Chapter 5: Healing.
Slayd didn’t remember dreaming, but when he awoke, images of dark moving things retreated reluctantly from his mind. That uneasy, frightening feeling that you get when you’ve just had a nightmare came creeping in around him. He had the urge to yawn and stretch, but he didn’t dare move until his vision adjusted to the darkness. It only took a moment, but it seemed like forever to Slayd, and he barely breathed as the moments ticked by.
His hands felt soft blankets and pillows around him, and the memory of the farmhouse came swiftly back to his mind. As his vision began to focus a little, he saw a familiar boxy shadow in the corner that could only be his bureau, and what little of the dim light there was in the room was filtering through what could only be heavy curtains on the window. He breathed a small sigh of relief.
“So it was all a dream then…”
A figure stirred next to him, and it made him jump at first, but then he smiled. “Oh Casey, you would never believe the horrible dream I was having –”
“Who is Casey?”
A candlelight flickered into existence, and the dresser in the corner vanished, replaced by the table with complicated – and now bloody - instruments sitting on it, and the curtains turned into the tapestries hung along the temple walls. Guile sat next to him where Casey should have been, and Slayd’s heart felt like it had turned to lead and sank to his stomach. He wanted to cry, but he didn’t want to find out what Guile would say if he saw him crying, so instead he looked away and swallowed hard. He wished vainly that this was the dream, but he had the sour and sinking feeling that it truly was all very, very real.
“Who is Casey?” Guile repeated, so quietly Slayd almost thought he was talking to himself.
“… I don’t know.” And Slayd had to admit to himself that it was true. He was achy and sore all over, and he felt like his heart was about to break.
His heart! –
Slayd carefully felt around his chest, still not able to see well in the dim light of the solitary candle. But what he felt was definitely not his skin.
Guile leaned over his shoulder, making Slayd flinch. “Urirh ihrsanah” he whispered, and soft points of light winked into existence like fireflies all over the ceiling, bathing the room in a gentle glow.
Slayd looked anxiously down at his chest and saw a metal grating that formed a cage of sorts, covering the cavity in his chest that Guile had torn open. Inside the cage was his heart - still beating, but without all of the blood and leeches gushing out of it. Instead, it was wrapped in a silvery sheen, which he realized was a spider’s web. A tiny spider sat off to the side, wrapping up a little fly in her silk.
Slayd gingerly touched the cold metal bolted into his flesh. Despite the fact that he was sore, he didn’t feel injured at all.
“Guile, what happened to all the bites I had gotten from the Korrfish? I should be covered in them, shouldn’t I?”
Guile didn’t answer, and Slayd turned around to ask him again, but he was gone.
Slayd frowned. “Where did he go? Oh, I do hope he doesn’t stay away long, I don’t want to be left alone here!”
He waited and waited for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a fraction of that time. His stomach was starting to growl, and it occurred to him that he couldn’t remember the last time he had had anything to eat. Patience was never one of Slayd’s strongest qualities, so it wasn’t long before he climbed out of bed and searched for something to wear. He found his clothes clean and folded neatly in a corner, and happily quite free of blood. He quickly dressed, relieved to put the metal cage out of his sight.
He carefully pulled open one of the doors that led out of the room, and saw the darkened hall he had been carried dizzily down when they first arrived. The skin on the back of his neck prickled, and he wondered if wandering around in a temple devoted to who knows what kind of deities would really be all that good of an idea. But he plucked up his courage and padded down the hall as quietly as he could, peering down corridors that he passed.
Room after darkened room slid by, some containing ancient relics of an even older age, heavily decorated shrines filled with cold iron coins and long-wilted flowers, or vast libraries of dusty scrolls. A few had absolutely nothing in them at all, and the stale, cold air that crept out from them gave Slayd the shivers.
He was just about to give up and try to find his way back to where he started when he spotted a fleeting glimmer out of the corner of his vision. There was a sliver of light peeking out from underneath a door down one of the endless halls, and Slayd hoped that maybe now he would finally find someone.
He tapped cautiously on the door, hoping he wasn’t going to be interrupting anything important. But no one came to answer his knock.
Slayd sighed. “Well no one is making it easy to be found around here, that’s for certain. I don’t want to be rude, but I really don’t want to wander around alone forever…” He turned the handle, and pulled the door open just enough to peek inside.
The glimmer of light was coming from a golden altar in the shape of a throne, reflecting a thousandfold the tiny flame of a single candle. A heavy, rotten smell was thick in the air, sickly sweetened by the aroma of dead and dying flowers. Dark pools of what could only be blood were dripping from the altar’s carved surface, forming slow-moving rivers along the stonework on the floor. A desiccated corpse was seated on the altar, head thrown back at an impossible angle, mouth stretched open far wider than what should have been natural. One gnarled hand tightly curled its death grip around a chalice, held aloft as if in a grotesque toast to corruption and decay.
Slayd shut the door quickly, covering his mouth and trying hard to let the urge to scream pass over him. Was this a sacrifice? Who were these people, to have such horrifying memorials within their temples?
“They are the clerics of ancient and dangerous gods,” came a voice whispered behind him, and Slayd whirled around and staggered back against the door. Guile was just inches away from him, eyeless sockets narrowed almost to slits. “Gods that shaped this world we call Dehalen with their own rotting corpses and shattered remains. You would do well to show respect for the clerics who have blessed this sacred place with their own bodies as symbols of the manner in which the Grigora created our world.”
Slayd nodded dumbly and tried to calm a fit of trembles that came over him, wondering where Guile had come from so silently and out of the blue. “I – I was looking for you. You left so suddenly.”
Guile had turned and was walking down the hall. “And you have no patience, in addition to your lack of reverence. Incavius is waiting for you.”
Slayd scrambled to follow Guile through the maze of darkened hallways. He had long since lost any sense of direction he might have had to begin with, so it startled him to discover they were only a short distance away from the room he had woken up in earlier.
Incavius was standing next to the bed, and beside him floated a pair of slowly bobbing Glimmourings.
“Ah, there you are. It is not usually wise to wander here unguided, when you still have so little in the way of memory of this place.” He motioned for Slayd to lie back down. “We have to finish healing you, and then perhaps after that you can explore if you so desire. With a guide, of course.”
“But I feel much better, although I’m really quite famished. You’ve already pulled out all of those nasty leeches from inside me, and all of my bites and such are gone, although I don’t know how they could have vanished so quickly. What else could possibly need to be healed?”
Incavius smiled underneath his thin beard. “Guile took your wounds. He has also been in search of Glimmourings over the last few days that you have been recovering, and has managed to find two that are suitable.”
Slayd glanced over at Guile, and was startled to see that in the clearer light of the room he could see deep and ugly scabs and scars all over him in the very same places where the Korrfish had bitten Slayd. Guile scowled and turned away.
Slayd looked back to Incavius. “I didn’t know I was asleep for so long. Although that would certainly explain why I’m so hungry. What are the Glimmourings for?”
“To heal you. Now I need you to lean back and relax as best you can. Try to imagine emptiness in your mind, and focus on the Glimmourings. This shouldn’t hurt, but you will probably feel a little odd. You may see some very strange things.”
Slayd nodded without much understanding, and obediently turned his attention to the two orbs of light, which in response floated closer to him. He could see the mournful-looking, vacant almost-faces that drifted across their glowing surfaces, and he felt a sudden pang of what could have been malice but it faded just as quickly as he had felt it.
He focused all of his attention on those murky faces, and he found much to his surprise that he did indeed begin to feel very empty, like there were no intentional thoughts running across his brain at all, only vague feelings. He felt very much alone in this great, big and very strange world that he found himself in, and he had the hunch that somehow, the Glimmourings knew.
Then with a lightning-quick flash, the Glimmourings vanished.
Slayd stared blankly where they had been a moment before, wondering what had happened to them. But before he could turn and ask Incavius where they had gone, a bright searing light engulfed all of his vision, and vivid images flashed with startling speed before his eyes.
He saw things. Things that he couldn’t remember ever seeing, like a woman screaming and then falling into dark water, and long lines of Glimmourings turning back onto themselves forming long spiraling circles, and thousands of hideous, squirming korrfish writhing near the surface of the water, emitting shrieks that seemed to shatter the world. He saw a great black shadow fall into a vast sea of blood, and a single man standing, arms raised in triumph, drenched in red. He saw a circle of light surround a death’s head face, and a candle-lit procession on the shores of a quiet lake.
He saw many more things than that, but there were thousands of images, and it would take a very long time to tell you of every single one. But everything that flashed in front of Slayd, he saw for only a split second. He felt like they were very old memories, and they were memories shared by many very old beings. He wondered if this could be a sort of collective memory reservoir of all of the things that every Glimmouring had ever seen.
And with that thought he felt as if he were falling a very long way, and lost consciousness for the second time.