Chapter 39: Breaking Barriers.

  Slayd gasped and writhed, shaking violently. Foam trickled out of his mouth and he wheezed faintly. Lord Moroloth lay Slayd down in the glass tomb and turned to leave the gardens. His eyes met the Beetle King’s for the first time. “Sirrhas, my old friend. It is through your kindness that my body was kept so well for what I can only assume were centuries, if the passing of time these eyes have seen is correct. Walk with me. We have much to discuss.”
   The Beetle King cracked a smile and nodded. “Indeed we do. There are many things I must inform you about, that happened after you were laid to rest.” He followed Moroloth out of the gardens, casting a concerned glance back at Slayd’s convulsing body as he left.
   Guile rushed up to the tomb and pulled Slayd to his chest. “Breathe, Slayd. Slowly now, just breathe…” He held Slayd’s head close to his heart and gently rocked him back and forth, silently willing the boy to calm his seizures. He ran his fingers over Slayd’s arm, whispering the spidery words of magic that would knit the still-dripping wound closed.
   Gradually the writhing stopped, and Slayd’s breathing became steady. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment before opening them to beam almost-deliriously at his guardian. “I… remember everything. I remember my whole life, who I was… and the magic, Guile! Oh… I’ve missed the magic… I remember it all, Guile.” He reached a hand to grasp Guile’s shoulder tightly, his smile widening.
   Guile grunted and pulled Slayd’s hand away. “Yes, Slayd. You remember. Now shut up and hold still so I can heal you.”
   Slayd’s eyes narrowed, and he shoved Guile away with such force he tumbled back to land on the ground. “Don’t speak to me as if I’m a small child.” He climbed out of the tomb, swaying a little when a rush of dizziness overtook him. “I can heal myself if I –”
   He frowned. He thought he felt so very lightheaded because of the blood loss, but there was something else… something wasn’t right.
   Guile got to his feet, his eyeless gaze watching Slayd warily. “…You cannot feel your magic.”
   Slayd’s head slowly shook, his eyes on the ground, focused inward. “I could swear… I knew I felt it, for a moment. That heat coursing through my veins. I’ve missed that feeling so very much… but now it’s gone again.” He slumped against the side of the glass coffin and ran a hand through his ribbony hair. “And what is the memory without the magic?”
   Guile raised an eyebrow and tentatively ran fingers again over Slayd’s arm. “Simply one piece to a larger puzzle. I see you’re back to your old self, my Lord.”
   Slayd glanced up at the title and raised an eyebrow of his own. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there was regret behind your words.”
   Guile shook his head and took Slayd’s arm in his hands, surrounding it with the blue glow of his healing magic. “I regret very little, Slayd. Hold still.”
   Slayd complied with Guile’s request and watched his wound slowly close. He looked around the gardens and held a hand out to the rain, letting the drops pool in his palm. “I must admit, things even look a little clearer. It’s as if I am seeing things plainly for the first time in centuries.”
   “Probably because you are.”
   Guile finished healing Slayd in silence. He stood for a time just looking at Slayd, who eyed him quizzically back. “What is it?”
   Guile shrugged. “It’s nothing. Perhaps it is as if I am also seeing things plainly once again.”
   “We should find our master. I think I know where he is.”
   Sirrhas had escorted the Lich King to the reflecting pools, and Moroloth had settled himself to rest in one of the largest. It glinted with many-colored facets as if it was liquid diamond, and curls of steam emanated from its surface. He ran a hand languidly through the still water. “I can already feel the tales of this world absorbing within. Truly the reflecting pools are a blessed mystery.”
   The Beetle King nodded. “This pool contains much of the history of Dehalen within its waters. It is only those who can withstand its searing heat that can gain the benefits of such knowledge.”
   A throaty chuckle. “Strange that it does not boil. They say that the Keeper of the Scrolls was born from this water.”
   “So they say.”
   Lord Moroloth turned his piercing gaze to his companion. “And these waters tell me that there is much activity to the west, past your borders and beyond the shores of the Worm Kingdom. Demons are gathering over the sea. They have felt my resurrection.”
   Sirrhas hissed an intake of breath. “If that is the case, I would request that you remain in my realm until you have gathered your strength. Your body needs time to rest.”
   “I have rested for centuries, Sirrhas.”
   A knowing smile. “Death and rest do not coincide, my lord.”
   Moroloth nodded. “Nor does torpor, my friend. You have been restless. And you have grown much more so, since my child entered your realm. Does his presence trouble you?”
   Sirrhas shook his head. “Slayd does not trouble me. His presence is esteemed in my ruined halls. But it is not he that causes my restlessness.”
   Moroloth raised a single eyebrow, drawing a rare laugh from the Beetle King. “I have long since been charmed by your servant Guile, or at least as much as I am able to.”
   “I see. Only a lord of death would be drawn to one such as him.”
   “I intend on returning his eyes to him. Surely the waters of the reflecting pool have shown you how he lost them in sorrow upon discovering where your heir fled to.”
   Moroloth nodded once, slowly. “The waters have shown me. I will not forbid you to do so, Sirrhas, but be on your guard. I sealed magic behind the eyes that I gave him when he first came to me, that helped control the darkness he carries within him. Dangerous magic roils within him, and restoring his true eyes will not return the seals I created. You may very well loose the monster within.”
   “Should I not, then? If he could be a danger to you or to Slayd -”
   “No, do as you will. Seals or no, he will obey me and he would never turn on Slayd. I know where his loyalties lie.”
   A single ripple through the water of the reflecting pool drew Moroloth’s attention, and he sensed Guile and Slayd enter the halls of the reflecting pool. He ignored their presence for the time being and kept his attention on Sirrhas.
   “I must rest for several days, old friend. But then I intend on leaving your kingdom to see with my own eyes what changes have been brought to this world. That journey may be months in taking. Will you go to Amoth Shyr and assist Slayd? He must prepare for the final summoning, and all the insect kings must be gathered. The demons are amassing already because of my return, and I wish to end this once and for all. They will not threaten the lives of this world any longer, not while I live again to stop them.”
   Sirrhas hesitated for a moment, but slowly shook his head. “I regretfully decline, my lord. If the Grigora return in numbers to the world again, this realm is at great risk. I must preserve this land, and protect the paths that the dead must follow on their journey to the Halls of Satarin. I have made a promise that I will seal myself away along with this kingdom, so that only the dead may enter. I can no more break that promise than break the vows that I have made to you, all those years ago.”
   Moroloth’s eyes narrowed just a fraction, and he gazed up at the Beetle King. “And how, then, do you intend to fulfill them both?”
   “I will not abandon my vows to you, old friend. My son is eager to do your will, and is willing to take my place at your side for the final summoning. He has desired it for many years. I will send him in my stead.”
   “Your son is capable and intelligent. I have no doubt he will be able to fulfill your pledge to me. But who asked this promise of you?”
   “Your servant Guile.”
   A tiny gasp from across the hall drew both Sirrhas and Moroloth’s attention. Slayd’s eyes were huge in shock, and a hand covered his mouth. His gaze flicked from Sirrhas to Guile and back, confusion and rage growing rapidly in the pit of his stomach.
   But Moroloth paid his heir no mind. He rose from the reflecting pool and grasped the Beetle King briefly on the shoulder. “I see. I have known you for long centuries Sirrhas, and it is a rare thing indeed for you to feel warmth for any other than your own blood. I will not question it. But as for more immediate matters, you have said I require rest.”
   Sirrhas nodded. “My servants will escort you and I shall follow.” As he spoke, a thin hissing escaped the ground, and translucent shapes drifted up from still water. They flanked the Lich King on either side, leading him away.
   Sirrhas turned to Guile and Slayd, beckoning them closer. “I regret, Lord Slayd, that you did not know sooner of my intention to seal this kingdom away. I know you are fond of this place.”
   Slayd furiously blinked back the tears that threatened to fall, and swallowed hard. He pressed his hands against Sirrhas and rested his forehead on his chest. “I don’t want you go. I’ll never see you again.”
   “There is no way for me to stay in this world, Slayd. I must go. This kingdom must be sealed away in preparation for your master's impending battle, and I with it. The paths of the dead need a guardian, and it is my duty. I have a promise to keep.”
   “It’s Guile, isn’t it?” Slayd said suddenly, his anger rising. “He’s making you do this. He’s jealous of you, and he won’t be happy until he can tear you away from me forever. I hate him, Sirrhas! Don’t let him have his way!” Slayd snarled, casting a seething glance at his guardian.
   Guile hissed and turned away from the two, crossing his arms and holding in the sudden anger that threatened to boil over inside of him. Sirrhas watched him warily as he detached Slayd’s hands from his chest. “Do not say such things, Slayd. Guile does not ask promises of people for such shallow and petty reasons. There is deeper meaning to his intent, and I can assure you he is concerned for both your sake and my own.”
   Slayd shook his head. “I don’t believe it. He hates you, he doesn’t care about you at all! And really, he doesn’t care about me, either, and anything he’s ever said to me otherwise is just to keep me quiet and by his side. All he cares about is getting what he wants -”
   Sirrhas talked over him. “You couldn’t be more wrong, Slayd. Trust me when I say this. He cares more for you than anything else, in this world and out of it, and you should never doubt that. His love for you is not something to be taken lightly, or to be thrown away so easily.” He bowed a little to Slayd. “But I must attend to my old friend. It shall be a while longer before this place will vanish from Dehalen’s borders. You still have time enough to wander its halls and ruins. Take whatever you desire, if you wish mementos.” He bowed again both to Slayd and to Guile, then left the reflecting pools.
   Slayd watched him go, his fury swelling over his grief. “This is all your fault, Guile.”
   Guile turned and raised an eyebrow to Slayd, his own anger barely in check. “It is, is it?” He asked, his voice scarcely above a whisper.
   Slayd was heedless of the dangerously quiet tone of Guile’s voice. “Yes, it’s your fault! It’s your fault I feel guilty every time I desire anyone else, it’s your fault Sirrhas is sealing himself away, it’s your fault I won’t ever be able to see him again! I bet you’re happy about it too! You like tearing the people I love away from me. You enjoy making me suffer, it gives you pleasure. You’re a monster, Guile,” he spat, “You’re a parasite off of my suffering, a -”
   “Quiet yourself, Slayd,” Guile had snatched his arm, and held it in his vice-like grip. “Before you say even more things that you do not mean.”
   Slayd wrenched his arm away from Guile and snarled hatefully up at him, leaning barely an inch from Guile’s nose. “‘Things I don’t mean’?” He stared into Guile’s empty eye sockets and spoke slowly, biting out every word. “I know what I say. And you are a heartless monster. Your soul is as empty as your eyes. And I will never love you.”
   Guile stared steadily back at Slayd, waiting for him to recognize the depth of his own words. But Slayd just glared at him, his temper still boiling. Guile took in a slow breath. “I would not say such things, Slayd,” he whispered.
   “I say them anyway. I hate you, Guile.”
   Guile’s eye sockets narrowed dangerously, and Slayd winced as Guile gripped his arm again. “Amazing how just a few minutes will change your opinion of me so drastically, Slayd. This is the arrogance you used to revel in. You remember everything now, right? Then don’t you remember how many times I’ve had to break you of your pride? Your presumptuous arrogance… it does not become you. It never has. It seems I shall have to teach you all over again. And this time you no longer have your magic to defend you.” His claws dug into Slayd’s arms, tearing his flesh easily. Slayd gasped, but dared not struggle again.
   Guile hissed softly, “Ah, and there is the fear. You have always feared me. And you always will, I imagine. But I would rather have your fear than your bloody arrogance.” He released one arm, only to snag Slayd’s chin between thumb and forefinger. “You hate me now, do you? Perhaps I should give you reason to.”
   The pressure on Slayd’s arm intensified into white-hot pain, and he cried out when the audible snap of bone crushing beneath Guile’s grip echoed in the wide hall. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. “Why do you do this, Guile?”
   His guardian sneered bitterly down at him. “Because I am a monster, Slayd. A monster that gains pleasure from your suffering. Am I not?” He threw Slayd violently, tossing him like a ragdoll to the end of the hall and into the base of an old stone monument that had long since crumbled. Slayd struggled to stand, but Guile moved like lightning. He was over Slayd in mere seconds, pinning him back to the jagged stones and smiling wickedly. “No more insults to throw at me, Heir of Moroloth? No more old wounds you feel the need to tear open anew?” He grabbed Slayd’s head in one hand and bashed it hard against the stone. “I have given you all I had, yet you still want more from me. Nothing is ever enough for you, Slayd. How about my heart, Heir? Do you want that too? You already have it, you know.”
   He raked his claws over Slayd’s chest and stomach, tearing open his flesh, eviscerating him. Blood bubbled up from Slayd’s mouth, and a strangled whimper escaped with it. He tried to crawl away from his enraged guardian, but all he managed to do was prop himself up against the stones, panting and dizzy from the agony he was in. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought he was dying.
   Guile face twisted into a bitter smile and knelt beside him. “But you already knew you had my heart, didn’t you? No, you won’t be satisfied until you’ve torn it from my chest and held it as a trophy to mock me with.”
   Slayd winced in anticipation of the next blow, but it never came. Guile turned his claws against his own body and tore a deep gash across his chest, tearing muscle and cracking his own ribs. “Well Slayd, take it then.”
   He grabbed Slayd’s hand and shoved it into the ugly wound he had just inflicted. Slayd gasped and tried to pull his hand away, but Guile wouldn’t let him. He pushed Slayd’s hand in further, and Slayd felt his pulse. The moment his fingers touched Guile’s heart he heard Guile take in a ragged gasp, but he didn’t let Slayd go. Slayd’s eyes went wild and he nearly fainted, but Guile slapped him with his free hand and forced Slayd’s fingers around his heart. “Ever since you entered this accursed world, Slayd, my heart has beaten only for you. But if you do not want it anymore, there is little use for it now.”
   Slayd shook his head wildly. “No… Guile, I didn’t say – Don’t make me – Please, Guile!” Tears fell from Slayd’s eyes and he stared helplessly up at his guardian.
   But Guile was unrelenting. He forced Slayd’s hand, and pulled it out of his body. His own heart was beating in Slayd’s unwilling grip, still attached tenuously to Guile’s chest by arteries and veins.
   Slayd felt like he needed to retch, but he couldn’t. He knew his stomach was torn to shreds anyway, and that thought made him feel even more ill. He stared fixedly at Guile’s heart, and begged to any god or demon that might be listening to wake him up from this horrible dream.
   Guile smirked. “It is no dream, Slayd. But if you beg the demons for help, beware that you might receive what you implore them for.” He released his hold on Slayd, and took his heart in his own hands. Slayd recoiled dazedly, still staring at Guile’s heart, oblivious that he had sat back into a pool of his own viscera.
   Guile sighed and shook his head. All of his anger seemed to have evaporated. “You know, Slayd, sometimes I wonder to myself why I even bother trying to get through to you. Sometimes, just sometimes, I find myself thinking, ‘He will never understand, and all your efforts have been in vain.’”
   Slayd blinked and wondered when his body had gone numb. He didn’t really know what Guile was talking about.
   Guile sighed again. “I suppose that is just the way things are. I cannot help you understand any more than you already do. Although…” He paused, then slowly placed his heart back into his own body. The faint blue glow of healing magic sealed it back within him. “Although, I wonder if trying to get through to you by forcing you to figure it out on your own was all some kind of grand mistake on my part.” He gazed quizzically at Slayd. “You and I are from two different worlds, Slayd, and it was folly for me to try to force you to see things through my eyes.”
   Slayd coughed up a little blood and a few insects, and stared at Guile. “I… don’t understand.”
   A sad and weary smile crept over Guile’s face. “I don’t expect you to.” He leaned forward and bumped his forehead against Slayd’s. His whisper was barely audible even though he was a hair’s breadth away. “Should I just give up, Heir of Moroloth? Should I resign this to being unrequited?”
   Slayd didn’t quite follow what he was saying, but the thought of Guile giving up on him made him sick to his torn-up stomach. It took all of his strength to reach a hand out to touch Guile’s knee. “Don’t… don’t give up on me,” he managed to choke out. “Can’t bear the thought…”
   The sadness never left Guile’s face, but he nodded. “Close your eyes, Slayd, and let me heal you.”


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