Learning about the Sabre Squads had been a surprise for Teela. She had understood the need for complete secrecy, but as the former Captain of the Royal Guards, it astounded her that such a project had been instigated without her knowledge. Some of her closest friends had been recruited into the squads; men she had known since childhood, and yet she had only just found out about their involvement. And yet the information had not come from a military source - the army still knew nothing about the squads - it was the Sorceress of Grayskull who had told her.
Teela had learned much from the Sorceress in recent months, but the more she discovered, the more she realised that it would take years to become truly knowledgeable. She was learning about her untapped magical ability, and had been shocked at how easily she could focus her energy. The Sorceress had explained to her that she had always had magical ability, but it had been kept hidden for her protection. Teela was spending almost all of her time within Castle Grayskull, and discovering new secrets every day. The revelation about the Sabre Squads was one of many secrets coming to Teela's attention.
This information had, however, become particularly pertinent. The Sorceress had revealed that Teela's old adversary Tri-Klops was now working for the Sabre Squads and passing on his not inconsiderable knowledge. Tri-Klops had been captured by the Clan of the Skull, and Teela had been tasked with his rescue. "The Elders insist that Tri-Klops must not be taken to Snake Mountain," the Sorceress had told her. "It seems they have plans for him. You are ready for this, Teela."
The Sorceress had sent Teela to the forest where Tri-Klops had been captured to rendezvous with the Sabre Squad under his command. Teela's friend Emel was astounded to see her walk into the squad's encampment. "I am delighted to see you, old friend," said Emel as they embraced, "but your arrival is most unexpected."
"I have been told a little about your covert operations, Emel," said Teela. "The Sorceress herself has informed me about Tri-Klops' capture. She has sent me to rescue him."
"Tri-Klops prevented my team from being ambushed," said Emel. "He instructed us to retreat when he saw danger. Somehow the Clan detected us. We are following them as they head eastwards, but they are aware of our presence, which makes an assault on their camp difficult."
"How many adherents?" questioned Teela.
"They outnumber us three to one, and they have a lurkey-handler," replied Emel. "We don't know how many of the creatures he commands, but we suspect there are at least eight."
Teela paused in thought for a moment. "A covert attack is no longer an option," she remarked. "Rescuing Tri-Klops supersedes your original mission to destroy this Clan cell."
"Something tells me you already have a plan," remarked Emel with a smile.
He-Man awoke to find himself in a dimly-lit chamber and shackled to the rough-hewn black rock of the foreboding walls. His head was still foggy from the ambush and the effects of the serpent man's venom. As his eyes focussed, he shifted his head slightly in an effort to gain a better look at his surroundings. It was a small room, and the greater part of it had been filled with a large cauldron, pipework and pieces of machinery. The cauldron was filled with a foul-smelling liquid.
He was not alone in the room. The snake man from the forest was standing nearby, watching him closely, as was the grotesque Mer-Man. The latter noticed the captive had woken. "Find Skeletor, Kobra Khan, and let him know He-Man is awake," ordered Mer-Man. Kobra Khan left the chamber by the only exit; a large fissure in the rock which seemed to lead into a tunnel.
Mer-Man moved closer and stared into He-Man's eyes, his dank fishy odour filling He-Man's nostrils. "We have spent so long trying to kill you, I was disappointed when Skeletor ordered us to take you alive," remarked Mer-Man. "Nonetheless, I took great pleasure in gutting your tiger."
He-Man glared back at Mer-Man, overcome by sudden fury at Mer-Man's words, but he remained silent. Had the shackles not prevented it, he would have torn Mer-Man's head from his body where he stood.
"Mer-Man! Leave the prisoner!" Skeletor commanded as he entered the chamber. Mer-Man nodded slowly, his gaze never leaving He-Man, and backed away to the far side of the room.
Skeletor took hold of He-Man's chin and lifted it sharply. "Mer-Man wants you dead," the demon of Snake Mountain stated coldly. "I want you dead. Yet you are currently of more use to me alive."
"What do you want, Skeletor?" murmured He-Man, his voice quiet but menacing.
"King Hiss, legendary ruler of Eternia, is dead," stated Skeletor. "I resurrected him and took his life when he was no longer of use to me. I took what I needed from him as I shall take what I need from you."
"You lost your army of snake men clones, Skeletor, or have you forgotten that?" said He-Man. "Procrustus himself prevented your conquest of Eternia. You should learn to accept defeat."
"An experiment... a temporary setback," retorted Skeletor. "Yes, my ability to recreate clones has been hindered. Zodac saw to that when he destroyed the cloning cavern. In time I shall find a new location. And yet, neither Zodac nor Hiss realised I had duplicated the cloning equipment in this room. I might not yet be able to build an army, but I can build individuals; unwaveringly loyal to me and mighty in strength. Soon I shall grow my first creation."
"And whom do you intend to clone in order to create your pet?" He-Man questioned angrily.
"That should be obvious even to a heathen tribesman such as yourself," replied Skeletor. "I am going to clone you, He-Man."
The skill of creating portals was one which had not taken Teela long to master, and now she was able to use her new ability to gain an advantage over the enemy her friend Emel and his team had been following. Rather than continue pursuing the Clan, Teela had chosen to reposition ahead of them. It had surprised Teela how little the ambush tactic troubled her. She had observed the route of the adversary, and decided to trap them in a rocky pass.
The Clan adherents would undoubtedly be incredulous as to how their pursuers had advanced so far ahead of them and had time to lay a trap, but Teela and the Sabre Squad knew the advantage given to them by the element of surprise would be short-lived. They were still greatly outnumbered, but she hoped to even the odds by hiding her men in the high ground above the pass. Yet in order for the plan to work, she needed to take a risk.
The sun was at its zenith when the Clan warriors headed into the pass. It was a narrow gap between walls of boulders. The walls were not particularly high or steep - it would take a man of reasonable sure-footedness only seconds to clamber to the top - but they still provided cover for Emel's team. Teela watched from her vantage point as the Clan neared her position.
Teela stood upright, staring defiantly at the warriors at the head of the line. She was noticed almost instantly, and the lead signalled the others to halt. Teela saw that Tri-Klops was standing awkwardly in the centre of the group, his arms bound so tightly that the rope was causing his skin to bleed. The lurkey-handler and one other guard stood either side of the prisoner, and the eight monkey-like lurkies surrounded them. Teela's plan depended on drawing the lurkies away from their captive.
The Clan of the Skull warriors unsheathed their swords, waiting with curiosity. Their leader, the tall woman named Katja, called out. "Greetings, stranger," she said. "It is a perilous road for a young woman to travel on alone."
Teela remained silent, carefully evaluating the scene before her, and studying the Clan leader. From her attire, Teela concluded that the woman was Levyek's replacement.
Katja spoke again. "What is it that you want? You cannot prevent us from passing, so you should retreat before it is too late."
"I want you to release your prisoner," replied Teela. Suddenly she struck the ground with her staff and released a surge of mystical energy into the rock. Boulders from the high ground tumbled into the pass, and moments later the route was blocked. "I can stop you from passing," Teela added. "Perhaps it is you who should withdraw."
"A sorceress!" remarked Katja. "This presents a thrilling challenge! Release the lurkies!"
A barked command from the handler sent the fanged creatures scampering up the rocky ground towards Teela. This was the outcome she had hoped for, but putting herself in harm's way was a dangerous gamble. If the lurkies overpowered her, she would be torn to pieces. As the creatures neared her, she crouched into a fighting stance and reached forward with her snake-staff. As the first lurkey leapt towards her, the staff became a living entity in her hands, and the serpent struck out, its fangs biting into the animal. The lurkey squealed in pain and fear, and suddenly the others were thrown into panic as Teela thrust the serpent towards them. Again and again the snake wounded the creatures, and in seconds they fled, no longer under the control of their handler.
As the adherents' attention was focussed on the attack, Emel and his men rose swiftly from their hiding-places and loosed arrow after arrow into the Clansmen. The arrows felled nine of the warriors, greatly reducing the strength of the opposition. The squad drew their swords and ran down the slopes towards the enemy. Soon a furious battle ensued. Emel's men were still fewer in number than their opponents, but they were considerably better warriors, and the Clansmen died swiftly.
Having survived the lurkey attack, Teela herself joined the affray, and found herself face to face with Katja. The woman was not a skilled fighter, and two swift strikes from Teela's staff left the Clan leader unconscious on the ground. Teela ran to Tri-Klops, attacking the one remaining guard with her staff as she did so. The man turned and ran, following the few survivors of the onslaught back along the path.
Teela freed Tri-Klops from his bonds with a sharp knife. His sword had been dropped by the Clansmen tasked with carrying it, and now Teela returned it to him.
Tri-Klops rubbed his arms and wrists, trying to encourage the blood to circulate. "I am grateful for your intervention, Teela," he said. "These are curious times, are they not? I never anticipated the day I would be rescued by you."
"Well, my old adversary," replied Teela, "I never foresaw the day I would rescue you. The Elders of Grayskull evidently consider you to be too important to sacrifice."
"They clearly wish for me to continue to guide the young Sabre Squad warriors," Tri-Klops remarked.
"I expect they have a greater task ahead," replied Teela.