Priests of Infinitias, Part 2
By T. F. Cooper (Based On "He-Man Meets Ram Man" by Gary Cohn)
"Halt, stranger!" commanded the Captain of the Royal Guard of Talos, with a small party of armored men wielding swords, halberds and spears at his back. "By order of His Majesty King Hylas, you are under arrest!"
Though he could have wasted their entire party with little effort, He-Man of the Vulnarians respectfully lowered his blade, ..when two of the guardsmen swung and dug at him with large iron halberds! The big, bronze-skinned barbarian retaliated in kind, battering back the warriors with fist-swings and sword-blows that put them flatly upon their backs, ..and the surrounding shadows came alive with weapons of every size and make!
Armored Talostine soldiers engaged the Vulnarian on every side! Like a jaw, they closed around the half-naked, golden-haired giant, only to be swiftly put down! Still, was one of these strange new enemies bolder than the others.
He, the youngest among them, dared far more.
With a jungle cat's agility, the Captain of the Guard vaulted over the heads of his comrades, and He-Man cleaved his golden breastplate in half with the Sword of Ancients! Seizing the dazed captain's head by his thick, tawny locks, the big man shook him fully from his armaments ..and was amazed by what he found underneath them. "Uther Maltar?!"
"Stand down, Royal Guard!" shouted young Captain Uther, pushing himself into the space between He-Man and the assembled warriors. "Though I was too young to join them, my uncles fought at this warrior's side against the Infinitians in the War of Marlena! If I'd done any less than throw myself on your swords to save him, they'd all disown me, ..even if he'd cut me in half! Now, stand down and give us room, or it's kitchen duty for the lot of you!"
"Uther of Elshimere--Captain of the Royal Guard of Talos!" marveled He-Man, catching the young captain between two mighty arms. "You're a long way from your father's tavern, my friend, ..and as brave as any Vulnarian I've ever known! From this day on, may the gods of Vulnar's Valley look upon us as brothers!"
That He-Man's sword blow had left him standing in nothing, but, loincloth and boarhide boots, greatly amused the captain. So much did the remains of his uniform resemble He-Man's own that the tavernmaster's son laughed at himself! "Forgive us, He-Man! The damned Priests of Infinitias've got us all on edge! Before the terrors of Tremarixes, we had General Jitsu! Before Jitsu, we had Kobra Khan ..and the Horde, before him! When you slew Tremarixes the Headtaker, some of these fools dared fear you might take the devil's place! Take your leave, and I will endure good Hylas's displeasure in your place."
"You've sworn fealty to a king, Uther," answered the jungle warrior, climbing upon his battle ram. "I'll not see you dishonor it, in my name. You must do your duty."
All at once, cheering Talostines in simple loincloths and animal skins pushed from the shadows, giving He-Man their thanks. So sudden was their appearance and large their number that the big Vulnarian was visibly stunned. Waving to them from his battle ram, He-Man allowed the soldiers to lead him through the streets, ..to the Temple of the Inner World.
There, in a grand, marble palace of sparkling fountains and golden idols dedicated to the titan Procrustus, and before the assembled silver-haired ministers and brown-robed priests of Talos, He-Man threw down his Sword of Ancients, ..and it sank into the cold, dark marble at his feet! As one, the courtiers gasped and fell back from where he stood, and Lord Adam turned his attention to two figures seated on gilded, jewel-encrusted thrones. "Why've your soldiers arrested me, Hylas of Talos?"
"You've slain a glorm, Vulnarian," answered the stern-faced High Priest of the Temple of the Inner World, seated beside his young king. "Though we are grateful to you for liberating us from the cruelty of Tremarixes, the killing of him must be tempered with sacrifice to he, who is father of all glorms--Procrustus, God of the Inner World! You will suffer the rite in King Hylas's place, barbarian, ..or be put to death, yourself!"
With a glare that might cower the stars from their constellations, did He-Man take up his Sword of Ancients!
The warriors of Talos, even Uther, drew their swords and halberds, and the young ruler of Talos choked back his fear and signaled his men to stand down. "Talos is a small kingdom, He-Man. The Old Ways say, for each of Procrustus's four grails, the king must ruin no less than a dozen virgin daughters of Talos, ..but, the only virgins left here are my sisters, the fifty princesses of Talos. As I cannot..."
"Say no more, king of Talos," bade the golden-haired barbarian. Sheathing his blade, Lord Adam knelt before King Hylas and the princesses of Talos. "To appease Procrustus, I will lie with your sisters for so long as it pleases us ..and the gods, of course. I will labor long and hard, milord. Very hard."
With the announcement that Mighty Procrustus would soon be appeased, the tiny settlement of primitive mud huts and lavish temples, known as the kingdom of Talos, was returned to a state of jubilation. The finest cattle were slaughtered for its feasts! Wine flowed! Peasant and noble danced in the streets, and He-Man of the Vulnarians danced with them!
For the better of a day thereafter, upon a sea of velvet pillows arrayed before a many-armed, golden idol, the lusty barbarian ravished the virgin princesses of Talos, ..until the Temple of the Inner World echoed with their sighs. Only two went unknown to him, when a great spectral light flared from the center of the hall, where He-Man lay, ..and the virgin maids ran screaming from his bed!
In its glow, Lord Adam felt ancient magicks play freely upon his flesh ..and found himself dressed in the korodite harness, devilbeaver loincloth and other gear he often wore into battle. Daring to look into the light, the big, jungle-bred warrior could only stare in disbelief--the axe of King Simyran clutched in one mighty hand. "It cannot be--Boa'Na?"
"Trust in the wisdom of the gods, my love," the sorceress answered, as the weird glow surrounding her faded. "All will be clear ..in time. Why did you not carry the ram from his path, as the Divine Sorceress commanded?"
Awestruck, He-Man pulled the jade-skinned beauty into his arms and kissed her ..to taste what his eyes could not believe. "Fierce Heuay entrusted that command to me upon her burning altar, and even the gods do not know it! Even you, her priestess, could not know it ..or recreate my mystical armaments from the empty air, unless truly you are my Boa'Na. After the destruction of the Temple of Living Fire, you disappeared! Why--and what has Heuay's prophecy to do with you?"
Boa'Na lowered her dark eyes, regretfully. "Once, Hiram or Ram Man was the protector of Talos, until his powerful legs were destroyed in a battle with Tremarixes. I used the old ways, science and magic together, to give him cybernetic legs, and Hiram used their power to defeat Tremarixes, ..but Talos's liberation did not come without a price."
"So, this ram is a man?!" He-Man marveled, subduing his amazement. "That madman in the highway? But, even with the power you gave him, if he is merely a madman, what threat is he to Eternia?"
Boa'Na waved her pale, jade hand over the ground before them, and the black marble and gold fixtures of the Temple of the Inner World disappeared before his eyes. She looked on as a great clap of thunder tumbled He-Man to his hands and knees, ..where he found sand and mountains stretching as far as the eye could see.
"This--the road where I faced the Ram Man of Talos!" He-Man recalled, surveying the wasteland surrounding him. Boa'Na teleporting him there gave him a much needed jolt, after the ritual he'd endured in Talos. What he saw in the road, where he'd tangled with the Ram Man gave him another. "Hold, woman! I don't remember a grave being here!"
Where Boa'Na had gestured, a deep gouge in the ground was revealed, and within the hole was a small, human skeleton enveloped in a tattered, burial shroud. "His name was Orphael. He was a brave lad with the song of angels in his breast. He was the light of his father's world. When Tremarixes killed Orphael to avenge his pride, the depth of Hiram's despair drove him from Talos, into these cursed ruins ..and, finally, to madness."
He-Man knelt next to the grave's edge to examine it more closely. "So, Hiram was protecting his son's grave? There hasn't been anything within miles of this place for thousands of years--since the fall of the great city, Zoar. Why would he carry Orphael all the way out to this cursed wasteland to bury him?"
"There is still powerful magic here, Adam," explained the jade-skinned sorceress. "Can't you feel it ..in the soil, the trees--the air? But, there is also great evil. Zoar became corrupt--a shrine to the Lord of Destruction. The evil that would someday become the Enemy of Man!"
"Aye, woman," He-Man said, digging his fingers into the soil. "I feel it now, ..like a claw reaching about my throat. The ancient evil has been awakened."
"For two years, did the Ram Man watch over young Orphael's grave," Boa'Na sighed. "He prayed to the old gods of Zoar, swearing eternal fealty to whatever spirit would resurrect him, and today, his prayer was answered, ..by Skeletor. The demonking and his Lady Screech are using Hiram's memories of Orphael to drive him mad! There can be only one reason."
In the legends of Ban-Shei Island, an amorous young queen fell in love with a wandering barbarian, Keld'Thor, and bewitched him to lie with her in the Temple of Yog. Unknown to him, Queen Scierce was already betrothed to her god, and when Yog came upon them making love, he roared such that the island beneath them split apart! Outraged, the Priests of Yog drove her and her savage lover from Tahrin, the rich capital of Ban-Shei, and beyond the Plains of Perpetua, ..ten hundred thousand years ago.
Through her conspiracy with the Priests of Infinitias, were the mummified remains of Keld'Thor used to incarnate their unholy master, Skeletor, ..and the big, golden-haired Vulnarian knew no one was more loyal to the demonking, than his Lady Screech. Hunger for their destruction was never far from his thoughts, even out in the middle of nowhere. "The Priests of Infinitias will take this Ram Man to Grayskull to break down the Jawbridge and invade the fortress! If we cannot free the brute's mind from their influence, I'll be forced to slay him, ..or see Grayskull's secrets make them gods among men--masters of the universe! You must send me to the Underworld, Boa'Na, ..to reclaim the soul of Orphael!"
"You are mad, beloved!" Boa'Na gasped, caressing the Vulnarian's cheek. "You're as mad as Hiram of Talos, ..but, returning Orphael to him may be our only hope to restore his humanity!"
"There is a favor I will ask of one condemned to that realm," He-Man said, wearily. "From him, a great debt is owed to all Vulnarians--today, he will pay it."
"Take care, Lord Adam," the green sorceress warned, kneeling to touch to the ground. Where her hand rested, bright emerald sparks crackled alive, and green flames burst from the ground, leaving a scorched mark there. "There is a river below, which flows under the realm of the Dead--under even the Sea of Rakash and the benighted kingdom of Sybronn, and even further still! Its waters can take you anywhere in the Underworld you will them to, ..or they can destroy you. Now stand back, Lord Adam!"
With a predatory growl, Boa'Na rose and drove her staff into the mark upon the stony ground!
He-Man saw a great crevice opened before them! The ground underfoot cracked open with such force that he staggered backwards under a hail of flying rocks, barely able to stand, while Boa'Na, to his astonishment, remained. The winds around them howled like demons, stirred with such force that they began to burn, and before the Vulnarian's eyes, a great column of golden fire bore into the ground. It twisted high and low, a pillar of heat and light that reached into the clouds, gouging a deep wound in the world beneath them, until the rocky soil around it was cauterized into hard black rock.
When the fiery column's work was finished, a great cloud burst overhead ..and rain fell!
A trail of steam rushed into the sky from the hole in the ground, as the smoking rock cooled, and He-Man could not conceal his wonder, even as the jade-skinned sorceress reached for his hand. "By Zodac's Black Gun, Boa'Na! A tunnel ..into the Underworld! Even if it leads me to your strange river, it will take me days to..."
Boa'Na caressed He-Man's cheek and kissed him. "To give you to Hell, after going so long without you, is unbearable to me, my love, ..but, we must we trust in the gods as never before. You must carry the Ram from his path, as Heuay commands, ..and you must do it alone, as the gods have forbid me to go with you! Good journey, Adam!"
He-Man unsheathed his hoary blade, the Sword of Ancients, and, in a flash of mystical light, disappeared into shadowy realms below.
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