Stratos awoke to find himself lying awkwardly on a dusty stone floor. A faint glow of light meant he was not in complete darkness, but there was barely enough light for him to establish he was in a small cell. He glanced around his tiny prison, and noticed that three of the four walls, the ceiling and the floor were solid stone. A set of old but sturdy metal bars stood in place of the fourth wall. Beyond the bars was a narrow corridor, and it was from here that the faint light emanated. Stratos could not see the source of the light, but he guessed from its flicker that it was a torch attached to the corridor wall.
He had no idea how long he had been sleeping, and his recollection of the events which had brought him here were hazy. He remembered the wyvern attack, and hearing Hordak's voice, but he had passed out shortly after the beast had caught him in a crushing grip. Several times he had returned briefly to consciousness during the flight, but he saw nothing other than the blackness of the night sky in those short moments. He did not recall arriving at the Fright Zone - where he assumed he now was - nor did he remember being thrown into the cell which now held him captive.
His body ached furiously. The wyvern's unbreakable grip had bruised and grazed much of his body, and he was also suffering from the burns inflicted by Hordak's energy blasts. His head spun as he tried to drag himself into a sitting position, and it took a considerable effort just to prop himself against the wall at the back of the cell. He wondered whether he should be thankful that he was still alive. He supposed that being held prisoner by Hordak was a fate worse than death.
Stratos realised that he was not alone in the corridor. He could not see the other but he sensed that he, too, was captive. Listening carefully, Stratos began to wonder why the presence of his fellow prisoner seemed familiar. The Avian said nothing as he recognised the deep, echoing, rasping breathing. Time passed - he did not know how long - before a familiar voice spoke in the darkness.
"Curses upon you, Hordak, for adding to my torment!" Beast Man spat the words furiously. It seemed the remark was intended to invite a response.
"Everyone thought you were dead," muttered Stratos.
Beast Man paused before speaking. "I may as well be, birdman. Time passes slowly here, and hope is lost."
"Speak for yourself, Beast Man," retorted Stratos. "I intend to get out of here."
"You're a fool if you think you can escape from the Fright Zone!" Beast Man snapped. "We are far underground here, Stratos, and there are guards everywhere."
"Have you never tried to flee?" asked Stratos.
"I thought about it," replied Beast Man, "but my kind are instinctive, not analytical. Hordak is a master tactician. I am not deluded enough to believe I can out-think him."
"I cannot question that assessment," remarked Stratos.
Silence descended upon the dark corridor once again, the birdman and the beastman lost in their own thoughts. Stratos knew that Beast Man was not so foolish as to take on a battle he could not win. In a straight fight, Beast Man always had better than good chances. He must have concluded that the odds were too heavily stacked against him. Even if he could fight his way out of Hordak's capital, crossing the desert was an altogether more intimidating prospect.
Finally Stratos broke the silence. "We could... work together, Beast Man."
From the silence that followed, it seemed that Beast Man could not bring himself to believe the sincerity of Stratos's suggestion.
Stratos tried again. "We may be mortal enemies, Beast Man, but we find ourselves allied in the same predicament! You know you cannot escape without my help, and I need yours! What say you to a truce?"
"You want us to work together?" questioned Beast Man.
"We will not get out of here unless we do so," said Stratos.
"Very well," Beast Man replied. "I don't know what you think you can do though, Stratos."
"With my wings and your ability to control animals, we may have a chance," the birdman stated confidently.
The flight to the mountain realm of the dragons had been a flight like none other He-Man had ever experienced. He had flown many times before, sometimes held aloft by birdmen, sometimes riding Wind Raider or Battle Ram, but never had he ridden a dragon. Kor'san'tach's powerful motion through the sky was an incredible experience. The dragon's movement was both powerful and subtle. His mighty wings had propelled them through the sky purposefully, but at the same time the creature had responded to the slightest changes in the air currents, making tiny adjustments to height and direction as needed.
He-Man had perched on Kor'san'tach's broad neck behind Eldor. He had enjoyed the ride, but did not have the same balance his sorcerer acquaintance had. Eldor and Kor'san'tach had flown together often during their lifetimes; He-Man was a novice. Their destination was the Dragonslayer Mountains, although He-Man had now rejected the current name in favour of the correct Dragonslair Mountains. The language of men had altered the name colloquially at some unknown point in history.
They had been seen long before they had arrived. Dragons from the icy peaks and plateaux had circled them and flown alongside them for over an hour before they reached their landing place. They were not in danger - the dragons recognised the legendary Kor'san'tach instantly - but there was nonetheless a sense of unease amongst the escorting creatures. Kor'san'tach was, afterall, supposed to be dead. He-Man trusted his companions, but he could not help feeling vulnerable. He may have been the strongest man on Eternia, but even he was powerless against dragons.
Their purpose was, in theory, straightforward. He-Man was to request a renewed alliance between men and dragons; an alliance first forged by Eldor and Kor'san'tach centuries ago during the reign of King Hiss. The sorcerer and the dragon knew that forming the partnership would not be easy for He-Man, even though his mission was initiated by the Goddess herself. They had agreed to speak on his behalf, but ultimately it would have to be the Hero of Grayskull who persuaded the Dragon Council that such an alliance was necessary. And at present, in the minds of the dragons, it was not. The dragons themselves were not under threat. Even when being hunted by Hiss's minions, the dragons had been reluctant to ally themselves with Eldor.
The Sorceress of Grayskull had told He-Man about Skeletor and Hordak's latest strategies. He-Man had, of course, already encountered Faker, and was, at least in part, already aware of the chaos Skeletor's creation had caused. But He-Man had been on the verge of death, and was not aware of the more recent developments. The Sorceress knew he had to be well-informed if he was going to succeed with the dragons. He-Man now knew about the king's journey to the north and Clawful's imminent encounter with Hordak's guerrasaur riders. He was devastated when he learned of the attack on Avion. Finding out that almost the entire population of the city had become servants of Hordak was shocking to him, for he knew that former friends were now his adversaries.
Thus it was with heavy heart that He-Man found himself standing beside Eldor and Kor'san'tach on a plateau high in the mountains, surrounded by a dozen dragons. The ridges and peaks around the open ground formed a natural amphitheatre, and the onlookers gazed down from their elevated positions at the human with a combination of disinterest and curiosity.
A huge dragon with silvery-grey scales extended his neck and looked carefully at He-Man for a short time. After a while the dragon withdrew slightly and turned to Kor'san'tach. "Kor'san'tach, your return is most welcome. If you so wish, I shall step aside so you may reclaim your position."
"Gorhan'mur'herek, my young friend, your respect for me is humbling," Kor'san'tach rumbled in reply. "Alas, my presence in this... realm is only temporary. Eldor and I must resume our journey before long. We should, therefore, attend to the matter in hand."
"As you wish," Gorhan'mur'herek replied. The great beast turned his gaze towards He-Man. "I am Gorhan'mur'herek, leader of the Dragon Council," he stated. A rumble of breath echoed in his throat before he spoke again. "The Council knows why you are here, He-Man of Grayskull. Tell us why we should not reject your appeal."
He-Man had not anticipated starting the conversation by trying to defend his position. "A great darkness has fallen..." he began.
"He-Man, my companions and I are not interested in theatrical speeches," the silver dragon interrupted. "We prefer conversation to drama."
"Then I shall get straight to the point," remarked He-Man. "The people of Eternia need help. Skeletor and Hordak have increased their power and are conquering lands formerly under the guardianship of King Randor."
"Randor's reign may have reached its end, He-Man," stated Gorhan'mur'herek. "He has been one of the longest ruling monarchs in Eternian history. Perhaps it is time for a successor to claim the throne."
"I do not speak on behalf of the king, I speak on behalf of his people," replied He-Man. "I cannot allow the free people of Eternia to be suppressed into a world of slavery and tyranny. The dragons understand such freedoms are essential."
"We dragons understand many things," Gorhan'mur'herek retorted. "Do not presume to know our minds! There have been many eras of tumult during the long history of this planet. There will be many more. My race has survived for many centuries, He-Man, without troubling ourselves with the petty conflicts of mankind."
He-Man paused, knowing that a break in the conversation would reveal he was uneasy. Kor'san'tach had told him not to pause, but he could not help doing so right now. This discussion was becoming increasingly more difficult. Suddenly a thought struck him. "Perhaps you are right, Gorhan'mur'herek," He-Man announced. "Perhaps the failings of my kind are not worthy of your attention. But do not doubt that we aspire to greater things, dragon! We wish to be better than we are. However insignificant we may be to you, we have purpose and determination in our hearts. I stand before you to ask for your assistance in saving my people. If you do not think I am worthy of such attention, tell me now so I can stop wasting my time."
Gorhan'mur'herek pulled back sharply and hissed. He-Man knew he had angered the dragon. The meeting would be over any second now. But the dragon did not announce the end to the proceedings. Instead, he turned to Eldor. "Have your kind always been this arrogant, sorcerer?" he asked.
Eldor shrugged. "Arrogant, rash, foolhardy... I must have been all these things when the serpent king should have killed us all," he replied. "Perhaps it is those weaknesses which give us our strength."
Gorhan'mur'herek turned towards Kor'san'tach. "It has been a long time since a man asked for our - your - help," he said. "Why did you agree?"
"Curiosity mostly," the black dragon answered. "These paradoxical creatures are fascinating. But the true reward has been friendship."
Gorhan'mur'herek turned back to He-Man. "The Dragon Council will consider your request, He-Man. Let us see whether you have any idea how to be patient."