Chapter 24: Retaliation.

  The Locust King led them down a hall brightly lit with paper lanterns. They had to backtrack a few times because he seemed to forget just where exactly their rooms were located, but eventually they arrived at a little row of wooden doors (Slayd refrained from mentioning to him that they had passed them by twice already).
   “Well, here you are. It is only late morning for the rest of us, but from the stories that you have told me it has been a long time since you three have had any rest. Please feel free to sleep the day away if you like. I certainly wish I could join you, but I suppose Lieron will round me up shortly to discuss some very important kingly matter of some sort or another that I have surely forgotten about.”
   He grasped each of their hands in turn, beaming. “If you desire, I can have Lieron or one of my other aides come and check on you early this evening, to see if you are up for having some dinner. Well! I’ve kept you awake long enough. I do so love seeing you all again. Sleep well, sleep well.” The Locust King wandered away down the hall, already lost in his own daze.
   The moment the three of them could no longer see the willowy man, Guile’s face changed from passive to livid. But his voice remained in a deadly calm. “Jyrr, there.” He pointed to one of the doors. Jyrr obeyed quickly, his boldness from earlier already forgotten. “Slayd, come with me.” And he marched through one of the other doors. Slayd followed him apprehensively. He flinched as Guile shut the door quietly behind him.
   “Come here, Slayd.” Guile was so calm and quiet it made Slayd shiver. But he obeyed and stood cringing in front of him, staring at the floor.
   “I do not know why you tried to abandon your fate. I do not care. I also do not know why you saved Jyrr’s life. I do not care.” His voice was almost a whisper, but it scared Slayd to death.
   “I do care, however, that you would undermine me, take me for granted and ignore my warnings. Ever since I pulled you from that mirror, you have insisted that I do not speak the truth. You have disobeyed me at every turn. You treat me as if nothing I say matters. I will tell you now that everything I say to you matters. Everything I do, both to you and because of you, matters. If you do not recognize that now, you will. I will force you to.”
   He tapped the side of Slayd’s cheek with one long claw. “Do not think that I would ever hurt you for baseless reasons. Yet I will not lie to you and say that hurting you brings me no pleasure, because it does.”
   Slayd nodded but did not say anything, unsure of what his response should be. But Guile did not intend on giving him much time to respond.
   Slayd didn’t see Guile strike him because his eyes were focused on the ground. But he suddenly felt a heavy blow to the side of his head, careening him into the far wall and making his temple throb. Guile followed quickly after, hauling Slayd back up to his feet. Claws raked across his chest, drawing deep gashes and splattering blood across the floor. Slayd jerked his head up just in time to see Guile smile as he grabbed Slayd’s wrists and pulled him up against his chest. “It brings me great pleasure.”
   He dug his nails into the soft flesh of his back, carving intricate spirals that Slayd would have appreciated for their artistic beauty, had his body not been the canvas.
   “Guile, please!” He cried out in pain and struggled against Guile’s vice-like grip, but he might as well have been struggling with stone. Guile ignored his whimpering and kept trailing his claws through his flesh in agonizing slow circles until there wasn’t an inch of intact skin anywhere on his torso.
   “Had you allowed me the simple satisfaction of delivering Jyrr to the Spider Queen, perhaps I would not take such delight in your pain, fearful little one.” Guile threw him across the room again and Slayd slammed into the opposite wall, sliding down it with a wet thump. Something snapped in his lower back, and he sobbed against the spikes of pain shooting up his spine. “Guile, please don’t do this!”
   But if his guardian even heard him, he showed no sign of it. Slayd cowered on the floor as Guile walked calmly to his side and crouched down to look him in the eye.
   “But yet again, you seem to enjoy causing me pain as well, don’t you, Slayd?” He grabbed him by the throat and lifted him above his head. Slayd clutched at Guile’s hand, gasping for air. Guile shook him like a rag doll and smiled up at him. “Did you ever pause to consider how much it hurt me to see you go? Did you even think about me after you left Amoth Shyr?”
   He grinned manically and throttled Slayd, his nails digging into the soft flesh of his throat. “Because I certainly thought of you, every moment of every miserable night.” Guile tightened his grip, and blood flowed over his fingers. “But you don’t remember that, do you? You don’t remember any of it, do you? Do you!?
   A wet snap rent the air, and Slayd’s body went limp. Guile dropped him as suddenly as if he were a hot coal. The sneer abruptly vanished, and tears ran down his eyeless face. “You always were the more self-centered one, Slayd.” He sat down on the floor next to his master’s crumpled body and ran his hand through Slayd’s bloody hair. “Yet we are both selfish, aren’t we?”
   Jyrr heard Slayd’s cries of pain through the walls, but he didn’t dare go to see what was wrong. He locked the door (not that it would do any good, he knew) and leaned against it, sighing. For a few moments earlier that morning, he had hoped that he would be able to wrest himself free of Guile’s heavy hand, but the Locust King had made it abundantly clear that Guile still had authority, even in the Locust Kingdom. “To think that I should suffer the indignity of still being under his hand, even in the realm of an ally of my father. Preposterous.”
   He heard Slayd gasp and Guile snarl, his voice too low to hear what he was saying. Jyrr’s whole body shuddered. “That voice… I swear it will probably end up being the last thing I ever hear.” He curled himself up on the bed that was in the room and wished he was back at his palace, safe from Guile and the rest of the world.
   “Of course,” he said to himself, “I might have deserved some of this after all, I guess. I certainly did not plan this out very well at all.”
   He thought about the story that Slayd and Guile had told the Locust King, and he counted down the kingdoms in his head. “That would make the Beetle King their last destination, before Slayd has to decide what to do next. And if they go to the Beetle King, and if Slayd follows what Guile tells him to do, I will surely die again there. The Lich King will not abide my presence, I’m almost certain of that. Of course, if they never arrive in the Beetle Kingdom - or if I am no longer with them - then perhaps I can get through this all right in the end after all…” Jyrr’s mind began to plot and plan, and it was a long time before he fell asleep.
   Guile held Slayd’s broken body close in his arms, and tears came running down his face unchecked. “You are a most stubborn creature, Slayd,” he said, although Slayd could no longer hear him. “Do you not think that if only you listened to me once in a while, that I would not have to do this to you?”
   He cupped Slayd’s face in his hand and gently brushed his lips over his forehead. “There may come a time when I cannot put you back together again.”
   He whispered the spidery language of magic, and the thin blue lines of a spell crisscrossed over Slayd’s still form. A sickening crack rang through the close air of the room as Slayd’s neck snapped back into place, and his wounds slowly began to close.
   Guile slid a hand over Slayd’s chest as he murmured the spell, letting his fingers linger over the cage that secured Slayd’s heart within his body. He could feel it begin to beat again as the magic worked its way deep inside. “I fear for you, Slayd. I fear the little one I once knew is no longer breathing within you, and I do not know what that may mean for your fate. I barely know who you are anymore. It seems as though I lost you long before you ever left me, and I was too selfish to realize it until it was too late.”
   He tipped Slayd’s head back and kissed him deeply, breathing the last of the spell into him. Slayd gasped for a ragged breath, his eyes fluttering to open wide before rolling back into his head. Guile held him close, whispering quietly in his ear and running a hand through his ribbony hair. Slayd’s breathing evened out slowly, his unconscious body gradually warming to Guile’s touch. “But whether or not I lost you, you still belong to me… and I to you. Some things will never change.”
   He sighed and trailed his fingers over the wounds he had made, watching the threads of blue magic weave their way into them, slowly knitting the flesh back together. Sleep was going to have to wait. It would take all day, but he would be careful to do this right.
   Jyrr awoke with a start, jolted out of his restless sleep by dreams of grey clawed hands wrapping around his throat and teeth burying themselves in his abdomen. He shuddered and wiped the sweat off of his forehead. “I cannot escape him even in my sleep, can I?”
   The dim cloudy grey of the sky outside his window told him it was probably about midday. “They may be worrying about me by now. I have been gone for far too many days. If Drael’s addled head is still attached to his shoulders, he should have inquired as to my whereabouts by now. Surely he and the others will be coming for me… That is, if they even know I have survived the lair of the Spider Queen.”
   He shuddered. Now that was a memory that was still a little too close for comfort. Though he had Slayd to thank for getting him out of such a rough predicament. “Oh dear little Slayd, why did you have to go and remember all the wrong things? We could have had such an enjoyable time had you remembered the pleasurable moments we had shared, rather than my premature seduction.”
   He groaned and buried his head in his hands. “I should have waited. He may have even come willingly into my arms had I not lost my patience.”
   He rolled out of bed and leaned against the windowsill, watching the river run by below. He knew enchantments were woven across the whole of the citadel, so he could not simply just fly out the window. No, he would have to come up with some sort of escape plan. And soon. From the screams he had heard a few hours ago, Guile was sure to be in a killing mood.
   “I have to get out of here.”
   Guile took his time putting Slayd back together, carefully ensuring each muscle was strung back together properly and each wound closed without leaving a scar. He was only about halfway through when Slayd began to twitch and mumble in his sleep. His eyes fluttered open and he took in a long slow breath, casting his head about and trying to get his eyes to focus. Guile held him gently, whispering soft words in his ear to try to calm him. But Slayd struggled in his arms, pushing him away and tumbling to the floor.
   “Don’t – don’t touch me!” He backed himself into the farthest corner of the room, breathing hard and staring wildly at his guardian.
   Guile didn’t say anything to him, nor did he try to come any nearer. He sat himself down on the floor and watched Slayd quietly as he felt around his throat and eyed the half-healed marks that covered his body.
   He felt sore all over, but he didn’t dare ask Guile to heal him the rest of the way. He wanted to keep as far away from his guardian as he possibly could. At the moment, he didn’t care whether Guile had said that he loved him or not, because it certainly did not seem like he did, not at all. Anger boiled up inside of him, white-hot and seething. He wanted to scream at Guile, he wanted to see him writhing on the ground in agony, he wanted to hear him beg for forgiveness, beg for mercy.
   Across the room, Guile flinched. Slayd didn’t notice though, he was rather preoccupied with his own thoughts. There was something different, something strange…
   He… he felt different. He didn’t know why or how, but he felt as if he had just taken off a heavy coat made of weakness and fear, and replaced it with wings of his own. Despite the aching soreness from his half-healed wounds, he felt good.
   And he was remembering things. He could remember bits and pieces of his old life - with crystal clarity, as if they had happened only moments before. He remembered his last visit with the Locust King in particular, and how fond that time had been. He remembered the first time he had visited the Maggot Kingdom, and how he and Jyrr had spent so much time together. There had been good times the two of them had shared. He also remembered the bad parts too, and that made him feel livid. But there was more.
   He also remembered much of the time that he had spent with Guile, learning from him, playing with him, both trusting and fearing him. He remembered Guile looking very different. He used to have eyes, dark eyes that sucked the soul right out of you. He remembered that even those eyes were not his first, but were replacements for far more dangerous ones.
   He remembered running his fingers over Guile’s head, asking him how he had gotten the gashes in his skull and the scars on his back beneath his feathered wings. He remembered being comforted after having bad dreams, and falling asleep on Guile’s chest. He remembered picking multifaceted flowers for him as a child, and how Guile had protected him from the myriad of hostile creatures that dwelt in this strange world. He remembered Guile both hurting him and healing him, and how both the harm and the comfort seemed like they were one and the same.
   Slayd shook his head, trying to banish the images from his head. He didn’t want to think about that. He didn’t want to remember that, not right now. What he wanted to do was get away from Guile, and feel safe.
   But as that thought ran across his mind, another occurred to him; he had never felt safe anywhere else but in Guile’s arms. He cringed and shook his head, hot anger boiling up again from the pit of his stomach. No. Not this time. Never again.
   He looked over at Guile, who was watching him back and brooding quietly to himself.
   “This has happened before,” Slayd said. It wasn’t a question. “This same thing has happened before, although the circumstances surrounding it were different.”
   Guile nodded silently.
   “And,” Slayd continued, “and yet I still trusted you, despite it all.” He shifted on the floor, taking notice of the shallow, half-healed patterns crisscrossing his torso. “What I want to know is, why? Why should I bother to trust you when you say you will keep me safe, but the instant I do something you dislike, you hurt me, break me, rape me, murder me?”
   Guile said nothing in response, only looked away at the floor.
   “Your whole duty is to protect me, and to force me onto the path that Moroloth designed, correct?”
   Guile nodded.
   “At what point, in any way, does tearing me apart fall into that duty? At what point can you say to yourself that what you did is at all in my best interests, or even in Lord Moroloth’s best interests?”
   Guile swallowed and stared at the floor, not saying anything in response. Slayd stood shakily and leaned on the wall behind him for support. He felt weak and didn’t really want to move, but he forced himself to edge towards the door of the room. Guile reached a hand out to him and started to say something, but Slayd turned his back on him.
   “You say I can trust you. I say I cannot.” He opened the door. “Goodbye, Guile. See you in hell.”
   The door slammed shut behind him. Tears again fell from Guile’s eyeless sockets and he hid his face in his knees. “You know nothing of hell, little one…”
   Slayd slowly and carefully edged his way along the wall of the hallway, until he found a couch set in an alcove and sank down into its cushions. A tear rolled down his cheek followed by a single shining fleck, which Slayd caught between his fingers. He turned it to reflect the glow of the brightly lit hall, eying it closely. A tiny wing, he thought, of a mayfly. They only live a few hours after they receive their wings
   The creaking of an opening door caught his attention and he turned to see Jyrr standing in one of the doorways, his eyes flicking over Slayd’s face uncertainly.
   “Umm… are you all right, Slayd?”
   Slayd grunted and drew his knees up to his chest. “Leave me alone, Jyrr. I’m in no mood to deal with you.”
   Jyrr winced at his terse words, but didn’t leave. He leaned over the couch and tentatively touched Slayd’s shoulder. “Could… I get you anything, dear one? Would anything help?”
   Slayd looked up at him sharply and fixed him with an angry glare.
   “You know, this is partly your fault, Jyrr. If I hadn’t have saved you, Guile wouldn’t have done this to me.” He swept a hand up and down the length of his body, indicating his new half-healed gashes through his bloody clothes. “In fact, Guile killed me, you know. Oh, he put me back together, just like he always does.”
   Jyrr blinked, a puzzled expression flashing over his face.
   “That’s right, Jyrr,” Slayd spat. “I’m remembering. Quite a bit, actually. About all kinds of things.”
   Jyrr squirmed. This was a very unpleasant and unexpected twist of events.
   “Perhaps I should have let the Spider Queen have you,” Slayd mused, more to himself than to Jyrr, “or perhaps I should have asked Guile to finish what he started. But no matter… more than likely, one way or another you’ll end in a bad way. You’re nothing more than a thorn in my side now. Go away, Jyrr.”
   Jyrr cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to be – “
   ”Go away. Your charms are known, and you have no influence over me any longer. Do not attempt to enchant me again with smooth words. It won’t work. Now leave me.”
   Jyrr flinched at Slayd’s uncharacteristically harsh words and quickly retreated again behind the door to his room.
   Slayd blinked, taken aback. Had he always been this callous? “What has come over me?” He ran his fingers through his ribbony hair and tried to place his mood. “Perhaps Guile’s reviving did more to me than just restore some bits of memory… But I guess it doesn’t really matter. There’s not much I can do about it now… I should go see the Locust King.”
   He got up shakily from the couch and slowly made his way down the hall to the little room where he had talked with the Locust King earlier, hoping he might again be there.
   He was indeed there, sitting behind his cluttered table again. One arm was leaning on some papers on the table, supporting his chin, and the other was playing with some of the little glass figures. An important-looking and untouched document sat in front of him.
   Slayd cleared his throat, and the Locust King snapped out of whatever boredom induced daze he had been in. “Slayd! What a pleasant surprise. Did you sleep well? What can I – What happened to you?” He stared up and down Slayd’s form, taking in the deep half-healed cuts and bloodstained clothes.
   Slayd sighed. “Guile and I have had a falling out. I came to ask you what the best route to the Beetle King’s realm would be.”
   The Locust King frowned to himself, and pursed his lips in scattered thought. “Hm. Guile would be a better source for that information, although I assume that he’ll just lead you along the best and safest path.”
   Slayd shook his head. “I’m not going with Guile. I’m going alone.”
   The Locust King blinked. “Alone? It will be a dangerous path Slayd. You have no memory of that road.”
   Slayd shrugged. “I have a little. Guile’s most recent… gift… to me resulted in some memories coming to the surface. I know that I know the way to the Beetle Kingdom, but I still cannot remember any specifics. It is a bit complicated.”
   The Locust King looked very hard at a spot just on top of Slayd’s head, concentrated on thinking. He stayed that way for several awkward moments, making Slayd wonder if he had spaced out again. But he abruptly nodded at Slayd, who cocked his head at the odd king.
   “Slayd, I realize that you have had a falling out with Guile, but he is your guide and your guardian, whether or not you want him to be. I know you don’t really remember it, but I have known both of you a very long time. I know Guile, I do. If you leave him now, he will follow you to the ends of Dehalen, regardless of whether you wish his presence or not. He will not break the pledge of loyalty he made to you or to Moroloth.” The Locust King looked kindly at Slayd and smiled softly. “He loves you, Slayd. In whatever twisted way he can.”
   A sharp and unexpected pain twisted across Slayd’s grated heart. He looked down at the floor and nodded slightly. “I… I know.” He sighed deeply, and suddenly felt very lost and alone. The strange world outside seemed far too big for such a little boy with only half a memory. “I… I should talk to him, shouldn’t I?” He said, already knowing the answer the Locust King would give.
   The willowy man smiled softly at him. “That would probably be best, Slayd. Despite whatever thoughts are running through your head to the contrary, Guile is not a monster. He is a jealous and volatile creature, who loves you very much. I am sure of it.”
   Slayd nodded, but a hard stubbornness shadowed his eyes. The hot anger he had felt earlier was tumbling back into his stomach. “I cannot just forgive him and forget the whole thing that easily, though. I do not want him with me on this journey, not when I can’t trust him.”
   The Locust King nodded, and his smile slowly faded from his face. He looked a little sad. “Well, I suppose not. But you must do what you think is best for you, Slayd. If you think it best to leave Guile behind then I cannot counsel you otherwise, despite my own opinion.”
   He pulled the mantle off of his shoulders and draped it over Slayd, tucking him up in it even though it was too big for him. He patted him on the head. “I would ask you to stay long enough for my people to mend the tears in your clothes, but I have a feeling you would refuse.”
   Slayd smiled wanly. “While I enjoy your company and your citadel is wonderful, I do not think I can stay here.”
   The Locust King nodded and ripped a scrap of paper off of one of the many random documents that swamped his table. He scribbled something on it and handed the scrap to Slayd. “I’m sorry, but I cannot give you more specific directions or guidance than this, I’m afraid. The distance and the path to the Beetle Kingdom changes in a very peculiar way. I suppose you will have to rely on your own memories for the rest. As for Guile, all I can tell you is to repeat what I’ve already said. Guile would follow you to death and beyond. He already has done so before, and I know that he would do it all again.”
   Slayd nodded mutedly and put the scrap of paper in a pocket. He turned to leave, but paused for a moment at the door. “Thank you… for your hospitality, and your kindness. It seems there are precious few people like you in this world.”
   The Locust King smiled at him, and Slayd left the room.


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