Chapter 25: An Eye for an Eye.

  Slayd didn’t stop to return to his room, where Guile was sure to be waiting. Instead, he made his way straight to the main hall and back out into the courtyard. He was greeted by green-clad armed guards who saluted him and stood at attention as he passed them by, heading straight for the drawbridge. He said not a word to anyone as he passed under the citadel’s archway and back out into the world.
   Slayd pulled the scrap of paper that the Locust King had given him out of his pocket, and studied the scribbled directions he had written down. It was a rough map, with a tiny castle drawn in the lower left corner that Slayd could only assume was the Locust King’s citadel. The river was drawn as a single squiggly line running all along the left side of the paper, but it didn’t really seem relevant to the rest of the map. Another squiggly line ran diagonally across the paper, and Slayd guessed it might be another river or even a creek. Tiny little arrows were scratched down going north/northeast, and ran directly into many little triangles that Slayd took to be a mountain chain. The arrows followed the mountains down, southeast, and then went right through the scribbled triangles. The Locust King had scratched down “valley” there. A little past this valley, just after the mountains, was an amorphous blob of ink. Here, the Locust King had written down “Loruma’s outcrop - avoid”, and the arrows made a wide circle around it before continuing northeast.
   Slayd wondered just who this Loruma was, and why he had to avoid him. Despite the fact that his mind seemed to be finally trying to catching up, his scattered memories didn’t seem to recollect hearing the name at all.
   Soft breathing behind his left shoulder made Slayd stop his train of thought and he glanced behind him.
   Guile was standing there, quietly reading the scrawled map over his shoulder. Slayd shied away from him and scowled. “You are not coming with me, Guile. I don’t trust you.”
   Guile nodded silently, his eyeless sockets refusing to meet Slayd’s eyes. Slayd pocketed the scrap of paper and walked away without another word. He followed the walkway around the citadel until he could see the river flowing north ahead of him and squinted off into the distance, making out the hazy outline of a far-off mountain chain. He sensed Guile was again standing behind him but Slayd ignored him, or tried his very hardest to.
   The citadel did not lie entirely on the river. In fact most of it was resting on the bank, with only a little bit overhanging the water. This was a good thing for Slayd, because he wouldn’t have to swim to get to shore. Instead he just followed the walkway around the citadel until it reached solid ground. Still trying to ignore Guile, he set his face towards the direction of the mountains. Looking up at the dark grey sky, he wondered to himself how much time he had before night would fall.
   “About three or four hours,” Guile said.
   Slayd twitched in irritation. He hated it when Guile seemed to read his mind. “I told you that you are not coming with me.”
   “I will not betray my vow to our master again.” His voice was quiet. Guile seemed… subdued, somehow.
   Slayd shook himself in frustration and turned around to glare up at his guardian. “I do not want you anywhere near me! Go back to the Locust King. Or go home, wherever that is. I don’t care. I don’t trust you, I don’t want to have anything more to do with you! Are you listening to me? Do not follow me!”
   Guile stared silently down at his charge for a long tense moment, and Slayd’s newly-found haughtiness started to waver. Guile’s voice was still quiet when he spoke, but there was an edge to it that made Slayd wonder if his guardian might have just bitten back the urge to open his second mouth and devour him whole.
   “Do you order me to return to the Locust King?”
   His mouth was suddenly very dry. “I…”
   “Do you order me?”
   Slayd swallowed hard. “…I do.”
   Guile bowed his head and dropped to a knee, startling Slayd enough that he stumbled back a step.
   “I can do nothing but obey you,” he said, the same edge still in his voice, “When you command me with the authority of the Heir of Moroloth.” He stood back up and stared evenly down at Slayd.
   Slayd turned on his heel and walked quickly away, baffled and confused. He expected to hear footsteps behind him as he went, and determined to himself that he would simply just ignore them.
   But Guile did not follow. He stood at the edge of the walkway and watched Slayd go. He watched as his form got smaller and smaller, until the path that he was on turned and he faded away into the distance. Guile waited until he could see no more of Slayd, and then turned and slowly trudged back towards the citadel, an open-mouthed snarl twisting his face. It was Jyrr’s turn now.
   Jyrr had watched Slayd go as well, but he had observed the exchange between Slayd and his guardian from the windowsill of his room. He smiled and leaned into the light breeze, talking to himself. “If Slayd and Guile have had this great a rift torn between them, you may have better luck turning your way. Now may be the perfect chance to take your leave. Careful now.”
   He left the room, cautiously creeping down the hall and making his way outside to the courtyard. Any people he met on his way didn’t seem to recognize him as a threat or some sort of prisoner, so he began to breathe a little easier. His footsteps became lighter as he walked along the pebbled path. Slipping himself through a door that led into one of the watch towers, he ascended the stairs until he found a small window, just big enough for arrows to be shot through in case of invasion. He began to mutter a spell underneath his breath, concentrating all his power on his own form. The outline of his body began to blur, and he grinned as he felt his solid form dissolve into many smaller ones.
   The sound of thousands of buzzing flies was muffled by the wood and stone, and one by one the swarm of insects slipped through the slot in the tower wall. It was nearly half a mile away on the opposite bank of the river, that the swarm gathered and reformed Jyrr’s body. He shook himself and scratched the back of his head. “Easier than I thought. The Locust King really doesn’t have a whole lot rattling around in that addled brain of his. Good thing for me.”
   He peered through the reeds at the citadel across the water. “Perhaps things will work out favorably after all. Play your cards right, Jyrr, and you could still have the Maggot Kingdom, and maybe even Slayd as well.”
   “I think not,” Guile said, his sudden presence startling Jyrr out of his spoken thoughts. “You see, Jyrr, now there is no one around to save your rotting hide. I do not think the Locust King will protect you.”
   Jyrr jumped and turned to face Guile, who was standing mere inches away, leaning precariously close and an ugly grin smeared across his face. Jyrr backed jerkily away, unnerved and laughing. “How did you – yes, yes, I do see your point. I don’t appear to have any allies at the moment… I was thinking, perhaps it is best if I just go back home. I’m sure the Maggot King has noticed my absence by now, and I would so hate for him to have to go through the trouble of searching for me.” He cast a quick look about him, but there was no one around on this side of the bank. Things were looking a little worse for Jyrr.
   “That’s one thing I’ve never really understood about my father. He always finds out what happens to me. Always. It may seem strange to you, but present situation aside I do have many allies, often in places where you would least expect them.” He smiled nervously at Guile.
   “Your thinly veiled threats mean nothing to me. I care very little about the Maggot King and what you mean to him, and even less about your allies. What I do care about, however, is seeing that I finish what I started.” He advanced on Jyrr, a bitter grin growing across his face. “You are the cause of much that tests me. A thorn in my side I intend to remove.”
   A loud “snap” like the sound of cracking knuckles echoed over the riverbank as Jyrr twisted his spiked limbs out of his back. He launched himself into the air, matching sneering grimaces with Guile. “I think thorns can dig far deeper under your skin than you would like to believe, Guile.”
   He made no reply, only watched Jyrr hover over his head. His grin had turned feral.
   Jyrr hesitated but a moment, wondering what was running through Guile’s head. He suddenly propelled himself downward, spiked legs extended forward like lances, aiming for Guile’s chest. He drove himself into his rival so hard and so fast the impact plowed a cavity into the ground, kicking up dust and dead grass and making it hard to see.
   He felt Guile shudder underneath him and heard him gasp. He grinned. “You seem different, Guile. Did Slayd tame you?”
   Clawed hands reached forward through the cloud of dust and grass, grabbing Jyrr by his bladed limbs. “Hardly.”
   Jyrr jerked and twisted, trying to wrest Guile’s grip off of him. He still couldn’t see his opponent’s face through the dust. Their struggles didn’t help his sight and he made a last-ditch effort to throw both of them bodily to the right, tumbling into the shallow water at the edge of the river. Jyrr landed on top of Guile, and he could see then that one of his blades was embedded in Guile’s shoulder. Guile’s hands were wrapped firmly around each one, his fingers bloodied from gripping the sharp edge. He leered up at him, practically drooling in excitement. “Shouldn’t have done that, Jyrr.”
   All color drained from Jyrr’s face as he realized belatedly that Guile’s second mouth was tearing open, twin tongues snaking out to wrap their slimy lengths around his waist. He squeaked and wrenched his blade out of Guile’s shoulder, flying backwards and landing with a splash in the deeper water.
   Guile lunged after him, but Jyrr took to the air again and sped away from the river as fast as his wings could carry him, not bothering to look behind.
   Guile was in close pursuit. He threw himself at Jyrr with the tenacity of a rabid dog, tearing him out of the sky by an arm and slamming him back into the ground. Jyrr heard something snap and a shooting pain in his left arm made him see stars. He flailed about on the ground until he was on his back, cowering under Guile’s leering grimace.
   “You don’t learn very well, do you Jyrr?”
   Jyrr shook his head, bulbous eyes so wide they looked as though they were about to pop out of his head.
   Guile grabbed him and slammed the back of his head repeatedly into the ground, grin growing wider each time. “I have to admit,” he said, punctuating his words with his violent blows, “I kind of like it that way.”
   Jyrr struggled to free himself from Guile’s hold, gasping and wheezing for the breath that he wasn’t being allowed. He gripped one of Guile’s wrists with his good hand, trying futilely to pull him away.
   Guile laughed and batted his hand away, drawing his claws over his wrist. His second mouth had gaped open again, twin tongues slicking along Jyrr’s stomach. “You really are pathetic, Jyrr. Perhaps you should try begging instead.”
   Desperation overshadowed the fear and rage swimming in Jyrr’s eyes. He reached his hand up to clutch at Guile’s shoulder, trying to ignore the wet saliva dripping from teeth and tongues perilously close to his sensitive flesh. “Please – Guile - ”
   Guile sneered. He leaned in close and licked the side of Jyrr’s face, savoring the taste of blood and tears. “You’ll have to do better than that.”
   Jyrr writhed under Guile’s touch, but he couldn’t shy away. He was pinned between the ground and Guile’s crouched form, leaning closer and running a clawed hand over his stomach. He whimpered and choked, “Please Guile – don’t – I don’t want to die, not again… please - ”
   The chuckle that escaped Guile’s lips sounded evil to Jyrr’s ears. “I don’t think that’s good enough, Jyrr. You can do so much better… Show me your fear.”
   He raked his claws over Jyrr’s abdomen and down across his groin, drawing strangled cries of pain from his squirming form. He purred close to his ear, savoring the shudders of terror beneath him.


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