"You are a resourceful one, for a gelfling. It is a shame the Emperor will not get to feed off your essence, because I am going to kill you. Right after I kill the female. Hhhhahhh…. Hhhhher pelt will make a fine trophy." He turned to Morra and reached up with a long, thin arm to pull her down and inspect her. This time, he was careful to keep clear of her legs. "Yes, you will do nicely," he said. Morra jerked her head away from him as best as she could with a look of disgust.
As the Hunter inspected her, Tyrin pulled up his gemshorn and pried the stop from the thick end, leaving it little more than a simple, hollow mounder horn. Keeping one eye on the Hunter, he hung the horn from its strap and swung it to catch the shard inside. Instead, it nudged the shard slightly and made it roll towards the pit before coming to a rest just at the edge.
Morra noticed Tyrin's attempt. She looked back at the Hunter and scowled. "Our friends are going to get away. And when they do, they'll tell the Emperor what you are doing. He is a good ruler; he will not have any dealing with you. None of the Skeksis will."
The Hunter's breath smelled like death as he laughed at her. "You know nothing, gelfling," he said.
"Oh? I know the Emperor's eyes and ears, SkekNa, is probably watching you right now. I know the castle holds many secrets. And I know you'll discover some of them if the Emperor finds out you've been holding out on him." Morra spoke with more conviction than Tyrin had ever heard from her. Everything about her statement, from the tone of voice to the stone glare to the details she seemed privy of, gave Tyrin the feeling that she wasn't bluffing. It was, however, long enough for the Hunter to give pause.
"What do you know of their ways? Are you one of SkekNa's spies?" he demanded, shaking her. Morra gave a soft cry, which kept the Hunter's attention on her. He had lowered Tyrin slightly, giving him enough room to swing the horn once more towards the shard. It glided past, catching the edge of the shard and making it teeter. Just as it was about to fall, the horn swung back and scooped up the shard. Tyrin quickly pulled the horn up and grabbed the shard. The Hunter noticed the movement in the corner of his eye and pulled Tyrin higher.
"Stay still!" he warned. In that instant, Tyrin grabbed the shard and struck the Hunter in the face with it. The crystal let out a brilliant light and a sharp, piercing squeal like a creature that had just been injured. The Hunter threw Tyrin away from him. Tyrin hit the ground with a thud and rolled over to get back on his feet. When he looked up at the Hunter, a white light was shining from his mask, following along a crack. Two massive hands grabbed at the mask, but it was too late; it fell apart. Both halves fell to the ground. The Hunter as they knew him was gone. In his place there stood a tall, dark creature of flesh and bone. The fine furs that once hung from him were now revealed to be rotting carcasses draped over his body, with the skulls of several creatures, including gelflings, arranged like a totem on his back. His face was narrow and he had a sharp beak which bore a scar that ran over his sightless left eye.
"Skeksis!" Morra cried in disbelief. The Hunter let out a menacing roar and picked up the remnants of the mask, trying to fit them together in desperation. Tyrin held the shard out in front of him as he approached. The Hunter pulled out a knife with one of his four arms and marched up to Tyrin. The undulating blade drew blood as it sliced along Tyrin's chest. Without warning, one of the gelfling-sized seed pods that hung from the tree fell on the Hunter's head. He reeled back for just a moment. As he began to lunge forward again, a streak of beige came from the edge of the clearing and Prril appeared at the Hunter's leg, biting it.
Tyrin held one hand to his chest and looked to the edge of the clearing where something was rustling in the forest. Minn stepped into the light. Although his face was covered, Tyrin could tell he was smiling because of his eyes. Next to him was a tall creature the like of which neither Tyrin nor Morra had ever seen. It, like the Skeksis, had four arms and a narrow face. A spiral made up of sharp bends was etched into either side of its long snout. Slender feathers had been woven into its white hair, which flowed in braids down its back. A heavy coat hung off its shoulders, displaying similar etched spirals as its face. Behind it, a tail rested on the ground for stability. In one hand it held out a bow as long as its body and as thick as its arms. In order to pull the string, it used two hands, leaving the last to prepare an arrow from the quiver that hung at its waist.
"Minn!" Tyrin yelled with joy as his friend came closer. The growling Skeksis had turned his attention away from him and stabbed at Prril. The blade hit nothing. Prril had moved like a swift spring zephyr and curled herself around Tyrin's shoulders. But as soon as Prril moved away, the Hunter raised his knife to strike at Tyrin once more.
Minn broke into a run and dashed past the Hunter and Tyrin. At the same moment, the four-armed archer nocked two arrows. It began a deep, serene chant and pulled both arms away from the string in a circular motion, loosing both arrows. The first struck another pod off the tree and caused it to fall between the Hunter and his prey. The second sliced through the rope that held Morra above the pit. Minn leaped at her, catching her in his arms and sending them tumbling onto the far side.
"You!" the Hunter intoned and glared at the archer. Another pair of arrows had already been prepared and were aimed at the Skeksis. "You wouldn't dare."
The archer pulled the string taut and began to chant once more. Step by step, the Hunter backed away from them. Although he soon disappeared into the darkness of the woods, the oppressive feeling of dread that always accompanied him remained.