Many days had passed since He-Man had left the royal palace. He had maintained his course towards the Dark Continent, knowing he was destined to find answers there, but unaware of the perils he would encounter. He had passed several settlements as he travelled, but he had deliberately stayed far beyond their borders, avoiding contact. Once past the Great Wall, He-Man's journey had become more treacherous, for the terrain was harsher here. Yet Attak Trak traversed every obstacle; its incredible design making light work of streams and boulders.
He-Man, however, was not faring so well. He had consumed most of his food and water by the time he had crossed the marshy expanse at Blackmere, and had elected to head towards the borders of the Gwylvos Forest to search for further provisions. The fruit trees had provided much-needed nourishment, and he had collected apples and soft fruits for the rest of his journey. Refreshed, he had headed away from the forest into the desert heat. Unfortunately, the greater part of his victuals had gone bad, and as he crossed the Sands of Time, hunger and dehydration started to affect him badly. He rationed the food that remained edible, and discarded the rest. His water flasks were nearly empty, and he eventually resolved to turn around and head back to the shade of the forest. Yet in his weakened state, he lost his sense of direction, and what he assumed was a southbound journey in reality took him further northeast. The desert expanse continued to stretch out endlessly before him, and the day time heat increased further as he entered the Equatorial Desert. By night, the temperature dropped drastically, and his thick cloak barely kept him warm enough to survive.
Delirium turned He-Man's journey into a chaotic mix of hallucination and intense fatigue. Losing all sense of reality, He-Man allowed Attak Trak to drive forward unguided, as he slumped weakly against the back rest. Noticing little except the temperature changes as day became night, He-Man grew steadily weaker. The food and water now finished, He-Man realised that soon he would perish. Attak Trak drove on unceasingly, traversing the sand dunes and boulders with its mighty elliptical wheels.
That night, galaxies of stars shone with ineffable magnificence across the broad expanse of desert sky. Yet it was the cold and not the heavens that He-Man noticed, as his mechanical steed carried on across the sand. Pulling the cloak as tightly about his body as he was able, He-Man gazed with aching eyes across the starlit panorama. He was lost, utterly alone, and trapped in the endless sandy wilderness. Of all the thoughts that had filled his head before, only one remained. In his mind he saw Teela's face. She was as beautiful as ever, but she seemed deeply upset. He-Man felt her eyes upon him, and saw disappointment behind the sadness.
He had failed her, he realised. He had left without a word of farewell, and the anger he felt at himself pierced his heart more deeply than the sense of failure he had felt after losing the Powersword. And now he was nearly dead, surrounded by hundreds of leagues of desert, with no chance of survival. Mindlessly staring at the endless sands before him, he doubted he had ever before known such regret. And it was then, just as he reached his lowest ebb, that he saw the tiny, dim glow on the horizon before him.
Straining his eyes, he stared curiously at the orange, flickering light, that summoned him like a beacon. As Attak Trak drew nearer, He-Man saw that the source of the light was a small fire, far ahead, but directly in the Attak Trak's path. He-Man tried to close his eyes and dismiss the fire as yet another hallucination, but when he looked a second time, the fire was still burning. Too weak to do anything but stare and let Attak Trak drive him onwards, He-Man murmured wordless gratitude to the Sorceress of Grayskull, for though he knew not what or whom he might encounter at the fire, he knew she had guided him here.
Skeletor and Scare Glow had been pleased with the news of the successful raid on Ynys'alar, and the freeing of Jitsu. Similar reports had found their way to Snake Mountain, as numerous attacks by Skeletor's lackeys on Randor's outposts in the Gwylvos Forest and beyond had succeeded in overthrowing the king's soldiers. As the network of strongholds under Skeletor's command increased, the Lord of Destruction and his ghostly double had directed their attention to Mar'alar. The fort represented the greatest challenge so far, for although Mer-Man had prevented the reinforcements from arriving, the castle remained heavily fortified. As Scare Glow and Skeletor discussed the various methods of assault at their disposal, Evil-Lyn excused herself and left the war chamber. She had little interest in the tactics of war. Besides, she had some research of her own to perform.
While the demon and his wraith were occupied with their strategies, Evil-Lyn intended to delve into the past. She had long had the ability to study past events in cauldrons of vision, but to conduct such spells, a point of reference was needed, such as a specific location or date. Without this, searching the past was difficult, and would rarely reveal the information sought. Yet Evil-Lyn was determined to learn something of Skeletor's history. She was certain a great mystery surrounded her master, for there were no obvious signs of his presence on Eternia before his alliance with Hordak.
As she strode swiftly to her chamber, she considered the possibility that Skeletor had appeared from another world or dimension. That was entirely possible, for such places existed, but these cosmic events were so infrequent that she doubted his appearance could be attributed to natural causes. Of course, the veils could be forced apart by magic, as Skeletor had nearly succeeded in achieving on the Moor of Doom, but the magical ability required for this was almost unattainable. Skeletor had an understanding of magic, but he was hardly a master of the dark arts. He had a tendency to stumble across incantations rather than study them. Without her assistance and the discovery of the Orbs of Trath, he would never have come so close to defeating He-Man and Randor.
Once in her room, she bolted the door behind her. She went directly to the cauldron in the centre of the chamber. It was full to the brim with a shiny, silvery liquid that was so perfectly still that it appeared solid. Opening the vision was simple, but she needed to focus to make any sense of what she saw. The event furthest in the past at which she knew Skeletor was present was the Battle of Blackmere. Searching in the battle scene that appeared in the cauldron, Evil-Lyn saw Skeletor in a furious duel with Man-At-Arms. Both warriors had been faster and stronger all those years ago, but there was no doubt that Man-At-Arms was the greater fighter. His brilliance in combat was without parallel, and Evil-Lyn wondered if even the mighty He-Man would have defeated the young Man-At-Arms on the battlefield.
She was fascinated by the battle, but her questions would not be answered there. Concentrating on Skeletor, she searched deeper into the past. She saw glimpses of the Fright Zone and Hordak, and the vile array of warriors that had formed the Horde. Further back she explored, seeing Skeletor and Hordak in consultation over a large map, evidently discussing battle strategies. She estimated she had reached a point in time approximately a year before Blackmere. What she saw interested her, but this was not what she sought. Delving yet further into the past, the vision changed suddenly, and the image of Skeletor disappeared. She cursed quietly, annoyed at the lack of information. Perhaps she had not been concentrating sufficiently. Gathering her thoughts, she looked again from the last moment she had seen Skeletor. Yet once again he vanished as she searched, yet this time she noticed a shadowy figure whom she could not identify.
The figure was human, of that she was sure, but so cloudy was the vision that she was barely able to discern features. She thought the figure was male, possibly a handsome youth of about twenty years, but she could not understand what relevance he had to Skeletor. If she knew who he was, she might have learned more about him. She was about to study the misty scene in the cauldron further, when before her eyes, Scare Glow passed through the rock wall into her chamber, his skin illuminated with the bizarre glow that enveloped all who saw him in complete fear.
"What do you seek, witch?" questioned the intruder.
"I wish to learn something of the past, Scare Glow," Evil-Lyn stammered. "I was unaware you could do that."
"I am a ghost, Evil-Lyn," Scare Glow retorted. "There is much about me you do not understand. I ask again, what do you seek?"
Realising her previous answer had not satisfied Scare Glow, she carefully considered her next words. Somehow she knew that the wraith would detect a lie. "I am curious about our master," she responded. "I wondered if, by learning something of his past, I might aid his future."
"You will find nothing!" Scare Glow retorted sharply. "There is nothing in Skeletor's past that would assist him now. You will focus on the present, Evil-Lyn. If you fail to do so, you will incur my wrath. You will return with me at once to the war chamber. Skeletor wishes to discuss the forthcoming attack on Mar'alar with you."
"Willingly," she replied, turning towards the door, and unfastening the bolts. She was angry at Scare Glow's intrusion. Resolving to place mystic wards around her chamber to prevent repeat occurrences, she walked into the corridor and headed to the war chamber.
The man who sat by the camp fire was an old fellow, with thinning grey-white hair, and a rugged yet strangely majestic face. He wore simple clothes beneath a hooded cloak. Looking up as He-Man drew closer, the man lifted back the hood, and motioned for He-Man to join him by the fire. The welcoming flames had given He-Man a little strength, and he stopped Attak Trak a short distance away, then awkwardly staggered to the fire. He collapsed before the flames as his legs gave way beneath him.
"Sit down," the stranger said warmly. He handed He-Man a flask. "Drink this," he said. "A sip at a time, mind. Don't want you emptying your stomach all over my fire."
He-Man gratefully accepted the flask, and slowly drank the liquid. It astonished him to find that the drink was icy cold. It tasted of berries, and the concoction seemed to revive his muscles a little with the very first sip.
"This is a strange place for a traveller to venture," the old man commented. "I think you're a fool for coming out this far alone, if you don't mind me saying so, He-Man."
"You're right, friend," He-Man replied through cracked lips. "But you're here too."
"No, I am sitting beside a camp fire in the Valley of Eldor," the stranger said. "I don't like the desert."
"So this is another false vision?" exclaimed He-Man.
"No, no... well, not exactly," the old man replied. "We are having this conversation, but my physical form is not here. Don't worry too much about the physics. I am on an errand for an old friend. The Sorceress of Grayskull told me to search for you."
"Then you are the Oracle of Eldor! How did you find me?" questioned He-Man.
"Travelling in ethereal form allows a great distance to be covered in a short period. Yet we are not here to discuss that. The Sorceress is concerned for you. She wants to know when the hero of Eternia intends to fulfil his destined role."
"I am no hero, Oracle," stated He-Man. "I have failed in my duty. My actions have left Eternia in grave peril."
"Do you believe in fate, He-Man?" the old man asked.
"I'm not sure," He-Man replied.
"Well, you should," the Oracle said. "And you should not be so arrogant as to believe that your conduct affects destiny! You blame yourself for predetermined events. Even the Sorceress does not possess the ability to alter the journey of the cosmos."
"What of every battle, every hardship?" retorted He-Man. "Were they all for nothing? I have fought for Eternia since I learned how to swing a sword! I finally defeated Skeletor, and yet still he returns! And Hordak once again roams the land! Perhaps the responsibility for their return is not mine, but the safety of Eternia is. In that task I have failed."
The Oracle looked intently at He-Man. "You are yet to fulfil your potential, my friend. Do not abandon your duties simply because you find the burdens a little heavy."
"I feel as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders," He-Man said softly.
"The encumbrance is not one I envy," the Oracle replied. "But a heavy load keeps your feet on the ground."
"Eternia needs a new hero, Oracle," said He-Man. "How do I fight Skeletor and Hordak? I barely defeated Skeletor on the Moor of Doom, and now I have two adversaries."
"You forget the heroes of Blackmere, He-Man! Eternia has faced this threat before. You will adapt and learn. Besides, there is another reason for you to return to your companions."
"What is that?" questioned He-Man.
"Only a fool runs from the love of a good woman, my friend!" the Oracle replied with a warm smile. "You must return to Teela."
"She... how can I?" questioned He-Man. "I abandoned her without saying farewell. She will not forgive me. If she loved me once, she will no longer do so."
"Seems like you're still a little delirious," the Oracle retorted. "Finish the liquid. It will give you all the strength you need. You will survive the desert, He-Man. I cannot tell you much more than that. You must head south to the Gwylvos Forest."
"I had intended to do that," said He-Man. "Perhaps my bearings were wrong."
"I should say so!" stated the old man. "You almost reached the border of the Fright Zone! It would be better if you followed my directions from now on."
"Why the forest?" asked He-Man.
"Destiny," responded the Oracle. "As I said, I cannot advise you of all that is to come. Yet you will find your strength again, and you will face great challenges. I wish you well, He-Man. Have you learned the answers you sought?"
"Perhaps, Oracle, though I suspect there will always be more questions."
The Oracle nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe this trek into the desert has made you a wiser man, He-Man." He raised his left arm and pointed. "South is that way. Be careful of the river."
"I offer you my thanks, Oracle," said He-Man. He stood up with ease, and strode to the Attak Trak. Moments later, the great engines had fired up once again, and the machine began its southbound journey. He-Man turned his head to look back at the old man by the fire, but all he saw was an unbroken expanse of desert.