Sylus sat quietly out on the porch swing. It’d taken all morning but he’d finally been able to make accurate holes in his jacket to free his tendrils. He’d buy another one eventually, but for now, he couldn’t keep them crammed under there all the time. Now he sat, needle and thread in hand, suring up the holes with remnants of his old work clothes. Once the tatters had been cleaned up he sighed to himself, pleased with his work.
“Looks good,” Jeron stood in the doorway.
“Hm, yeah… Would’ve been nice to have something a bit more colorful interesting to trim the holes, but manual worker grey will just have to do the trick.”
“Can’t believe you chopped into that jacket of yours. That’s like your prized possession,” Jeron snorted.
“It’s just a jacket, Jer,” Sylus sighed as he leaned back into the swing, “Things come and go. Tentacles are forever.” he shot Jeron a snyde grin. “Now,” he stood up with a groan, “Let’s see if I got these holes right…”
He handed the jacket off to his tendrils. They proceeded to wiggle their way through the holes allowing the piece of clothing to eventually slide down against his back. It took a bit of contorting to get his arms through, but, sure enough, it fit.
“Heh, not bad. Gonna take some getting used to, but I think I got it,” Sylu smiled as he sat back down on the swing.
“You could’ve asked for help, Sy…” Jeron’s brows furrowed.
Sylus shrugged, “I could have. But I wanted to see if I could still sew. Turns out I can, but I’m rusty.”
“With making the holes,” Jeron scoffed, “That couldn’t’ve been easy.”
Sylus shrugged, “It was a bit rough, and maybe help would have, uh, well… helped, but it was a small thing that needed doing and I wanted to see if I could do it. If I couldn’t, I would’ve asked for help.”
“Promise?” Jeron raised a brow.
“Good. Now,” Jeron sat down on the porch swing beside Sylus, “I was thinking, you’ve been home awhile. Things’ve been quiet, but I keep forgetting to ask: What do you need to eat?”
“Excuse me?” Sylus laughed through a snort.
“Yeah, I mean, what do you eat now?”
“I used to cook for you all the time, Sy. I kinda miss it.”
“Is that all?” he chuckled.
“That and I feel like I need to prove myself after breakfast the other day.”
“You really don’t have to, Jeron. You cook every night and it’s always delicious. You’re a miracle worker. You’re the best chef I know!”
“Okay,” Jeron sighed, “I’ll be more direct. I miss feeding you.”
Sylus raised a brow, “Is that so?”
Jeron’s fists clenched in his lap, “Yup.”
“Huh, well…” Sylus thought a moment, “I could really use a ham or two… Miles’ secret family recipe especially.”
Jeron grinned to himself. “Salt, Sy. Salt…”
“I know,” he wrapped a tendril around Jeron’s shoulders, “But it’s your salt.”
You can cut this tension with a crystalline blade, Sylus. Act on your instincts.
“Knock it off, Qaitax.”
“What’s his problem?”
“He’s being a backseat romantic.”
“Romantic? Him? Really?”
Sylus cringed, “Sort of?”
Jeron raised a brow.
Sylus scoffed, “He’s like if my id had a mind of its own and could talk directly to me.”
“Your id, huh?”
“Don’t read too deeply into it, Jer.”
“So ham, huh?”
“One or two. Maybe three.”
“What about four?” Jeron waggled his eyebrows.
“Don’t tease me like that.”
“But you do need to eat a lot, right?”
Sylus shrugged, “All I know for sure is that I haven’t eaten enough yet. Always so damn hungry…”
Jeron sighed, “So like before?”
“Probably worse, if I’m being honest.”
Jeron nodded idly.
“So I figure we can head into town, bring Dan and Saari…”
“Saari?” Sylus was caught off guard.
“I mean, we can’t leave her alone and Dan needs to get out more…”
“Don’t you think…” Sylus rubbed the back of his neck, “She’s a bit vulnerable?”
Jeron sighed, “She has to get out eventually. We can’t just keep her cloistered away…”
“But come on, Jeron. We’re comfortable with her, but don’t you think people will be…”
Sylus nodded. “Yeah…”
“I think Saari’s stronger than you think.”
“What if they dogpile her? What if she’s pushed to lash out?”
Jeron shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out.”
Sylus sat back with a nod, “Think she’s ready?”
Jeron chuckled, “Your parental worry is showing.”
“And that’s good, Sy, but I think it’s time everyone started getting used to reality here. We can’t stay hidden. A.) The world needs to know we exist and B.) We need supplies.”
“All true,” Sylus sighed again.
“So let’s do this, then.”
“Should I hide my tendrils?”
Jeron turned to him in surprise.
“I mean if Saari has to walk around with her antlers, wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I didn’t walk around with my tendrils out?”
Jeron shrugged, “That’s up to you, Sy. If you’re ready for that, then I’ll stand with you.”
“I wouldn’t embarrass you?”
“Not at all. I mean, I guess I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. But you’re right about Saari. It might help her feel more comfortable if you’re weird alongside her.”
Sylus chuckled. “Weird… I like it.”
“We’re all weird to some extent. I’m just waiting to sprout tentacles of my own at this point,” Jeron laughed.
“Maybe someday,” Sylus grinned.
“You wouldn’t change your opinion of me if I did though, right?”
Sylus burst out laughing. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Okay, so we’re going out au natural then yeah?”
“Why not?” Jeron chuckled.
“Balls to the walls then? No bit by bit?”
“All or nothing, Sy. All or nothing.”
Sylus snorted, “I like that. Let’s do it.”
“You don’t have to, Saari,” Sylus sat on the edge of her bed.
She looked forwards at a blank wall, no hint of feeling in her facade.
“My own people hated me.”
“What makes you think yours would be any different?” She turned to him.
He shrugged, “Ya know, I know they won’t be. I know you’re going to run into adversity. But I also know you’re stronger than some ignorant, close-minded morons.”
“S-Sylus… M-my people… The things they did… I… I never want to experience that again…”
“I think,” Sylus sighed as he rested his knee on the bed, “You’re going to find people will be more afraid of you than hateful.”
“Fear leads to hate.”
“But you’re nothing to be afraid of.”
Saari returned to staring at the wall.
“Show them. I think Jeron’s right. We’ve been hiding here for so long. We need to get out.”
Saari shook her head, “Perhaps you do, but I have no need. I have always lived under confined circumstances. I have no desire to change.”
“You were never given the chance to experience anything else.”
“What if I do not want to experience anything else?”
“That is your choice, but you should at least try, Saari. Yes, not everyone will embrace you, but perhaps these people will be different than those you grew up with…”
“My people, Q’taxians, they were born completely mutated by the Void. Each individual completely different. And they hated me. My mutations went too far. Do you truly believe a homogenized species such as humans could ever accept me?”
Qaitax glanced out her door, “These ones did.”
“Yes, but they are Sylus’ friends. Of course they’ll at least tolerate me.”
“They will protect you, Saari.”
“I would really like you to give it a try, my dear.”
Saari sat upright. Qaitax was asking something of her. If he wanted her to do something, she had to do it. There was no other option. If he wanted her to suffer social ostracization again, then she would.
“Is that you command, my lord?” she turned to him.
“No. It isn’t. You can stay home, but someday, you should give this world a try. I will be there by your side should it choose not to accept you.”
“Besides,” Sylus’ cheery tone returned, “I’m gonna go out with my tendrils exposed. Jeron thinks it’s important we try to get people to care about the Mist and the Void. Maybe some low-grade terror can push them in that direction.”
“They will not care. They never will. The Void will make sure of that.”
“Then at the very least, they need to know that there’s life here and we need help.”
“We do not. We do not need help.”
Sylus was caught off guard.
“I am the strongest of my kind and Lord Qaitax is a god. We do not need the help of mortals.”
“What about my family, Saari? Are you forgetting that we’re half mortal now?”
Her fists clenched in her lap.
“I said Lord Qaitax. Not you.”
“Ah,” Sylus rubbed the back of his neck as he stood up, “I understand.”
Leaving the room, a great sense of shame filled Sylus. He wasn’t expecting to talk Saari into such a drastic change so quickly, but he didn’t expect her reaction.
She is still hurting, Sylus. Do not take it personally. Time is different for her.
“Yeah,” Sylus sighed as he entered the living room.
Jeron and Daniel sat on the couch waiting expectantly for his return.
“Why don’t you two go into town. I’ll stay here with Saari. She’s not feeling well and I’d rather not leaver her alone.”
“We can go tomorrow, Sy,” Jeron stood up.
“She doesn’t want to go and Daniel needs to get out. Here,” he handed Jeron his card, “Infinite money. Have fun,” he smiled.
Daniel looked utterly distraught, but he stood beside Jeron anyway.
“I kinda wanted this to be a family thing,” Jeron sighed as he took the card.
“We are two halves of a whole family, Jeron. Maybe someday we’ll do something all together, but this isn’t it.”
“She has every reason to not want to do this, Jeron. She’s only ever been an outcast and treated like filth. We can’t just throw her into that kind of situation.”
“She wouldn’t be alone though, Sy. We’ll be there.”
“She’s not ready for it.”
“Sometimes we can’t wait until we are to do things we don’t want to.”
“Why should she though? What does she stand to gain? She’s safe here.”
Jeron sighed. “Wasn’t she Qaitax’s emissary? As in she spoke to her people on his behalf?”
“Maybe she could help us speak for ourselves. Sy, look at us. We’re trapped here. The world has completely given up on us. They need to know we’re still here and that we aren’t a threat. Saari isn’t a threat. You’re not a threat. At least not at the moment. I’m tired of hiding, Sy. I’m tired of wondering when someone will give a fuck. I’m tired of expecting anyone to do anything to help without me lifting a finger. And here’s the kicker,” Jeron snorted, “Outside a weird purple glow not everyone can even see, I look normal. They don’t see me as a victim in this situation. I’m just another person trying to get by and they don’t have a fucking clue.”
“So you want Saari and I to intentionally draw attention to ourselves?”
“Yes!” Jeron threw his hands in the air, “That’s exactly what I want!”
“What if that’s not what we want?”
Jeron stepped back. “I-I’m sorry, Sy… I just… I thought…”
Sylus’ fist clenched at his sides, “What if we don’t want to be seen as freaks?”
“I don’t want people to look at me or Saari and see monsters. We’re not monsters… We’re not… We’re…”
Everyone in the room could feel another episode coming on. Jeron took hold of Sylus and sat him on the couch.
“I’m not a monster…” Sylus was nearly sobbing, “I’m not a monster…”
“Sy? Sylus, answer me.”
“I’m not a freak. I’m not a monster… I don’t want to hurt anyone… I don’t want to… I don’t… I don’t want to…”
“Sylus,” Jeron took a deep breath as he put his hands on Sylus’ head. “I’m sorry, Sy. I really am. I wasn’t thinking about everyone, just what I wanted. I’m just…” he sighed, knowing nothing he said was getting through to him, “I’m tired of being afraid… I don’t want to be afraid anymore. This is my life and I’m tired of being afraid of living it.”
Jeron quickly pulled away.
“Forgive me, he had to withdraw. We are working on balancing this crisis.”
“It’s almost like they’re worse than before…” Jeron sat down beside him.
“I have no prior reference, but I can say that they have fairly severe.”
“Is there anything we can do for him? That I can do for him?”
Qaitax sighed. “I do not know. I believe he has to come to terms with it on his own. I didn’t realize how…”
“You’re going to lose no matter what word you choose there, big guy.”
“How hurt he was.”
They sat in silence.
“Is he… going to come back?” Jeron finally spoke up.
“He wants to come back now, but I won’t let him.”
“I thought you were subject to his will?” Jeron leaned forwards; his skepticism of Qaitax’s good intentions resurfacing.
“He is not well. He needs rest. He is not thinking properly. He is saying things that are detrimental to both of us. He must rest.”
Jeron sat back. “I really just wanted to have a nice day with everyone… That’s all. I… I said all that stuff about what I wanted because, well, it’s true, but… I don’t like the idea of Sylus divorcing himself from society because he’s afraid of what people will think of him.
‘The last thing we did together was go out and have a nice time. I just… I wanted to do that again…”
“Things are different now…”
“But they don’t have to be!”
Qaitax turned to him.
“I know Sylus is kinda different now. I know Saari is unique, but… That’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something to hide from the world. I just… I… I want…”
“And Sylus wishes he could give you what you want, but, much like Saari, I believe he has a lingering distrust for his own people and their willingness to use him and then cast him aside. That is not to say you are all the same, but he fears those outside his social circle. Saari fears them, too. Put them together, and their fear is amplified. Where they can bolster each other through their similarities, they also drag each other down. I am uncertain of how to approach this.”
“Aria said she knew a therapist. Maybe…We can get them to come by and talk to both of them?”
“Yeah, a, uh, human who is trained in treating mental illness.”
“A mind doctor?”
Qaitax thought a moment. “Do you think they would speak to us? We are aliens to your world…”
“If Aria thinks they would, then they might.”
Quip whimpering by the door brought their minds back to the present. His stubby tail was tucked between his haunches and his head stalks, were drooping.
“Ah, poor guy,” Jeron stood up, “Didn’t let you out this morning.” He opened the door and the spawn pranced out to the front yard. “He’s the only reason we don’t have shit climbing our walls. I appreciate that.”
“You are good to us, Jeron.”
“You are kind to the smallest of us. The one you call Quip would be considered fodder by any other being. But you value him for his service.”
“He keeps the monsters away, we give him shelter and keep him safe when he needs it. Seems like a fair trade to me,” Jeron closed the door as the spawn darted into one of the ruins.
“He, too, is injured.”
“Yeah,” Jeron sighed, “Something happened to him with Henley.”
“I would think Haurex the type to simply kill lesser spawns…”
“Not him, though. Sylus might know a bit since he was around Henley a lot, but I really don’t.”
“There is much for all of us to talk about.”
Jeron sighed again, “That’s for sure.”