Teela awoke as the dawn light began to filter through the branches of the Evergreen Forest. She had made a simple camp amongst the trees, and had slept peacefully during the warm Summer night. Nearby, already alert, was Battle Cat. The giant feline was an Eternian tiger with a distinctive coat of green fur, patterned with yellow stripes. Large and strong enough to carry the weight of a heavily built man, Battle Cat had an extraordinary piece of armour fastened to his back that was lightweight but incredibly strong. It comprised of flexible moving sections that gave the animal unrestricted movement, and the centre part was fashioned into a saddle to accommodate a rider. A head guard of the same material protected Battle Cat's skull. The creature had rested well too, after a long trek through the forest the day before. The journey had passed without incident, yet there was still a greater distance to travel, and the terrain would become more precarious.
Opening her pack, Teela selected some provisions and began her breakfast. The kitchens at the palace were used to preparing food for travelling warriors, and Teela enjoyed the crusty bread and slices of cold meat that the royal staff had packed for her. The forest provided food in abundance too, and Teela added to her simple meal by picking a handful of blackberries from the brambles near her camp. The morning was fine again, as was typical in this region during Summer. The rising sun slowly warmed the sheltered camp even though it was still early. Teela and Battle Cat had reached an area of high ground before making camp the previous evening, and the air was cool in the early morning. Nearby, an icy brook splashed over smooth grey rocks, and in the morning light, Teela was pleased to see that in places the water was deep enough for swimming. It was probable that this would be her last opportunity to bathe before reaching the foothills of the Mystic Mountains, and she was determined to enjoy a little luxury before the journey took her into the humid, equatorial expanse of the Vile Marsh and the Vine Jungle beyond.
She walked to the stream and filled her flasks with the pure water in readiness for the ride ahead. Shaking her hair loose, she unfastened her white tunic and stepped out of the garment. She placed a towel on the rocks, then waded into the stream. The water was almost unbearably cold, but Teela had swum in mountain streams many times before, and she knew that the water would become more comfortable after a few moments had passed. She walked swiftly to the deepest part of the brook, and quickly submerged. To prevent herself from being chilled, she began to swim against the current of the water, the short exercise awakening her muscles fully. To swim in such a tranquil location was one of Teela's greatest pleasures, and she found the experience both energizing and inspiring. She was tempted to spend hours in the stream, but the importance of her task prevented her from doing so. She gave herself a few more minutes, and swam further upstream to allow the cascading water to splash over her body.
She noticed that the air was warmer still when she left the brook and began towelling herself dry. The ride through the remainder of the Evergreen Forest would be enjoyable, but crossing the Vile Marsh would be uncomfortable in this heat. She dressed herself, and squeezed the water from her hair. She would normally have tied her hair up and secured it with the gold tiara that He-Man had given her, but today she knotted it once into a loose pony-tail to allow it to dry as she rode. She donned her boots and fastened her pack. The latter she tied to the raised cantle of Battle Cat's saddle. Understanding they were about to continue their journey, Battle Cat stood up and stretched, the marvellous armour moving easily along his spine. The great cat then padded softly to the brook and drank deeply. When he returned to the camp, Teela had cleared all trace of their presence, and stood with her small buckler on her left arm, and her snake's head staff in her right hand. Battle Cat moved silently to Teela, and bent down a little to allow her to mount. Moments later, they were travelling through the forest faster than any horse. Despite the speed, Teela was not discomforted, for Battle Cat's run was softer and more sure-footed than an equine steed's. Battle Cat anticipated the route ahead, and there were few obstacles that he had to avoid. Fallen logs were used to help progress rather than allowed to hinder it, and with single bounds, the mighty Eternian tiger traversed streams that horses would have been forced to wade through.
The contours of the landscape gradually fell away as Teela and Battle Cat neared the northern reaches of the Evergreen Forest. The trees were fewer in number as the land flattened out, with few features besides broad, marshy depressions. The cloudless sky meant the equatorial sun was punishingly hot as they began to cross the Vile Marsh, and the ragged vegetation and flooded plains made the air humid. Battle Cat tried to avoid the dampest parts of the marsh wherever possible, but soon his legs were soaked with the foul-smelling water. Teela was glad not to have to set foot in the swamp, but she could not avoid the thousands of insects that plagued her in swarms as she rode. She held her buckler in front of her face which seemed to keep the insects from her eyes and mouth, but the tiny creatures seemed determined to land on her body. After a while, she gave up trying to brush them away, and bore the discomfort miserably.
They were headed for the coastline on the east side of the swamp, for this presented the shortest route to the Mystic Mountains and Avion. However, the swamp and the Vine Jungle ahead reached all the way to the coast, so progress was destined to be slow. As much as she disliked the prospect, Teela would have to camp overnight in the Vine Jungle. She hoped that Battle Cat and she could find a safe and sheltered place in what was one of the most dangerous parts of Eternia. At present, she was not able to discern the edge of the jungle ahead. It was there, in the distance, but she could not tell if the shapes she saw were trees or simply shadows created by the heat haze of the wretched marsh.
Zodac stood motionless outside Skeletor's private chambers in the heart of Snake Mountain. Ordered to undertake guard duty, Zodac smiled inwardly at the irony. Did Skeletor have no idea how much Zodac despised him? It would take little effort to pass the door and fire an energy bolt at the Lord of Destruction. Yet Zodac was not ready to let Skeletor die, for the answers to his questions would surely die with him. The task Zodac had set himself years before seemed no closer to being resolved, and he doubted if anyone with the exception of Skeletor could give him the answers he needed to find. Evil-Lyn, perhaps, but he dared not reveal his secret to her. No, he would keep Skeletor alive a little longer. And maybe Skeletor knew all this; maybe by ordering Zodac to guard his door, the living skeleton was indulging in a little irony of his own.
It was the tiny flicker of the blue flame in the corridor that revealed he was being approached. Moments later, Zodac's sharp ears heard the sound of muffled footfalls and voices. Raising his laser blaster, Zodac waited patiently for the visitors to reveal themselves. Soon the blue-robed figure of Levyek appeared in the corridor, carrying a torch to light the path. Following him was Jitsu, clutching a small wooden box. So, the martial artist had successfully raided Talu. Zodac considered his options. With distaste he realised that nothing had changed, although with all three orbs, Skeletor would be more powerful once he mastered their magic. Invincible? No. Zodac had learned long ago that everything existed in balance. Nothing was indestructible.
Levyek looked eagerly at Zodac, his excitement apparent on his face. Zodac nodded slightly, and moved to one side. Levyek knocked loudly on the wooden chamber door, then stood back as the door swung open. In the room, Skeletor was sat at a table, studying scrolls by candlelight. He looked up and beckoned Levyek and Jitsu with his clawed hand. Obediently they entered the room. "Jitsu brings the last orb, Master Skeletor!" stammered Levyek, unable to conceal the awe he held for Skeletor.
"Very good, Levyek," retorted Skeletor. "Advise Evil-Lyn that we are ready to begin!"
"Yes, my lord," said Levyek, and bowed deeply before rushing from the room. He glanced briefly at Zodac before hurrying back down the corridor.
In Skeletor's room, Jitsu handed over the wooden box without a word. Opening the lid, Skeletor's bony jaw moved into a sinister grin as he watched the golden light pulse from the box. "You have served me well, Jitsu," Skeletor said. "Yet there is another task I require of you. Are your men still camped in the Evergreen Forest?"
"As you requested, Skeletor," replied Jitsu.
"Excellent! The march to Grayskull will begin soon, but you will be ahead of the main army. Randor will defend the castle, and I require your men to attack the warriors he locates there to weaken his defences and cause maximum disruption. Are you ready to fight?"
"I am always ready," Jitsu said coldly.
"Then you will join your warriors at once!" commanded Skeletor, and with a wave of his hand, a shimmering doorway formed in the centre of the room. Without hesitation, Jitsu strode through the portal and vanished from view.
Grasping the orb, Skeletor walked swiftly from the chamber, the door closing mysteriously behind him. "Follow me, Zodac," he ordered. "I want you to witness the power of the orbs! Come, let us join Evil-Lyn in the altar room!"
"I congratulate you on your success," stated Zodac as they strode through the maze of passages towards the chamber where the incantation would take place.
"Save your praise for when I kill Randor!" Skeletor replied sharply. "A new era dawns, Zodac! I shall be master of Eternia!"
Before long they reached the altar room; a dark and vile place that had once been dedicated to evil demons centuries ago. Their names were mostly forgotten, but the place remained a shrine to evil. One of the first chambers to be carved from the rock within Snake Mountain's ancient walls, the altar room was a monument to darker times, used by many inhabitants of the evil citadel. Records were sparse, for some of Snake Mountain's former denizens had cared little for scrolls and histories, but the taint of malevolence within the chamber expressed more than the written word could say. The most complete records were those compiled by a race called the Snakemen, whose rise to power had been as rapid as their downfall. The dusty scrolls, written in their ancient tongue, noted that they had originated in the deserts in the Dark Continent, and swept westwards across Eternia, conquering all in their path. They had been vanquished by a greater power, but the scrolls had recorded little detail of their defeat.
Skeletor cared little for the past, indeed he considered it to be a shameful place. He commanded Evil-Lyn to conduct research whenever necessary, but rarely reviewed her work. He was focused on the future, and the glory that would be his when his strategies finally succeeded. The altar room was, in Skeletor's mind, a shrine to no one but himself. As he entered the room, he saw Evil-Lyn and Levyek waiting for him at the rugged altar; an ancient slab of rough-hewn slate. Candles and numerous artefacts adorned the altar, but in the centre there stood a new object. It was a piece of black rock, with three evenly spaced circular concavities on its upper-most surface. In two of these depressions stood two of the golden orbs. Slowly, Skeletor placed the third orb into the last gap, and stepped backwards. The pulsing light grew stronger and brighter as the orbs seemingly sensed that they were reunited. Flashing light flooded the chamber, and the three orbs slowly began to rise into the air above the altar. Hovering silently, the orbs started pulsing with a myriad of colours, then slowly began to move again, this time in circular, interlocking orbits. Each orb spun on its own axis as it rotated about its companions, the pulsing light increasing in colour and intensity.
"Behold the Orbs of Trath!" exclaimed Skeletor gleefully. "Evil-Lyn, let us begin the incantation!"
The enchantress nodded nervously, and approached the altar with her hands raised, as if to invoke a mysterious power. Skeletor stood behind the altar, observing the Orbs of Trath as they spun freely in the air. He faced Evil-Lyn, and raised his hands also, with clawed fingers outstretched, ready to absorb the ancient power. Levyek and Zodac stood by the doorway to prevent any interruption.
With a voice loud and steady, Evil-Lyn began to recite a peculiar chant in a strange language:
"Ya galloes koth difuna!
Ya galloes koth difuna!
Myet ya galloes dur ya porth unkennet
Orpai nok mer par ya kaanig narwas!
Tanow ya kor bayn ya tewlder ey ya mernans!
Tanow ya kor bayn ya eur ey ya spas!
Geb ya Skeletor ya galloes dur ya ragarweth!
Geb ya Skeletor ya galloes dur ya dassergyans!
Ya arleth narwas es Skeletor!
Ya arleth narwas es Skeletor!"
As she spoke, the orbs began to circumnavigate each other more rapidly, and the light they emitted grew yet brighter. Together, Evil-Lyn and Skeletor repeated the last line of the spell over and over: "Ya arleth narwas es Skeletor!" Their voices rose excitedly as the magic began to absorb them completely. The incantation drained them physically and mentally, but they persisted, and gradually the spinning orbs began to liquidise into an ethereal golden substance that hung in the air. Slowly the shapeless form drifted towards Skeletor. Stretching his hands towards it, Skeletor screamed the ancient words again: "Ya arleth narwas es Skeletor! Ya arleth narwas es Skeletor!" The golden light passed into the demon's hands, and his body shook as the power of the orbs entered him. The light faded as the spell was completed, except for a faint glow of gold that appeared occasionally over Skeletor's skin. Evil-Lyn stepped back, exhausted from the spellcasting.
Skeletor stepped from behind the altar, his bony face unable to conceal the rapture he felt at his new strength. "I have the power of Trath!" he announced gleefully. "The spell was successful! No one will stand in Skeletor's path!" To illustrate his new-found power, Skeletor filled the altar room with images of strange worlds and cosmic pathways; shifting, changing representations that transcended time and distance. The past, present and future seemed blended in an eerie cauldron of energy that defied logic and nature. The images revealed the distorted visages of demons trapped in lost dimensions; armies of monsters and creatures from the vilest corners of the universe, eager to be released into the service of their new master. Skeletor gazed longingly at the swirling collection of images. "The time is near, my lackeys! Soon I shall summon you!" With a single, thunderous clap of his hands, the living effigies and images disappeared, and the altar room became sparsely lit once more.
Zodac and Evil-Lyn stared at the Lord of Destruction in silence, desperately trying to conceal the thoughts that raced around inside their minds. The reality was evident now; Skeletor was stronger and more dangerous than he had ever been before. Every failed spell, every ruined contraption, all his past disasters were now consigned to history. All his futile attempts to gain the power of Grayskull now stood for nothing. Skeletor had reinvented himself by absorbing the most extraordinary magic present in the universe. Skeletor would be deified by fools like Levyek who could not see the peril of the forthcoming disaster.
Though they did not know each other's thoughts, both Evil-Lyn and Zodac cursed themselves for not slaying Skeletor when they had had the chance.