Summary: "No! No slave!" is what the Gruenak said. But that's not what skekTek hears.
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
"I wanted to fight! I am not a coward!"
His protests hanging in the air uselessly, skekTek sighed in frustration. Well, at least Aughra's essence worked after all, he thought. Not that anyone will thank me for it.
He watched as skekMal raced out of the throne room, grunting and snarling, all four of the Hunter's arms raised and ready for battle. Even as the Scientist's pride reeled from the Hunter's sneers, skekTek, being all-inquiring as was his nature, couldn't help but wonder: How does he still have those two extra arms?
skekTek couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to use his own secondary arms. They had long since atrophied and withered to the point that he often forgot he even had them. The Hunter, on the other hand, had retained the usage of his own secondary arms, along with the agility, stamina, and speed that all Skeksis had once possessed but could now only dream of having.
But how? If anything, skekMal should have been in an even more decrepit state than the others, having lived outside the Castle and away from the life-giving energies of the Crystal for so many trine. How had the Hunter managed to arrest his aging process without the Crystal's energy or Gelfling essence?
Perhaps, mused the Scientist, the Hunter had discovered his own means of drawing energy from Thra. Maybe through the direct consumption of his victims - something which skekMal was reputed to do after a successful hunt. A gruesome hypothesis, but intriguing nonetheless.
An unpleasant thought crept into skekTek's mind. What if he had this backwards? What if there was no secret and skekMal was aging normally? Skeksis, though not naturally immortal, were still a long-lived species. Exactly how long, no one knew for certain (and none wished to truly find out), but Mother Aughra had clearly expected them to still be around after a thousand trine. What if instead of the Hunter aging slower, skekTek and the others were aging faster?
He thought of the Crystal and how they'd exploited it all these trine until it finally had no more to give. Had they become so dependent on the stolen energies that without the Crystal's constant nourishment, their bodies were now experiencing some sort of catastrophic withdrawal syndrome? Had they, in their quest to live forever, in fact doomed themselves to the very thing they'd tried to avoid?
Such irony would not be a surprise to skekTek. Life was a litany of cruel twists, as he had learned the hard way.
Scowling, skekTek straightened his robes and started trotting his way out of the throne room. Already the euphoric effects of the essence he'd consumed had faded. If skekMal was joining the fight at Stone-In-The-Wood, then the battle would be over very soon. And that meant the Emperor would be returning shortly. skekTek had no desire to lose his other eye because he'd been unable to deliver the unstoppable army skekSo desired.
On the other hand, the Emperor might punish him regardless.
"Curse him. Curse them all," skekTek growled under his breath as he lurched down the Castle's gloomy corridor. How he loathed his fellow Skeksis. The impatient, short-sighted, ill-tempered Emperor. The scheming, sniveling Chamberlain. The thick-headed, quarrelsome General. The pompous, self-righteous Ritual Master. The fat, slovenly Gourmand. The snobby, patronizing Scroll-Keeper. The obnoxious, shrieking Ornamentalist. The repulsive, disgusting Collector.
He hated them all. How they sneered at him. How they laughed at him. How they viewed him as worthless and weak. How they refused to grant him even the slightest scrap of appreciation for everything he'd done.
"Fools!" he spat. "Without me, what would they do?"
It was he who had discovered the secrets of the Crystal and how to harvest its energies. He who had built the weapons and armor that they had used to conquer Thra. He who had found a way to extract essence from the Gelfling. Everything they had achieved these last thousand trine had been because of him! Without his inventions and his genius, they wouldn't be Lords of the Crystal. They'd be on display at some Gelfling zoo!
He sighed. In the past, things hadn't been so bad. The others had always whispered behind his back, insulting him when they thought he couldn't hear. But he'd dismissed such remarks as petty jealousy. Nothing more than the words of those who couldn't comprehend his superior intellect. And besides, all Skeksis whispered behind each others' backs. No one truly respected anyone in this wretched Castle. But at least they had pretended to treat him as an equal.
But as the Crystal's energies had begun to fade along with their vitality, so had any pretense the others had of respecting him. Now they openly mocked him to his face. The Emperor's refusal to permit him to join the fight at Stone-In-The-Wood was merely the latest of insults.
Briefly, he contemplated leaving the Castle and never returning, if only to show the others just how powerless they were without him. Maybe then those fools would finally come to appreciate him. Wouldn't that be something?
The fantasy quickly faded as reality sank in. As miserable as conditions were in the Castle, he dreaded what lay beyond the safety of the walls. He doubted he'd last more than a few days out there in the wilderness without allies or resources. Simply put, he was stuck here, like a fly in an Arathim's web.
Speaking of Arathim...
Growling again, the Scientist switched his thoughts to the task at hand: Building the Emperor's army. He had to find a way to reanimate the Arathim corpse in his lab and reprogram it to be completely loyal to the Skeksis. And to do that, he needed a source of connective tissue that was strong enough to handle the reanimation process, yet also simplistic enough to culture and grow in large quantities. Which creature in his cages would suffice?
As he neared his laboratory, skekTek hissed and gagged at the scent of Arathim body fluids. Hadn't he told those Gruenak fools to clean up the place? He stepped into the threshold of the lab and froze at the sight of the two Gruenaks huddling together. What were they doing?
He squinted his eye. No, wait... They weren't huddling. They were hugging.
"What is this?!" he demanded.
Taken by surprise, the Gruenaks broke apart and turned around. skekTek was shocked to see that one of them no longer had its mouth sewn shut. Its companion had used a dismembered Arathim claw to free its jaws. Even more outrageous, the second Gruenak now held the claw out in front of itself like a weapon - pointing it at him. At him!
Enraged by this act of defiance, the Scientist snarled, "Mutiny!"
The first Gruenak opened its mouth to speak for the first time since it had arrived at the Castle. But strangely, skekTek could not hear whatever it was saying. Instead, he heard other, much more familiar voices...
Pathetic! Not even his own slaves fear him!
Well, why should they? A Podling wouldn't fear such a feeble creature!
Ashamed, skekTek felt as though he'd been skewered through the stomach.
This is not my fault! he thought. I am not to blame for this!
The voices continued to jeer.
He calls himself a Lord of the Crystal? Ha! What a joke!
He shouldn't even be called Skeksis!
We should cast him out. Rid ourselves of this weakling, once and for all.
Close to tears, skekTek banged on the walls of his mind, trying to do something - anything - to block out the maelstrom of ridicule.
I am one of you! I am Skeksis! I am not weak, I swear! he protested, but to no avail.
The tide of humiliation threatened to drown his sanity. For a moment, he wanted to literally rip his own head off just to end the torment. That thought - that momentary contemplation of suicide - triggered something else. A switch inside his brain - some sort of survival mechanism - flipped.
Shame turned to anger. Anger turned to hatred. Hatred turned to a boiling, seething fury that exploded from every atom of his being.
"How DARE you threaten me?!" he roared. "I am skekTek the Scientist! I am a Master of LIFE and DEATH! I am a GENIUS! I am a Lord of the Crystal! I - AM - SKEKSIS!"
With an anguished scream that cursed every injustice and abuse he'd ever suffered, he charged forward, his talons lashing out madly at the two Gruenaks who had dared to defy their master - dared to humiliate him - dared to make him question his own worth. He shoved them both against the operating table, intending to inflict as much pain as possible. Despite their diminutive size, however, the Gruenaks somehow managed to grab hold of him and pin him to the table. One grabbed an electro-probe and jabbed it repeatedly into his beak.
"Ingrates!" he howled, as showers of sparks and bursts of pain erupted across his face. They served only as fuel for his rage. Grabbing hold of the table for leverage, he pushed back, throwing both his assailants off.
"Savages!" he snarled. Before he could make his next move, the lip-sewn Gruenak grabbed an empty animal cage and slammed it down over skekTek's head. Instantly, skekTek became paralyzed in utter terror. The other Gruenak opened its mouth to speak, but once again, skekTek heard something else: the mocking laughter of the other Skeksis as they watched him struggle in his chains. He heard the Ritual Master's sarcastic reassurance that all would be over soon, followed by the feeling of something scuttling across his head. He shut his eyes but to no avail. A pair of small, yet strong appendages pried his right eye open. He shrieked in terror at the sight of the hungry peeper beetle opening its jaws, ready to feast.
"No! Help! Release me!" he screamed, before realizing there was no peeper beetle scuttling on his head. Nor were his hands chained. Nor were there any other Skeksis here laughing at him. It was all just a memory.
A memory that these two traitors had forced him to relive.
NO! his mind screamed. Not again! NEVER AGAIN!
He suddenly became aware that one of the Gruenaks had climbed onto his back. With a snarl, he shook the creature off and yanked the cage off his head. His eye turned to the other Gruenak in front of him.
"Brute!" Growling, he backhanded the treacherous creature, sending it flying across the lab. It crashed into the levers that operated the Crystal. The machinery sparked, smoked and sputtered in protest. The Gruenak got to its feet and ripped one of the levers off its hinges. With a cry, it raised the lever and charged the Scientist.
skekTek was ready, however. Reaching out with one hand, he grabbed the lever before the Gruenak could strike. A brief tug-of-war ensued as master and slave struggled for control of the makeshift weapon. skekTek ended the stalemate by using his free hand to grab the Gruenak by the neck and lift it off the floor.
"Barbarous cretin!" he spat, and he flung the hapless wretch toward the Crystal with all his might and fury. The Gruenak sailed across the room and vanished down the Crystal shaft. Its terrified wails came to an abrupt end as it met a fiery doom in the molten pit that lay at the bottom of the shaft.
The Scientist felt a victorious thrill run across his body. How exuberating! Even better than a vial of fresh essence! A pity he hadn't been able to witness the traitor burn into oblivion. Chuckling with satisfaction, he slowly turned toward the remaining Gruenak. "Know. Your. Place," he growled.
The Gruenak whimpered through its sewn lips. skekTek didn't know exactly what it was trying to say, but he knew a plea for mercy when he saw one. His claws tightened around the lever as he advanced upon the cowering Gruenak. The Lords of the Crystal granted no mercy to traitors.
"You will pay for this betrayal," he hissed, his burning rage now turned to cold hatred. He raised the lever and, with a vengeful cry, brought it down upon the sniveling traitor's head. Ignoring the creature's pitiful squeals, he struck again and again and again, until the Gruenak had been reduced to a bloody, lifeless mass of flesh.
Breathing hard, skekTek stared at the bloodstained lever. Disgusted, he dropped it and turned around to take in the rest of the lab, which now lay in a state of complete disarray.
He growled in dismay. "What a waste..." he lamented, but then paused. He looked at the Arathim corpse lying on the operating table, then at the dead Gruenak, then back at the Arathim corpse. "Or perhaps... not."
Drunk with triumph, the Scientist let out an insane laugh that echoed through every corridor of the Castle.
Done. Finished. Concluded.