Duel, A Tale of Tri-Klops, Part 2

By Drunken Fist  (Based on Mattel's Masters of the Universe)

After a full night’s riding, it became obvious to Tri-Klops that Kheelan’s trail was leading him straight into the Deadlands. Legend had it that Kahndevor the Plague-bringer had dwelt there millennia before the days of King Grayskull and Hordak. After it had departed, no crops of any kind would grow there, even in the time before this half of the planet had been cast into eternal darkness. Now, countless millennia later, the Deadlands remained lifeless. Only the most courageous or foolhardy dared venture into the Deadlands, and few of them ever returned. Even in the bleak and dangerous Dark Hemisphere, the Deadlands seemed cursed. However, Tri-Klops was determined to complete his mission, particularly since the insulting task was beginning to present a bit of a challenge. He urged his steed onward, even though the animal began to act nervous, as if sensing impending danger.

The nights passed in a blur of activity. Tri-Klops pushed his steed to its limits, intent on catching up to Kheelan. As they forged ever deeper into the Deadlands, Tri-Klops’ steed grew more skittish with each mile. Tri-Klops cared not; he could see now that Kheelan’s trail was hot, and it would not be long at all before he caught up to him. Tri-Klops spurred his mount to greater speed, thrilled by the feeling of imminent success. Using his night vision, Tri-Klops could see a gigantic plateau rising up from the barren ground. Somehow, he knew his quarry would be there. Less than an hour’s riding would bring him to its foundation.

Suddenly, his mount reared back in terror, and Tri-Klops was thrown to the craggy ground. Immediately, he was back on his feet, struggling to get his steed under control. But something had spooked the animal, and it galloped away at full speed, wrenching the reins from his grasp. Tri-Klops would have to continue on foot. Most of the provisions had been thrown to the ground before the animal ran off, so at least he wouldn’t starve. Not before he reached the plateau, in any case. Gathering the food into a single pack, Tri-Klops continued toward the plateau, keeping a brisk pace.

It was eerily quiet, as even the howling of wolves and the chirping and clicking noises of insects were simply nonexistent here. The only sounds were the soft thud of Tri-Klops’ boots against the dead earth and the muffled rustling of his cloak. As he drew nearer to the plateau, Tri-Klops was certain that Kheelan had spotted him by this time, if he wasn’t aware of his pursuit before. Although his approach left him open to attack– by archery, for instance– he was unafraid. Such was not Kheelan’s way, as he felt archery was a cowardly means of assault. Even if such an attack were to occur, Tri-Klops was certain he could avoid injury. His armor and his reflexes would see to that.

Presently, Tri-Klops was standing at the base of the plateau. As he had predicted, the trail ended here. Looking up, he could see that the climb would not be excessively arduous, but still, caution was called for. He should lighten his load as much as possible. He removed the pack with his provisions and set it down among the rocks. If the confrontation didn’t turn out to his liking, he probably wouldn’t be needing them, anyway. After shifting his sheathed sword so that it would not impede his mobility while climbing, Tri-Klops began his ascent.

It had been quite a while since he had done any serious rock climbing, and Tri-Klops found himself enjoying the challenge despite the situation. By the time he passed the halfway point, beads of sweat had formed on his skin. Arriving at to a large outcrop of rock, he rested for a few minutes. The climb wasn’t tiring him to any significant degree, but it wouldn’t do to rush to the top at full speed while Kheelan was simply waiting for him, no doubt well-rested.

The rest of the climb was easier, and Tri-Klops soon found himself at the top. Kheelan leaned over the edge, extending a hand to help him up to the surface. Ignoring the gesture, Tri-Klops pulled himself over the shelf and stood atop the plateau, facing the man he had pursued into the very heart of the Deadlands.

“I noticed your pursuit of me a few nights ago,” Kheelan said. “Did I not pay my full share of the tavern bill?”

“Don’t be coy,” Tri-Klops answered impatiently. “You know why I’m here.”

“Of course,” Kheelan replied. “You covet this bauble I have here.” He patted a thick leather pouch that hung from his belt. “The item your master sent you to fetch.”

“And what master do you serve?” Tri-Klops asked. “You have no use for the Wraith Stone. Someone paid you to steal it.”

“You’re half right,” Kheelan said. “Although technically, I wasn’t stealing the Wraith Stone, since it belongs to my master in the first place. It was he who arranged its purchase with Skeletor.”

Tri-Klops was growing annoyed. “That doesn’t make sense, Kheelan,” he said. “Stop wasting my time with such nonsense. I know you’ll refuse, but I give you this one opportunity to give me the Wraith Stone. You know what the consequences will be if you try to keep it from me.”

Kheelan smiled. “You misunderstand the situation, my friend. I speak the truth. All this was orchestrated by my master to lure you out here, away from your master’s watchful eye.”

Tri-Klops was beginning to believe Kheelan was telling the truth. “To what end?” he asked coldly.

“To test your mettle.” This was a new voice, deep and resonant, coming from behind Tri-Klops. Behind, and above. Whirling toward the voice, Tri-Klops beheld an arresting sight. Hovering in the air, descending to the rocky ground, was one of the most dreaded figures on Eternia. Somehow, he had approached without any of the sensors in Tri-Klops’ visor detecting him.

The technomage Penumbra stood even taller than Tri-Klops, and significantly broader. His heavy black cloak hid much of his body from view, but the red helmet with the distinctive black symbol was unmistakable. It hid his face completely, but Tri-Klops could sense the man’s iron will as an almost tangible thing. As he took all this in, Tri-Klops was aware of the potentially fatal danger he could be in. He had counted on having to fight Kheelan, but never suspected that a confrontation with one of the most powerful people on the planet was in the cards. His demeanor betrayed none of his uneasiness, however. Even though he could feel Penumbra’s eyes boring into him, Tri-Klops returned that gaze unflinchingly.

However intimidating his presence was, there was no menace implied in Penumbra’s behavior. “Long have I watched you,” he said to Tri-Klops, “and after so many years, you seem to be languishing in Skeletor’s service. Apart from the witch, you are the most potent of all his confederates, yet he continues to let your talents go to waste on such missions as your present undertaking. Skeletor’s mind became unhinged after his battle at the hall of the Ancients all those years ago; since rising from quiescence last year, his actions have lacked the coordination and competence he displayed in times past. I noticed his erratic behavior when we destroyed the Mystic Wall, and it seems to have only escalated since then. You know he is descending into insanity, even though you dare not admit it aloud. He is no longer a fit master for one such as you.”

Tri-Klops knew where this was going, but he remained silent. Besides, most of what Penumbra was saying was entirely true.

“I will be blunt,” Penumbra continued. “This planet is in a precarious state. It will take men such as you to save it. As long as you remain with the Lord of Snake Mountain, you will be wasted. I offer you a choice: Join me, and prosper. Or remain with Skeletor, and slowly wither away.”

Tri-Klops worded his response carefully. “I must confess, your offer is flattering,” he said. “And there is some truth to what you say. But I have spent the majority of my life with Skeletor, and the thought of jumping ship is not an easy one. I require time to consider such an important decision.”

“Of course,” Penumbra replied. “You are free to leave whenever you wish. I will contact you in time to learn your answer. For now, I ask only one thing.”

A brief pause. “And that is?”

“A duel,” Penumbra said. “I have long respected your skill with the blade, and I wish to pit my own skills against yours. I give you my word that I will bring none of my real power to bear; this is a simple test of swordsmanship.”

Tri-Klops was slightly apprehensive. But ultimately, he realized that, if Penumbra wished to harm him, he certainly could have done so by now. “Very well,” he said. “I accept.”

Without another word, Penumbra’s cloak fell from his shoulders. Before it hit the ground, Kheelan caught it and folded it over his arm. Tri-Klops noted that the material must be quite heavy, judging by the speed at which it fell. He removed his own cloak and let it fall to the ground. Tri-Klops noticed that Penumbra had no sword; he wondered if Kheelan would give him one of his. Suddenly, part of the gauntlet on Penumbra’s left arm unfolded, and the pieces assembled themselves in his hand as a gigantic long sword, black as pitch from tip to pommel. As Tri-Klops drew his own sword, Kheelan took several paces back to allow the combatants plenty of space.

Penumbra and Tri-Klops gave each other a cursory nod, then the duel commenced. Penumbra waited for Tri-Klops to make the first move, which he parried with blinding speed. Penumbra then began a flurry of impossibly fast thrusts and slashes with his blade, and it was all Tri-Klops could to avoid being cleaved in two by that monstrously large blade. He had expected Penumbra to be weighed down by all that armor, but the technomage moved with speed to match Tri-Klops’ own. However, Tri-Klops was not without advantages of his own. His natural agility made combat second-nature to him, and each passing moment increased his knowledge of his opponent’s style of fighting. Thus, his mechanical eye was better able to predict his opponent’s next move.

From Kheelan’s point of view, it was quite a spectacle, watching two of the most skilled fighters on the planet locked in combat, illuminated only by the pallid moonlight. He already knew what the outcome would be, but it was thrilling to watch, nevertheless.

Penumbra put too much force behind a swing, and Tri-Klops managed to lock his own sword around the blade, wrenching it from Penumbra’s grasp. As it clattered on the ground several yards away, Tri-Klops expected Penumbra to yield. He did no such thing. Thrusting Tri-Klops’ blade aside with his hand, Penumbra parried several powerful blows with his gauntlets, then reached backward, and his blade returned to his outstretched hand.

“You have the benefits of your cybernetic eyes,” Penumbra said, “so it’s only fair I utilize a few of my tricks, as well.” Tri-Klops could hear the smile in his voice.

Fair enough, Tri-Klops thought, as the battle resumed.

Long minutes passed as the battle went on, with the ringing of steel against steel audible for miles around. Tri-Klops began to feel weariness creeping into his sword arm, and felt his first twinge of uncertainty. Penumbra never seemed to tire. By all rights, any man fighting while wearing all that armor should be at the brink of exhaustion by now, but the technomage moved with all the outrageous speed he had displayed at the beginning of the duel. Tri-Klops’ eye had detected a small chink between two of the plates of armor on Penumbra’s abdomen. He didn’t want to strike a potentially fatal blow, but it was beginning to seem as if he might meet his own death very soon if he did not. Either Penumbra was actually trying to kill him, or he genuinely did not realize how powerful a swordsman he was. Whatever the reason, Tri-Klops was not about to meet his end if he could avoid it.

Blocking a downward slash with one of his wrist guards, Tri-Klops was knocked to his knees. He managed to lock the blade into place for a moment, and thrust for the chink in Penumbra’s armor. His mechanical eye ensured perfect aim.

Tri-Klops’ dead eyes widened involuntarily underneath his visor. He’d done it! His blade had sunk almost to the hilt in Penumbra’s abdomen. The duel was over.

Tri-Klops felt almost apologetic, despite having saved himself from almost certain death. Then he realized something very odd. Penumbra was laughing. It was low and deep, but it was unmistakably laughter. His sword disassembled itself and the pieces returned to their original places on his left gauntlet. Suddenly, an bolt of black lightning arced across Tri-Klops’ blade, and he fell to the ground. He was wracked with pain as it ran across his body. After a few moments, it dissipated.

Tri-Klops rose to a sitting position to see Penumbra standing over him, apparently unharmed. He extended Tri-Klops’ sword to him; there was no blood on the blade. Tri-Klops grabbed the handle, stood up, and sheathed his sword.

“You performed beyond my expectations,” Penumbra said. “Now more than ever, I am convinced that you are worthy. Think on what has happened here tonight. Should you tire of life under the tyrannical thumb of Skeletor, there is a place for you with us in Carapacia.” With that, his form shimmered for a moment, and he was gone.

Tri-Klops was alone on the plateau. Kheelan had apparently departed after Tri-Klops struck the duel’s final blow. As he turned to retrieve his cloak, he saw the fragment of the Wraith Stone lying on top of it. He couldn’t suppress a smile.

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