Chapter 38: Remembering.
In the haze of his mind’s eye, Slayd blinked in surprise. He was… old. Very old. Quite possibly by hundreds of years, if he had ever bothered to keep track. His first memories were so far from him, and they happened so long ago, that they seemed to only reluctantly drag themselves out of the mire that had been Slayd’s recollection. But they were coming all the same – with painstaking slowness, steadily and inexorably pressing themselves into his mind.
Shivering and naked, gasping for first breath – he saw his master’s face smiling in satisfaction and cradling Slayd’s newly born form. Guile was beside him, younger and wide-eyed, staring intensely at the new life that had just been spawned by ancient and secret magic.
He saw years go by, and watched himself grow quickly. He did not leave the tower’s grounds for a long time, sheltered beneath its cold stone. He was always trailed by Guile’s presence, always watched and cared for and never alone. He saw himself under tutelage by both his master and by Guile, both taught him rites of magic and the history of their world, a world he hadn’t even seen – not yet.
When he did leave the protective walls of the tower, it was by Lord Moroloth’s side, with Guile following behind. He was taken to every kingdom great and small in the whole of Dehalen, and was introduced to every lord, every king and queen, every sage and oracle and noble in the land.
He remembered attending the naming ceremony for the Maggot King’s newly adopted infant son. Both he and Guile took turns holding a squirming Jyrr after the rites have been performed, while his elder stepbrother looked on in pride.
He remembered idolizing the Beetle King from the moment he had first laid eyes on him, and all his efforts to garner the attention of the older man. He remembered being allowed to rest in his chamber, though he never touched him, no matter how Slayd had tried to capture him with his charm. They had still grown close though, and the warm rainy nights spent in his company were the ones Slayd counted as some of the best in his life. He had spent as much time as he could with Sirrhas, then – and Guile was always at the edge of things, out of the way, pushed aside and forgotten. From within his rushing memories, Slayd felt a nagging feeling rise from the pit of his stomach. It reeked of guilt, like he’d done something terribly wrong. In his mind’s eye he tried his hardest to shake free of the feeling and attempted to focus on the rush of recollections spilling into his brain.
His memory pieced together his own history bit by bit… childhood travels with his master, his fear and need for Guile, his infatuations with not only Jyrr and Sirrhas, but many others as well – they all flooded back into his mind like a cascading waterfall of memory. He remembered being arrogant yet easily intimidated, prideful and fearful at the same time. But most of all he remembered Guile.
He remembered being sung to sleep by Guile when he had awoken from terrible nightmares, and he remembered ignoring Guile’s silent protests when he ran off alone with Jyrr. His mind ached with all the pain Guile had caused him, but he also remembered all the comfort he gave. He remembered Guile always protecting him, and his own childish indifference toward his guardian. Guile had killed for him many times, and even died for him once, and he would tear Slayd apart if it meant keeping him close.
And he remembered his master. Lord Moroloth, the Lich King, called Dehalen’s savior and regarded as a hero by the multitudes. Slayd knew him to be a prideful and distant man, cold and calculating. Yet he had a gentle side, one he rarely showed to anyone other than Slayd or Guile. Slayd knew he was loved dearly by his master, as if he had truly been a son of flesh and blood, instead of only by magic. Slayd’s recollection seemed to lurch, and one memory in particular leaped to the front of his mind.
He was young still, perhaps only seven or eight years old. He was sitting on Moroloth’s knee, with Guile at his feet. His master had been telling him a story about battles between demons and mortals, an epic struggle that Slayd never tired of hearing about. But now Moroloth’s serious tone took on a harder edge, and he drew out a pendant from his robes, etched in insects, and runes carved in the center.
“Slayd, my child, this is an heirloom I bestow upon you. You shall keep it carefully, and guard it with your life. Do you understand?”
Slayd nodded, his eyes growing wide. “What… what is it?” He could feel the power emanating from the pendant, a magical aura that was unmistakably his master’s.
Moroloth closed the pendant around Slayd’s neck. “It is a symbol, little one. A symbol of vows taken for my sake, by all the great kings. It is a symbol of your entire reason for being, and it is a container for a soul.”
If Slayd’s eyse could have gotten any wider, they would have. “What does that mean, my Lord?”
A fraction of a smile flicked across Moroloth’s face. “I have created you for a great purpose, Slayd. You are a vessel, a receptacle for all of my magical knowledge. Your body is knit together by a very powerful spell, and your very bones are etched with the runes that seal its magical energy. The spell binds within you all of the ancient knowledge that I have acquired, and all of the magic I have ever known.”
He tapped the pendant around Slayd’s neck. “This talisman is a part of that spell. When I die, you shall perform a sealing rite that I shall teach you, and it will pull my soul into itself. It is your duty to see that I am resurrected when the time comes. Do you understand?”
Slayd slowly nodded, a worried expression crossing his face. “I understand, my Lord. But… why would you ever have to die? I did not think it was even possible.”
Moroloth’s thin smile grew hard. “Despite all of my efforts to the contrary, I am still mortal, Slayd. After a fashion. But I can die, and will die, inevitably. My confrontations with the Grigora will guarantee that. I have created you to counter that inevitability. You are the key to my immortality.”
Slayd’s face was creased in a frown. “How will I know when to resurrect you, and will I know how to?”
“I shall train you how. As for when… When the time comes, and you return to the Beetle King’s realm, you will know. My body will be kept there, in his castle, under his watchful eyes.”
Slayd’s face brightened at the mention of the Beetle King, and he beamed up at his master. But he grew thoughtful quickly. “I do not think that I fully understand why you desire all of this,” He said, leaning his head on Moroloth’s shoulder. “But you know I will do whatever you command.”
Moroloth placed a hand on Slayd’s head, and smiled his skeletal smile. “I know you will.”
At their feet Guile sat in silence, but whether he was asleep or awake, Slayd couldn’t tell. The memory ended without notice, and bled into another one that had been years apart.
Slayd was in his room standing shirtless in front of a floor length mirror, loosening his long hair for the night. He was older then by several decades, and taller too. Half-healed gashes ran down the side of his neck, matched by deep marks that criss-crossed down one side and continued over his hip. He winced whenever the fabric of his clothes brushed against them, making him grunt a little each time he moved. Yet he had insisted that the healers leave their work unfinished. It would be Guile’s job to correct his own mistakes.
Guile was perched on the edge of the open window, looking rather worse for wear. His ragged wings were half-plucked of their feathers, and dark bruises marred his skin. Slayd eyed him from his reflection. “Did they heal you properly?”
Guile grunted and turned black eyes to scowl at his charge. “They did as they were told. I’m not bleeding.”
Slayd nodded once in approval, eyes still on his guardian. “Maybe one day you’ll figure out I can give as good as you.”
Guile sneered. “And perhaps one day you will listen to me, and I won’t need to hurt you at all.”
Slayd’s eyes narrowed, and he turned to glare at Guile. “I am the legacy and heir of the Lich King of Dehalen. I no more need to obey you than I do any other servant in this tower. You may have been my tutor when I was younger, but you have nothing more to teach me.” He strode over to where Guile sat and grabbed his bruised shoulder sharply, making him flinch. “Now you are my guardian, nothing more. Lord Moroloth gave you to me, and I will do with you as I please.” He squeezed hard before releasing him, and returned to the mirror.
Guile said nothing. Instead, he slipped from the windowsill and crouched by the hearth to stoke the crackling fireplace. Slayd watched him from his spot in front of the mirror as Guile settled himself on the stone. Guile wasn’t cold – Slayd couldn’t remember ever noticing a time when he had ever been affected by the chill of winter – he maintained the fire only for Slayd’s sake.
Slayd sighed and left the mirror to settle himself into the comfort of his bed, nestling beneath blankets and pillows. He watched his guardian watch the blaze, its orange glow dimly reflected in Guile’s eyes. If Slayd didn’t know any better, he would have imagined that Guile was sad, but he shook it off. Guile never felt anything other than anger, manic glee and jealousy, after all.
His eyes trailed over his guardian’s bruised body, taking in ragged wings and injured flesh… the way muscles moved under marred skin, the flinch of pain whenever he flexed still-tender joints.
Slayd shifted under his blankets and extended a hand to Guile, beckoning. “Come here.”
Slayd’s mental vision wavered, and he found himself recalling one of the last conversations he had with his guardian, before he had fled for the borders of the Veil.
A clear sky glittered with the patterns of the constellations, dimmed only slightly by the glow of a full moon. Below lay the black stone temples that the priest Incavius guarded, and upon the roof of one of these Slayd sat cross-legged, eyes directed upwards. He saw no sky though, his mind was far too preoccupied to notice the beauty above him. Guile sat beside him, his black eyes trained on his charge’s face.
Slayd sighed and shook his head slowly, a frown spreading over his face. “No matter how I look at it, I am still only a pawn in a game I was never allowed to choose.”
Guile grunted in reply, knowing Slayd was only half speaking to him. “We are never allowed to choose, Slayd. Life merely happens that way.”
Slayd turned his eyes from the sky to scowl at his guardian. “Perhaps for most people, but I refuse to believe I was merely meant to be a vessel for transferring the life of my master. I can do so much more than that.”
“That may be true, and there is no saying you cannot do more than that, but that does not negate the fact that you still must do it.”
Slayd shook his head. “While Lord Moroloth was alive, he held me to promises I never made. Now he is gone – he has been for years now. I am feeling the pull of his desires less with the passing of each season, and the growing of my own. No. There’s no reason I should try to resurrect him, not now or ever. What if bringing him back pulls me under his will again? I don’t want to simply do his will. No, if I do anything he desires, it’s as if I’m already acknowledging my own inferiority. I don’t want that at all.”
Guile raised an eyebrow at his charge, voice quiet and questioning. “And what is it you want, Slayd?”
“I want more.”
A grin spread over Slayd’s face. “I want. It matters little what. Everything, I guess. And I can have it, I know I can. I will have it.”
Guile drew his knees to his chest, eyes widening at Slayd’s bold words. “You are not a god of this world, Slayd. Some things you simply cannot have.”
“If I cannot have it here, I will find it elsewhere. You have heard the sages – ‘there are other worlds, and the dead move between them’. You have taught me much of the Veil and have hinted about what lies beyond it. The Temple of Mirrors holds many secrets. Secrets I will lay claim to.”
Slayd stood and turned to leave the roof, casting a glance back over his shoulder. “I don’t need this world. I deserve better than this. I deserve to choose my own destiny, not merely fulfill the legacy of the Lich King.”
Guile leapt to his feet and grabbed Slayd by the wrist, snarling. “Watch your words, Slayd. I have taken vows to see that you will fulfill that legacy, by any means necessary. If you do not do so willingly, I will force you to do so, by – ”
Green shards of magic shot from the heel of Slayd’s upheld palm. They embedded themselves in Guile’s chest and he sprawled backwards, nearly falling off the roof. Slayd advanced on him, whispering spidery words of arcana that twisted through the air and impaled Guile’s shoulders, pinning him down. He struggled against their hold, but it did little other than draw copious amounts of blood.
Slayd crouched down over him, planting a knee on Guile’s throat. “You will force me to do what, now? How long will we play this game, Guile? You may pretend to have power over me – and that was true once upon a time, but has hardly been the case for decades. I have the blood of ancient Grigora magic running through my veins, torn from the demons’ own hands by the Lich King’s rites. And I know how to use it. You may be one of the most powerful beings in this world, but you are bound by vows and by servitude. And I am not.”
Guile gasped under the weight of Slayd’s knee. He could hardly breathe, but he struggled to speak anyway. “You know little – of what you say, Slayd…”
Slayd chuckled. “I know enough. And I know you cannot disobey me if I command you with authority.”
Slayd pulled his weight from Guile’s throat and knelt beside his guardian, running a hand lightly over his jaw. “I will not prostrate under the hand of a long-dead hero any longer. I will do as I please. I will find my own way. And you will do as you’re told. You will return to Amoth Shyr. Do not get in my way, Guile.”
The heavy authority of Slayd’s words sunk into Guile like an anchor, and all he could do was nod weakly. Slayd stood and flicked a wrist, dissipating the shards that pinned Guile. He turned to leave, but paused for a moment. “Truly, I want you to come with me. But I know you will always attempt to do your master’s will, regardless of how many years he has been dead and gone. It is a shame, really.” He took another step, but paused again and Guile could hear him sigh. His words came quietly. “…I treasure you more than anything else Lord Moroloth has ever given me.”
Guile took a ragged breath and rolled over, dragging himself to kneel behind Slayd. “…I know.”
“And you know that regardless of what happens and regardless of whatever else may change, I will always feel the same. You will always be mine.”
Even though Slayd’s back was turned to him, Guile nodded in silent acknowledgement. “And you will always be mine, Slayd. Never doubt that.”
A long moment of silence passed between them, ending only when Slayd released a long wavering sigh. “…I will miss you, Guile. Goodbye.”
Everything melted back into the rushing flood of memory. Slayd’s grasp on consciousness faltered, then fell away.