Fifteen Years Later…
With a heavy sigh, and even heavier heart, the Lord of Zalesia cast his vote with the others. Sweat collected around the hand he used to grip the legendary, ram-headed Havoc Staff. “I have often lobbied my fellow Council members to overturn our antiquated policies on the rearing of a family,” he reiterated before taking a moment’s pause. “However, I will rule alongside them in this instance, because I feel the Council of Wisdom would be better served by the prelate’s removal.”
The Councilmember on trial, Prelate Horüd, was a Spikean through-and-through. He hissed at the Lord of Zalesia through clenched, fanged teeth.
“Let it be done,” Lady Shokoti proclaimed, rising from her seat on the Council’s dais, and lifting her azure face and arms towards the silent crowds watching with anticipation in the balconies high above. “The Council of Wisdom, by a unanimous vote, hereby strips Prelate Horüd of all titles and responsibilities. Despite my esteemed colleague’s view, ours is still an order that demands distance from the intimate connections made by normal Eternians. We must remain unattached, so as to remain fair in our renderings.
“Prelate Horüd broke his vows, and produced an illegitimate son—a half-breed boy named Zed—with his Stillian mistress.” Casting her gray-eyed gaze back to Horüd, she continued. “That is why you will be banished from this Council. You may gather your things, but then you must leave the sanctity of Castle Eternia at once.”
Shokoti took her seat once more, and Prelate Horüd spat green on the blue, marble floor of the Council Chamber. He was silent, eyeing each of his former “brothers” and “sisters” for what seemed like an eternity. His long, leathery red wings (a genetic defect shared only by his younger brother) furled and unfurled at the edges with each rasping breath he took.
The looks of alternating anger and hatred that swam across his glassy red eyes unnerved even a Spelean guard near the dais. (The Speleans, though startling to look at for some humanoid Eternians, were a generally peace-loving species. However, their genetic “cousins”, the Spikeans, were known worldwide as being terrible, bloodthirsty brutes.) It’s amazing the others ever allowed him to join the Council at all, thought the guard.
“Very well,” Horüd finally acquiesced, in a tone so hushed that even the visiting warrior-prince He-Ro had to strain to hear. “I shall gladly leave this wretched place. I swear to you, though, you have not heard the last of me!”
A short time later, as wine-red dusk faded to violet night, Prelate Horüd perched himself upon the narrow ledge of Castle Eternia’s uppermost echelon. His razor-sharp talons gripping the blue stone hard enough to crack it, the Spikean seemed like a horrible, living gargoyle keeping watch over the Eternian landscape thousands of feet below. Just as he was about to take flight, he heard the sound of cloth rippling quietly behind him. Horüd swung around in the blink-of-an-eye, and jagged Spikean daggers flew from his hands.
Before they could reach their target they simply dropped to the stone floor of the turret. “You need to be quicker than that if you wish to do me harm,” said a hushed voice from beneath a flowing, shadowy cloak and hood.
“How could you let this happen?” Horüd hissed. “How can I manipulate the Council into doing your bidding if I’ve been stripped of my title?”
The hooded one gave a shallow laugh, which made Horüd’s blood feel momentarily icy. “I do not need your help for anything. You are but one puppet out of hundreds.” A step closer. “I had great plans for you, Horüd: you were to be the highest general in the great kingdom I am building.”
“Then why did you not stop Grayskull’s people from telling the Council about my cursed spawn?”
“Despite the designs I had in mind for you, your stupidity is astounding sometimes.” Though angered, Horüd dared not make a move against the powerful dark one before him.
The hooded figure continued. “Too many knew about your foolish indiscretion: King Grayskull and his family, Veena and He-Ro; Grayskull’s most trusted advisor, Eldor; and, of course, Eldor’s son Light Hope—the young fop who discovered what you had done in the first place.
“I could not dispose of such influential beings all at once, or it would have been clear that someone close to them was behind their destruction. No…too quickly would the trail have led back to me, and I was not about to throw away centuries of planning because of your mistake!”
“What now, then? Am I finished, or do you have other plans in mind for me?”
“Though your assistance with the Council is lost to me now, my original plans for you remain intact. Return to your home, and continue your work with the Orcs beneath the Well of Darkness. I will contact you when the time is right for the next step.”
“But when will I—?” Horüd crumpled, as if his insides were bursting to break free beneath his oily gray fur. He writhed in silent agony, unable to force screams of pain from his seizing lungs.
“You will know all you need to know when I deem the time is right. Now go!”
Just as quickly as his innards had started convulsing, they stopped. Horüd kept his keen eyes to the ground, so as not to let the hooded figure see the look of hatred lurking there (or the tears of pain). Without a word, the Spikean leapt from Castle Eternia’s highest tower and took to flight.
The hooded figure stepped towards the edge of the turret, and allowed blue hands to run across the cracks where Horüd’s talons had broken the stone, while watching him disappear with gray eyes. After long minutes of careful listening, the hooded person decided it was safe to do away with the hood. Long, dark hair spilled out as Shokoti disposed of her disguise.
Soon my plans will come to fruition, and then Eternia will be ripe for the plucking! Standing at such a great height, with a cool breeze skipping along her cheek, Shokoti allowed her mind to take her back to a time when she was still considered a child by her race’s long-living people. There were no lingering thoughts of those cursed people, though. Instead, she was focused on a particular faraway night…
Far from home, participating in an ancient rite of passage ritual, the young Shokoti had become lost in the bleak Ice Mountains. For hours upon hours, blizzard-like winds and snow fell from the heavens, threatening to bury alive any who dared leave the sanity of shelter. Yet, there she was: cold, hungry, alone, and angry that her own family had agreed to put her through this brutal, barbaric, and antiquated ritual.
My magic is already stronger than most of theirs, she thought bitterly. That’s why they really sent me away! They could sense the power growing within me!
Shokoti was determined not to grant her village’s Shaman the satisfaction her demise would bring. Instead, with only her dark thoughts as company, she trudged on, determined to return victorious.
Suddenly, a Snow Beast descended from a cliff high above! The beast was larger than most of the homes in Infinitia (her village), but that hardly fazed the brazen girl. “I was wondering when you would stop your cowardly stalking, and actually pounce!”
The Snow Beast took a swipe at Shokoti with its massive paw, and as it did so she neatly tore part of its flesh away with a massive knife that she had been concealing since first feeling its hungry eyes at her back. The monster shook the icy canyon around them with its painful cry, splattering the white ground with splotches of sticky purple ooze.
Just as quickly as she had wounded it, it struck back at her with its other paw, throwing the blue skinned girl into one of the cold mountain walls nearby. She jumped back to her feet as quickly as she could, but it was too late!
The Snow Beast was mere inches from her, its yellowed teeth, stained with dried blood from an earlier kill, bared against her as it growled deeply. It released a deafening roar, and the canyon quaked again, but this time the shaking did not stop when the beast did.
“Fool!” Shokoti screamed over the rumblings. “You’ve caused an avalan—”
Before she could finish the word, the ice behind her gave away, and she tumbled backward into a massive cave. The cascading snow sealed the icy maw just as quickly as it had first revealed it, but at least Shokoti had the satisfaction of seeing a massive pillar of ice crush her beastly opponent before her view was blocked.
The sheets of snow and ice finally ceased falling outside, and once more Shokoti was alone, only this time she was trapped in a silent cave behind tons of frozen precipitation.
Might as well have a look at my tomb, she thought bitterly, conjuring a floating ball of blue flame before her. The entire chamber lit up as the light from her flame refracted off of thousands of the most beautiful crystals Shokoti had ever seen! In the very center of the room was a giant crystalline orb, to which the other crystals all seemed to be pointing.
“Welcome,” said a deep voice.
“Who’s there?” Shokoti called, gripping her dagger once more.
“There is no need for that here, Shokoti, I mean you no harm.”
“Wh-who are you?” she asked, hating with every fiber of her being the trembling, mewing sounds her words made.
The orb began to glow brightly, completely eclipsing the blue light created by Shokoti. Within the orb a wizened face appeared. “I am the Oracle of the Crystal Sea.”
“The Crystal Sea? That’s…”
“Yes, that is some distance from your desired destination. You ventured from the correct path quite a while ago.”
“Literally or figuratively?” Shokoti chuckled.
The Oracle did not return the sneer. “Perhaps both,” he replied evenly. “You are destined for great things, Shokoti, but the path you take in life will determine if those things I speak of are for good or ill.”
The girl was intrigued by the mystic’s words. “Tell me more,” she beseeched, “it’s not like I’m gong anywhere any time soon.”
“Should you turn away from the hatred and the evil that threatens to bubble-up and spill from your heart, you will sit proudly amongst the wisest beings Eternia has ever seen. Together, you will help a great king defeat terrible, unnatural armies.”
The Oracle’s visage disappeared from the crystal, and was replaced by a moving image of soldiers clad in silver and red moving across the lands of Eternia. In their wake flowed a river of fire and blood. An enormous red bat seemed to be leading the way.
“Looks unpleasant,” she replied lazily, as a second force appeared in the orb. The new army, with Shokoti amongst its leaders, overcame the aggressors easily.
“So what’s the alternative?” she asked as the Oracle’s face returned to the glassy surface.
Bound by inalterable nature to answer such questions of those who seek them, he told her. “You will spawn great darkness and pain in every corner of Eternia. Eventually, it will even eclipse other worlds, so great is this darkness.”
Shokoti gave a chilling smile, thinking back to her weak parents and the Shaman, and the revenge she would exact with this darkness the Oracle spoke of. “More.”
“Please,” the Oracle tried in vain, “what I see is horror beyond reckoning, and no possible good could come from you learning more of the evil within your soul!”
“But you must—I command it!”
“Very well; such is the curse of being a mystical nexus between time and space.”
The wizened face vanished from the orb, and a stunningly handsome blue-skinned male replaced it. He had a neatly trimmed goatee and moustache of black.
“He is an Infinitian?”
“He is your son.”
“My son?” she gasped. “Wh—”
“His name will be Keldor, though eventually another name will encompass him. Ultimately, he will be more terrible than any of the armies I mentioned before. His wickedness will surpass even your own! Yet even he will be defeated…eventually.”
A young, blonde haired Eternian youth replaced the image of Keldor. “The heir of Grayskull, a warrior called He-Man, will stop him after years of battle and bloodshed.”
She cared not for the last bit of information. “The most powerful being to walk Eternian soil will be my son? And all because I ‘chose the wrong path’?” she asked, a grim smile creeping onto her beautiful blue face…
I will see to it that the entirety of the Oracle’s prophesy does not come to pass, Shokoti thought to herself, her consciousness once more returning to the present. Once I have created the most powerful army Eternia has ever seen, I will conceive Keldor, and allow him to command once he’s old enough. He will indeed sit upon Eternia’s throne, but I will be the power behind that throne!
Her reverie was shattered by the heavy footsteps of Light Hope. The rotund young man pointed at the horizon, where the faint outline of Horüd could still be seen flying away. “It must be difficult to watch a Councilman fall, even for our leader.”
Shokoti snorted, although she adopted a slightly warmer tone than she had used with her servant moments ago. “My dear boy, I was granting audiences within that chamber before His Majesty, King Grayskull, took his first step. Indeed, I was sitting in that same spot before your father drew his own first breath.”
“And that was eons ago,” Light Hope said in jest, a smile lighting up his rosy red cheeks beneath a mountain of auburn beard.
Shokoti allowed herself a slight chuckle. “Close enough. My point is this: I have seen more Councilmen and -women fall than I care to reflect upon. Some left in disgrace, but most succumbed to age. Horüd’s seat at the Council is not the first that has had to be filled, and it will certainly not be the last.”
A third joined them upon the top of Castle Eternia, clearing his throat softly. “Pardon the interruption, Milady, but King Grayskull has asked that my son join the prince and I at his banquet table,” announced Eldor.
“Very well,” Shokoti replied, only now turning to face her company. “Please extend the Council’s gratitude to King Grayskull for allowing us to enlist his son’s protection.”
“Even were it against his father’s best judgment, I’m sure He-Ro would have come along, old friend. With one as dangerous in knowledge and skill as Horüd, who knows what could have happened had he not agreed to leave so peacefully.”
For just a flicker, unnoticed by anyone, Shokoti’s eyes darted towards the thick tome that Eldor clutched tightly in his gnarled hands. Once that book is mine, “old friend”, Horüd will be the least of your worries!
Moments later, Shokoti watched as the convoy carrying Councilmember Light Hope and King Grayskull’s two emissaries departed Castle Eternia.