He-Man and Ster'torr'awenek headed south, searching for signs of Skeletor's forces. The days were longer and clearer now, and it made hunting that much easier. He-Man already had some information - the Sorceress had told him which areas the enemy had occupied before he left for the mountains - so he urged the dragon onwards towards the island citadel of Ynys'alar first.
It was a long journey - the citadel was off the coast of the Southern Continent - but Ster'torr'awenek flew hard and they made good progress. They rested overnight on one of the islands of the Golden Isles before rising early and pressing onwards. The skies remained clear, and the island fortress, which served as both a garrison and prison these days, came into view while they were still many leagues from it. He-Man was enjoying the fact the dragon gave him such a high vantage point, and he was determined to turn it to his tactical advantage.
The island had fallen to Skeletor's underlings less than three years before, but it had not remained under their control for long. Since then the king had fortified the location and made it significantly more defendable. As a result, it was still in the hands of Randor's men. Skeletor's plan to redirect the king's troops had not reached this far west, and the garrison was still strong. The men were, however, stranded. Skeletor had positioned six of his own ships around Ynys'alar, and these had prevented supply vessels from reaching the island. He-Man had decided that it was time to end the siege.
Skeletor's ships were more than adequate for the task they had been given, but they were smaller vessels than the great ships of Randor's fleet. They were drakkars: single-masted longships carrying thirty oarsmen. Each boat had a single sail which bore a representation of the head of Skeletor's Havoc Staff. They were dependable and sturdy vessels, but unable to withstand the attack which now hurtled towards them from the sky above.
Ster'torr'awenek dived vertically, folding his great wings against his body to increase his speed. At the last moment he pulled up with talons out-stretched, reaching for one of the drakkars. The strike tore the ship in half. The crew were flung into the sea, weighed down by their chainmail and weapons. The dragon turned swiftly and launched himself at a second boat. This time Ster'torr'awenek took hold of the ship's prow and lifted the boat clear out of the water. The dragon beat his wings hard to gain height, still clutching the drakkar. Some of the crew leapt from the boat while they still had a chance, others clung desperately to it. When Ster'torr'awenek dropped the boat, those still holding on did not survive the fall.
Seeing the dreadful fate that was sending their comrades to their deaths, the crews on the other boats grabbed spears and aimed them skywards in a futile attempt to fend off the dragon. The next time Ster'torr'awenek dropped from the sky, He-Man jumped into one of the boats, battle-axe in hand, and cut his way through the enemy from stern to prow. The soldiers had no room on the boat to wield their spears against their mighty attacker, and they all died within seconds.
It took minutes for He-Man and his dragon to utterly destroy the opposition, for they were unstoppable, their desire for victory like an unquenchable thirst. When He-Man had killed everyone on one boat, he grabbed hold of Ster'torr'awenek's claw to hitch a ride to the next, and inflicted the same devastation. The boats the dragon did not tear to pieces he incinerated as he expelled terrifying bursts of flame from his throat. Soon the battle was over, and He-Man climbed on to the dragon's back.
"Well fought, dragon!" shouted He-Man as Ster'torr'awenek rose skywards. "We shall make a warrior of you yet!"
They changed their course now, heading inland and eastwards towards the Evergreen Forest. Both searched for more signs of enemy activity as they flew over the open land, but when they reached the forest, the thick tree cover would make it nearly impossible to see the ground. From the facts he had been given, He-Man was hopeful that Skeletor was not making good progress in the forest, but he wanted to be certain. For this reason, he intended to fly to Castle Grayskull, the ancient fortress of mystery and power, in order to consult with the Sorceress.
"Will it work?" said Beast Man from his cell.
"Temporarily, I think," replied Stratos as he examined his backpack. Their plan to escape from Zilzaal had made cautious progress. Beast Man's ability to manipulate the minds of the less-human Horde guards had worked well. He had commanded them to find Stratos's device and return it to the Avian in secret.
"One of the engines is completely burnt out," Stratos continued, "but the other will function. It looks like the surge caused it to shut down to protect itself. The wiring is damaged, but it should be enough to get us clear."
"Will you be able to fly fast enough with a damaged pack?" asked Beast Man.
"Even with one engine, it will still be faster than my natural speed," replied Stratos. "I'll need the extra help if I am to carry you."
"Well get ready, birdman," said Beast Man. "I hear the guards approaching with our food."
"You have your blaster?" asked Stratos. They had hoped to get the guards to smuggle weapons to them, expecting short swords or clubs, but the arrival of the laser blaster had been an unexpected bonus. Stratos had begrudgingly admired Beast Man's extraordinary powers of influence on the guards. He had needed to take extreme care though, for there were human guards too, and Beast Man had no ability to control them. Somehow he had manipulated the others to work without drawing attention to themselves.
"I have the blaster," Beast Man stated. He knew he no longer had the strength to fight his way out by any other means. Three years in Hordak's catacombs had weakened him considerably, and he had lost well over half his body weight. The only advantage this now presented was the fact that Stratos's task would be easier.
The guards appeared from the darkness of the tunnel. One held a set of large keys, the other a tray with some foul-looking substance that was supposed to be the prisoners' rations. These were two of the guards Beast Man had successfully controlled: rat-faced beings that smelled worse than the food. They worked silently, unknowingly still under Beast Man's influence. They delivered the food to Stratos and Beast Man, then headed silently back down the corridor.
When they were gone, the prisoners pushed open the cell doors and walked free. Beast Man had instructed the guards to leave the doors unlocked. The former enemies met in the dark hallway.
"Ready?" asked Stratos.
"Nearly," replied Beast Man. He took a few paces along the tunnel and pulled a flaming torch from its sconce. He held this in his left hand and the blaster in his right. He walked back to Stratos. "Now I'm ready."
Stratos activated his backpack. Despite its damaged condition, the working engine burst into life. Stratos knew it would not last long, but they would have sufficient time to escape from the Fright Zone. Stratos stood behind his new ally and placed his arms under Beast Man's. In the next instant he lifted the beastman from the ground, and then they were hurtling along the tunnels at breath-taking speed.
The torch provided just enough light for Stratos's sharp eyes, and Beast Man already knew the route out of the labyrinth, for he had been removed from his cell several times in order to train the guerrasaurs and their riders. He shouted directions at Stratos, ensuring the birdman followed the correct route.
They encountered guards in the various passageways and chambers they passed through, but Hordak's adherents were not expecting such an unforeseen event, and Beast Man killed them all with the stolen blaster before they had time to react.
Eventually they saw daylight as the passage neared the surface. Stratos increased the power to his pack's groaning engine, and suddenly Beast Man and he burst into the sunlight. The sudden intensity of light was disorientating to them both, but Stratos never slowed. He soared upwards, holding on to Beast Man with a grip of iron.
From the ramparts, Hordak and Zodac noticed their prisoners' sudden escape. Hordak growled loudly and cursed the guards who had failed him. Zodac stared in silence at the tiny airborne figures who were moving rapidly away from the Fright Zone and heading westwards across the desert towards the coast.
"What do you want to do about this, Hordak?" Zodac asked.
Hordak hissed another curse. "I do not have time to chase them myself!" he answered angrily. "Send the bats after them and have men - men - follow them on the ground. Stratos's damaged pack will not hold out for long."
Zodac nodded and then barked orders at a Horde commander. "They will not get far, brother," he told Hordak.
It was not the Sorceress who greeted He-Man as he entered Castle Grayskull, but her daughter and heir, Teela. When they saw each other, they stared disbelievingly for a moment, several paces apart. Suddenly Teela rushed forwards, hurling herself against He-Man's chest. Instinctively he placed his huge arms around her body and held her gently.
"I have missed you," he said softly.
Teela said nothing for a while as she allowed herself to feel comforted in He-Man's embrace. Then she pushed back slightly so she could look at his face. "It has been so long," she murmured, holding his gaze. "We thought you were lost."
"I still do not know how long I have been away," said He-Man. "When I was being held in Snake Mountain, time passed immeasurably. And then I remember nothing after my battle with Faker until waking in the woods. How long...?"
"Too long," Teela interrupted. "I am just glad you are well again. Moss Man used the magic of the forest to heal you."
"There is much truth in the old legends," He-Man said softly as he considered Teela's words. There was a short delay before he spoke again. "Though my heart sings to see you again, this meeting must be kept short. I must speak with the Sorceress and head out once again."
"I understand," Teela replied. "I also have to leave Castle Grayskull. The king has asked me to act as his emissary. He wishes for me to visit his allies and ask them to fight alongside him."
"Alas, we cannot say when we shall be reunited!" said He-Man forlornly. "Teela, I..." He-Man stopped mid-sentence. He was unsure if he should continue this.
Teela sensed his momentary unease. She placed a finger gently on his lips. "I know you love me, He-Man," she said with a broad smile. She had read his expression perfectly, but this was not a surprise to her. They had been so close for so long, but never had the words been said. "I feel the same way," she continued. "I love you."
He-Man sighed. He felt both elation and sadness, for however much he wanted to be with Teela, he knew their duty as guardians of Eternia would always come first. "If only things were... different," he said quietly.
"They can be!" replied Teela suddenly. "Let us ask my mother to bless us as husband and wife!"
"Your mother?" asked He-Man.
"Yes, my mother!" responded Teela with delight. "I have learned so much! My mother is the Sorceress of Grayskull!"
He-Man looked at Teela with a bewildered expression. "Then let us make it so," he eventually replied. "I long to be bound to you in marriage, Teela!"
"We shall find her at once," said Teela. "She will perform the handfasting ceremony right here in the castle. And..." Teela caught her breath and paused briefly. "Our missions can wait until the morning."