Chapter 42: Getting Reacquainted.
There was something strange about the atmosphere surrounding the Boneyard. Something commanded silence and hushed voices, if you could even bring yourself to speak at all. Neither wind nor animal nor footstep made a sound here. There wasn’t even that ephemeral sound that somehow meets your ears in the wide and empty places of the world. But even amidst this silence, there was something strange that you felt more than heard. Guile had never been able to describe it accurately, and no one else could probably succeed either. It didn’t so much reach your ears as it did creep up the back of your skull, something akin to the constant groaning of old wood, like a ship that has been too long at sea.
Guile was standing on a small knoll somewhat near the center of the Boneyard, feeling the not-sound and flexing his clawed hands slowly open and closed. There was a persistent chill in the still air, but that was not unusual. The Boneyard lay at the very eastern edge of the Beetle Kingdom, close enough to the Veil that if Guile climbed to the far ridge he would be met by its hazy borders. The air was always cold and damp here, sticking to Guile’s skin like the slime of a slug.
Guile’s new eyes scanned the landscape, taking in the scattered remains of creatures so massive their bleached skeletons dwarfed Guile’s frame and reminded him of the trees in the Spider Queen’s realm. But he wasn’t searching for bones. He stood patiently, knowing that what he was waiting for would come to him.
A puff of breath beside his left shoulder was all the warning he received before a blade sliced through the air just fractions of an inch in front of his face. He leapt backward just in time to avoid a second knife.
“You are almost late,” he breathed, grinning at the scarred man swaying in front of him.
The man replied only with a panting leer before he lunged for Guile again, a blade in each hand spinning between nimble fingers. He twisted and rolled as he made stab after swipe at Guile, but his movements were easily matched.
Guile’s grin grew wider. “It has been a while. Part of me wondered if you would remember you had promises to keep.”
The scarred man shook his head wildly, messy hair flying. “Don’ think ya’d let me forget, old man.” He pointedly tapped at a swollen elbow with one knife and grinned. “Yer lil reminder rang loud an’ clear, courtesy of the Wasp King. The fuck happened to yer eyes?”
Guile let out a laugh as he dodged another thrust of a blade. “I’ve simply returned them to normal.”
The leering man paused and cocked his head to one side, eyes hidden behind shaggy hair. He made a questioning noise and scratched the back of his head, but before he could say anything Guile rushed him, grabbed his forehead with one hand and slammed him backward into the ground. The man let out a gasping moan and lay still.
Guile stood over him, shaking his head. “It takes far more than that to bring you down, Thrassis. Get up.”
An openmouthed grimace spread over the other man’s face and he dropped his knives, flailing to pull himself up to his knees. “S’ much more ya could do to me, love. Won’t ya?” The last words ended in a whine, and Thrassis leaned forward to press himself against one of Guile’s legs, hand creeping up to paw at Guile’s belt.
“Not here and not now,” Guile shoved him away with a knee to his chest. “I told you that you would be useful one day, and that day is rapidly approaching. I have something I want you to do.”
Thrassis sat back on the ground with a thump and crossed his legs, staring up at Guile from behind his curtain of hair. “Yessir, attention, sir.”
Guile rolled his eyes and crouched down next to him, a hand shooting out to grip Thrassis by the throat. He squeezed tight, making the other man choke and wheeze. “Then pay close attention, Lord Flea. I hope your thirst for blood has not abated since I last saw your sorry hide.”
He received a strangled whine in return as Thrassis grasped at Guile’s arm, but made no attempt to pull his hand from his throat. Instead he leaned into it, mouth gaping wide and salivating. “Still the same, still the same,” he panted, words slurred and body writhing under Guile’s grip.
Guile smiled in satisfaction and released Lord Flea. He stood again, arms crossed. “The Asman Lar are gathering in the Maggot Kingdom. Do you know what a convening of the Circle means?”
Thrassis whimpered at the retreat of Guile’s hand and shook his head, a pout forming over chapped lips. “Don’ care, old man. Do it again?”
“No. You will care, you pathetic piece of half-rotten flesh. The last time the Asman Lar gathered together, the Lich King summoned the king of the demons into our world.”
“Wasn’t born yet.”
Guile leaned down and touched a finger to Lord Flea’s lip and sneered. “You know the history of this world just as well as anyone else. Don’t be difficult, or you won’t feel this claw in your flesh for a long time yet.”
That got Guile the reaction he was hoping for. Thrassis let out a long whine and leaned into Guile’s light touch, sucking his finger into his mouth before releasing it and nodding slowly. “Okay, okay. History. I know. Scary stuff that, summoning and all. Say it saved the world, or some shit. All the kings were there too. So I hear.”
“Indeed. And surely now you have heard word of the Lich King’s return. You just came from the north when I called for you, where months have passed since his resurrection instead of the mere days that it has been within the Beetle King’s realm.”
A shrug. “Heard some rumors.”
“Well now you know. And the Asman Lar are convening for the Circle. Even you can add that up.”
Guild couldn’t see Lord Flea’s eyes, but he could imagine quite well the blank expression. He sighed and shook his head. “The Lich King wants to end the threat of the Grigora with finality. There will be another summoning. Quite possibly one that will rival the Demon King’s in scope and scale.”
Thrassis shrugged again. “So what do you want me for, love?”
“You will be there. I want you to assist.”
If the impression of vacant confusion hadn’t been all over Thrassis’ face before, it certainly was now. He tilted his head at Guile, unvoiced question hanging from a slack jaw.
Guile snarled under his breath and crouched again to take Lord Flea’s chin in his hand. “You don’t need to understand, only obey. When the kings begin to gather at Amoth Shyr, you will follow. I expect to see you there.”
He received an enthusiastic nod. “I’ll be there, I’ll be there, yessir.”
“Good.” Guile stood and turned, making his way down the side of the knoll.
A keening whimper made him turn back around and sigh in half-hearted exasperation. Lord Flea was crawling on his hands and knees towards him, whining and wriggling his hips in obscene ways. Guile let Thrassis crawl up beside him and continue to slink up one leg, hands again reaching for the buckle on Guile’s belt.
Guile just shook his head and ran a hand through Lord Flea’s shaggy hair. “And what is it you want now?”
Guile almost saw the glint of an eye behind the mess of fringe. “Whatever you’ll give me?” He grinned, showing jagged yellow teeth.
Guile tightened his grip on Lord Flea’s hair and yanked his head back, hard. It drew a delighted gasp from the other man, and Guile chuckled. “Tell me how you ask, Lord Flea.”
A breathless moan. “…Please?”
Slayd blinked. He could swear he had seen his reflection move on its own, but the image of his hand on the glass mirrored only his own movements and nothing else. His frown deepened as he studied his long fingers, tapping them thoughtfully against the smooth surface.
The voice jarred him, and he turned. He hadn’t heard it the first time, but he had a feeling he’d been called more than once without noticing, judging from the tone.
Lady Bird was standing behind him on the dais, her hooded cowl clutched to one side of her face. Her eyes widened as Slayd met her gaze. “My Lord… you are…”
Slayd raised an eyebrow. “I am what?”
She tilted her head towards the mirror. “Did you not see?”
Slayd turned again, expecting to see his reflection moving on its own again. But it was there just as before, and he shrugged. There wasn’t anything… oh.
He squinted at himself. He didn’t recall being dressed in these clothes that morning, nor did he remember being so tall. At least, not recently. It appeared that - at least to his eyes, and apparently to Lady Bird’s - that he looked now very much as he had all those years ago. The exceptions being the ugly cage bolted to his chest, and the long red ribbons of hair that trailed down his shoulders. He fingered a strand, thoughtful.
He turned again to Lady Bird. “I’m not sure myself, but I do not think I should question it too much. What did you need?”
She bowed slightly. “Please, my lord. We have been searching for you. Your guardian has drawn the Prince of Flies to the Beetle King’s doorstep, and our Lord Moroloth has risen from his healing slumber. Please come with me.”
Without another word Slayd followed her away from the ruined temple. She led him back out of the temple ruins where a single horse was waiting, its skeletal legs pawing impatiently at the ground. Lady Bird released its reigns from where they had been tied to a ragged bush and handed them to Slayd. “You are in need of haste far more than I, Lord Slayd. Take my mount and return to the castle as quickly as you are able.”
Slayd nodded and climbed onto the horse’s back. “What has happened? Is something wrong there?”
Lady Bird reached a hand up to grip his knee for a moment. “Nothing is wrong, no. But there is much happening and urgency is needed. Please hurry to your master’s side, Lord Slayd. Things are moving far faster than I had imagined they would. You have not much time left.”
She released her hold and Slayd took the reins, snapping hard to drive the horse across the rolling hills and back to the castle of the Beetle King, as fast as he could ride.