Hall Of The Mountain King
By King Tamask and Medusa Moon
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.
For nearly four years, had he called the mountainous
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 Clampesh, ..and the rest of the cubs? Speak up, boy!"
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 Tamask journeys to Myzargard tomorrow - have to get his tiger packed before the evening mess. Orders, sir."
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 Tamask's ward was so renowned for. "Tamask prays in the House of Ishteuray. Go to your uncle. 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 Tamask'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
As Kibiri had told him he would, he found Tamask 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 Tamask's armor and, for a moment, his master, the reincarnation of a powerful and ancient barbarian king, seemed made of fire.
A god of fire.
What turned him to his presence at the temple doorway, Adam had wondered, cowering at Tamask'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 Tamask 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. Tamask 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, nephew."
Adam could smell the oil Tamask had poured on the flowers, which bewitched his senses like nothing before them had.
"At Bold Vulnar's feet, sits his daughter, Ishteuray," Tamask 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 Teelana to make Ishteuray immortal."
Adam had heard Tamask'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
"Aye," Tamask 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 Tamask turned to him, Adam found he could not hide the dread in his young eyes. "I-is that ..why you're here, milord uncle? 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? This girl--she's my ..cousin?"
"The disciples of Val-Kun, the Infinitian fire god, have taken our daughter," Tamask 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, nephew. 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 Tamask's bed with a giant
tiger cub. He'd accompanied him on grueling martial campaigns in lands far
Mighty Tamask 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, uncle ..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, Tamask 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. The Divine Sorceress, herself, has charged me with your tutelage and protection, until the undead Enemy of Man is driven back into his Benighted Lands, and I will honor her command. We will speak no more of what Heuay has set before us, ..and you will be shown the truth of your place."
The Master of the Brotherhood of Vulnar sat and brought one broad knee before him. There Adam endured his punishment under his lord and uncle's hand. For as long as he could stand, Adam gave no voice to his suffering, ..but Tamask'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 Tamask 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 Tamask 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 four years ago," Tamask began, "when last I looked upon your face, I came upon two Beast Men pursuing an old woman, carrying a boy over her shoulder, through these Evergreen Forests. After slaying these Infinitian scum, I found the woman resting against this very tree. As I drew closer, I saw that she was mine own half-sister, old Miro's first born, and that her journey had taken a far greater toll on her than first I had thought. Noble Mira, the poor wretch, dressed in dusty tatters, was dying, ..and with the last broken beats of her heart, my sister begged me to take the wounded boy at her side. Our brother, Randor, she told me, had named his heir Adam, after the wild, Vulnarian god of the hunt. With that, old Mira died, and I laid her to rest at the foot of this tree, as was her wish. 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 Tamask! This journey must the boy make alone, ..while you remain here!"
Tamask knew Heuay the Green to be a wild and brutal spirit. In skill, a warrior second only to her sister, Mighty Teelana, but unmatched in ferocity. A sorceress second to none! The Master of the Brotherhood of Vulnar 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, Tamask included, stepped back from where Heuay stood.
"Take care, witch-spawned bastard of King Miro!" 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 Tamask 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!" Tamask 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 Sorceress raised her staff, and from it, a bolt of lightning ripped through Mighty Tamask's left shoulder. A hand's breadth from his heart, it forced him backwards and to the ground. "You will obey Destiny, Master of the Brotherhood of Vulnar!"
Mighty Tamask unsteadily rose to his feet, and as he brought his golden broadsword before him, a bright burst of green filled the sky, ..and the Master of the Brotherhood of Vulnar 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 Tamask labored to stand, but was restrained by Queen Angella. "No, Adam! Tamask's chosen this! We will honor his will."
Fierce Heuay looked on in masked astonishment, as Tamask'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 Tamask'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 Tamask, Master of the Brotherhood of Vulnar, 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 Tamask!" 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 Tamask 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 Tamask 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. "Uncle Tamask. 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, Tamask 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 Tamask's belt, kissed his king's hand and stood up from where he lay. "I will find her, Mighty Tamask. Endure."
Queen Angella embraced Adam, who stood a head shorter than she, as her army carried King Tamask away. "Eons ago, Morning Star, 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 will never name you heir to his throne. He loves you, as a son, and 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 never claim his throne, even in the shadow of his death. Though nothing would honor me more than to be named his heir, I know that my rightful place is at Eternos, with my father and mother, and I've made my peace with that. Thank you for your counsel, good queen."
"I beg you take care, Prince of Eternos, and 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 Brotherhood of Vulnar' greatest warrior and king, waved his farewell to the winged warriors of Myzargard ..and to the uncle he left in their care. He might have preferred to stay at King Tamask's side, but he had a noble mission to accomplish, and with the simple blessings of Tamask's immortal wife, Adam of the Brotherhood of Vulnar mounted his king's armored cat and rode.
Dawn painted the ancient
"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 Tamask 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 the Hunter King, Bowulf, ..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 Tamask 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
"Why has Lord Tamask 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 Teelana 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 Teelana 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 Teelana'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," Tamask's cat nodded, "but that one maiden could bear the divine weight of Dunamyr's skulls so freely as Teelana 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 Brotherhood of Vulnar, 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 Tamask'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 Tamask'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 Zilora," 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 Tamask, 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 Zilora, ..and he felt the breath as though ripped from his chest. "I-I am Adam of the Brotherhood of Vulnar, ..son of King Tamask! 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," Zilora 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 Zilora'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 Zilora 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 Tamask'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
"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
"That won't be necessary, good cat," a large,
gray man replied, sitting in a tree. "The
"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 reflections of the skinny boy still smarting from Tamask's discipline. Where the he-man Zilora 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 Tamask'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 Zilora 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 Tamask'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 Tamask 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 Tamask'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 Teelana, who sent me to your aid."
Mighty Teelana 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 Teelana sent you! If she favors me, as she does Lord Tamask, 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 Zilora 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 Tamask's wayward son brought him nearly to tears. "Your gods are with you, Lord Adam. You are ready."
From the charcoal clouds over
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 Tamask'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 Tamask, 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
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 Tamask'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 Zilora'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 Tamask'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 Tamask's hand that I would bring you home. Now, out of the cage, Glimmer, ..and quickly, before Val-Kun's underlings come around!"
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 Tamask 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
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 Tamask 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 Zilora'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 Tamask'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
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
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 Tamask! 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 Tamask'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 Tamask 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 Tamask'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 Teelana'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 sixteen 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
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
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 Zilora 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 Sorceress's part in Zilora's weird origin too horrible and incredible to
believe. Zilora 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
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 Zilora 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 Zilora 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 Tamask'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, cousin?"
"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 Brotherhood of Vulnar, 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 Tamask'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 Grislor, , ..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, cousin?"
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."
(Based on "He-Man And The Power Sword" by Donald F. Glut)