There was a moment of awkward silence before it set in that the Horde was gone then a rousing cheer erupted. He-Man breathed a sigh of relief as his friends rushed over to his side and helped him to his feet.
"Well done He-Man," Man-At-Arms grinned.
"You sure showed him a thing or two," Glimmer agreed.
"I'm just glad it's over," He-Man said. "I don't think I could hold out any longer."
"Go ahead and rest," Teela smiled. "You've earned it. Eternia is safe."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that my dear," came a cackling laugh. Everyone's happiness fell instantly as Skeletor approached. In contrast to He-Man's weary and ragged appearance, he looked fit and ready to fight.
"Don't be foolish Skeletor," Man-At-Arms sneered. "You're hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched. You stand no chance of succeeding."
"That may have been true before Duncan," Skeletor said, "but as you may have noticed, I've gone through a few changes today. You saw for yourself that I took a sword to the heart and am no worse for the wear. It's not a difficult concept really. I am a lich. I cannot be killed!"
"Perhaps not," Sorceress said swooping down before him, "but while you may be immortal you are not invincible!" With that she fired a white magical energy at Skeletor. As before he simply stood and took it, but, much to his surprise, this time his body did not absorb it and he cringed over in pain.
"You see now why most would choose death over what you have done," Sorceress said. "What you thought was an escape from death is in truth a living damnation!"
"You think this will stop me?" Skeletor growled. "So I am not invulnerable. I still cannot die and once I have the powers of the Elders, I can change myself back and achieve true immortality."
"That won't be happening today," He-Man said firmly shifting his sword into battle position. Skeletor started to prepare to fight as well but then paused when he heard Evil-Lyn call out to him.
"Skeletor... he's right."
Skeletor looked around carefully and now took notice that everyone's attention was focused on him. All the present Masters, all the Royal Guard, all the Royal Infantry, every last one of them were turned in his direction, all of them with their weapons at the ready. The only one present who was not poised to counter him was Evil-Lyn, and upon a more thorough observation he could see she was badly injured and in no condition to fight.
"Another day then," Skeletor said finally. Quickly he pointed his staff towards Evil-Lyn and she vanished in plume of smoke. "After all," he added as he began to fade away himself, "I now have all the time in the world."
"I've never been so glad to see Skeletor retreat," Teela said once he was gone. "What's become of him? How did he do all that?"
"It is as he said," Sorceress sighed. "Skeletor has become a lich."
"Which is what exactly?" He-Man asked finally.
"A horrible creature neither living, nor dead," Sorceress explained. "Through the use of dark forbidden necromancy the soul is removed from the body and stored in a mystical item known as a phylactery while the lich's mind and intellect remained bound to its animated corpse. Since the soul is bound to this world outside the body, the lich can never truly die."
"So then wasn't Skeletor already a lich?" He-Man asked.
Sorceress shook her head. "Not exactly. A demilich at best. Before Skeletor's soul was still bound to his body,thus he was still mortal. Normally it is our bodies that anchor our soul to this realm. Once the body is destroyed the soul in no longer bound and passes to the afterlife. But a lich's soul remains anchored by the phylactery. If Skeletor's body were to be destroyed, his soul would remain and the phylactery would spawn a new body for him."
"So the only way to kill him for good is to destroy the phylactery?" Teela asked.
"Yes, but that is no doubt easier said than done," Man-At-Arms sighed. "I'd wager that after Skeletor left the palace he hid it in some secure location to prevent just such an occurrence. That's probably why he didn't show up here right away."
"Why is it he was able to absorb Hordak's spell but your spell seemed to harm him" He-Man asked Sorceress.
"Mine was positively charged while Hordak's was negatively," Sorceress said simply. When He-Man's face betrayed his confusion she went on to explain, "Magic in its natural state is neutral. No more good or evil than air or water. It can be charged with energy to make it light or dark magic. A lich by its very creation is filled with dark magic and thus negatively charged spells will give it strength, just as a healing spell would. The spell I used on Skeletor was one designed to expel dark energy from the body and therefore caused him harm."
"Well wait a minute," He-Man said. "If good magic harms Skeletor than surely he can never take the powers of Grayskull. His body wouldn't be able to use the magic right?"
"I wish that were so He-Man," Sorceress sighed. "Alas, although the powers of Grayskull and the Elders can be used against Skeletor, his condition does not prevent him from being able to use them himself. For most the price paid to become a lich is far too high, but for one as evil minded as Skeletor, he has actually come out ahead for his ordeal."
"I don't understand."
"Unlike most other forms of undead creatures, the lich retains all of the memories, personality, and abilities that it possessed in life — but it has a virtual eternity to hone its skills and inevitably becomes more powerful. Already Skeletor has gained new abilities such as that paralyzing touch. More importantly a lich no longer needs to eat or sleep, is immune to poison, disease, fatigue and anything else that affects only the living. I'm afraid Eternia is in more danger from Skeletor than ever before."
"He-Man was lucky today," Skeletor mused as he entered his throne room. "But he won't always have an entire army to protect him. Grayskull will be mine soon enough."
"At least we had the pleasure of seeing Hordak thrashed," Evil-Lyn offered.
Skeletor laughed with delight, "Yes, and I am now free from his bonds. So the day was not a total loss."
"Skeletor, is that you?"
Skeletor and Evil-Lyn turned as the rest of his henchmen slowly wandered into the room. The dark lord's pleasure fell and he glared at them in anger. "Just where have all of you been all this time?" he growled.
"We... we weren't sure what to do without your orders," Trap Jaw stuttered. "We started to fortify Snake Mountain, but the Horde suddenly showed up out of nowhere."
"It was that key thing Nycroft had," Beast Man said picking up the story. "They took us by surprise. We tired fighting them of but they had us outnumbered!"
"Outclassed is more like it," Evil-Lyn muttered.
"We retreated in order to regroup and come up with a strategy," Clawful said.
"You trying to devise a strategy certainly explains a lack of action," Skeletor scoffed. Everyone braced themselves for the inevitable havoc staff blast, but Skeletor simply looked them over observing their injuries and decided they actually had put up a fight. "At least you were making some form of effort. No matter now. Thanks to He-Man we shouldn't have to worry about Hordak for some time. Tri-Klops, have one of your Doomseekers..." Here Skeletor paused noticing Tri-Klops was not present. "Where is Tri-Klops?"
"The uhh.. The Horde took him captive," Trap Jaw admitted.
This time Skeletor did not hold back and gave each of them a blast from his staff.
Hordak slowly sank what remained of his body down onto a low chair. Instead of his main throne room he had retired to this private chamber of his sanctuary. Only Shadow Weaver, Modulock and Adora accompanied him. The others he had ordered out of his sight and were not to enter his presence until summoned. He let them believe this was due to his anger at their failure to capture Eternia, but in truth he simply did not like his subordinates to see him in such a weakened state.
"Master, will you be all right?" Adora asked in concern.
"My wounds are severe young one," Hordak admitted. "It will take some time for me to regenerate, but I will recover. In the mean time we will have to do something about replenishing our depleted forces. We lost far too many troopers in battle. I will need more -better, stronger ones- if I am to overcome this wretched planet."
"I will consult my spell texts for a solution," Shadow Weaver said at once.
"No Weaver," Hordak snarled. "I have tried using magic to gain armies to take Eternia before and each time the results were displeasing. The Spell Of Separation nearly destroyed everything, and the demonic puppets you persuaded me to use have proven themselves to be inefficient. I've decided to take a new, different approach."
Hordak turned his attention to Modulock. "This shall be your assignment Modulock. You pledged your superior intellect to my service, and I am calling upon it now. Use that brain of yours to provide me with a new army of troopers. They must be powerful yet expendable, able to act independently but completely loyal, and I will need them in immense numbers."
"An idea is already forming itself master," Modulock grinned. "By your leave I shall get started right now."
"Go," Hordak nodded. "Succeed and you shall be rewarded. Fail and you will wish I had left you to the plague!"
Modulock bowed nervously and quickly exited the chamber. After a moment Adora dropped to her knees before Hordak and bowed her head.
"I am sorry master. Today I failed you."
"No Adora," Hordak said calmly, "You do not need to apologize. Our failure today was not your fault. You had no way of knowing your blade would not affect Skeletor. You fought splendidly today and I am proud of your performance."
"You are too kind to me Lord Hordak," Adora said, still looking down.
"Go now and rest my child," Hordak said. "You will have another opportunity to vanquish the Eternians soon enough."
Adora slowly rose, bowed in respect again, and walked out. Shadow Weaver watched her leave in silence then turned to Hordak.
"She's right you know," the robed magician snarled. "You are too kind to her."
Hordak's eyes narrowed in anger and suddenly his body shot out black oozing tendrils from his severed limbs wrapping around her neck and waist.
"I have been unduly kind to you thus far Weaver," he snarled. "So unless you'd like to contribute your flesh to my new body, you will learn your place and not be so bold with your tone!"
"Yes master," Shadow Weaver gasped in fear.
"Bring me a prisoner," Hordak said, slowly releasing her. Shadow Weaver chanted a summoning charm and instantly a young peasant appeared before them. He was one of a handful of captives taken during the siege of Nordling for just such an occasion. Before he could take in his surroundings Hordak's tendrils lashed out and stabbed into him. With a sickening sound the peasant's body withered and caved in upon itself as his flesh and blood flowed out of him, through the tendrils and into Hordak's body. Within seconds Hordak had regained his right arm and tossed away the dried husk that remained of the man.
"How loyal do you think Adora would stay if she saw you doing that?" Shadow Weaver muttered. Aloud she said, "Regardless of her loyalty, I suggest caution in sending Adora against the Eternians. They've seen her face and heard her name. It won't take them long to put the pieces together. I still don't understand why you didn't change her name after taking her in."
"Because I want them to know it's her," Hordak laughed. "The pain and suffering she causes Eternia will be all the greater with them knowing who she really is."
Just don't you forget who she really is, Shadow Weaver thought.
"Do you think it's possible?" Duncan asked.
"She is the right age," Sorceress said slowly, "and her appearance fits, however I cannot be entirely certain just yet. I do not believe it would be wise to raise hopes until more information can be gathered."
"But if that really is Adora..." Duncan began.
Sorceress nodded, "Yes I know. We must pursue this, but with caution."
"Pursue what?" Teela asked as she and a group of several other Masters approached.
"Nothing, I'll handle it myself," Man-At-Arms said then quickly changed the topic. "Have you completed the casualty report."
"Yes, it's pretty bad," Teela sighed, handing him the report. "The Royal Guard was hit the hardest. Surprisingly, the Royal Infantry only lost five of their men."
"Good soldiers every one of them," RIO Speed snarled. "I won't forget this!"
"There wasn't anything you could have done for them kid," RIO Blast said. "Just remember their actions, and yours, probably saved far more lives today."
"He's right," Sweet Bee nodded. "After all, you saved me. Thanks Speedy." With a grin she kissed him on the cheek.
"Only my sister calls me Speedy," RIO Speed laughed. "My real name's Theydon."
Sweet Bee smiled then turned back to Teela, "How's Lord Buzz-Off?"
Teela shrugged. "We're having him checked for a concussion, but I think he'll be fine. I'd say his pride is what was really wounded. He keeps ranting about getting back at that girl. Roboto's damage is extensive but repairable. He should be fixed and back to duty in about a week."
"Our losses are a tragedy," Sorceress said. "But we must remember they could have been far, far worse."
"She's right," Glimmer said. "Take it from one who knows."
"Indeed," Sorceress nodded. "I would like to personally thank you for all your help young Glimmer. Eternia owes a great deal of gratitude, and I owe you my life. I will endeavor to help you get back to your home, though I fear it may take some time until I am able to create a gateway between our two worlds."
"I understand," Glimmer sighed then turned to the others. "Well, it looks like you're stuck with me for a while. Hope you don't mind."
"Of course not," He-Man laughed. "Sorceress is right, we owe you a great debt of gratitude. If it wasn't for your help we might not have achieved victory."
"Victory?" Sorceress asked with a look of disbelief. "No my friends this was hardly a victory. The day may be ours, but in the end it is only a short reprieve. Hordak was wounded and driven back, but he lives on and is free in Eternia. It will not be long before he strikes again. Eternia's darkest hour is upon us. We may have won the battle, but the war has just begun."
Here ends "Wrath of the Horde", but as Sorceress said the war has just begun. The saga continues in "Shadows and Secrets"
Author's Note: Whew! Finally finished. This story took WAAAAAAAY longer than I intended to get through, especially since I have several more followup stories to come. Sometimes it was writer's block, other times real life got in the way. "Shadows and Secrets" should have it's first installment up in the next week or so. Hopefully I can make updates on a more regular basis in the future.
I'd appreciate feedback on the directions I'm taking with my storyline. I was very hesitant to turn Skeletor into a lich but in the end I decided I wasn't really changing him that much. In fact I simply made him more dangerous and powerful. Still if it gets too much negative reviews I may find a way to undo it. The real motivation was to keep him as the skull headed villain while severing his link to Hordak. (I had to make it so Hordak couldn't just off him at any time like he did Callix) Just please don't come at me saying, "that's not how a lich works." There are different rules depending on the source so since none exist for MOTU I did it my way.
As for Hordak, let's just say I've been watching a lot of anime involving demons. Don't expect Filmation Hordak in these stories. I love the classic series and stick to it in my classic continuity tales, but this is 200X continuity. In the DVD commentary they describe Hordak as being like the devil and that's where I'm going. He is evil incarnate.