From the moment they entered this world, YiYa knew that Thra was special.
Even though they had come through the Crystal of their homeworld as exiles—transported here to deal with the imbalances within themselves as this world came to its next Conjunction—it was no coincidence that they had been brought here. YiYa firmly believed that there was a reason they had been sent to Thra: so much so that now, when the prospect of finally returning to their homeworld came, it leaves him feeling … unfulfilled somehow.
The two Gelfling and the Podling representative, along with the Landstriders that brought them here to watch this moment in the Crystal Chamber fascinate him. In fact, every life-form on Thra—from Aughra and her son, to the Gelfling civilizations, even to the nebrie—all fascinate him. He never dreamed of this. Never in what was a million of this world’s trine did he ever conceive of such a variety of life even existing in the multitude of possibilities that the Universe had to offer.
Even now, holding the stave that Aughra made for all of them, YiYa remembers SoSu abjuring the urSkek Collective’s decision to banish him along with the others. He told them that he had committed no crime: he did not know what he was doing and that he had no place with them. But YiYa interrupted them. He had been so curious. He always wanted to know not so much how, but why. He was the youngest of the eighteen. Only the most discerning of Thra could see that he was a little smaller and brighter than his other brethren. And always wandering. He could never stay still unless the occasion demanded for it.
That time on their homeworld he had been reverberating with eagerness, just as he was with reluctance at this time now in the Chamber. The Collective had said that the mere act of wanting to explore was enough to place him out of consensus and into the dangerous sense of individuality that the other seventeen found themselves in. YiYa had felt such fear and joy that time when he was allowed to join his brethren—his adventurous brethren—to see another world after developing such complexities within himself: to not be uniform again. He also recalled SoSu’s sad eyes as he told him that this would be a great burden, these barely controlled passions that they had: that it would be sad that he would have to learn of his role in another world. Still, SoSu vowed that he and the others would watch over him and that they would return here together when they did what needed to be done.
YiYa grew up, in a fashion, on Thra. He watched TekTih interact and examine the organic and the inorganic parts of this world. He heeded SoSu’s counsels and maintained meditations with UngIm. But sometimes he would follow SaSan into his voyages under the various oceans or be made to assist LachSen in helping the Gelfling keep a census of their populations. His favourite times, however, ones that he looked back at mournfully as the three suns of Thra were coming together, were the journeys with the wandering GraGoh and MalVa. MalVa had always seemed the most solemn among the exiles. YiYa, in the beginnings of millennium they spent together, always asked him what it had been like to hunt and to pursue an enemy in battle such as in the first times before the Collective. It always struck YiYa, that look on MalVa’s face, as he told him with some weariness that it was a feeling that he should be thankful to never understand.
The taking of a life was hard—this was something MalVa had always tried to instill into him—and should only be done when all other possibilities were exhausted. Almost a thousand trine on Thra and YiYa had seen life take life, and observed the checks and the balances of such. Sometimes it seemed so arbitrary and cruel, but over time there was a pattern. There was always a pattern.
Far away from Gelfling ears, he’d told the others his theories. He asked them how they could come to a world built on the very principles they said they held dear: of realities of three angles encircling the perfect unity of a sphere and not be moved by its lessons. Had they not seen the skeletal structures of the Gelfling and the Landstriders as tripartite? Couldn’t they sense Aughra—as the avatar of this world’s elemental energies—with her three eyes as embodying their ideal?
So why, he asked them, why was it so hard to believe that this place that had such an intermingling of Light and Dark—in the multifaceted nature of the Crystal with its crossing lines and angles no less—had nothing to teach them about their own darkness? Couldn’t they find a way to coexist with it as the lifeforms of this world had? Was it really wise to try to suppress or purge those inclinations but instead, somehow, integrate them and learn more from it?
But the others said that YiYa, though young and bright, had much to learn and the evolution of life on Thra had even more so. But then YiYa had brought up the Gelfling and the Pod People and asked them, after spending so much time among them—for as much as they had been comfortable—and asked how such a peaceful people could evolve on a world of Light and Dark if Light and Dark contrasted as much as the urSkeks said. ZokZah warned him to be mindful of his thoughts—to be careful of straying beyond the heresy they’d all already fallen deep into—and the others remained silent. YiYa would have spoken more about this had not SoSu adjourned their meeting.
YiYa didn’t understand. Perhaps this was what Raunip—Aughra’s child—felt whenever he told her that she didn’t see everything when she looked at them. The urSkeks could hear their conversations well enough, but chose to say nothing. But YiYa, who always tried to befriend Aughra’s hostile hybrid son, now wonders if there was something to those claims that even he could not fully see.
YiYa levitates in the circle of his brethren around the Crystal as it hovers over the Lake of Fire: as it began to glow. As it begins to happen. He fights against the inclination to look at the two Gelfling. The Sifa Gyr with his tear-drop scar and the pale highborn Vapra Kel stand there and watched their leave-taking from this wonderful, fascinating place. Their hands inch together and YiYa remembers …
After that fateful meeting where he spoke out, SoSu wished to talk with him. As the other urSkeks went out to fulfill their tasks and duties, the two urSkeks had hovered across the green land around the Focal Point—or “the Castle” as the Gelfling called it—and observed the stars in the sky. YiYa recalled seeing the faint rays of the Rose Sun and the twilight of its Dying Brother as the Greater Sun had rotated away for the night. They weren’t as close this time: the Greater Sun always dominating, always there, but only barely touching the Rose—a tousle between brothers, the Gelfling told him—and the Dying Sun was still, far, far away. But because of what he and SoSu were, they could see the spheres of energy and their concentric circles of power and influence gradually, ever so gradually, rippling into each other until—inevitably—all three would cross again just as they had that fateful day almost a thousand trine ago.
SoSu asked YiYa then what he had seen. Even though his role was undefined as of yet and they all remained individuals, YiYa was still part of the collective consciousness that all eighteen made up. To an extent, he access to all their thoughts and experiences—their feelings—but as time went on, even with their strides towards calming the turbulence inside of them, YiYa did not see everything. But they did not see what he saw either. What many did not know, outside of the eighteen, was that YiYa sometimes had flashes of insight along the multifaceted angles of the Universe: the circle of himself still young and growing into lines that had not completely formed yet.
These flashes of actual prescience, like solar flares in his very being, motivated YiYa into finding out more: more about Thra and why of all places they came here. YiYa told SoSu then about the Gelfling—and to some extent the Podlings but the Gelfling in particular—and how they were growing. How they would face that time. As they themselves had long ago.
It didn’t surprise YiYa when SoSu told him that he had also seen this and more. The elder urSkek believed that they had been sent to Thra not just to purify themselves and reincorporate into the Collective, but to help another developing species manage their burgeoning abilities. The ability to dreamfast—to make a rudimentary Collective—was indicative of this crucial and potentially dangerous development should an imbalance between individuals occur. It would only be with the Crystal properly and naturally honed that the Gelfling could reach their potential. SoSu told YiYa what the urSkeks had always known: that each world was a gradation of reality and that, as far as their perceptions reached, the Crystal of Thra was the strongest and most clear version of all the world-Crystals that had ever existed: the archetype of what it was to be the Crystal: an ur-Crystal, for lack of a better word.
It was no accident they were summoned here for, as YiYa was told that night by SoSu, just as this Crystal would help repair them; they would also help the Gelfling find their way. Nothing comes from nothing, YiYa recalls now, and everything has an equivalent exchange of influence and interaction. Everything is connected. SoSu’s belief was that they would show the Gelfling and others that understood that Darkness had to be overcome or controlled for Light to prevail and be refracted through the natural angles of their being: that through this act of hard-work, discipline and humility that they would also purify themselves and ascend back to a proper balance.
But now, as YiYa floats in his place—no longer the erratic young urSkek he’d been and knowing what was at stake—he wonders if SoSu’s thoughts were merely one interpretation of their role. His brethren were proud of him however. As preparations for their guests and the ritual had occurred, and they bemusedly watched AyukAmaj indulge in his speciality and prepare his material sustenance for their guests, SoSu had told him that he had almost reached his own role. Even HakHom, the primary architect of the Focal Point and a contributor of Gelfling artistry, told him that YiYa had been building on sound foundations and that soon, back in their world, he would add another newer pattern to the complex of the urSkek Collective.
Yet YiYa kept his secret: too young to access the confidence of his elders and their specific experiences. He still saw the Light and Dark struggling. He wonders if, deep down, it would ever stop. If it ever should stop … if it ever did…
And then it happens.
SilSol. He had been … discordant somehow after talking with the Gelfling: the being that YiYa had wanted to also talk with, but decided to leave alone in order to help his brethren with the ritual despite his nagging sense of curiosity. But now it is worse. Somehow, they still hold up their star-staves: despite something … something coming. The suns are coming together. The power flowing through them now is tremendous and for the second time in his existence YiYa feels transcendent and alive and all the mysteries of the infinity open up and despite everything drilled into him, he wants to explore them all …
But SilSol, who had been so red, darkens. Raunip, that unique hybrid, antagonizes him. SilSol had never liked Raunip. In fact, despite his interest for all life on Thra, YiYa never had opportunity to even talk with Aughra that much: that honour being mostly reserved for TekTih with whom she had been closer. YiYa himself had apparently been “too annoying” and she had wanted to be the one to “ask the questions,” not him. But SilSol had been sulking for a while: lost in his sad music where he thought none of the others could find him save SaSan that always fetched him from his favourite voyages in the water. This world had changed them all, but SilSol not for the better.
YiYa can see the darkness inside SilSol squirming against something luminous. It is like there was a war raging inside of him. And that was when YiYa sees it.
That is when he finally sees it.
The others also have that Darkness. It isn’t a name or an urge anymore. It is right there—incarnate and inside of them—raging and raging to get out. And something else, something gentle and light quivers around it: like the rippling gelatinous insides of the organic beings of this world. YiYa feels it too. The surge to set out and keep going, that fascination at all costs rages—rages—against the love he had for his brethren, for the Gelfling, for the Podlings he celebrated with, for Aughra and Thra’s balance and his need to help … It is too much. That one discordant note that Sil … Sol … Sil…. Sol…
It is agony. Two halves in three-angles. How can there just be two … the darkness … dark … rk … radiance … rad … r … Words and concepts from another time, before urSkek … the Collective … Sol…. soul … the ur came first … that ascended death … and Skek … the body, the hungry, scared, creeping, living body that died … died … died …
The Crystal explodes into such Light: making them see, see, See … Then nothing … nothing … noth…
…Yi … ragged plumage, purple scales. A gnashing beak. He looks at his claws and feels a cackle deep in his throat. And … Ya … soft yellow skin with swirls on its flesh. He feels sleepy and ponderous. Yi hears the growls and trills of his brothers … they look and revel in themselves. They are free. They are all free. No voices in them. Just them.
Ya … looks around at his … befuddled brethren. Yes, they are his brothers. He blinks. It feels as though something, someone had been a dream and he has just woken up. He feels lighter. He remembers someone’s … others’ terms for the light part of a soul.
Ur … The first to awaken.
He looks at his closer brother at … at Hom … at urHom and urHom looks back: his long spindly fingers playing as though looking for a toy he lost before … sleep. And he is urYa … urYa knows he has been sleeping for a long time. But now he is awake.
UrYa looks across the Chamber at the others … and feels a part of himself still unaware. Still gloating and planning. He doesn’t understand … until he sees the others in the room. The … Gelfling and the Podling. Yes. They came by Landstrider. Noble beings: they know the balance of Nature intrinsically: implicitly. And Aughra and her wayward son…
SkekYi … yes, that is his name. And he knows many other names too. He has the power of them. More than even his brethren. Yessss … Looking at his claws and knowing how tall he is, newborn as he is, he knows how to Soulspeak, how to control the dreamfasting … the little fools trusted him once … and the connections to the Earth through the avatar and her deformed mutant offspring. They thought him a nuisance … he would destroy them. He would explore all parts of them until he grew bored. And then, then he would turn their secrets against them and show them how truly meaningless they all were … make the animals eat each other as he laughed … and laughed…
UrYa blinks, a newborn come from recent sleep, and sees Skek … Yi destroying all life on Thra … deforming the dreams of the Gelfling, poisoning all life with his twisted parody of Soulspeech, etching profanities in all sleeping minds … it is awful. And he wants to stop it, to stop him but he can’t … he can’t … he….
One of the other Skeksis turns to urYa. SkekHak … they regard each other. Hatred blooms in the reptilian being’s eyes and he lunges forward. It seems so slow, but in reality it is beyond time.
And then … urYa remembers.
Suddenly, it is fast. This concept of fast and slow is alien to them, and it comes to their minds so fleetingly compared to the totality of what others could perceive not long ago, oh so long ago … This … it happens so fast: as fast as the speed at which his former self … their former selves used to think and affect the reality around them.
UrYa knows that they were all one not too long ago. And this was the price of trying to control and separate their Darkness. SkekHak’s talons close around his throat. He looks into the hateful gaze of the being that his brother fought against forever. And he sees a horror. UrYa sees SkekHak the Machinist: a Skeksis creating a multitude of weapons, siege weapons, motley war engines and mechanistic terrors. He would dig up the bowels of Thra and pollute it with its own excavated waste. The Gelfling, not knowing their own Darkness enough yet to embrace combat for self-defence and innovation, would fall … fall to the Skeksis with SkekHak’s machines…
The claws tighten around urYa’s pulsating throat. His new-found vision is darkening again, from dream into death … All of them. All of the Skeksis will bring ruin … they were the threat. They were the threat, the potential of what the Gelfling could become. That was why … why Thra, the Crystal wanted them … To teach them, to warn them … but it didn’t have to be … be like … like…
UrYa sees his own brothers. He sees a Valley like the parts of their old world before they … the ur…Skeks had fully evolved. And urHom beside him … the builder, the Carpenter … making refined structures of beauty and repairing what the Gelfling lost for every city lost…
But is it enough? Does it make up for so much?
And with his dimming eyes, urYa understands again. They don’t know. No one here knows. But he has to show them.
Everything is connected.
Despite the passivity infusing his very being, his sweat-soaked brown hair against his smooth yellow skin, urYa knows that he can fight back. He more than knows how to defend himself. A remnant of his corona glimmers next to urHom. And he thinks he hears … something from urHom: a faint dulcet hum. And he knows that his brother understands him. UrYa saw it. He knows that SkekHak will kill him today: just as he knows that the Machinist would destroy and eventually one day build more destruction. But not now. He is too young and immature. Too lustful for killing. He would move on to as many … urRu as he could … like urHom.
Far away, he can see skekYi choking. SkekYi who doesn’t have a role yet … an infant monster … everything urYa is not. He can see him though, see what he became see him as…
SkekYi the Nihilist. SkekYi would obliterate all meaning … but he is choking, he is suffocating and he doesn’t know why. The others, his filthy brothers stand there and watch him. Wretched traitors, wretched things, he wish he could destroy them too, deform them further, and make them pay, always underestimating him…
UrYa does not underestimate the monster he used to live with. He doesn’t dare. He can only hope that the other Skeksis will be too stupid and their depravity will end. But he sees them, older, later, in finery and committing horrors and that SkekHak’s next murder leading to his flaming ruin will show them what they are in a purely crude way, will show them for what they are….
Instead, urYa closes his eyes. The darkness is soothing. He is falling asleep again, even as the nightmare across from him suffocates in its cradle. He wills his brothers to see … and he feels them understand. And the Gelfling and Podling … Because of this, they will not have to face the Machinist or Nihilist. He can do that much. Perhaps this moment will teach them as well … will pass into a legend or a small myth to warn future generations to come one day when that Great, awful awful Shattering that happened, that will happen, that is happening can be repaired and made whole …
The elders had been destroying themselves in this exile, but this would stop it. This would show them … the two Gelfling almost holding hands, male and female, Darkness and Light, there is always a third way … they always lived the third way …
They thought that the Gelfling had to learn from them, but they had just as much to learn from the Gelfling in their crucible of Light intermixed with Dark, with life … in their new home…
Everything is connected, urYa remembers, letting himself relax, letting himself die, willing his brothers—everyone—to see before, finally, he sleeps forever: his nightmare dying with him, and his dream living on.
The urRu gather together in the sands of the Valley. They had prevented the quake of the Crystal’s cracking from destroying the Gelfling, Podling, and their mounts. They are humming: their deep voices resonating and complementing each other’s.
One the tallest among them, urSu, closes his eyes. He remembers watching urYa stand and let SkekHak drain the life from him with his bare hands. He saw some of what the other did and knew what it meant … what it all meant.
And as the youngest had grown slack in the Skeksis’ hands, they all saw.
His lower arms scoop up the sand in front of him. There were no remains to bury: urHom incinerated silently into flame and urYa vanished with his demise. There is nothing left of them except for the wind in their lungs and their dreams. He takes the coloured sand and gently blows it into the air: wishing for the passing of urHom—urHom the Carpenter—into the next life.
Then his lower arms scoop more sand. urSu opens his eyes and looks down at the many, many colours. UrYa would have appreciated the different varieties. The different perspectives. He had died so young and before his promise. And yet: he had shown him so much. UrSu speaks again in the flowing language of their kind. He wanted to call urYa the Philosopher, but as he speaks, he says something else.
“Here passes urYa, youngest of our brethren,” urSu says, a tear rolling down his cheek, “urYa … the Dreamer.”
The Master takes the sand to his upper hands and blows it gently into the sky: returning to Thra and to everything.