The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces, Part 3
By T. F. Cooper (Based On A Story by Gary Cohn)
With renewed hatred, the Enemy of Man attacked.
From his ram-headed Havoc Staff, a burst of light illuminated the gold and crimson figures painted on the black marble of the temple walls, which began to move of their own accord. A sextet of elongated, shadow-like figures leaped from one of the ancient wall paintings and surrounded He-Man and Captain Teela. Each armed with spears and sabers, they dug and swung at the warriors with a fury that matched their hooded creator's. So implausibly thin were they that the devils appeared to move in and out of reality with every swing and thrust of their blades, ..until the battle revealed them to be more than living shadow.
One of the things began to bleed. Thick, dark red paint..
Man-At-Arms' daughter grunted at a gash freshly opened on her shoulder. In broad, swift strikes she retaliated, wounding another of the phantoms. "Blood, Adam! Do you smell it on them? These walls were painted in human blood!"
"The blood of her fellow dark gods ..and of victims sacrificed to Evil-Lyn over thousands of years!" shouted He-Man from behind her. Driving two wraiths from him, he neglected a third and saw his korodite shield loosed from his arm and tumble away from him. A draft on his skin drew his attention to the wide gash ripped into his arm. "Leave me, Teela! Use what power remains in your staff to free Menifakles from the demonking's spell!"
"Fool!" Teela growled, battering back the wraiths with her sword and barely escaping a blow pitched for her heart. "They're six to your one! Even you ..!"
Without warning, the Vulnarian hurled his enchanted Sword of Power high over his head and behind him. Over his shoulder, he saw Captain Teela duck, ..and three, headless wraiths collapse into pools of black and gold oil. In shiny, serpentine cords, the darkness slithered back to the walls from which their undead master had conjured them. "Now, they're three! You're in my way!"
At He-Man's back, Teela the Duncan kicked and slashed at the wraiths with her blade. In a sidelong and backward leap, she hurled herself over He-Man's head and into the Lord of Destruction's path, as he attacked Menifakles. The stream of bright, violet energy directed at the injured thespiamorph struck her in the ribs like a fist, even through her armor. Loosing the enchanted weapon from where she'd tethered it upon her back, she brought it before her. "I will not allow you to pervert this poor fellow to your wicked ends, demon. I'll strike him down myself first."
"Strike him down, then!" raved Skeletor, as he approached with his Havoc Staff in hand. "Become once and for all the bloodthirsty warrior-goddess I created at Point Dread twenty-one years ago! How can you stop me, captain, ..when you are as much mine as is Menifakles?"
Once more, the actor known throughout Eternia as 'Man-E-Faces' had been turned into a horrifically muscled, green monstrosity. Glaring at Teela through mirthless, bulging, red orbs - his clawed hands poised for rending and tearing her flesh - the thing lumbered toward her. A low, inhuman growl rumbled from its throat.
"You cannot fight my new minion and me, girl," the Lord of Destruction threatened, from behind his golden, skull-like mask, "and compared to his strength, even He-Man's is nothing! Who will save you?! Surrender, ..and I will bid the demon slay you quickly."
In her hands, the night-black rod trembled with otherworldly power. From its spear-like head, flashed a bolt of jade-colored lightning that drove the transfigured Man-E-Faces slightly backwards in his master's direction. Before Teela's eyes, the monster Skeletor had made was changed back into a man. "Duncans never surrender."
"Impressive, girl! Most impressive!" mocked the Snake Mountain King, raising his ram-headed Havoc Staff and pointing it at accursed Menifakles. An unholy flash of purple energy erupted from Skeletor's weapon and, caught in its malevolent grip, the afflicted man was once more made a monster! "And the weapon in your hands -- so like your mother's Rod of Order, but coursing with the venom of mine own Havoc Staff! Perhaps, when Menifakles is of no more use to me, ..there will be a place amidst my priests for you!"
When the last of the phantoms conjured from the temple wall had been vanquished, Lord Adam, Sword of Power in hand, rushed to the aid of his embattled comrade, Captain Teela. As he looked on, the battle raged back and forth, with poor Menifakles trapped between the two foes.
Menifakles clawed at his own face and chest, as if to cut his soul free of his tortured flesh. His mouth stretched wide with the agony of his repeated transformations. His skin warping from hellish, inhuman green, ..then back to warm, ruddy olive! His sinews swelling from their natural, healthy state into the gargantuan muscles of something more beast than man.
The Enemy of Man roared, as his Havoc Staff forced the thespiamorph to his knees with an unrelenting wave of violet fire. Though it demanded every measure of her strength, his opponent, a half-goddess, struggled to keep the divine weapon she held from ripping itself from her hands. Neither had gained the upper hand, ..when a violent burst of light sent them both to the ground.
In the black cloud between them, something groaned ..and stood upright.
"By all the gods," He-Man muttered, as he approached it.
The thing that was once Man-E-Faces lumbered forward on two sturdy, metal legs.
"Menifakles!" Teela cried rushing over the temple floor to hold him up. "Menifakles, ..what've we done to you, my -- what is that sound?"
Through the mists, icy blue eyes fixed on a hooded shape and He-Man loosed from his harness the double-headed, korodite battleaxe of King Simyran, a weapon to which enchantment gave the power to see its prey. He-Man pitched the axe for the Enemy of Man's chest, ..and an apocalyptic flash of violet forced his eyes shut.
He opened them to see the weapon driven toward his own head. Barely in time to rip it out of the air, as hellish laughter echoed throughout Evil-Lyn's sanctum.
Fare thee well, Heuay Man. Give my regards to your dead tribesmen.
The King of Snake Mountain, murderer of the immortal Vulnarians, had escaped his vengeance. Again.
He-Man turned back to the pitiful thing that had been brave, tortured Man-E-Faces, the fool, who had so valiantly protected his mother, the Queen Marlena of Eternia. Now, a cold machine behind whose iron mask the secret of Grayskull was lost forever. A bright green radiance pulsed from lifeless, glass eyes. "It's the harness Skeletor bound to him -- the one that forces the changes upon him. He's merged with it, I think."
Outside, Captain Teela walked to the edge of the mountain peak upon which ancient Infinitians had built Evil-Lyn's temple ..and looked down below. On every side of the mountain, an ocean red as blood dashed against the rocks. Above them, the already darkened skies turned to pitch. Lightning flashed. "Something's wrong. There is some kind of atmospheric disturbance, ..and the Sea of Slaughter is growing more violent!"
With nigh reluctance, He-Man recalled Skeletor's foreboding farewell and unsheathed his Sword of Ancients.
He circled the man-machine, looking for any indication of the man he'd been, ..or anything remotely human. In his keeping were senses trained in the harshest environments known to man - the Vine Jungle. By the age of three, he could identify a man by his heartbeat. By the age of six, he could track a man across continents with nothing more than his smell. All of his senses told him that Menifakles was gone, and a machine had taken his place - a machine that had no use for him or Teela ..and no value of human life. "That beacon pulsing in his eyes -- I think Skeletor's sorcery has turned Menifakles into a living weapon. A bomb. The man we knew is gone."
Teela shivered. Something in her bronze-skinned comrade's voice chilled her. Something final. "He is going to destroy this place, isn't he -- and us with it?"
"He is more machine, than man now, Teela," He-Man answered, raising his broadsword and poising it to behead his afflicted friend. "Our lives mean nothing to him. Even if we live, we are lost in a realm ruled by the Lord of Destruction ..and his damned scientist-priests. If I die, let it be at Snake Mountain with a sword at my enemy's throat - not incinerated by this lifeless machine!"
Teela saw the Vulnarian swing his enchanted blade for the iron man's neck. With the grace and agility of a jungle cat, she hurled herself toward Menifakles into a series of acrobatic twists and flips. Over the temple floor! Springing up before him, just as He-Man halted his blade at her cheek! "No, He-Man! Look ..to the skies!"
From the stormy skies overhead, red light glared.
Something shaped like a man hurled itself downward into the ruins. Outfitted in dark red armor crackling with the screams of murdered atoms - his steps melting the black stone beneath his heels to slag - Zodac the Enforcer, likely the most feared being in the known universe, descended before them. Outside, the Sea of Slaughter calmed, and the howls of hurricane winds became as whispers. "Stand thee back, insects -- I will effect a final transformation ..and restore the truth of Menifakles's origins!"
The Lion of the Mallori raised his black gun, a weapon spoken of in the myths and folklore of every civilization on the planet, ..and fired.
Bathed in the cosmic rays of Zodac's infinite and mysterious Master, the iron thing that was Menifakles glowed white-hot. Its face warping once more into a leathery, green and skullish horror. "This is my true face, Lord Adam. Thirty-thousand years ago, a raider clan of alien-human hybrids, masters of sciences beyond mortal knowledge, conquered and enslaved the tribes of the Evergreen Forests and Fertile Plains. They built a great, limestone fortress in the woodlands of Graylot, where they subjected humanity to the most heinous experiments in your planet's history, ..in pursuit of the secrets of the cosmos. That fortress is Castle Grayskull. My race came to your world to conquer it, Vulnarian. That is my true nature. That is why I must remain here, ..and you must go."
"Nay, Menifakles!" He-Man growled, seizing Zodac by the neck. His starfaring victim struggled to pry the Vularian's hand from his throat, but could not. "My dead countrymen knew the grim truth about Grayskull's origins for centuries! I'll not budge, until I know why Zodac deprived you of your memories so long ago, leaving you vulnerable to Skeletor's machinations! Endangering this world!"
From the eyelets of the cosmic enforcer's red and chrome helmet, a terrific scarlet brilliance blazed. "The ugly truth of Grayskull's origins is irrelevant! The suffering of Menifakles at my hand -- without import!"
With both hands, He-Man cast Zodac's armored bulk into a pile of rubble. As the cosmic enforcer stood to face him, the jungle-bred warrior unsheathed his Sword of Power. Its silvery metal sang with the outrage of the Ancients. "Tell him, Mallorine! Now!"
Once more, Zodac raised his black gun before him. A deafening crack shuddered the temple's black marble walls, ..and the big, golden-maned warrior was flung backwards and to the floor. "Before Castle Grayskull, humanity was on the brink of extinction. Its legend inspired a golden age of enlightenment and nobility, without which this piteous world would be a den of murdering, fornicating beasts. I deal in affairs beyond mortal comprehension, monkey -- do not pretend to understand them!"
"Four Grails," gasped Teela, helping He-Man back to his feet. In one of her hands, was the strange, black, cobra-headed staff she'd unwittingly conjured in a moment of peril. Emptied of its magicks, it felt slightly heavier to her - more real. She was strangely comforted by that. "If Menifakles's star-born race built Grayskull in its own image, ..who are the Ancients?"
"A half-naked, mortal woman named Teela from the Vine Jungles led mankind in revolt against us," Menifakles answered, "I forsook Clan Grayskull to fight at her side, and we drove the last of my kind into the Sands of Time. Until the Keldoric Age, the inheritors of Grayskull's secrets used them to uplift mankind ..and were believed to guide Eternia's destiny long after their deaths. These were your ancients."
"Now, its destiny is guided by men, Menifakles," He-Man said, extending his arm to Menifakles. "Come with us."
"A fool's enterprise, Vulnarian!" warned Menifakles, gripping his arm. "The monster and the machine are now parts of me forever! It is only a matter of time before the Enemy of Man tries to use those selves again -- before the instinct to conquer Eternia overtakes me! Swear to me .."
"I needn't swear to you what I've already vowed on my brothers' graves," He-Man smiled assuredly, clasping the thespiamorph's hand and wrist against his own. "I am the He-Man, ..charged by the gods of my dead tribesmen with Eternia's protection. I'll honor that bond, ..even if it means your death."
"I'll kill you too, if I have to, Menifakles," Man-At-Arms' daughter added offhandedly, over He-Man's shoulder. "That make you feel any better?"
"As will I," Zodac refrained mirthlessly from beneath his ornate, red helmet. "Your place is in the world of men, Man-E-Faces. Take it, ..and leave the nightmare I denied you for so many centuries in my dispatch."
The crimson-armored Mallorine Enforcer aimed his dread weapon at a temple wall.
With a boom that shook the temple floor, an oval-shaped portal opened -- through it, the golden plains of Eternos were spread as far as the eye could fathom. On a grassy hill in the distance, the rose granite rotunda of Freenorn Palace, home of King Randor and Queen Marlena, kissed the pale blue heavens.
In the span of a step, the monster that once terrorized a primitive planet had vanished. A tall, powerfully built, dark-haired adonis in black, vinyl armor stood in his place and, with an uncertain smile, joined He-Man and Teela at the edge of the ghostly doorway. Gingerly, he took the warrior-maid's arm and smiled. "I am told the King of Eternia doesn't like to be kept waiting, captain. Let's be off."
Casting a cold glare over his broad shoulder, He-Man followed Teela and Menifakles through the strange opening Zodac had made. "Your affairs almost cost me the lives of the people in my protection, enforcer. Will you ever leave their kingdom in peace?"
"Their kingdom, Lord Adam?" mocked Zodac, knowingly. "Had I left Eternia in peace twenty years ago, there would be no kingdom at all, ..and you would be dead. I serve the will of the Master of the Universe."
"Aye, you do, Mallorine," He-Man grinned malevolently, "until your Master decides He can do better."
Twenty years ago, Zodac guided King Simyran of the Vulnarians to a clearing in the Evergreen Forests, where the Vulnarian warrior killed two soldiers of the alien Horde Empire as they pursued an old woman through the woods. There, dressed in rags and dying under the shade of an oak tree, was the eldest daughter of the Royal Family of Eternia.
And in her weary arms, the fate of a world. A golden-haired babe she called Adam.
Closing the doorway behind the man he'd saved that day, Zodac the Enforcer took to his golden para-throne and returned to the heavens. His divinely appointed armor weighing ever so slightly heavier on nigh omnipotent shoulders.
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