Chapter 21: Some Light Reading.

  The three grudging companions waded through the tall grass slowly, saying nothing, not even looking at each other. Each was much too wrapped up in their own thoughts and neither Jyrr nor Slayd wanted to further anger Guile, who was brooding dangerously as it was. The next several hours of wading through the grass remained silent.
   It really was beautiful here, though. The slowly lightening horizon seemed to stretch on far ahead of them, as if this golden sea of grass led right up to the very edge of the world. Slayd couldn’t imagine that the dim light was caused by a sun, but he knew that what functioned as a dawn in this world was on its way. There was a soft, sweet breeze that rustled the tufted heads of the grasses, and Slayd could hear myriads of crickets chirping beneath their feet. If Guile hadn’t soured the air around them with his foul mood, it would have felt quite pleasant.
   Slayd worried that Jyrr wouldn’t be able to continue as non-stop and quick paced as Guile seemed to want to go, but his wings seemed to hold boundless stamina and as long as he didn’t need to walk he appeared to be doing all right. Guile himself occasionally took to the air, but it was mainly to see how far along they were on their newest trek. He would always land heavily and with an irritable sigh before resuming his stride.
   But after many such occasions, he flew back down from his brief surveying of the land and beckoned to the other two with a clawed hand. “We are almost there. We must keep very quiet and be slow and careful, because they will not assist us if we disturb them with too much movement or noise.”
   Slayd looked quizzically at Guile and whispered, “Who will or will not assist us? I haven’t seen a single sign of anyone ever since the plague of locusts dropped us here.”
   “There are dwellers in the river up ahead. While they may have made their home in the Locust King’s dominion, they are not under his reign and may or may not exercise their right to refuse us if we agitate them.”
   Slayd nodded and followed Guile quietly, wondering who these denizens of the river were, and why they weren’t under the Locust King’s rule. But he didn’t dwell on these thoughts too much because the golden grass ahead of them turned into reeds and cattails. Guile parted them and stood aside, beckoning Jyrr and Slayd to look.
   A wide and sluggish river opened out in front of them, its deep blue-green waters barely making a ripple on the surface. Slayd recognized it easily as the same river that he had seen while they had been borne aloft by the plague of locusts several hours ago.
   Slayd did not see anyone around though and he would have turned to Guile to ask him where they were, but a sudden movement to his right caught his attention and he turned to see what had made the motion.
   A long and thin body about the size of a large canoe hovered above the water, brown and white, with two beady black eyes and a folded pair of arms held close to its body. It looked curiously at Slayd and then directed its attention to regard Guile and Jyrr, standing on the bank of the river next to him.
   It was not actually hovering above the water at all. It had four long, thin, black legs, which extended out from its body and touched the surface of the water, standing easily upon it. It’s a water strider, Slayd thought happily, I’ve always thought they were the neatest little bugs. Although, this one is not exactly little.
   Nor was there just one of them. Six or seven more had skated into view and they all paused for a moment, studying their odd guests from the safety of the water.
   Guile bowed a little as a greeting, and Slayd and Jyrr followed his example, taking care to do it slowly so they wouldn’t surprise any of the creatures. Guile didn’t say anything to them though, he just returned their quizzical gaze patiently, as if waiting for them to make the next move.
   Finally one of the water striders darted forward, touching one of its long twiggy legs upon the shore of the river, and bobbed its head at Guile.
   Guile turned to Slayd and Jyrr. “We have a ride,” he whispered, “to the Locust King’s citadel. Come Slayd, you will ride with me.”
   He extended a hand to Slayd, who hesitated and stared at the ground. He was rather eager to stay as far away from Guile as possible for the next few days. Guile’s words when they had first arrived on the plain were still very vivid in his mind, particularly the part about Guile wanting to break him apart. Although they had triggered the start of a rush of vague memories, Slayd was beginning to wonder if those memories were at all positive ones. He was hesitant to find out what they contained.
   Guile sneered. “I care not what you think of me. I am still your guardian, whether you like it or not. Come, Slayd. I will not ask a third time.”
   Slayd took his hand. Guile flew them both up onto the giant water strider’s back, and the creature pushed away from the shore, drifting along with the slow current. Slayd watched another water strider edge up to the shoreline and offer its back for Jyrr to ride. Soon it joined the one that Guile and Slayd were on, drifting on the surface of the water.
   They didn’t move very fast, if at all. Aside from the occasional twitching that they made, the water striders preferred to go only a little bit faster than the sluggish current. But the scenery around them was just as pretty here as it was on the plain, with the golden grass backing the dull shine of the reeds along the shore under a lightening amethyst sky, so Slayd didn’t really mind. Guile seemed restless.
   The river wound slowly through the sea of golden grain, occasionally picking up a little speed. But however pretty the landscape might be, it did get a little monotonous and Slayd found his eyes growing heavy lidded. He didn’t want to be rude and fall asleep on the water strider’s back, so he kept shaking his head and blinking to keep the sleepiness away.
   Guile watched him try to stay awake and would have rolled his eyes if he could have. “Do you remember the tome that the Keeper of the Scrolls gave you? Now may be one of the few opportunities you will have to page through it. I will show you how to retrieve it from your pendant.”
   Slayd nodded and Guile edged closer to him, taking hold of the pendant around Slayd’s neck. He took Slayd’s hand and placed it underneath the pendant, palm up. “Hold it in your hand like this and say this little incantation, after me.”
   He whispered thin, spidery words of magic, and a brief glow drifted across the pendant. Slayd repeated them and the eye in the pendant blinked. A tiny flash of light, and his book lay in Slayd’s lap.
   “There,” Guile said softly. “Now read.”
   Slayd obeyed, opening the book up for the first time.
   From the Records of Dehalen History, Volume 17, second revision
   A Concise Record of the History of Moroloth and his Progeny in which His Deeds are Recounted in Brief Form by the Keeper of the Scrolls.
   In this volume I will record the adult history of Moroloth, Master of the Magical Arts. I will not trouble to record again Moroloth’s birth, formative years, and young life in this volume. For those interested in these years, see The Records of Dehalen History, Volume 16, second revision.
   Moroloth was the most powerful of the magic users known to the world of Dehalen, skilled in summoning, enchantment, spells and curses of all kinds, conjuring, transfiguration, necromancy, and all the other magical arts. He dwelt in Amoth Shyr, his fortress tower sited near the Rothen Mountains to the far and distant southeast, upon that part of the Adinon Plain called the Burning Grounds.

   Slayd would have read on, but the book seemed to have other ideas. Its pages whipped forward on their own, and stopped about a hundred pages in. Slayd eyed the tome quizzically, turning back to the cover in confusion. He re-opened it, and the pages again flipped by themselves to the same spot. He supposed that he probably shouldn’t question it, and just resumed reading where they had opened to.
   Moroloth sought to conquer the Grigora, which had at this time been growing in both numbers and violence. The demons heeded not the people of Dehalen, and many believe that they do not even register the presence of beings other than themselves unless they hold a great power. Now the Grigora emerge on rare occasion from their own world and move to and fro throughout the land of Dehalen. Few know anything of the ancient Otherworlds from where they come, or where they are going. They often war amongst themselves, and these battles spill out into the world of Delalen, causing much destruction and loss of life. The people of Dehalen lived in fear of the Grigora, and it was a dark age for the world. (For more information and history on the Grigora, see The Records of Dehalen History, Volumes 1 through 3, third revisions.)
   Though a few great mages hunted them, no mage at this time had ever conquered a Grigora, being as they are powerful demons and do not bend their wills to the mortal beings of Dehalen. Yet Moroloth grew more powerful than they. From the expansion of his knowledge and magical strength, it was he who proved the greater.
   Moroloth’s first attempt to summon a Grigora was met with great success. He endeavored to bend the being to his will, but instead this attempt caused the demon to immolate itself, and it was consumed by its own dark flame. Encouraged by such a conquest, Moroloth embarked on a study of the dark arts that the Grigora emanate, and filled himself with knowledge. During these studies he continued to summon Grigora, and many were destroyed.
   Moroloth began experimenting with controlling the Grigora that he summoned, and it was not long before he was able to force the lesser demons to his will. Some of these he subdued and compelled to serve him, and they became his slaves.
   Because of these conquests, Moroloth’s name reached far and wide throughout the lands of Dehalen. Many began to follow him, and there were numerous voices who called out for him to take the throne of all of Dehalen. But Moroloth refused. He was already a king in his own right, and his conquests lay not in ruling the people of Dehalen, but in freeing the people from the fear of the Grigora.
   While slow to respond to any mortal threat, the Grigora knew Moroloth, and contrived to destroy him. Moroloth was mindful that such a thing may come to pass if he did not prepare for such an eventuality, so he intensified his study of the dark arts of the Grigora.
   During his studies Moroloth came upon ancient arcana, which held a form of immortality in its practice. This intrigued Moroloth, who was as loath to die as any mortal. He began to put into practice these most ancient of the Grigora rites, and began to weave his most intricate spell he had ever created. But these dark arts and ancient ways of demonkind were never meant for mortal use. Moroloth was aware of this, and so he began to fashion himself an heir. This heir would function as a way for his work to continue if indeed his life was taken from him. His heir would resurrect him when the right time was at hand, and Moroloth - using the ancient arts - would live again, and continue his conquering of the Grigora, and ensure the safety of his people.
   Using his own magic as well as drawing from the vast reservoir of knowledge he had gained from the rites of the Grigora, he worked flesh from the very fabric of -

   The pages of the tome flipped again by themselves, and paused.
   It was at this time when Moroloth had finally finished constructing his heir. Calling upon his vast knowledge of Grigora magic and the dark arcana, he breathed life into him and named him Slayd. He trained him as his apprentice, ingraining his knowledge and magical learning into the child.
   Now Moroloth had many servants at his call and he summoned his most loyal of servants to him, and his name was Guile. This servant he charged with the keeping of Slayd, to guard him and protect him, and ensure that he would be kept to his purpose.
   Moroloth traveled throughout Dehalen much, visiting the kingdoms of the world and honing his magic. He began to take Slayd and his guardian Guile with him on many of his journeys throughout the kingdoms, and Slayd learned the length and breadth of all that was in the realms of Dehalen.
   The first realm that Slayd was to see beyond Amoth Shyr was the dominion of the Maggot King and his young adopted son, Jyrr, who –

   The book flipped its pages again, and Slayd frowned. He thought that was important stuff he should be reading so he tried to flip back to that chapter, but the book would not let him. No matter how hard he tried, it was as if he were trying to leaf through a stone.
   Guile snickered at this, and whispered to Slayd, “It seems as if you should not be reading such things. You best heed what the tome and your pendant insist upon.”
   Slayd looked down at his pendant, and was surprised to see it faintly glowing, a small white halo bordering the edges of the eye, which for all the world looked like it was frowning up at him.
   Slayd gave up trying to turn the pages back and muttered, “Fine, fine. I guess I might be able to read it later…” The eye stopped frowning, and Slayd resumed his reading.
   In preparation for his resurrection, Moroloth fashioned a pendant transcended in his magic, which would hold his essence when he was dead. Yet even with Moroloth’s great power, he was aware that he would need the magic of others to assist in transferring his essence from his body to this pendant. And so he called upon four of the most powerful magic users upon the face of Dehalen, each kings of their own realms and wise in magical lore. He also called upon the High Priest Incavius, who was wise and powerful in all things magical and spirit-born, and who had once been a priest of the Grigora before the people had given up their attempts to appease the demons with sacrifice and prayer.
   Moroloth beseeched these great ones to aid him in his purpose, and all pledged themselves unto him and swore to him their undying loyalty. For there was not a single mortal who had not heard of the greatness of Moroloth, and they were honored to be chosen by him.
   Moroloth bestowed upon the kings each a token of their new vows, binding them to their word by the enchantment of the rite. Each token had a place on the pendant Moroloth had fashioned, to be instilled there when the time of Moroloth’s transference was at hand. Only then would the magic within the pendant be released and begin the rite of resurrection.
   Moroloth gave the pendant to Slayd his heir for keeping, and instructed him over many years on the ways and magic of transference and resurrection. He also trained the child in the lore of the Lich Kings, and the ancient sacraments of -

   The book again turned its pages.
   Now Moroloth after many years was planning a great attack upon the Grigora. He brought together the High Priest Incavius, the four kings that had made vows to him and their servants also, and Slayd his heir. When the people of Dehalen received news that such an event was about to occur, they traveled from the nine corners of the world to witness and render their service in this great conflict.
   They gathered upon the great Adinon plain beyond the Burning Grounds, which is now the dark Lake of Khorakh. It was here that Moroloth joined his power with that of the Insect Kings and summoned the greatest of Grigora - their king, named Khorr - and did magical battle with him and his myriad demon servants.
   The clash was long and bloody, and many were killed on either side. Fallen were many great warriors, hundreds of great names that Dehalen will forever remember in memorial -

   Several pages flipped, skipping over what Slayd thought was probably a long description of who killed who on the battlefield, and with what and how.
   Yet Khorr and Moroloth battled fiercely with one another, heedless of the surrounding destruction. They were locked in mortal conflict, each attempting to gain power over the other, but neither succeeding.
   All surviving eyes were turned upon the struggle of Khorr and Moroloth. It came to pass that in the heat of this final battle, Khorr was mortally wounded, and in his dying throes the barbs upon his wings caught upon Moroloth himself, and he was also mortally wounded. The black blood of Khorr filled the plain and became the Lake Khorakh, lake of the dead and dying.
   Moroloth’s servant Guile bore his dying master to the edge of this new and terrible lake, and the four kings, the priest Incavius and Slayd followed. Upon the shore the transference of Moroloth’s being was done, and his corpse was borne unto the Beetle King’s dominion. There it was enshrined until the time came when Moroloth’s heir would revive him.
   The four kings each returned to their kingdoms, mourning the loss of the greatest among them. Guile and Slayd returned to Amoth Shyr, grieving the loss of their master. The High Priest Incavius remained upon the shore of the Lake of Khorakh, to hallow its waters and guard the dark secrets that lay under its surface.

   Several chapters worth of pages were skipped over, stopping near the end at a chapter marked “On the Journey of the Heir of Moroloth, and of His Quest for Escape from His Purpose.”
   But it did not allow him to read that chapter. Instead, the book flipped to the very last page.
   Moroloth’s corpse awaits only the advent of his heir Slayd’s return from beyond the Veil. But Slayd is lost to us. He passed through the Temple of Mirrors and died beyond the Veil, I do not know how. His servant Guile followed him beyond the Veil, and has not returned.
   Though his body is enshrined under the watchful eye of the Beetle King, I do not know the final fate of Moroloth. Nor do I know the fate of his heir Slayd, nor of his servant Guile.
   The kindling hope that Moroloth may rise again is unfounded and unlikely. The savior of Dehalen is dead. May he pass through to the Halls of Satarin.
   This ends The Records of Dehalen History, Volume 17, second revision.

   The book closed itself and Slayd sat in stunned silence, staring at nothing in particular. He already knew everything that he had read. He had heard it before. He had lived it before. It was all so familiar, and yet still so alien. There was something nagging him at the back of his mind, but he couldn’t quite place what it was. Something was still missing – left out - but he didn’t know what. It made his head hurt.
   Guile sat watching Slayd in silence, knowing that confusion was running to and fro inside his head. He reached out and took Slayd’s pendant from his hands and placed it on top of the book, saying the words that would store it again inside.
   Slayd shook his head, trying to clear it. He glanced over at Guile, who had turned away from him to look downstream. Slayd followed his gaze and he saw a huge citadel climbing slowly over the horizon to meet them.
   “The Locust King is a most gracious host, Slayd,” Guile said softly, “If a bit eccentric.”
   Slayd smiled a little. Something in his head remembered the Locust King fondly, although he couldn’t really recall anything clearly. But the thought of his memories being this close encouraged him. “How long until we get there?”
   “Within the hour.” Guile said.


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