A/N: I decided to throw in this short bonus chapter just for fun. Enjoy!
The First Brother had just begun to shine its light through the darkness by the time Malik finally reached the woods. Having failed to acquire a Landstrider, he'd been forced to proceed on foot. Now at the edge of forest, he paused to catch his breath - and to process the disastrous events of the previous night. He wondered if any other Gelfling had managed to escape, or if he was the only one.
A gust of cold wind washed over his face. He reflexively moved a hand towards his crippled eye, while his other eye winced. He could still feel the Ritual Master's talons digging into his face. Malik tore a strip of fabric from his uniform and carefully wrapped it over his injured eye. It didn't ease the discomfort, but it would help prevent an infection.
Looking over his shoulder, he stared at the Castle of the Crystal. Yesterday, it had been his home. Now it was a place of death and depravity. He thought of Gamin and the other guards who had been slaughtered in the throne room. He thought of Isa, Arric, Princess Tavra, and all the others who he'd been forced to leave behind. Were any of them still alive? Or had the Skeksis already drained them of their essence?
Accepting there was nothing he could do, he turned back around and stepped inside the forest, determined to reach Stone-In-The-Wood before they suffered the same fate as the Guard.
With only one eye and poor lighting, he found it difficult to see more than a few feet in front of him. So it came as no surprise when he bumped into something.
What did come as a surprise was when that something let out an angry squawk. Startled, Malik looked up. To his shock and horror, he saw the face of the Skeksis Chamberlain staring down at him.
Malik's heart dropped into his stomach. For a terrifying moment, he thought this was end for him.
The Chamberlain, however, appeared just as startled to see him. "Stupid Gelfling!" he snapped. "Watch where you're going!"
Alone and without any weapons, Malik did the only thing he could. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head. "Forgive me, my Lord Chamberlain," he said in the most servile manner possible. "I did not see you."
"Hmmph. That is obvious," the Chamberlain sneered. He cocked his head. "Hmmm... You are guard of Castle, yes?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"What is guard doing out here in woods? Away from Castle? Hmmmm?"
Malik tried to think of something to say. "I, uh, I-"
"Trying to desert? Join traitor Rian, perhaps? Hmmmm?"
"N-no, my Lord!"
"Then what is Gelfling doing here?" the Chamberlain demanded. "You answer! Now!"
Malik blurted out the first thing that came to mind: "One of the Podlings has gone missing, my Lord. We think he may have left the Castle and accidentally wandered into the woods."
He held his breath and kept his head bowed. He didn't dare look the Chamberlain in the eye.
The Chamberlain shook his head. "Podlings go missing, now? Bah! Will madness never stop?!" He scowled, "Go, Gelfling. Find Podling. Bring back to Castle. Quickly!"
"Y-yes, my Lord!" Malik stammered, scarcely able to believe his fortune.
He stood up, bowed to the Chamberlain again, then dashed off as fast as his legs could carry him. He didn't stop running until he was certain he'd put plenty of distance between himself and the Chamberlain.
Pausing to catch his breath, he leaned against a tree and panted. Despite everything that had happened, Malik couldn't help but smile to himself.
If only I could see the look on his face when he realizes what just happened.
Finished (for real, this time).