Chapter 23: Storytelling.
“There’s not much to tell, really,” Guile said, and a bit of weariness crept into his voice. “As we all know, Slayd had long disappeared, trying to find a way to escape his fate. Though he left in secret and I knew not until the following morning that he had gone, I had long known that he had been troubled with doubts about his purpose. I suppose I should not have been surprised when I discovered he was gone. But… I broke my vow to Moroloth to stay by Slayd’s side. I was brooding and selfish, and I remained at Amoth Shyr instead of immediately following after him into whatever folly he insisted on throwing himself into. I waited, assuming he would return when he finally discovered his tantrum was futile. But he didn’t come back and the long months turned into over a year, and I became worried over what had become of my master.
“So I set out in search of him. It took me a very long time - years probably - to search the kingdoms, but it was a futile attempt. I did not find him in any of them, although I always heard when I asked that he had passed that way. Though I received assistance from an old… friend… who helped me in my search, I never came close to catching up with him.
“Word reached me that the last person that had seen Slayd was a priest named Incavius. I remembered his name from Moroloth’s long study of the dark arts and from the battle with Khorr, so I went to see him. I hoped that he could give me some small clue where I could find my master.
“It was there in his temple on the furthest border of the Maggot Kingdom, that I heard that Slayd had passed over the Lake Khorakh and beyond into shadow. He had left his heirloom pendant with Incavius, knowingly leaving behind his main form of protection. It was there that I lost my eyes as well…”
He looked thoughtful, but he shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Upon hearing where Slayd had gone, I immediately set off to find him and the Ferryman took me across the lake. I - ”
“Wait,” the Locust King waved a long hand at Guile, “The Ferryman? You were allowed to sit upon his boat while your soul was still quite firmly nestled in your body? How is this possible?”
Guile grunted. “Personally serving under Moroloth’s hand and being selected to be the guardian of the Heir of Moroloth has its advantages.”
The willowy man nodded slowly. “I suppose so. There is much I do not understand about the magic that your master wields, and I suppose I will never know the extent of it. Sorry to interrupt…”
Guile merely shrugged. “On the opposite shore I journeyed with great difficulty, but I did finally manage to stumble upon the Temple of Mirrors. I could sense Slayd’s essence weakly somewhere within.” Here he paused, and the Locust King looked blankly at him, confused.
“Yet I have always heard that he had passed beyond the Temple of Mirrors,” he said, “and died beyond the Veil, in what might be the Otherworlds.”
Guile nodded. “The Temple of Mirrors, despite what many say, does indeed lie beyond the Veil. Indeed, at the temple Slayd did pass into the Otherworlds, or the illusion of one of them.”
The Locust King shook his head. “I do not fully understand. Although I am hoping that you might explain it to me. It does indeed sound very interesting.”
Guile grinned, showing teeth. “It’s an odd thing, perception. We know that which is around us, and nothing more. In the case of the Temple of Mirrors, it can create new surroundings for those who cross over its threshold and contemplate its mirrors. What happened to Slayd, as far as I can put together… He had entered the Temple - why I’m not entirely sure, although I am almost certain it was because the Temple itself lured him inside with promises of escaping his purpose.”
The Locust King leaned forward in his seat, fascination spreading across his face. “The temple itself? Is it enchanted, do you think? Or does it have a mind of its own? This is very interesting…”
Guile smiled knowingly. “If I had to say, I would say that it was itself very much alive and aware. But whatever the case of the temple, the effect is the same. Slayd was lured inside and peered into one of the mirrors. The mirrors act as portals into illusions, and Slayd was pulled into one of them. It was there in that illusion that he died.”
“But how, I wonder?” The Locust King looked pensive. “Do you think it was the Temple’s doing? Did it itself kill him?”
“Probably. The Temple of Mirrors has its own designs. Although once the Temple has someone, I’m sure it does not matter if they live or die at that point. But that is rather irrelevant.” He shook his head and sighed. “What I am sure of is that once Slayd passed through the portal mirror, his perception changed and he fell into the illusion that the temple had created for him. He adopted the persona that the temple offered him, and lived the life that it contrived. He effectively forgot his real life, his real purpose. Of course, that was his original intent, when he left Amoth Shyr.”
He glanced significantly at Slayd, who sank a little lower in his chair. Much of what Guile had said sounded eerily familiar, and he found that his memory was trying to fill in the blanks all by itself. What Guile had said about him wanting to abandon his sole purpose made him feel guilty, but at the same time he felt defiant. He certainly never recalled asking to be someone else’s guarantee for immortality.
Guile continued his story. “But from what I know from long study under Moroloth about illusions that envelop one’s whole being, it is certain that no one can survive in such an illusion forever. Slayd must have died not too long before I had found the Temple of Mirrors, because his essence that I sensed was rapidly fading even as I crossed the temple’s threshold.
“Now the temple has many halls lined with tall mirrors, each set upon a dais of steps. Each mirror probably leads to a different illusion, I assume. They call out in a magical tongue, using their song to lure anyone who stumbles into their halls to their doom. Fortunately, I managed to ignore their calls, and I searched the temple only for the source of where Slayd’s essence was coming from.”
“How did you manage?” The Locust King fidgeted with one of the tiny figurines. “I have always thought that the Temple of Mirrors is ancient and powerful magic, much older than any of us could really imagine. You resisted its siren song?”
Guile shrugged. “I’ve never been one for music. In any event, I did indeed find one mirror among the many where Slayd’s essence was centered upon. I could feel him fading quickly. As I watched this mirror I could see him, lying dead underground in a coffin.
“I called to him again and again, and used what magic I had to revive him. He awoke, but did not hear my voice. I continued to watch him as he escaped his buried tomb and wandered the illusion that he was trapped in. He entered some sort of dwelling that the temple had contrived, and I saw then that I might have a chance to reach him. I realized that I could use my magic to influence the illusion - just a bit, just enough to form a mirror within it. I hoped that I might be able to reach to Slayd through the mirror, and draw him out of the illusion.
“He did not recognize me at all when I appeared to him through the mirror, but I had expected that. It took a bit of cajoling, but I did manage to get him to follow me through.
“Something unexpected happened then, and although I am still not sure exactly what happened, the Temple of Mirrors seemed to have changed its mind about allowing me to linger within. It cast both me and Slayd out of itself, and vanished from sight. We fell back into the Veil.”
The Locust King chewed his lower lip in deep concentration. “It is amazing that you survived even so far as to just go into the Veil… How did you survive coming back? I have never heard of anyone returning from beyond the Veil, or even from deep within. To venture there is to go to death, or so I have always heard.”
“Indeed, we probably should have died there. We were pursued.”
The willowy man leaned forward, his eyebrows shooting up far over his spectacles. “Pursued? By what?”
“By Grigora.” Guile tossed a hand in a casual shrug, but his fingers trembled a little. Slayd was the only one that noticed, though. “But with a little help from magic and some over-exertion on the part of flight, we broke back through the Veil and ended up on the far shore of Lake Khorakh. The rest you already know.”
The Locust King nodded slowly, his eyes wide. “But to think… You are a far stronger person than people give you credit for, Guile, if you survived the shadows of the Veil. And you did it all for Slayd. Your loyalty to your master runs deeper than death itself. Perhaps that is why you have such strength.”
Slayd shook his head and sat up. “Wait, wait, wait. Just what is the Veil, anyway? You keep mentioning it, but I do not understand what it actually is. What do this Temple of Mirrors and this Veil have to do with each other? Who made them? Why is all of this important anyway?”
Guile shrugged carelessly. “You still never ask the right questions. I do not see why I should tell you if you don’t already remember.”
The Locust King tossed the figurine he was toying with back onto the table and placed his hand on Guile’s shoulder. “If you would be so kind, Guile, explain it to him. He will be going into great danger, and the shadow of the Veil and what lies beyond it loom quite closely over his head. I know you will guard him well, but perhaps it would arm him better if he relearned some of his old lessons.”
Guile snorted and eyed Slayd with a look that sent shivers up and down his spine. “He certainly will be relearning old lessons, and soon. But since you request it, Locust King.”
He sighed and turned to Slayd, his tone becoming slow and lilting as if he were trying to explain a simple concept to a small child.
“Our world lies between the realms of the Grigora. The outer rim of Dehalen is a turning point, a crossroads between their Otherworlds. The Veil is many things but to the people of Dehalen it is a barrier, a shadowy magic that surrounds our world and keeps the Grigora at bay, though it does not stop them entirely. Were it not for the Veil there would be no barrier between their realms and ours, and the Grigora would tear our world to pieces with their passing.
“The Temple of Mirrors is the primary source of magical power for the Veil. It is because of the Veil that the Temple of Mirrors gathers souls and keeps them within its illusions.”
Slayd shuddered. He remembered the frightening feelings he had experienced when Guile had first pulled him from that mirror. “But… why does it need souls?”
A thin smile played across Guile’s face, enjoying Slayd’s discomfort. “Because souls are what fuel the Veil. What better way to keep a world together?”
Slayd squirmed in his seat and frowned. “Who created the Temple of Mirrors in the first place?”
The Locust King leaned forward and looked eagerly at Slayd’s guardian. “But before Guile answers that question, I would like to know how he knows all of this in the first place. There are many things he has said this morning that even I have not known before.”
Guile sighed and looked irritable. “I know because I needed to know. Surely you are aware that I have long served – and studied - under Moroloth’s own hand for many years. I have been entrusted with many of his secrets. Beyond that, the source of my knowledge is my own secret, and I shall keep it.”
“Tch.” Jyrr had said not a word throughout the entire conversation, and now three pairs of eyes gave him their full attention. He scratched the back of his head and still stared at the floor.
“Something you want to say?” Guile’s voice was silky soft, but Slayd knew from past experience that it certainly did not mean he was in a gentle mood.
Jyrr shook his head. “Nothing that wouldn’t end up getting me killed again.”
Guile’s eye sockets narrowed. “Do not think that because we are in the Locust Kingdom that means you are free to do and say as you please. I still have power here, and I will not suffer my patience to be tested any further than it already has.”
The Locust King leaned over and patted Jyrr’s shoulder. “He is right, Jyrr. I will not force my own opinion on the situation the three of you are in, so please respect Guile’s authority. It is for the best.”
He beamed at each of them in turn. “I do have one more question for you, Guile, for Slayd’s benefit. I know that the Veil acts as a barrier between the Grigora’s Otherworlds and Dehalen, and it is because of that barrier that we do not see Grigora swarming all over our doorstep. Yet they can and do break through it on occasion, terrorizing our people in the process. I have often wondered… Our lord Moroloth has made mortal enemies of demonkind, and yet they do not simply brave the difficulty of breaking through the Veil to destroy his body while he lies dead in the Beetle Kingdom. Nor do they pursue his heir. Why is that?”
Guile sat in silence for a moment, his brow knit in thought before he finally answered. “There are probably many reasons why they do not, but the simplest answer is that the Grigora are always slow to act. They prefer to bide their time. But despite their sluggishness at any sort of response, I fear they will eventually come for either Moroloth or Slayd,” he turned to his charge, “that is why I have been quite eager to prepare you for this as quickly as possible, because it is you, Slayd, who will be fighting them, regardless of whether you want to or not.”
Slayd blinked. He didn’t like the sound of that at all, but he sighed and shrugged. From all this talk about his fate or purpose or whatever it was that caused him to be here in the first place, he had the feeling that nobody was really going to give him any choice in the matter.
“Oh! That reminds me.” The Locust King stood and rummaged through the many trinkets that lay on one of the shelves along the wall. “I really should have given this to you right when you first got here, but I’ve been so distracted… Hm. You know, I never keep important things where I can easily find them, you’d think I’d learn after all these years, but no… ah, here we are.” He pulled out a familiar looking little brass pin, and handed it to Slayd. “Sorry about that.”
Slayd took the pin - etched to look like a tiny locust in mid-jump - and pressed it carefully into its spot on the pendant. “Thank you,” he said, “for everything, really.”
The Locust King looked very pleased with himself and blushed. “I am only doing my duty, Slayd.” His voice became very serious for the first time that night. “As you should do as well. I realize that you do not enjoy the thought of being created only to perpetuate the life of your sire and to fulfill his desires, but that is what you are meant to do. Yet you are destined for even greater things, I think, great things that you yourself design. Oh stop looking at me like that,” he waved his hand at the pendant, which looked for all the world like it was glaring at him. “I’m not countering you, and I’m still on your side. You needn’t worry.”
He smiled at the pendant, and then at Slayd and Guile. “But I certainly have kept you here a while, making you recount your adventures even after you have had such a tiresome journey without any opportunity to sleep. You should rest, at least for a little while, before you set out again.” He got up from behind his cluttered table. “Please, follow me. I believe I have rooms prepared for you.”