Tomb of the Magic Stealer: Death At World's End

By T. F. Cooper  (Based on a story by Gary Cohn)

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, 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, 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, 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 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 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, 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, 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!!!

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