Well, in a classic case of showing up late to the party, Demo-Man and Battle Ground Evil-Lyn have finally arrived and we can finally bring you our promised Masters of the Universe Classics Class of 2011 story. Yep, once again Matthew K, Ibentmyman-thing and VeeBee have put pencils and pixels together to bring you our continuing story of Masters of the Universe Classics. Now, if this is your first time checking out one of these articles, I encourage you to check out both the 2009 and 2010 editions as this 2011 retrospective is a continuation of the stories of the past years. Don’t worry, we will wait for you.
Now, how about this for a new twist – read on to find out how you can win a FREE copy of the now out-of-print Power and Honor Foundation Catalog: Volume One courtesy of the Fwoosh and the Power and Honor Foundation! If you have not seen or heard of the Foundation or its catalog, we have links aplenty at the end of the article. Be sure to check it out because this is a pretty cool opportunity.
Okay, are you ready? Grab a cold one and your favorite salty snack and dim the lights for the full ambience. Welcome back to Eternia…
The bitter wind groaning through the valley of Gnarl battered Vikor, igniting his dark hair into wild spiraling tendrils that he pushed back without thought. He tugged the pelt tighter around him and stared, sullen-eyed, at the footprints.
They were Foe-man prints. A pair of them. They had left behind their handiwork at the genesis of the footprints: fire, death, senselessness. Vikor stood, reaching full height, a strong sturdy figure that sliced the wind as surely as the axe grinding in his white-knuckled hands.
The footprints just…stopped.
Dark Magic. The air stunk of it. The ground was infected by it. The chill wind seemed warmer here, in this spot, where reason and insanity met.
He raised his head. He made a target of himself. Come get me then, he thought to the wind, casting his eyes over the land where nothing stirred. He could feel the rotten arrogance fueling the magic; a malignancy that his axe could slice from Eternia. Come then.
Vikor raised his axe and gave voice to his thoughts. “Foe-men! Are you so weak that you hide in shadows instead of facing me?”
His voice gave birth to echoes, and his challenge spanned the length and breadth of Gnarl.
“Very well, Foe-men! Let your women shun you when they hear of your cowardice!”
He lowered his axe and walked from the challenge, letting it hang. A smile blossomed on his lips. He felt them behind him, his insult drawing them from hiding. “Finally,” he muttered. He turned, and saw them.
His eyes dropped to the amulet hanging limp at the pocked throat of the taller of them. Red like a dragon’s eye, it hurt his head to look at it. The Foe-man raised his hand and thick black smoke boiled from his fingertips. Vikor leapt to his right, feeling the heat of the attack, and the ground where he stood decayed and died, leaving behind sick gray dirt.
The shorter of the Foe-men, without amulet, drew a small throat-slicer of a knife and leapt for him, slashing wildly. Vikor raised his shield and let it bear the brunt of the flailing attack, keeping his attention rooted to the amulet-bearer. He batted the attacking one with his shield, and sunk his axe into the ground where only a second ago he had been. Quick thing. Vikor pulled his axe from the ground, clods sticking to it. He shook them off, and the magic-wielding Foe-man was gone.
The knife-wielder attacked again, but it was clumsy, and Vikor slid his axe between ribs, nearly cleaving him in two. The force of his blow sent the Foe-man reeling wild and limp several feet away, where he landed in a heap.
Instinct took over, and Vikor whirled backwards, narrowly avoiding another burst from the Foe-man’s fingertips. Grass sickened and died.
“Hiding behind sorcery and tricks? Is that the way of you creatures now?”
It didn’t respond. Instead it vanished, aided by the amulet. It left behind its pungent stink.
He spun, ready, hefting his axe. He cursed the amulet and the Foe-man and the valley and Eternia itself. Heat formed at his back, he spun, letting his axe lead, and steel spoke to skin. The Foe-man’s head leapt from his body, eager to flee it, and the amulet, its chain without neck to bind it, slid to the ground. The Foe-man’s body stood as if needing assurance that it was indeed dead, leg muscles tensing. And then it too crumpled.
Vikor knelt to the amulet, and inspected it. He picked it up and turned it over in his hand, examined the shimmering red stone. There was a glow, deep inside it, impossibly deep, as if he were looking at the surface of the Sea of Rakash which only hinted at the depth below.
Something in the amulet seemed to be singing to him. The voice was distant, but sweet and clear.
He was drawn into the depths of the amulet, letting them fold over them. He was rewarded with visions. He saw himself with amulet fused to his axe, cutting a swath through the heart of Eternia, noblemen falling before him, taking the world by blood and steel, a crown on his head, the once-more fused Sword of He in his scabbard, the Goddess in chains at his bedside. He saw Eternians kneeling before him in droves.
Vikor ripped his eyes from the amulet. The singing stopped, the visions faded, leaving him drunk and weary. When he turned back to the amulet, he neither heard nor saw any of what had afflicted him. It was just cold stone now.
He tucked it into his waistbelt, to give to the Goddess when next she returned. If any would know what to do with such a thing, she would.
Vikor put the wind to his back and continued on his journey.
Where Eternia was a beautiful planet with malignant strands of evil shot through it like molding vines on a jeweled castle, all of the wonder and majesty of Etheria was corrupted by the Horde. Misery and despair lay in its lush fields and bright shrubbery.
“That madman,” Randor said through clenched teeth. “Where did he get the power to do this…”
“Marzo’s amulet,” Man-At Arms answered, “Skeletor and Marzo together.” He shook his head, and tried to raise Teela again on his communicator but was rewarded with static.
Randor walked to He-man, who had not moved from the window since their arrival minutes ago. He was gripping the stone of the window sill hard enough that hairline cracks were spreading from the tips of his fingers. Randor was no stranger to beings of power but sword-bearers were different from them all. “He-man, your intentions had been to come to Etheria, your wish has been granted.”
He-man nodded. “Skeletor may have unwittingly done us a favor. I have to leave. Duncan?”
Both men looked back to Man-At-Arms. Roboto had remained in a defensive posture, statue still.
“We have a full complement of guards here. The palace should be safe. I doubt Hordak even knows we’re here yet.” Teela’s voice finally echoed forth on Duncan’s wristcomm. “Can you hear me?”
“Teela you’re coming in now.”
“Where are we?” Teela’s voice was as sharply-edged as her sword.
“We’re on Etheria. Hordak’s planet. You’ve never been here. What’s happening down there?”
“The guards are stationed at the lower level. Some were outside the perimeter when the palace shifted. Father, there’s something on the horizon and moving in fast.”
“Damn.” Man-At-Arms turned back to He-man and the king. “I take it back. Hordak knows we’re here.” To Teela, he said. “It’s the Horde. Defend the palace, He-man, Roboto and I are on our way down.” He switched the comm off. “We’re in trouble.”
“There are three coming with you Duncan, not two,” Randor said, placing his hand on his Man-At-Arm’s shoulder.
“My liege, a Horde battalion is on its way here. A deathtroupe, by singular past experience. It’s no place for a King.”
“King? This is Etheria, Duncan. Horde land.” Randor reached to his head and removed his crown. He tossed it to the stone floor where it clattered hollowly to rest. “There are no kings here, only warriors.”
Duncan met He-man’s eyes and then nodded at Randor. “As you wish. Grab your weapons.”
On ground level, they found Teela barking orders at the guards. There were maybe thirty at best, enough to ward off a small army but not enough for a planet teeming with enemies. He-man gripped his sword, shifted uneasily in his Battle Armor and surveyed the horizon. They were closing in fast. Had Skeletor alerted Hordak to expect them? The triple threat of Skeletor, Hordak and Marzo working together chilled his blood.
There was a smooth, even line of demarcation where palace stone met field. There was no sign of it being burnt or cut. It just ceased being stone.
Roboto stepped beside He-man. “I count one hundred and twelve approaching. Heavily armed. He-man, it is highly probable we will not survive this.” There was a nuance to his words afforded by his emotion engine that made his even-tempered voice waver slightly. A robot afraid to die? Remarkable.
He-man smirked. “Duncan didn’t program you with optimism, did he?”
“Forgive me. I tend to still think in chess terms.”
“And if this were a game, what would you suggest?”
Roboto turned his visor to He-man, servos in his neck humming. “You do not understand, He-man. We are outmatched and overpowered in hostile lands. We are already in mate.”
“Good thing we’re not standing on squares then.”
Roboto nodded and looked to the horizon.
Teela was in conference with Lieutenant Spector when the King walked up to them, a rifle hanging by his side, a sword tucked into a scabbard on his back. “Your highness,” Spector began to bow, but the king caught him.
“No need for ceremony Lieutenant. We’re all equals here.”
Teela flicked her eyes from the King to her father. Duncan smoothed his mustache worriedly and returned to weapon inspection.
“Very well sir. As I was telling Captain Teela, the guards are fully armed and ready. We have a full complement on the Queen and she’s been locked in her room. She was…none too happy.”
“I’m sure I’ll be privy to the Queen’s displeasure later,” Randor muttered.
“Back to your station Lieutenant,” Teela said, and then raised her voice. “Where we are doesn’t matter, you are still among the finest warriors on all of Eternia and this is still Eternos, no matter where its foundations have rooted.”
The Deathtroupe descended. No longer on the horizon, they now were the horizon, coming in fast and heavy.
“May the elders keep us safe,” Randor said, and raised his rifle.
At the barren edge where Eternos once stood, Carnivus, Stratos and Buzz Off turned their eyes skyward as the Falcon swooped towards them, a winged shape eclipsing the sun.
“Is that her?”
“She rarely involves herself openly,” Stratos said. “Wait…”
Buzz-Off’s wings erupted, and he left the ground. “That is not her.”
The Falcon tucked its wings in and swooped. “It’s Screech,” Buzz off yelled, and the humming of his wings doubled as he launched himself upwards. True to its name, the falcon let loose a piercing warcry and the lasers bristling on his harness tore through the air. Carnivus dove for cover as Stratos joined Buzz Off in the air.
Stratos and Buzz Off flanked the Falcon, but though they were born to the air and wind, Screech was lighter, smaller and more maneuverable than either could hope to match. Carnivus was landbound, forced to watch as the Falcon made aerial fools out of his allies. The sky seemed too small for all three, and soon Screech descended, dropping something from the underside of his warharness. Carnivus watched as it landed a dozen feet from him. Then as quickly as it had attacked the Falcon let out another screech of displeasure and soared away. Carnivus approached the object lodged in the dirt while Stratos and Buzz off landed beside him.
“Fools. The falcon made fools of us.” Stratos muttered. He wrung his hands together and continued shifting his gaze skyward, as if expecting Screech to return.
“Quiet,” Carnivus hissed, “Do you hear that?”
Each of them silenced themselves quickly. The object in the ground hummed.
There was neither sound nor fury attached to the explosion, instead an absence of either. Each felt their ears shut down, their skin tingle and parch, nostrils clogging with a heaviness to the air. The explosion swarmed over them, numbed them, and expanded past the boundaries of their flesh. A shifting darkness filled in the bright daylight around them in a wide circumference, etching out the sun and sound.
Carnivus’ eyesight adapted faster than the others, but even with his enhanced abilities he found he could only discern shapes moving about in the absolute ebony created by the explosion. He saw no edge to the blackness, and even his own hand inches from his face was nothing but a blurred shape.
Nullspace bomb, he said out loud, but his voice carried no further than his own useless vocal chords.
Nullspace had been forbidden for centuries. Not even Marzo had dared use it during his campaigns. It was black magic married to technology as ancient as the elders themselves. Dangerous to utilize, impossible to control, only Skeletor would have been foolish enough to awaken such an old horror. It would spread and engulf the entire planet if left unchecked.
Something shifted to his left. He called for Stratos or Buzz Off, roared at the top of his lungs, but was rewarded with a frustrating oblivion at the tip of his tongue. He growled low and cool in the back of his throat and even then only felt vibration but no sound.
He felt he may go a bit mad. Inside every Qadian was something feral and savage, something that devoured the civility they had fought for. He and his kind had striven to eradicate war from their lives, to embrace peace, or risk letting their own savage nature control them.
In the oblivion, shapes moved again. He saw them then, eager pinpricks of orange surrounding him in the darkness. Six pairs of them. Eyes.
Buzz off and Stratos were somewhere in here. But they may well have been on another planet as far as the nullspace was concerned. Carnivus was alone.
The Beasts closed in.
Very well then. He unfastened his cape and let it drop to the ground. He felt his lips draw back from his teeth, felt a hunger infect his fangs. His claws ached. His muscles tightened.
Have at me, he shrieked soundlessly to the Beasts circling him, and the darkness collected his fury.
The battle was not going well.
The Deathtroupe had set up an offensive perimeter and trained their cannons on the palace, unleashing volley after volley of scorching punishment. There was no evidence of anything organic running the onslaught, just mechanized, merciless death.
Though they were well-armed, well-trained and driven, the Eternian forces were being overpowered by the sheer numbers in the Deathtroupe.
Randor watched yet another of his brave men fall as he squeezed off another useless shot, rifle hot in his hands, shoulders aching. His hatred for Hordak grew with each passing second. He thought of Adora, living day to day on this world of horrors. He thought of Adam, poor clumsy Adam, left behind on Eternia, subject to whatever horrors a Skeletor with free rein would inflict. If Randor fell today, Adam would be king of Eternia. A king without a kingdom. The boy wasn’t ready.
Was I ready? Randor thought, feeling the heat of lasers singe the air around him. Are any of us?
Out in the battlefield, He-man swung his sword fearlessly, attacking the deathtroupe mortal flesh to soulless steel, his sword slicing and spitting sparks. Randor watched as He-man dug his fingers into the dented metal hide of a damaged hull, lifting it effortlessly from the ground and battering the enemy with the crushed shells of their own tanks, his uncanny strength turning them into the ultimate melee weapons. Randor shook his head in awe. If only his son could be like that–a born warrior–he would have been confident that Eternia lay in good hands.
Marlena would chastise him for his lack of faith in his son if she could hear his thoughts. But it wasn’t that. His pride in his offspring was unquestioned. But a warrior was a warrior, a prince was a prince. And Adam was ever the prince.
Something bright flickered past Randor’s field of vision. He didn’t even feel the wound as it happened. He had been so caught up in the rote mechanics of aiming and firing to little effect, that when his shoulder ached he brushed it off to having stayed locked in one position for too long. It was only when he couldn’t make his finger squeeze the trigger that he noticed the numbness that traveled the length of his arm, and when he looked down saw the scorched and raw look of his own flesh sizzling, a burst of laser fire having sliced clean through the meat of his shoulder. Then his vision doubled and the weapon fell from his hand. He felt himself hit the ground, hard, and then heard someone shout for the King. He would have shouted with them. Gods, had Eternia ever had a King as wise and strong as his father, Miro? Not that he could recall.
Then he realized they were shouting for him. Miro was long dead. Randor suddenly missed his father fiercely, and thought of his son, and how often Randor had let his temper guide his judgment with the boy. He ached to see Adam one more time. He recalled his own youthful fumblings, his awkwardness, his failings. How different were they, really?
I am going to die and it won’t even be on the planet of my birth, Randor thought with grim assurance. He heard shouting, felt tender hands holding his head. He blinked hard and saw Duncan’s face swimming above his. Randor tried to speak but nothing came out. Strange he felt no pain. Strange he felt nothing at all. He had always believed he would feel something in death, anything but this pale shroud sliding over his senses.
He heard explosions then, a flurry that seemed to fill the world. His body rattled in time with them. The palace shook with them. With effort that sapped the remaining vestiges of his strength he lifted his head to see what was happening. High above the Deathtroupe, a man stood on the teetering wing of a sky-sled, a red cape flowing behind him, drawing and releasing the string of a golden bow over and over.
I’ve gone delusional, Randor thought. He blinked his vision clear again and the Man was still there, precariously balanced, all regal red and gold, a statue come to life. His arm became a blur of motion as he pulled an arrow from his quiver, knocked it and let it fly. Arrow after arrow towards the ground. Randor must have been completely delusional because he believed he could see an eager, almost crazed grin on this man’s face.
Randor lost consciousness briefly, and then when he woke the man was nearer to him. The constant firing and explosions had stopped. There was a cocky grin on the stranger’s face. He-man was beside him, body shimmering with sweat, brow furrowed.
The regal mustached man knelt beside him. “Your majesty, I’m sure you’ve seen better days.”
Oh, forgive me. My name is Reccula. Kyle Reccula. But around here I am known by Bow these days.”
“Hordak’s overconfidence means they are susceptible to attack from above. Weak shielding. A pity so few that are attacked by them can manage an air-strike. Now let’s see what we can do for your injuries. I have a gift from Razz.”
Randor didn’t know who or what a “Razz” was, but he didn’t have time to find out, because he lost consciousness again.
When he woke, he was tired, bandaged, and inside the palace once more, laying on smooth black marble.
“Your king appears awake, He-man,” that same voice repeated. He felt strong arms lift him. Randor turned to He-man, who guided him to his feet gently. “Your highness?”
“I’m all right.” Randor said, managing to stand unsteadily on his feet, and surveyed the room. Many injured guards. Duncan’s wrist was splinted. He found the man in gold.
“Apparently we owe you a huge debt, Bow.”
Bow half-bowed. “Happy to serve. But I have more urgent news, I’m afraid.” He turned to He-man. “She-ra is in trouble.”
“How do you know?”
Bow pointed to his chest, at the red heart on his shining golden breastplate. “Through some means I’m not sure I fully understand, this heart is connected to She-ra. It beats when she’s in mortal danger. It has never beat so furiously before.”
“Bring them to me.”
A pair of snakemen bowed and disappeared from the throne room, and within minutes had returned, dragging the three chained prisoners with them. Three humans. In the heart of the Snakes.
King Hiss watched the humans. Such fascinating creatures. Weak by birth and nature, yet they yearn to live freely, without purpose or guiding hand. From mother to coffin they live entrenched in fear.
They sickened Hiss.
And they had dared to invade his home.
He watched these filth as they surveyed his throne room. Let their eyes linger on the living walls, slithering and pulsing with nascent life. The protosnakes, who would one day serve in the army of Hiss, to topple world after world.
He drank in the fear in their eyes. These humans. These animals.
They had dared.
He rose, and descended the steps. The snake guards kept them kneeling, scaled hands on their shoulders, though they struggled. But they were weak, where the snakes were strong.
“Let them rise,” Hiss said, and the guards relinquished their hold. The prisoners got to their feet, defiant.
“They killed five before they…submitted.” A Snakeman muttered. “There were four of them. Where now there are three.”
Hiss nodded his approval.
“Long live Grayskull!” the tallest of them said. His short black hair was matted with sweat, his skin dripping with it. His clothes clung to his lean frame. Hiss could smell the staleness of him, the naked fear and adrenaline, infecting his throne room.
“Grayskull. I grow weary of hearing that name. Tell me, you would die for him?”
“Grayskull’s cause is just. Ridding Eternia of you snakes is worth anything.”
The snakemen laughed. Hiss waved a hand. “You think you serve a cause? You serve a fool’s dream. You are just more of grayskull’s fodder. He is not brave enough to stand before me. He sends his pets to die in his place.”
The creature clenched his jaw. “You snakes will pay for every death. In Grayskull’s name I would die gladly, and take as many of you as I can with me.”
“In Grayskull’s name,” the two silent prisoners repeated. Where fear had silenced their tongues they now wore the same look of defiance that the taller of them wore. He had seeded them with his courage.
“For Eternia!” the tall animal shouted, and there was a flash of light. The chains dropped away from them all. The prisoner reached for a small chain draped around his neck, and pulled an amulet from under his shirt. “Die!”
The amulet sputtered, and the throne room grew quiet. The prisoner thrust the shining red jewel out at Hiss, his teeth bared.
But nothing happened.
Defiance melted away to confusion. Confusion shifted to fear.
King Hiss laughed. The prisoner looked at the amulet as if at a friend that had betrayed him. He looked around as if only now realizing he was trapped here with the snakes, grossly outnumbered. His arrogance was gone.
Hiss reached out and took the amulet from the prisoner, who relinquished it without a fight, his body seeming to lose its height, his eyes wide.
Hiss dangled the jewel, let it catch the dim light of the torches burning on the walls. “Your warm-blooded magic is useless here in the kingdom of snakes.” He tossed the trinket to a snakeman. “Take this out of my sight.”
He turned back to the prisoner. Behind him the others hadn’t made a move to escape or fight. All fight had left them.
“Release them,” he said to his guards. The snakemen turned to each other, and back to Hiss.
Hiss glared. He didn’t ask twice. The Snakemen stood back. “You both are free to leave Snake Mountain. But carry a warning back to Grayskull. And to all who would fight with him.”
The prisoners looked at the door, and then back to Hiss.
Hiss held his hands in front of him. They rippled, the gloves splitting. He opened his mouth, and true to his name, a hiss issued from lips that spread wide, wider, impossibly wide, splitting at the corners. The skin of his face slid back as a scaled snout pushed from gaping, hollow, tongueless mouth. A mouth within the mouth flicked a forked tongue.
The armor on his chest tore away, and twin pairs of eyes revealed themselves. Where once there were arms, there were snakes. And atop this nest of horrors a larger snakehead sat, ruby-red eyes drinking in the human’s terror, fangs dripping.
Hiss shed his skin of false humanity, and stood revealed to the humans, a writhing mass of snakes.
The snakes that once served as arms sank fangs deep into the shoulders of the would-be assassin. His freshly revealed head bit deep into the tender flesh of his neck. The man screamed, once, loud and short and sharp, before his vocal chords were severed.
The attack was over as quick as it had begun. The prisoner opened his mouth and screamed silently, his body convulsing. The venom of King Hiss burned its way through his body, and he flopped to the ground, veins standing out like ropes across taut, rigid muscles. The remaining two watched as their companion died hard and quick.
Hiss turned his writhing head to the survivors. “Go,” he whispered.
They fled Snake Mountain with his warning burned in their memories.
Five millennia later, in a Snake Mountain whose name was more tradition than truth, Skeletor set Marzo’s amulet down on the edge of his scrying pool. Screech’s attack had been a success—the three remaining major Eternian leaders had been consumed by the darkness, and no doubt by the Shadow Beasts.
He tapped a black nail on the amulet. It sparked with each touch, eager to release the secrets stored inside. When he first took hold of it, he was rewarded with flashes from every previous owner of it, everyone who had even held it for an instant. Barbarian warriors, noblemen, snake kings, Peasants, even gods. The memories had come so quick and fleeting that he could barely hold on to the images. The amulet seemed to span the history of Eternia. He wondered about its origins.
“Amazing to me how easily you were defeated all those years ago when you had such a weapon in your command.” Skeletor said, turning to his captive.
Marzo floated above the ground, arms and legs stretched to their boundaries, suspended by nothing but Skeletor’s magic.
Nestled comfortably in the shadows beside Skeletor’s throne, the great cat Panthor watched Marzo with icy detachment, either sizing him up for a meal or a plaything.
“Though we were enemies then I believed you to be a warrior and an artist. Eternia once quaked in its slumber with the stories of Count Marzo, the great Sorcerer.” He let contempt hang in each syllable. “But you were a dabbler using this amulet as nothing more than a blunt tool.”
Marzo glared at him. The pain he was in was evident by the twitch of his cheek, but otherwise he refused to make a sound. Skeletor had allowed him to keep his youthful form. An aged captive was neither challenge nor victory.
“Nothing to say? No dire warnings? No insults against my lineage? Is this what the great Marzo, one time terror of Eternia has been reduced to?”
“Kill…” His voice dissolved into coughs.
Skeletor tilted his head, waited until the coughing fit ended. Marzo swallowed hard, and spoke again. “Kill me. Or regret this.”
Skeletor laughed. “Far too late for threats, don’t you think?”
Taking the amulet from Marzo had been exceptionally easy. Like most of Eternia’s magical items, the amulet responded most strongly to the desires and power of the user.
And nobody matched Skeletor in desire.
Skeletor squeezed his hand into a fist. Marzo’s face wrinkled with pain, but he still refused to scream. Skeletor could almost respect his stoicism.
He clenched his other hand, and Marzo let out a stifled grunt, grinding his teeth, chewing on his pain.
Skeletor ground his hands and Marzo finally screamed. A primal, aching roar leapt from his spittle-strung mouth, animal and inhuman. His voice cracked and gave out but Skeletor did not stop. He savored every second.
Panthor joined in, growling his pleasure at Marzo’s pain.
The amulet rattled on the edge of the pool. Skeletor unclenched his fist. Marzo’s body drooped, his breathing ragged, chest whistling with each gasp.
The amulet quivered again. Skeletor looked from Marzo to the amulet and back. Marzo raised his head.
“None have hated as I now hate,” Marzo hissed through cracked lips. And the amulet left the stone edge of the pool and sailed into his hand.
The throne room of Snake Mountain glowed briefly, like a sun going nova. Skeletor’s staff snapped into his hand.
When the flash ended, Marzo was free, and his hands were white knuckled around the amulet once again. He drew his sword from nothingness. “I will strip the rest of your Gar scum skin from your body, demon.”
Skeletor nodded. He spread his arms. His breastplate shifted, sliding over his torso, encasing his torso with his battle armor. The ram horns of his Havoc staff thinned and melted into twin blades, the staff shortening, and he now held a double-bladed axe.
Marzo cast aside his amulet. “No more magic, demon. No more tricks and conjuring. Just bone, blade and hate. Let’s see if the self-styled Lord of Destruction can live up to his title.”
A yellow and blue blur soared high above where the palace once stood, held aloft by twisting, living wind that seemed to obey the figure’s every gesture.
On the ground far below, Sy-Klone saw the vast expanse of emptiness where the palace of Eternos had once been rooted. He had flown these skies many times since leaving his long sequestering at Anwat Gar. The Palace had come to be a welcome, comforting sight on the topography of his journeys; a place of friends when he had been without for so long. Almost a surrogate home.
To see it gone shook him. Then he saw the darkness.
He squinted at the blurred, angry void of blackness that seemed to blot out the world below. The winds released their hold on him and he lowered gently to the ground, kicking up dust. The bleak wall of ebony was pulsing, and shifting, and eating ground and air as it grew. He had seen this particular horror before.
He put his hand to the growing border of the Nullspace. His hand went numb, and cold. He felt the bleak blackness tug at his arm, and he pulled back. He flexed his fingers until feeling returned.
If left unchecked it would only continue to grow, devouring the world and leaving nothing behind.
He reasoned that there were people inside, trapped, blind, half-mad with sensory deprivation. He had never been engulfed in nullspace before, but knew what lay inside.
He held his arms to his side and the winds began.
Dust kicked up. The wind began at his legs, and raised, twisting, rising. But simple wind alone wouldn’t do a thing against nullspace.
His vest began to channel cosmic winds far beyond any normal atmospheric capabilities. He closed his eyes, reached out and generated the power and rage of a black hole condensed and isolated in a few feet. He brought his hands together, and the winds took shape, coalesced around his fists, and then lashed out. They breached the wall of the nullspace and its creeping began to still, and then regress.
Sy-klone took a step forward, and the nullspace dissipated, collapsing in on itself. With his cosmic radar—tied by eldritch energies he scarcely understood to the living tapestry of the universe–he pinpointed the nucleus of the disturbance and drove all of his cyclonic power inwards towards the point of origin of the event.
The nullspace blew apart, collapsed, and then winked out of existence.
Sy-klone let the winds die down.
There were Stratos and Buzz-off, shaking, disoriented, but alive.
And then he saw Chief Carnivus as well, hands bloodied, the bodies of five Shadow Beasts laying strewn about the ground around him. Carnivus looked around, blinked his eyes, and then nodded. He snatched his cape from the ground, shook it free of dust.
“Now then.” Carnivus said, fastening his cape around his shoulders. “With that settled, we take the fight to Skeletor, and return Eternos to its rightful place. Any objections?”
Sy-klone nodded. It was good to have friends.
She knew she was more than likely playing into Hordak’s plans and letting her anger guide her, but the sight of her family in danger—though Hordak could never know that—had driven She-ra to take action. She grabbed for her sword, intending to strike this monster down now and forever and rid the universe of his threat.
But she was too weakened, and too slow, and then she heard the hiss snap of a whip as it arced through the air. A thin rope clamped down on her wrist and then she was tugged off her feet, her arm almost yanked out of its socket. She hit the wall hard.
She blinked away double vision and shook the whip off her wrist.
“Naughty naughty, She-ra. Kitty scratch.”
She-ra shoved herself backwards as the sword sliced the floor inches from where she had been, striking sparks. Force Captain Catra—a position She-ra was intimately familiar with—tossed her whip aside and took the hilt of her sword in both hands.
“Her entertainment value has ceased.” Hordak said, walking calmly towards the door, taking She-ra’s sword with him. “Toy with her if you must, but break her.”
The door slid shut behind him.
She-ra staggered to her feet, weaker than she had believed herself to be. But she wouldn’t give Catra the satisfaction.
“You’ve seen better days, my dear.” Catra Positioned herself between She-ra and the door. She waved her sword at She-ra, taunting her, just out of reach. The blade glimmered, immaculately polished. Her sword seemed more like a child’s toy, pink and jeweled; a plaything. But it had tasted the blood of hundreds, maybe thousands. Underestimating her was deadly.
“Not much of a fair fight,” She-ra said. She eased herself to her feet, trying not to let Catra see her pain. But she could tell by the sly smile on the woman’s face that she wasn’t hiding it well.
“No fight with you is ever fair,” Catra hissed. She slid the blade out as quick as her namesake, opening a wound on She-ra’s shoulder before she could even react. Blood trickled down the length of her arm.
“Boo-hoo-hoo,” She-ra said. Catra’s face reddened. She struck again, but this time She-ra was ready, and dropped to her left. The sword struck bare wall, clanged hollowly.
She-ra pivoted around Catra as she swung the sword around, black hair whipping wildly. She-ra moved just out of reach again. The sword struck air, whistling. “Is that the best you can do, kitty? I could get more sport from one of Hordak’s brainless troopers.”
Catra hissed and flailed her sword wildly. She-ra moved in close and grabbed her wrists on the downswing. Sword to skin was dangerous, but strength to strength Catra was outmatched and she knew it. She-ra spun and slammed her against the wall. But Catra whipped her legs out, hitting the wall and then flipping herself over She-ra. She dropped her sword in the process. She-ra kicked the thing away.
Catra spread her hands, brandishing her claws. “Not as impressive as a sword,” She-ra mocked, knowing the key to winning was to keep Catra angry, reckless. “You may chip one of those things.”
Catra sneered. “Make your jokes,” she said. “I’ll rip that poison tongue from your skull.” She grabbed the red mask atop her forehead and slid it down. She-ra cursed and backed away as Catra’s body melted into that of a Panther.
Catra attacked. She-ra grabbed the front paws, but left herself vulnerable to the back, and Catra’s powerful limbs drove her backwards. She lost her grip and a paw slashed her face. She screamed. Catra licked the blood from her paw and purred. Then she grabbed She-ra’s neck between her massive jaws and began to squeeze. She tried to breathe but her throat was too tight.
She-ra felt her vision fade, felt herself lose consciousness. She was going to die. She reached for Catra’s flank but the cat swiped her hands away, keeping her throat locked in its vice-like jaws. She-ra felt her eyes roll back in their sockets.
Oh gods this was what death feels like. She wouldn’t die like this. Not when her mother and father needed her. Not at the hands of this witch.
She pounded the ground. Once, twice, harder each time, summoning all the power of Grayskull and the universe and the floor cracked. She pounded both hands down and the floor below shattered and gave out from beneath her. The jaws unclamped and she sucked in a lungful of sweet air. Catra and She-ra toppled to the ground below. She landed on her damaged shoulder and barked a sharp cry of pain. Before Catra could react She-ra grabbed the cat’s head and slammed it hard on the ground. She passed out and reverted to human form.
She-ra pushed herself to her feet and limped towards the door.
She wanted her sword back. Now.
The Sorceress had been sleeping more and more lately. Teela choked down her worry and left her, hoping this wouldn’t be the time when she slipped away in her sleep. The venom was picking away at her piece by piece. It was agonizing to watch.
She had just found a mother, and she was being ripped away from her. It wasn’t fair.
She walked the halls of the citadel. She had grown accustomed to the constant chill here. What she hadn’t grown used to was the solitude. Training had kept her busy, but she was sleeping little, and when the Sorceress slept Teela was alone in cavernous halls and empty rooms.
Unable to stop the part of her that would always be the daughter of Man At Arms, she went to the weaponroom once more. She caught her image in a polished shield. She was getting used to being a blonde, her true coloration revealed as the Sorceress lifted the enchantments from her. Hair color, slight shape of nose and jaw, eye color–they were practically twins. Or had been, before the bite of Hiss had made the powerful woman older and haggard.
There were swords by the score lining the walls, some shaped just like Adam’s power sword.
Adam…He-man? It was so unbelievable. But it was true. That clumsy, goofy prince was the greatest warrior Eternia had ever known. When the Sorceress had revealed it to her she thought it was some trick or joke. “The sorceress must know the truth,” she had said.
She left the swords and turned to other artifacts. She ran a hand over the case holding Count Marzo’s amulet.
Funny how it had had so many owners over the years including Skeletor himself but it was thought of as Marzo’s amulet exclusively. But no wonder. He had accomplished more with it over the years than any had.
It was a pretty little bauble though. It caught the light and held it, even if it was bathed in darkness. She ached to hold it, to feel the smoothness of its gemstone. To see how it caught the light if she…
Damn it! It was still a persuasive thing. The Sorceress had warned her of its seductions. She moved away from the case.
There was movement behind her. She spun quickly, raising a mystical shield. It was weak, but sprung to life easily for her. In time she would be able to strengthen it, when she tapped further into the magics.
Zodac raised his hand, flicked his wrist, and the shield fell. “Not good enough,” he said, and attacked.
She ducked and rolled out of the way of his attack. His offense was on two levels: physical and mystical, at once. “What are you doing?” she asked, reaching for a staff on the wall.
“Training will do much. But training alone will not do all.” He said. She saw herself reflected in the smooth ebony orbs of his helmet. A shield behind her slammed into her back, possessed by some force. She struck out with her staff. The shield clattered. Zodac pounded the ground and the citadel quaked, lifting her off her feet. She quickly righted herself and struck out with the staff, but Zodac was simply not where she had thrust. She blinked and he flickered, and then she felt his hand on her shoulder, lifting her and flinging her. Her nerves burned at his touch.
“Defend yourself on every level. Mental. Physical. Mystical. Metaphysical. To truly defend Grayskull—to truly be the guardian this planet needs–you must be ready to battle on every conceivable level of attack.”
She grabbed a pair of swords from the wall.
“I never thought I would have to battle a Cosmic Enforcer. You’re supposed to be the good guy.”
“Good and bad are meaningless terms created by mortals. And you are still too beholden to staff and steel.”
“A good blade has never let me down.”
“Then come and strike me. I am unarmed.”
“I won’t attack you.”
He took the initiative then. She had known Zodac all her life, either the legend of him or the man himself. She had heard stories of what he was capable of, though he was an enigma. She had heard of the power of Cosmic Enforcers. But when he attacked, all her skills and training as a warrior, a captain of the guard, and a future Sorceress were useless.
He evaded her dual blades with liquid ease, sliding through her defenses. His fist lashed out, his mind lashed out, his thoughts lashed out, his unbelievable reservoir of power lashed out, and she felt each point of attack on every level. She felt her soul stripped to its core, felt her nerves sizzle raw and wet, felt her mind give a shriek as she recalled every horror she had ever had to endure, and then Zodac was still, and she had dropped her swords and was on the ground.
“I am sorry, Teela. But now you know.”
“I’m not ready,” she said. Zodac held out his hand and helped her to her feet. “I’ll never be as strong as the Sor…as my mother. I know it.”
“Don’t be foolish. Do you think she was at the peak of her strength weeks into training? Months? Years? One does not stop training to be the guardian of the castle.”
“And she can teach me? You can teach me?”
Zodac smiled, the first time. “No. I have only shown you your weaknesses. There is another who can hone your abilities.” He stepped aside. Behind Zodac stood another like him, except with smooth ebony skin tattooed with intricate designs. His arms were folded and he glared at Teela.
“But be warned. He is not as gentle as I.”
Eternia’s past was littered with minor events that signaled greater tragedies. If one lived long enough, it became easy to recognize the patterns, to gauge the threat, and to predict when wars would begin.
And the man now known only as the Faceless one had lived a very long time.
A siege on the throne. A magical item bringing about great power. Good and evil locked in combat and betrayal; Eternia’s history was built on such events. Some had blossomed and then died as quickly, others had bred wars that consumed the planet. And still, Zalesia carried on, barren but for a single presence, clinging to the broken city like a shackled ghost, bearing out the centuries in ruins.
The Faceless one paced his shattered halls. He had been in possession of the amulet once, and knew of the power it contained. He knew more, in fact, than most that had held it. As with any, he had dealt with the temptations of such a powerful item and persevered.
“I was wondering when you would come,” he said. The shadows shifted and Evil-Lyn stepped out of them.
“How long have you known I was here?” she asked, brow cocked.
“One does not spend so long in a place without knowing when he has guests. It is good to see you, my daughter.”
He had long ago given up hope of a return of his affections. He searched her face but she may as well have been as faceless as he. “I’ve come for information,” was her only response.
He spread his hands. “Of course. Tell me what you wish to know about it. You want to know about the amulet, yes? Another step on your quest for total power, always searching for more and more.”
She regarded him icily. “Weaknesses. Strengths. How to control it.”
He laughed. “Control? No. Use, yes. Control…only a fool thinks he—or she–can control such a thing. I did not raise a fool.”
She threw back her head and sent harsh laughter throughout the ruined halls. “Raise? You raised nothing. You demanded. You enslaved. You kept me locked away here in this damned place. But you didn’t raise.”
He took a step towards her. “I will make no apologies for my actions. You don’t know what I gave up for you. You haven’t a clue.”
She lashed out, sweeping her hand and letting out a burst of magical energies. A stone wall was pulverized. Her power was impressive and frightening at once, and she hadn’t even reached her potential.
Her frigid control snapped back in place immediately. “I can see it was a mistake coming here for information. Forgive me for bothering you, father.” Contempt simmered in every syllable. She turned and strode away. Rubble shifted from her path.
She stopped. She didn’t turn around. He let out a sigh. “I would hope you reconsider. I would hope you do the right thing, this time. I would hope you realize what too much power has done to anybody who seeks it. But these are the hopes of someone who can do nothing but hope. So I will tell you this. The amulet is powered by many things, chief among them desire. It feeds off of it, and can be controlled by it. But it—and anybody who would wield it–can also be defeated by desire. Do you understand?”
She stood still and silent for a small amount of time, and then her head gave the slightest nod. She began to walk away, and then stopped once more. Words not much louder than a whisper, she asked “The amulet…it could free you?”
He hesitated. She still would not turn to face him. He chose his words. “If the desire is strong enough, anything is possible.”
She nodded again and left. The Faceless one watched his daughter vanish into shadow. He watched that spot for a long time, because time was the only thing he had in excess.
Snake Mountain shook.
The small boulder that Clawful’s attention was focused on rolled from the rickety table it rested on and fell to the floor. The Mountain shook once more, and he heard his “master’s” foul laughter.
Clawful knelt and picked up the boulder, set it back on his worktable. He inspected it, his large black brows furrowed over wet, beady eyes. It seemed unharmed. But it was still…wrong, somehow.
Clawful’s quarters—as all in Snake Mountain–were windowless and cramped, room enough for only a bed and a table, and nothing more. The rooms had not been built for creatures of physical stature, but for the snakes that the mountain had been named for. They had been scrawny creatures that needed little free space and slept infrequently. Clawful knew much about the former occupants of Snake Mountain.
He knew much about a lot of things. But as always it was best to be underestimated, so he spoke little, and kept to himself, content to be Skeletor’s brute force for now. It had been Skeletor who named him “Clawful”, and had enjoyed a great laugh at his expense. It was one of hundreds of indignities for which Clawful would one day have his revenge.
Noises emanated from the lower levels of Snake Mountain. They seemed to be coming from Skeletor’s throne room. It didn’t matter to Clawful. If he was summoned, he was summoned, but he didn’t plan on moving a single chitinous muscle to help the demon unless he was commanded to do so.
Though none of them spoke it out loud, all who worked for Skeletor wished him dead, and Clawful was no exception. It was just a fact of things, that tyrants were hated by those whose necks lay under their boots.
So he ignored the sounds of fire and frenzy and concentrated on the twin boulders that sat on his worktable.
He picked one up in his single massive claw and studied it.
Written in the stone was the imprecise visage of He-man, whose very flesh and bone head had only a short month ago been wrapped in Clawful’s grasp just as this stone one was.
Clawful felt that the cheeks were not heroic enough. With the blade-sharp tip of his smaller claw he tapped away stone until they echoed He-man’s features. Miniscule pebbles that were no longer part of He-man’s face rained to the floor.
And there was He-man, face forged in stone. Hatred simmered in Clawful’s gut. Hatred seemed to be all he had these days. His massive Claw had finally healed a week ago, and it felt strong again.
He set He-man’s head down next to another boulder of similar shape and size, this one imprinted with Skeletor’s hooded, bony face. Eternia’s hero, and Eternia’s villain.
How similar they seemed to Clawful. Both capable of great cruelty to those they believed to be the enemy.
He opened and closed his massive claw. He recalled He-Man’s expression as he snapped it: no regret, no guilt, only pleasure at the besting of an enemy.
Was that so unlike Skeletor?
He brought his claw up and slammed it down on He-man’s handsome, heroic features, and the boulder smashed to powder under his attack. He did the same to Skeletor, and it followed suit, turning to powder.
One day the real heads would find the same fate.
The throne room was silent. The noises of battle had ceased. Clawful walked to his door and peered down the long hall. Tri-Klops sped from his lab. “What’s happening,” Clawful yelled. Tri stopped, and his visor spun. A single red eye glared at Clawful but the man did not turn around.
“We’re under attack.”
“It’s just the wizard and Skeletor playing,” Clawful grunted, and was about to return to his quarters.
“No. From outside.” Tri-Klops still did not afford him the dignity to turn and speak to him.
Clawful snorted. “Outside? Who? Eternos and its champions are on Etheria. Who is left?”
Tri-Klops allowed a small turn of his head. “Everybody else.”
The sounds of battle had ebbed, and then ceased altogether after a prolonged string of explosions. The palace had finally stopped quaking. Queen Marlena paced what may have been considered spacious quarters—fit for a King and Queen—but now seemed cramped and confining. In times like these the elegant bedchambers were a prison. Guards were posted outside her door, ordered not to let her out. She knew it was no use trying to Queen her way past them: they answered to the King and the King alone.
She cursed Randor’s stubbornness while simultaneously hoping that she would see her king alive again.
Helpless, the Queen moved to the window as she had many times since planetfall, but she was rewarded only with a broad field choked with some of the most beautiful flowers she had ever seen. Black smoke played with fluffy white clouds. The mixture unsettled her, but much about Etheria unsettled her.
She could scarcely believe she was on Etheria again. It had been a long time since her last visit, when she had found her daughter. Letting her go after so long had been heartbreaking in a way not even Randor would have been unable to know. She had spent years wondering, hoping, and then to have to say goodbye again…she carried that agony inside her like a mortal wound, always there, just behind the regal smile.
Queen Marlena had tried to live up to the example set by her daughter’s courage since that day, and she called on every ounce of that courage as she waited to hear word about her King.
She moved from the window. The sunlight pouring in the window was the only light in the room. The palace was no longer connected to its main power source, having been enchanted away from its moorings and deposited blind and deaf on this cursed world.
It was one more slice of amazing in a life that had been full of amazing. Her time on Eternia now almost equaled her time on earth. She thought about how young she had been…close to her daughter’s age. But her daughter had her bested in bravery, she believed. She had been an explorer, an adventurer, she allowed…but not a hero. Not a savior. Not like her daughter.
A flash of light burst behind her. She spun around, reaching beneath her emerald dress for the pistol she always kept secreted away there. It melted into her hand like easy butter and she raised it before registering the threat.
“Your majesty.” The flat, chilling voice said. Marlena squinted and fired her weapon at Hordak.
He didn’t even flinch. Her shots dissipated a foot from him, as if afraid of coming too close to his presence. She squeezed another round off but he shook his head and the gun heated until she couldn’t hold it anymore. She dropped it and it pattered steaming to the floor. The door burst open and a pair of guards rushed in, responding to the shots.
Hordak held out a hand. It flared once and they were alone again. Twin piles of ash decorated the doorframe. He returned his attention to her.
Marlena backed away from him. Fierce anger burned in her chest. She inspected his depthless red eyes for his intentions, but could not read him. She drew herself up, steeled herself and set her chin, and spoke words that shadowed the fear in her breast. “If you’ve come to kill me then do so, but know that my King will burn this world down around you for it.”
Hordak nodded. He took a few steps toward her. “This, I do not doubt. I know of the deeds written in his blood.” He was closer now. She could smell him, the raw stink of burning air and ancient evil. “But I have not come to make a King grieve, milady.”
“Then speak your business and leave my palace, demon.”
He allowed a smile. “You are quite brave for such a…brief creature. Horde has existed from before your people were capable of thought, and will endure when even the dust of your civilization has been forgotten. But still you fight. Still you fight. As your daughter fights to this day. You remind me of her. I wonder if you’re as capable of cruelty. If you can delight in screams as she did when she worked for me.”
He raised a finger and touched it to her shoulder. Pain sliced down the nerve endings. She pressed her teeth together and suffered the pain. “She could make anyone confess their entire life’s sins in a matter of minutes.” He twisted his finger, and the pain increased. Marlena bit down hard on the pain, conjured an image of her daughter, her son, drew on their strength, and resisted the urge to scream. “How proud that made me. I always admired her skill for atrocity. Such a pity. Such a waste.”
He removed his finger. Her shoulder ached. Her arm burned. Beads of sweat peppered her forehead. She breathed deeply and remained rigid.
“Is your business concluded?” she asked, trying to keep the quiver from her voice.
“Not quite. I only wished to tell you something, something you may have wondered about for a long time.”
“Then do so.”
“Your life, your king, your children, your love…have you ever wondered who opened the portal that led you to Eternia? Have you ever wondered if it was really just chance? Or perhaps your arrival on Eternia was the opening gambit of a grand plan. My plan, your majesty. Horde Plan. You will learn that all is Horde. Even destiny is Horde destiny. Think on that and what you owe Horde.” He gave her a small, clipped bow, barely a tilt of the head. “Farewell, my queen.”
With that Marlena was once again alone. Etherian sunlight poured through her chamber window, and the silence of the displaced palace drank the secret fears of a lost Queen, offering no comfort in return.
Deep within the Bloodsnake swamp, where few Eternians had dared to travel, something raged. The few indigenous creatures that made their home in such inhospitable terrain slunk away from the sounds. The low throb of insects was outmatched by primal, inhuman noises from a throat that seemed incapable of fatigue. The sounds had been going on for hours, piercing the sodden air.
A slumped form raged at the swamp, splintering trees, ripping chunks of sod from the ground and hurling them savagely, directionless anger pouring out at its surroundings. Lips skinned back from fangs as rage poured forth from a ravaged throat. Rot-green skin quivered.
Man-E-Faces let the monster soak in its rage. Controlling it was often exhausting. And when he let it out, it sometimes took every ounce of his energy to keep it from killing everything and everyone around it, friend, foe, woman, child…so here, in one of the most desolate places on Eternia, he could let the rage out, and let the monster free. Deep inside the body he shared with the Monster, he could feel its anger and was terrified of what it was capable of.
A long time ago, when he had first been bonded to the thing, Zodac had taught him meditations that would heal soothe the beast and allow him to reassert control. He called on those now, relaxing the savage side of himself. Finally, the monster that was a part of Man-E-Faces seemed spent. He stumbled to a tree, and reclaimed his humanity, submerging the monster deep within himself again. He leaned back against the tree and breathed the thick air, and listened to the sounds of hesitant insects.
Underneath the growing sounds of chirping and buzzing, he heard a steady drone. He pushed himself off the tree and headed to the Sky Sled that had brought him here. The comm unit was wailing at him.
He listened to the message, hopped on and took flight, leaving the swamp behind until he had need of its services again. As he rode he replayed the message. The palace was gone? He wondered how such a thing could be possible. The King and Queen, He-man, kidnapped and sent off-world, and Skeletor, always Skeletor, responsible.
Skeletor, who had shackled the Monster to his soul.
Skeletor who was responsible for this nightmare he lived.
He increased his speed. A quick meeting, and within a short amount of time Man-E was outside of Snake Mountain, on a treacherously small path riddled with lava, flanked by an army made up of Andreenids, Qadians, Avions and humans. In his absence, Buzz Off, Stratos and Carnivus had amassed every available soldier to storm Skeletor’s home and force the demonlord to return the palace. Man-E-Faces had not hesitated to join in the fight.
Winged simians and Bee-Men crisscrossed the air above Snake Mountain, burdened with weaponry. Hundreds of weapons focused on the gates. And they waited.
Man-E leveled his weapon at the gate, wanting one clean shot at Skeletor. The Monster simmered just under the surface. If he could not have freedom, then he would have revenge.
The gate opened.
Skeletor strode from Snake Mountain. His Havoc staff tapped the ground with each step. Man-E could see the burning red of his eyes from where he stood. Behind Skeletor his lieutenants followed—monsters that made the one behind his face seem like a child. In the face of an army their numbers seemed paltry and pathetic.
Stratos landed beside Man-E. “Are you ok?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“We know what Skeletor did to you.”
“I said I’ll be fine.”
Stratos laid a hand on his shoulder. “We may have need of the Monster. And of…the other.”
Man-E turned. “You can have the monster He’s eager to come out and play. But the other? No. I will not set him free.”
Man-E saw himself reflected in Stratos’ goggles. “We may not have a choice, my friend.”
Man-E shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”
“I do. Believe me…”
Man-E-Faces took a breath. Skeletor raised his staff. Hundreds of weapons lifted and aimed at him. Skeletor held his ground. They remained that way. Skeletor seemed to enjoy the audience.
Finally Skeletor spoke. “I am honored by the numbers you have gathered, that you believe me such a threat. However, as is customary on this pathetic planet, you have severely underestimated that threat.”
He brought his havoc staff down. A blue-green jolt of energy surged across the ground from point of contact. Hundreds of itching trigger fingers clenched. The energy dissipated into the ground without effect.
Skeletor returned the staff to his side. The army waited.
And then the craggy hills and valleys of Snake Mountain came to life.
Skeletor laughed. It was long and loud, and it echoed around the ancient Mountain. He continued laughing as he turned away, flicking his wrist at his Lieutenants to return to Snake mountain, as the ground around the Mountain cracked and crumbled and thousands of Skeleton Warriors clattered to life around the now pathetically outmanned army of Eternia. The sound of bones rattling seemed to drown out all other noise as the warriors dragged themselves to their bony feet drowned out all other noise.
“Open Fire!” Buzz Off and Stratos screamed as one, and the army did so. Man-E began picking off Skulls one by one, deep in his heart pretending each was Skeletor. They kept coming. He fired and fired until his blaster went dry. He took a breath, and his face shifted, and he let the Monster free.
The Skeleton warriors were not srong, but they were many. Man-E-Faces was not many, but he was strong. As the army fired and were impaled by Skeleton warrior weapons, Man-E roared and shattered them, destroying bones and cracking skulls in his fist. But they still came. Man-E let the Monster rage against the enemy. But only the enemy. He had enough control so the monster never harmed a single ally.
Stratos joined him, and they fought back to back. They heard the screams of multiple races as they died. “This was a mistake, he was right. We underestimated him.”
The monster roared.
“Man-E, if you can hear me in there, we need him.”
“No!” the monster roared. He lashed out, punched his fist through a skull.
“You know we do!”
Man-E submerged the Monster. His human face reclaimed its rightful spot. He picked up a fallen sword and fought off attacking Skeletons. “Stratos…”
“By the Gods, let him free!”
“So be it,” Man-E-Faces said. His face spun.
And then the Robot was in charge.
Targeting systems engaged. The Robot lifted two rifles from a pair of fallen Andreenids. It analyzed them, learned their firing mechanism and best firing patterns for the weapons.
The robot positioned himself in the center of the mini-war and began destroying Skeleton Warriors. Each shot a direct hit in the center of each Warriors Skull. By the dozens, warriors fell to his uncanny mechanized aim.
But the robot did not care about friend. Though it began winnowing the enemy numbers by the score, it also fired through plenty of their own soldiers. Sometimes a superficial wound, a shot through a bicep to shatter a skull, others a dead shot through the center of a soldiers mass to destroy three Skullfaces with the same shot. Acceptable loss.
It didn’t discern. It didn’t care. It had a mission. It had a job. And all that stood in its way was useless.
That was why the robot terrified Man-E.
The rifles dried. He lifted another pair from dead meat and continued his assault, never tiring, never missing, with no pity and no empathy.
Internal sensors kept a tally.
Enemies destroyed 247.
Collateral damage: 3 dead, 15 wounded.
Sy-Klone regretted not being able to join the battle. He hoped the others were faring well, but he had received a summons from the Sorceress, and that was something one doesn’t ignore. He broke off from the army storming towards Snake Mountain and headed for Castle Grayskull, curious as to what need she would have of him.
At top speed he made it to Grayskull quickly. He touched down and waited. The massive stone behemoth loomed over him. He wondered if he should call out, but finally, the jawbridge lowered, and he flew inside, his spinning winds kicking up old dust as he journeyed deep into Grayskull.
He settled to the ground. It seemed large inside, much larger than he was expecting. He frowned at stone walls that stretched out in every direction for what felt like infinity. “Sorceress?”
He heard a growl. Wind spun at his feet, and from the shadows Battle Cat strode, a bandage wrapped around his midsection. The cat’s growl shifted to a purr in the back of his throat. Sy-Klone scratched the large beast behind the ears. “Good to see you too my friend. Are your wounds serious?
Battle Cat shook his head. The intelligence behind his eyes always amazed Sy-Klone. He was a singular creature.
“The sorceress, have you…”
Battle Cat tilted his head to the right, and Sy-Klone followed his hint. Where there had been wall there was now a long hall. Sy-Klone nodded. “Rest well. There are many enemies out there.”
Sy-Klone left the cat and strolled down the hall. At the end of what felt an interminable walk, he came to a large round portal filled with blackness. As he entered, it lit up, and various images flickered across it.
Some he recognized, others were alien to him.
It settled on an image of a giant with infected, gangrene skin locked in combat with another giant. The giants battled a singular battle as other, smaller combatants waged their own smaller war at their feet.
“He is called Megator,” a voice called from the shadows. “His threat ended millennia ago, but threats such as his never end.”
Sy-Klone turned to the shadows, and saw the haze of a figure resting in them. “Sorceress. It is an honor.”
“Thank you for your swiftness. I am sorry to keep you from battle, but I have need of your powers.”
“You know about the palace then.”
“Of course. It is my regret that I set this in motion…inadvertently. I sent He-man on the journey that woke this particular menace again.”
“And the amulet that powers him. Power that Skeletor has usurped. Dangerous, dangerous power. Power to sentence a palace to doom, unless you and I can return it.”
Sy-Klone watched the green skinned giant slay the other giant. “Gods…”
“The past is brutal.” The screen flickered, shifted. “Do you know what you are looking at now?”
On the screen was a shimmering city, desolate and peaceful. “Of course. That is Anwat Gar. My home. Once my home, at least.”
“There are many secrets in Eternia’s past. Some that have been buried so long that the memories of them are but ghosts, never to stir again. And there are some secrets that reside in plain sight today, hidden in ignorance.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Gar perfected many technologies in their time. Most of it used for cruelty. Null bombs and the like. Awful technology. But some of their creations expanded Eternia’s knowledge of the universe around them. They created the technology that allows interdimensional travel. Because of this work Eternia mapped the five dimensions. But it was not long before they weaponized this gift. So when their threat was ended, the technology was disbanded, and disallowed. Only the rarest of items allow such travel now, to keep the likes of Hordak from re-establishing his control over Eternia.”
“Why do you tell me this?”
“Your TECH vest, Sy-Klone. You control the winds of nature, the solar winds, the cosmic winds—these are great powers which you wisely do not underestimate. You and you alone bear the burden of such terrible power. But in addition, the dimensional winds are yours to control as well. It is one of the last items that can bridge this world and Etheria. You can bring the palace and our friends home.”
She-ra ran down yet another interminable corridor. One of the things she had prided herself on in her time as Force Captain had been making it as hard to get out of the Fright Zone as it was to break in. There were numerous shifting walls and labyrinthine corridors built into the Zone at her behest that would only twist an escapee into knots and eventual resignation and recapture. She had thought she knew the place well enough, but a single bad turn was all it took to become hopelessly lost, and that was exactly what she was.
She had healed from Catra’s attack, but she was exhausted. And no wonder; she had been scratched, kicked, punched, blown up, bitten and dropped through a floor. She felt lucky to be moving at all.
She stopped to rest a second. The longer she was without contact with her sword, the more fatigued she seemed to grow. She wondered if there was a connection there, or if these powers had a limit. She knew so little of the power the sword offered. Her brother would know. She would ask him, if he was still alive. No, he would find a way. He always did. She needed to get to her brother, and her family, and find some way of getting them home. She didn’t know how the Eternian palace had come to be on Etheria, but she knew that Skeletor must have been involved. The demon seemed involved in everything that led to Hordak. Her own kidnapping as a baby and what she had endured on this world was something for which She-ra would one day have her revenge, among countless other sins.
Rested enough, she traversed another handful of halls. She had no idea if Hordak still had her sword, or if he had stored it somewhere. She thought maybe she would have felt it if she drew close to it, but so far nothing.
She slid her palm down cold metal walls. The entire Fright Zone seemed empty. She didn’t know if that was good news or bad news. She knew didn’t feel up to running into Grizzlor or Catra again, nor any of Hordak’s other little friends, but if they weren’t here, then they would be storming the palace.
She took a few more steps, but slumped to the wall again, legs shaking underneath her, barely able to support her. She leaned her weight against the wall and she continued step by agonizing step. Her joints ached. Her muscles—capable of so much—seemed incapable of keeping her slight frame vertical. All she wanted to do was lay down and sleep. It was taking every erg of her considerable power to keep her eyelids open. Almost as if she was being…
Her legs finally gave out, and she dropped to the ground, managing one last burst of energy to roll onto her back.
Leech advanced on her. His tongue flicked across his stalactite row of teeth lasciviously, red jewel eyes gleaming as they roved over her body. She kicked her legs out and scooted backwards across the slick floor, but she couldn’t move fast enough. He laid one of his pulsing suckerpalms on her leg and yanked her back to him. On contact her leg burned. A cramp spread across seizing muscles.
Leech closed his eyes. His mouth rippled, and he let out a sigh. “You’re delicious. Such power.” He tugged her closer, she grabbed at the wall but she was as weak as a frail breeze. He clamped his other probing suckerpalm onto her shoulder and lifted her, pinning her to the wall.
She kicked but it was ineffectual. Blind panic raced through her. She felt herself going to sleep. Leech was lost in his ecstasy, drinking her life away. His mouth was close to her face, his breath hot and moist on her face.
The corridor spun and she felt her consciousness slip away. He was killing her, and there was nothing she could do about it.
She-Ra was right at the precipice of unconsciousness when the impact of the floor jolted her out of her semi-catatonia. Too weak to move, she managed to shift her head slightly to see what had happened to Leech, but he was nowhere in her field of vision.
Her strength was returning. She felt a hand under her arm, and she managed to bat it away. It took everything out of her, but she put both palms down and lifted herself off the floor. It wasn’t metal as she was expecting, however, it was stone. She flexed near-dead neck muscles and a familiar sight awaited her.
“Nice to see you too, She-ra.” He knelt. “Mind not whapping my hand away this time?”
She allowed him to help her to her feet. Her vision was blurred, but she picked out strange forms surrounding her, but they were just shapes. Bow led her to a table. “Who…” Then she saw her brother, her father. “Where…how did I get here?”
A floating red rag topped by an oversized hat sailed into her frame of sight. “That would be me.” He waggled blue fingers at her. “Hiya She-ra.”
“Orko!” She looked around. “This isn’t the Fright zone, then? I’m in the Palace? Orko, you did this? But how?”
He-man stepped forward. “It seems here on Etheria our…let’s say trouble-prone friend’s magic is trouble free.”
Bow snickered. “Wonder if Razz would be of use on Eternia.”
Orko waggled his fingers some more. Sparks danced at their tips. “It’s working. It’s actually working. I was…er…hiding under my bed when I realized that my powers felt different. I don’t need my wand or anything. I just conjured up an image of you in my head…easy because you’re so pretty,” he said, and she thought the Trollan blushed if such a thing were possible “and here you are.”
“Well you have my infinite gratitude Orko.” Away from Leech, she felt her strength returning. “But I’m going to have to return to the Fright Zone.” She-ra turned to He-man. “That monster still has my sword.”
“That’s ok,” Orko said. “I feel like I can take the entire Horde on by myself” he swooped around.
He-man took She-Ra’s arm. “We need to talk. Privately.”
Hordak held Leech up by his thick neck, his voice thick with anger. Leech’s feet dangled inches off the floor. “Explain to me how you let her get away.”
Hordak had returned to the Fright Zone from his visit to the Queen expecting at the least to find an unconscious She-ra, and at the most a dead one. Neither option would have bothered him. He was tired of the game. He had the sword. That was all he needed.
Catra watched the two of them, her face bruised. She kept her distance. “She overpowered me. Are you truly surprised?”
Leech’s tongue flailed from his mouth. He gasped. Hordak increased his pressure, and then turned his anger on Catra. “Watch your tone, kitten. I still have not heard an adequate excuse from either of you how you let her escape the Fright Zone alive.”
Leech reached his hands up, suckers pulsing. Hordak’s eyes narrowed to slits. “And I’d advise you to keep your hands to yourself, vampire. You will find my power is highly…indigestible.”
Leech’s hands retreated. Hordak released him and he slumped to the floor. “Now. Explain.”
“Dis…disappeared,” Leech said, gagging. He climbed to his feet. Hordak shook his head.
“Not her. Something else.”
Leech stumbled away, slinking behind Catra, who remained rigid, hands clasped behind her back. She was scratched and bloodied, but her face was calm. Hordak could almost respect that.
He lifted his head. “Hm. You may be right. I sense magic, but…unusual magic. Not unfamiliar, however.”
“My lord…” catra began, but Hordak held up a hand, and she retreated into silence again.
The remnants of the magic used to spirit She-ra out of the Fright zone had left behind a familiar texture in the air. Finally, he plucked the memory of it from his mind. “Of course. Of course. This…stink. I recognize it. Trollan magic.”
His fist clenched. Bones cracked and shifted and his arm reshaped in a sizzle of white electricity and black smoke. He held out his newly formed cannon and a burst of black energy turned a wall into molten debris.
“Trollans! On my world!”
Bones snapped, smoke ebbed, and Hordak ground his fist, cracking reshaped knuckles. “Force Captain Catra.”
“Yes my lord.”
Hordak glared at Leech and then turned to Catra. “There is a Trollan on Etheria. The most loathsome race in existence, and a threat to the very foundation of Horde. This cannot stand.”
“What are your orders, my lord?”
“Burn every inch of Etheria until that creature’s body joins the flames.”
Optikk surveyed the beginnings of the battle outside Snake Mountain from a fair distance away. No matter what the witch was paying him for that amulet, it was not enough to wade into the likes of that. He watched as Skeletor summoned a veritable sea of those skeleton things from nothing and figured even his typical Denebrian anti-magic shielding would be no good against somebody of that magnitude of power.
Which was fine. He didn’t intend on direct confrontation anyway. He just needed the amulet.
He saw it dangling around Skeletor’s neck just before the boneface left his army behind.
Optikk let out a frustrated sigh. Nothing was going to be easy on this world. The things he did for money.
Twin jets popped from the back of his armor and he took flight, noiselessly landing on a shallow precipice high above Snake Mountain, just under the gargantuan snake heads that dominated the skyline. His sensors located an abandoned opening and he used it to gain entrance into the mountain.
Inside Snake Mountain, he met with little resistance as he descended down through back passages and secret paths that Evil-Lyn had provided him with. He reminded himself never to turn his back on that one.
He hid behind an outcropping at the base of some stairs as footsteps passed by. He waited until they were gone before slipping into the throne room. Despite his armor and his bulk, he was swift and silent.
Skeletor was nowhere to be seen. A bloodied body lay crumpled in a corner. It was still breathing, but faintly, and unconscious. More of the Skeleton man’s handiwork, no doubt.
He walked to the edge of a raised circle of stone. Inside was a pool of blue-black water. He waved a finger in it and it shimmered and something blossomed in the center of it. The ripples spread. He saw a vision of himself rocketing over a craggy landscape. Behind him another man followed, also jet-propelled, with sturdy metal glider wings. In the rippling image, Optikk turned and fired on the man, but missed, and the man returned the fire. Optikk saw himself take a shot to his chest. Sparks popped and spit and his jets gave out. He fell.
Optikk focused on the face of the man who had shot him. Was he seeing the future in this pool? He studied the man’s face, memorized his chiseled jaw analyzed his weapons, and catalogued him away. If this was the future, he would know this man one day, and this scene would never come to pass.
He heard a low pitched growl. He spun, and a large shadow-shrouded creature stood and bared long glistening fangs.
“Whoa, nice kitty.”
The beast growled again, loud and long. No way would Skeletor have missed that.
It leapt. Optikk ducked and jammed a metal clad fist into where he believed the beast’s major nerve cluster would be. It yelped and crumpled to the ground. Optikk heard movement to his left. He put his foot on the cat and leveled his blaster at the cat’s head.
Skeletor strode into his throne room, Eyes burning. Behind him were a few assorted freaks that Optikk had never seen before nor care about now, except for the one with a singular eye glaring at him. He almost made Optikk feel at home.
Skeletor surveyed the room. His eyes landed on the crumpled body, and then returned to Optikk. “Leave us.”
The freaks behind him hesitated, but Skeletor didn’t repeat himself. Finally they left them behind. Optikk tilted his head to the one-eyed-man. The eye spun, and another eye clicked into place, red and angry. Nice trick.
Skeletor waited until the door shut and they were alone. Then he addressed Optikk. “I do not recognize you from He-man’s band of allies, and I am familiar with most bounty hunters, criminals, and assorted scum on this world. Therefore, you’re an offworlder. I will assume that is organic, and not a stylized helmet.”
“I will admit I am not familiar with your race. You know of me?”
“I’ve heard stories.”
“You know what I am capable of doing to trespassers.”
Optikk nodded again. Outside the mountain the sounds of battle continued. Screams and weaponfire mixed together. It sounded like a slaughter.
“Then I will assume your fearlessness means you are either highly optimistic, or you are resistant to magic in some way. Otherwise, you would not dare to be here, in my domain.”
“Correct again.” Optikk said. He didn’t much like this. Boneface was too calm. He supposed creatures this powerful could afford to be calm, but this one seemed almost bored.
“Very well. I will assume you are not here to assassinate my pet. A bargaining chip. You want something.” He raised a black-nailed finger and tapped the amulet hanging from his neck. “How much is Evil-Lyn paying you to retrieve this?”
Optikk said nothing, considering. The saw no harm in being straightforward. “An appropriate amount. You don’t sound surprised.”
Skeletor waved a hand dismissively. “I would be disappointed if the witch had not been involved. I assumed she would have taken an active hand, or tried to sway one of my lackeys, but bringing in an outsider is a new trick.” He brushed past Optikk on his way to his throne. “What is she paying you?”
Optikk considered his options and then stated his fee. Plus some.
Skeletor took his throne. He snapped his fingers, and twin bags of coins appeared at Optikk’s feet. “That is double what she was paying. Plus extra. Will that hasten your exit from my affairs?”
Optikk scanned the coins, and then looked back at Skeletor, whose fingers were tended, eyes glowing from under the shaded hood. The noise continued unabated outside. Optikk had the feeling that negotiations were over. “And the witch?”
“My business. Ours, however, has concluded. Leave Eternia and feel privileged that Skeletor was in a good mood this day.”
Optikk depowered his weapon. “Apologies about your pet. He should be fine in an hour or so.”
Skeletor said nothing. Optikk scooped up his coins and swiftly left the throne room, and made his way out of Snake Mountain for good.
He almost felt sorry for the witch. Almost.
Just outside the Fright Zone, He-man carried the limp form of his sister through the gates. Bow swiftly dispatched a pair of guards. He-man barely gave them a second glance. Orko remained behind, just outside the Zone perimeter, having provided transportation from the Palace, where Duncan and Teela stood guard.
Bow grabbed He-man’s arm. “Are you sure about this?”
He-man nodded. “Send them a message.”
Bow fired off a pair of arrows. They detonated against the door to the gate. Alarms blared. He-man didn’t slow, but lifted a foot and finished the job the arrows began, shattering the gate to the Fright Zone. He entered, Bow following behind. She-ra jostled with he-man’s footsteps but did not stir. Bow let his namesake do his talking, downing troopers while He-man continued his trek.
“I’m not sure about this anymore,” Bow said. “This is the dumbest stunt ever.”
He-man tucked his head to the right as a laser burst singed his blond locks. “Too late to turn back now,” he said. Then he filled his lungs. “Hordak! Show yourself! Stop hiding behind your armies!”
They proceeded down a hall. Bow fired off another arrow. “Almost out,” bow said, and plucked a rifle from a trooper’s hand. He-man kicked his way through another door. “Hordak!”
The troopers stopped firing. Bow squeezed off a few bursts and then joined He-man. “This can’t be good,” he said.
Hordak emerged from behind a garrison of troopers. He glared at He-man’s burden. “The woman is dead?”
He-man said nothing. He placed his lips on She-ra’s forehead, and then cast her aside, dropping her to the polished floor. “A vessel that is now empty. I brought her body here, that her spirit may witness my revenge.”
He-man drew his sword. Hordak shook his head. “I will not sully my hands on a brute such as you.”
From behind him, a large figure emerged. Hordak departed.
A thick creature with a length of what appeared to be pipe jutting from his face moved from the shadows. He-man turned to Bow, who shrugged.
“I’ve never seen him before.” Bow said. “And I’d remember that one.”
The creature moved closer to He-man. Bow leveled an arrow at him. “And what are you called, creature?”
The length of pipe that dangled from his face undulated like a snake. “Snout Spout.”
Bow laughed. “That’s a name?”
Snout Spout’s eyes narrowed. “You have no room to speak, ‘Bow’.”
Bow lowered his arrow. “Do we know each other?”
“Doesn’t matter now,” Snout Spout said, and the undulating hose rose. It fired. Bow caught a burst of laser fire square in his chest, blasting him off his feet.
He-man rushed the creature, slicing his sword downward, intending to slice that weapon off its face, but he underestimated its speed. It caught He-man’s arms with massive hands, trapping his sword above his head, and then the spout wrapped around He-man’s neck, squeezing hard enough to pop off a normal man’s head like a mushroom.
He-man grabbed the creature’s shoulders and flung them both into and through a wall, leaving behind Bow and his sister’s body.
Outside the Fright zone perimeter, Orko floated back and forth and waited. In his hand he had conjured a magical looking glass, and waited for the signal.
In the glass, Orko watched He-man lift his sister and toss her to the ground. Orko grimaced.
“A vessel that is now empty.” He-man said from the shimmering glass in Orko’s hand. “I brought her body here, that her spirit may witness my revenge.”
Orko spun around. “There’s your cue, Spirit old boy.”
Behind Orko a gleaming white horse whinnied. Orko ran a hand down his coat and the horse nodded. “Thank you my little friend,” the horse said. Talking horses. What a world, Orko thought.
The horse took off. Through his looking glass, Orko watched Spirit storm through the shattered Gate. She-ra lifted herself from the floor and leapt astride Spirit as he charged down the hall. Orko waggled his fingers at the looking glass and the scene shifted.
Sword. Sword Sword. Gotta find the sword, he thought. Where would Hordak have….got it! He returned the scene in the looking glass to She-ra racing down the Fright Zone corridors. “She-ra, raise a hand if you can hear me.”
She-ra did so, racing down corridors at blinding speed. “Your sword is in a stasis field in the detention zone.”
She-ra waved a hand. Orko watched as she sped to her sword, retrieved it and then turned its energy on Spirit. The horse grew a set of strong, elegant wings and She-ra turned the sword’s power skyward, where it blew through several layers of Fright Zone architecture. Orko looked up and saw a dense column of pulsating energy bubbles sail into the smog-coated sky high above the Fright Zone. Seconds later She-ra and Swiftwind followed. They landed beside Orko, who spun around and pumped his hands in the air. “Way to go She-ra.”
“I owe you yet again.” She-ra said, dismounting. She patted Swiftwind’s muzzle and regarded the Fright zone. “Now let’s see about getting Bow and my brother out of that terrible place?”
It seemed like ages ago. It seemed like seconds ago. Evil-Lyn remembered placing her hand on her lover’s shoulder, scared, sick with worry, and he brushed her off, his body shaking from pain. She reached for him, unwilling to let him go. He barked his agony at her and she jerked her hand away. The acid had done its work. Keldor was dying. The only person that had ever given a damn about her was about to leave her alone again. “Please,” she said as he shrugged her off.
He stumbled towards the pool that lay in his throne room.
“You can’t help me,” he said. “Only he can.”
“Him you’ll allow to help and not me?”
Keldor spun, and turned his melted face on her. Acid-spattered rows of teeth grinded with pain beneath twisted, sizzling cheek. His blue skin was scarred and pitted. The handsome, regal man she had known seemed erased by a monster. His eyes were near blind. “You can do nothing for me!” He said. “Now leave me.”
She had retreated then, just outside the throne room, just where she stood now. She heard him call to Hordak, summoning him, and beg him for help. She had been capable of fear then, and caring. She had been whole, or as near whole as one such as she could be.
There had been sounds. Excruciating sounds. Keldor had screamed. Screams she had never heard before. She cursed Randor as her love screamed. She cursed Eternia, cursed Keldor, cursed the Gods and Goddesses, cursed herself.
After what had felt like an interminable amount of time, she heard a voice, soft, familiar and yet altered in some way. She remembered taking that first tentative step back into Keldor’s throne room. He was no longer at the pool, but had taken a seat at his throne.
“Did he help?”
Keldor had been silent.
Now, in the present, Evil Lyn walked into Skeletor’s throne room, as she had done so long ago.
In her mind she approached Keldor, and the shadows seemed to part, and she saw what had become of the man she loved.
And now, she approached the man, demon, thing that had once been Keldor. If she had any love at all left for him, she could barely remember it.
The amulet rested on his chest.
“Always in search of power, my dear. Did I not grant you enough once?”
In her mind, Keldor stood from his throne, the ruin of his face gone, dissipated by Hordak. She faced the eternal grin and a jagged scream stuck in her throat.
“Dead. We are dead. And we are alive. We…I am no longer Keldor, call me…”
“Skeletor, you know my nature.” Evil Lyn said. “Can you blame me?”
“Blame? No. Punish? Yes.”
In the past, the thing her love had become had laid a finger on her cheek, and it was tender as Keldor’s hand had once been. But then Skeletor laid a black nail into her cheek, slicing it open from brow to jaw. “You have sought power, Evelyn. Always seeking to increase your knowledge of the dark arts.” He grabbed her jaw in his hand. She remained quiet, but tears burned in her eyes. “So learn now true power.”
Skeletor, Keldor…whatever he was or had become, was more powerful than she had ever seen him. He opened her mind to everything she had wished to know. Ancient secrets from something that was twisted and chained inside Keldor’s body flowed forth. The power twisted her insides, churned at her guts, burned her nerves. Her skin revolted, aching. It was too much too quickly. The porcelain hue of her skin sickened, shifted, and he released her, let her fall to the floor. She stared at her yellowed skin and then looked up at Skeletor. “My final gift, Evelyn.”
She had stared at the burden of his gift in every mirror and reflective surface since then, and had learned a hatred that blacked out the sun.
“Punishment?” She laughed. “Punishment? You don’t know the meaning of the word, Skeletor.” She unleashed lightning from her palms, and it crackled across the floor. “Punishment is this life, with you, shackled to you, never free from you. Punishment is having known the bond we once shared, the memory of it, festering in my mind, and never having that again. Punishment is waking every day and spending my time in service to a demon, when once we were equals. There is nothing you can do to punish me further, Master,” She spit out the last word, and the air around her was hot with her fury.
Skeletor’s bony face was, as ever, a wall, impenetrable to her. He walked to his pool. “I had victory briefly, but it will not last. Already they are bridging the gap between worlds, and He-man will be back on Eternia, and the palace back in its place, and my brother will reclaim his rightful throne. It never lasts. My triumphs are brief. My Skeleton warriors will soon be destroyed. I have taken my casualties, but that is cold comfort. In the end I am here.” He turned to her. His eyes flared. “With you at my side, as always.” There was no trace of emotion in his words.
She said nothing. She remembered her father’s words. Desire. Desire above all else was something she knew intimately.
His attention was drawn to the amulet resting on his chest. He tilted his head like an animal scenting the air. “Your attempt is crude. The amulet is with its rightful owner.”
Evil-Lyn turned to him, fury boiling inside her, mixed with a desire blossoming in her heart the likes of which she had not known since before acid stole the love from Keldor’s eyes.
Drawn to her, the amulet popped into Evil-Lyn’s hands, the chain snapping. Across the room, Marzo stirred, bloodied, near-death. He peered at her beneath a blood-coated chunk of hair.
Skeletor shook his head. “What can you do to me with that,” he said.
“I want, Skeletor. I need. You think you know about desire? You’re a petty little prince without a castle. You know nothing of pain.”
She closed her hand around the amulet. She thought of her father. And in the throne room of Snake Mountain her father appeared, free of Zalesia for the first time in millennia. He looked from Evil-Lyn to Skeletor and back again, shocked beyond words.
“My father first. My love next.” She said, and wished again.
The Faceless one held out a hand. “Lyn, no!”
But the amulet did as she wished.
Skeletor dropped to a knee, and screamed. It was an uncommon sound, and horrible. Snake Mountain shuddered.
Light issued from his bony grin. His eyes were white-hot spotlights. Then he flared, and split in two. His face was as it was the last time she saw him, melted and acid-scarred. With a wish she healed him.
She knelt and took his handsome face into her hands. “Keldor,” she said. She had not allowed herself to speak that name since that day.
The faceless one held out his hand and the Havoc staff came to him. It glowed. Skeletor had been the only one she had ever seen make it work.
“Lyn, you don’t know what you’ve done.”
“I know exactly what I’ve done. I’ve done what nobody else could”
“No, you don’t know what you’ve unleashed on Eternia,” he said, and he pointed the Havoc staff behind her.
And saw the creature.
Evil Lyn helped Keldor to his feet. “Speak to me. Are you able?”
Keldor rubbed a hand over his face. He seemed amazed to find it whole. “Lyn…”
“That’s all I require. Father, what is that, and how do we kill it?”
The creature regarded them all with familiar eyes set in an unfamiliar face. It lingered on Evil-Lyn and then turned its attention back to Evil-Lyn’s father.
“It’s the Demo-Man,” the Faceless one said. “In its purest form in a long time.”
“I know it,” Keldor said. He managed to stand, thought he was unsteady. “I was it, or it was me.” He shook his head. “We were the same and yet not. Hordak…what did he do to me…”
The air shifted behind them. Evil-lyn gripped the amulet, unable to concentrate on anything hard enough to make the amulet respond. A pair of figures stepped out of the shimmering air.
The Zoda coalesced, eyes hidden behind twin helmets. Zodac stepped forward. He held out a glowing hand. Behind him Zodak remained still, but his tattoos flared.
“Demo-man, surrender or die. One warning.”
The Demo-man responded with the purest elemental attack Evil-Lyn had ever felt. It was magic in its most basic, untempered form. She felt it in her mind, body and soul, like primal fire. She had never felt power like this, not even from Skeletor.
Zodac raised his hands and deflected it. She gripped the amulet, waiting for some opportunity to use it, but the battle between the Enforcers and the Demo-Man was taking place on realms of consciousness she could no longer detect even with all her considerable skills. She could feel mystical energy swirling around her, but it was like nothing she had known before. She realized she had always been just a dabbler, and this was what real power felt like.
Her father moved to her, and wrapped an arm around her waist. “Just hold on.” He erected a primitive force field around them with the Staff.
It was clear that as powerful as the Zoda were, the Demo-Man outmatched them both. He seemed to grow stronger as the battle continued.
“They can’t win. It’s too strong,” Keldor said. “It grew strong inside me. Learned. Adapted. I know that thing. It hungers.” He turned to Evil Lyn. “I want to rule Eternia, but the demon will leave no Eternia to rule. With it inside me I was foolish enough to call myself the Lord of Destruction. But it is Destruction, given form.” He turned to her father. “You know what we must do.”
“Are you ready? The sacrifice it requires…”
“Altruism does not rest well on my shoulders. But I am Keldor of the House of Miro. I will find my way back.”
Evil Lyn realized what he meant. “No.”
“It must be done. Look at him.”
Evil Lyn could barely watch as the battle increased in intensity. “Don’t leave me alone again.”
But Keldor and the Faceless one both put their hands on the amulet she was gripping in her hand. And they made a wish.
The battle ended. The Zoda surveyed the wrecked throne room. Zodac regarded Skeletor, and then Evil-Lyn. Finally, the shielded eyes landed on her father. “Nicholas Powers, regretfully, your imprisonment still stands,” he said, and lifted a hand. Her father was gone. The staff clattered to the ground.
The amulet flew from Evil-Lyn’s grip into Zodac’s waiting hand.
“And as for you.” Zodac said to Skeletor. Evil-Lyn turned to that bony, eternal grin that had reclaimed its place above Keldor’s shoulders…shoulders on which altruism did not rest well, as he said.
Skeletor held out a hand. The abandoned staff flew into it. “You have no jurisdiction here, Enforcers.” The Ram’s head glowed.
“Our jurisdiction has no borders. But the Demo-Man is contained yet again, and the threat to this dimension has ended for now.” Zodac said. “But we’re watching, Skeletor. Always,” A portal snapped open behind them, and then close. Then they were gone.
Skeletor turned to Evil-Lyn. His pulsing, hollow eyes met hers and then he turned his back to her, and stalked back to his throne, where he took his seat. He waved a hand towards Marzo, who still lay bloodied and crumpled in a corner. “Dispose of the refuse, Lyn, and leave me be.”
And in the throne room of Snake Mountain, Evil-Lyn was, once again, alone.
To be continued in 2012…
- Words by Bent
- Pixels by Matt
- Built by Veebs
Thanks for sticking with us and just as promised, here is something that I consider to be VERY special – your chance to win the now out-of-print Power and Honor Foundation Catalog: Volume One! If you are a fan of Masters of the Universe I can assure you that this lovely book is the most comprehensive collection of photos and written history of the original Masters of the Universe toy line ever collected. The Foundation has painstakingly preserved photographs and original works of art for all kinds of concepts, control art and prototypes from the various talents working at Mattel during the 1980s. I can tell you that I am personally amazed at the amount of information and amazing artwork contained within this edition. This is an absolute must-have piece of Masters of the Universe lore and it supports the fantastic cause of the Power and Honor Foundation. To read more about the Foundation, I strongly encourage you to check out their website at www.powerandhonor.org.
Now, as I said, Volume One is now out-of-print, but the great news is that the Foundation is currently working on a second volume (rumored to center around the FilMation cartoon series). So, if you have missed out on this edition, here is your chance to win and to sweeten the deal – we will be making a donation on your behalf to Foundation! This is certainly a win/win giveaway and the best part is – it is easy to enter the drawing! Yep, if you want to try your luck at winning a copy, read on for all of the rules and fine print. The drawing will be open until FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3rd, 2012 so don’t delay.
I would like to extend a personal thanks to Josh Van Pelt and the Power and Honor Foundation for making this giveaway possible, and please do not forget to check out the Foundation’s website and make a donation while you are there! Read on for all of the details.
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1 (ONE) winner will be drawn AT RANDOM from the respondents and the chosen winner will receive 1 (ONE) copy of the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog: Volume One.
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