He-Man of the Vines

By T. F. Cooper

In the ancient kingdom of Elshimere, nestled in the Mystic Mountains of the planet Eternia, was an ugly and treacherous, little tavern called Shokoti's Teat.

Oh, it thought itself respectable enough.

The tavern regulars wanted for nothing in the way of jolly company, hot intrigue or violently strong ale, and the beds of the inn above were never empty for very long. Merchants from the old Vine Jungle trading routes south of Elshimere flowed through like tapped spirits, as did weary travelers and pairs of lusty adulterers. There was a familiarity to things here that locals took comfort in, and just when they thought they'd seen all, they were turned from their full tankards and hot gossip to find the Maltar the Tavernmaster's son, a youth as lean, as he was awkward, dressed in a blue tunic and fur pelt, belted about his narrow waist with a rusty chain.

And no one knew quite to make of it.

"I go south, father," Uther told Maltar, as the big man polished a bowl behind the bar, "into the Vine Jungles! Where the men of the Vulnar Valley will make me a warrior - a champion!"

Big Maltar snickered. "Safer to go north, son, ..to the kitchens, where spit and grease will make us a livin'!"

The tavern folk roared their laughter.

"You're as likely to be made a meal of in that place," one man shouted over the ruckus. "That’s if you can find it boy!"

“And no women, there,” leered a one-legged, buckskin-clad trader, who stank of sweat and ale, "Plenty of fightin' there for a skinny boy like you, ..on cold nights."

The youth gritted his teeth, unable to conceal his indignation. "Plenty fightin' right here, you ugly, one-legged ..!"

The trader rushed across the tavern far faster than he looked capable of moving on his remaining leg, seized the collar of the lanky youth and drew a dagger up to his chin.

Behind the bar, Big Maltar threw his apron aside ..and aimed a pistol in the trader's direction. "Put my son down, One-legged Egan! You know Uther's tongue's the most dangerous thing on'im!"

The old man's gaze never left the eyes of the boy in his clutches, who was trying his best not to look scared. "Time he lost that tongue, ..mayhaps!"

In a blur of movement, a blond giant rose from his table, swept back his cloak and drew a broadsword. "Put the boy down, ..and I may forget the insult you've paid my tribesmen."

Egan eyed the stranger suspiciously.

He sported the native dress of the Vulnar Valley, what little he knew of it. Reddish brown, devilbeaver shorts. A pair of fur-topped, boar-hide boots ..and a few, heavy bronze trinkets adorning his wrists. The Vulnarians Egan had encountered smuggling jewels in the Vine Jungles had all been dark-skinned, raven-haired giants ..with blood-lusty tempers. The stranger, while exceptionally tall and muscular, was of a pale, bronze hue and was as blond, as any Ice Lander. "A Vulnarian strongman, eh? Why don'cha tell Uther here what the weather's like in that valley o'yours!"

"Put him down," the man said with an unsettling calm - his blue eyes narrowing to slits, "or your next cold night'll be spent with the worms. You’ll be the second fool I’ve fed them in a fortnight."

One-legged Egan lowered his dagger and, with a dismissive grunt, hurled the boy aside with such force that he broke apart an unoccupied table. "Take that out of the kitchen-rat's wages, Maltar, ..an' pour me a another drink!"

From the tavern folk, as much relief as fear could be found in the nervous laughter that followed, and amidst the pointing and howling, Uther saw his father lower his blaster and return to his work, shaking his head. Flushed red with humiliation, young Uther pretended that he did not see Maltar pour One-legged Egan that drink.

A young, auburn-haired tavernmaid, helped him to his feet, but Uther was so distracted that it was almost as though he hadn't seen her at all. A sea of eyes dogged the young man to the edge of the blond giant's table, ..where, tightlipped and trembling slightly, ..he waited for an invitation to sit. Two features of the man's wardrobe struck Uther, as if by witchcraft. One was the harness he wore strapped over each of his shoulders and across his massive chest, upon which a cross was formed from inlaid, blood-toned rocks. The other novelty was the huge broadsword the man carried, and Uther's heart raced to hold it as eagerly, as he'd welcomed the touch of a woman.

Or what that might be like. Someday.

"Sit, Uther of Elshimere," the stranger commanded. He saw something in the youth's face that was ennobled by the way he had addressed him, ..and sit, Uther did. "I am Adam, He-Man of the Vulnarians."

"He-Man of the Savages, you mean!" The scarlet robes and gold rings of the man at the opposite end of the bar marked him as a priest of the Celestial Church, whose devotees, one of whom He-Man knew to be the King of Eternia, revered the Master of the Universe. Many of the priest's order to be honorable men, who served the people of Eternia in selfless, charitable ways, ..but just as many were haughty and disdainful of any, who did not claim the church's ways as their own. "Tell this boy the truth, ..if you dare court it! Tell him of your heathen rituals – your conquest of women!"

"Could any less than savage might destroy the Evil Horde, holy man?" He-Man answered, his chest heaving with outrage. "Could any less than savages drive the Imperium Serpentis back into the Shadow Lands ..or break the Beastman Dominion's grip on the Fertile Plains? Aye, man! Of the many things we Vulnarians’ve been, we’ve been savage - no less than the whore I smell on your robes!”

With an imperious glare, the priest quit the tavern in a flutter of scarlet, and the mocking laughter of the tavernfolk followed him out into the streets.

"I've read about your warrior-god, Vulnar the Bold," Uther professed proudly, hoping to impress the jungle warrior with worldliness that was not his, "and of his legendary Sword of Power! Is that it?"

"Aye, it is," He-Man told Uther, holding the silvery weapon out before his broad chest, "forged many eons ago in the emerald fires of Fierce Heuay, sister to Mighty Teela ..and goddess of destiny! My brothers endured a brutal tournament in Heuay's honor to choose who be most fit to champion mankind with Vulnar's divine weapon – I am the first to endure it in five thousand years! I'll not rest until the demon that brought them low is destroyed!"

"Then, you are the last of the Vulnarians," Uther's eyes widened sorrowfully. "How’d this demon kill them, Lord He-Man?"

The He-Man took a long drought from his tankard and sheathed his blade. "What little I know of my tribe’s last days has been given me by the wives of my brothers, who fled our country to save their young. My brother and king, Simyran, had gone missing for many moons, and my tribesmen had searched the land for him to no avail. I was still razing the Evergreen Forests for him, when he was finally carried back to the Valley of Vulnar, bloodied and haggard, on the back of a boy. A monster had attacked them, he told my brothers! It had slain the boy's entire village, leaving him orphaned! When my master had found him, all was lost, ..but for the boy's service to Simyran, my tribesmen vowed to avenge his people."

Big Maltar peeled off his apron and pulled a stool under him. "What became of this boy, Mr. He-Man? Breakfast, ..lunch ..or supper?"

Laughter erupted from the tavern folk, but quickly ceased with the knotting of the young Vulnarian's brow.

"Morgun was accorded all the honors of manhood," He-Man told them, ignoring the big man's jest, "and given the ritual terrahedrons to burn, that he might commune with Mighty Teela directly, while other boys his age were still entrusting prayers to their masters. He was shown the use of our weapons and fighting arts. Simyran embraced the boy as a son, just as he'd done me many years ago, when cruel fate had taken mine own family, ..and all of our tribe's secrets were laid bare to his young eyes."

"What of the monster, then?" asked One-legged Egan, biting into a crusty roll of bread. "You Vulnarians're such great trackers, why din't you hunt the thing down n' kill it?"

"For a time, the beast was all but forgotten," He-Man answered. "Our king was returned to his people! Wild boars were roasted! Women from the surrounding jungles were called to share in our celebration, and my brothers made revelry that might bring down the very walls of Heaven! Mine own search for Simyran had led me to Castle Grayskull, and .."

"Grayskull?!" Maltar leaned forward over the bar. "We've all heard 'bout the last battle there! Not a year ago, it took the Queen Marlena herself to its black halls and not ten legions of His Majesty's soldiers could wrest her from its grip - ten legions! Slaughtered every one of'em, before some miracle saved the Queen! I'd not follow me own mother there. You've any quarrel with that cursed place, Mr. Jungleman, be off now - y'hear?! Want no trouble from the demons what dwell there!"

"Castle Grayskull, like my tribesmen, is not what your lore's made it," assured He-Man, with disarming calm. "Mighty Teela is one of many celestials, who, long ago, appointed themselves protectors of Eternia. As I serve her, she and her fellow ancients serve us all. Grayskull's merely the weapon through which they focus and confederate their power."

"What'd you find there, Lord He-Man?" inquired Uther. "Ghosts? Devils?"

"The hardest fighting I'd ever seen," the Vulnarian answered grimly, "worse even than what you've been told. A demonking of Infinitias had taken the castle and threatened to slaughter good Marlena, if any attempt was made to take Grayskull back, ..before he'd sacked it for its cosmic secrets! The Captain of the Royal Guard was taken prisoner, and a great deal of bloodshed was seen before the enemy was driven from the castle! Inside, we found a hell-maw left open in the demogorgon's hasty escape, believed intended for the Queen."

"Merciful gods," an old woman muttered, pulling her scarf about her shoulders.

"Merciful gods indeed, good lady," refrained the Vulnarian. "The Holy Warrior, Mighty Teela, appeared to us and, before her mighty Rod of Order, the dread portal closed - the inviolate constitution of Grayskull restored. Then, after being told the truth of my mysterious origins in the world of men, did I make haste back to the Valley of Vulnar, as the warrior goddess commanded. The moans of the dying, ..the stench of opened flesh - it was in the air many miles from my jungle homeland! Though, I did not yet know it, several moons had passed there and, when I arrived in the valley, it was plain to see ..that I'd been too late."

"The beast, Lord He-Man?" Uther asked with poorly concealed trepidation. "The same what butchered the boy Morgun's kin?"

"Aye, friend," nodded He-Man. "My dead brothers, heroes now lost to legend, lay everywhere. Some, half-eaten. Others, beheaded ..or twisted in ways that man's body cannot be made to twist. Most of their wives, some of whom witnessed this slaughter, had fled with their children. Those poor, few women, who’d remained, lay near their men and half-mortal sons – weapons clutched in their lifeless hands. The moans of the dying that had haunted me through the mountains had all been silenced, ..and only the wailing of a single boy could be heard."

"This thing spared the boy, then?" Maltar asked. His eyes wide with relief.

"Never had I known gratitude, such as I did that moment," He-Man sighed, washing his mouth with drink. "Covered in gore, much as he'd been, when Simyran had found him, this child embodied the simple hope that my brothers' ways would survive the ages, ..and he was all I had left of the only father I'd ever known! Now, poor Morgun sat at Simyran's side, holding his lifeless body in his little arms. Even in death, he'd not left his king's side. 'Not you! Master, ..not you,' he'd cried."

"Brave boy." An old man in a tattered coat shook his head.

"Aye, a remarkable boy!" another taverner added, wiping a tear from his eye.

"More remarkable than you could know," He-Man answered, swilling back more ale. "He ran into my arms and wept upon my shoulder - all the warrior we'd made of him rained down his little face. The demon, Morgun told me, had come for him, and my brothers had risen to his defense! He told me how bravely they'd fought ..and died - and the smell of their entrails was still on his breath."

Not a sound was made amidst the tavernfolk.

Looks were exchanged between faces struck with disbelief, ..as if to confirm what all believed had been heard.

“In the guise of a boy, he'd come to us immortal Vulnarians,” the Lord of Vines continued, gripping his tankard in a large, bronze fist. “Eight millennia's hatred burning in him all the while, ..and as I held in my arms, this thing I might’ve called brother, upon whose narrow shoulders all our faith had been set, Morgun drove a talon deep into my side.”

In the darkness, He-Man broke from the hellspawn’s grip and brought the Sword of Power between them!

Before its light, the beast shed its meek, mortal guise and rose to stand on dragon's feet - black as ash and well higher than a dozen men stacked one atop the other! His brave armored tiger leapt at the dragon's throat, but found himself thrown into a rocky hillside and broken like a toy, ..waiting for his turn to be the monster's food.

He-Man was alone against him, ..and the dragon laughed. "Eight thousand years ago, for the love of a mortal woman, Simyran, drove me from the throne of Oblivion, and I cursed him - that he would be the death of his children. The fool thought me destroyed, and now his arrogance has proved your undoing. Look around you, mortal - at the men Simyran loved as his own sons! The prophecy has finally been fulfilled!"

"You are Morgonymyr," recalled the Vulnarian, his blade before him, surveying his monstrous foe for the best point of attack, "the beast, who feeds on the damned - half-brother of Granamyr, the Lord of Dragons."

"You know the legends well," Morgonymyr hissed approvingly, "With the slaughter of your immortal warrior race, I'll be the most feared of my clan - poised to challenge my brother for control of our kind's destiny! I'm going to reduce Eternia to lifeless, blackened rock, human. I'm going to burn down the starry spires of Heaven! You are all that stands in my way."

Painted in the crimson glow of the moons, the dragon’s ancient maws stretched apart, and the night air was filled with blue-white rage.

Muscles tempered by the most brutal conditioning known to man swelled and sprung, hurling the He-Man out of its path, while the rock beneath his heels was scorched. The shock of the attack behind him, the Vulnarian warrior ignored the stinging in his side and tumbled back onto his feet - the Sword of Power held out before him. Against a mortal enemy, his corodite harness might have made this kind of wound an impossibility, ..but against a dragon, there'd been no quarter. "Was it true, what you said of my brothers, beast - of how bravely they fought?"

The dragon looked down in the He-Man's direction, unsure of exactly what he meant. "Of all, except King Simyran - yes. Your master was the first to see beyond my guise, ..even before I struck! I was still in a boy's skin, when I broke his neck."

"Devil!" He-Man cursed him, hurling himself onto the behemoth’s thigh. Mindless with rage and grief, he slammed the edge of his corodite axe into Morgonymyr’s scaly hide, until the wine-dark blood beneath sprayed forth across his naked chest and arms. "Stoneless devil! You were not fit to kill him! He deserved, at least, to die under your stinking claws, ..fighting for his life!"

Morgonymyr snorted a laugh, and a sound rang out from the hillside like thunder. From a cloud of dust, rocks rained into the valley from the strike of the dragon's tail. As he tumbled to the ground under the barrage of stones, He-Man raised his corodite shield, and many disintegrated against it. The attack had been a ruse, and as his blood-drenched mortal foe lifted his weapon to retaliate, Morgonymyr's black, clawed fingers snaked about his torso, and He-Man felt the ground leave his feet in a great, cold rush - the chill wind in his hair! Then, ..just as quickly, ..he was free of the dragon's grip once more.

His back struck the hillside first. The corodite harness was little comfort.

"You insolent, Vulnarian animal!" the dragon growled, as the man rolled from the hillside to his doom. "Do I seem so stoneless now, He-Man? Would you know more of the stones in my keeping?"

Dread Morgonymyr thrashed the hillside again, burying He-Man under a hail of rocks, and the dragon savored a groan from his captive enemy. "You are nothing, savage! Nothing! That the likes of you should ever vanquish a dragon is cosmic sacrilege! I will wipe you from even the dust of time ..and of legend! Until your exploits are the jest of campfires!"

As the cold overtook him, He-Man found he could no longer trust his senses. The rocky remains of the mountain were everywhere, such that he could not detect any hint of moonlight between them. Yet, before his eyes, from within one stone, light seemed impossibly to emanate and, even more impossibly to speak. Bathed in otherworldly light, ..the heat of which seemed miraculously to restore all that battle had taken from him, He-Man felt a strong hand clasp about his own ..and a voice like thunder fill his skull. "M-mighty Teela ..?"

By my Rod of Order, do I bind the shared might of your brothers to you, He-Man of the Vulnarians.  By the Powers of Grayskull, do I bind thee Avenger of the Ancients.  Take up thy Sword of Power ..and lay waste the Enemies of Man

A hail of rocks rushed skyward, as if driven like cattle, hammering the dragon Morgonymyr backwards, and before the great reptile could raise its wings to shield itself, it felt the Sword of Power plunged deep into its guts. A cloud of dust parting around him, the monster howled, lumbering further backwards and found He-Man, armed with broadsword and battleaxe, advancing toward him. Groaning behind a large, leathery wing, Morgonymyr retreated from his mortal foe.

"Don't slither away from me, you unsexed spawn of hell," He-Man snarled, as he strode toward the beast. An iron will and power centuries older than his nineteen years shone from him. "Not after you've butchered and eaten half my brothers! Bring it forth, dragon! Come get some more!"

Ancient eyes, burning the color of daylight, thinned to slits. Morgonymyr snarled and, in a burst of blinding, blue-white, the dragon vomited forward a broad stream of blazing heat, ..so intense that the rock in its wake was melted to slag. Then, another. And another even hotter, ..before which the rocky ground bubbled into flaming mud and dust! Roaring his outrage, Morgonymyr strode after his mortal enemy, but He-Man was nowhere to be found. "Show yourself, savage! Perhaps, I'll grace you with swift incineration, ..and deny myself the pleasure of taking your insolent head! Perhaps, I'll impale you on a talon ..or make a necklace of your damned intestines! Swift or slow matters not to me - only that you die and complete my vengeance, ..making me the Lord of Dragons! God-king of the World!"

With a guttural cry, hidden in a skin of black, volcanic filth, the Vulnarian dived from the hill above and drove the Sword of the Ancients into the skull of his hellspawned foe, destroying the behemoth's ability to control its limbs. Wrapping his legs around Morgonymyr's tree-thick neck, he swung the mystic blade into its back. In one savage blow, the strength of fifteen thousand men struck the bone beneath the scaly flesh, shattering the dragon’s spine, ..before He-Man leapt free to the rocky mountainside. "I'm here, devil! May this complete your vengeance!"

Morgonymyr, his back bloody and broken, screamed, ..and the mortar in an ancient tower many miles away shook loose from blackened limestone blocks that reached into the clouds. Kings shuddered under their crowns.

Great, black claws ripped into the ground as the monster’s gargantuan limbs flailed out of control. The tail whipping forward and backward into the hill, deeper into the steaming mud it went. Leathery wings swung up from the mud, opening like massive sails. Then, snapping shut - only to flip open again and again. Morgonymyr roared, slumping over to one side. No longer able to maneuver its long neck or lift its great head, it crawled. Groaning and hissing, as his eyes followed He-Man up the hillside. "Finish me, Vulnarian, ..if you’ve the stomach for it! Your wretched brothers ..cry out ..for vengeance! I command you! Finish me ..now .."

Cursed by Morgonymyr. His slain tribesmen debased with vulgarities no demon would give utterance, He-Man climbed the hillside, where his Battle Cat lay injured in a pile of broken rocks. His heart hardened by the loss of his tribesmen, the Vulnarian turned back to look upon his vanquished foe. "This savage will not be the end of you, dragon. My work is done."

The ground beneath great Morgonymyr shifted and quaked. The giant vampire worms of the Vine Jungle, awakened by the dragon's digging and the blood in the soil, slithered out of the muck and twisted themselves around the dragon, even as great Morgonymyr struggled against their glowing white bodies. He roared. He cursed them. Screaming in agony, as the giant nightcrawlers tore loose large pieces of scaly flesh into their hungry mouths, and he begged He-Man to call them off. In their frenzied feeding, the worms’ appetites would not wander from the ripping apart of Morgonymyr's flesh, and they would obey the Vulnarian's telepathic command to leave his dead tribesmen untouched.

On the face of the mountain, where his Battle Cat lay broken or dying, He-Man saw four shadowed figures, kneeling before a large, grey rock. One looked a mockery of man and beast bred together - naked, but for an armored belt, upon which hung a thick, black whip. Another, produced of man's marriage to fish or some sea-dwelling reptile, dressed in golden armor, whose ornate beauty contrast with the monster's ugliness. A third looked to be assembled of working weapons - guns, spears and hooks - to which a bluish gray corpse had been bonded. The last of them, the only one, who might resemble humankind, wore a helmet carved from dark green rock, ..and upon it, three eyes, each a different color, moved as if possessed of separate wills.

Before his uncertain eyes, a black presence took shape in the impressions upon the rock, revealing itself in only portions at a time. First, a gloved and gauntleted hand. Then, the grotesque head of a blackened staff, shaped like a ram's head, followed, ..and finally a black hood materialized. Under it, a skull-like mask that Lord Adam recognized from his boyhood nightmares and, more recently, ..from Castle Grayskull. Two red embers glowed in the empty sockets, and Skeletor, Lord of the Wastes, spoke. "The dragon's loyalties were not cheaply given, Heuay Man. A great feast was promised Morgonymyr for his part in this, ..one worth crossing dimensions of light and shadow to enjoy! Now, you are free ..to take your fitful place among the Priest-kings of Infinitias. As I have ruled the Shadow Lands through them, so will I rule the World of Light through you ..and Grayskull with it. Come forward, Last Son of Vulnar."

"Last Son of Vulnar", the fiend had taunted Adam.

In his nineteen years, no four words had ever cut him as deeply, and he had known with ominous certainty what feast the Lord of Destruction had promised dread Morgonymyr, even as he approached the demonking’s throne. "You were at Grayskull. All of you. You opened the portal, which admitted that thing to this world ..to feed on my brothers?!"

Skeletor leaned forward in his stolen throne, almost invitingly. "For centuries, your tribesmen have protected Eternia from my power. Lay your Sword of Ancients before me, and I will raise them up to conquer the world at your command, ..bringing low the high and righteous! Give me the word, boy, ..and I will raise you up as the Master of Men! Free to indulge all that mankind has too long feared! Its lust. Its rage. Its darkness."

"I’ve no fear of darkness, evil one." He-Man unsheathed his Sword of Power. It shone with the ancient fury of Fierce Heuay, who forged it for King Vulnar the Bold millennia ago, ..and the Priests of Infinitias stepped slightly back. "Nor of rage ..or lust! You are born of mankind's dread of death and pain, ..but we Vulnarians've dreaded neither. I would call my brothers back from death and slaughter them myself, ..before I would see them serve you."

"So, long as that which I am dwells within this ancient body, the rotting mortal shell of Keldor the Great, am I rightful Emperor of Eternia!" The shadowed lord swept back his cloak, and in the places that no armor covered him, He-Man could see the lifeless, bluish gray flesh in which Destruction now walked the world. A small, red spark burst aflame in the hollowed cavities, where men had eyes, and Skeletor with his priests, vanished entirely.

You will serve me, He-Man of the Vines, just as you serve Randor and the kingdom of men! Grayskull will be mine!

In a mad stroke - the echo of Skeltor’s laughter upon the air - He-Man swept the gleaming Sword of Power high over his head and swung it back down at the rock before him, cleaving it in half ..

"But, it was too late," he told the tavern-folk, many moons later. "The Snake Mountain king was gone, ..and the damned stench of him clings to me, even today!"

"A good, hot bath might rid you of that!" roared an interruption from the doorway. The taverners sat spellbound as the large, armored beast strode into the house. Without hesitation, their eyes turned to the Vulnarian. "For Teela's sake, man - on long journeys, your musk's nigh more than even my senses can bear! This young fool in his rabbit pelt wouldn’t last a day under such punishment!"

Lanky Uther stood up from the table and extended his hand towards the Son of the Vines. “Forgive me, Lord Adam. Thought you might be just tryin’ to scare me with your dragons n’ demogorgons, ..but seeing this giant tiger of yours is real – I don’t think I’m ready to be a he-man.”

A sigh of relief was heard from every corner of the tavern, as the golden giant locked the young man’s hand in a firm grip. “Your time ..and place ..will come Uther. You’ll know it.”

“Every man does, son,” Big Maltar muttered, throwing a heavy arm over his son’s shoulder. “So’s Mr. Kitty here a man-eater?”

"In battle, he’s a fearless and bloodthirsty ally!" He-Man winked, turning to his mighty Battle Cat. "None, but me, are safe. He also talks. Too much, sometimes."

"Mayhaps, if you were better at recounting these damned adventures of ours, I wouldn't have to," Battle Cat huffed, stretching out in the middle of the floor. "Now are you gonna shut up and let me tell this story properly, or not?"

“That depends on how well this mouth might be shut, good cat,” the big, blond Vulnarian answered distractedly, pulling a comely tavern wench onto his lap. “I’ll have another ale, Maltar, ..and a sturdy bed, if you’ve got one!”


Priests of Infinitias

By T. F. Cooper (Based On "He-Man Meets Ram Man" by Gary Cohn)

On a world far from Earth, lost beyond time and space ...

In a wasteland just beyond the Evergreen Forests of planet Eternia, did Lord Adam, He-Man of the Vulnarians, awake half-buried in a smoldering pile of rocks.

Through the smoke, he saw Castle Grayskull, an ancient stronghold of limestone and mortar, haunted by the alien conquerors, demons and the spirits of kings, who were once the masters of the world! To keep their most powerful secrets out of the hands of their enemies, Eternia's ancient rulers concealed them in a Hall of Wisdom, hidden behind Grayskull's walls. Since its capture from tyrants by the first Warrior Ancients, has the castle been under siege from all, who relentlessly pursued power.

And one, the Vulnarian's enemy, who pursued nothing less than the omniscience of the gods.

And lumbering toward it on mechanical legs, barely alive, was the heavily armored Ram Man of Talos! Having hammered the vault of Grayskull for two days in succession with his korodite-helmeted skull, good Hiram of Talos could do little, but lumber like a beast. Behind the towering castle door that Hiram had vowed to tear down, a golden-haired devil from the Vine Jungles tormented the spirits of the Dead.

Or so the poor, strange, skull-faced Wizard of Snake Mountain had told him.

For the love of sweet Orphael. For memories of a cottage filled with such song to make the heart soar from one's chest, did the mad Ram Man of Talos lay on, ..and with enough force to fell the tallest and broadest of trees! His heart pounding! His hard face stained with tears, he lay on! Pounding the castle's door, again and again!

For two years, had Hiram prayed to the old gods for Orphael's resurrection, ..but, the brute did not understand the powers at work in the lands of the Dead. When the poor, hooded wizard had told him that his boy's restless spirit now cried out from beyond Grayskull's walls, he trusted him, since it was well known that wizards could hear such things. When Lord Skeletor told him the boy's ghost wailed out with such terror that he could no longer find the peace of mind to practice magic, the black-cloaked wizard had come to Hiram...

Offering ..help.

"You saw the bloodthirsty savage's awesome strength, Hiram of Talos!" The wizard-king Skeletor warned, standing at the edge of the bottomless Abyss, over which Grayskull floated in empty air. "It is strength gained by feeding upon the souls of dead children--of your precious son, Orphael! We must take He-Man by surprise, ..by smashing down the castle door!"

Lingering close to Skeletor, Lord Adam saw the phantom of a small, dark-haired boy. "Help me, father! You will be hailed as heroes and all Eternia will love you."

"Orphael. Sweet, sssweet ..Orphael," choked Hiram, drenched with sweat. His heavy armor and the tunic underneath it, matted to him. Father ..here. Soon ..together ..again. Heart ..p-pounding s-so hard. Stay ..alive."

Then, Lord Adam turned to see a thing, crouching over the mound...

Grotesquely male in its height and musculature. Naked, but, for a few crude, leather armaments, it was covered entirely with reddish brown hair and held in one of its fists, a whip, ..around which the air crackled with blue-white electricity. Beast Man, apelike priest-king of the Gorre Jungles, growled, and the korodite-laced whip cracked against He-Man's back ..and coiled about his throat! Struggling to breathe, the big, bronze-skinned Vulnarian's mind shut down, and he remembered the events that led up to this horror...

They are damned, the Priests of Infinitias.

The four kings in Skeletor's inner circle are called scientist-priests because of what they engineered in the Etherian Mountains, twenty-years ago, and it is for that unholy crime against mankind that they are so damned.

Many years ago, four Infinitian scientists gathered in the tomb of Keld'Thor the Great, the first king of Eternia to unite the Light and Dark Hemispheres under one crown. There, in exchange for great power on the Dark Side of the world, they unleashed from the collective, sentient minds of Eternia, an abomination - an unspeakable horror born of the mortal brain's most primitive chambers and incarnated him within Keld'Thor's mummified body.

Through these four scientist-priests, Skeletor ruled the Dark Hemisphere of Eternia. His sole ambition - universal domination, ..through the conquest of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. Known by many names throughout the ages, he was incarnate destruction and the shameful, yet inescapable fear of it.

With extreme prejudice, did the big, golden-haired warrior pursue the Scientist Priests of Infinitias. The atrocity of human bondage had long been offensive to the Vine Jungle Vulnarians, and He-Man determined that Sijanus Trap-Jaw, the undead Lord of Sybronn, who used technological wizardry to make vulgar puppets of dead men, would soon taste his outrage.

"Take care," the Man-At-Arms at Eternos had warned him. "The rule of the priest-kings is like a many-headed beast. Trap-Jaw of Sybronn turns men into half-machines with his damned science, but, he takes his slaves from the camps at Titanos, which are ruled by Tri-Klops and his sons, who procure their slaves from the glorm, Tremarixes..."

The Enemy of Man had placed the burden of supplying his armies with deadly weapons and flying machines almost entirely on Trap-Jaw's undead shoulders, and a sizeable labor force was needed to satisfy his master's demands. The Horde War had cost Trap-Jaw many slaves, so much that trade with Lord Tri-Klops of Titanos was insufficient to replenish his supply. His other source of human slaves were the monsters, who dwelt below ground with him.

The glorms.

Believed to be the eldest children of Procrustus and the sun goddess, Hyperia, some of these savage and powerful, four-armed predators even surpassed He-Man in strength and were the most feared of the half-gods. Wars over many eons had much reduced their numbers, and a great swell of the glorms had killed each other off. Those cunning few, who remained, dealt in the capture and trade of humans, and their networks stretched from the Dark Hemisphere to the Iron Mountains.

Of them, none were so dreaded as Tremarixes the Headtaker.

"Bring me your sons, and I will leave you in peace," the glorm said to the weary folk of the tiny farming kingdom of Talos. "Trap-Jaw of Sybronn will pay many gold pieces for sturdy, hearty boys made for work! Bring them to me, and I will leave. Force me to take what is owed, and I will slay the strongest fighting men among you. Bring them now!"

"I am full-grown, monster," a hooded man offered. "I am strong. Made for work. Take me!"

"Look around you, fool," an older man scoffed. "Even our women are big-boned -- strong and well-fed! The gods've blessed us with strength, vigor ..and fertility! He leaves us men, only so we might beget more sons with our women!"

"So, has it been since the end of the War of Marlena, and so will it be today! You are nothing -- mere animals to be bred like sheep or horses and sold to the mines of Sybronn! Now, bring me your sons! Bring them now!"

The tall, hooded stranger grinned, strolling casually into Tremarixes's path and looking down at his own fists. Each was tightly balled, enough that the knuckles almost seemed to glow through his bronze skin. "We are not sheep or horses, demon, ..but, the answer is still the same. Nay!"

A bronze arm, threaded with large muscles and nigh thick as a tree, was thrust into the air from the stranger's robes! There followed a deafening crack heard throughout the village, and Tremarixes was seen pitched backwards over many huts, into a large pile of chopped wood. A great cloud of dust and splinters arose from where Tremarixes fell ..and from it, a roar shook the skies overhead.

Men and women around him scattered into the shadows.

The mysterious stranger cast aside his tattered robe, revealing himself a bronze-skinned giant beneath it, outfitted in little more than a loincloth. From harness of grayish metal enveloping his broad chest and shoulders, the big man drew a silvery broadsword that gleamed with the rage of the heavens and brought it, in both hands, before him!

Tremarixes charged from the cloud of dust!

Clearing the distance between them on all six of its mighty limbs, he saw that his human prey, the He-Man of the Vines, stood before him. Then, a wild battle-cry deafened him, and Tremarixes saw his blood spilling over the swelling muscles of his bare stomach! He howled at the huge gash ripped into his chest, while barely a trace of his savage attacker's musk lingered upon the air. "You! You are a Vulnarian -- the Vulnarian! Prepare to meet your tribesmen in Oblivion!"

"Oblivion, son of Procrustus?" half-naked barbarian growled, swinging his broadsword for the glorm's neck and tumbling back to the ground, upon his boarhide-booted feet. "I've made war with the dragon god of Oblivion and fed him to the worms! I am man, demon--only a man--and I don't fear Oblivion or any of the terrors of the gods!"

A crimson glow blazed in the monster's eyes, and he roared with a dreadful confidence. "I will rip out your spine with my teeth, when I kill you, Vulnarian! I will rape your woman and use her skull for a toilet! Your Oblivion will be a hell of my making, and you will be shown your place, ..as food for the gods!"

For a silent moment, He-Man and Tremarixes the Headtaker circled one another.

Spinning his hoary Sword of Ancients in one hand, the golden-haired Lord of Vines studied his giant enemy for the most devastating point of attack.

The monster before him snarled!

Again, like a bull, Tremarixes charged. His four gargantuan arms, each as thick as a tree, with large, ugly muscles ..and fingers tipped with nigh indestructible claws! His predatory grin flashing an awesome array of jagged, yellowed teeth! Each combatant taking measure of the other, ..with a roar, they collided in an explosion of rage and destruction!

Lord Adam of the Vine Jungles swung his weapon forward, and Tremarixes the Headtaker felt the bite of cold metal into his skull!

His forehead slashed open, the glorm tumbled backwards over the ground, snarling as his barbarian foe advanced, and the crimson ran down upon his face! Onto his teeth! Tremarixes would not underestimate the ambitions of this human - this Vulnarian - as he had before. He stood, playing the lumbering brute he believed his opponent expected him to be. Then, ripping a large and dead tree from the ground, the glorm roared, such that the marrow in the bones of the Talostines was rattled, and he saw them scatter to the shadows along the edges of the street.

In a cloud of wood and debris, the dead tree exploded against He-Man's bronze flesh and the korodite of his shield. The barbarian staggered backwards, ..and his monstrous enemy attacked! Amidst the flying wood shards, two savage, blows ended the battle, ..when Tremarixes's ugly head lie in one pile of blood-stained lumber, and the vile sex of him lie in another.

So swiftly was the glorm struck down, no one present knew for sure, which blow came first, and a great cry of unfettered triumph and gratitude resounded from the throats of the long-suffering people of Talos...

All hail, the great He-Man! Hero of Eternia! Champion of Man!

With a signal from a middle-aged man in golden robes and lavish gold jewelry, watching from a hill nearby, soldiers surrounded He-Man ..and aimed their spears for his broad chest.

"Halt, stranger!" commanded the Captain of the Royal Guard of Talos, with a small party of armored men wielding swords, halberds and spears at his back. "By order of His Majesty King Hylas, you are under arrest!"

Though he could have wasted their entire party with little effort, He-Man of the Vulnarians respectfully lowered his blade, ..when two of the guardsmen swung and dug at him with large iron halberds! The big, bronze-skinned barbarian retaliated in kind, battering back the warriors with fist-swings and sword-blows that put them flatly upon their backs, ..and the surrounding shadows came alive with weapons of every size and make!

Armored Talostine soldiers engaged the Vulnarian on every side! Like a jaw, they closed around the half-naked, golden-haired giant, only to be swiftly put down! Still, was one of these strange new enemies bolder than the others.

He, the youngest among them, dared far more.

With a jungle cat's agility, the Captain of the Guard vaulted over the heads of his comrades, and He-Man cleaved his golden breastplate in half with the Sword of Ancients! Seizing the dazed captain's head by his thick, tawny locks, the big man shook him fully from his armaments ..and was amazed by what he found underneath them. "Uther Maltar?!"

"Stand down, Royal Guard!" shouted young Captain Uther, pushing himself into the space between He-Man and the assembled warriors. "Though I was too young to join them, my uncles fought at this warrior's side against the Infinitians in the War of Marlena! If I'd done any less than throw myself on your swords to save him, they'd all disown me, ..even if he'd cut me in half! Now, stand down and give us room, or it's kitchen duty for the lot of you!"

"Uther of Elshimere--Captain of the Royal Guard of Talos!" marveled He-Man, catching the young captain between two mighty arms. "You're a long way from your father's tavern, my friend, ..and as brave as any Vulnarian I've ever known! From this day on, may the gods of Vulnar's Valley look upon us as brothers!"

That He-Man's sword blow had left him standing in nothing, but, loincloth and boarhide boots, greatly amused the captain. So much did the remains of his uniform resemble He-Man's own that the tavernmaster's son laughed at himself! "Forgive us, He-Man! The damned Priests of Infinitias've got us all on edge! Before the terrors of Tremarixes, we had General Jitsu! Before Jitsu, we had Kobra Khan ..and the Horde, before him! When you slew Tremarixes the Headtaker, some of these fools dared fear you might take the devil's place! Take your leave, and I will endure good Hylas's displeasure in your place."

"You've sworn fealty to a king, Uther," answered the jungle warrior, climbing upon his battle ram. "I'll not see you dishonor it, in my name. You must do your duty."

All at once, cheering Talostines in simple loincloths and animal skins pushed from the shadows, giving He-Man their thanks. So sudden was their appearance and large their number that the big Vulnarian was visibly stunned. Waving to them from his battle ram, He-Man allowed the soldiers to lead him through the streets, ..to the Temple of the Inner World.

There, in a grand, marble palace of sparkling fountains and golden idols dedicated to the titan Procrustus, and before the assembled silver-haired ministers and brown-robed priests of Talos, He-Man threw down his Sword of Ancients, ..and it sank into the cold, dark marble at his feet! As one, the courtiers gasped and fell back from where he stood, and Lord Adam turned his attention to two figures seated on gilded, jewel-encrusted thrones. "Why've your soldiers arrested me, Hylas of Talos?"

"You've slain a glorm, Vulnarian," answered the stern-faced High Priest of the Temple of the Inner World, seated beside his young king. "Though we are grateful to you for liberating us from the cruelty of Tremarixes, the killing of him must be tempered with sacrifice to he, who is father of all glorms--Procrustus, God of the Inner World! You will suffer the rite in King Hylas's place, barbarian, ..or be put to death, yourself!"

With a glare that might cower the stars from their constellations, did He-Man take up his Sword of Ancients!

The warriors of Talos, even Uther, drew their swords and halberds, and the young ruler of Talos choked back his fear and signaled his men to stand down. "Talos is a small kingdom, He-Man. The Old Ways say, for each of Procrustus's four grails, the king must ruin no less than a dozen virgin daughters of Talos, ..but, the only virgins left here are my sisters, the fifty princesses of Talos. As I cannot..."

"Say no more, king of Talos," bade the golden-haired barbarian. Sheathing his blade, Lord Adam knelt before King Hylas and the princesses of Talos. "To appease Procrustus, I will lie with your sisters for so long as it pleases us ..and the gods, of course. I will labor long and hard, milord. Very hard."

With the announcement that Mighty Procrustus would soon be appeased, the tiny settlement of primitive mud huts and lavish temples, known as the kingdom of Talos, was returned to a state of jubilation. The finest cattle were slaughtered for its feasts! Wine flowed! Peasant and noble danced in the streets, and He-Man of the Vulnarians danced with them!

For the better of a day thereafter, upon a sea of velvet pillows arrayed before a many-armed, golden idol, the lusty barbarian ravished the virgin princesses of Talos, ..until the Temple of the Inner World echoed with their sighs. Only two went unknown to him, when a great spectral light flared from the center of the hall, where He-Man lay, ..and the virgin maids ran screaming from his bed!

In its glow, Lord Adam felt ancient magicks play freely upon his flesh ..and found himself dressed in the korodite harness, devilbeaver loincloth and other gear he often wore into battle. Daring to look into the light, the big, jungle-bred warrior could only stare in disbelief--the axe of King Simyran clutched in one mighty hand. "It cannot be--Boa'Na?"

"Trust in the wisdom of the gods, my love," the sorceress answered, as the weird glow surrounding her faded. "All will be clear ..in time. Why did you not carry the ram from his path, as the Divine Sorceress commanded?"

Awestruck, He-Man pulled the jade-skinned beauty into his arms and kissed her ..to taste what his eyes could not believe. "Fierce Heuay entrusted that command to me upon her burning altar, and even the gods do not know it! Even you, her priestess, could not know it ..or recreate my mystical armaments from the empty air, unless truly you are my Boa'Na. After the destruction of the Temple of Living Fire, you disappeared! Why--and what has Heuay's prophecy to do with you?"

Boa'Na lowered her dark eyes, regretfully. "Once, Hiram or Ram Man was the protector of Talos, until his powerful legs were destroyed in a battle with Tremarixes. I used the old ways, science and magic together, to give him cybernetic legs, and Hiram used their power to defeat Tremarixes, ..but Talos's liberation did not come without a price."

"So, this ram is a man?!" He-Man marveled, subduing his amazement. "That madman in the highway? But, even with the power you gave him, if he is merely a madman, what threat is he to Eternia?"

Boa'Na waved her pale, jade hand over the ground before them, and the black marble and gold fixtures of the Temple of the Inner World disappeared before his eyes. She looked on as a great clap of thunder tumbled He-Man to his hands and knees, ..where he found sand and mountains stretching as far as the eye could see.

"This--the road where I faced the Ram Man of Talos!" He-Man recalled, surveying the wasteland surrounding him. Boa'Na teleporting him there gave him a much needed jolt, after the ritual he'd endured in Talos. What he saw in the road, where he'd tangled with the Ram Man gave him another.  "Hold, woman! I don't remember a grave being here!"

Where Boa'Na had gestured, a deep gouge in the ground was revealed, and within the hole was a small, human skeleton enveloped in a tattered, burial shroud. "His name was Orphael. He was a brave lad with the song of angels in his breast. He was the light of his father's world. When Tremarixes killed Orphael to avenge his pride, the depth of Hiram's despair drove him from Talos, into these cursed ruins ..and, finally, to madness."

He-Man knelt next to the grave's edge to examine it more closely. "So, Hiram was protecting his son's grave? There hasn't been anything within miles of this place for thousands of years--since the fall of the great city, Zoar. Why would he carry Orphael all the way out to this cursed wasteland to bury him?"

"There is still powerful magic here, Adam," explained the jade-skinned sorceress. "Can't you feel it ..in the soil, the trees--the air? But, there is also great evil. Zoar became corrupt--a shrine to the Lord of Destruction. The evil that would someday become the Enemy of Man!"

"Aye, woman," He-Man said, digging his fingers into the soil. "I feel it now, ..like a claw reaching about my throat. The ancient evil has been awakened."

"For two years, did the Ram Man watch over young Orphael's grave," Boa'Na sighed. "He prayed to the old gods of Zoar, swearing eternal fealty to whatever spirit would resurrect him, and today, his prayer was answered, ..by Skeletor. The demonking and his Lady Screech are using Hiram's memories of Orphael to drive him mad! There can be only one reason."

In the legends of Ban-Shei Island, an amorous young queen fell in love with a wandering barbarian, Keld'Thor, and bewitched him to lie with her in the Temple of Yog.  Unknown to him, Queen Scierce was already betrothed to her god, and when Yog came upon them making love, he roared such that the island beneath them split apart! Outraged, the Priests of Yog drove her and her savage lover from Tahrin, the rich capital of Ban-Shei, and beyond the Plains of Perpetua, ..ten hundred thousand years ago.

Through her conspiracy with the Priests of Infinitias, were the mummified remains of Keld'Thor used to incarnate their unholy master, Skeletor, ..and the big, golden-haired Vulnarian knew no one was more loyal to the demonking, than his Lady Screech. Hunger for their destruction was never far from his thoughts, even out in the middle of nowhere. "The Priests of Infinitias will take this Ram Man to Grayskull to break down the Jawbridge and invade the fortress! If we cannot free the brute's mind from their influence, I'll be forced to slay him, ..or see Grayskull's secrets make them gods among men--masters of the universe! You must send me to the Underworld, Boa'Na, ..to reclaim the soul of Orphael!"

"You are mad, beloved!" Boa'Na gasped, caressing the Vulnarian's cheek. "You're as mad as Hiram of Talos, ..but, returning Orphael to him may be our only hope to restore his humanity!"

"There is a favor I will ask of one condemned to that realm," He-Man said, wearily. "From him, a great debt is owed to all Vulnarians--today, he will pay it."

"Take care, Lord Adam," the green sorceress warned, kneeling to touch to the ground. Where her hand rested, bright emerald sparks crackled alive, and green flames burst from the ground, leaving a scorched mark there. "There is a river below, which flows under the realm of the Dead--under even the Sea of Rakash and the benighted kingdom of Sybronn, and even further still! Its waters can take you anywhere in the Underworld you will them to, ..or they can destroy you. Now stand back, Lord Adam!"

With a predatory growl, Boa'Na rose and drove her staff into the mark upon the stony ground!

He-Man saw a great crevice opened before them! The ground underfoot cracked open with such force that he staggered backwards under a hail of flying rocks, barely able to stand, while Boa'Na, to his astonishment, remained. The winds around them howled like demons, stirred with such force that they began to burn, and before the Vulnarian's eyes, a great column of golden fire bore into the ground. It twisted high and low, a pillar of heat and light that reached into the clouds, gouging a deep wound in the world beneath them, until the rocky soil around it was cauterized into hard black rock.

When the fiery column's work was finished, a great cloud burst overhead ..and rain fell!

A trail of steam rushed into the sky from the hole in the ground, as the smoking rock cooled, and He-Man could not conceal his wonder, even as the jade-skinned sorceress reached for his hand. "By Zodac's Black Gun, Boa'Na! A tunnel ..into the Underworld! Even if it leads me to your strange river, it will take me days to..."

Boa'Na caressed He-Man's cheek and kissed him. "To give you to Hell, after going so long without you, is unbearable to me, my love, ..but, we must we trust in the gods as never before. You must carry the Ram from his path, as Heuay commands, ..and you must do it alone, as the gods have forbid me to go with you! Good journey, Adam!"

He-Man unsheathed his hoary blade, the Sword of Ancients, and, in a flash of mystical light, disappeared into shadowy realms below.

The underworld kingdom of Sybronn was damned long before an Infinitian became its master.

It is written in the Scrolls of Helos, that Eternia was not the first world engineered by the gods. The many imperfect worlds the gods had created and set adrift in the Void, eons before Eternia's creation, were unknown to humankind, ..until a great 'dead star' fell to Eternia.

Sy'bronn, as it was known to the Haramesh emperors of Kortistan, had struck the young planet with such force that it had buried itself deep into Eternia's crust! From its fiery ruins, a race of warlike, half-alive monsters, given only the semblance of life by the strange chemicals and machines of the gods, laid siege to the ancient world. The forces of Sybronn massacred the primitive peoples of Eternia, enslaving the lifeless bodies of the slain with its unholy machines and swelling its ranks to create the largest army in the Dark Hemisphere!

From that time and long thereafter, was the kingdom of Sybronn so damned.

Like the mysterious Castle Grayskull, sovereignty over Sybronn had passed through many hands, good and evil. Only when the Lord of Destruction and his undead cyborg general, Sijanus Trap-Jaw, conspired with the glorms to unseat Sybronn's alien masters, was the benighted kingdom's fate finally sealed, ..and was all life on Eternia threatened.

No one knew worst the evil of Sijanus Trap-Jaw than the Ceril-Nar, once chief scientist of the Vulnarians.

Abandoning the mortal world, after Trap-Jaw turned his family into soulless half-machines, Ceril-Nar returned to the Vine Jungles of his birth to live among the immortal warriors, who were his brothers. None, save He-Man himself, was more outraged by their slaughter at the hands of Morgonymyr, the Dragon of Oblivion, and no one had dared more to right that great wrong. Condemned by the gods, after an unspeakable attempt to wrest his slain brothers from their eternal rest in the Great Beyond, he now wandered the benighted waterways of the Underworld, ..haunted by the family he could not save.

Under a sky bright with the orange of hellfire clouds, Lord Adam traveled to the Underworld to seek out Ceril-Nar's help in returning the Ram Man's slain son, Orphael, to the world of men. Arriving at the edge of the Underworld, somewhere under Sybronn, upon the river Belmortia, He-Man found himself facedown on the deck of a vast, black-timbered ship, surrounded a small band of beautiful maids, ..and each formed entirely of golden metal. These were Ceril-Nar's golden robot-warriors.

A tall, fierce-looking one with long, dark hair and curvaceous hips studied him and drew her blade. "I am a Heliad of the House of Ceril-Nar. We serve he, who is Master Scientist of the gods! Now, invader, ..you die!"

A hulking figure labored toward them across the Raven's deck.

A white-haired giant of a man, ..carrying a silver staff gleaming with the wonders of the Ancients. Tears ran down the cheeks of his broad, bronze face, and he hurled his rod into Summeris's path! "Enough, Summeris! This is Prince Adam of Eternos, ..lost twenty-three years ago in a brutal attack on the Royal Palace! Randor's half-sister, Princess Mira, pursued by Horde Troopers, escaped into the Evergreen Forests with him in her arms! There, she found good King Simyran of the Vulnarians and, with her dying breath, ..gave our warrior nation a son! Noble Heliads, let us welcome him aboard the Raven!"

The tall, armored woman fell to her knees, and the other Heliads, each identical to Summeris in every way, followed in kind. He-Man knew the face they shared well, and his blood chilled in his veins. "By the gods, brother! They are all Lenore?"

"Aye, brother! The face of each, a golden burial mask of my fair, dark Lenore, ..and each engineered with a semblance of her noblest virtues--fierceness, tempered by fealty ..and love! Come, Adam!" Below deck, Ceril poured wine into two golden goblets and bade He-Man sit with him before a large monitor screen, as Summeris looked on. "I am told it is a child you seek here, at the edge of Hell--one struck down by Tremarixes! A son of the Ram Man of Talos?"

"A brave boy named Orphael, Ceril-Nar," answered He-Man. "The loss of him has driven his father mad and into the service of the Lord of Destruction, ..Skeletor! Such is the Ram Man's power that, if I cannot turn him from his dark path, I may be forced to slay him to save Eternia, ..but, I will save his son! Send me to him, brother, ..before all hope is lost!"

"In Sybronn, Sijanus Trap-Jaw wields the power of a god, my friend," Ceril-Nar reminded with an upraised eyebrow and a sip of ale. "His consciousness is linked to its warriors, its weapons--even its machines! Though he, himself, is as much machine now, as man, he is king here--the glorms and the beasts are all under his control! No science or ritual known to man, even to the gods, can recover souls from there."

He-Man stood before one of the Raven's portholes, as if searching the bleak waters outside for some elusive wisdom. "It was given to me upon the burning altar of Heuay, brother, ..that, in a war yet to come, I will be banished to the Beyond Realms. As I drift closer to black Oblivion, Targa, the Hawk Spirit of the Vine Jungles--the life-force of the Talon Fighter--will seize me in its claws and hurl me back into the world of men! There must be a way that I can do the same for brave Orphael, Ceril!"

Ceril-Nar bowed his head in concentration, ..and before him, ghost-like images of realms beyond took shape in the air. "There is a membrane surrounding Oblivion which claims the souls of the damned. Through it, one might experience much of the horrors of what lie inside Oblivion, without ever truly entering it. It is only from this dread place that the Great Hawk could have recovered your essence, my friend. Beyond that is a force we immortals sometimes think we've mastered, but do not truly understand at all--it is Death. I-I'm sorry, ..but, there is nothing this old tinkerer can do."

He-Man knelt before him, as the vision faded. "You dared the unthinkable to resurrect our people, Ceril-Nar--I didn't come here to punish you for that! Though the gods've condemned you to this place--taken your family--still, are we brothers!"

"I was wrong, Adam," Ceril lamented, gulping down wine from his golden cup. "T-to ..disturb our brothers' eternal rest in the Beyond Realms--turn them into half-alive puppets, with no souls, ..like the ones in Sybronn! Like the soulless machines Trap-Jaw has made of my wife and sons! It was arrogant, Adam--a scientist's arrogance! Though, you gave our brothers back their peace, I must pay for that deed, ..and I must pay for it, here. In hell."

"Then, help me give peace to Hiram of Talos, Ceril," He-Man implored him. "If his son Orphael is not here, in the realms of the Dead, where is he? If I must slay the brute to save Eternia, I owe him that much!"

"Since young Orphael's death, have I tracked his journey beyond," sighed Ceril-Nar, wearily. The silver-haired scientist gestured toward a pedestal on the other side of the room, upon which rested a small orb of silvery chrome. Like a bird to its nest, it took flight through the air and into his waiting hands. "My machines tell me the boy dwells with the sleeping god, Petrepanos--he, who rules the gentlest of realms beyond--the Dream Realm. Many children are drawn to this realm, when they die, and the sleeping god's enchanted breath keeps all there mercifully deluded ..and lost. Tell good Hiram of Talos he must take comfort in that, my son, ..and go."

As Lord Adam studied the hellfire horizon, he saw that an eerie glow of blue-white flickered from a great distance. Like a pestilence, it pervaded the dark bridge of the Raven, and He-Man unsheathed his Sword of Ancients. "Hold, Ceril-Nar! I think we're being scanned!"

On the bleak Belmortia River, a great, dark ship, the sails of which billowed over it like dragon's wings, appeared, and the stench of its unholy crew reached for many miles ahead. On its deck, lit by many crimson torches, stood Sijanus Trap-Jaw, a rotting corpse with metal weapons for fists - unliving god-king of Sybronn.

Behind him were the cyborg armies of Sybronn, and at his side, ..the undead thing Ceril-Nar once called his wife. A laugh like rusted machines and jagged rocks filled the air, as Trap-Jaw's giant lasers searched the Raven's hull for weaknesses. "Ceril-Nar, pretender to the brotherhood of Vulnarians! Men say that machines feel nothing--yet, I remember torturing your sons and your wife, Lenore, to death and enjoying it very much! Have you an answer for that, great scientist?! Call out to your husband, Lenore! It is time he joined his family in the realms of the Damned!"

"Behold, Ceril!" the unliving automaton, Lenore, beckoned. "Look upon what Sybronn has made of me--upon the wife you could not protect! I have a new lord and master now, once-beloved, ..and he is strong and cruel! Today, you will pay for your weakness, when I tear the beating heart from your chest and devour it!"

Sijanus Trap-Jaw gestured to two dark, sad shapes to come forward, ..and they did.

In life, they had been big men, blessed by nature with powerful physiques worthy of a Vulnarian's pride. Now, entangled in cables twisting about their once strong bodies, these gaunt man-machines could only inspire pity. "Coward of the Vulnarians, ..you should've stayed in your lost valley! Behold the sons, who basked in the fire of your warrior's wisdom, ..never knowing what a weak-willed fool we called our father! We have a new father now, ..and it is Hell!"

"Damn you, piteous father!" the other abomination called, covered in wires and metal plates. "What good were your beakers and equations, when the undead legions of Sybronn were burning our village? Where was your Vulnarian mettle? Now, will we burn Eternia together, father, ..as soldiers of Sybronn!"

His helmeted head thrown back, the mechanical horror that was Trap-Jaw laughed. "Beg me, human! Beg me for the right to join your family in the godsforsaken cyborg armies of Sybronn! Beg me for permission to lie again with your wife, fair Lenore, whom I have known well! When I am finished with you, you will beg me to die! What is your answer?!"

Three arrows sliced through the air overhead, striking Lenore and her sons in their throats ..and sending them down upon their knees so swiftly that Sijanus Trap-Jaw staggered back from where they fell! They did not cry out or claw nonsensically at their burning flesh, and in a flash of golden flame, they were wholly consumed ..and reduced to ashes.

In defiance, a solitary figure stood on the black-timbered Raven's deck, across the river Belmortia and far in the distance.

He was a half-naked giant of a man, dressed in only a simple, devilbeaver loincloth and the strange markings of a dead warrior race. Upon his back, hung bow and arrows, and clutched in his bronze fist, ..a sword, this proud and defiant Vulnarian! "I'm Ceril-Nar the Death Sailor, Infinitian! I will beg you for nothing, ..and the souls of my family are now free!"

"Come with me, brother!" He-Man called to the silver-haired scientist glaring into the hellfire horizon from the Raven's deck. "We will face the Lord of Destruction and his godsforsaken priest-kings, together, ..at Grayskull!"

"It is here that Mighty Teela banished me, Lord Adam," Ceril-Nar answered, as the Raven's timbers creaked under him. "It is here that I shall die, as a warrior and as a Vulnarian, ..if not this day, then another! Find and fulfill your destiny, Prince of Eternia."

The weapons that made Sijanus Trap-Jaw the terror of the Underworld whirred and clicked alive. Behind the blue-skinned Lord of Sybronn, roared the infernal legions of the evil Dead, and Trap-Jaw gave the order they hungered to hear...

"Kill them all!"

From every corner of Ceril-Nar's ill-starred Raven, the scientist's Heliads rushed to arms, as Trap-Jaw's ship was steered toward it! In gleaming breastplates and helmets of silver that is anathema to all evil! In leather boots and arrow-tipped pteryges, they marched to the edge of the deck and, with laser-guided eyes, sent their arrows into the armies of the Damned! As if mesmerized, He-Man ignored them ..and turned to the doorway, where a great light flared. Such was its brilliance, that he felt naked before it.

"Skeletor attacks Castle Grayskull, Adam," spoke jade-skinned Boa'Na from within the strange, golden glow. "You must hurry there, before the Ram Man of Talos breaches the gates! There's a powerful field surrounding Trap-Jaw's subterranean realm--a field that decays mortal flesh! As I am already dead, the field cannot harm me, ..but, my weakened power can barely hold it back!"

"Already dead?" He-Man stood, examining the jade hand clasping his own. "Woman, ..what are you saying? That you're a shade? A phantom? You are as alive as I am!"

"When word came to Heuay's temple that Orphael had perished resisting Tremarixes, poor Hiram begged me to resurrect him. Said he would pay any price -- that he would take Orphael's place in the Beyond Realms. I told him the gods would not permit it -- that such things were beyond my power. He flew into a mindless rage, destroying the temple..."

"Killing you?" He-Man finished. He kissed her and, in his strong arms, held her like an emerald treasure, and the tenderness of her aroused him now, as when first he'd loved her, in a cave, just beyond Vulnar's Valley. "No. You're no shade! You're here ..with me! Stay with me, sweet Boa'Na! I command it!"

"Where I go, you cannot follow, beloved!" warned Boa'Na, kissing her Vulnarian one final time. "Once, I showed you your strength--the light of your truth. Now, must you light the way for another! You must carry the ram from his path, as Fierce Heuay commands, ..and you must do it without Orphael. I can hold back Trap Jaw's forces no longer! Now, must I send you to back to Eternia--to Grayskull!"

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 fire. "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. "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.

[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!]


Demonking of Grayskull

By T. F. Cooper (Based On A Story by Donald F. Glut)

When Vulnar the Bold struck down the ice dragon, Frigranamyr, ending Eternia's eight million years-long Ice Age, his victory brought great misfortune to the ancient hero's people.

Frigranamyr's fellow dragons, Meranamyr of the Oceans, Dunamyr of the Deserts, Vulcanamyr of the Mountains and Sheenamyr of the Jungles tore apart Vulnar's Ice Mountain kingdom and set it adrift on the Sea of Blackness, where it would never be seen again. Vulnar's warrior brothers defended their floating country fiercely, but were eventually driven off, by their own people, who tired of battle. Their exile purchased a peaceful passage into oblivion for Vulnar's kingdom, but would forever mark their homeland as the Isle of Shame.

The brothers survived their expulsion and founded another kingdom in their grandfather's native Vine Jungles, near Mount Heuay. In a vast gorge that would come to be called the Valley of Vulnar, did these betrayed heroes finally lay their eldest brother to rest, with the Sword of Power, key to a great fortress of mystery and magic, at his side.

Until their final, fatal battle, many months ago, the descendants of these warriors, who called themselves the Vulnarians, honored their forefathers through arcane rites and tournaments of will and strength. Heuay, their fierce goddess of truth, decreed that the inheritor of Vulnar's weapon must be pure of body and spirit and his back strong enough to shoulder the burden of man's hard destiny. Truth must pass through this He-Man as light through a pane of glass, undiluted by worry for his own welfare or that of those close to him.

For this reason, the way between Lord Adam, the last inheritor of Vulnar's Sword of Power, and his beloved Lady Teela of Eternos had always been hard.

There was a time, before the Sword of Power and Lord Adam's becoming the He-Man, that the warriors were inseparable, and nothing born of man or fashioned by his hand could long stand against them. Many battles had they shared at his good friend Duncan's side, back to back, slashing a broad, crimson path through the enemies of Eternos, the just and enlightened city of King Randor. Rest was elusive, and when time permitted such things, it was all the more elusive, for these young lovers had lusts that were not so easily sated. They ate, drank and loved like hungry lions between kills!

The world was their banquet table. Its bloodstained ruins, their stony bed!

Now, the nightmare so long dreaded by the warriors of Eternos had come to pass.

The Sword of Power, ancient key to the most terrible weapon in the known universe, belonged to the Enemy of Man - the undead lord of the wastelands that called itself Skeletor. Castle Grayskull and all its eons-old, cosmic secrets were the demonking's to command.

From the Shadow Lands of the Dark Hemisphere, did Skeletor send, with mere force of his will, the vile Priests of Infinitias to lay waste the kingdom of Randor. Twenty nine years ago, united by their lust for power in the Shadow Lands, they unleashed a monster from the human brain's most primitive regions ..and incarnated him within the mortal flesh of an ancient Eternian king, ..Keldor the Great. Raised to great power in the Dark Hemisphere, his high priests - savage Beast Man of Gore, the bloodthirsty Mer-Man of undersea Moratain, Trap-Jaw of subterranean Sybronn and three-eyed Prince Tri-Klops of Infinitias - as if possessed of a single will, attacked Eternia and found His Majesty, King Randor, repaired to his warrior ways, armed to the teeth and pitched into battle against them.

Rallying to war, the armies of mountainous Clampes and of Myzargard, of green Lorinth, the Golden Isles and of the nearby Rio Republic, the old king drove back the Shadow Land forces from Eternos, ..while far away, in the forests of Graylot, the golden-maned son Randor thought long dead awoke to find his massive forearms chained above his head.

In a dungeon.

Lord Adam found the weight of the korodite harness he usually wore strangely absent from his broad, naked shoulders, and he looked down at his chest to find it no longer there - that his devilbeaver pelt and boots were also gone. Now, his eyes searched the darkness around him for the Sword of Power ..and found not even a glimpse of its silvery metal.

Something else stirred him, as he shrugged off the blinding, suffocating dank of his prison.

He-Man was not imprisoned here alone. A gentler scent and breathing rhythm than his own charged his senses. "Have I gone insane? Lady Teela, ..is that really you?"

"Aye, Lord Adam - it is," the shadowed figure chained beside him spoke. When she leaned forward into a faint, dull shaft of flickering light, he could see that the Captain was naked to the waist. Her pale breasts, once bound by an elaborate, golden breastplate, were bared before her. "I don't know where we are, and I dread the knowing it too well, but we must escape! We must be free, before our enemy carries out his plans!"

"Hold on, captain," He-Man grunted, his massive muscles racked with pain. "There is likely no end to the abuses we've endured at our enemies' hands. We're much weakened,..but, we'll know vengeance soon enow."

"I care not how many stand against us!" snarled the brave captain, staring forward into the shadows, "I'll see these shadows made red with Infinitian blood, when finally I slip these bonds! I swear it!"

Bizarrely shaped, pod-like lanterns protruding from the shadows flickered alive, one and all. Weaving in and out of the green-gray, stonework of the walls and between the lanterns, were great, metal consoles, flickering with spectral light and heat. Images from every corner of the Eternian planet played in crystalline orbs, bulging from and half-submerged in the massive face of this ancient machine.

"Eodwar's Schemes!" He-Man exclaimed to himself with disbelief, as he strained against his bonds. His eyes narrowed, adjusting to the dim light. "I know this place. This ..is Castle Grayskull?!"

"You talk in your sleep, He-Man," a familiar voice cracked from the darkness before him. A burst of violet light flared brilliant as a sun - then, dulled to a warm glow, under which the masked and hooded owner of the voice was revealed. His ram-headed Havoc Staff born high in one gauntleted claw, Skeletor laughed. "After your adventure on the banks of the Great Teela River last night and the plasma bolt Lord Mer-Man fired into your brain, ..very little magic was needed to bleed the secrets of Heuay's temple and of your own Sword of Power from your lips."

Sauntering from the darkness to sit at the Lord of Destruction's feet, a perfect mirror of Man-At-Arms' daughter groaned ..and shed her comely guise. The warm, pink of her skin warped to pale lavender. Long, darkly violet tresses fell over her bare shoulders and back. "Did you think your Lady Teela had returned to you, Heuay Man? Love is not the wild, swift tiger you hoped, ..but, a deadly and watchful hawk, stalking its prey."

Leaning forward on his throne, Skeletor stroked the creature's dark violet hair, as though she were a pet, and the events of the past night came flooding back into He-Man's brain.

His capture by Lord Mer-Man and the warriors of undersea Moratain.

The bizarre experiments administered by Skeletor's scientists that had left no portion of his body unknown to their instruments, ..and his seduction and abuse at the hands of a woman - a thing - impersonating Captain Teela.  The color of rage reddened He-Man's face. His nostrils flared, and there was no part of his body, upon which her scent did not mock him. "Scircee, ..the changeling-witch of Ban-Shi Island? That was you last night, ..at the river? You're a fool, if you think I won't take your head for what you've done!"

"Fool, Vulnarian?" Lady Scircee sneered, over a shoulder. "At wild, fierce loveplay, you may have no equal, ..but a heartsick boy might've shown my charms more resistance. For a few hours' pleasure, you have betrayed all of mankind ..and his Ancients! Show him, milord - Scircee begs you! Show him the blade!"

The King of Snake Mountain laughed - hellfire flickering in the empty sockets of his Mask of Destruction - and leaned forward from his stolen throne with a dreadful confidence. The blade in his black gloved claw, the realization of man's worst fears! "Behold, He-Man, ..the Sword of Power, once more rejoined to its darker sister, mine own Sword of Chaos! When you and the gentle lambs of Eternos are all rotting on hooks, know that the destiny of Eternia rests in Skeletor's hands, ..and that Grayskull has a new master!"

"You did this?" Teela asked, glaring in He-Man's direction. "You traded the Sword of Power to lie with that - that witch?! You truly have gone insane, ..and you've betrayed us all."

"I am a man, Teela, .." He-Man answered distractedly, turning to Skeletor, "- as weak for want of woman, as any other, ..but, the Lord of the Wastes sent his Lady Screech to lie with me for other purposes. Purposes more base than even murder."

"Slow, but clever, Vulnarian," Skeletor nodded. "Why would I send fair Scircee to kill you, when I might conjure at will warriors from the jungles and seas ..or even from the zombie hordes of subterranean Sybronn to end your pestilent existence?"

"Slaves," He-Man said with disgust. "The Lady Screech is barren or ruined somehow, ..and our time together yielded no offspring. You wanted to breed us like beasts and enslave my progeny ..to a conquered Grayskull!"

The Enemy of Man cackled. "Though I am far from human, your primitive species interests me greatly. I watched you and Lady Scircee for a time and found your coupling to be fascinating, ..but, sadly unproductive. Perhaps, we'll give one of the lizard-folk a try next!"

"Another chance, Lord Skeletor," the Lady Screech begged, cringing at her hooded and black-robed master's knee. Her white teeth glistening with primal ambitions. "Bid me take him now, by force, and I will yield from these loins a legion of He-Men to command! Raise Scircee above the heads of all your priest-kings of Infinitias, and it is yours!"

The Lord of Destruction pointed his Havoc Staff at Lady Screech, and a large, dark bird flew fearfully from where she had rested at his feet. "Begone, witch! The new age, my age, will not be wrought from the mutant trash of the Shadow Lands, but from the ancient technology in these walls! Those black engines of destruction and creation are still here, and so long as I wield these swords, they are mine to command! For now and forever, ..Grayskull is mine!"

On legs densely woven with muscles, the big, golden-maned warrior hurled himself at the demonking's throne. A sound like the kind wounded animals make echoed along the dungeon walls, as cables of blinding, blue light crackled over He-Man's naked flesh, after which he fell to his knees.

"...make you ..p-pay, ..Lord of the Wastes," sputtered He-Man. His otherworldly strength exhausted. "I ..will know ..vengeance."

"Haste, Lord Adam of the barbarians," Skeletor hissed, dismissively. "It is always the mark of the lowly born. For that reason, I have taken great patience in the planning of my ascension, ..as well as a few trophies to discourage your vengeance!"

From his black marble throne, Skeletor gestured, and a large orb of darkly golden crystal spun before him. Inside, as if frozen in time, two familiar faces were visible.

"No!" Captain Teela cried, looking on. She strained against her bonds, shaking her head in disbelief. "It-it cannot be! Father? Ruin-Zo?!"

Their bodies arched and twisted.

Their arms upraised, and their faces stretched in silent screams of terror and shock, He-Man knew the two men submerged in the globe of dark , orange crystal. It was the work of Skeletor's Fright Fighter, a deadly, insect-like, flying machine assembled from the trash of Grayskull's ancient, long-dead scientists. "By the All-father, what have I done?"

"Father!" Teela sobbed, struggling under her chains, as the globe descended toward her, ..and Skeletor looked on. When her bonds, mysteriously disappeared, she collapsed on her knees before it. Inside, Man-At-Arms and Teela's lover, the darkly handsome Sergeant Roberto Ruin-Zo, stared blankly from their crystalline prison. "Father, please! Ruin-Zo! I am here! Teela is here to - oh, gods! No! No-ooo!"

"Like flies in amber," Skeletor cackled to her from across the dimly illumined dungeon and rose to stand. "You may save one, Captain - only one, ..but you may have neither!"

"They're alive?!" He-Man marveled, still bound to the dungeon wall. "For what dread purpose, Skeletor?"

Glaring at the Vulnarian, Lady Teela rose to stand. A suit of gray metal forming over her flesh! "What sorcery is this? Tell me how, demonking! What must I do to free them?"

The Lord of the Wastes extended a claw, and a pair of silvery blades flew into the captain's hands from the stonework of Grayskull's walls. From the empty sockets of his skull-like mask, crimson light flickered, and He-Man's chains vanished! In the barbarian's hand, a single spear, formed of what looked to be iron, took shape from the empty air.

"So, you will watch one of us murder the other?" He-Man's eyes narrowed, full of mistrust. "Then, what demon? Why have you returned?"

At his most imperious, Skeletor was as mesmerizing as he was grotesque. The King of Snake Mountain lowered himself onto his throne, and the inflexible gold of his Mask of Living Death did appear, however fleetingly, ..to grin. "Skeletor only brings mankind that which the cesspool of his soul begs to taste. Perhaps, I will restage this scenario with His Majesty King Randor and his beloved Marlena. Perhaps, I will put a dagger in the hand of every new mother ..and watch the cradles all over Eternia overrun with infant blood! Hahahahaha! Perhaps, ..I will make you watch!"

"I will watch the filth run from where your soul should be, vile demon," the bronze-skinned giant seethed, aiming his weapon for Skeletor's head, "when I tear you apart!"

The Lady Teela stepped forward, blocking He-Man's cast with her blade. "That is my father encased in that amber! My father ..and, next to him, the only man, I will ever love! I will gladly bring Skeletor your head to save them!"

A shriek split the air, and He-Man grunted at the hot pain freshly ripped into his left shoulder. He saw his red blood running down over the swelling muscles of his arm, but all that remained of his attacker was the faintest trace of her musk on the air. "There is no honor in this, good Teela. This carnage!"

"Do not speak to Titus Duncan's daughter of honor, Lord of Vines," Captain Teela growled, swinging her broadsword for Lord Adam's throat. "Not, when you've spent your last drop so cheaply! Whether my father is saved or not, your life is forfeit to me! I care not how honorably it is given or taken!"

Clutching his Havoc Staff in one gauntleted hand, the King of Snake Mountain cackled - a crimson glow blazing defiant in the blackened, empty sockets, where eyes should have been - and leaned forward from his stolen throne with a dreadful confidence. "Then take his life, woman, ..if you would see your father and lover live! Kill the Vulnarian ..and bring forth the Age of Destruction!"

Before her feet hit the floor, He-Man found Lady Teela's blades in flight against him, again. Though he was as strong, as she was fast - though he deflected her blows as one nursed at the flaming teat of war, He-Man was awe-struck at the ferocity of Teela's assault. An attack this swiftly pressed and skillfully executed was not something he was used to fending off.

Without killing an opponent.

Never had a weapon been so heavy in his hands, even as Lady Teela hurled the twin blades toward He-Man's neck and chest. His love for Duncan's valiant daughter all but crippled him in battle against her and, if only for a moment, something He-Man likened to fear crawled into his brain. Death at her crazed hands was assured and with it, the ensuing subjugation of Eternia by Skeletor's black-hearted priests. He-Man had not the heart to kill her, but knew that he must kill Teela or die, lest all hope die with him.

He-Man turned to find mad Teela in the air, her beautiful body twisting high above his head - the silvery twin blades spread out at her side, like wings. He remembered the lithe and pale, red-haired girl she had been, and how, even in his youth, he had worshipped her fiery beauty at play in the trees of the Vine Jungle. As she descended upon him, her booted heels hammering his chest, he realized that he had stared too long.

He-Man was suddenly pinned beneath her.

The twin blades resting on either side of his throat, he felt Captain Teela's hot breath falling full on him ..and no quarter from her deadly whims. "Weakness for you has brought us to this, Teela. Death for Duncan ..and Ruin-Zo! Grayskull and Eternia in Skeletor's hands! Heuay's temple, destroyed! Death at your hands would be just and honorable. Kill me."

The Lord of Destruction stood up from his throne, mesmerized by the tableau of human suffering before him.

Pride! Rage! Shame! Regret! All so painful! So gloriously torturous! A banquet of despair, upon which any demon might gladly gorge, ..until bloat and senseless with pleasure!

Skeletor wrung his hands with feverous anticipation. "Do it, woman! Kill him! He's dishonored all the gods've made him. He is nothing! A lust-crazed beast with no care for honor ..or love! He has betrayed you and all men. Kill He-Man, ..or Ruin-Zo dies!"

He-Man's steely gaze met hers, and nothing stood between the naked Vulnarian's heart and her vengeance - nothing, but the end of the world. Teela threw down the mystical weapons in her hands. "I won't do it, demon - not even to save them! Better my father and lover die in that amber prison, than see me made one of Snake Mountain's eunuchs!"

From behind his grotesque, golden mask, the Lord of Destruction uttered ancient words, and raised the unified Sword of Power in his gauntleted hands. Merged into one, single weapon, its weird energies bathed the grayish stonework of the dungeon in an eerie, blue glow. "So be it, woman! You feared to follow your father and lover to Oblivion - now, they will follow you! You and all mankind!"

Grayskull, its every stone and mortared crevice, shook! The mysterious machines embedded in its ancient walls glowed, as though an inferno blazed behind them.

Dazed, they did not notice the empty suits of blackened armor stirring alive from the shadows. Dull, crimson light flickered lantern-like through the eyelets of their empty helmets. Weapons of every shape and purpose materializing in their soulless hands, they marched toward Skeletor's enemies - the stonework of the dungeon floor raped under their metal heels.

"We're finished, He-Man!" shouted Captain Teela, assuming a defensive stance. "You saw it with your own eyes! The demonking has merged the Swords of Power and Darkness into one! Grayskull and its secrets are his!"

"Hold, good Teela," He-Man called to her, as his devilbeaver pelt and boots formed over him from thin air. He looked down in disbelief, as yet another possession stolen from him by Skeletor's henchmen was returned to him in similar fashion. "My harness and pelt, with just a thought, mysteriously returned to me! Something's wrong here. Different. Something's changed! We've got to get to the ramparts!"

Back to back, He-Man and the Captain of the Guard hacked apart the metal shells of Skeletor's lifeless army, forging a treacherous path to a winding column of stone-worked steps. Even as one suit of armor fell under their savage blows, another three moved into its place, wearing down their guard. Drawing them farther and farther apart with each successive attack!

Before He-Man's eyes, a sharp blow cracked against Teela's forehead, nearly decapitating her, and Man-At-Arms' valiant daughter went down under a hail of kicks and spear points. Battering back the metal throngs, He-Man pulled Captain Teela back onto her booted feet. "Within Grayskull's walls, my korodite harness's protective energies are increased a hundred-fold! Stay close, woman, ..if you want to live!"

Awakened into the kind of bloodthirsty fury, for which she was known and feared, the flame-haired vixen attacked the enemy with fist, heel and blade, ..until, mysteriously, the armored drones fell, as one, lifeless to the floor into piles of rusted metal. "This fight was a diversion, Lord Adam! Every second brings Ruin-Zo and my father closer to death! Yet, there's something else, ..something Skeletor doesn't want us to know!"

Under his golden mane of hair, He-Man knelt beside her, studying the stonework at their feet, as Captain Teela looked on. He touched his hand to the rocky floor, and lowered his head to it, such that he resembled a beast tracking its prey. His nostrils flared, as he got back to his feet and led Captain Teela up the steep, rocky stairway. "By the gods, woman - can't you feel it? Grayskull is cold. The entire world ..is dead."

As He-Man and Teela rushed onto the ramparts, Grayskull rumbled. Massive chunks of its mortar and brick crumbled into their path, down the stairs behind them and farther below, into the dank of its dungeon.

"He-Man, what's happening?!" Captain Teela screamed, shielding her face with a silver-gauntleted forearm. Blinding golden light flashed overhead. Dagger-like shards of black mortar took flight for her head, throat and chest.

An explosion of light and heat forced He-Man backwards, and bold Teela followed, as the big Vulnarian pulled her, with one hand, into the protection of his arms. The whine of those ancient death-machines echoed along the ramparts, and great chunks of Grayskull's stonework shattered before its fiery onslaught. "Down, girl! He's controlling Grayskull's cosmic ray cannons!"

The Ancients had enemies.

It is believed that the first of Grayskull's masters were descended from a fierce, bloodthirsty race, the masters of great and deadly machines capable of unleashing their fury on the backs of any, who dared defy Grayskull. The ragtag hordes of primitive Eternia, fearing annihilation, were cowed into caves and the low, forested places that might hide them from Clan Grayskull's flying machines. Terror was the order of the day, and fear of Grayskull's awesome power endured the ages ..and became legend.

He-Man and his beauteous, fire-maned comrade knew all too well what Grayskull's cannons could do, as Oblivion was bloat with the fortress's fallen foes.

Now, hearts raced!

Muscles honed for hot war-making swelled and sprung!

Booted heels and bare hands flattened against stone, barely keeping Skeletor's mortal enemies free of the gruesome end the demonking intended for them. All the while, like some monstrous, ghostly blade, the beam of golden fire cut through metal and rock, until black smoke billowed out from Fortress Grayskull's ramparts!

The dark and vulgar train of a violated bride.

A chilling silence gripped the air, and the whine of the ion cannon ground to a stop. But for the faint crackle of nuclear fire in the rubble scattered across the parapet, nothing appeared to stir. On his belly, He-Man pushed his way out from under a pile of broken rock to his comrade's side. "Teela, are you alright?"

Her back flattened against a large stone block and auburn tresses dangling in her eyes, the battered Captain of the Guard struggled to breathe. Her powerful lungs choked with cosmic ash. "Can you feel it, Adam? He is still here -- everywhere!"





Only to senses sharpened in the perilous Vine Jungles of Eternia could the presence of evil be clearly felt. "And who claims the mud-holes now, Lord of the Wastes?! Show yourself!"

Before their eyes, a fiery sphere of golden energy took dread shape. Its wild glow flickering into a grotesque and gargantuan phantasm, a disembodied skull-like mask formed, the brilliance of which filled the night sky!



"You are nothing, demonking!" He-Man protested, meeting the apparition's stare with steely calm. "In every heart, a great power stands between man and Destruction! Grayskull is that power, ..and it is beyond your reach! The soul and mind of man is beyond your reach!"


Breathlessly, Captain Teela looked on as stone blocks cracked apart under He-Man's fists!

Huge limestone blocks, laced with silver and each as big as a man, were shattered to dust before her eyes. When she peered through the jagged hole he'd made, she trembled and held fast to her blade. "Grails of Procrustus! Th-there's nothing there! Eternia is gone!"

"The Ancients moved this fortress into another dimension," the golden-haired Vulnarian answered wearily, "- a dead dimension, where Grayskull is an empty ruin, and its legend means nothing!"


Through the empty sockets of his ancient mask, Skeletor looked upon them.

Lightning crackled around him, biting into his flesh, forcing him to his knees, but a glare and a primal roar was all that he gave. Once more, the Vulnarian stood. "The twin Swords of Power in your grasp defy you, King of Snake Mountain, ..as do I!"


A blinding, scarlet flashed from behind the fiery mask, and the giant skull there darkened to a faint, violet haze. Then, the black-robed Lord of the Wastes staggered forth from it ..and collapsed to one armored knee. "I ..am the King of Castle Grayskull, ..the most terrible power in the known universe, ..and of Eternia! You will pay for your defiance ..with your life ..."

"We're no longer on Eternia, Lord of Demons!" the half-naked man-god groaned, digging his steel-hard fingers into a massive, stone block.  Though it was many times his size, with a grunt, the Vulnarian raised it high above his head. "You have no power here! This battle is over!"

Arms thick and cabled with muscle pitched the grayish-green rock forward!

Icy blue eyes, swollen and narrow with rage, saw the would-be king of Castle Grayskull disappear beneath it ..and over the fortress's ramparts. A great flash erupted from beyond Grayskull's walls, and, for a second, space and time seemed to split apart.

Skeletor was gone. The Sword of Ancients lost with him.

At the other end of the parapet, where Point Dread joined Grayskull every twenty years, a solitary figure stirred swiftly toward them.

Over the length of the ramparts, roaring the warrior-woman's name, Sergeant Roberto Ruin-Zo ensnared his beloved Teela between lean, muscled arms, and she kissed him, brushing the dark hair from his eyes. Ambling closely behind him, Man-At-Arms, miraculously restored to life, lumbered wearily over the castle's gray stonework, followed by He-Man's faithful Battle Cat, whose name was known to only him.

From the rocky center of Castle Grayskull's colossal, triangular bailey, a great, golden structure took shape, cracking apart the stonework beneath it. Lightning crackled over its metallic surface, flashing upwards and into the sky like the tentacles of some savage, ocean-born behemoth! An eerie calm pervaded the bailey and the skies over castle Grayskull, ..and the legendary pyramid stood, where the masters of the world once guided Eternia's destiny.

"The Hall of Wisdom, Lord Adam?" marveled Lord Adam's large, armored tiger, looking on in amazement. "Not since the death of your Vulnarian kinsmen, have I set eyes upon it. By all that is wild, what've you done?"

Humbly, He-Man knelt before it, and a voice echoed from where the pyramid had risen. Alone, in the terrific, scaled skull and hide of a hooded dragon, the Mighty Teela stepped forward - the silvery Sword of Ancients held out before her.

Into wide and grateful hands, did He-Man reclaim his weapon. "Holy Warrior, Friend of Man, once again you have honored our faith the gods. Though I saw this weapon lost to us with my own eyes, I never believed it beyond your reach, ..even in the fiery maws of Oblivion. On behalf of all mortalkind, you have my thanks."

Skeletor will find a great weapon drifting just beyond that dread realm, and he will set it loose in the world of men, upon his return... Many will die, and Eternia will never be the same... You will dwell here with the gods, in the Hall of Wisdom for a time, Adam, ..to prepare for the destruction to come... The Ancients have spoken!

"No!" Teela protested, rising to stand. She was Man-At-Arms' daughter in spirit, if not blood, and such was her courage that she dared challenge the gods. Though she found both Duncan and Sergeant Ruin-Zo at her sides, she would have gladly stood alone. For this golden-haired Vulnarian, she would have stared down all the devils of Oblivion. "Though, I've chosen another, we are kindred, Adam. You belong with us ..in the world of men."

The bronze giant kissed Teela softly, and a cautious look passed between himself and Sergeant Ruin-Zo. "It is the will of the gods, Teela. Good journey. May the gods bless you and Ruin-Zo with many fit and handsome sons."

The Holy Warrior cast a stern glare down into the faces of her mortal charges ..and raised her golden Rod of Order. An eerie, green radiance flared from her staff, and the heroes of Eternos were turned most fearfully from it.

Come, He-Man of the Vulnarians... Come and prepare for war!

Before the eyes of the assembled warriors and beyond the craggy castle walls, the bleak, barren, but familiar moors of Eternia could be seen once more. Souls soared to find Grayskull returned to Eternia, but, there was also regret. A bright light appeared before them, and followed by his faithful tiger, He-Man of the Vulnarians disappeared into it.

And Captain Teela collapsed sobbing in her father's arms.


The Tale of Teela

By T. F. Cooper (Based On A Story by Gary Cohn)

Upon hearing of trouble at the Court of King Randor, Adam of Vines, Last of the Vulnar tribesmen - He-Man - set out from the forest kingdom of Lorinth for the Royal Palace at Eternos, leaving behind a temple of very drunk and exhausted sacrificial virgins, who would all find themselves out of work, tomorrow.

In reddish brown, devilbeaver shorts, fur-topped, boar-hide boots and heavy bronze trinkets adorning his wrists, He-Man's native dress had made him something of an oddity on the streets of Lorinth. Yellowing textbooks painted the Vulnarians as dark-skinned, raven-haired giants with enormous endowments. Adam, while exceptionally tall and muscular, was of a pale bronze hue and was as blond, as any Ice Lander. Furthermore, the size of his endowments were no mystery to anyone, since, if asked respectfully, he took no shame in slipping them out of his devilbeavers for a curious stranger's inspection.

Under the shade of night, on the back of a heavily armored, giant tiger, whose name was known only to him, the Last Son of Vulnar made his way through the Arcadian Mountains. There, in a small clearing, he stopped to kneel at an ancient rock shrine, one of the many built by the wandering tribes of Preternia. Upon the altar, He-Man laid a fistful of terrahedrons, flowers sacred to the goddess Teela, and having annointed them with oil, he burned them in the ritual way required to seek the Goddess's wisdom. Their dense spice had filled his nostrils, and the sacred invocation had barely parted his lips, when the low roar of an engine from behind roused him from his meditations. With a hurricane-like swiftness the Sword of Power found his hand, and He-Man turned to find an elaborately decorated caravan of wind-sailers approaching.

These flying machines were the fairer sisters of the king's wind-raider assault landers, and the preferred transport of the high-born and well-appointed of the world. The caravan was dressed with the red flags and gold sashes of the Celestial Church and was manned by twenty four guards - a compliment of four men to each of its six ships. All armed with ceremonial brass spears of the variety, which the Eternian Royal Guard carried in parades, and not a fighting man among their ornate, emasculated number. From the sailer's coach, a gaudily attired, middleaged man in red robes and gold jewelry drew back a curtain to eye He-Man, suspiciously.

"You, ..savage!" The man in red called from the coach of the sailer. "Take your pagan ways elsewheres, lest you offend the Holy Warrior herself, before whose plains you commit this - this ..sacrilege!"

He-Man lifted one of the whale-sized stones high over his head, and the terror on the faces of the caravan guards was plain to see. "Is this Elsewheres very far, sir? This sacrilege is rather heavy, you see."

The old man leaned forward and nearly outside of the coach, gawking in shameless disbelief, before squirming back into his seat, and his face reddened under his densely jeweled, scarlet cap. He knew not what to make of the half-naked stranger's exhibition of strength, if indeed it was strength and not some circus trickery or even witchcraft, ..but was determined not to appear, in the least way, vexed by it. "You dare mock me, ..heathen! I am newly made the Archbishop of Eternos, ..the Royal City! I travel now to the Royal Palace of King Randor, ..whose guardsmen will blast this rockpile to bits, at my word!"

The giant green cat lunged forward, growling, but He-Man steadied him with a wave of his hand, even as the effeminate caravan guards gasped all at once. The Last Son of Vulnar stepped forward. "I am Adam of Vines, Your Eminence - last of the Valley of Vulnar! I, too, travel to Eternos to see a friend of mine, ..King Randor's Man-At-Arms!"

"O-ooh, ..a Vulnarian He-Man, have we?" scoffed the Archbishop, rolling his eyes in disdain. "And I suppose that blade is King Vulnar's Sword of Power! Would that, too, be so, ..barbarian?!"

"That's Lord Adam to you, stoneless dolt!" He-Man's giant tiger snarled, beneath his horned helmet. "Mayhaps, you'd find better manners in my belly!"

The old man leaned forward again, staring at the talking tiger. His eyes farther from their sockets than ever they had been.

A shadow of rage colored He-Man's face. The haughty Archbishop did not know how close he was to getting firsthand proof of Lord Adam's brutal Vulnarian heritage. "Until their final, fatal battle, many months ago, my tribesmen honored our forefathers' covenant with Mighty Teela, through arcane rites and tournaments of will and strength, all of which I endured to become their champion. The last and least horrific of those trials won me the Sword of Power ..and the name, He-Man."

"I know not what base trickery you play upon me, strongman, but you are surely an impostor!" the Archbishop raved. "If truly you are He-Man, ..Swordbearer of the Holy Warrior, ..why do you kneel half-naked at this rock in the woods? What deity would grace such a pitiful, godless place?"

Now, He-Man's face reddened. "Call her Holy Warrior, Obatala, Hela or Athena - Mighty Teela is the Friend of Man, and I seek her will, ..Your Eminence! But this shrine, like the grand ones at Lorinth, has fallen strangely silent! Now, ..if you've no divine wisdom to impart, be off ..and leave me to my meditations!"

As He-Man looked on, the coach radiated with blinding emerald light.

A broad-shouldered, barefooted, youth, clad entirely in a crown of laurel leaves and his own jade skin, climbed out of the coach, carrying a lyre of purest gold. His hand extended, he studied the Vulnarian more closely. "How could you know about the shrines at Lorinth, when her priests there, at Frenornia and Elshimere are all confounded, sir, ..and the last Archbishop, driven mad by despair, has taken his own life? The Holy Warrior will not speak even to us, gods, ..and, without my divine senses, I could not be sure you were truly her champion! I am Eternos, the God of Time, ..and I doubt you no more!"

Beyond the Valley of Vulnar, it was a rare thing that gods should leave their time-lost Isle of Eldor to visit the world of men, but, the big warrior had certainly known his share and was no stranger to their wonders.  "Always expected the immortal Brother of the Plains would look older! Mighty Teela is your sister?"

“Aye, warrior – sister and commander!” His eyes cast down in despair, the youthful god tightened his grip on He-Man's hand. "Not long after the shrines fell silent, ..it is said, amongst the gods, that Mighty Teela disappeared, ..as has the Captain of King Randor’s Royal Guard! I fear you are needed most urgently in the Royal City Eternos, sir!"

"Teela the Duncan has disappeared? Speak, titan -- tell me the rest!" the big barbarian demanded, menacingly. “Speak of that, which even the Lord of Time, fears to tell!”

There was more than worry on the naked god's green face, as Eternos knelt to touch the soil and commune with the ancient spirits of the land. A great gouge took shape in the ground at his feet, and a howling wind from its depths played upon his all-seeing, golden lyre, bleak and sorrowful music, ..but, a deeper wound in the Time Master’s heart, one that shamed him to speak of, would remain hidden. “Your captain knows she is good Man-At-Arms’ daughter, but, of her mother, she knows nothing—nor, has her father ever breathed a word. Sometimes, this troubles her and haunts her dreams, making her vulnerable to influences even darker than her lust for battle! The true origin of your warrior-woman is even stranger than she suspects, ..as she will soon learn! A great and unnatural silence beyond the mortal realm confounds me, Vulnarian, ..and more than this, I cannot see!”

Stepping back from the whirlwind as the crevice closed, the exhausted immortal collapsed in Lord Adam’s arms.

“In the Valley of Vulnar, we had an eons-long martial tradition,” He-Man recalled, helping Eternos to steady himself. “It was a covenant my brothers had honored in bloodshed and service to the Warrior Goddess - one we saw rewarded many times! During my clash with the Dragon of Oblivion, did she lift me from the very shores of Death, ..and I will do no less for her brother. Though watching over mankind from the Isle of Gods has long kept you from your sister's side on the battlefield, Lord Eternos, do not think you will meet her enemies alone!”

“Guilt of not being with her in this black hour nigh unmans me!” hissed Eternos. Standing up, as tears ran down his tender, chartreuse cheeks, his immortal eyes searched the skies for the answers he sought. “I fear a kinship of these horrors we face, Vulnarian - a dark thread weaving one Teela to the other, like the needlework of some apocalyptic tapestry - and I would give you the heart in my chest to know Mighty Teela is safe! Come with me to the Royal City, and we will rally the fiercest warriors of King Randor’s Court to our…"

"Not until the slaughter of mine own brothers, at the hands of a demon," He-Man told him, kneeling down to search the leather satchel at his feet, "- did I learn of the Goddess's connection to an ancient stronghold beyond the rain forests. It’s there, at Castle Grayskull, I will next seek my answers. Be at peace, my friend, ..and accept this humble gift."

The big, golden-haired man stood up and held out a handsome skirt of silver-studded, rhino-hide pteryges, and when Eternos wrapped them around his narrow loins, he laughed out loud. “I know the Eternostines favor hiding under ugly costumes, but, these might go around me twice!”

“The gods must sometimes be merciful, Lord Eternos!” Draping a cloak over the youthful titan's shoulders, He-Man looked him over discerningly, recalling his first trip to the Royal City, as captain of King Simyran’s Praetorian Guard. “The thrill of rushing into adventure, clad only in blue sky and the weapon in your fist is too hearty for the vane, cowardly men of the cities! Pity them ..and save the baring of your manly nature for their women."

Brother Eternos embraced He-Man, as eagerly as a youth would welcome the father, who loved him, and the firmness of their bond seemed to still the grief in him. The power of Grayskull was mysterious indeed, and healing wounds of the spirit were not beyond its reach. Something in the immortal's youthful nature had been made as steel and, with a look in the wind-sailer's direction, he saw it transformed into a magnificent chariot of polished silver, carved with the greatest exploits of Eternia’s gods and heroes, ..and its attendants, turned into a team of horses that stretched most impossibly into the horizon!

"Behold the last of my divine magic, Lord Adam," the youth called to him, from the reins of his chariot, driving out over the Plains. "Good Journey! May the Master of this Universe keep you ..and honor your brothers in his kingdom!"

He-Man bid his eternally young friend farewell and, for a brief time, resumed his meditations at the rock altar, burning the terrahedrons, ..but Mighty Teela would not answer. Though it was not his nature to do so, he began to wonder if the Warrior Goddess had truly abandoned him.

Even as the dark red smoke of the terrahedrons pointed to the Royal City in the plains.

From a distance, he saw the awesome Teela of the Plains watching over sleeping Eternos, her solid corodite head held high above whatever trouble thrived in her shadow, one thousand, one hundred and fourteen feet below. The twinkling lights of the Royal City were still miles away, when Battle Cat roared, and the ground before them turned to thunder beneath his pounding claws!

The streets of the Royal City’s hardworking northeastern quarter were littered with the usual array of screaming merchants, horses, dogs, mischievous youths, wary centurions and curious aristocrats, as He-Man rode into Eternos. The most exotic foods, spices and spirits were sold here, drawing the wealthiest of King Randor’s subjects away from the city’s pristine northwestern side, between arrangements for this party or that. Pipers played. Dancers danced, and ornately attired noblewomen, with servants in tow, perused the bazaars with feigned indifference, until a flash of bronze thigh, bare shoulders and musk turned their heads toward the half-naked Vulnarian galloping toward the Royal Palace upon his armored beast.

Since the reign of King Miro, Eternos had the burden of shouldering the world's aspirations - a city dedicated to science, art and religion, distinguished by lush orchards and magnificent towers of pink granite, pale blue marble galleries and golden limestone walkways.

Its seated monarchs, King Randor and Queen Marlena, were held in far greater esteem by their Vulnarian friend, than they knew. To protect them from the machinations of his deadliest enemies, some of whom could probe the secrets of the mind, Adam could not reveal his true origins to them. Though they did not yet know that he was their son, the rulers of Eternia honored He-Man, as a peer, and insisted their generals and courtiers pay him the respect accorded governors and foreign dignitaries.

The courtiers, however reluctantly, complied with their king's wishes, but made their disdain for his wild heritage evident in subtle, cowardly ways, ..even while their highborn ladies did all but beg for his savage attentions. Only in the company of Duncan, Randor's Man-At-Arms, and his heroic daughter, Teela, captain of the Royal Guard, was He-Man reminded of the fellowship he had shared with his lost tribesmen.

As dusk yielded to dawn, a half-hour later, He-Man joined his valiant friend, Duncan, the last of the warlike Berserker Nation, in the luxurious courtyards surrounding the Royal Palace of Eternia. The Man-At-Arms, whose robust physique was magnificent, even under his heavy, bronzium armor, was a fierce and capable warrior, in his own right; the same could be said of his daughter, Captain Teela. Duncan was also a master scientist, whose knowledge of weapons technology was unsurpassed in the Eternian kingdom. Though the old man had not asked for He-Man's help, the Vine Jungle warrior was proud to give it.

"In the wee hours, guardsmen of the Palace's Northeast Tower reported finding a small, uncharted embattlement on their scanners, somewhere along the Harmonic Coast. Teela set out to investigate it on her Battle Ram, ..accompanied by Sergeant Ruinzo. They have not been seen since, and the small fort is gone!"

Could the Lord of Time have been right?

That shrines everywhere, dedicated to Mighty Teela, Eternia's Holy Warrior, had been mysteriously silenced that morning was a queer coincidence.

It was no secret among King Randor's courtiers and elite guardsmen that Captain Teela and Sergeant Ruinzo, a fierce and handsome warrior from faraway Cirsaly, were lovers. Their disappearance was easier to explain than the vanishing embattlement, which had no business having been there, in the first place. Out of respect for Duncan, against whose back he'd stood in pitched battle, Adam of Vines remained silent on the subject.

"Point Dread, Castle Grayskull's flying outpost, is such a fort," asserted He-Man. "It goes where the Talon Fighter carries it. Can there be some connection between it and Captain Teela's disappearance?"

"More than you will ever know, Adam of Vines." A familiar voice sounded from behind them, and a heavy hand - one, which once liberated Eternia from intergalactic tyranny - came to rest on the old soldier's heavily armored shoulder. King Randor, a warrior, whose aging body was still hard from the punishment of war, had stood with Duncan in the heart of combat! Even now, their mutual trust was such that Randor freely spoke in his grief-stricken friend's behalf.

"Many years ago, at Point Dread ..," Randor began, "Great Teela, the goddess for whom Captain Teela is named, was captured and subjected to a vile ..experiment, by the scientist-priests of Infinitias! Though Duncan and myself freed her from the demonic designs of her enemies, they resulted ..in an infant twin of the goddess."

Just as the Vulnar Masters had trained him to know what intentions lay beyond the mask of an enemy, they had also taught Adam to master that which his own face showed the world. The shock of this revelation, however, would not allow it. "Blade of My Brothers! Teela is the Goddess's ..sister?!"

"Through this violation of the goddess," Randor explained carefully, "he who guided the hand of these intellects, had intended to create for himself a 'bride' to whom Grayskull would yield its cosmic secrets."

Man-At-Arms was not a man of words. His face twisted with the disclosure of his daughter's secrets. "The power of Point Dread flows through Teela's veins, Adam! She is connected to that bloody place - and now, ..to Skeletor too, mayhaps!"

"Skeletor?!" He-Man exclaimed. The haunting sight of his massacred tribesmen, brought low by Skeletor's black works, still tormented him!

Adam had been told by the elders of his tribe that any years ago, four Infinitian scientists gathered in the tomb of Keldor the Great, the first king of Eternia to unite the Light and Dark Hemispheres under one crown. There, in exchange for great power on the Dark Side, they unleashed from the collective, sentient minds of Eternia, an abomination - an unspeakable horror born of the mortal brain's most primitive chambers ..and incarnated him within Keldor's mummified body. Through these four scientist-priests, he ruled the Dark Hemisphere of Eternia. His sole ambition - universal domination, ..through the conquest of Castle Grayskull. Known by many names throughout the ages, he was incarnate destruction and the shameful, yet inescapable fear of it.

A nightmare, cloaked in legend. Skeletor.

The mere mention of the demon's name aroused the kind of furor in He-Man, which one gives the basest insults! "No, friend Duncan! I have known your daughter in war ..and love! In flesh and spirit! She is a warrior, whose courage shames all others, save Randor's and your own! No matter what hand he had in her making, noble Teela is your daughter, and she will never call the Lord of Snake Mountain her master!"

"Tomorrow will be Teela's twentieth birthday, Adam," Duncan continued. "Every twenty years, Point Dread rejoins Grayskull ..to sip of its holy energies and renew its strength. As its power drew Skeletor from the Shadowlands, then, so will it today! He'll seek out the child he created there, ..and that is when I'll destroy him!"

"Save her." A voice whispered from above, and when they looked upon its owner, whose head towered above the Plains, even Randor was humbled. The gargantuan, solid corodite of the Teela of the Plains, which Randor's father, King Miro, saved from burial by storms, in the Sands of Time, glowed molten hot, ..until much of the bluish gray metal rippled to warm pink. When the transformation was done Mighty Teela, heroic warrior goddess and friend of Eternia, stood before the world of mortals, and the three men were brought, as one, to their knees.

Duncan, with great care ..and dread, was first to speak. "Goddess, friend of mankind, ..where is my daughter, Teela? Am I too late to ..?"

"Save her, Duncan," repeated Great Teela, faintly. "I cannot ..destroy ..our daughter. Skeletor is using her ..against us. Grayskull ..defenseless .."

The goddess's typically august voice, a sound which might reduce mountains to powder, faltered unsteadily, betraying her agony, and the blood of her champions burned to see her in this pitiful state.

"Endure, Great Teela!" He-Man reached over one of his shoulders and found the ancient, silvery weapon that his Vulnar tribesmen died protecting. "Our foes, ..be they flesh, bone or shadow, will know destruction, this day - so swears, Adam! Open Grayskull's gate ..and lead on!"

From one of the Royal Palace's many terraces, He-Man, King Randor and Duncan watched as the skies over the Teela of the Plains grew unnaturally dark and clouded over far too quickly to be the work of the elements! The apparition, which stood in the statue's place, dissipated like smoke, leaving the cold gray metal of the monument beneath, and lightning flashed above its head!

So violently bright was this illumination that even He-Man was forced to look away!

When he uncovered his eyes, though it seemed impossible, the forty-foot high, stony arch of Castle Grayskull's entrance awaited them at the edge of the terrace, where, only seconds ago, the scent of the Royal Orchards played on the breeze.

The roar of He-Man's Battle Cat was heard above, where the green and gold-streaked beast could be seen perched high atop Grayskull's doorway. "Will King Randor be joining us, Lord Adam? He smells much better than what I'm used to carrying!"

"You should be so lucky, King of Kittens!" He-Man laughed. "His Majesty needs you here, guarding the Royal City, in my place!"

When Battle Cat had grounded himself, He-Man turned to Randor, and found he could not hide the esteem, in which he secretly held his long-lost father. "Eternos watches from his chariot in the sky, awaiting the hour of battle. Someday, I, too, will know the honor to fight at your side, King Randor."

"You will, Adam of Vines," the king replied, with a mysterious and dreadful certainty, "-- and on that glorious day, I will be equally honored."

King Randor abruptly turned Man-At-Arms around to face him and dug his old fingers as deeply into the bronze of Duncan's armor, as the metal would allow. Their right arms rushed out into the space between them and clasped together in a hearty exhibition of their friendship. "Duncan, it has been too long since this arm was raised in her country's service!"

"My friend and king, ..your place is here. I'm your arm, now!"

Randor smiled assuredly and walked back toward the palace, with Battle Cat in tow. "Go, man - save your daughter, ..and may the Master of the Universe guard you both!"

He-Man, carrying the Sword of Power before him, stepped toward the stone arch, beyond which, lay only shadows and the stench of death, ..and Man-At-Arms followed, bronzium mace in hand.

Silently and without warning, the gargantuan doorway that, only moments ago, had opened in the Royal Gardens of Eternos faded, leaving He-Man and Man-At-Arms in a dimly lit, stone-worked corridor, which they did not readily recognize as part of Grayskull. He-Man cautiously stepped out of the shadow of the arch, the Sword of Power gripped tightly in his right hand - the faint yellow of torches flickering in its silvery metal. "Could it be, Duncan - an artery of the castle we haven't seen?"

The old man's answer came too slowly and too cryptically to reassure him. "The Goddess once told me that Grayskull is a soldier ..fighting battles on many planes, all at once. Its myriad halls twist through countless dimensions, Adam - we could be anywhere."

"If Skeletor knows we're here, his agents will be out for blood!" grunted He-Man, sliding his korodite battleaxe, over one shoulder and into his free hand. "Best we be fitly armed."

"Aye." Agreed Man-At-Arms. On each of Duncan's shoulders, small, double-barreled cannons clicked forward over twin tracks and locked into place. "Armed to the hairs of our stones!  What say those Vulnarian hunting skills of yours about all of this? Any trace of my Teela?"

Before Duncan's eyes, He-Man's face and posture changed.

The nostrils flared. The icy blue of the jungle warrior's eyes narrowed barely to slits. Like a panther, he crouched. Shoulders the old man had seen turn rivers uphill swelled, and the mighty arms attached to them stretched out to know the secrets of the surrounding shadows. "Can't make any sense of what the air tells me. Something is moving toward us ..swiftly, ..stealthily, along the walls, ..kicking up little bits of mortar as it goes - too slow for a wind ..and too fast for a man! It's almost as though ..!"

The ancient stonework of the corridor came suddenly alive.

Man-At-Arms gasped again. His old, green eyes widened and stared blankly over He-Man's left shoulder. "Adam, ..behind you!"

He-Man turned barely in time to raise an arm in his own defense, when a pair of brown eyes opened in the stonework of the wall behind him. A face of solid, gray rock took shape there, .. and lips parted to speak. “You are too late, old man. You are both too late.”

"Where is Captain Teela, demon!" He-Man asked the monster. "Release her ..or I'll bring this ruin down on your head!"

"I am Ruin, He-Man," answered the stone-thing. "There is nothing left of the merry soldier you once knew, whom the captain adored so freely. He is Destruction's plaything now, ..as is beauteous Teela."

"I see that it is you, Ruinzo," He-Man admitted, lowering his blade. The Vulnarian warrior's other skills - senses honed to sharpness through the shadowy rites of his tribesmen - seized the least, but most distinct, of Sergeant Ruinzo's characteristics, and allowed He-Man to see beyond the horrific state in which Skeletor's magicks had left him. "How did you come ..to this?"

"Mere hours ago, I had only to look into Teela's eyes, with the promise of love we would make, and she followed me to this place, .." the disfigured warrior mused, "where we were ambushed by demons. When I would not yield my beloved to them, ..their master did this to me. Do you think beauteous Teela will follow me anywhere now, Lord Adam?"

Though Skeletor’s treachery had left the soldier in a piteous state, He-Man’s Vulnarian conditioning did not permit him to pity Sergeant Ruinzo. “There is nothing Duncan or myself can do to save you, Ruinzo, ..and you’re wrong. It’s not too late for the woman you love, ..if you tell me where Skeletor’s taken her! Now!"

"She is here.” Tears Ruinzo could no longer restrain rolled down his ashen cheeks. “She is ..his bride."

Then, mysteriously, the wretched being heaved one sorrowful breath, a half-groan that bespoke deep shame and regret, and melted into the rock of the wall behind him, until nothing of the sergeant remained.

"The sergeant acquitted himself to the end, as a warrior, ..and I do not doubt his love for my daughter," Duncan remarked, mournfully. "I'll see them both avenged!"

He-Man's brow furrowed, as a flickering emerald glow, at the end of the corridor - far more violent than any single torch could produce - drew his attention. "There is something else we must see first, my friend! Follow me!"

The two men ran the length of the rock-laden hall, the sting of heat and smoke filling their lungs, long before they reached the source of the flickering green light. From an empty, octagonal chamber, a woman's laughter rang in their ears.

"Teela's voice!" exclaimed He-Man. "She's here!"

Halting before the empty chamber, Man-At-Arms called to the familiar sound of his daughter's laughter. "Teela?"

It's granite walls were marked with runes and hieroglyphs carved in tongues older than Grayskull itself, ..and Duncan saw that the pillars, which supported the chamber, were similarly marked. The remains of seven rather imperious looking, stone-cut chairs were set against the walls to be found on either side of the chamber's arched doorway, which itself was well taller than two men standing one atop the other. Mounted on the walls between each chair, what looked to be simple, bronze lanterns, now green with age, gave forth a pale, jade glow.

The old man also saw that each of the seven chairs had been verily smashed to bits, ..except one. "That mystic portal we entered with such haste, back in Eternos ..did not conduct us to Grayskull at all, He-Man! This is where the Ancients assembled to destroy their enemies, ..the Hall of War, known in legend as Point Dread."

Only a modicum of concentration told He-Man the same. Though the runes were not written in his native tongue, merely touching the wall filled his mind with a thousand whispering, ancient voices. "My tribesmen knew Point Dread by another name - Areopaguay. It was said to be the rock upon which the gods must sit to bleed their outrage into the world. If their fury was righteous, a great, golden hawk would eat of it, take to the sky and vomit their outrage down upon their trangressors."

"Golden ..hawk?" echoed Duncan, inquisitively. "The Talon Fighter - which carries Point Dread back to Grayskull every twenty years!"

He-Man drew his hand back from the wall abruptly, as if the simple touching of it had threatened him. "Skeletor is using this cosmic outpost to attack Grayskull from the Beyond Realms, Man-At-Arms, ..but he is lost! The Goddess has blinded the Talon Fighter ..and holds Skeletor at bay, by stirring the cosmic winds against him!"

"He thinks to use my daughter's kinship with Mighty Teela to lower the Goddess's defenses ..and conquer Grayskull," concluded Man-At-Arms, woefully. "I'll tear him apart with my bare hands first, but we've got to find Teela before it's ..!"

Man-At-Arms felt his heavily armored body slammed against the corridor wall behind them! Before his Vulnarian ally could remove him from its path, a white-hot bolt of fire had struck the old Berzerker down. Though ink-dark blood trickled onto his chin, Duncan lay in a bronze and olive green heap before the sacred Hall of War, but stirred alive, dusted himself off and climbed cautiously back to his feet.

From an ornate, granite throne, the only one left intact, at the back of the bleak, octagonal chamber, a coarse, vulgar laugh echoed throughout the Hall of War. And in that throne, a black robed and hooded figure materialized from the empty air, his face in shadow ..all but the hideus, yellow teeth, which did appear to grin. "It is already too late! Point Dread will sink its fangs into Grayskull's ancient throat, as it does every twenty years, .. and drink deeply of the castle's mystic energies, but this time, with Teela in my power, ..it will feed them to me!"

Enraged, old Duncan pushed He-Man aside to face the Enemy of Man himself. "Let Teela go, Lord of the Wastes, ..and I may extend you the mercy of quick, clean death!"

"Mercy, old man?" Skeletor sneered. "Her mystic bond with the Goddess will give me Grayskull! It is you, who will beg for mercy, when the Talon Fighter carries my feral, new bride over its ramparts! You and all mankind!"

From behind the demonking, stepped a rigid, expressionless figure - female, beautiful and naked to the waist - her magnificent breasts and body painted with the ancient letters of a dead religion. Her eyes - soulless, white orbs, agleam with otherworldly purpose. With a hiss and a predatory leap over her father's shoulder, Captain Teela dug her nails into the rock-hewn walls of Point Dread and climbed swiftly onto the ceiling of the chamber, where she stood up on two legs, as easily as an insect takes to the belly of a beast. Gleaming in each of Captain Teela's hands, were the legendary golden Fangs of Dunamyr, enchanted weapons of the goddess, who gave her birth.

The unseen inner mechanisms of old Duncan's armor had begun the agonizing process of repairing internal injuries. Sealing severed arteries. Binding shattered bones. His suffering was unfathomable, but Man-At-Arms rushed forth to destroy Skeletor. "Damned demon! You'll not soil my daughter's hands with your benighted works ..or turn her into a creature like you!"

The Lord of the Wastes said nothing, but raised his Havoc Staff and, with merely the force of his will, smashed the old warrior into the rocky wall behind him, only to find Duncan rising again to attack. Again ..and again, he hurled Man-At-Arms backwards against the crude stonework of Point Dread, until the man could no longer stand.

Until nothing that resembled life stirred in him.

Point Dread, its every stone and mortared crevice, shook. The runes carved into its ancient walls glowed, as though a jade inferno blazed behind them!

He-Man was unprepared for the overwhelming force of the attack. A howl leapt from his throat, as white-green lightning snaked around He-Man's neck and limbs, tearing into his flesh. He-Man saw that Captain Teela stood again - a wild countenance upon her face. The Fangs of Dunamyr held at her sides. He saw that her eyes were alit by the same green flame that marked Point Dread's walls, and felt the ground fall free from under his heels. Even as the lightning seared He-Man's muscles, a black chill crept through him.

Teela's mind, and not Skeletor's unholy arts, was the well-spring of this awesome, supernatural power. This evil he felt swiftly overtaking him.

Calling through his sinews, the stamina of cursed, four-armed Procrustus and of Heuay, fire goddess of the Vine Jungles, ..the strength of Vulnar, god-king of the his dead tribesmen, and of Granamyr, lord of the dragons, He-Man resisted the power, which seized his limbs. It availed him nothing. Against his indomitable will, he felt his legs stretched and straightened. He felt his mighty arms made rigid, ..and his grip on the Sword of Power slacken.

"In my mind's eye, I see Grayskull defenseless - its halls, barren," spoke mad Teela hazily, as though some portion of her attention was concentrated elsewhere. "The armies of the Priests of Infinitias - Mer-Man, Tri-klops, Beastman and Trap-Jaw - move, as one, to lay waste Eternos. You have lost, Lord Adam. Eternia is lost."

He-Man did not answer. The Sword of Power did not budge from his hand. Lightning crackled around him, biting into his flesh, but a glare and a primal roar was all that he gave.

"Before my dread and loving lord, Skeletor," the crazed warrior-woman raved, "lay down your Sword of Ancients ..and swear eternal loyalty to his Grayskull! Swear your allegiance to this, ..the Temple of War!"

"Never-rrr!" groaned He-Man, through clenched teeth. "I'll never swear fealty to the King of Worms, ..or see you call him 'master'! I'll see Oblivion's insides first!"

"Then, I will delay you no longer," replied mad Teela blankly.

Light and sound erupted beneath He-Man and, struggling against its hold, he descended into it. It yawned wide and swallowed entirely the champion of Grayskull, taking the Sword of Power with it. A blinding, white radiance flashed from within.

The gaping hell-mouth faded, thin as pipe's smoke.

And He-Man was gone.

The Lord of Destruction eased himself down onto the unyielding granite of his throne. Triumphant. "At last, ..all Eternia is mine."

From the Dark Hemisphere, on orders from their unholy master, Skeletor, the Priests of Infinitias moved quickly toward Eternos to lay waste the kingdom of Randor. Twenty nine years ago, united by their lust for power in the Shadow Lands, they unleashed a monster from the human brain's most primitive regions ..and incarnated him within the mortal flesh of an ancient Eternian king, ..Keldor the Great. To reward their service to him, the demon they awakened raised these madmen to great power in the Dark Hemisphere and marked them as his high priests.

From the treacherous Gore Jungle, Beast Man, given the strength of ten of his kind by his benighted master, led the savage man-monsters of the bush to the golden plains and moors of Frenornia.

The Mer-Man's armies, bloodthirsty, amphibious hordes from the undersea realm of Moratain, snaked along the Harmonic Coasts, destroying city after city, casting their victims into the hungry ocean.

From the subterranean kingdom of Sybronn, the man-machine warlord Trap-Jaw's cyborg forces marched in lifeless throngs through the mountains of Elshimere, burning a village a day, as they went.

The most ruthless of Skeletor's priests was Prince Tri-Klops of Infinitias, at the center of whose kingdom, Snake Mountain stood imperious over its surrounding wastelands. Under the three, jeweled eyes of their prince's Hyperius Helmet, the Infinitians stormed the forests of Graylot.

As if possessed of a single will, the servants of the Lord of Destruction attacked Eternia and found His Majesty, King Randor, repaired to his warrior ways, armed to the teeth and pitched into battle against them. Rallying to war, the armies of his neighbors - the mountainous realms of Clampes and of Myzargard, the forest kingdom of Lorinth, the Golden Isles and the nearby Rio Republic - Randor drove back the Shadow Land forces, but endured many casualties amidst his ranks ..of body and spirit.

All the while, the architect of this chaos, the Enemy of Man, sat motionless, as his bride danced through the Hall of War.

Around the circular chamber, Captain Teela danced, bare-breasted and chanting praises to the living winds of Oblivion, into whose power she had just committed her master's fiercest enemy. The spirits of this realm could not be dealt with carelessly. To bring discord to them could warp the very scape of reality or bring forth from the shadows of time an abomination, whose fury and ambition dwarfed even Dread Skeletor's. Delivering He-Man into their grip had left a great abscess in the physical world, and now, under Skeletor's watchful eye, she labored to fill that void with sound and fury. Her half-naked body, painted with mystic glyphs, arched and swayed with bizarre, seductive movements, while the Fangs of Dunamyr rolled in her hands, like charmed snakes.

Man-At-Arms, barely alive and fading in and out of consciousness, could not ascertain whether Teela's wailing was real or part of his delirium, but he recognized it to be called out in a tongue as old as Point Dread itself. He labored, as he lay in a heap at the Hall's entrance, to focus what remained of his will on the ancient, rocky floor beneath him, intending to force his tortured body up from the stones there and back into battle. The ritual yells of his mad daughter echoed in his ears and, just under them, another sound, much like that of his own name, sped Man-At-Arms toward insanity.


It called to him again - this time, striking his psyche like thunder against an oak! With it, golden light filled the old man's half-closed eyes, so bright that he winced before it, and a familiar pair of piercing, blue eyes peered into his own.

"Adam?" Duncan asked, looking into the face of a man he thought dead. Without shame, he cried joyously to see his friend, He-Man of the Vines, alive.

"Mighty Teela endures, Duncan," the apparition sighed. "Grayskull .. still stands ..."

"Tis the Holy Beyonder's will, ..son," Duncan gasped. "But what of Eternos? Randor? The Queen?"

"Teela ..is of the runes," He-Man whispered, as if he had not heard Duncan's question. "Find ..the runes .."

"Runes?" Duncan repeated, feeling his warrior's vigor return to him. "Lead on, friend! Show Duncan these runes! What have they to do with Teela?"

"Duncan, ..I leave you ..my eyes."

"No, Adam!" Duncan called to him, "Hold on to me! Let me help you!"

"Friend Duncan, ..a truer brother, I've never known," the apparition said. "I .. leave you ..my ey-yyyeeesss ..."

With that, the lost warrior faded away as smoke.

Once again, the golden-haired boy he had watched become a man was gone, and no grimmer time had Man-At-Arms known since the Horde Wars. When the mists faded, Duncan could see that, strangely, one line of the ancient runes lining Point Dread's walls seemed to change in shape. Another followed, and Duncan found, though it seemed impossible, that he could read the runes.

Zo jonjua e'renu shonda, one of the sets read. "The goddess ..grows stronger."

"A spell?" the old man thought.

But what good be a spell without a shaman to chant it?

And the Warrior Ancients, who built Point Dread, did not deal in spells and witchery, but mastered what might be called metatechnology or metaphysics. Man-At-Arms had learned as much from his travels abroad, as a cadet in the Berserker Legion, and from years of study. He knew that there were very mysterious, but finite, rules that permitted the Ancients to create the wonders they did in days long past, one of which was Point Dread and its flying sentinel, the Talon Fighter. If these runes were possessed of any power, it was a power set in motion eons ago that had the miraculous ability to renew itself ..or knew where to seek out the means for renewal.

"It would explain the need to join with Grayskull every twenty years," Duncan thought. Surely, some sentient force or intelligence directed the Talon Fighter back to Grayskull and now channeled Point Dread's power into his daughter's body. Therefore, the runes might verily be commands.

Commands, in the form of equations.

Living algorithms.

Through his haze, Duncan studied the techno-runes, scanning them with a laser on his helmet, when a crack sounded behind him. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Teela had crushed one of his shoulder-guards, like paper.

"Have my bride's chants roused you from death's beach, Man-At-Arms?" The Lord of the Wastes hissed, from his granite throne. "Or have the power of the runes delivered you back to the Rock of War .. to serve me?!"

Teela pushed her fingers into the bronzium armor and the orange metal crumpled beneath her grip. Effortlessly, she threw Man-At-Arms toward the center of the rocky chamber, where he tumbled onto his knees! "What do the runes tell you, father? To kneel before Grayskull's true goddess, mayhaps - to surrender?"

"Surrender is not our way, ..daughter," Man-At-Arms answered. "We are the last of the Berserkers - the last of the Fighters! Surrender, ..even in the face of death, is a coward's enterprise!"

"As death, in the face of impending defeat, is the fighter's," Teela hissed. "Damn your Berserker wisdom, old man! Take what honor you will from the edges of my blades, ..but delay our final embrace no longer!"

"Only the damned rush into battle," Duncan replied, forcing himself to stand once more. "The victor's pace is slower - surer - Strength is his blade! Patience, his mount!"

"But the damned rushes in on a pale, bloodthirsty horse, old man, ..and its name is Wrath!" Teela paused, twirling her twin weapons into a defensive position. She was eight years old, when Duncan showed her how to master the stance. Now, she raised her Dunamyr blades just as he had taught her. "It is time we embraced, father! What is my inheritance?"

"I leave you faith, my Teela," Duncan smiled assuringly, "that I will avenge you with my last bloody breath!"

Three consecutive rounds of four missiles each cut along Point Dread's walls, destroying the runes carved therein, ..as Skeletor looked on.

Man-At-Arms' daughter fell to her knees. The twin Fangs of Dunamyr dropped from her hands, and Teela collapsed, like a puppet cut free of its strings. With the splintering apart of each rune string, Captain Teela's body flinched and convulsed - her mind flooding with memory!

Duncan rushed to kneel at her side, cradling her trembling form in his arms. Having targeted the line of runes, whose purpose He-Man's shade had revealed him, Duncan fired the demiphoton warheads from his shoulder-launchers, decimating twelve of the rune-strings, which bound poor Teela to Point Dread.

"Master of the Universe," Man-At-Arms cried, looking into his daughter's fluttering eyes, "what have I done?!"

"It would seem your Universal Master has abandoned you, old wretch," Skeletor stood up from his granite throne. ""Now, 'tis just you and me."

"Aye, it is," Duncan hissed, cradling his unconscious daughter. "At the center of all the suffering in the world - of all that is perverse and discordant - it is always you! Why? Why?!"

"Can the drought know why it lays waste your harvests?" A laugh made of rotting, dead things and nightmares scraped the ancient stone-laden ceiling of the chamber. "Can the storm know why it scatters the blackened leaves of a dead forest, but leaves the village within, ..teeming with finite, meaningless, little lives unscathed? Can the father know why he betrays his daughter - for god? For king?"

"For Eternia, devil ..and for man!" Man-At-Arms grunted, returning to his feet, cautiously - his bronzium mace in hand. "In her spirit, Teela knows that I do what I must do .. for Eternia. She will endure, ..as will her mother."

"Mother?!" Mocked Skeletor. "The mother with whom you conspire to destroy her?!"

"I have no conspirator, but science!" Duncan answered. "You used the living technology of this cursed place to create Teela - to give her solid form and shape! As Point Dread thrives, so must she - what hurts this place, will hurt her, ..but she'll endure!"

"She will endure, old fool, .. to rule at my side! But, you will not live to see it!" Skeletor raised his ram-headed staff, but before the fiend could strike, Man-At-Arms seized the ebon-draped corpse that was his body and plunged a curved, silver dagger into his lifeless chest.

Pinning the demon under him, Duncan thrashed his enemy such that the benighted, soulless thing, twisting beneath those robes, cried out like a wounded animal in the jaws of its predator! Violet waves of annihilation pulsed from the assailed form of the dark lord, burning Duncan's flesh! He pressed his assault upon the Enemy of Man with supernatural determination, mindless of the hellspawned energies directed against him ..and the violent pounding of his old, exhausted heart.

"You'll find hell at my hand, demon," Man-At-Arms spat, as Skeletor's necromantic magics penetrated his internal organs, "before you make Teela your queen!"

Though Skeletor was a shadowed thing born of ancient man's fears, in a time, when Eternia was new, his Mask of Living Death bound him to the flesh and bone with which he worked in the world of men. Duncan now felt that ancient shell break under the savage blows of his bronzium mace! He heard the decaying lungs of his victim sputter ..and saw the demonking's eyes blaze with violet light. "You ..mortal ..wretch! She is already mi-iinnne!"

Man-At-Arms saw the stonework devastated by his demiphoton missiles ignite in violet flame ..and inexplicably repair itself. The techno-runes there were whole once more, awaiting their ancient power to be spoken into motion.

"Zo jonjua e'renu shonda," whispered the Lord of the Wastes, and Captain Teela's green eyes fluttered open. She stood, and the bloodied Fangs of Dunamyr flew back into her hands.

"Hell take you, demon!" Duncan hammered his mace against Skeletor's gauntleted forearms, pressing his dagger deeper into the demon's chest. "Die!! Die ..and leave my daughter be!"

"Point Dread's power flows into the warrior-woman, ..as light through glass," growled Skeletor, between spastic breaths. Again, the crimson glow of the demon's eyes turned to violet, and Man-At-Arms found himself picked up, as if by a cyclone's force, and slammed against the stone-laden insides of Point Dread. "And once more, she is mine to command!"

Suspended far above the stony floor, the old warrior felt the toll taken on his bronzium-armored body. A haggard breath left him and blood trickled from his lips. "Resist him, ..Teela. He ..is the enemy ..of us all."

For a brief time, there was silence in the Hall of War.

Captain Teela's abrupt separation from the techno-runes had restored something of her senses and memory. She suddenly found herself torn between her mortal life and the power pulsing inside her. "Dread and loving master, ..what is thy will?"

"Call forth our enemies, the Warrior Ancients!" Skeletor answered, returning to his stolen throne. "The Goddess is their commander in all things - they cannot refuse her! Call them - lure them here with her voice .. and DESTROY THEM!"

Teela turned to the Lord of Demons - her eyes wide and clear, as if awoken from her madness. "Kill the gods?"

"No, ..Teela," her father gasped from where he was suspended on the ceiling. "Warrior Ancients ... last hope ..for man. Don't ..."

Skeletor swept his Havoc Staff upwards, and Man-At-Arms screamed in torment, as lightning tore through the aging soldier's armor and the flesh beneath. When only groans of agony could be heard from his valiant victim, the Lord of Destruction leaned forward from his granite throne. "With He-Man gone, they are all that stand between you and your destiny, Great Teela! You are a goddess! Any, who stand against you, .. even he who would call himself your father, must face the absolute annihilation! Call forth the Ancients now, ..and Grayskull's secrets will be ours!"

Teela, naked to the waist and marked with the glyphs of the war gods, outstretched her arms and the floor beneath her was pushed away from her feet. As if upon invisible wings, she hovered over the center of the rocky chamber, where six bright flames, each as high as a small tree, burst from the floor. "Agatave bijonjumarza das Grayskull!"

Assemble, warrior gods of Grayskull.

"Lo sumonjava von Areopaguay!"

I call thee to the Rock of War.

And assemble, they did.

Bold, iron-thewed Vulnar, ..falcon-headed Zoar, ..dragon-winged Giro, ..Xango the Thundermaker, ..Koron the Armored Titan, ..and fiery, sword-wielding Heuay! For each, a great flame blazed in the Hall of War, signifying their presence.

His insides battered, and near death, Man-At-Arms watched from above as all, but one, of the flames extinguished themselves. The remaining one blazed brighter than all the rest, as if it had drawn the fiery fury of the others into its radiance, ..and its shape came to resemble that of a woman.

An apparition of bright, emerald flame.

The ghost, painted in pale, green light, stood at the center of the rocky chamber.

Stretching its arms out from its body, as if to grasp something the air refused to give it. Its eerie green glow grew brighter with intensity, as a thin cord of electricity, no thicker than a common tree branch, rippled through the empty space between its hands. White-hot, it glowed, until the current of energy became solid gold, ..a staff, shaped as a hooded, desert cobra.

Duncan, pinned against the chamber's ceiling, where the unleashed power of his daughter's will had suspended him, drew in a beleaguered breath, as the rod was pointed at him. He felt the air around him stir ..into a breeze - then, whipped into a tempest. He raised his arm before his face. The ferocity of these winds forced the old man's eyes half-shut, and he felt himself drifting on them, until the solid stonework of the floor was firmly underfoot.

Near senseless, Duncan slumped to the floor.

Captain Teela, even in the throws of her madness, drew back from the faceless shade, crossed the Fangs of Dunamyr before her naked chest and assumed a defensive position against it. The phantom stepped toward her - its arm outstretched in a welcoming gesture - but Captain Teela attacked it with a hail of savage sword blows, ..all of which her opponent deflected with the golden staff, which rippled in its hands as if formed of lightning! The Captain pressed her attack forward with a speed beyond human capabilities, but the faceless maiden, undaunted, swept the weapons from her hands with a single stroke of the staff ..and sent the mad captain to the ground!

The phantom woman, hovering over her victim, raised its staff high above its head. The spear-like butt of her weapon, over Teela's chest ..

"No," Duncan called to the shade, struggling forward over the stonework of the floor. A pitiful shell of the warrior to whom Eternia's defense had been entrusted. "Don't ..kill ..her. Pleassse. Don't ..kill my daughter."

It thrust its arms downward, hurling the weapon at mad Teela's heart.

And vanished.

Her serpentine weapon twisted itself around Captain Teela. She struggled to free herself, but the golden metal of her enemy's staff twisted itself around the young warrior's arms and over every supple curve of her nudity, ..forming the divinely tempered armor of a warrior goddess! Unsteadily, Captain Teela struggled to stand upright, her legs trembling under the sheer weight of the armaments, and turned her attention to the vile king of the Shadow Lands.


Though Man-At-Arms' daughter stood before him, Skeletor could not deny what his hellborn senses told him.

The voice gave more than sound. Earthquakes, hammer-blows and atomic explosions rang within - forces, which might level cities in their wake!  And something stranger still, akin to lightning, flashed beyond the green of the lovely Captain's eyes, ..which were no longer her eyes, but windows, behind which raged fierce apocalyptic power.

Skeletor knew, without doubt, that he was beholding his ancient foe, ..the inviolate warrior-goddess Teela herself! The demon-king of Snake Mountain took up his hellspawned Havoc Staff and directed its blood-colored energies at the goddess's armored heart, ..only to have her dispel them with a wave of her mighty staff. "This cannot be! Where are the Warrior Ancients?!"

"Here stand the Ancients as one, in this Rod of Order, ..and we will never allow you to breach this vault!" Mighty Teela extended her weapon, and the walls of Point Dread shook. Several cracks formed in its very stonework, as though the ancient fort would rumble apart.

"Grayskull will be mine!" screamed the Lord of the Wastes, in defiance. "Like me, it is a thing sprung from the mind and soul of men, ..and its halls stretch through every limb of reality! In seconds, Point Dread will call forth from it all the power mankind has ever dreamed of ..and give it to me."

"Then, let man dream of vengeance." Teela gestured toward Skeletor again, and from the granite of the throne behind him, a stone spike burst forth through his chest. "Warrior, in the name of all mortalkind, ..strike down the Enemy of Man!"

The demon screamed in agony.

Tearing at his ebon robes. Unable to control the violet, hell-born fires of his own magic, as they engulfed him. Unable to see the head, shoulders and torso taking shape from the stony frame of his throne, ..or the mighty arms that drove the spike deeper still, ripping his soulless body apart from the inside, as he danced frantically on its end.

A grotesque, burning, shrieking puppet.

His back against the chamber wall, Man-At-Arms forced his eyes to focus. Though, he recognized a familiar face, he no longer trusted his senses. "Ruinzo? Is - is it ..you?"

For a brief moment, the proud sergeant, whom Skeletor had turned to solid rock, beheld his Teela once more. For mere seconds, as he stood over the Enemy of Man, he felt the heat of war upon his stone face, as he had in life. The battle hymns of his homeland echoed in his granite chest. Valor and passion pumped through his veins again, and Ruinzo felt himself a man. Then, just as suddenly, the doomed Cirsalian faded back into the flat, dark granite of the chair's surface, ..until only his whisper remained ..

"Remember me, beloved ..."

The wounded Lord of Destruction slumped forward from his throne and fell to the floor. On his knees, he pushed himself up on one gauntleted arm and raised the Havoc Staff against his celestial enemy. "Goddess of nothing, ..I am your master! Did you forget that I called forth your flesh from these very rocks?! Though I descend into Oblivion, I take with me that which I gave you, twenty years ago, ..your mortal LIFE!"

From the rock of the floor, stone-skinned warriors rose up.

As if in a great, ebon tide, they rushed forth to seize the Goddess. In their hands, were weapons of every conceivable size and purpose, ..but Mighty Teela strode over them, as though they were nothing - reducing their multitude to rubble under her boot heels and the swinging of her staff! Even as the dread lord's power raised fifty more from their ruins, the Holy Warrior hurled her golden weapon against them. Her teeth bared in righteous outrage, she fought, breaking their rocky backs and skulls in her wake!

Not in twenty years, had Duncan seen the Goddess so hot with wrath. He had seen more hard fighting than any man had a right to remember, but even he shuddered at what played before his old eyes.

"I am whole once more, demon!" Mighty Teela roared, holding the Rod of Order before her armored bosom. "I have reclaimed the part of me you stole twenty years ago ..and Grayskull is once more beyond your reach! Get thee back to the Land of Shadows!"

A blinding, golden light emanated from where the Goddess stood, and when its work was finished, nothing remained of Lord Skeletor or his benighted minions.

Before Castle Grayskull, at the edge of the Stygian Mote from which its blackened, moss-laced ramparts jut into the world of men, Man-At-Arms, miraculously restored to good health, cradled the body of his daughter.

Duncan had been exactly her age, when he learned the truth about Grayskull – that, until their massacre at the hands of an ancient warrior-queen, alien intellects had labored within, conducting horrific experiments on primitive Eternians ..to unlock the secrets of the universe. Over the centuries, the castle's history had been perverted into the myth of a golden age, presided over by wise and benevolent elders, and though Duncan knew the ugly truth about Grayskull, it was that foolish myth from which he and all mankind drew strength in times of darkness. In silence, weeping over his daughter’s weary face, the old man prayed to the Ancients.

Through the mists encircling the mote, which fanned out over the surrounding moors of Graylot, he had found Teela lying deathly still, and for the moment before taking her into his arms again, Duncan had feared the worst. He now brushed the auburn hair from her tired face ..and, having used his dagger to cut the sleeves from his uniform, gently pulled the olive green fabric over her bare breasts, restoring his daughter's modesty. With his arms around her, as he tied the ends of the rags together behind Captain Teela's back, he saw the color of life return to her face. "Daughter, ..are you well?"

The Captain's eyes opened suddenly. She pushed Man-At-Arms backwards and, steadying herself on one knee, brought her sword between them. "You're not my father, changeling! My father is back at Eternos, resting in the Royal Guardhouse! Where is Sergeant Ruinzo?”

Man-At-Arms saw that his daughter's attention was now diverted to something over his armored shoulder. The old man turned to look, already knowing what he would find. His spirit soared to see He-Man alive, but he could not bear to tell Teela that fate had taken the handsome Cirsalian from her again, so soon after she had nearly lost him at Madrigor. After she had taken him into her own house and nursed him back to health. "Teela, ..there was a battle ..at Point Dread. Sergeant Ruinzo made us all proud. He sacrificed his humanity ..to save you."

"No-oo ..," The captain protested again, more faintly, as if the bitter realization of things had been awakened in her. "This isn’t real! We're still inside the small fort we found near the sea, ..where you stoneless cowards ambushed us! Where's Sergeant Ruinzo, demon - tell me or die!"

Captain Teela looked at Duncan. Then, at He-Man. She studied their disguises for some details their master might have neglected to replicate. There were none. A look passed between them she'd seen more times than she could count, when the two men were holding some secret between them. "Oh gods, no! Not again!"

Man-At-Arms swatted the sword from Captain Teela's hand and seized his daughter's arm. Paternal anger ablaze in his grey eyes. "He's gone from us, Teela! Honor the man with vengeance! Save your pity for the enemy skulls you split in his name, ..but do not shrink from this and suffer the world to think Ruinzo loved a coward! Remember him - always! You owe him that much."

As if to tear his armor from him, the warrior dug her fingers into her father's bronzium-burdened shoulders ..and buried her face in his chest. Rocked in his arms, Teela the Duncan wept.

He-Man looked away.

Though he wielded the Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe - though he was He-Man and Prince of all Eternia - in this benighted moment, the sum of these things were of no import, and Lord Adam could not bear the weight of Teela's eyes upon him, as she collapsed into her father's arms.

He was not valiant, beautiful Ruinzo of Cirsaly. Ruinzo was gone.

When his daughter was all done with tears, Duncan assured her that, in Eternia's darkest hour, as Skeletor stood a hair's girth off Grayskull's ramparts - Ruinzo took his vengeance upon the demonking, before the Goddess sent him back to the Shadow Lands. And that, though the Dread Lord's magicks had left him a monster, the brave sergeant had died a man. He would also tell her of her kinship with the Holy Warrior, Mighty Teela, and of their mysterious, shared connection to Point Dread.

"Blade of My Brothers," cried He-Man, behind them, ..pointing to the clouds. "Look there, friends! On Grayskull's ramparts!"

Man-At-Arms and his daughter raised their eyes skyward, where a foreboding shape cast its shadow over the castle's stone-laden, left turret. Blackened with cosmic ash, the Talon Fighter rested, once more, upon Point Dread.

"No," Duncan shook his head with disbelief, holding his daughter close to him. "I saw the Goddess destroy it ..and cast Skeletor back into the Shadow Lands! I-I was there!"

"And the Talon Fighter's soul-energies, .." He-Man recalled, "- the Hawk Spirit of my dead tribesmen, hurled me back into the world of men, taking my place beyond! Oblivion cannot be trifled with, ..even by the gods."

"What does this mean, Adam?" Teela rushed over to He-Man and brought him before her face. Frantic hope drowning in her green eyes. "Does my Ruinzo live? For Eldor's sake, you must tell me!"

"I don't know, Teela," answered He-Man, grimly. "As Grayskull is eternal, so must be Point Dread ..and brave Ruinzo with it, mayhaps."

"He lives on ..in the stones of the Hall of War," answered the rolling fog, all around them. "I have placed it where Skeletor and his priests can abuse its power no more, ..atop Castle Grayskull. Though the hall's vibrations once threatened to corrupt the gods, battle has renewed our strength. Our vigilance. We will endure."

"Goddess?" called Teela, turning to the fog. "Mother?"

"You do not grieve alone, Teela." The warrior goddess looked to stand some three or four heads taller than the tallest man the Captain had ever seen, as she emerged from the fog. "During your time upon Point Dread, war came to Eternia. The collective will of Eternia's defenders flagged under the onslaught of the Shadow Land's legions, but the battle was won. In the fray, in combat with Prince Tri-Klops of Infinitias, a brave, young warrior found his honor ..and lost his life."

Teela saw that she carried what seemed to be the pale, green statue of a sleeping youth, barely a man. Of the black, rhino-hide pteryges about his hips, only tatters remained. "Goddess, ..I do not understand."

"This is our brother, Teela the Duncan," the Goddess spoke, her eyes cast down upon Tri-Klops’s victim. “The Cosmic Eye on the Infinitian’s Hyperius helmet has left him near death. Good Eternos once said he would give the heart in his chest to know his sister was safe. Now, I have returned the favor, ..and a clone of your human heart, my heart, beats in Eternos's immortal chest."

"I saw him fall in battle, Mighty Teela!" He-Man rushed forward to unburden Mighty Teela's arms, and Man-At-Arms followed. "From Oblivion, I saw this brave, young titan, having lost his divine powers, defending Eternos as a man! Will he live?"

"Changed forevermore by the secrets of Point Dread, youthful Eternos will live," the Goddess answered. "He is much weakened, and reclaiming his godhood will take time. Give him to Teela, He-Man, ..the great warrior, who has entrusted him with her heart."

As her father looked on, Teela, with tears in her eyes, lifted the unconscious gray-green form of Lord Eternos from the big Vulnarian’s arms ..and was surprised at how light he was in her arms. "He honors that heart, already, with his courage, Mighty Teela, ..but, what of you and I? This has been a great victory, but what is to become of our strange kinship?"

"To be whole again was glorious," the Goddess sighed, as her radiance faded into the fog, "—but, your life is, once more, your own, Teela the Duncan, ..and I will not deprive you of it! Go now, ..and good journey ..."

In an attak-trak abandoned in the fighting at Graylot, the three warriors sped through the Evergreens back to Eternos. The War of Silence, as the royal historians would call it, left a field of dead bodies and burned vehicles throughout the forests and countryside. He-Man and Duncan laughed, and though the god slept soundly, Teela held youthful Eternos’s head to her armored bosom, as if to shield him from the gruesome destruction scattered over the landscape that called him, ‘brother’.

And mayhap, because some small part of her now lived within him.

Behind them, in the mists encircling Castle Grayskull, rested a mystic artifact that appeared on the craggy face of Eternia for a short time every twenty years. When last it appeared, the Enemy of Man tapped its magical energies, ..then lured a goddess into what he thought would be the web of her doom.

His plan had been simple.

He would use his enemy's celestial power to create a child from her body and bind this duplicate of the goddess to his own diabolical will. He would raise this infant girl, as much an abomination as he, to womanhood - then, take her as his bride. Together, they would wrest Castle Grayskull from the hands of the Ancients ..and conquer mankind!

But, then, that meddler Man-At-Arms interfered.

And, with a young warrior-king at his side, ..the fool got lucky. After driving off the enemy's knights, he freed the mighty goddess and, before her unbound wrath, the Lord of Destruction was forced to abandon his plans.

And the little girl with them.

The mirthful uncertainty of how she felt in his arms, when first he'd held his precious Teela, haunted Duncan, still.

And for many, many miles, as they silently passed the wasted machines of Infinitias's armies, under the darkly beautiful gold of the setting Eternian sun and the merciful eye of the Master of the Universe, ..the old fool's smile endured.

Ablaze with a father's brazen and shamelessly mortal pride.


This "Tale of Teela" is dedicated to Robert E. Howard. Remember him.


The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces

By T. F. Cooper (Based On A Story by Gary Cohn)

Under the warmth of two golden moons, the pervasive gloom of Eternia's War of Silence had passed.

In the many hamlets surrounding the Royal Palace at Eternos, nobility and common folk alike - every merry child, thrill-starved noblewoman and weary soldier - celebrated in grand, time-honored fashion with a magnificent feast to honor their kingdom's greatest heroes. A young actor known throughout the Light Hemisphere as 'The Amazing Man-E-Faces' had been called to perform for the King and Queen, and all at court joyously awaited his coming.

Upon arriving in Eternos, He-Man of Vines found himself once more surrounded by the familiar comforts and temptations of life in cities. A small, giggling sea of Man-E-Face's admirers rushed upon him, as he traveled the halls of the Royal Palace, and swept him away in a sea of perfume and ribbons. Every one of them a highborn gentlewoman of King Randor's court ..of every hue and costume known to man and each one, beautiful in her own way. When the throng of laughing women had passed, He-Man called to a pair of blue eyes that opened along the castle wall. So small was their small owner ..and resembling the gray stonework behind him ..that even He-Man's jungle-trained senses could not ascertain his presence. "Brother Tomas?"

Tom-Stone, as Randor's courtiers had taken to calling the young cleric, stepped forward from the limestone. Though the War of Silence had left him an orphan ..and imprisoned forever in a body of charcoal-gray rock, Brother Tomas's service to the king had won him an honored place in Randor's court and a small, but loyal, circle of friends. The most steadfast of them was a large, golden-haired heathen, who made his home on a mountain in the wild Vine Jungles. "You're late, Lord Adam. Again."

"And in a few years, you will understand why," the big, blond Vulnarian sneered devilishly. "Have you done as I asked?"

"Since his arrival in Eternos, I have shadowed Man-E-Faces' every movement," answered Tomas. He-Man, he recalled, before leaving the Royal City for the Heuay's Mountain, had told him almost nothing of why he'd wanted Man-E-Faces followed - only that he would know it, if he saw it. And, if he saw it, ..to run like hell. "No threat to the Crown is apparent, but my instincts tell me that Menifakles of Helos is more than just another circus changeling. There is more to his transformations than illusion, ..isn't there, Lord Adam?"

Many of the secrets that the gods had entrusted to He-Man's Vulnarian tribesmen had died with them, and those his king had shared with him were too terrible or magnificent to share with anyone else. Of them, he knew Menifakles's secret to be the most dangerous. "He is descended from an ancient, starborn race of warriors -- the last of his kind -- and when his alien side is awakened, he is ..not himself. Keep to the shadows, Tomas. Watch Menifakles closely, ..but from a distance. Be careful ..and warn me of even the least change in him."

"There is a face in Menifakles's keeping that we don't want to see -- isn't there?" asked Tom-Stone with trepidation, half-submerged in the stonework of the corridor. "You know something."

"What I know of that dread face could rip Eternia into three hemispheres," He-Man answered with grim certainty, the length of the corridor at his back. "Of it, I can say nothing, Brother Tomas, ..as to do so would forfeit the trust of the Ancients I serve. Forgive me."

"Forgive you, Lord Adam?!" Scantily clad in her golden armor and as imperious as ever, the tall, auburn-tressed Captain of the Guard marched at him from the hall's arched entrance. "You know how pleased I was, when King Randor bade this Man-E-Faces entertain us! Where in Shokoti's Bush have you been?! You were to escort me to the Great Hall nigh half an hour ago!"

Playfully, He-Man pulled Captain Teela to him - closer to him than she had been to any man, since the death of her lover, Sergeant Roberto Ruinzo. Aroused by the wild musk of her - the heat of Teela's laughter upon his skin, He-Man brushed his lips against hers and felt her need dashing hurricane-like upon his face. "Methinks I might please the beauteous captain all the more. Here. Now, ..as once I did in simpler times. Young Tom is gone. We are all alone..."

The gargantuan, wooden doors of the Great Hall swung open, as a screaming mob of terrified faces flooded the corridor, ..and Captain Teela, pushing her way through the horde, laughed heartily. "Alone, Vulnarian? Not anymore! To arms!"

The heat of loveplay behind them and armed with broadswords, He-Man and the Captain of the Royal Guard forced their way into the Great Hall. What played before their eyes sent both warriors to their weapons. A burst of violet energy flashed from the center of the hall, and all near drew back from it. It burned in mid-air for many seconds, crackling with a strange electricity, then took a familiar, but dreaded shape. He-Man, Captain Teela and her brave Royal Guardsmen surrounded the intruding party, ..and one in their company dared far more.

A young, robust sergeant, who complained often of being too long removed from the trials of combat, launched himself at the hooded figure, hurtling over the heads of His Majesty's assembled guardsmen, and even of his captain. Sword hotly in hand and mouth stretched in the battle-cry of his ancestors, he took the ground before the Enemy of Man too quickly to know that all below his ribs had been cut through in a blinding burst of hell-spawned light. Struck dumb with horror, two more guardsmen, the sergeant's loyal friends, had pitched their blades for the demonking's chest, when they too were hacked through with Skeletor's fiery black blade.

Swords drawn and flanking the King and Queen were their Man-At-Arms and his friend, He-Man of the Vulnarians, while the most highborn of Randor's company, those fearing for their lives more than how posterity would treat them, quit the hall in a desperate, shrieking mass of upraised hands, bulging eyes and gaping mouths.

"Retreat!" Captain Teela commanded the guardsmen, halting the rush into the demon's path. "Subsergeant Dagar, get Their Majesties to safety! The rest of you, fall back! My father, Lord Adam and myself are more than a match for this villain!"

King Randor, still fit from his warrior times twenty years ago, drew his broadsword ..and stepped out from the protection of his champions. "Though it cost me the lives of my beloved children, I did not hide from the Evil Horde, ..and I'll not hide now from the likes of you, Lord of the Wastes."

"You wound me, old foe," answered the Lord of the Wastes with feigned hurt, backing away from the monarch with his Havoc Staff before him. "That I, ruler of half of the world, was not invited to share in your great feast injures me beyond words, ..but I do not join your party empty-handed. I've brought a present, ..a surprise for Menifakles."

To the amazement of all present, the darkly handsome actor Menifakles leaped from his stage and swiftly positioned himself in front of the stoic Queen Marlena, shielding her body with his own. In the ensuing chaos, the shape-shifter had armed himself with the weapon of a fallen soldier and now aimed it at the Lord of Destruction. "Foul demon! I gave more than my life for a King of Eternia once -- long ago. If I must do so again today, so be it!"

"Take care, good Menifakles!" Teela warned over her armored shoulder. "Your courage is honorable, but Skeletor has already slain three of the Guard! Stand down!"

"Nay, warrior-woman -- I will not!" refused Menifakles. His outstretched arms tense with rage. "Once, I wandered the world lost, near death and persecuted by mankind, ..when this thing bade me drink from his cup. I had thought it a kindness. He has since haunted me from continent to continent, calling me from sleep to do his benighted work, ..but no more! No more waking with a stranger's blood on my hands!"

The Last Son of Vulnar came forward, the Sword of the Ancients gripped tightly in an arm thickly cabled with muscles. All yielded the ground before him, and Skeletor moved ever so slightly back. "Fiend of Infinitias, ..the War of Silence is over! You dare show your face here, when the dust has not yet settled on our warriors' graves?! You've dared too much!"

As He-Man lunged forward slashing at the skull-faced shadow looming before him, Skeletor spun his ebon blade into the fray, finding his every move matched by his opponent's. "Come ahead, then, Heuay Man, ..and I will dare far more."

Evading He-Man's assault, the Lord of the Wastes launched his ebon-clad form high over his enemy's golden head. From a flutter of black robes, the demonking drew his flaming Chaos Sword and spun it twice downwards, narrowly missing He-Man's heart and throat, before returning to the ground. There, Skeletor saw muscles capable of smashing boulders to dust swing the silvery Sword of Power forward, and was himself driven back. Not since ancient times had he been assailed with like fury. Pitched backward over the black marble tiles as He-Man advanced, he sprung back to his booted heels, Havoc Staff in hand.

He-Man turned to find the demonking in the air, his dark robes twisting over him - the black, flaming Sword of Chaos pitched for his heart. As Skeletor descended upon him, malignant, red sparks burning where eyes should have been, the Vulnarian felt his mighty arms nearly ripped from their sockets with the strain of parrying a lethal hurricane of sword blows. Though he was strong and fast - though he wielded the hoary Sword of Ancients - even He-Man found himself awe-struck at the ferocity of his otherworldly enemy's attack. Before the Snake Mountain King's heels rejoined the floor, already were his fiery blade and staff in flight against him.

The Lord of the Wastes struck his Havoc Staff against the black marble tiles of the floor and, for a moment, the world seemed to be turned to blinding, white liquid. All in his presence struggled to maintain their balance as the solid world buckled under them. No attempt they made to resist the magic that disorienting them proved effective. "Look! He-Man, Man-At-Arms and his daughter, Captain Teela, all strewn over the floor like used party favors, ..while I've not yet begun to do my worst!"

A cord of violet energy struck Man-E-Faces ..and brought him to his knees. There, upon his flesh, the energy solidified into a strange shape - that of a harness formed entirely of black metal, which girded itself about the man's broad chest, shoulders and twisted itself about his neck, forming a massive harness and collar. With a loud and seemingly fatal clang, it locked into place, ..and Menifakles began to change. Before the astonished eyes of all present, Menifakles's olive-toned complexion was warped into a grotesque canvas of green leathery skin and bulging veins, ..as muscles swelled to more than twice their original size.

The Great Hall echoed with the wild, horrific howls and snarls of the thing that had been Man-E-Faces of Graylot.

So distracted was Lord Skeletor by the realization of his dark ambitions, the perverse, hulking mockery of humanity crouching at his side, that the Snake Mountain King did not notice the large, bronze man lumbering toward him from the center of the hall. The Sword of Ancients set firmly in hand, He-Man stepped over the weary forms of the warriors brought low by Skeletor's treachery, moving forward on unsteady legs. Then, his will exhausted by the demonking's psychic assault, the Lord of Vines crashed to his knees. "Release the actor from whatever foul magic you've worked upon him, ..Lord of the Wastes. If it is war you seek, ..seek it ..with me!"

"It is power I seek, Vulnarian," Skeletor raved from behind his grotesque, golden skull mask, "and I will have it, ..once I've sacrificed the Holy Warrior's mortal daughter to a bloodthirsty demon! When Mighty Teela's divine enemy has granted me the power to breach Grayskull's gates, I will split open its secrets upon the heads of mankind!"

Skeletor swept his ram-headed staff over the ensorcelled party, still disoriented by his vertigo magic, as Teela the Duncan's unconscious body materialized in his monstrous servant's arms. "Man-E-Faces, take the woman!"

On hands and knees, as even the floor before his eyes rippled beneath him, a pitiful figure crawled toward the gloating Enemy of Man. Man-At-Arms stretched an arm out into the air before him, ..faintly waving it from side to side, as if to part the curtain of sorcery clouding his mind. "No, ..foul being -- I will ..not allow ..."

"You cannot stop me, Dog-At-Arms -- no one .." The demon turned. Seemingly startled.

Rushing from the dusty rose stonework of the palace's walls, as if from behind a curtain, a slender phantom of solid, gray rock barred his exit. The boy golem, Tom-Stone, unsheathed his blade and poised it for the demonking's throat. "Leave the woman in peace, Lord of the Wastes ..or perish!"

"You would do well to keep to your prayers, Brother Tomas," the Snake Mountain king menaced, raising his Havoc Staff. Eerie, red light flickering in the hollow of his eye sockets. "You are a long way from the safety of your church!"

"And you're closer to Oblivion than you think!" A flash of silvery metal ripped through Skeletor's exposed side, as young Tom vaulted over his armored shoulders. In mid-flight, the bold youth whirled his blade at the demon's cloaked back, when a burst of light from Menifakles's weapon drove him swiftly to the floor and onto his back. Dazed, Tom-Stone did not feel the ebon robes brush against the gray of his cheek, as Skeletor stepped over his body.

The Great Hall echoed with the Lord of Destruction's cackling laughter. A bright, violet light flashed before his path, ..and with Teela and Menifakles, he vanished into it. "Sleep, fools! Tomorrow, Grayskull will be mi-iinnne!"

With the Dread One's hasty exit, all present high and low were released from the benighted thrall of his power ..and as one labored to stand. One among them, Titus Duncan, got to his feet, but still found himself dazed. The fate he had witnessed befall his beauteous daughter had left him in a nigh mindless state. The scene of her abduction still playing before his eyes. "Grails of Procrustus -- not again. Not again. Not a year since the War of Silence and -- WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?!!"

"I'll find her, Duncan," grunted He-Man nearby, climbing to his feet once more, "and when I do, no force on Eternia will save Skeletor from my wrath!"

"Wait!" A voice cried from over the protests of Teela's loyal soldiers. It's owner, much shorter than the assembled warriors, slipped between them to He-Man's side. "Captain Teela has been my friend, ..while many've shunned my very shadow. I will give my life to save hers!"

"An' what are ye, but shadow, young Tom-Stone?" a young soldier asked. "Creepin' unseen along the walls with spiders and rats! Leave fightin' to flesh n' blood folk, boy!"

"Aye!" snarled another soldier. "'Nuff demons n' such, where we're goin', without sufferin' us one more, ..even if the Vulnarian prefers his company to ours!"

"Leave the boy alone, soldier," He-Man answered, glaring down into the cowering guardsman's face, "or you'll have more of my company than you'll like."

"Enow!" a voice boomed over the others, ..and the soldiers stepped aside to admit King Randor. "This warrior stood next to me in pitch battle! Stone or flesh, young Tomas has earned his place among you! Now, he will guard your Queen and myself in his Captain's stead, until good Teela is safely returned to - eh? What is ..?"

The court fell silent.

A piercing screech was heard overhead, stirring the eyes of Randor's court to the Great Hall's magnificent domed ceiling, where the exploits of all the king's before him had been painted. From the bright red of one of the Great Hall's stained glass windows, soared the heroic falcon Zoar, as if from a cloud. Downward, the winged warrior glided, before finally  perching on an alabaster bust of King Freenorn the Strong.

The King of Eternia, whose brave hand liberated mankind from intergalactic oppression, drew back from where he stood. As did young Tom-Stone behind him. Nearby, Man-At-Arms, though still grief-stricken by his daughter's abduction, did the same -- joined by good Queen Marlena and the Archbishop Telmat. Before their eyes, a brilliant white filled the center of the Great Hall. It's presence defied all reason and shattered the senses of those, who dared gaze upon it.

All present, save the Avenger of Man, stepped back from its intrusion. "Mighty Teela?"

A broad-shouldered woman, at least three heads taller than the tallest man any of King Randor's court had ever seen stood, where seconds ago only bright green light radiated. Dressed in the coppery hide and skull of the slain desert dragon Dunamyr, the warrior-goddess Teela extended her golden Rod of Order in one brawny arm.

I heed your call, souls of Eternia, ..but swiftly. Once again, is Castle Grayskull in great peril. Now, must we Warrior Ancients prepare to defend her secrets.

Bowing his respect, He-Man entreated the Holy Warrior, "Goddess of Justice and Friend of Man, ..our comrade, Teela the Duncan, is lost to us -- captured by the Lord of Destruction. If it is your will, send me to her side that she might know vengeance! If it is not, leave us in peace, ..and I will proceed alone."

That portion of the stone-laden floor the goddess's cobra-headed staff touched rippled like water. The hall shook, and beneath its sparkling surface images took shape. "The Waters of Truth are my sister Heuay's charge. Only he, who lies in covenant with her, may share her vision. Kneel before the Waters of Truth, He-Man of the Vulnarians, and look therein."

He-Man knelt at the edge of the goddess's otherworldly display of power. Behind him, battle-hardened soldiers and jaded courtiers knelt also, as did the King and Queen. Before the bronze-skinned warrior's eyes, a grim scene played out in the depths of the small pool.

In the water, a grand and gaudily painted chamber took shape, just as if on the other side of a glass - its walls decorated with costumed figures painted in black and red ..and lit by torches in golden braziers mounted along the wall. Under the shadow of its domed ceiling, the Lord of the Wastes moved toward what looked to be an altar, a slab supported by a massive block - both formed of polished, black stone. Upon the altar, was a large roll of white fabric bound by a single, golden cord, and some paces beyond the altar, He-Man found himself distracted by another sight, ..taking shape over what appeared to be the wide and shadowed maw of an open pit.

What climbed out of the pit was taller than three men stacked heel to scalp from the ground. Grotesque in its size and carriage, but as beautifully formed as any mortal woman of normal size. Its skin was colored an inhuman metallic gold. Its costume was composed of black rhinoceros hide and was trimmed by steel armor, ..and in the monstress's hand was gripped a scepter, atop which sat the an enormous black orb.

Having guided Queen Marlena to her husband's side, Titus Duncan rushed to the pool's edge. He looked down at the watery miracle before him, but saw only his own haggard reflection. He thought to dash his hand into the waters and pull his daughter free, ..but what he knew of the waters stayed his hand -- they were death to all but the Heuay Man. "I must know my daughter's fate, Lord Adam! What do you see?"

The young man kneeling beside him did not answer Duncan's question. The words would not come to him. He dared not speak them. "You must stay here, Man-At-Arms -- for if I fail, ..the protection of Eternia will be your charge!"

"Tell me what you see, Adam!" the old man growled, gripping one of He-Man's broad shoulders.

In the Waters of Truth, He-Man saw the bloodthirsty goddess lean forward over the pit's edge. Her massive, armored bosom heaved. Her crimson lips curled back to reveal a large band of white teeth ..that seemed to sharpen into knives with her every labored breath. "I have traveled a great distance to reach this plane, Lord of the Wastes - out from the putrid, rotting bowels of Oblivion and over vast, shadowed wastelands! Wher-rrre ..is the victim you promised me?"

Powerless to contain his dreadful astonishment, the big Vulnarian turned back to Man-At-Arms. His fingers hurried to the hilt of the ancient weapon secured upon his back. "It is the Goddess of Slaughter, Duncan. She, who made the Chaos Seas from the blood of her fellow dark gods! Jondar's Beard -- it is ..Evil-Lyn."

"There is no more time!" exclaimed the Lord of Vines, turning from the horrors at play in the small pool - Man-At-Arms at his side. "I must travel to the Evil One's lair with due haste!"

"Castle Grayskull calls me to arms, my friends," beckoned Mighty Teela, the Holy Warrior from whom Man-At-Arms' daughter took her name. "Take up thy weapon, Avenger of Man, and smite it upon Fierce Heuay's waters! Let your righteous outrage carry you unto your destiny!"

From under a leonine mane of golden hair, Lord Adam glanced over his shoulder at King Randor comforting his beloved Marlena. Though the monarchs treated him as their own son and accorded him all the favors of a man nobly born, for their own protection, he could not tell Eternia's rulers that he was indeed their long-lost heir, Prince Adam of Eternos. Now, as he prepared to enter the savage Shadow Lands, the secret he'd withheld from them since burying his tribesmen a year ago clawed at his throat.

Beside him, Man-At-Arms gripped his massive bronze shoulder reassuringly. "I'll take care of them, my friend. Go. Bring my valiant daughter home."

The Sword of the Ancients gripped firmly in his right hand, the Vulnarian turned back to the Waters of Truth and, roaring his outrage, swung his blade downward with such force that he was pulled with it into its mystic waters ..and sent tumbling from them onto a black, marble floor.

Glaring up into the eyes of the gold-skinned titaness hovering before him, he steadied his sword arm ..and advanced toward the open pit. "There's no victim here, Evil-Lyn! Only He-Man of the Vulnarians, ..who stands ready to destroy you!"

From behind, he heard a gauntleted fist tighten around something firm and metal. With nothing more that the sound to guide him, he loosed the double-headed battleaxe from his harness and hurled it backwards. Only after he heard a haggard gasp and a metal clang against the floor, did he glance over a shoulder to find his axe returning to his hand ..and the Enemy of Man struck down and parted from his dread Havoc Staff.  Then, returning his glare to Evil-Lyn, he gripped his hoary blade in both hands and brought it before his broad, bronze chest. "Let Teela go, warrior goddess, ..or join the other dark gods in the Sea of Slaughter!"

"You forget, Vulnarian dog, that mine is the hand, which slaughtered them! I have sacked their kingdoms for powers beyond your comprehension! What chance have you of bringing me low?" In one great stroke, as He-Man drew in a deep, sharp breath, the enraged goddess brought her scepter down upon her mortal enemy.

The Vulnarian met her assault with his shield, but his knees buckled under its weight, and the shock of it drove the breath from him. What air and will was left to him, He-Man gave to hatred, a crimson, righteous hatred uncompromised by his martial code, and hurled his axe for her golden thigh. The blood let from his attack sizzled on the flames behind her, ..and the goddess's scream shook the walls of her temple. "Slut! Not even midnight, ..and I'm all over your thighs!"

A lightning swift strike of her scepter drove her Vulnarian enemy into the ground like a nail, and the groan he gave filled her ears with triumph. She raised her scepter again and again - each blow sending her mortal foe deeper into the ground, as he struggled to stand! Struck with disbelief at his resistance, she assailed the Vulnarian with blows that had shattered mountains, until a cloud of dust gathered from the pulverized rock beneath his feet. She savaged him, only to find him standing defiant, when the dust had cleared. "The night is young, jungle cur, ..and you will be bro-oo..."

A look of horror took the golden goddess's gloating face. It was not remorse He-Man saw there, but fear. In that instant, the beauteous devil Evil-Lyn began to fade. "Sacrifice the warrior-maid now, Lord of the Wastes! I can be denied no longer! I will rip open Grayskull like a rotten fruit and baptize your priest-kings in her ancient nectar, ..but the blood of the Holy Warrior's daughter must be mine! Kill her!"

A black shape pushed itself up from the marble of the temple floor. The Enemy of Man gestured to his Havoc Staff, ..which flew to his gauntleted hand, and directed it toward the shadows. Rushing from them and running on all fours, a hulking, green-skinned creature, wearing Menifakles's black rubber armor, leapt at He-Man.

He-Man's shoulder smashed against the floor, as he tumbled backwards, pinned beneath the snarling demon that, mere hours before, had been the merry thespian, Menifakles. Like vises, two leathery, green claws tightened about his throat, and though the strength of the Warrior Ancients flowed through his sinews, the big Vulnarian could not move them.

The Lord of the Wastes raised his sword to slay the barely conscious captain, ..but was hurled back by an invisible force. Through the gaping sockets of his skull-like mask, he found Teela awakening as if from a dream and averting his assault with a weapon of her own. "No! I-it ..cannot be!"

With skills wrought from her father's training, the beauteous captain sprung from the slab and marveled at the black, cobra-headed staff in her hand, as much a twin of the Goddess Teela's divine weapon as of Skeletor's Havoc Staff. "Your cursed blade once gave me flesh and form, Dread One! Now, it has given me more!"

With a monster's hands at his throat, He-Man drifted in and out of consciousness.

In his delirium, he saw the gaudy colors of Evil-Lyn's temple swirl into one, grotesque composition and the world before his eyes darken. The Sword of Ancients was loosed from his hand and too far out of reach, ..but he was still aware of his fists - fists that had, more than once, reduced cliffsides to dust and smashed through the titanium hulls of death-dealing machines. With all of his might, He-Man slammed one of his fists into the man-monster's rib cage. He felt the stunned creature's grip slacken and, with one arm, drove it backward with enough force to send it tumbling away from him, ..as Skeletor raised his ram-headed staff toward the altar, where Teela stood.

A burst of violet, hellspawned light cleared the distance between the Lord of Destruction and his armored foe, hammering Teela the Duncan against the altar's side. Dazed by the blow, she did not see the second burst of light directed toward her. It was a spell wrought from the magic of the ancient Serpent Gods of the Dark Hemisphere, and its strike would have rendered the amazon paralyzed and defenseless, ..had it struck her.

Skeletor raised his Havoc Staff, and Teela saw the air before him twist into a torrent of violet lightning. Instinctively, she raised the strange, new weapon in her hands ..and found her enemy's attack reduced to harmless sparks. "By the gods, what sorcery is this?!"

"A shadow of Mighty Teela's Rod of Order, it seems," her skull-faced foe suggested, as he assumed a defensive position, "and burning with a power that might rival my own! The dark magic that cut you from her heart have now completed their work!"

Captain Teela brought the weapon before her armored bosom, ..her mind filling with the voices of the Ancients. "Then, by Zodac's Black Gun, let it be power enow to send thee back to the fires of hell!"

A bright cord of emerald light ripped from the woman's cobra-headed weapon, and Man-E-Faces threw himself in its path. To Teela's amazement as much his own, the green-skinned monster Skeletor's power had made of him was no more. "Menifakles? You are cured?!"

"I ..don't know!" the actor choked, rising to stand. "Don't know what this devil's done to me ..or how many more lives will be claimed by it! Two men have already died at my hand this day, ..and even now, ..feel a rage eating away at my insides ..that I cannot ..contrr-rrro-ooolll! Run-nnn, woman!"

Before their stunned eyes, Menifakles's face twisted with insane rage. The olive golden of his skin rippled into a sickly green. Screaming in agony, as yet another metamorphosis overwhelmed his body, he seized the Lord of the Wastes and hurled them both over the stone-laden lip of the open pit.

"Menifakles!" Teela called after him. She was a proud woman. The desperation in her voice echoed through out the dimly lit temple, ..mocking her. But Menifakles did not answer. "Did you see his face, Adam? He gave his life ..to save ours."

"Menifakles was a good man, captain," the Vulnarian answered, unsheathing his Sword of Ancients. Though, he saw that grief colored beauteous Teela's face, but offered her no consolation, choosing instead to remind her of the enemy they faced.  "We will honor his sacrifice ..in battle."

"Plans, Lord Adam," Captain Teela grunted to He-Man, sounding every bit her father's daughter. "She has magic. She towers over us. How do we bring the battle to Evil-Lyn?"

"We don't," the Vulnarian answered, but his attention was on the black shape twisting over the pit. "We bring Evil-Lyn to us! Your staff .."

"This staff is a goddess's weapon - not mine!" Teela stopped him. "I don't need or trust ..!"

He-Man looked on in amazement, as the black rod in Captain Teela's hands shaped itself into a longbow. Arrows filled her free hand, and each was tipped with silver. "Then, ready your arrows, woman. It is time."

From within the black shape, light flashed. Golden light ..and fire. Fire that swept out from the black storm and scorched the walls of the temple, tearing loose masonry as it went. The Lord of Vines raised his shield and pulled the Captain close to him, protecting them from the savage barrage of falling limestone blocks.

Even before he lowered it, he knew what he would find.

"You have been marked for sacrifice, little goddess," the demoness hissed, hovering over the pit. "All that remains is for you to die, ..and I need no priest's blade to send you to me! And you, Vulnarian -- you hurled my brother, Val-Kun, from Mount Esivisu! Though I fade, I will take you both with me ..into the maws of Oblivion!"

"Teela!" the Vulnarian roared to Man-At-Arms' daughter, ..but the warning came too late.

In one golden fist, Evil-Lyn drew her mace high above her ebon-crowned head ..and, with inhuman speed, brought it down against the temple floor! The resulting cataclysm cracked open the ground where her mace struck, hurling her mortal enemies backwards and apart amidst falling debris. A thick gray cloud of dust swept over the destruction, and the angry warrior goddess lingered above it, surveying for any hint that her enemies survived the attack.

A blackened chain snaked out of the cloud and around her neck, forcing an ugly, guttural choking sound from her throat. Evil-Lyn clawed at it, pulling at it with all of the diabolical strength in her keeping, but it would not budge. She struggled against it, only to find it drawn tighter against her beautiful, golden neck, and through the dust, massive arms drawing it taut toward the ground.

Senses trained in the most dangerous jungles known to man, pierced the dust and locked onto a familiar breathing pattern, heart rate and musk. To He-Man's relief, Teela the Duncan lived. "Now, Teela! Your arrows!"

A flight of arrows pierced the dust cloud and buried themselves in Evil-Lyn's gargantuan chest and stomach. The warrior goddess growled, as she struggled with the giant chain around her neck.

"Again!" the Vulnarian cried.

Another flight of arrows sank into Evil-Lyn's massive shoulders and more still, into her chest, as his enemy choked, and He-Man gave the chain a brutal tug. The monster strangling at the end of it gasped and clawed at her throat, as He-Man looked on. "You recognize this chain, demoness?!  It's the same you used to bind your cursed brother, Val-Kun, to Mount Esivisu! Pure Infinitian korodite ..and nigh unbreakable!"

He-Man saw the air between Evil-Lyn and her mortal enemy ripple like the surface of a lake, as if reality itself was cowering before the mad goddess's stare. He did not understand how the gods created the wonders they did, but he knew it was within their power to alter the laws of nature as they willed fit ..and with little more than a thought.

"Demoness! Choke on my wrath!" Teela the Duncan charged from the dust, her broadsword at ready. Her bosom heaving and teeth bared.

"No, Teela!" The Vulnarian's warning came too late, and he saw the woman hurled backwards by an invisible force - then, struck against the black marble floor onto her back. The bold captain did not stir from where she fell, and He-Man's mind courted the worst.

He would pay for that moment's distraction.

Giant, golden fingers snaked around his torso, clamping shut upon their prey like jaws. They tightened across the Vulnarian's ribs and thighs, tearing him from the ground and forcing the air from his massive chest! His heartbeat climbed into his throat, and though he struggled against them, calling upon the collective strength of his slain tribesmen and of the Ancients, the giant fingers could not be budged.

Though the goddess of slaughter crushed him with the weight of ten mountains, even as she labored to claw the korodite chain from her throat, Evil-Lyn's mortal captive yielded nothing, ..and for a time, they glared into each other's eyes - the mad hatred of countless millennia dashed against a will forged in the furnace of Vulnarian brutality. "Release me, Vulnarian, ..or see your woman drown in the Chaos Sea! If I fade to Oblivion, you ..fade ..with me!"

With one massive, thickly muscled arm - with bulging sinews therein, which had broken the giants of the Evergreens in twain - the Lord of Vines drew snarling Evil-Lyn before him ..and drove his Sword of Power deep into her golden throat. "Bitch of Infinitias, ..lead on!"

The warrior goddess's eyes bulged. She gasped, clawing at the black chain around her neck, but her crushing grip upon her mortal victim's trunk and legs did not give. Her let blood sprayed over her chin and giant breasts, drenching He-Man in a torrent of dark red, as he poised his blade for another blow.

Again and again, her enemy, roaring like a wild beast, slammed his broadsword - its silvery metal singing with the rage of the Ancients - into Evil-Lyn's throat, until one last, brutal strike nearly decapitated her. The goddess's grip slackened, and He-Man, slick with her blood, ripped his blade free of her golden flesh, released the korodite chain and tumbled onto the temple floor.

"N-nno-ooo! I ..am ..eternal!" Evil-Lyn slumped onto her knees, clutching her throat, while the thick, black chain spun free of her neck - the beautiful, golden mask of her face struck dumb with disbelief, as centuries of wine-dark life rushed from her ancient body. As He-Man looked on, a fiery tide of crimson energy twisted out of the pit and dragged the evil warrior-goddess below. The korodite chain around her neck rattled to the black marble floor, unstained and unbroken, ..as if its prisoner had never been.

A hand closed upon He-Man's shoulder, and he spun, sword in hand, to find Captain Teela ..barely able to stand and ensnaring his upper arm for support. The warrior's broad, bronze face and blue eyes stretched wide with gratitude to his gods. "Blade of My Brothers! Teela ..?"

Finding herself swept up into Lord Adam's massive thews and her lips covered with his own, Man-At-Arms' daughter eased into his embrace, enjoying the strain relieved from her weary legs, as much as the familiar warmth of his body - even covered, as it was, with Evil-Lyn's blood. Her lips lingered on his, until she could no longer breathe, and her hands were flattened against his chest in uncharacteristically gentle protest. "You reek of wine, my friend! Now, what of Evil-Lyn?"

"Evil-Lyn is no more," the Lord of Vines explained. "As I'd suspected, the Sea of Slaughter was the source of her power. It flowed through Evil-Lyn's veins! Once she was bound by the korodite chain, wounding her was the end of it - almost! Tried to cut off her damned head, but she fought me!"

Weakly, Captain Teela pushed herself away from He-Man - her body racked by laughter. "Of course, she fought you, you dolt! You tried to cut her bloody head off! Now, where in Shokoti's Bush are - Adam?"

"The pit, woman." The big man's eyes narrowed toward the smoking hole in the center of the chamber, as Teela looked on. How quickly the Vulnarian turned from playful lover to hardened warrior had always chilled her, but he ignored the captain's nervous silence. "Something stirs there, ..just beyond the mists. To arms!"

"No ..." In the black rubber armor he'd worn on stage in Eternos, Man-E-Faces climbed from the pit. His humanity restored, the tall, beautiful man staggered toward Teela ..and collapsed in her arms. "Forgive me, ..warrior-woman. I meant no harm."

"I am not finished with you, Menifakles," hissed the dark shape hounding him from the edge of the pit. In the mists, it stood upright and showed its ugly, skull-like mask to its enemies. A ribbon of violet energy twisted from Skeletor's ebony blade and struck Menifakles in the back, driving the man to his knees. "Evil-Lyn is gone! Grayskull, once more, beyond my reach! But you, Menifakles -- you are still mine!"

With renewed hatred, the Enemy of Man attacked.

From his ram-headed Havoc Staff, a burst of light illuminated the gold and crimson figures painted on the black marble of the temple walls, which began to move of their own accord. A sextet of elongated, shadow-like figures leaped from one of the ancient wall paintings and surrounded He-Man and Captain Teela. Each armed with spears and sabers, they dug and swung at the warriors with a fury that matched their hooded creator's. So implausibly thin were they that the devils appeared to move in and out of reality with every swing and thrust of their blades, ..until the battle revealed them to be more than living shadow.

One of the things began to bleed. Thick, dark red paint..

Man-At-Arms' daughter grunted at a gash freshly opened on her shoulder. In broad, swift strikes she retaliated, wounding another of the phantoms. "Blood, Adam! Do you smell it on them? These walls were painted in human blood!"

"The blood of her fellow dark gods ..and of victims sacrificed to Evil-Lyn over thousands of years!" shouted He-Man from behind her. Driving two wraiths from him, he neglected a third and saw his korodite shield loosed from his arm and tumble away from him. A draft on his skin drew his attention to the wide gash ripped into his arm. "Leave me, Teela! Use what power remains in your staff to free Menifakles from the demonking's spell!"

"Fool!" Teela growled, battering back the wraiths with her sword and barely escaping a blow pitched for her heart. "They're six to your one! Even you ..!"

Without warning, the Vulnarian hurled his enchanted Sword of Power high over his head and behind him. Over his shoulder, he saw Captain Teela duck, ..and three, headless wraiths collapse into pools of black and gold oil. In shiny, serpentine cords, the darkness slithered back to the walls from which their undead master had conjured them. "Now, they're three! You're in my way!"

At He-Man's back, Teela the Duncan kicked and slashed at the wraiths with her blade. In a sidelong and backward leap, she hurled herself over He-Man's head and into the Lord of Destruction's path, as he attacked Menifakles. The stream of bright, violet energy directed at the injured thespiamorph struck her in the ribs like a fist, even through her armor. Loosing the enchanted weapon from where she'd tethered it upon her back, she brought it before her. "I will not allow you to pervert this poor fellow to your wicked ends, demon. I'll strike him down myself first."

"Strike him down, then!" raved Skeletor, as he approached with his Havoc Staff in hand. "Become once and for all the bloodthirsty warrior-goddess I created at Point Dread twenty-one years ago! How can you stop me, captain, ..when you are as much mine as is Menifakles?"

Once more, the actor known throughout Eternia as 'Man-E-Faces' had been turned into a horrifically muscled, green monstrosity. Glaring at Teela through mirthless, bulging, red orbs - his clawed hands poised for rending and tearing her flesh - the thing lumbered toward her. A low, inhuman growl rumbled from its throat.

"You cannot fight my new minion and me, girl," the Lord of Destruction threatened, from behind his golden, skull-like mask, "and compared to his strength, even He-Man's is nothing! Who will save you?! Surrender, ..and I will bid the demon slay you quickly."

In her hands, the night-black rod trembled with otherworldly power. From its spear-like head, flashed a bolt of jade-colored lightning that drove the transfigured Man-E-Faces slightly backwards in his master's direction. Before Teela's eyes, the monster Skeletor had made was changed back into a man. "Duncans never surrender."

"Impressive, girl! Most impressive!" mocked the Snake Mountain King, raising his ram-headed Havoc Staff and pointing it at accursed Menifakles. An unholy flash of purple energy erupted from Skeletor's weapon and, caught in its malevolent grip, the afflicted man was once more made a monster! "And the weapon in your hands -- so like your mother's Rod of Order, but coursing with the venom of mine own Havoc Staff! Perhaps, when Menifakles is of no more use to me, ..there will be a place amidst my priests for you!"

When the last of the phantoms conjured from the temple wall had been vanquished, Lord Adam, Sword of Power in hand, rushed to the aid of his embattled comrade, Captain Teela. As he looked on, the battle raged back and forth, with poor Menifakles trapped between the two foes.

Menifakles clawed at his own face and chest, as if to cut his soul free of his tortured flesh. His mouth stretched wide with the agony of his repeated transformations. His skin warping from hellish, inhuman green, ..then back to warm, ruddy olive! His sinews swelling from their natural, healthy state into the gargantuan muscles of something more beast than man.

The Enemy of Man roared, as his Havoc Staff forced the thespiamorph to his knees with an unrelenting wave of violet fire. Though it demanded every measure of her strength, his opponent, a half-goddess, struggled to keep the divine weapon she held from ripping itself from her hands. Neither had gained the upper hand, ..when a violent burst of light sent them both to the ground.

In the black cloud between them, something groaned ..and stood upright.

"By all the gods," He-Man muttered, as he approached it.

The thing that was once Man-E-Faces lumbered forward on two sturdy, metal legs.

"Menifakles!" Teela cried rushing over the temple floor to hold him up. "Menifakles, ..what've we done to you, my -- what is that sound?"

Through the mists, icy blue eyes fixed on a hooded shape and He-Man loosed from his harness the double-headed, korodite battleaxe of King Simyran, a weapon to which enchantment gave the power to see its prey. He-Man pitched the axe for the Enemy of Man's chest, ..and an apocalyptic flash of violet forced his eyes shut.

He opened them to see the weapon driven toward his own head. Barely in time to rip it out of the air, as hellish laughter echoed throughout Evil-Lyn's sanctum.

Fare thee well, Heuay Man. Give my regards to your dead tribesmen.

The King of Snake Mountain, murderer of the immortal Vulnarians, had escaped his vengeance. Again.

He-Man turned back to the pitiful thing that had been brave, tortured Man-E-Faces, the fool, who had so valiantly protected his mother, the Queen Marlena of Eternia. Now, a cold machine behind whose iron mask the secret of Grayskull was lost forever. A bright green radiance pulsed from lifeless, glass eyes. "It's the harness Skeletor bound to him -- the one that forces the changes upon him. He's merged with it, I think."

Outside, Captain Teela walked to the edge of the mountain peak upon which ancient Infinitians had built Evil-Lyn's temple ..and looked down below. On every side of the mountain, an ocean red as blood dashed against the rocks. Above them, the already darkened skies turned to pitch. Lightning flashed. "Something's wrong. There is some kind of atmospheric disturbance, ..and the Sea of Slaughter is growing more violent!"

With nigh reluctance, He-Man recalled Skeletor's foreboding  farewell and unsheathed his Sword of Ancients.

He circled the man-machine, looking for any indication of the man he'd been, ..or anything remotely human. In his keeping were senses trained in the harshest environments known to man - the Vine Jungle. By the age of three, he could identify a man by his heartbeat. By the age of six, he could track a man across continents with nothing more than his smell. All of his senses told him that Menifakles was gone, and a machine had taken his place - a machine that had no use for him or Teela ..and no value of human life. "That beacon pulsing in his eyes -- I think Skeletor's sorcery has turned Menifakles into a living weapon. A bomb. The man we knew is gone."

Teela shivered. Something in her bronze-skinned comrade's voice chilled her. Something final. "He is going to destroy this place, isn't he -- and us with it?"

"He is more machine, than man now, Teela," He-Man answered, raising his broadsword and poising it to behead his afflicted friend. "Our lives mean nothing to him. Even if we live, we are lost in a realm ruled by the Lord of Destruction ..and his damned scientist-priests. If I die, let it be at Snake Mountain with a sword at my enemy's throat - not incinerated by this lifeless machine!"

Teela saw the Vulnarian swing his enchanted blade for the iron man's neck. With the grace and agility of a jungle cat, she hurled herself toward Menifakles into a series of acrobatic twists and flips. Over the temple floor! Springing up before him, just as He-Man halted his blade at her cheek! "No, He-Man! Look ..to the skies!"

From the stormy skies overhead, red light glared.

Something shaped like a man hurled itself downward into the ruins. Outfitted in dark red armor crackling with the screams of murdered atoms - his steps melting the black stone beneath his heels to slag - Zodac the Enforcer, likely the most feared being in the known universe, descended before them. Outside, the Sea of Slaughter calmed, and the howls of hurricane winds became as whispers. "Stand thee back, insects -- I will effect a final transformation ..and restore the truth of Menifakles's origins!"

The Lion of the Mallori raised his black gun, a weapon spoken of in the myths and folklore of every civilization on the planet, ..and fired.

Bathed in the cosmic rays of Zodac's infinite and mysterious Master, the iron thing that was Menifakles glowed white-hot. Its face warping once more into a leathery, green and skullish horror. "This is my true face, Lord Adam. Thirty-thousand years ago, a raider clan of alien-human hybrids, masters of sciences beyond mortal knowledge, conquered and enslaved the tribes of the Evergreen Forests and Fertile Plains. They built a great, limestone fortress in the woodlands of Graylot, where they subjected humanity to the most heinous experiments in your planet's history, ..in pursuit of the secrets of the cosmos. That fortress is Castle Grayskull. My race came to your world to conquer it, Vulnarian. That is my true nature. That is why I must remain here, ..and you must go."

"Nay, Menifakles!" He-Man growled, seizing Zodac by the neck. His starfaring victim struggled to pry the Vularian's hand from his throat, but could not. "My dead countrymen knew the grim truth about Grayskull's origins for centuries! I'll not budge, until I know why Zodac deprived you of your memories so long ago, leaving you vulnerable to Skeletor's machinations! Endangering this world!"

From the eyelets of the cosmic enforcer's red and chrome helmet, a terrific scarlet brilliance blazed. "The ugly truth of Grayskull's origins is irrelevant! The suffering of Menifakles at my hand -- without import!"

With both hands, He-Man cast Zodac's armored bulk into a pile of rubble. As the cosmic enforcer stood to face him, the jungle-bred warrior unsheathed his Sword of Power. Its silvery metal sang with the outrage of the Ancients. "Tell him, Mallorine! Now!"

Once more, Zodac raised his black gun before him. A deafening crack shuddered the temple's black marble walls, ..and the big, golden-maned warrior was flung backwards and to the floor. "Before Castle Grayskull, humanity was on the brink of extinction. Its legend inspired a golden age of enlightenment and nobility, without which this piteous world would be a den of murdering, fornicating beasts. I deal in affairs beyond mortal comprehension, monkey -- do not pretend to understand them!"

"Four Grails," gasped Teela, helping He-Man back to his feet. In one of her hands, was the strange, black, cobra-headed staff she'd unwittingly conjured in a moment of peril. Emptied of its magicks, it felt slightly heavier to her - more real. She was strangely comforted by that. "If Menifakles's star-born race built Grayskull in its own image, ..who are the Ancients?"

"A half-naked, mortal woman named Teela from the Vine Jungles led mankind in revolt against us," Menifakles answered, "I forsook Clan Grayskull to fight at her side, and we drove the last of my kind into the Sands of Time. Until the Keldoric Age, the inheritors of Grayskull's secrets used them to uplift mankind ..and were believed to guide Eternia's destiny long after their deaths. These were your ancients."

"Now, its destiny is guided by men, Menifakles," He-Man said, extending his arm to Menifakles. "Come with us."

"A fool's enterprise, Vulnarian!" warned Menifakles, gripping his arm. "The monster and the machine are now parts of me forever! It is only a matter of time before the Enemy of Man tries to use those selves again -- before the instinct to conquer Eternia overtakes me! Swear to me .."

"I needn't swear to you what I've already vowed on my brothers' graves," He-Man smiled assuredly, clasping the thespiamorph's hand and wrist against his own. "I am the He-Man, ..charged by the gods of my dead tribesmen with Eternia's protection. I'll honor that bond, ..even if it means your death."

"I'll kill you too, if I have to, Menifakles," Man-At-Arms' daughter added offhandedly, over He-Man's shoulder. "That make you feel any better?"

"As will I," Zodac refrained mirthlessly from beneath his ornate, red helmet. "Your place is in the world of men, Man-E-Faces. Take it, ..and leave the nightmare I denied you for so many centuries in my dispatch."

The crimson-armored Mallorine Enforcer aimed his dread weapon at a temple wall.

With a boom that shook the temple floor, an oval-shaped portal opened -- through it, the golden plains of Eternos were spread as far as the eye could fathom. On a grassy hill in the distance, the rose granite rotunda of Freenorn Palace, home of King Randor and Queen Marlena, kissed the pale blue heavens.

In the span of a step, the monster that once terrorized a primitive planet had vanished. A tall, powerfully built, dark-haired adonis in black, vinyl armor stood in his place and, with an uncertain smile, joined He-Man and Teela at the edge of the ghostly doorway. Gingerly, he took the warrior-maid's arm and smiled. "I am told the King of Eternia doesn't like to be kept waiting, captain. Let's be off."

Casting a cold glare over his broad shoulder, He-Man followed Teela and Menifakles through the strange opening Zodac had made. "Your affairs almost cost me the lives of the people in my protection, enforcer. Will you ever leave their kingdom in peace?"

"Their kingdom, Lord Adam?" mocked Zodac, knowingly. "Had I left Eternia in peace twenty years ago, there would be no kingdom at all, ..and you would be dead. I serve the will of the Master of the Universe."

"Aye, you do, Mallorine," He-Man grinned malevolently, "until your Master decides He can do better."

Twenty years ago, Zodac guided King Simyran of the Vulnarians to a clearing in the Evergreen Forests, where the Vulnarian warrior killed two soldiers of the alien Horde Empire as they pursued an old woman through the woods. There, dressed in rags and dying under the shade of an oak tree, was the eldest daughter of the Royal Family of Eternia.

And in her weary arms, the fate of a world. A golden-haired babe she called Adam.

Closing the doorway behind the man he'd saved that day, Zodac the Enforcer took to his golden para-throne and returned to the heavens. His divinely appointed armor weighing ever so slightly heavier on nigh omnipotent shoulders.


Adam and Sword

By T. F. Cooper (Based on a story by Donald F. Glut)

Under two disinterested moons, the intrigues of Planet Eternia's cities thickened and soured, as merchant cheated peasant and husband cheated wife. The price of silver rose and fell in the Mystic Mountains, and the last ugly, sandstone vestiges of alien tyranny crumbled to dust along the Rakash Sea, but life in the Vine Jungles lumbered along like an old tiger on a worn trail, ..much as it had for billions of years.

Its emerald hills echoed with the devilish, unchecked laughter of youth, as Adam, now fifteen summers old, abandoned his bathing party and returned to the mountainous Valley of Vulnar, where his immortal warrior-tribesmen prepared to feast on python meat and retire from the day's labors.

Though ancient magic had kept sunset from the skies over his homeland for many thousands of years, the flat, hardened bellies of his Vulnarian brothers kept time flawlessly ..and grumbled, when the smell of exotic spices and roasted meat drew their daily tasks to an end. Bare feet carried impossibly strong bodies and weary minds toward the center of their vast country. Men who'd known each other for centuries sported with their comrades. Quarrels were laid to rest before the glint of crystalline jars filled with golden ale, and so had it been here for eons.

While most of Adam's peers, the Vulnarian warrior initiates, washed in a nearby pond, their fathers, tutors and priests moved as one toward the fires of the tribal hearth, barely noticing the smaller, slightly coltish figure slipping between them, ..trying, with great difficulty, not to be noticed.

"Adam!" the old weaponsmith Kibiri called to him, looking up from his anvil, as the youth sprinted past his house. "Back from swim already, eh? Where's that friend of yours, Ogun of Clampes, ..and the rest of the cubs?"

From under a mound of golden hair, Adam looked over his shoulder to see if any cubs had followed him back into the valley, but saw none. With little chance of vanishing into the crowd of raven-haired giants behind him, he would answer the man very carefully. Weaponsmithing was an exact art, and Master Kibiri was a strict tutor - all of the cubs knew that nothing less than studied answers would spare them severe punishment at his hands. "Left them at the pond, sir. Lord Simyran journeys to Myzargard tomorrow - have to get his tiger packed before the evening mess. Orders."

Weaponsmaster Kibiri rose from his anvil and strode out to where Adam was standing. Not the tallest of his tribesmen, he was still a broad, thickly built man, and his shadow had covered Adam's entire frame before he'd even approached. The old man's eyes narrowed, studying Adam's face for any hint of the mischief King Simyran's ward was so renowned for. "Simyran prays in the House of Ishteuray. Go to him. Make no stops on the way, boy, ..and before you enter, finish wringing the water from that pelt - it's a disgrace!"

Draped about Adam's waist, the reddish brown devilbeaver pelt, soaked from washing in the pond, dripped beads of water onto his bare feet. Seemingly unmoved by the old blacksmith's words, the boy stood stoically before him. "I've a much nobler mission to accomplish, my friend. Evil forces all over Eternia seek to conquer us -- not even the legendary wonders of Castle Grayskull are safe! I must go to battle those forces at King Simyran's side, Master Kibiri! Can't keep our king waiting for the wringing of a stupid pelt, eh?"

Nostrils flaring, Kibiri stepped forward, until his breath tossed the flaxen hairs hanging in Adam's face. He waited for the boy's azure eyes to meet his own, but their owner did not dare raise them any higher than the hairs on the smith's massive chest. "Then, I suggest you wring, while you run, boy, ..unless you think a good thrashing'd do a finer job of drying it! Better run fast, little comedian. My hammer-hand's itching."

Adam's devilbeaver pelt was bone-dry long before he reached the gates of the Temple of Ishteuray.

As Kibiri had told him he would, he found Simyran in full armor kneeling inside, amidst a sea of dark red flowers. The lights of the temple's torches flickered in the orange metal of Simyran's armor and, for a moment, his master seemed made of fire.

A god of fire.

What turned him to his presence at the temple doorway, Adam had wondered, cowering at Simyran's armored back. Had it been the smell of his freshly washed devilbeaver pelt? The river lingering in his wet, golden hair? When a red-brown arm, thick as a small tree's trunk, signaled him to approach, Adam joined his master at the altar.

Mighty Simyran did not look at him. A shiny hood of midnight-black hair hung around his face, as it had changed from black to violet and back with the passing seasons. He laid a dozen or so blood-colored flowers in Adam's small hands. The youth had seen like flowers of a rustier color growing in the surrounding jungles, but never this hue. Simyran told him they were sacred to the goddess, and without looking away from the flames before which he kneeled, gently whispered a command, "Burn them, Adam."

Adam could smell the oil Simyran had poured on the flowers, which bewitched his senses like nothing before them had.

"At Bold Vulnar's feet, sits his daughter, Ishteuray," Simyran whispered, "the only woman to ever rule over his brothers. When Ishteuray fought Keldor the Conqueror in the Sands of Time, her own blood fell on the scorched desert, and an oasis of copper-colored flowers rose from where they battled. She slew the tyrant, but died of her wounds, and Vulnar sent Mighty Teela to make Ishteuray immortal."

Adam had heard Simyran's brothers speak of this garden, the Crown of She-Ra, thriving in a faraway desert, but resisted the desire to boast of what he knew. That, in this faraway place, believed to be where the lost kingdom of Etheria is buried, Noble Ishteuray was called by another name. That the copper flowers, sacred to Mighty Teela, are sacred also to Ishteuray, ..but only on one day every year. "The flowers are called 'terrahedrons', master?"

"Aye," Simyran answered, without looking away from the flames. "Every year, they turn red for a single day, and a son of this valley brings a portion of them here ..to be burned. When we burn them on this day, the noble breath of our only fallen sister enters us ..and strengthens us, when the gods call us to war."

Adam looked up from the flowers in his hands to see his master's face. When Simyran turned to him, Adam found he could not hide the dread in his young eyes. "I-is that ..why you're here, milord? Vulnar has called you to war ..again?"

"I am here to rededicate myself to Vulnar's daughter, Adam," his master confided, ignoring the trepidation in the boy's voice, "so that she might dedicate herself to mine - a strong, willful girl that I left in the care of her mother, the Duchess of Myzargard."

"Angella of Myzargard?" Adam asked. "The Warrior Queen?"

"The disciples of Val-Kun, the Infinitian fire god, have taken our daughter," Simyran answered, unable to mask the outrage in his voice. "Two of our tribesmen have already died trying to reclaim her, ..while I've prayed here. I am through with praying, Adam. I must face the fire god alone, ..and you will not ask me why. You will ride with me as far as Myzargard, then, no further."

"Master ..," Young Adam started. Before claiming his devilbeaver pelt at the age of eight, he'd slept at the foot of Simyran's bed with a giant tiger cub. He'd accompanied him on grueling martial campaigns in lands far beyond the Valley of Vulnar ..and sailed with him over the vast Sea of Rakash. He had never known a time apart from Lord Simyran's side before for longer than half a fortnight, and the thought of this unsettled him. "I am eager to test my mettle in the furnace of Val-Kun! I would honor the gods as you do - in battle. Among men!"

Mighty Simyran set a heavy hand upon his adopted son's shoulder. "The Divine Sorceress has decreed that, upon reaching the Whispering Woods of Myzargard, we must take separate paths. We will obey the goddess of destiny, Adam."

"No," Adam protested, his upper lip trembling slightly, as often it did when the boy was angry. "I will go with you ..to fight at your side, as is my place! I've earned this honor, ..and no goddess will deny me! You cannot deny me!"

Seizing Adam's upper arm, Simyran led Adam away from the altar to a small, marble stool nearby. His already dark face seemed to grow darker still, even in the dim light of the temple's torches. "That you think yourself a man at so tender an age is impressive, boy, ..but to give you leave to do so is to court the anger of the gods. It is not our way. We will obey Destiny, Adam, ..and you will be shown the truth of your place. We will speak no more of what Heuay has set before us."

The King of the Vulnarians sat and brought one broad knee before him. There Adam endured his punishment under his lord and father's hand. For as long as he could stand, Adam gave no voice to his suffering, ..but Simyran's hand was firm and wide. When the eighth strike found Adam's backside, Ishteuray's temple echoed with his shameful sobs. Sometime later, under a sun that would never set, they left the temple in silence, and nothing more was said of what dread tasks the gods had given them.

Three days later, on the back of a heavily armored giant tiger, King Simyran and a sullen Adam arrived in mountainous Myzargard, after much rough riding along the Vine Coasts of the Rakash Sea ..and down into the treacherous Evergreens, a forest from which many men had never returned. In a clearing at the edge of the Whispering Woods, King Simyran greeted his estranged wife, the warrior queen Angella, and an eighth of her army. As none of the dark beauty of Vulnar's Valley marked his traveling companion, the queen was curious about the blond, golden-skinned youth in his service, and he told her ...

"Some fourteen years ago," Simyran began, "when last I looked upon your face, I came upon two Horde troopers pursuing an old woman, likely an escaped slave, through these Evergreen Forests. After slaying these alien scum, I found the woman resting against this very tree. As I drew closer, I saw that her journey had taken a far greater toll on her than first I had thought. The poor wretch, dressed in dusty tatters, was dying, ..and with the last broken beats of her heart, she begged me to take the baby at her side. The boy's father, she told me, had been a great warrior and had named his son Adam, after the wild, Vulnarian god of the hunt. With that, the old woman died, and I laid her to rest at the foot of this tree. This is Adam - he will dwell here with you and your sisters, until I return!"

At that moment, amidst a flutter of laughter, a bright, emerald flame burst from the ground before them, so bright that it was painful to look upon it. As all before it shielded their eyes, it flared outward, until none were spared its heat. Then, the flame took the shape of an impossibly tall woman - a good five heads taller than the tallest man any present had ever seen. In her hands, was a falcon-headed staff of what looked to be purest silver. The reddish brown skull and hide of a giant reptile - basilisk, dragon or dinosaur - formed her crown and aegis, under which she was boldly naked ..and bright green from brow to toe. "Nay, noble Simyran! This journey must the boy make alone, ..while you remain here!"

Simyran knew Heuay the Green to be a wild and brutal spirit. In skill, a warrior second only to her sister, Mighty Teela, but unmatched in ferocity. A sorceress second to none! The King of the Vulnarians took care with her that he took with no other. "Divine Sorceress, ..it was given to me in your mountain temple that I should go with my son to the edge of these Whispering Woods, ..and that, thereafter, we would take different paths. I have done as you commanded! Do not punish my fealty by condemning this boy to death in the furnace of the dark gods!"

A bolt of white-green lightning lit the sky and struck the ground between them. The thunder that followed was louder than any young Adam had heard before, and the assembled mortals, Simyran included, stepped back from where Heuay stood.

"Take care, King of the Vulnarians!" Fierce Heauay roared. "You name false, she who is the goddess of truth ..and of destiny! It was given to you that you and the boy would take separate paths from these forests! You will remain at Myzargard ..or suffer the wrath of Heuay!"

With silent dread, Mighty Simyran unsheathed his blade, a golden broadsword half as long, as he stood high. He felt his beloved Queen Angella's hand rush to his upper arm, ..a subtle warning the raven-haired giant ignored.

"Milord," the winged warrior-queen pleaded with her enraged husband, "we will find another way. Do not incur the Divine Sorceress's fury!"

"Your Highness, we are ready!" cried one of Angella's soldiers, as forty-nine behind her drew their weapons. With a wave of her hand, the ruler of Myzargard bade them stand down, and stand down they did.

"This is my husband's fight," their stoic mistress answered, "and by his strength alone, were we made warriors, ..and was our widowed land made free! Let the gods do their worst."

"Aye, woman!" Simyran agreed, assuming a defensive position. "I've lost one child to the will of the gods, Heuay the Green! I'll not yield another!"

The jade-skinned warrior goddess raised her staff, and from it, a bolt of lightning ripped through Mighty Simyran's left shoulder. A hand's breadth from his heart, it forced him backwards and to the ground. "You will obey Destiny, king of the Vulnarians!"

Mighty Simyran unsteadily rose to his feet, and as he brought his golden broadsword before him, a bright burst of green filled the sky, ..and the King of the Vulnarians was sent down upon his back. Setting himself upon his knees, he struggled to push himself up from the ground, when another burst of emerald heat struck his side and sent him down onto his face and belly. "No, Most Fierce One. For the life of this boy, ..I ..defy you."

In wide-eyed horror, Adam rushed to his king's side as Simyran labored to stand, but was restrained by Queen Angella. "No, Adam! Simyran's chosen this! We will honor his will."

Fierce Heuay looked on in masked astonishment, as Simyran's broad hands flattened against the soil beneath him. Dark bronze muscles swelled behind them, and once more did she find her servant rising to make war with her. The green goddess raised her mystic staff to meet Simyran's defiance, and before it had unleashed the last and worst of Heuay's wrath, the Vulnarian's faithful giant tiger threw himself upon his master's back. Electricity crackled over the beast's armored hide, and though the cat howled his torment, he would not be moved.

"Enough, Sorceress!" cried Adam, wrestling against Lady Myzargard's unbreakable hold on him. "I'll journey where you command! I'll yield to you, ..but bear witness, you and all the high gods, that Simyran, King of the Vulnarians, did not!"

In a gesture unseen before by mortal eyes, the Sorceress bowed her crowned head respectfully. "Heed me, Adam of the Vines, ..if you would prove thyself worthy of your master's devotion to you. In a shadow, on the road to Val-Kun's mountain, will you find the strength and knowledge you will need to defeat him. You will find arms. Go in peace, .."

Get thee now, boy, to the furnace of the gods ... Go-ooo

"Sisters, attend your Lord Simyran!" the Queen of Myzargard called to her lieutenants, as Heuay's pale green flame faded. Five heavily armored women, as uncommonly tall, as they were comely, stepped forward from Angella's party and bore Mighy Simyran upon their shoulders. "Take him to Castle Brightmoon. Bring healers from every quarter of our country - hurry!"

"Wait!" cried Adam, running after Angella's warriors. They halted their march ..and lowered Simyran into the wet grasses below, where the boy, stone-faced with determination, kneeled at his master's side. Though his loins still burned from thrashing, Adam picked up the broad hand that had so dutifully punished him ..and held it to his tear-stained cheek. "Simyran.  Brother.  I'll not fail you - I swear it. Your daughter lives, and I will bring her home ..to you!"

With a groan that bespoke agony unfathomable, Simyran guided Adam's hand to what remained of the ancient scroll pin hooked to his belt. Destroyed in his brief battle with Heuay, what remained of it was a blackened log.

Though the secret location of Val-Kun's forge was now lost to the ages, Adam had not the heart to worry his master with the truth. He unhooked the scroll from Simyran's belt, kissed his king's hand and stood up from where he lay. "I will find her, Mighty Simyran. Endure."

Queen Angella embraced Adam, who stood a head shorter than she, as her army carried King Simyran away. "Eons ago, Morgonymyr, the dragon of Oblivion, cursed your lord that he would be the death of his own children. That, Adam, and that alone, is why he has forbade you call him 'father'. He is more proud of you than you know."

"I've heard my brothers speak of this curse, ..in whispers," confessed Adam shyly. "Many times, in Heuay's temple, have I sworn that I will not call him so, ..and broken my oath more times than I can count. I am Lord Simyran's son in all ways, but one - even if he will not hear of it. Thank you."

"You are your father's son, Adam - though Lord Simyran cannot say it, I will! You've his strength ..and wit, so do not let your anger with Fierce Heuay blind you to the task at hand! In the shadow she spoke of, you will find a guide to Val-Kun's forge, ..and there will you find and liberate our Glimevere. Go in peace, Adam."

A weary figure stood at the edge of the jungle that had, until this day, always been his home.

Solemnly, the son of the Vulnarians' greatest warrior and king, waved his farewell to the winged warriors of Myzargard ..and to the father he left in their care.  He might have preferred to stay at King Simyran's side, but he had a noble mission to accomplish, and with the simple blessings of father's immortal wife, Adam of the Vulnarians mounted his king's armored cat and rode.

Dawn painted the ancient Teela River a violently bright gold, as young Lord Adam and his giant, armored tiger raced toward the north shores of the Harmonic Coast, from which he would make his way to the Berserker Islands, where the fortress of Val-Kun awaited. Cutting a swift, but treacherous path through the Lower Evergreens, Adam tightened his grip on the beast's reins, and the sounds of the surrounding woodlands were lost in the thunderous pounding of four, powerful legs.

"What do you know of this girl, good cat?" Adam asked the great beast, as they approached the pond. The youth had been far too busy sulking to ask Simyran much of anything. "What is her name?"

"Glimevere, say your brothers," answered the tiger with caution that was most uncharacteristic of him. "She was betrothed, at birth, to the son of King Randor, ..but the boy befell a tragic fate. It's said she is as courageous as her mother, the Lady Angella. What else do want to know?"

"Tell me everything!" Adam demanded, "and quit bouncing me so much! My bum's on fire!"

"Lord Simyran thrashed you pretty good, eh?" Battle Cat snickered, slowing his pace along a rocky hillside.

"You know?!" Adam grumbled, rubbing his backside. "Wh-who else ..?"

"A few neighboring villages," the giant tiger added. "Nothing uttered or whimpered in the Temple of Ishteuray stays in the Temple of Ishteuray. You'd do well to remember that."

"Why has Lord Simyran never thrashed you?" Adam asked. "You track mud into temples ..and steal fish. You hump in the open, where all can see!"

"Aye, boy," the giant tiger chuckled, "but I am a beast! It is my place to do such things! Too often, you forget yours, Adam, ..and so your way is hard. Do you know why Heuay the Green and Mighty Teela share the Dunamyr Crown?"

Adam did not answer quickly. He had learned, while watching the men of his tribe argue this matter or that, that those, who spoke too quickly, were often made to look foolish by others. "The Dunamyr Crown is heavy ..with wisdom, of course. Even such as the gods must share the weight of such a thing, ..methinks."

"The war between Vulnar's brothers and the dragons was long and bloody," the giant tiger began. "Mighty Teela cast her spear before the dragons and drove them back into the sky! To honor her service to our nation, the brothers adorned her in the copper-scaled hide and skulls of the many-headed desert dragon, Dunamyr, who was slain in the fight. Upon Mighty Teela's head, two skulls were set one atop the other."

"The Dunamyr Crown!" Adam guessed. "In her hand was another head and neck, which makes her Rod of Order."

"Aye, stripling," Simyran's cat nodded, "but that one maiden could bear the divine weight of Dunamyr's skulls so freely as Teela did, insulted the Lord of Dragons! Dragons give much to the world of man, Granamyr told the sisters, and man should not think their deaths so easy to bear! Understanding that dragons had a respected place in the world, Fierce Heuay offered to bear one of the skulls upon her own head ..to show all that the loss of one dragon was too great even for a goddess to endure. The honored dragons left mankind in peace."

"Ha! But for how long?" Adam scowled. "I don't trust dragons. Neither do most of my brothers, ..and Granamyr is sneakiest of them all!"

"It is Granamyr's place to be sneaky ..and terrible," the tiger said, "just as it is your place to think on when next he will strike. Even Heuay and the rest must respect that. If you would be so respected, Adam, you must learn yours."

"Alright, cat! Alright!" Adam squealed, as he was bounced up from the saddle and back down onto his punished loins. "How can I think on all you've said, if you keep bouncing me so hard, eh? Must you run so fast?!"

"You'll thank me later," snickered Battle Cat, "when we reach that pond fulla' fish up ahead! I'll eat, ..and a cool swim might take the shine off your bottom!"

"Let's ride!" grunted Adam.

And ride, they did.

The outside world was no mystery to the Vulnarians, and even the youngest boys amongst them had heard the fantastic tales about the mysteries beyond their Vine Jungle nation. Legend says the immortal warriors of Vulnar's Valley were the first to trudge these craggy cliffs and quake-torn valleys. Now, King Simyran's adopted son forded these same hills and streams alone.

Young Adam's homeland was already in the distant mists, when he heard a cry for help. As they neared the pond, a woman's shrill screams were heard through the brush along the hillside. Battle Cat roared and ripped forward down the dusty trail, while Adam ignored the smarting in his own haunches. A familiar scent inflamed Adam's senses and those of his tiger, as well. He'd smelled it many times before in the Vine Jungles surrounding Vulnar's Valley ..and danger had always followed. His homeland was already in the distant mists, when he heard the cry for help. "Devilbeaver! Faster, friend! Faster!"

Before Simyran's great cat came to stop, Adam, dagger in hand, sprung from his mount and onto his shaggy foe. Pale green from head to toe, the dazed and naked, young woman it had backed against a tree collapsed to her knees, covered her face and sobbed.

The boy was lucky - more from surprise than overwhelming force or skill, the devilbeaver was tumbled from his prospective prey and into the pond. He'd first hunted the largest and fiercest of them, the purple-backs native to the Vine Jungle, when he was barely seven summers old. The devilbeaver's forest cousin was much smaller, and the young Vulnarian made short work of it. The water around them was quickly made red with the beast's blood.

A lifeless, sodden hulk, the dead devilbeaver sank into the murk of the pond.

"I am called Boa'Na," the trembling beauty answered, as she dressed. Even when her priestly costume was entirely affixed, there was little covering her - a brown, boarhide and bone collar, hung just below bare breasts, and a heavy belt of thin, leaf-shaped gold plates draped about her naked hips. "I am a priestess to Fierce Heuay ..and was fresh from my bath, when the creature attacked me. I-I don't understand -- even my most potent magic hardly fazed it! You have my thanks, stranger, ..and whatever favor lying within my power to grant thee."

In his travels with Lord Simyran, Adam had learned that those few priestesses of Heuay, who dwelled in the Evergreens, ate of a rare tree there, the sweet fruit of which turned their skin pale green over a time. Never before, had the youth encountered one of them so young and lovely as Boa'Na, ..and he felt the breath as though ripped from his chest. "I-I am Adam of the Vulnarians, ..son of King Simyran! Fierce Heuay sends me on this mission, in my king's stead, to the Furnace of Val-Kun, ..but his map was lost in battle with - it's a long story."

"Come, then," Boa'Na commanded, brushing past Adam toward her house. "The only maps that show the way to this place are back in your valley, but I have in my keeping scrolls, which tell of it, ..and I know divinations that might force such secrets from the lips of the gods. I also have a salve for disobedient backsides."

Adam nervously pulled his devilbeaver pelt tightly over his punished bottom, as if to shield it from Boa'Na's powers, ..then, very sheepishly raised his eyes to hers. He marveled that not a scratch or bruise from the devilbeaver's claws and teeth marred her jade flesh. "How did you know?"

Without breaking her stride, the green woman cast a smiling glance over her shoulder, as she returned to her hut. "I am a sorceress, my young friend! Come!"

"Wait!" Adam squealed, following Boa'Na inside. A congress of dead candles there flickered to life, and Adam flinched. Beyond the meager mud and rock opening of the sorceress's hut, he saw that a great hall, carved out of solid grayish green rock, lay within! And from that grand atrium, impossibly long staircases snaked in every imaginable direction, ..surely to other halls Adam imagined to be even grander and stranger than this one! He struggled to mask the amazement on his young face, but could not. "If truly you are a sorceress, good lady, ..do you know why Fierce Heuay has chosen me to take King Simyran's place on this mission?"

"It is your time, Adam," answered the sorceress cryptically, guiding Adam to a small nest of pillows in the darkness. "Your strength! Your courage! These mark you as the legendary hero, who is to inherit the treasure I have guarded all my life, a weapon forged centuries before the Great Wars by Eternia's ancients, ..and though you enter this place a boy, you shall leave a man!"

Much time passed, while Battle Cat waited.

The boy did not emerge from the sorceress's hut for many hours. When finally he did, he carried a large, silvery sword at his side, and the smug conceit of a conqueror shone from his young face. "We go south, good cat, ..to the Bay of Rage! We'll steal a ship there and sail to Mount Esivisu in the Berserk Islands! When we've recovered the Lady Glimevere and reunited her with Mighty Simyran and his queen, we will return here! Oh gods, yes! We must  ..to honor this gentle lady for her timely aid!"

"Showed you the way, did she?" The giant tiger huffed knowingly, as young Adam climbed upon his back. Something sounding very much like amusement purred under the beast's words, but his young master did not seem to care or notice.

"Aye, friend -- many wonderful ways!" the lanky youth sighed ecstatically, gathering the reins in his hands.

"S'bout damn time!" Battle Cat laughed, carrying his young master back onto the stony path. "What of that weapon she gave you - the sword?"

Adam held the silvery broadsword out from his chest, as he had seen his tribesmen do, and swung it through the air. "It's very, very old -- more than that, she wouldn't say. It'll do, ..at least, until I get my hands on a proper battleaxe."

"Aye," Battle Cat grunted, wondering if more was afoot on the road to Mount Esivisu than the foul-tempered goddess had let on ..and what perils still lay ahead. "Lead on, then, Lord Adam!"

"That won't be necessary, good cat," a large, gray man replied, sitting in a tree. "The Bay of Rage is a backward and savage place. Stealing a boat there will only get you killed, leaving the Lady Glimevere without a champion! The noble houses fearing for her safety would never forgive you. From here on, you will take your lead from me, ..General Stratos of Avion!"

"I've heard of you," Adam mused, recalling the history of Eternia's sky-dwelling races. That the Lady Glimevere's plight was so widely known surprised him, but he knew Stratos of Avion to be famous - a hero even to his youthful companions at home. "When the Enemy of Man called you to join his priesthood, you refused! Many of the aerial states feared Skeletor's reprisals and attacked Avion, but a few came to Avion's defense. A war between the aerial states raged for seven years, afterwards!"

"And was finally ended by-yyy ..?" the goggled bird-man quizzed Adam, carelessly plucking a fruit from overhead and biting into it. "Swiftly boy! The Maid Glimevere is waiting ..to be barbecued!"

In the mirrored lenses of Stratos's eye-gear, Adam saw twin phantoms of the skinny, naked boy still smarting from Simyran's discipline. Where the man Boa'Na made of him had gone, he did not know. His reply echoed with the shameful stench of awkwardness. "Uh-hh -- your marriage to Princess Delora of Daedalos, ..of course! For this reason, the skies of Eternia remain free, and the power over them divided equally between the aerial states! I know the history of the classical aerial civilizations much better than the modern ones!"

"Well," Stratos interrupted, leaping from the tree branch to the ground, "if Val-Kun can be bored to death, Heuay the Green has chosen her champion well! Do you think you are ready, ..boy?"

"Boy?!" growled King Simyran's tiger, indignantly. "Master Adam's surely seen more in his fourteen years than many civilized men of your Avion have in the entire of their adult lives! He is Fierce Heuay's champion, and the Sorceress Boa'Na is his lover!"

"She is?" wide-eyed Adam exclaimed in surprise. Then, he straightened his back and affected as much "Of-of course, she is, ..and I've known her every which way! I think."

"Don't get cocky," muttered Battle Cat to the boy on his back, before returning his attention to the bird-man. "At Simyran's side, young Adam's slain monsters from the bowels of the world! Turned back the Priest-kings of Infinitias from enslaving poor and defenseless tribes in the deserts and forests ..and seen wonders that defied reason! If such experience isn't sufficient to impress Stratos of Avion -- if truly, you're him -- so be it!"

"I am a Vulnarian, sir!" Adam proudly huffed, folding his arms over his narrow, hairless chest. Good Simyran seemed fifty feet tall, when he did this, but he would settle for a fifth of that. "I'm not afraid of Val-Kun ..or you!"

"Well met, Lord Adam!" Battle Cat growled, staring down the winged warrior. "This stuffed man-pheasant insults you too freely! I wonder what he tastes like raw."

The gray-skinned man laughed heartily and extended his hand. "Perhaps, you are ready, boy! Now, then -- off we go!"

A dozen or more whooping cries shook the trees, and the boy turned to find a host of Stratos's gray-skinned comrades springing from the treetops in every direction! How so many had concealed themselves from his and his tiger's detection, he could not fathom. Lifted into the air under one of the Avenger of Avion's thickly muscled arms, he saw that Stratos's men followed closely behind him, carrying Simyran's giant tiger in a net! "What makes you think I need your help, bird-man?"

"Look down, pup," Stratos laughed imperiously.

When Adam looked down, his eyes stretched wide in terror. The land below passed beneath them at a maddening speed, and nothing below, but the trees, could be readily identified. Startled, he drew in a sharp breath that he prayed did not sound too much like the half-cry that it was and fastened his small arms over his winged ally's. "By the gods!"

So tightly that Stratos wriggled slightly away to slacken the boy's grip. "Which god might that be? Nanoc, Jondar or Adam the Hunter -- you Vulnarians have so many! It was Heuay's own sister, Mighty Teela, who sent me to your aid."

Mighty Teela was regarded by all of Eternia as the friend and champion of man. A proud, if slightly surprised grin, spoiled Adam's face. To his relief, Stratos could not see it. "Of course, Mighty Teela sent you! If she favors me, as she does Lord Simyran, I must be a great warrior indeed! Is that not proof that I am ready, Stratos -- that the gods are with me?!"

Stratos did not answer, and silently, they approached a nest of large rocks jutting up from the sea like daggers' tips.

At their center was a massive rock, remarkable only for its ugliness, set slightly apart from the ones nearby. As if some horror had driven the others to push themselves as far away from the mythical mountain there as the sea they shared would permit.

The sword, the gift from Boa'Na tethered to the leather cord around his waist, brought Adam none of the peace Queen Angella of Myzargard had wished him. "Faster, Stratos! I am ready!"

Stratos felt Adam's arms tighten, once more, around his own.

He'd studied the boy enough to know it had been an involuntary gesture. He could feel the young Vulnarian's heart pounding ..and smelled the terror in him - a young warrior's fear. This time, the winged man did not wriggle free, and the awkward courage of Simyran's wayward son brought him nearly to tears. "Your gods are with you, Lord Adam. You are ready."

From the charcoal clouds over Mount Esivisu, gray-skinned warriors descended.

Armed with photon-pistol, sword, halberd, spear and mace, they plummeted toward the rocky mound in two great columns, cutting, ripping and smashing through a throng of orc guards as they as they went. Shrieking the battle-cries of their storm-tossed homeland, the soldiers of Avion swept into the large cavern-mouth that served as the mountain lair's entrance and devastated the guards therein. Back to back! Side by side, they ran the enemy through with a furor that sent the orcs hurling themselves over Val-Kun's ramparts, preferring death on the rocks below to battle.

Springing from a net, King Simyran's giant tiger shredded the shields and breastplates of his master's enemies. Beheading a few with the swipe of a claw. Disemboweling others with a savage bite. The golden-haired boy at his side proved equally feral, swinging his blade into Val-Kun's orc hordes as they swarmed to their mountain's defense.

Upon finding one of the younger Avions, a youth of some sixteen years, surrounded by the enemy, Adam rushed to his aid. The cadet battered aside four advancing orcs with his spear, Adam spied a big brute, clad in spiked, metal armor, rushing down between them. In one blow, he cleaved the snarling monster's weapon in half, and it hurled past the young warrior's face. Even as another orc charged the winged youth's unprotected back, a large black halberd clutched in its fist, Adam's eyes stretched wide with helpless outrage. "Avion! Behind you!"

Startled, the gray-skinned youth turned to face Adam, just as the devil's jagged weapon ripped into his chest.

"Delocles!" Stratos called to him, turned in the air by the boy's death-cry.

His face was a tableau of mythic rage, as he plummeted toward the boy's fleeing killer, ..even under the visor he wore. In mid-flight and with one, brawny arm, Stratos drew the orc guard to his chest, broke the devil's neck and cast him into the sea.

Only last night, encamped on a nearby island, Stratos's men were merrily celebrating news of the child in their queen's belly. Now, as the big, gray-skinned men bowed their proud, helmeted heads in sorrow, Adam knelt next to their grieving commander, as Stratos prayed over their fallen comrade. "I tried to save him, General Stratos."

"Take this feather from brave Delocles's harness, Lord Adam," Stratos muttered, cradling the dead youth in one of his arms, as he closed Adam's fist around a silvery feather. "Shed no tears at his passing, for he'd sworn to give his life in defense of Eternia's skies and land, when he was little more than your age. Now, go. Honor my son's courage in battle ..with your own."

Adam nodded respectfully, and the crowd of Avionese fighting men parted to admit him entrance into the shadowy cavern-mouth behind them, where Battle Cat waited beside an iron grate. "You are my most courageous friend, good Cat."

"I would lend you this armor," the tiger groaned, lowering his weary head, "even these claws, if the gods permitted it. In Val-Kun's eyes, you'll be an insect. Nothing. Remember that it is his place to think you so, ..and when he shows least concern for you, strike - and strike boldly!"

Young Adam stretched his arms affectionately around the giant tiger's armored head. "Farewell, Cringer."

"I had thought that none, but good Simyran, know me by that name," the cat snorted, with mild surprise. "May the Star of Lions guide and inspire you, Lord Adam, ..until we meet again."

The journey into the bowels of Mount Esivisu was a treacherous one. The lingering musk of his beloved tiger and the frantic echoes of Boa'Na's sighs gave little solace, as young Adam pressed deeper into Val-Kun's rocky lair. As the pin-pricks of torchlight grew scarcer ..and the air, fouler. One by one, did he see the last of the fire god's orc guards, those minding the stone-laden bridges and tunnels throughout the lair, mysteriously and brutally cut down. When finally Adam reached the heart of the mountain, there was no quarter of their small and elusive foe's body that had not been sprayed with their blood.

A red glow painted the ceiling of the cavern, which expanded upwards into a great cone the full height of which even Adam's jungle-trained eyes could not fathom. In his mind's eye, he'd imagined Simyran's daughter a comely creature, with the wings and charms of an angel. More maiden, than maid. His heart sank, even as he cut through her cage's lock with a swing of his blade. "Gods. You're ..a child."

"I am not a child!" Lady Glimevere huffed indignantly, folding her arms across her underdeveloped chest. The poorly concealed disdain in her savior's voice did not escape her ire. "And I have not been rotting away in this pit, hoping to be saved by one as short and foul-smelling as you! Who are you, anyway, ..and where is my father?!"

Adam stopped to look at her, ..this child. The exotic perfumes of Boa'Na's embrace - the warmth of her flesh against his own - bewitched him still. Her soft love-cries still echoed in his ears. In their wake, the unfinished charms of Simyran's daughter, a coltish thing with lavender hair like her father's, could not hope to compare. "I am named Adam, for the Vulnarian god of the hunt! I swore on Mighty Simyran's hand that I would bring you home. Now, out of the cage, Glimmer, ..and quickly, before Val-Kun's underlings come around!"

Foolish Boa-Na...

A coarse, deep voice thundered from the darkness surrounding them.

"Did she give you that sword to put in my belly?" laughed Val-Kun from the shadows. "Cut off my head, perhaps? Did she think I would, at mere sight of it, give you Simyran and Queen Angella's precious daughter ..and beg for my life--a life in this stinking, rotting hole?"

In the light of the torches, Mighty Val-Kun took shape, and the youth's very blood trembled. Sweet, little Glimevere, clinging to his arm, drew closer to and slightly behind him, such that he felt her quickening breath upon his back. "You are Val-Kun, son of Koas, ..weaponsmith of the dark gods of Mount Molpisu. I am Adam of the Vulnarians, ..and if I must, I will destroy you!"

Standing before Adam, Val-Kun was a man of great height and beauty, ..with a skin like golden metal and dressed in a silken, white tunic. Beneath his strange skin, an artful array of muscles rippled and, upon his head, grew a wild crown of black locks draping over his shoulders and forehead. "I had so hoped your gods would send Mighty Simyran to destroy me. He is a hero, whose exploits are the pillars of legend! I had not expected the gods to send one so small and insignificant as you."

"Me either!" little Glimmer grumbled, looking Adam over disapprovingly.

Under his pale blonde hair, a darkness pervaded the lad-something that had always perplexed and unnerved the big, broad fighting men of Vulnar's Valley, all many centuries older than he. Now, in one arm, Adam held the sword Boa'Na'd given him menacingly before his narrow chest. "I won't seem so small with this axe at your throat, evil one. Let us go ..or suffer the fate of your fellow dark gods!"

"Before Evil-Lyn chained me to this forge, I was the strongest and most beautiful of Koas's dark progeny!" Val-Kun boasted, lowering himself onto a rocky throne. The immortal groaned, and a large, long-handled smith's hammer of dull, black metal took shape in his right hand. "I strode across the Shadow Lands, and the mountains of Etheria rose to court my favor. I am a god of fire and light, ..and I have not seen a sunrise in five million years. Now, Evil-Lyn's rival, Heuay, rules the fire in men's hearts! Once you have slain Heuay, and the cosmic secrets she protects, hidden within Castle Grayskull, are mine, ..I will rule the world of men, again!"

Pushing young Lady Glimevere behind him, Adam looked on in horror as Val-Kun, with one blow, smashed his large, black hammer against the ground with sufficient force to crack open the rock beneath their feet. The cavern floor and walls shook, and he felt Glimevere's hand slip from his arm-then, saw her tumble into a dark crevice in the cavern floor! Kneeling over it, he cried out to Simyran's daughter. "Glimevere? Glimevere?! Demon, what have you done?!"

"Glimevere lives, boy,..for now!" laughed mad Val-Kun, hurling his ash-encrusted weapon for Lord Adam's head, as the young Vulnarian tumbled backward, ..barely escaping death. "But, there's very little air down in those catacombs! No telling how long she'll last! You will cut out Fierce Heuay's heart and bring it to me, ..or you will never see Glimevere again!"

"Damn you, devil," the youth snarled, leaping from the hammer-swing's path and easing into an attack stance. Something of youth and hope bled away from Adam's young cheeks, when Glimevere's hand had slipped from his. Though he gave no sound to it, shame sparkled in the sky blue of his disbelieving eyes, and beyond it, ..wild rage flashed. "What makes you think I'll raise arms against the goddess of destiny for you? When I'm done with you, the Iron Mountains will ring with your screams!"

Bathed in the crimson glow of his forge, Val-Kun grunted, and a sound like thunder rumbled from where his hammer struck the cavern wall. There was a deafening crack ..followed by another ..and still another, ..until a cloud of dust and jagged rocks rained onto his teenaged foe's bare back and head. "The Iron Mountains will be as anthills to me, when Heuay is no more, ..and I unleash the terrors of Grayskull on all mortalkind!"

Young sinews, toned as much by play as warfare, bulged and sprung, hurling Adam free of the monster's attack! Breathless-his lungs burning, he struggled to hold onto the silver blade clutched in his fist. "You're mad, ancient one! I won't betray Fierce Heuay for you or Evil-Lyn ..or even all the secrets of damned Grayskull! Even if it would save Glimevere, I won't do it!"

"Do you feel that, little Vulnarian?" Val-Kun smashed his hammer against the cavern wall again, sending another storm of rocks upon his crouching enemy's back. "It is death at your young throat! Death ..in a dark, filthy hole, where no one will ever know or care how you died! Forgotten by all, ..like me! Forsake my son, your King Simyran! Drive your god-killing sword into wild Heuay's heart, ..and I will make you a god!"

The blackened weapon cracked against the cavern's side, again...

But, the angry fire god's tongue had dealt a far greater blow! In the orange glow of Val-Kun's forge, a hurricane of jagged missiles filled the air, and Adam tumbled over the rock beneath onto his back! He lay there, too paralyzed with disbelief to move--the breath smashed from him by the shock of Val-Kun's words. "Liar! Lord Simyran's mother was the most beautiful of the She-Ra, the guardian priestesses of the Crystal Castle! A great light flashed from the caverns beneath the castle and lay with her for one moon, and Lord Simyran was born of that union! You're not his father. You lie!"

A bright, purple blaze engulfed the golden fire god, and from his outstretched hands, waves of searing blue heat rushed forth like a tide, warping the cavern walls around them. "I was the power that erupted from the Crystal Caverns of Garychon to lie with noble Simeyria! I was the god of Etheria, before the spark that calls itself 'Light Hope' turned my disciples against me, ..and I will never be extinguished! It is your king, who lies to you, young Adam! You will never be Simyran's true son ..or a Vulnarian! You are nothing!"

Adam's back struck the ground first, as he dived under the fiery barrage!

For the fire god's small, savage foe, there was nowhere to run! Diving at his giant enemy's exposed chest, young Adam felt the ground leave his feet in a swift, cool rush - the ancient heat of the forge in his hair! Then, just as quickly, he bounded over the giant's shoulder, leaving a hot gash ripped into Val-Kun's golden face! Then, back to the ground, ..like a cat, onto his feet! In battle against men, the youth had enjoyed an advantage. In this, his first war with a god, his Vulnarian martial skills were barely keeping him alive, ..even as Val-Kun's words cut far deeper wounds. "I'm Vulnarian enough that I'll never kneel to you, ..and neither will my king! Or my brothers! Let Glimevere go, or by Teela's holy rod, I'll see what a god looks like on the inside!"

Val-Kun's golden beauty glowed molten red! Then, iron gray!

It cracked apart and fell away from his body and to the ground in large, ashen plates! A terrible being of blazing, crackling heat rose before him, growing more brilliant with every second, ..until no more shadows painted the walls of the cavern! "So, you wish to see behind the masks of the gods, boy?! Then, look upon Val-Kun now, as did your brothers, long eons ago, ..blazing with the magnificence of ten-thousand suns! Such is the power of Grayskull, ..and it will be MINE! You will slay the Divine Sorceress, Heuay, in my name, or I'll send your king's daughter back to him as ashes scattered on the wind! You will kneel to me, as will all Eternia, ..or I will burn this mountain, and Glimevere with it, into the Endless Void! Choose, boy!"

The golden-haired boy of fifteen summers stepped forward. In blazing heat no mortal flesh could endure, only his scorched pelt and boots fell away from him, leaving him naked, but for the gleaming weapon in his hand ..and the arcane magic inside it. With his own disbelieving eyes had Adam watched the sleek, silver serpent, slither out of the young enchantress's throat and onto the ground-then, in a bright burst of emerald fire, shape itself into the blade he now held! He knew the silvery weapon was mysteriously, impossibly alive with power-that in its eerie glow, no deception could stand!

Not even a god's.

Young Adam trembled before the blinding sun that was Val-Kun's true face and, in one hand, poised the enchanted weapon to strike. The muscles in that arm quivered. He choked down his shameful tears ..and the certainty of his own death. "God of lies! I'm a Vulnarian! Burn this mound into the Chaos Seas below ..and me with it! I choose freedom for Eternia, ..and DEATH to you!"

And Adam hurled the sword, agleam with the power of the stars, into Val-Kun's heart!

A flash of fiery energy erupted from the brilliance, ripping open a jagged hole in Esivisu's side, and all that remained of the titan, a giant ball of white flame, plummeted into the Harmony Sea and struck it with such intensity that no water twisted where it fell. A great cloud of steam and debris filled the salty air near Val-Kun's mountain, ..and bare land, a small and craggy isle, crackled in the mists. From a crevice in its black rock, a warm golden glow emanated. As the fires of Val-Kun's forge died, and the cavern grew cold and dark, sparks erupted from the infant island. Beneath the warm gold of the dawn sky, a new forge blazed defiant and violently alive, ..and a single, glaring spark soared skyward into the cosmos.

Purple light exploded from the shadowy crevice in the ground, where Princess Glimevere had disappeared, and she climbed unsteadily to her feet. Around her, the air crackled with violet sparks of electricity, until a dull purple glow enveloped her from head to foot--then, mysteriously faded. In a cloud of pitch dust, she struggled to stand. "Are we still alive? Val-Kun--is he ...?"

When Boa-Na had told Adam that Heauy the Green had murdered her pregnant mother before her eyes, Adam had not believed her. Though wrathful Heuay was, the story of the warrior-goddess's part in Boa-Na's weird origin too horrible and incredible to believe. Boa-Na had told him of how her mother, a virgin of ancient Etheria, had been seduced by Val-Kun and made pregnant with a burning stone. Then, driven out by the Elders of Etheria, she had wandered the world, until falling into the raging Teela River, where Fierce Heuay had ripped Boa-Na from the stone in her womb and left her, weighted with her strange and fiery burden, to drown. There was a time, once and not so long ago, when Adam believed the world held no greater horrors than the barbarism of Fierce Heuay and the other gods.

But Adam had just slain a god.

"Val-Kun is gone," groaned the wild-eyed boy, stretching out his arm to the fiery nest of rocks below, attempting to will the mysterious blade Boa'Na had given him back into his hand. Adam drew her close, and the tears he'd held back in battle washed down his cheeks into her lavender hair. He would not tell poor Glimevere that she was the granddaughter of the demon he'd just destroyed. He could not gather the breath in his burning lungs to tell her, and so, he held her. "The god-slaying blade Boa'Na called Excalibur is gone, ..and the feather Lord Stratos gave me from brave Delocles's harness--it, too, is lost!"

In the cavern, their faces lit by a few dying embers and shaken by the horrific blast, young Lord Adam and his King Simyran's daughter huddled together, navigating an uncertain path out of Val-Kun's lair. When Glimevere looked upon her young champion, she found nothing covering him, but the ash and filth of the ruined forge ..and said nothing of her grief. "Your pelt?"

"Lost in the fight," Adam mumbled, turning from her. Naked and painted in black ash, Adam pressed his forearms against a wall, buried his face between them ..and wept. Amongst the Vulnarians, Ishteuray's temple is the only place a warrior might shed tears and retain his honor, but Adam no longer cared to hide his grief. His narrow shoulders, covered in soot and aching for the firm reassurance of King Simyran's hands, shook, as he sobbed. "When I thought you were dead, I--nothing mattered anymore. Nothing. Val-Kun is your ...he's dead ...just want to go home."

"I'm told that, when I was born, I was betrothed ..to a prince," Glimevere recalled, tearing off a broad strip of pale, blue fabric from her gown with the sharp edge of a jagged rock. "His name was Adam, just like yours, ..but he was lost in a war. Not dead - just ..lost. My mother tells me that I must be betrothed to another, ..but I have refused this. You see, I think he is somewhere out there, ..in the forests or the mountains, ..enduring. For me. So, I must endure for him, ..don't you think?"

Lady Glimevere's words - the blind courage of them - haunted Adam, as he felt her behind him, tying a portion of her gown about his narrow waist. He brushed the golden mane from his eyes and looked off into the light of the cavern's mouth. "We must endure, Lady Glimevere. I think it's all the gods ask of us. That we endure."


Tomb of the Magic Stealer

By T. F. Cooper  (Based on a story by Gary Cohn)

For nigh a year, the hallowed places across the face of Planet Eternia fell silent, and the engines of destruction roared in deafening dominion over all mankind.

Point Dread, an ancient weapon given life and intelligence by the gods, fell into the hands of the Enemy of Man, and the battle to wrest it from his hands was hard-won and not without its casualties. Chief among them was Lord Adam, He-Man of the Vulnarians, cast into the maws of Oblivion, during a battle to reclaim the dreaded artifact. In that bleak realm into which the evil dead are commended, the barbarian had known no quarter from attack. Striking at his foes without thought or remorse in his own defense,  he often fought without rest for what seemed like many days. Only when the Great Hawk Spirit of his dead tribesmen had taken his lot in that benighted place, had He-Man wrest himself from its grip, ..but was haunted by it for many weeks thereafter. Something terrific - nigh demonic - had been loosed in him that he could not control. However merry the folly or fetching the company, mindless rage was never far from him.

Seeking the healing serenity of divine truth, the Last Son of Vulnar returned to his native Vine Jungles, where, the old gods had first entrusted him with the Sword of Power and infused his body with the strength and stamina of his fifty-thousand immortal brothers, the Vulnarians.

For many nights in succession, as had been the Vulnarian way for countless millennia, did Lord Adam lay with Heuay, the green-skinned Sorceress of the Gods, in her cavern temple, high over the Valley of Vulnar. As Truth incarnate, wild Heuay's body was a living totem of cosmic knowledge, and throughout their lovemaking, He-Man experienced many haunting visions ..of ancient secrets and lost civilizations, of future catastrophes and forgotten prophecies and of alien worlds and dark dimensions! Nothing in her savage embrace eased his torment, and when there was no quarter of Lord Adam's mind and body unmarked by the Divine Sorceress's cataclysmic lusts, the golden-haired giant surrendered to wilder impulses. He began to smash her sanctum apart with his fists! In shame, He-Man left Mount Heuay in the mists and, on the back of his heavily armored tiger, wandered on.

The Most Powerful Man In The Universe had begun to go slowly and violently mad.

For the safety of his friends and allies, and to insure that the awesome power his gods had entrusted him would not be abused, He-Man abandoned civilization. Though King Randor and Queen Marlena treated him as their own son and accorded him all the favors of a man nobly born, for their own protection, he could not tell Eternia's rulers that he was indeed their long-lost heir, Prince Adam of Eternos. In times past, no distance had been vast enough or foe strong enough to keep Lord Adam from their sides. When finally he feared himself a threat to them, He-Man entrusted his faithful Battle Cat to the kindly monarchs and left Eternos for the solitude of Castle Grayskull.

The fortress was far more ruined than any Eternian knew.

Its turrets whistled with the fierce winds passing between their limestone blocks. At the center of its massive, triangular bailey, stood the legendary Hall of Wisdom, ..a monstrous, sandstone pyramid, where, eons ago, the masters of the world guided Eternia's destiny, ..now, overgrown with moss.

He-Man did not truly understand the forces at work in the castle's bailey.

The skies over them, whether night-dark or sunlit, rarely matched those outside Grayskull's walls, ..and there was more. When the Hall of Wisdom was not found there, another structure rested in its place. Sometimes, it was a many-pillared, white marble temple, of the style erected in ancient Helios and Cirsaly. At other times, a crystalline dome glistened there, and still others, a pile of blackened rubble, ..rank with the stench of death and age. While the Hall of Wisdom was the most familiar to him, the spectral tenants of each had admitted him within, more than once, ..and gifted him with insight or weaponry equal to whatever task his gods required of him.

Preferring the openness of the ramparts, He-Man kept a small, hammock on the fortress's right turret, at the center of which an ancient, bronze, ion canon was mounted. There, with enough fruit and smoked meat to feed him for nine moons, did the wild warrior meditate for many weeks. When the steely calm of his Vulnarian conditioning had returned to him, the falcon Zoar, messenger of the warrior-goddess Teela, sought him out with news that might have turned the marrow in a weaker man's bones to ice.

"Heed me, He-Man," the falcon told him. "The Great Fearamid of Extreia has fallen into Infinitian hands, and soon all of Eternia will be slowly bled of her natural magicks!"

"Where?!" Lord Adam asked warily, seizing his Sword of Ancients and springing from his hammock. When any threat to Grayskull arose, blood covenant with the warrior-gods bound their fortress's mysterious power to his will, and in the flicker of a thought, he was standing before the falcon fully armed. "Such a thing could split the entire world asunder! Send me back to the world of men with due haste!"

"North," answered the Zoar. "The Lord of Destruction and the evil warriors, who serve him, labor somewhere in the Ice Lands to unlock the Fearamid's secrets. When they do, this mystic disturbance will strike at the very fabric of Eternia! You must journey to the Isle of Four Grails -- there, you will learn the Fearamid's true ..!"

"Tell me, Zoar!" He-Man growled, seizing the bird by its throat and forcing it to the stony floor. "Why does Mighty Teela's loyal falcon cock now speak with a woman's voice? Who are you?!"

In a great flash of sky-colored light, a woman, beautiful and dressed in feathers identical to Zoar's own, struggled under the wide, bronze hand of He-Man. "P-please! This ..is not the world ..you know! N-not ..the Eternia ..you know!"

"Another Eternia?!" marveled He-Man, careful not to lower his guard. Teeth bared in animal rage, he drew back his hoary blade in one hand and poised it for Zoar's chest.  "How, witch?! How did you do it? Tell me, or I'll ..!"

A blue glow burned where her eyes opened.

From it, the truth of her words flowed like tapped ambrosia into his mind, and his grip upon the woman slackened - but, her would-be conqueror resisted. Suddenly, she felt the wide hand tighten upon her throat ..and her air nearly cut off. "You ..did it, ..barbarian! You willed yourself here! Please ..d-don't make me hurt you."

He-Man's back struck the gray-green stonework of the wall behind him. Several feet away. When he found the strength to raise his head, he saw that he was belly-down upon a black marble floor, ..many paces from where he'd subdued the changeling witch. "What is this place, woman, ..and what are you?!"

The feathered woman was standing. "I am a sorceress, Vulnarian. The Sorceress here ..on this Eternia. There are as many spell-casters here as you see stars in the sky, but I assure you none know a more dreadful purpose than mine. I am Teelana, the Sorceress of Grayskull."

"Grayskull has no mistress!" He-Man fumed, unsheathing his Sword of Power. "It is a place kept by powerful gods and spirits of kings -- a stronghold mortared in the hopes of all men, living and dead, ..that some great power stands between this world and Oblivion!"

"Yes, Vulnarian," the feather-clad woman answered. "The hope that Eternia will endure! I am the keeper of that hope."

"And I am the avenger of man's will," He-Man responded, "the free will of man and the Ancients!"

"Here, it is not so!" Teelana answered, her eyes blazing with otherworldly power. With menacing speed, the feathers of her floor-length cloak arched upwards in the shape of wings. Sky-colored spheres of blue-white electricity crackled around her hands. "Here are the hopes of mankind and the powers of his gods invested in one hand. Mine. Do not make me show them to you all at once!"

The Sorceress’s eyes narrowed to slits, and a sound like thunder rumbled from the stonework of the castle wall. Onto her Vulnarian enemy's bare back and head, rained a small mountain of dust and mortar. With a gesture, Teelana sent another storm of rocks upon her crouching enemy's back.

Large sinews, forged in the pitch furnace of war, bulged and released. Big limestone blocks rolled from He-Man's back, and he saw that the wall he had just felt thundering onto his back was once more erect and intact. "False goddess, ..think your damned tricks will keep my blade from your neck?! Think again!"

Like a silvery bird of prey, the axe flew from the barbarian's hand.

The feather-clad sorceress gestured and growled. A wall of blue-white flame rose from the stonework at her feet, and the axe was turned back toward its master. "Can you not see that the Fearamid is poisoning the power your gods have entrusted you -- the darkness growing inside you? You came here seeking the source of your madness, ..and you have found it."

The hulking, lion-maned warrior grunted, ripping his axe from the air in a large, bronze fist. Mere inches from his neck. "Gods, ..I am going mad."

"Sorceress?" a voice called from a stairwell connecting the ramparts to corridors below. A tall and broad-shouldered man, swathed in a blanket of tawny fur, lumbered from the darkness on bare feet, rubbing his eyes as if freshly awakened from sleep. When he swept the shroud of his flaxen hair from his forehead, the proof of Teelana's claims was bared for all to see. "Sorceress, ..I heard shouting. Is everything alright?"

Standing before He-Man was a mirror of himself. Identical to him in every way, but one.

There was a consequential hardness one attained coming of age in an army of men that was nowhere upon him. The golden hair and pale bronze skin that had made Lord Adam an oddity amongst the Vulnarians was miraculously replicated in this man. That of his body the blanket left naked showed a physique molded by sport, and not even the hint of a scar marred his bare shoulders and chest.

This man, who resembled him in every other way, was no warrior.

Clearly mesmerized by the likeness they shared, the stranger approached He-Man. Unsettled by the hardness in the Vulnarian's broad, bronze face and the uncompromising steeliness of his stare, the stranger studied him. Careful not to lose hold of the fur blanket around his waist, he approached and extended his hand. "I am Adam, ..Prince of Eternia -- son of Randor and Marlena. Forgive my ..curiosity, ..but the resemblance .."

As if entranced, He-Man clasped the man's hand in his own. Confounded, He-Man said nothing. The pale bronze of his face reddened, ..and he fixed his icy glare on the feather-clad witch. "Yes -- the resemblance between us is strange, indeed. Mayhaps, good Zoar will explain it. Now."

"This ..is He-Man," Teelana answered the young nobleman, "guardian of the secrets of Castle Grayskull ..and the last of his kind. He is here to lead you on a perilous journey, Adam. All will be made clear, when you have fulfilled your sacred mission."

"To find the Fearamid of Extreia?" He-Man queried, warily.

"To save our world," the Sorceress retorted. "Our enemy is very powerful -- many heroic warriors have fallen at his hand. For this reason, the Ancients have forged for Adam a great weapon ..and tempered it with all of the powers of Grayskull."

"The broadsword you spoke of, eh?!" the young man gleefully exclaimed. "Though I've practiced with saber, dagger and lance, I don't think Duncan's ever shown me a real broadsword. I can't wait to hold it! What do you know of swordplay, Mr. He-Man?"

At this, the big, bronze-skinned warrior strode up to the man, as if to give him a closer examination. So pale, this Prince Adam was - his unscarred flesh barely known to the sun's infernal kisses. So soft and pretty was he that He-Man was nigh offended by his golden beauty. "Nothing of swordplay, Son of Randor -- only of war."

"You will find it in your chambers," the Sorceress nodded. "Go, now, Adam. Rest and gather your strength. At dawn, you sail to the Isle of the Four Grails with your friends ..and into legend."

"Sleep well, then, ..both of you," smiled Prince Adam, strolling out into a torch-lit corridor and descending the rocky stairs to Grayskull's lower levels.

"He knows, ..doesn't he?" He-Man observed. "His instincts tell him we are one and the same, ..but he hasn't learned to trust those instincts. He's who I might have been, had the men of Vulnar's Valley not made me something ..more. He is not a fighter! He is not ready."

"Prince Adam has seen many mysterious things in the brief time he has dwelt here," Teelana answered, "and you will make him ready, ..should you choose to accept your destiny."

"My destiny?" He-Man replied. "To save your Eternia."

"To lead Prince Adam where I cannot," Teelana corrected him, "as I am bound to this fortress by powers beyond your comprehension. To right the chaos you have inflicted upon our world ..and bring order to the discord you inflicted upon yourself, when you cheated Oblivion."

"I caused this." He-Man looked away. "My resurrection has doomed your world, ..but how?"

"Like the Talon Fighter, the Fearamid is a living machine," Teelana answered, drawing her feathered cloak about her. "Its dying alien creators, once conquerors of Eternia, designed it to siphon and convert Eternia's natural magic into enough demonic power to resurrect their race. When the Ancients defeated them and cast the Fearamid into Oblivion, its nano-soul was destroyed -- its memory and purpose wiped out! Only a great source of natural, Eternian magic, like your Sword of Power, could have awakened it, ..but something else guided it here."

"Skeletor," deduced He-Man. "Somehow the demonking of your Eternia has made the Fearamid's mind think this world is the Ancient Eternia it left unconquered. My Eternia."

"It was written in the Scrolls of Helos," the Sorceress began, peering up into the darkening skies, "that a terror from the Beyond Realms would lay siege to Eternia, this day, ..and that a golden-haired warrior from the ancient bloodline of plains kings would raise arms against it. Adam of Eternos is that warrior."

"If you are not truly human," inquired He-Man, suspiciously, "and this Grayskull is yours, ..why should you care if mankind is destroyed?"

"There was a small village in Cirsaly," Teelana confessed, "where I lived and loved as a mortal, ..until the Horde destroyed it. Just before she died, the first Sorceress summoned me to this castle and entrusted its secrets to me. The child in my womb would never know her mother. More than this, I cannot say."

"No more need be said," He-Man answered, casting off his sword and other armaments to rest. "I've doomed your world. If need be, I will die saving it. I will lead your Prince Adam on his quest ..to the Isle of Four Grails and, then, to destroy the Fearamid. He will face his destiny, and he will be ready, ..or you will never see either of us again. Skeletor will see to that."

"When the Fearamid is returned to Oblivion, a wound will be made in the wall between our worlds," Teelana said, standing stoically before the stained glass of an arched window. Her back to him, as he undressed. The dread in her voice chilled the air between their bodies. "Your blade will guide you back to your Eternia, ..and your presence here will be forgotten. Even by me."

"Is that what you desire?" He-Man asked, resting his hands on her shoulders. Worn down by their duel, his anger at her bled away from him, ..while desire to plunder her body's treasures ruined his will to do little else.

"Grayskull desires nothing for itself," Teelana whispered, turning to He-Man ..and finding her lips hauntingly close to his, "and I am as one with its hallowed halls, as are you with your blade. I ..am Grayskull."

The big, bronze-skinned warrior's hands swept down over the Sorceress's shoulders and hips, drawing her feathered gown with them ..to the floor. Gathering the tender harvest of her womanhood to him, He-Man tasted her and felt her shudder against the contours of his body. "Tonight, you are a woman, ..and I am yours."

Naked and drunk with arousal, He-Man led the comely Teelana down onto the soft blue, scarlet and white feathers of her cloak. His weary lips rushed against hers in a deep, hungry kiss, as her pale thighs parted around him, and sparing paring no arch, curve or shadow his worship, ..he loved her.

Until the moss-laced castle ramparts cried out her ecstasy.

With the Iron Mountains at their backs, Prince Adam and his Vulnarian companion looked down, as the wide blue of the Rakash Sea spread out before the jet-sled they shared. Along its dusty coasts, thrived the numerous fishing villages of North Rakastan, where, just as the Sorceress had told him, the Captain of the Royal Guard waited with the heavily armed Royal Storm Raider, Valeria.

Onboard, labored a crew of familiar faces, upon which He-Man had never before laid eyes, ..but one was more familiar to him than the rest. When the tall, broad-shouldered maid dressed in gold and silver armor, beneath which a simple, white, legless suit contoured spellbinding curves, He-Man could do little, but stare in disbelief.

"What kind of name is He-Man, anyway?" Captain Teela asked offhandedly, as she led the golden-haired youth and his half-naked, barbarian companion aboard the Valeria. The intense curiosity with which this He-Man studied her made the captain more than uneasy. His silence was even more daunting. "Well, stranger?"

"The He-Man serves Heuay, goddess of destiny," answered Prince Adam proudly, recalling his long talk with the man, who so eerily resembled him. "He says it's either Heuay or the highway! Remind you of anyone?"

"I resent that remark, Your Highness," growled Teela, over an armored shoulder.

"He-Man is the champion of Heuay's people," the bronze-skinned strongmen corrected Prince Adam, "and must surrender his will to honor hers. Do you believe in destiny, Captain?"

"I believe ..in these!" the flame-haired vixen giggled, curling her arms affectionately around a large gun barrel. "Photon-pulse cannons with korodithium-reinforced barrels and automatic, bio-recharge power cells! We're going to send anything that crosses us limping to the scrap heap!"

"Korodithium is weakened korodite," muttered He-Man contemptuously, running his hand over the cannon's surface. "When it's seen as many centuries of cannon-fire as these have, it rattles and throws off your shots. It's also very hard to cool off, wearing down the bio-regenerative speed of the power cells. We'll be lucky, if we make it over the Rakash."

"Do you want to live forever?" sneered Captain Teela, directing the barbarian's attention to the storm raider's crow's nest ..and a man covered head-to-heel in silvery feathers. His massive arms and shoulders looked as if made of solid steel. "This is Stratos -- his wings make him a master of tracking and aerial combat! He is guardian of the sky kingdom of Avion."

He-Man knew well the man in heavy, blue armor loading the photon-pulse cannons, though the shadow of his large, metal hood fell over his dark eyes like a mask. "Man-E-Faces is known across Eternia as a great actor and his monster form gives him strength of seven. He is a changeling and master of intrigue!"

The short, stocky man helping Man-E-Faces looked to be wearing a steel bucket on his head. Impossibly large fists, each easily as big as a man's head, swung to and fro at his sides. "Ram Man here has cybernetic legs that make him a human missile. Be warned - he's as quick to befriend, as he is to anger!"

"On my world, it is said I'm quick to befriend," grinned He-Man, gently kissing the fair captain's hand, while cutting a devillish glance at Prince Adam, "and that my friends cannot go long without me, once they have known my .. friendship."

"Ho, this wizard casts his spell skillfully," Captain Teela huffed, meeting his flirtation with an imperiously arched eyebrow, "but he could smell better."

A thunderous round of laughter resounded over the Valeria's deck, and for many days thereafter, her flight to the Isle of the Four Grails seemed entirely uneventful. Clear skies stretched as far as the eye could see, and all aboard found themselves in the best of company and spirits. There was ruckus of the sort that grew from bringing a group of strong willed folk into a small place, but it could be ignored easily enough. Teela kept below deck, where Man-E-Faces bewitched her with classic poetry. He-Man prayed to his tribesmen's gods, and Stratos scouted the skies for airborn attacks, while Prince Adam and Ram Man bickered over the Valeria's navigation like two children fighting over a toy boat.

Of the grim warnings Zoar had given them, not a word had been spoken by any. Nor had any speculation been made of their true meanings.

"How can you be so sure this creaky-timbered wreck'll get us to the Isle of the Four Grails, Adam, .." grumbled Ram Man, awakening from an ambrosia-induced slumber, "-- especially with you at the controls?"

"Swim ahead of us, Rammy," Prince Adam shot back, over his navigation instruments, "if you hate this ship so much! Never seen anyone so whale-like, who didn't call the tide his mother!"

"You'll eat those words, ya perfumed imp!" Ram Man snorted back, shoving the haughty prince aside with an arm and squatting on a large crate. "Now, tell us more of this Fearamid, Mr. He-Man! Where's it come from?"

"It was called 'the Magic Stealer' by the elders of my tribe," the barbarian began. "In a time before time, alien conquerors came to Eternia -- my Eternia. They were the ancestors of the half-human Warlords of Grayskull, who subjugated the Evergreen Forests and Fertile Plains, ..but, they were dying. So, they built a machine that could siphon off the living, mystical energies of our planet ..and harness them to raise their dead! That machine is the Fearamid."

"Hey!" Ram Man pointed to the skies overhead. "Maybe, them angels come to lead us ashore! Look!"

"Hey!" Ram Man pointed to the skies overhead. "Maybe, them angels come to lead us ashore! Look!"

He-Man's eyes narrowed toward the sky, and he too saw them. Whatever they were, they had wings like birds and were descending fast toward the ship, as He-Man's broad hand moved for his hoary blade. Then, just as suddenly, they changed the course of their flight ..and headed for a patch of rocks far to the west. "Mayhaps, good Ram Man -- but, the legends spoke nothing of angels inhabiting these skies. Stratos?"

"No friends of mine, He-Man," confessed the bird-man from his perch in the raider's crow's nest.

"The Sorceress called them the Semini, He-Man," Adam whispered, pointing to the skies, "If I told you why, you would laugh 'til your lungs burst, but they're the sons of Procrustus -- guardians of his island. Should we follow?"

He-Man craned his neck upwards to the skies. "The spirits of the land, sea and sky have all been driven mad. If these Semini can offer safe passage to the Isle of Four Grails, we should follow, ..until the gods give us cause to do otherwise."

Hours passed and Prince Adam studied this half-naked barbarian, who shared his name and whose face was a dark mirror of his own. He was like none of the barbar peoples he had ever encountered in his travels with good Man-At-Arms. As the bronze warrior calmly took his turn at the helm, Prince Adam found himself as fascinated as he was uneasy about him. "The Sorceress called you the last of your kind, He-Man -- what did she mean by that?"

"Not long ago," the big, golden-haired man started, looking out over the rolling clouds, "an enemy of my tribesmen used Grayskull's secrets to admit a monster into our world -- a dragon from Oblivion, called Morgonymyr. It massacred nearly every man, woman and child in my country. There were survivors, mostly women and infants, ..but I am the last of its warriors."

"That can't happen to me," insisted Prince Adam, nervously. Turning from He-Man to face the bleak, grey skies surrounding them. "My father has armies! Weapons your tribe never had! We don't need any champions! Turn us around right now and .."

"You can't turn from your destiny," He-Man answered sternly - a broad hand on Adam's shoulder, "anymore than I could've turned from mine! The evil that set Morgonymyr upon my tribesmen still lives. It is my destiny to fight it. Great armies and great weapons mean nothing."

"Then, ..what will?" The prince was ashamed to look him in the face. Something about the uncompromising hardness that distinguished He-Man's from his own made him feel small. Powerless. A privilege that only his father, Randor, was allowed.

"You will, Prince Adam," answered He-Man, casting a steely glance over his shoulder. "You must ..or Eternia dies."


The voice rattled the timbers of the Valeria's deck, and He-Man drew his blade. Crewmen rushed from all over the Valeria.

"Look!" the bird-man, Stratos, cried, from the crow's nest. "Many miles off the starboard bow, a nest of green hills showing above the artic waters! Do you see it, He-Man?"

"Tis the land Teelana showed me in her crystals," answered He-Man, distractedly, peering out over the waters to ascertain what he saw. Over and around the Valeria, nothing stirred. "We must be close! The Semini are gone, having lead us safely to these skies. Somewhere ahead, in those mountains, are the four, golden Grails of Procrustus!"


The Scrolls of Helios say that Eternia's crust used to rest on the back of Procrustus and the feet of his wife, Hyperia, a sun goddess, whose cult predated Mighty Teela's. In those primordial times, the couple was young and very amorous. The titan had devoured his twin brother to lay with her, and when finally he did, the throws of their lovemaking nigh ripped Eternia apart with earthquakes and tidal waves. When the arms of Procrustus's murdered twin burst from his side, Hyperia was so horrified that she fled into the sky, becoming the sun and giving birth to Eternia's two moons, ..leaving Procrustus to bear the weight of Eternia's bulk alone.

The cataclysms ceased, and, for a time, the world knew peace. On every shore, praised in every tongue, were temples erected to the first and most enduring of gods.


A voice thundered from everywhere at once. The titanium hull of the Storm Raider Valeria shook, ..and the valiant hearts of the warriors of Eternos, each and all -- even He-Man's -- were stopped cold, when they turned toward it. Even the clouds overhead and the winds, which stirred them, were stopped, yielding the wide, gray skies to the God of the Inner World.

"Mighty Procrustus!" He-Man called to its gargantuan owner. "Though I am not of the world you labor to protect -- though I've made no prayers to you, I come before you as a friend ..and ask for your aid."


"M-my brothers?!" He-Man gasped, as he walked to the edge of the Valeria. His voice trembled. "Never dared hope some shadow of my slain brothers might be reflected here, ..and now you tell me -- Lord of the Four Grails, why have you done this?!"


"Not again!" He-Man screamed, drawing the Sword of Power from its scabbard on his back. The horror of finding his tribesmen ripped to pieces by Morgonymyr flooded back into his brain. "By the Nine Fathers! I won't endure their massacre all over again here, ..as if their sacrifice meant nothing! I won't!"


"Forgive me, God of the Grails," He-Man confessed, returning the broadsword to his harness, "Though I didn't know the Vulnarians of this mirrored realm, I feel the loss of them, ..as though it were an arm or mine own beating heart ripped from my chest! Lord Procrustus, ..what favor I beg of you today, I beg in their names -- in their ..honor."


"Mighty one," He-Man beseeched him, "Skeletor uses the Great Fearamid of Extreia to corrupt Eternia's natural magic, the magic of its old gods -- the dead gods of which you are the last! I ask thee lend what might is left in your noble limbs to our cause! I ask thee stay here and hold this frail world together, while I end this dire threat. Send me to the source of it ..that I might save our world!"


The great golden-armored man, tall and wide as a mountain, collapsed onto one knee. Eternia, and even the sky, shook. Procrustus groaned, and the nearby mountain peaks split apart, sending tons of jagged rock into the valleys below.

"He-Man ..?" inquired Captain Teela worriedly, searching his broad, bronze face for an answer.

"We don't have much time, woman," He-Man answered grimly. "He doesn't have much time. The Fearamid is poisoning Procrustus, ..and the land with it."


"No, giant!" wild-eyed Prince Adam protested, rushing to He-Man's side. "The Fearamid's power is great, I'm sure, ..but yours is greater! I will not see you give yourself up to it!"

"Take care, brother," He-Man warned the wayward Prince of Eternia, barring his path with a broad hand flattened against Adam's chest. "Though Procrustus is afflicted, Eternia is still held in his four, ancient hands! Though your world has abandoned him to legend, he has not abandoned you. He is still a god."

"I am Prince of Eternia, Vulnarian," Adam answered, ..and with surprising disregard for He-Man's warning. "If I'm not willing to dare all to save this world, my world, ..what kind of king will I make, when Randor's crown is finally passed to me? Stand aside, Lord Adam. Let me speak."

He-Man studied Prince Adam's face and eyes. He saw no fear there. No screwed down courage ..or empty bravado for the impressing of beauteous Teela and the promise of her favors. He-Man lowered his arm and stepped aside. "You are bold, Adam of Eternos. Yes. Bolder than I knew. Speak."

Heeding Lord Adam's advice, the prince kneeled at the edge of the Valeria's deck, in deference to the God of the Inner World, upon whose back, the Kingdom of Eternia thrived. His pale, golden head slightly bowed, he called to the rocky beach, where the golden titan kneeled also. "Should you abandon your duties now, Lord Procrustus, a great catastrophe will surely ensue! You must not permit that! You must endure as we do! Show me what lies in the Four Grails that I might share some portion of your divine burden."

The great golden man rose to his feet and stood high into the clouds, where sea fowl circled. As he strode out into the wild Rakash, his broad chest and head towering above the Valeria's deck, giant grails of purest gold appeared in his hands. As he approached, the heroic crew of the Valeria, each and all, kneeled. Mesmerized by the sheer size and majesty of this golden titan, Prince Adam stared wide-eyed up into the dark bronze of Procrustus's face.


Prince bowed his head, and, from each golden cup, Mighty Procrustus spilled a drop of their contents onto the kneeling prince's head and back. The youth held up and together his hands, until they were overflowed. Disdaining to lie as wine or water lies, when poured, the perfumed, glowing liquid stirred between his cupped hands, ..where a chilling image quickly took shape. "My friends, ..the artifact we seek is in the artic wastes, in a land beyond the Icer Sea -- a land, where no wind stirs!"


Prince Adam lifted his head to call to him, but the golden God of the Inner World, whose massive, armored shoulders, mere seconds ago, had eclipsed the very sun, was nowhere to be found. Through the mists, a great rumble was heard from the Isle of the Four Grails, bringing the warriors of the Valeria to their feet once more. When the mists cleared, Prince Adam saw that the island, too, was gone. "You have our thanks, Lord Procrustus! We will prevail -- I promise!"

"Ready the Storm Raider!" shouted He-Man, turning toward Stratos in the crow's nest. "We sail to the Salkinds in due haste!"

"The Salkind Islands are in the Dark Hemisphere, He-Man," called Stratos, from the crow's nest. "They are forbidden, ..even by the high gods of my Avionic forefathers!"

"Stratos is right," Man-E-Faces warned the Vulnarian. Carefully. "The Shadow Lands, Snake Mountain - no one's dared these realms, since the Horde Wars. Though, you are a trusted friend of the Sorceress, you are still a stranger here, He-Man. You needn't understand our ways to respect them."

"I don't care who you are," Ram Man glared up into the big Vulnarian's face, mere inches from his massive chest. "You ain't takin' us to no Salkinds, ..and you ain't takin' Prince Adam!"

"Enough, all of you!" Captain Teela cried. "I-I ..don't know how, ..but I can feel it. The barrier between the light and dark halves of our world will soon fall! War, the likes of which Eternia has never seen, ..will rise on every shore. We must press on - all of us."

"The curse of the Magic Stealer's tomb ends here," roared He-Man, shoving the thickly built, armored man backwards and against a wooden beam. "Fools! Your world is dying! I'll not see mine die with it!"

A pained glare flashed at him from the mirror that was Prince Adam's face. "It's me the Sorceress chose to be Grayskull's champion - not you. Don't I have a say in this?!"

The leonine mane of golden hair hung wildly over He-Man's face. Before Teela or his other friends could remove Prince Adam from the warrior's path, big, bronze hands seized the youth's collar! The cursed influence of the Fearamid stirred the hairs at the nape of the Vulnarian's neck, ..like the hot breath of a demon. He-Man knew the power coursing through his sinews would soon be tainted by it, and a rage would possess him that he could not control. He swung the big youth roughly back to the deck and resisted the impious cue to slaughter him. "What say had my tribesmen, Prince Adam, ..when the Dragon of Oblivion was ripping them apart -- when Procrustus drew them into the ground?! They're all dead!"

"Dead because of me?" Prince Adam shivered from the timbers of the Valeria's deck, shaking with terror. Confusion.

"You should have been there," snarled the Vulnarian. His teeth bared in a predatory rictus. "All of you! You should've been there, fighting at their sides! You should've died with them!"

Captain Teela, Stratos, Man-E-Faces and Ram Man looked on, as Prince Adam composed himself, ..and He-Man moved below deck. The Valeria, sturdy, proud veteran of centuries of war, sailed to the Salkinds.

In silence.

The lion-maned He-Man of the Vulnarians was the first to reach the Royal Storm Raider Valeria's deck, when the hum of approaching enemy windcraft stirred him from sleep. Quickly, armed to the skin of their teeth, the others followed.

From the dark clouds overhead, the heroic warriors of Eternos saw the approaching onslaught and unsheathed their weapons. Port bow and starboard cannons ripped through several flanks of the sea-spawned devils, ..but still they came. On ugly flying machines styled like the horrors of the deep and armed with spear and sword, the Mer-Man's demon army raced over the deck, slashing at the crew, as they as they went.

Upon finding himself surrounded by the enemy, Ram Man smashed through an advancing line, sending several big warriors' heads hurtling past Prince Adam's face with one swipe of his axe. "Behind you, Adam!"

Startled, the youth turned to face Lord Mer-Man, just as the scaly, green devil's jagged weapon ripped into his thigh.

"Adam!" He-Man called to him, turning toward the boy's agonized cry.

Prince Adam felt fingers tangle in his golden hair and his body drawn back as if into a cyclone. The dazed youth rolled into a nearby wall and scrambled to his feet, quickly bringing his broadsword before him.

With a demon's swiftness, the Mer-Man, a horror worshipped below the waves as a god, slashed at his pitiful, human prey, surprised at the strength with which this man-child acquitted himself with a sword. Though he attacked him savagely, the prince held his own with courage unmatched by any of the sea-spawned dregs in his own service. When he saw the youth wearing down, that he'd battered him into exhaustion, the demon lord brought him roughly to the ground with one poorly deflected blow ..and poised the jagged teeth of his golden blade for Prince Adam's neck. "Child of Eternos, ..you should have kept to your palaces!"

He-Man rushed towards the green-scaled monster, finding the Mer-Man had taken up his golden sword to strike. In one bright flash of photonic fire from above, he saw the King of the Deep hurled from the Valeria's deck, just as he had launched his silvery blade for the monster's heart, ..and the hulk of its body slammed into the briny sea beneath them.

"Damn you, Stratos!" He-Man cursed, looking down into the Icer Sea, as the Mer-Man slipped into the tide, "Mer-Man's an apostle of Destruction! This Sword of Ancients should be stained with his blood!"

"Not here, warrior!" Stratos shouted back from the clouds. "That is not our way!"

"Damn our ways, Stratos!" growled Captain Teela, as a horde of demons surrounded herself and Prince Adam. "This is war!"

From the bridge of the Valeria, Man-E-Faces fired his gamma pistol into the swiftly advancing sea demon hordes, striking down a few of Mer-Man's guards. As he kept up the barrage, a skin of dark metal enclosed his own, such that it covered his thighs, chest, back and arms - until even his handsome face was lost behind it. Through two, square openings, inhuman green light flashed from behind his metal mask. Iron fingers fastened upon mortal flesh - necks were broken, limbs were torn from sockets and skulls were crushed, until a sea of dead and broken men littered the deck. Resuming human-form, a look of horror took his face. "What have I done? I-I've become a killing machine -- a thing!"

"A thing that fights like a man!" He-Man roared approvingly, climbing onto the red vehicle and extending his hand toward Adam. "The attak-trak, Adam! Now! We must get to the Fearamid!"

With Mer-Man's forces beaten back into the brine below, the deck underfoot littered with enemy blood and gore, ..and the ocean warlord himself driven off, the Royal Storm Raider Valeria floated down onto one of the frozen Salkind Islands. The nigh black of the sky overhead lightened to gray, and the falcon Zoar circled above. But for its throaty call, the heavens fell silent, and the weary warriors, as one, paused to regain their breath. Each and all poised to carry on the valiant, but bloody, crusade their mysterious Ancients had appointed them, no weapon was sheathed. No tortured muscle, relaxed.

And, to Prince Adam's quiet relief, with his back to theirs, no notice of the tears he could no longer hold back. Growing up, he'd looked to these colorful warriors for more than the protection each had sworn himself to render. The sound and warmth of simpler times in the city of his birth flooded his young brain, and, for the first time since his boyhood there, he openly wept.

In the feathered, brawny arms of wise Stratos, winged champion of Avion, he'd found reason.

In the playfully adventurous spirit of Man-E-Faces, the dreamer in him had found understanding and kinship.

In Ram Man's gruff embrace, he had found a big brother, who never tired of his antics, ..as well as strength.

If there was anything of the warrior inside him, he owed its inspiration to Duncan, now all that stood between his beloved Eternos and a world gone mad. Though the brave Man-At-Arms was nowhere among these warriors, the sheen of his courage, tested time and time again against the evil forces of Skeletor, spurred him to stand, ..even in the face of destruction in these icy wastes.

When Adam turned to look upon his friends, ..just as an army of snarling, spear-wielding ice trolls rushed the Valeria from the frozen shore, ..his eyes were beholden to only one. In a frenzied motion, his hand closed upon hers and drew the comely, fire-haired warrior to his lips. Taking Teela's face between his big hands, Prince Adam kissed her fiercely.

Captain Teela trembled against the young man's broad chest. His lips were sweeter to her than ever she had dreamed, but ripe with as much unspoken dread, ..as with love. "Go, Prince Adam. May the Ancients walk with you, where I cannot."

He-Man turned from the attak-trak's controls to a slender hand tightening upon his forearm. Pale green eyes, too ancient for the youthful face that framed them ..and deep with otherworldly power, bore into his own. "I will protect him, Teela."

"You'd better," the warrior-woman warned, imperiously. Her grip tightening. "Or by Morning Star, you'll answer to me!"

The urgent despair in Teela's emerald eyes, where once only strength had shone, is what Prince Adam carried with him into the icy, artic wastes, as he rode off with He-Man of the Vulnarians on the shiny, red attak-trak. He would see it blaze defiantly there again, or so he avowed himself. No matter the cost.

The onslaught of the ice trolls was fearsome indeed, an unrelenting barrage of black iron spears, booted heels, and upraised maces. Yet, still the attak-trak drove onward. Unstoppable! Alive with ancient technology Man-At-Arms had recovered from one of the many ruined civilizations littering Eternia's wastelands. At the barbarian's command, Lord Adam replaced him at the machine's controls, while He-Man, split open thick skulls and armored chests with sword and battleaxe, cutting down the troll hordes in a bloodthirsty frenzy. Choking back his tears, the man-child at its controls struggled to steady his mount, knowing he was his world's last hope, even as the attak-trak exploded under them.

Crafted like a giant, metal wasp, the Fright Fighter, one of many death-dealing aircraft Skeletor used to suppress the barbarous denizens of his hemisphere, appeared on the gray horizon. A flash of light erupted from the cannons mounted on its sides, and He-Man hurled his trusty axe for the three-eyed monster at its controls, ..but it was too late. In yet another flash from the flying weapon, the ground ripped apart beneath the treads of the attak-trak he and Prince Adam shared, and the machine under them burst into flames. The Vulnarian's enchanted axe returned to his hand, ..and the battered warriors plummeted into the freezing Icer Sea below.

Prince Adam choked, as fingers tightened in his flaxen hair, drawing him toward the sparkling surface of the waves overhead. His last memory, before falling into the sea, was of being on fire. Now, even as his skull rang with his own crazed screams, the cold grip of icy waters bit into his bare flesh like the teeth of a hungry panther. His golden head ripped free of the Icer, he gasped. The air burning in his lungs! "Leave me here, He-Man -- go! I-I'm finished!"

"Damn the men of this world," He-Man growled, pulling Prince Adam's naked, white bulk onto the frozen island, "if they are all so easily put on their bellies as you! To crawl like worms, waiting to be eaten! You're a man! I'll fight at your side -- even ready you for the war to come -- but you must do the rest! Get up!"

"You should've left me to die in those waters!" Prince Adam huffed, rolling onto his side to vomit into the snow. Nothing came up. "You despise me because I'm weak -- because I was too weak to save them! Admit it! You blame me for the massacre of the Vulnarians!"

"There was a battle ..at Grayskull," He-Man recalled, hanging his head in shame. "The Lord of Destruction threatened to slay Queen Marlena, if anyone challenged his conquest of Grayskull. The battle was a diversion ..to lure me away from my brothers, while Morgonymyr butchered them. When I'd driven Skeletor from Grayskull and returned to Vulnar's Valley, ..i-it was too late."

"Now, he's going to destroy everything we love," sobbed Prince Adam, "if you don't save Eternia! Leave me, He-Man! I'm dead anyway -- mankind with me, if you don't stop him! Go!"

"No!" With one hand entangled in his hair, He-man pulled Prince Adam up and onto his knees. "Get up, damn you, ..and look at me! You say there's something in our mother's face that gives us strength -- find it in mine! Now, lead on!"

"Lead?!" Intended or not, the query mocked Adam. "Lead where? E-everything's covered in snow!"

"Feel the wind at your back and all around you ..and lean into it, like a wolf!" He-Man grunted. His nostrils flaring wide, as he leaned forward on his own hands and knees ..and breathed in the artic air. "Now, look at that crater up ahead, where the snow is perfectly still -- yet, there's nothing there! The hairs of a man's stones never lie, brother, ..even when his eyes do. What do the hairs of your stones tell you is there, ..in the crater?"

Young Adam winced. As much at his discomfort, as at the animal he had become.

Around him the wind howled, and the white of the snow left him all, but blind. Needles of ice-cold bit into the backs of his thighs ..and what dangled between them. Ignoring his other senses, even those of smell, Prince Adam took what he could from the unmentionable chill below, ..and a perfect triangle, unmolested by the raging winds all around him, took shape in the snow. "Procrustus showed me the Fearamid resting in a land that no wind stirs! Something we cannot see shields the ground ahead, ..or weighs down the ice and snow! Skeletor is here, He-Man!"

"The cold, sharp fate of Eternia is in your hand, Prince Adam," He-Man reminded him of the weapon Teelana had entrusted him, "Your enemies have defiled your house. Your kingdom! You must make them pay for that!"

"But how?" Prince Adam sobbed, burying his face in his arms. "How do I make them pay?! I'm only a man -- one man!"

Gripping the golden mane of Prince Adam's hair in one fist, He-Man ripped his head upward again. The tears he saw running down Prince Adam's cheeks -- the loss of his innocence -- wounded him more than he knew was possible. Blow by blow, had he hammered away at the Prince's childlike nature, and still it lingered. Looking into tearing blue eyes that mirrored his own, he choked back his regret. "You'll not hide from this, brother -- from your destiny! Your king and father lays dying, Adam! Your mother and your world, Eternia, follows him to the grave! What will be your judgment?!"

Naked and shivering, Prince Adam stood ..and brought the silvery Sword of Power before his chest. The icy winds whipped the sodden, flaxen hair about his face, masking his uncertainty. The impotent rage of his grief and of life wasted in a gilded cage of royal privilege coursed through his young sinews one final time, and the incantation Teelana gave him at Grayskull charged to his lips like wild horses.

By the Powers of Grayskull!!!

Half screamed. Half roared.

A horrific, tortured sound tore from the young man, as ribbons of blue-white electricity rippled over his flesh like a tide, leaving the virginal rose of his complexion a deep bronze in its wake. His muscles swelled, barely able to restrain the divine weapon in his hands, as it was pulled magnetically toward the heavens. "He-Man is free, Lord Adam! Free to serve the Ancients ..and mankind! You have my eternal thanks!"

"To arms, then, brother," Adam of the Vulnarians said, slipping the korodite harness onto the new He-Man's massive shoulders. "Take this harness ..with the devilbeaver pelt and boar-hide boots of my immortal tribesmen. You've earned them all."

Swiftly, Grayskull's new champion slipped into the korodite harness and belted a portion of the beaverhide around his waist - then, lumbered off into the icy tempest toward the crater. The air there crackled around him, disrupted by the magic radiating from his body. The veil of mystical energy behind which Skeletor had hidden the Magic Stealer faded away, revealing a monstrous, pyramid of green rock at the crater's center. Slowing his pace, He-Man called to the bronze-skinned man at his back. "Come with me! We'll take the Fearamid together!"

"You must remain here," Lord Adam answered, slashing a deep gash into the snow with his sword, "until I am called back to my own world. Leave the Fearamid to me, ..and when all is done, go to the Valley of Vulnar and erect a monument to our brothers, there!"

"I will honor their code always! I swear it," young He-Man vowed, awe-struck by the resemblance between them, ..down to the weaving of the veins in their massive forearms, as he slid his silvery blade from its scabbard. "Go in honor, Lord Adam, ..and good journey."

Through the icy mists, Lord Adam rushed down into the crater towards the dreaded House of Extreia. Powerful legs carried him over the snow and underlying rock at a speed beyond human capabilities, until, with a wild shriek of warrior's rage, he leapt at the Fearamid's ancient stone face ..and vanished into it! When the big Vulnarian had tumbled back onto his feet, he staggered backwards, finding the pale, green tomb was now mysteriously at his back, stretching into a vast gray-white sky, overhead. Without the Harness of Vulnar to bind the collective strength of his dead tribesmen to him, the Sword of Ancients weighed heavier in his broad hands than ever it had. In one fist, he held it before him. "Where is the Fearamid, Skeletor? Show yourself!"

A black mass took shape in the distance, ..near the edge of the crater. "Did you think the Magic Stealer's tomb of your primitive legends was some fortress of dried mud and stone?! It is a mirror of the terror in the hearts of all mankind -- even yours! That is its power, and you are defenseless, Last Son of Vulnar! Here, naked and alone on an alien world, ..you will die."

Confused, Lord Adam shook his head, ..as if to force himself awake from a nightmare! Surrounding him on every front, north, south, east and west, was the massive, jade monolith impossibly replicated. "You think to hide the true Fearamid behind these illusions, demonking? I'll destroy them all ..and you with them!"

Toting the ram-headed, black Havoc Staff at his side, the Lord of Destruction stepped forward, framed by the soullessly pale green of the monstrous Fearamid at his back. "Look around you, barbarian -- we are inside it! Inside the cold emptiness of Terror itself! Here on this world between worlds, fear rules, ..and I am its master! I am a god!"

As if in protest to the Dread One's claim, a fierce wind stirred between the Vulnarian and his foe. Over He-Man's broad chest and back - over the gargantuan muscles of his loins, lower legs and feet, tiny shards of flying ice crashed together! Until each of the crystalline shards there, woven together by unseen forces, turned to silvery metal armor! Upon his breastplate blazed the Eldor Cross of Grayskull, flickering red as if painted in fire.

A red falcon circled overhead, as if from nowhere, and He-Man glanced up to marvel at it. The familiar tingle of the Teelana's magic aroused his senses, just as it had in their soulful coupling at Grayskull. Silently, from the mysteries of his mind, he thanked her for the gift of armor, and, just as swiftly as the bird had appeared, it vanished into the clouds above.

"It seems you have the favor of this world's gods, barbarian," marveled the Lord of the Wastes, as he threw back his ebon cloak and unsheathed his black Sword of Chaos. "It will avail you nothing, ..and this world will be mine. Mine to burn. Mine to drown. Mine to bury under a steaming mound of dragon feces!"

"I've something that you could never understand, demon," He-Man answered, bringing his silvery weapon to a defensive position, "a love for Eternia, even this one, ..and for mankind! That is weapon enough!"

For a silent moment, He-Man and Skeletor circled one another.

Digging his clawed boot-heels into the virgin white of the snow, the ebon-robed Lord of Destruction twirled his fiery, black blade in one hand ..and snarled 'neath his golden skull-mask. The monstrous thews of his Vulnarian foe tensed with the promise of the battle to come, ..until, with one primal roar, they came crashing together.

In a storm of metal and light!

The Enemy of Man swung his sword forward, and He-Man was forced back by a fierce and powerful blow. He rolled backward across the white ground, as his grotesque pursuer advanced, and sprung back to his feet - the Sword of Ancients held firmly before him. "Two worlds lay dying at your hand, Skeletor. This time, you have gone too far."

"And you have lost, barbarian," Skeletor warned through hollow eyes, digging and swinging the fiery blade at his golden-maned enemy's throat. He watched, as He-Man's savage blows impacted against the invisible shield surrounding him, and though none had penetrated, the sheer force of them had battered him back to the edge of the crater. In one, graceful stroke, the Dread One's Sword of Chaos sank through He-man's armor and into his right shoulder. When Skeletor withdrew his weapon, he heard his young foe hiss in agony ..and the hero's hot, red blood sizzling on the fresh snow. "Though you are the champion of the gods on the world of your birth, you are nothing here, .. and I am invincible. When I have choked this Eternia with its own fear and rage -- when its temples are littered with murdered priests, and the Royal Guard is raping young noblemen in the streets -- I will return to your world, ..and I will destroy it!"

"You want to see us cowered in dark caves again, eating each other to stay alive, don't you?" Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, He-Man circled his black-robed foe, pacing his next strike and careful not to lower his defenses. The Sword of Power held before him. "You want us terrified of the monsters grazing in the daylight ..and praying to you to keep them at bay? Those days are over, demon! Man'll not be ruled by his fears ..ever again!"

His flaming, black sword in one hand, the skull-masked demonking drew back his hand and hurled his blade deep into He-Man's right arm. Looking down into the icy blue of his eyes, Skeletor ripped his sword free and saw a thick rain of crimson sprayed across He-Man's silvery breastplate. "Had I a soul, your effort to understand me would be charming. Heartwarming. I want to wipe you from the cosmos, human! I want to see you slide from my heels, like waste ..into Oblivion! Can you understand that?"

That the next sadistic blow would be fatal, He-Man did not doubt. "Then, by Zodac's Black Gun, may I drive thee with one righteous blow, back into realms beyond!"

As He-Man looked on, the Lord of Destruction swept his sword high over his hooded head and swung it downwards. "From world to world, you follow me, like a faithful hound, ..hungering for the battle that will complete you. Concede, Vulnarian. Concede that I am your master."

The world blurred before him, as the Sword of Chaos pressed into his throat. It was only by force of his will that the blade did not cut him. His fingers curled over its edge, resisting the pressure upon his neck. It would take off his head, should his will weaken. "You are nothing, Lord of the Wastes, ..and this battle is over!”

Inside the mile-wide crater, from the monolithic Great Fearamid, a blinding white flared. Before it, the Enemy of Man fell to his knees, surrounded by shadowy figures with strange, alien weapons. "The Lords of Extreia?! No! This cannot be!"

"Oblivion is the tomb of the Magic Stealer, Skeletor," one of them answered, standing over the confounded demonking. "The Fearamid is no more, and you are fading. Soon, you will both fade from this plane, just as we did, ..and be forgotten!"

Skeletor clawed at his ebon robes and the rotting flesh beneath, only to see them turned to so much black dust. He began to fade! "I control the mightiest forces on all Eternia -- of the universe itself! I am a god! I will rule the world of men! I, alone!"

"Like Mighty Procrustus, your power is now divided between many worlds," He-Man grunted, rising to stand, "and you've wasted it all in battle with me. Only one blow need be struck to bring you low, ..and, somewhere out there, the He-Man of this world has just struck that blow! I leave you to the vengeance of the Magic Stealers!"

With that, the Fearamid’s ghostly, alien masters attacked Skeletor, until only the demonking’s screams lingered on the air.

From the north, light flared!  Throughout Eternia, ..in the forested paradises, fertile plains and mystic mountains - and even at the lonely, tempest-tossed Castle Grayskull -- joyous spirits, seen and unseen, cheered, ..and all was well once more.

Flat on his back, at the center of a vast, frozen crater in the Salkind Islands, He-Man awoke to see the broad, ruddy face of his friend, the Man-At-Arms, ripple into focus. "Duncan? How did you ..find ..?"

"Zoar guided us here," the old man answered, lifting a flask to the big Vulnarian's lips and signaling Captain Teela to approach. "The falcon told us you lay near death in these icy wastes! Are you ..alright?"

The comely, red-haired woman cast a confused glance over her shoulder, kneeling down to examine Lord Adam. "That flash of light that just lit up the sky -- what was it?"

He-Man grinned proudly, as Captain Teela and Man-At-Arms helped him onto the Royal Storm Raider Valeria, ..the same scarred, old wreck he'd driven into battle so many times before. "A fight, methinks, ..and it's just getting started."

The Four Grails of Procrustus are passed between many halls, that all, who share his burden, may partake of their strength.

Now, the grails are passed to another.

"I am Adam,

Prince of Eternia and guardian of the secrets of Castle Grayskull

Ever near, is Cringer, ..my fearless friend

Fabulous, secret powers were revealed to me

The day I held aloft my magic sword and swore ..

By the powers of Grayskull!

Few others share this secret,

But only one shares the burden

He is He-Man, the most powerful man in the Universe,

And brother to all Mankind."


Raiders Of Point Dread

By T. F. Cooper with Kirk Trigon (Based On "The Power of Point Dread" by Gary Cohn)

Naked, Into Etheria

Since before the Great Horde Wars and the Second Unification of the Eternian Kingdom

Through warring and hard-won peace, had Titus Duncan been Man-At-Arms at the Court of King Randor, ..and he knew times of enduring peace to be the most treacherous of the pair. It was in repose he’d seen fit warriors grow lazy and undisciplined. Soft! It was in times of peace and prosperity he’d seen strong kingdoms grow fat and weak, while enemies plotted beyond the gates. From the computer in a bronzium metal gauntlet on his wrist, he commanded a subsergeant to double the drills for the warriors at Fort Eodwar on the golden sands of the Harmonic Coasts.

If the Royal Guard went soft, it wouldn’t be on Titus Duncan’s watch.

Under moonlight, surveying the surrounding kingdom through the virtual binoculars projected from his silver helmet, man-At-Arms turned to a sound at his back ..and drew his bronzium mace to meet it!

“I must say, good Duncan,” Lord Adam of the Vulnarians groaned lazily, naked and nursing a pitcher of ale, as he strolled onto Freenorn Castle’s ramparts, “—all’s been most peaceful for long weeks, since my arrival here at Eternos, less than a fortnight ago! So peaceful that Ram-Man, Battle Cat and your own daughter, Teela, have gone off seeking adventure in the Golden Isles!”

“Aye, they have,” Duncan replied warily, securing his mace and ignoring the foolish boredom in He-Man’s voice. “Off they went, with Roboto, young Tom-Stone, Rio Blast and Moss Man sailing the Rakash! With my brother, Fisto and Stratos of Avion already a week in the jungles of Targa, hunting with King Gar-Gan and Queen Rana! Surely, the nocturnal conquests of the great He-Man haven’t left him lusting for more!”

“Wouldn't you?” the weary Vulnarian groaned, swilling back his ale. “I’m in love with a very jealous and strong-willed woman, who won’t rest, until I’m belled like a cat, ..no matter what I do or don’t do!”

“Thank the Ancients it hasn’t come to that!” chuckled Man-At-Arms, adjusting his binoculars. “We of Eternos’d never get any sleep from all the ringing, if it did!”

The big, bronze-skinned man threw his golden head back and laughed out loud! “Mock me all you like, old man! I’ve the strength and lust of a fifty-thousand man army coursing through me, and it’s not so easily tamed with parlor games and loveplay! I long for action, excitement—and I will find it!”

“Seems your longings have been answered, my friend,” replied Duncan distractedly, as the skies darkened overhead. “Aye—in ways we’d not imagined! To arms, Lord Adam!”

Lightning flashed in the clouds, ..such that night was turned to day!

Thunder shook the ramparts, and the Goddess Teela, in copper-scaled dragon’s hide and armor, stood before them. In one of the many gardens that surrounded the Royal Palace, He-Man and Man-At-Arms knelt before her in deference.

…Stand fast, heroes of Eternos! Gharycon, the Dragon of War and Oracle of Etheria has gone mad ..and now labors to bring his mistress, Ishteu’Ra, back to life! It now falls to He-Man, Last of the Vulnarians, to stop him at all costs…

In one hand, Mighty Teela held out Lord Adam’s hoary Sword of Ancients, and bid him take it.

The golden-haired giant raised the blade high overhead and, in the tongue of his Vine Jungle tribe, called out to the mysterious masters of Castle Grayskull!


The whole of his Herculean physique seemed to explode with heat and light, and He-Man suddenly stood before her in the korodite harness, devilbeaver pelt and mystical armaments that made him nigh unbeatable in battle. “For eons, the Crystal Castle above the Caverns of Gharycon has been Eternia’s first defense against Infinitian invaders! For ages, have you and the other Warrior Ancients defended mankind from foes of and beyond the world of men! Do you now bid me bring low the Dragon God and his warriors, ..leaving the Benighted Kingdoms free to push into Eternia unchecked?”

“The ways of the gods are truly mysterious, Lord Adam,” Titus Duncan whispered, with a reassuring hand upon his friend’s shoulder. “You’ve only your heart to guide you, ..and a nobler heart than yours, I’ve not known. Trust that the Holy Warrior’s cause is wise and just, as always it’s been, ..and leave Eternia’s protection to me.”

Turning from Duncan, He-Man glared into the dark skies overhead. The wind whipping his golden hair into his face! “Heuay’s Man does not understand his mission, Mighty Teela, ..but, he obeys! Send me to the Caverns of Gharycon ..with all haste!”

…Go, Avenger of Man! Let your outrage carry you across land and sea ..into the mountains of Etheria! Into the Caverns of the Dragon God! Go, ..lest a great evil thought long vanquished be returned to the world of men! Go…

The Warrior Goddess raised her snake-headed Rod of Order, flaring with blinding, spectral light, ..and He-Man felt himself slammed against a stone wall! Shrugging off the impact, he found the gardens of the Royal Palace were nowhere to be found. Warily, he climbed to his booted feet and found himself in a large cavern, lit by many torches. The smell of burning metal was in the air, and he turned to the sound of whispers, nearby.

He saw Gharycon kneel before the tomb and the She-Ra unsheathe their broadswords. “No, daughters of Ishteu’Ra! For the Shame of Norgnaval, don’t do it! Don’t slay him!”

It is too late, He-Man of the Vulnarians!” the wizard replied. “The offering has been made! I will sacrifice my human form, and the Goddess of Honor will live again! Beloved daughters, take up thy swords ..and fulfill your destiny!”

“Friend Gharycon!” called the sword-slinging barbarian, rushing to stand, ..but finding himself trapped behind an invisible barrier. “Release me, Oracle of the Crystal Caverns! For reasons unknown to me, the Holy Warrior has forbid this!”

“My beloved Ishteu’Ra cries out from the Land of the Dead, Lord Adam ..for justice!” cried the sorcerer, as another flash of white lit the shadowy caverns. “Only a dragon’s power—my power—can bring her back to life, ..but, to be a dragon again, first, must I die as a mortal! Now, She-Ishteu’Ra, ..to your blades!”

Golden-haired Temathys, commander of their shadowy sorority, looked down at the sword in her hand and, then, at her sisters. “Resist, sisters! By all that is sacred, resist him! The Great Dragon bewitches us through me ..and the power of this enchanted blade—Ishteu’Ra’s Sword of Protection! He bewitches us ..to slay him! We must ..resist…”

Struggling against his bonds, Lord Adam looked on, as Temathys and her sisters seized Gharycon, pressing him hard against the stonework of the sarcophagus’s edge, ..until a violent cry echoed throughout the cavern temple. Thrusting their blades deeply into him, the noble She-Ra cried out in outrage at what his magic compelled them to do and saw the wizard’s body going limp under their swords. Leaving only their master’s heart unscathed, the noble She-Ra fell, as one, down upon their knees!

Screaming out the names of the gods, they could barely hear the big Vulnarian’s warning. “It’s Temathys! Stop her! Take her sword!”

The final, ritual strike was left to she, who wielded the Ishteu’Ra’s blade, and, ..roused from their murder-spell, the poor She-Ra threw themselves at tall, broad-shouldered Captain Temathys in a desperate attempt to save their king. With the wild strength of a demon - with punches and bone-shattering kicks, the mindless amazon hurled the warrior-maids from her path and drove her golden sword through the Gharycon’s heart! Awakened from the murder-spell, fair Temathys staggered backwards and into the arms of her sisters, ..horrified at her dark work. “Noble Goddess, forgive me! Forgive us all!”

In the shadows, He-Man saw the limp, broken form of the wizard began to shape itself into something else!

From where Gharycon fell, a great beast with skin like the metal of a golden cup, stood upon all four clawed feet and well higher than ten men stacked scalp to heel! Gharycon turned to the open sarcophagus where his beloved warrior-queen, Ishteu’Ra, lie dead for millennia ..and saw the mummy there reduced to dust! “No! No—it cannot be! Beloved Ishteu’Ra, ..for long weeks, you’ve called out to me from realms beyond—from the grave! How have I failed you! What have I done?!”

At the center of the chamber, he saw that a piercing violet light flared.

Deep, throaty laughter filled the air, echoing throughout Ishteu’Ra’s cavern, such that tiny cracks formed in its walls, and the skull-faced Lord of the Wastes, of benighted lands beyond the Sands of Time and even Etheria, ..materialized before him.

To The Damned, A Queen

From the empty air around him, walked Skeletor’s Priests of Infinitias, and he raised his Havoc Staff before him!

On all fours, his great golden wings upraised, Mighty Gharycon charged the demon-king and vomited forth a wave of blue flame, battering the priest-kings to the ground, screaming for mercy. Only mad Tri-Klops of Titanos, under a crown of dark green ore marked by three, jeweled eyes, dared to resist him. From one of the eyes, sky-colored rays of death turned to sparks against the great monster’s golden skin! Broadsword in hand, the Infinitian warlord launched his heavily armored body at the immortal dragon, striking him in the neck with blows that might level a tree, ..before Gharycon, with one hurricane-swift claw-swipe, smashed him against a cavern wall.

“Unholy One,” cried reptilian Mer-Man, lord of undersea Moratain. “Your loyal priests endure ..and beg for vengeance!”

“Aye, Lord Skeletor!” growled the Beast Man of Gorre, nursing a scorched shoulder. “Slay the Dragon God and be done with him! We Priest-kings of Infinitias demand your allegiance!”

“Demand, monster?!” the hooded, skull-masked demon hissed. “Stay your insolent tongue, if you would keep it, ..and behold the unleashed fires of the Void!”

Magicks honed in the fires of a thousand hells enveloped the Lord of the Wastes, bending the dragon’s flames around his body, while the rock beneath his booted heels was scorched. The hooded thing that was once Keld’Thor the King tumbled back onto its feet – the Sword of Chaos held out before him. Against a mortal enemy, his enchanted blade might have made him unbeatable, ..but, against a dragon, there’d been no quarter. Skeletor thrust his energy blade forward, and a great beam of violet light brought low the once infallible Dragon of War.

The Caverns of Gharycon shook, and great shards of it the size of horses broke of from the walls and crashed to the stony floor!

At Skeletor’s command, a hell-mouth opened, ..and the She-Ra warriors, weapons in hand, were swept into it! “Ishteu’Ra does not wait for you in the Beyond Realms, foolish She-Ra! I used the haunted, howling winds of Oblivion to make your dragon king believe she did, ..long enough to trick him into resuming his dragon form and power—dark power that will soon be mine!”

The secret of the Crystal Caverns is knowledge only the Ancients possessed. For many years, King Simyran and his Vulnarian brothers had taken great comfort in that. It was comfort the last son of their valley no longer shared. “You engineered the visions that drove Gharycon to sacrifice his humanity—visions of Ishteu’Ra?!”

The undead demon-king laughed, and the hall was filled with the stench of his rotting breath. From the folds of his black cloak, he slipped a large broadsword formed of black metal – the dark twin of Lord Adam’s own Sword of Ancients and eerily resembling it in every detail. "Yes, dog of Grayskull! Only in his dragon form can I cut out the talisman that is his heart ..and unleash from it, a power that is as ancient as it is beyond human reckoning! Living power, He-Man!"

From Skeletor's eyes, spectral light flared. The Temple of Ishteu'Ra shook!

In his upraised hands, Skeletor plunged his black blade of Chaos into Gharycon's side, and the great dragon, his wings drawn back and his claws frozen in a great lunge, roared and twisted against the arts that immobilized him! From the dragon's hide, a large red crystal, the size of a dog's head, emerged and drifted into the evil one's hand. "Behold, insects! The heart of the dragon god, the Crystal of Gharycon, ..is now mine!"

The sound of sand shifting in the desert wind at his back, He-Man turned to see Ishteu'Ra's ashes twist into the air from the warrior-queen's tomb and assume a female shape. He saw the slender, mummified body engulfed in blinding violet light and eerily transfigured into something beautiful ..and alive. With Mighty Gharycon’s hold upon him broken, He-Man called out to the phantasm. "Queen Ishteu'Ra, ..speak to me in the tongue of Vulnar’s Valley, if truly you were ever its queen! "

"No, Adam!" Surrounded on every side by Skeletor's Priests of Infinitias, the Dragon of War struggled against the web of fire! From his maws, a broad flash of blue flame filled the air, ..and he saw his Infinitian enemies step slightly back. "Remember the walls of the temples in East Rakastan, my friend! In Titanos! In Helos and Harmonia! At Snake Mountain ..and buried in the Sands of Time! All over the world, is her image painted in sacrificial blood! That is not your Noble Ishteu'Ra!"

"No, dragon—it is not," Skeletor hissed from a shadow. "She is Conquest ..and Murder! The darkness of the moon ..and of black magic! She will dare what your Ishteu'Ra could not, Vulnarian! She will live again, ..and man will be as dust before her!"

Answering the demon-king’s call, the naked, golden creature strode over the empty air as if it were firm ground – a sickly, white emptiness in her eyes, where the light of life and humanity had been. "Eons ago, there was war between the kingdoms of Gharycon the Dragon and of the Lyn, ..the twin moon goddesses of Infinitias! My sister fled the dragon's wrath, but, Gharycon devoured me entirely! Now, after countless millennia imprisoned in the crystal heart of the Dragon of War, Evil-Lyn is free again ..to conquer the tribes of man! To slaughter him like cattle and bathe in his blood! Finally, to rule!"

A blinding flash of light filled the space between He-Man and the pale witch, and he was jolted backwards and off of his feet! As he labored to stand, another flash of light filled the temple hall, and a stream of violet energy erupted from the darkness where Evil-Lyn stood, striking Grayskull's champion in the chest. Pushing himself up from the cavern floor and onto his hands and knees, He-Man gasped, struggling to breathe.

"Strike, warrior goddess!" Skeletor growled. "Crush him, ..and the might of the Warrior Ancients will be ours to command!"

“Bitch of Infinitias!" He-Man growled, struggling back onto his feet, ..with the Sword of Ancients before him. “I slew your twin sister, and I will spare you nothing less than Oblivion!”

"You will do nothing!” Evil-Lyn laughed. Her black hair twisting in the air around her head, like serpents. “I live in the bones and flesh of Ishteu'Ra! Attack me now, and you defile the sacred body of she, who is daughter to your god, Vulnar, ..and sister to your dead, warrior race—a sacrilege in their eyes, punishable by damnation eternal in the fires of the Void! You cannot touch me, Heuay Man! You dare not!"

His heart pounding and gasping for breath, He-Man felt death's chill upon him.

The big man raised his sword to pitch like a spear into Evil-Lyn's heart, just as the goddess hurled another blinding bolt of magic from the darkness, and he was struck down once more. A broken thing now, scorched by hell-magic, He-Man groaned and rolled from his back to standing back upon his feet, as his enemies looked on with disbelief. Barely able to lift his hoary Sword of Ancients, he glared blankly into the faces of the black-hearted Priests of Infinitias—of Tri-Klops, Beast Man, Mer-Man and Trap-Jaw—who, with a primal cry of blood-lust, set themselves upon him with whip, blade and fist, until the big barbarian collapsed in a river of his own blood.

Worms! Filth of Infinitias!” roared Mighty Gharycon! Outraged, the dragon broke from the grip of the energy web and rushed at the demon-king’s servants, searing them with fiery waves of death, as they fled, ..but, found himself hurled backwards by a barrage of blinding, spectral light from Skeletor’s ram-headed Havoc Staff! So strong was the attack that the legendary monster struggled against it. As the primal fires of creation ignited inside him, and the cowardly Priests of Infinitias fell back to the cavern temple’s walls, .. Gharycon the Dragon vanished!

“Be praised, Priest-kings of Infinitias,” the Lord of Destruction hissed approvingly, as his evil warriors knelt before him. “The black sacrament of Evil-Lyn’s reincarnation is done, and, through her, the terrors of Grayskull will soon be mine to command! Rise, scum, ..and by your soulless hands, will Eternia be delivered, like a ram upon the altar, unto me!”

“Enough, Enemy of Man!” Evil-Lyn commanded, her eyes ablaze with otherworldly power. “Mine is the hand, which slaughtered the Dark Gods of Mount Molpisu, that the King of Snake Mountain might bathe in their divine blood! Grayskull will be yours, only when I’ve met my ancient nemesis, the Goddess of Order, Teela, ..and taken her head! Let us go now to Eternia ..and feast!”

With a hand, the mad witch gestured, and shadows from every corner of the room snaked around her bare breasts and hips! Lightning crackled, shaping the shadows into a suit of black armor, with breastplate and pteryges trimmed in steel! In a flash of light and power so great that the crystalline walls of the temple buckled and warped, the she-devil grew in height and girth, ..until she was as tall as three, big men stacked, scalp to heel, one atop the other! Then, with a groan and a single swing of her scepter, the golden-skinned warrior-goddess smashed through the cavern wall and, in an explosion of light, streaked into the sky! As Skeletor looked on, the darkened skies overhead cried out, violated by Evil-Lyn's black presence! Thunder shook the ground! Lightning slashed at the dark clouds!

Below, in Etheria, the Swiftwind Sea, roused by the moon goddess’s power, rushed into the lower valleys, far faster than the poor peasants could escape. Evil-Lyn’s laughter echoed through the clouds, as thousands drowned below.

Holding the Crystal of Gharycon in one gauntleted hand, Skeletor raised his Havoc Staff in the other and looked down at where He-Man lay, senseless. "Mark and remember, child of the dust—nightfall will turn to dawn, and all of Eternia will fall before me! With the power of the warrior gods and the secrets of Grayskull, I will conquer the Universe, ..and you will watch!"

"You will pay for this, Skeletor!" Breath knocked from him, Lord Adam tumbled against a pillar and struggled back to his feet, when a cord of blinding energy slammed into him, cracking against his stomach muscles like a giant's hammer ..and sending him down upon his knees. As Skeletor and his scientist-priests faded before his weary eyes, the big, bronze-skinned Vulnarian felt the Dragon King's cavern temple begin to shake and crumble...

And, for a time not his to calculate, the world around He-Man turned completely to black.

"You will need allies, Vulnarian," hissed a mysterious voice from the darkness. "Against the Lord of Destruction and the all the forces of black Infinitias, you will need the She-Ishteu'Ra, ..if Eternia is to be saved."

On a rocky beach, He-Man awoke to find three, shadowed figures standing over him. Behind and all around them, the Etherian Mountains, like jagged, rose, lavender and jade cathedrals, stretched into gray skies overhead, ..and the Crystal Castle was far above even them.

Sword of Power in hand, He-Man stood, amazed to find his wounds miraculously healed. With a suspicious glare, he studied one of the armored women before him, and his mind flooded with memory. "When last I traveled the mountains of Etheria, my Vulnarian brothers discovered the alien despot Hordak, long believed dead after his defeat at King Randor's hands, was building an army here. His Force Captain was a comely, golden creature, who slaughtered men with a whore's lust in her eyes! You, Temathys!"

"Before Hordak threw me into the Valley of the Lost for conspiring with you, he was the only father I’d ever known." With a free hand, the golden-haired amazon signaled her companions to keep behind her. "The raging Swiftwind Sea, which passes through Etheria, once every nine thousand years, carried me into these mountains, where the Mysteries of Ishteu'Ra healed my body ..and turned my rage into wisdom! I am not hiding here, Prince Adam. If it’s revenge on the Horde you desire, take it from me, ..or join us, and we will avenge our fallen together!"

Climbing onto the flying battle-ram Tri-Klops left behind, the bronze-skinned giant lowered his blade, as Temathys looked on. "Simeyria, the mother of my king, once commanded the She-Ishteu’Ra—you’ve succeeded her well, Captain Temathys! Fought honorably and paid for your crimes! You are Eternia’s first line of defense against the Shadowed Lands, Guardians of the Crystal Castle—I am its last! Good journey, for now, ..and may the Ancients unite us in victory!"

Half-naked, with nothing but his sword ..and a mind addled with visions of King Randor’s city in ruins, He-Man flew his machine out into the Etherian Mountains and toward Eternos.

Into the dark.

Infinitians At The Gate

A nigh deafening boom shook the palace, upon Lord Adam’s return to the Royal City Eternos.

Abandoning his flying battle-ram on Castle Freenorn’s limestone ramparts, the big, golden-haired Vulnarian leapt down into the courtyard and bounded toward the Royal Palace on booted feet! Even as his mind raced with concern for King Randor of the Freenorns and wise, gentle Queen Marlena, the exotic colognes of the Far East, which were the King's alone, roused his jungle-trained senses and set him firmly on their owner's trail with all the speed of a leopard. All the while, his other senses told him the thunderous shock he'd heard above was nothing of nature's making.

The night itself bore a strange, scorched scent to him, as if the very fabric of the air had been singed, while He-Man raced over the palace grounds ..and the thunder of war raged all around him. He knew well, fatally well, what a dragon's fiery breath smelled like, ..and this was not it. Something powerful, a machine of some kind, was attacking the Royal Palace from the air once more, even as he ran toward the Royal Palace.

Another blast shook the ramparts, and behind him the Northeast Tower flew apart in a bright flash of flame and broken rock, but He-Man kept running - the Sword of Power gripped tightly in his fist. From the clouds overhead, soulless, red eyes followed him over the bailey of Castle Freenorn, and a black shape hurled downward into the courtyards at Lord Adam's back, forsaking all other prey for pursuit of him.

The Vulnarian's senses flared with awareness of the dreaded Talon Fighter - of its very mechanical essence. Its blackened, metal shell. The heat of its guns, as their ancient mechanisms whirred to life. The terror it left in its wake, as its crimson-tipped wings passed over battle-hardened soldiers, and six bursts of golden, cosmic fire cut through the darkness. Legs that have scaled cliff-sides and outrun lions beat through the air before their prey, ..and the ground before his feet exploded apart.

In a cloud of disintegrated rock, He-Man fell.

As if assured of its conquest, the Talon Fighter raced over its victim.

Rolling into a downward glide, its left wing tilting slightly, the Fighter sped down into the vast courtyard, ..toward its intended victim! Lower and lower it flew, until it was close enough to the ground to shear off the tops of small trees - to behead a man standing upright! Something sharp ripped into its blackened hull, and the metal there was heard to scream, as its undaunted, mortal foe rose from the dust, ..the Sword of Power firmly in hand. "Come ahead again, pigeon-face, ..if you dare!"

He-Man's blue-gray eyes followed the death-machine into the clouds, as the Talon Fighter's ancient engines roared overhead. All around him, he saw the Royal Guard lying dead and injured - their bodies littering the palace grounds, broken and burned like kindling. Gripping the blade of the Ancients with both hands, the Vulnarian searched the sky for shadows, ..but found nothing.

"Where are you, stoneless, murdering devil?!" the Vine Jungle warrior raved, glaring into the dark clouds. "I'm here, winged coward! Heuay's Man is here! I've wounded you, ..and I'll be waiting!"

Closing in on Randor's scent, He-Man bounded through an open window and into the King's study, where he found the aging, warrior-king with Telmat, the Archbishop of Eternos, ..a man, who held all Vulnarians in great contempt. "Thank the gods you're well, milord! We must rally the troops to repulse this attack!"

"Naked savage!" the Archbishop Telmat hissed, rushing toward He-Man with his scarlet and gold cloak. "This is not the sweltering, Vine Jungle brothel from which you crawled! You dare flaunt your pagan ways so boldly, ..even in the presence of your king!"

The priest rushed to throw his cloak around the half-naked intruder, but a broad, bronze hand snapped shut around one of the man's wrists, locking it in an inhumanly tight grip. When he raised his eyes to meet He-Man's, the rage in the Vulnarian's stare and the implied threat of his bared teeth sent shudders through him. "Now, it is you, who dare too much, Telmat."

"Release him, Lord Adam," commanded King Randor, calmly. "This ungrateful bigot’s only concern was for me, as is yours. Leave us, Telmat."

"It is a time for prayer, my king!" Loosed from He-Man's hold upon his wrist, the gaunt Archbishop hastily fled the room.

"Nay, priest!" the bronze-skinned giant growled. "It is a time for war! Freenorn Palace is under siege, King Randor. Firebacked orcs advance from the north - I can smell them coming! The Talon Fighter attacks from the air--too high to be easily detected, but .."

"The second assault was from the ground, Lord Adam," Duncan interrupted, storming into Randor's study. "The Northeast Tower's been destroyed. Before it fell, its scanners detected a small fortification less than a mile off the North Wall! I've got two squadrons of wind-raiders in the air, securing a perimeter around and over the Royal City. Two more escorting the Queen to Point Manak in the Ice Lands! Six platoons of soldiers engage firebacked orcs beyond the North Wall, milord."

"Firebacked orcs are desert-dwellers, Duncan," Randor insisted, "--and you saw those giant ants! How could so many could have been moving upon Eternos without meeting some resistance from our allies, along the way? And how is a small mountain brought so close to Eternos without being detected? This must surely be the work of the Infinitians - of Skeletor!"

Duncan answered apprehensively. "The orcs could be a preliminary strike, King Randor--cannon fodder to wear down our defenses! Skeletor's done it before. Even now, they swarm to the offense, ..and their onslaught is fearsome indeed! At the time of the last transmission, our allies in the Mystic Mountains, coastal Harmonia, Vine Jungles and Golden Isles were all engaging fortifications like Dread, each cloaked by some kind of ancient, light refraction technology!"

"Space refraction, Man-At-Arms," said He-Man, glaring into the clouds. "With it, Point Dread can manifest projections of itself in the north, south, east and west--each projection waging war in different regions of the planet, ..and all at the same time! When the sun rises, it will be capable of more."

Titus Duncan sat down upon a limestone bench, his armored back against a cold wall. His typically ruddy face, a lifeless white. "The Royal City is in flames. Men, women and children in the surrounding provinces and throughout the Light Hemisphere are being tortured. Impaled. Burned alive. Worse. The outposts attacking us all over the world--they are all Point Dread."

"There, brothers! Behold!" the wild, golden-haired Vulnarian cried, pointing to the shifting clouds with his silvery blade. The enemy appeared, ..barely visible through the mists. A silent, black shape, winged like a bird. When it passed over the terrace, its shadow fell on Randor's face ..like a death shroud. "The Talon Fighter returns, ..but, what is it doing here? Who is controlling it?!"

A ghostly image, grotesque in its appearance, materialized in King Randor's study. The King drew back from it and unsheathed his sword. "Beast Man of Gorre!"

"See the power we command, Randor of Eternos, ..and tremble!" boasted the holographic image of Beast Man. "Our master has found means to secure Point Dread for his own purposes, once more! He has plucked the artifact from the clutches of Grayskull itself, ..and there is no power known to man that can long withstand it! Soon, he will use its secrets to strike from every corner of Eternia, until House Freenorn and its allies are ground to dust! He has bound the Fighter to his black will and is now its master--God of the Power of the Air! He is your god, humans! We Priest-kings of Infinitias have had enough of defeat! Let all Eternia fear our wrath and...!"

"Let all of Snake Mountain fear mine!" From He-Man's hand, a double-headed battleaxe buried itself in the stone wall, where Beast Man's phantasm vanished. Enraged, the big Vulnarian turned to King Randor. "That hologram proves the Infinitians have tracked us here, and that this study will be the Talon Fighter's next target. Your armory, King Randor--let's go!"

A great portion of the study's sandstone wall rolled aside with an unseen signal from the king, and the three men rushed down a long, dark stairwell, seemingly carved from solid rock. Through the pitch, they found a large, cavernous chamber with a domed ceiling, under which was gathered every weapon known to man! As He-Man and Man-At-Arms looked on, King Randor brushed his palm over a shield mounted at the foot of the stairwell and saw the mysterious chamber blaze alive with light from the lanterns upon its walls!

"So, it is Skeletor up there," King Randor growled, studying a massive, holographic globe of Eternia flickering at the room's center. His eyes wandered over the Fertile Plains and into the Evergreen Forests, fixing on a barren, uncharted area just beyond the Iron Mountains. "Once, the Goddess spirited Dread off to Castle Grayskull, merging it with the mystic stronghold. Now, the Master of Evil has found means to control it! How can this be? How?!"

"When Targa, the Fighter's hawk spirit, took my place in Oblivion, he left it without a soul ..and vulnerable to the crystal’s power! The Crystal of Gharycon," He-Man muttered, kneeling before a bust of Vulnar the Bold. "So long as Skeletor holds the Dragon King’s crystal heart, he controls both the Talon Fighter ..and Evil-Lyn! I must free the Fighter, my friends, ..even if my life is forfeit."

Duncan rested a hand on Lord Adam's shoulder. "Such a debt, even to your Hawk Spirit, cannot be repaid in blood, He-Man. In the Dread One's hands, the Fighter is a soulless, murdering machine--nothing more. You owe it nothing."

The big, golden-haired man stood up and raised the hoary Sword of Ancients before him, beholding it as one would a miracle. "There is more you must consider, my friends! At sunrise, these manifestations of Point Dread will become linked, enabling Skeletor to move his vast armies from east to west in the blink of an eye, ..or to direct forces from different parts of Eternia to any single region he chooses, until it is conquered or destroyed! Eternos will be his first target, and he won’t wait for the dawn! Evil-Lyn will turn nightfall to sunrise, and the Dread fortifications will be linked! We have no time!”

King Randor took a laser-pulse rifle from its mount on the wall and held it out before him, studying its metal in the light. He threw another to Man-At-Arms, and a pistol to He-Man. "House Freenorn will avenge its fallen! Duncan, you will continue to hold command of the palace's defenses in your daughter's place! Lord Adam, you and I will deal with the threat of Skeletor and that thing in the clouds! With the Firebacks advancing in such great numbers, we must act swiftly, or lose the Lighted Realms to Skeletor!"

"The Palace's force-field is programmed to perpetually change its deflector array, even as the Fighter attacks," Duncan grumbled distractedly, tapping a few buttons on his wrist-mounted computer, "--but, the Fighter is swiftly adapting its attack to overcome the speed with which the array is modified! When the field can no longer adapt quickly enough, the Palace will be vulnerable. We should go now. Your storm-raider, Valeria, is made for aerial combat in the upper atmosphere over vast distances, ..and it is at the ready, sire."

Surveying the sky from his monitor screen, with his beloved Queen Marlena out of danger, King Randor prayed for the safety of his fighting men and women on the frontlines. Every flash of fire on the horizon, where he did not lead them into battle against the Infinitians, tormented him. "The storm-raider is made for running, Duncan. Freenorns do not run. The Valeria will remain here, as will we, ..until the last fighting Eternian, by death or cowardice, yields his ground! I want a proper wind-raider, Man-at-Arms! He-Man, you are with ..."

The troubled old king turned to face his son, but, He-Man of the Vulnarians was gone.

Death Sky, Come Ahead!

Nightfall will turn to dawn, and all of Eternia will kneel before me…

By the golden hand of a goddess, did dawn come to Planet Eternia ..and did the threat of her undead lord come to pass.

High over the Royal Palace of Eternia, and the walls of Freenorn Castle, which protected it, two bursts of light flashed from the wings of the Talon Fighter.

Followed by two more, ..which were, in turn, followed by even two more.

They rushed to the ground like things alive! Like comets!

And before the Royal Sky Guard, brave men and women from every quarter of Eternos and surrounding Frenornia, could mount the winds in their flying battle rams and heavily armored wind-raiders, ..ten thousand more blinding bursts of spectral light raced downward! Cutting through big, armored men and colossal machines surrounding Freenorn's walls like the flaming blades of angry angels! Fifty thousand upon ten hundred thousand upon ten million bursts of cosmic rage pounded the invisible force-shield over Freenorn Castle and the palace within, lighting up the night!

And all over the Eternian world, from the deserts of Rakastan to forested Myzargard in the Mystic Mountains, were the dark sisters of Point Dread awakened to power.

From hemisphere to hemisphere, shore to shore, and from the jungles to deserts, the skull-masked Lord of Destruction moved his forces like the pieces on a game board. Reinforcing his weak and devastated armies with forces taken from far away. Doubling them in size where needed, while controlling his captured lands with an iron grip. With the sunrise, were the Points Dread, like the heads of some great hydra that covered the entire world, linked, and all of Eternia fell to the Snake Mountain king.

In rapid, succession, blasts from the dark clouds above rocked the palace!

The Talon Fighter rolled and dove from the dark clouds gathered overhead, ..weaving in and out of Freenorn Castle's external force-shields, as though the shields weren't there. The inner force-shield array, that which shielded the palace alone, held, ..but buckled, sending violent shockwaves throughout the courtyard and cracking the palace walls! Flaming photon missiles launched from the sleek, deadly wings of blaster hawks and from towering gigan-traks hurdled past their target ..and into the stars! Those few strikes that actually penetrated the Fighter’s shields it burst into bouquets of blinding golden light, barely scratching its blackened metal hull.

On his battle-ram, golden-haired Lord Adam, He-Man of the Vulnarians, cut a wild and fiery path through the gathering storm clouds and invading Infinitian Fright Fighters. Before his eyes, the middle of the North Wall collapsed, and three wind-raiders plummeted into the courtyard, where the Royal Palace stood, as if some great bird of prey had ripped the life from them! The skies above the Royal City were red with discharged radiations and so thick with smoke the jungle-bred warrior found navigation was nearly impossible.

To hell with this flying battle ram!

And to hell with all machines, and the men, who make them!

He would not battle this Talon Fighter as a bird! A starling! A sparrow!

Not this savage! Not this Vulnarian!

He would engage this flying, metal enemy as a man! A man feeling the unforgiving stony ground beneath his two feet ..and the hard, cold metal of a broadsword in his hands!

"Come ahead, Lord of the Wastes!" the big Vulnarian roared into the gale-force winds and, bringing the battle ram close to the ground, he dove. He leapt from his flying machine like a panther after its prey and rolled into a defensive position, ..the Sword of Power held out before his broad chest! “Come ahead and taste the vengeance of man!”

The storm clouds parted again, and eyes like hot, red coals glared into his own.

Burning winds shrieked over and beneath its blackened wings, and a squadron of wind-raiders vanished in white flashes of death, as the Talon Fighter cut a swift path back to the ground! To the animal that had dared to wound it!

From its wings, four cannons hurled golden light into the bailey of Freenorn Castle, striking down the warriors gathering to the Royal Palace's defense. The barrage of cosmic fire battered He-Man backwards, even as he deflected the Talon Fighter's attack with his blade, ..when a fifth cannon, hanging lower than the rest, descended between the two guns mounted on the winged weapon's belly.

Its first strike hammered the korodite metal harness strapped over He-Man’s chest, sending the big man down upon his back, ..and with force sufficient to wrest the Sword of Ancients from his hand. The shadowed thing at the Fighter’s controls zeroed in on its dazed target ..and sent another five bolts of death toward the ground. Three wind-raiders would hurl themselves between the Fighter and his mortal quarry, only to be sent crashing into the courtyards below.

Worn down by concussive array of energy that might level mountain peaks - his legendary weapon far out of reach - He-Man of the Vulnarians glared skyward as death came for him, ..with no doubt that the next strike would be levied at his head. Before his stunned eyes, the wind began to shift, and the craft was pulled from its deadly course into a cyclone of sky-colored light. The weary soldiers all around looked on, as He-Man stood, and the monstrous cylinder of wind above him expanded in girth and power.

Blue and gold bands formed in its swelling walls, and a fiery explosion within followed. What cannons, attak-traks and wreckage were not incinerated in the flash were hurled skyward into the clouds on a pillar of fire.

The Talon Fighter and the demonking at its controls with them.

Recovering his Sword of Power, He-Man stood, rushing over to the smoking, blackened object that, only minutes ago, had been his synthetic ally, Sy-Klone. As soldiers gathered at his side, a black, winged shadow passed overhead, and the man-machine in armor of blue and gold metal raised his fist toward the sky. "Must ... Must ... Must ..."

"Rest now, Sy-Klone," He-Man whispered, kneeling next to the doomed android replica of the Vulnarian king, who raised him as a son. "Rest while my tribesmen prepare a place for you in realms beyond, ..where you will sit in their midst, boasting of how you drove the Enemy of Man from their little brother's throat ..and of how sweet-smelling was the last maiden you -- Sy-Klone? Father?"

"F-friend ..Adam," sputtered Sy-Klone, touching his hand to He-Man's cheek. "It grows ..col-llldd, my son. Very ..c-cold. You ..m-must ..dress ..for battle."

A blinding glare flashed from the wasted android's glass eyes, and his twisted, metal arm fell lifeless to his side.

He-Man of the Vulnarians stood.

His golden hair hung before his face, masking his grief, ..and his bare shoulders trembled. Once.

As one, the armored soldiers backed away from their fallen comrade, as if his barbarian friend's outrage would crack open the ground beneath their feet, ..but no such display of anger was given. Only the youngest of the Guard, the slate gray-skinned warrior known throughout the ranks as Tom-Stone, knelt to pray at He-Man's side. "He saved our lives, Tomas, ..and all he ever hoped for was to be counted among us, ..as a friend. Here, lies the last vestige of he, who made me all that I am. Leave him here, for now, with the other ..."

With a roar, golden-scaled Gharycon the Dragon took shape in the air before the assembled warriors, and in the sapphire glow of his ancient eyes, Lord Adam felt the wounds in his aching flesh mended. “Gather, warriors of Eternos!”

“Great Dragon,” marveled Lord Adam, as the Royal Guard fell slightly back. “Lord-protector of Etheria, I saw you die—your crystal heart, ripped from you—yet, here you stand! Thank you for the gift of your strength ..and know that I will honor it in battle!”

“My heart is and always has been the Light Hope, Lord Adam,” the golden-scaled dragon answered. “The crystal within me only served to channel that force, as I saw willed ..and to whom I willed! Now, must the force of hope be shaped by the will and deeds of all mankind! Go, He-Man of the Vulnarians, and give no honor to me that you do not, first, give to man! Go ..and light the dark days to come with the wisdom of the Ancients!”

Before his bewildered eyes, He-Man saw his gargantuan, golden ally fade, once more, ..into nothingness.

The wind began to howl around the ground, where Sy-Klone lay, and, fearfuly, the soldiers moved back.

Just as it had before, the wind twisted into a broad column of golden and blue light! Colors once proudly worn by their fallen comrade.

"By the gods, what sorcery is this?" one of the Royal Guardsmen cried out, as one of the wrecked wind-raiders began to be lifted up from where it had crashed.

Before their stunned eyes, it twisted in a strange, cyclical dance, before being sucked into the tornado. From inside the cyclone, light flared, and the winds howled in tortured protest against what strange powers turned them. Then, the funnel cloud thinned to a wisp, and a new machine was revealed beyond them! Suspended above the ground was a magnificent new ship with two twisting golden columns for wings and much resembling a wind-raider! Lightning crackled over its blue and gold metal, and a familiar voice sounded from its unmanned controls!

"Brothers!" the voice thundered from within the machine. "By the Dragon King's magic, I live again ..in the metal shell of this strange Sy-Klone Raider! Come, brothers! Guide me, like an arrow, into the heart of war with Eternia's enemies! Let us ride!"

Like a jungle panther did the wild Lord Adam leap into the single chair behind its controls! Strange cables snaked from inside the machine, twisting themselves around his arms! His hands! His chest! Twisting around him, until the golden haired Vulnarian felt the aircraft respond to his every breath and thought, and he knew himself its total commander – that he and this mad machine were one!

"By the All-father!" He-Man roared. "Go, Sy-Klone Raider! Go!"

And the flying weapon hurled itself, like a blue and gold spear, into the dark skies above!

Battle In The Clouds

Far below the clouds where Lord Adam, in his Sy-Klone Raider, searched for the elusive Talon Fighter, word quickly traveled of the warriors, who lost their lives in battle with Skeletor’s forces. Fires flagged in the bravest hearts, and just when the enemy’s wild onslaught of bloodthirsty orcs, giant ants and bizarre machines seemed insurmountable, ..another army of mechanical monsters roared over the horizon.

From a cloud of dust, two gargantuan drills as thick as tree-trunks emerged, and a large, tank-like vehicle of grayish metal with huge treads and a turret styled like an elephant's head rumbled over the North Wall and into the fray beyond it! A great cannon, resembling an elephant's trunk, extended from the head of this metal monster, and its engine seemed to roar with the primal power of a prehistoric beast! Targeting one of the giant, mutant ants brought to life by Evil-Lyn’s magic, it sent a dozen bursts of sky-colored light, photon missiles, into the air over Eternos.  As the proud fighting men of King Randor looked on, the gargantuan insect disappeared under a blinding explosion of heat and light, and they laughed out loud, ..as the fire-backed orcs marching beneath the big bug scattered for cover!

Ten thousand more of these weird tanks joined the fight, and among the King’s Royal Guard and the allied nations assembled at his command, the sight of Man-At-Arms’ monstrous inventions charging into war on every continent filled their souls with desperate hope!

From the clouds above, slipped silver and gold!

Aye, it was silver and gold ..and bronze flesh! Bared white teeth and a hunter's keen glare from steely, blue eyes!  From realms beyond, in armor of shining metal, struck a golden-haired she-devil, who slaughtered her enemies with an angel's smile!

Using the Sy-Klone Raider’s strange telepathic link, Lord Adam willed his thoughts into the mind of the amazon ..and found himself filled with the wise dragon Gharycon’s wisdom. "The fire in your own Freenorn blood has guided you here, sister! That blue stone in your blade tells you so!”

“Not even Death itself could keep me from your side, now that I know the truth, Vulnarian!” Readying her lightning arrows, the wild She-Ra, once known as Temathys, leaned into the winds. “And you will call me, Adora!"

War had made this big Vulnarian’s heart as steel, until this moment, ..humbled by his newfound sister’s devotion! “Then, obey me, Adora, and lead your sisters back to Etheria! Take Randor and Marlena—save yourselves!"

"My sisters are dead!" the Princess Adora screamed over the howling winds, shrugging off the weird intrusion of her twin brother’s voice inside her head. "On our pegacorns, we charged the fort on the Harmonic Coasts, together, hoping to route out the Priest-kings of Infinitias, ..when another Point Dread appeared, and—I’m the last of the She-Ishteu’Ra! I’ll kill, until the blood of our enemies drowns the Sun itself! Lead on, ..or get out of my head!"

Spying the icy clouds for signs of the possessed Talon Fighter, He-Man guided his aircraft, painted in the blue, grey and yellow of a fallen ally’s standard, through the clouds. “Get as close to the Fighter, as you can, She-Ra! Disable its peripheral weaponry, if possible, ..and leave the rest to me! I have a plan!”

In a mad dance through the winds, the wild Vulnarian in his Sy-Klone Raider and the last of the She-Ra hurdled past one another, ..and the shadow of the hawk-headed Talon Fighter fell upon their faces! For one shared moment, this marvel of the Ancients, its golden face blackened with cosmic ash, filled them with awe, ..and the ground below seemed a hundred miles away.

Death seemed much closer.

Black death with metal wings and the power of a god.  The skull-faced Enemy of Man at its controls.

Cosmic fire rained from clouds above He-Man and his allies! Weaving in and out of the icy mist ..and between the bursts of golden energy, the warriors sped downward, driven faster and faster to the ground by the sheer ferocity of the Talon Fighter's attack. Caged by a successive deployment of deadly rays, He-Man struggled to free the Sy-Klone Raider, ..when two bursts of blue-white fire tumbled the metal monster down into the clouds below! To his astonishment, he looked over his shoulder to find the Holy Warrior’s red-feathered falcon flying at his port side.

“Perilous situation, He-Man,” the Warrior Bird observed, “—even with the She-Ra and I entering the lists!”

“We’re three against one, but, the Talon Fighter’s might can’t be denied!” growled the half-naked barbarian behind the bulky controls of this strange, living fighter-craft, ..a war-machine possessed by the spirit of his slain android ally. “Sy-Klone Raider has returned manual command to me! Thinking independently, while attacking the Fighter as one, may give us an advantage! Keep the Fighter off-balance! Keep wearing down its peripheral defenses, ..but, keep your distance and wait for my signal!”

Spurring fierce Swiftwind roughly forward, with her powerful arms holding firm to his reins, the She-Ra’s winged steed rushed over the winds and higher into the thick, icy clouds, overhead. “I’ll lead Zoar into the clouds and attack the Fighter from there, ..but, I won’t stand down, brother! Not against him! Not ever!”

At the hawk-faced Fighter’s controls and hurtling through the clouds at unmatched speeds, the Snake Mountain King kept deft pace with his speeding prey—his ancient mind measuring how quickly he might overtake him.  “I control the wind-raider technology Sy-Klone foolishly plugged into your brain, He-Man, ..and, soon, I will control you!”

Bronze muscles trained in the deadliest jungles—coursing with the savage strength of fifty-thousand men—swelled and sprung, as the Vulnarian struggled to control the Raider’s flight, ..barely escaping flashes of fiery death pumped from the guns of the Talon Fighter. A sharp pain tore through He-Man’s skull, even as invading electrical impulses, like the sharpened heads of flying arrows, stabbed into his brain!  He felt the Sy-Klone Raider lurch to the right, ..and then, down toward the Royal Palace at Eternos!

With a grunt and a shrug of intense concentration, He-Man regained control of the flying weapon. “Lord of the Wastes—Master of Nothing! The will of man is stronger than you know, ..and the Sy-Klone Raider still answers to mine!”

The ancient Talon Fighter tumbled through the air, locking into position behind the Sy-Klone Raider, as the Talon Fighter’s sleek, golden replicants filled the air above and behind him, such that their number blotted out the sun!  In the shade of their swarm, the black-hooded Lord of the Wastes cackled aloud.  “Space refraction, witless fool—the same I once used to clone the Warrior Goddess Teela! Look at the world below us and know that Skeletor will win this battle! Finally, in death, will the Most Powerful Man in the Universe kneel before me!

The maniacal laughter of the Snake Mountain King rattling the clouds, powerful guns that fired stripped photons faster than the speed of sound clicked offline, ..Sy-Klone Raider rushed downward again, toward Eternia!  Smaller and less powerful, it was more maneuverable than the deadly Talon Fighter, and the big Vulnarian would press that advantage to the edge. “Stoneless devil! Man fights here, in me, ..and I don’t need guns and machines to destroy you!”

With heaving chest and burning lungs therein, the silvery Sword of Ancients clutched in one vengeful fist, the big man pitched himself out into the wild howl of the winds all around him, ..and, struck with his hoary blade, the Talon Fighter’s right wing and the large gun mounted upon it came roughly off!

With heaving chest and burning lungs therein, the big man pitched himself out into the wild howl of the winds all around him, ..and, with his hoary Sword of Ancients, struck the Talon Fighter with a fierce and swift blow!  Its ancient machinery bellowed and groaned, like an injured beast, as the right wing and the large gun mounted upon it came roughly off!

High over the battle-torn Fertile Plains, the golden-haired barbarian leapt back onto his flying machine. “Zoar, Adora—now!”

Red-feathered Zoar and the last of the She-Ra descended from the clouds, pounding the Talon Fighter with a deadly array of lightning arrows and demi-photon missiles, ..destroying the machine’s space refraction capabilities. As the Fighter’s guns whirred into position to repel the assault, the grotesque, rotting thing at its controls turned to the terrible chill at his back ..and the sound of screaming winds that filled his ancient heart with terror!

The two ships plummeted toward Eternia, as the dawn winds howled around them.

Below them, on every battlefield and deep into the shadowed bunkers, where they hid like rats, the Evil One’s outrage rattled the minds of his generals with the force of an earthquake!  Beast Man of the Jungle Gorr, Tri-Klops of the Titanos Mountains, Trap-Jaw of subterranean Sybronn and the Mer-Man of undersea Moratain, as one, cried out to their undead master, as his cloned fleet of Talon Fighters vanished in a blinding wave of light and energy!  These monsters, Skeletor’s four Priest-kings of Infinitias, offered him use of their bodies to house his ancient malevolence, ..but, their offers came too late.

From the benighted cage of the hawk-headed Talon Fighter, the Lord of Destruction, closer to claiming godhood eternal over humankind than ever before, locked his aircraft’s targeting systems on the fleeing Sy-Klone Raider one final time, ..even as he saw the ancient, stony surface of the Rock of War rushing up to meet them! “The full power of Point Dread, the ultimate weapon, is mine to command, He-Man! Grayskull will be next, ..when I’ve destroyed you!”

Through the empty sockets beneath his black hood and golden, skull-like Mask of Oblivion, he watched the sleek Sy-Klone Raider twist abruptly, impossibly upwards ..and into the blue skies overhead!  With armies on every shore, laying waste to all, who dared stand against him, he cursed the half-naked savage at the Raider’s controls…

“I am eternal, barbarian! By the Dark Gods, ..what have you done?!”

Before the craggy face of Point Dread eclipsed all else…

An Age Without Fear

The sapphire, ivory and gold of skies that, mere seconds ago, had stretched into a battle-weary horizon, disappeared ..and were replaced by the emerald glow of torches and the smell of burning incense. Awaking in the shadowy cave sanctum of the Divine Sorceress, He-Man sat up on an altar of alabaster rock, ..surrounded by glowing, ethereal figures in every costume known to Eternian man. “I am confused, gods of Eternia! Where is Zoar ..and the She-Ra, Adora?! W-where—where am I?!”

Naked, but, for a crown of laurel leaves and pale green from head to toe, youthful Eternos, God of Time and Brother of the Golden Plains, reclined on a large rock, ..laughing, as he carelessly played his golden lyre. “Your noble allies have returned to Eternia, Heathen Man, ..Slayer of Beavers! Now, it is time for you to stand and face the Council of Elder Gods!”

The big Vulnarian stood up and studied his ethereal company with a wary eye. “Then, for what new threat to Eternia am I called to commune with you now, ..and so soon after defeating the Enemy of Man?”

“Don’t be a fool, my champion!” the green-skinned Divine Sorceress demanded. Dressed in a crown and aegis made from the copper-scaled hide of a giant serpent, fair Heauy was Mighty Teela’s twin in every way. “As my sister has entrusted a portion of her power to her clone, Captain Teela of Eternos, ..so was the Sorceress Boa’Na, once, an avatar of mine! Do you think the Lord of Destruction, an evil more ancient than Eternia itself, has not also invested his power with such diversity?”

“Then, Skeletor still lives?” He-Man asked, with disbelief and no small share of outrage. “The deaths of my comrades—of Sy-Klone, Mekaneck, Snout-Spout, Extendar, Rokkon and the others—has changed nothing! The brave fighting men all over the world, who gave their lives defending the Lighted Realms have died for nothing!”

“Nothing, Lion of the Vulnarians?!” Long-suffering Procrustus, God of the Inner World, who supported Eternia’s crust upon his back and hands, folded his four, mighty arms across his broad chest. “Though the ancient evil that became Skeletor endures, his power to menace and seduce the tribes of man is greatly diminished, ..after eons of unraveling all we gods have created! Who are you to say this relief from his mischief, however fleeting it may be, is nothing?!

Golden-skinned, green-bearded Gnarlos, wise Master of the Oceans, threw back his head and laughed. “I am worshipped throughout the Golden Isles, as a dragon, He-Man! In the Mystic Mountains, fierce Heuay becomes the lusty Sun goddess, Hyperia, ..and I am the wild, white horse, who carries her off into the evening sea! Though the Evil One walks the world in as many forms, as we, you and your progeny will be there to defeat them all!”

“And you will not fight alone!” huffed Tytus, the Father of a Billion Giants, as he knelt before He-Man to examine him more closely. “Every year, my wife slaughters the fittest of our sons and pours from his blood, the most amazing elixir to inspire my work! The Master of the Forge and of Machines will stand beside House Freenorn, against all foes!”

God of Light and father of Gharycon the Dragon, Miro studied He-Man from a pile of books. “For millennia, the warlike tribes of the Ice Mountains have held me above all other gods, because the light of my wisdom has wrought order and justice from their dark savagery! Though I have I regarded House Freenorn’s children as mine own, since the birth of your grandfather, Miro the Wise, you must now be left, in peace, to chart your own paths, ..or your victory will mean nothing!”

Hawk-headed Targa, Lord of Predators, squatted on a large statue of Heuay. With the wings and talons of a giant bird and the body of a man, Avion’s golden-feathered son was one of the most feared of the Vine Jungle and Evergreen Forest spirits. “You’ll know no peace from me, Vulnarian, if Man cannot survive the Great Hunt that is his miserable existence! After eons’ imprisonment in the circuitry of the Talon Fighter, trust only that Targa will hunt again, ..and that you will be his prey!”

“I trust the weapon in my hand, Hawk God,” growled He-Man, pointing his sword at Targa.  “So has it been since my days in Vulnar’s Valley—so, is it today! Leave mankind to make his own destiny for awhile, or you'll find it at your throats!”

“Lower thy blade and look upon our valley now, my son!” beckoned the King of the Vulnarians. In silver breastplate and devilbeaver pelt of royal violet, he embraced He-Man and led him out onto the hillside, ..where the merry ghosts of fifty-thousand warriors celebrated his victory in the wild, ancient land below. “Today, mankind has won the right to pursue his destiny, as boldly, as once did we! Let no gods interfere, who do not want an army of immortal Vulnarians, as enemies!”

His eyes swelled with grateful tears, Adam turned to the men rejoicing in their time-lost valley and raised his right fist in salute. “Man will be worthy of our unwavering faith in him, my king, and the avenger of his own will, ..and we will journey fearlessly upon the path of truth and righteousness. I will miss you, my brothers.”

Not since Creation began, had the elder gods of Eternia known such true accord. There was, after millennia upon millennia of war, peace in the heavens, and the Ancients reveled in it!

Not since Creation began, had the elder gods of Eternia known such true accord.  There was, after millennia upon millennia of war, peace in the heavens, and the Ancients reveled in it!

With a deep breath, He-Man of the Vulnarians found himself climbing to his boarhide-booted feet, amidst the smoldering ruins of King Randor’s palace at Eternos.  Wandering into the Royal Gardens, he could remember nothing more of his brief commune with the gods, than the assurance of their good will to all men, ..when a terrible roar filled the air, so loud that it rattled the big warrior’s skull and bones, and the ground beneath him shook and cracked apart!  Leaping onto a pile of rubble, he drew his mystical Sword of Ancients ..and prepared for battle!

A green-eyed, giant of crude black metal lumbered from the cloud of dust and debris, glowering at the world over silver tusks that jutted from its head like two monstrous sabers and the broad treads of a tank! Between them, a massive cannon was lowered toward the ground, ..and, from the dome of its skull and the controls inside it, climbed Eternia’s Man-At-Arms. “I’ve finally done it, Lord Adam—a modified, Infinitian Land-Shark, augmented with the Horde technology we recovered in the Etherian Mountains! It has a korodithium hull, two mining drills for subterranean invasion and a few other surprises! Meet Tank-O-Don One!”

“Well fought, Man-At-Arms!” laughed He-Man, as he sheathed his blade.  Searching the clouds for his heroic allies, he found nothing. “Now, that you’ve overcome the invaders, what’re you still doing here, ..with all the taverns and wenching to be had in Eternos’s eastern quarter?!”

“Nay, my savage friend!” Duncan chuckled, watching a throng of fire-backed orcs being led to the Prison Mines. “As the fight went out of the orcs and Infinitians, once they saw their master fall, I can’t claim all the credit!”

“Amazed we escaped this ugly pile of scrap metal with our lives, Titus Duncan!” grumbled Randor, climbing from a chair behind Man-At-Arms. “How many more of these monsters did you make, old chum?”

“About forty thousand, I think!” laughed Queen Marlena. In her silvery, form-fitting astronaut’s uniform, the Earthwoman, once known as Molly Glenn, followed King Randor out into the courtyard. “Considered giving them to you as a birthday present, ..just before that strange, little magician from the Tar Swamps brought you a bucket of water snakes! And you both know damn well Duncan’s still around, because the taverns don’t open, this early!”

“Ho, Great Zoar!” called the King of Eternia to the dark red falcon flying overhead, pulling Marlena into his arms. “Our hearts sing to see you alive, ..but, where is the She-Ra, who fought so bravely at your side?!”

“Far and wide for her, I’ve searched, my friends, ..but found nothing!” spoke the falcon’s thoughts into the minds of his gathered allies. “I know only that Point Dread and the Talon Fighter are back atop Castle Grayskull. Pray that the Crystal of Gharycon is no longer in the Enemy of Man's possession, so that he can never again regain the control over them, he wielded today!”

"My brothers called Point Dread, Areopaguay, ..the Rock of War," He-Man began, climbing from a small mountain of smoldering rubble. "Once, it was a god, the offspring of the Divine Sorceress and the God of the Inner World, ..the one you call Procrustus! But, it was deformed—ugly! The Many-handed One cast Areopaguay out of the ground, and, so that no other gods might claim it, Fierce Heuay cursed it ..and set it adrift in the sky!"

"But, Man claimed it, ..didn't we?" King Randor mused. "Only mankind could claim something so ugly, as War."

"Aye, milord," He-Man answered. "Foolishly, Man claims War and the fear that keeps it alive—the same fear that brought Skeletor to life from the legends of the ancient plainsfolk! The Evil One thought he could control Point Dread, but, no one truly can. Like him, War is an eternal thing that springs from the hearts of all, who would claim…"

The big Vulnarian’s words were stopped at the sight at what wandered over the midday horizon.

She was a tall, bronze-skinned creature in battle-scarred armor of silver and gold, ..and the Royal Guard, on high alert since first the Talon Fighter appeared, lowered their laser rifles before her.  In her right hand, was a golden rod shaped like the treacherous hooded serpents of the desert ..and agleam with otherworldly power.  Clutched in her left, was the bloody, smoldering head of a moon goddess.  “Evil-Lyn is dead, milord, ..and the Crystal of the Caverns has been destroyed.”

Though their souls soared to see her alive, Eternia’s fighting men and women stepped back to allow King Randor to meet his heroic Captain of the Guard, when the ground before them cracked open and lightning flashed overhead.  The warriors fell back from the ruins, until a great expanse between them was made, ..and from a warm, golden glow emanating from everywhere at once, lords far higher born than Eternia’s sovereign took shape.

“With the destruction of your enemy, you have balanced the scales of power,” said King Zoras, Father of the Gods, from beneath a white-feathered cloak and golden helmet adorned by falcon’s wings.  At his side, stood his beloved queen, Avion, a Goddess of Victory, whose name meant ‘horizon’ in every tongue.  The King of the Heavens held his silvery Staff of Living Light out before him, and the ground shook and cracked apart before his sandaled feet.  “Mighty Teela, Holy Warrior and Protectress of the Land, ..return unto the gods that which Man’s will wrest from us so long ago!”

Teela held up the golden head of Evil-Lyn and saw it vanish from her hand and reappear atop the titan-king’s staff.  “Grayskull endures, Great Zoras, and supreme power over Madness and over Conquest is once again in your keeping. With the creation of this cosmic accord, I will take my leave from the Council to live among mortals for a time, ..if it is your will.”

From a column of golden and sapphire light, the Skyfather bowed to his ancient emmissary. “Unburden thy path, Friend of Man ..and journey with the blessings of the Elder Gods…”

As Zoras and Avion vanished before their astonished eyes, Man-At-Arms tethered his mace and, followed by Lord Adam, rushed to Teela’s side. The emerald fire flickering behind his daughter’s tears filled the bronzium-armored hero with uncertainty, and he suspected he knew why.  In his heart, the old soldier knew the Warrior Goddess now invested a greater portion of her divine power in Teela, than before, ..and that the time came ever closer, when she would disappear into the Goddess forever.  “By the Four Grails, Teela—your staff has turned to gold!”

Lifting Teela up into his arms, the big, golden-haired Vulnarian kissed her ..and saw the fire-haired amazon search his broad, bronze face for judgment.  “More than Grayskull endures here, woman, ..and more than a goddess’s power thrives within you. It is the heartbeat of a child, noble Teela—of our son!”

Looking on, King Randor took his brave and restless Queen Marlena’s hand in his own.

Overhead, they saw the Sun at play on their golden-haired daughter’s armor, before that last She-Ra, Princess Adora, drove her pegacorn steed, like a hurricane wind, for a Crystal Castle somewhere beyond the Sands of Time.  Kissing his queen’s tear-stained face, King Randor rocked her gently in his strong arms. The grief between them so familiar and so great, that neither needed speak of it…

And it would be endured no longer.

As one, fierce Princesss Adora turned her wild, powerful steed back toward Eternos, ..and He-Man of the Vulnarians, with a heavy heart, knelt before his father and mother, and House Freenorn was made whole, once more.


Dedicated to Gary Cohn and his creation ‘Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld’, Mark Texeira, Dave Manak, Donald F. Glut, Alfredo Alcala, Mike Tollin, Michael Halperin and all of the people, whose hard work made the ‘Masters Of The Universe’ minicomics an experience your fans will never forget.

To Fiction Index

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, MVC, Image Comics, CrossGen or other concerned copyright/trademark holders.  All rights reserved.