Time flies far more often than we like to think about. It seems only a few days since I worked on the story when nearly a month has passed! Weddings, work, and life in general conspired to keep me away...also Mass Effect sucked me in long after the hey day. That game is a BIG time suck if you like story. Anyway, I was not going to let Halloween pass me by without a new chapter or two. As always reviews and messages welcome.
I do not own He-Man, the Masters, or their associated worlds and adversaries...I would not complain however if they stopped by for drinks!
996AH Vine Jungle
Sweat seemed to flow like a river down Anna's back. Being raised in the desert made you think heat would never bother you again, but a jungle in summer was entirely different. The humidity made the air seem like it was a blanket of heat following you even inside your own skin. Shade did not relieve it nor did water seem to quench the thirst inspired by it.
The myriad colors hidden in the brown and green of the massive trees and brush hid far more dangers than the golden dunes of the Sands of Time. Animals seemed to possess magic as they materialized like lightning and sounds came from every direction. Even her training under her Mother seemed tame compared to the march through the Vine Jungle.
The faint smile at how easily she had adapted to calling the Faceless One Mother, and meaning it, still left a warm feeling in her heart. Her blue eyes matched the color of the sky glimpsed through the dense branches over her parties heads. The three of them had been walking at night mostly, but once in the jungle the day had become as friendly as the night.
It seemed a surreal dream to Anna as she saw Frosta and Startos waiting outside the Ram Temple for her and her Mother looking down from above. They had spoken far into the morning and only stopped to allow Anna some rest. She had been surprised to be awakened near sunset until the logic of it flared in her sleepy head.
"You and I will stick to the shadows Anna, while Stratos does what he does best...watch us from unflattering angles far above," the smile from Frosta's pale face did not diminish the feeling of loss in Anna's heart, but she held on to Adam's journal and waved to her Mother a final time before heading out behind the slim shadow of her cloaked friend.
Four days later they were nearing their goal. As soon as they had entered the jungle, Frosta had shed her cloak for a skin tight and bright blue outfit that matched the descriptions in the journal. The look of shock on Anna's face had caused both Stratos and Frosta to burst out laughing. The Avion lord wore his traditional leathers and bracers with a pack on his back as always.
"In this place the less you wear the better honestly, besides my people enjoy the elements save one, deserts are too much for us, but a nice jungle, even a scorcher like this one is now is far more enjoyable to me than the Sands of Time," Frosta did her best to not giggle and for a day it was a far more pleasant walk than the rest.
They had seen no one, and worse for Anna, heard nothing. Occasionally she saw a small shadow that could not be the former Avion Lord, something he adamantly asserted at the first camp, his people believed him dead and rightly so. Neither he nor Frosta had ever resumed their former lives as they had been known, yet they had protected the innocent and opposed quietly the corruption of the Senate and the Empire of Eternos.
Recent history was now more open to be spoken about, or rather the last 1000 years that the Council and later the Senate had carefully sealed away. Anna had stared wide eyed as Frosta calmly talked about the second Horde uprising and a suspected involvement of Hordak's spirit. It was never heard from again that they knew of, nor did they know why it showed up then, but not for lack of trying.
She also felt more sadness towards her ancestor Adam. He had given so much, and never wanted to deal with all he did, yet now the world he had created had burned to ash long before its physical existence did. Worse, the being behind all his suffering and opening the world of Eternia to Hordak's evil again was once more rampaging the land.
Her blonde hair slicked back and her eyes bright, Anna once again swore to stop this nightmare and find out what went so wrong with a beginning so right.
996 AH Castle Grayskull
After reading about it, talking about it, and even dreaming about it, the castle did not disappoint. It was small compared to what she had seen in the Ram Temple and even in the few books her Mother kept that had pictures, but it stood the test of time surrounded by the abyss. It sat in the open of a clearing and the gaping chasm always kept a blowing wind over the grasslands. The dark stone really seemed like ancient bone of some monstrous creature.
Strange that such a fearsome design was one of the few bastions of good in Eternia. Frosta and Stratos seemed far more at peace than the whole week to get here. They both walked easily and without fear, but Anna noted that both still scanned the skies. They all three stood across from the massive drawbridge of dark wood, engulfed in the maw of the skull's teeth.
If not for the journal and her friends, Anna would swear the place was dead and empty. Honed instincts from her training caused her to dodge a blur she barely saw. Green and gold seemed to swim in her vision as it came back far too fast to avoid a second time. Anna felt the world tilt as something heavy slammed into her and only the laughter of her friends stopped her from drawing the daggers in her boots or up her sleeves.
As her vision focused she saw the massive face of an Eternian tiger, with far too intelligent golden eyes looking at her in mirth. A bright pink tongue proceeded to lick her affectionately. She could not help the giggle that escaped her as the tiger began to purr...it tickled!
"Cringer has been looking forward to meeting you for some time Anna," Stratos tried to keep a straight face, but it was impossible as the tiger kept making Anna laugh whole heartedly as he licked or pawed her playfully while still laying on top of her.
This was the mighty Battle Cat? The thought was hard to reconcile with such a mighty beast, but given what she knew of him from the journal, and his appearance, he was not to trifled with. Finally relenting only when the drawbridge lowered, the great cat rolled off and began to play in the grass. If she did not know better, she could swear he was celebrating.
The gaping maw reminded Anna her fun was at a cost. Part of her felt that whatever youthful normalcy she had was done, at 14 years of age she would now have to become an adult. She just wished she knew how that could be done.
There is still some time to be who you wish Anna, but yes you must learn great deal far sooner than either of us likes. The voice in her head was that of the Sorceress, she had prepared for it, but the feeling was quite odd, and she felt a mix of emotions as well behind the words, it meant what it said about regretting the speed of these actions. Swallowing her nervousness she began to walk forward and only stopped when she realized only one set of footsteps came to her ears.
She turned and saw looks on her friend's faces she had never seen. Firm, cold, and a touch of sadness too in the eyes. Both looked at her hard and then only waved goodbye and turned back to the jungle. Understanding dawned on her far too late. The journey with her had been as guards true, but also a goodbye. They would not be with her in the castle. They would be out here, waiting for her to return and no words they could say would soften the blow.
They knew about Adam and Grayskull, but the secrets of the Elders and the rest was never told to them. They were her closest friends and whatever she became, there would now be a wall of secrecy between them! Her heart hammered in her ribcage and she nearly jumped when the head of fur brushed her right hand.
A silent Cringer looked up at her from the bridge and nudged her gently towards the castle. He would be her companion it would seem, as he had been once to Adam. Tears still fell, but a purring comfort came to her and Anna did not feel so alone, again she clutched Adam's journal harder. Somehow that felt better but she knew not why.
She is barely out of childhood and not yet a woman...why must Grayskull demand this of her? Knowing she had the new Champion in front of her was one thing the Sorceress could accept, but the timing of it was not anywhere near desirable. A thousand memories of her frustrations with Adam as he seemed to become a stranger to her and then hide things from her. Later after she learned the truth she was amazed at how much he had hurt himself as well by hurting her.
She also knew Grayskull did not demand this, Skeletor had set all of it in motion, even if only as a side effect. There was still time before crossing the last threshold, but she knew to the bottom of her soul that it was still sooner than anyone sane would ask of this girl. The Mystic Warrior stood quietly by her side, not as comforting as Duncan might have been, but just as wise in many ways. Her grasp of the true history of Eternia as well as her role as the Mystic Warrior had shown that Andrea truly was the successor to her Father.
The small head of blonde hair finally came into the throne room, the golden pyramid reflected the sunlight of the fading daylight outside. She seemed so small and fragile in the shadows, but then she looked up and her blue eyes took the Sorceress aback. It was not rage or pride, but a strength she had not seen for 1000 years. For a moment time flowed back and she once again saw Adam turn back from gazing out over the ramparts of this castle after losing Zodac. He was always He-Man, and it was in his eyes that it became apparent very quickly.
"Welcome to Castle Grayskull Anna, before you begin your journey there is still time for your final lessons. After that we will go to the Chamber of the Elders and you will learn what you will become," that too was blurred for her. The future was no longer visible as it once had been. The corruption of the Senate had seemed far too easy to see, and the shattering of the Council had been obvious to her long before her visions warned her of it.
The girl swallowed hard and tried to speak, but the strength that had been there a moment ago was now lost in fears and worries of tomorrow. The Mystic Warrior glanced towards Cringer, but the tiger was very good at being a friend to family. His reaction to Anna was very promising, only to the Sorceress had he ever been so playful before now. How much he knew was up for debate, but of all, his judgement was perhaps the most affirming for the Sorceress.
Again time flowed and she saw a young boy with mud in his blonde hair, quietly crying by a stream as an Eternian tiger kitten mewed at him by his side. Then it had been her flaring temper that had made him smile, as she knew it would. He hated winning because he was "the Prince" and most of all he hated people just indulging him. The Sorceress was forcibly reminded this young girl needed the Captain of the Guard more than a mentor.
"Enough child, you have much to learn and best we begin now, show me what you know," it had been many centuries since she had used that voice of command, but the result was instantaneous. Andrea's eyes bulged slightly in her red helmet, but Anna's eyes once again shone with strength. More her jaw firmed and her whole body spoke of irritation and tightly controlled rage. The Sorceress did not give her time to speak but flew down and began twirling her staff as she had not done in well more than 1000 years.
The Mystic Warrior thought the worry of Skeletor had gone to the Sorceress' head, but as she watched the fight she saw the worth of pushing Anna when comfort screamed to be given. Rather than wail and cry, the child showed remarkable ability to adapt and turn the staff against the Sorceress, more she even used the wings as a shield and distraction.
Of course the Sorceress had been a highly trained warrior before relying on magic, and obviously she had not let the skills rust. Even by modern standards, her techniques were impressive and she too could adapt to her opponent. Andrea also notice that Cringer had curled up on the far side of the room seemingly asleep, but she noted his eye crack open from time to time.
The Eternian tiger often seemed far too intelligent for a simple animal, but the tigers were of a breed unlike any other. The fact that this one was possibly immortal also gave it some precedence for being more than it seemed. As Andrea watched she began to note some weak points in Anna's defense and attack. Even with just bare hands she did well, but could do better. Smirking she tossed her mace from her belt at the child.
As she expected, Anna caught the red handle with her left hand without exposing her ribs to the staff. With a weapon she did better, but seemed reluctant to push obvious advantages. The Sorceress held no such compunction. Anna was slammed onto her back 3 times before demanding a halt to the combat.
Both women were glistening with sweat, but where Anna was heaving on her right knee glaring up at the Sorceress, the guardian of Grayskull merely seemed slightly winded.
"Not bad actually, you do far better than Adam but you are far too raw with actual combat, I think 3 sessions a day, with the Mystic Warrior on every 5th day to begin should get you started," turning quickly away from the panting teenager, Andrea saw indignation and true temper flare, she did nothing to stop the toss of her mace knowing what would occur.
It stopped in mid air as the Sorceress stopped and slowly turned. Emerald fire burned in her eyes and her famous serenity was no where to be found now. Anna seemed to shrink under that gaze and Andrea could not blame her one bit. She too had been at the receiving end of it from time to time.
"While you should always strive to you your enemies stupidity or weakness against them.." the Sorceress' voice seemed very cold and very dead in tone, "you will NEVER become like them, is that clear?" The hawk staff seemed to glow as the helm and wings made her look like a wrathful god right then. The shock and disbelief on Anna's face was sufficient to Andrea. With a thought the mace returned to her hand and she saw understanding dawn on the child's face.
"Your parents died for you Anna, many risked their lives to keep you safe, will you dishonor that sacrifice by becoming like Skeletor for something as petty as defeat and humiliation?" the words were hash and far blown out of proportion, but Andrea saw she had hit her mark as well. Anna's mind was amazing, in a different time she would have been considered a genius. However it also made her isolated from the world. Only experience could teach this lesson, that no matter how trivial the act may seem, she had thrown a weapon of magic and power at the back of someone she thought defenseless to it.
All for her hurt pride. Cringer was suddenly by her side as she fell to her knees and tears fell. He was mewling and purring in intervals, but neither woman approached her. They had said their peace and all now was in her hands. Andrea saw her pull out the leather bound journal and she began to stroke the cover gently with her left hand.
"He never became like them, he never wanted to kill them or hurt them. He never wanted revenge or to make them feel the pain he had felt. He wanted people safe. He wanted them to be loved and to not be afraid. He was...he was...a hero!" the last word echoed in the room and Andrea was taken aback by the blaze of strength in those blue eyes so like her own once were. The Sorceress smiled wide now and she nodded only once.
"I do not expect you to be Adam, Anna, but he wrote that for you, so you would understand the difference between abusing your power and wielding your power, so you would know you are not alone, but most of all so that you had someone in your life, even if only in spirit, that could teach you the lessons only He-Man could ever teach," the emerald eyes were now softer and even glistened with their own tears.
Anna wiped her eyes and stood up slowly. She looked hard at the journal and then at the Sorceress with resolution.
"I swear to do better Sorceress, I swear to love kindness, and I swear to find the good in all people and protect it no matter what," for a moment Andrea thought she felt the whole world move, but then the journal sparked emerald light, neither Anna or the Sorceress seemed to see it, but Cringer's tail began wagging fast.
The future suddenly crashed into the present for the Mystic Warrior, a vision slammed hard and fast. It was blurry but quickly solidified into a nightmare world.
Flames burst from every river of lava as the world became darker and darker. Armies of men and women and things marched the surface until all against them were dead, dying, or worse. Left twisting for the pleasures of things that did not belong in Eternia. At the center of it was a mountain wrapped in a living snake, but instead of the sickly green energy in its eyes as she expected, crimson blasts smashed all around it and a laugh like a mix between a pig and a man rang out over the landscape.
Her vision shifted and she saw a blue body pinned over what was still called the Well of Darkness by many. A skull was thrust on a stone altar facing the still living body and she realized it was alive! Worse was what was pinning the blue body to the Well.
A sword, a broad sword with an interlinked hilt that slipped up the blade to enclose a jewel of the bluest blue she had ever seen. It was not a man's sword, but a woman's. The woman with flowing blonde hair splayed in blood and hanging over the skull. Blank eyes saw nothing as chains held up the body wrapped in a white bodice and skirt, only barely made out between blood and dirt staining it everywhere.
The face was older and the body far more shapely than now, but Andrea could not deny who it had to be, who had been mutilated and then left to die slowly as evil conquered all. Anna was dead and no one was left to stop Snake Mountain and what it had become.
It was a few moments before Andrea realized Anna and the Sorceress were still staring across the throne room at each other. It had all happened in a flash, and the future had never been that strong nor that clear to her before since Skeletor's return. She had not given away anything but sweat slicked down her back under her armor now.
How can that be the future? What choice resulted in that? The future could be changed, Andrea knew that better than most, but she had to find where and when to stop that from happening. It kept trying to replay, but she knew the oath Anna had made was the beginning of this path, now how to help her avoid it?
996 AH Snake Mountain
The Evil Warriors were settling in well here. Overlord Skeletor was already planning a new raid on some other ruins, sure to find yet another relic as this journey had revealed an ancient legend to be as real as him.
Sasha was not quite as adept at magic as her master, but she was a quick study, and ambitious. Her former teacher, and briefly lover, had learned far too late how ambitious. Her black lace bodice molded perfectly to her lithe body, Gerald had never understood that to live forever you had to take another life first. She was only 22 years old but would now at least live to be 200 with that dark ritual. Skeletor had applauded her efforts.
He had taught her more than she believed was possible, and showed her how to get stronger. She knew he planned to get rid of her when she was no use, but he equally seemed to know her designs on replacing him too. That made it more fun for her, she looked into the mirror of her quarters. Her midnight raven hair framed her pale white face and ruby red lips. If one was sucking the life out others to live, one needed to look the part in her mind.
Like all the warriors, she was amazed at the preservation of this place. No cobwebs or decay as would be expected after 1000 years. It still bore scars from something, but that was all. The all too real appearance of a snake bothered her, but she quickly got over that reaction. Skeletor's triumph over the whole world seemed assured now!
He is but my pawn child, as you will be when the time comes. Sasha whirled in anger but found no one in the room. She tried to sense with her magic where the voice had come from, but instead found only the pulsing power of Serpos around her. She picked up her staff with the skull of a dragon whelp on its top and crystals inserted into its eyes covered in Eternium plating to enhances its magical abilities to increase her reach.
Again she found nothing and wondered if she imagined the voice as she plotted betrayal against Skeletor.