Chapter 6: Parting Gifts.
Slayd awoke feeling a little nauseous and out of sorts, and his head hurt something awful. He groaned and rolled over, burying his head in his pillow.
“Did you dream?”
The question came from his left, and Slayd blearily looked up to see Guile sitting on the edge of the bed. His attention wasn’t focused on Slayd, though. A soft blue glow emanated from one hand that he held over an arm, and as Slayd watched, the ugly, peculiar scars there that Guile had taken from Slayd slowly began to vanish. There were no scars anywhere else on him, so Slayd had to assume that whatever Guile was doing, he’d been doing it a while.
“How long was I unconscious this time?”
“But a few hours. Did you dream?” He still didn’t look at Slayd, but that was probably because he was trying very hard to concentrate.
Slayd muttered a quiet “no” and watched as the last of the scars disappeared under the soft blue glow from Guile’s palm.
“Guile? Why did you take the scars I was supposed to have?”
Guile smiled a very tiny smile, but it disappeared quickly, as if he wanted to hide it. “It’s hard to explain Slayd, and I don’t want to go through all of the trouble. Suffice it to say that it needed to be done.”
Slayd reached out slowly and gingerly touched Guile’s arm, where the last of the scars had been. “Did you really have to do that? It couldn’t have been very pleasant for you. Was it very painful?”
Guile flashed another tiny smile. “It was.” And again the expression quickly vanished. “And I did indeed have to do it. Very Bad Things would have happened if I hadn’t. And I certainly cannot have Very Bad Things happen to you.”
Slayd frowned as he trailed his fingers around the disappeared scar, ignoring Guile’s mockery of his voice.
“What kind of Bad Things?”
Guile shook his head. “Never you mind. Do you remember anything new?”
Slayd pursed his lips and tried to think as hard as he could. The images that had flashed in his mind before he lost consciousness were the first thing that he thought of, but he really couldn’t say they were his memories. They certainly didn’t feel like memories. He slowly shook his head.
“I have these images in my head, but none of them are really very familiar. I think they belong to the Glimmourings.”
Guile looked disappointed, but he nodded. “They are both yours and the Glimmourings. They were born of those same events, and you were present when they happened. If it were otherwise you wouldn’t be aware of them. I’m afraid you have a long way to go, Slayd.”
But Guile didn’t answer him. Slayd sighed in defeat and flopped down on the bed, staring up at the soft blue lights dancing slowly above him on the ceiling. He had the peculiar sensation that he was seeing things very differently than before he had lost consciousness. He couldn’t quite put his finger one what was different, maybe because he still felt very exhausted (even though he had just woken up), but there was definitely something…
He sat bolt upright, glancing quickly at everything in the room. Something was different. He could see color.
He could see the reds and browns of the bed that he was laying on, and he could see the pale blue spectrum of the lights on the ceiling, he could see the greens and purples in the rug on the floor, and the faintly bluish tinge of Guile’s grey skin. That wasn’t all that was different either, he noticed. There was something strange about the way he saw as well. Almost as if he were looking out from the bottom of a bottle, most of his vision was clear but the very edges seemed to blur and become fainter.
Slayd soaked up all the colors that he saw, thoroughly enjoying the fact that he could finally see them again. He smiled a tiny smile, just to himself, and flopped back down on the bed. Perhaps things might begin to slowly get better after all. His stomach growled in hopeful agreement, and Slayd realized that he couldn’t remember ever having eaten anything since he woke up in the coffin on the other side of the Veil.
“Guile? Is there anything to eat around here? I’m completely famished.”
“I’m sure you can find something if you look.”
Slayd shifted uncomfortably. It was scary out there, and he remembered all too clearly the cautions that Incavius had given him before. “…Would you go with me?”
Guile shrugged and got up, taking Slayd’s hand and leading the way out the door.
They passed through several of the halls that Slayd had explored on his own several hours before, but they seemed a little less scary when Guile was there. For all of Guile’s frightening features, it was the unknown that scared Slayd the most.
They turned a corner and passed through a long hall that Slayd didn’t recognize. This one was much wider than the others, and had such a tall ceiling that seemed to all but disappear in the thick darkness above them. Stone statues lurked in alcoves along the way, and the prickles on the back of Slayd’s neck stood on end. He wondered if they ever moved from their resting spots when people weren’t looking.
The end of the hall came abruptly, and Slayd found himself staring at a pair of carved wooden doors. They were framed by a huge, vaulted archway with pillars on either side. An ugly face carved at the highest point of the arc seemed to be glaring directly down at Slayd, making him shudder.
Guile pulled open the doors with creaking sound that seemed unnaturally loud, and they entered into a massive domed room, with an ornately carved stone basin in the center, tiered with steps. The basin took up most of the room, and it was filled to the brim with water. Slayd noticed that oddly enough, no ripples moved across the surface.
“Where are we, Guile?” he whispered, and even his whisper seemed to echo in the vast empty spaces of the room.
“The Reflecting Pool. Beyond is the dining hall. We are almost there, and…” He trailed off, as Slayd had wandered away from Guile and was creeping up the steps toward the water.
At the top of the stairs, Slayd hoped that nothing was going to reach out from the basin and grab him. But his curiosity was greater than his fear. The pool seemed to beckon him with insistent invisible fingers, and he peered cautiously into the still pool.
As he stared into the water, his reflection stared back, hairless and eyeless with sickly yellow-grey skin.
But the image began to change, and he saw himself with faint Glimmourings in his eye sockets, their sallow faces peering back up at him with either sadness or malice in their expressions. But before Slayd had a chance to really study this new reflection, it changed again, this time into something that looked very, painfully familiar.
His skin was dark and clear, and he had normal, green human eyes and soft brown hair, just barely longer than his chin. He looked more like he belonged on a baseball field, or picking daisies, or anything but stuck in a nightmare world. He blinked, and frowned at this reflection. It did the same, and he felt as if he was seeing this face for the thousandth time. It felt so familiar, so comfortable, so him, he wondered if this was indeed what he really and truly looked like, right now.
He saw something else begin to form in the reflection behind him, something with grey-blue skin and eyeless sockets. It was Guile’s reflection standing behind him, quietly looking into the mirrored water with him.
As soon as Slayd turned his attention back to his own mirrored image, a solitary ripple flitted across the surface of the water, disturbing it. When the water settled, it had changed yet again.
Shiny black eyes peered at him, almost human but at the same time most definitely not, set in a bald head with pale, jaundiced skin.
He slowly touched a sallow cheek, a wretched feeling coming over him. But as soon as his hand touched his face, the image in the mirrored pool vanished, and all he could see was the dark water.
He stared at the still dark pool, wishing in futility that the boy with the normal face would appear again. But a cold, sinking feeling churned in Slayd’s stomach, and he turned sharply away from the pool.
His new eyes were wide with horror, and he grabbed Guile’s shoulders, not caring if he got angry at him. “What happened to me? I saw myself from before!” he could feel tears forming in his eyes, but he didn’t care. “Why am I like this, why can’t I just be who I was? Why couldn’t you have just left me back at the farmhouse? I hate this horrible dream!”
He shoved Guile and tried to run out of the room, but Guile grabbed his arm, his grip hard and tight.
“This isn’t a dream, Slayd. Whatever you may think, this is very real. Hold your tongue and consider yourself before you say such things.”
Slayd cringed under Guile’s harsh grip, and tried to twist out of it. “I have considered myself! Look at me, I hardly look human! How disgusting!”
A clawed hand slapped him across the face, knocking him down the steps to land on his knees. He scrambled up but didn’t turn to face Guile. Instead he clenched his fists together and stood there shaking, not sure if he was angry or upset or afraid or terribly sad. He guessed that he was all of them at once, and he felt very alone again, even though Guile had said before that he wasn’t.
He felt a hand on each of his shoulders, and Guile turned Slayd around to face him. Slayd flinched, hoping that he wouldn’t hit him too hard, but Guile did nothing of the sort. Instead, Slayd found himself in a gentle embrace.
Guile sighed a deep sigh that Slayd felt would have killed him if he’d experienced the weariness behind it. “Poor little Slayd,” Guile whispered into his ear. “I cannot do anything to make this any easier for you. I cannot say anything that would make you feel better, nor can I fix everything that you think is wrong with you and with this world. The only thing I can do for you is to lead you through it, and try to make you remember on your own who you really are.” He placed a hand on the back of Slayd’s neck, gently pushing his head to Guile’s own shoulder.
“There are a great many things that you need to figure out for yourself, because if I just told you, you would not believe me - not at all. But until you begin to accept that this truly is real and not some grand illusion, I cannot give you anything more than challenge and comfort.”
Slayd felt maggots fall from his eyes as Guile whispered to him, and he squeezed his new eyes shut. “I just wish it wasn’t so very hard.”
Guile shook his head. “There will be far more difficult times, Slayd. You have many troubling adventures ahead of you, and I cannot promise that you will not be hurt going through them.” he pulled away from Slayd, and took his chin in his fingers. “But I can promise you that you will not be alone.”
Slayd nodded numbly, staring at the floor. He hoped that it would be a very long time before those troubling adventures had to come, but he had the feeling that they were going to happen right away.
Guile nodded to himself, apparently satisfied with Slayd’s reaction, and took him by the hand again. “Come Slayd, you need to eat before we leave.”
Supper was bland and entirely uncreative, but it filled Slayd up and he began to feel a little bit better about himself and the way things were (although he still didn’t like it). After they ate, Guile led him down another hall, but this one led them outside.
They entered a tree lined courtyard, full of dead leaves on the ground and along the pathways, which themselves had been swept clear. There weren’t very many leaves on the trees themselves, so Slayd thought to himself that it was probably late fall wherever they were at - if this place had seasons at all.
Along the pathways were large rocks, hewn to be flat on the top and suitable for sitting on. Surrounding the courtyard was a very tall stone wall, with big iron-lined wooden gates. Slayd couldn’t see what was beyond those gates, but he felt that it must not be very good, if they needed gates that large to keep whatever was out there, out. It was not encouraging.
“Incavius will meet us shortly,” Guile said as they strolled slowly along the path. “He has something for you that you left with him long ago. I doubt you’ll remember it when you see it, but it is a Very Important Thing.”
Slayd nodded silently, and sat down on one of the stone benches. Despite having supper, he still felt very sad and very discouraged. He missed being normal, even though he was beginning to wonder what exactly that meant anymore, considering he hadn’t seen anything quite normal since he had been pulled through the mirror. He pulled his knees up to his chin, staring at the ground.
Guile sat down next to him, and watched him brood. “You miss being who you imagine you were. Don’t you, little one?”
Slayd nodded. “Having eyes again is nice, and it’s not at all that I’m ungrateful to you or priest Incavius, it’s just…” he struggled to find the right words, “it’s hard to see myself without so many of the things about me that I’ve always assumed I would always have, like my home and normal skin and my hair, and people and things that look even a little bit familiar.”
He set his chin back on his knees, again staring at the dead leaves on the ground, which seemed very interesting all of a sudden.
Guile grunted to himself and brushed a hand over Slayd’s shoulder. “Perhaps I could be of assistance in one of those matters. Do you trust me, Slayd?”
Slayd would have liked to say “no” to that, but when he had some thought about it, he guessed that he could trust Guile, at least maybe a little. He had kept him safe, and he’d rescued him from the korrfish and had promised him that he’d never be alone. He nodded slowly. “I… guess so.”
Guile smirked. “I assume that’s the best that I’ll get. Lean forward.”
Slayd frowned in confusion, but complied with Guile’s directions. He felt Guile’s hands on his head and the back of his neck, causing little prickly sensations to rise up his spine. Then Guile leaned forward too, tipping Slayd’s head back a little. Slayd felt him bite into the top of his head!
“Ow! Guile!” He jerked in Guile’s grip, but Guile didn’t let him go. He could feel blood running down the sides of his face, but it didn’t really hurt as much as he thought it should have.
As Guile let him go, he jumped up from the bench quickly, putting a hand on the back of his head, feeling for the wound. To his surprise he didn’t really feel any deep gash, just a few little cuts. As he felt the fluid running down his head, it didn’t really feel like proper blood. Well, perhaps that isn’t the best way of putting it. It did feel like blood, but as soon as it ran down the back of his neck, it seemed to change texture - harden almost - although it wasn’t really very hard to the touch. It felt as soft as spider’s silk, except it wasn’t sticky.
“Guile… what did you do?” Slayd looked uncertainly at Guile, who just smiled his eerie smile, red rivulets dripping out of the corners of his mouth.
“It may still be unconventional, but perhaps it’ll make you feel a little less out of sorts. But in any case, we need to go, and soon. If Incavius doesn’t come we will have to search him out.”
As if in response to Guile’s words the big wooden doors that led back inside the temple were pushed open and the priest approached them, carrying a small satchel and a thick velvet pouch in his tiny claws. He cocked his massive head to one side when he looked at Slayd, but didn’t say anything about his unusual new hair.
“I realize I have kept you here far too long, but there is reason behind your delays. Guile, you know that you were in the Veil far longer than you perceived, though I do not know if you are aware of how much time you spent there. Nearly four decades have passed outside the Veil from the time you vanished into its shadows to the time you arrived again on my shores.”
Slayd looked to Guile, who hissed under his breath. “Then I have wasted much time chasing shadows. The Temple of Mirrors is a deceiving place.”
“Indeed it is,” the priest slid along the main path to the courtyard, and Guile and Slayd fell into step behind him. “I have other news. You were only partially aware of the instructions our Savior gave to Slayd, before Slayd disappeared.”
“Before he fled, you mean. Before he forsook all he had ever known and abandoned his rightful place at our lord’s side, forcing me to set out on a fool’s journey to try to retrieve him.”
Slayd flinched. He had no idea about the events Guile was talking about, but it certainly sounded like it was his fault.
Incavius paid Guile’s words no mind. “He gave Slayd instructions to carry his seal to the greatest of the Insect Kings, and retrieve the tokens of fealty they pledged when this time would come.”
The priest led them up to the iron-lined wooden gates at the opposite end. As they approached, the gates creaked loudly and inched their way open, propelled by some unseen force. Slayd assumed it was some sort of magic, but he couldn’t be sure unless he asked, and he wasn’t about to interrupt.
Guile didn’t seem pleased with the priest’s words. “I am aware of more than you know, Incavius. It is my duty to lead him down that path, however ruinous the end may or may not turn out to be.”
“And yet you would make for Amoth Shyr instead.”
“It is his home. Memories could be retrieved there that may not be able to be found elsewhere.”
Incavius shook his huge head. “It is imperative that this be done. You have some time ahead of you at the moment, but I am afraid that if you delay until his memories are complete, you may repeat half a century of searching.”
Guile fell silent, and Slayd couldn’t help but wonder what it was they were talking about. It all sounded Very Important - and some of it certainly had to do with him - but his own doubts were growing in his mind. He wasn’t even sure that the Slayd they were talking about and the Slayd that he was were even the same person. But he didn’t mention his doubts.
The gates slowly creaked to a halt, revealing a deep, very dark and very dismal looking forest beyond. A shiver ran down Slayd’s spine and he suddenly became very nervous, but he tried not to show it.
The priest turned to Slayd. “This is where we part ways, young master. I have a gift to bestow on you, or perhaps to simply return to you, before you depart.” He reached into the thick velvet pouch with a claw and pulled out a chain. On the chain was a silvery-black pendant, and he placed it in Slayd’s hand.
He heard Guile scoff, and turned to see him covering his mouth with a hand, hiding a hard and vicious smile. Slayd wondered why he had such a reaction to this gift that Incavius had given him, or maybe he just didn’t approve of gift-giving.
Slayd turned the pendant over in his hand slowly, and as he turned it to see the front, he saw a very human-looking eye looking up at him. It blinked, looked around, and focused on Slayd’s face. This naturally made Slayd even more nervous, but he had the sudden and odd feeling that this eye wasn’t something he really needed to be nervous about, at least not now. It blinked again, and resumed looking about.
Slayd looked up at Incavius, an unsure expression on his face. He wanted to ask him why he would give him this strange kind of gift, but a quick jab in the ribs from Guile kept him from saying anything. Guile took the pendant out of Slayd’s hands, and Slayd noticed that he gritted his teeth as he did so. He hung it around Slayd’s neck and turned back to the priest.
Incavius handed Guile the satchel he had carried and laid a claw on Slayd’s shoulder. “That is the Seal of our Savior. You will find it to be very important to you as time wears on and you discover more about who you are. Keep it safe.”
He led them up to the threshold of the opened gates. “Goodbye, Slayd. I do not believe we will meet again anytime soon, but I will keep you and your guardian in my vigil.” He turned and slithered back to the temple doors.
Slayd started after him, but Guile grabbed his arm, staying him. “We need to go, Slayd.”
Without so much as a “good-bye” or “thank you” to the priest, Guile took Slayd’s hand and led him through the gates, which swung shut behind them with a loud clang.
And they were alone in the deep and very unfriendly looking forest.