Saturday, August 14, 2010

Skele-Tor, Eternian Witchdoctor! (Art + Story)

Superhero Costume Coalition put out the call a few weeks ago to redesign Skeletor, He-Man's iconic archenemy. I'm not nearly the artist as the other contributors, but I decided to try my hand. I give you...

Skele-Tor, Eternian Witchdoctor!

Transported through time from the dim past, this tribal witchdoctor brings with him the primal dark, black magic so potent that it requires King Randor and his council to summon an ancient warrior spirit - via a magical sword - to wage bloody combat for Eternia's very survival!

I so enjoyed the concept, that I decided to write a prose piece on it....

"The Bone-Man"

The watch commander looked out over the purple Eternian twilight. Night had once more struck the land, though it hardly mattered. On of three moons already rode high, its surface full of the twinkling lights of industry. When the second crested the horizon, the bare darkness of early evening would fade to a dream.

There were no threats beyond the royal palace walls, or the city gates or the endless miles of agroplots. Orbital-1 had communicated no skirmishes for months; the mutants were quiet, their irregular empire concerned with a threat on the other side of the galaxy.

Terrestrial rebellions continued to crop up on the planet's far side, though, frustrating the King's new general. Though only a few dozen men or robots strong, truly a policing nuisance, it marred the image of Eternia as the Peaceful Realm, the Kingdom Beyond Strife. The Randorian Concord, forged over two centuries ago by the first of the King's line, held the nobles together in common bonds of defense, economy and prosperity.

What could there possibly be to rebel against in such a utopia?

Unstrapping his monocular, the commander swept through squares and neighborhoods and rooftops in the vicinity of the palace. Several score watch-guards patrolled the streets and more kept vigil on the wall with him. Lounged, really. He had not drawn his pistol in service once - ten years. The charge was still good, and his ceremonial short sword poked over his right shoulder.

But who could use a sword any more, or have need of it. With expanding wristguard electro-shields able to block the full body, it would take a heavy rifle volley to hit a half-way decent soldier.

"Aye there, scout, eyes up." He strolled over to his nearest runner and lightly rapped his chest. "What if I need you to dart inward to Chambers?"

Smiling, the scout stood straighter. "Should you want a report sent to the king on your recent losing streak at runes, I will happily trot off."

"Insubordination. Insubordination!" Both men laughed. It was true, but rank held little effect for soldiers without war or enemy. "I'll send you to the Fist if you keep that up-"

A shrieking stole the words from his mouth and all eyes on the wall turned to the inner courtyard and the blazing light erupting from between the paving stones. The air shimmered with intense heat and the ground began to melt outward, sinking to a white-hot pit.

"Call the marshall of the fireguard and notify him." The scout ran across the wall to a distant tower. "You three, come with me." The watch commander hustled over to a staircase and the four quickly made it as close as possible. The heat was incredible.

With an almightly bang, the light surged one last time and spiral of blue flame spun in the air a the center of the maelstrom. And then it stopped. Smoke obscured the put, but the glowing stones cooled as if smothered by ice water.

The commander approached, fumbling his pistol out and cursing the embarrasment. He slipped a little, the burned stones crumbling to ash under his boots.

One of his soldiers spoke up. "Sir, I think I see something in the midst of the smoke."

"Carefully, lads. It could be a mutant trick. Some burrowing robot or worse, a bomb."

Distant voices - the fireguard, no doubt - rose behind them. Each step was filled with dread. Quiet so long, the mutant may be making another try for the King's head. Some thought it was only his presence, and the legacy he instilled, the kept the younger nobility from seeking greater privilege and status over the commoners.

A great wind picked up the smoke and scattered it into the night. The courtyard cleared and at the center of a ten-foot-wide pit, there curled a half-naked man. He clutched a tube or club in one hand. His skin was pale, dirtied by ash, but unburnt.

"Gannus, summon the gate tower medic and notify the Watch-captains to tighten patrols. And you, Orlan?, to the Kingwatch. Let them know of this oddity." The young men ran off on their errands.

"Who is he, Commander?" It was not his old bunkmate Tir speaking, but a bewildered subordinate. A lesser, looking for guidance.

The commander knelt down and rolled the man onto his back. There were strange markings about his face and torso, paint or tattoos. A necklace of bird feathers hung limply, and was that an eye pierced and dangled from around his neck? It was as big as a fist. He had no shirt, pants, boots or gloves, just a thick fur belt and a flaps - with more stiched-in eyes at the bottom - of leather concealing his person. Bunched feathers wrapped his shins and....

"Bones...," the commander said. "There are bones littered all about him. He looks like a-a caveman witchdoctor."

Tir grunted. "Or a carnival dancer." He opened his mouth to say more...but then had no mouth or head. It vanished in a burst of fire, leaving his corpse to fall headless, smoking trailing.

"But the Vanished Gods!" The commander stumbled back from the bone-man, the witchdoctor, and activated his shield. A metal bracket sprang out from his gauntlet and expanded to a two-foot diameter circle of yellowish, crackling energy.

"Stay down, murderer!" He pointed his pistol from behind the shield. The bone-man's eyes were fixed on him - had they been open this whole time? - and thickly-tattooed lips began moving in murmur and chant.

Sparks danced along the bone-man's arm to the club in his hand. No, not a club - a massive legbone with ram's skull tied at the end. The skull's eyes took in the sparks. The bone-man rose and with a gesture sent a gout of light into the shield, overloading it.

No fool, the commander loosed a dozen shots from his pistol as he retreated toward a mass of astonished onlookers. Not one laser bolt hit. They pitted the ground around the bone-man's feet, kicking up puffs of ash.

The bone-man was please with this, and he waved the skull-club around, twirling the ash into grey column tall as his shoulder. With his free hand, the man from the pit grasped the ash and threw it like a spear at the watch commander.

What could he expect, this soldier of high science and technology. He flew to home at night in a car powered by fused atoms. Food came from hydropod farms on the third moon. In his hand was a gun that fired focused light with devestating effect.

The ash spear hit- and disintegrated around him, covering him in a layer of burned stone. Nothing happened, he thought, it was an illusion.

But then his skin started to itch and his clothes grew hot. Groaning, his thin plates of armor began to expand as if heated....

The watch commander burst into flame and ran towards the gate, screaming and screaming. He must've been dead already, the energy to move powered by residual fear so powerful it could animate a corpse.

The body collapsed and the remaining watch-guards and fireguard stood as stone, eyes moving between their dead comrades and the figure standing amidst the ruined courtyard.

The bone-man started to laugh at them. He whooped and swung his skull-club about him and stomped hard on the ash and bones at his feet, again and again until the skittered of their own accord and rose up in the air to form an archway.

Cackling now the bone-man paused long enough to spit through the arch of bone and ash. The air buckled inside and rippled with blue-fire. He stepped into it-

And was gone. The bones fell to the ground. The ash drifted. The courtyard was quiet.

The watch commander had been right. There were no threats beyond the agroplots or city gates, or beyond the high walls of the royal palace. But there had been, long ago.

And one was back.


Here are some other early versions and abandoned concepts (The Skel, a street tough; Byron "The Amazing Skeletor" Keldor, a stage magician):


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