Night Of The Sorceress

Second of three stories in The Bitter Rose Trilogy, by Medusa Moon

"Hurry!" the man cried from the belly of Mount Freya. "Everybody out of the caverns! The next tremor could bury us all!"

The darkness echoed with the desperate screams of the wretched Vaths. Nearly three thousand strong, the black-robed warriors hurried the women, children and frail elders out of their nomadic out of the violently shaking caverns. Fissures opened in the ancient rock beneath them, swallowing men and orphaning children, as the last of their tribe crawled onto a large and jagged rock

"We're all clear, sir," one of the Vath headmen called to him, "Now, get out from there! Even you can't hold that up for ever."

But he could, truthfully.

The long dead Ancients of a mysterious fortress deep in the Evergreen Forests endowed this golden giant with strength enough to shake the planet, should it be required of him, and the wisdom to know when such a thing was needed. Yes, He-Man could hold the great rock on his shoulders, many hundred times his weight and size, for quite a while.

The ancient network of caverns crumbling apart around and under him was beyond his power, however. Though the Vaths shuffled over the rock bridging one cluster of caverns to the other, not one of them, healer, soldier or witch, knew for certain that what tunnels lay ahead were steadier than those they had just escaped. Amidst the man-sized, falling rocks and shrieks of terror, their saviors, a warrior-woman from royal Eternos and her legendary golden companion, put their desperately hatched escape plan into motion.

"Now, Teela!" He-Man called to the flame-haired woman circling over the Vaths on her jet-sled. "Weld this fragment I'm holding to the cavern wall!"

Fragment, he called it?

Captain Teela had seen castles as big. Uncertainly, her hand went to her laser rifle, as the rag-clad Vaths scurried across the massive rock on He-Man's back. "If something goes wrong, you'll be crushed! Are you sure?"

"No!" he growled back, annoyed. He was not a man, who was used to having his orders second-guessed. "But it's the only chance we have at staving off a collapse and getting out of here alive! To hell with me, woman! Do it!"

The mechanical shriek of Captain Teela's weapon was followed by a flash of sky-colored light, its glow bathing the wretched Vaths in ghostly blue. A bright cord of energy struck the edge of the rock-its heat turning the metals within to molten sludge. Captain Teela fired again, and another cord melted the edge of the cavern wall.

In a rippling mound of glowing, liquid metal, the great rock on He-Man's shoulders and the cavern wall were wed. Repeating the effort for the other end of the rock, Captain Teela sped to the side of Eternia's champion. "The Vaths are moving outside, and the welding's done! Let's go!"

The Royal Guardsmen hurried the Vaths outside and into the snow. Carrying Eternia's barbarian champion with her, their beautiful captain followed,..just as Mount Freya collapsed from within. Almost single file, the poor mountain-folk were led away from the hills they had called home since ancient times, having migrated there to escape the persecution of the snakemen.

In less than a month, natural disasters of every kind had laid waste to Eternia.

Tornadoes ravaged the Fertile Plains, as well as the Shadow Lands of the Dark Hemisphere. Earthquakes devastated the Mystic Mountains and Golden Isles, and tidal waves besieged the Sands of Time. Each and every time, was the mythical falcon Zoar seen circling overhead.

Seers from every corner of Eternia were called to Eternos, and each told Randor the same thing. All mystical signs pointed to Castle Grayskull.

"It's Lady Grayskull," the eldest of the black-robed Vath headmen told He-Man, walking alongside Battle Cat on foot. "She gone mad, priests say. Gonna' kill us all 'fore she's through!"

"Not if we kills 'er first!" a fellow headman growled, through gritted, yellow teeth, before turning to He-Man. "You show us where the witch sleeps, friend He-Man, and we'll take care of 'er ourselves,..before Grayskull sends us another earthquake!"

It had never sat well with He-Man how quick people were to condemn Grayskull and its guardians, whenever any misfortunes befell Eternia, but he heard it too often to be much offended by it. He ignored it. "I haven't seen or spoken with the Sorceress in many weeks,..but, His Majesty, King Randor, has these matters well in hand."

"Move along now, sir," a young guardsman interrupted, with a hand on the Vath's shoulder. He was tall, but barely old enough to shave, and the grumbling warriors followed him back into the thick of the large caravan moving down the road. "Move along, all of you."

"Guess you can't blame them for turning on us," Teela sobbed, astride her jet-sled. Flying low, she led her warriors along a worn, but rocky, mountain trail to lower land. A single wisp of red hair hung before her proud face,..behind which pale, emerald eyes secretly wept. "Where in hell are these poor souls supposed to live now?"

"Dagarmel is nearby," answered He-Man, astride his heavily armored, green and gold giant tiger. "There's enough fertile land there to sustain them for awhile. Until we can find out why Grayskull is causing these disasters and how to stop them, none of us are truly safe."

The helpless state she often found herself in, when confronted with things of a mystical nature, frustrated Captain Teela, at least as much as they confounded her. While she respected magic and those, who practiced it, she did not regard them as apart from humankind and charged them with the responsibility of using their arcane knowledge to benefit the world. That the Sorceress, not heard from by any for many weeks, continued to allow Eternia to be ravaged by deadly catastrophes enraged her. "And where is the Sorceress?! She expect us to sit and wait for the next tornado or earthquake to finish us off? Doesn't she know what King Randor and my father are planning?"

The large man on his cat lowered his head slightly, enough that his golden hair concealed the shame on his face. "They're well beyond planning, now. Randor has made his decision. It's only a matter of time, before we are called back to the Plains to witness it."

In He-Man's heart, he felt he had failed them all-his friend, the Sorceress Teelana, who would no longer admit him to Castle Grayskull..and who Teela did not know was her own mother, as well as the people of Eternia, who desperately relied on the Sorceress's comfort and counsel.

More than any, he felt he had failed the brave captain and lover, who was rarely far from his side. The trouble at Grayskull was beginning to take its toll on him, and in ways that he could not share with any. Especially, Teela.

"It's your father." He-Man looked away, but not quickly enough to hide the look of shock on his face. "He's flying back to Eternos..with Tri-Klops and the other knights of Skeletor's court. Skeletor himself will join them later. The weapon's finished."

"Oh,," Captain Teela groaned, looking up from the wound she was binding. "Our orders?"

"You're to return to Eternos with the Royal Guard," He-Man answered grimly. "I've been assigned a more treacherous mission."

Teela Agrippa had loved this beautiful, golden man and knew, better than any, his moods and expressions. "It's Evil-Lyn,..isn't it?"

"She and Skeletor will be traveling separately, as always," He-Man replied. "Among his weapons, she..or it is his most valuable. Should Skeletor betray the accord, as surely he will, I am to keep Skeletor and Evil-Lyn separated, until the dark one's threat is ended."

"Insurance?" Captain Teela asked, half-surprised. "Doesn't Randor know that, if Skeletor finds a way to seize Grayskull's power, when the castle walls fall, he won't need Evil-Lyn anymore? Ancients! We don't even know what Evil-Lyn truly is-she'll be as much a threat to Eternia as her master is."

He-Man had no answer for the lovely, red-haired Captain of the Guard..and stared out over the Mystic Mountains. Dazed. "He's really going to do it, Teela. King Randor is going to destroy Castle Grayskull."

From the briny Harmony Sea, Snake Mountain’s amphibious ships moved onto the continent of Fertile Plains, racing over the rocky beaches and across the flatlands to Eternos, where their undead master waited.

The accord between Lord Skeletor and King Randor was strained at best, but the threat of Castle Grayskull’s recent malevolence had forced the monarchs to combine their resources of manpower and technology to insure their collective survival. While Skeletor, fearing capture or other treachery at Randor’s hands, was camped in the Opal Hills outside the royal city, he sent his most fearsome knights – Beast Man, Tri-Klops, Trap Jaw and Mer-Man – into Eternos to finalize the terms of their shaky alliance.

"And this is the weapon that will destroy Grayskull?"

"It will," Tri-Klops answered King Randor, directing the monarch’s attention to the large, silvery cannon protruding from a rocky, mountain peak. "It is a very powerful cosmic energy converter. Man-At-Arms and I have worked for many weeks to locate Grayskull's most vulnerable points -- areas that have received more bombardment than the rest."

"Areas Skeletor has attacked the most," the king's Man-At-Arms interrupted with a resentful snarl, "in his life-long campaign to invade Grayskull."

"Once the cannon has locked onto these coordinates," Beast Man grinned, "Grayskull should crack like a giant egg! Ahahahahahaaa!"

"An oyster shell!" the reptilian-scaled Mer-Man chimed in through thick, rubbery lips.

"You Snake Mountain scum!" Man-At-Arms raged, slipping his golden mace from his belt. "You'd love that wouldn't you? You can't wait! Well, it'll be a cold day in hell, when Eternia bows to your master -- Grayskull or no Grayskull!"

A look from King Randor silenced him.

His hatred for the warriors of Snake Mountain was like a belly of red-hot coals that never cooled, as hardly a month passed that he did not face Skeletor's agents in battle. Though, Sir Duncan wanted nothing more than to bash their skulls in, he restrained himself, out of duty and loyalty to the old king.

"Where is your master, this..Lord Skeletor?" Randor inquired, as if barely interested. Deliberately, he did not direct the query at any of Skeletor's knights in particular and, in fact, knew exactly where Skeletor was-that the demon looked on from a nearby hillside. It was a ploy to give the evil warriors in the demon's service the impression that they were no threat to his kingdom or himself-a false impression.

"His Darkness watches from the mountains," Tri-Klops answered suspiciously. "He will enter Eternos, when our work here is done."

The king and Sir Duncan exchanged a suspicious glance.

"And what work is that, Tri-Klops?" The old king turned to the three-eyed monster-the facade of his disinterest, gone.

The grotesque, blue eye at the center of his helmet darkened, and Tri-Klops grinned. "You will know soon enough, human. Now, where is He-Man?"

It was once said that Prince Lyneus of Endromeda was the most beautiful mortal in the world. At birth, he was betrothed to wed Princess Adora of Eternos, a union that would have brought illimitable power to an already well respected and noble house,..but Endromeda's patron goddess, Evi, grew jealous. She demanded the youth be taken to her temple and sacrificed. When Lyneus's mother refused, Evi took what she wanted.

Her conquest of the beautiful prince was horrific.

The angry goddess possessed his body-her magic reshaping it beyond recognition. When Evi's vengeance was complete, the proud queen hung herself, and Prince Lyneus, after a long and painful recovery, walked Eternia again.

As a woman. The beautiful and bloodthirsty sorceress, Evil-Lyn.

At her Lord Skeletor's request, the demon-witch accompanied a legion of his fiercest warriors into the Caldrua Mountains, just outside of Arcadia. Typically a sunlit land of farms and orchards, Grayskull had wrapped it in a small ice age. While the unlikely alliance between her master and King Randor was of supreme interest to her, as was the impending destruction of Castle Grayskull, she lounged patiently in a silk tent, sipping ambrosia and awaiting Skeletor's next communication.

"How did you find me?" the pale and alluring witch inquired, with a smile. "Was it my perfume, He-Man?"

"I hunt with the senses of the beasts," the barbarian warrior replied, relaxing on an ornate, wooden stool. "The Ancients of Grayskull are those who serve the light."

"Really?" the black and purple clad sorceress leered, sarcastically. With a cautious glance in Stinkor and Two-Bad's direction, she signaled them to leave..and led He-Man to her bed. "I was under the impression the Ancients had all gone mad. Is that not why we are here,..awaiting cursed Grayskull's destruction?"

Inflamed by Evil-Lyn's magic, He-Man drew her into his arms and kissed her, and, with a feral growl, the demon-witch lured him deeper into the mound of pillows beneath them. Then, looking up from where a shadow fell upon them, He-Man gasped at who looked on from the tent's opening. "Teela? Teela!"

Captain Teela ran out out of the camp. She was mere seconds from her jet-sled, when she heard He-Man calling out to her.

"Look at me, Teela!" He-Man roared, pursuing her past Evil-Lyn's guards and out into the snow. More begging, than demanding, he ensnared her in his arms and held her too firmly to permit her escape. "You know I'd never betray you with her--with-with that! The chaos at Grayskull has afflicted me somehow! I've got to get inside Castle Grayskull, Teela. It's the only way to save us all."

"Take my jet-sled, He-Man," Teela said, as He-Man climbed onto her flying machine. "I'll convince my father and King Randor to delay the attack on Grayskull. Hurry!"

With one, thickly muscled arm, He-Man drew Captain Teela to him and kissed her. "I love you Teela."

The breath crushed from her, Teela Agrippa could barely stand, when the jet-sled's engines roared and, in a burst of blue light, He-Man sped into the clouds toward Castle Grayskull.

On a Battle-ram, He-man raced over Castle Grayskull's ancient jaw-bridge and into the fortress's upper corridors.

On his harness, Sir Duncan had secured a small, palm-sized detonator. Though he was the most powerful man in the universe, the tiny, silver device seemed the heaviest thing he had ever carried. He did not allow himself to dwell too much on its purpose. He would not hold out for false hope that his plan might succeed, and should they fail, he knew what would have to be done.

In her bedchamber, upon a throne at the back of the room, sat Teelana, the Sorceress of Grayskull. "You know what's happening, don't you, He-Man?"

"I think I do,..yes," He-Man answered. "I came to any way I can."

"Has anyone been killed?" Teelana inquired dreadfully. Shamefully. "Oh, gods! I-if I've killed anyone--if anyone has died because of my-my.."

"No one has died, today," answered He-Man, "but we have to end this, before any more life is lost. There's still time. Let me help."

"I caused this chaos," Teelana replied, burying her face in her hands. "A careful balance between human and divine influence is all that keeps Grayskull bound to Eternia's protection. It is a balance that I alone must maintain -- a balance shattered, when I helped the nature god, Hyacles, expell Fero and the other war gods from Eternia, imprisoning them in the Underworld forever! To purge myself of the rage that battle awakened in me, I sought to subdue my human frailties with an ancient spell,..but something went wrong. The painful loneliness of life in this tomb now drives me slowly mad!"

"You shattered that balance to save me," He-Man stopped her. "You are human, Sorceress. Mortal. The Ancients have gifted you with great knowledge and power, but you have needs like anyone else's. Have you forgotten what kind of rituals were practiced here before Grayskull was built?"

"The fertility cult of the wild goddess, Ani-Ma," answered the Sorceress, as if from a haze. "Her devotees honored her with wild rites they believed kept their people strong. I know what you're thinking, He-Man. That I'm..possessed by some magic conjured here, millennia ago,..but I am not. That I am not to blame for the horror ravaging this world,..but I am! I am!"

"The orgies of Ani-Ma allowed humankind to embrace the divine forces of creation," He-Man replied, kneeling before the Sorceress. "You are somewhere in between man and god, but the war against darkness forces you to deny your humanity,..something you can no longer afford to do. Embrace your humanity now,..or Eternia will be destroyed."

"I am not a fool, He-Man," the Sorceress wept, "I know that you would never allow that. Your power must ever serve Eternia..and the Ancients, who protect her. If I must embrace my mortality one final time to save mankind, so be it. Rise, champion..and drive the Sword of Power through my heart."

"I'm not going to kill you!" He-Man protested. "There is a spell you placed in my keeping that would make you sleep for fifty moons,..but I will not use it! Not when a more peaceful solution is within our reach."

The Sorceress hung her head and wept. "Yes. I must end this myself,..for you. For Teela. For all of Eternia. Leave me, Adam."

He-Man gripped the Sorceress's knees in his hands. His blue eyes wide like an angry child's. "No. There's more to being mortal, than mortality! There's life, Teelana! Joy! Let me show you joy, as men know it!"

Silently. Intently, he kissed her-his wild, golden hair dancing over her face.

Outside Grayskull's walls and all over Eternia, dark clouds parted, and the golden Sun was seen for the first time in many days,..before quietly disappearing behind the Mystic Mountains or into the Evening Sea. Day turned to night, while He-Man communed with the Sorceress of Grayskull.

"Teela will know what we've done."

"Yes," Teelana answered, as He-Man pulled her closer to him. "That of my power, which lies dormant in her, will show her the truth,..and she will understand. She is strong, He-Man,..and she loves you very much."

He-Man brushed the hair, as fiery red as Teela's, from the Sorceress's face. "I won't leave your side, until I know you are safe, Teelana,..even from yourself."

The Sorceress smiled, combing her fingers through He-Man's golden hair. "Thank you, He-Man. What you risked to give me back my humanity is more precious than any power in my keeping. Now, go, my friend,..and good journey. There is still great evil beyond these walls that you must fight. Go now."

The balance of humanity and divinity restored to Grayskull, He-Man kissed her. Softly at first, then fiercely.

A reminder of the passion they'd shared.

A promise that it would be Teelana's, whenever she needed it.

High atop Grayskull's blue-green ramparts, He-Man activated the remote detonator his friend Man-At-Arms had given him. Far across the plains, a violent flash of white filled the evening sky, and the cosmic energy weapon that might have destroyed Grayskull was no more. Though the day's labors weighed heavily on him, and he almost dreaded changing back into Prince Adam, his heart sang with promise of holding the beautiful Teela Agrippa in his arms once more. The scent of her skin teased his nostrils – the fiery luster of her red hair flickered in his soul, and he cried.

Alone on Captain Teela’s jet-sled, Grayskull’s champion streaked into the skies over the vast Evergreen Forest and headed home to Eternos.