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The Bitter Rose Quest
From a short story by Full Fallen Moon
"Follow the rats."
"Follow the rats?" the Sorceress of Grayskull asked. Torch's light flickered all around her in the bleak gray and green of the ancient castle she called home. Before the golden pyramid upon which she sat in the Hall of Wisdom, the Captain of the Royal Guard stood alone. "That is what you think brought you to this, my inner sanctum?! Following rats?"
That is what Sir Duncan had told his daughter once, should the dread mission of infiltrating the mysterious Castle Grayskull ever fall to her. The old man had neglected to tell Teela that these castle-rats were as big as lions, making breaking into Grayskull far more treacherous than ever the warrior woman had anticipated. Even after dangling over an abyss and following the filthy beasts up through a crevice far beneath the castle, she had automated laser cannons, armored warrior-ghosts and a ton of creepy crawlies to contend with.
The Sorceress's suggestion that getting through all that alive had been easy did not amuse Captain Teela in the least. "I came here to find He-Man--not to impress you, Lady Grayskull. He-Man has been missing for several days and the warriors of King Tamask say this is the last place he was seen. Where is he?"
A small, dark shape appeared on the Sorceress's feathered shoulder-a rat with a mane like a lion. She caressed it and giggled playfully. "I lowered Grayskull's mystic barriers and the transdimensional rifts that surround its walls. I also blinded the rats to your presence. Ask Persephos here, if you don't believe me!"
Her eyes tensing with suspicion, Captain Teela drew her golden blade and fell gracefully into her fighting stance. "So, you knew I was coming? You even guided me here? Why?"
"Because trusting that which you cannot see with your own eyes is often impossible for you," answered Lady Grayskull. "Because, like your father, you are a child of science and steel, more than faith. Now, lower your blade."
"I still don't trust you, witch," Man-At-Arms' daughter spat, "--not after your power nearly destroyed this entire planet only months ago! Not, when it involves He-Man,..and I am not your child!"
The truth of their kinship, that Teela Agrippa was indeed her daughter, lashed at the walls of Teelana's heart. "I told you to lower your blade."
An invisible force hurled Captain Teela from the Sorceress's path and hard against a wall. The amazon's fingers sprung open, sending the golden sword her fathered forged her skidding across the gray and stony floor. "Bitch! Where is He-Man? What do you want with me?!"
The Sorceress looked at her, this iron-hard, steely willed woman, lacking in all of her grace, and saw all of that which she owed her. Though it took no less than all of her will, she resisted the urge to end the deception that separated them. "I brought you here, Teela, to give you another chance."
"A chance?" Captain Teela grunted. "A chance to do what,..die at your hand?!"
The Sorceress gestured gracefully with a hand and a portion of the wall vanished, revealing a dark cave mouth. "A chance to reach out to the universe, with something other than the edge of your sword. To see it for the wonder that it is,..a wonder alive in your own heart."
"You don't understand my universe, Lady Grayskull," the warrior-woman replied with a snarl. "What sorcery is this?"
The Sorceress waved her hand before the shadowy cave, and the jagged opening shaped into a sleek arch. Inside the cave, candles flickered to life, lighting a small pool crafted in marble. A single and narrow walkway stretched from the opening of the cave to a circular platform at the pool's center, where a glowing, pink orb hovered over a small pedestal. "This is a shrine to the goddess Floragia, Captain Teela. Enter..and let your love for He-Man lead you to him."
The tall, armored woman approached cautiously.
Even in the grip of irrational fear, she walked like a soldier. It was a careful and measured gate more suited for parades, than commune with the gods. It was a walk that made men seem machine-like and invulnerable, and she had mastered it. When Captain Teela reached for the glowing orb and looked upon it, her hand trembled. "A..flower?"
"A rose," answered the Sorceress. "The Bitter Rose of Floragia, from whose divine pedals all lovers are inspired. Its perfume opens and pervades our hearts, and through it, all lovers are comforted. The man you seek thinks he must protect you from a secret. Touch the Bitter Rose, Teela. Bare your heart to the cosmos, and you will find him."
Captain Teela extended her hand.
In the haze surrounding the Bitter Rose, strange energies caressed her fingers as dreamlike images took shape in her mind. Through the haze, she saw a man and woman making love, and she gasped. "No! This is not real! You..and He-Man--but, why? Why are you showing me this?"
"My power was out of control, Teela--tearing this planet apart!" The mighty Sorceress of Grayskull hung her head. She could not look into her daughter's eyes and tell her that they had shared a lover. "The chaos was created, when first I used my powers to banish the demons of Gorlot into the Underworld, unleashing a rage within my soul that could not be tamed! For many weeks thereafter, Eternia was plagued by wild storms and terrible disasters. Many died! He-Man yielded the treasures of his body and restored my humanity, sparing Eternia destruction at my hand."
Captain Teela seemed suddenly made of white granite. The shock of betrayal petrified her beautiful face. "He made love to you..to save the world?"
"That night and every third moon since," continued the Sorceress, with seeming indifference to Teela. "We used the rites of Ani-Ma to release an ancient, sexual magic that first night--a healing magic that demands ritual couplings as sacrament. The deception has tortured him, Teela,..but such is his love for Eternia and for you that he has not doubted the value of his sacrifice. Until now."
The tall, red-haired woman looked away. Disgusted. Ashamed.
Even in grief, she was first and foremost Man-At-Arms daughter,..a warrior in all things. Before the Sorceress, Captain Teela would show no doubt in the righteousness of her outrage,..lest it be taken as weakness. An invitation to more disrespect. "He-Man thinks he's betrayed my trust, as surely as you have! That he has dishonored me somehow--yet,..he loves me?"
"So much that he would sacrifice his honor to save you," answered Lady Grayskull. In her serene face, Teela saw all of the assuredness she herself did not possess. "Enough that he will lay down his power to honor you! Now must you sacrifice your warrior's pride to honor him."
"H-he kneels..in the Temple of the Sun!" cried Teela. It was the power of the Bitter Rose, she was sure, though she did not understand how. "He's gone there to give his powers back to the Ancients! When it's done, He-Man will be no more. Sorceress, please--you must stop him!"
That the Sorceress could not travel beyond Grayskull's walls, except as the falcon Zoar was far more than a legend. There were other arcane limitations imposed on her power, and it was times like this that she felt entirely helpless. "Long ago, the Ancients erected great barriers between Grayskull and the Temple...insuring that, should one fall to the enemy, its power could not be used to conquer the other. There is nothing I can do."
The blue steel of Teela's eyes glinted with determination. "Like hell, there isn't, lady! I didn't come this far to sit back and watch the only man I'll ever love destroy himself! Give me the Talon Fighter!"
The Sorceress knew well that telepathically attuning the bizarrely shaped Talon Fighter for anyone's mental commands, but He-Man's, had been forbidden by Grayskull's spectral masters. "It would seem you are owed that much, Captain. Damn the Ancients, then! It is yours!"
As the Talon Fighter climbed into the clouds-as its weird engines roared, and the cockpit crackled with mechanical sounds and ghostly pinpricks of light-Captain Teela Agrippa was tormented by thoughts of what the Sorceress had shared with He-Man. What He-Man must have been thinking, as he looked into the overwhelming serenity of Lady Grayskull's face..and felt her lips brush against his for the first time. What she must have smelled like? How the Sorceress must have trembled as He-Man's flesh met hers,..roughly or gently.
Had she moaned softly,..and did it make him feel like a god, when she did it? That bitch.
Though it had been done in the shadow of the end of the world, as mountains ripped themselves out of the ground and rivers turned to blood, Lady Grayskull had violated a sacred, but unspoken, trust between two women. Though for the most noble and heroic reasons conceivable, she had made love to the man another claimed as hers!
And in the heat of that cosmic, world-shattering love, did the Sorceress think once of Teela Agrippa? Did either of them?
Of course, they didn't. The Ancients had no use for her. Until now.
Having abandoned the Talon Fighter in the sands surrounding the Temple of the Sun, the temple priests, led Captain Teela to their master, the meticulously goateed Keeper, leaving them alone in an expansive, sandstone chamber furnished entirely with gold. He was a slightly built man with a golden olive complexion that seemed out of place this far from the Harmony Coasts and possessed of such womanish beauty that, beside him, the captain felt freakish and awkward. She followed him down a long, sandstone corridor bathed in soft, flickering light.
"The Bitter Rose led you here," the Master Keeper half-whispered from under his veiled diadem.
That he was asking or telling of the Rose's power, Captain Teela could not be sure. It seemed to her that most of the poor souls inhabiting the world's handful of mystic ruins amused themselves with this cryptic way of speaking, and it never failed to annoy her. "How did you know?"
"The Rose Goddess is one of my ancestors," the Master Keeper smiled mysteriously. "I am well acquainted with the flower's fragrance,..as I am with the man you seek. Alone, we faced eternity as gladiators on the Mountain of the War Gods, until the Sorceress channeled her life-force into me, giving me power enough to save us..and all of Eternia."
It was the same smile Captain Teela had found so reassuring on Lady Grayskull, until today. She did not know that she could trust that smile anymore, especially on a face as beguilingly lovely as this one. "She gave you her soul..to save Eternia?"
"Like He-Man, I owe noble Teelana my life and freedom," the man answered, stopping along the corridor to unlock a large, bronze door.
In the corner of the bleak room behind it, a large and familiar, bronze figure stirred from the shadows. Naked, but for a humble loincloth of white linen, He-Man bowed his respect to the Keeper. "Thank you, Lord Hyacles."
When the guardswoman turned to thank the Keeper, she found that he was gone and the bronze door through which she had entered the chamber, closed. Confused, she turned to face He-Man. "I know why you are here--what you are about to sacrifice for me. Us. Please. Just let me hold you. By Grayskull, let me hold you."
"You know?" the big man groaned, lowering himself hard onto his knees. He turned his head slightly away, the shroud of dark golden hair hiding poorly the shame weighting his brow. "Then, you also know that we will never belong to each other, so long as all that I am is owed to Grayskull and its Ancients. As long as I am He-Man, you may never claim me as yours."
"You are the man I love," the amazon answered, "but, you must love Eternia more. I never knew what that meant, until this happened,..but, I've accepted that now. Truly, I have. Don't do this, He-Man. Don't take away the man I love."
"I came to your bed this morning," confessed He-Man, tearfully. "I reached out to touch you, as you slept,..but, I couldn't face you, Teela. I couldn't tell you the truth! How can you stand to look at me,..after all of the lies--the betrayal? Do you hate me, Teela?"
"I am not a fool, He-Man," answered the tall, armored woman, rushing into He-Man's arms. Something in those strong shoulders sank, when she said it. "I know that you will never belong solely to me--that I must love that of you, which owes nothing to Grayskull's Ancients. They have bestowed great power on you, but, under that sacred burden is a good and noble heart!"
The captain's devotion broke He-Man, as certainly as if a swift hammer-blow had struck him down onto his knees,..and the humble tears rolled down his bronze cheeks. "Give your heart to one, who proves himself worthy of it, dear lady..and go far from this place. From me."
"No--never from you," Captain Teela cried softly, kissing He-Man's lips, as she held his face between her hands. "Now come, my love. Let me hold you. Let me love you."
Even as he held her, He-Man struggled to hold back his tears, in awe of the brave woman in his arms.
In all the years that he had known her, Teela Agrippa's love had never failed him. In times of tender need and desperate passion, it flowed from her like honey. So boldly and selflessly that it brought him nearly to tears, just as it did now. Naked, he followed her meekly to the bed.
Captain Teela kissed He-Man lovingly, aching to soothe the hurt he could not hide from her. The sight of him so bared and opened to her took her breath away, and though Teela was tempted to a frenzied, wild ride, she did not indulge. Each time she drew away from him, she found her lover's eyes, deeply blue as the ocean Gnarl, beckoning. His broad, beautiful lips trembling to be rejoined to hers. Kissing her.
Easing her head between his big hands, her fiery red hair spilling over and between his fingers, He-Man smiled adoringly into his woman’s eyes. It was times like this,..when the depth and intensity of Captain Teela’s devotion truly humbled him, that he felt Prince Adam’s youthful awkwardness squirming just beneath his muscles. “You flew the most dangerous weapon in Grayskull’s arsenal over half the Lighted World..just to be with me?”
“You,” whispered Teela. “You—not your secrets. Not whoever you are or wherever you’re from. Just to be with you,..and I’d do it again. Do you hear me? I love you, hero. I’d fly through Hell’s black sun to be with you.”
Without a word, beautiful Teela busied her mouth with other work.
“Gods, I love you, woman.” He-Man took her face in his hands and tasted her lips. "Take me. Love me,..or by Grayskull, I'll go mad."
Pulling lovely Lady Teela up into his tree-thick arms, He-Man saw her tremble before his stare. Tenderly, he lifted his lips to meet hers.
"I will never turn from you, my love," Teela whispered. Tears swelling her eyes. "Ever. There's nothing in the world I wouldn't do for you. You know that."
"I do," He-Man answered, kissing her lips softly. "Even if I did not share the wisdom of Grayskull's Ancients, my heart would know it. I also know that, so long as I serve them--so long as I keep their secrets--I can never be worthy of your love."
"Damn your secrets, then," the beautiful captain replied. "You're a good man. Braver than any I've ever known. Now, take me, He-Man. Love me,..until I am a senseless, broken beast! Until my lungs burst from weeping for mercy!"
Between long, sinewy legs, Captain Teela felt herself taken with swift, steady savagery. She felt her large, pale breasts pounding against He-Man's bare chest, against her own heart, as if the violent thrashing motion of her body would tear them from her!
"Tell me you want it, woman," teased the bronze hercules between her legs.
“Don’t stop,” she sighed, numb with ecstasy. Her arms curled desperately around his head, she cried to the Divine Rose. “Don’t take this from me. Ever. Don't take He-Man away from me. Promise me we’ll always have this.”
Care for Teela’s comfort poured out of He-Man. Into the pillows. Into the pale sea of her supple, white flesh.
He was a big man, and he sank into her like rain into rich, dark soil. He sank into her with the whole of his weight, his weary shoulders and arms, sore muscles and tired heart, and the weight of his great loneliness, and he wept gratefully in her strong arms as he could nowhere else. “We will, Teela. I swear it on Grayskull. We'll always have this.”
Their eyes met. Their hot breath mingled. He-Man flooding the crimson warmth of her mysteries with wet, hot white!
Far away, on the gray-green ramparts of mighty Castle Grayskull, two lonely figures looked out over the Evergreen Forests and into the light of Eternia's two moons.
"They are together, Duncan," Lady Grayskull smiled, pulling her feathered cloak tightly around her shoulders. "Teela prayed to the Bitter Rose Goddess to be reunited with the man she loves, and the goddess has granted her wish. Her love has given him the strength to leave his destiny in the hands of the gods."
Man-At-Arms sighed his relief. Something in him relaxed such that even his heavy, bronze armor could not hide it, and he put his arms around the Sorceress. "Then, Teela is safe,..and the spell that bound you to lie with He-Man every third moon--it is broken? You are free to love?"
"Yes, Sir Duncan," Teelana answered, melting comfortably in his embrace. "Free to love as I choose. Our daughter has chosen with whom she will know love. Now, must we choose. Again."
"Twenty-four years ago," whispered Duncan, caressing her pale cheek, "I chose devotion to a king over devotion to a woman. I was a fool."
Lady Grayskull cried softly on his shoulder. "And I was as cold as a statue with grief that the only man I'd ever loved was dead. That I would never love anyone so much as him. I don't ever want to be that cold again, Duncan."
Man-At-Arms drew the hooded Sorceress closer to him and kissed her.
It was a bold, but gentle kiss, the warmest Sir Duncan Agrippa had ever known. He had waited more than two decades to share it with her. "You won't be, Teelana. Not anymore."
Before his touch, the white feathers that had too often separated the Sorceress from her own humanity fell away from her body and onto the wind. The scarred green and gold of his massive chest and shoulder armor vanished under the warmth of her fingers, and they held each other softly in the moonlight.
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