By Kim McFarland
|There's not a word yet for old friends who've just met.
Part heaven, part space, or have I found my place?
You can just visit, but I plan to stay.
I'm going to go back there someday.
It was a dark and stormy evening. The green sky, which only minutes ago had been clear and peaceful, had darkened and filled with clouds. The clouds collapsed into a whirlpool, inside which lightning crackled furiously. Robed people fled from the vortex which was boiling toward the ground. Freak winds blew the figures about like autumn leaves. Some were tossed away, others drawn inward.
One was swept into the center of the vortex, and disappeared.
It was a dark and stormy night. The starry sky was blotted out by a growing whirlpool of cloud. The storm growled to itself, strobelit by lightning flashes, then flung a small shape toward the ground. Treetop branches snapped when it hit.
It was a bright and sunny morning. In the Evergreen Forest, Prince Adam and Teela were playing with sticks and leaves.
Adam glanced at the Captain of the Guard every so often. She was intent on weaving leaf stems into the wickerwork dome she had created out of branches and vines. This was a survival exercise; the domes were supposed to become shelters. Adam didn't believe that his life would ever depend on being able to make a giant upside down basket, but try telling Teela that. He'd rather show her that he could learn any task she could master, no matter how silly it was.
"Need help?" she asked.
He looked up. She was leaning back against a tree, her arms crossed, grinning at him. Her shelter was completely covered with leaves; he was only halfway finished with his. "Give me time. Some things you don't rush."
"Sure," she said, still grinning. She picked up a pair of buckets, slung them over her shoulders, and walked toward the nearby stream.
She'd just wanted to point out that she had finished first. Well, big deal. Speed wasn't everything. Still, he hurried up, threading several leaves at a time into the mesh rather than attaching them one by one.
By the time Teela ambled back, a water-filled bucket in each hand, Adam was leaning against a tree, arms folded, grinning back at her. "Need some help?"
She looked at the shelter he had built. "You've got to be kidding," she said. "That wouldn't stand up to a good wind!"
"Since when do you get wind storms in the forest?" he answered. "It's just as good as yours."
She looked at it, then at him. "Get inside."
He hadn't expected that. After a hesitation, he crawled through the low entrance. Teela waited until he had closed it behind himself, then picked up one of the water buckets and poured it over the top of his shelter.
"Hey!" Adam yelped indignantly. He came back out, his hair and clothes dripping, and glared at her.
"Wind also brings rain," she informed him smugly.
"Oh yeah? Well, you get into yours," he said, reaching for the other water bucket.
"Glad to." She unpegged the entrance and crawled in.
Adam dumped the water onto the top of the dome. "How d'you like that!" he said triumphantly.
Teela poked her head out of the entrance. She was still dry. "Are you done?" she asked sweetly.
As Adam searched for a retort she told him, "I told you, overlap the leaves so the water runs off them and it'll be waterproof. You've just stuck them in any which way."
"Yeah, I'll remember that if I ever have to go live in a bush," he said, "which is not gonna happen."
"You used to say that the mystic wall was unbreakable, too," she reminded him.
He rolled his eyes. "I'm wrong once and you never let me forget it."
"Once is enough when your survival is at stake!"
"Yeah, yeah." He held up a hand in surrender. "I've survived enough for the morning, don't you think? I worked up an appetite building that haystack."
"There's the dining hall, O Prince." She swept an arm to the side, indicating the forest.
He might've known that'd be her answer. After all, they hadn't brought any food. Well, he could handle it. He picked up one of the buckets - she took the other - and they walked into the woods.
Teela had told him while they were preparing for this survival exercise about what was safe to eat and what wasn't. At the time he had been bored, but now it was different. More interesting, because it was something he could actually use.
Teela watched Adam carefully. He missed some yellow-striped succulent leaves. She picked them and put them into her bucket. He did find some berries, and selected only the ones that were ripe. Good. When he picked a handful of mushrooms she said, "Don't put those in the bucket! Let me see them first."
He held them out to her. "Sheesh, I'm not going to poison myself."
"Not on my watch, you're not." She examined the stems.
He pointed out, "They're red speckled, not orange. It's the orange ones you have to look out for."
He dropped the mushrooms into his bucket. He was about to continue on when he saw Teela glance upward. "What?"
"Shh." She pointed.
She was looking up into the leaf canopy above them. He wasn't sure, but he thought he might have heard something up there besides the breeze. Then he caught sight of a spot of red, stained almost brown by the light filtering through green leaves. "What's that?" he murmured.
"I don't know. It's nothing that normally lives in the Evergreen Forest," she said softly.
And, he knew, unknown animals had a way of turning into big trouble if you ignored them. He looked up, but could not make out any detail. "Maybe it's a bird."
"Wrong shape. And it has horns," Teela answered. "Let's split up, see if we can get a better look at it without scaring it off."
They went in opposite directions in a wide circle around the tree the thing was perched in. It was sitting on a sturdy branch, leaning against the upright of the trunk. On the branch? Adam assumed that it was, though he couldn't see its feet.
Teela walked lightly through the leaf litter, making as little sound as possible. Adam was making enough noise, stepping on sticks and rattling bushes, to keep the creature's attention.
She moved closer to the tree trunk, trying to get an angle that was not blocked by the branch below the creature. Its body was red with yellow markings. She would have thought it was a very young dragonet with tightly folded wings, except she saw no tail. Was it tucked underneath? It was too far away for her to tell. If only she had brought a pair of binoculars!
The creature startled when a crashing noise came from Adam's direction. Teela could picture him not watching where he was going and tripping over a bush. The creature moved, a pair of wings became visible... Wings? Forelimbs? Then it turned its head, caught sight of Teela, and stared.
Teela was as startled the creature. The red and yellow body was a robe; the horns were ears. It wasn't an animal at all! "Another Orko," she said in disbelief. Then she called out, "Are you lost?"
The eyes stared back at her. Adam walked closer and held up one hand. "Hey, don't be afraid. Come on down."
The Trollan looked around. Then it did drift down slowly, staying close to the trunk. It stopped above their heads, well out of their reach. She - they could see now that she was female - wore a gold-edged red tunic and skirt, similar to Orko's. Her face was covered by a white veil, and she wore a hood of soft, gold-edged red cloth over her long blonde hair. She looked tired and frightened. Adam asked, "How did you get here? Another dimensional storm?"
To his surprise she answered in a whispery voice, "Yes."
"Really?" Adam asked, surprised. "I was kidding!"
"Where am I?" she asked.
"This is Eternia," Teela answered.
She looked confused. "Where on Trolla is that?"
Teela and Adam exchanged glances. "This isn't Trolla," Adam told her. "Uh, why don't you come back with us. There's someone who can explain it a lot better than we can."
She drifted lower, putting her on eye level. "Okay," she said meekly.
Adam hid his grin. So much for the survival exercise, he thought as they started the hike back to Palace Eternia.
In his workshop, Duncan was trying to wrestle a thick set of cables into a connector socket. They had to be stiff to stay in place when the machine was in operation; if they weren't they would shake loose and cause a mechanical failure within minutes of startup. But as it was they were nearly impossible to install in the first place!
A voice behind him said, "Man-at-Arms-"
"Not now," he said without turning.
"Orko, if you can't watch without interfering, find someplace else to go!" he said, annoyed.
Orko, floating well back, watched as another part of the machine shuddered. He didn't think it was supposed to do that. It hadn't when Man-At-Arms had started trying to connect the cables. But as he had fought with the machine, a thick cylinder like a cannon barrel had bounced itself loose. And it was right above the cable assembly Duncan was working on.
Duncan shoved once more, finally fitting the cabling into its socket. And heard a loud snap above his head. He jerked back and looked up. The muzzle assembly was out of place... it was floating right above his head. He looked back at Orko, who was pointing at it. "It broke off," Orko said quickly.
"It what?" Man-at-Arms looked at the muzzle assembly. He picked it out of the air; Orko stopped levitating it, and the full weight made Man-at-Arms stagger. There, where it should have been connected to the main body, the steel was twisted and cracked. Metal fatigue. "Thanks, Orko," he said gruffly.
Cheerfully Orko answered, "No problem!"
"Thought I'd find you here."
Duncan looked back, but Adam was talking to Orko, not him. Adam wore a strange smile, and so did Teela. Adam continued, "There's someone we thought you ought to meet."
"Really? Who?" Orko asked. Then he looked beyond Teela, and his eyes went wide. There, floating before him, was a Trollan woman! A beautiful one, with bright green eyes.
The three humans watched as the Trollans stared at each other with differing expressions of surprise. Orko recovered first. "Uh, I'm Orko, Court Magician," he blurted. "What's your name?"
"My name is Dree Elle," she replied softly. "Orko...? Are you Orko the Great?"
That startled him. "You've heard of me?"
"Of course." She sounded awed. "You disappeared years ago during a storm. Nobody ever found out what happened to you."
"Yeah, well, now you know," he said with a sheepish laugh. "Heh heh, like they say, lightning always strikes twice."
Adam thought, Lighting always...?
"You've been here ever since then?" she asked, looking around.
"Yeah. Here, lemme show you around the place," Orko said. "It's really not that weird, once you get used to it."
Orko led her out of the room. When the Trollans were out of earshot Adam said, "Think he likes her?"
"Lightning strikes twice?" Teela commented.
"That must be a Trollan thing. We wouldn't understand." Man-At-Arms replied, turning back to the machine.
"This's the royal palace. King Randor governs half of Eternia from here. More or less, there are a lot of smaller kingdoms, and we're trying to get them all together as allies," Orko chattered.
"Oh," Dree Elle said, looking up at the arched ceiling of the long hallway.
Orko followed her glance. "Big, huh? Yeah, I noticed that when I first came here too. They just like to build things big here."
"Why? Can they float?"
"No, they're stuck on the ground. They just like big buildings. And they build 'em without magic, too."
"Magic's different here. They use machines instead. Like that thing Man-At-Arms was working on."
Skeptically she said, "Clockwork?"
"Yep. But a lot bigger. It actually works. You wouldn't believe what they can do with machines. That's the way things work here."
They came out into the courtyard. It was open to the sky, and surrounded by a set of colossal statues. "Do they make everything so big?"
"Not everything. Just the important stuff. Guess it's kinda like showing off, huh?" He laughed.
"Who are they?" Dree Elle asked, looking up at the statues.
"The statues? They're the Council of Elders. They used to rule Eternia. That was before Skeletor attacked. Then... they disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to 'em."
She could tell that Orko was leaving something out of the story, something important. She looked at the nearest statue again, then said "That must have been a long time ago."
"Why d'you say that?"
"The statues are old." She pointed to cracks in the base of the nearest one.
Orko said, looking away, "Er. Actually, that happened when we were putting them up. There was an accident."
Again she could hear the omission. It had something to do with the accident, she guessed. If they were lifting such huge statues with clockwork, it was no wonder that they got damaged. People could be killed! She didn't want to think about that. She asked Orko, "What does a Court Magician do?"
"Oh..." he looked around, then answered. "Magic for the King and Queen, mostly. Any kind of magic anyone needs, they come to me," he answered proudly.
"That sounds like a big job," she said admiringly.
He clasped his hands behind his back. "Well... not as much as you'd think. They don't use magic as much here as we do on Trolla."
Both Trollans turned. A human much larger than any of the others they had seen was bearing down on them. He wore a red tunic and thick metal armor on his head and shoulders. He would have been frightening if not for his friendly grin. "Who's your friend?"
Orko answered, "This is Dree Elle. Dree Elle, allow me to present Ram Man. He's one of our heroic warriors!"
Ran Man held out a hand. Dree Elle hesitated - his hand was bigger than her head! - then nervously extended her own. He shook her hand carefully, between his thumb and two fingers. Then he jokingly asked Orko, "Are they having auditions for another Court Jester?"
Orko choked. Dree Elle looked at him, startled. In a tight voice Orko told Ram Man, "No."
Ram Man was surprised. Orko said, "Um, Dree Elle - come with me," and flew off.
As Dree Elle followed Orko, Ram Man wondered out loud, "What was that about?"
That was stupid, Orko told himself. He couldn't have kept it a secret that he was the Court Jester. He shouldn't have panicked. Now he looked even worse to Dree Elle. Of all the crummy luck! If she had to find out, did it have to be right away?
Nuts. He didn't want to lie to her about what he was. He didn't want her to be disillusioned about "Orko the Great." He wished he wasn't a jester. But he hadn't lied to her. He just hadn't told her the whole truth. There's a difference, he told himself.
He led her to his apartment in the staff wing. The main room was his workroom, the place where he prepared and practiced his magic. He hardly ever thought about it, but it looked cluttered to him now. No, it was an absolute wreck, as Adam liked to tease him. Nuts, he sure was making a great first impression, wasn't he? He held the door open for Dree Elle, then closed it again behind himself.
She faced him, wearing a guarded expression. Waiting to see what he had to say. He started, "Dree Elle... sorry about that. Ah..."
"Court Jester?" she said softly.
"Yeah." He pulled uncomfortably at the side of his scarf, as if it were stifling him. "Yeah, that's what I am. The Court Jester. I'm the Court Magician too, I wasn't lying, really. But, well, my magic doesn't work here anywhere near as well as it did on Trolla. Especially since I don't have my wand any more. So... most of the time, my magic is a joke."
She could tell that the admission pained him. But she had to ask, "Why won't it work?"
"I don't know! I don't know why, I just know that on this world it's... different. Hard to control. Lumpy," he said, after searching for an appropriate word.
He got a sudden idea. "Wait, I'll show you." He flew over to a collection of items he used in his tricks. Small rings, coins, juggling balls... he picked two feathers, one red and one yellow, out of the pile and flew back over to her, holding them in the palm of his hand. "Just like on Trolla, magic is all around you. You get it the same way you get the air you breathe. Use that magic, imagine shaping it into a hand, and use that hand to pick up one of the feathers."
He was describing a children's game, one that taught young Trollans to control their powers. "Orko, I know how to float things. I used to play this with my little brother."
"I know. Just, please try it. I'm trying to show you something," he answered earnestly.
She would humor him. She reached out with her mind and lifted the yellow feather. The red one followed, and Orko lowered his hand. "You lead and I'll follow," he told her.
Dree Elle moved the feather about, drawing it through the air with her imaginary hand. Orko's feather darted after it, copying its movements exactly. She turned the feather in midair - and it slipped from her grasp. Surprised, she reached out mentally and caught it again. The red feather floated in place while she got her grip back. Then the feathers resumed the chase.
Orko was not trying to knock her feather out of the air with his. He was just following her, playing by children's rules. That meant that the way for her to win was to maneuver her feather in a way he could not duplicate. She spun it in a tight spiral - and again her grip faltered. She tried to recover it, but it was as if her power had suddenly failed her. The yellow feather fluttered to the ground. Orko released the red feather, and it touched the floor a moment later.
"I couldn't keep hold of it," she told him.
He nodded sadly. "That's what the magic is like here. It's hard to control. Like it doesn't want to be used by a Trollan."
"Is that what it's like for you?" she asked in a quiet voice.
"All the time," Orko answered just as softly.
Her skepticism had changed to sympathy. No wonder he was a jester. If his spells were sabotaged by the magic here, it was a miracle he could control them well enough to avoid disaster! She'd heard about the danger of spells gone wrong.
She believed him. And, he suddenly realized, she now pitied him. That wasn't what he had wanted! He told her in a quick rush of words, "It's not that bad. I've gotten used to it a little. I can use it. The smaller and simpler the spell, the better it works. It's just the big ones that give me a hard time. Usually."
"I see..." she answered.
She looked weak all of a sudden. That little game couldn't have taken so much out of her. Could it? "Hey, are you all right?"
She told him, "I'm tired... I was in the forest all night."
Orko exclaimed, "Oh! I didn't know. I'm sorry. Um..." He looked around, as if searching for an idea, then said, "Um, why don't you take a nap. You can use my room. That okay?"
She nodded silently. She didn't see that she had much of a choice.
He floated to a door on the opposite side of the room from the entrance. "Ah, it's kinda a mess, sorry."
"That's all right," she answered quietly as she floated through the doorway.
He stayed in the doorway. "Uh, take as long as you need. I'll be outside. Uh, g'night."
"Goodnight. And... thank you," she answered.
Orko waved, then closed the door. She floated over to the bed and smoothed the covers into place absently. His room reminded her of her little brother's. She'd heard somewhere that sorcerers were either cluttery or fanatically neat. Orko 'the Great' was no fanatic.
She sat on the bed. On the opposite wall were several pictures. They didn't seem to be paintings; they looked more like memory pictures, images created directly from a person's mind rather than through an intermediary medium like paint. It was a common enough spell. The first one she looked at, beside the door opposite the bed, was a Trollan landscape. Morning sunlight cut through a pair of mountain peaks, casting bright rays of light through the dark green sky and across the land. The other images were people. The picture with the sharpest detail showed a bearded, bespectacled Trollan who looked much like Orko. From the clarity of the image she could tell that it was someone important to him. His father, she guessed.
He had been here for years after being swept away from Trolla the same way she had been. These pictures must be his only connection to their home world now. And if Orko, who had been a powerful sorcerer on Trolla, couldn't get back home, then she was stranded here as well.
Feeling hopeless, she lay back and closed her eyes. Fatigue overcame despair, and within moments she was asleep.
Orko puttered in his room. In theory he was reading a book; but he was too distracted to notice that he had skimmed the same paragraph four times already. His mind was elsewhere. She must be asleep by now, he thought. If she had been up all night, she would need to rest for a while. A few hours, at least. He closed the book, not bothering to mark his page, and floated out and down the hall.
He met Adam walking the other way. Adam grinned at Orko's preoccupied expression. "How's Dree Elle?"
Orko startled. He hadn't been paying enough attention to realize that Adam was there. "She's asleep. She was in the forest alone all night."
"No wonder she was so scared when we found her. If I'd known I coulda built her a basket shelter."
Orko looked at him strangely. "Huh?"
Adam waved a hand dismissively. "Never mind. Survival training."
Orko had that dreamy look again. Heh, the little guy really had it bad for her. "Sure is lucky she came here, huh?"
Orko paused thoughtfully before answering, "It wasn't so lucky for her."
It was a dark and stormy night. That was the usual state of the area surrounding Snake Mountain; somehow, the area never reached full daylight. A combination of volcanic smoke, the everpresent clouds, and general evilness kept sunlight at bay.
It was also dark and stormy, metaphorically speaking, within Snake Mountain. Skeletor was restless. He wanted to mount an attack on Grayskull, but he had no idea how. No new plans presented themselves. That put him in a foul temper, and when he was in a foul temper he liked to spread it around.
Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, Tri-Klops, Clawful, and Whiplash watched as Skeletor paced. They knew better than to show amusement at his frustration. That would draw his attention, which would be unhealthy.
"It's been so... peaceful!" Skeletor snarled. No new magic items had been unearthed. He had run out of plans for vehicles and weapons, and his enemies had not produced any new inventions worth stealing and using against them. He-Man had not been seen for days. And he couldn't even stage a direct assault - that ball of mange Beast Man couldn't control the gryphons now that it was their mating season! "I hate peace!"
Evil-Lyn was leaning back against a stalactitelike column, arms folded. Skeletor had summoned them there so he could rant and snarl, apparently. She enjoyed seeing him this frustrated. She also stayed alert and ready to dodge behind the column, in case his temper took a turn for the worst.
He whirled to glare at his underlings. "You're all useless!" he shouted. Red glowed in the darkness of his eye sockets.
Evil-Lyn decided that he had had enough time to stew. "Perhaps a new source of power..."
Skeletor's head snapped around. Like a fish to bait, she thought. She continued, "A source of power has appeared close to the royal palace. But they've gotten to it already, so it wouldn't do us any good..."
"What kind of power?" Skeletor demanded.
"Unusual power," she answered. "I've never sensed anything like it before. It appeared during a storm last night. The storm faded quickly, but it left something behind..."
"Well, go find it!" he ordered. "Take Beast Man with you!"
"What about the gryphons?" she asked innocently.
"Clawful, you go with her. Get moving!"
Evil-Lyn bowed her head to Skeletor, then turned and walked out. Clawful shambled along behind her. When they were out of Skeletor's throne chamber Clawful said, "What kinda thing didja find?"
"Something that will likely do Skeletor no good at all," she answered without looking back.
She hear a grating sound as Clawful scratched the thick skin of his head with a pincer. "Then... why're we going after it?"
She looked back over her shoulder. "Would you rather go back and listen to Skeletor talk to himself?"
"Oh. Good point," he conceded.
Midafternoon sunlight was slanting in through the window in Orko's workroom when he heard the door behind himself open. He turned. Dree Elle was there. "How ya feelin'?" he asked.
"Better," she answered. "I was so tired..."
She looked distracted. Unhappy. Orko said, "I brought you something, if you're hungry."
He gestured toward a plate on one of the worktables. He had found some things that could be eaten without difficulty by a person wearing a veil. Dree Elle had had enough strangeness thrown at her today without having to deal with Eternian food too.
"Thank you," she said. She had hardly thought about it, but now that the subject had some up, she suddenly felt starved. And thirsty. She picked a small, blue fruit off of a stalk, looked at it for a moment, then tried it. It was good. It even tasted something like an octarine.
Orko pretended to read while she ate. Poor Dree Elle... He thought he'd had it bad when he was dropped into Eternia. But he had never spent a night alone in an alien forest. There were all sorts of things living in there. Things even worse than swamp hoppers. When she was finished, he said, "You want to go back to Trolla, don't you."
She nodded, looking away.
"I used to be really homesick too... I still feel like that sometimes. I didn't think about that when I saw you - I was just so happy to see another Trollan-"
Her eyes closed tightly. She looked ready to weep, Orko realized. Quickly he floated to her and said, "Dree Elle, there may be a way to get you back to Trolla."
She looked up at him, surprised. "But you're still here."
"Well... I can't do the magic. Even if I were on Trolla - traveling between worlds is a big spell. But there's someone here who can. This world doesn't have a lot of magicians, but the ones it has are powerful. She's one of the best I've ever seen, here or on Trolla. I'll ask her if she would send you back home." Hope lit up her eyes, making her even more beautiful than before. "If you want, we could go ask her now."
"Please," Dree Elle said.
She was eager to get away from Eternia. He wished she wasn't... but it'd be mean of him to stall her now. He said, "C'mon. It's a trip through the Evergreen Forest, but it's safe, I promise."
She nodded, a dip of the head. They flew out.
In the forest just outside the walls of Palace Eternia, Evil-Lyn looked into the orb of her magic staff. The magic source had been still for a while. Now it was moving again. Something about it tugged at her memory. It was familiar somehow. Its magic had a certain feel about it. She had encountered it before, but she could not remember where or when, and that irritated her.
Clawful waited for her to tell him what to do. He was good at taking orders from Evil-Lyn. Let her do the thinking, and do what she said. Just like with Skeletor, it was easier just to follow orders. It could get boring, though, when they had to wait for a long time. He had thought they would just go and get the magic thing.
A smile spread across Evil-Lyn's face. "It's leaving the palace," she said without looking away from the orb.
"That's good," he guessed.
She had been expecting to have to sneak in, find whatever it was, steal it, and then fight their way out again. This would save her the trouble. She was not in the mood for a tediously drawn-out battle, not if her only backup was a brainless, oversized lobster. "It's coming out into the forest. We'll intercept it."
She pointed with her staff, which was now glowing dull red. When she waved the staff, the orb brightened and dimmed. She held it out in the direction in which it was brightest, then walked forward.
Dree Elle was glad when they emerged from the forest. It looked different by day, and they had been following a path, but the alien sights and sounds still made her uneasy.
When they reached the top of an exposed, rocky hill she saw the castle. It was a mountain of mortared stone, the front of which was shaped like a fanged skull. It was perched on a tall, narrow rock formation. A half-bridge of stone led almost to it, but not quite; between the bridge and the closed door there was a chasm, the bottom of which was hidden from sight. "What an evil looking place," she told Orko.
"Evil? No, it's scary looking, but this is a good place. It's..." He stopped. He couldn't tell her Grayskull's secrets. And he couldn't just bring her in either. Only certain people were allowed to just go in. He'd been inside several times before, so for him it was okay. But... nuts. "It's safe here," he told her. "This is one of the most magical places on this world, and it's used only for good. It's also fulla secrets. The Sorceress lives in there. I'll go in and ask her if I can bring you in, then come back for you. Okay?"
"Okay." She agreed reluctantly.
There was a clinking sound, that of a chain being pulled over gears. The door was opening, and it was hinged at the bottom, not at the side. "Oh, good, she knows we're here," Orko said as they watched the jawbridge lower.
Any Trollan could have flown over the chasm and in through the windows. But, Dree Elle guessed, in a world where people walked on the ground, flying in would be bad manners. And manners counted when you were dealing with powerful sorcerers.
The edge of the jawbridge hit the stone with a slam. Orko floated over. Before he entered the darkened interior he turned around and promised, "I'll be right back."
"Okay," she said again.
He disappeared into the darkness.
Evil-Lyn watched the scene from the edge of the forest, one arm out behind herself, hand spread, signaling to Clawful to stay back. She was holding her staff up so she could see Grayskull over the top of the orb.
"Aw, he took it onto Grayskull! It's gonna be hard to get it now," Clawful complained.
"No," she said. "It's not the jester, it's the other one!" Now she understood why the power seemed familiar. It was the same kind of magic as the jester's, but much more intense, like the sun compared to the moon. "This will be easy." She concentrated briefly - no need to waste patter on a spell this simple - and pointed the staff at the red shape floating outside of Grayskull. It jerked once as a glow surrounded it. Evil-Lyn walked forward out of the forest.
Dree Elle tried to struggle against the pressure suddenly surrounding her from all sides. She could not move a muscle, she could not float away. She couldn't even look over when she heard footsteps and voices approaching her from behind. Then something rough and viselike grasped her, squeezing her lower chest painfully. She tried to scream, but she could not draw in a breath.
Another vise turned her, and she faced a red, shelled, beastlike creature. She was in the grip of one of its oversized pincers. It said to a human woman, "Doesn't look like much. You sure she's got the magic thingie?"
Evil-Lyn glanced at her staff. The orb was glowing brightly now. "I'm certain of it." She turned away.
"Hey." Evil-Lyn turned back. Clawful jerked his head toward Grayskull. "The door's open. Why not go in? Since it's open and all..."
Evil-Lyn gave him a cold, level stare. He grew uncomfortable. She said, "I choose my battles," then turned and started away.
He knew better than to argue. Holding Dree Elle in one claw, he followed her.
Orko floated through the corridors toward the light. He had explained Dree Elle's plight to the Sorceress, and she had agreed to send her back to Trolla. Problem solved! He hurried, ignoring the illusions that turned the interior of the castle into a chamber of horrors, to tell Dree Elle the good news.
She wasn't there.
He looked around, surprised. He didn't see her anywhere nearby. The red of her robe would have stood out against the dark green of the forest. Or the blue of the sky, he thought as he looked up. No, she hadn't flown higher for a look from above. She wouldn't have gone back into the forest, would she? She'd been so nervous when they traveled through it on the way here.
Then he glanced down, and saw footprints. One pair was small, heel and toes separated: a woman's shoe. The other was large, with two thick toes ending in claws. "Oh no," he whispered in disbelief. Clawed footprints like that must belong to one of Skeletor's people, and then the other had to be Evil-Lyn! And now that he was alert for it, he could sense that some spell had been used here in the past few minutes.
Frantically he darted into the forest, back toward Palace Eternia.
Skeletor was brooding on his throne, his jaw resting on one fist, when Evil-Lyn and Clawful returned. Skeletor came alert. "Well? What have you brought me?"
"Why don't you ask the courier?" Evil-Lyn said. She looked back at Clawful, who stepped forward and held out the claw with the Trollan. Evil-Lyn canceled the paralysis spell with a thought.
Skeletor looked at the small, wide-eyed creature in Clawful's grip. "You have got to be joking," he said.
"Not at all," Evil-Lyn replied smoothly. I followed the power to its source, and here it is."
Dree Elle was almost numb with shock. First she had been taken by an evil witch and a crab monster, now she was surrounded by more monsters and a skull-faced fairytale bogeyman! The bogeyman said to her, "You have something I want!"
The female Trollan stared, trembling. She was such a coward, Skeletor couldn't even enjoy intimidating her. "Well, out with it! What did you bring to Eternia? I want it!"
Dree Elle found her voice. "I don't have anything!" she squeaked.
Skeletor accused, "You were bringing something to Grayskull, weren't you? Something of great power. Well, you have failed in your mission. Hand it over!" He extended a clawed hand out to her.
Evil-Lyn watched thoughtfully. The little creature was terrified, yet did not give in. Sometimes heroes could be tiresomely stubborn that way. But it was entertaining to watch Skeletor trying to scare it out of her.
"So, you won't give it up?" Skeletor said. "Then I'll just have to take it from you." He glanced to the side. "Beast Man!"
At Skeletor's command, Beast Man shambled forward.
A small red blur flashed through the halls of Palace Eternia. It flew high, above head level, to avoid collisions, leaving startled people in its wake. It emerged into the courtyard, where Adam and Teela were sparring with unenhanced wooden poles, and slowed enough to resolve into Orko. "Adam! Ya gotta help!" he yelped.
Adam and Teela both stopped and stared. Orko looked like he'd been pushed through a mulch pile backward. "What happened to you?"
"We were at Grayskull, and someone kidnapped Dree Elle! Evil-Lyn and someone else!" Orko said in a frantic rush.
"Why would they want Dree Elle?" Teela asked.
"I don't know! But we gotta do something!"
"When did they get her?" Adam asked, putting his staff down.
"Just now! I flew right back!"
"I can tell." From the look of it, Orko had smashed through the leaves of every tree between here and Grayskull.
"We'll go get her," Teela said. "I'll get Man-At-Arms." She turned to go, then looked at Adam. "Don't even bother making an excuse, Adam," she said before going.
Adam scowled after her. If she knew... if he didn't have to keep it a secret... he looked at Cringer, who was watching from a safe distance. The tiger had drowsed through most of their practice. Now he could tell that something was about to happen; people running around and shouting usually did. And when Adam called him, that always meant that he would be involved. Cringer backed away, mewling.
Impatiently Orko said, "Come on!" and pointed with both hands. The tiger floated into the air, scrabbling for the ground with all four paws, claws extended.
"That's one way to do it," Adam remarked to himself. He ran out of the courtyard, followed by Orko and Cringer.
The three dodged into a side room. After looking around to make sure there were no witnesses, Adam reached back over his shoulder and drew his sword.
"I can't find anything," Beast Man told Skeletor. He released the struggling Trollan. She darted up to the ceiling of the chamber, out of reach, and angrily pulled the hem of her robe back into place.
"Interesting," Skeletor said. "If it's not on her, then it can only be within her. Getting it out shouldn't be difficult. Trapjaw-"
Evil-Lyn spoke up. "I don't think so."
Skeletor looked down. "Oh? And what do you think?"
"The power is within her, permeating her whole body. She is the source of the power, not anything she possesses."
Skeletor looked back up. The little creature was looking around frantically, trying to find an escape route. A bolt of magic from Evil-Lyn's staff wrapped around her, holding her in place. She fought futilely against the bonds. "Then what good is she to me?! I don't need a piñata!"
"If the power within her can be extracted, then it will be yours to command, Skeletor."
"Yes... Do it!" Skeletor ordered.
Evil-Lyn nodded. Dree Elle found herself drawn down from the ceiling by the force bands encircling her body.
A Battle Hawk sliced through the air above a sea of treetops. It was a small, one-person vehicle, though two could ride it in a pinch. He-Man was at the controls, with Orko behind him. Battle Cat was riding on the tail, his claws gripping tightly.
It was a good thing that He-Man made a good wind break, Orko thought without humor. Otherwise he knew that he'd be blown off, and even with the help of the vehicle's slipstream he'd never be able to keep up. It didn't make for much of a view, however. Unless... one hand gripping the scabbard across He-Man's back and the other hand holding his hat tightly, Orko looked over He-Man's shoulder. The wind made him squint as he peered forward. Snake Mountain was just visible on the horizon. Though the Battle Hawk was speeding over the forest, to Orko it seemed only to be crawling toward its destination.
He-Man said over his shoulder to Orko, "Teela will have rounded up some of the other Masters and gotten there ahead of us. They'll be the first wave. Battle Cat and I'll be the second."
"What'll I do?"
"Whatever you can."
Orko looked back at Snake Mountain, which was slowly growing larger. His fingers tightened on the scabbard.
Preceded by a small floating machine, Tri-Klops entered Skeletor's throne chamber. The machine turned and projected an image of the exterior of Snake Mountain. There, near the base, several flying vehicles were landing. "Skeletor, we've got invaders."
"Ah, right on time." He leaned forward and, resting his elbows on his knees, watched over his steepled fingertips. Then, surprised, he said, "He-Man's not among them!"
"My Doom Seekers haven't sensed him anywhere near Snake Mountain."
"Hmph." Skeletor sounded miffed. Then he leaned back and looked around the throne room. Clawful, Beast Man, and Whiplash were looking dumbly back at him. "Well, what are you standing around for? We can't keep our guests waiting all day, can we? Go!"
Evil-Lyn had had to paralyze Dree Elle completely, the little creature had struggled so much as soon as the force bonds were gone. She would have darted out the window if Evil-Lyn hadn't caught her. But now the Trollan was still, glaring at Evil-Lyn in a silent combination of anger and fear. That was fine; she could glare as long as she wanted. It added spice to the job, in fact.
Evil-Lyn drew a pentangle folded over itself on the wall with a stick of green chalk. Then she pressed Dree Elle to the shape with one hand and, with the other, drew small, intricate symbols at each of the top three points. The Trollan fit into the shape perfectly, with her head in the top vertex and her hands at two of the other points. Evil-Lyn did not bother to bind Dree Elle's legs. They were useless to her now, if they existed at all. She canceled the paralysis spell.
Then Evil-Lyn turned away. Feeling that control over her body had returned, Dree Elle tried to pull her hands away from the wall. They would not move, even though she could see nothing holding them there. Magic bindings were as real as physical ones. The witch had trapped her body... Dree Elle noticed a set of glass containers, some empty and some full, on a stand. Mentally she reached out.
Evil-Lyn jumped when something whizzed by her shoulder and into the wall, spraying glass shards and glittering dust to the floor. She jerked around, then dodged a jar which had been more accurately aimed. It shattered against the wall, just behind where her head had been. The little creature was staring at a worktable. Another container rose from the surface.
Evil-Lyn held out her hand and snarled out a counterspell. The container dropped back onto the table, spilling liquid across its surface. Dree Elle stared harder at the container. Nothing else happened. The witch had blocked her telekinesis.
Evil-Lyn laughed and walked over, holding a lump of crystal-covered rock in her hands. "Nice try. Did you really think you could get free?" Dree Elle did not answer. Evil-Lyn continued, "You know, I don't believe your power will be of any use to Skeletor. He doesn't know how to use magic itself. He can only use magical tools. And he can barely manage those." She laughed again.
Dree Elle spoke. "Then why don't you let me go?"
The witch smiled ironically. "I have to try, or he'll think I'm not loyal to him." She set the crystals on a table near Dree Elle and drew some markings around it similar to those surrounding Dree Elle. As she did she said, "I'll transfer your power into this crystal. Then it's Skeletor's problem what to do with it."
"No!" Dree Elle gasped.
Evil-Lyn frowned, disappointed. Did she have to resort to the basest cliches so soon? They made captor-victim conversations so dull. The witch pointed, and Dree Elle felt her throat close. She could breathe, but she could no longer speak. Evil-Lyn told her, "You won't be able to get away, but don't let that keep you from trying. Your struggles will be entertaining."
The battle began as nearly all of their conflicts did. One side appeared, then the other side emerged to meet them. Because of the rough volcanic terrain surrounding Snake Mountain, movement was difficult, making it more efficient for the combatants to pair off. And so they did, Tri-Klops fighting Man-At-Arms, Beast Man fighting Teela, and Whiplash fighting Ram Man.
They were just beginning to enjoy themselves when they heard another vehicle landing. As soon as it set down an armored green tiger sprang out of the back, roaring. He-Man stepped out and, seeing that he had an attentive audience, drew his sword and said, "Sorry I'm late. Everybody warmed up?"
Both Beast Man and Whiplash charged He-Man out of pure instinct.
Skeletor walked into Evil-Lyn's chamber of magic. The witch was chanting a spell, one of her hands on the Trollan's head and the other resting on a crystal formation.
When the spell was completed, Evil-Lyn drew back. Then she noticed Skeletor. She suppressed her annoyance at the intrusion. "Yes, lord Skeletor?"
"It seems that creature is important enough to merit a rescue party. We have a battle to join!"
"They would rescue anybody. I suppose it's the principle," Evil-Lyn retorted. She glanced back at Dree Elle. The spell would drain her powers automatically, transferring them to the crystal. If, as she suspected, the creature was magical in nature, it would also take her life. The spell would run its course during the battle; Evil-Lyn would find out the result afterward.
Dree Elle watched her captor leave. Then she looked at the crystals. She could feel the spell at work. It was as if her energy were being drained away from the inside out. She felt tired and cold.
She did not want to die! She tried again to pull free from the wall. If she arched her back, she could force it away - but her head and arms would not move! Still she strained. Any sounds of effort were silenced in her throat.
Exhausted, she slumped back. She could not fight magic! She knew no spells, and Evil-Lyn had somehow blocked her telekinesis. If she hadn't, Dree Elle thought as she looked at the quickly drawn symbols by one wrist, she could have tried to bring something over here to erase those. Maybe that could have broken the spells. The marks were out of reach, just above her wrists. She could not bend her hand up far enough to reach them, as hard as she tried.
Weakly she looked at the crystals. Her life was bleeding away into the cold piece of stone! She didn't want to die!
She was staring at the crystals when her consciousness faded.
Skeletor and Evil-Lyn strode out of an exit at the base of Snake Mountain. As ever, Skeletor's minions were making no headway at all against the heroes. "Amateurs," he muttered as he strode forward, his Havoc Staff held at the ready.
He-Man glanced up and saw Skeletor, then threw Beast Man against a stone wall that already showed the evidence of several recent impacts. While Beast Man slid to the ground, He-Man said to Skeletor, "So, we meet again. I was beginning to wonder if you'd given up, or just run out of ideas."
Evil-Lyn, behind Skeletor, smirked. Red pinpoints began to glow in the backs of Skeletor's eye sockets. "I will never give up until Eternia is mine!"
"And I'll never give up as long as you're still around!' He-Man retorted.
And thus, with the ritual exchange of clichés completed, Skeletor and He-Man began their battle. Evil-Lyn also joined in, standing on high ground and shooting red beams from the orb of her staff.
Orko flew above the battle, his hands glowing with energy. Whenever he saw a clear opening, he threw energy bursts at his target, then began powering up for the next shot. It made little difference, but it was all he could do.
Then he realized that nearly everyone was below him. Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Clawful, Beast Man, Tri-Klops, Trapjaw, Whiplash... who was in Snake Mountain?
Unnoticed, he flew straight up.
As he hoped, the maw at the peak of Snake Mountain was unguarded. He flew over the lava stream that drooled out of its mouth, between the fanglike stalactites, and into the dark corridor of its throat.
He was as frightened here as he had been when he had entered Castle Grayskull alone. But he knew now that the terrifying sights in Grayskull had been illusions meant to scare off intruders. He didn't believe for a second that in Snake Mountain he wouldn't find the real thing. Traps, tripwires, wandering monsters, or worse! He floated close to the ceiling, careful not to brush against the walls.
He flew through twisty passages, all alike. Snake Mountain was a big place, and he had no idea where Dree Elle would be hidden. All he could do was go as fast as he could until he found her.
The passage he was in widened as several others joined it. He flew down toward the light ahead. He emerged into a large cavern centered around a throne that had been carved out of living rock. It was set up high, to dominate the room. A flight of steps led up to it, and behind it reared a carved snake with ribs spread out like a spider's legs. Orko shivered. There were several tunnels leading away. He looked around for a moment, then flew into the one from which he sensed magic.
More twists and turns, and the passage looped back away from the magic. It led to what looked surprisingly like Man-At-Arms' workshop, or what his workshop might look like if it were installed inside a cave. She wasn't there. He flew on.
From a side tunnel he felt a warm burst of power. He turned and darted toward it. It wasn't Trollan magic, but what else could they have wanted her for? That had to be it! It had to!
He emerged into another laboratory-like room - but instead of mechanical devices and tools, it was furnished with flickering candles, glowing stones, and formerly living things that he did not want to look at closely. He made his way around a columnlike stalactite - and saw the red shape pinned to the wall.
"Dree Elle!' he shouted as he flew to her. She did not react. Her hands and ears sagged limply, her eyes were closed. What had they done to her? He looked frantically at the designs surrounding her. A shape to enclose her head and arms, and some squiggles he couldn't read near her head and wrists. Quickly he grabbed the loose fabric of one of his sleeves and scrubbed at the symbols until only blurs remained. She started to fall. He caught her in his arms and lowered her to the ground.
She was completely limp. Her hand was warm, but not as warm as it should have been. "Dree Elle!" he said. "What did they do to you?" He concentrated, trying to discern what spells were on her. There was something, but he didn't know what; it was an Eternian spell he hadn't seen before. He closed his eyes and concentrated, pitting his will against the unfamiliar magic. It put up a strong resistance, but then gave way all at once.
He opened his eyes. "Dree Elle?" she still did not respond. Was she alive? He saw no movement under her veil to show she was still breathing. He felt below the base of her ear for a pulse. There was none. He looked down at her again, his vision becoming blurry. They couldn't have killed her! She had never done anything to them!
He wiped his eyes. Then he had a thought. He shielded her face from the light with one hand, and with the other he carefully raised her eyelids. Her green eyes shone very faintly in the dark.
There was still time! In death a Trollan's eyes lost their glow. Her eyes hadn't yet, not completely. But - what could he do? He had only learned the more commonplace healing spells on Trolla. Every sorcerer did; any sorcerer who couldn't attend to an injury or treat sickness was useless. That's what his uncle had taught him. But he had not taught him how to deal with someone nearly dead if he didn't know what had done it! He had no spells for this!
He did the only thing he could. He grasped Dree Elle's hands in his and concentrated. He pictured her heart beating. He pictured her beginning to breathe. He pictured life returning to her without trying to visualize just how. It was less a spell than a plea, and he put all of his will into it.
After what seemed like too long her hands twitched in his. His eyes flew open. She was looking up, her eyes unfocused. She was still alive! "Dree Elle! What did they do to you?!"
She drew in a breath as if to speak, but then said nothing. He said, "Never mind, I gotta get you outta here! Then I'll fix you up, I promise." He slid his arms under her back and her knees, and lifted her.
She turned her head toward the crystal on the table, and tried to point. Her hand fell weakly to her side. Not realizing what she was trying to call his attention to, he moved her arm so it was lying across her front, and flew out with her.
The fight was still going on outside. Being fairly evenly matched, neither side was making much headway against the other.
Only Beast Man saw the red speck flying out of the mouth of Snake Mountain. He looked around quickly, and saw that the jester was not on the battle field. And he didn't think he'd seen him for a while.
He turned and loped away, following the red speck.
Orko's flight path curved gradually downward. Flying for two was not easy; he couldn't stay comfortably high above the ground while he was carrying Dree Elle. They had a long way to go. Orko wondered if he could make it. Well, he'd have to! At least they'd be out of sight when they reached the forest on the other side of the wreckage of the Mystic Wall. The Mystic Wall seemed impossibly far away now.
Orko dared a look back over his shoulder, "Aw, no!" His luck hadn't held out; Beast Man was following them. None of the others, though. They must all still be at Snake Mountain. Beast Man was running, apelike, over the blackened rocky ground. He could move surprisingly fast when he wanted to. How long could he keep it up? Longer than Orko could fly? Orko had a sick feeling that he could.
Ahead was a field of shattered rock, as if some small mountains had been picked up and then smashed to the ground. There, at least, they wouldn't be easy to see when flying at ground level. He headed for the largest passage between the blocks of stone.
Beast Man grinned to himself. They'd just made a bad mistake.
Orko flew through the mazelike passages. There were no plants growing here, and no animals that he could see. Just bare, sharp-edged rock forming a maze of ever-narrowing passages.
Then he saw green, and hurried toward it. The forest! But when he came close he saw that it was not an opening, but the shadowed slope of a small, vegetation-covered mountain. It completely blocked the area he had flown into. He turned. Beast Man was still behind them!
He had flown into a blind canyon! How stupid could he get?! If he tried to fly back out, they'd end up right in Beast Man's hands! Unless he put Dree Elle down, which he was not going to do.
Desperately he looked around. There, a third of the way up one of the rocky walls, was a cave mouth. With some effort he flew up into it.
Beast Man thought, he had 'em now. Did they think they could hide out in a little cave? This was going to be too easy!
The rock wall was sheer, and would have made climbing a very tricky process for most people. However, Beast Man started right up the rock face. Agile fingers and toes gripped cracks and irregularities in the stone. In minutes he had reached the cave entrance.
He heard an shrill, echoing scream. Then a creature the size of a young dragon lunged out of the darkness. Its three eyes, set in a triangle on its forehead, glared balefully down at him. It swiped at him with a taloned forefoot. Beast Man leapt backward, to the rim of the cave, and took the whip out of his belt.
Dree Elle, lying on the floor at the back of the shallow cave, watched, woozy and confused, as Orko positioned himself just behind the cave mouth and made what looked like hasty magical gestures. Then he lowered himself to the ground and waited. The orange monster, the one who had searched her, climbed into the cave and started toward them. Orko jumped forward and screamed. His voice sounded strange, distorted into a distant roar. Was she dreaming this?
The orange one roared back and cracked a whip. The tip snapped high above Orko's head. Orko screamed again, then pantomimed slashing at something, his fingers crooked like claws.
The monster paid no attention to Beast Man's whip. It screeched again, then tried to slash him. He leapt backward, out of the cave. He came down hard on the gravelly ground below, rolled, and sprang back to his feet in one motion. The beast had come to the cave opening and was glowering down at him. It drew in a breath, then blew flames.
Beast Man had never seen a creature like this, but if it breathed fire and resisted his commands, that made it a dragon. And it must have eaten those two that had been foolish enough to fly right into its lair. That was enough for him!
Orko stood in the cave mouth, watching something, for a few minutes. He crouched down and held that pose for a few seconds, then stood again, picked up a stone, twiddled his fingers at it, and put it back down. Then he lifted into the air and floated back to her. "Dree Elle? Are ya all right?"
She drew in a breath as if to speak, but nothing came out. She gestured vaguely, pointing toward her face.
"What's wrong? Too weak to talk?" he guessed. "Here-" He took her hand in his and closed his eyes. She felt a warmth, starting in her hand and flowing through her body. The weight of the deadly weakess lifted slightly. She drew in another breath, but still could not talk. Frustrated, she pointed at her veil, then covered it with her hand.
"You can't talk? Why?" Orko said, baffled. Dree Elle didn't seem to be telling him that she was hurt, only that she couldn't speak. Oh! Quickly he gestured a counterspell, then said "Evil-Lyn put a spell of silence on you, didn't she? Try now."
"Oh..." she said, barely above a whisper. "Orko, what were you doing? I thought you were out of your mind. Or I was."
"Just now?" he said sheepishly. "Beast Man followed us. I didn't know what else to do, so I tried to scare him off. I made him think there was a monster in the cave. He gave up when he couldn't command it." He laughed nervously. "Good thing he didn't try to fight it."
"Why were you screaming?"
"I used a puppet spell. That means I have to do the movements and voice, but he saw and heard something else, not me. It's an illusion, that's all. Only apprentices play with it. I just couldn't think of anything better. I was lucky it worked." He laughed nervously, then changed the subject. "What did they do to you, Dree Elle?"
"They thought I had something magical. They couldn't find anything, so Evil-Lyn took my magic. She was going to kill me!"
He didn't tell her that she had nearly succeeded. Instead he said, "You're all right now. You just need to get back the power she drained from you."
"It was... it's gone," she said, looking away. She had almost started to tell him about the crystal. But then he might have felt obligated to go back and get it. She couldn't bear that thought.
"I'll give you some of mine. When you get back to Trolla, you'll be all right. It'll come back by itself. All you'll have to do is rest," he assured her.
She looked down at their hands. "Is that what you're doing now?" she asked.
They were quiet for a while. Dree Elle began to feel better. The weak, cold feeling faded, replaced by simple tiredness. She began to believe that she would live after all.
Then Orko said, "Do you think you can float now? We'd better get outta here."
Dree Elle lifted off the ground. It was an effort... "Yes. But I don't think I can make it all the way back."
"I'll help you with that. Hold onto my hand, I won't let you fall."
She nodded agreement. They flew out of the cave. Then she looked back. From outside she could see the illusion. "Orko, it's still sitting there!"
"Oh, yeah. I transferred the spell to a rock. It'll stay there until the spell wears off or someone kills the rock."
She giggled, then looked back. She giggled again when she realized that Orko had made a monsterish version of a harmless Trinoc. No Trollan would ever be fooled by that! They must not have Trinocs in this world.
Hearing her laughter, he looked at her, then at the illusion. Then he shrugged and grinned. "Like I said, I was stuck for ideas. What the heck, it worked."
By the time they arrived at Castle Grayskull, the sun was close to the horizon, and the sky was darkening. They had not rushed; both knew that Dree Elle still could not fly quickly. Sometimes it had been as much as she could manage to stay afloat; at those times Orko had put an arm around her waist and towed her.
When they arrived the jawbridge was still open. Orko paused uneasily. Dree Elle said softly, "I don't want to wait alone here."
"Yeah. Hey!" He pointed. There, in the center of the entrance, was a small ball of light. "She left the light on for us."
As they approached it, the light moved off, down the corridors. Orko told Dree Elle, "Sometimes this place is guarded by scary illusions. But don't worry, they're fake. There's nothing to be afraid of."
But the stone halls were silent and still. The only sound was the wind echoing in the long, open corridors. The light floating just before them led them to the library. Then it drifted up to the skylight and shone like a single star against the darkening sky.
"I think she wants us to wait here," Orko said.
"I guess so."
He guided her to one of the seats. It was large enough for two humans to sit on, which made it spacious for a pair of Trollans. He said, "You could sleep until she calls us. You must be worn out. I'm tired."
"I'd rather not," she answered. She was fatigued, though. She leaned back against one of the chair arms.
He sat beside her, at the edge of the chair. After a pause, he held out his hand to her. She took it. He began, "I'm sorry about everything that's happened. This's been one lousy day for you, hasn't it?"
"It's not your fault," she said quietly.
"Yeah, well..." he looked away and shrugged. He didn't know what to say.
She looked at their hands. There was no glow, but she could feel the power that he was still sending to her. "Are you draining yourself?"
Without looking back, he said, "Nah. I'm fine. We magicians carry around a lotta magic..."
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No." He looked back. "Um, when you get back to Trolla, would you tell my family I'm all right?"
She was surprised. "You're not going back?"
He sighed. "I don't know how to say this... if I went back, I'd be just another magician."
"You'd be Orko the Great."
He shook his head and said ruefully, "Nah. That was when I was a hotshot magician, just graduated from apprenticehood. I could do a lotta impressive stuff, but... so what?" He paused. She waited for him to continue; she could tell he was choosing his words carefully. "It wouldn't really matter. I wouldn't really matter because, well, anyone else could do what I was doing. It wouldn't make a difference. But over here... well, there's important stuff going on. You know, the fight between Good and Evil, that kinda stuff. Things that matter, not just showing off with magic tricks. Maybe I'm just a little part of it, but still, it means something."
He looked at her earnestly. After a bit she answered, "I understand. You want to make a difference."
Relieved, he answered, "Yeah. On Trolla, I couldn't. But here... the first day I was here I saved a kid who was stuck in the swamp. I'd never done anything like that before. But, you know, there he was, and there were these swamp hoppers, and I got him outta there before they could get him. I'm lucky I was there..." he said softly.
"And you saved me."
"Yeah, well... I'm just glad I could." He paused. "Y'know, it's strange, all the things that happen here. All the million to one chances. It's like they happen nine times outta ten."
She laughed softly. "Maybe that's part of this world's magic."
"Maybe," he answered. He hadn't thought about it that way.
"Who should I tell about you?" she asked, when he did not say anything else.
"Montork. He's my uncle. He taught me everything I know."
"I've heard of him," she said. She couldn't remember anything about him, but she knew she had heard the name.
"Yeah. He's really good. Any sorcerer ought to be able to get in touch with him."
Hearing the admiration in his voice, she guessed, "Was he one of the pictures in your room?"
"Yeah! He's the one with the beard and glasses." Orko sighed. "I miss him. I was his apprentice, and I was still learning from him when I came here. I always wanted to be as good as him. That's never gonna happen now." He shook his head wistfully. Then, remembering something, he smiled faintly. "I told you that only apprentices use that puppet spell. Well, every apprentice does. I used it once on him."
"I made a big scary monster and put it right outside his door. I thought I'd scare him outta his robe. Y'see, I was mad at him because he'd been teaching me all sorts of boring, simple spells. Kid stuff. I wanted to do something big and powerful. So, I did that to show him I could. And to get back at him." He laughed. "He looked at it for a second, then flew right through it like nothing was there. I thought I'd screwed up the spell. But then, instead of the rinky-dink cantrips he'd been showing me, he gave me one of the big spells to learn. One I'd been bothering him about."
"So, you got what you wanted?" she asked. She had the feeling this story had a punchline.
"I got what I asked for. You know how messy and hard to learn some spells can be? He picked the worst outta the list. Then he made me stick with it until I could do it right." Orko laughed. "It took weeks!"
Dree Elle laughed too. "I'll bet you never played another trick on him."
Orko rolled his eyes. "Well..." he said, exaggeratedly evasive.
They both laughed. They didn't notice at first that the light had floated down from the ceiling and was hovering right above them again. When Orko looked up and saw it, he said, "It's time. Dree Elle, ya ready?"
She saw the light too. "Yes. I feel better now."
Led by the light, they floated out of the library, still holding hands.
The light guided them downward. Orko could feel the power of the place. It would take magic this concentrated to open a portal to another world, and someone as powerful as The Sorceress. Sometimes he felt envious of that power - but then, she was tied to Grayskull. She had power, but no freedom. He admired her dedication, and knew that he wouldn't be able to match it.
The globe rose to the ceiling in a small, sparse room. Against the wall opposite the door was a frame like one for a full-body mirror, but instead of a reflection, it had an iridescent red surface that slowly rippled outward from the center.
Dree Elle looked away from the mirror when she heard a Human's voice. A woman wearing an elaborate breastplate, birdlike headdress, and a pair of wings said, "I can only hold the portal open for a few seconds. Are you ready?"
Dree Elle answered "Yes," in a small voice.
The bird woman gestured with a staff at the portal. The red cleared, revealing a landscape. It was twilight, but the green sky was not dark; it was lit by a bright splash of multicolored stars running diagonally across the sky.
"Goodbye," Orko said softly. "I'll come back someday."
She looked back toward him, then flew through the mirror. She disappeared for a second, then reappeared within the landscape. She was turning to look back when the scene faded back into the red ripple.
Orko suddenly felt very lonely. He sighed, then said, "Thanks, Sorceress."
"You're welcome," she replied.
He looked back at the mirror wistfully.
When Orko floated out of Castle Grayskull, he looked up at the sky. The stars were tiny and isolated; adrift in a cold, black void.
Thinking about the colorful night sky back on Trolla, he started back towards Palace Eternia.
When Orko returned to the castle, several of the guards spoke hurriedly among themselves, then one went off. Orko paid no attention. Hands clasped behind his back, he floated toward his chambers.
Adam intercepted him just as he reached his door. One of the guards must have gotten him, Orko guessed. Adam said, "Where've you been? You disappeared in the middle of the battle! We thought we'd lost you!"
Halfheartedly Orko replied, "Dree Elle was in Snake Mountain. I went in and got her out."
Orko didn't seem too happy about that. That sounded bad, very bad. "Where is she?"
"She's back on Trolla. The Sorceress sent her back home. Eternia's no place for her."
Orko placed a hand on the door and leaned on it heavily. For someone who'd rescued the fair maiden, he didn't look too happy, Adam thought. "Uh... want to talk about it?"
"No, thanks," Orko said without looking up. "I used up a lotta my magic. I'm tired."
"Well... okay," Adam said.
The Prince walked on. Orko pushed his door open and floated into his room. After the day's events, it seemed so quiet.
He went into his bedroom and sat on the bed. The picture beside the door now showed a night landscape, the sky blazing with a swarm of multicolored stars that illuminated the mountains and trees. He rested his arms on his knees and gazed wistfully at the stars that he had not seen for years.
When Evil-Lyn returned to her workroom, the Trollan was gone. It was as Beast Man had said; the Jester had gotten in somehow, broken her spells, and taken the captive! Momentary anger rose at the idea of the pathetic excuse for a magician invading her lair.
But, she thought with some satisfaction, he had not gotten what he wanted. Even if she had been alive when he took her, they had both been eaten by a dragon whose cave they had been foolish enough to hide in. That was not only fitting, but amusing. And, to complete the picture, they had left behind the crystals full of the creature's magic.
Evil-Lyn lifted the crystal-covered rock in one hand. She could sense the alien power held within. What could this magic do, in the right hands...? Or in the wrong hands? Smirking, she cast a light spell on the rock, causing it to glow. There, that ought to impress Skeletor. He didn't know the first thing about real magic. The glow alone would convince him that the crystals were powerfully enchanted.
Holding the crystals up in one hand, she walked out of her workroom.
"I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" is from "The Muppet Movie" and copyright © Henson Associates. All characters are copyright © Mattel. All copyrighted materials are used without permission but with a lot of affection and respect. The overall story is copyright © Kim McFarland (Negaduck9@aol.com). Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only.