Priests of Infinitias, Part 4
By T. F. Cooper (Based On "He-Man Meets Ram Man" by Gary Cohn)
Sent from the Underworld in a flash of mystical fire, the wild, golden-haired He-Man of the Vulnarians awoke half-buried in a wasteland at the edge of Eternia's Evergreen Forests ..and surrounded by the benighted Lords of Infinitias. Climbing from a pile of smoldering rocks, he unsheathed his Sword of Ancients. "You reek of congress with your undead lord's whore, Beast Man! Is even your way too rough for the Lady Screech?"
A strange fusion of man, lion and ape, the ruler of the Gorre Jungles snarled, circling his human prey. Caging He-Man with his every move, he drew his whip! "You will find my way is too rough for most, Vulnarian, ..when I've broken you!"
With a powerful swing of Beast Man's arm, a cord of blinding, blue-white lightning snaked around the big, bronze-skinned warrior, and He-Man fell to his knees. Against it, his korodite harness gave little protection, and He-Man slowly collapsed upon his back in silent agony, struggling to maintain consciousness. The whip, twisting as though alive, snaked about the muscles of his victim's legs and arms, constricting the big Vulnarian's movements! Struggling against the tendril-like weapon, He-Man spat in his face and found the monster fully upon him--his clawed hands about his throat!
"You don't have to win this time, fool!" the Lady Screech groaned, glaring down from a large, black rock. "Just keep the savage busy, while I control the Ram Man ..and our master lays siege to Grayskull!"
"In the dungeons of Snake Mountain, he'll be as nothing to us," growled the Wild King of Gorre, strangling the golden-haired creature in his grip and slamming him back into the rock pile. "A Vulnarian animal in a cage! Filled with terror, ..as all men should be! Now, will his eyes finally be opened to the blood-red cruelty of desti ...!"
Beneath Beast Man, the pile of rocks flew apart!
A bronze fist rushed from the cloud of dust, and into the Stygian Mote, fell the Beast Man of Gorre--a silvery dagger in his chest, ..and He-Man of the Vulnarians, his strength suddenly spent, fell to his hands and knees. "I've only one destiny, Infinitian--to destroy you! Now, it is your master's turn!"
Upon two, sturdy legs, Lord Adam raced toward Grayskull.
In the distance, he saw the heavily armored Ram Man of Talos, barely alive, lumbering before Castle Grayskull on mechanical legs. Lingering close to him, though it seemed impossible, Lord Adam saw a small, dark-haired boy formed entirely of violet light, and between them, stood a tall, black-robed figure ..with a skull for a face! The demon turned toward the sound of his booted feet pounding the stony ground ..and suddenly, He-Man found himself inside an invisible prison! "You can't hold me forever, wretched one! Release poor Hiram from your evil spell or face the wrath of Heuay's Man!"
"F-forgive ..me, ..wizard," the Ram Man gasped, tumbling to the ground and upon his broad back. "Forg-g-give ..m-me, ..Orphael. H-head ..and h-heart ..p-p-pounding. M-must-must ..rest. P-p-pleassse."
"You cannot give up, good Hiram of Talos!" The wizard-king Skeletor warned, standing at the edge of the Abyss, twisting deep into the stony ground under Grayskull. "Though He-Man is in the castle laughing at you, while feeding upon the soul of your dead son, you've nearly broken through its Jawbridge Door! Soon, we will bring it down, and your son will be free, ..but, you mustn't give up now! Poor, brave Orphael cries out, good Hiram, ..from Grayskull's walls!"
The black-haired boy, a phantom of light, stepped out from behind the Dark Lord's cloak. "Methinks you cannot succeed, father--that the effort will kill you. That I will burn in Grayskull's dungeons, forever. I'm scared, father! Please ..save me!"
"N-no fear, ..sweet ..Orphael," the haggard thing answered from beneath his bucket-like helmet and crude armor. Drenched in sweat, his heart pounding and barely able to move, he climbed back to his feet. "Father ..coming. F-f-father ..s-save you."
Again did the poor Ram Man of Talos launch himself at the great Jawbridge of Grayskull! Springing from his mechanical knees against Grayskull's door and back to the ground, he returned to his work. Assaulting the Jawbridge with the force of a thousand hydrogen bombs. How could he give up now, ..with Heuay's Man torturing the soul of poor Orphael, inside?
"The day I came to Hiram of Talos had not been a peaceful one for him," the skull-masked demonking mused, materializing before He-Man. "A wild, bronze-skinned Vulnarian riding a war machine had demanded passage through the ruins, where Hiram had guarded Orphael's grave for two years. When Hiram refused, the half-naked savage had attacked him with the strength of an army and hurled him, with one blow, away from the sacred mound, under which poor Orphael was buried. His oath to guard the boy's grave soundly broken, Hiram cursed the Vulnarian, who drove his infernal machine right over that hallowed ground, laughing all the way to Talos!"
"You care nothing for good Hiram!" He-Man growled, struggling against the invisible barrier surrounding him like a cage! "You care nothing for any living thing--even your own damned Priests of Infinitias! When he sees what you are...!"
"But he won't, Vulnarian!" the black-cloaked ghoul laughed, returned to the Abyss's edge in a flash of spectral light. "You see, I showed him how the savage, He-Man, lord of Grayskull, now torments the souls of dead children to gain supernatural strength from the gods! Then, from a mutual hatred of our barbarian enemy, was a powerful alliance struck--with good Skeletor's help, would Hiram make war upon Grayskull, ..until Orphael is returned to life in the world of men! Soon, the Jawbridge will fall, with Hiram's corpse beneath it, ..and Grayskull's secrets will be mine!"
"I'll die ..first!" With a primal grunt and fists thrust outward, did He-Man's will destroy what brute strength alone could not. Eternia shook.
The Ram Man, his blood rushing to his face, collapsed, gasping for air. As the Snake Mountain king approached to fill him with the divine strength to continue his assault upon Grayskull, a golden-haired stranger with a broadsword blocked the wizard's path."No!"
"Do your worst, King of the Worms!" raged He-Man, escaped from Skeletor's invisible barrier! "Deep in his heart, Hiram of Talos knows that thing is not his son, Orphael! It's a demon-witch--the Lady Screech of Snake Mountain!"
"Do not listen to him, good Hiram!" the poor skull-faced wizard pleaded, ..as his Havok Staff flew back into his black-gauntleted hand. "You must keep going ..for Orphael! For the soul of the murdered son he torments behind Grayskull's walls, you must keep going! Tell him, spirit of Orphael--tell the fool he must save you!"
Too arrogant to know it, the devil pretending to be Orphael had overplayed its hand, and energy used to keep Ram Man under her power was now spent, ..leaving herself open to attack. "Father, ..save ...s-save ...no-ooo!"
From the hand of the adolescent King Hylas, riding upon He-Man's flying battle ram, two flights of silver-tipped arrows struck the phantom child in its heart, belly and throat! Its eyes stretched wide and struggling to remove the arrows from its back, called out the names of the dark gods of Infinitias! To the evil sky, King Koas! To the warrior goddess, Evil-Lyn!
Truly, were they damned, the Priests of Infinitias. Not one dark god, wizard or demon answered her prayer.
With a hurricane's speed and the strength of a fifty-thousand-man army, He-Man drove the King of Snake Mountain back toward the Stygian Abyss, until the big Vulnarian saw that the black-robed thing parrying his sword and battle-axe blows was a mere disembodied shadow, ..impossibly attached to nothing. "So close to Grayskull now--aren't you, Evil One? Your ancient mind feeding upon its secrets--more powerful than ever you've been before, ..but, again, your plans have failed! You've no power here over flesh or steel that we men do not give you!"
"It is power that will soon be mine, Vulnarian," Skeletor hissed, reappearing at He-Man's back. "Power that I will share with noble Hiram, when he kneels before me and takes Beast Man's place at my side, ..as a Priest of Infinitias!"
He-Man lunged at where Skeletor appeared ..and felt another bolt of cosmic rage strike against his back. He fell to his knees under another strike. Then, down, upon his back, ..looking up into the ancient face of Destruction. As the world blurred before his eyes, and the heat and blinding violet light from Skeletor's blade dug into his heart like hot nails into wet wood, his fingers defiantly tightened over the hoary blade in his hand.
Standing over the half-naked Avenger of Man and grinning behind his skull-like mask, as his mortal foe's massive chest convulsed uncontrollably, he struck He-Man in the chest with another violent stream of energy, ..so powerful that the light of it could be seen from many miles away. "See how you fall beneath my power, Adam of the Vulnarians, ..as all things eventually must? Futilely you cling to your Sword of Ancients, ..knowing it and all hope for mankind will soon be lost forever. Only now, poor savage, do you understand how truly frail is the will of man, when pitted against the terrors of a hungry universe! Now, will I put an end to your pathetic existence!"
Hiram, Ram Man of Talos, is stopped cold by the sight before him. In a great flash of violet and white, he saw that a dark, monstrous hawk fluttered where his beloved son, Orphael, had stood, ..squawking and beating its wings in outrage! Then, the silver-tipped arrows fell to the ground, and the purple-feathered demon vanished!
Young King Hylas knelt beside his champion. Tears in his eyes. "You are free, good Hiram. Thank the gods you're alive!"
On hands and knees, the Ram Man gasped for breath. At the edge of the Abyss, he saw He-Man struck down ..and Skeletor finishing him off. "Aye -- Hiram lives, milord Hylas, ..but, not to see a true champion of man slain in my place, ..by the demon I served! Now, with my last breath, ..must I avenge brave Orphael, ..by saving He-Man of the Vulnarians!"
Rushing past his young sovereign, Hiram of Talos launched himself at the Enemy of Man! Lightning filled the sky, and great roar thundered from the giant warrior, as his steel and chain mail armor was shredded from the bulk of him. He crashed to the ground in a blackened heap, gasping for breath. Barely alive. His metal armor falling from him in molten, ashen plates.
From the Stygian Abyss's edge, crimson light flared and Skeletor reappeared. The blazing Sword of Chaos still in his hand! "Look upon me, Ram Man of Talos, ..as you die! I am Destruction Incarnate! I am power! Still, am I the only hope for your son's salvation ..and now, your own! Kneel before me! Take Beast Man's place at my side, as a Priest-king of Infinitias, and Orphael will live again! All the power you have ever craved will be yours! Call me your master ..or be destroyed!"
"You are nothing, demonking!" Hiram of Talos stood in his tattered red clothes. He gasped and grunted to erect himself, before steadying himself on two bare feet. His fists, each as big as a man's head, set firmly at his sides. "So, long as there's fire in my heart, I'll not see mankind kneel before nothing! Leave this world in peace, or I'll split open this mountain peak and hurl us all into the Stygian Abyss below! Begone!"
Ram Man stomped his bare foot upon the ground, and several broad cracks snaked over the ground before Grayskull. He roared and stomped again, and the ground cracked open under Skeletor's heels and sent him to the ground.
"Fools, ..you dance in the Light of the Damned!" hissed the Lord of the Wastes, as he rose to stand. At his back, Grayskull shook, and the rocks at his feet were lifted into the air, circling him like a dark star! "You think you've cheated the Lord of Destruction--of spiritual annihilation?! Mankind will surrender his will to me ..and Grayskull with it, or I will take my payment in flesh ..and death! You will kneel before the Void and make Eternia an altar to me! Though you delay the inevitable, ..there will be a next time!"
In defeat, their black designs foiled, the Priests of Infinitias and the vile, undead thing that ruled them disappeared.
The great Ram Man of Talos fell face-forward ..and collapsed.
Alone, before the mysterious fortress Grayskull, He-Man of the Vulnarians and King Hylas of Talos rushed to the big warrior's side. He-Man looked upon the old ruin and called out to the wise spirits inside, who had come to his aid so many times before. "Hear me, Ancients of Grayskull! Here lies one, a mortal, whose faith in your justice endured blackest despair--who sacrificed himself to turn the Enemies of Man back to their shadows! I've carried the ram from his path, as you asked! What will be your judgment?!"
"It's his heart, Heuay Man," Hylas pleaded, cradling Hiram's head. "His heart is beating so fast. Please don't let him die!"
He-Man knelt beside Hiram, examining him. "He's been injured very badly. Though, the sorcery Boa'Na used to enhance his strength now labors to heal him, I do not know that he will live, Hylas. It is time to tell him the truth about who you are."
"Do not cry, good king," groaned Hiram, touching the adolescent monarch's pale cheek. He smiled and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, as He-Man helped him to sit up - his back against a large rock. "Seen far worst than this in the Talostine Army, marching through Rakastan. By the gods! So like Her Highness you look, milord--your beautiful mother, ..Argo."
With a cautious glare from He-Man, the young king bowed his golden head and began to speak. "My mother's lord and husband, King Hylas I, was cruel and hated by the people of Talos, and though my mother, Princess Argo, was forced to marry him, she never loved him. Fearing his wrath, she never told him the son she bore was not truly his. He was fathered before their union, ..by his Captain of the Guard--a man she'd loved all her life."
"I was his ..Captain of--milord, ..what are you saying?" Ram Man sobbed. Standing over him, a ghostly, female figure, in a copper, snake-skull headdress and draped in golden gowns looked on.
"Behold, good Hiram of Talos," He-Man marveled, unable to hide the grateful joy in his voice. "You prayed to the gods, and they've returned to you, ..your son."
When Lord Adam reached out to fair Boa'Na, she vanished entirely, ..and the young King Hylas cried, embracing his father.
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Once believed lost for ten years, Priests is dedicated to my dear friends and old housemates, the Gardners, for saving a pile of my old floppies! You are 'the socks' - I'll never forget you! Thanks much, guys!