Crouching behind a wall of white rock, He-Man and Man-At-Arms heard the maniacal voice of Skeletor echoing through the passages. "Still she resists!" the skull-faced demon screamed. "I will have the secrets of Grayskull!" Raising their swords, the two warriors prepared to confront their old adversary. They leapt up from their hiding place, and were greeted instantly by a barrage of laser blasts. They dived for cover, glimpsing Zodac as they did so. They found concealment, and the laser volley ceased. He-Man peered cautiously through a narrow gap in the rock. A short distance away, the alert figure of Zodac could be seen, his red laser pistol aimed directly at the entrance of the cavern. Beyond Zodac, the cavern extended to the edge of a chasm. A single bridge spanned the gap to the far side, arching majestically over the blackness. Between Zodac and the bridge, Skeletor stood beside a sarcophagus, to which a female figure was bound.
Stirring slightly at the sound of the laser blasts, the somnolent Teela absent-mindedly wondered what had caused her captors to fire. The intense pain in her head had been worsening gradually, and she knew the source of her discomfort was Skeletor's staff, resting against the head of the slab upon which she was tied. Somehow the ram's head was draining her energy, or at least it was attempting to. Yet there was a resistance; an invisible force that fought against the power of the staff. Knowing not what this was, Teela was grateful for the protection it afforded her, but the barrier was weakening. She heard Skeletor's malevolent screaming, but his voice seemed distant to her. He wanted to steal something from her, but she could not remember what he sought. Unable to see her surroundings clearly, she listened for any sound that might give her an indication of where she was, or what was happening in the chamber.
From his position behind the rock, Man-At-Arms slowly slid a knife from his leg guard. Flipping it in the air, he caught the blade neatly near the point. Glancing up at He-Man, he nodded when he saw the younger warrior understood his plan. He-Man paused for just a moment, before hurling himself into the chamber where Zodac and Skeletor stood. Zodac responded instantly, firing at He-Man with his laser pistol in a barrage of short bursts. He-Man rolled on the ground, ducking below the blasts. In that instant, Man-At-Arms stood up and hurled the knife at Zodac. The handle struck his wrist; the sudden pain making Zodac release his grip on the blaster. He-Man stood upright, and ran into Zodac, with all his might. Zodac was bowled over by the impact. Expecting to find himself in combat with the hero of Grayskull, Zodac found his feet swiftly, and turned to face He-Man. Yet the young warrior had continued his run, heading directly for Skeletor.
Man-At-Arms ran from his hiding place, holding his sword ready in fighting stance. Seeing his opponent approaching, Zodac removed a chain-linked flail from the recess in the front of his armour. He began spinning the weapon, waiting for Man-At-Arms to come closer. The old man looked fatigued, and Zodac suspected that his last battle had weakened him. He hoped so, for he was under no illusion that Man-At-Arms was the superior warrior in this conflict. Standing his ground, Zodac blocked Man-At-Arms' first head cut, holding the flail taut with both hands and catching the sword blade on the chain. Yet he was not fast enough to trap the blade before Man-At-Arms reprised his attack. Zodac realised that he would not be able to defend against Eternia's greatest swordsman indefinitely. He had to increase the tempo of the battle.
Swinging the flail viciously, Zodac's attack was seemingly suicidal, yet somehow the change of tactics worked. The flail crashed down on to the sword, smashing it from Man-At-Arms' hand. Keen to take up the advantage he had just gained, Zodac swung the flail again, aiming to bring it directly on to Man-At-Arms' head. Yet the older warrior blocked the attack using the armour that covered his left arm, and deftly removed the morningstar from his breastplate. And as he started swinging the steel spiked ball perilously close to Zodac's face, Zodac realised that this combat was far from won. The shape of the fight changed drastically, as the two men swung their flailing weapons at each other, ducking under attacks and trying to prevent the weapons colliding. The weapons blurred as they spun through the air, and the warriors moved with grace and style as they fought.
Meanwhile, He-Man had hurled himself into a fight with Skeletor. The skull-faced monster had grabbed his sword as soon as He-Man had begun his charge, and now the two warriors were engaged in a swordfight of astonishing intensity. He-Man knew he had to free Teela from the magic of the Havoc Staff beside the sarcophagus, yet each time he tried to direct the fight closer to Teela, Skeletor fought back with venom. The Lord of Destruction was a highly skilled swordsman, and the resolute way in which he fought forced He-Man to use every technique of attack and defence that he could remember. Furthermore, He-Man was still suffering from the combat with Jitsu, and Skeletor detected this. Their duel continued with great ferocity; the clash of their swords echoing throughout the cavern.
Suddenly the combatants became aware of another individual in the chamber. Standing by the bridge was Hordak, a great sword of ornately patterned silver and black steel in his hands, the point resting lightly on the ground. Skeletor and He-Man swiftly moved apart, staring at the newcomer. An uneasy triangle formed between them, each one wary of the others. "A deadlock of delectable perplexity!" remarked Hordak. "Yet I doubt there will be any subtlety to its resolution!" He stepped forward and raised his sword, instantly parrying a strike from Skeletor. In the next moment, the three warriors found themselves in a furious three-way combat, trading attacks and ripostes on all sides, each one with the dangerous task of attempting to defeat two skilled opponents. The chance of outright victory for any one combatant was minimal, but He-Man saw an opportunity to turn the circumstances to his advantage. He managed to edge closer to the sarcophagus, and when the moment was right, he snatched Skeletor's staff and hurled it into the chasm.
"No!" screamed Skeletor, foolishly directing all his attention at He-Man. Hordak swung his sword at Skeletor. Skeletor raised his weapon to effect a parry, but his action was weak, and he collapsed beneath the weight of Hordak's strike. Instinctively knowing that He-Man's first desire would be to free Teela, Hordak hammered sword blows upon Skeletor, endeavouring to cave in his defence. Hordak had anticipated He-Man's next moves correctly, for the warrior of Grayskull sliced the Powersword through the ropes that held Teela, and he lifted her from the sarcophagus. Yet as he rested her beside the cavern wall, he saw Zodac break through Man-At-Arms' defence. Zodac's flail slammed into the older warrior's helmet, stunning him momentarily. Man-At-Arms lurched backwards, and slipped on the edge of the precipice. His footing gave way beneath him, and he started to fall. He grabbed at the edge with his hands, and clung on by his fingers as the loose stones and dust fell into his face.
Zodac stepped towards Man-At-Arms, but saw He-Man hurrying towards his companion. After the hammering that Man-At-Arms had put him through, Zodac had no desire to risk a confrontation with the defender of Grayskull. He moved away, and stared at the spectacle of Skeletor cowering before Hordak, desperately trying to protect himself with his sword. Skeletor noticed the masked warrior approach. "Zodac! Kill Hordak! Slay him!" he screamed, the unspoken desperation as clear as his words. Yet Zodac stood motionless, gazing through the black eyes of his helmet. Yet Hordak suddenly backed away from Skeletor, ending his relentless attacks. He turned to stare at Zodac, his face unable to hide his shock.
Utilizing the stalemate between the evil warriors, He-Man reached over the edge of the chasm, and grasped Man-At-Arms' forearm. He tried to pull his companion clear of danger, but the fatigue that his body suffered made the task increasingly difficult. Suddenly Teela reached down beside him, and took hold of Man-At-Arms. She smiled at He-Man briefly, then together they pulled Man-At-Arms back on to the plateau. They turned back to the confrontation, and saw Zodac glaring at Skeletor.
"For many years I have endured your vile servitude, Skeletor," Zodac stated. "Yet that time is now at an end, and a new beginning dawns. For in all that time, I have been on a quest for knowledge. I have found the answers to my riddle, Skeletor, and no longer shall I stand under your wretched shadow."
"Your tongue spits words of treachery, Zodac!" cursed Skeletor. "What is the meaning of this absurdity?"
"You should have chosen your allies more carefully, Skeletor," Zodac retorted. "But you are a fool, and you surround yourself with strangers!" Zodac slowly placed his hands on the sides of his helmet, and depressed a hidden button. A mechanism activated inside, and the helmet split into two halves, expanding slightly. Zodac lifted it clear of his head, revealing his face underneath. All those present in the chamber stared at Zodac speechlessly, for his face bore an uncanny resemblance to Hordak's. He had the same red, featureless eyes, and the same ridged exoskeletal skull plating. "Do you understand now, Skeletor?" questioned Zodac. "Do you understand why, for forty years, I have searched for my brother? Why I have toiled unceasingly to solve the questions that only you could answer? Now my brother is free, Skeletor, and the Horde is rising!"
"You will rue this day, traitor!" hissed Skeletor. "You will not prevent my conquest of Eternia!" With those words, Skeletor invoked an incantation, and disappeared in a haze of light.
"Your loyalty humbles me, brother," stated Hordak softly. "There is much to discuss." Turning towards He-Man and his companions, Hordak paused, considering his words. "There will be no more conflict today, heroes of Eternia! Yet our swords will cross again!"
He-Man guided the Powersword into its scabbard. "I am weary of combat, Hordak. Can there be no peaceful resolution to our differences?"
"Conquest cannot be negotiated, He-Man," replied Hordak.
"And yet you did not kill Skeletor when you had the chance," He-Man stated.
"I do not recall saying I would kill Skeletor at Valmorlar," Hordak retorted. "I merely stated he was the target of my vengeance. Farewell, guardians of Grayskull, and be ever vigilant!" Backing away, Hordak and Zodac retreated swiftly across the arched bridge, and soon they had disappeared amongst the caverns and catacombs on the far side of the chasm.
As Teela, He-Man and Man-At-Arms began to make their way from the cavern, a burst of mystical energies appeared, and the Sorceress of Grayskull stood before them. She was leaning heavily on a staff, and seemed to possess little energy, but she smiled at the companions. "You have done well, my friends, and Castle Grayskull is safe. Yet now Skeletor and Hordak know of Teela's bond to the fortress."
"It is a bond that I barely understand myself," said Teela.
"And that is why you must be protected until you learn how to defend yourself, Teela," the Sorceress replied. "Had I the strength, I would take you directly to Grayskull by magic, but, alas, I do not. You must all return swiftly. I shall await your arrival." Once again the magical energies shone around her, and she vanished.
It was a slow journey back through the underground city, for the companions were fatigued by their encounters, but when they finally reached the giant stone doors, they saw bright sunlight pouring in through the entrance to Valmorlar. The sudden brightness temporarily hindered them, but soon their eyes adjusted, and they walked out into the snowy landscape where Wind Raider and Battle Ram stood. As they strode towards the craft, a herd of centaurs galloped up to them, wearing Winter cloaks.
"Hail, Taranek!" called out Man-At-Arms, as he recognised the Se'andari chieftain.
"Man-At-Arms, my old friend!" replied Taranek with a warm smile. He reached down, and the two companions gripped each other's forearm firmly by way of greeting.
"What brings you across the Northern Reaches to Valmorlar?" inquired Man-At-Arms.
Taranek looked skyward, and the others followed his gaze. Circling far above them, was the silhouette of Zoar. "The falcon guided us," stated Taranek, "though we knew not our destination nor what we would find when we reached it. Yet it would appear that the day has already been saved! Perhaps we are no longer needed."
"You may yet be of assistance to us, Chieftain," said He-Man. "Within the caverns of Valmorlar lie Tri-Klops and Jitsu. It would please the king greatly if they were delivered to Ynys'alar."
"And so they shall be, He-Man," replied Taranek. "Yet now you have a journey of your own to complete. The skies have cleared to the south, but the winds are strong. If all is well, you should reach Grayskull by twilight. I regret the brevity of this meeting, my friends. Perhaps I shall visit Eternos once again after the thaws."
"You will be most welcome," said Teela.
"Then let us part for now with hope in our hearts for the future," stated Taranek, and his words were sincere. "Farewell, and safe journey." Taranek cantered towards the stone doorways, and his centaur warriors followed him closely, their hooves kicking up the snow. Soon they had entered Valmorlar, and He-Man, Man-At-Arms and Teela were alone once more.
On this occasion, Man-At-Arms elected to fly Battle Ram back to Castle Grayskull, allowing He-Man and Teela to fly together in Wind Raider. Once they had loaded the craft with their weapons, and wrapped themselves sufficiently warmly for the flight, they started the engines, and manipulated the controls. Moments later, both craft were airborne, gaining height as they followed the contours of the Ice Mountains to the south. Suddenly Teela threw her arms around He-Man, and kissed him. Somewhat taken aback, He-Man smiled at her, but could not find any words to express the joy he felt. For the remainder of the flight, she huddled against him, holding him by the arm and resting her head against his shoulder.
The centaurs discovered Tri-Klops and Jitsu as He-Man had said they would, and the two underlings of Skeletor were still dazed when Taranek's warriors led them into the sunlight with their hands bound. Theirs would be a long journey by foot, and the centaurs had no intention of making it comfortable for their prisoners.
And the great abandoned city of Valmorlar stood silent once again, far below the Ice Mountains, its future as elusive as its past, its majesty as grand as the mountains that rose above it. Yet in the silence, lost in the hidden depths of the earth, an artefact of pure evil lay in the blackness of a chasm, slowly pulsing supernatural vibrations of malevolence into the rock upon which it rested. Forsaken in the darkness and frozen in the ice, the Havoc Staff lost none of its power or potency, and the skeletal ram's head stared into the void, waiting...