Lord of the Crystal Castle
Adapted from a short story by Full Fallen Moon
"The fighting at Whispering Woods, in the kingdom of Bright Moon,.." I told the scribe, seated on a low stool before Etheria's throne, "had been an unfettered orgy of death, and the road to MiZar was strewn with burned, blackened tanks, bloodied weapons and dying warriors."
"Your beloved King Gristan was a Hordesman known as Grizzlor, then," the royal biographer reminded me with care, "and you were a Horde Force Captain."
"Oh, yes," I sighed.
Of the most feared fighting force in the known universe, .. the Evil Horde. Its masked leader was a murdering devil known to his subordinates only as Hordak, which, as I recall, was more a title than a name. Over galaxies beyond count, Hordak had left a trail of misery and flaming ruin, and all the while, I had proudly stood at his side to witness the Horde's atrocities firsthand .. and to participate in more than a few.
He'd told me that, on one of his conquests, he'd snatched me from a royal house, in which I had been an infant princess, but that was of no consequence to me. I was Horde, and I was his daughter in spirit, if not blood. A murderess, by the age of eight. A master of extortion at twelve, and a rapist at sixteen. Then, at eighteen, Force Captain of an army chilled with terror by the mere mention of my name.
Bloody Adora is what those Whispering Woods called me, not so long ago.
Even good King Gristan.
At the time, the Horde had all but conquered Etheria. Our forces controlled some ninety-six percent of Etherian airspace, and, except for the occasional annoyance of sea hawks, all of the world's oceans. And against all logic, here stood the defiant kingdom of Bright Moon..and this pitiful, unproved, little band of malcontents challenging our new order, called The Great Rebellion.
I left nothing to chance in planning the invasion of MiZar, capital of the kingdom Bright Moon. Though, it was under the protection of the warrior-queen, Angella, and her winged soldiers, buying off the neighboring chieftains living along the edge of Angella's Whispering Woods, many of whom had never seen real fighting, proved easy enough. Little or no coercion was needed to persuade the more virtuous ones to betray their neighbors, as they seemed truly in awe of our technological superiority and willingness to use it. They were terrified of the Horde and, by the looks of it, they had never seen anything like us.
When the fighting was over, a brute of a man lumbered out of the fog toward where I lay injured, pinned under a plasma cannon that, ironically, had never been fired.
All around, fit men and women lay cut in half, resting in their own spilled blood and waste. Some forest-folk and some winged knights of MiZar. Many Horde. In such close quarters had we fought that, after the battle, there had seemed nowhere to step that dismembered limbs and opened insides, strung from the dead like shiny, red ribbons, did not litter the way,..and still he came.
The sheen of his broadsword is what I noticed first.
Then, the assuredness in his eyes, which were deep and azure as a summer sky. They blazed with a purity of purpose, as if lit from within. Even through the thickness of the fog.
I awoke upon a large bed, between walls of rose and violet crystal, never having seen him lift the cannon that was twice his size from my legs..or the distance he had carried me from those damned Whispering Woods. The half-naked brute held a crystal chalice to my lips and, though I did not trust him, I drank from it. "Where am I,..and who in dead gods' hell are you?"
"Adam," he answered,..and with the queerest, little mocking smile. "You may call me Adam,..for now. This place is called the Crystal Castle."
"And I am your prisoner here,.." I added, pushing the water from my lips, "am I not? You are a rebel,..from the looks of you. The smell of you. Do you know who I am, Adam the Rebel?"
Again, he smiled so queerly. "You're the great Bloody Adora,..who thinks machines and fear can conquer a world."
"I am a Force Captain of the Horde," I corrected the smug bastard. Had I not been so weary from my injuries, I would have slit his throat. "I am second in command to Lord Hordak himself! I've seen what the Horde has done to worlds firsthand - the fire. The carnage. Why should this piteous rock prove any different?!"
"You already know it will be," Adam answered. The unquestioning tone in his voice chilling me. "You know the end's near. It haunts you..at night. You're surrounded by men sworn to die for you, with weapons you've seen incinerate armies. You rape, kill and steal, thinking you can hide from what's to come under the filth of your evil,..and it still haunts you. It haunts you most that you will be the instrument of it - the fall of the Horde."
"You rebel-scum," I hissed, barely able to move, but seething with outrage..and fear. Outrage that this stranger could know my fears so well. Fear that the impending doom haunting my nightmares had somehow been made real. "You mindless, castrated fetch! You know nothing of me..or the Horde! Nothing! This pathetic world will not be the end of us!"
"You will see that it is,..She-Ra."
I spat in his face.
As much for his treasonous words, as for his arrogance in presuming to know my nature better than I. And for 'She-Ra'.
Whatever that was.
There he stood, a good head taller than any man I had ever known - his limbs, each as thick as my torso and surely capable of condemning me to the swiftest and most horrific destruction imaginable. Yet, there he stood, with a serenity on that broad, bronze face of his, which did not seem as though it belonged there.
And I did see a smile - a faint, knowing smile - take shape on his lips.
That is what vexed me greatest,..and, yes - I did spit right in his face.
"Rest well, Captain," the bronze knight called over his shoulder, as he walked to the door, turning just in time for me to see him wipe my insult from his cheek. "Tomorrow, you will meet the Lord of this house,..as you have requested."
"Tomorrow, I will kill you,..and I will make your lord watch."
"You will try," answered the knight.
This inflamed me all the more. "I will try not to make too much a mess of killing you, so as not to worry these halls with the stink of your spilled blood and opened bowels. This citadel will make a most welcome palace, when I've rid it of you and your cursed master."
The brute lumbered off, and the fourteen foot golden doors closed behind him. A short time later, the doors opened,..and a hooded figure stood before me. Its face in shadow, the phantom held an unsheathed golden sword in his outstretched hands. "I am an agent of the Great Power, come to liberate you, but, there is work for you to do here, before you abandon this place. The lord of this house is an enemy of the Horde."
And of Grayskull, I had thought.
The messenger was obviously the soldier of a powerful Horde ally,..probably one of the Etherian natives. He handed me a broadsword, marked by a single, blue opal.
"Say no more, soldier. I would please our lord in whatever way might advance his power upon Etheria. Tomorrow, I will be brought before the master of this place, and I will know what to do."
"There is an allegiance you must pronounce upon taking up this blade against the enemy. You must pronounce this allegiance aloud, that it might ring throughout this house," he said, handing the sword to me. "For the Honor of Grayskull."
It made sense to me that this mysterious Grayskull would want his hand in the Crystal King's destruction known to all serving him, it seems. Great Hordak was wise to entrust this deed to me. "Your ways are strange, man of Grayskull, but I will honor your lord's request."
The bedchamber's great golden doors were once again closed. I slept alone..and dreamed of my beautiful and mysterious, hooded ally. My pretty crow. I dreamed of the destruction of my enemies and of the Horde's final conquest of this cursed place, Etheria. I dreamed of torturing the Crystal King's handsome, golden-haired dog and hearing him beg for mercy, as Horde Troopers drove an impaling spike up through his bowels!
How unimaginative my dread and adoring father, Great Hordak, would have thought me, that night, if he could have seen my wild ambitions play before his eyes. It was times like this he swallowed his disgust for my frailty and humanity with the most terrible laughter. "This daughter of mine would run the universe through the guts with a spear, if she could! What a barbarian, she's become, my poor, beautiful, deadly Adora!"
When I awoke, the doors were open, and a feast was laid at the foot of my bed - fruit, hot bread, roasted meat and cheese. Though I hungered, I took nothing from the plates, as the food was surely drugged or poisoned. Fully dressed, I walked out into the long, central hall of the Crystal Castle. There, I found my enemy's champion waiting for me.
A sword gripped in his mighty hand.
Yet,..strangely, I did not fear him. I could not fear him. "You're my brother,..aren't you? You were left behind..in the same royal house from which Great Hordak procured me. The stone in this cursed sword calls you my brother."
I could see as much in his face, the golden of his hair and subtle nuances in his cheekbones, nose and jawline. All so resembling mine, as though a mirror had rendered them.
"I am He-Man," The blond knight replied, "but you may call me Adam. Do you now know what it is you must do,..She-Ra?"
"Yes," I sighed woefully, as the warrior helped me to my feet. "I must betray all that I have known and aspired to be. Even Great Hordak,..the only father I have ever known. You have made me a very sad creature today, brother. What are you? Who or what is She-Ra?"
"I am a warrior," answered Adam, "sworn to the defense of Grayskull, a fortress, very much like this one, from which I've drawn great strength and wisdom. The She-Ra were the protectresses of the many powerful secrets of this place in ancient times. Their souls now dwell here .. in this Crystal Castle. They are hope, Adora,..and now you will bear the weight of their name and mantle, if Etheria is to be saved."
"From me?" I asked, and though it sickened me, I dreaded this stranger's answer. The need in my voice. My brother's impending judgement,..even as he took my hand in his.
"By you, Adora," He-Man smiled knowingly, "and from the evil of the Horde. Fate, cruel though she may be, has permitted you to know it firsthand. Take from your life's journey what you will need to fight and destroy it. Your fury! Your passion! Embrace them,..and this fortress of hope will give you the rest! Look there, Adora!"
He-Man directed my eyes to the blazing hearth at the center of the hall, where sparks crackled from the fire seemingly with a will of their own. A golden diadem, shield, gauntlets and a breastplate of silver and gold materialized in the flames.
"Sorcery?" I asked, cutting my eyes carefully toward He-Man's. "Like the energy my blade released from your chest?"
"All wonders might be called sorcery," he laughed affectionately, "by those, who fear such things. You need not fear this one, Adora - the armor is yours, wrought by the fairies of the forge! You have but to thank them for their labors, give them your name..and believe."
Faith was something a Hordesman placed only in steel..or the certainty of death in combat. If only my brother could have known what he was asking of me.
"Thank you for this divine gift, smith sprites," I called to the hearth, forcing damned disbelief into the back of my throat, 'til I choked upon it. "I am.."
My nervous eyes shifted in poor Adam's direction, as if the answer might be seized from his broad, bronze face. Comforted by the honest strength in my brother's smile, I turned back to the fire. "I am She-Ra."
At the calling out of my name, a cyclone of fire leapt from the hearth and attacked me.
Defensive instinct brought my sword before me, though it appeared my enemies moved too swiftly to injure. Unable to move, I saw the legion of smith sprites twist around me, binding my body with their fiery magic, until I was fully outfitted with the mystical armaments. When their work was done, I watched the cyclone of fire twist back into the hearth and into a bright column of light. "By the dead gods!"
"She-Ra," a disembodied voice rang from everywhere at once. It made no sound to the ears, but bent the mind's perception of sound to its arcane purposes.
I had to know! "Are you a god?"
"I am the master of this house," the light answered. "For more eons than can be counted, have I been the Light Hope. It is I, who lured the Horde here to Etheria."
My brother looked at me. His face was a mosaic of shock and disillusionment. "You are the architect of the chaos outside these walls? The bloodshed? The death?"
"Beings like myself exist throughout the cosmos, governing various spheres of reality as they see fit. Etheria is under my protection. Here, you are at my mercy."
There was no mercy to be felt from that voice. "Why the Horde? And why me?!"
"The Evil Horde is a great enemy of hope and universal progress. Zodac and the other enforcers of universal accord have too long underestimated its power. It has become necessary for me to take a more direct hand in the engineering of its destruction,..before the universe is led too far from what is intended."
"Intended?" I asked, turning to Adam. "Intended by whom?"
When I looked into He-Man's face, the warrior there was gone. There was only fear there. A righteous fear.
And pity for me that I did not know to share it."There was a mysterious warrior, who came to me, last night, claiming himself the agent of a Great Power on Etheria. You are that power?"
The light flared. Brighter than the dawn..and fiercer than volcanic fury! The menacing white of the fire's glow flickered into a warm, inviting yellow. Then, darker to gold. The golden light swirled from the hearth to the marble floor into a column of energy, pulsing with lavender, pink and burgundy as it went,..until it had solidified into the hauntingly familiar shape of a man.
"I am one with that great power--yes," the dark-haired lord of Crystal Castle answered with a thought, standing before the hearth. "This entire crystal fortress is a powerful talisman, mortal! It is a conduit, through which Grayskull's Ancients focus their power into this world and beyond it..to challenge the forces of darkness, wherever they appear! It is Xanadu or Avalon, in some texts. Heaven, in others."
"Have I..died?" I asked, as the beautiful stranger came nearer.
"Only to your mortal weakness," Lord Hope smiled. "You have died to hatred, fear and rage. All that the Horde has made you, have I cast away,..so that you may see yourself as I see you. As you were intended to be beheld by all."
Prostrate over the marble tiles of the crystal hall, I lifted my face to the warmth of the hearth once more, in time to see the wildfire erupt from the embers within,..stirred around the Crystal King's body, as if by a dragon's breath! The flames raged that way for mere seconds, and when they returned to the hearth, my darkly beautiful crow was nowhere to be seen,..while the uncanny force of his presence pervaded the very air around me. "I-I am yours, Light Hope. Ask of me whatever you intend for mortalkind! I will humbly obey."
"Two armies await you on Etheria," the golden fires of Light Hope flickered, as Adam helped me to stand. My hand trembled in his, as we peered into the monstrous, living inferno before us. "You will be returned to the world one day before the Massacre of the Whispering Woods. Should you return to lead the Horde, this world will be razed from existence..and you with it. As I have been guardian of this Crystal Castle for eons, so now, are you, She-Ra! The power to avert great destruction now rests in your hands..."
A blinding white flashed from the twisting spark that was Light Hope. The low roar became a whisper,..and the flame was no more. As the grand hall grew dark and cold, I looked down at the golden sword in my hands. The task set before me was crystal clear.
The threat of Light Hope's omniscient wrath was as firmly at my neck as a blade. I would lead the Great Rebellion into war against the only father I had ever known or the Lord of the Crystal Castle would wipe us all out, as though we had never been.
"That something so precious as hope was defended so fiercely must have been strangely comforting to you, Queen Adora," the scribe suggested, with poorly concealed curiosity what I had withheld from her eager ears.
The secret of my intimacy with Light Hope nestled deep in my breast, I smiled serenely..and continued. "It was then, as Adam's broad hand slipped from my armored shoulder, that I knew my brother had not lied at all. There was nowhere to hide from his master. Be it by my hand or in a flash of apocalyptic fire,..the Horde would soon fall."
And one day, it did.
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