"I don't want to do it anymore, SkekNa" came a voice on the light breeze. "I can't go to the Gathering. I won't."
"Hhhhahhh.. I knew you were a spy," said another voice. Tyrin instantly recognized it as the Hunter's.
"Shhh, SkekMal! You will not harm my spies, or I will make sure the Emperor will have your essence, may his beak be ever bent." This voice was higher, like a constant whine. "If I have to come out to save a spy from you again, I'll-"
"I didn't know she was a spy, you slavegrinder," the Hunter growled.
There was a pause, then the whining voice continued. "Gelfling, you will show me what this Gathering is. Or do you not care for your brother or father?"
"Oh please, don't hurt them! You've had Renn for so long. Please let him go, at least. I've done everything you've asked of me!" Tyrin was sure that the voice belonged to Morra. He crept along the ground until he saw movement, then stayed low and still.
Standing in a clearing was the Hunter, idly picking at Minn's torn crystalweave cloak. In front of him stood another Skeksis adorned in ill-fitting leather armor that was worn over an old yellow robe. Around his neck was a large black frill of feather and bone, rising over his back like a hump. Although he was smaller than the Hunter, he still towered over Morra, whose arm he kept in a tight grip. At his side, a cadre of balding creatures stood near a litter that was covered in finery. It was obvious that they had been carrying the smaller Skeksis upon it. The creatures weren't even half as tall as their master and were round in feature, with white, spiritless eyes. Tyrin had seen podlings before, but never like this. It was as if their spirits had been broken along with their minds.
"You will not be taking any gelflings from me, SkekNa. Do not forget that I am in the Emperor's favor. Hhhhhe fears me almost as much as you do," the Hunter said and pushed at SkekNa's chest in defiance. SkekNa pushed back.
"You just lost four gelflings, SkekMal. You're starting to slip. The Emperor's favor won't last forever," SkekNa retorted with a menacing sneer and pressed his beak so close to SkekMal's that they nearly touched. "I hear SkekUng has nearly completed his newest creations, something that can gather dozens of podlings at once and can't betray the Emperor. They look promising."
SkekMal's furs and feathers rose and bristled in anger, but only briefly. He pulled away from the smaller Skeksis and fell silent.
"Please," Morra begged. "Let my brother Renn go! You can have me instead!"
SkekNa pushed her roughly to the ground. "Why would I want you? I need to know why the gelflings are gathering, and you are going to be the one to show me," he said, his voice getting deeper and more menacing. "Whether you like it or not." SkekNa reached one of his hands out and opened it. A small, black creature that looked like a piece of fuzz jumped from it and landed on Morra. Small, wiry legs gripped at her clothing, keeping it in place. "My spyeye will see everything you do," SkekNa said. "When this Gathering is over, it will return to me."
Morra grabbed at the spyeye frantically and pulled it off. The moment it touched the ground, it jumped back at her and attached itself once again. She used both hands to swat at it, but to no avail. As swiftly as she could pull it off, it would simply return to her as effortlessly as a leaf blowing in the wind. After a moment, she settled down in defeat.
The Hunter tilted his head up and sniffed at the air. "I smell prey," he said.
"You smell nothing! You will take the gelflings you already have to the castle," SkekNa told him. "Leave the others. Or do I need to remind you of what happens to those who take potential essence from the Emperor?"
SkekMal pushed his finger into SkekNa's chest. "I will go, but you will do well to remember whhhho you are talking to. You don't want to walk into a trap, do you?" he said, then left the others and quickly vanished into the forest. SkekNa ran a hand around his neck with a look of dread on his face. When he saw Morra still sitting on the ground in submission, he pulled a whip out and snapped it near her.
"Move, gelfling!" Morra got to her feet in an instant and ran into the woods as SkekNa clambered onto the litter. The podlings all labored at their posts to lift him, but with impatience, SkekNa snapped the whip at them. "Now, slaves! Move now!" They started off into the trees with the ever-present threats of their master over them.
It didn't take long for Tyrin to find where Morra gone. She lay on the ground near a stream, sobbing. Even when he approached, she didn't move.
"Morra, I didn't know," he said in a soft, soothing voice, sitting down beside her.
She looked up at him with terror on her face. "Oh Tyrin. You saw it, didn't you?" she said, bringing her legs up so she could hug her knees. Tyrin nodded to her. "I just don't know what to do, Tyrin. They have my brother. And now they have my father." She leaned against Tyrin as he put his arm around her. "Why are you so nice to me? I'm a traitor. I've betrayed everyone."
"I think you've been through enough, Morra." Her wings fluttered a little and she rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. "I don't blame you; you did what you thought you had to do to save your family," Tyrin said.
"You don't know how hard it's been, living with the secret that I caused Renn's capture, that I was spying on my clan all that time. I wish I could trade my life for theirs."
"Well you can't. So don't worry about things like that. Just focus on what you can do."
Morra sat up and looked at him. "Tyrin, it's been so long since I've dared to dreamfast with anyone, but I need to let someone know. I can't keep this inside any longer. Will you?" He nodded to her and took her hand.
Images of the other's life flooded through their minds. Morra saw how Tyrin had never known a family, but made a family out of those he met on the road. He had made many friends, but never held any of them very close. Tyrin saw scenes from Morra's past. She used to love playing with her brother, taunting him with her wings. She was an instigator. She goaded Renn on. That's how he got her to sneak into the forbidden ruins that lay a day's travel from their home. They found a Skeksis performing some dark ritual to create armored monstrosities, but they were discovered. Renn was forced to become a slave while Morra returned home, clandestinely sending reports of her clan back to SkekNa in hopes that her cooperation would result in her brother's release. When the dreamfast ended, she looked both relieved and sad.
"Now you know," she told him.
He smiled at her with that same friendliness that he always shared. "Yes. And now I think we need to get back to the others. You're the last of the Vapra convoy, the only one who can represent them. You have to go, even with that… thing watching you. Where is it?"
Morra shrugged. "I guess it's hiding, now. Do you think it's safe? Should I let everyone know?" she asked. Tyrin nodded to her.
"That would probably be wise. I have a feeling that the less the Skeksis know, the better it is for us. Come on. You'll feel better after we get some food and find our friends."
A small smile formed on her lips. "Thank you, Tyrin," she said and rose to her feet. They walked off together, hand in hand.
Neither of them noticed the peymakan was crawling away from them. In its needle-like beak it carried the fuzzy spyeye, its limbs hanging loosely. The peymakan crawled up a tree and onto a dark, long branch, which curled into a bony hand. SkekMal emerged from his hiding place and brought his pet close. He took the spyeye, then crushed it in his strong grip. When he dropped it, it remained still. SkekMal the Hunter wheezed for a moment, his eyes fixed on the gelflings as they walked away.
This concludes my entry to the Dark Crystal Author Quest. I hope you enjoyed it!