    Eternian princess Princessadora's Avatar
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    I find this story really intresting becasue I spotted the development of classical Stockholm Syndrome in the tale. An extraordinary phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor and found it effective. Great job as ussual. Hope to see more soon!
    I only fight when I have to and every time I hope its the last.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Princessadora View Post
    I find this story really intresting becasue I spotted the development of classical Stockholm Syndrome in the tale. An extraordinary phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor and found it effective. Great job as ussual. Hope to see more soon!
    Thank-you; very much appreciated.
    And you are absolutely right; the elements of classic Stockholm Syndrome are all present in this strange and shifting relationship between hero and captor; and maybe also some significant elements of Lima Syndrome too...!

    Well-spotted!

    I shall be posting Chapter Nine- The Place where Evil dwells - soon.

  18. #43
    Chillin' He-Man54's Avatar
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    Can't wait for chapter nine!! This has been a fantastic read

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

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

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

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

  20. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by He-Man54 View Post
    Can't wait for chapter nine!! This has been a fantastic read
    Thanks, H-M54; that's really kind of you. I do appreciate the comment - it makes a big difference to know that one's efforts are being well recieved.

    I shall try to maintain a suitable standard in the hope that you will go on enjoying it.

    I shall post Ch 9 later today.

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    This story is INCREDIBLE!! I just read chapters 3 and 4 and it gets better and better! Poor He-Man! You make Evil-Lyn a real person and such a clever schemer too. And what she does to him is very subtle I think and he does not know how to deal with it at all.

    I had to look up some of the words since my English in some places is weak. But it is getting better just reading this amazing story which is so very clever and well written!

    I am going to read more tomorrow.

    Thank-you for writing this!

  22. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by alpenaxel View Post
    This story is INCREDIBLE!! I just read chapters 3 and 4 and it gets better and better! Poor He-Man! You make Evil-Lyn a real person and such a clever schemer too. And what she does to him is very subtle I think and he does not know how to deal with it at all.

    I had to look up some of the words since my English in some places is weak. But it is getting better just reading this amazing story which is so very clever and well written!

    I am going to read more tomorrow.

    Thank-you for writing this!

    Many thanks to you for being so appreciative! I'm delighted that you like it so much - and I really hope that the next chapters live up to your enjoyment of the first four. It's very kind of you to comment on my work - especially in such a positive way.

    I did work hard on making the characters as real as possible - and recognizable as the people they are meant to be. This He-Man is young, naive and inexperienced - and out of his depth with Lyn who is - clearly - none of those things!

    And your English is good - really. It is far better than my German!

    Thanks again.

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    Chapter 9 Part 1 - The Place where Evil dwells

    9.1

    Sorceress, I have reached the edge of the sea and the islands lie clear before me. Man-at-Arms was right – there are an awful lot of them! It would take far too long to search them all. The Sword still pulls, though – so that is where I shall go – and let it guide me.

    You have done well, Orko; now follow the blade and it will surely bring you to him.

    I shall – I shall. But it may take yet more time – and that we do not have!

    Nevertheless, proceed you must – for He-Man has no other hope but you.

    I won’t fail him, lady – not if I can help it, anyway.

    But take great care, little one; even from here I can sense the strength of her art and it will not be easy to breach the web of her dark power. Neither you nor the precious thing you bear must fall into her hands.

    I’ll do my best.

    I know – and none can ever do more. Then, Good Journey – and may the Elders be with you!


    9.2

    “Teela, I want – need – to speak with you. It’s a matter of some –”

    Man-at-Arms got no further; his daughter had already rocketed to her feet and stood facing him, poised on her toes and with the light of battle glittering green in her eyes.

    “You won’t stop me – really you won’t. I’ve made up my mind and I’m not going to be persuaded otherwise – whatever you say.”

    “But I don’t –”

    “No! I’d rather not disobey you – but I shall if you won’t listen – and try really hard to understand.”

    Duncan looked warily at her bright eyes, her flushed face – and shook his head.

    “Then I suppose I’d better listen, hadn’t I?” He lowered himself to a seat and watched the agitated pacing which reminded him so sharply of Adam; he suspected that he knew what was coming. Nor was he wrong. He heard her out in silence as the argument rolled forcibly on.

    “– And so, since He-Man went and surrendered himself for me, how could I not honor that? And then there’s Adam too. He was only trying to prove himself by going off after He-Man – because I goaded him on. Which makes it my fault. And now Uncle Malcolm tells me that Adam would have gone after me – and all alone, too, if He-Man hadn’t done so first. And Adam isn’t strong or special like He-Man – but he’s plainly just as brave – or even braver, since he isn’t, but he still went and – and –”

    Her words and her breath both failed and she stood before her father who watched and said nothing, though his mind was active enough.

    “So, you see, I have to go and do whatever I can to aid their rescue – both of them. I just have to! And I won’t be stopped, either – so don’t you try!”

    “You seem very certain that I would,” answered her father mildly.

    “I know you would; you even tried to arrest poor Adam – Lieutenant Andros told me. But if you try and prevent me from coming with you I’ll go straight to the Queen and enlist her support – you see if I don’t!”

    Yes – and you’d get it, too, my girl, thought Duncan glumly. And that of my lady Sorceress as well, though you don’t yet know it. He sighed inwardly looking at her; the women in his life always seemed somehow to have the upper hand –

    But his daughter was off again.

    “And I’m meant to go – that’s clear. Otherwise, why would the visions return to me after all these years? I haven’t had once since I was a child – but now I see Adam – and He-Man – together. It was so very clear – but disturbing, too. I could feel what was happening – sense how it was with them – and – how much Adam was thinking of – Well; so it’s meant, somehow, that I should go to help them – I can really tell. And I won’t be stopped!”

    Duncan looked at her unhappily. Battle was one thing: mystical visions quite another.

    “And don’t you see?” she went on. “Adam would have done the same for me?”

    Her father stirred; this, at least, was safer ground. “Well – yes; I do see. In fact I told you so at the time – but you scorned the suggestion.”

    She had, at least, the grace to blush at that.

    “I – did. And I’m sorry – I really am – I just didn’t realize before now.”

    “That Adam is far braver and more – caring – than you ever knew?”

    She looked down at her feet.

    “Yes.”

    Duncan regarded his daughter, taking advantage of her downcast eyes – and permitted himself a wintry smile. So – this at last. But, under the circumstances, it would not be fitting to press her into further confessions. It was clear that something had changed – and that she knew it. But, for the present, this admission would have to do. There was still the not inconsiderable matter of bringing Adam safe home so that events could – follow whatever course they would. If he could but grant them that chance, then the rest would be in their hands – to whatever end. For unless they could first save the boy – against all the odds – then the rest would remain naught but might-have-beens. And that, he told himself grimly, he would not readily allow. But, for now, he must take what was offered – and make the best use of it that he could. His hand reached out and tilted up his daughter’s chin so that her tear-starred eyes met his. The sudden resemblance to her mother smote him then and pierced his heart – but he rallied and favored her with the best smile he could manage.

    “And so you wish to accompany the rescue party which will try to free him – them – do you? Is that it?”

    She nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat.

    “I must, Daddy – I simply must.”

    “I know, I know. I understand. Truly I do. And I shan’t prevent you, either.”

    Her over-bright eyes widened.

    “You won’t?”

    “No. I won’t. But there is one condition.”

    “Which is?”

    “Which is that you tell no-one of the recurrence of your childhood visions. Not a soul. Do you mark me?”

    “But –”

    “No ‘buts’. Those are my terms; accept them or here you remain – locked in the cell prepared for Adam.”

    “You wouldn’t –”

    “Would I not? Teela, I’m serious, was seldom in greater earnest. Tell no-one of the vision you had – nor of what you saw. Such tales spread – and could do great harm, both to you and to others.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “Nor do I; and that is chiefly what bothers me about this. I fear that there may be far more to it than either of us recognize.”

    “Then we should seek advice from the Sorceress; surely she would –”

    NO! I mean, no. No. There isn’t good reason to trouble her with such matters – especially at this testing time, with both He-Man and Prince Adam in the hands of the enemy. I mean what I say, Teela; tell me now that you will accept my terms and speak of this with no other – and I shall let you accompany us on our quest to free them.” He smiled austerely, “And what’s more I shall be proud to do so –”

    She looked at the comforting solidity of her father – and came impulsively forward to embrace him.

    “I will,” she said quietly. “I will.” She was quiet a long moment, drawing quiet comfort from her father’s arms – and when she spoke her voice was scarcely more than a whisper. “I can’t bear to think of them held captive and in pain – no matter how brave they are.”

    “Nor I, lass – nor I.”

    “And knowing that Adam – cares – only make it worse –”

    “I – understand. Indeed I do.”

    “We can save them – can’t we?”

    “We can most certainly try,” said Duncan sternly – and held her slenderness closer. “And, trust me in this: somehow we shall.”

    And may the Elders hear me, he thought, and help me to make my promise the truth, for the sake of all – these two young people not the least.


    9.3

    He sighed with deep contentment and lay back, luxuriating in the lengthy ministrations of Lyn’s silent, blue-skinned – and highly-skilled – maidens. They had thoroughly anointed and massaged him with scented oil and again bathed him, and he had been pleased to allow them to make free with his body. Though their handling of him remained impersonal, dispassionate it was no less rousing for that – and, throughout, all his thought had been of her. He could scarcely contain himself for thinking of it, waiting for the time when they would at last be together in the enfolding darkness, when he would find fulfillment for his pent-up longing. He yearned for her with every inch of his body – and with his very soul as well.

    At length they had left him there in the wide pool set into the polished stone flooring, alone with gentle, soporific lapping sounds. He lay back basking drowsily in the warmth of the water, the heat of his thoughts, neither sleeping nor wholly wakeful – but well-nigh content.

    He felt a hand rest gently on each shoulder – and a shadow lay over him as he began to open his eyes. But instead he sighed and shut them again as her lips lowered to his and kissed him deeply from above. He sighed again – less gladly – as she withdrew and her voice reached into his reverie.

    “Now, if my lord has soaked sufficiently?”

    He heard the amusement in her voice and at last opened his eyes.

    “I could lie here forever – if you would but join me –”

    “A tempting proposal, I must admit. But no; not yet awhile. The time will come for our – pleasures – but now the hour grows late. Come on out of the pool.”

    He blinked, plainly put-out, and then heaved himself smoothly from the water to stand before her naked and unabashed, the water running rivulets down his shining body. She smiled – and held up her hands, palms outward – and at once he was enfolded in a flow of warm air like the breeze of a midsummer day. His eyes widened – and then he grinned whitely and spread wide his arms and began to turn slowly about in the drying draught – all the while laughing like a boy with sheer delight.

    “You – are a wonder – my lady!”

    “And so are you,” she replied quietly, watching him, the contrasting tan and pallor of his rotating body. All his former shyness had evaporated like the moisture on his skin – and plainly he missed it no more.

    She raised her hands higher and directed the flow of warm air towards his damp-darkened hair. He ran his hands through it – and again – still laughing with a simple joy which was both unaffected and affecting. Lyn let fall her arms and the summer breeze ceased. And she too smiled, for his clear, unclouded happiness was contagious.

    “But dear me; what a dreadful mess! Come here – sit.”

    She stood behind him and smoothed and brushed his unruly hair and her thoughts were far away. At length she set aside the brush and her hands rested lightly on his broad shoulders. He reached up and covered one with his heavy right paw.

    “I do not know how to express my gratitude to you,” he said slowly, without looking round. “And I love you more than I can say –”

    “I know it,” she replied softly. Only that.

    He hesitated – and then rose and turned abruptly and set his arms tight about her.

    “Let me bear you to your bedchamber – now – right away!” he urged, his voice thick and his eyes burning intently into hers, lit with a fierce, demanding light. His body pressed close to hers; she could feel the hard stab of his desire.

    “My, you are grown – forward – aren’t you? Thrusting, almost –”

    “I need you more than breath – Lyn, let me – please –” He was afloat with the surge and lift of it, his senses roused to fever; the heated blood roiled within him and he was light-headed with lust, at once both hollow and overfull.

    And she sensed it all. His eyes were shallow with love-longing. “Again, you tempt me –” she said in a voice suddenly huskier than she had anticipated; she could feel the charged tension between them awaiting release, on edge and raw with desire. She drew a deep breath – and at once rallied and put him off. “But, no. Not until you are truly free – and these are struck off.” She indicated the shackles about his wrists – but in the taut throb his urgency he ignored them.

    “When?” he demanded. “When?”

    “Soon, I pledge you. Very soon. Do you not trust me?”

    “Yes – yes, of course,” he said, foiled. “But I grow – impatient.”

    “That I can tell,” she said dryly, glancing downwards. She touched her lips teasingly to his cheek and favored him with a smile. “Come now; do on your clothing – such as it is.” She watched with a considering expression as he slipped into his only garment and shook her pale-haired head. “I suppose that, as high king, you will need to be clad in fine raiment,” she sighed. “But it does seem a shame; no robes of state could ever become you a tithe so well –”

    He looked up at her and smiled, basking besotted in her approval, but said no word. She held out her hand to him and led him back to her chamber where a flagon and two goblets had been placed on the table, their glow golden in the soft lighting. Lyn lifted her head and inclined it to one side as if listening to some far-off sound. And then she turned to her companion and smiled upon him.

    “Yes; this is the time. The sun begins to set on this, the eve of many things.”

    He looked at her, intent and silent; the flickering light played over his fair hair, made planes of light and shadow in his face.

    “We have much before us; before eventide on the morrow we shall be changed by it; all Eternia will be changed.”

    “I – wish only what you wish; that and that alone. And to be always with you – my lady.”

    Lyn looked on him with liking – and briefly touched his cheek before attending to the jug – from which she poured two measures into the waiting vessels.

    “But first – let us drink together in earnest of our new – understanding – and of our hope for the future which will be. My vision made truth – an end to all strife, for none will ever dare assail us. And a glory imperishable will be ours.”

    Enthralled, he took the cup from her hand; the wine stirred within, rich and red as deep-vein blood.

    “So let us raise a toast to your freedom – and to Eternia built anew!”

    “To freedom, to Eternia renewed – and to my lady – and my love!”

    He raised the cup with a flourish to his lips, put back his head – and drained it to the dregs. She watched the strong brown throat swallow – and smiled as he lowered the goblet and met her eyes.

    His own gaze was bright upon her, a flush of eager excitement on his cheeks. There he stood, a most willing slave to her bright will – and to her captivating beauty.

    “When you are free of the encumbrances of the Sorceress’ spellcraft – your bonds struck off – and brought to your full strength, then destiny awaits us both! For who in all this world – in any world – will match us in grace, in beauty – and in power? Your strength and my art will render us invincible – and all shall bow low before us!”

    He gazed at her in rapt admiration.

    “All the rulers of Eternia will bow before your beauty alone,” he said, low-voiced with longing.

    “And if they do not – will not?

    His eyes narrowed and his jaw jutted as he considered such brazen temerity against his beloved lady.

    “Then I shall bring them before you in chains to kneel and sue pardon. I swear it.”

    “You would do that for me?”

    “I would do more – much more – anything – everything!”

    “So you say: and yet what would you be willing to do to prove it? Tell me that.”

    He stared at her – and then swiftly reached out and seized the candle pricket which stood lightless to one side. With an effort which caused his muscles to bulge with sheer strength he bent it in half – and held it out before her for approval.

    “There! You see?”

    “Impressive,” she said dryly. “Your strength is returning. But iron is one thing: steel and the overthrow of our enemies quite another."

    He frowned; the handsome features hardened.

    “Show me your enemies,” he declared. “Do but show them to me – and I shall cast them down!”

    Lyn watched his flushed face with its wine-flown expression and nodded slowly.

    “Yes; yes, I believe that you would, too.” The tip of her tongue flicked over her lips. “And if I asked you for their heads?”

    The blue eyes narrowed; he did not speak.

    Lyn stepped a pace forward; she placed her palm on his breast above the surging beat of his heart, heard the hiss of his indrawn breath as her splayed fingers travelled unhurriedly down his length, tracing over the musculature of his midsection. His response to her toying caress was immediate – eager – and unashamedly sensual. He was charged with a desire for her heady beyond even the wine which burned, molten and potent in his blood, bright with its own edge of inner darkness. Liquid with lust, it was as if all, long pent, would surge and spend and spill.

    He thrust forward, intent; his arms lifted to draw her to him and press her against his body; that long, strong body whose heat she could feel – and whose desire was palpable. But she stepped back from him, her brows raised in question.

    “And their heads?” she repeated.

    He halted, stilled; she could see the lump hard in his throat.

    “Then I would bring them to you – as tokens of my love,” he said, in a voice which few would have known for his.

    She nodded, satisfied. What an utter fool Marzo had been to doubt her –

    “Well; such measures will not be necessary; we have fitter ways of achieving our goals.”

    “Whatever you ask of me, my lady; it is yours.”

    “Whatever?”

    Her eyebrows arched suggestively and, goaded on by desire, he stepped swiftly forward, seeking to embrace her, to kiss her, to prove his love for her there and then. But a pale hand set against his tanned chest held him off.

    “In good time, in good time, my lusty young lover! First you have other promises to keep – and other ways of proving your worth – and your love.”

    “But name them!”

    “The Sorceress of Grayskull, that ancient crone, still holds seisin of your mind and must be cast out before any of the rest can come about.”

    “She will be,” his eyes were intent upon her, eager to prove himself in every way. “You, my lady, can do it – you will save me as you have before. And for that I serve – and love – you.”

    “We must soon recover the Sword – for you will have need of it – and also ensure that, when Castle Grayskull falls to you, your friends do not suffer for their deluded loyalty to the Sorceress. They must be preserved safe so that you may set them free of her foul spellcraft, even as I shall set you free. After all, you would not wish harm to come to them, would you? They are your friends – your future subjects – and will be of service as we ensure the obedience of the other realms of Eternia to your rule.”

    Our rule; I wish only to be by your side.”

    “Very well; if that is your wish then it shall be so. But no harm must befall Duncan or his fellow warriors – nor yet come to Teela.”

    He looked at her blankly. “Teela?”

    Lyn smiled slightly as she answered his slow puzzlement. “No matter; simply a name from the past – no longer of any consequence.”

    She turned away to pour out more wine for him; his entranced eyes followed her, unable to leave her face, her figure. He took the cup from her hand and watched her over the rim as he drank. Her allure held him bound fast, though no chains linked the steel still circling his wrists and ankles. The subtle scent of her reached to him even above the heady fume of the wine and its contents. Sleeping and waking his dreams were suffused with her being. He was proud to be hers to command – and feared only to fall short of her expectation of him. The thought made sweat stand out along his backbone. She was watching him now and her look was radiant; he yearned for her with all his soul – but felt unequal to her bright strength – and dazzling beauty.

    “Do you recall nothing of what befell you?” she asked.

    Shaken from his deeper thoughts he stirred – and frowned with the unwonted effort of memory.

    “No – I do not remember; I do not want to. I was not alive before you came to me.”

    Lyn’s look was guileless.

    “So you recall nothing?”

    “You – only you. Always.”

    “What a sweet youth you are – so courtly in your manner.”

    He was gone beyond blushing – but his smile was still somewhat shy. He stared at her, blinking in the light – and swayed slightly on his feet as the wine and what the wine bore within it rose to his head.

    “You are still weary I see; your eyelids droop; soon you must sleep again.”

    “I – I am too much in love to – to sleep,” he protested, but even as he spoke his voice was slurred.

    “You will. And you must, too – for you will have need of all your strength soon.”

    He nodded, blinking again – and suppressed a yawn. Lyn watched him, measuring. He was still slow-spoken, his voice heavy – but that was to be expected. For the present it was enough that he was – changed. The rest would come in time. And time they would soon enough have in plenty. The thought pleased her and she rewarded him with a delicate caress. She felt his breath quicken beneath her touch and his head bowed eagerly, questing for her mouth with his own. But she denied him fulfillment; instead a long finger traced lightly over his lips – and she smiled. His arms, frustrated, fell awkwardly to his sides and he swallowed hardness, beyond all speech.

    “Patience,” she said, “patience. There will be time and to spare for our coming-together; but first we must complete our task. We must do what little remains to set you free from thralldom.”

    He looked down at her, quivering taut with his desire – stretched between that and his awe of her.

    “Wait but one more day; by the time the sun settles below the western sea on the morrow, then all will be achieved – and all sorrows shall be done. You will have proved yourself past any doubting. You will be free, your shackles struck off and a high destiny before you. And then – why then – there will be naught to stand between us.” She stretched her lithe length to reach up and draw down his willing head so that she could lay his lips to hers.

    Suffused with her, he drew breath as if through her, needing no other – but at length she broke away and smiled softly up at him from within the enfolding circle of his arms. “And then I shall be yours.” Half choked and dazed with desire he held her yet closer, crushing her to him and pushing back her head with the inflamed fierceness of his kiss.

    “No,” she said quietly. “Not so roughly – and not yet. You are over-eager to prove your love – but first you must prove your loyalty. And your worthiness.” Her reproof made him step back, blinking – and he blushed bright with confusion and, stricken, stammered his shame.

    “My lady – forgive me – I –”

    “No matter; I have no doubt as to your ardor – no doubt at all. And I shall be well pleased to call upon it again – at the proper time.” She smiled at his crestfallen look, and reached to kiss lightly at his cheek. “And that will be soon; very soon.”

    He looked at her, lost, the fire within him dying to embers – and then yawned wide once more.

    “But come,” she said and took his hand and led him aside into a chamber which awaited. He paused in the doorway and took in what lay before him – and his eyes widened at the sight of the wide bed with its downdrawn coverlets, the tall uprightness of the candle whose waxen wick shed its sheen over all. There was a yearning hope in his eyes as he turned to her – but Lyn only smiled softly and shook her head.

    “For you, yes – but not for me; not quite yet. I have a vigil to keep while you lie alone. It must be so – for now.” He looked cast down by her words, but she drew him into her chamber and had him lay his length upon the bed. Sitting at his side she looked down on him with a fond expression. “I shall not sleep this night.” Her hand stole out and smoothed over his hair and rested on his face. “In truth my heart is too full. And I have the fulfillment of your high destiny to dwell upon.” Her lips turned upwards – and his hand lifted and covered hers where it lay along his cheek. His eyes were intent upon her, their gaze depthless with desire, lit-through with love. “Above us, beyond these walls, the sun sinks to his rest and you, my dear one, must do likewise. When next the great orb sets you will be changed – we will be changed – the whole world will be changed!” Her voice lifted with exaltation – and then fell again to a whisper. “And we shall be together. The next time that you lie in this wide bed, you will not do so alone – that I promise you.”

    “Must – must we wait –?” he slurred, his voice gravid with emotion.

    “I fear we must. It is but one more day.”

    “It will seem – a lifetime – until then.”

    “For me too – but, if you will place your trust in me, then the deferment of our desire will but make its consummation all the sweeter.”

    “I would that it were already past sunset on the morrow – and you in my arms.”

    “It will be so.” She leaned and kissed him – then rose slowly to her feet. His hand reached out to her to stay her – a strangely vulnerable gesture.

    “Do not go – please.”

    Touched, she took the hand and held it fast, communicating what speech lacked power to say.

    “I fear that I must; and you must rest.”

    “But my heart is also full – and sleep will not come easily.”

    “It will – be sure of that. And you have need of it – for much lies before you on the morrow and you will need to put forth all of your strength – both to free yourself and to – claim your reward.” Her sidelong look had an edge of humor to it – though he was beyond such subtleties. “Now behave and do as I bid you; I mean only your good.”

    “I know it – and I will try. I want only to serve you – to please you –”

    “And so you shall. But for now sleep beckons – and naught but loving dreams.”

    He smiled slightly in his slow way. “I know what I shall dream of, my lady – for I think and dream of you alone.”

    “Then may it be so –” She bent and framed his face in her hands and granted him the kiss he craved, if no more. And she smiled and pinched out the candle wick – and left him lying engorged with rapture in the darkness.


    9.4

    “Our force is assembled and our dispositions made, Majesties. We seek only your leave to depart – and your royal blessing on our endeavors.”

    Man-at-Arms, his armor newly-polished, stood formally before the King and Queen of Eternos; the Heroic Warriors were drawn up behind him, their faces showing both pride and determination.

    King Randor spoke, and smiled gravely as he did so. “You have both without the asking, as well you know. The hopes of all the free peoples of Eternia rest on your shoulders – in the certain knowledge that you will do all that can be done to free our friend in this time of his great need.” He shook his head. “I would only that I were going with you; it feels long since I last drew sword in a good fight – too long.”

    “Sire, if we can bring back He-Man and your missing son, then we shall be doing no more than they – and you – deserve. And if we cannot, and are marked to die, then it will be loss enough for Eternia to bear. For you, my liege, we cannot spare.”

    “Well said, brave Man-at-Arms, well-said. I would not have the King commit the same rash error as our son.” The Queen looked into Duncan’s eyes, and he hurriedly hid his reaction in a bow.

    “The lord Stratos and the fliers of Avion keep watch on Snake Mountain, as do the Andreenans, re-inforced by flights newly-come from Plas Gwenen. Our advance force is already in place; we shall move out at once and take up positions ready for a swift and sudden assault. Our hope is to snatch their prisoner before they are fully aware of the threat – and then be gone. I cannot hide from you that this mission will be a desperate throw – but the dice must be cast – so let them fly.”

    “There is no better judge of such things in all Eternia,” said the King. “I am content.”

    “We shall free him, Majesties – somehow we shall. And it may be that, if the Elders are good to us, then we shall also find Prince Adam.”

    The Queen smiled faintly in response to his words. “Indeed; if the Elders so wish it, then I am sure that you are right, Man-at-Arms – and Adam will be found along with He-Man.”

    The King spared Duncan’s discomfort at her words as he spoke.

    “But first you must save He-Man and bring him back among his friends; and that, as you rightly say, will be no easy task – not in the heart of Snake Mountain itself. Your forces are prepared?”

    “Well prepared, your majesty. I chose the men myself, for I am proud to relate that there was not a single one from out of all our soldiery who did not offer to bear us company on this quest – not one. And thus every last man is a volunteer culled from among the many who sought the honor.”

    “Every last man – and one lone girl, unless I am much mistaken,” said the Queen softly.

    King Randor leaned forward on his throne and frowned. “How? Young Teela will go with you? Is that wise, Duncan?” But the Queen put out her hand to still him and spoke.

    “Wise or not, I doubt that she will be prevented. Danger there may be – but she will bide it, for yearning heart will not be denied – and who shall tell her that she may not? Will you, my lord? Or else you, her father?”

    The two men exchanged a glance, knowing themselves outmaneuvered. And so the last words fell to the King.

    “Very well; then take your leave with the blessings and hopes of your suzerain – and of all Eternos. May you return soon, unscathed – and with our missing in your train. Elders speed your journey and keep you safe from all harm!”


    9.5

    “Come; it is time.” She held out her hand and he went to her, his eyes on that face which was with him always now, sleeping and waking alike. And he put his large brown hand in her pale and slender one and went where she led him, walking slowly as in a dream.

    Passages passed, doors drew open – and she brought him gravely before the Machine once more. There it stood, its steely slab tilted near upright now, its sheen a sinister glow beneath the lights – and He-Man’s steps faltered at the sight. His eyes widened – and recollection came flooding back in all its dread intensity – and with it the fear. To one side, ready, lay the glinting needles, the bright, slender shaft of the pain probe – and other instruments he did not know, did not wish to know – for all these were intended to torment him, to return him to that state of agony from which he had been freed. His reaction was immediate, visceral – and it unmanned him; his knees gave way and he shivered all over, his face grew pale and dampened with a patina of perspiration. She spoke to him and his eyes rolled like those a frantic, frightened animal.

    “I understand your loathing, your fear; but there is no need to be ashamed – or afraid.” She took both his trembling hands in hers and looked up into his fearful eyes. “If you will trust me and do as I say, then all those things I have promised to you will come to pass. But this you must do of your own free will and accord; I cannot and will not make you – for that would not sever the last threads of the web of enchantment which has long held you in thrall. You understand this, I know, for we have spoken of it.”

    He nodded slowly, trying to master his feelings.

    “You tell me that you would above all things be free – and set those who were your companions free as well. Very well; then the only road to regaining your freedom lies ahead of you – but you must take it freely, without compulsion. Truly it will test your valor – but you must lay yourself willingly on the Machine.”

    There was panic in his eyes now; he was shaking with his terror of that slab of steel and of what it represented.

    “Come now; you knew that there would be a price to pay for your freedom. Will you now stint it at the last – and remain forever a slave to the usurper of Grayskull who has ensnared you in the dark web of her deceit? For if you be not freed now, then her puppet is all that you will ever be – and none shall have power to help you.”

    “I – do want to be free –”

    “Then there is a due to be met; it cannot be evaded – or I would surely have shown you how. Do really you think that, were another way, I would ever choose to hurt you?”

    Their gazes held locked together as her eyes compelled his answer.

    “No – No; you would not.”

    “And do you trust me? Don’t you?”

    He nodded slowly again, but his eyes flickered apprehensively over to that object of his hatred and deep-seated fear and she saw his throat swallow down welling panic.

    “Say it.”

    “I – trust you.”

    “Again.”

    “I do trust you, Lyn.”

    “And a third time.”

    “I trust you – with all my heart. And I – I love you.”

    “You do?”

    “Yes – though I know I am not worthy of you –”

    His head fell before her – but she reached and tipped it up in her long fingers and smiled dazzlingly into his face.

    “That is for me to judge – and for you to prove.”

    “I will – try.”

    “You swore to prove your worth – and you always keep your word, don’t you?”

    “Yes – yes; I must.”

    “And have you so soon forgotten the pledge I made to you? That, come sunset, I would lie in your arms?”

    His tongue ran over dry lips; his voice dropped low as he made his answer.

    “No; I have not forgotten. How could I?”

    “And does that mean nothing to you?”

    “Lyn – it means all. But –”

    He stared at her, an agonized look. She took one of her hands from his and laid it upon him in a place and manner that could not be misunderstood. But though his eyes widened and his breath drew in, he was too fearful for his body to respond in that way. Lyn shook her head and her eyes held his.

    “Yet I will give myself only to a true hero – never to one unworthy of my love. The way to my heart – and to my bed – lies before you.” She gestured towards the waiting Machine – and his glance followed – and came away torn; torn harshly between fear and desire. Lyn pressed his hands and spoke comforting words to lend strength to his faltering resolve.

    “Do not be afraid, for I will see that no lasting harm comes to you. Nor will you suffer long; her power over you grows weak now – very weak. I shall drive it out and grant you the gift you so desire; but you yourself must first deny her, end her grip forever. And to do this you must first submit yourself to the ordeal.”

    “But – I – am afraid.” It was true; his voice shook with it.

    She looked at him, his doubtful and irresolute face, and her brows rose.

    “And is this the bold young warrior who swore to bring the kings and rulers of Eternia before me bound in chains? Who would, so he said, do anything for me? Can it be he? And is he already turned craven and regretting his proud boast?”

    His head dropped before that quizzical stare, the upbraiding in her voice; his unshod feet shuffled awkwardly on the polished stone flooring.

    “I am shamed – and unworthy. But I fear the Machine.”

    “There is no need to; you have been so very valiant until now – and I am proud of you. If you will trust me and submit yourself then the pain will very soon be done with – and I shall again nurture you back to health and strength. And, as I promised to you, these four emblems of your bondage will be struck off – and then, truly, you will be free. And proven worthy past all doubting. And I shall make you great – a king over all this world. And we shall be together. Always. Though you quail at it, yonder slab of steel shall prove to be our bridal bed. So be brave, my warrior, and do what need demands.”

    She smiled at him – and released his hands, expectant. He stood a long moment, looking at her bright and masterful loveliness and steeling himself to be worthy of it – then turned his face reluctantly back to the Machine. A shudder passed all through his great frame and sweat stood out chill on his skin, but he took a halting step – and then another and a third, and came slowly to the instrument which had been the source of such torment and had come so close to ending him. He looked at its grim and threatening length and turned his head to her beseechingly as if in last appeal – but she smiled again reassuringly and nodded, silent. And so with a deep breath and great unwillingness he set his broad back against the slab and leaned his weight upon it. Control in hand she brought it again to lie level and he saw the screens, the strong lights above tilt to meet his face. He sighed – and, lying there, spread wide his limbs in reluctant readiness. His eyes were closed, his lips compressed and he trembled – but he did not flinch or pull away when she came and made his wrists and ankles fast to the cables.

    “Your courage,” she said, looking down at him, “is truly wonderful, truly that of a hero – and deserves to be honored by freedom – and by my love. You have trusted me, He-Man – and I shall not fail you.” Her enchanting eyes held his and she bent to him and kissed his lips, gently and without haste. When she went from him he looked becomingly disappointed – and much less fearful. “That’s my brave boy. All will be over very soon, now – I promise it. Consign yourself to my care – and do not resist the Machine. Surrender yourself and let it help you; this time the pain is your friend; this time the pain will purify – for it will break the last binding spells of the hag and sweep her sorcery from your soul. It will bring you to your freedom, to your high and noble destiny – and it will bring us together.”

    “I long for that – And for you.”

    “Trust me – and I will not fail you.”

    “Nor I you; for you I would undergo anything.”

    “Even this?”

    “Anything!”

    “Then endure but a little longer and it will be so. I have hated to hurt you – but now I do it gladly, for, with the Sorceress ousted forever from within, my art magical will mend you, restore you hale again, even as it did before. And then we shall assume our rightful power – and, together, we shall re-make this world!

    “Together –”

    “For all time.”

    And her lips lowered to his and this time kissed him deep and long – as if the very soul were being sucked from his body.

    They parted and his mind, filled only with her, lay bedded on bliss.

    She looked deep into his eyes; he had mastered his fear, even as she had mastered him.

    “Are you prepared?”

    “I am yours, Lyn. Always. Do with me as you will.”

    “You are sure of this – that it is what you wish?”

    “With all my heart – and with all my soul too.”

    She smiled, satisfied – and for the very last time took up the control for the Machine.

    “We will expel her from your mind – and you will deny her thrice. And then, together, we shall take Grayskull – and a new age will dawn on Eternia!”

    “Oh, indeed it will!” spoke out a mocking voice from the doorway. “But not, I think, the one that you have in mind!”

    It was Skeletor; and he was not alone.


    Last edited by Scriptor; October 5, 2013 at 09:59pm.

  24. #49
    Heroic Warrior Salamandra's Avatar
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    A-ha! Skeletor at last arrives! I will be curious to see what he does next!

    Great work - can't wait to see how it turns out for He-Man, if he will recover his memory or if he'll be starting anew.

  25. #50
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    Wow. this is beyond good. Eagerly waiting the rest!

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