It's been weeks, SkekRin the Herald, gathered enough courage to try and catch the eye of the one she's interested in. Nothing too obvious, subtle. Though, stoic and imperious as he was, no one could really tell with him.
She'd also taken notice of several details in that space of time. Mainly, the affairs concerning her fellow rogues.
Firstly SkekArra and SkekUng still quarrel occasionally, but now it seems somewhat forced or false. Whatever brought it on, they were both clearly hiding the reason as well.
Next, SkekLiat… she seemed to be coming down with something. First she'd limped a little for week, now she looked fatigued after a good night sleep which could probably explain the random mood swings. Then the Barrister started having trouble holding down most of her meals, and claims there was a stomach flu going around… except none of the other skeksis had the same ailment.
And as for SkekMeh the Scout, she's become moody and cattier than usual ever since the morning after SkekRin had heard that compromising (and secret) conversation she'd overheard weeks ago. Although try as she or the others might, the pernicious Scout refused to explain why.
Then a thought struck SkekRin. Back in the wilds, no one had cared if she or her sisters ran cross the plains, skidded across ice, or climbed up trees. In many ways, they missed their freedom, which they'd taken for granted.
However it was on a grey, cloudy afternoon where SkekRin would get some answers… and far more questions. She and the other rogues had been gossiping with the Ornamentalist, although SkekLiat looked under the weather. The Barrister had been wincing.
"Oh, it hurts!" SkekLiat trembled, feeling lower abdominal cramping.
When asked what was wrong, she grunted. "Oww, I'm not feeling well… what's happening to me…?!"
And she falls over much to their shock. The moment they lean in for a closer look, SkekEkt had started shrieking hysterically. "AAAAAAHH! The Barrister is bleeding to death!"
In effect, the lower part of the Barrister's robes was stained in blood.
"Somebody get some help!" SkekRin had screamed.
SkekArra could be heard shouting. "You gelfling, don't just stand there! Get the Scientist quick!"
That was the last thing the Barrister heard before everything went black.
Needless to say, Barrister SkekLiat was taken to the chamber of life. The other skeksis and her fellow rogues awaited news anxiously for varying reasons. For all they knew, she may have caught some illness could easily affect them, it was best to exercise extreme precaution.
However the news they received caught them completely off guard. The Barrister had been with child, however, for unspecified reasons she lost the fetus after only fourteen weeks.
The original skeksis were beyond shell shocked, the females had been stunned. Of course, poor SkekLiat had taken the news quite badly.
"It's not true… My baby is dead!" her sobs turned into full-fledged screams of grief. "My baby is dead! NO!"
"Calm yourself, the baby is gone, there's nothing you can do. It's something you have to accept."
"It's not true, I don't want to, no! Where are they? I want to see him or her!"
"That is not possible, the body has already crumbled to dust—"
The scientist's reply was met with a wail.
He wasn't joking, usually when their race perished, they don't leave a body behind it instead crumbles into pieces.
The Emperor stared at the unfolding scene and it wasn't a pleasant. Then his gaze turned cold and he ordered that the Barrister be punished without meals for the next three days.
However the unspoken question lingered in their midst. Who was the father?
Far away, in the Valley of Stones, The Barrister's UrRu counterpart, Urlei the Artisan, has also suffered a loss. Despite the lore surrounding the Mystics race that ought to prove the opposite, she too had been expecting, but had lost infant as well.
UrMi the sage, had also suffered the physical repercussions that had her counterpart, SkekMeh. She wondered what caused such agony and lingering feelings of disgust.
While the Mystics both original and newcomers perform a small funeral for the miscarried child, a single tear of sorrow fell from the Artisan's eye. Nearby, the father of her child mourns silently.
Part of the grief was losing the hope, that inexplicably joyous feeling that she would bring new life into the world. A precious treasure that she'll never get to know, nor have the pleasure and privilege of raising. Now there was just the feeling of failure, emptiness and sorrow.
SkekLiat's gelfling assistant, Inbal, continued running errands, her eyes were red and puffy, sympathizing with her mistress. "Please Mistress, you've got to eat. The punishment has already been lifted."
"I want to die too." came the answer.
"Don't say that!" SkekRin said, looking scandalized.
"Without my child, I no reason to go on."
"But what about the father? Shouldn't he know about this?" SkekArra pointed out.
"He already does… but he'll never acknowledge it." Liat replied, curling herself in.
The Sentry demanded to know who it was, but wouldn't receive an answer.
And while the Barrister wept for her unborn young, SkekMeh the Scout had attempted to voice her troubles. But SkekLach was favored by the Emperor, he denied everything seeing it was her word against his. The other skeksis weren't that much helpful either.
"Ha! I don't blame the Collector, the truth is: SkekMeh's a sightly wench."
"He probably couldn't manage her and she tried to claw his face off!"
"We all know how much of a battle axe she is!"
"But who could've consorted with the Barrister, I wonder?"
"Anyone would lose their head over a female like that."
"The Barrister's pretty but she's cold. Thinks she's too good for us!"
For a very long time, all the Barrister could think about was the baby. How old it would've been by now if it had lived, would it have been a hermaphrodite like the other skeksis, or of singular gender like she and her sisters? Would it have looked like her?
Inbal looks worried until she gets an idea. "Then it doesn't bother you about what happened to SkekMeh, but now everyone's calling her mad or a power-seizing liar?"
"What? What do you mean, what happened to SkekMeh?"
Inbal quickly informs SkekLiat of what happened with her sisters while she was depressed. Things have gotten terribly serious for the rogues and not in a good way.
She was dressed within minutes and already en route to the throne room. Unsurprisingly, save for her sisters and allies, none of the original skeksis were remotely supportive.
"You have nerve showing up after all this."
"The punishment has been lifted, I have the freedom to show up wherever I wish…save one." SkekLiat replied coolly.
"Everyone has already heard that you lost a child."
"I don't want to talk about it." The Barrister said through gritted teeth.
"It was the best, otherwise it would have become another doxy like yourself!" one of them scorned.
"How dare you!" She actually slapped him.
Unfortunately said reaction had gotten her punished… again. Except her sisters were bringing her the occasional food scraps.
"Please tell me the rumors are true." SkekArra said as she handed one to SkekLiat.
"Yes. Yes, I am a tart. I only did it with—one of them, because I want to be a mother!"
The Sentry shook her head. "No, no, no! I mean the one where you got suspended for calling that cad a shameless deviant, and struck him barely above the belt."
"I worry about the way information circulates in the castle." SkekMeh shook her head.
"We cannot allow them to crumble our will to dust." SkekRin urged.
"How? SkekLach is now in the Emperor's favor and it doesn't bode well for anyone." SkekMeh reminded them.
SkekLiat stood up. "We'll become exactly what every last courtier in this castle expects us to be, but we'll be much better."
To be continued…
Author's note: Told you it would be dark but would only be the beginning of their troubles.