SkekEkt confided in the Gourmand, of course. And then, after some assured calculation, they sought out the Chamberlain.
And were surprised – thus affronted – to find he already knew. Standing there in one of the disused dinner halls (now the Choir Rehearsal; with small pyres stacked up in semi-circles around them, and twisted candle-holders protruding from the walls) SkekEkt was eyeing the Chamberlain with clear ire, appalled at such deception – however much he claimed he’d been going to tell them.
SkekAyuk kept glancing at the hallway arch – drat it, did the architect insist on every chamber having no door? Aesthetics be damned.
“But what are we to do about it?” SkekAyuk mumbled, as the three of them leaned in to conspire – speak that is. “The Emperor shall not accept this!”
“Even SkekUng must see the vote of the majority.” SkekSil crooned, smoothing back the scraggly hairs sporting from the back of his head, “He cannot refuse us all.”
“But what then?” SkeEkt was surprised at himself for even considering this! But alas – “We bring the others to our side? How?”
“The boy shall win them over, he must. Otherwise it’ll be his head that rolls and not ours.” SkekSil’s eyes trailed away from them, at that moment – to another, smaller corridor leading in from the far right. The Ornamentalist and Gourmand followed his stare –
Peeking into the chamber, as timid and out-of-place as a hatchling sneaking down a new branch, was the waif himself.
What a tenuous situation. Instinctively, by mere habit, SkekAyuk and SkekEkt were ready to holler – but forced themselves to be still, and they resorted to simple glares, laden with suspicion, as the young skeksis cautiously approached them. Like an ant approaching a nebrie.
SkekSil, indeed, appeared to be the only one at ease in here.
That is, until, the other one materialised from the darkness a few yards behind SkekSept. All three of the elders scooted back a little, as if some tide had come running at their feet. But the pale-haired brute remained some ways back; allowing SkekSept to wander closer, his shoulders hunched and tension making his body rigid.
Content the ugly brat could not see them, SkekEkt and SkekAyuk shared a derisive glance.
So, they had reached it; the point of no return – they were not content with the General’s rule, not at all – and yes… this peril, this subdued worry – however unpleasant it was, deep down, far down, the frail reptilians craved it. Finally, after so many years – intrigue.
A plot worthwhile.
This was insanity. This was madness. This was an absolutely folly. And yet SkekSept felt strangely in place, like something had clicked within his mind’s eye; this was the path, this was what he had to do. SkekSil, slimy old oaf – he was all for them joining.
Well. Him joining.
SkekHdax was hovering – or prowling – behind him, focused on every twitch and breath no doubt. The Gourmand and SkekEkt had fixed him with wary stares, but he had seen them so many times now – they were no longer unfamiliar.
Once again he saw disdain flash on the latter’s face at the style of his clothes.
“Hullo.” He ventured awkwardly.
Apparently that was wrong. SkekSil smirked mean-spiritedly, apparently amused – while the other two didn’t look impressed.
“He is doomed.” SkekAyuk attested plainly. The boy scowled at him – and was promptly sneered at.
Learned responses are fickle. Some part of SkekSept was still afraid of them, their tall, mangled figures and eerie teeth. He drew back a little, the feathers poking from his back rising in agitation. He may have backed down, but SkekHdax did not take kindly to that at all.
“You will be.” She returned, and SkekEkt flinched as if the girl had stalked over and slapped him herself.
“What is it you wish to gain?” SkekAyuk blustered at last, apparently unable to contain his ire. SkekSept tried to keep his face placid. If he faltered, if he spoke too rash, these fickle fiends could bring the proverbial ceiling down on their heads.
“I belong here.” He wished he believed it himself, “And – and like it or not, you need me. There’s not many of you left, is there? What do you all have if not the other skeksis?”
Appealing to such things was contrived and risky. But again, an unpleasant truth.
SkekSil trilled to himself, with an odd mix of amusement and disdain on his beak; “We recently lost our architect to his own folly. Our numbers decrease.”
So in other words, I’m right. SkekSil wasn’t inept enough to say this out loud.
But he drew no response from SkekAyuk or SkekEkt. Fear, and unease picked at his narrow ribs, for he needed to catch their attention with something.
Flattery was an old trick, even the boy could see that – these creatures had probably long since learned that a compliment from a fellow skeksis was empty.
But I am young, said a conniving, chilling thought in SkekSept’s ear. One that startled him in its potency. They may think I’m genuine. They see me as a foolish knave, naive, they don’t think I can lie.
All of these thoughts seared through his head in about ten seconds, and his mind was made before he had much say.
“You two – Ornamentalist, Gourmand,” He said, earnest tone wavering – in a way he hoped they’d simply chalk to nerves, “Are the only ones I dared approach. The others - either they’re brutes, or too set in their ways. You are both … the creative ones. The makers. I want to create myself.”
His last words trailed off, he gripped at his own arm and barely managed to meet their gazes, but he saw something flicker in their eyes.
He knew that that he’d plucked the right strings.
Then, with a thin finger and sharp, unblinking stare, SkekEkt gestured him forward; nail curling.
SkekEkt approached; the feathers lining his back appendages rising in trepidation. SkekEkt leaned in, ever the conspirator, and SkekAyuk followed suit;
“And what of your … rugged friend? She has no chance, sweetling. Doesn’t want to try.”
It was with sharp disdain that he eyed SkekHdax hovering around the pillars; who seemed to sense the focus shifting to her; her teeth caught the dim torchlight as she sneered.
“… SkekHdax just wants to protect me. She’s … going to remain in the shadows.”
“A personal enforcer? How droll.” SkekAyuk remarked, apparently thinking she couldn’t hear him.
SkekSept shook his head, “Look.”
Their eyes bore into him; his sharp tone was not appreciated. But he pressed on. “… I wouldn’t … presume to bother you if I –“
SkekSil loomed in the corner of his eye, humming blandly.
“We didn’t think it was … mutually beneficial. If you help me, I’ll be indebted. Forever.”
Ah, magic, sorcery in those words. For the Ornamentals and Gourmand slowly shared a look of brazen shock that melted, moulded into something downright conniving.
SkekSept found himself reassured, and terrified, by their smirks.
The plan was simple. Trivial. Seek out those of reason and convince them.
The skeksis were bored.
Even if they didn’t agree, they’d ‘agree’ anyway.
The easiest target was the Treasurer; not very involved with anyone else’s affairs, too busy and marioneted in his own. He was stacking coins with meticulous precision when SkekEkt glided in with a flutter, a gleam in his eye that had not been so sharp in years.
His hand paused over the coins,
“… What is it you want, Ornamentalist?” He didn’t give the same courtesy of using his name. A purposeful snub, but if SkekEkt noticed, he didn’t let on;
Twirling a grey lock around a claw-like finger, the Ornamentalist didn’t bother chewing his words,
“A most intriguing opportunity, my friend, has arrived. An investment if you will.”
Magic words; SkekShod’s interest piqued, but still playing the verbal waltz, he said nothing and simply let his stare continue unblinking.
“The young thing has returned, practically begging upon his knees to join our ranks.”
Ah. That was unexpected; SkekShod’s brows flew up, and for once he appeared more alert; snapping away from his counting haze entirely.
“In – in here?” His husky voice had difficulty announcing his shock. “At this moment?”
“Yes, treasurer. Now heed this…”
It occurred to SkekSept that a lot of this fiendish plan came from SkekHdax. The irony wasn’t lost on him, and irony was one of the things he’d had trouble understanding to begin with. She was sitting upon some old rubble in the abandoned wings – the boy had hoped they wouldn’t be back here, but now with candles scattered about to illuminate the Hunter’s old trophy wall, where they’d snagged their respective skull and arm-guards, SkekSept felt a tad more at ease.
They had a handle on the situation. Whatever that situation was.
SkekHdax was holding four stones; she’d brushed and fidgeted with them so much they’d rounded into pebbles. She’d tilt her hand and let one slip through the small opening between her finger and thumb. It made a ‘click, click, click’ sound, and the steady repeat hinted at concentration.
Sometimes he longed to know what she was thinking.
Alas, there was a barrier between them. It wasn’t like with UrSaat.
And yet SkekSept couldn’t possible imagine dwelling without her at his side; but then he also could barely bear to miss his friend. The comfort of talking about small things, discussing stars, and people, and opinions. UrSaat was very opinionated for an UrRu.
He needed them both and yet they could not comply with eachother.
Unbeknownst, far away, UrSaat was using rounded pebbles, their surfaces carved with mystic symbols, to try and make sense of his torn memories, a ceremony to prompt thought. Click, click, click.
SkekSept wandered towards the trophy collection again; the wall went up so high the top shelf was but a blur. The largest skull looked small due to the perspective –
His arm was snatched.
A hitched breath. SkekHdax had pulled herself out of her quiet ruminating and seized his arm. SkekSept let the panic, always bubbling near the surface, sink away. “SkekHdax…?”
“When all is said and done.” She rasped, low and vitriolic, “We kill the Chamberlain.”
SkekSept’s brows had risen his head. Moments passed, and a frown sank into his young, teal features.
It should have scared him, the way this suggestion didn’t bother him.
“He would have killed us.” He said with voice still soft and hoarse. And a phantom twinkle of pain on the back of his head.
“He still would.”
“When all is said and done.” SkekSept echoed gently. A confirmation in his repeat.