For the entire duration of his confinement, He-Man had been kept bound. He knew not how long he had been tied, for the drug-induced delirium prevented him from estimating the passage of time in any way. He spent most of his captivity in this bewildered, dream-like state, remaining alive purely on the whim of his oppressor. Servants of Skeletor continued to feed him the horrible liquid, forcing his lips apart when he resisted. The drug would take effect swiftly, sending him deeper into the unreal world he now existed in.
Yet there were moments when he remembered who he was; brief times of clear-headedness. Once in a while, guards would turn up and throw buckets of icy water over him to wash off the filth he made in his helpless captivity. The guards laughed when he gasped at the shock of the icy water, but in truth he lived for such moments. The moments were short, but it made him remember, and the memories prevented him from abandoning hope.
He-Man knew that even if he had been able to free himself from Webstor's ropes, he would not have been able to fight. His muscles, tied as they were and weakened through lack of movement and nutrition, had effectively seized up. He did not know the layout of Snake Mountain, and would have struggled to find his way out of the maze of tunnels and catacombs which riddled Skeletor's stronghold.
In the earliest days of his captivity, He-Man was watched and guarded by Skeletor's closest allies, but now the task seemed to have fallen to less important underlings. The likes of Kobra Khan and Mer-Man rarely appeared, and He-Man supposed they had decided he was no longer a problem captive, or perhaps, they had simply been tasked with other duties. He-Man paid scant attention to their replacements, knowing they would all be dead if his predicament were but slightly different.
He-Man was drifting in and out of consciousness when Evelyn strode into the chamber. She slapped him across the face to gain his attention. "Wake up!" she hissed. "We have little time before the bodies are found!" He-Man squinted and tried to focus. He thought he recognised the woman who was now severing his bonds with a sharp knife, but his memory was confusing him. This woman was supposed to be his enemy.
Evelyn cut the last cord and tried to pull He-Man into a standing position, but he was too heavy for her. "Get moving!" Evelyn ordered, her voice urgent but quiet. He-Man tried to stand, but a sudden pain shot through his legs and he stumbled, falling to the floor. He pushed himself to his hands and knees, wincing at the pain the simple movements were causing him.
He-Man tried to speak as he gradually pulled himself up, using Evelyn as support, but his throat was swollen and he could not form the words. "I shall explain all in good time," said Evelyn, recognising that He-Man was trying to make sense of the encounter. "For now, just trust me. Skeletor's is using his clone to impersonate you in order to send Randor's army into disarray. You are the only one who can stop Faker. I must take you to the Sorceress."
"Destroy it!" urged He-Man, his words barely a dry whisper. "Destroy it!"
Evelyn understood what he meant. Concentrating on the cauldron, she shouted an incantation and aimed her wand at the cloning vessel. Energies burst forth from the wand and struck the cauldron. Its sides suddenly cracked and fell apart, its vile contents flooding all over the machinery beneath it. Evelyn and He-Man found themselves wading in the liquid as the equipment was destroyed. Evelyn grabbed He-Man's hand and cast another spell, this time forming a magic doorway to Castle Grayskull. She pulled him through the door, and they found themselves inside the ancient fortress.
"Sorceress!" Evelyn cried out. "Sorceress! Come quickly!"
Moments later the Sorceress hurried into the chamber with Man-At-Arms. Neither could hide their shock at seeing Evelyn return with the injured He-Man.
"He-Man has been held captive in Snake Mountain," explained Evelyn hurriedly. "He did not delay his return from Avion as was thought. You must heal him, Sorceress, for there is a threat present in Eternia which only he can defeat."
"I shall try," responded the Sorceress, placing her hands on the warrior who had slumped on to the stone floor of the castle.
"Man-At-Arms..." Evelyn began.
The old warrior raised his hand to stop her. "Evelyn, I owe you an apology. I doubted you and thought you had betrayed us."
"Apology accepted," replied Evelyn. "Now listen. I became aware of Skeletor's scheme during a flight on the astral plane. He has created a clone of He-Man - named Faker - and is using the creature to redeploy your troops. Many have been captured. I can help He-Man find Faker and stop the deception, but I fear I may be too late to prevent the garrisons falling to Skeletor."
"If this is true, then the kingdom is in grave danger!" stated Man-At-Arms. "I had begun to receive peculiar reports from my messengers, but nothing that indicated an offensive on this scale. Deal with Faker, Evelyn, and I shall inform the king and prepare our response."
"Make haste, Man-At-Arms," replied Evelyn. "The safety of the realm is in dire peril."
Rattlor did not understand the seemingly shamanic dream that had led him to the remote outcrop in the Sands of Time six days ago. Indeed, he had never been to this place before, but somehow he had navigated to this location, and its physical appearance was identical to his vision. He did not consider himself to be blessed with any psychic ability, which made the experience all the more bewildering. Intuitive and instinctive, perhaps, but not psychic.
The snake man was the village elder of his clan, although his role was more about helping his people to survive persecution than to guide them in matters of tradition. They numbered only in the hundreds, spread across the Sands of Time in small colonies to avoid detection. They were a hated people, for the folk memory of the Eternian humans was long, and they remembered the story of King Hiss's rise to power.
Rattlor had watched and waited these last few days and nights, sleeping little and wondering what he would find here. So far he had seen nothing but the sky and sand, and although he marvelled at the magnificence of the star-filled desert night, he could admire that from his colony. The days and nights had passed without incident, but he waited.
Rattlor's sharp eyes saw the shape on the sand long before it reached him. It was a snake, only a foot long, and even at distance the snake man knew it was injured. Rattlor observed the serpent curiously as it approached him. As it came nearer, Rattlor noticed the snake's skin was badly burned. It was miraculous that it had survived. With a compelling curiosity, Rattlor picked up the snake.
Suddenly the presence of the injured snake grew powerful in his mind, seemingly possessing his thoughts. He was drawn into its inner strength, and heard it communicate with his mind. "I have been betrayed," the voice in his head told him. "Yet the demon did not succeed in slaying me! I am weak, but I will grow strong! Protect me and I shall reward you!"
In the next moment, the vision in Rattlor's mind vanished, and he saw again the injured snake in his hands. "I shall make you well, master," Rattlor hissed softly. "Together we will free our people from their persecution."
Evelyn concentrated on the crystal ball fixed to the top of her wand. It did not take her long to find Skeletor. "Skeletor is in the Gwylvos Forest, Sorceress," she stated. Faker and he are on the high ground above the Valley of Eldor."
"I can take He-Man there, Evelyn, but your association with me cannot be revealed to Skeletor," the Sorceress replied. "You must remain here and hide your wand before Skeletor realises you have been watching him."
"I am grateful for your concern, Sorceress, but I must face Skeletor," Evelyn said.
"Yes, you must, but not today," replied the Sorceress. "Your role is to protect the children from danger. I shall deal with Skeletor."
"It seems you may have to deal with Skeletor and Faker single-handedly," Evelyn remarked. "He-Man is not ready."
The Sorceress placed her hand on Evelyn's arm. "I shall help him," she said. Suddenly Evelyn was alone in the room as the Sorceress and He-Man vanished in a flash of white light.
They reappeared on a plateau high above the Great River. In the clearing before them stood Skeletor and Faker. Faker looked identical to He-Man, the appearance sustained by Skeletor's incantation. The Sorceress's sudden arrival startled them briefly, but they regained their composure quickly, and their surprise turned to mirth when they saw the half-dead He-Man crouching beside the Sorceress.
"So you have found my prisoner, Sorceress!" remarked Skeletor. "Why did you bring him here? You dare to challenge Faker and me with that incapacitated oaf?"
The Sorceress pointed her staff at Skeletor and unleashed a bolt of energy which knocked him off his feet. She strode over to him and crouched down beside him as he tried to push himself up. "You should know better than to mock me, Skeletor," she said softly. Sensing Faker approaching her, the Sorceress turned and loosed an energy blast which struck him squarely on the chest. It stopped him in his tracks, but he did not fall. As the magic dispersed, he regained his original semblance, and it was the red-haired, blue-skinned creature that glared at her and drew his sword.
She knew she would be unable to defeat both Skeletor and Faker, but she had delayed them long enough. She pointed her snake-headed staff at He-Man and unleashed another energy blast. This time, however, it was not to stun but to invigorate. He-Man needed her help. She prayed to the Goddess that He-Man would defeat Faker quickly; the longer she animated him with her mystical energy, the more likely he would die.
He-Man rose swiftly, the sudden burst of energy awakening his damaged muscles and senses. He reached backwards and found the Powersword scabbarded on his back. Recognising the creature from Snake Mountain, he strode towards Faker and took up a fighting stance. Faker, his attention now fixated on He-Man, adjusted his swordgrip and advanced. Instantly battle commenced, and the two evenly-matched warriors swung attacks and ripostes at each other in a furious blur of movement.
Skeletor was recovering swiftly from the attack. And yet the Sorceress did not strike him again. Instead, she placed her left hand on the ground and murmured an invocation in a language Skeletor did not understand. Then she stood up and moved away from Skeletor to watch the battle between He-Man and Faker.
To her despair, she saw that He-Man was already weakening against Faker's onslaught. She focussed more mystical energy into him, forcing him to fight back. "You cannot keep him going indefinitely, Sorceress," said Skeletor as he rose from the place he had fallen. "And you cannot fight me!"
"I do not need to fight you, Skeletor, when I have the heart of the forest at my side," replied the Sorceress. Suddenly Skeletor found his arms pinned to his sides as two huge green arms encircled him. Unable to see the creature behind him, Skeletor struggled in vain to free himself from its mighty grip.
The Sorceress released another bolt of energy at He-Man. With unnatural strength, He-Man swung the Powersword with such force that it smashed Faker's sword from his hand. For the first time during the battle, Faker realised he was at a disadvantage, but the thought vanished as soon as it had arrived, for He-Man struck him with such a powerful punch that he staggered backwards to the edge of the plateau. The loose soil gave way beneath his feet, and suddenly Faker tumbled down the valleyside, his body seemingly like a ragdoll as it crashed down the rocky slope. Knowing he had been defeated, Skeletor cast a spell of teleportation and disappeared from the grip of his captor.
He-Man collapsed as the last traces of mystical power left his body. The Sorceress and her new companion hurried to where he had fallen. The Sorceress placed her hands upon the unconscious warrior's chest. "He is dangerously weak," she said forlornly. "I must do all I can to heal him."
The mighty being from the forest gently removed the Sorceress's hands from He-Man's chest and replaced them with his own. He paused for a moment, sensing the damage to the warrior's body. "He has been poisoned with vile substances," stated the forest man. "I will take him to the forest, where the evil can be purged from his body. Worry not about your young charge, Sorceress. I shall return him to you when he is well."
"Then I shall return to Grayskull and ascertain what damage Skeletor has done to the realm," said the Sorceress. "Thank you for your help, Moss Man."
"We shall speak again soon," her companion replied, and with those words he lifted He-Man gently and carried him towards the forest.