The wind was light over the tropical waters of the Harmony Sea, but it was sufficient to propel the two longboats at a fair pace towards their destination. Despite their strength, the ships were relatively light in weight, and designed for speed. Each had a single square sail bearing King Randor's maritime insignia, and the high wooden prows were carved with dragon heads. A crew of five manned each ship. The captain had overall responsibility for the safe passage of his ship, and under him there was a rudderman at the rear, an observer in the bows, and two sailhandlers, who raised and lowered the sail at the captain's directions. Large enough to carry twenty soldiers apiece in addition to the crew, the ships were capable of transporting men or goods across the oceans in all but the roughest weathers.
These ships had a full complement of soldiers, and their purpose was to provide additional numbers at the coastal garrison fort of Mar'alar on the south coast of the Eternian Dark Continent. Meaning 'sea-castle', Mar'alar was a small yet vital stronghold under Randor's command in an area that was hostile to the king's rule. Following the recent uprising of the Clan of the Skull in Marwoleth further to the east along the coast, and the recent conflict on the Moor of Doom, Randor was determined to emphasise his authority in the more remote locations of his kingdom, and to protect the citizens in these parts who were loyal to him. He had ordered these two ships to depart from Havenshore soon after the victory celebrations, and further troops would be dispatched in the near future. The garrison was capable of housing two hundred soldiers, but usually worked successfully with half that number. Yet under the present circumstances, Randor wished to take no chances.
The voyage had thus far been a successful one. The longboats had reached the Berserk Islands with a strong wind behind their sails, and had then headed across the open sea towards the cluster of cays and archipelagos known as the Maelstrom Islands. From there they had turned closer to the coast of the Dark Continent, which in this region seemed an entirely inappropriate name, for the coastline was beautiful with vast beaches of white sand that shone under a tropical sun. The captains had elected to sail close to the coast to benefit from the seasonal offshore winds, and they made good progress by cruising parallel to the coastline at a distance of half a league.
Those who sailed these waters frequently were used to the appearance of dolphins and their spectacular bow-riding antics, so the appearance of rapidly swimming shapes under the surface of the water was not unexpected. Yet the aquatic visitors became more numerous, and soon dozens of them were swimming alongside the boats. They matched the ships' speed, gliding through the water with remarkable grace, though none swam ahead of the craft or rode the bow waves.
Suddenly the creatures began to breach, bursting through the surface with amazing strength and hurling themselves at the sides of the longboats. Menacing claws were embedded into the wooden hulls as monstrous, scale-covered humanoids began to clamber out of the water and into the craft. They were merfolk; hideous green-grey fish creatures with webbed claws and large, bulging eyes. They could breathe as easily out of the water as in it, and though they were less agile on land, they were still fearsome enemies on the battlefield.
Randor's warriors reacted swiftly to the attack, and began hacking at the merfolk with swords and spears, slaying many as they tried to board the boats. Yet the movements of the soldiers caused the vessels to become less stable, and their actions were further hindered by the forward motion of the ships. Fighting became awkward and difficult, and despite their early losses, the merfolk continued to climb into the boats, their greater numbers eventually proving too much for the soldiers. They ripped at the soldiers with clawed hands, causing fatal injuries. The soldiers struggled desperately, swinging weapons clumsily as they over-balanced, and before long they were overwhelmed by the enemy. The attackers swarmed into the boats, savagely killing every warrior they could find.
A handful of men jumped clear of the boats, and began swimming towards the shore. Their efforts were laden with panic, for they knew that the merfolk could slay them even more swiftly in the water, yet the aquatic humanoids did not pursue the survivors. They directed their efforts into pulling the boats to pieces, turning the once proud craft into driftwood. The soldiers struggled to the shore, fighting against the cloaks and boots that clung to their bodies and hindered their progress.
Standing on the beach, silently watching the swimmers, were two figures. One was Mer-Man, the evil leader of the merfolk. His scaly green skin was protected by a dull yellow armour that seemed pieced together from the shells of large crustaceans. Bulbous eyes stared out from his ghastly piscatorial face, and his throat rattled with a damp noise as he breathed. Scabbarded on his back was an odd sword. It was of the same colour as his armour, and as rough. Yet its uneven, encrusted blade could cut as well as any smooth steeled weapon.
Beside Mer-Man stood Levyek, the shaven-headed leader of the Clan of the Skull. He had survived the battle against Randor's forces on the Moor of Doom, and had headed back towards Marwoleth. He still stood in his gold-edged blue cloak, but it was tattered and filthy from the harshness of combat. Levyek had encountered Mer-Man on his journey home, and had told him of the battle during which Skeletor fell. Mer-Man had listened to Levyek's words with curiosity. He had not taken part in the conflict, but had fought under Skeletor's command many times before. He was intrigued by the news of his former master's death, and concerned by Levyek's assumption that Randor would organise a counter-strike. Yet the logic had been obvious, and he had agreed to assist the clan leader. Part of their combined plan was presently unfolding in the shallow waters before them.
The Eternian soldiers slowly reached the shallows, exhausted by the fight and their swim for survival. Breathlessly they staggered forwards as their feet touched the sea bed, scrambling for the beach. Yet before they cleared the surf, Levyek raised his right hand. With a blood-chilling roar, a dozen men in ruined blue robes rushed from the tree line at the top of the beach, brandishing spears and clubs. They ran rapidly down the beach, past Mer-Man and Levyek, and entered the water. Without mercy, they attacked the weakened soldiers, stabbing and cudgelling them with a cold-blooded ferocity.
Levyek and Mer-Man watched the slaughter silently, indifferent to the horror that was taking place in the now churning waters before them. Unable to defend themselves against this new onslaught, Randor's men fell to the brutal attack, dying from dreadful wounds. Soon the soldiers were all dead, their corpses floating in water red with their blood. The attackers waded from the sea, and slowly walked back up the beach towards Levyek. With a cold stare, Levyek surveyed the scene in the shallows. The sharks would arrive soon and consume the bodies. He looked at Mer-Man and nodded briefly, acknowledging the marine warrior's assistance. This had been a glorious day for the Clan of the Skull, and Levyek was satisfied that the blood spilled was suitable revenge for defeat on the battlefield.
In the darkness of Snake Mountain's altar room, Evil-Lyn backed away to where Beast Man stood, barely able to control the feeling of panic that welled up inside her. Beast Man's keen senses had detected the new presence in the chamber, and his uneasiness was evident in the way he shifted his stance to a defensive position. The sphere's half-light scarcely reached into the shadows, but slight movements could be detected as the two figures by the altar moved slowly closer.
"Why do you torment me, Evil-Lyn?" questioned an angry voice from the blackness. The voice sounded dry and decayed, but Evil-Lyn and Beast Man instantly recognised it as Skeletor's. Failing to understand the question, Evil-Lyn remained silent. Skeletor spoke again, his tone still ireful, but measured. "You dare to disturb my death, enchantress? Why have you compelled me to return to the entombment of the living?"
"I would not deny you your right to rule Eternia," Evil-Lyn replied, her words considered and deliberate. "You are destined to unleash your revenge upon Randor and He-Man!"
"The orbs are destroyed, Evil-Lyn," Skeletor retorted sharply. "How do you propose I crush my enemies?"
"My lord, you have returned from the dead!" she replied hastily. "You have no need for trinkets such as the Orbs of Trath. There will be other ways!"
"Your incantation is proof of that, witch," Skeletor uttered from the darkness. "For in death, my wraith was formed. Your untimely magic has forced us both to Eternia to dwell among the living!"
"I had no idea the spell would work in this way," replied Evil-Lyn, her voice trembling.
"Step forward, Scare Glow," commanded Skeletor. "Let us show Evil-Lyn exactly what her magic has achieved."
The torches on the walls of the room suddenly burst into life once more, and for the first time, Beast Man and Evil-Lyn had a clear view of Skeletor and the figure beside him. Skeletor's appearance was changed little, though his skin still had the pale, bloodless chill of death. His companion, whom he had named Scare Glow, was in Skeletor's likeness, but the purple cloak he wore was hoodless, revealing his entire skeletal head. Etched into his skull was a large jagged black scar, a permanent reminder of the wound that slew Skeletor on the battlefield. His torso was a pale off-white colour that began to glow with an extraordinary luminescence, and the Scythe of Doom in his right hand shone with an equal malevolence. It seemed the light from Scare Glow's body radiated from his bones, for the effect was one of a body and skeleton superimposed upon one another.
Skeletor's jaw twisted into an obscene, bony smile as he saw the terror that his supernatural double created. Scare Glow's appearance seemed to drain the courage from the fearless Beast Man, and Evil-Lyn's face was ashen. The creature was neither dead nor alive, but the embodiment of Skeletor's evil spirit; ethereal matter forced to take human shape as a result of the incantation.
"You see before you my ghost," continued Skeletor. "Scare Glow shares my thoughts and my knowledge. He acts through my will, and you shall obey his every command. You have bound him to this existence, Evil-Lyn, but he his not bound to your servitude."
"The enchantress will comply, Skeletor," uttered Scare Glow, his voice dry and distant, his gaze penetrating Evil-Lyn like daggers of ice.
"There is much planning to be done," remarked Skeletor. "Locate my underlings, Evil-Lyn, and I shall appear before them. It is time for a new strategy! I shall wreak my revenge upon Randor and He-Man! With Scare Glow by my side, my power is doubled, as is my wrath!"
In that instant, Skeletor and Scare Glow vanished in a burst of mystic light, leaving a bewildered Beast Man and a fearful Evil-Lyn alone in the altar room. The incantation had been successful, but the unexpected appearance of Skeletor's wraith would lessen Evil-Lyn's authority in Snake Mountain. Evil-Lyn realised that her position was now more dangerous than ever before.
Enticed by the human blood drifting in the current, a score of reef sharks began to approach the floating bodies. The sharks' olfactory receptor cells were capable of detecting minute traces of molecules, but the sheer quantity of blood on this occasion stimulated their sensory organs to an unusually high level. Heading into the current, the sharks swam gracefully, moving their snouts to ensure they were following the liquid trail effectively.
They neared the scene of the slaughter, assessing the situation with curiosity. The sharks seldom tasted human flesh, and would normally leave swimmers alone, preferring their natural prey of smaller sharks, rays and squid. However, this was a feast not to be missed. The sharks approached cautiously, circling the bodies at a distance despite their eagerness to feed. Such a large quantity of food was rare, and the sharks were wary that larger predators might still be nearby.
The reef sharks were of a stout but streamlined physique, with long pectoral fins, and rounded snouts. Their bodies were grey above and pure white below, and the largest of the adults were about ten feet in length. Along this coast, their local name was fangfish, and the fishing communities consumed the sharks as a major part of their diet. However, the numbers of these spectacular fish taken by the fishermen were too few to have a damaging impact on the fangfish numbers, and the natural balance of life in these waters was maintained.
Satisfied that there was no danger lurking in the shallows, the sharks began to feed. They started by rushing quickly at the bodies, and snatching small mouthfuls of flesh, before retreating a short distance. This approach continued as the fangfish assessed the nature of their food, working out how best to devour the carcasses, but soon the sharks became bolder and competitive. They modified their methods, lunging at the bodies and sinking their teeth into the muscle and bone. Several fish would struggle over one body, and the ruined remains were scattered as the sharks wrestled violently and pulled the prey to pieces. The feeding became more frenzied as the sharks thrashed about in the bloody, swirling water, and continued until there was little left of the Eternian soldiers' bodies.
Gradually the chaotic scramble for food slowed down, and the fangfish began to swim away from the area at a leisurely pace. Their hunger satiated, they headed for deeper water and the offshore reefs. By now, there was little trace of the humans left in the blood-stained water, but the bodies of the merfolk that had been slain were untouched, as if their presence in the ocean was a distasteful violation of nature.