This is the sequel to A Siege of Assassins and Invisible Chains. It is a good bit longer than either of them, and I will try to post a chapter a week for the foreseeable future.
For anyone who has not yet read the stories listed above, they are not necessarily required to understand this story, but it wouldn't hurt. For anyone who has, but for whom it has been a long time, I might recommend refreshing your memory.
Adam, Man-at-Arms and Adam's bodyguard, Raon, climbed aboard the wind raider to head home. The other bodyguard on duty, Quick-Wing, would fly beside them, watching for threats. Looking up at his mentor, Adam said, "I think that went really well."
"Yes, I agree. We'll make a statesman of you yet."
"Not too soon, I hope," Adam said, grinning.
It was a beautiful day, and Adam enjoyed the ride over the Sands of Time. The air was crisp and cool at their elevation, and Duncan, always a good pilot, managed to avoid most of the turbulence that often made overflying the desert so trying.
A sudden hiss from the engine drew Adam's attention immediately, and Duncan started muttering. "What's going on?" Adam asked.
"I'm not sure. I think one of the power relays is failing." There was a sharp popping sound, and the engine died abruptly. "Blast! I'm going to try to glide in."
Duncan aimed for one of the many dunes that drifted and shifted form so frequently in this landscape, but two griffins suddenly emerged from behind it, changing the situation drastically from a simple crash landing to an ambush. Beastman and Trap Jaw flew toward them, and Adam could see three more griffins coming out of hiding further along the desert floor.
Adam reached for his comlink. "Adam to masters, we're under attack in the Sands of Time." He gave their coordinates hurriedly, reading them off the instrument panel. Behind him, he could hear Raon calling as well.
"Adam! Raon!" Man-at-Arms yelled over the sound of the wind. "We'll have to abandon the raider!"
As if to emphasize his point, a blast of laser fire hit the wing next to Adam, causing it to splinter and fall away. All three passengers leapt out of the machine just before it spiraled into the sand. Adam landed, rolling to his feet, eyes immediately searching for the best place to hide to change into He-Man. Something struck him from behind, knocking him to the ground. He turned to struggle away from his attacker, only to find that it was Raon.
"Stay down!" the bodyguard commanded, rising up on his knees to scan the area, blaster out and ready to strike at any who attacked his prince.
"Raon!" Adam cried. "Let me up!" He tried to pull himself to his feet, looking for somewhere to make his transformation out of sight of enemies and friends alike. He'd managed it on occasions in the past, and stoically endured the lectures from both his father and Raon. Necessity had to take precedence over comfort and reputation, as always.
Duncan was a good forty feet away, beset by Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw, and holding his own despite the odds. Beastman hovered on a griffin above them, ready to change the odds if the opportunity arose. Clawful and Whiplash kept diving at Adam and Raon, but as far as Adam could see, they weren't trying to accomplish anything more than keeping them pinned down.
"Your highness, let me do my job!" Raon exclaimed, shoving him back down.
"We have to help Duncan!" Adam yelled, yanking himself free of Raon's restraining hands. Cursing, Raon lunged for him. In the resultant struggle, Adam lost his footing on the sliding sand. He'd just drawn his sword when he fell, and it went flying out of his immediate reach.
"Man-at-Arms can take care of himself, Adam," Raon said. "It's my job to make sure you're safe."
Adam watched helplessly, pinned chest-down to the sand, as Duncan fought with his two opponents. Man-at-Arms was cornered against a dune by the pair, holding Trap Jaw off with his hand cannon and fending off blows from Tri-Klops' sword with his mace.
Movement in the sky caught Adam's attention and he saw that Quick-Wing was trying to reach them, but the riderless griffins harried him as he flew, preventing him from making much progress. Adam looked back at Man-at-Arms just in time to see a blast from Trap Jaw's laser arm damage Duncan's hand cannon.
If Adam could just get away from his over-zealous guard and become He-Man, fighting them off would be easy, but Raon was determined to keep him safe, whatever the cost. He struggled unavailingly against the pressure holding him to the ground.
Lunging desperately, Man-at-Arms struck out with his mace and knocked Tri-Klops back, but Trap Jaw followed up his advantage. Transforming his arm from a laser gun into a metal pincer, he slammed Duncan face first to the ground and held him there, the ends of the pincer digging deep into the sand. Duncan scrabbled at the shifting surface beneath him but could find no purchase.
"Quick-Wing!" called Raon. "Get down here!" The Andrenid finally made it to the ground beside them, but with the way the griffins were swooping it was clearly not safe for him to try and fly Adam out.
Adam craned his neck to look up at Raon. "Someone's got to help Duncan, Raon! They're not after me. Can't you see that?" Quick-Wing fired on Whiplash's griffin as he soared a little too near.
"Stay down, Adam," Raon muttered, seeming to look in all directions at once. Adam stretched his arm desperately towards his sword, but it had fallen down slope of him and he couldn't do much more than cascade more sand over the top of it.
Red feet landed inches from Adam's reaching hand, sending sand flying into his face. Adam looked up and saw Clawful standing over him. Raon seized the back of Adam's shirt and hauled him backwards, out of the crustacean's easy reach. Drawing his own mace, he parried Clawful's attempt to knock him out of the way. Quick-Wing took up a defensive stance on Adam's other side where Whiplash had landed. Having landed awkwardly on his rear end, his own weapon now hopelessly out of reach, Adam was forced to put up with being guarded.
He looked across to where Man-At-Arms was still fighting to get loose from Trap Jaw's pincer and saw Tri-Klops struggle to his feet and kick him in the head. His body went limp and Adam watched in horror as Tri-Klops pulled out some kind of metal contraption and bound his hands securely. "Raon, Duncan's in trouble!"
Raon had his hands full, however, keeping Clawful off them both. Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw stepped back, and Adam realized he was watching history repeat itself. Beastman's griffin dove in and caught Duncan in its claws, then rose into the sky, winging swiftly away. "Duncan!" Adam cried, leaping forward, but Raon shoved him back.
"We've got what we came for!" Tri-Klops yelled in his gravelly voice.
"And we're about to have company!" Trap Jaw added. Clawful and Whiplash both disengaged abruptly. Whiplash turned immediately to leap astride his griffin. Clawful jumped back from Raon, but the glint of steel in the sand at his feet caught his eye. Bending, he seized Adam's sword, then caught hold of his griffin and clambered aboard as they soared up into the sky.
Adam watched in horror as quite possibly the stupidest of Skeletor's minions carried the Power Sword away to Snake Mountain. Several sky sleds and a windraider flew in to land nearby, but their rescue had come minutes too late. Adam shoved Raon out of his way and went to meet Teela who was just landing her sky sled.
"Adam!" she cried, dismounting. "You're all right!"
"Yeah," Adam said sourly. "They weren't after me." Mekanek and Manny ran up to join them with Ram-Man close behind. Too late, Adam thought.
Teela was looking around. "Where's my father?" she asked. Raon and Quick-Wing had just arrived behind him, standing guard, though against what now, Adam wasn't sure. Mekanek extended his neck to look for Duncan, and Man-E-Faces shifted into monster mode to try and sniff him out. Raon and Quick-Wing looked around as well, and Adam realized that they hadn't seen what happened.
"No, no, stop," he said. "You won't find him." They all turned to face him, looking confused. Adam sighed. "As I said, they weren't after me." Teela's face drained of color. "Beastman's griffin carried him away just before they broke off."
Teela looked off towards the direction of Snake Mountain. "With the lead they've got now, we'd never catch up in time," she said.
"I know." And with the sword in the hands of Skeletor, He-Man wasn't going to be coming to the rescue.
"We need to get you back to the palace, Prince Adam," Raon said. Adam turned a furious glare on his bodyguard, whose expression remained stoic.
"Yeah. Let's go. And let's hope that Skeletor is requesting a ransom." Though if that's what he wanted, why had he grabbed Man-At-Arms? Why not Adam himself?
"What do you mean?" Teela demanded.
"If he doesn't want a ransom, then what does he want your father for?" Adam asked grimly.
No one made any answer to his rhetorical question. As Adam clambered into the wind raider, followed by his bodyguards, it was a sober party that took off for the royal palace.
Duncan awakened to wind whistling past his ears, whipping his hair madly about his face and head. His eyes watered as he opened them to find himself dangling sideways in the claws of one of Beastman's griffins high above the Sands of Fire. His helmet had fallen off at some point, and his head ached abominably. His arms were bound tightly behind his back, in a position that made his hand cannon inaccessible. Not that it was worth much right now anyway. The last thing he remembered was fighting Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops in the Sands of Time. He hoped that Raon had kept Adam from being captured.
Before he'd had time to think much past that, the griffin released him. He hurtled downward but he could not see toward what. He curled to protect his head and landed heavily on a relatively flat surface. Rolling to his feet, he looked around him. He was alone high atop Snake Mountain, but within seconds Whiplash and Trap Jaw landed beside him. They seized him from each side and made sure he was bound securely.
"Come on, you!" Trap Jaw said.
Duncan didn't speak, but allowed them to hustle him inside the halls of the enemy fortress. He didn't see Adam, so perhaps it was all right.
They threw him ahead of them into a room. With some effort, he kept his feet, but Trap Jaw followed him in and tripped him anyway. Then, paradoxically, he yanked him back up. "On your feet, Man-At-Arms," he growled, yanking him into position. Duncan heard the sound of a mechanical transformation, then felt the muzzle of Trap Jaw's laser cannon against the back of his head. "Don't move."
Whiplash untied him, then stripped him of his armor and his boots and searched him roughly. "He's clean," he said. Duncan was now attired in little more than his undershirt and the pants he wore beneath his armor.
"Good." The harsh voice of Tri-Klops came from the doorway behind him. "Tie his arms again and bring him."
Whiplash jerked his arms into a viciously uncomfortable position behind his back and fastened his forearms into a pair of cuffs that held them parallel along his lower back, placing horrendous pressure on his shoulders and the muscles across his chest. Then he and Trap Jaw grabbed his upper arms again and marched him through the halls. "Don't you have anything to say?" Trap Jaw demanded. Duncan kept his mouth shut. Silence gave away nothing.
The room they took him to was somehow plusher than he'd expected. Stone walls, yes, and chains, but also a chair upholstered in purple velvet, a chaise lounge off in a corner, and hangings of lavender brocade. The floor was covered by a thick woven rug of various shades ranging from purple to palest mauve. This didn't seem quite like Skeletor's milieu. Trap Jaw leered at him as they entered, but Duncan chose not to speculate on the meaning behind his look.
They removed the binding on his arms and forced his wrists up and into the manacles that dangled from chains in the wall. Oddly – and alarmingly – they positioned him so that he faced the wall. Bending, they placed shackles around his ankles as well. Chuckling, they left the room, and he heard the door shut behind them. Finally alone, he assessed his situation. On the plus side, he hadn't seen Adam at all yet, so perhaps it was safe to assume that Adam had gotten safely away. On the negative. . .
He looked up at the chains around his wrists. The manacles were solidly constructed, and their connection to the chain wouldn't budge. The connection of the chain to the wall, however, looked a little weak. He gripped the chain in his hand and pulled experimentally.
A low, sultry laugh behind him made him stiffen. He hadn't considered that there might be other entrances under the hangings. Stupid, Duncan, stupid. "Already trying to leave?" Evil-Lyn said in a mocking voice that grew closer as she approached with silent footsteps. A finger traced the curve of his back and he jerked away. "You are being unfriendly, aren't you?"
"What reason have I to be friendly?" he asked in a reasonable tone.
"Oh, just think of the benefits, Duncan," she purred, coming up right behind him. He could feel the warmth of her breath on his back. "I may call you Duncan, may I not? Man-At-Arms just seems so stuffy."
"I prefer Man-At-Arms."
"Oh, well, you can be stuffy if you like. I like Duncan." So saying she placed her hands on his shoulder blades, tracing the shape of his muscles with her fingers. He had no room to pull away, so he suffered her touch, gritting his teeth. "I was right. Under all that armor, you do have a nice build. Tri-Klops said it was probably padded." The thought that Skeletor's minions had been discussing the shape of his body, of all things, made Duncan's flesh crawl.
She withdrew her hands and he wondered what she was doing. He turned his head to see if he could peer over his shoulder at her, but a flash of silver made him freeze. She pressed the flat of the blade he'd caught a glimpse of against the skin at the nape of his neck. What was the witch up to?
"Oh, don't worry, Duncan, I have no interest whatsoever in cutting any of this magnificent flesh." She pulled the fabric of his undershirt away from his skin and started slicing it away. "I thought it might be wiser, all in all, not to unchain you to remove your shirt. You're so very strong." The taunting note in her voice made him want to break things. When his shirt lay in tatters on the floor, she ran her nails lightly down his back.
He flinched away from the intimate touch. "What do you want?" he demanded.
"Isn't it obvious?" she asked, leaning up close to his ear, her breath warm and moist against the lobe. "Can't you guess?" He didn't respond verbally, but she laughed merrily as he turned his head away. She walked away, still chuckling, and Duncan wondered what she was planning to do. "I must say," she said. "You make an attractive wall hanging. Almost as good a decoration as He-Man would make."
Duncan couldn't control his reaction. He clenched his fists and growled at the thought of He-Man – Adam – in Evil-Lyn's grasp again.
"What, lover, jealous?" she exclaimed coyly, walking back up behind him.
"What did you call me?" he asked, his voice breaking.
She reached up and gave his ponytail a tweak. "You heard me, Duncan. But since you're being so very stubborn, I think I had better take some precautions." He felt something cold on his back and he jerked in surprise.
"What are you doing?"
"Painting. Don't move. I'd have to start over, and this ink is very penetrating. It would take several layers of skin to remove it."
"That would be telling. Don't be tiresome, or I'll have to knock you out."
Duncan saw little point in fighting against this artistic endeavor, so he remained still. After all, He-Man should be arriving any time now to get him out of this, and it wouldn't do anyone any good for him to have the skin peeled off his back.
She spent quite some time on painting whatever sigils were required for the spell she was casting, then stepped back, blowing across his skin to dry the ink where it was still wet. Duncan twitched uneasily. He wished he could see what she was doing as she moved around the room. He turned his head, trying to see her. She picked up her staff and walked toward him. "Don't worry, soon you'll be free of those chains."
What did she mean? What kind of control did those glyphs give her over him? Or was she contemplating using that siren trick on him that she'd used so successfully on Ram-Man?
She pressed the staff against his back in three different places, and each of those portions of his skin crawled with energy for a few seconds after she removed the pressure. He didn't feel any different when she was done, but how was he to know if he would? She pointed the staff at each of the shackles in turn and released him. He turned to face her, rubbing his wrists. "What have you done to me?"
Taking a step back, she gazed at him interestedly, making Duncan uncomfortably aware of his comparative nudity. All he was wearing at this point was a thin pair of pants that were never meant to be seen. An expression of feline contentment came over her face as she stood there with her staff grounded, the crystal tip pointed toward the ceiling. Her hip was cocked, and her stance was relaxed, as if he posed no threat whatsoever.
After a moment, she deigned to answer his question. "Well, first of all, you now can't voluntarily leave Snake Mountain."
"What?" Duncan's jaw dropped. "You can't do that!"
She laughed at the shock in his face. "I can and I have."
"What if the whole place collapses?"
She shrugged lazily. "Let's just say I'd advise you to mention it if you see any structural defects." Duncan stared at her, horrified. "Second, you won't be able to attack me, no matter how hard you try." Duncan clamped his jaw shut. That certainly seemed like a sensible precaution just now. He wanted to wring her neck.
The way she put was intriguing, though. He narrowed his eyes at her. "Just you?"
"The fellows can take care of themselves." She looked him up and down. "Especially against a man without weapons or armor." Smirking, she added, "Or much in the way of clothes."
"And the third?" he asked, ignoring that last provocative comment.
"You'll learn more about the third glyph if I find need of it."
This made Duncan profoundly nervous, but he wasn't inclined to press the point. "So, now what?"
"Now?" The amusement in her eyes deepened, and her smile seemed to grow almost predatory. Duncan didn't know how to react. This whole scenario was completely unexpected. He'd been prepared to be taken before Skeletor, but being presented half-naked to Evil-Lyn left him wondering what in Eternia they were planning. "Now we have a pleasant conversation about your options."
Something in the way she looked at him as she said the word options made Duncan look away in serious discomfort, but his surroundings didn't help any. The room was a peculiar mix of boudoir and dungeon. "What is this place?" he asked. He knit his brows and peered at the lounge down at the end of the room. He thought he could see the glint of chains at either end. He turned back to face her and found that she was watching him, a sly smile on her lips.
Arching an elegant eyebrow, she accepted the change of subject. "Sort of an audience chamber. I receive . . ." she paused, gazing archly at him, ". . . certain sorts of guests here." Having observed the appointments of the room, Duncan decided that there were things about Evil-Lyn and her 'guests' that he didn't want to know. From the pleased expression on her face, she was enjoying his discomfort. She reached out to take his hand, but he jerked it back, glaring at her. Giving him an amused look, she chuckled richly. "You, my dear man, are a bit jumpy. I was just going to lead you into the next room, since you dislike this one so much."
He raised his eyebrows. "Lead on," he said, gesturing mockingly.
Her eyes narrowed, but she nodded and turned away. On a whim, curious to see what would happen, he started to launch himself at her unprotected back, just to knock her down. He knew it was pointless. Even if he got out of this room, he doubted that he could get away. There were too many people between him and the unknown location of the exit. He bent his knees to jump forward, and just as he started to extend, all his joints locked up and he found he couldn't move. Because he'd been in the process of jumping, however, his balance was shifted too far forward for him to stay upright, so he fell with a crash to the floor, his shoulder knocking the purple chair askew. Paralyzed as he was, he could do nothing to catch himself.
Evil-Lyn turned and looked down where he lay motionless on the floor, still frozen in mid-motion. She squatted beside him and stroked his cheek. "Naughty boy," she murmured. "You just had to test your limits, didn't you?" His hair had come loose from its binding, and she brushed it back where it had fallen across his face. "Such an uncomfortable position. So humiliating." She stood, chuckling in that rich voice of hers. "I suppose it's time for you to learn the purpose of the third glyph." Duncan lay there at her feet, wondering just what was coming next. She spoke a word in a language he didn't recognize, it sounded like 'arwahl' or 'arlwahr' or something, but he wasn't in any condition to puzzle it out.
Pain shot from the small of his back throughout his body, following the path of his nervous system. Agonizing, searing pain that could not be ignored. It was as though his nerves were on fire. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, it passed, leaving him sweaty and shaking, joints still locked in place. She walked around behind him, bent, and touched a finger to a spot just below his left shoulder blade. "Release," she said, and his joints relaxed. He lay limply for a moment, then pushed himself up to his knees, preparatory to standing. He stopped moving, however, when she placed her hands lightly on his shoulders, standing in front of him. Under the pressure from her hands, he sank back to his haunches, breathing heavily. So that was the third glyph. There was a lingering, tingling pain in the skin at the small of his back.
"You know?" she said, leaning over him. "I quite like you in this position." Irritated, he started to pull away, but she gripped more tightly, digging her nails into his flesh. "Don't," she said with a warning note in her voice. He subsided reluctantly, and she walked around him, stroking her fingers across his chest as she went. When she was behind him, she pulled his shoulders back so that he leaned against her body. Closing his eyes, he tried to ignore her proximity, the feel of her against the bare skin of his back. "It's interesting," she said in a thoughtful voice. "When I was at the palace, it was an ideal situation for espionage." He stiffened. This, too, was an unexpected tack for her to take. "Because no one suspected the simpering Lady Asala of anything more than a big mouth, I had no difficulty reading the surface thoughts of nearly everyone I ran across."
Duncan felt his heart start beating faster. Had she 'read' Adam? No. If Skeletor knew Adam's secret, something would have happened by now. Since Evil-Lyn's protracted visit to the palace, the skull-faced monstrosity had taken possession of Adam twice. He wouldn't have returned him the second time if he'd known that Adam was He-Man.
Evil-Lyn's hands stroked slowly up his neck and she began toying with his hair as she talked. "I couldn't read you. I still can't, though I suspect that with enough time and effort, I could, but the process would leave you a babbling madman." Duncan clenched his fists at his sides and tried not to react, but madness was among the few things that terrified him. The lack of self-control . . .
"It wasn't very profitable, all in all," she went on musingly. "Randor could think of nothing but that boy of his, the queen was worried about both of them and what potentially useful thoughts she did have were all about economic details that I couldn't take advantage of either as Lady Asala or in my own form. And those masters of yours are a singularly self-centered lot. Admittedly, they were all concerned about the prince, but Mekanek was preoccupied with the death of his own son, the actor couldn't stop thinking about the possibility of failure, and . . . well . . . I won't sport with you on the topic of Ram-Man's lack of thought." Her hands continued to tease at his hair and stroke his scalp.
Not very many weeks ago, he remembered giving Adam a lecture on how to behave if he was ever taken prisoner again. "Cooperate. Don't antagonize your captor. Make them like you so it will be harder for them to kill you." Maybe that had been bad advice, he reflected, as he allowed Evil-Lyn to caress him.
"And then there's 'the callow Prince Alan,' as Skeletor calls him." Duncan stiffened. Adam? Her hands paused and she leaned around him to get a sideways look at his face. "You all seem to have a very sensitive spot where the prince is concerned. I'm beginning to wonder why." Duncan bit back an irritated retort. "In any case, I couldn't read him either. Some people are just born with shields like his. It would take the power of the Elders to break into his head." Duncan closed his eyes, weak with relief, but he wondered when the Sorceress had placed such a shield on Adam, and why she hadn't bothered to tell him.
Evil-Lyn gave him a little shove forward and walked toward the wall opposite them. "Come along. Attractive you may be, but you need a bath."
Duncan paused in the process of getting to his feet. "A bath?" he asked dubiously. While he wanted to be clean, he wasn't sure what Evil-Lyn had in mind. He didn't believe for a moment that there was anything sexual in her attentions. This was all just a ploy to throw him off balance. That it was working irritated him mightly, but he strove not to reveal anything to her.
He might well have spared himself the effort. She laughed out loud at his hesitation. "There are three things to keep in mind, my dear Duncan," she said, crossing her arms sensually over her chest. "First, I am not Ovarn. Scars are ugly and unnecessary."
Duncan blinked at her. "Ovarn?" he asked uncertainly.
She raised an eyebrow. "Ovarn. The ferret? The idiot who kidnapped your prince and impersonated him? Him?" His eyes widened with realization. "You mean after all that you still didn't know his name?" She shook her head incredulously. "What's wrong with you people? Within minutes of his arrival at Snake Mountain he was spilling his guts to Skeletor."
"We don't use the more extreme methods of interrogation," Duncan said. "And his name is somewhat immaterial, really."
"Extreme methods?" She threw her head back and cackled. When she had vented her amusement, she added, "Skeletor looked at him sideways and he started babbling."
"Yes, but Skeletor is widely known for his exotic punishments."
"True," she said thoughtfully, a distant bitter look in her eyes that made him wonder what horror she was remembering. "So, back to my point. I am not Ovarn, I don't believe in injuring people quite so thoroughly."
"I see," Duncan said dryly, crossing his arms. "So a little pain is all right, but scars . . . ?"
"Are unsightly," she finished for him, smiling. "Second, much as I would prefer it, you're not here simply as a toy. You have a task to accomplish, and I suspect you'd be happier at your work if you were clean."
"Oh, you'll find out about that later. Skeletor will tell you when you're presented to him. But he doesn't like to be presented with dirty things."
"I see." Duncan had really begun to wonder what was keeping He-Man.
"And since I thought you'd prefer a bath to a quick rub through Beastman's ruff –"
"I beg your pardon!" Duncan exclaimed, revolted by the image.
She laughed. "Long story." Her eyes narrowed, and she was suddenly looking at him in a most unfriendly manner. "It concerns how Skeletor finally brought down the Mystic Wall." She pursed her lips and glared at him. "Third, you will be bathed, even if I have to knock you out and dunk you."
Duncan gestured again for her to lead on. She tilted her head suspiciously at him. "Trust me, I'm not going to attack you again," he said ironically. "Clearly, it's pointless." Nodding, she turned away and led him through a door that was behind one of the wall hangings.
To Be Continued . . .