The region known as the Fright Zone was mostly dunes and desert; a wilderness that was bordered by the Sea of Rakash to the north and the Equatorial Desert to the south. Settlements were scattered across the region whose residents had always maintained their loyalty to Hordak, even during the forty years of his banishment from Eternia. There was an itinerant population too; gypsies who stayed for a few months in the year before seeking work elsewhere. Desert traders also travelled in this region, selling their goods at the numerous settlements before vanishing back into the dunes.
Ten leagues from the coast stood the stronghold which Hordak had chosen as his headquarters. It had been known by many names over the centuries, for it was ancient and had been used by kings of different tribes throughout its long history. Formally it was still called Zilzaal, a local word that described the earthquakes the region was notorious for. However, most inhabitants used the name Fright Zone for both the kingdom and Hordak's capital, and Hordak was indifferent to whatever word people chose to use.
For it was not the name that was important to Hordak; he was concerned only with the power contained within the walls and labyrinths he controlled. Most of Zilzaal was underground; scores of passages which led to dozens of chambers, all lit by burning torches and ventilated by an ingenious system devised by the architects of old. Hordak had discovered the place over fifty years ago as he was beginning his rise to power. At the time, Zilzaal had been long-abandoned, but Hordak realised its potential.
Teams of masons and carpenters had worked to clear collapsed passages and to restore the stronghold to its former glory. Hordak had set magical wards to defend his capital; wards which had still been intact upon his recent return to Eternia. Since then he had recruited many followers and now Zilzaal was a hive of activity.
Above ground, there were sturdy outposts and walls, carved from the desert rock. Huge tents formed barracks which housed thousands of soldiers, who guarded the fortress and practised their swordsmanship. In over two years, though, no opposing army had been sent to attack them. Many times Hordak had wondered why Randor had not sent soldiers after him, but he suspected that Randor's tactics were, in many ways, similar to his own. Randor's army had lost many warriors in the recent conflicts with Skeletor, and he needed to build up his resources once again. The time had allowed Hordak to find followers too.
Yet while Hordak's army grew in strength and numbers, he did not intend to use them to fight unnecessarily. In the Dark Continent, large parts of the region were governed by Skeletor and his followers. Hordak's former pupil had had time to build his resources and control of the regions which were largely out of Randor's reach. Hordak had to grow in strength while not provoking a response from either Skeletor or Randor before he was ready to fight back. Rather than going to war, Hordak had begun to gently show his power by sending small teams into the towns and settlements to engage and manage the population. There had been little resistance, for loyalty to him was strong, but where discontentment had occurred, the presence of the Horde had caused it to vanish as quickly as it had started.
Decades in banishment, trapped in a non-physical form and destined to remain ethereal for all eternity, had made Hordak patient. That unreal existence, where he had existed only as energy, had focussed his thoughts. The fact that he had been released from that torment was a miracle in itself. It had only happened when energies absorbed by Skeletor had been thrown into tumult when He-Man had killed him, and those energies had drawn Hordak back into physical form and back to the land he once ruled.
Hordak wished he could have seen the moment of Skeletor's death, but it mattered little now, for the betrayer had been restored to life. Hordak was glad that he would have the chance to slay Skeletor, and he would ensure the death was permanent. Skeletor and Randor... the pair were the reason Hordak had lost his kingdom. Hordak had vowed long ago that both would pay with their lives.
Standing at the battlements of the highest tower of Zilzaal, Hordak cast his gaze over the fortress. The stronghold was growing, and the tools and scaffolding that revealed building activity were in place in many parts of the huge compound. It had been his brother's idea to build new sections on to the ancient fortress, and in the last two years Zilzaal had quadrupled in size. It was a massive undertaking, both above ground and below, but Zodac had recruited hundreds of workers for the task.
Soon Zilaal would be much more than a stronghold. It would become a city; almost entirely self-sufficient and a mighty centre of power for the Horde. His reunion with his brother had been a fortuitous moment for Hordak, but it had been most welcome. Together they were greater than their individual parts, and the Horde was stronger for their alliance.
Kor'san'tach sensed danger long before he could see it. The taste and the smell of the mountain air had suddenly become foul, and the huge dragon raised himself from his resting-place and spread his enormous leathery wings. From his plateau on the mountainside, he reared up and extended his neck, his forked tongue flicking out and his nostrils flaring as he tried to locate the source of the infected air. Kor'san'tach had felt the presence of evil before many times through the centuries, and he was alert to the danger. In the mountainside behind the plateau was a huge diagonal split in the rock face. This was the entrance to Kor'san'tach's lair, and within the cavern were thousands of Eternian talismans and artefacts that the dragon was destined to guard from would-be plunderers.
Detecting the presence of Skeletor and Beast Man, Kor'san'tach turned his head rapidly towards the ridge and hissed; an unearthly guttural sound that caused the air to vibrate. Lowering his head, the dragon searched intently for the invaders, but saw only a peculiar distortion of light. In the next instant, a bolt of energy appeared and was hurled across the plateau at the dragon, striking the beast on the neck. Kor'san'tach reeled back in pain as the mystic energy dispersed over his scales. The distortion shimmered and shapes formed. With rage, Kor'san'tach watched as Skeletor and Beast Man climbed rapidly over the rock. A second blast was fired from the Havoc Staff, impacting again on the dragon's hide. Kor'san'tach reared up as the energy blast burned his side, and uttered a clamorous roar. Swinging his head viciously at the intruders, the dragon snapped at Beast Man and Skeletor, who barely managed to avoid the enormous fangs. As Skeletor continued to torment the creature with bolts from the staff, Beast Man uncoiled his whip. With a precision strike, Beast Man flung out the weapon, and caused the tip to spin around the dragon's neck. Kor'san'tach reared once again, jerking Beast Man clear of the ground. Holding on to the weapon with grim determination, Beast Man was flung through the air as the dragon tried desperately to shake him off. Skeletor continued to fire a barrage of energy blasts at the creature.
Gradually the dragon was weakened by Skeletor's brutal onslaught, and could no longer find the strength to fight against the assailants. Kor'san'tach lowered his head, subdued by the mystic energy of the Havoc Staff. Yet his calls had attracted the attention of other dragons, and Skeletor was aware that three winged creatures were heading rapidly towards Kor'san'tach's lair. There would be no defence against an aerial assault by three dragons, and Skeletor knew he had to enter the lair with haste. Beast Man regained his footing on the rocky ground, and ran to the edge. With a great leap, he jumped over. The whip pulled tightly around Kor'san'tach's neck, and caused the dragon's jaw to smash into the ground. Hanging on to the handle of the whip, Beast Man dangled over the mountainside. Too weak to lift Beast Man's weight, Kor'san'tach choked as the whip crushed his throat. Skeletor drew his sword with one smooth movement, and quickly changed his grip, holding the sword with both hands. He suddenly plunged the point of the weapon vertically down into the dragon's neck, the mystical blade slicing easily through Kor'san'tach's scales and through the great beast's throat. Gasping for air, Kor'san'tach felt his life force seep from his pain-wracked body.
Yet the pain ended as soon as it had begun, and a stillness so perfect descended upon the moment that Kor'san'tach wondered if time itself had held its breath. The great dragon wondered distractedly why the trauma of his injuries caused him no discomfort, but then realised that he no longer felt the wounds upon his body. His attackers, formerly the focus of his ire, became as irrelevant as specks of dust in the sunlight, and he knew that he no longer felt fear or anger at their presence. And then he simply forgot them, and they became nothing to him in his moment of solitude... and yet he was not alone, for there was a presence beside him on the ledge. The ethereal presence of a man who had become spirit many centuries ago; a man who had once saved his life in a cave in the Dragon's Lair Mountains as men of old had known the rugged peaks.
"Hello, old friend," said the spirit. "Are you ready to begin our next journey together?"
"Are you here to heal me once again, or to partake in idle chatter?" replied the dragon with a humour his companion was well-acquainted with.
"You do not need to be healed this time, Kor'san'tach'," replied Eldor. "Are you willing to release yourself to your new destiny? The Elders of Grayskull have entrusted us with a task of great importance."
"Then, my young wizard, we must delay no more," said Kor'san'tach. In the next moment the ethereal forms of the man and the dragon drifted into the tranquillity of the skies above the mountains and began their journey towards the ancient and magnificent castle in the heart of the Evergreen Forest.
"The building-work continues satisfactorily, brother?" asked Hordak as Zodac joined him on the tower.
Zodac nodded, his expression hidden behind his mask. "The outer walls are almost complete. Another month perhaps."
"They will know what we are doing here," stated Hordak. His brother knew who they were. Hordak rarely spoke the names of Randor, Skeletor and the Sorceress of Grayskull.
"I have no doubt about that," replied Zodac. "They have aerial spies just as we do. But what do they see? I have no concern about them knowing we are increasing the size of the Fright Zone and reinforcing its walls. It bothers me not that they are aware we are building new barracks and increasing the size of the army. They do not know what we are doing underground."
"When will the deep chambers be ready?" asked Hordak.
"Under a year to finish them all," answered Zodac. "However, sections are complete already, so we can begin the project on a small scale at once."
"And the tremors?"
"Resisted easily be your magical defences," Zodac said. "We are able to dissipate the energy without difficulty. And what of your concoction?"
"It is not progressing as swiftly as I had hoped," replied Hordak, "but recent trials have been more promising. I do not wish to make use of it until I am satisfied it will work completely."
A thin smile appeared on Zodac's lips. "We have learned the meaning of patience, brother. We shall strike when we are ready, and our action will be decisive."