With Snake Mountain in site, it did not take Zeehlar long to traverse the distance. In a brilliant flash, he stood at the base of the fortress.
“Halt!” hissed a nearby guard, brandishing a mighty sword.
Zeehlar held up his hands. “I come in peace, Snake Man. I merely wish to speak with King Hsss. You would be wise to take me to him.” A silver glow illuminated the Cosmic Enforcer’s eyes.
The same glow appeared around the guard’s eyes. “Follow me to the throne room,” the guard instructed, sheathing his sword and leading Zeehlar through a secret entrance.
Together they made their way up a narrow, spiraling stairwell. Down a large, snake-filled hallway, they came to a set of massive wooden doors. The Snake Man hissed something to the guards securing the door, and they stepped aside.
Inside the throne room, Zeehlar found King Hsss alone, sitting upon his throne. “What is the meaning of this-s-s?” the ruler asked, though he already suspected the answer.
“Mighty King Hsss,” Zeehlar greeted, “I have journeyed here from Castle Grayskull itself. I am both a Cosmic Enforcer, and an Ambassador to the Council of Elders.”
Hsss nodded, and feigned a helpful tone. “I do not know what a ‘Cosmic Enforcer’ is, but I am familiar with the Council of Elders. Although my people have never been offered repres-s-sentation in the Eternian government, I respect its authority,” he lied.
If Zeehlar had been unsure of Hsss before, he was certain now that the creature was as false as the others had said. Nevertheless, he was on a quest, and would stop at nothing until Zanthor was found.
“I confess,” Hsss continued, “that I was alerted some time ago that two humans were on their way to Snake Mountain. Tell me, where is your companion?”
Zeehlar had already planned an answer as deceptive as Hsss' for such a question. “He did not survive the journey,” he said. “My brother, Zodak, was already ill when we left Castle Grayskull. Being at sea for so many days was too much for him.”
“That is a s-s-shame.” His red eyes narrowed as he continued. “And yet you carry on. Why have you sought out the ruler of the Snake Men, when you should be in mourning?”
“My teacher has vanished. It is my belief that he is a prisoner of the dark wizard Hordak.”
Hsss was genuinely thrown off guard. “I have never heard of him.”
“He is now the leader of Shokoti’s Horde army, and during the battle at Castle Eternia he came into possession of the Book of the Ancients.”
“’Shokoti’s Horde army’?” the ruler echoed, venom seeping into his words. “You mean those interloping Orcs-s-s in the silver armor? They were under Shokoti’s command?”
“That treacherous witch!” the king bellowed. “She double-crossed me!”
“She has been taken care of,” Zeehlar shared. “My teacher saw to it, along with my brother and me.”
Hsss studied the Cosmic Enforcer as he reigned in his anger. “And with that last bit of information you hope to entice me into helping you find this army and your mentor.”
“Follow me,” Hsss instructed.
Moments later, they stood at the mouth of Serpos. Suddenly, a group of Snake Men surrounded them, and two of the reptiles grabbed Zeehlar from behind! The Cosmic Enforcer put up little fight.
“You have provided me with useful information, human,” King Hsss stated. “I knew little about this new threat beforehand.”
“Then you don’t know where to find them.”
“No. But, when I do find them, they will pay for their interference at Castle Eternia—they wounded many of my warriors. A pity you won’t be around when that happens.”
“Your men cannot hold me, King Hsss. My powers are—”
Translucent streaks of green magic, in the form of snakes, shot forth from the ruler’s staff and bored through the Cosmic Enforcer’s eyes. The pain was horrific, and it felt like something had coiled around his brain. Zeehlar tried to fight back—tried to launch his own magical assault—but his powers were being restricted somehow.
“You are resis-s-sting my spell with great force, son of the stars! No matter, though, because I will have made a meal of you before you can completely break free.”
It took every ounce of energy he had, but the ensnared Cosmic Enforcer managed to find his voice and pry his lips apart. “You cannot do this! I am Zeehlar, brother to Zodak, and Ambassador to the Elders!”
The mighty, green tongue of Tung Lashor descended upon him like a whip. “Silence!” the purple, scaled sergeant ordered.
“The Elders are weak,” Hsss stated. “S-s-soon, all of Eternia will fall before us-s-s.”
“No,” the voice of Zodak corrected. The Snake Men spun towards the opening of the tunnel, where Zeehlar’s brother stood upon a floating, silver sedan. The younger Cosmic Enforcer had donned his battle helmet, and carried with him a dual-headed trident.
He leapt from the chariot and landed in a defensive stance. The magical tattoos along his body glowed silver, as the Snake Men prepared to strike.
“Another meal for our king,” Rattlor said confidently, flanked by a group of his most powerful footmen. “Take him!”
Zodak easily repelled the attacks, knocking away the first two, and then sweeping the feet out from under a third.
Nearby, Zeehlar was being hoisted into the air. He tried with all of his might to escape, but King Hsss’ spell was proving too powerful for even him. Once he had walked on stars, but now he was as helpless as an infant. The Cosmic Enforcer, for the first time in his long existence, experienced fear as Hsss shed his magical skin.
Zodak was still busy fighting back the Snake Men, trying to work his way deeper into the tunnel and closer to his brother.
“Zodak, warn the Elders!” Zeehlar called out.
Time seemed to slow to an immeasurable speed for Zodak. He watched as Hsss’ largest serpent head unlocked its lower jaw, expanding its mouth to an incredible size…he watched as Zeehlar tried to summon enough energy to fight against the monster’s magic…and finally, as Zodak pushed away yet another assailant, he watched his brother disappear head-first down the throat of the Snake Men’s ruler.
“Brother!” he cried, rushing to save him from the serpent’s belly, but it was as if his legs had been tied to large bags of wet sand. Suddenly, he felt something coil around his neck with so much force that he was surprised it did not snap.
Tung Lashor used his thick tongue to jerk Zodak off his feet, and sent him careening to the floor, where Rattlor was waiting to pick him up. The brick-hued beast clutched the Cosmic Enforcer’s head, but Zodak had not the heart to fight back. General Rattlor hissed triumphantly as he carried his victim to the edge of Serpos’ stony mouth.
With King Hsss’ appetite satiated, the second Cosmic Enforcer was of no use to the Snake Men. Without a second thought, Zodak was tossed from Snake Mountain, and into the murky depths of Blood River, like so much refuse...