By Kim McFarland
It was a bright and sunny day. Light slanted down from the afternoon sun and, filtered through the leaves, made moving patterns on the circular walkway in the royal garden. The garden looked disorderly because the plants seemed to be randomly mixed, yet each was thriving instead of competing with its neighbors.
Less conspicuous than usual, a small figure moved among the plants. Orko was not wearing his familiar red robe. He'd learned quickly that gardening in Trollan garb was risky, as loose sleeves snagged easily, and unseen low branches could get very personal if you're wearing a skirt. Now he was wearing an outfit he had assembled from cast-off children's clothes. He'd cut ear holes in a simple, conical straw hat. He had a blue coat with narrower sleeves that wouldn't catch on things. He'd had trouble getting used to the pants - even if they weren't oversized, well, they just weren't something Trollans wore! - but since he only used these clothes in the garden, hardly anybody would see him like this.
He'd been tending the royal garden for some months now. At first it had seemed an impossible task. The plants, untended for months, had been allowed to wither, and when he had used his magic he'd killed off most of what had survived. Moss Man had brought some of the plants back to life, and then had helped Orko learn how to tend them. Orko had found to his surprise that gardening wasn't as difficult as he had thought. And it was actually absorbing work.
Being a sorcerer, his first impulse was always to use magic. He couldn't do that in this case because the magic in Eternia was unpredictable; he couldn't control his spells here like he could on Trolla. They constantly overshot or fell short. And, of course, he had never learned spells for raising plants. What apprentice would bother with that kind of magic when there was much neater stuff to learn?
But Orko did have a few advantages. One, he was small. He could see things other than the tops of the plants. And, two... he had little else to do. The position of Court Magician/Jester was not a demanding one. After the defeat of the Snake Men, things had fallen quiet. People stayed alert, knowing that Skeletor was still around and undoubtedly gathering his strength for another attack, but nothing had happened yet.
Orko had come to enjoy gardening. It was a quiet, peaceful task. Part of his mind could wander while he was tending to the plants. And... he liked the feeling he got from seeing the garden bloom and thrive. He could come here and see what he'd been able to do, and know that he'd accomplished something. The plants were constantly growing and changing, there was always something new to see, something he could trim or water or weed or just admire.
He was so absorbed in his task that he didn't notice when he was approached. He always heard things like footsteps and the sound of Stratos's or Buzz-Off's wings; Trollans have sharp ears. Without those hints he was unaware that anyone else was in the garden. And he was not seen at first, as he was low among the plants and dressed in shades of blue and brown that did not stand out among the vegetation. He only looked over when a flicker of movement off to the side caught his eye. He glanced over, then stared, startled.
There were three other Trollans in the garden! He didn't recognize two of them, but the third was - "Dree Elle!" He dropped the clippers he'd been using and floated up above the plants.
She turned, as did the other two. "Orko!" She flew over to him. They clasped hands.
"You came back!" Orko managed to say.
She smiled. "Yes." After looking into his eyes for a long moment, she released his hands and said, "Orko, these are D'Sparil and Tengu. They brought me here. D'Sparil's a sorcerer, and Tengu's his apprentice."
Orko looked over at the other two. He could easily tell which was which just from their manner. D'Sparil, wearing a green and blue robe and cowl and a silver mask instead of the usual veil or scarf, floated with an air of quiet assurance. Tengu, wearing a red and white hat and robe, looked uneasy. And suddenly Orko remembered what he was wearing. He glanced down, horrified that other Trollans had seen him this way, then spun about quickly. In a blur his gardening clothes were replaced by his red robe and hat. "Er, ah, I don't usually-"
Dree Elle took his hand. "Don't worry about it," she told him. He relaxed, relieved though still embarrassed. She continued, "They wanted to see the world you live in. And they are escorting me. It wouldn't do to send a lady to another world alone." Her green eyes glittered impishly.
"Uh, hi," Orko said to the other two. D'Sparil nodded his head but did not speak. Orko asked Dree Elle, "How'd you come back? Why'd you come back?"
"Because I wanted to," she answered quietly.
"And also to deliver something that belongs to you," D'Sparil said. Orko looked at him again - he'd only glanced at him before - and realized that the metal mask covering his lower face didn't hamper his speech. In fact, his voice was as clear as if he were wearing nothing more than a thin scarf. A magical mask, Orko realized. That fit - it was even covered in fine, etched designs. As were, he realized, D'Sparil's ears. The outside surface was covered with curved indigo lines in complex patterns. The backs of his hands were similarly tattooed. Orko searched his mind, trying to remember from lessons long ago if that was a sign of a specific branch of sorcery, but nothing clicked.
D'Sparil glanced at Tengu. After a moment Tengu recognized his cue. Quickly he drew a long, thin wooden case out of one of his sleeves. He held it out at arm's length to Orko wordlessly.
Dree Elle released his hand again. Orko took the case. It was made out of dark blue-grey wood, longer than his forearm and narrower than his hand. This was his? He found a clasp on the side, recessed into the wood, and slipped it upward with his thumb. The box opened. Orko's eyes widened and he drew in his breath when he saw what was inside.
Dree Elle watched, pleased. Orko lifted a wand out of the box. Its thin black shaft was encircled at each end by several narrow gold bands, and the working end was topped with a fair-sized red gem set in a golden circle. "It looks just like my old one," he said in a hushed voice.
D'Sparil answered, "It was made by the same craftsman."
Dree Elle glanced at D'Sparil, then told Orko, "I told Montork that you were alive, as you asked me to. I told him what happened to your wand. He had the same person who made your old one make this one so it would work the same."
"Uncle Montork," Orko said quietly. He stared at the wand. Then he pointed it at the water bucket he'd brought and hadn't used yet. The water flowed up into the air, then broke into fine droplets that misted the nearby plants. "It feels just like my old wand," he said to himself.
"You have some catching up to do, and I would like to look at this world of yours. I'll take my leave, if you don't mind," D'Sparil said.
"Uh. Sure. Thanks!" Orko answered quickly. D'Sparil nodded again, then floated upward, with Tengu following. Orko gazed at the wand for several moments longer, then put it up his sleeve. "Dree Elle, I didn't think I'd ever see you again!"
"I'm happy to see you too," she said with a smile.
"Um, lemme show you around." He wanted to get out of the garden. He was still embarrassed about being found here. Gardening was not proper work for any competent sorcerer. It was makework to occupy apprentices when their masters wanted some peace. And not only Dree, but two other sorcerers, had seen him! Argh!
As he led Dree Elle out, she wondered why he'd become so tense again.
Adam and Teela were sparring in the courtyard while Man-At-Arms watched. Each held a spearlike device with a glowing blue tip in one hand and wore a mirrorlike metal shield strapped to the opposite forearm. They watched each other warily for a few moments, each daring the other to attack first. Adam made the first move, swinging his spear at Teela. She deflected it easily with her shield, then countered by feinting a matching attack before swinging the spear at his shins. He jumped over it, and while she was finishing the move slapped the blue glow against her shield. "Tag."
"Not bad," she said, grinning. "Think you can do it again?"
"Nah. I'll do something different," Adam answered with a cocky grin.
They swung at each other several times, each time deflecting or dodging blows made by the tip of the spear. Each took hits from the shaft, but that was normal, just as if they were sparring with staves.
After a few rounds Teela managed to stab her spear down between Adam's feet, then jerk it to the side, knocking him off balance. She finished the move by planting her hand against his chest and pushing him over backwards.
"You enjoyed that," he accused from the ground.
"Yep," she agreed.
As he got to his feet Man-at-Arms said, "Hold a minute. Show me your shields."
They held the shields out toward him. The mirror finish of both was scored, as if something hot enough to melt the metal had struck it repeatedly. "Good. Still needs more work, but it's coming along."
Adam said, "What, the shields? They just look like metal to me."
"They are. It's the tip of the spears I'm testing."
Adam looked at the glowing tip. "Oh. Duh. What's it supposed to do?"
"It vibrates at a certain resonance that should cut through hard objects like weapons and armor without damaging flesh. It could be a very effective way to disarm enemies without harming them."
"Huh. It'd take more than just a few spears, wouldn't it?" Adam said.
"Of course. Right now I'm just testing the principle to see what it can do. Then I'll know what I can build with it."
Teela accepted that explanation. She said to Adam, "You were swinging your spear as if it was a sword. That's a good way to lose a fight."
"So I'll carry a sword," he answered.
"You need to get used to fighting with whatever weapon comes to hand. If you're too attached to one, you get so rigid you can't handle anything else."
"What you really mean is you just want to spar some more, don't you? Okay, I'll play along," Adam said with an irritating grin.
The two returned to the ready pose. Man-At-Arms sat back to watch them. He had the data he needed, but if they wanted to continue practicing, all the better. Adam was getting better at sparring with Teela; she no longer got on his nerves as much. After all that had happened recently, Duncan thought, a bit of razzing shouldn't be important anymore.
Teela was used to fighting with a staff, and that skill served her well now. Adam knew that, sure, but today she was determined that he would remember it. He had his hands full dodging and blocking her strikes. She wasn't even teasing him, which meant that she was serious now.
Teela wasn't going for blood. She mainly wanted to drive home her point that Adam needed to be proficient with something besides a big knife. He'd remember that point if he had bruises to remind him. He was on the defensive now. That was no way to win a match!
"Whoa - what the heck?" Adam said after blocking a harsh strike with his body. He was looking at something beyond Teela.
"Nice try," she replied, not slowing at all.
"Really, look behind you!"
"Oh, be serious, Adam. You think I'm gonna fall for a made-you-look?"
Man-at-Arms was looking too. "Time out," he said, surprised.
"What is it?" She stopped and looked around. For a moment she thought she was seeing double.
Orko said "Hi! You remember Dree Elle? She came back!"
"So we see," Adam said, grinning. Orko sounded happier than he'd been in months. Gee, wonder why?
"And look! She brought me a wand from Trolla!" He flourished it for them to see.
Man-at-Arms said uneasily, "Careful with that, Orko."
"Hah! I'm a sorcerer, I know what to do with a wand!" He looked around quickly, then turned back to Duncan. "Watch this!"
Orko pointed the wand at arm's length. The red gem at the end glowed brightly, then a rush of energy shot out of it and illuminated the base of one of the colossal statues that encircled the courtyard. Man-at-Arms yelled, "Stop that!" Orko did not react. The stone seemed to soften and flow. Man-at-arms ran forward and tried to snatch the wand out of Orko's hands. As if he had been expecting that, Orko darted upward, out of reach.
Duncan said in a low voice to Adam, "Be ready."
"Gotcha," Adam whispered back.
Duncan ran into his workshop and grabbed his kinetic immobilizer. It hadn't been much use lately, but it was a proven Orko-stopper! He ran back to the courtyard. The statue hadn't toppled or melted or exploded just yet. As he was keying in the activation code Orko spun and said proudly, "Ta-dah!"
Man-at-Arms looked up. Then he glanced at the statue. It... looked the same. "What did you do?"
"You remember the base was all cracked? Good as new!" Orko flew over and patted the marble, which was mirror smooth and barely warm to the touch.
"You could have caused another disaster! We've barely started rebuilding the city!"
Orko shook his head and explained, "Now that I've got my wand, I can control my magic. You'll see what I can do!" Before Duncan could reply, Orko added, "And you shouldn't grab a magic wand while someone's using it. It's like touching a live wire. You could get hurt."
Duncan looked around when he heard a choking sound. Both Teela and Adam were stifling snickers. He glared at them.
"A couple of others came with Dree Elle. They're just looking around, y'know, seeing the sights. They've never seen a world like this before," Orko told them. "See ya!"
The two Trollans flew off, Dree Elle following Orko. Adam said, "Well, it has been kinda boring lately."
"If they're anything like Orko, so much for peace and quiet," Man-at-Arms replied in a low voice.
Dree Elle's ears slanted back in irritation when she heard this. It sounded like an insult to her, but when she glanced back to Orko, he didn't seem to have noticed it.
Two small shapes rose into the air above Eternos. The city built on the plateau below, from this angle, clearly showed signs of recent damage. It looked like a battle had been fought here. Dree Elle had spoken of a war in progress. She had also described the problem with magic on this world. That would explain the city, and its lack of magical wards.
This world was not magic-poor. D'Sparil could feel the flow of energy through the air, and sense it in the ground and water. The magic in this world was wild, untamed, as difficult and dangerous as a stormy sea. It would take much skill to channel this power, skill that Orko clearly did not possess. Why else would he be doing menial work?
Tengu glanced down. A glow had appeared on one side of the castle's courtyard. D'Sparil noticed it too. After watching for a few seconds, he said, "He's used the wand," in tones of approval.
"The magic here feels weird. Alien," Tengu commented.
"It's an alien world," D'Sparil replied.
"Dree Elle said it was 'lumpy' magic. Now I know what she meant. I wouldn't even want to cast a cantrip here."
"No," D'Sparil commented blandly. He had closed his eyes. Tengu waited quietly while his master concentrated, keeping an eye out in case there were hungry flying creatures on this world.
D'Sparil opened his senses to the flow of magic. He felt currents in it, one with a source very nearby, from the strength of it. He followed the flow with his mind. Soon he sensed the concentration it led to. The power was strong and focused, shining like a sun. It was also defended, he could tell. That must be the dominion of the winged sorceress. Mentally he blocked that area from his search and cast outward again.
He found small areas of power, some so tiny they must be nothing more than magical artifacts or beings. But, listening closely, he could sense currents, indistinct though they were here. It took some time to follow them to their source, as it was far distant. But in the end they led him to another concentration, not as intense as the nearby one - it was like a moon compared to the sun - in the center of a particularly volatile area. If the magic here was like a stormy sea, there it was a maelstrom!
D'Sparil opened his eyes again. Tengu asked, "What did you find?"
"Something worth investigating. I will do so by myself. Wait in the city," D'Sparil answered.
Caught between disappointment and relief, Tengu nodded acquiescence and without a word started back down to Eternos. D'Sparil closed his eyes again, and after concentrating on the other power source, vanished.
Dree Elle asked, "Would he really have tried to take your wand?"
Orko and Dree Elle were sitting on the top of one of the buildings. Humans almost never used the roofs of their buildings, so it was easy for Trollans to find privacy. Orko answered, "Yeah. He doesn't mean anything by it - he just doesn't like my magic."
"Does he have to be so rude?"
"Well..." Orko shrugged. "He makes the machines around here. He's really good. And I guess he doesn't trust magic." He hesitated, then confessed, "The statue I repaired - I was kinda the one who busted the base in the first place."
That surprised Dree Elle. "How?"
"They were trying to get that huge statue up on its base. Everyone was pulling on ropes and stuff. So I helped. I floated it so they could put it in place."
That sounded sensible to Dree Elle. "What happened?"
Orko looked away. Why had he brought this up? "Well - it kinda got away from me a little. It floated higher than I wanted it to. I was being careful, and I know I coulda brought it back down, but Man-at-Arms grabbed my hands and broke the spell. The statue fell. It nearly wrecked all of the statues."
Her eyes were wide and her ears flattened back in shock. "What kind of... fool is he?!" she exclaimed.
Orko shrugged again. "He doesn't understand magic. I guess he didn't realize..."
"That breaking a float spell would let things fall?" she said indignantly.
Orko felt a little better - at least she understood. "Well, yeah. But I still felt rotten about that. Anyhow, I hated seeing all those cracks 'cause everyone knew what happened. But now that's fixed!" His eyes brightened. "I still can't believe it!" He took his wand out of his sleeve and looked at it.
Dree Elle smiled. He really was thrilled to have that wand. She had guessed he would be; he'd seemed so sad when he told her how he'd lost the first one when he first came to this world. Now he was like a kid with a new toy.
They heard a voice from above. "Does it work okay?"
Both look up, startled. They hadn't recognized Tengu's voice. This was the first time he'd spoken to them. Orko answered, "Yeah, it works great!"
"Oh, good. Montork said it ought to." Tengu paused, then said to Orko, "I remember you. Orko the Great."
Orko flinched. "I haven't been Orko the Great in a long time. Just call me Orko, okay?"
"You liked being called that back in the Eldritch Academy." Tengu replied.
Orko was surprised. "You were there?"
"Yes," Tengu said quietly.
Orko didn't remember Tengu. His voice was quiet, his manner unobtrusive, even shy. He wasn't the kind of person you'd remember among a crowd of others, he thought. He was thin, and a little taller than the average Trollan, with sharply pointed ears and a hint of a nose ridge visible beneath his face scarf. His eyes were pale blue and his skin was an unremarkable dusty color.
Tengu said, "I was the one who could never make a spell come out right. Some people called me 'Nothing' because that's what happened when I tried to cast."
It clicked. Orko had been searching his memory for other mages. Now he recalled Tengu. He had worked hard at learning magic. He'd learned more than other students, he knew the lore, but he had been a failure at actually working spells. It was as if the power refused to obey his commands. Back then it had been hilarious - like everyone else, Orko had laughed with the others at Tengu's failures - but now he knew how it felt, and was embarrassed.
Tengu said softly, "They said I could never become a wizard, that I just had no talent for magic. And I guess they were right. Nobody would take me on as an apprentice until D'Sparil. He was the only one who gave me a chance. And with him I can do magic."
"Uh, good," Orko said.
Tengu said apologetically, "Sorry. I didn't mean to dump on you. I really just wanted to say I know who you are, and I'm glad to meet you. I'll leave you alone now." He turned and hurried away.
Orko and Dree Elle looked at each other. She said, "That was... odd."
D'Sparil appeared close to the ground at his destination. It was grimly overcast. The air smelled unpleasant. The ground was bare stone in most places, with a lava stream flowing sluggishly in one direction. He glanced around to orient himself. Then he looked up.
Dree Elle had described a fortress that looked like a snake encircling a mountain. This one looked like three snakes, lava drooling out of the mouth of each one. Was this a different place, or had Dree Elle been mistaken? D'Sparil assumed the latter. Her memory was bound to be unreliable.
Magical power flowed through this mountain. And now that he was close he could sense terrific power bound within, perhaps beneath, separate from the magic that circulated through the world. As if something were being held apart. Fascinating.
As a mage, he knew that there were two main ways of getting past unfriendly defenses. One, use strength and skill to defeat them. Two: Use cunning and circumvent them entirely. He had always favored the second approach. He scouted out a safe-looking area hidden between several sharp-edged boulders, set some wards, and concentrated.
He began to build an image in his mind. He had observed the humans in the city they had come to. They were basically Trollan shaped, but enlarged and stretched out, with some noticeably different features. He pondered each of those details in turn - shape and color of eyes, various skin tones and types, number of fingers. As he considered each detail he added it to his image, until he had a firm mental picture of a male human. Then he began to alter it according to what he had seen. He aged it forward, enough to imply experience but not enough to weaken it. Many of the older male Humans he's seen had been wearing beards, and that would mitigate the uncovered face somewhat... no, he decided. There was enough detail to maintain without that. As well, a loose robe would camouflage the body, so he would not have to spend unnecessary effort there.
Merman grumbled to himself as he surveyed the landscape from his perch on the lip of one of the mountain's hidden entrances. Skeletor had been keeping him busy for weeks doing nothing. Weeks of patrolling around Snake Mountain in case any stray Snake Men showed up. Only a few had wandered in, and that was soon after King Hsss had been defeated. They had been lost, looking for someone to pledge their obedience to. None had been seen for the past few months, but Skeletor still insisted on patrols and sentries. More like he just wanted to give orders. So Merman was drying out here when he could be swimming in the Sea of Rakash.
He saw something move, and stared. A robed figure was walking toward the mountain. Not a Snake Man, it had a human face. Merman could go down and capture it... but he didn't feel like chasing around this rocky landscape. So, instead, he stayed at the entrance, watching.
The human walked toward him, toward the entrance. Merman could not fathom the human's expression. Didn't he know he was approaching Snake Mountain, the deadliest place on Eternia?
When the human was within speaking distance and clearly was not going to turn away and thus make Merman's life any easier, He stood up and raised his trident as if to throw it. "What are you doing here?"
The human stopped walking. "I came here with a purpose," he replied calmly.
Merman was not used to people acting like this. They were supposed to either attack or flee. "Do you know who I am?!"
"Yes, I do. You are Merman. I have come to speak to your master, Skeletor."
The amphibian lowered his trident halfway and stared at him for a moment. Then he said, "Why not?" Life was dull these days; this might provide a little fun.
Skeletor was bored. He'd been able to keep his minions busy, Tri-Klops with a design for a new vehicle, Beast Man and Stinkor mucking out Beast Man's menagerie's caves, and those he didn't have other orders for on patrol or sentry duty. Anyone who didn't like it could play with Panthor.
He noticed a delicate scent in the air like that of a beach... during red tide. Merman. Why weren't there any good-smelling villains? He'd have quarantined Merman with Beast Man and Stinkor, but then they would have done nothing but bicker and snipe at each other. Which, Skeletor thought, would not actually be a problem if he didn't have to listen to it.
A small, robed man walked in ahead of Merman, who was holding his trident menacingly. It would have been more convincing if the man had appeared even slightly intimidated. Instead, he looked straight at Skeletor without a hint of fear. He seemed to be appraising him.
Skeletor demanded of Merman, "What have you dragged this in here for? He wouldn't even make a mouthful for Panthor."
Merman drew in a breath to speak, but the man answered before his captor could. "Skeletor, I came here to make an offer to you. Will you listen?"
"Why should I?" he replied disdainfully.
"It would cost you nothing but a few minutes of your time," the man replied calmly.
Skeletor reached to the side to stroke Panthor's head. The cat, its eyes never leaving the robed man, lifted its head to press against the hand. "Maybe he would be a mouthful after all," Skeletor said. "Go ahead."
The man began, "You seek power. Of several kinds, but it is all means to one end. Domination. To that end, you have sought to increase your command of magic."
"That's news," Merman murmured to himself. He could almost smell his scales sizzling from the bolt Skeletor was likely to gift him with. Maybe this wasn't a smart idea after all.
"I seek magical power, but only for its own end. I have no desire to compete with you, nor to join you. I have a proposal for a temporary alliance which would benefit us both. I am a mage of considerable ability, and I can tap into the power that permeates this mountain, barely under control."
"Oh, can you," Skeletor said. The human had hit a nerve. The pit the Snake Men had been trapped in was still there. Serpos itself, the three headed snake that enwrapped the mountain, was a snake god - turned to stone, but not dead. It had been revived once. Skeletor did not want to see that happen again!
"Yes, I can," the human answered. "I am skilled in necromancy, the branch of magic that controls death and life. It is well known that there is magic in murder. Can you imagine how much power would be released by the death of a god?"
Merman tensed, ready to flee.
Skeletor leaned forward. "What an interesting idea. Now, do you have any thoughts about to do this without destroying Snake Mountain and killing us all?!"
"Yes. Gods are magical beings. They cannot live without magic any more than you or I could live without air." He lifted his hand, the back of which was startlingly tattooed; a silhouette of Snake Mountain appeared above it. The triple-headed serpent coiled around the mountain glowed a faint green. "I know a way to drain its power, and thus its life." The green began to flow out of the snake, into the man's palm, where it formed a small, intense point of light. "Once its power is gone, Serpos will be stone forever. Snake Mountain could never again come to life." The mountain's image disappeared. "And you would have the god's power," he said, holding out his hand as if offering the bright spark.
Skeletor rubbed the bone of his chin with his hand. This was intriguing. Skeletor would certainly be happy to see Serpos dead; there was something unpleasant in knowing that you lived in the body of a god. If it came to life, and swallowed... but he did not trust this man. Nobody came offering such power without a price! "And how do I know that you wouldn't take the power for yourself?" he snapped.
The man answered, "My name is D'Sparil. Have you heard of me?"
"That is because I am not as ambitious as you are. Surely if I sought as much power as you do, I would have earned some fame by now."
"You don't believe that, do you?" Evil-Lyn said, stepping into the room. She had heard that Merman had taken a prisoner, and had sensed his power before she had seen him. Another sorcerer? As if Count Marzo wasn't bad enough!
"Ah, Evil-Lyn. Just the one I wanted to see. What do you think of his plan?" Skeletor inquired.
"What makes you think he can do what he says? All he's shown you is one illusion." She turned and glared at him. "I say he's a spy!"
"I am not a spy or a competitor," he said, meeting Evil-Lyn's eyes calmly. "But she has raised an important point. Shall I demonstrate my skills?"
Staff in hand, she said, "Yes, please do," with an unpleasant smile.
D'Sparil looked back to Skeletor. "Then I shall. But first-" He extended a hand. A glowing force appeared in front of Skeletor's throne.
Skeletor leapt up. "What is this! -
"Merely a shield to prevent accidental harm to you if this becomes messy. It is open in back."
Skeletor looked around. It was true, the force was only a half-sphere, not a confinement. He was about to speak when Evil-Lyn pointed her staff and shot several bolts toward D'Sparil.
The bolts faded before they reached him. "Please. A contest of skill rather than brute force would be more appropriate, would it not?"
"If you want skill, then you shall see it!" She lifted her staff. The head began to glow. D'Sparil pointed at it, and the glow flowed into his fingers, first in a thread, then as a widening stream. Evil-Lyn felt the spell she was trying to complete fading even as she cast it.
Skeletor was impressed. This man was draining Evil-Lyn's magic, just as he had proposed to drain Serpos's power. The more she tried to fight it, the stronger the drain became. How far would he push this?
Evil-Lyn changed tactics. She first created a barrier, but only as a misdirection - next she cast a reflection spell, to turn D'Sparil's magic back on himself. However, D'Sparil ended his attack just as she cast her second spell. He said to Skeletor, "Her defensive spells should prove my point. She could not attack me as long as I was stealing the power from her spells. A dirty trick, I admit. I hope you will bear me no grudge." He said the last sentence to Evil-Lyn. He held his hand out, palm upward, and the power he had drained flowed back into her staff.
"And you could do this to Serpos, leaving it no more than cold stone?" Skeletor said, leaning forward in his throne.
"Yes. Snake Mountain would no longer be a threat, but a monument to your power."
"I like this idea. Evil-Lyn! Assist him," Skeletor ordered.
Evil-Lyn turned a startled glare at Skeletor. D'Sparil said, "I do not need her help. I have apprentices who will assist me. But if she wishes, she is welcome to work with them."
That was enough for her. She turned and, without a word, strode out of the throne room.
D'Sparil said, "Please, do not be harsh with her. I fear she may take my presence here as a threat to her own position. She need not. I have no intent to replace her."
Skeletor was looking at the passageway Evil-Lyn had left through, a faint red glow in the back of his empty eye sockets. "It might not be a bad idea, though," he muttered.
D'Sparil affected not to hear. "Shall I begin preparations?"
"Yes! Start your spells - but I will be watching!"
"As is wise. I will begin." he said, his nod low enough to be taken as an abbreviated bow.
Orko had shown Dree Elle a bit of the city, which was now not in the best shape. The city had been attacked by a gigantic three-headed lava-spitting snake, he explained, which kinda messed things up. Repairs would take a while because they couldn't restore it magically. Why? They just didn't do things that way here. They used machines instead of magic. Dree Elle found that incomprehensible. Orko remembered being just as baffled when he first came to Eternia. It had taken years for him to get used to it.
She suggested they return to the garden, where it was quiet. Orko agreed, hiding his reluctance as best he could. If only she had caught him anywhere else!
They perched side by side on the sundial in the center of the garden. The metal was warm from the sun, but not uncomfortably so. She looked at the variety of alien flowers and plants. "They don't look anything like flowers on Trolla. And the plants are green."
"Yeah. All plants are green here. Uh, maybe it's the color of the sunlight." He looked away, his ears tilted back slightly.
"Are you embarrassed about this garden?"
Her question surprised him. He looked over. She patted his hand and told him, "Don't be. This is beautiful."
"Heh, thanks. It's not really hard, once you get the hang of it. Well, until you get the hang of it it is kinda tough."
"Is this your hobby?"
"Well... sort of. I'm still the Court Magician and Jester, but that still leaves me a lotta free time. Nobody'd been taking care of the garden for a while, so I gave it a try." He looked away. "I nearly killed it at first 'cause I was using magic on it, and, well, that was kinda overkill. But Moss Man - he's a plant guy - taught me some stuff. How much to water 'em, a little each day, pull out the weeds so they don't choke the plants you want, plant food, when to cut 'em back, that kind of thing." He shrugged. "Well, I do use a little magic to keep bugs out."
"I didn't know it was so complicated to raise plants. But then, I was never very good at it."
Orko was surprised. She actually sounded impressed. Well... he had done a pretty good job here, he knew. Maybe it wasn't a big accomplishment, but it was his.
After a few moments of silence he asked, "Dree Elle... why'd you come back?"
"I told you. I wanted to come back. I wanted to see you again."
"Even after everything that happened to you?"
"I was afraid then. I didn't know what was happening. I feel silly about how helpless I acted."
"You shouldn't be! Getting thrown into a new world like that - sheesh, I sure was lost when it happened to me. And then getting caught and drained - that had to be the worst thing that's ever happened to you."
She paused before she answered. "After I went back to Trolla I rested and recovered. My magic came back just like you said it would. My family was so worried about me, even after I got better. I told them what happened here. They didn't believe me. They thought I was out of my mind."
"Couldn't they just have someone put a truth spell on you so you could tell 'em?"
She looked away. "My family doesn't do things like that."
Now she was embarrassed. "Why wouldn't they?"
She looked back at him. She had to explain it all, or the rest of the story wouldn't make any sense. "My family doesn't trust sorcerers. They believe that you can't trust anyone with that much power."
Orko had no answer for this. Reluctantly she continued. "I tried to prove I met you by telling them who you asked me to contact. They knew who he is. And that made them even more worried, because then they believed that you saved my life. And they thought..." She closed her eyes.
"What'd they think?"
Without opening her eyes she said, "They thought you might have put me under obligation. If one person saves another's life, they can ask anything they want."
He protested, "Yeah, but - but, sheesh, who actually does that? That's just in stories now!"
"It's the lore. They... didn't believe me when I told them that you had asked nothing except that I tell your family where you are. When they wanted... I left home when they tried to find out themselves, have me examined."
Orko said in disbelief, "They thought I - what kind of a jerk would-?!"
She laid her hand on his. "They were afraid for me. They thought they'd have trouble finding someone for me to marry if there was any question about whether I'd been... mistreated. I got so angry because they wouldn't believe me that I left home. They didn't think I would. I never have before. And it wasn't hard to find your uncle. I recognized him from the picture in your room. Why didn't you tell me he was with the Crimson Council?"
Orko's eyes widened. "He is? That musta happened after I came here!"
"He was very nice to me. I could tell that at first he didn't believe me either, but I let him look at my memories and see for himself." She laughed quietly. "If only my family had done that. I stayed with him for a while. I was hiding from my family, I guess. He taught me a few healing spells. He wanted me to tell him all about you. When I told him that you'd lost your wand, he had someone make you another just like the first one. And after that someone had to bring it over, didn't they?" She smiled.
"Yeah. How is he? Is he all right?"
"Yes, he's fine. I know he's old, but he doesn't act like it."
Orko laughed. "That's my unc."
"He asked why you didn't come back. I told him what you told me. That there was something here that was more important than anything that you could have done on Trolla, even if you were only a small part of it."
"What'd he say?"
"He thought about that for a while. Then he said he thinks you're doing the right thing."
"Aw..." He didn't know what to say. His uncle's approval made him feel much better.
"He didn't ask me to take the wand to you. I asked him if I could. I think he was expecting me to, though. He told me later that since I've already been here once, it's easier to send me back."
"Yeah. It's a thing about magic - the first time, something's hard, but the more times it happens the easier it is." Like a beaten path, but he didn't say so - that was an Eternian metaphor, and would make little sense to a floating Trollan.
"So... here I am." She smiled. "Orko... I thought about what you said. You didn't want to go back to Trolla because you wouldn't matter so much there, but here you do." She was phrasing that badly, she knew, but she continued. "Back home, I'm just another pretty girl. In my family, ladies don't work. We're pretty and can make conversation and get married and have families. Some women like it that way. I never really thought about it before, but after I met you... I started feeling like I was ornamental and useless."
"No, you're not! You're-"
He hesitated, and she interrupted before he could fumble for the next word. "Maybe I grew up a little. I decided that maybe I didn't want to be ornamental. Anyone can be pretty if they don't do anything." She turned one of her hands palm up. It was soft and smooth, unmarred by experience. She looked at it, then said to him, "At least I brought you your wand. It may not be much, but it's something, and I'm glad I did it."
He didn't know what to say to that. Hesitantly he laid his hand on hers. She clasped it.
D'Sparil walked out of Snake Mountain on foot. He was certain they were watching him. Undoubtedly the sorceress was; he'd made an enemy of her. Better an enemy who would stay out of the way long enough than an ally to obstruct your plans with her presence. He closed his eyes and spent several moments picturing the city of Eternos from above, as he and Tengu had seen it. Then he slapped his hands together, hard, at arm's length.
The doomseeker that had been following him stopped, pointing at the spot where he had disappeared.
D'Sparil appeared in his normal form above the city. The wind this high was uncomfortably cold on his face. He took his silver mask out of his sleeve and fitted it in place, then descended toward Eternos.
He was met partway by a rising red-robed figure. Tengu asked, "Did it work?"
"Better than I had expected," D'Sparil answered. "I will need Orko's assistance for what I have in mind. I will tell you both about it."
"Last I saw him, he was in the garden with Dree Elle," Tengu offered.
"As to be expected."
Orko and Dree Elle had stopped talking, and were just sitting in the garden leaning against the ridge of the sundial, hand in hand. They had things to talk about, but they didn't feel like speaking right now. It was enough just to be together.
Tengu and D'Sparil drifted down from above. When Orko and Dree Elle saw that they were coming towards them, they parted hands. When he was on their level D'Sparil said to them, "Pardon the interruption. I need to borrow Orko for a moment."
"Uh, sure. What's up?" Orko asked.
"Come with me, please." He said to Dree Elle, "Sorcerers' shop talk, you understand."
The three rose into the air. Dree Elle stayed behind. She didn't think she did "understand," but would put that aside for now.
The three Trollans perched on the flat roof of one of the buildings. D'Sparil began, "I have paid a visit to Snake Mountain-"
"You what?" Orko exclaimed.
D'Sparil ignored the interruption. "It's quite a concentration of magical power. No wonder those creatures gravitated to it, although I doubt that they are aware of that. I have also found a way to pull that snake's fangs."
Orko thought, what a way to put that. He hadn't been here when that snake actually came to life! Tengu asked, "How?"
"Skeletor is partially a magical being; no normal creature could live with a flayed head, not to mention speak clearly without lips or tongue. Thus, he could not live without magic. From Dree Elle's description, many of the other creatures living there must be magical to some degree. If so, the solution is simple. Eliminate their source of magical energy. Those who did not perish would be disorganized and thus easier for the people of this world to deal with once and for all."
"How can you do that?" Tengu asked.
D'Sparil answered coolly, "An application of a few simple principles. Drain the magic from Snake Mountain and the surrounding area."
Orko frowned. That didn't sound right to him. "I think I get what you're saying, but-"
"But draining an area of magic seems like an extreme measure?" D'Sparil asked.
"It is extreme," D'Sparil acknowledged. "However, remember who we are talking about. They have been making war against the rest of the world. How many have died in the course of that war? Perhaps it would be more 'sporting' to defeat them in an open battle - but that would be cold comfort to the families of those who died as a result."
It made sense, Orko admitted to himself reluctantly. They'd tried to seal them in with the Mystic Wall, and eventually they had gotten through. If that couldn't keep them back, what could?
D'Sparil told them, "As cruel as it may sound, there is no way to ensure the safety of both the guilty and the innocent. Compassion is an admirable quality, but it can be misguided. If Skeletor is left alive, he will return to fight. The cycle would begin anew."
"You're talking about killing him?" Orko asked, still having a hard time believing it.
"Yes. Given all that he has done, can you truly believe that he deserves to continue to live? He has caused the deaths of many others. He would have killed Dree Elle but for you."
"Well, yeah." And Orko hated Skeletor for that. D'Sparil was right, he admitted to himself. Eternia would be a better place with Skeletor gone.
"It is fortunate that Snake Mountain is in such an isolated location. We will be able to drain it without risk to others." He looked at Tengu and Orko in turn. "It will take all three of us to work this spell. I will cast it. I will need both of you to stabilize it."
"What spell will you use?" Orko asked.
"The Warlock's Wheel."
Orko's eyes widened. "You can't use that! Nobody's done that spell in - in I don't know how long!'
D'Sparil nodded calmly. "Yes, it's banned, and for good reason. It destroys the magic in the area in which it's used, creating a deathtrap. However, it is forbidden on Trolla, not here, and for reasons which do not apply to this world. Think of it this way - to improve the health of a garden plant, you must prune away diseased limbs."
Tengu spoke up. "He's right, Orko. It sounds bad to me too, but think about it. It's gotta be worse in the long run, just letting them do whatever they want, doesn't it?"
D'Sparil commented, "This world had been at peace for a long time. The habits that are appropriate during peace are harmful during war. The pacifists here still believe that it is possible to defeat those such as Skeletor without killing them. I've looked into Skeletor's mind. It isn't possible to tame him. They don't understand that. If they truly are that naive, then they need someone to do what they cannot bring themselves to do."
"Yeah," Orko replied, reluctantly nodding agreement.
"I will prepare for the spell and come for you when I am ready. You must not tell anyone here what we plan to do. The Warlock's Wheel is a dangerous spell, and it must not get into the hands of innocents. Even on this planet, it could cause disaster in the wrong hands."
"Don't worry. I'm good at keeping secrets," Orko told him.
Dree Elle watched insects buzzing among the flowers in the garden. The plants weren't trying to defend themselves, so she guessed that these bugs were harmless.
Orko was not gone for very long. He flew back down to her and said, "Sorry 'bout that."
"You sound excited."
Orko sat beside her again. "Well, yeah. D'Sparil had an idea. We're gonna do something that'll keep Skeletor from hurting anyone ever again."
"How?" she asked, interested.
"Um. I can't tell you yet. I wish I could," he said uncomfortably. "But we'll do it soon, and then everyone'll know, I guess. And this world'll be safe. He won't be able to kidnap anyone ever again."
He sounded so earnest. She said, "I believe you."
"Thanks." He paused a few seconds, then said, "Hey, um - it's about lunchtime. Wanna see a trick?"
Puzzled by the non-sequitur, she answered "Okay."
Orko said a quick word and drew his hand across his scarf. Then he reached back and undid the knot that held it in place. Automatically Dree Elle looked away. Orko said, "No, it's all right, you can watch." When she looked back, he removed his scarf.
"You were wearing two scarves?" she asked, puzzled.
Orko laughed. "Nah, it's an illusion spell. It looks like I'm wearing a scarf but I'm not. It doesn't matter as long as nobody can see my face, right? I figured this out so I wouldn't starve."
"Now that you explain it, that makes sense," Dree Elle replied, sounding impressed.
"It lasts until I put my scarf back on. Want me to do that for your veil?" he offered.
He spoke the same word and touched her veil very lightly, as if shy about coming so close to her face. She looked at the reflective surface of the sundial and hesitantly detached her veil on one side. When she took it down, it still appeared to be in place. When she removed her veil completely her face felt bare and cool.
Orko was grinning as he stuffed his scarf into his sleeve pocket. "Pretty handy, huh? It's easy, too. I can teach you that one if you want."
"All right," she answered, also putting her veil in her sleeve pocket. She could reach it quickly in case she needed it. "Is the food on this world safe?"
"Yeah. I've been here years and nothing's poisoned me yet. You just gotta get used to how things taste, that's all," he assured her.
Lunch was an informal affair, attended by whoever was there and wasn't taken up with other projects. Assorted Masters were scattered about the table, talking in groups of two or three as they ate. Prince Adam sat at one end, slipping occasional tidbits to Cringer, who was lying by his chair and looking up attentively. Adam was facing the door, so he saw Orko and Dree Elle enter, and waved to them.
Dree Elle recognized few of the people here. She'd seen Adam and Man-at-Arms earlier, but except for the large, helmeted man who was busy savaging a large drumstick, none of the others was familiar. She remembered being intimidated by him when they'd met. She'd been intimidated by everything back then.
They claimed two spots. Orko said, "Everybody, this is Dree Elle. She came over from Trolla to visit."
There were murmurs of friendly greeting. Dree Elle waved shyly. Adam commented, "I saw the others hanging around. You know, if Dad finds out he's gonna want to make a treaty with Trolla."
Orko laughed. King Randor had been setting up alliances with all of the other peoples on Eternia he could, to make for a stronger resistance to any new attacks, and to ease tensions in general. Trolla was a little far away for that, though! He reached into his sleeve and brought out his wand. "She also brought me this!"
Nobody looked particularly impressed. Dree Elle understood why - if you didn't know much about magic you wouldn't know how important a wand was to a magician. For a moment she wondered why some looked apprehensive. Then she remembered what Orko had told her about the magic here.
Orko waved the wand around in a series of bird-quick movements. The candle flames started burning higher. Man-at-Arms said warningly, "Orko-"
"Relax, I know what I'm doing." The flames detached themselves from the many candles on the table and joined together in a sphere in the air above. The ball of fire unfolded, revealing a pair of wings, a head, and a long, trailing tail. It swooped around the room, its fiery wings brushing harmlessly against wall hangings and fixtures, before coming in for a landing in the center of the table. It huddled into a ball for a few moments, then brightened before disappearing in a flare of light. Small flames flew into the air and settled back on the candle wicks.
Orko grinned, flourishing his wand. Man-at-Arms said, "Orko, you could have set the place on fire! Again!"
"Uh-uh. Now that I have this, my magic can't get away from me!" Orko twirled the wand briefly between his fingers. It slipped from his hand and clattered onto the table. He scooped it up again and glanced around sheepishly.
As Orko was putting the wand back in his sleeve Adam became aware of a weight on his feet. He looked under the table. Cringer had hidden there, curled around Adam's chair for safety. His golden eyes were peering apprehensively out of the darkness. "It's all right, fraidy cat," Adam said, trying to push the tiger with his legs. Cringer reluctantly came out from under the table. He had hidden as soon as he saw the fires start to behave weirdly. Now he raised his head over the edge of the table and sniffed. Nothing was burnt. He took the opportunity to liberate a breadroll that Adam had dropped.
Dree Elle startled when she saw the animal look over the table. Adam was ready for her reaction; Cringer had that effect on anyone who didn't know him. He petted the tiger and said, "This is Cringer, my fearless friend," in a tone of irony.
"I see," she said quietly. She could tell the animal was a predator; she'd seen its teeth. She wouldn't ask if it was safe. If it was dangerous it wouldn't be here, she reasoned, and to ask if it was would be an insult to her host. It still made her nervous knowing that it was lurking under the table, though.
Orko added, "Don't worry, he's more scared of you than you are of him. He's more scared of his shadow than you are of him." Grinning, he reached for Dree Elle's hand under the table and squeezed it.
D'Sparil and Tengu appeared in the middle of a bleak landscape. While Tengu looked around, D'Sparil pulled a heavy metal disk with a hollow center out of the pocket of holding in his sleeve. He laid the disc, which was the size of a serving platter, on the ground, then took out a small rodlike tool with a cone-shaped gem on the end. Tengu looked over when the gem began to shine. D'Sparil lowered himself to the surface of the disc and began muttering and etching it with the gem. He was concentrating now, and Tengu knew better than to distract him.
Forbidden magic. This wasn't the first time D'Sparil had done such spells. Many spells were forbidden for a reason - but spells themselves are neither good nor evil, and if the spell that is needed is a banned one, then use it in secret, or disguised as another. D'Sparil had often reminded him that most medicines are poisons, if used incorrectly.
Tengu looked up at Snake Mountain. Even if he hadn't known that the monster wrapped around it was an imprisoned god it would still be frightening. He could sense the power within. And it felt malignant, twisted. If he didn't know better, that magical force is morally neutral, he would call it evil. After Orko had left D'Sparil had likened this to burning out a nest of vermin. That was an awfully huge nest!
D'Sparil etched the disc deliberately and unhurriedly, speaking the words as he wrote them. With a steady hand he then drew several grooves from the outer edge to the inner. Then he turned the disc and continued decorating it with writing and runes.
When Tengu saw something small and shiny approach them from high in the sky, he said, "Master."
D'Sparil looked briefly through Tengu's eyes and saw the device. "A form of surveillance, I'm sure." An image of two humans appeared within Tengu's mind, so vivid that he almost thought he was seeing it with his eyes. D'Sparil was casting a disguise spell. "Maintain that."
"Yes." Tengu had little talent at casting spells, but he could hold one that had been cast by another. He focused part of his mind on the picture while watching the flying metal thing.
D'Sparil finished carving with no further interruptions. He reached into another pocket of holding and drew out a handful of raw gemstones. He looked through them carefully, picking them up and inspecting each one. He would need something strong and dense for this. Finally he selected a clear crystal, one that most people would pass over. It wasn't as photogenic as the colored ones, but it was sizeable and unflawed. It would support the spell.
He held the stone in the fist-sized hole at the center of the disc. When he released it, it stayed in place, as if attached to the device. "Watch this."
Tengu knew what D'Sparil meant. He focused his attention on the magical aura of the disc. It was dull now, even the gem in the center. D'Sparil picked up the disc, hung it horizontally in the air like a small table, and spun it. The disc remained neutral except for the radial lines. Those brightened as power flowed down them from outside.
D'Sparil did not ask Tengu what he had seen; he'd been watching through Tengu's eyes. "This will do," he said, and gripped the edge of the wheel to halt it. He slipped the device back into his sleeve pocket.
"Where did he put that?" Tri-Klops asked.
"Magical pockets. The inside is somewhere else," Evil-Lyn answered. Every sorcerer had a few of those in one form or another, or they'd collapse under the weight of all the magical items they needed.
That made little sense to Tri-Klops, but he wasn't interested enough to ask. Evil-Lyn was leaning back against the wall, arms folded, glaring at the image that the Doomseeker was projecting. "What were they doing?"
"I don't know." They were not preparing any spell that she was familiar with, and she could get no sense of the magic just looking at an image. Then she smiled. "But I know what to do about it."
It was too soon for Orko and Dree Elle when Tengu sought them out. "Hi. Sorry to bust in on you, but D'Sparil's got the spell all set up. He told me to come get you."
"Already?" Orko asked.
Orko glanced at Dree Elle apologetically. "I hope this won't take long. I'll be back as fast as I can."
"I understand," she answered simply.
Tengu touched Orko's sleeve. Both vanished.
They appeared at the base of Snake Mountain, by one of the coils of the tail. D'Sparil told them, "This is likely to take some time. Some spells can't be rushed. Not safely."
Orko floated higher to look at the disc from above. "Is this the Wheel?" he asked, his voice hushed.
"Yes, it is. Did you expect something different?" D'Sparil answered, sounding amused.
"Well... I guess I thought it'd be bigger." Or older, or more important looking somehow. Not something like a decorated dinner tray.
"Tools are aids to casting spells, not the spells themselves. It would perhaps be possible to cast the spell without the Wheel, but first I would need more practice than I am likely to get."
"Both of you, listen to me," D'Sparil said in a quiet voice. He floated back from the disc several feet, then pointed across the disc at two places. "Position yourselves. Make a balanced triangle." Orko and Tengu took the places he indicated.
He had their complete attention now. He said, "Take out your wands." Orko pulled his out of his sleeve and held it at the ready. Tengu had a simple rod. D'Sparil took out of his sleeve a tool like a knife, with three points like the tines of a trident. The blades were aligned, the ones on the sides set back from the center one, and between the blades and the handle was a metal crossbar. Orko had never seen a ceremonial knife like that. D'Sparil must practice a branch of magic Orko had never even heard of.
"Put distractions out of your mind," he told them. "Forget them-" he gestured with the knife up at Snake Mountain. "They cannot touch us. Forget irrelevancies and distractions. For the moment, forget Dree Elle, please."
Orko startled. He had been thinking about her. "Sorry."
"The only thing that is real right now is this spell. It requires your complete concentration. I will cast it, you will both stabilize it. You will keep the flow of energy steady, and thus keep us all protected by the spell and from the spell." D'Sparil was speaking in a low, rhythmic cadence, almost a chant. "Concentrate. Put everything else out of your minds. I will direct you."
Orko gripped his wand tightly. D'Sparil reached forward with his free hand and started the disc spinning.
Evil-Lyn was watching from the mouth of one of the mountain's snake heads. A Doomseeker was still monitoring them, but she had no interest in what it could show her. She could only "see" the spell's magic with her own eyes.
Power was being drawn toward the three casting the spell. She could not sense much else from this distance. All she could tell was the color of their clothing, which was irrelevant. She was interested in the magic, not the casters.
Another Doomseeker flew close to her and spoke with Tri-Klops's voice. "Take a look at this."
"I'm not -" She stopped when the view it projected closed in on the three casting the spell, then expanded the view. She recognized the one casting the spell by his tattooed hands. But he was no longer human! All three were of the same race as the court jester, who was among them. "A disguise spell!" she said.
"They were human one moment, and looked like this the next," Tri-Klops told her.
"If it is drawing power, it would feed on the closest spells first." And if they did not take care to maintain a disguise spell, the power fueling the spell would be devoured first, breaking the spell. She raised her staff and fired a small burst of power at D'Sparil. The bolt veered off course and dissolved before striking the disc.
She smiled nastily. Now she knew what they were doing. Right under Skeletor's nose, metaphorically speaking. One thing about those creatures, they had audacity if little else. She lowered her staff and vanished.
She appeared outside Castle Grayskull. She strode up to the ledge leading to the jawbridge and shot a bolt at the door from her staff.
She was not kept waiting for long. She only had to plink at the castle a few times before the Sorceress put up a defensive spell, and after that it was only a matter of time before He-Man came running. Or flying, as he and his pet arrived on a Battle Hawk this time. As soon as it was grounded, she said "Right on time."
He stepped out of the vehicle and posed with his sword. "What makes you think you can get into Castle Grayskull by yourself this time, Evil-Lyn?" he said as a challenge. Battle Cat growled on cue.
"Nothing. I just wanted to get your attention. I have an invitation for you to Snake Mountain," she said.
"This wouldn't be some sort of trap, would it?" he asked sarcastically.
She laid a hand on her chest. "Would I do that?"
"What do you want, Evil-Lyn?" he asked, folding his arms.
"Your help. We have some vermin at Snake Mountain."
He grinned. "Snake Men?"
Smiling back, she answered, "Oh, much worse. And they have your court fool." She waved her staff and disappeared.
He-Man went back to the Battle Hawk and pressed a button on the dashboard. "Man-At-Arms."
"Here. What's happening?"
"I'm not sure. Where's Orko?"
There was a brief silence. He-Man imagined that Duncan was flicking through the views on the castle's surveillance monitors. Orko shouldn't be hard to locate; today he seemed to be wherever Duncan's last nerve was. Duncan answered, "I don't see him. Dree Elle's watching Roboto and Sy-Klone play chess."
"According to Evil-Lyn, someone's taken Orko to Snake Mountain. I'm going."
"I'll see if Dree Elle knows what's going on, and bring some reinforcements."
Dree Elle was not as interested in the game as she was in the players. There was very little mechanical technology on Trolla; machines were generally on the level of clockwork. She had come to accept that things like the vehicles they used here actually worked without magic. But here was a person made of - well, she still wanted to call it clockwork, though she knew it had to be much more complicated. It was the visible gears in the chest that reminded her of a child's toy. The other one playing might be a machine too; she hadn't decided, and it didn't seem like a polite thing to ask.
Roboto had explained the game rules and was narrating each of his moves to her. His voice was pleasant, if a little monotonous. The game would be easier to follow, she thought, if the pieces were easier to distinguish from above. They were only made to be seen from the side.
Man-at-Arms's voice interrupted one of the thoughtful silences between moves. "Dree Elle, do you know where Orko is?"
Surprised, she turned and answered, "He didn't say. Why do you ask?"
"Looks like he's gotten into something. Sy-Klone, Roboto-"
The two stood, leaving their game. Dree Elle wasn't going to volunteer information to Man-at-Arms at first, but if this was serious - "It was something about a spell. What's happened?"
"We don't know yet. Don't worry." The three started at a run toward the vehicle bay.
She flew after them. "What happened?!"
As he got into a flying machine, he said, "I'm not sure. Just hang tight, we'll deal with it."
She did not like his brusque tone. He started up the vehicle. As it began to lift off she darted into the back seat and hid in the footwell.
The wheel was spinning faster now. D'Sparil was controlling its speed, accelerating it gradually to increase the power of the spell without jeopardizing their control over it. Orko and Tengu, their wands aimed at the wheel and their free hands pointed at each other but not quite touching, completed the circuit, holding the force of the spell stable. They could feel the magical power flowing inward, around the spellcasters, through the wheel, and concentrating in the crystal in the middle. As the wheel spun faster and the spell strengthened, its range increased, drawing magic in from a larger area.
Now Skeletor was watching the image projected from one of Tri-Klops's Doomseekers. He saw first He-Man's Battle Hawk, then the other vehicles, set down. "Blast them! What are they doing here now?"
"What does it matter?" Evil-Lyn said from the darkness of a doorway. She was not pleased that Tri-Klops had come to Skeletor, though she had expected it. Tri-Klops was foolishly loyal. "Certainly magicians as powerful as they are can defend themselves."
"You think so, do you?" his empty eye sockets pinned her.
Unintimidated, she answered "I'm a witch. Of course I know." Hidden as she was in the shadows, she knew that Skeletor could not see her smirk.
When the vehicle landed, Dree Elle, shaken and thankful that she had survived the trip, looked over the back seat. She saw Orko, D'Sparil, and Tengu around a spinning disc. She could feel magic flowing into it like a rip tide. Her eyes widened. That could not be what she thought it was! She floated up higher, keeping well back so it would not pull her in, and saw from overhead that it was a Warlock's Wheel. Those were the stuff of horror stories, killing everything in their circles of power and creating deadly traps that would not heal for centuries! She flew back down and blurted out to the one she recognized as He-Man, "That's an evil spell! Somebody has to stop it!"
He was surprised to see her. So was Man-at-Arms, who hurried over. "What kind of spell is it?"
"It sucks magic in, and won't stop until everything near it is dead of magic. It'll kill everything near it!"
And it was at the very base of Snake Mountain "How near?"
Exasperated, she exclaimed, "I don't know! I'm not a sorcerer! Nobody's used one of those on Trolla in - in I don't know how long. They're forbidden! It'll kill them!"
A calm voice suggested, "If it only affects magic, I may be able to stop it."
He-Man looked at Dree Elle for confirmation. She looked back and forth between Roboto and the spellcasters. "I don't know."
Roboto started toward the Trollans. Orko saw him and, after a few moments, raised his wand slightly to point at Roboto across the plane of the wheel. When Roboto didn't stop, light lashed out from the crystal in the center, lanced between Tengu and D'Sparil, and speared Roboto through his upper leg. He toppled, his leg blown entirely off, sparks raining from severed wires.
"Roboto!" Man-at-Arms shouted.
"Where force fails, gentle persuasion may succeed," Sy-Klone said, He pointed his arms, and a sharp wind began to spiral around the disc. It tightened into a whirlwind, which threatened to sweep the Trollans and the wheel away, breaking the spell. They were soon fighting to keep their places. Orko looked at Sy-Klone, then he waved his wand in a quick circle. Their clothes, which had been blowing in the sudden gale, settled again as a bubble of calm air formed around them. Orko looked at the wheel again, concentrating hard to get back into the spell he was supposed to be stabilizing.
He-Man had mounted Battle Cat and drawn his sword. The tiger sprang forward before Dree Elle could shout a warning. She could sense that he was under some sort of enchantment - didn't he know that the wheel would devour that too?!
Battle Cat landed right behind D'Sparil. He-Man swung his sword and brought it down hard, intending to break the metal wheel. The sword bounced jarringly off of an invisible surface. A force sphere had to be shielding them from the wind. "Stop it! Do you know what you're doing?!"
D'Sparil spoke without turning his head. "Of course we do. You should leave before your enchantments are broken. We don't want to harm you."
He-Man looked at Orko, who was staring back with wide, confused eyes. When He-Man raised his sword again, Orko said, "He-Man! Don't!"
The sword bounced off the barrier again, but this time not as hard. The shield was weakening. If He-Man didn't stop it, if his Power Sword hit the wheel, the wheel would destroy it for sure! As he raised the sword a third time Orko pointed his wand.
"Orko, stop it!" Dree Elle shouted as she flew toward him. "What are you doing?!"
D'Sparil said to He-Man, "You are in grave danger. You cannot destroy the wheel by banging on it with your sword. The wheel's protective enchantments will hold it together. You can only do yourself harm."
Orko pointed his wand at the wheel and pleaded, "He-Man, don't!"
He-Man raised his sword again. Orko's wand snapped up. And Dree Elle reached past Orko's shoulder, grasped the wand, and tried to wrench it out of his hand.
She stiffened and jerked as the energy that Orko had been pouring into the spell burned through her body. Her eyes widened and she screamed in shock, but she continued pulling. Orko spun around, furious. She brought her other hand down hard on his wrist, and his grip loosened. She yanked the wand out of his hand.
D'Sparil seized Dree Elle by her upper arm and spun her around to face him. Startled, she lost her grip on the wand, and as it fell it was drawn into the wheel. "You idiot cowan!" he hissed at her. She looked dazed. He raised the three-pronged knife, his hand gripping it tightly, as if preparing to use it. Then he shoved her away and put the knife back in his sleeve. He flew away from the wheel, which was vibrating as it spun.
Orko seized Dree Elle's hand and pressed it between his own. He held on tightly as she screamed in pain. Then he released her and shouted, "Go! Get outta here!"
The wheel was now wobbling, and the ground beneath them was beginning to shudder. D'Sparil and Tengu had both fled. Dree Elle flew away, against the pull of the wheel, feeling weak and shaky, holding her hand protectively to her body. Orko looked at the destabilized wheel, then made a lifting motion with both hands. The wheel rose into the air. Orko got under it and raised both hands into the air above his head, and the wheel flew higher and higher, wobbling like a coin spinning on a table.
Dree Elle looked back down when she heard a low rumble. Orko was still where the wheel used to be, looking up, arms straight up as if holding something over his head. The wheel was rising slowly now. Orko dropped to the ground, which was now shaking, and fell to his hands and knees.
He got to his feet and looked wildly around. The wheel was falling! He started to run, trying to keep his feet from becoming entangled in the fabric of his skirt. A sudden wind blew by, and the wheel began to lift again, buoyed by a whirlwind.
The ground was splitting, and the lava stream that ran beneath the closest snake head was flowing into the cracks. Orko ran, holding up his skirt, trying to get ahead of the lava, trying to get out of the disc's area of effect.
Dree Elle watched as Orko desperately tried to flee on foot. He had lifted the disc as high as he could, and before he had gotten it out of the way it had sapped his power. He couldn't float!
A wide crack opened in front of Orko, and magma rushed into the new channel. Orko stopped before he could fall in. A human could have jumped over it, but a two-foot-tall Trollan didn't have a chance. His escape was blocked, and the wheel was still draining him. Things went vague, blurry, and he fought to keep his balance as the wheel sapped his life.
Battle Cat crouched, then sprang forward. He cleared the spreading threads of lava easily, landed behind Orko, and grabbed him by the back of his tunic. Then he leapt forward again. After he landed he jerked his head up, flipping Orko into the air. He-Man caught him. The Trollan was limp, unconscious.
Dree Elle's eyes widened when she realized what had happened; then, alarmed, she flew back into the lava field. The heat and fumes were thickening, making it hard to see. She looked around, darting this way and that, before finding what she was looking for. She snatched it up and flew back. Battle Cat, bearing He-Man and Orko, had already loped off into the distance. Man-at-Arms had put Roboto into the back seat of the Wind Raider. Sy-Klone was still standing his ground, his tornado lifting the disc ever higher.
He-Man rode Battle Cat, his legs absorbing the tiger's crouch-and-spring rhythm easily. He was holding Orko with one arm. He had always known Orko was small, but now the alien seemed tiny, no bigger than a two-year-old child. And, he noticed with surprise, Orko had lost his hat! But he was facing downward, so his face remained hidden. As Adam, he had always been curious about Orko's face. But to look at it now would be a betrayal. He did not turn him face up.
He-Man heard the explosion and felt the shockwave when the disc's spell finally tore itself apart. He did not know that Dree Elle had a death grip on the back of the saddle.
Skeletor was furious. He did not know where to begin. The red glow suffusing his eye sockets was a sure sign that the first person to draw his ire would suffer. Thus, Evil-Lyn and Tri-Klops remained silent while Skeletor ground his molars together.
Finally Skeletor snapped at Tri-Klops, "Turn that off!"
Tri-Klops deactivated the doomseeker's projector. It zipped away as if eager to escape from Skeletor's impending wrath.
"What just happened?!" he demanded of Evil-Lyn.
Carefully she replied, "It appears that D'Sparil was overconfident. He didn't expect anyone to interrupt him. A pity. His spell might have worked."
Tri-Klops glanced at Evil-Lyn. She sounded sincere, but he knew her better than that. Skeletor had to know her better, too, but he never seemed to learn from her many betrayals. Her smooth manner told Tri-Klops that she was not at all surprised, and he would bet his visor that she had something to do with this.
She could not resist. "It's not every day that He-Man comes to the rescue of Snake Mountain."
The glow in Skeletor's eye sockets intensified.
It was a dark and stormy night.
Well, it was dark. The storm sounds faded, like a bit of dream that had continued for a few seconds after awakening, leaving silence. The air was stale. Orko was lying on his back, his hat over his face.
He felt rotten. He was weak and sore, but much worse than that was the knowledge of what he had done. He had taken part on the casting of a banned spell. He hadn't minded that it would kill some of the people in Snake Mountain. He had attacked his friends! And at the time it had felt right. He had wanted to. Well, no, he hadn't wanted to hurt anybody. But the spell had been more important. What had he been thinking? If he hadn't come to his senses when Dree Elle had -
Now he felt worse. She would hate him after this. How could she not, after what she had seen? If she was lucky she was already back in Trolla. If she wasn't lucky D'Sparil had gone back, leaving her behind, and he'd have to ask the Sorceress to help again. Carefully he shifted his hat and threaded his ears through the holes in the brim, then tilted it back.
The room was brightly lit. He squinted, then blinked as his eyes adjusted. Now he saw that he was in the medical center in Eternos, dwarfed by the human-sized bed. He didn't remember getting hurt badly enough to be put here. He didn't remember anything that happened after the lava had blocked him... He startled when he felt a movement beside himself. Dree Elle was there, lying on her side. She was blinking blearily, having just awakened. "Dree Elle? Are you okay?"
"Yes," she said quietly. She pushed herself to a sitting position. She looked tired and frayed. "How are you?"
"I'm all right. Just tired," he said. Which wasn't really true, but never mind. "What happened to you?"
She looked at him strangely. "Nothing happened to me, Orko. You're the one we've been worried about. You stopped floating, and then you passed out and wouldn't wake up. It's because of that spell, isn't it?"
"Oh. Yeah." He didn't want to think about that now, but she did deserve an explanation. The problem was, he didn't have a good one. "The spell was going outta control. I tried to lift the disc so when the spell blew up it wouldn't hurt anyone, but it was sucking up my power, so I couldn't get it high enough, and it drained me." And it was pure luck that it hadn't killed him.
"I know how that feels," she reminded him gently.
"Yeah..." He put his hands to his face, the heels of his hands covering his eyes. "I can't believe what I was doing. That wheel would have killed people. I thought it was right to use it here because... because of who we were going to use it on. I zapped Roboto's leg off!" He was shivering.
She moved closer and put her hand on his back. "Man-at-Arms said he can fix him."
Orko had aimed for the leg because he had only wanted to stop Roboto, not really hurt him. After all, Roboto had been damaged much worse and then been repaired. And Orko hadn't been able to zap He-Man. He had been close, but he couldn't make himself actually do it. He might have, though, if Dree Elle hadn't broken the spell. "Dree... thanks for stopping me. I might've... done something worse."
"I'm sorry about your wand. I didn't mean it to go into the wheel. I dropped it," she said quietly.
She'd grabbed his wand while he was casting a spell! Quickly he lowered his hands from his face. "Let me see your hand."
She opened her right hand. The light blue palm and the insides of her fingers were crossed by several thick white lines. And, he realized, her skirt and sleeve on that side were spotted with dark splotches. Apologetically he said, "Oh no - I did the healing spell too quick, so it scarred over. I'm sorry."
He really looked hurt. She'd disrupted their spell and destroyed his wand, he had come close to being killed, and he was worried about a few scars. She looked at her hand, then gently told him, "I don't mind. I think I earned them."
"When you go back to Trolla, any good healer can fix that. I came here before I learned that part."
She closed her hand. "Maybe," she told him.
He felt miserable now. "What was I doing? D'Sparil didn't make me do anything. It just seemed like what he said was always right. Only when you broke the spell - then I realized, 'What'm I doing?'"
"Did he put a spell on you?"
Orko shook his head. "No. I'd feel it if he did." But he had suddenly realized what was going to happen as soon as the wheel had destroyed his wand. The wand? No. Putting a spell on someone's wand was just too rotten a trick.
She didn't think they were going to be able to answer that question now, so she pushed it aside. Her hand still on his back, she told him, "I know you're a kind person, Orko. Right after I ruined the spell and your wand you were so angry, but the first thing you did was heal my hand."
"I kinda wasn't thinking. I just did that automatically."
"That's what I mean."
He didn't look like he believed her. Or himself. Changing the subject, she said, "After you used up your power lifting the disc Sy-Klone pushed it higher with a tornado. Nobody got hurt when it blew up. He-Man carried you back on Battle Cat and brought you to the healers here. I didn't let them uncover your face." She didn't mention that she had rescued his hat - he didn't seem to know that he'd lost it in the first place, and he felt bad enough already. "They used a machine to look at your bones. I couldn't stop them."
He said in a resigned tone, "That's okay. They've done that before. They were just seeing if anything was broken."
"They said you didn't break or crack anything. You had a few burns and cuts. I healed them." She dropped her eyes shyly. "They didn't understand that the problem wasn't with your body, it was that you didn't have any magic, and they weren't doing anything about that! They were going to put things on your feet because they were hurt. I cast a healing spell so they wouldn't."
He blushed. Trollans didn't look at each other that way. But Eternians did, and they just didn't understand Trollan modesty. She'd done what she could to protect him while he was unconscious. "Thanks," he told her, and he meant it.
She looked back up, relieved. He said, "About the wand... don't worry about it. I'm glad you stopped that spell. And I've gone years without a wand anyway. I'm fine." He shrugged. He was trying to sound casual about it, but Dree Elle was not fooled. He had been so happy to finally be able to control his magic, and now it was gone again. There was nothing she could say or do about that.
They were quiet for a while. Then Dree Elle said softly, "Orko... do you think we could really see each other? Show faces?"
That surprised him. He looked at her - she looked calmly back, waiting for his answer. Then he said with a small laugh, "I was hoping you'd ask." And that was true, though he hadn't been thinking it just then.
Dree Elle tilted her head down and raised her hands to detach her veil. Then she removed her hood, tilting her ears back to slip them through the holes. Her long blonde hair was smooth and shiny where it had been protected by the hood. She laid it and her veil on the bed beside herself, then looked up at him with a shy smile. "Your turn."
He reached back and untied his scarf, then lifted off his hat. It was hard for him to look at her after he put then down; he felt shy and embarrassed. Nobody outside of his family had ever seen his face. When he lifted his eyes to meet hers, she smiled warmly. "You're cute."
"You're beautiful," he breathed.
She smiled more widely, and raised her scarred hand to his face. He let her touch his cheek. He was blushing indigo - but then, she knew she was too. They both had good reason to blush.
After a while, Dree Elle lowered her hand again. She reached for her hood, and Orko said quietly, "Dree - could you, um, not put that back on just yet?"
That surprised her. "All right."
"Thanks." He liked looking at her. She had a lovely smile. He wasn't worried that anyone would walk in on them, not at this time of night. He would be able to hear anyone approaching their room. Trollans have very good ears. "How're you going to get back to Trolla?" he asked her.
"D'Sparil was supposed to work the spell to pull us back. He flew away. He may have gone back on his own," she replied.
"I was afraid of that."
"I'm not worried about it right now," she told him.
He was glad to hear that. Maybe she'd stay here for a little while. He'd like that. He'd really like that.
"I feel sorry for Tengu," she said thoughtfully.
Orko shook his head. "Yeah. He always wanted to do magic, and this was the only way he could. Letting someone else do it through him."
"I hope he got away."
"Yeah." Orko reached for his hat. He tried to detach the crown from the brim so he could get something from inside. They would not come apart. He looked at it, surprised. "Huh. Something wrong here."
She knew she would have to tell him about that. "Orko - I think the wheel broke the enchantments on your clothes as well."
"Oh." That made sense, and he should have thought of it first. He reached into his sleeves; the pockets were no longer there. Everything in the magical spaces was gone. Rats. But there wasn't anything too important there anyway. Dree Elle was pretty smart, figuring that out just from the way -
If all the spells on his hat were gone, that means it no longer shadowed his face. She had been able to see his face all this time! Well, only the part between his scarf and the brim of his hat, but still-!
She could tell he'd figured it out. She laid a hand on his and said softly, "Some things are seen but not looked at."
He laughed nervously. "Uh, yeah." But it did make him feel a little better. "I can fix it." He turned the hat upside down and, holding it by the base of its crown, said a few words and drew his fingers quickly around the outside edge of the brim, as if sealing it. Then he put it on. "Did it work?"
His face was completely shadowed again. "Yes." She scolded, "You've been drained of your magic, you just woke up, I don't think you even have the power to float yet, and you used the tiny bit you've gotten back to fix your hat?"
She shook her head. She couldn't blame him, though. Nobody wanted to be caught barefaced. She took her cue to put her hood and veil back on, and he tied his scarf into place. His hands were a little unsteady; he was becoming tired. She said, "When I was weak, you gave me some of your magic. Can you take some of mine now?"
"Uh...." Orko looked uncomfortable. "That's... the kind of thing I really shouldn't do."
"Then show me how to give it to you the same way you did to me."
"I can't," he told her reluctantly. "That's the kinda spell that, if it got out of hand, could really hurt you. You don't ever teach beginners that one. It's that dangerous."
And he wouldn't take any of her power from her. As if it would hurt her to lose a little of the extra she had and would never use on spells. Was that a sorcerer's thing, or just male pride?
"Um... if you're close to me, some of it'll come to me by itself. It'll sort of diffuse over. Some already has, I bet," he said, sounding shy again.
"I think you're right." They both lay down. She had been with him since he had been brought here. It made her feel a little better. She could not do much, but she had helped him in some way.
When he had given her his magic, he had held her hand to create a path for it to flow through. Or maybe that hadn't been really necessary and he had just wanted to hold her hand... and maybe it didn't matter which it was. His hand, palm upward, was within reach... She laid her hand on his. He opened his eyes, then clasped her hand, accepting her offer. Their hands touching, they closed their eyes to sleep.
All characters except Tengu and D'Sparil are copyright © Mattel. Tengu and D'Sparil are copyright © Kim McFarland. The Warlock's Wheel was swiped from Larry Niven's story "The Beginning of the End" and thus is copyright © Larry Niven. 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.