Chapter 17: A Gift for the Queen.

  Slayd didn’t argue with him. He cringed and turned his face away, hoping that whatever Guile was going to do wouldn’t last very long. The skin around Guile’s stomach tore itself open, and he wondered if it hurt him every time it happened. He could hear his guardian’s second mouth vomiting up bile, and he wrinkled up his whole face. It’s so gross.
   Then he heard a wet snapping, crunching sound, and he couldn’t help but turn around out of morbid curiosity.
   Guile’s stomach had opened wide into the toothy, gaping maw, and it looked as if it were retching up chunks of raw ground meat. Thick, dark blood dripped from its jaws like drool. Slayd felt like he was going to be sick. Pieces of bone dropped to the floor, and he thought he could make out chunks of skin and organs among the grotesque detritus. Then the mouth closed again, licking its lips clean with its double tongues.
   Guile knelt next to the macabre pile and extended his bony hands over it. He whispered delicate, twisting words into the air, and they seemed to materialize into a fine spiral around what remained of Jyrr. Bones began to snap together, joints filled in, and blood began pumping through a bare heart. Sinew and muscle attached themselves together to enclose throbbing organs, and skin wrapped itself around the exposed flesh. Slayd had to curl his arms around his stomach to keep from getting ill.
   But there lay Jyrr, quiet and still, on the floor. He wasn’t breathing. Guile crouched down low over him, running his fingers over his skin to make sure he had been put back together correctly. When he was satisfied that everything was all in order, he tilted Jyrr’s head back and kissed him.
   Slayd blinked and wondered if he should feel as jealous over Jyrr as Guile had been over him, but decided against it even though something inside him was sorely tempted to be (after all, Jyrr was the one who had tried to kiss him, hadn’t he?). But then he realized that Guile was breathing into Jyrr. He could still hear those thin, gossamer words swirling around the two, working their magic.
   Guile’s breath made Jyrr convulse, and he gasped loudly for his own air. Guile pulled back, helping Jyrr sit up. He whimpered, eyes shut tight.
   “Welcome back to the world of the living, poor little Jyrr,” Guile said merrily. The manic look had returned.
   Upon hearing Guile’s voice, Jyrr squeaked and opened his eyes wide. He stared at Guile like a trapped mouse would stare at a very hungry cat. Guile just grinned at him.
   Slayd eyed Guile suspiciously, knowing that the gleeful smile on his face could not mean at all pleasant things for Jyrr, who seemed to realize that as well. All confidence that he used to have had been lost. He was shaking rather badly.
   But Guile didn’t care. He dragged Jyrr to his feet, holding him up by his arm with one hand. His claws dug in, and Jyrr forced back what would have been a little cry of pain.
   “Do you remember being swallowed? Can you still feel yourself digesting within me?” Guile leered at him. “Of course you do. You may have been very dead, but you remember every moment, don’t you?”
   Jyrr’s ashen face was enough for Slayd to know that he did.
   He hopped to his feet. “That’s horrible, Guile.”
   His guardian ignored him. “I think you recognize this place, don’t you? You certainly spent a considerable amount of time here, skulking in halls where you didn’t belong.”
   Jyrr’s bulbous eyes took in his surroundings for the first time, and any color that might have been in his face seemed to pale away. He fixed his stare on Wretch, still curled in the corner. “Why - ” he choked on his own words. “Why did you bring me here?”
   If Guile had eyes in his sockets, he probably would have rolled them. “We did not come here solely because of you, Jyrr. You overestimate your importance. No, you are here simply to pay the Spider Queen a last visit. It is almost dusk.”
   Jyrr twisted in Guile’s grip, but succeeded only in drawing trickles of blood down his arm from Guile’s claws. He shook his head and stared up at Guile pleadingly. “No… Please Guile, you can’t give me to her! She’ll eat me alive!”
   Guile’s grin grew vicious. “That’s the idea.”
   If Jyrr was not panicking before, he certainly was now. He squeaked, “Please, Slayd! Do not let him do this! I know we’re not on the best terms right now, but please! She’ll kill me!”
   Slayd looked from Jyrr to Guile, unsure of what to do. “Guile, you’re not seriously going to just hand him over to the Spider Queen, are you?”
   “That is precisely what I am going to do.”
   Before Slayd could object further, the wooden door to the room creaked open, and Lord Tarantula stepped quietly in. He fixed Jyrr with a look that Slayd could only describe as predatory, but when he spoke his quiet voice was directed at Slayd. “The Spider Queen bids you come and receive the symbol of her pledge,” and almost as an afterthought, “and for your guardian to present his… gift.” He turned swiftly on his heels and left them.
   The sound of Lord Tarantula seemed to have stirred Wretch. He unfolded himself from the corner of the room and slunk through the open door, leaving the three behind.
   Guile held a hand towards the door and cocked his head at Slayd expectantly. “I would not keep her waiting, little one. Shall we, then?” His manic smile reminded Slayd of a death’s-head. He took a deep breath and ducked through the doorway, trying not to meet Jyrr’s terrified eyes.
   The throne room was swarming with spiders. The walls themselves seemed to move amongst the wriggling legs and chewing mandibles. Wretch was deep among them, leering and panting heavily, his head twisted towards the throne’s dais. Lord Tarantula stood beside him, head bowed.
   Upon the throne sat a tall, elegantly dressed woman, her white hair pulled up in a style that reminded Slayd of spider’s legs. Spider webs were wrapped around her long arms, forming odd but lovely gloves. The train of her dark dress reached well past her feet and spread out on the floor, splaying neatly around her. She didn’t move, nor did she greet them. Her pale eyes seemed to stare right through them.
   Lord Tarantula approached the throne and knelt, and now the woman stared down through him. He muttered something that Slayd could not hear before he backed away and quickly left the room.
   The Spider Queen (for that is who she was) rose from her throne and directed her dead gaze in the vague direction that Slayd was standing, and spoke with that same hissing, surrounding voice that Slayd had heard coming from the spiders earlier, sending shivers once again up his spine. “We meet in tense welcome, Heir of Moroloth. You cannot stay here long.”
   Slayd nodded nervously. Guile jabbed him in the ribs and whispered fiercely in his ear, “Speak to her.”
   “Umm… thank you for allowing us in,” Slayd stammered, not knowing what to say. “I don’t want to over-stay our welcome at all, so I will be as quick as I can.”
   A whispering, murmuring laugh seemed to emanate from the walls. “Indeed you are changed, Heir of Moroloth, as I was told when word reached me of your rescue.” The Spider Queen inclined her head slightly to one side, and her spider-leg hair-style seemed to move on its own. “Be not so unsure of yourself. Though you come before me with the countenance of a child, you command a great power and rightfully claim lordship over all you lay eyes upon.”
   Power? Lordship? She sounds like Guile.
   Slayd shifted from one foot to the other. “I sure don’t feel powerful at all.”
   Again, the eerie laughter echoed around the room. “That will come in time. As will your memories, I am sure. Come closer, child.”
   The Very Bad Feeling in the pit of Slayd’s stomach fluttered up again, but a jab in the back from Guile made him stumble forward whether he wanted to go or not. He edged up to the dais of her throne, eyes wide.
   The Spider Queen still stared straight ahead, but she placed a slender hand on Slayd’s head. It was icy cold. “What lies within you is far greater than you realize. You have the arcane powers of the ancient ones coursing through your veins. You are destined for exalted things.”
   Slayd tried not to squirm under her touch. “I… umm… thank you.”
   She smiled, but that didn’t help Slayd’s Very Bad Feelings go away at all. In fact, it just made them worse.
   “But such prophecies should be left unspoken until the proper time. I have my pledge to return to you, for that is why you came, is it not?”
   Slayd looked over at Guile, who nodded. “Yes, it is.” Slayd said.
   The Spider Queen extended a hand off to her side, and a single strand of silk descended from the ceiling, carrying with it a glimmer of silver-white iridescence. She reached up and plucked the tiny bit from the thread, and held it out to Slayd. “The token of my vow, Heir of Moroloth. When you have need of me, I shall be waiting.”
   Slayd took the token and turned it over in his hand. It was a tiny alabaster spider, carved just like the one on his pendant.
   The Spider Queen drew away from Slayd, and her ghostly voice grew harsh. “The proximity of your guardian vexes me. Tell me, Bringer of Doom, for what gift do I abide your galling presence?”
   “Surely you sense him. The reek of his fear fills the whole of your castle.” Guile’s voice was practically breathless, and Slayd thought that if his grin could get any wider it would have split his jaw apart. He looked positively blissful, in an evil sort of way.
   The Spider Queen glided towards them, and Jyrr quailed back against Guile. He probably would have crumpled to the ground if Guile hadn’t had such a hard grip on his arm.
   Her face was expressionless, but the sibilant purr that emanated from the Spider Queen sounded almost as delighted as Guile was. “I sense the presence of the Maggot King’s young charge. You do indeed bring me a gift I greatly desire, Bane of Moroloth.” She inclined her head towards Guile in a manner that Slayd assumed was supposed to mean she was pleased with him.
   Jyrr looked about ready to pass out from fear as Guile shoved him forward to stand trembling in front of the Spider Queen. She extended a hand towards him, and he took it haltingly, kissing her long fingers. A faint smile crossed over her face. “You have caused me great difficulty, Prince of Flies. I do not look kindly upon anyone who would steal from me.” Her whispering voice grew cold, and she slipped her hand away.
   As Jyrr stammered unintelligibly, she turned and stepped down from her dais. Slayd saw a hint of many thin, bristled legs swish past within the hem of her dress. He shuddered, the Very Bad Feeling running over his bones in waves. She crossed the room and glided through one of the dark wooden doors, waving a hand at the writhing walls along her way.
   The white spiders detached themselves from their cobwebs and came streaming down and across the floor. Jyrr gave a small cry of alarm, and grasped at Guile’s arm.
   “Please, Guile! I can promise you anything you want, just please, don’t let her consume me!”
   But Jyrr’s pleading eyes did nothing to move Guile. His manic smile only grew larger, and he directed the frightened man’s gaze to the spiders that were closing in on him. “I believe you are invited to dinner, Jyrr. It would be rude not to accept her invitation.” He shook Jyrr off of his arm, sprawling him down to the floor. He sneered down at him, watching the spiders draw near.
   They moved quickly. Swarming over Jyrr’s struggling body, they engulfed him in a writhing mass of spider legs and dripping fangs. He screamed, but it abruptly ended in a strangled gurgle. Slayd gasped and tried to run to Jyrr, but Guile stood in his way. “Do not prevent me this joy, Slayd,” he snarled, “I have wanted this for a very long time.”
   One by one, the spiders moved off of Jyrr and all Slayd could see was a gossamer silk encasement. It twitched and flinched as the spiders began to drag it across the room.
   “Guile…” Slayd looked from Jyrr’s shuddering body to his guardian, trying to make up his mind what he should do. Guile ignored him, focusing all his gleeful attention on the spiders and their burden. He was practically salivating in his excitement, making Slayd take a step away from him in disgust.
   The spiders dragged the wrapping towards one of the doors, which creaked open under the pressure of their squirming legs. Jyrr’s wrapped body disappeared past the door frame, and the swarm of spiders followed.
   Wretch detached himself from the edge of the dais where he had been lurking, and faltered along on all fours behind the mass of spiders. He paused for a moment by Slayd’s side.


One to watch and one to prey
And one to tear his soul away…


He tossed a drooling, toothy grin to both Guile and Slayd before slinking through the doorway after the spiders.
   “Yes, I suppose so… Pity I won’t be able to watch…” Guile’s voice was almost dreamy.
   Slayd stood there staring agape at his guardian. How could he even think of wanting to watch something that macabre? But then again, He thought, It was Guile after all who consumed Jyrr the first time. I couldn’t stop him then…
   He hesitated. Oh what am I thinking? Jyrr tried to kill me, I don’t owe him anything. He deserves… He deserves…
   He shook his head violently. The spiders had vanished entirely from the room now, and he couldn’t even hear them past the door.
   He doesn’t deserve this.
   Slayd made up his mind. He sprinted through the door and down the darkened stair it led to, ignoring Guile’s sudden “ah!” of realization about what he was going to try to do.
   He followed the stairs as quickly as his legs would carry him, hoping he wouldn’t slip on the patches of cobwebs covering the steps. Guile’s bellowing “Slayd!” only hastened his stride. The stairs led him down, and down, and even further down, until he felt a chilly breeze carrying Wretch’s stench practically smack him in the face. He careened to a stop and dropped to his knees, dizzy with adrenaline.
   The stair suddenly dropped away just ahead of him, giving way to a yawning abyss that could only be the place where the giant square hole in the floor he had seen earlier opened into. Wretch was crouched on the last step, teetering precariously over the edge. He twisted his head to regard Slayd with an open-mouthed smile, strings of drool dripping off his bandages and into the bottomless void below.
   Slayd tried hard to regain his breath, and asked him, “Wh - Where did they go?”
   Wretch stretched out a contorted hand into the darkness, his fingers wriggling wildly.


They dragged him down her winding stair
Into her dismal den,
Deep within her parlor –
He’ll ne’er come out again…


Slayd heard a ragged snarl echo down the stairs, and he could practically feel Guile’s rage approaching. His eyes grew wide and panicked. “Oh no…”
   Wretched screwed his head around to regard Slayd with a quizzical expression. His hand still spasmed out into the abyss.


The gossamer track, ‘tis a moonbeam bright
That leads right through to starry night
So put on your ‘jamas and say your prayers
And follow Sandman down the stairs.


Slayd peered warily into the darkness, wondering if he could trust Wretch’s nearly nonsensical words. But as he stared his eyes adjusted to the dim light filtering down from far above them. Sure enough, he could make out the thin reflection of light on silken threads, strung out all across the chasm. Some of them even looked thick enough to bear his weight. He swallowed hard. This was a Very Bad Idea.
   Guile’s seething wrath was echoing louder behind him, enough that he could make out his heavy breathing and guttural spidery words hissed in a harsh language he couldn’t remember ever hearing before. Slayd could swear he could feel a feverish heat rushing down the stairs, and a very vivid image of himself caught up in Guile’s second gaping mouth came rushing into his mind. “Oh dear… Oh dear…”
   Slayd gathered up as much courage as he could, and stepped out into the darkness.


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