Hello folks. You may know me from the Dragonball Z fandom, or you may not know me at all, but I'm Rocket, & I have a particular interest in monstrous, inhuman antagonists. Naturally, this fueled my fixation on the Dark Crystal series, particularly the Skeksis. I hope you enjoy this series of vignettes, my first foray into writing for this fandom.

personalia[ pur-suh-ney-lee-uh, -neyl-yuh ] pɜr səˈneɪ li ə, -ˈneɪl yə; plural noun: personal belongings; biographical data, personal reminiscences, or the like

Warnings for blood, self-mutilation, death, existential angst, & a copious amount of self-loathing.


The Ornamentalist gazed into the mirror, self-consciously fixing & fussing with their appearance. As they applied another layer of makeup, they ran their tongue over sharp teeth, suddenly halting at the sensation. It was a secret they had kept for many trine, an insignificant little flaw in the grand scheme of things, but then what was more annoying than a tiny problem that only they knew about?

One tooth held a deep, straight groove. Nothing painful, nothing bothersome, except that it did hurt, it did bother them on principle, because it reminded them of the Other. Stupid, slow, & no doubt made all the more ugly by the drab rags they & their kind wore. Which of course, brought skekEkt back to the grooved tooth. Anger boiled in their belly as they imagined their counterpart, painstakingly, proudly sawing away at a hemp cord with their useless, flat, cud-chewing teeth. Why wouldn't they just cut the thing, & be done with it? What was the point of doing it the hard & slow way, & ruining both their bodies with the offensive effort? It was, they decided, a way of mocking them, marking them. For all their primping & preening, nothing could fill in that thread-chewing groove, that infernal connection to an unlovely beast.

skekEkt bitterly wished that they could just sever the thread that connected them to urUtt.

Currying Favor

skekVar snorted, blinking. He had been lost in the unfamiliar territory of concentrated thought, before the Gelfling commander had called his name. After getting the Gelfling to repeat the field report again, the General dismissed him distractedly.

What had he been thinking about? Oh, right. The doll. He'd spotted it half-buried in the rubble of a Gelfling hovel, though at the time he'd been much more preoccupied with the Arathim trying to stab him with its sharp forearms. The giant arachnid monster had only succeeded in putting a few shiny scratches in his armor, but it & its brethren had done much worse to this little village. He snorted again thoughtfully, scratching his head under his helm as he retraced his steps from earlier in the battle.

Ah, there it was. The stout Skeksis lifted a collapsed roof beam, pulling the tiny figure out. Behind & beneath it, he spotted a pink-stained hand, reaching up from the rubble. Probably dead anyway. He released his hold on the beam, waving his clawed hand at the cloud of dust its fall kicked up. He grimaced, doing his best to knock the dust & grime from the doll. It had a few specks of pink on it, but those blended easily into the simple cloth frock sewn onto it. He smiled to himself. The Treasurer and Chamberlain were best known for giving gifts, but he was, after all, the Ambassador before his promotion, & not without reason.

He shoved the doll into a pocket, trying to remember if Ordon's new childling was a boy or a girl. He shrugged, figuring it didn't matter. Any kind of gift or token from a Lord of the Crystal was seen as the highest honor. Grooming the talented Captain of the Guard for absolute loyalty wasn't an explicit order from the Emperor, but it certainly couldn't hurt in the long run. And if the Emperor noticed? Then, then there would be praise. There might even be a reward for his uncharacteristically clever thinking. Oh yes, he could just imagine the reward such loyalty could bring from the Emperor...


The scar had changed again. Just as he knew it would. skekZok moaned in contempt, pushing his sleeve back down. Why, why, why would it do that? A straight line, a jagged, saw-toothed slash, even just a needle-prick. All the wounds from all his knives should have left corresponding marks across his sallow, grey skin, but no. They had molded themselves into spirals, a dizzying array & variety of them, scattered across his flesh, twisting & melding into each other. Anger at an unseen antagonist creased his face as he snarled, gaslight-blue eyes narrowed in frustration, fangs bared as if to attack what he knew he could never touch, no, not unless he had a death wish. 'You only see the scars turn to spirals. If only you could see why, skekZok.' The intrusive thought made him tense, hunching his shoulders defensively. It almost sounded like the thought had not been his own.

What if it wasn't? He hissed, shaking his head as if to dislodge the mental intruder. " dare you..." he growled, though his voice trembled, "How dare you deign to change me, against my will... How dare you desecrate my flesh!" Suddenly shouting, he leveled his icy gaze to his reflection in the mirror. "Is this what you want to see?!" he roared, ripping his gold & scarlet robes open, "Your perverted handiwork?!" He ignored the smart of the newer wounds under bandages across his chest, shakily drawing a slim, sharp blade. "" he panted, "This is my temple, not yours. My ritual!" With practiced familiarity, he ran the blade along his collarbone, lovingly, gently, to draw perfect droplets of blood to quiver with his breath. The Ritual-Master shivered at the cold of the metal & the sudden scent of blood in the cramped room.

"You...can'" he ground out, pressing harder until the beads of blood became trickles. The thin red rivulets dripped, down, down, to catch & pool in the curves of all the infernal spirals, gravity striving against the topography of ruined flesh. Normally, such a personal ritual would have him panting in ecstasy, teetering on the edge of bliss, but this time, he felt nothing. Nothing but a hollowness, almost bordering on disappointment. His other half was no doubt watching him through his own eyes, judging him from beyond the mirror. It made his skin crawl. He could not meet the reflection's eyes as he turned, already reaching for a new roll of bandages, his other hand clutching his robes closed once again, as if he had a reason to be ashamed... The smell of his own lifeblood didn't seem sweet & enticing tonight. It reeked of self-hatred & regret...& pity.

Broken Glass

skekTek snarled at the screeching machine, currently spitting sparks at the floor as he rushed to shut it down. "Blast it!" he hissed, flinching as some sparks inevitably found him. He glared at the slowly rotating gears as it powered down, appraising eyes finding the cause of the malfunction: one of the gear-teeth had rusted away, throwing the whole contraption into a catastrophic, grinding failure. While he rummaged in a tabletop bin for a replacement, he winced at the persistent ache in his arm & leg. As the closest thing the Castle had to a medic with skekUng absent, his inability to demystify & treat this ailment frustrated him, made him feel powerless. It burned, like tiny shards of molten, broken glass, crushed up inside his swollen joints. His hand was all but useless lately, the mystery affliction transforming his once-nimble claws to gnarled, stiff, useless hunks of flesh. Every single treatment — both topical & internal — had minimal or no analgesic effect. "Grrrr..." he stared at the offending hand, as if glaring holes into it might somehow elucidate a solution.

His remaining orange eye traveled to the replacement gear, sitting shiny & new on the table beside his ruined hand. 'If a part of one of my machines breaks, I can replace it,' he reasoned, 'Why then, should I not be able to do that when my own worthless body breaks down?' The metaphorical gears turned in his mind, contemplating the tangible gear, & the crux of his problem. He was old. Weak. Granted, he had never been the most athletic & fit out of any of the Twice-Nine, but still... He squinted at his hand, wriggling his fingers to pull free of the orange, flame-retardant glove encasing it. 'Yes...' skekTek flexed the uncooperative fingers, absentmindedly reaching for a scrap of parchment. After a few preliminary sketches, with scrawling, scribbled notes on what mechanical parts would substitute for tendons, joints, & the underlying bones, he poured out a box of hinges, springs, & other bits, & started sifting through them.

Hours later, he yawned, his head snapping up as he almost drifted off again. "I'm so close...cannot stop now..." he mumbled. The hand lay completed on the workbench, & all that remained...was removing the old, & attaching the new. "What else do I need..?" he muttered to himself, mentally checking components off the list. A large, heavy butcher knife, borrowed from skekAyuk's knife block. Check. A bone-saw. Check. Tourniquets. Check. Clamps, for the major veins & arteries. Check. And finally, the strongest painkillers he had managed to concoct, enough to numb a Landstrider. Check. Suddenly, the reality of the situation struck him. 'What on Thra am I doing?' he wondered, 'If this goes wrong, I could...' No. He refused to be a coward. Not with this. He might have quailed at the thought of wielding a blade like the brutish warriors that stomped through the castle halls, but this, this, was his wheelhouse. Venturing into the scientific & epidemiological unknown was what drove him. The others could boast raucously about their military victories. His victories & breakthroughs were always, without fail, what brought them back from the brink when they suffered grievous injuries.

skekTek took a shuddering breath, hand hovering over the bone-saw, before picking up the butcher knife. 'How best to start?' he thought, assessing the offending limb to be exscinded. He knew he was stalling. He peered towards the door to the Chamber of Life, considering if he should enlist one of the others to assist him...or at least tend to him, should he go into shock. The memory of them all laughing as the Peeper Beetle's fangs pierced his eye sent a momentary shudder of anger through him. Why give them the pleasure of seeing him in pain? "No..." he rasped, "They would never understand...they might try to stop me..." Still, the prospect of pain did not sit well with him. He wasn't skekUng or skekVar, who could shrug off injuries seemingly effortlessly. Nor was he skekZok, who seemed to paradoxically revel in pain. No, the Scientist had a healthy aversion to pain. Hence why he was forced into this situation in the first place. His hand throbbed, the broken-glass sensation needling him, emboldening him to defy it. To defy his own wretched feebleness. With a contemptuous sneer at his own body's betrayal, he emptied an entire flask of the numbing potion down his throat in one draught, wincing at the bitter taste. The Scientist began to breathe rapidly, purposely hyperventilating, & praying he wouldn't pass out. Then, he raised the butcher knife high, clenching his hand on the table for the last agonizing time. He would not be weak.


skekShod growled in frustration. The Podling quailed, shrinking back, yet dutifully remaining rooted to the floor. 'Why does this have to be so difficult?' the Treasurer thought, taking a deep breath. Think. Get the words straight in your head. Then, just say them. I'm staying for one night. Prepare a room for your Lord. "I-I..." he stuttered. Paused. "Mm...ssstaying...unnn...night..." he forced out, hating the way his voice garbled his thoughts. Mercifully, the Podling innkeeper seemed to understand, chattering at him amicably & handing him a room key with a respectful bow. skekShod sighed, rummaging in his pocket for a gold coin, which he slid across the desk to the little creature. "N-nnno dis...disss...'sturbances!" he admonished, his voice rising to an unpleasant squeal at the end of his sentence. This too, the Podling somehow seemed to get, although he could just be humoring him. skekShod supposed it didn't matter, one way or the other. If any servants barged into his room, he could always screech & drive them out. At least that didn't require words. With a huff, he made for the room, as always straining his ears for the telltale sound of snide laughter, or mocking stuttering, in his wake. He didn't mind Podlings, for they were simple, & about as vicious as a crushed Crawlie. They had never mocked him, though it was often a frustrating, taxing experience trying to communicate with them, as they didn't seem to understand abstract concepts. Gelfling were mostly subservient & respectful to a Crystal Lord as they should be, but every now & then, one would pin its ears back upon hearing his stuttering, slurred speech, obviously disquieted. Those same were usually the ones who mocked & aped him, thinking he couldn't hear, or was too stupid to care. He desperately wanted to punish them, but he didn't trust his own strength, & besides, it would be on his head — literally — if he caused a diplomatic incident. skekSo was not merciful.

Anything was better than going back to the Castle, though. Back to those cold stone halls, where false allies lurked, waiting to bait him into conversation, then smirking at his inability to speak. They would insult & goad him mercilessly, just daring him to try to defend himself. The more sadistic among them would purposely corner him in the Emperor's presence, where he didn't even dare to hiss or brandish his claws at his tormentors. When that happened, the best thing to do was stare at the floor & bear it, until they got bored & walked away, or, more likely, physically assaulted him, at which point, he could dare to scream & fight back. "T-t-tyrant..." he muttered angrily, "He r-ruined m-me..." Waking up in the Scientist's lab on a makeshift cot had been the second-most humiliating moment of his life. In confusion & horror, he had stumbled, fallen, tried to call for help...but the words wouldn't come. skekTek had merely stared at him there on the floor, like a Crawlie under glass, & said, "Interesting..." He'd been poked & prodded, all the while trying to force words from his uncooperative mouth, for days. The Scientist had told him, in a detached, clinical way, that he likely had suffered brain damage — that was why one side of his body was weak, & why he was mute. When he'd finally managed to force a protest around his rebellious tongue, skekTek had shrugged & told him to be grateful he wasn't rendered completely mute. There was no sympathy for dissidents.

The ugly scar he hid under a scarf haunted him, a physical reminder of the brutal beating that he still couldn't remember. He couldn't even remember exactly what he'd said to prompt skekSo's rage. He'd had to relearn how to do so many things in the wake of that shattering injury, all while skekSo watched him with those cold eyes, no doubt trying to determine if he'd truly beaten all the fight out of him. Some days, it felt like he had.


The Scroll-Keeper squinted down at the parchment, dipping his quill into the inkwell. Things had gotten more chaotic as of late, & with chaos, came shifting alliances. With those, came danger. The Emperor's favor had shifted, & the Chamberlain was now the unfavorite at court. Again. Hm. 'It was only a matter of time,' he thought, crossing out his former ally's name, & tapping the tip of the quill on the edge of the inkwell. Mercurial tempers & petty spats aside, he very much enjoyed the security & relative ease of his position. All was well, so long as he could keep his beak well out of trouble, or away from anyone who invited it. The problem often came in keeping the truth straight, so to speak. skekOk side-eyed the pile of bound parchment laid out across his desk, all in need of some heavy editing to make it all plausible, & more importantly, non-injurious to him. The Scroll-Keeper could be clever with words, but it took a certain measure of self-restraint to keep the stories within the realm of believability, to refrain from heaping too much praise upon his allies or painting anyone else in such an unflattering light that they would be unlikely to forgive him if & when he sought alliances with them. A balancing act with words. He frowned inwardly, continuing to nervously tap the quill on the inkwell. 'skekLi was always outwardly so good at balancing things, but one slip...' The Satirist...he hadn't thought about him in many trine, but once invited in, his thoughts of the past refused to leave him.

Clever, dexterous, funny, charismatic skekLi. The cynosure of the Court, back in the best of their days. Always ready with a joke or a trick to amuse or distract. Sharp-tongued & quick-thinking, he always knew what to say to make the others roar with laughter until they were practically crying. He was an equal opportunity trickster, self-deprecating at times, but most often singling out someone at random to highlight in slapstick fashion. Until one day, when he crossed a line. skekOk remembered that day well, & as far as he was concerned, that had been the beginning of the end. The Satirist, so sure of his words & their ability to mollify immediately after infuriating a target, had dared, perhaps innocently, perhaps in actual defiance, to target the Emperor with his humor. While everyone laughed, skekSo sat stony-eyed, silent, & seemingly frozen. It took a few moments for the gravity of the situation to sink in, but as it did, one by one, the Skeksis stopped laughing. Oh, skekLi had tried to smooth it over, perhaps realizing his mistake far too late, but the damage was done. The Scroll-Keeper sighed. The Castle no longer rang with laughter after that night. The Satirist had imparted the art of wit & sarcasm onto skekOk, but it was indeed a poor substitute for the genuine talent skekLi possessed. Any merriment now always somehow felt restrained, out of fear of...consequences. In the wake of the Satirist's banishment, skekOk realized just how tenuous his position could become at the unknowable whim of the Emperor. How easy it was to suddenly lose friends to a temper that could not be reasoned with.

The Scroll-Keeper let out a heavy sigh, laden with regret, & turned back to the scrolls in need of editing. He was the smallest & most frail among them. Why feel this way? What could he have possibly done then, other than get himself banished or worse, alongside skekLi? Still, deep down, he knew that he was lying when he had edited skekLi out of his companionship & into oblivion in their histories. He didn't so much mind lying to the other Skeksis to save his own skin. It was having to lie to himself that put a twist of guilt in the pit of his stomach, & that guilt that made him needle the others incessantly, even his current allies. While he could never hope to replace skekLi, he could at least keep the memory of his sarcastic quips & flippant attitude alive, in some small part. A balancing act, between tribute & trepidation, subtle defiance & his own cowardice.


The humming chant thrummed through his body, vibrating through his chest, resonating as it flowed from his mouth. It was calming, peaceful, centering...& wrong.

"Something the matter, Chamberlain?" Ice-blue eyes stared penetratingly at him, as if hunting for weakness or distress to prey upon.

skekSil narrowed his eyes in annoyance at skekZok's timely prod. "Not at all, Ritual-Master, it's nothing to concern yourself with," he said smoothly, unruffled, unbothered outwardly. "Now, I understand that the Emperor has designs for a new ordeal we might set up to vet Castle guards, & your mind might be of service in designing the trials..."

Later, in his private chambers, skekSil paced back & forth, running through the events of the day in his mind. 'What triggered that...that infernal sensation?' he asked himself, meticulously reviewing the conversations he'd had, the meetings, the plans, all the various & sundry legwork that he did alone to keep this empire running smoothly, when all the rest were lazy, debauched layabouts. He smirked, shaking his head. If not for the Emperor & himself, the Skeksis might have collapsed into anarchy hundreds of trine ago, for all the effort some people put in. "Hmmmm..." he hummed, thoughts returning to the problem at hand. Ah yes, now he remembered — the Ritual-master had been prattling on about some pet project of his, a Podling choir for liturgical services. Pah. He knew good music, & if a Podling could produce as such on its own or with direction, he would be very surprised. Well, let the old fool have his hobbies, he supposed, so long as they didn't interfere with his plans. Still though, when he'd commanded that reedy little creature with a distinct smudge of dirt on its cheek to sing, that was when it had happened. When he'd felt the wrongness of a different voice, emanating from his throat. Singing. He frowned in thought. It wasn't...terrible, he could privately admit to himself, so why was it so disturbing?

A minute flash, a snippet of sound, passed through his senses like a ghost. Sadness. Longing. Homesickness. Ocean waves crashed around, with no land in sight. There was a tiny boat approaching...

skekSil's bright green eyes went wide, as his beak hung upon. 'What was that? wasn't the same as before! What was that? Who was that?!' his thoughts swirled, his unspoken questions fighting to claw unwilling answers from that haunting, sorrowful, lost melody. It was already fading from memory, even now.

Out of Body

Walking a straight line. Turn. Follow the curve of the intricate pattern upon the floor. Turn at the unifying symbol. Head down, eyes focused. Pass close to the Crystal, feeling its subtle pull, the faint heat from the shaft beneath. Turn back onto a straight part of the design. Steps echoing in the empty chamber, as he followed the path, tracing, questioning, searching for meaning, some kind of enlightenment, an answer. Turn at the standing stone. Steps muffled by the sand. The wind blew, caressing his face. Following the curve of a spiral...

skekSo stopped, his face blank. Slowly, he felt his vision become his once again. He was off the path. He growled, whirling with a swish of his robes, trying to gauge just how far he'd strayed this time. He startled, seeing the last definite sigil he'd remembered walking over...halfway across the Crystal Chamber. 'It's happening again...' he thought with dread, taking a shaky breath, sucking in the stale Castle air past his teeth, trying to keep himself from reeling. 'That meddling Mystic..!' he thought, feeling his claws curl into fists. He could just have easily walked off the edge of the fiery shaft. Or out of the chamber, onto a balcony, & over the low balustrades more suited for Gelfling height than Skeksis. The thought made his heart race, as he quickly made for the wall, leaning against the gently-sloping surface. Solid, grounding, real. The urRu in their valley had no use for walls like these, living in little more than barely-furnished caves. They were so concerned with not affecting Thra that they themselves let it all but completely act upon them. "Rubbish..." the Emperor muttered, shaking his head. Why then, was that one so determined to exert his will? To influence skekSo? To taunt him, give him a glimpse of the lack of control he could force upon him, if he so chose... He realized belatedly that he had tensed up, his talons embedded in his palms as a few drops of blood dripped softly, soundlessly to the ornate floor. He grimaced, trying to force calm back into himself as he dabbed at the punctures with his sleeve. "Look what you've done to us," he berated, softly, whispering to an empty room.


A low growl sounded. skekAyuk groaned in response, pushing another pillow under his head as he shifted in bed. No use, he couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep, not with his stomach in knots. Again. "Your edacity is indeed problematic," he remembered skekTek telling him, "Your metabolic rate is nearly quadruple that of the rest of us, & yet..." He sneered, poking the Gourmand's flabby gut. "Your body retains the mass, without extracting the necessary nutrients." Another growl of his stomach, & skekAyuk glowered as he sat up in bed, thoroughly unable to sleep. "Stupid, worthless Scientist..." he grumbled, wrapping an extra layer of nightrobes around his sleeping-gown, "If he's so smart, why can't he fix the problem with us?"

In truth, though the obese Skeksis had the worst of it, he knew firsthand how his fellows suffered. They all felt the hunger, eating away at them, that no substance Thra could offer would fill. In the early days, it had almost come to blows when he'd catch a Skeksis binging in his kitchen, ruining hours of meal preparation in a single, gluttonous swoop. Soon after, he'd arranged an understanding with skekNa, and now he & his army of Podlings took care of everyone's desire for food between meals. skekAyuk didn't know, ask, or care about the particulars of that little operation, suffice to say he refused to partake if only because it would undermine his own culinary prowess.

The Scientist had speculated that they were somehow incompatible with the food here, as if the fleshly bodies Thra cursed them with were, as a final insult, debilitatingly defective, due to something he dubbed "chirality." It didn't make sense to the Gourmand. 'Food is food,' he thought, 'You eat, & it nourishes & strengthens you. Isn't that how food is supposed to work?' Alas, even in his wheelhouse, skekAyuk felt as helpless as a tortle on its back, doomed by his appetite & forever a slave to his next meal. The hunger never slept, never receded or relented. Feast days were the best, the one time he could look forward to a blissfully uninterrupted night's sleep, but with whispers of strange blights & subsequently wanting tithes...even the Chamberlain had floated the idea of "tightening their proverbial belts" until things got better. He shivered in the cold night air, & from the thought of having to ration his masterpieces, his unique, indulgent, delicious dishes. 'No,' he thought, 'Such an offensive censorship of my superior palate surely wouldn't meet the Emperor's approval.' Reassured, he trundled into the kitchen, still warm & lowly lit by the constantly-stoked cooking fires. He sighed in resignation, rifling through the cupboards for something quick & filling, just enough to get him through to breakfast. His stomach positively roared as he set to work shoving food into his beak.

Easy Prey

The Hunter scented the air, smelling the deep musk of his prey. Smiling under his mask, he circled around so as to be downwind of the animals, so preoccupied with breeding season that they would be careless, if a tad more dangerous than usual. Closer. Slowly. Closer he crept, until he could practically taste their supple, succulent flesh upon his tongue.


He looked down at the dead branch that had loudly announced his presence, but before he had a chance to curse his own clumsy lack of awareness, a deep, bellowing growl called his attention to the situation. 'The rapidly deteriorating situation,' he thought, swearing as a bull Mounder, easily four times his size, came at him swinging, swiping with its great front paws & rearing up to crush him under its bulk. He made to move out from under it, but another younger bull to his left—probably in the midst of competing with this one— sideswiped him with a massive paw, putting him back in the path of the raging creatures. Now he was in real trouble. He rolled desperately between the meaty paws, stabbing at the soft underbelly as he went. The huge male Mounder groaned its discomfort, but his wild stabs had failed to disembowel it. It leapt to the side with surprising agility for such a large animal, & now skekMal was pinned down between the two Mounders, exposed on the ground. His eyes darted around, trying to find a way out of this. The Mounders, their territorial spat put aside in truce against a common predator, were now pawing the dirt, a telltale prelude to a bone-shattering, body-tossing charge. 'I'm between them,' he thought with horror. His heart racing, he backed up, keeping his eyes on both Mounders. Then, the Hunter ran back to the cover of the trees, & clawed his way up one just as the bigger Mounder rammed against the trunk. He sat there for an hour while it circled, occasionally bellowing & ramming the tree just to remind him it was there. His stomach growled mockingly, & his joints ached. 'I'm getting too old for such dangerous prey,' he realized belatedly. It was a sobering admission, a painful one. He did not relish the thought of meeting his end that way.

Finally, when the Mounder had ambled away, skekMal slipped down the tree, & stalked through the forest, his belly still complaining incessantly. He needed food, but this ordeal had left him winded, & worse, on edge. The Hunter cocked his head at the sound of laughter & voices. A group of Gelfling, carelessly crashing through the brush, & completely unaware of his presence. Again, his stomach made itself heard. He sighed, & hesitantly drew his knives. At least this would be an easy meal.


"Who but you could find solace in cold saltwater, & endless depths?" the mocking voice of skekSo jeered.

"Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, your faults will surely follow you whithersoever you travel," the Scroll-Keeper's voice added with a laugh, "Who else could put up with you for long, other than a ragtag group of mongrel Gelfling? They're as flawed as you!"

"You journey too far, & dive too day, you will not return from these foolish adventures..." her own half said, as she sat on the shore, choking & gasping, stinking of fear & saltwater, the sensation burning her throat as shame burned her cheeks.

"Your brashness & temper will be the death of you someday," the Ritual-Master proclaimed, "I have seen it in a vision. Better for you to learn obedience & tranquility now, than to fall to your base emotions later."

skekSa sat up with a jolt, gasping panic giving way to an annoyed snarl, then silence. She listened to the slow, steady breathing of Vassa, the minute creaking & groaning from the inorganic modifications to the living ship intermixing with the beast's breaths. "...Hang them all," she growled, "They want to anchor me, tie me down... I refuse to be caged..!" The sensation of mental claustrophobia, of feeling like she was in a rut, sent a shudder through her. These dreams always plagued her when she'd been somewhere too long. 'Ha. "Skeksis don't dream," my tail. Once again, I prove you wrong, skekZok,' she thought in bitter repudiation. Tomorrow, at the First Brother's light, she would storm onto the deck, rouse her Sifa, & announce that they were through with this port. She would point Vassa into the unknown, & sail over the horizon. Fear of being adrift was better than fear of stagnation.


He hit the bottom step face-first, feeling several teeth break away from his definitely-broken jaw. The harsh, raucous laughter above him echoed down the stone staircase, exacerbating the excruciating ringing in his ears as he struggled to rise, tangled in his own silken robes. The Satirist gasped in pain as he shakily stood up, one clawed hand gingerly feeling his face, the other prodding at his ribs to check for more broken bones. 'Oh goodie, only bruises this time,' he thought with dark glee— at least it would make this next part less painful. He wasn't sure who had pushed him, but they were gonna pay. Later, though. For now, he had to stick to his role, & laugh along. "Ahahahahaha!" he cackled, only slightly garbled by the blood sticking in his throat, "That was quite the trip!" he crowed. He resisted the urge to scowl as the others came down the stairs. skekUng & skekVar descended, with skekSil & skekEkt following close on their heels, all giggling & guffawing like this was a grand joke. Or maybe they were laughing at his pun. Well. Small victories.

"Your face, oh Thra, it was hilarious!" the Ornamentalist tittered, wiping a tear from the corner of their eye before it could smudge their makeup, "I've never seen someone's eyes go that wide!"

"Gahahahaha! You flew like a Gelfling for a few steps!" skekVar added, "Ask the Scientist to build you some wings, & we'll toss you off a parapet & see if you can really fly!"

"Hmmmm, friend Satirist isn't too badly hurt, we hope?" the Chamberlain asked innocently, wringing his hands together like the slimy liar he was. skekLi highly suspected that even if he hadn't been the one to push him, he'd certainly suggested it.

skekUng bent to the floor, picking up something with a grunt. "Here," he said, holding his hand out, "You dropped something, Satirist." skekLi held out his hand, wincing as the other Skeksis dropped something pink & white into his palm. Broken teeth. skekUng let out a hearty chuckle, clapping him on the shoulder & shoving him away. "Take heed, Satirist: this was actually funny. Most of what you do isn't."

skekLi blinked for a beat, then let out a cackling laugh, bending over to rest his hands on his knees as he continued laughing hysterically, the other Skeksis joining in, even as they filed away down the corridor. When the last of their mocking shouts & taunts faded, he finally tailed off into a whimper, sliding down the wall to sit crumpled on the floor. He snickered to himself, imagining how loud they would laugh at each other, as they took their own falls, one by one, in the coming days. 'At least when I fall, I make it a point to laugh at myself,' he thought, 'That's what separates me from them— I'm not a hypocrite.' The Satirist smiled a crooked, broken smile, as he rose, dusted off his colorful robes, & set off back through the cold, unforgiving stone halls of the Castle, humming a jaunty tune.


The Collector blew her nose noisily on an embroidered handkerchief, then grimaced, shoving the mucus-soaked cloth back into the designated pocket in her robes. Today she had woken up with a splitting headache, courtesy of clogged sinuses & poor sleep from not being able to breathe. It seemed lately like every day, a new ailment surfaced to torment her existence. Last week it was an allergic reaction to some new Sifan spice the Gourmand had liberally added to everyone's plates, despite her pleaded protest against it. She knew, at this point, how her body worked, & what it would & could not tolerate.

Despite skekOk's playful ribbing about her "not being adventurous," it was a self-preservation strategy, nothing more. With seemingly everything on the surface of Thra out to actively kill or irritate her, of course she would be wary. Pessimistic. Unadventurous. The others could be foolhardy & leap blindly into new experiences. skekLach would patiently observe, & wait for that which was curated, vetted, screened, & truly valuable to make its way to her appraising eye, & subsequently into her coffers. Hideous Gelfling aside, she liked some of what they produced, gathered, collected, & brought to her for approval. It was a misery to have to deal with them— so clean & fresh-faced, mockingly so, as they flinched & gagged at every eruption of pus or uncontrollable sneeze. 'Half the time, I think I might be allergic to those nasty little creatures,' she thought as she sighed breathily, sniffling as a hunk of phlegm slid around the back of her throat.

There was a time, almost an Age ago, when she had been young, & fit, & adventurous. Clambering into forgotten Grottan vaults, or poking around in the ruins of Gruenak cities newly-emptied by the Conqueror, on the hunt for valuable things... The Collector rubbed her rheumy eyes at the bright memory, wincing at the pain in her inflamed snout. Dust filtering through the grubby window settled on the faded gilt & diminished glimmer of her hoard of treasures from all corners of Thra. Her yellow eyes wandered fondly from item to item, remembering how each made its way to her collection. She reached for a faded, Unamoth-silk tapestry, from when the Lords had first received tithes from the newly-named Vapran clan, but gasped as it crumbled to dust beneath her claws. She sneered at the remnants bitterly. " the end, I guess none of it matters," she growled.

Fruits of Labor

A Podling babbled in its rapid-fire tongue, & skekNa shooed it away with an irritated wave of his claw. "Yes, yes, I know, big deal," he growled at the tiny creature's complaint, something about a broken pipe in the washroom that threatened to flood the whole floor. 'Guess that one falls to me, because these little cretins are too weak & dumb to do it,' he thought, face clouding over in anger. Minding the Podling servants was not his first choice of position— it hadn't even been on his shortlist of "things he wanted to do for the rest of his life." It had just fallen into his lap, so to speak, because he cleverly— or stupidly— decided to show off his talent for Soul Speech. It dovetailed with the Podlings' own abilities, & with his added flair for intimidation to keep all the unruly pests on task, the Emperor had decided that skekNa would be the one to liaison with, wrangle, & command all the lesser beings & animals that kept the Castle running smoothly. That was that, & now it was Podlings & beasts, forever in his company & care. Nobody seemed to notice or care that skekSil, skekLach, & even skekLi could use Soul Speech too, or that skekUng & skekMal had a way with animals that he couldn't match, no matter what tone of voice he used. They all had prestigious Titles & positions, but since he had no other skills, this is all he would amount to in skekSo's court. Well, unless you counted fixing broken things, which was what he had to go do now. "Yesmit, I shouldn't have to do these things myself," he growled, following the nervous Podling to the washroom, grimacing as he stepped in a puddle of water slowly spreading from under the door, "Alright, I want to know who broke this pipe," he yelled, moving to cut off the flow of water so he could assess the damage.

The pipe was bent, a joint in it warped & spraying water from the distortion, though now that it was cut off, it had slowed to a drip. "You little Crawlies were standing on it, weren't you?" he asked, relishing as always the way they cowered from his accusation. A curly-haired Podling woman started stammering about how they couldn't reach the washbasin to do laundry, but at that point, skekNa had stopped listening. "You know how much this sets us back? There are schedules to keep in the Great Castle of the Crystal, & I am in charge of making sure you stick to them!" he roared, drawing his whip from his belt holster & brandishing it. "Lazy! Clumsy! Bumbling little maggots! Now, who was it?!" A rather fat Podling shakily raised his hand, & skekNa's beak curled into a smile despite his anger. "Of course. As soon as I am finished fixing your little mistake, I'll take care of you, fatso. Been filching from the Lords' table, have you? I can't have my servants slow & indolent. It reflects badly upon us all...but mostly on me. Now then..." As he turned to focus his attention on the problem pipe, he heard the little thing whimper. 'A spoonful of Hexleaf extract ought to have it throwing up its guts for a few days, & that combined with a revocation of meal privileges should have it down to a reasonable weight in, oh...a week,' he calculated. If he was going to be relegated to Podling duty, the least he could do was take it seriously. They were his Podlings, & they would perform their duties perfectly, or else. The fruits of his diligent labor might yet yield a promotion, or at least some recognition.

Seeing Red

A potion bottle shattered into glimmering shards as it struck the wall. With a sweep of his arm & a scream that left his throat raw, skekUng cleared the whole table of bottles & instruments, sending it all crashing to the floor. In the back of his mind, away from the rage, a small voice seemed to ask why. Why was he doing this, what was the point? What upset him so that this was the only catharsis to heal it? He ignored it, shook his bushy head with a snarl, & continued to lay waste to the room. The sturdy apewood table broke into splinters that dug deep into his wiry, nimble hands as he smashed against it, & the pain fed the rage, made his vision an unseeing wall of red through which no reason or voice could penetrate.

He came to, slumped against the wall. He ached all over, & his hands throbbed. skekUng winced as he turned them over in the dim light coming through a smashed window; they were so covered in blood that he wasn't sure yet if they were broken or not. Even the thick walls of this place held dents smudged with blood, where the sodden wood had bowed but miraculously not broken under his fists. Score one for Sog humidity... The grizzled Skeksis' dark red eyes slid to a pile of coagulated pink in a corner, then to the splotch of the same on the wall above where it lay after being hurled across the room. 'Another failure,' he thought, 'At least this time I didn't rip it limb from limb,' he thought wearily. Since being exiled, he'd drifted around Skarith, & finally settled south, deep in the Swamp of Sog, away from the political nuisances that regular tithing & visits from the Castle Skeksis brought. Now, he was somewhat of a local legend, a healer to whom the Drenchen Gelfling brought those who otherwise had no hope. Often, he could save the creatures with forgotten techniques & knowledge, but some were beyond help. Like this one. The surgery had not gone well, & as the life faded from the Gelfling, so anger & frustration rose in skekUng. Dead patients did not result in praise & offerings of food, wealth, & other amenities. More often they brought loud sobbing, shameful displays of the weakest emotions, &, if the family was suicidal, anger.

The former Medic of the Castle of the Crystal rose, feeling the aching in his aging joints protest, & slowly began to clean up the broken glass, splintered table, & the broken Gelfling corpse. 'Hmph. Not too badly damaged...' he thought, salvaging a roll of thread & a bone needle, 'At least there's no need for sterilization.' Beginning to sew up the incision, he rehearsed what he'd say when he handed the body back to the living Gelfling. He flexed his right hand, gritting his teeth. Better to leave treatment of that until afterwards, so he wouldn't be tempted to punch the fragile little creature if it reacted unfavorably. It wouldn't do to drive any more clients away than were strictly unavoidable.


"Are you...okay..?" urGoh's voice gently asked.

It sounded so loud that skekGra wanted to scream at him to shut up, though that certainly wouldn't help matters. Instead he let out a low whine, & gingerly pulled the thin blanket further over his head to cover his eyes from the blinding glare of the desert sunslight. Too late he realized that the weight of the woven cloth was too much on the nail when a bolt of pain lanced through his skull, & he screamed. urGoh groaned in pain, & they both lay there paralyzed for a few moments, panting & whimpering as the worst pangs passed. "I don't know why you ask," the Heretic muttered angrily, "You feel everything I do."

"Yes...but...the way you deal with different...than my way," his other half answered sedately, "I be...concerned...& ease...your pain."

skekGra snarled, wincing in pain. "Waste of words, waste of sentiment," he dismissed, "We already established that we can't take the bloody thing out without killing us both, so all I can do is wait for it to heal...& hope these infernal headaches eventually go away..." he added.

"You blame...yourself...for our injury," urGoh stated, " forget...that I chose...this fate...too."

"Yeah well...we really mucked that one up," skekGra groused in an acid tone of voice, "I should've known that nobody would react positively to our idea of reunification...much less peacefully."

"They may...yet...come around..." the Mystic reassured, "In...time..."

"Why would they?" skekGra lamented, "They look at us & see perversion, not peace! They acted like I was contagious, for Suns' sake!

"Peace...can be...a contagious...concept..." urGoh mused, "As can...unity..."

"By that logic, then so is war, & xenophobia," the Skeksis countered, "The Gelfling barely had either before skekSo split up the Gelfling & established the Seven Clans, & now..." He shrugged, "Guess some concepts are more contagious than others."

"Mm," urGoh hummed in agreement, "Then...we must find a plant ideas...of peace & the minds...of all of Thra...especially...the Gelfling... To...keep them...from splitting...further asunder."

skekGra sat up, ignoring the throbbing in his head. "Counter-propaganda? urGoh, you're a genius!"

"" the Mystic stared at him dumbly.

"Yeah..." the former Conqueror smirked, a bit of his old cunning shining through his eyes, "A two-pronged attack...we focus on splitting up the Skeksis alliances by sowing discord, & drop hints for the Gelfling to follow, that'll culminate in them questioning Skeksis rule. It's perfect!"

"Then...I am glad...I," urGoh said with a slow smile.