SUNRISE. THE SIFAN COAST. 2 DAYS LATER.
The first sun rose over the water of the Sifan Coast, in a minute or so, the next sun would rise too. The three brothers moved in tandem around Thra, casting light to every shadow.
Illuminating the dark waters of the Silver Sea, the ocean that surrounds the known world, the sunlight causing the deep waters to sparkle and shimmer. On the land, a few wooden boats had been brought up to shore, as tents were made on the beaches.
This was the settlement of the nomadic Sifa Clan. The spiritual Gelfling that made their homes around the coasts of Thra. Explorers by nature, the Sifa were competent in battle. However, they truly excelled at survival, which they attributed to the magic charms they always carried with them. Rumour had it that one could drop a lone Sifa on a deserted rock in the middle of the ocean and return a year later to find that he had not only survived but built a home and started a family.
Led by a conclave of Elders who all counselled the Maudra, the Sifa valued democracy, where all Sifan could have their say. Maudra Ethri had been the leader of the clan for some time now. But she rarely left the safety of Cera-Na, the largest port in the region and the home of the Clan. The rest of the Sifa were pirates and explorers, sea-farers who would travel the land of Thra in search of loot and adventure.
This camp on the shoreline was the home of the one of the most legendary Elders, Cadia and his family. Cadia was once a Captain of the seas, aboard the ship 'Omerya' which was made of pure living coral. A wise and travelled Gelfling, Cadia was of average size – with a large beard combed into knots. His curling hair streaked in grey, he wore a robe of blue cloth with a cape and golden detailing. A sailor's hat on his head, he sat upright in a chair inside his own tent.
Inside the tent with him was his daughter, Onica. The de-facto Elder, she had been leading the Clan for the time being as her father was struck with a horrible amnesia from a nulroot.
Tricked into drinking the poison, Cadia had fell under the memory-wiping drug's spell. The Vapran Princess Brea had come to them seeking knowledge, but there was always a price to pay with the Sifa. Onica had helped her dutifully, but now her father had little mind of his own left.
She couldn't grasp why Cadia would think to use such a life-altering poison on Brea, was the symbol she showed him that deadly? Onica was a soothsayer, able to hear—and directly communicate with—the Song of Thra. She had been long-time friend and advisor to the Maudra and the Vapra Clan.
Her lover was the Princess Tavra, who saved her and her friend Tae from a terrible storm. During the storm, Onica lost her wings…but found love again in Tavra's eyes.
They got back to the safety of the coast just in time - and hearing of Tavra's sacrifice to the Arathim – Onica lit the fires of Resistance in the Sifa Clan, in the name of her love. With the help of her Gelfling allies in the Drenchen Clan, Onica got the word out to all Sifa. But such stories still influenced her.
The Drenchen had been routed already – two days after the second Battle at Stone-In-The-Wood. She had heard that Maudra Laesid and her daughter Naia had been killed by the Skeksis at Great Smerth in the Land of Sog. The Maudra's son, Gurjin, was still unaccounted for.
Onica held her head low in sorrow, thinking on all that's been lost since the Fires of Resistance had been lit. Most of the Gelfling had gone home to reclaim their lost camps and capitals. Rumours had spread of a new All-Maudra operating from Ha'rar, but Onica didn't believe it.
Her father stirred again, shaking his head in confusion "Hello? Hello – hello?" He said copiously. Sighing, Onica got up from her chair and walked over, leaning on the seat, she could see the confused and constantly bewildered look in her Elder's eyes.
"Hello, father. Do you remember me?" She asked, wondering if maybe this time he would come to his senses. Coughing, Cadia made a low gurgling noise which gave Onica a slice of hope. "Oh…hell-hello?" He stopped and Onica sighed openly. Moving her head back, Onica took off her sailor's cap and put it on the driftwood table in the middle of the room. She was dressed in typical Sifan shades of blue and sea-foam white, with stripes of brown leather across her arms. The second sun had risen above the coastline, as the light began to cast rays through the slightly ajar door of the tent.
Going back to her own chair, Onica was awaiting the arrival of more supplies from their Outpost near the Crystal Sea inland. They had set up camp to prepare for a hard day of sailing to the Vapran Capital, from there, the Sifa would make a journey across land to Stone-In-The-Wood. She had stayed up all night waiting for the ships to appear on the horizon, but nothing had come yet. Only sombre news of the Drenchen's defeat. Whispers of a Mystic being present at the battle came too, which Onica dismissed.
Suddenly, her Elder stirred again. Perhaps now the amnesia was beginning to wear off. The nulroot had faded, and Cadia shot up from his seat "Why I'll teach you something you little Vapran c-" He barely finished his threat as Onica ran to calm him.
Taking him by the arms, her father blinked in confusion. "It's alright, Elder. You missed much – Princess Brea gave you the drop of nulroot – you've been gone for some time" She stated, attempting to catch her father up on recent events. He stammered for words, like he had lost years of memory in a week or so.
She soon told him what had happened since the incident "Brea was on a quest. She united the Gelfling clans with a Stonewood, a Grottan, Drenchen and Spriton. Tavra died under the control of the Arathim…but it wasn't in vain, I'm told that the SilkSpitters and Weavers fight with us now" She recalled, as she saw her father take back his old expression of wisdom and caution, crossing his arms in his chair. "We discovered that the Skeksis were draining us and harvesting our bodies, they drank our living essence while we served them, but no more. There was a battle at Stone-In-The-Wood, do you remember? Do you remember coming back here to the coast?" Onica quizzed him.
But he had no idea, shaking his head slowly, he leaned back. "I have forgotten much, young one. While we forget over time, I have lost years in mere days" He pondered. But Onica knew that this had happened in about a week's worth of fighting, Rian's rebellion was just taking hold of the Clans.
The defeat of the Skeksis with Aughra's help was the moment that saved them. "The clans gathered at the Stonewood forts, they helped to drive the Skeksis to retreat. Our resistance has begun, father" Onica reminded him. Though their relationship had once been rocky, it was time to set aside all quarrels and disputes now.
"Then I'm ready to do my part in it. Where is our clan now?" He looked to the shoreline from the gap in the tent's door. No ships were on the horizon as the third sun climbed to it's peak.
"Scattered. I've positioned trading posts across the shore, we're in a camp now, preparing for a supply-drop. Our Maudra is safe in Cera-Na, and the Omerya is with her" Onica said with a murmur. Raising his busy brown eyebrows, Cadia's mouth hung slightly agape. His eyes drifting to the partition in the tent, near the entrance. Onica held up her hands. "I know it's your ship, Father, but you had lost your memory, and the Maudra said to bring-" She was cut off by her father's strong accented voice.
"Enough about the blasted boat, child. I'm looking at what's on the horizon…" He mumbled with an undertone of dread. Onica turned around, stepping forward and grabbing her hat from the table. She saw a small glint on the shimmering waters. A spot of black in the ocean of blue. Eyes widening, Cadia rose from his chair and grabbed his staff from the side of the tent, holding it in both hands. "We've got company" He said just as the spot of black begin to pick up speed.
Racing through the white water's foam and the thundering waves, the 'Vassa' was cutting across the sea at remarkable speed. A captured sea-monster strapped inside the hull, the tentacles and tendrils propelling the ship forward through the mist of the morning.
Atop the monsters back was the outline of a ship, wood planks formed a deck and a raised bridge overlooking the monster's gargantuan head. A crew of black-robed Podlings shuffled about with chain-like collars on their necks. Dull of face and strong of body, a couple of surviving Gruenak soldiers carried weapons and boxes of supplies.
At the top of the bridge's balcony was a reptilian figure with a long snout and feathers running from its beak to the back of its neck. Robed in noble red and blue, with golden-lined metal shoulder-plates and white ruffles around the neck and wrists – SkekSa The Mariner snarled as her blood red eyes saw the stretch of the coastline. Her collar was dressed in gemstones of purple and silver, with a few golden teeth in her bottom jaw - her voice had become harder and more vicious. "There's our target! Full speed!" She commanded as the Gruenak servants pulled on metal levers, causing electric shocks to echo into the sea-monster's flesh.
Roaring, the goliath creature rumbled and crashed through the sea. SkekSa's cape and robe flowed behind her as she leapt down from the bridge, landing on the deck below. "I want cannons ready! And bring those cages up here now!" She rasped. The Podling slaves hauled cylindrical cannon-barrels towards the front of the ship. Loading them with sphere-shaped rocks, they had a torch ready to light the guns as soon as they came into range.
Meanwhile the Gruenak's were bringing up three large cages from the hull at the back of the monster's body. The cages were linked together by a chain and covered up with a sheet of dark cloth. "SkekTek promised that these beasts would follow my commands, let's hope he's right" The Mariner waved her arm to the Podling at the bow of the vessel. Shouting some orders in a garbled language, the Podling crew prepared to brace as they approached the shoreline.
"Raise the cannons!" SkekSa screeched as her galleon's weapons took aim. The monster bellowed as its tentacles flew backwards with a burst of speed.
On the shore, the Sifan recognised the ship once it came into view. The Mariner had, at one time, been a staunch ally to the Gelfling of the shore, even preferring to stay away from the Castle of the Crystal. But that wasn't the truth now. Wanting to win back favour of the Skeksis Emperor, SkekSa had turned corrupt following the Gelfling's uprising. Re-allying herself with the Regents of Thra, she launched a brutal campaign against the Sifan and Drenchen clans.
Engaging in a battle at the Great Smerth, the Drenchen Gelfing and their Mystic ally mortally wounded her, but managing to survive, SkekSa barely escaped. Returning to her ship, she had received letters from the Emperor and packages from his General and Scientist, along with orders to attack the settlements along the Sifan Coast. An order she gladly accepted, now that the Gelfling had forsaken her.
Beginning to clear the tents of weapons and valuables, the small boats on the beach were dragged back inland and used as cover, as Sifan Archers readied for battle. They took their swords out from their sheaths and Cadia brandished his staff as The Vassa came barrelling towards them. Onica took two daggers out from inside her clothes. "All Gelfling! Stand ready for battle!" Elder Cadia called out. The Vassa got closer and closer as its horrid, tortured features became clearer.
Standing at the side of the bow, SkekSa placed her claws around the hilt of her cutlass. "Cannons – open fire!" She ordered with a roar. Then, a burst of three flashes followed. Puffs of smoke and blasts of light shot up into the air as three sphere-shaped projectiles went hurling through the air towards the beach.
Seeing the objects cut through the air, Onica ducked back behind the wooden boats, hearing the shots again, Cadia yelled instructions through the smoke as the shouts of Gelfling cried out. Cries of pain were drowned out by the impact of the rocks on the white sands. The Vassa neared its target as the bombardment started again. Onica looking to the side of herself, she could see her Sifan clan-members ducking for cover in the tents.
Most holding swords, the look of horror on their faces as they hadn't seen any weapon like this before. Mostly arrows were the only ranged combat they had to do. Arathim would never have fired stone shells towards them.
The Vassa careened towards the shore, dropping a black, rusted metal anchor a few meters away. That seemed to give the Gelfling a boost of courage, Cadia ran forwards, spinning his staff, he jumped up onto the nearest overturned boat to stand above – so all Sifan could see him.
"Gelfling of the Sifa Clan! We have trekked the seas for hundreds of Trines! We will not fail today when a battle comes to our shores, our beaches and our towns! The Skeksis seek to take us from our ships, rip us away and drink us for life – but I say; no more! Come with me - defend your land, defend your honour, defend our freedom!" Cadia hollered, uniting the clan, they all shouted in unison. Onica climbed out of the cover she had found behind the boat and joined her father as they ran towards the opposing enemy's ship.
Seeing the advancing Gelfling, the side of The Vassa was soon being pelted with arrows and spears. The sea-monster screeched as its side was impaled by the sharp points of their projectiles. Landing in its flesh, the monster bucked and shook, as the occupants of the boat's deck struggled to maintain their footing. "The Gelfling exhaust me – release the Garthim! It is time to see if the Scientist's work is as good as his talk" SkekSa The Mariner hissed.
The Gruenak's struck off the locks of the cages, lowering the ramps on either side of the ship. The doors slowly opened, and a set of blue-purple eyes flashed, then a low scuttling noise followed.
Claws chattering, the first Garthim crawled from the cage and turned to The Mariner, as if sensing her Skeksis blood. "Bring me the Gelfling, kill all who stand in your way! If they resist – they die!" She bossed. The first Garthim set to work in going down the ramps at the side of the ship, just as the monster was pierced again by an arrow.
Witnessing the black-armoured creature approaching, Cadia recognised the black-carapace of an Arathim, but elements of strong limbs and claws, unlike the SilkSpitters. The form was protected overall, with strong grabbing claws and mandibles that snapped in the open air. The beast landed on the soft sand and began to almost float over it, as its many legs propelled it forward. Cadia saw another two outlines of the same shell begin to depart The Vassa.
But the weapons of war didn't scare him, these were the creations of the Skeksis, no doubt. Charging still, a volley of arrows came whizzing through the air. Colliding with the crab-like monster, they merely broke or shattered on its head and protective shell.
On the bridge above, SkekSa cackled a laugh. The Garthim were unfeeling and cold as they collided with the Gelfling forces. The small beings were faster and could land more strikes, but the creations of the Skeksis fought back.
Slapping away the spear-wielding Sifa, the Garthim grabbed a Gelfling from a pack of warriors. Lifting the Sifan, the Gelfling screamed just as his body became limp with a snap. Tossed away like a broken branch, the Garthim swung it's claw at the incoming group. Onica ducked just in time and landed a few quick strikes with her daggers. But to no effect on the beast, as she was knocked down by the swinging arm of the next attacking creature.
The three Garthim made their way through the ranks of the Gelfling, as the Gruenak servants would be picking up the pieces.
Though their race was wiped out by the Skeksis, SkekSa saw it as the waste of a valuable servant-class. Taking a family for her own, the Gruenak served as shipmen and assistants to The Mariner. The burly Gruenak scavenged the battlefield for intact weapons and Gelfling, taking them prisoner and separating the living Gelfling from the dead ones.
Walking down the ramp of her ship, SkekSa slowly followed the advance of the Garthim. Seeing destruction in their wake, the corner of her mouth lifted, showing a smile and a set of golden teeth in her bottom jaw. The Gruenak pulled up body after body, until one started to stir. Brushing sand off his back and chest, Cadia rose from the beach with triumph "What fresh menace have you brought to our shores now, Mariner?" He cursed. Standing on the beach, he used his staff to prop himself up steadily.
Attempting to grab him, the Gruenak's lazily reached out. Cadia bashed their hands away with his staff, using the other end to knock them across the head and trip them up, leaving them dazed in the sand. "You brought this on yourself, Elder, I once protected you. All I wanted was to be rid of this wretched, landlocked place. Travel the seas and find my fortune. But you…you Sifan betrayed me! Just like everyone has betrayed me. Now I stand with the Emperor – and with my kin!" SkekSa unhooked her sheath and drew her cutlass.
"Then I must stand by mine" Cadia said as he placed his staff in the sand. SkekSa's sword was long and curved, with a gold outline and a black handle. Rather ceremonial, her blade was tall and stained red at the tips. With a downward claw-shaped handle-guard, it had a long golden membrane that ran down the middle of the blade. A common Skeksis weapon, but now that the cutlass was in the hands of the Mariner, it made her twice as dangerous.
Her mouth opening with a growl, SkekSa paced up and down as Cadia took his staff out from the sands. His eyes mellow, Cadia was waiting for the putrid lizard to make her move. Twirling the blade back, The Mariner dived with a footstep to Cadia's position on the beach. Swinging forward, the blade slashed into thin air as the Sifan Elder dodged, hitting the Skeksis bluntly with a strike to her knee.
Grabbing the Gelfling leader, SkekSa picked up the Elder by the arm and threw him away into the sand, his body flying like a leaf in the wind. Approaching him, SkekSa tilted her head and held her sword up high. "The age of Gelfling will extinguish itself in a blaze of flame!" She laughed, her scaled and claw-toed feet prowling towards him.
Awaking in the choking sand, thick like fog, Onica pulled herself out of the beach. Hearing the waves lap against the shore, and the screams of the Gelfling around her. She had survived the black purple-eyed beast's assault, rubbing her hands across her head to dust the sand off her. The Garthim had broken the ranks of the Sifa, destroying the tents and ploughing over the Gelfling. Finding her daggers in the ground, Onica saw two hazy outlines duelling on the shore near the water.
Cadia kicked up sand into The Mariner's face, rushing her with his staff, their weapons collided. Grunting, SkekSa parried and knocked the end of her cutlass into Cadia's face, then moving to use her blade, he ducked and twirled his staff towards her, the blunt end cracking her across the side of the head. Cursing him, The Mariner grabbed his staff with her free hand before he could strike again – wrenching it away from him, an ounce of pressure snapped the wooden stick in two.
Launching a kick towards him, the Elder was pushed into the sand by the strength of the Skeksis. Suddenly, a voice broke them both away. Distracting them from the fight. "Father!" Onica shouted from the other end of the beach. The Garthim now shadows in the distance, bodies of Gelfling lay around them.
Blood dripping from her mouth, SkekSa grimaced "Onica…" She said while Cadia got back on his feet in the silence that followed. Seeing his staff broken on the ground, the Elder nodded to his daughter.
A ringing in Onica's ears blinded her to the next few seconds – SkekSa drew back her sword and cleaved into Cadia's chest. A splash of pink blood followed, as the sword cut across his midsection.
His body fell to the ground quickly, arms limp and chest open. Onica failed for that moment, mouth agape in horror, she gasped and her eyes watered. The Mariner's sword dripped in blood, staining the sand beneath them. They locked eyes now – her feet stumbled for ground as Onica turned and ran. She wouldn't fight, her father and Elder had sacrificed himself for her survival, so she'd have a few seconds left of time.
The Garthim patrolled the shore as Onica scrambled for the distant hills. Knocking over a torch, the crumpled tents now began to catch fire and go up in smoke as the war-machines picked up the surviving Gelflings and placed them in the Gruenak's cages.
Walking with a wide and strong gait, SkekSa reached the end of the shore, where the sand met the rocky hills that led to the forest. No trace or scent of a Sifan. The Elder's daughter lived, as and if she did, hope for the Sifa would live in Thra. But this settlement had been wiped out. One of the high-shouldered Gruenak's walked up to flank The Mariner "All Gelfling caged, dead Gelfling buried" He reported.
"Send a letter back to the Castle, this is the first of many assaults. Tell the Emperor that the Sifa will be wiped out by midnight. We will go along the coast to Ha'rar, destroying their camps and capturing their soldiers. If my brothers shall rule the land, then I shall rule the sea" SkekSa said while looking up at the cliffs at the end of the beach. The sea-monster moaned as it grew impatient waiting on the coast, the Podlings scuttling around on the deck.
"Should return Gelfling to Castle?" The Gruenak asked, his skin leathery and his voice even harsher. Looking up at the top of the cliffs, the trees rustled and crunched against each other. The Mariner glanced back down, then turned her head to The Vassa. "Gather them. I will take them all…" She said with a cruelty-spiked smile.
MIDDAY. THE VALLEY OF THE MYSTICS.
The sunrise had brought a warm haze and an orange sun cast down rippling layers of light. Stones had been arranged in pillars and columns, with wooden drawbridges connecting rocky paths on the way down to a sandy courtyard. Inside the rocks were rooms, carved from stone, small huts and wide areas for reflection and writing.
The yellow sands and orange stained rocks surrounded the valley from any attention, it was the perfect place to raise a child or to hide a civilisation. Inside the valley lived the UrRu – a name many would never know, as they were popularly called 'Mystics' by the beings of Thra. A legend to the Gelfling, the Mystics lived in isolation near the Spriton Plains. West of the Black River, the valley was protected on all sides by the deserts and grassy expanses of the wilderness.
Travelling across Thra, the Black River went from the most southerly point all the way up to the Gelfling capital in the snowy north. The Mystics hideaway was covered by the wash of the river, as small streams would fall into the valley, creating waterfalls and ponds for fishing and collecting water to drink. The biggest waterfall was East of the valley, where the Mystics would bathe.
Moving a large bedcover away from his body, an UrRu moved the sheets and cloth blankets from his back. Sleeping on a slab of stone warmed by a pot of embers, UrSu the Master climbed from his bed. Yawning, his wide toothless mouth opened, and he took a long breath. He was wearing heavy white robes and pleats, with pieces of fabric over his back and long neck. With a wide swaying body, pillar-like like legs and four powerful arms, UrSu moved slowly to a table made from scraps of wood and pebbles.
Mixing a brew of herbs, grasses and fruit, UrSu took a sizeable wooden spoon and placed it gently next to the bowl. His walking staff in the corner of the room, he could already hear the shuffling of his Mystic brothers outside. Picking up a grey-stone pestle, he started to crush and mash the ingredients.
The bowl became a pulpy mess after a few seconds, with UrSu grunting deeply as he mashed the fruit and spices together. Adding a few drops of water, he had created a healthy stew to start the day. Taking the spoon from the side of the table and collecting a bunch of the broth – The Mystic Master brushed his long, straw-like hair away from him, the white locks falling straight down to his knees.
In a land far from the Castle of the Crystal, the Mystics came to live in a dream of peace. Their ways were the gentle ways of natural wizards, soothsayers and peacekeepers. Now their numbers are few, and few UrRu dare venture outside the Valley. Practicing the magical and spiritual ways in a blurred forgetfulness. But today, the rituals give no comfort.
Today their knowledge expands, they know of the Gelfling's resistance, the vision in the blue-flame journeyed across Thra, being seen in every flicker of flame. Lighting the fire of Rebellion, stories travelled through the smoke to their ears. Sipping on a spoonful of the stew, UrSu gulped down the rest of it before leaving his cave-like home for the day. Taking his branch-shaped staff, he aimlessly walked from his dwelling to the open space of the Valley below.
Beneath his abode was the vast chasm and valley, decorated with stone pillars and ponds and symbols made in the red and yellow shades of sand. The Master's eyes squinted when he saw the three suns "The greater sun burns brighter this day" He commented slowly, ambling down the spiral-like stone ramp to meet his fellow Mystics. At this hour, only a few of his brothers did their duty under the sunlight.
The Ritual-Guardian, UrZah, had been making a shrine all day. Using the sand and rocks to form small piles which he enhanced with the sounds of his deep chanting. His face was covered in runes and spiral symbols, burned on through prayer and meditation.
The most powerful magician among the ranks of the UrRu, he spoke only in riddles, and was focussed on constructing sand-paintings and learning about the future and prophecies.
His armour was a dark orange, with plates made from cloths and blue silks which hung from his body. His sleeves stitched from the sides, the Ritual-Guardian moved a long, pole-like instrument to help spread a concentrated amount of red sand grains.
The Master got to the end of the stone slabs and onto the delicate ground at the middle of the valley. Seeing another of his kind, UrNol the Herbalist greeted him with a long nod "Welcome, Master" The Herbalist offered.
With a mellow brown eyes and pale hands, UrNol was carrying a bag of herbs with him, as his grey and brown armour was strapped fittingly to his arms and back. Lumbering towards his Master, the Herbalist removed a pocket of green and purple-striped flowers "Soothing lilies from the Spriton gardens, useful for healing and visions of past and present" The Herbalist disclosed. He had been searching for a better way of understanding the world around them now, during such times of Resistance.
After the Stonewood Gelfling had delivered the information, the Mystics had begun to explore the means of expanding their minds. Especially since the loss of the stubborn UrGoh, who sought to earn his namesake and wander from the safety of the valley. The Master took the pocket from his friend, examining it and sniffing it briefly.
Grumbling to himself, UrSu motioned to the Ritual-Guardian, who had been silent most of the day. "With any luck, brother, these new herbs can grant us the wisdom to see further than the hills that surround us" The Master said kindly. Midday had come faster than normal, as if the haste of the day could drive the Mystics to speak faster than usual.
A slow race born from the wisdom and the peace of the UrSkeks, the gentle Mystics had a long history of using the riches and plentiful plants to widen their knowledge.
His long neck moving to judge the space of the sun, UrNol The Herbalist breathed hot air from his great nostrils. A friend and companion of the UrRu's Cook, UrAmaj, they would take care of one another by tending to the greater and lesser matters of the Mystics, such as food and medicine. "The Ritual-Guardian is the only one fit for these herbs" UrNol insisted.
There was a time where the Mystics were the advisors and counsel of the Gelfling, overseeing them and working to better their growing societies. Now, the Clans of Gelfling were spread across the land of Thra, while the Mystics had retreated behind great stone walls. But with fears that their intelligence may be waning, they sought out new ways, the wise ways of the UrSkek wizards.
"We should have done this sooner, now the fires of rebellion burn, meaning the Gelfling have little time left to complete their quest" UrSu sighed, as if his great mind couldn't be supported by his body. News must have reached their counterparts in the Castle by now – turning the Skeksis from vain sycophants to brutal warmongers. The location of UrNol's other half was still unknown, as UrGoh mentioned the many lost halves – and a Thra imbalanced.
The Master held the satchel of plant-life and approached UrZah slowly, with strides that shook the sand, UrSu placed clasped his lower set of hands together respectfully. "UrZah…the time has come to turn your mind to the past, we must know of the recent Gelfling victory" The Master admitted. Not even raising his head, the Ritual-Guardian was stoic and private, only speaking in riddles by choice.
He set aside his tool and glanced up at UrSu. "You must see what has been, to learn what is yet to be" UrZah responded as The Master passed him the pocket of flowers that had been crushed and stretched into a fine, dry paste. Capable of feats far surpassing his counterpart, UrZah opened the cloth package with his second set of hands, then he opened his mouth to ingest the plants.
Chewing the plant-matter, The Herbalist joined the side of UrSu, flanking him as they watched the slow eyes of the Ritual-Guardian roll back into his head. "The result shall branch UrZah's mind, bringing him greater wisdom and purpose" UrNol encouraged. The plants should allow him to see the events of the past, going as far back as a full Trine.
In the Ritual-Guardian's mind, he saw the many endings which lay before them. The past came flooding into his conscience like rapid water, seeing a battle between the trees, metal wings and crude bombs. He saw Aughra appearing in smoke from the body of a dying Skeksis.
Words rattled and echoed in his mind, many voices. Their counterparts turned on one another – leading to the disappearance of their trusted brother, UrMa the Peacemaker and the shocking death of another – UrSen the Monk. They had lost many these short days. Seeing the effects of the purple veins on the land, voices called it the Darkening. UrZah saw Aughra once again, atop a hill, preparing to journey to the Spriton Plains. But then his mind was ripped from the vision.
As the effect began to fade, the Ritual-Guardian saw fire and homes aflame, great black beasts with claws and shells ripping apart buildings. He witnessed flashes of figures running, hooded and carrying sacks that cried and shook. The flashes continued as he foresaw flocks of flying animals, screeching and swooping low with a singular, gemstone-like eye. The last thing he could envision was a pair of Gelfling, facing nine Skeksis before the cracked Crystal of Truth.
UrSu's head leant forwards as he saw his magic-worshipping brother snap out of his trance. "What did you see?" The Herbalist asked, stepping towards UrZah and taking the bag of flowers and petals from him. The Ritual-Guardian shook his head, preparing his words. Considering his reply, the Ritual-Guardian's mouth opened gradually "A storm comes for Thra, we must see further than the clouds. To grant us prophecy, the Mother arrives to our valley" UrZah foretold.
"Aughra…we must prepare. Gather more herbs and summon our brothers. We have lost too many…and we know too less" UrSu turned to the Herbalist, who took a long breath before ambling away. The winds caught up with them, as UrSu's hair was blown in front of his face "Thra hangs in the fate of these Gelfling…with the Crystal cracked, Skeksis could rule forever" The Master speculated. Their darker halves had roamed the land with absolute control, but while the UrRu were pacifists, only few had taken a combative path.
Gathering from their stone, cave-like homes, UrNol called his kind by raising his head and releasing a low, baritone note. It ranged from an earth-shaking tone to a vibrating, long song of a cry. The Ritual-Guardian was compelled to join him – and soon enough, a tuft of grey hair poked from one of the caves.
Uncurling like a snake, UrUtt the Weaver appeared, dressed in purple cloth with weaved blue silk and dull yellow jewellery made from stone and metal ringlets. The Weaver made the clothes and blanket coats worn by the UrRu. Emerging from the dark, torch-lit cave, he began to hum along with his brethren.
With a leading voice to the song, UrSol the Chanter swayed from side to side with the many beads and charms rattling on his body. While his counterpart was cunning and scheming, the simpleminded UrSol was impatient. He had a wide vocal range, with his singing known to be so resonant that it could stop waterfalls, or cause stones to shatter. The Chanter effortlessly began to bellow, matching the tone of his kin.
Moving from his dwelling was one of the oldest of the Mystics, carrying an abacus and stone tablet, UrYod the Numerologist walked from his home. Wearing a long covering of grey and white armour plating, his bulbous tail was encased in the spine-like ridges of his armour. UrYod would keep track of the stars and moons using symbols and strings of stone, neatly placed around his chest and neck.
One by one, the UrRu each responded to the call. From UrAmaj the Cook to UrIm the Healer. Carrying their walking-staffs, they raised their heads and gave a mighty chorus of sound. The walls of the valley shook, with tremors echoing around them, like horns of the future, the call of the united Mystics reverberated across the Spriton Plains.
SUNDOWN. THE CASTLE OF THE CRYSTAL.
Between the catacombs underneath the Castle, two shadows moved through the underground network of rocky hallways beneath the imperial capital of Thra. The tunnels were a never-ending maze of stalactites, stalagmites, dark pits and dead-ends. The rustling of scavengers and sightless creatures lurked around every shadow. A thin-faced rodent crawled between the rocks, water dripping from the ceiling. cobwebs and scuttling bugs littered the tunnels, as a snake-like animal slithered through the caves.
The silhouettes revealed themselves as the light shot through the spaces between the natural formations. Lighting up their eyes, the Skeksis moved like spectres in the underground tunnels. The Emperor leeched forward, his body curling up inside himself – ribbons of black cloth trailing behind him and an extravagant carapace of gold on his back, leading to a collar of many sharp metal spines.
His crest bore a long arch-like attachment that pointed forward, like his snout that was covered in a thick armour. Grasping onto his Sceptre of Office, SkekSo had spent many days down here in the dark, obsessing over his own prize. Other than the Crystal of Truth itself – The Emperor had been learning how to harness and control the Darkening.
The Skeksis next to him, however, was more cautious. "How can one Skeksis hold two titles? SkekUng is General and Garthim-Master, unheard of for Skeksis" The Chamberlain specified with a twist of his frown. Stepping in the dank puddles, SkekSo grumbled a laugh "You forget that SkekVar was once Ambassador and General – we must replace those who have fallen, Chamberlain – with every army, it needs someone to command it" He addressed at once.
At the same time, the production of Garthim had increased tenfold, with the Chamberlain recommending the use of artificial parts in place of the butchered Gruenak. To improve their strength, the Scientist had been working on using the energy of the Crystal of Truth to enhance their bodies. With three more Garthim on the way, their chances of victory increased with every development.
Ducking under a drooping boulder, parts of the catacombs had been sealed off and propped up by wooden steaks. "Once the Mariner has sent word, then the next stage of our offensive shall begin. The General will head out with our new Garthim and set the Dark Wood on fire from the Great Trees to the Black River" SkekSo said pridefully.
Below the castle was many secrets, hidden passageways and lost tunnels, but there was one that the Emperor was keeping to himself.
A brief whimper of understanding came from the Chamberlain before SkekSo turned to him "Those are my orders; make it so" The Emperor hissed. Recoiling inside his collar and ruffles of fabric, SkekSil bowed flatteringly.
Continuing down the corridor of stone and clay, the Emperor walked alone as the Chamberlain turned away to return to the Castle through one of the many gateways. Passing a low ceiling and an archway, SkekSo reached his own treasure. A chamber unlike any other, built in secret, with pillars and statues positioned in religious fashion around the edges of the room.
In the middle of the chamber was a crack. A single crack in the floor which oozed a strange sound, like a horn endlessly sounding noise. Inside the crack was a purple mist and black tentacle-like tendrils creeping around inside. The Emperor reached over to the end of the crack and leaned down towards it. The Darkening had been growing since his last visit.
It grew day by day, it's veins would seep into every corner of the land, blighting all it touched. It was SkekSo's pit of pure power, untamed and raw. It had only been spreading faster since they began draining Gelfling. His continued exposure has withered his body, his beak already beginning to cave in and crack like an eggshell. Under the armour and finery, his hands had become thin stumps of matter. But true power demanded sacrifice.
"Come to me, Darkening, let me feast on your strength" SkekSo summoned. Lowering his staff to the middle of the crack, the veins began to turn and spin like wisps of wind.
Like bolts of lightning, the Darkening rose up in a fierce display of light. Beside the Emperor was a stone-carved mural of what the Skeksis once were - luminous, graceful beings. Now they had become cold, unfeeling creatures.
SkekSo barely remembered what it was like, when he was pulled asunder from his body. During the Conjunction, all Skeksis were born with the same malice. He didn't dream until he began to experiment on the Darkening, now his slumber was riddled with nightmares. He remembered suffering, guilt and sorrow, but it was hard to recall, like a waking nightmare. He knew the torment that lied behind them, but what torment had befallen The Collector, Hunter and SkekVar?
It was even more reason to hold onto life with all claws, no matter the cost. The Darkening grew now, rising into his sceptre. Eyes reflecting the purple mists, SkekSo was suddenly rocked by the feeling of his body leaving its existence…his soul travelling.
The Darkening had ripped him from his place and deposited him in another plain, which soon took the form of a forest. A waking vision – he saw through the eyes of another being.
Small stature, walking beside a dormant forest and shimmering lake, shining in the moonlight. He noticed the effects of the plants around this being, they withered and fell, the roots rising from the ground in purple and black spikes. SkekSo's memory flashed back to the battle at Stone-In-The-Wood, how he had used the Darkening, only for it to be repelled by a single Gelfling. Still inhabiting this strange body, the being was corrupting all around it.
Walking past the flowing the river, the water was shaking and rippling without a wind or rain. As the being investigated the lake's reflection, SkekSo saw the green-tinted face of a Gelfling. Her eyes were black sockets of energy, her lips and skin were slowly becoming the same shade. Seeing her face in the water, she reached out a vein-ridden hand out to the lake, snapping the Emperor from the vision.
"The Grottan…" SkekSo seethed. Stepping back from the crack, he gathered his footing as he checked on his staff. The light and thunder of the Darkening had faded as the ripple seemed dormant. Meanwhile, his Sceptre of Office had become null, the small crystal now giving no trace of the power it once held.
Throwing the staff away, The Emperor clutched onto his head, shaking in dismay. Mumbling to himself, he leant back to deliver a power scream of his anguish. One that echoed across the catacombs, SkekSo dropped to his knees, roaring in rage and fury for all the walls to hear.
HOURS LATER. THE DARK WOODS.
The trees had fallen onto the pathway in front of the lake. Crashing down onto the floor of the Endless Forest. There had been many stories of the Dark Woods, things that were told to frighten young Gelfling. Though the same stories were told about Mother Aughra, and she didn't seem so bad, Rian thought.
Stepping on the fallen leaves and crushed dirt, he brushed past some hanging vines on his way to the mud-flats. He considered the lake the best option to find her, searching through the bushels and the rocks, calling her name, and looking up every tree.
Wearing a short half-cape of blue cloth with the symbol of the Stonewood clan to clasp it, Rian wore brown leather armour on his shoulders and knees, with a pair of worn boots and his sword strapped to his hip.
Striding through the ankle-high grass and moss, Rian heard the chattering of birds above, realising how lost he felt. It had been nearly five whole days since he last saw her, the suns had risen and fell in hours. Hearing a rustle in the bushes beyond a stone, moss-covered archway, Rian placed a hand on the side of his sheath, pulling his cloak over his shoulders.
Seeing the shaking bushes, his steps got fewer and fewer. His fingers going around the handle of his blade, Rian nearly drew his sword before the fuzzy ball-like form of a Fizzgig popped out.
Barking and hopping around, the Fizzgig climbed up onto a fallen log. Laughing to himself, Rian couldn't help but kneel to the creature. "Hello, friend – I suppose you haven't seen a Grottan around here, have you?" He said innocently.
He had been looking for Deet ever since the Battle at Stone-In-The-Wood, where they united to show the Skeksis that they weren't afraid. All the Seven clans stood together in combat, driving the putrid lizards back to their castle. The fluffy Fizzgig blinked, barked again, then sniffed the air with its button nose. Rian's eyes went down to the roots of the log, seeing the wood blackened and rotting.
"Strange…" He commented aloud. He remembered the battle, his duel against the General, wielding the almighty dual-glaive, just as his father did. His message had aligned the Seven Clans and now they planned further battles from Stone-In-the-Wood.
The Fizzgig barked again, showing the rows of teeth at the back of its mouth, its small feet propelled it to the forest floor, as Rian jumped back. "Careful, friend" Rian said with a chuckle.
Rolling around in the crumpled and crumbly leaves, the light brown Fizzgig turned and scarpered off into the depths of the forest curling into a ball and rolling at high speed under the undergrowth. Watching the small animal scarper away gave Rian an idea, taking a breath before running – Rian hopped over the fallen log and followed a small trail of purple-tinted plants.
The last time he saw her, she was consumed by the Darkening, a force that was seeping into Thra and its lifeblood. Though he had spent his whole journey fighting the Skeksis and their lies – he didn't realise that Deet was trying to prevent the end of all things. The Emperor had used the power of the Darkening to try and massacre the Gelfling, but it was Deet herself that stopped it. Repelling the lightning and unnatural energy with the power of Vliste-Staba, the Sanctuary Tree.
Deet had absorbed the power of the last Great Tree, allowing it to be restored and stopping the Darkening from spreading further. But in doing that, the young Gelfling had taken the haunting plague wherever she went. Rian had left his home and the united Gelfling to try and find Deet, wherever she might be.
Following the strain of infected plants, Rian brushed a hand through his black-brown hair with green highlights, almost shining to a blue in the sunlight. Jumping over rotting roots and snapped branches, Rian saw thorny vines and twisting wood, a tell-tale sign of the Darkening. Pursuing the darkened plants, he saw the ravaged terrain and the upturned flowers. Passing a large rock that was covered in purple-black moss, Rian glanced up as the canopy of trees caused the three suns to be blotted out.
Suddenly, a silhouette of a Gelfling passed across the edge of the forest, casting over the trees and the stones. Her hair the same dirty blonde, a distant visage of her could be seen across the lake. Rian leapt past the grass and stones to the edge of the water. The mud was as thick as the trunk of a tree, but in the mirror-like reflection of the water, it was Deet.
He resisted calling her name, as Deet didn't notice him at first, simply walking absentmindedly into the further depths of the Dark Woods. His father's voice echoed in his head 'One can easily loose themselves in the Dark Woods, they don't call it the Endless Forest for nothing, son' Ordon had said.
"Deet!" Rian gave in. He yelled out her name, but she didn't react. Seeing her small and frail body mangled and twisted by the veins of the Darkening, her once big and hopeful eyes blackened by the pull of the dark energy. Rian didn't want to see her vanish again, not like last time. Seeing a treacherous path across the lake, comprised of a broken tree and a small island in the middle of the watery expanse.
He chased after her. Putting little thought into the matter, he scaled the tree, hands barely grasping the withering wood. Climbing up onto the trunk, he ran across and jumped to the island. Breathing hard, Rian saw her aura effecting the life around her, plants dying, animals growing to madness.
Calling her name out again, she didn't listen. Simple walking into the underbrush as the plants parted for her in spells and trances of purple, infecting magic. Rian watched helplessly from the island at the edge of the lake. He couldn't lose her again – taking a few steps back, he prepped himself to jump across the gorge of the water.
Deet's aura carved through the flora and fauna at a rapid pace, her body emitting a foul purple cloud. It would corrupt whatever it touched, following her like a never-ending illness.
Preparing to jump, Rian ran forward – outstretching his arms to grab the nearest vine and swing towards the corrupted Deet. His boots touched against the wood as he flew into the air – a scream escaping him. Seeing Deet in his sights, he saw her vanishing into the bush. Grabbing onto a hanging thread of plant-life, Rian's eyes widened just before he collided into the hard side of a tree's trunk. With a crash and a grunt, his vision blacked out.