Chapter 19 (201PK) Off in a far-away corner of the universe, on a planet with three dying suns, there lay a broken castle. In the heart of the crumbling building was a dismal throne made of onyx, a testament to the ruler’s solid darkness. Maldis laughed like he did every morning, when he entered into his usual ritual of circumnavigating the deep vent where the Crystal once stood, and now was only a fleeting dusting of debris. For ten-thousand cycles, Maldis felt the rush of uninterrupted fear and devastation. On some days, he could only thrash around on his bed ecstatically, laughing and writhing, drunk with power. A small, brown, furry-eyebrowed creature, dressed in tattered rags, appeared and nodded briefly, holding a small tray of various vials. His voice was old and weary, but there was a determined defiance all the same. “Your usual, Lord Maldis,” he announced, barely able to hide his contempt. Maldis approached and tore the tray from the creature’s hands, nearly shoving him backwards. “You are remarkably stubborn, Dominar,” he noted with a grim smirk. “I will wipe that defiance from your voice.” The Dominar, or former Dominar, chuckled briefly. “It’s been a thousand cycles since the Halosians overtook Hyneria,” he replied. “What’s another solar day?” He wiped his small toad-like nose. “I’m a very patient lifeform.” Maldis stared at the vials in his hands. His tone became more thoughtful. “What do you fear most, Dominar?” He loved to rub the creature’s loss of status in his face at every opportunity. “Seeing you naked.” Maldis quickly imbibed a few vials’ worth of liquid. There was no longer very much to eat on Thra. Even with all his power, he had taken to using an old Skeksis method of prolonging vitality: liquefying the living essences of whatever beings had been captured by the Halosians, a race that proved quite stubborn in its avoidance of utter elimination from the universe. He had tried to kill Yoz and those who came to find her, but as soon as they found themselves on Thra, it was as though they had new life, even after the Crystal was destroyed, and they soon learned to hide in a wide rocky valley several days’ walk from the castle. It was with begrudging necessity that Maldis occasionally traded with the Halosians. They would bring him liquefied essence if he could terrorize planets into sending inhabitants to Thra. His reach seemed to extend to all corners of the universe, but yet, irritatingly, he found his power waned to nearly nothing if he left the castle, much less ventured off-world. Still, while he expected defiance from someone like Jareth, beaten dog as he was, this vile little leathery amphibian frustrated him to the point of fascination. “I’ve taken everything from you, Dominar. Your planet is nearly bereft of Hynerians. Your rule is nonexistent. You are but my mere slave. How can you protest your destiny so?” The former Dominar smirked, a glint in his eye. “Perhaps I’m not the one needing the nightmare, ‘Lord Maldis’,” he noted in a sarcastic, mocking tone. “After all, you’re blessed with everything,” he continued, relishing what he planned on saying next, “but the certainty of your victory.” He chuckled again. “I can see it in your eyes: you aren’t without fear, yourself.” Maldis wanted to crush his tiny head. Yet, all he could do was sigh and turn away. His voice remained pensive. “Rygel … perhaps you are right. Perhaps your role is to remind me of my fears.” He laughed, doubling over, suddenly flinging the tray back at the Hynerian slave. His voice was once again haughty and confident. “Ungrateful swine! Putrid toad! I am the living embodiment of darkness! There is no more light in the world, or in the universe!” He swept his arms in huge arcs. “See the wonders I have created! I have rebuilt this planet from the ground up, drenching it in the dreariness it hasn’t seen for over 60 million cycles!” “And you haven’t had a frelling banquet in several centuries,” Rygel noted with a smirk and a nod. “You’re reduced to begging for basic sustenance.” His tone became far more belligerent and mocking, a sneer becoming nearly permanent on his face. “While there are still three suns that illuminate this ‘yave of the yuvo’ rock out in the middle of nowhere, and all the stars still dominate even the darkest skies,” he paused, relishing his momentum, “and … I … still … want … you … dead.” <><><> Yoz, a Halosian who really shouldn’t even be alive by now, sat in the center of a large sand drawing in the middle of a crevice, surrounded by staggeringly high cliffs of sheer rock. It had taken over a hundred cycles to come up with enough equipment to summon the other Halosians. Now, after that pathetic creature took her to this world, she was leader of several hundred. A relatively chubby Halosian, dressed uncharacteristically in brightly-hued robes, nodded as he approached. The newly healed Halosians were not Skekses, but now that they no longer seemed ready to decompose at any moment, the similarities became ever more apparent. He bowed slightly. “Suns … almost ready … to join,” he noted. Despite the fact their bodies were nearly back to their original complete state, they still tended to speak sporadically, as though their brains could not comprehend the fact they were no longer struggling for air. Yoz snorted, pawing at the sand drawing until it transformed into a smear on the ground. “Zok … keeper of past … ignores Yoz’ rule.” Zok, born on Thra in the time since Yoz was taken there, named himself in honor of a Skeksis ritual-master. He was abnormally diplomatic, a trait usually described by what little documentation they had found as belonging to a Skeksis named SkekSil. “Zok cares deeply for Yoz rule,” he blurted out, anxious to pacify her. She was the eldest of the Halosians on Thra, and so demanded complete respect. “We have history … this planet Thra … home to us … not sniveling aliens with scruffy white hair.” Yoz sighed and looked up. The suns were getting closer together in the sky. “Suns meet … nothing happens.” Zok shook his head, screeching, “Of course something happens! Suns meet … Thra ours!” “Need more,” Yoz replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Crystal? Crystal not matter!” “Not whole Crystal … no Thra power!” Yoz retorted angrily, banging her fist on the ground. “Halosian … not enough! Spirits of Thra … speak to Yoz … tell me things … need more!” Zok shifted his weight uncomfortably. If he continued to protest, Yoz might have him killed. He bowed deeply, his wings spread low over his back. “Yoz is wise … listen to Thra … give Thra to Halosians.” Yoz sneered, but nodded, choosing not to delve further into rebuke. Her voice was much calmer, almost motherly. “Eidelons … like alien now on Thra … but Eidelons have power … power to heal and make peace. Thra say … ‘Find Eidelons’. Together, Halsoian and Eidelon remake Crystal. Thra ours. Universe ours. Alien conquered.” Zok nodded, genuinely respectful. Yoz was the smartest of the Halosians. Halosian Code demanded the desire to evolve. The problem was, if you were Leader, what more was there to evolve into? Yoz seemed to have found an answer: join and be more.