Hydroponics was a sight to behold. Glimmering crystal lamps dotted the walls and ceiling. Even in the violet tint of the mist, they glowed like distant stars across the vaulting cavern. They twinkled as the energy in them ebbed and flowed. A main walkway made its way between several buildings Saari referred to as grow-houses. The sound of water trickling through the stone and into the Q’taxian-made irrigation system was eerily comforting.
“The ocean,” Saari remarked, “Or what little remains of it.” She held her hand out to catch some of the water dripping from above. “There was once a very large artificial fall over there,” she pointed far into the darkness, “It was caught in a reservoir and de-salinated, and distributed to the grow-houses.” With a wave of her hand, she gestured to the ruined buildings. “It was once such a glorious place. Far more exemplary of Q’taxian ingenuity, unity, and strength than the Temple ever was.” A deeply pained sigh brought a pause to her words. “Yet here it lies in ruins while the Temple remains a hub of Q’taxian culture even after death…”
“You hung all these lights?” Sylus pointed up at the ceiling. Even with the glistening of the lights, it seemed impossibly far away.
Saari nodded, “I did. I wanted to be able to see this place clearly so I’d never forget the pinnacle of our civilization and everything it could have been…”
“Saari, you guys had controlled water intake? Why didn’t you use it for power?” Sylus turned to her, bewildered.
Saari was silent, gripping her staff tightly. Her lips slowly twitching into a frown.
“Y-Yulia…” she breathed.
“Yulia?” Sylus questioned as he swiftly prepared himself some tea.
“Yes… Many… Many lifetimes ago, there was a glass who ran hydroponics. She was the first and only glass to do so, as it is considered an ash’s job. A-anyway… I was sent to measure her ability and, well, we… We became friends. In all of my existence, she was my one and only friend,” Saari looked around the vaulting chamber. It had once been a bustling place full of people and the hum of machinery. “She perished, of course, as all mortals do, but for the short time we were together, I… I was truly happy…”
Sylus felt a cold chill come from this place. Echos and whispers of the past pulled at his consciousness. He fervently sipped his tea in reply.
“Yulia was a kind soul. The kindest soul I had ever known beyond Lord Qaitax. He… He encouraged our friendship,” a small smile crossed her lips, “I… I kept trying to hide behind my service to him in an attempt to push Yulia away, but… That never worked.”
Sylus felt the energy that once coursed through this place. For a brief moment, it was as though it was alive again, but it faded into the cold dark emptiness it had become. It was beyond haunting. Hydroponics reached back into the darkness further than he could see. It was as though it went on forever.
“Why did Qaitax send us here?” he muttered, “This place… It’s impressive, but it’s also…”
He slowly nodded his head.
“I do not know, but perhaps he wanted you to see that there was once a progressive side of Q’taxia. A side not content with eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a dying god. But…” her voice shook, “It was easier to stay the abhorrent course we’d been on for generations than make the changes that would support our future. Lord Qaitax was never eternal. The day we bound him with mortal bone was the day he lost the purity of his godhood. Those who needed to know that, knew it, yet they kept it from everyone else. Gods cannot die, can they?”
“You have not yet seen Qaitax’s true self,” Saari could barely speak around the lump in her throat, “He wears a facade at all times so that none may look upon his mangled corpse. But I have seen it. I have seen it countless times and it has never gotten any easier…”
“I believe the time has come,” she quickly snapped out of her daze, “for you to carry out what you came here to do.”
“A-are you sure?”
“Am I sure? I am never sure or certain of anything.”
“What about what Yulia said? About…”
“Sylus,” she was quick to silence him, “Even if you were to choose to abandon me, I have lived countless lifetimes. I have no need to live another. Especially without the purpose my Lord has granted me.”
“He really cares about you…”
“I-I know he does,” her voice was shaking once more, “I know the truth and sincerity of his words. He was never one to be vague or cryptic. Not intentionally, at least. His dreams and subconscious are something else entirely, but I dare not tread on those realms ever again.”
“Do you really trust me, Saari?”
“What must I trust you to do? I never asked anything of you. We never entered into any agreement. What trust is there between us?”
“Then let us strike an accord,” Sylus put his hand out to her, “If I survive this mess and Qaitax and I come out whole, I promise to make sure you’ll live the rest of your days comfortably on earth. Regardless of how many or how few they are.”
Saari stared at the shadow of his outstretched arm. It wavered and fluctuated like smoke clouding her vision.
“But why? What do you have to gain from helping me?”
“An ally, maybe a friend someday. Someone who knows what’s going on…”
“But Lord Qaitax…”
“All that and I know how it feels to desperately want to protect the people that matter most to you,” his own voice had finally begun to break, “Th-that’s why… I’m so willing to do this… Knowing…” he cleared his throat, “Knowing there’s a distinct chance it won’t work out.”
Saari stared at his open hand.
“This is kind of a do or die moment. Either we do this, or we all die. You, me, Qaitax. We all die if we don’t at least try. Let me try, Saari. And let me give you a reason to trust that I, we, won’t just throw you away.”
Saari stared a moment longer.
“We have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, Saari. All of us. We won’t leave you. I promise.”
She turned her gaze to his. For a moment, it was as though their sights had truly met. They saw each other very differently, but in that moment, they were looking directly at and into each other. She could sense his honest, yet urgent intentions. Saari knew that were circumstances any different, she would never in a million years trust a mortal. Not after all she’d suffered at mortal hands. She resolved within herself to never be dependent on him. She resolved within herself that she would take his help until she could stand on her own two feet. She resolved within herself…
“I will not serve you.”
And Sylus laughed, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Saari’s four long, slender fingers wrapped around Sylus’ open hand.
“Then we have an accord, Sylus Synclaire.”