Accidentally allowing his own blood to mix with He-Man's in the cauldron had, in Skeletor's mind, turned out to be far less of a concern than he initially thought. Faker's discolourment could be masked easily with magic, and the incantation lasted for days. The addition of Skeletor's blood seemed to have enhanced the bond between master and servant, and it was apparent to Skeletor that his creation was fiercely loyal to him.

In the days after Faker's creation, Skeletor showed him how to wield a sword, and had marvelled at how quickly the clone had picked up the skills. The ability to learn rapidly was an unexpected characteristic of King Hiss's cloning process. Skeletor thought it unfortunate that Tri-Klops had been captured by the king - had the mercenary still been in his employment he would have ordered Tri-Klops to teach Faker his own style of swordcraft. Tri-Klops was undoubtedly one of the best swordsmen on the planet, but Skeletor was not unskilled himself.

Skeletor was keen to use He-Man's blood again, but he delayed for two reasons. Firstly, he wanted to see how well Faker performed. Skeletor intended to watch him closely for a while to see whether any hidden problems surfaced, or whether any adjustments to the cloning process would create an even stronger replica. Secondly, the accidental addition of his own blood had caused him to wonder whether he would be able to build hybrids. Would it be possible, he asked himself, to blend He-Man's blood with that of a glorm? He was intrigued by the possibilities.

It was a time of interesting developments for Skeletor. His inner circle had lost some members, but gained others, and he himself had become more patient. Scare Glow's influence was strong, for the ghost shared his memories and understood his goals. Furthermore, Scare Glow was strong tactically and applied logic to challenges. The arrival of Webstor had brought another great strategist to Snake Mountain, and the success of his plan to capture He-Man suggested that the arachnoid could be relied upon. Mer-Man and Clawful provided armies to support his own, and Trap Jaw was simply an unstoppable weapon. Others contributed useful and unique qualities, such as Khan's method of ambushing and paralysing opponents.

Skeletor had not abandoned his desire to gain entrance to Castle Grayskull, but he did not currently have a realistic chance of success. It irked him that no useful scheme had developed recently, but instead of allowing his vexation to distract him, he focussed his attention on other projects. Scare Glow was instructed to build and train his army, and Trap Jaw was overseeing the new Clan of the Skull hierarchy. Faker's role, in his latest scheme, was to disrupt Randor's infrastructure by pretending to be He-Man working under the king's authority.

So far, the tactic was working brilliantly. Randor's citizens followed Faker's instructions without hesitation. Skeletor's primary aim was to place a stranglehold on the king's garrisons by preventing supplies of food and weapons reaching their intended destinations. Faker and he travelled across the land using his magic. Faker would give Skeletor's instructions to the villagers while his master watched from a safe and discreet distance. Usually the waggons would be sent to new locations where they would be seized by Skeletor's own people.

Skeletor was also using Faker to redirect the mobile battalions of Randor's army. The king's men regularly travelled between villages and strongholds; their purpose to support the population and to deal with incidents as they arose. Battalions were never based at the garrisons and fortresses permanently, because, under Man-At-Arms' direction, they would experience different conditions and environments, thereby increasing their skills and capabilities.

Faker would encounter the troops on their journeys and deliver an urgent message to their commanders. Their orders had been changed, he would explain, and they were needed to head for a different destination. The commanders had no reason to doubt He-Man's word, for although he was not officially a ranking officer in the army, he fought alongside them and had the trust of both the king and Man-At-Arms.

It was important at this stage for Skeletor not to draw attention to himself. He would only engage in violent confrontation when it was necessary - subtlety, at least to begin with, was required. It took considerable co-ordination, but he managed to fragment Randor's army without being noticed in less than a month. One useful ploy was to send Faker into Randor's strongholds and to require some of the troops stationed there to set out on a mission of great importance. Skeletor revelled in the audacity of his strategy, and all the while he saw Randor's army growing in vulnerability.

The small groups of soldiers sent to remote places were easy to ambush, and while some resisted and engaged Skeletor's hordes, most saw the futility in fighting an unwinnable contest and surrendered. The men were stripped of their weapons and marched eastwards towards the Dark Continent and Snake Mountain as prisoners of war.

By the time concerns were raised and word made it back to the palace in Eternos, Skeletor would be ready to act. There would, of course, still be hundreds of soldiers posted in Eternos, and Skeletor knew he could do nothing about those men, but he would succeed in taking over the remote strongholds. His weeks of hard work with Faker would pay off, and soon he would be ready to overcome the weakened garrisons and replace Randor's men with his own.

"I don't like this," remarked Man-At-Arms. "Are you sure she has gone?"

"Completely," replied Eldrin. "She must have used a portal to leave the forest during the night. Aloran's men searched for her this morning, but found nothing."

Man-At-Arms turned to the Sorceress. "It seems your trust in her was misplaced, Teela."

"Perhaps," replied the Sorceress absent-mindedly. She did not turn to face her companions. Her hands were placed on the crenellations of the turret, and her gaze was cast over the panorama of the Evergreen Forest. The view from the top of Castle Grayskull was spectacular in every season, and she never tired of gazing upon it.

"For weeks she has been working with the gifted children, and now she vanishes," stated Man-At-Arms. "She knows them and she knows those entrusted with their care. If she has returned to Skeletor..." his words trailed off as he thought the worst.

"Aloran and I are making plans to remove the children from the forest," stated Eldrin. "I fear Evelyn has placed the elves and children in jeopardy."

"Do not proceed just yet," said the Sorceress.

"Teela, I feel I must urge you to reconsider," insisted Man-At-Arms. "This is not action that should be delayed."

"If Evelyn has returned to Skeletor..." Eldrin began.

"She has not returned to Skeletor," interjected Teela. She faced her friends. "She has gone to Nightflame. I do not yet know her purpose, but I ask you to show tolerance. Has she not worked unceasingly to help the children? Has she done anything to cast doubt in your minds before now?"

Man-At-Arms glanced at Eldrin briefly before replying. "I hope my lack of trust is misplaced, Teela," he said softly.

The Sorceress sighed. "Have faith in the Elders of Grayskull, my friends, but continue with your preparations to move the children. I hope my trust in Evelyn is not misguided."

"We shall not take action until we receive word from you, Sorceress," stated Eldrin.

Evelyn knew her departure would raise suspicion immediately, but she felt compelled to leave the elves' home in the Evergreen Forest. It was very likely they would come looking for her. She had learned much during her stay with the elves, and had been welcomed into their culture. She had learned about the children's extraordinary magical abilities, and knew their potential. Whoever controlled them would have power at his command that no warlord or ruler had possessed during the entire history of Eternia.

She found her wand exactly where she had hidden it, deep within the eerie ruins of Nightflame. It was a strange, lonely place, isolated and surrounded on all sides by the dank malevolence of the Vile Marsh, and it felt haunted still, even though the Wanderers of legend no longer roamed the long-abandoned streets. She had discovered that it was in fact the warrior woman Teela who had freed the trapped souls over a decade ago, long before she had known she possessed any magical ability.

Evelyn drew breath deeply and closed her eyes as she considered again what she was about to do. It was a dangerous choice she had made. She clutched her wand tightly, and it seemed to connect with her very being, and she felt again its inherent power. It was as if the wand were gladdened to be reunited with its mistress. She focussed her thoughts and used the power of the wand to open a portal. The energy doorway flickered with pulses of blue light as it waited for her to pass through.

Opening her eyes once more, she knew she had made up her mind. Stepping swiftly through the portal, she found herself once again in the melancholy and sinister Snake Mountain.