As they sat in the dim light of the bunker, quietly eating from their cans of beans, Saari bolted upright. Taking her staff into her hand, she moved to leave the shelter.
“Hey! Where the hell do you think you’re going?!” Jeron stood up grabbing her arm to stop her.
“My Lord. He is alive. He needs help. I must go to him.”
Jeron turned to Daniel who was immediately on his feet.
“Then we’re going with you.”
With a nod, Saari lead them outside.
“I cannot see your world very well, but he is somewhere in that direction.” She pointed to the other side of town.
“H-he went home?” Daniel looked up to Jeron, “W-why would he do that?! We’re right here?!”
Jeron sighed, “That’s exactly something your damn father would do. Wandering off rather than asking for help.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, “Can you tell if he’s on the move?”
Saari shook her head, “He is still. I cannot reach out to him for he has gone silent, but he is out there.”
Jeron shook his head, “Alright. We know where we’re going. Let me get some stuff and we can head over.”
Jeron went inside to retrieve some supplies while Daniel and Saari lingered.
“Is he okay?” Daniel asked timidly.
“I cannot tell,” Saari sighed, “I must sound so useless… I am not used to being this impaired. I am sorry…”
“That’s okay,” Daniel looked up to her, “At least you found him.”
“I am grateful for that as well,” she smiled at the boy.
“So how old are you?”
“Dan,” Jeron reappeared with a canvass bag and his rifle, “It’s never polite to ask a lady her age.”
“It is okay. I am nearly fifty thousand Q’taxian years old. My anniversary would have been a few cycles away,” she clutched her staff tightly.
“Fifty… Thousand?” Daniel replied incredulously, “Really?”
“Wow… You look like you’re in your twenties or something… Do Q’taxians age differently?”
“I did not age after I became Qatiax’s ward.”
“Alright, hate to interrupt this moment of bonding, but we have a tentacle monster to save. At least that’s what I’m assuming we’re going to find.” Jeron tossed the sack and his gun into the back of his truck. Nine jumped in after.
“No,” Jeron spat, “You stay here.”
“But Jeron… He can help, right Nine?”
The spawn sat on his haunches wagging its stunted tail with glee.
“See? He’s happy Dad’s back. He has to come with us!”
Jeron glared at the beast, “Just don’t get in the way.”
Saari approached the vehicle not knowing what to do. Daniel opened a door for her.
“Can you see how to get in?”
“I-it is unclear but…” she stepped up on the sideboard. She cried out in pain as she scraped the top of her horns on the door frame.
“Are you okay?!” Daniel tried to help guide her into the back seat.
“I-I am fine…” her voice shook as she sat down.
“Dan.” Jeron interrupted, “We have to get moving.”
“Your guardian is correct. We must move quickly.”
Daniel sighed before getting into his side of the truck, “Okay…”
Pulling up to the Synclaire house, they found the door ajar.
“I have a really bad feeling about this…” Jeron muttered as he put the vehicle in park.
They all stared a moment longer at the open door leading into the darkness of what had once been a happy home.
“Look, I don’t know what we’re gonna find in there,” Jeron had to break the silence, “So it might be best if you wait out here, Dan.”
“What?! No! I wanna see Dad!” Daniel slid out of the back of the cab. “And you can’t stop me!” He ran for the door before stopping suddenly.
Jeron and Saari exchanged glances before exiting themselves.
“Dan?” Jeron asked gently. “Whatever it is, step away.”
The boy was staring vacantly at the floor.
“Dan?” Jeron retrieved his things from the truck. Slinging the rifle over his shoulder, he retrieved a flashlight from the bag. “Dan? Step away.”
Saari stood beside the boy staring at whatever he was.
“Guys?” Jeron slowly approached, flashlight switched on.
Once he stepped beside them, he saw exactly what had stopped them in their tracks.
A sizable tendril laid severed on the floor surrounded by a pool of some kind of liquid.
“D-Dad…?” Daniel could barely think.
“Get back in the truck, Dan,” Jeron pushed the boy back.
“NO! If… If Dad’s… If he’s dying… I-I want to see him.”
“NO! I’ve been waiting two years to see my father again and I will NOT wait anymore!”
The boy stormed into the house.
“DAD?!” he yelled into the darkness. “DAD?!” he called but no reply came.
“Dan…” Jeron slowly followed him inside stepping over the appendage lying on the floor. “Dan, stop.”
“DANIEL SYNCLAIRE STOP THIS!” Jeron bellowed at the top of his lungs, “We don’t know what’s in here and we certainly don’t know if it’s safe. Use your damn head, boy. You can’t just go running into dark places like this. Who knows what kind of spawns could be lurking in here… You know better than that.”
Daniel stood stiff as a rod looking up the hallway. “There’s a light on.” He muttered slowly.
“Okay,” Jeron slowly approached him. “Stay back with Saari. I’ll take a look.”
“I-if it’s Dad, you’ll tell me, right?”
Jeron nodded, “I promise.”
Daniel stepped away from the hall and sat on the dusty couch. Saari joined him.
“Alright. You two wait here. I’ll let you know what I find.”
Nine tried to follow him, but he motioned for the spawn to stay. He did as he was told.
Jeron lowered his rifle while keeping the flashlight pointed ahead. Each of the two stair steps it took to enter the hall were agonizing. A million things could be waiting for him, but he dreaded one of them the most. His mind raced into silence as he approached the bathroom door. It was mostly closed allowing only a sliver of light to shine on the wall across the hall. Taking a deep breath, Jeron pushed the door open.
“Oh my fucking god!” He screamed as he dropped everything he was holding.
“Dad?!” Daniel jumped to his feet.
“Daniel, stay there,” Jeron leaned out of the bathroom, “Saari, come here. Now.”
Saari did as she was told.
Jeron pointed into the bathroom with the barrel of his gun. “Is that him?”
A man sat slumped over on the toilet. Tendrils hung limply down his back, caressing him like a morbid blanket. A violet liquid had stained almost the entirety of the floor. One hand was resting across his lap, weakly holding back a bulging pile of what Jeron could only assume was intestines. The other hand hung limply at his side. In it, he held a sloppily threaded needle. Head resting on his chest, eyes open but devoid of life. The body sat completely still as if it was already too late.
Saari stared in silence.
“Well?!” Jeron barked, “Is it?!”
“Yes.” Saari’s voice cracked over the single syllable. “That is him.”
“Is he alive?!” Jeron choked.
“Beings of the void do not live as mortals do…”
“You know what I fucking mean!” Jeron snapped at her.
Choking back her own tears, Saari barely mustered a coherent reply. “I sense no consciousness within him.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jeron finally stepped into the room. He knelt down on the blood-stained floor. “S-Sy?” No response came. “Sylus?” Jeron took him by the shoulders and pushed him upright. Dead eyes now stared directly into his. Completely violet with no sighs of whites or pupils. Vacant of any sign of normalcy or life. “Sy?” Jeron shook him gently. The hand that held his entrails in slipped and a pile of tendrils fell to the floor. “Oh god…” Jeron choked at the squelching sound and stench of recently decaying flesh. “Oh god… H-he’s…”
“DAD?!” Daniel stood in the doorway.
“Go away, Dan!” Jeron screamed at him, pointing his bloody hand at the boy. “Go away!”
“Dad… No!” He burst into the room. “Dad?! Dad… I-it’s me… It’s Dan. Your son. I’m here… Please wake up…”
A lifeless head rolling on bloodied shoulders.
“Dan…” Jerons stood up to give the boy some room.
“Dad?” Daniel could barely fight back the tears, “Dad… We… We’re sill here. Like we promised. We’re still here… Please come back…” A sigh passed through pallid lips as the body sagged a bit in its place. “DAD?!”
“Dan…” Jeron pulled him away, “He’s dead, Dan.”
“N-no… H-he can’t… He can’t be… Not… Not after all this time… Not…” the boy burst into tears, “Not like this…”
“Dan…” Jeron lifted the boy into a hug. “Daniel… At least we know what happened… Think of it that way. He died fighting off Henley.” He brushed the boy’s hair out of his eyes, “We knew he wouldn’t stand a chance, Dan. We knew that…”‘
“Why did he come here, Jeron?” Daniel sniffed, “Why didn’t he come to us? He knew where we were. We could have helped! He didn’t have to die like this! Why didn’t he come to us! WHY?!”
“Oh, Dan,” Jeron pressed the boy’s head against his shoulder, “That’s just how your father was. He was always this way. Rather suffer than ask for help…”
“But we needed him… I needed him! How didn’t he know that? Why?!” Daniel slammed his fists into Jeron’s chest, “Why didn’t he come to us? He needed us and we needed him. Why didn’t he come to us?! WHY!?”
“HE DIDN’T HAVE TO DIE LIKE THIS!” The floodgates were opened. Daniel Synclaire was sobbing uncontrollably.
“Oh god, Daniel.” Jeron held him tightly.
As he opened his eyes from fighting back his own tears, Jeron saw movement. His lips… Sylus’ pale lips were moving. He squeezed Daniel before walking him back out to the couch. Laying the sobbing boy down, he turned to Saari.
“Keep an eye on him,” he lowered his voice, “I think he’s still alive.”
Saari nodded as she sat on the floor beside the couch.
Jeron went back into the bathroom where he found Sylus’ vacant stare turned directly towards him.
“S-Sy?” he slowly closed the door behind him.
Lips grey with death moved as though the carried words yet no sound came.
“I-if you can hear me, Sy, i-it’s me. I-it’s Jeron. I-I’m here. D-Dan’s h-here too. S-so i-is Saari. Everyone is here…”
His head slowly rolled off to one side.
“Sylus…” Jeron approached the corpse, “Hey…” he put his hands on either side of his lifeless face. It wasn’t quite cold, but it was definitely clammy. A sickly warmth mixed with the cooling of death. Unless that was how something of the void was supposed to feel… “Hey…” Jeron held his head so he could look into his empty eyes, “Sylus… O-or… Or Q-Qaitax… I-if either of you a-are in there… P-please… Give me a sign…”
The lips began moving again.
“Say something…” Jeron hissed, “Please…”
Sylus’ eyes closed. Jeron felt as the clamminess became cold. It was almost instantaneous. Still he stared at the closed eyes hoping for something. Anything. As he slowly came to terms with the idea of Sylus actually being dead, he let out a quiet sob. Resting his forehead against the corpse’s he wept. He wept for a million reasons. More than he’d like to think about. There were so many reasons for this moment to be his breaking point. He pressed his head harder against Sylus’. His grip on his face tightening.
“Come back, Sy…” he wept as quietly as he could.
Air moved across his lips. Opening his eyes, he found himself looking once more into Sylus’ dead stare. But this time a small fleck of light wandered across their violet surface.
“Sy!” Jeron pulled his head away while his hands remained firmly planted on either side of Sylus’ head. “Y-your…”
“No…” he breathed the word as a tear fell down his blood-stained cheeks. “No…”
He began to shake his head, “It wasn’t…” he gasped for air, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way…”
“But it is. We’ll fix this. I promise.”
“Oh… oh god…” A gush of blood burst from his mouth onto Jeron’s shirt. His eyes slid shut once more.
“I was supposed to save the day. Come back the hero,” his words droned on devoid of any inflection, “I was supposed to…” his eyes opened as his gaze wandered away, “to…”
Suddenly a brilliant light shot from his eyes.
“Help.” his voice was different now. “Help us. Help us. Please. Help.” It was stronger with more energy than the breathless whispers he’d been making before.
“I am Qaitax. We are dying. Please help us.”
Jeron released Sylus’ face and leaned away.
“I mean you no harm. Please. Please help us… He will not let me speak for long. He would rather die than ask for your help. We need help. Please help us.”
“Q-Qaitax?” Jeron stammered.
“I would have preferred to have made my introduction under less volatile circumstances, but alas,” he winced, “We do not all get our way.”
Part of Jeron wanted to be mad at the creature who’d taken Sylus’ place, but now wasn’t the time to fight over something he didn’t understand. “C-can you even be helped? I-is there anything…? What can I do?”
Qaitax groaned as he began pushing the fallen tendrils back into his body, “I do not know.”
“How long do we have to find out?”
“If I can keep Sylus at bay, a few hours perhaps? But if I cannot… He will expedite our demise.”
Jeron shook his head, “Why? Doesn’t he want to live? How could he want to die so willingly? I-I don’t get it…”
“It is not so much a willingness as a misunderstanding. He does not know this body. He does not know how his fears and worries affect it. He does not understand how deeply his feelings are tied to us. He will wear us down. I can remain calm. He cannot. He is already screaming at me for speaking to you. He didn’t have the strength to say what must be said, so I said it for both of us. I am sorry.”
Jeron leaned into the wall behind him, “Can you tell him something?”
“He can hear you.”
“Then tell him to shut up and listen to me.”
“He is silent.”
Jeron leaned toward him. “Sylus Synclaire, you’re a bastard and a half. Stubborn idiot. Always have been. But let me tell you something. You didn’t come all this way and we didn’t wait all this time for you to fucking die on the toilet. You dumb fuck. You assinine buffoon. How dare you. How fucking dare you think so little of yourself that you run off to die like some wounded animal. We fucking need you, Sylus. We need you. How dare you…”
“He wishes to speak.”
Jeron threw his hands in the air. “Let him if he won’t kill himself.”
The light in his eyes went out.
“J-Jeron?” the breathless voice had returned.
“I-I’m so sorry… I-it wasn’t…”
“But it is. It is what it is. And I won’t lie, I’m a little pissed you didn’t come to us.”
Tears streamed down his face.
“But I’m glad we have a chance to help you now. Maybe you’ll finally get it into that thick skull of yours that we care.”
“Now. If you can’t control yourself, I’m going to leave Qaitax in charge.”
“I-it’s probably best he stays upfront anyway…” he looked down at the tendrils hanging out of his stomach. “He doesn’t feel the pain.”
“He can be calm because he doesn’t feel the pain… I…” he squeezed the tendrils, “I feel it. I feel it Jeron… I feel my innards falling out… I can feel them lying on the floor…” he took a sharp breath, “I feel my flesh torn open, a gaping wound in my gut. Jeron… Please… Please forgive me… I’m… I’m so…” his head hung limply against his chest.
The violet light returned.
“I am sorry. I had to silence him. Our body was going into shock.”
Jeron glared warily at Qaitax.
“But he is correct. I cannot feel pain. I feel discomfort, but no pain.”
“Then I’m leaving you in charge. Hear me Sylus? Don’t fight him!”
“He begrudgingly agrees.”
“Good. Now. The both of you. Stay put. I’m running for supplies. It’ll be a bit. Think you can make it an hour or two?”
Qaitax nodded, “Sylus is calm now. He is coming to terms with the error in his actions. He has much to meditate on. We will be okay for a while longer, but not forever. Time may still get the better of us.”
“Not if I speed down 86,” Jeron threw open the bathroom door, “Daniel Synclaire, we have a mission.”
Daniel jumped to his feet.
“Your father is clinging to life and we have to go get the supplies to help him.”
“W-what about the first aid kit?”
“Dan, some bandaids and a roll of gauze won’t fix that mess.”
Saari stood up, “How may I be of assistance?”
“You stay here with the dog and keep an eye on him. I’m half expecting Sylus to attempt to make a run for it. Subdue him if you have to.”
“Let’s go, Dan. Even if we peed the whole way, town is still an hour away…”
The old blue truck rattled down the empty roads faster than it should have been able to go. Though the sound of the pannels vibrating filled the cab with constant ambient noise, not a word was spoken between its occupants.
It had been a long time since either of them had been to town. Since Sylus left, they remained very close to the Diner. For better or worse, it was there that they held their ground. Jeron knew they should have left. In fact, he’d tried to move them more than once, but Daniel would have none of it. They promised to wait. No matter how many times he reminded the boy of the danger they were in, he didn’t care. They had to stay.
Once they entered populated roads, the truck was forced into a painful series of stop and go streets. Every time they had to stop, Jeron clenched the wheel tighter and tighter. Daniel kept checking to see if a vein was popping out of his neck yet. He stared out the windshield, eyes wide like a man possessed. Daniel was only a little concerned as he knew how intense Jeron could get in difficult situations though he wished the man would at least speak up and let his thoughts be known. The silence was terrible.
When they finally arrived at the local drug store, they ran inside and made for the first aid aisle. Daniel glanced up at the surveillance recording as they entered. For some reason, they looked like purple blobs. An error in the recording, he laughed to himself. As they hurried through the building, briskly walked away from them. Everyone except one woman who stared at them intensely. Her eyes were wide with a mixture of fear and excitement. Daniel made brief eye contact with her before quickly looking away.
“Goddammit…” Jeron stared at the selection of supplies, “None of these are gonna be enough… Why the hell did he have to be so fucking big…”
“I bet we could tape a bunch of these really thick ones together… That might work…” Daniel held a package in his hands.
“Excuse me,” Jeron called to a passing employee, “This is everything you have, right? Nothing bigger?”
The employee stared at him, eyes wide with horror before darting away.
“Wow. Rude… You’d think I had two heads the way he looked at me…”
“Two heads, no, but that glow isn’t exactly normal.”
Jeron turned to find a young bespectacled woman wearing a brilliant yellow hijab standing beside him.
“You’re from ground zero? Or somewhere in the no-go zone?” she continued.
“Ah,” Jeron rubbed the back of his neck, “Ground Zero… Y-yeah… H-how can you tell?”
“You’ve got a strange sheen to your skin and a dim glow around the edges. I think they call it Mist poisoning… Not contagious. As far as we know… But ground zero? I thought everyone there was vaporized? And since the Riftworks was abandoned… I thought no one was left?”
Jeron sighed, “Not quite…” he turned to Daniel who had filled his arms with medical supplies. “Dan, we have no idea if any of that’ll help…”
“We have to try…”
“Is something wrong?” the young woman pressed.
Jeron sighed again, “I-I… I really can’t talk about it. I-I’m sorry…”
The woman stepped uncomfortably close to him. “I am a doctor and I am willing to treat people trapped in the Mist.”
Jeron’s nerves were on fire. He wasn’t sure what to say.
“It’s not your fault you couldn’t afford to escape. So many remain trapped without the means to relocate. They’ve all contracted Mist poisoning by now, I’m sure. We need to know how to care for them.”
“Uh…” Jeron was at a loss for words.
“I want to help. I can retrieve some supplies from the hospital I work at. What do you need?”
Jeron and Daniel exchanged wary glances.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but this seems way too coincidental and too good to be true,” Daniel spoke up.
The woman sighed, “I-I’m sorry, but allow me to explain myself. I am Dr. Aria Patel. I work at St. Mattews a few blocks away. I have been trying to instigate a medical investigation into Mist poisoning for years…” she sighed, “But I can’t seem to get anyone to agree to my research.”
Jeron and Daniel once more exchanged glances.
“It is as though they’ve abandoned those people and left them for dead… Perhaps it sounds too good to be true that someone wishes to help you, but understand it is not at all wholly altruistic. I intend to publish a paper on the effects of Mist poisoning and the course of certain disorders when exposed to the Mist. Until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to try. I’ve never met people from the no-go zone. I’ve never had a reason to go there. I was afraid to go alone because I don’t know what’s out there, but…” she took a deep breath, “Perhaps you could escort me? In exchange for assisting your injured compatriot?”
Once more the two exchanged glances.
“I-I’m sorry,” Daniel spoke up again, “B-but as nice as all that sounds, I-I really don’t think you can help us. S-sorry…”
Jeron rubbed the back of his neck, “Y-yeah… I mean… You’re a human doctor. We’re not exactly…” he hissed a bit, “Dealing with a human patient…”
Aria cocked a brow, “Not human?”
Again, they exchanged glances.
“You have me even more curious. A secondary study of the fauna of the zone would be invaluable. The Mist may not be spreading across the states, but it is creeping across the Pacific. Did you know they’ve started evacuating Japan? A whole country! They’re trying to move the population of an entire country! And for what?! It’s just going to follow them anyway… And I expect most won’t be able to move rendering them victims of the Mist. Everything we can learn about it is invaluable. Yet no one seems interested in learning anything at all…”
Jeron sighed, “I have no idea how much of what I’m about to say is going to make any sense to someone who isn’t at all familiar with the local politics of the area…”
“Politics?” Aria was clearly intrigued, “Have you created a community? Are there other survivors with you?”
“N-not exactly… I mean,” he was rubbing the back of his neck again, “It would make sense if we all got together, but La Sombra isn’t the place for that… Not with everything that’s happening there…”
“I know there was a blast recently… Was that the ‘Works or the Rift?”
Yet again, the men exchanged glances.
“It was my Dad,” Daniel spoke up, his voice quaking, “He’s hurt now, and… We have to go now. We have to get back so we can help him.”
“If I’m following correctly, your father isn’t human?”
Daniel looked to Jeron for the answer. When all he received was a shrug, he nodded.
“But you are human, are you not?”
“Well… He was human before he went away. Then he came back not human. He’s something called a Voidlord now.”
Aria stared at them, her eyes darting between them both.
“Then I insist.”
“Dr…. Patel, was it?” Jeron knew he had to end this conversation fast.
Aria nodded, “You can call me Aria.”
“A-Aria… Look, we really do appreciate your concern, but… I… I don’t even think we can fix him…”
“Perhaps a professional eye could assist?”
“Are you a surgeon?”
She shrugged, “Not exactly, but I know my way around a suture.”
“There are guts everywhere…”
“Nothing I haven’t seen in the ER.”
“Tentacles… Weird blood…”
“Put those things back,” she motioned to Daniel. “Meet me at the hospital. I’ll get better supplies. I can leave my car parked there overnight if I have to.”
“Ma’am…” Jeron began.
“Please.” She put a finger to his lips, “Let me do this. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years…”
“I really do understand your passion to help people,” Jeron gently lowered her arm, “But they won’t let you back out if they find out you went in…”
“Who needs to know?” A coy smile crossed her lips.
Jeron sighed, “Fine. I’m Jeron he’s Daniel,” Daniel waved, “and we’re gonna need a lot of bandages…”