Sylus sat in the center of the chamber. A stone table and chairs had been relocated for his convenience. He held in his hand a steaming liquid that barely managed to warm his hands in the frozen cavern. Every time he felt himself about to spiral into fear and insanity, he focused on the feeling of something in his back pocket. His phone. He was afraid to see if it was even in one piece. Heck, even if it wasn’t, he knew it was useless here. Still, it somehow served as a comforting connection to home, even thought it was so far away.
Qaitax swayed from side to side across the table. A humanoid head and torso on a long, thick tendril leading back into darkness.
“I see you and my tendril have arrived in one piece. I did miss the little stump,” Qaitax tried to softly break the silence.
“It’s my tendril now,” Sylus replied defensively, “You gave it to me.”
The horned woman sat to the side, her arms folded firmly across her chest. A pure-white staff leaning against her chair. Thin golden chains wove their way along her horns. From the tips hung brilliant violet stones carved in such a way that they perfectly reflected the world around them. Sylus had trouble both looking at her and avoiding staring. Saari’s horns didn’t come out of her forehead like antlers, but grew out of round sockets where her eyes should have been. It was both horrifying and uncontrollably fascinating at the very same time. Though the pout on her lips and the overall frustration etched in her every feature served as a very grounding contrast to her horned eyes.
Sylus didn’t want her to feel ignored, but he had no idea how to speak to her. Since he’d arrived, she’d been largely silent only answering Qaitax’s requests with nods or simple monosyllabic responses. She was clearly irritated, yet she was never far from her lord.
Clearing his throat, Sylus had to try to break up the tepid silence. “You look like a snake wearing my top half as a puppet,” he sipped the bitter substance that filled the stoneware cup he clung to for dear life.
“Indeed. I could have been more human for the occasion… but…”
“No no,” Sylus waved to him, “It’s better this way. What’s that attached to?” Sylus motioned toward the long tendril that propped up Qaitax’s facade.
“Oh, back to my body. This is, quite literally, a puppet.”
Sylus gave a snorting chuckle.
“I did not think the sight of a gigantic mass of writhing tendrils would be a very pleasant thing to experience upon your arrival. I wanted to be hospitable but not upsetting…”
“And you’ve done that perfectly.”
A beaming grin crossed Qaitax’s jagged features.
The silence they shared was a calming, peaceful one. Sylus knew he had no reason to feel this comfortable, yet he did.
“So how does this work?”
“Straight to business then?” Qaitax popped his collar, “Very well. I would begin by urging you to gather your strength.”
“Why?” Sylus scoffed, “Why bother. I already know what’s gonna happen to me. Wanna skip the fluff and get right to the damn point?”
Qaitax leaned back, his arm tendrils weaving between themselves. His glowing gaze turned to the horned woman.
“My lord, I will NOT be leaving your side. Not so long as this mortal remains in your presence.”
“Saari,” Qaitax laughed. It was a booming, cacophonous sound that echoed off the stone walls like a thousand voices of infinite timbre calling out at the same time. “I believe I am more than capable of subduing a mortal should the need arise.”
Saari’s lips pursed tighter.
“My lord this is ridiculous!” She stood up slamming the flat of her hands onto the table. “You love this mortal so much?” she flung her clawed hand toward Sylus. “Then do as he says. Get to the point. Time is of the essence and your bizarre appeal to civility is entirely unnecessary.”
Sylus leaned as far away from the table as he could.
“Saari, I will only ask one last time before I force you to leave.” Qaitax’s tone had shifted from lighthearted to something far darker and intimidating.
“You would never,” Saari snarled in reply.
Her horns turned on Sylus. “What is so special about you? Hm? You’re frail. Weak. Untempered in the way of the Void. Yet you sit here as though you are an equal to a god.”
“I’ve spent my life in service to Lord Qaitax and yet YOU are his chosen champion!”
The Q’taxian bit her lip. Without another word, she spun around, taking hold of her staff, and glided out of the chamber on footsteps that seemed to barely touch the ground. Once the sound of the stone door to the chamber sliding shut echoed around them, Qaitax seemed to relax.
“I apologize, Sylus… This has been…”
Sylus let himself lean forward again.
“Difficult…” Qaitax concluded as he leaned his arms on the table.
“How come you never mentioned her?” Sylus motioned toward the door.
“I-I…” Qaitax slumped forwards, “I was trying not to complicate the nature of our arrangement…”
“That leads me to believe that there’s a lot more to this than we originally discussed…”
“To be fair, I said I would explain more upon your arrival…”
“Where does she fit into all of this?” Sylus folded his arms across his chest.
“She is…” Qaitax’s tendrils slithered over his face, “She is my family.”
Sylus’ eyes widened in shock.
“Saari… She… She is part of me. She may as well be my blood…”
“Th-that’s…” Sylus turned to the entrance, “I feel like that’s something you should have mentioned sooner…”
Qaitax slouched back on his supporting tendril. “Saari is… She’s my daughter.”
A wave of confusing emotions washed over Sylus.
“I adopted her when no one else would have her. They… The uncivilized swine who grew fat on my energy sought to destroy her. I intervened.”
“I laid claim to her being and her life. In doing so, I granted her a portion of my strength. Saari is, in the technical terms of the Void, she is my thrall.”
Qaitax shook his head, “We do not operate that way. Her mind is her own at all times. We merely share a neural link at all times. It’s only open when we choose to open it.”
“I-I’m… I’m sorry… This is… A lot…”
“A lot?” Sylus snapped, “A lot? Really? Qaitax… Why the hell didn’t you say anything?!”
“You know how you tried to protect your family from me?”
“I was trying to do the same with her, but… Being the beings on the side of power… We… I… She… Ah… We had a lot to cover on our side. I… I left a lot of things out about our connection. She basically knows nothing about you.”
“Let me… Break this down. Real quick,” Sylus gave a deep huff as he sat up against the table’s edge, “She sees you as a father figure.”
Qaitax seemed hesitant to respond.
“You’ve protected her all her life. Kept her safe?”
“And now you’re on the brink of death?”
Qaitax hummed ever so slightly as he slowly withdrew from the table.
“And the only solution is for you to bring some outsider mortal into the mix?”
Qaitax seemed to deflate completely. Everything about him sagged unnaturally as a look of shame and despair weaved its way across his already warped features. A weak muttering sound came from his crumpled form. “I have no choice. I do not wish to die. If I die… Saari… She…”
“Why didn’t you say anything? Why… Did you think waiting until now was a good idea?” Sylus was struggling to maintain an understanding composure.
Qaitax’s tendrils wove and unwove compulsively as he searched for a response.
“Are you… ashamed?”
“Ashamed?! Of Saari?!” the Voidlord bolted upright, “How dare you! Are you ashamed of your offspring?!”
Sylus shook his head. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what would I have to be ashamed of?” Qaitax slithered toward the table again, “What could I possibly be ashamed of?”
“Of needing outside help? When… When it’s clear you have someone here who…”
Qaitax leaned back on the thick tendril that supported his humanoid frame.
“You are correct. Saari has long been more than willing to make the sacrifice that would ensure my survival. But…” he sighed deeply, “She is part of me… We would both die. And I… I could never… I… I could never ask her to make such a horrific sacrifice. Especially when it would have no meaning…”
“But an outsider? Someone who you don’t know and have no feelings for?”
Qaitax shook his head. “You do not understand, Sylus. I do have feelings for you…”
“Anything greater than how, let’s say, a chef would love his spatula?”
“A tool, Qaitax. I’m just a tool to you, aren’t I? A means to an end? I die. You and Saari get out of this hell. That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? That’s why you hid her. You didn’t want me to understand what was at risk on your end and how far you’d go to protect that.”
“And what of the reverse?”
“You and your family, Sylus. Saari and I are immortal. We have lived over countless lifetimes. You and yours will know but a fraction of the time we have existed. Do you truly not think that I have considered countless times since we’ve become aware of each other, that you have far more at stake than either of us do?”
“Death is far more a danger to you than it is to us. Saari and I long ago accepted that with my decline, both of us will simply cease to exist. We will not die. We will simply… vanish. From time and space. Gone. In death, you leave behind mortals who care for you. Is that not a greater risk than our risk of nothingness?”
“I-I’m not sure… I…”
“When things of the Void perish, they are not remembered or maintained. They are forgotten. Neither mortal nor Voidspawn remember what is lost. Memory is a very mortal experience. Your mortal companions would remember you…”
“I-Is this some kind of weak emotional ploy?” Sylus scoffed, “Daniel is intelligent enough to understand what’s at stake and Jeron isn’t a fool. Neither of them would waste their lives waiting for me. They’d move on. Remember, hopefully, but stand around waiting forever? Hell no. They’d fight their own fights without me. That’s life, Qaitax. Life isn’t stagnating in memories, but moving on from them. My death has the exact same weight as yours. None.”
“But the death of your child…”
Everything suddenly clicked into place. It wasn’t about Qaitax and Sylus…
“You wish to protect your son. I wish to protect my daughter. We cannot do that lest we sacrifice ourselves and become something wholly different…”
“You know, as well as I, that we are weak. Weakness may be relative between us, but for the lives we have lived and the people we have cared for… We are fading.”
Sylus sat back in his chair, mind racing.
“I did not tell you about Saari, because I wanted the risk to stay between us. I know in your heart, you always considered your child. I know with every interaction, you had him in mind, yet you did not express those worries to me. It was far easier for me to reach out to you and yours than for you to reach back in reply. The more I saw of your life, the more I saw myself. The more I felt your fears, the more I noticed my own. What good would bringing Saari into the mix have done? Our fates are one and the same…”
“So if I chose to walk… To leave…”
Qaitax sighed, “We’d both perish eventually. Though I would ask you to forego any guilt. I was eternal. Saari has lived near countless lifetimes. We have lived long enough.”
“Yet you still don’t want to die…”
“We have lived in this prison for our entire conscious existences. We know nothing more than this dead world. Sylus… You would not only save our lives, but free us from this mortal hell.”
“So I’m the chosen one?” Sylus snorted.
“By accident. No weave of fate or prophesy. Merely a fluke in the ebb and flow of time and space.”
“You mean I’m not special?” Sylus laughed.
Qaitax shook his head, “On the surface, no. You are a rather ordinary mortal. But… Somehow… This burden has fallen to you.
“Saari fully understands that you may still choose to leave, but at the same time… I would ask something rather… delicate of you.”
“And what would that be?”
Qaitax wove his arms together again, “I would ask that you try to find familiar ground with her…”
“What could I POSSIBLY have in common with an immortal…”
Qaitax nodded, “That is her class of voidspawn. She is a mortal who has transcended into a state of acute understanding of the Void and the energy behind its workings. Well, as acute of an understanding as a mortal could have. Basically, she can bend and weave the Mist to her will. Forming it into crystals, projectiles, weapons of untold strength… Or forms it into things of beauty…” Qaitax sighed, “She once made the most beautiful sculptures…”
“Long ago, she gave up creativity in favor of martial practice. I saw no reason why one should supersede the other, but she decided that things of beauty had no place on a dead world.
“Her art lines the dead Halls of Q’taxia. I commanded they be put on display. She was a child then, and could still somewhat see her creations…”
“When did she go completely blind?”
“Saari…” Qaitax sighed, “Saari is not entirely blind. She still sees through her horns, but… It is far different than how you see the world. She sees everything through the lens of the Void.”
There was a moment’s pause before Sylus piped up.
“This is a lot to take in, Qaitax…”
The Voidlord nodded, “I understand. For now, I only ask that you try to get to know Saari a bit…”
“So I’m moving in like some kind of alien step-dad?”
Qaitax laughed again. The same booming, echoing noise filled the chamber.
“No no no… She would never accept you as such. A friend, perhaps, though I would not push my luck. I merely ask that you find some kind of common ground. Something to take the edge off.”
“Again, I ask, what could I possibly have in common with a Void Witch?”
“Far more than you think.”