mountains cut through the countryside with jagged edges as if a planet-wide
giant had let go his mirror, leaving the broken pieces of glass. And as if the
mountains weren’t steep enough, snaking between them, in the valleys, were
rifts dropping off sharply to unknown depths, though many believe to the very
center of the world where orcs and goblins are said
to dwell. In the eternal darkness, such a rift is impossible to detect, and no
known features surround it to warn unwary adventurers of their impending doom.
With one step the land is even and smooth, with the next, one feels his stomach
thrust into his chest, finds his feet kicking frantically at vacant air, and
all is pitch black forever. Even a map of the Dark Side, if such existed, would
prove useless, since earthquakes, and volcanoes spewing liquid fire,
continuously reshape the continent. Only a series of mountains resting on a
single tectonic plate have remained unchanged over the millennia, at the very
pinnacle of which is
But the Dark Side is far from lifeless; there are whole forests of thorns, and exotic fish swim in rivers of methane. There are also some things, without names, hiding in the Dark Side that eat, some tiny, some large.
Now the beating of drums resounded over the barren, nightmarish landscape. And bon fires licked at the air, rising with smoky fingers to touch the dismal canopy, the sky, of violet and gray. Shadows of man-like things danced along the gritty cave wall where they had built their fire.
Suddenly, the drumming stopped. There was an iron galley, sixty feet long, complete with masts, sails, and cannons, floating over the ground. Ever so gently, it made its way toward the huddled group of creatures, till someone tossed over an anchor, and a plank lowered.
Two men appeared. One was tall and bald with a great scar across his face that cut through his left eye, with a patch over that eye. The other was short with a lower jaw made of iron, now red with rust, as well as his whole right arm from the shoulder ending in a hook.
“They sure are ugly,” murmured the man with the patch. “All right, who leads this rabble!? I was told I would find fearless, fighting, er . . . men here.”
Out came a hill of fat, towering high above the others. From his shoulders cropped-out a brownish wrinkled ball, split horizontally for a mouth full of teeth like thorns and tusks like a warthog, with eyes small, round, and black like two olives sunk deep in the folds of his flesh.
“I am Blade,” said the pirate, “Captain of the-”
The orc grunted as his three fingered hand smacked against the man’s face. Then with no more effort than a small girl lifting her stuffed doll, he lifted the man and started to shake him as if something was supposed to come out.
“Trap Jaw!” Blade mumbled between yelps; “help me!” But the man with the iron jaw and mechanical arm just walked back slowly.
“Hargh-Hargh!” the monster laughed, “human funny.” This was followed by the other orcs horribly low toned, throaty laughter, and a single high pitched cackle.
The giant orc seemed intent on shaking the man till his head broke off, like a child playing too roughly with a small lizard, when suddenly the sound of pounding hooves averted everyone’s gaze, and Blade fell to the ground with a thump.
It was a cloaked figure on a black horse. The orcs gazed at him with wonder, for somehow his mere presence demanded attention. Casting out his hand, gold coins littered the ground, and most of the orcs scampered to collect them.
“Give me your name,” said the rider, circling the giant orc who remained unmoved by the coins and whose head was almost as high as the man on horseback. “And be honored that one such as I care to know.”
An unintelligible grumble was his reply.
“Do you not command the power to speak!?” he cried. “Go on, answer me! Answer your new lord and master!”
“They’re animals, my Lord,” said Blade, rubbing his neck. “They don’t understand.”
“Ah, but he will.”
“Eruku Luku!” a small voice, sharp enough to hurt the ears, intoned.
“What was that?” said Blade. “Did he speak?”
“I don’t know,” said Trap Jaw. “I didn’t see his lips move . . .”
“No!” the voice answered. “Down here! Look down here!” And there, standing just under the orc’s knee, was a bony, horned, gray creature. “His name is Eruku Luku! It means ‘bone crusher’.”
“Who are you?” asked the horseman.
“I am Eruku Luku Tuku! It means ‘little bone crusher’.” The orc belched out another laugh.
“Well I’ll be! It’s a goblin!” Trap Jaw exclaimed.
“And are you the leader here?” asked the horseman.
“No!” the goblin answered, climbing up the orc’s body with the swiftness of a squirrel, till sitting comfortably on the monster’s shoulder. “I am his, brain! Eruku Luku is the master, but you may call him, ‘Bone Crusher’.”
“Then tell him that I have many more gold coins to give, enough to equal each orc’s weight, and that if he follows me, he and his people will rule the Dark Side and the Bright Side, and men will be his people’s slaves. If he resists me, I will destroy him, then lead his people to overthrow the Bright Side. The choice is his.”
“I will tell, him!” the goblin replied, and whispered in the hole in the side of Bone Crusher’s head that served as his ear. But whatever he heard made him laugh, and the little goblin translated his grunts; “He says, he will, crush your bones! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
“Is there not one, and only one, orc law? That the strongest shall lead? Ask him that.”
Eruku Luku Tuku whispered again in that lobeless ear, and translated;
“He says . . . he will . . . crush your bones! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
“Was not Skeletor your lord and master!? Did he not command you once? Well he is dead, and I, Regan, am his successor! Behold!” he cried, raising his arm, “the skull of Skeletor!”
All, even the orcs, were taken aback, all but Bone Crusher. He simply swiped the skull from Regan’s hand, and crushed it. Trickling down between the orc’s fingers was once the face of pure evil, the very shell of the most powerful and twisted mind in the universe, now no more than a handful of gray dust.
“I told you,” said Blade; “they don’t understand.”
Regan removed his hood to reveal his long, raven black hair. “They will understand when you speak their language . . .” With that he leapt from his saddle unsheathing his shining sword, rushing towards the orc nearest Bone Crusher with such swiftness that it puzzled the mind. Three majestic sword sweeps ensued, the air screaming all the while, and when the echo of Regan’s battle cries settled, he stood upright, feet together, away from the orc.
“But you didn’t even scratch him!” said Blade, fingering his facial scar.
“Should I have done the same to you?” asked Regan coldly.
Suddenly, the orc’s arms fell from his shoulders, his head rolled off his pronounced belly into a thorn bush, and his legs parted from his hips, leaving the rest of him a dismembered stump collapsed in blood.
“Does Eruku Luku understand me, now?” asked he, sheathing his blade.
“Yes,” Tuku replied. “He crush bones, for you!”
In the Hall of the Great King of Eternos walked a man whose eyes were of such polished silver they reflected like mirrors, eyes that, protruding from his strange conical helmet, were shaped like upside-down triangles. And now, upon reaching the marble raised dais where sat the aged king and queen, and stood the beautiful chestnut-haired princess with her friend, the blind, white-haired Captain of the Guard, he bent down on one knee motioning to speak.
“Mekaneck, my old friend,” said the king. “What news do you bring from the frontier? Not bad news, I hope . . .”
“Sire, I have terrible terrible news.”
“Well, don’t hesitate. What is it?”
“Another raid, my Lord, but this much worse than any of the past. I could not with all my forces hold them back! They’ve taken a foothold on the kingdom’s soil!”
“No!” Adam blurted. “How could this be? Orcs?”
“My men-at-arms fought bravely, Sire, but when half of us were gone, slain by those barbarians’ crude weapons, I called for a retreat. There must have been . . . a hundred thousand at least! Incredible though it may sound, I assure you, no eyes see better than these! The land swarmed with them like a plague of locusts! We were overwhelmed! But what’s worse, they seemed to move with a kind of purpose, in a kind of rough formation. And when they had finished looting, burning, and killing, they didn’t return to the Dead Zones as they always do, but remained. Curious, I alone sneaked into their camp, when the moon hid the sun and all was dark. But using my night vision I could see, clear as day, a band of space pirates, and these three men among them: Blade, Trap Jaw, and the third man, Sire . . . I could not believe it at first but, he was your son.”
Queen Mari’na gasped, covering her quivering lips. Rain and Alexandra were just as shocked. Then Adam replied; “My son . . . thank the Ancients he is alive!”
“But your Highness, I’m confident he was their leader! He shouted orders atop his high black steed, and the orcs, they obeyed him!”
“I do believe it,” said the king.
“What do you want me to do?” asked Mekaneck.
“Go to him, and see if you cannot negotiate a peace. Ask for his terms and return to me immediately. I do not want war. Do not fail me in this, Mekaneck.”
Mekaneck bowed as he exited the room. “At once, my Lord.”
“Our own son against us!” Mari’na cried. “Oh curse the day that brought this fate upon us!”
“We should make preparations for war,” said Rain.
“No,” Adam replied. “There will be no war. Whatever he wants, he’ll have it.”
“But, Sire . . ,” she stepped in front of him “. . . what if he wants war? If he is intent on taking your crown, will you give it to him?”
“There was a time I would have gladly offered it,” he murmured to himself, then shaking his head, added, “but not now. Never now.”
Alexandra stood beside her. “I agree with Rain. We must prepare for the worst.”
“Can there be no other way?” the queen said softly, knowing the answer to her own question.
Adam sighed. “Alright, assemble the men-at-arms, and send messengers quickly to all our allies: to my sister in Etheria, to the bird men of Avion, to your father’s people, the Olympians, to the Twelve Knights Dragonslayers of Palutina, to General Hoof of the Pachyderms, and to Camilla, Queen of the Amazons.”
Three days later . . .
Before the King of Eternos stood Mekaneck, behind him the bronze skinned, white-haired beauty, Rain, and next to her the tall, brown-eyed princess, Alexandra.
With them were two others. One was like a stone wall, tall as he was wide, with hard, thick, gray skin, standing upright like a man on feet like tree stumps, wearing a green suit of bulky plate armor much like a tank, topped with the head of a horned rhino. Beside him was a deep blue eyed woman clad only as her people were accustomed, in nothing but her own leafy green skin, with a strikingly pronounced feminine figure but with arms and legs smooth, firm, and rippling with muscle. She had, furthermore, no hair atop her head or down below, but a gold loop earring hung from her left ear and a blue tattoo of a many pointed star circled her belly button.
“Your Highness,” Mekaneck’s voice echoed in the still vastness of the chamber; “I deeply regret to inform you that another three villages have been razed, the people murdered, and now the orcs control a much greater territory than before. I met your son on the battlefield. The terms for peace he gave to me are for you to surrender your army, and for me to bring him your head. Otherwise, he said, there shall be no peace.”
“Then by royal decree and from this day forth, let no one further call that man my son, nor shall anyone call him son. Even you,” he added, turning to the adjacent throne, “my dearest queen. He is now my enemy and the enemy of the kingdom. And he must be stopped!”
Rain came forward. “But we have problems, your Highness. The Etherians do not have the power to build a portal great enough to pass their army through to us. The bird men of Avion refuse to get involved in any war. The Olympians, who are half my people, consider us insignificant, and do not care as to our fate. And as for the Twelve Knights Dragonslayers, they are involved in a war of their own.”
“By the Ancients!” Adam cried. “Who do we have to fight, then?”
“I have enlisted all the able men in the city, but could get no more than twenty-thousand. The Pachyderms were not interested, but General Hoof has offered his strategic skills. And we also have one-hundred amazon women-”
Suddenly, the green woman sprinted between them up the steps of the dais, falling at the feet of the king. “Great Father, we amazons despise all men but you, and do not fear the orcs! War is our chief love; give us the chance and we will gladly sacrifice our lives defending you!”
Adam stood, offering his hand to lift her. “Camilla, my daughter, I thank you.”
“It is our sworn obligation, Great Father. Do not thank me. Though we may number a mere one-hundred, my women and I are far superior to any army of male orcs, and shall make short work of them.”
“I wish that were true. But we need more help. Rain, who else is there?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I can think of none but the distant races, the moss men and the rock people. But they cannot fight. They can hardly move. And the dark races, the mermen and beastmen, are no different than the orcs.”
“Wait!” Alexandra cut in. “You forgot the beople! Don’t you remember Buzz Off of Hive?”
“That was a long time ago,” said Adam, “and they have no reason to help us. We’ve done nothing for them.”
“Yes, but, Father, they number in the millions! And they are fierce warriors, always fighting to the death! Surely they could spare a few thousand troops. And they might remember Buzz Off, who was a good friends of yours. Perhaps if I could find him, he could persuade-”
“No, beople live but ten years. Buzz Off is dead.”
“But it’s worth a try, isn’t it? Rain and I will go to Hive-”
“Alexandra, it’s dangerous, and you are my only child. I cannot afford to lose you.”
“I won’t fail.”
Adam turned to leave. “I will consult with the Sorceress. In the meantime, Rain, bring the villagers into the city for protection, and order the men-at-arms to burn the crops.”
“ . . . burn our crops, Sire?”
“If the orcs have nothing to eat, they will go home. We must hold off the war for as long as possible.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“There is a chill in the air,” said Regan, surveying the valley spreading below him atop his high steed, Darkness, whose long black mane matched his own. “The seasons must be changing. Do you feel it?”
“Aye,” said Blade, walking beside him.
“It is a new season for a new age. Yes, this is the season for great battles.
The time is almost upon us now, when I shall be king.”
Blade cupped his hands. “I don’t like fighting in the cold. It hurts more.”
“Weakling!” cried Regan. “Pain can be an ally! Don’t you know anything?”
“Well . . . I . . .”
“Be silent!” He kicked his heels, pushing the horse to the edge of the cliff. Thousands upon thousands of orcs collected at the bottom in a confused soup of carnage. Rusty, jagged weapons were sharpened on stone wheels. Fires burned from the homes where peaceful families once lived. Meat unrecognizable turned on spits over smaller flames. Azure helmets and orange breast plates, having lost their luster and stained with dirt and blood, were now being used as drums. And through the skeleton remains scattered everywhere, orcs stomped looking for suitable skulls to be used as drinking cups. Bone Crusher himself walked proudly amongst them wearing a necklace of many men-at-arms’ heads, as Tuku stood even prouder on his back giggling devilishly.
“Look at our army,” said Regan. “They don’t mind pain. They only think how to cause pain. In this weather, our enemy hurts more. When our enemy stops to lament the loss of a brother, he is crushed by the orc who cared nothing for his. Here is a true resource of power, untapped before now. But you hadn’t thought of that, had you? That is why you are down there, a worthless maggot, and I am up here, a god.”
“But the food supply is running low, my Lord, and many of the orcs are leaving. What shall we do?”
“We shall make straight for the capitol. My father’s sure to have his whole army posted there; he thinks to win this war in a single battle. That will cost him his crown.
We’ll lose many more orcs by then, yes; he’s counting on it. The sun’s too bright for orc eyes, and they grow restless and hungry. But I shall delve yards below the king’s chaste mind and turn his treachery against him!”
“How?” asked Blade.
“Go, take your crew and your flying ship and gather all the farmers within a hundred miles, whose crops have been burned but whom we’ve not raided. Promise them compensations for their loss if they will but listen to me, and meet me at Point Dread.”
Tired, angry farmers flocked wearily to the needle steep mountain known as Point Dread, useless hoes, shovels, pitch forks, sickles, and scythes in their itching hands, with blue, hump-backed cattle pulling empty carts behind them. They had spent most of the year bending to bury seeds in hard soil, digging trenches to irrigate the small plots they nurtured as a mother would her newborn, and fending off monsters from the Dead Zones, waiting months all the while, praying to the Ancients to stay nature’s all-powerful destructive hand so that a delicate life could grow and thrive. But when life had at last flourished, an army of the king’s men had come, and burned it all to the lifeless red clay it’d been before.
Now these farmers shaded their eyes from the glaring, diminishing sun as they gazed at the man in black and gold standing on the mountain plateau above, a man they hoped would give them answers.
“I have not come here,” Regan shouted, “to persuade you from the king. All in all he is a good king, and well worth your devotion, even when he taxes you beyond your means and takes away a year of your life. And even if I did wish to turn you into an angry mob to storm the walls of Eternos, I lack the skill. For I have never been as convincing an orator as the king. The truth is, I speak today to defend myself from accusations made against me.”
“Hey!” someone cried. “Aren’t you in league with the orcs? Haven’t you been leading them to pillage?”
“The king would have you believe so,” answered Regan. “He will say that I am a villain out to destroy him. But nothing could be further from the truth. I am, in fact, his own son, Prince Regan! Yes, I have been cast out. And let me tell you why . . .” Hand in hand behind his back, he began to pace. Blade and Trap Jaw stood in view of him. “Learning of your struggles here on the frontier, of your poverty and hardship, I was at once shocked and outraged, more so for I knew my father was doing nothing to alleviate your burden. When I confronted him, wanting to know why he seemed uncaring, and I do mean ‘seem’, for I am not here to defame my own father, I can only relate to you what he said to me, and be assured that these are his words, not mine. ‘Those people on the frontier’ he said, ‘are not like us. They are amoral, cowardly, and no better than the orcs!’”
The people started to jitter.
“And what’s worse,” Regan continued at the top of his voice, “he said that you sleep with and have children by your own children! And that such people do not deserve rights or privileges, as other men do, but are like slaves working to feed the wealthy of Eternos. This shocked me all the more, for being his own son I truly believed that I knew my father. But when these words came from his mouth, I thought he’d been possessed by the spirit of Skeletor; I could not believe it!”
The people looked disturbed. Regan turned his back on them for a moment, and smiled.
“But do not be angered by what I’ve said . . . For he is a good king, and a great hero. Do not forget all the times he saved Eternia as He-Man! Or so I was taught as a child, that the king in his youth lifted mountains and slew dragons. Truly, how could such a hero be not good? Unless of course, you doubt the history books! But it was a mere sixty years ago that he did these things. Most of you are old enough to remember. And how could they be lies when the king himself commissioned the royal historian? It is, I think, a credit to his name that as a prince he abandoned the luxuries of the palace to roam the planet alone in search of people to save.
“But even now, he shows his good will. If only you knew how he spends the taxes you send him, on building bath houses, theaters, and stadiums for the enjoyment of the people of Eternos!”
“We have none of those things!” a man cried, lifting his sickle.
“Ah yes, true. You must forgive my ignorance for I did not know these things till recently. I’ve lived a sheltered life in the palace. But now I live among you, for the king did cast me out for showing you compassion, saying I would never make a strong, militant king. Hence I wandered the Endless Plains hungering and near death, and would have died if one of your kind families had not found me and nursed me to health.” He sighed heavily. “One day . . . a band of orcs came and massacred my new family. I mourn for them still. But I survived, for I was taken captive to be ransomed to the king. During my captivity, I learned the orcs’ language and by some miracle, tamed them. That is when I learned the most shocking thing of all, from the orc chieftain, but I will not tell you, for it is quite too shocking and unbelievable and you will all think me a liar and a slanderer-”
“No!” a woman with a baby in her arms cried. “Tell us!”
“No, really, I shouldn’t . . .”
But the people, one by one, demanded to know.
“Alright, alright, but be not dismayed. I learned, from scrolls marked with my father’s seal, that the king bargained with the orcs to let them plunder the frontier to maintain the population of the kingdom, and furthermore, to maintain good relations with the orcs who posed a threat to him if they should rally together.”
“Outrage!” an old man screamed, lifting his pitch fork.
“Yes, it is an outrage, isn’t it? But there’s more. Since I tamed the orcs and convinced the chief not to invade the frontier, the king countered the measure by burning your crops, so that he may starve you and your children!”
“Down with the king!” another man shouted.
“Down with the king!” the people echoed in unison.
“If it should come to this . . .,” said Regan, shouting over their voices, “I’ll do it with a heavy heart, for I still love my father. But for the people, all sacrifices must be made.”
“Regan as king!” they cried. “Down with the old king, up with the new!”
“Alright, my friends, gather your farm tools and summon your brothers, and all you know who’ve suffered under tyranny, so that they may follow me to victory and to the dawning of a new age, an age of freedom and prosperity for all!”
The Sorceress collapsed backward into Alexandra’s arms, her crystal ball spinning from her hands to the stone floor of Castle Grayskull.
“What is it, Sorceress?” asked Adam. “What have you seen?”
“The end!” she gasped. “Oh so terrible and tragic an end to this tale I could have not foreseen . . .”
“Tell us, Mother,” said Rain, helping the Sorceress to her feet.
“I cannot,” she replied, pressing the back of her hand against her feathered forehead. She’d been practicing magic a mere eighteen years so her powers paled before that of her late mother, and delving too deeply into the omniscient universal mind, the Zodac, sapped her physical strength considerably. “What is to occur has been preordained by Fate; it cannot be changed. Telling you will bring you nothing but grief, that will weaken you when you must be strongest. But I can reveal what is happening this very moment. The people, Adam, the people on the frontier are rising against you! Regan is leading them and the orcs to Eternos!”
“No . . .,” he murmured, “they say civil war is bloodiest of all.”
“Can the beople help us?” asked Alexandra.
“I’ve tried to contact Queen Belana but to no avail.” Her eyes darted about in the dim candle light. “I’m sorry, my telepathic powers aren’t as developed as my mothers’. To be a great mage one must forget the material world, a bit difficult for me having spent most of my life training to be a warrior.”
“Can you send us to Hive, then?”
“Creating portals is difficult. It involves warping space-time. I must admit my mother had a talent for it, but I . . . well, I’m afraid where you might end up, with less than one percent of the universe capable of supporting human life. Walking through that portal could be suicide. I’m sorry, I should have been ready; I should have studied more . . .”
Adam comforted her. “It’s all right, Teela.”
“But there is another way . . .”
Adam walked wearily with his cane through the dark abode he’d known most his life, that was to him as vast and mysterious now as the day he first entered it. And he marveled at its age and at how short his life’s length seemed in contrast, wondering what heroes came before him and what heroes were to come, a thought that’d crossed his mind a thousand times but seemed more prevalent today than any other day. One thing he sensed for sure, that no matter what the outcome of the war, Grayskull would remain. All Eternia might regress to the days of his ancestors, to the days of barbarism, and all forms of civilization may be lost, but Grayskull, he knew, would remain. Then he was saddened. For he felt as though he’d never touch the old, gray, hideous walls again, nor walk the dark, lonely paths he so strangely cherished.
Having ascended the final step to the high tower of the castle, the Sorceress pointed to the small, metallic, bird-shaped craft nestled at the center of the open-air platform. “This is the fastest ship in the universe,” she said, “as old as Grayskull itself, built by the Zodiakians to explore the universe.”
“You want us to fly to Hive?” asked Alexandra.
“It is the only other way,” she replied. “But be warned, you may be seen by the beople as an intruder and executed. But if all goes well, contact me from Hive and I can open a portal to bring you back without error.”
“You’ve taught me to pilot a wind raider,” said Rain. “Is it similar?”
“It is the same and easier. Look there at Skullgrin’s constellation,” she replied, pointing up to the dark sky; “Hive is a yellow planet orbiting a red super-giant star, that last star at the tip of the horn. The Talon Fighter is intelligent, and will know how to get there if you tell it.”
“It is risky,” said Adam.
“Please, Father, you’ve taken risks your whole life for Eternia. Let me once do the same.”
“Only now do I understand my parents, the concern they had for me when I left the palace as He-Man. I’ve faced giants, dragons, and demons the size of houses with less fear than I have now at the thought of losing you.”
“Oh Father!” She embraced him. “But surely you know the importance of what you did. If there had never been a He-Man, would all the kingdom live in peace and security knowing no giant, dragon, or demon would harm them? Would I be standing here, free from evil and princess of Eternia? Your parents knew the risks and let you go. They lost a daughter and still let you go. Now you must let me go too.”
He gripped her tightly. “I am an old man, Alexandra . . . I want to see you queen someday . . . Come back so that I may see you queen.”
“I will,” she whispered. “I love you.”
“As do I.”
“Wait,” said Teela. “I can help her.”
“How?” asked Adam.
“It is something both my father and mother made before they died.” She produced a small vile from her cape. The vile contained a strange gray liquid. “Alexandra, take off your clothes.”
“What?” the princess asked, bewildered.
“Alright,” she said, unzipping her red and white body suit, her gloves and her boots, muttering; “I-It’s cold.”
“Give me your hand,” said the Sorceress.
Alexandra reached out her open palm, and the Sorceress poured the liquid into it, and there the liquid hardened to a frosty, silver-blue metal. Then like an infectious moss it spread round her bare shoulders, molding itself to fit her fingers, cup her breasts, gird her bottom, and fasten her feet. “What is this?” she inquired at last. “It feels so . . . strange.”
“Mind-metal,” the Sorceress replied. “Once it touches your skin, it responds to your thoughts. It sensed that you felt cold and naked, and reacted accordingly. When you are relaxed, it will conform to your body like liquid. But if you feel threatened, it will harden to steel protecting you like armor. And if you want to attack something, it can detach from your body turning into a weapon, like a sword or a hammer.”
Alexandra closed her eyes and the metal shifted. It then shrank into a ball in her hand. “Amazing!” she exclaimed.
“It’ll take some practice to use it well.”
Adam turned to the Sorceress. “Thank you.”
“Well,” said Rain, “there’s no time to lose. Mother, good-bye. I love you.”
As the two girls walked toward the ship, Teela turned to Adam. “I may lose a daughter too, you know.”
“I know,” he said softly. “I know.”
King Adam glanced nervously through an open arch at the crowded city of Eternos below and the boundless desert valley beyond, then turned to Mari’na who slouched in the corner twenty feet from him on a red velvet ottoman.
“Are you crying again?” he asked.
“I’ve lost everything,” she sobbed, “and it’s your fault.”
“What?” He walked from the railing towards her. “You can’t mean that.”
She covered her pale, smeared face and rippling blue eyes with her knotted, graying hair. “You let her go. How could you!? First our son, now our daughter.”
Lowering his head, he answered; “I had no choice. She would have gone with or without my approval.”
“What of Regan? If you hadn’t sent him away, none of this would have happened.”
“Please . . . stop crying,” he begged, but she only continued to weep. So he faced the archway again. “What’s done is done. There’s no point looking for one to blame.”
“I know,” she replied. “I just don’t understand how . . . can it have come to this!?”
Suddenly, the chrome-eyed Mekaneck burst into the room shouting; “They’re here, my Lord!”
Mekaneck leaned over the railing at the arch, extending his bionic neck till fixing his head three feet above his shoulders, and then like a human periscope surveyed the sloping hills in the distance. “I can see them,” he exclaimed, “a multitude of frontiersmen swelling like the sea and the prince on his horse at the rear!”
“Mekaneck,” said Adam, “I do not want them involved. We may fight orcs, but never our own people. It is a most foul tragedy when brother turns against brother, and I’m sure he who leads them-”
“Your son!” Mari’na cut in, the ottoman tipping over as she moved towards them. “Call him what he is, your son!”
“Sit down, woman!” Adam cried, pushing her back. “That man is no son of mine, nor is he yours, so I’ve decreed.”
“Ha!” she scoffed, tears mixing with her drool. “I spit on your decree! What will you do? Execute me? Exile me? You don’t know what it’s like . . .,” she added, gesturing to her belly; “He didn’t come out of you!” Her legs failed her then, and she collapsed to the hard marble floor wailing incoherently.
Mekaneck looked on, astonished. “Y-Your Highness . . . the queen!”
“Leave her to me,” he said, straining to lift her. “I’m sure the frontiersmen have been misled. They’re angry and won’t listen to reason. But they may still be intimidated. Take the men-at-arms and show them our force, but do not use force, understand?”
“Yes, my Lord.” And the chrome-eyed general contracted his neck and left the room.
Squatting with the tips of her fingers and her toes to the ground, Camilla peered through the green reeds, moving silently sideways with all her limbs like a spider, clutching a long wooden spear and the strap between her breasts with its bow and quiver. Behind her but equally stealthy were one hundred other women with spears and bows. Some distance before them was a wall of men-at-arms, their orange plate armor and blue helmets gleaming in the Eternian sun, opposite them, a tide of ragged men with crude farm tools in their raised hands like so many blades of grass.
“People of Eternos!” Mekaneck shouted. “There’s no reason to fight! The king is willing to listen to your woes and make reparations!”
“Lies!” Regan retorted, riding atop Darkness alongside the angry farmers. “The king will say anything to save his crown now. Will you listen to him? Will you let yourselves be misled again?”
“No!” the people shouted.
“The king is not our enemy,” Mekaneck continued. “He does not want to war with you, but the Royal Guard will defend Eternos if need be. Please, let us be civilized and talk, or go back to your homes. If not for yourselves, do it for your children!”
“My children are dead!” an old woman replied, throwing a stone. It struck a soldier square in the face and he fell to the ground lifeless.
“You hag!” another soldier cried, the brother of the man who’d fallen, and he sprinted across the field to where the old woman was standing and without hesitation, beat her with his mace.
Mekaneck reached out. “No!” But it was too late. The woman lay dead and the man-at-arms stood breathing over her, his mace bloodied. All had been stunned to silence when the echo of her screams faded, thousands now having witnessed the brutal, relentless act of the king’s guard. Then there was such an uproar from the masses like rolling thunder, that Mekaneck’s commands were drowned out, and men-at-arms and frontiersmen both erupted, like when lava spills from a volcano into a cool, torrential river and the two mighty elements clash for supremacy.
The tips of a farmer’s pitch fork snapped against the hard breast plate of one man-at-arms. Defenseless, the old man dropped the tool and turned to flee, but was run down and knocked on his stomach with the swift blow of a mace to his back. The soldier then proceeded to cave the back of the man’s skull in with the round, blunt edge. A group of farmers’ wives, meanwhile, had gathered piles of stones in their aprons, using them to hail the soldiers but to no avail, for the soldiers had raised their face shields and no missile could penetrate their armor. But a young woman leaped on one young man-at-arms’ back, removing his helmet. Then a crowd gathered round him, and with stones clutched in their flimsy hands, they stoned him to death. Even Mekaneck was stirred to action now, using his long golden mace to beat the mob back, and with his triangular goggles discharging a pair of searing beams that burned every farmer in sight.
Atop the palace tower, a troubled king watched the turmoil. “No!” he howled, pounding his raw knuckles into the stone railing. But with all his regal power, his howling meant nothing.
Suddenly, from the field of green reeds came a shrill battle cry. And Camilla stood with her spear raised. “To battle, women!” They sprinted towards the scene of the battle then, and with their whole bodies surging upwards, one hundred wooden shafts launched into the air. They arched over the heads of the men-at-arms, littering the orange sky, and came falling like deadly rain drops. A little more than one third hit, killing or maiming their targets. The point hurled by the amazon queen punched through a farmer’s bare chest jutting between his shoulder blades, pinning him to the ground. But before Camilla could swing round her bow, a rabid man lunged at her with a knife. Slipping her foot behind his ankle, she knocked him on his back, then finished him with her heel thrust into his throat. With that, she dropped to one knee killing men and women impartially. One at a time they fell screaming, tugging at the feathered tails of arrows stuck in their breasts or in their heads. The other amazons were just as quick and ruthless with their bows.
Now there was one large, bearded man who’d killed several men-at-arms with his sickle, and using another man as a shield, he managed to reach an amazon before she could prepare a new arrow, and gripping her by the hair, slit her throat. Camilla was so incensed at this, that her arrow split his hand in half where the bones of the two middle fingers attach to the palm. The bloody sickle fell to the red earth, right before a second arrow pierced his thigh above the knee, and a third found its way into his elbow. He fell at last, alive and writhing in agony.
The frontiersmen fled, terrified by the savage women’s tactics and by Mekaneck’s awesome power. But in their hasty retreat they trampled over themselves. And the men-at-arms, virtually unscathed by the onslaught, stalked and butchered them.
Meanwhile, back behind the battle lines, a dark, brooding figure watched on high. “Those mindless insects, they are so easily swayed. But they’ve played their part. Now Blade, release the orcs!”
“Aye, my Lord,” the patched pirate replied, sounding the trumpet horn.
Bursting from the patched earth and from behind scattered boulders came the towering mounds of wrinkled brown flesh, orcs, with vile weapons of twisted, rusted iron, jagged stone, and monsters’ bones. So frightening were they in appearance and so foul in odor, many of the farmers rushed back into the hands of the men-at-arms who were chasing them, as did many of the men-at-arms turn and run. No amazon cowered, however, but they charged forward with even greater vigor, as if ignorant of death or any other harm.
One brave soldier who had stood firm as he met an orc bounding towards him, attacked in vain, his swinging mace halted with a nudge. The orc then flicked off the soldier’s helmet, enclosed the soldier’s bare head within his palm, and squeezed till blood oozed from between his four meaty fingers. Having finished him off, the orc moved to another man, as the headless body slumped to the ground in a puddle of blood strewn with bits of skull like egg shells. Elsewhere, another soldier came crashing down, his breast plate wrenched away like a fisherman with a shell fish, and with a meat hook the orc proceeded to pull out his entrails. Mekaneck, all the while, repelled orcs left and right with his eye beams, watching helpless as a man-at-arms was snatched up by the legs and cracked in half. To end his suffering, the chrome-eyed commander blasted orc and man alike, lighting them both on fire. But as the broken human body slowly turned to a charred corpse, the flaming orc ran rampant through the multitudes like a torch with legs, taking farmer, soldier, and orc with him to a blazing death. The amazons, meanwhile, fired arrows from afar, but the orcs’ hard, leathery skin was impervious to the pointed metal tips, and they glanced off with little effect. Only Camilla with her goddess-like aim managed to slay one by sending an arrow through his black olive-like eye into his small brain. But it was not long before the amazons’ quivers were emptied, and orcs having left a trail of mangled bodies were now upon them. Throwing down her bow, one blonde amazon tried to kick the hulking brute, but her small bare foot collided with his forearm as if it had a stone wall, and seizing her by her extended ankle, he swung her round and round before smashing her against a rock. Camilla felt the earth tremble as another orc holding a wooden club fastened to a pointed dinosaur tooth approached her. But before he could bring the prehistoric weapon down upon her, she rolled beneath his stabbing arms, picked up the sickle left by the bearded farmer, and thrust the curved blade up into his groin. The orc stumbled back, paralyzed with pain, as she climbed up his grotesque body with the sickle in her teeth, and slashed open his jugular. Drenched in black blood, the mighty amazon queen flipped off his torso then, leaving the giant to topple.
Off in the distance, now, the most horrible cry could be heard, that of Bone Crusher and the little gray goblin on his shoulder. With his massive spike ball and chain, the orc king slew six or more men-at-arms and frontiersmen at a time. Some were tangled in the chain and suffocated. Others died instantly, crushed, even soldiers whose helmets and breast plates were no help protecting them against the hurling half-ton iron ball that shattered their skulls and rib cages, leaving their armor crumpled like tin foil. And still others less fortunate died slowly, impaled on the spikes of the ball, their bodies dragged along.
“We must retreat!” a man-at-arms in panic screamed, running past Mekaneck with three orcs not far behind. And soon Camilla found herself in the center of a chaotic jumble of fellow amazons, farmers, soldiers, and orcs. Men and women all around her let out their last gasps, calling for help, but there was nothing she or anyone could do. She dodged the stone club of one orc merely to run into the bulging belly of another, yet was swift to roll between their legs and keep on running. But it was inevitable that she too would find herself in the clutches of an orc, one hand clamping her wrist and the other her ankle, and like a criminal sentenced to death by the ancient method of quartering, an orc began to pull her apart. With her every muscle she strained to tighten herself, but the monster was too strong, and soon she grew limp like a doll with loose joints, feeling the agony of her tendons and sinews tear from her bones, her thigh stretching to near breaking from her pelvis. And as her awareness slipped away, she watched as two orcs toyed with a young frontier woman before rending her in two, blood bursting from the middle, and Camilla recognized her gruesome fate. Suddenly, there came a rumble like thunder. At first she guessed it to be the footsteps of another orc. But then she realized it to be even heavier and more pounding. Next thing she knew, a shudder ran through her and she lay in the dirt, her arm and leg snapped back like rubber. And now standing high above them was the gray rhinoceros with fists like granite. He pummeled the orc with rapid successive blows, stunning the monster with each hit till the monster came tumbling down, blood streaming from the top of his head, his jutting teeth broken. So like a frenzied, bloodthirsty beast, Hoof dashed headlong into the dreadful horde, beating them senseless, sometimes taking on two or three at a time. It was quite a sight to behold, and it gave the men-at-arms and the amazons renewed courage. When the orcs were close, Hoof fought them back with his hammering fists, but when they were distant, he charged with his horn. One orc felt the blunt, rounded end punch through his large belly as Hoof carried him up and slammed him down again. Then with feet like tree stumps, Hoof stomped on his head.
It was inevitable that the two would meet, Hoof hewing a path of slaughter in one direction and Bone Crusher doing the same on the opposing end. Spinning the spiked ball overhead and letting it fly, Bone Crusher lashed out with a thousand pounds of solid iron slamming against Hoof’s brown breast plate, such force that would have killed any man. But Hoof merely staggered back, and as Bone Crusher reeled back the chain, Hoof hurled himself at the mighty orc king, knocking him off his feet. And there the two giants wrestled in the blood stained earth littered with bodies, weapons, and armor, a horribly dissonant mix of grunts and snorts resonating across the battlefield.
Meanwhile, atop the hill from which he’d never moved, upon his black mare, watched and waited the solemn dark prince, the one-eyed pirate captain beside him. “I think I’m through playing with these people,” said Regan. “The time has come to show them the true meaning of power! Wouldn’t you say?”
“Aye, my Lord.”
Prince Regan kicked his heels against Darkness’ sides, and strode down the hill unsheathing the Sword of Jitsu. Then with blade extended, he rode straight for Mekaneck, who with his awesome vision continued to fry orcs. But Mekaneck only noticed the beating of the ominous hooves too late, and upon turning he was blinded by the sword’s brilliance, and then as the steed rushed by, Regan swiped off his head. At sight of this the men-at-arms let out a great cry of lament, for their brave leader was dead, and many withdrew to the city in despair. Regan, however, continued chopping off heads as if they were mere weeds.
At about this time, Camilla found the strength to stand, just as Regan came riding past. He missed her neck but opened a wound in her arm down to the bone, and with the loss of blood she fell faint. Seeing the fallen queen, Hoof threw off Bone Crusher and dashed to her aid, lifting her up on his shoulders. He surveyed the land then only to find orcs. Men-at-arms’ and amazons’ bodies lay strewn about. One rather large orc carried a number of amazons impaled on a stake as though he were collecting them. It grieved the heroic pachyderm, and sadly, he too sought the safety of Eternos’ walls. And as the red Eternian sun melted into the horizon, the trumpet of retreat sounded from the palace tower, the last few wounded warriors scurried through the massive, shutting doors, and Prince Regan paraded round the city on horseback with the head of Mekaneck high in triumph.
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