The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces, Part 2
By T. F. Cooper (Based On A Story by Gary Cohn)
"There is no more time!" exclaimed the Lord of Vines, turning from the horrors at play in the small pool - Man-At-Arms at his side. "I must travel to the Evil One's lair with due haste!"
"Castle Grayskull calls me to arms, my friends," beckoned Mighty Teela, the Holy Warrior from whom Man-At-Arms' daughter took her name. "Take up thy weapon, Avenger of Man, and smite it upon Fierce Heuay's waters! Let your righteous outrage carry you unto your destiny!"
From under a leonine mane of golden hair, Lord Adam glanced over his shoulder at King Randor comforting his beloved Marlena. Though the monarchs treated him as their own son and accorded him all the favors of a man nobly born, for their own protection, he could not tell Eternia's rulers that he was indeed their long-lost heir, Prince Adam of Eternos. Now, as he prepared to enter the savage Shadow Lands, the secret he'd withheld from them since burying his tribesmen a year ago clawed at his throat.
Beside him, Man-At-Arms gripped his massive bronze shoulder reassuringly. "I'll take care of them, my friend. Go. Bring my valiant daughter home."
The Sword of the Ancients gripped firmly in his right hand, the Vulnarian turned back to the Waters of Truth and, roaring his outrage, swung his blade downward with such force that he was pulled with it into its mystic waters ..and sent tumbling from them onto a black, marble floor.
Glaring up into the eyes of the gold-skinned titaness hovering before him, he steadied his sword arm ..and advanced toward the open pit. "There's no victim here, Evil-Lyn! Only He-Man of the Vulnarians, ..who stands ready to destroy you!"
From behind, he heard a gauntleted fist tighten around something firm and metal. With nothing more that the sound to guide him, he loosed the double-headed battleaxe from his harness and hurled it backwards. Only after he heard a haggard gasp and a metal clang against the floor, did he glance over a shoulder to find his axe returning to his hand ..and the Enemy of Man struck down and parted from his dread Havoc Staff. Then, returning his glare to Evil-Lyn, he gripped his hoary blade in both hands and brought it before his broad, bronze chest. "Let Teela go, warrior goddess, ..or join the other dark gods in the Sea of Slaughter!"
"You forget, Vulnarian dog, that mine is the hand, which slaughtered them! I have sacked their kingdoms for powers beyond your comprehension! What chance have you of bringing me low?" In one great stroke, as He-Man drew in a deep, sharp breath, the enraged goddess brought her scepter down upon her mortal enemy.
The Vulnarian met her assault with his shield, but his knees buckled under its weight, and the shock of it drove the breath from him. What air and will was left to him, He-Man gave to hatred, a crimson, righteous hatred uncompromised by his martial code, and hurled his axe for her golden thigh. The blood let from his attack sizzled on the flames behind her, ..and the goddess's scream shook the walls of her temple. "Slut! Not even midnight, ..and I'm all over your thighs!"
A lightning swift strike of her scepter drove her Vulnarian enemy into the ground like a nail, and the groan he gave filled her ears with triumph. She raised her scepter again and again - each blow sending her mortal foe deeper into the ground, as he struggled to stand! Struck with disbelief at his resistance, she assailed the Vulnarian with blows that had shattered mountains, until a cloud of dust gathered from the pulverized rock beneath his feet. She savaged him, only to find him standing defiant, when the dust had cleared. "The night is young, jungle cur, ..and you will be bro-oo..."
A look of horror took the golden goddess's gloating face. It was not remorse He-Man saw there, but fear. In that instant, the beauteous devil Evil-Lyn began to fade. "Sacrifice the warrior-maid now, Lord of the Wastes! I can be denied no longer! I will rip open Grayskull like a rotten fruit and baptize your priest-kings in her ancient nectar, ..but the blood of the Holy Warrior's daughter must be mine! Kill her!"
A black shape pushed itself up from the marble of the temple floor. The Enemy of Man gestured to his Havoc Staff, ..which flew to his gauntleted hand, and directed it toward the shadows. Rushing from them and running on all fours, a hulking, green-skinned creature, wearing Menifakles's black rubber armor, leapt at He-Man.
He-Man's shoulder smashed against the floor, as he tumbled backwards, pinned beneath the snarling demon that, mere hours before, had been the merry thespian, Menifakles. Like vises, two leathery, green claws tightened about his throat, and though the strength of the Warrior Ancients flowed through his sinews, the big Vulnarian could not move them.
The Lord of the Wastes raised his sword to slay the barely conscious captain, ..but was hurled back by an invisible force. Through the gaping sockets of his skull-like mask, he found Teela awakening as if from a dream and averting his assault with a weapon of her own. "No! I-it ..cannot be!"
With skills wrought from her father's training, the beauteous captain sprung from the slab and marveled at the black, cobra-headed staff in her hand, as much a twin of the Goddess Teela's divine weapon as of Skeletor's Havoc Staff. "Your cursed blade once gave me flesh and form, Dread One! Now, it has given me more!"
With a monster's hands at his throat, He-Man drifted in and out of consciousness.
In his delirium, he saw the gaudy colors of Evil-Lyn's temple swirl into one, grotesque composition and the world before his eyes darken. The Sword of Ancients was loosed from his hand and too far out of reach, ..but he was still aware of his fists - fists that had, more than once, reduced cliffsides to dust and smashed through the titanium hulls of death-dealing machines. With all of his might, He-Man slammed one of his fists into the man-monster's rib cage. He felt the stunned creature's grip slacken and, with one arm, drove it backward with enough force to send it tumbling away from him, ..as Skeletor raised his ram-headed staff toward the altar, where Teela stood.
A burst of violet, hellspawned light cleared the distance between the Lord of Destruction and his armored foe, hammering Teela the Duncan against the altar's side. Dazed by the blow, she did not see the second burst of light directed toward her. It was a spell wrought from the magic of the ancient Serpent Gods of the Dark Hemisphere, and its strike would have rendered the amazon paralyzed and defenseless, ..had it struck her.
Skeletor raised his Havoc Staff, and Teela saw the air before him twist into a torrent of violet lightning. Instinctively, she raised the strange, new weapon in her hands ..and found her enemy's attack reduced to harmless sparks. "By the gods, what sorcery is this?!"
"A shadow of Mighty Teela's Rod of Order, it seems," her skull-faced foe suggested, as he assumed a defensive position, "and burning with a power that might rival my own! The dark magic that cut you from her heart have now completed their work!"
Captain Teela brought the weapon before her armored bosom, ..her mind filling with the voices of the Ancients. "Then, by Zodac's Black Gun, let it be power enow to send thee back to the fires of hell!"
A bright cord of emerald light ripped from the woman's cobra-headed weapon, and Man-E-Faces threw himself in its path. To Teela's amazement as much his own, the green-skinned monster Skeletor's power had made of him was no more. "Menifakles? You are cured?!"
"I ..don't know!" the actor choked, rising to stand. "Don't know what this devil's done to me ..or how many more lives will be claimed by it! Two men have already died at my hand this day, ..and even now, ..feel a rage eating away at my insides ..that I cannot ..contrr-rrro-ooolll! Run-nnn, woman!"
Before their stunned eyes, Menifakles's face twisted with insane rage. The olive golden of his skin rippled into a sickly green. Screaming in agony, as yet another metamorphosis overwhelmed his body, he seized the Lord of the Wastes and hurled them both over the stone-laden lip of the open pit.
"Menifakles!" Teela called after him. She was a proud woman. The desperation in her voice echoed through out the dimly lit temple, ..mocking her. But Menifakles did not answer. "Did you see his face, Adam? He gave his life ..to save ours."
"Menifakles was a good man, captain," the Vulnarian answered, unsheathing his Sword of Ancients. Though, he saw that grief colored beauteous Teela's face, but offered her no consolation, choosing instead to remind her of the enemy they faced. "We will honor his sacrifice ..in battle."
"Plans, Lord Adam," Captain Teela grunted to He-Man, sounding every bit her father's daughter. "She has magic. She towers over us. How do we bring the battle to Evil-Lyn?"
"We don't," the Vulnarian answered, but his attention was on the black shape twisting over the pit. "We bring Evil-Lyn to us! Your staff .."
"This staff is a goddess's weapon - not mine!" Teela stopped him. "I don't need or trust ..!"
He-Man looked on in amazement, as the black rod in Captain Teela's hands shaped itself into a longbow. Arrows filled her free hand, and each was tipped with silver. "Then, ready your arrows, woman. It is time."
From within the black shape, light flashed. Golden light ..and fire. Fire that swept out from the black storm and scorched the walls of the temple, tearing loose masonry as it went. The Lord of Vines raised his shield and pulled the Captain close to him, protecting them from the savage barrage of falling limestone blocks.
Even before he lowered it, he knew what he would find.
"You have been marked for sacrifice, little goddess," the demoness hissed, hovering over the pit. "All that remains is for you to die, ..and I need no priest's blade to send you to me! And you, Vulnarian -- you hurled my brother, Val-Kun, from Mount Esivisu! Though I fade, I will take you both with me ..into the maws of Oblivion!"
"Teela!" the Vulnarian roared to Man-At-Arms' daughter, ..but the warning came too late.
In one golden fist, Evil-Lyn drew her mace high above her ebon-crowned head ..and, with inhuman speed, brought it down against the temple floor! The resulting cataclysm cracked open the ground where her mace struck, hurling her mortal enemies backwards and apart amidst falling debris. A thick gray cloud of dust swept over the destruction, and the angry warrior goddess lingered above it, surveying for any hint that her enemies survived the attack.
A blackened chain snaked out of the cloud and around her neck, forcing an ugly, guttural choking sound from her throat. Evil-Lyn clawed at it, pulling at it with all of the diabolical strength in her keeping, but it would not budge. She struggled against it, only to find it drawn tighter against her beautiful, golden neck, and through the dust, massive arms drawing it taut toward the ground.
Senses trained in the most dangerous jungles known to man, pierced the dust and locked onto a familiar breathing pattern, heart rate and musk. To He-Man's relief, Teela the Duncan lived. "Now, Teela! Your arrows!"
A flight of arrows pierced the dust cloud and buried themselves in Evil-Lyn's gargantuan chest and stomach. The warrior goddess growled, as she struggled with the giant chain around her neck.
"Again!" the Vulnarian cried.
Another flight of arrows sank into Evil-Lyn's massive shoulders and more still, into her chest, as his enemy choked, and He-Man gave the chain a brutal tug. The monster strangling at the end of it gasped and clawed at her throat, as He-Man looked on. "You recognize this chain, demoness?! It's the same you used to bind your cursed brother, Val-Kun, to Mount Esivisu! Pure Infinitian korodite ..and nigh unbreakable!"
He-Man saw the air between Evil-Lyn and her mortal enemy ripple like the surface of a lake, as if reality itself was cowering before the mad goddess's stare. He did not understand how the gods created the wonders they did, but he knew it was within their power to alter the laws of nature as they willed fit ..and with little more than a thought.
"Demoness! Choke on my wrath!" Teela the Duncan charged from the dust, her broadsword at ready. Her bosom heaving and teeth bared.
"No, Teela!" The Vulnarian's warning came too late, and he saw the woman hurled backwards by an invisible force - then, struck against the black marble floor onto her back. The bold captain did not stir from where she fell, and He-Man's mind courted the worst.
He would pay for that moment's distraction.
Giant, golden fingers snaked around his torso, clamping shut upon their prey like jaws. They tightened across the Vulnarian's ribs and thighs, tearing him from the ground and forcing the air from his massive chest! His heartbeat climbed into his throat, and though he struggled against them, calling upon the collective strength of his slain tribesmen and of the Ancients, the giant fingers could not be budged.
Though the goddess of slaughter crushed him with the weight of ten mountains, even as she labored to claw the korodite chain from her throat, Evil-Lyn's mortal captive yielded nothing, ..and for a time, they glared into each other's eyes - the mad hatred of countless millennia dashed against a will forged in the furnace of Vulnarian brutality. "Release me, Vulnarian, ..or see your woman drown in the Chaos Sea! If I fade to Oblivion, you ..fade ..with me!"
With one massive, thickly muscled arm - with bulging sinews therein, which had broken the giants of the Evergreens in twain - the Lord of Vines drew snarling Evil-Lyn before him ..and drove his Sword of Power deep into her golden throat. "Bitch of Infinitias, ..lead on!"
The warrior goddess's eyes bulged. She gasped, clawing at the black chain around her neck, but her crushing grip upon her mortal victim's trunk and legs did not give. Her let blood sprayed over her chin and giant breasts, drenching He-Man in a torrent of dark red, as he poised his blade for another blow.
Again and again, her enemy, roaring like a wild beast, slammed his broadsword - its silvery metal singing with the rage of the Ancients - into Evil-Lyn's throat, until one last, brutal strike nearly decapitated her. The goddess's grip slackened, and He-Man, slick with her blood, ripped his blade free of her golden flesh, released the korodite chain and tumbled onto the temple floor.
"N-nno-ooo! I ..am ..eternal!" Evil-Lyn slumped onto her knees, clutching her throat, while the thick, black chain spun free of her neck - the beautiful, golden mask of her face struck dumb with disbelief, as centuries of wine-dark life rushed from her ancient body. As He-Man looked on, a fiery tide of crimson energy twisted out of the pit and dragged the evil warrior-goddess below. The korodite chain around her neck rattled to the black marble floor, unstained and unbroken, ..as if its prisoner had never been.
A hand closed upon He-Man's shoulder, and he spun, sword in hand, to find Captain Teela ..barely able to stand and ensnaring his upper arm for support. The warrior's broad, bronze face and blue eyes stretched wide with gratitude to his gods. "Blade of My Brothers! Teela ..?"
Finding herself swept up into Lord Adam's massive thews and her lips covered with his own, Man-At-Arms' daughter eased into his embrace, enjoying the strain relieved from her weary legs, as much as the familiar warmth of his body - even covered, as it was, with Evil-Lyn's blood. Her lips lingered on his, until she could no longer breathe, and her hands were flattened against his chest in uncharacteristically gentle protest. "You reek of wine, my friend! Now, what of Evil-Lyn?"
"Evil-Lyn is no more," the Lord of Vines explained. "As I'd suspected, the Sea of Slaughter was the source of her power. It flowed through Evil-Lyn's veins! Once she was bound by the korodite chain, wounding her was the end of it - almost! Tried to cut off her damned head, but she fought me!"
Weakly, Captain Teela pushed herself away from He-Man - her body racked by laughter. "Of course, she fought you, you dolt! You tried to cut her bloody head off! Now, where in Shokoti's Bush are - Adam?"
"The pit, woman." The big man's eyes narrowed toward the smoking hole in the center of the chamber, as Teela looked on. How quickly the Vulnarian turned from playful lover to hardened warrior had always chilled her, but he ignored the captain's nervous silence. "Something stirs there, ..just beyond the mists. To arms!"
"No ..." In the black rubber armor he'd worn on stage in Eternos, Man-E-Faces climbed from the pit. His humanity restored, the tall, beautiful man staggered toward Teela ..and collapsed in her arms. "Forgive me, ..warrior-woman. I meant no harm."
"I am not finished with you, Menifakles," hissed the dark shape hounding him from the edge of the pit. In the mists, it stood upright and showed its ugly, skull-like mask to its enemies. A ribbon of violet energy twisted from Skeletor's ebony blade and struck Menifakles in the back, driving the man to his knees. "Evil-Lyn is gone! Grayskull, once more, beyond my reach! But you, Menifakles -- you are still mine!"
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