After he had drained the last three Podlings, and handed them over to skekNa, skekTek had retired to the throne room, where, it seemed, all of the other Skeksis had decided to congregate. Unusual, as with the exception of that odd couple skekEkt and skekAyuk, who ironically were the only two currently absent, the Skeksis were not habitually social creatures. But every once in a while they felt the need to gather outside of the Sun Ceremony and meals.

Their inherently antisocial nature however ensured that they spoke to each other little. As a consequence, skekTek found himself standing boredly alongside skekNa near the throne, saying nothing either to him or to any of the others. He merely occasionally adjusted his weight upon his gold-handled walking stick and wondered when the Garthim raiding party was going to return, so he could get back to his work. Anythiung beat the tedium of mingling his small-minded fellow Skeksis.

Idly, he wondered what urTih was doing. His "other self," so to speak. But at the same time not his other self. Even skekTek, a dedicated and brilliant scientific genius, found the precise nature of their dual selves difficult to fathom or even explain. SkekZok claimed he could, but never bothered elaborating in the hundreds of years he'd been the high priest. Dodging the issue was something he was known for.

It occurred to skekTek that they never thought much of the Mystics. They left them alone, instructing the Garthim to stay clear of their valley, as they knew well enough that their survival depended on it. Whatsoever happened to a Mystic, happened to a Skeksis, and vice versa. Certainly urSu perished the same night skekSo had, and skekTek knew for a fact that urTih was missing an eye, one of his arms, and a leg.

But for the most part the Skeksis seemed content to just pretend they didn't exist. Not skekTek. At times of great boredom, he had thought of them often. And not at all highly. His opinion of urTih was quite low. He was an alchemist, not a true scientist, and an unimaginative one at that. SkekTek supposed this was why his fellow Skeksis ignored the Mystics. They were, put simply, uninteresting. They had no great dreams or aspirations, and never left their stupid little valley, unlike the Skeksis who made things happen as a matter of policy - even if, skekTek reminded himself, they typically used others to do their work for them.

A shrill scream interrupted skekTek's thoughts and all eyes were on the throne room entrance. Shrieking like a dying landstrider, skekEkt scurried in, followed by skekAyuk, who was waddling along as quickly as his bulk would allow.

"Gelfling!" skekEkt was screaming. "Right here in the castle!"

Barely able to comprehend what was happening, the assembled Skeksis looked at one another on confusion. SkekNa shrugged helplessly at skekTek, and then the intruders skidded to a halt before the throne, upon which skekUng reclined, and continued their frenzied wailing. SkekEkt in particular was making a show of waving his arms about wildly.

"Come and look!" skekAyuk managed to choke out, terrified, jerking a thumb back the way they had come. "Such an ugly monster!"

"So, so awful!" skekEkt concurred.

Movement from behind them made everyone turn, and the last thing any of them including skekTek had ever expected to see entered: skekSil, still clad in the ragged remains of his robes, clutching a struggling Gelfling. As this pair approached the throne they all drew back with various expressions of shock and fear. Even skekTek despite his natural curiosity joined skekNa in shrinking away from the hideous fair-haired creature.

"Mmmmm, royal sire," skekSil was saying, "I bring you...Gelfling."

Murmurs passed amongst the group, and then skekSil, holding his head high, declared, "I! I have done this! I have caught her! I was wounded! I suffered horrible, searing pain!"

SkekTek was paying the outcast not a whit of attention. Mustering his courage he inched closer to the thing which the Prophecy said would bring about their ultimate destruction. Bending down on his cane he cupped the Gelfling's chin with a crooked finger. His mind was racing. It had been several years since he had seen a Gelfling up close. SkekSo hadn't even allowed him to preserve any.

"A live Gelfling!" he hissed under his breath. She jerked away with a cry of loathing.

"Kill her!"

Now skekTek glanced up. It was skekZok who'd spoken. The pompous peabrain had a ceremonial dagger out and was brandishing it towards the Gelfling. Even skekUng glared at the priest for this outburst, which was dangerously close to being an order.

"We are sworn to kill all Gelflings!" skekZok explained, upon realizing all eyes were on him.

SkekOk nodded in agreement. And who better than the historian to realize the danger the Gelfling posed, and side with the priest? But skekTek wasn't going to let a chance like this pass him by. Even as the chamberlain was declaring the Gelfling "his," the scientist sidled up to the throne on the side opposite skekZok.

Into skekUng's ear his whispered, "But sire, you could drink her essence!"

SkekUng grinned. He too remembered the fabled potency of Gelfling essence.

SkekZok, who had not heard him, was still ranting. "Becauce of the Prophecy, we must kill the Gelfling!" Another nod of agreement from skekOk.

"No!" boomed skekUng, holding up his scepter and getting up out of the throne. SkekTek knew then he had won. "First we take her essence, then kill!"

At this even skekOk sided against the priest, and cheers rose up from the crowd.

"Drain her first, then kill her!"

"Essence! Take her essence! Get her!"

"Yes!"

"To the Chamber of Life!"

At this, skekTek watched skekZok sink back in a mixture of anger and disbelief that no one was listening to him.

All but granted permission to take possession of the Gelfling, skekTek came 'round and grabbed her by the arm with his weaker hand, its grip still strong enough to restrain the female. He pulled her away from the unresisting skekSil, who smiled.

"No, let go!" the Gelfling protested.

As he roughly escorted his prize from the throne room he heard skekUng reinstating that slime bucket skekSil to his former position. SkekTek could care less. He had a living specimen of a Gelfling, and she was his to do with as he pleased!

A few minutes later he was down in the Chamber of Life once more. The animals chittered noisily and his Podling-slave assistant awaited him. He dismissed him. He didn't want anyone to see what he was about to do and report back to skekUng.

"I don't need you anymore for today, go away!" he snarled.

The assistant walked out wordlessly. The Gelfling watched him go with a strange look. It occurred to skekTek she hadn't seen a Podling in such a state before, but, he thought with a smirk, she'd soon find out how he got that way. Setting his cane aside, he dragged her over to the row of chairs facing the wall.

"Silence!" he bellowed, the animal noises grating on him. "Silence, animals!"

Once more they quit. The Gelfling put up a fierce struggle, but skekTek overpowered her easily. Within seconds he had her strapped in. She didn't quite fit, as these chairs were designed for smaller Podlings, but she was held in place nonetheless. That accomplished, it was over to the control panel again. SkekTek's hands shook with excitement as he pulled the necessary levers. As he watched the floor tilt downwards with a rumble, he mused on his scheme. Why should skekUng be the only one to drink the life-essence?

That bellowing imbecile had no clue about the precise amount of liquid essence that could be drained from a Gelfling, after all. SkekTek would give skekUng half, and keep the remainder for himself to drink when the time was right. This was why he'd sent his assistant away. No witnesses. The animals wouldn't tell. SkekTek doubted they even understood what it was he did in the Chamber of Life. And the Gelfling herself would be disposed of immediately after he had squeezed her dry.

This left Aughra. Aughra who was now at the bars of her cage, sniffing the air curiously. Here eyeball, sitting on a table, was watching skekTek. He thought about going over and squishing it like a grape, before the boom of the floor-plate thudding into its pre-set, slitted position brought his mind back to the matter at hand. Aughra he'd deal with later. No matter what skekUng said.

The Gelfling no longer protested. Instead, like the many before her, she was transfixed by the sight of the reddish light pouring into the room through the slit. And moreso by the prism as it slowly moved into position with its characteristic whirring sound. She shrank back slowly in the chair, fat lot of good it did it. Once the reflector was in position the beam shone true, directly into her eyes. SkekTek forwent explaining the process this time. Instead he merely licked his lips as he watched her liquefied essence begin trickling through the IV tube and into the waiting flask.

"Mmm, yes," he intoned, "essence of Gelfling!"

Suddenly, she said, "Jen?"

This threw skekTek for a loop. Who, or what, was Jen? And for that matter why as she even speaking? He'd forgotten how much more resistent to the beam Gelflings were than Podlings. The latter creatures typically went braindead the minute the light hit their eyes; this female however maintained enough of her mind to speak, although it seemed to the scientist that she was hallucinating.

"Jen!" she called again.

"You, Kira!" This time it was Aughra who spoke, from her cage nearby. SkekTek shot her an angry look but she ignored him. "Call the animals! You have the gift! Call them to freedom! Now!"

Gift? What gift? What was the old hag talking about? SkekTek hadn't the faintest idea. He'd heard Podlings possessed the ability to speak the "languages" of animals, but none brought into the Chamber of Life had ever attempted it. He was right in the middle of thinking the whole idea was bunk when the Gelfling, whose name was apparently "Kira," hitched in a deep breath and shouted forth a single word.

"Kamalaya!"

SkekTek didn't know or care what it meant. "Quiet, Gelfling!" he snapped at her, annoyed. "Be quiet!"

"Kamalaya!" she repeated, as if she hadn't heard him.

After this, the animals started up again. First a few weak barks and chirps. Then a flurry of growls, chitters and snarls. His attention previously focused on Kira, skekTek said, "Eh?" and stood up, blinking, as he turned and beheld the entire menagerie of the Chamber of Life come alive.

SkekTek didn't like this. Not at all. Moving away from the chair, towards the cages, he started feeling more than a little worried. For the first time he seemed to notice just how many hundreds of animals he'd collected over the years. The room he had spent countless hours working in, knew every nook and cranny of, suddenly seemed threatening.

"Quiet, all of you!" he said. The animals kept up. "Stop! Stop! I warn you!"

His threat fell on deaf ears. Then everything was happening all at once. The animals were hopping up and down excitedly in their cages, some rattling the bars. The ones suspended from the ceiling were swinging around in circles. Aughra, for her part, was also shaking the bars of her own cage, yelling in rage. One by one the cage doors burst open, or they fell to the floor and smashed open of their own accord. Soon hundreds of furry things and scaly things were scittering wildly across the floor. Feathered things flapped madly in the air. SkekTek ducked, yelping.

"All of you, get down!" he shouted.

This did absolutely nothing. As though driven by one single mind the creatures surged towards the unprepared Skeksis. Before skekTek knew what was happening, he was covered in living things. Crustacean-like creatures bit at his neck and carapace. A turtle-like animal bit his left arm, making him loose a yowl of pain. He shook it loose, sent it flying, and staggered back, bumping against one of the empty chairs.

His arm now freed he clawed at the dozens or more yapping and snarling at his feet, biting, ripping and clawing at his robes. His other arm was bitten but he felt nothing, as it was mechanical. Nevertheless the animals' teeth and beaks severed the artificial veins, causing purple blood to dribble out. The already weak arm was now rendered entirely useless and hung limply at skekTek's side as he used his only good arm in a vain effort to defend himself.

There were just too many. He suddenly wished he hadn't dismissed his assistant. Even a Podling-slave could have provided at least some help. Alone, the Skeksis scientist didn't stand a chance. Howling in pain and anger he pushed off the chair, and stumbled backwards, desperate to escape his attackers. He backed right up against the control panel for the reflector and wall, felt his ribbed carapace shove the reflector-lever up into the "off" position. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the purple beam vanish, and the infernal Gelfling was freed from the Dark Crystal's grasp. The reflector had become accidentally disengaged.

Realizing what had happened, skekTek shrieked, "No! Nooooo!"

Sidestepping away from the controls, he moved towards the Gelfling. He wanted to attack her. To claw her face off. Instead he was only further overwhelmed by the assaulting animals and in trying to escape them backpedaled further away until he realized too late he was standing on the floor-plate.

The slit in the wall widened as the plate gave way under skekTek's weight. The floor literally gave way out from under him and he fell backwards. He landed on his back and, with dozens of animals still clinging and biting on him, he slid down the plate even as it banged against the interior of the Shaft, and right off the edge. All he could do was loose an inarticulate scream that echoed off the walls as he plunged down the thousand-foot Shaft. In midair he turned, felt himself catching fire already as the molten lava rushed up to meet him.

His final thought was that at least he'd be taking urTih with him, and what a surprise it would be when urTih spontaneously combusted in front of all of the other Mystics...