Chapter 40: Seeing with New Eyes.
Guile carried Slayd to one of the upper rooms and took his time healing him. His gentleness belied the violence he had just demonstrated, and Slayd found himself mulling over old speculations about why he was so capricious. He also wondered what Guile had meant about what he did not understand, but Slayd didn’t ask Guile about any of that. Instead he just kept his wondering to himself and watched as bone and tissue knit together under Guile’s enchantments.
The soft blue glow of the healing spells began to fade, and Guile ran a hand lightly over Slayd’s chest. “We are finished, Slayd. But I am afraid your silent questions will have to wait. I do not trust these walls.”
He made a move to stand, but Slayd’s thin fingers shot out to wrap around his wrist and grip like a vice. “We’re far from finished, Guile.”
His guardian flinched. Barely visible, but just enough for Slayd to notice. He didn’t say anything though, he just stared down at his charge with empty sockets. Slayd took a deep breath, sighed, and shook his head. “I do not pretend to understand you. I do not pretend to know what you want. But you will make me understand one thing.”
Guile’s gaze turned away to the floor. “And what is that, my lord?”
“Whatever it is inside of you that you call love. I’ve doubted your heart before, but to deny that now would be to deny the stars in the sky. But I do not understand how you can hold such vitriol amidst tenderness.” He paused. “Or perhaps it is the other way around.”
Guile shifted from one foot to the other before slowly sinking to his knees. He fixed his gaze on Slayd’s hands and spoke so quietly Slayd had a difficult time hearing him, even in the silence of the room. “You have also made me promise to tell you why I am always restless, Lord Slayd. And the two questions are inextricably tied together, bound by my fate in this world. I cannot tell you now, not amongst a land of shades whose hearing is no longer limited to their bodies. I will tell you when we leave the borders of the Beetle Kingdom.”
“You mean when Sirrhas seals himself away.”
Guile curled his hands into fists and hissed through clenched teeth. “Whether you believe me or not, Slayd, this is difficult for me as well as you.”
Slayd hesitated for a moment before nodding slowly. “…I suppose… I suppose that is why you asked such a promise from him in the first place. You actually care what happens to him, don’t you?”
A weak smile. “I’m still trying to figure that one out myself, Slayd.”
There was a soft tap on the rotting hinges of the door to their room, and both Guile and Slayd glanced up to see Lady Bird hovering by the doorway. “I do not mean to interrupt, but the shades have shown the Beetle King that we have guests upon our doorstep. He has already managed to pass the boundary stones, albeit at a great loss to his numbers.”
Slayd raised an eyebrow in curiosity, and Guile rose to his feet. “How many?”
“Some hundreds. My lord has already sent his shades to hinder their approach. It will be days before they reach the castle walls.”
Guile looked pensive, and Slayd glanced from one to the other. “...Who?”
Lady Bird dipped her head and smiled a little. “The Prince of Flies, my lord. He believes the Beetle King to be long dead, as many do in Dehalen. He comes for you, and to finish what business he has with your guardian. He is not aware that our lord the Lich King has been revived.”
Slayd’s eyebrows shot up. “He is in for a surprise, then.”
Her smile grew just a fraction. “Indeed. Although your master is still resting, and will be for some time. The Beetle King’s son will handle the intrusion.”
She bowed her head in affirmation. “The Scarab Prince is a capable warrior, devoted to the Lich King. He has inherited his father’s mastery of death. I do not doubt he will make short work of our uninvited guests.”
Slayd cracked a smile. He had never seen much of Aesalus, but from what little he knew he was much like his father, cold and distant to all but the few who he held close to him.
Lady Bird curtsied to the two of them. “The Beetle King asks for your presence, Guile, at the reflecting pools. Alone, if it pleases Lord Slayd.”
Slayd shrugged, eyeing Guile. His guardian looked a little at a loss, but he nodded. “Thank you, Lady Bird. I’ll go to him.” He turned to Slayd and started to say something, but he hesitated before trying again. “Many things are changing now, Slayd. Do not be surprised at the differences you may see, both in the world and in those close to you.”
He took Slayd’s hand in his own and kissed it before leaving the room without another word. Slayd’s eyes followed him until he turned the corner, and he sighed. “I wish he would not speak in riddles so much.”
The small smile on Lady Bird’s face had not left. “It is in his nature, I believe. Would you walk with me, my lord?”
Guile made his way back to the reflecting pools, deliberately taking his time in returning. He wandered around the broken stonework, avoiding the direct route and instead venturing outside the castle walls. A heavy mist hung in the air, water droplets gathering on Guile’s skin as he moved. He paused when he rounded the edge of a fallen turret, and gazed out across the sweeping view of the valley he was presented with. He stood there for long moments, just watching the still landscape. His head was mercifully empty of thoughts, even though he knew it should be roiling with trepidation, excitement, anger, and hope. He closed his empty eye sockets and sighed.
“Is something wrong?”
Guile jumped at the Beetle King’s voice, but shook his head. “No, I suppose not. I am just… processing everything that’s happening. It is a lot to take in.”
Sirrhas nodded and stood beside him, his sunken eyes following Guile’s line of sight to the misty horizon. Silence stretched between them, broken when Guile finally stirred and sighed. “…He would go with you, if you offered him the chance.”
“But I do not offer it.”
Guile shook his head and turned away. “We both know that even though you seal yourself away Slayd will follow you, although not in body. He will seal his heart away along with you and this kingdom, and no matter what I do, nothing can change the fact that I will still lose him to you.” He sighed again. “I already have.”
Sirrhas shook his head and laid a hand on Guile’s shoulder. “That is not true, Guile. Whether you realize it or no, Slayd’s heart belongs to you.”
Guile turned and stared blankly at the Beetle King. “I hardly believe that. He has never loved me, Sirrhas. He only needs me. And even through all of the years that I have spent by his side, he cannot even decide whether to trust me or to fear me.”
A small smile grew over Sirrhas’ face, absent of its usual hardness. “And so he does both.”
Guile's grunt in response lacked all enthusiasm. Sirrhas chuckled a little at his response, and squeezed his shoulder. “I know you do not believe me, but I assure you, it is true. You will see, before the end.”
Guile cocked his head to one side. “And what end would that be, Sirrhas? You do not see the future.”
The Beetle King shook his head. “No, I do not. But you and I both know that an end is approaching with rapid strides. For good or for ill I do not know, nor do I know what new beginnings it will trigger once it passes. But it nears with every step Moroloth takes.”
“I cannot stop that, Sirrhas. Nor do I desire to.”
“I do not ask you to. He is dear to me.” The Beetle King smiled and took Guile by the hand. “Come with me.”
The Beetle King did not lead Guile back into the ruins, but instead he followed a faint path that wound through the grass and behind a large willow tree at the edge of a glade, near the high and crumbling walls. Sirrhas parted the willow’s sweeping branches, revealing a low archway. He led Guile under it and into the alcove beyond. There was a shallow pool here, its waters dark and still, so glossy black it appeared as if it was filled with oil. Pale flowering vines grew all around in the dim light that filtered through broken stone above them, but their tendrils did not reach to the water’s edge, as if it was somehow forbidden.
Sirrhas led Guile to the edge of the pool and knelt there, beckoning for Guile to sit beside him. Guile hesitated, kneeling only when Sirrhas took his hand and pulled him down. He stared at the water, a nagging voice at the back of his head insistent but garbled. His thoughts turned to the murky blackness of the dark Lake Khorakh, and he shuddered.
“…Remember the things I had cautioned you about, Beetle King,” Guile muttered, “If you change your mind, it will not be unexpected.”
Sirrhas only nodded. “And you were exceptionally vague as to what your warnings entailed. I do not know why you are so cautious, as Moroloth has cast many enchantments on many of his servants to protect them from the magic they are drawn to, as you mentioned was the case with you.”
“That is true. But those enchantments will not return, and they are part of an intricate web of magic that holds me close to my master’s will. Without them, I am loosed to the world. I am dangerous, Beetle King.”
“I… do not know what you are trying to say, Guile.”
He sighed. “I suppose you will know in a moment. Get on with it.”
Sirrhas nodded warily. “The spell will not take long. You may feel… odd.” He carefully reached a hand down to touch the pool of dark water. The ripples upon the surface almost seemed unnatural, and he drew his hand quickly away. Whispering words of magic, he ran his wet fingers over Guile’s eye sockets and kissed each of them. The thin runes of his spell materialized and spread through the air like smoke, snaking their way towards Guile and curling slowly around his head. As Sirrhas continued to whisper, the runes slipped inside each of Guile’s eye sockets, causing the hollows to glow. Guile flinched, and Sirrhas whispered the last words of the spell. He dipped his hand once more into the black water and drew his fingers and lips once again over Guile’s face.
Guile squeezed his eyelids shut tight as the last of the runes slipped inside, and he gasped softly, swaying where he sat. It burned and froze, both searing heat and icy chill creeping around inside his head. He clutched at his temples, shaking his head violently from side to side.
“Guile?”Sirrhas reached out to steady him, but Guile shoved him away with one hand, a gnarled moan escaping his lips as he collapsed forward. He lay that way for long moments, forehead resting on the ground and panting hard.
The Beetle King ran a tentative hand over Guile’s arm once he heard his gasping slow and finally stop. “Are you with me, Guile?”
He received a nod in return, and Guile sat up. He took in a steady breath, and very slowly met the Beetle King’s gaze.
Sirrhas found himself staring into dark eyes almost fathomless in their depth, filled with long millennia of ancient knowledge. They stared back at him, shining dimly with the unlight of a thousand dead stars.
Sirrhas recoiled away from him. “You…”
Guile narrowed his newly restored eyes, bitterness on his tongue. “And what did you expect, Beetle King?”
“Almost anything but this.” His low voice almost trembled a little. “That would mean that you are -”
“Yes, it is true. And it would be wise for you to keep such knowledge to yourself. Slayd does not know.”
Sirrhas nodded slowly. “I shall not say a word. But… much makes sense now, that did not before.”
Guile raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”
“I have always been curious about how you came to endear yourself so closely to Moroloth. He does not let others in very easily.” A pause. “Ahh… He is far more to you than simply your master then…”
“I do not see what that has to do with anything.”
“I suppose it has no relevance now, at any rate. And it seems I have unwittingly overstepped my bounds, in regards to you. I know Moroloth well. He would not select just anyone to guard his legacy.”
“And he did not select ‘just anyone’. The blood of the greatest this world has ever seen runs through my veins.”
“Then… you and Slayd… You are bound together by much more than simply the ties of fate. I underestimated how intimately you were connected.”
“I see I have overstepped my bounds in more ways than one.”
Guile rolled his eyes and stood up. “Whatever. Your niece mentioned that Jyrr has passed your borders. Would you like me to assist you in handling that little problem?”
Sirrhas rose to his feet and inclined his head towards the other man, accepting the deliberate change of subject. “My shades can easily decimate all but the most powerful among them, and my son will personally take care of the rest. But I know you hold a grudge against the Maggot King’s son, so if you desire to have a hand in dealing with them, you are welcome to it.”
“First I must return to Slayd. He will want to know where I will be.” He turned to leave the alcove, but paused under the arch. “But I certainly will assist your shades and your son in dealing with Jyrr. Nothing would give me greater pleasure.” A wicked grin spread across Guile’s face, appearing all the more twisted in the shadow of his new eyes.
The outer gate where Slayd and Lady Bird stood was not much more than a crumbling wall of stones and a tall archway, weathered and broken and covered in the pale flowers that were so prevalent around the castle grounds. It overlooked a stair that led down to an overgrown road below, which wound among the many eroding monuments that surrounded the castle.
“Your memory has returned, Lord Slayd?”
He nodded to Lady Bird, smiling. “Indeed it has. And it is such a relief. I cannot believe how foolish I have been.”
She nodded in return, gaze towards the horizon and hand grasping at the brooch that held her hood around her neck. “We have all played the fool, my lord. But the winds of change blow all around us, and perhaps we can put the days of foolishness behind us.”
Slayd turned to her, eyeing the hood that prevented him from seeing her expression. “You speak of the return of my master. But he does not readily forgive, and I have done him a great offense. The whole world knows that I fled beyond the Veil to avoid my fate. To avoid being by his side.”
“And yet here you are.”
“Here I am.”
“…Our lord the Lich King has a noble legacy resting upon your shoulders, my lord. It is by your hand that he has been returned to us, and it is by both the hand of you and your master that this world will be drawn from its dark fate and into the starlight of an age unmarred by the terror the Grigora have spread over our people. He will forgive any offense you may have caused him. You are beloved.”
Raising an eyebrow, Slayd reached out and drew her hood away. “What is it in your voice that wavers so?”
Moist eyes met Slayd’s only briefly before they cast their gaze to the ground. “You will save us all, my lord. Though I will not be around to see it. And I am eternally grateful that when the Beetle King seals this realm away, you will be beyond its borders, protecting from without while we protect from within.”
Slayd nodded slowly, and he gently stroked her shoulder. “It must be a hard thing, to know you must be sealed away from the rest of the world.”
She shook her head. “It is an easy thing, knowing the savior of this world is whole again, with his heir by his side. My tears are those of joy, not sadness.”
Slayd cracked a smile and leaned against one of the crumbling stones. “I hope the future is as promising as you believe it to be.”
“What is there that makes you doubt?”
He shrugged and ran a hand over the rough rock, fingers toying with a half-dead vine. “Guile is a pessimist by nature, and his warning that things will change rapidly, and in unexpected ways, has me wondering what he imagines will happen.”
Lady Bird pursed her lips. “From what little I know of your guardian, he has always expected the worst from any situation. I cannot imagine that would change even with wonderful news. I believe he thinks anything outside of himself or Lord Moroloth intends you harm.”
Slayd chuckled. “He is rather overprotective, isn’t he.”
“Perhaps,” she nodded. “But he loves you.” Her eyes trailed behind them to a figure approaching, which had paused with her words. But Slayd didn’t notice, and he shrugged.
“…I know, I suppose.” He shook his head, more to himself than Lady Bird. “But somehow I do not believe that Guile’s ‘love’ is the kind of love I need.”
The rustling of wings quickly withdrawing caught Slayd’s attention, and he caught a glimpse of his guardian’s retreating back. “Guile?”
He started after him, but Lady Bird caught his sleeve. “My lord.”
Slayd shook her off, but by the time he turned to look behind him again, Guile was gone.