Chapter 14: Abrupt Departure.
Slayd never made it to the royal kitchens. He never made it back to their guest chambers, either.
Jyrr had taken him down one of the many long halls of the palace, and of course Slayd couldn’t tell much of a difference between one hallway and another, being as he’d seen so many since he’d arrived here. They all seemed to run together, and soon he was very, very lost.
Of course he didn’t know that this was what Jyrr was hoping for. He had no intention of taking him to the royal kitchens at all. No, he was leading him down into the deepest parts of the palace, where wine was stored and creatures kept. It was also the part of the palace that Jyrr loved the best.
Slayd began to grow edgy and suspicious of Jyrr’s intent when they had walked on for well over twenty minutes. Even though he had no idea where the royal kitchens were, they should have been there by now. And nothing around him was even remotely familiar at all. Nothing reminded him even vaguely of places that he had seen on the tour, particularly the wide, winding stair that he found himself climbing down now.
He stopped. “We’re underground now, aren’t we? There are no more windows in the walls, not even up high. And we’ve been steadily going downwards for a while now.”
Jyrr turned and waved a hand nonchalantly. “There are furnaces in the lower levels. The ovens in the kitchens are near the furnaces so they will heat quickly. Don’t worry Slayd, we’re almost there.”
Slayd frowned and clutched the tome he was carrying close to his chest. “Umm… Jyrr? I think I’ve changed my mind. My appetite is not really what I thought it was, and I really should go back. Guile will be worried.”
The merry smile vanished in an instant from Jyrr’s face. “Guile, Guile, Guile. Everything is about Guile.” He narrowed his bulbous eyes. “Do you think he’d be taking care of you and keeping you safe if he had a choice in the matter? Do you think he actually cares for you? He doesn’t, you know. He is fulfilling a duty, nothing more. If he had a choice, he would have killed you the moment he first met you. He hates everything that ever diverted Moroloth’s attention.”
He leered at Slayd and grabbed his wrist, pulling him up against his chest. Any trace of charm was entirely gone from his demeanor. “You’re dead to this world, Slayd. Everyone gave up on finding you years ago. It may be a pleasant surprise for them to have found you mostly whole and alive, but you won’t be missed.”
Slayd dropped his book and struggled against the hold Jyrr had on him. “I don’t even know this world! Get away from me!”
Jyrr ignored Slayd’s plea. He twisted and hunched his shoulders, making a loud snap like cracking knuckles. Wiry, spiked limbs grew rapidly from his shoulders and glistened wetly in the dim light of the stair. They looked like insect legs, only they had a wide, blade-like edge to them. Jyrr’s ugly smile deepened. “I’ll enjoy tearing you apart, fearful little child.”
“No, you won’t.”
Jyrr turned at the voice, snarling up the stair. “This is no concern of yours!”
“I do believe it is.”
Guile came round the corner of the stair, arms crossed and wings half-open. “You ill-begotten dereliction of genetics, I do not know why the Maggot King was so intent on saving your sorry carapace from the hagfish when he first found you. He should have left you to drown in your egg case.” He leaned casually against the curving wall and grinned at Jyrr. “Do you honestly think that I would have allowed him out of my sight without knowing what you intended to do?”
The look on Jyrr’s face was steadily growing more and more livid as Guile talked. He snarled at him, baring long, double rows of teeth Slayd didn’t even know he had. “You persist in keeping me from my prey. But it has been a long time since we last quarreled, Guile.” He seemed to double in size, even though Slayd knew it was just posturing. “I am far more formidable since then. Do you think you will overpower me again? I think not.”
He twitched muscles in his shoulders, and behind his spiked legs two pairs of clear veined wings unfurled and buzzed briefly. His sneer grew hardened and cruel. “You will not win this time, Guile. Slayd will be mine!”
Guile seemed very unimpressed. He still leaned casually against the stair’s wall, eyeing Jyrr with his empty sockets. “You’re a fool, Jyrr.” He stretched and took to the air, flying near to the high rafters. His wings flapped lazily, and he leered mockingly down at Jyrr. “Come then. Show me your… strength.”
Jyrr struck first. Slayd saw his rapidly buzzing wings launch him into the air, and he slammed into Guile’s stomach with such force that it smashed them both against the rafters, breaking the wooden beams and making the ceiling creak. Guile slipped below Jyrr like an eel and raked his claws down his legs as he descended back down to land on the stairs.
Jyrr’s face twisted - more in rage than in pain - and he plummeted down from the ceiling, spiked legs out, aiming for Guile’s head. But Guile sidestepped and he was far quicker than Jyrr had estimated. Jyrr landed squarely on the stone steps instead of Guile’s skull. He twisted around to face his opponent, growling menacingly under his breath.
But it only felt menacing to Slayd, because Guile seemed still unaffected by the threat Jyrr was. He almost looked bored. “You have not improved at all, Jyrr. You’re as slow and unwieldy as last time. And as you see, it is I who am the stronger. It will always be that way, where you and I are concerned.”
He laughed shortly, and it enraged Jyrr. He lunged at Guile again, teeth and claws and spiked legs ripping at any flesh he could get at. Guile returned the attack with equal fervor and a maniacal laugh that echoed down the stair’s hall with a life of its own. Slayd backed against the wall and covered his eyes with his hands, peeking out between his fingers so all he could see was a whirr of wings and splashes of blood.
Jyrr broke off panting and flew back into the air. One pair of wings was half torn, but he remained airborne despite the injury. Guile was bleeding fiercely, Slayd noticed. But so was Jyrr. It pooled and dripped down the steps.
Jyrr snarled again at Guile, and landed heavily on the ground. “You are not so powerful that you can evade me though, I see.”
Guile just grinned in reply. Slayd had the feeling that he was merely toying with Jyrr, despite the blood.
Jyrr laughed. “Oh, breathless are you? You are already growing spent! I can see it in every move you make! Perhaps you are stronger, but I have the greater stamina. I will wear you down – I already have! And I will break you!”
He charged Guile again, aiming for his stomach with a renewed ferocity. But Guile’s smile just grew wider and twisted.
As Jyrr lunged, something very strange happened. Guile’s head was thrown back and his stomach tore open by itself! Guile gasped through his mad grimace, and a gaping, fanged maw lurched out of his abdomen. Blood and saliva dripped from hideous lips, and two writhing tongues snaked out, welcoming Jyrr’s charge. It was too late for him to curb his momentum, and he tumbled straight into the gaping mouth. It tore at him as he came, shredding and consuming his flesh in great, violent bites.
Slayd looked quickly away, cringing in revulsion at the disgusting sight. He covered his eyes with one hand and stumbled down the stairs. He didn’t know where he was going, he just knew that he wanted to get away - away from Guile, away from Jyrr - or what was left of him. He began to run.
Guile let him go. He eyed the few bits of bloody flesh on the floor that his gaping second mouth hadn’t consumed. It licked its drooling lips with its double tongues, and Guile sighed to himself. Slayd would be wanting an explanation of all this, if he ever let Guile near him again. Guile shook his head and began to descend the stairs, following after Slayd.
Slayd didn’t know where he was going, and he knew it couldn’t be a very good way to go if this was the direction that Jyrr had intended to take him before. But at the moment he didn’t care. He just wanted to be somewhere Guile wasn’t.
The thought of Jyrr being devoured made him nauseous, but he couldn’t get the image out of his mind. He tried shaking his head to clear it, but it didn’t help. He rubbed his eyes, but he could still see Jyrr being consumed by… by Guile, by that thing that was part of Guile. “He’s a monster,” Slayd said to himself.
“Yes, he is a monster. I thought you’d already come to that conclusion yourself, a while ago.”
Slayd whirled around and saw Guile standing on the stair a few feet behind him. Blood was still dripping from his waist, but the horrible mouth was gone. There was only a jagged line of shiny bits which Slayd knew were its teeth. Guile extended a hand out to Slayd, but he backed away from him. “Don’t touch me! What in the hell are you?”
Guile laughed the same eerie laugh as when Slayd had first met him… in the mirror in the farmhouse, in a dream that seemed so very long ago. “Haven’t I told you before, that you do not ask the right questions? But perhaps someday I shall give you an answer.”
His hand was still extended to Slayd, but he didn’t take it. He shook his head wildly, and stared at the bits of fang embedded in Guile’s stomach. “You are a monster, aren’t you? You killed him,” he choked on his own words, “you killed him, Guile.”
Guile nodded slowly and patiently, as if he were trying to explain very simple and obvious things to a small child. “Yes, I killed him. I’ve killed before, Slayd. In your lost memories you know this. I’ve done it for my own reasons. And I have killed for you and because of you as well.”
Slayd shook his head. “I would never ask you to murder anyone.”
Guile smirked. “This was hardly murder. Regardless I have murdered gladly, both for your sake and not. Do not be so surprised. You will remember.” He turned suddenly, and stalked back the way he had come.
Slayd realized he had been shaking. He brushed off his clothes and tried to take a few deep breaths to calm himself down a little, but it didn’t really help. He found his history book tossed on the floor, and he carefully gathered it up. He didn’t suppose there would be anything written in there that would help him figure out what to do now. He was alone on the stair, in a part of the palace he did not know. He reluctantly followed after Guile, but only at a distance.
Guile did not return to their guest chambers. Instead, he made his way to the ground level of the palace, down several connected halls, through a passageway and right up to a small door tucked away off to the side. Slayd had followed him the whole way there, but he stood in silence a ways away from Guile, still afraid to approach him.
Guile breathed a short sigh and beckoned Slayd with a hand. “You cannot avoid me forever, you know. I realize you are fearful, but you must come to terms with it. I also realize that you will want me to shed light on some of the things you have just seen, but you shall receive little in the way of an explanation. Some things just are, Slayd, and you will have to understand that first, before anything else.”
Slayd just stood there in silence and stared sullenly at the floor, scuffing it with a shoe.
Guile continued, “Jyrr, however, can be explained far more easily than myself. I have not told you what happened between you and Jyrr in the past, and it is too important now to be put aside for much longer. Perhaps when you remember that, you will understand better why I have done some of the things that I have done. But not here. I must tell you on the way.”
“On the way?” Slayd shifted from one foot to the other. He didn’t really want to go anywhere again. Despite what had happened with Jyrr, the palace seemed far friendlier than the dark lake, or the forest or even the temple.
Guile just shrugged a shoulder and pushed open the narrow door. He beckoned again for Slayd. This time he came, but very slowly and warily. Peering through the doorway, he saw a narrow cobblestone path that led over an arcing bridge across the palace’s moat and through a thicket of dark velvety flowers. He followed along behind Guile until the cobblestones faded into a dirt trail, which ended at the edge of a small creek.
Upon this water was a very familiar looking ferry. The Ferryman stood upon its prow, looking for all the world like he was a part of the boat. He nodded at Guile and Slayd and adjusted his pole in the water.
“Does the creek flow into the dark lake?” Slayd asked apprehensively. He really did not want to go back to its menacing waters and slimy, biting fish.
“No, not this creek. And that is not the direction we are going. Downstream and to the east is where our path will take us. The waters widen and cut through a deep pass in the mountains.”
“Where are we going?”
“Into the lair of the Spider Queen.” The Ferryman answered Slayd in a hoarse whisper of a voice. He pointed a long bony finger up and away, towards the mountains that backed the Maggot King’s palace.
Slayd shuddered. The Ferryman had not spoken before, and his voice chilled Slayd to the bone. He reluctantly stepped into the boat and carefully placed his history tome on the bottom next to his feet. Guile followed in quickly behind him. The Ferryman pushed off from the edge of the bank and slowly made his way downstream, floating with the narrow and sluggish creek and away from the Maggot King’s palace.
Slayd frowned. “Isn’t it rude to leave without saying good-bye? I’m sure the Maggot King would have liked to know that we had gone.”
Guile shrugged. “He already knows. Do not trouble yourself with it.”
The next few sluggish hours were spent in uncomfortable silence, with only the soft lapping of the water to occupy their ears. Slayd watched the Ferryman push them along with the current, and wondered if he read Guile’s mind to know just when he was needed, kind of like how Guile seemed to read his own mind sometimes. He imagined that using a pole to navigate such a slowly moving creek must have been very difficult, but the Ferryman gave no sign of having any trouble with it. His expression never changed, and he didn’t speak again. Like most things, the Ferryman made him nervous.
But Slayd was beginning to discover that he really was getting used to the way things were in this world. They seemed to be steadily getting more and more familiar the more time he spent here and that encouraged him, although he didn’t really know why. A part of him really wanted to go back to the farmhouse on the little hill, but Guile’s words kept creeping back to his mind, “Those are false memories… dreams from another world…” and even as he thought about it, the vision of the farmhouse seemed to shimmer in his mind and began to blur.
He shook his head violently to clear his thoughts. He did not want to think of sad things like that. And Slayd was not one to dwell on Sad Things.
He risked taking a quick glance at Guile, who was staring moodily out over the water, downstream. He was slowly clenching and unclenching his fists, and Slayd came to the easy-to-reach conclusion that Guile was very angry with him.
He had told me to stay put, Slayd thought. And I didn’t listen to him yet again. On top of that, I’d gone off with Jyrr, which really did turn out to be a Very Bad Idea. Why did I do something so very stupid?
He heard a short, quiet laugh come from Guile. “Because you always were attracted to his charm,” he said, as if he had read Slayd’s thoughts again. “And I have never been able to conquer your attraction.” He stared steadily at the water, as if he didn’t care if Slayd was paying attention to him or not. “When it comes to things you are attracted to, you’ve never listened to me. No matter what I do, no matter what I say, you don’t hear me.” He shook his head slowly, and flexed his fingers again.
Slayd fidgeted in his seat. He really did not like it at all when Guile was angry with him. “I don’t remember those times, Guile. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you, I really am! I know I really and truly meant to stay in the room, but after all you did tell me to find the Keeper of the Scrolls, and I didn’t know which one you meant more. I suppose I picked wrong.”
“You knew fully well what I meant for you to do.”
Slayd cringed. He really couldn’t deny it, but he couldn’t explain himself either. “…Whenever Jyrr talked to me, it was as if nothing really mattered too much except for what he said. He always seemed to make perfect sense, and everything else was an absurd idea.”
Guile nodded at the water. “That is part of his charm. His magic lies in allure and fascination.”
Slayd snorted. “It was his charm, you mean. He’s dead now, remember?” Slayd heard himself say it scornfully, and he clapped a hand over his mouth in shock. Where had that come from?
Guile clenched his fists, and his eye sockets narrowed dangerously. He slowly turned his head to stare straight at Slayd. “Do not test me.” His hissing voice got deadly quiet, barely a whisper. “I have no qualms with tearing you apart and putting you back together again. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again.”
A shiver ran up Slayd’s spine and he reflexively clutched his pendant close to his chest. Guile’s lips curled up in derision. “There are some things your precious relic will not protect you from. I am one of them.” He turned his attention back to the water.