Chapter 26: Of Hunting Flies and Traveling Alone.

  Slayd brooded to himself as he walked. He didn’t like wandering alone, not at all. He wasn’t used to it anymore – he had become so accustomed to having Guile by his side that it seemed eerie not to hear his quiet breathing or the soft footfalls of his steps.
   It wasn’t that the landscape around him was unpleasant. Far from it, actually. The Locust Kingdom was in fact very beautiful, as far as Dehalen seemed to go. Rolling hills of farmland and pasture stretched away along the river and beyond, dotted here and there with groves of gnarled trees. Slayd could see people working in some of the fields, but they were too far away for him to wave and say hello and were probably very busy. The dim grey sky above him was supposed to be in what passed for afternoon in Dehalen, at least according to Guile and the Locust King.
   Slayd smiled a little, relieving a bit of his melancholy. The Locust King was certainly very kind. He wished that he could have spent more time in his citadel talking to him. Although Slayd had to admit that all the talk that they had about the Temple of Mirrors and the Veil made him uneasy. He kicked a stone on the side of the road. “I suppose even the nicest people in this world have lots of knowledge about dark and dangerous things. I guess I do not really want to know how he came to understand all that stuff. It seems so scary.”
   He was making excellent time, or so he assumed. If he turned around he couldn’t even see the Locust King’s citadel anymore. The road ahead of him followed the contours of the gentle hills, making it an easy walk. Slayd found his mood getting lighter as he went. “I know I was told that the way to the Beetle Kingdom gets dangerous at some point, but I do hope that it is like this for most of the way.”
   He paused for a moment. “The Beetle Kingdom…” He had recovered a few memories when Guile had put him back together, but he didn’t remember very much about the Beetle King or his realm. Just thinking of the name made him feel warm though, and that encouraged him.
   “I have a feeling that the Beetle King and I were very good friends. Although… there might be something more that I really should remember. There was something very important about him… I do hope I will remember before I get there. I think I am looking forward to meeting him again very, very much.” He grinned sheepishly to himself and added a little bounce to his step.
   The Locust King was in his small cozy study, comfortably nestled in his favorite chair and fiddling with papers he didn’t really want to do anything with. The arrival of his guests had certainly been such a welcome distraction, although the tension between them was practically tangible. He hoped that they would work it out. After all, there was an awful lot riding on their shoulders.
   His idle thoughts were interrupted by a tap on his door. “Oh! Do come in.”
   Guile slipped through the door and settled into one of the chairs, a smirk dancing across his face.
   “Guile! What a surprise. I didn’t know if you had decided to go after Slayd or not. He left you know. I’m sorry that you and he had a falling out. Is there anything I can do that might help?”
   The satisfied grin on his face faltered for a moment when the Locust King mentioned Slayd, but it quickly reasserted itself. “Nothing in regard to Slayd.”
   The Locust King tilted his head to one side. “Has something happened? You seem rather happy about something.”
   If Guile could have grinned any wider, it would have split his jaw open. “Jyrr and I have had a little… bonding time. Unfortunately he seems to have run away. Can’t imagine why.”
   The Locust King pursed his lips. “That is not good, Guile. If what you say is true about his intentions, he could stir up quite a bit of trouble, both for me and for his father. Hm. I don’t really want him wandering around unsupervised in my kingdom if I can help it.”
   Guile laughed. “I don’t believe ‘wandering’ is something he’s interested in doing. He’s probably heading straight back home as fast as his swarm can take him.”
   “His swarm?” The Locust King blinked.
   “He has the ability to dissolve into a swarm of flies. Unlike you it is not an easy thing for him to do, so he rarely utilizes that magic. I had him under my hand earlier, but he managed to get away from me long enough to scatter himself to the winds.”
   The Locust King raised a thin eyebrow. “And what did you do to him that inspired him to do so?”
   Guile shrugged and crossed his arms, quite satisfied with himself. “Nothing you would really want to know about.”
   The Locust King grew serious. “Hm. While you are in my kingdom I would prefer if you reign yourself in, Guile. While I recognize your authority over Jyrr during your stay here, I will not allow your violent behavior to get out of control. If you must have your vendettas in my realm, would you please make sure you don’t involve any of my own people in them?”
   Guile leaned forward in his chair, his eye sockets narrowing dangerously. “You will not ‘allow’ me? Do not defy me, Locust King. I am a servant of the Lich King. You of all people should know the power that I can wield. I will do with it what I please.”
   The Locust King sat in silence for a moment, staring down at his clutter of papers. He nodded slowly. “All I ask of you is common courtesy. I have no desire to come between you and your retribution, so there really isn’t any need to get ugly with me. You know I think of you as a good friend, after all.”
   The smile slowly returned to Guile’s face. “In that case, good friend, perhaps you would be interested in assisting me with this little problem. Jyrr truly does intend an overthrow of the Maggot King, and while that in and of itself is trivial to me, it affects you greatly. The Maggot King is one of your closest allies, and has been a friend far longer than I. If Jyrr gains the power of the Maggot King, he also intends to take Slayd for his own if he can. I cannot have that. I do not want him to arrive in the Maggot kingdom.”
   “Of course, of course! I will do everything I can to help you out. Although I have no idea how to track down a swarm of flies. Surely he has dispersed himself all over the place to hide his tracks. Hm. We will need a hunter, I suppose.”
   “I suppose. Who is your best man?”
   The Locust King shrugged. “There is no one in the Locust Kingdom with the kind of talent I imagine we would need. Do you know if the Mosquito King is available? He is the best hunter in all of Dehalen, after all. And he’s often wandering around the Mantis Kingdom just to the north of us around this time of year, if my memory serves me correctly. You two have a history together, don’t you?”
   Guile scoffed. “I’d rather not bring Dysz into this, Locust King.”
   “Do you have another suggestion?” He blinked vacantly at Guile.
   Guile sighed and shook his head. “…No. I don’t.”
   The Locust King nodded and leaned over the table, flipping over papers and scattering figurines until he found what he was looking for. He picked up a little bell and rung it several times. It was barely a minute later that Lieron slipped through the door and bowed. “You called for me, my Lord?”
   “Oh yes, yes. Hm. I need a messenger - our fastest, if they are available. Who would that be?”
   Lieron frowned a little. “I believe that would be Miss Katy, my Lord.”
   “Oh, okay. Well, I need you to find her and tell her to take a message to the Mosquito King. He should be in the Mantis Kingdom about now, don’t you think? I think so. We need him to come as quickly as possible. There is a hunt we would like to propose to him.”
   “‘We’, my Lord?”
   “Yes, yes. Guile and I.”
   A sniff. “Of course.”
   The Locust King beamed. “Thank you so much, Lieron.”
   His aide bowed stiffly and turned on his heel, shutting the door a little too loudly on his way out.
   “Well now, that was easy. Hm. What do you suppose we do now?”
   Guile shrugged. “Now we wait.”
   Evening was approaching, and it was starting to get dark outside (or perhaps it would be better to say darker, as the dim grey sky hadn’t illuminated very much of anything the entire day). Slayd was beginning to get a little hungry, but he hadn’t thought to ask the Locust King for any supplies before he left the citadel. “That was a very stupid thing to do, Slayd, you dummy. You should have at least had something to eat before you left.”
   He ran his fingers through his ribbony hair and sighed. “I really don’t believe that I am cut out for this sort of thing. It hasn’t even been a whole day and I am already messing it up. Well, nothing to do but continue on, I suppose. At least I am already used to walking a lot.”
   The road he was on was probably one of the easiest he had walked since he first arrived in Dehalen, and he found himself grateful for the even gravel beneath his feet. He began to wonder though, why he never passed by anyone else using the road. All of the people he had seen since he left the citadel had been far off in the fields, and he hadn’t seen a single cart or wagon or even a solitary traveler on the road. He started to feel a little uneasy.
   But he had more immediate concerns at the moment. He was beginning to get tired, and he decided that he should probably stop for the night and sleep.
   He paused. “Well now. I suppose I could just search out one of the farmers in the fields and ask them if I could stay in their house for the night… But…”
   He frowned and shifted from foot to foot. “But do I really want to do that? I know the Locust King has been very kind and friendly to me, but I know very little about his people. I cannot seem to remember much about whether or not they might be hospitable. And it does worry me that not a single one of them has passed me by. Maybe they are avoiding me.”
   He huffed and turned in circles, straining his eyes to see as far as he could in the darkening world. “If they are avoiding me, it would probably be a Bad Idea to try to talk to them. Maybe I should just sleep outside tonight… Oh dear, I have nothing to make a light with either.”
   Slayd groaned wearily and plodded on for another twenty minutes in the dark, wishing he had planned a little better. He passed by a short stone wall marking the edge of a field, and stopped to lean against it for a moment to think some more.
   “Well… I suppose here is as good a place as any.” He slid down to the ground and curled himself against the wall, gazing up at the sky. The thick grey clouds that had covered the whole sky a few hours ago were dissipating, and starlight began to peek through. Slayd watched as more and more stars winked into existence, bathing the world in their cold blue light. He smiled to himself and inhaled deeply, enjoying the night air. “It really is beautiful…”
   He wrapped the Locust King’s mantle snugly over his shoulders and tried to make himself as comfortable as he could. It was probably going to end up being a long night.
   Guile was jolted awake by soft breath tickling the side of his face. He flung himself out of the bed he had been sleeping in and whirled to face the intruder, claws unsheathed and fangs bared.
   “Well g' mornin' to ya too.”
   Guile blinked his eyeless sockets. “Dysz?”
   The hunter shrugged and sat himself down on the bed, patting the covers next to him. “Ya know if yer gonna send a message for me ta come ‘as soon as possible’, ya’d better be ready for me ta show up.”
   Guile shook himself to clear the sleep from his brain and sat down next to Dysz, scowling. “The Locust King wants to talk to you about hunting someone down. You should go find him instead of bothering me.”
   “Oh but yer so much fun ta bother.”
   Guile glowered. “I hate you.”
   A lopsided grin spread over Dysz’s face, barely showing from underneath his broad-brimmed hat. He poked Guile’s temple. “Aw, sometimes I’m sure ya do. ’s what makes ya so damn entertainin'.”
   Guile stood suddenly and stalked out of the room. Dysz coughed out his gravelly laugh and followed after him down the hall. “So what sorta hunt is this? I ain’t aware of any Grigora pesterin' the Locust King. I mean, I know there’s the dyin' one off ta the east or somethin' somewhere, but that’s not - ”
   “It’s not Grigora,” Guile snapped. “Ask him yourself.”
   Dysz snickered. “Ya sure are in a bad mood when ya first wake up, ain't ya?”
   “It’s too damned early for your nonsense.”
   Guile stopped at one of the many wooden doors lining the hall and rapped loudly with a knuckle until he heard movement on the other side. The door cracked open a hair and one bleary bespectacled eye peeked out. “…It’s so early, what… Oh! Guile!”
   The door flung open and the Locust King shuffled back, adjusting his robe around him. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting you so early in the morning. Please come in, would you?”
   Guile slipped past him with a grunt, Dysz following close behind. The Locust King blinked at him for a moment before he hopped forward and grasped his hand, shaking it enthusiastically. “Why, if it isn’t the Mosquito King! What a pleasant surprise! What brings you to the Locust Kingdom?”
   Dysz rolled his eyes and flicked the willowy man on the forehead. “Ya asked me ta come, genius. Sort yer brains out. Guile says ya might have a hunt for me. So what’s up?”
   The blank look on the Locust King’s face stayed there for a second or two before he shook his head and adjusted his spectacles. “Oh yes, of course! That’s right, we’ve had an escape. Do you know Jyrr? He’s the son of the Maggot King. I’ve heard he’s turned a bit bad, but that’s neither here nor there. He was with Guile and Slayd, but he ran away.”
   Dysz found a chair and flopped into it sideways, picking at the fibers of its arm. “So?”
   “Well, I was hoping that I could persuade you to go fetch him back for us before he flees back to the Maggot Kingdom. You see, he has dissolved into a swarm of flies, and I am afraid there aren’t very many people in Dehalen who can track someone who is in so many different little pieces, all flying around.” He waved his hands in the air, mimicking wings.
   Dysz grunted, looking less than enthusiastic. “I don’t hunt small fry like that kid. ’d be borin'. Catch me when ya have some demon problems or somethin'.”
   Guile leaned on the back of the chair Dysz was sitting in and crossed his arms. “It would be a favor for the Maggot King. Jyrr has his eye on his father’s throne, and I believe he has half a mind to attempt to gather his own allies and overthrow his father if he returns to the Maggot Kingdom. Considering that your kingdom is under the Maggot King’s guard, he would intend to take it as well. I believe after that he intends to come and claim Slayd.”
   “Uh huh. Hey, where is the lil bugger anyway?”
   Guile scowled. “Never you mind. You don’t care all that much as it is.”
   Dysz shrugged. “Whatever. Look, I’ve been real good friends with the Maggot King for a long time. He’s a great guy, but I’m not out ta do him any favors. He can handle his own family drama.”
   The Locust King sighed and spread his hands. “If I thought you would be interested, I would offer to pay you for your trouble. But you have never accepted it before from me, and I only have the slightest hope that this time would be different.”
   “Nope, sorry. Ain't interested. I ain't a hired gun and I ain't doing the Maggot King any favors.” He shrugged again and glanced up at Guile, grinning. “Now a favor for Guile, however, is another thing altogether.”
   Guile raised an eyebrow. “What?”
   Dysz just flashed him another grin and turned his attention back to the Locust King. “If it’s a favor for Guile, I’d consider it.”
   The Locust King looked from one man to the other, confused. “I’m not sure I see what the difference would be.”
   Guile scoffed. “Come on, Dysz. Are you serious?”
   “Yep.” His grin grew broader under his hat, showing teeth.
   A sigh escaped Guile, making him sound more exasperated than he really was. “Fine. Do it for me, then.”
   Dysz jumped up from the chair and bowed low to Guile, whisking his hat off in mock salute. “Consider it done. Oedaleus, ’s been fun. Good to see ya again, we should chat more often. I’ll be back when I grab the kid.”
   He thumped the Locust King on the shoulder, kissed Guile on the corner of his mouth and sauntered out the door.
   The Locust King beamed and waved to Dysz’s back as he left. “Well that went splendidly. Don’t you think so, Guile?”
   He scowled. “It went about as well as I expected. I didn’t want to get Dysz involved in this at all.”
   The Locust King blinked, his thin eyebrows wrinkled up in confusion. “Why not?”
   “The less I have to see of him, the better,” he grunted, “and the less likely it will be for him to screw things up.”
   “I don’t know him as well as you do, but despite his demeanor he doesn’t seem the type to be careless, Guile.”
   He shook his head. “He’s not. He is however the type to throw wrenches into other people’s plans and cause a lot of trouble just for the hell of it.”
   The Locust King looked long at Guile before slowly nodding. “Ah, I see. I’m sorry that I didn’t know earlier that you would worry about him.”
   Guile twitched. “That isn’t – I’m not - I don’t worry about Dysz, I worry about what Dysz will do.”
   The Locust King yawned. “Mm hmm. I don’t know about you, but all of this has been an awful lot of commotion for so early in the morning. I think I’m going to go back to bed if it’s all the same to you.”
   Guile rubbed at his eye sockets. If he hadn’t been truly exasperated before, he certainly was now. “Perhaps that is best, Locust King. When Dysz returns with him, keep Jyrr under your guard until you hear word from me from the Beetle Kingdom.”
   The Locust King cocked his head to one side. “Of course, of course. Hm. The Beetle Kingdom? Isn’t that where Slayd is going?”
   “It is. I have an heir that needs guarding, whether he wishes it or no. Thank you, Locust King. I will remember the kindness you have shown me and Slayd while we stayed in your citadel. But now I must leave you.” He grasped the Locust King’s hand briefly, then turned to the door.
   “I hope to see you again, when this little disaster has spun itself out to whatever end it dooms us to.”
   “I hope to see you again soon as well, Guile. I do so love it when you visit me. Although, I wouldn’t call this situation with Jyrr to be much of a disaster.”
   “It wasn’t to the situation with Jyrr I was referring.” He smiled to himself and left.


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