An icy gust struck Evelyn just as she materialised in the white landscape, but the protective shield she had created moments before prevented the arctic tempest from hurling splinters of ice into her face. She could block the cold and the gale by means of magic for some considerable time, but she did not intend to remain in this frozen corner of the Northern Polar Cap for long.
There was a lingering greyness to the sky; a seasonal absence of sunlight which had only recently begun to lift. It would be several more weeks before the sun truly penetrated the brooding twilight of Winter that dwelt here for half the year. There were human settlements along the edges of the cap, but it was extremely rare for anyone to venture this far north into such an environment. It was exposed, remote and hostile. It was the perfect location for her meeting.
As she waited, Evelyn looked at the twisted metal ruin which marked her chosen spot. Much of the structure was buried under the ice and snow, with just a few long, torn pieces breaking through the frozen surface like ancient trees petrified by the passage of millenia. The ruin itself was not old - the building had been destroyed not even seven years earlier by He-Man - but the age of the structure was unknown. Evelyn had never found any records of it, and Skeletor had only discovered it by chance.
When Skeletor discovered he could use the pyramid to drain all of Eternia's magic, it took a remarkable effort by He-Man to stop him before it had been too late. The hero had journeyed across half the world and torn the device to pieces with his bare hands. Evelyn shuddered as she remembered herself dying when Skeletor activated the machine. She had been far away in Snake Mountain at the time, but even there she had not been safe. She had endured days of agony as the Magic Stealer, or the Pyramid of Glass as the Northmen called it, tore at her, tormented her, trying to drag her magic essence - and her life - out of her body.
She wondered what would have happened if He-Man had not stopped Skeletor. Would he have successfully absorbed all of Eternia's magic and become a god as he believed? Or would he have killed himself and the planet? Eternia without magic - without life - was unthinkable, regardless of one's allegiances. Skeletor could have turned the world into a lifeless rock; a barren, shadowy globe orbiting the sun for eternity. Evelyn shuddered, and it was not caused by the coldness. She knew she would be in danger permanently, but freeing herself from Skeletor's servitude was the most important decision she had ever made. It scared her to wonder what would have happened if the Sorceress of Grayskull had not offered her sanctuary.
Turning her thoughts to the present, Evelyn considered what she was doing here. This excursion to the far north was not endorsed by the Elders of Grayskull. She had not discussed her plan with the Sorceress. They would know, of course, what she was up to, but they had already forbidden her from exploring the enigmatic puzzle which so intrigued her. She would incur the anger of the Grayskull spirits when she returned to the fortress - assuming they would still grant her entry - but she was prepared to deal with that. It did occur to her that, by ordering her not to look, they had encouraged her to do the complete opposite. Was this intentional, she wondered?
The world had changed so much recently. Her circumstances were still bewildering at times. She had been cared for by her former enemies, not as a prisoner of war, but as a comrade. They had even encouraged her to use her magic for good, knowing she had the capability to turn it against them in an instant. They trusted her. Had the roles been reversed, Evelyn knew that, during her former life, she would not have shown such compassion and tolerance. And yet she had not known herself then, for her memories were hidden from her, but the Elders knew her. They had found her and saved her. They had rescued her from Skeletor before he unleashed his new creation on the world.
The grand deception had been shocking in its success. Impersonating He-Man, Faker had obeyed his master's commands and utterly disrupted King Randor's military strategy. After years of failure, Skeletor had brought an empire to its knees with breath-taking speed. The plan was not without its faults - Skeletor still had to maintain control against both Randor and Hordak - but the consequences for Eternia were enormous and terrifying.
Evelyn was absorbed by her thoughts and the uncertainty of everything, but she was not so distracted not to notice the arrival of the person with whom she had requested a parley. The sudden flash of light from the far side of the ruined pyramid drew her attention instantly. She tensed, knowing that her... guest... was as powerful with magic as herself. This was a potentially dangerous confrontation.
"Curiosity will undoubtedly be my downfall," remarked Hordak, his voice barely audible above the wind. He walked slowly towards Evelyn, closing the distance between them to just half a dozen paces. "I was intrigued when I received your message," he said. "How could I decline your gracious invitation... to come here of all places?"
"I thought we should lessen the chance of encountering eavesdroppers," Evelyn replied.
Hordak laughed out loud at her response, knowing she had not intended it to be amusing, but finding it so nonetheless. "You are a fascinating creature, Evelyn," he said. "No wonder Skeletor stole you. What have you brought me here to discuss?"
"Keldor's soul," Evelyn replied.
The Gwylvos Forest had always been a difficult place in which to live. Settlements were scattered throughout the region, supported by Randor's garrisons, but largely self-sufficient. Skeletor's intrusion into the forest had enforced a change upon the inhabitants. Now it was not the army that patrolled the woods, but Skeletor's underlings. Fortunately, their instructions had not been to attack the settlers. Instead, they kept a loose watch on the settlers' activities; only really paying much attention when they demanded supplies.
The inhabitants had not been prevented from continuing their normal existence. The scattered settlements were too small to offer any resistance. Some of Randor's soldiers, who had avoided capture, had allied themselves with the population. They had been given nondescript clothing, and their uniforms had been burnt. It was safer that way - the soldiers could use their skills to help the settlers while hiding in plain sight of Skeletor's adherents.
The additional help made hunting excursions into the forest a little easier too. The Gwylvos Forest was, long before Skeletor's arrival, a potentially hostile environment. There were creatures residing in the area that would have no difficulty in taking down a human. Conflict was usually avoided, because the settlers kept themselves armed and used packs of dogs for protection, and the beasts of the forest usually went after easier prey.
Solas kept a vigilant eye open as he led his hunting party through the trees. He was good at tracking, and his trips into the forest were usually successful. Today there were four of them in total, creeping slowly among the trees in search of wild boar. Solas was the eldest at forty-three. In the settlement he was the school teacher; in the woods he was chief tracker for his village. His son Dur, half his age, walked almost silently a few paces to his left. Nearby was Quen, another lad from the village whose four dogs were sniffing the air for both boar and danger. The fourth man, Mimo, was from the garrison, an archer of great talent who had recently joined them.
The dogs were trained to remain silent when following a scent, but now they stopped in their tracks and began to growl softly. They would not bark unless Quen commanded them to do so. Solas and the others heard footsteps approach. Whoever it was coming nearer was not concerned about moving quietly. Solas signalled for his team to move closer to Quen and the dogs. He allowed himself to relax a little. This would be another pack of Skeletor's underlings. The creatures would hassle them for a while, take anything of value from them, and then allow them on their way. Such encounters had become routine.
Moments later the eight beings that made up the patrol appeared ahead of Solas's team. Three were human, but the rest were an assortment of creatures. Some had goat-like heads, others were more wretched humanoids from whichever dark pit Skeletor had recruited them. A solitary beastman stood with them, larger and unquestionably stronger than the others. Every member of the group wore untidy pieces of black leather and tarnished metal armour.
"Hold!" said one of the humans. "What are you doing?"
"Looking for food," replied Solas, his answer deliberately short.
"Found anything?" the man asked.
"Not yet," Solas replied. And now we're not likely to, thanks to the stench of your stinking companions. Solas wisely kept his thoughts to himself.
"Gwylta," replied Solas.
"On the high ground by the bend in the river?" the man questioned. Solas nodded in reply. "We'll be..." Suddenly the man's speech was cut short as Quen's dogs started barking furiously. They were straining at their leads, and Dur had to assist Quen to keep them from charging into the forest.
Quen tried vainly to quiet the dogs. This was becoming worrying. Even Skeletor's patrols did not cause this much reaction. Suddenly the source of the dogs' behaviour emerged from the forest. Five glorms stepped out from the cover of the trees; huge fur-covered, four-armed humanoids with deadly claws and teeth. The glorms surrounded Solas's team and the patrol from Skeletor's garrison. Solas cursed himself under his breath. He should have been more vigilant. They all should have been more vigilant.
Mimo had an arrow ready on his bowstring, but it would not be enough to even slow down a single glorm. He would be dead before being able to reach for the next arrow. The four dogs might hinder one of the beasts for a while if they were lucky. Glorms were very hard to kill. Skeletor's underlings had shifted their positions, and were now facing the glorms fearfully. There could only be one outcome. The glorms outclassed every human and humanoid in size, speed and strength.
Suddenly the glorms attacked the patrol. They hurled themselves at Skeletor's creatures with astonishing speed. Claws sliced through arteries and ripped armour from bodies. In a matter of seconds, seven of the eight were dead or drawing their last breaths as blood filled their airways. The beastman resisted the longest; his strength being a closer match to the glorm that fought him; closer but not nearly close enough. The glorm lifted the beastman clear of the ground with its two lower arms, and then used its upper arms to tear the beastman's head from his neck. The glorm hurled the head away, and then threw the lifeless beastman against a tree with such force that the corpse became impaled.
Solas watched the terrifying spectacle unfold, and he knew something was wrong, something was very wrong. It was not the death that had been handed out in such a short time, it was the fact that he was still alive. No-one should survive an attack like that. Maybe I'm already dead he wondered. The sound of the furious dogs brought him back to the moment. I'm not dead, and nor are the others. Something was very wrong, but he was thankful for it.
Quen and Dur were still holding on to the dogs. Mimo still had the arrow on his bowstring. Slowly the glorms formed another loose circle, enclosing those who were still breathing. So much for survival thought Solas.
One of the glorms stepped towards Solas.
Now I'm going to die.
The glorm slowly extended its hand.
"You know what happened to Keldor when he tried to assassinate me, don't you?" asked Hordak slowly.
"I have learned much about how Skeletor came to exist," replied Evelyn. "You used Keldor's poison against him, and bound the beast he became to your control."
"Yes," said Hordak. "That decision was, perhaps, ill-considered. Skeletor betrayed me and expelled me from Eternia for forty years. That you already know. At the time I was intrigued by the possibility of turning the prince into a pet. But why the sudden interest? You have evidently had your history lesson from the Sorceress of Grayskull."
"Keldor's soul," Evelyn repeated. "I want to know what happened to him."
"Keldor died," replied Hordak. "It was just the shell of his body that hosted my creation."
"You know that is not the case," retorted Evelyn. "Skeletor has Keldor's memories. Even Scare Glow has them!"
"A legacy of the mind, that is all," said Hordak. "Keldor's poison was designed to destroy my soul! I prevented that by killing him with his own formula. Do not waste time on this pointless quest, Evelyn. His soul was destroyed."
"You are wrong," replied Evelyn, although she was beginning to doubt herself. "You are a sorcerer, Hordak. You know that energy is never destroyed - it has to continue to exist, even if its form changes. Keldor's soul may be changed... lost... but not gone!"
Hordak stared at Evelyn, his gaze holding her attention fully. He drew breath deeply and paused a while before speaking to her. "Why is this so important to you?" he questioned.
Evelyn considered her answer before giving it. "Balance," she said. "It's all about balance, or the restoration of balance. That is my purpose now, Hordak, and I have become enlightened to the fact that the fate of Keldor remains unbalanced. You know what is happening on Eternia right now. It needs to be put right."
Hordak's expression became an enigmatic combination of a wry smile and a sneer. "You delve into dangerous areas, Evelyn," he remarked slowly. "You dabble with power that is far greater than even your own. Perhaps you are right. Maybe Keldor's soul does linger somewhere. But it is not here; not on Eternia. Do not explore regions... dimensions... you cannot control. If you believe your role is to maintain balance, do not meddle with chaos."
"I shall take your advice under consideration," said Evelyn.
"Do not mock me!" Hordak retorted sharply. "The doorways you are threatening to open would require a hundred mages with your power - or with my power - to close again! It is a fool's errand, Evelyn, and one that will destroy you."
Hordak suddenly vanished in a flash of white light, evidently deciding that the conversation had run its course. Evelyn thought deeply about what he had said, but was shocked to find herself suddenly thinking about the children in the Evergreen Forest.