Chapter Ten, Part Two.
There stood He-Man, alone and still upon the uppermost arch set within the wide maw of the serpent; there in that high place where he had been held captive
– and whence Skeletor was fled. For all his begrimed and sweated appearance, for all his bloodied wounds he shone sublime as a new-risen sun. A near-naked
and imposing figure like a living sculpture he stood painted in the flamelight of the undying fire – yet glowing also with an unworldly radiance which
seemed to emanate from within; it was a sight fit to inspire awe.
Unwearied now, renewed, filled with the Power which had again entered into him he was Grayskull’s Guardian once more. And yet there was grim purpose in his
face – an older, fiercer and utterly unforgiving look which those few who knew him for Prince Adam would not readily have recognized. Handsome he was
still, but the boy was gone from within him and his features seemed somehow stark and stiff, more immobile mask than face. Changed he was – even
transfigured – and there was but little love to be found in him now – and those over-bright and inhuman eyes were as cold and remote as the distant stars
and looked and judged likewise compassionless. Now he stood stock-still and stared long at the place where Skeletor had been – and then he seemed to come
to life once more and his head lifted, questing. And the hero’s glittering glare roved terribly about the cavern’s heights – and the blade twitched, eager
and ready in his grasp.
Abruptly he sprang away from his stance and, picking up speed as he ran, the bright blade already lifting as he gathered momentum, he made a great leap on
high – and slashed clean through the tangling filaments of Webstor’s work, the Sword striking left and right as he peaked, and fell – and with a bound
leaped high again. The Sword swept wide – and sheared clean through the clinging webs even as the man-spider came scuttling forward – and sent him
spiralling to earth. Again and again it arced across the unresisting air – now setting free the captives of those silken bonds. The light athleticism of
his movements belied his bulk, but the strength was in him also as he turned about seeking further work for his steel – and saw his enemies move forward to
take him. He did not await their coming but careered into them at full tilt, passing clean through their ranks like a battle-ram and laying about him with
the Sword. The knot of skeleton warriors sent against him were shattered to smithereens in mere moments as he cleft a way forward and
again set off at a run in search of more. These formed up hastily into a tight wedge, weaponry bristling outwards to receive his charge: but the Sword
sheered or swept the points aside and He-Man crashed into their formation with a shuddering shock that threw it at once into disarray. He span at speed,
swinging steel in bright arcs, and turned again – and severed skulls flew wide and far, the debris of his broken foes a tribute to his peerless prowess.
Another wave came at him, fully three dozen to his one – and were at once brought likewise to ruin by his matchless mettle in the fight, the sheer speed of
his flaring sword. More were sent; more followed the first and went down in droves beneath that merciless blade swung with such strength and with the
impetus of an unsated rage. But Skeletor had such slaves a-plenty and cared not at all how many fell, if they might but hold He-Man back a little while. On
came the skeleton warriors, ghastly grinning parodies of their master, that dark necromancer whose sorcerous will now drove them on to the attack. Yet it
availed him nothing; the undead were no fit match for the Champion of Grayskull and his unsurpassed skill in arms. With some few sweeps of his unstained
sword the spells which animated these aberrations, which knit their fleshless frames to fight were shorn asunder – and the brittle bones clattered dry in
their fall. The battle was all unequal; their numbers alone could not contain the flood tide of his fury – and soon the survivors were giving back; for
though in look he was wild and disordered his fearlessness in the fight was that of a warrior true-born – and his foes were driven before him.
Yet Skeletor had other servants as expendable as these, his resurrected creatures – and above all he had the deadly force of his dark and evil will – and
of his hatred. He-Man would have done well to remember – but his mind was yet occluded by his sufferings, his shame, and he sought only to slake his thirst
for vengeance with the edge of the Sword. The Power coursed through him with a fulgent fire and he was aflame with it, reveling in his freedom, wishing
only to fight and to expunge every hurtful memory of his humiliation and his pain by the strength of his arm. Never had the Eternian hero moved through the
fray with greater swiftness – or with more deadly intent. And he paused, alone now on that topmost arch of fire-limned stone, the gleaming muscles, the
stark sinews highlighted in the sweat of his skin – and reflecting back the shining blue-silver sheen of his sword. And his fearsome eyes swept the scene
below – and narrowed. Down he came leaping from that high arch, down to the gallery beneath and, landing, sprang again to close at last with those who had
dared to shackle him.
On came He-Man, a vengeful and threatening presence; eyes and blade blazed with the same fell light as he ran forward, steel borne left-handed and right
fist balled. Beastman, growling deep, lumbered forward to bar his way. But not for long; his crude bulk was sent spinning from the footing. Jitsu was at
once flung aside, his weapons shattered; Whiplash, attempting to strike with his tail, found himself instead seized by it and swung through the air at
ever-increasing speed until his release sent him crashing into solid rock. Trap Jaw, unvaliant at the last, was already fled. None could stand against
He-Man and the cold flame of the Sword in the hour of their kindled wrath – and few had the hardihood to try.
Tri-Klops came running to Blade. ”We must stop him! You go left!”
“Stop him? You jest! I’m not fighting – that! Look at him – he’s possessed!” He pointed to where the
Sword was weaving wide arcs of painful light through the ranks of Skeletor’s undead warriors; the scythe of the reaper about its overdue work.
“Together, we could –”
“Oh no we couldn’t.”
“It’s our duty to our lord!”
“Duty? Duty be damned; he doesn’t pay half well enough for me to die for it.”
“He-Man won’t do us over-much harm; he never –”
“Use an eye of yours that sees straight and take a good hard look at his face, his eyes. That’s a killing rage, that is – or I
never saw one. Even if he didn’t mean to I doubt he knows the difference any more – he’s scarce a single step from frothing at the mouth! It was inevitable
that this would happen one day: that the sheer strain of exercizing restraint would crack him. He always was just too damn’ good to be true. Well; I’m not
for facing him – and nor should you.”
“And yet three swords to one! Surely –”
The shaven-headed mercenary gave him a pitying look from his one eye. “You’ve barely even scratched him on an off day, have you? So what makes you think
you can take him now he’s run mad, eh? Just look at him!”
Tri-Klops’ vision-visor rotated; He-Man’s unwonted battle frenzy was piling up mounds behind his passage; mounds that jerked with broken bodies, broken
spells. The bridges and galleries above the hall rained a steady stream of shattered skeletal figures as he cleared them of enemies, one by one. A token
blast from Mer-Man was deflected by the Sword – and its originator turned at once in flight to seek the sanctuary of his watery home.
“You see? Lethal – nothing less. I say let the great lord Skeletor deal with him – if he can. He should have finished it for good – had his head off when
he had the chance, not provoked him to madness with over-elaborate torments. Him and his fixation with grandiose spectacle: he never learns. Well; stay and
fight if you will – but I really wouldn’t recommend it.”
Tri-Klops hesitated no longer. “No; you’re right; there’ll be other days, other fights. To the sally port passage – and quickly!”
And so the tall figure swept onward unchecked, smashing all those sent against him in the surging swell of his fury. He-Man, at liberty at last, was loose
– and the Power ran unbounded through him as it renewed itself with a fierce and reckless joy. Teela, watching from below with her mouth wide open, saw how
the scant-clad hero swept through them all, how the light seemed to shine out from him, a figure lit from within, whose running bare footfalls struck
sparks from the cavern’s floor, the swing of whose fists streaked pale blue un-shadows – and whose sword blazed with a brightness that hurt the eyes.
The long limbs, long confined in chains, exulted now in their freedom and in replenished youth and strength, their vigor unrestrained. From gallery to
gallery he rampaged incandescent, flinging his enemies about, felling them in droves, trampling and punching, hewing, slashing, beating and kicking until
they fled in headlong, heedless panic, escaping this wordless elemental vengeance which drove all before it.
Man-at-Arms now seized hold of the moment offered him and ordered his force again on to the attack; the might of the Heroic Warriors, of Eternos and its
allies drove forward into the massed ranks of skeletal warriors, inspired by the sight of He-Man free and furious. The fliers of Avion and the Andreenans,
loosed from Webstor’s nets and threads, rejoined the battle, diving from the heights with beating wings. Up from their ransacking of the dungeons came
young Andros and his men, along with many new-freed prisoners who snatched up fallen weapons to be avenged on their jailers. All these now conjoined to
assail the enemy: but the enemy seemed to have no further stomach for this fight. Without the dark will of their master and his henchmen to drive them on
the host of Skeletor wavered – and went down in ruin. Already they were giving way, buckling and breaking under the stern double onslaught that clove into
their ranks with a cold, clear anger. As with steel that is struck between hammer and anvil in the forges of the deep places, so it was with the skeleton
warriors; He-Man’s sweeping sword carved wedges through their ranks sending bony limbs and skull heads flying, piling shattered remnants in twitching heaps
– a charnel-house battlefield of undead slain. Ram-Man’s charges cleft their lines, driving an iron way forward for the Warriors’ deadly weapons and
deadlier skill which fell on the foe and relentlessly crushed all resistance. Like chaff in a gale the remnants were put to flight; few indeed escaped that
chill and burning fury as their foes hacked passage through them – and still He-Man ran amok amid his foes and sought out new enemies to hew, leaping from
gallery to gallery, climbing steadily, unstoppably whither he had begun – and his blade and face and eyes none could withstand.
And he came again to the high place whence Skeletor had fled – and he put back his head and called on the Lord of Destruction, summoning him to come forth
and fight; and his voice of iron rang out a challenge which filled the mountain and echoed hollow through all its dark fastnesses and secret places; and
there he stood, the Sword blazing in his grasp, his eyes near its match in brightness.
And Skeletor, challenged, came.
His cloak swirling, the Havoc Staff again in his hands, he manifested himself there on the highest gallery, right beneath where he had hung his helpless
prisoner: but now that chained captive was free again – and armed – and of deadly aspect. Alone those two faced each other high above the rest: it was as
if time itself were suspended – and all sound ceased.
The Hero of Eternia stood silently before the Lord of Destruction, the shining blade leveled in his hand. Lurid light of flame flickered over the
sweat-glazed musculature of his barely-clad body – but it had no power to dim the unnatural brilliance of those eyes which looked so intently on his enemy.
The long, deep slash in his side – Skeletor’s gift in earnest of worse to follow – glinted, dabbled ruby red with blood.
The Dark One had perceived at once the renewed strength of the Power coursing fiercely through his adversary: it was potent, afire, and a threat even to
his sorcerous might. Inwardly he cursed Evil-Lyn for opposing him so inopportunely and depleting his resource, for now he must face the new-risen He-Man,
his mettle restored. And the deadly light of his opponent’s eyes – matched by that of the blade he bore – spoke of the craving for a warrior’s vengeance
which in its ferocity might yet unwontedly yield to the savage urge to slay.
But Skeletor – sorcerer, necromancer, master of every black and forbidden art, a high lord of the Darkness – was no simple warrior, and nor staff nor sword
were his sole weapons. And within himself he now smiled, conceiving there a dark and dread design whereby he might be freed of the necessity of fighting
this intemperate He-Man – and whose guile appealed greatly to his malice. For the mind which countered him, though fired afresh with the flame of the
Power, was but newly emerged from the shadow of the mastery of another – and its thought, he sensed, was still clouded and unsure. And, above all suffused
with anger and the urge to suppress bitter memories – and thus susceptible – vulnerable. And the Lord of Destruction, in all his vaunting pride, told
himself that there never yet was mind which he could neither daunt nor master.
Even as he nodded to himself, satisfied, the bright blade lifted, wove – and then his antagonist came on at the ready, his face grim. Yet Skeletor took no
guard, gave no ground – but merely held up a taloned hand in denial and spoke these telling words:
“You have presumed to summon me, He-Man: and yet I shall not take up your challenge – for your very right to make it is void.”
Sheer surprise halted the hero’s advance; he stood with frowning face and leveled sword, listening.
“You come against me seeking a reckoning as Champion of Grayskull, hero of Eternia. Yet we both know – and so shall all the world – that you are no longer
fitted for either title; the witch stripped both from you forever when you succumbed to her allure and, being tempted, fell and were seduced in mind and
body alike. Your guilt is palpable: defiled, unworthy and forsworn you can no longer champion Grayskull – and you have forfeited all right to challenge me
in passage of arms. The very sword in your hand is no longer even yours to wield; it is a blasphemy that you hold it still – and you know it.”
He-Man stood unmoving, his eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed and lips tightly compressed. For all his inner rage, for all the fierce flare of the Power, it
was plain that the accusation had struck home. Deep within him the fury faltered.
“You may have shed the shackles which held you, but others – invisible, yet stronger by far – hold you captive still. And these can never be broken, for
they are forged of your own guilt and shame which shall for ever more endure. And do you now hope to expiate your treasonous sins by slaying me? Do you so?
Then how far you have fallen, He-Man – how far indeed – from your high and noble purpose!”
A spasm as of pain passed over the even features before him; he stood unmoving now as Skeletor pressed home his advantage, his voice persuasive, inveigling
itself into the tender conscience of his unwilling but rapt listener, slyly threading itself into the fabric of his troubled mind. The Sword, seeming
weighty now in his grasp, drooped downwards.
“And did you actually believe me gone; think that you had triumphed? Did you so? But how fond and foolish a thought that is; less than air – less
substantial than the thin stuff of dreams! For here I am. And here you stand before me with the Sword you are all unworthy to wield hanging heavy in your
hand. It will avail you nothing; your pitiful hope is stillborn. For do you imagine for one instant that you can ever conquer me?
Do you? That never can be. You have always been weak – mired in your cloying compassion, the virtuous urge, the absurd
imperative to do good. But good can never defeat evil, for it is hampered by its own fatal weakness – as are you: its refusal to face up to the harsh
realities of power. And besides your innate weakness you are now filled with shame – the shame of your betrayal – and
with anger, too. Oh, anger itself is good – very good – but you do not know how to make use of it, do you? Not even now: now,
when you are fallen. For your anger has never matured into hatred and that sheer, grinding, destructive power of long-brewed vengeance which few can bide.
And you bring these things – weakness, anger and shame – against me, believing that you can throw me down.” He shook his cowled head, as if he were indeed
a creature yet of this world who could still be touched with pity.
And he looked fixedly at his opponent as he stood there swaying on his feet, stricken. Doubt doused the dying embers of his anger; he blinked – and again,
his expression heavy and dull with sorrow. In the words he heard spoken he saw himself as in a glass, an image reflected back: an image of failure, of
betrayal, of ill-faith. For in the unbalance of his mind he could not comprehend that Skeletor held up to him but in a mirror of malice, and that the
vision it conjured was crooked and dark, all that it reflected back misshapen.
“Yet your anger, while potent, has no stay to it; it will pass. Nor will this new-found urge to slay endure. But your defilement and shame will be
everlasting, an encumbering weight for you to bear while life shall last. They render you strengthless and sap your will. I sense them working within you –
and rightly so: on the part of one who so swiftly forsook his sworn faith. And all for the sake of the perilous allure of Evil-Lyn. How you must despise
yourself – and with what good reason, too! And answer me this, my degraded young hero: how much of your anger, overtly directed towards me, is in truth
aimed at yourself? Do you even know, I wonder? Or is your mind yet too numb with the shock of discovering what you have become – how far you have fallen
below the high ideals you purport to profess? Little wonder, then, that you feel the need to expunge the shame of it by shedding blood. But you are an
innocent if you imagine that you can save yourself that way; even if you could overcome and slay me – and we both of us know that can never be – then you
would but fall further from grace in so doing. Again, so bitter an irony; why, even those who hate you most could surely design no more fitting a torment
for you than this which is of your own devising – and of Grayskull’s artifice. And for my part I find past hatreds drowned in pity.” There was sorrow in
Skeletor’s soft voice as he shook his shrouded head. “For the stern demands of the Power you have sought to serve are beyond you: you can never more be
worthy of it; not now that you have mired it forever in the stews of shame.”
The listener answered him no word. Fearful at the sound of the terrible truth, in perplexity and confusion as shame again arose corroding all like the
bitter bite of acid, He-Man, skewered on the sharp thrust of Skeletor’s subtle malice, writhed with self-loathing.
“And yet you thought to end me? What vanity! For without me you are nothing. The tragic paradox of your position is that you exist only to oppose me; and
in that you have failed. I am the one and only thing that lends purpose to your burdened life. And now, shall I purpose to take that life from you, to free
you of the weight of your failure, the crushing load of your guilt, your shame?” Never voice held greater pity, greater understanding; it would have moved
the very stones of the mountain to hear the wise and sorrowful-seeming words spoken by that dark robed figure, cloaked in a compassion which went beyond
mere human knowledge.
There was not a sound; the two of them stood on high and as alone as if the only beings with breath in all that fire-girt world. He-Man swayed slightly on
his feet as he heard the measured cadences of that persuasive voice. His eyes were clouded with doubt – and acknowledgement of the bitter truth which
insinuated itself into his mind. He clung to the utterances of that skilful tongue as it wove its enchantments word by word, for they were the sound of
reason amid the madness, of balm for his troubled soul. Their fluence was as golden, as smooth and as sweet as honey – and he hungered for it.
And Skeletor, looking on, smiled inwardly and bent the full force of his mighty will – so apt to cruelty – upon his hapless victim. The pits which were his
eyes compelled – and He-Man, transfixed, stared unknowing into the abyss – and the abyss stared back.
“Or should I not rather have pity upon you in your fallibility, your mortal weakness – and spare your wretched life? You could not even hold out against
Evil-Lyn, could you? She reduced you so readily to her plaything; pliant and submissive – a mere toy – and a traitor to all you had sworn to defend. Led
astray by lust, how swiftly you succumbed to the wiles of the witch. Nor can you console yourself that she stole your mind – for she could not have done so
without the acquiescence of your own will. This, in your heart, you already know for yourself. Hence the shame which drives you towards revenge – yet robs
you of the desire for life itself. For what would it avail you to triumph? Would it take away the knowledge of your sins? Would it wipe clean the slate of
memory and enable you to construct for yourself a new life? You know that it would not. There is no redemption for you that way: there is no redemption for
you at all. Your actions have doomed you to a degraded and joyless existence, bereft of all purpose and forever haunted by the bitter memory of failure;
always you will be subject to shame – unable to aspire to those high ideals which were your guide. The knowledge of it will daunt you, dog you throughout
the grey ruefulness of your remaining days.”
The blond head bowed, the broad shoulders likewise – and the blade slowly lowered itself and hung limp, its lambency dimming to the dullness of simple
“And if you could not contrive to cope Evil-Lyn, then how did you fondly imagine that you could ever defeat me, her master in
every way? But there would be scant glory for me in such a facile victory as would inevitably follow from our fight. And, now that I see what she has done
to you – what your own weakness has wrought – indeed I pity you.”
Flame flickered sullen from the rivers of molten lava; it played over his unmoving body and He-Man stood lit like a man of brass; yet the fierce light in
his eyes was dimmed now, his former fires were banked. Grief had doused all anger and left him hollow. The veiled venom of the voice conjured further
voices in his head – and all were loud in accusation. Traitor! Betrayer! spat the Sorceress; Failure – disappointment! chorused his
parents; Faithless lover – mourned Teela, while Orko and Duncan only shook their heads – and turned silent away. Forced to confront his manifold
failings, his most harrowing nightmares, He-Man saw himself through the eyes of his enemy – and the sight filled him with loathing – and despair.
“For I understand you, you see. We are, in essence, much alike, you and I; alike in so many ways – but chiefly in that we are each of us touched with the
fire of a high destiny. Our souls are scorched by the flames of greatness – and we share the essential loneliness of our lofty position – and of all that
our calling demands. Who in all this world knows this better than you – and I? Of the burden we bear – of the price that must ever be paid for power? I
pity you because I feel for you – and indeed would fain help you. Two so alone in a world of lesser beings should surely not be enemies. Come; accept my
aid, and I shall teach you to overcome both shame and sorrow, to cast aside all guilt – and to find peace once more.” He leaned closer to the swaying
figure, soothing all senses with the coaxing enticement of his gentle voice. “For is that not what of all things you most crave, He-Man? The chance to
redeem yourself, to live your life free of the curse which is the Power of Grayskull? I can grant you that great boon, freely – with both hands; for I am
the lord of all gifts and all giving – and I shall save you from the consequences of your past errors. This I can – and will – do; I swear it by my own
name – and upon mine honor.”
He slowly lifted his hand before his adversary’s entranced face; there was no reaction at all; those dull blue eyes, glazed-over, were unseeing. And in the
benighted recesses of Skeletor’s mind sinister delight burned like a beacon of darkness. He-Man subjugated – the keen edge of his new-risen might so
swiftly blunted – and barely a blow struck! Cunning and craft combined had wrought a great work; for he deemed it passing sweet that his only opponent
should thus be brought low, his will broken, by the exploitation of his weakness – and of the burden imposed by the Power of Grayskull. The mighty He-Man’s
mind was overthrown quite – and by nothing more than some skilled and subtle tugs on those invisible chains. And Evil-Lyn, in her folly, had declared that
there was power in innocence – and in weakness strength! Would, then, that she were here to witness this; her master victorious, her lover vanquished – and
the ending of all her hopes.
Skeletor studied those unaware young features in their ensorcelled stillness. For this face, that body, Evil-Lyn had betrayed her lord and master; he who
had been – once – yet more to her – A better man by far in every way – echoed her voice in his head and yet again goaded him so that he was
tormented by the prick of jealous rage – a better man – Well: he would soon mar those golden looks; soon He-Man would know what it was to lack a
face – for he would flay the flesh of it to the very bones – and carve the full measure of his envious hatred into that bemuscled body. And that would be
but the beginning! Eternia would long remember with awe and trembling the dread vengeance he would wreak upon its hapless hero.
Yet soft, now – patience, patience! Guile, not force, had overcome his opponent – and its subtlety would serve him still further. He could well afford to
defer his vengeance – and revel in it all the more for the delay. And he smiled anew, for his fecund and devious mind had conceived in that moment a yet
bolder design which would, in its inevitable success, yield up to him even the Power itself – and the mastery he so craved. And he spoke soft words to his
spell-bound victim, and strove to keep the mounting lust from his voice at the heady thought of his triumph soon to come.
“But, first, He-Man, you must yourself grant to me a gift – a token of your faith, and of our new-found fellowship –” He paused, looking on the other with
care, gauging the strength of his hold before going on. “You must place the Sword in my hand – and be seen to do so by the eyes of all. It will mean an end
to wars, the cessation of strife – for your allies below shall see our new amity in the freedom with which you make the gift – and there will no longer be
reason to fight. Peace will reign – and you will never have need of weapon more, that I swear. This I shall grant to you – and rest everlasting – if you
will but hand over the Sword.”
He-Man’s lifeless eyes registered nothing; his power to resist had slid into abeyance as his susceptible mind succumbed to the spell. Without will of his
own, all fury in the fight quelled, all thirst for vengeance quenched, he swayed slowly, unsteadily on his feet, weighted down with a great and terrible
“Yield your heavy burden to me, He-Man; hand over that blade which now is forfeit. Place it in my hand – and be free of its curse forever –”
Slowly, subjected to a will which was master of his own, the Champion of Grayskull raised the Sword before him as if it had gained a hundredfold in weight;
dully he looked down at it as it lay inertly in his limp grasp. And then, with slow deliberation, he reversed his grip upon the haft – and laboriously
transferred it to his left hand with the hilts held forward. Within the enshrouding cowl of Skeletor’s hood a red light began to burn with a famished glow;
his breath hissed slowly through his teeth as his lust-longing mounted. That which he had long coveted now lay within the reach of his taloned claw and the
thought filled him with an unholy and voluptuous joy – and with a reckless greed. Seeing at last his enemy bereft of will and helpless before him he could
not forbear to yield to the overwhelming temptation to make a spectacle of this moment – to show to the world his lordship over all. Vanity and obsession
now combined to dictate his actions: he would have his triumph – and be seen by all to have overcome this troublesome young foe – and all resistance to his
rule would cease. The soft entreaty left his voice, which now rose up loud and demanding. Holding out an imperious hand he pointed at the bare rock before
“Kneel,” he ordered the tall figure. “Fall upon your knees and abase yourself before me, that your comrades in arms, your followers, may see your
submission and bear witness of it – and my unmatched might be made manifest to all!”
He-Man’s dazed expression shifted; beneath the sweat-matted tangle of his hair his brows drew close – and he frowned and did not at once obey.
Spell-shotten as he was and though well nigh-unconscious of all else, some small part of his mind was evidently still free and was yet capable of detecting
– and denying – the wrongness of the command. And Skeletor also frowned. He could take the Sword by force – but that ill-accorded with the dark wish of his
proud heart to see his adversary humbled before him – and pliantly hand over the Power in a final act of betrayal before the faces of those he had sworn to
defend. The very thought of it filled him with such an intensity of pleasure that his chill blood mounted hot throughout his body, stirring near-forgotten
human urges as his shrunken heart raced again with lust and a barely-pent flood-tide of desire lapped at the limits of his being and drowned all rede of
discretion. Naught but the savage urge to overbear, to master, to have this obdurate young hero kneel broken at his feet could grant him the release his
fierce and unclean arousal demanded.
But He-Man, bereft of will as he was, still swayed unsteadily before Skeletor with empty eyes – and did not kneel. And the Dark One’s wrath waxed great at
“Down on your knees and offer me up your Sword, boy! Kneel, I tell you!”
He-Man rocked on his feet, torn between obeying the compelling command of his master and the faint, anxious young voice deep within which cried a
rebellious alarum and sought to break the spell which suppressed his will. As if supporting a great weight his knees bowed with the effort of resisting –
but he remained upright and did not kneel. Yet as the Lord of Chaos repeated his prideful demand his left arm rose with a painful slowness which reflected
his inner struggle. With creased brow and empty eyes He-Man swayed – and that traitor hand extended – and proffered the haft of the Sword to Skeletor.
But even as the Dark One’s claw reached greedily to take it, He-Man’s hand, as if of its own volition, now jerked it back. And Skeletor, with a snarl of
furious frustration, thrust out his arm to snatch the hilts, to take unto himself the long-denied promise of the Power of Grayskull. And the fate of
He-Man, of Prince Adam – and of all Eternia – hung by the very slenderest of threads.
And then, as sometimes is, fate itself acted to determine that fate. Or perhaps it was the merest chance, or else the High Will of the Creator enacted
through the Elders, or – But who shall say? For who among mortal kind could ever know – or ever dare say that he knows? It is instead a mercy vouchsafed to
mere mortals that it is never given to us to have knowledge of what would have happened, but only – sometimes – what did. Yet it may be after all that fate does not lack for a sense of irony: and that there was a kind of justice – or at least due
balance – in the way in which Skeletor, who had thwarted his foe’s vengeance by playing on the guilt of his betrayal, his shamed lust, should in his turn
be betrayed by his own especial craving. For he coveted the Sword, the Power with a fierce and possessive desire – and it was this lure which now led him
And thus at that instant, a tiny shift took place; one such as sometimes befalls – and on which the fate of worlds turns. For as Skeletor, rendered reckless by an all-consuming lust, lunged for the Sword his clawed hand, astray in its greedy haste, struck He-Man’s side – and
smote the open wound which he himself had inflicted.
And He-Man gasped aloud – and his eyes opened wide with the salutary shock, this jolt of purifying pain. And they were again blue and bright and shining
with an inner light, the spell-induced dullness gone now from their depths. And the Sword blazed bright anew to match them and blue-silver wyrdlight flared
with a searing intensity which forced Skeletor to avert his gaze. But He-Man looked upon his enemy and was again ware of him, knowing him for what he was;
pain had proved a shaft of light that lanced through the darkness of his tranced confusion and despair. From the tangling webs of deceit his mind now shook
free; the potent spell woven of Skeletor’s words was unravelled in a heartbeat as all his dark designs were laid bare. And the Sword rose again and swung
both high and wide as in renewed rage He-Man struck at Skeletor. A blinding arc of light that shamed the lightning in its shining speed cleft the air – and
the blade sheered a long tear in his cloak; barely did the Dark One escape that bitter blow and he reeled back, his stratagems as rent as his robe. And
He-Man, the pitiless glitter returned to his gaze, bared his teeth and swung again – for realization of what Skeletor had wrought now made his fury burn
even brighter than before – a killing rage indeed. He thrust at full length – and the point of the blade pierced the Dark One’s robe yet again so that he
was fain to retire further to avoid that darting, shining steel, to distance himself from the incensed hero who had escaped the web of his wizardry. The
renewed hostility in his blazing eyes was yet more naked than his body; there would clearly be no more cozening him from his vengeance by the casting of
spells. For, free of the subtly-cast, cloying enchantment which had held him in thrall, he again appeared as something more – or less – than human.
And Skeletor, giving back before that battle-madness, before the piercing intensity of those terrible eyes, knew past all doubt that his cast had gone
awry. He had lost command of his intended victim’s mind – and had provoked it instead to such a pitch of fury that he now must fight perforce. And he
cursed inwardly at this twist of fortune’s fickle tail which had robbed him of his prize at the moment of his victory. And yet it was no matter; that
victory was but deferred – for he was Skeletor, well-versed in all wickedness; many were his weapons – and apt alike to both hand and mind.
As the fierce-eyed hero came on, both sword and skin shining bright, Skeletor spoke – and his words were without their former sweetness; his habitual cold
and haughty mien was now restored in full.
“So! You choose to be relieved of the burden of your shame in a more – immediate – way, do you, boy? Then so mote it be! I shall be most glad to oblige
you; you will not need to live with your guilt, your treason any longer – that much is sure! We meet in arms for the final time.”
From He-Man came no answer; unless the fell light burning ravenously in his eyes were answer enough. That glaring gaze spoke of barely-bridled frenzy – and
the Sword’s steely sheen twitched menacingly in his hand. Re-invigorated he pulsed again with light and life – and power. Shining through with an inner
flame he seemed to embody the mystic forces which ranged themselves against Skeletor’s boundless ambition, that light which ever and always must strive
anew to confound the rising dark.
And Skeletor’s own splenetic rage mounted as he sensed the power of his adversary; his anger arose towering like a torch of darkness to meet and match –
and overwhelm – the light which so insolently dared to oppose him.
“For know you not that I am the lord Skeletor? Yea, I am he whom the flames burn not, on whom no blade may bite and whose every breath is power! I am of
all times and of none – for my existence is eternal. Rightful lord of this world am I, the bane of all my foes – and against me none shall stand! NONE SHALL STAND!” His voice reached an echoing pitch and shadows rose vast and threatening about him, dulling all but the red
flame of fire and the blue brilliance of the blade; murk of darkness covered the silent He-Man; he seemed to dwindle, the light within him to fade – but
the Sword blazed on untouched, its cold and pristine clarity defying the rising dark.
“I recall now that I said that I would not slay you, He-Man.”
The Lord of Destruction paused, and his dark and menacing umbra seemed to wax huge, to fill all that vast cavern with its blackness and to smother hope so
that many of the onlookers below quailed and averted their eyes. The mountain itself, the seat of his sorcerous strength, throbbed and pulsated as if in
answer to the potency its suzerain now called forth.
“I have changed my mind.”
Baleful bolts of power flew from his brandished staff – and the Sword rose at once – and deflected each sending away to where it crashed ruinously into the
echoing stone; fires leaped up and burned unchecked – and the mountain shifted and groaned uneasily. And, silently, the two protagonists faced one other –
and at the same instant charged with weapons lofted high – and the great space rang with the mighty clash of their onset and flickered with the flame of
Teela, watching from the gallery below, gaped open-mouthed at the wordless, titanic struggle. Green fire and blue met and grappled; vine-like tendrils of
mystic power engaged in the shivered air, and sword and staff came together and parted and clashed again with a speed which defied the eye to follow.
Impelled, unseen, she rushed the next steps of stone and emerged onto the gallery where they battled, ducking as a stray bolt smashed shards and rubble
from the walls of shapen stone. And there she stood, unmoving and silent – and awed.
For in that clash of foes it seemed as if the very powers of Light and of Darkness renewed their unceasing struggle; a complex, climactic interplay of
bitterly opposing forces. Eternia had seen no such fight in an age, for the Lord of Chaos, replete with his evil hatred and on his own
spell-saturated ground seemed even as a demon from some older and darker world – proof against the prowess of even the mightiest of heroes. Light blurred
bright and sped the shadows with the swiftness of strike and counter-strike and the eyes of few could follow the fight. But He-Man stood forth now as
Grayskull’s Champion – unwearied and strong in the ardent fullness of his youth, and he fought with all the Power flowing as new within him and the Sword
itself was as a living part of him, an extension of mind and body alike; and it burned bitter bright in both his hand and in the cold gleam of his eyes.
Skeletor was swift and deadly, his staff a constant menace of malefical potency – but He-Man tirelessly met his every attack and turned it back on him and
drove in with the Sword, its own radiance rising bright to honor the champion who wielded it with such fury – and with unmatched skill and strength. As
often as the Dark One lunged his stroke was swept aside; as often as he swung, the fair head ducked – and the agile, powerful body reacted with such speed
and grace that it seemed as if it had foreknowledge of his opponent’s intent, leaning swiftly left or right to evade the furious blows which Skeletor
sought in vain to land. And the hero himself struck out, his blade clashing with the Havoc Staff and darting, bright like a tongue of blue flame, to seek
an opening. With a leap he lifted high and landed beyond his adversary’s back – and the lord of that place felt the wind of the blade’s stroke pass a
hairsbreadth above his head. He bought time by jetting forth pale flame from his staff and recovered his stance, but again He-Man’s sword deflected the
bolt and sent it spent away.
No word was spoken for all was said – and this was a time of blows; and blow for blow they traded and each thrust and cut and parry – but it was Skeletor
who was slowly, steadily forced back. For mighty in battle was the hero, and blessed both with unerring skill and with strength unfailing. On he came, an
inexorable, elemental force, body gleaming bright with exertion and with the Power which was within him, and his blade was a shaft of painful light. And he
closed grimly on Skeletor and beneath the tangled fringe his down-drawn brows and piercing eyes, the strong white teeth glinting clenched in rage were of
so fearsome an aspect that the lord of Snake Mountain gave back before them. And He-Man, dark and light together followed and struck with skill and with
ferocity from out of the frost-flame of his wrath. Seeing the Sword lofted on high Skeletor raised up his weapon wide – and barely blocked a blow whose
jarring impact all-but tore the staff from his hands. And the Champion’s blade swept a bright arc and threw the Dark One back in dismay; even as he
steadied himself the blazing brand thrust forward – and its point pierced Skeletor’s bended knee.
How may shock be read upon a face composed but of bone? And yet, if such can be, then it was surely shock which Skeletor evinced as he looked down at the
wound in his knee with its release of blue-green ichor. And there was a sudden stillness – and the blade in He-Man’s hand, its tip now stained, seemed to
lose its lambency, to grow dull and to assume the hue of ordinary steel. Its wielder stared at his Sword: Skeletor stared at his wound – and neither moved,
though the Dark One’s mind was racing.
First Lyn, and now this – boy – this fallen hero, had dared to challenge him. And had inflicted hurt
upon him. It was – inconceivable – intolerable! How could this thing be? Why had his precious Power not deserted him and left him easy prey? Surely his
sins well merited so condign a punishment from the stern source from which they were drawn? And yet He-Man was even enhanced in strength, sufficient even
to make Skeletor fear to be worsted in this fray. And his wrath kindled and rose up in offence, a dark flare of monstrous pride and he called upon his art
– and put forth his power. The blood-red glow within the shade of his hooded cape grew stronger – and about him shadows gathered and grew tall. Robed in
nightshade – and wearing the enfolding darkness as a cloak, he hid himself from human eyes – and walked unseen.
And He-Man, struck a heavy blow from out of the empty air, grunted and staggered – but did not fall. His eyes blinked blindly in sudden darkness, seeking
his vanished adversary – and then again the unseen staff smote him – and the bright blood-flower blossomed as red gore mantled his shoulder, adding another
to the many wounds already emblazoned on his body. His head bowed and his knees buckled; barely did he remain upright and his jaw was tight with pain. But
the third blow from out of the enshrouding shadow caught him, glancing from the side of his skull – and he fell. Instinct alone saved him as his body
rolled aside from the descending stroke which would have ended him – and which instead sent shards of stone winging from its impact with the rock-formed
arch. Half-way stunned and sensing, not seeing the looming threat he pushed himself away and rolled again as again the Havoc Staff smashed stone in the
place where he had been. He lifted his arm from the ground, sword point held out before him in hasty, blind defense – battered, bloody – and all-but
helpless. And the Dark One savored deep the taste of triumph and, clothed secure in an absence of light, advanced in hidden menace to finish the fight –
and his enemy – for all time. He raised high his Staff – and readied himself, balanced for the blow. And he offered up the loathed life he was about to
take as a sacrifice to the All-encompassing Darkness. But even as he set in motion that death-dealing stroke a bolt of blue-silver light erupted from the
point of He-Man’s Sword and, shearing through the shadows, bathed him in a searing light. Blinded and breathless Skeletor staggered back, his sorcerous
vantage stripped from him – and visible once more.
He-Man did not hesitate; he surged upright, springing to his feet and came fast and furious to settle his score with the one whose treacherous arts had
almost availed to end him. At the run he came, the Sword seeming to draw blood from the very air as it gleamed red in the lava-light – and its upswing was
as the rush of wings. Scarcely did Skeletor survive that savage impact; barely did he bring the Havoc Staff in time to fend that honed and cutting edge.
Once, twice – and yet a third time he made desperate shift to save himself – for his rage and pride were flensed with fear. Three times he had smitten his
enemy – and that enemy still pressed him sore and seemed unharmed for all his bloody wounds; and he was forced to give back yet again. In defiance and in
spite he flung a vicious sending at his adversary – but the hero swiftly side-stepped its baleful flight and with drawn-back lips threw himself upon his
foe. Staff and Sword locked together and held and slowly, screechingly grated one against the other as they wrestled, snarling faces close – before
Skeletor’s strength failed and he was flung reeling back. Again He-Man followed him, relentless and with stained Sword in hand. He hewed at the Dark One
and smote upon the Staff which sought to turn the blow – and again – and yet again. His rage was inhuman, elemental in its dark strength, and against that
overmastering and icy wrath wizardry would not prevail – and not even Skeletor could stand. Sword and staff clashed one last time – and then the hooded one
was down, disarmed upon the stones. With a deep-voiced shout the Sword rose two-handed on high, point downward for the plunge which would surely end more
than this fight alone – but another cry rang out loud and shrill and close enough to be heard: “He-Man – no – hold!” And the
blade trembled on the brink of its descent – and paused.
“Don’t – don’t.”
Slowly Teela approached – her open hand held out as to a wild animal. The look on He-Man’s face rendered him well-nigh unrecognizable. The stark and
untamed light of the eyes alone fully justified her caution, while the comely features were contorted into such a rictus of rage that they were barely
believeable as belonging to the noble hero she so admired. Beneath his tense, upstretched figure Skeletor lay silent and carefully motionless, staring at
the shining Sword, at the steely vengeance hanging like a darkling star point-first above.
“This is not the way; this is not your way.” Incomprehension was in his face now, a blankness taking over from the visceral
unreason. But still the Sword hung poised, arrested in its downthrust. None other dared approach that living tableau made by these three limned against the
sullen glow of the fires of Snake Mountain. All below stood and looked up in silence. There were tears on the girl’s face: tears of sorrow for Adam fallen;
for He-Man falling, and for the loss of all innocence – but her voice was resolute as she spoke her plea. She did not know if she was reaching him,
penetrating the carapace of the recent past that had somehow made this vengeful and deadly fury of him – but she had to try.
“Skeletor asked you how – asked it in the name of all that’s evil.” Her small voice rose then and seemed to become like the thunder, and with the thunder’s
true echo, as if another and far greater voice spoke its resounding will through the girl . “And it is BECAUSE not all IS evil. As thou thyself art not –"
His wide, hectic eyes were glazed-over, unseeing; his face twitched erratically – and the Sword was still raised on high.
“He-Man taketh not life – nor striketh down the unarmed. No; not even Skeletor – whom thou hast not the right to judge. Wilt thou seek to arrogate
unto thyself yet again a power beyond that which thou wast granted? Hast thou not learned aught by thy suffering and thy shame?”
The voice reverberated, filling all things. The very fires of the mountain’s molten heart seemed to blaze the brighter at the sound – and the tall and
threatening figure, hearing, was still. And yet its words were heard by but those two alone – and by no other ears.
“Thou canst not wash clean thine own sense of guilt and shame in another’s blood – so stay thy hand!”
Deep and loud and wide rolled the echoes of that mighty voice – and He-Man’s tensioned body trembled before it.
“Evil will not be vanquished with its own weapons, lest, in the doing, it corrupt to its service those who would fain defeat it – and thus thrive
anew. This thou knowest: it was not for slaying that thou wast granted thy strength. What’er was done unto thee –”
a violent shudder shook him as he stood there –“if thou shouldst smite him now thou shalt be found wanting – and but little better than he: both stainèd Sword and smirchè d Power will reject thee – and THOU SHALT NO LONGER BE HE-MAN.”
He swayed; sweat ran and dripped down his soiled skin; raw bloodied wounds at wrist and ankle, in shoulder and side, showed black in the lurid light; he
was a figure of dread. And yet his eyes were focused on her now – frowning deep, as if he were struggling to recognize her, face and voice alike. But the
look in them was at least human once more. A spasm shook his features – and at long last he spoke; one slow, heavy word – as if the first ever uttered.
And, slowly, the Sword was lowered.
And then there came a searing flash, a long, long blast of green and arcane flame, up from the stone footing where Skeletor’s raised claw directed it into
He-Man with all the tremendous force of that mighty malice. As Teela stared in horror she saw his powerful frame illuminated with that evil fire as if from
within, the stark outline of the bones black against his tormented flesh, lit all through with that foul green glow. He shook with it, jerking in helpless
agony, thrashing and convulsing with contorted face – and he roared out a wordless cry that filled the cavern, drowning out her anguished shriek. The blade
fell from his nerveless grip – and he was flung far back to crash hard to the stones of the arch. The prone body quivered on with aftershocks and flickers
of a deathly green hue, the fitful sparks of Skeletor’s sending, played hideously over it – until at long last they ceased. And then it lay limp – and very
still. And Skeletor arose and his mocking laughter rang out loud, swamping the dying echoes of He-Man’s cry. Turning, his arms rising in triumph, his cloak
billowing black about him, he fixed glowing sockets on Teela; the death’s head leer towered over her as he loomed.
With a shrill call Stratos stooped on rushing wings to strike at him, but Skeletor batted the lord of Avion aside with another blast of raw power; again he
dived at the hooded figure, but was again driven off, trailing smoke. And Skeletor turned again on the girl, a pale and slender figure against his dark and
lowering bulk. From below came cries and warnings – but they might as well have come from another world.
“So you deny me the chiefmost glory, the pinnacle of my revenge, do you, girl? Rob me of He-Man’s futile attempt to end me? Oh, how you stirred his pity,
his weakness! Had you but held your peace then he might almost have summoned the strength, the anger to strike home – and thereby fallen forever from his
impossible ideals – and severed himself from the Power and doomed its humanity. How sweet a vengeance that would have been! I might yet have let him live
on to suffer his loss in the fullness of its pain!” The Dark One’s triumphant voice leveled again – and he shook his hooded head. “And yet I doubt he could
have brought himself to do the deed. He was ever a milksop, bereft of willpower and subject to shame. He never had the strength of purpose to kill until he
learned at last by bitter experience of its imperative – and that far too late. And now, it would seem, the lesson was wasted. I told the young fool many a
time that compassion would be his end – and so it has proved. Did I not impress upon him that none could stand against the might of Skeletor? Did I not
warn him – time and again – that power can only be wielded with strength of will, with force; that there can be no room for sentiment, for pity; that
bloodshed and terror alone make might? For how else but by the ruthless application of great force may great power be wielded?” His empty gaze ranged over
the inert, spilled body of his fallen foe, the Sword which lay at his feet, the shocked and silent ranks gazing up from below. “And now he is no more – and
nothing stands in my way – nothing!” His voice rose with the realization until it echoed through all the hollowness of the
mountain. “This is my hour – the final culmination of my long, long struggle, the fulfillment of all my plans! I have reached at last the pinnacle of
power, achieved the high destiny foretold for me of old! All the power will come to me, for I am SKELETOR, HIGH LORD OF ETERNIA – and all shall do homage to me – or perish!”
The echoes of his grandiloquence rang over the listening stones, his cowed and staring enemies below, the shadow and flame of the world he had claimed for
his own – and there was silence.
Skeletor turned the mask of his face again on the Sword of Power where it lay close. “This too comes to me – by right.” He leaned to reach for it – but the
Sword flared up at once with light, scintillating with an inner power – and blue-white lightning arced and bit the taloned hand, which hastily withdrew.
Foiled, he turned in savagery on the girl and gave immediate vent to his fury.
he screamed. “Kneel and make obeisance before your overlord!”
Flame flickered over him, a sickly green corpse-light, a damp fire like decay; his robe, the span of his arms seemed to fill all the gallery – all the
hollow mountain – all the shadow-darkened world.
And his ruined face tilted its dread gaze upon Teela who stood shivering before him, her cheeks wet with her hard-shed tears.
he commanded again and pointed to the stones. “Pay homage to the Lord of all Eternia!”
The voice was tiny, choked – but the denial was clear – and her staff rose in defiance. Frail and white as a lily beneath the brooding thunderhead of his
evil majesty, Teela yet stood her ground.
“Then die – a fitting example to the rest.”
A volley of frantic firing erupted from below as Man-at-Arms and his men took aim at the looming shadow of menace – but Skeletor blotted up their bursts; a
casual gesture of his hand, such as a man might use who swats away a fly. He did not even turn his gaze from his prey to quell so minor an annoyance, no
threat to him at all. No; instead he concentrated on the girl, rearing up high above and bending the overmastering force of his will upon her.
Skeletor’s hand reached out, questing – and his Havoc Staff lifted and flew to it; his eye sockets glowed with hungry fire as he held its potent length.
She came at him then, a desperate attack to stave off the inevitable; but she could not reach him, for he checked her with a gesture, leaving her
struggling as if against a mighty wind while he grinned his graveyard mockery. The Havoc Staff’s monstrous horned head echoed the look as he leveled it for
And a great roar sounded and the flying buttress of stone shook as He-Man rose to his feet and staggered forward, gaining speed with each step until his
hair streamed out behind him, his fingers unclenching at the end of outstretched arms as he went for his enemy’s throat. Swift as a striking snake the Lord
of Destruction span – and released a bolt of occult power that struck him and held, its flaming greenish tendrils curling about his limbs, his torso, his
throat, binding and choking and stinging hideously with its chill cadaverine fire. But still he came on, more slowly now, battling each painful pace with
the sorcerous sending of his foe, his features tight with effort, creased with affliction – but still coming on. The blast faded – He-Man lunged forward –
and Skeletor gave back some swift paces – and smote him again with his green-lit bolt of banefire. The hero jolted to a halt and flailed, writhing in the
clinging coils of torment. His head was flung back and his mouth opened wide in a great yell of mingled fury and pain as he was forced down, brought to his
knees convulsing in anguish and pitching forward helplessly onto his hands. Beaten at last, the broad shoulders bowed – and the blond head fell low
Skeletor towered above him like the nether shadow of the Darkness itself; only his eyes glowed red in the midst of that tenebrous cloud, his spell-shrouded
malice made manifest. He took the Havoc Staff in both hands and raised it up on high for the killing blow which would fall like a mountainside and crush
with greater spite. And then he staggered, his balance thrown – Teela’s staff had struck him in the back. Little harm could such a weapon do him, to one so
steeped in sorcery and wicked in evil might, but it caused him to whirl with indignant wrath and a swirl of hooded cloak and fix her in place again to be
dealt with at his leisure, once his only true adversary was slain. But though he turned at once to make an end he had tarried too long; He-Man’s groping,
reaching fingers had closed on the hilt of his Sword.
Skeletor at once unleashed another murderous storm of agony; but the Sword blazed up bright to lance forth its own fulgent fire-ice flame to meet and match
it, and He-Man, by the strength that was in him, rose rocketing to his feet – and charged Skeletor as his occult fire failed and died. Weapons raised on
high they came together with a furious shock which shook the hall – and a fireball corona of eye-searing wyrdlight mingled green and blue-silver together
erupted with a force to deave and numb the very senses. To the onlookers it seemed as if the fabric of the universe itself were being torn apart about them
with a dreadful and soundless power, so that all covered their ears at the percussive wave and many sank to their knees. When its actinic glare at last
died the two figures were still – ominously so – and silent. And then, very slowly, like an axed tree, He-Man toppled backwards – stiff and unchecked – and
fell from the height of the gallery to the cavern floor far below.
The skull-faced one did not move, showed this time no sign of triumph; instead he seemed to fade, his outline growing steadily less solid and substantial.
The shadows gathered about him as if sucking him in; the hooded cloak seemed to dwarf him, shrouding and enfolding his ever-lessening bulk. And it hung
black in the air the space of maybe three breaths – and then crumpled to the stones.
Teela stood and stared, barely knowing what she did. Her eyes glassy with shock and horror, her limbs all a-tremble so that they barely enacted her will,
she took a halting pace forward and prodded with her staff. The cloak lay discarded, empty; Skeletor was no more.
And He-Man too – and Adam.
She fell slowly to her knees in desolation and covered her face with her hands and sobbed until her frame shook with it – for her world had well-nigh
Below, the seeming spell lifted, time took wing once more and life stirred again: as ever it does, though princes perish and heroes fall; even struggles
titanic draw in time to a close.
Man-at-Arms ran forward to where the bruised and bloodied body lay sprawled and still, and he knelt, holding his breath and reaching out a tentative hand
to touch. There was no reaction; he had not expected one. He heaved a long and heavy sigh and his head fell low. His rough palm stroked softly, slowly over
the tousled yellow hair and for unmeasured time his eyes were far away and unseeing, lost in a world of flitting images, fleeting memories as his mind
travelled back, telling over the short span of sixteen years.
And then they sharpened – and his hand reached out again in trepidation and took up the Sword of Power where it lay, dim once more – but unscathed. He held
it to his breast and with tight-shut eyes spoke a swift but fervent prayer to the Elders of Eternia and all they stood for. And he made an offering of his
own in humble hope – and asked for what could not – but yet should – be.
And then he leaned and gently prised open the tight-clenched fingers of the lifeless hand – and placed the hilt within it.
For long and agonizing moments nothing happened – and Duncan bit his lip and prayed anew, setting frail hope against all hope: and then there came a
muffled gasp and the prone body jerked once, as if jolted by a shock. The fingers convulsed on the hilt – and the Sword flamed fiercely, proudly, refuting
all doubt, all darkness in its coruscating blaze – and the hand which held it tight was lit through with an ethereal fire. And as it faded again, then
He-Man’s head lifted with painful slowness and he groaned – but his eyes opened on Duncan – and knew him.
“Steady, now, steady. Easy does it. Here, let me help you.” He tried to turn him over, gently as he might, but He-Man flinched from the touch and his jaw
set in spasm; his whole frame shuddered seismically as if struck with a palsy. Heart wrung with pity Duncan desisted – and stared aghast, not yet able to
conceal his concern at the all-too-apparent signs of suffering marring that battered body. And this – in truth – was Adam?
“Elders, lad! What have they done to you?”
“He – she –” The drained voice struggled for words. “I mean that I –”
Duncan slowly shook his head.
“You need a healer – a whole team of them. And a long, long rest.” His voice faltered as he viewed the bruised, torn flesh – and then picked up – sought
hard to sound reassuring. “But that can soon be arranged and you’ll surely mend and be hale once more. Of course you will – you’re strong and resilient;
you’re He-Man – remember?” The brave effort rang hollow even in his own ears and he abandoned the act and sighed. “In all truth I’m just main glad to see
you again, lad – even in this sad state. I confess that I feared for you – that you would –”
No; not that – not yet. It was too soon for such truths – and might always be so. But briskness and mundanity perhaps could overcome that look of blank
loss, of utter desolation in the young man’s eyes.
“Duncan – I’m so terribly sorry –” It was barely a thread, the voice, and the face was ashen.
“You’re back; Teela’s safe – and Skeletor’s – gone. Nothing else matters; nothing at all.”
Those eyes were still far-off, brimming with pain and – something else, too: something – broken –
“I – need – to tell you –”
“What you need is rest, so save your breath, lad. You look in sore want of it; that was some fight – and some fall.”
“Duncan – listen! I must tell you – I have to tell you –!”
“No you don’t,” replied the older man with quiet certainty. “Not until later – not unless you really want to; or not at all. I told you, remember? I’m not
blind, and I’m still with you, whatever betide.”
“But – you don’t know what – what I – did – ”
“Whatever betide,” repeated the firm reply. “Now you just bide here quiet a moment while I send to Support for help.”
He-Man laid down his spinning head, the dull throb of pain a taut drum that pounded loud in his ear. He felt – shattered – completely empty – weak and
weary past enduring. But, most of all, he just wanted to change back to being Adam – wanted it more than ever he had done. He could bear the intolerable
burden, the strain of being He-Man no longer. Just to be able to say ‘I am Adam’ and let the Power return would be a release like to escaping the anguish
of Lyn’s dread Machine; but no; not that; he dare not think of that. Sweat broke out clammily all over him at the shameful memory. He must not – For a lengthy moment all the voices and sounds distanced themselves and left only that faint echoing buzz. He felt
himself slipping back, losing such tenuous grasp as he still had on the present; Skeletor’s parting blast had been too much, coming on top of – No; that
pathway he must not take. Not now; not ever. His senses swam, his body again began to tremble uncontrollably with ache
and with fatigue – and he could barely maintain consciousness.
A hand touched tenderly at his shoulder and he blinked aware again and saw through misted eyes that Man-at-Arms was there with him again, kneeling at his
side, his expression grave – and compassionate.
He slowly lifted his all-too-heavy head, propping himself on one arm and shaking sweat-matted hair from his brow. His voice was cracked as he spoke – and
there were tears on his face.
“Duncan – I – I – just want to go home – Please!”
The last great demand, the exacting channeling of the Power renewed, had drained him utterly – and now, spent, there was reaction – and a price to pay.
Man-at-Arms nodded in sympathy – and his hand reached out and covered that of the younger man, communicating what words could not readily express. “And so
you shall, Adam – and be given the all care you need until you’re well again. There’s a raider standing by ready to speed you to Eternos.” His hand pressed
harder as he went on, as if seeking to imbue strength. “But – first – there is one last thing still required of you: you must walk out of this place
upright – and unaided. You can – and you must.” His eyes held He-Man’s as they stared hazily back – and then closed as he sighed and nodded with slow
understanding. Eternia needed its hero: a hero unbowed, unbroken – no matter what the truth of it, no matter how sullied and unworthy. The stern demands of
duty would not be denied – not even now. So he wiped dry his face with the dressing Duncan proffered and with his help heaved erect, steadying himself
against the swirling countertides of dizziness and nausea – and he brandished the Sword aloft to ringing shouts of acclamation.
And then He-Man made the final effort to walk alone to the craft which would at long last bear him home.