Sylus leaned on the open window sill as they drove down the road. The movement made the Mist swirl and dance around the vehicle. Jeron stopped just at the edge.
“You sure?” he turned to Sylus.
“What if it doesn’t hurt you immediately? What if it takes time? What if we’re an hour away and you start melting or something?” Jeron cut himself off from asking any more questions. His concern was letting his feelings show through.
“Well, I may not notice any changes, but Qaitax certainly will. He’ll let me know if anything seems slightly off as soon as it does. How’s that sound?”
Jeron rubbed the steering wheel. “About that…”
“Are you sure you want to have this conversation right now?” Sylus slumped in his chair.
“Y-yeah… We’re already going down this path, so may as well keep going.
“What’s the dynamic here? How much does he know about you? Us? How much control does he have? Is he watching us right now?” Too many questions…
“Hmm…” Sylus looked out the window, “What can I say that will assure you it’s the truth?”
“I-I don’t…” He was right. No matter what he said, Jeron would always harbor a hint of doubt. A relationship like that would never work. “L-let me put it this way, Sy. I-I’m not entirely turned off of the idea of, well… liking you, like… that again, but… I just…”
“Ah,” Sylus sat up a bit, “I get it. Here, talk to him yourself. Get the answers straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Sylus turned to him, his pupils violet stars on black scleras.
“Ah fuck…” Jeron slouched back in his chair. “Look, I really don’t have anything to say to you. Just… Go away.”
“As you said, we were already heading down this path. This conversation was inevitable.”
“So you are watching and listening and everything…” Jeron felt his face heating up.
“To an extent. Sylus has informed me of your concerns.”
Jeron scoffed as he folded his arms across his chest and turned away.
“I will tell you what I told him when he asked similar questions. I have no intentions of controlling this body,” he looked at his hands,“It belongs to Sylus. I am here because I was too afraid to die and he was willing to take me with him. Someday I may go away, but for now, I intend to relish the freedom he has given me.”
“Freedom?” Jeron looked to him, “How free are you if you’re a backseat driver of your own body?”
“I see, feel, and hear what Sylus allows me to. He has allowed me to observe much since we’ve arrived on your world. That is freedom to me. To experience new things even if it is second hand. Q’taxia offered me nothing like this. A cold dark place of solitude. This is all so very different and I am enjoying it.”
“Look,” Jeron turned his entire body towards him, “I’ll be blunt. Let’s say I wanted to be intimate with Sylus. Where would you be in all that?”
Qaitax thought a moment. “Unless Sylus involved me, I wouldn’t be anywhere.”
“You wouldn’t even get involved for curiosity’s sake?”
“If you are concerned with the idea of a,” he thought a moment, “bait-and-switch, as Sylus has called it, then I can assure you, that will not happen.”
“What about after? Can’t you feel Sylus’ body?” Jeron shook his head, his grip once more tightening on the steering wheel, “What I’m saying is, if I were to be with Sylus, that doesn’t mean I want to be with you.”
“Your concern is about me experiencing second hand euphoria?”
Jeron slammed his hands on the wheel.
Qaitax shrugged, “If a feeling is strong enough, I’m likely to feel some of it. That is unavoidable. But if you mean the entire encounter? Unless Sylus shares it openly, I will not experience it.”
Jeron stared out the windshield.
“This is not limited to sexual encounters. Sylus has the vast majority of control over our vessel. I have no intentions of interfering beyond what is necessary.”
“And what would you deem necessary?”
“I made his tendrils disappear. Basically,” he looked out the window beside him, “Anything about our body he cannot figure out himself and/or in times of high stress.”
Qaitax sighed deeply. “I was in control when Haurex beat us.”
Jeron turned to him again.
“I took over because Sylus was afraid of dying. His human mind would have succumbed to a sense of death had I not intervened. He regained control after the blow was struck, but in that moment, I took the blow. I felt our flesh being cleaved, Sylus did not. He felt the after-effects which may have been far worse, but… I…” he took a deep breath, “To put it simply, if death is likely, I will take control as I do not know death and will not easily succumb to it. Sylus knows death. His mortal mind knows how to die. If something intends to kill us, regardless of anything else, his mind might accept such an encounter as death. It isn’t a conscious thing and it is not something I am 100% certain of, but I worry. When Haurex got the better of us, I felt him fading. He was succumbing to some kind of mental failure. I assumed this was death so I did what I had to.”
There was a long silence between them.
“And what if you really do die?” Jeron cleared his throat.
“I do not know. I know nothing of the sensation of death, but I do not think this body is immortal or invincible as shown by our encounter with a much stronger foe. I know death is possible, but so long as I can stall a psychological death, I will act to the best of my ability. I would like to think I would be capable of buying Sylus enough time to either save us both or, at the very least, himself.”
Jeron scoffed, “And what do you get out of being so magnanimous?”
Qaitax thought a bit. “It is not so much gain as the fact that I lose nothing. If death were possible for me, I would have embraced it ages ago. I was miserable, wilting, fading… Always on the brink of death but constantly denied its sweet caress. I would gladly die for the one who set me free.” He put his arm out the window. “I can feel this. The air,” he waved his hand in the mist, “I have never felt this sensation before.”
Jeron sighed as he turned the engine back on.
“Oh,” Qaitax turned to him, “One last thing. Understand that we understand that we are two separate beings. We share a body, but we do not expect the same treatment from the same people. We understand what we mean to different people and accept that one who might accept Sylus might not accept me. We understand this. So do not worry about that.”
“Understand,” Jeron rubbed the steering wheel, “That if I was in a relationship with Sylus, I wouldn’t be in one with you.”
“That is very clearly understood.”
“And if I want Sylus to myself, you keep the fuck away.”
“So long as Sylus does not involve me, I will do just that.”
Jeron took a deep breath. “Good. So in your professional opinion, are you going to, like, burn up into a crisp when we leave this gunk?”
“You mean is this body stable outside the Mist?”
Qaitax pursed his lips with a shrug, “No idea.”
“Great,” Jeron grumbled as he stared out the windshield. “Alright,” he whispered in apprehension, “Let’s do this.”
The truck slowly moved forwards through the Mist’s curtain. Jeron kept glancing at Qaitax/Sylus who seemed to just sit there without a care in the world. It was nervewracking how calm he was. Finally, the Mist was just outside the windshield.
“We will be fine.” Qaitax grinned. As the Mist in the cab was supplanted with unfiltered sunlight he added a less-than-assuring, “I think…”
Jeron slammed his foot into the gas. There was no point waiting anymore. Once they cleared the veil, he stopped again.
Sylus sat there with a smile on his face. “See? I told you everything would be…” His voice trailed off as his eyes widened. A familiar glow filled his eyes as a puff of smoke came from his mouth. “Oh no…” He clutched the sides of his head and began screaming.
Jeron threw the truck into reverse and hit the gas as hard as he could. As soon as the Mist settled back into the cab, the screaming died down before evolving into a near-maniacal laugh.
“You fuck! You fucking ASSHOLE!” Jeron bellowed.
Sylus slowly looked up to him, a coy smile on his lips.
“I’m not a murderer! I wasn’t going to willingly kill you! You fucking asshole!”
“That look on your face…” Sylus voice was cracking, smoke still seeping over his bottom lip, “You were really afraid, weren’t you?”
Jeron’s grip on the steering wheel tightened, “If you dare tell me you were testing my feelings for you…”
“No, actually,” Sylus sat up as he coughed up a puff of smoke, “I was expecting you to roll your eyes and keep driving.”
Jeron stared at him. Smoke kept pouring from his nose and mouth.
“You mean to tell me that’s normal?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, actually. It’s fine,” he took a deep breath and forced it out as hard as he could. It exited him as a ball of brilliant violet smoke. “Should be gone now.”
Sure enough, whatever it was had stopped dripping out of his face.
“Yeah…” Sylus coughed.
“Like a rainy day…”
“Mmm, yeah. Voidlords smell like petrichor apparently.”
Jeron shook his head.
“Are you going to behave or am I going to have to leave you on the side of the road?”
Sylus snickered, “I’ll behave. Promise I won’t start spewing soot unless I’m actually in pain.”
Jeron shot him a soul-piercing glare.
The truck began moving again. This time Sylus’ only reaction to the outside was wincing at the sun.
“So how’d you pull off that dick-move party trick?”
“Hm?” Sylus turned to him.
“The glowing eyes and the smoke…”
“Oh, right well, eyes glow when I’m in distress or on command. The smoke’s a bit more complicated. I catabolized one of my tendrils.”
“I burned one of my tendrils. I guess specifically I digested it…”
“Jesus Christ, Sylus…”
“It didn’t hurt if you’re wondering and I have an infinite supply so everything’s okay.”
“Sy, that’s like chopping off your finger for a party trick…”
“Fingers don’t grow back, Jeron. Mine do, but mine aren’t exactly fingers anymore. They just look like fingers.” He wiggled his fingers next to Jeron’s face.
“So you can just live off your own innards?” Jeron pushed his hand away.
“Not at all. According to Qaitax, were I to continue doing that, I’d eventually starve myself to the point of not being able to regenerate anymore. Takes energy to break something down and in the case of food, you get something back for your efforts. Not so much with your own internal tentacles, I guess.”
“So what do you eat?”
“I really don’t know. Qaitax used to eat people. Not exactly by choice, that’s just what he was given.”
“We’re not keen on continuing that trend.”
“So what then?”
Sylus shrugged, “Big things or many things. I don’t know. I guess I could extrapolate from Quip that I’m supposed to eat other spawns, but like… Eww.”
Jeron couldn’t hold back from chuckling.
“Hypothetically,” Jeron began slowly, “Could you, like, I don’t know… Eat another Voidlord?”
Sylus thought a moment, “Theoretically? Yes. Practically? No.”
“Why the difference?”
“Because, simply put, in reality, I’m weak as shit compared to a natural Voidlord. I’m not even sure I am a Voidlord. Qaitax doesn’t know what exactly defines one so we’re just going off the fact that this body was made from the remains of one. Don’t tell anyone though, the title at least sounds prestigious and a little bit threatening. Which I like.”
“You weren’t weak or pathetic before.”
Sylus sat back in his chair, “What prompted that?”
“I can’t help but see some of this as some kind of compensation…”
“Well I’ve got no dick so…”
“That’s… not what I meant, but what?”
“You mean you didn’t see my naked carcass when I was unconscious?”
“I took you by the arms… Saari had your legs…”
“Oh. Well then,” Sylus stared dead out the windshield.
Jeron continued glancing at him. “You know,” he broke the awkward silence, “I would have thought…”
“Yeah, a lot of people ‘would have thought’,” Sylus barked, “but that’s not how it worked out.”
Sylus turned to fast enough to trigger whiplash in a normal person.
“I didn’t mean anything about that. What I meant was… It just… It kinda feels like you took a class on masculinity and decided that rather than take it with a grain of salt, you committed to every aspect of it.”
Jeron sighed, “I’ve got nothing against who you are, but I just have to wonder if you jumped the shark a little to make sure you were as manly as possible…”
The gears in Sylus’ mind clicked into place.
“You mean you think I put this all together and altered my personality because I thought this was the definition of manliness?”
“I feel like if I was going for full-blown MAN I wouln’t’ve given myself a gut of this magnitude,” he poked his stomach, “Prolly wouldn’t gone full muscle man just like everyone was expecting me to.”
“I suppose you have a point,” Jeron sighed.
“I can assure you,” he leaned a bit closer to Jeron, “None of this is forced no matter how tacky or cliche it looks. I haven’t changed, Jeron. Truly. I’m the same person I’ve ever been. I just look the part now.”
Silence settled in the cab.
“How do you make holy water?”
“Sylus, just because I’m protestant doesn’t mean I know anything about…”
“You boil the hell out of it.”
“W-was that a fucking dad joke?”
Jeron struggled to hid his grin.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to offend…”
“Do I look offended?”
“Well, I’m not. Trust me.”
“Then how about you trust me that I’m the same person?”
“That’s a different level of trust, Sy.”
“I don’t know… Making fun of someone’s religion kinda aligns with a personal attack on their identity.”
“You think I’m personally attacking you?”
“Not really, no. I’m actually quite flattered you care so much about getting to know me again.”
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