“A-and that’s it. I-I’m here now. I’m… I’m scared. Confused… I-I don’t think I can go home. How can I?” Sylus spat, “I’m a danger to my child. My own son… I promised I’d always take care of him. Now I can’t even take care of myself… What good am I…”
Henley finally showed signs of a response as he leaned forward on the desk.
“I believe you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself, Sylus. We must approach this rationally…”
“How is admitting that I can, at any time, lose control of myself and become a threat to the people I love, not rational?” Sylus sat back in his own less-intimidating leather chair. The arms came in just enough to give Sylus a comforting feeling of confinement.
“Sylus,” Henley laid his long, spindly fingers flat on the desk, “I need you to clarify something.”
Sylus gave him a series of small nods.
“You said you lost control in the Diner, but it was different, yes?”
“Y-yeah…” Sylus rubbed the back of his neck. “When I lost control on the way to work… I think I was hallucinating. I saw things… Heard things… Things I now know weren’t real…”
“But they felt real, yes?”
“I-I’m not really sure… I wasn’t fully present… I… You know I struggle with staying in the present. With not letting my mind wander away… I feel like this thing, whatever it is, is taking advantage of the fact that I can’t stay grounded in the now…” Sylus sighed heavily as he sank back into the chair. “But… It also said… That… None of this is intentional…”
“Hmm, yes. You mentioned that.”
“It thought I was bothering its dreams like I think it’s bothering mine… Maybe…”
“Sylus, if I may, the Diner?” Henley smiled gently as he steered Sylus back on topic.
“Oh, yeah… Sorry about that…”
“That’s quite alright, but do go on about your experience there.”
“Well, I lost control again, but… I didn’t entirely blackout. I was well aware of what was happening. I just couldn’t regain control. It was speaking through me. Moving my body. Saying things… But… That’s,” he laughed, “that’s not even the weirdest part. I felt the shift happening. It started as our thoughts began bleeding together. I was, I-I’m sorry… I was pissed off at you for barging in like that. It… it felt that. We both became angry. I could feel its rage compounding with my own. The next thing I knew, we were screaming yelling at the same time. After that, I took a backseat to my own existence.” Sylus ground the palms of his hands into his eyes, rubbing them until their vision became black and splotchy. As he regained focus, that all too familiar burning sensation had returned. “Am I crazy? Or am I possessed?”
Henley’s eyes narrowed as he considered Sylus’ statement. His fingers began tapping idly beneath his chin.
“Strangely enough, I think neither,” he pushed his chair away from the desk. Rounding the over-sized piece of furniture, he stood directly in front of Sylus. Crouching to his level, he whispered, “I need to upset you again, Sylus. Just know I’m doing this for science.”
Sylus scoffed, “Then how can you upset me if I know it isn’t real?”
“I’m calling CPS. They have special groups with the clearance to enter the Mist. They’re going to take Daniel away and give him a nice home somewhere with parents who can love and care for him without endangering him.”
Sylus’ mind raced. The knowledge that it was all an attempt to goad him didn’t stand a chance against his inborn fear of losing Daniel. Panic whipped through his core. His head began shaking uncontrollably.
He cannot take your spawn. Your spawn is yours. Do not let him take your spawn away.
“I-It’s back…” was all Sylus could muster.
Henley grinned, “I’m sure they’ll be good parents. He’ll have two whole parents. Not one broken one.”
He insults your authority. Break his neck! Break it!
“You can’t what?” Henley’s sinister grin faded a bit.
“I can’t hurt Henley… I-I’d lose everything…”
Then he holds too much power over you. I know unworthy masters when I see them. He is unworthy of your servitude. Revolt! Rebel! Fight back!
“No… No no no no no…” Sylus clutched the sides of his head. A dim violet glaze coating his eyes just as it had done before.
“Sylus?” Henley leaned away, “What’s going on, Sylus?”
“I grow tired of being treated like I am nothing. Tired of being walked on by everyone! Told how inferior I am. Treated like I am nothing. What good am I? What good AM I? I’m better than you, Henley. Better than you could ever dream of being,” Sylus’ eyes lit up once more with the same piercing violet light. His voice slowly sifting away from his own. “I am DONE with being that thing no one understands but they just accept. I am not a THING! I am a PERSON! A HUMAN! A VOIDLORD!” He stood up from his chair with enough force to push Henley away, “I am NO ONE’S TOY! PLAYTHING! I AM A GOD!”
Raising his hands toward Henley, a look of fury that was not his own cross his face. A shock of violet danced between Sylus’ palms. In an instant, Henley’s own eyes shifted to a brilliant gold and the next thing Sylus knew, he was pinned back down in the chair.
“A god, you say,” Henley towered over him, “And here I thought…” A small spot of white bounced in his otherwise golden eyes. He chose his next words very carefully, “Violet eyes… Then you… You must be…”
“Shut up! Shut up you vile filth!” The voice was no longer even grounded in Sylus’. It was a wholly different sound. A shriek and a growl all mixed into one. Like a hundred voices crying out in a dying whisper.
“Who are you?” Henley demanded. He seemed to grow taller the longer he stood before Sylus.
“I… I…” The glowing violet in his eyes went from a fiery light to a dim flicker. “I… I don’t…”
“You don’t know? Or do you not remember?” A harsh laugh rattled its way from Henley’s lungs, “How quaint. And yet how entirely useless.” A yellow tendril shot out from behind Henley. It wrapped its way around Sylus’ neck as fear filled the foreign mind whose alien voice emanated from his lips. “I know who you are. I know WHAT you are. A traitor. Filth. Go away, Qaitax,” Henley snarled, “Return to your prison and rot like you’re supposed to!”
A blinding light filled the room and in that moment, all became nothing.
A small whisper echoed across the back of his Sylus’ fading mind.
Why did it have to be you…
Sylus awoke with a start in a luxurious bed. It took him a bit to process where exactly he was. It had to be part of Henley’s quarters. He was the only person he knew to be so over the top with everything he did. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he slowly sat up against the carved headboard.
“W-what happened…” he muttered. His throat was coarse making every word difficult to say. It felt like he’d been screaming, but he remembered nothing of the sort.
“Nothing,“ Henley sighed from across the room, “Absolutely nothing,” he sighed once more, “I’m very sorry to say, you merely fell unconscious.” He stood up from the small desk to gaze out the towering window behind him.
“Damnit…” Sylus spat, “I was really hoping…”
“As was I, but alas…” Henely sighed heavily as he approached him. It sounded almost… forced… “I-I’m am so very sorry for everything I said… It certainly got a rise out of you, but it wasn’t the rise we were hoping for. I apologize. None of it is true. I have no intention of separating you from your child.”
“Thanks, Henley… I’m sorry it didn’t work out… I figured… I figured you’re good with this kind of weird thing… I really hoped…” Sylus sighed, “Do you think it’s safe for me to go home?”
“Can I… Am I safe to be around my son?” Sylus’ gaze drifted to his hands idly twisting a section of sheet.
“Ah,” Henley sighed, “I don’t think you’re a danger to your son directly. I do, however, find these blackouts worrisome. Nothing came of it this time, but as you’ve said, that isn’t always the case. I worry this entity may be more of a danger than you yourself could ever be.”
“I-is there a way… to get rid of it?” Sylus’ voice became a distant whisper.
“Hm,” Henley thought a moment, “I’ll work on it. I’m sure I can figure something out, but… I do lack knowledge of what it truly is. If we assume its related to the Rift and the Void on the other side, then it is well within my realm of expertise. I’ll see what I can uncover. Though perhaps…” his words trailed off for a moment, “Perhaps I do have an idea…”
“Y-you do?” Sylus sat himself completely upright.
“Here,” Henley sighed once more, “I do think you need some time off to rest. I’ve examined your work record and you have many more hours on site than you should. Mostly due to my demands,” Henley sat on the very edge of the bed. Leaning over, he placed a hand on Sylus’. “However, I cannot go entirely without you,” he patted Sylus’ hand, “You are relieved of your general duties for two weeks, but you remain on call for me and me alone. Does that sound fair?”
Sylus shook his head, “As much as I appreciate that, sir, I really can’t afford to go without pay.”
“Paid leave with overtime pay for every time I call you in. How’s that sound?” Henley grinned exposing his perfectly white, yet strangely uncanny teeth.
“Sounds too good to be true…” Sylus chuckled.
“Listen to me and listen well,” Henley moved himself further onto the bed, “I need you. And I’ll be damned if anyone here tries to circumvent my authority. I run this place, you know that right? This is my creation. All of this. This facility is my brainchild. I don’t care what the military bastards say, this is all mine. People come and go at my will and my will alone,” He patted Sylus’ hand again, “My word is law within these walls. If I promise you pay, you will receive that pay.”
“S-so… y-you’re really… Giving me…”
“A vacation? Well…” Henley added a bit of a whine to the last word, “Sort of. You’re free of your duties, but you cannot travel from La Sombra. If you do, it must be within distance to answer my summons within ten minutes.”
“I can finally get some fresh groceries in the house…” Sylus’ mind immediately shifted to cooking at home and sharing quiet evenings with Daniel.
“You mean to say… You haven’t had proper food in your home?” Henley pulled away, “How have you survived?”
Sylus laughed. “I can never get to the grocer. My hours never let me. And we survive on the generosity of the Miles’.” He sighed, “But… I-I don’t think that’s going to last much longer… Not after…” he cursed under his breath, “Can we try again? I really want you to see this thing so we can figure out what to do with it…”
“Ah, perhaps another time, but right now, you’re spent. Rest here a bit longer. When you have the strength, I have a small job for you and then your vacation may officially commence,” With one last pat on Sylus’ hand, Henley stood up from the bed. “I’ll be in my office when you are ready. I have a theory that may be of some use.”
Sylus gave a slow, wary nod as Henley made his way out of the enormous room.
Sylus laid back in the bed. He felt as though his mind should have been racing, but it wasn’t. It was placid and still. Yet he was far from at peace. It wasn’t a calming stillness. Instead, he felt overwhelmed, but he didn’t know why. He felt exhausted, but his mind couldn’t remember any of what happened after Henley threatened to take Danial away. Had he really just blacked out? He felt sore and weak. There was a painful bruising feeling welling up around his neck.
What the hell happened…
He didn’t mean to doubt Henley’s account, but his body told him something had definitely occurred. His mind raced as he tried to fill in the blanks, but couldn’t come up with anything of use. To him, he really had lost consciousness. That, or something had stopped him from remembering… Maybe the thing had shown up. Maybe it had tried to hurt him… Maybe that was why Henley claimed nothing had happened. But would Henley truly have the tact to spare Sylus such gruesome details?
“Fuck…” Sylus spat, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck…” he could feel that all-too-familiar burning sensation behind his eyes. “I’m so tired of this…”
Fuck. I think I like that word…
“Oh god, no please… Go away… Please…”
You should be wary of that man…
Henley burst through the door, “Sylus?”
“AH! It’s in my head! It’s in my head again!”
“I thought I…” Henley cut his muttering off as he approached the bed.
Placing a hand on Sylus’ forehead, he spoke a few words Sylus failed to decipher, yet he felt a wave of calm settle through him. He was alone again.
“What was that?” Sylus breathed.
Henley leaned away, “It was a hunch. I had no idea if I would be silencing it or blowing you up. I have mixed results with the spawns…”
“Wait… What?” Sylus was left utterly confused.
“When you are ready, I have a small task for you. Once you’ve completed it, I can do my best to explain.”
“What is it?” Sylus bolted upright, “What do you need me to do?”
Henley shook his head with a chuckle, “I need you to rest.”
“I need answers more than I need rest. I need to stop this thing. I need… I need to be…” He sighed at the irony of his own thoughts, “I need to be normal. Or, at least, no more strange than I already am.”
Henley smiled softly, “Very well, then. Come with me.”
They made their way slowly into the bowels of the Riftworks. Henley did his best not to let his long strides distance himself too far from of Sylus who, while by default moved with a shorter gait, was barely moving at all. A familiar uneasiness filled Sylus as they approached the sector he knew as “Holding”.
“I need you to transfer some spawns into Observation,” Henley explained as he entered his clearance.
“Y-you want me to… handle spawns? Like… Directly? While they’re still alive?” Sylus was horrified. He wanted nothing to do with these creatures in any way. His policy was to keep his distance and ignore their existence. He had to. There was always something there at the back of his mind telling him that Henley was full of shit when he claimed they felt no pain.
“Oh don’t worry. They’re sedated. They won’t hurt you,” Henley smiled as the door slid open. “Here,” he handed Sylus a handful of leashes and a key. “They already have their harnesses on. I just need you to hook these up and lead them down to Observation. If they act up,” he handed Sylus a strange-looking gun, “Just give em some of this and they’ll submit again.”
Sylus stared at the leashes in his hand. He cleaned up their entrails. He only knew them as tattered viscera. He didn’t want to even think that they were actually alive at any point. He knew they were… He knew… but he was able to force that knowledge away when all he ever knew of them were their corpses.
“Cages three, seven, and nine. Be careful with nine, it can be a bit… of a free spirit. You would think by now that it would know its place,” Henley gave a heavy sigh as he placed a hand on Sylus’ shoulder, “I know that this is a less than ideal situation for you, but it is necessary. Just, think of them as pet rocks or something. Something inanimate and useless. That should help,” without another word, Henley vanished.
“Oh god…” Sylus gripped the leashes tightly as he made his way down the hall.
It was lined with cages filled with distorted creatures of all kinds. He moved slowly, knowing three would come up quickly. When it did, his anxiety nearly got the better of him as he knelt down to look inside. There, at the back, laid some kind of dog-like creature. It was curled up into a tiny ball. It took an immeasurable amount of strength for Sylus to unlock the cage. With the click of the lock releasing, the creature looked up to him. It had nothing he could call a face, but it had a head shaped like a Y. As it moved toward him, Sylus could see that it was made entirely of tendrils. It bowed it’s head to him and, just as Henley had promised, it already had a harness on. The device seemed to be serving as not only a place to connect the leashes but as a clamp holding down long, flat weaves of tendrils. Sylus likened them to wings. The harness appeared to be slightly grown into the creature’s flesh. Sylus shut down. He couldn’t let himself overthink this. He had to do what he was told. For his family. His mind completely blank, he snapped the leash onto the creature. It followed him without a hint of resistance. The same was true of the creature in cage 7.
When he reached nine, his placid emptiness was destroyed. In this cage, was another Y-headed dog, but this one was already sitting upright. It was hunched over as the height of the cage was much too small for it. Its head moved to look toward Sylus. It stared at him a moment before lowering its head as if in dismay. It had no face. No eyes. No nose. No mouth. Nothing that could convey emotion, yet Sylus somehow felt like he knew what this creature was feeling.
“I-I’m sorry…” he choked as he opened the cage, “Just… please come here…”
It pulled away from him, going deeper into the cage.
A low yelp came from its form. Its head began bobbing as it seemed to be trying to speak. Sylus discovered a mouth under the base of the head. It kept opening and making what could only be described as sounds born of pure fear.
“Please come here,” he beckoned the creature toward him, “I… I’m sorry… I really am… Just… please come… please?”
Silence. It lowered its head once more as it approached him. As Sylus lead it out of the cage and into the light of the hall he noticed that this particular creature was in very bad shape. One side of its head had been seemingly torn off. Ears, Sylus decided, they were ears. As Sylus hooked the leash onto its tattered harness, he saw that the tail, too, was severed. Stepping back, he saw that the entire creature bore marks of torment across it’s woven tendrils. It looked so broken and destroyed compared to the others.
“What happened to you…” Sylus asked as he gently ran his hand across the creature’s head.
The thought shot through his mind.
He stared at the creature. Was it… speaking to him? Or had he simply lost his mind? Finally? After all this time?
Please no take…
“I-I have to… Please… I have to…”
Yellow man no good… No good anymore…
Sylus’ eyes widened. “He-Henley?”
It shook its head, before seemingly staring directly at him.
Sylus nodded slowly as he pocketed the key.
Then let us go! We go back. No come back. Promise. Let us go!
“I-I can’t… I can’t…” Sylus was nearly in tears, “Please… Please stop talking to me… Please…”
Even they know there’s something wrong with him…
“Oh not you, too, now!” Sylus bellowed, “I can’t do this… I can’t!” He stood up, yanking Nine’s leash, “Let’s go.” He snarled, doing his best to deny himself any sense of humanity.
Ignoring what had just occurred, and consciously shutting down any thoughts of it, Sylus lead the creatures through the facility to Observation.
You could let them go, you know. Their home is right over there. Sylus looked out a window to the Rift, They could leave if you let them…
Sylus shook his head, forcing the thought away. “Leave me alone,” his voice shook almost uncontrollably.
Walking on in silence, he suddenly found himself stopping outside a central hatch. The temptation to swipe his card into it screamed inside of him. He examined where the clasps were on each of their harnesses. Could he undo them fast enough? Open the door, unhook the harnesses, turn away and forget about it. But he knew the second he put his card in this slot, Henley would know. He wasn’t sure this ounce of humanity was worth the horrors he knew Henley was capable of. Still, without another thought, he did the unthinkable and opened the hatch. Leading the creatures into the center of the ring, he knelt down and quickly undid their harnesses.
“Go. Now.” He spat before heading back through the hatch.
Say goodbye to Yellow man please! the small voice filled Sylus’ head as Nine ran for the Rift
Much to Sylus’ dismay, the other two remained dazed and confused. Sylus watched through opening as Nine stopped just short of freedom and turned to the others. It sang a strange song as it danced in place trying to wake them up. A shrill siren filled the central field. Sylus found it annoying, but it brought the creatures to the ground. Whimpering and whining, they submitted to the siren’s call.
“I had a feeling they’d tempt you. They can smell a soft soul from a mile away.” Henley appeared beside him, “Not that there’s anything wrong with a kind heart, but they’re devious little creatures, these gaunts. Most intelligent of all the spawns we’ve encountered so far. If you could really call their incessant whining and pack-like nature intelligent.” Henley nodded into the central ring, “Hook them back up. They can’t force thoughts into your head now.”
Lies… the thought was a mix of his own and the foreign consciousness.
Sylus did as he was told. He went out into the field and put each of their respective harnesses back on. Nine seemed to cry as he did. They followed obediently as he lead them into the facility. As soon as they were all back inside, Henley slid the door closed behind them.
“Now,” Henley smiled in a way that sent shivers down Sylus’ spine, “To Observation!”