Randor's army had made good progress, despite the low spirits of the men. The recent conflict on the Moor of Doom had wearied them, and many of their comrades had fallen. They had won a victory of sorts, but all knew that without He-Man, the outcome would have been very different. And yet Skeletor had refused to be bound even by death, somehow returning to Eternia to cast fear into the hearts of Randor's people. His reappearance left a bitter taste; an affront to the memories of those brave soldiers who had given their lives in defence of the realm. The Eternians would fight hard, but their doubts remained with them as they headed for Mar'alar.
Once they had reached the Great Wall, Man-At-Arms had divided the army. The task of establishing a defensive barrier fell to Teela, and she had quickly organised her troops, preparing them to fight should the rest of the army be defeated. She had strengthened the sentry posts along the ancient barricade, ensuring lines of communication were established so that any breach would be responded to as swiftly as possible. If the king failed to take Mar'alar, Teela's soldiers would be the last line of defence against an invasion by Skeletor. She was under no illusions that the assignment was a perilous one. The warriors under her command were fewer in number than those continuing the journey; if they were crushed, her soldiers would, in all probability, suffer the same fate. Furthermore, the strategy had only assumed action by Skeletor. No one had any information about Hordak. His intentions were not yet known, and though it was believed it would take him some considerable time to build an army, there was no doubt that eventually he would make his presence felt.
As Teela's men worked hard constructing barriers and defences, the rest of the Eternian soldiers marched eastwards, crossing the marshy edges of Blackmere, and continuing to the sprawling sylvan landscape that was the Gwylvos Forest. The king rode at the head of the line, accompanied by Man-At-Arms and Fisto. The weather was holding, which assisted their march, though in places the ground remained sodden underfoot. The storms had not returned, but there was a chill in the air now, for Winter was not far distant. The coolness was of benefit during the day, but it lingered through the night also, forcing the soldiers to sleep closer to their campfires.
Many times strange sounds were heard in the forest, but the roaming beasts that would have eagerly preyed on small groups stayed well clear of the army. Nonetheless, great care was taken at night, and lookouts were posted all around the camps. Wolves and bears were glimpsed occasionally, but they were not bold enough to approach the soldiers. Glorms were heard too, but none were seen. The nights passed without incident, and the days were equally uneventful. King Randor spent many hours walking among his men, encouraging them with grand speeches, reminding them that all victories were hard won, but vital to the freedom of the people. He spoke openly with them, and answered their questions honestly. His presence motivated the soldiers, for though the king was an old man, he still rode at the head of his army and was always the first to engage the enemy on the battlefield.
The landscape rose and fell in hills and valleys. For the most part, the ground was stony, but the dust had been settled by the recent rains. Though the forest was immense, the climate struggled to support the trees that grew here. As a result, they were smaller than usual, their branches more delicate and fragile. Yet there was water enough throughout the Summer to encourage a fair crop of fruit in the Autumn, for the thin roots penetrated the barren ground deeply in search of moisture. Several varieties of tree survived in the Gwylvos Forest; the fruit trees competing with the oaks for space in this difficult environment. Nearer the Great River, the oaks dominated the scenery, standing taller and more sturdy than in the drier parts of the forest.
Yet trees did not spread completely across the Gwylvos Forest. There were valleys that remained sparsely adorned with vegetation, save a few bramble-like shrubs that clung forlornly to the valley sides. It was into one such valley that Randor's army marched. The water from the recent storms had drained away here, passing through the porous rock quickly. The stony ground would have been treacherous for men without strong boots, for the pieces of rock that littered the valley floor were flat and sharp. Like great intimidating walls the valley slopes rose steeply, sharply charting a course like a tear in the landscape. Perhaps, many centuries ago, a river ran through this ravine, but any traces had long since vanished. Hemmed in by the valley, Randor led his men along the dry river bed. He had journeyed this way many times before, and knew the valley sides would become less steep approximately a league further to the east. He suspected that the valley had been known by many different names in the past, but now it was named Waedi'mort Pass. It was a name he felt uncomfortable with, for it spoke of death. In truth, it related to the barrenness of the valley itself, but that had never prevented Randor's unease as he travelled through here.
The sun was bright as the Eternian soldiers marched through the valley, though its warmth was lessened by the long shadows cast by the valley's slopes. Both Man-At-Arms and the king would have preferred to take a different route, but this was the shortest way to Mar'alar. Marching swiftly, it would take the army less than an hour to reach the far end of the pass. Urging the men on, Randor rode back and forth, shouting words of encouragement. The soldiers responded positively, and quickened their pace. With luck, they would reach the end of the valley safely, ready for the next part of their trek. Yet as Man-At-Arms looked up and noticed the glint of sunlight on steel, high up on the valley's rim, he realised that today luck was against them.
The army had reached the midway point along the valley floor when the clamorous rumble was heard, echoing on the rocky walls. At that moment, on each side of the ravine, great black lines appeared on the rims as thousands of troops advanced to the edges, overlooking Randor's men below. Brandishing weapons, the new arrivals spread far along the cliffs, surrounding the Eternian soldiers, and waiting for the signal to attack. Man-At-Arms screamed a war cry, calling his men to arms, but the warriors under his command had already drawn swords and turned to face the enemy. Far above, mounted on black horses, were Skeletor and his generals. Skeletor punched the air with his Havoc Staff, and instantly his warriors responded. They charged down the slopes of Waedi'mort Pass, waves of blackness and steel, hurtling over the rocky ground towards their vastly outnumbered enemy.
The faintest of shadows passed over where He-Man and Battle Cat stood, before a harsh falcon's cry pierced the stillness of the forest. Looking skywards, He-Man saw the mighty Zoar circling far above him. Messenger of the Sorceress of Grayskull, the huge raptor was rarely seen unless summoning He-Man to stand against a peril of dire urgency. Sabina walked towards He-Man, in company with Morven and Cora. "We have enjoyed your company, He-Man," the dryad leader said, her words softly spoken. "You will always be welcome to return to us."
"You have my heartfelt thanks, Sabina," replied He-Man. "I shall delay my next visit no longer than I must. I wish that I might stay longer on this occasion, but the Sorceress summons me to action."
"Great Zoar will guide you," said Sabina. "Fight hard, defender of Grayskull. Remember all we have taught you."
"I shall, Sabina," answered He-Man. "Morven and Cora, my thanks to you also. I have learned much from you."
The dryads smiled gracefully at He-Man, but no more words were spoken. He-Man swung himself into Battle Cat's saddle, and unfastened his battle-axe and shield. Watching the falcon overhead, He-Man saw that Zoar flew south. Urging Battle Cat forwards, the warrior departed from the company of dryads, and ventured rapidly into the forest.
Battle Cat's pace through the Gwylvos Forest was breathtaking. There was no obstacle that he could not pass, and he bounded easily over and around hindrances that would have stopped even the finest of horses. As the canopy layer was not particularly dense, He-Man was able to keep Zoar in sight most of the time. The falcon flew swiftly, urging those on the ground below to increase their speed. The route taken was almost directly south. He-Man knew not why Zoar was leading them this way, but he sensed the raptor's urgency. Curious as to his mission, He-Man felt a renewed confidence in his abilities, certain that he could face any danger that he encountered.
Yet as the terrible clamour of war reached his ears, he wondered what dreadful conflict was taking place. Battle Cat had also heard the sounds of weapons clashing and warriors dying, and he tirelessly ran onwards over the rough landscape. Readying his axe, He-Man tried to prepare himself mentally for battle. Yet nothing could have prepared him for the scene of devastation that he saw as Battle Cat and he reached Waedi'mort Pass. Without hesitation, Battle Cat bounded along the route Randor's men had taken, eager to join in the fight. He-Man stared in horror at the sight of the king's soldiers surrounded by thousands of monstrous humanoids, desperately trying to keep themselves alive as Skeletor's creatures hurled themselves relentlessly into the chaotic battle. There was no defensive line or order to the Eternians' position; they simply fought with all the fury they could muster. Yet the soldiers were falling fast against the onslaught, and for every one of Skeletor's underlings slain, there were ten more ready to fight.
Reaching the site of the battle, He-Man swung his battle-axe viciously into the enemy, while Battle Cat's claws ripped into their bodies. Mounted on Battle Cat, He-Man had some advantage over his enemy, but their numbers alone made combat difficult. There were simply too many creatures to fight, but with vigour and determination, He-Man battled furiously slaying dozens of Skeletor's minions with slicing strikes of his axe. Yet with heavy heart, He-Man watched the king's men die around him, and there was nothing he could do to prevent the slaughter.
At the centre of the battle stood Man-At-Arms, Fisto and Randor. Now, as they had many times before, they fought valiantly side by side, holding the hopes and freedoms of the Eternian people in their hearts. Yet this conflict was one of the most terrible they had faced, and they doubted that they would survive the day. They had seen the arrival of He-Man and Battle Cat, and that inspired them with new confidence, but the odds were so overwhelmingly stacked against them, that they knew He-Man's presence on the battlefield would not be sufficient to defeat Skeletor's hordes.
As Battle Cat twisted and turned, He-Man realised that they were now surrounded on all sides by enemy warriors. Skeletor's creatures were so driven by bloodlust that they willingly hurled themselves at He-Man and Battle Cat, sacrificing themselves on the warrior's axe blade and the tiger's claws. But they pressed on, closing in, forcing He-Man's technique to become more constrained and less effective. Suddenly there was a flash of light beside He-Man, and a near-invisible force rammed into his attackers in an expanding circle. The wave of energy threw Skeletor's beings back several yards, leaving Battle Cat and He-Man in the centre of a circular energy field that none of the attackers could penetrate. Many times they hacked at the barrier that now surrounded He-Man, but their weapons glanced off, unable to defeat the mysterious energy. The ward lessened the sound of the battle also, and as He-Man wondered what had caused the phenomenon, he turned and saw a humanoid figure in the mystical clearing. Recognising him from their encounter on the Moor of Doom, He-Man instantly knew that it was Hordak who stood before him. Sensing danger, Battle Cat snarled at the intruder, but Hordak seemed unperturbed by the tiger's presence.
"It seems this battle is entirely one-sided," Hordak remarked casually.
"Then lower your force field, Hordak, so that I may return to it and assist my comrades!" retorted He-Man angrily.
Ignoring He-Man's remark, Hordak continued to speak. "I find myself in a dilemma, He-Man. For though the pleasure I would gain at watching Randor die would be immeasurable, it would grieve me to see such a noble warrior fall to Skeletor's foul ambush. So do I allow the vanquisher of the Horde to live, or do I let the treacherous Skeletor steal the moment?"
"Get to the point, Hordak!" exclaimed He-Man. "You assume too much power if you believe you can influence the outcome of this battle!"
"You are wrong!" retorted Hordak sharply. "And you cannot hope to defeat Skeletor without my help. Look around you, He-Man. Randor's men will die. It is fortuitous that my decision falls in your favour. I told you that Skeletor is my target for now. If he defeats Randor, my chances of wreaking my revenge upon the traitor will be crushed. I cannot allow Skeletor to win the Battle of Waedi'mort Pass, and yet I owe Randor nothing. However, I am in your debt."
He-Man stared at Hordak, failing to understand his words. "You speak in riddles, Hordak. What is your purpose here?"
"When you slew Skeletor on the Moor of Doom, you shattered the energies that bound me to a timeless dimension," replied Hordak. "Though it may be distasteful to you, you have freed me from my entombment, and allowed me to return to Eternia. I am honour-bound to repay you." Hordak reached over his shoulder with his right hand, and pushed his red cloak to one side, revealing the handle of a sword. Grasping the weapon, Hordak slid it free from its scabbard on his back. He held the weapon aloft, and He-Man instantly recognised it as the Powersword of Grayskull. "A curious weapon," Hordak commented. "For many years I wondered what extraordinary powers it possessed, and many times I have longed to hold it in my grasp. Imagine my gladness when I found the sword on the Moor of Doom! Since our last encounter, I have had the opportunity to study the Powersword, and have learned that to all except the Defender of Grayskull, it is nothing more than a finely crafted sword. The prize I sought has no value to me, He-Man. Though it pains me to do so, I must return this weapon to you. Without it, you will not defeat Skeletor." Changing his grip, Hordak took hold of the blade and offered the handle of the Powersword to He-Man. Just as He-Man grasped the weapon, Hordak tightened his grip. "The debt is paid, He-Man," he stated coldly. "Never forget that I am your enemy."
Suddenly Hordak and the force field vanished, and He-Man and Battle Cat were returned to the battle. The energy of Castle Grayskull surged from the Powersword into He-Man, and he raised the weapon high so that all could see it radiating in the sunlight. "I have the sword of power!" bellowed He-Man as forcefully as he was able. Glowing with supernatural energy, the magic blade sliced through the enemy, as He-Man urged Battle Cat towards the side of the valley. Riding directly towards Skeletor, Battle Cat bounded up the rocky slope, his rider wielding the sword of legend.
Skeletor and his cronies stared incredulously as the warrior approached. Moments later, He-Man was among them, striking out with the blade while Battle Cat's presence terrified the horses Skeletor and his companions rode. He-Man was unstoppable. None of the evil warriors could get near him, and in desperation Skeletor screamed a command of retreat. Battle Cat went to pursue them, but He-Man turned him back to the battle. Once again he held the blade aloft, and the Eternian soldiers saw the weapon shining brighter than the sunlight. Inspired by the hero of Grayskull, they fought yet harder against the enemy, many of whom had seen their leader flee.
The tide of the battle began to turn as Skeletor's followers realised that they had been abandoned by their master. They too retreated, but they were trapped in the valley. Hounded relentlessly by Randor's men, Skeletor's hordes were forced to make their escape along the valley floor. And that day, few of their number survived the flight from Waedi'mort Pass.