The sun had justed begun to rise above the horizon as He-Man and Battle Cat entered Lorg. The sky was unusually clear that morning, hinting that the wintry season might be nearing its end. The snow was still deep and had not started to thaw, but there had been no snowfall overnight, meaning the warrior and his steed had enjoyed a less tiresome journey than they had expected. There was already activity in the settlement - the villagers always rose early to begin work regardless of the season - but the nervousness of the people was clear to He-Man.
His arrival lifted the villagers' spirits immediately. The first person to see him shouted news of his presence in the settlement, and soon He-Man was surrounded by men and women anxious to tell him about the glorm that had raided them daily during the last ten days. The beast had torn down the village's grain store during the first attack. Livestock had been killed and stolen each day. Carrying the weight of a fully-grown boar presented no difficulty for the glorm. He-Man was gladdened to learn that none of the villagers had died - glorms would not hesitate to kill humans, but their instinct was to target the easiest prey first.
He-Man had encountered glorms many times. In single combat he could kill them easily enough, but he had also experienced the fear of being hunted by a pack of the beasts. The creatures stood upright like men but could run twice as fast and for twice as long. They were covered in thick wolf-like fur which both protected them from the elements and helped them blend into the cover of the forest. Their four arms were hard enough to deal with, but the beasts were far more intelligent than people assumed. He-Man had heard glorms roaring to each other to co-ordinate an attack while pursuing him, and the memory was vivid. He-Man was not keen on glorms.
Suddenly Battle Cat snarled. "Get inside!" commanded He-Man, and the villagers ran to their homes as fast as they could. On the edge of the village the creature stood, staring at the warrior and the tiger. It began to growl; a fearsome guttural utterance that He-Man had heard so often. He hoped this creature was on its own. Battle Cat was tensing his muscles, ready to charge at the glorm as soon as the command was given.
But it was the glorm who charged first. Sprinting towards He-Man and Battle Cat, the creature ran through the settlement, knowing that a fight was inevitable. Battle Cat responded to He-Man's war cry and hurtled towards the glorm. Suddenly the glorm stopped in its tracks beside a stone wall and used its mighty arms to tear the largest slab from its position. It hurled the stone directly at Battle Cat, who was unable to avoid the attack in time. The boulder crashed into Battle Cat's armour, striking the tiger on the head and neck. Battle Cat stumbled and rolled over, dazed by the force and weight of the slab.
He-Man sprang from his saddle, realising in a heartbeat that Battle Cat could no longer assist him against the glorm. The glorm sent another rock flying towards its opponent. He-Man flung himself to one side to avoid the attack, but the stone still struck his shield and sent it spinning from his arm. Getting back on his feet as swiftly as he could, He-Man knew attack was his only defence. He could not stand still and deflect the pieces of wall for long, so he ran at the glorm with battle axe raised.
The glorm managed to throw another slab of stone before He-Man was upon him, but this time it lost its accuracy and missed the blond warrior. He-Man's axe blade sliced into one of the glorm's arms, wounding it deeply. A second axe strike gouged its way across the beast's belly. The glorm roared furiously; its instinct to fight and survive overcoming the pain of its wounds. But it was dying now, for the axe strikes had bitten deeply, and He-Man knew victory was imminent.
The glorm swung out at He-Man, but its attacks were weak and without focus. He-Man ducked under its arms and swung his axe into the creature's right calf, severing the tendons and muscles. The glorm fell to the ground, its blood staining the snow. And yet still it tried to fight, refusing to be defeated, dragging itself towards the warrior with inhuman determination. But the battle was over now. He-Man backed away momentarily, staring at the dying creature. He was covered in the glorm's blood and was heartened he had saved the people of Lorg, but he would not allow himself to watch the glorm die slowly. He raised his axe once more, and with one swift stroke he beheaded the beast, killing it instantly.
"He slew the glorm!" a voice cried out. "He-Man has saved us!" Moments later the villagers reappeared, applauding and cheering as they saw the glorm's corpse. He-Man went to Battle Cat and was glad to see his companion was recovering and was without serious injury.
"All is well once more, good people of Lorg!" He-Man uttered. "The glorm will trouble you no more! I regret Battle Cat and I must leave you forthwith, for there are other dangers that must be faced..."
"No!" interrupted an old man as he hobbled towards He-Man through the snow. "No! You must not! There is no time to waste!"
The crowd began to laugh at the man. "Ignore the old fool, He-Man!" someone remarked. "He's just a harmless fellow who speaks nonsense!"
He-Man looked kindly upon the wizened face that stared into his own. "There are others in need of my help, my friend," he said softly. "My duty is to the people of Eternia."
The fellow clasped He-Man's arms with his hands. "Trust me, young warrior!" he said excitedly. "Trust this old fool who sees more than these folk would believe! You must find Thorn's Hammer and ride to Giant's Pass without delay!"
"Alas, I have not heard of Thorn's Hammer," replied He-Man. "Take care, friend, and be glad that you are safe." He-Man turned to the crowd. "Farewell, people of Lorg!" he called out. "I ride to Klar'jin to vanquish another enemy!" He-Man swung himself into Battle Cat's saddle, sensing the tiger was ready to ride. Slowly Battle Cat padded through the snow away from the settlement.
A short time later, He-Man and Battle Cat found themselves crossing a bridge beside a mill house, which was the building farthest from the centre of the settlement. "You should have listened to the seer," a female voice uttered as they passed by the mill. It was the Sorceress of Grayskull.
"Greetings, Sorceress," said He-Man as he saw her. "Do you speak of the fellow in the village? I thought he was simply an eccentric old man."
"He is an eccentric old man, Defender of Grayskull, but he also possesses a rare ability to see fragments of events which are yet to unfold," said the Sorceress. "The Elders no longer wish you to pursue your current mission. You must return with me to Castle Grayskull. There you will learn of your new quest... and Battle Cat will have time to rest."
"I am sure he will be glad of that," remarked He-Man.
Kobra Khan had worked tirelessly to find everything King Hiss had requested. Skeletor had allowed him to use as many slaves as he wanted to locate the needed materials, and now a grand cavern beneath Snake Mountain was being transformed into a sinister laboratory. Khan had moved fast, and his supervision of the project meant it was ahead of schedule. Scores of giant cauldrons were being rolled and shoved into place, and furnaces were being lit.
Hiss's instructions had been strict. Each of the giant cauldrons would grow dozens of clones, but the temperature had to be maintained at a constant level, and the mixture of materials which would be boiled together had to be blended precisely. It was alchemy of the weirdest kind. Hiss's potion combined strange liquids of rare elements with animal tissue and crystals - a concoction that would be complete only when his blood was added to the mixture.
Skeletor was astounded at how swiftly the chamber had been converted, and now waited impatiently for the cloning to begin. He would begin by growing Snake Men clones to test Hiss's method, but in time he would be able to clone any creature and expand his army with the vilest beasts ever to have roamed the wilds of Eternia.
"The cloning will start in a matter of days," remarked Scare Glow as he and Skeletor watched the construction in the cavern.
"This plan has long been in the making," replied Skeletor. "Our strategy to cause unrest among the people while Randor is distracted by Clawful's army is working perfectly. Soon the king will learn the true nature of defeat when my new army crushes his northern stronghold."
"And then he will be trapped between two fronts," said Scare Glow. "The plan is grand, Skeletor, but what of Hiss?"
Skeletor shrugged. "Once I know exactly how he creates the clones, I shall kill him," he replied.
"He keeps the precise details of the concoction secret," said Scare Glow. "I shall continue to watch him, as will Kobra Khan."
Skeletor's thoughts turned once again to King Randor and the images in his mind filled him with hatred. "Soon, Randor!" he muttered coldly. "Soon I shall claim what is rightfully mine!"
It was a place he had visited many times, but Castle Grayskull always filled He-Man with awe. He was no magician, but he could sense the powerful energies which were held within the fortress's dark walls, and was glad he did not understand their secrets. He was content with being a warrior, even accepting he had been given no choice by the Goddess. He wondered if that first encounter had been staged for his benefit. That'll teach you for rushing to help a damsel in distress he said to himself.
She had appeared to him as a beautiful, green-skinned woman on that first occasion, wearing the same snake-skin headdress that the Sorceress of Grayskull wore frequently. Yet she had also appeared to him in other forms over the years - sometimes as a majestic waterfall, sometimes as dust motes in afternoon sunlight. She had given him weapons and told him to protect Castle Grayskull - a simple instruction but a mighty task. He did not understand why he had become the Defender of Grayskull, but he accepted his fate.
He-Man turned to the Sorceress. "I am concerned that I have abandoned my quest to return with you to Grayskull, Sorceress," he said.
"Do not be, He-Man," she replied. "Orticus and Tri-Klops will deal with the threat to the villages."
"I know Orticus is the king's friend," said He-Man, "but this arrangement with Tri-Klops troubles me greatly."
"Orticus is more than the king's friend," said the Sorceress. "He is a member of the Council of Grayskull. His employment of Tri-Klops is under the king's authority." The Sorceress paused momentarily. "I wish to speak to you about another incident which the Council directed, He-Man. You remember your visit to Bleydek Forest?"
He-Man's mood darkened as he recalled the fateful occasion. "I remember it vividly, Sorceress," he replied. Suddenly he realised the significance of her words. "Wait... are you telling me the Council was behind my quest to kill the vampire girl?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes," said the Sorceress. "Your mission was a half-truth. We were concerned you had begun to doubt yourself. There was a need to deal with Alya, but she had not killed a child as I told you."
"You sent me to murder her!" said He-Man angrily. "She was not a killer!"
"No, but she had been activated by Skeletor and she was dangerous," the Sorceress replied. "We suspect her task was to kill two members of the Council - Mawr and her father Vadmir. You prevented that atrocity."
"This is beyond my comprehension, Sorceress," said He-Man. "Vadmir, the vampire who instructed me to kill Alya, was her father and a member of Randor's secret society?"
"There are more members than you might assume, He-Man, and Skeletor wants them all dead," said the Sorceress. "Vadmir knew the importance of your mission. There was a risk, and he was prepared to take it."
"A risk?" retorted He-Man. "What risk? He knew his daughter would die."
"The risk was that my intervention might have been too late," replied the Sorceress. "Be calm, He-Man. Now it is time to show you how events truly unfolded that night." Suddenly the room in which they stood was filled with mist, and as He-Man stared at the spectacle, he began to see a vision appearing.
It was a single sword strike that ended the combat; the first and last of the battle. As Alya hurled herself at He-Man, he stepped back and sliced the blade down in a perfect diagonal movement. Time seemed to slow as the swordpoint cut into Alya's tainted heart, and He-Man stared helplessly at her face as she died. In her final moments of life, the evil that had possessed her fled her body, and it was the compassionate vampire child who collapsed into He-Man's arms with a wild stare of fear and confusion etched upon her delicate face.
With weary heart, He-Man laid Alya's body on the ground. "I am sorry, Alya," he whispered. "I had no choice." He backed away, and retrieved the Powersword from where he had dropped it. He had no desire to remain in the settlement, and walked away into the forest, dragging the bloodstained point of his sword in the snow, following the moonlit path towards Wind Raider's location.
Vadmir clutched the lifeless body of his beautiful daughter, his eyes damp with tears. Suddenly the Sorceress appeared in the clearing, and she knelt down beside Vadmir and Alya. "Hurry, Sorceress," Vadmir pleaded.
The Sorceress placed her hand on Alya's chest, covering the wound. A glow of warm light began to emanate from her hand as energies passed from her into the dead vampire girl. Suddenly Alya gasped and opened her eyes. The Sorceress withdrew her hand, and the wound was gone.
The chamber returned to its former state as the vision dispersed. He-Man stared at the Sorceress. "You saved her?" he questioned.
"The Elders could not allow the Powersword to take the life of an innocent," the Sorceress replied softly.
"And now I am here to help you on your new quest, He-Man," a woman's voice said. He-Man looked around and saw Alya walk into the chamber.
"My heart sings to see you alive!" he exclaimed.
"Alya will help you find Thorn's Hammer," said the Sorceress. "Together you must enter the tunnels below Castle Grayskull. The seer was right, He-Man. The Elders detect an ancient, evil presence in the Dark Continent. Find the hammer and head for Giant's Pass."