The Drowned Sailor in Marwoleth was like every other inn in the town; dirty and crowded with a vile assortment of cutthroats and thieves. The air was full of noisy boasts and raucous laughter, but the sounds were little distraction from the stench of fish that wafted through the open windows from the harbour. Far from the reach of King Randor, Marwoleth stood on the south coast of the Eternian Dark Continent. Villainy seemed drawn to the town, attracting the worst characters to be found anywhere in Eternia. Its timbered buildings and cobbled streets bore witness to violence and cruelty, and only fools ventured out alone on to Marwoleth's wicked streets past sunset.
At a small table against the wall sat Zodac and Tri-Klops. They had been recognised in Marwoleth as soon as they had arrived. The agents of Skeletor were known by reputation in the town, and while it was unlikely they would be challenged, Zodac made sure his laser blaster was easily accessible. There were enough drunken halfwits in the Drowned Sailor to present difficulties should someone find the bravery to take them on. Of course, Zodac and Tri-Klops would slay every wretched soul in the place should it become necessary, but they could do without the distraction.
"He's late," Tri-Klops muttered impatiently. Zodac shrugged his shoulders and did not reply. Their contact would appear soon enough, and Zodac was prepared to wait.
Running errands for Skeletor filled Zodac with distaste, yet certain sacrifices had to be made. He despised the vile skeleton and all his lackeys, but they represented a means to an end, or so he hoped. Zodac had a personal quest to fulfil, and had spent years focused on his task. He had passed a dozen years in Skeletor's servitude, and he was certain that Skeletor represented the key to the answers he sought. Yet information was sparse and unreliable, and to question Skeletor directly might hinder his ambitions and place him in danger. Too many doubts remained, and there was still much to discover. Zodac had forced himself to learn patience. He turned his head, and gazed through the open window into the night. The moon was full, but obscured behind cloud. The nights were rarely clear in this part of the world, and even by day, Marwoleth retained an aura of despair and despondency that the weak sunlight seldom penetrated.
A man passed by the open window, and reappeared moments later inside the inn. He wore a blue hooded cloak; the hood draped forward over his face. He approached the table and pulled the cloak aside briefly, revealing a small brooch in the shape of a skull. The cloak fell back in place. "Follow me," the man said quietly. He left the Drowned Sailor as swiftly as he had entered. Zodac and Tri-Klops rose from their seats and followed.
The cloaked figure led them through numerous narrow streets. Bawdy comments greeted the warriors as they passed harlots plying their trade, but they ignored the women, and continued to follow the lead of their new companion. Finally they reached a building that looked little different from the others around it. It was a two storey building of predominantly wooden construction, standing in an uneven terrace in a cramped cobbled street. A flight of stone steps led to a basement door. The door was opened as the man approached, and Tri-Klops and Zodac followed closely. A guard secured the door behind them.
The basement was filled with dozens of robed figures; their hoods covering their faces. The room was lit brightly by hundreds of candles in a variety of holders and sconces of designs from the simple to the elaborate. At the far end of the room was a large table with an ornate purple and blue cloth draped over it. The table was decorated as an altar, and the most sinister feature upon it was a human skull, lit from within by a small candle that caused the eye sockets to flicker eerily. Kneeling at the altar was the figure of a man, his back to Zodac and Tri-Klops. He wore a similar cloak to the others, but the blue was edged with intricate gold thread. He rose slowly, and bowed his head towards the altar. He turned, and made his way to where Zodac and Tri-Klops were standing, his head low.
Lifting back his hood, the man's face was revealed. His face and head were completely shaven, and his large staring eyes seemed to protrude menacingly from his face. A slight smile crossed his lips. "You honour us with your presence," he stated, his voice rich with a Marwoleth accent. "How may we serve you?"
Tri-Klops stepped forwards. "Our master Skeletor has a task for the Clan of the Skull, Levyek," he said at a volume that all in the room could hear. "The ruler of Snake Mountain plans the conquest of Grayskull. He demands that the brotherhood shares his glory!" At this, the robed men broke their silence, and cheered Skeletor's name.
Levyek, barely able to conceal his excitement at Tri-Klops' words, slowly raised his hands, signalling for silence. The throng obeyed instantly. "What does Skeletor require of us, Lord Tri-Klops?" he questioned.
"Besides your loyalty, he requires that you arm yourselves and prepare to march to Grayskull," replied Tri-Klops. "You are to go to Snake Mountain, where Skeletor will reveal his plans to you. Make haste, Levyek. Summon all the factions. The time for war approaches."
Levyek raised his arms and threw back his head. "We live to serve Skeletor!" he cried. In that moment, those in the room cheered again, chanting Skeletor's name. Without further word, Tri-Klops turned to the door and made to leave with Zodac at his side. The door was opened, and the warriors climbed the steps to the street.
"They are fools and they will die," remarked Zodac.
Tri-Klops shrugged. "Let them, Zodac. They do so willingly."
The chill air of the Dragonslayer Mountains was of little discomfort to Beast Man, for his physiology was tolerant of varied climates, but he disliked the harsh, ice-shrouded landscape nonetheless. The mountains contrasted drastically with the chaotic sprawl of his native Vine Jungle; a tangled and treacherous expanse of humid forest that he knew intimately. Whilst his strength and stamina assisted his journey in the mountains, Beast Man realised that here he was vulnerable to attack. Skeletor's decision to open a mystic gateway some distance from their destination had been wise, for a discreet approach to the lair of Kor'san'tach was likely to be more successful than a sudden one. However, this tactic meant a longer climb among the perilous peaks. Skeletor's magic shielded them from view almost completely, making them appear as barely noticeable shimmering distortions of light, yet the magic would not hide rocks and ice dislodged by their footsteps.
Ahead of his underling, Skeletor made good progress across the ice, his clawed hands and feet easily gripping the smooth surfaces. His Havoc Staff was secured to his back, and did not hinder him. Also on his back was a scabbard, and this held his sword. It was a strange blade, for the metal had a dark purple taint, as if the blue steel had been corrupted in the forge. Beast Man was also armed; a whip was neatly coiled and attached to his armour. Slowly they traversed the route they had chosen. Occasionally they saw the sharp silhouettes of dragons in the distance, but fortunately none passed close by. Finally Skeletor and Beast Man reached the last ridge before their destination. Peering cautiously over the rock, they evaluated what lay before them.
Kor'san'tach sensed danger long before he could see it. The taste and the smell of the mountain air had suddenly become foul, and the huge dragon raised himself from his resting-place and spread his enormous leathery wings. From his plateau on the mountainside, he reared up and extended his neck, his forked tongue flicking out and his nostrils flaring as he tried to locate the source of the infected air. Kor'san'tach had felt the presence of evil before many times through the centuries, and he was alert to the danger. In the mountainside behind the plateau was a huge diagonal split in the rock face. This was the entrance to Kor'san'tach's lair, and within the cavern were thousands of Eternian talismans and artefacts that the dragon was destined to guard from would-be plunderers.
Detecting the presence of Skeletor and Beast Man, Kor'san'tach turned his head rapidly towards the ridge and hissed; an unearthly guttural sound that caused the air to vibrate. Lowering his head, the dragon searched intently for the invaders, but saw only a peculiar distortion of light. In the next instant, a bolt of energy appeared and was hurled across the plateau at the dragon, striking the beast on the neck. Kor'san'tach reeled back in pain as the mystic energy dispersed over his scales. The distortion shimmered and shapes formed. With rage, Kor'san'tach watched as Skeletor and Beast Man climbed rapidly over the rock. A second blast was fired from the Havoc Staff, impacting again on the dragon's hide. Kor'san'tach reared up as the energy blast burned his side, and uttered a clamorous roar. Swinging his head viciously at the intruders, the dragon snapped at Beast Man and Skeletor, who barely managed to avoid the enormous fangs. As Skeletor continued to torment the creature with bolts from the staff, Beast Man uncoiled his whip. With a precision strike, Beast Man flung out the weapon, and caused the tip to spin around the dragon's neck. Kor'san'tach reared once again, jerking Beast Man clear of the ground. Holding on to the weapon with grim determination, Beast Man was flung through the air as the dragon tried desperately to shake him off. Skeletor continued to fire a barrage of energy blasts at the creature.
Gradually the dragon was weakened by Skeletor's brutal onslaught, and could no longer find the strength to fight against the assailants. Kor'san'tach lowered his head, subdued by the mystic energy of the Havoc Staff. Yet his calls had attracted the attention of other dragons, and Skeletor was aware that three winged creatures were heading rapidly towards Kor'san'tach's lair. There would be no defence against an aerial assault by three dragons, and Skeletor knew he had to enter the lair with haste. Beast Man regained his footing on the rocky ground, and ran to the edge. With a great leap, he jumped over. The whip pulled tightly around Kor'san'tach's neck, and caused the dragon's jaw to smash into the ground. Hanging on to the handle of the whip, Beast Man dangled over the mountainside. Too weak to lift Beast Man's weight, Kor'san'tach choked as the whip crushed his throat. Skeletor drew his sword with one smooth movement, and quickly changed his grip, holding the sword with both hands. He suddenly plunged the point of the weapon vertically down into the dragon's neck, the mystical blade slicing easily through Kor'san'tach's scales and through the great beast's throat. Gasping for air, Kor'san'tach felt his life force seep from his pain-wracked body.
Skeletor hurried to the edge of the plateau and assisted Beast Man back up, just as the first of the three dragons swooped down from the sky with teeth and claws extended. Skeletor repelled the creature with another energy blast, and rushed into Kor'san'tach's lair with Beast Man close behind him. Once past the entrance, Skeletor turned around and directed his staff at the split in the rock. He softly spoke an incantation, and a blue light suddenly blocked the entrance. Moments later, the dragons outside began hurling themselves against the energy barrier, determined to reach the raiders who had slain their kin. The barricade flexed and shook as the dragons attacked it, but the magic held.
"They will break through, master!" shouted Beast Man nervously.
"The spell will hold for long enough," replied Skeletor. "Come, Beast Man. We must find the orb."
They strode deeper into the cavern, and cast their eyes greedily over the treasures that they found there. In vast untidy piles, there were thousands of trinkets and jewels. Gold coins were strewn in heaps in every corner and crevice, and ancient artefacts were scattered randomly amongst the riches. It was fortunate that Skeletor did not need to search for the orb physically, for if he had, it was unlikely that he would have ever found it. Standing alone in the centre of the cavern, Skeletor concentrated intently and focused on locating the orb.
Outside the cavern, the three dragons attacked the force field repeatedly, hurling themselves against the barrier. The searing pain of the impacts with the mystic energy only added to their resolve. Filled with ire at the death of Kor'san'tach, the dragons pounded against the shimmering blue barricade with a berserk ferocity, determined that physical strength would overcome the magical obstacle. Gradually the barrier began to collapse. Like torn fragments of paper, the blue light started splitting as it weakened, and the gaps in the defence grew larger. Seeing the success of their efforts, the dragons carried on their attack with fervour. With one final effort, the energy barrier gave way, and the dragons burst into the cavern.
Rushing deeper into the lair, the dragons smelled the wretched stench of Beast Man and Skeletor, yet there was no trace of the evil warriors in the cavern. Suddenly the searching dragons saw the faint remains of a portal in the air near the farthest corner of Kor'san'tach's home. The remnants faded from view, and with repulsion the dragons realised that their quarry had eluded them. A sorrowful, angry roar filled the lair as the dragons mourned their fallen comrade and their failure to slay his killers. Retreating to the plateau where the body of Kor'san'tach lay, the wail grew louder as the voices of many other dragons joined in the lamentation, and that day their cries could be heard as far away as the ruins of Se'andar.