He-Man of the Vines, Part 2

By T. F. Cooper (Based On A Story by Gary Cohn)

In the darkness, He-Man broke from the hellspawn’s grip and brought the Sword of Power between them!

Before its light, the beast shed its meek, mortal guise and rose to stand on dragon's feet - black as ash and well higher than a dozen men stacked one atop the other! His brave armored tiger leapt at the dragon's throat, but found himself thrown into a rocky hillside and broken like a toy, ..waiting for his turn to be the monster's food.

He-Man was alone against him, ..and the dragon laughed. "Eight thousand years ago, for the love of a mortal woman, Simyran, drove me from the throne of Oblivion, and I cursed him - that he would be the death of his children. The fool thought me destroyed, and now his arrogance has proved your undoing. Look around you, mortal - at the men Simyran loved as his own sons! The prophecy has finally been fulfilled!"

"You are Morgonymyr," recalled the Vulnarian, his blade before him, surveying his monstrous foe for the best point of attack, "the beast, who feeds on the damned - half-brother of Granamyr, the Lord of Dragons."

"You know the legends well," Morgonymyr hissed approvingly, "With the slaughter of your immortal warrior race, I'll be the most feared of my clan - poised to challenge my brother for control of our kind's destiny! I'm going to reduce Eternia to lifeless, blackened rock, human. I'm going to burn down the starry spires of Heaven! You are all that stands in my way."

Painted in the crimson glow of the moons, the dragon’s ancient maws stretched apart, and the night air was filled with blue-white rage.

Muscles tempered by the most brutal conditioning known to man swelled and sprung, hurling the He-Man out of its path, while the rock beneath his heels was scorched. The shock of the attack behind him, the Vulnarian warrior ignored the stinging in his side and tumbled back onto his feet - the Sword of Power held out before him. Against a mortal enemy, his corodite harness might have made this kind of wound an impossibility, ..but against a dragon, there'd been no quarter. "Was it true, what you said of my brothers, beast - of how bravely they fought?"

The dragon looked down in the He-Man's direction, unsure of exactly what he meant. "Of all, except King Simyran - yes. Your master was the first to see beyond my guise, ..even before I struck! I was still in a boy's skin, when I broke his neck."

"Devil!" He-Man cursed him, hurling himself onto the behemoth’s thigh. Mindless with rage and grief, he slammed the edge of his corodite axe into Morgonymyr’s scaly hide, until the wine-dark blood beneath sprayed forth across his naked chest and arms. "Stoneless devil! You were not fit to kill him! He deserved, at least, to die under your stinking claws, ..fighting for his life!"

Morgonymyr snorted a laugh, and a sound rang out from the hillside like thunder. From a cloud of dust, rocks rained into the valley from the strike of the dragon's tail. As he tumbled to the ground under the barrage of stones, He-Man raised his corodite shield, and many disintegrated against it. The attack had been a ruse, and as his blood-drenched mortal foe lifted his weapon to retaliate, Morgonymyr's black, clawed fingers snaked about his torso, and He-Man felt the ground leave his feet in a great, cold rush - the chill wind in his hair! Then, ..just as quickly, ..he was free of the dragon's grip once more.

His back struck the hillside first. The corodite harness was little comfort.

"You insolent, Vulnarian animal!" the dragon growled, as the man rolled from the hillside to his doom. "Do I seem so stoneless now, He-Man? Would you know more of the stones in my keeping?"

Dread Morgonymyr thrashed the hillside again, burying He-Man under a hail of rocks, and the dragon savored a groan from his captive enemy. "You are nothing, savage! Nothing! That the likes of you should ever vanquish a dragon is cosmic sacrilege! I will wipe you from even the dust of time ..and of legend! Until your exploits are the jest of campfires!"

As the cold overtook him, He-Man found he could no longer trust his senses. The rocky remains of the mountain were everywhere, such that he could not detect any hint of moonlight between them. Yet, before his eyes, from within one stone, light seemed impossibly to emanate and, even more impossibly to speak. Bathed in otherworldly light, ..the heat of which seemed miraculously to restore all that battle had taken from him, He-Man felt a strong hand clasp about his own ..and a voice like thunder fill his skull. "M-mighty Teela ..?"

By my Rod of Order, do I bind the shared might of your brothers to you, He-Man of the Vulnarians.  By the Powers of Grayskull, do I bind thee Avenger of the Ancients.  Take up thy Sword of Power ..and lay waste the Enemies of Man

A hail of rocks rushed skyward, as if driven like cattle, hammering the dragon Morgonymyr backwards, and before the great reptile could raise its wings to shield itself, it felt the Sword of Power plunged deep into its guts. A cloud of dust parting around him, the monster howled, lumbering further backwards and found He-Man, armed with broadsword and battleaxe, advancing toward him. Groaning behind a large, leathery wing, Morgonymyr retreated from his mortal foe.

"Don't slither away from me, you unsexed spawn of hell," He-Man snarled, as he strode toward the beast. An iron will and power centuries older than his nineteen years shone from him. "Not after you've butchered and eaten half my brothers! Bring it forth, dragon! Come get some more!"

Ancient eyes, burning the color of daylight, thinned to slits. Morgonymyr snarled and, in a burst of blinding, blue-white, the dragon vomited forward a broad stream of blazing heat, ..so intense that the rock in its wake was melted to slag. Then, another. And another even hotter, ..before which the rocky ground bubbled into flaming mud and dust! Roaring his outrage, Morgonymyr strode after his mortal enemy, but He-Man was nowhere to be found. "Show yourself, savage! Perhaps, I'll grace you with swift incineration, ..and deny myself the pleasure of taking your insolent head! Perhaps, I'll impale you on a talon ..or make a necklace of your damned intestines! Swift or slow matters not to me - only that you die and complete my vengeance, ..making me the Lord of Dragons! God-king of the World!"

With a guttural cry, hidden in a skin of black, volcanic filth, the Vulnarian dived from the hill above and drove the Sword of the Ancients into the skull of his hellspawned foe, destroying the behemoth's ability to control its limbs. Wrapping his legs around Morgonymyr's tree-thick neck, he swung the mystic blade into its back. In one savage blow, the strength of fifteen thousand men struck the bone beneath the scaly flesh, shattering the dragon’s spine, ..before He-Man leapt free to the rocky mountainside. "I'm here, devil! May this complete your vengeance!"

Morgonymyr, his back bloody and broken, screamed, ..and the mortar in an ancient tower many miles away shook loose from blackened limestone blocks that reached into the clouds. Kings shuddered under their crowns.

Great, black claws ripped into the ground as the monster’s gargantuan limbs flailed out of control. The tail whipping forward and backward into the hill, deeper into the steaming mud it went. Leathery wings swung up from the mud, opening like massive sails. Then, snapping shut - only to flip open again and again. Morgonymyr roared, slumping over to one side. No longer able to maneuver its long neck or lift its great head, it crawled. Groaning and hissing, as his eyes followed He-Man up the hillside. "Finish me, Vulnarian, ..if you’ve the stomach for it! Your wretched brothers ..cry out ..for vengeance! I command you! Finish me ..now .."

Cursed by Morgonymyr. His slain tribesmen debased with vulgarities no demon would give utterance, He-Man climbed the hillside, where his Battle Cat lay injured in a pile of broken rocks. His heart hardened by the loss of his tribesmen, the Vulnarian turned back to look upon his vanquished foe. "This savage will not be the end of you, dragon. My work is done."

The ground beneath great Morgonymyr shifted and quaked. The giant vampire worms of the Vine Jungle, awakened by the dragon's digging and the blood in the soil, slithered out of the muck and twisted themselves around the dragon, even as great Morgonymyr struggled against their glowing white bodies. He roared. He cursed them. Screaming in agony, as the giant nightcrawlers tore loose large pieces of scaly flesh into their hungry mouths, and he begged He-Man to call them off. In their frenzied feeding, the worms’ appetites would not wander from the ripping apart of Morgonymyr's flesh, and they would obey the Vulnarian's telepathic command to leave his dead tribesmen untouched.

On the face of the mountain, where his Battle Cat lay broken or dying, He-Man saw four shadowed figures, kneeling before a large, grey rock. One looked a mockery of man and beast bred together - naked, but for an armored belt, upon which hung a thick, black whip. Another, produced of man's marriage to fish or some sea-dwelling reptile, dressed in golden armor, whose ornate beauty contrast with the monster's ugliness. A third looked to be assembled of working weapons - guns, spears and hooks - to which a bluish gray corpse had been bonded. The last of them, the only one, who might resemble humankind, wore a helmet carved from dark green rock, ..and upon it, three eyes, each a different color, moved as if possessed of separate wills.

Before his uncertain eyes, a black presence took shape in the impressions upon the rock, revealing itself in only portions at a time. First, a gloved and gauntleted hand. Then, the grotesque head of a blackened staff, shaped like a ram's head, followed, ..and finally a black hood materialized. Under it, a skull-like mask that Lord Adam recognized from his boyhood nightmares and, more recently, ..from Castle Grayskull. Two red embers glowed in the empty sockets, and Skeletor, Lord of the Wastes, spoke. "The dragon's loyalties were not cheaply given, Heuay Man. A great feast was promised Morgonymyr for his part in this, ..one worth crossing dimensions of light and shadow to enjoy! Now, you are free ..to take your fitful place among the Priest-kings of Infinitias. As I have ruled the Shadow Lands through them, so will I rule the World of Light through you ..and Grayskull with it. Come forward, Last Son of Vulnar."

"Last Son of Vulnar", the fiend had taunted Adam.

In his nineteen years, no four words had ever cut him as deeply, and he had known with ominous certainty what feast the Lord of Destruction had promised dread Morgonymyr, even as he approached the demonking’s throne. "You were at Grayskull. All of you. You opened the portal, which admitted that thing to this world ..to feed on my brothers?!"

Skeletor leaned forward in his stolen throne, almost invitingly. "For centuries, your tribesmen have protected Eternia from my power. Lay your Sword of Ancients before me, and I will raise them up to conquer the world at your command, ..bringing low the high and righteous! Give me the word, boy, ..and I will raise you up as the Master of Men! Free to indulge all that mankind has too long feared! Its lust. Its rage. Its darkness."

"I’ve no fear of darkness, evil one." He-Man unsheathed his Sword of Power. It shone with the ancient fury of Fierce Heuay, who forged it for King Vulnar the Bold millennia ago, ..and the Priests of Infinitias stepped slightly back. "Nor of rage ..or lust! You are born of mankind's dread of death and pain, ..but we Vulnarians've dreaded neither. I would call my brothers back from death and slaughter them myself, ..before I would see them serve you."

"So, long as that which I am dwells within this ancient body, the rotting mortal shell of Keldor the Great, am I rightful Emperor of Eternia!" The shadowed lord swept back his cloak, and in the places that no armor covered him, He-Man could see the lifeless, bluish gray flesh in which Destruction now walked the world. A small, red spark burst aflame in the hollowed cavities, where men had eyes, and Skeletor with his priests, vanished entirely.

You will serve me, He-Man of the Vines, just as you serve Randor and the kingdom of men! Grayskull will be mine!

In a mad stroke - the echo of Skeltor’s laughter upon the air - He-Man swept the gleaming Sword of Power high over his head and swung it back down at the rock before him, cleaving it in half ..

"But, it was too late," he told the tavern-folk, many moons later. "The Snake Mountain king was gone, ..and the damned stench of him clings to me, even today!"

"A good, hot bath might rid you of that!" roared an interruption from the doorway. The taverners sat spellbound as the large, armored beast strode into the house. Without hesitation, their eyes turned to the Vulnarian. "For Teela's sake, man - on long journeys, your musk's nigh more than even my senses can bear! This young fool in his rabbit pelt wouldn’t last a day under such punishment!"

Lanky Uther stood up from the table and extended his hand towards the Son of the Vines. “Forgive me, Lord Adam. Thought you might be just tryin’ to scare me with your dragons n’ demogorgons, ..but seeing this giant tiger of yours is real – I don’t think I’m ready to be a he-man.”

A sigh of relief was heard from every corner of the tavern, as the golden giant locked the young man’s hand in a firm grip. “Your time ..and place ..will come Uther. You’ll know it.”

“Every man does, son,” Big Maltar muttered, throwing a heavy arm over his son’s shoulder. So’s Mr. Kitty here a man-eater?”

"In battle, he’s a fearless and bloodthirsty ally!" He-Man winked, turning to his mighty Battle Cat. "None, but me, are safe. He also talks. Too much, sometimes."

"Mayhaps, if you were better at recounting these damned adventures of ours, I wouldn't have to," Battle Cat huffed, stretching out in the middle of the floor. "Now are you gonna shut up and let me tell this story properly, or not?"

“That depends on how well this mouth might be shut, good cat,” the big, blond Vulnarian answered distractedly, pulling a comely tavern wench onto his lap. “I’ll have another ale, Maltar, ..and a sturdy bed, if you’ve got one!”


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