Chapter 35: Resolve.

  “My master…” Slayd dropped to his knees beside the glass coffin and clutched at the grate around his heart. He began to cry, and tiny maggots fell from his eyes while his tears blended with the raindrops. He didn’t really know why he was crying, except that he felt a sudden wave of great loss. It felt as though someone had drawn his heart out through the spaces in his grate, leaving nothing but a hurting, empty hole.
   He looked down at his pendant and it returned his gaze quietly, blinking away the rain. He imagined the eyes seemed almost kind, and he ran a careful hand over it. “I think… I think I miss so very much the life I had before, even if I cannot quite remember it. I think I… I miss you. I miss hearing your voice, and watching you guide my hand in magic. I miss traveling with you and Guile, and seeing all of Dehalen together. We went to so many places, and there were such strange things to see…
   “I wish so very badly I could remember all of the things you taught me, but I don’t remember any of it. All I have left is the memory of the magic you gave to me, and the memory of the ecstasy it brings… I remember… I was immersed in it, surrounded by it… I used to glow in the magic you gave me, but I have lost it now. I’m so sorry…” He buried his face in his hands.
   “I am so selfish, aren’t I? I fled from you when you entrusted your life to me, when you were the one who cared for me the most. You were more than my master, even more than a father. And yet…” He shook his head, sobbing into his hands.
   “Oh, I am still so selfish! I do not want to go back to who I was! How can I? And you, you made me that way. You did so much I did not understand. I still do not understand. How could you? And how can you expect me to just turn everything I am back into being nothing but a vessel for your path to immortality?” He curled his hands into fists, clenching so tight it turned his knuckles white and his nails threatened to draw blood from his palms.
   “I do not understand at all! What do I do? I have failed everyone, haven’t I? But… You were always so kind to me…” He turned his face up to the rain and imagined the whispers of his master slip by his ear. He let out a long sigh, letting the tears fall.
   Sirrhas was unmoving, steadily staring Guile down. “That may be, Guile. My heart is too cold and dead for love to be anything but the faintest reflection of what the word truly means. But know that I care for you. When word reached me that you and Slayd had passed beyond the Veil, I very nearly abandoned these barrows and halls to pursue you, to whatever end it might have led. I bear the weight of this world on my shoulders, as I carry the dead into the realms beyond. Yet I cannot do it alone. Not without the thought of you and Slayd bringing hope to this world.”
   “Hope. Are you sure you have the right people?” Guile stared a long moment at the Beetle King, incredulous.
   “Perhaps you do not see it, but I do not believe you need to. The hope Slayd brings to the people of Dehalen is felt by all, and brings a warmth to their lives that otherwise would have fallen away upon the death of Lord Moroloth. You share in that, Guile, though you may not have noticed.” His hand was still extended to him.
   The malice slowly fell away from Guile’s face, and he suddenly felt very tired. He shook his head and ran a thumb over his eye sockets. “I do not understand you.”
   “I do not ask you to.”
   Guile tentatively took the hand that Sirrhas offered him, entwining his long fingers in the Beetle King’s own. “And yet…” His voice was quiet and sad. “I must take him away from here forever, Sirrhas, you know that. And you will have to bear the weight of the world without him.”
   Sirrhas drew Guile against his chest. “He will be with you, and that is what matters. I know I need not ask you to take care of him. He is your light.”
   Guile smiled bitterly into the Beetle King’s shoulder. “And I am his shadow. He would rather it be you.”
   “He does not have a choice.”
   Guile pulled away from Sirrhas and smirked. “Oh, but he does. Were you not listening to me?”
   A slight frown creased the Beetle King’s forehead. “You have always enjoyed speaking in riddles, Guile. Speak plainly with me.”
   Guile’s smirk vanished. “Slayd is enamored with you, Sirrhas. Were he to command me to leave the two of you in his star-struck dreams, I would obey. I must obey my master when he commands me with authority.”
   “Yet Lord Moroloth is also your master.”
   Guile nodded. “He is indeed. But Slayd and I are bound deeper than that. Surely you have sensed that the ties of Moroloth’s magic have been slipped like a noose around our necks? I must obey both Slayd and Moroloth if they command me. And if Slayd thought he could have you, he would order me away.”
   “I would never allow Slayd to do such a thing to you.”
   “Oh? And why is that?” The acid in Guile’s voice seeped through. “You could easily ask him to cast away his fate and stay in your arms forever.”
   Sirrhas shook his head and cupped Guile’s chin in one bony hand. “You do not hear me any more than he does. I may not love, but I care for you.”
   Guile squirmed in Sirrhas’ embrace. “I don’t believe you.”
   “Do you not?”
   “No. Release me.”
   The Beetle King only held him closer, drawing a hand up his spine and making his startled eye sockets grow wider. “…Do you trust me?”
   Guile flinched at the familiar phrase. He ceased twisting under his touch and eyed the other’s face warily. “I… Yes.”
   “Then believe me when I say I care for you, even if I am not capable of love.”
   Guile’s troubled gaze lingered long over the Beetle King’s eyes, trying valiantly to find some sort of deceit in his words. He sighed and reluctantly conceded. “…You do not lie, Sirrhas.” He cautiously leaned into his embrace. “But you want something. What do you want from me?”
   “Everyone wants something, Sirrhas.”
   “I want nothing from you that you are not willing to give.”
   “I will not give up Slayd. He is mine.”
   Sirrhas slipped his hands to Guile’s shoulders and he sighed, longsuffering. “I do not ask for him, Guile. You are bound together so tightly that not even death can keep you apart. Even in my own domain you prevail, where Slayd is concerned. You passed beyond death in the Veil just to reach him.”
   Guile grunted and rested his forehead on Sirrhas’ chest. “It’s not that poetic, Beetle King.”
   Sirrhas chuckled quietly, stroking Guile’s scarred head. “There is one thing I desire to ask you, though. You never answered me before.”
   “What happened to your eyes?”
   Guile shrugged. “You know, I believe you are the first to bother asking. But there is not much to tell. I was long searching for Slayd, and came to the edge of the Lake Khorakh. The Priest Incavius met me there among his temples. It was he who told me Slayd had journeyed out over the lake, and was lost to this world beyond the Veil.” He sighed a little and shook his head. “Upon hearing that, I tore out my eyes in my sorrow.”
   Sirrhas stared down at Guile, raising an eyebrow in surprise. “I… see.”
   Guile shrugged again, brushing it off. “It matters little now, at any rate.”
   “Would you like them restored?”
   Guile’s thoughts seemed to freeze solid for a moment, and he had to pause to be sure he had heard what he thought he had heard. He turned his face up to regard the Beetle King with a quizzical stare. “…And why,” he asked quietly, “would you offer to do such a thing?”
   The Beetle King smiled his thin smile. “Because there is so very little I can do to make up for the pain I have unwittingly caused you. And perhaps it would prove to you that I do indeed care for you.”
   “But how is it possible? Your power does not lie with sight.”
   “No. But remember I am a keeper of the reflecting pools, not unlike those of the Priest Incavius. One of those contains healing waters that have the power to restore your eyes, even if I do not. Allow me this slight kindness.”
   Guile tried very carefully to maintain a blank expression. “If you wish.”
   The Beetle King ran his bony fingers around the edges of Guile’s eye sockets. “The eyes are the windows into our souls, revealing our inner depths in riddles so obscure that only a few know how to read them. Yours were always so dark. So full of a passion I could never understand. Fathomless…”
   A dark look shadowed Guile’s face, and he jerked away. “I should warn you, Beetle King. When you first met me, my true eyes had been replaced. You know I was long under Moroloth’s keeping, and he taught me much of the nature of magic. He cast many spells and wards upon me for protection, and to allow me greater… control over the wild nature of the magic that I was drawn to. Such wards will not be restored along with my eyes. It will be somewhat of an… unpleasant surprise.”
   The Beetle King frowned. “I am afraid I do not understand, Guile.”
   But before Guile could answer, a prickling on the back of his neck drew his senses inward. He felt Slayd’s presence in the very center of the castle grounds, kneeling before the glass coffin where their master lay.
   He sighed to himself and withdrew his senses. “Sirrhas, this conversation will have to wait. I believe we should go find Slayd. He has found the gardens, and that leaves us little time for further banter.”
   Sirrhas nodded and turned to go, offering Guile his hand. “That leaves us little time indeed.”
   Slayd did not know how long he had been there, kneeling beside the glass coffin of his master. By the time Guile and Sirrhas found him, the light rain had become a downpour and Slayd was soaking wet.
   The Beetle King stood beside Slayd without a word and offered him his hand. He took it, smiling sadly up at Sirrhas. “There never is an easy answer to any of the important questions we have to ask, is there?” He said, as the three of them made their way out of the gardens and back into the shelter of the ruined castle.
   “No easy answers, Lord Slayd.”
   Slayd shook his head and smiled a little. “I’d rather have the difficult answers to figure out, if it means you are with me.”
   Slayd didn’t notice Guile wince a little at his words. He was preoccupied with his own thoughts, and sighed. “I think I know one of the answers now… And I’ve decided what to do, only…” He paused for a moment and frowned. “Only, I don’t know if I really want to do it.”
   “That is frequently the case with hard questions and difficult decisions,” said Guile quietly from behind them, “but once you make that decision you must follow that path, until its end.”
   Slayd nodded, but didn’t say anything more.
   Lady Bird was waiting for them inside. She took the Beetle King’s hand and escorted them back into the dining hall, which was again filled to the brim with food that looked entirely unappetizing. Fortunately Slayd knew better this time, so he sat down without apprehension. Sirrhas and Guile followed suit, but Guile only picked at his food.
   Sirrhas’ sunken gaze eyed Slayd. “What did you decide to do?”
   Slayd sighed, and looked away. This was turning out to be even harder than he thought it would be. “I… will resurrect Moroloth, so I can get back my memories in their entirety. He is my master, how can I do anything else? But even still, it is hard…” He paused, staring down at his pendant. “And after that… After that, I will follow him into whatever future he has planned. To whatever end.” He ran a hand over his eyes. “But I don’t want to go. I do not want to leave you. Not after I just found you.”
   Guile grunted and pushed his chair away from the table. “In any event, I’m glad to hear you’re finally making some sense. I’m taking my leave.”
   He slipped out of the hall without another word, leaving Slayd very confused and slightly angry. He scowled at his dinner plate. “Why does he do that? I thought he’d be happy I’m finally doing what he’s been wanting me to do ever since I got here.”
   “Let your guardian be, Lord Slayd. He may just want his own time to be alone. This journey has been very difficult for both of you, I would imagine there is much on his mind.”
   Slayd nodded slowly, his eyes fixing on the hall Guile had vanished into. “…I suppose.”
   The Beetle King shook his head. “You and Guile are tied inextricably together. Though I know not how, you belong with each other. It is something neither Moroloth nor I can explain, and the nature of the bond between you two is beyond our understanding. But there is one thing I do know, that Moroloth has never recognized.” His voice dropped low. “You have a higher destiny, Slayd, than what the Lich King has planned for you. You can do far greater things than he thinks you capable of. He did not design for you and Guile to be so inexplicably bound to one another, and a part of me wonders if that bond would affect Moroloth’s designs. I cannot help but wonder if your tie to one another is not a portent of things to come. Be cautious of your actions.”
   Slayd frowned. “If we are so tied together, would it not then be a Bad Thing to revive my master? Or at least right now? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until we know for certain what might happen?”
   A flare of anger swept up from the pendant around Slayd’s neck, and The Beetle King smiled and shook his head. “There are deeper veins of fate running over those bones, and it would be folly to try and avoid bleeding them. No, the Lich King must be revived. All the world hangs over your shoulders, you must not disobey your master’s call. The fate of this world hinges on his return.”
   Slayd frowned. “What do you mean?”
   But the Beetle King did not answer him. “Perhaps it would be best if you had some time to yourself again. Wander the ruins as you wish, and then retire for the night. Perhaps your head will be clearer when morning comes.”
   Guile slipped through the halls silently, his blank expression hiding a whirlwind of thoughts. He hadn’t expected things to move this fast. His last hope that they would return to Amoth Shyr had fizzled out the moment Slayd had said he would revive their master. The resolve in his voice had been clear, even if his confused thoughts on the matter had not been.
   He shook his head. “Then so be it. Bad timing or no, this is the goal I’ve been pushing him towards ever since the Temple of Mirrors, is it not? Amoth Shyr will have to wait. We will inevitably return when Lord Moroloth is awakened, regardless.”
   His silent footfalls led him through broken hall and crumbled arch, until he found himself back in the gardens, staring at the open gate that led to his master’s tomb. He paused, looking long at the deep blue flowers adorning the decaying woodwork of what might have been a trestle. He shifted from foot to foot for a long moment before finally ducking underneath the archway and winding his way to the stone circle. He could not bring himself to look inside the glass coffin, not yet. Instead he stopped just shy of it and knelt on the ground, stoic expression finally breaking.
   “You are cruel, my Lord.” He squeezed his empty eye sockets shut and sank his forehead to the ground. “And you are so kind. How can you manage to be so full of love and hate, that you would draw Slayd into such a fate as this? That you would draw me into such a fate as this? And how is it that I cannot find the will within myself to escape it?”
   He curled his bony hands into fists, claws digging the dirt into his palms. “You tear me apart. I love you, I hate you. How do you do this to me? You required everything of me, took everything away, leaving me nothing. And you gave me so much more in return.”
   There was no response, and he hadn’t expected one. He released a heavy sigh and stood up, finally allowing his eyeless gaze to peer into the glass coffin. He carefully leaned over the edge, running his fingers over the corpse’s chest. “And you will take it all away from me again.”
   He brushed his lips over his master’s open mouth in a chaste kiss and turned quickly from the circle, disappearing back into the gloom of the ruined castle.


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