0.07: Sympathy for the Devil.

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With the warmth of the night prior still coursing through his veins, Sylus stood, uncharacteristically tall, before the gaping maw of the Riftworks. The place was still in shambles, though the emergency lights had since been deactivated making the ruins a nearly pitch-black cavern of warped and torn metal. Stepping into the antechamber, his mind couldn’t help but slip back to but a few minutes prior.

As he set out to leave, Jeron intercepted him. Turning him around, the taller man gently straightened his tie. “Gotta look your best if you’re so set on facing the devil.”

A smile cross his lips even now as the darkness of the ‘Works consumed him.

“pRePaaaaaaRe…”

Sylus was quick to dodge out of the chamber and into the hall just in time to hear the hissing of the powder that once was no more than a nuisance. Now, it was some kind of poison that would burn his flesh.

“Ah, there you are,” a familiar voice echoed over the intercom, “You’ve kept me waiting for far too long, Sylus. Please, make your way to my office. Take your time, of course, as you’ve already made a habit of doing so.”

“Eat me, Henley,” Sylus hissed without opening an intercom of his own.

“Perhaps. We’ll see how our little meeting goes.” He could hear the sinister grin in his words.

Shaking his head, and without another word, Sylus began making his way into the bowels of the Riftworks. It was lucky he really did know the place like the back of his hand. Without any lights, it was as though the facility was built like a labyrinth of doors and halls. The main hall would just run you in circles unless you knew what detour to take or what floor you wanted and which stairs/elevators would get you there.

Henley’s office was on one of the lowest possible levels situated directly under the Rift. Typically it took the highest security levels possible to get there, but in its current state, everything in the ‘Works was wide open for anyone to enter. Sylus imagined Henley using the derelict place to attract unwitting humans into his lair to devour them or some other heinous act of torment.

Soon enough, he stood outside the carved oak door to Henley’s quarters. For some reason, Henley had made his living area a stark contrast of the cold steel of the facility itself. Everything within was warm and soft. Woods, silks, carpets… Luxury. A strange gem at the heart of such a heartless place. Raising his hand to knock, the door swung open on its own. There stood Henley looking a bit less human than usual. It was something about his proportions that just seemed… wrong…

“Well well,” he breathed, “You’ve finally arrived. Come in.” Long, claw-like fingers motioned for him to enter the room.

Ignoring Henley’s towering height and imposing grin, Sylus entered with a nod, taking his place on the bare-bones chair pulled up to the desk.

“Oh now now.” Henley slid up to him with unnatural deftness, “How about this, for a change.” A closet door swung open and a much more plush chair slid out. Slipping behind the chair, he inched it closer to Sylus.

Sylus stared at the piece of furniture for a long while.

“I can assure you, there is nothing special or enchanted about it. I merely save it for dignitaries and important visitors,” Henley’s face crept up from behind the high back of the chair. “You are a most distinguished guest, Sylus, so I offer this seat to you.” Henley’s claws clicked and clacked around the wooden frame.

Sylus continued staring.

“Come now, dear Sylus. This may be the last time we speak. It may even be the last time you draw breath,” Henley ducked down behind the chair. “You should be comfortable to the end,” his head slowly slid out to the side. “Come. Take a seat.”

Sylus scoffed. “If there’s nothing special about that thing, why are you so dead set on getting me to sit in it?”

“Why,” Henley slithered out from behind the chair, “Comfort. And nothing more.” His claws stretched above his head, “In case you missed it, I’m all about momentary comfort. It is, as a mortal might say, my aesthetic.”

Glaring at Henley with every ounce of doubt and hatred in his soul, Sylus remained on his wooden chair.

“Fine,” Henley sighed, “Be that way. I’ll just leave this here in case you change your mind.”

With that, he slid behind the desk and into his insanely high backed chair.

“Now,” he folded his claws across his chest, “Where would you like to begin?”

Sylus hadn’t thought about what he’d actually want to find out. All he’d known was that this moment had to come, not what he’d ask about.

“I’ll make it simple. You have, what is it, three? You mortals like three. Three questions and I will answer them as truthfully as possible,” Henley’s maddening grin returned, “I’ll give you one free factoid, as it were. You’re already well aware of what I am. A Voidlord. It’s not as grand as you would think. We merely maintain the highest level of consciousness in the Void. We can come and go freely, though besides myself, we largely choose to remain within the safety of our home. We can make thralls of mortals and lesser spawns alike, but those require care and feeding. Things I have not the time nor patience for.”

“What about Qaitax?” Sylus immediately bit his lip, that wasn’t the question he wanted to lead with.

Henley’s eyes narrowed, though a grin remained on his face. “As it is relevant to the topic at hand that I initiated, I’ll not count that as your first question.” The grin faded and his brow furrowed, “Qaitax… Qaitax is… Hmm… The simplest term I can conjure is that he is a traitor.” A fleeting moment of flinching pain crossed Henley’s face. “Qaitax is complicated. His treachery should not have been possible, yet it was.”

“What did he do?” Sylus could feel himself sliding toward the edge of his seat.

Henley sighed deeply. “Though I know the truth, I cannot offer it to you.” His claws clamped shut over the armrests of his chair. Leaning forward, a small groan came from his lips. “H-he betrayed the Void. Th-that is all I can say…” Henley panted as he righted himself in his chair. “‘Tis for the best you know no more than that.”

Sylus scoffed, “If he’s some brutal killer, maybe I should know?”

Henley’s eyes darted about the room. “It is… Complicated. Qaitax is complicated…” he repeated with almost the exact same tone as before.

Sylus sat back in his chair, unimpressed thus far with Henley’s control of the situation though not forgetting the strange bouts of pain that seemed to overtake him. “Fine. He’s complicated. But is he evil?”

Henley sat back in his chair, fixing the disheveled strands of hair back into their place. “Evil is a mortal concept. The Void fails to grasp such black and white ideas. We all have our purpose and intentions. Some have less will than others, but we all have our place.”

“But he’s a traitor…”

“Indeed. Qaitax is a traitor. However, does treachery by default mean evil?” Sylus studied Henley’s features carefully. He looked tired and worn even with as warped as his face had become. “There are details you do not know. Details you cannot know. Things I cannot share, though I wish I could.”

“Why? Why can’t you just tell me what happened?”

A shriek of pain shot from Henley. His claws clutched the sides of his head as he leaned forward onto the desk.

“A-as y-you can see…” he panted, “I-I am not entirely in control of… of…” Another momentary hiss of pain, “Of myself… I… I have…” he righted himself. The remnants of a blue mist wafted from the corners of his eyes, “I have my limits.” He cleared his throat as he leaned back into his chair, forcing an air of comfort.

“So discussing Qaitax is off the table?”

“In any truthful detail, yes.”

“But,” Sylus snorted, “But that’s why I’m here. You promised me information about Qaitax. If you can’t give me that, why am I here?”

“I promised to have answers…”

“Answers you clearly don’t have!” Sylus stood up, slamming his hands on the desk. “So what good is some immortal horror that can’t even speak the truth! Why am I here? Let’s just skip to the part where you offer me an ultimatum and I refuse. Then some long drawn out chase scene where I’ll probably die. Can we just get there, then? Because if you can’t give me the answers I want, I have nothing left to say to you.”

Henley sat in bated silence. His claws clasping and unclasping on his chest. It was clear there was something on the tip of his tongue. Something he wanted to say, but couldn’t.

“I will put it this way,” he rested his hands on the desk, “There is much more to this than Qaitax and myself. There are forces so far beyond us, that you could spend your entire existence trying to understand them and you’d never even break through the surface. I do what I must. Lord Qaitax… He… He didn’t do what he should have and he paid the price. That’s all.”

Sylus’ hands balled into fists. His lips twitched as they pulled back into a furious snarl.

“Sylus,” Henley stood up to look him in the eyes, “The politics of the Void are very complicated. It is no place for mortals. Give me your three questions and I will give you the truest answers I can. When we are done, I will give you my ultimatum which, you have already declared, you will reject. Yet I must offer it nonetheless.”

“Fine,” Sylus slammed his fists into the desk, “FINE!” he sat back in his chair. “Three questions then we can move on?”

Henley nodded as he settled down back into his own seat.

“Question one,” Sylus audibly snarled, “Why are you here?”

“To herald the destruction of your world.”

“Question one, part two: Why?”

A sly grin crossed Henley’s lips, “I’ll allow it. Why?” He paused a moment in thought, “Because it is what I have always done. It was what I will continue to do for the rest of my existence. I have no choice.” Pain shot through his gaze. It lasted only a moment, but it was clearly noticeable.

“So you’re destroying our world because you have to?”

“Because it is my place. We all have our place. This is mine. I have my reasons, though even if I did not, I would not have the choice to stop.” Henley flinched again. “Yours is not the first. Nor will it be the last. The Void is unending and eternal. We will never stop.”

“Question two: Why is the Void invading mortal worlds?”

“Ah,” a sad grin settled on Henley’s narrow lips, “That is the question, isn’t it… But I cannot answer it. Suffice it to say, it is retribution for the follies of mortals that long predate your species existence.”

“So we’re all paying for something someone else did?”

“Precisely.”

“Why? Why should we suffer for someone else’s crimes?”

Henley sighed, “Because the Void has a simple view of things. Either you are of the Void or you are mortal. Tears open at random. One at a time, mortal worlds are chosen to be punished and inevitably consumed by the Void. Earth was not chosen for any special reason. It is merely your time.”

Sylus shook his head, “Do I have another question?”

Henley nodded idly, “I suppose you do.”

“Who are you?”

A long drawn out silence filled the office space. Their eyes locked onto each other, unblinking.

“Who… am I…” Henley was the first to break the connection, “Who am I… Curious… No one’s ever asked me that before and I’ve had this conversation many many times…”

“Wait… Has Qaitax…”

Henley sighed, “You are not the first, no, but you are the last. There will be no others after you.”

“Wh-what happened to…”

“I devoured them. Body, mind, and memory. Consumed in an instant that none but myself can remember. None were willing to take my thralldom. None were strong enough to escape. And so they paid the price. I did what I had to and erase them from existence. It is what will become of you, Sylus, should this interaction end poorly. I can assure you, however,” he leaned forward on the desk, “That no matter what happens here, should you actually manage to do what your predecessors failed to accomplish, you will be devoured there as well. Your only hope to survive is to accept servitude under my command.”

“Answer my question, then. Who are you?”

“An what an excellent question it is. Truly. And, as I said, I’ve never had to answer it before. I,” he stood up from the desk. All of Henley’s features elongated. His eyes became vertical slats in his head, his nose disappeared, his mouth became a tear across porcelain flesh. Rising up on his tendrils, his fingers stretched into impossibly long claws. His legs twisted together forming one long tendril hanging from his torso. “I am Haurex. Father’s Herald. Harbinger of Death. Savior of the Third Brood. The strongest of my kin.”

Sylus looked entirely unphased by the sudden warping of a humanoid form into something completely and monstrously different.

Haurex burst our laughing as he settled back into his chair. “You aren’t even the least bit afraid of me?”

Sylus shook his head. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed far worse than yet another tentacle monster.”

Laughter filled the room. It boomed and echoed off of every wall. “Oh… Oh my dear Sylus… Killing you… Is going to hurt me so much… I will miss you dearly. Perhaps…” A tendril rested on his chin as if in thought, “I will keep your essence alive to entertain me. You’ll dance for me when I dream. Sing for me while I sleep. Oh, how much fun eternity could be were I to spare you the absolute destruction of true death.”

“A-are you… gonna let me… go?”

“Oh, oh no.” Haurex stood up again, “No not at all.”

“But I have one last question, right?” Sylus backed himself as far into his chair as he could.

“Indeed you do, my little mortal, indeed you do.”

“What happens if I succeed?”

The horrifying grin on Haurex’s lips faded into a deep frown. “Then you will do naught but forestall the inevitable. Qaitax is nothing but a thorn in my side. Too weak to make any meaningful difference, but just strong enough to make every move I take more arduous. You save no one by agreeing to his conditions. You prevent nothing by accepting his… ‘boon’. You merely prolong the death of your world and everyone you’ve ever held dear. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Haurex extended a tendril to him, “Take my gift instead and you will be free to live your life as you see fit.”

“And your gift is?” Sylus already knew he wasn’t willing to take it.

“Technically? You’d become my servant. Your mind would forever be bound to my will, though if I never summon you, or call you to action, you will largely live your life free of influence. I have no real use for thralls since I travel so often. In exchange for your servitude, you’d gain a portion of my strength. A meager amount, but far more than fully merging with Qaitax could ever give you. And you can feel free to use that power to protect your family as long as you want. Slay minions of the Void and mortals alike. It matters not to me and I have no intention of ever making use of you. I’ve done what I do alone since the beginning of time and I will continued to do so without needing anyone’s assistance. Now,” Haurex slithered around the desk, “Do you possess the foresight your predecessors lacked? Will you accept this gift that you might live out the rest of your life in peace? Or will you resist me and fly into the gaping maw of Qaitax’s temptations?”

“Wh-what has he… drawn the others with?”

“Oh, the same. Promise of a better life. Promise of the strength to defend the ones they love… You are not special, Sylus. You are not unique. You are merely one of countless many. Though with your inevitable death, Qaitax will finally perish as well. I will finally be free of his meager influence and this… this… talk I’ve had ad nauseam for countless millennia… Thankfully, once I devour you, I’ll not have to ever do this again.”

“A-and wh-who said… I… I don’t…”

“Ask yourself truly, Sylus. Which would you rather? Live your life a servant to the creature that diametrically opposes everything you mortals hold dear? Or die in a last attempt at resistance? This… This is the decision you must make. Here and now.”

“A-and wh-what do you… expect me… to…”

“Run.”

Sylus shrank back into his chair in some vain attempt to become one with it and vanish from this moment in time.

“Run, Sylus. And know that I will give chase. But it is not like you, nor any mortal, to give up your freedom so easily. As I consume all that you are, perhaps I will offer you one last chance at serving me over death, but I doubt the thought will cross my mind in such a heated moment.”

Hands clenched the armrests of his chair. Sylus was already poised to make a break for it, but he wasn’t certain he had the strength nor the energy to actually escape the Voidlord’s grasp.

“Believe me when I say, I liked you very much Sylus. Truly. I find little fondness in mortals, but I found a strange fondness with you. It would be my luck that you were his herald.”

“H-Henley…”

“Call me what you want, but it changes nothing. There is no humanity in me to appeal to. Know this well, dear Sylus, that even should you escape, you will still perish. Your death, as of this moment, is inevitable.”

“Q-Qaitax…”

A chilling grin slipped across Haurex’s narrow features. “He did not tell you the nature of your arrangement?”

“W-we merge. We both live. Th-that’s…”

“At what price?”

Fear shot through every inch of Sylus’ being.

“What is the cost of such an endeavor? Surely you are not fool enough to think it comes at no expense…”

“I-I…”

“For Qaitax to be born anew, you, my poor delicious little mortal, must die.”

Every doubt Jeron had about Qaitax came flooding back. “Th-that… m-m-may be true, but I won’t stay dead. I-I’ll come back. Th-that’s what Qaitax promised. If I make it there, I’ll leave alive.”

“And you believe him?”

Sylus’ lips flapped and mouth gaped opened and closed searching desperately for a response.

“We can be like mirrors. Showing mortals what they need to see. Reflecting their own insecurities back to them to create a bond. Fooling them into trusting us.”

“Like you tried to do with me?” Sylus bellowed as he stood up from his seat, no longer content with being spoken down to. “It was you, wasn’t it?” his eyes were on fire, “The cliff, the dream… You tried to kill me. You… It was you… I fucking knew it…”

“And Qaitax intervened every time…”

“So why should I trust you over him then? If you’re both conniving monsters, and you’ve tried to kill me and he tried to prevent that… Why should I take your word over his? Why should I trust YOU?!”

“I never suggested such a thing. In fact, I would suggest you trust no one and nothing of the Void or even mortals and their lies, but alas, that advice will go unused for you will never leave this place.”

“You…” Sylus seethed. “You used my son against me… You tried to use him to kill me… You tried to kill me right in front of him… You… You… YOU!”

“I wanted nothing more than to spare you the cruel fate that now awaits you. On the slight chance you manage to escape and rendezvous your patron Lord, your life will only get worse from this moment on. I only wanted to spare you from all of this, but you fought and Qaitax stood in my way.”

“Then yes. Yes I do trust Qaitax. I trust him far more than I could EVER trust someone… something like you!”

A sharp laugh came from Henley’s slender form. It grew into a chuckle. Burst into cruel laughter. Exploded into and uncontrollable cackle. “Bless your mortal heart, Sylus. Bless it from whatever being you believe in…”

Sylus stared at him, his gaze narrowing, fists clenching at his sides. “I’m not your plaything, Henley. Let’s get this over with.”

A deep, echoing sigh came from Haurex’s form. “I will mourn this day until your world collapses and I am forced on to the next.”

“Forced?” Even though Sylus was poised on the edge of an adrenaline rush, he couldn’t ignore Haurex’s choice of words.

“It matters not…”

“Hen-Haurex… Listen… Maybe… Maybe we can work this out. Maybe we can…” What was he doing… Why was he saying this… He was at this creature’s mercy and HE was offering placation? Why…

The tear in Haurex’s face that made up his mouth, turned upward into a grin, “I do so appreciate your optimism, Sylus. With all life has thrown at you, you remain so strangely positive.” He lowered himself onto the tip of his leg-tendril. “But alas, there is no hope for me. Just as there is no hope for you.”

In an instant, Haurex’s mouth tore open as he lunged for Sylus. Throwing himself past the Voidlord, Sylus managed to escape evisceration.

“I’d beg you not to drag this out, but mortal tenacity…” the voidlord chuckled, “I know it all too well.”

“One more question!” Sylus screamed from his chair.

“Wh-what? I-Very well then…”

“If Quip was your loyal servant and you supposedly loved him so much, why did you hurt him?”

A strange look of pain and guilt washed over Haurex’s distorted features. “You mean Qessetex? So he has a new name now…” his mind seemed to wander a moment before snapping back to a forlorn present, “There are so many answers to that question…. All I can say, is that I am overjoyed to know he is in a better place now. He should never have ended up here…”

“Do you regret anything?”

“You’re well over your question allowance, but I will entertain this last inquiry. Do I regret anything?” Haurex swayed a bit, “Does a predator regret devouring its prey? If one does as they are meant to, can they truly regret their actions? If they have no choice, can there be regret? And yet…” the Voidlord sagged, “I-I regret…” he sounded on the verge of tears, “I regret everything.”

“H-Haurex…” What was this he felt… Sympathy? For…

Haurex chuckled, “I need not your compassion, mortal.”

“There’s always a choice, Haurex!” Sylus stood up, slamming his hands on the solid oaken desk.

Reeling a short distance, the Voidlord was taken aback.

“There’s always a choice!” Sylus turned to him, screaming through the tears in his eyes, “You chose this! You chose this life! You made the decision to be this way! Why?!”

Haurex was caught entirely off guard. “You know so little about the Void, mortal. We Lords have no choice in our roles. In fact, we once envied you mortals for your freedom to choose your paths. We paid the price for that envy and never again did we see your, what is it you call it? Free will? As something to be desired.”

“You can still make the choice to change…”

“Can a wolf become a sheep? Can a predator become the very thing it hunts? Can a rock become air? Can anything change the fundamental nature of its existence?”

“You’re not a rock. You’re not a wolf. You clearly have thoughts and feelings…”

“And they do not matter,” Haurex sighed, “Not to you. Not to anyone… But you are correct. I did make a choice. Obey or die. I chose to obey. For better or worse, that was my decision. From that decision came this burden. Do you think I enjoy this? Traveling across time and space at the whim of my Father’s rage? Meeting people… making friends… watching them die… killing them… I…” Haurex’s writhing wreath of tendrils settled down weakly behind him, “It’s always the same, Sylus. You. You’re always the same. I find you or you find me. I find something in you worth sparing. You, a mortal, would rather die than obey… It’s the same… Every time… And that,” he moved within mere inches of Sylus’ face, “Is how we are so fundamentally different.”

“Because I won’t bow to you?”

“It is in the minds of ALL mortals to avoid unwilling servitude. It is programmed in the chaos of your little brains to avoid being controlled. Sure you perform your best under an iron thumb. Sure you’re potential truly shines when it’s pressed into perfection, but… Even the most malleable sheep would want for more eventually…”

“Haurex.” Sylus stood tall, refusing to break their locked gaze. “Is there any way, you’d ever consider… Not being evil?”

A long, yet narrow grin split across Haurex’s lips. “I told you, Sylus, I have no choice and evil is relative. I thought you smarter than this…”

Sylus shook his head, “Would you break the cycle if you had the chance?”

Haurex leaned away. “Were I the only life at stake, yes. But alas… I-I am responsible for more than myself…”

“Wait… Wait what?”

The Voidlord shook his head, “Time is up, Sylus. You’ve gotten enough exposition for this round. Perhaps the vile filth that is Qaitax will enlighten you a bit more. And hey,” Haurex shrugged, “If you make it back, I’d be happy to speak again, but…” He sighed heavily, “This is it. This is the end of you. And I am so so so very sorry…” The door to the office swung open. “Run, little Sylus. Run to your Lord. If anyone could make it, and I don’t believe anyone can, it would be you. Go. Now. Run. But know that you cannot escape.”

Sylus didn’t need a second thought before he darted out of the office and into the darkness of the Riftworks. For a long few moments, no sounds but those of failing machinery or loose metal banging together filled his ears. He wanted to understand the lack of hearing something chasing him was a good sign, yet he knew… He knew that soon enough…

Just keep moving…

The sounds of horrifying chase finally met his ears. Tendrils slammed against walls as Haurex carried himself down the hall not far behind Sylus’ wavering steps. Darting in and out of doors and corridors, Haurex was never far behind him. Slamming into windows and door frames to maintain his ludicrous speed. Sylus knew he was going the wrong way to reach the Rift. He had to find a way to turn around. Kicking in a vent, he jammed his slender form inside the air ducts. Haurex’s warped, snarling face appeared behind him.

“Running only makes it harder on you. Lie down, Sylus, and I’ll grant you a merciful end!” He screamed into the ducts, “You won’t even feel a thing!” A wicked cackle followed Sylus as he scrambled through the aluminum tubing.

Much to his chagrin, he could hear Haurex clamoring along on his tendrils just outside the vent. Nothing stood in his way. Glass and furniture shattered upon contact with his rampage.

“I can feel you, Sylus. Smell you… I can almost…” A tendril burst up through the vent directly in front of Sylus. Haurex’s head appeared. “Taste you…” He lunged into the duct work, mouth agape.

In the split second he had, Sylus managed to kick out a side vent sliding out just as Haurex slid past him down the conduit. The floor was further beneath him than he’d thought. He clung to the edge of the vent, knowing the fall would be the end of him. Haurex appeared in the opening he’d created.

“Allow me,” a long, golden, undulating tongue slipped between his mangled lips. It wrapped its way around Sylus’ arms, forcing them to release the side of the vent. Screaming and struggling with all his might, he knew it would be of no use.

Do you trust me, Sylus?

Sylus closed his eyes tightly. Hands lodged in Haurex’s maw, his breath hot on his face. He had no choice.

Yes.

Eyes burst open with a violet flame. An electrical current formed around Sylus’ body coursing up through his arms and down Haurex’s throat. The current was enough to send him reeling back into the air duct with an unearthly scream. Sylus plummeted to the floor. Bracing himself for the impact he knew would either brake his legs or knocked him out completely, he found he never actually hit it. Opening his eyes, he found himself being held up by a small gathering of tendrils that had come from behind him. Laughing in a strange sense of relief, he lowered himself onto his feet.

“I’m alive…” He breathed.

Haurex appeared once more in the opening in the duct, shrieking incoherently.

Sylus immediately made a run for it. If his understanding of the ‘Works was correct, he was only a few corridors away from a central port. He only had to make it that far and he’d be free… What awaited him on the other side, he could only guess, but he stood a better chance there than here.

Once more, he could hear Haurex clamouring behind him. Taunting him with threats of futility. Of Qatiax’s lies. Of going after his family… He had to ignore it. If he died here, he’d never be able to do anything for anyone. He’d just be gone… Truly useless… No. He ran as fast as he could, his lungs on fire. With every step, his legs threatened to give way. He was so close… Yet so… Damningly… far…

“Please…” he wheezed, “Please please please…”

Do you still trust me, Sylus?

He couldn’t speak, but he responded with a barely coherent thought.

Sylus screamed as his newfound tendrils lifted him from the floor. They propelled him forwards against every surface they came in contact with. He found he had a vague control over their movement, but it was more the thought of escaping that made them clatter along the hall.

Haurex laughed maniacally before the sound of his own clamoring came to a halt.

Sylus paused a moment to find his pursuer missing. Panic spiked as he forced himself to press on.

The central hatch… he could see it now… Mere feet away…

A corridor hatch slammed shut.

“NO!” Sylus bellowed at the top of his air-starved lungs, “NO NO NO! I can’t die… I can’t die… Not like this… Not like…”

With a loud banging thud, he spun around, pressing his back into the cold steel.

“What did I tell you, Sylus,” Haurex stood upright on his tendrils, “You cannot escape. I know this place. I built it. I control it. You? I admit you are the most knowledgeable human, but you can only do so much and I do commend your efforts. As I told you, they were not enough.”

Haurex began crawling down the hall towards him. Sylus knew in this instant, that unless he could pull off a miracle, he was going to be Voidlord food in a matter of seconds.

Eyes darted around the hall, head swirling around on his shoulders. There had to be something… There had to be… An idea hit him.

“Goodbye, my mortal friend. Know that though this world will forget you, I will not. I will always remember. As I have before, so too shall I now.” Haurex’s jaw split open in three directions. It was no more than a breath later that he lunged with all his strength toward Sylus’ cornered form.

For the first time in his life, Sylus was grateful for his lithe features. Sliding down to the floor, he used his tendrils pressed against the corridor to propel himself himself under the monstrosity’s body. He managed to pass completely behind Haurex and bounce onto his feet as if he wasn’t already exhausted.

The loud thud of tendrils coming in contact with metal followed by yet another shrill hollering cry followed him as he ran back down the hall. He had to go up a floor. There’d be another entrance to the Rift up there, but… there was one more thing of use… The entrance.

Hitting the stairwell, Sylus was quickly aware of the compromising position he’d be in the entire way up. He’d practically be a sitting duck for Haurex to tear apart… “Shit shit shit shit shit…” He had to move. He couldn’t stop. One step on the stairs and his tendrils shot out for the walls, lifting him up the first flight. Turning on the landing, he reached out higher with more control, bringing himself to where he wanted to be just in time to hear Haurex’s screams echoing up the shaft.

Legs aching, breath shaking, Sylus ran. The main entrance wasn’t far now. It was just a matter of getting there and getting Haurex in there with him. Reaching the gaping entrance to the antechamber, Sylus paused to be certain he could hear his pursuer. He made sure he knew at every moment where the fallen hatch was.

Silence.

The sounds of roaring and collapsing material came from behind him. Spinning around, he saw him. Haurex. Covered in dust and dirt.

“It seems you missed a spot, Sylus,” he brushed the soot from his shoulders, “I’ll just dock your pay for your NEGLIGENCE!”

The trap had been set, and he’d been foolish enough to fall for it. Lunging once more for Sylus, the mortal dove to the side, allowing the Voidlord to fly headlong into the sanitization chamber.

“Prepaaaaaaare…”

A glaring white light burst on.

“Sanitiiiizzzzzzzzzz…”

“YOU BASTARD!”

Sylus lifted the hatch shut and listened as the chemicals hissed into the chamber. Shrieks of pain and terror burst from within. Sylus leaned against the door with all his strength, pressing it up against the Voidlord’s flailing tendrils. Part of him wanted to look through the porthole, but he knew he couldn’t spare that moment of shock. Once the screaming died down, Sylus bolted away from the door allowing it to fall open once more. Glancing back, he saw a single yellow tendril lying on the floor. Part of him… felt regret. But there was no time for that now. There was no way Haurex was actually dead, though Sylus did feel an intense sense of relief seeing part of him lying lifelessly. It was proof enough that he no longer had to run at full speed.

Though the external access point was about half way around the building, it was still closer than going back downstairs. Sylus kept up a brisk walk until he finally reached the panel. With a sigh of relief, he swiped his card through the reader.

“Welcome, Ms. Kinkade.”

Another unearthly roar came from the room directly behind him. There was no time to react as a cabinet of some kind burst through a wall. To avoid being crushed, Sylus lept back from the opening though not far enough to avoid his legs becoming trapped. Shrieking, clamoring tendrils flew out into the central chamber.

Lying on the floor, mere feet from his escape, Sylus could feel his body failing. The sound of Haurex searching for him was all he could hear over his racing breath. He was so close, but he had no idea if he had the strength to continue… To dodge the devil one last time… To Sylus… This… Was the end…

Sobbing quietly, he took his phone from his pocket. Opening a group text… he sent a single word.

“Bubsnap.”

Haurex stood out in the central area roaring and shrieking what could have been words, but they resembled nothing more than maddening cries of a confused predator. His skin was red and torn in places. Raw, flailing tendrils surrounded him. Flesh flapped and yellow blood dripped from every opening. Haurex shouldn’t have been alive.

“SYLUS!”

Sylus… Sylus… Sylus… Sylus… His own name repeated endlessly through his mind. Every inflection… SYLUS YOU IDIOT! STUPID! STUPID STUPID…

Go! Run, Sylus!

“Jeron?”

We’ll be here. We’ll always be here. Go.

Sylus found the strength to shove the cabinet off of him.

And please come back. For better or worse… We need you…

Darting into the central field, he managed to slide past Haurex’s raging, writhing form.

Whether you save the world or not… Whether you do anything more than survive… It doesn’t matter… We’ll be here.

A yellow tendril wrapped around his neck.

We’ll always be here.

A shock of violet light shot through his fingertips, severing the tendril from it’s owner. Haurex shrieked uncontrollably.

I love you… We. We love you…

With every ounce of energy he had left, Sylus Synclaire, threw himself into the Void. A single thought, not his own, echoed through his suddenly placid mind.

I knew you would find a way. Say hello to brother Qaitax for me, won’t you? And do not worry. I’ll be here. Waiting. For you and only you, dear Sylus.

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