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The dark crystal plague.., p.1
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       The Dark Crystal: Plague of Light, p.1

           James Comins
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The Dark Crystal: Plague of Light
The Dark Crystal: Plague of Light

  by James Comins

  Copyright 2014 James Comins

  Based on characters created by Jim Henson, Brian Froud, and Joshua Dysart

  Used with kind and explicit permission of the Jim Henson Company

  Cover art featuring the work of Jim Henson and Brian Froud copyright 1982

  Used with permission

  Crystal texture by Maliz Ong, public domain

  Wood texture by Daniel Smith, public domain

  This eBook may not be excerpted or used for commercial or noncommercial purposes without written permission of the author and the Jim Henson Company.

  This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, places, events or locales is purely coincidental.

  Table of Contents













  About the Author

  Acknowlogies and Apoledgements

  Other books by this author

  Lenna and the Last Dragon

  Lenna's Fimbulsummer

  Lenna at the All Thing

  The Stone Shepherd's Son

  Casey Jones is Still a Virgin (for older readers)

  13 Stories to Scare You to Death

  My Dad is a Secret Agent

  Where the Cloud Meets the Mountain and the Mountain Disappears

  for Lauren

  * * *

  Gobber hocked up a lungful of something nasty and spat it like a fruit pit off the side of his cart. Admiring the splat it made, he nodded to himself and scuffed his rag-wrapped feet up the dark road toward Crystal Castle.

  The night was bad. Oo, it was bad, rotten, thick, and smelled like Skeksis. Smelled like coins, too, though. Skeksis always had yenti to spend.

  The thing that fell out of the sky shone like a baby sun. It landed, showering golden dust and gray rainwater where it struck. He shook the twig cage where Lemny lived.

  "Rightso, rightso, wake up there, Lemny."

  The Perpetual Storm was dripping faintly on Gobber, and he pulled the cart's rickety awning over himself and slipped on a third pair of torn fingerless gloves. A snore from the cage. He bobbled it and battered it and finally shouted "LEMNY, YOU GREAT BUG, WAKE UP," and the occupant stirred.

  "Too early," Lemny said, sneezing and adjusting his mismatched nubs of antennae. "I should be hibernating, I should. Autumn. Nearly Vorember, isn't it? Don't like this road. Why'd you wake me up for?"

  Gobber considered his next words and ran his gloved hands over his lips.

  "There was a fing," he said, "in the sky."

  Lemny bent his neck up and peered into the Perpetual Storm. "Not much there now, is there?"

  "It fell. Fump," said Gobber.

  "Flying snoutfish, I'd reckon. Balgertown had a run of snoutfish fallin' from the sky. Portentous, that is," said Lemny.

  "Wasn't fish. It was a lump," Gobber said. "Went fump. Didn't go splat. Fish'd go splat."

  "They would, they would," agreed Lemny. "Best take a gander at it, then."

  * * *

  Cory's mother was done with his talk of the future. Just done with it, do you hear me? He was becoming more unmanageable by the day. Closing his eyes when they should be open, and staring up at the ceiling all night when his eyes should be shut. Why, it was enough to drive a mother batty!

  Well, Mother Master would put a stop to it. There was no place for prophecy in a Gelfling's life. The littels and tamtails needed feeding, the flowers needed weeding, and father was sick in bed. And where was Cory? Daydreaming. A daydreaming boy. Mother Master would swat that out of him.

  Where was he, anyways? That boy. Probably chasing dancerflies in the farmer's breadcorn again. Or hiding. What a boy for hiding from his mother. Always curled up with that meditation globe in the rafters, and always just when she needed him.

  Enough to drive a mother batty.

  Where else do you think she found him, after two whole tolls of the Quillpine town bell? On the roof of the mounder stable with that hocus-pocus ball he always carried around like a--like a glass pet! Well, she got him down from there, got him by the ear, and took him straight to Aughra Mother Master.

  * * *

  Loora's father had had it up to here with the girl following him around, asking how things worked. Carrying his toolchest for him? Trotting on his heels, asking what he'd be fixing next? Taking things apart and putting them back together? It was enough to make a father clobber his head with a hammer.

  What, were her dolls not dressy enough? Her dancing lessons not graceful enough? Why did she insist on getting her hands dirty? Loora's mum was sick in bed with this Light Sickness, and the last thing he needed was the girl chasing after him with his toolchest instead of doing the housework.

  Rumpha, grumpha. That's all he had to say to her these days. He'd stick his huge belly out at her, let it bounce, and tell her rumpha, grumpha. That's what.

  Enough to make him clobber his head with a hammer.

  Finally he'd begun organizing a different plan in his head. A plan to do something about this--this menace of a girl. She wanted to work with her hands, didn't she? Well, he invited her to visit the new glassworks the Company was building outside Balgertown.

  Naturally she accepted, bouncing around in a suspiciously boyish way.

  Next morning he'd gotten up early, but Loora was already awake with a gummy stew she'd made. They looked in on mum, whose light was turning a brighter blue, and each gave her a kiss. Then he took his daughter directly to Aughra Mother Master.

  * * *

  The Storyteller folded her clawed hands and spoke to the assembly in the wood. This is what she said:

  The land is divided. The good has been pushed out, and the bad flexes like a muscle.

  The land is sick. Storms cause floods and drought, floods and drought kill the breadcorn fields and the gardens, and the people become hungry.

  And in the center of the divided, sick land, the Skeksis feast.

  Stories say that long ago there was balance, like two feet on the ground. The Great Crystal held the good and bad in place like sturdy boots, its soft glow teaching all things to stay in the middle. And then into the land of Thra came a bad dream. A dream of power.

  The dream crept on dream legs from house to house, castle to castle, burrow to burrow, looking to inspire someone. It came to the Gelfling towns by the rolling rivers and tufted flower fields. It examined the delicately beautiful faces, the innocent minds, the shining hair, the primeval ways, looking for a way in.

  But the Gelflings had no desire for power. They were happy, and why not? Life is good when there are flowers and fields.

  The dream traveled to the pod dwellings of the Podlings, with their four sticky fingers and wide mouths. In their communal seed homes the Podlings sniffed at the dream with smelly noses, then gobbed a snoutful of something nasty at it and went about their business. Podlings don't hold much with big dreams; they keep their heads down and their noses low and stay out of the way of trouble, unless there's a coin or two to spare.

  The dream visited the black insects called Crabbits, who step through the mud on dainty leg clusters and four claw-ended arms. But it found nowhere to alight, because Crabbits cannot dream.

  The dream came to the long-limbed ur-Mystics, who inhabit ancestral caves and woolly robes. It spoke to them in their haunting language, whispered to them in the low chants they use to stir the energy in the land below them. The dream told the Mystics of the m
any strange uses for the Great Crystal, of its limitless power. Some of the haughtier Mystics listened, talked to each other about the dream, and brought the bad dream before the Council of Mystics. There they scratched in the dirt, wove patterns in the air, sang their tolling rolling melodious chants, and saw the darkness that lay ahead. They rejected that future. And so the dream flitted on its way.

  The dream came at last to the sullen land of Skarith that surrounds Crystal Castle, where the Skeksis make their homes. If you've never met one, the Skeksis have sharp fingers, beady eyes, and hunched shoulders. They fancy their arched beaks the most handsome and stylish beaks in the world, never mind any snubnosed unbeaked people like Gelflings and Podlings.

  The Skeksis are proud. Proud of their skek-names. Proud of their skek-faces. Proud of their flowing skek-cloaks and their beaky skek-ornaments and their ornamented skek-beaks and their decorative skek-pajamas and their draping elbow-tassels and their enormous dinners and their elegant plumes of feathery hair that hardly ever get infested with insects. Proud, proud, proud.

  When into their chambers the dream slithered, they gathered to listen. And the dream told them wonderful things.

  * * *

  Aughra didn't care much for looking after Gelflings. Undignified. Hardly worth her time. An old thing she was, by their estimation, but Aughra still felt young, at least when she wasn't looking in the mirror. She adjusted her beak, polishing the shining surface with a fist. Worth the lot of these flat-faces put together, Aughra was. Yes she was. She knew things. She was industrious. Why, just look at the glass windows she'd smelted! Clear and green as the sea. What did the Gelflings have? Curtains and reed shutters! Ha, primitive.

  Funny they never seemed dissatisfied. Aughra was always dissatisfied! Why, just look at the state of her alchemy kitchen. Bottles all out of order. Alphabetical, yes, but the wrong alphabet! New labels. Yes, that's what her day would be. Choosing a better alphabet. Star alphabet, moon alphabet, ur-Mystic alphabet, extra-secret ur-Mystic double sunrune alphabet, green pig-beetle click alphabet, bunny thump alphabet . . . choices. Too many choices! Dissatisfying. Aughra belched, since no one was there to hear it, and began to rewrite her labels.

  Then from outside, right there in the early morning--before breakfast even!--came a pair of Gelfling voices. Quibbling, greeting, chattering, bothering. Ha! Hardly worth a listen. Just like children, these Gelflings. Just like children.

  A knocking at her door. From the ceiling, her hanging herbs and creature skeletons started shaking, and the pungulates she kept in the rafters started hissing. She'd better get the door, yes she should, before the pungulates started shedding--and wouldn't that be a mess?

  Swinging the door wide open, she gathered up her voice for a big screech.

  "Mother Master!" interrupted the two Gelflings. Behind them, a second, smaller pair cowered. Children, the lot of them, whether young or grown. No respect for sensitive animals like pungulates, who were nearly ready for tasting. Mmm, that sugary hair!

  Aughra peered out at the four assembled on her doorstep. Slight and simple creatures, Gelflings, with flat faces and wide-open eyes.

  "Not Mother Master," she said. "Just Aughra. Nice of you to be polite, but I'm nobody's mother today and nobody's master at all. It's just Aughra!"

  She swept back her draping purple hair with a prim snort and adjusted her beak.

  "Whaddya want?" she added.

  A big-bellied Gelfling with a wisp of manly beard growing out of his neck took three steps into her house and spun to face her.

  "She," he began, pointing to the girl-Gelf, "has spent the past month following me around, carrying my toolchest and being a nuisance. She says her dolls do not interest her, her dancing lessons are boring, and she wants to make things instead of being respectable. She even," he whispered conspiratorially, "wanted me to take her in to work. She thinks she can help out." The man began laughing out of his sagging chest, laughing rather fakely, Aughra thought. Then the man stopped laughing and bounced his belly at her, then waited for her response.

  "So?" Aughra said.

  He mulled this over.

  "So what am I supposed to do with her?"

  "Take her in to work," Aughra replied. "Let her make things. Skymother knows I wish someone useful would help me make things. Hmp! Good problem to have."

  "I'm useful," the girl murmured.

  The big-bellied Gelf sputtered, aghast. "But a traveling construction company is no place for a--a--a girl! What a thought. What a thought! Enough to make a father clobber his head with a hammer."

  Aughra thought she heard the boy-Gelf mutter something like, "might do him some good," but it could have been the pungulates.

  "Mother Master, I insist you do something about my daughter. She's almost entirely unreasonable."

  "Useful," she said again, scowling.

  "And my SON!" the other Gelfling parent exclaimed. The woman bustled into the house and stamped her feet. "He'll be the death of me, Mother Master, just the death of me! Father sick in bed, a houseful of chores, and what's he doing? Telling the future with a marble on a stick! Oh, what's a poor mother to do?"

  "Tells the future, does he?" Aughra said, stepping outside, grabbing the boy, and pulling him inside. His hands did in fact clutch a very plain meditation globe. "Well, we'll see about that."

  "Indeed we will!" the woman exclaimed, crossing her arms and nodding primly. "Indeed we will. Mother Master, I expect you to switch those thoughts right out of him! Indeed!"

  Aughra's long, slender, be-ringed finger touched the boy on the chin. A dim light shone, and she drew him into the room. Up the wing stairs he came, following her forefinger past the spinning orrery and around the banister to the great balcony overlooking Aughra's front room. The others waited below. Aughra observed the boy's mother, who was setting her jaw and waiting for Aughra to start hitting. Ha! The very thought.

  The boy followed Aughra's finger to the center of the balcony and stood beside her.

  The Future Font was made of granite. The rough stone was sedimented with sheets of quartz and was supported by a wide iron curlicue frame. The basin of the font was filled with black water. Within the black water swam silver shapes that twisted the mind into taffy. Only a very special mind could stare into the waters of Black River without going googly . . .

  Aughra took the meditation globe from the boy and threw it. Blue glass shattered against a far wall. The boy gasped and cried out, but Aughra touched him on the chin again, and he went silent. Below, his mother nodded in quiet satisfaction.

  "See the future, do you? Hmp! Show me, little Gelfling. Doesn't look like there's too much inside here." She tapped his noggin. "Prove me wrong. Tell the future!"

  Following Aughra's pointing finger, the boy peered into the black water. Aughra waited. Was he going to go googly?

  "I see . . . I don't know what it is. Made of metal. Some kind of knife? It looks like--wait, it's changing." The Gelfling peered closer, his nose nearly touching the murky water. "Machines. Gears and levers and wheels, and it's all dirty. Greasy. There's someone caught in the gears! Someone's got to . . . got to get him out--" The Gelfling lad covered his face and turned white as bone beneath his fur, an anti-blush. "He--he didn't make it out," he whimpered. "It's changing again. It's . . . Aughra, I saw that poor whatever-he-was . . . he didn't make it out . . ."

  "What do you see?" Aughra snapped. "Keep telling me what you see."

  "A crystal--"

  "Crystal?" Aughra exclaimed. "What's a tribal nitwit like you know about crystals? Hmp! Describe it."

  "Taller than I am. Purple. It's . . . damaged. Somebody's there . . . hitting it with something, but it isn't changing. It's useless, it's not breaking, they're not--they're angry. Angry at it. Aughra, they're so angry! They're--"

  A whump of anger blasted out of the font, sending black water spattering everywhere. Silver shapes splashed down the walls and fizzed away to bubbles. A lingering anger filled the room, and Aughra and the four Gelfl
ings shivered. From somewhere above, a red snowfall of sugary hair drifted down.

  "My pungulates!" Aughra exclaimed, scowling at the boy. "Well, now you've done it. Now you've really done it." She grabbed him by the ear and twisted, led him back downstairs to his mother. "Sees the future? I should say! Sees a little TOO well, yes indeed. Well, there's only one thing to do with this unruly pair."

  "Yes?" answered the two parents together with prudish iron in their expressions.

  "I'll take them both. That'll be two yenti coins each for the service, please."

  * * *

  "Well, burn me bootstraps and boil me buttons."

  Gobber and Lemny peered down through the slobbering rain at the dent in the soft ground. The Crabbit leaned out over the floor of the twig cage and folded his antennae flat against his black forehead. Rainwater had filled the crater and was spitting back up with a low hiss as more drops landed in the sunken puddle.

  The Podling pulled his coats tighter around his shoulders. He ran a stubby finger around the inside of his glove fingers, stretching them, and cracked each knuckle on his good hand. Bending, he stuck his arm into the foul water and pulled something out of the base of the crater.

  "Looky there, then." Gobber smacked his wide lips and stepped back under the tattered awning. "That's a fing, it is. Right enough. Deffitly a fing."

  "Don't keep it to yourself, what've you got?" Lemny said, twisting against the twigs. Gobber held the thing up to a hanging hurricane lamp. In the flickering light of the old oil candle inside, they both got a good look at it.

  "Wossit?" asked Gobber.

  "You were right, you were," said Lemny. "It's a thing."

  The thing had a thin handle that looked like it was designed for a large-fingered hand, with two odd prongs halfway down. The handle was hard as bone, and seeing how yellowy-white it shone when Gobber wiped the crater-mud off on his coat, that's probably what it was made of. The other end was sharpened, but wasn't a knife exactly. That end was all metal--nasty brassy lustery metal. Wasn't gold, though. Lemny could spot gold anywhere. There was a scoop to the metal end, an asymmetrical scoop, like a split bean pod.

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