Twilight was falling as Zoar, the fighting falcon of Grayskull, flew silently over the borders of the Fright Zone. High above the harsh, desert landscape, the giant raptor was invisible from below against the dark backdrop of evening sky. With his huge wings outstretched, Zoar floated effortlessly on the air currents, a shadowy silhouette soaring gracefully over the wildest parts of the Dark Continent.
There existed a mystical bond between Zoar and Castle Grayskull, for the spirit of the castle saw through Zoar's eyes. For centuries, this role had been the responsibility of the Eternian falcons, and Zoar had been chosen many years before by the Sorceress. Whilst he was not strictly a guardian of Grayskull, Zoar frequently assisted He-Man in his battles, fighting alongside the heroes of Eternia. However his primary purpose was to travel across the ancient landscapes, observing all that was to be seen, so that peril and strife in Eternia could be prevented wherever possible.
The Eternian falcons originated in the most northerly parts of the Dragonslayer Mountains, close to the Northern Polar Cap. The breed was mostly confined to the cold, mountainous landscape, but they could adapt to most environments. Zoar had no concerns about entering the desert or jungle if required to do so by the castle. In the years since he had been selected, he had flown over the greater part of Eternia many times, and it was only the most distant areas of ocean that he did not cross.
Zoar understood something of the history of the Fright Zone, but in the many times he had observed the legendary capital of Hordak, he had never seen any noteworthy activity. Hordak had been defeated by Randor and banished by Skeletor many years before Zoar breathed his first breath in his mother's eyrie. It was a time of peace into which Zoar's life began, when war was a distant memory in the thoughts of his great-grandparents' generation. Of course, the world had not been without hardship, for Skeletor prowled the landscape, seeking to destroy Randor and conquer Grayskull, but conflict on the scale that the king had survived was not known to him.
Yet Zoar had seen enough battles to understand the need for peace. The freedom of Eternia had nearly been lost on the Moor of Doom, and Randor had survived Waedi'mort Pass by the skin of his teeth. The king had succeeded in rebuilding his strongholds and increasing his military presence in the months leading up to the Winter, but in a world where magic and sorcery were wielded by demons, peace was something that could never be relied upon. The reality of evil had been all too clear to him when we had discovered the body of the Oracle, lying in the sacred amphitheatre in the Valley of Eldor. The Oracle had been a curious companion to Zoar, welcoming him many times to the secret valley. He had perched on the ancient columns and listened to the strange human words the Oracle had spoken. It was not the words that Zoar understood, but the sentiments they expressed. The loss was a great one, and Zoar mourned the death of his friend with heavy heart.
The vast expanse of desert disappeared into the darkness as Zoar continued northwards, heading for the sinister rock that served as Hordak's headquarters. The landscape was pitted with small boulders that Zoar could see clearly, even in the half light. It was an inhospitable place that could not be crossed in secrecy by day, for it was a featureless plateau that Hordak's adherents could patrol with ease, with unhindered views to the horizons. Darkness provided the only cover, for here the blackness of night was so powerful in its presence that the few travellers who ventured here claimed that they had been able to reach out and touch it.
Yet tonight, the darkness was not all-encompassing. As Zoar neared the centre of the Fright Zone, he saw hundreds of small flickering lights in the distance. Beating his great wings, Zoar increased speed, flying purposefully towards the location of the lights. Soon he realised that below him the desert landscape was lit by hundreds of campfires, glowing like a galaxy of land-bound stars. The fires were too numerous to count accurately, and each seemed to have several rough canvas tents around it. Seated around the fires and walking among them were many warriors; the metal of their weaponry glinting red and orange in the fire light. Their armour was not uniform, save the red bat motif each wore on his breastplate, and not all were human. Zoar saw among their numbers humanoids with the same ridged skull as their leader, some with great fanged jaws, and yet others with clawed hands and feet. Some of these beings seemed familiar to the falcon; he was certain that he had seen their breeds fighting for Skeletor in the past. It seemed that new alliances had been formed.
Circling over the camp, Zoar studied the army. He doubted that it was large enough to successfully challenge the king's battalions, but it was certainly cause for concern. And there were other creatures down there that would prove hard to defeat in battle. A dozen ograsaurs stood tethered with heavy chains to mighty stakes. Enormous sand-dwelling beasts, the ograsaurs were predators of immense power and extraordinary speed. Many times Zoar had observed ograsaur herds charging across their desert homelands in pursuit of prey. When captured, they were difficult to control, but they made excellent steeds, for saddles could be mounted between the rows of body spikes that protruded from the top of the creatures' backs. Bony plate covered the ograsaurs' backs, and this reached over the top of their heads and the front of their faces, protecting their eyes and nostrils. Their fang-filled jaws could rip apart prey with ease, and a pair of large tusks protruding forwards from their lower jaws impaled any target that the fangs missed. Despite the reptilian appearance of the creatures, the greater part of their biological structure was feline, and their mighty tiger-like legs gave them their speed. It seemed that Hordak was more prepared for war than had been assumed.
A thousand candles illuminated the great banqueting chamber of the royal palace. The feast that was laid out over the many tables was spectacular, with silver trays of roast meats competing for space with the exotic fruits and cheeses. The room was filled with the voices of the royal household and their guests, the excited chatter commenting on the excellence of the food and the warmth of Randor's hospitality. Such gatherings were pleasing to the king, and as he sat at the head of the centre table, he looked fondly upon the diplomats and warriors who protected and supported his kingdom. He smiled to himself as he noticed Fisto piling his platter with the least exotic foods he could find. There were some things about court life that Fisto was never going to accept, and the more imaginative delicacies which the kitchens prepared were not to his liking.
Whilst there were usually dignitaries from different parts of Eternia present at the palace, it was rare to see so many at one time. Yet Randor had felt it necessary to bring the representatives of his people together following recent events. He often held Winter feasts, and this year's was the most extravagant. The cooks had excelled themselves, as had every member of the royal staff. The palace had been decorated with ribbons and banners of many colours, representing the many regions of Eternia. Whenever guests were present, Randor insisted that the flags of their districts were displayed. Draped from the all balconies around the hall, huge pennons with beautifully woven coats of arms and symbols were hung. The scene was one of splendour and luxury, but one of security also. Armed guards stood motionless at every entrance way into the chamber, and dozens more patrolled the balconies and corridors. Yet nothing could have prepared them for the horror of what happened next.
The first indication that something was amiss was when the flags started bulging outwards, as if things were moving under them. Shapes passed rapidly under the huge tapestries draped around the room, and within moments the whole chamber was surrounded by the unseen intruders. All conversation ceased, as those present stared in fear at the unexplained phenomenon that was happening before their eyes. He-Man rose slowly from his seat, slowly sliding the Powersword from the scabbard on his back. Nearby, Fisto stood also, clenching his huge steel-gloved right fist, and staring around the room with an uneasy grimace on his face.
The movement under the banners and tapestries continued, moving closer to the ground level. Expecting the infiltrators to appear under the edges of the cloths, the warriors were shocked when the protrusions passed like bubbles under the surfaces of the stone columns and walls. They moved more rapidly, swarming now, defying physical reality by passing wave-like through the rock. Suddenly the bubbles seemed to burst, and creatures of stone leapt out of the walls and into the hall itself.
"Gargorns!" bellowed Fisto, swinging his huge fist at the nearest creature, causing it to smash into many lifeless shards of rock.
The banquet hall was thrown into turmoil as the gargorns leapt across the floor and tables, hurling themselves at the defenceless guests. They were vicious creatures with snarling, dragon-like heads and tails. Their ferocity made up for their relatively small size, and many of the crowd received numerous lacerations and bites as the gargorns attacked with their stone claws and teeth. "What are these monsters?" yelled He-Man, beheading a gargorn as it leapt for his throat.
"Stone demons from the Plain of Perpetua," shouted back Randor. "Guards, smash them to pieces! There is no other way to kill them!"
It soon became evident that the only weapon that had any effect against the gargorns was the Powersword, for while the enchanted blade cut through the beasts with little effort, no other blade would do so, and the warriors that flooded into the room to defend the king shattered many swords and axes as they fought back against the gargorns.
Fisto continued to smash the demons to pieces with his steel gauntlet, hammering their limbs apart with a fearsome determination. He-Man's sword killed many of the beasts, but due to their rapid movements, it was formidably difficult to catch them. The palace guards brought clubs and maces into the room, and fought determinedly against the gargorns, slaying many, but nonetheless struggling against the demons for they were outnumbered.
Randor snatched a morningstar from its rack on the wall, barely avoiding a gargorn that leapt at his face with bared fangs. The gargorn landed on the table behind the king and span round just as the king swung the spiked ball of the morningstar at the creature. The gargorn flew apart as the metal slammed into its body. Bellowing a wordless war cry, Randor ran into the centre of the chamber, swinging the mighty chain and ball about his head, destroying dozens of the stone demons as they leapt about the hall.
The room had been thrown into complete chaos. The gargorns had ripped flags to shreds and overturned the platters of food. Goblets were smashed and spilled, and the injured guests were lying over the tables and on the floor as their wounds bled. He-Man, Fisto and Randor fought hard alongside the palace soldiers, but despite their valiant efforts, they never won the upper hand. There were simply too many of the gargorns, and they moved too quickly to be captured easily. The only way to slay them was to smash them into pieces with heavy metal clubs; one unlucky soldier with blood running from a deep laceration across his face had found out to his expense that trying to kill the creatures by hurling them against the walls was ineffective. The gargorn had simply melted back into the column of stone, then leapt back out again a heartbeat later, sinking a taloned claw into the man's cheek.
And in the middle of the turmoil, another, more terrifying intruder appeared. Passing like a phantom through the walls came the sinister Scare Glow, his luminescent skeleton shining through his body. Clasping his Scythe of Doom in his right hand, he strode across the chamber. His presence was one of pure malevolence, bringing complete and uncontrollable fear to all those who saw him. Scare Glow moved swiftly towards Randor, raising his scythe. He-Man leapt across upturned tables and benches to reach the king, swinging the Powersword in a vicious arc that caused the air to hiss. Scare Glow parried He-Man's attack with the scythe, and made a rapid riposte, which He-Man swiftly blocked. Soon Scare Glow found himself between the king and He-Man, but his skill with his weapon prevented his defeat, for he parried sword and morningstar attacks with marvellous fluidity and speed. Yet the contest did not last for long, as further gargorns leapt up at the king and his defender. "Fools!" stated Scare Glow. "You cannot stop me! I come not to slay the king, but to take the warrior-woman!"
Striding past Randor and He-Man, who had found themselves struggling against a horde of gargorns, Scare Glow approached Teela. Surrounded by stone demons, Teela was unable to defend herself against Scare Glow, and the phantasmal creature clamped his left arm around her, preventing her from moving. Seeing that Teela was in danger, Randor, He-Man and Fisto redoubled their efforts, fighting their way towards Scare Glow and his captive. Yet they stopped in their tracks as Scare Glow placed the sharp edge of his scythe blade against Teela's throat. "Do not attempt to thwart my plans!" commanded Scare Glow. "Withdraw at once!"
Uneasily, Randor stepped backwards, indicating for his companions to do so also. The gargorns ceased their attack and surrounded Scare Glow, guarding him with fangs bared.
"State your purpose, vile servant of Skeletor!" demanded Randor, his face flushed red with anger.
"You are in no position to make demands!" retorted Scare Glow. "You will not attempt to prevent my passage from here, King Randor, or the warrior-woman dies!" Dragging the struggling Teela, Scare Glow backed away down a corridor. Many of the gargorns bounded alongside him like obedient pets, while others remained behind, blocking the doorway.
Knowing he could not save Teela, He-Man watched helplessly as Scare Glow disappeared into the darkness of the passage. Yet there was a purpose to taking Teela, and he realised that Scare Glow would not kill her. Perhaps he could not defeat Skeletor's double in these circumstances, but that would not stop him from trying. He charged at the remaining gargorns, swinging the Powersword in a frenzied rage, slicing the mystical blade through their stone hides with deadly elegance. Nothing could stop him now, and the demons barely hindered his charge through the palace in pursuit of Scare Glow.
He-Man reached the outer gates, and saw that Scare Glow was a short distance ahead. The demon sensed that He-Man was close, and yelled out a command to the remaining gargorns. They turned and rushed at He-Man, attempting to slow him down. But He-Man slew them all as they neared him, carving the Powersword through their bodies. Yet he was not close enough, for beyond the palace walls, Evil-Lyn and Beast Man appeared in a flash of mystic energy. Scare Glow reached his companions as He-Man killed the last gargorn. "Hurry!" screamed Scare Glow, hurling Teela into the arms of the immensely strong Beast Man. In the next instant, Evil-Lyn used her magic once again, and Beast Man, Scare Glow and she vanished with their prisoner in another burst of energy, barely a heartbeat before He-Man reached their location. Standing alone, He-Man stared at the rapidly dispersing wisps of light with intense frustration and despair, surrounded by hundreds of pieces of dead gargorn. Placing the point of the Powersword into the ground where Scare Glow had stood, he made a silent vow to rescue Teela and destroy those evil beings who had taken her.