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TALES of MINETERNIA

The Tale of Teela

By T. F. Cooper (Based on The Tale Of Teela, by Gary Cohn)

Upon hearing of trouble at the Court of King Randor, Adam of Vines, Last of the Vulnar tribesmen - He-Man - set out from the forest kingdom of Lorinth for the Royal Palace at Eternos, leaving behind a temple of very drunk and exhausted sacrificial virgins, who would all find themselves out of work, tomorrow.

In reddish brown, devilbeaver shorts, fur-topped, boar-hide boots and heavy bronze trinkets adorning his wrists, He-Man's native dress had made him something of an oddity on the streets of Lorinth. Yellowing textbooks painted the Vulnarians as dark-skinned, raven-haired giants with enormous endowments. Adam, while exceptionally tall and muscular, was of a pale bronze hue and was as blond, as any Ice Lander. Furthermore, the size of his endowments were no mystery to anyone, since, if asked respectfully, he took no shame in slipping them out of his devilbeavers for a curious stranger's inspection.

Under the shade of night, on the back of a heavily armored, giant tiger, whose name was known only to him, the Last Son of Vulnar made his way through the Arcadian Mountains. There, in a small clearing, he stopped to kneel at an ancient rock shrine, one of the many built by the wandering tribes of Preternia. Upon the altar, He-Man laid a fistful of terrahedrons, flowers sacred to the goddess Teela, and having annointed them with oil, he burned them in the ritual way required to seek the Goddess's wisdom. Their dense spice had filled his nostrils, and the sacred invocation had barely parted his lips, when the low roar of an engine from behind roused him from his meditations. With a hurricane-like swiftness the Sword of Power found his hand, and He-Man turned to find an elaborately decorated caravan of wind-sailers approaching.

These flying machines were the fairer sisters of the king's wind-raider assault landers, and the preferred transport of the high-born and well-appointed of the world. The caravan was dressed with the red flags and gold sashes of the Celestial Church and was manned by twenty four guards - a compliment of four men to each of its six ships. All armed with ceremonial brass spears of the variety, which the Eternian Royal Guard carried in parades, and not a fighting man among their ornate, emasculated number. From the sailer's coach, a gaudily attired, middleaged man in red robes and gold jewelry drew back a curtain to eye He-Man suspiciously, and at his side, sat a dark-haired youth entirely in brown.

"You, ..savage!" The man in red called from the coach of the sailer. "Take your pagan ways elsewheres, lest you offend the Holy Warrior herself, before whose plains you commit this - this ..sacrilege!"

He-Man lifted one of the whale-sized stones high over his head, and the terror on the faces of the caravan guards was plain to see. "Is this Elsewheres very far, sir? This sacrilege is rather heavy, you see."

The boy at his side leaned forward, over the older man's lap and nearly outside of the coach, gawking in shameless disbelief, until his master shoved him back into his seat.

The old man's face reddened under his densely jeweled, scarlet cap. He knew not what to make of the half-naked stranger's exhibition of strength, if indeed it was strength and not some circus trickery or even witchcraft, ..but was determined not to appear, in the least way, vexed by it. "You dare mock me, ..heathen! I am newly made the Archbishop of Eternos, ..the Royal City! I travel now to the Royal Palace of King Randor, ..whose guardsmen will blast this rockpile to bits, at my word!"

The giant green cat lunged forward, growling, but He-Man steadied him with a wave of his hand, even as the effeminate caravan guards gasped all at once. The Last Son of Vulnar stepped forward. "I am Adam of Vines, Your Eminence - last of the Valley of Vulnar! I, too, travel to Eternos to see a friend of mine, ..King Randor's Man-At-Arms!"

"O-ooh, ..a Vulnarian He-Man, have we?" scoffed the Archbishop, rolling his eyes in disdain. "And I suppose that blade is King Vulnar's Sword of Power! Would that, too, be so, ..barbarian?!"

"That's Lord Adam to you, stoneless dolt!" He-Man's giant tiger snarled, beneath his horned helmet. "Mayhaps, you'd find better manners in my belly!"

The dark-haired boy leaned forward again, staring at the talking tiger - his eyes farther from their sockets than ever they had been, until, once more, his master shoved him back into the coach, with a jab of his elbow.

The silly boy was blocking his view again.

A shadow of rage colored He-Man's face. The haughty Archbishop did not know how close he was to getting firsthand proof of Lord Adam's brutal Vulnarian heritage. "Until their final, fatal battle, many months ago, my tribesmen honored our forefathers' covenant with Mighty Teela, through arcane rites and tournaments of will and strength, all of which I endured to become their champion. The last and least horrific of those trials won me the Sword of Power ..and the name, He-Man."

"I know not what base trickery you play upon me, strongman, but you are surely an impostor!" the Archbishop raved. "If truly you are He-Man, ..Swordbearer of the Holy Warrior, ..why do you kneel half-naked at this rock in the woods? What deity would grace such a pitiful, godless place?"

Now, He-Man's face reddened. "Call her Holy Warrior, Obatala, Hela or Athena - Mighty Teela is the Friend of Man, and I seek her will, ..Your Eminence! But this shrine, like the grand ones at Lorinth, has fallen strangely silent! Now, ..if you've no divine wisdom to impart, be off ..and leave me to my meditations!"

"How could you know about the shrines at Lorinth?" shivered the Archbishop.

The young cleric at his side, clad entirely in brown robes, climbed over his master's lap and out of the coach. His hand extended. "Her priests at Lorinth, Frenornia and Elshimere are all confounded, sir, ..and my master's predecessor has taken his own life! The Holy Warrior will not speak to us, but you could not know that, lest you were truly He-Man! I am Brother Tomas Ruinzo, and I doubt you no more!"

"Ruinzo, eh?" It was a rare name to He-Man's ears, but he'd certainly heard it before ..on the lips of Ruinzo's beauteous captain. "Sergeant Ruinzo of the Royal Guard is your brother?"

His eyes cast down in despair, the young cleric tightened his grip on He-Man's hand. "Not long after the shrines fell silent, ..it is said that my brother disappeared! I fear a kinship of these horrors, sir!"

"You forget your place, young cleric ..and say too much!" the Archbishop warned menacingly from his coach.

Through nervous tears, Tomas glared at his master and turned defiantly back to He-Man. "I fear a kinship of these horrors, ..and though he would deny me to your face, sir, I would give you the heart in my chest to know my brother is safe!"

There was more than worry on the boy's face. On the Mystic Sea isle of Cirsaly, the House of Ruinzo had a centuries-long martial tradition, which the Sergeant and his fighting brothers had honored in bloodshed and service to their king many times. A priest's life had kept Tomas from his elder brother's side ..on the battlefield, and the guilt of not being there ran down his tender cheeks.

"Not until the slaughter of mine own brothers, at the hands of a demon, did I learn of the Goddess's connection to an ancient stronghold beyond the rain forests, ..Castle Grayskull." He-Man told him, resting a hand on the young cleric's shoulder. "It is there, I will next seek my answers. Be at peace, my friend."

Brother Tomas embraced He-Man, as eagerly as a boy would welcome the father, who loved him, and the firmness of their bond seemed to still the grief in him. The power of Grayskull was mysterious indeed, and healing wounds of the spirit were not beyond its reach. Something in the young cleric's nature had been made as steel and, with a cold look in the Archbishop's direction, he was admitted back into his master's coach with no aparent fear of his brother's fate ..or his own.

"Good Journey, Lord Adam," the youth called to him, turning from the coach. "May the Master of this Universe keep you ..and honor your brothers in his kingdom."

The Archbishop scowled at his young charge, ..then at He-Man, and signaled his pilot to take the sailer out over the plains.

He-Man bid the caravan farewell and, for a brief time, resumed his meditations at the rock altar, burning the terrahedrons, ..but Mighty Teela would not answer. Though it was not his nature to do so, he began to wonder if the goddess had truly abandoned him.

From a distance, he saw the awesome Teela of the Plains watching over sleeping Eternos, her solid corodite head held high above whatever trouble thrived in her shadow, one thousand, one hundred and fourteen feet below. The twinkling lights of the Royal City were still miles away, when Battle Cat roared, and the ground before them turned to thunder beneath his pounding claws!

The streets of the Royal City’s hardworking northeastern quarter were littered with the usual array of screaming merchants, horses, dogs, mischievous youths, wary centurions and curious aristocrats, as He-Man rode into Eternos. The most exotic foods, spices and spirits were sold here, drawing the wealthiest of King Randor’s subjects away from the city’s pristine northwestern side, between arrangements for this party or that. Pipers played. Dancers danced, and ornately attired noblewomen, with servants in tow, perused the bazaars with feigned indifference, until a flash of bronze thigh, bare shoulders and musk turned their heads toward the half-naked Vulnarian galloping toward the Royal Palace upon his armored beast.

Since the reign of King Miro, Eternos had the burden of shouldering the world's aspirations - a city dedicated to science, art and religion, distinguished by lush orchards and magnificent towers of pink granite, pale blue marble galleries and golden limestone walkways.

Its seated monarchs, King Randor and Queen Marlena, were held in far greater esteem by their Vulnarian friend, than they knew. To protect them from the machinations of his deadliest enemies, some of whom could probe the secrets of the mind, Adam could not reveal his true origins to them. Though they did not yet know that he was their son, the rulers of Eternia honored He-Man, as a peer, and insisted their generals and courtiers pay him the respect accorded governors and foreign dignitaries.

The courtiers, however reluctantly, complied with their king's wishes, but made their disdain for his wild heritage evident in subtle, cowardly ways, ..even while their highborn ladies did all but beg for his savage attentions. Only in the company of Duncan, Randor's Man-At-Arms, and his heroic daughter, Teela, captain of the Royal Guard, was He-Man reminded of the fellowship he had shared with his lost tribesmen.

As dusk yielded to dawn, a half-hour later, He-Man joined his valiant friend, Duncan, the last of the warlike Berserker Nation, in the luxurious courtyards surrounding the Royal Palace of Eternia. The Man-At-Arms, whose robust physique was magnificent, even under his heavy, bronzium armor, was a fierce and capable warrior, in his own right; the same could be said of his daughter, Captain Teela. Duncan was also a master scientist, whose knowledge of weapons technology was unsurpassed in the Eternian kingdom. Though the old man had not asked for He-Man's help, the Vine Jungle warrior was proud to give it.

"In the wee hours, guardsmen of the Palace's Northeast Tower reported finding a small, uncharted embattlement on their scanners, somewhere along the Harmonic Coast. Teela set out to investigate it on her Battle Ram, ..accompanied by Sergeant Ruinzo. They have not been seen since, and the small fort is gone!"

Could the boy cleric, Tomas, have been right?

That shrines everywhere, dedicated to Mighty Teela, Eternia's Holy Warrior, had been mysteriously silenced that morning was a queer coincidence.

It was no secret among King Randor's courtiers and elite guardsmen that Captain Teela and Sergeant Ruinzo, a fierce and handsome warrior from faraway Cirsaly, were lovers. Their disappearance was easier to explain than the vanishing embattlement, which had no business having been there, in the first place. Out of respect for Duncan, against whose back he'd stood in pitched battle, Adam of Vines remained silent on the subject.

"Point Dread, Castle Grayskull's flying outpost, is such a fort," asserted He-Man. "It goes where the Talon Fighter carries it. Can there be some connection between it and Captain Teela's disappearance?"

"More than you will ever know, Adam of Vines." A familiar voice sounded from behind them, and a heavy hand - one, which once liberated Eternia from intergalactic tyranny - came to rest on the old soldier's heavily armored shoulder. King Randor, a warrior, whose aging body was still hard from the punishment of war, had stood with Duncan in the heart of combat! Even now, their mutual trust was such that Randor freely spoke in his grief-stricken friend's behalf.

"Many years ago, at Point Dread ..," Randor began, "Great Teela, the goddess for whom Captain Teela is named, was captured and subjected to a vile ..experiment, by the scientist-priests of Infinitias! Though Duncan and myself freed her from the demonic designs of her enemies, they resulted ..in an infant twin of the goddess."

Just as the Vulnar Masters had trained him to know what intentions lay beyond the mask of an enemy, they had also taught Adam to master that which his own face showed the world. The shock of this revelation, however, would not allow it. "Blade of My Brothers! Teela is the Goddess's ..sister?!"

"Through this violation of the goddess," Randor explained carefully, "he who guided the hand of these intellects, had intended to create for himself a 'bride' to whom Grayskull would yield its cosmic secrets."

Man-At-Arms was not a man of words. His face twisted with the disclosure of his daughter's secrets. "The power of Point Dread flows through Teela's veins, Adam! She is connected to that bloody place - and now, ..to Skeletor too, mayhaps!"

"Skeletor?!" He-Man exclaimed. The haunting sight of his massacred tribesmen, brought low by Skeletor's black works, still tormented him!

Adam had been told by the elders of his tribe that any years ago, four Infinitian scientists gathered in the tomb of Keldor the Great, the first king of Eternia to unite the Light and Dark Hemispheres under one crown. There, in exchange for great power on the Dark Side, they unleashed from the collective, sentient minds of Eternia, an abomination - an unspeakable horror born of the mortal brain's most primitive chambers ..and incarnated him within Keldor's mummified body. Through these four scientist-priests, he ruled the Dark Hemisphere of Eternia. His sole ambition - universal domination, ..through the conquest of Castle Grayskull. Known by many names throughout the ages, he was incarnate destruction and the shameful, yet inescapable fear of it.

A nightmare, cloaked in legend. Skeletor.

The mere mention of the demon's name aroused the kind of furor in He-Man, which one gives the basest insults! "No, friend Duncan! I have known your daughter in war ..and love! In flesh and spirit! She is a warrior, whose courage shames all others, save Randor's and your own! No matter what hand he had in her making, noble Teela is your daughter, and she will never call the Lord of Snake Mountain her master!"

"Tomorrow will be Teela's twentieth birthday, Adam," Duncan continued. "Every twenty years, Point Dread rejoins Grayskull ..to sip of its holy energies and renew its strength. As its power drew Skeletor from the Shadowlands, then, so will it today! He'll seek out the child he created there, ..and that is when I'll destroy him!"

"Save her." A voice whispered from above, and when they looked upon its owner, whose head towered above the Plains, even Randor was humbled. The gargantuan, solid corodite of the Teela of the Plains, which Randor's father, King Miro, saved from burial by storms, in the Sands of Time, glowed molten hot, ..until much of the bluish gray metal rippled to warm pink. When the transformation was done Mighty Teela, heroic warrior goddess and friend of Eternia, stood before the world of mortals, and the three men were brought, as one, to their knees.

Duncan, with great care ..and dread, was first to speak. "Goddess, friend of mankind, ..where is my daughter, Teela? Am I too late to ..?"

"Save her, Duncan," repeated Great Teela, faintly. "I cannot ..destroy ..our daughter. Skeletor is using her ..against us. Grayskull ..defenseless .."

The goddess's typically august voice, a sound which might reduce mountains to powder, faltered unsteadily, betraying her agony, and the blood of her champions burned to see her in this pitiful state.

"Endure, Great Teela!" He-Man reached over one of his shoulders and found the ancient, silvery weapon that his Vulnar tribesmen died protecting. "Our foes, ..be they flesh, bone or shadow, will know destruction, this day - so swears, Adam! Open Grayskull's gate ..and lead on!"

From one of the Royal Palace's many terraces, He-Man, King Randor and Duncan watched as the skies over the Teela of the Plains grew unnaturally dark and clouded over far too quickly to be the work of the elements! The apparition, which stood in the statue's place, dissipated like smoke, leaving the cold gray metal of the monument beneath, and lightning flashed above its head!

So violently bright was this illumination that even He-Man was forced to look away!

When he uncovered his eyes, though it seemed impossible, the forty-foot high, stony arch of Castle Grayskull's entrance awaited them at the edge of the terrace, where, only seconds ago, the scent of the Royal Orchards played on the breeze.

The roar of He-Man's Battle Cat was heard above, where the green and gold-streaked beast could be seen perched high atop Grayskull's doorway. "Will King Randor be joining us, Lord Adam? He smells much better than what I'm used to carrying!"

"You should be so lucky, King of Kittens!" He-Man laughed. "His Majesty needs you here, guarding the Royal City, in my place!"

When Battle Cat had grounded himself, He-Man turned to Randor, and found he could not hide the esteem, in which he secretly held his long-lost father. "Someday, ..I will know the honor to fight at your side, King Randor."

"You will, Adam of Vines," the king replied, with a mysterious and dreadful certainty, "-- and on that glorious day, I will be equally honored."

King Randor abruptly turned Man-At-Arms around to face him and dug his old fingers as deeply into the bronze of Duncan's armor, as the metal would allow. Their right arms rushed out into the space between them and clasped together in a hearty exhibition of their friendship. "Duncan, it has been too long since this arm was raised in her country's service!"

"My friend and king, ..your place is here. I'm your arm, now!"

Randor smiled assuredly and walked back toward the palace, with Battle Cat in tow. "Go, man - save your daughter, ..and may the Master of the Universe guard you both!"

He-Man, carrying the Sword of Power before him, stepped toward the stone arch, beyond which, lay only shadows and the stench of death, ..and Man-At-Arms followed, bronzium mace in hand.

Silently and without warning, the gargantuan doorway that, only moments ago, had opened in the Royal Gardens of Eternos faded, leaving He-Man and Man-At-Arms in a dimly lit, stone-worked corridor, which they did not readily recognize as part of Grayskull. He-Man cautiously stepped out of the shadow of the arch, the Sword of Power gripped tightly in his right hand - the faint yellow of torches flickering in its silvery metal. "Could it be, Duncan - an artery of the castle we haven't seen?"

The old man's answer came too slowly and too cryptically to reassure him. "The Goddess once told me that Grayskull is a soldier ..fighting battles on many planes, all at once. Its myriad halls twist through countless dimensions, Adam - we could be anywhere."

"If Skeletor knows we're here, his agents will be out for blood!" grunted He-Man, sliding his korodite battleaxe, over one shoulder and into his free hand. "Best we be fitly armed."

"Aye." Agreed Man-At-Arms. On each of Duncan's shoulders, small, double-barreled cannons clicked forward over twin tracks and locked into place. "Armed to the hairs of our stones!  What say those Vulnarian hunting skills of yours about all of this? Any trace of my Teela?"

Before Duncan's eyes, He-Man's face and posture changed.

The nostrils flared. The icy blue of the jungle warrior's eyes narrowed barely to slits. Like a panther, he crouched. Shoulders the old man had seen turn rivers uphill swelled, and the mighty arms attached to them stretched out to know the secrets of the surrounding shadows. "Can't make any sense of what the air tells me. Something is moving toward us ..swiftly, ..stealthily, along the walls, ..kicking up little bits of mortar as it goes - too slow for a wind ..and too fast for a man! It's almost as though ..!"

The ancient stonework of the corridor came suddenly alive.

Man-At-Arms gasped again. His old, green eyes widened and stared blankly over He-Man's left shoulder. "Adam, ..behind you!"

He-Man turned barely in time to raise an arm in his own defense, when a pair of brown eyes opened in the stonework of the wall behind him. A face of solid, gray rock took shape there, .. and lips parted to speak. “You are too late, old man. You are both too late.”

"Where is Captain Teela, demon!" He-Man asked the monster. "Release her ..or I'll bring this ruin down on your head!"

"I am Ruin, He-Man," answered the stone-thing. "There is nothing left of the merry soldier you once knew, whom the captain adored so freely. He is Destruction's plaything now, ..as is beauteous Teela."

"I see that it is you, Ruinzo," He-Man admitted, lowering his blade. The Vulnarian warrior's other skills - senses honed to sharpness through the shadowy rites of his tribesmen - seized the least, but most distinct, of Sergeant Ruinzo's characteristics, and allowed He-Man to see beyond the horrific state in which Skeletor's magicks had left him. "How did you come ..to this?"

"Mere hours ago, I had only to look into Teela's eyes, with the promise of love we would make, and she followed me to this place, .." the disfigured warrior mused, "where we were ambushed by demons. When I would not yield my beloved to them, ..their master did this to me. Do you think beauteous Teela will follow me anywhere now, Lord Adam?"

Though Skeletor’s treachery had left the soldier in a piteous state, He-Man’s Vulnarian conditioning did not permit him to pity Sergeant Ruinzo. “There is nothing Duncan or myself can do to save you, Ruinzo, ..and you’re wrong. It’s not too late for the woman you love, ..if you tell me where Skeletor’s taken her! Now!"

"She is here.” Tears Ruinzo could no longer restrain rolled down his ashen cheeks. “She is ..his bride."

Then, mysteriously, the wretched being heaved one sorrowful breath, a half-groan that bespoke deep shame and regret, and melted into the rock of the wall behind him, until nothing of the sergeant remained.

"The sergeant acquitted himself to the end, as a warrior, ..and I do not doubt his love for my daughter," Duncan remarked, mournfully. "I'll see them both avenged!"

He-Man's brow furrowed, as a flickering emerald glow, at the end of the corridor - far more violent than any single torch could produce - drew his attention. "There is something else we must see first, my friend! Follow me!"

The two men ran the length of the rock-laden hall, the sting of heat and smoke filling their lungs, long before they reached the source of the flickering green light. From an empty, octagonal chamber, a woman's laughter rang in their ears.

"Teela's voice!" exclaimed He-Man. "She's here!"

Halting before the empty chamber, Man-At-Arms called to the familiar sound of his daughter's laughter. "Teela?"

It's granite walls were marked with runes and hieroglyphs carved in tongues older than Grayskull itself, ..and Duncan saw that the pillars, which supported the chamber, were similarly marked. The remains of seven rather imperious looking, stone-cut chairs were set against the walls to be found on either side of the chamber's arched doorway, which itself was well taller than two men standing one atop the other. Mounted on the walls between each chair, what looked to be simple, bronze lanterns, now green with age, gave forth a pale, jade glow.

The old man also saw that each of the seven chairs had been verily smashed to bits, ..except one. "That mystic portal we entered with such haste, back in Eternos ..did not conduct us to Grayskull at all, He-Man! This is where the Ancients assembled to destroy their enemies, ..the Hall of War, known in legend as Point Dread."

Only a modicum of concentration told He-Man the same. Though the runes were not written in his native tongue, merely touching the wall filled his mind with a thousand whispering, ancient voices. "My tribesmen knew Point Dread by another name - Areopaguay. It was said to be the rock upon which the gods must sit to bleed their outrage into the world. If their fury was righteous, a great, golden hawk would eat of it, take to the sky and vomit their outrage down upon their trangressors."

"Golden ..hawk?" echoed Duncan, inquisitively. "The Talon Fighter - which carries Point Dread back to Grayskull every twenty years!"

He-Man drew his hand back from the wall abruptly, as if the simple touching of it had threatened him. "Skeletor is using this cosmic outpost to attack Grayskull from the Beyond Realms, Man-At-Arms, ..but he is lost! The Goddess has blinded the Talon Fighter ..and holds Skeletor at bay, by stirring the cosmic winds against him!"

"He thinks to use my daughter's kinship with Mighty Teela to lower the Goddess's defenses ..and conquer Grayskull," concluded Man-At-Arms, woefully. "I'll tear him apart with my bare hands first, but we've got to find Teela before it's ..!"

Man-At-Arms felt his heavily armored body slammed against the corridor wall behind them! Before his Vulnarian ally could remove him from its path, a white-hot bolt of fire had struck the old Berzerker down. Though ink-dark blood trickled onto his chin, Duncan lay in a bronze and olive green heap before the sacred Hall of War, but stirred alive, dusted himself off and climbed cautiously back to his feet.

From an ornate, granite throne, the only one left intact, at the back of the bleak, octagonal chamber, a coarse, vulgar laugh echoed throughout the Hall of War. And in that throne, a black robed and hooded figure materialized from the empty air, his face in shadow ..all but the hideus, yellow teeth, which did appear to grin. "It is already too late! Point Dread will sink its fangs into Grayskull's ancient throat, as it does every twenty years, .. and drink deeply of the castle's mystic energies, but this time, with Teela in my power, ..it will feed them to me!"

Enraged, old Duncan pushed He-Man aside to face the Enemy of Man himself. "Let Teela go, Lord of the Wastes, ..and I may extend you the mercy of quick, clean death!"

"Mercy, old man?" Skeletor sneered. "Her mystic bond with the Goddess will give me Grayskull! It is you, who will beg for mercy, when the Talon Fighter carries my feral, new bride over its ramparts! You and all mankind!"

From behind the demonking, stepped a rigid, expressionless figure - female, beautiful and naked to the waist - her magnificent breasts and body painted with the ancient letters of a dead religion. Her eyes - soulless, white orbs, agleam with otherworldly purpose. With a hiss and a predatory leap over her father's shoulder, Captain Teela dug her nails into the rock-hewn walls of Point Dread and climbed swiftly onto the ceiling of the chamber, where she stood up on two legs, as easily as an insect takes to the belly of a beast. Gleaming in each of Captain Teela's hands, were the legendary golden Fangs of Dunamyr, enchanted weapons of the goddess, who gave her birth.

The unseen inner mechanisms of old Duncan's armor had begun the agonizing process of repairing internal injuries. Sealing severed arteries. Binding shattered bones. His suffering was unfathomable, but Man-At-Arms rushed forth to destroy Skeletor. "Damned demon! You'll not soil my daughter's hands with your benighted works ..or turn her into a creature like you!"

The Lord of the Wastes said nothing, but raised his Havoc Staff and, with merely the force of his will, smashed the old warrior into the rocky wall behind him, only to find Duncan rising again to attack. Again ..and again, he hurled Man-At-Arms backwards against the crude stonework of Point Dread, until the man could no longer stand.

Until nothing that resembled life stirred in him.

Point Dread, its every stone and mortared crevice, shook. The runes carved into its ancient walls glowed, as though a jade inferno blazed behind them!

He-Man was unprepared for the overwhelming force of the attack. A howl leapt from his throat, as white-green lightning snaked around He-Man's neck and limbs, tearing into his flesh. He-Man saw that Captain Teela stood again - a wild countenance upon her face. The Fangs of Dunamyr held at her sides. He saw that her eyes were alit by the same green flame that marked Point Dread's walls, and felt the ground fall free from under his heels. Even as the lightning seared He-Man's muscles, a black chill crept through him.

Teela's mind, and not Skeletor's unholy arts, was the well-spring of this awesome, supernatural power. This evil he felt swiftly overtaking him.

Calling through his sinews, the stamina of cursed, four-armed Procrustus and of Heuay, fire goddess of the Vine Jungles, ..the strength of Vulnar, god-king of the his dead tribesmen, and of Granamyr, lord of the dragons, He-Man resisted the power, which seized his limbs. It availed him nothing. Against his indomitable will, he felt his legs stretched and straightened. He felt his mighty arms made rigid, ..and his grip on the Sword of Power slacken.

"In my mind's eye, I see Grayskull defenseless - its halls, barren," spoke mad Teela hazily, as though some portion of her attention was concentrated elsewhere. "The armies of the Priests of Infinitias - Mer-Man, Tri-klops, Beastman and Trap-Jaw - move, as one, to lay waste Eternos. You have lost, Lord Adam. Eternia is lost."

He-Man did not answer. The Sword of Power did not budge from his hand. Lightning crackled around him, biting into his flesh, but a glare and a primal roar was all that he gave.

"Before my dread and loving lord, Skeletor," the crazed warrior-woman raved, "lay down your Sword of Ancients ..and swear eternal loyalty to his Grayskull! Swear your allegiance to this, ..the Temple of War!"

"Never-rrr!" groaned He-Man, through clenched teeth. "I'll never swear fealty to the King of Worms, ..or see you call him 'master'! I'll see Oblivion's insides first!"

"Then, I will delay you no longer," replied mad Teela blankly.

Light and sound erupted beneath He-Man and, struggling against its hold, he descended into it. It yawned wide and swallowed entirely the champion of Grayskull, taking the Sword of Power with it. A blinding, white radiance flashed from within.

The gaping hell-mouth faded, thin as pipe's smoke.

And He-Man was gone.

The Lord of Destruction eased himself down onto the unyielding granite of his throne. Triumphant. "At last, ..all Eternia is mine."

From the Dark Hemisphere, on orders from their unholy master, Skeletor, the Priests of Infinitias moved quickly toward Eternos to lay waste the kingdom of Randor. Twenty nine years ago, united by their lust for power in the Shadow Lands, they unleashed a monster from the human brain's most primitive regions ..and incarnated him within the mortal flesh of an ancient Eternian king, ..Keldor the Great. To reward their service to him, the demon they awakened raised these madmen to great power in the Dark Hemisphere and marked them as his high priests.

From the treacherous Gore Jungle, Beast Man, given the strength of ten of his kind by his benighted master, led the savage man-monsters of the bush to the golden plains and moors of Frenornia.

The Mer-Man's armies, bloodthirsty, amphibious hordes from the undersea realm of Moratain, snaked along the Harmonic Coasts, destroying city after city, casting their victims into the hungry ocean.

From the subterranean kingdom of Sybronn, the man-machine warlord Trap-Jaw's cyborg forces marched in lifeless throngs through the mountains of Elshimere, burning a village a day, as they went.

The most ruthless of Skeletor's priests was Prince Tri-Klops of Infinitias, at the center of whose kingdom, Snake Mountain stood imperious over its surrounding wastelands. Under the three, jeweled eyes of their prince's Hyperius Helmet, the Infinitians stormed the forests of Graylot.

As if possessed of a single will, the servants of the Lord of Destruction attacked Eternia and found His Majesty, King Randor, repaired to his warrior ways, armed to the teeth and pitched into battle against them. Rallying to war, the armies of his neighbors - the mountainous realms of Clampes and of Myzargard, the forest kingdom of Lorinth, the Golden Isles and the nearby Rio Republic - Randor drove back the Shadow Land forces, but endured many casualties amidst his ranks ..of body and spirit.

All the while, the architect of this chaos, the Enemy of Man, sat motionless, as his bride danced through the Hall of War.

Around the circular chamber, Captain Teela danced, bare-breasted and chanting praises to the living winds of Oblivion, into whose power she had just committed her master's fiercest enemy. The spirits of this realm could not be dealt with carelessly. To bring discord to them could warp the very scape of reality or bring forth from the shadows of time an abomination, whose fury and ambition dwarfed even Dread Skeletor's. Delivering He-Man into their grip had left a great abscess in the physical world, and now, under Skeletor's watchful eye, she labored to fill that void with sound and fury. Her half-naked body, painted with mystic glyphs, arched and swayed with bizarre, seductive movements, while the Fangs of Dunamyr rolled in her hands, like charmed snakes.

Man-At-Arms, barely alive and fading in and out of consciousness, could not ascertain whether Teela's wailing was real or part of his delirium, but he recognized it to be called out in a tongue as old as Point Dread itself. He labored, as he lay in a heap at the Hall's entrance, to focus what remained of his will on the ancient, rocky floor beneath him, intending to force his tortured body up from the stones there and back into battle. The ritual yells of his mad daughter echoed in his ears and, just under them, another sound, much like that of his own name, sped Man-At-Arms toward insanity.

"Dun-Kan,"

It called to him again - this time, striking his psyche like thunder against an oak! With it, golden light filled the old man's half-closed eyes, so bright that he winced before it, and a familiar pair of piercing, blue eyes peered into his own.

"Adam?" Duncan asked, looking into the face of a man he thought dead. Without shame, he cried joyously to see his friend, He-Man of the Vines, alive.

"Mighty Teela endures, Duncan," the apparition sighed. "Grayskull .. still stands ..."

"Tis the Holy Beyonder's will, ..son," Duncan gasped. "But what of Eternos? Randor? The Queen?"

"Teela ..is of the runes," He-Man whispered, as if he had not heard Duncan's question. "Find ..the runes .."

"Runes?" Duncan repeated, feeling his warrior's vigor return to him. "Lead on, friend! Show Duncan these runes! What have they to do with Teela?"

"Duncan, ..I leave you ..my eyes."

"No, Adam!" Duncan called to him, "Hold on to me! Let me help you!"

"Friend Duncan, ..a truer brother, I've never known," the apparition said. "I .. leave you ..my ey-yyyeeesss ..."

With that, the lost warrior faded away as smoke.

Once again, the golden-haired boy he had watched become a man was gone, and no grimmer time had Man-At-Arms known since the Horde Wars. When the mists faded, Duncan could see that, strangely, one line of the ancient runes lining Point Dread's walls seemed to change in shape. Another followed, and Duncan found, though it seemed impossible, that he could read the runes.

Zo jonjua e'renu shonda, one of the sets read. "The goddess ..grows stronger."

"A spell?" the old man thought.

But what good be a spell without a shaman to chant it?

And the Warrior Ancients, who built Point Dread, did not deal in spells and witchery, but mastered what might be called metatechnology or metaphysics. Man-At-Arms had learned as much from his travels abroad, as a cadet in the Berserker Legion, and from years of study. He knew that there were very mysterious, but finite, rules that permitted the Ancients to create the wonders they did in days long past, one of which was Point Dread and its flying sentinel, the Talon Fighter. If these runes were possessed of any power, it was a power set in motion eons ago that had the miraculous ability to renew itself ..or knew where to seek out the means for renewal.

"It would explain the need to join with Grayskull every twenty years," Duncan thought. Surely, some sentient force or intelligence directed the Talon Fighter back to Grayskull and now channeled Point Dread's power into his daughter's body. Therefore, the runes might verily be commands.

Commands, in the form of equations.

Living algorithms.

Through his haze, Duncan studied the techno-runes, scanning them with a laser on his helmet, when a crack sounded behind him. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Teela had crushed one of his shoulder-guards, like paper.

"Have my bride's chants roused you from death's beach, Man-At-Arms?" The Lord of the Wastes hissed, from his granite throne. "Or have the power of the runes delivered you back to the Rock of War .. to serve me?!"

Teela pushed her fingers into the bronzium armor and the orange metal crumpled beneath her grip. Effortlessly, she threw Man-At-Arms toward the center of the rocky chamber, where he tumbled onto his knees! "What do the runes tell you, father? To kneel before Grayskull's true goddess, mayhaps - to surrender?"

"Surrender is not our way, ..daughter," Man-At-Arms answered. "We are the last of the Berserkers - the last of the Fighters! Surrender, ..even in the face of death, is a coward's enterprise!"

"As death, in the face of impending defeat, is the fighter's," Teela hissed. "Damn your Berserker wisdom, old man! Take what honor you will from the edges of my blades, ..but delay our final embrace no longer!"

"Only the damned rush into battle," Duncan replied, forcing himself to stand once more. "The victor's pace is slower - surer - Strength is his blade! Patience, his mount!"

"But the damned rushes in on a pale, bloodthirsty horse, old man, ..and its name is Wrath!" Teela paused, twirling her twin weapons into a defensive position. She was eight years old, when Duncan showed her how to master the stance. Now, she raised her Dunamyr blades just as he had taught her. "It is time we embraced, father! What is my inheritance?"

"I leave you faith, my Teela," Duncan smiled assuringly, "that I will avenge you with my last bloody breath!"

Three consecutive rounds of four missiles each cut along Point Dread's walls, destroying the runes carved therein, ..as Skeletor looked on.

Man-At-Arms' daughter fell to her knees. The twin Fangs of Dunamyr dropped from her hands, and Teela collapsed, like a puppet cut free of its strings. With the splintering apart of each rune string, Captain Teela's body flinched and convulsed - her mind flooding with memory!

Duncan rushed to kneel at her side, cradling her trembling form in his arms. Having targeted the line of runes, whose purpose He-Man's shade had revealed him, Duncan fired the demiphoton warheads from his shoulder-launchers, decimating twelve of the rune-strings, which bound poor Teela to Point Dread.

"Master of the Universe," Man-At-Arms cried, looking into his daughter's fluttering eyes, "what have I done?!"

"It would seem your Universal Master has abandoned you, old wretch," Skeletor stood up from his granite throne. ""Now, 'tis just you and me."

"Aye, it is," Duncan hissed, cradling his unconscious daughter. "At the center of all the suffering in the world - of all that is perverse and discordant - it is always you! Why? Why?!"

"Can the drought know why it lays waste your harvests?" A laugh made of rotting, dead things and nightmares scraped the ancient stone-laden ceiling of the chamber. "Can the storm know why it scatters the blackened leaves of a dead forest, but leaves the village within, ..teeming with finite, meaningless, little lives unscathed? Can the father know why he betrays his daughter - for god? For king?"

"For Eternia, devil ..and for man!" Man-At-Arms grunted, returning to his feet, cautiously - his bronzium mace in hand. "In her spirit, Teela knows that I do what I must do .. for Eternia. She will endure, ..as will her mother."

"Mother?!" Mocked Skeletor. "The mother with whom you conspire to destroy her?!"

"I have no conspirator, but science!" Duncan answered. "You used the living technology of this cursed place to create Teela - to give her solid form and shape! As Point Dread thrives, so must she - what hurts this place, will hurt her, ..but she'll endure!"

"She will endure, old fool, .. to rule at my side! But, you will not live to see it!" Skeletor raised his ram-headed staff, but before the fiend could strike, Man-At-Arms seized the ebon-draped corpse that was his body and plunged a curved, silver dagger into his lifeless chest.

Pinning the demon under him, Duncan thrashed his enemy such that the benighted, soulless thing, twisting beneath those robes, cried out like a wounded animal in the jaws of its predator! Violet waves of annihilation pulsed from the assailed form of the dark lord, burning Duncan's flesh! He pressed his assault upon the Enemy of Man with supernatural determination, mindless of the hellspawned energies directed against him ..and the violent pounding of his old, exhausted heart.

"You'll find hell at my hand, demon," Man-At-Arms spat, as Skeletor's necromantic magics penetrated his internal organs, "before you make Teela your queen!"

Though Skeletor was a shadowed thing born of ancient man's fears, in a time, when Eternia was new, his Mask of Living Death bound him to the flesh and bone with which he worked in the world of men. Duncan now felt that ancient shell break under the savage blows of his bronzium mace! He heard the decaying lungs of his victim sputter ..and saw the demonking's eyes blaze with violet light. "You ..mortal ..wretch! She is already mi-iinnne!"

Man-At-Arms saw the stonework devastated by his demiphoton missiles ignite in violet flame ..and inexplicably repair itself. The techno-runes there were whole once more, awaiting their ancient power to be spoken into motion.

"Zo jonjua e'renu shonda," whispered the Lord of the Wastes, and Captain Teela's green eyes fluttered open. She stood, and the bloodied Fangs of Dunamyr flew back into her hands.

"Hell take you, demon!" Duncan hammered his mace against Skeletor's gauntleted forearms, pressing his dagger deeper into the demon's chest. "Die!! Die ..and leave my daughter be!"

"Point Dread's power flows into the warrior-woman, ..as light through glass," growled Skeletor, between spastic breaths. Again, the crimson glow of the demon's eyes turned to violet, and Man-At-Arms found himself picked up, as if by a cyclone's force, and slammed against the stone-laden insides of Point Dread. "And once more, she is mine to command!"

Suspended far above the stony floor, the old warrior felt the toll taken on his bronzium-armored body. A haggard breath left him and blood trickled from his lips. "Resist him, ..Teela. He ..is the enemy ..of us all."

For a brief time, there was silence in the Hall of War.

Captain Teela's abrupt separation from the techno-runes had restored something of her senses and memory. She suddenly found herself torn between her mortal life and the power pulsing inside her. "Dread and loving master, ..what is thy will?"

"Call forth our enemies, the Warrior Ancients!" Skeletor answered, returning to his stolen throne. "The Goddess is their commander in all things - they cannot refuse her! Call them - lure them here with her voice .. and DESTROY THEM!"

Teela turned to the Lord of Demons - her eyes wide and clear, as if awoken from her madness. "Kill the gods?"

"No, ..Teela," her father gasped from where he was suspended on the ceiling. "Warrior Ancients ... last hope ..for man. Don't ..."

Skeletor swept his Havoc Staff upwards, and Man-At-Arms screamed in torment, as lightning tore through the aging soldier's armor and the flesh beneath. When only groans of agony could be heard from his valiant victim, the Lord of Destruction leaned forward from his granite throne. "With He-Man gone, they are all that stand between you and your destiny, Great Teela! You are a goddess! Any, who stand against you, .. even he who would call himself your father, must face the absolute annihilation! Call forth the Ancients now, ..and Grayskull's secrets will be ours!"

Teela, naked to the waist and marked with the glyphs of the war gods, outstretched her arms and the floor beneath her was pushed away from her feet. As if upon invisible wings, she hovered over the center of the rocky chamber, where six bright flames, each as high as a small tree, burst from the floor. "Agatave bijonjumarza das Grayskull!"

Assemble, warrior gods of Grayskull.

"Lo sumonjava von Areopaguay!"

I call thee to the Rock of War.

And assemble, they did.

Bold, iron-thewed Vulnar, ..falcon-headed Zoar, ..dragon-winged Giro, ..Xango the Thundermaker, ..Koron the Armored Titan, ..and fiery, sword-wielding Heuay! For each, a great flame blazed in the Hall of War, signifying their presence.

His insides battered, and near death, Man-At-Arms watched from above as all, but one, of the flames extinguished themselves. The remaining one blazed brighter than all the rest, as if it had drawn the fiery fury of the others into its radiance, ..and its shape came to resemble that of a woman.

An apparition of bright, emerald flame.

The ghost, painted in pale, green light, stood at the center of the rocky chamber.

Stretching its arms out from its body, as if to grasp something the air refused to give it. Its eerie green glow grew brighter with intensity, as a thin cord of electricity, no thicker than a common tree branch, rippled through the empty space between its hands. White-hot, it glowed, until the current of energy became solid gold, ..a staff, shaped as a hooded, desert cobra.

Duncan, pinned against the chamber's ceiling, where the unleashed power of his daughter's will had suspended him, drew in a beleaguered breath, as the rod was pointed at him. He felt the air around him stir ..into a breeze - then, whipped into a tempest. He raised his arm before his face. The ferocity of these winds forced the old man's eyes half-shut, and he felt himself drifting on them, until the solid stonework of the floor was firmly underfoot.

Near senseless, Duncan slumped to the floor.

Captain Teela, even in the throws of her madness, drew back from the faceless shade, crossed the Fangs of Dunamyr before her naked chest and assumed a defensive position against it. The phantom stepped toward her - its arm outstretched in a welcoming gesture - but Captain Teela attacked it with a hail of savage sword blows, ..all of which her opponent deflected with the golden staff, which rippled in its hands as if formed of lightning! The Captain pressed her attack forward with a speed beyond human capabilities, but the faceless maiden, undaunted, swept the weapons from her hands with a single stroke of the staff ..and sent the mad captain to the ground!

The phantom woman, hovering over her victim, raised its staff high above its head. The spear-like butt of her weapon, over Teela's chest ..

"No," Duncan called to the shade, struggling forward over the stonework of the floor. A pitiful shell of the warrior to whom Eternia's defense had been entrusted. "Don't ..kill ..her. Pleassse. Don't ..kill my daughter."

It thrust its arms downward, hurling the weapon at mad Teela's heart.

And vanished.

Her serpentine weapon twisted itself around Captain Teela. She struggled to free herself, but the golden metal of her enemy's staff twisted itself around the young warrior's arms and over every supple curve of her nudity, ..forming the divinely tempered armor of a warrior goddess! Unsteadily, Captain Teela struggled to stand upright, her legs trembling under the sheer weight of the armaments, and turned her attention to the vile king of the Shadow Lands.

"Skeletor-rrrrr!"

Though Man-At-Arms' daughter stood before him, Skeletor could not deny what his hellborn senses told him.

The voice gave more than sound. Earthquakes, hammer-blows and atomic explosions rang within - forces, which might level cities in their wake!  And something stranger still, akin to lightning, flashed beyond the green of the lovely Captain's eyes, ..which were no longer her eyes, but windows, behind which raged fierce apocalyptic power.

Skeletor knew, without doubt, that he was beholding his ancient foe, ..the inviolate warrior-goddess Teela herself! The demon-king of Snake Mountain took up his hellspawned Havoc Staff and directed its blood-colored energies at the goddess's armored heart, ..only to have her dispel them with a wave of her mighty staff. "This cannot be! Where are the Warrior Ancients?!"

"Here stand the Ancients as one, in this Rod of Order, ..and we will never allow you to breach this vault!" Mighty Teela extended her weapon, and the walls of Point Dread shook. Several cracks formed in its very stonework, as though the ancient fort would rumble apart.

"Grayskull will be mine!" screamed the Lord of the Wastes, in defiance. "Like me, it is a thing sprung from the mind and soul of men, ..and its halls stretch through every limb of reality! In seconds, Point Dread will call forth from it all the power mankind has ever dreamed of ..and give it to me."

"Then, let man dream of vengeance." Teela gestured toward Skeletor again, and from the granite of the throne behind him, a stone spike burst forth through his chest. "Warrior, in the name of all mortalkind, ..strike down the Enemy of Man!"

The demon screamed in agony.

Tearing at his ebon robes. Unable to control the violet, hell-born fires of his own magic, as they engulfed him. Unable to see the head, shoulders and torso taking shape from the stony frame of his throne, ..or the mighty arms that drove the spike deeper still, ripping his soulless body apart from the inside, as he danced frantically on its end.

A grotesque, burning, shrieking puppet.

His back against the chamber wall, Man-At-Arms forced his eyes to focus. Though, he recognized a familiar face, he no longer trusted his senses. "Ruinzo? Is - is it ..you?"

For a brief moment, the proud sergeant, whom Skeletor had turned to solid rock, beheld his Teela once more. For mere seconds, as he stood over the Enemy of Man, he felt the heat of war upon his stone face, as he had in life. The battle hymns of his homeland echoed in his granite chest. Valor and passion pumped through his veins again, and Ruinzo felt himself a man. Then, just as suddenly, the doomed Cirsalian faded back into the flat, dark granite of the chair's surface, ..until only his whisper remained ..

"Remember me, beloved ..."

The wounded Lord of Destruction slumped forward from his throne and fell to the floor. On his knees, he pushed himself up on one gauntleted arm and raised the Havoc Staff against his celestial enemy. "Goddess of nothing, ..I am your master! Did you forget that I called forth your flesh from these very rocks?! Though I descend into Oblivion, I take with me that which I gave you, twenty years ago, ..your mortal LIFE!"

From the rock of the floor, stone-skinned warriors rose up.

As if in a great, ebon tide, they rushed forth to seize the Goddess. In their hands, were weapons of every conceivable size and purpose, ..but Mighty Teela strode over them, as though they were nothing - reducing their multitude to rubble under her boot heels and the swinging of her staff! Even as the dread lord's power raised fifty more from their ruins, the Holy Warrior hurled her golden weapon against them. Her teeth bared in righteous outrage, she fought, breaking their rocky backs and skulls in her wake!

Not in twenty years, had Duncan seen the Goddess so hot with wrath. He had seen more hard fighting than any man had a right to remember, but even he shuddered at what played before his old eyes.

"I am whole once more, demon!" Mighty Teela roared, holding the Rod of Order before her armored bosom. "I have reclaimed the part of me you stole twenty years ago ..and Grayskull is once more beyond your reach! Get thee back to the Land of Shadows!"

A blinding, golden light emanated from where the Goddess stood, and when its work was finished, nothing remained of Lord Skeletor or his benighted minions.

Before Castle Grayskull, at the edge of the Stygian Mote from which its blackened, moss-laced ramparts jut into the world of men, Man-At-Arms, miraculously restored to good health, cradled the body of his daughter.

Duncan had been exactly her age, when he learned the truth about Grayskull – that, until their massacre at the hands of an ancient warrior-queen, alien intellects had labored within, conducting horrific experiments on primitive Eternians ..to unlock the secrets of the universe. Over the centuries, the castle's history had been perverted into the myth of a golden age, presided over by wise and benevolent elders, and though Duncan knew the ugly truth about Grayskull, it was that foolish myth from which he and all mankind drew strength in times of darkness. In silence, weeping over his daughter’s weary face, the old man prayed to the Ancients.

Through the mists encircling the mote, which fanned out over the surrounding moors of Graylot, he had found Teela lying deathly still, and for the moment before taking her into his arms again, Duncan had feared the worst. He now brushed the auburn hair from her tired face ..and, having used his dagger to cut the sleeves from his uniform, gently pulled the olive green fabric over her bare breasts, restoring his daughter's modesty. With his arms around her, as he tied the ends of the rags together behind Captain Teela's back, he saw the color of life return to her face. "Daughter, ..are you well?"

The Captain's eyes opened suddenly. She pushed Man-At-Arms backwards and, steadying herself on one knee, brought her sword between them. "You're not my father, changeling! My father is back at Eternos, resting in the Royal Guardhouse! Where is Sergeant Ruinzo?”

Man-At-Arms saw that his daughter's attention was now diverted to something over his armored shoulder. The old man turned to look, already knowing what he would find. His spirit soared to see He-Man alive, but he could not bear to tell Teela that fate had taken the handsome Cirsalian from her again, so soon after she had nearly lost him at Madrigor. After she had taken him into her own house and nursed him back to health. "Teela, ..there was a battle ..at Point Dread. Sergeant Ruinzo made us all proud. He sacrificed his humanity ..to save you."

"No-oo ..," The captain protested again, more faintly, as if the bitter realization of things had been awakened in her. "This isn’t real! We're still inside the small fort we found near the sea, ..where you stoneless cowards ambushed us! Where's Sergeant Ruinzo, demon - tell me or die!"

Captain Teela looked at Duncan. Then, at He-Man. She studied their disguises for some details their master might have neglected to replicate. There were none. A look passed between them she'd seen more times than she could count, when the two men were holding some secret between them. "Oh gods, no! Not again!"

Man-At-Arms swatted the sword from Captain Teela's hand and seized his daughter's arm. Paternal anger ablaze in his grey eyes. "He's gone from us, Teela! Honor the man with vengeance! Save your pity for the enemy skulls you split in his name, ..but do not shrink from this and suffer the world to think Ruinzo loved a coward! Remember him - always! You owe him that much."

As if to tear his armor from him, the warrior dug her fingers into her father's bronzium-burdened shoulders ..and buried her face in his chest. Rocked in his arms, Teela the Duncan wept.

He-Man looked away.

Though he wielded the Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe - though he was He-Man and Prince of all Eternia - in this benighted moment, the sum of these things were of no import, and Lord Adam could not bear the weight of Teela's eyes upon him, as she collapsed into her father's arms.

He was not valiant, beautiful Ruinzo of Cirsaly. Ruinzo was gone.

When his daughter was all done with tears, Duncan assured her that, in Eternia's darkest hour, as Skeletor stood a hair's girth off Grayskull's ramparts - Ruinzo took his vengeance upon the demonking, before the Goddess sent him back to the Shadow Lands. And that, though the Dread Lord's magicks had left him a monster, the brave sergeant had died a man. He would also tell her of her kinship with the Holy Warrior, Mighty Teela, and of their mysterious, shared connection to Point Dread.

"Blade of My Brothers," cried He-Man, behind them, ..pointing to the clouds. "Look there, friends! On Grayskull's ramparts!"

Man-At-Arms and his daughter raised their eyes skyward, where a foreboding shape cast its shadow over the castle's stone-laden, left turret. Blackened with cosmic ash, the Talon Fighter rested, once more, upon Point Dread.

"No," Duncan shook his head with disbelief, holding his daughter close to him. "I saw the Goddess destroy it ..and cast Skeletor back into the Shadow Lands! I-I was there!"

"And the Talon Fighter's soul-energies, .." He-Man recalled, "- the Hawk Spirit of my dead tribesmen, hurled me back into the world of men, taking my place beyond! Oblivion cannot be trifled with, ..even by the gods."

"What does this mean, Adam?" Teela rushed over to He-Man and brought him before her face. Frantic hope drowning in her green eyes. "Does my Ruinzo live? For Eldor's sake, you must tell me!"

"I don't know, Teela," answered He-Man, grimly. "As Grayskull is eternal, so must be Point Dread ..and brave Ruinzo with it, mayhaps."

"He lives on ..in the stones of the Hall of War," answered the rolling fog, all around them. "I have placed it where Skeletor and his priests can abuse its power no more, ..atop Castle Grayskull. Though the hall's vibrations once threatened to corrupt the gods, battle has renewed our strength. Our vigilance. We will endure."

"Goddess?" called Teela, turning to the fog. "Mother?"

"You do not grieve alone, Teela." The warrior goddess looked to stand some three or four heads taller than the tallest man the Captain had ever seen, as she emerged from the fog. "During your time upon Point Dread, war came to Eternia. The collective will of Eternia's defenders flagged under the onslaught of the Shadow Land's legions, but the battle was won. In the fray, in combat with Prince Tri-Klops of Infinitias, a brave, young warrior found his honor ..and lost his life."

Teela saw that she carried what seemed to be the statue of a boy, barely in his adolescence. "Goddess, ..I do not understand."

"This is the brother of the man you love," the Goddess spoke, her eyes cast down upon the statue. "Tomas Ruinzo once said he would give the heart in his chest to know his brother was safe. Now, his brother has returned the favor, ..and a heart of stone beats in Tomas's young chest."

"Brother Tomas?" He-Man rushed forward to unburden Mighty Teela's arms, and Man-At-Arms followed. "From Oblivion, I saw Randor defending Eternos, ..and this brave boy cleric fighting at his side! I saw him fall in battle! Will he live?"

"Marked by Skeletor's treachery forevermore, in a body of rock," the Goddess answered, "but, yes - young Tomas will live, ..though war has left him the last of his house. Give him to Teela, He-Man. A great warrior has entrusted her with his heart."

As her father looked on, Teela, with tears in her eyes, took the unconscious gray form of Tomas Ruinzo ..and was surprised at how light he was in her arms. "I will honor that trust, Mighty Teela, as though he were mine own brother, ..but what of you and I? This has been a great victory, but what is to become of our strange kinship?"

"To be whole again was glorious," the Goddess sighed, as her radiance faded into the fog, "but your life is, once more, your own, Teela the Duncan, ..and I will not deprive you of it! Go now, ..and good journey ..."

In an attak-trak abandoned in the fighting at Graylot, the three warriors sped through the Evergreens back to Eternos. The War of Silence, as the royal historians would call it, left a field of dead bodies and burned vehicles throughout the forests and countryside. He-Man and Duncan laughed, and though the boy slept soundly, Teela held young Tomas to her armored busom, as if to shield him from the gruesome decor of the landscape ..and the grim realities he would one day face, as a man.

And mayhaps, because some small part of her lover, *Roberto, now lived within him.

Behind them, in the mists encircling Castle Grayskull, rested a mystic artifact that appeared on the craggy face of Eternia for a short time every twenty years. When last it appeared, the Enemy of Man tapped its magical energies, ..then lured a goddess into what he thought would be the web of her doom.

His plan had been simple.

He would use his enemy's celestial power to create a child from her body and bind this duplicate of the goddess to his own diabolical will. He would raise this infant girl, as much an abomination as he, to womanhood - then, take her as his bride. Together, they would wrest Castle Grayskull from the hands of the Ancients ..and conquer mankind!

But, then, that meddler Man-At-Arms interfered.

And, with a young warrior-king at his side, ..the fool got lucky. After driving off the enemy's knights, he freed the mighty goddess and, before her unbound wrath, the Lord of Destruction was forced to abandon his plans.

And the little girl with them.

The mirthful uncertainty of how she felt in his arms, when first he'd held his precious Teela, haunted Duncan, still.

And for many, many miles, as they silently passed the wasted machines of Infinitias's armies, under the darkly beautiful gold of the setting Eternian sun and the merciful eye of the Master of the Universe, ..the old fool's smile endured.

Ablaze with a father's brazen and shamelessly mortal pride.

 

He-Man, Skeletor, Eternia and all associated characters, names, images, comic books and minicomics are registered copyrights and/or trademarks of Mattel, DC Comics, Hallmark, MVC, Image Comics, CrossGen or other concerned copyright/trademark holders.  All rights reserved.