Story concept: Eyas Stormwolf

Written by: Eyas Stormwolf

© Eyas Stormwolf

Of all the great expanses of wilderness on Eternia, the Bleydek Forest was perhaps the most remote and inaccessible. Situated on the fringe of the Northern Polar Cap, the forest was surrounded by sea and ice. Yet life survived here among the trees and tundra, for whilst the hostility of the environment made survival difficult, the geology of the landscape and the warm oceanic currents brought variety and sustenance to the coastal regions. Beyond the northern edge of the forest, life was scarce and fragile among the windswept and frozen ice plains that marked the pinnacle of the world.

There were few Eternians who had travelled to the Northern Polar Cap, and fewer still who had returned home. He-Man had made the journey once, and the memories of the perilous trek through the lonely wilderness were still vivid in his thoughts. On that occasion he had driven Attak Trak half way around the world to foil Skeletor's plot to absorb Eternia's magic. He-Man frowned at the memories. Without the mighty falcon Zoar at his side, the quest to destroy Skeletor's device would most probably have failed.

He-Man made a slight adjustment to Wind Raider's flight path and stared at the forest. Travelling in Wind Raider reduced the journey time drastically, and made the route more direct. Concentrating on the task he had been set by the Sorceress, He-Man remembered that although he had been to the Northern Polar Cap before, this was the first time he had visited Bleydek Forest. The little He-Man knew about the place he had learned from palace scholars - it had a curious geology that added a ruggedness to the landscape, and in an old Eternian dialect, 'bleydek' meant 'wolfland', or something similar. These facts were hardly surprising, but the Sorceress' revelation that a human population survived in the woods had astonished him.

"The people are wary of strangers, He-Man," she had told him. "They are unconcerned with the affairs of Eternia, surviving as they have for generations without assistance or intervention from the rest of the world. Your task will not be easy, and you will have to earn their trust." He-Man had yet to decide exactly how he would achieve that, but considering the purpose of his visit to the people of Bleydek Forest, he anticipated his presence would be treated with downright hostility.

As he crossed the strait that separated Ice Island from the mainland, He-Man looked ahead for a landing site. There were few areas both large and flat enough for Wind Raider, for the trees stood on the very edge of the continent in most places, except in the rocky dips and ridges that were equally unsuitable for the winged craft. Eventually He-Man found a small plateau. As he landed, Wind Raider's wheels slipped on the icy surface, sending the flyer into a graceless spin. Fortunately it came to a standstill before it reached the trees. He-Man murmured thanks to the Sorceress. Repairs to a damaged wing or engine would have been impossible in this place.

He-Man released Wind Raider's anchor, and carried it to the trees. He wound the rope and anchor around a sturdy trunk to hold Wind Raider fast. He had no wish to return to the craft and find his only method of returning to Grayskull had been blown into the ocean in a storm. Casting a glance at the sky, He-Man realised that there were still several hours of daylight left. Hopefully he would find the settlement before nightfall. Wrapping himself warmly under layers of fur and woollens, He-Man set out on foot into the forest.

As He-Man walked, he studied his surroundings. The forest was not simply a plain of conifers; the landscape rose and fell in great rocky outcrops and valleys, with hundreds of caves and mounds scattered between the trees. The land clearly showed the geological movement of millenia, for it seemed buckled and twisted like a miniature mountain range. In the snow and ice, He-Man also saw animal tracks; some tiny and delicate that he knew to be those of squirrels and other small tree-dwellers, and some were the deeper imprints of wolves and deer.

It surprised He-Man to see herds of goats wandering untethered among the trees in this hostile environment, but they seemed content enough, and continued to feed on patches of hardy grasses as he strode past them. He-Man supposed correctly that the goats belonged to the settlers, although there was no sign of anyone tending the animals.

Noticing wispy trails of smoke drifting over the trees, He-Man realised he was close to the settlement. Pressing on through the snow, he was glad that he had found signs of habitation quicker than he had anticipated. Before long, he heard the laughter of children and the crackle of campfires. Soon he found himself at the edge of a clearing. A score of roundhouses with low walls and high conical roofs stood in haphazard fashion on the open ground. His presence immediately drew the stares of the people walking around the settlement. Many of them stopped in their tracks and stared at him, and all chatter ceased. Moments passed before one young lad rushed into a dwelling, evidently to bring news of the stranger's arrival.

Soon the boy reappeared from the roundhouse. He stopped outside the doorway, and glanced back at the man who followed him out. The entrance to the dwelling seemed hardly big enough for the man to pass through. He was a giant of a man, standing taller than any other He-Man had encountered. His beard and hair were dark and unkempt, and he had the bearing of an old warrior who had lost none of his strength to the passage of time. As he stepped into the sunlight, the man straightened his back and stared directly at He-Man. With equal curiosity, He-Man returned the gaze. The man nodded. "I am Mawr," he bellowed. "Step closer, stranger. It is rare for outlanders to venture here. Perhaps you are lost?"

He-Man smiled at the remark. "My name is He-Man," he replied, striding forwards. "I have been sent here by the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull."

"Ha! Then we are honoured by your presence, He-Man!" Mawr retorted, and there was cynicism in his voice. "Decades have passed since Grayskull last remembered the people of Bleydek Forest. I see you carry the Powersword on your back, so I do not doubt you are who you claim." Mawr paused momentarily, tilting his head slightly as if in thought. Suddenly he looked up again. "Forgive me, He-Man! I forget myself. Welcome to our humble settlement! You must be hungry after your journey." Mawr turned to face his people. "Bring refreshments for our guest!" he commanded, and with that the crowd hurried away.

"I am curious as to how you recognise the Powersword," remarked He-Man, as the two men entered Mawr's dwelling.

"I have seen it before, He-Man!" replied Mawr. "No one forgets a weapon such as that!"

Suddenly He-Man glanced at Mawr. "Of course!" he exclaimed. "Your name has been spoken many times in the halls of the palace! Are you not Mawr of the Northmen?"

"Sit down, He-Man," said Mawr, pointing to a low wooden pallet. He-Man nodded and sat down, never taking his eyes off his companion. Mawr sat opposite He-Man. "I have been known by that name," he continued. "That was a long time ago, my young friend. I am surprised that I am still remembered."

"The heroes of Blackmere will never be forgotten," remarked He-Man. "You have earned a place in Eternian history."

"Ha! The stories are doubtlessly exaggerated by the bards and poets, He-Man. That is the way of things."

"It is your fellow warriors who speak highly of you, Mawr," stated He-Man. "I understand you are the only man who has ever bested Fisto in a wrestling contest!"

Mawr roared with laughter at He-Man's remark. "I beat him once!" Mawr retorted. "I shall not tell you how many times I lost! So Fisto is still alive? That pleases me."

"Fisto, Man-At-Arms, Taranek and King Randor himself," answered He-Man. "They speak of others such as yourself, but I have never had the honour of meeting the Council of Grayskull in its entirety."

"A grand name for a handful of outlaws! We fought hard to defeat Hordak, and we lost many friends in the battles." Mawr reclined in his chair, his face relecting his pain at the memories. "After Blackmere, I decided to return to my homeland," Mawr added. "Randor asked me to stay, but I had a duty to my people. Besides, it is peaceful here."

"I did not know that the Northmen originated from the Bleydek Forest," said He-Man. "I had always assumed that your people came from the Northern Reaches."

"Well as you can see, there exists a settlement even more remote than Se'andar," replied Mawr. "Alas, there are far fewer of us now than there once were. Allying ourselves to Randor was the only way to survive the Horde, but the war devastated our numbers."

"I confess I find it remarkable that you and your people endure such harsh conditions," He-Man stated.

"We have had time enough to adapt and learn," replied Mawr. At that moment, two women arrived with food and drink for Mawr and his guest. The victuals were simple strips of roasted meat with slices of goat's milk cheese. One of the women placed the food between Mawr and He-Man, while the other poured a strange mixture into two stone beakers. Once their tasks were complete, they left the dwelling, smiling at He-Man as he thanked them.

"I thank you for your hospitality, Mawr," said He-Man, raising his cup.

"Well, I'm not one to allow strangers to leave without a meal," replied Mawr. "I'm afraid we can only offer simple fare, though I doubt you will have tasted bloodwort tea before. The herb is so named because it strengthens the blood - a quality which is of great benefit in these difficult conditions. To my knowledge, it is found only in the Bleydek Forest."

He-Man sipped the liquid. It had a strong, sweet taste. "Very satisfying," he remarked.

"Good," said Mawr. "Enjoy the food, He-Man. And while you eat, perhaps you would tell me the purpose of your visit?"

He-Man looked directly at Mawr. "The Sorceress has sent me here on a matter of great importance," he stated. "She has seen the death of a child. I am here to find the truth of what happened."

Mawr leaned forward, a frown etched deep on his haggard face. "And what else has your Sorceress told you?" he asked slowly.

"She suspects murder," He-Man replied. "I know nothing more, and I ask for your help."

"The Northern Polar Cap is a hostile environment, He-Man," Mawr replied. "Alas, not all of our children survive to adulthood."

"I understand that life is difficult here," said He-Man. "Yet the Sorceress would not have sent me without reason."

"Really?" retorted Mawr. "Has she not tested you in the past? Has she not sent you on quests to test your strength? You speak of murder, but you admit the Sorceress has given you little information. Perhaps you should return to Grayskull and ask her to explain her visions better."

"I had hoped that you would assist me in finding the truth," replied He-Man.

"And what would you do with that knowledge?" asked Mawr. "Do you seek to help our humble community? Forgive my doubts, He-Man, but in forty years no one has cared about the people of Bleydek Forest. We are the forgotten people of Eternia, but do not pity us, for such a status suits our way of life. We are happy here, despite the hardships. We do not ask to be judged by outlanders."

"I do not seek to judge you," He-Man replied. "I simply ask for your honesty. Has a child been killed here?"

Mawr leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes and rubbed his hand over his face. He waited for several moments before speaking again. "No child has been killed by any member of this community. This I swear on my allegiance to Randor and all the free people of Eternia. You have asked for the truth, He-Man, and I have given it. You should finish your food and be on your way, for there is but an hour of daylight left."

He-Man stared at Mawr in silence. There was no doubt the old warrior was hiding something, but there was no point in asking more questions. Reluctantly, He-Man continued to eat. This was not the resolution he had hoped for. The settlers might be more open, but Mawr would prevent him from speaking with any of them. He would have to return to Grayskull and consult the Sorceress.

No more words were spoken until the meal was finished. The two men rose, and He-Man thanked Mawr once again for his hospitality. Mawr replied courteously, as though the seriousness of their conversation had been forgotten. Glancing at the sky, He-Man saw that he would have enough time to return to Wind Raider before nightfall. Bidding farewell, He-Man turned and began to walk back into the woods.

The light was failing, but He-Man made good progress. Venturing deeper into the forest, he noticed a young boy running towards the settlement. The child seemed preoccupied with some game or distraction, for he failed to see He-Man until the last moment, and ran straight into him.

"Careful, little one!" said He-Man.

The boy grinned broadly, and made to run off. Yet he had gone only a few paces when he stopped and turned back to face He-Man. "Have you come to help us?" the child asked. He-Man nodded. "Good," said the child. "The shepherds come at night, you know. One of them killed Kiera." And before He-Man had a chance to reply, the boy disappeared into the forest.

The hours of moonlight passed uncomfortably for He-Man, for no matter how he tried to adjust his position among the branches of the pine tree, he could not make the wood any less hard or the needles any less sharp. Yet his resolve overcame his discomfort, albeit grudgingly. From here he had a clear view of the moonlit settlement, and as the hours passed, he contemplated the child's words. The fact was the lad had made no sense, but with no other information, He-Man could not ignore what he had heard. He had continued his walk towards Wind Raider's location, but when darkness fell, he had turned around and headed back to the settlement.

It had become apparent to He-Man that the activity in the village ended soon after dusk. There was little point, he supposed, in remaining outside as the chill of the night descended. Yet the lack of movement was frustrating too, for as the night grew deeper and colder, he found the inactivity as tiresome as his discomfort. He was disciplined enough to stop himself falling asleep, although he doubted that even someone prone to laziness would have slept whilst perched in the branches of the pine tree.

Eventually the cold became a distraction though, and despite the thick fur clothing he wore, the chill of the night polar air started to make him shiver. He-Man knew he could not remain here without moving for much longer. Soon he would have to make the decision to abandon his watch and return to Wind Raider.

Perhaps it was his preoccupation with the temperature that caused He-Man to miss the first signs of movement in the settlement, or perhaps it was simply the silent way in which the shadowy figures entered the clearing, but when He-Man next looked at the collection of roundhouses, he saw dozens of tall humanoids walking noiselessly among the buildings. Cursing himself for his lack of attention, He-Man stared with curiosity as the newcomers started creeping in through the low doorways of the numerous dwellings.

They wore similar attire to the inhabitants of the settlement, but physically the new arrivals were very different. Their bodies were slender and elegant, and their skin was pale and grey in the moonlight. Waiting for the last of the strangers to pass through a doorway, He-Man lowered himself to the ground. Ignoring the pain of his cold muscles, he slid the Powersword quietly from its scabbard, and hurried toward the village.

Considering all the dwellings were now occupied by the new arrivals, there seemed no particular reason to choose one building to search above any other, but He-Man decided to enter Mawr's house first. A small fire was burning in the centre of the building, its plume of wispy smoke curling gently upwards to an opening in the roof. Allowing his eyes to adjust to the flickering light of the flames, He-Man paused briefly at the entrance.

As he cast his gaze around the living space, He-Man saw Mawr's huge frame lying on the pallet, his steady rhythmical breathing indicating he was fast asleep. Kneeling beside the bed was a single figure. He-Man watched in silence as the being's slender fingers slowly unfastened the bindings on Mawr's sleeve. Pulling the cloth away, the creature lowered its head towards the exposed flesh. He-Man reacted instantly, and grabbed the assailant by its clothing. With one swift movement, He-Man hurled the creature against the wall of the dwelling, and placed the point of the Powersword against its throat.

In the firelight, He-Man stared incredulously at his prisoner. Its appearance was almost completely human, but as it glared back at him, He-Man noticed a pair of sharp fangs among its upper row of teeth. As the creature hissed wildly, He-Man heard movement from Mawr's pallet. Glancing back, He-Man saw Mawr rising slowly and barely awake. "What..?" was all the giant man mumbled as he tried to shake off his sleep.

"Wake quickly, Mawr!" commanded He-Man. "I have saved you from the bite of this intruder, but dozens more are among your people! We must hurry!"

"Uh? Oh He-Man, it's you," Mawr grumbled. "I thought you'd left. Lower your sword, warrior. Jaquetta is not your adversary."

He-Man glanced back at his captive. Looking closer, he saw that the humanoid was indeed a young female, and that it was not anger or hatred in her eyes, but fear. Nonetheless, his swordpoint remained in place.

"You know this... this..?"

"Vampire?" Mawr interrupted. "Of course I know her, He-Man. Do you really believe I would allow a stranger into my house uninvited?"

"You permit an evil being such as this into your home so she may drink your blood?" He-Man asked with astonishment.

"How else would she survive?" retorted Mawr. "And by what right do you name her 'evil'?" he added, and now there was anger in his voice. "By the Goddess, He-Man, withdraw your sword! 'I do not seek to judge you', you claimed earlier, and now you enter my home in the middle of the night and start throwing your misconceptions around!"

Reluctantly, He-Man returned the Powersword to its scabbard. The vampire Mawr had called Jaquetta shrank back into the shadows, cowering timidly as she stared wide-eyed at He-Man.

"You've terrified the poor girl," remarked Mawr. "Come, Jaquetta, do not be afraid. He-Man is unfamiliar with our customs."

Jaquetta moved towards Mawr, never taking her eyes off He-Man. As she huddled beside the pallet, Mawr extended his left arm. Gratefully she clasped it firmly in her slender fingers, and sank her teeth into Mawr's arm. Mawr winced as Jaquetta's fangs punctured his skin. "Normally I would be asleep and not feel anything," Mawr remarked. "But thanks to your intrusion, He-Man, tonight that is not the case. Well, you'd better sit down. I dare say you'll doubtlessly be demanding an explanation."

"I accept I may have been hasty in my judgement about your... friend," said He-Man. "And I apologise if I scared her. Yet since I arrived here I have encountered only mystery and deception. My original questions remain unanswered, and now I see that there is much more that I do not comprehend. I am sure you will understand when I say I feel it would be inappropriate for me to leave at this time."

Mawr nodded. "Now I see that you possess the same qualities as the warriors of Blackmere, He-Man. Forgive my distrust, but I do not make new friendships easily. To a secluded community such as ours, trust in outsiders is sometimes dangerous. You will find your answers, but now you must sleep. I shall fetch blankets for you, and you may rest by the fire."

"You have my thanks," replied He-Man.

"We shall continue our discussion in the morning," said Mawr. At that moment, Jaquetta raised her head and secured the cords on Mawr's sleeve.

"Does the wound not require cleansing and bandaging?" inquired He-Man.

Mawr shook his head. "The bloodwort herb has healing properties. Its consumption helps us mend swiftly. We have strong blood because of it, and this helps sustain our vampire friends. I will tell you more in the morning, He-Man, but now I must sleep."

"Very well," said He-Man. "I too am in need of rest." Gratefully accepting the blankets Mawr handed him, He-Man settled down by the fire. As he drifted off to sleep, he saw the Sorceress in his thoughts, and he instinctively knew that now he was on the right path.

After a peaceful night's sleep, He-Man woke refreshed and eager to resume his discussion with Mawr. His host had evidently been awake for some time, for he had begun preparing breakfast by the time He-Man stirred.

"Your presence here may be of benefit to us," remarked Mawr as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "However, I alone cannot ask for your help. I have asked another to join us. Vadmir is the leader of the vampire clan."

"Therefore I shall not ask any questions until your guest arrives," said He-Man, and the two men continued their breakfast in silence.

Vadmir arrived shortly after Mawr and He-Man finished their meal. He entered the dwelling without speaking, and sat down cross-legged before the fire. Even in the cramped surroundings of Mawr's dwelling, the vampire had a proud and dignified bearing. His head was entirely hairless, and the greyness of his skin hinted at his great age.

"I thank you for attending this meeting, Vadmir," said Mawr. "This is He-Man. He is the Defender of Grayskull."

Vadmir leaned forward slightly, his black eyes staring intently at He-Man. The young warrior returned the gaze. "How much have you told him?" Vadmir asked slowly, and the question was directed at Mawr.

"Very little," answered Mawr. "I thought it best to wait for your arrival. He has been sent by the Sorceress to investigate Kiera's death."

He-Man stared into Vadmir's eyes, waiting for the reaction that never came. It occurred to him that this was the first time Mawr had acknowledged the child's death. Vadmir held He-Man's stare without speaking, and He-Man was certain that the vampire detected his unease. He had faced scores of creatures before, from the gentle to the demonic, but none were like Vadmir. At first he could not fathom what made the vampire so unnerving, but then he realised Vadmir was entirely emotionless. The creature revealed no agenda or weakness.

After a long pause, Vadmir spoke. "Do you think you can help these people, He-Man?"

"I will endeavour to help them whether it is in my power or not," He-Man replied.

"I do not doubt your word, warrior, but do you know your enemy?" asked Vadmir.

"I..." began He-Man, but before he uttered another word, Vadmir dissolved into a blur of movement. He-Man reacted instantly, swinging his right arm in a blocking action as the vampire lunged forward at him. He-Man had never seen anything or anyone move that fast. His parry had been too slow to be completely effective, for Vadmir's hand had brushed his cheek. Furthermore, Vadmir had risen from the floor, passed over the fire and struck He-Man in less than a heartbeat. Now the vampire stood over him, still gazing at him with those black, lifeless eyes.

"Clumsy," remarked Vadmir, before turning away and walking around the fire. Once again he sat down and looked at He-Man. Realising that Vadmir was trying to prompt a reaction, He-Man said nothing. It was Mawr who broke the silence.

"Perhaps we should ask He-Man to tell his story," suggested Mawr eventually. "If the accounts are true, He-Man is already a part of these events."

"Very well," stated Vadmir. "You see, He-Man, this tale does not start with the death of the human child. It begins five years ago in the far north. I trust you recall the Pyramid of Glass?"

"Indeed I do," replied He-Man. "Although we... outlanders... refer to it as the Magic Stealer. It was a device discovered by Skeletor that had the power to drain all of Eternia's spiritual energy. Skeletor intended to absorb the magic and use it against Grayskull. I know not if that was the machine's original purpose, or who built it. Yet once it had fallen into Skeletor's hands, the Stealer had to be destroyed. I journeyed with Zoar to the north, and there we found Skeletor and defeated him. There is no more to the story than that."

"But there is," remarked Mawr. "Your modesty amuses me. You ripped the device apart with your bare hands, He-Man. You saved Eternia. Yet did you wonder what became of Skeletor after your success?"

"At the time, I believed he had been killed in the explosion," replied He-Man. "I searched among the flames and rubble for his body, but I never found it. Later I realised that he had survived."

"By some extraordinary use of magic," said Vadmir. "Knowing he was defeated, Skeletor cast a spell of invisibility to hide himself until after your search. He was severely injured, and his strength was fading quickly. Once you were no longer a threat to him, he began walking south. He had insufficient magic energy to create a portal to safety, and he was barely able to keep himself alive.

"The little magic he still possessed prevented him from freezing to death as he trekked across the ice plains. Many days passed, and finally he neared the northern edge of the Bleydek Forest. I doubt he even knew where he was, for when he was found by one of our number, he was delirious and nearly dead."

"Of course, had we known that Skeletor had been found, we would have captured him," stated Mawr. "Unfortunately, neither Vadmir nor I knew anything of this until after the demon had been nursed back to health in secrecy. By the time Alya told us, Skeletor had gone. That was five years ago, and it seems that only now are we suffering the consequences of our ignorance. You see, He-Man, the vampires and humans have lived side by side in the Bleydek Forest for generations. The vampires take a little of our blood each night, and in return they protect us and our livestock from the wolves and glorms. The two races could not survive without the other."

"It is a remarkable relationship," said He-Man. "I now understand much of what I have witnessed here. But who was Alya?"

"Alya was... and is... the vampire who killed the child," replied Vadmir. "Five years ago, Alya was a young and affectionate girl, whose kindness extended even to the skull-faced stranger she found dying in the wilderness. She had no idea whom she was helping."

"But that was long ago," remarked He-Man. "Why is it only now that Alya has committed murder?"

Mawr shrugged his huge shoulders. "Perhaps Skeletor found a way of binding Alya into his service without her knowledge. I suspect he forged a link that has been lying dormant until now."

"And now that Hordak has returned to Eternia, Skeletor will need to activate all the secret weapons in his possession," observed He-Man. "Alya's tale is one of tragedy."

"Do not allow your emotions to defeat you, He-Man," ordered Vadmir. "Alya is now faster and stronger than any other vampire. She is unlike any enemy you have faced before. Since her... activation, her power has grown beyond our control. I have witnessed her transformation from a gentle young woman to a violent demon. She has now killed an innocent and she must be prevented from doing so again. You must kill her."

He-Man considered his next words carefully before speaking. "If there is no other way, I will do whatever is necessary to defeat Alya. I must ask one further question. How did Kiera die?"

"She was completely drained of blood," replied Vadmir. "She was Alya's first kill. There will be others. Three days have passed since Kiera's death. Alya will need to feast again soon. She has been sighted near the settlement, but she is yet to enter. You must be ready for her, He-Man."

He-Man nodded, and his expression was grim. He was both saddened and angered by what he had heard, and he resolved that one day Skeletor would pay dearly for destroying the vampire girl's life. Yet now there were other matters upon which to focus. Closing his eyes, he began to meditate on a mental image of Castle Grayskull, opening himself to the citadel's energy and guidance.

Standing alone in the centre of the settlement, He-Man spent much of the day practising sword movements and fighting stances. His presence caused great curiosity among the villagers, and many of the children sat on piles of wood to watch and giggle at the warrior who moved slowly through an army of pretend enemies. Yet He-Man's skill was not lost on Mawr, who leaned against the wall of his house studying the young man's movements with unspoken admiration.

He-Man noticed that throughout the day there was an obvious vampire presence in the village. Vadmir and his followers were clearly anticipating the arrival of Alya. His meditation had led him to a similar conclusion. The confrontation with the vampire woman was imminent.

The day passed without incident, and as twilight fell, He-Man withdrew from his exercise and joined Mawr for a simple meal. Once they had eaten, they went back into the village to ensure that all the settlers had returned to their homes. Vadmir posted a guard at the doorway to each dwelling. Once again the moon cast its eerie glow over the village, illuminating the snow-covered roundhouses and the pale-skinned vampires who protected them. He-Man was thankful for the light it provided, for he had no doubt that fighting Alya in complete darkness would be impossible.

He-Man never saw Alya enter the village. She passed silently from the forest into the clearing, and when He-Man first noticed her, she was standing perfectly still in the centre of the settlement. Moments later, He-Man found himself surrounded by a broad circle of vampires. The only human among them was Mawr, who stood beside Vadmir. Trapped within the makeshift arena, Alya and He-Man stared at one another in silence. He-Man reached over his shoulder for the Powersword.

Before He-Man could locate the weapon, a massive impact struck his chest, forcing the air from his lungs and flinging him backwards into the wall of the nearest roundhouse. Groaning with pain, he collapsed to the ground. Looking up groggily, he saw the vampire woman standing over him. She reached down and clamped her hand over his throat, then lifted him to his feet. Holding him against the wall of the dwelling, Alya glared at him with a look of demonic malevolence.

Forcing himself to regain his composure, He-Man swung out with his right arm, knocking Alya's hand away from his throat. Quickly taking up a stance, He-Man hammered his left hand into Alya's chest with an open-handed strike. Alya staggered back a few paces, but moments later she renewed her attack in an intense barrage of lightning movements. Struggling to defend himself against the whirlwind of blows, He-Man could only block without hope of retaliating.

Rarely had He-Man been forced to fight defensively, and the warrior found the vampire's awesome speed almost impossible to cope with. Simply blocking her onslaught was draining his energy rapidly, and he knew he would not be able to continue like this indefinitely. A vicious strike suddenly broke through his defence, impacting against his head. Rolling awkwardly in the centre of the vampire circle, He-Man knew he had to devise a strategy. Feigning defeat, he cowered on the ground, waiting for Alya's next attack.

The vampire moved closer, striding purposefully with extreme confidence. She aimed a sharp kick at He-Man's head, and hissed with rage as He-Man protected himself with a powerful two-handed parry. Grabbing Alya's leggings, He-Man pulled her downwards, forcing her to fall into the snow. She freed herself rapidly from his grip by twisting away in a fluid movement, and retreated a short distance. But this provided He-Man with all the time he needed to draw the Powersword. Rolling to his feet, He-Man turned to face his opponent, brandishing the weapon of Grayskull.

For the first time since the combat began, Alya held back, studying her adversary. This was also the first time He-Man had seen her properly, for until this moment, she had been nothing but a blur that confused his vision. She was strangely beautiful, with long raven-black hair framing her elegant face. But the sinister blackness of her eyes betrayed her desire to destroy and kill. As He-Man held the enchanted blade in a two-handed stance, he thought once again of the tragedy inflicted upon Alya by Skeletor. He had turned her into a vessel of evil who would not stop fighting until the end. And as Alya lunged at him once again, He-Man realised that she must die.

It was a single sword strike that ended the combat; the first and last of the battle. As Alya hurled herself at He-Man, he stepped back and sliced the blade down in a perfect diagonal movement. Time seemed to slow as the swordpoint cut into Alya's tainted heart, and He-Man stared helplessly at her face as she died. In her final moments of life, the evil that had possessed her fled her body, and it was the compassionate vampire child who collapsed into He-Man's arms with a wild stare of fear and confusion etched upon her delicate face.

With weary heart, He-Man laid Alya's body on the ground. "I am sorry, Alya," he whispered. "I had no choice." He backed away, and retrieved the Powersword from where he had dropped it. He had no desire to remain in the settlement, and walked away into the forest, dragging the bloodstained point of his sword in the snow. As he followed the moonlit path towards Wind Raider's location, He-Man never saw the tears upon Vadmir's face as he clutched the lifeless body of his beautiful daughter.