TALES of MINETERNIA
Tomb of the Magic Stealer
By T. F. Cooper (Based on The Magic Stealer, by Gary Cohn)
For nigh a year, the hallowed places across the face of Planet Eternia fell silent, and the engines of destruction roared in deafening dominion over all mankind.
Point Dread, an ancient weapon given life and intelligence by the gods, fell into the hands of the Enemy of Man, and the battle to wrest it from his hands was hard-won and not without its casualties. Chief among them was Lord Adam, He-Man of the Vulnarians, cast into the maws of Oblivion, during a battle to reclaim the dreaded artifact. In that bleak realm into which the evil dead are commended, the barbarian had known no quarter from attack. Striking at his foes without thought or remorse in his own defense, he often fought without rest for what seemed like many days. Only when the Great Hawk Spirit of his dead tribesmen had taken his lot in that benighted place, had He-Man wrest himself from its grip, ..but was haunted by it for many weeks thereafter. Something terrific - nigh demonic - had been loosed in him that he could not control. However merry the folly or fetching the company, mindless rage was never far from him.
Seeking the healing serenity of divine truth, the Last Son of Vulnar returned to his native Vine Jungles, where, the old gods had first entrusted him with the Sword of Power and infused his body with the strength and stamina of his fifty-thousand immortal brothers, the Vulnarians.
For many nights in succession, as had been the Vulnarian way for countless millennia, did Lord Adam lay with Heuay, the green-skinned Sorceress of the Gods, in her cavern temple, high over the Valley of Vulnar. As Truth incarnate, wild Heuay's body was a living totem of cosmic knowledge, and throughout their lovemaking, He-Man experienced many haunting visions ..of ancient secrets and lost civilizations, of future catastrophes and forgotten prophecies and of alien worlds and dark dimensions! Nothing in her savage embrace eased his torment, and when there was no quarter of Lord Adam's mind and body unmarked by the Divine Sorceress's cataclysmic lusts, the golden-haired giant surrendered to wilder impulses. He began to smash her sanctum apart with his fists! In shame, He-Man left Mount Heuay in the mists and, on the back of his heavily armored tiger, wandered on.
The Most Powerful Man In The Universe had begun to go slowly and violently mad.
For the safety of his friends and allies, and to insure that the awesome power his gods had entrusted him would not be abused, He-Man abandoned civilization. Though King Randor and Queen Marlena treated him as their own son and accorded him all the favors of a man nobly born, for their own protection, he could not tell Eternia's rulers that he was indeed their long-lost heir, Prince Adam of Eternos. In times past, no distance had been vast enough or foe strong enough to keep Lord Adam from their sides. When finally he feared himself a threat to them, He-Man entrusted his faithful Battle Cat to the kindly monarchs and left Eternos for the solitude of Castle Grayskull.
The fortress was far more ruined than any Eternian knew.
Its turrets whistled with the fierce winds passing between their limestone blocks. At the center of its massive, triangular bailey, stood the legendary Hall of Wisdom, ..a monstrous, sandstone pyramid, where, eons ago, the masters of the world guided Eternia's destiny, ..now, overgrown with moss.
He-Man did not truly understand the forces at work in the castle's bailey.
The skies over them, whether night-dark or sunlit, rarely matched those outside Grayskull's walls, ..and there was more. When the Hall of Wisdom was not found there, another structure rested in its place. Sometimes, it was a many-pillared, white marble temple, of the style erected in ancient Helios and Cirsaly. At other times, a crystalline dome glistened there, and still others, a pile of blackened rubble, ..rank with the stench of death and age. While the Hall of Wisdom was the most familiar to him, the spectral tenants of each had admitted him within, more than once, ..and gifted him with insight or weaponry equal to whatever task his gods required of him.
Preferring the openness of the ramparts, He-Man kept a small, hammock on the fortress's right turret, at the center of which an ancient, bronze, ion canon was mounted. There, with enough fruit and smoked meat to feed him for nine moons, did the wild warrior meditate for many weeks. When the steely calm of his Vulnarian conditioning had returned to him, the falcon Zoar, messenger of the warrior-goddess Teela, sought him out with news that might have turned the marrow in a weaker man's bones to ice.
"Heed me, He-Man," the falcon told him. "The Great Fearamid of Extreia has fallen into Infinitian hands, and soon all of Eternia will be slowly bled of her natural magicks!"
"Where?!" Lord Adam asked warily, seizing his Sword of Ancients and springing from his hammock. When any threat to Grayskull arose, blood covenant with the warrior-gods bound their fortress's mysterious power to his will, and in the flicker of a thought, he was standing before the falcon fully armed. "Such a thing could split the entire world asunder! Send me back to the world of men with due haste!"
"North," answered the Zoar. "The Lord of Destruction and the evil warriors, who serve him, labor somewhere in the Ice Lands to unlock the Fearamid's secrets. When they do, this mystic disturbance will strike at the very fabric of Eternia! You must journey to the Isle of Four Grails -- there, you will learn the Fearamid's true ..!"
"Tell me, Zoar!" He-Man growled, seizing the bird by its throat and forcing it to the stony floor. "Why does Mighty Teela's loyal falcon cock now speak with a woman's voice? Who are you?!"
In a great flash of sky-colored light, a woman, beautiful and dressed in feathers identical to Zoar's own, struggled under the wide, bronze hand of He-Man. "P-please! This ..is not the world ..you know! N-not ..the Eternia ..you know!"
"Another Eternia?!" marveled He-Man, careful not to lower his guard. Teeth bared in animal rage, he drew back his hoary blade in one hand and poised it for Zoar's chest. "How, witch?! How did you do it? Tell me, or I'll ..!"
A blue glow burned where her eyes opened.
From it, the truth of her words flowed like tapped ambrosia into his mind, and his grip upon the woman slackened - but, her would-be conqueror resisted. Suddenly, she felt the wide hand tighten upon her throat ..and her air nearly cut off. "You ..did it, ..barbarian! You willed yourself here! Please ..d-don't make me hurt you."
He-Man's back struck the gray-green stonework of the wall behind him. Several feet away. When he found the strength to raise his head, he saw that he was belly-down upon a black marble floor, ..many paces from where he'd subdued the changeling witch. "What is this place, woman, ..and what are you?!"
The feathered woman was standing. "I am a sorceress, Vulnarian. The Sorceress here ..on this Eternia. There are as many spell-casters here as you see stars in the sky, but I assure you none know a more dreadful purpose than mine. I am Teelana, the Sorceress of Grayskull."
"Grayskull has no mistress!" He-Man fumed, unsheathing his Sword of Power. "It is a place kept by powerful gods and spirits of kings -- a stronghold mortared in the hopes of all men, living and dead, ..that some great power stands between this world and Oblivion!"
"Yes, Vulnarian," the feather-clad woman answered. "The hope that Eternia will endure! I am the keeper of that hope."
"And I am the avenger of man's will," He-Man responded, "the free will of man and the Ancients!"
"Here, it is not so!" Teelana answered, her eyes blazing with otherworldly power. With menacing speed, the feathers of her floor-length cloak arched upwards in the shape of wings. Sky-colored spheres of blue-white electricity crackled around her hands. "Here are the hopes of mankind and the powers of his gods invested in one hand. Mine. Do not make me show them to you all at once!"
The Sorceressís eyes narrowed to slits, and a sound like thunder rumbled from the stonework of the castle wall. Onto her Vulnarian enemy's bare back and head, rained a small mountain of dust and mortar. With a gesture, Teelana sent another storm of rocks upon her crouching enemy's back.
Large sinews, forged in the pitch furnace of war, bulged and released. Big limestone blocks rolled from He-Man's back, and he saw that the wall he had just felt thundering onto his back was once more erect and intact. "False goddess, ..think your damned tricks will keep my blade from your neck?! Think again!"
Like a silvery bird of prey, the axe flew from the barbarian's hand.
The feather-clad sorceress gestured and growled. A wall of blue-white flame rose from the stonework at her feet, and the axe was turned back toward its master. "Can you not see that the Fearamid is poisoning the power your gods have entrusted you -- the darkness growing inside you? You came here seeking the source of your madness, ..and you have found it."
The hulking, lion-maned warrior grunted, ripping his axe from the air in a large, bronze fist. Mere inches from his neck. "Gods, ..I am going mad."
"Sorceress?" a voice called from a stairwell connecting the ramparts to corridors below. A tall and broad-shouldered man, swathed in a blanket of tawny fur, lumbered from the darkness on bare feet, rubbing his eyes as if freshly awakened from sleep. When he swept the shroud of his flaxen hair from his forehead, the proof of Teelana's claims was bared for all to see. "Sorceress, ..I heard shouting. Is everything alright?"
Standing before He-Man was a mirror of himself. Identical to him in every way, but one.
There was a consequential hardness one attained coming of age in an army of men that was nowhere upon him. The golden hair and pale bronze skin that had made Lord Adam an oddity amongst the Vulnarians was miraculously replicated in this man. That of his body the blanket left naked showed a physique molded by sport, and not even the hint of a scar marred his bare shoulders and chest.
This man, who resembled him in every other way, was no warrior.
Clearly mesmerized by the likeness they shared, the stranger approached He-Man. Unsettled by the hardness in the Vulnarian's broad, bronze face and the uncompromising steeliness of his stare, the stranger studied him. Careful not to lose hold of the fur blanket around his waist, he approached and extended his hand. "I am Adam, ..Prince of Eternia -- son of Randor and Marlena. Forgive my ..curiosity, ..but the resemblance .."
As if entranced, He-Man clasped the man's hand in his own. Confounded, He-Man said nothing. The pale bronze of his face reddened, ..and he fixed his icy glare on the feather-clad witch. "Yes -- the resemblance between us is strange, indeed. Mayhaps, good Zoar will explain it. Now."
"This ..is He-Man," Teelana answered the young nobleman, "guardian of the secrets of Castle Grayskull ..and the last of his kind. He is here to lead you on a perilous journey, Adam. All will be made clear, when you have fulfilled your sacred mission."
"To find the Fearamid of Extreia?" He-Man queried, warily.
"To save our world," the Sorceress retorted. "Our enemy is very powerful -- many heroic warriors have fallen at his hand. For this reason, the Ancients have forged for Adam a great weapon ..and tempered it with all of the powers of Grayskull."
"The broadsword you spoke of, eh?!" the young man gleefully exclaimed. "Though I've practiced with saber, dagger and lance, I don't think Duncan's ever shown me a real broadsword. I can't wait to hold it! What do you know of swordplay, Mr. He-Man?"
At this, the big, bronze-skinned warrior strode up to the man, as if to give him a closer examination. So pale, this Prince Adam was - his unscarred flesh barely known to the sun's infernal kisses. So soft and pretty was he that He-Man was nigh offended by his golden beauty. "Nothing of swordplay, Son of Randor -- only of war."
"You will find it in your chambers," the Sorceress nodded. "Go, now, Adam. Rest and gather your strength. At dawn, you sail to the Isle of the Four Grails with your friends ..and into legend."
"Sleep well, then, ..both of you," smiled Prince Adam, strolling out into a torch-lit corridor and descending the rocky stairs to Grayskull's lower levels.
"He knows, ..doesn't he?" He-Man observed. "His instincts tell him we are one and the same, ..but he hasn't learned to trust those instincts. He's who I might have been, had the men of Vulnar's Valley not made me something ..more. He is not a fighter! He is not ready."
"Prince Adam has seen many mysterious things in the brief time he has dwelt here," Teelana answered, "and you will make him ready, ..should you choose to accept your destiny."
"My destiny?" He-Man replied. "To save your Eternia."
"To lead Prince Adam where I cannot," Teelana corrected him, "as I am bound to this fortress by powers beyond your comprehension. To right the chaos you have inflicted upon our world ..and bring order to the discord you inflicted upon yourself, when you cheated Oblivion."
"I caused this." He-Man looked away. "My resurrection has doomed your world, ..but how?"
"Like the Talon Fighter, the Fearamid is a living machine," Teelana answered, drawing her feathered cloak about her. "Its alien creators designed it to siphon and convert Eternia's natural magic into demonic power. When the Ancients cast it into Oblivion, its nano-soul was destroyed -- its memory and purpose wiped out! Only a great source of natural, Eternian magic, like your Sword of Power, could have awakened it, ..but something else guided it here."
"Skeletor," deduced He-Man. "Somehow the demonking of your Eternia has made the Fearamid's mind think this world is the Ancient Eternia it left unconquered. My Eternia."
"It was written in the Scrolls of Helos," the Sorceress began, peering up into the darkening skies, "that a terror from the Beyond Realms would lay siege to Eternia, this day, ..and that a golden-haired warrior from the ancient bloodline of plains kings would raise arms against it. Adam of Eternos is that warrior."
"If you are not truly human," inquired He-Man, suspiciously, "and this Grayskull is yours, ..why should you care if mankind is destroyed?"
"There was a small village in Cirsaly," Teelana confessed, "where I lived and loved as a mortal, ..until the Horde destroyed it. Just before she died, the first Sorceress summoned me to this castle and entrusted its secrets to me. The child in my womb would never know her mother. More than this, I cannot say."
"No more need be said," He-Man answered, casting off his sword and other armaments to rest. "I've doomed your world. If need be, I will die saving it. I will lead your Prince Adam on his quest ..to the Isle of Four Grails and, then, to destroy the Fearamid. He will face his destiny, and he will be ready, ..or you will never see either of us again. Skeletor will see to that."
"When the Fearamid is returned to Oblivion, a wound will be made in the wall between our worlds," Teelana said, standing stoically before the stained glass of an arched window. Her back to him, as he undressed. The dread in her voice chilled the air between their bodies. "Your blade will guide you back to your Eternia, ..and your presence here will be forgotten. Even by me."
"Is that what you desire?" He-Man asked, resting his hands on her shoulders. Worn down by their duel, his anger at her bled away from him, ..while desire to plunder her body's treasures ruined his will to do little else.
"Grayskull desires nothing for itself," Teelana whispered, turning to He-Man ..and finding her lips hauntingly close to his, "and I am as one with its hallowed halls, as are you with your blade. I ..am Grayskull."
The big, bronze-skinned warrior's hands swept down over the Sorceress's shoulders and hips, drawing her feathered gown with them ..to the floor. Gathering the tender harvest of her womanhood to him, He-Man tasted her and felt her shudder against the contours of his body. "Tonight, you are a woman, ..and I am yours."
Naked and drunk with arousal, He-Man led the comely Teelana down onto the soft blue, scarlet and white feathers of her cloak. His weary lips rushed against hers in a deep, hungry kiss, as her pale thighs parted around him, and sparing paring no arch, curve or shadow his worship, ..he loved her.
Until the moss-laced castle ramparts cried out her ecstasy.
With the Iron Mountains at their backs, Prince Adam and his Vulnarian companion looked down, as the wide blue of the Rakash Sea spread out before the jet-sled they shared. Along its dusty coasts, thrived the numerous fishing villages of North Rakastan, where, just as the Sorceress had told him, the Captain of the Royal Guard waited with the heavily armed Royal Storm Raider, Valeria.
Onboard, labored a crew of familiar faces, upon which He-Man had never before laid eyes, ..but one was more familiar to him than the rest. When the tall, broad-shouldered maid dressed in gold and silver armor, beneath which a simple, white, legless suit contoured spellbinding curves, He-Man could do little, but stare in disbelief.
"What kind of name is He-Man, anyway?" Captain Teela asked offhandedly, as she led the golden-haired youth and his half-naked, barbarian companion aboard the Valeria. The intense curiosity with which this He-Man studied her made the captain more than uneasy. His silence was even more daunting. "Well, stranger?"
"The He-Man serves Heuay, goddess of destiny," answered Prince Adam proudly, recalling his long talk with the man, who so eerily resembled him. "He says it's either Heuay or the highway! Remind you of anyone?"
"I resent that remark, Your Highness," growled Teela, over an armored shoulder.
"He-Man is the champion of Heuay's people," the bronze-skinned strongmen corrected Prince Adam, "and must surrender his will to honor hers. Do you believe in destiny, Captain?"
"I believe ..in these!" the flame-haired vixen giggled, curling her arms affectionately around a large gun barrel. "Photon-pulse cannons with korodithium-reinforced barrels and automatic, bio-recharge power cells! We're going to send anything that crosses us limping to the scrap heap!"
"Korodithium is weakened korodite," muttered He-Man contemptuously, running his hand over the cannon's surface. "When it's seen as many centuries of cannon-fire as these have, it rattles and throws off your shots. It's also very hard to cool off, wearing down the bio-regenerative speed of the power cells. We'll be lucky, if we make it over the Rakash."
"Do you want to live forever?" sneered Captain Teela, directing the barbarian's attention to the storm raider's crow's nest ..and a man covered head-to-heel in silvery feathers. His massive arms and shoulders looked as if made of solid steel. "This is Stratos -- his wings make him a master of tracking and aerial combat! He is guardian of the sky kingdom of Avion."
He-Man knew well the man in heavy, blue armor loading the photon-pulse cannons, though the shadow of his large, metal hood fell over his dark eyes like a mask. "Man-E-Faces is known across Eternia as a great actor and his monster form gives him strength of seven. He is a changeling and master of intrigue!"
The short, stocky man helping Man-E-Faces looked to be wearing a steel bucket on his head. Impossibly large fists, each easily as big as a man's head, swung to and fro at his sides. "Ram Man here has cybernetic legs that make him a human missile. Be warned - he's as quick to befriend, as he is to anger!"
"On my world, it is said I'm quick to befriend," grinned He-Man, gently kissing the fair captain's hand, while cutting a devillish glance at Prince Adam, "and that my friends cannot go long without me, once they have known my .. friendship."
"Ho, this wizard casts his spell skillfully," Captain Teela huffed, meeting his flirtation with an imperiously arched eyebrow, "but he could smell better."
A thunderous round of laughter resounded over the Valeria's deck, and for many days thereafter, the trip to the Isle of the Four Grails seemed entirely uneventful. Clear skies stretched as far as the eye could see, and all aboard found themselves in the best of company and spirits. There was ruckus of the sort that grew from bringing a group of strong willed folk into a small place, but it could be ignored easily enough. Teela kept below deck, where Man-E-Faces bewitched her with classic poetry. He-Man prayed to his tribesmen's gods, and Stratos scouted the skies for airborn attacks, while Prince Adam and Ram Man bickered over the Valeria's navigation like two children fighting over a toy boat.
Of the grim warnings Zoar had given them, not a word had been spoken by any. Nor had any speculation been made of their true meanings.
"How can you be so sure this creaky-timbered wreck'll get us to the Isle of the Four Grails, Adam, .." grumbled Ram Man, awakening from an ambrosia-induced slumber, "-- especially with you at the controls?"
"Swim ahead of us, Rammy," Prince Adam shot back, over his navigation instruments, "if you hate this ship so much! Never seen anyone so whale-like, who didn't call the tide his mother!"
"You'll eat those words, ya perfumed imp!" Ram Man snorted back, shoving the haughty prince aside with an arm and squatting on a large crate. "Now, tell us more of this Fearamid, Mr. He-Man! Where's it come from?"
"It was called 'the Magic Stealer' by the elders of my tribe," the barbarian began. "In a time before time, alien conquerors came to Eternia -- my Eternia. They were the ancestors of the half-human Warlords of Grayskull, who subjugated the Evergreen Forests and Fertile Plains. These beings found powers at work on Eternia they did not understand ..and could not control. So, they perverted that power! Built a weapon that could siphon off the living, mystical energies of our planet ..and turn them against us! That weapon is the Fearamid."
"Hey!" Ram Man pointed to the skies overhead. "Maybe, them angels come to lead us ashore! Look!"
He-Man's eyes narrowed toward the sky, and he too saw them. Whatever they were, they had wings like birds and were descending fast toward the ship, as He-Man's broad hand moved for his hoary blade. Then, just as suddenly, they changed the course of their flight ..and headed for a patch of rocks far to the west. "Mayhaps, good Ram Man -- but, the legends spoke nothing of angels inhabiting these skies. Stratos?"
"No friends of mine, He-Man," confessed the bird-man from his perch in the raider's crow's nest.
"The Sorceress called them the Semini, He-Man," Adam whispered, pointing to the skies, "If I told you why, you would laugh 'til your lungs burst, but they're the sons of Procrustus -- guardians of his island. Should we follow?"
He-Man craned his neck upwards to the skies. "The spirits of the land, sea and sky have all been driven mad. If these Semini can offer safe passage to the Isle of Four Grails, we should follow, ..until the gods give us cause to do otherwise."
Hours passed and Prince Adam studied this half-naked barbarian, who shared his name and whose face was a dark mirror of his own. He was like none of the barbar peoples he had ever encountered in his travels with good Man-At-Arms. As the bronze warrior calmly took his turn at the helm, Prince Adam found himself as fascinated as he was uneasy about him. "The Sorceress called you the last of your kind, He-Man -- what did she mean by that?"
"Not long ago," the big, golden-haired man started, looking out over the rolling clouds, "an enemy of my tribesmen used Grayskull's secrets to admit a monster into our world -- a dragon from Oblivion, called Morgonymyr. It massacred nearly every man, woman and child in my country. There were survivors, mostly women and infants, ..but I am the last of its warriors."
"That can't happen to me," insisted Prince Adam, nervously. Turning from He-Man to face the bleak, grey skies surrounding them. "My father has armies! Weapons your tribe never had! We don't need any champions! Turn us around right now and .."
"You can't turn from your destiny," He-Man answered sternly - a broad hand on Adam's shoulder, "anymore than I could've turned from mine! The evil that set Morgonymyr upon my tribesmen still lives. It is my destiny to fight it. Great armies and great weapons mean nothing."
"Then, ..what will?" The prince was ashamed to look him in the face. Something about the uncompromising hardness that distinguished He-Man's from his own made him feel small. Powerless. A privilege that only his father, Randor, was allowed.
"You will, Prince Adam," answered He-Man, casting a steely glance over his shoulder. "You must ..or Eternia dies."
NAY, VULNARIAN . . . I WILL NOT PERMIT ETERNIA TO DIE . . .
The voice rattled the timbers of the Valeria's deck, and He-Man drew his blade. Crewmen rushed from all over the Valeria.
"Look!" the bird-man, Stratos, cried, from the crow's nest. "Many miles off the starboard bow, a nest of green hills showing above the artic waters! Do you see it, He-Man?"
"Tis the land Teelana showed me in her crystals," answered He-Man, distractedly, peering out over the waters to ascertain what he saw. Over and around the Valeria, nothing stirred. "We must be close! The Semini are gone, having lead us safely to these skies. Somewhere ahead, in those mountains, are the four, golden Grails of Procrustus!"
BEYOND THESE ICY WATERS AND FARTHER NORTH, SKELETOR AND HIS WARRIORS LABOR TO UNLOCK THE FEARAMID'S DEADLY SECRETS . . . HURRY, CHILDREN OF ETERNOS . . .
The Scrolls of Helios say that Eternia's crust used to rest on the back of Procrustus and the feet of his wife, Hyperia, a sun goddess, whose cult predated Mighty Teela's. In those primordial times, the couple was young and very amorous. The titan had devoured his twin brother to lay with her, and when finally he did, the throws of their lovemaking nigh ripped Eternia apart with earthquakes and tidal waves. When the arms of Procrustus's murdered twin burst from his side, Hyperia was so horrified that she fled into the sky, becoming the sun and giving birth to Eternia's two moons, ..leaving Procrustus to bear the weight of Eternia's bulk alone.
The cataclysms ceased, and, for a time, the world knew peace. On every shore, praised in every tongue, were temples erected to the first and most enduring of gods.
WHO SEEKS THE GRAILS OF PROCRUSTUS?
A voice thundered from everywhere at once. The titanium hull of the Storm Raider Valeria shook, ..and the valiant hearts of the warriors of Eternos, each and all -- even He-Man's -- were stopped cold, when they turned toward it. Even the clouds overhead and the winds, which stirred them, were stopped, yielding the wide, gray skies to the God of the Inner World.
"Mighty Procrustus!" He-Man called to its gargantuan owner. "Though I am not of the world you labor to protect -- though I've made no prayers to you, I come before you as a friend ..and ask for your aid."
THE ESSENCE OF THE GODS IS INFINITE AND OMNIPRESENT, HE-MAN OF THE VULNARIANS, .. FLOWING THROUGH ALL THE UNIVERSE AT ONCE . . . THOUGH YOU HAVE MADE NO PRAYERS TO ME, I HAVE HEARD AND ANSWERED THEM MANY TIMES, . . . EVEN AS I DREW YOUR NOBLE BROTHERS INTO THE LAND, MERE DAYS AGO . . .
"M-my brothers?!" He-Man gasped, as he walked to the edge of the Valeria. His voice trembled. "Never dared hope some shadow of my slain brothers might be reflected here, ..and now you tell me -- Lord of the Four Grails, why have you done this?!"
YOUR NOBLE TRIBESMEN SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES TO SPARE ETERNIA APOCALYPSE AT THE DRAGON MORGONYMYR'S HANDS . . . THEIR SACRIFICE ALONE HAS PURCHASED MANKIND THIS CHANCE TO SAVE HIS WORLD . . .
"Not again!" He-Man screamed, drawing the Sword of Power from its scabbard on his back. The horror of finding his tribesmen ripped to pieces by Morgonymyr flooded back into his brain. "By the Nine Fathers! I won't endure their massacre all over again here, ..as if their sacrifice meant nothing! I won't!"
THEIR COLLECTIVE STRENGTH ALONE WAS NOT ENOUGH TO BRING MORGONYMYR LOW, AND THEY CALLED OUT TO THESE FOUR, ANCIENT ARMS TO DELIVER THE KILLING BLOW . . . TO OPEN THE LAND, WHILE THEY HELD HIM FAST, AND TO CRUSH THE DRAGON IN ITS PRIMORDIAL GRIP . . . THOUGH THEY WOULD PERISH WITH IT . . .
"Forgive me, God of the Grails," He-Man confessed, returning the broadsword to his harness, "Though I didn't know the Vulnarians of this mirrored realm, I feel the loss of them, ..as though it were an arm or mine own beating heart ripped from my chest! Lord Procrustus, ..what favor I beg of you today, I beg in their names -- in their ..honor."
ONCE AGAIN, THE SONS OF VULNAR HAVE WREST ETERNIA FROM THE MAWS OF OBLIVION . . . LET ALL, WHO WOULD HONOR THEIR CODE BE THE EQUAL OF IT . . . I WELCOME YOU, HE-MAN, AS A SON AND FRIEND . . . RISE . . AND ASK OF ME, WHAT YOU WILL . . .
"Mighty one," He-Man beseeched him, "Skeletor uses the Great Fearamid of Extreia to corrupt Eternia's natural magic, the magic of its old gods -- the dead gods of which you are the last! I ask thee lend what might is left in your noble limbs to our cause! I ask thee stay here and hold this frail world together, while I end this dire threat. Send me to the source of it ..that I might save our world!"
LOOK INTO THE GOLD OF THE GRAILS . . . THE ARTIFACT YOU SEEK IS . . NO . . . NO-OOO . . .
The great golden-armored man, tall and wide as a mountain, collapsed onto one knee. Eternia, and even the sky, shook. Procrustus groaned, and the nearby mountain peaks split apart, sending tons of jagged rock into the valleys below.
"He-Man ..?" inquired Captain Teela worriedly, searching his broad, bronze face for an answer.
"We don't have much time, woman," He-Man answered grimly. "He doesn't have much time. The Fearamid is poisoning Procrustus, ..and the land with it."
HURRY, MORTALS . . . THOUGH I BE MASTER OF THE INNER WORLD, THE LESSER SPIRITS THAT DWELL BELOW ARE MANY . . . AND THEY CAN RESIST THE FEARAMID'S POWER NO LONGER . . . NOT SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME HAVE WE GODS BEEN SO LURED FROM OUR LABORS . . .
"No, giant!" wild-eyed Prince Adam protested, rushing to He-Man's side. "The Fearamid's power is great, I'm sure, ..but yours is greater! I will not see you give yourself up to it!"
"Take care, brother," He-Man warned the wayward Prince of Eternia, barring his path with a broad hand flattened against Adam's chest. "Though Procrustus is afflicted, Eternia is still held in his four, ancient hands! Though your world has abandoned him to legend, he has not abandoned you. He is still a god."
"I am Prince of Eternia, Vulnarian," Adam answered, ..and with surprising disregard for He-Man's warning. "If I'm not willing to dare all to save this world, my world, ..what kind of king will I make, when Randor's crown is finally passed to me? Stand aside, Lord Adam. Let me speak."
He-Man studied Prince Adam's face and eyes. He saw no fear there. No screwed down courage ..or empty bravado for the impressing of beauteous Teela and the promise of her favors. He-Man lowered his arm and stepped aside. "You are bold, Adam of Eternos. Yes. Bolder than I knew. Speak."
Heeding Lord Adam's advice, the prince kneeled at the edge of the Valeria's deck, in deference to the God of the Inner World, upon whose back, the Kingdom of Eternia thrived. His pale, golden head slightly bowed, he called to the rocky beach, where the golden titan kneeled also. "Should you abandon your duties now, Lord Procrustus, a great catastrophe will surely ensue! You must not permit that! You must endure as we do! Show me what lies in the Four Grails that I might share some portion of your divine burden."
The great golden man rose to his feet and stood high into the clouds, where sea fowl circled. As he strode out into the wild Rakash, his broad chest and head towering above the Valeria's deck, giant grails of purest gold appeared in his hands. As he approached, the heroic crew of the Valeria, each and all, kneeled. Mesmerized by the sheer size and majesty of this golden titan, Prince Adam stared wide-eyed up into the dark bronze of Procrustus's face.
LOWER THINE HEAD, SON OF RANDOR, ..AND OPEN THINE HANDS . . . KNOW THE GIFT OF THE FOUR GRAILS . . .
Prince bowed his head, and, from each golden cup, Mighty Procrustus spilled a drop of their contents onto the kneeling prince's head and back. The youth held up and together his hands, until they were overflowed. Disdaining to lie as wine or water lies, when poured, the perfumed, glowing liquid stirred between his cupped hands, ..where a chilling image quickly took shape. "My friends, ..the artifact we seek is in the artic wastes, in a land beyond the Icer Sea -- a land, where no wind stirs!"
THE UNIVERSE IS GREAT . . . MY GRAILS ARE PASSED BETWEEN MANY HALLS . . THAT ALL, WHO SHARE MY BURDEN, MAY PARTAKE OF THEIR STRENGTH . . . MARK IT TO BE SO WITH ALL THINGS, WHICH LIE BEYOND MAN, PRINCE OF ETERNIA . . AND GO IN PEACE . . . SAVE YOUR WORLD . . .
Prince Adam lifted his head to call to him, but the golden God of the Inner World, whose massive, armored shoulders, mere seconds ago, had eclipsed the very sun, was nowhere to be found. Through the mists, a great rumble was heard from the Isle of the Four Grails, bringing the warriors of the Valeria to their feet once more. When the mists cleared, Prince Adam saw that the island, too, was gone. "You have our thanks, Lord Procrustus! We will prevail -- I promise!"
"Ready the Storm Raider!" shouted He-Man, turning toward Stratos in the crow's nest. "We sail to the Salkinds in due haste!"
"The Salkind Islands are in the Dark Hemisphere, He-Man," called Stratos, from the crow's nest. "They are forbidden, ..even by the high gods of my Avionic forefathers!"
"Stratos is right," Man-E-Faces warned the Vulnarian. Carefully. "The Shadow Lands, Snake Mountain - no one's dared these realms, since the Horde Wars. Though, you are a trusted friend of the Sorceress, you are still a stranger here, He-Man. You needn't understand our ways to respect them."
"I don't care who you are," Ram Man glared up into the big Vulnarian's face, mere inches from his massive chest. "You ain't takin' us to no Salkinds, ..and you ain't takin' Prince Adam!"
"Enough, all of you!" Captain Teela cried. "I-I ..don't know how, ..but I can feel it. The barrier between the light and dark halves of our world will soon fall! War, the likes of which Eternia has never seen, ..will rise on every shore. We must press on - all of us."
"The curse of the Magic Stealer's tomb ends here," roared He-Man, shoving the thickly built, armored man backwards and against a wooden beam. "Fools! Your world is dying! I'll not see mine die with it!"
A pained glare flashed at him from the mirror that was Prince Adam's face. "It's me the Sorceress chose to be Grayskull's champion - not you. Don't I have a say in this?!"
The leonine mane of golden hair hung wildly over He-Man's face. Before Teela or his other friends could remove Prince Adam from the warrior's path, big, bronze hands seized the youth's collar! The cursed influence of the Fearamid stirred the hairs at the nape of the Vulnarian's neck, ..like the hot breath of a demon. He-Man knew the power coursing through his sinews would soon be tainted by it, and a rage would possess him that he could not control. He swung the big youth roughly back to the deck and resisted the impious cue to slaughter him. "What say had my tribesmen, Prince Adam, ..when the Dragon of Oblivion was ripping them apart -- when Procrustus drew them into the ground?! They're all dead!"
"Dead because of me?" Prince Adam shivered from the timbers of the Valeria's deck, shaking with terror. Confusion.
"You should have been there," snarled the Vulnarian. His teeth bared in a predatory rictus. "All of you! You should've been there, fighting at their sides! You should've died with them!"
Captain Teela, Stratos, Man-E-Faces and Ram Man looked on, as Prince Adam composed himself, ..and He-Man moved below deck. The Valeria, sturdy, proud veteran of centuries of war, sailed to the Salkinds.
The lion-maned He-Man of the Vulnarians was the first to reach the Royal Storm Raider Valeria's deck, when the hum of approaching enemy windcraft stirred him from sleep. Quickly, armed to the skin of their teeth, the others followed.
From the dark clouds overhead, the heroic warriors of Eternos saw the approaching onslaught and unsheathed their weapons. Port bow and starboard cannons ripped through several flanks of the sea-spawned devils, ..but still they came. On ugly flying machines styled like the horrors of the deep and armed with spear and sword, the Mer-Man's demon army raced over the deck, slashing at the crew, as they as they went.
Upon finding himself surrounded by the enemy, Ram Man smashed through an advancing line, sending several big warriors' heads hurtling past Prince Adam's face with one swipe of his axe. "Behind you, Adam!"
Startled, the youth turned to face Lord Mer-Man, just as the scaly, green devil's jagged weapon ripped into his thigh.
"Adam!" He-Man called to him, turning toward the boy's agonized cry.
Prince Adam felt fingers tangle in his golden hair and his body drawn back as if into a cyclone. The dazed youth rolled into a nearby wall and scrambled to his feet, quickly bringing his broadsword before him.
With a demon's swiftness, the Mer-Man, a horror worshipped below the waves as a god, slashed at his pitiful, human prey, surprised at the strength with which this man-child acquitted himself with a sword. Though he attacked him savagely, the prince held his own with courage unmatched by any of the sea-spawned dregs in his own service. When he saw the youth wearing down, that he'd battered him into exhaustion, the demon lord brought him roughly to the ground with one poorly deflected blow ..and poised the jagged teeth of his golden blade for Prince Adam's neck. "Child of Eternos, ..you should have kept to your palaces!"
He-Man rushed towards the green-scaled monster, finding the Mer-Man had taken up his golden sword to strike. In one bright flash of photonic fire from above, he saw the King of the Deep hurled from the Valeria's deck, just as he had launched his silvery blade for the monster's heart, ..and the hulk of its body slammed into the briny sea beneath them.
"Damn you, Stratos!" He-Man cursed, looking down into the Icer Sea, as the Mer-Man slipped into the tide, "Mer-Man's an apostle of Destruction! This Sword of Ancients should be stained with his blood!"
"Not here, warrior!" Stratos shouted back from the clouds. "That is not our way!"
"Damn our ways, Stratos!" growled Captain Teela, as a horde of demons surrounded herself and Prince Adam. "This is war!"
From the bridge of the Valeria, Man-E-Faces fired his gamma pistol into the swiftly advancing sea demon hordes, striking down a few of Mer-Man's guards. As he kept up the barrage, a skin of dark metal enclosed his own, such that it covered his thighs, chest, back and arms - until even his handsome face was lost behind it. Through two, square openings, inhuman green light flashed from behind his metal mask. Iron fingers fastened upon mortal flesh - necks were broken, limbs were torn from sockets and skulls were crushed, until a sea of dead and broken men littered the deck. Resuming human-form, a look of horror took his face. "What have I done? I-I've become a killing machine -- a thing!"
"A thing that fights like a man!" He-Man roared approvingly, climbing onto the red vehicle and extending his hand toward Adam. "The attak-trak, Adam! Now! We must get to the Fearamid!"
With Mer-Man's forces beaten back into the brine below, the deck underfoot littered with enemy blood and gore, ..and the ocean warlord himself driven off, the Royal Storm Raider Valeria floated down onto one of the frozen Salkind Islands. The nigh black of the sky overhead lightened to gray, and the falcon Zoar circled above. But for its throaty call, the heavens fell silent, and the weary warriors, as one, paused to regain their breath. Each and all poised to carry on the valiant, but bloody, crusade their mysterious Ancients had appointed them, no weapon was sheathed. No tortured muscle, relaxed.
And, to Prince Adam's quiet relief, with his back to theirs, no notice of the tears he could no longer hold back. Growing up, he'd looked to these colorful warriors for more than the protection each had sworn himself to render. The sound and warmth of simpler times in the city of his birth flooded his young brain, and, for the first time since his boyhood there, he openly wept.
In the feathered, brawny arms of wise Stratos, winged champion of Avion, he'd found reason.
In the playfully adventurous spirit of Man-E-Faces, the dreamer in him had found understanding and kinship.
In Ram Man's gruff embrace, he had found a big brother, who never tired of his antics, ..as well as strength.
If there was anything of the warrior inside him, he owed its inspiration to Duncan, now all that stood between his beloved Eternos and a world gone mad. Though the brave Man-At-Arms was nowhere among these warriors, the sheen of his courage, tested time and time again against the evil forces of Skeletor, spurred him to stand, ..even in the face of destruction in these icy wastes.
When Adam turned to look upon his friends, ..just as an army of snarling, spear-wielding ice trolls rushed the Valeria from the frozen shore, ..his eyes were beholden to only one. In a frenzied motion, his hand closed upon hers and drew the comely, fire-haired warrior to his lips. Taking Teela's face between his big hands, Prince Adam kissed her fiercely.
Captain Teela trembled against the young man's broad chest. His lips were sweeter to her than ever she had dreamed, but ripe with as much unspoken dread, ..as with love. "Go, Prince Adam. May the Ancients walk with you, where I cannot."
He-Man turned from the attak-trak's controls to a slender hand tightening upon his forearm. Pale green eyes, too ancient for the youthful face that framed them ..and deep with otherworldly power, bore into his own. "I will protect him, Teela."
"You'd better," the warrior-woman warned, imperiously. Her grip tightening. "Or by Morning Star, you'll answer to me!"
The urgent despair in Teela's emerald eyes, where once only strength had shone, is what Prince Adam carried with him into the icy, artic wastes, as he rode off with He-Man of the Vulnarians on the shiny, red attak-trak. He would see it blaze defiantly there again, or so he avowed himself. No matter the cost.
The onslaught of the ice trolls was fearsome indeed, an unrelenting barrage of black iron spears, booted heels, and upraised maces. Yet, still the attak-trak drove onward. Unstoppable! Alive with ancient technology Man-At-Arms had recovered from one of the many ruined civilizations littering Eternia's wastelands. At the barbarian's command, Lord Adam replaced him at the machine's controls, while He-Man, split open thick skulls and armored chests with sword and battleaxe, cutting down the troll hordes in a bloodthirsty frenzy. Choking back his tears, the man-child at its controls struggled to steady his mount, knowing he was his world's last hope, even as the attak-trak exploded under them.
Crafted like a giant, metal wasp, the Fright Fighter, one of many death-dealing aircraft Skeletor used to suppress the barbarous denizens of his hemisphere, appeared on the gray horizon. A flash of light erupted from the cannons mounted on its sides, and He-Man hurled his trusty axe for the three-eyed monster at its controls, ..but it was too late. In yet another flash from the flying weapon, the ground ripped apart beneath the treads of the attak-trak he and Prince Adam shared, and the machine under them burst into flames. The Vulnarian's enchanted axe returned to his hand, ..and the battered warriors plummeted into the freezing Icer Sea below.
Prince Adam choked, as fingers tightened in his flaxen hair, drawing him toward the sparkling surface of the waves overhead. His last memory, before falling into the sea, was of being on fire. Now, even as his skull rang with his own crazed screams, the cold grip of icy waters bit into his bare flesh like the teeth of a hungry panther. His golden head ripped free of the Icer, he gasped. The air burning in his lungs! "Leave me here, He-Man -- go! I-I'm finished!"
"Damn the men of this world," He-Man growled, pulling Prince Adam's naked, white bulk onto the frozen island, "if they are all so easily put on their bellies as you! To crawl like worms, waiting to be eaten! You're a man! I'll fight at your side -- even ready you for the war to come -- but you must do the rest! Get up!"
"You should've left me to die in those waters!" Prince Adam huffed, rolling onto his side to vomit into the snow. Nothing came up. "You despise me because I'm weak -- because I was too weak to save them! Admit it! You blame me for the massacre of the Vulnarians!"
"There was a battle ..at Grayskull," He-Man recalled, hanging his head in shame. "The Lord of Destruction threatened to slay Queen Marlena, if anyone challenged his conquest of Grayskull. The battle was a diversion ..to lure me away from my brothers, while Morgonymyr butchered them. When I'd driven Skeletor from Grayskull and returned to Vulnar's Valley, ..i-it was too late."
"Now, he's going to destroy everything we love," sobbed Prince Adam, "if you don't save Eternia! Leave me, He-Man! I'm dead anyway -- mankind with me, if you don't stop him! Go!"
"No!" With one hand entangled in his hair, He-man pulled Prince Adam up and onto his knees. "Get up, damn you, ..and look at me! You say there's something in our mother's face that gives us strength -- find it in mine! Now, lead on!"
"Lead?!" Intended or not, the query mocked Adam. "Lead where? E-everything's covered in snow!"
"Feel the wind at your back and all around you ..and lean into it, like a wolf!" He-Man grunted. His nostrils flaring wide, as he leaned forward on his own hands and knees ..and breathed in the artic air. "Now, look at that crater up ahead, where the snow is perfectly still -- yet, there's nothing there! The hairs of a man's stones never lie, brother, ..even when his eyes do. What do the hairs of your stones tell you is there, ..in the crater?"
Young Adam winced. As much at his discomfort, as at the animal he had become.
Around him the wind howled, and the white of the snow left him all, but blind. Needles of ice-cold bit into the backs of his thighs ..and what dangled between them. Ignoring his other senses, even those of smell, Prince Adam took what he could from the unmentionable chill below, ..and a perfect triangle, unmolested by the raging winds all around him, took shape in the snow. "Procrustus showed me the Fearamid resting in a land that no wind stirs! Something we cannot see shields the ground ahead, ..or weighs down the ice and snow! Skeletor is here, He-Man!"
"The cold, sharp fate of Eternia is in your hand, Prince Adam," He-Man reminded him of the weapon Teelana had entrusted him, "Your enemies have defiled your house. Your kingdom! You must make them pay for that!"
"But how?" Prince Adam sobbed, burying his face in his arms. "How do I make them pay?! I'm only a man -- one man!"
Gripping the golden mane of Prince Adam's hair in one fist, He-Man ripped his head upward again. The tears he saw running down Prince Adam's cheeks -- the loss of his innocence -- wounded him more than he knew was possible. Blow by blow, had he hammered away at the Prince's childlike nature, and still it lingered. Looking into tearing blue eyes that mirrored his own, he choked back his regret. "You'll not hide from this, brother -- from your destiny! Your king and father lays dying, Adam! Your mother and your world, Eternia, follows him to the grave! What will be your judgment?!"
Naked and shivering, Prince Adam stood ..and brought the silvery Sword of Power before his chest. The icy winds whipped the sodden, flaxen hair about his face, masking his uncertainty. The impotent rage of his grief and of life wasted in a gilded cage of royal privilege coursed through his young sinews one final time, and the incantation Teelana gave him at Grayskull charged to his lips like wild horses.
By the Powers of Grayskull!!!
Half screamed. Half roared.
A horrific, tortured sound tore from the young man, as ribbons of blue-white electricity rippled over his flesh like a tide, leaving the virginal rose of his complexion a deep bronze in its wake. His muscles swelled, barely able to restrain the divine weapon in his hands, as it was pulled magnetically toward the heavens. "He-Man is free, Lord Adam! Free to serve the Ancients ..and mankind! You have my eternal thanks!"
"To arms, then, brother," Adam of the Vulnarians said, slipping the korodite harness onto the new He-Man's massive shoulders, "Take this harness ..with the devilbeaver pelt and boar-hide boots of my immortal tribesmen. You've earned them all."
Swiftly, Grayskull's new champion slipped into the korodite harness and belted a portion of the beaverhide around his waist - then, lumbered off into the icy tempest toward the crater. The air there crackled around him, disrupted by the magic radiating from his body. The veil of mystical energy behind which Skeletor had hidden the Magic Stealer faded away, revealing a monstrous, pyramid of green rock at the crater's center. Slowing his pace, He-Man called to the bronze-skinned man at his back. "Come with me! We'll take the Fearamid together!"
"I must remain here," Lord Adam answered, slashing a deep gash into the snow with his sword, "until I am called back to my own world. This is your fight. You are He-Man, here."
"I will go to the Valley of Vulnar," the big, bronze man shouted over the howling of the wind. "I will erect a monument to our brothers there, ..and I will honor their code always! I swear it!"
"Go, in honor," Lord Adam nodded respectfully, awe-struck by the resemblance between them, ..down to the weaving of the veins in their massive forearms, as he slid his silvery blade from its scabbard. "Go, He-Man, ..and good journey."
Through the icy mists, Lord Adam saw the new He-Man rush down into the crater towards the dreaded House of Extreia. Powerful legs carried him over the snow and rock therein, at a speed beyond human capabilities, until, with a wild shriek of warrior's rage, he saw He-Man leap at the Fearamid's ancient stone face ..and vanish into it! The ground cracked apart at the big Vulnarian's feet, and he staggered backwards. In his broad hands was the Sword of Ancients. Without the Harness of Vulnar to bind the collective strength of his dead tribesmen to him, the weapon weighed heavier in his hands than ever it had. In one fist, he held it before him. "Show yourself, Skeletor."
A black mass took shape in the distance, ..near the edge of the crater. "Did you think the Magic Stealer's tomb of your primitive legends was some fortress of dried mud and stone?! It is a mirror of the terror in the hearts of all mankind -- even yours! You are defenseless, Last Son of Vulnar! Here, naked and alone on an alien world, ..you will die."
Confused, Lord Adam shook his head, ..as if to force himself awake from a nightmare! Surrounding him on every front, north, south, east and west, was the massive, jade monolith impossibly replicated. "You think to hide the true Fearamid behind these illusions, demonking? I'll destroy them all ..and you with them!"
Toting the ram-headed, black Havoc Staff at his side, the Lord of Destruction stepped forward, framed by the soullessly pale green of the monstrous Fearamid at his back. "Look around you, barbarian -- we are inside it! Inside Terror itself! Here on this world between worlds, fear rules, ..and I am its master! I am a god!"
As if in protest to the Dread One's claim, a fierce wind stirred between the Vulnarian and his foe. Over He-Man's broad chest and back - over the gargantuan muscles of his loins, lower legs and feet, tiny shards of flying ice crashed together! Until each of the crystalline shards there, woven together by unseen forces, turned to silvery metal armor! Upon his breastplate blazed the Eldor Cross of Grayskull, flickering red as if painted in fire.
A red falcon circled overhead, as if from nowhere, and He-Man glanced up to marvel at it. The familiar tingle of the Teelana's magic aroused his senses, just as it had in their soulful coupling at Grayskull. Silently, from the mysteries of his mind, he thanked her for the gift of armor, and, just as swiftly as the bird had appeared, it vanished into the clouds above.
"It seems you have the favor of this world's gods, barbarian," marveled the Lord of the Wastes, as he threw back his ebon cloak and unsheathed his black Sword of Chaos. "It will avail you nothing, ..and this world will be mine. Mine to burn. Mine to drown. Mine to bury under a steaming mound of dragon feces!"
"I've something that you could never understand, demon," He-Man answered, bringing his silvery weapon to a defensive position, "a love for Eternia, even this one, ..and for mankind! That is weapon enough!"
For a silent moment, He-Man and Skeletor circled one another.
Digging his clawed boot-heels into the virgin white of the snow, the ebon-robed Lord of Destruction twirled his fiery, black blade in one hand ..and snarled 'neath his golden skull-mask. The monstrous thews of his Vulnarian foe tensed with the promise of the battle to come, ..until, with one primal roar, they came crashing together.
In a storm of metal and light!
The Enemy of Man swung his sword forward, and He-Man was forced back by a fierce and powerful blow. He rolled backward across the white ground, as his grotesque pursuer advanced, and sprung back to his feet - the Sword of Ancients held firmly before him. "Two worlds lay dying at your hand, Skeletor. This time, you have gone too far."
"And you have lost, barbarian," Skeletor warned through hollow eyes, digging and swinging the fiery blade at his golden-maned enemy's throat. He watched, as He-Man's savage blows impacted against the invisible shield surrounding him, and though none had penetrated, the sheer force of them had battered him back to the edge of the crater. In one, graceful stroke, the Dread One's Sword of Chaos sank through He-man's armor and into his right shoulder. When Skeletor withdrew his weapon, he heard his young foe hiss in agony ..and the hero's hot, red blood sizzling on the fresh snow. "Though you are the champion of the gods on the world of your birth, you are nothing here, .. and I am invincible. When I have choked this Eternia with its own fear and rage -- when its temples are littered with murdered priests, and the Royal Guard is raping young noblemen in the streets -- I will return to your world, ..and I will destroy it!"
"You want to see us cowered in dark caves again, eating each other to stay alive, don't you?" Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, He-Man circled his black-robed foe, pacing his next strike and careful not to lower his defenses. The Sword of Power held before him. "You want us terrified of the monsters grazing in the daylight ..and praying to you to keep them at bay? Those days are over, demon! Man'll not be ruled by his fears ..ever again!"
His flaming, black sword in one hand, the skull-masked demonking drew back his hand and hurled his blade deep into He-Man's right arm. Looking down into the icy blue of his eyes, Skeletor ripped his sword free and saw a thick rain of crimson sprayed across He-Man's silvery breastplate. "Had I a soul, your effort to understand me would be charming. Heartwarming. I want to wipe you from the cosmos, human! I want to see you slide from my heels, like waste ..into Oblivion! Can you understand that?"
That the next sadistic blow would be fatal, He-Man did not doubt. "Then, by Zodac's Black Gun, may I drive thee with one righteous blow, back into realms beyond!"
As He-Man looked on, the Lord of Destruction swept his sword high over his hooded head and swung it downwards. "From world to world, you follow me, like a faithful hound, ..hungering for the battle that will complete you. Concede, Vulnarian. Concede that I am your master."
The world blurred before him, as the Sword of Chaos pressed into his throat. It was only by force of his will that the blade did not cut him. His fingers curled over its edge, resisting the pressure upon his neck. It would take off his head, should his will weaken. "You are nothing, Lord of the Wastes, ..and this battle is over!"
Inside the mile-wide crater, from the monolithic Great Fearamid, a blinding white flared, and, before it, the Enemy of Man fell to his knees. "No. This cannot be!"
"Oblivion is the tomb of the Magic Stealer, Skeletor," He-Man answered, standing over his spectral enemy. "The Fearamid is no more, and you are fading. Soon, we will both fade from this plane and be forgotten!"
Skeletor clawed at his ebon robes and the rotting flesh beneath, only to see them turned to so much black dust in began to fade. "I control the mightiest forces on all Eternia -- of the universe itself! I am a god! I will rule the world of men!"
"Like Mighty Procrustus, your power is now divided between many worlds," He-Man grunted, rising to stand, "and you've wasted it all in battle with me. Only one blow need be struck to bring you low, ..and the He-Man of this world has just struck that blow!"
From the north, light flared. Throughout Eternia, ..in the forested paradises, fertile plains and mystic mountains - and even at the lonely, tempest-tossed Castle Grayskull -- joyous spirits, seen and unseen, cheered, ..and all was well once more.
Flat on his back, at the center of a vast, frozen crater in the Salkind Islands, He-Man awoke to see the broad, ruddy face of his friend, the Man-At-Arms, ripple into focus. "Duncan? How did you ..find ..?"
"Zoar guided us here," the old man answered, lifting a flask to the big Vulnarian's lips and signaling Captain Teela to approach. "The falcon told us you lay near death in these icy wastes! Are you ..alright?"
The comely, red-haired woman cast a confused glance over her shoulder, kneeling down to examine Lord Adam. "That flash of light that just lit up the sky -- what was it?"
He-Man grinned proudly, as Captain Teela and Man-At-Arms helped him onto the Royal Storm Raider Valeria, ..the same scarred, old wreck he'd driven into battle so many times before. "A fight, methinks, ..and it's just getting started."
The Four Grails of Procrustus are passed between many halls, that all, who share his burden, may partake of their strength.
Now, the grails are passed to another...
"I am Adam,
Prince of Eternia and guardian of the secrets of Castle Grayskull
Ever near, is Cringer, ..my fearless friend
Fabulous, secret powers were revealed to me
The day I held aloft my magic sword and swore ..
By the powers of Grayskull!
Few others share this secret,
But only one shares the burden
He is He-Man, the most powerful man in the Universe,
And brother to all Mankind."
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.