Chapter 34: Whole Seas of Confusion.
Guile awoke with a start, heart racing and sweat beading all over his body. He wiped the back of his hand over his forehead and heaved a slow sigh. Nightmares such as those had not happened since the last time he had set foot in this realm. He shook his head to clear it, and glanced around.
He was alone, nestled in a comfortable bed set in the corner of a large room. The far wall had fallen in, giving him a sweeping view of the valley they had come in from, fleeing Loruma’s apparition. He shuddered. “I can only hope that is the last I will see of him…”
A tap on the rotting door drew his attention, and the Beetle King slipped in. Slayd was hanging on his arm, but when he saw that his guardian was awake he ran over to the side of the bed. “Guile! You look so much better. I was worried.”
A sneer crossed Guile’s face. “I’m sure. What of Loruma?”
The Beetle King stood beside the edge of the bed and shook his head. “His phantom is no more. I cannot say anything about his corporeal body, however. Grigora are incredibly difficult to kill.”
“I am well aware.” Guile rubbed the back of his neck and got up, joints cracking as he did so. “I need to move around a little.”
The Beetle King rested a hand on Guile's forehead, receiving a scowl in return. “It has been a long time since you last wandered my ruined halls. What happened to your eyes? And your wing?”
Guile flinched away from his touch. “My condition is irrelevant. We are not here because of me, we are here because of Slayd. He has a duty to fulfill, and memories to regain. They have vanished from his head. That includes most of his memory of the Beetle Kingdom as well. And of you.”
Slayd started at the harshness of Guile’s tone, but the Beetle King only nodded. “I am well aware of that. Yet I believe you should rest for a while before you pursue the next step of your journey. From what I am told by the shades in the barrows, you have had a difficult time approaching my castle.”
“We have,” Slayd murmured, “It has been awful.” He clung to the Sirrhas’ arm as the Beetle King turned to the hallway behind him.
“Come, stretch your limbs and walk with me.” The Beetle King beckoned to Guile, who followed in silence. Slayd stayed close to Sirrhas but Guile trailed behind them, rubbing tender joints and stretching his remaining wing. He may have been healed by the waters of the reflecting pool, but there was something about the air of this place that had always made him ache. He scowled at the backs of the two ahead of him, his melancholy rapidly returning.
They climbed up a stair and slowly wound their way through the broken halls of the castle keep, picking their way through fallen stone until Sirrhas ushered them through a rotting wooden door laced with sweet-smelling vines. It led into a wide room that overlooked the rest of the ruins and the green sloping hills beyond. Tattered banners adorned the crumbling windows, and once-beautiful intricate rugs carpeted the stone floor. A large collection of velvet and satin pillows took up a whole corner of the room, and here the Beetle King reclined, motioning for his guests to follow suit. Slayd settled himself next to his side, still clinging to his arm. Guile preferred to stand.
“It has been long since I have talked with either of you,” Sirrhas said, “but I do not believe you came here for conversation. There are certain matters which must be attended to. Matters that I am all too ready to finish. Slayd, do you have your pendant?”
Slayd nodded and pulled the talisman from around his neck. “I guess you have a pin for me?” Slayd said, fingering the last of the niches left on the pendant’s edge.
“I do indeed.” The Beetle King drew back one of his voluminous sleeves and whispered a word of magic. Shiny black scarab beetles crawled down his arm in waves, dropping off of his bony fingers and scattering when they hit the floor. One amongst their number was deep iridescent green, and it paused on Sirrhas’ palm. He placed it carefully in Slayd’s outstretched hand. “Promises fulfilled,” he said.
Slayd turned the scarab over in his hand, surprised to find it made of an emerald gemstone. He pressed it gently into the last niche on the pendant, wondering if there was anything else he needed to do with it now that it was complete.
The pendant began to glow, and Slayd nearly dropped it in surprise. The blinking eye on its façade began to twist and pulse and the entire talisman contorted in on itself, throbbing with a beat Slayd imagined was almost like a heart. He clutched it close, watching in fascination as another eye pushed open on the other side of the pendant. It blinked and rolled up to gaze at him with the same familiarity as the first.
Slayd gazed at it long and hard before a slow smile spread across his face. He clasped the pendant back around his neck and beamed up at Sirrhas. “I do not know why, but… I feel as though something very good and very important is about to happen.”
The Beetle King nodded. “Your journey has impelled you to this place because of the presence of your master. This is the resting place of Lord Moroloth’s tomb. And you, Slayd, have come to resurrect him from his torpor.”
Guile scoffed and crossed his arms. “Hardly,” he said, scorn dripping from his voice. “Surely you can sense that he no longer holds the magic within him to do so. We must return to Amoth Shyr before he could even pretend to know what he was doing.”
The Beetle King raised a bony eyebrow. “The key to Amoth Shyr is lost, Guile. No one knows to whom Moroloth entrusted it, and none of the kings have any knowledge regarding its keeping.”
The sneer remained on Guile’s face. “That is because it was not entrusted to a king in the first place. The Desert Recluse was responsible for its keeping. It has been returned to Slayd already.”
The Beetle King turned his questioning gaze to Slayd. “The Desert Recluse… Is this true? The key to Amoth Shyr is in your keeping?”
Slayd flicked nervous eyes from his guardian to Sirrhas and back again. “Well, I have a really old key that the Desert Recluse gave to me, but I do not really know what it is a key to. I suppose it probably is to Amoth Shyr, but…”
He dug around in his pockets and drew out the pitted iron key. “Guile, why do we need to go to there? I thought I was supposed to resurrect Moroloth.”
“Then why delay? I thought you were in a hurry to get this done.”
Guile shifted his weight and scowled down at Slayd. “It is not that simple. You have no memory of the magic that you must summon if you are to resurrect our master. I am certain that the key to unlocking your memories and releasing the power within you lies in your old home. In Amoth Shyr.”
Slayd’s mind recalled a conversation he once had with Jyrr back in the Maggot Kingdom about Guile’s desire to return to that tower, and what his true intentions were when they got there. He didn’t believe Jyrr had been telling the truth, but the uncanny nature of his words was sounding alarms through his brain.
Guile watched Slayd’s tiny changes in expression as he sat there thinking, and his scowl deepened. “Whatever Jyrr said to you about me, Slayd,” he hissed, “go ahead and believe it is true. Would that make you feel better? The gods know you want to vilify me enough as it is.”
Slayd crossed his arms and turned his chin up, glaring in the vague direction of the far window. Sirrhas looked from one to the other, raising an eyebrow. “I know not of the peculiarities that have come between the two of you, but there is much tension here that benefits neither of you. Surely you must know that you are bound together by the fate that Lord Moroloth wove long ago. Cast aside your resentment, at least for the time being. Sit, please.”
He was talking to both of them, but he directed his last words to Guile. Guile grudgingly slid down next to the Beetle King, doggedly maintaining his frown.
Sirrhas touched a finger to Guile’s back, eyeing the matted stub that used to be his left wing. “Was it lost in the first struggle you had with the demon?”
Guile only grunted in reply. “It matters little. We have more important things to discuss.”
Sirrhas nodded, taking Guile’s hint to leave well enough alone. He turned to Slayd. “In any event, Guile is right. The matter of your master’s resurrection is very important indeed. It is not an undertaking that can be taken lightly, nor will it be a simple task. Still, I believe the power to revive him already lies within you. I believe you will know what to do when the time comes. But you must be prepared for that time, for the revival of Moroloth will do more than just return your master to life.”
Slayd frowned, picking slowly at a loose thread on his trousers. “Like what? What more will it do?”
The Beetle King’s gaze flicked to Guile for a moment before returning to Slayd. “What is one thing you have desired ever since you returned from beyond the Veil?”
Slayd still stared at his lap, a frown pursing his mouth. He said nothing.
“You wish to remember.”
Slayd nodded slowly. “More than anything, now that you are here. I want to remember you so badly, and not just remembering that I remember you.”
A hard smile snaked across the Beetle King’s face. “You know that I cannot fully restore your memories, no matter how much you wish to recall the past time you have spent here. The only one who can make them whole again is Moroloth himself, because he created you. It would be a simple thing for him to do.”
Slayd stood up quickly and took a step for the door. “Then what more do we need to discuss? Take me to his body.”
Sirrhas shook his head. “Please curb your impatience for a moment. Guile, perhaps you can explain this better than I.”
Guile sighed and slipped off the pillows, kneeling in front of Slayd. The scowl fell away from him, and he looked long at his charge. Slayd thought that he saw a flicker of what could have been pity cross his face. All hostility was carefully drained from his voice when he spoke. “Slayd, once Moroloth is revived things will change drastically. For all of us. We may seem pressed for time, but I believe you should take some time to think about this and think about what might happen to you when this does happen. You will change, and I do not know if you truly realize how much it could change you. Do you remember what you told me in the foothills? You believed your old self to be evil, and you seemed glad he was dead and gone. Such may not be the case, Slayd. The Slayd I remember from long ago still beats inside of you.”
Slayd fidgeted and avoided Guile’s intense stare. “I do not want to go back to that person, Guile. I may not remember much, but I have recovered a few of my memories, and from those that I know… I cannot say that I ever want to even imagine becoming such a terrible person again. He was evil, Guile. I will not become him again.”
His guardian sighed. “Regardless, there is more you should know. When Moroloth is resurrected, I know without a doubt that he will continue his aspirations where he left off when he died. He desires to annihilate the Grigora, or bring them under his complete control. When he lives again, events will be set in motion for whatever future Moroloth intends to create. And I can assure you, that future is bloody and filled with death. But it is driven by Moroloth’s hope for a better world.”
Guile clenched his fists, and Slayd could sense the inner helplessness that had suddenly blossomed in his guardian, tempered with a whole sea of emotions he could not quite place. “I cannot say that I believe in him, because I do not. But I have pledged my life to him and I am bound by that pledge to obey him, whether I believe in him or no. As are you, Slayd. There is no avoiding Moroloth’s resurrection, and it would be folly to even imagine such a thing. You cannot disobey the call of our master. But even so, think about what you are about to do.”
As Guile spoke the pendant around Slayd’s neck warmed, and Slayd looked down at it to see the eyes flared in anger. He frowned. “But… what would it matter, Guile? If I cannot disobey my master’s call, what would it matter if I believe in his intent?”
Guile shook his head, looking very tired. “I… cannot answer you directly, Slayd.” He gave a meaningful glance to the pendant around Slayd’s neck. “But believe me when I say that it does matter what you choose. And you do have a choice. If you choose to obey, then everything goes as Moroloth plans and the Keeper of the Scrolls writes our future history in the blood of Grigora and the people of Dehalen. I do not know what that future will hold, and not even the Spider Queen can see that far. But if you choose another way, then I will be forced to show my hand and make you obey.”
Slayd’s eyes went wide, and Sirrhas raised an eyebrow. “Guile…?”
Guile shook his scarred head. “No, Beetle King. I cannot change the vows I have made even if I had the desire, and neither can you.”
He turned back to his charge. “Slayd, I do not wish to force Moroloth’s will upon you, but it is my duty to compel you to obey him.” He carefully took one of Slayd’s hands in his own. “You have an authority that you have largely forgotten, and hidden somewhere deep within you is the latent magic that causes you to have that authority. Your servants are yours to command. You just do not remember how. Yet you have done it before, even without recalling your memories or the power of the magic that slumbers within you.”
He paused and looked hard at Slayd. “Listen to what I am telling you.”
Slayd looked up at Guile, a torn expression flickering across his face. “I… don’t know what to do.”
Guile shook his head. “You do not hear me. Think about what I say. Please, Slayd.”
Slayd fell quiet for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice shook a little, and Guile could tell the boy was terribly worried. “I… can I take a walk, and just be alone for a while? To think…?”
Guile almost smiled, and nodded. “Then we shall leave you alone.”
Sirrhas rose from his seat. “You may go wherever you like, Slayd. I think it will do you some good to see the rest of the castle again.” He placed a hand on his head, and Slayd blushed. Sirrhas took Guile’s hand and they left Slayd to his thoughts.
Sirrhas shut the door behind them, and Guile snatched his hand away from him. “Do not touch me, Beetle King. I abide your presence, but nothing more. Do not pretend that we are any nearer to peace between us than the last time we were here.” He stalked down the hall.
Sirrhas sighed and clasped his hands behind his back, trailing after Guile. “I believe there was a time, long ago, when you enjoyed spending time at my side. I never desired to make enemies with you. Nor do I wish to stand in the way of you fulfilling your duty. But I cannot help being concerned for what might happen to the child.”
A sneer spread across Guile’s face. “Why should you care? You hardly know him anymore. He has changed, Sirrhas.”
The Beetle King nodded. “I know, Guile. Once his memories return -”
“He will never be the person he once was,” he spat. “It is as he says. That Slayd is dead now. Passed beyond the Veil. Returning his memories to him will not bring back the Slayd we once knew. You should realize that, Sirrhas.” Guile stopped at a crumbling window, crossing his arms and leaning on its sill to gaze out at the misty rolling hills.
He felt the Beetle King come up behind him, watching the hills as well. “I do realize that, Guile. Yet it would please me to give him the small satisfaction of knowing his past. He has always been restless. Perhaps…”
Guile snorted. “And he will always be restless. No one can make that child happy, Sirrhas.”
“Time changes many things, and not always for the better.” He slipped a skeletal hand over one of Guile’s shoulders. “I would cast away much if it meant I could return to how things were years ago. I treasured having you visit this slumbering world.”
Guile flinched and jerked away, and he turned to glare at Sirrhas. “You miss nothing of me, Beetle King. Do not try to fix yourself in my affections through your ‘fond memories’. They were painful memories for me, Sirrhas. But you wouldn’t know that, would you?”
He turned and stalked down the hall, ignoring the other man as he followed him close behind.
“Guile!” Sirrhas quickened his pace to stay by his side. “Guile, will you stop and talk with me? If you would listen for a moment - ”
He grabbed one of Guile’s wrists and pulled him to a stop. A hiss escaped Guile and he wrenched his wrist from Sirrhas’ grip, jerking away with such force he lost his own balance and slammed backwards into the opposite wall. “Do not take such liberties with me, Beetle King. I am not like Slayd.”
Guile snarled and stalked back over to the Beetle King’s side, red sparks flaring in his eye sockets. “No, I don’t think you do.” He thrust a clawed hand around Sirrhas’ throat and leaned in close. “I am not like Slayd at all. Tell me, Sirrhas,” he whispered, “Did you enjoy the way he fawned over you, how he hung on every word you said?”
He tightened his grip around the Beetle King’s throat. “Do not bother to deny it, either. I know exactly how he feels about you.”
The Beetle King made no reply, only raised a thin eyebrow.
Guile growled under his breath and released his hold on the other man, trailing a claw over Sirrhas’ collar bone and drawing a hair-thin line of blood. “I wonder, did you ever give in to his desire for you? Did you take him one night, the way you do in his dreams?”
“I never touched him.” His voice was quiet and cold. "You fabricate intentions.”
“I give a damn what you intended!” He seized the Beetle King’s shoulders hard and snarled up at him. “It was always you. Even though there have been others he has been infatuated with, it was always you. Ever since he first met you, you have consumed his affection like a parasite on open flesh. Of all the people he could remember, he chooses to remember you. He didn’t even know me when I rescued him from the Temple of Mirrors, didn’t even see me, and yet all it takes is to see your face and hear your voice, and bits of his memory come rushing back to him. You are the cause of much of my suffering, Sirrhas, it would only seem right to return the favor.” His grip tightened.
“Guile. Cease this foolishness.”
Guile’s maw in his stomach opened threateningly, its shiny metal teeth glinting in the dim light. “Give me one reason.”
Sirrhas stared down at the other man, and his voice was low and even when he spoke. “Curb your foolish behavior, for your own sake. I will not ask again.”
Guile sneered. “‘My own sake’?” Anger made his voice waver.
“Slayd is capricious and easily upset. Do not risk your already strained relationship with your master simply on misplaced perceptions.” Sirrhas leaned down and touched a fingertip to Guile’s face. “And you know that despite your power, if you attack me it will be a fight you cannot win. My power lies with the dead, and against such power even you cannot prevail.”
Sirrhas stroked Guile’s cheek, making him jerk away in surprise. He backpedaled again, a fierce and confused anger baring his teeth.
“Guile… I do indeed treasure those memories of the time you and Slayd spent in my realm.” Sirrhas offered a hand to him, stepping towards him slowly as if he were a cornered wild animal. “Yet it was not because of your charge. Do not think that I never thought of you during those years. If you had been willing, I would have offered you gentleness, and perhaps more. Do you honestly believe it is Slayd that I love?”
Guile stared up at him with wide eye sockets, frozen in place. “…You do not love, Beetle King.”
Slayd sighed and shook his head, trying to clear it. He had a lot to think about. He got up and crossed the room to the opposite door, trying to remember the layout of the castle. He wandered the ruins, letting its familiarity and nostalgia wash over him in waves. As he walked he talked to himself, his voice echoing quietly off the broken stone.
“I wonder what they meant, about the future that Moroloth intends on creating. War, probably. The Grigora more than likely have something to do with it. If they are still around, then that means that the people of Dehalen will still live in fear. Death, blood, pain. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of suffering to inflict on people around here…”
He hopped over a fallen archway and wound his way through darkened halls. “And Guile… I think he was trying to tell me something, but I really have no idea what he wanted to say. Perhaps he is afraid that you’ll know what he meant, if he had tried to be clearer.”
He looked down at his pendant, which frowned up at him pensively. “But he is so loyal to you. To Moroloth.” He sighed and pulled open a rotting door that led out of the keep and back into the castle’s courtyard. “But he keeps mentioning my authority. He is far stronger than I. He wouldn’t have to try at all to make me do anything, by any means. I would think it would be easy…”
His voice trailed off. His wandering feet had taken him to the gated entrance of a small inner garden, and the heavy feel of something long lost and forgotten pulled at the corners of his mind.
Slayd peered through the cast iron bars of the gate, studying the flowers growing thick on the other side. It appeared that here too, everything had grown wild. The vines that blossomed with pale blue flowers grew over the cultivated shrubs and carpeted the stone walkway that led into the garden from the gate. Shiny metallic beetles flew through the air, pollinating the flowers and dodging the rain that still fell from the sky.
“I know this place…” Slayd said to himself.
He pushed open the gate and it made a very loud creak as it swung open, sending several large startled beetles flying.
“I wonder…” He walked slowly down the stone path, not bothering to close the gate behind him. It did not take him very long to reach the center of the gardens, where the path curved into a circle and hieroglyphs were carved into the stones. The pale blue flowers grew everywhere here, covering over all the other vegetation.
In the very center of the circle, Slayd saw a glass coffin.
He expected to see it before he had even laid eyes upon it, but he gasped just the same. He didn’t quite know how he knew it would be here, but there was something Very Important hovering just beyond the reach of his spotty memories… He drew near, and peered inside.
He saw exactly what he expected to see. A shriveled, dry corpse lay in the coffin, arms placed over its chest and holding a long sword between its crossed wrists. Empty eye sockets stared up at Slayd, and the corpse’s mouth was agape.
Slayd nodded slowly to himself. “I remember you…” he whispered. “I was the one who brought you here. I was the one who laid you in this tomb. You wear the silken robes that the Spider Queen weaved for you, and that golden crown upon your head was a grand gift from the Maggot King. Your armor was wrought by the Locust King’s own hand… and… and…”
He reached out a hand to touch the corpse’s throat, his fingers brushing an intricate necklace, bejeweled with tiny scarab beetle gems. “And this belonged to me, once. A gift. It seemed only fitting to grace your throat in death.”
Slayd’s hand fell away and he stood in the rain, staring in quiet recollection at the corpse. Lord Moroloth lay dead before his eyes, the warrior-priest, the Lich King, hero and savior to all of Dehalen.