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Chapter XVIII: THE ARMIES OF DESTRUCTION

 

                It was a two-day journey from Dethania to Eternos. Two days spent with a deep wariness revolving in each of the travelers' souls. Were they too late? Did the orc armies Fisto had told them about already invaded the royal city? Would they manage to reach Randor in time to warn him, and if so, convince him of the imminent danger approaching their homeland? And even if so, would it be enough, considering Randor's small army, to prevent an organized invasion?

                The orcs had always been an annoying upset, but there were never measures taken to truly face them. It was the anti-war policy of the Accord, along with the fact that the orcs were too stupid to become a serious threat. Although brute, they never had enough wit to plan and perform an efficient invasion, even to smaller villages, and were always driven back after facing resistance. Orcs were brute, but coward.

                But now, all was probably quite different. According to Fisto's words, now there was a mind to plan and organize the attacks. Now there was a charismatic leadership that could inspire the primitive creatures to stand and fight. Now, their brutality, combined with a thinking mind, had become a true threat. If their information was right, the orcs were obviously being manipulated and used as pawns by someone settled at Hiss' former fortress. Never had anyone dared enter the cursed site ever since Eldor mysteriously slew King Hiss and drove his armies back to Veymous, until now. And chances were Skeletor was the very face of evil now in hold of Snake Mountain.

                Teela kept thinking of the possible consequences of such an invasion. What if Eternos would truly fall? Sure, there were kingdoms with more efficient armies in the Accord, but how well could they fare against an organized army of savage, powerful warriors? And how many would be killed in such a war? What would it be like, if all the stories she was told from the snake-man empire could come back, if the people were enslaved once more? Never had she though such a thing possible until now, never had she thought of other concept rather than freedom, and the mere possibility scared her, more out of fear of change, rather than fear for her personal integrity.

                Adam would not drive his mind away of the thoughts of the 'true test'. He always felt he was destined to something grand. He thought he had proved it the moment he won the challenge at the obelisk, but now he knew this was the true challenge to prove himself worthy of the sword he carried. He feared the possibility of failure deep in his heart, but all that fear was buried beneath a great self-confidence of victory. He would not show it, his cold mask won after the trial of Eldor hiding his true feelings, but he yearned for the moment to run into battle riding his mighty green mount, to slay all the damned orcs he would find in his way. Were he to chose, those bastard creatures would have been swept of the face of Eternos long ago.

                The man-at-arms was grimly quiet along the entire voyage back. He felt guilt. He had been the kingdom's man-at-arms for so many years now, and he had never truly tried to change Randor's mind about the usefulness of an army. Never had he opposed the king before Adam's departure. He had spent his years in Eternos in semi-retirement, comfortable with the richness and success brought by his expeditions of youth, comfortable with the status of an old and admired piece of furniture. Zodac, as captain of the guard and his direct subordinate, had done so much more for the defense of the kingdom than he did. And now, apparently, it had come the time to reap the harvest of his own laziness.

                They barely spoke all way long. Stratos would try to impromptu once in a while and attempt to raise his friends' spirits, but with no success. He would point out colorful birds and call them feathered rainbows, he would fly by their faces with a jester's smile, grimacing funny expressions or stating that their heads were getting too heavy even for their bodies. But none of these would help cheer his companions in their heavy, somber moods. Strangely enough, perhaps even to himself, the risk of war and invasion had not affected the peaceful winged man all that much.

                Until, finally, Eternos was on sight. They were still about an hour from the city, but the deep feeling of homecoming invaded the three former denizens of the kingdom. It had been little more a month since they left, yet it seemed as if it had been much longer. Nothing appeared to be wrong in Eternos, but still they were beholding it from a great distance, so it was too early to sigh from relief and commemorate. But, seeing it apparently peaceful from afar made their hearts lighter. Teela had been followed by the constant dread of arriving to encounter Eternos in flames, filled with merciless orcs killing the people and plundering the houses.

                They kept on at a regular pace. The horses were tired and so were they. An occasional exchange of words broke into the silence of the party, a heavy silence that had followed them for the last two days. They had more hope now, that their timely arrival would give Eternos a chance to organize and prepare to face and defeat the orc army. Even if, deep inside, denied to his own self but nevertheless undeniably present, Adam had a sinister wish that he would face Randor in despair against the invasion he had always neglected, that his father would finally recognize he had been wrong in not hearing him for all those years.

                Dark desires tend to come true. They had rode for little more than half an hour when the first signs of an army, a battle going on inside the city walls became visible. They got awestruck. Adam cried in terror, "No!!!", and rushed Krygar onward towards Eternos, immediately followed by his allies, galloping behind him at a fast pace. Stratos abandoned the horse he was now sharing with Teela and hurled himself to the skies, in order to get a clear view of the happenings from above.

                They arrived to the city for a terrible, previously unseen vision: orcs, hundreds of them, were forcing their way throught an ill-prepared army of tool-armed peasants and a few royal guards. The citizens of Eternos were fighting back bravely, but were not prepared for the savage raid of the fierce orc invaders. There were orcs fallen, their black blood poisoning the soil, but there were many Eterni fallen as well. He-Man urged Krygar to a leap towards the midst of the bloodshed, the power sword gleaming in his hand. A battle cry, and an orc head rolled from his neck. The orc legion nearest to the scene stopped for a moment, beholding their new adversary, awestruck. A tiger-rider. They had not heard of a tiger-rider but in ancient tales, tales that they were told by the firelight when they were children, tales of ancient warriors riding savage beasts who had fought and killed orcs centuries ago. And now the legends had come true.

                The orc army was first invaded by fear, then by hatred. They turned at the newcomer with their weapons in hand prepared to response. Adam gazed into their eyes with a fiery stare, his teeth grinning from hatred. He raised his sword.

                But it was Teela the one to deliver the next blow. Taking advantage of the surprised orcs, she dived Skywave through the midst of the chaotic army and stroke. Her sword impaled one enemy as others turned to face their new challenger. "A woman," one screamed. "They're sending their bloody women to fight for them now!"

                This remark made Teela's blood burn. She had ever seen herself as capable as any man, or even more, to do battle, and machismo bravado had always enraged her. Hers was the sweetness of the flower, hers was the deadliness of the sharpest of blades. She kicked the impaled orc from her blade and launched through the warriors towards the offender. Literally kicking the orcs out of her way, she arrived at her target. "Women do their fights for them, and women slay orcs for them and for their own selves as well, filthy bastard, for women are as capable of fighting and death-dealing as men are, orc swine. Have you ever fought a woman before?"

                "Eh eh! No, but my first time won't last long either!"

                Teela jumped from Skywave and stood still, waiting for her adversary to strike first. The other orcs would not move forward, waiting for their comrade to attack the daring woman, teasing, taunting and whistling. The orc launched himself at Teela. His blade sliced through the air towards her. She dodged, but a second too late. His blade bit her left arm, causing a superficial, yet large wound. Teela rolled through the floor and stood back up, gazing her opponent, apparently not concerned with the pain.

                "It is taking a lot more than I thought," the orc grinned. "I thought you would die from my first blow!"

                "Thinking must be something unprecedented to you, slime! Do you always talk more than you fight?" - Teela replied. The orc crowd burst into laughter from her commentary, which turned her opponent's mocking grin into a choleric expression.

                "Now you die!" - The orc leaped at her, unleashing the deadly kiss from his blade. But it never arrived. She skillfully parried his strike in mid-air, forcing him to fall. Before he could react, a quick swing of her sword disarmed him, and a second one wounded him deeply in his chest, enough for him to be incapacitated but not enough to kill him immediately. "Now you shall take to your grave, to haunt you for eternity, the fatal grief from underestimating a woman!" Said this, her sword pierced his flesh one last time.

                He-Man had jumped off Krygar moments earlier, allowing the mighty tiger to do his fighting on his own. Never a violent person, Adam had, however, always nurtured a deep hatred towards orcs. He considered disgusting to kill, but in the case of orcs, their lives didn't seem to bother him much, as if they were valueless. He despised them to the point of not consider them worthy to live. And with a passionate anger, his sword whirled through the air in deadly swings, pitching his surroundings black from blood. More and more orcs turned towards the young warrior, but they never seemed enough to be a match to him. One after one, the invaders were falling under the fury of the champion of Grayskull.

                Suddenly, Adam heard Teela scream: "Adam, behind you!" He quickly freed his blade from an orc corpse and turned around, but he saw nothing. Ploughing back to his original position, he saw that his attacking fiends were now stepping aside from the path between him and their frontlines, giving way for someone to approach. From beneath the bunch of suddenly military-organized orcs, he saw a figure come forth. It was not an orc. It was human. From behind him, a loud crashing sound emerged from the dissonance of war. Adam did not turn back to find out its origin.

                Duncan and Stratos had joined the battle right after Teela. Duncan felt slow and clumsy as he fought, even if the orcs around him kept falling under the weight of his spiked mace. One actually managed to pierce through the veteran's defensive maneuvers, yet only to meet his plate armor. His sword broke from the impact, leaving a small dent on the man-at-arms metal clothing. His skull broke immediately after.

                The winged man was taking advantage of his flying ability for fighting. He took his orc enemies by surprise and attacked them from above. Unarmed, Stratos would strike them with his bare fists, and he proved to be stronger than he would look at first. Then he saw an orc creeping on behind Adam. Without a thought, he flew towards the green-skinned menace, and lifted him from the ground before Adam could react at Teela's warning, dropping him for a forty-feet fall to the hard, stone-paved floor behind him.

                Adam's enemy came fourth near enough so that his features could be distinguished. He was a tall, large human, wearing a green chest armor covering the upper half of his pectorals, then continuing towards his shoulders and beyond. From the center of it, a golden band fired down to link the upper piece to his belt, like an arrow. He wore green and black gauntlets and black leather boots and loincloth. In his hand, he carried a long, two-handed sword with a large, winged golden hilt. But the strangest thing about this man was his helm. It was a green ring, set in his forehead and round his skull, in which were cut openings for the eyes, leaving a sharp green blade between them. Above the blade, between his human eyes, there was a third eye - a red, macabre, inhuman eye that gazed at Adam with twisted perversity.

                Adam revolved his sword in his hand and prepared to face him. To his surprise, he did not step forward. A grim luminescence sprouted from his third eye, and focused into a red ray shot at the young warrior. He reacted quickly, placing the blade of the power sword between him and the mighty strike, parrying it and making it ricochet away, but not without being forced to step back from the ferocity of the strange blast. Before he could recompose, though, the massive warrior was already leaping at him with his two-handed sword held high, while the orc warriors yelled in an excitement upheaval.

                They battled for a while, Adam parrying his strikes at cost, and being forced to fight mostly defensively. All his attempts to wound his opponent were powerfully driven away, setting him almost off-balance and opening his defenses to Tri-klops. Adam had never fought such a skilled opponent. The strange warrior grinned and laughed as they battled, taunting him with provocations such as "is that the best you can do, boy", or "your woman companion would be a harder match than you are, yellow-head". Adam forced himself to control his hanger and fight soberly, but not even his best-attempted coolness was enough to gain advantage in the duel.

                Finally, and caught off-balance, he fumbled to parry a strike from his opponent. The two-handed blade bit deep into his flesh, piercing through his abdomen. In pain, he dropped the power sword and stood there, motionless, impaled in the three-eyed warrior's sword, until Tri-klops kicked him from his weapon just as he had done moments before to his orc enemies. Fallen, unable to move and suffering, he saw his subduer raise his sword in victory, roaring savagely at the crowd like a madman. The orcs cheered him and applauded in a maniac turmoil. An evil glimpse in his eye, he saw the warrior prepare to lower his blade on his head. Adam bit his lip and prepared to die, a tear sprouting from the corner of his eye.

                It was then that he saw a swift figure of a man clad in red armor and helmet stand between his opponents blade and his very life, skillfully and strongly parrying the deadly blow. And then, Adam passed out.

 

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