They existed only to carry out covert operations against the enemies of the king. Other than the teams themselves, fewer than a dozen people knew about the Sabre Squads, and each of those would deny their existence if they were ever asked. Decades earlier, the guerrilla tactics of the teams' predecessors had been used to combat the Horde, but their style of warfare had been withdrawn when more peaceful times came to Eternia under Randor's rule.
In a peculiar twist of fate, one of the king's former adversaries had been recruited to train the new squads. Tri-Klops, the master swordsman and hunter, had been released from prison on the condition that he pass on his considerable skills. Before he had ended up as one of Skeletor's lackeys, Tri-Klops had been a demon-hunter with a fearsome reputation. He was one of the best swordsmen in the world, but had foolishly accepted a challenge from Skeletor to slay He-Man: a challenge he was unable to fulfil and which had bound him into the monster's servitude.
The circumstances he now found himself in were perilous, but Tri-Klops was thriving on his new role. Skeletor would have no hesitation in killing him if he discovered his former lackey was working against him, but Tri-Klops had always been wary of the creature he called Skull. In a fight, Tri-Klops was physically much stronger and swifter than Skeletor. He was stronger and swifter than most. He would have trouble coping with Skeletor's magic, but he was not alone in that regard. If it came to a battle, Tri-Klops would enjoy the challenge.
Training the young Sabre Squad recruits had been both demanding and satisfying for him. Together with Orticus the lycanthrope, he had put all his energy into passing on skills which few on Eternia possessed. He taught them tracking and hunting skills, and led them on missions to target opponents' bases. A handful had shown themselves to be proficient in double sword technique, and Tri-Klops spent additional time with them as he was an expert exponent of the style.
The teams had been given a difficult task, for they were thrown into action whilst still in training. Despite their relatively young ages, many of the soldiers were already veterans of war, so combat in itself was not a problem for them, but the adoption of guerrilla tactics was completely new. In a few short weeks they had taken out most of the mercenaries and monsters which Whiplash had sent to prey on the remote settlements. They had also begun to take the fight directly to the enemy.
It had been a difficult decision, but Randor and his most trusted companions had concluded that it was no longer sufficient to wait to be attacked. With Skeletor still in a powerful position and the growing strength of the Horde to contend with, they had decided to resurrect their old tactics. The teams were kill squads; their role essential but completely deniable. As far as the palace was concerned, the Sabre Squads did not exist.
Tri-Klops glanced back at the grey-clothed figures behind him in the forest without moving his head. His three mechanical eyes, spaced evenly around his head, gave him complete panoramic vision, but his concentration was on what lay ahead. His night vision eye was rotated into the primary position on his helmet, which meant he could see clearly in the darkness, but the soldiers behind him were relying on normal sight. Tri-Klops adapted accordingly and was patient.
They had received information about a Clan of the Skull encampment nearby, and had watched it carefully during the last three days and nights. They had counted eighteen adherents, which meant they were outnumbered almost three to one. But the squad was confident they could attack in silence and kill everyone in the camp. Stealth was essential for this to work, and the soldiers had already learned much from Tri-Klops and Orticus.
Tri-Klops stared ahead as the camp came into view. He saw five guards but knew from his earlier scouting that there would be another three on the other side of the tents. He made hand signals to the squad behind him to describe what he could see. He paused, considering how long to wait before attacking. He frowned to himself. Something was wrong. He studied the guards nearest him. They appeared to be behaving as expected, conducting their patrols cautiously but with confidence, but his instinct told him there was a subtle difference. He was frustrated that, whatever the change was, it was not immediately apparent to him.
He waited a little longer, watching the clansmen closely. And then he saw what he was looking for. It was a barely perceptible movement, but one of the guards glanced up at the trees. Tri-Klops realised that this was what he had noticed earlier. The guards knew something was above them. Tri-Klops signalled to his squad to retreat. The squad responded swiftly, not knowing what had prompted the instruction, but obeying it without question.
Tri-Klops waited for them to back away before he moved himself. He glanced upwards, trying to see what lurked above their heads. Suddenly he saw movement. Black figures were crouching in the branches, peering at him below. Even for his night vision they were impossible to see clearly, for they appeared as nothing more than shadows. Suddenly there was a rush of movement and one of the shapes jumped from its perch and hurtled towards him. Others followed rapidly, and in the next instant Tri-Klops found himself being attacked by a host of clawed creatures. Using his immense strength he managed to hurl several of them away, but there were too many of them, and they overwhelmed him.
They were small, fur-covered animals, monkey-like in agility but with bear-like fangs and claws. They clambered all over him, tearing wounds into his body. He tried to stand, but he stumbled and fell awkwardly. He heard a shout from the encampment and noticed several guards running towards him. One carried a flaming torch. The animals which had attacked him responded to the shout and withdrew as the guards bound him securely with rope in the torchlight. The animals jumped and chattered excitedly around a man whom Tri-Klops assumed was their handler.
Once he was tied, the guards half-carried and half-dragged him into their camp. They sat him against a tree trunk and bound him to it. Tri-Klops flexed his muscles to test how securely he was trapped. The knots would hold fast. He noticed one of the adherents walk to a tent and enter it. A short time passed and the man appeared again from the tent with a tall woman. She was elegant but muscular and seemed to command respect from the rest of the group.
The woman walked slowly towards Tri-Klops and squatted down in front of him. She placed her right hand under his chin and lifted it so she could stare directly into the eye at the centre of his visor. "My name is Katja," the woman stated. "We knew we were being watched, but this is a curious development. Skeletor will be intrigued to learn the Clan of the Skull was the target of Tri-Klops. We thought you were in prison."
"Was that a question?" asked Tri-Klops, his voice soft but sinister.
"Oh no," replied Katja. "I shall leave the questioning to my master. I am sure his methods of interrogation will produce more satisfactory results than mine."
In all her years, Evelyn had never seen anything like the elfish settlement which Aloran had led her to. They had reached the secret location as the last traces of twilight were vanishing from the sky. Hundreds of lamps had been lit in readiness for the night. Platforms had been built in the trees, and these were connected by numerous bridges. The buildings blended elegantly into the trees, using the branches and boughs as part of their architecture. Aloran had told her that there many settlements like this throughout the Evergreen Forest, and had laughed at her surprised expression.
"They are all hidden by elfish glamour," he had explained. "Sometimes travellers pass right underneath the platforms without seeing them. It suits us to stay hidden, for that way our culture remains protected and intact. We allow few mortals to see us, Evelyn, for although we are ever-present in the world, we exist on the borders of your perceived dimension."
The elfish village was a fascinating place, and Evelyn would have explored it thoroughly had she been allowed to do so. Yet Aloran would not permit it, and she did not know whether it was a cultural matter or an uncertainty about trusting her. She was still very aware that she would be haunted by her reputation as Skeletor's witch for a long time, and she understood how difficult it would be for others to believe she had changed.
When the time came for their evening meal, Aloran and Evelyn were joined by another human. He was an old friend of Aloran's named Eldrin, and Evelyn knew from his pure white hair that he was a magician. She recalled hearing his name in the past, but had never encountered him. As they waited for Aloran's family to bring them food, the three of them partook in relaxed but important conversation.
"I am still unsure as to what I can do to help the children," remarked Evelyn.
"Your purpose is two-fold," replied Eldrin. "Firstly, you must be vigilant. You know Skeletor better than anyone here, so you are the best lookout we can have. Secondly, the children will benefit from your skills. You will encourage them to develop and trust their natural abilities."
"I understand the need to keep gifted children safe from Skeletor... I was taken by him myself," said Evelyn. The memory flashed into her thoughts as she spoke the words and caused her to shudder. "But why ask me to teach when you are already here? I understand you have been training young magicians for many years, Eldrin."
Eldrin glanced at Aloran and smiled. He turned back to Evelyn. "I thank you for your praise, but this task is a little too big for one mage to manage. I suspect Aloran did not mention all of the details."
Aloran spoke. "There are already seventy-two human children in our care. We are searching for at least thirty more to bring to our sanctuary. And these children are all the same age. There are many others a year or two older whom we are also looking for. These are unusual times, Evelyn."
"Over a hundred children?" Evelyn was astonished by the revelation. Normally no more than half a dozen children with the gift were born each year.
"They are still very young, and their purpose is unclear," said Eldrin. "We have been tasked to teach them both human and elfish magic. We do not know why so many have been born in such a short space of time, but the Elders of Grayskull have decided they must be protected."
"They must have a purpose," remarked Evelyn. "This cannot have happened by chance."
"On that we are agreed," said Aloran. "It does, however, place a great burden on all of us. These children must be nutured for the next twenty years until they reach their potential. Those of us charged with their care will fulfil that task willingly, but we must be prepared for the dangers we will inevitably face. We cannot allow any adversary to get their hands on such a concentration of magic ability."
"They will be placed in many different locations across Eternia," said Eldrin. "We must watch over them all."
"There is a prophecy which states one man will gather magicians and warriors together and lead them to victory at a time of great need," remarked Aloran.
"Who is that man?" asked Evelyn.
"We do not know," replied Eldrin. "He is yet to be born."