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Chapter X: THE OBELISK

 

                “What do you… How…?” – Adam was perplexed.

                “I have known the legend since I was a child. The evil is coming once again, and Eldor knew it. He foresaw your coming, as well.”

                “Eldor? The sorcerer who defeated King Hiss?”

                “Yes, he gave us the stone, the heart gem. He ordered our ancestors to build that obelisk, and then he enchanted it. All those who tried to climb the obelisk to get the stone failed… and most perished. But we knew that one day, He-Man would come and take the stone back to Grayskull. My father taught me this, as he had been taught by his father. It runs down through several generations.”

                “Does that mean that the ‘He-Man’ is the only person that can get the stone?”

                “Not necessarily, I guess. Eldor’s words weren’t those. He simply said that, when the true ‘He-Man’ was found, he would not fail.”

                “And what are the dangers of the obelisk? Why is it deadly?”

                “That I cannot tell you. All I can say is, if you are not who you claim to be, then you might fail on your attempt and perish.”

                “Hold on. I haven’t claimed to be ‘He-Man’.”

                “No, but you claimed to have been sent by the sorceress of Grayskull to collect the stone. It means the same.”

                “She… she was not certain if I was ‘He’.”

                The grim ritualist did not answer.

                “Well, but I do have to find out. I will attempt to get the stone.”

                “So be it. Come. Follow me. You and your friends need a hot meal and a night’s rest. Your feline won’t be dangerous, will he?”

                “No, he only reacts to threats to himself and to those he loves. As long as we’re safe, he will be friendly.”

                “Do you know that, if by chance, he enters the garden of the obelisk to help you tomorrow, he will instantly die?”

                “No, I did not know.”

                “The spell is quite powerful. You must prove yourself alone.”

                “I will order him to stay behind.”

                “You should. And, He-Man…”

                “Yes?”

                “Sorry for what happened because of the winged man. If I knew who you really were, I would have set him free immediately.”

                “You should have done it because I was right, not because of who I am. And about being ‘He-Man’, only tomorrow we will know the truth.”

                They walked into the village, Duncan and Adam carrying the unconscious birdman. He was extremely light for a man of his size and constitution. They were led to one of the central huts, only slightly larger and better built than the others. It was, as every other one, made of tree logs, in which a door and a few small windows were built, and complete with a straw ceiling, tightly tied to the roof’s wooden structure. Inside, the pavement was decorated with thousands of colorful bright stones.

                It was the village chief’s hut. He was an old man, with a large white beard, who was inside the place sitting in a large wooden chair, and whom they heard the rite master call ‘father’.

                The hut’s inside was a single, ample room, decorated with wooden furniture, as well as countless spears, with wooden handles and stone tips, adorned with colorful feathers, and large pieces of tapestry covering the walls, embroidered with symbols of the ancient gods and pictograms of the old druids’ extinct written language.

                “Great Someshi,” – the rite master began, now speaking aloud – “these men came from Eternos. The young man has reasons to believe he is the prophecy’s sacred warrior of the gods. Tomorrow he will challenge the obelisk.”

                The old man watched the party with a diffident stare. He then gazed at the still unconscious winged man in Duncan’s arms. “And the alien? Why is he here?”

                “They claim his innocence and assume responsibility for his actions. They also claim that Eternos’ laws forbid this punishment.”

                “True. But I couldn’t care less for Eternos. We have been abandoned by the royal accord and its leader, Randor of Eternos. The accord’s laws are not ours anymore. That monster shall suffer for his invasion.”

                “But father, if he really is…”

                “That man? What he is is a faker! Look at him! Beneath that savage’s cloth lays a rich man from Eternos! All he wants is the stone, but he too, as all others, will perish.”

                Adam bit his lip and spoke: “I’m no faker, and haven’t claimed to be He-Man. I only have reasons to believe I might be. And I can see we are unwelcome here. We’ll leave immediately. We’ll stay in the forest for the night, and tomorrow I’ll face the trial of the obelisk. I’m sorry for your bitter words. I’m sorry for your venomous soul.”

                “And no punishment will be given to this man for a crime he has not committed.” – Teela added – “That you can be sure about!” – She stared at the old man, her green eyes bursting with anger.

                They left the hut with no more words, and walked out of the village. Krygar and the horses, waiting outside, followed them. They entered the woods once more and found a camping spot. Duncan began to build a fire, while Adam tied the horses and Teela tendered the alien. Suddenly, he awoke.

                “W-where…? Who?”

                “Calm down.” – Teela answered gently. Duncan and Adam went to her side. “You are among friends. You’ve been hurt, but are now safe. You need rest.”

                “B-but… why?” – his speech was somewhat funny, with a weird accent, unknown to the party.

                “No questions now. You really must rest. Just know that I am Teela, this is Adam and this is my father Duncan, and we are friends.”

                “I… I am… Stratos…” – he paused for a great while, as if trying to find words – “…I… Why is it so hard to think? I can’t remember where I’m from or why I’m here. Wha…”

                “You’re exhausted. You must rest. Tomorrow your memory will probably be better. Don’t strain yourself more for now.”

                He nodded. He was, in fact, deeply tired. He soon closed his big, round, purple eyes from underneath his red mask and relaxed a little. Teela covered him with a blanket.

                “Teela?” – he called.

                “Yes?”

                “Thanks.”

                She smiled and left him slowly.

                The next morning Adam woke up early. He had made the first watch, and then rested for the rest of the night in order to be prepared for the day’s challenge. Duncan and Teela did not want him to make any turn at all, but he insisted in losing two and a half hours of sleep in order to enable the others to sleep also.

                They were having a quick breakfast when Stratos awoke. He rose to his feet swiftly and joined the group, a gentle smile on his lips.

                “Good morning!” – Teela greeted him with a smile.

                “Good morning.” – the birdman answered, Duncan and Adam replying right after.

                “Feel any better today?” – Duncan asked.

                “Physically yes. The bruises will heal fast. It is my memory that worries me. I cannot recall anything from my past but my name.”

                “I’m sorry for you. Was the… torture that made you lose your memory? Do you remember anything before that?”

                “Yes, I remember… that I suddenly was in the woods. Shortly after they found me and captured me. I was already too tired when I met them, and couldn’t fly properly. They caught me easily. But I can’t remember anything before… just being in the woods.”

                “Something must have happened shortly before. There’s usually a reason for amnesia. Did your head hurt before they caught you?”

                “No… I guess not. I was only tired.”

                He joined them in their breakfast. The food’s taste, of dry meat rations, seemed new to him. However, he did not show whether he liked it or not. His face was filled with sadness and worry. Teela tried to comfort him, but with no success. They finished their meals in silence.

                “I guess I must go now.” – Adam said, after finishing his meal and drinking a sip of wine from his skin.

                “Yes. The sooner you finish what you’re here for and we leave the better. This place disgusts me.” – Duncan replied.

                “I understand. However, I plan to come back one day.”

                “What for?”

                “This people need help, teaching. They follow wrong principles, and they feel abandoned by the accord. This situation must be amended. My sister will surely want to come here with me.”

                “Is it a royal obligation I sense in you?”

                “Yes… I guess so. When I left Eternos, I did not stop believing in the accord. I simply wish to uphold its word in another fields. That is why I will need Adora to come with me.”

                They left for Karashev once again. At the village’s entrance, the rite master awaited them. Suddenly, it came to their minds that they did not know the old man’s name. They were also not in the mood to ask. Adam was tense, feeling a decisive moment arriving. And so was Teela, fearing inside that her beloved would fail and perish. The birdman was nervous, constantly watching his former captors with concern. Only Duncan seemed, amazingly, relaxed.

                The rite master quickly taught Adam the rules of the game he was about to play. It was a simple, yet deadly game. The obelisk was surrounded by a large circle, engraved on the stone floor. As soon as someone would enter the circle, there would appear the heart gem at the top of the obelisk, and below, its protectors. The challenger would then simply have to reach the gem before being killed by the protectors or being cast outside the circle. If any of this happened, the gem would be once again soaked in by the obelisk, and would not appear twice to the same challenger. If anyone would try to enter the circle after the challenger, he would immediately die, as the rite master had already explained the day before, referring to Krygar.

                Simple rules indeed. Yet, a very though game to play. Adam was not afraid of dying. What troubled him truly was the possibility of failing in what he had believed all his life. This was his moment. Now, his precognition would prove itself to be true or false.

                They were led towards the monument right after. As they surpassed the last trees before reaching the clearing where the tall stone sculpture emerged from the ground, they finally managed to observe it in detail. It was a single, one hundred feet tall block of yellow stone carved in the shape of a dagger-like pyramid, completely incrusted with pictograms long forgotten by most people on Eternia. At its middle, shapes of men battling demons were carved. On most pictures, the man had the upper hand. On the others, either he was getting killed or already dead.

                Teela grabbed Adam’s hand, and then hugged him. “Good luck. I know you’ll succeed.”

                Duncan and Stratos wished him luck as well. The rite master simply nodded. Before entering the circle, Adam caressed his tiger’s fur and spoke softly to him: “Krygar, my loyal friend, what awaits me there is something I must face alone. By any chance you must enter the circle to follow me. Stay here, understand?”

                The great green tiger glanced at him with a sad gaze. He did seem to have understood.

                Adam stepped into the circle. He walked slowly, suspicious, as if waiting for an imminent attack. He was, however, neither frightened nor hesitant. Simply cautious. Nothing happened. He gave a few more steps towards the obelisk. Suddenly, underneath his feet, the ground shaked.

                Teela gasped. Duncan opened his eyes wide, and Krygar roared, but did not step forward. The rite master was not surprised. He had seen this before.

                Adam felt something grab his foot. He looked down, to see a red clawed hand grab him, its claws attempting to dig into his flesh. He tried the kick the hand away, but with no success. It wouldn’t let go!

                However, the young man did not panic, and with an axe strike, hit the hand. A squirt of green blood stained the ground and Adam’s boot. The hand left his foot.

                But it was not a sign of defeat. Quickly, the hand dug its way out of the earth, followed by its red arm and the rest of a body that seemed to belong to a demon or some other sort of monster. In its head,      large horns sprouted forwards. His face was a twisted sight, with four eyes, two of them in his forehead. His mouth, prominent from the rest of the head, opened from side to side, instead of the common lower jaw articulation. From it, a green tongue sprang outside, dripping a green ooze. His fangs were huge and yellow, large enough to rip a man’s arm with a single bite. But what was more amazing was how the creature emerged from the ground, appearing to be digging up from underneath the soil, yet at the same time, it was as if the earth itself was taking the shape of the monster.

                Adam did not think twice. His axe stroke the monster in the chest violently, and trespassed him. Green blood flew all over. The creature fell with Adam’s axe within its chest, but not for long. As soon as he touched the ground, the monster melted, and was absorbed by the soil. Only Adam’s axe remained.

                It seemed too easy. There had to be more. Adam grabbed his axe and prepared himself for a next opponent. It did not take long until his waiting ended.

                Once again the ground shaked, and once again something emerged from within it. Only this time, it wasn’t a creature, but two. One was green skinned, with the head of a lizard and the body of a man. The other was like a wolf-man, with bright brown fur and large claws. They advanced towards Adam.

                The conflict began. This time it wasn’t nearly as easy then the previous one. The beasts attacked furiously, simultaneously. Adam did manage to strike one of them and wound it in the left arm, avoiding its attack as well. But the other one, the wolf-man, hit him, clawing him in his chest. His blood dripped. Adam kicked the lizard man, and faced his other opponent. The wolf-man leaped, trying to land above Adam, but he ducked. As soon as the attacker landed, behind the young warrior, Adam swirled his battle-axe backwards, sinking its blade deep into the monster’s skull. One down.

                But not for long. As soon as Adam got on his feet to face his other opponent, two more beasts emerged from the ground. He kept battling on and on the horde of demons, proving to be alone a greater warrior than all of the monsters together, but still unable to avoid an occasional strike. He had already several lashes across his body, and the ground was wet with his blood only, for each creature he killed would melt into the earth and leave no remains.

                But the worse was that for each creature the young man killed, two new ones would appear, each seemingly more hard to defeat than the other. And the number of enemies was increasing swiftly for each one Adam defeated. Soon he would be overwhelmed. Now he knew why no one had managed to achieve the heart stone.

                While battling the demons and perceiving this was obviously not the way to win the challenge, he remembered the tales he heard about the wise Eldor of Grayskull. Eldor was a champion of life in the shape of a wise druid. Eldor was a pacifist. He would never create a challenge that would be overcome by taking lives, those of demons or not.

                He changed his tactic. Instead of facing and striking his opponents, he merely avoided and dodged them now, trying to gain some time to think in a new strategy.

                Outside the circle, everyone was tense. They all understood Adam’s reaction, yet no one knew what should he do as well. Duncan was crouched, deeply meditative, and holding Krygar who was completely stressed with the situation. Teela was holding her posture, yet deep inside she was panicked with the mere thought of losing her beloved.

                Suddenly, an idea came into Adam’s mind. He dropped his axe, leaving everyone outside the circle amazed. Only the monsters did not seem to worry about the man’s sudden surrender. They stroke him with the same fury as before. Adam dodged one strike. Two. Three. His strong arms then quickly grabbed the fourth monster advancing at him. The beast struggled, but Adam was stronger. He used him as a shield against other opponents while walking towards the edge of the circle. As soon as he was near enough, he pushed the creature mightily outside. The demon passed the circle edge, fell on the ground, and disappeared, only this time he did not melt, but seemed to evaporate into a mist.

                The other creatures stopped for a second. No more monsters to replace the defeated beast appeared. Apparently, Adam had found the answer to Eldor’s riddle. Now, he would only have to do the same with all the remaining horde.

                With the great fierce and speed, Adam tumbled around the creatures, dodging them, tricking them, and wrestling them out of the circle. They were many, but they were stupid. If they were able to organize themselves against the single warrior, there was no way he could trick them all. However, this was beyond their capability, and through cunning moves, the young man kept on pushing them out, one by one. Slowly, he defeated them. He was incredibly tired, near to collapse from exhaustion, but now all of them had been outcast from the circle and turned to mist. The ground did not shake again.

                Duncan, Teela and Stratos screamed in joy. They were afraid to lose their friend, but never stopped believing in him. He had proven himself. Almost. There was still a stone to collect.

                As he approached the obelisk, a shiver came down his spine. Its presence was strong, as if Eldor itself was transformed to a stone sculpture. He reached for the tall monument and tried to climb. It was too sheer, too flat, its carvings not prominent enough to get a hold, and too slippery, as if it was wet, even though it was completely dry.

                Adam struggled to climb for a few minutes, but without any success. As soon as he was trying to set his second foot on the stone, the first one would slip to the ground.

                He stopped, staring at the obelisk’s top, where a great green stone had appeared. He hadn’t even noticed it before. Then, without even knowing why, he raised his hands up high, as if trying to reach the stone. He concentrated on the stone itself for a few moments, and then, suddenly, from atop the obelisk, it trembled and fell, right into his hands. A dim shining came from within the stone. The circle in the stone floor disappeared. He had succeeded.

                Adam walked out of the place where the circle of the obelisk used to be, and next to his friends, the heart stone in his hands. The gaze in his eyes was somehow different. Teela, Duncan and Stratos cherished and congratulated him for his victory, but he seemed to be far, far away. Not showing happiness or any other emotion, he simply said: “No time to waste. We must travel to Grayskull.”

 

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