Chapter 4: Beneath the Water.
The still, quiet gloom of the lake wore on hour after hour with little to break the monotony of the dark water against the dark horizon, aside from the Glimmourings. The faint points of light floated over the water off in the distance but they didn’t seem to like the boat much, for there wasn’t a hint of the glowing orbs anywhere near them. The only light that Slayd could see by was the dim glow that seemed to come from nowhere in particular but was everywhere around them none the less. A mist had slowly grown around the ferry, which reflected the same greenish glow as the Glimmourings. Slayd didn’t know that though, because he couldn’t see anything in color.
Slayd didn’t like it here at all, and wished that he was back at the farmhouse or even back at the graveyard. At least those were familiar-looking places, and not quite so strange and alien as this big, dark lake.
Ever since Guile had pulled him through that mirror, everything seemed so very different, so unknown, that it made Slayd very, very homesick.
Unfortunately, he thought to himself as he tried to shake the dreariness from his mind, I don’t have even the slightest idea about what I should be homesick for.
The boat slowly approached a very faint bobbing series of lights that Slayd guessed was another row of Glimmourings. These didn’t seem to mind the boat as much as some of the others, for they made no move to drift away as they approached.
As the boat glided through the water, Slayd focused his attention on this faint glow and watched as it crept nearer and nearer, until he could make out each individual orb of the bobbing lights. They were floating in a slowly moving line only a few feet above the water, and the ferry drew up alongside them, drifting by each orb one by one.
Slayd watched them as they passed, and frowned. There was something very odd about them. Now that they were so close he could see them more clearly, and they weren’t just orbs of softly glowing light. They had faces - or what appeared to be faces - in their glow. Sallow, sunken eyes that looked very sad, and a mouth slightly opened in what Slayd imagined was a silent moan. As he watched one Glimmouring its face seemed to focus on him, and he quickly looked away.
He decided to watch the water instead, but perhaps that wasn’t a very good idea. He found himself nodding off even though he didn’t feel like sleeping. He kept shaking his head to clear it, but the water seemed to make him feel very, very tired.
There seemed to be a mass of shadows moving just under the water while the surface remained still, almost as if there were many small fish or other creatures just below. Slayd peered over the side of the boat, staring intently at the water. In fact, he was certain that he had seen some sort of fish just a moment ago. As he watched, he saw two faint dots of light coming up from the depths of the water. He quickly realized that these dots of lights were eyes, and that they were watching him. They stopped just below the surface, and Slayd imagined that he could see a human face staring up at him.
He glanced over at Guile and the Ferryman, but their attention was on the horizon. He leaned further over the edge, trying to catch a better look at this odd sight, wondering if somebody had drowned.
Suddenly, he found himself in a green, flowery hillside with a bright yellow sun just setting over a distant hilltop, and pretty blue song birds singing in the trees. He was lying beneath one of these trees, looking over someone who looked very familiar, but Slayd didn’t remember his name. Whoever he was, he was sleeping, and Slayd found himself tempted to tickle his nose with a piece of grass. The thought made him smile, but instead he plucked a small pink flower from the grass and studied a ladybird beetle that was crawling on it. It looked at him indignantly, and flew away. Slayd tucked the flower behind his ear, and looked back at the sleeping boy. He heard himself speak then, but he didn’t remember intending to.
“Wake up, Casey,” he heard himself say. “Mother will be calling us in for dinner soon.”
The sleeping boy stretched and yawned, and then looked up at Slayd with a lazy smile.
“But it is such a nice evening. I do wish that she would let us stay out longer. I’d like to watch the stars tonight.”
Slayd heard himself chuckle at Casey. “But we must sleep tonight. We get to go into town tomorrow, you know. I don’t want to be sleepy in the morning.”
Casey nodded, and his eyes brightened. “I love going into town! Do you think Mother will let us go visit the Halloway girls? They fancy me, you know.” and he nodded proudly as he said it.
Slayd heard himself chuckle again, and he felt himself stand up, and offer Casey his hand. The two made their way down the hillside and towards what appeared to be a big, white farmhouse, which struck Slayd as terribly familiar. The hills seemed to flicker as they tromped down them, but Casey didn’t seem to notice, and Slayd thought it must have been the setting sun filtering through the trees.
They left their shoes on the cheery blue porch, and Slayd could smell warm blueberry pie and roasted chicken coming from the kitchen.
“Ooh, Mother made our favourite!” he heard himself say, and the other boy beamed.
Not only was there roast chicken, but there was also mashed potatoes with gravy and warm buttermilk biscuits. Mother smiled and nodded to the boys as they hustled to wash their hands at the kitchen sink.
“You boys have a busy day tomorrow, don’t you forget,” she said, shaking a finger at them in mock seriousness. “So as soon as dinner is done, you’re both going straight to bed. No arguments now!”
Neither of the boys gave her any arguments though, and they just smiled and nodded, feasting their eyes on what their mouths would soon be feasting on soon enough.
Dinner was delicious, and far too soon Slayd found himself being shooed up the stairs with Casey to get ready for bed. The stairs flickered under the incandescent bulbs, which Slayd reminded Casey that they should probably replace later on if they were going bad. Casey just laughed at him.
“Silly, those are brand new! You must be tired.”
Slayd heard himself giggling with Casey, and he shrugged it off. They pushed and jostled each other out of the way good-naturedly as they both tried to get to the bureau in the corner first, making a race out of bedtime.
“Do you think the Halloway girls would like a bouquet of daisies from the field?” he heard Casey wonder aloud as he pulled a nightshirt over his head.
“Oh, I think they would love it!” Slayd clapped his hands with glee. “But you must be sure to have lots of yellow ones. I’ve only seen them with yellow flowers in their hair.”
They giggled to each other about how best to impress the Halloway girls before finally drifting off to sleep, smiles on their faces and hopes for tomorrow in their heads.
Slayd awoke with a start in the morning, wondering why Casey hadn’t woken him earlier to prepare for their trip into town. The snoring bundle next to him explained that quite plainly, and Slayd jabbed him in the ribs.
“Get up, sleepy-head! We’re going to be late if we stay in bed all day.”
But the bundle under the covers next to him just grunted a little and rolled over, so Slayd jumped out of bed and pulled off his nightclothes, trying to get ready as quickly as he could. Whistling to himself, he glanced into the mirror next to the bureau, trying to make sure his hair wasn’t mussed.
But he didn’t have hair, and he didn’t have eyes.
He gasped and twisted around to look at Casey, but the bundle on the bed wasn’t there. He stared at a broken picture frame lying on the bed where Casey should have been, and turned it over. A boy he didn’t know and the horribly familiar face of Guile stared back at him, and he threw it across the room.
“Get away from me!! I’m home!! I –”
But the picture frame twisted and snapped apart, and a grey clawed hand reached for Slayd from the broken glass. He stumbled back over the bed and found himself suddenly falling into a black void. He screamed and tried to catch onto anything that might stay his fall, but found only empty air. The farmhouse had vanished and the hillside and the pretty morning and warm blueberry pie had all disappeared.
He felt very cold and wet, and now it didn’t feel like he was falling into a void at all, but falling through water. Something caught a hold of his shoulders and he was wrenched harshly upwards, breaking the surface of the water.
Guile pulled him back into the boat, tearing off pale, eel-like creatures from Slayd’s flesh. They writhed and shrieked before flopping out of the boat and splashing back into the water. One of them didn’t make it though, because the Ferryman had stabbed it with his long pole and it lay limp on the bottom of the boat.
Slayd gasped for air, and felt sharp pains all over his body. Looking down, he saw gaping wounds gushing black blood, and leeches and maggots were oozing out of them. He felt very faint and dizzy.
“Slayd!” Guile hissed into his ear. “Can you hear me? Are you all right?”
Slayd nodded numbly, staring up at him. “Guile? What happened? It felt like home…” he swallowed hard, and looked away. A few maggots fell from his hollow eye sockets.
Guile pulled Slayd close against him, and glanced up at the Ferryman. “We cannot continue this way. We need to go to shore. Perhaps if we find the Priest at the temple… Amoth Shyr has waited this long, it can wait again.”
The Ferryman nodded silently and took up his pole again, turning the boat towards the East.
Slayd didn’t recall ever hearing Guile mention a temple or a priest before, but he didn’t really care at the moment. He hurt badly all over, and he wondered if he would ever stop bleeding. The boat seemed to be tipping wildly from side to side, but Slayd had the feeling that it was really just because he was very, very dizzy. He tilted his head slowly, looking up at Guile.
“What happened?” his words felt like cotton in his mouth.
Guile motioned towards the dead, eel-like thing lying at the bottom of the boat.
“You were enchanted by korrfish. They lust for the warmth other creatures possess that they themselves lack, and would have kept you dreaming under the water for as long as they could before consuming you entirely.”
Slayd shook his head emphatically, despite the pain. “No… this is a dream. I was home, Guile…”
Guile reached out and grabbed the limp korrfish by the tail, hanging it near Slayd’s face. “This is no dream, little one. These are what caused your delusion. They draw on the power beyond the Veil. They are loathsome creatures to you, are they not?”
Slayd looked quickly away from the grotesque sight of the korrfish. It had a pale, almost human-like face, except for long black teeth in its lower jaw and human eyes that stared back lifelessly back at him.
Guile grinned at Slayd’s reaction, and tossed the dead korrfish over the side of the boat. No ripples disturbed the water where the dead korrfish sunk, but right beneath the surface, Slayd could see pale and twisting eel-like bodies converge upon the dead creature. They thrashed around the sinking corpse, but never broke the surface. It lasted but a moment, and then they vanished from sight.
Slayd shuddered and lay in silence for a long time. But curiosity frequently got the best of Slayd and this time was no different, even though he was very dizzy and in a lot of pain. He couldn’t help but want to ask questions, even if he was certain Guile would not answer them.
“Guile? What is at the temple? And who is the priest?”
Guile glanced down at Slayd with a vaguely disinterested look. “These things you should know, but I forget that you are foreign to Dehalen now. The priest Incavius is the sole caretaker of the Temple of the Kings, which lies on the opposite shore of the lake. He will take care of your wounds, and perhaps you will discover a few more unanswered questions there.” He smiled mockingly down at Slayd, who frowned at him in return. It seemed as though Guile was always trying to be as unhelpful as possible.
He made an effort to watch the stars slowly slipping by overhead, and tried not to think about all the blood he was lying in.
The hours seemed to creep by with increasing sluggishness, and Slayd found himself feeling dazed and numb. By the time they finally reached the opposite shore, Slayd was certain that if he’d tried to stand up right now, he’d collapse in a little pile of jelly.
“We’re here, little one. Are you conscious?” Guile’s quiet hiss interrupted Slayd’s thoughts and directed his attention towards a looming circle of immense black stone structures that were slowly growing even bigger as the boat approached the shore. Only a few of them were proper buildings, and most of them reminded Slayd of photographs of old ruins arranged in a circle that he thought he remembered seeing as a child. Except these carried a sense of menace about them, and they were far from being ruins.
Slayd mumbled an “mm” in response to Guile’s question as the Ferryman pulled up close along the shore. He motioned for his passengers to disembark, and Guile carried Slayd onto the dry ground. Slayd was relieved to see that it was real earth this time, and not those weird, moving roots that had been his primary source of footing since Guile had pulled him through the mirror.
“I thank you, Ferryman,” Guile said as he made what little bow he could while carrying Slayd. “I may be in need of your services again before long. I trust I will find you when I need you.”
The Ferryman’s hooded head only nodded once in response before he poled his boat away from the shore and faded back into the dim fog of the lake. Guile turned and carried Slayd straight up towards the largest and furthest away of the black temple buildings – which in Slayd’s opinion was also the most sinister looking. As they approached, Slayd began to see thin, spidery lines of silver running across the stone edifices in swirls and odd geometric shapes, so reflective of the dim light they almost appeared to glow.
There were many low steps leading up to the doors of the building, its entrance decorated with so many of the silvery lines and runes it illuminated the entire stair. But it was what was waiting at the top that made Slayd twist in fear in Guile's arms. “What is that?”
It looked like something that had crawled out of the slimy depths of the dark lake they had just crossed. Some sort of terrible cross between a leech and a grub, its grinning mouth was lined with fused teeth, and short tentacles slowly waved around its head. Tiny hooks for hands emerged from voluminous folds in a heavy black robe, woven with the same silvery ornate designs as the building behind him.
But Guile made no move to protect Slayd from the hideous monstrosity. Instead he simply nodded to the creature in greeting. “Priest Incavius.”
“Welcome, Guile," The monster-priest spoke in a soft liquid voice, "It has been a long time. I had resigned myself to believing you were lost to the Veil long ago, but I am relieved to see that my fears were wrong.”
Slayd looked up at Guile, who for the first time since Slayd had met him looked genuinely bewildered.
”A long time, you say? It has been mere months since I left your shores.”
The priest shook his massive head and turned towards the huge temple. “Time is strange in the Veil, Guile. Please, follow me.”
The temple looked even larger on the inside. A sprawling, pillared hall stretched ahead, lined with green-white torches that illuminated intricate swirling designs on the pillars that echoed the patterns on the priest’s robes and the etching on the outside walls. They seemed to move and dance under the flickering torchlight, succeeding in making Slayd even dizzier than he already was.
“Now tell me Guile,” The priest was saying as they made their way through the labyrinth of the temple. “Who is this child you bring with you into this sanctum?”
Guile almost laughed. “This is no child, Incavius. This is Slayd. The Saviour’s Heir. I admit he’s hardly recognizable, but I assure you he is who I say he is. I told you I always achieve what I aim to do.”
Slayd couldn’t see the look on the priest’s face, nor did he think he'd be able to read it even if he could, but he could almost feel a pulse of shock.
“I believed that he had reached the Temple of Mirrors, and was no more.”
“He did. And he was well immersed in the delusions that it wrapped around him. He was very nearly dead when I found him.”
Incavius paused, and turned to regard Guile with a face that Slayd realized only had tiny depressions for eyes. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said slowly, “that you entered the Temple of Mirrors yourself to save him? And… you succeeded and escaped? There is more to you than I had assumed, Guile.”
“You have no idea.”
The priest led them on through several more rooms, still decorated with the etched pillars and lined with yawning black arches that Slayd could only assume led to deeper recesses of the temple. Incavius led them through one of these arches, which reluctantly yielded up its darkness as they passed. Slayd wondered if he would have been able to find his way out of here if he was by himself, and concluded that he would be hopelessly lost in about half a hallway.
The priest turned down a smaller corridor and through a doorway with a thin tapestry hung across its frame. He held it aside with one of his tiny claws and Guile ducked under, still carrying Slayd.
“Bear in mind, Guile, that the Temple of Mirrors does not harbor delusions. It harbors visions of other worlds. What you have drawn Slayd out of will be much harder to overcome than mere dementia.”
The room that they were now in was much smaller than the other ones they had passed through, and it looked like it was used for a bedroom because there was a big white bed covered with black sheets and pillows. Another tapestry like the one covering the doorway hung from the ceiling around the bed, its edges tied back to poles on each corner. Next to the bed was a small table on wheels, and placed on the table were a large needle and thread, and a few delicate-looking instruments Slayd had never seen before.
The priest nodded to Guile, who eased Slayd onto the bed. He laid one of his hands on Slayd’s forehead, and looked up at the priest.
“I have precious little concern for the Temple of Mirrors at the moment, Incavius. There are more pressing matters at hand. He was enchanted by korrfish and fell into the lake.”
Incavius stared at Slayd for a very, very long time. As Slayd squirmed underneath his strange gaze, he nodded sharply and turned back to Guile.
“I can heal the wounds. However, you must heal the rest of him.” And he left the room with a swiftness that belied his slimy bulk.
Slayd was confused, which was something he was getting rather accustomed to feeling. “Guile? What did he mean, about healing the rest of me? I mean, I know I’m in pretty bad shape and I feel real dizzy, but I don’t think I’m sick or anything.”
Guile didn’t answer. Instead, he grabbed Slayd’s hands and pulled him into a sitting position.
“Take off your shirt, Slayd. It’s quite bloody. Incavius will return soon with what he needs to heal you.”
Slayd obediently undressed, and Guile picked at the fragile-looking instruments sitting on the table. He fingered the needle and thread carefully, glancing at Slayd. Slayd thought he looked like he was turning something over and over in his mind, but he didn’t ask what it was. Slayd’s own gaze drifted over to the instruments, and he had the sinking feeling that whatever way he was going to be healed wouldn’t have much to do with antibiotics or bandages or even shots, and it was probably going to be very unpleasant.
Incavius returned a few minutes later carrying a long curved glass tube and what looked like a small piece of iron grating. He placed these on the table with all of the instruments and turned to Slayd.
“Korrfish do much more than bite, I am afraid. In order to be as close to the source of warmth that a person can provide, they will burrow inside the flesh.”
Slayd nodded slowly, suddenly feeling itchy and squirmy all over.
Incavius continued, “in order to heal your wounds, we are going to have to remove the korrfish that have gotten inside your body.”
Without warning Guile lunged for Slayd and pinned him back against the headboard of the bed, holding his throat in one hand and his wrists in the other. Too frightened to say much other than a surprised squeak, Slayd struggled against Guile’s hold, but Guile snarled at him and tightened his grip.
“Quiet yourself, Slayd. I won’t lie to you. This will hurt terribly, but it must be done. Incavius, hold his arms for me.”
The claws on Guile’s free hand slid out of their sheaths, almost growing longer than his fingers. He gave one quick glance at Incavius, and then plunged them straight into Slayd’s chest.
The pain shot stars through Slayd’s vision, and he opened his mouth to scream, but all that came out was a strangled gasp. He thrashed against Incavius’ grip, but the priest held firm.
“Calm yourself, Slayd! You must be still, or Guile may miss his mark!” The urgency in his voice broke through Slayd’s panicked surge of adrenaline. Despite every nerve in his body screaming for him to fight them, Slayd forced himself to lie still. He turned his head away as Guile’s claws tore down the left side of his torso, ripping through skin, flesh and muscle.
Slayd heard a chuckle escape from Guile, and it made his blood run cold. He was enjoying this?
A sickening crack split the air, and Slayd felt as though his chest had just exploded. He couldn’t help but stare down in horror at what Guile was doing to him.
Guile had snapped his ribs, and carefully pulled them away so he could see into the deep gaping wound that exposed Slayd’s beating heart.
Slayd’s vision swam, and he felt like he needed to throw up. He didn’t believe he’d ever felt more pain than what he was feeling now.
He heard Incavius behind him then, speaking a shadowy, foreign tongue. A heavy feeling came over Slayd, passing over him like a wave of numbness and leaving him with a euphoria that seemed like he was detached from his own body, simply watching everything from very far away.
Guile released his hold on Slayd’s throat and slowly and very carefully reached his hand into the wound. He cupped Slayd’s wildly pulsing heart and pulled it gently out (not all the way out though, because that probably would have been Very Bad for Slayd). It was still attached to his insides by a few veins and arteries and things. Slayd liked the idea that it was indeed beating, which must mean that he must really be alive, at least in some form or another. Still, even though the pain had gone it made him squeamish to be able to see his heart when it should be properly and snugly tucked away inside his body.
As Guile held his heart, Slayd felt Incavius release his hold on his arms. He watched the priest pick up the long glass tube on the table and slowly slip it into the wound, careful not to impede any of the connecting veins. He spoke again in that strange heavy tongue and Slayd swore he saw his words materialize in the air and flow like thick fog into the glass.
His chest felt tight, and he took a ragged breath. “I don’t feel very good, Guile…” he managed to whisper.
A shiver of spasms swept through his body and he retched, coughing up blood and maggots. His skin started to seethe and crawl, and thousands of leeches poured out of his chest wound, writhing across the bed and pooling on the floor. The spasms grew into convulsions, nearly throwing Slayd onto the floor.
Incavius dropped the glass and seized his shoulders, trying to keep him still. “Guile! Hold him!”
It took both of them to keep Slayd’s seizures under control, and only just barely. His heartbeat was in a panic and he thrashed and choked, trying to catch the breath that had been suddenly taken away from him. The room seemed to twist in upon itself and Slayd thought he could hear something scream, but he couldn’t be sure because even sound seemed to have melted.
His vision wavered, and everything went black.