Cheers rose up in the throne room of the Castle of the Crystal. Cheers for the new emperor, skekUng, who had just won Trial by Stone against the sniveling Chamberlain, skekSil. The Garthim Master held aloft his ceremonial sword and pumped his fist in the air as skekTek and skekOk, the latter having formerly supported the Chamberlain, came over to congratulate him. SkekSil dropped his sword in shock and it clattered to the floor although no one seemed to be paying any attention to him.

That is, until skekZok raised a hand and spoke at last, having said nothing during the entire Trial. "Now!" he boomed, and all eyes were on him, the room going dead silent. Even skekUng looked at him. "By the law, he must pay!"

The High Priest pointed a bony finger at the Chamberlain. Immediately the other Skeksis, all save skekUng, backed the cowering skekSil against the far wall and pounced upon him. SkekUng laughed raucously, pointing and commanding him to be stripped, with the others did with relish as skekSil loosed shrill screams of distress and embarrassment.

SkekZok showed no outward expression, as was common for him. Typically the Priest only conveyed his emotions with the smallest of facial tics, such as a slight frown, a half smile, or a raised eyebrow. Secretly, however, he was enjoying skekSil's humiliation, having been furious with the Chamberlain for daring to try and take skekSo's scepter of power when he himself had told him to stop. And he'd had the nerve to insult him, too! Although skekZok had to admit he wasn't entirely certain "spithead" was a very good barb.

Simultaneously skekZok found the behavior of his fellow Skeksis to be disgusting. They were a rowdy lot, prone to hysterics far too often for his tastes. And if he didn't know any better he would've been certain skekEkt, at the head of the group with skekTek and skekNa to either side of him, was shredding the Chamberlain's clothing with a little too much relish.

It was only when skekSil had been completely stripped naked that skekUng called for it to stop. "Now let him go!" he yelled. "The Chamberlain is banished!"

The other Skeksis backed off, but only reluctantly, and then came to crowd around where skekUng stood. SkekZok turned and looked at the new emperor and raised a single eyebrow in surprise. He'd thought surely the Garthim Master would've wanted to see his longtime rival killed. This was a surprise. Perhaps skekUng would turn out to be quite a different ruler than skekZok had thought.

"Now, bow down to me!" skekUng demanded, raising high the emperor's scepter. As the others did so, he spread his arms wide, threw back his head, and bellowed so loudly the very room trembled slightly, "I am emperooooorrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

Cries of "Hail to the new emperor!" went up and the Skeksis groveled and subjugated themselves before their new leader, skekUng turned and looked at skekZok, the only one not bowing. Smiling courteously, the Priest did a slow, curt bow to his new emperor. He was content. He had remained where he was, and he was happy to serve skekUng.

SkekZok had no stomach for stress. This despite the fact he was the most even-tempered of the nine remaining Skeksis--well, eight, since with skekSil banished he had effectively ceased to matter as far as they were concerned.

Although it had been halfheartedly suggested by skekShod that he become the new emperor, the high priest had declined. Once, skekSo had been the strongest of them all after skekUng. But the stress of leadership had prematurely aged him. This skekZok believed. And the high priest carried enough weight on his shoulders with his elaborate, and heavy, hold carapace. The throne was something he did not covet

Thus he enjoyed his role as not only the Skeksis' spiritual leader but also the right hand and advisor to the reigning emperor. He only hoped skekUng would be as wise a ruler as skekSo.

Suddenly a high-pitched keening sound reverberated throughout the castle. SkekZok, closest to the door, heard it first, and looked up. The Crystal was calling them. A crystal bat had found something it thought worthy of its masters' attention.

"Listen!" cried skekUng. "The Crystal! The Crystal calls!"

"The Crystal!" agreed skekTek.

As one the Skeksis turned and scurried for the door. SkekZok hurriedly ushered them along, with skekUng at his heels. All of them save the now-disgraced Chamberlain scrambled as fast as their ancient, heavily-robed bodies would allow, down the narrow, dimly-lit corridor into the gigantic high-ceilinged room where the Dark Crystal floated eternally above the top of the fiery central shaft of the castle.

The other Skeksis slowed a bit as they entered, parting for the two who were most worthy to approach the Crystal: the emperor and the High Priest. His hands folded over his belly with his finger interlaced, skekZok, keeping his gaze firmly on the purple spire floating in the air, strode confidently up to the edge of the pit. So accustomed was he to being in this room he didn't need to know where and when to stop. Anyone else trying to approach the Crystal without occasionally glancing down at their feet, he fancied, would surely walk right off the edge and fall down the mile-long shaft.

But skekZok's confidence drained when he saw what the Crystal had to show them. A dark-haired male Gelfling, seen from behind, climbing a steep, rocky hill. The Priest's jaw fell open and he stared mutely in uncharacteristic shock. The others, equally surprised, crowded 'round. SkekUng, a slow last, was so concerned with getting to front of the group that he was the only one who hadn't yet actually looked into the Crystal. He elbowed past the other Skeksis, shoving skekZok aside, but the Priest was too flabbergasted to care.

Once he was assured of his rightful place at the head of the small crowd, skekUng finally looked up and jerked backwards all of a sudden with a cry of "Eh?!" His abrupt change from arrogant entitlement to wide-eyed shock would've been funny on any other occasion, but not this time.

SkekZok finally found his voice and stammered, "Uh...uh...a Gelfling alive?!"

The Skeksis were all talking at once then, but skekOk's shrill, warbling voice was heard above all others. "The Prophecy!" he shrieked. "The Prohecy says Gelfling will destroy us!"

At this, skekUng's eyes bulged in terror. "No!" he growled, and whirled 'round. "Garthim, attack!"

At his command, the Garthim suddenly came out of their hibernation, claws clicking. Each slowly trundled up to the edge of its individual balcony and looked down expectantly at the Skeksis as skekUng bellowed a series of redundant and in some cases contradictory orders, first that the Garthim should find the Gelfling, then bring him to the castle, and then that they should kill him. Apparently the new emperor was so flustered he couldn't make up his mind precisely what it was he wanted the infernal Garthim to do.

Even skekEkt dared to pitch in, screeching, "Go kill the Gelfling!"

Nevertheless, the Garthim turned and did as they were bid, heading off down the tunnels and hallways, gathering their numbers, journeying to hunt down and kill this somehow living Gelfling. SkekZok for his part watched the Crystal for a long time, turning over in his mind how in the world a Gelfling could still be alive after all this time.

Then it hit him. The Mystics. Those peace-loving wizards and spellcasters who represented the "other halves" of the Skeksis. Surely they had found a Gelfling and hidden him so he could grow up to fulfill the prophecy that had so terrified skekSo so many years ago. Originally, skekZok had not put much stock in the propechy, but had obeyed skekSo nonetheless. Now that a single Gelfling lived, however, he was beginning to feel the stress and worry knotting up his stomach.

"Ugly, hideous Gelfling!" skekOk commented, and skekZok had to agree.