The lone passenger got out, paid his fare, and examined his surroundings with a wistful sigh.
The cab disappeared into the night, leaving only a cloud of dust floating in the red brake-light haze.
Belatedly, its former occupant shouted, “Smell you later!” but when he realized no one had heard, he began to walk.
It wasn’t long before he came upon an unusual scene. The entire roadway was illuminated by hundreds of flood lights, and army of of workers were hammering down flagstones and repaving the streets.
“This is madness, if they’re getting union rates,” mumbled the weary observer.
“Hey, you there!”
A man with an outdated laser rifle rushed up to the stranger.
“Haven’t you ever seen roadwork before? Who are you?”
The recent arrival pulled the hood of his cloak tighter around his face.
“Hi! I’m Prince Adam!”
The man with the gun screamed.
‘Damn, I mean, I’m...Freddie Prinze, Jr.”
A crowd of nearby teenage girls screamed.
“Crap, I’m Adam! No first name, last name or title, okay? I’m just regular Adam. Sheesh!”
The rifleman weighed these words for a moment.
“Well, Adam, I am Fore-Man, and this is my worksite. How can we help you here?”
Adam let his hood slip down to reveal his blonde hair and hardened jawline.
“What a prodigious sculpt,” thought Fore-Man to himself in wonderment.
“Fore-Man, long have I enjoyed your grill. Now I find myself once more in Eternia City after many years absence. Some things I recognize, others seem foreign to me. Will you be my guide tonight and re-introduce me to a city I once loved?”
Adam’s words were so sincerely delivered and held such gravity that Fore-Man was naturally overcome.
“I would be honored to, Prince Adam...no, please allow me to address you that way. If you are not a prince, then you should be. Imagine, our last prince wore purple tights!”
“Lavender,” whispered Adam to the wind.
They walked together along the perimeter of the construction site.
“Why all this late-night activity?” asked Adam innocently.
“To meet the demands of our lord, Scare-Glow.”
“Scare-Glow? I had heard that Mer-Man was the enlightened ruler of Free Eternia.”
“‘Tis true, he was, and a good leader too, if a bit wet-faced. But then Scare-Glow came. He was a dark wizard from out the wastes. His army took the city and Mer-Man declared the enchanter to be God-Emperor of Eternia. The lawful government has been dissolved and replaced by his crazy glow-in-the-dark tyranny.”
“Hmmm,” was all Adam had to say.
“Now Scare-Glow has decided to show that his palace is the heart of all power, so he makes us build roads spreading out from it. A web, more like, with his Spiderness at the center!” Fore-Man spat on the ground with distaste.
“Yes, we are almost to it.”
The two men walked on in silence, one lost in his own thoughts, the other in a half-remembered city.
Suddenly out of the night before them loomed a huge tower and keep. It was built out of faintly luminescent stones and seemed to throb in the near-light of the lamps.
“Castle Skeletor!” announced Fore-Man gloomily. “One day it was the City Tennis Courts, and the next an evil palace had been thrown down on the spot, as if by magic or the sweaty hand of a dark god!”
Adam could see that all around Castle Skeletor were more construction teams, all building a maze of interconnecting roads which spread like rot from the center.
“The work is progressing quickly.”
Fore-Man looked hard at Adam. “And so it needs to. Every day Scare-Glow will execute an honest Eternian lad or lass ‘til its finished.”
“Is there no hope of salvation?” Beneath his cloak Adam’s fingers played on the hilt of his sword (no, not in that way).
“No, my friend, no salvation. There are no heroes left in Eternia.”
The two had made it as close as they could to the tainted walls of the castle. They approached some workers at a bonfire and warmed theie hands against the chill night air.
“Who are all those men who move in and out of the castle gate?”
Fore-Man’s eyes blazed. “Scum! Interlopers and mercenaries from the north. More arrive with each day. Some are still vengeful after the war with Randor that laid them low, others live only for destruction and micro-brew beers. They are the lamest of the lame!!!”
“Hmmmm,” Adam hummed again. “I think I’d like to give that castle a closer look.”
The workers around the fire couldn’t help but hear his intention, and scrutinized his face in shocked wonder. He seemed calm, perhaps even bored.
“No, Prince Adam, I’m afraid that you cannot do. No goodly people enter...or leave Castle Skeletor. Any attempt is met with death or worse. Stay here with me! You are a sturdy young man, you could do good work on the roads. Forget Castle Skeletor, it can only bring doom to you.”
“You were wrong earlier, Fore-Man. As long as I live, Eternia will not be without a hero.”
“As long as you live,” repeated Fore-Man dumbly.
Prince Adam’s eyes burned with reflected firelight.
Scare-Glow peered down from the highest window of Castle Skeletor’s tower and stared fixedly at a dot of a man who was warming his hands and conversing with workers by a bonfire.
“So!” he breathed. “You’ve come.”