By Kim McFarland
A shadowy, robed shape floated over Eternos's buildings. Glowing, pale blue eyes looked around. When the figure had oriented itself, it flew over to a gap between the pale rooftops, then sank groundward through a wide horizontal ring supported by four pillars.
Below was a garden with a sundial in its center. He would not have been sure he was in the right place if not for the faint metal gleam of the sundial's center arm. He looked around nervously. There was no movement here besides himself; nobody was here to see him. He reached into the magical pocket in one of his robe's loose sleeves and drew out a long, thin box. The wood was polished, smooth in his hands. The catch was already locked, but he pressed it down with his thumb anyway.
He closed his eyes and floated silently for a bit, gathering his nerve. Then he lowered himself to the ground and, after inspecting the nearby plants, slipped the box in under some foliage. After another hesitant pause he rose up, through the circle above the garden, into the night sky.
It was a calm and sunny morning. Orko awakened when he heard people walking by the door. The noise was strange, echoey, not at all like the sounds he normally heard from his room. After a moment of disorientation he remembered that he was in the infirmary, where they had brought him after the Warlock's Wheel battle. Dree Elle was beside him, above the covers, also blinking muzzily. Her hand was still touching his.
So much had happened so quickly. Dree Elle had come back to Eternia, bringing with her two other mages and a wand for him. He had helped those mages cast a forbidden spell that had nearly obliterated Snake Mountain and killed everyone inside. His wand had been destroyed. And... they had shown faces.
She had a lovely face.
When she noticed his enthralled expression she smiled. She sat up, produced a hairbrush from a sleeve pocket, and lifted the back of her hood so she could neaten her hair. Orko said, "I don't know whether to wish yesterday was just a dream or not."
"It would be nice to be able to redo some of it," she agreed, still sounding sleepy. "How are you?"
He had been burnt and cut, but not too badly, which was amazing considering everything that had happened. "I don't hurt anywhere. The healing spells you did worked really well."
"Thanks," she replied, pleased. "How about your magic?"
He got to his feet and, with some effort, floated a few inches above the bed. Then he came down again. "I'm still really weak. I couldn't even make it to my rooms," he said, crestfallen.
"Do you want to stay here?"
He shook his head. "It's not like I'm sick or anything. They can't do anything to get my power back."
"Well then." She put the brush back in her sleeve pocket. Standing up, she drew her hands down the front of her tunic and skirt while speaking a simple spell. The fabric, wrinkled from being slept in, smoothed out again. Then she looked over the side of the bed. It was a fair drop; the bed was higher up than she was tall.
"What're you doing?"
She jumped down, levitating herself just enough to land softly. Then she held a hand up to him. "Why stay here if you don't need to?" she asked reasonably.
He stared down at her for a moment. She meant, walk? But - but he didn't know what to say to that. Reluctantly he jumped. He did have enough magic power to cushion his landing. Dree Elle took his hand. "Eternians make do this way," she told him with a smile.
"Yeah," he said uncomfortably.
She looked at the door, then raised her hand. The latch turned.
Even though few people were in the halls this early, Orko was mortified. Not only because he felt so tiny compared to the humans looming overhead, but because only powerless - mentally crippled - Trollans had to walk instead of floating. "Dirtyfeet" they were called, but rarely to their faces. They were the objects of pity, not derision. Even if this was only temporary for Orko, it was still humiliating. Dree Elle, on the other hand, looked as though none of that bothered her. She appeared not to notice the stares of the people they passed. Yet she had only been around Eternians for a few days, and he had lived among them for years!
Though it would only have taken a minute to fly to his room, walking seemed to take ages. When they reached their destination he pushed the door closed behind them with immeasurable relief.
"That wasn't so difficult," she observed.
He disagreed - all those people staring at him from up high! - but only said, "I don't ever want to do that again."
"Yes," she agreed, and squeezed his hand.
He glanced around. The room looked much worse from down here. "Er, sorry 'bout the mess..."
She shrugged. "I've seen worse."
"I do have a little brother." She grinned at him.
There was a tap at the door. Orko glanced over - the handle was higher than he could reach - then said, "Come in."
Adam stepped into the room. His surprise at seeing Orko standing on the floor showed in his face for a moment. Then, rather than talk down to him, Adam sat on the floor. "You had us worried yesterday. We couldn't wake you up. You all right now?"
Orko clasped his hands behind his back. "Yeah. All my magic got sucked out, and that's really bad for Trollans. If He-Man hadn't gotten me outta there..."
Adam grinned. "That's what heroes are for, isn't it?"
Orko did not relax. "Yeah, but... after what I did. I knew that spell was bad, but I did it anyway 'cause... it seemed right at the time. I don't know why! And then I blasted Roboto and nearly..." He closed his eyes and looked down, putting the brim of his hat between his face and Adam's.
Adam touched Orko's shoulder - lightly; at the moment the magician appeared smaller and more fragile than he ever had before. "Orko, you've never done anything to hurt anyone on purpose. You're not that kinda guy. He-Man's gotta know that. I'll bet he'd cut you some slack."
Orko looked up again. "You think so?"
"I've got a pretty good feeling." Adam said seriously.
"Thanks. I hope you're right." Orko did not sound cheerful, but he was at least relieved.
Poor guy, Adam thought. He takes it hard when he makes a mistake, and this really kicked the wind out of him. Magic is a part of Orko's life, so not even having enough to fly has got to be rough. Would he recover it? Somehow he didn't think it would be a good idea just come out and ask. So he took a different tack. "You gonna be all right?"
Orko forced a laugh. It sounded false. "Yeah. It'll come back to me in a few days. Thanks."
"Well..." Adam didn't know what else to say. "See you around, then."
Orko replied, "See ya," as Adam stood to leave.
Dree Elle said nothing at first after Adam left. Orko looked unhappy and fidgety. Cut off from his magic, what could he do? She knew from experience that lying back and waiting to regain lost power is not good for morale.
Orko didn't know what to say. He wanted to be good company for Dree. He didn't want to mope around. But he couldn't push what he had done out of his mind even for a second. Adam and Dree seemed to have forgiven him, but he didn't know if he could forgive himself.
Dree broke the tense silence. "I'd like to go out to the garden."
"Oh. Okay," he answered. It had to be more cheerful out there than it was in here.
She held out a hand to him. "If you hold my hand I can help you float, can't I?"
That was true, of course. He'd helped her float that way. Though he didn't want to draw on her power, it would be rude to refuse that small an offer. "Yeah," he said, and took her hand. They both rose into the air.
At first Orko was just as uneasy in the garden. But, as she had hoped, he began to relax when he saw that she was not patronizing him. He started by telling her about the different kinds of plants, some of which were similar to Trollan ones, and others which were very alien. As they talked about the garden - which was, as Dree had guessed, a safe topic - he began to sound more upbeat. That this was also a good place to absorb magic didn't hurt at all.
Then she startled him by asking if she could help him tend it. "I don't know much about gardening, but perhaps you could teach me?"
"Well - sure, I mean, I started out not knowing much too. If you want to."
"I do. It'd be nice to help with something this pretty," she told him.
He couldn't switch to his gardening clothes now, not without his power. Nuts - those clothes were stored in one of his magical pockets, so when the pocket spells were destroyed, those clothes were lost. Oh well. They were cast-off children's clothing, easily replaced, and it's not as if his robe hadn't seen a lot of wear anyway. He scooted down from his perch on the sundial and said, "Well, for starters, ya gotta keep the place the plants grow in neat. That mostly means pulling up weeds that try and grow where they're not supposed to. They can choke the plants out. That's one thing I'm good at - Eternians are way up there, so they just see the tops of the plants, but if you can get down low it's easy to find stuff and pull it up. But better not do that now - there's thorns and stickers down there. You need gloves."
Dree Elle looked down at the space between the plant stems. It was like a miniature forest in there, with stems like tree trunks below a very low canopy. Then she crouched down and looked closer. "Is this supposed to be here?"
Carefully she reached between the stems and pulled out a long, narrow, flat box. It was the grayish-blue of Trollan wood. As she handed it to him he asked, "Isn't that what my wand came in?"
"It looks like it."
He flipped the catch up with a finger, then raised the lid. It was the same box; the inside had a recess for a wand. However, all that was inside was a tightly rolled piece of paper. Orko took that out and unrolled it. He had to crease it along the length to keep it from curling up in his hands. The writing was shaky, uneven, but not sloppy. The impression Orko got was that someone with normally neat handwriting had written this while badly upset.
Dree Elle watched silently as he read the letter. She reasoned that it must have been meant for Orko. Why else would it have been put here, in the case made for his wand?
After a few minutes he lowered the note and told Dree Elle, "It's from Tengu."
"Listen to this. 'I don't know where to start, I can't think right now. I'm sorry for everything that happened and my part in it. I never expected any of this. D'Sparil put a spell on your wand that would make you easier to convince. I didn't know what he was planning, I assumed that spell wasn't important, since it was such a minor one. He must have used that to make you help him with the Wheel. I don't have any excuse.
"'I wanted to believe D'Sparil knew what he was doing and wouldn't do anything wrong. He was the only one who would take me as an apprentice even though I am hopeless with magic. He would work spells through me, and that's as close as I ever got to real magery. Maybe you know what it's like, to want something so bad that you'd do anything for it. But I don't think you ever let it blind you like I did.
"'I don't know what he's going to do next. I wish I could help you, but the only thing I can do is make sure he never uses me again, and by now I've already done that. It's the only way I can pay my debt. Again, I'm sorry.'"
Neither spoke at first. Orko let the paper curl back up and returned it to the case. Both understood what Tengu had meant at the end. There was one way a Trollan could square away all proverbial obligations, both literal and figurative, and it would also put him beyond D'Sparil's reach. To fly straight up until you could go no higher, and blacked out, and came down again... It was a sad thing to do, but it was all Trollans' right to do with their own lives as they saw fit.
"He could have waited until morning. We coulda thought of something," Orko said helplessly.
"He wasn't a bad person at all," she agreed quietly.
"It was 'cause of what D'Sparil did with him. He twisted me up, he had to have twisted Tengu up even worse!" When he read that D'Sparil had bespelled his wand with a spell so small that Orko hadn't noticed it he had been outraged - but also relieved that at least some of the responsibility was lifted from his shoulders. Now he was becoming angry. "How'd he arrange for us to do the Wheel right at the base of Snake Mountain, right under Skeletor's nose, without them doing anything about it? They had to have known we were there!"
"I don't know," Dree Elle replied, confused by the abrupt change of subject.
"Maybe he messed with their minds too. I mean, he's sneaky. And he doesn't care if he kills people or uses forbidden magic. And he's still in Eternia somewhere!"
"Unless he went back to Trolla. He was supposed to pull all three of us back."
"Oh. Then... it won't be so easy for you to go back." Orko was hesitant to ask the Sorceress to create another gate back to Trolla. She was Grayskull's guardian, and if something happened while she was doing that, or if the power it took left her weak at the wrong time...
She laid a hand on his arm. "I'm not worried about that now," she told him softly.
He felt himself suddenly go warm. "Um. Yeah," he stammered. "But, we gotta tell her about this. If he goes after Grayskull next who knows what kinda rotten-"
Orko stopped speaking abruptly and looked around, his ears perked up as if listening for something. "What is it?" Dree Elle asked.
"I dunno. I felt a magical kinda wham. Didn't you?" He looked up at the sky.
She hadn't. "Wham?"
"Stay here," he said without looking down. Summoning as much power as he could, he rose into the air. Thankfully he had absorbed a little more magic while they had been outside. Not yet enough for him to cast spells if D'Sparil came back, though. And what else could that "wham" have been? So why wasn't Orko hiding now? He didn't know, and he wished he did.
Floating low over a roof to conserve power, Orko looked around. Nothing looked unusual. He did not sense anything strange any more; it was as if whatever happened had come and gone instantly. He doubted it, though. Stuff that simple hardly ever happened. He glanced down over the side of the roof, then after staring for a moment darted down. "Unc!"
Dree Elle heard the shout, and flew over in time to see Orko tackle a bearded, bespectacled Trollan.
Montork looked up in time to see the incoming red missile. He dodged to the right, just enough so that he could catch Orko and deflect his momentum into a spin.
"Uncle Montork! What're you doing there?" Orko exclaimed.
"At the moment, catching my breath," was the amused reply. "And here I was worried it might be difficult to find you."
"Uh, heh, sorry about that." Embarrassed, Orko pulled on his scarf with one finger.
"Never mind." He caught Orko in a hug. "You don't know how much I've missed you," he said softly.
"Me too," Orko replied just as quietly as he hugged back.
After a bit Montork pulled back and said, "I'd almost given up hope of ever seeing you again. Powerful magicians don't just drop out of sight like that."
Orko tried to joke, "You musta thought I fell down the Bottomless Hole of Trolla."
Montork paused before answering, "No... I had one reason to believe you were all right, though I couldn't figure how."
"You didn't get a feeling?" Montork nodded seriously. "Oh." What could Orko say about that?
Montork glanced down and saw Dree Elle watching. He beckoned to her, and she flew up to them. "I'm glad to see you're all right," he told her.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she responded lightly.
Orko and Montork exchanged glances. Orko said, "Unc sometimes gets, well, hunches."
Dree gave them both a questioning look. Montork explained, "If something drastic happens to those important to me, I'll usually feel something. Unfortunately, it doesn't get more specific than a general alarm."
Dree Elle had heard of things like this. "You can tell if something bad is going to happen?"
"No. It doesn't predict, it only tells me that something terrible has happened, but not what or to whom. And I got it soon after you, D'Sparil, and Tengu left Trolla to come here. What happened?"
Orko and Dree Elle looked at each other. Orko said, "We'd better sit down."
They flew over to on a nearby rooftop. Orko, who was standing on the roof rather than floating above it to conserve what little power he had, said nervously, "It got really bad. I don't know where to start."
"Well, where are D'Sparil and Tengu?"
Orko looked away, ashamed. "D'Sparil brought a Warlock's Wheel here. He used it, and because of a spell he cast on my wand I helped him."
Montork's ears slanted back in shock. Dree Elle said, "Orko, may I?" Orko nodded mutely. She turned to Montork. "D'Sparil seemed very intent on something as soon as he came here. He went to look around after we found Orko. I thought he was just curious about this world. However, soon he came back with a plan. And by the time he came here he had already spelled Orko's wand, and he did bring the Wheel here. He must have had this in mind since before we left Trolla."
"Where is your wand?" Montork asked Orko.
"The Wheel destroyed it," Orko answered miserably.
Dree Elle retrieved the box from her sleeve pocket, opened it, and took out the tightly coiled paper within. "We found this earlier today."
Montork took the paper, held it open, and read it. Then he was silent for a while before saying "I see."
"Unc... I'm sorry." Orko said in a small voice.
"No, Orko. I don't blame you for this. It takes skill to bespell a wand without affecting the magic that is already on it. And it takes more planning than I want to admit knowing about to use a Warlock's Wheel. D'Sparil has both the skill and the power - and if I had any idea that he could do something like this, I would never have sent him."
Orko hastened to explain. "The way he talked, it all made sense at the time. It was like he was going to gather in power that wasn't being used anyway, or that was being used for evil. Like it was a good thing to do. Tengu and I both believed him."
"He's very persuasive, especially when he has spells to help him along," Montork agreed. Then he asked Dree Elle, "Did he involve you in this?"
"No. After we got here he didn't say two words to me."
Montork thought, that fit. D'Sparil didn't have much to say to those who did not practice magic - and if he had been coaxing Orko along as a dupe, then she would have been an obstacle. He didn't think D'Sparil would harm her - but then, he hadn't expected him to possess a Warlock's Wheel either. How could he - and the rest of the Crimson Council - have misjudged him that badly? "I should have come myself instead of sending somebody else. What happened with the Wheel?"
"Dree - she stopped me. She got my wand, and that fouled up the spell. D'Sparil and Tengu flew away. When the wheel exploded it was high enough in the air that it didn't harm anyone."
Montork knew enough about the Warlock's Wheel to fill in the gaps in Orko's narration. "Good thinking."
"Um, it wasn't just me. I kinda ran outta power halfway. But there are some guys on this world..."
"Dree Elle mentioned them."
"Uh, yeah. Anyway, they did a lot of it, not me. Um, everyone's all right. Well, except Tengu. And we don't know where D'Sparil went."
Montork's ears were still slanted back. Though he seemed calm, Orko could tell that he was angry. "I can't let him remain here, of course. He won't willingly return to Trolla, not after what he's done here."
"What're you going to do?"
Montork looked grave. "Whatever I have to. Starting with finding him."
Plaintively Orko said, "I wish I could help. Lately my magic has been... not so good. Without my wand, I keep screwing up."
"Yes, I heard about that," Montork said thoughtfully. "That's another reason I ought to have come myself. Dree Elle described the unpredictability of the magic here. I've had some thoughts on that."
That perked Orko up. "You have? Like what?"
"Well, first I'd have to try out a few ideas."
Orko knew about the nature of magical experiments. "The Sands of Time would be the best place for that. Nobody lives there. Um, I can't fly that far now."
Montork laid a hand on Orko's shoulder. Orko felt a rush of magic power flowing to him from his uncle. "Thanks," he sighed, relieved.
Dree Elle thought, Orko wouldn't draw power from her, but he had no problem accepting it from Montork. Was that because they were both magicians, or was it simple male pride? Neither idea bothered her; people simply were that way sometimes.
"I definitely have a few things to teach you," Montork told him. "I ought to start now. Getting here took a lot of my power, and I won't be able to do anything substantial until I recharge."
"All right!" Orko pointed into the distance. "The Sands of Time is just over there." It would take an Eternian - well, any of the Eternian races that didn't fly - a long time to get there. By ground it was a tough trip through the Evergreen Forest and then past the mountains. By air, it wasn't far at all.
Dree Elle said, "Unless you'll need me there, I'll stay here."
"That's fine," Montork told her. She touched Orko's hand; he took hers and squeezed it. Then she flew away, disappearing below the roof of the building.
Montork could have laughed at Orko's puzzlement. Orko couldn't imagine how dull magicians' shop talk could be to those outside the craft. Or, he suspected, Dree sensed that they needed some time together as master and apprentice without an audience. She was perceptive that way. "Come on, let's visit this 'Sands of Time.'" He floated off of the roof. Orko did too, with a backward look at the garden. Montork told him, "Don't worry, I'm certain she'll still be around when we come back. Lead the way."
Dree Elle flew to the courtyard. Not much was going on there today. Nobody she knew was there, inasmuch as she really knew anybody besides Orko on this world. She did recognize Roboto. Despite his leg having been blasted off the previous day, he seemed to be doing well. The repaired leg was not quite finished; its mechanical parts and wires were uncovered. He was sitting at a table, examining a collection of small statues positioned seemingly at random within the grid markings on a board. Some kind of game? It had to be, because there was no other explanation for the intensity of his concentration on statues which were doing nothing.
The robot looked up. "Good afternoon," he said in his calm, flat voice.
She drifted down lower. "I didn't mean to distract you."
"That's all right. I was playing against myself. It can be difficult to find others with the time to play."
"Oh." She looked down at the pieces. "What are you trying to do?"
"The goal of the game is to corner your opponent's king in a position from which escape is impossible." He touched one piece, the tallest of its color on the board. "The different classes of pieces move in different patterns."
Oh, she thought. There were games like that on Trolla too, but not on a board like this. Well, since Eternians were stuck on the ground she guessed they'd think only in terms of a flat surface, forgetting all the space above. "How do you play against yourself?"
"It is... predictable," Roboto admitted.
An idea hit her. "I'm not good at these kinds of games. But I know a Trollan game you might like."
"I would be interested in hearing about this."
"You can play it with anything, but whatever you have you need two of."
"We can use these." Roboto started removing the chessmen from the board.
"Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt your game."
"I can remember their positions and resume later," he assured her
"Oh. Okay. Well..." Dree Elle started setting pieces on the board between herself and Roboto. She carefully created a mirrorlike setting; for each piece she placed in front of Roboto, she put the same one, identical in all but color, on her side in the same spot. She looked the setup over when they each had four pieces, then reached into her sleeve. She drew out a collection of thin, marked metal rings - Trollan currency - and distributed them on the setup. After returning the spares to her sleeve pocket she said, "The rules are simple. One player does things with his pieces, and the other tries to copy the first exactly. If the follower makes a mistake, the leader wins. If the follower copies, without making any mistakes, however many moves they decide on, then he wins. Oh, and the leader can't do things the follower can't do, so if I were leading I wouldn't float anything."
"That sounds simple."
"Would you like to try?"
"Yes. I will follow you."
"All right. Five moves, just for practice." Roboto nodded agreement. She looked over her items, then picked up a small piece. Roboto did so, and when she put it in front of another he did so on his side. She picked up a ring, and paused, holding it up above one of the pieces as if to drop it on, but then set it down again and picked up another, which she put on the piece. He copied her exactly, down to small hesitations. She exchanged the positions of two of the pieces, and finally put the smallest ring on top of the largest piece. Roboto mimicked her perfectly.
"This does not seem like a difficult game," he commented.
She smiled slyly. "Want to try for ten?"
She set the pieces up in a different pattern, then added a few more of the rings. She looked around, wishing there was something else she could use - the more variety in the pieces, the more interesting the game was! - but there was nothing loose around here. Oh well. He paused, then moved one of her pieces back toward herself. He copied her exactly, move for move. When she was to make her tenth move, she raised her hand over one piece as if to move it - and dropped a ring onto it instead.
Roboto paused for a second. "I did not see you pick that up."
"I picked it up when I put a piece in front of it," she said, smiling.
"So, the leader tries to distract the follower as well."
"I see." Roboto paused, considering this. Then he said, "Let's try it again."
Orko and Montork traveled in the cool air above the treetops, following a current in the magical ambient so Montork could recharge en route. Montork noted the colors in passing - this world really was green all over, as Dree Elle had said - but he was focusing the majority of his attention on the flow of magic in the area. It was strange, with powerful currents surging in opposing directions, and sharp changes in power over small areas. There were only a few areas like this on Trolla, and none were inhabited.
Orko led them past the line of mountains that bordered the forest. On the other side was a yellow-sanded desert. There were no dwellings in sight, just occasional scatterings of rocks and widely-spaced plants. "How's this?"
"Down there'll work." Montork pointed at an area with a few rocks. When they descended, the boulders turned out to be several times the Trollans' height. "Now, tell me what problems you've been having with magic."
Orko wrung his hands together. "I can't control it any more. No matter what I do, it always goes crazy! I could do magic perfectly with my wand, but without it-" He gestured helplessly.
Montork laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Does it happen with big spells or small ones?"
"All of 'em! The bigger ones just go haywire worse."
"Hmm. Have you ever had trouble flying or floating things without spells?"
"No, but that's not magic. Not really."
"Mmm." Montork pointed at a Trollan-sized boulder several yards away and said, "Cast a heat spell on that rock. Keep it going as long as you can. I want to see what happens."
"Uh, okay." Orko closed his eyes for a few moments, recalling a spell he hadn't used in years. Then he spoke a few words, shaping the complimentary gestures with his hands, and focused his power on the rock.
Montork watched Orko, not the stone. Around him, the magic currents bent and eddied strangely, like mist swirled by erratic gusts of wind. Orko tightened his control of the spell every time a strong flow hit him and caused the spell to surge. Then the spell faltered as the currents around him faded momentarily, drained by the recent burst.
"All right, that's enough," Montork said.
Orko lowered his hands and put his sleeves together to hide how they were shaking. "What am I doing wrong?"
"The spell was fine. Before I tell you what I think, I want to try it out for myself." Montork aimed at a different rock, a larger one that would be able to soak up more heat. Orko floated back several feet as Montork silently cast the same spell just by pointing his hands.
It was as he had suspected. The magic here was as choppy as the surface of a stormy sea. It didn't actually fight being used, but it sure felt that way. It was hard to control the strength of the spell, the way the power here came in waves, with empty spaces in between. Lumpy magic indeed! He strengthened the spell to see what effect that would have.
The rock plinked and creaked strangely. Orko watched it nervously. Rocks didn't normally make sounds. Strange things like that happening during spells usually preceded a disaster. But he didn't interrupt Montork. Interrupting was an even surer way to make spells go haywire.
Suddenly the rock exploded in a red-orange burst of high-speed shards. The force of the blast sent Orko pinwheeling away over the desert. After the initial disorientation passed he managed to stop himself and swipe at the gravel that had peppered his front. Some of it was glowing hot! Then he looked back - and didn't see Montork. Quickly he flew back.
He found Montork lying face down on the ground in front of another rock. It was covered on one side with scorch marks, lighter where Montork had been blown back. "UNC! Are you all right?!" he shouted frantically.
Don't do anything! came into his head forcefully. Montork was conscious, and badly hurt! But if he was conscious he could heal himself. If Orko tried to help it could screw up Montork's spells. But couldn't those go out of control here as well? Orko did the only thing he knew he could do, and brushed away the hot debris that could scorch clothing and flesh.
This was not the first time Montork had been badly injured. He was handy with healing spells. He concentrated first on bones. He knitted the few that had fractured or broken. They had not come out of place, so they had not punctured anything to compound the damage. His nerves were all right; he could feel all extremities and his thinking was clear. He focused his attention on soft tissue next. There was plenty of severe bruising, but that was easy to deal with...
Orko watched anxiously as Montork lay there, eyes closed. Then, after several long, silent minutes, Montork shakily raised his head, then floated up. His beard and the front of his clothes were blackened. He brushed his front with his hands; the soot and grit fell away, leaving him clean again. He squinted and looked around. "Do you see my glasses anywhere?"
"Uh, I'll go look." Orko flew around the vicinity of the boulder Montork had hit, and found some pieces of glass close to the base. He gathered them up and brought them to Montork. "They're broken."
Montork held his hands out for the pieces. After Orko gave them to him he brought his hands close to his face and carefully put the fragments together, as if assembling a puzzle. Then he pressed his hands together and spoke a few words. After he opened them again he put the glasses, now whole once more, back in place. "That was close. Now I understand what you're up against here."
"You do? And you're sure you're all right?" Orko asked urgently.
"Of course. I should have known better than to be right in front of a stone." He shook his head ruefully. "Now watch this." He cast the same spell again.
"You sure-?" Orko cut himself off. Montork had to know what he was doing. For one thing, he wasn't in front of a rock this time. While Orko watched, the air gradually got warmer, but the stone made no danger-foretelling sounds.
When Montork finished, the stone glowing dull red, he said, "That other one exploded because the inside heated up too fast. It expanded, the outside didn't, and eventually it burst. Poor control of the spell. I should have seen that coming."
Orko couldn't stand it any longer. "So what was it? Why did it work the second time?"
Montork clasped his hands behind his back. "It was the source of the power I was using. Orko, on Trolla it hardly matters where you draw your power from. The magic there is tamed, anchored down by all the life in the world using it. That isn't the case here. The magic isn't under control, so it's wild, which makes using it directly somewhat difficult."
"The good news is that there's a way for you to overcome it. From seeing you cast the spell, I can tell you have a lot more control than you realize. The bad news is, the more you want from it the more you'll have to work at it."
"Anything's better than screwing up all the time!"
"Right." Montork paused thoughtfully, then said, "This is a technique that isn't taught to young hotshot mages because it can lead to them gaining too much power too early. Better they learn control and restraint first. You need to store power within yourself as opposed to drawing on what's around you. That was the difference between the first and second trials with the heat spell - the second time I was only drawing on my own power."
"So, it's all the same magic... but by the time I have it, it's under control then?" Orko asked hopefully.
"Exactly. The technique is simple in principle, but it will take a while to work up to a decent level of power."
"I can do that! ... Wands are so much easier, though," Orko said wistfully.
"Wands can get lost or destroyed," Montork replied.
"Well, yeah... but once I learn this, nobody can take that away! I won't be a screwup any longer!" Then he looked down. "Even if I got all the power I need... sometimes I just don't know what I'm doing. Like that thing with the Wheel."
That was going to be preying on Orko's mind for a long time no matter what Montork said, he knew. "D'Sparil used an insidious spell on you, camouflaged among the wand's normal enchantments. It bends the victim's will gradually, so they don't realize it as it happens. You can't blame yourself for that. And, remember, Dree Elle is alive because of your magic."
Orko insisted, "That was just luck. I didn't know what to do!"
"Tell me what happened then."
"Well - when I found her she was bound to a pattern drawn on the wall. I rubbed the lines out to break the spell holding her there. Her heart wasn't going and she wasn't breathing. I thought she was dead, except her eyes still glowed a little." In death a Trollan's eyes lost their light. "She wasn't hurt, she just wasn't alive. The only thing I could think of doing was picturing her breathing and her heart beating and trying to make it happen."
"Obviously it worked," Montork replied.
"Yeah, but - I didn't know it would. I was only guessing!"
Montork put his arm around Orko's shoulders. "You've certainly changed from the cocky little 'Orko the Great' I remember. There isn't a spell especially for every possible situation, and if there was nobody could remember them all. Finding out what needs to be done and making it happen, that's what being a real sorcerer is about. You have the right instincts. Dree Elle told me that after she destroyed your wand, the first thing you did was heal her burnt hand, even though you were furious. That's what I mean."
"Uh... well, okay."
Orko still didn't understand? Well, let him think about it for a while. "It's been a long time since I taught magic. I didn't take any apprentices after you disappeared, so pardon me if I'm a little rusty." He took his arm from around Orko's shoulders and faced him. In a more serious tone he said, "Picture the space within yourself where you'll store magical energy. It doesn't matter where, as long as it's someplace you can draw from quickly."
Orko visualized a sphere within his chest. For no reason he could explain he had always thought of magic as coming from the heart. "Okay."
"Now you're going to draw the ambient magic into that area. At first you'll need a spell for that, but over time you'll learn to do it automatically. Let me show you."
"Okay." Orko opened his mind so Montork could control him. Orko didn't find this intimidating - rather, it was reassuring, proof that the rapport that they had had as master and apprentice was still there. Not all masters and apprentices could work magic through each other. If they couldn't, teaching tricky spells was even harder. He paid attention to both the actions Montork was guiding him through and the thoughts that accompanied them. Both were important to the spell. When it was done he felt a sudden, strange emptiness within himself. An emptiness that drew the power around himself in to fill itself. The image came to Orko's mind of a whirlpool, drawing in surrounding water to fill itself.
Montork withdrew his control. Orko said quietly, "Wow."
"You'll be able to draw on that power without any extra spells. Just remember to draw on it. Make it a habit. And always keep it filled. Your capacity will increase with time and practice. And pace yourself - it's too easy to overdo it and use up too much of your power. That leads to falling or passing out. Embarrassing."
"Okay." Orko would definitely keep this up! He already felt better now than he had in a long time about his magic. He could also see why they didn't teach him about this earlier. He would have overused that power showing off, which is dangerous, or at least obnoxious. He asked, "Unc - why'd my wand work here when my regular magic didn't? Was the wand using my power?"
"No. It works something like a lens, drawing power in and focusing it. It doesn't cast spells themselves."
"Oh." Orko wasn't sure he understood that explanation. He'd think it through later. "Um - Did Dree tell you anything about her family?"
Montork had known Orko would get to that sooner or later. He had it bad for her, if she was distracting him from magic without even being here. "Yes. Are you worried?"
Uncomfortably Orko began, "They hate sorcerers... and they think I did some things I'd never do!"
Montork told Orko, "They don't hate mages. They just don't trust those with strong magic power. It's something they can't control, and that makes them uncomfortable."
"Yeah, but why?"
"It's a more common attitude than you realize, Orko. They don't fear the healer in their village, or the builder who casts binding spells so their homes don't collapse or burn. They worry about the mages they don't know, those who practice magic as an art, not purely for practical purposes. Without a practical purpose, who knows what they might do? Remember, not everyone is ethical, as we've seen recently. And then their daughter fell into the hands of a mage they didn't know, whose reputation was that of a young hotshot. They let their worries run away with them."
"But they were sure I did do something to her!"
"Think of how implausible her story was, and how worried you'd be if you were in their place. She was dropped onto another world by a storm? How often does that happen?"
"Twice," Orko answered promptly. "No, wait, it had to be three times! There was another one of us here a long time ago. He's in the books and everything! He was an oracle."
Montork stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Well. They say that lightning strikes twice."
"Yeah. But, anyway, if they don't trust us, why didn't they believe her? They coulda just had someone read her memories. She wanted them to!"
"People who don't like others to have power over them certainly won't want to open their minds to others. Orko, stop worrying so much about that. Dree Elle is an adult, not a child. She's responsible for herself, and in the end they can't force her to do anything."
"Yeah," Orko said, unsatisfied. Then something clicked. "Hey - you sent her back here but you didn't come yourself. Were you trying to set us up?"
Montork looked surprised. "Setting other people up is a waste of time and an annoyance to all involved. Do you think I would interfere with other people's lives that way, Orko?"
Contrite, Orko said, "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that."
"I was giving you two the chance to set yourselves up."
Casually Montork said, "There is a difference. Would you rather I'd refused to send her here even though she asked to go?"
"No! Uh, I mean-"
"I remember commenting that this was the oddest case of love at first sight I'd seen. She answered that she didn't believe in love at first sight, and she wanted to take another look."
"Um!" Orko looked stunned.
That would certainly give Orko something to think about. "Why don't you go back now. I have some things I need to do before we deal with D'Sparil, and this is a good place to begin."
Orko knew when he was being shooed off. Not that he minded in this case. "Okay. See ya back in Eternos," he said before he flew off.
It was late afternoon when Orko returned to the city. First he flew over the garden, and didn't see Dree Elle there. After a brief aerial survey he spotted the telltale red of her robe in the courtyard. When he came closer he saw that she was playing Mirror with Roboto, and both were concentrating hard. Several other people were standing nearby, watching the game.
Orko had played Mirror back on Trolla. When he'd been among other magicians they'd done all sorts of wild things in their games! Dree and Roboto were only using chesspieces, Trollan ring coins, Eternian coins, and a few odds and ends, but they were moving them about quickly in complex patterns. Then Dree's sleeve caught one of the chesspieces and knocked it off the table. After a pause, Roboto knocked his corresponding piece away.
Dree Elle glanced at Orko, then grinned at Roboto. Though she hadn't intended it to be, that was the last move of this game. "You're getting harder to trick."
"I am self-programming," he replied. When she gave him a questioning look, he elucidated, "I learn like any other person."
"Yes, I see." She opened her hand. The two chesspieces floated up to her. She picked them out of the air and placed them on the table.
Orko asked, "Um - how's your leg?"
Roboto answered, "It is functional. Man-at-Arms repaired it, and as soon as the covering is finished the damage will be fully negated."
Orko glanced again at the section of Roboto's leg that was visible beneath the table. He had blown it off at the middle of the thigh. The wire and rods and things were now visible on that leg. It looked creepy, he thought, but that's what machines are like inside. It only seemed weird because Roboto was not just a machine, he was a person. "Um, I'm real sorry about that. I didn't mean to. I mean, I didn't know what I was doing."
"Prince Adam explained that you had been made to act by another." He did not add that Adam had compared it to having your programming altered; people often resented being likened to electronics. "I may understand better than you imagine. I do not blame you."
"Thanks. Really," Orko said, relieved.
"Where's Montork?" Dree Elle asked.
"He stayed back. Said he's gonna start doing something about D'Sparil."
"By himself? I'd think he'd want you with him."
Orko shrugged, hands clasped behind his back. "He knows lots of magic I don't. He doesn't need me for that, y'know."
"I imagine you're right. Do you want to go somewhere?"
It took Orko a moment to catch up to the subtext. "Sure."
They flew upward. When they were above the rooftops he asked, "Did you have someplace in mind?"
"Well - hey! I got an idea. Wait here." He swooped down in the direction of the building in which he lived. After several minutes he returned carrying a heavy, folded cloth in his arms. "Follow me."
He led her out to the Evergreen Forest. She did not look forward to visiting that place again; the first time she had come to Eternia she had spent a sleepless, nerve-wracking night hiding in a tree. But Orko did not fly down below the tops of the trees. Instead, he led her some distance from Eternos, then scouted the treetops. When he found one to his liking he shook out the cloth - it was almost big enough to go over a Human-sized bed - and draped it over the top of the branches. It was reasonably flat there. He closed his eyes, concentrating on drawing from his own stored power instead of the ambient magic, and spoke a few words. Then he brushed his fingertips over the cloth. Though its shape did not change, he could feel it go stiff. They landed on it. The spell had worked perfectly; the rigidity spell had made the cloth as stable as if it were spread on the ground. It was like standing on a hill. And he hadn't had to fight to keep the magic from going out of control. Neat!
"I don't think anyone on the ground will see us here," Dree Elle observed.
Pleased, he answered, "Nope."
She sat down and, looking out over the scenery, said, "Green plants, blue sky. This world is upside-down."
"Yeah, I used to think so too. I got used to it, though."
She reached into her sleeve. "I didn't get around to this yesterday," she told him as she took a box out of the pocket. It was a time-stop box; when the lid was closed no time would pass inside, making it a perfect device for storing food and other perishables. They were common on Trolla. Orko had often wished he knew the spell that made them work. They would have been useful here, not to mention how impressed people would be!
She took out some small greenish-purple spheres and put them on a cloth. Orko took one and looked at it. An octarine. "I haven't seen one of these in so long."
"I know. I thought you might like some things from Trolla."
He slipped it into his mouth under his scarf. It was sweet and a little tart, something like the grapes here. He missed food he didn't have to take off his scarf to eat. All Trollan food was designed that way. To keep from starving on this world Orko had learned use an illusion spell to make it look as if he was still wearing his scarf after taking it off. He was used to it by now, but it never really seemed right.
She saw that she'd hit the mark. She had thought about things she'd miss if she had been in his place. She couldn't do much for him, but she could bring some food from Trolla. And one other thing... she drew an object just shorter than her arm out of her sleeve pocket. It was a frame with two convergent wooden bars running the long way, with taut parallel wires running from one bar to the other. She braced one end against her shoulder and held the other in her hand, then touched the wires with her fingertips. They made soft, shimmery sounds.
Orko watched as she played the harplike instrument. She drew her fingers gently across the wires, producing simple, clear tones. Soon a melody emerged from the soft notes, carried by slow arpeggios sliding up and down the scale. She sang softly and wordlessly, her voice harmonizing with the strings. Eternian songs always had words that you were supposed to pay attention to, Orko thought. The words in Trollan music could just be sounds with no more meaning than the rest of the music.
When she finished she laid her harp across her lap. Orko said, "That was beautiful."
She smiled. "Thanks. It's a 'ladylike skill.'"
And she'd been raised to be a lady, ornamental and useless, as she had put it. Well, making music wasn't useless, in his opinion. "You're going to make me homesick."
Taken aback, she said, "I didn't mean to do that."
"I don't mean it that way. It's just that you're reminding me of things I hadn't thought about in years, y'know." He picked up a ball that looked like it was made of pastry. Inside the thin shell would be something else - meat, vegetable, whatever. It was an easy way to package food. "Little things, like how we eat back home." He bit into the ball. Inside was a piece of spiced fish.
"Do you wish you could go home?" she asked.
"Yeah. But I'm not gonna. I think there's a reason I'm here. I found out, after you came here the first time, that I'm not the first Trollan here after all. There was another one, years and years ago. The Oracle. He was important. The Book of Yesterdays talks all about him, and so do Grayskull's history books."
"What did he do?"
"He told the future. It sounds like his job was to give things a push in the right direction when they needed it. He got King Grayskull - he was like the first He-Man - started, kind of." Orko looked at his hands for a moment, then said, "I'm no Oracle... but maybe there's supposed to be a Trollan magician to help out when things get tough. If it's like that, I can't just go home. Not 'til I do whatever it is I'm supposed to do."
How many people would talk about having an important destiny as if it were something to be embarrassed about? It was a strange contrast, Dree Elle thought. "I understand."
"Besides, maybe soon I'll be able to do something big. Montork taught me how to control my magic. It's gonna take a lotta practice to get up to speed - but, hey, I'm the Royal Magician In Residence. Practicing magic's my job!" He grinned at her.
By the time Orko and Dree Elle had returned to Eternos the sky was darkening. Orko had given a magical show at dinner that, despite the predictable initial alarm that caused, went off without a hitch. He was proud of that. What a difference one simple technique made! But now night was coming on, and Montork was still gone.
"I don't sense him anywhere," Orko said worriedly.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean - well, we have a rapport. You've heard about how mages who work together can sort of develop a link between their minds? It's like that when we're doing something like him teaching me a spell. Right now it's like I'm trying to reach him, and he's not out there. That means he's either really far away or he's shut me out. I hope."
He hoped? That had to mean there was a worse alternative. "Why would he do that?"
"He said he was gonna do something about D'Sparil, that it was his fault for sending him here in the first place. He didn't want me getting involved in whatever he was gonna do. I know he's the expert, but... I dunno, the more I think about it, the worse I feel."
"Is there anything you can do besides be alert?" she asked reasonably.
Orko shook his head. "Uh-uh. I don't want to show up and screw things up for him. But... well, I'm worried."
"I know. D'Sparil can be very cruel. Not to mention deceptive."
"No kidding. How'd someone so rotten put one over on everyone for so long? You'd think he'd have shown his colors somehow before now. People don't just turn evil."
"I don't know," she answered simply.
"The thing is, Montork plays fair. He's good enough that he wins anyway, but if D'Sparil would use a Warlock's Wheel, who knows what else he has up his sleeves." That Eternian turn of phrase worked especially well for Trollans.
"Perhaps Montork's simply preparing himself," she suggested. She had no idea how sorcerers prepared themselves for upcoming battles, but surely there was something they did.
"I don't know. He was pretty mad when we told him about it."
Surprised, she asked, "He was?"
"Yeah! Um, he doesn't show it much. He's pretty laid back, but when he does get mad, he's serious about it. You saw how he got all grim when we told him about the Wheel? He even laid his ears back. He was mad."
"I noticed neither of you move your ears much." Among Trollans, ears signaled emotional state as much as eye expression did.
"Um. That's different. People here laugh when I do. It reminds them of Cringer. I kind of taught myself not to. But with him, he's just good at keeping his cool. If it showed through, he was ticked."
Then Orko's ears did flatten back in alarm. Eyes wide, he looked around. This time Dree Elle felt it too. "What was that?!"
"I don't know!" He darted out a window. She followed. It was like a scream, but instead of sound it was a feeling. She had never sensed anything like it. They flew up, over the city. Orko looked out over the surrounding forest. "Aw, crud. It came from where Montork went. You better stay here."
"No. You lead," she answered.
Arguing with her would only waste time, he could tell from her tone of voice. He flew back toward the Sands of Time. Toward the disturbance, hoping that, whatever it was, he could handle it, hoping that his uncle was still safe. What was that? Something magical and nasty had happened. Trollans, being magical creatures, could sense violent disturbances in the ambient magic. Some were so sensitive they could tell what spells had been recently cast in the vicinity. Orko was nowhere near that good, but he was sure that this was no spell he'd ever cast, or even been around when someone else had cast it. It felt evil. And if D'Sparil had found Montork, and struck the first blow-
They saw a speck rise above the desert. At this distance they could not see the color of its robes. If that was D'Sparil, and he'd already gotten Montork, Orko thought, they were done for. So please let it not be him. Then, as the speck moved to intercept them, they saw that it was gray.
When they reached him, they saw that Montork only looked tired, no worse. "What happened?!" Orko exclaimed.
"Nothing," Montork said in a strangely subdued tone. And he knew that that would not satisfy Orko, so he continued, "Nothing for you to worry about. I was casting a curse to block D'Sparil's power and leave him helpless. I wanted to hit him before he knew I'm here."
"All right!" Orko exclaimed, relieved.
Montork shook his head. "I dissipated the spell. I was nearly done casting, so it had built up a lot of power. You must have felt it."
"What? You stopped casting it? What for?!"
Montork replied quietly, "The curse I was using would have been as inhumane as poisoning. It's a revenge spell. I let my temper, not my mind, lead me. Thankfully I came to my senses in time. I should have never considered using it in the first place. Orko, no matter how experienced a mage is, he can still do foolish things."
"But... if we felt that burst, then wouldn't D'Sparil?" Dree Elle asked.
"Yes, unless he's far distant or not alert. Another reason that using that spell at all was foolish. Orko, as long as D'Sparil has access to the power of this world, he will be very difficult to subdue. Are the centers of magical power here well defended?"
"There are only two really big ones. Grayskull is a castle near the city we were in. It's got a Sorceress watching it. I didn't think Snake Mountain was that big a deal magic-wise, but D'Sparil found its magic power all the way across the world and tried to get at it."
"If it's not that powerful, what was he doing there?"
"It's a giant snake god wrapped around the mountain. I guess it keeps its power in even though it's turned to stone. He was gonna drain it. I bet the people there will be trying to get him too."
"He used the Wheel in an inhabited area?" Montork asked, surprised.
"There aren't a lotta people living there. Just a dozen or so, I guess, in the mountain itself. And they're... well, we've been fighting them for a long time. They've been trying to take Grayskull over for a long time and we keep fighting them off. They won't let D'Sparil have a second chance."
"I see." Montork knew all about power grabs. He'd thwarted enough of them as a member of the Crimson Council. In fact, his first encounter with D'Sparil, many years ago, had been in just such circumstances. "We need to make the people aware of this threat. Not to spread alarm, but to inform those who can provide a defense against him. This city's king, perhaps."
Orko said quickly, "Actually, it'd be better to talk to Prince Adam. The King, well, Adam can handle that kind of thing." Both Dree Elle and Montork were looking at him quizzically. Erk. "The Sorceress guards Grayskull. Let's tell Adam first. C'mon."
When they neared the city, a being larger than a Trollan rose into the air. It was striped yellow and brown, and when it approached they could see that it had translucent wings which were beating so quickly they were nearly invisible. Orko flew over to it. "Hi, Buzz. What's up?"
"Adam's got us keeping a lookout for you. He wants to see you A.S.A.P."
Orko glanced back at the other two. "Heh, talk about coincidence, huh?" He told Buzz-Off, "Thanks, I'll go find him now."
They headed back down into the city.
It wasn't difficult to locate Adam. Orko knew he wouldn't be anywhere royal and official. He didn't take after his father that way, especially if it looked like He-Man was going to be involved. A quick reconnaissance pass over the courtyard turned up nothing. A glance through the stables did.
Adam had not come to the stables to hide out and nap. He had not been doing that much since he took up swinging a big sword as a hobby. He guessed that Orko would think of looking for him here, where they wouldn't be overheard. He was right about the first part, at least. He hadn't counted on Orko not coming alone.
"Adam, we got a problem," Orko began.
"A new one, or one of the old ones that's sticking around?" Adam responded wryly.
That made Orko pause. "Well, I guess it's an old one. Since yesterday, anyway. Um - didja hear about anything new?"
Adam couldn't come out and tell Orko that the Sorceress had just given him another of her telepathic warnings about unspecific but dire events. "Let's just say I got a hunch. What's going on?"
Orko looked at Montork. "Maybe you oughtta tell him. Um, he already knows about the Wheel. News like that gets around."
"Unfortunately." Montork faced Adam. So this is one of the people of this world, he thought. He was glad that they were so alien; if they looked too much like Trollans their uncovered faces would be disturbing. "I am the one who sent Dree Elle and the two mages to this world. I did not know that D'Sparil was capable of what he has done. He's used magic that was banned on Trolla. I must stop him before he does worse."
The old Trollan spoke carefully, as if choosing his words one by one. Adam would not have expected one of Orko's relatives to be so formal. "We'll get him. We've fought off magicians before."
Orko said, "Not like this. Trollan mages are a lot more powerful than Evil-Lyn and Count Marzo. Yeah, they can do magic, but with us it's part of our lives. Trolla has magic like Eternia has machines - that's the way we live. D'Sparil's rotten enough to kill everyone in Snake Mountain and make the whole place into a deathtrap just so he could steal its power!"
Montork took up when Orko ran out of steam. "This world has some powerful sorcerers, but they can't be ready for someone like D'Sparil, because they couldn't be prepared for the spells he uses if for no other reason."
And that, Adam thought, was a diplomatic way of saying that Eternians didn't know squat about magic and should let the experts sort it out. He was getting used to translating things like this from the political functions his father kept bringing him to.
Dree Elle said softly, "He put a spell on Orko's wand to persuade Orko to help him with the wheel."
Orko flashed her a grateful look. He told Adam, "We just found out. Tengu told us."
That explained things neatly. Adam would rather believe that than think that Orko was weak-willed enough to join in a conspiracy. Heck, he knew Orko. The little guy just didn't have it in him to do evil. "Tengu was the one who came with D'Sparil? The one who never said anything? What happened to him?"
The three Trollans exchanged glances. Eternian views were very different from Trollan views when it came to certain subjects. "He went home," Orko said.
"You're sure about that?"
Dree Elle could tell that Adam didn't quite believe Orko. Well, to be fair, Orko was not good at lying. Or even holding information back. "He's no longer on this world," she affirmed.
"Even if Tengu was still here, he would be no threat. He has no powers by himself," Montork added.
Adam pulled them back from the tangent. "Okay. So, you know D'Sparil better than I do. What's he going to do next?"
Montork answered, "I think he wants power and free rein to use it, and sees both in this world. If he's impatient he'll go after the most concentrated source of power he can find-"
"That's Castle Grayskull!" Orko piped up.
"-but if he's smart he will not aim for a target anyone could anticipate. Anywhere the magic of this world is concentrated, he could draw from that without anyone knowing. Which might not be so bad, until he wanted to use that power."
"What do you think he'll do?" Adam asked.
"He's been very tricky thus far. I don't believe that he would let us anticipate his next move. Considering how long he fooled us all, he won't jeopardize himself now. Still, Grayskull's guardians must be warned."
I already have been.
Adam looked up when he heard the words in his mind. There, perched in a window, was a falcon, staring down at them intently. He no longer wondered how she knew just when to turn up. "Don't worry about that."
Orko had not heard the Sorceress, but he did see Adam glance up at the falcon's silhouette in the window. So the Sorceress was hearing everything. Good, Orko thought. Montork said, "Ultimately, it's my responsibility, as the one who sent him here, to catch him before he does anything worse and take him back to Trolla to face the Crimson Council."
"So how are you going to find him?" Orko wanted to know.
"The Crimson Council used to keep a close watch on him. I can find him. But that may not be necessary. Likely I can make him come to me."
That had the others looking at him strangely. Orko said, "Unc... you think he's just gonna stop it and come home if you tell him to?"
"I'm certain it won't be that simple. But I have to try a reasonable approach first."
"'Cause you're one of the Good Guys, right?" Orko asked despairingly. Montork nodded.
"He's got a point," Adam said. Plenty of times he, as He-Man, had had to do The Right Thing just because it was The Right Thing. Dropping Skeletor into the abyss surrounding Grayskull would have finished him off - probably - but part of being a hero was sticking to your morals even when you didn't want to. Especially when you didn't want to. "Besides, D'Sparil isn't like Skeletor. He doesn't enjoy being evil just for it's own sake, right? If someone's rational, at least, sometimes you can talk 'em around."
After everything D'Sparil had done? What could Orko say? Why was Montork even talking to Adam, if he was just gonna go off by himself? Orko looked away, his hands tightened into fists.
"Thank you," Montork said to Adam. "I'm certain it won't be that simple, but I've dueled before. One thing I am sure of, he won't back away from an open challenge."
"You've thought this through," Dree Elle said quietly. The way she spoke, it could be taken as either a statement or a question.
Montork chose not to make the distinction. "In my time I've dealt with this kind of problem more than once. This is just the first time you've seen it close up, Orko. Have a little faith."
"Yeah," Orko said halfheartedly.
"Time is of the essence; I doubt he is unaware of my presence. If you'll excuse me," he said to Adam. Adam nodded and waved; he didn't stand on formality when the meeting was in a stable. Montork flew out.
"What if D'Sparil uses the Wheel again!" Orko moaned. "He'll kill him!"
"You don't think your uncle can win?" Adam asked.
"Well, no! But..." Orko trailed off helplessly.
"But even heroes sometimes need backup," Adam finished.
Orko looked up hopefully. "Yeah?"
"Hey, even He-Man's gotta have the other Masters, right? Leave it to me."
Montork flew away from the city. As he traveled over the forest he focused his thoughts, then broadcast them as an image. He did not have a rapport with D'Sparil the way he did with Orko, but he had touched D'Sparil's mind once before. He could find it again.
D'Sparil had been a troublemaker. Out of every crop of rising mages you got a few that could turn bad, or had already done so. They misused their magic to gain power over others. They did harm with it. To them, power was its own justification. The Crimson Council was there to maintain the even flow of magic, and that included slapping down dangerous young upstarts. Most of them learned their lesson and settled down. He had thought that D'Sparil had been one of those. But, no, D'Sparil had gone underground somehow, concealing his activities behind secrecy and a calm demeanor. He had fooled everyone.
Montork had to deal with this himself. Not only because he was responsible for sending D'Sparil here, but because the fight was bound to get vicious. He had dueled before, and knew what those duels cost both the winner and loser. He still thought of Orko as an innocent. He didn't want his nephew's hands to be dirtied by this. As for the other people here, it was possible that there were powerful mages among them, but it was much more likely that D'Sparil would be like a shark in a small lake.
Montork broadcast again, this time in words. Come here.
This time an answer came immediately. Of course. Let me see through your eyes so I can tell where you are.
No. Montork was not going to allow D'Sparil even the slightest access to his mind. Instead he sent an image of the surrounding desert.
Very well. D'Sparil was amused. Of course he wouldn't have expected Montork to fall for such an elementary trick. Montork flew to the desert, drawing power to himself from the leyline he was following.
Montork had ample time to absorb power before D'Sparil appeared. He flew in from the distance. He could have teleported himself here; it would have taken very little time and magic. Rather, as he flew he had been absorbing power for the likely battle, as Montork had been.
When he was in speaking distance D'Sparil said, "You came yourself. Interesting. I thought your duties on Trolla were more important."
"An error in judgement. I've made two of those recently," Montork replied.
D'Sparil smiled and folded his arms. "Very witty. Was that your curse that fizzled out?"
Montork ignored the question. "D'Sparil, you've used a banned spell, the Warlock's Wheel, and possibly spread the knowledge of the spell to this world. You've attempted to kill people who are not at war with you. Stop now. Come back to Trolla."
"So the Crimson Council can slap my wrists again? No, they'll do much more this time, as I can't plead youthful indiscretion. No." He closed his eyes and shook his head.
"You are also indirectly responsible for the death of your apprentice," Montork stated flatly.
D'Sparil's eyes opened. "Tengu died? How?"
Montork answered by glancing upward.
"Ah. Suicide. That is any person's right, you know. It's regrettable; I liked him. I did not drive him to it, and I doubt you could convince anyone otherwise."
"As well, the sabotage of Orko's wand."
D'Sparil smiled. "Now you're guessing. And in light of your other accusations, that is an insignificant issue. Montork, there is one matter you're overlooking. You have no authority on this world. Trollan laws do not apply here. Despite the past, I bear you no ill will, and I don't wish to battle you. Go back to Trolla. That world is so much more interesting with you in it."
Montork spoke a short sentence. Nothing happened. He was not surprised, only disappointed. He had tried to cast the final part of the spell that had sent D'Sparil here. It was a two-part spell, the second part of which would pull D'Sparil back. It had been incompletely cast, so one phrase would finish it and return him to Trolla. A skilled mage could easily manipulate the spell to prevent others triggering it.
"I don't blame you for trying. But you simply will not be able to take me back to Trolla. And I know you - you won't give up and leave me in peace. Unless you change your mind, this leaves us at an impasse. A duel, unless you have a better suggestion."
"If it comes to that," Montork replied firmly. "The usual rules. No leaving this area. No harm to or aid from anyone else-"
"-No imaginary dragons. I know." D'Sparil laced his fingers together, then turned his hands outward as if to crack his knuckles. Montork felt the surge and swept a hand forward. A green bolt crackled off to either side.
"You're as alert as ever," D'Sparil commented approvingly.
Montork did not reply. Instead he concentrated, creating and shaping a field of invisible energy around D'Sparil. When it began to contract D'Sparil flicked an eartip, then put out a hand to see what had touched him, his eyes never leaving Montork. Then he used a counterspell to burn a weak spot in the trap and escape it before Montork could solidify it and imprison him.
Duels between mages were common enough. Most were merely an interesting way to test power and ingenuity. However, those were only games. This wasn't. Serious duels, with more at stake than the title of winner, were dangerous. There was a saying, "When dragons fight, it is the forest that burns." In this case, Montork had drawn D'Sparil to the desert so there would be no bystanders. Or witnesses.
So they thought. However, several people had come, following the blaze of power. Even those not attuned to magic could feel it. They could see flashes of power over the tops of the Evergreen Forest trees.
What they could see was, on the average, not spectacular. When magicians duel for an audience, they create showy effects calculated to impress. When they duel in earnest, the struggle takes place more on the level of the will and raw power, which rarely becomes visible except as deceptively common-looking bursts of energy.
At first D'Sparil was just sparring, getting a feel for Montork's approach and strength. The old man's power had not faded, and his control was as tight as ever. He could react quickly, too. This battle could go on for quite some time. Neither would soon run out of power; there was plenty of magic in the ambient for both of them to soak up. And Montork was not going to give up; D'Sparil could see that now. Well, then, he would force him to surrender. He began casting a new spell.
Montork was only momentarily surprised when he felt the spell begin drawing his power away. Anyone who would use a Warlock's Wheel wouldn't hesitate to drain someone else's power. He couldn't counter it either - it would steal the magic from any spell he tried to cast before he had finished shaping it. There was one sure way to break such a spell after it had taken hold, though, and he did. He flew forward and slapped D'Sparil's hands aside hard, breaking his concentration. Startled, D'Sparil jerked back. A piece of metal detached itself and fell toward the desert sand below.
Instinctively Montork looked away for a moment. You don't look at another's face, even if it is only accidentally revealed. But you don't look away from your enemy either! When he saw D'Sparil his eyes widened in shock.
D'Sparil's ears were turned back in fury. Then he gained control of himself once again and pulled his hood back, revealing the rest of his head, which like his ears and hands was covered in indigo tattoo designs. "Now you know my secret. Go ahead, look at me."
D'Sparil's speech was distorted, the consonants blurred. His face had been horribly mutilated, his lips sliced away and his cheeks slitted far back, leaving his teeth completely exposed almost to the back. It gave him a hideous, skull-like grin, all the worse because Montork knew what it meant. D'Sparil was member of a cult, The Order of The Gash. The more advanced the member, the more gruesome the mutilation. Now D'Sparil snapped into focus - how he had kept his activities hidden for so many years, within a cult that even the Crimson Council had never been able to pin down. That had to be the reason for D'Sparil's metal mask - it held an enchantment that enabled him to speak normally and thus pass unnoticed.
"Will you add this to my list of crimes, as well?" D'Sparil asked. Without waiting for an answer he put his hands together and began chanting in a low voice. Montork could not understand the blurred, muttered words. Before he could decide how to react - the spell was not one he recognized - D'Sparil's tattoos began to glow. Some of the lines rippled with yellow light. The light even seemed to shine through his robe, following paths imprinted on the skin beneath.
Was he summoning something? He couldn't be; there was no way he could call something from Trolla, not while he was on another planet! But something was pulling itself free from D'Sparil's body. Now Montork understood. The tattoos were not just decoration. He had had a demon trap etched into his own skin! How long had he been carrying around that - creation?! The shape dragging itself out of the tattoos was blurred and misty, made of energy that was not yet complete enough to form a coherent body. Parts of it swam into and out of focus; wings and limbs and pieces of face, none in proportion to any other. It rose and expanded into the air above D'Sparil, thrashing and making a distant keening sound.
D'Sparil was surprised when Montork turned and fled. After all that bluster, the mere sight of his Guardian frightened him away? The old man had finally come to his senses. What a disappointment.
Montork saw the fleck of red against the green of the forest and angled toward it. Just as he thought, it was Orko. He had followed him after all, but at least he had had the sense to stay out of the duel itself. "What's that?!" Orko exclaimed.
"Something I'm glad you never heard of. And, I'm afraid, something I can't beat, not if I have to fight both it and D'Sparil," Montork admitted worriedly.
"Ah, maybe I can help you there. C'mon!" Before Montork could reply Orko darted off again. Montork flew after him, wondering what his nephew was up to now.
Coming out of the forest were a set of this world's people. They varied in color, shape, and species. Some even flew, but with wings, not levitation. And some had machines, or were machines, or at least part machine. It was hard to tell at a glance. Orko declared, "These're the Masters of the Universe!"
Despite the gravity of the situation Montork couldn't help smiling. "The whole universe?"
"Well... y'know. Eternia, anyway."
They both flew down. A man wearing furs and metal was at the front. He appeared to be the leader, and, despite his appearance and oversized knife, he also had a powerful magical aura. The man said, "We thought you could use a little help."
"I could," Montork admitted. "I can beat D'Sparil in a fair fight, but he's summoned an Abomination." He spat the last word.
"What is that?" He-Man asked.
Montork looked back. The shape above D'Sparil had solidified, or at least taken a fairly stable form. It had six pairs of rhythmically beating wings trailing mist from their tips, plus a few extra wings that did not have mates. Somewhere inside there was a body, and close to the front was a ball that could serve as a head, but the features that might make up a face surfaced and disappeared again, like the ingredients of a boiling stew. "It's an Abomination. A creature made by a certain cult, created by sacrifice and binding the spirits of the victims."
Orko stared. He'd heard of things like that, but until recently they had only been in stories, as real as - as the Warlock's Wheel. "He brought that thing over here? How?!"
"It was imprisoned within his tattoos." Turning back to He-Man, he said, "It has whatever abilities D'Sparil created it with. It doesn't have enough of a mind to cast spells, but it may have magical attacks that it can do as easily as I can float. If you-" He glanced up to include the other Masters - "will at least keep it occupied, I will handle D'Sparil." He looked at Orko. His nephew was tense and eager-looking. Montork wanted to tell him to go back to Eternos, to stay out of what was going to be a very dirty battle, but Orko was no longer a young, innocent apprentice. "Orko, fight alongside your friends. If you can counter the Abomination's magic, do it."
D'Sparil was not convinced that the battle was over. And, sure enough, Montork was returning, this time with reinforcements. So, you were prepared to break the rules after all. What would the council say? he thought to Montork.
Montork didn't acknowledge the telepathic taunt. D'Sparil mentally commanded the Abomination, though the touch of its consciousness was unpleasant, to kill the people on the ground. Wings scything the air, it whirred off, leaving trails of mist and turbulent air.
When Montork was close enough he raised his hands. He did not need telltale words and gestures for most spells, but the more powerful and intricate ones did require at least part of the ceremony. When D'Sparil recognized the Pain spell he knew that Montork had finally gotten serious. That spell, a necromantic one, would disable him with blinding agony without actually harming him. Fortunately, members of D'Sparil's cult were also well-versed in necromantic spells, and could counter them easily. He quickly cast a spell to block any necromantic attempts on his body or his life force. Montork's spell fizzled harmlessly when it reached its target.
The Masters - Teela, Buzz-Off, Stratos, Man-at-Arms, and Man-E-Faces - fanned out to circle the Abomination. He-Man stayed in front of what he assumed to be its head. It swept a wing that looked like it was made out of cloud toward him. He raised his sword to block, and the limb, which had suddenly solidified into dull-looking metal, crashed violently against it.
The others began attacking the Abomination in their own ways, from as many angles as they could. It came as close to the ground as its beating wings let it; it didn't seem to have feet. Orko flew up to join Stratos and Buzz-Off in their attacks from above. Man-At-Arms was shooting beams that had no apparent effect. Teela danced in between the wings and shot at the body inside, then jumped nimbly out when it tried to retaliate. Man-E-Faces was in monster mode now, beating at the creature with bestial strength. He-Man was slashing at the head with his sword. That startled Orko - He-Man hardly ever used it on living things! Well, there were Evilseed's plant monsters, but that was different somehow. And, sheesh, this thing wasn't living. It was a monster made out of people's souls, and that was really different!
D'Sparil was on the defensive now. Montork had an impressive repertoire of spells designed to incapacitate a foe without causing irreversible harm. D'Sparil knew counters for most of those spells; members of the Gash had to be able to defend themselves and their secrets. He almost wished Montork would try a mental attack. He would never succeed - D'Sparil could shut anyone out - but it would open a path for retaliation. Of course Montork must know that as well. He was using techniques that D'Sparil could not warp or otherwise turn back against their caster.
Are you trying to wear me down? D'Sparil projected. I'm certain that I can keep this up longer than you can. Soon you will exhaust your own power and have to draw on that of this world. Orko could tell you about the disasters that invariably follow. Or do you think you can overcome that too?
Montork did not try to block his sendings. D'Sparil was trying to distract and frustrate him. And, worst of all, D'Sparil could be right. He had had a day here to soak up as much power as he could, and Montork had used up most of his reserves to get to this world.
I will not surrender. Leave me now and go back to Trolla, and I will call back my Guardian. Otherwise it will kill all of those people.
The Abomination began to change. The head that He-Man had been trying to slice melted back into the body, so only an eye showed between the flailing wings. Other eyes appeared elsewhere on its body, enabling it to see all around itself. At least one focused on each of its antagonists. A wing brushed against Stratos from the back. The Avionian screamed as lightninglike bolts crackled around and through his body. Another wing slapped him to the ground and pressed down, crushing him.
Teela dashed over and tried to pull Stratos away, out of the monster's grasp. The tip of another wing touched her. Weakness swept through her body. She collapsed.
D'Sparil lowered his hands. "Very well. I see you won't give up. There can only be one outcome to this, then." He reached into his sleeve.
Montork watched warily, ready to block if D'Sparil started to attack. D'Sparil drew out a three-pronged metal knife with a wide crossbar above the handle. His athame, his ceremonial knife. Members of his cult used them in very grisly ways, and that invested them with necromantic power. Now D'Sparil took hold of its central blade with two fingers and held it out, handle first, toward Montork.
He was surrendering just like that? After all that blustering? Still wary, Montork took it. He sensed no active spells on the device. "Now call off your Abomination."
No. D'Sparil seized Montork's throat with both hands. One slipped under the scarf and found Montork's neck. D'Sparil spoke a spell. Montork felt his magic suddenly begin draining into D'Sparil. A vampire spell! D'Sparil had distracted him with a fake surrender just long enough to let him get close enough to cast it! It would kill him in less than a minute if he didn't break it. D'Sparil's grip was too strong for him to pull away. He could not use magic; D'Sparil would drain a spell's power away as quickly as it was cast. He did the only thing he could think to do, and brought the athame up and around.
The sharp metal cut neatly through fabric and grated against the bottom of D'Sparil's metal mask. D'Sparil made a soft gasping sound as his grip weakened. Montork kicked back. Purple fluid began to flow down the front of D'Sparil's robe.
D'Sparil sank to the ground. The sand was speckled with purple splotches. He grasped his own throat tightly with his hands and made soft choking noises. Montork dropped the athame, pulled D'Sparil's hands away, took hold of D'Sparil's neck, and cast a healing spell.
Nothing happened. The blood kept flowing.
D'Sparil had blocked all necromantic magic, imagining that Montork would cast a death spell. But healing spells, which used life force, were also necromancy! "Drop your barrier spells!" Montork shouted, pressing on the wound, trying to slow the flow of blood.
D'Sparil stared up blankly. His breathing was sounding worse and worse, becoming labored, bubbling wheezes. Montork began battering at the defensive spells, trying to break through in time to heal D'Sparil.
The pressure flattening Stratos to the ground suddenly let up. He-Man slashed at the wings, trying to disable them before they did any more damage. Buzz-Off was badly burned; Teela was so weak she couldn't stand, much less fight. Man-At-Arms's weapons and armor had fused, turning his arm weaponry into little more than a club and his suit into a prison. He could not see Man-E-Faces. That left He-Man - and now the wings were no longer trying to beat him. They were waving aimlessly in the air, as if the Abomination had forgotten D'Sparil's command.
He rushed forward and sank his sword hilt-deep into the body beneath the wings. The Abomination did not make a sound, or even jerk in reaction. What? If he couldn't damage it, how was he supposed to defeat it? He glanced over to Orko - the Trollan might know, since this was a Trollan creature. Orko was looking down now, not up to where Montork and D'Sparil had been fighting. Following Orko's glance, he saw the two duelers on the ground. Montork seemed to be choking D'Sparil.
Montork continued trying to get past D'Sparil's wards, but they did not fade even when the light in his eyes did. Knowing it was futile, he still tried for a few minutes longer. Then he withdrew purple-stained hands. "The fool," he said softly.
Orko said in a low voice, "You were trying to heal him."
"He had wards too powerful for me to break through. Either he couldn't dispel them himself or he wouldn't." He looked down at his front. His beard and robe were smeared with purple.
The Abomination was turning hazy, starting with the edges of its wings. They became vague, blurry, melting into indistinct blobs of substance. The entire creature began to unravel. Soon the effect reached its body. Then it was abruptly gone, fading into strands of evaporating mist, like a knot unraveled by pulling the critical loop. The spells binding it together had failed with its master's life.
He-Man looked over at Montork and D'Sparil. Both were smeared with purple. What - wait, that was the color of Orko's blood, wasn't it? "What happened?" he asked, walking over.
"It's over," Montork stated. Distractedly he brushed his hands down his front and muttered to himself. The blood disappeared. He did the same for D'Sparil.
Shaken, He-Man asked, "You... killed him?"
"Yes." Montork did not want to explain, but he had to. "The magic he was using would have killed me quickly. I stopped him."
Orko added, "He woulda healed him before he died, but D'Sparil's wards bounced the spells. He tried to save his life!"
"I... see." He-Man sounded numb.
Montork glanced at He-Man's sword and armor. Then he looked up at Eternia's defender. "You've never had to kill another person?"
Montork looked at the corpse. Quietly he said, "I hope you never find out what it's like."
Dree Elle had been at the edge of the woods, watching from a distance. She would not be left behind to worry. But she had sense enough to realize that in a battle like this the only function she could serve would be that of Maiden In Distress, so she had stayed back. When it ended she flew out to join her friends. She was alarmed when she saw the blood on Montork - even from a distance that shade of purple stood out garishly against the white of his beard! - and was only partially relieved when she saw that it wasn't his. Of all the magical duels she had heard about, none had been ended by a knife!
When she reached them Montork was drawing lines in the sand surrounding D'Sparil. He-Man had gone to the other Eternians to help the injured. Why wasn't Orko casting healing spells on them? Probably because the people here didn't trust his spells, and preferred the slow, painful process of healing without magic.
Orko startled when he saw that she had joined them. He hadn't noticed her approach. Montork, who had been facing the other direction, had, and nodded a greeting. Then he continued with his line pattern.
"What happened?" Dree Elle whispered to Orko.
"Unc won. I'll tell ya about it later, okay?"
Montork looked weary. Likely he didn't need a rehash of a very nasty battle, she thought. "Okay."
They watched and waited while Montork finished his preparations. He had laid D'Sparil's athame on his chest and drawn an intricate angular pattern all around his body. The lines often bent to avoid blood-speckled sand. When he finished he floated over to Orko and Dree Elle, putting himself between them and D'Sparil. "I'm going back to Trolla now, and taking him with me. The rest of the Crimson Council won't take this lightly."
"But you had to," Orko said.
"Yes. But, nonetheless, we don't take sorcerers dueling to the death lightly. As we shouldn't."
Dree Elle offered Montork the case that the Orko's wand had come in. "You should take Tengu's note with you, shouldn't you?"
He accepted the case. "Yes. Thank you."
"I wish you didn't have to go so soon..." Orko said.
"I do too. Orko, Do you want to stay on this world or come back to Trolla with me?"
Orko looked uncomfortable. "I really miss home - but I gotta stay here. I think there's still something I gotta do."
"I understand." Dree Elle had told Montork about Orko's decision to stay on Eternia, his feeling that over here he could be a part, however small, of something more important than anything he could have done on Trolla. Whether or not that was true, it was a good decision. To Dree Elle he said, "I can bring you back, if you want to return. If not, it might be a while before I can work the spell again."
Dree Elle turned to Orko. "I would rather stay here, if that's all right with you."
"Uh - yeah, I'd like that. But, are you sure?"
She pressed his hand between hers. Looking into his eyes, she said in a tender voice, "Don't make me hit you with a brick."
"I think she'd do it," Montork commented.
She was serious. "Okay. Yeah. I'd really like that."
Dree Elle turned to Montork again. Without releasing Orko's hand, she said, "We'll stay here."
"All right. I'll see you again, now that I know where you are."
Montork floated higher, above the design he had drawn around D'Sparil, and closed his eyes. Before he could begin the spell Orko yelped, "Wait!"
He opened his eyes in time to see Orko flying up toward him. This time Orko didn't tackle him like an overenthusiastic child. He caught Montork and hugged him. "I love you, Unc," he whispered.
Holding his nephew, Montork replied, "I love you too, Orko. I'll tell everyone back home what a fine magician you've turned out to be."
Orko drew back reluctantly. He didn't want Montork to leave right now, even though he knew he had to. Montork didn't need a special rapport with Orko to tell that. "I'll see you again. Build up your power so I can teach you how to get back to Trolla yourself."
"I will!" Orko promised.
"Good. Now..." Montork waved him back. Orko backed away, nearly running into Dree Elle. Montork closed his eyes. They felt the magic in the area begin to surge, crackling along their nerves. Montork raised his hands at arm's length and slapped them together hard. And then he and D'Sparil were gone, leaving behind only the markings in the sand.
Dree Elle took Orko's hand. He looked over. "Let's go," she said gently, gesturing in the direction of Eternos. Orko nodded agreement and, without speaking further, they flew back toward the Evergreen Forest.
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.