It was Prince Adam’s and Princess Marlena’s twelfth birthday, and their mother, Queen Alexandra, supreme ruler of the known universe, escorted them with a thousand troops in blue, orange and green birds of steel, over the windswept sands of Eternia to the lone abandoned castle.
The land trembled beneath their metallic thundering talons as they gripped the jutting crags, and a long ship sailing in their midst sunk in a swirling golden cloud. Soldiers in orange armor and short blue helmets, lightning rods in their hands, filed out of the air vessels, lining the long ship. A set of steps reached the ground, and Queen Alexandra came forward in full regalia, strips of silver-azure adorning her female shape and a royal red cape falling to her armored heels. Behind her were two children, a boy with her wide brown eyes and hair, and a comely girl with the brightest bluest eyes and hair black as a raven.
The Queen waved her silver hand; “Leave us, guards.” They did so.
“I didn’t know it would be so scary,” the boy murmured. He gazed up at the parapets of the castle, its towers like claws reaching for the very moons, its face a dreaded human skull etched in limestone, and as a whole a near seamless mound crumbling by the bombardment of countless years like canon balls as the hills surmounting it. His sister turned to him, speechless.
“Come children. There is nothing to be afraid of.” Suddenly, the mouth of the skull, the draw-bridge, lowered with the echo of rusted chains clanking, spanning the length of the trench surrounding the island abode, and Queen Alexandra led the two to be swallowed by the stone face. “Just be careful,” she added, “don’t stand close to the edge;
the downdraft is strong and can pull you down.”
“I-I won’t,” said the girl. But curiosity overcame the boy’s fears, and he peeked over the teeth-lined rim to find, darkness, and the thought of it being bottomless terrified him and forced him back with a jump of his feet and his heart.
“Welcome to Castle Grayskull,” a soft voice intoned. And the children turned to see an elderly woman dressed in a cape of bright white, blue, and orange feathers, with the cowl of a falcon bordering her blue glittering eyes amidst her bony bronze cheeks and rosy lips curved upward. But there seemed to be a hidden sadness about her; the skin around her mouth cracked as though unaccustomed to smiling.
“Sorceress,” Alexandra replied, embracing her.
“I remember when it was safe for the prince to come to the castle alone.”
“Time’s have changed . . .” the Queen replied. “Children, meet your aunt, Teela.”
“Do we haveto go in there?” Marlena asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” Teela comforted. “This is the safest place in all the universe.
No evil can penetrate these walls. That is why I live here.”
“You live here,” she replied, stressing the word ‘here.’
“Yes, yes I do.” She smiled, spreading her feathered cape around the two, as if to take them. “Now you will learn of your grandfather. He was the greatest hero and king whoever lived, so your mother has told you. And she has read to you his adventures.
But what you do not know is the end of his story. All in Eternia know of it, all but you children. Your mother felt it best be kept a secret from you till you were of a certain age, so those in the palace were forbidden to speak of it till this day.”
“Tell us!” said Adam excitedly.
“I will. But remember, this is a sad and tragic tale, unlike those you’ve heard before.”
“You mean he doesn’t live happily ever after?” Marlena asked.
The Sorceress stepped back into the castle, her expression masked in shadow, whispering but two-words; “Come inside.”
A trio of trumpets blasted announcing the arrival of Princess Adora from the sister-planet, Etheria. It was a rare visit for Etheria is many stars away, and a great concentration of magic is needed to forge a portal to and from that other world, and so such a journey could be made only on special occasions. So it happened on this occasion that Princess Adora came to see the newest and youngest member of the Royal Family, her nephew who had been born but two days earlier.
“Rain!” a woman’s shrill voice sounded. “Go check on the baby. See if he’s sleeping.”
With a wooden creaking a line of light appeared, then spread into a white rectangle. There illuminated was the heart of this moment’s celebration, as it would later come to be the very cause of tragedy, that which slept innocently in a small wooden cradle painted baby blue with legs curved upwards. But the remaining darkness scattered for now, hiding in its many secret places, as the flame of hanging oil lanterns came to life at the touch of a young, slim hand. It was a girl half-dressed in her own snow-white hair snaking down around her ankles, contrasting sharply with her dark bronze skin. Her eyes were just as white but lifeless. “Why do I always have to check on the baby?” she shouted down the stairwell. Then she turned, continuing to herself, realizing no one was listening; “Just because I am the youngest girl that automatically makes me the baby-sitter? One of these days I’ll have an important job, and then I’ll show them!” She reached for the cradle, hovering a finger over the baby’s lips. “He’s asleep! Are you coming up?”
“In a minute!” the same woman’s voice called back. “Come down and help the servants with the dishes. And no flying down the stairs.”
Rain clenched her teeth; “Yes, Aunt Mari’na!” and marched out the door.
“Thirty-five steps . . . you’d think at least they’d let me fly . . . Ugh! They’re just jealous!”
As a gust of cold air came like a breathe from a high small window from which no light shown, the nursery door ever so slowly creaked back moving its shadow from the wall. And from that shadow a black shape emerged, gliding across the room like a damp, midnight mist, towards the cradle. All that could be heard was the wind and the uncertain door. The two-day old child caught sense of it, however. Though his other senses were still lame, this sense was crisper and sharper in his youth, the sense forgotten by men and relearned by wizards, the same sense that tells deer they are being hunted and makes cats fur prick up at empty alleyways. And so the child was awakened. But he could not see the black robed man who would forever plague his soul, the hooded man with no face, just bone and hollow eye-sockets peering into his cradle. Then from the man’s cloak came a blue hand clutching a chain, and at the end of it, a little skull. Like a plaything the little skull swayed before the child, and the child reached for it and laughed. And in both the child’s glassy eyes was the little skull mirrored.
“Spirit of Randor,” a weary voice whispered, “do not enter this host. Let this decaying flesh decay no more but return to dust, and let this damned soul be not damned in the lowest planes but live, live here as this-”
Suddenly, the room came alive with muddled voices. There was Queen Mari’na Lucien, a graceful, middle-aged woman wearing a small gold tiara, hand-in-hand with her two-year old brunette daughter, Alexandra, followed in by the bouncing white-haired Rain. Next came an elderly woman, Princess Adora, with streaks of silver running through her long golden hair, and lastly her brother, the crowned King Adam, a handsome, white-bearded man.
“Oh!” Adora gasped. “He’s awake! Can I hold him?”
“Certainly,” Mari’na replied.
“He is so precious . . .,” Adora continued, rocking the baby in her arms. “And he has your black hair.”
“But his father’s eyes, I think.”
“I wish I could see him,” said Rain.
“Oh, I’m sorry . . . Rain, I forgot,” said Adora.
“No,” said she. “It’s quite all right. It doesn’t bother me. I know that I’m different, but I still wish I could see him.”
“Rain has grown to be quite a young lady,” said the king. “If you lived with us you’d know. Ever since Teela went to Grayskull to learn magic, Rain has been taking all her mother’s responsibilities. Maybe someday she’ll make Captain of the Guard.”
“Really!?” Rain gasped.
“I wish I could live with you,” Adora said softly. “When I joined the rebellion I always believed that I’d return some day to live here. But when the Horde fell and left Etheria, I knew that I’d always be needed, once as commander of its armies, now as its Queen.”
“At least,” Mari’na cut in, “you can visit whenever someone gives birth!”
Adora smiled, toying with the baby’s nose. “I still can’t get over how cute he is.”
“He’ll make a fine king,” Adam said proudly.
“And a playmate?” a little voice sounded from below.
“Yes, Alexandra,” he replied, lifting her in his large arms, “That too. I’d only hoped he’d also make a fine warrior.”
“Oh, Adam,” Mari’na sighed. “We still don’t know that he won’t. Doctors can’t determine fate. Who knows, some day, he might be a greater warrior even than you were.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Adora interrupted.
Adam turned to her. “When he was born, the doctor said his right leg is . . . is crooked. He’ll be able to walk, but not without limping.”
“Oh!” Adora exclaimed. “That’s awful!”
“Don’t listen to him,” said Mari’na. “The baby’s fine. At least we know he’s healthy. Besides, better to be a smart leader than some fool, sword in hand, rushing off to get killed. We don’t need He-Man anymore. Skeletor hasn’t shown his face in years and I think he’s wasted away somewhere in the Dark Side. Even so, I believe in my heart that nothing’s beyond my baby’s reach. He can be whatever he wants to be.”
“Just look at me!” said Rain, a smirk on her face.
“Oh,” Mari’na intoned, “I just remembered.” She reached into her pocket, pulling out a white, blue, and orange feather.
“What is it?” Adora asked.
“It’s from the wing of Zoar,” she replied, placing it in the baby’s crib. “It’s to ward off evil.”
“So what are you going to call the new prince?” Adora asked.
“We named our first after one of our great ancestors,” Adam replied, “and so we’ve named him. Regan. Prince Regan.”
In a lush garden of perfectly square green bushes and wild red and violet flowers, a garden enclosed by four stone walls, a six year old girl and a four year old boy played hide and seek.
“I am He-Man!” the boy shouted, brandishing a stick as if it were a sword, “and I’ll find you, Evil-Lyn! Come out!” He looked behind the towering marble statue, its stone sword raised high in the air, of his father. Nope, she wasn’t there. Then he heard a giggle coming from behind a bush by the round fountain-pool, and ran swiftly, though awkwardly, towards the sound. Leaves flying in all directions, a little girl with long brown hair appeared, running from her brother’s grasp as if in terror, laughing all the while.
“Oow!” she cried. “Wait!”
He hit her with his stick. It snapped against her shoulder. “My sword-”
“Stop it! Look there, it’s a fire bee!”
Regan examined it closely as the furry, bright yellow and black, buzzing creature hovered and bounced over the flower head, over the streams of violet bleeding through the red petals. “Whaoh!”
“Don’t get too close to it!” she warned. “It might sting you.”
“I’m not afraid, witch! I am He-Man, and I will slay the evil monster you’ve conjured to destroy me!” He picked up a mossy stone.
“Wh-What are you gonna do?”
“Gonna make sure it’ll never sting me.”
“No!” she said. “Don’t!”
“Because . . . it never hurt anyone!”
“So? It’s just a bee.”
“But it might have feelings . . . and a family . . . you never know.”
“So what? I don’t care. Not my family.”
“Stop it! I’m dead serious!”
“So am I!” And he crushed the bee between his hand and the stone. It rolled off his palm into the high grass, squirming away the last few seconds of its life. “Yes!” he cried, raising his arm triumphantly. “I did it! I’ve slain the evil bee!”
Alexandra groaned. “It wasn’t evil! It was just a poor innocent bee! You’re sick! I’m gonna go tell Mom!”
“Go ahead and tell Mom! She won’t do anything. I’ll say you found it dead and that you’re lying! Then you’ll be punished for lying!”
“Shut up! I am two years older than you and you have to listen to me! I am the princess of Eternia, after all.”
“Yeah so . . . you’re just the stupid princess; I am the prince. And someday I’ll be king and have your head cut off!”
“Oow! You will not! I was born first so that means I’ll be Queen and have YOU’RE head cut off! And your arms and legs too!” She stuck her tongue out at him, and he tackled her. And there, wrestling on the grass they laughed together, as the bee lay dead, forgotten.
“It’s all right dear,” Mari’na said, sitting on the edge of a little bed beside her son, her one hand brushing his raven black hair that now spilled over his shoulders. “If you want to cry, go ahead. Let it out.”
The flesh round his right eye was shades of black, dark blue, and hints of crimson, and the lid was swollen shut. “I don’t want to cry,” he mumbled. “Why should I?”
“Because it’ll make you feel better. All little children cry when they are upset.”
“I don’t cry, Mom.”
“Nonsense. I remember when you were just a little baby, when I used to hold you in my arms and sing you to sleep. You’d never stop crying.”
“I am not a baby anymore. And men don’t cry.”
“But it’s all right, sweetie, if you wanted to,” she whispered. “I mean, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
He grinded his teeth. “I just want to get even!”
“Now that’s not the right attitude. That’s how you got hurt in the first place, remember, trying to get even?”
“Yeah but . . . Mom, they . . . they were making fun of the way I walk.” And for a moment it seemed that he would cry, but he did not.
“Please, sweetie, you don’t need to be strong for me. I am your mother and I’ll still love you no matter what. Now I can tell that you need a good cry.”
“No,” he said. “What I need is to kill those kids. That’d make me feel a lot better.”
“Now I know you don’t really mean that.”
“Yes I do.”
“We all say things like that when we’ve been hurt and when we’re angry, but nobody really means it.” She laughed. “If we all meant what we said, I would have killed your father long ago! Now would you like me to bring you something? Ice-cream?
I could read you a story . . .”
“I want a sword.”
“Now we’ve discussed this with your father and he agrees that you’re just too young to have a sword.”
“But what if I get beat up again?”
“Your father has assigned a special guard to watch over you. And those kids are being reprimanded by their own parents, so they won’t bother you again, I promise.”
“I still want a sword. My birthday is coming and you said I could have anything I want.”
“Anything but a sword.”
She kissed his forehead and pulled the bed covers up to his chin. “Go to sleep, sweetie. It’s late. I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning.”
“All right, Mother.”
“And remember, I love you.”
Adam stood in the hall outside Regan’s bedroom as Mari’na walked through the doorway. “How is he?” he asked.
“Fine. But he still hasn’t cried.”
“It’s all right, dear.”
“No,” she protested. “It’s not all right. All eleven year olds cry.”
“Twelve, thirteen, what’s the difference? Other kids cry for falling and scraping their knee, losing their toys . . . and he gets beat up by a gang of boys and doesn’t shed a tear! It’s just not normal!” As she spoke, tears started to form in her own blue eyes.
“Dearest, please, now why are you crying?”
“I have to cry!” she sobbed. “If my baby won’t cry for himself, who will?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
“Were you like this when you were a child? Please tell me so, then I know he’ll grow to be a fine man.”
“I don’t remember.”
She continued to sob.
“Really, my love, I think you’re overreacting.”
“Am I? Oh, I hope you’re right. But a mother can sense things that all the magic in the world cannot reveal . . .”
“Let go!” cried Alexandra, her fingers gripping the left side of a silver-azure, pentagonal shield, beautifully crafted with the flat-tipped trident-head symbol of the Ancients.
“But I need it!” Regan argued, tugging on the other end. “I am going to practice this afternoon and I can’t find mine.”
“Well get another one! This one’s mine! Father gave it to me on my fifteenth birthday!”
“The others are iron junk. I want this one. Give it to me!”
“No! You can’t have it!”
“Give it to me I said! My training is more important than yours!”
“No it isn’t!” she grunted.
“Don’t make me hurt you, Alexandra.”
She laughed. “What are you going to do?”
“Don’t laugh at me!” he screamed. “I suppose you think it’s funny, me going to combat practice, a cripple, huh?”
She let go of the shield. He stumbled back with it in his hands. “I didn’t mean that,” she said softly.
“Yes you did!” he shouted, stepping towards her. “You think I am some kind of freak, don’t you? Your own brother . . . a freak!”
She backed away. “Look, just take the shield, OK?”
“Is that what you and Father do behind my back? Talk about how I am a freak, a loser! How I could never live up to his name? Is that what you talk about, is it?”
Her brown eyes darted about, searching for answers. “No . . . never . . .”
“Don’t lie to me!” he bellowed. “Just admit it!”
“Please, stop it; you’re scaring me.”
“No, YOU stop it!”
She backed out of the open archway, on to the golden bridge joining the training tower with the central palace tower, a hundred and fifty feet above the busy streets of Eternos.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he continued.
She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“Answer me!” he cried, and struck her with the broad side of the shield, knocking her down on her stomach. Her long brown hair dangled over the edge of the bridge, now, as blood spilled from a cut in her lip. But before she knew what was happening, he pinned her neck down with his forearm, pushing her face into the walkway. “Just remember this, I am Prince Regan, soon to be King of Eternia, and what I want is mine! Understand?”
And there he left her, stunned and amazed, walking off with her shield.
King Adam was an old man now, and he walked with a cane as he ascended the red carpeted steps to the raised dais where sat his throne of solid bronze, guarded on both sides by the large, chiseled, stone battle cats, renown throughout Eternia as the symbol of champions.
Between the red pillars lining the throne room was a dome shaped, double bronze door thirty feet high that remained perpetually open, and that legends say no one man could close but He-Man. And on this day a short, dark skinned girl passed through those doors, in maid’s clothing but with a torn shoulder strap. She had much dark hair bundled in a knot atop her head, though locks of it were undone falling loosely down against her left breast. Her figure was fair, nowhere near breathtaking as the Amazons were, and her face was homely with makeup now smeared around her eyes for she had been crying.
“What is it you want, my dear?” the king asked.
She fell on her knees upon reaching the dais, and started, with gasps and sighs, to let out a train of words that fell sharply on his ears, but had little meaning to him.
“Could someone get me an interpreter?” the king shouted.
A man entered the room in the traditional uniform of the Eternian men-at-arms, an orange breast plate with a blue helmet, and then proceeded to lower his orange face plate, saying; “I speak her language, your Highness. I grew up around her village.”
“Well tell me what she’s talking about. I haven’t got all day . . .”
“Yes my Lord . . . she says that a man tried to . . . to take advantage of
her, Sire . . . But only succeeded in tearing her dress.”
“What! Where did this happen? Right here in the palace? Ask her who it was so he may be properly dealt with!”
The man spoke to her, but she seemed reluctant to respond. At last, she answered with two words, and the words seemed to startle him.
“Well, speak up, who was it!?” Adam demanded to know.
“Most exulted one, she says that . . . she says that it was the prince.”
“My son . . .,” he muttered, “the prince? Regan?”
“Y-Yes, your Highness, that is what she said.”
“Tell her she’s dismissed, and that she may have the day off. And you go have my son brought to me. Find him at once, wherever he is!”
“As you wish, my Lord.” He bowed and backed out of the room, taking the servant girl with him.
Then the familiar echo of a particular pair of boots reached the king’s ears, distinguished by a single step followed by a scraping sound, and then another step. It was Regan, dressed as always in his royal attire of black and gold, his straight raven hair now grown to his back.
“No need to look for me, Father. I am here.”
Adam quickly walked down the steps to meet him, his cane wobbling. “Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“Did you really try to rape that girl?”
“No, I did not,” he said. “She’s lying.”
“Why would she lie?” asked Adam. “Do you know what the punishment is for falsely accusing a royal official of a crime? Death!”
“As it should be. Sentence her to death.”
“My son, be reasonable. She’s just a young servant girl. Why would she risk her life? What would she have to gain by it?”
“All right!” he cried, facing away. “I did try to have her. So what of that? She’s just a lowly slave, not even an Eternian . . . And she is to obey my every wish, is she not? Am I not the prince? She should be honored that I desired her!”
“No, Regan. Just because you are prince doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. That’s not what royalty means in this family. Even when you are king, you must respect your followers, or they will not follow you.”
“Then what good is being king? Do they serve you or do you serve them?”
Adam placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Regan, my son, I know how you feel. I was your age once and I did things I too regret. But if there’s anything you want, need, you can always come to me. And I wouldn’t tell your Mother.”
Regan pulled away. “I want a harem!”
“Up the people’s tribute, just a little, and I will build the most luxurious harem this kingdom’s ever seen!”
“No, son, the people give enough already. And the farmers on the frontier barely make enough to survive. New taxes might incite them to revolt. Besides, having a harem is not our way.”
“Our ancestors had them! I bet even the great Regan of the past who you’ve named me after had one! Why shouldn’t I?”
“Have you not been listening to anything I’ve said? Have you learned nothing in the past eighteen years? What kind of king will you make when I pass on to the grave, when all you think about is yourself?”
Regan tightened his fist. “And all you care about is your precious people!
You care more about them than you do me! You always have! Where is the great warrior king I’ve read so much about? Face it, Father; you’ve grown old and weak. And when I am king, thing’s will be different in this land; I swear it!”
With that, he limped off, his father reaching out to him in vain.
A large map spread across the table, coiling up around the ends where the brown colored desert seemed to stretch outward to infinity. There were the white polar ice caps at the top and bottom, on the left half, the Bright Side, and on the right, across a very fine line, the Dark Side. A large northern continent was situated at the center of the left half, dotted with forests and cities and dominated by plains and greater expanses of wasteland called “Dead Zones”. Linked by a very narrow strip of land south, was a smaller, peninsular continent. And in the lower middle of the small “Sea of Infinity”, where light and dark touched, was the great, fog-shrouded island of Nippon. On the right half of the map, in the East, was another continent, plainly colored dark blue with no markings other than several mountain ranges and gorges, but for the most part, its geography was a mystery.
Seated around this table was King Adam, Queen Mari’na, their daughter: Princess Alexandra, and Rain, Captain of the Royal Guard. Across the table opposite them stood Regan. He held a small, gold dagger in his left hand, using it as a pointer then as a plaything while he paced with an awkward step from one side of the room to the other. As always, he was in his finest royal attire, the black smock with its ornate gold embroidery. It seemed as though he’d grown much thinner in recent months. And the lamps mounted on each of the red and green marble pillars circling them cast weird shadows on his face, forcing his cheek bones to jut out like a human skull. But his icy blue eyes glittered and penetrated.
“I have summoned you all here for I have great plans for the future, so please listen and listen well.”
“What what?” Adam murmured.
“Let him speak, dear,” said the queen.
“Don’t worry, Father. I have given this much thought, and I am certain this will be for the good of the people as well as a great benefit to us. You see, it has come to my attention that the farmers on the frontier have little to offer because they are poor, and they are poor because they live too near the Dead Zones.” He pointed to it with his dagger. “People are afraid of these areas, so traders avoid them, not to mention the frontier is furthest from all trade routes.
“My solution is simple; eliminate the frontier! My plan calls for a global trade network circling the planet. We can send teams of explorers to the Dark Side, build new colonies, and open new trade routes with no turning points! Our kingdom will grow twice in size, the people on the frontier now will be richer, and we will collect twice the tribute! Think of it . . . the dawning of a new age, an age when Eternia is ONE! And you, Father, will take credit for it. History will remember you as the founder of this new age, the first king of an empire without boundaries! Your authority will be absolute. No living thing in all the world will be able to hide, anywhere, from your laws and your royal decrees!”
After some time, Adam replied; “I know you’ve put much time and effort into this, my son, but it is a foolish plan. It will never work. Crossing the Dead Zones is perilous, and living in the Dark Side is worse. No one, not even the homeless or the disease-stricken, would be willing to make such a journey, nor settle in such a terrible land. Besides, the Dark Side is already heavily populated by orcs and goblins; no explorer would be given the chance to build a colony in the very heart of their domain. Orc raids already abound near the rim of our side of the planet, thousands of miles from their mountain habitats.”
“Ah,” Regan replied, “but that is the best part of my plan, for it calls to end all raids once and for all!”
“How?” Rain asked.
He thrust his dagger into the map, in the very center of the Dark Side, and with a gleam in his eye exclaimed; “Exterminate the brutes! Wipe them off the face of Eternia! And I volunteer to lead our armies in the invasion!”
Adam stood, prepared to leave. “I have heard enough.”
“But why?” Regan pleaded, “you see what they’ve done to our people! Think of the suffering you would end! Besides . . . they are incestuous cannibals! Cruel! Barbaric! Butchers! Knowing nothing but hate and greed! They fight and massacre themselves! Such creatures do not deserve to live!”
“No,” Adam said. “All things deserve to live. And if we exterminate them, do we not then become butchers ourselves?”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this!” Regan cried, slamming his fist on the table. “You never agree with me!”
“Well, I must side with Father,” Alexandra cut in. “What they do is wrong, but we can’t sentence all to death for the wrongs of the many. The few are innocent.”
“You lying whore!” Regan scoffed, trying in vain to remove the dagger from the table. “You say that only to win his approval! But you know I’m right! He’s a foolish old man with foolish old beliefs, afraid to do battle, afraid of war when it is for the good of us all-”
“Enough!” Adam cried. “That is no way to speak to your sister, in front of your own parents! Are you not ashamed? I had such high hopes for you, Regan, but today I’ve realized my hopes were for nothing . . .”
Mari’na reached out, as if to silence him, “No-”
“Leave my house. You are NOT my son. And I never want to see YOU again.”
“All right, Father . . .” Tears started to form in his eyes, but he fought them back. “If that is what you wish . . .” His voice wavered, then turned to anger; “But you will rue the day you banished me!”
Adam faced away. Mari’na clutched him, gasping as if to speak, but no words came out. Alexandra and Rain left the room quietly. And when Regan was long gone, Adam spoke again, softly; “Do you . . . do you think I was too harsh?”
“Yes,” she replied sharply, as if to sting him with her answer.
“Don’t worry. He’ll return.”
“I know,” she sobbed, holding him. “But I cannot help but think, by all the gods above, what sort of man was born to me! And yet, he is my son, and I still love him.”
“As do I, which is why he hurts me so, and makes me say foolish things like the things I’ve just said.”
“If only he knew that . . .”
“He knows, but doesn’t care.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, pondering. “He spends all day a recluse in his own chambers, leaving but a few hours during each night, will speak to no one . . . I can’t even get through to him . . .”
“And when he does come out to speak, he speaks of bloodshed.”
“But why?” she asked. “What did we do wrong?”
“We did nothing wrong, my love. Look what a fine, lovely woman Alexandra has grown to be. And we’ve raised them both in the same manner. But sometimes fate chooses for us, another path.”
“Was anyone in your family like this?”
He thought for a moment. “Yes. I had an uncle once, Keldor. He was much like Regan.”
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He disappeared a long time ago.”
Demons whisper in my ears
The most pleasant sounds
“Try it; it might be fun,”
promises of appetites fulfilled
and so they do beguile;
do damn me
On the damp, gritty stone floor of the tower balcony rising high above the Royal Palace, against the rounded brick wall at his back, Regan cried out in desperation to the darkness; “They do not understand me! No one does . . .”
His gaze fell heavily on the last rays of red light already vanishing before he could cherish the moment, watching helpless as the rim of the Eternian sun waned, till swallowed by the large, yellow-green moon. And he felt as though he’d never see the sun again. It reminded him of his father’s eye, shutting upon him for the last time, and the moon the sun’s eyelid. Then, a shrill voice whispered; “I understand you, Regan.”
Regan jumped to his feet, startled. “Wh-Who said that?”
“I did . . .,” the same high-pitched whine sounded.
With sudden terror Regan realized the night was but a cloak, and the moon crowning the night, a decaying human skull. “Who are you!” he cried, his skin breaking out into beads of sweat, his eyes starting from their hollow spheres.
“Do not be afraid,” the skull replied. “I am your friend. I have known you since the day you were born. And I have known your father for much much longer.”
“I am dreaming, or else have gone mad! A skull that speaks! What do you want with me?”
“Nothing. I am here to help you, because I know what you want, and can give it to you. I can give you what your father cannot, or doesn’t care to give.”
“And what’s that?”
“What you want most: wealth, women, glory, and best of all, power!” He laughed.
“I don’t believe you. Why would you do such a thing? What’s in it for you?”
“Ah, always the skeptic, always questioning others intentions, that’s my son. You are like a son to me, you know. So let me prove myself with a simple demonstration.” And his black cloak parted to reveal a long silver staff topped with the head of a ram’s skull, and all around it was golden fire, and the fire billowed from the ram’s empty eye sockets, mouth, and nostrils, burning round Regan’s crippled leg.
“Argh!” the young prince cried, falling to the floor clutching his ankle. “What are you doing? Stop it! The pain!”
“It’s over. Now stand. Stand tall like a man.”
Regan stood as for the first time, for there was something different about him now. Both his legs were straight. “C-Can it be?” He walked a few steps in one direction, then another. “It is! I-I never knew it could be like this!”
“I have great powers. And I can do more for you, much more, things you never dreamed possible.”
“Wait . . . I know you. You are the enemy of my father; you are Skeletor!”
“I am Skeletor and all that is evil.”
“No . . . I cannot be speaking to you. Leave me alone. I am not evil!”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Why must you not be evil, because your father says so? He doesn’t care about you; you said it yourself. And what is evil anyway? It’s just a word like any other, no lesser or greater. The more you say it, the better it feels. Try it. But what does it mean? Did your father teach you that? Or as he hidden that from you too?”
“He taught me that you are evil, and that evil is wrong.”
“Wrong? Isn’t that just another way of saying; ‘sorry, you can’t have this, it must be my way’?”
“Evil is your friend, Regan. Evil wishes but to let you have all you wish to have, all you desire. The good squander the pleasures of the world. They hoard it for their own selfish appetite. But I, I offer you all, anything and everything you want. That is evil. Freedom to have, to possess, and if it so pleases, to destroy.”
“No!” Regan cried, holding his trembling fists around his eyes. “Get away from me!”
“Have it your way,” Skeletor replied. “Remain an outcast, shunned by your own father. I’ll just change your leg back the way it was-”
“No! I . . .” He mumbled inaudibly.
“What was that?” The dark shape moved closer, his skull glowing in the moonlight.
“Please . . . I want to be normal.” He lowered his head, letting his long dark hair fall over his face.
“Then you will join me? You will be my friend?”
Images flashed through Regan’s mind: all the times he’d sat on his father’s lap listening to fairy tales, or when he was lifted atop his father’s broad shoulders, or that sunny morning when he first learned to use a sword and ride a horse. But then the face of an angry father screaming ‘You are NOT my son!’ echoed in the caverns of his memory, and he winced with pain. So he answered, finally; “Yes. I will join you.”
“Excellent!” Skeletor wailed. And even though he had no lips, it seemed as though he’d smiled. “But wait! It’s not that easy.”
“What do you mean?”
“You must do something first. That which, when done, can never be undone.”
“Tell me and I’ll do it.”
“Come with me, then, and be newly baptized.” With that, Skeletor waved his magic staff, and Regan found himself standing in a field of many evenly spaced stone blocks spreading outward to seeming infinity.
“Where are we?”
“In the cemetery where lie your father’s enemies, or should I say ex-father. You may call me, Father, now.”
Lightning flashed, silent, illuminating the headstone of the tomb on which they were standing. Engraved there were three words: HERE LIES JITSU.
“Who is Jitsu?” asked Regan.
“A master swordsman and a military genius,” Skeletor replied, “who will be your teacher.”
“But he’s dead.”
“Death is an illusion, my son. Some might say the same about me.” And with another arch of golden fire, the granite, mildew laden lid of the tomb came sliding off, revealing nothing but black earth. “Dig!” Skeletor exclaimed. “You must get your hands dirty.”
Regan reached, deep into the ground, and after much effort unearthed a single arm bone, missing a hand. “I find only this skeleton.”
“Dig deeper!” Skeletor commanded. “The path to Hell is easy, but it leads down.”
“I’ve found some-thing,” Regan gasped. It was the hilt of a curved sword in its scabbard. He now held it in his hands, examining with wonder its fine craftsmanship and detail. It was a scene from Hell. All around the jade handle were graven images of horned, bat-winged demons, and their lusty female counterparts, the succubus. Pits of flame and forests of thorns abounded, tormenting raw-boned men and women who covered their faces in shame, grouped into herds and driven like cattle by the demons. And from the wounds inflicted by the demons’ tools ran a river of blood, and the river flowed up and off the handle to the golden scabbard. The scabbard depicted legions of armies set against one another, the mutilated bodies that remained after the war, mourners at a cemetery, and the spirits of the dead who descended below the earth. And above it all, the blood river continued to a kind of altar where sat a dragon breathing clouds of fire, the dragon’s tail wrapping round the whole shaft of the scabbard.
“It is what you’ve wanted since childhood, a sword, but not just any sword, a very special, magic sword, the sword to sever the ties between your and your sister’s inheritance! It will make you powerful, more powerful than the king. Then you can take what you want.”
“These images . . .,” he murmured, fingering the scabbard’s surface, “. . . they’re terrible. And yet, so beautiful.”
“What you see is the true nature of the world, my son, the strong dominating the weak. What will you be? Will you be the strong and dominate, or the weak and dominated?”
Regan unsheathed the blade, falling blinded by its sudden radiance. “I will be strong!”
“Good! Now for the final step . . . remember . . .”
When Regan could see again, he found himself in back of the Royal Palace in broad daylight, surrounded by chestnut trees. And there, by a rumbling brook, were two boys shouting; “Nyah! Nyah! What are you gonna do about it, Prince Retard, run us down and kick us to death! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
“What is this!?” Regan cried.
“Your second gift from me, what you’ve always wanted but Mommy and Daddy never allowed.”
“You mean, kill . . . them . . .?”
“This is the final step, and your final test. Do it, and there’s no turning back. Next time it will be easier, and easier after that, till it becomes a joy.”
“But they’re just children . . .”
“So were you, if you remember, a poor defenseless child. But you’re not so defenseless now! Just listen to them . . .”
“Nyah! Nyah! Prince Retard! Prince Retard! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Regan closed his eyes and lunged forward, gripping his sword overhead. “No! STOP MAKING FUN OF ME!” The laughs turned to screams, then, and after he was through, his hands ran with blood.
Alexandra and Rain sat by the edge of the palace pool, wetting their feet. It had been a long day of training for both of them, so now they relaxed, having bundled their sweat-soaked clothing in a pile. Only Rain seemed somewhat clothed in her own white, exceedingly long hair, though it often shifted exposing flashes of her dark bronze skin.
Both were beautiful, by nature and by the rigorous exercise that kept them lean and tone. And though Rain was near twice Alexandra’s age, she looked almost younger, for she was only half-human, and was expected to live much longer than any human could.
“I think I pulled a muscle in my sword-arm,” said Alexandra, “my shoulder hurts.”
“It happens,” said Rain. “Once when I was showing Regan-, oh, never mind.”
“It’s alright, Rain. You can talk to me. You’re my best friend, remember?”
“I know. It’s just that, I know how hard this ordeal has been on your family, especially on your father. Didn’t want to bring up any painful subjects.”
“Three months now, I can’t imagine where he’s gone, what he’s doing. Father thinks it’s all his fault, but Regan brought this on himself. And to be honest, I’m glad he’s run away and hope he never comes back.”
“Alexandra, how can you say that? He’s your brother, your own flesh and blood! They say no two people are more alike than one sibling to another.”
“I so wish that were true!” She gazed at her reflection in the water, at her large, round, brown eyes, and the lock of chestnut hair cascading down beside her pink nipple.
“I mean, I know he’s not easy to get along with, and I have my own reasons for not wanting him around.”
“Well . . . when I am showering in the palace bath, I can often hear his breathing. He tries to hide by being quiet, knowing I can’t see him. But I know when he’s around. He comes very close sometimes, and I wonder what he’ll do, whether he’ll touch me, but after time he just leaves.”
“I’ve caught him spying on me too, in the bath, or just here at the pool. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d joined me, but I hated how he just hid and stared. It gave me the creeps!”
“I’ve been told that I’m beautiful,” said Rain softly, “and can only imagine how someone might wish to look at me. But I don’t really know what beauty is. And my clothes, I can only feel them, so I didn’t know what to think when he was watching me without them, whether I should have been flattered or afraid. But I do know that I never had a brother or a sister. I didn’t know my father till I was nine, and when I was eighteen my mother moved away . . . I can only dream of having a family like yours . . .”
“Believe me, you don’t want it! But . . . maybe you’re right. There have been some good times between he and I, mostly when we were little. I might forgive him, if he ever comes back. It’s just so hard when he shows no remorse. My parents say I should love him, but I don’t. Why should I? Because I’m his sister? No, I don’t think love should ever be expected of someone. It must be earned, and Regan has never earned it.”
“Well,” said Rain, forcing a smile, “I think we’re turning into prunes. I’d better see to the men-at-arms.” She hopped to her feet, calling a gust of wind to dry them.
Alexandra followed her back into the palace. “Wait . . .”
“Rain, I just wanted you to know that . . . you’re like a sister to me, and I love you.”
In the muddy clearing of a swamp near a small withering hill, where things never seen groan endlessly, Prince Regan clutched his sword in both hands, orbiting a pale apparition of a man in an ornate, red and gold breast plate, with slanted eyes and a short black beard. All but the ghost’s sword was translucent, which the ghost wielded with very substantial accuracy. But Regan parried every thrust with ease, dancing round and round in ways no crippled man could dream. His opponent would surely have died many deaths at his lightning trail blade, if like a man his opponent could bleed. But when the bronze, rusted sword of the other fell to the earth, the apparition wailed as if injured, fading into a fog.
“You have exceeded your teacher,” a solemn voice spoke, from everywhere and nowhere. “I am most impressed, and most proud.” Suddenly there was a chill, and as before, Skeletor took shape from the essence of the night, out of the chaos and darkness.
“Where have you been!?” Regan cried. “And how long do you expect me to stay in this . . . this crawling . . .,” he killed three mosquitoes with three successive
strokes, “. . . Hell hole!”
“Patience,” Skeletor replied. “I had to be sure you were ready. Now I know you are.”
“Don’t think I don’t understand why you’re helping me,” he said, wiping the blood from his blade. “You’ve been trying to takeover Eternia for decades, and now your using me to succeed. No matter. My hate for my father exceeds any contempt I could have for you. So use me. I’ll gladly be your pawn. Just tell me this; if you are so powerful, why do you need me?”
“If you so wish to know, listen carefully,” said Skeletor, “and you shall soon be the sole keeper of my darkest secret:
“I was made of flesh once,” he began, “just as solid as you are now. But the more I delved into the black arts, the more my body deteriorated. Magic is an unnatural thing, you see; such power is not meant for mortals. But when the changing began, I did not care. For as I grew more powerful, so did my thirst for power grow, a thirst you cannot possibly imagine, a thousand times greater than lust, greater even than hunger . . . Not that it ever mattered, for after a little while I ceased to need food or sleep. Hence I abandoned mortality, and it was not long before I became magic. I was then and would forever be an enigma, half magic . . . half flesh. It started with my face and progressed onward. And I knew that when the changing was complete, at the very height of my power, I would die.
“The time is nearing now, when I will fade into the background forever, for I have long to be human, or animal.” He laughed. “My own power is the root of my destruction, and it cannot be changed.
“I have watched henchman after henchman fall before your father, and my loathing for him increased with his every victory. For if it weren’t for He-Man, I could have taken Castle Grayskull and learned the secrets of the Ancients, how to reverse my condition and amass such power as to cheat Death. I could have been a god. But it’s too late for that now.” He opened his blue hand forming a glowing, spinning sphere, and there were all the continents arrayed. Then the image transformed, to that of Regan sitting on the throne of Adam. “Now you must takeover Eternia for the both of us, for our revenge! You . . . are my ultimate plan, and my final hope. I’ve waited eighteen years. For when I asked Fate if ever He-Man was to be defeated by a man, she answered: ‘Only by his own son.’”
“And how do I takeover Eternia? All I have is this sword! The king has an army of men-at-arms, and all races pay allegiance to him.”
Skeletor turned away. “Not . . . every race.”
He-Man, Skeletor, Eternia and all associated characters, names, images, comic books and minicomics are registered copyrights and/or trademarks of Mattel, DC Comics, Hallmark or other concerned copyright/trademark holders. All rights reserved.