The room was a small study, high in the palace tower that housed King Randor's private apartments. Books and papers were stacked on the floor and numerous shelves around the octagonal chamber, illuminated by the afternoon sunlight that flooded through the arched windows. A round wooden table in the centre of the room was barely visible under the stacks of literature that rose from it in uneven piles, and even the intricate embroidery that adorned the two chairs was smothered by unrolled maps and parchments. The chamber was collecting dust, and as Randor pushed open the door and saw the motes floating like a million points of miniature candle flame in the sunlight, he reminded himself that he ought to do a little tidying. He held open the door for the Sorceress, who entered the room silently, gazing with curiosity at Randor's collection of books and scrolls. The king closed the door quietly, then proceeded to clear the maps from a chair. For a moment he looked around for somewhere to stack them, but concluded that there were no spare places left. He placed them on the floor.
"Please sit down, Sorceress," Randor said, motioning towards the chair.
"Thank you, Randor," said the Sorceress, and smiled briefly at the dust that rose from the cushion as she sat down. The king decided against clearing the other chair, and leaned against the edge of the table.
"As always, I am gladdened by your company, Sorceress," stated the king.
"Alas, you will not be gladdened by the news I bring, Randor," replied the Sorceress. "I bring only sadness. The Oracle of Eldor has been slain by Skeletor's hand."
Randor's face flushed with anger. He rose slowly, and walked across the room, away from the Sorceress. Though she could not see his face, she sensed the ire that boiled inside him. Suddenly Randor struck out, flinging the back of his hand against a stack of books. The volumes flew across the room, colliding with others and falling to the floor. Randor stared at the wall, his face flushed red. "Skeletor!" he hissed furiously. "The vile demon is a plague of malevolence! How do I free the people of Eternia from his evil? He haunts us with his foul shadow, and now..." Randor paused momentarily and turned to face the Sorceress. "Now he enters the sacred sanctuary of Eldor and commits murder! His atrocities must cease! I will not rest until I have defeated him!"
The Sorceress rose from her chair and approached the king. She gently touched his arm and looked into his eyes. "I understand your anger, Randor," she said softly, her voice soothing and enchanting. "Skeletor is the poisoned thorn in our sides, but we should remember that for all his evil, he has never defeated us. Our wounds are deep, but they heal with time. You have been a warrior long enough to understand that no victory comes without sorrow."
"You speak the truth, Sorceress," Randor stated, his voice calmer now. "Yet for all these years, Skeletor has eluded capture, striking out at the people of Eternia, causing mayhem and despair. I cannot stand idle and let the Eternians suffer."
"In all your years as ruler of Eternia, you have never stood idle, Randor," stated the Sorceress. "Your desire to bring happiness to the world is felt by your people. And that is why they stand by you loyally during the darkest hours. You are the king who saved Eternia from the darkness of the Horde. Your people admire and love you, and they are wise enough to understand shadows linger during the brightest days of sunlight."
"You ease my thoughts, Sorceress," Randor murmured softly, grateful to his companion for her kind words.
"Perhaps," she replied with a slight smile. "Be assured that the Oracle now rests in the Hall of the Ancestors, freed from his burdens. Yet Skeletor is closer to learning the secrets of Castle Grayskull. We must be wary, for Skeletor seeks to gain advantage over Hordak, fearing his former master will destroy him."
"So Hordak has forced a reaction from Skeletor!" observed the king. "It would seem that the Horde rises once again!"
"Zoar watches over the Fright Zone and the Plain of Perpetua," stated the Sorceress. "As yet, there is little sign of increased activity at Hordak's lair, and none at Snake Mountain. It is possible that many of those who fought for Skeletor at Waedi'mort Pass will seek to ally themselves with Hordak. His method of leadership is somewhat different to Skeletor's."
"I concur," replied Randor. "Furthermore, Hordak will not face us on the battlefield until he is ready to do so. The Horde will rise, Sorceress, of that we can be certain."
"And yet Hordak's tactics remain elusive to us," the Sorceress responded. "For now, I believe Skeletor represents the greatest threat. Increase the guard at the palace, Randor. I fear our adversary may strike at the heart of the kingdom."
"I shall heed your words," the king stated. He walked to the window, and stood directly in the sunlight. Closing his eyes, he straightened his back and lifted his head. His bearing was regal and awesome to behold. Illuminated by the sunlight, his presence seemed to fill the room. Few men could have matched his achievements, particularly with such humility. The Sorceress admired his resolve. Randor had led his people to greatness, freeing them from Hordak's slavery, and all the while his heart had been weary with the loss of his brother Keldor. Despite his intense sadness, Randor had motivated himself to fight for a better future for the Eternians. It was a measure of the man that he could inspire generations of subjects while suffering from incurable wounds.
The Sorceress smiled at the king as he turned his head towards her. Their conversations usually progressed in this way. For a while they would discuss the issues of the day, and reflect on the sorrows of the world. And then all words would cease, for there was nothing more that could be said. They both bore many burdens, and sorrow was an emotion they knew intimately. For her, there was a way to escape, for within the Hall of the Ancestors in Castle Grayskull, she could rest in the joy and love of generations of Eternians. Randor had no such liberation. Until the day of his death, the king would not know the peace of the ancient chamber. She hoped that Randor would join his ancestors before discovering the secret that would break his heart. "It is time for me to return to Grayskull," she said softly, her eyes meeting the king's in a stare of mutual respect and fondness. Randor nodded slightly. In the next moment, the king was alone in the chamber, looking at the rapidly dispersing threads of energy where the Sorceress had stood. He lingered in the sunlight, wondering why it failed to warm his spirits.
Skeletor gripped the stone balustrade with his clawed hands, staring over the dark, lifeless landscape of the Plain of Perpetua. The balcony upon which he stood was accessible only from one of the highest passages within Snake Mountain. Had he cared about such things, he would have wondered why anyone would have chosen such a dismal viewpoint for the balcony. As night fell, the features of the landscape became more and more indistinct, black rock blurring into the foulness of the twilight. Some patches of light remained, but these were splits in the surface of the ground, illuminated by the boiling lava beneath. Sometimes Skeletor compared the Plain of Perpetua with a candle, for both seemed to sustain themselves through their own destruction. Perhaps the landscape, like the candle, would ultimately be extinguished for eternity.
The Lord of Destruction turned and stared at his companions on the balcony. Scare Glow gazed back at him, unaffected by the sinister, eyeless stare of his master. Evil-Lyn endeavoured to hide her discomfort, but her steely visage was never quite convincing enough. At the entrance to the balcony stood the huge Beast Man; a witless individual, but steadfastly loyal to him.
Skeletor clenched his fist, and swung it hard on to the top of the balustrade. "So near to the answer!" he exclaimed. "The Oracle was ready to reveal the secret of Grayskull!"
"Perhaps you should not have killed him," remarked Evil-Lyn. "He may have been more forthcoming had he been allowed to live."
"Enough of your insolence, witch!" retorted Skeletor angrily. "The spell was necessary to break his resistance! The Oracle would have revealed nothing without the intervention of magic. And the manipulation was not without some success."
"Yet there is still more to learn," stated Scare Glow, his voice rasping and lifeless. "We know that the key to Grayskull is an individual, but we know not who. If the Oracle spoke the truth, then He-Man is not the one we seek."
"The Oracle's words were true," commented Skeletor. "He-Man is connected to the fortress insomuch as he protects it. Yet it would be illogical for the guardian to also be the key."
"We could be searching for a small child who does not yet know his destiny," remarked Evil-Lyn. "Or perhaps the key is the Sorceress herself. There are many possibilities."
"There has to be a spiritual link between the key and the castle," stated Skeletor. "How is this to be found, Evil-Lyn?"
Evil-Lyn paused. This was getting ridiculous. "It is not possible, Skeletor. Even if it were possible to delve into the subconscious mind, where would one begin? It would take a lifetime to examine everyone! No, this question will not be answered by magic. It is a riddle that needs to be solved by logic and reason."
"Perhaps Evil-Lyn is correct," said Scare Glow. "The key exists, and it is valuable. It follows that the key would need to be kept safe."
"Or hidden in the open!" retorted Skeletor. "But wait! 'The key protects more than Grayskull'! That is what the Oracle said! The key is no child! The key is a warrior!"
"But not He-Man," said Evil-Lyn. "There are many warriors on Eternia... yet none so symbolic as the king. Perhaps Randor is the key?"
"Yes!" exclaimed Skeletor excitedly. "He is a protector and a warrior!" The skull-faced demon paused, and a grimace appeared on his bony face. "And yet he has no knowledge of magic. Never has Randor studied the mystic arts, preferring to swing a sword than to invoke an incantation."
"You assume that a knowledge of magic is required," said Scare Glow. "He-Man is the defender of Grayskull, linked to the fortress by ethereal means, but he has no understanding of its secrets. The Powersword is the magical link that binds him to the castle. It is the only weapon of Grayskull known to exist."
Beast Man grunted suddenly. "No it's not," he disagreed. "I have seen another."
"Foolish blatherskite!" cursed Skeletor. "How would you recognise a weapon of Grayskull, Beast Man? Your intellect barely allows you to remember your name! Do not interrupt our discussions with your nonsense!"
"Do not be angry, master," Beast Man said, his voice a low, whimpering growl. "I speak the truth! When I fought Teela in the Vine Jungle, I was defeated because her snake staff came alive and bit me! The warrior-woman has a magic weapon!"
A silence descended upon the group as Skeletor, Evil-Lyn and Scare Glow stared at Beast Man incredulously. The fur-coated being was not clever enough to fabricate such a story. Beast Man cowered back, anxiously glancing at those who studied him.
Skeletor turned to Evil-Lyn. "Could it be that the ape has unravelled the riddle?" he asked quietly.
The enchantress nodded slowly. "An intriguing possibility, Skeletor, though I suspect instinct held sway over intellect."
"Doubtlessly so, Evil-Lyn, but that matters not!" retorted Skeletor. "Beast Man, it would seem that you have your uses after all!"
"Thank you, master!" grunted Beast Man, mistaking Skeletor's words as a compliment.
"We must devise a strategy at once!" stated Skeletor. He strode swiftly from the balcony, returning to the passages within Snake Mountain. The others followed, trailing behind Skeletor's billowing cloak. "We must capture Teela and compel her to reveal the secrets of the fortress! With the power of Grayskull, I shall crush Hordak and Randor! None will dare oppose me!"
"How do you propose to kidnap the warrior-woman?" questioned Evil-Lyn breathlessly as she struggled to keep up with Skeletor.
The Lord of Destruction continued to stride purposefully along the damp corridors, never turning back to face his underlings. "Teela is rarely alone," he replied. "For the most part, she resides at Randor's palace. We have tried conventional assaults on the palace before, and failed. It is too well defended. A thousand warriors could not defeat Randor's guards. Even entering the palace by mystical means is dangerous. Yet we are fortunate that among our number we now have one with abilities the rest of us do not possess." Skeletor stopped suddenly, and faced his lackeys. "Scare Glow, I task you with the Teela's kidnap. Beast Man and Evil-Lyn will assist you," he commanded. "You will bring Teela to Snake Mountain. Once you have returned, I shall reveal more of my plans to you. Work fast, and do not fail me."
"I shall not fail, Skeletor," retorted Scare Glow confidently. "Not even the heroes of Randor and the entire company of royal guards will prevent me from capturing Teela."
"You are very sure of yourself," remarked Evil-Lyn.
"Do not doubt my words, enchantress," replied Scare Glow. "For how can my enemies stand in my way? They cannot kill me, for I am already dead."
Evil-Lyn looked at him, and found herself drawn into his demonic stare, feeling once again the same icy chill that had paralysed her during their first encounter. Finally he turned away from her, releasing her from the gaze of death. Terrified, she reached out and took hold of Beast Man's arm for reassurance, standing motionless in the passageway, as Skeletor and his wraith disappeared into the darkness.