He sat on the tattered couch staring out the window. The low light of the setting sun casting long shadows across the sweltering summer day. Fists clenched on his lap, heart racing in his chest… This was his last chance.
He turned to his son clinging to his arm.
“Are we gonna be okay?”
He bit his lip. If everything worked out, they’d be living new lives by tomorrow. But if they didn’t…
“Y-yeah, Dan. We’re gonna be okay. I promise.” He’d sooner die than let his son suffer any longer.
“What are we waiting for?” the boy’s timid voice continued to pierce the tension-filled silence.
“Our way out,” was all his father could reply.
He checked his pocket compulsively. In it was the only thing he needed. No clothes, no belongings, just his cell phone. As long as he had that, they’d be free.
A cab pulled up to the curb beside the old brownstone house. His heart lept into his chest. One of two things was about to occur. And, of course, the worst option came to light.
She and her brother stepped out of the car. His heart sank. It was all over now. If the cab dropping them off was the one he was supposed to get into, he’d never get another chance. When the cab drove away, his mind began to race. If another cab didn’t come, he had a backup plan. One that would save his son, but not himself. He didn’t care. It was all for Daniel anyway. He’d have given up on living years ago was it not for his beloved son.
Tears welled in his eyes as their voices could be heard walking toward the house.
“Goddammit…” he wept, “Why…”
His son clung tightly to his arm. “Are we still gonna be okay?”
“You will be,” he choked back his tears, “You’re going to be okay, Dan. I promise.”
“Not without you…”
The door burst open.
“Who let you out of your room?” the man, clearly drunk, staggered into the living room. “Izzy, you let this bitch out of her room?”
“No?” she closed the door behind them. She turned to find him sitting on the couch. “What the hell?!” she shrieked, “Sylus get the fuck back in your room! What if the neighbors saw your ugly face in the window!”
“Everyone’s already seen me on your blog… What difference would it make…”
“You’re a lot uglier in person,” she walked past, “No filters in the real world.”
Sylus’ fists clenched even tighter.
“Bitch, if you don’t go away, I’ll take you away and you won’t see that spawn of yours for days,” the man spat, “Maybe never again. You two are disgusting.”
“Now, now, Vinny,” Izzy returned, handing him a glass of water, “It’s only natural for a mother to be protective of her young. Even monkies care about their offspring.”
“It’s still disgusting. She, he, it is disgusting.”
“Yes, but he serves a purpose doesn’t he?”
Vinny grumbled as he finally left the room.
“Sylus,” Izzy sighed, “You know your place. Why are you here making a mess of everything? Vinny and I just had a nice day at the beach and were really looking forward to not seeing you tonight.”
Sylus opened his mouth to speak.
“Don’t. Please don’t. Just go back to your room. You can keep your boy with you for now, but once Vincent is sober, he’ll decide what needs to be done with you.”
Every muscle in his body tensed up. Fight or flight was kicking in. If he left this room, he’d never see his cab coming and even if he somehow did, he’d never make it out in time. Fleeing wasn’t an option. The way she stared at him as if he were an animal… how quickly she’d gone from a wistfully loving face to one of pure malice and hatred. He’d fallen for it. As much as he wanted to lunge for her and drag her to the ground like she’d done to him so many times, he resisted the urge. Vincent would easily subdue him and his night would get even worse. Hell, he knew damn well they’d take it out on Daniel, too. Fighting wasn’t an option. All Sylus could do was stand his ground. So there he sat, staring her down, not saying a word. He knew it was only a matter of time before she summoned her brother to physically remove him. His emaciated frame would barely put up a fight. But he had to stay here. He had to wait. It was only a bit longer… He was so close…
“Can I finish watching the sunset?” he asked weakly, more than prepared for her to yell at him.
“Through the buildings?” she scoffed, “Sylus just do what you’re told.”
He stared at her. His dead gaze sent shivers down her spine.
“Fine,” she spat, “But when I come back, you better be gone. This is my house and I don’t need you sullying it.”
With that, she wandered out of the room.
Sylus’ heart was racing.
“Dad?” Daniel whispered to him, “When’s the cab coming?”
“Soon, Daniel,” his voice shook, “Soon.”
Darkness slowly set on the city. Sylus’ heart sank. The cab had never come. It really was over.
“Dad?” Daniel was nearly in tears.
As he looked away to console his son, a honk came from the street. Turning fast enough to nearly give himself whiplash, Sylus found a cab waiting outside. This was it. It took all his strength to lift his son into his arms. Every ounce of energy he had left propelled him toward the door. Vincent arrived as he opened it.
“What the fuck?!”
Without a thought, Sylus ran outside, Vincent not far behind him. He threw the cab door open and thrust his son inside. As he tried to get in himself, an arm wrapped around his neck.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” He screamed into the night, “GET AWAY!”
He was so close now… Too close to give up. He kicked and screamed with far more strength than he thought he had.
“LET ME GO!” he clung to the cab door for his life.
As time slowed down, and everything seemed to be coming to an end, his eyes met his son’s wide with terror. It was all for him. If he couldn’t make it, at least his son could. He released the door with a hand and reached into his pocket. He tossed his phone into the car.
“GO DAN! GO! RUN!” with that he was torn from the door and dragged away from freedom.
Daniel screamed. The cab driver picked up his receiver.
“DAD! NO! DAAAAD!”
Sylus continued to fight even though he knew it was already over. All he could do now was refuse to go down easily.
He was flagging. He knew his struggle was coming to an end. If he didn’t get free soon, it’d truly all be over. He saw his son sobbing and screaming from the cab. He had to fight. One last chance. For Daniel.
Sylus went limp. Daniel screamed as Vincent began dragging him back inside. As he began making his way up the steps, Sylus put everything into one last act of resistance. He bucked, pushing Vincent back and cracking the back of his head against his assailant’s nose. It was enough for him to let go. Tripping down the stairs, Sylus barely managed to gain his balance long enough to get into the cab.
Slamming the door behind him, a hand came through the open window and wrapped around his face.
“Drive!” Sylus choked, “Please… Drive!”
“You’re not going anywhere you freak! Where do you think you can go?!”
“DRIVE!” Daniel screamed.
Slamming his foot on the gas, the driver pulled the cab away from the curb. Sylus struggled to close the window, but the cabby did it himself. Vincent was barely able to pull his hand away in time before it was trapped in the window.
He stood in the street screaming after them, but soon enough, his bellows were silenced by distance.
The cab remained silent for some time.
“I called the cops,” the driver spoke up.
Sylus stared silently at the back of the seat in front of him.
“Th-thanks…” Daniel replied.
“So…” the driver looked up in the rearview mirror, “I can’t just drive around all night. You two going somewhere?”
“LaGuardia.” Sylus choked.
“Ah.” was all the cab driver said in return.
Silence returned to the cab.
Slowly the emptiness withdrew from Sylus’ mind and the full brunt of his fears burst forth. He began sobbing. What if this wasn’t real? What if it was all a dream?
“Dad?” Daniel slid closer to his father, “It’s okay now, Dad. We’re gonna be okay.”
The boy wrapped his arms around his father’s, leaning gently against him.
“I should be the one telling you that…” he choked between sobs.
“Well… We should tell each other. That way we both know it’s true.”
Sylus couldn’t help but laugh, “That’s some big wisdom from a six-year-old.”
Daniel laughed, grinning up at his father’s tear-stained face.
“We never have to go back, right?”
Sylus’ mind raced over the millions of things that could still go wrong. Yet still, he knew, that he’d never let this opportunity go to waste. Even if things didn’t work out as planned, he’d never go back to that place. And he knew that no matter what, his son would be safe.
“Never, Dan. Never again.”
“Good,” his son sighed as he felt safe for the first time in his life.
The Synclaires were free and come hell or high water, they’d stay that way.
“Never again,” Sylus repeated to himself as he gazed out the window, watching the world fly by, “Never again.”
Sylus! Sylus! Come back! Please!
He slowly shook the grog from his mind.
DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES!
Sylus squeezed his eyes shut.
You’re back… Thank Father. We’re in the Void…
Y-yes Sylus… The Void. Remember? We and Saari.
Sylus slowly became aware of his arms wrapped around a slender frame. Saari was pressed against his chest, her staff between them. Her horns were pressed deeply into his stomach as she tried to obscure her sight.
You almost dropped her… I-I’m sorry… I thought we’d lost you… I took control for a moment, but we’ve gone adrift… We need you to focus…
On going home, Sylus. You’re the only one who can take us to earth…
The looming sense of being watched sent chills down Sylus’ spine. It was like a million little claws were tearing at the back of his mind. He could hear countless incomprehensible whispers egging him away from his goal.
The other Lords. They’re watching us. Waiting…
For you to falter.
Sylus scoffed, “Boy are they going to be disappointed.”
Beware their voices. They will try to weather your resolve. It is their domain to manipulate mortals.
“You’re one of them, aren’t you? Wouldn’t that mean it’s the same for you?”
Awake, are we? One voice rose above the rest.
Oh yes of course. Ignore us, the ones who know the ways of the Void and listen to Qatiax, the treacherous filth that he is.
“Shut up! All of you!” Sylus bellowed at the top of his lungs, “I just woke up and I really need to concentrate. Thanks.”
You are performing a fool’s errand…
“Didn’t I just say to shut up?”
We offer you mercy. Your obstinance means nothing. Do not follow the will of the traitor. Qaitax will deceive you, just as he deceived us.
“Leave me alone.”
He wants you to go to your world so he can destroy it. Just as he did that wretched ball of death you just left.
“I’ll take my chances, thanks.”
Sylus forced the thought of his son to the front of his mind. Home. He had to get home.
Oh yes, family is it? You mortals and your quaint relationships. I suppose Qaitax has lied to you about them as well?
He hasn’t said a word, has he? Letting you believe a lie so he can meet his own ends. How very much like the wretch.
“You can shut up any time now.”
Your family is dead, Sylus.
In the moment it took him to process the words, his mind shut down. “W-what?”
You already know about our dear brother Haurex, yes?
Thoughts of home faded from his mind. Once more, they were set adrift aimlessly in the endless expanse.
He took care of them. For your foolishness, they lost everything. You have nothing to go back to, dear Sylus. Accepting our will is in everyone’s best interest. We may finally eradicate the vile filth that is Qaitax and you may be laid peacefully to rest.
Hopelessness quickly clouded Sylus’ mind. Devoid of purpose and a will to survive, he could feel his mind slipping away. A million thoughts of regret and anger tore him away from himself. All he’d done, he’d done for them. It wasn’t just about the body, it was about being able to protect them. That was all he wanted. But… That was all gone now…
Your family is alive, Sylus. You know that. They’re far too ingenious to die by Haurex’s chaotic fury. Believe that, Sylus. Believe in their will to live.
“How would you even know?” he spat, “What do you even know about anything?”
I know that they are smart enough to evade Haurex’s chaotic fury. I know, through you, that they are far too ingenious to fall prey to his madness. You know this to be true, Sylus. Believe it with all your heart. Believe in their will to live.
SILENCE! Qaitax knows nothing but lies. And he will lie until they become truth. Clouding reality and using you to bring about your world’s end. You can spare your entire species a gruesome fate by accepting us and our will into your mind.
“I-I have to let you in?”
All it takes is a single word. Do you accept the will of the Void?
“So you’re gods…” the numbness quickly lifted, “But you need my permission to take control of my body?”
“Look. I’ll take my chances at home. If Haurex did kill my family, then I feel it’s only fair I kill him in return.”
You could never win against the Herald.
“Well, if it’s dying here or dying there, I’d rather die there where I can at least try to stand for something.”
Right here, right now. Tell me the truth. Is anything they’re saying true? Sylus forced his own thoughts into the arena.
I-I cannot speak for my past, but I have always made my current intentions clear to you. I only wish to be free.
What about my family? What do you know about them?
Only what I saw through you. I have no way of knowing if they’re alive or dead. I merely hope for the outcome that benefits us both the most.
Silence, Qaitax. Your betters are speaking.
Practical, if not a bit cold, but that’s the nature of hope I suppose…
Accept the will of the Void and let your suffering be done with! Answer us mortal!
Sylus, I know you have every reason to question my intentions and I will understand if you choose to sever our ties, but please… For Saari. She does not deserve to languish in this wretched place. We can settle whatever animosity we share when we reach your world.
ACCEPT OUR WILL!
Please, Sylus… I beg of you…
“You know,” Sylus chuckled, “It’s a trip and a half to be at the center of a pair of feuding gods. Little old me who’s been tossed aside and thrown away time and time again and now all you eldritch horrors want a piece of me,” his opened his eyes, “Do your worst.”
Before him loomed a fleshy sphere surrounded by jagged spider-like legs. An oblong protrusion crossed the center of the body. It wasn’t a moment before it burst into blue light. A small, faded circle slid across its length to look Sylus dead in the eye.
She sees you…
A loud cacophony of roars filled his ears. It was nearly deafening. The beings legs began converging on him.
You will not leave until you succumb to our will. Qaitax is ours. You are ours. Do as I command. Accept our will. Obey us. Obey. Obey. Obey…
A wholly different voice boomed through his mind. It was loud and reverberated as though an infinite number of voices spoke at once. A pink film coated the eye of the creature before him.
OBEY ME, WRETCHED CHILD.
Obey. Obey. Obey. Obey…
SURRENDER YOURSELF FOR JUDGEMENT UNDER THE PURITY OF THE VOID.
Surrender. Surrender. Surrender…
QAITAX MUST BE DESTROYED.
TRAITOR! MURDERER! DESTROYER! ABERRATION! MONSTER!
He killed her… he killed her… he killed her…
YOU MUST PAY FOR YOUR SINS!
She is gone…
BEND TO MY WILL AND SUFFER.
Suffer. Suffer. Suffer. Suffer…
Sylus could feel the thoughts tearing at his consciousness. No longer was the pain a subtle gnaw, but it had become a sensation of claws latching into his mind, pulling him away from himself.
Sylus… Your son… He needs you… Please… Sylus… My daughter… She needs you too… Please…
SUCCUMB TO THE VOID’S WRATH.
Succumb. Succumb. Succumb…
“Daniel…” he breathed in the putrid substance that surrounded him, “Daniel…”
He is dead! Your family is dead! Succumb to the will of the Void! Succumb to us! We are your eternity!
Do not blindly accept their words. Seek the truth for yourself.
And you swear, Qaitax, that you don’t know anything either way?
“Good.” he tightened his grip on Saari, “Hold on tight, I’m going for it.”
“P-please… hurry… They’re… They’re in my head…” She could barely speak.
Closing his eyes, Sylus thought a single thought. The only thought that mattered. He amplified and grew it into the only thought his mind could handle. The voices were drowned out by the smiling face of his son. They fought as hard as they could, but they were no match. The thought was unconquerable. They could do nothing but watch as the mortal and their quarry vanished from their sight.
Sylus landed on the ground with an unceremonious thud. Saari was quick to squirm out from beneath him, though as soon as she stood up, she was met with a nightmarish sight. Sylus slowly collected himself. As he barely managed to stand up, his gaze met that which struck fear into the archon’s heart.
A nest of woven yellow tendrils laid before them. They writhed amongst themselves sliding through every weave. Slithering together holding up their prideful owner. Atop the tendril mass he sat. Staring down at them with perfectly round eyes glowing like headlights in the night.
“I have been waiting.”
A familiar chill shot through Sylus’ core. “H-Haurex? A-all this time, huh?”
The Lord’s inhuman gaze narrowed upon him.
“What you’ve got nothing better to do?” Sylus forced a laugh.
“Slaughtering the traitor takes priority. Know that I may be disappointed in you, Sylus, but it is Qaitax who is the target of my rage.”
Sylus glared at him.
“It is not too late for you, dear Sylus. I can yet divide the traitor from the mortal. You are not yet fully fused and as such, I can exact my duties upon the one deserving of my ire. You need not suffer, Sylus.”
Sylus’ mind raced. He could feel so many thoughts rattle through his mind, some of which weren’t even his. Qaitax was flustered. They were both weighing their options.
I should be dead, Qai.
The racing of thoughts stopped.
Hell, you almost killed me.
“Answer me, Sylus. My patience is growing thin.”
Sylus raised a hand, “You’ve waited this long, you can relax a few more minutes.”
Haurex’s stare narrowed even more.
Can you still talk to Saari telepathically?
I-I do not know… Let me… Yes. Yes I can. She is afraid.
Tell her that on my count I’m going to throw her over the side of the Riftworks. She’s to run toward the big building on the hill. If anyone is still here, that’s where they’ll be. Tell her to tell them I sent her.
Saari glared at him.
She is refusing to leave.
I didn’t drag her all the way here for her to die like this.
I agree, but she is insisting on helping us fight.
Fight? Sylus eyed Haurex up and down. He was a majestically horrifying sight to behold. It was all Sylus needed to see for him to know he was hopelessly outmatched. We’re going to die here, Qai.
I’d really rather not…
You think I do?
“YOUR ANSWER, dear Sylus.”
“I-I don’t know… I really don’t. At this point, I have no idea who I can and can’t trust. But I will tell you one thing. You’ve lied to me before so what’s stopping you from lying to me now?”
Haurex sneered at him. “And Qaitax hasn’t?”
“I haven’t caught him yet.”
Haurex laughed as he lowered himself to the ground, “Need you wait until you do?”
Sylus shrugged, “I know it’s not much to go on, but it’s all I have. Maybe Qaitax is some monster deserving of death or whatever…”
“But I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I’d really like to go home and see my family.”
“Home?” Haurex chuckled, “There is nothing left of your home and no one left to wait for you. I was certain my siblings would have made that clear.”
Sylus’ heart skipped a beat.
“One last chance, Sylus. I can still tear you two apart. You need only ask it of me. I truly do not wish to harm you.”
“W-well… I-if they’re really gone… Then what do I have left to lose?”
With a shrill shriek, Haurex lunged for him, tendrils on full display. Saari barely managed to dodge his attack, but Sylus wasn’t so lucky.
“You chose a poor body for combat, Sylus. Surely you knew this was inevitable?”
Bucking with all his strength, Sylus managed to stagger Haurex back.
“Looks can be deceiving, Haurex,” he couldn’t help but give him a haughty grin.
Haurex chuckled, “Even so. Of all the Lords of the Void you possess the weakest. Qaitax would never stand a chance, and you certainly don’t.”
Before the Voidlord could make his next move, Sylus charged headlong into him, barely pushing him back. A pained shriek came from the xanthous Lord’s lips. A tendril whipped behind him, lifting Saari up by the neck. Her staff still held tightly in her hand.
“Ah. An Archon. I’ve not seen one of these in quite some time,” he shoved Sylus away with a simple tap to his chest. “Is this what you’ve been up to all this time, Qaitax? Mating with mortals?” He snorted as he eyed Saari, “How utterly disgusting and yet,” he turned to Sylus as he struggled to stand up, “How very much like you.”
Saari gasped for air as the tendril tightened around her neck.
“This must upset you, little Qaitax. Your child is going to die. So needlessly. All because you refuse to pay for your crimes.”
“SAARI!” Sylus shot toward Haurex once more, but it was no use. A tendril slammed against his head sending him sprawling to the ground.
“Just sit back and watch, dear Sylus. Watch as I destroy the only thing that keeps that monster in your head sane.”
“I’m trying…” Sylus’ mind raced as he tried to make a quick evaluation of the situation. He knew he couldn’t get close, but what could he possibly do at range? He felt the crackling of energy on his fingertips.
It’s all I have…
With a determined nod, Sylus stood up. Haurex watched with a sadistic grin.
“Trying again, are we? How very noble and yet so pathetic.”
A violet light burst into his eyes. Mustering every ounce of strength he could, Sylus thrust his arms forwards casting a long, crackling bolt of energy from his fingertips. First, he hit Haurex in the chest. As he staggered, Sylus struggled to turn his energy on the tendril that held Saari. He had little control over the trajectory of his power, but through all the flailing, he finally managed to sever the tentacle that was wrapped around Saari’s neck. Before Haurex could regain his balance, Sylus managed to dart over to Saari. Lifting her into his arms, he threw her onto the roof of the Riftworks outer ring.
“GO! If they’re alive they’ll be there!”
With a terrified nod, she slid down the far side of the building.
The moment of triumph was fleeting as a tendril slammed into the side of Sylus’ head staggering him rather than sending him to the ground.
“Adorable party trick,” Haurex wiped away a trickle of yellow substance from his clothing, “I liked that tendril. What a shame. And all you’ve done is delay the inevitable. All that for nothing.”
With another hawk-ish shriek, Haurex was on top of them. Tendrils slammed into Sylus’ body. The round eyes of a mad Lord stared at him with unblinking glee.
“I will finally earn my place!” he cackled as he forced a tendril down Sylus’ throat, “A god among gods! A hero to my kin! Death to Qaitax!”
Sylus bit down as hard as he could. His jagged teeth ground against the smooth appendage. Either Haurex didn’t notice, or he didn’t care as his limb was severed. Through all the impacts on his body, Sylus managed to swallow the tendril. Haurex paused a moment, clearly repulsed.
“Still carrying the title of devourer I see. Grotesque enough to consume your own kin. You truly deserve the slowest death possible, but I haven’t the time to linger.”
In that brief reprieve, Sylus found a bit of strength.
“Y-you seem to be confusing us,” he laughed smugly, though he remained firmly pinned to the ground, “Qaitax isn’t here right now. I am.” With another jolt of energy, Sylus was once more able to force Haruex away.
Yellow blood shot out like ribbons from the wounded tendrils as they flailed around Haurex’s writhing form. Clearly, he’d done more damage this time.
“Y-You really need to stop underestimating me,” Sylus laughed as he wiped his own violet blood from his lips, “Obviously I’m not as easy of a target as you’d like me to be.”
Regaining his composure, Haruex turned his headlight stare on Sylus.
“Perhaps you yourself are formidable, but the wretch you share that body with… I ask you. One last time. Allow me to save you from the disgrace that is Qaitax. You could be so much more without him. I could help you learn your way around the Void and its magics. I could offer you so much more than he ever could.”
Sylus could feel the severed tendril writhing wildly within him.
“You cannot contain me, Sylus. Even the smallest bit of my flesh can tear you apart. But…” Haurex’s sinister grin returned, “If you like it, I’ll let you keep it only if you let me tear Qaitax from your flesh.”
The writhing made Sylus queasy. For a moment, he thought he was going to collapse. But it didn’t last. He stood upright, head turned upwards, hand clutching the shirt over his stomach. With a groan, he forced the pain aside. Turning back to Haurex, he gave a wicked grin of his own.
“That was nothing. You ever had morning sickness for four months straight?” Sylus thrust his tendrils toward Haurex, lacing them with violet lightning. Haurex was once more pushed back. “What about a living thing kicking your insides?” A tendril slammed into Haurex’s head. “Been there,” Sylus kindled more energy on his fingertips, “Done that.”
A blast of violet energy cast a blinding light over the area. Like a nuclear blast, it could be seen for miles. What it left behind… anyone could guess.