The sun was setting as Stratos approached the royal palace. Even in the fading light, the winged warrior had seen determined activity in the city of Eternos, as the population hurriedly packed their belongings into carts and waggons under the direction of Randor's soldiers. Stratos recalled times past when the city had been evacuated, but such events were rare and not without good reason. It took Stratos little time to finish his journey south from the city, and as he neared the palace, his sharp eyes caught sight of Randor, Fisto and Man-At-Arms awaiting his arrival in one of the palace's highest turrets.
Stratos landed beside his fellow warriors and greeted them warmly. The king thanked him for coming to the palace so swiftly. "We face desperately uncertain times, Stratos," said Randor, "but I am thankful the people of Eternia can rely on Avion to answer the call for help."
"The alliance is a long-standing one, sire," replied Stratos. "We shall do all we can to repel Skeletor's encroachment into your lands."
"Clawful advances from the south-west," stated Man-At-Arms. "We do not have the strength to stand against him and co-ordinate the resettlement of the population. We need your warriors to slow his progress, for the protection of our citizens. Otherwise Clawful will overwhelm the convoys before they reach the sanctuary of the Evergreen Forest."
"We cannot match Clawful's numbers, but despite this his army will not cope well with an aerial assault," said Stratos. "The Avians will give you time to reach the forest."
"In truth, I suspect Clawful's purpose is not to kill our people," said King Randor. "So far Skeletor's tactic has been about gaining territory. Control of the Fertile Plains, enforced by Clawful's army, would give Skeletor a strong position from which to assert control over much of Eternia."
"I agree, but we cannot take the risk with our citizens' lives, and Skeletor knows this," said Fisto. "We must protect as many as we can while devising a counter-attack."
"Our strongest territories are in the north, and it is there we shall regroup," stated Randor. "Stratos, I am relying on your assistance until such time as my army is reformed. It may be several weeks before I am able to retaliate."
"Sire, you have the loyalty of Avion until that time and beyond," replied Stratos.
He-Man woke to find himself lying on his back in quiet woodland, looking directly up at the first stars of the evening. He did not know how he had come to be here, but he felt rested and revived, as if he had been in a deep sleep for many days and nights. He sat up and noticed his weapons propped against a nearby tree. He took hold of the Powersword's grip and swung the blade in a slow arc. He felt its energy and was gladdened to be reunited with the weapon. He placed it in its sheath on his back, and then lifted his battle-axe and shield. Suddenly he became aware of a presence beside him.
"Are you well, hero of Grayskull?" a delicate female voice inquired.
He-Man knelt before the green-skinned woman. "It is an honour to see you again, Goddess," he stated.
"Once again I have to entrust you with a mission of great importance, He-Man," said the Goddess. "Walk with me."
He-Man obeyed and together they strode through the forest. The surroundings were unfamiliar to He-Man, and he wondered where the Goddess was leading him. Soon they came upon a small cabin. A trail of smoke drifted into the night sky from a narrow chimney. But it was not the ramshackle home that He-Man noticed first; it was the black dragon lying on the ground before it.
The dragon raised its head as He-Man and the Goddess approached. "Welcome, Goddess," the dragon rumbled. "Is this your young hero?"
"Peace upon you, Kor'san'tach," replied the Goddess. "This is He-Man. It is he in whom we place our faith."
From the hut came two men. Both had white hair, but their features revealed they were not the same age. The Goddess introduced them to He-Man, revealing their names as Arth and Eldor.
He-Man furrowed his brow. "Eldor and Kor'san'tach of legend?" he asked.
Eldor smiled at the blond warrior. "We are reborn, hero of Grayskull, but our time in physical form is only temporary. We are aging swiftly, and will soon return to our ethereal form. Dear Arth has protected us while we have awaited your arrival."
"He-Man, a time of great evil has descended upon Eternia," said the Goddess. "Randor no longer rules much of the land. Skeletor has risen to power, assisted by his evil creation Faker. Hordak has also unleashed a potent force. The people of Eternia are in grave danger, He-Man."
"I will fight until my dying breath, Goddess, but how am I to defeat both Skeletor and Hordak?" asked He-Man.
"Randor's allies will not be strong enough to defeat both adversaries," said the Goddess. "You must restore balance to Eternia by resurrecting an ancient alliance. Eldor and Kor'san'tach will speak on your behalf."
"Of what alliance do you speak?" asked He-Man.
"The alliance of fire and steel," replied Eldor.
As Stratos headed out into the night sky, he considered the perilous situation that Randor had found himself in. The king's forces had been scattered across the land by Skeletor's masterful deception. Even when the truth had been discovered about Faker's impersonation of He-Man, the damage had already begun. Sending the battalions into disarray had been a masterstroke, and it would take many days for the king and his generals to establish exactly how much of their army they still controlled.
The birdmen squadrons would, under Stratos's command, inflict as much damage upon Skeletor's forces as possible while the king organised his counter-strike, but the action would begin against Clawful's crustacean warriors. Stratos knew the birdmen could not prevent Clawful from exerting dominance over the Fertile Plains region, but they would do all they could to protect Randor's subjects as they fled into the cover of the forest.
Stratos had flown between the royal palace and his home kingdom many more times than he could remember, and the flight presented no difficulty for the winged warrior. He had made the journey in all seasons, soaring above the clouds and navigating by landmarks during the day and by the stars at night. Tonight the north-easterly wind, which had helped his outbound flight, slowed his return journey. With the assistance of his backpack, Stratos would reach Avion by sunrise.
Heading into the buffeting wind, Stratos pressed onwards, the darkness now masking the activity on the ground below. Stratos knew Man-At-Arms' soldiers would work through the night, striving to organise the evacuation of the city. He also realised that many Eternians would not be so lucky. There were many settlements scattered across the plains: farming families who supplied much of the produce for the city and beyond. There was no chance the army would be able to protect those citizens from Clawful. Stratos hoped Randor was correct in his assessment of Clawful's purpose.
Stratos reached the edge of the Evergreen Forest and adjusted his direction slightly. Even in the darkness, Stratos could make out the silhouette of the vast woodland. Heading north-east, Stratos continued over the forest until he reached an open plain. The expanse was completely surrounded by the forest, and at its centre stood Castle Grayskull. Stratos allowed himself a long downwards glance at the fortress, admiring the ancient monument in the starlight.
Suddenly Stratos sensed danger. He could not see it, but his intuition told him he was being pursued. Struggling to hear against the noise of the wind, Stratos dived towards the plain, hoping to put distance between him and his pursuer. He glimpsed backwards to try to see what was after him, but was blinded by the appearance of a sudden flash of light. The bolt of energy struck his backpack, causing it to malfunction instantly. Stratos spun out of control, plummeting groundwards.
Stratos regained his composure and corrected his flight, but now a new tactic was needed. He soared skywards, spinning as he ascended, trying to see his attacker. But another blast of energy struck him out of the darkness, stunning him momentarily.
Hordak urged his steed to pursue the semi-conscious Stratos, and the wyvern responded with a screech. Stratos was falling again, and the wyvern dived after him, folding its leathery wings against its body to gain speed. Hordak held on tightly to the creature's scaly neck with one hand and clasped his staff with the other.
The wyvern closed in on Stratos and extended its claws. With a swift grab, it took hold of Stratos in a crushing grip. It opened its wings once more and flapped furiously to slow its decent. Gradually it regained height, climbing once more over the Evergreen Forest.
Stratos struggled to free himself as he realised he had been captured, but the wyvern's grip was too strong. He glanced upwards and saw Hordak riding the winged monster. Hordak shouted at him over the noise of the wind. "You cannot escape the clutches of my pet, Stratos! I have a place for you in the Fright Zone!" With those words, Hordak struck Stratos's head with the end of his staff.
As Stratos slipped from consciousness, the wyvern beat its wings swiftly and responded to Hordak's commands. It would carry its rider and captive through the night and day over sea and desert, eventually reaching Hordak's mighty capital.