Brea never, in a thousand trine, would have ever imagined that the fate of her world would be told through a puppet show. But here she was, sitting in front of a Skeksis and a Mystic, watching them perform and act and sing opera.
She glanced to her side to see Rian blinking wearily as the show progressed. The occasional sudden move would startle him out of his stupor, but before long he would always take to leaning towards Deet and losing focus. The adorable Grottan beside him was ecstatic with the show, clapping and "ooing" whenever was appropriate. Hup looked like he would rather be riding on the back of a Crystal Skimmer again.
Brea's hand drifted to the necklace of bone once more. It was an odd comfort. The smooth irregularities of the bone pieces reminded her of running her fingertips across the spines of all the books in the library. Each one slightly different, each one with a unique texture, each one with its own meaning. Some with gold lettering embossed on their covers…
Gold eyes flashed through her memory and warmth spread to her cheeks.
Oh stop it, Brea, she scolded herself. You're here to learn about saving your world. Rek'yr can wait.
She focused again. Even Rian sat up straighter and seemed to be trying to pay attention.
And then with dramatic and objectively impressive puppetry, the secret of the Dual Glaive was revealed. The Skeksis and the Mystics were two halves of a whole…the Mystics were in hiding…only a Gelfling could change everything. Brea's mind wouldn't settle. There may be hope after all.
"So you're saying, as long as we find the Dual Glaive, we can restore you to your former selves, and save Thra?" Brea asked.
"Yes, yes, that is correct! You are so slow…" The Heretic opened his mouth to continue, but it was then that the Mystic caught fire. It seemed as good a time as any to strategize.
Deet started, "Brea! Rian! We can save Thra and help the Skeksis and Mystics become one again! Isn't that great?"
"But where, by the Three Suns, is it?" Rian's shoulders sagged.
"-well if you weren't as slow as a Sog Slider, you wouldn't still be on fire now, would you? Hold still!"
Hup brandished his spoon with ferocity and said something in Podling that contained the sound, "Riddal!"
Brea looked at him. It dawned on her and Deet at the same time. "It's a riddle!"
Everyone drew silent. The fire was taken care of, for the time being, so relative peace enveloped the room. Brea wracked her brain, thinking back to what she'd read in the past. Where could something so valuable be hidden?
If only I had my library to look through, Brea frowned to herself.
"Oh, oh, I've got it!" Deet cried with a wide smile. "It's in the Caves of Grot, I'm sure of it!"
"Well done, Deet," Brea leapt up and clasped the Grottan's hands, eyes sparkling. "Oh, you can help us navigate the caves!"
Deet's happiness dimmed. "There are so many caves. What if we can't find it in time?"
Brea squeezed her hands. Rian stood up and placed his own around theirs. "We're in this together, Deet. You're not alone. Between the three of us, we'll find the Dual Glaive, I know it."
"Hup!" A spoon was added to the pile of hands.
Brea laughed, "That's right, the four of us will find it. Together."
In that moment, hope didn't seem so far fetched.
So of course, it was in that moment, that the Hunter arrived.
Princess Brea went from standing with her friends, feeling like maybe they could be the heroes Thra needed, to feeling clawed hands tear her away from them and over the edge of the cliff. She managed to shout one final thing to her dear friends. She prayed to Thra they'd be successful.
"Find the Dual Glaive!"
And then she was gone.
For a brief moment, Rek'yr wondered if Thra had called him home. Opening his eyes hadn't resulted in being blinded by the desert light, like it normally would. He'd opened his eyes to a misty landscape, shapes vaguely defined around him. His moment of wondering turned into something like certainty that he was dead when he turned around to face the Crystal of Truth.
He had just been facing SkekMal beside a cliff. It was entirely possible he had died.
"Quit wondering if you're dead, Dousan. You're not. And bringing you here was no easy feat!" a voice barked.
Where there had been only curling mist beside him now stood a tall figure.
"Mother Aughra?" Rek'yr bowed. "What-"
Aughra flapped her hands, "We don't have time for your questions! I brought you to the Dream Space. We must speak, Rek'yr."
"By all means, Mother Aughra. How can I help?"
"Hmph. That's better." She struck her staff on the ground. Images began flashing from inside the Crystal, shining through the strange purple hue it had taken on. "It appears I overlooked you, Rek'yr. Our entire world is at stake, and your involvement could open many more paths. More than I had hoped."
An image of Princess Brea burned itself into Rek'yr's eyes. The Crystal moved on though, showing him the image of the Circle of the Suns.
"Our world…what exactly threatens it?"
"The Skeksis. The Darkening they have created. They seek to ruin everything for an illusion of immortality."
The Darkening. Rek'yr suspected he already knew what that was. There had been the odd encounter with enraged desert creatures lately. Rek'yr had witnessed one himself. The purple eyes of the poor beast had yet to leave him.
"How do we stop it?"
"Oh, it's no easy task, Dousan," Aughra grunted sadly. "I'm afraid I only see the paths. There are so many paths."
Unease coiled tightly in Rek'yr's chest. The strangely aggressive animals, the hearty Urdrupe berries found withered to ash on their branches. Something wasn't right within Thra.
The Crystal was showing the faces of the Skeksis. He recognized most. The Emperor and the General stood in a cave somewhere, illuminated by a sickly purple light. The Scientist and the Chamberlain each passed through the Crystal. The Hunter came next –
The Hunter. Rek'yr stopped breathing. Whatever Mother Aughra was saying was lost on him. There was the Hunter. SkekMal. And Rek'yr just watched him grab his prey.
The Hunter had his filthy claws wrapped around her, dragging them both away from the Circle of the Suns, onto Bennu. The Princess reached a hand out and then the image changed. She was gone.
"These images" he interrupted loudly. "Are they true? Has the Hunter taken Princess Brea?"
Mother Aughra's wrinkled face twisted into sadness and worry. "I am afraid so, Sandmaster. Before you interrupted," she huffed. He ground his teeth. "I was telling you that you need to try and save her. So many things could change if you do."
Aughra's pleading eye bore into him. Rek'yr needed no persuading and nodded his head, plans already forming. He knew SkekMal well. Too well. If anyone had a chance of helping the Princess, he did.
"I will do everything in my power to help the Princess. And Thra. You have my word, Mother Aughra."
"Hmph! I should hope so!"
And Rek'yr opened his eyes to blinding desert light.
Brea's arms stung.
The Hunter had grabbed them so forcefully his talons had pierced through her sleeves to her skin.
She shot a withering look at the back of his head. They were currently on the back of a Crystal Skimmer, one that she was fairly sure was Rek'yr's, heading towards the edge of the Crystal Desert. The three Brothers were heading towards the horizon, shining sharp light directly into her eyes. She had already tried to fly away once, which resulted in less than ideal circumstances. That was hours ago. She had lost track of how long they'd been flying.
Turning her gaze, she resumed her task of trying to undo the rope around her wrists. If she could get her hands free, she could undo the rope crossing over her wings, meaning she could leap off the Crystal Skimmer and-
"I can hear you playing back there, Princess!" he roared. "If I hear you again, you won't make it to the castle in one piece."
Brea's movements stilled. Despite his labored breathing and arrow wounds, the Hunter still posed a formidable threat. A glare was all she could use to defend herself now. But not even that felt helpful anymore. She knew that her life was in danger. Very real danger. The kind of danger she'd done a good job at ignoring until he'd appeared. Her friends offered safety. Being near her homeland had offered safety. She had none of those now. She was alone. She was tied up, on the brink of tears, being forced to the lair of the monsters that killed her mother-
A single tear escaped her careful mask. Her mother. Her friends. Her world. She was failing them all.
With a silent sob, she awkwardly grasped at the Moog bone necklace. Protection. That's what Rek'yr had offered her when he placed it around her neck. Maybe if I had three Moog bone necklaces, I'd still be back with Deet and Rian…
Enough. Brea released a breath. It was time to think. Time to plan. If she had to go to the Castle, she might as well make the most of it.
With conscious effort, Brea turned her mind to the task of strategizing. She was a Princess of Ha'rar. Her mother had been All-Maudra. She devoured the library's books and scrolls like sweets. Thra was not doomed yet.
Brea turned a sharp gaze to the horizon. She would make it through this. Deet and Rian knew what to do, now she just had to figure out her next steps.
Off in the distance, into the brightness of the Brothers in the sky, a shape flickered somewhere in her vision. Brea squinted. She could have sworn she'd seen…
A Crystal Skimmer.
She couldn't help the gasp that escaped her lips. Her heart pounded.
Realizing her mistake, she ducked her head and squeezed her eyes shut. She threw in a few shoulder shakes for good measure.
"Crying, are you?" the Hunter wheezed. "Pathetic, Princess."
Daring a peek towards him through her eyelashes, she saw him turn around once more. Anything to keep him from seeing the Skimmer.
The incoming creature was gaining on them quickly. Whoever rode it was wise to keep in the sun beams. Brea could hardly keep track of it. The light was blinding. Brea shuffled back from the Skeksis, heart thundering. The Skimmer was even closer.
What if they didn't even notice her? Hope had clawed its way into her throat. Given the option of the Castle or rescue, she'd take rescue.
Another squint into the sunset revealed the Skimmer was upon them.
Oh please let this work. Please, please, please.
All at once, the Skimmer leapt out of the light, sweeping underneath them. A lone figure was on the saddle.
Thra seemed to hold its breath for one beat.
A roar of wind surged at her from behind.
The Skimmer swept upwards, upside down in the air, to loop over her head.
Arms appeared. Brea jumped. Someone caught her and she got pulled away in a blur of blue. The Skimmer, being right side up again, sped off with a groan.
Somewhere behind them, the Hunter roared.
But then it was calm, quiet, even. Just the sound of the hot desert air flying past.
The arms encircling her held tightly. Brea pressed the side of her head into her rescuer's chest, breathing in spices she'd never smelled before. All she could see was blue.
A voice murmured in her ear, "Hello, Desert Flower."
Brea drew back to look up into gold eyes. He gazed back at her with a warm smile.
"Are you hurt, Princess?"
"No, I'm alright, Rek'yr," she sagged against his chest again. "Thank you."
She felt a hand stroke her hair. "You're welcome, Princess."
A flash of fear, like lightning in its intensity, shot through her. With a choked gasp she sat up and looked behind them. The sky all around them was empty. Off in the distance a small speck continued towards the edge of the desert.
"He…he isn't following us."
Rek'yr glanced backwards as well, tension in his brow. "No, I didn't think he would." He shot her a smirk which was far too attractive for her at the moment.
"How could you possibly know that?"
"I brought help," he turned forward with a nod.
Directly ahead of them was a small fleet of Crystal Skimmers. Each one had several Dousan riding atop them, the striking blue of their clothes a lively contrast to the brown of the desert all around them. There were over a dozen Skimmers hovering lazily mid-air, awaiting their arrival. Despite the graceful ease of the Crystal Skimmers, Brea sensed the Dousan on them were on high alert. She saw straight backs and the glint of weapons.
Brea turned to give Rek'yr a brilliant smile. "So you did."
He returned a slight smile, followed immediately by him reaching for her wrists. He took in the rope binding her with a critical eye, then pulling a knife from somewhere on his person, cut it away.
She felt his gaze settle on her as she untangled the rope from around her wings. Her eyes flickered over him briefly and she offered him another smile. As she piled the rope on the saddle behind them, Brea noticed a harness around Rek'yr's waist.
"I take it that's how you managed to stay on?"
The harness in question was simple. It circled his waist with a broad leather band, connecting to the saddle under them with two more straps.
"You would be correct. These things usually come in handy while training young Crystal Skimmers." He patted the back of their ride. "Nenlu here is quite young. She has lots of energy."
Brea leaned forward and stroked the exposed back of the Skimmer. "Thank you, Nenlu. I am quite indebted to you."
They were nearly at the waiting group of Dousan.
"Princess, there's blood on your arm." Rek'yr reached out and gently took her hand. He looked at her with a question in his eyes.
For an answer, Brea was the first to move her arm towards him for examination and said, "The Hunter's claws are quite sharp."
Rek'yr took a brief look at the few spots of blood on her arms, declared he'd have a Shaman take a look at her wounds back at the Oasis, and then took to stroking the back of her hand with his thumb and gazing at her with an intensity that made her blush.
While trying, and mostly failing, at casually avoiding his gaze, Brea noticed dried blood on the side of his face. It was…a lot of dried blood. It started at a large scrape on his temple and ran down to his collar.
"Oh, Rek'yr." She reached out and stopped just short of touching his temple. Her fingertips brushed against his cheek instead.
None of this helped her blush.
His other hand came up and caught her outstretched fingers. With the same gentle intensity, he brought that hand to his lips and kissed it.
"It was a small price to pay, Desert Flower."
"It must be painful, what in Thra is worth that kind of payment, Rek'yr?"
He didn't even blink as he said, "You are."