Empty darkness stretched in every direction. No light. No life. An expanse of nothing reaching out forever. Barely a thought could penetrate the infinite dark. Sylus was used to this place. He knew that the thing wouldn’t be far. Dread began working its way across his subconscious. Again he’d never lay eyes on it. Again he’d only feel the horror of its presence. And again he’d just wake up with a startling pain shooting through his mind.
“Can we please skip this part?” he called out into the nothingness that surrounded him, “I just want to get to the point where I terrify myself awake. I’m so tired of this…”
“Would you believe me if I said the same?”
The voice was real unlike all the times before. Rather than an echo or a whisper inside his mind, it was a real sound coming from somewhere… Somewhere… Very close… Sylus whirled around to find a perfect, mirror image of himself. The sudden shock of seeing something in the abyss wore off into a dull disappointment.
“C-can you… Not look that way?” Sylus’ mind ached at the sight of himself.
“I thought a familiar face would be a comfort…”
“Well… To he clear, humans like to think they’re unique. Seeing someone that looks like them, e-especially for me… Well… It can be unsettling…”
“I see… What about yourself do you dislike so much?”
Sylus sighed. Deeply. Heavily. Forlornly…
“The other mortals seem to like you just fine…”
“They…” Sylus rubbed the back of his neck, “They accept me. For what I am. That… That doesn’t mean… That doesn’t mean I accept me… Myself…”
The creature studied its form. “Seems like a fairly average mortal appearance. Not exceptionally ugly or unpleasant…”
Sylus shook his head with a weak smile. The creature acted so much like a child. As much as he hated addressing the topic, he chose to indulge its curiosity.
“I-I have a condition…” He wasn’t sure that was the right way to start, “The… Ah… Um…” defeat overcame him before he could find another rational thought. “I… I have the wrong body…”
The creature was taken aback. “Wrong… Body?”
“Ah… Well… You see… Um…” His patience broke with a scoff, “What do you really care?”
It gave him a sincerely quizzical look. “I am curious. That is all. I have lived with mortals for what I think has been my entire existence – I may even have been created by them – And yet I know so little about how you function…”
Sylus cringed a bit. “To be honest we barely know how we function,” he clasped his hands together, “But what I do know is that I’m not exactly a good example of a functioning mortal. Why not find someone else who is?” he turned his back on it.
“I do not think we have a choice in this connection.”
A dull silence settled between them. Sylus stared at the nothingness beneath him. He could feel it’s lingering presence behind him. Closing his eyes tightly, he spoke.
“My… My mind… It… It doesn’t match my body,” he turned around, slowly. “I have… The… The, uh, brain waves, patterns… Of… Of the opposite sex of my body…” he laughed at how stupid it all sounded, “So… My… My mind… And my body… They… Don’t line up. I-it… Causes… A lot of stress. A… A lot of anxiety… I mean…” he chuckled, “it shuts me down sometimes. Like… Completely….” He sighed, “Don’t ask why. It just… It happens. That’s all. Okay?”
The creature stood still in silence. “I believe I know someone like you…” The form that reflected himself devolved into a spire of tendrils. “I simply thought that this would be too unsettling.”
Sylus shook his head, “To be honest, I prefer it.”
“Hm…” it raised a tendril as if lost in thought. “I wonder… If you could change yourself, how would you?”
Sylus burst out laughing. It was a disturbing and disjointed laugh. Riddled with defeat and ire. “At this point?” he scoffed, “I’d need a whole new body.”
An eye slipped out from the weave of tendrils. Like the last dream in which they met, it extended to him on a long bobbing stalk.
“What’s to say I cannot give you such a body?”
Sylus balked. “What?” he replied rather flatly given the situation.
The eye bobbed as if it was nodding, “I already know I am capable of manipulating the appearances of mortals… to an extent. I did it for one like you many years ago. I would be willing to do it again.”
Sylus snorted so hard his throat hurt. “And what would you gain from doing this? You can’t possibly be making such an offer from the goodness of your heart.”
The eye turned towards its body. “I do not have a heart…” It returned to Sylus. “Not like you do, at least…”
“I-I didn’t… necessarily mean… anatomical…” Sylus gave the eye a narrowed glare. “More… the metaphorical heart…”
“Metaphorical? As in… Kindness? Altruism?”
“Yes?” Sylus replied very slowly.
“Oh, of course not. I have my reasons.”
“Care to share them with the rest of us?”
Once more the creature found itself in a state of thought. “In time. But I will refrain from making any offers until I can provide a sufficient incentive for their consideration.”
“Huh,” Sylus rubbed his chin, “How unexpectedly magnanimous of you…”
“Unexpected? I mean no disrespect, mortal, but we hardly know each other. You’ve drawn many conclusions from our limited interactions which, may I remind you, were outside both of our control.”
“Duly noted,” Sylus sighed.
The eye’s lids slowly closed as it bobbed gently on its stalk. It was a mesmerizing motion that almost put Sylus to sleep in his own dream. Feeling himself grow unsteady from the sudden wave of exhaustion, he felt something come up from behind him. Something pressed against the back of his knees forcing him into a sitting position. Once more, he sat upon a throne of tendrils. Though this time, no restraints came. As upset as he knew he should have been, the apparently dozing eye, floating so methodically, was enough to relax him into leaning back into the chair.
“Are we at peace?”
The voice brought him slightly back to consciousness.
“Sleeping in a dream…” Sylus gave a quiet chuckle, “I suppose this is the only place I can actually close my eyes without being afraid of you showing up… I guess… Because you’re already here?”
“If I may attempt to defend myself, your presence was equally uncomfortable for me. I have long been stalked by mortals and their need to control my will. The idea of a mortal once more walking amongst my dreams while I could do nothing but feel their consciousness invading my own… It was a fearful discomfort I’ve grown…” it made a sound that resembled a gurgling sigh, “all too familiar with…”
Sylus sat upright upon the tendrils. His mind racing as he processed the creature’s words. It was impossible to dismiss the terror he’d felt all along, but knowing that it was shared? A comforting sense of understanding flooded his thoughts.
“Then… I’m glad we could have this little talk…” The words poured forth with little thought.
“As am I. I am very grateful that you are not one of those who seek to keep me in chains, but…” The gurgling sigh returned. “I… I think… That this, all of this, is the sign of something… Greater. For both of us… Perhaps…” There was a strange feeling of hope emanating from the creature. The eye opened lazily though its gaze remained locked on Sylus. The tendrils that made up his seat suddenly pulled out from beneath him. “It is too soon…” It’s tone suddenly shifted to cold and curt. “I should not be fool enough to trust a mortal so easily… Not again.”
“Why the sudden turn?” Sylus genuinely felt betrayed. He had just begun thinking that he and this creature shared some kind of kinship and yet here it was changing its mind like he was the monster in the room.
Then again… Sylus thought, I think we’re both monsters in each other’s eyes…
The eye burst open on its stalk. It floated mere inches from Sylus’ face. Wide and unblinking, it stared deeply into his being.
Perspective. The word was carried on an invasive thought rather than sound. How refreshing…
“Perhaps you are different…” the creature spoke aloud once more. “I have been wronged by mortals more than once, and I am short on trust for your kind… However… Perhaps an act of mutual trust can help mend the damaged bridge between us both…”
“The last time I did a trust fall was under Henley’s supervision,” Sylus rolled his eyes, “It’s like he read the most generic manual on team building… Anyway, the asshole who was supposed to catch me dropped me like a sack of potatoes…” He paused a moment as memories of his splitting headache returned. “I don’t feel like being dropped again. Literally or metaphorically.”
“Then trust is an issue we both must contend with.” The eye withdrew into the tendril form from whence it came. “If I may be blunt once more, I believe time is something neither of us truly possess.”
A dull aching sensation coursed through the entirety of Sylus’ mind. He was well aware that things were coming to a head. Whether that was a global crisis or only a personal one, he wasn’t sure, but so much had seemingly gone south so quickly… And all he had to fuel this suspicion was Henley’s increasingly unnerving behavior. Something about being dragged deeper and deeper into the dark depravity of the Riftworks left a more than a sour taste in his mouth. It was dread. Full, all-encompassing dread. Nine’s hopeless whimpers returned to him.
“The lesser spawn… You wish to save it?”
“I am wary of that man, Sylus… The one in yellow, I do not think he is one to be trifled with and I worry even more so that he is something far greater than he lets on…”
“I get that feeling, too,” Sylus sighed, “Ordinarily, I’d think such paranoia was uncalled for, but since the Rift?” He pinched the bridge of his nose, “I’d think settling for certainty would be a greater mistake than living with paranoia…”
“Complacency is the enemy of those bound by time’s cruel march.”
The eye peered out from just inside the woven tendrils. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity.
“Let’s start small,” Sylus began, “You know my name. I’m assuming that’s because you’ve been in my physical body scaring the shit out of the people I care about, but here I am, on the verge of some kind of trust maneuver and I don’t even know yours.” He folded his arms across his chest, “That doesn’t sound like a great place to start.”
The tendrilled form nodded, “That is more than fair. You must forgive me for my… discomfort in sharing such information. My name is that by which I can be summoned and bound to a mortal’s will. I…” the creature sagged a bit, “I believe I can trust you not to abuse this information. I am Qaitax.” It bowed slightly to Sylus. “Lord of the Abyss. The Devourer. That is what these mortals called me. They have given me many titles, but my name is Qaitax.”
“Qaitax,” Sylus repeated so as to lodge the information in his memory until he realized “What are the chances I’ll even remember this when I wake up…”
Qaitax shifted its weight, “I wish to believe this interaction is different from the others in that we have actually interacted and not simply felt our minds seeping into each other… A more…” it paused a moment as if searching for the word it wanted, “A more concrete encounter. Rather than just a feeling.”
Sylus nodded slowly, hoping the creature was right. He didn’t want to wake up to uncertainty after so much had been clarified, putting many of his concerns to rest.
A tendril wriggled its way toward Sylus. “Here,” Qaitax seemed to coo, “This is for you. It is my token of trust.”
Sylus stared at the writhing appendage, “And what am I supposed to do with this?”
A sharp, reverberating laugh came from the creature, “Why consume it, of course.”
“Excuse me, what?” Sylus took a long step backward.
“Ah, the indignities of mortals. Well, you see… I wish to offer you something of use. As both a token of goodwill and a bit of a… how would you say it… a… sample? Hint? I am unsure… But consider this my gift to you.” Sylus opened his mouth to speak, but Qaitax was quick to silence him. “Before you question my motives, yes of course there’s a selfish element, but I must remind you once more that we are seemingly in this together. For whatever reason has brought us together, it behooves us to work with each other.“
“Yes, but,” the tendril slithered closer to him once more, “Look, I-I get it. We’ll figure this out, whatever this is, but… But I am not eating part of your body.”
“And why not? I have near-infinite of these appendages. One loss hardly impairs my strength…”
“It’s a tentacle!” Sylus shrieked, “I am NOT swallowing a tentacle!”
The eye glared at him from its tendril-woven haven, “You need this. You wish to protect your family? To save the lesser spawn?”
“I-ye- what the hell are you…”
“Take my offering. It will grant you but a fraction of my strength, but it should be enough to serve you until we meet in the waking realm.”
“Let’s say I’m interested,” Sylus swallowed hard, “Let’s say I am willing to eat a tentacle… for… for my family. What’s the catch? What do you gain from me consuming part of you?”
“Ah, therein lies the selfish nature of this offering. When you have nowhere else to go, it will bring you to me. What was once whole will always seek to be made whole once more. It will draw you to my prison. Then, and only then, will I present the conditions of my plan and your role in it.”
“So does this mean you can just… whisk me away from my life, hold me hostage, and force me to do whatever it is you want me to?” Sylus was well aware of how viciously accusatory is words came across.
The eye finally receded completely inside of the tentacles. “I am incapable of doing such things. Believe me, I have tried. I would no longer be imprisoned were I successful. You will know what to do when the time comes, but it remains up to you to make that decision.”
“And what if I do ‘go to’ you… What if I don’t like whatever deal you present?”
A smile seemed to form in the woven tentacles. “It pleases me that the mere offer of untold power isn’t enough to cave your will.”
Sylus shrugged, “What can I say? All the power in the world means nothing if I can’t protect the people I love.”
Qaitax nodded slowly in understanding. “If you find my offer unsatisfactory, I will see to it that you return home.” A sense of relief filled Sylus until the creature continued. “However, I am unsure if our connection will come to an end…”
That was what frightened Sylus the most. If he rejected this being and it continued to haunt him against both their wills…
All the more reason to hear him out I suppose…
And I appreciate that.
Once more they found themselves staring at one another. The eye barely peering out from the folds between tendrils. Without breaking his gaze, Sylus took hold of the tendril. A squelching, fleshy snap echoed in the darkness. Violet blood gushed from the severed appendage. It lasted for only an instant before the parted ends solidified. The length that remained attached to Qaitax appeared to whither as it pulled away while the chunk in Sylus’ hand remained thick and firm.
“Alright look,” Sylus flopped the severed end toward Qaitax, shaking drops of blood from it, “If I do this, you have to, and I mean HAVE to try not to take over my body ever again. ESPECIALLY with all that rage. You terrified everyone I love… I’d like to avoid that going forwards.”
Qaitax nodded deeply, “While I have little control over such instances, I will do my best to refrain from acting out emotionally should it ever occur again.”
“Okay…” Sylus replied slowly before continuing, “And one more thing. Stop telling me what to do and stop telling me how I should feel.”
Qaitax cocked it’s head to once side, “The feelings are already there. They already exist as part of you. I simply fail to understand why you do not act on them.”
“It’s… It’s complicated…” Sylus sighed. A slew of thoughts shot through his mind. Was he weak? A coward? Why couldn’t he ever defend himself? Why was he so willing to let everyone simply walk all over him? Command his time and attention… And then it hit him. It was because as long as he bent to everyone else, they’d accept him. And yet…
There are mortals who seem to care about you. Who desire the best for your well being… They do not treat you that way. The foreign thought echoed in his mind.
You’re right… he replied with a thought of his own.
“It is… confidence, is it not?”
Sylus stared into the eye like a deer caught in oncoming headlights.
Qaitax sighed, “I am vaguely aware of certain mortal concepts. Confidence tends to be a very important one in exercising your will and desires.” A tendril ran across the base of what could be considered its head. “I believe I can assist you in rectifying this.”
Tiny drops of blood trickled from the severed tendril in Sylus’ hand. The tapping of them hitting the non-existent floor beneath them was the only sound filling the emptiness. Drip. Drop. Like a demented clock ticking away the seconds of what life he had left to live. He knew that after what happened with Henley, with the gaunts and Nine, he knew he was in too deep and that there was no way out. What could he do? He wasn’t strong enough to defend himself, much less the people he cared so deeply for. He had to be more. But was this the only way? He studied the appendage carefully. It was a dull shade of purple, unlike the lively ones still attached to Qaitax’s form. He had no concept of how he was supposed to “consume” such a thing and whether or not the risk of allowing this creature even more access to his being was even worth it.
“It is a dream,” Qaitax replied with a sharp laugh as if answering Sylus’ concerns, “There are no limitations to physicality in this realm. Do as you will.”
“And you promise you won’t use this to walk me off a cliff? Or into the Rift against my will? Or offing me in some heinous way I have no control over?” Sylus muttered as he stared directly at the narrowest point of the tendril.
Qaitax shook its head with what could have been a wry smile, “I assure you, I am incapable of such things. Even with a part of me becoming part of you, all I can do is draw you towards me. I cannot force you to take those steps. When the time comes, and it will come, I will make certain you land on my doorstep rather than float aimlessly within the Void.”
“What do you know that I don’t?” Sylus gave the eye a narrow glare.
Qaitax shook its head once more, “I have nothing concrete to offer outside of a vague idea of where this altercation between you and the man in yellow will lead.”
“So Henley and I are going to come to blows, are we?” It was the most defeated sigh he’d ever made. “What chance do I really stand?”
It shrugged, “Honestly? Not much. Which is why I’ve given you part of myself. If you survive long enough to flee, you’ll find your way to me.” Qaitax thought a moment, “I’ve never before considered the satisfaction of a simple rhyme…”
Sylus nodded as a motion more of self-assurance than acknowledgment. “Alright then,” he whispered to no one but himself, “Alright…” he looked to Qaitax, “I’m doing this for myself and for my family. Not for you or any vague notion of a deal you might have for me. I want to be stronger, for them, but I refuse to do so if it means putting them in danger. I will do everything in my power to protect them even from you, should the need arise. I will not allow you to raise a tentacle against them, understand?”
Qaitax shifted its weight, “I have no intentions of harming your kin. It would be counter to my desire for freedom. If anything, I would want to help you protect them so that you may be more likely to consider my proposal.”
A heavy sigh of understanding blew through Sylus’ nostrils. Biting his lips, he brought the tendril to them. Opening his mouth slowly, he slid the tip inside. The flavour of petrichor danced on his tongue. Nostalgia for things he’d never known ached in his mind. Walking in the rain, being with someone he loved as a storm raged outside their home… Warm tea. A good book. Blankets and comfort. These things that had so long eluded him consumed him with the taste of the tendril. The fire of desire shot through his core. He wanted that life. All of it and more. Love. Joy. Hands holding hands. Why couldn’t he be happy? Why could he never enjoy such things? More. It was his for the taking. No longer would he whither in the face of false authority. No longer would he accept himself as less than anyone else. More! That life would be his. No one could stop him. MORE!
With a loud, echoing gulp, the last of the tendril was gone. Sylus stood still as a rail as he felt it settle within him. He remembered nothing of actually eating it, just the feeling of power and desire rushing through him. Now there was nothing but a strange heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach. His mind was empty; his energy was completely drained.
“That was… enlightening,” Qaitax muttered.
“Y-you saw all that?” Sylus struggled to catch his breath around his voice.
“I felt what you felt.”
“Ah,” Sylus swayed a bit. It wasn’t the first time he’d carried the weight of a foreign body inside of him, but this was just ever so slightly different than the last time. Something about it kept setting him off balance. Qaitax did nothing but smile.
“You will be alright, Sylus. Give it some time and everything will return to normal. Well,” Qaitax chuckled, “As normal as it can be after consuming the limb of a god.”
Sylus stifled a belch, “And how not-normal will that be?”
Qaitax thought a moment, “I honestly haven’t a clue. I suppose we’ll find out, now, won’t we?”
An unfamiliar grin crossed Sylus’ lips. Confidence, determination, agency, power, and control. All at once and all unstoppable.
“A word of advice, if you don’t mind,” Qaitax cautiously interrupted, “You are not all-powerful. You have but a fraction of my strength. It is enough to hopefully save you from harm, though I would urge you not to seek out an unwarranted fight. You are strong for a mortal, but you are still nothing compared to what lies within the Void and the realm of the man in yellow himself. Protect yourself. Defend your loved ones, but do not go searching for battle. You will not win.”
In an instant, all of the strength Sylus felt waned into a pit of dread.
“In time, however, you will stand a far greater chance, but that lies solely on the decisions you make going forwards. Your future is your own. You must take the steps necessary for change, but should you choose to actually take them, far more power awaits you.”
“Is that supposed to be a selling point for joining forces with you or something?” Sylus felt as if a drunken bravado had overtaken him. Fear and dread were short-lived as whatever effect the tendril had on his state of mind lingered no matter how dark his thoughts turned.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t.”
Sylus grinned uncontrollably. A deep, booming laugh bubbled up from inside of him. It wasn’t his laugh, not the one he was born with anyway, it was a laugh he’d long hoped would one day be his. Unfaltering and bold. Impossible to ignore.
“This is mine?” Sylus laughed, the entirety of his tone had changed, “This… This voice… This…” He looked down at himself. His hands and feet were ever so slightly larger than he remembered them being. He was also considerably heavier. Instantly he slapped his hands against the sides of his face. Eyes widened uncontrollably as his fingers ran through a field of evenly trimmed facial hair.
“I see…” Qaitax grinned, “Well well… You do know what you want, don’t you?”
“I-I’ve had a while to think about it,” Sylus stood upright in his newfound body. “Do… can… Is this…”
Qaitax sighed as he shrank back away from Sylus, “It is a dream, Sylus. I am sorry…”
Sylus deflated. This was worse than any nightmare he’d faced so far. Being given all that he could ever want… Feeling it in every ounce of his existence as more than just a desire, but as a reality… And now he’d wake up and it’d all be gone. He’d just be himself again. The self he despised so much.
“Though if it helps,” Qaitax continued, “It could be an omen of things to come, but that, my dear Sylus, is entirely. Up. To. You.“