It was only when he felt and heard the snapping of Beast Man’s neck that Adam thought about something other than revenge for the first time in hours. Instead his mind wandered to the image of Adora, and what she would say if she could now see the carnage that decorated the halls of Snake Mountain.
He could hear her voice crack, and glimpse the horror in her eyes, so quickly turned into disgust. “Oh God, Adam. Why?” Merely imagining it hurt, but the pain was soon enough replaced by the sensation of his fist breaking through a locked door. In a corner he glimpsed the form of Tri-Klops.
“I had nothing to do with it!” He bellowed with one of his faces, distorted and deformed by terror. “I refused! I swear to all the Gods!”
As Adam tore off Tri-Klops’ right arm, and then his left, he briefly noted with curiosity that all three of Tri-Klops’ faces simultaneously screamed before the void took over Adam’s mind again.
The throne room was just ahead. The memory of Skeletor sitting relaxed on it, his shrill voice mocking him, returned Adam briefly to the realm of raw rage. But instead of Skeletor there was only Trap Jaw, who blasphemously sat on his master’s throne, slumped over like a drunk. With mechanical determination, Adam walked toward him.
Although his body trembled with fear, Trap Jaw’s voice was strangely serene. “Did Evil-Lyn get away?”
“Yes,” Adam replied truthfully.
“At least there’s that,” Trap Jaw said as he closed his eyes. Minutes later Adam absent-mindedly crumpled the mechanical jaw in his left fist. Once more he was beyond all emotion. The sudden disappearance of Skeletor was only a minor problem, a small flaw in the world, one that would be resolved presently.
Adam heard a growl coming from a few feet away. There Skeletor had a cliff transformed into a makeshift terrace. Panthor was standing guard there, ready to pounce on the threat. There, Adam thought. Almost as if sensing his intentions and his discovery, Panthor lunged in the air. Its speed was almost enough to catch Adam off. Almost. With one punch to its skull, the creature crashed to the stone floor, dead.
“I’m not a total monster, you know,” a voice said from the terrace. “I tried to get Panthor to abandon me and go back to the wild.”
Skeletor. Yet there was something very odd. His voice wasn’t as high-pitched, somehow, and it had a sad and defeated quality to it that Adam never would have expected from Skeletor. In fact, he wouldn’t have thought it possible from the wizard.
Adam stepped out onto the terrace. Skeletor stood in the center, leaning on his ram-headed staff. The misplaced confidence and psychotic arrogance Adam usually saw in him was gone without a single trace. “Well, at least he died quickly,” Skeletor said casually.
Anger was once more returning to Adam, but the strangeness radiating from Skeletor’s bearing awakened something of his sanity. “Don’t you dare expect me to mourn for your damned pet. General Duncan. Orko. Cringer. You murdered them all, Skeletor!”
Saying the names and the word “murdered” in the same breath was like a spell. It finally caused tears to pour from Adam’s eyes (perhaps enough, a dark part of him mused, to wash the blood from his hands) and caused what (and perhaps it was a trick caused by the moonlight or Adam’s own madness impairing his vision) appeared to be pity to cross Skeletor’s face.
“Tears from He-Man, champion of Eternia?” Skeletor said, but his tone wasn’t cruel. The opposite, if anything. “Or maybe the situation demands that I call you Adam.”
That was enough to stop the tears. “No…you can’t know…”
“I’ve always known, actually,” Skeletor explained, idly tapping his staff against the stone. “I’ve always known a lot more than you ever guessed.”
“What is this? Are you trying to stop me from killing you? Do you expect me to believe that you’re…you’re my uncle or something idiotic like that?”
“Nothing that simple, unfortunately.” The way Skeletor was speaking, after all these years and after dozens of confrontations, disturbed Adam. True, Skeletor had been his constant enemy and played a role in his parents’ and kingdom’s misery and the lost years between him and his sister, but their fights were…almost predictable, like routine chores for both of them. Skeletor never crossed the line into cold-blooded murder and never showed anything resembling regret and sorrow. Not until this horrible day.
“I want you dead!” Adam screamed.
Skeletor faintly smiled with his vile yellowed teeth. “Then you want yourself dead.”
Adam dared to take a step forward. “What kind of pathetic trick are you trying now?”
“No tricks. No magic. See?” Skeletor said. He let the staff slowly fall from his hand and into the chasm below. “I just want you to listen for a little while, and then…then you can do as you please.”
Before Adam had never felt true fear when he was in the form of He-Man. That was something else that changed that day.
“I’ve always known the so-called secrets of Grayskull too,” Skeletor explained, sitting down on the cold stone, his vulnerability revealing his sincerity. “Now I don’t know if you…if I have figured it out yet, but Castle Grayskull is an aspect, a manifestation, of the nexus that exists between all times, all worlds.”
Skeletor nodded. “Oh, yes, I was chosen to protect Castle Grayskull and the limitless potential of the nexus from the Horde and the Snake Men and…more horrible things. So much more horrible.”
“Stop it! Stop saying ‘I’! I don’t know what you’re doing now, but it’s insane! The Sorceress always told me that you’re an invader from another world! If you are what you say you are, she would have saved me from being you, she would have…”
“The Sorceress isn’t a person! She never was! There’s nothing human about her! She’s just the will of the nexus given shape, something like its…its interface! People just see her as some kind of caring mother or big sister because that’s always the most effective form for it to take.”
His fear deepened. Adam trembled. “No, it has to be a lie.”
Skeletor gave out a sharp, bitter laugh. “Did you really think an ancient wizard would have a body like this? Please, I know I was never this stupid. The Sorceress uses you…us…me until she wears me out. The nexus is powerful, and maybe it’s even the closest thing to a God out there, but even it can’t beat biology forever. Many, many years after all my loved ones fade into the grave, my body does…will wear out. Our skin sickens and turns blue, our eyes sink into our skull, the skin of our face wrinkles and…worse. Oh, yet the muscles of He-Man must remain. Those are the only important part to what I and the stupid, superstitious people of Eternia call the Sorceress.”
“How…?” Adam said, at a whisper.
“I was just getting to that part. I began experimenting with magic, tapping into the infinite energies of the nexus itself. The Sorceress encouraged it, at first. Maybe it’s because the nexus felt that this was the best way to get the most use out of its little immune system, or maybe for some reason it wanted…all this to happen. I have no idea. Whatever the case, I learned, by accident at first, how to travel through the nexus itself. It seemed like it took an eternity, but eventually I learned how to cross into almost any plane and any time I wanted.”
“And…and you chose here? To torture me?”
“I honestly believed I could change the past,” Skeletor said. “I always hoped I could spare myself and even poor Adora this horror. I allied myself with that group of silly little lunatics, the Horde, and then at what I knew would be the right time set myself up at Snake Mountain. But in the end I failed to free myself.”
“No,” Adam said before surprising himself by laughing. “This is how I know you’re lying, that this is some bizarre new plan of yours. If you are me, you would have known! You would have known everything! You wouldn’t have lost, again and again!”
The look of undiluted grief in Skeletor’s expression was more than enough to silence Adam.
“In my time I tried not to understand too. Maybe there have been thousands of us since the original He-Man and Skeletor, maybe only as many as I can count on one hand. But I am certain we are not the first and I am just as sure we won’t be the last.”
“This is sick…”
“All our encounters…I’d radically change the variables from what I remembered about my own encounters with ‘Skeletor’, but it still turned out more or less the same in the end,” Skeletor said, emphasizing his words with a tragic, resigned chuckle. “The Skeletor I had fought in my world was a megalomaniacal warlord, crossing into strange dimensions in pursuit of godhood. This time I was an evil buffoon, playing the part to try to get me to fatally underestimate myself. Now all I can do is wonder what kind of Skeletor you’ll be when the time comes.”
With those words, the anger returned to Adam. All he wanted to do was make this stop and to excise Skeletor’s claims from his memory, even if he had to literally tear them from his brain.
“If you really are me, then…then how could you kill our friends like that? How could I make sure myself would be there to see the blast? How?!”
Skeletor looked up. “If I couldn’t free…you, I could at least free myself.”
With a cry of grief, for himself as well as for his friends, Adam grabbed the unresisting Skeletor. Skeletor did not even cry out. Adam stood right where he had thrown Skeletor’s corpse over into the abyss for he could not even guess how long. He only moved when he heard the pleading cries of Teela.
“I was afraid…you were here,” she said, standing in the throne room. “Is Skeletor…?”
Adam only nodded. Teela embraced him. Even though she had lost a father today, Adam knew the embrace was more for him than for her. “We…we must return.”
As Teela led Adam from Snake Mountain, she looked back at him. What Adam saw in her eyes was something he never thought he’d see when she looked at him. Fear.