Chapter 1 - Collecting
Adam walked along the narrow path, enjoying the cool air of the day. Over the last month, He-Man had been needed so frequently that it was nice just to be himself for once. Light fell in dappled patches from the leafy canopy overhead, and there was a spicy scent of green growing things all around them. Small noises made it clear that all was normal in the woods as the animals went about their daily activities, largely ignoring the pair of intruders.
Teela had gone on ahead, looking back over her shoulder at him impatiently. She turned around and stood at the crest of a small rise, hands on her hips, foot tapping impatiently. "Enjoying the scenery, your highness?" she called.
He didn't change his pace, which visibly annoyed his friend. When he was in close enough range that he didn't have to yell, he said, "Yes, actually, I am. We don't usually have an opportunity to just walk any more. Whenever we come here, it's because there's some battle to be fought or enemy to be tracked."
Teela humphed. "As if you come then," she said, flipping her long, auburn ponytail back over her shoulder. "You're usually nowhere to be found."
The prince gritted his teeth. "Could we not?" he said.
She shrugged, turning away. "You brought it up." Adam watched his oldest friend walk away from him, her shoulders set with irritation and sighed. Being He-Man might come in handy for saving the world, but it was sure screwing up the rest of his life.
"There's no need to be in a hurry," he said, trotting a little to catch up with her. "Your father said as much. In fact, hurrying would be unhelpful."
"We're not to the part of the forest where avornin is common yet," she said. "There's no point in dilly-dallying. We should get to –"
"Over there," Adam said, shading his eyes and squinting. "Red flower, blue thorns. I think that's some over there."
"What?" She looked too, and Adam resisted the urge to crow as she said, "You're right." They walked off the path and picked their way over to the small field of vines. "We need about two pounds of blossoms."
Adam nodded, grimacing, and went down on his knees gingerly, carefully avoiding the thorns. Teela was less careful, and she let out a muffled curse as she scraped herself. Adam reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. "Here, Teela, you'd better wash that out. Avornin can be kind of –"
She snatched the square of fabric and said, "I know!"
He started gathering blossoms, dropping them into the sack Man-at-Arms had given him. Duncan needed them for an experiment he was doing, and since there had been no real trouble for that week or so, Adam had suggested that he and Teela go gather blossoms. Skeletor would have no reason to expect them to be in the forest, and the undergrowth provided ample cover for Adam's transformation should He-Man be needed.
His father had approved the plan, and they had set out, walking instead of flying, since avornin tended to be found in shady hollows and was thus hard to find from the air. They gathered blossoms in silence for awhile, then stood up and moved on.
It would take several more stops to fill their bags sufficiently. The blossoms didn't weigh much, and they didn't dare take all the blooms from one set of vines. Besides, it's always better to come back with more than was needed, Adam thought, turning his face up to the sun as they walked.
"I should be out on patrol," Teela said abruptly, and Adam turned to her.
"I was assigned to patrol today, and –"
"Is that why you're being such a grump?" he asked. "You didn't want to come?"
She scowled. "I have a job, Adam."
"I know, but . . ." He shook his head. "I just thought . . . since we haven't been spending as much time together as we used to, it might be nice to have a day of relative rest, where we could talk and just . . . I don't know, be friends."
"Is that why you suggested this?"
"I also needed some peace," he said in a rare moment of honesty. After a second, he realized how badly she could take that, since it wasn't Adam who'd been active lately, it was He-Man.
"Have the court twits been giving you a hard time?" she asked sympathetically, and he blinked.
"Um . . . yeah," he said, trying to remember if anyone had been pushy in the last few days. "Darla won't back off, you know?"
Teela nodded. "I've heard her telling her friends that she's halfway to being princess of Eternia when she didn't think anyone could hear her."
"In her dreams!" Adam exclaimed. "I don't even like being in the same room with her."
"Really? You seemed comfortable enough when she was dancing with you at the last ball."
Adam snorted. "Oh, so I'm supposed to make it obvious that I can't stand the daughter of one of the most influential dukes in the kingdom?" he asked. "Being a prince isn't easy, especially when you really get old enough for the marriage market. I have to wear a lot of masks."
"Oh, so you haven't slept with half the girls at court?" she asked skeptically and he stared at her.
"Are you completely insane?" He reached out and tugged on her pony tail. "Or maybe the sun's getting to you. Right, if I slept with any of the girls at court, I might as well sign a betrothal agreement and give her a ring."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm the crown prince, Teela. Most of those girls have been primed by their mothers to seduce me and then proclaim their success to the world. And do you really think that if I had slept with some girl, and my father found out about it, I wouldn't be either dead or married within the month?"
She looked at him quizzically. "I hadn't thought about it that way." They walked in silence for a few moments, then she cleared her throat and looked out into the woods, ostensibly searching for more avornin blossoms. "Have you slept with anyone?" she asked, not looking at him.
He flushed. "That's kind of a personal question, don't you think?"
She shrugged. "I just wondered. I mean, I thought you had, and I was curious."
Her skin turned a becoming shade of pink. "No. I'm not in a very good position for that, either. I mean, most of the men I know are soldiers, and I'm their captain. Or they're courtiers, and I can't afford to get into political entanglements."
"Exactly," Adam said. "Most of the women I know are either courtiers or servants, both off limits." He sighed. "But it's not like I've been desperate to do anything about it." It's not like I've even had time to think about it.
"I guess there's too much going on," she said, smiling. Then she scanned the forest and said, "Hey, there's some more."
They picked there way across the intervening ground, going around a patch of stinging nettles to reach the avornin. After a few moments, Adam looked up. "Teela, do you notice anything?"
She gave him a perplexed look. "No, why?"
He shook his head, uncertain what the problem was, and she turned away. As he bent back to his work, he sighed, thinking that he was becoming paranoid. Then he realized what the problem was. The normal animal sounds had stopped. He started to his feet, but just as he rose something slammed into him from behind, encircling his body from hips to shoulders and throwing him forward.
"Adam!" Teela got to her feet, her staff ready in her hands.
He struggled to stand up, but the tightness of the thing that was holding him constrained his movements too much. It was some kind of pliable but incredibly strong net, and his arms were pressed against his side and chest, where they had landed when the thing caught him. He felt it as Teela stepped across to straddle him.
A gruff and familiar voice spoke. "Outta the way!" Beastman snarled.
"Yeah," Trap Jaw said. "We don't need you!"
"You're going to have to come through me to get him!" Teela shouted. She went into a flurry of action, and Adam could hear grunts of pain as her staff connected with each of the villains in turn. Beastman flew into a tree not far from where Adam was lying, but unfortunately, it didn't knock him out. Instead, the hairy mongrel leapt on the prince and lifted him into the air.
Putting his claws against Adam's neck, he yelled out, "Stop, or the prince gets it!"
Adam had a very good view as Teela slammed Trap Jaw across the face and then whirled. All the energy went out of her as she saw the position he was in. "Run, Teela!" Adam yelled, but Beastman's claws pressed harder against his throat, strangling the sound.
The staff dropped from her hands as she stared, eyes wide. "Let him go!" she commanded, but Beastman just laughed.
"I don't think so!" Trap Jaw replied, rising behind her. "What the boss wants, he gets." He grabbed her arms and, throwing her roughly to the ground, he bound her arms and legs while Adam watched, fuming helplessly. Then he stood up. "Let's go!"
Beastman tucked Adam under his arm and they headed out, Adam feeling ludicrously like a doll in the hands of a large and unfriendly child. He kicked out, but there was no possibility of escape. He could see Teela lying on the ground, struggling vainly. "What are you doing?" Adam demanded. "You can't leave her like that!"
"What, you want we should kill her?" Trap Jaw asked and Beastman laughed. Adam fell silent, his mouth going dry at the thought that they might follow through on that threat, but they just carried him away. Finally, they reached a vehicle and Beastman started to toss him in.
"Wait!" Trap Jaw growled. "Be gentle." Be gentle? Adam thought incredulously. "The boss doesn't want him marked up too much."
"Oh, right," Beastman said, and he lay Adam carefully on the seat. They took off and the prince lay there, wondering what bone face had planned that he wanted Adam unmarked for.
Teela growled in frustration as she was forced to watch helplessly while Beastman and Trap Jaw carried Adam away. The metal contraptions Trap Jaw had used on her wrists and ankles were solid, and she wasn't going to get loose from them easily. They consisted of a rigid metal bar about six inches long with wide cuffs at either end that prevented her joints from moving easily.
Craning her neck, she saw that they were going to be out of sight in a moment. Looking around, she marked the direction they were taking so she'd be able to guide the searchers correctly when the time came, and then she started contorting so that she could get herself upright.
When she was finally sitting on the forest floor, she contemplated her situation. Her hands were bound behind her and her com unit was attached to the front of her belt. She couldn't reach it, and it would be next to impossible to activate it without using her hands because the buttons were recessed so they couldn't be pressed by accident.
After a moment's thought, she started working on sliding her belt around her waist, turning it so that she could reach the device.
It wasn't easy. The belt was designed to fit snugly, so that it wouldn't shift during battle. She had to twist and turn and suck in her gut to get it to move, and her hands kept slipping. First, it was because of the position they were in, but then they started getting slick from sweat, and her wrists started to cramp, which just made matters worse. The sun was westering before she got the bloody thing where she could reach it.
Running her fingers over the surface, she found the button she was looking for and pressed it. It made no sound, and she couldn't tell if it had activated properly, but somewhere, on a computer console back at the palace, a button should be flashing and an alarm should be sounding. She'd never used the distress beacon before, but she'd answered it often enough to know it was reliable.
Frustrated, her hands growing sticky with a substance that she was beginning to suspect wasn't sweat after all, her wrists aching, she sat and waited for the response to her call.
Now, with nothing to do, she was left to wonder what was happening to Adam. What did Skeletor plan to use the prince of Eternia for? Was he bait? Was he to be a sacrifice? Or did he have even darker plans?
Teela closed her eyes and tried not to imagine what Skeletor might do.
Adam was very nervous as they flew across the Dark Hemisphere. What did Skeletor want with him? From what they'd said to Teela, the minions had clearly been sent out to capture him, and this assumption was confirmed when they called their base. He'd heard Skeletor's high, nasal cackle, and then the Lord of Snake Mountain had said that he would call the 'other teams' in.
His sword was still in its sheath on his back, but it might as well be at the bottom of the sea for all he could do to reach it. His arms were held in against his sides by this device, which appeared to be a simple mesh net of some incredibly strong substance that enclosed Adam's torso completely.
The smell of lava filled his nostrils, telling him that they were getting close to Snake Mountain. Then they flew into a cave and set down. Beastman got out of the front seat and reached in to lift Adam out. "What's going on?" he demanded, but neither of them spoke. Beastman simply carried him through the halls of Snake Mountain. Adam looked around, trying to distract himself from wondering what might happen to him. The walls were rough-cut and not smooth. He wondered if they were original to the design or if these corridors had been added by Skeletor or some other squatter in the years since the Snake Men fell.
The walls smoothed out and they finally came to the doors of Skeletor's throne room. Trap Jaw opened them and they entered, Adam feeling once more like a hapless plaything in the hands of a careless child. The prince craned his neck and saw that Merman, Clawful, and Whiplash were standing at the foot of the throne.
Beastman set him on his feet and then let go. Adam stood straight, trying to preserve his dignity despite the object that held him helpless, then glared up at the self-proclaimed 'overlord of evil,' who was sitting atop his throne.
"Very good, Beastman, Trap Jaw. I am pleased." He rose and walked slowly down the steps.
"What do you want?" Adam asked, forcing his voice to be hard and demanding. How he wanted to have his sword in hand, prepared to do battle . . .
"Well, first," Skeletor said, reaching over Adam's head. "I don't think you'll be needing this." He drew the Power Sword from its sheath on Adam's back and, turning, leaned it against the side of the steps. Adam stared at it, willing it into his hand, but it didn't move. Skeletor put one clawed finger under the prince's chin and turned his head so that they were face to face. "Very nice indeed. There's a small scrape on his forehead, but his hair will cover that. He stepped back and looking at someone behind Adam, he spoke. "Have my guests arrived?"
"They have, Lord Skeletor," Evil-Lyn said, and Adam tried to turn his head but the restraint foiled him. "Tri-Klops and Tu Badd are watching them right now."
"Things are shaping up quite nicely," Skeletor said, rubbing his hands together.
"What's going on?" Adam asked.
It was odd how fleshless bones could convey a malicious smile. Adam felt a flutter in his gut as he stood helpless before his enemy. Skeletor turned and walked up the steps, carrying Adam's sword with him. When he reached his throne, he turned and sat down, resting the sword across his knees. "Well, we mustn't keep our guests waiting too long," he said. "Remove the restraint."
Trap Jaw walked up and pulled it away, leaving Adam standing in front of Skeletor's throne. When he had gone a few feet away, Adam launched himself towards Skeletor and his sword.
He hadn't gotten far when his body froze in place accompanied by that strange tingling sense he got when magic hit him. Evil-Lyn's spell brought him back to a standing position and held him there while she walked around him. She conjured up a comb and started straightening his hair. "Do you want to change his clothing?" she asked. "Or do you want to present him as he is?"
"As he is, I think. After all, they are expecting the prince of Eternia, and this is how the prince of Eternia dresses."
Adam grit his teeth and glared. "Why all this attention to my appearance? What are you going to do with me?"
Skeletor laughed and gazed down at the prince with those unnervingly eyeless sockets. "Me? I am going to do nothing with you, Prince Adam," he said contemptuously. "I'm going to leave that to the highest bidder!" He threw back his head and startled cackling. The minions around and behind Adam joined in their lord's amusement and Adam felt his eyes widen. The highest bidder?
Teela looked up as the wind raider hovered over her and landed. Her father jumped out followed by Mekanek and Man-E-Faces. Manny turned immediately to his monster face and started sniffing the air. Her father ran over to her and knelt behind her, trying to get the bonds on her wrists undone.
"Elders!" he cursed. "Your hands are all over blood."
"Father, they took Adam!" she exclaimed. "It's been forty minutes at least, but they went that way." She nodded, still unable to point.
"I've got the scent!" Manny yelled and Mek looked at her father.
"Go. We'll catch up." He kept working on her wrists and finally he got them free. Shoulders aching, she brought them around front and looked at the abrasions encircling them. "Who was it?"
"Trap Jaw and Beastman. Father, they came after him specifically. Skeletor sent them to capture Adam."
He looked up at her, eyes unreadable. "How did it happen?"
"There was something, some kind of net, that wrapped around him and sealed itself in front. What's really weird is that I don't think they would have attacked me if I hadn't tried to stop them."
His eyes narrowed. "That is odd." He was just finished freeing her ankles when Mekanek and Man-E-Faces returned.
"They're gone," the long-necked master reported. "There were signs of an air vehicle, but it's long gone."
Manny nodded. "I couldn't even scent their exhaust."
"So we'll have to assume they've already got him to Snake Mountain."
"I'm sorry, Father," Teela said. "I wasn't paying close enough –"
"Not now," he said, scooping her up into his arms. "Mek, call the palace and let's get Teela to the infirmary." Her father put her into the wind raider and sat beside her as they flew toward the palace, Mek making his report and Manny piloting.
Adam stood motionless while Evil-Lyn arranged his hair to her liking and tugged his clothing into place. Then she gently forced his wrists together and put them in a binder like the ones he'd seen Trap Jaw putting on Teela in the forest. Is she okay? Can she reach her com unit? How soon will we be missed? Finished, Evil-Lyn stepped back and released the paralysis.
"What do you think?" she asked, surveying her handiwork.
Skeletor walked down the stairs to the floor and gazed with evident satisfaction at Adam. "He'll do very nicely. Come along, boy."
Adam stayed stock still. "You're selling me?" he asked incredulously.
Taking his arm, Skeletor wheeled him around. "I am indeed, Price Adam," he said, his voice low and malevolent. "I've called together a diverse selection of persons, all of whom I thought might be at least marginally interested in my wares."
The prince tried to drag his captor to a stop, but Skeletor squeezed his arm tightly and jerked him forward. "Would you rather I put you in a cage?"
The Power Sword was still in the throne room, resting against Skeletor's throne. Adam turned his head. All of the minions were accompanying them, so the sword should be unprotected. Yeah, all I have to do is break away from Skeletor, dodge through six minions and get the sword, then hide somewhere to transform . . . . He turned facing forward again.
Suddenly jerking his arm out of Skeletor's hand, he turned, but once again, Evil-Lyn's spell caught him and forced him back to a passive standing position. "Perhaps I should simply levitate him into the room, Skeletor," she said, sounding amused. "Once he's there, he won't be going anywhere."
"True." Adam couldn't see, but he guessed that Skeletor must have nodded approval, for Evil-Lyn magically lifted him from the floor. He was fuming, his stomach churning with acid. If Skeletor sold him . . . how would the masters find him again?
They paused before a large doorway, and Trap Jaw and Whiplash ran forward to open the doors. Skeletor gave Adam an unnerving grin and walked in. Evil-Lyn caused him to follow her overlord and came right behind.
It was a large, round room, lit by torches along the walls and four large braziers that surrounded a dias in the middle. Seats encircled the dais, and on those seats were people clothed in uniform robes of dusky black, their faces concealed within hoods. Adam's gut fluttered with anxiety. Who are these people? He counted at least forty or fifty in the room, but he didn't know how many of those were bidders and how many might be minions, for they seemed to be gathered in small groups.
Skeletor and Evil-Lyn took him down to the dais. As soon as the gathered crowd saw him, a murmur ran around the room. When they were in the center of the room, Evil-Lyn lowered him to the floor and released the spell. More murmurings filled the room as he moved and looked around. He couldn't see any faces, just shapes, some hulking, some tiny.
Skeletor stood behind him, placing one hand on his shoulder. "I have called you all here for what promises to be a very pleasing afternoon's entertainment. Each of you, at one time or another in the past, has been unlucky enough to receive attention from Randor, now king of Eternia." Adam glanced back over his shoulder at Skeletor's face. He tried to duck his shoulder out from under the villain's hand, but Skeletor merely tightened his grip till Adam winced.
"I present before you, Randor's only child, his son and heir, Prince Adam." There was an approving sound as the gathered people leaned together to talk. At least one person in every grouping was focused firmly on Adam, however. The prince began to feel very frightened. "I offer him for auction. You may do with him what you like once you have him, but I was careful to capture him with a minimum of damage, so he comes to you pristine and untouched."
"How untouched?" a voice called. There must have been a spell on the room to make sound in the gallery directionless, because Adam couldn't be certain where the question came from, only that the speaker was male.
"Completely," Skeletor said. "At least by us. I can't speak for what he may have done before we captured him." The amusement in his voice was answered by a ripple of laughter around the room, and Adam flushed.
Another voice spoke. "If I'm going to buy a slave, I'd like to see a bit more of him." This voice was female and Adam flushed even more. Slave? Adam shivered. "Take off his shirt, at least."
Skeletor shook his head. "I'm sure whomever buys this paragon of virtue wants to be long gone before Randor arrives, and I don't know how soon the young prince will be missed." He looked around. "There is one stipulation. When you're done with him, he must die." Adam flinched and his eyes widened. There was a brief silence in the room. "Now, let's start the bidding at five hundred gold crowns."
The bidding began, and Adam hoped desperately that the masters would show up to rescue him soon. Surely they had been missed by now, though he didn't think it had even been an hour yet. If Teela couldn't reach her com unit, they'd have no reason to be looking for him.
He listened to the numbers rapidly growing and bit his lip, praying that someone would come soon.