Chapter 3: Into a Nightmare World.
Slayd had the feeling that he was falling very far and very fast, but it was so dark he couldn’t even see his reflection falling next to him, still tightly gripping his hand. Slayd felt like butterflies in his stomach were going to burst out of him at any moment. A sudden flash of light, like lightning, lit up but for a moment, and Slayd caught a glimpse of a leering, eyeless face filled with menacing teeth hovering just inches from his nose, and a heavy clawed hand gripped his where he thought his reflection had been a moment ago.
And then just as suddenly as it began the fall stopped, and he felt his feet lightly touch a floor, as if he had simply just floated down light as a feather.
He twisted around and tugged frantically, trying to get away from this creature that seemed to suddenly have a hold of him, but to his surprise he could see in a dim grey light that his reflection stood before him again, same as before, head curiously cocked and an eyebrow raised. He let Slayd’s hand go, and he unceremoniously fell backwards with a “thump”.
“See something… frightening?”
Slayd righted himself as quickly as he could and dusted his pant legs off, trying to look nonchalant. “Well, I thought I saw something, but – but I think it was my imagination. Where are we?”
He peered into the steely grey dimness all around them, but could only make out a thin, hazy mist creeping slowly along a flat and featureless ground.
His reflection said nothing, only looking off and away to their left. He nodded once, apparently to himself (Slayd could only assume they were alone), and turning back to Slayd, offered a hand.
“You… can call me Guile.”
Slayd took his hand warily, and made an awkward bow. “Um… Pleased to meet you, Guile. Do – do you know where we are?”
“Certainly not wherever you think we are.”
Slayd stared blankly at his reflection. “Well, I really can’t say where I think we might possibly be. I’ve never been here before.”
“Says the one who can’t even remember his own name.” Guile turned sharply from Slayd, and marched off into the dim fog. Slayd hurried after him, not knowing what else to do.
“Wait! You can’t leave!” He called, “I don’t know where-“
He stopped short when his reflection turned quickly around and clapped a hand over his mouth. “Hush! There are many eyes watching and many, many ears listening to us now,” He whispered fiercely, “and none of them are friendly. You have fallen into the Veil now, Slayd, if you’re even deserving of the name anymore. There is no one but me to get you out of your mess now, so you would do well to shut up and keep close. I do not relish the thought of all of my hard work in finding you being for naught.”
He turned again and continued his quick march across the featureless darkness. Slayd could do nothing but obediently follow behind.
The eerie silence around them was nearly tangible. There was no wind, and not even their footsteps seemed to make a sound on the dusty ground. But the fog seemed to grow heavier the further they went. Instead of clinging to the ground, it had risen close and thick all around them, its dark grey haze seeming to emit what little light Slayd could see by (not that there seemed to be very much to see).
Guile stopped so abruptly ahead that Slayd nearly ran right into him. He shot a hand out and gripped Slayd’s shoulder hard, making him flinch.
“We are nearing the edge of the Veil, now,” he hissed so close to Slayd’s ear he could feel his icy breath, “and we are pursued by many feet. Can you not hear their rage?” Slayd stared dumbly at his reflection, straining to hear anything at all. He shook his head.
Guile shot him an irritated look and tugged him along again, faster than before. “We need to move, and quickly. I have not the time to explain, but your eyes are dead and you are not seeing clearly. Once we leave the Veil your distorted vision should clear a little, but we will need to do something about your eyes. That will come in time. Suffice it to say that in a moment you will see things that may… startle you.”
Before Slayd could ask what he meant, Guile grabbed him around his waist and picked him up, breaking out into a run.
And then he heard what Guile had been listening for, a shrill, piercing sound that could only be described as the sound of a thousand dying birds, building and growing louder and deeper until it swelled into a deafening roar. It seemed to surround them on all sides, rushing perilously close but with nothing to be seen.
Slayd would have squeezed his eyes shut in fear if he had had them, so he made do with burying his face in Guile’s shoulder. He didn’t want to see whatever hideous monster was bearing down on them, certain they were going to be devoured at any moment.
Instead, Slayd’s heart seemed to jump down into his feet as Guile lurched upward. They were suddenly rocketing skywards, the wind whipping at them screaming with the same intensity as the faceless and frustrated roar below them. He stared. Guile had wings.
“Are… are you my guardian angel?” Slayd whispered, trying to ignore the fading rage of noise below. But Guile either didn’t hear his question or didn’t care to answer.
”Brace yourself, Slayd. Here come the trees.”
A sharp, stinging pain whipped Slayd across the back of his head, and he cowered down against Guile. Tree branches seemed to have come out of nowhere, and they were flying straight through them in a headlong rush as the branches caught and tore from all directions.
But his grip on Guile wasn’t as strong as he thought it was, and he felt himself slipping from his grasp.
“Guile, help! I’m fall-”
A tree limb caught him hard against the ribs, and he found himself tumbling down.
Slayd came to feeling very scratched and sore, but still very much alive and intact. He sat up and rubbed his chest where the branch had hit him. “I wonder what happened to Guile? And – where am I now?”
The darkness hadn’t grown much better, but the fog had cleared, and he found himself seated on what looked like a twisted mass of roots, belonging to huge, gnarled trees that seemed to bend down their contorted limbs in a slow-moving salutation. There were big black beetles of a kind Slayd didn’t recognize crawling over the roots, but they didn’t notice or didn’t seem to care about the presence of a little lost boy with no eyes.
Slayd shakily got to his feet, relieved that he heard no piercing screams or angry roaring. Up ahead, Slayd saw a glimpse of a grey figure with big feathery wings standing in the trees, and he breathed a sigh of relief. “At least he didn’t leave me alone.”
He approached quickly, and saw Guile with his back to him, staring intensely into the dark pathless forest ahead of them. Slayd cleared his throat to get his attention, but Guile made no move to face him, so Slayd tried to peer ahead into the darkness too, to see if he could make out what Guile was so absorbed in. “What’s over there?”
Slayd looked perplexed. “…Who?”
A low snarl from Guile’s chest gave Slayd the uncomfortable feeling that Guile might not really have as much of an affinity for Slayd than he assumed his own reflection should have.
He slowly edged his way in the direction that Guile had pointed out, even though he didn’t really want to. The roots didn’t make for very solid footing, and Slayd slipped many times on them before he figured out that the roots were in fact moving - very slowly most of the time - but they were still moving. Slayd wondered what they were, but that didn’t really matter much at the moment. He was more worried about what lay in the shadows just ahead of him. He crept forward at a painfully slow pace, straining his vision in a vain attempt to see what – or who, or something else – lay ahead of them. Guile crept along behind him, always but a hair’s breadth away. It made prickles on the back of Slayd’s neck, and he tried to focus instead on the darkness ahead.
He jumped when he felt something brush his shoulder, but it was Guile’s hand. He leaned in close behind Slayd, giving him the shivers and making him generally uncomfortable. “Now do not move, or you will find yourself falling a very long way down.” Of course, Slayd had nearly frozen when Guile had touched him, so he really had no intention of moving forward anymore. Guile’s hands felt like ice.
“What you will see in this world,” Guile whispered, “are the things from which your dreams and nightmares have been born. It is not a ‘what’ or a ‘who’ that is ahead of you, but rather a path, a direction, a fate. Perhaps it is yours to choose; perhaps not.” He breathed softly in Slayd’s ear, and it made him cringe. “You do not come from where you think you come from, Slayd. You are a foreigner in your own slumber, and it is only here that you will find the unpleasant answers to your witless questions. Heed your footing, and look ahead.”
Slayd stared ahead into the darkness, looking around, but mostly down, because Guile had said that there was a long fall, which meant that there was probably a cliff or drop-off or something of that sort right in front of him. But as he stared around, he couldn’t really see anything accept the inky blackness, and the moving roots under his feet.
“Guile… I don’t see anything.”
“Perhaps you are not looking hard enough.”
“I don’t understand.”
Guile nodded, as if he had expected Slayd to say that. “You know, poor little Slayd, while you are here you will not understand hardly anything that you will see. You are still thinking that you are in the same world that you were in before, or perhaps a dream. But you are not dreaming, Slayd. This isn’t the same as the place you think you are from, or the things you think you remember. No, no. This is a very different world. Look again.”
Slayd strained his vision, trying to see anything in the black void that lurked in front of him. “I don’t think I like it here, Guile. I want to go back to the old farmhouse.”
Slayd frowned, and turned to look at Guile. “The one we were in before! The place with the mirror that you –“ But he never got to finish his sentence - or rather, he suddenly decided that finishing his sentence was probably a very Bad Idea.
Guile was grinning at him with teeth sprouting from a wide, leering mouth. His new teeth were very long and sharp, and they would probably have been very shiny if there had been more light. Hideous deep gashes ran across his bald head, deep enough they looked like they cut through his skull and exposed the soft tissue beneath. Guile was looking at Slayd the same way a wolf would look at a lamb.
Slayd stumbled backwards, forgetting that he was stumbling back into that black void. Guile’s hand shot out to grab him, and Slayd noticed that he had very long, sharp claws on his hands now too, that matched his very long, sharp teeth. Guile pulled him back, turning him around to face the blackness once again.
“You forget where you stand,” he hissed into Slayd’s ear. “Do not fall. I don’t want to go through the trouble to catch you.”
Slayd nodded mutely. He was very frightened now, and he started to tremble. He could feel Guile’s icy breath down his neck, and his long, sharp claws gripping his arms. He swallowed hard, and managed to turn his head a little so he could see Guile a little out of the corner of his vision.
“Now what?” He barely managed to whisper.
Guile’s grin only grew larger and more frightening. “We go down.”
Slayd stiffened with fear at the tone in Guile’s voice, and he tried to back away from the edge. “But - you said you didn’t want me to fall! I can’t fly like –”
But Guile clapped a hand over Slayd’s mouth. “Poor little Slayd. You shouldn’t worry so. Now shut up.” He wrapped his arms around Slayd in the most uncomforting hug that Slayd had ever received. “I won’t push you, if that’s what you’re afraid I will do. No no, I will carry you.”
And then he jumped over the edge, taking Slayd with him. They plunged straight down, and if Slayd hadn’t seemed to have lost his voice just then, he would have screamed, although it probably wouldn’t have done him any good. He hoped very hard that Guile would use his big wings to fly with them again, and indeed he did. The windless air caught in his feathers, and they soared.
And now Slayd could see. A vast and inky sky spread out above them, patched in clouds and dotted with distant stars Slayd had never known. He looked down (nervously at first), and saw what he thought were reflections of the starlight. But these tiny lights moved, drifting above the ground and forming broken, spiraling lines that floated slowly along. They seemed to be following each other.
As Guile flew down closer to the ground, the tiny lights began to grow larger. Slayd began to notice more of them too, until all around him there seemed to be a dim glow (which would have been greenish yellow if he could see in colors). Slayd wondered what these lights were, and who had lit them, and why Guile was going towards them in the first place.
In the dim glow of the lights, he could see the tangle of moving roots below them, except this time they weren’t so thick upon the ground. Though there were no massive trees here, sometimes the roots sent up dark shoots into the air, with skeletal leaves waving in a breeze that wasn’t really there. Still, dark pools of water were scattered among the roots, reflecting the light of the glowing orbs.
As they descended Slayd tried to focus on the lights, but they seemed to dance slowly away from his gaze, as if they were very shy and didn’t really want to be seen by anybody else. But from what he could spot of them, they looked to be simply orbs of soft light, floating a few feet above the water as if they liked seeing their own reflection in the quiet pools.
“Glimmourings,” Guile said.
Slayd tried to twist around to look at Guile, but from his position it was difficult. “What?”
“Glimmourings,” he repeated. “You were wondering of the lights. That’s what they are called. They do not leave the water.”
Guile and Slayd landed on a particularly thick patch of tangled roots, which jerked under them at the sudden addition of unwelcome weight, making Slayd fall to his knees. He quickly turned to face Guile, who regarded him with a look of almost indifference and then looked away, quite far off, towards where many of the light orbs – Glimmourings - seemed to have gathered.
Slayd stared at Guile, who didn’t look anything at all like his reflection now. He was much taller and broader, and his white, feathered wings would have reminded Slayd of an angel, had they been on anybody else but Guile.
He is most definitely not an angel, thought Slayd, or at least, not the kind of angel that I would think an angel should be. But I have never met an angel, not that I know of at least, so I could be wrong.
He carefully got back on his feet and cautiously crept up to stand by Guile. He peered in the same direction that Guile was looking so intently towards. Guile seemed not to notice Slayd, and the two stood in tense silence (or at least it was tense from Slayd’s point of view) for quite a while.
But Guile did not show any sign of moving, and Slayd could stand it no more. He carefully, very carefully, touched Guile’s shoulder with his fingertips.
Guile glanced over at Slayd before returning his stare to the dark horizon. “I cannot fly us any farther, for there is a heavy enchantment over the lake that lies ahead, and I could no sooner fly over it than return you to your misbegotten dreams.”
Slayd stared at Guile dumbly. “You can’t return me? You mean that I can’t go back home?”
Guile didn’t answer. He just smirked at him, and Slayd got the impression that if Guile had eyes he would have just rolled them at him.
Guile crouched down at the edge of the tangled roots they were standing on, and peered up at the black sky above them. Slayd followed his example and sat down next to him. He stared at the water, wondering why it seemed so still, and yet at the same time looked as if it were swirling around right under the surface. He frowned, looking back up at Guile. “If you can’t take me home, then where are you leading me?”
Guile snickered and turned his eyeless gaze towards Slayd, regarding him with a look that made him feel very uncomfortable.
“Perhaps I lead you to no-where. Perhaps to death, or to a way for you to escape.” He nodded. “Because that is what you really want to do, is it not? You want to escape from here.”
Slayd nodded, looking away from Guile. “I… I already said I didn’t like it here. I don’t even know why I’m here in the first place.”
”Where do you think you should be?”
Slayd paused. He really didn’t know. “I… I think I might suppose to be dead. Maybe I should have stayed in that coffin.”
Guile laughed quietly. “What coffin? You are not supposed to be dead any more than you are supposed to be living, little Slayd. Perhaps you are both. Or perhaps you are neither.”
“I don’t understand.”
“That seems to be the case with everything.”
Slayd fell into silence then. He was a little angry at Guile for bringing him here, and not answering his questions, and for being so frightening. But Guile seemed to be able to read his mind, because he said something that surprised Slayd very much.
“Poor little Slayd. There is no reason for you to be angry with me. Quite the contrary, actually. You do not realize all that I’ve had to do simply to find you, much less to bring you back.” He turned his gaze back to the horizon. “Do you want to know why I brought you here? Then you’ll have to follow me, and trust me. Which will probably be very hard for you to do, but you must do it. Unless you think you could get along around here without me. If that’s the case you are more than welcome to try and find your way around by yourself. As for answering your questions, I have already told you that you do not ask the right ones. You need to ask the right questions for me to have answers to give you. And as for being frightening, perhaps I cannot help that, much like you cannot help looking as you do now. Even you realize that you have changed, though you cannot seem to remember much of anything.”
Slayd squirmed a little. He hadn’t meant to offend Guile. “I’m sorry… I just – I don’t know what to make of all of this. It’s so confusing and I feel so lost and alone, and I just wish I knew even just one thing for sure.”
Guile tilted his head, smiling his toothy grin. “But… you are not alone, Slayd.”
This didn’t comfort Slayd, not in the slightest bit. But he sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry…”
Guile reached over and touched Slayd’s shoulder. Maybe it was a trick of the dim, flickering light, but it almost seemed like Guile’s sneer had softened a little. “You are not the sort of person to dwell on Bad Things, Slayd. Everything comes to an end eventually, even all the Bad Things that you think have happened to you since you first woke up.”
Slayd smiled a little, nervously. “I guess so.”
Guile’s smile abruptly vanished and he looked away in the opposite direction of the far-off dancing lights. “Ah, he comes. The Ferryman will guide us. Follow me.” And without another word Guile stood up and made his way along the moving roots, almost disappearing in the darkness. Slayd jumped up and hurried after him. He certainly didn’t want to be left behind.
Now while he and Guile had been flying, Slayd hadn’t seen anyone below them, much less a ferry where a ferryman could be. But it was still dark and the only lighted places were the places with the mysterious glowing orbs; those were far away by now. Perhaps this Ferryman was with his boat in the dark, somewhere. Of course, every ferry that Slayd could remember had lights on it, and he couldn’t see any reason for this one to be any different, particularly since it was so dark all around them. But he didn’t know the first thing about boats or how to use them, so he tried not to wonder any more about it.
The light from the glowing orbs had all but faded by now. Slayd could barely see anything ahead of them except a vague glint from the water, which wasn’t just in pools anymore, but seemed to have grown into a vast lake. The starlight that managed to filter through the heavy clouds was reflected still and quiet by the water, with not a wave or ripple to be seen.
Guile extended a hand to the darkness ahead. “There. Our escort.”
Slayd frowned. “I don’t see anything.”
“As per usual, Slayd. You don’t see much, do you?”
Slayd made a little scowl, but quickly wiped the expression off his face. He didn’t want to get into any arguments with Guile. Those claws and teeth still unnerved him.
Guile took Slayd by the hand, and slowly waded into the black water. Slayd tensed up almost right away, because it felt like there were many slimy things rubbing up against his legs. He didn’t like this water one bit. But he was soon pulled out of it, as Guile suddenly lifted him by the waist and dropped him into a big grey boat that Slayd could have sworn wasn’t there just a moment ago. Guile jumped in himself a moment later and gestured at the long, pointed prow of the boat.
“Ferryman, if you will. Amoth Shyr beckons.”
As if Guile’s words brought it to life, the prow suddenly moved; it wasn’t really part of the boat at all, but a very tall, thin man wearing a cloak that covered his face and looked remarkably like the texture of the wood that the boat was made out of. He held a very long, crooked pole in his hands, and he pushed off from the shoreline with it. He didn’t say a word, but stared at them in silence as he guided the boat in the direction that was South - but Slayd didn’t know that yet.
Slayd felt that if he had said anything, he might have offended this Ferryman - or at least drawn unwanted attention towards himself - so he kept silent. He stared out over the water, wondering who or what this Amoth Shyr might be and why he had to go there.